Ape Shifter (CD) By Ape Shifter

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Ape Shifter

Ape Shifter

Brainstorm Records

Review by David Bowling

 

Jeff Aug is not a name you might recognize. He is a Washington D.C. born guitarist who has lived the last 20 years in southern Germany. He has floated in and out of a number of bands, and as a solo artist has toured with such artists as Soft Machine, Johnny A, and Albert Lee. Also of interest is he holds the Guinness Book Of World Record for the most concerts performed on different continents within a 24 hour period.

His new band, Ape Shifter, is a basic progressive rock band with Aug as the guitarist with bassist Florian Walter, and drummer Kurty Munch. Their self-titled debut album is all instrumental, carried and fronted by Aug’s excursions with his guitar.

This is the edgiest music Aug has produced. He has issued three rock and one punk album with his former bands, plus eight acoustic albums. Now he has cranked up the sound and intensity and immersed himself in the world of progressive rock.

“Dead Tuna Boogie,” “Ratchet Attack,” “Desert Rock,” and “Brain-O-Mat” are solid and contain enough room for Aug to improvise over the tight rhythm section. A good listen for any fan of the sound and style.

Rating: ***

Relax Your Mind (CD Reissue) By Jim Kweskin

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Relax Your Mind

Jim Kweskin

Real Gone Music 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jim Kweskin and His Jug Band was a seminal band during the 1960’s folk revival. Unblushing Brassiness (1963), Jug Band Music (1965), and Jim Kweskin And The Jug Band (1966) were all creative and unique approaches to the folk music idiom. The band also represented the lighter and fun side of folk music.

Kweskin took a time out from the band in 1966 to release the solo album Relax Your Mind. The music was in the same vein, and several of his bandmates were present, but it was less focused and cohesive. In retrospect it seems like an album of songs that Kweskin wanted to play and record that may not have been exactly right for his band.

There are two live tracks from a performance at Club 47 in Cambridge. “I Got Mine” and “Buffalo Skinners” not only show the technical proficiency and creative nature of Kweskin but also the goofiness that made his sound an important part of the folk movement.

The studio material has a simple and raw sound and has a jam-like feel to it. Kweskin has always been an under rated guitarist but it it Jug Band harmonica player Mel Lyman who steals the instrumental show.

The material comes from a number of sources. “Bye and Bye” is an old Southern gospel song that Kweskin interprets from a folk perspective. “Guabi Guabi” is an African folk song that undergoes an Americanization. “Eight More Miles To Louisville” is an old country song made famous by Grandpa Jones and shows how adept Kweskin was at adapting material to his own brand of folk music.

Two classic blues tunes make an appearance. Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle” and Ledbelly’s “Relax You Mind” are Kweskin exploring a distinctly American art form. It is the opening track; “A Look At The Ragtime Era (Sister Katie’s Night Out): I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister” that is a career thesis statement for Kweskin, both as a solo artist and band leader.

Relax Your Mind is an often overlooked album in the journey of Jim Kweskin and of 1960’s folk music. It is not your usual folk music album, which makes it interesting and a necessary listening experience for any fan of the era.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Snake Farm (CD) By Beth Garner

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Snake Farm

Beth Garner

CEN 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Next week Beth Garner will return with her new album Snake Farm. It is a tight seven track release with six original songs, plus the title song cover of “Snake Eyes” by Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Garner has a wonderfully soulful voice that provides a firm foundation for her blues sound. She is an adept traditional blues guitarist, who really shines when playing in a slide guitar style.

Recorded just about live in the studio, she rolls through a program of modern days electric blues that moves in a rock and roll direction at times. “Wish I Was” is a three chord jam-fest that proves the blues don’t have to be serious all the time. “Used To Be” is a shuffle-style song about aging. Her take on the title track returns the song to its gritty roots.

Garner is one of those musicians who is constantly on the road plying her chosen trade in small clubs coast to coast. In many ways, she represents the way the blues should be played and heard.

 

Rating” ***

A Song I Can Live With (CD) By Chip Taylor

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A Song I Can Live With

Chip Taylor

Train Wreck Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Chip Taylor may be an artist you may not have heard of but he is an artist you probably have heard.

He is one of the latest inductees into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. His career has now reached the 60 year mark as it stretches back to his big 1960’s hit by the Troggs, “Wild Thing. Hundreds of songs have followed that have spread out into rock, country, and folk. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Dusty Spring, and Frank Sinatra are just a few of the artists who have recorded his songs.

He has also been a consistent presence in the studio; producing consistent, melodic, and lyrically incisive music. His solo albums tend to be laid back affairs that are comfortable in a country of folk music setting.

His newest release, A Song I Can Live With, is a lot lighter than his recent releases. He used a stream of consciousness approach in the creation of the songs. Songs such as “Crazy Girl,” “New York In Between,” “Save Your Blues And Your Money,” and “Little Angel Wings,”

 

The Complete Liberty Singles By Gary Lewis & The Playboys

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The Complete Liberty Singles

Gary Lewis & The Playboys

Real Gone Music 2009

Review by David Bowling

 

Sometimes I can’t remember my wife’s birthday yet I can remember Gary Lewis & The Playboys playing “This Diamond Ring” on The Ed Sullivan Show way back in 1964.

Gary Lewis is the son of legendary comedian and actor Jerry Lewis and his group was discovered playing at Disneyland by producer Snuff Garrett. They would go on to create a string of hits that may not have been essential to the history of rock ‘n’ roll but they were extremely catchy and pleasant nonetheless; plus, they were tremendously popular, selling millions of copies. And they still put a smile on my face over forty years later.

Collector’s Choice has just released The Complete Liberty Singles by Gary Lewis & The Playboys. This two disc, 45-track set contains all of the group’s singles — both the A and B sides — plus a couple of unreleased songs.

While they would release a number of albums, they were at heart a singles band. Their LPs would basically contain a couple of their hits surrounded by a bunch of cover songs. They sold quite a few albums with this formula, but the singles remain their superior recordings.

Having Jerry Lewis as your father didn’t hurt as they were able to debut their first ever recording on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of tens of millions of people. The recorded version actually featured some of the best studio musicians of the day, including drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Leon Russell, who would become a fixture in the studio. Who played on the song didn’t necessarily matter, though, as “This Diamond Ring” hit Number One on the American charts and made stars of the group.

They would become mainstays on the charts, sharing radio time with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. Top twenty hits such as “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart For Me,” “Everybody Loves A Clown,” “She’s Just My Style,” “Sure Gonna Miss Her,” “Green Grass,” “(You Don’t Have To) Paint Me A Picture,” and “My Heart’s Symphony” still provide a nice if simple look at the innocent side of rock ‘n’ roll during the sixties.

I rarely remember the flip side of old singles unless they are excellent in themselves or memorable in some other way. While Gary Lewis had a couple of B sides that could have been hits, “Without A Word Of Warning” and particularly the 60’s surf and drag piece, “Little Miss Go-Go;” a number of these songs were so bad or so odd that they remain in my memory banks. “Tijuana Wedding” would appear a number of times but under different titles. Gary Lewis sang like his father on “Time Stands Still” and “Looking For The Stars” came complete with celebrity impersonations. And then there is the famous cut, “I Saw Elvis Presley Last Night.” One can only hope that they made some money for all concerned.

No Gary Lewis compilation would be complete without “Doin’ The Flake.” In 1965 Kellogg’s cereal issued an EP consisting of “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In” and a new song recorded just for them entitled “Doin’ The Flake.” All you had to do was send two box tops and 25 cents to Battle Creek, Michigan and a couple of months later the record would arrive at your door. My copy still resides in my record collection.

Gary Lewis entered the service in 1967 and though he managed to record a few songs while on leave, by 1969 his hit-making career was finished. Today he tours on the oldies circuit.

Gary Lewis & The Playboys are a nice stop in the history of sixties pop fare and The Complete Liberty Singles cover the length and breadth of their career well. Their music may not be as sophisticated as brain surgery but it remains a lot of fun.

Rating: ***1/2

Love Me By Name (Expanded CD) By Lesley Gore

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Love Me By Name (Expanded CD Reissue)

Lesley Gore

Real Gone Music 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Lesley Gore, (1946-2015), was a teen idol during the 1960’s. Beginning in 1963 at the age of 16, she placed close to 20 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Songs such as the number one “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” “She’s A Fool,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “California Nights” taped into teen angst, love, and life. By the end of the decade her commercial peak was past and she moved on to writing, acting, and appearing on the oldies circuit.

She recorded nine studio albums 1963-1967, but only four more during the next 48 years. Love Me By Name reunited her with producer Quincy Jones. It was an attempt to take her career in an adult direction and for the most part it succeeds.

Love Me By Name is an impeccably produced and recorded album of music. What adds to the interest is the fact Gore co-wrote all 12 of the tracks.

The styles move in a number of directions. “Immortality: is probably the album’s best track. It is a smooth pop song that updates her teen sound. The single version of the song is included as a bonus track. A little longer than the album track, it was re-imagined for the mid-1970’s dance floor.

“Paranoia” allows her to travel in a rock and roll direction for one of the few times in her career. It is a dark piece complete with blazing guitars. “Can’t Seem To Live Our Good Times Down” moves in a completely different direction. It is an easy-listening pop extravaganza with strings, brass, and background vocals. “Along The Way” falls into the light jazz category thanks to the harmonica play of Toots Thielmans.

Love Me By Name is a versatile and satisfying album that deserved a better commercial fate. It is proof that Lesley Gore created good music after her teen years were past.

 

Rating: ***

Death’s Dateless Night (CD) By Paul Kelly & Charlie Owen

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Death’s Dateless Night

Paul Kelly & Charlie Owens

Cooking Vinyl 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Paul Kelly has been a superstar in his native Australia for several decades. He has produces numerous albums of reflective and cerebral pop/rock. He is also known for his creative approaches to presenting his music. A little over a decade ago he embarked on a series of concerts where he sang his original song catalogue in alphabetical order. He followed it with an eight disc CD set containing the songs in the same order. Early last hear he created an album of music using the love sonnets of Shakespeare as the lyrics.

Charlie Owens has been an Australian instrumental mainstay. His work with several bands and as an in-demand session musician has kept him in the public eye. Now he has joined Kelly in the creation of an album with a very unique theme.

There are concept albums and then there are concept albums. Death’s Dateless Night is an album of songs that they have performed at funerals.

The music is basic and for the most part acoustic. It is usually Owns on piano, dobro, or pedal steel and Kelly on guitar and vocals. The song-selection is more philosophical than depressing. Well known tunes such as Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire,” Lennon/McCartney’s “Let It Be,” and Townes Van Zandt’s “”To Live Is To Fly” are given simple renditions.

It is the less-known songs that make the biggest impact. The traditional and century old “Pallet On The Floor” and the near acapella Irish song “The Parting Glass” are stunning despite their simplicity. “Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air” is one of two original compositions that uses the 23rd Psalm as a jumping off place. The album concludes with Hank Williams’ “Angel of Death.”

Paul Kelly and Charlie Owens have managed to make the concept of death both interesting and listenable. Death’s Dateless Night is another interesting career stop for Paul Kelly. Funerals have never been so interesting or entertaining.

 

Rating: ****

I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know (CD + DVD) By David “Honeyboy” Edwards

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I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know (CD + DVD)

David “Honeyboy” Edwards

Omnivore Recordings 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

David “Honeyboy” Edwards, (1915-2011), may have been the last of the original Delta Bluesmen. He was born in Shaw, Mississippi, in 1915, and left home at the age of 14 to play the blues. He traveled with Robert Johnson for a number of years and was present when he drank poisoned liquor. He continued to perform until his death at the age of 96.

Omnivore Recordings has now released his last recorded concert as a two-disc DVD and CD set. At 95 years of age, Honeyboy performed a nine song set at the G Spot in Los Angeles, September 4, 2010. Backed by Jeff Dale & The South Woodlawners, he gave one of the last authentic concerts of the Delta Blues.

The CD and DVD contain the same material with two notable exceptions. The CD contains an extra band version of ‘That’s Alright.” The DVD includes twenty minutes of Edwards telling stories about music, Johnson, Charley Patton, and more.

The recording equipment was modern day, so the sound and video quality are excellent. The performance was filmed for release, so it has a cohesive feel. His song-set is a mix of originals and covers that span the decades. The backing band is capable and is wise enough to stay out of his way, although by just being there they lesson the primitive aspect of his original music a bit.

Edwards was 95 years old at the time of the performance and his voice, while not as powerful as in his prime, remains effective. His guitar technique is still evident and the film pays some attention to this part of his legacy.

“Ride With Me Tonight,” “Little Boy Blue,” “Catfish Blues,” and “Sweet Home Chicago” are stripped to their essence. While Edwards may need a little more help than in the past, his roots are still on display.

I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know is about as modern as Honeyboy Edwards ever gets. It is an album for people who long for music from a different and now by-gone time.

 

Rating: ****

50 Years With Peter, Paul & Mary (DVD) By Peter, Paul & Mary

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50 Years With Peter, Paul & Mary (DVD)

Peter, Paul & Mary

MVD Visual 2016

Review by David Bowing

 

Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers, better known as Peter, Paul & Mary, sold tens-of-millions of records during the early 1960’s pre-Beatles era and enjoyed a career that lasted until Mary’s death in 2009.

The trio formed in 1961 and they quickly became an important part of the folk revival movement. Their smooth style helped to make folk music a part of the American musical consciousness. Their early hits, “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” introduced Bob Dylan to the American public.

50 Years With Peter, Paul & Mary is a retrospective of their career as seen through concert footage, news clips, and interviews. Most of their well-known songs are presented. There is early footage from a long-lost BBC program, the famous performance of “Blowin’ In The Wind” at the 1965 Martin Luther King march on Washington, the poignant farewell to Mary Travers nostalgic memorial, and everything in between.

They are forever linked with the Civil Rights and Anti-War movement. Today their songs such as “Puff (The Magic Dragon),” “If I Had A Hammer,” “Leavin’ On A Jet Plane,” and “Stewball” may seem a little quaint and may have lost some of their impact but they are a reminder of a simpler era of the early 1960’s that quickly changed to a far more complicated one by the end of the decade.

The video and sound tend to of varying quality depending upon the date and whether it was originally meant for general release.  Everything has been cleaned up as much as modern technology allows but much of it is still not up to the standards of the day.

There are probably better instructions to their music such as any of their compilation releases or any 0f their early 1960 albums. However, if you want to understand their career, then 50 Years With Peter, Paul And Mary is a good place to start.

Rating: ***

High On The Hog (CD) By The Band

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High On The Hog

The Band

Rhino 1996

Review by David Bowling

 

High On The Hog was the second LP released by the post Robbie Robertson incarnation of The Band. While there are some pleasant moments, it would prove to be the weakest of their three late career albums.

The Band members would only write two original songs for this release and so would again cover other artist’s material to create the bulk of this album. Unfortunately, their choice of material would not be as wise as on their previous release, Jericho.

Robbie Robertson’s solo work would range from average to very good but would not be as critically acclaimed or commercially successful as his early work with them. Likewise Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko would emerge as an excellent cover band but would suffer from the lack of Robertson’s writing expertise. I have come to believe that Robertson was a better songwriter in a group setting, but he and The Band would never re-unite and rock music would be all the poorer for it.

There were some very nice highlights to High On The Hog. “Back To Memphis” is a nice bluesy song and features a virtual wall of sound by Garth Hudson. The J.J. Cale song, “Crazy Mama,” was another song taken in a blues direction but has a nice rocking sound to it as well. Cale’s writing style was a good match for The Band at this point in their career. “I Must Love You Too Much,” written by Bob Dylan, is ramped up into a full rock ‘n’ roll version. Rick Danko provides a gorgeous vocal on “Where I Should Always Be.”

There were also some not so good moments contained on this release. There is an abysmal version of “Forever Young” which was a tribute to Jerry Garcia. It is just off kilter and ultimately one of the more depressing renditions of this often recorded song. “She Knows,” with a vocal by the deceased Richard Manuel, is not really a Band song. It was Hudson, Danko, and Manuel in a more informal setting and it would have better served Manuel’s memory to have left it off the album. The old Bruce Channel song, “Stand Up,” was an odd choice and the two Band originals, “The High Price of Love” and “Ramble Jungle” are average.

High On The Hog  may be the weakest album in their catalogue. It would not end their career but certainly did not enhance it either. They would remain an excellent concert band selling out mid-level venues across the country.

Rating: **1/2