All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 (Box Set) By Miles Davis With John Coltrane

February 27, 2015


Miles Davis, (1926-1991), and John Coltrane, (1926-1967), were two giants of American music who changed and influenced the course of American jazz during the second half of the twentieth century.

Coltrane was an on again – off again member of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1955-1960. It was not always a harmonious union as they had very different approaches to music. When you listen to their solos within the context of the quintet, it is two unique, if not cohesive, statements being made next to each other. Coltrane was always looking inward for inspiration, while Davis was willing to expand outward wherever his imagination would take him. Despite their differences, everything worked and their time together resulted in some of the most exciting jazz of the era.

Their last hurrah together was a twenty date European tour in the spring of 1960. Many of the concerts were broadcast over a number of national radio networks, plus a few were privately recorded. A selection of tracks from the tour has now been released as a four-CD box set titled All Of You: The Last Tour 1960.

The sound runs the gamut from very average to good, so be prepared for an up and down experience. Sometimes the issues are as simple as microphone placement as certain instruments disappear from time to time. The good news is Davis’s and Coltrane’s solos are the clearest parts.

The box set draws from seven different dates from five countries. Everything is wisely presented chronologically so the listener can follow the bands development. This is very clear with two performances of “So What” recorded at different shows on the same date where the second is more energetic than the first. It then appears a third time where Davis takes it all into a new register.

The April 8th concert from Zurich has the best overall sound. “If I Were A Bell” is filled with ringing and inspired solos. The version of “So What” finds Coltrane moving beyond the traditional norms of the past.

When the tour ended, Coltrane would embark on his own solo career and never play with Davis again. What is left behind is this last testament of their time together.

All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 is not for the beginner. It is a set for someone who has a basic knowledge of their work individually and together. It’s fragmented nature make it a less than perfect release but there are flashes of genius, which make it a worthwhile listening experience, especially for the jazz aficionado.

Merry Christmas By The Brothers Four

February 27, 2015


The lights went on for The Brothers Four a way back in 1956 when John Paine, Mike Kirkland, Dick Foley, and Bob Flick were students at the University of Washington. They were a folk group who gained popularity in the early folk-revival movement. They began by playing frat parties and local clubs for beer money but by 1960 they were signed to the Columbia label for whom their single release “Greenfields” reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Brothers Four released 19 albums, 1960-1970. Real Gone Music has now reissued their 1966 holiday album Merry Christmas. It arrives with a remastered sound and four bonus tracks, which were originally singles.

They were at heart a fairly traditional folk group. Their harmonies may have made them a little slicker and smoother than the norm but their material consistently explored folk traditions. They were regulars on the college circuit during the early 1960’s and that helped them develop an intimate approach to their music, which comes across on their recordings.

They released their only Christmas album in 1966. It is an album of very recognizable Christmas songs presented in a laid back style. Tracks such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Away In A Manger,” “Silent Night,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” flow along and form a nice background of easy listening music.

The West Indian Carol “The Borning Day,” and “Mary’s Little Boy Child” travel in a different direction as the rhythms are outside of traditional American folk music.

The bonus tracks were released in 1961 and 1964. “What Child Is This (Greensleeves)” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” are nice counterpoints to much of what is on the album and are welcome.

Merry Christmas is not an adventurous release as the Brothers Four take few chances. It also sounds somewhat dated today as their brand of folk music is out 0f vogue. Still, taken on its own terms, it is a pleasant listen that looks back to a bygone era.


Blues People By Eric Bibb

February 27, 2015


The music of Eric Bibb can be defined as acoustic blues, Americana, folk or more appropriately a fusion of all three. The music is gentle but  the lyrics many times have an edge and carry a message.

He has just released his newest album titled Blues Power. It is a combination of original compositions and carefully selected covers. They all fit into his theme of exploring the history of African Americans, which all adds up to his most cohesive effort to date.

His own co-written compositions such as “Driftin’ Door To Door,” “God’s Mojo,” “Rosewood,” and “Dream Catchers” keep the focus on his thoughts and stories.

His cover of the Reverend Gary Davis’ “I Heard The Angels Singing” is both subtle and soaring thanks to The Blind Boys Of Alabama. The vocal group re-appears on the traditional “Needed Time,” which also includes vocals by Taj Mahal and Ruthie Foster.

Eric Bibb has created a minor masterpiece as he explores elements of his and America’s heritage. Blues People is a thoughtful and entertaining release, which is a combination that is rarely attained.


Where Did Our Love Go By The Supremes

February 21, 2015

Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson’s career was going nowhere. They had released eight singles with little success. All that was about to change courtesy of Gladys Horton of The Marvelettes.

The Marvelettes had turned down the Holland-Dozier-Holland song “Where Did Our Love Go” and it ended up being offered to the Supremes. They recorded the song April 8, 1964, and just over four weeks later, beginning on August 22, it was the number one song in the United States for two weeks.

A career was resurrected but the best was yet to come.

A Rose In The Garden Of Weeds By Pugwash

February 21, 2015


So what would you do if you received a cash award for a childhood injury? If you are Thomas Walsh, you would build a recording studio in a shed in his parents yard. And so Pugwash was born.

Pugwash has been highly popular and commercially successful in their home country of Ireland and the U.K. Their albums have not been released in the United States and so the 17 track compilation album, A Rose In The Garden Of Weeds: A Preamble Through The History Of Pugwash, is welcome as it is an excellent introduction their music.

Walsh is the main cog in the Pugwash sound as he is the one constant member in an ever-changing band. He is a vocalist, songwriter, and a multi-instrumentalist whose vision creates the music. His voice is very similar to that of ELO’s Jeff Lynne and the overall sound falls in the power pop and sometimes psychedelic pop category.

From the opening jangle of Walsh’s 12-string on “Take Me Away,” the album is awash in energetic and joyous music. The keyboard driven “Keep Movin’ On” gives way to the harmonies of “It’s Nice To Be Nice.” His gentle stories and reflections are brought to life by the textures he creates.

Pugwash has been a well-kept secret in the United States. A Rose In The Garden Of Weeds will rectify that situation as it gives some visibility to a band that has learned to craft its music well.


The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990 By Scruffy The Cat

February 16, 2015

Sit back and grab your favorite beverage because Scruffy The Cat is back in town.

The alt-country pioneers emerged from the Boston bar scene and helped create a new musical form. Guitarist/lead vocalist Charlie Chesterman, lead guitarist Stephen Fredette, bassist Mac Paul Stanfield, drummer Randall Lee Gibson IV, banjo player/keyboardist Stona Fitch (1984-1987), and Burns Stanfield (1987-1990) combined punk elements with a country sound, which enabled them to become one of the originators of what would become known as alternative-country.

Their music has been hard to find in the nearly 20 years since their break-up. Sony Music recently released Time Never Forgets: The Anthology (1986-1988), which collects all 35 of their officially released tracks onto one two-CD set. As a complement to this release, Omnivore Recordings has released The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990, which assembles 23 tracks of previously unreleased material.

As with many bands that cut their teeth on the road, playing small clubs, there is an energy and uncompromising quality to it. They played what they wanted as they were not tied to a big label and this allowed them to develop their own style.

Thirteen of the tracks were recorded live, which is always a good barometer to measure a band. Songs such as “Momma Killed Hate,” “The Doctor Song,” “Oldest Fire In The World, “Shadow Boy,” and Red Light” capture the energy and raw appeal of the band.

The music of Scruffy The Cat has aged well. The passion of a quarter of a century ago shines through. Charlie Chesterman passed away last year so there will be no full-band reunions. These unreleased tracks are a fitting tribute to him and the band.

As Groucho Marx once said, “Hello I must be going.”

Blaze Of Glory (CD Expanded Edition) By Game Theory

February 16, 2015


Scott Miller passed away April 15, 2013, closing out nearly a 40 year career in the music industry. He remains an underappreciated genius of American music. While he was successful as the front man of Alternative Learning and The Loud Family, it was his time as the leader of Game Theory that remains the highlight of his career.

He formed Game Theory in 1982 after the break-up of Alternative Learning. During the next nine years he would be the one constant member of the band. While it was at heart a power pop group, he added a psychedelic and experimental element to their sound, moving it in a number of non-traditional directions.

The Game Theory catalogue has been out of print for years but now Omnivore Recordings has begun a project of re-issuing their albums. Their debut album, Blaze Of Glory, is the first of the seven projected re-issues to be released.

The original 1982 tapes have been remastered to produce a quality sound. A 28 page booklet traces the albums history and contains thoughts by all of the living contributors. The original album contained 12 songs but now 15 bonus tracks have been added to bring the total to 27. While the quality of the extra material varies, they pretty much cover the early period of the band’s career.  Of special interest are the four tracks by Alternative Learning, which form a jumping off point for Miller’s work with Game Theory.

Game Theory was in its embryonic stage and consisted of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Miller, bassist Fred Juhos, keyboardist Nancy Becker, and drummer Michael Irwin. The music is simpler and uncluttered than what would follow. The lyrics are also less edgy than what Miller would produce in the future.

The opening track is the laid back “Something To Show,” which is an inauspicious beginning and gives no clue as to what will follow. The key song is “Sleeping Through Heaven,” where Becker’s keyboard and Miller’s guitar run counterpoint to each other. There are also elements of the words competing with the music, which would be explored further in the future.

Blaze Of Glory was a breath of fresh air back in 1982. It was the beginning of Miller’s fusion of styles and sounds that may have been outside of the mainstream but were some of the more creative of their era. The album remains an interesting listen.

Everybody Loves Somebody By Dean Martin

February 9, 2015

Dean Martin was a recording and movie star during the 1950’s but by 1964, he had entered a decline. He was signed to Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and was cutting an album of mood songs. He had recorded 11 tracks but was in need of one more to complete the album. Enter Ken Lane.

Ken Lane was Martin’s pianist in the recording studio and in 1949 had co-written a song that was recorded by Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington among others, but with little commercial success. Martin recorded the song in order to finish the record.

“Everybody Loves Somebody” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, June 27, 1964, at number 72. It spent the week of August 15 as the number one song in the United States, replacing the Beatles “A Hard Days Night.” It quickly became Martin’s signature song.

In 1965 The Dean Martin Show began a nine year television run and Ken Lane was there for all nine seasons. “Everybody Loves Somebody” was the theme song. It was followed by his now famous celebrity roasts. A 14 year old song had propelled Dean Martin back to the top.

Deep Rising By Third Of Never

February 7, 2015


Third Of Never was formed during 2003 and they have just released their third full-length album titled Downrising. Guitarist/keyboardist Jon Dawson, vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist CJ Grogan, bassist Vince Grogan, drummer Mike Polilli, and vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Kurt Reil have created a sound that fuses traditional rock with a retro psychedelic sound.

The sound is simpler and more sparse than their previous releases. The textures remain but the layers are not as extensive as much of their prior material.

Tracks such as “Green Roses,” “Man Without A Play,” “Life Saver,” and “Man Without A Plan” change tempos and are different enough to always keep it interest. They have also created a series of short connecter tracks under a minute in length which serve as transition pieces.

Downrising may not change the course of rock music but track for track it is a very solid outing for a band about a decade into their career.


Dana Robbins By Dana Robbins

February 7, 2015


Dana Robbins is an artist you may have seen and heard without realizing it. She is a saxophonist who has been a part of the touring bands for Barry Manilow and Aretha Franklin, plus has played with such artists as Roger Daltry, John Mayall, Chaka Khan, James Brown, Steve Cropper, and Frank Zappa. Her latest gig is touring in support of Delbert McClinton.

During 2012 she struck out on her own as a band leader and released So So Good. She has now returned with her second self-titled offering.

Sometimes you are measured by the friends you keep, and Dana Robbins has a lot of friends. Delbert McClinton and Jimmy Hall each provide the lead vocals for two tracks. Also on hand are drummer Lynn Williams’, bassist Michael Joyce, guitarist Bob Britt, guitarist Rob McNelley, keyboardists Kevin McKendree and Tom McDonald, plus producer Tom Hambridge

She has a good idea of how to create an interesting album. She mixes up the tempos, plus the instrumentals intertwine with the vocal tracks. Throughout it all, Robbins demonstrates that she is a first-rate saxophonist. She wrote or co-wrote six of the 11 tracks and even supplies the lead vocal for “Right As Rain.”

Some of the instrumentls include McKendree’s organ and Robbins sax playing off of each other on the King Curtis cover “Soul Twist,” a romp through Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes,” and the smooth jazz sounds of “Make It A Double.”

“Hardest Part” was co-written by McClinton and he delivers a soulful vocal on the ballad while Robbins fills in the gaps. Jimmy Hall is equally soulful on “Bless Your Heart” as Robbins matches his emotion with her saxophone.

Dana Robbins continues to bloom as a band leader. Her latest album finds her not only producing good music but understanding how to put an album together.