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Emma Swift - Blonde On The Tracks (2020)

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Emma Swift is an Australian singer-songwriter currently living in Nashville with her partner, veteran, English rock n' roller, Robyn Hitchcock.
Swift released her self-titled, debut EP in 2014 and it wasn't until August of this year that she released an eight song set of Bob Dylan covers that is generating a lot of positive press. She cleverly named it Blonde On The Tracks.
I'm not usually one to sit through unappealing vocals but Dylan is one of the few bad singers I can stomach. Even so, it's always rewarding to hear someone with a great set of pipes cover his work. Swift has a strong but feminine voice surrounded by tight folk-rock arrangements that are totally satisfying.
Swift applies an eclectic touch to this record. She didn't always redo the most obvious songs and that's a good thing. Much of Dylan's most loved and famous works have been covered way too often so she decided to keep things fresh. A case in point is a track the revered composer just rele…

Buried Treasure: Rodger Collins - She's Looking Good (1966)

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Singer Rodger Collins wrote "She's Looking Good," an R&B barn burner that is nearly forgotten today. It didn't do much on the charts, but fortunately for him a much bigger star, Wilson Pickett, turned it into a top ten smash hit.
The feeling here is that the composer's version is the better one because Collins "sings" more than Pickett does. The latter overdoses on histrionics but that didn't stop the wicked Mr. Pickett from riding the song all the way to #7 on the Hot 100 in May 1968.
The original, short little ditty (2:16) offers a really cool horn chart, a great guitar riff that keeps the sharp arrangement moving, and a vocal style that should have provided Collins with a lot of hits.
"She's Looking Good" was the highest charting song of Collins' career. His version only went to #44 on the Billboard R&B chart while missing the Hot 100 entirely. So, you're forgiven if you've never heard the original before today or b…

Grow Old Along With Me: Happy 80th Birthday, John Lennon

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I wanted to say something positive about the always controversial John Lennon because, if he had lived, today would have been his 80th birthday. So much has been written about the man over the last sixty years that it is hard to produce anything that hasn't already been said. I tried, but this article is the best topic I could come up with for the occasion.This post is about the last song on Lennon's last album of new, original material, Milk and Honey. "Grow Old Along With Me" was written and recorded around the same time as the rest of that album along with Double Fantasy (the two LPs he made with Yoko Ono) shortly before he died.The romantic ballad proved that when he was inspired the Beatles' founder could write beautiful love songs that rivaled those of Paul McCartney. "Grow Old Along With Me" was first recorded as a demo while Lennon was in Bermuda on a vacation without his wife. Ono phoned him to suggest he write a song in response to one the ava…

Christine Lavin - Future Fossils (1985)

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Future Fossils, Christine Lavin's first full-length studio album from 1985, is like all of her later releases. Every CD she issues showcases her fine singing voice and her outstanding comedic edge. All contain several tracks that will have you laughing. A humorous outlook on life is what has gained her an ever-growing cult following over the years and made her a very popular attraction at coffeehouses, auditoriums and summer folk festivals.

You can see the humorous possibilities in song titles such as "Cold Pizza For Breakfast" and "Nobody's Fat in Aspen," in which she asserts that no overweight people are ever allowed in that Colorado ski town. "Don't Ever Call Your Sweetheart By His Name" is about a woman who has had too many boyfriends and is so afraid of calling her current beloved by the wrong name that she only calls him "honey," "sweetie" or some other affectionate nickname.
"Artificial Means" is about seeki…

Almost Hits: Jackson Browne - In The Shape Of A Heart (1986)

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Jackson Browne’s 1986 single "In the Shape of a Heart" was a big hit in certain circles. It went to No. 10 on the adult contemporary chart, but rose to only No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100. Those stats prove that even though it was a very large cult fourteen years into his recording career the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was still largely devoid of a mass audience. Additional proof lies in this story behind the song from the album Lives in the Balance. On the surface "Heart" was one of Browne’s more melodic and mainstream offerings, but lyrically it's a bit heavy for the Top 40. The singer-songwriter said it's about his first wife, Phyllis Major, who took her own life in 1976. The mostly forgotten tune's sadness is in complete contrast to its moderately paced, bright arrangement. If you’re not listening closely, "Heart" sounds like a typical love song but it's really another example of the deeply personal and sad tone Browne frequently s…

Russia's Leonid & Friends "Make Me Smile" As Chicago's 70s Hits Sound "Alive Again"

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I've never written a single word about tribute bands before today because I've always believed it was tacky to build your entire repertoire by stealing the songbook of old rock acts. Of course, an overabundance of bad, glitzy Elvis impersonators never did anything to change my mind. (The King deserves better).
I've only attended a couple of tribute concerts over the years and they were always local acts playing for free at outdoor summer festivals. I've never gone to one by a highly professional band that earned their living pilfering from others but Leonid & Friends have made me change my mind. If they ever come to the Philadelphia area I'm buying tickets because these crooks are really, really good.
Leonid Vorobyev is the Russian leader of a Chicago tribute band that has eleven singers and musicians that also includes members from Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. The group has a woman singer and sometimes a string section when needed.
The famous, 70s rockers have …

Zach Phillips - The Wine of Youth (2020)

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It's been a long time since I've heard anything like The Wine of Youth, Zach Phillips' third album overall and his first in thirteen years. It's a record for those of us who grew up on 70s singer-songwriters. The reason for that statement should be obvious to anyone who is familiar with the music the San Diego resident and native Chicagoan makes. It's been written that Phillips' sound is reminiscent of Dan Fogelberg and Jackson Browne. Both descriptions fit although the Fogelberg comparison is far more accurate.The Wine of Youth is a beautiful sounding, melodic, thirteen song set of electric and acoustic Americana music with a little bit of perfectly placed Laurel Canyon harmonies that make you want to listen to the opaque lyrics.Back in the day artists would write about the Golden State in a way nobody would ever rhapsodize about places like Connecticut, Kansas, or Delaware and Phillips proves that is sometimes still the case. The album possesses a vibe that i…

Buried Treasure: Seamus Kelleher - September Skies (2007)

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Due to all of the bad news in 2020 the sad events of September 11, 2001 may have receded deep into the recesses of a lot of people's minds. But, on this nineteenth anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters I believe it's time to discuss one of the saddest songs you'll ever hear.

Seamus Kelleher was known around the Philadelphia area as an excellent rock guitarist when he was a member of the now disbanded, locally popular, Celtic-rock quintet, Blackthorn. He left the band in 2011 to pursue his own muse and released two solo albums, both of them favorably reviewed here.

Kelleher is quite eclectic. Not only can he play the the hard driving blues-rock of Rory Gallagher, he also covers slide guitarist Elmore James and on his second disc, Another Side of Town, he gets mellow and topical with "Streets of London," a folk song by English singer-songwriter Ralph McTell. He also writes a lot of his own tunes. One of them is "September Skies."

&qu…

Dear Mr. President: My Dad Was Not A Sucker Or A Loser

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My blog has always been only about music and I've tried hard to avoid controversial topics, especially politics and religion, unless what I was writing about was somehow related to the music I was discussing at the time. I swore I'd never break that rule but the President's comments trashing our men and women who died in combat have driven me to the edge of madness.
Do not take what follows as an endorsement of either liberal or conservative politics (although those of you who know me are aware of my views). Please look at it only for what it is, a salute to our armed forces.
I promise you I will never get this preachy again.
This is about my father, Vincent Charles Ricci, born in 1911 of two Italian-American, immigrant parents in Brooklyn, NY. He enlisted in the army in 1940 because the navy wouldn't accept him during peace time because he wasn't tall enough. He once told me his goal was to eventually be stationed at Pearl Harbor because that is where he heard the fu…

The Andantes, Motown's Secret Weapon

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Embed from Getty Images (L-R) Hicks, Barrow, and Demps in 1962
You will be forgiven if you've never heard of Jacqueline Hicks, Marlene Barrow-Tate, and Louvain Demps, known professionally as The Andantes. Almost nobody outside of Motown Records has heard of them either but as sure as you're reading this article you most certainly have heard them sing. They were the anonymous vocal trio who sang backup on what is reportedly 20,000 Motown songs. They were the go-to girls for the groundbreaking record company from 1961 until 1972 when Berry Gordy moved most of his business to Los Angeles.

Until the move Gordy and the producers at Motown considered The Andantes' work so important that if one of them wasn't immediately available for a recording session it was often postponed. Smokey Robinson considered them an indispensable asset to the label.

In 1961 Hicks and Barrow, both teenagers, were part of a trio singing in churches and they were just getting their foot in the door …