Angels Hear (CD) by The Action Skulls

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Angels Hear

Action Skulls

CD Baby 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

There are super groups and then there are sort-of super groups. John Cowsill of the 1960’s pop group the Cowsills, Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, and Bill Mumy,  producer, singer, and child actor of Lost In Space “Danger Will Robinson Danger,” have combined their talents to produce the album Angels Hear by their newly formed group, Action Skulls.

While the music is modern sounding, in many ways it contains a retro approach harping back to the 1970’s California and west coast sound. They basically produce shiny pop music that travels in a number of directions. There is the up tempo toe-tapper, “The Luckiest Man Alive,” a maudlin “I’ll See You In Another World,” the acoustic “Map Of The World,” and the bluesy “Feed My Hungry Heart.”

The harmonies are not only well-crafted but interesting. Their voices are very different but they blend together well. Whether the style is laid back or energetic, the harmonies which can be subtle or soaring and remain the foundation of their sound.

Angels Hear was about four years in the making. Eight songs were recorded, when original member, bassist Rick Rosas passed away. That loss and their own schedules put everything on hold for several years. Whether the Action Skulls ever record another album remains to be seen; but Angels Hair is an excellent album of well-crafted pop that proves musicians from different backgrounds can create very listenable music together.

Rating: ***1/2

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On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene (CD) By Peter Case

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On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene

Peter case

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

For the last four-plus decades, Peter Case has been an “everyman” of American music. He has recorded in a number of styles including punk with the Nerves, new wave with the Plimsouls, plus as a solo artist with some straight rock & roll, blues, folk rock, and solo acoustic performances.

His newest release reaches back 20 years. During 1998 and 2000, he twice appeared live on the KPFK-FM syndicated radio program. The 18 live tracks from those performances have been resurrected and comprise his latest release.

The two performances are distinct. The first, with a full band, concentrates on his then new album Full Service, No Waiting. The second is more laid back and intimate with only violinist/background vocalist David Perales in support. It is more of a career spanning effort.

Full Service, No Waiting may be the best album of his career. and two decades later it is interesting to hear his original live-take on the music. The original album was a folk-rock masterpiece and while it is a little more rock oriented here, the melodies and incisive lyrics are still powerful. The first five tracks duplicate the original release and remain one of the best introductions to his solo career.

The second half of the album is more restrained and intimate. Songs such as “Leaving Home,” “Pay Day,” “Beyond The Blues,” and “Coulda Shoulda Woulda” are stripped down to basics.

On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene is an excellent peak into the music and mind of Peter Case 20 years ago. An excellent look at a sometimes under appreciated artist.

Rating: ****

 

Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra By Elvis Presley

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Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic

Elvis Presley

Sony Legacy 2917

Review by David Bowling

 

You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why, Elvis Presley is coming to town (again).

Christmas is less than three months away and another batch of Elvis Presley music has been re-imagined. The latest in the Elvis sweepstakes is 13 of his Christmas tunes, now being backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Elvis Presley’s three Christmas albums have sold a combined 24,000,000 copies and his original 1950’s Christmas album remains his biggest selling album. The original release is one of the better Christmas releases in that it combines rock, sacred, and gospel with some gritty and in several cases bluesy vocals by the king. It is just about the perfect Christmas album.

As Jim Croce wrote, “And you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger,” and you don’t mess around with the perfect Christmas album.

In many ways the background orchestra takes away from the power of Elvis’ vocals. When the orchestra is reduced to the distant background and the vocals are more upfront, it is just a better listen such as “Merry Christmas Baby.”

If you have not heard or want to obtain some of Elvis’ Christmas music, seek out a copy of his original first album. It is readily available. If you are an Elvis fan who has to have everything, then go ahead.

Rating: **

Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 (CD + DVD) By The Rolling Stones

Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 (CD + DVD)

The Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones From The Vault 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

A decade or so ago, The Rolling Stones were becoming obsolete. Now, due to a strong retro studio release, expanded versions of some of their classic albums, and their live From The Vault series; they have re-emerged as a force of rock music.

Their latest release is Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015. Recorded May 20, 2015, at the beginning of their two month North American Zip Tour, in the intimate Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles; it was historic as it is to date the only time the Stones have performed their entire Sticky Fingers album live.

The Rolling Stones, in the twilight if their career, have managed to create just about the perfect live album. The clarity of the video and particularly the sound are superb. The guitars of Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards are out front and the clarity not only shows their guitar talent but how intricate the structure of many of the songs actually is.

The three opening songs are powerful rock and roll. “Star Me Up,” “When The Whip Comes Down,” and “All Down The Line” is rock and roll at its best, played by the greatest living rock and roll band.

Many of the songs from Sticky Fingers emerge modernized and definitive. “Bitch” and “Sister Morphine” are still edgy and painful. “Dead Flowers” and “Wild Horses” are different from most of the Rolling Stones catalogue. “I Got The Blues,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” and “I Got The Blues” re-introduce rarely played Stones classics. An extended version of “Brown Sugar” closes the regular part of the concert and leaves you limp.

The encore consists of “Rock Me Baby,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and a funky “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” which bribgs the concert to a satisfying end.

The Stones have delivered what may be the defining concert album of their career. If there is a better one in the vault, it is going to be spectacular.

 

Rating: *****

American Mojo (CD) By Robert Cline Jr.

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American Mojo

Robert Cline Jr.

Mockingbird Record 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

American Mojo is an album of an artist in search of self and song. It is also a chronicle of Robert Cline Jr.’s evolution as a songwriter and musician as he traveled throughout the United Stated being exposed and assimilating various styles and types of music.  What emerges is a traveling autobiography.

Cline’s music is taken from a number of genre’s but lands somewhere between roots and blues. Songs such as “Wichita Kansas,” “Leaving This Town,” “Pillar On My Pillow,” “Professional Guest,” and “The Boys From Muscle Shoals” explore faith, meeting his wife, playing music for a living, and just having a good time; all in story form.

Cline seems to be an artist who needs to be stimulated. It will be interesting to see what his next journey holds.

 

Rating: ***

The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black (CD) By The Original Blues Brothers Band

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The Last Shade of Blue Before Black

The Original Blues Brothers Band

Severn Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Who knew? Almost 40 years ago the Blues Brothers film starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd was released to huge commercial success. The backing band was appropriately called The Blues Brothers band. Now, almost four decades later, The Original Blues Brothers Band, is still touring the world and has just released a new album titled The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black.

The Blues Brothers originally were and remain a band that plays the blues while having some fun along the way. That philosophy remains intact as guitarist Steve Cropper and sax player Lou Marine, along with their old band mates and assorted guests, romp through 14 tracks of original tunes and classic blues covers.

The original band was somewhat limited by Belushi and Ackroyd. Now, some of the best musicians working today are fronted by vocalists  such as Eddie Floyd and joe Louis Walker.

The band burns though Eddie Floyd’s original composition, highlighted by his vocals, “Don’t Forget About James Brown” and then morphs into the Paul Schaffer produced “Sex Machine.”

Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Do To Me,” Delbert McClinton’s “Cherry Street,” and Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” continue the band’s trend of introducing new listeners to the blues.

“You Left The Water Running” and the old rock classic “I Got My Mojo Working” plum the essence of the band. Basically recorded live, they are sprawling pieces that one can envision in a smoky bar late at night. The Lou Marini title track album ender is seven minutes of proving that the band is still relevant.

For those of use who were actually around in 1978 when the Blues Brothers debuted as a one-time skit on Saturday Night Live, it’s good to have them still around. And be sure to turn up the volume.

Rating: ****

 

Basics (CD) By Hamilton Loomis

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Basics

Hamilton Loomis

Ham-Bone Music 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Hamilton Loomis is another one of those musicians who floats under the radar. Years of touring and recording have honed his skills as a guitarist, songwriter, and performer. His latest release, Basics, is another album of solid blus and rock.

The album’s title signifies the approach on his latest release. He keeps it simple with a basic guitar, bass, and drums with a sax added here and there. The chord progressions are simple and the melodies memorable.

“Sugar Babe,” “Candles And Wine,” “Cloudy Day,” and “Come And Get Me” continue his use of short and incisive guitar solos with little wasted effort.

Basics is a solid release that will appeal to the ear, mind, and soul.

 

Rating: ***1/2

I Am The Cosmos (CD Expanded Version) By Chris Bell

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I Am The Cosmos (2-CD Expanded Reissue

Chris Bell

Rhino 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Since Alex Chilton’s death, everything Big Star and everything associated with Big Star is being reissued. The latest entry in the Big Star sweepstakes is a two-disc expanded version of Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos.

Bell was a founding member of Big Star but left the band after their first release. His contributions helped establish the sound that made the band a cult favorite. His solo career came to an abrupt end in 1978 at the age of 27 when he died in motor vehicle accident.

Recently his pre-Big Star material was gathered together and issued as Looking Forward. It was a hit or miss affair of a young artist leaning his craft. I Am The Cosmos is a fully realized release. It finds Bell experimenting, not always successfully, and looking to the future, which never came. As such, it remains his best album and a treat for any fan of Bell or Big Star.

It is an album that moves in a number of directions. “Speed Of Sound,” “Get Away,” “I Don’t Know” and “I Got Kinda Lost” fit the Big Star sound and would have fit any of their albums. “You And Your Sister,” both the single version and the acoustic version find him moving in a different direction and show off his guitar work. The title track is a well thought out and mature recording of his thoughts at the time.

There are some misses but they are apart of a musician moving from a band setting to becoming a solo artist.

The second disc is comprised of 19 alternate versions of songs, unreleased material, and outtakes. It all holds together well and hints at what his musical future may have looked like.

Chris Bell remains an artist whose career was cut all too short. I Am The Cosmos is a look at his defining moment.

 

Rating:***1/2

Rhythmland (CD) By Dennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers

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Rhythmland

Dennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers

Root Tone Records

Review by David Bowling

 

I have a soft spot in my musical heart for slide guitarists. They are individualistic and each have their own unique sound.

One of the current leading proponents of the slide guitar style is Dennis Johnson, who with his backing band, The Mississippi Ramblers, has returned with their latest album Rhythmland.

What makes Johnson unique is while he has an easily identifiable sound, he is able to adapt it to a number of varied styles. Whether it be touches of folk, rock, roots, Americana, or straight blues, he is able to add his slide guitar sound over and through their rhythms. His approach is interesting in that he approaches a song from the basic rhythms and builds his leads from there.

Nine of the ten tracks are original and like any good blues artist they deal with life’s journeys through a story. The only non-original track is a unique interpretation of “Walkin’ Blues,” enhanced by his 12 string dobro. A counterpoint to that track is the laid-back acoustic performance on the jazz laden “My Love Is Here For You.”

Johnson is one of those master musicians who many times floats under the radar to all but a select few blues and slide guitar aficionados. He is also one of those guitarists who creates the illusion of playing the rhythm and lead parts on the same guitar.

Rhythmland is a creative piece of blues presented through the slide guitar sound. It is well worth exploring.

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

MVP (CD) By The Milligan Vaughan Project

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MVP

Milligan Vaughn Project

Mark One Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

It all starts in Texas, at least for the Milligan Vaughan Project. Vocalist Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan are Texans to their core and their joining together serves up a helping of dynamic rock and blues with their debut album MVP..

Milligan has a soulful voice and when it joins together with Vaughan’s guitar work, the sound emerges as a fusion of rock and blues.

The album was recorded in the studio except for the last two live tracks. “What Passes For Love” and the classic Freddy King song “Palace Of The King” represent the heart of their sound, which has been honed by constant touring.

They travel in a different direction with the ballad “Here I Am,” which is a nice counterpoint to their usual upfront, in your face approach.

MVP is a fine debit album from two music veterans who compliment each other well. Recommended for anypne who likes their modern days blues powerful and Texas style.

Rating: ***