The Focus Family Album (CD) By Focus



The Focus Family Album


Focus Records 2018

Review by David Bowling


Focus was, and sometimes still is, a Dutch progressive rock band who found success in the United States during the first half of the 1970’s. Formed in the late 1960’s by Thijs Van Leer; their early line-up included guitar virtuoso Jan Akkerman. Albums such as Moving Waves (1972), Focus 3 (1971), and Hamburger Concerto (1974) sold several million copies in the United States and produced the quirky hit single “Hocus Pocus.”

The Focus Family Album is a two-disc, 20 track CD that includes 10 tracks by the band and 10 tracks by various current and former members; hence the name of the album.

The group tracks are modern era in origin, originally recorded for several different projects. The represent the band’s current approach and are competent progressive rock.

The solo tracks are more eclectic and experimental. How good they are depends on the listeners ability to stretch their minds.

Individual solos dominate the individual band members contributions. Pierre van der Linden presents two tracks from his experimental Drum Poetry album.  Band leader This van Leer donates two flute pieces that run counter to the drum tracks. “Hazel” is an acoustic guitar piece by Menno Gootjes that demonstrates his precise style. Udo Pannekeet brigs a unique approach to his bass playing through the use of a fretless bass on “Song For Yaminah” and a six string bass on “Anaya.”

The album is not a cohesive affair. The full band tracks have a finished feel, while the individual pieces find the members experimenting and in some cases doodling on their own. In many ways it is the band deconstructed.

The Focus Family Album is a niche release for hard core fans of the band. If you want to experience their full power and creativity, check out their 1970 releases.

Rating: **



The Luckiest Man (CD) By Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters


The Luckiest Man

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters

Stony Plain 2017

Review by David Bowling


Any new release by Ronnie Earl and his Broadcasters is a must listen for any blues aficionado and The Luckiest Man is no exception.

The album is one of loss and faith; both explored within the context of the blues. The passing of his long time friend and bass player bandmate Jim Mouradian has left an imprint on his latest album of music. “Death Have No Mercy is a fitting tribute to hos lost friend, while “Never Gonna Break My Faith” deals with recovery and moving on.

He returns with his past with the ten minute “Long Lost Conversation.” A Number of his old bandmates are along for the ride, including vocalist/bassist Sugar Ray Norcia.

From the opening cover of “Ain’t That Loving You Baby,” he quickly demonstrates why he is considered on of the best traditional blues guitarists working today.

The Luckiest Man is an album of how the blues should always be.

Rating: ****

Whistle Down The Wind (CD) By Joan Baez


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Whistle Down The Wind

Joan Baez

Joan Baez 2018

Review by David Bowling


Joan Baez is a bona-fide member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. While the title may not fit her musical style, the honor is appropriate. She was an essential part of the folk revival movement and like or hate her politics; she has influenced the society and culture of the United States through her voice and music for the last half century plus. She has now returned with her 25th studio album.

Whistle Down The Wind is a nostalgic, poignant, and yearning release. The edge to her music is a little more subtle than in the past. Her acoustic guitar playing seems to have acquired a nice patina with the passage of time.

I have always thought she does not compose original material enough. Here she presents 10 songs by other artists and she has chosen well as she brings her experiences to each and transforms them into her own creations.

The title song by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan finds her looking back at life. “Be Of Good Heart” is a sweet remembrance of a past relationship. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “The Things We Are Made Of” is a thoughtful and laid back tune of independence.

“I Wish The Wars Were All Over” returns her to one of the themes that have dominated her music and life. “The President Sang Amazing Grace” is a response to the shootings in South Carolina.

As with any Joan Baez album, there is always a focus on her voice which continues to have a purity virtually unmatched.

Whistle Down The Wind may not have the power of her earlier releases but it is an album of music that fits where she is in life, and her that is enough.

Rating: ****

The Searcher (Soundtrack) 3-CD Set By Elvis Presley


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The Searcher (Soundtrack) 3-CD Box Set

Elvis Presley

Legacy 2018

Review by David Bowling


Calling all fans of “The King;” the Elvis Presley train is pulling into the station again with some friends in tow.

HBO will be premièring a new Elvis Presley documentary April 14, and this is the Soundtrack to the film with a lot of extra material.

The music of Elvis has been released many times and in just about every format imaginable. The 18 tracks from the documentary, when taken apart from the film may seem like an eclectic group, but that is part of their charm. From his early Sun material, “My Baby Left Me,” “That’s All Right,” and “Baby Let’s Play House,” to the immortal “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel,” to some lesser known tracks, “Milky Way,” “Like A Baby,” and a rehearsal version of “Separate Ways,” it is a different approach to his music and legacy.

The other 37 Elvis tracks follow the same pattern. While the former fit into the documentary; the rest of the material by Elvis has a seemingly random approach and so you take the good with the bad. I’m not sure I need another copy of “Suspicious Minds (Take 6)” or a rehearsal version of the Bee Gees “Words,” but tracks like “Reconsider Baby,” “You Gave Me A Mountain,” and “An American Trilogy” are always welcome.

It is the third disc that sets the release apart. Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) contributes “Dissolution” and “Rebound,” while Petty’s cover of “Wooden Heart” is present.

It is the music that purportedly influenced Elvis that makes the disc worthwhile. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s version of “That’s All Right” is still a raw experience, while Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” explores the beginnings of rock and roll. Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” examines Elvis’ early sound from a country perspective. Throw in such forgotten performances as “Mystery Train” by Little Junior’s Blue Flames, “She May Be Yours But She Comes To Me Sometimes” by Joe Hill Lewis, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Bernston, and “Write Me A Letter” by the Ravens are worth the price of admission.

The Searcher” examines the music of Elvis Presley from a different perspective. Taken outside of the film, it is an interesting listen with a lot of good music.

Rating: ****

Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 (CD) By America


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Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973


Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley, and Dan Peek formed America during the late 1960’s. The early 1970’s found them producing a string of hit singles including “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Lonely People,” “Tin Man,” “Woman Tonight,” and “Sister Golden Hair.” Their brand of light rock proved to be commercially successful and radio friendly. While the 1970’s would be their creative nadir, Bunnell and Beckley would remain together for the next four plus decades.

America has now returned to its roots with their latest release. Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 gathers together 15 demos from their classic period, including nine previously unreleased songs.

The album is a niche release for fans of the band or possibly of the era. Recorded mostly at Beckley’s home studio, it presents an intimate look of the band at the beginning of their career. While it may not be the equal of their first two albums recorded during the time period; it fills in a number of gaps in their career.

“Man Of Pride,” “James Holliday,” and “”Sea Of Destiny” are the most complete songs. The harmonies and gentle rhythms are intact but they are not the equal of their best material. ‘”Songs such as “Riverside,” “Rainy Day,” and “Ventura Highway” are works in progress and give a glimpse of their developmental process. There is also a hidden track, which is an a cappella version of “A Horse With No Name.”

America released a lot of excellent music during the 1970’s. Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 is a trip back in time to their most productive period. It is a journey worth taking for any fan of the band.

Rating: B 

Waffles, Triangles & Jesus (CD) By Jim White

Waffles Triangles And Jesus

Jim White

Joyful Noise Recordings 2017

Review by David Bowling


Anyone who names their album Waffles Triangles And Jesus definitely travels a different road. Add in Holly Golightly, and a cornucopia of indie musicians and you have a prime example of Jim White’s brand of quirky, hybrid Americana music.

If there is a musical style named psychedelic folk; Jim White would qualify as a founding member.

A quintessential Jim White track is “Playing Guitars” with some eclectic guitar playing by White and an equally eccentric vocal by Golightly. Everything flows outward from this starting point. He travels from the music of the Appalachian mountains to the rhythms of the African continent. He even makes a stop in Mayberry, North Carolina but that’s better heard than explained.

Jim White creates music that makes you think, while being amusing and confusing. In the last analysis, it is always interesting and worth a listen.

Rating: ***1/2


The Ice Queen (CD) By Sue Foley



The Ice Queen

Sue Foley

Stony Plain 2018

Review by David Bowling


The Ice Queen Cometh (March 2nd to be precise)!

Canadian Sue Foley had received numerous music awards in her home country. Now based in Texas, she has recorded her newest album, The Ice Queen, with the help of a number of Texas legends such as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Jimmie Vaughan, Charlie Sexton, and the Texas Horns among others.

She has stayed close to her musical foundation for her new release, combining rock, blues, roots, and even a little flamenco into a contemporary amalgam of sound.

She wisely mixes up the styles and tempos. She thunders through “81,” “The Ice Queen,” “”Fool’s Gold” with Billy Gibbons, and “a horn drenched “If I Have Forsaken You.” She steps forward with her vocals and guitar on a bluesy cover of Besse Smith’s classic “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair.”

As good as the full-throttle songs are; sometimes simple is best. “Death Of A Dream,’ with only bass and drums in support, is a mellow jazzy journey.

The final two tracks are just Foley, her guitar and voice. “The Dance” is an interesting fusion of the blues and an acoustic flamenco style. The final track is again her solo with a nice rendition of the Carter Family’s “Cannonball Blues.”

Sue Foley is a mature musician who has found a home in Texas. The Ice Queen is a fine collection of Canadian blues and roots music; Texas style.

Rating: B+

Double Standards (CD) By Mick Kolassa And Friends



Double Standards

Mick Kolassa and Friends

Swing Suit 2018

Review by David Bowling


Mick Kolassa has been releasing a laid back form of blues for decades. What makes his music so interesting is the fact that each of his albums has a distinct flavor, which brings us to his latest release, Double Standards.

His latest release brings together some old friends and a bunch of classic blues songs, with the result being an album of excellent modern day interpretations.

Artists such as Sugaray Rayford, Annika Chambers, Heather Crosse, Patti Parks, and more may not be household names but the common thread is they can all sing and perform. When you combine their talents with those of Kolassa and mix in songs by Willie Dixon, Tampa Red, B.B. King, and more; you have an exciting collection of blues songs.

Mike Kolassa is one of those musicians who slides under the radar at times, but he has devoted his life to creating and singing the blues. Double Standards is a fine addition to his expanding legacy.

Rating: ***1/2

Artifact: The Unreleased Album (CD) By The Choir


Artifact: The Unreleased Album

The Choir

Omnivore 2018

Review by David Bowling


In a time long long ago, in a city that would host the future Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, The Choir was born and lived a short life.

The Choir was an American band formed during the mid-1960’s, who were influenced by the British Invasion. During their five years of existence they would undergo a number of personal changes and only release a few singles. Yet, their reputation was such that they opened for the likes of The Who, Blues Magoos, Hermans Hermits, and Yardbirds.

During 1969, one of the last incarnations of the band recorded enough material for an album, but their dissolution left the tapes in storage until a couple of years ago. Now 48 years after their creation, they have now been remastered with modern technology and released under the title Artifact: The Unreleased Album.

They may have a British Invasion vibe but think early Procol Harum rather than the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Dave Clark Five. They are more pop than rock and roll and there is a subtle nature to their music.

Songs such as “Anyway I Can,” “Have I Know Love To Offer,” “Boris’ Lament,” and “I Can’t Stay In Your Life” are quintessential 1960’s rock and pop. They may seem a little primitive almost half a century later but if taken in context, they make one wonder why the band was not more successful.

The various members of the band went in a number of directions but drummer Jim Bonfanti and guitarist Wally Bryson grabbed the brass ring as members of the Raspberries. They and a dozen or so other musicians left behind a wonderful look into not only a mid-sixties American band just on the cusp of commercial success but some excellent music.

Rating: ***



Muddy Gurdy (CD) By Muddy Gurdy



Muddy Gurdy

Muddy Gurdy

Vizztone 2018

Review by David Bowling


I like to try different types and styles of music and Muddy Gurdy fits that category and then some.

First a definition: A hurdy-gurdy is a French instrument. It is played with a hand-cranked wheel, which functions like a violin bow as it rubs against the strings.

Muddy Gurdy is a French blues Band consisting of Tia Gouttebel (guitar and vocals), Gilles Chabenat (hurdy-gurdy), and Marc Glomeau (percussion). They recently travelled to Northern Mississippi to create and record their second album.

Using local musicians and recording is rustic places with little technology, they have created a unique album of basic blues. Ranging from the classic delta blues of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “”She Wolf,” to the Chicago blues of Mudding Waters “Rollin’ And Tumblin,” to the traditional “Glory Glory Hallelujah;” they have stripped the blues to an elemental level.

The self titled Muddy Gurdy is for the blues aficionado who wants their music basic and a little different.

Rating: ***1/2