Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Boss Barely Slams the Back Door

In the 50s British & other European radio stations broadcast regular programs featuring American Blues, R&B and Country & Western in addition to the new sound from the states, Rock’N’Roll. British teens were hearing the very roots of American Rock’N’Roll at a time when all but the most die-hard music fans in the United States remained ignorant of the genre’s origins. Weaned on a steady diet of American roots music, teens in the United Kingdom formed their own bands, mimicked what they were hearing on the radio and eventually moved forward to export their own version of Rock’N’Roll. The resulting effort was known as the British Invasion (circa early 1960s.)

Back Door Slam – Roll Away (Blix Street, 26 Jun 07)
Back Door Slam is an updated version of the British Invasion story. According to their own website this talented, power trio from Isle of Man was, “Brought up on a potentially overindulgent appetite of Everything Blues,” and thank the lord that they decided to share their sound with the rest of us. From the first drop of the needle it’s evident, these guys mean business. Come Home, builds from the bass line, adding drums and then guitar, by the time Davy Knowles starts singing it’s like the whistle on a southbound freight train telling everyone to get the hell out of the way. And when these guys get rolling you won’t want to stop them.
The group is young but they write and play with a misleading level of maturity. You’d swear Gotta Leave, a bluesy number about moving on, was written and performed by seasoned veterans. Nope, Davy Knowles wrote it and Back Door Slam serves it up like they’d spent two decades on the road with John Mayall. Their treatment of Outside Woman Blues borrows just enough from Eric Clapton to let you know it isn’t Cream. (Note: “Gonna buy me a bulldog, watch my old lady while I sleep” Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think I’d want to be with someone distrustful enough to require a guard dog to assure fidelity.)
Just when you think the boys are limited to a blues treatment of Rock’N’Roll, they offer songs like Stay, Too Good For Me and the title track Roll Away. The acoustic arrangements betray their folk influence and demonstrate vast range & great depth.
Tasty licks, hooks that grab you first time ‘round, searing solos, soulful vocals, tightly executed, meticulously produced, excellent songwriting and musicianship, I can’t list any favorite tracks because every song is great. This is how records should be made.

Bobby Bare – Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies and More (RCA 24 Jul 07)
Most of you know Shel Silverstein as the author of Where the Sidewalk Ends and other children’s books. Did you know he was a cartoonist for Playboy? Or that he wrote many songs including several number one country hits.
Back in the early 70s Bobby Bare asked Shel Silverstein to write a few songs for him. Silverstein returned with a dozen newly penned compositions along with two older songs. Bare recorded them as Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies in 1973, what some would call Bobby Bare’s best album. This is a remaster of the original recording. The newer version has a second CD with 16 tracks of Silverstein penned, Bare performed collaborations recorded after the Lullabys sessions. The set is a sampling of Bare’s bawdy, irreverent approach to music as one of Country & Western’s original outlaws. A word of caution; Bare’s loose treatment of Silverstein’s offbeat humor is most definitely not politically correct and it’s not for everyone. I doubt that you’ll find it patently offensive, but it may make you cringe a little. Anyway, if you listened to country music radio in the 70s like I did, (don’t act surprised folks I listened to everything and still do) then you will feel a certain familiarity, maybe even comfort, like running into an old high school chum that you haven’t seen for years.
My favorites, Numbers and Tequila Sheila.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band @ Key Arena, Seattle, WA 29 Mar 08
Springsteen was the hottest ticket and one of the biggest concert draws for nearly two decades. Last night’s show at the Key was a testament to his popularity. Backed by his just as popular E Street Band he ran through two and a half hours of old and new compositions before a house, packed to the rafters, of bouncing baby boomers. Hey, we may dance like pudgy, middle-aged, rhythmically-challenged, white men, but at least we’re still dancing.
The band took the stage around 8:30, sans keyboard player Danny Federici, who is undergoing treatment for melanoma, and Mrs. Springsteen, Patty Sciafla, who is “protecting the fort” both for and from his three teens. Max dropped the beat on one of my faves Trapped (a Jimmy Cliff tune that was recorded for the USA for Africa: Live Aid album) and they barely took a breath for the next three songs: Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day & No Surrender. The roadies and guitar techs had their work cut out for them trying to keep up with the 58 year old Springsteen and his bandmates. While The Boss may have lost a little spring in his step he hasn’t lost much. Everyone looked good, a few more wrinkles and pounds, a little less hair, but for the most part, healthy. The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, was the exception. Not to be disrespectful, but Clarence spent as much time in an elegant, wingback chair to the side of the stage as he did standing up. In the old days there was a lot more interaction between The Boss and The Big Man. Rest assured, even though Clarence moved slowly he can still blow that horn!
You can keep your shredders, cheddars and bangers of headers because Nils Lofgren can tear up a fret board like nobody’s business. There were few time where he was able to stretch his legs and he went for a stroll with a capitol “S”! Wow can that guy play guitar.
The 24 song set featured eight tracks from the band’s latest release, Magic (Esion reviewed 26 Oct 07) and three each from The Rising, Darkness On the Edge of Town, & Born to Run. The highlights of the show for me: Reason to Believe, She’s the One, Tenth Ave Freeze Out, and Rosalita, which he’s played three times in the past 54 shows.

More to follow…

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Satisfied with Two Shoes and Warpaint

Two Shoes - The Cat Empire (Velour Records 6 Oct 07)
Sure this is an older album, according to my resources it was originally released in Australia on 10 Oct 05, and while I first heard Sly several months ago I didn’t get a chance to hear the whole disc until recently. So the music is new to me and certainly worth the space on my humble blog.
Cat Empire is a sextet from down under who has taken the sound from the Ska resurgence of the late 70s and turned it on its ear. They prefer to lean toward a Latin approach instead of relying on the more tradition Reggae-based sound (the disc was recorded in the same studio as Buena Vista Social Club.) I other words, they’re more like The English Beat than The Specials. Although their vocal style, with lots of slang and heavy Aussie accents, most closely resembles Ian Dury & the Blockheads. Any way it’s brilliant!
My favorites: The Car Song has a full R&B sound, similar to the recordings Ray Charles shared with us. Sly is an up-tempo story infatuation with a walking bass line, starts & stops in just the right places and a perfect vocal delivery. If you’re sitting still after 8 bars of this tune you need to check your pulse because you’re probably dead! Saltwater is the most traditionally pure Ska tune on the disc.
If you’re looking for something to get you out of your chair and shake the dust from your bones then buy this CD and play it loud. Your neighbors will thank you.

Warpaint – The Black Crowes (Silver Arrow 3 Mar 08)
Call me old-fashioned, but I interpret the process of reviewing music to include listening to the songs. It looks like agrees. Their definition of review: To examine with an eye to criticism or correction. Maxim’s choice to assign Warpaint 2½ stars without hearing a single note has sullied the reputation of music critics the world over. They should be lashed to the mainmast, striped to the waste and flogged repeatedly for their transgressions. Sorry, I digress.
The hiatus Chris and Rich Robinson took a few years back to pursue their own projects (Chris’s New Earth Mud & This Magnificent Distance and Rich’s nearly solo Paper) gave them the space they needed to explore their own musical direction as well as mature as songwriters and performers. While the work from that period gave us some very good songs, something was missing. Eventually the boys discovered what all of us suspected. To create a full sound Chris needed Rich’s musicianship as much as Rich needed Chris’s vocals. It’s all about balance people!
Warpaint is the first studio recording from the Brothers Robinson since 2001’s Lions. The sessions for the CD benefited from that time of exploration and was worth every minute of the wait. For those of you who pigeon-holed The Crowes as an American knock off of The Stones or The Faces, think again. This album demonstrates a range and creativity that Black Crowes fans have been aware of for years.
The boys have assembled a collection of tracks that will make their mamma & daddy proud. Drawing once again from their influences of Blues, R&B, C&W, Gospel, Rock, Folk & Bluegrass, Chris and Rich Robinson demonstrate a thorough knowledge and complex understanding of all who have come before. They take that knowledge, run it through the Crowe songwriting process and yield eleven great tunes. I love every cut on the disc from the opening rocker Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution to the folky Whoa Mule. My favorites: Oh Josephine, a soulful lament of things not turning out quite the way they planned, and God’s Got It a bluesed-up treatment of the Reverend Charles Jackson’s Gospel tune.
This is a must for any Crowe fan and highly recommended for lovers of great music.

Satisfied – John Sebastian and Dave Grisman (Acoustic Disc 6 Nov 07)
There’s a lot to be said for “one take” style recordings. First of all you get more of a performance based tune as opposed to an engineered sound, so it’s closer to what you’d hear in a live setting. Secondly, there are no overdubs, pitch correction or speeding/slowing of the track so the artist must rely solely on delivery & musicianship. Lastly, it’s a bit like eavesdropping and slightly voyeuristic. When listening to the stripped-down performance, warts and all, I can’t help but having the feeling that I’m privy to something I’m not supposed to hear. It definitely appeals to the naughtier angels of my nature.
Dave Grisman and John Sebastian are undisputed masters of their craft. They’ve been performing since the Dead Sea was sick. The two have played with everyone. And I do mean everyone. On Satisfied, a “one take” recording, you get a guitar, a mandolin, a banjo, an occasional harmonica and some vocals showcasing the nearly 100 years of musical experience represented by Dave & John. Combine that with one part Folk, one part Blues, one part Jazz, a sprinkling of Country & Bluegrass and apply liberally to a few public domain songs, some blues and country standards, several compositions by the masters themselves and you have a good disc of tunes to help you unwind after a long day of adding value to an unappreciative, soul-sucking corporation. The one drawback, and it’s just a slight detraction, Sebastian’s vocal isn’t quite as strong as it once was. Let’s not forget that he sang Summer In the City over 40 years ago.
I got a kick out of John admitting, via the liner notes, to being in uncharted territory when it comes to “Acoustico-Dawg” recordings (i.e., one take recording.) He asked the recording engineer to turn up his guitar and was told to play louder instead. I love it.
This is a CD any guitar player, or musician for that matter, would enjoy. Its approach can be appreciated for what it is, simple and pure. Not unlike me.

More to follow…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brother Earl Kane

It doesn't seem possible that it's March already. In like a lion, out like a lamb, not unlike the way I make love. I know, I know, too much information. Any way…
I spent a great week skiing in Canada and even though I’m a die-hard Trailer Park Boys fan, my application for political asylum was denied. I'm excited nonetheless because The Boss arrives at The Key with The E Street Band toward the end of the month and, praise be to the gods, baseball begins soon. In addition, I have tickets for Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds at The Key. Evidently His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has agreed to play bass for the set. Then Big Head Todd & The Monsters invade The Showbox. For those of you who haven’t heard their new release, All the Love You Need, what the hell is wrong with you?
I’m beginning to see a few new (to me any way) blog-worthy discs begin to trickle in so I hope to resume posting with regular frequency.

Brothers of a Feather – Chris and Rich Robinson (Eagle Records, 10 July 07)
The Brothers Robinson, aka The Black Crowes, never cease to amaze me. First, they demonstrate their knowledge and appreciation of music by including some covers of lesser known folks songs from the 70s on this disc (I had the same, “knock me over with a feather” feeling when I found out that Page & Plant listened to Joni Mitchell’s music backstage during their monster tours in the 70s.) Second, the boys have a knack for taking the basic elements of Rock’N’Roll and tweaking it just enough to make you think they invented it. Brothers of a Feather really emphasizes the latter. This is a great album!
The CD is a result of an abbreviated tour Chris & Rich did back in 2006 just before the reassembled The Black Crowes. The tracks for this disc were culled from a three night stint at the Roxy in LA (no, not Lewiston-Auburn.) Even though the songs are stripped down, mostly acoustic renditions, Chris’s vocals are as soulful as ever and Rich shines with his guitar work. Included in the set are four Black Crowe songs, several unreleased Robinson compositions, two from Rich’s solo album Paper and several covers.
The highlights: Cursed Diamond – a Crowe concert staple from Amoirica, Over the Hill – penned by Scottish folkie John Martyn, Roll ‘Um Easy – A favorite of mine from Little Feat’s Lowell George, Leave It Alone – An overlooked song from Rich’s solo album Paper (Chris’s harmony gives it just the kick it needs to make it a great song), and they finish the night with a great version of Thorn In My Pride from The Black Crowes' Southern Harmony release.
This is a must for any fan of The Black Crowes and I’d recommend it, without reservation to people who appreciate Rock’N’Roll.

Earl Greyhound – Soft Targets (Some Records, 6 Aug 06)
This is the first full length recording from a Brooklyn power trio with a huge retro sound reminiscent of the psychedelic rock from the 70s. While they don’t reveal their musical influences on their website or Myspace, I detect strains of Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Kinks and The Beatles, among others. It’s the heavier side of Rock’N’Roll with great vocals.
The ‘in your face’ energy of S.O.S and guitar lick focus of Monkey, could have these two tracks easily fitting on any Led Zeppelin releases. Two Weeks and It’s Over have a poppy sound that demonstrates the bands range. Good has a similar feel to the work from The Beatles Revolver release.
Soft Targets wouldn’t make good background music for an afternoon tea, but if you’re looking for a soundtrack to clean the house or just plain rock out, this is the disc!

Kane Welch Kaplin - Kane Welch Kaplin (Compass Records, 11 Sept 07)
Kieren Kane has been around the music biz for a couple of decades. Certainly long enough to get fed up with the type of albums the big labels were releasing. He and a few friends started their own company so they could make the kind of albums they wanted. This disc is a testament to the high quality of music you can get from an independent label. I should warn you; do not listen to this CD if you like great song writing, excellent musicianship and crisp harmonies.
Kieren Kane, Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin, along with Kieren’s son Lucas handling percussion, have put together a collection of what some would call Roots music, Americana if you will. Using the influences of Country & Western, Folk, Bluegrass, Blues & Gospel they load us in an old pick-up truck with a quart bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon (concealed in a brown paper bag) slam the door and go for a long ride in the country on a dusty back road. It’s perfect!
My current faves are Highland Mary, Red Light Blinking, That’s What I Got and Zagnut.
I defy you not to like this CD.

More to follow…