Ironbark (CD) By The Waifs

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Ironbark

The Waifs

Compass Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Folk music is alive and well down-under. Little known in the United States, The Waifs are folk music icons in their home country of Australia, having plied their trade for the past quarter-century.

Donna Simpson, Vikki Thorn, and Josh Cunningham, with supporting musicians David MacDonald and Ben Franz, gathered at Cunningham’s home and recorded a live, mostly acoustic set of original songs. The result was their new album Ironbark, which is a two-CD, 25 song set.

Thorn, Cunningham, and Simpson have voices that are made for harmonizing together, whether in two’s or three’s. They also rotate the lead vocals, many times on the same song, and also have the capacity for providing dual lead vocals as well similar to the Everly Brothers style.

They write all their own material, which are story songs in the folk tradition. Instrumentation is kept mostly to a minimum in order to keep the focus on the words and voices.

Tracks such as “Ironbark,” “Song For Jacqueline,” “Higher Ground,” and “I Won’t Go Down” represent their approach. The stories are reflective while the music washes over you. It is music for the mind and soul rather than the dance floor.

Ironbark is a folk album in the traditional sense. The Waifs have put together an album of tales that is well-worth exploring.

 

Rating: ****

No Time Like Now By Strongman

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No Time Like Now

Steve Strongman

Sonic Unyon 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Steve Strongman is a guitar player who just attacks the blues. He is able to bend the strings in a way that creates a sound that is unique to him.

He has just released a new album titled No Time Like Now. It consists of nine original tunes written with producer/bass player Rob Szabo and the classic rocker “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” composed by fellow Canadian Randy Bachman, who guests on the track.

Strongman is able to fuse the blues and rock so that it emerges as an energetic concoction that washes over the listener.

Steve Strongman has produced a solid album of modern day electric blues. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: ***

Action Painting (CD) By The Creation

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Action Painting

The Creation

Numero Label 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

All right, boys and girls, it time to climb into the way back machine for a journey in time to the mid-1960’s English psychedelic music world.

For every English band that made it, there were hundreds who quickly disappeared and dozens more who shined brightly for a brief moment or two, and then were gone. Bands such as The Action, The Attack, The Sorrows, and Tomorrow fueled elements of the American Psychedelic movement and British rock, released a few tunes, but ultimately could not evolve with the changing music scene.

The Creation was one of the leading proponents of this British pych/rock movement. They existed from 1964-1068. They had one Top 40 hit in their home country and every once on awhile one of their songs appears on a compilation album of the era. Many people remember them for their last lead guitarist, Ronnie Wood, who would go on to fame and fortune with the Rolling Stones.

The Creation is one of those bands that represent a period in time. They had a raw energy that encapsulated the psychedelic era. Their entire recorded catalogue, plus four tracks from the pre-Creation Mark Four Band, has now been released as a two CD compilation titled Action Painting. The sound has been remastered and there is an 80 page booklet devoted to the band.

They had elements of the Who in their approach but without the power of their straight rock and roll. “Painter Man” was their only hit but it represents their style and sometimes odd approach as they use a violin bow to play the guitar. The new stereo mix adds depth to the song. They covered such tunes of the day as “Cool Jerk,” “Hey Joe,” and “Like A Rolling Stone” which are all journeys through the lives of struggling bands.

Action Paining is a must listen for anyone interested in the history of the psychedelic era. They represent a short but important stop in the evolution of British rock and roll.

 

Rating: ***

 

Meeting My Shadow (CD) By Vanessa Collier

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Meeting My Shadow

Vanessa Collier

Ruf Records 2014

Review by David Bowling

 

I always have a soft spot for saxophone players and Vanessa Collier is an evolving force on the instrument. She studied at Boston’s Berklee College Of Music and was further schooled on the road with the likes of Annie Lennox and Willie Nelson. She has just released her second album titles Me And My Shadow.

In addition to being a talented saxophone player, she is also a vocalist and an adept songwriter who penned eight the album’s eleven tracks.

While she travels into pop and soul; she is at heart a blues artist as her music presents her stories and experiences. She has a wonderful soul-styled voice that compliments her sax sound.

Whether it be her own “Whiskey And Women” and “”Devil’s On The Downslide” or covers of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head I Hear The Music In The Air” and “Deadric Malone’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry;” she presents her music with a combination of simplicity and sophistication.

Vanessa Collins is an artist whose music is well-worth exploring as she continues to progress and evolve.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Corey Ledet & His Zydeco Band (CD) Standing On Faith

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Standing On Faith

Corey Ledet & His Zydeco Band

CD Baby 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

The origin’s of Zydeco music are lost in the mists of time. It ‘s history traces back to combining French Creole music with rhythm & blues and expanding outward from there.

Corey Ledet is one one the leading practitioners of Zydeco music today and he has just released his ninth album Standing On Faith.

Ledet is an accordion player/songwriter/vocalist/band leader who fuses Zydeco rhythms to other musical formats.

The song titled “Intro” is a funky album opener. He quickly moves in a pop direction with the instrumental “Love Never Felt So Good” and the smooth title track. He then adds a little reggae influences with “A Good Day” and finishes his gumbo concoction with the bluesy “Street Light.”

Ledet has developed the capacity to create Zydeco music as it should be. Standing On Faith is a joyous romp through the world of Zydeco music.

Rating: ***1/2

Joy Comes Back (CD) By Ruthie Foster

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Joy Comes back

Ruthie Foster

Blue Corn Music 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Ruthie Foster’s voice and ability to interpret songs is a force of nature. Her albums tend to key off of where she is in her life’s journey and the type of material she chooses to cover.

Her new album, Joy Comes Back, was recorded in the midst of a relationship break-up. The material she chooses to explore range from the blues of the Mississippi Delta to the funk of the Staples to an odd but wonderful cover of an old Black Sabbath classic. It all adds up to an emotional album of loss, therapy, recovery, and ultimately joy.

Her sound is more elemental than in the past, which puts the emphasis on her voice. There is a high-tension gospel cover of the old Four Tops ditty “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” She is at heart a blues singer and she takes Mississippi John Hurt’s “Richland Woman Blues” out for a ride. She explores Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” as a blues jam. “Forgiven” is a ballad that just lets her voice soar.

Ruthie Foster has received numerous Blues Awards nominations and travelled with the likes of The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, and Susan Tedeschi. Hopefully Joy Comes Back will garner her some well-deserved mainstream acclaim.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Live At The Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco By Chuck Berry

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Live At The Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco

Chuck Berry

Mercury Records 1967

Review by David Bowling

 

Chuck Berry recently passed away bringing an end to the career of one of rock and roll’s legendary musicians. Berry was one of the originators of the rock and roll guitar sound. Beginning in 1955 with his hit single “Maybelline,” and followed by the likes of “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock And Roll Music,” “Johnny B Goode,” Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Back In The USA; he not only changed the face of American music but American culture as well.”

His singles remain the core of his legacy. His studio albums were many times cobbled together with a few brilliant singles and a number of covers. Many of his live albums were lackadaisical affairs, which reflected his concerts as time passed. He did not travel with his own group but would use local bands to back him, which reduced the quality of his performances significantly.

Live At The Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, may be the best live recording of his career. His backing band was The Steve Miller Blues Band before they became famous. They were an excellent blues band who was able to push Berry and he responded.

The original album was also well thought out. It was meant to be a blues/rock album and in that regard it succeeded. Reissues of the album include such songs as “Reelin’ And Rockin,’” “Good Morning Little School Girl,” and “My Ding-A-Ling,” all of which weaken the release. What was originally issued are basically blues songs, which make it one of the more unique and enjoyable Chuck Berry albums.

Beginning with a medley of “Rockin’ At The Fillmore” and “Everyday I Have The Blues;” he romps through “Driftin’ Blues,” “”Hoochi Coochi Man,” “”Flying Home,” and “Wee Baby Blues.” After years of listening to his impeccable singles, these blues songs present a rougher sound, which is a good way to dig deeper into his legacy.

Live At The Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco finds a forty year old Chuck Berry sweating and working hard. It is a good way to remember and appreciate him a half-century later.

 

Rating: ****

Migration Blues (CD) By Eric Bibb

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Migration Blues

Eric Bibb

Stony Plain 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Eric Bibb has recently produced a series of excellent and relevant albums highlighted by 2014’s Blues People. He has a laid back and simple approach that often belies the messages of his music.

His latest release, titled Migration Blues, is centered around a fusion of past and present migrants or migrations that are explored within a folk and blues format. The 15 tracks include 12 original tunes and three cover songs. Bibb (vocals, acoustic guitar, and banjo) is joined primarily by JJ Milteau (harmonica) and Michael Jerome Browne (guitar, banjo, and mandolin).

Keying off the Southern American migration of Afro-Americans from the rural south to the industrial north due to segregation and poverty, he moves his music to present-day reasons for escaping various home countries. “Refugee Moan,” “Four Years No Rain,” “We Had To Move,” and “With A Dolla In My Pocket” focus on the effects of war, prejudice, and starvation in their home countries and the hopes and realities of their new homes. Particularly chilling is “Prayin’ For Shore,” which presents the dangers at sea and of their destination as well.

The Three cover songs are a laid-back version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War,” a hopeful interpretation of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Your Land,” and a moving version of the spiritual “Mornin’” Train” that ends the album.

Despite the seriousness of the topics, Bibb’s voice and music make it all very listenable. Milteau’s Harmonica is an important component to the sound on many of the songs as it provides a nice counterpoint to Bibb’s guitar work.

Eric Bibb has paid homage to the American blues through his stories and music. Migration Blues is an album that deserves a listen.

 

Rating: ****

Thirteen (CD) By The BoDeans

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Thirteen

The BoDeans

Free & Alive Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas met in 1980 and the BoDeans were born in 1983. There debut album, Love & Hope & Sex & Lies brought them commercial success and established them as a cutting edge band. Llanas left in 2011 but Neumann continues to front the band and shortly will release the their 13th album, appropriately titled Thirteen.

The BoDeans have always fused Roots rock and alternative rock into their music. Thirteen tends to be more in the roots category as Neumann has created a series of thoughtful and melodic songs. He and the band recently became involved with the Netflix series The Ranch, and the style of the album keys off the laid back nature of the series. “My Hometown” and several other tracks appeared on the show and form the foundation of the album.

Songs such as “Maggie’s Bar,” “Headed Back In Time,” “Nowhere Fast,” and “Way Back In Time” have a wistful appeal as they tell stories of the American heartland.

Thirteen is a fine addition to the BoDeans catalogue of music. It proves that the band is alive and well during the fourth decade of their existence.

Rating: ****

 

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer (Expanded CD Reissue) Two Of A Kind

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Two Of A Kind (CD Expanded Reissue)

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Bobby Darin, (1936-1973), packed a lot into his 37 years of life. He was a teen idol who produced such hits as “Splish Slash” and “Queen Of The Hop” that led to his 1990 induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He was an actor who won a Golden Globe Award and he actually married actress Sandra Dee of Grease song fame.

At the height of his commercial appeal, he changed musical directions. He always wanted to be a Sinatra-type singer and recorded “Mack The Knife” from Three Penny Opera. It became one of the most popular singles in music history, topping the Billboard Pop Chart for nine weeks.

In 1961 he joined with orchestra leader/arranger Billy May and recorded the album Two Of A Kind. That album has now been reissued with seven bonus songs.

I find it interesting that this album was picked for reissue. While it is representative of the second part of his career, it just disappears into his catalogue of releases. It is a smooth and pleasant album but probably not among his best works.

He was touring with Johnny Mercer at the time, and the material reflects that relationship. It is an album of standards, highlighted by two Darin/Mercer compositions and four more Mercer songs.

“Ace In The Hole” is an old jazz song from 1909. Darin gives it a more Big Band/pop feel in a swinging version. The lightweight “Who Takes Care Of The Caretakers Daughter” is a pun-fill journey. On the other hand he gets to cute with “My Cutey’s Due At Two-To-Two.” It is representative of a number of songs that appeared dated over 50 years ago and today fall into the quaint category today.

The seven bonus songs are more of the same except for an interesting take on the Dave Dreyer/Ruby Herman song “Cecelia.”

This reissue of Two Of A Kind” will no doubt please Bobby Darin fans but if you want an introduction to Darin at his best, there a a number og Greatest Hits albums available.

 

Rating: **1/2