Thursday, January 11, 2018

Music Memories From The Old Refrigerator

My refrigerator – which I’ve owned for something like twenty years – woke me up the other day, angry, shouting at me for attention. This went on for fifteen or twenty minutes; then, exhausted, it fell silent. But it did not remain silent for long. Every time the motor kicked in, the bugger got damn ornery. Having basically no knowledge of electronics whatsoever, I did what I could – I cleaned the back of it (something I apparently had never done before – holy shit), smacked it a few times, scolded it, and pleaded with it. None of that worked. So I ordered a new refrigerator. That meant taking off everything I had taped to the refrigerator door, including some music-related items.

These items included a little promotional card for a Gaelic Storm concert at O’Brien’s in Santa Monica. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I went to that bar quite a lot. Gaelic Storm was the house band back then, playing every Sunday night, and doing nice long shows (several sets). There were drinking contests between the band and the audience (during “Seven Drunken Nights”), and it was basically the same crowd each week, so it felt like a party. Fuck, it was a party. Of course, that – like everything else – had to come to an end. Gaelic Storm became more popular and started touring fairly heavily. But on at least one occasion they came back and did a show at that little bar. The card tells me it was a Sunday, in keeping with tradition. It doesn’t list the year, but the cover of Special Reserve is pictured, and that album came out in 2003, so I’m guessing that was the year of the show. I have vague recollections of the concert – that it was more crowded than before, that a lot of the old gang attended, and that it was shorter than before. I think the band played only two sets. But the music was fantastic. It always was.

Another item is a similar card for a Los Abandoned concert at The Echo. Actually, for two Los Abandoned concerts at the Echo – one on July 18th and one on July 25th. I’m not certain of the year. I probably attended both shows, though I can’t be sure. Los Abandoned was one of the bands that I was turned on to through The Peak Show. There was a really fantastic music scene based in and around Highland Park back in 2002, 2003, 2004 (oh, Mr. T’s Bowl, how we miss you). Los Abandoned was a band I loved seeing perform, and I think I saw them play at The Echo several times. Los Abandoned – as far as my memory tells me, anyway – seemed to do more club gigs than did The Peak Show. The card indicates that these two shows were free (unless you were younger than 21, in which case admission was $5).

Over the years, both of these cards got wet. Or something spilled on them. Who knows? There were also several Grateful Dead photos and Leonard Cohen photos on that refrigerator, as well as one photo of The Monkees, one of Go Betty Go, and one tiny ad for a concert by The Submarines. Some of those will end up on my new refrigerator. Onward!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bob Holz: “Visions: Coast To Coast Connection” (2018) CD Review

Visions: Coast To Coast Connection, the new album from accomplished drummer and composer Bob Holz, features compositions co-written by Bob Holz, most of which were also included on earlier releases, though in often very different versions. Interestingly, this is his third release in as many years to include the word “vision” or “visions” (following 2016’s A Vision Forward and 2017’s Visions And Friends, both of which featured Larry Coryell on guitar), and his group itself is called A Vision Forward. Music is considered largely an auditory experience, but some of this music could certainly create strong visions for the listeners. Just let your imagination follow the music. Joining Bob Holz on this release are (on various tracks) Stanley Clarke on bass; Ralphe Armstrong on bass; Andrew Ford on bass; Randy Brecker on trumpet; Louis Ludovic on trumpet; Jeff Jarvis on trumpet; Billy Steinway on keys; Alex Machacek on guitar; Chet Catallo on guitar; Frank Stepanek on guitar, bass and keys; Dave Porter on vocals; Ada Rovatti on saxophone; David Goldberg on saxophone; and Andrew Lippman on trombone.

This disc kicks off with “Split Decision,” a tune that combines progressive rock, jazz and even some soul elements. This track builds well, and its energetic conclusion is my favorite section. There is some great work by Louis Ludovic on trumpet, and by Andrew Lippman on trombone. “Split Decision” was also the title track to an earlier release by Bob Holz. It is followed by “Espresso Addiction,” which features Dave Porter on vocals. It’s the only track on the album to feature a vocalist, and the only track to have not been included on an earlier Bob Holz CD, and it is dedicated to guitarist Larry Coryell, who died last year. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The world keeps spinning/And when the madness gets too much/When you, when you’re feeling so right/You’d better let your guitar play.” And later in the song, Dave sings “You know the world will remember you.” Oh yes.

“Next In Line” goes in some interesting directions. It starts with a slow groove, with some cool and prominent work on bass. Both Stanley Clarke and Ralphe Armstrong play bass on this one, delivering some great work here, some seriously impressive playing. As far as visions go, this is one of the tracks that will probably take you on an intriguing journey if you let it. This tune was also included on Split Decision. That’s followed by another tune was included on Split Decision, “Jammin’ Man,” which – as you might guess from the title – has a bit of a reggae thing happening in the rhythm, but with some interesting work from the other musicians rising above that groove, including Randy Brecker on trumpet and Ada Rovatti on saxophone. The tune then ventures into a more progressive rock landscape, before returning to the reggae feel. Both Stanley Clarke and Ralphe Armstrong play on this track as well. Bob Holz then revisits a song from his Pushin album, “Richie’s Trip.” On that album it’s titled “Richie’s Trip (A Tribute To Richie Hayward),” whereas here it is simply “Richie’s Trip,” but then dedicated to Richie Hayward. It starts off okay, but when it takes on this cool groove, verging on space disco, I start to love it. And that work on keys gives it a very different feel from the version included on Pushin. This song has a delicious vibe at times, like some wonderful jazz fusion party. And I love the horns in the second half of the track.

Okay, I admit it: the title of the sixth track, “Pink Fur,” is what got me interested in putting on this CD in the first place. It’s a fun, playful, sexy image, so I figured this track would also be fun. And it is. It’s funky and totally enjoyable, with some great work on bass and keys, and of course drums. This track would have been one of my favorites, no matter the title. “Pink Fur” was written by Bob Holz, Steve Weingart and Frank Stepanek, and is another composition that Bob Holz is revisiting here. It was also included on Split Decision. That’s followed by “West Coast Blues,” a blues number that was also included on Pushin. This one too becomes a fun jam, with some delightful work on trumpet. I particularly like that section with the bass taking lead. “West Coast Blues” was written by Bob Holz, Paulie Cerra, Billy Steinway and Joel Kane. “Light & Dark,” a tune also on Split Decision, features Alex Machacek on guitar.

“Spanish Plains,” written by Frank Stepanek (it’s the only tune on this release not co-written by Bob Holz), was also included on Bob Holz’s Higher Than The Clouds album. This one features some wonderful, impressive, effective and moving work on guitar. Frank Stepanek plays guitar, bass and keyboard on this track (the only track he plays on), and it’s one of my favorites. The album then concludes with a live track, “Flat Out,” recorded in May of 2017 at a club in Hollywood, featuring nice work by Jeff Jarvis and David Goldberg and Billy Steinway, as well as some cool, even humorous playing by Ralphe Armstrong on bass. This tune was also included on Bob Holz’s 2017 release, Visions And Friends.  

CD Track List
  1. Split Decision
  2. Espresso Addiction
  3. Next In Line
  4. Jammin’ Man
  5. Richie’s Trip
  6. Pink Fur
  7. West Coast Blues
  8. Light & Dark
  9. Spanish Plains
  10. Flat Out
Visions: Coast To Coast Connection is scheduled to be released on February 23, 2018 through MVD Audio.

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters: “Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters” (2017) CD Review

I was turned onto The Honeycutters a couple of years ago when they released On The Ropes. Most of the songs on that album were written by the band’s lead vocalist, Amanda Anne Platt, and – as I mentioned in my review of that album – the songwriting is one of the band’s strengths. Well, after that album – the band’s fourth – Amanda decided to include her name in the band’s name. And so for their 2017 release, the band’s name, as well as the album’s title, is Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. But that is all that has changed. The songwriting is just as strong, and the band is still recording excellent tunes. All of the songs on this release are originals, written by Amanda Anne Platt. As on the previous release, Matthew Smith plays guitar and pedal steel, Rick Cooper is on bass, and Josh Milligan is on drums. Joining them this time is Evan Martin on keys. Tim Surrett, who co-produced the album, provides backing vocals on a few tracks.

Lately, songs about birthdays and aging have spoken to me a bit more strongly, and I suppose there’s no question about why that is. In this album’s opening track, “Birthday Song,” Amanda Anne Platt sings, “Fall is settling in/Days are getting short again/And the morning’s getting real nice for sleeping/Every time it gets colder, I get another year older/I start looking for lines in the bathroom mirror.” And we’re finding them, aren’t we? A bit later she sings, “I’m just so damn glad to be here,” and I think, oh yes. With all the craziness in the world and all the problems these days, I still can’t help but be so damn glad to be here. This is a wonderful song, with ultimately a positive vibe, which I appreciate. This is one of my favorite tracks. “I know you worry, but what’s your hurry, baby/We’re all going to get there in the end.”

That’s followed by “Long Ride,” a sweet and moving country tune about death and life, looking forward and being present. The line “This is goodnight, not goodbye” is of course not exclusive to this song, but it’s still effective. And check out these lines: “We were dying but you couldn’t tell/If you only would have dreamed the same dream too/Maybe then you wouldn’t worry what we’re coming to.” And I really like these lines: “You say your life has been a study of goodbye/Oh, but honey, can’t you feel your hand in mine?” Then some nice pedal steel sets the tone of “What We’ve Got,” an unabashed love song that is going to make you want to hold that special someone in your life.  Maybe I’m just an emotional wreck, but this one brought tears to my eyes (I can hear my girlfriend saying, “Oh god, you’re goofy,” but there it is). “It makes me want to/Call you up and say I’m coming home tonight/’Cause all the time I thought that I was wasting/I was just learning how to look into your eyes/And say I want you, I want to call you mine.” Beautiful, right? And there is some nice work on both keys and pedal steel toward the end.

There is an important message in “Diamond In The Rough,” something we need to be reminded of these days, when many of us are quick to anger: “That woman in the check-out line/Ruining everybody’s day/You know nobody’s born that angry/How you think she got to be that way/So when a stranger meets your eye, be the one that smiles first/Nobody ever died from a little kindness no matter what you’ve heard.” We’re all struggling, we’re all trying to figure out what the hell is going on, trying to make something of our lives, and wanting affection. Yes, even those goddamn Trump supporters (though sometimes that is difficult to remember). “But it’s only ‘cause I want you to be happy, baby/And tell me what’s so wrong with that?

“Eden” is a song with a sweet folk and country vibe. There is a bit of nostalgia to its sound and feel, and perhaps all songs that take place in the middle of the country have that element. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We moved back here from Boston ‘cause I lost my job and this is where I’m from/And the kids seem pretty happy, they don’t miss their dad too much/I can’t answer all their questions but they never lack for love/And that’s what I tell my mother when she calls.” I do have mixed feelings, of course, on the desire for ignorance, in lines like “It’s what I don’t know that makes this living easy/The more I learn, the more it brings me to my knees/And I say please/Let me back inside the garden/I won’t eat anything that’s fallen from that goddamn tree.”  But you just can’t argue with these lines: “We don’t keep a TV ‘cause the news is always bad/And it teaches us to want all the things we’ll never have/And there’s always someone getting hurt cause someone else was feeling too let down.

“Learning How To Love Him” is a bittersweet love song about a marriage, a song of looking back and taking stock, and ultimately realizing things aren’t so bad. “We raised our children, we raised our voices/Made mistakes, made our choices/We’ve both been right and we’ve both been wrong/And after all these years, I’m still quick to draw.” This is a beautiful song, delivered in a perfect, unadorned way, giving more weight to the vocals and lyrics. “And after all these years, this is what love is.” That’s followed by “Brand New Start,” another song about taking stock in a long relationship, though this one seems to be going in a different direction.

I love the sweet feel of “Rare Thing,” another of this album’s highlights. This one is really making me miss a certain someone, a rare thing herself. “Oh, honey, you’re a rare thing/Since the day I started caring, I’ve been hooked/You keep writing the book, I hope you don’t ever stop/I know they said that it would never last/But these years go by so fast.” That’s followed by “The Things We Call Home,” a playful country tune that I can’t help but enjoy, moving my head to the bass line and smiling at Amanda’s vocals and the delicious work on keys. The album then concludes with one of its strongest tracks, “The Road.” I appreciate the perspective here. I mean, it’s about an end, but there is no real bitterness, nor glee. There is hope and kindness and sympathy. “I hope the road is good to you ‘til then.”

CD Track List
  1. Birthday Song
  2. Long Ride
  3. What We’ve Got
  4. Diamond In The Rough
  5. Eden
  6. The Guitar Case
  7. Learning How To Love Him
  8. Brand New Start
  9. Late Summer’s Child
  10. The Good Guys (Dick Tracy)
  11. Rare Thing
  12. The Things We Call Home
  13. The Road 
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters was released on June 9, 2017 on Organic Records.

Leonard Cohen: The Daughters Of Zeus DVD Review

The documentary Leonard Cohen: The Daughters Of Zeus is actually just a repackaged version of the documentary Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes. In fact, the title on screen is still Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes. All that has changed is the DVD packaging. And what’s particularly shitty about this is that there is nothing to indicate that on the box. There should be a warning or notice saying, “Previously released as Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes.” And the copyright on the back of the box is 2015. That is the only date mentioned, so it would like seem like a newer film. It doesn’t say anything about the program’s contents being from 2010, which would also indicate that it was previously released. So basically the people behind this DVD release are sneaky, greedy, dishonest bastards, trying to put one over on Leonard Cohen fans.

That being said, the rest of this review is about Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes, which was released in 2010. The film is about the influences on Leonard Cohen’s work, and features interviews with music journalists and biographers (though no interviews with Leonard Cohen himself). At the beginning, there is a bit of biographical information on Leonard Cohen. Cohen biographer Stephen Scobie talks about Leonard Cohen’s early poetry and its relation to his music: “There is the same care for language, the compulsive revision that goes into so many of his songs, that meticulous craftsmanship which he brings to songwriting.” But this film is largely about those people who influenced him and played a part in the development of his craft, with sections on Federico Garcia Lorca, Irving Layton, the Beat poets, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins.

While there are no interviews with Leonard Cohen, there is footage of him in concert, performing “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “Take This Waltz,” and “Tower Of Song,” as well as talking about Federico Garcia Lorca. There is also some footage of those who influenced him, including Allen Ginsberg reading from Howl, Jack Kerouac reading from On The Road, and Bob Dylan performing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The best section is that with Judy Collins, in large part because the film actually includes an interview with Collins. She talks about meeting Leonard Cohen and hearing him sing his first few songs, and about his first performance. There is one very weird choice, however. As we hear a bit of Judy Collins’ excellent rendition of “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” what we’re shown on screen is a doctored image of part of the suicide scene from The Rules Of Attraction.

The film also explores the influence of country music on Leonard Cohen’s work, as well as the spiritual element to his life and music. The film is narrated by Thomas Arnold.

Special Features

The DVD includes Judy Collins On Leonard, which is more of the interview with Judy Collins. She talks about her In My Life album and about her Leonard Cohen tribute album, Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy. There is also a bit of footage of her performing “Bird On The Wire,” and footage of Leonard Cohen performing “Suzanne.” This feature is approximately seven and a half minutes.

There are also brief written biographies of the folks interviewed for the documentary.

Leonard Cohen: The Daughters Of Zeus was released on June 9, 2015, but was originally released as Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes on October 19, 2010.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Art Pepper: “West Coast Sessions! Volume 6: Shelly Manne” (2017) CD Review

The final volume of Art Pepper’s West Coast Sessions! features Shelly Manne on drums. As a way of dodging contractual restrictions on his recording, Art Pepper pretended to be a sideman for different musicians, and six albums were released as a result. Those have now been reissued as West Coast Sessions! and include bonus tracks. Originally titled Hollywood Jam, this album features Bill Watrous on trombone, Bob Cooper on tenor saxophone, Art Pepper on alto saxophone, Pete Jolly on piano, Monty Budwig on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. The band was originally called Shelly Manne And His Hollywood All Stars. This CD re-issue includes one bonus track, as well as new liner notes by Laurie Pepper. Like most of the recordings of this late period in his career, there is a lot of joy and freedom to the sound of this album, which I relish these days.

This CD opens with “Just Friends,” a popular song from the 1930s written by John Klenner and Samuel Lewis. This rendition has a joyous swing to it, and the horns rise like the voices of friends, full of affection and excitement. The lead on piano is an absolute delight, with lots of playful touches. And there is a brief drum solo near the end, as you might expect since this album was led by Shelly Manne. In the liner notes, Laurie Pepper says that of the six volumes, this is the one time when Art Pepper truly was the sideman, as Shelly Manne did act as leader of the band for this 1981 session. Interestingly, this tune was also included on West Coast Sessions! Volume 4: Bill Watrous.

Art Pepper turns toward romance with a beautiful rendition of “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You).”  I think I prefer instrumental versions of this song, as I’m generally not a big fan of list songs, even if the list includes great lines like “The smile of Garbo and the scent of roses/The waiters whistling as the last bar closes.” (I love lists, but not list songs. Go figure.) I dig the late-night vibe of this track, particularly Pete Jolly’s work on piano. This rendition is gorgeous, warm, loving. This is a song that Art Pepper had recorded before. He included a version of it on his 1959 album with Sonny Redd, Two Altos, as well as the late 1970s LP Today. “These Foolish Things” is followed by “Hollywood Jam Blues,” the only original composition of the album, written by Shelly Mann, Art Pepper and Bill Watrous. This is probably my favorite track. It has such a cool, sexy vibe right from its opening. Ah, here is a tune you can just sink into, wrap yourself up in, get into bed with. Light some candles and treat yourself right, and be ready for a powerful, glorious climax to the song. This was sort of the title track of the original release.

“Lover Come Back To Me” is another fantastic track. Included on West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon is a tune titled “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” which originated in the 1928 musical The New Moon. “Lover Come Back To Me” is from that same source (with the line “The moon was new, and so was love” making it a sort of title track). This rendition from Art Pepper is quite a bit different from other renditions. It has its own energy, its own pace (it’s fast, man), and is probably the best version I’ve heard. No sentimental nonsense here, just a great time. This band takes this song and makes it cook, makes it live. Plus, this rendition has a very cool lead on bass. So there. That’s followed by “Limehouse Blues,” which has a delightful easy-going attitude at the start, as if to say things are good, and the world is ours. There is a sense of play here, helping to make this another highlight for me. This one too has a wonderful bass section, with just some light touches on drums and piano to accompany that instrument. And listen to those horns!

The original album then concludes with “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” written by George Bassman and Ned Washington, and famously recorded by Tommy Dorsey And His Orchestra in the 1930s. Art Pepper also included it on Among Friends, an LP released in 1978, with a distinctly less sentimental feel. The version on this album is somewhere in between as for its vibe and sense, and is really good. This re-issue contains one bonus track, an alternate take of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” that was originally included in the 2001 Art Pepper box set The Hollywood All-Star Sessions. This is a significantly longer version, and features some wonderful work by all the musicians, especially Art Pepper and Pete Jolly. It is the better of the two takes.

CD Track List
  1. Just Friends
  2. These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)
  3. Hollywood Jam Blues
  4. Lover Come Back To Me
  5. Limehouse Blues
  6. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
  7. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (Alternate Take) 
West Coast Sessions! Volume 6: Shelly Manne was released on September 29, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings. West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon was also released on that same date.

Art Pepper: “West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon” (2017) CD Review

When I became a big fan of Art Pepper’s work, it was through listening to recordings from late in the saxophonist’s career and life. The three volumes of Neon Art really impressed me. And now the fifth volume of West Coast Sessions! gives us another excellent taste of his later period. There is something about those last few years, when he made that comeback, that is exciting and loose and moving and free. And during this time, Art Pepper played with several different musicians. In part, that was because he had to, as a way of sidestepping the restrictions of his contract. As far as the record label was concerned, Art Pepper was a sideman in these recordings. West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon was originally released as Angel Wings by Jack Sheldon And His West Coast Friends, and features Jack Sheldon on trumpet, with Milcho Leviev on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. This expanded re-issue includes four bonus tracks, including one that was previously unreleased. It also includes new liner notes by Laurie Pepper.

The album opens with an original tune, “Angel Wings,” written by Art Pepper and originally used as the title track for this album. It has a light, brisk, cheerful feel, and makes me smile almost immediately. Hey, we can all use that these days, right? And I love that bass line. Art Pepper and Jack Sheldon also recorded this one a couple of decades earlier, and it was included on the 1957 LP The Return Of Art Pepper. “Angel Wings” is followed by “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” which eases in but soon develops its own fun rhythm. Both Art Pepper and Jack Sheldon deliver some wonderful stuff here, and I particularly like those moments when they’re working together. Seriously, there is some glorious work here, and while listening to this album, my worries about the sad state of the country fade away. And, hey, it’s a catchy tune, originally written for the 1928 musical The New Moon.

Art Pepper turns romantic with “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” Not that this track is mushy or slow; in fact, after its moving opening section, it has something of a swinging rhythm and a cheerful, happy vibe that I really appreciate. Ah, Cole Porter sure could write them, eh? And this particular recording of this particular tune is making me think of a particular girl in a particular city far from my city, and how it would be so nice to come home to her. But rather than making me sad about the situation, this track is filling me with optimism and joy. I love Milcho Leviev’s work on piano in the second half of the tune. Absolutely wonderful! “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” is a song that Art Pepper also recorded back in the fifties, including it on 1957’s Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section. And the bonus tracks include an alternate take of this tune, originally included in the Art Pepper box set The Hollywood All-Star Sessions, released in 2001. This take is a bit shorter, but still features some fantastic playing. The main difference is that this take does not include the return to the opening part at the end.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” is followed by an original composition by Jack Sheldon and Art Pepper, “Jack’s Blues.” What a fun ride this one is, cooking along at times as if with no cares, but just the love of the trip, keeping things kind of light and fluid. With that title, you’d expect some great playing by Jack Sheldon, and you’ll get it, no question. But everyone gets a chance to shine here, and there is a section of just bass and drums, with Tony Dumas and Carl Burnett responding to each other, a playful bit of give and take, before the horns return to finish things up in a bright, joyful way. The horns then begin the next track, “Broadway,” working together, dancing together like a duet in a musical on the Broadway of the composition’s title. This is another composition that Art Pepper and Jack Sheldon had tackled before, including it on The Return Of Art Pepper. I really dig that drum solo. The bonus tracks include an alternate take of “Broadway.”

There is a moment near the beginning of the beautiful and moving “Historia De Un Amor” that I completely love. It’s a brief, little interaction between piano and saxophone, but something about it is so bloody wonderful and true. I’ve listened to it a dozen times now, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. You’ll have to check it out for yourself. And then Art Pepper’s lead is stunning in its emotional depth, with Jack Sheldon’s playing equally moving. This is an incredible track. The bonus tracks include a different version of “Historia De Un Amor,” with Jack Sheldon providing vocals. It is the only vocal track on this release, and is also the only previously unreleased track. It’s a gorgeous rendition, with Sheldon delivering a passionate vocal performance. Art Pepper’s playing is at least as passionate, making this a seriously good rendition. I’m surprised it was left unreleased until now. The only thing that detracts from its beauty at all is that brief shouting toward the end, which feels out of place.

The original album concludes with another Art Pepper composition, “Minority,” which Art and Jack had recorded together earlier for The Return Of Art Pepper. The version here is a couple of minutes longer than that earlier version and features a great lead on bass, with just some touches on piano and drums. There is also a short drum solo right before the end. There is something really fun about this track. The bonus tracks include an alternate take of this tune. At the beginning, we learn that it’s the first take, and you can hear the song being counted off.

CD Track List
  1. Angel Wings
  2. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
  3. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
  4. Jack’s Blues
  5. Broadway
  6. Historia De Un Amor
  7. Minority
  8. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To (Alternate Take)
  9. Broadway (Alternate Take)
  10. Minority (Alternate Take)
  11. Historia De Un Amor (Jack Sheldon Vocal) 
West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon was released on September 29, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings. By the way, West Coast Sessions! Volume 6: Shelly Manne was also released on that same date.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers: “Usual Suspects” (2018) CD Review

After Heal My Soul, the 2016 release from Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers, I was completely smitten and under this band’s spell. That was in large part because of Lex Grey’s voice, which is a force all its own, bursting in and controlling any space it wants to occupy. But the band is damn good as well, and Heal My Soul ended up as one of my favorite releases of 2016. And so my expectations could not have been higher for their new release, Usual Suspects. This album features all original material, written or co-written by Lex Grey, and, as I assumed, it’s excellent. It’s blues, rock, country, and it may be just exactly what you need to get you through the day, because, let’s face it, things are totally screwed up out there and we rely on music and these tough souls to carry us through.

The album opens with its title track, “Usual Suspects,” which starts by setting up a very cool vibe and rhythm. Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers are adept at creating an intriguing landscape, populated by characters, by themselves, and perhaps by those of us listening as well. Lex’s vocals are delivered with restraint at first, so she has a place to go, to build to. And, indeed, this song goes in some interesting and unexpected directions, and it pulls me right along. The way the song just drops out for a moment after the line “You’ve got it all wrong” adds weight to the line, gives us a moment to consider it, the line feeling like it’s directed at us. And for just a moment, we worry that that’s what we’ll be left with. But after that, that cool rhythm returns, and there are nice touches by Walter Tates Jr. on saxophone. “Wasn’t about the sorrow/I like the comradery/Same time tomorrow/Definitely.”

The band then moves to a fun, light rock and roll tune about eating, “Chow Down,” with Lex Grey singing “I don’t want to fool around/I just want to chow down with you.” Okay, it’s nice to be reminded that things aren’t all dour and dire. Here is a song that tells us to forget our troubles, have a drink and enjoy a good meal. And it includes accordion, so there you go. That’s Brian Dewan on accordion (and on piano). That’s followed by one of my favorites, “Dirty Secret.” This one has a classic and delicious blues and soul base, giving it a timeless quality. Then her voice just tears into you, completely owning the space – glorious and sexy and fantastic. And she does some surprising things with her voice. Just listen to the way she delivers the first line, “Why don’t you tell everybody the way you told me,” particularly the way she sings the words “the way you told me.” Wonderful. And she sounds almost delicate on the word “anymore” in the line “I’m not your dirty secret anymore,” which obviously comes as a surprise. But even her vulnerable quality comes across as strength, as she tells us “I’m moving on, I’m moving on, I’ve got to be strong/I’ve got to find somebody who loves me, who loves me, who loves me.” “Dirty Little Secret” was written by Lex Grey and Kaia Updike (Kaia also plays bass and piano on this track).

Another of my favorites is “Sunshine And Blue.” This one has a great vibe right from the start, with that sexy work on trumpet. I’m completely sold even before Lex Grey’s vocals come in. And when she begins singing, she delivers a simple and sincere declaration of love: “I love you/Sunshine and blue/My heart is true/My heart is you/Sunshine and blue/You’re my dream come true/And when I’m with you/There is nothing I can’t do.” From there, the song goes up a level and Lex Grey’s vocals come on stronger. I love how she tackles this one, but it’s Chris Pasin’s work on trumpet that really makes this track something special. “Sunshine And Blue” was written by Lex Grey and Vic Deyglio. That’s followed by a fun country tune about being in a band and being on the road. “I met an ex-con with an accordion/His soul was on parole/We had cheap thrills/In fleabag hotels/Prescription pills/And a whole lot of running from the law.” Oh, they make it sound like a blast. Plus, this one features Kaia Updike on violin, Kenny Siegal on lap steel and Brian Dewan on accordion. I love this song more and more as it goes on. “I said temptation’s coming to get me.”

Usual Suspects ends with another highlight, “Renegade Heart,” which might actually be the album’s best track. The instrumental section, that combination of horns and ukulele delights me in a way I can hardly begin to describe. And of course Lex Grey gives us another excellent vocal performance. Check out these lines: “The sky outside looks like your eyes/Except the parts the clouds disguise/That’s the reason for my lies.” But when she sings “Take my blues away,” I have to object. Sorry, but we need you to have the blues, Lex Grey, so that you can help take the blues away from the rest of us. We need you, especially now. Not until the country claws its way out of its current abyss, tearing through the rotted flesh of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, should you even consider stepping away from the blues. “It’s the last hope/The last tear/The last minute that I’m spending here/It’s the last time/The last place/The last words, baby, that I’ll ever, ever, ever say.”

CD Track List
  1. Usual Suspects
  2. Chow Down
  3. Dirty Secret
  4. SRV
  5. Warrior Squaw
  6. Sunshine And Blue
  7. Cheap Thrills
  8. My Jellyroll
  9. Renegade Heart 
Usual Suspects is scheduled to be released on January 22, 2018.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Jan & Dean: “Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings” (2017) CD Review

What is stranger – Jan & Dean’s original master for Filet Of Soul or the story behind it? I’m not sure, but you can enjoy both, thanks to the recent release from Omnivore Recordings, which includes liner notes by Dean Torrence. Who sets out to make a mediocre album? Well, according to Dean, Jan & Dean did just that when they owed one more album to Liberty Records and didn’t want to give them any good material. It’s a goofy recording, and at times they seem to be totally fucking around. There are jokes and band introductions and sound effects and plenty of silliness, and also their renditions of a few Beatles songs. The album’s title itself is a play on The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and two of the Beatles songs they cover are from that album. This is certainly not background music for a party or anything. It’s an album that demands your attention, but mainly as a curiosity. Sure, they’re screwing around with their record label (which rejected this master and released a different version), but they’re also poking fun at themselves and at their popularity, and having a good time doing it. After all, there was always a bit of comedy to their work, and here they seem to be telling folks to not only not take this record too seriously but to not take any of their records too seriously. (You can see their playful attitude in The T.A.M.I. Show, which is also mentioned in this disc’s liner notes.) The album might try your patience at times, but it is bizarrely fascinating and most likely unlike anything else in your CD collection.

The album opens with some fanfare, like we’re about to be introduced to royalty in a film, but then suddenly there is the sound of a rooster and applause, and Jan & Dean play “Honolulu Lulu,” a fun surf tune about the “queen of surfer girls.” The tracks on this record were recorded live, with other elements added, so you can hear the audience noise throughout the tune. “She's got stars in her eyes and knots on her knees.” The second track, the section titled “Boys Down At The Plant,” shows their sense of humor. “Now we’ll continue on with our show. Of course we’ll continue on. What can we do? We can’t stop. Or else we won’t get any money. Of course, money is the most important thing. And we’d like to do another song for you. Ah, we don’t know any more.” What a perfect way of saying straight out what this album – a contractual obligation – is all about. And about their own music, they say, “We dig ourselves. We love our music. Our music is great. We know it’s great, don’t we?” It goes on a bit longer than necessary, and this silliness leads into a cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown,” with their vocals sounding really good. Following that song, and still on the same track, the duo teases the people who bought their single “Dead Man’s Curve.” “We made a few bucks on it. All those pigeons that went out and bought it.” They fumble through a couple of jokes about a woman going into a bar with different animals. They then take “Dead Man’s Curve,” one of their biggest hits, and totally fuck with it, speeding up the recording as it starts, then talking through the section addressed to the doctor while laughing. It’s totally bizarre.

When they introduce the Beatles section of their show, whenever they mention the name “Beatles,” you hear girls scream as if The Beatles had just appeared, which is pretty funny. “And then if that doesn’t work, we split.” But before they can get to a song, there are more band introductions (there were some before “Dead Man’s Curve”). They then do a version of “Michelle” which is actually quite good. “Michelle” is one of the songs from Rubber Soul. After more nonsense, they do a good rendition of another of the Rubber Soul songs, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” with some pretty blending of voices. They also cover “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” a song from Help! (and one of my favorite Beatles songs), with the audience providing the “hey” in the title line.

Jan and Dean poke more fun at themselves and their show when introducing “Lightnin’ Strikes,” Lou Christie’s hit: George Tipton, “who arranged a lot of this slop tonight – no, it’s really good.” Several sound effects are played over this song, a strange choice. Toward the end of the CD, there is more goofiness, where they pretend to be a bit slow. “And now back to the, the, uh, the other part of the, the, the, the show.” This bit includes a joke on “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” There are sounds of retching and belching and coughing and laughing, and a joke about saying goodbye by repeating a line from The Four Seasons’ “Let’s Hang On” (without actually playing the song). And the CD ends with “Hang On Sloopy,” but with sounds of coughing and sneezing over it.

CD Track List
  1. Prelude/Honolulu Lulu
  2. Boys Down At The Plant/Cathy’s Clown/Pigeon Joke
  3. Brass Section Introductions/Dead Man’s Curve
  4. Beatle Part Of Our Portion/Rhythm Section Introduction/Michelle/Whistling Dixie
  5. We Want Jan & Dean/Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
  6. 1-2-3
  7. Lightnin’ Strikes
  8. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  9. And Now Back To The Show/Let’s Hang On Introduction
  10. Hang On Sloopy/Jan & Dean, They’ll Be Back
Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings was released on September 1, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings. One other thing worth noting: there is a credit at the end of the liner notes that reads, “Inspired by Monty Python Circus.” It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. One, the show is actually called Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And two, that series didn’t air until after this album had been recorded. By the way, the Monty Python gang released an album titled Contractual Obligation Album, so there is another connection.

Oh, sorry, one last thing (really). Here is a photo of the actual CD, once again showing that this isn’t meant to taken seriously.