Greatest Hits (1970-2020) By Bruce Cockburn

Greatest Hits (1970-2010)
Bruce Cockburn
True North Records
Review by David Bowling
Most American music fans, of a certain age, remember Bruce Cockburn for his gentle folk/pop hit of several decades ago; “Wondering Where The Lions Are.” In his native Canada, he is celebrated for his 34 album releases, 13 Juno Awards (Canadian Grammy’s), two Hall of Fame inductions, and as an Officer of The Order of Canada. He has now released a definitive career spanning, 30 track release titled Greatest Hits (1970-2020).
The 30 tracks are presented in chronological order, so they present not only a nice look at his career, but also of the development of his musical vision.
Cockburn’s music has always had a laid back and gentle feel. His lyrics, however, have constantly evolved as they have adjusted to the times around them.  Always cerebral, his words have told stories, as he has presented his views of love, the environment, political issues, indigenous people, and every now and then just simple folk music that makes you smile and wonder.
“Going To The Country” is nearly 50 years old, and it along with “All The Diamonds In The World,” “Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long,” and “Wondering Where The Lions Are” represent his early career, where as a young man, music was simple.
“If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” “Call It Democracy,” “People See Through You,” and “If A Tree Falls” present his developing social consciousness.
Life passes quickly and “Different When It Comes To You,” “Call Me Rose,” and “States I’m In” close the album as a mature human being and musician explores his world.
Greatest Hits (1970-2020) is a wonderful and heartfelt ride through the mind and music of a veteran artist. It is a journey worth hearing.
Rating: ****

Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions (1969-1971)

I have been waiting for 50 years, more or less, for this release. Two of the Beach Boys’ best and most underappreciated albums have reached the half-century mark, and Sunflower and Surf’s Up have now returned as part of a 5-CD, 135-track box set titled Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions (1969-1971).

In addition to the two original albums, this release includes a lot of unreleased material. The only issue I have with the set is that there are a number of tracks not associated with the original sessions. Some tracks reach back to their final recordings of the Capitol label era, while some of the live material reaches into the future. It is not an issue of quality but of placement.

Discs one and two contain the two original albums. Each disc also contains extra material. Live versions of “This Whole World,” “Add Some Music To Your Day.” “Susie Cincinnati,” “It’s About Time,” and “Riot In Cell Block 9” add some new textures to these rarely performed songs as they are presented without studio enhancements. The live tracks keep coming on the second disc with the underrated “Student Demonstration Time,” the gentle “Disney Girls,” “Long Promised Road,” and the great “Surf’s Up.” Also included are a stereo version of “Cottonfields,” the single release of “Break Away,” and a goofy take on “Loop De Loop.”

The final three discs are for hard core Beach Boys fans and even then, you will have to sift through a huge number of tracks to find the gems. The backing tracks—and there are a lot of them—are included for a complete historical record of the sessions but are not really meant for regular listening.

The gems are found in the a capella song tracks. The Beach Boys sound has always centered around the vocals and when you eliminate the instrumental component, what remains is the purity of the voices. Highlights include “In Cotton Fields,” “Add Some Music To Your Day,” “Don’t Go Near The Water,” “Til I Die,” and “Marcella.”

Finally, the fifth disc contains 27 unreleased and alternative tracks. In most cases, these songs were not included on the original albums for a reason, but “Hawaiian Dream” is worth seeking out, as is the alternate version of “Add Some Music To Your Day” with different lyrics.Feel Flows: The Sunflower And Surf’s Up Sessions 1961-1971 is a well-done box set. Two underappreciated and sometimes forgotten albums are resurrected in pristine condition and form the center of the release, as they take their place among the better albums of the Beach Boys’ career.

Rating: ****

Uranium Mining By Kate McLeod



Kate MacLeod is both a historian and a musician. Her new album, Uranium Maiden, uses stories and people from the American West to form the foundation and inspiration for her new album of music. Several years in the making, her newest compositions follow miners, pioneers, and other people and places in the Utah region of the American West. Even the four instrumental tracks have a Western feel and bind the album together.

The music is simple. While a number of instruments make an appearance over the 17 tracks, they take turns accompanying her voice and acoustic guitar without getting in the way of the lyrics. While there is a very Americana feel to her stories, there is also a folk and country feel present.

“Now Is The Time To Be Alive” is the lead track and sets the tone for what will follow. Culled from the writings and reminiscences of Everett Reuss, who disappeared in the Utah desert in 1935, it is a haunting tale enhanced by various harmonies. “A Fire I Can Borrow From” is similar, drawing from a pioneer woman’s 150-year-old journal.

The instrumental “The Train Across The Great Salt Lake” paints pictures without words. MacLeod’s acoustic guitar is surrounded by a harmony of fiddles. “Sand In Breeze” is just Macleod’s voice and violin as it gently moves along.

The town of Widtsoe, Utah is now abandoned, but MacLeod digs into the history of the descendants’ yearly reunions. “Every Year Among The Pines” is a nostalgic piece of a long-forgotten time. “U-235” moves in a different direction as it is a searing condemnation of the ruinous use of uranium.

Kate MacLeod has brought a labor of love to life. She is just about a lifelong resident of Utah and her trip back into the history of the area is both beautiful and interesting. Uranium Maiden is well worth the trip.


Moment To Lose By The Old No. 5’s

Moment To Lose

The Old No. 5’s

Self-Issued 2021

Review By David Bowling

The Old No. 5’s always produces interesting music as their albums tend to meander through a variety of styles such as blues, psychedelic, rock and roll, and old-time country. The songs tend to merge and complement each other as they form a collective whole. Their third release, Moment To Lose, follows this format.

Like many artists, they were busy recoding during the Covid shut down. The time was well spent as they have produced the best album of their career. The only issue is it is like a treasure hunt to track down a copy of the album.

The album begins with the very short “We’re Here,” It is a nostalgic instrumental pierce with a lead guitar part that will make you ache. It is a compact example of precise modern-day blues.

“New Light” proves once again that many times simple is best. With only an acoustic guitar in support as Bradl Alexander’s gentle vocals floats over the sound.

The heart of the album are their rock and roll tracks. Lead by “Same As You,” they rock through “Living Your Dream” and “What Does That Prove,” before taking a trip back in time with the psychedelic song “Rock And Roll.” These are full band songs with three guitars, keyboards, plus a bass and percussion rhythm section providing a fuller sound.

While their sound may be difficult to define, the music keeps your attention in a good way. Moment To Lose is a very good album of music that combines many of the elements of American music into a complete whole.

Rating: ***

Pinky’s Blues By Sue Foley



Pinky’s Blues

Sue Foley

Stony Plain Records 2021

Review By David Bowling

Some people play the blues, some people sing the blues, and some people live the blues. Sue foley is one of those rare musicians who does all three.

Foley may have been born in Canada but now settled in Texas; she plays a pure brand of southwest electric blues. Pinky’s Blues is the 15th album of her career. It is also one of the best releases of her career as she builds on the foundations she has established. Her guitar work continues to evolve, her voice is a fine blues instrument, and her combination or original songs and covers are perfect vehicles for her music.

She always keeps it fairly simple. She is backed by her band of bassist Jon Penner and drummer Chris Layton and at times keyboardist/producer Mike Flanigan. It is a basic approach that keeps the focus on her guitar work and lyrics, which are at the core of the blues.

Foley’s own ‘Hurricane Blues is one of those perfect blues songs. The guitar and vocal play off of each other as the rhythm section lays down an underlying beat. It is topped off with Jimmie Ray Vaughn guesting as an additional guitarist.

She returns to her roots with covers of Frankie Lee Sims’ “Boogie Real Low” and Lavelle White’s “Stop These Teardrops.” It is interesting to hear a female’s take on Willie Dixon’s “When The Cat’s Gone The Mice Play.” Even the newer material, including her own “Dallas Man,” play homage to the history of the blues.

She and her guitar Pinky, (hence the name of the album}, is now back on the road honing her skills. Pinky’s Blues is an excellent and well-crafted album that should appeal to any fan of the blues.

Rating: ***1/2

Under Your Spell By Tito Jackson



Under Your Spell
Tito Jackson
SoNo Record Group
Review by David Bowling
And then there was Tito.
The Jackson Five; Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, Jackie, and Tito, were one of the most successful and famous groups in music history and was the starting point for Michael Jackson. In many ways Tito was the forgotten Jackson, both then and now. He has now returned, at the age of 67, with a new solo album titled Under Your Spell.
Under Your Spell arrived in my mailbox with little fanfare. I wasn’t sure what to expect but Tito has crafted a well-produced and very listenable album of blues, soul, with jazz under currents running throughout.
He has several guest artists on board and when you are a Jackson, musicians such as George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Eddie Lavert, Bobby Rush, Stevie Wonder, and brother Marlon are at your beck and call.
“Love On Another” sets the tempo for the album. It is a positive song that runs counter to the world events of today. Tito, with Bobby Rush, Marlon, and Stevie Wonder on harmonica, layer in the melodies on an upbeat and smooth performance that sets a toe-tapping groove.
Songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff plumb their Philadelphia roots for “All In The Family Blues.” It is a brass laden and funky piece and Eddie Lavert’s adds his soulful vocals to the mix.
“Under Your Spell” with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, “Big Leg Woman,” and “You’re Gonna Push Me Too Far” are all modern blues pieces.
“Rock Me Baby” is a cover and tribute to B.B. King. Tito demonstrates his guitar chops and shares vocals with King’s daughter Claudette. It is a modernized version of the 1964 classic.
Tito Jackson, as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and producer, has resurrected his career with a fine album of blues, proving there is at least one Jackson still producing good music.

Rating: ***1/2

Fighting Words By Ellen Foley



Fighting Words

Ellen Foley

CD Baby 2021

Review by David Bowling

Ellen Foley has performed on Broadway, taught voice in New York City, starred for two years on the sitcom Night Court, appeared in a half-dozen films, and supported such artists as Ian Hunter, The Clash, Blue Oyster Cult, and Joe Jackson. Her first claim to fame was as the female vocalist on Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights.”

She has now returned with her fifth solo studio album titled Fighting Words. Many of the lyrics are personal, but the music moves in a number of directions, pop, soul, and rock. Foley has always brought a charisma and energy to her music and her new release retains those traits.

The lyrics move in several directions. “Leave Him Janie” and “This Won’t Last Forever” have political overtones and fit the protest philosophy spelled out by the title. “I’m Just Happy To Be Here,” with guest vocalist Karla DeVito, is her take on the covid world. She returns to her late 1970’s and early 1980’s rock roots with “Are You Good Enough” and the previously mentioned “Leave Him Janie.” They demonstrate why she recorded with The Clash and Ian Hunter.

The album contains two covers. She gives a soulful take on Wilson Pickett’s “I Found A Love.” A highlight of the album is her dramatic rendition of Meatloaf’s “Heaven Can Wait.” She manages to match the bombastic nature of the original.

Foley’s albums have always been strong and well thought out. Fighting Words is a bit more eclectic than her previous solo albums as it strays from the hard driving rock and roll sound that dominated her previous releases.

Foley has not released many solo albums as her other interest tend to dominate her sound. Now over 40 years into her care to, she has issued an entertaining album comprised of songs that have meaning to her.

Mood Swings By Andy Peake



Mood Swings

Andy Peake

Big Little Records 2021

Review by David Bowling

Andy Peake is one of those rare breeds of artists, who in addition to being an accomplished vocalist and songwriter, is also the drummer in his band.

His early work consisted of touring and studio work with such artists as Nicolette Larson, Don Williams, Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, and Tanya Tucker. During 2001, he assembled his own backing group and has not looked backed since. Now surrounded by his veteran band, he has released his latest album titled Mood Swings.

His new release is firmly rooted in the blues and Americana music and consists of seven originals and four covers, including two classics.

The albums opening track, “Make Peace With The Blues,” and the piano based “If Blues Was Green” introduces his style and the subtle textures that allow his music to flow freely.

“Hip Replacement” is a peppy and humorous take on the topic of medical advice, while the title track is a modern-day example of swing blues that include serious lyrics that run counter to the tempos of the music. .

You cannot have an album fronted by a drummer without having the lead musician step to the forefront on a couple of the tracks. “Do It With Gas” and “Untangle The Line,” both highlight his percussion musicianship.

There is an imaginative re-imagining od Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Good,” where he moves the tune from its rock and roll roots in a blues direction. Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” is also transformed away from is simple folk roots. Guest vocalist Joan Cowan help move the song is a spiritual direction.

Mood Swings is a very competent and pleasurable album of music that presents Andy Peake’s musical visions well. It is well worth a few listens.

Rating: ***

Party For Joey (Spampinato) By Various Artists



Joey Stampinato was a founding member of NRBQ. For the past several years, he has endured a variety of health problems. Now a number of his musical friends have gathered together to release a tribute album titled Party For Joey: A Sweet Relief Tribute To Joey Spampinato with the profits going into a fund to pay for his medical costs.

The famous and the less than famous, has re-recorded 14 NRBQ songs penned by Spampinato. Los Lobos, Chris Spedding, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Forbert, Keith Richards, old band mate Al Anderson, and a cast of tens all interpret his contributions to NRBQ, 1967-2004.

This is a Joey Spampinato album even though other artists play the music. He was an excellent songwriter and the songs presented here demonstrate his versatility and talent.

His songs always straddled the line between rock and blues and Bonnie Raitt & NRBQ get the 1978 tune “Green Lights” exactly right, plus hearing a female sing the lead adds a different perspective.

The oldest song is Al Anderson’s re-creation of “You Can’t Hide,” which is from NRBQ’s 1969 debut album. It is a straight-forward, basic rendition that reminds one of just how good early NRBQ was at the time. Los Lobos follows by amping up the energy in 1987’s “Every Boy, Every Girl.” Chris Spedding is always a welcome guitarist and he shines with the Nils on “That’s Alright.” On the other hand, I can do without Penn and Teller’s “Plenty Of Somethin,” but it was for charity.

Party For Joey: A Sweet Relief Tribute To Joey Spampinato is a very good and well-intentioned album that not only helps Spampinato but also reminds us at how talented he was as a part of a classic band.

 Rating: ***

Devil In The Hills By Mary Hott And Her Carpenter Ants



Devil In The Hills

Mary Hott With The Carpenter Ants

Mary Hott Music 2021

Review by David Bowling

Every once in a while, an under the radar artist with a new album, sneaks up on me and so it is with Mary Hott with Her Carpenter Ants from Paw Paw, West Virginia. Devil In The Hills is her new release and it is an Appalachian mining history lesson.

The summer of 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the miner’s uprising in West Virginia, culminating in the battle of Blair Mountain where 10,000 miners battled state police officers and federal troops. Her lyrics recreate the stories of pain and frustration of the miner’s plight. Her clear voice and catchy country music, which run counter point to the lyrics, make the album a musical and historical adventure.

Seven songs from the original main suite form the center of the album and message.

“A Minor’s Perspective” is a short-spoken word intro that sets up what will follow. Whether it be the rawness of family prostitution in “Annabelle Lee,” the terror of “They Built A Railroad,” “the hopelessness and helplessness of “The Spot” or the oddly mystical “Room Of Lost Souls; Hott presents her stories with power and regret.

An odd and album ending fit is her interpretation of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” She substitutes a few of the words and strips the accompaniment down to a piano. What emerges is a full-blown gospel rendition that ends the album on a wistful note.

Hott is a rare artist who has an intimate connection with her material. Her father died from a heart attack after working three overtime shifts in a chemical factory, which make her part of several generations of working-class families who toil for minimum wages in dangerous jobs.

Devil In The Hills is a challenging and at times difficult album, but ultimately an album worth hearing and exploring.

Rating:  ***1/2