On Safari By The Kentucky Headhunters

March 21, 2017

It has been almost a half-century since vocalist/guitarist Richard Young, drummer Fred Young, and lead guitarist Greg Martin began playing together, Bassist Doug Phelps was an early addition, and they have remained together ever since. It took them nearly 20 years to issue their first album but Pickin’ On Nashville was worth the wait as it sold just over two-million copies.

The Kentucky Headhunters have just released their 12th studio album titled On Safari. Their sound has changed with the passing of time. They have evolved from an electric country band into a southern rock group who incorporate blues into their mix.

Their new album includes ten originals and two covers, Alice Cooper’s “Caught In A Dream” and Charlie Daniel’s “Way Down Yonder.”

It is the ten original compositions that form the heart and soul of the album. They are the type of sold rock and roll that one has come to expect from the Headhunters. “Rainbow Shine,” ”Jukebox Full Of Blues,” and “ “Deep Southern Blues Again” wrap their southern rock roots around a blues foundation. “Beaver Creek Mansion” and   “Lowdown Memphis Town Blues” are a clever look at their own history wrapped in rock and roll.

The Kentucky Headhunters have evolved into one of the great American rock bands. On Safari is another brick in their musical wall.


All Night Live By The Mavericks

March 21, 2017

The career of the Mavericks has passed the quarter-century mark, not counting a nine year hiatus. Founding members Raul Malo (vocals/guitar) and Paul Deakin (drummer) are now joined by Eddie Perez (guitar), and Jerry Dale McFadden (keyboards).

The Mavericks are difficult to pigeon hole stylistically. They cross a lot of musical boundaries as they explore country, rock, blues, and even a little Latin vibe. The one constant is their live shows. They remain one of the best stage bands in American popular music. Their latest album, All Night Live Volume 1, brings their show to CD.

They wisely add some additional musicians to give their live sound some extra flexibility. Michael Guerra (accordion), Mike Abrams (sax), Matt Cappy (trumpet), and Ed Friedland (upright bass) add extra layers and textures to the sound. It all adds up to an energetic romp through 16 of their songs.

My only real problem with the release is the sound. Given the excellence of modern technology, it should have been better and it detracts from the overall enjoyment of the music. A smaller issue is the song section as it comes primarily from two albums. I would have preferred a more career spanning collection.

Other than the above; the album is a good presentation of their energetic live sound. The opening title track is a horn-laden blast that builds as it progresses. They almost move in a big band direction with a swinging version of “Stories We Could Tell.” They move to a blues vibe with the smoldering “Do You Want Me To.” The only cover song is a laid back version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Song.”

All Night Live Volume 1 retains the energy of the Mavericks on stage. Sound aside, it presents live music as it should always be.


Playing The 60’s By Mads Tolling

March 21, 2017

Mads Tolling is a Danish classically trained violinist currently living in San Francisco. After touring with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and an eight years stint and two Grammy Awards with the jazz string ensemble the Turtle island Quartet; he is now on his own.

His press release states that his new release, Playing The 60s “draws material from the era evoked by the award-wining series AMC series Mad Men.”  I’m not sure how much the series influenced the song selection but Tolling manages to take an eclectic group of sixties material and give them jazz interpretations.

The violin is a rarely used jazz instrument but in the right hands it and setting, it can provide an interesting sound. He surrounds himself with keyboardist/accordion player Colin Hogan, bassist Sam Bevan, drummer Eric Garland, and singers Kalil Wilson, Spencer Day, and Kenny Washington. Also on hand as a guest is his former boss Stanley Clarke. Together they provide a nice foundation for Tolling to improvise on the various melodies.

Television themes such as “Peter Gunn,” “Hawaii 5-0,” :Mission Impossible,” “The Pink Panther,” and “Meet The Flintstones” are modernized nostalgic pieces.

The old Herb Alpert hit, “A Taste Of Honey,” undergoes a number of tempo changes and concludes with a tasty drum solo. “Beautiful Savior” is an old German hymn that is a vehicle for a violin/bass duet between Tolling and Clarke. Perhaps the most interesting track is his Latin version of the rock classic “All Along The Watchtower.”

The vocal tracks travel in a number of directions. Spencer Day gives an understated vocal on “The Look Of Love.” Kalil Wilson fuses a soul vocal with a jazz foundation on “My Girl.” Kenny Washington presents the most traditional interpretation with “What A Wonderful World.”

Mads Tolling’s sound is a little unusual but is brilliant in places. His ability to use his jazz training as the impetus for his jazz sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. Playing The 60s is a nice introduction to a musician with an unusual approach to his craft.


From The Heart By The Temprees

March 21, 2017

The Temprees were, and currently are, a smooth soul vocal group. Formed by Jasper “Jabbo” Phillips (died 2001), Harold “Scotty’ Scott, and Deljuan “Del” Calvin during the late 1960’s; they gained success during the 1970’s, while signed to the Stax label. They have reunited several times and now original members Scot and Calvin plus new addition Walter “Bo” Washington have returned with a new album titled From The Heart.

The Stax label was famous for its gritty and funky rhythm & blues. The Temprees were more of a classic vocal group, who based their sound on sweet ballads and tight harmonies. Their new release may veer from this formula a little but at heart they remain an old school brand of soul group.

Their sound, 40 years after their popular period, remains smooth like butter. The title song is like a harmonic Harlequin love novel. This love song sets the tone for the album. “We Do Music” contains a history lesson of the Stax label. “Keep It Real” continues the positive vibe of the album as they sing about the importance of human interactions.

They travel in a different direction with “Paparazzi.” It has a funky dance vibe and is more like what one would expect from a Stax label artist.

The Temprees have channeled and modernized their seventies period and re-created a sound that is never out of date.


Mirrors By John Hammond

March 16, 2017

John Hammond was a white blues musician in the early 1960’s; a time period when the blues where not commercially successful or white. For better or worse, he is also the son of legendary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame producer John Hammond Sr. who signed such artists as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Hammond began his career in the Greenwich Village club scene of the early 1960’s and helped pave the way for a generation of blues artists who would follow. To date he has released 34 albums and most have been reissued except for 1967s Mirrors, which now returns in a remastered form.

Hammond released some of his strongest albums for the Vanguard label during the mid-1960’s. His 1963 self-titled debut, 1964’s Big City Blues, and  1965’s So Many Roads are considered classics of 1960’s traditional blues. As he was leaving the label, Mirrors was assembled from the outtakes of his previous three albums. Side one (CD tracks 1-6) are electric and side two (CD tracks 7-13) are acoustic.

The album contains three Robert Johnson compositions, all recorded at a time when Johnson was all but forgotten. “Stones In My Passway” and “Walking Blues” are sparse acoustic interpretations that retain Johnson’s power. “Travelling Riverside” is an electric extravaganza featuring a number of young musicians who would become famous including harpist Charlie Musselwhite,  guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helm, and Mike Bloomfield on piano.

“Get Right Church” is a traditional gospel tune made famous by the Staple Singers. Hammond strips it down to basics with just his voice and guitar.

“Statesboro Blues” and “Keys To The Highway” have been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton respectively. It is interesting to hear his early electrified versions of these old blues staples.

As good as the electric tracks may be, the essence of John Hammond’s music is acoustic performances like “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” ”When You Are Gone,” and “Rock Me Mama.”

Hammond has never veered from the blues. Mirrors may have never been reissued in any form and may not be a cohesive album given the various sources of the material; yet it contains a number of performances worth hearing.


Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley By Johnny Cash

March 16, 2017

A new Johnny Cash release is a part of a series of vinyl-only albums issued by the Legacy label in time for the holiday season.

Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley comes on the heels of a new Elvis Presley Christmas vinyl release and pales in comparison. The sound is excellent and the individual performances are fine but the album has a cobbled together feel. Cash has a vast catalogue of material to draw from and there are a number of Christmas songs that would have fit together better and given the album a more cohesive feel.

Cash had a unique vocal approach and when applied to the right material; the results are excellent. Songs such as “Mary Christmas Mary,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Christmas Time’s A-Comin,’” are like putty in his hands. On the other hand, “Jingle Bells” and “Blue Christmas” are a bit of a stretch.

The main problems are the “Opening Dialogue,” “The Ballad Of Hap Weaver,” and “(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley” don’t really fit in with the Christmas theme.

The album is what it is and the individual performances should please any fan of the man in black, especially since they are a unique collectable because of the vinyl format. However, if you are a casual fan of the man in black, there are a number of classic Christmas albums out there.


Keepin’ Outta Trouble By Rory Block

March 16, 2017

Rory Block is one of the most accomplished blues musicians working today, male or female. She has received five Blues Music Awards in the Traditional Blues Female and Acoustic Blues Album Of The Year categories.

Several years ago she embarked on her Mentor Series and to date has issued albums covering and being inspired by the music of Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John McDowell, and Son House.

Her sixth album in the series, Keepin’ Outta Trouble, is a tribute to Bukka White. Interestingly, White’s music inspired her to create more original compositions than any of the previous releases in the series.

The four Bukka White penned tunes, “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Panama Limited,” “Parchman Farm Blues,” and “New Frisco Train” are classic interpretations straight from the Delta. She has always been a superior acoustic guitarist and her ability and style brings out the original power of these old blues songs.

Her own songs are modern day blues who use White’s material for their inspiration. “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” is a clever ditty based on White’s guitar lines from “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing.” She wisely leads off the album with her own “Keepin’ Outta Trouble” and “Bukka’s Day,” which not only introduce the theme of the album but her own approach to traditional blues.

Block has followed her own career path, and many times has travelled the road less taken, and through it all has dedicated herself to playing, creating, and preserving the blues. She has never wavered from her chosen musical career path. The fact that she is so good at her chosen profession is just icing on the cake. Keepin’ Outta Trouble is another brick in her wall of blues.