In The Beginning By Wes Montgomery

October 26, 2015


The general rule when approaching the music of Wes Montgomery is the earlier the material the better. By the time he recorded for the A&M label near the end of his life, he had incorporated strings into his sound and smoothed out the production. While these changes garnered him wide mainstream success, his music lost some of its creativeness and raw power.

Since his death in 1968, there have been very few releases of predominantly unreleased material. Now a new two-CD release has been issued combining several live performances with newly unearthed 1955 recordings produced by a young Quincy Jones, plus some of the earliest recording of his career from 1949.

Thirteen of the 14 tracks on the first disc were recorded live from two different performances at the Turf Club in Indianapolis during the second half of 1956. While the sound is average at best due to the technology of the day and the fact that they were made by a 21 year old college student, it presents a nice glimpse into his developing style as one of the best jazz guitarists of his generation. He is accompanied by brother Buddy (piano), Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson (sax), Sonny Johnson (drums), and depending on the show, other brother Monk or John Dale (bass).

A small club setting gives him the room to improvise. It is a performance grounded in the fifties. “After You’ve Gone” is an old swing tune featuring interplay between Pookie Johnson’s sax and Montgomery’s guitar. “Four” is an excellent example of his ability to string notes together. “How High The Moon” is an extended jam as the quintet explores all facets of the melody.

The second disc centers on the five tracks produced by Quincy Jones during 1955. The sound in superior to the first disc given the fact they were recorded for general release. The three Montgomery brothers, plus the two Johnson’s spent two days in the studio recording an upbeat “Love For Sale” and some instrumental harmonies on the ballad  ”Leila.” The most creative tracks are “Undecided,” where Montgomery focuses on one note for his improvisation and “Blues,” which serves as a vehicle for Johnson’s sax solos.

There is also a live track recorded at Chicago’s C&C Music Lounge in 1957 with saxophonist Johnson and a group of unidentified musicians. Clocking in at just over 12 minutes, it gives Montgomery time to develop his solo as he explores the songs melody.

The final three tracks on the set are from 1949 and find Montgomery more as a sideman to sax player Gene Morris. “King Trotter,” “Carlena’s Blues,” and “Smooth Evening” are all short and concise pieces that find Montgomery at the beginning of his career.

A 50 page booklet is included featuring music historian Ashley Khan, jazz writer Bill Milkowski, Pete Townshend, and recollections by Quincy Jones. Also included are a number of archival photos.

In The Beginning is a historical must for any fan of Montgomery or of the development of the jazz guitar. Unreleased material by Wes Montgomery has been few and far in-between and these early recordings should be treasured.


Carnero Vaquero By Ian Tyson

October 26, 2015

BB surf's up

At the age of 81 most people are quietly retired, sitting in an easy chair, sipping margaritas, or some other beverage. Not so with folk icon Ian Tyson who continues to play around 40 concerts a year, manages his cattle ranch south of Calgary, and is about to release his 17th album.

Tyson’s career began in 1959 as a part of the folk duo Ian & Tyson, which were an important part of the 1960’s folk revival movement. They moved to Nashville in the early 1970s and experimented with a primitive folk/rock sound. Since their break-up in 1975, Tyson has gravitated back to his native Canada and has settled into a country/folk niche with an emphasis on country and western stories and music.

The title of his new album, Carnero Vaquero, is Spanish for ram and cowboy. It sets the tone for his stories of the Canadian west. Rotating between original compositions and covers, he presents a laid back album of authentic and soulful tunes.

He includes a bright remake of the early 1960’s Ian & Sylvia song, “Darcy Farrow.” The imagery of “Wolves No Longer Sing” transports the listener to a different place and time. “Doney Gal” is an old traditional folk song that he updates to his western style.

He adds a number of new compositions to the mix. “Will James,” “Cottonwood Canyon,” and “Jughound Ronnie” all represents the thoughts and feelings of a man approaching the winter of his life.

Tyson’s voice has a world weary feel, which suits his music well. It has miraculously recovered from when it was severely damaged in an accident in 2007. The album was recorded in an old stone building on his ranch and has a simple quality that is timeless.

Ian Tyson keeps rolling along producing a brand of music that has resonated for a half century. Carnero Vaquero is the latest chapter in his stellar career.


Glory Bound By The Grahams

October 16, 2015

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To say that Alyssa and Doug Graham have a close and lasting relationship is an under statement. At the age of nine, Doug met the seven year old Alyssa and the rest is musical and marital history.

They are a couple who live their music. Their 2013 debut album, Riverman’s Daughter,  was the result os an expedition down the Mississippi’s Great River Road. They have now returned with another heartfelt and more ambitious project.

They move from the river to the rails for their latest album Glory Bound. They rode the rails as they crafted music for their new release. The result is a country album with a very organic feel as its musical approach harps back to imagery, feelings, and styling of Woody Guthrie.

The project did not stop at just an album as they decided to film a musical documentary film at the same time, which focus’ on the relationship between railroads and American roots music.

The music of Glory Bound begins with a a smooth country approach and moves outward to combine with other formats. The ballad “Mama” and the exquisite “Lay Me Down” have a spiritual element. Alyssa’s voice can soar, and Doug’s guitar work, both electric and acoustic, provides a firm foundation to their sound.

“The Spinner” and “Promised Land” have a traditional country connection, while “Biscuits” moves in a gentle blues direction.

The music from Riding The Hocks is different and more eclectic. There are banjos, there are tubas, plus some stunning a capella vocals that sound like early field recordings.

Whether approached jointly or individually, Glory Road and Riding The Hocks are both admirable releases. While the music moves in somewhat different directions, the music is real, authentic, and in touch with an important part of American culture. Both releases are well-worth exploring

Craig Fuller & Eric Kaz (Expanded Edition) By Craig Fuller And Eric Kaz

October 16, 2015

BB surf's up

Craig Fuller and Eric Kaz have spent the last 50 years in the music business. They may not be household names but they have been a part of bands that have sold millions of albums. During 1978 they united to produce their one and only self-titled album. It remains an under appreciated album that was a commercial failure at the time of its release. It has now been reissued on CD with a pristine sound and excellent liner notes that give a history of the participants and music.

Fuller’s first claim to fame came in 1970 as a member of J.D. Blackfoot. He then moved on to become a founding member of Pure Prairie League. In the mean time Kaz was playing and recording with a reconstituted Blues Magoos of “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet” fame. They finally came together as members of American Flyer, whose first album was produced by the Beatles George Martin. After the demise of American Flyer, Kaz and Fuller decided to record as a duo.

Their self titled release is a modest affair of laid back electric and acoustic pop/rock. In many ways it has a stripped down Pure Prairie league sound. It is a simple approach that keeps the focus on the lyrics and vocals.

Fuller shines of his compositions “Feel That Way Again,” “Restless Sea,” and “Fool For You.” Fuller contributes a take on his classic song, “Cry Like A Rainstorm.” “Annabella” is the only song with a dual writing credit and it has a fuller sound. The bonus track is the single version of the song.

After the failure of their album, they went their separate ways. Kaz is now a respected songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by hundreds of artists. Fuller became the lead singer for Little Feat for a number of years after Lowell George’s death and then fronted a return of Pure Prairie League.

Craig Fuller’s and Eric Kaz’s short time together and resultant album did not change American music but it remains an interesting relic of the softer and reflective side of the  1970’s.

Live 67 By John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers

October 13, 2015


So who is Tom Huissen and what is he doing in a music review? Back in 1967, he managed to sneak a one channel reel-to-reel tape recorder into not one but five London Bluesbreakers concerts. Nearly fifty years later John Mayall acquired the tapes with the result being the Live In 1967 CD.

Literally over 100 musicians have played with John Mayall throughout the years including such guitar legends as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Coco Montoya, and Mick Taylor. 1967 found one of his best configurations with lead guitarist Green, bassist John McVie, and newly added drummer Mick Fleetwood joining Mayall on stage.

The good news is that the music actually exists. These performances were never meant for release, so they should be appreciated as a glimpse into the careers of four musicians who would leave a mark in rock music history. They were one of the Bluesbreakers groups that has gained a lot of fame as the years passed but their time together was short as Green, Fleetwood, and McVie would quickly leave to form Fleetwood Mac, so live material of their time together is extremely rare.

The bad news, as can be guessed, is the sound quality. There is only so much cleaning that can be done with a 48 year old reel-to-reel tape from 1967. Plus, the sound from many small clubs was not very good in the first place. It is basically what it is but one cannot help but think the sound quality gives it an authentic 1967 feel.

The 13 tracks come from three sources. They were still playing music from the Eric Clapton’s Beano album. Green had been a part of the A Hard Road album and his guitar virtuosity drives “The Stumble” and “Someday After Awhile.”

It is the blues covers where the band really shines. They rock through Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Looking Back.” There is a very jazzy version of the old R&B hit “Hi Heel Sneakers.” “Stormy Monday,” “San-Ho-Zay,” and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” all stretch out to over eight minutes and give Green ample room to improvise and prove why he is one of the better guitarists in music history.

Live In 1967 is a rare treat for fans of the electric blues to travel back in time to hear a legendary band at work. It is well-worth the price of admission.


Stop! In The Name of Love By The Supremes

October 5, 2015

The Supremes made music history on March 27, 1965, when they became the first group to have four number one hits in a row.

“Stop In The Name Of Love” was recorded January 5th and entered the Pop Chart February 20th.  Five weeks later it reached the top of the charts for a two week stay.

The question was, could they make it five in a row. Stay tuned.