Wild Angels 45 by Martina McBride

July 31, 2009

Vinyl’s reign as the dominant music form had ended in the early 1990’s as CD’s were now being produced by the hundreds of millions.

The CD also led to the demise of the 45. For forty years the singles charts had featured these little 7″ records. As the decade passed, however, single hits would become the tracks receiving the most airplay from their parent albums.

Martina McBride is the angel faced country superstar who regularly has crossed over onto the pop charts. For the past fifteen years she has been a country staple selling millions of albums and headlining concert halls and areas across the country.

“Wild Angels” is one of her signature songs and one of my favorites as well. It is an up-tempo modern country song that just makes you smile. She possesses one of the great voices in country music and here it soars.

For years I never realized that it had even been released on a 45 as it had been issued in 1995. Several years ago I bought a huge box842j lot and there it was plus in pristine condition. It turns out that a few labels issued 45 rpm singles well into the 1990’s, especially in the country format.

Whatever the format, “Wild Angels” is a wonderful listen.

Taking Chances by Celine Dion

July 31, 2009

Celine Dion has spent the last couple of years in Las Vegas performing several shows a week while making a bazillion dollars in the process. Taking Chances is her first new studio album in four years, so one would expect a little bit of rust from someone who has been out of the pop game for so long.

Unfortunately, Taking Chances is at best uneven. There are some nice tracks but no outstanding songs that leap out at the listener and remain memorable. Plus, there are a couple of disasters which occur when Miss Dion abandons the safely of her easy listening/pop sound and tries some rock & roll.

The real problem, however, is her voice sounds tired and washed out at times. This is particularly apparent when she sings without much instrumental backup. When there is overdubbing such as on her signature building power ballads, this problem disappears. Still it is unsettling, to hear at times, one of the great pop voices of this generation not up to par.

The album starts well enough with “Taking Chances.” A tentative opening vocal builds into her best outing of the album. Her voice begins to soar as the instrumental backup begins to build, and it’s a good start to the disc. However, the problems begin with the second song, “Alone.” What possessed Celine Dion to try a straight rock song and a Heart song to boot is beyond me. Dion just does not have the vocal fullness of Ann Wilson, who has given this song its signature performance. Also, putting strings in place of Nancy Wilson’s guitar is just adding fuel to the fire.

From this point on, Taking Chances continues in an average direction. Songs such as “Eyes On Me,” “My Love,” “New Dawn” and “I Got Nothin’ Left” are only ordinary. “Surprise Surprise” shows promise but the vocal is spotty until near the end. “This Time” is a difficult song that does allow Celine to show her vocal artistry through a number of pitch and tempo changes. “A World To Believe In” is the other better song on the album. Here she delivers a smooth vocal that builds throughout the song and takes off near the end.

The other real disaster on Taking Chances is the guitar-based brass background rocker “Can’t Help The Feeling.” This song was written and produced by Also Nova, but Dion cannot pull it off. Maybe Ann Wilson could cover this song and do it justice.

Taking Chances is a very average album by one of the great pop singers of our time. Hopefully it is just an aberration and the next outing will be a little stronger — strong enough, at any rate, to match Dion’s previous output.

Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival 2007 by Eric Clapton (DVD)

July 31, 2009

Eric Clapton hosted a little get-together in Chicago on July 28. Thousands of people showed up to hear and see some of the best rock guitarists on the planet strut their wares. The proceeds of this two-disc DVD set are being donated to Clapton’s Crossroads House, which is an alcoholic recovery facility.

From MC Bill Murray’s rendition of “Gloria” to Buddy Guy leading an all-star ensemble through a rousing rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago,” this DVD is a guitar aficionado’s delight. This set clocks in at around three hours and can be exhausting just from the volume of the performances. Also, the DVD can be somewhat disjointed at times due to the constant coming and going of artists. Despite these two handicaps, though, there is a lot of good music to be found here.

Sonny Landreth kicks off the first disc with his high-energy “Umbresso.” He immediately ramps up the energy and sets the bar high for the musicians that will follow. Landreth has a fascinating slide style of playing that is better to watch than to just hear. Eric Clapton joins Landreth for “Hell At Home.” Halfway through the song Clapton takes center stage with an extended solo.

This performance and several others to follow are the Clapton that I want to see and hear. I don’t want the laid back Clapton who defers to others on stage. I want the Clapton who will wring his guitar’s neck and play it into submission.

I had not heard from John McLaughlin in a long while. Here McLaughlin performs “Maharina” in a typical performance. His jazz-tinged rock runs counter to the melody set down by keyboards, bass and drums. McLaughlin has always traveled his own musical journey and, like him or not, there is no denying his talent.

I don’t know how many performances 81-year-old B.B. King has left in him. Here he has to remain seated while performing. His voice, however, sounds strong and his guitar has lost none of its technique or energy. His two numbers, “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss” and “Rock Me Baby,” set a standard that artists 20 to 50 years younger can only hope to emulate.

Much of the second disc it taken up with performances by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood. Beck looks relaxed as he leads his band through “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and “Big Block.” He is one of the few guitarists alive who can match Clapton note for note. His daughter is now his bass player and is a chip off the old block. Her playing in general and extended solo on “Lovers” was amazing.

The heart if the second disc is three solo performances by Eric Clapton plus his four collaborations with Steve Winwood. Clapton and Winwood share a lot of history and here they meld together effortlessly. Their performances of “Presence Of The Lord,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Had To Cry Today” and the powerful “Crossroads” are worth the price of admission. Clapton’s rendition of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity” is poignant and technically superb. Winwood even gives it a go by stepping out from behind his keyboards and picking up the guitar for a solo version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

Other highlights included Susan Tedeschi and Sheryl Crow, who more than held their own against their male counterparts. The Derek Trucks Band was excellent on its own and served as Clapton’s backup band during his performances. Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin aptly represented a living history of the blues. Even Vince Gill, of all people, comes across well as he moves his sound in a rock direction and adds a brass foundation.

Only a few misses are here, most notably the out-of-place Willie Nelson, an ill-looking Johnny Winter and John Mayer, who looks like a deer caught in the headlights.

If you like the guitar and are a fan of this era of guitar players, then Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival 2007 is for you. It finds many great guitar players, past and present, at the top of their game.

What If by Evonne Rivera

July 31, 2009

Evonne Rivera is an adult contemporary independent artist who has a couple of advantages working for her: a good clear voice and the ability to write her own material.

Rivera is basically a singer/songwriter who best fits in a lounge singing to its customers late at night. Her vocals create an intimate feeling that draw you in and create closeness. Her songs are well constructed and personal in nature, and as proof of the lyrical confidence, they are printed in the CD packaging.

About the only weakness is in the song variety, but Rivera’s vocals cover for this. “Water & Fire” is a love song that works because of the effortless vocal. The story is brought to life by her and keeps the listener interested in the characters involved. “Scent” is a good follow-up that portrays a person recovering from love gone by. There is some excellent laid-back saxophone that serves as a counterpoint to the vocals.

“Freedom” is another personal song and a little more uptempo, which allows the listener to focus upon Rivera’s vocal strength, while the staccato tempo of “Jaded” is a welcome addition that hearkens back to a 1940s big band sound.

What If contains two good covers. The Dylan song “I Shall Be Released” may by the best vocal on the album. It is extremely different to sing Dylan in any new imaginative way, but Rivera manages it, with a clear and crisp rendition allowing her to reinterpret the standard as a pop song that becomes her own. By comparison, the old Billie Holiday song “Stormy River” is done in a classical style. Nothing real new here, but a good attempt at this old standard.

Along with the sameness to some of the songs is a feeling that there is no one major standout, nothing to make the listener take notice. It’s a solid effort, though, and fans of this genre will enjoy it. Here’s hoping that Rivera’s next outing builds upon this one.

Come On Down To My Boat 45 by Every Mothers’ Son

July 30, 2009

842iEvery Mothers’ Son was a rock quintet out of New York City and the MGM Label had high hopes for the group.

Their faith was quickly rewarded as the single “Come On Down To My Boat” quickly climbed The American charts and reached the number six position in May of 1967.

It was a catchy tune with a good bass beat and adequate harmonies. It also had a melody that stayed with you for awhile.

Their second album would produce three more top 100 singles but none would enter the top forty. Their three year career would end by the group dissolving.

Today Every Mothers’ Son is remembered for one hit single and even that one is rarely heard on oldie stations. Still it is a good look into the simple and innocent pop sound of the sixties.

Ride The Wild Surf by Jan & Dean

July 29, 2009

The year is 1964. Lyndon Johnson is president of the United States, the Red Sox stink and 14-year-old David Bowling is the apple of his grandmother’s eye.

And so with $2 safely tucked in my pocket I set off on what would become a lifelong adventure. I was about to purchase my first record album – which is the one I’m reviewing today, a real vinyl record, not some digitalized prissy CD.

My original intent was to purchase the Beach Boys Concert LP but was advised by my family that I might be receiving that particular album for Christmas or my upcoming birthday. Therefore, I had to go to plan B.

Herioux’s one-stop music in Woonsocket, R.I. just sold records. It is the type of Mom and Pop store that has all but disappeared from our country’s landscape. I would purchase hundreds of records from the old gentleman behind the counter over the course of the next eight years.

Plan B was to just select the record that happened to catch my eye. It came down to Jan & Dean, Dick Dale and Roy Orbison. Dick Dale played instrumental surf music and Roy Orbison looked a little like me. Ride The Wild Surf by Jan & Dean had a Beach Boy sound plus girls in bathing suits on the cover. I was 14, so this was a no-brainer.

Forty-three years is a long time in music collecting and life. My record collection has grown to some 30,000 albums. But I still remember Ride The Wild Surf as my first album purchase, the one that got me started down this road. And really, it’s quite a good choice.

Jan & Dean produced some excellent singles and a number of poor to average albums during the first half of the 1960s. Ride the Wild Surf is probably their strongest studio album.

Jan Berry was just a cut below Brian Wilson as a studio technician. He was able to take two average voices and combine them into a soaring group sound. Jan & Dean’s problem was that they were unable to produce that sound on stage.

“Sidewalk Surfin’” was the major hit from the album. Jan & Dean capitalized on the fad of skateboarding that was sweeping the nation. It is an infectious uptempo and dated piece of Americana. The harmonies and concept of surfing on land, which you could even do in Woonsocket, R.I., made this song a hit. “Ride The Wild Surf” is a classic mid-sixties surf song with harmonies built around a simple theme.

Unlike many Jan & Dean albums, there are also a number of other excellent songs. “A Surfer’s Dream” is one of the better ballads to come out of the surf music era. “Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin’” was covered by a number of early surf groups. “She’s My Summer Girl” and “Wiamea Bay” were both above average efforts for the duo.

There were some of the usual Jan & Dean gaffes on the album. “Skateboarding Part 1” and “Walk On The Wild Side” are instrumentals by a duo that didn’t play any instruments. “Surfin’ Wild” was just plain out of tune vocally and “The Submarine Races” was a common and failed try at comedy.

Ride The Wild Surf has justifiably disappeared in the mists of time. It was an average album at best. Yet music is more than just sounds. Music evokes memories and takes us to places to which we will never travel. Ride The Wild Surf is an album that represented life’s possibilities for me. When I play this record I am not a grandfather but am back in junior high school. Hopefully everyone will have music of this kind in their past and present.

I may be the only person in the world to would rate this album an A, but hey, it’s my review and my first.

The Donovan Concert: Live In LA by Donovan

July 29, 2009

Watching this concert is like being caught in a time warp, or at least an episode of the original Star Trek.

David: Scotty, beam me up! I’m caught in the flower-power 60s!
Scotty: Captain, we’ve lost main power. It’ll be an hour before we can get the transporter back online!
David: That’s about all the Donovan I can take. Help!

Some artists produce music that is eternal and remains relevant and listenable as the years pass. Donovan does not fit into that category. His classic songs are products of their time and remain artifacts of the era. What seemed creative and interesting 40 years ago is now quaint.

Donovan Concert: Live In
L.A. was recorded January 21, 2007 at the Kodiak Theatre in Hollywood. Proceeds from this DVD of the concert are being donated to the David Lynch Foundation for consciousness-based education and world peace. In short, the foundation establishes stress reduction transcendental meditation programs for inner city youth at risk. Good luck with that.

Donovan strums his acoustic guitar throughout the performance and is backed by bass and percussion. Donovan also keeps up a constant patter between songs that ranges from historically interesting to self serving. The self-serving part is especially true when talking about transcendental meditation with the Beatles, in what seems like an attempt to make Donovan seem more relevant and cool than he actually is.

“Catch The Wind,” “Colours” and Universal Soldier” are performed well. The lyrics are straightforward, unlike some Donovan material. His themes of love and protest can still strike a receptive chord today. These songs are re-produced just about note for note and word for word live and are pleasant reminders of a bygone era.

But the psychedelic stuff comes off poorly. A lack of instrumental backups hurts, but the worst part is the lyrical content; what sounded profound in the 60s seems awfully quaint and makes little sense today. As such, formerly decent songs like “Jennifer Juniper,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Sunshine Superman” are poorly done and just don’t matter anymore. The only redeeming song from this part of the concert is a folkish rendition of “Season Of The Witch.”

For the encore (yes, there is one), Donovan brings out Mike Love of the Beach Boys to sing “Mellow Yellow” with him. Love looks good but apparently doesn’t know the words …and so he stands there for several minutes looking embarrassed and a little foolish. As would anyone in line at Best Buy with this DVD in hand, I might add.

Scotty: Captain Dave, the transporter is fixed. Ready to beam you back to the present.

Home For Misfits by Kaz Murphy

July 29, 2009

Kaz Murphy is one of a growing number of independent artists who have paid his or her musical dues. Murphy has spent years on the road and literally performed thousands of times in his career.

This has allowed him, despite his indie designation and history, to produce a mature album of smooth, polished material while remaining in touch with his capabilities.

Murphy is difficult to fit into any one musical category. He is definitely from the singer/songwriter side of the musical spectrum. He probably comes closest to being classified as a pop artist who crosses over into country every so often.

Home For Misfits is Murphy’s third independent album. It is a wonderfully even piece of work. There are a number of superior performances and no real disasters. which is rare for an independent production and makes this one worth seeking out.

While a more than competent vocalist, Kaz Murphy’s real talent is as a songwriter. He is an excellent poet who crafts songs in short bursts of creative energy which eventually coalesce into a whole. He is one of the more interesting songwriters I have encountered, although it would have been nice to have lyrics somewhere in the packaging.

Some highlights from Home For Misfits include “Hardly Think About That” and “Waitin’ For Elvis,” which lead off the album. Both are uptempo tunes with Murphy supporting himself on acoustic guitar against a variety of background instruments. His intermittent use of the violin as a background instrument is innovative and interesting. Both songs set the tone both musically and lyrically for what are to follow. “Below The Skin” is very strong lyrically as it pushes the mind of the listener toward self examination. “Honey, Was That You?” is about searching but never being satisfied. This song is emblematic of the chord that Murphy can strikes in the minds and hearts of his audience.

Home For Misfits is an album that will make you think, wonder and ultimately smile. The miles that Murphy has traveled and the time he has spent honing his craft have been well spent. Hopefully, there will be a lot more miles to travel.

It’s Now Or Never by Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding

July 28, 2009

Robert Gordon, for better or worse, will always be associated with Elvis Presley. His deep baritone voice has the tone and timbre of Elvis, and Elvis was a major musical influence upon his life. It helps that Gordon handle many of Elvis’ trademark songs with ease. Gordon cashed in commercially with a series of excellent rockabilly albums in the late 70s and early 80s. His out-of-print work with Link Wray on the Private Stock Label is well worth seeking out.

Chris Spedding has been a noted session guitarist for almost 40 years. He has also released about a dozen solo albums, but only 1981s Friday The 13th was issued in the United States
. Spedding played with Gordon for a few years around 1980, the only prior musical contact between the two as far as the public knew.

So what career path does Robert Gordon choose for his 2007 album release? He wisely reunites with Chris Spedding and releases an album of Elvis Presley covers. It was the safe path, the professional path and hardly the most adventurous path.

It’s Now Or Never presents mixed results. Elvis’ material has been covered thousands of times … do we really need more of the same? On the other hand, Gordon sings Elvis so effortlessly and reaches deep enough into the catalog that would, for those not already burnt out, would make this good listening.

Gordon fares best with the uptempo numbers. “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” and “My Baby Left Me” are from Elvis’ Sun Label days and fit Gordon’s style well. While Gordon’s versions do not match Presley’s energy they are worth hearing; the former’s versions are refined and slick as opposed to Elvis’ rawness and seemingly one-take approach. Spedding contributes some good guitar licks but is professional enough not to tread on his vocalist’s territory.

“A Mess Of Blues,” “I Beg Of You,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “Don’t Be Cruel” continue Gordon’s string of slick uptempo covers. Gordon even rolls out the Jordanaires, who provide some old-fashioned vocal backing on many of the tracks.

The slower-tempo songs create some problems. The lack of instrumental energy puts Gordon’s voice up front and exposes some of its flaws. “Don’t Leave Me Now” plods a bit and “Peace In The Valley” is a song that Robert Gordon just cannot pull off.

There is nothing offensive about It’s Now Or Never and at times Gordon delivers excellent interpretations of some classic material. For those still interested in Elvis, rockabilly or these two musicians, It’s Now Or Never is a pleasant album worth hearing.

Rooms For Adelaide by Mia and Jonah

July 28, 2009

It never ceases to amaze me how much good music by independent artists is being produced these days. Releasing their music on the internet and performing literally hundreds of times per year have allowed many artists to have their music heard and to at least scratch out a living. Many of these artists write, record, engineer and produce their own material..

Mia & Jonah are quintessential independent artists. Their second album release, Rooms For Adelaide, find them as excellent songwriters, adequate vocalists and in possession of an ability to put together a production that flows well from song to song. Except possibly for one song, all the parts of the album fit together well and lull you into a pleasurable listening experience.

Mia & Jonah describe themselves as an Americana folk-rock band. This self designation is accurate. If their songs were performed with just an acoustic guitar in support, they would be a folk duo. Mia & Jonah, however, take their lyrics and add a rock beat. They put percussion out front with a guitar sound in support and create an interesting blend of musical styles.

The lyrics are Mia & Jonah’s greatest strength. They speak of personal experiences and musings. The lyrics, however, are just a starting point. They provide the listener a jumping-off point to continue the journey on their own.

“Stories High” and “Wish” begin the album and are representative of what is to follow. Soft voices, both individually and in tandem, lead the listener onward. The beat provides a good count point to this mellow approach. “Silver Moon” is probably the most striking song contained on the album. It is a love song, but the true meaning dances just beyond the mind’s reach.

“Junkyard Dog,” the seventh song on the album, is the one that seems out of place. Interestingly, it is a strong song but appears out of context in relation to the rest of the album. Mia & Jonah crank up the electric guitar sound and move toward an outright rock sound. As a standalone song it is excellent, but here interrupts the flow of the album as a synchronized unit.

Mia & Jonah present music for the mind as well as the ear. You really need to listen to the lyrics, which are included in the packaging, as they tell the story just as well as the music — like all great folk songs. Overall, this is a wonderfully-crafted album that goes well with a glass of wine, a fireplace and an open mind.