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 FIRE ON THE FLOOR Beth Hart (I-Tunes purchase) *****

Here is Beth Hart’s new album, just out on February 3rd here in North America.  As expected, Fire On The Floor is an intense and emotional piece of work that, if you’re open, will really hit you where you live.

A couple or so years ago, my friend Wade turned me on to her music and I haven’t looked back.  I follow her on Facebook and so was anticipating the arrival of this disc.  Beth chose producer Oliver Leiber, and the results prove that to be the right call.  He assembled a band of crack session musicians for her that included guitarists Michael Landau and Waddy Watchel, and they got right down to work.  “We recorded sixteen songs in three days” she says, “but we spent a long time mixing.  Oliver is a brutally hard working person, but he’s also incredibly sensitive and that combination works so great.  He’s strong and focused, but still so vulnerable and his heart is wide open.”

Fire On The Floor is so much more than ‘just another blues record’.  The songs reflect Beth’s eclectic array of influences, and that really gives this album terrific legs.  “As a writer I feel really stifled if I write in the same style” she says on her website. “Growing up as a kid, I was raised all over the place stylistically, loving so many different genres.”  Fire has rock, soul, blues, a taste of funk, and some of her most heartbreaking ballads yet.

It may not be accurate to say, but I’ve always thought of Beth Hart as part Janis Joplin and part Joe Cocker. They both drew me in with rough, passionate voices that can take a lyric and drive it straight through your heart.  From the salsa-tinged Baby Shot Me Down to the jazzy Coca Cola, she does it with a vocal performance that reminds us of why she was recently voted as one of the best blues singers of all time.

Fire On The Floor is such a passionate piece of work that I confess to blushing more than once as I listened to these 13 songs. What can I say?  It’s a powerful, stunning experience.

ESSENTIALS:  No Place Like Home, Coca Cola, Fat Man, Tell Her You Belong To Me (with Jeff Beck)


SYMFONIA: LIVE IN BULGARIA 2013 Asia (Frontiers) *** ½

To be released February 24th, the latest from Asia will be available as a live double CD and a DVD/ Blu-Ray as well.  The band playing some of their biggest hits to an enthusiastic crowd, backed on disc #2 by The Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Levon Manukian- this is the perfect storm.

A rock group playing with an orchestra is hardly a new idea, but I can’t imagine it being a more perfect fit than it is with Asia.  This is most of the original group, minus guitarist Steve Howe, who went back to Yes and his replacement, Sam Coulson, acquits himself nicely here.  This show was filmed and recorded then aired on Bulgarian National TV, December 30th 2013, 3 months after the gig- but Asia fans everywhere are glad to have it in their hands.  Bassist/vocalist said “In my opinion, the band has never sounded better.”

Asia on this night were; John Wetton, bass and vocals… Carl Palmer, drums… Geoff Downes, keyboards… Sam Coulson on guitar, and they were darn near perfect.  Though I’ve had Symfonia for a couple or so weeks, in the light of John Wetton’s death from cancer on January 31st I found it surprisingly difficult to open the download link for a listen.  This set seems to be a perfect way to remember him and his talent.

Being an Asia fan has always come with an unfair stigma- I’m reminded of the scene in 40 Year Old Virgin where, upon seeing the framed Asia poster in Steve Carell’s apartment, Paul Rudd asks him “Did they laugh at you when you brought that into the framing shop?”  But I see nothing wrong with a group of master musicians getting together and making melodic, uplifting music.  While I prefer my rock & roll to be more guitar-based, I found Symfonia to be a great listen and was pleasantly surprised at how many of the songs I actually knew.  Asia playing with an orchestra works, and this beats the pants off of similar efforts by Kiss and Metallica.

ESSENTIALS:  Time Again, Holy War, Don’t Cry, Heat Of The Moment


A SONG I CAN LIVE WITH Chip Taylor (Train Wreck) *****

Sure I know who Chip Taylor is as a songwriter, but this is the first time I’ve sat down and listened to one of his albums.  On an incredible creative streak since returning from life as a professional gambler in 1996, Chip has just released a classic.

What do you expect from the guy that wrote Wild Thing and Angel Of The Morning? To be honest, it wasn’t this- which makes A Song I Can Live With that much more powerful.  The storytelling and the sparse sound will have you thinking Leonard Cohen and latter day Johnny Cash, with perhaps a touch of J.J. Cale and Ian Tyson.  “As are most of my songs, all the songs on this album are stream-of-consciousness- based” says Chip. “In each instance, I picked up my guitar and at some point words and music flowed that gave me some sort of a chill that inspired me to continue- mainly to find out, as a listener, what I was talking about.”

Recorded in Norway and New York, A Song I Can Live With is sparse and sadly beautiful.  “I had just finished recording and mixing the Little Brothers album with my friend and co-producer, the amazingly soulful Goran Grini from Norway” Taylor recalls.  “I was in New York.  There were no tours ahead of me. All of a sudden I started writing again.  The songs felt inspired.”  Grini then flew in from Norway and the songs were recorded with him on keyboards and Taylor on guitar and vocals.  Goran then took the songs back to Norway and added bass, pedal steel, horns and other keyboards.  Add some guitar magic on a few tracks by John Platania and voila!  You have the album.

Of all the records I’ve heard in recent months, A Song I Can Live With sounds and feels like Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, like a suite of brutally honest stories.  It’s not the kind of music for everybody, but those that do get it will feel it deeply.   Wonderful things- magic- can happen when you’re not gunning for a big hit.

ESSENTIALS:  Until It Hurts, A Song I Can Live With, New York In Between


WILD CAT Danko Jones (AFM) *****

Sometimes I want my rock & roll full of blistering guitar solos, intricate melodies and polyrhythmic drum patterns.  Other times I want it running flat out like a dragster trying to break six seconds on the quarter mile- and that’s where the new Danko Jones album comes in.

Wild Cat comes across like The Ramones meet Thin Lizzy, particularly on You Are My Woman– a powerful, visceral listening experience.  This bone-breaking boogie is a combination of four-on-the-floor rock drumming adorned with simple but catchy as hell riffs, the sort of music that when you listen to it you think “why don’t I blast this stuff more often?”  In a week where I’ve been questioning my place in the scheme of things and even my existence (we writers can be a cheerful lot) Danko Jones has just reminded me that sometimes you have to turf the baggage, let go of the wheel and TURN IT UP.

On Wildcat, affection and aggression are not mutually exclusive qualities.  My Little Rock & Roll seems like another ode to the music Danko loves, but it’s actually a shrine to a bewitching woman built on the hook of the early 80’s Stones song Little T&A.   Let’s Start Dancing is a metallic ode to his late friend Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, a joyous wake if you will.  This is an extremely energetic set of songs that do what great rock & roll has always done best- lift your spirits and kick your ass, something that I daresay we all need from time to time.

Danko Jones is a pure rock & roll animal, and Wild Cat is a wonderfully primitive, pummeling rock & roll experience.  I might drive into town this afternoon, just so I can blast this at maximum volume and enjoy the turning heads when the old man in a slightly rusting PT Cruiser drives by, head-banging… it’s gonna be fun!

ESSENTIALS:   I Gotta Rock, Let’s Start Dancing, Success In Bed


NIGHT LIGHT Mark Crissinger (independent) ***

An energetic outing here for Crissinger’s 5th solo album.  Mixing blues with rockabilly and a little country from time to time, Night Light is a party record if there ever was one!

Crissinger has been performing in pubs and at festivals and fairs since 1987, first with “Sweet Jones” who was signed to EMI, and then Toronto’s infamous “Caution”. After moving to BC in ’07 he started focusing on a solo career, releasing 5 albums so far.  The Crissinger Band is known for their upbeat and danceable shows, and though I’ve never seen them in concert this new disc leaves little doubt that this is the truth.

Night Light isn’t strictly a blues record, though there is plenty of that in these tracks and some straight up blues numbers. Songs like A Simple Truth feel more like a slick, mid-tempo AOR ballad and Holding My Heart, which kicks off the disc almost feels more country than anything else- at least to me.  Mark has a few guests in the studio too; Pat Rush plays some slide on the frenetic Poor Boy Blues, Jerome Godboo’s harp graces the title track, Steve Hill lays down some tasty slide on Wild Wind Fever, and you’ll hear Jeff Heisolt’s organ on Poor Boy Blues and Defeated… and it sounds like everyone is having a great time!

Night Light features the Juno-nominated rhythm section of Bill Hicks and Jay Stevens, plus longstanding Crissinger band members Dan Dube and Marty Howe.  “I really enjoyed making this album and am quite pleased with the results” Mark says.  “Lyrically there are ten separate ideas here that are honest and heartfelt, sewn together by great musicianship and spontaneous construction.”  It’s a well produced and great sounding record, and Crissinger himself is a tasty guitarist- when he gets into the real blues here, he digs deep.    Yeah- I’ll definitely be spinning this one again!

ESSENTIALS:  Wild Wind Fever, Poor Boy Blues, One of These Days

 

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