Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Brian Kinler Band: “Euphoric” (2017) CD Review

I am always happy when there is a new CD release from the The Brian Kinler Band, and Euphoric in some ways is a return to pianist Brian Kinler’s early work, without a vocalist. However, he’s maintained the more pop and dance-oriented style he developed on his previous release, 2015’s The Race Against Time, which featured vocalist Francesca Capasso on most tracks. Take the new CD’s first track, “I Know, Madame,” for example. It features that beautiful, light, thoughtful playing of some of his earliest material, but with a dance beat backing it, creating a fun atmosphere. And yeah, you can certainly move to the tune. It’s like Brian Kinler has taken all he’s done before, and built upon it. As with Brian Kinler’s 2013 release, Not Your Everyday Amateur, the only member of the band to appear on these tracks is violinist Andrea Whitney (nee Gaspar). The rest of the sounds were created on Brian Kinler’s keyboard, with some help from Andre Mayeux on several tracks. All songs on this disc are originals, written by Brian Kinler.

“I Know, Madame” is followed by one of my personal favorites of this new album, “Norway,” a beautiful and uplifting composition. This is one of the tracks to feature Andrea Whitney on violin, and her work here is moving and feels integral to the piece rather than a solo over it. If you’re like me and are constantly looking for music to raise your spirits and take you away from our current reality, give this track a listen. Andre Mayeux is responsible for programming the drums and bass on this track. By the way, a week ago, Brian Kinler released a video for this song, which you can view on You Tube.

“Night Goes Away” has some 1980s pop and dance influences, which might come as no surprise to those who’ve been listening to Brian Kinler all along. However, that one break toward the end of the track did actually surprise me, that shift that made me want to create a dance floor here in my apartment. Brian Kinler’s music often tells a vivid story without any lyrics, and “Nearly Like Us” certainly pulls you in and takes you on a journey. And I love that moment when it opens up into a brighter place, a place where I’m guessing we all want to be. Andre did the drums and bass on this track.

Another of my favorites is “The Red Wedding.” And no, I didn’t know the reference at first, having never seen Game Of Thrones (though several people have recommended it to me). Someone told me to do an online search for “red wedding,” and so I did. I’m not sure seeing that scene has given me any more appreciation for this song. I loved this track before viewing that sequence from Game Of Thrones. This is another of the songs to feature Andrea Whitney on violin. It is pretty and delicate at moments, powerful at others, then totally fun at still other moments. Brian has the ability to take you in whatever direction he desires and make it work. By the end of this track, it’s made me deliriously happy, something I wouldn’t have guessed at its beginning. Andre is responsible for the drums, bass and horns.

Brian Kinler then turns more thoughtful and introspective again with “I Can’t Remember Your Face.” Actually, this song feels like it is simultaneously turning inward and reaching out, and it features more beautiful work by Andrea Whitney on violin.  Then “Wanna Get You Alone” begins with a good groove and quickly moves in a dance direction. But, as I mentioned before, Brian can switch gears on you before you’ve even noticed, and there are quieter moments within this song before he returns to that groove.

“Once Is Not Enough” is another of my favorites. When it begins, it has a gentle, pretty touch, and then develops into a gorgeous romantic piece. Andre Mayeux wrote and performed the string part for this one. It’s a beautiful song, and ends gently. And then, bam, the next song, “Catnip,” begins with a good thumping rhythm and some joyful work on piano. This is yet another of the disc’s highlights. A drum solo? A bass solo? Yes, sort of. It’s all done on Brian’s keyboard, the drums and bass by Andre. I particularly love Brian’s playing at the end of this track. The CD then concludes with “Joy,” which has a 1980s vibe at the start, and becomes a rather beautiful and positive song.

CD Track List
  1. I Know, Madame
  2. Norway
  3. Night Goes Away
  4. Nearly Like Us
  5. The Red Wedding
  6. I Can’t Remember Your Face
  7. Wanna Get You Alone
  8. Once Is Not Enough
  9. Catnip
  10. Joy
Euphoric was released on May 22, 2017. And for those folks in Los Angeles (or for anyone who can get to Los Angeles), the original line-up of the band is getting back together for a gig at Vitello’s on July 23rd. See you there!

The New Vision Sax Ensemble: “Musical Journey Through Time” (2017) CD Review

I was certainly curious about The New Vision Sax Ensemble’s release, Musical Journey Through Time. After all, the group is a saxophone quartet, so while most of the material might be familiar – “A Night In Tunisia,” “Round Midnight,” “My Favorite Things,” etc. – the approach was going to be different from other renditions I’ve heard. Of course, as this CD clearly demonstrates, there are a lot of different sounds that can come from the various types of saxophones. Diron Holloway plays soprano, clarinet and alto saxophone; James Lockhart is on alto saxophone; Jason Hainsworth is on tenor saxophone; and Melton R. Mustafa plays baritone sax. And together they create some gorgeous sounds. But what really struck me was the joy of their playing. It’s clear in every note, and it makes this album a delight to listen to. The group is based in Florida.

They kick off the CD with “Conservation,” written by Bobby Watson (who himself was a member of a saxophone quartet, The 29th Street Saxophone Quartet). And what a joyful way to start the album. Seriously, there were at least two moments when I laughed aloud out of sheer joy while listening to this track. This is a playful, delicious rendition. The group follows that with Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.” This is a good rendition, and it’s interesting how the different saxophones work together here, with the baritone sax working as the bass. Both Diron Holloway and Jason Hainsworth take leads on this track. But most of my favorites on this disc are the more playful, lighter numbers, like “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,” which is a total delight. That is followed by a cool rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight.”

I’ve said it many times, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Oddly, I think the first time I actually heard the name Gershwin was when I was a child watching WKRP In Cincinnati. In one episode, Mrs. Carlson asks Johnny Fever to play some Gershwin. Johnny replies, “On the air?” So I was of course immediately curious as to who this Gershwin person might be. Turns out it was two people, but you know that. (If you’re curious, Johnny Fever plays “Someone To Watch Over Me” in that episode.) Anyway, here The New Vision Sax Ensemble does Bill Holcombe’s arrangement of “Selections From Porgy And Bess,” which begins with a bit of “Catfish Row” and also includes a wonderful, beautiful rendition of “Summertime.” Interestingly, this group also does Bill Holcombe’s arrangement of Scott Joplin’s music for saxophone quartet, titled “Scott Joplin Portrait.” My first taste of Scott Joplin came with a cassette of the soundtrack for The Sting, and touches of much of that music are contained in this track. I was shocked at just how great this track is. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scott Joplin, but I wasn’t thinking a rendition without piano would work quite this well. But these guys do a tremendous job with the material, and this ended up being my favorite track.

It’s funny. I had just been talking with my girlfriend about “My Favorite Things.” She was in the middle of watching The Sound Of Music, a movie I’ve never been able to sit through, and I told her how I just really don’t like much of the music I’ve heard from that film, and picked “My Favorite Things” as a prime example. I just can’t stand that song, but mainly because of the lyrics, which I think are among the worst ever written. I told her the only versions of the song I like are instrumental jazz renditions, and there certainly are plenty of those to choose from. Moments later, I popped in this CD for the first time, and of course it contains yet another rendition of this song. But hey, no lyrics, so it’s enjoyable (though it’s still difficult for me to keep those lines out of my head when listening to an instrumental version).

They follow that with another song from a musical, this time from West Side Story, a film I did manage to get through, but mainly because of my love of Shakespeare. From this musical, they selected “I Feel Pretty,” which is a goofy, playful choice, to be sure. But it’s kind of delightful. These guys are clearly having fun with it, and I found myself smiling while listening to this rendition. They end the album with a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Maybe I’m mad, but at a few moments the saxophones sound very much like bagpipes to me. This track is another of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List
  1. Conservation
  2. A Night In Tunisia
  3. Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey
  4. ‘Round Midnight
  5. Selections From Porgy And Bess
  6. My Favorite Things
  7. I Feel Pretty
  8. Scott Joplin Portrait
  9. Amazing Grace
Musical Journey Through Time is scheduled to be released on June 12, 2017.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Willie Nile: “Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan” (2017) CD Review

On Willie Nile’s new CD, Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan, he pays tribute to one of the world’s best and most prolific songwriters. The song choices are largely from the greatest hits realm (in fact, half of these songs are on Bob Dylan’s first Greatest Hits record). While there aren’t many surprises as far as song selection goes, the choice of material is only part of it. The main thing is the delivery, and Willie Nile nails it every time. There is something Dylanesque about Willie Nile’s style anyway, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that he does such a fantastic job with these songs. What’s maybe more remarkable is that these songs somehow never get old or lose their power or meaning. Most of these tracks are from the 1960s (the album’s title is a nod to another 1960s Dylan song, “Positively 4th Street”), and yet they still feel fresh. Obviously, that is due in part to Willie Nile’s delivery. His passion for the music comes across in every track, making this one of the best Dylan tributes ever recorded.

Willie Nile opens the album with one of Bob Dylan’s most famous and covered songs, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” giving us a fun, upbeat, rockin’ rendition. How is it that this song hasn’t aged? Perhaps it’s because we are once again in a seriously screwed up state, and here we were, thinking the times were changing for the better. Weren’t they? It seemed so, at least for a while. And then suddenly, bam, we hit a wall that pushed us backward by several decades. This song feels vibrant again, especially with the energy Willie Nile puts behind it. This is an excellent and needed version, a song to bring us together and maybe get us in motion to fix this bloody mess. It’s followed by “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” a favorite of mine when I was in my mid-teens, listening to that Greatest Hits cassette over and over, and still a great tune. Willie Nile gives it a steady rhythm during the verses. It has a bright, happy feel, including the repetition of “But I would not feel so all alone.” Ah, thanks for that.

Willie Nile’s version of “Blowin’ In The Wind” has a very different feel from its original, with almost a punk energy. This song too is once again pertinent (maybe it never stopped being relevant), with lines like “Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly/Before they are forever banned?” Of course, the line that always stands out for me is “How many deaths will it take ‘til he knows that too many people have died?” Seriously. The current administration believes the answer to the gun problem is more guns. So the real answer is going to blow around a bit longer before we grasp it and put it into action. I have to say I completely fucking love this rendition. It has vitality and integrity, and should give some younger folks an appreciation for this song. Then Nile’s version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” retains some of the folk feel of the original, but still with an energy and a positive, joyous feel.  I certainly believe Willie when he sings those lines of what he’s seen and heard; his voice has that experience. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along with the chorus, shouting out the lines. It’s like Willie’s delivery invites your participation, even makes you feel like you are participating anyway. We are all in this together, he seems to be saying, in this emotionally involving rendition. “And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it/And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it.” Wow, wow, wow. Is this the best version of this song? I don’t know, but it’s certainly up there.

He delivers a sweet take on “I Want You.” That first time he sings, “Honey, I want you,” it’s such an honest and plain statement that it ends up being very moving. And then Willie Nile’s version of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” had me dancing around in my tiny apartment. Sure, the Weathermen no longer exist, but this song is largely still relevant, and a whole lot of fun. The first time I listened to this disc, I ended up playing this song many times because I felt so bloody good moving around to it. And “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters” is still the best advice ever offered in a song.

Bringing It All Back Home is one of my favorite Bob Dylan records. That’s the one that has “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It also contains the song that Nile chooses to follow that one, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.” I’ve always loved this song’s opening lines: “My love, she speaks like silence/Without ideals or violence/She doesn't have to say she's faithful/Yet she's true like ice, like fire.” And this is a line I try to put into practice when I’m upset (but usually fail): “She knows too much to argue or to judge.” That’s followed by “Every Grain Of Sand,” an excellent song from Dylan’s 1981 record Shot Of Love (yes, during his “born again” period). Willie Nile gives us an incredibly moving and heartfelt rendition. For those who might be unfamiliar with this one, here is a taste of the lyrics: “Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake/Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break/In the fury of the moment I can see the master's hand/In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.”

I’ve heard The Byrds’ rendition of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” many more times than Dylan’s, and in fact The Byrds released their version first. On this CD, Willie Nile provides a good, lighthearted folk-rock version, singing, “Pick up your money and pack up your tent,” getting it right, unlike The Byrds, who switched “pick” and “pack” (I do still love that Byrds version, however). Toward the end, there is a sweet section delivered a cappella. The song then turns into a good jam at end, and I wish it went on a bit longer. Willie Nile then ends the CD with what is probably its least well-known song, “Abandoned Love,” a song released on Biograph in 1985, but recorded a decade earlier. It has been covered several times, and the version I am most familiar with is that by The Everly Brothers, off their wonderful Born Yesterday album (seriously, I love that album). And like every other song on this CD, Willie Nile does a great job with it. “Everybody's wearing a disguise/To hide what they've got left behind their eyes/But me, I can't cover what I am.” There is a humor to this song, and one line that always amuses me is, “But my heart is telling me I love you, but you’re strange.”

CD Track List
  1. The Times They Are A-Changin’
  2. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
  3. Blowin’ In The Wind
  4. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
  5. I Want You
  6. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  7. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
  8. Every Grain Of Sand
  9. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
  10. Abandoned Love
Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan is scheduled to be released on June 23, 2017 on River House Records.

Photos From Day Two of the Simi Valley Cajun And Blues Music Festival

I had a wonderful time this weekend at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival. I took a lot of photos. I posted some in the two reviews (one for each day), and also posted a separate blog entry of photos from the first day. Well, here are some more photos from the second day. I hope you enjoy them.

The 44's

Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels

"Little Latin Lupe Lu"
"Little Latin Lupe Lu"
"Shake A Tail Feather"
"Try A Little Tenderness"

 Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

"Diga Diga Do"
"Diga Diga Do"
"The Jitters"
"Jumpin' Jack"

 Jo-El Sonnier

Miscellaneous Photos

Dance lesson in front of Cajun stage, around 1 p.m.
Must have been warm inside that costume
The crowd between the two stages
The view from the front of the blues stage

Monday, May 29, 2017

Notes from the 2017 Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, Day Two

Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels
Sunday was the second and final day of the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, and its lineup featured Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, two bands I was particularly excited to see. I got there a bit later on Sunday than I had on Saturday, and so missed Alex Nester. I heard from several people that she did a really good set, so I’ll try to catch her at some point. I did see her backstage in her unusual outfit made of neckties, which I have to admit was pretty damn cool. When I arrived, both stages were between acts. A dance lesson was going on in front of the Cajun stage.

After a little while, I could hear from there that music was starting up again at the blues stage, so I headed over there to catch The 44’s, a four-piece band providing some good, solid blues featuring harmonica. I enjoyed their blues jams. First band of the day for me, and first beer. And second. Things felt more relaxed Sunday than they had on Saturday, and I was definitely digging the vibe of the day. The MC was having fun, telling The 44’s they’ll be sued if they don’t return to the festival in the next couple of years. And I learned that all proceeds from this festival go to charities benefiting the local area. You can check out the festival’s website for a list of those charities. Also, the staff is made of volunteers. Pretty cool.

The MC got back on stage to ask the crowd if anyone had a tambourine that Mitch Ryder could use. He was in need of one. And soon the current version of the Detroit Wheels came out on stage, establishing a groove before Mitch Ryder came out with his new tambourine. After the first song (“Little Latin Lupe Lu”), he told the crowd that it was an honor and a pleasure to play for them, and it felt genuine and heartfelt rather than routine stage banter. He didn’t have a set list in front of him on stage, so he asked the other band members what was next. They told him it was “Liberty,” and Mitch Ryder mentioned that he’d recorded this song with Booker T & The MGs. After that song, a set list was brought up on stage for him. “I’ll continue to do this as long as I can,” he told the crowd before then going into “Jenny Take A Ride.” That was followed by a cover of “All Along The Watchtower.” And that was followed by a more surprising cover, with Mitch even saying “This next song is a curiosity for me” during its introduction, that being “Many Rivers To Cross.” It was an interesting rendition, certainly much more in the blues realm than Jimmy Cliff’s original version, and featuring a passionate vocal delivery by Mitch Ryder. After “Dear Lord, Won’t You Help This Child,” Mitch mentioned that he’s being inducted into the Rhythm And Blues Hall of Fame. He then mentioned putting negative energy into music, and the band launched into “Long Neck Goose.”

Mitch Ryder changed the pace for “If You Need The Pain,” which began gently on keys. This is one I wasn’t familiar with, and I really enjoyed it. Mitch then switched gears again for “Betty’s Too Tight,” which had a harder vibe. “Betty’s too tight/But she looks all right/When she’s walking down that hallway.” That was followed by “Shake A Tail Feather” and then by “Try A Little Tenderness.” For “Tenderness,” there was no guitar, just vocals, keys, bass and drums. The band then played what is probably its most famous tune, the medley of “Devil With A Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly.” Mitch left the stage, while the band jammed out the end of the song. When he returned to the stage for the encore, he told the audience he appreciated the standing ovation, and again his words seemed genuine. He came across as humble and kind, and that made me like him all the more. He then did a cool blues rendition of Bob Dylan’s “From A Buick 6,” with some nice stuff on keys, to close out his set.

Mitch Ryder put on a great show (certainly a highlight of the weekend), and after his set I had a chance to meet him and get a photo. I then stayed at the blues stage because next up was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. They delivered what was probably the most fun set of the festival, getting things off to great, swinging start with “Diga Diga Do,” and following it with a ridiculously fun instrumental number called “The Jitters,” which included a short drum solo. Lead singer Scotty Morris introduced “Simple Songs” by saying he wrote it an effort to get his daughter to dance. It also worked to get some of the audience dancing, and got me feeling pretty damn good. There was some delightful stuff on keys. They followed that with one of their most well-known tunes, “Mr. Pinstripe Suit,” a song that reminds me a lot of The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, a band I used to see all the time when I lived in Oregon. This band has that same great energy and also an excellent horn section. They got the audience singing along with “Hey Now” after a bit of encouragement from Scotty Morris, and followed that with “Reefer Man,” which started with a great rhythm and featured some fun back and forth between the trumpet and saxophone, plus some wonderful work on trombone. They then did a very cool rendition of “Minnie The Moocher,” a highlight of their set. “Jumpin’ Jack” got the audience dancing, including a woman with what looked like a giant dog puppet. This song includes a nod to “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and a bit of scat toward the end, and it led straight into “I Wanna Be Like You.” I also thoroughly enjoyed “You Know You Wrong,” with the line, “I don’t want to fight, but you ain’t ever right,” and that song went straight into “Big Time Operator,” followed by “Zig Zaggity Woop Woop,” another of the set’s highlights. That tune had plenty of great stuff from the horn players, and ended with a drum solo. “You And Me And The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)” features the line “I don’t think another drink’s gonna make me lose my mind.” Hey, only one way to find out. The band then got jazzy with “Mambo Swing,” which led straight into “Go Daddy-O” to end the set. They quickly came back for an encore of “So Long – Farewell – Goodbye,” with many members of the band taking turns singing lead (and with a brief instrumental bit of “Sweet Home Alabama” near the end). It was a fantastic set.

After another beer, I made my way over to the Cajun stage (because my memory from last year is that the beer at the Cajun stage isn’t as good) to catch Jo-El Sonnier, who closed out the festival with a fun set of tunes. There were plenty of folks dancing in front of the stage, and in fact there was a dance floor set up for them (there was a dance floor at the blues stage, too, but it was pretty far off stage right). I loved the way the fiddle and accordion worked together. Jo-El Sonnier and his band covered “Johnny B. Goode” in tribute to Chuck Berry. And soon after that, Doug Kershaw and Michael Doucet joined the band on fiddle (so there were three fiddle players!), and things got even more energetic and fun. Doug asked, “What are we doing?” Jo-El answered, “Jambalaya.” Doug replied, “No.” But yes, they did a wonderful rendition of that beloved song. The rest of the set was great, and the encore was a rock and roll number called “Sugar Bee.” It was a delicious ending to a great day of music.

Here are some photos from the second day:

The 44's
The 44's
Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels
Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels
Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels
Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels
Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Jo-El Sonnier
Jo-El Sonnier
Jo-El Sonnier
Jo-El Sonnier
The Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival is an annual event, and is located at 5005 Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley, California.

Photos From Day One of the Simi Valley Cajun And Blues Music Festival

I took a ridiculous amount of photos this weekend at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival. Some of the photos from the first day I included in my review, Notes from the 2017 Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, Day One. I thought I'd share a few more with you.

Kelly's Lot

Lazy Lester

The Yardbirds

Robby Krieger

Dwayne Dopsie And The Zydeco Hellraisers