Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HOLLY COLE - HOLLY

Wow, Russ Titelman, Holly Cole snagged a big-name, classic veteran producer from L.A.'s golden studio days of the '60's for her latest, her first album in five years. And Titelman (Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson) brought some pretty slick players to the sessions too, including vocalist/trumpeter Wycliffe Gordon, who does two killer duets with Cole. I especially love the Louis Armstrong-inspired I Was Doing All Right. Normally we don't get duets on her albums, so this is a great change of pace, and she certainly shines in that situation too.

Of course, Cole can put together a mean band on her own, and her regulars Aaron Davis and David Pilch show up on piano and bass for three of the cuts. That includes the always-sharp Mose Allison tune, Your Mind Is On Vacation (but your mouth is working overtime), a lyric that never seems to go out of season. Her take on the old swinger Ain't That A Kick In The Head is a cool one too, as she really emphasizes the Sammy Cahn lyrics that sort of got buried by Dean Martin's trademark slur. Another Cahn lyric, Teach Me Tonight, best known from Dinah Washington, gets a great arrangement (Larry Goldings does them all here) featured his Hammond B-3 organ. Goldings, among his many jazz and pop credits, is a well-known James Taylor collaborator, and a great catch for Cole's album too.

Almost all the cuts are pretty well-known from the great years of jazz vocal songs, including the Gershwin's They Can't Take That Away From Me, and Rodgers & Hart's I Could Write A Book. The biggest surprise is her pared-down, unironic treatment of the big Dean Martin number Everybody Loves Somebody, his huge 1964 #1, done with just Piltch and Davis. The material, the players and production, and especially the vocal performance, this is real A-list stuff from Cole in today's jazz world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KRISTA MUIR - THE TIDES

A completely one-woman effort from Muir, except for a couple of horn parts (and a chainsaw), including the production and engineering. That's lots of keyboards, bass, percussion, synth, violin, and her main axe, the ukulele. While her personality, choice of instruments and cheery melodies make for a bright, easy listen, and she's certainly done lots of charming art in the past, this set has tougher stuff at its core. Several of the songs address her battle with endometriosis, a painful condition that kept her from life performances for a time.

She wrote though, and then did a whirlwind recording session over two weeks, with lots of vibrant electro-pop, the kind that took six members of Martha and the Muffins to make back in '80. Well, just a little more ukulele. Meanwhile, listen closer and you'll hear hints of her trials, such as "What doesn't kill you could make you invincible" and "Like a girl possessed - crumbles to the floor in a bloody mess" in Girl Possessed. Equal parts fun and fearless.

Monday, February 19, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBERT PLANT & THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS - LIVE AT DAVID LYNCH'S FESTIVAL OF DISRUPTION (Blu-ray)

Here's Plant and his fabulous band doing their shape shifting of his music, blending together African, folk, rock and blues to create a sound really not found in any other group around. This set from 2016 predates his latest, last fall's Carry Fire, so the tracks mostly come from 2014's Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, so it's a little dated but still pretty fascinating, with all sorts of odd stringed and percussive instruments, such as the bendir drum and the lute-like tehardant from Mali. It's quite literally all over the map.

Plant's been all over the internet of late as well, telling all why a Zeppelin reunion is pointless, why look back when he has this great band and new sound with which to move forward? Good point, and certainly the albums are worthy of that confidence. However, there's still a life audience to appease, and on this there's a bit too much dabbling in the old Zep cuts. The cheers come up with the recognition of songs such as "Black Dog", "Going To California", and "Whole Lotta Love", the last in a blues medley. He has radically altered them, messing with the time signature, leaving out bits and parts, and no sign of Page-like guitar heroics, or his own classic wails. Yet it still has the feel of a retro show at times, and hopefully he's cutting more ties as he goes.

This show was a benefit for filmmaker/music fan David Lynch's foundation, which is something to do with meditation saving the world. Fair enough, except that means the bonus material here is all Lynch talking about the healing powers of transcendental meditation. Maybe he's right, but I'm here for the tunes, and Lynch being Lynch, most of the interview bites come out kinda kooky. Don't ask about the fish story. Concert yay, extra features blah.

Friday, February 16, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VAN MORRISON - IN CONCERT (Blu-ray)

Hello, what's this? Not one, but two Van Morrison concerts grace this Blu-ray? I love you, BBC Music. The first was filmed in 2016 for the Beeb's In Concert series, in front of a small studio audience, Morrison's small, five-piece combo, with the Man himself blowing lots and lots of sax. That set's 76 minutes, while a second, contemporary show called Up On Cyprus Avenue is also included. It features the same-sized group, but a very different set list, with only five songs repeated out of 15 in that hour-long concert.

These shows have a little of everything for fans, which is hard to do when you're talking about a career going back to the early '60's. But Morrison makes it work, sampling his earliest, blues days with "Baby Please Don't Go", with a fine harp solo, throwing in a hit or favourite every little bit ("Wild Night", "Brown-Eyed Girl", "Jackie Wilson Said") and playing six cuts off the recent Keep Me Singing album of that year. Never one to sit still, Morrison has released two full albums since then.

The band needs to be sharp and adaptable with all these styles on parade, and there's some pretty sharp players up there, young (keyboardist Paul Moran) and older (Dave Keary on guitar, one of Ireland's most respected players). Singer Dana Masters gets to duet with Van on a couple of numbers, and her work on "Sometimes We Cry" lifts her boss to an energized performance. Most fun though is watching Morrison these days, enjoying all his sax and harmonica solos, and belting out true blues, his favourite, like "Going Down To Bangor".

The second concert is a special outdoor concert in Belfast, celebrating Morrison's return to the city as a newly-knighted citizen, especially for his services for tourism and charity in Northern Ireland. It was remarked at the time how jovial he seemed about the honour and the hometown appearance, and he does seem to be having more fun, without a bit of the grumpy old Van around. He throws off some asides to the band and front rows, smiles a little and puts everyone, including the viewer, at ease. For this show, he seems keen on concentrating on his vocals, being the jazz man, and "It's All In The Game" is a special highlight. He was 70 for these shows, and performing with lots of passion.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE RU-JAC RECORDS STORY, VOL.s 1, 2 & 3

I'm not really a music reviewer, I just fake it so I can get more records and stuff. See, I'm more of a record collector really. I collect a whole bunch of different genres, soul being one of the main ones. I guess I'm not much of a collector either, because I had never heard of Ru-Jac Records before, until this series of compilations out now on the Omnivore label. It turns out the company was one of those regional labels that existed all over the U.S. until major labels put most of them out of business in the '70's. But back in the '60's, it was still possible to have regional hits that sold enough to keep the small players going, calling on a pool of local talent and those hopeful of breaking outside their market.

Ru-Jac was a small fish on the east coast, set up in the Baltimore area. In the fascinating back story in the liner notes, we find out the owner had been set up in the club business by the local numbers racket king. Through his entertainment business, one Rufus Mitchell became the Berry Gordy-wanna be of Baltimore, and the acts that he met through the clubs provided the label talent.

There were no Ru-Jac stars of note, not one artist broke the national charts, and none of the names are familiar on these compilations, save one. Arthur Conley recorded the smash "Sweet Soul Music", but only after he left the label. Mitchell was a big enough player in the club world that stars such as Otis Redding knew of him, and Mitchell was able to convince Redding to take Conley with him to bigger fame. This set features a couple of demos done before Conley left. Other than that, you get single tracks from such non-notables as Rita Doryse, Leon Gibson, Sir Joe, Little Sonny Daye, and Tiny Tim. Not that Tiny Tim, the other one, without the tulips. Of course, there are going to be people in Baltimore and environs that remember these artists fondly, but not that many.

However, soul fans will find lots to love. Plenty of these singers and groups were pretty darn good. Brenda Jones could easily have been a Motown star, and some of her material is really quite well-written and performed. Same goes for Winfield Parker, another dynamic singer. There were some pretty good studio players involved as well, The Shyndells Band used on many sides here. There weren't any albums though, it was all 45's for the label, they never got close to the point were they could afford to take a chance on that much cash outlay. Often these sessions were scraped-together affairs, paid for by other business interests Mitchell could tap, including partnerships with other local players who wanted in on his club business.

Each volume is jammed with cuts, 22 and more, and they don't dwell on any one artist too long. There are real gems, including the only 45 issued by the classic Gospel group The Fruitland Harmonizers, a wonderful vocal blend with some interesting, unusual harmonies. Some simply are from unknown artists, recorded but never released, names and players lost to time. In some cases, this is probably for the best, as there are a few weaker efforts and lots of bum notes, especially from horn players still learning their craft, if they ever did. One Charles Johnson had been hired to be the Ru-Jac office manager, and got a chance to record. It turned out so poorly, he even lost his office manager job.

It addition to these three compilations, there's a fourth that covers later label efforts in the late '60's and '70's, plus individual sets by the most prolific artists, Winfield Parker and Gene and Eddie, and another that will cover the demo recordings of Conley before he left with Redding is coming in May. Much of the material here comes from unreleased session tapes, or taken from insanely rare and valuable 45's, prized by collectors better informed than me, until now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: 54.40 - KEEP ON WALKING



The incredibly long-lived band (formed 1981) returns with their first album of new material since 2011, although there was a fine acoustic hits album, La Difference, in 2016. What hasn't changed, and what will never change for them, is the quality songwriting, and attention to production detail. Founding member Neil Osborne writes the words, everybody writes the music, and as usual, it's tight, fun rock, catchy and clever.

Osborne is one of the better observers with his lyrics, reflecting life back at us, with a message or two, nothing preachy but enough to make you think a little. "How's Your Day Goin'" is simple enough, standing in line at Starbucks (Vancouver band, natch), realizing everybody's on their phone in line, and the only person it's okay to talk to is the barista. There was a time we'd all ask the titular question, as a matter of politeness. With lots of experience behind him, Osborne has some advice throughout the album for those having a bad day, week, or year: "I can tell you are walking through hell/if you want to find peace, keep on walking," he sings in the title cut. Meanwhile, the group makes lovely little earworms out of all these sentiments. And that's why they've been around so long.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: COLLETTE SAVARD AND THE SAVANTS

A smooth jazz-folk sound is featured across this set from indie Toronto singer/songwriter Savard, a change from previous albums. Putting together a band of high quality vets including Rebecca Campbell (Jane Siberry), the album features a smart playing matched with introspective, thoughtful lyrics. The vibe is Steely Dan-meets-Christine McVie, emotion plus chops.

Savard's lyrics detail the end of a long-term relationship, and determination to move forward. "Give myself very good advice," she sings on "My Last Cigarette", and "I take a leap of faith." Meanwhile, the Savants live up to their name, Megan Worthy dropping in funky piano chords, while Tim Posgate drops in tasty guitar, whether it's an easy jazz feel ("Top Of The Trees") or the cool pop of "In Over My Head". This is what happens when the right band meets the right songs.