Thursday, July 29, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Robert Lamm - Leap Of Faith: Live In New Zealand (2005)

CD cover painting by Robert Lamm
I'm always reluctant to rank live albums near the top when compiling "best of" lists because most of them are merely rehashing old material but in 2005 an exception was made for the outstanding live CD from the eternally underrated keyboard player, Robert Lamm, of Chicago. His Leap Of Faith - Live In New Zealand surpassed many studio releases to earn a spot on Bloggerhythms' end-of-year top five.

Among the thirteen tracks are superb versions of four of Lamm's very best Chicago classics: "Beginnings," "Saturday In The Park," "25 or 6 to 4," and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" In addition, there are seven songs from his best studio CD, Subtlety and Passion, (S&P) plus two big surprises. The first one is "Watching The Time Go By," released twice previously on Like A Brother, the album he recorded with Carl Wilson and Gerry Beckley, and on his third solo CD, In My Head. The other surprise is "All The Years" which appeared on Chicago's infamous Stone Of Sisyphus, a CD recorded in 1993 but previously unreleased until 2008.

The sound of classic 1970s Chicago reigns on Leap Of Faith. All but one of the songs features a horn section that includes trumpeter Lee Loughnane, another original member of the band. The four Chicago songs are fairly close to the original arrangements yet each contains enough of a flair to hold your interest. Lamm sings "25 or 6 to 4" live for what maybe the very first time and he handles the vocal well enough to suggest that the song would still have been a hit if he, and not Peter Cetera, had recorded the lead vocal back in 1970.

The horns are buried slightly deeper in the mix than they are on S&P, and the electric guitar is far more prominent, allowing the songs from that album to rock more than they do on the original studio versions. Lamm's vocals have more of a presence too so the lyrics are much more discernible than on the S&P versions.

Also helping Lamm out during the concert were current Chicago bassist, Jason Scheff and their drummer, Tris Imboden.

Live, solo shows by Lamm are very rare. I would love for him to take this band on the road and play a gig near me because this concert was far better than any his old band has played recently.

Unfortunately this limited addition CD and companion DVD are already out of print. The package isn't even mentioned on Lamm's website, Blue Infinity Music. The set was never in stores, never found on Amazon, or even mentioned in Lamm's biography in All Music Guide's extensive catalog listings. That is too bad because it deserved a wider release and a better fate.

Here are three YouTube clips from the show. First is "Beginnings," the CD/DVD's opening track, as well as a live version of "Somewhere Girl," originally from Subtlety & Passion. Finally, you can listen to a great live version of "All The Years."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Please Help Spread The Word About Works Progress Administration

On their website Works Progress Administration is asking the world to spread the word about their totally independent, debut CD, WPA, by posting complete songs from it.

After listening to the three tracks below you can read more about this cool "supergroup" made up of members from Lyle Lovett's band, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nickel Creek, Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, and more in this article posted by Bloggerhythms last August.

<a href="http://wpamusic.bandcamp.com/album/wpa">Always Have My Love by Works Progress Administration</a>

<a href="http://wpamusic.bandcamp.com/track/good-as-ever">Good As Ever by Works Progress Administration</a>

<a href="http://wpamusic.bandcamp.com/track/end-this-now-2">End This Now by Works Progress Administration</a>

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WXPN's Xponential Music Festival, Wiggins Park, Camden, NJ, July 16 -18, 2010

Every year, non-commercial, WXPN, 88.5 FM in Philadelphia, hosts an annual, three day, outdoor music festival. For those unfamiliar with the station it's owned and operated by The University of Pennsylvania but it receives no funding from the historic Ivy League institution.  The influential station survives solely on their very aggressive fund raising efforts. One of its money makers is the annual Xponential Music Festival which for the sixth consecutive year has been held in Wiggins Park, on the banks of the Delaware River in Camden, NJ, directly across from the attractive Philadelphia skyline.

While out of town readers may believe there is nothing of interest for them in this post they will quickly find out that they're wrong because WXPN and its festival can be enjoyed from anywhere. The entire event is always broadcast live on the radio and it's streamed all over the world on WXPN's website. Today, even though the very well-attended affair is over, you can still find highlights and some of the performances online.

Concerts are held Friday evening and all day on both Saturday and Sunday until well past sundown. Many fans attend all three days. I'm past the point in my life where sitting outdoors in very humid, ninety degree weather is something I desire to do so my wife and I usually choose the one day with the best lineup, pack up our folding chairs and cooler, and head out to join the throng.

Saturday featured twelve performers on two stages, seventeen if you count the additional shows on the Kids Corner stage.  XPN includes just as many unknown acts as seasoned veterans. Here was Saturday's diverse lineup.

River Stage
1:00 pm Harper Blynn
2:15 pm Nicole Atkins
3:45 pm The Walkmen
5:20 pm Yo La Tengo
6:55 pm Rosanne Cash
8:50 pm The Felice Brothers

Marina Stage
12:30 pm Birdie Busch
1:35 pm Bobby Long
3:00 pm Joshua James
4:35 pm Diane Birch
6:10 pm Robert Francis
8:00 pm Ben Vaughn

Time and space do not permit a review of everybody so here are a few of the highlights.

Harper Blynn was a nice surprise. They are an up-and-coming power pop quartet from New York City with very nice harmonies. They're perfect for fans of Big Star and the British Invasion.

Yo La Tengo, a trio now in their third decade together, mixed their acoustic pop with atonal electric noise, frequently in the same song. During the second half of their show they were accompanied by the horn section from the Sun Ra Arkestra who took the stage in their usual flamboyant regalia. Clearly, Yo La Tengo are not for everybody but I'm glad I saw them just this once for educational purposes.

Due to her reputation and legacy Roseanne Cash should have been the evening's headliner on the much larger River Stage instead of taking a back seat to The Felice Brothers who, despite giving a sloppy performance, were a festival favorite.  A reality check would tell the listeners that they are nothing more than a poor man's version of The Avett Brothers.   In contrast, along with her husband, producer and guitarist John Leventhal, Cash and her top notch band gave a tight but spirited performance that featured seven songs from her most recent CD, The List.

Diane Birch, raised by strict Seventh Day Adventist parents who only allowed classical and religious music in their household, has learned to play gospel tinged, secular R & B quite nicely. She is a singer-songwriter and piano player who should go on to much bigger things. Her set proved that plunking down $10 (great price!) at the artist's merchandise booth for her debut CD was worth it. (More on that in a future post).

Finally, there was Camden County's own Ben Vaughn, whose best known CD, Rambler 65, was discussed here a few weeks ago. He combined rockabilly with surf guitar while giving a light-hearted performance satirizing rock's great guitar heroes. You can listen to his entire humorous show here.

As always, WXPN gives us the most eclectic Summer Festival in the tri-state area at very reasonable prices.  Past performers have included Back Door Slam, Los Lonely Boys, Art Garfunkel, Joan Osborne, Shelby Lynne, The Bacon Brothers, They Might Be Giants, The Smithereens, Fountains Of Wayne, The Cat Empire, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, (who were back rocking the stage on Friday night) and scores of others. If you love music and the great outdoors attendance is mandatory.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

James Gang - Rides Again (1970)

Occasionally it is interesting to hop a ride on the Wayback Machine to take a new look at popular music releases of the past to see if they have held up over time. Rides Again, the second album by James Gang remains a very important record for one big reason: it's the album that made Joe Walsh a star.

On this LP Walsh played with an eclecticism that many of his more esteemed contemporaries had yet to display. He was more accessible than many of the guitar gods of his day because he could rock with wild abandon and also play with tasteful restraint and melody. Listeners who may have thought Jimi Hendrix and Cream were over the top enjoyed this disc. I remember a college friend who had no affection for hard rock at all yet she loved this album.

The trio, and especially Walsh, really let it rip on side one. It opens with the classic rock staple, "Funk 49." The rest of the side features the boogie-style rock n’ roll that Walsh, bassist Dale Peters, and drummer Jim Fox played best. Side two offered both country-rock and ballads, all of which were enjoyable, but not quite as memorable as the harder stuff on the first side. Walsh was the lead singer, he played lead guitar on every track, and he either wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s best songs.

This lineup would record one more studio album together, Thirds, which featured their biggest hit, "Walk Away" and then Walsh left to pursue his mostly mediocre solo career. There would be replacements, including the late Tommy Bolan, but James Gang never again achieved the heights of Rides Again.

In 1976, Walsh guaranteed his place in history as a rock legend when he joined The Eagles in time for Hotel California. The title cut contains what is arguably his most famous guitar solo. He and Don Felder teamed up for the memorable guitar duel on the coda of the song that has become one of classic rock’s most revered and overplayed songs. Walsh's "Hotel California" solo does indeed pack a punch but to me Walsh was at his very best, a long, long, time ago on Rides Again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

David Davenport - Nine (2010)

It's often hard to write about artists that I know nothing about because most of the time I'm not armed with enough knowledge to effectively discuss his or her work. Regardless, in the end all that's important is whether the music is good or not and that decision, of course, takes no effort whatsoever. Such is the case with the latest artist to show up in my inbox, keyboard player David Davenport. He's an intelligent rocker originally hailing from Michigan who is now living in Illinois.

Davenport's career is as diverse as the fifty states. He is a classically trained musician who won a scholarship in voice and theater. He played in punk bands in San Diego while opening for the late Johnny Thunders. Back home in the Midwest he formed a delta swing band and opened for Jonny Lang. He has played almost every genre of music over a career that has spanned almost two decades.

Over time Davenport has released two solo CDs, The Big Machine (2003) and One Brother (2008). The latter received airplay on over two hundred radio stations in North America. This year he has released Nine, so named because that is the number of songs on the disc.

Davenport's tasteful voice leads the way on these intelligent, self-penned songs featuring arrangements that have a strong sense of composition. The jazz inflected "Bobby" is about a young dude carrying a knife intent on seeking revenge over a girl he lost and the attempt to talk him out of it. "Forgotten Man" is a reflection on a soldier's sacrifices in war. "One Brother" is a very optimistic look on life that tells the troubled subject that there is always help for you when you're down and out. The upbeat track is highlighted by a Blind Boys of Alabama soundalike gospel group. "On The Wire" is about watching a friend, lover, or close relative die. It's impossible to tell who the victim is but it's a sad, emotional, and wonderful piece of writing. The danceable "Modern Mule" is obviously influenced in several different ways by Roy Head's 1965 hit record, "Treat Her Right."

The world needs to pay attention to David Davenport now, and not just to make it easier for writers to discuss him. He's worthy of any positive press I know he'll receive in the future.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

She & Him - Volume Two (2010)

There is an old hit record from 1965 by an overly cute British Invasion band named Herman's Hermits called "I'm Henry the VII, I Am" in which lead vocalist Peter Noone sings, "Second verse, same as the first." It's a line that perfectly describes She & Him's sophomore release for two reasons. First, to girls, Noone's image was almost too cuddly and innocent for his own good in a similar way that She & Him's lead singer, Zooey Deschanel, is to guys. The second reason is because the film star and her partner, pop-rocker M. Ward, have issued, Volume Two, an album that is essentially a reworking of their 2008 debut.

As on Volume One Deschanel and Ward offer us another full disc of Phil Spectorized songs very reminiscent of 1960's girl groups such as The Dixie Cups and The Shangri-Las. While there is nothing new or musically adventurous about any of this music it's all quite fun to listen to. Deschanel wrote eleven of the thirteen songs and there are two covers, "Ridin' in My Car" and "Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now." They reach back all the way to 1952 for the latter tune which has been on the charts on four separate occasions, by four different artists, most recently by Skeeter Davis in 1964.

Deschanel, known to most people as the actress who played alongside Will Ferrell in Elf, or more recently as the female lead in (500) Days of Summer, has a pleasant if not powerful voice. Sometimes she sounds a little flat but her exuberance and Ward's arrangements compensate for it nicely.

If you haven't heard She & Him yet here is the official video for the single "In The Sun," a typical example of their innocent pop music.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Shelby Lynne - Tears, Lies, and Alibis (2010)

Shelby Lynne, the marvelous country singer-songwriter, continues to produce masterworks such as her most recent release Tears, Lies, and Alibis. Yes, Lynne is a country artist and unfortunately that means many people who don't like the genre will immediately write her off as pure hokum without ever giving her music a listen. If you are one of them, shame on you. The country veteran has always transcended the genre with intelligent songwriting, moody and melodic vocals, and feistiness that is tempered with true emotions. The combination is what has always made her so endearing.

This is Lynne's very first self-produced and self-released album, a surprise when you consider how demanding she can be during recording sessions. Because the singer-songwriter can tell the difference between self-indulgence and what works in the studio she turned in a classy disc that ranks among her best releases. The arrangements are perfectly sparse yet she still manages to use a full palette of sounds that include acoustic and electric guitars, horns, woodwinds, dobros, banjos, synths, and B-3s. Both she and her band know how to bring out the best in each other.

Production aside, no album is successful without a good batch of songs and Lynne offers us a full disc's worth here. Standout tracks include the slow "Something To Be Said About Airstreams," a song about getting away from it all in "a rolling home made out of silver." The upbeat tempo of "Rains Came" belies it's theme about feeling depressed. Lynne says she is glad it's raining because the weather makes her feel less guilty about her current dour mood. "Why Didn't You Call Me" expresses her need for the man of her heart's desire. Other winners include "Loser Dreamer," "Alibi," and Family Tree."

As usual, except for 2008's Just A Little Lovin', a tribute to Dusty Springfield, Lynne wrote everything on the album. The two CDs prove she is equally comfortable interpreting the work of others as much as she is creating her own originals. It's a sign of a true artist.