Monday, October 30, 2023
There's a few things that I like a lot here..."Whole Wide World" sounds like an edgier version of the energetic Some Girls version of the Stones with some cool avant-garde guitar squonk. Mick's vox on "Dreamy Skies" are a little too featherweight, but I like the song's dominant, sleazy Exile-era vibe and bluesy guitar grease. "Live By the Sword" offers up some scorching guitar pyrotechnics and one of Charlie's last recorded performances... they're really gonna miss Mr. Watts if they carry on.
"Sweet Sounds of Heaven," with Lady Gaga, has really grown on me and probably should have been the album's initial single release, and the band is always gonna bring it on a Delta throwback like "Rolling Stone Blues," with Mick still trying to sound like Muddy Waters after all these decades.
I'm of mixed feelings about the chinzy album cover artwork, which assaults the eyeballs like some cheap-o late '80s heavy metal album, or maybe some of the worst visual abominations that came out of Master P's No Limits label in the late 1990s and early '00s. The album production is a wee too clean and tidy for my taste but, overall, Hackney Diamonds is better than I expected, tho' not anywhere near a "Second Coming"...it's a solid late-period Stones effort that reminds one of the band's long-enduring greatness but doesn't add much to their already massive rock 'n' roll legacy... (Geffen Records, released September 6th, 2023)
Friday, October 27, 2023
After recording ten albums between 1970 and 1997, Jeffreys literally disappeared from the U.S. music landscape, instead traveling frequently to Europe where much of his back catalog remains in print, performing for a growing and appreciative audience. With The King of In Between, the 67-year-old musician has released his first album in better than 13 years, picking up almost exactly where he left off in the late 1990s. Jeffreys’ whipsmart lyrical observations on life in the Big Apple and beyond lack none of the bite of his earlier work, while the music on The King of In Between is every bit as eclectic and entertaining as ever.
“Coney Island Winter” opens with shimmering guitar and a deep rhythmic groove, Jeffreys’ half-spoken/half-sung words mesmerizing in their impact and intellectual depth. The funky “Streetwise” offers up haunting vocals, lush strings, and Larry Campbell’s imaginative fretwork while the rollicking “The Contortionist” features Lou Reed providing doo wop vocals behind Jeffreys’ pleading voice. The bluesy “‘Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me” is a sprawling boogie-rock tune that name checks Hooker, Bo Diddley, and James Brown while also evoking Elmore James.
While not a conventional blues album per se, The King of In Between will appeal to blues and rock fans alike, Garland Jeffreys’ unique, eclectic sound a welcome antidote to music that too often draws from the same deep wellspring instead of painting with the entire bright spectrum of colors you’ll hear on The King of In Between. (Luna Park Records, released June 9th, 2011)
Review originally published by Blues Revue magazine, 2011
Buy the CD from Amazon: Garland Jeffreys’ The King of In Between
The importance of Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins on the contemporary blues scene cannot be overstated. Hopkins’ unique guitar style inspired a literal “who’s who” of blues giants, including Freddie King, Albert Collins, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Beginning in the ‘40s, Lightnin’ recorded hundreds of songs, taking his payments in cash (and maybe a bottle on the side), capturing his performances on tape in one take. Hopkins was in danger of fading into obscurity when Sam Charters produced a full-length Lightnin’ album in 1960 and featured the guitarist in his best-selling book The Country Blues. With his natural charisma, six-string talents, and improvised approach to storytelling (Hopkins would often add new lyrics to traditional tunes on the fly), Lightnin’ became a star of the early ‘60s folk-blues revival. Touring the globe, Hopkins’ travels eventually brought him to the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival.
Hopkins’ Live At Newport (Vanguard Records) is a wonderful document of the bluesman at his very best. Taken from the original analog tapes, cleaned up and remastered for the digital age, the sound quality is a notch below what most people expect from a CD. The sound does nothing to detract from the incredible performance offered by Lightnin’, however, and the addition of several previously unreleased songs fleshes out the original vinyl release. Hopkins’ runs through a set that includes such classics as “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Mojo Hand,” also offering up red-hot readings of “Come On Baby” and “Where Can I Find My Baby?” Hopkins’ voice is in fine form and his between-song comments are priceless. It is Lightnin’s guitar that holds center stage, however, his fluid leads and percussive bass lines defining a style and establishing Hopkins’ influence on generations to come. An essential addition to any blues’ fans collection, Live At Newport is both a fine introduction to the talents of Lightnin’ Hopkins and a textbook illustration of Texas-flavored country blues.
SOME MORE YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED IN 2002
After a few years of wandering the indie-rock wilderness, Memphis-based Saliva mined platinum with its major league debut, Every Six Seconds. The band’s mix of rap-influenced vocals and hard rock with sharp metal edges caught the ear of the teen market and resulted in a handful of modern rock chartbusters. Back Into Your System (Island Records) attempts to recreate the magic of that debut and, for the most part, succeeds. Fronting a lean, muscular collection of tunes fueled by leather-tough riffs and crashing rhythms, Saliva vocalist Josey Scott shows subtle growth as a vocalist, allowing some of the Memphis soul that he grew up with to creep in around the edges of songs like “Rest In Pieces.” The staccato rhythms and pounding fretwork of “Raise Up” conceal a lyrical braggadocio worthy of any gangsta rapper while the radio-ready “Always” offers all the best traits of nu-metal with few of the clichés. With greater emotional depth and musical dimensions than the typical modern rock band, Saliva prove with Back Into Your System that the band’s early success was no fluke and that they’re here to stay.
Just when you figure that this “nu-metal” thing has run its course with a thousand different Slipknot/Mudvayne clones, along comes a band like Demon Hunter to change your perceptions of the trend. With the self-titled Demon Hunter (Solid State), the band brings some intelligence and style to the alt-metal genre, mixing powerful syncopation and chameleon-like time signatures into the standard brew of razor-sharp fretwork and pounding rhythms. Songs like “Through the Black” or “As We Wept” offer more than your typical instrumental mugging, Demon Hunter’s obsession with death and entropy informing the band’s lyrics with poetic erudition. The band is also quite capable of moving from a whisper to a roar and back again in a heartbeat, acoustic-flavored melodies complimenting the industrial-strength riffs and jackhammer beats. Inspired by bands like Black Sabbath, Venom, and Sepultura, Demon Hunter thankfully strays off the beaten path with a fine debut album.
Friday, October 20, 2023
Archive Review: George Thorogood's George Thorogood & the Destroyers / Move It On Over (1977 & 1978)
Into the void stepped a young guitarist and former minor league baseball player by the name of George Thorogood. Leading a ramshackle foursome known as the “Delaware Destroyers,” the band was thoroughly steeped in the sort of houserockin’ blues pioneered by folks like Elmore James, J.B. Hutto, and Hound Dog Taylor. Moving the band from Delaware to Boston, Thorogood and crew made a name for themselves on a thriving Beantown blues scene, their demo recordings grabbing the attention of Rounder Records, who would release the band’s self-titled 1977 debut album.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers
George Thorogood and the Destroyers wrote the blueprint that Thorogood has followed for his records, more or less, for 35+ years now. You’ll get a couple of original tracks written in an old-school blues style, a bunch of classic cover tunes ramped up and amped as only Thorogood and the Destroyers are capable, and plenty of George’s rowdy six-string ringing throughout. This 1977 debut does it better than most of what would follow, Thorogood and gang roaring through ten rough ‘n’ ready blues-rock performances that touch upon some of the best that had come before. Elmore James’ “Madison Blues” was one of the popular radio tracks from the album, Thorogood’s frenetic slidework and the band’s relentless locomotive rhythms making for a red-hot, juke-joint styled performance.
The standout track from George Thorogood and the Destroyers, however, was the lengthy, extended cover of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” which became a constant of Thorogood’s live shows and a fan favorite. Thorogood surrounds Hooker’s original lyrics and primal rhythm with a slick, street-savvy rap that turns the song into a hard luck tale of woe complete with brash boogie guitar licks and hypnotic drumbeats. If that’s all you know about Thorogood’s debut, though, you’ll be in for a treat, because there are a number of other fine performances on the album that often get overshadowed by the brilliance of the two aforementioned tracks.
Thorogood’s take on Delta legend Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” is delivered as a country-blues ballad with acoustic guitar and mournful vocals, the guitarist displaying a more subtle side to his talents while bringing a bit of finesse to the performance. Thorogood’s original song “Homesick Boy” fits into the festivities like a glove, his serpentine fretwork matched by a driving rhythmic bedrock, bassist Billy Blough and drummer Jeff Simon the underrated backbone of the early Destroyers sound. A cover of Bo Diddley’s “Ride On Josephine” is spot on, virtually mimicking the original while Thorogood’s “Delaware Slide” is a lengthy, spirited jam that incorporates scraps of Delta, Texas, and Chicago blues traditions while serving up a heady brew of slinky guitar and jagged rhythms.
George Thorogood’s Move It On Over
It’s safe to say that nobody has done Hank quite like George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the band’s high-octane reading of “Move It On Over” taking an already rowdy tune and revving the motor much faster than is safe. Simon’s staccato drumbeats here are matched by Thorogood’s slash ‘n’ burn fretwork and trademark vocal style (gruff, raw, and slightly twangy) while Blough’s subtle bass provide a fluid groove to the song. The title track, along with a big-beat cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” were the album’s calling card, garnering the lion’s share of the radio airplay and helping push Move It On Over to #33 on the Billboard albums chart. Thorogood’s reading of Diddley’s signature song is inspired, crackling with the electricity of a downed power line, the guitarist’s scattershot licks stinging like a hornet’s nest and stomping like a drunken elephant.
Thorogood’s slide-guitar on Elmore James’ classic “The Sky Is Crying” is particularly effective as a tearful counterpoint to his soulful, heartbroken vocals. “Cocaine Blues” is a rockabilly-tinged cover of a 1940s-era Western Swing song popularized by Johnny Cash in the 1960s and recorded by artists as diverse as Woody Guthrie, Nick Drake, and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Thorogood reclaims the song as a sort of hillbilly blues, light on six-string pyrotechnics but offering up fuel-injected, hot rod vocals and a reckless beat. Thorogood re-imagines Brownie McGhee’s Piedmont blues gem “So Much Trouble” as a guitar-driven boogie-rocker in the style of John Lee while the obscure Homesick James tune “Baby Please Set A Date” is a rockin’ shuffle that showcases Thorogood’s ringing, full-tilt guitar style.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
The first pair of albums from George Thorogood and the Destroyers served the band well, grabbing them FM radio airplay (heck, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” is a staple of classic rock radio to this day) and a modicum of album sales. They also served as a calling card, of sorts, driving new fans to the band’s live shows, where Thorogood’s livewire performance style and easy-going charisma never fails to entertain.
Most significantly, however, Thorogood and the Destroyers brought the blues to a new generation of American youth with these two albums, jolting the music out of its late-decade doldrums and paving the way for artists like Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan and the blues boom of the 1980s. That these albums sound as vital and electrifying as they did 35 years ago is a testament not only to the classic songs but to the performance of George Thorogood and the Destroyers as well. If you don’t already have these albums, go get ‘em! (Rounder Records, reissued June 16th, 2013)
Buy the CDs from Amazon:
George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Move It On Over
A household name among music lovers in Canada, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn is nevertheless a cult artist south of the border, best known for his lone U.S. hit, the folk-influenced “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” More adventuresome than your garden-variety folkie, Cockburn has redefined the possibilities of folk music during a career that has ranged across four decades. Albums such as Dancing In the Dragon’s Jaws and Stealing Fire have broken through the glass ceiling of folk-rock limitations, introducing elements of the blues, jazz, and world music into the mix and opening the door for like-minded artists to follow.
In what one can only hope is the first shot in restoring Cockburn’s fragmented and wonderfully diverse musical catalog, Rounder Records has reissued a handful of early Cockburn albums with additional songs and in-depth liner notes. As me cherished old grandpa used to say, “there’s not a punter in the bunch,” but if this humble scribe had to pick someplace to start, I’d recommend going with Cockburn’s 1976 classic, In the Falling Dark (True North/Rounder). A somber, reflective collection, the album marks the beginning of an artistic evolution for Cockburn as he allows jazz influences to creep into his acoustic, folk-based songs through the inspired use of flute and horns. These melodic flourishes flesh out Cockburn’s songs of faith and social consciousness, his expanding lyrics serving as signposts for the liberal Christianity that the artist would champion throughout his entire career.
Cockburn ended the decade of the ‘70s with his masterpiece Dancing In the Dragon’s Jaws (True North/Rounder), which yielded the aforementioned Top Forty hit and is, perhaps, Cockburn’s best-loved album among his fans. With a brighter, livelier sound than shown on his earlier albums, Dancing In the Dragon’s Jaws is an excellent collection of songs. Cockburn’s world travels opened his eyes (and ears) to the music of other cultures and informed his deepening spirituality with the realities of the social injustice he witnessed. With a fresh perspective, songs like “After the Rain” and “Incandescent Blue” showcase a maturing lyrical poetry while “Wondering Where the Lions Are” is as near perfect a slice of singer/songwriter heaven as you’ll find on this side of the great divide. Bonus tracks compliment the titles and fit nearly seamlessly with the original material; both albums do a fine job in illustrating Cockburn’s enormous skills as a guitarist and intelligence as a lyricist. If you want insightful and inspired music that will soothe and inform, look no further than Bruce Cockburn.
Using classic bass-heavy funk as a foundation, Stevens fills Shocka Zooloo to the brim with contagious rhythms, scorching hard rock and ‘60s-styled soul. The resulting collection is as rowdy as a house party and as welcome as the night’s final kiss. Stevens is a fair vocalist and accessible songwriter, lending a down-to-earth feel to songs like the red-hot rocker “No Good w/Out the Bad” or the mesmerizing “The River Flow.” Stevens updates a Sly Stone classic with ”Family Man” while “Got Nothing To Say” offers up a vicious groove beneath its metallic veneer. Shocka Zooloo is forged out of the foot-shuffling rhythms of P-Funk, the hard rock of Living Colour, and the worldbeat of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti, an artistic tightwire dance that Stevens manages to make look effortless.
Drawing from a musical well that includes punk rockers like the Clash, art-rockers like Television, and British mod heroes like the Jam, the Libertines have delivered an engaging debut album. Songs like the rockabilly-tinged “Vertigo,” the Pete Townshend inspired title track or the psychdelic-flavored “The Good Old Days” spark and crackle with raw energy and youthful enthusiasm. The album’s production, courtesy of the Clash’s Mick Jones, is nearly pitch-perfect, emphasizing the band’s assets while masking any musical liabilities with a white light/white heat wall-of-sound. Available only, at this time, as an import album, Up the Bracket shows the Libertines as worthy torchbearers in a proud garage rock tradition and a band worth keeping an eye on in the future. (View From The Hill, November 2022)
Friday, October 13, 2023
Performing with Double Trouble at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival, the incendiary performance brought Vaughan to the attention of two bona fide 1970s rock ‘n’ roll superstars – David Bowie and Jackson Browne. Bowie enlisted the Texas guitarist to play on his 1983 album Let’s Dance, while Browne offered the band the use of his rudimentary personal recording studio in Los Angeles. Traveling to L.A. Vaughan and Double Trouble recorded the basic tracks of what would become the band’s debut album, Texas Flood. Signed by the legendary John Hammond (who had discovered Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen, among many others), Texas Flood was released in June 1983 to an enthusiastic audience hungry for the blues, breaking into the Top 40 on its way to Platinum™ sales status.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble’s Texas Flood
The ten songs on Stevie Ray’s Texas Flood are so well-known by now that they’ve become a vital part of the DNA of the blues. Still, they’re worth another spin around the turntable for those who haven’t listened to them in a while. Album-opener “Love Struck Baby” is a rip-roarin’ rocker with plenty o’ twangy blues/rockabilly hybrid guitar, Vaughan’s vocals delivered with a punkish speed and intensity as the Double Trouble rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton bang out a driving rhythm. At less than two-and-a-half minutes in length, “Love Struck Baby” is the perfect lead-in to the album’s swinging hit single, “Pride and Joy.”
A swaggering, boogie-blasted mid-tempo wildfire, “Pride and Joy” better showcases Vaughan’s often-soulful vocals, the band delivering a fast-walking rhythm on top of which Vaughan threads his shake, rattle, and rollin’ guitar licks, his frets buzzing with electricity, the guitarist’s solos scattin’ and be-boppin’ across the landscape like this might be the only record Vaughan ever gets to make. The slower-paced title track sounds downright somnambulant by contrast, Vaughan spitting out the licks with fierce determination, his vocals twisted in anguish as the guitar channels his pain. It’s a great performance, and one that got people to pay attention to the up-and-coming bluesman.
SRV Pays Tribute to His Idols
Texas Flood is chock full of sly musical references, SRV paying tribute to his many musical idols, whether through his performance of their material or by slipping in vaguely-familiar notes and riff from influences like Albert King or Otis Rush. Vaughan’s cover of the great Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Tell Me” is anything but a faithful recreation, the guitarist re-defining the song for a new generation, keeping just enough to remind listeners of the original, but injecting it with raucous solos that would make Hubert Sumlin blush, his raging fretwork matched by the band’s traveling, Chicago-styled rhythm.
Buddy’s Guy’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is dirtied up with some Texas fatback, Vaughan’s breathless vocals supported by a slinky groove created larger-than-life by an often-overlooked and underrated Double Trouble rhythm section. Vaughan’s guitar tone here is lighter, higher, and more structured than just about any other on Texas Flood, displaying a different side of his talents.”Rood Mood” is another longtime, crowd-pleasing Vaughan favorite, a rollicking instrumental with more than a little Lonnie Mack influence (another of Vaughan’s musical touchstones), the performance racing at 120mph to the finish line, Layton’s machine-gun drumbeats matched by Vaughan’s frenetic, rockabilly-flavored chicken-pickin’ while Shannon lays down a solid rhythmic foundation.
Live At Ripley’s Music Hall
“I’m Cryin’“ is a sadly-overlooked part of Vaughan’s too-brief catalog, the song’s shuffling beat belying its finely-crafted tearjerker lyrics, Vaughan’s emotional reading of them, and the subtle fretwork that supports what is essentially a traditional blues song. For this 2013 reissue CD, a lone bonus track has been tacked on to the end, songwriter and producer Bob Geddins’ “Tin Pan Alley (a/k/a Roughest Place In Town)” a longtime part of Vaughan’s repertoire, appearing in slightly different form on the guitarist’s second album, Couldn’t Stand The Weather. It’s still a great tune, full of menace and atmosphere, slowly unrolling with muted rhythms and a flurry of notes to nearly seven-and-a-half minutes, fading out as rapidly as the band jumped in at the beginning, leaving nothing but smoldering embers.
The two-disc 30th anniversary edition of Texas Flood includes a previously-unreleased (albeit frequently-bootlegged) live show recorded at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October 1983, a few short months after the debut album’s release. The nine-song set runs nearly an hour in length and, naturally, leans heavily towards material from Texas Flood. Vaughan and Double Trouble were built to be a live band, honing their chops in the smoky honky-tonks and back alley blues dives of the Lone Star State, so it comes as no shock that the live performances of songs like “Pride and Joy” or “Love Struck Baby” strike an immediate chord with the audience. The former swings for the fences immediately with livewire intensity while the latter roars down the tracks like a runaway freight train, Vaughan’s rampaging guitar licks hitting the audience like a six-string tornado.
Stomping On Jimi’s Turf
One of the nicest surprises offered by the Ripley’s Music Hall performance is Vaughan’s two detours on to Jimi Hendrix turf, the guitarist and Double Trouble covering Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and mashing together “Little Wing” and “Third Rock From the Sun” into a fetching medley. First, Vaughan revisits the Isley Brothers’ “Testify” from the album, the obscure 1964 single from the R&B giants originally featuring a young Jimi on guitar. Vaughan tears into this instrumental cover version like a starving man at a buffet table, ripping off blazing solos with lightning quickness and thunderous power.
Vaughan treats “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” with a fair amount of reverence, re-creating the signature opening lick-for-lick before the storm clouds gather and the guitarist descends from Mount Olympus, hammer in hand, to school we mere mortals with a larger-than-life performance that, while falling a bit short of Jimi’s mighty vocals, nonetheless makes up for it with otherworldly guitarplay, the explosive riffs and scorched-earth solos jumping out of your speakers like the Four Horsemen of some sort of blues-based apocalypse.
It’s a heady moment, but handily eclipsed by the medley of “Little Wing” and “Third Stone From the Sun.” Taking one of Hendrix’s most melodically-heartbreaking songs, Vaughan turbo-charges the arrangement while keeping its wistful, haunting familiarity. As it rumbles into “Third Stone,” Vaughan and Double Trouble quicken the pace in an attempt to launch into orbit, expanding the performance into truly psychedelic-blues territory with swirling guitars, hypnotic percussion, and heartbeat bass lines that would shift and soar according to the band’s whim. If anything, Vaughan’s cover of the song here dances over Jimi’s spacey original, channeling just enough of the familiar to be recognizable, but embellishing it with torrents of noise and feedback, unbridled animal energy that borders on the primordial, and enough lofty tone to lift it from the planet and into the stratosphere, delivering an amazing pyrotechnics display of sound and fury.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Vaughan was criticized when Texas Flood was released for the album’s lack of apparent identity. While it’s true that the guitarist frequently wore his musical influences on his sleeve, Texas Flood was an amalgam of years spent by the band on the Southern club circuit, time-tested and proven material that would light up the most hard-bitten of audiences. While the debut’s follow-up, Couldn’t Stand The Weather, often sounds half-baked, Texas Flood by comparison – although recorded over the span of only two short days – is fully-realized and full of energy.
While Stevie Ray and Double Trouble wouldn’t really hit their full creative stride until 1989’s In Step, they were seldom anything but brilliant on the stage. The band’s live reputation, combined with the power and strength of its stunning debut album, would jump-start a commercial blues revival that continues, in admittedly lesser form, to this day. Texas Flood represents Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut as a bluesman, as an influential guitarist, and as an icon in a manner unlike any recording since John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton introduced “Slowhand” to Britain. Texas Flood was, and will always remain, a blues-rock classic… (Legacy Recordings, released January 29th, 2013)
Buy the CD from Amazon: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood (Legacy Edition)
Every year, there are lots of records that fall by the wayside, neglected by critics (or maybe just this critic), overlooked by listeners, and struggling to find a place in music history. Just because the following releases didn’t show up in this year’s Village Voice critic’s poll doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve space on your CD shelf.
When Nashville turned its back on Johnny Cash a few years ago, American Records mastermind Rick Rubin alone recognized the “Man In Black” as a true musical treasure. Pairing Cash with contemporary songs and musicians, the resulting folk/rock albums have become significant additions to Cash’s already considerable legacy. American IV: The Man Comes Around (Lost Highway/American Records) continues the streak. Backed by talents like Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers and bluegrass legend Randy Scruggs, Cash tackles songs by Trent Reznor, Paul Simon, Martin Gore and, of course, Hank Williams as well as originals like the revelatory title cut and the classic “Tear Stained Letter.” Although Cash’s magnificent baritone has weakened somewhat through the years, when he jumps into the antique “Streets of Laredo” you can hear the hard years melt away. Cash is one of the true giants of American music and thanks to Rubin – best known as a rap and heavy metal producer – Cash’s last years in the saddle will be as important and memorable as those first songs he recorded for Sun Records fifty years ago.
As frontman of early ‘80s new wave popsters the Plimsouls, Peter Case created one perfect, shining musical moment in the song “A Million Miles Away,” no mean feat for any artist. The Plimsouls faded into rock ‘n’ roll history, but Case is still here, flying solo, pigeonholed as a folkie and relegated to the fringes of alt-culture. ‘Tis unfair and incorrect, as even a casual listen to Beeline (Vanguard Records) proves Case to be an artist of some depth and musical integrity. A kaleidoscope of styles with punchy performances, Beeline is a solid and entertaining collection of songs. Sure, there’s a lot of folk influence here – witness the tender “I Hear Your Voice” or “Gone,” a delightful road song. But Case also exhibits impressive fluency in the language of the blues on “Evening Raga,” hits a funky groove on “Something’s Coming” and rocks with the rootsy “First Light.” Case delivers his material with a welcome lack of pretension and no small amount of intelligence. While my critical colleagues were championing Beck’s latest effort as a brilliant exercise in the folk/rock genre, this humble scribe was listening to the real deal, Peter Case’s Beeline.
Widespread Panic are joined by gospel great Dottie Peoples on the band’s “Tallboy” while North Mississippi All-Stars axeman Luther Dickinson joins Robert Randolph and the Family Band on their “Peekaboo.” North Mississippi’s favorite sons deliver their own scorching “Sugartown” while bluegrass legends the Del McCoury Band knock out a red-hot performance of “Rain & Snow.” Former Primus frontman Les Claypool with his Frog Brigade band render a solid reading of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” and the Blind Boys Of Alabama close out the album with the amazing “Amazing Grace.” From chart-toppers like Norah Jones and Jack Johnson and jam bands like moe, Gov’t Mule and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Live From Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002 does a great job in documenting the spectrum of styles offered to fans out in the Tennessee countryside. (View From The Hill, November 2022)
Friday, October 6, 2023
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters’ Just For Today
While Just For Today is unlikely to win many converts to Earl’s subtle charms, for the hardcore faithful, it’s another treasure from the virtuoso guitarist. Recorded live in a handful of venues in Earl’s home state of Massachusetts, Just For Today features the guitarist’s longest-lived Broadcasters line-up, featuring keyboardist Dave Limina, bassist Jim Mouradian, and drummer Lorne Entress as the band celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. And what a celebration it is! The album offers up thirteen red-hot performances, a mix of Earl’s thoughtful originals and a brace of inspired covers, delivered with all the power and passion that have made Earl a popular concert draw.
Earl is capable of packing more emotion into a few notes than a lot of singers can muster during an entire performance, and his instrumentals are always exciting, exhilarating artistic expressions. Witness the emotional “Miracle,” which opens with a swell of Limina’s keyboards, Earl’s wiry fretwork, and washes of bass and drums. Earl speaks through his instrument and the notes paint pictures of heartbreak, hope, and fulfillment in a way that few musicians could achieve. The jaunty “Rush Hour” is a tribute to Chicago blues legend Otis Rush, the song’s walking bass line joined by lively keyboards that would make Otis Spann grin. But it’s Earl’s livewire picking that evokes the spirit of Rush’s South Side blues style.
“Blues for Hubert Sumlin” is a tribute to an equally esteemed, but often overlooked Chicago blues giant. While “Rush Hour” was electric and raucous – befitting a 10:00 or 11:00 PM club vibe – Earl’s tribute to Mr. Sumlin is pure late-night blues, measured and intense with a nuance and emotion directly opposite of “Rush Hour.” The band tackles jazz legend John Coltrane’s “Equinox” with equal aplomb, and it serves, as sorts, as an extension of “Blues for Hubert Sumlin,” taking the instrumentation into jazzy, dark-hued territory that announces that it’s definitely closing time. Singer Diane Blue acquits herself well on an emotional cover of Etta James’ classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” showing what Earl and the band can do behind a good singer.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Just For Today is an excellent representation of the underrated, but never under-achieving talents of Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. The live setting allows the band to shine, and provides the perfect showcase for Earl’s six-string mastery as the crew romps across a set list that includes blues, boogie, and a taste of jazz. Just For Today will please longtime fans and serves as a fine introduction to this great band for the adventurous and uninitiated. The Rev says “check it out!” Grade: A (Stony Plain Records, released April 9, 2013)
For every aging rocker like Carlos Santana that revives their creative fortunes with the help of a best-selling album, there is a Mick Jagger, who can’t get his solo career jumping even with the help of Lenny Kravitz. As the rock & roll pioneers of the sixties approach sixty themselves, the industry increasingly treats them as has-beens regardless of their talent and what great music they might still have left in them. A trio of excellent recent releases from three old school rockers illustrates this point and the absurdity of judging artists on their age rather than what they can still bring to the creative table.
Peter Wolf is best known for his work in the seventies and eighties fronting the hard-rocking R&B outfit the J. Geils Band. His own solo work has offered an inspired mix of roots-rock, blues and sweet soul music, and Sleepless (Artemis Records) furthers Wolf’s late-career blooming as a dynamic solo artist. Wolf spent a number of years in Nashville, working with local songwriters and honing his skills as a wordsmith, and it shows on Sleepless, with every song a finely crafted gem.
“Nothing But the Wheel,” Wolf’s duet with Mick Jagger, is unabashed country honk, a twang-filled, pedal-steel powered delight while “A Lot of Good Ones Gone” is a soulful remembrance of times passed that sounds like Stax circa ‘67. Wolf also revisits an old J. Geils’ favorite, “Homework,” reinventing the Otis Rush rocker as a growling, blues-fueled barroom brawl. “Some Things You Don’t Want To Know” offers the unlikely pairing of Wolf and country rocker Steve Earle, a lonesome prairie-styled waltz with some nice fretwork while “Too Close Together” is an old-fashioned romp, Chicago blues style, with Keith Richards of the Stones adding his six-string skills. Sleepless is a wonderful effort on Wolf’s part, a vibrant and enjoyable collection of songs destined to be overlooked in favor of more “marketable” artists…which doesn’t stop you from running to the store and buying it immediately!
My Ride’s Here kicks off with the hard-driving “Sacrificial Lamb,” exposing the charlatans of religion while “Basket Case” is a tongue-in-cheek love song written with novelist Carl Hiaasen. “Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)” might be a metaphor for life, with David Letterman adding crucial vocal flourishes and “MacGillycuddy’s Reeks” is a lively Irish reel written with poet Paul Muldoon. “Genius” is an insightful look at the turmoil of a broken heart while the album closing “My Ride’s Here,” with its brilliant imagery and imaginative storyline is, perhaps, the best epitaph that Zevon could have penned for himself. Working with a top-notch band that includes bassist Sheldon Gomberg and Garbage’s drummer Anton Fig and writing with partners like Muldoon, Hiaasen, Larry Klein and Hunter S. Thompson, Zevon has delivered one of the strongest albums in his storied career with My Ride’s Here.
Scars burns with a white light/white heat that will blister your eardrums and tickle your id, Moore’s tortured six-string wailing like a metal machine monster. Copping his best Jimi Hendrix/Robin Trower attitude, Moore kicks off Scars with “When the Sun Goes Down,” an electrifying riff-fest that had this humble scribe believing that it was 1973 again. “Wasn’t Born In Chicago” rolls right off the tracks, Moore howling like he’s got Robert Johnson’s hellhounds on his trail, the band – former Skunk Anansie bassist Cass Lewis and Primal Scream drummer Darrin Mooney – hitting a funky groove and driving it like an out-of-control big rig down the listener’s throat. Another six-string lovefest, “World of Confusion,” conjures up the ghost of Hendrix (think “Manic Depression” and you’re in the right ballpark) while “Ball and Chain” is a powerful blues rave-up that will have you swaying your head and stomping your feet in spite of yourself. A strong effort that showcases Moore’s ability to both blast out power riffs and deliver subtle blues virtuosity, Scars is a reminder that sometimes an old blueshound doesn’t need to learn any new tricks to get by... (View From The Hill, October 2002)