All Night Long Live (CD) By The Mavericks

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All Night Love Volume 1

The Mavericks

Mono Mundo Records 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

The career of the Mavericks has passed the quarter-century mark, Not counting a nine year hiatus. Founding members Raul Malo (vocals/guitar) and Paul Deakin (drummer) are now joined by Eddie Perez (guitar), and Jerry Dale McFadden (keyboards).

The Mavericks are difficult to pigeon hole stylistically. They cross a lot of musical boundaries as they explore country, rock, blues, and even a little Latin vibe. The one constant is their live shows. They remain one of the best stage bands in American popular music. Their latest album, All Night Live Volume 1, brings their show to CD.

They wisely add some additional musicians to give their live sound some extra flexibility. Michael Guerra (accordion), Mike Abrams (sax), Matt Cappy (trumpet), and Ed Friedland (upright bass) add extra layers and textures to the sound. It all adds up to an energetic romp through 16 of their songs.

My only real problem with the release is the sound. Given the excellence of modern technology, it should have been better and it detracts from the overall enjoyment of the music. A smaller issue is the song section as it comes primarily from two albums. I would have preferred a more career spanning collection.

Other than the above; the album is a good presentation of their energetic live sound. The opening title track is a horn-laden blast that builds as it progresses. They almost move in a big band direction with a swinging version of “Stories We Could Tell.” They move to a blues vibe with the smoldering “Do You Want Me To.” The only cover song is a laid back version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Song.”

All Night Long Live Volume 1 retains the energy of the Mavericks on stage. Sound aside, it presents live music as it should always be.

Rating: ***

Playing The 60s (CD) By Mads Tolling & The Mads Men

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Playing The 60s

Mads Tolling & The Mads Men

Madsman Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Mads Tolling is a Danish classically trained violinist currently living in San Francisco. After touring with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and an eight years stint and two Grammy Awards with the jazz string ensemble the Turtle island Quartet; he is now on his own.

His press release states that his new release, Playing The 60s “draws material from the era evoked by the award-wining series AMC series Mad Men.”  I’m not sure how much the series influenced the song selection but Tolling manages to take an eclectic group of sixties material and give them jazz interpretations.

The violin is a rarely used jazz instrument but in the right hands it and setting, it can provide an interesting sound. He surrounds himself with keyboardist/accordion player Colin Hogan, bassist Sam Bevan, drummer Eric Garland, and singers Kalil Wilson, Spencer Day, and Kenny Washington. Also on hand as a guest is his former boss Stanley Clarke. Together they provide a nice foundation for Tolling to improvise on the various melodies.

Television themes such as “Peter Gunn,” “Hawaii 5-0,” :Mission Impossible,” “The Pink Panther,” and “Meet The Flintstones” are modernized nostalgic pieces.

The old Herb Alpert hit, “A Taste Of Honey,” undergoes a number of tempo changes and concludes with a tasty drum solo. “Beautiful Savior” is an old German hymn that is a vehicle for a violin/bass duet between Tolling and Clarke. Perhaps the most interesting track is his Latin version of the rock classic “All Along The Watchtower.”

The vocal tracks travel in a number of directions. Spencer Day gives an understated vocal on “The Look Of Love.” Kalil Wilson fuses a soul vocal with a jazz foundation on “My Girl.” Kenny Washington presents the most traditional interpretation with “What A Wonderful World.”

Mads Tolling’s sound is a little unusual but is brilliant in places. His ability to use his jazz training as the impetus for his jazz sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. Playing The 60s is a nice introduction to a musician with an unusual approach to his craft.

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

 

From The Heart (CD) By The Temprees

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From The Heart

The Temprees

Point 3 Records

Review by David Bowling

 

The Temprees were, and currently are, a smooth soul vocal group. Formed by Jasper “Jabbo” Phillips (died 2001), Harold “Scotty’ Scott, and Deljuan “Del” Calvin during the late 1960’s; they gained success during the 1970’s, while signed to the Stax label. They have reunited several times and now original members Scot and Calvin plus new addition Walter “Bo” Washington have returned with a new album titled From The Heart.

The Stax label was famous for its gritty and funky rhythm & blues. The Temprees were more of a classic vocal group, who based their sound on sweet ballads and tight harmonies. Their new release may veer from this formula a little but at heart they remain an old school brand of soul group.

Their sound, 40 years after their popular period, remains smooth like butter. The title song is like a harmonic Harlequin love novel. This love song sets the tone for the album. “We Do Music” contains a history lesson of the Stax label. “Keep It Real” continues the positive vibe of the album as they sing about the importance of human interactions.

They travel in a different direction with “Paparazzi.” It has a funky dance vibe and is more like what one would expect from a Stax label artist.

The Temprees have channeled and modernized their seventies period and re-created a sound that is never out of date.

Rating: ***1/2

Mirrors (CD Reissue) By John Hammond

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Mirrors (CD Reissue)

John Hammond

Real Gone Music 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

John Hammond was a white blues musician in the early 1960’s; a time period when the blues where not commercially successful or white. For better or worse, he is also the son of legendary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame producer John Hammond Sr. who signed such artists as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Hammond began his career in the Greenwich Village club scene of the early 1960’s and helped pave the way for a generation of blues artists who would follow. To date he has released 34 albums and most have been reissued except for 1967s Mirrors, which now returns in a remastered form.

Hammond released some of his strongest albums for the Vanguard label during the mid-1960’s. His 1963 self-titled debut, 1964’s Big City Blues, and  1965’s So Many Roads are considered classics of 1960’s traditional blues. As he was leaving the label, Mirrors was assembled from the outtakes of his previous three albums. Side one (CD tracks 1-6) are electric and side two (CD tracks 7-13) are acoustic.

The album contains three Robert Johnson compositions, all recorded at a time when Johnson was all but forgotten. “Stones In My Passway” and “Walking Blues” are sparse acoustic interpretations that retain Johnson’s power. “Travelling Riverside” is an electric extravaganza featuring a number of young musicians who would become famous including harpist Charlie Musselwhite,  guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helm, and Mike Bloomfield on piano.

“Get Right Church” is a traditional gospel tune made famous by the Staple Singers. Hammond strips it down to basics with just his voice and guitar.

“Statesboro Blues” and “Keys To The Highway” have been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton respectively. It is interesting to hear his early electrified versions of these old blues staples.

As good as the electric tracks may be, the essence of John Hammond’s music is acoustic performances like “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” ”When You Are Gone,” and “Rock Me Mama.”

Hammond has never veered from the blues. Mirrors may have never been reissued in any form and may not be a cohesive album given the various sources of the material; yet it contains a number of performances worth hearing.

Rating: ***1/2

Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley (Vinyl) By Johnny Cash

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Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley

Johnny Cash

Legacy 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

A new Johnny Cash release is a part of a series of vinyl-only albums issued by the Legacy label in time for the holiday season.

Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley comes on the heels of a new Elvis Presley Christmas vinyl release and pales in comparison. The sound is excellent and the individual performances are fine but the album has a cobbled together feel. Cash has a vast catalogue of material to draw from and there are a number of Christmas songs that would have fit together better and given the album a more cohesive feel.

Cash had a unique vocal approach and when applied to the right material; the results are excellent. Songs such as “Mary Christmas Mary,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Christmas Time’s A-Comin,'” are like putty in his hands. On the other hand, “Jingle Bells” and “Blue Christmas” are a bit of a stretch.

The main problems are the “Opening Dialogue,” “The Ballad Of Hap Weaver,” and “(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley” don’t really fit in with the Christmas theme.

The album is what it is and the individual performances should please any fan of the man in black, especially since they are a unique collectable because of the vinyl format. However, if you are a casual fan of the man in black, there are a number of classic Christmas albums out there.

Rating: **1/2

 

 

Keepin’ Outta Trouble (CD) By Rory Block

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Keepin’ Outta Trouble

Rory Block

Stony Plain Music 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Rory Block is one of the most accomplished blues musicians working today, male or female. She has received five Blues Music Awards in the Traditional Blues Female and Acoustic Blues Album Of The Year categories.

Several years ago she embarked on her Mentor Series and to date has issued albums covering and being inspired by the music of Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John McDowell, and Son House.

Her sixth album in the series, Keepin’ Outta Trouble, is a tribute to Bukka White. Interestingly, White’s music inspired her to create more original compositions than any of the previous releases in the series.

The four Bukka White penned tunes, “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Panama Limited,” “Parchman Farm Blues,” and “New Frisco Train” are classic interpretations straight from the Delta. She has always been a superior acoustic guitarist and her ability and style brings out the original power of these old blues songs.

Her own songs are modern day blues who use White’s material for their inspiration. “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” is a clever ditty based on White’s guitar lines from “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing.” She wisely leads off the album with her own “Keepin’ Outta Trouble” and “Bukka’s Day,” which not only introduce the theme of the album but her own approach to traditional blues.

Block has followed her own career path, and many times has travelled the road less taken, and through it all has dedicated herself to playing, creating, and preserving the blues. She has never wavered from her chosen musical career path. The fact that she is so good at her chosen profession is just icing on the cake. Keepin’ Outta Trouble is another brick in her wall of blues.

 

Rating: ****

Heal My Soul (CD) By Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers

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Heal My Soul

Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneer

Pioneer Productions 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Number 1: The woman can sing. She is one of those vocalists who can squeeze every once of pathos, meaning, and emotion from a song.

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers  have just issued their sixth album titled Heal My Soul. They are known as an energetic and explosive live band who have toured relentlessly honing their craft. Grey’s tough-woman appeal help them present music that fuses rock and roll and the blues into an interesting mix.

She is backed by guitarist Vic Mix, violinist Kaia Updike, drummer John Holland, bassist Adam Price, and multi-instrumentalist Brian DeWan, who have developed into a tight and formidable band. They are fueled by the instrumental leads of Mix and Updike. It is Updike’s violin that gives the music an unusual sound at times as her ability to use it in a blues format is different and at times stunning.

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers are still very much a Brooklyn bar band. They are perfect for a smoky club late at night. In some ways they may be a little to authentic for huge mainstream success but Heal My Soul is a disc that needs to be played loud as it contains the essence of American rock and roll at its most basic and best.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Merry Christmas Baby (Vinyl) By Elvis Presley

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Merry Christmas Baby (Vinyl Release)

Elvis Presley

Legacy 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Many people are unaware that Elvis Presley’s biggest selling studio album was his late 1950’s Christmas release. It also expanded his commercial appeal beyond his rock and roll teenage base as millions of adults bought the album which veered from his rock roots toward a more traditional pop sound.

Lately, there has been an increasing vinyl resurgence and while Elvis’ Christmas material has been released dozens of times and it many formats; Merry Christmas Baby is a vinyl-only release issued on red and green vinyl. So crack up those record players because Elvis is coming to town.

The music was remastered from the original tapes and modern technology gives it a clarity of sound missing from many of the previous releases. When played on the proper equipment, it provides a superior listening experience.

As Elvis’ career progressed, his albums became more haphazard and inconsistent but he never issued a poor or even an average Christmas, gospel, or sacred album. He always seemed more connected and invested with this type of material.

The 17 tracks travel from hymns such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” to the light hearted “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” to such classics as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “White Christmas.”

“Blue Christmas” has a bit of a kick to it as it pays homage to his rock and roll roots. He captures the wistful and nostalgic nature of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just right. He even manages to turn light-weight material such as “If Everyday Was Like Christmas” and “Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees” into acceptable holiday fare.

There is still a vast Elvis fan base that will purchase just about any new release. However, if you have never been exposed to his holiday material or want to listen to some Elvis the way it was originally intended, then Merry Christmas Baby is an album for you.

 

Rating: ****

The Best Of Leon Russell CD By Leon Russell

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The Best Of Leon Russell

Leon Russell

Capital 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Leon Russell passed away November 13 at the age of 74, about a week after Lenard Cohen’s death. No two artists were more different than Russell and Cohen in style and approach, yet each was a master of his craft as a composer and musician.

The last years of his life validated Leon Russell as one of the legendary performers in rock history. He was  inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and released a duet album with Elton John that returned him to the upper regions of the American album charts.

His career began during the 1950’s as a member of The Starliters with J.J. Cale. He moved on to session work, the television show Shindig, and working with Phil Spector.

In 1970, he released his first, self-titled solo album and dozens more would follow during the next four decades with a great deal of commercial success. His big breakthrough came as the music director/ringmaster of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, 1969-1971. He has since worked with many of the legendary musicians of the last half of the 20th century, including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, The Band, and Bob Dylan.

The Best Of Leon Russell is a 16-track retrospective that concentrates on his 1970’s material plus one track from his recent album with Elton John. “Best of” may not be the most accurate way to describe this album. “Representative” is probably a better description as it presents his better known material from various stages of his career. While 16 tracks can’t come close to covering his vast catalogue, the album still provides a nice taste.

It centers upon his 1970’s material. ”A Song For You,” “Shoot Out At The Plantation,” “Delta Lady,” and “Hummingbird” all come from his debut album. They are representative of the gritty rock ‘n’ roll that dominated his early career.

There are a number of other highlights as well. “Lady Blue” is his laid-back brand of Cajun rock ‘n’ roll. “The Masquerade” is a good example of the subdued, melancholy type of material that appears throughout his career. “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” is his rousing version of the Bob Dylan tune which graced his Leon Russell And Hus Shelter People album. “Back To The Island” is possibly his smoothest performance, one that makes you almost smell the ocean breeze.

In 1979 he recorded a country album with Willie Nelson. Included here is their laid-back cover of “Heartbreak Hotel,” which reached Number One on the American country charts. The album draws to a close with his wild and out-of-control performance of the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley from The Concert For Bangladesh.

Leon Russell’s career has meandered through the American musical landscape for over a half century. The Best Of Leon Russell allows the listener to travel with him for a spell and it’s a journey well worth taking.

Lone Star Songs And Stories Straight From The Heart Of Texas (CD) By Glenna Bell

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Lone Star Songs And Stories Straight From The Heart Of Texas

Glenna Bell

Glenna Bell 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

There is a sticker on the front of the CD jacket that says “File Under Texas Music,” and to that I say AMEN.

Glenna Bell is a singer/songwriter who uses the blues as a foundation as she moves effortless to fuse rock, pop, and country into her sound.

She has a knack of choosing cover songs that can be transferred to her Texas orientation. Don Henley’s “Heart Of The Matter” re-emerges with a steel guitar and understated vocals.

At the heart of her music are personal songs about her life and Texas. “Poor Girl (In Blue)” and “Shiner Bock & ZZ Top” carry on her tradition of story-songs. “Tonight’s The Night” is a wonderful reflection of life’s transitions that works better with the video.

Perhaps the best song is “Christmas Is Coming,” which is a nostalgic and wistful approach to the season and received several hundred-thousand plays online las year.

Glenna Bell’s music always has a personal approach and her latest release is no exception. Music for the heart and mind-Texas style.

Rating: ***