Woody Guthrie At 100! Live At The Kennedy Center by Various Artists

July 31, 2013

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I can’t help but think that if Woody Guthrie had only written one song, “This Land Is Your Land,” he still would have been remembered as a brilliant musician. His career extends far beyond just that one composition, as he has achieved the status of one of America’s poet laureates of the 20th century.

Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 in 2012, so last October 14, artists such as Judy Collins, Rosanne Cash, Jackson Browne, Donovan, John Mellencamp, Lucinda Williams, Tom Morello, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott gathered at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to celebrate his life and music. Now, a CD/DVD has been released to commemorate this centennial concert. PBS presented some of the concert as a part of a tribute to Guthrie, but the Woody Guthrie At 100! Live At The Kennedy Center package contains eight performances not shown on the television special, and adds some archival bonus footage.

It is always interesting to hear today’s musicians interpret Guthrie’s words and music. His songs have a timeless quality that allow an artist leeway in interpreting the stories. Judy Collins (“Pastures of Plenty”), Donovan (“Riding in My Car (Car Song)”), John Mellencamp (“Do Re Me”), Sweet Honey In The Rock (“I’ve Got to Know”), and Rosanne Cash (“I Ain’t Got No Time” and “Pretty Boy Floyd”) all provide modernized versions of his music while paying tribute to the originals. Various backing instruments and musicians, plus vocal harmonies and even some a cappella vocals update his folk classics.

During the last 20 years Nora Guthrie has invited some musicians to compose music to Woody Guthrie’s unpublished lyrics. Lucinda Williams (“House of Earth”) and Joel Rafael (“Ramblin’ Reckless Hobo”) were present to perform their newly created songs on which they now share writing credit with Guthrie. Rafael channels Bob Dylan in approach, while Williams brings country passion to her performance.

The CD and DVD contain basically the same song list, although the DVD contains two spoken word performances by actor Jeff Daniels. The DVD has very good clarity and sound and manages to present the flow of the concert well.

The bonus material is short but sweet. Especially so is Woody singing “Green Back Dollar,” “John Henry,” and “Ranger’s Command.” It allows one to travel back in time to an America that is long gone but which provided the heart and soul for his music. The only issue ts the shortness of the clips. Still, they are a fine example of Guthrie’s style.

The final two tracks were ensemble performances of “This Train Is Bound for Glory” and “This Land Is Your Land.” They remain two of the more memorable songs in U.S. history and are prime examples of Guthrie’s ability to paint pictures with his lyrics. With Woody Guthrie; it always comes back to the words.

Woody Guthrie died October 3, 1967, at the age of 55, from Huntington’s disease. Woody Guthrie At 100! Live At The Kennedy Center is a nice celebration as it connects his music and life to the present and looks ahead to the future.


You Send Me by Sam Cooke

July 27, 2013

Sam Cooke hah one of the smoothest voices in American music history. He began as a gospel artist, who was the lead singer of the Soul Stirrers. When he released a pop song, he was promptly fired by the group. Their loss was the mainstream American music scene’s gain. He would place 43 singles on the BILLBOARD Pop Chart and sell millions of albums.

His first pop chart hit was also the only number one song of his career. Released in the fall of 1957, “You Send Me” topped all three of BILLBOARD’S Pop Charts.

Best Sellers In Stores Charts – 12/2/57 – Two weeks at number one.
Most Played By DJ’s Chart – 12/9/57 – One week at number one.
Billboard Top 100 – 11/16/57 – Two weeks at number one.

His life came to a tragic end, December 10, 1964, when he was shot to death by a hotel office manager. The courts ruled it was justifiable homicide.

His legacy is that of an influential artist, who introduced a white audience to a new type of music.


All The Good ‘Uns by Ian Tyson

July 24, 2013

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Ian Tyson will turn 80 in September and is considered one of the grand old men of the 1960s folk revival movement. Recording with his wife under the name Ian & Sylvia, they released a dozen albums during the 1960s and early 1970s and are considered early proponents of the country folk movement.

As a solo artist, beginning in 1973, he has consistently issued albums of quality music with lyrics that paint pictures. He has remained a folk singer who has a strong connection to the land and environment. He has now returned with his second compilation release, this one titled All the Good ’Uns Vol. 2. It is the follow-up to 1996’s Vol. 1, which brings his career up to date by gathering 19 tracks from his last five studio albums. So if you have lost track of his music and career, or just want a sample of what he has been up to for the past 14 years, then this is an album for you.

His songs have a comfortable feel to them. Whether singing about the cowboy life of the west or delving into his personal feelings about his life’s journey, he is grounded in the folk traditions he helped establish. The music is sparse at times but it is enough to support his always entertaining stories.

His voice changes from track to track. He injured his vocal chords a number of years ago and adjusted his delivery accordingly. Now fully recovered from an operation, he has regained much of his lost range, so be prepared for some differences in approach throughout the album.

Overall it always comes back to the songwriting for Ian Tyson. Songs such as “Land of Shining Mountains,” “Little High Plains Town,” “Fiddler Must Be Paid,” and “Charles Goodnight’s Grave” all have a wistful appeal as they deal with a vanishing time and the aging process.

His latest release brings another part of his long career to a fitting close. At nearly 80, he continues to work on his ranch and tour regularly and will no doubt remain active in the studio. All The Good ’Uns Vol. 2 is an album of stories and songs as he pauses to embark upon the next decade of his life.


Seeds & Stems by Bill Kirchen

July 24, 2013

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Bill Kirchen first learned his musical chops in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he was a founding member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. From 1967-1976, his lead guitar sound helped the band incorporate rockabilly and western swing into their brand of good time rock and roll. Since the break-up of the original Commander Cody Band, he has remained active in the studio and on the road.

He has just released a new studio album, Seeds and Stems. He was named “the titan of the telecaster” by Guitar Magazine and his new album is a fine example of what that moniker means. The sound is similar to that of Duane Eddy in his prime. There is some reverb mixed in with the twang, plus each note is distinct.

He is still very much connected to the rockabilly school of music. There is also many times a tongue-in-cheek approach as he blazes through the material.

He re-invents the old Commander Cody staple “Hot Rod Lincoln,” but with some twists and turns along the way. It began as a stage concept with his band members yelling out the names of artists that the Lincoln was passing on the highway. Kirchen would then respond by playing classic licks of the artist. This recorded version features him channeling everyone from Johnny Cash to Count Basie to the Sex Pistols. Throw in the Merle’s (Travis and Haggard), the Kings, (Freddy, BB, Albert, Ben E, Carol, Billie Jean, and Elvis), plus Carl Perkins, The Ventures, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few, and you have an epic and entertaining track.

He reaches back to his Commander Cody days on several more tracks. He ramps up the first song he ever wrote for the band, “Too Much Fun.” Then there is “Here I Sit All Alone with a Broken Heart, I Took Three Bennies and My Semi-Truck Won’t Start,” which is reduced to “Semi-Truck,” but it retains its goofy nature. The title track, “Down to Seeds and Stems Again,” remains just about the most depressing song, lyrically, that you will ever hear.

He does travel in a different direction at times. His former rocker “Womb to the Tomb” is slowed down and given a bluesy treatment. Likewise, Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” travels in the same direction.

In the end, it always comes down to fun for Bill Kirchen. “Rockabilly Funeral,” “Flip Flop,” “Mama Hated Diesels,” and “Talkin’ About Chicken” are all lighthearted, amusing romps through his odd world of rock and roll.

The album was recorded very quickly in between dates on his two-week U.K. tour and thus has a live vibe to it, which serves his music well. Seeds And Stems was released June 18, and no doubt Bill Kirchen was somewhere on the road, twangin’ away.


Blind, Crippled, & Crazy by Delbert & Glen

July 24, 2013

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Way back in time, the early 1970s to be more precise, Glen Clark left his native Texas for Los Angeles to pursue his musical dreams. He was soon followed by Delbert McClinton. The two hooked up on the West Coast and released two albums under the name Delbert & Glen. Their 1973 self-titled album and its successor, Subject to Change, had an Americana blues flavor. They met with mild commercial success and then went their separate ways. Now, 40 years later, they have reunited to issue Blind, Crippled & Crazy.

Delbert McClinton has won three Grammy awards and consistently produced well-crafted rock and blues albums during the course of his 40-year solo career. Clark has remained active as a songwriter, producer, and session musician.

Their new album picks up where their music left off 40 years ago. Their voices have aged a bit but they are still able to present their stories and tales well. The music is still a catchy cross between rock and blues, plus there is an acoustic foundation to much of their work.

“More and More, Less and Less” is an ode to aging and acceptance of it. McClinton’s voice has a nice patina, which serves the song well. In addition his harmonica solo adds just the right poignant atmosphere to the performance. On the other side of the aging coin is Clark’s “Been Around a Long Time,” which came into being from a conversation with a 102-year-old woman who said, “Sonny, I ain’t old. I’ve just been around a long time.”

“Oughta Know” is just a straight blues piece and features guest guitarist Anson Funderburgh on lead. “World of Hurt” and “Good as I Feel Today” may have different structures and tempos but both are rockers. The first is straightforward and in your face, while the second is more laid back and contains some nice slide guitar among its rhythms.

Four decades is a long time between albums but Delbert and Glen seem to have settled back into their former relationship. The years may have passed but the music is fresh. Hopefully it will not be another 40 years before they record another album together.


Beach Time 45 by Roger Smith

July 24, 2013

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Roger Smith is best known for playing Jeff Spencer on the television series 77 SUNSET STRIP. Like many actors, he tried his hand at singing. His only chart entry was “Beach Time,” which reached number 64 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100.

He retired from the acting and music industry during the mid-1970s to manage the career of his wife. He has been married to Ann Margaret for over 40 years and that sounds like a good life.


Chances Are by Johnny Mathis

July 23, 2013

Who knows how many tens-of-millions of albums Johnny Mathis has sold during a career that is well past the 50 year mark. What people sometimes forget is that he charted 45 singles on the BILLBOARD Hot 100.

He only reached number one twice. The second time was a 1978 duet with Denise Williams. The first was in 1957 with one of the classic easy listening ballads of the 1950s.

“Chances Are” almost didn’t make it to the top of the charts. It stalled at number four on the Best Sellers In Stores Chart and number five on the BILLBOARD Hot 100. The radio dee jays loved the song and on October 21, 1957, it topped the Most Played By Dee Jays Chart for one week, which gave Johnny Mathis the only solo number one of his career.