Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Goodbye to The Loft, Hello Gulch Radio

Logo used by permission 
Sirius XM has taken their very best music station off the satellites forever. Apparently The Loft didn't pull in enough listeners to satisfy the suits who run the company so their free form, DJ programmed, alternative radio station is now only available online. Most of the station's talented jocks are gone too and it appears to be programmed by robots rather than real people. As you may have guessed, devoted Loft listeners, like me, are not happy. It's enough to make me reconsider my Sirius XM subscription when renewal time rolls around.

Fans of this formerly excellent, radio throwback to the late 1960s and early 70s have been commiserating with each other online and happily, because of The Loft's demolition, people have shared some great new radio listening discoveries. So today, Bloggerhythms begins an occasional new series where we'll be writing about some great broadcast and Internet alternatives to the alternative.

The painting above is of the mountainside town of Jerome, Az, once a thriving mining settlement in the Verde Valley, then a ghost town, and now a very cool artist's colony and tourist destination with a population of under 500 people. If you ever visit central Arizona you must go there. You won't be disappointed.

Today, the first online radio station to be discussed takes its name, Gulch Radio, from a neighborhood in Jerome. KZRJ, 100.5 on the FM dial is a real live station with only a 100 watt signal that severely limits its broadcast range. There isn't a lot of great radio going on in this mostly rural, mountainous region snuggled between Phoenix, a hundred miles to the south in the desert, and the Grand Canyon, a couple of hours to the north. This unique station was born out of necessity to give the residents and store owners of the small but bustling town the chance to listen to some good music. The online version is management's answer to the local's complaints about the on-air station's poor signal.

Gulch Radio's main programming during the day is truly free form. Currently, there is a three hour time difference (Arizona remains on standard time all year) between Jerome and Philadelphia, where I live. It's 5:16 in the morning in Jerome as I write this article. During these early morning hours KZRJ plays mostly the softer side of classic rock along with some pop songs. In the past hour listeners have been treated to Boz Scaggs, Joni Mitchell, Jackie De Shannon, early 70s Beach Boys, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Vince Guaraldi Trio and the late Eva Cassidy.

Later, during the day, Gulch Radio programs a mix of alternative rock, reggae, blues, country, and folk. At various times, mostly later in the evening and on weekends, the station features block programming. You'll hear shows devoted to just Motown, the psychedelic era, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, the blues, prog-rock, and a Sunday morning show that plays, along with some other stuff, Native American music. You'll even hear the syndicated Mountain Stage. You'll find the complete schedule listing all of Gulch Radio's shows at their website's program guide.

DJ patter is almost non-existent and Gulch Radio plays no ads. It truly is commercial free. Most PBS stations who constantly advertise that they are sponsorless really can not make this claim.

The stream playing through my laptop is quite strong and it's sent to my home theater system through Chromecast Audio.

There are only a couple of minor things Gulch Radio should change. Their website needs a more streamlined way for visitors to find the playlists, a situation management is currently working to resolve. Finally, I haven't heard any hip-hop played yet but the program guide says they may include some late in the evening. That is a genre I'll never listen to.

Click here for the station's suggestions on the best ways to listen to them online.

Overall, Gulch Radio is an excellent choice for music lovers who want to hear something out of the ordinary. You really can't go wrong if you make this outlet one of your streaming choices.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Andrew Sheppard - Steady Your Aim (2018)

Have you ever wondered why a singer's voice matches the kind of music they perform? For instance, does Michael Bublé sing pop and jazz because that is what he excels at or is it because it's the music he loves? The first question crossed my mind immediately when I heard Steady Your Aim, the new, sophomore album from Andrew Sheppard. There are singers with better voices than the one this countrified roots-rocker possesses but there are few singers whose vocals fit the the kind of songs they sing as well as his does.

Upon graduation the young Sheppard moved to Los Angeles from Idaho to fulfill his skateboarding dreams but he tore up his knee. Fortunately, he also loved music so he renewed his interest in the art form after having played in several bands while in high school. Let's sincerely hope that Sheppard's knee has healed properly but the loss of his original career choice was our gain because he became an extremely talented singer-songwriter.

Sheppard started writing songs ten years ago at age nineteen and paid the usual dues most musicians do before he finally had a chance to record his first album, Far From Here, in 2015.

Eventually, Sheppard grew tired of the West Coast and he returned home to pursue a slower paced life. The first, and best track on the album, "Take A Walk With Me," is a result of that move and the title track discusses a musician's life on the road so there is a little bit of Jackson Browne's classic album, Running On Empty, woven throughout Sheppard's set.

Sheppard's music is accurately described in his press materials as having an "outlaw mentality" but that doesn't mean his lyrics aren't thoughtful. As with all singer-songwriters he looks inward and is self-reflective but he is also able to take a hard look at the world around him. While not specifically directed at The White House, on "Not My Kind" he sings, "I never joined your cavalry, but I'm signed up to ride so I see. What do you expect me to do, when I don't respect men like you? You want me to fall, grovel and bleed, when you walk the same floor as me."

If you're ears are sensitive, be warned, Sheppard's language can be a bit rough at times but he has good enough taste to avoid using the English language's crudest four letter words and in some cases the street language actually enhances the stories he has to tell.

Steady Your Aim is an early candidate for Bloggerhythms' "best of" list for this year.

You can find out more on Sheppard's website.

Listen to "Take A Walk With Me" here and enjoy an acoustic version of "Steady Your Aim" below.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Nicole Atkins - Goodnight Rhonda Lee (2017)

On Goodnight Rhonda Lee Nicole Atkins makes full use of all her natural talents as a vocalist. She is among the best of the current crop of women rockers and, to her credit, auto-tune does not appear to be among the devices she uses to make her records. If she has become a victim of the gross trend that depends on electronic gimmickry to mask vocal deficiencies it's not obvious here. The gifted Asbury Park, NJ native, now living in Nashville, doesn't need her voice manipulated and based on the retro-rock music presented here the overused and mostly robotically sounding piece of technology just wouldn't fit in. Her fine alto is all that is needed.

Atkins' eleven song record is a throwback to the era of classic Top Forty radio. Whether she is paying tribute to the country queens of the 60s and 70s on the title track, channelling Aretha Franklin on "Listen Up," or trying to be a female version of Roy Orbison on "A Little Crazy" (composed with her friend Chris Isaak) the arrangements and vocals are all extremely well done.

Other standouts include the horn laden soul tune "Brokedown Luck," and "Darkness Falls So Quiet," a track that could have shown up on Dusty In Memphis. Also compelling is the story of her beleaguered hometown with its self-explanatory title, "I Love Living Here (Even When I Don't)".

One of the things that make Goodnight Rhonda Lee interesting is that it takes us beyond topics that pop songs usually tackle. Fueled by Atkins' hardfought and ultimately victorious battle against alcoholism the title of her fourth, full length release comes from the name she used when misbehaving. The singer is telling both Rhonda Lee and the listener that she is a different person today and her alter ego named in the title is no longer welcome in her life. There is even a song, "A Night Of Serious Drinking," that appears to discuss her addiction. While the title is an obvious reference the lyrics are a bit cryptic. Even so, you can tell Atkins' past is definitely on her mind.

Goodnight Rhonda Lee is the result of a truly talented artist who bucks trends and isn't afraid to bare her soul while managing to entertain us at the same time. It's a serious work that, unlike a lot of great art, avoids being depressing. It just could be the best album of 2017.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dion - New York Is My Home (2016)

Dion DiMucci was making hit records before The Beatles actually called themselves The Beatles. Unfortunately, the singer of early R&B and doo-wop influenced hits like "The Wanderer," "I Wonder Why," and "Runaround Sue," and several years later the soft, folk-rock anthem "Abraham, Martin, and John," is largely unknown today except by people who were listening to Top 40 radio way back in the pre-British Invasion years. Most younger people have never even heard his name, let alone his music.

The good news is Dion, who still only uses his first name professionally, has never left us and he's recorded dozens of albums. Much of his work is heavily influenced by the blues as is his latest set of original songs, New York Is My Home.

Dion wrote or co-wrote eight of the ten tracks on this album and, while he still sings quite well at age 76, his voice sounds nothing like the one he possessed back in his hitmaking days of "Ruby Baby." It's not worse, just less powerful, and more appropriate for his latest offerings.

This set has a lot of life in it, especially on irreverent stuff like, "Can't Go Back To Memphis," "I'm Your Gangster Of Love," and "I'm All Rocked Up." "The Apollo King" is a rabble rousing testimonial to the famous saxophonist Big Al Sears.

On the softer, singer-songwriter side there is the self-reflective "Visionary Heart" and the title track, a love letter to his hometown that is a terrific duet with Paul Simon.

The album was produced by Jimmy Vivino (Conan O'Brien's bandleader) who played lead guitar and all keyboards. He also sang backup.

Be sure to read read more about this member of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame on his website and buy the album here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Jackson Browne Featuring Los Cenzontles - The Dreamer (2017)

I've never been one to delve into politics on this blog and that's because I only want it to be about music but, on occasion, their paths do cross. For example, almost three years ago I posted an article, Kent State & The Protest Song, in which I discussed how much I missed these songs of substance and how we continue to need them today.

I'm still not going to talk politics or about the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but I am going to show you the official video for the finest protest song I've heard in a long, long time.

In December 2017 Jackson Browne, a deserving member of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, released a new single, "The Dreamer," with Eugene Rodriguez and Los Cenzontles who Browne met through his friend, Linda Ronstadt.

Rodriguez told Browne about one specific dreamer's story and the star used it to complete the unfinished piece. In an article published in Forbes Browne says that Rodriguez's input was vital to the finished product. "Eugene and I wrote it together, but without Eugene’s experience and his point of view it wouldn’t be the same song at all. It would be me talking from the outside."

The lyrics and video are not shy in letting you know where Browne stands on the controversial subject that is the title to his song.

Even without the pointed and thoughtful subject matter the track is worth listening to because it's very musical. Just like on "Linda Paloma" from The Pretender the harp is a featured instrument but here it is used far more effectively. It's the best song Browne has released in a long time.

David Hidalgo of Los Lobos also played on the record.