CD Review of the Day: Royal Southern Brotherhood’s “heartsoulblood”

June 23, 2014

Royal Southern Brotherhood

heartsoulblood (Ruf Records)

By Brian Arsenault

What the so-called blues “purists” don’t understand is called out on critic John Sinclair’s liner notes to the superb heartsoulblood recently released by Royal Southern Brotherhood.

To wit: “Here Cyril Neville points out (on the album’s second track) that ‘rock & roll is the child of rhythm & blues’.” I would add that r&b is blues speeded up, horned up and electrified. SInclair goes on to say that “blues rock is in turn the child of rock & roll, born and bred in the nasty bars and roadhouses of the South and transplanted into the imaginations of a bunch of teen-age blues lovers in Great Britain who took their version to the top of the international pop music charts.”

Exactly right and the shitheads who think that listening to anything other than BB King and dead Delta bluesmen, great as they are, is some securlar sin against “da blues” have cut themselves off from some very great music for the past half century.

Royal Southern Brotherhood continue and enhance that march through rock and blues (and funk and soul and rockabilly) generations.

Royal Southern Brotherhood band

Royal Southern Brotherhood band

Generations are part of the picture here. The band includes Devon Allman, son of Gregg and nephew of Duane, as well as fourth Neville Brother, Cyril. Sterling guitarist and vocalist Mike Zito and keepin the beat rhythm section bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott round things out and deepen the sound.

I don’t always know who’s singing or playing guitar on each track and in some ways I don’t want to know. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a band where, as the cliche goes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

I feel rather like Red in The Shawshank Redemption who doesn’t want to know what “the two Italian ladies” singing opera on the record pumped through the prison speakers are saying; he just wants to continue the feeling he gets just to hear them.

“Rock And Roll” does just that just fine. “Groove On” brings memories of Duane and Clapton on maybe the best rock album ever, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. “Callous” (on my soul) may be an anthem for the dark side of our times or simply the hurt from lost love.

“She’s My Lady” would have been called Soul if sung by The Temptations or, dare I say it, one of the older Nevilles. It would be a summer hit if there were such things on AM radio, or any radio any more. “Let’s Ride” has echoes of the Allman Brothers understandably but also the Chambers Brothers, just as understandably. And on and on throughout the album. Quality.

South haters — says this far New England Yankee — who think everything in the South is racism and narrow mindedness should note that this is a mixed race band. Interesting isn’t it that such seems to happen more often with bands based in the south than in the north? Those advocates of voting rights laws — but only for southern states — should recall all those musical cross currents in that part of the country from blues to rockabilly, from Buddy Holly to New Orleans funk and yes, dammit, to Elvis before the star machine got ahold of him. Currents that enriched the musical life of the whole nation.

A final cultural note: The album closes with a hippie-like anthem, “Love and Peace.” Nice touch.

The only lyric: “Love and Peace will heal the world.” Of course the eternal question is how do we get there? Music? We used to think so. Dare we again? Maybe the young can take us where the old could not.

But forget such musings if you wish. This is music I can listen to every day like my old Stones’ albums and that’s the best I can say about any collection.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

 


CD Reviews: Whisky of the Damned’s “Monsters Are Real” and Jimmer’s “The Would Be Plans”

March 22, 2014

MONSTERS OVER PLANS

Whiskey of the Damned: Monsters Are Real (Avid Agency)

and

Jimmer: The Would Be Plans (The Chief Injustice)

By Brian Arsenault

About the time I wanted to abuse that humorless bastard Nietsche by saying the god of my generation — Rock Music — is dead, damned if new life isn’t breathed into it.

Such is the case with the raging Celtic rock interspersed with melodic ramblings from Whiskey of the Damned’s Monsters Are Real.

Right out of the gate the seeming IRA sensibility of the opening ballad bars of “Batons and Guns” explodes into a frantic pace. Dance till you lose your breath. “Oh yeah,” your rock ‘n’ roll soul goes, there’s life yet.

Here you get your first taste of Gina Romantini’s blazing violin. She must be Irish by osmosis with Italian-American passion underlying all. This may be the best rock violin ever.

Eoin (pronounced Owen for us Yanks) McCarthy’s singing here and elsewhere is oddly comforting and welcoming while screaming out on the edge. McCarthy is, though Dublin born, a Yank himself. I mean Wisconsin-,raised for heaven’s sake. The band met up in Milwaukee.

The two are just as fine together on a much softer number, “The Unknown,” two tracks later. In true Celtic style, this band can touch what aches as well as what’s angry.

“. . . just kids, mistakes is what we did.”

Romantini’s violin trades leads with McCarthy’s singing as the band moves comfortably from electric to acoustic.

Earlier it was listening to Jimmer’s The Would-Be Plans that had me in sort of a funk about the state of rock.

Oh, it wasn’t that the musicianship wasn’t strong. Or that Jimmer’s singing wasn’t ok. It just seemed that the former Rave-Ups front man hadn’t had a new idea in the two decades plus since his last album.

He reached way back. Surprised he didn’t run into Mr. Peabody. Not back to the days when the Rave-Ups were the psychic and sometimes the real house band for the Brat Pack. No, no much further back.

Much of this album seems musically to be Beatles as filtered through the Monkees filtered through the Birds or some sequence thereof, Bob Dylan harmonica as filtered through Neil Young. Not tribute so much as imitative except when trying to go country. Well, Dwight “pants too tight” Yoakam’s producer oversaw production.

A number of old rockers have gone country in an attempt to pander or stay relevant. It’s not a pretty sight.

But back to The Damned. More mad Irish passion on “Thumpkeg” where I continued to worry that Andrew David Weber might be one of those crazed drummers not long for this world. Started worrying around “Good Rat.”

Take a deep breath, Weber, yoga or something. Therapy won’t help. Probably make things worse so “Burn Your Suicide Notes.”

Late in the album, on “Maria” and “When It All Comes Down” we get back to sensitivity and ballad pacing and Gina gets to sing lead a little on the latter.

We get closed out with an invitation to drink all night. All sing on the way out the door.

But hey, don’t get me wrong. There’s some good stuff on Jimmer’s album.

The title song is a winner and the album’s first real rocker. Unfortunately it’s virtually the last rocker as well. “[She Has] Good Records” is light, pop-like enjoyable fare followed by the pleasing country rock style on “Satellite.” I just couldn’t help thinking at this point that the album was all “B” sides for those of you who remember what that meant. The rest can guess.

A neat Eagles-like song (if you’re gonna go country that’s the way to go) “With This Ring” comes too late. Neat, though, with even a small touch of Roy Orbison.

“Fall” closes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review of the Day: Carlene Carter’s “Carter Girl”

March 3, 2014

CARLENE CARTER

Carter Girl (Rounder Records)

By Brian Arsenault

The connection between blues and rock has long been established and celebrated, bemoaned and argued about. Even the connection between blues and jazz has been recognized.

Seemingly less considered has been the close relationship of country and blues.

There are differences to overcome: white – black, rural – urban, poor poorer - poorest. Yet the sterling, true roots country represented by the Carters over three generations aligns with the blues in so many ways:

- Sad songs about sad situations to make you happy or at least help you cope.

Songs stripped down to the basics in melody and tempo.

- Guitar based instrumentation, originally acoustic and later electric.

- The plain language of plain spoken people.

Roots that run to gospel and other church music.

That connection struck me as Carlene Carter’s first solo album in a decade, Carter Girl, kicked off with a jumpy, bluesy version of “Little Black Train,” first recorded by the Carter Family in 1935. 1935!

The little black train of judgment or death or both may arrive tonight but that’s no reason not to dance to Carlene and the nifty little band assembled for the album. A. P. Carter wrote the tune and his compositions are all over the album, which will be released the first week in April.

Carlene Carter

This daughter of June Carter Cash and granddaughter of Mother Maybelle Carter has a voice that’s come down the generations. She sings and fits right in (artistically) with some of the departed on the family’s classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” Step dad Johnny Cash can be heard there as well.

The heartstrings get pulled on “Troublesome Waters,” where Willie Nelson sings the opening bars of this wondrous duet with Carlene. Sounds like Willie’s acoustic guitar work in there too. The dark turbulent water the symbol for “life’s stormy seas.”

The strings get pulled again on the following song “Lonesome Valley 2003,” Carlene’s reworking of A.P.’s song of loss, in Carlene’s case her mom and sister and Cash.

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

The mood is lightened on Carlene’s duet with Kris Kristofferson, “Blackjack David,” where a pretty little girl who’ll “be 16 next Sunday” hooks up with a rascal. Might be illegal today but just like in Chuck Berry’s “Teenage Wedding” darned if they don’t last together. “Goes to show you never can tell.”

Carlene herself will be 59 next September but that just means she controls her considerable talent with dignity and stylish tribute, not imitation. Plus there’s a youthfulness to this album because good songs, and good singers, stay fresh.

Oh yeah, I mentioned the fine band but didn’t know till I read some publicity after listening that one of my favorite drummers of all time, Jim Keltner, is pounding just great on songs like “Blackie’s Gunman.”

Give Carlene the roses while she lives — a paraphrase of my favorite song on the album. “Give me the Roses while I live . . . “Don’t wait to death to speak kind words.” I’ve tried to provide a few. As the song says, they’re “useless after the soul has gone.”

I know, I know. I’m supposed to mention Americana music, roots music. All the rage in some circles right now. Suffice to say that this album is the real thing amidst so much that is good and so much more that is just slowed down pop songs played with acoustic instruments.

This would be a fine album even if Travolta was still dressing funny (not funny dresses) and cavorting to Bee Gees’ disco tunes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs and DVDs from Peggy Duquesnel, Roy Orbison, Julie Cain and Favorites from 2013

December 21, 2013

For Last Minute Shoppers Only

(We Need All the Help We Can Get)

By Brian Arsenault

 Peggy Duquesnel

All I Ask For Christmas (CD Baby)

There’s a real neat Christmas music album that for whatever reason I didn’t get around to reviewing. Peggy Duquesnel’s All I Ask For Christmas is the complete package.

You get a CD of instrumental Christmas classics because she’s a first rate pianist and arranger as well as a fine singer. So you also get her singing some Christmas tunes you will know and some she composed on a second CD. There’s a jazz feel here, great sidemen and enough Christmas music to get you through dinner and keep you awake until desert.

One more plug also for Jonathan Butler’s Merry Christmas to You. A warmer Christmas album you will not find. Great by the Fire.

Wall to Wall Roy

There’s just a whole lot of newly released Roy Orbison stuff available. I previously reviewed The Last Concert recorded heart breakingly only two days before he passed. It’s great. Included are a DVD of his last interview and performance videos.

The biographical DVD In Dreams is also just out with more performances and interviews with many of his admirers from the music world. The impressive Black and White Night wherein Roy performs with many of those admiring giants of rock is also available.

You could give an Orbison orbiter the Christmas of a lifetime.

Worth Searching For

If you can find it, get one of the truly remarkable if under appreciated albums of the year — Little Lonely (Julie Cain). She sings of the America where most people live — poignant, insightful, unsparing but very, very caring. Quick to laugh, long to lament. A truly original American voice in all ways. Willie, Cash and Emmylou at their thoughtful, poetic best walk some of the same streets. To read my review of Little Lonely click HERE.

More From 2013

The more I think about it the less I like “Best Of” lists. There are so many ways for works of art to be good (or bad) that saying one or another is “best” tends to diminish other fine stuff out there. That being said, a few of my favorites from 2013:

- Cheryl Bentyne with and without Mark Winkler

- George Benson’s Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

- The reissue of the amazing Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple Box Set. The stuff from the Paris concert alone is worth the hefty price.

- Vinyl reissues from The Rolling Stones, especially the early stuff and the amazing Exile on Main Street.

What else are you gonna buy coming down the stretch?

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review: Roy Orbison

December 7, 2013

In Dreams

 The Last Concert 25th Anniversary Edition (Legacy)

 By Brian Arsenault

There was a time – about when the British Invasion occurred and for some years thereafter — when Roy Orbison had faded from America’s musical consciousness. He hadn’t had a hit for a while after a seemingly unending stream of them in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Yet he soldiered on at small clubs; the Something Beach Casino, the Thirsty Lounge, the Whackadoodle. You know the kind of place or, maybe not if you’re less than a certain age. Will smell of beer unto eternity.

Sparse band – guitar, bass, drums, sometimes a backup singer or two. Playing in a dimly lit room and wearing sunglasses. And black clothes. Just black.

He could always get gigs because the room would always be full. His fans never went away, but what we didn’t know at the time was that those fans included the giants of the day.

Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Keith Richards, so many more. Orbison would emerge from the shadows to play with some of them, most of them. He would more than carry his weight in the Wilburys. The biggest of the big were more thrilled to work with him than he was with them. He was just gracious. As always.

He finally took his place among the Immortals. And then he died.

I had a boss back in my ad agency days who used to say: “Life sucks and then you die.” Maybe so, but it never sucked when you saw Roy Orbison perform or listened to his records. Also best in the dark, alone, as Springsteen has pointed out.

By the time of the show captured in The Last Concert 25th Anniversary Edition, he had a pretty slick multi-piece band — strings even and bongos and congas and fine support singers — but it was still that voice they came to hear. You can hear them, devoted as a Joni Mitchell crowd, urging him on, cheering more with each song.

A man who’d had so much loss in his life sang about your loss, our loss, everybody’s loss. Only the dead and those who’ve never been lonely — raise your hands; what?, none? — can hear “Only the Lonely” without at least a small twinge of the heart. And he hits the high notes of pain at the end like he had a thousand, ten thousand times before. Perfecto.

In an era when men didn’t cry they could hurt and hurt bad in Roy’s songs. That bittersweet pain as in “Crying” when “just the touch of your hand . . .” Did you think you were over her? Did you? The crowd loves it. Loves it. Don’t we? And don’t we know why?

That magnificent torch song (maybe they all are) “It’s Over” sung like it was a flippin’ opera. Maybe an opera could be constructed around Orbison’s lyrics and music if the artist was great enough. Your baby doesn’t love you any more. It’s over.”

Can you hear it? I can’t stop hearing it.

One song on the album I think suffers from an overwrought arrangement. My second favorite of all his tunes after “Only the Lonely” is the soft regret of “Blue Bayou.”

The original 45 is just so good and Linda Ronstadt’s version is to break your heart. I think he wrote that last note with her in mind, even if he didn’t know her then. On this CD, there’s some cluttered instrumentation and backup singing.

A small flaw, though, when you are to be possessed by the Jamaican rhythms of “Leah,“ the mournful loss of “In Dreams,” the rockabilly of “Dream Baby,” and the hope, finally hope, of “Pretty Woman.”

He had lost a lot. I know, I said that. I didn’t write about it here but it’s well documented elsewhere and just so damn sad. Through it all somehow, Roy Orbison gave a lot. Then we lost him. Now when you need him, only in the dark, in music, in dreams.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review: TriBeCaStan’s “New Songs From the Old Country”

November 12, 2013

TriBeCaStan

New Songs From the Old Country (Evergreene Music)

By Brian Arsenault

I’m a bit late getting to this gem and it is one. A rare gem that perhaps could only come out of New York — especially the “TriangleBelowCanalSt.” — where there is as much diversity as just about anywhere in the world.

Diversity of instruments — some I am not sure how to pronounce or spell. What’s a charango? Diversity of influences — from the frozen tundra of Mother Russia to the deserts of North Africa. All channeled through an American jazz sensibility with traces of bluegrass, blues and rock.

TriBeCaStan

I know. I’m not being clear enough. But it’s hard since there’s a good chance you’ve never heard anything like it before if you aren’t familiar with the band.

Eastern and Western rhythms intermingle. Stringed instruments from around the world are combined. Is that a flute? No a penny whistle. Maybe both.

It’s music that seems both terribly foreign and yet very comfortable. You might like playing it as a Holiday album, whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year. People might smile and start to dance a step or two. On the other hand, they may go ‘What the hell is this?’

A caravan moves across a desert before we decided to hate each other to death. Maybe after we stop.

You move from a room where an Irish folk tune is being played to a room full of jazz, then back again to the penny whistle and so on and so forth till you might feel a bit dizzy. Happy though.

Then you’ll be at the Circus’ Christmas party in Tinker Tailor singing something like the old Soviet national anthem.

You can cook to this music. I did. Breakfast. (Pancakes) But a bunch of Russians from an old movie may suddenly dance in your kitchen.

This is music that seeks the world but may not make it out of New York. It’s too unique. I don’t think we do unique any more.

Oh, it’s not flawless. The album drags a bit in the middle as if it’s running out of ideas and energy, starting to repeat, but then there’s a new surge of energy.

Adrian’s Leap” leaps to a bit of rock.

The Blue Sky of Your Eyes” brings bluegrass into play and shows that Delta harmonica has the same musical roots, a connection not often made.

Kecapi Rain” is maybe the most beautiful piece on the album. Soft rain falls. It’s warm.

Strings and pipes. A flute? I don’t know. I get confused and stop trying to pick out everything.

Let the soft warm rain fall.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Little Lonely, Michael and The Lonesome Playboys

May 31, 2013

LA Saves Country

 By Brian Arsenault

Who would have thought that some offbeat, funky musicians based in the City of Angels would save heartland American Country Music?  Really.  Pop crap slid over from rock ‘n roll and migrated to Country in recent years. Someone needed to save it.

I’m aware of the current nomenclature of Americana/Roots music but it’s inadequate.

I see the word Americana and I think of old paintings lacking perspective and stuff that got good seemingly for just getting old. Roots? That implies the early stuff in the hill country and down in the bayou.

No, no, no. What’s going on is better than just a yearning for the past.  It’s unique artists living in this world, right now, seeing it through clear eyes or at least eyes fogged by their own vision, pain and maybe substance abuse.  But it’s here. Today.

If it’s a lot like something last week or last century it’s because time rolls on but people don’t change.  Human nature’s the same. Even lonesomeness in the era of “social” media. Maybe especially now.

Little Lonely (Julie Cain, formerly performing as Bitsy Lee)

 Little Lonely  (Release on June 25 but you can hear it online now.)

The sounds of US 40 close this album.  That’s right. The actual hum of a road and the weather, thunder sometimes. It’s a good metaphor for Little Lonely’s Little Lonely.

There are roads that run through the outskirts of towns you never see. There are beauty parlors where we go “to feel a whole lot better when we’re new” but we never do.

There are country carnivals that are sad behind the bright lights but it’s even sadder when they leave town.  Just like that “pointless fling” that’s passed.

There’s a strangeness “to living between point A and point B.“ Or maybe beyond points where “truth is always a railroad.”

There are songs of betrayal when he “wouldn’t dare” take her to the room you share.  “I swear she’ll never get past the top stair.”

There’s an artist here who knows what a rich metaphor “stairs” are and uses it twice. There’s a thinker who wonders if Jesus is out by the pool then “who is gonna be your God?”  Nobody?  Good luck with that.

There’s a musical sense that employs throbbing electric guitars riffs in places, soft mandolin in others and sometimes together, brassy horns, mournful pedal steel guitar, twelve-string and, in one place, an absolutely spooky organ.

There’s this unique little voice that is somehow powerful.  What can I compare it to, or whom? Do I even want to? She’s worth hearing without suggestion.  But since critics are supposed to do stuff like that: wait for just a trace of Dolly Parton at her softest, a smidgen of Cyndi Lauper.

Nah, like them she’s her own self.

She can sing about the “burial ground of feeling” but she hasn’t stopped feeling. She’s unsparing –  maybe when you get old you’re just “a slower version of yourself”  — but she’ll give you a smile just as quickly.  “Accidents happen, they do.” Ok, it’s dark humor but it’s funny.

So “Tell me again. I got all night.”

Michael and the Lonesome Playboys

Bottle Cap Sky (bLACKWATER rECORDS)

I wonder if Michael Ubaldini was thinking about what’s happened to country music when he wrote “end times are here, they’ve already begun” on his Texas swing number “Moondog Mad.”  He’s been quoted at saying that country music has “devolved not evolved,” but he’s “Walking Through Fire” to bring it back to where it belongs.

Ubaldini.

What kind of name is that for a country singer?  Just right, I guess, since he can move from rockabilly to bluesy to cowboy lamentations with ease.

And the lyrics: whether sad or funny, regretful or ironic, honky tonk or Dylanesque, they always get right to the heart of the matter.

“I’m better off without you, still I can’t bear to be alone.”

But “a moment without you is a moment too long.”

Still “ at least do me wrong with some style.”

Lest I become “. . . “a beggar at the gate weeping for salvation”

There are some just standout tunes.

“Sweet Ole Riddle” is one, though I doubt a song which talks about being held “by the short hairs” will get much pop country radio play.

A number of years ago Ubaldini’s star-crossed love song “Two Wrongs Like Us (Don’t Make A Right)” could have been a big hit on the country charts.  Pray to the ghost of what the Grand Ol’ Opry was that it can be again.

As with all true country greats — think Hank Williams — he knows that country and blues are separated only by a little geography and sometimes color.  His blues harmonica on “Someone Should Put You On Trial” would work on any Howlin’ Wolf record.  In fact, so would the whole song.

Now, as to real country lost love tunes, I can almost hear George Jones intoning “. . . this place don’t feel like home, only a heart full of tears.”

The playing on the album is unadorned, largely undubbed and generally superb. Gary Brandin knows just how to support the singer on pedal steel guitar. You almost feel like you’re having a shot while Michael and the band play in a small club.

As with Little Lonesome, the road plays a large role on the album. That’s very American to the core. After all,  Kerouac’s On the Road is one of the half dozen greatest American novels and moondog mad is about the best definition I’ve ever read of Dean Moriarty/Neil Cassidy, when I think of it.

The sounds of “Old US 40” closes Little Lonely’s album and “Interstate ‘5’ “ closes Michael’s. We can’t escape the road that so defines America and Americana (so I used that term, so what).

Railroads are here too, whether in Ubaldini’s “Steel Train” or in Little Lonely’s “Lament.” If it “takes a train to cry,” you know “truth is always a railroad.”  Maybe real country can join railroads in making a comeback.

The album  will be available pre-official release at two shows: THE GRAND OLE ECHO Sunday June 9th in Echo Park,L.A. And  THE SWALLOWS in San Juan Capistrano(OC) Friday night JUNE 7th.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Brian Arsenault Takes On: A Guitar Tour of the World, the Phony Hipness of Country Muzak, the Tastelessness of Network News and Free Music from Moscow

April 9, 2013

By Brian Arsenault

Annalisa Ewald

Live at the factory underground (Dionysian Media)

Annalisa Ewald is a classical guitarist of significant reputation. But don’t let that stop you from her performance live at the factory underground recorded last year in Norwalk, Connecticut.  Even if you’re like me and equate great guitar with Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend you’ll find much to like as she brings us to Brazil and Argentina and Renaissance Europe; happy little tunes, melancholy melodies and tangos and gypsy flamencos.

She reminds us that these “classical” pieces sprang from the soil, the seamier parts of town and scandalous, sometimes illegal rhythms and dances.  Her brief comments throughout the album are good natured and inviting, sometimes self deprecating, and never pedantic.  And the playing seems faultless even though she can joke about jarring misplayed notes (by someone else).

And whatever your tastes in music you’ll occasionally hear snatches of “tunes” that you know from cultural experiences ranging from  movies to old Bugs Bunny cartoons. All in all, a delight.

Some of the proceeds from sales of the album, release date April 23, will be donated to the John DeCamp Fund “helping veterans heal through music and caring.”

The ACM Awards

The Grand Ol’ Opry was at least genuine. Genuine hillbilly and unhip maybe, but music that came down from the hill country and back roads.  What so-called country music has now become is a bunch of over-age prom queens and dorks in designer cowboy hats playing the kind of vapid pop crap that in one guise or another has been around for six decades or so.

The biggest news from the Academy of Country Music “awards” show seems to be that everyone’s ex, Taylor Twitt, didn’t win anything. So who cares?  Name me a significant artist who did win anything.  Nice dresses and hair though.

They trotted out Stevie Wonder for some incomprehensible reason.  Who’s advising him these days anyway?

They did do a nice little tribute to Dick Clark which the equally vapid Grammys couldn’t manage.  So I guess we should be grateful for that, though I can’t imagine anyone watching long enough to catch it. Dick brought kids all over America a taste of real rock at times but he could never distinguish it from the slop pop that he also promoted with equal enthusiasm.

The same holds true here.

The Foulness of Network “Entertainment” News

Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello

One of the first child stars of television, Annette Funicello, passed away on Monday, April 8.  She was the Mouseketeer that eleven year old boys first squirmed at watching her begin to fill out her modest sweater. And of course she sang and danced. All the Mousketeers did.

She went on to make those dreadful beach blanket movies with Frankie Avalon crooning to her against the California surf. Still, she has always seemed a kind presence, even while suffering from the debilitating Multiple Sclerosis that forced her to retire from public life fifteen years ago.

Her husband and caretaker, Glen Holt, authorized a video of Annettte in her current condition, supporting research in Multiple Sclerosis treatment via the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.  In the video, we get the obligatory shots from the Mickey Mouse Club, the beach movies and her getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, accompanied by Mickey of course.  But the slimy TV programmers who bring us their own slants on “news” couldn’t restrain from emphasizing the photos of her late in life that were unfortunate and won’t be described here.  If he were around today, Dante would put those shapers of popular culture in the lowest circle of Hell.

Gregg Robins

 Snowing in April

As someone who lives where it sometimes snows in April, how could I pass up Greg Robins downloadable album of Demos — Snowing in April.  And I’m glad I didn’t.

Let me go right to the last song which truly touches the heart.  “Believe”  sings of a father’s advice to his oldest daughter and what makes it so striking is that Robins sings it with his then 15 year old Casey.

Casey’s voice will never again be exactly as it was when she sang on this recording.  She will never again be exactly the same.  That is the bittersweetness of growing children and grandchildren.  They can’t wait for the next age and parents want to hold on to the current one just a little longer.

“Believe in your dreams. They can always come true.”

The passage of time pops up a number of times on this warm album from a New Yorker now living in cold Moscow. (Moscow!!?) “The Middle of the Show” isn’t about a stage show.

“Middle age is all the rage.”

In “Where Were You?” where Robins is joined on vocal by Remy Sepetoski, at 35 “I knew where I was, where were you?”

But the album’s not maudlin about fleeting time. It just urges us to not miss “How Lucky” we are just to be here. Robins is sometimes a bit off-key singing but he hits mostly right notes writing neat songs.

You can listen to the album at Robins” website for free.  Must be the old Soviet socialist share the wealth spirit at work, if it ever was.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Short Takes: Of Christmas Music Four Ways

December 11, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

Tis the season, as they say, and there’s music aplenty for those who celebrate Christmas.  It’s just a matter of how you likes yours served.

Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship

Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (Willis I Music)

Some of the greatest art of ages past and sometimes present has been faith based — much classical music, once nearly all painting and sculpture.  That sometimes makes us uncomfortable to discuss or even mention in this secular age but it’s true enough. There have also been more than a few great jazz artists who were strong in their faith.  That maybe also makes us just a little leery to say, but it’s true enough as well.

This wonderful jazz album seems strongly Christian in the best sense of love for humankind and gratefulness for life and salvation.  But it is no less accomplished jazz for that. From Will Scruggs’ sax work to Brian Hogan’s fine piano to the rhythm section of Tommy Sauter and Marlon Patton, this recording is as complex and pleasing as it is deeply felt.

The musicianship is superb. The Angel Gabriel arrives with a fanfare to shake the knees of all us sinners on “The Annunciation,” and the “Song of Mary” shows why she is the favorite of so many of the faithful, including a recent Pope or two.

But all is not imposing here. The album’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is as joyous as the title shout out. “Go Down Moses” rings of its African American origins and Dixieland playing. (Interestingly, here and elsewhere we are presented in the album’s booklet with the lyrics to all songs, but the recording is all instrumental.)

If you never thought “We Three Kings” was a fine jazz composition, you will change your mind.  And if you haven’t felt the elevated state of these musicians at their work before we get there, you can’t miss it on the closing “Joy to the World.”  Particularly when the terrific horn ensemble kicks in to fortify the core quintet.

As the story goes, God promised Simeon he would see the Savior before he died. I can only promise you really, really good jazz.

Jason Paul Curtis (with Swinglab and Swing Machine)

Lovers Holiday (Jason Paul Curtis)

If you prefer your Christmas music a bit more mainstream, but think we need a few new Christmas songs, Lovers Holiday” may be for you.

In fact, the true Christmas songs are largely Curtis compositions: “Our Time of Year,“ “Lovers Holiday,” “Good This Year.”

Some  of the standards on the album — “Let it Snow,” Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” are “winter” tunes but not truly Christmas songs. But they work.

Sometimes the sound is jazz quartet — Swinglab.  Other times it is big band backing a singer – Swing Machine.  Think Doc Severinson.

It is always upbeat.  It may remind you of your parents’ Christmas parties if you are over 40.  Definitely if you are over 50.

Great fun.

Drew Paralic

Wintertime Tunes of Drew Paralic (CDBY)

This little album came out a while ago but its winter theme and vaguely Christmas sensibility makes it worth citing.  Just six songs but an extremely tight bit of work.

Paralic plays piano but not here.  Instead, he wrote, arranged and produced the CD.  He says he prefers that because he started playing piano too late to be as masterful as Bill Evans.  To which I say, who is?

His arranging skills need no apology “(On the Occasion of) Wet Snow” is so melodic that I can see snow falling in the woods behind my house.  And I know something of snow.

Throughout the album, Mike McGinnis’ fine tenor sax (“Down in Soho”) and clarinet  intermingles flawlessly with the piano work of James Newman and David Pearl.  There are no loose ends or weak moments here.  Just wish it had been longer.

Various Artists

A Very Special Christmas – 25 Years (Big Machine Records for the Special Olympics)

Finally, for those who like their Christmas albums big and bold and country tinged there is a chance to help the Special Olympics with A Very Special Christmas — 25 Years.

Train kicks the album off with a “Joy to the World” that will awaken any Christmas morning sleepyhead.

Michael Buble provides a rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” that might have been Binged or Franked.

The country lineup, largely in the middle of the album, includes Rascal Flatts, Vice Gill, Martina McBride and Amy Grant.  Some of us are thankful that there’s also a Cheap Trick reworking of “I Want You to Want Me” (“I Want You for Christmas”).  And Dave Matthews Band chips in a live version of its uniquely Christmasy “Christmas Song.”

I kind of dreaded the approach of the last song on the album, “Oh Holy Night” by Christina Aguilera.   Would she just murder it and make tenors throughout the world cry?  Instead, she almost pulls it off, but in the middle gratuitously interjects a narration of The Lord’s Prayer and then ends with a Madonna funk-out including a chorus.

Maybe she thought she couldn’t manage the range and drama of the closing notes, but she was almost there.  Oh well.

Merry Christmas to all.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review: Punch Brothers

February 18, 2012

Punch Brothers

Who’s Feeling Young Now (Nonesuch)

By Brian Arsenault

Punch Brothers’ new album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, starts so strong. Poetic intelligent lyrics, deeply felt but restrained feelings in the vocals, especially strong fiddle playing by Gabe Witcher. In a time of computer beeps and annoying bongs and chirps of everything from coffee makers to cars to hip hop, there is a purity of rounded sound here that is as comfortable as old sneakers and jeans.

Punch Brothers

“Movement and Location” opens the album with all the fine qualities mentioned above.  “This Girl” follows with an electric pace carried by stringed instruments. The song’s a prayer for love and favor, or the favor of love.  Who does that? Asks for it, yes, but prays for it? Today? Not many in popular music outside of the Christian genre.

The song says “Gods ought to know how little to expect of people,” but the gods and me expected a lot of this band.

And I kept expecting a great deal right through “No Concern of Yours,” where the poetry is up to a Paul Simon standard:

A word can break as easy as it’s spoken, snarled or sworn.”

And Jimmy Paige could play guitar on an electric cover of the title song, “Who’s Feeling Young Now?”

But then I began to consider that maybe these guys just lost their amps.  But no, they are a self proclaimed bluegrass band.  And just as I have felt at every bluegrass concert I have ever attended, no matter the quality of the musicians, it’s just . . . well . . . like the amazing Gary Oldman character in The Professional says of his idol Beethoven — that after those amazing beginnings, he does tend to get just a little bit boring. Or words to that effect.

It could be it’s nothing more than my need for percussion, somewhere, somehow.  I admit it’s a prejudice but it’s a good one, don’t you think?  Even a snare drum. Just a little.  But this is bluegrass, so maybe I don’t have a legitimate complaint.

The songs  seem to sound a lot alike musically and lyrically. And I can only take so much “can’t find love” stuff. Or is it that they can’t sustain love? Or a relationship.  Is this a Woody Allen movie?

By the time we get to “Flippen (The Flip)” I appreciate the break.  A pure Ozarks instrumental that does a funky little acid rock thing in the middle — not many can do that with acoustic instruments — and then flashes back to pure West Virginny to finish up.

It’s not that most of the songs don’t stay good.  “Hundred Dollars” beefs up the emotional impact of the album with the anger and force of emotion missing elsewhere. “Soon or Never” has a wonderful melancholy, amplified by the fiddle solo at the end.

It’s just that by now I feel like I have heard it all once, twice, three times. Enough.  Surely some other dynamic of life could come into play. I’m certainly not feeling young and I haven’t smiled once.

Photo courtesy of Punch Brothers.


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