Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Colin Hay: “Fierce Mercy” (2017) CD Review

When I was a kid, my friend across the street had a serious crush on Colin Hay, and I could trade her photos of Men At Work (taken from rock magazines) for just about anything she had. I think mainly I traded for photos of Madonna. Things were fairly simple when we were twelve years old. Remember that, Sandy? Well, we’ve all done a bit of changing since then, I suppose, and now, in the process of taking stock, we look back from time to time. Colin Hay does some looking back too, on certain tracks of his new album, Fierce Mercy, though mainly these songs seem to look forward to a better, more positive time. This is a sweet, beautiful album with excellent lyrics that are warm, thoughtful, engaging, and help us put things from our own lives into perspective.

The CD’s first track, “Come Tumblin’ Down,” had me smiling almost immediately, though its opening lines are “I dropped a coin in the wishing well/But it’s a long time dry.” You get the feeling from listening to this song that there is still a damn good chance that wish will come true, whatever state of decay things are in. There is a bit of a country vibe to this bright and fun song. Check out these lines: “And there’s a child sitting on the stairs/She’s seen everything there is to see/And somehow she still cares.” I love that. “Let’s just keep on dancing/Until it all comes tumblin’ down.” Sounds like a good plan to me. See what I mean? You can’t help but feel better, you can’t help but regain at least a bit of your optimism listening to this song. And I love hearing Colin raise his voice on the chorus. This song was written by Colin Hay and Michael Georgiades, both of whom play acoustic guitars on this track. Jeff Babko is on accordion, and Alison Brown plays banjo on this one, and those instruments certainly add to the positive feel of the song.

That’s followed by “Secret Love,” which features an excellent and powerful vocal performance by Colin Hay. “I tried walking away my fear/I tried to make it disappear/It follows and shadows me everywhere/Sometimes I wish I didn’t care/But I’m not a pretender/I have to surrender to my/Secret love, secret love.” Cecilia Noel and Charissa Nielsen provide backing vocals on this track. Fred Kron is on keys and provides the string arrangements. “A Thousand Million Reasons” has a sweet and pretty sound, but its opening lines still make laugh: “When the sun comes up over Paris/It’s like any other day/Except that you’re in Paris/What more need I say.” I just find those lines delightful.

One of the most emotionally engaging songs is “Frozen Fields Of Snow,” about a soldier returning to his childhood home, perhaps the last living member of his family, and perhaps at the end of his own life. “I was born some time ago/In this very room/There’s many who have come and gone/There may be one more soon.” This song creates a vivid portrait, and does so gently. That one is followed by “The Last To Know,” the song that provides the CD with its title, in the lines, “It was fierce mercy/Telling me to take it slow/Or I’ll be the last to know.” Actually, the phrase “fierce mercy” is repeated several times throughout the song. One of my favorite tracks is “I’m Going To Get You Stoned.” Something about the entire feel of this song is incredibly appealing. “And I’m going to get you stoned/Like it’s 1967/I’m going to get you stoned/When here on earth it felt like heaven.” The lines from this song that always stand out for me are these: “We’re all doin’ time/I can hear it tickin’ when I’m talkin’/Not living is the crime/I squeeze it each and every day.”

“I’m Walking Here” is the oddest track on this album. Its title, I’m guessing, is a reference to a famous moment from Midnight Cowboy when a taxi almost hits Ratso (Dustin Hoffman), and in response he hits the hood of the car, saying, “I’m walking here, I’m walking here” (a line repeated in this song). This track also features rap vocals by Joe Manuel Lopez, who co-wrote the song with Colin Hay, Cecilia Noel and Jonathan Eric Piazza. The song was inspired by news of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Despite the song’s serious subject matter, it features a good groove. That’s followed by “Two Friends,” the only song on the album that wasn’t written or co-written by Colin Hay. Michael Georgiades wrote it. This one too has a serious subject, and the lines that hit me the first time I listened it are, “They’ll go on in memory/And we’ll go on in time.”

“I’m Inside Outside In” has a fun, positive, catchy pop feel which is impossible to resist. And I love lines like, “Small gains that I am making/Become such an undertaking” and “One day I’m almost certain/The day next day I draw the curtain.” We can all relate to these lyrics, eh? “And if I fall, who would miss me/And who can I find to forgive me.”

CD Track List
  1. Come Tumblin’ Down
  2. Secret Love
  3. A Thousand Million Reasons
  4. The Best In Me
  5. Frozen Fields Of Snow
  6. The Last To Know
  7. I’m Going To Get You Stoned
  8. I’m Walking Here
  9. Two Friends
  10. She Was The Love Of Mine
  11. I’m Inside Outside In
  12. Blue Bay Moon
  13. Love Don’t Mean Enough 
Fierce Mercy is scheduled to be released on March 3, 2017 through Lazy Eye Records and Compass Records.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Rick Cutler: “Daydreams (Probably)” (2017) CD Review

Daydreams (Probably), the new CD from accomplished musician Rick Cutler, features mostly solo piano pieces, but also some tracks where he plays drums as well. There are also several brief drum solos throughout the album. The drums were the first instrument he learned as a child, before moving to piano. He studied piano with Chick Corea, and has played with many excellent artists over the years. This CD contains mostly original material, but Rick Cutler also includes a few covers on this release, joined for two of those songs by female vocalists. Rick Cutler plays all instruments on this album.

Daydreams (Probably) opens with one of the very brief drum solos. Titled “Amuse Bouche 1,” it’s actually just cymbals, and lasts for less than thirty seconds. He then goes into a somewhat whimsical and pretty piano solo titled “Overalls.” “The Tall Road” then features Rick Cutler on both piano and drums. This tune has a relaxed groove, but with a delightful jazzy feel, and is followed by another drum solo, “Amuse Bouche 2.” Yes, as you might have gathered by now, each of the drum solos is titled “Amuse Bouche.”

The first of the album’s covers is a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Black Orchid,” a song from his 1979 record Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants, which was the soundtrack to the documentary film The Secret Life Of Plants, which was based on the book of the same name. This song is certainly not as familiar as much of Stevie Wonder’s other work, but it has a certain beauty. This rendition by Rick Cutler features Branice McKenzie on vocals, and it’s a good version. That is followed by “When I Found You Again,” a more contemplative solo piano piece. There is something relaxing and quietly beautiful about this track, and it’s one of my favorites of this album.

“When I Found You Again” is followed by another drum solo. But why have a brief drum solo between two mellow, pretty piano pieces? It’s a strange choice, and breaks up the mood that seems to have been so carefully created. “Daydreams (Probably),” the CD’s title track, is the piano solo that follows the drum solo, and it’s another of the disc’s highlights. “Walking Meditation” is a relaxing and optimistic piano piece, something to soothe our troubled souls, which we have tremendous need for these days.

The second cover on this CD is Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” this track featuring Charlotte Durkee (Rick Cutler’s daughter) on vocals. This song has been covered by several artists over the years, including Elvis Presley and Judy Collins. Rick and Charlotte do a wonderful job with it, delivering a moving and sweet rendition that is another of this disc’s highlights. And actually, it’s followed by another favorite, “Opposites Distract.” Something about this track puts me at unease. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but while listening to it I’m prepared for despair or disaster to come in through the window.

The final of this disc’s covers is an interesting rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Sanctuary,” a tune included on the Miles Davis record Bitches Brew, an album that of course features Chick Corea. Rick starts this one off with some strange sounds, the only of the CD’s tracks to use effects like that, and then suddenly we’re eased into the composition’s beauty, but with those effects persisting in the background (and foreground, for that matter). Rick Cutler, in addition to piano and drums, plays saxophone on this track. And why not? After all, it was composed by Wayne Shorter.

Another of my favorites is “Back & Forth Forever,” which does have an odd, haunting, eternal quality, a weird purgatory for children and other lost souls. Like a long empty hallway, with giant windows on one side, curtains blowing in as you keep moving along, hoping for something at the end, hoping for an end. This CD concludes with a lighthearted piano piece, “Purple People.”

CD Track List
  1. Amuse Bouche 1
  2. Overalls
  3. The Tall Road
  4. Amuse Bouche 2
  5. Black Orchid
  6. When I Found You Again
  7. Amuse Bouche 3
  8. Daydreams (Probably)
  9. Walking Meditation
  10. Amuse Bouche 4
  11. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
  12. Opposites Distract
  13. Amuse Bouche 5
  14. Sanctuary
  15. We Apologize For The Apology
  16. Back & Forth Forever
  17. Amuse Bouche 6
  18. A.D., Betty & Joe
  19. The Glue In The Cell
  20. Hymn #3
  21. Purple People 
Daydreams (Probably) was released on February 10, 2017 on New Dude Records.

Ray Vaughn: “Wounded Bird” (2016) CD Review

In the late 1970s, Ray Vaughn founded the San Francisco punk rock band Hostages. He performed in that band and others in the San Francisco scene until the early 1990s. And then…? I don’t know. But Ray Vaughn returned to the music scene in 2013 with Way Down Low, and then late last year followed that with Wounded Bird. This album begins with punk and rock, delivered with energy and a snarl, and yet ends with a beautiful song more in the folk realm. Regardless of the energy, regardless of the volume, these songs all come across as honest, passionate, real. Most of the songs on this disc are originals. Joining Ray Vaughn on this album are Ed Rawlings on electric guitar, James DePrato on guitar and mandolin, Kevin T. White on bass, and Prairie Prince (yes, of The Tubes) on drums.

The album opens with “Human Calculator,” which has something of a pop vibe somewhere in there, but with a punk heart pumping its energy to our ears. There are some deliciously biting lyrics, with lines like “You throw a look in my direction/What you see is your reflection” and “I see your heart is full of want” and “You’re living like an open book/That one that no one read/Or even took a look.” It’s a great way to start the album. Phil Bennett (of Starship) plays Hammond B3 on this track. That’s followed by the CD’s title track, “Wounded Bird,” which comes on strong and fast. This one too has some damn good lyrics. “How do you rise above it when you’re so tired of it/How can you say you love me when you can’t stare me in the eye.” Man, the energy of this song fits perfectly with my mood – kind of angry, kind of ready to burst, but still (just barely) contained within a groove. I love his vocal delivery here.

That’s followed by the CD’s one cover song, a rendition of New Order’s “True Faith.” Ray Vaughn’s version is a bit less pop, a bit more rock, a bit more raw. And I like it. Ray Vaughn then goes in a different direction with “Change In Latitude,” a mellower tune, with country elements, and a somewhat haunted sound, like he’s walking toward an uncertain horizon. However, there is something strangely positive about this song. After all, its main lines are, “Love is written everywhere you move/It just might be the change in latitude.”

My favorite song on this disc is probably “Song For You.” There is something incredibly pretty and moving about this one. “And I can only hope for so long/That I lived a good life, right or wrong/You know I am kind and you know I am true/Here’s to you.” He is vulnerable, in a way, but still with a power, a strong heart. The song builds in force halfway through, and is really emotionally engaging. This is a song that affects me more each time I listen to it. I definitely recommend checking it out. Ray Vaughn concludes the disc with another pretty song, “It Happened On Willow Street,” which he presents on guitar and vocals, giving it an immediate and intimate feel. “It started as a spark on Willow Street/But it’s so hard to leave behind/Life, love, your words so kind/But I’m standing strong at the city’s feet.”

CD Track List
  1. Human Calculator
  2. Wounded Bird
  3. True Faith
  4. Change In Latitude
  5. Song For You
  6. Been Away Too Long
  7. Rain
  8. It Happened On Willow Street
Wounded Bird was released on November 4, 2016.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band: “Cigar Store” (2016) CD Review

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band has been playing for more than two decades, and you can hear the experience, as well as the joy they take in playing, in the tracks of their latest release, Cigar Store. This disc contains some fun tunes, as well as some more serious blues. The band is made up of Corey Lueck on vocals and harmonica; Mike Stubbs on guitar, dobro and backing vocals; Nick Succi on piano, organ and backing vocals; Gordon Aeichele on saxophone; Jason Colavecchia on bass and backing vocals; Steve Sherman on percussion, organ, bass and backing vocals; and Tibor Lukacs on drums and backing vocals. They are based in Hamilton, Ontario (so much good music comes out of Ontario). Most of the tracks on this CD are originals. And you know they mean every word they say, like when they sing, “I hate to see you leave, baby, but I love, I love to watch you go.”

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band kicks off Cigar Store with “Walking Cane,” a lively tune about having the blues again. Hey, what else? It is the instrumental section of this song that is especially enjoyable. I love that bass line, and check out that organ and the saxophone! That there is some delicious bit of playing with something of a timeless quality designed to raise your spirits. It’s followed by another lively number, “Must’ve Read It Wrong,” which begins with some great blasts on the harmonica, then relaxes a bit into a good groove. This is a playful song with humorous lines like “I had to run before I learned to crawl/Learned all I know from a bathroom stall/I must’ve read it wrong” and “I’m going to yodel in the valley/Until the cows come home,” the latter obviously a fun reference to cunnilingus. And I love when the others echo him at the end, “Yodel in the valley.” This tune is a delight.

“I Tried” is a mellower tune about how it’s difficult to follow the advice given to him by his friend, about not letting a woman take his soul. “And I tried, oh lord I tried, honest I did.” There is something incredibly appealing about this song, in the honesty of the vocals, in the old, familiar, delightful sound of the guitar, and in the saxophone becoming powerful at just the right moments, then trailing off also at the right moments. At times, this song has the feel of something by Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. Yeah, it’s that good.

Things start swinging with “Directly Under Her Thumb,” a song written by Corey Lueck and Mike Stubbs. There is joy in the music, even as Corey sings, “My friends call her ball and chain.” Oh yes, they both know who is in charge in that relationship. And certainly there is some pleasure to be had knowing your woman is in control; thus, the upbeat, happy feel of the music. I particularly like the work on keys. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Cigar Store,” which begins with the piano and some spoken word, the sax then singing to back him up. “Strange things happen under the midnight sun/When a man gets lonely, he might come undone.” Then after a minute and a half or so, the song kicks in, swinging and jiving, and it becomes a fun number. And I dig that brief lead on bass.

“Set Me Free” is a song that was originally released on the band’s The One And Only Smoke Wagon Blues Band album more than a decade ago. This one has a steady, simply groove, letting the serious and passionate vocals drive the song and take focus. And then halfway through the song, the sax comes in as another voice, expressing perhaps what can’t be spoken. That’s followed by “Mean Old Lady,” one of only two covers on this CD. It was written by Richard Newell. They close the album with the other cover, “You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon,” written by Ben Harney and Johnny Biller. This is another of the CD’s highlights, with its delicious old ragtime vibe. The way they handle it reminds me just a bit of Dr. John. It’s a fun way to end the album.

CD Track List
  1. Walking Cane
  2. Must’ve Read It Wrong
  3. I Tried
  4. Hoodoo Woman
  5. Put The Quilt Out To Dry
  6. Directly Under Her Thumb
  7. Cigar Store
  8. White Mule
  9. Set Me Free
  10. Mean Old Lady
  11. I Can’t Change
  12. Quarter Mile
  13. You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon 
Cigar Store was released on November 4, 2016.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Muffs: “Happy Birthday To Me” (1997/2017) CD Review

Is it possible to kill Donald Trump with music? Has anyone tried blasting The Muffs’ “That Awful Man” at him? I think it’s worth looking into. And Omnivore is re-issuing Happy Birthday To Me, which contains that track, so it’s the perfect time to try it. Actually, it’s coming out just before my birthday, so there. Of course, the title always reminds me of that early 1980s horror movie. This album was originally released in 1997. I can’t believe it’s been twenty years. I think I graduated from college right around the date this album was originally released, and maybe it was playing as we got our diplomas. Seems about right. As with Omnivore’s re-issues of the band’s first two albums, this CD contains several bonus tracks, most of which were previously unreleased. There are also new liner notes by all three band members, with thoughts and recollections of the making of this album, including the anecdote surrounding the CD’s title (it has nothing to do with the 1981 horror film). Now that I think about it, I suppose it makes more sense to play “That Awful Man” for Melania Trump. Well, good luck to anyone who tries it anyway. Something’s bound to give.

This album kicks off with “Crush Me,” written by Kim Shattuck. Actually, all the tracks on the original album were written by Kim. And she writes some good lyrics, like these lines: “I want your love and confusion/Crush Me” and “Trust me/When I tell you/My scent is still fresh and it's on you.” That’s followed by “That Awful Man,” and these lines seem appropriate to the couple currently occupying the White House: “And he doesn't mean it when he says he loves you so/Dedicated to himself as if you didn't know.” Though, actually, has he ever told Melania that he loves her? Who knows? And is she even in the White House, or hiding away in New York? Okay, enough about that.

One of my personal favorites from this album is “All Blue Baby,” in which Kim sings, “And you're ugly through and through/And you think you're ugly too/And I see what you see/And it's so right on/It's a crummy, crummy day.” This one is just really working for me right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve basically been in a foul mood since the election, and things are just getting worse out there, and this groove is helping. I am especially thankful these days that bands like The Muffs exist. This album deserves some volume.

Kim’s sister Kristen Shattuck provides backing vocals on “Is It All Okay?” Bugger, things keep making me think about the mendacious so-called president. Check out these lines: “You think you're great, boy/But now it makes me sick to think/About the words you spoke/Through your old wicked face.” That’s followed by another of my favorites, “Pennywhore.” I love this song, especially its sense of play. It’s just absolutely bloody fun. A demo of this song was included on last year’s expanded edition of the band’s second album, Blonder And Blonder.

This entire album is pretty damn good, but another track that stands out for me is “Nothing.” It’s one I want to dance around to, knocking things over, tearing fistfuls of hair and skin from the couch. “I believed you baby/I don't know why/I believed you baby/Now I know.” Oh man, I love those shouts. Another great shout opens “Keep Holding Me,” which is also a fun tune. This one makes me happy. The original album then concludes with “The Best Time Around,” which has more of a strong pop feel. But check out these lines: “And I will wish upon a star/To fall upon your head/If you should die before I wake/I pray the lord your soul will bake.”  Well, actually, there is an untitled hidden track after that song, after about ten seconds of silence. It’s a goofy improvised tune, with Ronnie on drums instead of Roy (both Ronnie and Kim talk about this tune in the liner notes). “New jazz, Daddy-o.”

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains seven bonus tracks, most of which were previously unreleased. Actually, the first of the bonus tracks is the only one that was available earlier. “Pacer” was released as the flip side to the “I’m A Dick” single, and also included on a couple of compilations. This song was not written by Kim Shattuck, but by Kim Deal, and originally recorded by The Amps. The other six tracks are demos of songs from this album – “Till You Walk Away (Crush Me),” “That Awful Man,” “Honeymoon,” “My Crazy Afternoon,” “Outer Space” and “The Best Time Around.” This version of “That Awful Man” has something of a 1960s thing happening, which I love.

CD Track List
  1. Crush Me
  2. That Awful Man
  3. Honeymoon
  4. All Blue Baby
  5. My Crazy Afternoon
  6. Is It All Okay?
  7. Pennywhore
  8. Outer Space
  9. I’m A Dick
  10. Nothing
  11. Where Only I Could Go
  12. Upside Down
  13. You And Your Parrot
  14. Keep Holding Me
  15. The Best Time Around
  16. Pacer
  17. Till You Walk Away (Crush Me) (demo)
  18. That Awful Man (demo)
  19. Honeymoon (demo)
  20. My Crazy Afternoon (demo)
  21. Outer Space (demo)
  22. The Best Time Around (demo)
This special expanded edition of Happy Birthday To Me is scheduled to be released on March 3, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Too Late, Jackie Evancho

Jackie Evancho, who sang the United States national anthem at Donald Trump’s inauguration, is now suddenly upset with him over his removing certain protections for transgender students, as she has a transgender sibling.

Yesterday, she posted this on Twitter: “I am obviously disappointed in the @POTUS decision to send the #transgender bathroom issue to the states to decide.”

She then followed it up with this, also on Twitter: “@realDonaldTrump u gave me the honor 2 sing at your inauguration. Pls give me & my sis the honor 2 meet with u 2 talk #transgender rghts”

On the one hand, I think it’s great when anyone turns against Trump, even in the slightest way. I’m surprised that he hasn’t lost more of his supporters. However, on the other hand, it seems more than a bit disingenuous on Jackie’s part. After all, she can’t pretend she didn’t know about this issue months ago. Many people sent her messages, asking her to reconsider performing at Trump’s inauguration, myself included. And many specifically mentioned her transgender sister in their messages, and what Donald would likely do regarding that segment of our population. Jackie knew, but she went ahead and sang for him anyway. And now Donald is doing precisely what many warned her he would do, and she’s upset. Well, it’s too late. The time to take her stand was in January, by not performing and by publicly stating her reason for backing out of the performance. But now, it’s like she’s trying to play for both sides, and that just doesn’t work. 

Again, I think it’s good that she’s raising her voice in opposition to Trump (or at least one of his policies), even though it seems somewhat hypocritical. It is, of course, at the risk of alienating her new right wing fan base that fell in love with her specifically because she chose to lend her voice to the celebration of that racist prick. But she lost many people when she sang for him. I, for one, sent her a message in December stating explicitly that if she went through with her inauguration performance I would never purchase any of her CDs or concert tickets. And I never will, regardless of her current and future actions.

Too late, Jackie Evancho.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Eliza Neals: “10,000 Feet Below” (2017) CD Review

Most of the country has the blues right now, so why not listen to some good blues? Blues are designed to lift our spirits by getting all that negativity out of our systems, defeat our sorrow by voicing it. And what a perfect voice for the task is the one possessed by Eliza Neals. Raw, rough, emotional, ready to throttle our troubles, tear out their throats, chew on their corpses, then kick them aside to let something brighter enter. It’s a big job, especially these days, but it seems Eliza Neals is made for this. Just look at her on the cover, ready to descend to the depths and do battle with whatever creatures might dwell down there. Or is she emerging unscathed and clean, having already defeated the monsters with her voice alone? Leave that up to you to decide. I’m just digging the new CD, 10,000 Feet Below, which features mostly original material. Eliza, in addition to providing that great voice, plays piano, organ and tambourine on this release. Her band includes Howard Glazer on guitar, John Abraham on bass and Demarcus Sumter on drums. And on this CD, she is joined by some other talented musicians, folks like Paul Nelson, Billy Davis, Skeeto Valdez, Paul Randolph and Kenny Bradford.

Eliza Neals kicks off the new CD with a very cool original tune, “Cleotus.” This one has something of a loose, back porch feel. And right away she shows she’s not a woman to be messed with, singing, “I slapped his face, I said shame on you/Now get back in the car, that’s what you got to do.” That’s followed by “Another Lifetime,” a great, tough blues tune she wrote with Howard Glazer. “You walked in the room/And my heart trembled, trembled/You kissed my lips/My lips, my lips/And my soul remembered/Another place so hard to find/Maybe another lifetime.” There is something sexy about her delivery. She reminds me a bit of Kelly Zirbes (of Kelly’s Lot). Her vocals have that same power and emotion, and she seems just as willing to risk everything, to really go for it at every moment and see what happens. Not just see what happens, but accept what happens, embrace it and then let it go. There is also something of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins here, maybe a similar soul, who knows. Just listen to her toward the end of this track, and you’ll see what I mean. Maybe it’s the say she sings the word “mine” in the line “Gotta make you mine,” like we have absolutely no choice in the matter. Oh yes!

The title track, “10,000 Feet Below,” begins with a steady pounding, and Eliza sings, “I just got back from hell/And the devil was scared of me/I just got back from hell/And I stomped him with my feet.” I have no doubt about it, and that pounding makes me feel like she’s ready to stomp anyone else who crosses her path, that she’s not done. And the masochist in me wants to cross her path right now. And I love that guitar part halfway through. This is one of my favorite tracks. Eliza begins “You Ain’t My Dog No More” a cappella. So delicious. Then when the band comes in, it takes on a heavy, standard blues rhythm. And she stutters “B-b-b-baby” like George Thorogood singing “B-b-b-bad.” Brian Clune plays drums on this one.

For “Cold Cold Night,” Eliza Neals has a different group of musicians backing her, including Paul Nelson (from Johnny Winter’s band) on guitar, Lenny Bradford (from Joe Louis Walker’s band and Entrain) on bass, and John Medeiros on drums. This is a cool, emotionally charged tune, and I’m particularly fond of Paul Nelson’s work on guitar. That’s followed by the album’s one cover, a good rendition of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” here simply titled “Hard Killing Floor.” Eliza’s vocal performance is seriously impressive, and the guitar is so expressive.

In “Downhill On A Rocket,” Eliza sings, “I’m a voodoo woman with a cross in my hand.” That sounds just about right, and I don’t think it will be long before she has you under her spell. She also sings, “Swimming in a swamp filled with crocodiles,” and I can’t help but think we’re all in it now. The so-called president promised to “drain the swamp,” but instead he’s dragged the entire nation into his ever-growing mire, which he has filled with a collection of horrid beasts that can bite but can’t speak. Well, hell, Eliza defeated the devil. Surely she can take on that prick and his regime. And in the next song, “Merle Dixon,” she sings, “I don’t like what you’re saying/Shut your mouth.” It’s difficult these days to separate our dire political situation from… well, from anything. And hearing these lines, I immediately think of Donald Trump and want to sing those lines to him. Oh, when will he shut up? But of course, this song is not about that guy. It’s about, I assume, a character from The Walking Dead. Merle Dixon was played by Michael Rooker, who famously played the lead role in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.

Eliza Neals concludes her new album with “At The Crossroads,” a slower, more haunting number that features Billy Davis on guitar. And even with such a phenomenal guitarist, I do like that the piano remains at this song’s base. The song trails off at the end like a descent into a fiery pit. We’re not out of this one yet, folks. Not by a long shot. So just start this album over again.

CD Track List
  1. Cleotus
  2. Another Lifetime
  3. Burn The Tent Down
  4. 10,000 Feet Below
  5. You Ain’t My Dog No More
  6. Cold Cold Night
  7. Hard Killing Floor
  8. Cal Me Moonshine
  9. Downhill On A Rocket
  10. Merle Dixon
  11. At The Crossroads 
10,000 Feet Below was released on February 17, 2017 through E-H Records.

The Crossing Kind: “Something Greater” (2017) CD Review

The Crossing Kind is the duo of Jacob Thomas and Christina Noelle, a married couple based in Sacramento, California. On their new EP, Something Greater, they offer a bright, positive-sounding brand of pop folk with gospel elements, particularly in the lyrics. They are joined by Kyle Schonewill, who also produced the album. This is their third release, following a self-titled album and a Christmas EP.

They begin the new EP with “This Ain’t Goodbye,” a song about carrying on after a loved one’s death. It’s not a song of despair, but has a joyous sound as it is about the belief that they’ll see each other again in the afterlife. The opening lines are, “This ain’t goodbye forever/This is just, I’ll see you when I reach the other side.” Jacob sings lead, but they harmonize on the chorus. It has a strong Christian bent, but it is certainly not a bad thing to live in the hope of seeing again the people you miss. That song is followed by “Love Will Lead You Home,” with Christina and Jacob sharing lead vocal duties, each taking different sections. And at one point toward the end Christina sings part of it a cappella. “So if you’ve lost your way/And you feel ashamed/Love will lead you home/There’s always open arms/For a humble heart/When love leads you home.” Again, this song has a very positive, happy sound.

“Sing Over Me” has even a brighter, more positive folk pop sound, and is probably my favorite track on this disc. It really works to lift your spirits, and those “Oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa” vocals are ridiculously catchy. And I think we can all relate to these lines: “These days are flying past/And I can’t rewind or stop time/My first breath to my last/Sing over me.” The EP then concludes with “Where I Wanna Be,” which will be released as the disc’s single, and is the first song I heard from this duo, the song that got me interested. The message, or heart of the song, is somewhat similar to that of Ellis Paul’s “Home,” that the physical space of a house is not what is important and isn’t what makes a home. In this song, The Crossing Kind sing, “We don’t need a structure/As long as we still have each other/Everywhere else is second best/It’s not the four walls/Windows or welcome sign/It’s the hearts that beat inside.” And they sing, “You’re my home, and that’s where I wanna be.”

CD Track List
  1. This Ain’t Goodbye
  2. Love Will Lead You Home
  3. Sing Over Me
  4. Where I Wanna Be
Something Greater is scheduled to be released on March 24, 2017.

I See Hawks In L.A. at The Hi Hat, 2-21-17 Concert Review

I See Hawks In L.A. performing "Don't Bury Me"
Every morning I tell myself not to read the news, not to respond to any of Donald Trump’s bullshit. But every day I do. But then every evening I make it up to myself by listening to some excellent music. Last night I caught I See Hawks In L.A. at The Hi Hat in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, and they put on a great show, certainly turning things around for me after a day of engaging Trump supporters in pointless debates. This was the third night of the band’s residency. Each show has a theme. Last week they played on Valentine’s Day, and the theme was love and loneliness. Last night it was geography and death.

I See Hawks In L.A. actually took the stage a couple of minutes early, at 9:58 p.m., after a good opening set by Steps Of Doe. They kicked off the show with “Turn That Airplane Around,” a tune from the band’s self-titled debut album. It was after that first song that Rob Waller announced: “This is our third night of the residency. We had drugs and drug problems on week number one. I know some of you were here for that. We had love and loneliness last week for Valentine’s Day. Those are kind of two sides of the same coin. Tonight it’s geography and death. So, congratulations, you’re here for geography and death. Here we go.” And the band went into the title track from the Grapevine album, which sounded so sweet. I love the harmonies. “I’m feeling fine, but I lose my mind every time I stay.”

After that tune, Rob Waller said: “I feel like we wrote that when I’d only lived in Los Angeles for like four or five years, and it still seemed like I could leave Los Angeles. Now, whatever, ten years after that, twelve years after that, it’s like I don’t think I could ever. Even if I leave, I won’t actually leave Los Angeles, I don’t think. I’ve been here too long. Watch out, it’s what happens.” I know exactly what he means. I’ve been here a hell of a long time at this point myself, and I don’t think I could leave. Los Angeles will do that to you. Maybe other places have that effect too, I don’t know. I tend to doubt Oklahoma, for example, would. And I See Hawks In L.A. then played “Oklahoma’s Going Dry,” the lead-off track from the band’s 2013 release, Mystery Drug. Paul Lacques delivered some great stuff on guitar.

Rob introduced “Mary Austin Sky” by saying, “From one desert to another.” “Mary Austin Sky” is a pretty song from New Kind Of Lonely, which was released in 2012. “That’s a song about our favorite desert landscape painter, Mary-Austin Klein,” Rob mentioned afterward. “Lots of the lyrics are titles of her paintings.” They followed that with a very fun rendition of “Houston Romance,” a song from California Country. Rob called out a couple that had their first date at an I See Hawks In L.A. show at Cole’s in downtown Los Angeles and last night were celebrating their eighth anniversary. Pretty cool.

This band has a lot of great songs, but if I were forced to pick a favorite, it would probably be “If You Lead I Will Follow,” the final track from New Kind Of Lonely (though “Highway Down” might be a very close second). It’s a beautiful song written by Rob Waller and Paul Marshall, and last night they did an excellent rendition of it. So beautiful, so moving, it was for me the highlight of the night. It completely made my day. Then, in introducing “Bohemian Highway,” which is actually the first track from New Kind Of Lonely, Paul Lacques said it was a geography song, “The geography of where a man died.” They followed that with “California Country,” and then “The Spirit Of Death,” another song from New Kind Of Lonely. The lines I always love from that song are, “If you visit my grave, you won't be alone/I'll be dancing on my own gravestone/Bring your pretty women, bring your fruit of the vine/A whole lot of laughing and a little bit of crying.”

Before the final song of the set, Rob Waller announced next week’s theme: “Next week: apocalypse. We’re not kidding around. We have, I think, enough songs for a whole set of apocalyptic songs, somehow.” A woman in the audience then yelled out something about Trump, the idea of the apocalypse inspiring her, I guess. “Fuck him, he’s ruining our country,” she said. Rob said, “That’s right,” and then Paul Lacques responded, “That’s a long discussion, ma’am.” She kept shouting stuff, until the band launched into “Don’t Bury Me,” a fun song to end the set. The show ended at 10:48 p.m.

Set List
  1. Turn That Airplane Around
  2. Grapevine
  3. Oklahoma’s Going Dry
  4. Mary Austin Sky
  5. Houston Romance
  6. If You Lead I Will Follow
  7. Bohemian Highway
  8. California Country
  9. The Spirit Of Death
  10. Don’t Bury Me
 Here are a few photos from the show:

"Turn That Airplane Around"
"Turn That Airplane Around"
"Grapevine" 
"Oklahoma's Going Dry"
"Mary Austin Sky"
"Bohemian Highway"
"California Country"
As I left the venue, stepping out into the night, a guy outside shouted, “It’s been real.” I love that because it implied that just maybe it was no longer real. The Hi Hat is located at 5043 York Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Steve Slagle: “Alto Manhattan” (2017) CD Review

Saxophonist Steve Slagle’s new album, Alto Manhattan, provides some lively jazz to elevate your mood. It certainly had that effect on me, and just when I was about ready to give in to anger and despair (most of us are on the edge these days, since the bloody election). This CD, which follows 2015’s The Power Of Two, features mostly original material, and on a couple of tracks Steve switches to flute. He is joined by Lawrence Fields on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Joe Lovano and Roman Diaz join the band on certain tracks, on tenor saxophone and congas respectively.

Steve Slagle kicks off the CD with “Family,” an original composition with a delicious rhythm. This is one of the tracks featuring Roman Diaz on congas. It also features Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, and so we are treated to two saxophones right at the start of this album. There is also some nice work on piano by Lawrence Fields. There is just a tremendously bright energy to this track that enveloped me. It’s followed by “Alto Manhattan,” the CD’s title track, with some great work on drums providing a fast-moving ship, above which Steve Slagle’s horn plays to the wind, the skies, affecting them just as his playing affects us, getting everything flying along. This is great stuff to carry us swiftly away from our troubles.

“I Know That You Know” has a sexier, more romantic and bluesy feel, but isn’t too slow. Steve Slagle’s saxophone sings here, having a lot to convey. And then there is some wonderful work on piano that makes me smile. Oh yes, things are good, even before we get that cool lead on bass by Gerald Cannon. And then we’re treated to a five-minute solo saxophone rendition of Johnny Green’s “Body And Soul,” the first of three covers, which are presented all in a row. Steve takes it to some interesting places, before then getting nice and gentle and low at the end. The pace picks up again with an excellent cover of McCoy Tyner’s “Inception.” Things get pretty wild at one point, like the horn and drums are challenging each other. And toward the end there is a brief drum solo. The third of the three covers on this album is a pretty rendition of “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” a song written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and featuring some tender playing by Steve Slagle and Lawrence Fields.

Joe Lovano then joins the group again on tenor saxophone for “(Alto Manhattan) A.M.,” a different version of the album’s title track. And again, it moves along at a rapid pace. Try to keep up if you can. Light your feet on fire and dance straight through your walls like a joyful cartoon animal, or just sit down and let it take your imagination on a ride. There are some great short drum solos toward the end. For the last two tracks of the CD, Steve Slagle puts down his sax and switches to flute. The first, “Holiday,” is a somewhat mellower tune featuring Joe Lovano on G mezzo soprano saxophone. “Viva La Famalia” has a great groove. Both tracks feature Roman Diaz on congas.

CD Track List
  1. Family
  2. Alto Manhattan
  3. I Know That You Know
  4. Body & Soul
  5. Inception
  6. Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry
  7. (Alto Manhattan) A.M.
  8. Holiday
  9. Viva La Famalia 
Alto Manhattan was released on January 6, 2017 on Panorama Records.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cindy Lee Berryhill: “The Adventurist” (2017) CD Review

Like most of you, I’ve been fighting depression since the election. The best weapon against this despair has been music. And there have been quite a few excellent songs ridiculing the so-called president. But one woman was well ahead of the game. Cindy Lee Berryhill released her song “Trump” in 1989 on her Naked Movie Star album. Check out these lines: “I pledge allegiance to a man/Of United States of Amer-i-can/To the suffering on which he stands/One man by God/An individual/With money and compassion for us.” Again, that was in 1989. Well, this prognosticator has a new CD coming out. Titled The Adventurist, this is her first new release in approximately a decade. The album is dedicated to the memory of Paul S. Williams, to whom she was married.

This CD opens with “American Cinematography,” a strange, yet delightful tune. It’s a bit of folk, bit of pop, bit of rock, but a whole lot of wonderful. Yes, part of that is the presence of the cello, an instrument I always appreciate. That’s Renata Bratt on cello. Renata also plays on the following track, “Somebody’s Angel,” which is one of my personal favorites. And sure, it’s a serious situation, but something about the line “They did their best, it’s no one’s fault the surgery didn’t take” makes me laugh. But this is a beautiful and passionate song about carrying on after the death of a spouse. “But I know you’d still want me to be happy now/The first time I kissed somebody new/I cried when I thought about you.” This line also stands out: “But I’m still young enough to want someone to hold through the night.” Ah, do we ever stop wanting that? I hope not. Christopher Vitas plays violin on this track. This is a song that I love more each time I listen to it.

Another of this disc’s highlights is its title track, “The Adventurist.” The strings play a prominent role in this one, setting the tone for this tale, which features an unusual combination of sounds, an unusual combination of instruments, mixing strings with vibraphone and marimba. That’s Renata Bratt on cello again, and Ben Blechman on violin. DJ Bonebrake (yes, of X) is on marimba, and Paula Luber is on vibraphone. “Meanwhile back at the ranch/Our protagonist is taking out cash/For a journey far from her home/While the adventurist is hunting big game/With an AK-47 cell phone/And a Jeep Cherokee playing lounge love songs.” DJ Bonebrake also plays marimba on “Thanks Again,” another strange tune. But of course by now odd is what I expect. It begins with a bit of spoken word – “We can see what’s ours/What we’ve inherited, and what this crazy is coming to” – and then soon she sings, “Thanks again for doing me in.” What, a song of cosmic doom and rebirth?

“Horsepower” is a fun tune. It has a sort of false ending, then becomes an interesting little jam at the end. “I Like Cats/You Like Dogs” has something of a chipper sound, but there is something unhinged, a little off, and it’s not long before it is clear what it is: she sings, “I like cats, I like cats.” Enough said, right?  Check out these lines from “The Heavy: “Volcanoes erupt when you come around/Your name comes up and all the crap goes down/You play the heavy.” And yet the song has a light, kind of pretty tone. DJ Bonebrake plays marimba and vibraphone on this one, Paul Luber is on glockenspiel, Renata plays cello, and Ben Blechman is on violin.

“An Affair Of The Heart” is a beautiful love song featuring Renata Bratt on cello, Glen Campbell on cello and Christopher Vitas on violin. Ben Campbell plays bass on this track. “You can’t fight the feeling/Like a mountain on fire starts with a spark/Not a matter of reason, an affair of the heart.” Cindy Lee Berryhill then concludes the CD with “Deep Sea Dishing,” an instrumental tune featuring the sound of a dishwasher (and obviously a play on “Deep Sea Fishing,” in which you can also hear that machine at the beginning).

CD Track List
  1. American Cinematography
  2. Somebody’s Angel
  3. Contemplating The Infinite (In A Kiss)
  4. The Adventurist
  5. Information From Nowhere
  6. Thanks Again
  7. Horsepower
  8. Jumping To Conclusions
  9. I Like Cats/You Like Dogs
  10. The Heavy
  11. Deep Sea Fishing
  12. Gravity Falls
  13. An Affair Of The Heart
  14. Deep Sea Dishing
The Adventurist is scheduled to be released on March 10, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 21” (2017) CD Review

For the last few years, as a Christmas gift my parents have ordered me a subscription to the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings. They did so this year too, but for some reason the order didn’t go through, and by the time we realized it, it was too late to place a new order. But they were kind enough to order the first volume of the year from an independent seller (for quite a bit more money). And I certainly needed it today. I started my day by watching the press conference in which the supposed president was insulting and insane. Why are the reporters so polite to him? Why do they laugh when he insults them, like they’re in on some great joke? Ask your questions, demand answers, and write your articles. Don’t feed his ego. You don’t need to be friendly with the guy, no matter how often he asks for “friendly” questions. Anyway, it was a horrible and stupid way to start my day. So, fuck it, I decided today would be a day of drinking and Dead. I opened a bottle of wine, turned off the phone and settled in for a good day of the Dead.

The new three-disc set, Dave’s Picks Volume 21, contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed in Boston on April 2, 1973. Like a lot of folks, I think 1973 is the best year for the band. The first disc contains most of the first set. After the briefest of introductions, the band kicks off the show with a Chuck Berry rock and roll song, “Promised Land.” They then keep the energy up with “Deal” and then “Mexicali Blues.” Things start to get really good with a sweet rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women.” Ah, yes, this is what I need. There is some goofing around before “Beat It On Down The Line,” and that tune gets me dancing. I dig Keith’s work on piano. “Yes, I got a sweet woman, lord, and she’s waiting there for me/Yes, that’s where I’m going to make my happy home.”

The band then dips into some mellower material with a really nice “Row Jimmy.” “Broken heart don’t feel so bad/You ain’t got half of what you thought you had/Rock your baby to and fro/Not too fast and not too slow.” Bob then jokes about releasing big spiders in the front of the stage, and the band goes into “Looks Like Rain.” They follow that with “Wave That Flag,” the song that would eventually become “U.S. Blues.” In this earlier form, the music is the same, but the lyrics are quite different, including lines like “Ball the jack, chew the fat” and “Stretch the truth, pull the tooth,” which would soon be cut. I always enjoyed hearing “U.S. Blues,” and it never failed to get me smiling and dancing and singing along. This early version is certainly no exception.

For those folks in the Phil Zone, the band plays “Box Of Rain.” Then they do a fun rendition of “Big River.” But it’s when the band begins “China Cat Sunflower” that you can hear the crowd getting really excited. Ah yes, once you’ve done a bit of acid, those images never really leave you, and for that I’m thankful. Are our brains forever altered? Probably. And wasn’t that the point? I think so, though it’s difficult to recall at times. No matter, just enjoy that groove, because this is when the band starts jamming, this is when things start taking off. The transition to “I Know You Rider” is smooth, and it’s a damn good rendition.

They follow that with “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” a Loretta Lynn country song that the band played only for a brief time, with Donna Jean on lead vocals. “You ain’t woman enough to take my man.” That leads to the band singing, “We can share the women, we can share the wine.” Interesting transition, eh? This is a good “Jack Straw,” and that concludes the first disc, but not the first set. Yup, this is a nice long show. The first disc is more than seventy-four minutes.

The second disc picks up where the first let off, with the last couple of songs from the first set. A fun “Don’t Ease Me In” is followed by “Playing In The Band,” and yes, it’s everything you want and hope for from a 1973 “Playing,” with plenty of interesting jamming. Oh yes, this is what it’s all about, lifting me off this world into an alternate reality that often feels more like home than the one where we end up spending most of our time. Is that what draws us again and again to the music? Well, this is an excellent “Playing.”

And then we still have the entire second set! The band gets it underway with a seriously good “Ramble On Rose,” followed by “Me And My Uncle” and then “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” That’s followed by an excellent and energetic “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Geez, who would have thought that song would be a highlight of a second set from a 1973 show? But there you have it. And the band then does a very cool version of “Loose Lucy.” “Thank you for a real good time!” Everything is working so well. “Loose Lucy” is followed by a really good “El Paso,” which rolls along at a great pace under the momentum of the story. The band then brings things down a bit for a beautiful, moving, touching rendition of “Stella Blue,” one of my favorites. “It seems like all this life was just a dream.” The second disc then concludes with a Chuck Berry song, “Around And Around.”

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. And as good as everything has been so far, this disc contains most of the magic of the night. It opens with “Here Comes Sunshine.” The band played most of the tracks from the 1973 studio release Wake Of The Flood at this show, and “Here Comes Sunshine” is the song that gives that record its title. This is one of the best versions I’ve ever heard, with some excellent jamming and great communication among the musicians. The jam at the end is presented as a separate track, and this is where things turn both introspective and spacey. Let go or hold on, but see where it takes you. Dark corridors, to be sure, but with bright beads of light, as if from some playful sprites and twisted spirits dancing in the shadows. And soon they’re in control.

The band then eases out of that space into “Me And Bobby McGee” and then into an incredibly pretty “Weather Report Suite: Prelude,” another unexpected highlight of this set. And then, rather than going into the rest of the song, the band slides into “Eyes Of The World,” and as you probably know, nothing beats a 1973 “Eyes.” What a great jam! And as it’s getting wild, it suddenly relaxes into a beautiful rendition of “China Doll.” They then wrap up the second set with a couple of high-energy tunes: “Sugar Magnolia” and “Casey Jones.” The encore is “Johnny B. Goode” (the third Chuck Berry song of the show) into “And We Bid You Goodnight.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Promised Land
  2. Deal
  3. Mexicali Blues
  4. Brown-Eyed Women
  5. Beat It On Down The Line
  6. Row Jimmy
  7. Looks Like Rain
  8. Wave That Flag
  9. Box Of Rain
  10. Big River
  11. China Cat Sunflower >
  12. I Know You Rider
  13. You Ain’t Woman Enough
  14. Jack Straw
Disc 2
  1. Don’t Ease Me In
  2. Playing In The Band
  3. Ramble On Rose
  4. Me And My Uncle
  5. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  6. Greatest Story Ever Told
  7. Loose Lucy
  8. El Paso
  9. Stella Blue
  10. Around And Around
Disc 3
  1. Here Comes Sunshine >
  2. Jam >
  3. Me And Bobby McGee >
  4. Weather Report Suite: Prelude >
  5. Eyes Of The World >
  6. China Doll
  7. Sugar Magnolia
  8. Casey Jones
  9. Johnny B. Goode >
  10. And We Bid You Goodnight
Dave’s Picks Volume 21 was released at the end of January, 2017.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Leonard Cohen: “Memories” (2017) CD Review

In the last few months, several unauthorized Leonard Cohen CDs have been released. Most of these are concert recordings that were originally broadcast on one radio station or another, and they are of varying sound quality. The latest unauthorized release, Memories, is something different. It contains snippets of interviews as well as a few songs that were recorded live at different shows. The main problem with this release is its lack of information about the tracks. The most we’re given about any individual track is the year in which it was recorded, but I’m not sure whether to even trust that bit of information (particularly as “Hallelujah” is misspelled as “Halleluja” on the back of the case). And there is one track on here that is another artist covering one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous compositions, and the artist is not even identified. My guess is that is to keep from having to pay her. The disc is only thirty minutes long, and will probably be of interest only to those Leonard Cohen fans like myself who want to own everything.

It opens with a sort of collection of Leonard Cohen’s thoughts about the song “Hallelujah,” apparently from three different sources. The first is from a live performance in which he introduces the song: “I don’t know the answers to anything. I just come here to sing you these songs that have been inspired by something that I hope is deeper and bigger than myself.” The other two sources are interviews with Leonard Cohen. In the first, he talks about his early version of the song, which he says he wrote five or six years before the interview. And in the second, he talks about the word “Hallelujah.” The live performance and the interviews are not identified even by year on the CD case. That’s followed by a cover of “Hallelujah” by a female vocalist who is not identified at all on the CD. On the back of the case, it simply says, “Tribute.” It’s actually an incredibly pretty rendition, with just vocals and guitar, and featuring Leonard Cohen’s more recent lyrics rather than those in the Various Positions version.

The CD includes a live version of “Tower Of Song,” though again the date and venue aren’t identified. Leonard laughs after “But I hear him coughing,” and gives a funny delivery of the “golden voice” line, which gets both a laugh and a cheer from the audience. Partway through the song, suddenly there is a very brief snippet from an interview with Leonard Cohen, which is weird. There is a hiss on this track, and the song fades out abruptly. That’s followed by a live version of “Suzanne,” but again it is not known the date or venue of the show. That being said, it’s a really nice version. Leonard sings “lonesome wooden tower” rather than “lonely wooden tower.”

“My Guitar Is Come Home” is a snippet from a concert, in which he introduces “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” without identifying the woman who is the song’s subject. He says: “And there were many casualties, some famous ones, and some obscure ones. And this song is for a great singer who I once knew when she used to live at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.” And the track then includes part of the song. It’s cut after “and all of that jiving around.” I wish the entire song were included. I was curious why the track was titled “My Guitar Is Come Home,” and after a little searching I discovered this track is from a show in Barcelona in 1974, and in the full introduction to the song Leonard Cohen says: “For me, it is very special to be here in Spain. I want to thank you all for paying attention to my songs, and for giving me this opportunity to come here. I’ve played a Spanish guitar all my life, and for me this is as though my guitar has come home.” By the way, I listened to that recording multiple times, and I’m certain Leonard says “has come home,” not “is come home.” Yet the person who posted the recording titled it “My Guitar Is Come Home,” and so that must be where the makers of this CD got the title. But again, that part of the introduction isn’t included on this disc, so why use that title?

The next couple of tracks are snippets from interviews, the first identified as being from 1980, in which he talks about his work, about touring. “I think I’ll always play my guitar and, you know, I’ll always be interested in some kind of little expressions of my heart.” The interviewer’s questions are mostly cut. This thought might make those of us struggling creatively feel better about the struggle: “I know from my own experience I can work, I can go to my desk every day for a year and nothing happens, you know, whereas sometimes just a waitress handing me a sandwich can just touch me very, very deeply and suddenly everything will open up, the heart will open up.” The second snippet is identified as an interview from 1976, and in this one he talks about the commercialization of life.

The final two tracks are concert recordings. The first is a live version of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs, “Coming Back To You.” This is a really good version, and in it Leonard sings “a thousand miles of silence” rather than “another mile of silence.” This track is one of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by a live version of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” from 1972 (according to the CD case). This is an oddly short version without the return to the first verse.

CD Track List
  1. Leonard Cohen About Hallelujah
  2. Hallelujah
  3. Tower Of Song
  4. Suzanne
  5. My Guitar Is Come Home
  6. Rare Interview
  7. FM Interview
  8. Coming Back To You
  9. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye 
Memories was released on February 10, 2017 through Laser Media.

Grand Funk: “Shinin’ On” (2017) SACD Review

Audio Fidelity continues its series of limited edition SACD releases with the 1974 Grand Funk Railroad album, Shinin’ On. The original vinyl release sported a cover that was in 3D, and included a pair of 3D glasses. This special limited edition release includes that original 3D artwork and glasses. Following 1973’s We’re An American Band, Shinin On features Grand Funk Railroad’s number one hit version of “The Loco-Motion,” a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and the album itself reached number five on the charts. It was produced by Todd Rundgren, who had also produced We’re An American Band. Rundgren plays guitar on one track – “Carry Me Through.” This is some really good mid-1970s rock music to get you moving, and is a good way to escape the current political horror show.

It opens with its title track, a song that was popular enough to be included on the Best Of cassette compilation I owned in the 1980s. “Shinin’ On” has a good groove, and the band jams on it, letting loose a bit in the middle of the track. I particularly dig the work on keys. By the way, Grand Funk Railroad is made up of Mark Farner on vocals, guitar, harmonica and organ; Don Brewer on drums and vocals; Mal Schacher on bass; and Craig Frost on vocals, organ, clavinet, piano, Moog and Mellotrone. “Shinin’ On” is followed by “To Get Back In,” which has something of a brighter, fun sound. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “But there’s a question standing where I stood/You know you act just like the person that’s been lied to/You ain’t been treating me like you know you should/There’s been a change in your way/Remember what it's like when love is good/And remember the chorus 'cause I wrote it for us.” There is some jamming on this one too toward the end of the track, with more cool work on keys.

“The Loco-Motion” is the big hit from Shinin’ On, and is actually the only cover song on the album. It was originally recorded by Little Eva, who also had a number one hit with it (hers in 1962). This is also the shortest song on the Shinin’ On album, without any extended jamming. It’s one of those innocent dance numbers, with lines like “My little baby sister can do it with ease/It’s easy as learning your ABCs/So come on, come on and do the loco-motion with me.” “Please Me” is a good rock and roll tune written by Mark Farner and Don Brewer. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Too many times, I've seen them abuse her/Just like the times I've been deceived/The touch of her starlight makes me happy/I can see her shining through in my dreams/And I wake up crying.” And that little line tossed in at the end made me laugh out loud: “And suck it.”

“Mr. Pretty Boy” is a slower, bluesy tune. It’s followed by a lively, high-energy rock and roll song titled “Gettin’ Over You,” which begins with a good groove on drums. And the instrumental section in the second half of the song is totally enjoyable. Turn this one up and get lost in its great 1970s rock vibes. This is one of my personal favorites.

CD Track List
  1. Shinin’ On
  2. To Get Back In
  3. The Loco-Motion
  4. Carry Me Through
  5. Please Me
  6. Mr. Pretty Boy
  7. Getting’ Over You
  8. Little Johnny Hooker
This limited, numbered edition of Shinin’ On was released on January 27, 2017. I am not sure how many copies were issued, but mine is number 0274.

I See Hawks In L.A. at The Hi Hat, 2-14-17 Concert Review

I See Hawks In L.A. performing "The River Knows"
Music continues to be the best way to combat the depression and anger that threaten our existence daily. And I See Hawks In L.A. is one of those bands you can count on to deliver the goods, to lift your spirits, to brighten your day every time. Last night they continued their February residency at The Hi Hat in Highland Park. I think I mentioned this before, but The Hi Hat is a really cool venue. There is plenty of space, the people are friendly, it has a relaxed atmosphere, and the sound is good.

Sarah Kramer opened the show with a good set. I particularly enjoyed the jams toward the end with the horn section. Sarah plays trumpet as well as guitar. And she and a few members of her band would later join I See Hawks In L.A. near the end of their set, which was a total treat.

I See Hawks In L.A. kicked off their set at 10:03 p.m. with “New Kind Of Lonely,” a perfect sort of tune for Valentine’s Day. One thing I love about this band is their vocals, and it wasn’t long before their voices were blending beautifully last night. And toward the end of that song when they sang, “Everything’s all right,” you bet I believed them. And you know what? Everything was suddenly all right. After that song, Rob Waller told the crowd the show was about “Love and loneliness tonight.”

They then went into “Rock N Roll Cymbal From The Seventies,” a fun song from the band’s 2013 release, Mystery Drug. They followed that with “Baby,” a beautiful mellow tune from early in the band’s career. Rob told the crowd, “This next one is one of the first songs I guess we wrote together, one of the first batch, which was about 1999.” Paul Lacques played lap steel on this one. “Baby, do you mind if I call you baby?” They followed that with “Highland Park Serenade,” an appropriate choice for the evening. This song is from New Kind Of Lonely, and its lyrics mention Mr. T’s Bowl, which used to be my favorite music venue in Los Angeles, before they changed the way they ran the place. Back in the day, you could see some fantastic bands for no cover and no drink minimum, and the place boasted probably the best sound man in the city, a guy named Arlo. I have fond memories of that place; I saw some incredible Peak Show concerts there.

“Your Love Is Going To Kill Me” is another great choice for Valentine’s Day, and it’s another song from New Kind Of Lonely. They followed that with “If You Remind Me,” a pretty song from Mystery Drug. A line from this song mentions the corner of Gower and Sunset. This band’s songs are full of Los Angeles locations. Afterward, Rob said, “Every love song is a sad song, I think.” And then Paul Marshall took over lead vocal duties for “Truth Is You Lied,” a delicious country song. “Call me a fool/I really did believe/That would you stay/Here by my side/Truth is you lied.” They followed that with another good one, “Open Door,” from the Hallowed Ground album. “I’m not going to be untrue/For anyone, not even you.” Rob then introduced “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet” by saying “It’s a love song to New Orleans, I suppose.”

Sarah Kramer and a few members of her band joined I See Hawks In L.A. for the final two songs of their set, the first being “Duty To Our Pod,” which Rob introduced as a “whale love song.” This was probably the best and most beautiful rendition of this song I’ve ever heard. The additions of trumpet, two saxophones and keyboards added a whole lot to it without letting it get messy or too involved. You know? The instrumental section was gorgeous. This was definitely a highlight of the set. They then wrapped up the set with “The River Knows,” the song that closed out the Mystery Drug album. And again, those additions of keys and horns were wonderful, particularly in the jam. A great way to end the set, which wrapped up at 10:59 p.m.

Set List
  1. New King Of Lonely
  2. Rock N Roll Cymbal From The Seventies
  3. Baby
  4. Highland Park Serenade
  5. Your Love Is Going To Kill Me
  6. If You Remind Me
  7. Truth Is You Lied
  8. Open Door
  9. Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet
  10. Duty To Our Pod
  11. The River Knows 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Rock N Roll Cymbal From The Seventies"
"Baby" 
"Highland Park Serenade"
"If You Remind Me"
"Truth Is You Lied"
"Duty To Our Pod"
"Duty To Our Pod"
"The River Knows"
"The River Knows"
The Hi Hat is located at 5043 York Blvd. in Los Angeles.