Redemption Road By Tom Paxton

May 28, 2015


Tom Paxton is now in his late 70s and over a half-century into his career. One of the early activists in the 1960’s folk revivalist movement; his songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, and Judy Collins. He is about to release his 62nd album titled Redemption Road.

He has always been a gentle songwriter and performer whose words look at life, both external and internal. His lyrics remain clear and incisive and the melodies simple.

He wrote 13 of the 14 tracks and many of them fit the autumn of his life. His wife of 50 plus years recently passed away and he has not committed to more touring after 2015. In many ways, some of the songs feel as though he is closing some of life’s circles.

His music tends to resonate with the common person. “Buffalo Dreams” is an aching ballad about letting the mind drift far away. The plaintive harmonica sound in the background provides a simple but effective foundation for the imagery.  “Time To Spare” has a nostalgic feel, especially for someone nearing 80, as it looks back upon a world when any dream is possible.

“Virginia Morning” is a tribute to his adopted state, while “Ireland” is a wonderful love story.  “The Mayor Of MacDougal Street” is a tribute to folk compatriot Dave Van Ronk, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 65. “Susie Most Of All” represents the witty and carefree side of Tom Paxton and is a nice counterpoint to the serious and philosophical nature of many of the tracks.

The album concludes with the only non-original tune. “The Parting Glass” is a traditional Celtic prayer and fitting farewell until next time.

Redemption Road is another link in Tom Paxton’s 55 year musical chain. It is an album that makes you think at times and allows your mind to wander every once in awhile. A must for anyone who appreciates classic folk music.

Bellybutton (Expanded Edition) By Jellyfish

May 28, 2015


Jellyfish is a band whose existence and time in the studio was all too short.  Active from 1990-1994, they only issued two studio albums before dissolving.  Both albums have now been reissued in an expanded form.

Drummer/vocalist Andy Sturmer and keyboardist/vocalist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. were the two constants in Jellyfish.  Joining them were guitarist Jason Faulkner and on tour bassist Chris Manning. They issued their debut album, Bellybutton, in 1990.

The original release contained 10 tracks. Now they have been enhanced by a ten song live set and a second disc of 16 demo tracks. The booklet contains a history of the group and track by track commentary by the band members.

Jellyfish can best be described as a psychedelic power pop group, who moved in a number of creative directions, but through it all runs a melodic and harmonic approach.

“That Is Why” is a fine example of their ability to integrate harmonies into their music. “The King Is Half-Undressed” is an off-kilter song that combines pop and a west coast psychedelic sound. “I Wanna Stay Home” and “She Still Loves Him” are laid back pieces of mainstream pop. “Baby’s Coming Back” has a light bubblegum sound.

While the ten original tracks are very good, the live set is better. Many groups cannot reproduce their studio sound in concert but Jellyfish takes such tracks as “Sugar And Spice,” “All I Want Is Everything,” “Jet,” and “Mr. Late” to pop heaven.

The 16 track second disc of demos is a mixed affair as the tracks were not considered finished enough to officially release at the time. If you are a fan and want everything by the band or want to see how a pop song evolves, then the disc is a nice addition to the package.

Jellyfish was a short lived unit but left behind some of the better pop music of the early 1990’s. Bellybutton not only contains good music but is a clever album on many levels.

Ringo by Lorne Greene

May 26, 2015


During the 1960’s Lorne Greene had one of the most recognizable faces in the world. As the star of the television series BONANZA, people in 80 different countries invited him into their living rooms every week.

In 1964, he became a recording artist for the RCA label and would eventually release seven albums. The height of his recording career came in 1964 when he released the single “Ringo.” His narration about saving the life of a Gunfighter shot up the charts and on December 5, 1964, reached the top of the charts.

BONANZA was one of the longest running westerns in TV history. After its demise he would star in GRIFF, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and LORNE GREENE”S NEW WILDERNESS. He remained a star until his death but never had another hit record make the week of December 5, 1964, unique in his life.

Child Is The Father To The Man (Hybrid CD) By Blood, Sweat & Tears

May 20, 2015


Where have you been all my life? Blood, Sweat & Tears first album, Child Is The Father To The Man, has just been released as a hybrid multichannel SACD.

Super Audio CD’s have been in existence since the late 1990’s. The original intent was for the format to replace the standard CD. While that did not happen, the enhanced sound and surround sound capability helped the format to find a niche, particularly among audiophiles.

The music of Blood, Sweat & Tears is made for surround sound. The brass combined with a traditional rock band, remastered into a pristine sound, explodes out of the speakers. Being a hybrid, it is compatible with most CD players.

Blood, Sweat & Tears was formed by keyboardist/vocalist Al Kooper, guitarist Steve Katz, drummer Bobby Columby, and bassist Jim Fielder. Originally intended as a quartet, they added a brass section of Fred Lipsius, Randy Brecker, Jerry Weiss, and Dick Halligan and created one of the more unique bands of the late 1960’s.

I reviewed this album several years ago and my feelings about the music have not changed in the interim. It is a unique album in the Blood, Sweat & Tears catalogue. While their later albums, including their mega-selling self-titled second album had a big brassy pop sound; Child Is The Father To The Man was a more gritty affair as it fused a rock/blues approach with jazz elements. The vocals did not have the smoothness of the David Clayton-Thomas era, which lent an authenticity to the blues oriented material.

“I Love You More That You’ll Ever Know” and “I Can’t Quit Her” are unique in that they are blues songs, which are taken in different directions by the brass. They may be the peak of Kooper’s long career. While the roots of the traditional Blood, Sweat & Tears sound are present, the approach makes it a stand-alone album as Kooper and most of the brass section would depart after its release.

If you are a fan of the album or have not explored the music of the early Blood, Sweat & Tears, this SACD release is an excellent place to start sound wise, it just does not get any better.

Dicks Picks 13: Nassau Coliseum 5/6/81 By The Grateful Dead

May 20, 2015


Dick’s Picks is a Grateful Dead series of live concert releases originally orchestrated by Dead archivist Dick Latvala in 1993 until his death in 1999, and continued until 2005. All in all there are 36 volumes in the series. Real Gone Music has been reissuing the series in reverse order and has just issued volume 13.

Dick’s Picks Volume Thirteen: Nassau Coliseum 5/6/81 catches the band at a good time in their career. The group consists of lead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummers Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann, and keyboardist Brent Mydland.

A new era for the Dead began in 1979 when Mydland became the keyboardist. By 1981 he had become fully integrated into the band. Past keyboardists had been pianists but Mydland also was an excellent organist and synthesizer player. He also gave the band another competent vocalist and he contributed a number of compositions to the band’s studio albums. In concert his musicianship filled in the sound and gave the band more flexibility than in the past.

The new release contains the complete concert and like most of their live performances presents over three hours of music, which are spread out over three discs.

Many Grateful Dead concerts contained the same material with a few additions and deletions to keep everything fresh and interesting. The same songs did not mean repetition, however, as the band was improvisational by nature. The same song could be vastly different from concert to concert.

The Nassau concert was representative of their set list during the early 1980’s. “Little Red Rooster,” “Let It Grow,” and “High Time” all have a nice blues feel. “Looks Like Rain” has a number of tempo shifts that the Dead were so good at producing. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann’s “Drums” is always interesting. “Wharf Rat” and Good Lovin’” are two of the last three tracks and benefit from a two and a half hour build-up as the energy crackles for over 16 minutes.

As with all the releases in the series, volume 13 comes with the warning about sound quality. Originally recorded on a two track player, there are limitations to the transfer to modern equipment. The sound quality can be described as average but in an odd way fits the nature of a Grateful Dead concert.

The Nassau Coliseum concert encompasses all that is good about the Grateful Dead live in concert. The three hours of music allows the listener to become immersed in the aura and ambiance of the band. It is a trip worth taking.

Leader Of The Shangri-Las

May 13, 2015

There were girl vocal groups and then there were the Shangri-Las. Most groups projected a sweet or innocent persona but the Shangri-Las went for a tough edge.

The group was comprised of two sets of twins. Mary & Betty Weiss and Marge & Mary Ann Ganser met in high school.  While signed to the Red Bird label, they placed 11 songs on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, 1964-1966.

Their greatest moment came in late 1964, when “Leader Of The Pack” reached number one on the Hot 100 for the week of November 28. It was the ultimate song of teen angst complete with motorcycle sounds, and one of the most famous crashes in rock history. Mary Weiss spoke the words and provided the lead vocal.

“Leader Of The Pack” remains one of the most recognizable songs of the 1960’s.

The 50th Anniversary Birthday Concerts (2 DVD Set) By Jack Bruce

May 5, 2015


There probably would have never been another Cream reunion but that fact became definite last year when Jack Bruce passed away at the age of 71. The release of The 50th Anniversary Concerts is a fitting eulogy for his life and career.

Before the age of 30, Bruce had been a part of such bands as Blues Incorporated with Alexis Korner, The Graham Bond Quartet, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann, the short lived Powerhouse, West, Bruce, & Laing, and the iconic Cream. His solo career would extend for the next four decades. In celebration of his career, he threw himself a 50th birthday bash with a live concert. He took the stage at the E-Werk in Cologne the evenings of November 2 and 3, 1973, with such luminaries as Ginger Baker, Gary Moore, Dick Heckstall-Smith, and others in tow.

The 34 tracks are from both nights and spread out over two DVD’s and there are no repeats. The songs come from all phases of his career. Gary Moore was only present one night but he is part of a six song highlight as he provides the guitar work for such Cream songs as “White Room,” “Spoonful,” “Politician,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” and “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

His solo career material may not be as well-known as that of his work with Cream but his 1970’s albums Songs From A Tailor, Harmony Row, and Out Of The Storm all provide material that revolves around his voice and bass.

Bruce is both a well-known bassist and an exceptional one. This is very apparent on his solo work and on stage when he is the center of attention. The live tracks with just saxophonist Heckstall-Smith and drummer Baker have a jazz element and are excellent examples of his creativity and expertise.

This visual document of Jack Bruce in concert is a nice retrospective of his career and a fitting farewell.

Best By Roger Taylor

May 5, 2015


Drummer Roger Taylor was a founding member of Queen and is a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In the United States he has always been associated with his band. In his home country, he has also had a successful solo career. Now the music from his solo career is coming to two compilation CD’s. If you are a hard core fan there is The Lot, which is a 12 CD, one DVD box set, which contains his entire solo output. If you want a taste of his career there is Best, which draws 18 tracks from his five albums and two singles.

Taylor’s solo career has been very different from that of Queen as without the band around him, he has been free to move in different directions. There are passionate ballads, electronic music, and good old rock and roll.

Taylor has always been able to create a song. He has written or co-written three number one songs in the United Kingdom; “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” “Innuendo,” and “Under Pressure.”  In addition, at least one of his compositions was included on every Queen album. While he is the drummer for Queen, on his solo releases he also is a capable guitarist and vocalist.

“Foreign Sand” is an excellent example of his ability to carry a ballad that builds throughout. “Man On Fire” is a down to earth gritty tune. “A Nation Of Haircuts” finds him letting loose as he just rocks.

There is an excellent booklet that provides an informative history of his solo career. The music is well-recorded and clear, which enhances the listening experience.

Best may not be a cohesive album as it jumps from different periods of his career and sometimes skips a decade. What it does is provide an introduction to his solo music and possibly whets your appetite to explore his music further. It also proves that he has a creativity that extends beyond Queen and that he is capable of creating some good music on his own.