The Breeze (CD) By Eric Clapton & Friends

October 31, 2014

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J. J. Cale was a contemporary and friend of Eric Clapton. His songwriting and bluesy swamp rock appealed to Clapton, who would record a number of his songs during the course of his career, including such signature tunes as “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.” In 2006 they combined their talents to create the Grammy winning album The Road To Escondido. Cale passed away during July of 2013 at the age of 74. To honor his old friend, Clapton has released a tribute album covering 16 of his compositions.

Clapton gathered together such guitarists and singers as Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Don White, John Mayer, Derek Trucks, and Mark Knopfler and creates a heartfelt tribute to his long time friend. Also on hand as a rhythm section are bassist Nathan East and drummer Jim Keltner.

There have been good tribute albums and some very bad ones as well. I’m happy to say The Breeze falls on the good side of the ledger. In addition to his friends, Clapton made the wise decision to play guitar and/or sing on all the tracks. While he allows his guests to step forward, he is also present as a foundation for all of the songs.

Cale’s music has a simplicity and subtlety about it. Willie Nelson’s approach is very similar as he brings his weary voice to “Songbird.” He then teams up with one of the worlds great guitarist’s, Derek Trucks, as they cover “Starbound.”

Very few guitarists have a sound that rivals Clapton’s but Mark Knopfler is one. He brings his unique sound to “Someday.” John Mayer’s vocal takes “Magnolia” in a distinct country direction. Tom Petty and Clapton have surprisingly good vocal harmonies on “Rock And Roll Records,” “I Got The Same Old Blues,” and “The Old Man And Me.”

“Call Me The Breeze,” “Cajun Moon,” and “Since You Said Goodbye” are Eric Clapton tracks. He does not overwhelm the material but brings a laid back style that enhances the textures.

The Breeze is a labor of love from one friend to another. It is a fitting memorial to J.J. Cale and does justice to his legacy.


Dominique By The Singing Nun

October 28, 2014

 

The last number one song of 1963 was symbolic of the pre-Beatles era 1960-1963. It was simple, sung by Sister Luc-Gabrielle, and sounds terribly dated today.

The Singing Nun as she was called was an unlikely candidate for a recording career, never mind a hit single. She would sing at retreats at the Fishermont Monastery and signed a contract with Philips Records. She recorded 12 tracks and “Dominique” was released as a single. It topped the BILLBOARS HOT 100 for four weeks beginning December 7, 1963. She even sang the song on the Ed Sullivan Show in January of 1964.

She proved to be a one-hit wonder as she never had another chart hit.. She left her order but could never revive her music career. She took her own life in 1985 leaving behind this one shining moment in her short career.


In Tune By Willie Hutch

October 25, 2014

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William McKinley Hutchinson (1944-2005), best known by his stage name Willie Hutch, produced over a dozen albums, wrote such songs as “I’ll Be There” for the Jackson Five and “California My Way” for the Fifth Dimension, and scored the music for the films The Mack and Foxy Brown  in a career that spanned over four decades. Yet, he remains little known despite managing to chart a number of singles on the Cashbox Pop and Rhythm & Blues Charts.

During his early 20’s he was primarily a songwriter. The RCA label signed him as a solo artist in the late 1960’s, which resulted in his first two album releases. He released nine albums for Motown, 1973-1977 and 1985 and also served as a staff writer whose songs were recorded by the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and the Miracles.

During the late 1970’s he spent several years with former Motown producer and writer Norman Whitfield’s label. His two albums for the Whitfield label have now been reissued by Real Gone Music.

His first album for the label was issued during 1978 as the disco era was beginning to wane. While In Tune would not match the commercial success of his releases for Motown, it contained a number of excellent tracks that fit the music of the era well.

It is an album that travels in a number of directions and tempos. “All American Funkathon” and “Hip Shakin’ Sexy Lady” are the most modern sounding tracks as they bridge the gap between disco and funk. Pulsating bass with some brass thrown in for good measure are good foundations for Hutch to build his sound.

“Come And Dance With Me” is an energetic disco track complete keyboards and guitar driving the song along through two instrumental interludes. “Paradise” is a string laden ballad. “Easy Does It” is the best example of Hutch’s vocal versatility.

In Tune is in many ways a product of its era. It never settles into one consistent groove, which hurts its cohesiveness but many of the tracks, when approached individually, are excellent in their own right. A good reissue for an under appreciated talent.


Vehicle By The Ides Of March

October 25, 2014

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The Ides Of March may not have garnered the commercial success of Blood, Sweet, & Tears or Chicago but back in the early 1970’s, they were one of the leading practitioners of the brass/rock sound that was so popular at the time.

Guitarist/vocalist Jim Peterik, guitarist/keyboardist Larry Milas, bassist Ray Herr, and drummer Michael Borch began in the Chicago area as the Shon-Dels in 1964 before changing their name in 1966. They were a garage type band who managed to have a huge local hit single with “You Wouldn’t Listen” that went on to become a moderate national hit.

The band added a brass section of Bob Bergland, Chuck Soumar, and John Larson in the late 1960’s and that made all the difference.  They signed a contract with Warner Brothers and their first release “Vehicle” became the fastest selling single in the company’s history to date. They quickly released their first album, which was also commercially successful and has now been reissued with bonus tracks.

The album was patterned on the sound of Blood, Sweat & Tears but veered from that style on several extended tracks, which were a little grittier and more improvisational than the slick pop of B,S,&T.

“Vehicle” was a perfect radio song.  It has an opening blast of brass, a passionate vocal by the 20 year old Peterik, and a melody that grabbed your attention. They traveled in a very different direction with “Home” and “One Woman Band,” which were delicate ballads. They ramp the energy back up with “Factory Band,” which could have been right out the Creedence Clearwater catalogue.

The seven minute cover of “Wooden Ships/Dhama For One” and the almost ten-minute “Symphony For Eleanor (Eleanor Rigby)” are symbolic of their stage act, which relied more on improvisation.

The album was reissued a decade or so ago with a less than adequate sound. That issue has been corrected as the sound is now clear and crisp. A booklet gives a fine history of the band and album.

Sometimes bonus tracks add little to an album but the four extra tracks here not only fit in well with the original release but enhance the overall experience.  The single version of “Vehicle” is required listening for any fan of the era. The non-album single “Melody” is almost as good and why it failed to receive any chart action remains a mystery. Add in two Jim Peterik compositions, “High On A Hillside” and “Lead Me Home Gently” and you have a much stronger album.

The Ides of Match split in 1973. Peterik went on to become a member of Survivor, penning and singing such tunes as “Eye Of The Tiger,” “The Search Is Over,” and “High On You.” In 1990 all seven original members reunited and continued together until the deaths of Herr and Larson in 2011 from cancer.  Peterik, Milas, Bergland, and Borsh, with some new additions, are still out on the road today.

Vehicle remains one of the great lost albums of the early 1970’s. The music has held-up well and  remains fresh.


I’m Leaving It Up To You By Dale & Grace

October 25, 2014

 

Dale Houston was a country singer from Louisiana. Grace Broussard, also from Louisiana, was 19 and singing in her brothers band. Dale recorded “I’m Leaving It Up To You” as a solo but it just didn’t work. Dale was brought in to make it a duet and the song became a local hit.

The record was released nationally on the Montel label and on November 23, 1963, it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 where it remained for two weeks.

Their follow-up, “Stop And Think It Over,” reached number eight but it proved to be their only other hit. During 1965, while on tour, Dale became homesick and the duo split apart. While they would reunite a few times, their career as a duo was over. It may have been short but it did leave behind one shining moment with the number one “I’m Leaving It All Up To You.”

One side-note. While on tour; they, Bobby Vee, and Brian Hyland were on Main Street in Dallas and saw President Kennedy drive by a few minutes before he was assassinated.

 

 


Good News By Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters

October 22, 2014

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Ronnie Earl has been playing the blues since he was a teenager. His nine year stint, 1979-1988, as the lead guitarist for Roomful Of Blues propelled him into the upper echelon of American electric guitar blues players. He has just released his 20th solo album and 8th for the Stony Plain label.

His back-up band, The Broadcasters, has been together for over a decade. Bassist Jim Mouradian, keyboardist Dave Limina, and drummer Lorne Entress are a competent and tight unit and form a solid foundation for Earl’s guitar work.

While Earl has more than a competent voice, he has always been more comfortable with instrumentals. The addition of vocalist Diane Blue on several tracks is a wise move and gives the songs an extra lift.

He co-wrote five of the ten tracks. Interestingly his compositions tend to be more structured and planned. He is a blues guitarist to the core and on such tracks as “Puddin’ Pie,” “Good News,” and “Marge’s Melody” have precise and energetic solos. The most creative of his compositions is “I Met Her On That Train,” where guest guitarists Zach Zunis and Nicholas Tabarias each take a solo before Earl finishes up.

Some of the cover songs give Earl more room to stretch out and improvise. At over ten minutes “in The We Hours” is a blues tour-de-force. Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come” is moved over to a creative blues interpretation. “Six String Blessing” is a nine minute exploration of modern electric guitar based blues

Ronnie Earl has been plying his craft for close to four decades. Good News is another example of a craft well-learned.

 

 


Sing Me Another Song By John Lyons

October 22, 2014

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Blue/roots artist John Lyons has been living in Zurich, Switzerland, for the past 13 years. That is quite a change of cultures for someone who grew up on a farm outside of South Haven, Michigan. Whatever the location, he has been producing an excellent fusion of blues and roots music. Sing Me Another Song is his third album release.

Lyons is a more than competent songwriter and an excellent guitarist and vocalist. His lyrics are more of a roots nature but his music takes its style and sound in an electric blues direction.

He has a tight band behind him in the studio to support his guitar, vocals, and harmonica. Keyboardist Matthew Savnik, drummer Simon Britschgi, and bassists Gabriel Spahni and Simon Winiger are a veteran unit who blend together well.

Songs such as “Another Wave,” “Under The Stars,” “Blink Of An Eye,” “Bluestar Highway,” and the title track have pleasing and memorable melodies and personal lyrics. The packaging includes a booklet with the lyrics, which is something more artists should provide.

John Lyons may not have re-invented the blues medium but Sing Me Another Song is an interesting album of modern day electric blues.