American Mojo (CD) By Robert Cline Jr.

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American Mojo

Robert Cline Jr.

Mockingbird Record 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

American Mojo is an album of an artist in search of self and song. It is also a chronicle of Robert Cline Jr.’s evolution as a songwriter and musician as he traveled throughout the United Stated being exposed and assimilating various styles and types of music.  What emerges is a traveling autobiography.

Cline’s music is taken from a number of genre’s but lands somewhere between roots and blues. Songs such as “Wichita Kansas,” “Leaving This Town,” “Pillar On My Pillow,” “Professional Guest,” and “The Boys From Muscle Shoals” explore faith, meeting his wife, playing music for a living, and just having a good time; all in story form.

Cline seems to be an artist who needs to be stimulated. It will be interesting to see what his next journey holds.

 

Rating: ***

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The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black (CD) By The Original Blues Brothers Band

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The Last Shade of Blue Before Black

The Original Blues Brothers Band

Severn Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Who knew? Almost 40 years ago the Blues Brothers film starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd was released to huge commercial success. The backing band was appropriately called The Blues Brothers band. Now, almost four decades later, The Original Blues Brothers Band, is still touring the world and has just released a new album titled The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black.

The Blues Brothers originally were and remain a band that plays the blues while having some fun along the way. That philosophy remains intact as guitarist Steve Cropper and sax player Lou Marine, along with their old band mates and assorted guests, romp through 14 tracks of original tunes and classic blues covers.

The original band was somewhat limited by Belushi and Ackroyd. Now, some of the best musicians working today are fronted by vocalists  such as Eddie Floyd and joe Louis Walker.

The band burns though Eddie Floyd’s original composition, highlighted by his vocals, “Don’t Forget About James Brown” and then morphs into the Paul Schaffer produced “Sex Machine.”

Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Do To Me,” Delbert McClinton’s “Cherry Street,” and Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” continue the band’s trend of introducing new listeners to the blues.

“You Left The Water Running” and the old rock classic “I Got My Mojo Working” plum the essence of the band. Basically recorded live, they are sprawling pieces that one can envision in a smoky bar late at night. The Lou Marini title track album ender is seven minutes of proving that the band is still relevant.

For those of use who were actually around in 1978 when the Blues Brothers debuted as a one-time skit on Saturday Night Live, it’s good to have them still around. And be sure to turn up the volume.

Rating: ****

 

Basics (CD) By Hamilton Loomis

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Basics

Hamilton Loomis

Ham-Bone Music 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Hamilton Loomis is another one of those musicians who floats under the radar. Years of touring and recording have honed his skills as a guitarist, songwriter, and performer. His latest release, Basics, is another album of solid blus and rock.

The album’s title signifies the approach on his latest release. He keeps it simple with a basic guitar, bass, and drums with a sax added here and there. The chord progressions are simple and the melodies memorable.

“Sugar Babe,” “Candles And Wine,” “Cloudy Day,” and “Come And Get Me” continue his use of short and incisive guitar solos with little wasted effort.

Basics is a solid release that will appeal to the ear, mind, and soul.

 

Rating: ***1/2

I Am The Cosmos (CD Expanded Version) By Chris Bell

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I Am The Cosmos (2-CD Expanded Reissue

Chris Bell

Rhino 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

Since Alex Chilton’s death, everything Big Star and everything associated with Big Star is being reissued. The latest entry in the Big Star sweepstakes is a two-disc expanded version of Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos.

Bell was a founding member of Big Star but left the band after their first release. His contributions helped establish the sound that made the band a cult favorite. His solo career came to an abrupt end in 1978 at the age of 27 when he died in motor vehicle accident.

Recently his pre-Big Star material was gathered together and issued as Looking Forward. It was a hit or miss affair of a young artist leaning his craft. I Am The Cosmos is a fully realized release. It finds Bell experimenting, not always successfully, and looking to the future, which never came. As such, it remains his best album and a treat for any fan of Bell or Big Star.

It is an album that moves in a number of directions. “Speed Of Sound,” “Get Away,” “I Don’t Know” and “I Got Kinda Lost” fit the Big Star sound and would have fit any of their albums. “You And Your Sister,” both the single version and the acoustic version find him moving in a different direction and show off his guitar work. The title track is a well thought out and mature recording of his thoughts at the time.

There are some misses but they are apart of a musician moving from a band setting to becoming a solo artist.

The second disc is comprised of 19 alternate versions of songs, unreleased material, and outtakes. It all holds together well and hints at what his musical future may have looked like.

Chris Bell remains an artist whose career was cut all too short. I Am The Cosmos is a look at his defining moment.

 

Rating:***1/2

Rhythmland (CD) By Dennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers

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Rhythmland

Dennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers

Root Tone Records

Review by David Bowling

 

I have a soft spot in my musical heart for slide guitarists. They are individualistic and each have their own unique sound.

One of the current leading proponents of the slide guitar style is Dennis Johnson, who with his backing band, The Mississippi Ramblers, has returned with their latest album Rhythmland.

What makes Johnson unique is while he has an easily identifiable sound, he is able to adapt it to a number of varied styles. Whether it be touches of folk, rock, roots, Americana, or straight blues, he is able to add his slide guitar sound over and through their rhythms. His approach is interesting in that he approaches a song from the basic rhythms and builds his leads from there.

Nine of the ten tracks are original and like any good blues artist they deal with life’s journeys through a story. The only non-original track is a unique interpretation of “Walkin’ Blues,” enhanced by his 12 string dobro. A counterpoint to that track is the laid-back acoustic performance on the jazz laden “My Love Is Here For You.”

Johnson is one of those master musicians who many times floats under the radar to all but a select few blues and slide guitar aficionados. He is also one of those guitarists who creates the illusion of playing the rhythm and lead parts on the same guitar.

Rhythmland is a creative piece of blues presented through the slide guitar sound. It is well worth exploring.

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

MVP (CD) By The Milligan Vaughan Project

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MVP

Milligan Vaughn Project

Mark One Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

It all starts in Texas, at least for the Milligan Vaughan Project. Vocalist Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan are Texans to their core and their joining together serves up a helping of dynamic rock and blues with their debut album MVP..

Milligan has a soulful voice and when it joins together with Vaughan’s guitar work, the sound emerges as a fusion of rock and blues.

The album was recorded in the studio except for the last two live tracks. “What Passes For Love” and the classic Freddy King song “Palace Of The King” represent the heart of their sound, which has been honed by constant touring.

They travel in a different direction with the ballad “Here I Am,” which is a nice counterpoint to their usual upfront, in your face approach.

MVP is a fine debit album from two music veterans who compliment each other well. Recommended for anypne who likes their modern days blues powerful and Texas style.

Rating: ***

 

To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond (2-CD Set) By Blackmore’s Night

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To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond

Blackmore’s Night

Minstrel Hall Of Fame 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Who could have guessed 20 years ago that Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would find love and happiness as a front man for a Renaissance/Rock fusion band, but here we are two decades later. He and partner Candice Night are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Blackmore’s Night with a 2-disc release titled To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond.

The first disc is basically a compilation of their better known material. To my ear, the mix on some of the songs appears different. The sound level on Blackmore’s acoustic work on the mandolin and guitar has been turned up and it shares equal billing with Night’s vocals. It allows the listener to hear just how intricate many of the songs are and how good a guitarist Blackmore is when everything is stripped to basics. There is also a 9 minute version of “Home Again’ that presents the  band at its best.

Disc two moves in a number of directions. They have re-imagined a number of their classic songs and “Writing On The Wall,” “Coming Home,” and particularly the bonus track “I Surrender” emerge as hard rock classics. They are more akin to Blackmore’s work with Rainbow with a female vocalist. While they are outside the usual norm for Blackmore’s Night; they are an interesting turn for the band.

Disc one is a fine introduction to their sound, while the second disc hints at possibly new directions.

Blackmore’s Night has carved a unique niche for itself. To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond brings  a period of their career to a close. Twenty years is a long journey in the world of music but it is one worth taking with the band.

Rating: ****

 

 

 

Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (CD) By Jan & Dean

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Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings

Jan & Dean

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jan & Dean are best remembered for their string of surf and car hits during the 1960’s. Jan Berry may not have had the extended musical vision of Brian Wilson, but in the studio he was able to combine the voices of the duo into a melodic choir. In concert they were unable to re-produce their soaring sounds of the studio, so they mixed comedy into their act.

In 1965 they owed the Liberty label one last album. Filet Of Soul was a mixture of live performances, comedy, and studio sound effects. The label promptly rejected it for release. A year later Jan Berry was involved in a car accident that virtually ended the duo’s career for over a decade. The label released Filet Of Soul three weeks after the accident to cash in on the Jan & Dean legacy. They removed the sound effects and most of the comedy. I was a big fan, but even I knew the album was terrible.

Now 52 years later, Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings has returned in all its fake crowd noises, studio sounds, and some of the lamest comedy ever to grace an album. And yes, it is still terrible but at least for the hard core fan, it is a slice of the 1960’s that mercifully, in this case, will not be revisited.

The best past of the release are the liner notes by Dean Torrence. He gives a full history as to the why of the music. One other strong feature was the backing band on the true live performances. They are all introduced, so I assume they were actually present. The brass section is excellent but how Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame drummer Hal Blaine got involved in all of this is beyond me.

The listener quickly learns that the duo should not sing The Everly Brothers (“Cathy’s Clown”) or the Beatles (“Michelle” and “Norwegian Wood”) and can’t sing many of the hits of the day (“Lightning Strikes” and “Hang On Sloopy”).

The truncated original release was in many ways not their fault but this one was intentional. It is a release only for the hard care fan. If you want their best and most enjoyable, seek out their greatest hits compilation.

Rating: *

Looking Forward (CD) By Chris Bell

Looking Forward

Chris Bell

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Since the death of Alex Chilton, everything Big Star and anything associated with the band has been or is being released. Latest in the Big Star sweepstakes is Looking Forward by Chris Bell.

Chris Bell’s time with the band was short. He contributed to their terrific debut album #1 Record. His solo career showed promise but he was killed in a car accident in 1978 at the age of 27, leaving him as a “what if” of rock music.

Looking Forward gathers together his unreleased and rarely found pre-Big Star material. His participation in bands such as Rock City, Icewater, and the Wallabys explore his development and thus the roots of Big Star.

Seventeen of the 22 tracks are finished, well-recorded songs by the aforementioned bands. They may sound a bit primitive by today’s standards but Bell’s melodic approach and tight harmonies are present.

The best tracks are from his time with Rock City. The ten tracks have a cohesive feel and should have been placed chronologically on the CD. “The Wind Will Cry For Me,” “I Lost A Love,” “The Answer,” and “Think It’s Time To Say Goodbye” are fairly mature and have a finished feel.  The six Icewater and Wallabys contributions find him not as settled and travelling in a number of directions, including several bluesy vocals.

Bell never really enjoyed any large commercial success during his lifetime. While his post-Big Star material is more polished and focused; Looking Forward is an eclectic look at his early career and is well worth a listen.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Approved By Snakes (CD) By Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind

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Approved By Snakes

Jason Ricci & Bad Kind

EllerSoul Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jason Ricci is one of the best harmonica players working today, period. Backed by his band, Bad Kind, he has just released his 11th album Approved By Snakes.

It is not an album for the faint hearted. “My True Love Is A Dope Whore,” “Something Just Arrived,” “Demon Lover,” Terrors Of Night Life,” and “Got Cleaned Up” deal with drugs, the seediness, sexuality, and the darker side of life. His gritty voice compliments the explicit lyrics as he communicates his messages.

Still, any Jason Ricci album revolves around his harp. He and guitarist John Lisi are able to play off of each other and their music comes across as more of a jam band approach.

Ricci’s albums are always musically interesting and creative but many times they have an uncomfortable element to them. Recommended but hold on.

Rating: ***1/2