Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shelby Lynne - Thanks (2013)

Ever since Shelby Lynne's acclaimed I am Shelby Lynne turned her into a star (sort of) in 2000 one wouldn't be climbing too far out on a limb to say she could be the most outstanding female country artist on the scene today and one of the very best singer-songwriters to ever take a stage or enter a recording studio. She proves it once again with her brief, fifteen minute, five song EP, Thanks. On it, the native Alabaman continues to demonstrate both her independence, originality, and eclecticism as she genre-jumps from album to album and song to song almost as often as she changes hair styles (and that's a lot if you look at her CD covers). From Texas swing, to roots rock, to gospel, R & B, and more, she has done it all while still keeping her feet firmly planted on her home turf of country music.

Thanks is Lynne's followup to the very personal and sparsely produced and arranged Revelation Road.

Lynne continues to write intelligent and personal music but this time she kicks the production up a notch while taking a more uplifting approach to the songs. The foot stomping single, "Call Me Up" is a gospel tinged affair greatly aided by guest pianist and vocalist, Maxine Waters, who is a perfect fit. Then she digs deeper into the genre. "Walkin'" is a pure gospel, toe-tapping, jaunt featuring some perfect steel guitar work, probably by her favorite sideman and friend, multi-instrumentalist, Ben Peeler, who produced this EP. A Bonnie Raitt influence helps shape "Forevermore" and the title track is one of the best ballads Lynne has ever recorded. "This Road I'm On" is another emotional ballad that tunes us in on the artist's deepest thoughts.

Even the artwork suggests a spiritual turn. Lynne has never come across as a religious sort but it looks like she is praying on the CD's cover.

In addition to Peeler and Waters the set includes Michael Jerome on drums and Ed Maxwell on acoustic and electric bass, organ, synthesizer and background vocals.

As was the case with Lynne's previous three releases Thanks was recorded in her California home studio.

Lynne's website provides more information.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band - Blue Again (2008)

Veteran rocker Mick Fleetwood has returned to his roots. This means he's playing the blues once again, hence the title of this CD, an enjoyable, sixty-five minute, live-in-concert, musical excursion that he dedicates to the three other greats who co-founded Fleetwood Mac with him: Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, and John McVie.

Fleetwood's very fine blues quartet features former Fleetwood Mac member Rick Vito, who was Lindsay Buckingham's replacement form 1987 to 1991, on guitar and lead vocals. Vito, who also played with Jackson Browne, John Mayall, Little Richard, Maria Muldaur, and a host of others, is the obvious star. His singing is perfect for fronting a blues group and his slide work is surprisingly tasteful.

The lineup is completed with two unknowns, Lenny Castellanos on bass and backing vocals, Mark Johnstone on keyboards and backing vocals, and drummer Fleetwood. The solid support Vito received from them is essential to this CD's success.

Nearly half of the songs are attributed to Green. Among them are an outstanding rendition of "Black Magic Woman," a rambunctious "Rattlesnake Shake," and a featured bonus track, an updated studio take of "Albatross."

Other highlights include "When We Do the Lucky Devil" and "I Got a Hole in My Shoe" two of Vito's five original compositions on the set. His moody, slow burning, slide solo on Green's "Looking for Somebody" is riveting.

The quartet closed with an Elmore James favorite, "Shake Your Moneymaker," that should have you dancing in the aisles.

The blues-rock served up here by Vito and Fleetwood isn't groundbreaking but it doesn't have to be when it's played this well. They are having as much fun playing this stuff as we are listening to it.

The CD was recorded at The Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, MO on February 8, 2008.

You can listen to the album here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Lone Bellow - Then Came The Morning (2015)

Despite hailing from that hipster heaven known as Brooklyn it turns out The Lone Bellow may be out of touch. They actually released their new album, Then Came The Morning on CD in a plastic, shrink-wrapped, jewel box complete with a booklet loaded with liner notes, lyrics, and credits. How 90s of them. No cheap cardboard packaging for this trio.

Once you open the case you'll also realize that there is nothing cheap about the music inside of it either. The group clearly doesn't suffer from the sophomore jinx, proving their eponymous debut was not beginner's luck.

Lone Bellow remains true to the their sound but their vocals have improved, especially in the case of lead singer Zach Williams (not that they were shabby before). His voice is stronger, more self-assured, and the powerful singing of Kanene Donehey Pipkin continues to be an asset. She is the band's secret weapon and deserves more than the single lead vocal ("Call to War") she is allowed here. Together, with lead guitarist Brian Elmquist, they produce some of the better harmonies in Americana music today.

The Lone Bellow continue to be billed as a country act but that term doesn't do justice to their music. This isn't a knock on country music, it's just that their sound embraces so much more than that. Their uptempo numbers rock, especially "Heaven Don't Call Me Home." The foot stomper features a loose, high energy, gospel trio supported by 1950s, greaser rock guitar. "Cold As It Is" and "If You Don't Love Me" are also for listeners who like to kick the volume up a notch.

The title track is made for radio and the blending of the three voices together are what makes it something special. "Watch Over Us" is another another vocal gem.

It's not just the group's singing that stands out. These thirteen self-written tracks are not lightweight in subject matter. They are thoughtful and dig deeply beyond pop music's most common theme: love in all of its forms. Then Came The Morning is by no means a party album but it will not depress you either.

The disc was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner who, based on the artistic success of this entire set, was a very good choice.

Get further educated at their website.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Forgotten Music: The Monkees - Goin' Down (1967)

Many people have made fun of The Monkees as the "Pre-fab Four," a Beatles knock off, and while it is true that they were often totally controlled in the studio by their producers, record label, and, of course, TV in the end we all realized they were a talented bunch of guys. It's to their credit that they later rebelled to became a real band.

I bought a whole bunch of The Monkees' singles on their red, white, and black Colgems label back in the day and because one of these purchases was their 1967 hit single "Daydream Believer" I was also treated to one of the best b-sides I've ever heard anywhere, "Goin' Down." It's an original song that was never released on one of their main albums.

The quartet's best singer, Mickey Dolenz took the lead vocal and Wikipedia states that Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith played guitars. Long ago I was told that Al Hirt played trumpet but I've found absolutely nothing to back that story up.

All four Monkees received a composing credit along with a folk singer named Diane Hilderbrand.

According to Tork, as quoted on the website Songfacts, the track "was based on Mose Allison's "Parchment Farm." It's about a drunken guy who "ends it all" by jumping into the river, and immediately regrets it as he's "Goin' Down." Fortunately our protagonist lives and floats his way down to New Orleans.

Dolenz was the obvious choice to sing "Goin' Down." The star proved he could sing jazz and take control of a song, something all of the best vocalists regularly do. The outrageous speed and vocal dexterity the ex-Monkee showed us on this record is mind boggling. I don't know many singers who can do what he did throughout the entire four minutes and I just can't see Davy Jones possessing the same intensity the drummer gave us here. No matter what you think of The Monkees this song and video announced loud and clear that they were not a joke.

"Goin' Down" was later used in a sequence on the respected TV series, Breaking Bad.

Here are the frantic lyrics.

The video below shows Dolenz to be a consummate performer.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Phil Kenzie - A Night With The Cat (2015)

Phil Kenzie is a veteran alto sax player who is well known in the music industry but the general public is mostly unfamiliar with him. His best known work is the sax solo on Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat." He also owns the solo on Poco's "Heart of the Night" and he's featured on an updated version of "The Long Run" from The Eagles Live.

Kenzie has also played alongside of some of the world's most famous rockers, including Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne, Peter Frampton, Annie Lennox, Stephen Stills, Alan Parsons, and David Bowie.

Kenzie's new album, A Night With The Cat may or may not have been released yet. No date was given with the press packet I received. No cover art was available and no liner notes were provided either so it's impossible to know who wrote and played what. What we do know is that A Night With The Cat was recorded over a ten year period from 1998 through 2008 even though it's just being released for the first time.

According to the press material the album is an instrumental interpretation of Stewart's famous hit single and the titles of all ten tracks (including "Silk Dress," Water Color," and "Incense and Patchouli") are based on the lyrics to that song.

The saxophonist is assisted by smooth jazz guitarist Peter White, who worked with Stewart for twenty years, and the late keyboard player Larry Knechtel.

Unfortunately, for a work that has taken so long to create the listener should expect a whole lot more. Most of the tracks lack melodies. They sound like Kenzie is just noodling around. They're completely uninspired and virtually indistinguishable from one another. Boredom set in early and it's impossible to figure out what this set has to do with Stewart's classic tune other than taking the artist's word for it.

This album is a case where the concept is superior to the actual work. It reminds me of when Whoopi Goldberg played a nun in Sister Act. The idea was a lot funnier than the film itself.

Kenzie is much better as a highly regarded sideman.