Monday, January 11, 2021

Katie Love Ready Or Not 2015

Here's one I just cannot understand. In 2015 this totally great new pop-soul record comes out. I have no idea how I discovered it. I thought I had it on vinyl (I think I got confused with Duffy's Rockferry, which is similar looking), but I apparently bought the digital at iTunes, something I rarely do.

The record is excellent. One solid song after another. Pop-soul with nice arrangements, Katie Love has a fine voice, and everything is in place. Sort of old school in 2015, but done to near perfection.

And then what? I can't be sure. The record company, Red Tree Records, is Canadian, and was tweeting as recently as last year, but the website at redtreerecords.com no longer exists. There are a few songs by Katie Hess and Katie Love Hess that are country at Amazon and iTunes, and those songs predate this record by five years or more. It looks and sounds like the same woman, but who knows.

The title track kicks things off in fine style with nice horns and a catchy chorus. The funky Made For love follows, with hot organ and horns, and Love's great pipes. Waitin' On You is classic soul with more fine organ and horns and another hooky chorus. Gone rocks a bit harder, with syncopated horn charts and sweet background vocals. The pleading soul ballad that is I Can't Help It has an Amy Winehouse vibe, and Love sings it with style. The second half holds up well, with strong ballads Walk Away and Heal This Heart and more rockin' soul-pop in Shake Your Tree and Kick. The Reggae-lite of The Good Life rounds it all out in fine form.

The whole thing has a good beat and you can dance to it. 

I wish I knew who wrote the songs, the musicians and producer, but alas, you get no information with the digital purchase. And five years later, no new music from Katie Love. It may not be "great", but it is consistently strong, and there are no weak tracks. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Zappadan 2020 Orchestral Favorites 40th Anniversary 2019

Happy Zappadan one and all. The celebration on the blogosphere seems a bit subdued this year, but Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr all have some news of the holiday. And of course you can explore my Zappadan posts from the past right here.

This new 3 CD version of Orchestral Favorites, recorded in 1975 and originally released in 1979, is a real treat. The original release included five excellent tracks, all recorded in the afternoons before live performances in the evening. Those five tracks are here, plus a "keyboard overdose" version of Strictly Genteel with Tommy Mars' keyboard overdubs recorded in 1978. Frank was always upset about the sound of the original release because the master tone reel was not used to align the tape heads for mastering the original release. That's been fixed here, so the sound is quite good, and better than the original.

But even more exciting is that the concerts performed in the evening included twelve songs, not just five, and this set includes (on CDs 2 and 3), the entire performance with the orchestra live on the evening of September 18, 1975. Well, almost the entire show, as the tape ran out near the end of the last song, which is faded out. The additional material has mostly never been released, and lots of it is great. For fans of Zappa's contemporary classical music (see here and here), this is very exciting news. There is even a 13 minute version of The Adventures of Greggery Peccary that is outstanding, and a fine rendition of Lumpy Gravy that is decidedly out there.

I'm not certain that everything the Zappa Family Trust has released posthumously has been worth dropping your coin on, but if you liked the original Orchestral Favorites, this is an easy recommendation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Shannon McNally Black Irish 2017

There are plenty of reasons that you should own this record.

The first is Shannon McNally's voice, which is just about perfect. A little Sheryl Crow, a little Kelly Willis, a little Bonnie Raitt. She can pour her heart out and still sound grounded. Her feeling creeps into every song, and yet she's never melodramatic. I can't really tell you, but when you hear her, you'll know.

The next reason is the song selection. McNally pens three songs, and they are top-notch. The bluesy I Went To The Well, the rocking Roll Away The Stone, and the quiet ballad Banshee Moan. Then there's the rest, all written by a-list songsmiths Robbie Robertson (a magnificent It Makes No Difference), Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Beth Nielson Chapman, JJ Cale (the slinky Low Rider), Muddy Waters (a smokin' hot The Stuff You Gotta' Watch), Stevie Wonder (an amazing, swinging reading of I Ain't Gonna Stand For It), and Guy and Susanna Clark.

Then there's the production by Rodney Crowell. Crowell is a veteran of the Nashville scene with a long list of credits as both star, sideman, writer and producer. Like the excellent records he produced for Rosanne Cash and others, he brings real skill to the producer's chair. Nothing out of place, nothing overdone, everything just right. Crowell also attracts great session players that all supply the perfect building blocks for these sturdy songs.

Along with great songs played and sung as well as possible, the recording is pristine. Now a great recording means nothing without the performance, but when the performance is there, great sound can add to your enjoyment. The vinyl version will make your stereo a star.

Shannon McNally should be a huge star. But even if that doesn't happen, it's no reason for you to miss out.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Brian Auger and Julie Tippetts Encore 1978

Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll Tippetts made some great music together in the late sixties on two records by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger and the Trinity, Open in 1967 and Streetnoise in 1969. Much of the best of those records (and a bunch of fine Auger singles from the sixties) can be had on Get Auger-Nized (The Mod Years) released in 2004 on vinyl. A two-CD set of Get-Auger-Nized The Mod Years/The Jazz Years includes The Mod Years on one CD and a second CD with Auger's Trinity and Oblivion Express bands featured. 

In 1978, they got back together for this delightful one-off. Some of the quirky-ness of their earlier work is smoothed out on this one, but they sound great together again. A fine reading of Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood showcases Tippett's stellar vocals, as do Jack Bruce's Rope Ladder To The Moon, Steve Winwood's No Time To Live, and two Al Jarreau penned tunes, Spirit and Lock All The Gates.Auger's own Git Up and Future Pilot are strong, and Julie gets soulful with the Staples' Freedom Highway.

No one sounds quite like Julie Driscoll Tippetts. I read a description of her as mid-way between Annie Lennox and Nina Simone, and that's probably as close as I could come. Her idiosyncratic styling reminds of Simone, and her clear, forceful voice rivals Lennox. But comparisons inevitably fail, because Julie is such a unique, soulful talent.

Brian Auger's Hammond B3 work is as hot as anyone's and his penchant for jazz-rock fusion makes him a singular force. I reviewed the Oblivion Express classic Closer To It! here.

Encore is one of those great finds in a used record bin.

Monday, October 12, 2020

David Bowie Blackstar 2016

David Bowie left us this swansong just days before he passed away in 2016. It is a brilliant record, with Bowie presenting us with something truly new. There's a million reviews, and they are generally quite positive. I find it extremely difficult to write about, as it really is like nothing before it. Many writers have compared it to Low, or the more recent The Next Day, and while I can hear some similarities, Blackstar sounds different to me from everything else Bowie. 

It took me four years to getting around to hearing it. I always liked Bowie's work in the seventies, but I was less thrilled with what came after, and 1983's Let's Dance was my last purchase, and that one got purged from the stacks a long time ago. I recently read The Age of Bowie by Paul Morley (I can't recommend the book), and that got me into going back to the music I was less familiar with from the 90s and 2000s, and brought me to Blackstar. I was pleasantly surprised by some of his more recent music, but Blackstar just blew me away.

It is not jazz, but it is played by a talented jazz band. It doesn't rock very much, but there are some rock moments. The band deserve extra credit. The songs are unusually strong. It has a unified sound, more so to my ears than anything he'd done in 20 years. If you have any interest in Bowie, you really should hear it. And maybe especially if, like me, you wouldn't be expecting anything great from David Bowie. I would put this in my list of the top 5 best David Bowie records. It's that good.

It is no surprise that David Bowie had one more trick up his sleeve, but one so magnificent is just remarkable.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 2020

After almost eight years, we get a new Dylan album with all original songs. After three releases covering the American songbook, I was ready. Would we get another Tempest? Modern Times? Well, no. But there is some fine music to be heard.

I love Bob Dylan's music, and he's made some truly great records. I don't know that this is the classic that other reviewers have raved up, but it has some great moments, and has an overall tone that is quietly powerful. Dylan's voice is the same ragged mess it has been for 20 some years, and he sings with it beautifully. If singing is notes, well, you know, Bob's in trouble. But if singing is getting feeling across to the listener, that ragged voice works as well as any. And the lyrics are clear above a frequently soft, delicate instrumental backing. Bob still has stuff to say, and you don't need to analyze and parse the lyrics to get his meaning. He's quite direct on this one.

The writing is sly, funny, dramatic and dark. I Contain Multitudes opens as a tongue-in-cheek boast. The stomping blues of False Prophet accommodates Dylan's dark rasp as well as one of the few instances of hot guitars. The other, Goodbye Jimmy Reed, rocks steady. But much of this record is very laid back, slow, quiet music with Dylan's voice and words. I could go for a few more up-tempo songs. There's a love song (I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You), an ode to poetry (Mother Of Muses), cautionary tales (Black Rider, Key West), and slow blues (Crossing The Rubicon). The writing is direct and understandable, and the phrasing that is embedded in Dylan's lyrical skill is as evident as ever.

Then there's the 17 minutes of Murder Most Foul. It's good. It follows from JFK's assassination to stories and visions and snapshots of a world mostly in decline. It is a moving song, and a fine display from a songwriter that keeps in forward motion despite the odds. 

If you gave up on Dylan during the eighties or nineties, you really should check out 2001's Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times. If you've been following Dylan's recent work, you'll probably find this one to your liking also.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Robin McKelle 2006-2019

Robin McKelle has an interesting story, and has recorded in a variety of styles that makes her difficult to pin down. She is a fine singer of jazz, soul, blues and pop. She writes some great songs, and has had some excellent writing partners. Although she hails from upstate New York, her first success came singing big band jazz in Europe. Her first release, Introducing 2006, is an excellent big band jazz record that swings. Confident, assured vocals, fine arrangements, and a stellar big band led by producer/trumpeter Willie Murillo featuring many great soloists. Highlights include Something's Gotta Give, For All We Know, Deep In A Dream, I've Got The World On A String, and a slow, sultry Come Rain Or Come Shine.

Next up, Modern Antique 2008, is another big band outing, and McKelle's vocals are just a bit more confident sounding, and a bit stronger. Willie Murillo produces again, this time with McKelle's assistance. Song selection is great, and includes Steve Miller's Abracadabra done big band style. Other highlights include Comes Love, Cheek To Cheek, Save Your Love For Me, Make Someone happy, and McKelle's first songwriting credit, the lovely closer Remember.

Mess Around 2010 finds McKelle fronting a smaller jazz combo of keyboards, bass and drums (and occasional guitar) augmented by three or four horns on all but two songs. McKelle produces herself, and wrote four of the songs. The rest are written by a wide array of songsmiths including Bee Gees, Leonard Cohen, Doc Pompus, Lennon/McCartney, and Willie Dixon. Her own Mess Around kicks things off in fine soul-jazz style. Several of the best songs are blues, including Never Make A Move Too Soon, Lonely Avenue, and I Just Want To Make Love To You. The record closes with another fine McKelle original, Since I Looked In Your Eyes.

So 2012 rolls around and Robin takes another musical turn, this time to soul music, with her Soul Flower release. There is a completely revamped band, The Flytones, featuring bassist/co-producer/songwriting partner Derek Nievergelt, Ben Stivers on keys, Adrian Harpham on drums, Al Street on guitar, and a three-man horn section. Robin writes or co-writes eight of the twelve songs. If you liked seventies soul music, it is hard to believe this came out in 2012. Highlights include her own Tell You One Thing, a sexy come-on, Fairytale Ending, a classic Philly/Memphis soul hybrid that has hit single written all over it, and the funky Don't Give Up. Two excellent duets, the Bee Gees' To Love Somebody with Lee Fields and Love's Work with Gregory Porter, and an unusually fast take on Bacharach's Walk On By are all great.

For 2014's Heart Of Memphis, McKelle stays with soul, this time emulating those fine Hi Records Memphis soul gems from the seventies. The Flytones return with a new two-man horn section, McKelle writes or co-writes 10 of the 12 songs, and everything works. The rocking soul of Good Time, the slow longing loss of Forgetting You, the walking blues of the title track. A very fine, quick-tempo Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood shines bright. Good & Plenty and Down With The Ship are great songs. Played to perfection by the Flytones, sung with panache by McKelle, it is a killer old soul outing. Produced in Memphis by Scott Bomar, the sound is excellent.

On The Looking Glass 2014, McKelle makes another musical style change, and creates a mature pop record not far removed from Adele, but with lingering soul overtones. McKelle wrote or cowrote all the songs. Steve Greenwell recorded and produced the record, and there is a new band in place on piano, bass, and drums, with Al Street back on guitar, and Greenwell adding keyboard touches throughout. It's her first record without any horns. The record kicks off with the funky modern soul of Gravity, the great hooks of Stand Up (a call to action), and the Adele-like slow build of I'm The One, with its killer chorus of Robins. Forgive Me's soul-pop harmonies follows, then Stay sounds like a good track from a Lauren Hill album, and the jazzy cautionary tale that is Brave Love keeps the quality high. The last three songs tread mid-tempo water, but it is overall a very strong outing.

After two soul albums and a pop one, Robin turns again and returns to jazz on Melodic Canvas 2018. A small combo with Shedrick Mitchell on piano and organ, Vincente Archer on bass, Daniel Sadownick on drums, and Al Street on guitar. McKelle produces, and makes another good one. Do You Believe has a gospel-like sound, Come To Me is sexy smooth jazz, You're No Good sounds like a jazz version of a Dusty Springfield song. Swing Low Sweet Chariot has a jazzy syncopated gospel feel, and Allan Toussaint's Yes We Can Can receives a slow build that takes the song to a new place, and a good place. There's a few moody jazz pieces that slow things down, but the singing is always fine. It might be less consistent than her best, but she's stretching out on this one, and you have to admire her moxie even if not everything works.

Which brings us to Alterations 2019. Shedrick Mitchell returns on keys and produced with McKelle. Richie Goods plays bass, Charles Haynes plays drums, and Nir Felder plays guitar. Guest horns appear on two tracks. This time (because she does like to change things up) it is a covers record with one McKelle original. The covers are all over the map, but feature mostly pop songs from Amy Winehouse, Joni Mitchell, Adele, Dolly Parton, Sade, Ella Fitzgerald, and Janis Joplin. The jazz version of Back In Black is super, and Adele's Rolling In The Deep is an interesting arrangement. Mercedes Benz is taken as a blues-rock, and Don't Explain gets a remarkable vocal from Robin. Her own Head High is another highlight, and features a smoking sax solo. Like most covers records, there are some questionable choices, including Sade's No Ordinary Love (it's ordinary), Joni Mitchell's River (not an easy song to interpret), and Parton's Jolene (hard to turn into jazz). Similarly to The Looking Glass, the first half is the strong half. But the good stuff is good enough you don't want to miss it.

The real heartbreak is that she has gone mostly unnoticed in her homeland. She is a much better known artist in France and Germany than here in the U.S., and that's just a shame. If you like big band vocals, get Modern Antique. For small combo jazz, I still like Mess Around, which is a great set of songs, and features three blues that Robin sings beautifully, but the newer ones are solid too. Both of her soul records are great, and I can't really choose between Heart Of Memphis and Soul Flower. The pop-soul of The Looking Glass is better than most new music. You may have never heard of her, but that has nothing to do with her prodigious talent.