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.

 


Film Review: B.B. King “The Life Of Riley”

May 21, 2014

By Devon Wendell

There have been countless films made about the blues and about B.B. King. A large percentage of these films merely focus on how King (Born Riley B. King on September 16th, 1925, between Itta Bena and Indianola Mississippi) inspired a plethora of overdriven, unoriginal rock guitarists from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Very few have focused on the validity of the man’s music in its own right and the bleak conditions that helped to create the blues.

B.B. King and Lucille

B.B. King and Lucille

Director John Brewer has successfully captured the heart and soul of B.B. King the man and the musician in his new documentary The Life Of Riley (released in select theaters throughout the US on May 21st, VOD on June 1st, and on DVD and blue ray on June 17th.) The film is warmly narrated by fellow Mississippi native and blues lover Morgan Freeman.

Although we hear from dozens of King’s famous admirers and colleagues such as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, John Lennon, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Rodgers, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bill Cosby, John Mayall, and Robert “Jr.” Lockwood, it’s the true and often harrowing tales of surviving life as a young black share cropper in the deep South that resonate as strongly as the sound of King digging deep into the strings of his guitar Lucille.

Brewer lets King, as well as his siblings, cousins, and distant relatives, tell a story of a life of a young man surrounded by constant labor and the reality of the most inhumane violence, hatred, cruel conditions, terror, and hell behind the forces of that labor.

There is a look of pain on King’s face as he recalls having started picking cotton from “can to can’t” (“from when you can see to when you can’t”) at the early age of seven and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan brutally castrating and torturing a young black boy to death after being accused of talking to a white woman, An image that has haunted the king of the blues his entire life.

As King recently makes his way to his original home, a tape is played of King’s late father Albert, giving directions and reminiscing about the small rural plantation in Mississippi. This is one of the most touching moments in the film. The love and sorrow is in every expression on King’s face as he looks outside of his tour bus at the familiar sites as he hears his dad guiding him back home.

King visits his late mother’s grave site. She passed away of diabetes while King was barely a teen. After that, King was forced to move from one relative’s home to another.

King talks about feeling “abandoned” after his mother’s death. It was around this time that he discovered the guitar and it’s been the driving force of his life ever since.

As each tale unfolds, we hear the music of field hollers, and Mississippi “country” blues icons Charlie Patton, Bukka White (King’s cousin) and Blind Lemon Jefferson, not to mention fantastic footage of King performing throughout his illustrious career.

Brewer takes us on the long journey from Mississippi to Memphis, where King cut his very first sides at the legendary Sun Records studio for the Bullet and Modern labels.

There’s still nothing like that very first recording of “Three O’ Clock Blues” recorded in the early ‘50s for The Bihari Brothers. At this time, King became a disc jockey for Memphis’ radio station WDIA with Rufus Thomas.

From Memphis we’re taken on the “chitlin circuit” in the ‘60s where segregation is ever present. King recalls almost being killed in Memphis the night Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered when every room in the hotel King and his band were staying in was burned down.

In the midst of broken marriages, hit records, and long tours, King never stopped working on his music. Friends and band members praise the work ethic of this great man and how he loses himself in every single note of a performance. B.B. King becomes one with the music that comes from pain but is made out of love.

What makes The Life Of Riley better than most documentaries about the blues is that it serves as a poignant and powerful reminder of the true pain and dreadful conditions that gave birth to the real blues B.B. King plays that has almost been forgotten by younger generations of blues/rock musicians.   Today, hard times for a “blues” musician are when the balance on his/her Starbucks card gets too low for a refill.

Thank God these conditions have changed but it is clear that there are no more musicians alive today who play the honest, unfettered blues the way B.B. King still plays them.

All of the music industry stuff and talk by self- indulgent English blues plagiarists are mere fluff compared to the simple honesty of the story about love and survival portrayed in this film.

Music lovers do not miss this film.

This is the real deal.

 


CD Review of the Day: Teka’s “So Many Stars”

April 16, 2014

Teka

So Many Stars (Blue in Green Productions)

By Brian Arsenault

I think my biggest miss of 2013 may have been not hearing Teka’s marvelous bossa nova infused album So Many Stars. If you missed it too, here’s another chance. Especially for those of us in northern climes in this cold, cold endless winter.

Teka

Teka

Bossa nova almost always warms with its calls to romance and dance. In a harsh world it shows that the finer tender emotions are still possible. So there really is some place other than LA it’s warm this March. Really. And it may be the heart.

Good example, Teka and her teen daughter Luana Psaros provide two slightly different shades of sunlight on water in Aguas de Marco (Waters of March). Luana sounds like a younger skylark, not a lesser one, on this achingly alluring duet.

The album’s title song is also its message. So many stars, so many dreams. Taken as a whole, the album is rather dreamlike and it is a sweet dream.

For one reason, a different band member is featured in combination with Teka’s voice on nearly every song:
Randy Tico’s bass on “So Many Stars,” Doug Webb’s sax on “You Stepped Out of Dream” and “April Child”, Ruben Martinez bass flute on “April Child,” Ian Bernard’s piano on “Skylark.” More. All first rate.

Teka is a fine guitarist in her own right as amply demonstrated on “Bluesette.”

Teka

Teka

“Skylark” is one of the highlights of the album and one of the few non-bossa nova styled songs. Rather it is a wonderful slow jazz arrangement of the great Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael tune.

The Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” closes the album with Teka teaming again with Luana for a light hearted take. Smiles all around. Chuckles at the end.   For most of the time, though, we are in the world of Mendes and Jobim and, as noted, it is a warm world of dancing in the dark and counting stars.

Teka has a summer evening breeze quality to her voice always. She is as smoooooooooooth as bossa nova can be and that is very smooth indeed.

Surprises on the album? Maybe one. Her choice to include Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” lyrics by Ogden Nash. The central lyric of the song, though, fits the mold: “Speak low when you speak of love” for fear it might disappear.

There is a longing in bossa nova as well as a sweetness.  Teka sings in both English and Portuguese on the album but it is the Portuguese that best brings us the poetry of the music. Even if you don’t speak the language.

The pacing is where American audiences have their biggest problem. Bossa nova after a burst of popularity in the States in the 60s has been largely relegated to secondary status except among aficionados and Brazilian and other Latin communities.

Part of its charm is a pace that is never fast, never hurried and Norteamericanos sometimes need things hot and fast, not warm and romantic.

Still, we are open to “so many dreams,” aren’t we?

Teka and her New Bossa Trio perform at The Gardenia in Hollywood on Wednesday Ap[ril 30.  The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd.  The phone number is (323) 467-7444.

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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.


DVD Review: “Sensation: The Story of The Who’s Tommy”

March 13, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

As a coming-of-age 14 year old, I finally procured a small stereo system (with separate speakers!) in the Spring. This was a major development for me. I was ready to receive all the records I could handle! What could be better? One of the very first purchases I made was of a friend’s copy of Tommy. Though the album had been out a couple of years, and I knew of it through songs like “Pinball Wizard,” I also knew that there were two platters’ worth of music to discover just waiting for me. And it was the Who, so of course it was going to rock and be a blast to get into! That summer, it was all I really wanted to listen to, my go to album. I took a trip to South America and several points in between, and I heard pieces of Tommy in my head constantly. To this day when I hear music from the original album I’m simply transported, mesmerized.

The package of Tommy was so enveloping and artful, set in a different time but drawing me in elegantly. The music really did take me on an amazing journey with every listening. The artwork was cool, conceptual, and devoid of the usual posed band promos and sweaty live action shots. Though the Who were already legendary for their fantastic performances, this album didn’t even touch on that! What a chance to take! There were only a couple of small, shadowy, almost minor images of the actual guys in the band reaching to break through the black facets of a broken sky. Powerful stuff, this was. The rest was this impressionistic art that evoked profound sensual isolation and the urgency of breaking out of it with haunting beauty. Something different was definitely going on here and the music would explain it with further and deeper listening.

Now, nearly 45 years since the album’s release, Eagle Rock Entertainment has just released Sensation-The Story of Tommy, an entertaining examination of what went into the development of the Who’s defining studio album and how it kicked open the doors for so many bands to follow them in pursuing their music on their own terms. The entire process of conceiving, recording, presenting, and playing Tommy is covered in detail, as are the film and theatrical versions of it.

Going into 1968, the Who were a successful but challenged pop band. In those days bands were really only riding as high as the last single’s success left them. Albums were not yet looked upon as entire entities. The Who did have a parade of hit singles to their credit. And these songs were often interesting, somewhat oddball little ditties about everything from cross dressing, to masturbation, and hoping to “die before I get old.”

Their image was not of a trip clean, well-scrubbed, safe bunch of English pop stars. They were an odd looking bunch of dudes, who looked like they could and would kick your ass if that’s the way it had to be. And this toughness powered their development into a legendary live act in which it never actually seemed much of a stretch to watch them destroy their instruments onstage nightly. There is footage included of those days, filmed at very intimate camera angles, which catches the insane trance-like state Townsend could reach. We see it in his eyes, driven by the power in the music and the spectacle of it all. Just brilliant. Now, PT glibly recalls that the band were “rather profligate” in those days. Yes, a lot of classic equipment was sacrificed regularly. But the band would soon take a new turn.

In 1968, they had released “I can See For Miles,” a record that many consider one of the best singles ever by them or anyone else. It failed to get above #10. This left them frustrated and dumbfounded. What happened?

At the time the great wild card in young artists’ creativity was often LSD. While many used acid as a way to get an angle to an insight on life, its downside was that it could lead one straight out of their mind. As it happened, that year Pete Townshend had a life changing acid trip on a flight back to England from the US. He nearly did lose his mind. After an out of body acid experience he realized he was not necessarily connected to his body. He became strongly anti-psychedelic drugs and a man on a mission to find depth and meaning in his own life and that of his band. This led him, through his close friend/confidente and Tommy’s cover artist, Michael McInnery, to Meher Baba and onto a deep self-exploratory path.

As he learned more about himself, his creativity flourished. Townshend looked back at his life and wrote songs about all the sordid, dysfunctional facets of it. Brilliant, inspired, sophisticated music and incisive words flowed out of him. As the saying goes, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Of course, it is a treacherous path to take.  But Townsend was strong and determined, as well as hugely sensitive and creative. The fact that he actually pulled Tommy out of the process without losing his mind still looms as remarkable so many years later. Tommy put the Who into a different stratum of bands, into the realm of making real pop art.

The Who

The Who

Indirectly or directly, Tommy also changed Roger Daltrey’s life for the larger. He basically became the Tommy character in a totally non-contrived manner. He simply sang the parts with empathy for the Tommy character. There is a very telling clip where we hear an isolated vocal track of Daltrey singing “See Me, Feel Me.” It’s classic, angelic, and I’ve always thought it was right next door to perfect. Townsend explains that he was originally set to sing the track himself, but when he heard Daltrey’s take it was decided right there. It was a perfect fit and it changed RD’s life and career, putting it onto the next level. He also reveals that it was around this time that he stopped straightening his hair, letting it grow in naturally curly golden locks. And thus was a rock God born.

As beautiful a musical experience as Tommy is, the songs are about some of the sickest, most scrutinized, and now politically incorrect human dysfunctions around. The real story behind Tommy is the same dysfunction that Townsend experienced as a boy. Ugly truths of English youth are held up like dissected frogs. Nothing was off limits and everyone in and surrounding the band believed in getting it all out and recorded. They were on a fantastic creative roll. We get songs of bullying, murder, wickedness, cruelty, sexual abuse, and trauma. The plot is chock full of sick and twisted characters.

Townsend reveals the nasty truth that many English boys he knew endured a great deal of abuse during the evacuations of London during WW2. This was a much more common thing than most were willing to speak about until recently. Townsend was not even able to write about the wicked Uncle Ernie in “Fiddle About,” and gave it to John Entwistle who assured Pete it wouldn’t be a problem for him to write the song. This is why we hear Pete wonder confidently if Entwistle, too, hadn’t endured some of this abuse. And there are tales of the “weird shit” Townsend went through with his grandmother and mother. While it approaches too much at times, it’s also fascinating and revealing to hear PT talk about these issues so candidly. And, for any fan, it sets things straight.

Pinball is the ongoing visual theme of Sensation. We see old school pinball machines throughout in black and white…beautiful old bumper machines with stylized detailing. Not so surprisingly, Townsend had Tommy Walker set to be some sort of rock ‘n roller, but in this documentary the road to Tommy’s prowess at pinball is revealed. Many thanks go to Rick Cohn for that and it makes a very interesting story. Ah, what is the price of a top-notch review…a revision or two? Somebody who’s deaf, dumb, and blind could actually do something miraculous.

One of the things I always enjoyed about Tommy is how clear the vocals were and how trippy the music was. One was not sacrificed for the other. Sure enough, it’s revealed that the plan was indeed to mix the vocals prominently out in front of the mix so that the words wouldn’t be lost. But oh, how, those harmonically weezing guitars continue to haunt.

Tommy was recorded in 1969 on an eight-track machine. This was at a time in which eight tracks was a quantum leap up from four. Amazingly, it’s revealed that the band didn’t really have much use for all the tracks, and they ignored a few. Their focus was to be able to play Tommy live and so they meant to keep things simple and reproducible on stage. It’s agreed upon that the Who’s live shows in 1969 after the release of Tommy are/were on a level that no one in rock music has ever surpassed.

Sensation gives us a trove of information about the persona of the band going into their Tommy stage as well as the perspectives of many of the key players in the project. Many viewers will be keen to hear all of it as Tommy was a watershed album for the rock genre as much as it was for the Who. The story behind Tommy is involved and Sensation goes the distance to explain the whole thing. For anyone even remotely interested in the story this disc makes for very welcome viewing.  In fact it’s a must see.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein 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.


Record Rack: Lyn Stanley, Lisa Engelken

December 11, 2013

Of West Coast Girls

By Brian Arsenault

The Left Coast is not taken seriously enough by the New York centric jazz “world” as a producer of any jazz, but maybe particularly female jazz singers. Of course, Queen Bentyne is based there now but she’s late of Manhattan Transfer so the East Coast still claims her.

So here come two very different talents to turn our eyes and ears to the West. You know, LA, San Francisco. The places that mostly stay warm but are oh so cool.

 Lyn Stanley

Lost in Romance (A.T. Music)

Only a few tracks are required for the listener to be Lost in Romance with Lyn Stanley. I was there by “The Nearness of You.” By then, she has warmed the room with a series of classics from Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael.

The room is in a small club. Perhaps near the desert. Dim lighting. Bogie and Bacall unobtrusive in the back of the room. Dietrich’s set over, she stays to listen.

The room has a piano that accompanies her so well whenever Tamir Hendelman or Mike Lang sit in. Tenor sax (Bob Sheppard), trombone (Bob McChesney), flugelhorn (Gilbert Castellanos, also on trumpet) in the backing group which plays every note to complement her. Every single note.

And those notes are all full and rounded, almost never sharp and stinging. Perhaps vinyl was required for the richness throughout. I’d like to think so. (two 180 gram 45 rpm albums which I first tried to play as 33s. Slowwwwwwwww. Also available in CDs and downloads for the unromantic.)

The striking blond former ballroom dancer opens and closes the album with songs entwined with dance.

First: “Change Partners,” where she lingers over each note, each moment, seeking her chance.

Last, naturally: “The Last Dance,” where the partner has been found and the evening is regrettably ending but “keep holding me tight.”

In between, the bartender leans in to listen as she asks for “One More for My Baby.” Each word, each inflection so important as “You Go to My Head.”

Her phrasing is close, intimate, personal. Not like Sinatra’s phrasing but with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ requirement that you listen to the story, that you feel it might be sung directly to you.

I don’t think her talents are best suited for Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” but she shines on George Harrison’s “Something” which Sinatra called the only really good love song in eons.

On “Fever”, the warmth becomes heat. Peggy Lee may have been the first white girl singer so openly sexual but Lyn Stanley takes it a bit sultrier, plays with it a bit. A touch of how Marilyn would have sung it. Finger snaps as percussion.

Another strength of vinyl; each time you get to flip the album or put on the second disc (may I say record), you’ll be pleased there’s another side. You’ll wish you were at that imaginary club that night. But go ahead, careful not to smudge the grooves, put on the album and soon you will be.

Lisa Engelken

little warrior (CD Baby)

If Lyn Stanley is the epitome of classic romance and the classic American songbook, Lisa Engelken is the postmodernist purveyor of pain and alienation.

. . . for there must be a god to exist such a godless man. . .”

If Lyn Stanley rounds each note and lingers for its full effect, Lisa Engelken frequently blows through lyrics with staccato phrasing. Everything at times is a single chopped note since she must move on and not linger.

send me keys

send me jets

send me trains . . .

and don’t forget instructions as to what to do with your remains”

Don’t get me wrong. Lisa’s range of emotions, as well as octaves, is extensive. The album includes the reflective “little warrior” title song and Chick Corea’s gently rolling “sea journey.”

But pain is near at all times. It’s integral to her art.

blue valentines” is Tom Wait via Billie Holiday (can’t beat that for melancholy) through Lisa. The band gets it. Bill Cantos’ piano chords keep a somber pace. Sam Bevan’s bass descends with her voice. Sadness keeps a grip impervious to whiskey.

She moves with Joni Mitchell’s “cold blue steel & sweet fire” to some very personal hell vision of “. . . vicious gnawing in the veins. . .” This seven minutes, a dark trip, is orchestral, at times symphonic — Lisa says she wants to sing it with the San Francisco Symphony — but some of the musicians may have hooves and tails, maybe even horns.

Even in the supposedly upbeat “viva la felicita,” an alleged ode to happiness, the chorus in Italian is “eh poi, eh poi?” what else, what else is there? Can’t get more post modernist than that. Like an Italo Calvino short story.

For this album to end on the sweetness of “All I Do Is Dream of You” is either ironic or an inside joke. This is a singer pushing some boundaries and a long way from romance. But we know the World needs more than one vision.

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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.


Christmas CDs: Tim Warfield, New York Voices, Jonathan Butler, Karrin Allyson

December 4, 2013

Of Spirits Bright

 By Brian Arsenault

The feast of Holiday music this year is as abundant as Tiny Tim’s Christmas table. After Scrooge woke up and saw the light, of course. Here are four shining stars to guide us home to Christmas.

Tim Warfield

Tim Warfield’s Jazzy Christmas (Undaunted Music)

Tim and a whole bunch of great musicians’ (most to be named as we go along) undaunted music

To begin with, this is a terrific jazz album as well as Christmas music to delight the heart. You could play it with relish in June — it was actually recorded during summer months — but you might find yourself suddenly wanting to trim a tree.

From the start, on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” you first dig the playing: Warfield’s sax alternating with Terrell Stafford’s trumpet. Stefon Harris comes in on vibraphone, Neil Podgurski’s piano rounds things. This is a fine band playing fine jazz with Christmas “feeling.”

Warfield says “You have to believe in feeling, because that is the top of the hill in all of the arts.” Yeah. And on “Oh Christmas Tree” Podgurski’s piano intro wraps around you like a warm fire in the living room, Christmas tree in the corner. A fine vocal by Jamie Davis. Warfield’s tenor sax.

Caroling Caroling” is just joyous, all the instruments contributing. And drummer Clarence Penn sets a rollicking pace on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Tim has reminded us that “Relating to the African diaspora,… Music begins with the drum…”

So naturally there’s a fine rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” And “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” well, it’s not restful, it’s exuberant. Heck, the whole album is.

 New York Voices

 Let It Snow (12th Street Records)

If you have warm Christmas memories of childhood, this album may transport you there.

Bach’s Sleeper’s Wake (Ah, Bach) is the universal mother figure arousing a young sleepyhead on the big morning. It might also be a summons for sinners but that’s for another time.

Silent Night” is God’s a capella chorus.

We wish you a Merry Christmas” is all your friends who like that sort of thing gathered around a piano, caroling. Of course, your friends may not sing or play the piano as well, but in fond memories or with lots of good cheer they can.

The four New York Voices are those of Kim Nazarian, Darmon Meader, Lauren Kinhan and Peter Eldridge. Individually pleasing, over a quarter century they have come to blend them in a manner that seems to be of one mind. And soul.

On Christmas music, the effect is magical whether a capella or big band, whether jolly jumping or quietly meditative.

The “Silent Night” done here is angels on high. Four voices fill the room in a nearly orchestral manner. Send your troubles miles away.

Jonathan Butler

Merry Christmas to You (Artistry Music)

Soul seems especially appropriate for Christmas, which at its core is about soul in the big sense.

Jonathan Butler is about soul in the musical sense and comes right out of the gate with Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” somehow with more of a Stevie Wonder quality than Hathaway. Good enough either way.

Damn, or rather, Bless, this guy can sing. He also can compose and his “Merry Christmas to You” — a Christmas love song and there should be more of those — shows off both talents. He also plays guitar and most of the other instruments on the album.

His rich full voice on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” may draw a tear. Dreams matter too.

Nobody ever sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” like Judy Garland. She was always close to the pain implicit in the song and clung to its hopefulness in her battered but brave life. Yet Butler comes close.

He knew pain too growing up under apartheid in South Africa but he never lost hope either. Maybe you have to have some of the faith most of us have lost or decided is irrelevant in the modern world.

His is still a personal God. Of all the albums here, only his includes “The First Noel,” which is perhaps the most faith-based of the traditional carols. To hear him sing it is to go to the Church you may wish you had.

Oh, and for the big population control advocates among you, consider that Jonathan is the youngest of 17 children. Seems maybe miracles can come at any time.

Karrin Allyson

 Yuletide Hideaway (Kasrecords)

I think I may have heard a new addition to the Christmas songbook.

Karrin Allyson’s album opens with the title song which isn’t really about a physical place. It’s rather about where we hope to go: where reindeers blow a trumpet and there are skaters on a mirror pond. It’s a song that hopes for Christmas for grownups. And I think it will be heard by her and others for many future Christmases.

The second song, “Winter Oasis,” has that same quality. The search for a “place” called Christmas that the child in us embraces. Where we hope to stay for just a little while.

This whole album seems an effort at seeking that world. Ms Allyson has such a rich, expressive voice that we are happy to journey with her.

Arriving at “Winter Wonderland” we find it can be done in a restrained and soft manner when it is often done so brassy. Yet “Let It Snow” has all the bounce normally associated with the song.

Inventive and traditional. Nicely blended.

Her version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has the gentle touch she brings to so much in the album. The band is especially strong here: Rod Fleeman’s guitar, Todd Strait on drums and sleigh bells, Gerald Spaits on acoustic bass.

There’s also a nice little tribute to Vince Guaraldi on “Christmas Time Is Here,” inseparable from the Holiday for all who have grown up, or are growing up, with Charlie Brown and the gang.

Warm as Nana’s quilt.

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


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