Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Neville Brothers Neville-ization 1984

The Neville Brothers have had trouble putting together a studio album that does them justice. They've come close with Yellow Moon and Fiyo On The Bayou, but there's always something missing, especially if you've seen them live.

I spent one of the best nights of my life at Tipitina's in New Orleans on a sweaty June night seeing the Neville Brothers perform live. They were the hottest live band anywhere, but at home they were totally over the top smokin'.

This set, recorded in 1982, is the only way to get close to that experience. Live On Planet Earth from 1994 is good, but this set, recorded at Tipitina's in 1982 is the filet gumbo gris gris voodoo jambalaya muffaletta authentic slice of the Big Easy.

Side One opens with Fever, and the band does a great arrangement of this chestnut, all dynamics and harmonies and rocking, driving drums. And a killer sax break from Charles. Woman's Gotta Have It is a soulful mid-tempo number before Mojo Hannah, Art Neville's story of "a mojo worker, gonna end my misery, she gonna send my baby back home soon - work it up, Hannah" that is all syncopation and swamp funk. Then Aaron does a classic Tell It Like It Is, and he's in fine form in 1982. Art's Why You Want To Hurt My Heart ends the side on a swinging, light pop note.

Side Two is non stop action. Fear, Hate, Envy, Jealousy kicks things off. It's a rocking, funky workout that makes dancing into oblivion a viable option in response to the lyrical sentiment. Then the band does a rocked out Caravan (the Ellington one) that features Charles on sax and the entire band on perfect cooking. Big Chief rocks the Mardi Gras vibe, and then Africa closes the set with an incendiary version of the Meters classic. If you can sit still through side two, you're over-medicated.

The band is seven people that play so tight they sound of one mind the entire time. The four brothers are assisted by Willie Green on drums, Darryl Johnson on bass, and Brian Stolz on guitar. All three are perfect at every turn. With Art's keys, Cyril's percussion, Aaron's vocals and Charles' sax, you don't need anything else. It's not a flashy outfit, but they are always in sync with each other, and not a note is wasted. A great record from a band that should have made many more this good. They've come close, but they've never bettered this one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Moby Grape '69 1969

I suppose by now everyone's heard the sorry tale of this great band. Their debut, Moby Grape 1967 was and still is one of the finest rock and roll records. Perfect rock and roll. The debacle that was the promotion of the record and the band are well documented, and there was never a repeat of the success, either commercial or artistic, of that debut. The second album, Wow, was a scattered mess with several great songs, and was packaged with the yawn-inducing Grape Jam.

But Moby Grape '69 was an overlooked gem. The blues-y R&B of Ooh Mama Ooh starts the record off with a wonderful display of their vocal prowess. It's A Beautiful Day Today is a gorgeous ballad that could only be from sixties San Francisco, but in a good way. We should have heard it on the radio for years, especially given some of the dreck from the era that we still must endure from time to time. I Am Not Willing is a slow love ballad with a sweet Peter Lewis vocal.

Side two comes out of the gate with Trucking Man, a real pile driver of a song with a great riff and driving drums. If You Can't Learn From My Mistakes is a charming country ditty with a fun lyric. Captain Nemo hearkens back to the fabulous syncopation, vocal harmonies and guitar interplay of the debut album. Going Nowhere rocks hard, with big riffs and hooks. Seeing is a early example of the soft-loud-soft aesthetic that would get famous thirty years later. The song was written by Skip Spence, who had by now left the band in a fit of psychosis, and the blues-y guitar is some of Jerry Miller's fine work.

This one might not be quite as timeless as their debut. But it's their next best, and it's the sound of a super-tight band out to prove something. They get it done in spades.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Gabe Dixon Band 2008

Here's a nice record. The Gabe Dixon Band is a three-piece piano, bass, drums outfit that works wonders with that sometimes limited format. Dixon plays piano, writes and sings, and he has a good voice, and he can surely play piano. I learned about this band while watching the Sandra Bullock movie The Proposal, which features Find My Way, about the catchiest pop song on the record.

Take some Elton John(70s version), some Billy Joel, some Ben Folds Five(without the quirkiness and wisecracks), stir. And there you go. There are hints of Paul Simon, Sting, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, too. This Dixon guy can write a southern-California country-rock tune like nobody's business.

Disappear, Further The Sky, and Far From Home might all have hit potential, as well as the aforementioned Find My Way. Till You're Gone and Sirens are solid pop-rockers. A few of the ballads suffer from trite lyrics, but most of this CD is very good and also fun.

It's not the definition of the rock piano trio. That would be 11-17-70 by Elton John. But this is a darn good.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eric Hutchinson Sounds Like This 2008

Eric Hutchinson is a new artist that can write one hook-heavy, catchy pop-rock song. If you're a sucker for that kind of thing, and I certainly count myself in that category, this guy's for real. He's got a nice voice with a slightly nasal, slightly treble-y edge, and he's obviously worshiped at the alter of some of the greats.

You Don't Have To Believe Me is a rocking Stevie Wonder riff, Rock & Roll is faux reggae in the Jack Johnson vein, and Oh! channels Billy Joel at his best. A good music historian could probably trace most of these hooks back to classics from the past, but who cares. You'll just think, "this sounds familiar" and at the same time "this feels just right". Hearing a great new pop record like this is like putting on new shoes that actually feel like you've worn them in already. And they still look new.

The music is written and performed very well. The instrumentation is mostly sparse, with bass, drums, piano, guitar, and occasionally something else. The arrangements are well thought out. The songs generally have rhythms that keep them moving forward, and that makes a really big difference. Back To Where I Was has a laid-back backbeat and quiet percussion that keeps it rolling forward. Outside Vilanova is a funky pop gem. Every song has a memorable chorus. You'll hum, you'll whistle, you'll sing along. You'll turn the car stereo up to crazy loud and hang your head out the window down some Michigan back road, dancing in the wind...

Some records like this don't hold up to repeated listening, but this one does.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sherry Petta This Is Why 2005

Did I mention that I like light jazz vocal music, especially female vocalists? Diana Krall, Stacey Kent, Karrin Allyson, Jane Monheit, Valerie Joyce, and now Sherry Petta. I think I heard her on Pandora, listened to some samples, and then bought this CD.

Petta is an Arizona native with a great voice and a wonderful feel for phrasing. She has played LA quite a bit and was awarded Jazz Artist of the Year at the 2007 and 2008 Los Angeles Music Awards. This CD is from 2005 and Sherry has a newer one out called Endlessly, released last October.

There is nothing I can say that will get you suitably excited about this record. Sherry is backed by a quite capable group of musicians in your standard jazz combo of bass, drums, guitar, piano and saxophone. The songs are standards you've heard before- If I Had You, Teach Me Tonight, You Don't Know Me. The recording is good. The song arrangements are nothing amazing, but there are some nice approaches that keep the music from sounding like everybody else. Petta's voice is lovely, always spot on pitch, and without any distinctive coloration (not smokey, not nasal, not coquettish).

So why should you buy this record instead of the many other choices "just like it". Sherry Petta is just that little bit better at singing these songs than most of the other voices that try. And again, it is her phrasing that makes the difference. Her way with these songs is subtle, and at first you think this is just like any number of "local" artists that have gone into a studio with skilled musicians and made this same record. But this one is better, and by a considerable margin. And Sherry Petta is why. She sings the daylights out of every song, and still sounds like she's just relaxing and letting it happen. Did I mention her wonderful phrasing?

There's even three Petta originals mixed in that are excellent tunes. Again, nothing I can say here can prepare you for how good this CD is. In fact, it will probably take a few listens before you realize it yourself. But I think you'll get it, and I think you'll like it.