Thursday, December 21, 2017

Various Artists - Holidays Rule, Volume 2 (2017)

Holidays Rule, Volume 2 is the second unique compilation of Christmas music backed by MPL (McCartney Productions Limited), one of the World's largest music publishers. Volume 1 was released in 2012 and is discussed here.

Both discs in this series are for people who love Christmas music but are tired of the same old thing and offer a mix of famous, all-star talent along with a host of up and coming artists. Kudos to the former Beatle and to everyone involved for having the foresight to understand that not everyone wants to hear Brenda Lee every single hour, every single day, for a whole month every year.

The album opens with Paul McCartney, Jimmy Fallon, and The Roots performance of the classic rocker's "Wonderful Christmastime" that is more in the spirit of Christmas than his perennial standard. This take was originally performed on The Tonight Show in December 2016.

Other heavy hitters include Norah Jones performing a non-Christmas tune, a live version of jazz legend Horace Silver's "Peace." There is a Grace Potter original, "Christmas Moon," on which she takes a surprisingly successful turn as a crooner, and "Jesus Christ" by The Decemberists, an Alex Chilton song from 1981. Lake Street Dive gave us a fresh vibe of the old children's tune, "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas."

Rosanne Cash's "May Ev'ry Day Be Christmas," written by Louis Jordan has John Leventhal on guitar, bass, drums, organ, and piano. He also produced, recorded and mixed the song, so it's basically his baby. Cash simply added her vocals. Nevertheless, it's the standout track on the record.

Muna's cover of McCartney's "Pipe of Peace" drags compared to the original. It's another track that is not a Christmas song and that is always an annoyance on a holiday album but since it's an anti-war song it's not completely out of place.

US Girls very weird version of "Blue Christmas" is almost all electronics and Andrew McMahon is vocally challenged on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve." He strains to succeed but ultimately does.

On the plus side, Barns Courtney and Lennon Ray Louise Stella offer us an interesting, modern arrangement of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Unique takes of this particularly overplayed moldy oldie are always welcome. Stella, by the way, is one of the two real sisters who played the daughters of Rayna James, one of the two main characters in the TV hit show, Nashville.

There is some top flight stuff on this album even though the new set is not quite as compelling as the first one. However, Holidays Rule, Volume 2 should be a welcome addition to your Christmas music collection. I hope there is a volume three.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Red Button - She's About To Cross My Mind (2007)

Despite their obscurity Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg have a good reputation within the music industry. Swirsky has written songs for Rufus Wainwright, Al Green, Tina Turner, and Taylor Dayne. Ruekberg composed the soundtrack for the independent film Dummy and in 2007 they released their first of three albums together as The Red Button.

The Red Button blend all of the major components that the best power pop has to offer: melody, harmony and hooks. It's the British Invasion sound for the new millennium. She's About To Cross My Mind is for music fans who cherish the sound of the early Beatles, The Raspberries and the more innocent groups that came over from the big pond during the swinging 60s.

The album's first single and lead track, "Cruel Girl," is something the mean side of John Lennon could have written in 1963. "Floating By" is a dead ringer for a post-touring years Paul McCartney track. "She's Going Down" features some nice slide guitar and "Ooh Girl" opens with an "Eleanor Rigby" style string section. "Free" sounds like a cross between "Rain" and The Byrds' "Feel A Whole Lot Better When You're Gone" with it's great jangle pop arrangement spiced with a touch of psychedelia.

If you're tired of listening to the same 60s oldies and crave something more recent from this always very popular rock sub-genre then you may find a lot to like by letting your ears tune into She's About To Cross My Mind.

Learn more at The Red Button's website.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Band - Christmas Must Be Tonight (1977)

In 2006 Hall and Oates released Home For Christmas, their one and only holiday album, an extremely good set of music that immediately became one of my favorite seasonal listens.

I wrote then that I was stunned at how many overtly religious songs the famous duo put on the the disc considering the very politically correct climate of the new millennium. One of them was a cover version of a song that alluded me for almost thirty years, "Christmas Must Be Tonight." I liked the new, upbeat track sung by Daryl Hall and it made me go out and search for Robbie Robertson's never-to-be classic. Sung by Rick Danko, it appears on the great American band's last album, Islands (1977).

It's a surprise that a group whose members were not known to have any specific or powerfully strong religious beliefs would release a song that tackled the subject of Jesus's birth as blatantly as our most loved Christmas carols. It's not about a reckless reindeer killing Grandma. Could this be why it's seldom recorded or heard?

"Christmas Must Be Tonight" is the only song by The Band that Robertson re-recorded after the group ended and it can be found on the soundtrack of Bill Murray's Scrooged.

Both the Hall and Oates cover and The Band's original take of Robertson's holiday tune deserve a permanent place among the songs we play every December.

Friday, December 01, 2017

D. B. Rielly - Live From Long Island City (2017)

One of the benefits of running a music blog is that I've been exposed to artists that I would not normally get to hear otherwise and New York City's D. B. Rielly is one of them. The praise given here previously to Rielly's first two studio CDs was genuine which is why I was more than pleased at his invitation to listen to D. B. Rielly Live From Long Island City.

All three of the singer-songwriter's discs are uniquely packaged. They come in unusual shapes, sizes, and construction materials. The earlier ones were tin and wood and Long Island City comes in the shape of a large, cardboard postcard. Unfortunately, none of them are able to be filed with the rest of my CDs. Perhaps Rielly wanted to make sure his work had its own special place in my collection. Well D. B., if you're reading this, it worked. I've got your stuff stored in my stereo cabinet where I see it more often than my other discs so, guess what, they actually get played.

Both of Rielly's studio albums were full length discs using a band which makes this one, a solo, acoustic, live performance a big surprise. It's very brief and clocks in at just over twenty-four minutes and that includes three tracks of between song storytelling with his tuned in audience.

Of the seven actual songs there is only one Rielly recorded before, "Don't Give Up On Me" from his debut CD, Love Potions and Snake Oil. The rest are heard here for the first time and for that he is to be congratulated. Too many live albums are just rehash and serve as nothing more than a contractual obligation from an artist to his record company.

Rielly chose this format because he wanted to emphasize the songwriting and I don't blame him. His craft has matured to the point where these songs don't need anything else but his voice and a guitar and on one track, "I Believe, Angeline" he plays banjo. He shows off his fantastic and slightly bent sense of humor as well as a sad and ultra-serious side.

Highlights include "Nothing Like You" a tune that lists dozens of things the singer has witnessed during his lifetime but he tells the song's subject that he or she is the most unbelievable person he has ever witnessed. Rielly sings, "I thought I've seen everything there was to see but I never seen nothin' like you."

Rielly has a thing about addictive, non-stop, cellphone usage and is hurt that every time he wants to say those three little words to his girlfriend she answers her phone as soon as it rings. So, on "Let It Ring," he pontificates, "It ain't nothin' but a thing. Let the voice mail get it just this once honey, won't you let it ring." He's a man after my own heart.

On "Prenup" he tells his soon to be wife, "I trust you with my heart but not my stuff."

Rielly closes out the show with "I'll Remind You Everyday." In an email discussion with Bloggerhythms he talks about this very sad but beautiful song. He describes it as an Alzheimer's love song. The protagonist "goes through his & his wife's life together - reminding her and hoping to spark her memory - for any and every reason... to bring back to her some of the joys in her life, to entertain the woman he loves with her own stories, and maybe to snap her back into the present and be with him for a moment to rescue him from his own loneliness (since her mind is so infrequently present)."

The singer-songwriter continued, "The verses go from the beginning of their lives to the end so the last verse brings us to present day. He talks to his wife like she has come out of her Alzheimer's for a moment (as the disease progresses, the memory fades out more frequently and for longer periods but can still come back momentarily) and explains to his long life partner what is happening to her, and to them and most likely, even when her mind doesn't come back, he says this to her anyway, because of his complete love for her - and to remind himself why he's there for her every day."

Both Rielly's voice and songwriting should remind the listener of John Prine and that is always a good thing. "I'll Remind You Everyday" conjures up many of the same images and feelings about the fate and loneliness of old folks as well as Prine's great "Hello In There" does so easily.

Rielly deserves fame and fortune. It's a very sad state of affairs that in today's music world that there is almost no chance of that happening.

You can sample every song on the album on the artist's website.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Gospel Whiskey Runners - Hold On (2011)

It's time to belatedly introduce The Gospel Whiskey Runners (TGWR), from Visalia, California to music freaks everywhere.

The quintet has been compared to Ryan Adams but to these ears a more valid comparison would be The Lumineers. The Runners' Jerrod Turner is a better lead singer than The Lumineers' Wesley Schulz and while they have not released anything as catchy as "Ho Hey" or "Ophelia" that is not a reason to ignore them. TGWR also have a fine female vocalist, just like Schulz's group, in Colette Boley who enhances their sound and is another reason for comparisons between the two bands.

Please don't believe that TGWR are merely mimicking The Lumineers and that is because their nine song, debut album, Hold On, hit the streets in 2011, ahead of the better known group's debut. The latter may have had more commercial success but that does not make them a better outfit.

The Gospel Whiskey Runners act is mostly acoustic but Ryan Stillwater is a loud, rock drummer who provides an edge that kick starts many of their folk sounding songs.

They chose their name because Turner's family bootlegged moonshine back in Kentucky.

The band's music has appeared on several popular television programs: American Idol, Criminal Minds, and Homefront and they have been played over eleven million times on Pandora.

You can listen to Hold On in it's entirety here as well as all of their follow up record Know Your Enemy.

Be sure to check out The Gospel Whiskey Runners website.