Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full (2007)

After The Beatles broke up 60's musical god Paul McCartney formed the sometimes dreadful Wings with his late wife Linda who instantly and consistently proved to the world that she should have stuck to photographing musicians instead of performing with them. Then, after Wings ended, McCartney embarked on a very uneven solo career. Highly respectable albums such as Tug Of War were frequently followed by head scratching mediocrity such as Pipes Of Peace and Press To Play. The excellent Flowers In The Dirt was followed by the far less enjoyable Off The Ground.

Fortunately, over the last decade McCartney has regained much of the muse he lost after the split with his famous Liverpool band mates but, while he remains very prolific, he still has never come close to writing songs as great as "Yesterday," "Here, There, and Everywhere," "Eleanor Rigby," "Penny Lane," and many more. He can still write good songs but the memorable melodies and hummable hooks that got etched in your brain forever are missing from his recent work. Those very accessible tunes had a lot to do with what made The Beatles so special. You couldn't get their songs out of your head no matter how hard you tried.

For the most part Memory Almost Full, like its immediate predecessor Chaos and Creation In The Backyard, lacks the instantly addictive songs we've grown to love. These songs only stay with you while you're listening to them. When you turn your CD player off they are erased from your mind.

The album opener, "Dance Tonight," is the only exception to the above statement. It's catchy, rudimentary, mandolin riff will very much make you want to "dance tonight," but as cool as the song sounds, it's the type of simple knock off that McCartney can accidentally write in the shower.

The rest of the CD is far more serious. McCartney's songs are more reflective than they've been in many years and that is a very good thing. The best example is "The End Of The End" in which he again addresses aging, forty years after "When I'm Sixty-four." He sings:

"At the end of the end it's the start of a journey
To a much better place and this wasn't bad
So a much better place would have to be special
No need to be sad

On the day that I die I'd like jokes to be told
And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets
That children have played on and laid on while listening to stories of old."

McCartney may be singing about getting old but the writing on this disc is thematically fresh and bold and that makes up for all those missing melodies and easily recognizable tunes. The cute Beatle has become a rocker with a singer-songwriter's heart. His old songwriting partner would be proud.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mark Olson - The Salvation Blues (2007)

The Salvation Blues is Mark Olson's first true solo CD.

Olson was the leader of The Jayhawks until he left them in the good hands of co-founder Gary Louris in 1995. One of the reasons he cited for leaving the band was to be with his wife, singer-songwriter Victoria Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Then, leading a loosely organized group called The Creekdippers, he and Williams made several CDs together.

Unfortunately Olson and Williams eventually divorced which sent him into a period of depression. He moved out of his home and began a period of aimless world traveling. He lived with his aunt in Colorado, then with friends in Wales. From there it was on to Krakow, Poland, then back to his original home town in Minneapolis, and finally back again with his aunt.

The Salvation Blues was written during Olson's travels. It's a cathartic collection of songs he felt compelled to write. His state of mind is evident all over the disc. "Keith" is about his father, a suicide victim. On "National Express" Olson sings, "Where is my home? How could I lose this in a day?" He describes love as "an animal bleeding in the snow" on the CD's opening track, "My Carol."

The disc was produced by veteran Ben Vaughn who assembled a crackerjack band that includes Greg Leisz, possibly the most wanted pedal steel guitarist in the music business, and Tony Gilkyson who played with X and Lone Justice.

If you're a fan of vintage Jayhawk's albums such as Tomorrow The Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall you will probably like this album too. At times it even sounds like the Jayhawks because Louris sings harmony vocals on three tracks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Black 47 Live At the Xtreme Folk Festival, Telford, PA, June 9, 2007

Black 47 has a reputation for playing high volume, high energy live shows. Leader Larry Kirwan once described his band as being "loud and proud." While the New York City based musicians were a bit more subdued than usual this past Saturday night (Only Kirwan was animated and appeared to be having fun) it made their performance tighter so the music shined through without any distractions.

Perhaps the band's lack of exuberance was reflected by the fact that the sextet performed in front of a very small crowd. The seventh annual Xtreme Folk Festival was sparsely attended and there appeared to be only about a hundred people present when the festival's headliner hit the stage a little after 9 PM. By the time the two hour show was completed there didn't appear to be more than fifty people in attendance and these included festival workers and volunteers. Perhaps it was just getting late for everyone after a long day of music.

It was a night for a lot of old Black 47 favorites including "Green Suede Shoes," "Funky Ceili," "Rockin' The Bronx," "Desperate," "Living In America," "Fire Of Freedom," and "Maria's Wedding." They also offered three brand new Kirwan tunes, "Starry Night," "Night In Ramadi," and "Izzy's Irish Rose." (Perhaps this means there is a new album coming out soon). "Ramadi" is another Kirwan anti-war song and "Izzy" is another one of his fine stories about a love affair between a boy and a girl from different ethnic groups, something that was often scandalous early in the Twentieth Century. This time Kirwan tells a tale about a Jewish boy in love with an Irish girl in New York City. The song is in the same vein as "Banks Of The Hudson" and "Fatima," two earlier Black 47 songs covering the same territory. Kirwan is a master at writing these musical novelettes.

For a festival that seemed to be run on a shoe string the sound was quite clear and Kirwan's vocals were never buried under the onslaught of a loud electric band. Black 47 always give their best, whether they play in front of thousands or just a few dozen fans, and those who stayed thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Seamus Kelleher - Four Cups Of Coffee (2007)

I'm sure most of you have never heard of Seamus Kelleher. I wrote about him briefly last year when I reviewed Push & Pull, the latest CD by his Celtic rock band, Blackthorn. Kelleher is an Irish immigrant who, for the last twelve years, has been the lead guitarist for the quintet who may be Philadelphia's most popular unsigned rock band. In concert Blackthorn plays rock versions of Irish folk music, covers of Irish rock standards, and songs from their three independent CDs of original material.

As with a lot of musicians, who play very important but supporting roles in their respective bands, Kelleher felt a need to express himself more fully outside the framework of his group's proven formula. This led the guitarist to pursue his dream of recording a solo CD, Four Cups Of Coffee, that was recorded over a four day period this past April in Nashville.

Four Cups Of Coffee is an eclectic mix of styles that reflect all of the varied influences that make up Kelleher's taste in music. First, the guitarist is obviously a blues fan. He includes covers by Irish guitar legend Rory Gallagher, bluesman Elmore James, and the self-penned title track.

Secondly, we find that Kelleher is also a singer-songwriter. Two deeply personal originals, "My Friend Ben" and "Missing My Hometown" reveal Kelleher's sensitive side. Best of all is "September Skies," a truly wonderful song about 9/11 in which the singer and his neighbors worry about who is not coming home from work that awful Tuesday. Kelleher lives in North Jersey and his town, Cranford, lost six people when the Twin Towers came crashing down. According to the song, the abandoned cars parked at the local train station emphasized the sad fact that their friends and loved ones would never be returning home again.

Finally, the former Galway native really shines on five acoustic instrumentals. Kelleher's roots are most obvious on these original tunes. Tin whistles, accordions, and mandolins appear in abundance on these fine folk arrangements. "Spanish Lady" is top notch finger-picking while "Nashville Ceili Band" makes the case that country music's seeds were planted in the Emerald Isle long before the genre a found a home in Music City.

Kelleher says there is a variety of stuff on the CD because it's an honest piece of work full of music he loves. He understands that some critics may not be enamored of an album of music that jumps from genre to genre but that kind of criticism is only justified if the artist does not produce quality work. Fortunately Four Cups Of Coffee proves that Kelleher is talented enough to play any style of music that motivates him and play it well.

You can purchase Four Cups Of Coffee at CD Baby.