WOMAN ON THE MOON Giulia Millanta (Ugly Cat Music) *****
Giulia’s new (and 8th) album is a thing of haunting beauty. Her music is described on her website as “LoFi Smoky Indie Folk with a European twist”, and Woman On The Moon is a collection of startlingly intimate and vulnerable songs. It’s like eavesdropping on someone else’s very personal conversation.
When it comes to writing songs, Millanta has no problem wearing her heart on her sleeve. Woman On The Moon is the follow-up to 2020’s Tomorrow Is A Bird- in reviewing the album in October of that year I noted the she has a degree in medicine but has taken her gift for healing in a different direction by pursuing a career in music. As with that record and previous work as well, these songs have abundant room to breathe, the uncluttered-ness allowing the listener to focus on the messages conveyed by the lyrics and the stories they tell. It’s like entering somebody else’s dream as an observer, and sometimes wishing you were a part of the story too.
Songs like The Distance In Between (I will reach across time and space/ and wipe your eyes) have the uncanny power to sound hopeful while breaking your heart at the same time. Maybe that’s one of the things I find so moving at Woman On The Moon, that you can listen to the tunes and, depending on how you feel, come away with something different each time. There’s a quote on her website by one of my favorite music critics Dave Marsh that I’ll share here, because it sums up Giulia Millanta better than I ever could; “The best and scariest thing about Giulia Millanta is not just that she is truly a tightrope walker herself but that she continually pulls you out there with her; with melodies, singing, stories, imagery. No matter what language her lyrics may be in (she likes to occasionally include a number in Italian), she’s always understandable because her music is, like any fine art, universally recognizable.”
Emotional truth and honesty plus gentle acoustic melodies and fine guitar playing make Woman On The Moon one of the finest records you’re likely to hear this year. www.giuliamillanta.com
HOT TRACKS: The Distance In Between, Mad Man On The Moon, The World Is In Your Heart (rocking version)
THEY CALLED IT RHYTHM & BLUES The Duke Robillard Band (Stony Plain) ****
If you want to listen to someone that has an enormously good time playing the blues, Duke Robillard is your man. They Called It Rhythm & Blues, as with many of Duke’s releases, explores the jazzy corners of the blues in vibrant, exquisite detail. An all-star guest list helps Robillard and his band really bring these songs to life and a large time his had by all. This disc is like time travel in the very best way.
The term “rhythm & blues” has undergone many interpretations over the years since originating in black American communities in the 1940’s. It combined regional styles and included various forms of blues and swing with jazz, boogie-woogie and gospel. It paved the way for doo-wop, rock & roll, funk and soul. It informs much of the music we listen to today, though modern R&B is a far cry from its early roots in the blues. On They Called It Rhythm & Blues Robillard, as bandleader and producer, executes each song with the loving detail of both fan and historian.
Guests joining Duke and the 5 other members of his band on this adventure include John Hammond, Kim Wilson, Sue Foley, Sugar Ray Norcia, Doug James, Matt McCabe and many more. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome for the sessions for this album” Robillard says. “It’s just a darn good representation of my band, the guest artists and the music we chose to record. I threw in a few of my own tunes written for the occasion also, and it makes a pretty well rounded package.” Musically the album is a throwback to a bygone era yet that helps it stand out against the white noise roar of the current music scene. When Duke takes a guitar solo, Doug James steps up to blow his sax or guest vocalist Michelle Willson gets evil on songs like Champagne Mind or Trouble In Mind you can tell they’re feeling every note; and they make you feel it too.
If you revel in the history and sound of deep blues, swing and jazz, They Called It Rhythm & Blues is the disc you should be playing right now. Released March 18th, vinyl connoisseurs should note it will be available a vinyl LP August 5th. It’s a beautiful thing. www.dukerobillard.com
HOT TRACKS: Champagne Mind (with Michelle Willson), Here I’m Is, Tell Me Why (with Kim Wilson)
COSMIC DREAMER Barney Bentall (True North) *****
I tried to wait, honestly I did, but thanks to a connection I’ve been enjoying Barney Bentall’s new album so much I can’t wait until its April 22nd release date to tell you about it. Cosmic Dreamer is a quiet album that follows roughly the same path as the solo
records Barney’s been putting out since Gift Horse in 2006; thoughtful explorations of deep, heartfelt sentiments. I love Barney’s rock stuff with The Legendary Hearts, but songs like these speak to me in different and profound ways.
Cosmic Dreamer is 11 songs, 9 originals plus covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s Shadows and Bob Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, which is sung with Valentino Trapani. Covid meant spending less time with other songwriters and musicians, so the album has fewer co-writers than previous efforts. Barney co-produced the album with multi-instrumentalist Adrian Dolan, recording and mixing it at Dolan’s studio in Ladysmith, BC. This has the gentle spirit of last year’s instrumental record Ranch Writers as well as discs like The Inside Passage. You can also feel the influence of Bentall’s other projects like The High Bar Gang and even The Cariboo Express.
It may at first seem like folly to stretch yourself artistically and creatively in so many directions, but Bentall finds it necessary. “I want to experiment with other things” he says. “It’s important for me to write songs and try different musical styles. Why limit myself? To me it’s just good music.” For me as a fan of Barney’s music since first hearing The Legendary Hearts self titled debut in ’88, it’s like following Robert Plant’s career. HE started out rocking the world with Led Zeppelin, yet now his records are sparse, deep and intimate voyages that take you somewhere else completely. Springsteen too, for that matter; especially when you consider something like Born To Run from ’75 to 2019’s Western Stars. Both are meaningful in different ways.
A quiet, acoustic guitar-based album like Cosmic Dreamer requires you to listen closely and pay attention to what is being sung, or you’ll miss devastating lines like “no one knows where the light goes when it leaves your eyes” from Potter’s Wheel, performed with Ruth Moody. As you might expect with a title like Cosmic Dreamer these songs won’t make you get up and dance but they’ll help you think about your life and things like where you’ve been, where you are, and where you might like to go. I turn 64 on the day this comes out and I find an experience like this invaluable, even necessary. www.barneybentall.com
HOT TRACKS: Potter’s Wheel, Cosmic Dreamer, Why Are You So Sad, Cody Road
HELL, CA Jizzy Pearl’s Love/Hate (Golden Robot Records) *** ½
This is a band I’ve not paid attention to ages. When I started writing album reviews their debut, 1990’s Blackout In The Red Room, is one of the very first records I wrote up. 32 years later we come to the 8th album, Hell, CA. With Pearl’s wailing vocals and the grinding, dirty guitars, this is the kind of glorious rock & roll from the wrong side of the gutter that, frankly, we need more of.
The original lineup of this band released 5 records, and since that time Jizzy has kept Love/Hate alive with his own version of this Sunset Strip rock collective. He has also recorded and toured with Ratt, LA Guns, Steven Adler and is currently with Quiet Riot. But wait, there’s more; he’s also released 5 solo albums too. As a singer Jizzy is a cross between Vince Neil and Robert Plant, and his compatriots know how to bump and grind with the best of them. Drummer Charles Evans and bassist Christian Kimmett are a blunt force rhythm section, and guitarist Steve Pearce is a fine metal player with buckets of attitude to spare. I love how just unleashes and goes over the top in a swaggering Jimmy Page/ Slash sort of way, taking the rest of the band with him.
Hell, CA is a disc with energy to spare powered by excellent riffery, the kind of stuff you’d hear at a summer bush party or blaring from an old Camaro as it blasts down the road at inappropriate speeds. Pearl is a good rock singer, but he’d be even better if there was more light and shade in his delivery. Some different choices in dynamics and tempo from the other 3 guys might help broaden the horizons of these 10 songs and stave off ‘metal fatigue’.
Other than a handful of bands, I was never much into the Strip scene in LA but Jizzy Pearl’s Love/Hate play it low and dirty, unlike the Nancy boys in their makeup, spandex tights and poufy hair. This album is more ‘biker rock’ than anything else, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull up for a gig at some shitty bar riding Harleys. Hard, sinewy, driving, take no prisoners ballad-free hard rock; that’s Hell, CA in a nutshell. https://www.facebook.com/JizzyPearlsLoveHate
HOT TRACKS: One Hot Minute, Wanna Be Somebody, Hard To Say
IT’S A MAD MAD BAD DAD WORLD Bad Daddy (PieHole Records) **** ½
If you want the blues, Chicago is the place to go. It’s A Mad Mad Bad Dad World is street level blues, the result of a collaboration between singer/ guitarist Paul Waring and his friend Pete Galanis. Working on songs Waring already had, the two came up with a disc of attitude and groove that any blues fan can get into.
This album is the result of Paul and Pete sitting in Galanis’s studio in February of 2021 drinking beers, talking music, and working on Waring’s busted amp. “Pete’s become a
close friend whom I trust and respect” Paul says. “Sitting in that studio I said to him ‘I got all these songs written, half of them are done and the others are close- how about we make a record together?’ It’s that bond with Pete, in collaboration with his band and my will to push on that ultimately got this record made.”
Three things instantly stand out on MMBDW; Paul Warning’s smoky voice, the supple grooves, and the excellent guitar work. The solos are biting and expressive, the sort of thing where you hit rewind to hear it again. The record is one man’s story of love and sorrow, speaking to the broader human experience; the pain and joy that define storytelling within the context of the blues. The forced isolation of the pandemic gave Paul plenty of time to consider what he wanted this record to express. “The process of making this record was one part voodoo and one part experimentation, but exactly what I’d hoped- an honest collaboration” Waring notes. “I feel like these songs are a reflection of my soul and my message is captured in every one of these tracks.”
Mad Bad Dad World is 9 original songs plus a cover of Mighty Sam McClain’s Where You Been So Long. Though the album is blues-powered, it’s more a mix of classic blues and roots rock that gives it a bit of a swampy Allman Brothers meets ARS thing. As you listen you’ll be able to feel this album in a meaningful way. While the songs came from Paul Waring, they kind of feel like they apply to you and me too. It’s A Mad Mad Bad Dad World has tons of soul- the more I listen, the more I like. www.badaddy.com
HOT TRACKS: Just My Luck, The Blues I Can Use, Trip On Your Love
THAT’S MY NAME Bob Stroger & The Headcutters (Delmark) ***+
This legendary blues singer and bassist is back with his first album in 15 years. At 91 years old Bob Stroger has been there and done that, probably more than once. Along with his band The Headcutters, he has made That’s My Name a laid back journey through the history of the blues. This feels like a time travel trip in the best way.
Bob Stroger has been a first hand witness to blues history, having worked with many of the heroes and architects of the genre; Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers and Snooky Pryor, just to name a few in a lengthy and impressive list. As you would expect with a bluesman of his vintage, That’s My Name feels like a long lost classic slab from perhaps the 40’s or
50’s. As a singer Stroger reminds me a lot of Muddy Waters, and as a bass player he is a groove master par excellence. He’s been a sideman for decades, and this marks his first album for Delmark as a leader. His band, The Headcutters, are a fiercely talented Brazilian quartet that swing effortlessly behind him, as if they’d been doing it for years. Bob sets the pace and they fall into the pocket as if they were born there.
If you’re looking for something fast, aggressive and slick, this probably isn’t the right record for you. As much as I admire more modern artists like SRV or Matty T Wall and what they bring to the table, the blues is a music of depth and history, and this is a disc steeped in those traditions from long ago, both lyrically and musically. You could play That’s My Name back to back with some old Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson or John Lee Hooker and feel that they all belong in the same room together.
That’s My Name is a mix of Bob Stroger originals along with covers of tunes by Jay McShann and Eugene Church, plus a cool version of Ma Rainey’s CC Rider. One of the things I’m really digging about this album is its almost hypnotic laid back pace, rarely raising the pulse high enough to make you sweat. Lyrically the songs are standard blues fare, but musically it’s hypnotic. If you close your eyes and listen you’ll soon find yourself swaying in time.
That’s My Name, though a new recording, is straight up traditional blues. If that’s your thang, then by all means dig in. https://delmark.com/product/bob-stroger-thats-my-name/
HOT TRACKS: Stranded In St. Louis, CC Rider, I’m A Busy Man