Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 (CD) By America

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Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973

America

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley, and Dan Peek formed America during the late 1960’s. The early 1970’s found them producing a string of hit singles including “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Lonely People,” “Tin Man,” “Woman Tonight,” and “Sister Golden Hair.” Their brand of light rock proved to be commercially successful and radio friendly. While the 1970’s would be their creative nadir, Bunnell and Beckley would remain together for the next four plus decades.

America has now returned to its roots with their latest release. Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 gathers together 15 demos from their classic period, including nine previously unreleased songs.

The album is a niche release for fans of the band or possibly of the era. Recorded mostly at Beckley’s home studio, it presents an intimate look of the band at the beginning of their career. While it may not be the equal of their first two albums recorded during the time period; it fills in a number of gaps in their career.

“Man Of Pride,” “James Holliday,” and “”Sea Of Destiny” are the most complete songs. The harmonies and gentle rhythms are intact but they are not the equal of their best material. ‘”Songs such as “Riverside,” “Rainy Day,” and “Ventura Highway” are works in progress and give a glimpse of their developmental process. There is also a hidden track, which is an a cappella version of “A Horse With No Name.”

America released a lot of excellent music during the 1970’s. Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 is a trip back in time to their most productive period. It is a journey worth taking for any fan of the band.

Rating: B 

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Waffles, Triangles & Jesus (CD) By Jim White

Waffles Triangles And Jesus

Jim White

Joyful Noise Recordings 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Anyone who names their album Waffles Triangles And Jesus definitely travels a different road. Add in Holly Golightly, and a cornucopia of indie musicians and you have a prime example of Jim White’s brand of quirky, hybrid Americana music.

If there is a musical style named psychedelic folk; Jim White would qualify as a founding member.

A quintessential Jim White track is “Playing Guitars” with some eclectic guitar playing by White and an equally eccentric vocal by Golightly. Everything flows outward from this starting point. He travels from the music of the Appalachian mountains to the rhythms of the African continent. He even makes a stop in Mayberry, North Carolina but that’s better heard than explained.

Jim White creates music that makes you think, while being amusing and confusing. In the last analysis, it is always interesting and worth a listen.

Rating: ***1/2

 

The Ice Queen (CD) By Sue Foley

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The Ice Queen

Sue Foley

Stony Plain 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

The Ice Queen Cometh (March 2nd to be precise)!

Canadian Sue Foley had received numerous music awards in her home country. Now based in Texas, she has recorded her newest album, The Ice Queen, with the help of a number of Texas legends such as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Jimmie Vaughan, Charlie Sexton, and the Texas Horns among others.

She has stayed close to her musical foundation for her new release, combining rock, blues, roots, and even a little flamenco into a contemporary amalgam of sound.

She wisely mixes up the styles and tempos. She thunders through “81,” “The Ice Queen,” “”Fool’s Gold” with Billy Gibbons, and “a horn drenched “If I Have Forsaken You.” She steps forward with her vocals and guitar on a bluesy cover of Besse Smith’s classic “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair.”

As good as the full-throttle songs are; sometimes simple is best. “Death Of A Dream,’ with only bass and drums in support, is a mellow jazzy journey.

The final two tracks are just Foley, her guitar and voice. “The Dance” is an interesting fusion of the blues and an acoustic flamenco style. The final track is again her solo with a nice rendition of the Carter Family’s “Cannonball Blues.”

Sue Foley is a mature musician who has found a home in Texas. The Ice Queen is a fine collection of Canadian blues and roots music; Texas style.

Rating: B+

Double Standards (CD) By Mick Kolassa And Friends

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Double Standards

Mick Kolassa and Friends

Swing Suit 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

Mick Kolassa has been releasing a laid back form of blues for decades. What makes his music so interesting is the fact that each of his albums has a distinct flavor, which brings us to his latest release, Double Standards.

His latest release brings together some old friends and a bunch of classic blues songs, with the result being an album of excellent modern day interpretations.

Artists such as Sugaray Rayford, Annika Chambers, Heather Crosse, Patti Parks, and more may not be household names but the common thread is they can all sing and perform. When you combine their talents with those of Kolassa and mix in songs by Willie Dixon, Tampa Red, B.B. King, and more; you have an exciting collection of blues songs.

Mike Kolassa is one of those musicians who slides under the radar at times, but he has devoted his life to creating and singing the blues. Double Standards is a fine addition to his expanding legacy.

Rating: ***1/2

Artifact: The Unreleased Album (CD) By The Choir

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Artifact: The Unreleased Album

The Choir

Omnivore 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

In a time long long ago, in a city that would host the future Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, The Choir was born and lived a short life.

The Choir was an American band formed during the mid-1960’s, who were influenced by the British Invasion. During their five years of existence they would undergo a number of personal changes and only release a few singles. Yet, their reputation was such that they opened for the likes of The Who, Blues Magoos, Hermans Hermits, and Yardbirds.

During 1969, one of the last incarnations of the band recorded enough material for an album, but their dissolution left the tapes in storage until a couple of years ago. Now 48 years after their creation, they have now been remastered with modern technology and released under the title Artifact: The Unreleased Album.

They may have a British Invasion vibe but think early Procol Harum rather than the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Dave Clark Five. They are more pop than rock and roll and there is a subtle nature to their music.

Songs such as “Anyway I Can,” “Have I Know Love To Offer,” “Boris’ Lament,” and “I Can’t Stay In Your Life” are quintessential 1960’s rock and pop. They may seem a little primitive almost half a century later but if taken in context, they make one wonder why the band was not more successful.

The various members of the band went in a number of directions but drummer Jim Bonfanti and guitarist Wally Bryson grabbed the brass ring as members of the Raspberries. They and a dozen or so other musicians left behind a wonderful look into not only a mid-sixties American band just on the cusp of commercial success but some excellent music.

Rating: ***

 

 

Muddy Gurdy (CD) By Muddy Gurdy

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Muddy Gurdy

Muddy Gurdy

Vizztone 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

I like to try different types and styles of music and Muddy Gurdy fits that category and then some.

First a definition: A hurdy-gurdy is a French instrument. It is played with a hand-cranked wheel, which functions like a violin bow as it rubs against the strings.

Muddy Gurdy is a French blues Band consisting of Tia Gouttebel (guitar and vocals), Gilles Chabenat (hurdy-gurdy), and Marc Glomeau (percussion). They recently travelled to Northern Mississippi to create and record their second album.

Using local musicians and recording is rustic places with little technology, they have created a unique album of basic blues. Ranging from the classic delta blues of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “”She Wolf,” to the Chicago blues of Mudding Waters “Rollin’ And Tumblin,” to the traditional “Glory Glory Hallelujah;” they have stripped the blues to an elemental level.

The self titled Muddy Gurdy is for the blues aficionado who wants their music basic and a little different.

Rating: ***1/2

On Air (CD) By The Rolling Stones

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On Air

The Rolling Stones

Interscope 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Saturday Club, Blues In Rhythm, Top Gear, and The Joe Loss Pop Show are just a few of the bevy of music shows that dominated English television a half century ago. Bands such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and The Who made regular appearances. Now 32 performances, recorded between 1963-1965, by the Rolling Stones have been resurrected and officially released for the first time.

On Air is similar to opening a time capsule and exploring past history. These performances present the Stones in their formative years. The were still primarily a rhythm and blues cover band and Brian Jones was the controlling force.

Jones’ harmonica play is front and center and on a number of old blues covers substitutes for the sax sound. He also plays a mean slide guitar before the style was popular. Mick Jagger is at his gritty and sarcastic best. Keith Richards takes the lead on a number of songs and demonstrates how he established his reputation of one of rock’s best guitarists.

Many of the tracks have been bootlegged a number of times but now the sound has been scrubbed as clean as possible. While it is not perfect by the standards of today and there are still a few tracks that have problems; overall it is very presentable and provides a good listening experience.

While there are a few familiar songs including “It’s All Over Now,” “Spider And The Fly,” “The Last Time,” and a scintillating “Satisfaction;” it is the covers and rarely heard material that make the album worthwhile and a treasure trove for Stones fans.

Keith Richards puts his unique guitar stamp on Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Memphis Tennessee.” “One can almost imagine Mick Jagger strutting on stage as he grinds through “Walkin’ The Dog,” “Confessin’ The Blues,” “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You.”

On Air presents a raw and developing band. While they had achieved some success, the future was still uncertain, so it is a band fully committed to their performances. It is also interesting to hear Brian Jones as one of the focal points because as the band slowly became one of the best rock and roll bands in music history, his role would be diminished.

On Air fills in some big gaps in the Stones journey and is an essential look into understanding their music.

Rating: ****

 

 

In Tune (CD) By Oscar Peterson + The Singers Unlimited

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In Tune

Oscar Peterson Trio + The Singers Unlimited

MPS 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007, was a legendary jazz pianist, who unlike many of his contemporaries focused on a melodic approach. His classical influences and technical ability allowed him to find commercial acceptance outside of jazz music.

The Singers unlimited were a jazz vocal group led by singer/producer Gene Puerling. His ability to combine their voices into a virtual choir was amazing given the technology of the early 1970’s.

Peterson’s strongest albums were usually recorded as a trio. Here he is accompanied by bassist Jiri Mraz and drummer Louis Hayes. What is different is he departs from the norm and records with a vocal group with the result being a collaborative effort released in 1971.

In Tune is a quiet and in many ways a subtle album. The flash is provided by the vocal harmonies but it is Peterson’s playing that provides the substance.

“Sesame Street” is the album opener where the two different styles of the trio and vocals come together and set the tone for what will follow. “Once Upon A Summertime” is a simple ballad with vocalist Bonnie Herman. “The Shadow Of Your Smile” finds Peterson knowing when not to intrude on the vocals but to act a supporting musician.

Oscar Peterson is recognized as one of the unique and great jazz pianists of the last half of the 20th century. Any of his Verve recordings is a must for the jazz aficionado. However, if you want something a little different from Peterson, In Tune is a good place to start.

Rating: ****

 

 

Rollin’ With It (CD) By John McNamara

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Rollin’ With IT

John McNamara

BMM 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

It is a long way from Australia to Memphis, Tennessee, but John McNamara seems to have successfully made the journey both physically and musically. The musical result is a solid album of blues titled Rollin’ With It.

McNamara is one of those underappreciated guitar masters, but he also possesses a wonderfully soulful voice. Backed by some of Memphis’ finest backing musicians, complete with a sparkling horn section, he romps through seven original and three cover songs.

If you are looking for some smooth and expressive blues, Rollin’ With It is a good place to start.

Rating: ***

 

Fantastic Plastic (CD) By The Flamin’ Groovies

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Fantastic Plastic

Flamin’ Groovies

Severn Records

Review by David Bowling

 

Someone once dubbed the Flamin’ Groovies as “the best rock & roll band you never heard of.” Formed in 1965 as a classic San Francisco underground psychedelic rock band by Cyral Jordan; they incorporated some power pop into their sound with the addition of Chris Wilson during the early 1970’s. They have now released their first studio album in over two decades with Fantastic Plastic. 

Their new release is a guitar album at its foundation. Wilson and Jordan are both excellent guitarists and producer J. Jaffe contributes some steel and slide guitar as well.

The album is graced by ten new compositions cutesy of Jordan and Wilson. They wisely do not try to re-invent themselves but build on their past.  “What The Hell’s Goin’ On” is emblematic of their guitar driven rock approach with the vocals piled on top and is easily recognizable to anyone who has followed the band. “Just Like A Hurricane” finds them moving in a blues direction. Songs such as “I’d Rather Spend My Time With You,” “Let Me Rock,” and “Crazy Macy” are all well written and produced rock and roll.

There are two cover songs in addition to the ten original compositions. They move NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad” in a pop direction. The Beau Brummels were another unappreciated band from the era and they put some energy into their “Don’t Talk To Strangers.”

All of the songs are concise and have a tightness and have little wasted effort.

The original artwork by Cyril Jordan is a tribute to Mad Magazine writer Jack Davis. I wish I could see it on a regular vinyl side album as it is a wonderful nostalgic trip back to another era.

The Flaming Groovies have always deserved better commercially. Fantastic Plastic picks up where they left off as it presents high quality rock and roll.

Rating: ****