Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ensemble HD Live At The Happy Dog 2013

What a great LP. What a great story.

Five members of the Cleveland Orchestra plus pianist Christina Dahl, director of chamber music at SUNY Stony Brook in New York, play chamber music at a not-at-all-fancy pub on Cleveland's near west side. The programs draw standing-room crowds from the first night with little more than word-of-mouth notice. Joshua Smith, principle flautist with the orchestra, and Sean Watterson, Happy Dog owner, decide to record the ensemble live in said little bar.

They hire Thomas Knab, former recording engineer with Telarc, who uses a minimal number of vintage analog microphones to record the ensemble in this unusual space, and they release it on pristine heavy-weight vinyl (also available as high-resolution download). The sound of the record is immediate and beautiful.

I'm far from an expert on chamber music, but there are many reviews out there. Some of the arrangements are truncated, and this seems to annoy a few purist reviewers, but mostly the reviews are quite complementary. The repertoire is a mix of chamber music from Beethoven to Arvo Part with quite a bit of twentieth century material. There is some challenging music and some sublime.

I'm a fan of the orchestra, and a firm believer that classical music should do whatever it takes to spark the imagination of a newer, younger audience. If you'd like to hear just what that might sound like from some of the best musicians in the world, here's your chance. The record is available from Bandcamp.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Death A Band Called Death 2012 (DVD) Death ...For The Whole World To See 2009

This is a fascinating documentary of a hard rock band made up of three black brothers from Detroit that made some glorious protopunk music in 1975.

Even reading it, it doesn't sound right.

The documentary traces the bands early development (and particularly rare and permissive parenting) that allowed these brothers to develop a raw, loud, angry rock and roll sound that predates punk in it's angry vocals and hyper-speed drumming.

The DVD is a blast, and follows the story of the resurrection of this anomalous band in 2008 after an early self-released demo single became a sought-after rarity and found its way into the hands of DJs at clubs in the mid 2000s.

In 2009, Drag City Records released their "debut" album, ...For The Whole World To See, seven songs recorded in 1975 at United Sound in Detroit that includes the two tracks from the remarkable single that caused their rediscovery and reunion.

There is certainly reason to say they were punk before punk, but the playing has none of the early punk DIY ethos. The Townsend/Hendrix influenced David Hackney is no two-chord punk guitarist. He's hot and inspired, and the arrangements are tight. There are moments of prog-like complexity, some psychedelia, and plenty of hard-driving rock and roll.

The songs are odd, occasionally lyrically strange, and Bobby Hackney's vocals surely contribute to the punk comparisons. They sound like The Who crossed with Black Sabbath on speed. What's not to like?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Zappadan 2013

Here I'm is...The zombie woof!

Zappadan 2013 is underway, and this year, someone set up a Zappadan blog with links to many Zappadan celebrations. It's here.

One of my favorites is this amazing version of Zombie Woof by the Asphalt Orchestra.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Zappadan 2013 Zappa In New York 1978 Wazoo 2007

Ah, the festival of Zappadan is upon us once again. Celebrate (or don't) the life and works of one of America's greatest modern-day composers and general all-around thinker.

Take your time and spend these next 17 days however you want to. Frank might have wanted it that way. Or maybe he'd think Zappadan foolish. Too bad he's not here to let us know. He would have been 70 this December 21. In keeping with the spirit of Zappadan, how you choose to celebrate this wonderful time is entirely up to you. If someone tells you you're doing Zappadan wrong, you can be sure they don't get it.

Me, I like to mention his music, which I mostly love, and since I talk about music here at this blog, it makes sense. This year I added two Zappa titles to my collection. They are Wazoo and Zappa In New York. Both are live recordings, and both are good, and on some level, unique.

 Zappa In New York boasts the Saturday Night Live horn section and Randy and Mike Brecker. Recorded Christmas week 1976, it's jammed with plenty of fine moments, including super hot instrumentals (The Purple Lagoon, The Black Page, Manx Needs Women, Sofa) and outrageous humor (The Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit, Punky's Whips, Titties And Beer). It also includes guest narrations from Don Pardo himself. The core band includes the incomparable duo of drummer Terry Bozio and vibes player Ruth Underwood. Generally a solid live outing, much of which was intended for Zappa's Lather release.

Wazoo is a very very special thing indeed. Recorded in 1972 at the end of a very brief tour, it features the 20-piece Mothers Of Invention/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo band, a group of Zappa regulars augmented by ace studio musicians that only toured because, well, because Zappa asked them. Who could turn that gig down?

This is Zappa's big band concept executed magnificently in a live setting. The live version here of The Grand Wazoo is thrilling, as is Approximate, in an exceptionally deep reading. The 32-minute The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary in four movements is fairly different from the later 1978 studio recording, and every bit as good. The recording is clean and neat, and sounds like it was taken right off the mixing board.

I really can't describe how incredible this band is, and this stuff isn't easy. Or how magnificent these compositions are. That said, this isn't for the Dinah-Mo Hum crowd. This is serious music, and you should probably sit down and not operate heavy machinery.

Happy Zappadan, one and all!

Previous Zappa posts here.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kevin Salem Ecstatic 2001

Kevin Salem made this near perfect rock record back in 2001. While most of his more recent work has been in producing, recording, writing, and mixing for other artists, this masterpiece should have been huge. Quality modern rock & roll either doesn't have the audience it should, or there's just too much good stuff to choose from.

Featuring a host of guests, the record is nonetheless all about Salem's smart writing and arranging. And he's a passable singer, too. There's plenty of mid-tempo singer-songwriter fare (1000 Smiles, Kindness, Party Song), but there's also some serious rocking (The Medicine Down, Gold Diggers, Magnetic), and a few choice ballads (End Of The Addiction, Home Again).

There isn't a bad song on the record. There's a little Freedy Johnson, a little Brendan Benson, and a little male version of Aimee Mann. If you've got room for one more slice of smart rock, produced and arranged as well as any, look no further.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Great Lines

Sometimes a lyric is just perfect. Here's a few.

Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one
   -Jaime Robbie Robertson

She's just your size
She's sexy, she's beautiful
Does she talk?
   -Matthew Sweet

Sometimes she looks at me, and says
"Babe, my heart just stalled"
But what I think she sees ain't me at all
   -Justin Currie

You are such a lovely mess
Hearts have left a wreck
It's beautiful I guess
   -Erin McKeown

When you whispered in my ear
And asked me if I was leavin' with you or her
I didn't realize just what I did hear
I didn't realize how young you were
   -Bob Dylan

Whenever I put my foot in my mouth and you begin to doubt
That it's you that I'm dreaming about
Do I have to draw you a diagram?
All I ever want is just to fall into your human hands
    -Elvis Costello

And I warn you now
The velocity I'm gathering
Will knock you down
Send the chairs and lamps all scattering
'Cause I'm a superball
   -Aimee Mann

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dr. Dog B-Room 2013

I like this band quite a bit, and this new one continues a string of excellent records that started with the near-perfect Shame, Shame in 2010. Their earliest records suffered from lo-fi recordings and the general sound of a band and its songwriters finding their way. Well, they've found it, and now they are just going to try to keep it going. So far, so good. Shame, Shame 2010, Be The Void 2012, and the EP Wild Race 2012 all feature their unique blend of all things sixties and seventies pop-rock-psychedelia; danceable beats, multiple voice singalong choruses, interestingly spacey lyrics, fine arrangements and strong musicianship.

Some critics have given them a hard time recently for an apparent lack of growth, doing the same thing again. You gotta wonder what would make these jokers happy. The band finally gets it right in every way on Shame, Shame, and when they try, mostly successfully, to duplicate that record's success, they get beat up in the press for not branching out.

I don't get it. Just about everything here works. Broken Heart, Minding The Usher, Distant Light, Phenomenon, Long Way Down, Rock And Roll, and Love are all as good as anything they've done. Only the spare Too Weak To Ramble and the ethereal ballad Twilight disappoint, and I may be getting too picky just because of the strength of the rest of the songs.

Complaining that this band isn't progressing appropriately is much like saying the first four Beatles albums sound too much the same. Get over it. Enjoy another heaping helping of Dr. Dog.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jeanie Bryson sings songs of Peggy Lee Some Cats Know 1996

Jeanie Bryson has a very Peggy Lee-styled voice to begin with, sultry and smooth, deceptively easy-going. So the idea makes sense.

Telarc is certainly renowned for clean, pristine recordings, and this one is no exception.

The song selection is just right, focusing on Lee's hits and well-chosen non-hits. I Don't Know Enough About You, Some Cats Know, Why Don't You Do Right?, You're My Thrill, Fever, You're Blasé, and I'm Gonna Go Fishin' are all delightful. There are no particularly weak tracks.

And the band is unusually good. John Chiodini on guitar, Terry Trotter on piano, Jim Hughart on bass and Harold Jones' drums lay down the rhythm while several soloists provide sax (Red Holloway), clarinet (Paquito D'Rivera), or trumpet (Ronnie Buttacavoli) on individual songs. They swing with vigor.

It won't bowl you over, it just simmers on the back burner most of the time. And as a Peggy Lee tribute, what could be more perfect? I've put it on so many times over the years, and I always enjoy it. Late night, candlelight jazz done right by an artist perfectly suited to the task, and an all-star supporting cast.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ray Dolby 1933-2013

Ray Dolby passed away in September and somehow the fact escaped me until recently. Dolby was a brilliant engineer and businessman who parlayed a few solid and original designs into a billion-dollar fortune.

Most people know of Dolby through that loud noise at the beginning of movies announcing the use of Dolby Surround Sound, or more recently, Dolby Digital. Dolby's surround processing became the standard for movie soundtrack realism and certainly was his cash cow. His Dolby branded systems earned him significant respect for both his business acumen and his engineering.

He began his company's successes with Dolby Noise Reduction, a simple and elegant solution to the nasty tape hiss associated with the compact cassette. Dolby's lovely trick took the cassette tape medium from voice-only Dictaphone use to become the first convenient format for portable quality stereo reproduction. Because of Dolby, the original personal portable music player, the Sony Walkman, became a reality some 34 years ago.

And so, without Dolby, we might still be waiting for the iPod.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East 1971

Sometimes it can be challenging to keep up blogging at least once a week. I often tell myself I'm just going to pull out some old favorite and rattle off a quick one. At times like this, the record I most often think I'll review is this one, At Fillmore East.

There are many reasons that I think of the record as a classic, and deserving of its status as such. But the real reason I think I love this record so much is that I was 16 when it came out. And we all listened to it all the time. And I never got sick of it. It has avoided being played to death on classic rock stations because of song length, and we're all the better for it.

Side one blasts off with Statesboro Blues, all swinging blues swagger. "If you can't make it, baby, Your sister Lucille certainly want to go", and Duane Allman's crazy good slide guitar. Done Somebody Wrong follows, with guest harmonica by Thom Doucet, and guitar solos from both Allman and Dicky Betts. The cover lists both as playing Lead Guitar, and that's exactly correct. Stormy Monday completes the first side. It is the definitive version of this oft-recorded chestnut, building so very slowly until they just rip it open. And the entire side also benefits from Greg Allman being one heck of a fine blues singer, and an organist deeply in touch with his inner Booker T. Jones.

You Don't Love Me starts with a driving blues riff, but then suffers from a too long slow section, and just not enough good ideas to fill nineteen minutes, all of side two.

Side three's Hot Lanta was written by all band members, and it sounds like a great idea taken from a jam and turned into a killer, organ-led swinging rocker. The twin guitar attack is in full force, Betts and Allman operating at a telepathic level. Smoking fast screaming guitars abound. Bett's In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed starts as a beautiful blues ballad, and then breaks into a shuffle that cooks like crazy with more twin lead guitars.

And then there's Whipping Post, aka side four. The song is a classic blues rock guitar exposé. And Greg sings it brilliantly. But the slow middle section is... well, it's dull is what it is, and the ending is more bombast than crescendo. It's a great song, but so is the five minute version on their debut.

I have to say going back to the whole record again was not quite as special as I had imagined it would be. The long jams, Whipping Post at 22 minutes, and You Don't Love Me at 19 minutes, don't hold up as well as they did in my, apparently more patient, youth. The slower passages of both meander around more than a little too long.

But the other half is incendiary. Side one's brilliant versions of old blues songs, and side three's blazing originals.

And there's something else. The sound of the vinyl is amazing, warm and relaxed, yet stunningly detailed. The two drummers provide a propulsive forward force, and the rhythm and timing of the presentation are special. The bass is big, but it is also wonderfully tuneful and articulate. It is a recording that can help you dissect the sound of system components, or audition new products. It sounds good on almost anything, but it can impress on a good stereo.

I'll just pull out an old favorite and rattle off a quick one.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tim Easton Not Cool 2013

Tim Easton has made quite a few fine records before this. While this is his rock-a-billy record, it is also more. The sweet ballad of the title track, the rocking stomp of Tired and Hungry, and the pure country instrumental Knock Out Roses (for Levon) that closes the record all add interesting touches and variety.

The majority though is rock-a-billy, and it's all fun, and sounds much like Nick Lowe's forays into the same genre. Respectful of the past, while updating the sound for modern times. The band is casual and talented and the recording has a nice organic sound, including quite a bit of acoustic bass. The songs are consistently crafted at the highest level of Easton's already notable songwriting talent.

Only slightly different from the rootsy singer-songwriter pop-rock we usually get from Easton, but just different enough to work. Superb.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sam Phillips Push Any Button 2013

Sam Phillips has had an interesting career and made some very good, quirky pop in the nineties with then husband/producer T-Bone Burnett. The four she made with Burnett between 1988 and 1996, The Indescribable Wow, Cruel Inventions, the acclaimed Martinis & Bikinis, and Omnipop were all good, and featured exceptional songwriting from Phillips, and wonderfully rich and inventive arrangements.

She's been busy since then, with several releases, writing for TV, and a number of download releases that she distributed herself. And now she has a new one. And it is a dandy.

The record breaks out of the gate with Pretty Time Bomb (the rocking opener with the serious backbeat), All Over Me, and When I'm Alone, and those three are almost worth the price of admission on their own. When I'm Alone has Indigo Girl harmonies hung on a hook-filled, acoustic guitar-driven pop gem. But there's more. The beautiful string arrangement on Going, the pounding pop-rock of Things I Shouldn't Have Told You, the chamber pop of Speaking Of Pictures, the jangly sixties vibe of You Know I Won't, and the cabaret stylings of Can't See Straight.

Her voice is lovely. Her lyrics are brilliant. The arrangements are great, with every song featuring a different mix of sounds, but nothing too jarring. Sometimes it sounds like Fiona Apple with less anger, or Swan Dive, but less precious, or Shawn Colvin with less angst, or Aimee Mann. But mostly it sounds like Sam Phillips, and certainly not an imitation of anything. Some of the eccentricities of the early work are smoothed out, and that lets you concentrate on the quality of the songs.

Anyway you cut it, it's a great new pop-folk-rock gem from a very talented pen and voice, backed by a crack ace band.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kim Richey The Collection 2004

You can't go wrong. Kim Richey is both a songwriter to the stars, and a rare talent in her own right. This collection compiles the best from her first four releases, Kim Richey 1995, Bitter Sweet 1997, Glimmer 1999, and Rise 2002.

There is much to recommend all four of them, but this collection is pretty much perfect. Richey operates at a higher level than almost any singer-songwriter out there, and while most of her songwriting for others has been country songs, her writing is often as pop/folk as Shawn Colvin or Cheryl Wheeler.

Her singing of her own songs is a good thing. Trisha Yearwood did a fine job with Those Words We Said, but not really any better than the version here. The song selection is great, and it sounds like what would be a greatest hits record for someone, instead of Richey's relative chart obscurity.

The first two records have a more country feel than Glimmer or Rise (and they were her best-selling), and the collection is chronological, so it's interesting to hear her develop into the writer we hear today.

If you're looking for a very talented voice and pen that you might have missed, check it out. It's very easy to like.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Shannon McNally Small Town Talk 2013

This gem was recorded back in 2007, when Bobbie Charles was still alive, and only released now in 2013. McNally and Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) produce, and the good Dr. is everywhere.

The slinky, cooking funk of Street People leads off, followed by the luscious country-swing honky-tonk of Can't Pin A Color. Charles could write a fine tune, and while few of his tunes were hits, they deserve their revered status. This one is right up there.

The beautiful String Of Hearts follows, and McNally's vocal, with Vince Gill's harmonies, make the song indispensable, and outright beautiful. Cowboys and Indians (Charles' empathetic blues ode to native Americans) and Homemade Songs (a slow country blues ballad) round out side one, and unless this thing falls apart on side two, we may have a classic.

Side two breaks out with Long Face, a Dr. John classic duet, and this girl can express herself.  Shannon McNally sings in a wonderfully laid back alto that reminds the listener of Ronstadt or Raitt, but she's every bit the singer either of them is, and since she's a tad younger, she can outsing them right now. Small Town Talk follows, and it's one of Charles' best, written with Rick Danko of The Band, and presented here in a pretty straightforward arrangement that features Dr. John's piano and guest harmonica.

I Don't Want To Know is another beautiful country ballad of the heartache kind, and Charles could certainly add his name to the greats of the genre. Nice piano from the Dr. Vince Gill adds his enormous (and oft over-looked) guitar talent to But I Do, and McNally provides a casual, and yet perfect, vocal. She makes it sound so easy you almost miss how exceptional she is. I Must Be In A Good Place Now finishes off the record, with McNally singingc her heart out on another precious Charles lyric, with a full pop ballad arrangement, and Dr. John's wonderful keys.

The core band is Dr. John on piano and B-3, Hermann Ernest III on drums, David Barard on bass, and John Fohl on guitar. There are small string and horn sections used to fill out the arrangements, and Derek Trucks makes an appearance. It's available on very clean vinyl from Sacred Sumac Music in Nashville, distributed by Select-O Hits. Get ready to spin.

It might not blow you away the first time, but with repeated listenings, it will creep into your psyche, and you will fall prey to it's charms.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Richard X. Heyman X 2013

Richard X. Heyman has been making fine power-pop rock and roll since 1986. He plays all the instruments and sings all the vocal parts. That he does this does not make him so unusual. That he does it so well sets him apart from the crowd.

Influences? Beatles, Byrds, Raspberries, Yardbirds, Rascals, all manner of splendid sixties rock & roll, especially those rocking garage bands like the Standells, the Shondells, the Choir, Beau Brummels, and Paul Revere and the Raiders.

The beauty of his songwriting is that while all of the influences can be heard, he melds them together into something new that is his own sound. He is also a first rate lyricist, avoiding the lazy cliche.

He's a darn fine drummer, singer, and guitarist, and his keyboard skills also shine on this new one. X is his tenth full-length record. It may very well be his best ever, although I'm very fond of Hey Man! from 1990. If you haven't heard him, this is as good a place to start as any.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Graham Parker and the Rumour Heat Treatment 1976

Early on, Graham Parker and the Rumour were on fire. This, their second long-player, contained so many rocking songs you mostly have to listen standing up.

Heat Treatment, That's What They All Say, Pourin' It All Out, Something You're Going Through, and Help Me Shake It never let up. The ballads are here, too, and that's why he got compared to Elvis Costello sometimes. Parker's songs are brilliant. He's young and angry. The music the Rumour cooks up sounds more like Springsteen than any English bar band ought. The horn section adds depth to an already fat sound. If this is the sound of a young artist, then forget maturity, it won't help.

Most critics site later works as his best, but for a super hot band and a front man out to prove himself, this one is my pick.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Roy Orbison All-Time Greatest Hits 1972

Sometimes when artists change record labels throughout their careers, there is no place to go for a comprehensive collection. In Roy Orbison's case, there is no such problem. While Orbison recorded for at least eight different labels from 1956-1988, every one of his top-ten singles was recorded for Monument between 1959-1964.

That is the period covered by this gem.

The songs are outstanding. Orbison was always a strong songwriter, and wrote the teen drama with adult passion.

These recordings feature a big orchestral sound and Orbison's near-operatic voice, and the recordings are clean and well-mixed. In fact, this level of quality of recording was rare in popular music of the day. Fred Foster's original production is stunning.

It was digitally remastered from the original analog tape for CD in 1997. Steve Hoffman also mastered the record for reissue in 2004 on Sony/S&P Records 180 gram vinyl, which sounds superfine. There is a newer vinyl version made by Mobile Fidelity in it's Original Master Recordings series that has also gotten raves. If you're at all into vinyl, it's indispensable.

Or even if you're at all into rock and roll in the sixties. You need it then, too.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Kinks Everybody's In Showbiz 1972

This one starts to show some very real weakness at the end of their 1966-72 run, but also features a few very fine Ray Davies tunes in the mix. The 2-record set includes one record of live performances from a two-night stand at Carnegie Hall.

Highlights include the return of the horn section from Muswell Hillbillies, one of brother Dave's best songs (the great road song You Don't Know My Name), and the radio classic Celluloid Heroes, a heartfelt and sincere ode to the theatricality that would unfortunately absorb the next five years of Ray Davies' songwriting output.

There's other good news. Here Comes Yet Another Day is a fast-rocking road song with a nice horn arrangement. Sitting In My Hotel is a sweet ballad about the isolation of stardom that Ray sings wonderfully. Look A Little On The Sunny Side again examines the woes of celebrity done up all music hall style.

There are also three songs about food on the road, and only Motorway is much good, with solid guitar and organ. The first single, Supersonic Rocket Ship, is just too twee. The live material includes an audience chant-a-long Banana Boat Song, the ending chorus (only) of Lola, and a version of the vaudeville chestnut Baby Face.

A hot Top Of The Pops (Lola...) featuring Dave's hard riffing, Brainwashed (Arthur...), and several decent tracks from the recent Muswell Hillbillies almost save the live half.

The record is worth having for the few great songs that are available only here. The better compilations, such as The Singles Collection (1997) include only the Pye/Reprise releases and as such end with Lola in 1970. Needless to say, the Golden Age of The Kinks from 1966-1972 did not go out on a high note.

And so this ends my quest to review all of the Kink's US releases from 1966-1972, a period often called the Kink's Golden Age. The rest are here:
 Face To Face 1966
Something Else By The Kinks 1967
The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society 1968
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) 1969
Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1 1970
Muswell Hillbillies 1971
The Kink Kronikles 1972

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Portishead Third 2008

I know little or nothing about music classified as electronica, let alone the trip hop genre. But I'd heard so much about Portishead, and I do have Beth Gibbon's outstanding solo record (with Paul Webb, aka Rustin Man) Out Of Season from 2002. I was in one of those Exchange stores and there was an inexpensive used copy. What the heck.

It is a beautiful, spacey record that grows on you with repeated exposure. Gibbons is a compelling singer, and the grooves are deep, if not particularly soulful. Jeff Barrow's drums and programming and Adrian Utley's guitars and everything else produce dense layers of sound. The music has an apparently deliberate sterility, broken only by Gibbons achingly beautiful voice, and an occasional loud, distorted guitar.

It's inventive, it's tuneful, and it's very much unlike anything else. You don't really listen to it. Rather, it just washes over you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blake Babies / Juliana Hatfield 1987-2001

A friend recently let me borrow her Juliana Hatfield collection, most of which is from the 90s, and does not include Ms. Hatfield's more recent work. But it was some fascinating listening, and a study in the maturing of an artist. I'll deal with them chronologically.

The Blake Babies Nicely, Nicely 1987 is a rough sketch for what the band will become. It has some good songs, but suffers from poor recordings and weak production values. Some people like that. You can hear the melodic songs hiding in punk guises, the loud edge scraping against Hatfield's high thin voice.  

Next up was my friend's favorite from her college days. Sunburn 1990 is surely an early career highlight for Hatfield and Blake Babies, and it features the guitar of John Strohm, who by this point is working hand in hand with Hatfield. It really is a band. Hatfield's girlish voice can deal with heavy themes and still sound like fun, and the songwriting is strong. Strohm is an imaginative guitar player that will be sorely missed early in Hatfield's coming solo career. The first half of the CD is killer, and after that it still holds up pretty well.

When Blake Babies split in 1991, Hatfield moved from bass to guitar for her solo career. The 1992 EP Forever Baby, mostly culled from her 1992 debut Hey Babe, has some good songs, as does the follow-up The Juliana Hatfield Three's Become What You Are 1993. But Hatfield's guitar really doesn't do her songs justice, and instrumentally they come off lacking. Too much rhythm, not enough else. And she was a great bass player with Blake Babies. They both have a couple of great songs, but only a couple.

So just when I'm thinking of giving up on her solo output, along comes Only Everything 1995. She's still not flashy, but she's learned some chops, and her guitar playing has gotten interesting at least, and maybe there's a better fit producing. But what sets this one apart from it's predecessors is the consistent song quality. What A Life, Live On Tomorrow, Bottles And Flowers, Hang Down From Heaven, and several others are notably fine. The sound is getting a bit more aggressive, and it's a good thing.

The follow-up, 1998's Bed is almost as strong, and ramps up the punk noise on a few songs as well. I didn't find quite as many memorable songs, but your mileage may vary.

The last one I got to hear was God Bless The Blake Babies 2001, their generally well-received reunion effort. It left me a little flat, although I couldn't quite figure out why. It just didn't quite sound like that band anymore, and maybe there was some energy lacking.

I didn't hear everything she released during this time span, but I heard enough to understand why Sunburn left an indelible impression on my friend, and how good Only Everything was. The loud punk-pop combined with the girlish voice reminds me of Tanya Donelly's band Belly sometimes, and for me that's a very good thing. Hatfield continues to make music to this day, including five records in the last six years. It's easy to hear why people are still interested.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

World Party Goodbye Jumbo 1990

World Party, aka Karl Wallinger, made some darn good music, and this one tops the list.

The blended influences are melded together into a lovely stew, and the best thing is that you hear the references, but the songs are all new, and all Wallinger's. And he plays new rock like a classic- Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Prince.

Put The Message In The Box and Way Down Now deserved their singles success, but the whole record is strong. Is It Too Late, a bluesy jam, opens the record. The swinging Take It Up, the Beach Boys-like choir of God On My Side, the Prince-like funk of Show Me To The Top, the uplifting Sweet Soul Dream, all are excellent.

Wallinger suffered a brain aneurism in 2000 and spent several years recovering and rehabbing from surgery, but he's produced a few newer World Party releases (a 2008 Best Of and a 2012 5-CD box of B-sides, outtakes, and some recent recordings) and continues to tour sporadically. The guy is a living tribute to the sixties music he loves.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Elvis Costello This Year's Model 1978

Here's something I like. I had to buy it twice, import and domestic, when it was originally  released. The UK version, which came out two months before the US release, included I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea and Night Rally, both omitted from the US version. I mean, I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea is maybe the best song on the whole record, and every song is better than the last.

It was Costello's second, but his first with The Attractions. Clover did a swell job backing him on My Aim Is True, and it's an amazing debut. But there is real magic in The Attractions for Costello, and they form a tight group, highly and deeply in tune with each other, Costello's songwriting, and the open anger he is so very good at. He spits out the ballads and snarls through the rockers, while the band plays relentlessly.

Some artists make their first record and then have a hard time writing enough new songs for the second, especially back when most artists released a record almost every year. Elvis Costello did not have any sophomore slump. None. Zero, zip, zilch. The songs on This Year's Model rank among his best.

The Attractions are on fire on every song. Steve Nieve's reedy, thin Farfisa-like organ and Bruce Thomas's bass are a unique combination that bolsters Costello's solid guitar. Bruce Thomas is a seriously hot drummer, and he's in a hurry, always pushing the songs forcefully forward. This band stayed together for eight years, and they did mostly great music during that time, but they arguably never sounded better than this.

I could describe how good this or that song is, or quote some of the venomous lyrics. Costello's wordplay is consistently strong, and the songs are filled with angry observations of stylish, vapid women. But by now you either have heard it or you haven't. If you haven't, it's fast hard pop-rock with a side of punk sass. It is intelligently delivered anger. It is great songs, a great band, and an excellent Nick Lowe production. It is one of Costello's best, even if there are quite a few of them. Turn it up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Kinks The Kink Kronikles 1972

After The Kinks left Reprise for RCA to record 1971's Muswell Hillbillies, Reprise went to work on this 1972 kompilation for US-only release. The Kinks had no input into the record, but that doesn't make it any less a klassic. A kollection of hits, singles, B-sides, unreleased tracks, and a few album tracks from 1966 to 1970 (Face To Face to Lola), it's a fine selection, and fills in some of the Kinks' story for the American audience. The producers eschewed a kronilogical sequencing, choosing instead to put four thematically arranged sides together. I don't know if the themes hold up, but the record plays very well in the order it's presented.

The hits are all here: Victoria, Lola, Village Green Preservation Society, Waterloo Sunset, Apeman, Death Of A Clown, and the glorious Days. But many of the lesser-known songs are just as good, or uniquely revealing of some kool Kinksism. Polly sounds just like The Who, She's Got Everything features a reckless, crazy lead guitar, and Did You See His Name? and David Watts are pert slices of Ray's sensitive ego.

It picks up where Greatest Hits! 1966 left off. For kasual Kinks enthusiasts, Greatest Hits! and this one pretty well tell the story of the Kinks' greatness. For the more devoted, it is worth it for the rarities and UK-only releases. But any way you have it, it plays just like a well-structured album, karefully kompiled, and it is excellent.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Spinning Vinyl

It's been a while since I've documented a trip through the stacks. In the interest of transparency, this "session" took place over two days, with my lovely wife along for the ride on the second day.

I started out with Hot Tuna 1970, a traditional acoustic blues from Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy (from Jefferson Aitplane) that still sounds great today. Hesitation Blues, How Long Blues, Death Don't Have No Mercy, side one is hot.

From there I got more current with The Jayhawks Mockingbird Time 2011. A reunion of the classic line-up with Karen Grotberg, and an unusually good reunion effort, rivaling they're best work. Closer To Your Side and She Walks In So Many ways were standouts.

Side two of The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967 never ceases to amaze. From there I listened to David Crosby's Almost Cut My Hair from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Deja Vu 1970, one of Crosby's finer moments.

Then I got all bluesy. I listened to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' fairly recent Messin' With The Blues 2001, and I mean it when I say this guy's still got it (at least he did 12 years ago). It's remarkable, and the title track and Tell 'Em I'm Broke were killer, with knock-out harmonica on both. Then it's on to Born Under A Bad Sign 1967. I took in side two, which had been a while, and Almost Lost My Mind and The Very Thought Of you rocked. The record is pretty much the definition of blues music.

I've always liked T-Bone Burnett's Trap Door from 1982, and I listened to the entire six-song EP. It's a perfect slice of pop-rock from a basic four-piece band and fabulous songwriting. It's a shame Burnett never did it this way again. While into the pop scene, I listened to side two of The Beatles 1969. Aside from Harrison's embarrassing Piggies, it'd got fine tunes from both Lennon (I'm So Tired, Julia) and McCartney (Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon).

Back to blues-rock for The Allman Brothers' Eat A Peach 1972. I always liked One Way Out. I listened to Bill Champlin doing What Good Is Love from Single 1978, his first solo effort, and even if it sounds too much like Earth, Wing, and Fire, it's still good.

Then it's back to blues for Bob Dylan's Modern Times 2006. I've said it before that Dylan has been experiencing an artistic Renaissance of late, and this is a smoking hot record. Thunder On The Mountain and Rollin' And Tumblin' are just superb, as is Someday Baby. That rasp of a voice still carries more weight than most singers half his age.

Lindsey Buckingham's Go Insane from 1984 is a real ear candy treat. I Want You, Go Insane , and Slow Dancing all thrive on Buckingham's studio smarts, but they're also great tunes.

And why not end the evening mellow, with Jack Johnson In Between Dreams 2005. Better Together you have to like if you have any romance in you. But Good People and Sitting, Waiting, Wishing are also solid gold. I haven't bought any other Jack Johnson records because this one is so good. That's not really like me.

Old and new. The Hendrix and Albert King are both available on new remastered vinyl, and they sound great.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Matthew Sweet Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu 2003

Matthew Sweet has had an up-and-down career, and along the way he's produced some of the best hard power-pop ever recorded. His magnum opus was his third, the gorgeous Girlfriend in 1991. But he's come darn close to equaling that classic several times, and this one is one of them.

The CD was released in Japan in 2003 as a gift to his Japanese fans, and wasn't released in the US for another 18 months or so. Sweet wrote the songs quickly, and recorded them with Ric Menck, Greg Leisz and Richard Lloyd, the core group that produced Girlfriend. Sweet's pop-rock confections really benefit greatly from Richard Lloyd's scronky guitar sound.

The songs themselves are unusually strong, and the bash-it-out home production allows them to show their strengths without over-embellishment. The stronger songs include Dead Smile (the smashing opener), Morning Song (a perfect rock ballad), The Ocean In Between (a lovely melody thrashed out with abandon, and a great Lloyd guitar lead, indispensable), I Don't Want To Know (another quick-paced ballad), and the hard-rocking Hear This. The record almost never lets up. Even the few ballads include big, loud, crunchy guitars. Sweet comes up with some of his best melodies and catchy choruses, and the band rocks hard.

Not everything he's done has been equally successful as Girlfriend, but at least he hasn't rehashed the same formula over and over. Then again, this is that same formula, and the result is stellar.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Dave Clark Five The History Of The Dave Clark Five 1993

The Dave Clark Five were super-hot in their day. From 1963-1965 they were competing in the charts, and doing quite well, thank you, with the Beatles and Stones. They continued chart success in the US through 1967, and in the UK until 1970, the year they disbanded.

Dave Clark played the drums, and he beat the crap out of them. Mike Smith on organ and lead vocals, the star of the show, had the biggest voice of nearly any singer ever in Rock and Roll. A big, booming voice to accompany the raw baritone sax by Dennis Payton. These guys rocked with a vengeance.

This 2-CD set, currently out of print but available nonetheless, is a pretty complete picture of the band, and includes an informative 32-page booklet. Admittedly a bit of overkill, all the great hits fit on one CD. The second CD, which covers '66-'70, contains some gems and minor chart hits, and both CDs contain B-sides and album tracks that help to flesh out the big picture.

You can't really find a place for them in the top echelons, but they deserve more recognition than they have received over the years. Part of that is due to Clark's own resistance to licensing the original material, which has kept them out of the reissue market and off the various sixties compilations that would have at least reminded us of their existence.

There is a more recent single disc available (The Hits, 2008) that is also out of print, but The History Of from 1993 is really the bomb. Yes, there are some weak ones from the late sixties as they tried in vain to stay relevant, but the B-sides and album tracks are treasures. Discover the London sound, big and brash, that rivaled the early Beatles for chart dominance.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Kinks Muswell Hillbillies 1971

On this, their first for RCA after leaving Reprise, Ray Davies moves the focus of his keen eye for detail from the English middle class a step down to the English working (and not-working) class. And while the title might make you think this is the Kinks' country record, it isn't. It has some Americana overtones, with much acoustic rhythm guitar, a horn section right out of New Orleans, and a warm, earthy sound reminiscent of The Band records of the same era.

The first side is all good. 20th Century Man leads off, and acts as an overture for the record's theme of a world gone crazy with over-modernization. The horns light up Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues. Holiday is a music hall-styled shuffle that celebrates a small life's very small pleasures. Skin And Bone finds Ray lamenting his woman's diet, and Dave brings a killer guitar riff. Alcohol, set to a New Orleans funeral dirge/march warns dramatically of "Oh! Demon Alcohol", and Ray knows his way around the topic. Complicated Life ends the side, and it is just one of Ray's great songs."Gotta stand and face it, life is sooo complicated".

Side two dips a bit in quality, about half of it holds up. Here Come The People In Grey is a chugging rocker. Dave's guitar is hot, and it sounds like a lost Faces song in the best of ways. Oklahoma USA is sweet, and foreshadows Ray's interest in Hollywood that will take shape on their next record, 1972's Everybody's In Show-biz. Muswell Hillbilly wraps the record up on a high musical note, with an irresistible Davies chorus and some good country-sounding guitar. But Have A Cup Of Tea is trite both musically and lyrically, Holloway Jail is an overly simple blues, and Uncle Son is just slow and depressing.

For the most part, a good Kinks record. It's always nice when one side is particularly strong and can be played all the way through. I have always liked it, especially for the warm sound, the horn arrangements, and some funny and heartfelt songs.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Detroit Cobras Life, Love, And Leaving 2001

Garage rock never sounded better. Two guitars, bass and drums, and a great singer with just a little snarl in her voice. Rachel Nagy sounds dangerous and sexy. And she nails it every time. It's not a pretty voice, but she is dedicated to getting the feeling of these songs right, and she sure does.

The band pounds it out behind her, fast and capable. Rhythm guitarist Maribel Ramirez sings back-up with fervor. Solid drums and bass from Damien Lang and Eddie Harsch. Rocking lead guitar by Dante Aliano. Actually there's almost no lead guitar breaks in any of the songs. Thrashing chords are all that's needed.

Other than Nagy, the secret ingredient is the material, all covers, and all meticulously chosen from fifties and sixties soul, R&B, pop and rock chestnuts. Most of them you've maybe heard, but they always find some lost classics. All presented in simple, straight-ahead arrangements that feature Nagy's unmannered singing and undistilled attitude.

They're just like the garage band down the block, only better. The only thing that comes close is their debut, Mink Rat or Rabbit from 1998.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Connells Still Life 1998

The Connells produced this perfect slice of rock and roll. I don't know how or why or where they came from. I must have read a review somewhere that caused me to buy this gem. I never looked back. It is, for me at least, a perfect rock record. There aren't that many.

The big mid-tempo rocker Dull, Brown And Gray kicks things off in fine style. The Leper has some great guitar work, and there's a Stones/Petty/Springsteen vibe throughout this song and many others. Bruised is another mid-tempo gem with an amazingly hooky chorus and a fine guitar riff. Curly's Train offers a brief respite from hard rocking with country-swing-pop featuring jangly piano to good effect. Gaunlet features mellow verses and a big ballad chourus, and sweet lyrics. "If you stick around this time, you might be somebody, I'll even watch the van for you while you play". Glade is another good solid rocker with multiple vocal parts and a crazy rockin' break. The first half ends with Soul Reactor, a med-tempo rocker that sounds like Nils Lofgren at his best, and features a three-guitar lead break that is smoking, and another great chorus.

The title track brings Tom Petty to mind, and the chorus has a poignant catch in "But this still life has it's virtues". Crown is just mid-tempo heaven with a big guitar sound reminiscent of Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend album. Circlin' is a quick-paced Stonesy rocker with entertaining guitar interplay and yet another hook-filled chorus! You have to like the title of Gonna Take A Lie, and it lives up to the expectations with hard fast rock and a great chorus. I know I keep saying it. But this record contains nothing but fantastic choruses on every song. Queen Of Charades is a sweet, gentle ballad that sounds like the it should be the last song, until Pedro Says brings the instrumental equivalent of the chillin' closing credits music after an in-your-face soundtrack.

It's classic. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Del Amitri Some Other Sucker's Parade 1997

Image the hard-rocking power-pop of Cheap Trick with brains, better songs, and smart, personal lyrics. Or Matthew Sweet's big crunchy guitars and harmonies strapped to relationship woes, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. Bleak never sounded better.

The fast rocking Not Where It's At (kicking things off in style, she's looking for someone he's not), Some Other Sucker's Parade (time for bad luck to pick someone else), Won't Make It Better (some things just can't change, for instance you), Medicine ("Sometimes it's the medicine itself that makes the pain"), Funny Way To Win (riffing guitars), and Life Is Full (the fool who has everything under control) all feature big loud guitars, fine organ, hot drumming, intricate harmonies, catchy choruses, and smart, if rather down lyrics.

High Times and Cruel Light of Day examine excess from a knowing, personal level, and both rock hard and have fine lyrical turns.

The ballads include What I Think She Sees (a woman in love with an incorrect vision of her man), No Family Man (more relationship issues), Through All That Nothing (a sweet, melancholy love song), and Lucky Guy (the tale of the lucky cheater, who gets what he wants, but is "unlucky for some").

The band is smoking hot. Justin Currie and Iain Harvie write and sing great melodies and harmonies, the guitar interplay is top notch, the songs are consistently strong. The production is clean and relatively simple (they were supposedly trying to capture a live sound), with limited instrumental overdubs.

I don't know if your results will be the same, but it goes on a fairly short list of near-perfect records in my book.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Forty-Part Motet, Janet Cardiff, Cleveland Museum of Art

I visited the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) last week to hear Janet Cardiff's remarkable Forty-Part Motet, installed in the Reid Gallery among Italian Baroque masterpieces.

The motet is a 16th century choral piece written for forty voices by Thomas Tallis entitled Spem In Alium (In No Other Is My Hope). The fascinating thing about the work is that each of the forty voices was recorded separately and each single voice is assigned to one speaker only. The speakers are B&W model DM303 on stands, and are organized in a circular array around the gallery, in eight groups of five voices each (as was apparently intended by Tallis himself). You can stand in the center of the choir, or move around and get different perspectives, including experiencing the piece from any one singer's location.

It is a pretty piece of music, very ethereal. Heard in this unique presentation, it is moving. The concept is fascinating, and the idea of a forty-speaker system brings a whole new meaning to surround sound.

The piece has been touring the world since it's creation in 2000. If it comes your way, you really should go hear it. It will remain at CMA until July 7, 2013. If you're anywhere nearby, you must go. And make reservations for lunch at Provenance, CMA's new upscale restaurant. The food is art, too.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Calexico Spiritoso 2013

Calexico's latest studio record, Algiers, came out just last September, so this live record is a bit of a surprise. And a very pleasant surprise at that. 

The record was recorded live in Austria and Germany last summer while the band was touring Europe. The exciting news is that both concerts were recorded with symphony orchestras (Radio Symphonic Orchestra Vienna, and Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg), which adds a significant depth to the already cinematic scope of Calexico's work.

Four of the songs are from the then forthcoming Algiers, and the rest is drawn from Calexico's back catalog. The vinyl features ten songs, and the CD has twelve (a copy of the CD comes with your vinyl purchase). The sound is very good, and the orchestral backing is lush and appropriately recorded. The band is up front, but the orchestras add much to Calexico's sound.

If there's a complaint about Calexico, it is their frequent lack of energy. Many of their songs are sad, slow, minor chord works that either plod along or slyly invite you into their intimacy, depending on your personal reception of the music. When they do rock, it is exciting but rare. Many of their more upbeat material is Spanish in nature, songs that spring from their obvious love of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western soundtracks and southwest/Mexican music. The song selection here does nothing to change this, featuring more downbeat material than upbeat.

Disclaimer out of the way, if you like this band, hearing them with orchestral support is a very good thing. Joey Burns and John Convertino's compositions occupy a unique place in modern music, a folky, southwestern-Mexicali, country, post-rock blend that is consistently inspired. Their gentle melodies draw the listener into their world, and the blend of styles that is the basis for their own sound resonates in a way that makes it impossible to tell you who they sound like. They sound like Calexico.

You can hear several songs on their website Casa de Calexico. They also have many You Tube videos, including much of this new record. Check them out. They are an interestingly different band.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Fillmore The Last Days 1972

It's an artifact. Similar to the Woodstock soundtrack, it is variable quality of performances across a wide spectrum of musical styles. So it's not like the record you'll sit around listening to frequently.

The music does have San Fransisco in the late sixties in common. There's more of a unity of sound, at least to a small degree, because of that filter.

There are certainly highlights. The 9-minute White Bird by It's A Beautiful Day is a fine jam, as is Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burnin' by Hot Tuna. Santana's Incident At Neshabur gets a good reading. Tower Of Power show off the horn section on Back On The Streets Again. The Sons Of Champlin have fun with Poppa Can Play.

There are also long stretches without much excitement. Not that much of it is bad (the closing jam session gets awful close), but it's a dated sound today, and many of the song selections are weak choices (Boz Scaggs' meandering Baby's Callin' Me Home, the Grateful Dead's take on Johnny B. Goode, again).

You might feel differently, especially if you loved some of these acts. Elvin Bishop, Cold Blood, Stoneground, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Lamb all show up and play songs. They're OK.

It has it's occasional moments that might make it worth it for the avid fan of the San Francisco music scene. I don't know how many of them are left, and besides, they probably own this already in it's original 3-record vinyl set. The sound is good, but not great.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

David Bromberg How Late'll Ya Play 'Til? 1976

David Bromberg's records suffered from too much. Too much different styles. Too eclectic. This record suffers from it, too. Bromberg could do so much so well that, well, he did.

Or you can just relish a super-hot band featuring violin and horns and playing everything from country, New Orleans jazz, horn-heavy rock, and Chicago blues. Quite a bit of blues, and Bromberg is no slouch on guitar. And his nasal vocals can be heartfelt, broken, or uplifting. The stylistic range of the music is broad.

So forget the commercial aspirations that this record represented in its time, and everything else, and just enjoy a singular artist and rocking band. The live half is great, with Will Not Be Your Fool and Sweet Home Chicago. The studio sides offer the staccato-funk of Danger Man, the New Orleans funeral dirge of Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues, and the over-the-top crazy of Great Big Idol With A Golden Head. In between there is the lovely Kaatskill Serenade (it'll break your heart) and the nostalgic Summer Wages. Americana is this record.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Live From Darryl's House

Live From Darryl's House is a made-for-internet TV show. It's been delivering quality musical content since 2007, and more recently has shown up on cable on VH-1 Classic. The show features Darryl Hall (of Hall and Oates fame), an extremely talented house band, and various guests. The episodes include some interview segments, and often conversation over a meal with the band and guests. They include 5-8 songs, with at least one or two of Hall's songs in the mix.

One of the most amazing things is how cool Darryl Hall is. I mean, Hall and Oates didn't exactly go out on top, and the eighties music they specialized in sounds dated these days. But Hall's outstanding pipes are quite intact, and his Philly soul-flavored songs are really good, and everything gets class A treatment from this hot band.

And then there's the guest list. Not every episode is going to appeal to everyone, but there's mostly good ones. I'm very partial to the Cee Lo Green episode, not just for Cee Lo's great songs, but Green also helps incinerate Hall's One On One and I Can't Go For That (No Can Do), inspiring the band to exalted funkiness. Shelby Lynne, Joe Walsh, Fitz and the Tantrums, Sharon Jones, Booker T. Jones, Smokey Robinson, Todd Rundgren, Nick Lowe and many more make appearances, and frequently there are extra good live versions and inspired song choices.

It's worth checking out, and you might just be there for a while. Live From Darryl's House

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rickie Lee Jones Girl At Her Volcano 1983

I was deliberately looking for something unusual, something different, something I liked but hadn't heard in along time. This idea sent me to the back bedroom, where vinyl records that overflow from the living room stacks reside. And just look what I found!

This 1983 Rickie Lee Jones product was originally released as a 10-inch vinyl EP with seven tracks. That's the one I pulled out and listened to.

Side one opens with a nice reading of Lush Life, recorded live, and featuring wonderful piano and a distinctively Rickie Lee Jones vocal. You either like her or you don't. It's a very different thing from you either love her or hate her.

This is followed by Walk Away Renee, a magnificent baroque pop song given an incredible arrangement and super-dynamic recording. The synthesizer break is nearly orchestral. The original Left Banke version is lovely, but this is even more than that.

Hey, Bub follows, and it's a pretty, slow ballad. Then she tackles My Funny Valentine (the other live recording), and it is a bold vocal showcase that Jones almost pulls off. It's good but not great.

Side two opens with Under The Boardwalk, and even though we didn't need another version, even back in 1983, well, here it is and it's a cooker! Jones is joined by four other vocalists, and the song gets another magnificent recording. Close-miked and dynamic. Bests every version but the original Drifters.

Rainbow Sleeves gets the big orchestral torch song treatment, and deserves it, but it's still just OK. So Long, another slow ballad, is pretty and delicate and benefits from stunning orchestration with electric piano, oboe, and strings.

It's jazzy and eclectic, bur really it is a vehicle for Walk Away Renee and Under the Boardwalk. These two songs are well more than enough to cover the cost- and it's available in reasonably-priced used vinyl, CD, and download versions. Two great songs given covers worthy of their remarkable originals, from a sometimes brilliant artist willing to take chances for her art.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Frank Zappa Wazoo 2008

The Zappa Family Trust has been very busy ever since Zappa's untimely death in 1993. From 1966 to 1993 Zappa released 62 original studio and live albums. Since 1994, there have been 32 posthumous releases, some which had been planned and attended to by Frank himself before he died.

Gail Zappa has taken some heat for releasing too much material, while others await whatever might be doled out with anticipation. Some of this material is of questionable value, and only for the obsessed fan, but some of it betters many of the releases from Frank's lifetime, or adds a new and unique look into Zappa's work. The Zappa Family Trust has specifically stated the desire to document previously unheard live performances of rarely heard band line-ups.

Wazoo is the documentation of Zappa's short-lived 1972 Mothers Of Invention/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo 20-piece big band, generally referred to as the Grand Wazoo (verses the Petite Wazoo 10-piece band that followed it). The music is Zappa's version of big band jazz, and as such, it is splendid. The songs are mostly culled from The Grand Wazoo 1972, Waka/Jawaka 1972, and the then future Studio Tan 1978. The performances are the usual startling precision of Zappa's live troupes, but with the biggest brassy jazz band that ever explored Zappa's jazz ideas. It is a performance that well deserved release. The recording is excellent. The band is on fire.

Some of the material is challenging for sure. The Grand Wazoo, Big Swifty, and The Adventures of Greggery Peccery are all lengthy pieces, and they demand your attention. This isn't background music. If Zappa's large jazz ideas interest you though, this is as good as it gets. It is the live jazz companion to the modern classical of The Yellow Shark. It's that good. Think what you may of Gail Zappa's motives, but we needed this record.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Diana Krall Glad Rag Doll 2012

I saw the cover and wondered why Diana Krall needed sex to sell her new one. I figured I'd dislike it since T-Bone Burnett produced, and his recent work has been disappointing. The idea of Diana Krall doing old-timey Americana music (which I learned from several reviews) didn't appeal to me. So I came to this record with significant negative bias.

As it turns out, I like the record more than I thought I would, and less than any other Diana Krall record. And I dislike it for none of the reasons I thought I would, but I still dislike much of it.

Krall loved the music of her father's music collection from the twenties and thirties, and the cover photo outfit is a tribute to the Zigfield girls of the twenties. And T-Bone Burnett does a respectable job, at least within the context of the time period inspiration. The band is excellent, with Marc Ribot on guitar, Jay Bellerose on drums, and Dennis Crouch on bass all standouts, and several others adding depth and color to the proceedings. Krall tackles an upright piano and almost gets it to boogie. The period music is performed today, by a modern band, and there is little attempt made to play the songs in an authentic 1920's style, and that's good.

So the problem isn't T-Bone, and it isn't the band. Krall sounds a little out of place sometimes, but mostly she handles her role with her usual charm and talent. The problem is the songs themselves.  They aren't that interesting, aren't that unusual. Too many of them can rightly be called "ditties". On a record filled with songs from 90 years ago, it's telling that the best song is newer, Julie Miller's Wide River To Cross, a beautiful gospel-country number that Krall just kills.

Other highlights include We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye, a swinging cabaret-styled tune that gets a nice piano part from Krall, and There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth The Salt Of My Tears, with fine piano and guitar. I'm A Little Mixed Up is a walking blues that again features Krall's piano and Ribot's guitar to good effect. Here Lies Love sounds a little like a New Orleans march, and Krall finally gets a little jazzy on the piano. There's a slow, swampy version of Doc Pompus' Lonely Avenue that sees Ribot cut loose with a Frisell-styled guitar break, and again, some jazz piano.

That's six of thirteen. The rest of the songs are fatally flawed in one way or another, but mostly it is the inferior song quality. Krall's talent is mismatched to the material, and while the band is talented, they too seem uncertain of what to do to make these songs interesting. Krall's vocals are good throughout. But her wispy, sultry style doesn't always work with the material, and her lovely jazz phrasing is wasted on these overly simple pop songs.

If she'd tried to branch out by going too far into a more challenging jazz style than her usual territory, she probably would have taken more heat for her efforts, but maybe we'd have a better record to listen to than this. These may be Krall's favorite memories from childhood, but they do not add up to a great new record.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gerald Evans and Margarita Denenburg, Duo Piano, Stocker Center Studio Theatre, April 16, 2013

Cleveland has a lively music scene, and many opportunities to hear great music of many varieties.  I don't take advantage of this nearly as much as I should, but I just felt like this was one I couldn't pass up. So I went and saw two incredible pianists play magnificently together. The program was: Copland's Billy The Kid, Lutoslawski's Variations On a Theme by Paganini, and Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring, all in arrangements for two pianos.

The two pianists worked fluidly together, with contrasting yet complementary styles, playing both to and off of each other. The music was interesting and the piano interplay was awe-inspiring. The Copland was raucous fun, the Lutoslawski fast and furious. Both were performed with technical brilliance.

The Stravinsky, which came with an informative introduction by the artists, was breathtakingly beautiful, and really let the souls of these fine performers shine. I thought the first part of the program was magnificent until they played this fascinating arrangement of The Rite Of Spring for two pianos. Amazing.

A little taste of some outstanding northern Ohio talent.

They'll do it again Saturday the 20th at Heidelberg University and Saturday the 27th at The Cleveland Music Settlement. If you get the chance, you gotta go.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Clash London Calling 1979

London Calling is one of the greatest records of all time. Everybody says so. Me too.

There are many who would agree, and a few that would argue that The Clash made their best music before this one. They are the lovers of "real" punk, who believe this one to be a commercial sellout. Everyone's entitled to their own wrong opinion. A few folks might also argue for Sandanista! (the sprawling Clash version of the White Album) or Combat Rock (the real sellout), but these would be fringe choices.

London Calling maintains the intelligent anger and venom of their first two records while adding melody, first-rate arrangements, and skilled playing and singing. And songwriting of the highest caliber. And multiple musical styles. 

From the opening title track, a marching anthem if one ever was made, to the perfect swinging single Train In Vain, just about everything works. Which is pretty impressive given that the band incorporates ska, soul, funk, jazz and reggae in with the usual punk energy and sneer. The political lyrics and top rate songwriting make for compelling rock and roll. You can't trust politicians any more today than you could in 1980, so it maintains relevance.

Pull it back out. There is so much authentically rendered anger and frustration here. Like an eighties distillation and re-expansion on the theme of Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues. All grown up and snotty still.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Oliver Mtukudzi, Cleveland Museum of Art, April 5, 2013

Last night I saw Oliver Mtukudzi and The Black Spirits at the Cleveland Museum of Art, in the new atrium. Part of the museum's Viva and Gala Series of world music and dance events, this one eschewed the lovely Gartner Auditorium for the atrium so that there could be a dance area in front of the stage. The evening was billed as a Tuku Dance Party, and it certainly was that in spades. It was quite impressive that so many of the attendees got on their feet, especially since the crowd was mostly older. Although given the polyrhythmic music, maybe not that much of a surprise.

The band was small, but the sound was plenty large, with Mtukudzi on acoustic-electric guitar, backed by bass, drums and two percussionists. Everyone except the drummer sang. Mtukudzi's guitar was remarkably fluid, his effortless picking style producing essentially all of the melody. All three percussionists were great, and they added sparkle to the performance with dance moves and generally good party fun. The drummer and bass player held down the rhythm, locked into a groove, and carried the songs, allowing the percussionists and Mtukuzdi to play the flourishes that added excitement to the arrangements.

Mtukudzi's voice is a strong baritone that is as fluid and flexible as the best soul singers. The back-up vocals were contrastingly high, and consistently good. The mix was good, loud but not excessive, and the band played for over 90 minutes pretty much nonstop. They opened the show with a slow ballad that was lovely, but after that it was party time. The band was big fun to watch, dancing and playful, and tight and hot.

If they come your way, and you want a fun night of dancing and joy, don't miss it.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Boz Scaggs Memphis 2013

Boz Scaggs has a new record, which is cause for excitement, albeit in recent years that has been very laid back, jazz excitement. For the first time since 1997's stellar Come On Home, Boz is making a non-jazz, R&B record. It's themed around some great Memphis soul and blues covers from the sixties and seventies, and of course it was recorded in the title town as well.

What's not to love? Well, it is very mellow, and just barely rocks a few times. This isn't a big surprise from Scaggs, a consummately smooth soul singer who hasn't really rocked hard in a very long time, but as a tribute to all things Memphis, you might expect more kick. And that would be the only nit to pick.

Scagg's sixty-eight year old voice has lost nothing. He's a smooth soul crooner of the highest order. His understatement, his nuance, his beautiful, controlled high register, it is all still intact. The guitars of Scaggs and Ray Parker, Jr. are relaxed highlights throughout, and so are the keyboards of Spooner Oldham, Charlie Hodges, Jim Cox and Lester Snell. There's occasional strings and horns, and lovely background vocals. Steve Jordan produces and plays drums, and the recording is clean, the mix nicely balanced to highlight Scaggs' vocals.

Scaggs contributes the first and last songs, and both the originals are highlights. Scaggs' Gone Baby Gone opens the record in Al Green style, and Sunny Gone closes the record with one of Boz's classic sweet, melancholic ballads. In between there's So Good To Be Here, an actual Al Green song that Boz sings to perfection, Mixed Up Shook Up Girl, a funky Ry Cooder sound-alike, and Boz's take on Rainy Night In Georgia. If there needs to be another cover of Brook Benton's classic, this is it. Scaggs sings it to the ground with yearning and restraint.

Moon Martin's Cadillac Walk finally gets the band rocking a little, and the Philly soul-meets Memphis of Can I Change My Mind shows off Scaggs' effortlessly soulful delivery. Things get more bluesy on Dry Spell (featuring Keb Mo on slide dobro) and You Got Me Cryin'. Love On A Two Way Street is a little too slick-smooth, and the cover of Steely Dan's Pearl Of The Quarter is OK, but isn't a perfect choice for this record.

The song selection holds a few nice surprises, and the performances are flawless. Delightful.

Available in all formats, including vinyl.

I have a short overview of Boz Scagg's career right here with a review of his 1997 anthology.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Soul Fusion Milt Jackson and the Monty Alexander Trio 1978

I had the great fortune to stroll into a little record kiosk in a swell multiple-vendor-local-artisans market called the Rust Belt Market in Detroit a few weeks ago. There is a veritable bounty of record stores in southern Michigan between Detroit and Ann Arbor, and I have found many treasures in my trips to the Motor City. And that applies double in jazz. Detroit was a hotbed for jazz in the Golden Era of the fifties and sixties, and the jazz fan base remained for a long time after the heyday. i.e. You Can Find Great Jazz Vinyl In Detroit.

So this Milt Jackson - Monty Alexander gig is just the bomb. I love vibes, and Jackson is as good as any vibes player, imaginative and technically brilliant. Alexander is an able accompanist, and also shines as a soloist himself, making this a true joint effort. The rhythm section deserves special mention. It is Jeff Hamilton on drums and John Clayton on bass. This was recorded in 1977, when this pair was 24-25 years old, and already they were hotter than summer tar. They went on to found the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and play behind Count Basie and Diana Krall and countless others. Needless to say, their contributions here are Very Important.

Not too intense, but wild and free, and mellow, too. Classic jazz from the mellow era.

Available today in mp3, budget CD, and vinyl formats. I lucked into a pristine vinyl copy. The Pablo label was making some fine records back then, and Norman Granz himself produced this one. Easy to enjoy.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"How Come My Dog Don't Bark When You Come Around" Dr. John 1992

In 1992 Dr. John made Back To New Orleans. If you'd like to hear some authentic New Orleans style musical gumbo you can't do much better. There's a few classic Neville Brothers records that come to mind, but nothing really tops this. Fine piano, great song selection, huge and stellar supporting cast, including the Nevilles and many Big Easy greats.

But the song that gets me every time is How Come My Dog Don't Bark When You Come Around. You know what it's about before you hear it, but it's funnier than you can imagine. And a little dark, too. For a cheating song, it is the perfect twist. If you've never had a dog, well, too bad for you. They're wonderful.

Oh yeah, back to the song. My dog's the meanest dog in town, he'll bite anybody, he takes one look at you, he wants to play. When I come home, he don't sleep that sound, now somebody's been confusing my poor hound, and I want to know what's been going down - How come my dog don't bark when you come around?

It just gets better from there.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison Cheater's Game 2013

Very well recorded modern-trad country. Straight ahead standard issue country: guitars, mandolin, violin, steel guitar, banjo, and drums, all acoustic instruments presented in a fine acoustic space. Even if you don't like the music, you might still want to hear how good this recording is.

And the music, well, it's something else. Kelly Willis is The Consummate Country Singer of Her Era. The only other singer I can think of that comes close is the Dixie Chick's Natalie Maines. She can also harmonize with Robison's heartfelt tenor to lovely effect.

Willis takes her share of leads, but hubby Robison gets his share, too, and there's quite a few legitimate duet vocals that are splendid. Their voices are natural together.

The recording is clean and pure, rivaling the fine records Guy Clark makes. There are delicious solos on guitar, pedal steel, violin and harmonica. The singing is excellent. Robison is no slouch, and of course Willis is as good as singing gets. 

There are well-chosen covers mixed with Robison's original material, and everything is first rate. I made copious and detailed notes, but really all you need to know is you should hear this. If you're familiar with Kelly Willis, and want a new Kelly Willis record, this is darn close, and dare I say, almost equally satisfying. If you are unfamiliar with Kelly Willis, you might start here.  Or here.

Quality modern country music. We could sure use more like this.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Houston Person So Nice 2011

I like jazz. I really do. I tend to go for piano and guitar combos, and I love the small group interplay. But I'm not hard core. I like to be able to hear a melody, and I don't like loud, skronky horn players. Trumpets and saxes, especially, are often just too forward, too in-your-face for my tastes. Hard bop and edgy fusion just wear me out.  So there's a lot of jazz that turns me off because it's just a little too, well, jazzy. Too much crazy improvisation that sounds like a blur of notes just to make a blur of notes.

I get that there is more going on than I can appreciate in this music. I can certainly understand that there are people who do get it, and love the wild abandon and constant surprises, the unexpected twists and musical puzzles unraveled that the most progressive and transcendent jazz serves up to the devoted.

Nor do I like, on the other end of the jazz spectrum, the smooth jazz that has become the staple of the adult mellow music radio formats. That stuff plays like the benign dentist office, elevator piped-in Muzak of a justly forgotten past.

In the middle there are some special players who are still jazz, but they take an easy to hear approach that is relaxed and laid back without being anything like pop music. The players are hot, but they only get some much time to show it, and nuance of expression is valued over technical excess.

Houston Person is a perfect example. His sax tone is fat and smooth, his solos are invested with the knowledge of a guy who recorded his first record in 1966, and he's accompanied by a fine supporting cast, including guest soloists on trumpet, trombone and guitar. He plays mostly standards, but he brings something new every time. It's laid back, but nobody is laying back.

The perfect middle ground. Goldilocks would approve.