Monday, December 27, 2010

Cassandra Wilson Silver Pony 2010

A new Cassandra Wilson release is always exciting news. Wilson has been recording since 1985 and has made some of the finest modern jazz records you can find. She got her start with the M-Base collective in New York, an avant-garde jazz-funk group that featured saxophonist Steve Coleman, among others. She has a deep, throaty voice that is both sultry and expressive. Her phrasing and control are stellar. She writes some great tunes, and her covers are always unique and thoughtful, often surprising reinterpretations.

In 1988, Wilson veered off the avant-garde road to make Blue Skies, a collection of jazz standards with Wilson backed by an exceptional piano trio of Mulgrew Miller on piano, Lonnie Plaxico on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. It is quite possibly the best modern female jazz singer standards record you can find anywhere.

From there, Wilson made a few more records with M-Base and other influences and plenty of jazz credibility. She found her groove with Blue Light 'Till Dawn in 1993, the record that would define her future approach to music. A mixture of Wilson originals, eclectic pop, blues, and jazz covers with sparse, percussion-heavy, interesting arrangements that made everything she touched sound new and unique.

She's repeated that formula successfully several times with New Moon Daughter 1995, Belly Of The Sun 2002, and Glamoured 2003. Her Traveling Miles from 1999 applies much the same methodology to a Miles Davis tribute, covering songs that Miles recorded as well as originals inspired by Miles. 2008's Loverly returned to the jazz standard songbook, but with the guitar and percussion based instrumentation that is her forte. The only bump in the road was the T-Bone Burnett-produced Thunderbird 2006, which just doesn't have the spark of her other records, possibly because the all-star band is not the talented group of improvisers and like-minded jazz musicians that Wilson herself assembles for her own productions and tours.

Which brings us to Silver Pony. A mixture of mostly live and a few studio recordings, it is one of her finest efforts yet. The record features several long live takes that dig deep into the southern heat that inspired the record. Highlights include the guitar-driven blues of Saddle Up My Pony, Beneath A Silver Moon, with its Ravi Coltrane sax lead, the sultry take on Stevie Wonder's If It's Magic, the funky Forty Days And Forty Nights, and a glorious reading of McCartney's Blackbird. But I could just as easily same something wonderful about every track.

The band of Marvin Sewell (guitar), Reginald Veal (bass), Herlin Riley (drums), Jonathan Batiste (piano), and Lekan Babalola (percussion) get the chance to jam, and are never short of amazing. This is a mature singer with a crack ace band, stretching out beyond the pop styling that has both made her famous and been fodder for her detractors.

It is a fine record indeed. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

James Brown In The Jungle Groove 1986

These tracks were originally recorded between 1969 and 1971, and the versions here were not all previously available on LP, although most were available on 45s. So the extended jams are here, ready for your ass-shakin' delight on whatever dance floor you can assemble.

It's all funk. Bootsy Collins on bass and Clyde Stubblefield on drums and everybody else is on the good foot, my man. Give It Up Or Turnit Loose, Talkin' Loud And Sayin' Nothing, The Funky Drummer, Get Up, Get Into It And Get Involved, and Soul Power. If these titles mean nothing to you, I'm sorry.

The extended version every time, so the groove is very deep. If you can't stand the funk, stay out of the kitchen. It's cookin' in here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Marti Jones 1984-2008

Marti Jones has an exceptional alto voice that rivals Linda Ronstadt's, but with a more organic feel. Her songwriting with husband Don Dixon is quality stuff, and the song selection of covers is first-rate. Dixon's production is perfect every time. Her interpretations of other songwriters material are spot-on every time.

Marti's first recording was a six-song EP by the pop-rock band Color Me Gone in 1984. The heartfelt pop vocals that would become her trademark are already on display, but the band never took off.

Marti's first solo record was produced by Don Dixon, as were all of her subsequent records. They married not long after the record was made. Unsophisticated Time 1985 is a fine start. Walk Away, Follow You All Over The World, Hiding The Boy, The Element Within Her are all standouts. The record has a slightly more folk feel than later releases, but it's all here, even on the debut. The voice, the songs, the arrangements.

A&M and Dixon pulled out all the stops for Match Game in 1986. A big-budget recording with great players and guest stars, songs from Dwight Twilly, Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Paul Rogers along with Dixon's finest, but nothing detracts from Marti. Her voice is clear and beautiful, and Inside These Arms, We're Doing Alright, Just A Memory, Soul Love and Be Myself Again are all top notch. I love the big rock sound of the record- it's the only time they did one like this, and it's a fine setting for her voice.

Next it was 1988's Used Guitars. Dixon and Jones' Tourist Town starts things off swinging. John Hiatt's The Real One rocks like Rondstadt never could, while Graham Parker's You Can't Take Love For Granted gets a highly percussive arrangement from Dixon that's fun and just right. Jackie DeShannon's Each Time and Hiatt's If I Can Love Somebody are both terrific readings of fine songs. That this record didn't turn her into a star is almost impossible to believe. A similar blend of folk, rock and pop tunesmith worked great for Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

In 1990 it was off to RCA for Any Kind Of Lie, another fine outing, this time featuring the songs Dixon and Jones were writing together. The core band of Jamie Hoover (guitar), Dixon (bass and lots of stuff), Jones (guitar), Jim Brock (percussion extraordinaire), and Denny Fongheiser (drums) show off great Dixon-Jones songs Living Inside The Wind, Any Kind Of Lie, My Tears Are Poison, Read My Heart and Is This The Game? Again, there just seemed to be no market for the kind of intelligent pop-rock craft on display, but I'll be darned if I could tell you why. The bizarre hair and make-up of the cover (aimed squarely at the burgeoning Adult Contemporary market) may have frightened off any fan that had seen the wonderfully unassuming Marti live.

After that one also did not bring stardom, Marti decided to take a few years off and have a baby. She returned in 1996 with My Long-Haired Life, a reference to her shorter, motherly locks of the previous few years. It's another fabulous record. Focusing on a generous selection of covers, her brilliant interpretations of Nick Lowe's I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass, Squeeze's Black Coffee In Bed, Aimee Mann's Put Me On Top, and Elvis Costello's Sleep Of The Just are all super. Her own It's Not What I Want and several other by Marti and Don are just as good.

Also in 1996, Live At Spirit Square was released. This might be my favorite live record ever. Recorded in 1990 in Charlotte to a Dixon home-town crowd, the song selection is an impeccable greatest hits plus best songs from her catalog, even while it features Any Kind Of Lie, the new release of the time. The sound is excellent. The band of Jones on acoustic guitar, Dixon on bass and vocals, Jamie Hoover on lead guitar and vocals (one of the best, and most fun to watch, guitarists on the planet), Jim Brock on percussion, and Tom Wilhelm on drums is the tightest band ever. Really. Ever. The different texture of each song is voiced in the arrangements and playing in a way that is remarkable. You really should hear it if you have any interest in a fine female voice and great songwriting in combination.

In 2002 came My Tidy Doily Dream. Another fine record, this one features new songs by Dixon and Jones with several guest writing partners. Compared to the her previous work, this one is pretty mellow, but not the worse for it. You just need to adjust to a more delicate sound, sort of like recent Kim Richey or Aimee Mann records. Always, Innocent Kiss, Slave, and So Lonesome I Could Fly are standouts. There are a few too many slow ballads among the rest of the songs for it to be my favorite, but when I'm in the mood for introspection...

In 2008 Don and Marti released Lucky Stars: Lullabies For Old Souls as a download only under both of their names. A mixture of some nice new songs and quite a few instrumental themes, it works as the piece of art-folk it is. Gentile folk songs inspired by love and family, it's a bit twee occasionally, but it also includes some fine moments in Lucky Stars, When I Saw You, and Watching Closely.

I've seen Marti and Don many times live in Cleveland (they live in Marti's NE Ohio hometown), usually with Hoover and Brock rounding out the band, and they are always excellent live. Marti has apparently retired to paint, but if they ever come around, you'll have a good time and see a fine show. You can't go wrong with Used Guitars, Any Kind Of Lie, My Long-Haired Life or Live At Spirit Square. Pick one up- you're in for a treat.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Zappadan 2010 again

Well, I made it happen, and I'm pleased with the results. In my last post, I discussed the difficulties I was having preparing a new Zappa mix as a companion piece to this one I discussed last year. After angsting over the song list and running order, I think I have produced a worthy second collection.

Inspired by Conceptual Continuity, and featuring songs from several records which did not appear on the first compilation, I winnowed the list down to a reasonable mix of instrumental and vocal performances for my very own listening pleasure.

Here's the CD I just finished making. It goes like this:

1. Be In My Video Them Or Us 1984
2. Hungry Freaks, Daddy Freak Out! 1966
3. Little House I Used To Live In Fillmore East, June 1971 1971
4. One-Shot Deal Waka/Jawaka1972
5. Stink Foot Apostrophe(‘) 1974
6. Zoot Allures Zoot Allures 1976
7. Joe’s Garage Joe’s Garage1979
8. Tinseltown Rebellion Does Humor Belong In Music? 1986
9. What’s New In Baltimore? Does Humor Belong In Music? 1986
10. Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown Burnt Weenie Sandwich 1970
11. Lemme Take You To The Beach Studio Tan 1978
12. What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body? We’re Only In It For The Money 1968
13. Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance We’re Only In It For The Money 1968
14. The Grand Wazoo The Grand Wazoo 1972
15. G-Spot Tornado The Yellow Shark 1993
16. Montana Overnite Sensation 1973

We've got some early social satire (some of Frank's best lyric writing), some moments of strangeness (Holiday In Berlin, Little House), some serious music (Grand Wazoo, G-Spot Tornado), and plenty of good dirty fun. What's New In Baltimore? contains one of Zappa's most melodically conventional (and super hot) guitar leads , and One Shot Deal features a section that can almost be called country music.

Put your own playlist together of your favorites. Load them onto the digital media player of your choice, or just slap the records onto a turntable and spin, baby spin. Turn your friends on to Frank's music.

Have a happy Zappadan any way you wanna.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Zappadan 2010

After last year's festival of Zappadan, I got real serious about Frank for a while, and it was winter, so I cruised on and off through everything Zappa I own, writing down songs of interest for a new compilation, planning on making a follow-up to the Zappa mix I discussed here last year. It took awhile, but I did it in stages.

I've only got four days left as I write this, so I probably won't complete the mix in time for the beginning of the festival, but maybe before it ends. The problem is that after listening to something like thirty-seven Zappa LPs and CDs, writing down song titles and running times, I had about 345 minutes of music. After several sessions of editing, I'm still only down to 210 minutes, which can be done on 3 CDs, but I really wanted to do something a bit more more concise, and sane, than that. Something that someone other than me would perhaps also enjoy.

I've also recently been reading Zappa: A Biography by Barry Miles. I've read the criticisms of the book, and they may be well founded, as I'm hardly a reader of biographies in general. But the factual basics of his life's chronology seem pretty well detailed, and as a fan that didn't know that much about the man, I'm finding it interesting. He was a different sort.

And so, to kick off the festivities of Zappadan, I give you my Top Five Favorite (not Best, not Most Important) Zappa Records in no particular order:
Weasels Ripped My Flesh 1970
The Grand Wazoo 1972
Apostrophe(') 1974
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life 1991
One Size Fits All 1975

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Classics '69-'71

Back in the glorious cassette days when the only portable device was a cassette tape player, the Mix Tape was a thing of romance, style and pre-programmed party soundtracks. I made many a mix tape for various friends and lovers, and when the cassette's days were numbered, I bought a Marantz CD recorder that alloys me all the same freedom of mixing from CDs and LPs and, well, cassettes.

And so I continue the mix tape tradition of the cassette era into the CD era. One of my all-time favorite mix tapes of my own was a two-tape issue called Classics '69-'71. I recorded it from vinyl to two 90-minute cassettes. A few years ago I re-made the mix on three CDs, adding another 45 minutes or so of additional songs.

The music all comes from 1967- 1973, but most is from the title years, and I liked the way it sounded, even if it wasn't completely accurate. Here's the three CDs:
Disc One:

1. Australia The Kinks
2. You’re So Rude The Faces
3. Turn My Life Down Jefferson Airplane
4. Son Of Your Father Elton John
5. Going Mobile The Who
6. No Matter What Badfinger
7. Keep On Growing Derek and the Dominos
8. Just A Season The Byrds
9. Station Man Fleetwood Mac
10. We Were Always Sweethearts Boz Scaggs
11. Delta Lady Joe Cocker
12. Trust Me Janis Joplin
13. Sugar Magnolia The Greatful Dead
14. Savoy Truffle The Beatles
15. Only You Know And I Know Dave Mason
16. Done Somebody Wrong The Allman Brothers
17. Cinnamon Girl Neil Young
18. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ The Rolling Stones

Disc Two:

1. Sweet Jane The Velvet Underground
2. Caledonia Mission The Band
3. Superlungs My Supergirl Donovan
4. Bold As Love The Jimi Hendrix Experience
5. Don’t Wait Too Long New York Rock Ensemble
6. Jewel Eyed Judy Fleetwood Mac
7. Holler And Shout The Elvin Bishop Group
8. Stay With Me The Faces
9. Flames Of Love Boz Scaggs
10. Come On (Part 1) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
11. Law And Order New York Rock Ensemble
12. Feeling Alright Joe Cocker
13. Bitch The Rolling Stones
14. Me And My Uncle The Grateful Dead
15. We Can Talk The Band
16. What Goes On The Velvet Underground
17. People Got To Be Free The Rascals
18. Boppin’ The Blues Carl Perkins And NRBQ
19. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad Derek And The Dominos
20. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) Janis Joplin
21. Amoreena Elton John

Disc Three:

1. Revolution The Beatles
2. Evil Ways Santana
3. Domino Van Morrison
4. I Can’t Take It Badfinger
5. Black Dog Led Zeppelin
6. Everyday People Sly And The Family Stone
7. Baba O’Riley The Who
8. Apeman The Kinks
9. Trudi Donovan
10. I’m So Glad Cream
11. Can’t Be So Bad Moby Grape
12. Do You Know What I Mean Lee Michaels
13. Green Eyed Lady Sugarloaf
14. What Is Life George Harrison
15. Mississippi Queen Mountain
16. China Grove The Doobie Brothers
17. Honky Tonk Woman The Rolling Stones
18. My Old School Steely Dan
19. Over-Lovin’ You The Electric Flag
20. Caravan Van Morrison
21. Take Me To The Pilot Elton John

So that's my classic rock station there, and many of my earliest favorites. I suppose I could turn it into a playlist on the iPod these days. If you want a soundtrack for my life in my teens, and a fine mix for the car, there you go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Frank And Joe Show "33 1/3" 2004

Frank Vignola is a lightning-fast jazz guitarist and Joe Ascione is his talented percussionist partner. Bass, Piano, Trumpet and Violin round out the band on some of the tracks, and Dr. John, Jane Monheit and Janis Siegel guest on one song each.

The recording is very detailed and dynamic. Turn it up. You'll hear more. The sound of the acoustic guitar is particularly well captured. With the right toys, it's like they are in your living room.

Lovely instrumental versions of Begin The Beguine, Tico Tico, Paper Moon, Alone Again Naturally, and Stardust are easy-to-like highlights. Novelties like Spiderman, Mozart Jam, and a blazing Flight Of The Bumblebee do more to show how fast and clean Vignola can play than much else. They're good, if you like that sort of thing.

Janis Siegel's take on Don't Fence Me In is very fine, with Siegel harmonizing with herself to beautiful effect.

But the raison d'etre for this record is the Jane Monheit sung Besame Mucho. The guitar, and Joe's percussion, surround Ms. Monheit's glorious, tension-filled vocal, a mystery of restraint and simmering lust. The recording is one of the finest female vocal presentations available, which makes this an excellent piece of music to evaluate a playback system. Or you can just enjoy a perfect reading of a fine song.

Pretty good record from a musician that sounds his best when he stops trying to show off his talent and just digs in and gets emotive. And it happens fairly often. One song that is too good to miss if you love the female voice.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feagal Sharkey Feargal Sharkey 1985, Wish 1988

Feargal Sharkey is an interesting guy. As lead singer of the Undertones for five years, Sharkey led one of the most agitated bands in all of punk. And they could get on your nerves. Mostly in a good way, but not always. They were a punk band through, and they weren't as pop as many other punk bands.

So, in 1985, when Sharkey released this solo debut, produced by chart hit-maker, Eurythmics Dave Stewart, it was hard to believe it was the same guy who had screamed his way into our hearts. The unusually high and clear voice is the same, but here it is leading a full-blown 80s Big Rock Record. Stewart not only produces, but plays guitar and co-writes several songs. Micheal Kamen (a big soundtrack guy, and ex of New York Rock Ensemble) arranged the strings, and there is a strong crew of studio experts and guests on hand. It's well played.

The songs are up and down. Highlights include A Good Heart, a jittery 80s synth hit that was a UK #1, You Little Thief, a Benmont Tench-penned stomper, Ashes To Diamonds, a U2-styled rocker with a huge stadium vocal, Made To Measure and Don't Leave It To Nature. The rest of the material is either lesser songs or just too much 80s bombast, like Someone To Somebody, which sounds way too much like a future Celine Dion song.

The good songs are quite good. There's not quite enough of them for a whole album, but that doesn't mean you should never hear it. Serious Undertones fans must have been flabbergasted.

An even more remarkable and seemingly crazy pairing was the 1988 follow-up, Wish. Produced by Southern California's own Danny Kortchmar, and staffed by members of Toto, along with Waddy Wachtel and Steve Jordan, it delivers the punk king to LA to make a Jackson Browne/Warren Zevon/Toto hybrid that works a lot better than it should. It's still got that 80s sheen to it, but not as much as Stewart's debut production job. There's almost an organic sound to it. Almost.

Side One, with Cold, Cold Streets, More Love, Full Confession, Please Don't Believe In Me, and Out Of My System is a perfect album side. Side Two has at least three more good ones. Find a used copy of either one, but especially Wish. Kortchmar does a great production job, and almost all the material is excellent. Sharkey's high voice is remarkable. You don't hear many singers like him.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spinning Vinyl

Another not so quiet evening at home. Let's see what's in the racks.

I got home early and fired things up with The Marshall Tucker Band's debut from 1973, side one: Take The Highway, Can't You See, and Losing You. You might remember Can't You See. It's a fine Southern rock record, with soul and gospel touches on top of that Skynyrd thang.

Next up- Lucinda Williams, side three of World Without Tears 2003, including the magnificent title track. "If we lived in a world without tears, How would bruises find the face to lie upon... How would broken find the bone".

Elvis Costello and the Attractions Get Happy! 1980. An oft overlooked gem, side one includes I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down, Black And White World, Motel Matches, Human Touch, and Beaten To The Punch, some monster Elvis, and Steve Nieve's organ is always perfect.

The Heptones Night Food 1976. I haven't listened to much Reggae in a while, but this was always one of my favorite Reggae records. Side one includes Country Boy, the overly-menacing I've Got The Handle, Book Of Rules and Mama Say. Reggae got soul even more than Toots himself.

Side four of The Very Best Of Diana Krall, with Let's Face The Music And Dance, and The Heart Of Saturday Night, and Fly Me To The Moon. I know, you either love her or hate her. I love her. And her piano kicks it, too. Amazing recent vinyl release- as good as they get.

Beatles For Sale, 1964, No Reply, I'm A Loser, Baby's In Black, Rock And Roll Music, I'll Follow The Sun. In that order. Big fun, and amazing stuff. The record just before Rubber Soul. It's even better than you remember.

All of the sudden I had to hear Cat Food, from King Crimson's In The Wake Of Poseiden 1970. Cat Food is the bomb. All jerky guitar and crazy talk. Cat Food again!

That inspired XTC's Egyptian Solution (Homo Safari Series No. 3) from the Senses Working Overtime 12" Single/EP. A remarkably funky slice of XTC, they do a sort-of Tom-Tom Club crossed with Can that digs a deep groove. An unusual XTC song, and well worth hearing.

Why not Spoon's The Beast And The Dragon, Adored from Gimmie Fiction 2005. Then Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) by Parliament from The Mothership Connection LP 1975. While we're getting funky, Prince's When You Were Mine and Head from 1980's Dirty Mind. When you were mine is a classic rocker from Prince, and Head, well it's a funky workout about exactly what you think it's about.

Finally the evening winds down with Lay It All Down and Show Me A Smile from Fleetwood Mac's 1973 outing Future Games. Lay It All Down is a bluesy workout with a dynamite dual-guitar jam, and Show Me A Smile is the template for better Christine McVie love songs to come, but the elements are all here. Future Games is really something to hear if you haven't.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shelby Lynne I Am Shelby Lynne 1999

Shelby Lynne released five country records prior to this, and there is some good material on them. She has a good voice, and does that vulnerable thing especially well. But it never quite took.

This is a perfect pop record. Produced by Bill Bottrell, most songs co-written by Lynne and Bottrell, and lovingly engineered by Mark Cross, the record sounds fabulous.

Shelby was out to recreate her sound and image. The combination of Lynne's new found southern pop-rock-soul identity, Bottrell's production and arrangement flourishes, and an absolutely dynamic recording with depth and punch to spare add up to a winning formula. Now all we need are some songs.

And the songs deliver in spades. Your Lies starts things off in bombast mode, as dramatic as any tale of heartbreak you'll ever hear. Crank this one up, and test you're ability to withstand big pop music. It's classic. A Southern soul blend with sultry Philly soul slides through Leavin', Thought It Would Be Easier, Where I'm From, and Black Light Blue. Life Is Bad and Why Can't You Be are both quality mid-tempo, Sheryl Crow-styled rockers. Gotta Get Back swings like some unholy cross between Aretha and Sade with a little Dusty on the side. Even the softer moments of Lookin' Up (a 3 am blues) and Dreamsome hold up because of the interesting arrangements, both instrumental and vocal.

Great lyrics bathed in Southern themes and heartbreak. Sultry vocals with immaculate harmonies. Big, gorgeous production with just the right touches. Beautiful sound engineering, dynamic, crisp and clean, worthy of a high-quality music system.

Lynne has made at least one particularly good record since, her Dusty Springfield tribute Just A Little Lovin' 2008. But there's also been several self-produced disappointments, Love, Shelby 2001 and Suit Yourself 2005.

Nothing she did before or after can touch this magnificent record, and there are not many modern, intelligent pop records that can even come close. The sound of everything coming together.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dr. Dog Shame, Shame 2010

There is a place somewhere smack in the middle of a continuum that starts at Spoon and ends at Marshall Crenshaw, passing through the Beatles, Mott The Hoople and the Hollies along the way. That place is this Dr. Dog record.

At times it's the great guitarist. Then some other time a great piano line. Quite a few times when you notice the perfect bass line. Solid drumming, especially when it almost falls apart, but not really. Interesting lyrics. Strong melodies and hook-filled choruses. Remarkably perfect harmonies abound.

There are psychedelic touches, some that echo Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles, or Odessa by the Bee Gees, but they never overwhelm the underlying tune-smithery at work. These are well-written, particularly well arranged and produced songs that display excellent structure and maintain a very high level of melodic quality. It's smart stuff. You can listen to it and not be doing anything else (this is an interesting idea, no?) And it is fun, too.

Today's thinking and dancing man's pop-rock. Hey, XTC are gone, but these crazy dudes from Philly might just have some of those same twitchy guitar figures and funky backbeats. The record makes me keep thinking of Spoon, except I don't have to work so hard to enjoy it. And it is more pop. And that's good.

I could give you the play-by-play, but there are too many highlights, and I'd end up repeating superlatives. I put a big plus sign in front of eight of the eleven songs, and I had positive notes about the other three.

Very highly recommended. Available on vinyl if you're so inclined.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Elton John / Leon Russel The Union 2010

I've been waiting patiently for this release for several months now. Three reasons: Elton John has been making some great records in the last ten years, his best since the seventies; Leon Russell made some great records a long time ago, and the two of them together sounded like an interesting idea; It was to be released on vinyl, and even though that shouldn't matter, it does.

Elton's liner notes tell a sweet story of how the record came to be, and I'm glad for Leon that Elton's a generous soul, because I suspect this record will change Leon's tax bracket this year.

There are, though, several less than perfect aspects to the record. T-bone Burnett produces, and while Burnett has a way with country/acoustic/roots music recordings, he's definitely not the guy for this job. A steadier pop hand would have worked better. And the sound is often muddy. When there are multiple players and singers, the sound is dark and distant, like Phil Spector from down the hall. Being able to hear both pianos in interplay is only really possible on a few tracks.

But the even greater weakness is the material. Of course, it's a two LP set, with 16 songs in this CD age, and it would have been better as a ten-song affair. That would have made this a much better product right there. Much of what could be omitted are the John/Taupin compositions, because they sound like outtakes from his last three records.

But it is not without its charms.

The opener is Russell's If It Wasn't For Bad. A good start to the record, Leon's voice sounds good, and his piano fills are superb. Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes follows, a slow John/Taupin ballad that features a nice piano duet and a strong lyric from Taupin. Hey Ahab, another John/Taupin write, is a fair mid-tempo rocker that goes on a little too long, although Leon's piano almost saves the day. Gone To Shiloh is a John/Taupin number that hearkens back to Tumbleweed Connection and that record's focus on Civil War America. Neil Young guests, and sings some fine harmonies with Leon.

Hearts Have Turned To Stone, a Russell composition, is a good mid-tempo rocker. Jimmie Rodger's Dream is a rolling country cowboy song, something Elton and Bernie have done a lot before. It's OK. There's No Tomorrow is a co-write between Elton and Leon with a mediocre lyric, that is just plain too slow. The guitar work by Marc Ribot and Robert Randolph just barely keeps it breathing. Monkey Suit is one of those Crocodile Rock/ Saturday Night's Alright bluesy rockers that Elton and Bernie do so well, and it's a keeper. Leon is relegated to back-up vocals, and the pianos are too deep in the mix, but it is still good.

Best Part Of The Day has an honest duet vocal that works, and the lyric is worth hearing, but it is a very very familiar Elton John melody barely reworked. A Dream Come True, written by Elton and Leon, is a rollicking, fast-paced rag, with a sentimental lyric that is a tribute to Elton from Leon. Wonderful pianos on this one also. I Should Have Sent Roses is a Russel/Taupin composed gem. Leon sings his heart out, and benefits from a fine Taupin lyric. When Love Is Dying is another overly familiar John/Taupin melody hung on a big, slow ballad that's just OK.

My Kind Of Hell, another John/Taupin authorship, is a second-rate Taupin lyric attached to a Honky Cat remake that's not bad. Mandalay Again (John/Taupin) is a boring march that is just not up to snuff. Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody) is another painfully slow, dull melody, but there is a tasty vocal arrangement with choir. And finally, Leon comes through at the end with his own In The Hands Of Angels, a beautiful song with just piano, organ, bass and choir, Leon again pays tribute to Elton, and T-bone Burnett. The sparse arrangement is like nothing else on the record, and thank goodness! Everything else sounds too much the same. And that is T-bone Burnett's job.

There are great moments from both Elton and Leon. There are some weaker songs courtesy of Elton mostly. Some of the highs are very much worth hearing. By my count seven excellent tracks, five others that are good, and four that should have never been released.

I'm a little disappointed. It's worth hearing, and you might like it more than I did. Take it out of the library.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Frank Sinatra Sinatra And Sextet Live In Paris 1962

Well, I've been on a bit of a spree lately. And this lovely two slabs of plastic is pretty fine.

Newly remastered and pressed, this '62 recording is far from perfect, but it comes close on several tracks. Sinatra is in fine voice, and the sextet is polished and able. But the band is recorded too low in the mix most of the time, and Sinatra's voice is too forward. But if it is Sinatra's voice you're after, it is here in spades.

Day In - Day Out, I've Got You Under My Skin, I Get A Kick Out Of You, My Funny Valentine, In The Still Of The Night, and They Can't Take That Away From Me are all stellar performances from the Voice. A quiet duet between Sinatra and guitarist Al Viola on Night And Day is excellent. Nancy (With The Laughing Eyes) and the closer, Come Fly With Me, are also standouts.

The trouble is that's less than half of what's here, and much of the rest sounds like Sinatra and band are sleepwalking through the repertoire. Maybe I shouldn't be that harsh on the band. It's a strong group, but the arrangements were written for orchestra, so the saxophone and vibes are trying hard to mimic a string section, and it doesn't work that well. Then there is the unfortunate mix, which does not let you hear the band until Sinatra is way too loud.

I enjoyed the record. Sinatra has it all going on in '62, and the record has been lovingly restored and pressed by Mobile Fidelity. It's a darn good live Sinatra record, but it could have been a great record. The (mostly) lazy performances and the unfortunate mix keep this from being everything it could be. Pretty good for fanatics, but most of us will be better off with other Sinatra recordings.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tom Caufield Long Distance Calling 1987

Tom Caufield's debut is one of those perfect records. To me. You might like it, too. You'll have to shop used, but it is available.

The record opens with Recovery Room, all spit and pop. "Get me out of the recovery room, 'cause other girls are looking good again". All this to a Tom Petty-like hook-filled chorus. My Discovery is a jangle-pop gem, and again the great chorus. Long Distance Calling is a classic rocker, and Caufield's lyrics are perfect pop, full of teen angst and metaphor.

After the three song opening barrage, Long After Summer sounds just like the summer memories it should. Precious Town rocks fast and furious, with a horn section adding to the mostly guitar, bass, drums, and keys of the rest of the record. We See As One and Another Time, Another Place keep the quality of the rockers high, while I should Work For This and For Her Intimate Self are particularly fine ballads.

The consistency of songwriting, the frequency and quality of the memorable choruses and catchy hooks, the lyrical turns of phrase, and Caufield's above average voice. It's killer stuff.

What sounds like it? Nothing really, but Del Amitri, Tom Petty (early), Bill Lloyd, and the Hang-Ups come close. This is a rock and roll record that could have, and should have, had at least four hit singles, and there's nothing wrong with listening to the whole thing. Great for a road trip, too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John Lennon 1940-1980

John Lennon would have turned 70 a few days ago, and naturally it was time to release a giant remastered box set of his entire catalog. But it's not quite his entire catalog, since some of the crazier John and Yoko records are omitted, and no Live Peace In Toronto. Still, a good looking set for Lennonophiles. I have not heard it. But I own all of the original Lennon solo records on LP anyway.

Of all the Beatles' solo releases, I like John's the best. Paul's records always had some moments, and certainly Band On The Run and Venus And Mars were darn good. George's All Things Must Pass was a classic, even if Phil Spector overdid it, and the Live In Japan release with Eric Clapton's band is excellent. Ringo's stuff is fun, and he certainly has plenty of famous help.

But Lennon's work, while flawed, always seemed closest to maintaining Beatles-quality standards of songwriting and performance. Mind you, it does not rival Beatles records, but it seems to come closer than any other band members' output.

Lennon's first official solo record was Live Peace In Toronto 1969. Side one was John's set, and there are a few keepers, especially the oldies covers of Blue Suede Shoes, Money and Dizzy Miss Lizzy. Clapton plays guitar. Side two is Yoko screaming. No one ever listens to side 2 twice.

Lennon really hit the ground running with Plastic Ono Band 1970, arguably his best effort. Most of us have heard the primal scream therapy stories that helped John expres his anger on this record. It surely worked. Working Class Hero, Mother, I Found Out, God, Isolation and Well, Well, Well are standouts. The stripped bare sound was a revelation in 1970, and it still sounds raw today. Ringo on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass, and John on guitar and piano. It laid a foundation for punk later every bit as much as the Velvet Underground's ealier work. A richly emotional record, but not always easy to listen to.

1971's Imagine is Lennon's most successful record comercially, a worldwide #1, and it deserves it. The title track, Jealous Guy, Gimme Some Truth, and the Paul-bashing How Do You Sleep? are all great, and the production values are excellent. There are few weaker songs, but generally it's all listenable. The closest thing to a pop gem in his catalog.

1972 saw the release of Some Time In New York City, easily Lennon's worst work. All of the songs are political rants. It's really a tough listen. It's not just the angry lyrics, but the songs themselves are not up to Lennon's usual standards. It deserves the bad press it recieved, and fans were generally and understandably disapointed. The original release included an extra record of live recordings that are entirely irrelevant.

Mind Games 1973 was a good Lennon record that made the US top 10 and contained several great tracks, Mind Games, Bring On The Lucie (Freda People), Intuition and Only People topping the list. Not his strongest songwriting, there are more than a few weaker tracks, but as a mostly neglected slice of Lennon history, it's not bad to hear.

Walls And Bridges was Lennon's 1974 venture, and contained the hit Whatever Gets You Through The Night, with Elton John on piano and duet vocal. #9 Dream, Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out), and What You Got are highlights, and many consider it among his best. It's definately more consistent, and varied in sound, than Mind Games at least.

Rock 'N' Roll came out in 1975, just before Lennon retired to raise Sean. A record of 50s and 60s covers, it holds up remarkably well. The songs are filled with a few too many musicians, giving it a less raw sound than might be perfect, but Lennon obviously loves the material and sings his heart out on these oldies. The press on this one ranges from "terrible" to "classic". I lean towards the later.

In 1980 Lennon came out of retirement with Double Fantasy, an album shared with Yoko, so it's only half a John Lennon record. The Lennon material is some of his best. Watching The Wheels, Woman, (Just Like ) Starting Over, and Dear Yoko are all very good songs. The Yoko songs are more pop than she ever displayed before, so they don't spoil the show completely.

In 1984, Milk And Honey was cobbled together from recordings made during the Double Fantasy sessions, and it sounds like just that. I'm Stepping Out and Nobody Told Me are good, but the record would never have happened without John's untimely murder in 1980.

There have been numerous repackagings of Lennon's solo output, and some of these are very good. There were several singles that never made to any of the above, such as Power To The People, Instant Karma and Happy Xmas (War Is Over), and these are included on almost any of the compilations. The new four CD set Gimme Some Truth looks like a good way to go deeper than a single CD, and get almost everything of importance and quality. The new Power To The People: The Hits is about as good as the single discs get.

For me, Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Rock 'N' Roll, and the early singles compilation Shaved Fish are essential.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Honeydogs 10,000 Years 2003 and The Long Winters When I Pretend To Fall 2003


Where are the new great songwriters? Well, as it turns out, there's plenty of them out there. How about if we just stick to songwriters with some original ideas. That narrows the field more than a little.

Here's two of them: Adam Levy of Honeydogs and John Roderick of The Long Winters. Smart, intelligent lyrics dealing with everything from the classic love song to sharp social commentary, melodies that both borrow from the past and bring something new to the game, all filtered through particularly artful arrangements.

In the case of Honeydogs, we get a crack ace band at the peak of its powers, Levy outdoes himself with the songs, and everything works. 10,00 Years, The Rake's Progress, Panhandler's Serenade, Poor Little Sugar, and Test Tube Kid are all stand-outs.

With The Long Winters, Roderick and band are augmented by many guests, but again, it is the songs and the singing that make the show. And again, great idiosyncratic arrangements. With their occasional indie envelope-pushing strangeness, they sound a little Spoon-like, but with less pretense and more pop. New Girl, Prom Night At Hater High, Cinnamon, Shapes, Scared Straight, and Blue Diamonds are the best of the lot.

Lyrically, both of these gentleman have honed their craft well beyond even good current songwriters, and these CDs are fine results of great craftsmanship.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ben Webster Soulville 1957

Ellington's tenor sax player for eight years between 1935-1943, Webster had a smooth, swinging style that is just a joy to hear. I just heard this record for the first time recently, but I know it will have lasting appeal.

Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, Herb Ellis on guitar, and Stan Levey on drums, that is an all-star 50s jazz lineup.

Nicely recorded. Laid back, late night jazz, but with an elegant strength that only a group as talented as this can produce.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spinning Vinyl

Last night I sat down between the speakers and turned it up to pretty loud and listened to vinyl records. After 2 1/2- 3 hours, here's what I'd listened to:

Johnny Cash Original Sun Singles '55-'58. A newly restored 2-LP set that includes all of Cash's singles on Sun Records. The sound is clean and in your face. It's well worth hearing, and Cash really sounds dangerous. I listened to Folsom Prison Blues, So Doggone Lonesome, I Walk The Line, Get Rhythm, and Train Of Love. Amazingly raw.

Speaking of raw, I then segued to Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around from 2002. One of Cash's last recordings, his voice is especially ragged, and sometimes he just can't make it do the right thing. But the performance is moving, covers of popular music that Cash does surprisingly well with. I listened to The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Personal Jesus, and In My Life. Personal Jesus was the best, the old guy can't really do the other two justice. It's painful to hear him try. Or it's poignant, at least that is what some writers think.

Next up I listened to the entire Laura Nyro and Labelle Gonna Take A Miracle from 1971. This is an amazingly well recorded and produced record. Nyro, the New York singer, hit songwriter, comes to Philly to be produced by Gamble and Huff. And the famous songwriter records an entire record of covers. This shouldn't work, but with the vocal power of Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, it can't fail. The record is all covers of fifties and sixties girl group, doo-wop and Motown classics. The vocals are magnificent, the arrangements perfect.

Next up, a change of pace to side 8 of the four-LP release of Led Zeppelin's Mothership. Zep never sounded better than on these slabs of plastic. In The Evening and All My Love from the band's later work. Gotta rock sometime.

Frank Zappa Them Or Us from 1984 is hardly my favorite Zappa LP, but it does contain one of Frank's best doo-wop efforts ever, the hilarious Be In My Video. The lyrics poke fun at rock stars, groupies, and the music biz in general (a common Zappa theme), but the vocal arrangement is at once complex doo-wop styling and giggle inducing.

Next up, The Kinks! Yes, The Beatles, The Stones, and... It should be The Kinks, and there should be no hesitation. 1969's The Kinks Arthur, Or The Rise And Fall Of The British Empire has always been a favorite, and like most of the Kinks records, is available on beautiful new vinyl. I wore mine out from 1969 a long time ago. I listened to side 1, with Victoria, Yes Sir, No Sir, Some Mother's Son, Drivin', Brainwashed, and Australia. A great album side. Australia ends the side with a great melody and lyric and a fabulous jammed-out ending that may well be the best Dave Davies guitar lead ever.

Lucinda Williams Little Honey from 2008 is a pretty good Lucinda record, and Lost Highway does a good job with the sound of this 2 LP set. I just had to hear her version of AC/DC's It's A Long Way To The Top that concludes this record. Yes, that's right, Lucinda covering AC/DC. It's a killer song, and Lucinda and band rip it up.

Side two of Elton John The Captain And The Kid from 2006. Elton's been on a roll lately, and this sequel to 1975's Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy deserves it's sequel status. It's just plain solid Elton and Bernie. Great songcraft. Nigel and Davey are still going strong, and Elton can write where he can sing. If you lost faith in Elton in the 80s and 90s, he's back.

Side 1 of The Elvin Bishop Band Rock My Soul is another old gem from 1972. Jo Baker takes lead vocals on several smoldering R&B tracks, and the crack ace band is on fire. Rock My Soul does just that, with swinging R&B. Holler And Shout has a great horn chart, Let It Shine is a gospel tinged ballad that Jo Baker sings to the ground. It's all bluesy fun.

Across The Universe from David Bowie's Young Americans 1975 has always sat well with me. Bowie lays on the, well, the Bowie thing, and turns John Lennon's classic into a slow grind. I wouldn't think that would work, either. But It does.

And finally, there's a new The Best Of Sly And The Family Stone from 1999 that adds on some of the later material that escaped the otherwise excellent 1970 Greatest Hits. If You Want Me To Stay, from 1973's Fresh, is a great Sly tune, from what is arguably his last good record. Funky as you wanna be.

And then the evening was ended. A fun romp through the stacks completed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings I Learned The Hard Way 2010

I can't believe I haven't mentioned Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings before this! Sharon is the closest thing you're going to find to a living and breathing James Brown. This is her fourth record (all are available on vinyl), and it is the work of a mature artist, band , and label all coming together at once.

Some backstory. Sharon was the first artist released on DapTone Records from Brooklyn, NY. Daptone is a small label that releases Sharon's records as well as ten or so other bands, several including Dap Kings band members. Neal Sugerman, the Dap Kings sax player, is half-owner of the label, and the whole outfit is a tight knit family-style operation. Check it out at Daptone.

This is the new one, and definitely her best. 2005's Naturally comes very close, though, and they are all good. But the songwriting, almost all done in-house at Daptone, plus the recording, the singing, the performance of a smokin' hot band on a mission, it all adds up to a monster soul record. The modern day Otis Blue. These guys are old school, and nobody can do it better, at least not today.

If you like Amy Winehouse (and why wouldn't you like Back To Black- it was killer, and oh, the Dap Kings backed her up on most of it), or James Brown, or Irma Thomas, or funky soul in general, you need this record. The vinyl sounds great, very much like the best of the Stax and Atlantic sides of the sixties out of Memphis.

I could try to describe the songs, and tell you about the hooks, and the great lyrics, and Sharon Jones' amazingly soulful voice. Otis Redding. Sly and the Family Stone. Aretha Franklin. This is not an imitation of authentic soul music. It's the real deal.

Last month Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings played a concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here in C town, and I got to be there. It was incendiary. They are touring the southwest this month, and then they are off to Europe and Australia through early December. Heads up there across the pond, this is a must see band, completely on fire.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Eighties

I was looking back at this blog the other day and I realized that there weren't many entries from the eighties. Lots of seventies, and plenty of recent and nineties releases. Were the eighties a bad decade for music (or is it just me)?

I know, it is ten years. It can't be all bad, and I agree with that. There were some good Talking Heads records, at least. But was there a general slump in the overall quality of popular music in the eighties? And if this hypothesis could be demonstrated to have merit, what could have caused this period of melodic malaise.

I can't really support the idea that the quality of music went down in the 80s, except based on my own personal anecdotal evidence. But what is it about 80s music? Too many synthesizers, sure, but that doesn't explain it all.

First, the decade began on the heels of the punk peak, and disco was still very much alive. Not a good sign. Then there is the synthesizer thing, and that was a major problem in the 80s. Lots and lots of synthesizers everywhere. It was the decade of the hair band. It was in the eighties that Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship. And Elton John became, well, bad Elton John. Artists that had done some vital work turned in their worst work in the eighties: Van Morrison, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Phil Collins, J. Geils Band, Fleetwood Mac.
It was also the time when pop music became very very big business. The arena tour, the zillion sellers. The major labels knew what they wanted to sell, and if you weren't making it, they didn't want it. Artist development began to change. No longer could an artist release two of three records before one of them really sold. And of course, the independant recording and distribution we see today was not yet established, so if it wasn't on a major label, you didn't know about it.
And the new bands coming up didn't seem to bring much of interest to the table. Let's just look at some examples of mediocrity that seemed to take up so much of the airwaves in the 80s: Bon Jovi, Duran Duran, Journey, The Bangles, INXS, Rick Springfield, Night Ranger, Poison, Culture Club, Styx, Men At Work, Wang Chung, Paula Abdul, Loverboy. Yipes!

Oh, I know it's easy to pick on some schlock from any decade. Goodness knows there was terrible crap in every decade. But who was doing the best work in the 80s? OK: Madonna, Michael Jackson, REM, Squeeze, Devo, Talking Heads, Prince, The Cars, U2, Van Halen, ACDC, Marshall Crenshaw. And who among those brought anything new to the table?
So the decade opened up with post-punk and disco at odds. Over-synthesized pop crap dominated the middle of the decade, and the birth of hip-hop and grunge arrived before the decade was over.

The eighties reminds me now of how good the end of the seventies really was, with the punk and new wave bands revitalizing popular music and at least bringing some emotion into the game. Granted, most of the emotion was anger, but at least somebody cared. And at least disco and punk pushed most of the country-rock out of the way. Although country-rock has made an unfortuanate comeback in the newer "country" music of today, which is mostly just rock balladry learned from those hair bands of the eighties.

In the seventies, everything was happening at once. Sixties artists that hadn't overdosed continued to make some good records, and there were lots of ideas/genres/styles to choose from. Some of the soul music was fabulous, and you certainly can't say that about the eighties. In the nineties things seemed to open back up again, with more styles and genres to choose from, and that seems to continue today.

In fact, the slow death of the major labels is producing music from more artists in more styles today than ever before. It may not be easy to find in a store, but there's everything out there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stanton Moore Groove Alchemy 2010

This is an organ trio led by the drummer Moore, who is also a member of New Orleans jazz-funksters Galactic. Although it is ostensibly a jazz record, it it mainly just as funky as you wanna be.

Robert Walter handles the Hammond B3, and Will Bernard plays tasty guitar. Most of the songs were written by the trio members. The closest I can get to describing this music is a cross between classic Jimmy Smith and The Meters.

That's right. Funky as The Meters, but with a jazz heart. Moore is a very busy drummer, and that keeps things interesting. He also rocks. Walter is an expressive B3 player who clearly has the chops to play anything with anybody. Bernard lays off to a rhythm role much of the time, but when he gets a solo, he shreds it with feeling and perfect lines.

What more could you need. Twelve funky, driving instrumentals performed by a stellar cast of three; a fiery drummer, a creative organist, and one hot guitarist. If you love the classic jazz organ trios, this might be too much funk-rock for you, but otherwise, it's manna from heaven. I can see this appealing to rockers that might want to try a taste of jazz.

You will tap your toes. It may even be difficult to hold still. Highly recommended to open minds everywhere.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lagy Gaga The Fame Monster (Deluxe Edition) 2009


You don't get that many opportunities to use the word. But when a review of Lady Gaga follows an acoustic live Neil Young set, well, that's juxtaposition all the way.

Another unusual thing might just be finding a review of a Gaga release on this blog. We're full of surprises today.

This particular release is a 2 CD affair including her debut The Fame, along with The Fame Monster, eight newer tracks, all bundled up nice and neat. I won't explain what may have led me to buy it, but I'm pleased I did. It's got quite a few killer songs.

OK, it's product, I understand that. But it's very well assembled product. I liked Madonna, too. I can't help myself. Will I be listening to it years from now? I don't know, how many years we talkin' 'bout? I still put Madonna on sometimes.

Between the two discs, there's 22 songs total. I'd have to say that 11 of them are darn good, and there's at least six classics: Bad Romance, Alejandro, Paparazzi, Poker Face, I Like It Rough, and Telephone. The other half is listenable. And you can dance to almost all of it.

I suppose you could just download those six at the on-line retailer of your choice and be good to go. There. It's almost a public service.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Neil Young Live At Massey Hall 1971

I wasn't expecting to like this disc. I raved about the Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live at the Fillmore 1970 record. I just didn't really think an acoustic set was going to do it for me.

Well, I was wrong. Yes, these songs are stripped bare, and no, that isn't usually a good thing. But Young's voice has never sounded better, and the songs showcase his remarkable range as a lyricist. Accompanying himself on either guitar or piano, his voice is clear, high and full of emotion. This is Neil Young the singer's record.

The set list is pretty close to an early "best of" with some interesting rarities. But what shines here, other than a remarkable performance, is the recording itself. You might like to hear this just to hear how good a close-miked acoustic live recording can sound. It's a remarkably in-your-face every detail tenth row clean as a whistle recording. Very special stuff.

Of course if you can't stand Neil Young, this won't change your mind. If you've been vacillating, go for it. It's not just historic. It's darn good, too.

This is another in the series of archival recordings Neil Young has issued in the last several years. It is available on vinyl as well as CD. I heard the CD this time, but if the vinyl version of Live At The Fillmore is any indication, I'll bet it sounds great. The CD sounds great. Really great.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The New York Rock Ensemble Roll Over 1971

This was the great record that should have made this band. There's barely a weak track. The band had everything. Solid musicianship on all instruments played. Multiple singers, multiple songwriters. Reasonably good recording and production, at least by the time they made this one.

There is just a trace of the rock-classical fusion they practically invented on the first two records. This one rocks. It was their debut on Columbia, and I have no idea how this group didn't break huge on the heels of this offering. Somebody must have been asleep at the wheel. They toured the record, and their live show was excellent. Yes, I saw them. Twice.

Maybe it was the single about the necrophiliac Gravedigger. That probably didn't sell, at least not in the south. But what a great tune, twisted lyric and all, and with a B-movie bass line that drives the song forward. Running Down The Highway is a killer rockin' road tune. Fields Of Joy is a lovely ballad with a rock soul. Don't Wait Too Long kicks butt, Anaconda is another creepy lyric hung on a rocking riff, Beside You is a beautiful song that appeared in an inferior version many years later on one of Michael Kamen's many motion picture soundtracks, and Traditional Order is another solid rocker.

The bad news is that this record was released as a budget-priced twofer CD with the follow-up Freedomburger (that should be the good news, because Freedomburger was almost as strong as this set) and the mastering job is not good. Overly bright and digitally harsh, it sounds pretty bad- like it was mastered before 1990, even though it came out in 1999.

The good news is if you've still got a turntable, I'll bet you could find a decent used copy. And don't you love the cover art?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet Complete Studio Recordings 2006

Recorded in 1955 and 1956, this CD is a splendid introduction to a famous group featuring an unusual line-up of drums, guitar, clarinet, cello and bass, once referred to as the last important group in West Coast jazz.

This music is perhaps best described as "chamber jazz", and it is mostly quite mellow. The interplay of cello, guitar and clarinet reminds the listener of classical chamber music, but the jazz sounds and structures dominate. The instrumentation keeps the sounds relaxed even on the upbeat songs.

A delicate and lovely version of My Funny Valentine is breathtaking. The Morning After is an oddly perky little number given the title. Chrissie is mellow enough to please smooth jazz listeners yet the intricate interplay amongst the group is pure jazz bliss. Gone Lover swings like crazy, and still you can relax.

Jim Hall plays guitar, and Mr. Hall is renowned in jazz as a great player. So is Buddy Collette, the clarinet, flute, and sax player extraordinaire. Carson Smith on bass and especially Fred Katz on cello are outstanding. The cello turns out to be a perfect, if not often thought of, jazz instrument. And Chico's drumming is subtly killer. Not a flashy guy, it is all in the service of the song.

I'd never heard anything quite like this, and although that isn't always a good thing, it is here. Laid back jazz that is full of ideas and swing. Great Sunday morning music. Or late night. Or right now.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All Back To My Place

MOJO magazine has a regular feature where they ask musicians and celebrities a specific set of questions about their musical tastes. Not unlike the Bernard Pivot questionnaire that James Lipton used on The Actor's Studio program, but focused on musical taste.

The feature in the magazine is called All Back To My Place. Since it seems unlikely that MOJO will ever call me, I'll give you my answers here.

What music are you currently grooving to?
Right now it's Justin Currie's The Great War, Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster, The Band Of Heathens' One Foot In The Ether, Melody Gardot's My One And Only Thrill, and Don Dixon Sings The Songs Of The Jeffords Brothers.

What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite album?
Oh well, sometimes it's Rubber Soul by the Beatles, or Kiln House by Fleetwood Mac. But the one that rises to the top of the list most often is probably The Band by The Band.

What was the first record you ever bought? And where did you buy it?
The first record that was actually mine was 50,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong, which was given to me for my eighth birthday. My older brothers always had records and I got to listen to those, so the first record I actually bought was much later, and it may have been The Guess Who's Wheatfield Soul. I always liked These Eyes, the single from that record. I bought it at Culver Military Academy, where I attended one summer.

Which musician (other than yourself) have you ever wanted to be?
I'd want to be a musician that isn't too badly screwed up. Who would that be? Maybe Eric Clapton, or Elton John. No, make that Van Morrison. But I just want their talent and money, and I'll develop my own psychoses.

What do you sing in the shower?
Whatever is stuck in my head at the time. I always liked a lot of Elton John's stuff, so maybe Rocket Man or Amoreena. But it could be anything I heard recently. Boppin' The Blues by Carl Perkins is always good.

What is your favorite Saturday night record?
Getting ready to go out, I might fire up some ACDC, maybe You Shook Me All Night Long, or Edgar Winter's Keep Playing That Rock And Roll, or Sniff 'n' The Tears' Driver's Seat, or NRBQ's Me And The Boys. Sometimes it's more dancable, like Kirsty MacColl's Mambo De La Luna or Jackie Wilson's Baby Workout, or One Nation Under A Groove by Funkadelic.

And your Sunday morning record?
For a long time my Sunday morning music was Donovan's A Gift From A Flower To A Garden. These days it's more likely to be a female jazz singer such as Karrin Allyson or Barb Jungr.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tubes or Solid State?


Solid state amplification devices are more efficient, so you can get a lot more watts for less money. Many types of speakers are relatively inefficient, or present unusual impedance loads that challenge an amplifier, and these devices require plenty of muscle to perform their best. The super high power tube amps are just really too expensive. So solid state has an important place in our world.

But take a highly efficient speaker than never drops too low in electrical impedance, and a well-crafted tube amp, and music just blooms out of the system.

I've heard great stereos that use solid state amps. But there's a magic to good tube amplification with the right speakers that solid state just can't do.

Tubes. More.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Roy Orbison Black And White Night 1989

Recorded live for a splendid DVD, this CD is a champ. Miraculously, Roy Orbison had lost not a single tiny bit of his angelic voice in 1987. He's backed by former Presley employees the TCB band of James Burton, Jerry Sheff, Glen Hardin and Ron Tuft. And that show would be a killer all by itself, but...

Add Michael Utley on keys, Alex Acuna on percussion, T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen on guitars, and whoa! Lookout!

But wait, not only do you get the still vital Orbison, the TCB band, the stellar guests, but for a limited time only you also receive the back-up singer crew of (get ready for this) Steve Soles, J. D. Souther, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, k. d. lang, and Jennifer Warnes. Just read those last three again.

Everything is perfect. The guests play great, but never upstage the star, and Springteen is particularly reverential to Orbison. The band is, well, see above. If it sounds like a dream team, they will live up to your dreams.

With Orbison's All Time Greatest Hits, essential listening.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Don Dixon Don Dixon Sings The Jeffords Brothers 2010

What an exciting title. Who are the Jeffords Brothers? Who is Don Dixon?

There are way too many people who might ask that second question, and for no good reason. Don Dixon has released a run of great solo records since 1985, and has produced many excellent records for others, not the least of which a string of overlooked gems by his wife Marti Jones, but also REM, Smithereens, Marshall Crenshaw, and many others.

He's the American Nick Lowe. Songwriter, singer, bass player, producer, and consistently excellent at all of it. Blessed with a soulful rasp of a voice, he's up to the task of singing these fine, newly written R&B gems. Dixon played all the instruments except drums, which he wisely left in long-time musical partner Jim Brock's rock-steady hands.

So who are the Jeffords? Just two brothers from Carolina who write these particularly great songs, that Dixon turns into white soul the likes of which has been missing since the glory days of Dan Penn writing for the Box Tops. These songs are excellent, and Dixon does them as well as he does his own, with reverence and interesting arrangements.

I've Had Enough starts the CD off with a slinky soul put-down. All I Can Say is a funny-sad tale of cat-got-the-tongue shyness. Long Road Gone is a richly-orchestrated ballad that Dixon sings the crap out of. Me And My Radio is an under the covers romance with Top 40 broadcasts that swings with a strong chorus. I'm In Love With A Woman That I Can't Stand is another funny-sad gem, and the horn charts add a nice touch. The sweet soul of Love In Motion is irresistible, and Surprised By My Surprise is loaded with both lyrical and melodic hooks.

It's not soul or R&B like you're used to hearing, unless you've been following Dixon's work for a while, in which case this CD seems the natural extension of all he does so well, while letting him off the hook for the songwriting.

Killer smooth soul-pop from a talented artist and dynamic writing duo. Try something old, something new, in one package. Have some fun for a change. Highly recommended.