Prime Cuts: The Very Best Of The Beast From The East (CD) By Popa Chubby

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Prime Cuts: The Very Best Of The Beast From The East

Popa Chubby

Ear Music 2019

Review by David Bowling

 

Popa Chubby’s career is approaching the three-decade mark and to celebrate the occasion; he has released a retrospective of his career titled Prime Cuts: The Very Best Of The Beast From The East.

He is basically bluesman, whose sound spreads out in a number of directions. His new compilation album provides a good glimpse of the various sides of his music; more so than any of his regular releases. “Light Of Day” has a R&B vibe, while “Caffeine And Nicotine” has some jazz elements. “Grown Man Crying Blues” is eight minutes of what he does best; improvising on his guitar whole while wailing away on vocals.

Thirteen of the 15 tracks are originals but the two covers are excellent. “Hey Joe” is a basic rendition, while he twists Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” all out of shape.

Popa Chubby may be raw at times but his music is engaging. Prime Cuts: The Very Best Of The Beast From The East is a good starting point to experience his music.

Rating: ***

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Church Of The Blues (CD) By Watermelon Slim

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Church Of The Blues

Watermelon Slim

Northern Blues 2019

Review by David Bowling

 

William Homans, better  known as Watermelon Slim, has taken an unusual journey for a bluesman; born in Boston, B.A. from the University of Oregon, Masters degree from Oklahoma State, and a tour of Vietnam. He released his first album in 1973 but waited 20 years to release his second. Now he has retuned with his 13 release titled Church Of The Blues.

His guitar work is built on the legacy of Mississippi Fred McDowell. He plays a slide-resonator electric guitar that produces a unique sound. His overall approach channels Muddy Waters with a little Champion Jack Dupree thrown in for good measure.

His new album consists of seven original compositions and seven classic covers. His cover of McDowell’s “Highway 61” is spot on, while the classic “Smokestack Lightning is more basic, which greatly enhances the song.

His original compositions, “Post Modern Blues,” “Charlottesville (Blues For My Nation),” and “Holler #4” are all modern blues songs that have their foundations firmly rooted in the Delta.

Watermelon Slim is a modern days blues artist who respectfully updates the styles and traditions of the past. Church Of The Blues is an excellent album for any fan of the blues.

Rating: ***1/2

Over Under Through (CD) By Paul Nelson

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Over Under Through

Paul Nelson

CD Baby

Review by David Bowling

 

Paul Nelson’s new release, Over Under Through, is an album where the sum of its parts are better than the whole. This is due to his penchant for combining a number of styles, including blues, roots, folk, country, and gospel onto one album of music. It does not make for a cohesive affair but the tracks are each unique and stand on their own.

Nelson is basically a story teller. His ten original composition take the listener on a journey of the ear and mind. The songs run from four to seven minutes, which give him time and space to create textures and layers. “Ghost In The Machine,” “Go Down Ezekiel.” “There Is Weeping,” and “Silent Majority” are all fueled by his precise lyrics, memorable melodies, and a full, tight band behind him.

Nelson has created an album of music that reaches out in a number of directions. There should be something to please most any fan of good music.

Rating: ***

 

 

I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions (CD) By The Beach Boys

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I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions

Beach Boys

Capital 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

Following on the heals of their Friends Sessions comes I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions. The Beach Boys owed the Capital label one last album before moving own to their own label. The original 20/20 may not have been their most creative release as  it contained a number of previously released singles, a few light weight new songs, and tracks that had been sitting in the vaults. Despite its haphazard nature, it was a solid release. It may not have had an overall cohesiveness but the songs, when taken individually, are better than the whole.

I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions is only for the hardcore Beach Boys fan, who wants absolutely everything by the band.

There are very few completed songs as the 40 tracks consist mostly of demo’s, early versions, and acapella takes before the music was added. There is an early mono single release of Ersel Hickey’s “Bluebirds Over The Mountain,” and an alternative stereo mix of “Do It Again,” but the gem is “All I Want To Do” with the lead vocal by Dennis Wilson, which is another reminder of just what a beautiful voice he possessed.

There is always an appreciation of the Beach Boys just singing without instruments. It puts the focus squarely on the purity of their voices and the harmonies they created. Their big hit “Do It Again,” “I Went To Sleep,” “Time To Get Along,” “We’re Together Again,” “Never Learn Not To Love,” and “Ol Man River” all retain a simplicity without instruments.

There are a number of rarities that fill in some gaps in their musical history. “Rendezvous” is an early version of “Do It Again,” while “Cottonfields” is presented with backing vocals only.

I’m not sure how many times someone will listen to I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions” but it does fill in some of the gaps in the bands history. As the 1960s drew to a close, the Beach Boys would leave their label and classic sound behind. This is basically a historical release that brings the first phase of their career to a close.

Rating: **1/2

 

Put On Your Red Shoes (CD) By Bobby Blackhat

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Put On Your Red Shoes

Bobby Blackhat

Bobby Blackhat 2018

Review by David Bowling

I continue to have a soft spot in my heart for harp players, which brings us to Bobby Blackhat.

Blackhat has a somewhat unusual history for a bluesman. He served 27 years in the Coast Guard, received a medal for heroism, and was a Presidential Aide. Now, in his second career, he is a respected bluesman, who has released a new album titled Put On Your Red Shoes.

While the roots of his music may extend back to the Southern Delta; his songs are not as bleak or dark; rather they are energetic and many times upbeat. His cover of Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Runnin'” is a wise choice as their styles mesh well.

His new album contains 10 original compositions, several of which have been previously released, and now return in new versions.

He is at his best on the longer songs. “Grim Reaper” and “I Hear Mama’s Voice” are both close to ten minutes in length, allow him to stretch out on the harp.

Bobby Black Hat is one of those bluesmen who has learned his craft well. Put On Your Red Shoes is an excellent introductions to those lessons well-learned.

Rating: ***

 

All The Pain Money Can Buy: 20th Anniversary Edition (CD) By Fastball

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All The Pain Money Can Buy (20th Anniversary Edition)

Fastball

Omnivore 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

Tony Scalzo, Miles Zuniga, and Joey Sheffield formed the band Fastball during the mid 1990’s. Their first album, Make Your Mama Proud, sold a robust 6500 copies and quickly disappeared from public consciousness. So it came as a surprise when their second release, All The Pain Money Can Buy, sold over one million copies during the first six months after its release.

The thee members of Fastball have continued to record but All The Pain Money Can Buy remains their musical magnum opus. A 20th anniversary album has now been released complete with nine bonus tracks.

Fastball has never been able to repeat their commercial nadir but this reissue is a reminder of just how good a band Fastball was at its peak. They combined memorable melodies, precise lyrics, and an energy that was the epidemy of the late 20th century indie rock movement.

The hit single “The Way,” plus mainstream tunes “Fire Escape” and “Out Of My Head” remain solid pieces of rock and roll.

The bonus tracks are highlighted by four previously unreleased demos and an acoustic version of “The Way.” They even manage to produce a credible cover of Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s In Love With You.”

Fastball is a basic three piece band who fill in their sound with catchy tunes and emotional bravado.

Fastball is a modern band celebrating a 20 year milestone. The band remains relevant but All The Pain Money Can Buy represents their creative and commercial peak. If you missed them and this album the first time around; this reissue is an excellent second chance.

Rating: ***1/2

Wake The World: The Friends Sessions (CD) By The Beach Boys

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Wake The World: The Friends Sessions

Beach Boys

Capital 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

During the 1960’s, The Beach Boys recorded some of the most enduring and popular rock and pop songs in music history. Their precise and tight harmonies combined with Brian Wilson’s producing wizardry enabled tens-of-millions of listeners to grab ahold of their vision of an endless summer.

As the decade drew to a close, their contract with their label was coming to an end. Tensions within the group and with the label had begun to erode their popularity.

Friends was their second to last album for the label. Released against the background of the Vietnam War in the United States, it was a mellow album that had an excellence that was lost in it quickly disappearing from the musical consciousness of the day.

The entire recording process has now been released as Wake The World: The Friends Sessions. The original album consisted of 12 tracks, clocking in at just over 25 minutes. The new release has 31 tracks from the original recording sessions.

It always comes back to the vocals with the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson was a genius in creating their harmonies. A Cappella versions of “Friends,” “Anna Lee The Healer,” “Little Bird,” and “New Song” are highlights as they present the unadorned clarity of their vocals.

The rest of the album is typical of the type. It contains demos, alternative versions, and backing tracks. “My Little Red Book,” “Be Here In The Morning Darling,” and “Child Is The Feeling Of The Man.” It all adds up to a complete history of the album and a peek into their recording process.

This is an album that is for the person who wants everything by the band. If you just want the hits, there are dozens of other releases and downloads that are a better option. For the Beach Boys completest, however, it fills in a lot of gaps.

 

Rating: ***

Nature (CD) By Paul Kelly

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Nature

Paul Kelly

Cooking Vinyl 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

Paul Kelly is a national treasure in his home country of Australia but his inability to achieve large commercial success in the United States remains a mystery. His brand of cerebral and catchy music have enthralled his fan base for decades. He has now issued his latest album Nature.

His new release is loosely connected to 2017’s Life Is Fine but here the music centers around the theme of nature. The creative and unique aspect of the release is his use of poems by Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Phillip Larkin, which he sets to music.

Kelly’s music always has an earthy nature to it. While he is not an American, there are influences there. If there is an Australian equivalent to America, this is it as his sound settles in comfortably somewhere between country, folk, and pop.

His regular backing band is made up of drummer Peter Luscombe, bassist Bill McDonald, guitarists Ash Naylor and Dan Kelly, and keyboardist Cameron Bruce. They can rock when needed and can fade into the background when necessary. Here they provide a precise and smooth backing for Kelly’s creative process.

The opening track sets the tone of the album. Dylan Thomas’ classic poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” has always appealed to the mind and soul. Put to music with a full band, the words take on new textures and depths. Walt Whitman’s “With Animals” is a center piece around which Kelly’s original compositions, “Little Wolf,” “With The One I Love,” “Seagulls Of Seattle,” and “Morning Storm” revolve.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit Priest and Victorian Irish poet. His “God’s Grandeur” should have been the last track, rather than the 11th of 12, as it sums up Kelly’s creative intent.

Nature is another unified concept from Paul Kelly’s mind. It is a thoughtful release, whose individual chapters add up to a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: ****

Don’t You Feel My Legs: The Naughty Bawdy Blues Of Blue Lu Barker (CD) By Maria Muldaur

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Don’t You Feel My Legs: The Naughty Bawdy Blues Of Blue Lu Barker

Maria Muldaur

Lost Music Company

Review by David Bowling

 

Anyone who could survive half-a-decade or so as a female member of the Jim Kweskin Jug band deserves a half-century career.

Maria Muldaur began her career during the fold revival of the 1960’s, spent some time as a backing vocalist for the Grateful Dead, produced the seminal pop hit “Midnight At The Oasis,” and has released recorded pop, blues, and jazz music for the last four plus decades. Her latest release, Don’t You Feel My Legs: The Naughty Bawdy Blues Of Blue Lu Barker, is a fun-filled blues romp with a little jazz thrown in for good measure.

Blu Lu Barker, 1913-1998, was a blues singer who reached her commercial peak during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, but performed regularly into the 1990’s. She had a sultry voice and like many of the early female blues singers got by on guile, sass, and sexual innuendo. She may be a somewhat obscure singer today but she is a good choice by Muldaur as their approach to music match well.

While Muldaur sings several of Barker’s most famous songs; for the most part she takes material and interprets it according to Barker’s style, but from a modern perspective. Above all, Muldaur is able to capture the fun of the music.

“Don’t You Feel My Leg” was Barker’s signature song and Muldaur cut a version of it in 1973 but it was considered to risqué for radio at the time. Today it is mild but fits Muldaur perfectly as a light-hearted blues piece. “Loan Me Your Husband” is another bawdy Barker song that succumbs to Muldaur’s light touch. Barker’s “A Little Bird Told Me’ crosses over into jazz territory.

The other tracks run the gamut from gritty to humorous to boisterous to lewd at times, which is Muldaur’s career in microcosm. “Nix On Those Lush Heads,” “Bow Legged Daddy,” “Hard Andy,” “Georgia Grind,” and the metaphor laden “Trombone Man Blues” are a trip through the tough female blues of a by-gone era.

The career of Maria Muldaur has taken a number of career turns but lately she has settled into a blues style. While her latest release may approach the blues from a certain direction; it remains true to the genre.

Maria Muldaur has created another interesting and ultimately enjoyable album of music. Don’t You Feel My Legs: The Naughty Bawdy Blues Of Blu Lou Barker is music for the mind and bordello.

Rating: ****

 

 

Happy Xmas (CD) By Eric Clapton

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Happy Xmas

Eric Clapton

Bush Branch/Surf Dog Records 2018

Review by David Bowling

 

Somewhere between the blues and the holiday season is Eric Clapton’s 24th studio album.

Happy Xmas is not your usual holiday season fare. Consisting of 13 Christmas tunes and one original composition; it is an album of music on which Clapton brings his own style of blues to the Christmas season. It all adds up to one of the more unique Christmas albums of the season. It may not be your album of choice for sitting around the tree on Christmas Eve but is fine for ear phones and your favorite beverage at the end of a long day.

It is both a mellow blues and Christmas album. Veterans Jim Keltner and bassist Nathan East set the foundation and Clapton builds on top of each track with stings, choirs,  backing vocals, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, keyboards by Simon Climie, and assorted other instruments.

Clapton combine well known songs, “Silent Night,” “White Christmas,” and “Away In A Manger” with lesser known material such as “Lonesome Christmas,” “Sentimental Moments,” and “Christmas Tears.” The original “For Love On Christmas Day” is a fine addition to the holiday lexicon.

His fiery guitar playing of the past may not be so prevalent but there are times when he steps forward. The sound he creates is still distinctive and immediately recognizable.

The only oddity is a techno version of “Jingle Bells,” which is far from the original intent of the song. Different from most of what Clapton has produced during his career; it is, for better or worse, a re-imaging of the holiday classic. It has producer Climie’s imprint all over it and is dedicated to deceased Swedish artist Avici.

Eric Clapton may seem like an unusual artist to produce a Christmas album, yet it feels authentic because of his blues imprint. While not a traditional release; is does capture the spirit of the season from a different and creative direction.

Rating: ****