Lotta Love 45 by Nicolette Larson

February 27, 2012

Nicolette Larson was a noted session singer having supported such artists as Van Halen, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young. It was a Neil Young song that brought her solo success.

She turned his “Lotta Love” into a pop classic. It reached number eight on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and number one on the Adult Contemporary Chart.

She placed three more songs on the Singles Chart and continued her session work. She would pass away from a cerebral edema at the age of 45.

Paper Hearts by Katy Boyd

February 26, 2012

Katy Boyd has traveled thousands of miles and produced a lot of music during her life and career. Growing up listening to Irish folk music and Tchaikovsky, a chance meeting with Joan Baez pushed her in a folk direction. Today she has settled into a country sound and her latest album, Paper Hearts, was recoded in Nashville.

She has gathered a stellar cast of musicians to support her. They include Justin Moses (banjo, mandolin, and fiddle) and Mark Fein (bass), both of Ricky Skaggs’ band, as well as Fats Kaplin (steel guitar and accordion), Lynn Williams (drums), Thomm (with two m’s), and Jutz (guitars, keyboards, and harmony vocals). She provides the vocals and acoustic guitar.

Her folk background shines through with her lyrics. She is a poet who is able to adapt episodes of her life to music. Her stories of love, loss, abuse, and traveling dominate the album. They tend to be meditative ballads and she probably would have been better served to include a few more up-tempo tunes. The lyrics tell wonderful, if sometimes slightly depressing stories. One saving grace is a couple of the songs’ lyrics are filled with satire and are quite amusing.

The music is straight classic country with a steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo. A couple of the tracks even move in a bluegrass direction. Floating on top of it all is her twangy and soulful voice, which is a perfect fit for a country sound.

“Jigs & Reels & Ferris Wheels” is a song that tells the tale of traveling for love and constantly being rejected along the way. The message of continually falling in love despite the unhappy results is one that should resonate with just about anyone who has ever been in love. “Mama” tells the personal tale of the relationship with her own mother. The only non-original tune was a simple and beautiful cover of the Steve Winwood/Blind Faith classic, “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

My Favorite track was “Happy Single Mother’s Day,” which includes lyrics about selling her children on EBay. “I’m Not Depressed” is a witty song and perfect for the moody material that has preceded it.

Katy Boyd has created an album filled with imagery and humanity. So grab a bottle of wine, put some wood on the fire, and let the music take you away.

Article first published as Music Review: Katy Boyd – Paper Hearts on Blogcritics.

Blue Suede Shoes 45 by Jerry Lee Lewis

February 26, 2012

Jerry Lee Lewis released his version of “Blue Suede Shoes” while he was with the Sun Label. It did not become a hit as the original by Carl Perkins remains the standard for this classic rock ‘n’ roll song with Elvis’ a close second.

Still, during the late 1950s, Jerry Lee Lewis really did not produce any bad rock ‘n’ roll songs for the Sun label. While “Blue Suede Shoes” will never be associated with Lewis, it was still a rocking cover of a classic song.

The Beat That Can’t Be Beat/I Love Linda 45 by Jan & Arnie

February 26, 2012

Jan Berry, Arnie Ginsberg, and Dean Torrence were members of the Barrons while in high school. When Dean was called to six months service in the Army reserve, Jan & Arnie signed with the Arwin label. They had one top 10 hit, “Jennie Lee” during 1958, and one other track, “Gas Money” that made the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

One of the more difficult singles to track down was “The Beat That Can’t Be Beat/I Love Linda.” It was very different from the layered sound that Jan Berry would produce during the 1960s. The single received no chart action.

Dean would return and Arnie would enter the navy. Jab & Arnie would be no more and Jan & Dean would go on to create some of the best car and surf music of the 1960s.

Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 by Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis Joplin

February 25, 2012

Since her death over 40 years ago at the age of 27, Janis Joplin has attained almost mythological proportions. Meanwhile her first band, Big Brother and The Holding Company, has slid under the radar.

The band formed in San Francisco during 1965 and a year later consisted of bassist Peter Albin, guitarist Sam Andrew, guitarist James Gurley, drummer David Getz, and new vocalist Janis Joplin. They were at heart a psychedelic rock band, but Joplin’s bluesy and powerful voice pushed them in a more traditional rock direction. It all added up to a brilliant fusion of sounds.

The band released two albums during Joplin’s stay with the group: their self-titled debut and one of the defining albums of the era, Cheap Thrills. While Joplin was the center piece of the album, the band was an important ingredient to their success. They had a more controlled sound in the studio, but on stage they were a creative and powerful improvisational group that could rock with the best bands of the late 1960s. Gurley passed away in 2009 but Albin, Andrew, Getz, plus accompanying musicians, are still on the road today.

Big Brother and The Holding Company pulled into the Carousel Ballroom during 1968 for two shows June 22-23. At the board that evening was the Grateful Dead’s soundman and chemical engineer deluxe Owsley “Bear” Stanley. He had the tape machine rolling and produced a surprisingly clear tape of the June 23 concert. That unavailable live recording will be issued by the Columbia/Legacy label under the title Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 by Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin.

The band was tight and at the top of their game. Joplin had been a member for two years and they had matured. The 13 tracks from the concert consisted of eight songs from their two albums plus five more original compositions. The final track was an encore of “Call On Me” from the June 22 concert. It is more interesting than essential but it allows one to compare it to the version contained during the June 23 performance.

Albin, Gurley, and Andrew tended to improvise and elongate the material but Joplin being the vocalist kept them from getting out of control. Gurley and Andrew are a sometimes underrated guitar duo and Andrews’ backing vocals enhanced those of Joplin’s lead. Albin and Getz formed a solid rhythm section that allowed the others to take off on their flights of fancy.

Two of the lesser known songs, “I Need A Man To Love” and “Catch Me Daddy” present the psychedelic era of free love well as Joplin’s emotional vocal presents the sexual and atavistic lyrics unapologetically. The music ebbs and flows as Joplin redefines the role of the female lead singer.

The four songs that end the album, their classic rendition of the old Emma Franklin soul song “Piece of My Heart,” “Coo Coo” which was issued as a stand-alone single, Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball & Chain,” which they turn into a psychedelic classic, and the gritty Joplin performance on “Down On Me” are 23 minutes of some of the best and intense rock music recorded on tape.

The track that best captures the original intent of the band was the near seven minute “Jam-I’m Mad” It gave the members room to stretch a little and move the basic melodies around and twist them out of shape.

Joplin would leave the band about two months after this concert and quickly become one of the superstars of rock music. Any new Janis Joplin music is a treat from a bygone era. This is doubly so when backed by Big Brother and The Holding Company. An essential listen for any fan of Joplin or the late 1960s psychedelic era.

Article first published as Music Review: Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis Joplin – Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 on Blogcritics.

At Least We Have Each Other by The Hobart Brothers with ‘Lil Sis Hobart

February 25, 2012

The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart may not be a super group in the usual sense of the word, but it is the coming together of three artists from different musical styles and backgrounds. Jon Dee Graham, Freedy (not Freddy) Johnston, and Susan Cowsill have combined their talents to form The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis Hobart. They took the name Hobart from the dishwashers of the same name, which are found in nearly every restaurant where they performed during the early days of their solo careers. They are now about to release their debut album, As Least We Have Each Other.

Their ten song album comprises seven songs from their most recent studio recording sessions, plus three from their first, drumless, demo sessions. With the purchase of the album comes a free download of the entire nine song demo session.

Jon Dee Graham was a member/guitarist of the classic rock band, The Skunks, whose sound channeled such groups as The Rolling Stones and The New York Dolls. Freedy Johnston is best known as a songwriter who can paint pictures with his lyrics and surround them with catchy music. Susan Cowsill was a member of the mid to late 1960s pop group The Cowsills. Lately, her music has veered in a pop/folk direction.

Sometimes when artists from different traditions come together the results can seem forced or out of sync. Graham, Johnston, and Cowsill play like they have been together for years. The lyrics tell stories about cooks, waitresses, dishwashers, truck-drivers, love, despair, and living in a car. The music ranges from catchy to gritty. Their voices blend together effortlessly into subtle and sometimes soaring harmonies.

The overall sound travels in a number of directions. There is some catchy pop, a little swamp rock that reminds you of Creedence Clearwater, and some Americana music that is similar to The Band. The album’s first track, “Ballad Of Sis (Didn’t I Love You),” is the catchiest track as it is a pop infused up-tempo romp.

There are a number of well-crafted and very listenable songs. “Why I Don’t Hunt” is an ominous sounding song right out of the Louisiana bayou. “Sweet Senorita” moves in a country direction. It is a mid-tempo piece with a lush, filled-in sound. “I Never Knew There Would Be You” and “All Things Being Equal” feature fine lead vocals, especially from Susan Cowsill whose soulful voice has become a wonderful instrument.

The second half of the album contains more of a stripped down sound. In a way it reminds me of some of Levon Helm’s solo music. “First Day On The Job,” “The Dishwasher,” and “I Am Sorry” are personal stories with gritty music.

At Least We Have Each Other is an enjoyable union of three talented artists who have been practicing their craft for decades. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates good music.

Article first published as Music Review: The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis Hobart – At Least We Have Each Other on Blogcritics.

(Ghost) Riders In The Sky 78 by Vaughan Monroe

February 25, 2012

Vaughan Monroe is sometimes a forgotten figure but during the 1940s and 1950s he was a successful band leader and vocalist, placing dozens of songs on the American singles chart.

Probably his most famous song was “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky).” It reached the top of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart May 21, 1969 and remained in that position for 11 weeks. It was the number one song of the year.

The song has been recorded hundreds of times down though the years but Vaughan Monroe’s version remains the most successful.