Blue Yonder: Rough and Ready Heart

November 19th, 2018

Country, swing and honky-tonk from talented West Virginia trio

This West Virginia trio – singer/songwriter John Lilly, guitarist Robert Shafer and acoustic bassist Will Carter – make country music from another era. There are Western tones that suggest the Sons of the Pioneers, but Lilly and Carter’s harmonies are bluegrass brotherly, and Shafer’s picking ranges through swing, rockabilly, bluegrass and folk. Add in the playing of guests Russ Hicks on steel guitar and Tony Creasman on drums, and the group covers a lot of range with their original material. The album opens with Lilly on the side of the road, thumb out and wanderlust intact. His travel turns emotional, as he contemplates the scars that have toughened him and the memories that bind him steadfastly to the past. “Rough and Ready Heart” suggests he’s ready to soldier on, but his attachment to the past puts tomorrow on hold for “Lost in Yesterday.” It’s not until “Emerald Eyes” that Lilly finds his way back to the present, and with the clever barroom lesson of “You Can’t Get There From Here” he spies the exit. The album closes with the upbeat rockabilly “Green Light,” the rhythm section stoking the beat as Shafer shows off his flatpicking prowess. Sharp songwriting and instrumental virtuosity has made Blue Yonder a weekly favorite at the Bluegrass Kitchen, and their latest album brings it home. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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Robbie Dupree: Robbie Dupree & Street Corner Heroes

November 12th, 2018

1980s Yacht Rock classics reissued with bonus tracks

Brooklyn native, and working musician, Robbie Dupree hit it out of the box at the age of 32 with his first single, “Steal Away,” a song whose soft soul sound may be as emblematic of “Yacht Rock” as anything else in the canon. His self-titled 1980 debut album spun off a second top twenty hit with the romantic “Hot Rod Hearts,” and though he was nominated for a Grammy (losing out to Christopher Cross as best new artist in 1981), he’d only manage one more album and charting single before dropping off Elektra’s roster. He continued his career as a musician, returning to top-line status with 1987’s “Girls in Cars,” but despite steady work and a catalog of solo releases over the years, he never regained the commercial momentum of his debut single. His debut album offers a solid set of originals that suggest the sound of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers, but without the earworm magic of the hit single.

1981’s Street Corner Heroes failed to fully capitalize on the commercial buzz of the debut, with the lead single, “Brooklyn Girls,” topping out at #54, and the album failing to crack the Top 100. Despite its lackluster commercial performance, the album, like the debut, is a solid set of early ‘80s soft rock and soul. Dupree remained a fetching vocalist, sounding a bit less like Michael McDonald than on the debut, and his original songs are complemented here by material from soft rock and country pros Bill LaBounty, Rafe Van Hoy and Roy Freeland. The album’s highlight is a left turn into a cappella doo wop with a cover of the Chessman’s “All Night Long,” reaching back to Dupree’s early years on the street corners of Brooklyn. Perhaps there was no career in doo wop singing in 1981, but Dupree’s enthusiasm for the genre infuses more life in this track than the laid back soul that dominates the rest of the album.

Dupree has remastered both Elektra albums with bonus tracks and released them via Blixa Sounds. The debut is augmented by four Spanish-language translations of album tracks that went unreleased in 1980, while the follow-up includes the single edit of “Saturday Night” and a Spanish language version of “Lonely Runner.” These are nice additions for fans who may own previous reissues, and these reissues renew everyone’s opportunity to listen beyond the iconic hit single. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Robbie Dupree’s Home Page

Jim Ford: Harlan County

October 30th, 2018

Your favorite’s favorite country-soul singer-songwriter

You may have never heard country-soul singer-songwriter Jim Ford, but you’ve likely heard his songs, and you’ve certainly heard his fans. Ford co-wrote P.J. Proby’s hit single “Niki Hoeky,” an album for the Temptations, and songs recorded by Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Bobbie Gentry, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. The latter named Ford as his biggest musical influence, and recorded Ford’s songs with his pub rock group Brinsley Schwarz and as a solo act. This 1969 debut was the only full-length release of Ford’s lifetime, which also included singles, unreleased albums for Capitol and Paramount, and a wealth of session tracks that slowly found their way out of the tape vault.

Recorded in Los Angeles with support from James Burton, Dr. John, Jim Keltner and Pat and Lolly Vegas, Ford laid down an unusual mix of funk, soul, country and swamp pop. Burton’s guitar figures combine with soulful backing vocals, horns and strings, to create an album that sounds as if it could have just as easily been recorded in Memphis as in Southern California. The title track looks back at the poverty and back breaking work from which Ford ran away as a teenager. The song’s breakdowns into hymn contrast with full throated pleas for relief, as Ford recounts the sort of living that wears a man down by his early twenties. His early years inform his recording of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Long Road Ahead,” and his move from New Orleans to California is essayed in the autobiographical “Working My Way To LA.”

Oddly, for an album by a songwriter, half the selections are covers, including Stevie Wonder’s “I Wanna Make Her Love Me,” a swamp-boogie take on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and a vocally strained rendition of Alex Harvey’s “To Make My Life Beautiful.” Ford’s originals include the broken hearted road metaphors of “Under Construction,” the emotionally satisfied “Love on My Brain” and the not-too-subtle drug references of “Dr. Handy’s Dandy Candy.” None of this made an impression on radio programmers or record buyers, and the album quickly disappeared. Ford eventually made his way to England where sessions with Brinsley Schwarz and the Grease Band failed to generate releases, and additional masters recorded for Paramount were shelved.

Ford drifted into partying and out of the music industry, eventually ending up in Northern California’s Mendocino County, where he passed away in 2007. Bill Dahl’s liner notes tell the story of Ford’s career leading up to, through and following this album, and the booklet reproduces the album’s front and back cover art. The original ten tracks have been reissued several times on vinyl and CD, including a 2014 release by Varese, and an expanded 2013 edition by Bear Family. Additional volumes [1 2 3 4] of previously unreleased material have also been issued, but if you’re new to Ford as a performer, this 1969 debut is the place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple: Game Day

October 25th, 2018

Vicennial solo album finds Peter Holsapple reflecting on middle age

It’s been just about twenty years since Peter Holsapple stepped up front to lead a solo effort. After achieving reknowned with the dB’s, he served as a sideman for R.E.M., joined the Continental Drifters, reunited with Chris Stamey for the albums Mavericks and Here and Now, and with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky. In 1997 he released the solo album Out of My Way, but it would be two more decades until he was once again ready to put his name above the title without any company. He dipped his solo toes in the water with the 2017 single “Don’t Mention the War”, which is included here with its flip (“Cinderella Style”), a cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and thirteen new solo tracks. Really, really solo, as Holsapple writes, sings and performs nearly everything on the album.

Now in his early ‘60s, Holsapple’s lyrical view has grown into middle age, but his voice remains instantly recognizable. He opens the album in the present with the title song’s pragmatic view of aging, but transitions into nostalgia with the thirty-years-late thank you of “Commonplace.” He remembers his time with and laments the end of the Continental Drifters in an eponymous song, and wanders through memories as he deconstructs the intimate details of his parents’ home in “Inventory.” Mortality provides a prism for looking backward in “Don’t Ever Leave,” contemplating the musical friends no longer extant, and illuminating the motivation he discussed in a recent interview: “I think about friends who’ve passed away whom I would love to hear records by today, and I won’t be able to do that, so I feel a little bit of compunction simply by being on this side of the sod.”

Though rock guitars dominate many of the productions, Holsapple digs into electric blues, psych, country-rock, and mournful organ and electric piano. His cover of “Them Changes” combines a heavy central riff, funky keyboard sounds, a few production tweaks and a punchy, heavily processed guitar solo. The set closes with Holsapple’s 2017 single, “Don’t Mention the War,” essaying a nephew’s disheartened view of his favorite uncle’s PTSD-fueled demons, and his memories of the man that once was. The flip side, “Cinderella Style,” is an imaginative peek into the creative process of a seamstress, as Holsapple spies the fairy tale fabric compositions of a sewing room. The latter provides a gentle exit from the turmoil of the A-side, and a lovely close to this welcome return. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple’s Blog

Bob Seger: Heavy Music- The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967

October 24th, 2018

The pre-fame Cameo sides of a Detroit rock ‘n’ roll legend

When Bob Seger broke out commercially with 1976’s Live Bullet and Night Moves, he seemed to those outside the Motor City to spring fully-formed out of nowhere. But Seger had been paying his dues with a string of albums for Capitol that dated back to 1969’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, and before that, a string of singles for the Philadelphia-based Cameo label. In the wake of his 1976 breakthrough, Capitol reissued several of Seger’s earlier albums, but what remained obscure were his earlier singles. As half of the Cameo-Parkway equation, Cameo was best known for the hits of Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons, but by 1966, the label, briefly reinvigorated by Neil Bogart, had signed ? and the Mysterians, and a young Bob Seger.

Cameo released five Seger singles over ten months of 1966-67, but the label’s failing fortunes kept all but the last from breaking nationally. The fifth single, “Heavy Music,” scraped the bottom of the Billboard chart at #103, but it failed to represent the commotion that Seger was generating in his native Detroit. That local success begat a contract with Capitol, which provided a moment of fame with 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” but it would be eight more years of slogging away before international fame came calling. Cameo-Parkway withered away in the shadow of American Bandstand’s relocation from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, and the labels’ catalogs went dormant for many years. Select reissues of Chubby Checker and others have been released over the past few years, and now, finally, Seger’s singles.

Seger’s first recording was a demo with his group the Decibels, but his first released record was Doug Brown and the Omens frat-rock R&B single “T.G.I.F. (That Goodness It’s Friday),” on the Punch label. The group’s second single, a Beach Boys pastiche titled “Florida Time,” was released on a subsidiary of Punch (as the Beach Bums), and backed with an anti-draft dodger parody of Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Beret.” Seger had begun writing and producing for the Hideout label, and in 1966 he recorded the gritty, socially trenchant “East Side Story” as the first single to be released under his own name. The success of the single’s local issue caught the attention of Cameo, which reissued the title later in the year. Seger’s second Cameo single, “Sock it to Me Santa,” shows off James Brown’s influence on the young Seger, suggesting the sort of rocking soul with which Mitch Ryder stormed the charts.

Seger’s third single, “Persecution Smith,” has a distinctly Dylan (or perhaps Mouse & The Traps) vibe as the lyrics lampoon half-hearted protestors. His fourth, “Vagrant Winter” has a poetic lyric and a melody that leans to psychedelia, and Seger’s last single for Cameo, “Heavy Music,” had a Detroit groove that helped fuel Seger’s breakthrough with an eight-minute workout on 1976’s Live Bullet. The B-sides include the catchy R&B of “Chain Smokin’,” the soul ballad “Very Few” and a replay of the Beach Bums’ “Florida Time.” The variety packed into the five singles is impressive, and it’s hard to imagine how Seger’s rock ‘n’ soul grooves could take so many years to catch on. Jim Allen’s liner notes, a sessionography, label reproductions and period photos round out a must-have package for Seger fans. For chronological play, program 2, 10, 8, 7, 4, 3, 5, 6, 1, 9. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Bob Seger’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Country Singer’s Prayer

October 16th, 2018

Buck Owens’ previously unreleased final album for Capitol

Don Rich’s death in a 1974 motorcycle accident had a well-documented impact on Buck Owens. With his musical drive in neutral, his chart success declining and his Capitol contract expiring, Owens departed his longtime label, recorded a pair of albums for Warner Brothers and faded into a musical hiatus. Lost in the shuffle was this final album Owens recorded in 1975 for Capitol at his Bakersfield studio. Two singles – “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Country Singer’s Prayer” – were released to little chart action, and anthologized on the album that turned out to be Owens’ last Capitol release, The Best of Buck Owens, Vol. 6. The remaining tracks, shelved for more than forty years, are released here in their original running order, from the master tapes, for the first time. Both singles and their B-sides are included alongside liner notes by Scott B. Bomar and new interviews with Buckaroo Jim Shaw, and songwriters Robert John Jones and Dennis Knutson.

The album opens with Homer Joy’s New Orleans-tinged “John Law.” Joy played an important role in Owens’ career as the writer of his comeback vehicle “Streets of Bakersfield,” and here he writes a tale of a colorful night in a county jail. The song’s opening lyric tips its hat to Don Rich, who plays guitar on this 1973 track. By this point in Owens’ career, he wasn’t writing much, but he collected good material from RJ Jones, Jim Shaw, David Knutson and David Frizzell. Though still grieving the loss of Don Rich, he puts on a brave face for a few up-tempo numbers, but really digs into the sad songs of cheating spouses, lost souls and fraying relationships. The title track’s reminiscence, written by Jim Shaw and RJ Jones, proved dear to Owens as he thought back on the road traveled with Rich and the Buckaroos, and “A Different Kind of Sad,” again by RJ Jones, could easily have been written for Owens about Rich.

Owens’ distress eventually sapped his drive for recording, but it never dented his talent or star power. The mood here is more sedate than the explosive performances of his early, groundbreaking years, but Owens poured his sorrow into his singing, and found enough resonance with this material to re-record many of these songs for Warner Bros. The studio hands that backed those later recordings, though Nashville pros, didn’t muster the deep connection that Owens found with his Buckaroos, and Owens himself didn’t sound as emotionally invested as he had on these original drafts. After more than forty years, it’s a real treat for Owens’ many fans to have this album finally released. It’s a more fitting bookend to his Capitol career than a sixth volume of hits, and shows that even amid in his personal and professional grief he found solace in music. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Love’s Middle Name

October 16th, 2018

Love’s highs, lows and vexing in betweens

Sarah Borges has never been one to be pigeonholed. As both a solo act, and leading the Broken Singles, she’s explored country, rock, rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, psych, pop and numerous points in between. Her third album fronting the Broken Singles – the first in nine years- continues to indulge a variety of musical muses, including hard-charging rockers and mid-tempo laments, as she explores separation, loneliness, desire and dysfunction. The album opens with “House on a Hill,” immersing herself in the dichotomy between lingering feelings and the growing apprehension of an unraveling marriage. Similar tensions animate the balance of need and want in “Lucky Rocks,” the sober retrospective of “Are You Still Takin’ Them Pills” and the introspective closer “I Can’t Change It.” The latter contemplates what’s changed, what remains, and in the chorus, the effort needed to distance the present from a troubled past. Borges’ protagonists aren’t shy about their questionable choices, including problematic hookups and a murder ballad, but with “Grow Wings” she suggests that it’s songwriting that allows her introverted soul to freely express its troubles. Borges’ music has been likened to Sheryl Crow meets Joan Jett, but her music might also be likened to the emotional rock of New England compatriot Robin Lane and her 1980s band the Chartbusters. A little bit country, folk and blues, and a whole lot rock ‘n’ roll. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Sarah Borges’ Home Page

Willie Nelson: Things to Remember – The Pamper Demos

October 11th, 2018

Expanded helping of Nelson’s early songwriting demos

For a songwriter of Willie Nelson’s stature, it’s surprising that his early ‘60s Nashville demos have received so little attention. A few slipped out on compilations and bootlegs, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Sugar Hill pulled together fifteen for Crazy: The Demo Sessions. And it was thirteen more years until Sony expanded the catalog with two volumes of digital downloads on The Demo Project. Real Gone now collects the latter two volumes into physical CD and LP releases, augmenting the twenty-eight tracks with liner notes by Colin Escott, and photos from the archives of Bear Family founder Richard Weize. As with the previous releases, the recordings are clean and compelling, and with only partial overlap of the 2003 Sugar Hill disc, this is an essential addition to any Willie Nelson fan’s collection.

Nelson signed a publishing deal with Pamper Music in 1960 and commenced to churning out songs and demos with his guitar and in off-hour sessions with Nashville A-listers. The material includes many of his most iconic compositions – “Crazy,” “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Hello Walls,” “Night Life,” “Pretty Paper” – first turned into hits by Patsy Cline, Faron Young, Ray Price, Roy Orbison and others. But also heard here are the initial takes on songs that would populate Nelson’s early albums for Liberty and RCA, and fully flower in the years after he’d shucked off Nashville’s stylistic straightjacket. His idiosyncratic vocal phrasing had yet to fully form, but you can hear its roots here, and the sophistication of his songwriting was already steps ahead of the Nashville mainstream.

The band tracks are two-steps and shuffles, and though Nelson sings straight to the beat, his voice, melodies and lyrics are distinctive. The violence of “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye” probably wouldn’t be released as a single today, but Nelson actually had middling success cutting it for RCA in 1965. The low strings on “Little Things” sound like Nelson’s guitar playing, though they don’t have the tone of Trigger, and the walking bass line of “I’m Gonna Lose a Lot of Teardrops” and the acoustic blues guitar and fingersnaps of “Night Life” offer changes of pace. Nelson turned out numerous songs of romantic dissolution, each colored with a unique shade of self-pity, anger or remorse, and “I Gotta Get Drunk” sounds like something Hank Williams might have written had he lived into the 1960s.

Comparing these demos to their later incarnations provides an interesting lesson in what songwriters, singers, musicians and producers each contribute to a hit record. The lyrics of “Pretty Paper” provide a sympathetic portrait of the song’s subject, but the demo couldn’t anticipate the level of pathos that would be brought to the hit by Roy Orbison, producer Fred Foster and arranger Bill Justis. Similarly, Nelson’s demo of “Crazy” suggested the phrasing that would turn it into a hit, but didn’t take it to the crooning extreme that made it a signature for Patsy Cline. The talking guitar that threads through “Hello Walls” is a nice period touch, but only a placeholder for the answer vocals on Faron Young’s hit. As memorable as are the hits, it’s a treat to hear these early sketches and enjoy Nelson’s early burst of songwriting genius. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nelson’s Home Page

Tony Joe White: Bad Mouthin’

October 10th, 2018

Low, slow blues from Louisiana legend

It’s been fifty years since Tony Joe White stepped into the spotlight with his Muscle Shoals-infused debut Black and White, and its iconic single “Polk Salad Annie.” He continued to thread his southern roots through five decades of touring and solo albums, even as he wrote for and produced other artists. His trademark swamp sounds bubbled up in recent releases for Yep Roc, including 2013’s Hoodoo and 2016’s Rain Crow, but this third album for the label takes him down and low into the blues. The track list includes six originals, and five covers highlighted by John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Luther Dixon’s “Big Boss Man” and a take on “Heartbreak Hotel” that’s more a withered admission than a repeat of Elvis Presley’s plaintive cry.

The backings alternate between acoustic and electric, the former offering crisp counterpoint to the weariness of White’s vocals, and the latter leaning on low electric guitar and the spare snare and bass drum of Bryan Owings. One might be lulled into experiencing the album’s crawling tempos as an expression of exhaustion, but the power in White’s voice is akin to the weight of a fully-loaded freight slowly pushing its way down the track. Stripping down to solo and spare duos lets the emotion of his rumbling vocals set the tone for his rhythm guitar, harmonica and lyrics. At 75, White’s putting everything he’s learned and felt into his music, singing in half-whispered exhalations that draw you into an intimate album of blues confessions. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Tony Joe White’s Home Page

Hawks and Doves: From a White Hotel

August 14th, 2018

Returning from self-inflicted wounds and widespread destruction

Kasey Anderson’s hard road back to rock ‘n’ roll is a journey that he wasn’t sure he could, or even wanted to make. Alcohol and substance abuse, addiction, bipolar disorder, self-delusion, desperation, deceit, fraud, conviction, prison, sobriety, probation, recovery, amends and restitution are a deeper well of troubles than most songwriters accrue in a lifetime, let alone before they turn thirty-four. Released from prison, he edged back into playing music as an artistic outlet rather than an onramp to a former career, and with the support of friends and fans, his writing and performances have grown over the course of a couple of years from a restorative avocation into an ongoing concern.

Fans who can look beyond the damage Anderson wrought will find an artist whose commitment to music was deepened by the limited opportunities he found in prison. The physical and mental isolation of incarceration taught Anderson to use his imagination rather than leaning solely on experience, and the endless hours of self reflection allowed him to ponder questions of redemption. Patience has replaced drug- and bipolar-induced binges, letting his songwriting craft flow in whatever time it naturally takes. That said, his passion for what he writes is unhindered, and when he steps up to the microphone, there’s an urgency to express what he’s learned about himself.

The album opens with the chaos that’s engulfing the world, but quickly turns personal as Anderson reflects on the freedoms and indiscretions of youth, suffers the debilitating “Lithium Blues,” and takes a sober look at the personal turmoil that consumed him. Yet even as he thinks back, he’s careful not to be trapped by the past, nor, perhaps owing to his own track record, measure others by his personal yardstick. The solemn “Geek Love” paints a touching portrait of sideshow freaks (which, for the few who know it, pairs beautifully with the Babylon Minstrels’ “Gibsonton”), and demonstrates Anderson’s growing ability to parlay seeds of personal experience into rich fictional stories.

Musically, the album stretches from anthemic rock that recalls Willie Nile and early John Mellencamp, to moody tracks that include the clanky bottom end of “Get Low,” the soulful horns of “Every Once in Awhile” and the pump organ of “Lover’s Waltz.” Anderson’s been quoted as noting that the forced disconnection from his audience has left him, perhaps only temporarily, less inhibited as a songwriter. Unknowing of who’s likely to be listening, he can only write for himself – a rare opportunity for a seasoned songwriter, and one that Anderson and his gathered musician friends – Jordan Richter, Ben Landsverk and Jesse Moffat – make good on. Very good. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Kasey Anderson’s Home Page