All You Gotta Do By The Nighthawks

December 26, 2017

The Nighthawks are an ultimate bar band who made good. Now five decades into their career, they continue to play their unique and gritty brand of blues, rock, and roots music. The have now issued their latest album All You Gotta Do.

They keep it straightforward and simple on their latest release. They are no guests; just the members of the band. There also keep overdubs to a minimum. Basically what they record in the studio is what you get.

While many of their albums contain almost all original tunes, here except for three songs, they move outward to cover material from a number of very different artists.

The blues have always provided the band’s foundation. Muddy Waters “Baby I Want To Be Loved” is a grade school primer of the blues, Chicago style. They move Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine” close to rock and roll with Mark Wenner’s harmonica filling in the gaps. “Snake Drive” has a driving beat that would fit the smoky club scene late at night.

The three original songs travel different paths. “Another Day” is a folk-like protest piece clothed in a blues framework. “Blues For Brother John” is a hybrid song that focus’ on Wenner’s harmonica. Mark Stutso’s “Voo Doo Doll” is the requisite love song.

Harmonies have always been a part of the Nighthawks appeal. Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” is a gentle harmonic romp though one of a song masters creations. The Standells “Dirty Water” is an ultimate garage song Thousands of wanna-be bans have covered this song. They change it up a bit but it is a fine salute to a uniquely American style.

All You Gotta Do finds the Nighthawks in fine form. An album of solid blues and rock and roll from a veteran band who have honed their craft for decades.


Timeless: Blues Image Featuring Mike Pinera By Mike Pinera

December 26, 2017

Not quite what I expected. Blue Image, with and without singer/guitarist Mike Pinera, was an under rated rock/blues band 1966-1970, who released three studio albums that are still worth tracking down. The commercial peak of their career was the hit single “Ride Captain Ride.” Pinera were on to become a member of Iron Butterfly, The New Cactus Band, and enjoy a long solo career, which is where these albums problems begin.

Pinera covered a lot of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly material during his solo career. Much of it is solid rock and roll but it appears here under the Blues Image moniker, which is a tad misleading. There are no other members of Blues Image listed in the credits. If you want a primer or over view of his solo career, then this is a good album to explore.  If you want to explore Blues Image or Iron Butterfly material, then look elsewhere.

“Ride Captain Ride,” “Love Is The Answer” with guest Jonathan Cain, and “Pay My Dues” with Pat Travers are songs that appeared on the second Blues Image album Open. Here they are modernized versions of the songs. Travers adds a little edge to”Pay My Dues” but moves it toward hard rock and away from its original blues foundation.

His time with Iron Butterfly is represented by “In A Gadda Da Vidda,” which is just too modern and “Butterfly Blue,” which is saved by Pat Travers.

Four tracks are taken from his 1996 solo album In The Garden Of Eden” and 2012’s Isla. “Fantasy Of Love,” and the two title tracks are competent but do not rise above that level.

Timeless: Blues Image Featuring Mike Pinera is a disappointing release that in and of itself, never rises above the ordinary. It also make one yearn for what it could have been.


Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow By The Beach Boys

December 26, 2017

The endless summer of the Beach Boys has reached the 55 year mark. Created in 1962, it still beckons, several generations now, to a life that is just beyond the horizon.

The Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow is the latest entry into the bands lexicon of music. It is a album for Beach Boys devotees as it gather studio tracks, alternate versions of songs, live performances, rehearsals, and a few oddities from 1967. The two CD contain a generous 67 tracks. It is not an album you may want to pop in the car stereo while driving down the highway but it does fill in a lot of gaps in the their musical journey.

The center piece of the release is a stereo mix of the Wild Honey album. Re-mixing an album in stereo can be tricky, especially given the age of the original tapes, but here the channels are just about perfectly balanced.

I have always found Wild Honey to be more interesting than enjoyable. Brian Wilson was moving away from their sunshine pop material. Wild Honey is about as experimental as he would ever get and as such it is a unique album in their catalogue. The band would quickly reverse direction and settle into a rock/pop hybrid sound. Still, Wild Honey is worth the journey and in many ways fares better in the musical world of today.

The album is populated by a number of interesting inclusions. There are live versions of “Wild Honey” and Country Air” from a November, 1967, concert. It is interesting to hear the band tackle technically difficult material. When the Beach Boys sing hit songs by other artists, they rarely get them right, but they do provide a unique perspective. “Game Of Love,” “The Letter,” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” add little to their legacy but find them covering songs like thousands of American bands.

Other highlights include an A Capella version of “Surfer Girl,” a rehearsal of “Heroes And Villains,” plus the 1967 version of “Surf’s Up.”

Whether or not you want to acquire this release will depend upon how invested you are in the Beach Boys. If you need everything by the band, then The Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow is a treasure trove. If you just want to experience the eternal summer, then any of their compilation albums will do just fine.


Arthur Alexander By Arthur Alexander

December 26, 2017

Arthur Alexander, (1940-1993), is one of those artists that you have heard but may not know much about. He is best known as a song writer. His compositions have been recorded by the elite of the music industry including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bee Gees, Otis Redding, Pearl Jam, Dusty Springfield, and a host of others.

He only released three studio albums during his 30 plus year career but those releases made him a pioneer of the soul-country style of music. His best known recorded song, “You Better Move On” has been recorded and sung by countless country artists.

Omnivore has now resurrected his second self-titled 1972 album. It arrives with a crystal clear sound, new liner notes by Dr. Demento, and six bonus tracks, two of which are being released for the first time.

The album was recorded in Nashville, which helped fuse his soulful approach with country music. Backed by some of Nashville’s elite musicians, he helped found a new music form.

The best know song is “Burning Love” by Dennis Linde, which was written especially for him. His countrified version was quickly covered by Elvis Presley and became the last top ten hit of his career. His own gospel oriented “Thank God He Came” and Dann Penn’s “Rainbow Road” are emotional peak of the album.

The album quickly disappeared due to the changing musical landscape and it not really finding a niche. Four and a-half decades later it fares better as a gentle exploration of an under appreciated style. It is a fitting epitaph to a forgotten artist whose music helped shape his era.


Haunted Heart By Cowbell

December 12, 2017

 

 

Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle, better known as Cowbell, may be from London but their style of music is founded in minimalist American rockabilly. They have just issued their third album titled Haunted Heart.

In the past they have performed and recorded as a duo; Sandham (guitar and vocals) and Lyle (drums and vocals). They have now added some keyboards, which fills in some of the gaps a duo can’t help but create. Still, it is Sandham’s crunching and driving guitar runs that connects the music to the American south.

In many ways they are a garage band that has evolved beyond those limitations. While they still keep their approach fairly simple, they do take some chances, which enhances their approach and makes the music more interesting.

“Nothing But Trouble” and “No Wrong” take their sound to the edge of the Delta Blues. “Neon Blue” and “Doom Train” benefit from some swirling psychedelic organ that fuses with Sandham’s guitar sound.

They travel in a different direction when Lyle takes over lead vocal duties. As a woman, she brings a different feel to their music. “Downlow” is a climb into the time machine for a trip back to the late 1960’s and the Woodstock Nation. “New Kind Of Love” stands out because it runs counter to all the other tracks. It channels Patti Page and Peggy Lee as an old style torch song that you used to find in a small smoke-laden bar late at night.

Haunted Heart is a raw and energetic album that will have you tapping your feet along with the beat.


Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

December 12, 2017

 

This new release by Willie Nile is a keeper. A lot of musicians have covered Bob Dylan, but very few better than Nile. He is one of the better American rock and roll artists working today and he is able to fuse his rock tendencies with Dylan’s folk/rock material.

He shines on some of Dylan’s classic compositions, “Rainy Day Women #12 X 35,” “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but also explores his catalogue a little deeper, “Abandoned Love” and “Every Grain Of Sand.”

He re-invents two eternal folk songs, “The Times They Are A Changin’” and “Blowing In The Wind,” His gritty vocal brings a new energy to these old chestnuts.

Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan is the latest chapter in the musical career of Willie Nile. It is an album to sink your teeth into and hang on.

 


Honeybeat By Various Artists

December 12, 2017

 

 

Female or girl vocal groups will always be associated with the 1960s. The music was usually bright, shiny, and melodic. Artists such as the Shangri-Las, Ronettes, The Angels, and the like, sold tens-of-millions of records and became household names. Bur for every star, there were dozens of artists who released a single or three and quickly vanished.

Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop is a labor of love. It resurrects 19 rare tracks by female pop singers and groups. The music has a clear sound and comes with a booklet that presents a short history of each track. While there are a few obscurities by some well-known artists; Little Eva and Erma Franklin; it is such groups as the Pussycats, Lollipops, Glories, Avons, plus Gia Mareo, and Sandi Sheldon that are remembered only by collectors of rare records.

Sometimes the history of the artist is more interesting than the music. Enter the Pussycats. There were a pre-fabricated clone of the Shangri-las. The group lasted for two singles and the melodramatic “The Rider” shows why. Lead vocalist Gayle Harnass went on to perform on Broadway and with the 1970s cult favorite band Jo Mama.

The Glories were the Supremes on Steroids. The released a number of singles for the Date label during the 1960’s that were just too intense for AM radio at the time but would have been a good fit as music tastes changed during the 1970s. “No News” is typical of their approach; so listen and hang on.

There were several groups named the Lollipops. The one chronicled here released four singles for RCA and then retired to raise families. “Don’t Monkey With Me” is a bright fusion of R&B and doo-wop.

Van McCoy is remembered for his eternal disco hit “The Hustle,” but he composed over 700 songs and produced dozens of artists. One of his more obscure projects was “You’re My Lovin’ Baby” by the Sweet Things with lead singer Francine Hurd. It is a wonderful and sultry ballad that deserved better. The group dissolved but Hurd changed her name, found a new partner, and found commercial success as one half of Peaches and Herb.

Nichelle Nichols recorded the traditional blues standard “Why Don’t You Do Right,” which found little success. Her character of Lt. Uhuru on the original Star Trek series made her a star.

Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop is a living pop history lesson. While the music may only appeal to aficionados of the sound or era, if you fall into either of those categories, it is a treasure trove.


Amen/Why By The Staple Singers

December 12, 2017

 

 

If you want to know where the funk in funky originated, look or listen no further than The Staple Singers.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples began his career as a teenager in the 1920’s. By the 1940’s he had moved to Chicago and formed The Staple Singers with his son Purvis and daughters Mavis and Cleotha. Before attaining huge commercial success with white audiences in the 1970’s, they released music for the Vee Jay and Riverside labels where they became renowned for their gritty brand of gospel music. The mid-1960’s found them with Epic/Columbia. Now their first two albums of gospel and secular music for the label have now been re-released by Real Gone Music as Amen/Why.

Amen is the more traditional of the two releases.  Pops Staples arranges a number of gospel songs. “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” “This Train,” “Delilah,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” are more of a straight vocal approach than the funky R&B sound of their classic 1970’s period.

The two original Pops compositions are both interesting and arguably the best tracks as they still sound fresh today. Mavis just attacks “More Than A Hammer And Nail.” Her gritty vocal runs counter to the upbeat nature of the song. “Do Something For Yourself,” with Pops subdued lead vocal looks ahead to their social statements of the future.

The Why album is also gospel oriented but takes more chances. At the time of its release in 1965, life was changing in America and a number of the tracks reflect the upheaval of those changes. “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)” is a blunt reply the barring of black students from an Arkansas High School. It would eventually become an early center piece of the Civil Rights Movement.

The praise song “King Of Kings” and the moving “I’ve Been Scorned” are equal to their best work. “Move Along Train” contains a slow-building Mavis vocal with Cleotha filling in the gaps, a formula they would rely on in the future. “What Are They Doing (In Heaven Today)” is a light but fun-filled romp.

While The Staple Singers were well into their career, Amen/Why finds them in transition. Two more 1960’s Epic albums would complete the process and lead to their classic sound.

This release finds The Stale Singers on the cusp of stardom. It is a good listen for anyone who wants to explore not only the legacy of the Staples but the roots of American funk and rhythm & blues.


Run Skeleton Run By David Childers

December 5, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

David Childers is the O. Henry of Musicians. Each song on one of his albums is a short story that holds your attention and leaves you wanting more. He has returned with his new album titled Run Skeleton Run.

Childers took a convoluted journey to becoming a musician. He was a football player, poet, painter, and practiced law. He gathered life-experiences along the way, which are incorporated into his music.

His last album, 2014’s Serpents Of Reformation, focused on religion. Now he has moved on to aging and fate, and all the skeletons that go along with those subjects.

His music runs from blue grass and country to rock and roll and a little blues. Still it is his stories that draw you in.

Run Skeleton Run is an interesting album to explore and enjoy and you don’t even have to turn the pages.


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (4CD + DVD + Blu-ray Reissue) By The Beatles

December 5, 2017

 

 

 

It was 50 Years ago today, (give or take), that Sgt. Pepper’s taught the band to play. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has reached the half-century mark and the Capital label has released a massive 4-CD + DVD + Blu-ray set that contains everything you could ever want to hear or know about one of the most influential albums in music history.

The summer of love and the expansion of the Vietnam War were about to change American culture and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was about to change the music industry. It was an impeccably produced album where the songs blended together into a creative whole. While the music has been an accepted part of the musical landscape since its release, there is still a fascination to it that invites constant exploration.

The highlight of the release is the new stereo mix. It brings out additional textures and invites the listener to explore unheard layers of the music. A prime example of this enhancement process is “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” which now has an almost sonic quality. This re-imagining of the album makes the set worthwhile by itself.

Discs two and three may not be played as much as the first disc but are important for their historical significance. They contain 35 tracks and over 100 minutes of demos and songs in progress, which give a look into the recording process. The intimate studio chatter adds a dimension that that will be appreciated by fans of the band. The real bonus is most of the music is being released for the first time.  How many times someone will want to listen to these discs will depend upon the level of one’s desire to explore the Beatles music in depth.

The members of the Beatles always preferred the mono version of the album. The fourth disc contains the complete mono version in all its glory. In some ways, it pales next to the enhanced version but it presents the album as it was originally envisioned.

The DVD and Blu-ray contain the 1992 documentary The Making Of Sgt. Pepper’s. While the film takes on some new life through the enhancement of its clarity, it still has been available for 25 years. The interviews with Paul, Ringo, and particularly George are worthwhile, as is the studio footage with commentary by George Martin. While it does not have the impact of the CD’s, it does form a good foundation for the set and it is nice to actually see the Beatles.

The 140 page book is highlighted by song information, recording info and a number of in depth essays. It all adds up to a good companion piece to the music.

The new stereo mix and the original mono release deserve the highest rating with the unreleased in progress discs and the book just a little below that level. The set provides a lot to absorb and ultimately to experience.