JUNE 12TH Lyle Lovett (Verve Records) ***
This is, apparently, Lyle Lovett’s first album project in 10 years. I’m a fan of his quirky singer/songwriter side, but June 12th is more about his big band & jazz leanings, or his ‘Large Band’ if you will. While there is plenty here to enjoy, I was hoping to have my socks blown off… yet they remain on my feet.
June 12th doesn’t feel like a record Lovett made to appease the hardcore fans, more for his own enjoyment, and in a weird way I like it because of that. There are a variety of styles here from big band to country ballads to kitschy pop, all tied together by that unique voice of his. Plus, as with the other Lyle Lovett albums I own- admittedly not as many as I’d like- the musicianship is exquisite. There are a number of covers amongst these 11 tracks and while his version of Straighten Up & Fly Right is well done, it doesn’t hold a candle to Nat King Cole’s definitive original.
When I heard Lyle was putting out a new album I hoped for something similar in spirit to Joshua Judges Ruth, one of my favorite records of all time, or at least something that would compare to his version of The Grateful Dead’s Friend Of The Devil. But no, it seems he had other things in mind so I’ll need to spend more time with this one to figure out where his head is at and what he hoped we would get out of it. Of course he has a rather quirky vocal style that some people will never be able to get past.
According to a review of the album I read on www.themusicaldivide.com Lovett has described June 12th as his reflections on fatherhood, which came to him relatively late in life. The disc opens with the big band blast of Horace Silver’s Cookin’ At the Continental, an instrumental that’ll have you asking “what next, then?” Tracks like Pants Is Overrated and Pig Meat Man are closer to what I anticipated, displaying the odd lyrical sense of humor that many of us love Lyle Lovett for.
Ultimately I really do like June 12th but I’m not head over heels- and that’s okay. Of the many artists or bands I consider favorites I can’t think of a single one who knocked it out of the park every single time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy everything they’ve done to some degree. So while this isn’t the definitive Lyle Lovett artistic statement, it’s still pretty decent company- and I’m fine with that.
HOT TRACKS: Straighten up & Fly Right, Peel Me A Grape, Pants Is Overrated
FIERCE BLISS Ann Wilson (Silver Lining Music) ****
Including EP’s, I make this to be Ann Wilson’s 5th solo outing. As she approaches her 72nd birthday on June 19th, Fierce Bliss is proof that she remains one of rock & roll’s very best singers, regardless of gender. This disc contains 7 originals along with a handful of covers that flex plenty of muscle, not unlike a classic 80’s Heart record.
These days Ann calls Florida home- enough of ‘the wet coast’ I guess- and Fierce Bliss was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama with a number of Nashville session players. The album also includes guest appearances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. Ann is in fine voice throughout with most of the tracks being hard rock/ Heart-esque. It would be cool to hear some more variety in her delivery, but as a review on www.popmatters.com asks, “How do you flex new muscles when your voice is all muscle to begin with?” A good question, but I like where she’s at as a singer here.
The 4 covers on Fierce Bliss include The Eurythmics’ Missionary Man, Jeff Buckley’s Forget Her, and a duet with Vince Gill on Queen’s Love Of My Life. The best of the covers here, though, is her take on Robin Trower’s Bridge Of Sighs which combines the power and drama of the original crossed with Heart’s Devil Delight and Mistral Wind; it’s the track that keeps drawing me back. While FB doesn’t have the sonic diversity of her first solo album, 2007’s Hope & Glory, let’s not forget that her first step out on her own was a covers record. An inspired choice of songs but still, all covers. But let’s also remember that H&G was 15 years ago now; I get the feeling Fierce Bliss is her way of showing she’s still got it to lean back and roar when she damn well wants to.
I suppose there might be some that hoped Ann Wilson would display the same willingness to experiment and follow her muse down different paths as Robert Plant has done over the years and I get that… but what if she doesn’t want to? She can pull it down when the spirit moves her as she does on Love Of My Life and Forget Her, but I will always back someone that goes where they bloody well want to, as Ann Wilson does on Fierce Bliss. If this sounds a little too much like a Heart record to some, maybe that just underscores how important she is to that band as a writer and singer.
At the end of the day Fierce Bliss kicks some ass, and that totally works.
HOT TRACKS: Greed, Bridge Of Sighs, Angel’s Blues
WALK WHEN YOU WANNA RUN Ethan Askey (independent) *****
After decades as a sideman and rubbing shoulders with legends like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, this Calgary-based bluesman is stepping out on his own, On Walk When You Wanna Run Ethan’s long apprenticeship has served him well; this is a brace of soulful grooves and dirty blues that really get under your skin in the best of ways.
Askey is an earthy harp player and his talents have gotten him onto stages in Chicago and Memphis. As a singer he’s deep and laid back, and there’s a river of truth running through these songs. He says the title cut is autobiographical, about a visit to Chicago. “I had coffee with Junior Wells’ mother in their shared home” he told me, “and lived to tell the tale of getting from the train station to said home. The year before I’d played for Junior and Buddy in Buddy’s club, and several years before that I had met Junior at Calgary’s King Eddy after his gig.” As for the rest of the songs on the album, Ethan notes that “each has its own truths, all lived experience, other than the Tom Waits cover.” He’s had a ton of help with the album too, from his Mojo band mates to hot players like Steve Marriner and Jimmy Bowskill.
In addition to Walk When You Wanna Run, Ethan Askey (also known as “Shorty”) is busy recording with other performers and live projects, most notably as front man for the blues club dance band Mojo. It’s that live experience that gives the new album its vitality, playing like a set you’d like to hear in a place like The King Eddy. Musician and producer Scotty Hill says of Ethan “(he’s) a soul connector. His musical conviction and hum charm are the things that great music scenes are made of”, and even though I’ve just encountered him and given this album a couple of spins, it rings true.
Walk When You Wanna Run is a fine sounding album too, rich and thick but not too busy, balanced by danceable as well as lowdown grooves that broaden the definition of ‘the blues’. Intent is an important ingredient in worthwhile blues, and on his website Ethan notes “I’ve been moved by music, and making music, since I was born. With all people everywhere and across language barriers, I’ve found that rhythms and tonal colors are ties that bind- and liberate.”
This is one of those albums that, once you lend an ear, you’ll never forget.
HOT TRACKS: One Foot In the Grave, Walk When You Wanna Run, Of Different Kind
OUT OF THE GUTTER Jones Street (Eonian Records) ****
Some knuckle-dragging leather jacket rock & roll here for you, and it’s a beautiful thing. Out Of The Gutter is blunt trauma rock & roll, a boot to the head that will have you pleading “please sir- can I have some more?”
Jones Street is an LA hard rock band that combines the energy of early Skid Row with Guns N’ Roses, a riff-tastic combination that sounds better the louder you play it. There’s an AC/DC like simplicity to Out Of The Gutter that makes it easy to get into, like walking into your favorite bar on a Friday night with a band you really dig cranking it out on stage. Some of these tracks were produced by Vince Neil, others by Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, guys that know a thing or two about the soft white underbelly of the LA rock scene. The rest of the record was produced by Jay Baubgarder (Bush, P.O.D., Papa Roach, Alien Ant Farm) and tons more. The best rock & roll sounds dirty and sleazy, something this band and those producers know very well.
If you’re talking straight up vibe, I’d compare Out Of The Gutter to early Motley Crue and maybe lesser known bands like Rhino Bucket and New American Shame. The bio says Jones Street were influenced early on by groups like Van Halen, Aerosmith, AC/DC and Guns, and you don’t have to listen too closely to know that this is where they came from- particularly Guns N’ Roses. This disc has a lot of swagger going for it, an attitude, the kind of noise to make your parents shout “TURN THAT CRAP DOWN!” This quintet has a raw, powerful attack that will make you sit up and take notice.
Mixed and mastered by Anthony Focx of Beautiful Creatures, when I think of hard rock Out Of The Gutter is what I imagine it should sound like; snotty and a little bit reckless, but still well played. The band is Shawn Crosby on vocals, Jonny Jones on guitar & bg vocals, Mickey Perez on guitar & bg vocals, John Jauregui on bass & bg vocals, with drums played by Rob Hanna while producer Focx is on the kit for 3 tunes too.
Out Of The Gutter is a call-back to a time before guitar heavy rock got cleaned up and sanitized by record companies to appeal to the masses. I would love to see this album become the next big thing. Whether or not it will, only time will tell… but you can bet your ass and the rent too that it’s a pretty big fuckin’ deal at my house.
HOT TRACKS: Dancin’ With The Devil, What Comes Around, When It All Comes Down
DIAMOND STAR HALOS Def Leppard (Bludgeon Riffola/ Mercury) ****
Def Leppard’s debut On Through The Night came out in 1980, so they can safely be considered a ‘heritage rock act’ that could tour on the mountain of classic tunes they’ve accumulated over the last 42 years. Unlike Kiss, that isn’t in their nature. Creative restlessness has led them to Diamond Star Halos, their 12th album. At 15 tracks it’s overly long and there is some filler, but it’s still a fairly bangin’ rock album.
Diamond Star Halos as a title was taken directly from a line in T. Rex’s Bang A Gong (Get It On) which is fitting as this celebrates and invokes the glam wave of the 70’s. But why go through the trouble of doing another a studio record when they really don’t have to? The review I read on blabbermouth.net the day I got the album sums it up perfectly in saying “the one thing that has always made the British crew so widely appealing is that Def Leppard have never stopped behaving like the wide-eyed, priapic teenagers they were when they penned Hello America all those years ago.” Maybe the Leps have discovered rock & roll to be the fountain of youth after all.
Throughout Diamond Star Halos you’ll find traces of glitter stars like T. Rex, Bowie and Sweet as glam and metal riffery collide to create this particular rock & roll experience. It’s not an overly slick offering as were their Mutt Lange produced albums like Pyromania and Hysteria, but closer to the adventurous spirit of the cruelly underrated Slang which came out in 1996. They’re also a rock band with pop smarts as demonstrated by tracks like All We Need. After wandering through the wilderness on discs like Songs From The Sparkle Lounge and X they’re back on task. I’ve seen mention on Facebook over the last while that, thanks to the pandemic DSH was recorded remotely with each band member isolated in their own home studio. The isolation plus the time allowed to work on the material must be at least partly responsible for the noticeable vitality of the new record.
It’s a different world as far as the music business is concerned and Def Leppard is well past the point of needing a planet-killing album like Hysteria to get attention. They made Diamond Star Halos to please themselves, and that’s the best reason of all. Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell play some great guitar here, I think this is the best I’ve ever heard Joe Elliot sing, and having Alison Krauss drop in for a couple of tunes is a delightful surprise. You know, I think Classic Rock is right in declaring this Def Leppard’s best album in 30 years. To find out a ton more about DSH, read the Apple review on your I Tunes while you give this a spin.
HOT TRACKS: Take What You Want, Kick, This Guitar (w Alison Krauss), Liquid Dust
GROWING PAINS Courtney Hale-Revia (self released) **** ½
Growing Pains is the 3rd album for this young singer/songwriter calling the same town that gave us Johnny & Edgar Winter (Beaumont, Texas) home. Courtney is unapologetically a confessional songwriter, giving her songs uncommon amounts of depth and truth. Her sound is primarily a blend of folk, bluegrass, Americana and country with some twang. Listening closely to her lyrics offers a superb payoff.
“I have lived in the same little town pretty much all my life” Hale-Revia says. “It’s a town that I love but swore I’d never stay in once I graduated high school. Life took its turn and well, I’m still here.” Though many of her themes are serious and personal she isn’t afraid to have fun. Overall the sound of the album is ‘western’, with warm and spacious sonics that give a friendly vibe. The most arresting in this tasty bunch is Bloom Where You Are, which was written by her father in 1989- she lost him to Covid last year. The message is summed up by the line when roots run deep/ the only way out is to bloom where you are. You have to admit that’s pretty solid advice.
Growing Pains was superbly produced by Courtney along with Ryan Len Johnson, Brian Baker and Cody Eldridge, recorded at studios in Beaumont, Houston and Port Neches. As Donnie Coruville of the “Big Thicket Hogs & Strings Festival” has noted, the production “gives (it) the feel of an acoustic album but allows the music and scenery in the songs to flourish on a grander scale. It creates just the kind of space that someone would want to travel to if they had to go and figure out life’s intricacies.”
The final track, the aforementioned Bloom Where You Are¸ was recorded live at the 7 Oaks venue on her property that she also runs as a promoter. Watching her father James write and play music all his life, being a singer/ songwriter herself in an area of Texas that needs more venues for original artists is her inspiration to tackle that side of music.
I really enjoy Courtney’s singing, the way this album sounds and how it makes me think about things. I suppose if we approach life in the right way we are perpetually going through Growing Pains, and being reminded of that is not a bad idea at all. There is truth in beauty and beauty in truth, and this is a record that can help you see that from all sides.
HOT TRACKS: Blood And Water, Bloom Where You Are, Who Are You