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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

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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 her.er, she has issued an entertaining album comprised of songs that have meaning to her.

Mood Swings By Andy Peake

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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

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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

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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

Latest Record Project By Van Morrison

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Van Morrison

Latest Record Project

Van Morrison,

BMG 2021

Review by David Bowling

Van Morrison has turned 75 years old, and his career is nearing the 60-year mark. He began as a gritty rocker with the group Them, producing such songs as “Here Comes The Night,” “Mystic Eyes,” and “Gloria.” His solo career began with the pop hit “Brown Eyed Girl” and he produced a number of classic albums including Astral Weeks, Moondance, Saint Dominics Preview, and Wavelength. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, a mystical element began to invade his music followed closely by rich poetry.

Latest Record Project is his 43rd studio release and fifth in the last four years. It is an album that reflects his age and as such may be a difficult release for a many of his fans.

Many of the 28 songs have a schizophrenic nature. The lyrics and music are at odds with each other. The music retains the melodic nature of his past work, while the lyrics put forward his beliefs and philosophy at age 75. Songs such as “Why Are You On Facebook,” “They Own The Media,” and “Western Man” run counter to the political beliefs of a large segment of the population in this country.

There are some worthwhile songs, but at 28 tracks, you really have to dig deep. “Only A Song” is a light-hearted relief after what has preceded it. “A Few Bars Early” is a blues track where Van Morrison really seems to be trying. “Duper’s Delight,” at close to six minutes, is probably the best track as Van Morrison relies on the imagery, he is famous for.

On the positive side, his voice has aged well, and the band is tight, but it is not enough to save the flow of the album. In many places he just comes across as an unlikeable old man, which in his case is sad.

Rating: **

Vol. 2 By The New Moon Freedom Rockers

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Vol. 2

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers

Stony Plain 2021

Review by David Bowling

The New Moon Jelly Roll Rockers are a long lost and brief super group consisting of Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathis, the late Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, and Cody Dickinson.  During 2007, they gathered at Jim Dickinson’s ranch. They just sat in a circle and played and sang into microphones set in front of each person. Two albums worth of material was recorded at these casual sessions. The tapes were lost for over a decade, mainly due to Jim Dickinson’s passing.

I reviewed the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers first volume last year. Now Volume 2 has been released. Many times, a second volume of music from the same sessions is inferior because the better material has already been released.  This is a rare occasion when the second volume is better than the first.

First, the material fluctuates between classic blues and rock and roll, and even an old jazz piece. They all benefit from the simple approach of the band. Second, the sound is surprisingly good for the type of recoding session as each voice and instrument is distinct.

Three rock songs are transformed in a blues direction. Charlie Musselwhite’s “Black Water” and “Blues For Yesterday,” plus Doug Sahm’s “She’s About A Mover” highlight The album as the songs take on new structures far from their rock roots.

Classic Blues is well represented. Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand To See You Go,” Junior Wells “Messin’ With The Kid,” and The Mississippi Shieks “Blues Is A Mighty Bad Feeling” may have a modern sheen but at their foundation, they are straight from the Southern Delta.

Charlie Mingus’ “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me” may be a little weird but it is also a lot of fun.

 The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers have issued an album of very listenable blues. It is not an overly ambitious affair, which is part of its charm.

Rating: ***1/2

My Savior By Carrie Underwood

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My Savior

Carrie Underwood

Capital Nashville 2021

Review by David Bowling

Carrie Underwood is one of the most commercially successful country singers working today. Her voice has a power and clarity that very few singers have had. Every once in a while she strays from a country sound, which brings us to My Savior, which is a full fledged gospel album.

Her voice is beautiful, the song selection is excellent, and the production impeccable. My only issue with the album, and I have said this about her several times before, is that every once in a while she is too perfect. This tends to happen when she strays away from country music.

If there is such a thing as pop/gospel, this is it. The purity of her voice is stunning but in some ways it hurts the passion that makes gospel music work. Gospel music is not necessarily pretty and that is what Carrie Underwood is all about. The difference is shown with her duet with CeCe Winans on the old hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Carrie sings it and CeCe believes it.

All that aside, it is a very listenable album. “Blessed Assurance,” “Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus,” “Just As I Am,” and “Because He Lives” all succumb to her pop perfection. The closest she comes to a traditional gospel sound is “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace,” which is a song made for her approach.

My Savior is a well-intentioned album that will no doubt please her huge fan base. If one approaches it as a pop album of gospel covers, you won’t be disappointed. If you want true gospel music, there are better places to start.

Rating: ***

The Ghost Light By Bob Bradshaw

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Bob Bradshaw

The Ghost Light

Bob Bradshaw

Fluke Records

Review by David Bowling

Bob Bradshaw is one of the more interesting artists working today. While his songs have a subtle melodic quality and his voice is a very good instrument; is is his talent as a song writer that shines through his music and ultimately provides its foundation.

His lyrics have a precise nature. They are focused and have simple characters and well-developed visions. The stories are not of the spectacular type but are more of a philosophical nature that draw you in and help you to add your own thoughts and dreams to them.

“Dreams is representative of his work. Simple instrumentation combine with his straight ahead vocals. The song meanders along as the lyrics gradually create the story. “In The Dark,” “Light Of The Moon,” and “Gone” continue in this vein of creating low-key, yet entertaining music.

Bradshaw began his life and early career as a journalist in Ireland but it has been his time in the united states that has defined his music. His approach reaches out in a number of directions but can best be described as Americana with a number of the tunes have country and folk elements.

Whether it be the Latin influences of “Sideways,” the nostalgic “She’s Gone For Good,” or the light-hearted “Songs On The Radio;” The Ghost Light is a nice look into the mind and heart of Bob Bradshaw. A good way to spend some quiet time.

Rating ***1/2

The Lucky Ones By Pentatonix

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The Lucky Ones

Pentatonix

RCA 2021

Review by David Bowling

Back in the day, NBC had a television show titled The Sing Off. The winner of season three was the acapella group Pentatonix. They have gone on to sell tens-of-millions of albums and tour constantly for almost a decade. They are arguably one of the most popular and successful pop groups in the world.

For the last several years Pentatonix has relied of Christmas and cover songs, but now have released a new album of original songs titled The Lucky Ones.

The five members of Pentatonix have voices that blend perfectly and creatively. They are also a rare group that can re-produce their intricate harmonies in concert, where without backing instruments, there is little room for error.

The band members may not plump the depths of their psyche’s but The Lucky Ones is a personal album. The title song is an autobiographical chronicle of the musical journey and their acceptance of a little luck along the way.

The topics vary from breaking up (“Happy Now”), to support (“Love Me When I Don’t” and “Coffee In Bed”}to mental health (“Be My Eyes”).

The tempos vary but there are a number of ballads that present the group at their best. “Side,” “Exit,” and “It’s Different” all allow the individual voices to shine before combining into soaring harmonies.

The 11 songs are concise as the album checks in at just under 40 minutes. It is a format that serves the group well as they do not over-extend their welcome on any of the tracks.

Pentatonix has taken a chance by leaving cover songs behind and that decision serves them well on The Lucky Ones. 

Rating: ****