Sunday, March 19, 2017

Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, Dave Pomeroy - The Nashville Acoustic Sessions (2004)

Except for Raul Malo's name appearing first on the cover of The Nashville Acoustic Sessions this excellent, twelve song set tries to convince us Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, and Dave Pomeroy are his equals. However, as always, whether he's on stage or in the studio, Malo dominates any sessions he participates in.

This is the most bare-boned music Malo has ever released either with The Mavericks or as a solo artist. It is pure unadulterated country with no bombast anywhere. The only thing that prevents this album from sounding as if it was not recorded in the hills of Kentucky is the star's pop-operatic vocals.

Flynn and Ickes, who play mandolin, guitar and dobro, along with bassist Pomeroy, are perfect sidemen for Malo on this almost percussion free affair. All three are masters at what they do.

The material is wide ranging but Malo and friends tailor the songs, almost all from celebrated artists, to fit their needs. They're songs from way back when country was rural. Featured are Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams ("Weary Blues from Waitin'") and two selections from the Louvin Brothers. Also included are tunes from 60s and 70s stalwarts such as Gordon Lightfoot ("Early Morning Rain") Gram Parsons ("Hot Burrito #1"), Bob Dylan ("You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go") and a nice version of Van Morrison's "Bright Side Of The Road." These last two songs show you how good they can be when supported by an excellent vocalist.

The album opens with "Blue Bayou," a perfect choice for Malo because of the many Roy Orbison comparisons that have followed him around for what seems like a century.

An almost schmaltzy version of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" is here too but Malo's good taste stops it from going too far.

The highlight is the Louvin's "Great Atomic Power," a foot-stomping, gospel, protest song that plays off the fears of a possible nuclear holocaust. Originally released in 1962, it's the same year John F. Kennedy stared down Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There is no original music anywhere but it doesn't matter. It's one of Malo's finer efforts.

You can buy it here.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Sooner Or Later It Was Bound To Happen

According to data accumulated in 2015 on mostly American Spotify users people stop listening to new music at age thirty-three. Two factors account for the researcher's findings. The most obvious one is that people continue to prefer the music they grew up with and, secondly, they discover new genres that were unfamiliar to them when they were in high school or college.

Further results show that couples with children stop listening to new stuff earlier than those who have not yet procreated and men drop out of the mainstream sooner than women do.

Without trying to brag I always looked for new music and was happy to hear it so I'm not your average music lover. While my Top Forty listening habits pretty much ended in college I continued to search out the latest tunes elsewhere. I never really settled on one particular genre but I leaned heavily towards rock, especially the Southern California sound. If some jazz, country, or folk tickled my fancy that was fine with me too because I believed it proved my musical openness and diversity (There's that word again).

In the last two or three years I've found very few new works that interest me and I've become more comfortable reacquainting myself with older music and the artists who created it. While I love the art form just as much as I always have it's no longer important to me to find the latest singer or band. It's not that I'm avoiding new releases, they just don’t move me like they used to. Sooner or later it was bound to happen.

If I do stumble across something new that excites me I'll still have the urge to get the word out and you'll read all about it here. This is why I recently posted a review of The Rolling Stones' album of blues covers. Yes, it's new music, but by a dinosaur rock band doing very old songs. (BTW folks, Keith Richards isn't dead yet).

So, if you're interested in reading about great pop music, both classic and obscure, you're still in the right place. Just don't look for as many newer artists around here as there used to be.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Eva Cassidy - Songbird (1998)

It’s a shame people still don’t know who the late Eva Cassidy is. The singer and guitarist became a posthumous star in 1998 but unfortunately, while alive, she was totally unknown outside her Washington D.C. area home.

Two years after her passing at age thirty-three from melanoma, her golden singing voice was discovered by two BBC disc jockeys who heard her versions of "Over the Rainbow" and Sting's "Fields of Gold." She went on to have great popularity in Britain where she earned three number one records that sold over ten million copies combined.

A compilation, Songbird, put together from her three CDs was released in 1998 but Cassidy's work continued to exist in complete obscurity here at home until ABC-TV's Nightline televised a brief segment about her. The weekend after the program aired all of her albums soared to the top of Amazon's best sellers list. The disc went platinum in 2008.

Five songs from Songbird ("Wade in the Water," "Wayfaring Stranger," "Songbird," "Time is A Healer," and "I Know You By Heart") are from Cassidy's debut album, Eva by Heart. Four more, ("Fields Of Gold," "Autumn Leaves," "People Get Ready," and "Oh, Had I A Golden Thread") are from her second CD, Live at Blues Alley. The compilation's final track, "Over the Rainbow," is from The Other Side.

Some of the songs on this CD differ from the original versions. The singer's father found an alternate version of "Wayfaring Stranger" that was considered good enough to include on this set and the applause was edited from the Live at Blues Alley tracks.

Cassidy was an uncommon talent. Her voice allowed her to tackle any song with a rare combination of power and beauty. She was at her best on soft ballads and on gospel-tinged soul. Her sparsely arranged version of "Fields of Gold" is one of the most tasteful cover songs I've ever heard and rivals Sting's original. "Wade in the Water," "Wayfaring Stranger," and "People Get Ready" are her rhythm and blues offerings and although these tracks feature a really tight band that is also very satisfying her voice remains the star of the show. Cassidy's cover of Christine McVie's "Songbird," from Fleetwood Mac's Rumours LP, sounds like she listened to a lot of Dusty Springfield during her Memphis period.

During her brief career Cassidy received a few composing credits but she was mostly a terrific interpreter of other people's songs.

You can read about Cassidy's life, her music, illness and more here at Wikipedia and at a website put online by one of her relatives.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Forgotten Music: Chicago - Vote for Me (1977)

One of the more fascinating devices Chicago's Robert Lamm employed on a few of his political songs was not taking sides. It's one of the components of the keyboard player's writing that helped make him Chicago's best composer. Nevertheless, Lamm has always possessed strong opinions and anyone who has been a fan of Chicago over the years knows which side he leans toward politically.

The best example of Lamm's seeming neutrality is the band's hit single, "Dialogue," from 1972. The song is a conversation between two college students represented by Terry Kath and Peter Cetera, each espousing a different point of view. The lyrics are more about apathy and not being involved than any specific ideology and, to his credit, Lamm never reveals his hand.

The same can be said for Lamm's 1977 album track from Chicago XI, "Vote For Me." It's an uptempo, joyous sounding, pop song featuring a gospel chorus on which a presidential candidate happily promises voters everything, including "new cars that run on beer," but deep down you know he'll never follow through with any of them.

The lyrics reveal Lamm's sense of humor while totally skewering our political process and the hypocrisy of elected officials. Again, he doesn't make his politics known thereby adding a bit of mystery to the song and it's stronger because of it.

Politics is on the minds of people more than usual these days so it's time to resurrect this long forgotten track that should have been a classic. "Vote For Me" could have been a hit if it had been released as a single just a few years earlier. Its timing just wasn't right.

This was the last song Lamm wrote with a social message until 1984 when "We Can Stop the Hurtin'" appeared on Chicago 17.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

La La Land - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Released December 9, 2016)

As a movie offering us a good love story La La Land easily satisfies. Actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are excellent and they have a great rapport with each other. They look and act like a real couple, something that is a must for a romantic film to be successful.

This best film nominee of 2016 is well paced and looks great. Both things can be attributed to Damien Chazelle who is quickly establishing himself as a fine director.

Much of the plot of La La Land is driven by Gosling's character who is an aspiring jazz musician and Chazelle is also the man behind the award winning Whiplash, a 2014 film about a jazz drummer at a music conservatory. Apparently, the director is a big jazz fan.

La La Land gets four stars for its acting, plot, direction, cinematography and all of those neat little things Hollywood gives awards for. Unfortunately, the music is not as rewarding.

The jazz, pop, show tunes, and instrumentals, all composed by Justin Hurwitz who also worked with Chazelle on Whiplash, are not compelling and waste the lyrics of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Even 'City of Stars," the Academy Award nominated song from the film and, "Another Day of Sunshine," the huge production number that opens the flick on a Los Angeles freeway, failed to make a lasting impression. As soon as the songs were over they disappeared from my mind forever. The lone exception is John Legend's performance of "Start a Fire," a bright, pop-rhythm & blues workout that deserves significant radio airplay.

The soundtrack isn’t helped by the fact that Stone and Gosling are merely adequate vocalists. Their singing is bland and not at all powerful. Musicals need better voices than these two stars possess. In the end there is no need to listen to the soundtrack outside of the context of the film but you should go see it anyway. The story deserves your attention.