Sunday, March 27, 2011

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Pills And Ammo 2010

Southside Johnny might not be the first name you'd come up with in 2011, and who could blame you. But the new release from this blues-rock and R&B stalwart is quite good.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes released three classic records between 1976 and 1978. I Don't Want To Go Home 1976, This Time It's For Real 1977, and especially Hearts Of Stone 1978 were all fine examples of rocking blues and soul done right. All three also benefited from Steve Van Zant's writing, guitar and production, and the occasional Springsteen writing credit. In the eighties Southside (or his producers) lost the way and made some pretty regrettable records. But in 1991 Van Zant returned to make Better Days, and although it didn't return Southside all the way to his former glory, it's another good one. The record company went bust while he was touring the record. Bad luck. During the last decade Southside Johnny has self-released a number of live Jukes records (I haven't heard them) as well as some good studio material, Into The Harbour 2005 is very good, and features Jeff Kazee on keyboards and songwriting, who also collaborates on the new one. From 2001, Messin' With The Blues is excellent, with Johnny blowing a lot of harp, and covering an especially well-chosen set of blues chestnuts. It's outstanding, and the best thing he's done since those first three.

Much of the classic Jukes sound is intact on this new one, and Southside's collaborator, Jeff Kazee, provides solid songwriting, keyboards, and production. Bobby Bandiera and Andy York provide rocking guitars, and the big horn sound of the Jukes is in place. Eddie Manion and La Bamba are still doing it on baritone sax and trombone, and the horns are as tight as ever.

Southside Johnny's voice is a little more ragged, but he's still a soulfull singer, and with good material he can always hold up his end of the bargain.

Bluesy rockers Harder Than It Looks and Cross That Line kick things off with high energy. The stomping blues of Woke Up This Morning follows, and it benefits from some killer harmonica from Johnny and a hot lead guitar. Lead Me On is a classic Southside ballad, with big emotions pouring out of Johnny's vocal. Strange Strange Feeling is a dangerous sounding blues that gets another fine vocal. Umbrella In My Drink finds it's way down to New Orleans with a guest vocal duet with Gary US Bonds. A Place Where I Can't Be Found is another good blues highlighting the horn section. Most of the rest is good, too, with rockers Keep On Moving and One More Night To Rock leading the pack.

The band is in fine form, the songs are good, and Johnny's pouring it all out. If you ever liked this band, they're still alive and kicking.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Art Dudley and Vinyl

This month marked the publication of the 100th "Listening" column by Art Dudley in Stereophile magazine. I guess I've read them all, as I first started reading his work in his own Listener magazine before it's too-soon demise, and his subsequent hiring by Stereophile.

He's a really funny writer, and he takes a unique and irreverent approach to reviewing audio equipment. In his own words, in a response to a letter to the editor in the April 2011 issue, Dudley says that he has suggested "time and time again, that each record lover should strive for a playback system that presents music in a manner that he or she considers beautiful- not by distorting music, but by emphasizing those performance parameters that are of greatest importance to him or her, and gleefully ignoring those parameters that are not, regardless of who propounds them. I do that in full expectation of the gurus' outrage and the yipping of their lapdogs, and I seldom have to wait long for either."

He's willing to like an amplifier that romances music, and speakers that are not necessarily the most accurate. And other times he's fallen all over for solid state done well. He's an open-minded lover of music. While he's been writing he's owned equipment that was particularly "fringe" material, and at other times he's had fairly conventional gear. But even more than his excellent, analytical reviews of equipment, it's the stories he tells along the way, and more than a few all-out rants. He doesn't suffer fools well. You can read much of his work for Stereophile on their website. One my my very favorite writers in any genre.

So happy 100th Listening column, Art. Keep it going.

Note to readers: Since I first published this post, I have purchased vinyl from Amazon, and their shipping and packaging seem to have improved, at least in my experience.

Also in this month's Listening column, Art shares his recent gargantuan disappointment with the process of buying vinyl records from I haven't had an experience quite so profound as his, but I too have been unimpressed with their shipping and handling of vinyl. I too would recommend and, and I'd add as well to the list of quality new vinyl retailers. For used vinyl look no further than, a site that brings a searchable database of hundreds of sellers large and small to the used vinyl market. Stick to the 4 and 5 star sellers, and you'll rarely be disappointed. I got one badly scratched record from someone once, but it was an unusually cheap copy of a usually expensive rarity, and it's condition was not dishonestly represented.

If you happen to be near Pittsburgh, Jerry's Records is a huge place, chock full of very cool finds. And Amoeba on Haight Street in San Francisco is worth a visit if you are into vinyl and happen to be in the neighborhood. In fact that's a store that is worth going out of your way to get to. They also stock a good selection of shiny silver discs.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Freddie King Let's Hide Away and Dance Away 1961

One of the most revered blues guitarists ever.

His 1961 all-instrumental record for King pressed on new vinyl by Sundazed is a beautiful thing. Twelve blues instrumentals, including his signature tune Hide Away, all Freddie King originals, and every one cooks. Basic, straight ahead blues with King's inimitable guitar and a solid band behind him.

Thirty-two minutes of pure blues perfection.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Matthew Sweet Girlfriend 1991

I've mentioned this classic before, and it truly deserves the descriptor. Produced with an in-your-face sound by Fred Maher, covered completely with the loud, edgy guitar of Robert Quine, and filled with the stellar efforts of a songwriter coming into his own in a very big way.

If you haven't heard it, you should. You owe it to yourself. Sweet's high whine might detract a few listeners, and Quine's guitar can be too loud for some, but hey, do you like rock 'n' roll or not? It's the farthest pop-rock record from a Bread album you can find on the planet. And that can only be good.

Divine Intervention, I've Been Waiting, Girlfriend, and Looking At The Sun form a high-energy foursome that kicks the record off in fine style. Then it's Sweet's love paean to Ms. Ryder, Winona, with Greg Liesz's pedal steel creating a beautiful country ballad. Evangeline, Day For Night, and I Thought I Knew You continue the barrage of perfect rockers. You Don't Love Me is a sweet ballad, and I Wanted To Tell You is pure jangle-pop glory. Don't Go and Does She Talk rock like crazy, and most of the rest is pretty darn good, too. Hard-rockin' power-pop does not get any better.

Sweet has made some other darn fine records, 1995's 100% Fun is very good, and his relatively more recent Kama Ga Suki from 2003 and 2004's Living Things are both solid outings that rival Girlfriend, at least half the songs anyway, and as such are easy to recommend. I'm listening to Sick Of Myself from 100% Fun right now. It's great.

Girlfriend has it all. A stone classic. Crank it up, very loud. Friday is almost here now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lucinda Williams Blessed 2011

A new Lucinda Williams record is always welcome news around my place. This one qualifies, no suspense necessary. Is it Car Wheels On A Gravel Road? No, and nothing else is either. Not by Lucinda, not by anybody. If that's your yardstick, nothing will measure up.

Lucinda Williams is first a lyricist (and the lyrical content of this record is exemplary- as good as it gets), second a singer (and the close-miked, up front sound of her ragged rasp is perfect), and third a songwriter (and mostly this is a solid effort, although additional melody or at least pace could have helped a few songs).

The production by Don Was, Eric Lijestrand, and Thomas Overby, is ideally suited to Lucinda. Lots of atmosphere, beautiful, slowly emerging arrangements, and that up-front-in-the-mix vocal work to wonderful effect. The band is way beyond highly skilled. The bass and drums of David Sutton and Butch Norton lay down a solid foundation on which the twin lead guitars of Greg Leisz and Val McCallum bounce and spin and rock and generally do all the things that two great guitarist can do when they seem to be playing with one highly developed brain. Add to that Rami Jaffe's organ, piano, and accordion flourishes that are spot on every time, and you've got one smoking hot ensemble.

Buttercup is a bitter rocker, a story of a bad man who hardly deserves to find a mate. Lucinda sneers "Good luck finding your buttercup" in the chorus, and it's easy to hear where she's coming from. I Don't Know How You're Living is one of those deeply emotional lyrics that Lucinda does better than anyone. Raw. Pure. Beautiful and pained. Copenhagen is a lonely, airy ballad of loss that benefits from the phenomenal band.

Born To Be Loved is a slow, repetitive trance of a song that sounds like a lyric that Lucinda has been trying to write for years. The loud angry rocker Seeing Black is another strong lyric strapped to a typical Williams melody that is saved by the big southern rock twin-guitar lead break. It's also one of only two real rocking songs on the record, and that's an important point. Track five of twelve and the energy never gets this high again. It's not a bad thing, but it might have helped to have one more upbeat tune to keep things moving. It's a minor gripe.

Soldier's Song is a heavy anti-war song of the most personal kind. A lyrical tour-de-force, alternating lines between a soldier's actions and those of his "baby" at home to an Essence-like trance, the song is intensely moving. On the heels of that, Blessed weaves slow gospel blues with another exceptional lyric, and two-guitar interplay rocks out the ending. Sweet Love follows, and it's a great lyric hung on a slow balled that deserved a better melody and a quicker pace. Another melodic underachiever, Ugly Truth, follows, and it's an OK country tune, and again a strong lyric. Convince Me is a slowing building rocker, and a lovely plea for security. Elvis Costello guests on guitar to unusually good effect, and Jaffe's organ is killer.

Awakening is another slow start that develops into a scronky twin guitar cooker. It's again a little weak in the melody department and is barely saved by the fine band's embellishments. Killer lyric, though. The record ends with Kiss Like Your Kiss, a slow, sad, painful wisp of a song that could have been another Passionate Kisses with a different, more up-tempo arrangement.

When I first heard it, I felt that Essence lacked energy, and yet I find myself more captivated by that 2001 classic every time I hear it today ten years later. This one might be alot like that. There is so much fine, really incredible lyrical depth here, the band are amazingly talented, and William's expressive voice is in fine form. There may be too many slower songs, but they're very fine slow songs.

When Williams sings "Please, please, please, convince me", you can hear her need, and that's the raw, unprotected power you can't find many places these days.