Monday, April 27, 2009

Musicians On Call: Delivering The Healing Power of Music

The world hears so many stories about boorish and selfish behavior from entertainers that it's nice to know when the opposite is true. Musicians On Call is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing both recorded and live music to patients' hospital bedsides. The goal is to bring a little joy to those who are too infirm to leave their beds and maybe facilitate the healing process at the same time. The organization is getting widespread support from national recording artists. James Taylor, The Bacon Brothers, John Mayer, Rob Thomas, Seal, Nils Lofgren, Maroon 5, and Chris Daughtry, Chicago, Darius Rucker, and many more have all generously donated their time to raise money or visit patients.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paul McCartney - Run Devil Run (1999)

The CD review below was written way back in 2000 which explains some of the dated statements you're about to read. Unfortunately it was never before published on Bloggerhythms. So, to keep the flow of articles moving while I'm away for a bit, here is a review of one of Paul McCartney's better CDs of the last ten years. It was recorded not long after the death of Linda McCartney.

Wow! Sir Paul of Liverpool really gets it rocking and rolling on his most recent CD, Run Devil Run, one of the best recordings of his solo career.

There are two major surprises surrounding this disc. The first is that a musician owning a reputation as one of rock's most elite and innovative composers of the 1960's achieves this level of excellence covering twelve songs by other artists from the 1950's. The second surprise is that it comes from a man who has been in mourning, devastated by the loss of his beloved wife. Instead of the drippy tribute album we all expected from him, the knighted one issued the first party album of his career.

All of the music heard here is loud, raucous, and done in an updated 1950's style with cleaner production and more modern, harder rocking arrangements. If you are a fan of The Beatles "I'm Down," or their version of "Long Tall Sally," Paul's best Beatles screamer, this album is for you. Fans of Little Richard should also sit up and listen. If McCartney considered Little Richard a teacher, he learned his lessons well. Note for note, this is the only totally rock and roll album he has ever recorded, with The Beatles, Wings, or as a solo act. No maudlin McCartney ballads exist anywhere.

Most of the covers, except for Elvis's "All Shook Up" and Rick Nelson's "Lonesome Town" are lesser known songs from the same era which help to keep things interesting since the tunes do not sound like retreads. In addition to the cover versions there are three new McCartney originals that fit right in with the mood of this album.

The band features David Gilmore of Pink Floyd on guitar and Ian Paice of Deep Purple on drums.

For a Beatles fan like myself, it is good to see McCartney still has the ability to make really good rock and roll music. After years and years of "Silly Love Songs" it is a welcome relief.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Diane di Stasio - Vox Eterna (2009)

I'm not a fan of opera and I know in some quarters that makes me a Philistine of the highest order. However, I do enjoy some classical singers when they embrace the world of pop, especially when the results are as outstanding as the present we just received from Diane di Stasio in the form of her debut CD, Vox Eterna.

Vox Eterna, will be released through itunes on April 28, 2009 and on CD a few weeks later by Shadowland Music. These ten tracks are truly pop songs, not opera, but di Stasio's gorgeous soprano elevates them into a realm of their own. Whether her arrangements call for a bank of strings or synthesizers her vocals clearly make the results a thrilling musical experience. She is rightfully the star of her own CD.

The single and the opening track, a cover of The Moody Blues' "Nights In White Satin," lacks the pretentiousness of the original and the long, sustained high note di Stasio delivers near the end of the song is absolutely stunning.

Immediately following is the album's standout track, "Shadows." It starts out with di Stasio cooing softly over a solo piano. The song gradually builds in both intensity and volume, adding strings and electric rhythm guitars along the way, until guitarist Brennan Smiley takes it home with a rock 'n roll solo during the finale that is again highlighted by the soprano's voice soaring over the massive wall of sound the song has become.

For people who prefer Top 40 there are tracks such as "Find A Place To Breathe" and "Take Me There." Both are dominated by machines masquerading as musical instruments but, unless you are listening below the surface, you won't notice the technology because the most important and beautiful instrument on the disc, di Stasio's voice, is so melodic and graceful that the musicality of the songs shine through in spite of all the programming.

Interesting musical arrangements often back up di Stasio's vocals. "Dreams" has a string laden instrumental break reminiscent of any of the Indian and psychedelic sounds that appeared on 1967 era Beatles records. Later, I realized that it's probably not a coincidence because the credits for this song included a sitar and Abbey Road Studio's celesta and bells.

There is also a moving cover of Sting's "Fields of Gold" that rivals the original.

The sessions were produced by Grammy nominated artist and producer, Billy Smiley and di Stasio had a hand in the arrangements.

The talented singer has performed on stages all over America and Europe. She sings in eight languages including French, Italian, and Japanese.

Diane di Stasio is mostly for fans of Loreena McKennitt, Annie Haslam, and Enya with a dash of Sarah Brightman tossed in for seasoning. In their quest for airplay her record company is aiming at adult contemporary radio stations and classical crossover, non-commercial, radio stations. Let's hope that the disc receives airplay and America gets to hear this new release that will surely make my list of 2009's best CDs.

You can hear sample's of di Stasio's voice on her MySpace page.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Ribbon Of Highway Endless Skyway: The Woody Guthrie Tribute Show

A truly great musical artist transcends both generational and class boundaries. Neither is easy to do yet the songs of the late Woody Guthrie have crossed both of those borders. Partial proof lies with the song many people believe to be Guthrie's most famous, "This Land Is Your Land." The song is still loved by Americans everywhere and it was even sung recently at President Obama's multi-generational inaugural events. Secondly, while Guthrie's songs have always been identified with the downtrodden and the working classes they have always resonated with Brahmin classes the world over.

Guthrie's music and influence are the impetus for the national tour currently rolling its way across America. The tour, Ribbon Of Highway Endless Skyway: The Woody Guthrie Tribute Show, recently traveled to Pennsylvania, specifically to Bucks County's Sellersville Theater on April 2, 2009, for a fantastic evening of music led by his fellow Oklahoma native, singer-songwriter, and tour originator, Jimmy Lafave.

Lafave is one of the best unknown singer-songwriters in America. He is very highly regarded in Austin TX, his adopted home for the last seventeen years, after moving there from Oklahoma. His latest CD, Cimarron Manifesto is the one of the best of the decade. He has a deep love of both Bob Dylan and Guthrie. He even wrote a song for his Texoma CD of 2001 called "Woody Guthrie." LaFave, not Guthrie, is the main reason I attended this event.

Lafave said about the show, "We’re really trying to showcase all facets of Woody Guthrie... He was so many things besides a songwriter – a painter, a philosopher, a soldier, a supporter of the disenfranchised. His songs were just the tip of the iceberg. He was the spirit of America."

In almost two and a half hours (including a short intermission) Lafave's great band from Texas, John Inmon on electric lead guitar, Radoslav Lorkovic on piano and accordion, and Glenn Scheutz on acoustic upright bass played their hearts out all night long. They were joined by a drummer with the entertaining name of G. Whiz. Both Inmon and Lorkovic traded off fabulous solos all evening long.

Singers included Lafave, and mostly a host of unknown folkies. Among them were Joel Rafael, and Slaid Cleves. Also contributing on vocals and guitars were Guthrie's granddaughter and Arlo's youngest child, Sarah Lee Guthrie, and her husband, Johnny Irion. The quintet of singers shared lead vocals all evening and often sang as a group or duo. Songs included, "This Train is Bound for Glory," "Deportee," "Do Re Mi," "This Land is your Land," "Goodnight Irene," and at least fifteen more Guthrie penned songs that ranged from solo acoustic performances to rocking, full band arrangements. It is important to note that this was not amateur night. Despite these artists' anonymity each one has a solid reputation in their genre.

Not only was this concert unusual because it was a tribute to a highly regarded member of the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame, it was unusual because each song was preceded by spoken word narratives that were mostly written by Guthrie. Each one was related to the upcoming song. Rafael had a busy evening because, in addition to his contributions on vocals and guitar, he read all of the commentary. The readings enhanced the songs because Guthrie's words gave you a better understanding of the man and why he became the wandering troubadour who identified with the masses and wrote the kind of songs he did.

The crowd was rather sparse, there may have been barely a hundred people in attendance in a theater that could hold far more, and while the musicians noticed the empty seats they didn’t let it effect their evening.

You can purchase the double CD of the tour, pictured above and recorded with a partially different cast of characters, through Amazon.