The Complete Columbia Singles by Blood, Sweat, & Tears

March 27, 2014


The story of Blood, Sweat & Tears began with The Buckinghams. They were a band that placed a number of singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1967 and 1968. Their use of a horn section that was at the center of their sound was somewhat unique at the time.

Steve Katz and Al Kooper had been members of the improvisational and psychedelic rock/folk band, The Blues Project. They were playing some gigs with jazz drummer Bobby Columby and former Mothers Of Invention bassist Jim Fielder when they obtained a copy of The Buckinghams album Time & Charges. After listening to the album, they assembled a brass section and Blood, Sweat & Tears was born.

Kooper lasted one album. Child Is The Father to The Man was well received but only marginally commercially successful. Singer David Clayton Thomas would come on board for their next three albums, which would propel the band to superstar status during the late 1960s early 1970s. While their albums sold millions of copies, it was their singles that dominated the airwaves and were memorable. Real Gone Music has now reissued all of their Columbia label single releases under the appropriate title, The Complete Columbia Singles.

Their first single, “I Can’t Quit Her” is a bluesy affair that shows Kooper’s limitations as a vocalist when surrounded by brass. When you get to such classic singles as “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die,” “Hi-De-Ho,” “Lucretia Mac Evil,” and “Go Down Gamblin’” you have some of the best hit songs of their era. The horns are not just used on the breaks and to fill in the sound but help carry the melody. Thomas has a voice that fits the sound perfectly, plus enough power not to be overwhelmed by the sounds swirling around him.

Everything is in chronological order and the B sides follow their hit sides. Tunes such as “Sometimes In Winter,” “Blues-Part II,” “The Battle,” and “More and More” may not be as well-known as their more famous counterparts but they have textures and subtle twists and turns that makes them very listenable over four decades later.

Thomas left the band after their fourth album and their commercial success would wane. Jerry Fisher was the new vocalist and the second disc covers the singles issued from New Blood (1972), No Sweat, (1973), and Mirror Image (1974). The backing sound gradually moved away from melodic pop/rock toward more of a jumbled jazz/rock fusion.

While there are some high points such as “So Long Dixie,” “Save Our Ship,” and “Tell Me That I’m Wrong;” in general the material is weaker and pales next to that of the first disc. Clayton Thomas would return to the band but their material and fortunes would not recover.

There is a version of Blood, Sweat, & Tears still on the road today. While their career is now approaching the half-century mark, their imprint on the music industry remains centered on their first four albums, which contained all their hit singles.

The Complete Columbia Singles is a fine introduction to their sound. Disc two is interesting in places but the first is essential to the music of the era.


Guitar Angels by James Armstrong

March 27, 2014


James Armstrong has been a blues player all of his life. He formed his first band while in the 7th grade and was touring the country by the age of 17. A terrible injury to his left arm and hand in 1996 derailed his career but through rehabilitation and the support of such blues guitarists as Coco Montoya and Joe Louis Walker, he is now able to take his place as one of the better blues musicians working today. The title of his new albums, Guitar Angels, is dedicated to the people who helped him recover from his injury.

Whether on electric or slide guitar, he is an extraordinary blues musician. He is able to produce a clarity of sound that few guitarists are capable of producing. His voice is unique among blues artists as it is smooth and silky. It has a wonderful soulful quality that would have fit in with the Motown sound of the 1960s.

While he records as a solo artist, he surrounds himself with various musicians and instruments, including keyboards, brass, and strings in places that give his music a full band sound.  He is also able to write a tune as 9 of the 11 tracks are original compositions.

He can be both playful and serious. Tracks such as “Grandma’s Got A New Friend,” “Bank Of Love,” and “Saturday Night Women” contain catchy melodies and double entendre lyrics. The guitar solos are succinct and well-placed. It is music that not only entertains but also makes you smile. On the other hand, tracks such as “Healing Time” and “Guitar Angels” are both well-constructed and heartfelt.

One of the two covers is the Eagles classic “Take It To The Limit.” Armstrong transforms it into a smoky blues tune.

Armstrong is a modern electric blues player who is smoother than many of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, he produces a sound that is firmly rooted in the blues. Guitar Angels is well-worth a listen for any fan of the blues.


A Big Hunk O’ Love by Elvis Presley

March 25, 2014

Elvis was in the service in 1959. Elvis received a furlough in June of 1958 and on June 10, entered a recording studio for a two session. He managed to record five songs and then it was off to Germany where he would meet his future wife Priscilla.

“A Fool Such As I” was released in March of 1959 but became a rare Elvis release not to top the Billboard Hot 100 as it stalled at number two.

“A Big Hunk O’ Love” was released in June of 1959 and entered the Hot 100 on July 10th. It reached number one five weeks later on August 10, and remained number one for two weeks. It was his last single release until he was discharged from the military.

Uncovered by Beth Nielsen Chapman

March 24, 2014


Beth Nielsen Chapman has been a noted songwriter since the 1980’s. Her compositions have been covered by dozens of artists including Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Alabama, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Waylon Jennings, and Tanya Tucker among others.  Her own albums are more adult contemporary that veers toward a folk approach upon occasion.

Her past albums have been laid-back affairs. Listening to her subtle approach is always a relaxing experience as the simple melodies and incisive lyrics wash over you. There has been a consistency to her releases in the past, which makes her new album so interesting and ultimately one of the strongest of her career.

Uncovered is primarily an album of duets, which itself is not unique. She covers many of her songs that were sung by other artists. Many are changed in tempo and format and when combined with her choice of partners takes her outside of her past comfort zone with excellent results.

“Here We Are” was originally covered by Alabama but now she and partner Vince Gill transfer it to an up-tempo tune with a little bite courtesy of Gill’s guitar. Chapman displays a good vocal range as she brings this country song close to rock and roll. It is melodic, catchy, and emerges as one of the better performances of her career.

One of the better pairings is Jesse Colter-Jennings and Duane Eddy on “Sweet Love Shine.” The duet between the two women has sweetness to it but the treat is Eddy’s signature twangy guitar rumbling underneath.

“Pray” with Amy Grant and Muriel Anderson and “Maybe That’s All It Takes” with Darrell Scott are ballads that have become part of her concert act for decades. The duet partners, however, shed new light on the songs and reveal different textures.

Her best known composition, “The Kiss,” made famous by Faith Hill is presented by a threesome including Ruth Trimble and Edith Paterson. Add in “Simple Things” with Kim Carnes, “Five Minutes” with Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, and the girl power finale of “Almost Home” with Gretchen Peters, Suzi  Bogguss, and Matraca Berg  and you have a consistently excellent album.

Beth Nielsen Chapman has taken a different path with Uncovered and produced one of the signature albums of her career. If you want to hear her stretch vocally and re-interpret some of her own compositions then this album will be a treat.



Silver * Bell * Elation by Dee Bell & Marcos Silva

March 24, 2014


So what does a laid-back American, jazz/swing female singer have in common with a Brazilian jazz composer and arranger who is also an instructor at Berkeley’s jazz school? The answer is nothing and everything. Dee Bell and Marcos Silver bring their unique skills to their new album Silva * Bell * Elation and make it work.

Bell’s career extends back to the 1980s when she released two well-received jazz vocal albums. She even enticed jazz legend Stan Getz to play on her debut. Times became difficult and her 1990 album Sagacious Grace was never released. She retreated from the music scene as she became a mother and worked as a music teacher.

The lights went back on for her career during November of 2011 when she sang a song acapella at a benefit concert. Marcos Silver was in the audience and a musical relationship was born. The first order of business was to finally release Sagacious Grace. The second was to record an album together.

Silver * Bell * Elation is the meeting of two cultures through music. Bell’s beautiful and subtle voice floats above Silva’s Brazilian rhythms.

The material covers a number of formats but all are infused with South American rhythms. The best example of a song’s transformation is Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” which replaces the guitar part with four saxophones. It emerges as a train roaring through a tunnel, which provides the foundation for Bell’s voice.

“Beijo Partido/Broken Kiss” is a composition by Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta. Bell gives an emotional and uplifting English interpretation. Marcos Valle’s “The Face I Love” is changed from a waltz into a samba. The most adventurous track is “Midnight Mood” with beautiful piano work by Silva. Bell does not sing the lyrics but rather hums the message.

Dee Bell’s career has been resurrected. Silva * Bell * Elation is a musical journey into a fusion sound that treads the delicate line between two distinct forms of jazz music.


Wildfire by The Woodshedders

March 21, 2014



The Woodshedders

CD Baby 2013

Review by David Bowling

The Woodshedders, guitarist/vocalist Dwayne Brooke, bassist/pianist/vocalist Ryan Mayo, mandolin/banjo player Jared Pool, drummer Jesse Shultzaberger, and fiddler Dave Van Deventer, have returned with their third studio album Wildfire.

The album contains two distinct approaches.  There are two groups of country songs that open and close the album but right in the middle is some hybrid material that branches out into rock, Americana, and even a little blues.

The album’s best track is “Rabbit Hole,” which sounds like a cross between The Band and Grateful Dead. Incisive lyrics and layered instruments with a fine vocal mixed in make it one of the better independent songs of the past year. When you add in “Two Strings” and “Phantom Of The Highway,” which contain elements of Creedence Clearwater, Jack White, and Mumford & Sons, you have a style that they should continue to explore.

The opening tracks, “Highway” and “Keel Reel” are excellent introductions to their country style. The intergration of fiddle, mandolin, and guitar create layers of textures that take multiple listens to fully appreciate.

In many ways The Woodshedders are about having a good time. “O Dig” has an odd funky toe-tapping dance vibe while “Flat Pop And Bourbon” is a smart chugging country rock track that will makes you smile.

The Woodshedders are a band that has learned its craft well.  Wildfire is a fun-filled romp that will hold your attention for forty minutes or so. Theirs is a woodshed worth visiting.

High Tide by Stan Wells

March 21, 2014


Not many musicians can attract artists such as David LaFlamme, Nina Gerber, Betty Perkins, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott to appear on the debut album but so it is with Stan Wells and his release High Tide.

Stan Wells has been writing songs his entire life and now has decided to record 15 of them. He can be classified as a singer/songwriter who presents his material as a modern folk artist. While his music and lyrics have a simplicity, he fills in the sound with a number of different instruments which gives it layers of textures.

He has a very laid back approach. Incisive lyrics and subtle melodies add up to a relaxed listen. My only criticism is the tracks have a sameness of tempo and style when taken together but each track in and of itself is excellent.

The album begins on a high note with the title track. His duet with Betty Perkins on the chorus sets up his gospel-influenced lead vocal. It is a song that allows your mind to drift away as he spins his tale.

David LaFlamme’s musical journey goes back to the 1960’s when he played with the likes of Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin before he formed the innovative west coast band, It’s A Beautiful Day, a version of which he still leads. A classically trained violinist, he brings his unique sound to three of the tracks; two of which are highlights.  He gives a poignant performance on “Fantasy Junction,” which is a tale of lost love.  “Sit Beside Me” features only LaFlamme’s viola and Wells’ 12-string guitar. The way they play off each other gives the song a unique beauty.

Nina Gerber is one of the underappreciated folk oriented guitarists of her generation. Playing with the likes of Kate Wolf, Karla Bonoff, and Kenny Edwards, she has left her imprint upon the American music scene. She joins Wells on four tracks including the panoramic “Cloudburst Suite.”

Folk legend Ramblin’ jack Elliott brings his 50+ years of experience to “Here We Go Again” where he shares vocal and guitar duties.

The production is excellent and the enclosed booklet contains the lyrics of the songs, which is always appreciated with a musician such as Wells.

High Tide was 35 years in the making and contains a collection of excellent material. Hopefully it will not take Stan Wells 35 years to issue a follow-up.


Lonely Boy by Paul Anka

March 18, 2014

By 1959, Paul Anka was a star. He had numberous hit singles including the number one “Diana.” His concerts were selling out and he was one of the most successful songwriters in the music business.

He sang the song “Lonely Boy” in the film GIRLS TOWN. Released as a single, it reached number one on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 on July 13, 1959. It would remain at the top of the charts for four weeks.

Anka’s career as a songwriter and singer continues down to the present day. Perhaps the most lucrative compostion of his career was The Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Theme. Every time it was played on the show he received a royalty check. This went on for over 30 years, which added up to a lot of checks.

The Battle Of New Orleans by Johnny Horton

March 15, 2014

The Battle Of New Orleans actually took place in early 1815, not 1814. Andrew Jackson defeated the British in the last battle of the War of 1812. There was a folk song written about the battle that was popular with fiddlers of the day.

During 1955 Jimmy Driftwood wrote lyrics to the old fiddle tune and changed the name to “The Battle of New Orleans. Enter Johnny Horton who released it as a single in 1959.

Horton was a country singer who first recorded in 1951. “The Battle Of New Orleans” was his first pop hit and what a hit it was. It reached number one on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 June 1, 1959, and remained at the top of the charts for six weeks making it the number one single of the year.

Horton would have other successful story songs such as “Sink The Bismark” and “North To Alaska.”

He had a fear of flying and would never get on a plane. On November 5th, 1960, he performed at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas, which was the place of Hank Williams final performance before his death. That night he was killed in a car crash on Highway 79 ending a primising career.

Inside Dave Van Ronk by Dave Van Ronk

March 13, 2014


The Mayor of MacDougal Street passed away nearly 12 years ago but his influence and imprint upon the American folk scene remains. He was among the first of the folk revivalists who appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His gravelly voice,  imposing stage persona, leftist politics, and resurrection of many forgotten folk songs influenced the artists in the Greenwich Village folk scene. Artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and Tom Paxton were all influenced by Van Ronk. While he would never achieve the commercial success of many of his contemporaries, he would continue to record for independent labels and play on the small club circuit until his death.

The Fantasy label has now re-released the music from two of his early albums. He went into the recording studio in April of 1962 and produced two albums of material. While recorded at the same time, Dave Van Ronk/Folksinger (issued 1963) and Inside Dave Van Ronk (issued 1964) are different in style and approach.

The first 13 tracks comprised his Folksinger album and have a nice bluesy feel. His sound is sort of a folk/blues hybrid in the tradition of Bukka White. In fact his cover of White’s “Fixin’ To Die” would in turn be covered by Bob Dylan. His gritty voice is perfect for “Cocaine Blues,” “Motherless Child,” and “Poor Lazarus.” He was always a story teller and songs such as these are brought to life with just his guitar and voice.

The 12 songs that were released as Inside Dave Van Ronk are closer to a straight folk approach. He accompanies himself on 12-string guitar, dulcimer, and autoharp. He was always on the look-out for interesting and unusual traditional folk songs. “I Buyed A Little Dog,” “Fair And Tender Ladies,” “Silver Dagger,” and “Kentucky Moonshiner” were the type of tunes that he would play on stage for the rest of his life.

Van Ronk was a larger than life performer who had a unique style of picking, especially when playing his 12-string. His authentic and passionate style was taken and expanded by many of the artists that he mentored, which cemented his place in the development of American folk music.

Inside Dave Van Ronk catches him at the height of his influence. While the progression and development of folk music would leave him behind, the music contained here is a fine introduction to his music and the era.