Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brandi Carlile - The Story (2007)

It's always a pleasure to find a young adult who appears to be wise beyond his or her years. Such is the case with twenty-five year old Brandi Carlile who proves with her songs that she is one who indeed may be far more mature than her age may indicate.

Playing music that can best be categorized as folk-rock, Carlile writes thought provoking lyrics that prove she has intelligence, feelings, and despite growing up in extremely rural surroundings in the state of Washington, she knows there is a world that stretches far beyond her horizon.

The Story, Carlile's second CD, has the acoustic folk music ("Josephine" and "Have You Ever") that is obligatory of most female singer-songwriters, but this young lady also likes to rock. The title cut is a very catchy and melodic rocker that very well may be the song of the year.

The talented twin brothers, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, who have been in her band from the beginning are more than just sidemen. In addition to being close friends and kindred spirits with the star they also share in the composing, and Phil, who wrote "The Story" and "Have You Ever," makes me want to hear more of his work.

Carlile has a great voice that alternates between a sweet alto on the ballads and folk songs, to a giant raspy Melissa Etheridge type growl on the rockers. You can hear both styles on "The Story."

The CD was produced by T-Bone Burnett, one of the top producers in the business. He always brings out the best in an artist and Carlile is no exception.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Jersey Boys - The August Wilson Theater, New York City, NY, April 14, 2007

For the most part I have never been a fan of musicals and I probably never will be. There are only a few exceptions. The ones I do like usually have story lines about music and are enjoyable because the songs do not get in the way of the plot. Such is the case with Jersey Boys whose curtain was raised for their 600th performance on Broadway this past Saturday afternoon.

For those who don't know Jersey Boys is the true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, one of the most popular rock groups of the 60s. They were primarily known for Valli's falsetto vocals and the group's harmonies. The quartet's popularity was so great that, of all the rock artists who predated The Beatles, only they and The Beach Boys were able to survive the onslaught of the British Invasion of 1964.

Despite their success The Four Seasons were largely forgotten until Jersey Boys hit the stage because the group was never considered hip, meaning they never appealed to the right people. Even at the height of their power they were often viewed as an anachronism by critics because their vocals were fueled by 50s doo-wop and they appealed to a more conservative audience than the decade's hippest acts such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. What kept Valli and the guys from sounding too dated is that their street corner harmonies were often backed up by modern rock arrangements of the era. You can hear heavy fuzz bass on the introductions to two of their best songs, "Let's Hang On" and "C'mon Marianne," something that was unheard of in the 50s. They also wrote and arranged their own music making them far more than just another vocal group.

Jersey Boys is a well sung, produced, and acted musical. The production benefits from involvement by original Four Season Bob Gaudio, who was instrumental in bringing the show to the stage. It was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

The show almost seeems like a documentary at times as the actors portraying the four singers take turns narrating their story. Their asides segued into more traditional musical theater scenes or a performance of one of the many songs The Four Seasons made famous. Among the enormous amount of hits performed during the matinee were "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll," "Walk Like A Man," "Let's Hang On," "Working My Way Back To You," "Opus 17," "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)," "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," and many more.

I was never more than a casual fan of The Four Seasons. I owned several of their 45 RPM singles and, while I can not say that Jersey Boys made me a bigger fan of the group, I thoroughly enjoyed this Tony Award winner for the best musical of 2006.

The Jersey Boys: J. Robert Spencer, John Lloyd Young,
Daniel Reichard, and Christian Hoff

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Benny Goodman In Moscow (1962) (LP only)

Benny Goodman's 1962 visit to the U.S.S.R. was the first time a jazz band from the United States toured the country at the invitation of the Soviet government. It was also the first time an American jazz band was recorded there in concert. The King Of Swing assembled a big band that played to an audience that was mostly unfamiliar with the genre.

Benny Goodman In Moscow is a double live LP released on RCA Records shortly after the tour. No CD has ever been released in America and only a bootleg version has ever been issued in Europe. According to Ken Dryden, writer for the All Music Guide, the bootleg CD omits a couple of tracks, and has mistakes in the liner notes, so if you can find a copy of this extremely rare LP you've uncovered a gem.

For many reasons this is a big band jazz recording worth hearing. The sound quality of the performance is exceptional, and not just when compared to the recording standards of the day. Then, of course, there is the music. Goodman aficionados may be pleasantly surprised because there are only a smattering of tunes from his classic 1930’s period. The album opens with a very brief version of his theme, "Let’s Dance," followed by his war time hit "Mission To Moscow." There is an arrangement of "One O'Clock Jump" that almost rocks and a full version of his closing theme "Goodbye." Most of the rest is more modern jazz of the period, much of it arranged by his younger band members that included a pre-Tonight show Tommy Newsom on saxophone. Pianist Teddy Wilson, of the original Goodman trio, is there too gently swinging with a quintet that was one of the smaller groups culled from the larger orchestra.

Other famous jazz musicians who were part of Goodman's band on this tour were pianist/arranger John Bunch, Mel Lewis on drums, Phil Woods on alto sax, and Zoot Sims on tenor.

I found my used copy for sale in a woman's cellar more than a decade ago. The cover, liner notes, and records are in remarkably good condition and very listenable. I recently burned the records to CD for future enjoyment but that shouldn't be necessary. RCA needs to open their archives and issue this album on CD. Big band fans and lovers of classic jazz would open their wallets immediately.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Lewis Taylor - The Lost Album (2007)

Lewis Taylor's latest CD, The Lost Album, was recently released in America on a new indie label, Hacktone Records. The disc is generating a lot of positive heat with both radio and critics.

Taylor's music has often been described as psychedelic soul. The British rocker is frequently compared to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Todd Rundgren, Paul McCartney, and The Beach Boys. His influences on the The Lost Album seem to be narrower than advertised, (mostly Prince and The Beach Boys) and it is more rock and roll than soul. That doesn't matter, it's still a CD loaded with great music.

There are catchy melodies and gorgeous harmonies all over the album. Imagine you are on the beach listening to the Wilson Brothers harmonize when suddenly, out of nowhere, Prince storms out with a mighty, rocking, electric guitar solo that takes over the song. The two divergent styles blend well together into a cohesive whole that is never jarring.

At times Taylor's music sounds so much like a Brian Wilson solo track, or a leftover Pet Sounds song, that you may think you are listening to the real Beach Boys. Even the song titles sound like Brian Wilson. "Let's Hope No One Finds Us" is a perfect Beach Boys rip off. The single "Hide Your Heart Away" is a quintessential radio song that suddenly blasts into a triple tracked guitar solo after the catchy, melodic, harmonies reel you in.

Why is the guitar solo triple tracked? Because Taylor, like many of the influences listed at the top of this article, is a one man band. He plays every note of every instrument himself and he sings all of the vocal parts. He wrote or co-wrote all of the music.

The sound of The Lost Album is so rich, and the arrangements are so complex and well done, that you may find it hard to believe Taylor is not a huge star and that he is able to accomplish all of this without help. He is far more than an imitator. The Lost Album is one of the best CDs of the year.