Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council By The Style Council

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Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council

The Style Council

Polydor/UMC 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Music by The Style Council has been readily available for the last three decades. The latest entry, Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council, is a fine representation of the band’s career and is an excellent introduction to their career.

The Style Council begins and ends with Peter Weller. Weller is now 62 years old and remains one of the most respected musicians in English history. It is just about impossible for people in the United States to realize his popularity and musical impact in his home country.

Weller’s first band, The Jam, was one of the most popular and commercially successful of the English punk rock bands 1976-1982. He formed the Style Council in 1983 with keyboardist Mick Tolbot, formally of Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

The Style Council allowed Weller to move beyond the confines of punk music. He explored, jazz, pop, soul, and folk. His vocals took on new textures and the music was smoother. It was the lyrics that retained some of his punk roots. They were socially conscious and had an anger and bite to them. They were also tied to the band’s English roots, which may have prevented them from having a larger commercial appeal in the USA and in some ways ties the band to their era.

This release proves what a fine band the Style Council was through out their career. If you are looking for just the highlights, then this CD is it. Their American hit “My Ever Changing Mood,” “Why I Went Missing,” “Walls Come Tumbling Down,” “Life At The Top People’s Heath Farm,” “Ghosts Of Dachau,” and a bevy of others all exemplify the best of British post punk and mod music.

It is a straight forward release with few surprises. An extended “Dropping Bombs On The White House” and a string-laden “My Ever Changing Moods” are the only significant additions.

Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council introduces their music to a new generation or two. There may not be a lot of new revelations but the old ground is covered very well.

Rating: ****

 

The Parade By The Greg Sover Band

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The Parade

Greg Sover Band

Grounder Soul Music 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

The Greg Sover Band may not be a household name but he and his band have consistently produced a solid brand of blues/rock titled. They have now returned with a six song album featuring five originals songs and a nice cover of Cream’s “Politician” titled The Parade.

Their sound is fueled by Sover’s guitar mastery. His creativity comes in flurries and then he returns to the melody. He is supported by his basic band of guitarist Allen James, bassist Garry Lee, and drummer Tom Walling. He adds a harp and keyboards at times to fill in the sound.

Except for “Never To Late” written for Sover’s late mother; the pretty much take no prisoners. They may not expand the blues into any new ground but they cover the old very well. Sover is experienced enough to know who he is and is able to be very creative within the confines of his style.

The Greg Sover Band is still a work in progress but as a band they are in a good place. There music is very listenable and will keep your attention with repeated listens and at times that is more than enough.

Rating: ***

Morrison Hotel: 50th Anniversary Deluxe CD By The Doors

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Morrison Hotel: 50th Anniversary Deluxe CD

The Doors

Electra 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Morrison Hotel ranks as my second favorite Doors album, settling in between L.A. Woman and their classic debut featuring “Light My Fire.” It has now reached the half-century mark and was recently reissued with a second disc of outtakes.

The A side of the original vinyl release was perfect. “Roadhouse Blues,” “Waiting For The Sun,” “You Make Me Real,” “Peace Frog.” “Blue Sunday,” and “Ship Of Fools,” were a return to their Doors blues/rock roots and is just about perfection. The rest of the songs are more hit and miss with “Queen Of The Highway” and “Maggie McGill” being  the best of the rest.

The sound is crystal clear but so were several other reissues of this album. The original lineup of material is more of a reminder of the brilliance of this release.

The second disc is one of those “for the person who must have everything by the band.” An example is the nine takes of “Queen Of The Highway.” It is always interesting to follow how a song was developed but how many times will someone actually listen to these tracks.

The two stand alone tracks are the classic “Money (That’s What I Want)” and Muddy Waters “Rock Me Baby.” While neither enhance the Doors legacy, they do fill in some gapes for the completest.

If you don’t have a modern version of the album them this will be a good purchase. It is music that has aged well with the passage of timeand as such presents the enduring quality of the Doors music. In a way familiarity takes away from some of the impact but it still remains a strong release.

Rating: ****

Blues With Friends By Dion

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Blues With Friends

Dion

KTBA Records 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Who knew?

Dion Francis DiMucci is part of a vanishing breed. At the age of 80, he is a first generation rock and roller. As a solo artist artist and the lead singer of Dion & The Belmonts, he produced such hits as “The Wanderer,” “A Teenager In Love,” and “Runaround Sue,” which led to his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Dion has re-invented himself a number ot times since his early stardom. He was a folk singer in the late 1960’s and produced Christian music in the 1980’s. During the 1990’s, he reurned to rock and roll and during the last decade, he has turned to the blues.

His latest release, Blues For Friends, is one of the better albums of the year and his career. It is not an album of blues covers but of original compositions. He has also surrounded himself with friends and what a line-up it is. Joe Bonamassa, Rory Block, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Setzer, Jeff Beck, Samantha Fish, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, and more all lend a hand on a song or two. Through it all however, it remains a Dion album. He does not allow anyone to steal the spotlight but meets each as an equal.

“Blues Comin’ On” with Joe Bonamassa providing the guitar pyrotechnics, kicks off the album and establishes the tone of what will follow. Billy Gibbons continues the guitar support on “Bang Bang Boom.” The most inventive track is “Told You Once In August” with the double slide guitars of Rory Block and John Hammond on the left and right channels.

Vocalists such as Van Morrison (“I Ain’t Got Nothin'”), Patti Scialfa (“Hymn To Her”), and Paul Simon (“Song For Sam Cooke”) all bring different elements to the material.

Dion’s voice remains intact and while his guitar work will never equal many of his guests, it does not have to in the context of this release. It his his work as a composer that is surprising as the songs are well constructed and fit the blues well.

Blues With Friends is one of those releases that is a welcome surprise as it contains memorable music. For Dion, at the age of 80, who knew?

Rating: ****

 

If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good At It By Mick Kolassa

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If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good At It

Mick Kolassa

Endless Blues 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Somewhere in the distant past, a Mick Kolassa album was one of my first reviews. That was over 2000 reviews ago. I don’t remember ever hearing a poor or even average Mick Kolasa album. His releases have been universally excellent and each has had a distinct flavor to it. His newest release, If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good At It follows in that tradition.

As with just about all artists, the Covid-19 virus has kept him off the road. Mick Kolassa filled that idle time by going into the studio and recording a new album, comprised of nine original and two cover tunes. 

He uses his blues roots as a center for his music and then expands it into several styles and directions. “I Can’t Help Myself” imoves in a soulful direction and is a rare love song from Kolassa. He plumbs the depths of James Taylor’s catalogue for “Lo And Behold,” which he takes in a harder direction.

“Good Day For The Blues” and “Slow And Easy Love” are what he does best and form  the heart and soul of the album. They are slow blues pieces that tell simple stories. His cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” is his nod toward the era of classic blues.

The music is fuller than many of his albums as he has a full band behind him and gives the music a little more bite than usual. 

If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good At It  is a fine addition to Mick Kolassa’s body of music. It bears repeated listens as it sinks into the consciousness. 

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

Ain’t Done Yet By Savoy Brown

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Ain’t Done Yet

Savoy Brown

Quarto Valley 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Kim Simmonds formed Savoy Brown in 1965. While there have been numerous personal changes, 55 years later the band is still producing their brand of British electric blues. Ain’t Done Yet is the 41st album issued by the band.

After 5 and a half decades Savoy Brown are who they are. Their brand of straight-ahead British blues has not changed much through the years. The songs are well constructed, and the melodies provide room for Simmonds guitar excursions.

The only change in the band’s approach is the increasing simplicity of the music. Pat DeSalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums) have been with the band and since 2009 and form two-thirds of the first power trio in the band’s history. Their continued presence has also given the band an important stability that has been missing many times in Savoy Brown’s history.

Their new album is a solid album. “All Gone Wrong” leads off the album in typical fashion. A thumping rhythm section, an established melody, and a guitar solo all add up to a typical introduction to the band’s music.

“River On The Rise” is a nice acoustic piece with a slide guitar dominating the track. It is a nice interlude between the more traditional blues songs. “Borrowed Time” is a track that lyrically fits Simmonds and the band’s age. It looks ahead to the end of things and philosophically fits where Simmonds music is in life.

“Jaguar Car” is an entertaining and fun track. Early in the band’s career, they toured with John Lee Hooker, and this track channels the old bluesman. It is a boogie piece and even includes some harp work by Simmonds.

“Crying Guitar” closes the album with an instrumental. It is a slow and smoldering blues piece and is a nice counterpoint to what precedes it.

Ain’t Done Yet is a solid album that will please their fan base and followers of the British blues scene. While it may not explore any new ground, it does cover the old quite nicely.

Rating: ***1/2

Rock This Town: From L.A. To London By The Stray Cats

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Rock This Town: From L.A. To London

Stray Cats

Surf Dog 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

The Stray Cats burst upon the music scene in 1979 with a modernized late 1950’s rockabilly sound. Their signature song, “Rock This Town,” was named by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as one of the songs that helped shape rock and roll. Brian Setzer, Les Rocker, and Slim Jim Phantom have since split and reunited a number of times.

Their latest reunion was for their 40th anniversary. They issued a new studio album and set out on a world tour. They have just released a new live album, Rock This Town: From L.A. To London,  recorded from various concerts on their tour.

The band has retained its energy, which is necessary as their songs tend to be brief blasts of sound. While Setzer has experimented with other styles as a solo artist; when with the Stray Cars it is a stripped down rockabilly sound.

The album’s 23 tracks are a combination of the old and new plus one excellent instrumental cover of the surf classic “Misilou.”

The well-known songs retain their original flavor with only a little updating. “Rock This Town,” “Stray Cat Strut,” “(She’s) Sexy + 17,” and Built For Speed” are instantly recognizable as they are presented in classic form. They do not stray from the original studio recordings very much but it is their energy that keeps the material relevant.

Their newer material plus one new song, “Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me)” and some forays into their lesser known material keep the album from being just a greatest hits re-hash.

While I prefer complete concerts, Rock This Town: From L.A. To London presents a complete introduction to the bands past and present.

After four decades, The Stray Cats are who they are and on this live recording, that is more than enough.

Rating: ****

Heart On The Line By Vanessa Collier

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Heart On The Line

Vanessa Collier

Phenix Fire Records 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Vanessa Collier is a very competent songwriter and singer, but as a saxophonist, she is one of the best working today. Her music is rooted in the blues, but also incorporates some jazz and pop. Her newest release is titled Heart On The Line.

Collier has won The Blues Music Award for Horn Player Of The Year two years in a row. She has a light touch and  does not overwhelm her instrument but rather relies on smooth, melodic runs.

While her songs have a variety of styles; her approach has a sameness. She usually starts out singing and then switches to the saxophone to drive the song home. This approach serves her well on her original compositions such as “What Makes You Beautiful,” “Bloodhound,” “Weep And Moon,” and “Freshly Squozen.”

This is Collier’s third release and she has settled into a comfortable groove that combines passion and smoothness into a nice blues mix. Listening to Heart On The Line is a good way to spend some time.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Bringing The Blues By Gravel & Grace

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Bringing The Blues

Gravel & Grace

Ava Grace Records 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Gravel & Grace produces an excellent brand of smooth modern day blues with a little rhythm & blues thrown in for good measure. It is the make-up of the band that is unique.

Ava Grace is a singer/keyboardist, who has been playing live since the age of 14. Vocalist Big Earl Mathew is a 20 year veteran of the blues music scene, as is the supporting five man band. It is an odd combination but the now 18 year old Grace fits the band well as she possesses one of those voices that is crystal clear and can both soar and purr as needed. Her keyboards help create the bands sound. On the other hand, Matthews has a gritty vocal style that has fit the blues for two decades.

Their self-titled debut album was released May 15. It consists of nine originals and one cover. Ava Grace and Earl Matthews tend to trade lead vocals. While their voices are very different, they provide a good mixture of styles that does not grow stale.

Two Grace songs combine her voice with sax interludes. “Scares Me” and the slow blues number “Not About A Boy” highlight her vocal ability and are solid blues. She gives a very soulful rendition of Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain.”

Earl Matthews songs are very different in style and content. His voice is the gravel of the band, plus they tend to be more personal.

Gravel & Grace is an interesting mix of different elements that all comes together in an excellent modern day blues album.

Rating: ***

 

 

Rough And Rowdy Ways By Bob Dylan

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Rough And Rowdy Ways

Bob Dylan

Columbia 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Every time Bob Dylan starts to slip from my musical consciousness, he returns with an album of music that reminds me why he has been one of the most influential and important musicians of the last half-century. He has just released his 39th studio album; 58 years since his first. It is also his first album of all new original material in eight years.

Rough And Rowdy Ways takes its place as one of the stronger albums of his career. Filled with the kind of imagery that only Dylan can create, and in some places only he can easily understand, he examines the world around him. There are also elements that are the product of his age. He is now one year shy of 80 years old, which have created thoughts and words that reflect upon his mortality.

The epic of the release is the 16 minute and 54 second opus “Murder Most Foul.” It is a historical examination of the death of JFK within the context of American history and music. It is a song with many layers that will bring rewards with each listen.

The years are piling up for Mr. Dylan and “Crossing The Rubicon” and “Key West (Philosophical Pirate)” are his reflections on the process of aging and what comes next.

Dylan has always been connected to the present and “Black Rider” looks at the virus laden world of today, while “False Prophets” approaches the present from a different perspective.

Except for a peppy tribute to Jimmy Reed; the music is slow 12-bar blues. The backing is very simple this time around with guitars and a basic rhythm section, which keeps the emphasis on the words and messages.

Rough And Rowdy Ways is an unexpected achievement from the 79 year old Dylan. It is his statement that he remains one of music’s best and thought provoking artists.

 

Rating: ****1/2