Posts Tagged ‘Blues’

Peter Case: On the Way Downtown – Recorded Live on FolkScene

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Peter Case’s on-stage magic from 1998 and 2000

Peter Case has had a music career that few of his contemporaries can match. Breaking in with Jack Lee and Paul Collins as the Nerves, no one would have guessed it was the beginning of a musical road that’s now stretched more than forty years. Case’s second band, the Plimsouls, garnered a major label contract, tours and an appearance in Valley Girl, but this too ended up as prelude to a solo career launched by his eponymous 1986 album. Unlike the rock ‘n’ roll of his earlier bands, his solo work – both on record and in performance – put a greater focus on his songwriting, and it’s that songwriting that’s highlighted in these tracks taken from live radio performances in 1998 and 2000.

Both performances are drawn from Case’s appearances on KPFK’s FolkScene. The earlier set highlights material from Case’s Full Service, No Waiting, while the latter set combines material from Flying Saucer Blues and earlier releases, and adds covers of Mississippi John Hurt and Charlie Poole. Both sets were engineered by FolkScene’s resident engineer, Peter Cutler, and sparkle with the show’s warmth and Case’s creativity. Case is joined by the Full Service album band for the 1998 set, and by violinist David Perales for the later tracks.

At 40, Case was thinking deeply about the path from his childhood to his present. The title track is filled with the memories an ex-pat relishes in revisiting his hometown, while “See Through Eyes” laments the incursion of doubt that middle age brings. Case remembers his San Francisco years in “Green Blanket (Part 1)” and “Still Playin’,” and explores the roots of his rambling in the acoustic “Crooked Mile.” The first set closes with the adolescently hopeful “Until the Next Time,” while the second set opens in a more present frame of mind with “Something Happens.” Two years on, Case was still remembering notable moments from his past, but also looking forward.

The songs easily fit the band setting, but the starker guitar-and-violin arrangements of the second set provide Case’s singing and lyrics a more intense spotlight. He slips easily into the acoustic picking of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Pay Day” and wears the lyric with a familiarity that belies its mid-60s origins. Case moves easily between blues and folk, and Parales violin provides moody underlines, rapidly bowed sparks and intricate, emotional accompaniment, highlighted by his ornamental line on “Beyond the Blues.” Peter Cutler’s recording is clean and unaffected, and presents Case as you might expect to hear him in a club or on a street corner, with his musical magic at full power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Various Artists: The Roots of Popular Music – The Ralph S. Peer Story

Monday, October 30th, 2017

The recordings and song publishing of a legend

It’s hard to imagine someone more important to American popular music than Ralph S. Peer. His pioneering achievements in blues, country, jazz and Latin music vaulted him into the highest echelon of A&R, and his career as a publisher built a foundational catalog that remains sturdy to this day. Peer’s recordings of Mamie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and a publishing catalog that stretched from Bill Monroe to Perez Prado to Hoagy Carmichael to Buddy Holly speaks to his ears for originality and his unprejudiced love of music. His talent for placing songs with singers exemplifies the sort of contribution a non-musician can make to music, and his extrapolation of regional and societal niches into popular phenomena speaks to a vision unclouded by the status quo.

Ralph Peer was not the only producer to explore the musical landscape of the United States, but unlike his peer John Lomax, Peer was less a folklorist, and more a producer whose studio was in the trunk of his car. In 1927 he discovered Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in a single session in Bristol, Tennessee, and found additional success prospecting in Latin America. His interests in musical areas outside the popular mainstream led him to back the newly formed BMI, which in turn would spur the growth of radio as a medium for records, rather than live performances. The fruits of those labors are heard here in the songs he placed with Jimmy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and others.

The chronological running order of the first two discs gives listeners a sense of how Peer had his fingers in multiple genres at once. The enduring legacy of his work as a publisher is heard on disc 3, in recordings of songs whose appeal continued to grow after Peer’s 1960 death. The focus on Peer’s publishing catalog leaves out many of his landmark recordings, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The hardcover book includes notes from Peer biographer Barry Mazor, photographs and artifacts, but its lack of discourse on the set’s musical selections renders it more of an exhibit catalog than the liner notes for a fifty-song anthology. Pick up Mazor’s book, and the combination will tell you the story in words and music. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Eilen Jewell: Down Hearted Blues

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Sparkling Jewell covers the blues

Eilen Jewell’s voice has always been from another era. From her earliest country folk to the country shuffles, western swing and hot club jazz that have filled out her catalog, Jewell’s often had at least one peep-toed shoe in the 1930s. Even as she added electric guitars and growling saxophones to the mix with 2009’s Sea of Tears and 2014’s Queen of the Minor Key, she retained the out-of-time otherworldliness of her vocals. Her last album, 2015’s Sundown Over Ghost Town, dialed back the jazz, rock and R&B to electric country folk that married the directness of Woody Guthrie to the choked emotion of Billie Holiday. Two years later, the blues are back, as Jewell rips through a brilliantly selected and deftly executed collection of covers.

The dozen selections here weigh towards the 1950s and 1960s, with sides drawn from the Chess, Checker, Excello, Ace, Finch and Bluesville labels. The disc opens with a killer take on Charles Sheffield’s “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” driven by the spellbinding guitar of Jerry (“Not Moby Grape’s”) Miller. The covers include singles and deep album tracks made popular by Howlin’ Wolf, Big Maybelle, Little Walter and Otis Rush, and reach back to earlier sides from Bessie Smith (“Down Hearted Blues”) and Moonshine Kate (“The Poor Girl’s Story”). This is a connoisseur’s’ selection, highlighted by a rockabilly-inflected take on Betty James “I’m a Little Mixed Up” and a smokey, Peggy Lee-styled read of Little Walter’s “Crazy Mixed Up World.”

Jewell loosens up her voice, not to a full blues shout, but with an extroverted passion that, supplemented by Miller’s wicked guitar playing and a crack rhythm section, leaps from the speakers with authority. Even when playing coy, there’s no doubt who’s in charge, and unlike idiosyncratic stylists such as Holly Golightly or Lucinda Williams, Jewell takes a lighter touch in rethinking her covers. Jewell tips her hat to the material without losing centerstage, and in doing so the album sheds new light on the songs and the singer. The diverse material, drawn from the 1920s through the 1960s, fits together into a cohesive album, aided by Miller’s range of guitar styles and a flexible rhythm section. From start to finish, this is a love letter to the blues. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Eilen Jewell’s Home Page

Andrea Stray: Into Blue

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Moody rock EP with country and blues echoes

There’s something haunting about Andrea Stray’s new EP. The languorous tempos convey an emotional mood that’s as much weary as it is wary. She sings of love’s dichotomies, suggesting that strength and fragility are two sides of the same coin, and that discord can harden from explosive force to impediment to acrimony. Her vocals are often lost in thought, but the thoughts that break to the surface with “Forgive and Forget” are the last rays of optimism before the unhappy ending is faced on the closing “You’re the Kind.” Recorded in Nashville with professional studio hands, this sounds nothing like the product one associates with the city’s commercial side. J.T. Corenflos’ moody, blues-tinged electric guitar is revelatory, and Scotty Sanders creates atmosphere rather than country twang with his pedal steel guitar. Stray’s singing might remind you of Robin Lane, Hope Sandoval or Neko Case, but her songs, and the moods she creates with them, are all her own. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Andrea Stray’s Home Page

Cowbell: Haunted Heart

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Wicked mix of late-60s and early-70s soul, blues and garage

This London duo’s third album is chock-full of garage-soul built on guitar, drums and splashes of organ that take things into darker places. The title track suggests the voodoobilly of the Cramps, while the rolling “Doom Train” melds sparse blues and tack piano with backing vocals that suggest Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks. There are echoes of the Kinks and Cream, but also the early-60s folk of Richard & Mimi Farina and the 1970s sounds of Laurel Canyon. Guitarist Jack Sandham sings most of the leads, but drummer Wednesday Lyle steps to the mic for the punk-fired “Downlow” and the cool-as-ice “New Kinda Love.” The album is tasteful, but even when taken downtempo, it remains sultry rather than sedate, with horns adding texture to several tracks. This is a sophisticated set that wanders through blues, soul and roots rock, like a shuffle through a music-lover’s record collection. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Tom Armstrong: The Sky is an Empty Eye

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Superb private press album of guitar instrumentals

When you can make a record with a USB microphone and cloud-based recording, it’s hard to remember the revolution that was home recording. TEAC’s 4-track reel-to-reel recorders (and TASCAM’s later cassette-based Portastudio) for the semi-pro market allowed home recordists to multi-track and overdub without the overbearing expense (and ticking clock) of studio time. Some of these sessions ended up in the commercial market, but many were unspooled only for friends and family, or circulated in local vinyl pressings. Tompkins Square sampled several of these small batch recordings on Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Press, and now expands on the theme with this first of several planned full album reissues.

Tom Armstrong had hung around the edges of the music business, playing bars and open mics, but when his engineering career took off, dreams of a professional music career were put aside. But a 4-track gifted to him by his wife kept his guitar playing alive, and provided a creative outlet into which he poured this original music. Though he kept recording for more than a decade, this is the one collection of songs he had mastered and pressed to vinyl, handing out copies mostly to friends and business associates. He favors meditative acoustic tracks, such as the harmonic-filled opener and the somnambulistic “Dream Waltz,” but he adds dripping neo-psych notes to “Keller,” picks electric slide on “The Thing,” and sings the title track.

The album’s variety might have driven a market-seeking record label crazy, but it’s exactly that free-spiritedness that gives the album its charm. The segue from the finger-picked electric “Mama’s Baby” to the echoed, nearly discordant “Bebop” suggests the evolution of blues into jazz, and the album continues to evolve as it closes with the driving spaciness of “Thunder Clouds.” Most of the arrangements appear to be two or maybe three guitars, sometimes rhythm and lead, often interleaving in original ways. Armstrong’s technique is good, but it’s his musical imagination and the freedom to follow his muse without commercial pressure that really gives these recordings their power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tompkins Square’s Home Page

Blackfoot Gypsies: To the Top

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

East Nashville blues-soaked rock ‘n’ roll

Oh rock ‘n’ roll, where have you been? Where have your pounding bass lines, screaming saxophones, scorching guitars and wild-eyed vocals been hiding? The Blackfoot Gypsies make the case for East Nashville, as their third album marries together the roots-rock swagger of the Black Crowes, the grit of the early-70s Stones, the West Coast country of the Byrds and Burritos, and the wildness of 1960s garage rock. In addition to reminding you of the Crowes’ Chris Robinson, Matthew Paige might remind you of Steve Marriott, Ian Hunter or Willie Nile, and the band draws on each of these singers’ groups without landing squarely on any one.

The guitars that open the album echo the Kinks “I Need You,” accompanied in the front seat by the rhythm section, Paige’s howling vocal and Ollie Dogg’s wailing harmonica. There’s barely a breath before Dylan Whitlow’s driving bass and Paul Thacker’s urgent sax push “Everybody’s Watching” into the red. Paige and drummer Zack Murphy lock into their shared roots as the founding two piece Murphy describes as “everything in the extreme.” Even when dialed down, the folk-country “Potatoes and Whiskey” and country-blues “Velvet Low Down Blues” are still edgy.

There’s a twist of soul on “Everybody’s Watching,” second-line roll on “Back to New Orleans,” Jan & Dean-styled backing vocals on “Promise to Keep” and a Bo Diddley beat on “Gypsy Queen.” The rootsy “Woman Woman” suggests the Band, and the hard blues of “I’ve Got the Blues” echoes Led Zeppelin in acoustic mode. There’s longing, loneliness, drinking and mean, mistreating women, but more in a blues vein than country, and “I Wanna Be Famous” thrashes out a swipe at those famous for being famous. At 62 minutes, the album’s intensity can get a bit exhausting, but there’s no doubting the band’s talent and groove. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Blackfoot Gypsies’ Home Page

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: Live From Ebbets Field

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Live from the Denver ozone in 1973

For many rock listeners, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s 1971 debut, Lost in the Ozone, was a taste-expanding experience. The group’s catalog of country, western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues and rockabilly was broader than the country excursions of 1960s rock bands like the Byrds, and though others – notably NRBQ – blended multiple genres, the Airmen’s cover of “Hot Rod Lincoln” turned commercial attention into a following. The band hit the road in 1973 in support of their third album, Country Casanova, with a new-used tour bus and ace steel player Bobby Black in tow. The tour schedule was apparently quite grueling, but produced superb shows, including this stop in Denver, Colorado.

The group’s core lineup – George “Commander Cody” Frayne, Billy C. Farlow, Bill Kirchen, John Tichy, Lance Dickerson, Andy Stein and Bruce Barlow – had been steady since their debut, and the chemistry they’d developed in San Francisco Bay Area clubs is evident in this set. They weave together a handful of originals with a wealth of brilliantly selected covers, including sad truckin’ songs, rockin’ rave-ups, Cajun and swing dance numbers, novelty tunes and a cowboy closer. The stereo recording is well preserved, though there are major dropouts on “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” and “Diggy Liggy Lo,” and the live mix lets some of the instruments and vocals peak in the red.

The set features three tracks from Country Casanova, including the original “Rock That Boogie,” but skips the earlier hit “Hot Rod Lincoln.” The Commander gets a spotlight on Merle Travis’ “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” and the crowd seems quite pleased with the set and six song encore. The 1973 tour has now produced several albums, including the classic Live From Deep In The Heart Of Texas and the more recent Tour From Hell. There are a few overlaps in the set lists, but the group’s huge repertoire provides eleven songs here that don’t appear on the other two. There’s a bit of stage banter to give you a feel for the 68-minute show; all that’s missing is the evening’s second set! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Commander Cody’s Home Page

Otis Taylor: Fantasizing About Being Black

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Timely observations of the African-American experience

Otis Taylor continues to create a very individual sound. The heart of his music is in the blues, but he sings in short phrases and plays in circular grooves that invoke a trance-like mood; and with Ron Miles’ cornet and guest string players Jerry Douglas and Brandon Niederauer, he adds jazz, Americana and Latin flavors. It’s a powerful musical base for his latest album of original material, essaying the African American experience from slavery to heroism, and documenting racism, hatred, violence and fear as constant, unwanted companions. The opening “Twelve String Mile” echoes Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, but the album quickly turns to the ways in which unsolicited notice unilaterally distorts African-American lives.

Though its timing with the divisional ascent of Donald Trump is apparently coincidental, Taylor’s songs foretell the renewal of dynamics that have haunted African Americans since their forced arrival on U.S. shores. In the world Taylor describes, freedom is often found only in the mind, and every day trials – break-ups, affairs, adoption, protests – gain an extra dimension of complexity with race factored in. Taylor is backed by bass and drums as he moves between electric and acoustic guitars, and adds touches of banjo. He sings the first-hand experiences you expect from the blues, but with an historical reach that makes the album even more potent. The timing may be coincidental, but the current political context heightens the work’s power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Otis Taylor’s Home Page

The Masonics: Obermann Rides Again

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Ferocious Medway rock ‘n’ roll

Fans of Thee Headcoats, Mighty Casears and Prisoners will rejoice at the ninth album from this all-star Medway band. Fronted by ex-Milkshake Mickey Hampshire on guitar, and backed by drummer Bruce Brand (Pop Rivets, Milkshakes) and bassist John Gibbs (Kaisers), the Masonics offer the perfect combination of unpolished garage rock and blues-based melodies – something you might call rough ‘n’ roll. Even the ballad “I Don’t Understand Her Any More” isn’t exactly tender, with Hampshire pleading his case as more of a complaint than a concern, and the Animals-like “What Do You Do” providing a sobering, after-the-fact look in the mirror. The trio channels Bo Diddley’s rhythmic stomp in “You Don’t Have to Travel” and “The Unsignposted Road,” crank up the tempo to amphetamine punk for “You’re a Stranger,” and nail the combustible tension of the early Who with “You Won’t See Me Again.” The band’s energy is relentless as Hampshire picks guitar solos and Brand rides his cymbals, creating music that’s perfect for a sweaty, overcrowded beer-stained venue near you. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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