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.


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: Daniel Kirkpatrick and the Bayonets and Black Belt Karate

October 27, 2013

By Brian Arsenault

Daniel Kirkpatrick and The Bayonets

Alibis (Rock Ridge Music)

About the time I’m thinking well this guy and his three piece band are maybe more “singer/songwriter” than rock. I mean you can understand just about all the lyrics. Does this guy understand rock ‘n roll. Does he?

But after two kinda boring if heartfelt tunes at the start, we get to the title track with its classic rock harmonies and foot tapping seduction and I go, Heyyy. “This Way” follows and I’m bouncing along and it is pleasing, melodic (think CSN) definite rock.

Honestly, I think the era of self produced albums has meant a loss of the value of professional producers. You have to lead with your best, not a couple filler tunes.

By “Don’t Leave Me Waiting” I realize that the underneath sound I’ve been digging is a drummer, Spencer Booth, who just keeps growing on you. The whole album does.

I think Kirkpatrick, who must be in his late twenties by now, is having some trouble leaving high school behind, but that can be hard for an American kid. What’s after high school, after all? CNN and Target.

I don’t know you now but I knew you then.” Kirkpatrick says he has found his voice. I believe him. Better things ahead.

There’s a feel here of music that you can wrap yourself in. A caring soul, rare enough in music or anywhere these days. Music that gets you reflective. And there’s something of art in that, eh?

All I Can Take” definitely has a Who kind of depth of feeling. And again those drums. I’m not saying Keith Moon here but. . .

Ransom” is rock “victory, tragedy wander(ing) the land” complete with pulsing guitar (Kirkpatrick, I think) and bass (Jordan Cassidy).

Emerald Blues in A Minor,” the rather pompously titled last cut, is at least a blues tribute missing from much rock these days. (More about that later.)

And on the last three songs just mentioned, the lyrics are a lot less clear. Rock on.

Black Belt Karate

Vol. 1 (Organic Audio)

About the time I’m really liking their energy on “Push” but thinking Black Belt Karate never does a change of pace, they do. On the really haunting (just in time for Halloween) “Building Walls.”

Surprise, surprise” the song’s lyric says — good lyrics to despair by but loving in their own way. No such lovey stuff as they return to speed rock on “Kaleidoscope.” “You’re a bummer and a bitch. Baby, you’re obnoxious.”

 Black Belt KarateI guess the war of the sexes continues and just as I was thinking these Millennial rockers with their album, Vol. 1, are a long way from the blues and r&b which are the base of the form. Yet you still hear a distant echo of Little Richard on “Lucille.”

For the most part though, BBK (which would be a better name, I think) is related to closer generations: a bit of ZZ Top on “Rigamortis”; Metallica on “Servant”; later Alice in Chains and maybe some Stone Temple Pilots.

So of course this is muscular rock not made for easy listening. More like shake a few brain cells loose during a live performance. But hey the album was produced and recorded by a guy named Achilles, ergo what else would you expect.

Five songs and about a quarter hour on this EP, available online, I’m sure, in all those places I don’t go to, as well as in CD format.

Also expect powerhouse drumming from Ryan Brown who squeezes in some well timed silences in the manic beating. Ryan Hanifl’s vocals sometimes seem derivative but he can surprise with emotional range on songs like the aforementioned “Building Walls” and “Kaleidoscope.”

Where Hanifl really shines, though, is on the band’s separate cover of Oingo Boingo’s magnificent tribute to “Wild Sex (In the Working Class).” A single, how about that, a single. Guess we’ll see more of that in the age of “all major digital stores.” Available now.

But what a recording. Super yearning, horny vocal. Guitarist Jason A. Mezillis (A for Achilles, see!) gets to do more than pound two chords fast. A fine little harmonica solo by somebody.

BBK “may be greasing the wheels of a noisy factory” — you know, Joni Mitchell might actually like that line — but with panache.

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


Film Review: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix- “Hear My Train A Comin’”

October 4, 2013

By Devon Wendell

The Experience Hendrix estate and the good people of PBS present a brand new Jimi Hendrix documentary, Hear My Train A Comin’ as a part of their American Masters series. There was an advanced screening of the film at The Sony Entertainment Room in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, October 2nd. It will air nationwide on PBS on November 5, when the DVD will be released.

Directed by Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology and Festival Express), Hear My Train A Comin’ takes us on a chronological journey through Hendrix’s entire life. The film starts with Jimi’s troubled childhood in Seattle, then his days as a U.S. paratrooper, to his stint on the chitlin’ circuit, (backing up some of R&B’s greatest legends of the 60s such as Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, and Wilson Pickett to name a few) and of course his taking London by storm during the height of the swinging `60s and becoming the most influential guitar player of all time.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

The film features loving accounts of Jimi’s musical genius and his gentle personality by legends who knew or played with him such as; Steve Winwood, Ernie Isley, Billy Cox, Noel Redding, Chas Chandler, Mitch Mitchell, Dave Mason, Buddy Miles, and Sir Paul MCcartney. We also hear from Jimi’s father, the late Al Hendrix, his half-sister Janie, and his cousin Bob Hendrix, plus an array of journalists and a few of Jimi’s many girlfriends.

Although it’s great to hear tons of loving accolades and admiration for Jimi by so many different people, the message gets redundant quickly and the film could have used more music footage and less talk. It’s made clear over and over again how dedicated Jimi was to his music as he recorded, gigged, jammed, and practiced around the clock. But we don’t really learn anything more than that and most of us already know this about Jimi.

The film also only presents us with baby-boom era rockers and fails to examine how Jimi impacted other musical genres of the `60s and `70s such as jazz, blues, and funk.

Aside from footage that fans have already seen countless times like excerpts from The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, The Band Of Gypsies, and The Berkeley Concerts, there isn’t much of anything we haven’t seen before. The only “new” stuff are very brief portions of “Foxy Lady” and “Tax Free” from the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, and a quick shot of “Spanish Castle Magic” from The Isle Of Fehmarn, Jimi’s last official concert before his death in September of 1970.

Sir Paul MCcartney’s accounts of how Jimi Blew the English rock scene away (including himself and the other three Beatle members) upon his arrival in London in 1966 is the most interesting and heart felt celebrity appearance in the entire film. But no matter what is said about Jimi by his band members, friends, and girlfriends, we don’t get a true insight to who Jimi really was. There’s a huge void. Even with the presentation of Jimi’s personal letters home to his dad from the Army and later from England after the formation of The Experience, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding Jimi’s life.

There is also a blatant glossing over of Jimi’s self destructive behavior in a possible attempt to white wash his image.

overHear My Train A Comin’ does have some fine moments like film footage shot by Jimi and drummer Mitch Mitchell of moments on the road on planes and long car rides between gigs from The Experience’s first tour of America of 1968. There is also footage of Jimi jamming backstage at Madison Square Garden with The Rolling Stones in `69 with audio but just as the music gets cooking, it’s cut off by more talk, usually right as Jimi begins to solo. There isn’t that balance between interview segments and music that the Warner Brothers 1973 film Jimi Hendrix, (directed by Joe Boyd, John Head, and Gary Weis) successfully achieved.

Bob Smeaton could have cut this film down by 30 minutes. Two hours is very long for a documentary that often loses focus and feels repetitive.

With that being said, Hear My Train A Comin’ is a suitable introduction for young people who don’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix. However, for those of us who do, this is yet another Jimi Hendrix documentary with too much of the same stock footage, opinions, and speculation which makes me think we’re only supposed to know so much about such a genius.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Record Rack: Cheryl Bentyne & Mark Winkler, Ry Cooder

September 19, 2013

 Of What Amazes and What Might Have Been

By Brian Arsenault

Cheryl Bentyne & Mark Winkler

West Coast Cool (Summit Records)

The only thing that disappoints me about West Coast Cool is that I’ll never hear it for the first time again. Jump in any place. One of them will be singing great. Or both of them. In counterpoint and in harmony. No blemishes.

Drop in on “Something Cool” for example where Cheryl Bentyne may bring chills. No Broadway climax dramatic song packs the emotional punch felt here.

Or start at the beginning– “Take5/Drinks on the Patio”– where she teams with Mark Winkler on alternating verses to create one song of two, one image of two, one aesthetic for a pair. This happens elsewhere.

A personal favorite, “Talk of the Town/Girl Talk,” is where I realized how truly great they are together. Cheryl’s hurt purity and crystallized phrasing on “Talk of the Town”; Winkler the smoothest sound this side of “the Velvet Fog” with a tone all his own on “Girl Talk.“ Then they get together. Just so very cool.

This tribute to West Coast Cool Jazz raises the genre while celebrating it. It is also really something more; an extension and a rounding of the American songbook. These songs should be sung on every coast and from sea to shining sea.

The album is also proof that the notion that jazz is so cerebral and sophisticated that it’s not for everybody is foolish and trite. Jazz came from the same place as blues and r&b and at its core it is people’s music.

Out for the night music. This is music to be savored. With a drink. Over dinner. On the dance floor. Just listening.

The “cool” of the West Coast sound is apparent but much more important is the depth of feeling, the constant touch of humanity, and the simple deep pleasure of music done at the highest level.

There are many fine female jazz singers on the scene right now but, hey, there has to be a Queen — Queen Cheryl. There are not so many top notch male jazz singers right now but there is an even rarer bird called Winkler. He’s just so good.

At the end of the album there’s a bonus track to give you a taste of the live show. But everything before that is also filled with snap, immediacy, spontaneity. Just a great album.

Ry Cooder and Corridos Famosos

Live At The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco  (Nonesuch Records)

The only thing that disappoints me about Ry Cooder Live At The Great American Music Hall is that it doesn’t turn out to be as great an album as its beginning suggests it will be.

I mean I’m just dying through the first couple songs — “Crazy ‘Bout an Automobile” and “Why Don’t You Try Me” — thinking great brass band, great backing chorus. Like nothing else since Cocker and Leon hated each other enough to create the great Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Cooder showing what a fine guitarist he is, especially if you like it melodic/musical. And who doesn’t?

Then comes “Boomer’s Story” and a little “Band” sneaks in and I go “That’s ok, nice change of pace.” From there, though, there’s this long slow exhale like the air seeping from a balloon.

Oh, there’s some really fine stuff ahead. If Flaco Jimenez’ accordion on Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” doesn’t make you smile you should have someone check your pulse.

The soul and soulfulness of Terry Andrews and Arnold McCuller on “The Dark Side of the Street” bring down the house. It’s Ry-time on guitar solo and in harmony with the accordion.

By now, though, I’m not sure the concert and hence the album have a focus. We’re jumping all over the place from the streets of Mexico to the boxcars of Woody Guthrie without a unifying voice. It isn’t a merging of disparate forms into something new; it’s an amalgamation or, more to the point, a scattering.

Is this the new Americana? I mean ”Wooly Bully”? It never was much except a dirty little ditty at the sex humor level of 12 year old boys. Why bother? And how did the murderous Jesse James ever get to heaven. He rode with Quantrill for heaven’s sake.

Goodnight Irene” where we all know the chorus but not a lot of the lyrics — morphine is in there, apparently — is a sweet sendoff at the end of the album. Again that Ry guitar — he and Willie have a similar touch — is as fine as it gets.

Yet the goodnight is bittersweet for me because the album never gets back to the drive, the energy, the collective delight of so many musicians playing so well together, of those first two songs. But we’ll always have those two tracks.

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


Record Rack: Halie Loren and Will Lee

September 2, 2013

Of One I Expected to Simply Love

And One I Didn’t Expect to Like So Much

By Brian Arsenault

Halie Loren

Simply Love (Just In Time Records)

On the opening classic tune on Simply Love, “For Sentimental Reasons,” Halie Loren sings the line about “giving you my heart.” It seems to me she always does that for her audience.

An artist giving her heart to her fans can be dangerous, as Judy Garland was to learn. But hey, she’s young and strong and we can use the warmth.

The warmth and the freshness are there no matter the age of the song Halie’s singing. “L-O-V-E” is right in her wheelhouse as is 1931’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” sung largely in French where her phrasing is as impeccable as she is en Anglais. Her take on these and other greats from the American Songbook is just right. “On the Sunny Side of the Street” you’ll smile, really, you will. “My Funny Valentine” touches the heart. Halie goes to the very heart of the song about having to look deeper for the good stuff. Like always.

She can’t save “Moon River”, it’s just too sappy, but hey it’s the only real imperfection on the album.

She’s just as good moving up the decades:

You might wonder could anyone else do Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move?” With all due respect to the great Carole, Halie’s is more sensual, dare I say sexier, more evocative. The earth does move.

As it does on “I’ve Got To See You Again,” a tango version which knows what the tango is really about — dangerous attraction.

And somehow Halie makes the Turtles teen pop tune “Happy Together” into a fine little jazz tune. Drummer Brian West really shines here.

Mentioning West’s solid contribution brings me to some thoughts about Halie’s longtime band. They are always fine but sometimes I think Halie Loren could maybe be a bit edgier and working with some other musicians as the core group might help. Having said that, Mark Treder’s piano almost always balances her vocals perfectly, as on “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “L-O-V-E.” Treder also arranges the strings heard in places on the album. I’m not always a big fan of strings with jazz singers but the cello work by Dale Bradley on three songs is very satisfying.

The PR sheet which came with the album quotes Jazz Times as writing that Halie is “. . . the next big thing among jazz vocalists.” How can an artist based in Eugene, Oregon, not LA or New York, be “the next big thing?” That would be like the most popular writer in the world being based in Bangor, Maine. Oh wait. . .

Will Lee

Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions (Sinning Saint Ltd)

There’s depth to this guy Will Lee. There’s range too. Oh yeah, and a great collection of musicians from his manic musical life. (A bit about that later.)

I don’t want to get away from the music, though, because Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions is a great blending of rock to pop to jazz to a closing with a bass guitar version of Chaplin’s “Smile.” Surprised? It works. It all works.

I mean early on bring in Billy Gibbons from ZZ to sing duo and play lead guitar to Lee’s vocal and bass on the Allen Toussaint nasty dump the girl anthem, “Get Out of My Life Woman.” Oh yeah, Toussaint plays too.

Give us a rocking anti-war song, “Shahara,” that rings true, legit, because this time it’s told from the perspective of the soldier who finally says, screw it, this doesn’t work. Embellish it appropriately with rhythms of the Middle East, toss in some Sting-like changes and call down some angels (one at least,, Tabitha Fair).

Provide a remarkable remake of mid-60s pop hit “1, 2, 3” and sing a charming duet with Akiko Yano. Are you old enough to remember this song? If not or even if you are, this version is better.

Surprise with a neat jazzy tune with just a touch of Todd Rundgren, “Fooled Him,” about love’s ability to make a fool on both sides. Chuck Loeb’s guitar work adds to the jazz feel here and elsewhere.

Play the poetry of Miss Understanding wherein the lady central to the song has for luggage:

“Old issues and a trunk full of pain,

One suitcase loaded with shame.

One carry-on was carrying hurt

The smallest little pocket held hope.

Users and losers vie for dominance.”

Give us a melodic bass lead on the instrumental “Papounet’s Ride” with Narada Michael Walden going nuts on drums. Maybe this is the place for a word about the drumming on this album. It’s insane.

A different drummer on nearly every track — all terrific, all in tune with Lee’s sterling bass playing. Zach Danziger perhaps leads the way with his work on “Shahara” but there’s not a weak percussion moment throughout.

Still, the drumming is no more manic than Lee’s role in the world of American music. He’s the house bass player for David Letterman, has been for three decades at two different networks. (Paul Shaffer is on the album’s first song.)

He also tours with the Beatles tribute band Fab Faux. The album was “Recorded mostly at The Beatles Museum NYC.” Add to that recording credits with a list of luminaries longer than this review and you get the picture.

It’s been 20 years since Lee scraped together enough time to do his own album as the leader of the band. Hope it won’t be another 20 before the next one.

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


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