Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

Dwight Yoakam: Live from Austin, TX

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Dwight Yoakam at the peak of his commercial success

This October 1988 date found Yoakam headlining a bill with his hero and mentor, Buck Owens. Yoakam had rescued Owens from self-imposed retirement earlier in the year, and together they topped the chart with a remake of Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield.” The day before the show, Yoakam’s third album, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room, crested at #1 on the Billboard country chart, and it would go on to net Grammy, ACM and CMA awards. Owens opened the show with a tight 30 minute set (available on a companion volume), with Yoakam joining him for “Under Your Spell Again.” Owens returned the favor during Yoakam’s set to sing their recent chart topper.

Yoakam’s set combined selections from his first three albums, mixing original material with covers of songs by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman (“Little Sister”), Homer Joy (“Streets of Bakersfield”), Johnny Cash (“Home of the Blues”), Johnny Horton (“Honky Tonk Man”), Lefty Frizzell (“Always Late With Your Kisses”) and Stonewall Jackson (“Smoke Along the Track”). His original material included nearly all of his hits to that point, as well as several album tracks. The band is superb, with Pete Anderson’s guitar and Scott Joss’ fiddle really standing out. Yoakam turns on the sex appeal as he introduces the sultry “What I Don’t Know,” the band turns up the heat for “Please, Please Baby” and “Little Sister,” and the audience joins in enthusiastically to close “Honky Tonk Man.”

As on the duet sung together in Owens’ set, the happiness shared by Yoakam and Owens in teaming up for “Streets of Bakersfield” is palpable – Owens reveling in the new artistic partnership that rekindled his interest in music, and Yoakam in working with his idol and mentor. Each has such a distinct voice, that the delight in hearing them sing together continues to rise as they swap verses and share the chorus. Flaco Jimenez joins the band onstage and stays to accentuate the sorrow of “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room,” with Joss’ fiddle and Anderson’s low strings adding mournful notes. Yoakam tells several stories on the DVD that are elided on the CD, including an account of his first meeting with Johnny Cash.

The partnership between Yoakam and Anderson was incredibly fruitful, both artistically and commercially, but it wasn’t always easy to see past Yoakam’s charisma to Anderson’s immense talent as a guitarist. But here, even with Yoakam center stage, you can’t help but be drawn to Anderson’s licks as he solos on “Home of the Blues,” hot picks the closing “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me,” and plays Yoakam on and off the stage with a twangy instrumental bumper. New West’s reissue combines the previously released CD and DVD, and it’s four-panel booklet provides credits, but no liner notes. It’s a terrific package that plays just as well on the stereo as it does on the screen. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Dwight Yoakam’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Live from Austin, TX

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

The king of the Bakersfield Sound on the comeback trail in 1988

There is no shortage of live Buck Owens recordings, but nearly all of them date to his record breaking run in the 1960s. Owens was not only a terrific songwriter, guitarist, singer, bandleader and businessman, but a gifted stage performer whose personal magnetism drew fans to his tours and to his dying day, to his beloved Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. By the time of this 1988 performance on Austin City Limits, it had been more than a decade since Owens had recused himself from his music career. The 1974 death of Don Rich had drained his enthusiasm, and with his energy focused on the radio stations he’d begun buying in the 1960s, it took an insistent Dwight Yoakam to pry Owens out of his self-imposed exile.

This October 1988 date found Owens and Yoakam on the same bill, each playing a full set and guesting on the other’s. Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room had just crested at #1 on the album chart, the lead single, a duet with Owens covering “Streets of Bakersfield,” had topped the singles chart in June, and the title single from Owens’ own return to the studio, Hot Dog, would be released the following week. So there was a lot to celebrate on this Sunday night in Texas, as Owens showed that the layoff hadn’t impacted his musicality or showmanship, and that the latest edition of the Buckaroos, including keyboard player Jim Shaw, bassist Doyle Curtsinger, guitarist and steel player Terry Christofferson and drummer James McCarty, was sharp and powerful.

With sixty Top 40 hits (and more than twenty chart toppers!), Owens could barely graze the highlights of his catalog in this thirty minute set But in only 11 songs he manages to touch on classic hits, album cuts, covers of his hero Chuck Berry, and material from his upcoming album. And he does it without resorting to the medleys that had helped him squeeze more fan favorites into his live sets of the 1960s. The jangle of Owens’ silver sparkle Telecaster (which may very well have been Don Rich’s ‘66) kicks off “Act Naturally” and the band falls in behind him. Curtsinger provides the harmony foil once supplied by Don Rich, and Christofferson echoes Tom Brumley’s steel solo on “Together Again.”

Owens is in terrific voice, and his enthusiasm belies the number of times he’d performed “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Crying Time,” “Tiger By the Tail” and “A-11,” each remaining fresh and potent decades after they’d been introduced. Even more enticing is a duet with Yoakam on “Under Your Spell Again.” The pair don’t lock their vocals together as seamlessly as had Owens & Rich, but the joy in their voices – Owens rediscovering the joy of a singing partner, and Yoakam singing with his hero – is palpable. The single “Hot Dog,” a cover of Owens’ 1956 turn as Corky Jones, gives the band a chance to rock, as does the closing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”

This set combines the previously released CD and DVD into one package, with the same song list shared by both formats. The four-page booklet includes credits, but no liner notes, and no remembrances from anyone involved as to how this show came together or what it meant to the participants. For the second half of the bill, including “Streets of Bakersfield,” check out the companion volume on Dwight Yoakam. Owens took this band on the road, producing the belatedly released double-disc Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989, but it’s hard to top a Sunday night in Texas with Buck & Dwight! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace

The Robert Kraft Trio: North Bishop Ave.

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Old-school pop-soul from Austin trio

If Robert Kraft wasn’t actually born in Muscle Shoals, he clearly grew up listening to its music. The sweetness of his throwback soul is informed by a troubling childhood whose main solace was the radio. Specifically, KKDA 730 – “Soul 73” – in Grand Prairie, Texas, belting out a mix of soul and R&B, with some gospel, jazz and blues thrown in for good measure. It was the sort of local station that spoke to its community, and in Kraft’s case, provided mentoring that defined the core of his musicality. And despite having played other genres – including alternative rock and an album of standards – the soul music of his youth was always edging its way on stage.

Backed by guitarist (and arranger) JD Pendley and bassist Lindsay Greene, and with guest appearances by drummer Robb Kidd and organist (and producer) David Boyle, the Austin-based Kraft cooks up seven original tunes that would have fit nicely onto KKDA’s playlists. The arrangements are spacious, leaving room for Kraft’s sweet voice and Pendley’s vintage guitar licks. Kraft likens his songs to recapturing “the feeling of a perfect summer day in the park with a girl who might actually like me.” That summer feeling manifests itself in the longing of “I Want to Show You” and “Alone With You,” and blossoms into the colorful metaphors of “So Beautiful.”

Kraft drops a romantic placeholder in “You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart,” but makes a more illicit offer in “Gotta Have You.” The latter suggests Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” but with the guilt of an agonizing dilemma burned away by amatory fire. Pendley offers several tasty guitar solos, and Greene adds nice flourishes to the rhythm section’s time keeping. The set closes with the funky “Stand (The Ally Song),” building on a Bill Withers-styled groove and rounding the vocal tone with a hint of Sinatra. Kraft is a polished singer, and the trio’s Friday night gig at the Continental has honed them into a swinging soul trio whose debut CD is a treat. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Robert Kraft Trio’s Home Page

Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

A quiet 1972 gem from a country-soul legend

Arthur Alexander’s music career was as heartbreaking as were his songs. A writer of indelible sorrow, he sang with a depth that seemed to flow directly out of his aching soul. He reached the Top 40 with “You Better Move On” and the R&B Top 10 with “Anna,” but his songs quickly became better known for other artist’s covers – the Stones, Beatles, Steve Alaimo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Bob Luman in the ‘60s – than for his own performances. The covers kept coming, as Mink DeVille, Chris Spedding, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others discovered Alexander’s songs, but various revivals of his own recording career never reached the commercial heights his artistry deserved.

Dropped by Dot in 1965, Alexander recorded a handful of singles for Sound Stage 7 and Monument (collected here), and in 1971 was signed by Warner Brothers to record this album. Alexander wrote five of the twelve titles, serving up heartbreak tinged with the difficult loyalty of “Go On Home Girl” and the painful memories of “In the Middle of It All.” Amid the sadness he surprises with resilience, haunted by failure but not knocked out in “Love Is Where Life Begins,” and resolutely focused on the prize in Dan Penn and Donnie Fitts’ troubled “Rainbow Road.” He aches with quiet desire on “It Hurts to Want It So Band,” and offers up an early version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” but without the fire of Elvis’ subsequent hit.

Released in 1972, the album and its singles garnered little interest from radio and no commercial results to speak of. A pair of follow-on singles, included here as bonus tracks, fared no better commercially. “Mr. John” has the sleek feel of Bill Withers, and the follow-up cover of “Lover Please” has a bouncy New Orleans roll. Two more tracks, the yearning “I Don’t Want Nobody” and optimistic “Simple Song of Love” were recorded for Warner Brothers but left unreleased until now. Alexander resurfaced a few years later with a charting cover of his own “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” as well as the Elvis tribute, “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home,” but unable to sustain this success, he left the business.

Two decades later he bubbled up again with the superb Lonely Just Like Me, finally receiving the attention and accolades he deserved. Sadly, and perhaps in keeping with the melancholy of his best work, Alexander passed away just months after the album’s release. Omnivore’s reissue of Arthur Alexander reproduces the original 12-song running order, adds six additional tracks waxed for Warner and original cover art. The 12-page booklet includes full-panel photos, label reproductions, and original and new liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. Although his time with Warner Brothers was short, it was artistically triumphant, and adds a valuable chapter to his small but influential catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks

Friday, August 4th, 2017

Late-40s and early-50s sides from the father of rock ‘n’ roll

Arthur Crudup is most widely remembered as the writer of Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right,” and the later B-side “My Baby Left Me.” But by the time Presley waxed these sides in the mid-50s, Crudup had already quit the recording business in disgust. Crudup was denied a share of the royalties his songwriting and recordings had generated, and after years of subsisting on low wages for sessions and performances, he’d had enough of enriching others. He eventually returned to recording and performing, continuing on into the 1970s, but even with legal help, he was never able to claim the royalties for the songs that had launched others onto the charts.

Bear Family’s 28-track collection focuses primarily on the sides Crudup recorded in Chicago for RCA in the 1940s, supplemented by a few early-50s recordings made in the studios of WQXI (Atlanta), WRBC (Jackson, MS) and WGST (Atlanta), and in 1962, New York City. Crudup began recording for RCA in 1941 with a basic session of acoustic guitar and washtub bass, but a two-year-long musicians strike created a gap that stretched from 1942 until the end of 1944. This set picks up with 1945’s “Open Your Book,” with Crudup’s energetic guitar playing backed by drummer Charles “Chick” Draper. The lyrics touched on the phrase “that’s all right,” though it wouldn’t solidify into the title song until the following year.

Another guitar-and-drums session, this time with Armand “Jump” Jackson on skins yielded the hit “So Glad You’re Mine,” which Elvis revived a decade later for Elvis. By Fall of 1946 Crudup had been reunited with string bassist Ransom J. Knowling, and along with drummer Judge Lawrence Riley they worked their way up to the iconic “That’s All Right.” Before recording the icon, the trio warmed up the key “that’s all right” phrase and the “de de de” scat on the raucous “So Glad You’re Mine.” Those two elements would continue to thread through Crudup’s work for years, including the subsequent “I Don’t Know It.”

Crudup, Knowling and Riley continued to record throughout 1947, Crudup traveling up to Chicago from his native Mississippi to which he’d returned in 1945. They mixed mid-tempo laments with up-tempo numbers whose excited vocals and sharp drum accents point in a straight line to Presley’s early Sun work, and the rock ‘n’ roll revolution. Late in 1950 the trio laid down “My Baby Left Me,” complete with the drum and bass intro that Bill Black and D.J. Fontana reworked for Elvis’ 1956 B-side. Crudup’s last Chicago session, and the last session the trio would play together, was held in Spring of 1951, and yielded the nuclear war paranoia of “I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole.”

By 1952, Crudup had a new rhythm section (bassist Jimmy Sheffield and drummer N. Butler), and recording had moved to Atlanta, to the studio of radio station WQXI. Crudup’s guitar has a more subdued tone in these sessions, and his vocals aren’t as exuberant as his hottest Chicago sides. He ventured down to Jackson, MS to moonlight for Chess with the juke-joint blues “Open Your Book,” and the push from Robert Dees’ harmonica returned the spark to his singing. He waxed the energetic blues “She’s My Baby” for Champion with a muddily-recorded piano adding a new sound to his records, and he returned to RCA in 1954 where a lack of with hits led to the end of his contract and an exit from recording.

Eight years later, in 1962, producer Bobby Robinson tracked Crudup down in Frankfort, VA, and brought him to New York. Together they re-recorded stereo versions of Crudup’s earlier work, of which three are included here. Crudup’s songs and style have reverberated throughout rock ‘n’ roll’s entire history, and though well known for the exposure Elvis Presley’s debut provided, his own recordings haven’t been as widely heard. Bear Family’s 28-track collection highlights his years with RCA and beyond, and the 36-page booklet includes informative liner notes by Bill Dahl and a detailed discography. More can be heard on the box set A Music Man Like Nobody Ever Saw, but as a starting point, this is “all right!” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Note: to play this collection in chronological order, program 11, 28, 9, 2, 7, 13, 6, 10, 19, 23, 24, 22, 4, 8, 3, 14, 15, 17, 21, 25, 16, 1, 12, 5, 26, 27, 18, 20.

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 4 – Bill Watrous

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1979 Japan-only releases reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 4 is headlined by trombonist Bill Watrous, and backed by a hand-picked quartet of Pepper, Russ Freeman (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and Carl Burnett (drums). Originally issued as Funk ‘n’ Fun, Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original eight tracks.

Recorded in March, 1979, the session features a 40-year-old Watrous who’d played with many jazz luminaries and led his own big band, the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge. The label’s suggestion of Watrous was seemingly at odds with their stated desire to record West Coast jazz veterans, but Pepper and Watrous had been gigging together, and Pepper’s longtime association with Freeman, and then-recent gigs with Magnusson and Burnett, made for easy chemistry in the studio. The set opens with a trio of 1930s jazz standards, with fine solos and unison playing, and Magnusson’s fluid bass and Burnett’s drum accents stoking the beat. Pepper takes flight on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” and Watrous’ trombone is forlorn and Freeman’s piano introspective on the ballad “When Your Lover Has Gone.”

Watrous’ original “For Art’s Sake” picks up from the ballads in a frenetic mood, and Watrous, Pepper and Freeman all find swinging grooves through the choppy rhythm as they dodge Burnett’s snappy fills. Pepper’s “Funny Blues” is taken at a mellower tempo than the 1956 original, though Pepper is energetic with his runs, and inspires the same in Watrous. The album closes with the oft-recorded mid-40s ballad “Angel Eyes” and Al Cohn’s “P. Town.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 3 – Lee Konitz

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1982 Japan-only releases reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 3 is headlined by saxophonist Lee Konitz, backed by a hand-picked rhythm section composed of Michael Lang (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and John Dentz (drums). The last of Pepper’s sessions for Atlas, this was originally released as High Jingo; Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original seven tracks.

Recorded in 1982 at Sage & Sound, the set list leans heavily on jazz standards, augmented by original pieces from each of Pepper and Konitz. The set opens with a breezy take on the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful,” with potent solos from both saxophones, mellower bridges by Lang and Magnusson, and toe-tapping cymbal work by Dentz. Laurie Pepper’s liner notes deftly dissect the different styles of Pepper and Konitz, pointing out that the former came out swinging from the first note, while the latter built up to his most potent improvisations. By the time they join together at song’s end, Konitz is warmed up, and when he enters on “High Jingo” with a mellower tone, he springboards off of Pepper’s energy. Paul Chambers’ “Whims of Chambers” cools things down a bit, as Magnusson’s walking bass line starts everyone’s head bobbing, and Lang’s comping provides superb backing for the sax solos.

Pepper’s “A Minor Blues in F” includes a fine solo from Lang and an unexpected “a cappella” sax duo in which the band drops away to leave the horns to their own conversation. The set’s ballad, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” finds Pepper on clarinet, ceding the bulk of the soloing to Konitz and Lang. Pepper’s solo on “Anniversary Song” stretches the waltz into more abstract territory before the band returns to the theme, and the set closes with a rousing take on “Cherokee.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Big Star: The Best of Big Star

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Cherry-picked collection of the band’s first three albums w/singles

There’s an element of triumph in the unjustly-ignored-in-their-time Big Star being celebrated in retrospect. At the same time, the books [1 2 3 4], documentary, reissues [1 2 3], box sets [1 2] archival artifacts [1 2 3 4 5 6], resurrections and reunions [1 2 3 4], tributary performances (and resulting concert film) and best-ofs [1 2], threaten to overwhelm the rare brilliance of their slim, original catalog. For the uninitiated, the two-fer of the band’s first two albums provides the original testaments, and the challenging third album the capstone. But if three albums is too much to absorb up front, this collection provides a a Cliff’s Notes to a musical novella whose briefness belies its importance and nuance.

The disc intertwines material from the group’s three 1970’s albums, #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers, and includes many of the band’s most beloved songs. For fans, the draw is a half-dozen single versions. Robert Gordon’s liner notes summarize the ill fates that befell the band, and their Phoenix-like rise from obscurity to seminal influence. The music essays the group’s sweetest acoustic moments, their hardest rocking, and the despair that gripped Alex Chilton as he spiraled into the third album. A “best of” is only a short hop away from an ouvre that can be had in two discs [1 2], but if you’re not ready for the plunge, this is a good place to start. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Big Star’s Home Page

Robert Lamm: Time Chill – A Retrospective

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Solo sides of founding Chicago keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter

As a founding keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter for Chicago, Robert Lamm was a regular visitor to the Top 10 with “25 or 6 to 4,” “Beginnings” and “Saturday in the Park.” His solo career began with 1974’s Skinny Boy, while still a member of Chicago, but it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that he fully emerged, and it wasn’t until 1999’s In My Head that he began to produce solo releases on a regular basis. Omnivore’s fifteen-track collection selects studio material from his 1999 coming out through 2012’s Living Proof, and adds a few remixes and previously unissued tracks. The collection touches on Lamm’s collaboration with America’s Gerry Beckley and the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson (“Standing at Your Door”), and shows off a wide range of musical interests that include rock, Europop, bossa nova, funk, classical composition and reggae. His lyrics draw inspiration from his personal life, but spiced with philosophical thoughts drawn from poetry and the realities of the headlines. Lamm’s solo releases didn’t have the commercial impact of his records with Chicago, but with or without the band, his creativity was unabated. This is a good introduction for those who only know his work with Chicago, and fans of his solo career will enjoy previously unreleased bonuses that include a cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” an a deconstructed take on Chicago’s “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Robert Lamm’s Home Page

Peter Cetera: The Very Best of Peter Cetera

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The ‘80s solo hits of a ‘70s rock powerhouse

Peter Cetera is best known as a founding bassist and vocalist of Chicago Transit Authority. He was the lead vocalist on the breakthrough “25 or 6 to 4,” as well as the group’s first chart-topper, “If You Leave Me Now.” His earliest solo work, a self-titled 1981 album and the single “On the Line,” was overshadowed by continued success with with the band; but by mid-decade, his vocals on Chicago’s hits, and his presence in the band’s videos provided enough personal notoriety to relaunch his solo career. 1986’s Solitude/Solitaire scored back-to-back #1s with Karate Kid II’s “Glory of Love” and the Amy Grant duet, “The Next Time I Fall.” He scored again with 1988’s “One Good Woman,” and continued to find success in adult contemporary throughout the ‘90s. Varese’s fourteen track collection runs through 1992’s World Falling Down, highlighted by a handful of original single versions. Cetera’s solo work, tinged by the production sound of the ‘80s, isn’t as timeless as his early sides with Chicago, but his tenor is fetching among the synthesized keyboards and big drums, and his power ballads are well crafted. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Cetera’s Home Page