TURNING TO CRIME Deep Purple (Edel / Ear Music) *** ½
When I heard Deep Purple was releasing a covers album I got a little queasy. When most bands do that it’s usually a lazy, half-baked contractual obligation, best used as a drink coaster- but not here. Turning To Crime is the sound of one of the most talented bands in rock ‘n’ roll cutting lose and having some fun. Is it perfect? No. Does it suck? Also, no.
Thanks to that pesky COVID-19 virus this was, by necessity, recorded remotely and stitched together. Bob Ezrin, their producer since 2013 suggested it as a way to fill the down time. Singer Ian Gillan’s fondness of early rock & roll is well known, so by that measure songs like The Battle of New Orleans (Roger Glover on vocals) and Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie-Woogie Flu are not surprising. What does surprise is the big band treatment given to Let The Good Times Roll, worth the price of admission on its own.
If you haven’t kept track of the band in recent years it consists of Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass, Ian Paice on drums, Steve Morse on guitar (he replaced Ritchie Blackmore in the mid-90’s) and Don Airey on keyboards. Two things factor into the success and failure of a record like Turning To Crime; the selection of tunes, and how they are handled. Missteps here are few; 7 And 7 Is by Arthur Lee’s Love is curiously stiff, especially for an album opener… but the aforementioned Let the Good Times Roll and a righteous cover of Cream’s White Room are the flip side of that coin. The last track on the record is Caught In The Act, a medley of tunes by Freddie King, Booker T. & The MG’s, The Allman Brothers, Led Zep and The Spencer Davis Group. Sounds like the boys were having all kinds of fun.
For a band that’s been around as long as Purple, admittedly in various formations, it’s unusual to have an artistically valid and interesting late career run like they’ve enjoyed. Their first record with Steve Morse on guitar was in ’96, and Don Airey replaced the late Jon Lord for 2003’s Bananas and has been on board since. I don’t think of Turning To Crime so much as being a part of that line of records as being an entertaining intermission or sidebar. Important? Don’t think so. Enjoyable? A good time? Definitely. With most of the band in their 70’s now the end is in sight, but it’s good to know that their sense of fun is still very much intact. www.deeppurple.com
BEST TRACKS: Let The Good Times Roll, Caught In The Act, White Room
AWAKE Mala Oreen (Mother West/ Tourbo Music) ***
Strummy acoustic chick folk singer music is a fairly loose yet nonetheless accurate way to describe this record. Mala Oreen is a Swiss/ American singer-songwriter who calls Lucerne home and Awake is a delicate, heartfelt album that has been described as “healing’, “powerful”, “passionate” and “as pure as an Alpine stream”. This may not be your thing, but if those descriptions tickle your cerebral cortex, by all means jump in.
Mala’s mother’s record collection was her early inspiration, and she grew up in a home that encouraged her musical interests. She began classical violin studies as a young girl and fell in love with Irish and Appalachian music, which shows up in the timbre and melodies of the songs she presents here. She also makes music for its own sake, saying “I would like to touch people’s hearts with my music, so they can gather new courage to live what makes them happy and share their own talents and passions with the world.” A pretty noble goal for this collection of 10 modest songs.
The songs on Awake grew from a longer visit to the States where she encountered like-minded artists. Some left subtle stamps on the music here while others ended up as actual collaborators. The themes she explores here are in line with her stated musical goal, with topics ranging from enjoying the creative impulses life affords us all to its limitations; prison bars that each of us needs to break. She sings about the healing and wild powers of nature as well as about sorrow and loss… of course.
Mala laid the foundations of the album during a 3 month stay in the hill country by Austin, Texas. It was then produced by Neilson Hubbard at the Skinny Elephant Recording Studio in Nashville. Awake is one of those discs you’ll either want to listen to on your own while you think about life, the turns and chances you’ve taken as well as the ones you let pass by. It’s also good company for late evening chats with a friend or lover in front of the fireplace on a chilly winter’s evening. Inspiring and subtle- that’s Awake. www.malamusic.ch
BEST TRACKS: Ragged Queen, Soldier On, Breathing Hope
SERVE IT TO ME HOT Chickenbone Slim (VizzTone) ****
Some hot and greasy blues here from San Diego’s Chickenbone Slim. Serve It To Me Hot is a mix of traditional blues, West Coast Swing, Americana and Rockabilly. Put this baby on your hi-fi and a wild and reckless party is bound to break out.
Serve It To Me Hot is an energetic set of all original material that Chickenbone calls “roots rock, an eclectic mix of short stories with danceable grooves.” As the man himself says, “from my core I’m a blues guy; T Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker… somewhere between Hound Dog Taylor and Dave Edmunds”, and that alone is reason enough to give this one a spin.
This album was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose with ‘Bones’ current band; guitarist Laura Chavez, drummer Marty Dodson (The Fabulous Thunderbirds), and longtime bassist Andrew Crane. Kid Andersen, quite the guitar player himself, throws in some choice licks along with some piano and organ work. Serve It To Me Hot has a vintage vibe and feel without sounding chintzy. As it plays you get the distinct impression that everyone was having a whale of a time, and that’s just what you want it to feel like; a party… makes me wish I still remembered how to dance.
As I noted when reviewing Chickenbone’s last album, 2020’s Sleeper, his new album is like time traveling back to the 60’s in many ways. His band sounds, grooves and plays like a well seasoned roadhouse outfit, playing songs that move people physically and emotionally. The bluest of these 13 songs is Top Of The Clouds which features some great harp playing from Aki Kumar… I just wish he’d participated in more songs. Serve It To Me Hot is one of those discs that I enjoyed straight off but it gets better with every spin; not a bad thing to have happen. It’s the sound of Chickenbone Slim and his band doing what they know how to do, and doing it very well. www.chickenboneslim.com
BEST TRACKS: Top Of The Clouds, Wild Eyed Woman, Laying In The Weeds
DESERT TRIP (DELUXE) Steve Hill (No Label Records) *****
This is the re-release of an album released about a year ago and I reviewed in February 2021. Back then I said the songs were “evocative and cinematic, as if they belong in a Clint Eastwood film”, and that still holds true. This deluxe edition carries 3 more numbers you won’t have if you’ve got the original version.
This deluxe edition was, apparently, always in the cards. “I knew I would release a deluxe version of Desert Trip before it originally came out. I had too much music for an LP and I wanted the album to be the same experience from one medium to another” Steve says. “Now, a year later, it feels like the right time to get these songs out there, and they were meant to be a part of that concept album. That being said, the track Alternate Days gives a glimpse of what to expect from my next release (due) in 2022.” Also included is a wicked version of Hellhound On My Trail, recently featured on Joe Bonamassa’s “In The Name Of The Blues” playlist on Spotify.
Desert Trip was inspired by a 2016 trip to Coachella and the Desert Trip Festival. “I had an amazing time while I was there and decided to hang around LA for a little longer” Steve says of that trip. “After a couple of days I felt the urge to move and a need to explore. I rented a camper van and criss-crossed the state for about 3 weeks, bought a guitar and wrote some tunes at night while camping in Death Valley, Big Sur, Yosemite, San Rafael and many other wild places. These are the songs I wrote, along with a few vamped up oldies of mine that fit right in as if they’d been written on the same trip.” You can definitely pick up that vibe as you play this one and, as a ‘deluxe version’ of an already amazing album, I really like that Hill doesn’t bombard us with demos and half baked songs that should’ve stayed in the drawer. Just 3 more songs, but OH those songs!
As I also remarked in February, “Sometimes music makes you feel good viscerally with uplifting melodies and pleasing performances. An album like Desert Trip IS those things, but it’s also like an intimate late night conversation with your best friend” and that is perhaps even more true today. Revisiting these songs and folding the 3 new tracks into the narrative has been most excellent, an island of intimate calm and refuge in as the Christmas season hurtles toward us. DEFINITELY recommended, this. www.stevehillmsuic.com
BEST TRACKS: Hellhound On My Trail, Evening Star, Gotta Be Strong
ELECTRIC EYE Carl Sentance (Drakkar Entertainment) ****
Sometimes you want to just sit in a room, lit only by a small lava lamp in the corner and listen to quite music while you examine your life. Other times you want to leave the lights on, turn up the volume and kick out the jams. This is one of those times and Carl Sentance’s new album is the right record to get you there. Electric Eye is 4-on-the-floor rock, hard as nails, infectiously simple and melodic from the current voice of Nazareth.
I’ll admit when I first saw the title Electric Eye I thought immediately of the Judas Priest tune, but this stuff is more sophisticated if such a thing can be said about metal. The hooks in the songs caught my attention right away, and as a singer Carl reminded me immediately of ex-Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate. Some interesting connections to be noted here in that Sentance replaced the ailing Dan Cafferty at the mic for Nazareth, but Deep Purple’s Don Airey is listed on keyboards here too- they’d played together in “Don Airey & Friends”. The record company promo suggests that this will appeal to fans of Nazareth, Deep Purple, UFO, Status Quo and Uriah Heep, to which I would possibly add Queensryche, and the record company is correct in their assessment; Electric Eye is definitely that type of rock & roll.
I lost sight of Nazareth years ago and so had not heard of Carl, but that has all changed with this new album. Electric Eye is apparently his 4th studio record, and if the others come even close to this in terms of quality it has me wondering just what I’ve been missing. The songs here are as catchy as they are straight to the point, no musical meandering here… 10 cuts that get right down to business with the kind of energy that makes you want to drive just a little bit- or maybe a lot- faster.
Carl Sentance has a fairly interesting back story, which I won’t detail here in this album review; look him up on Wikipedia. Carl is an impressive singer and the songs on Electric Eye simmer and cook the way good hard rock should. www.carlsentance.com
BEST TRACKS: California Queen, Electric Eye, Nervous Breakdown
BLUES ALL OVER MY SHOES Hanna PK (Booga Music/ VizzTone) *** ½
At last we have proof that there’s more to Korea than ‘K-Pop’. Hanna PK is an accomplished pianist, talented songwriter and soulful singer. She was born and raised in South Korea, currently calls Rochester, NY home, and this is her first release for VizzTone. Stunning musicianship and great singing make Blues All Over My Shoes a disc you’ll want to hear again and again.
Hanna wrote all of these songs with the exception of I’m Lost Without You by P. Chatman. Blues All Over My Shoes was recorded and produced by internationally acclaimed bluesman Kenny Neal at his Baton Rouge studio. This album is the result of Ms. PK developing and honing her skills over the years through wood-shedding and all those nights spent gigging with her band. It’s an interesting mix, this… in many ways this is very much a traditional blues set, but when you hear Hanna sing she comes across very much like a pop vocalist with a vibrato and range that recalls Christina Aguilera.
The diversity you can find and display within a genre as narrowly defined as the blues is really quite something at the hands of someone like Hanna PK who really knows what she’s doing. Not sure who the other players are on Blues All Over My Shoes but you can bet Kenny Neal pitches in on a few numbers. Of Hanna Kenny notes that “I think this album is not only a blues album but also catches Hanna’s style. She’s got her own ideas, I think this album is catching that and that’s what I like about it.”
Hanna is a powerful and passionate singer and her vocals can come across as too overdriven but that lends a certain rawness to the songs and again, the playing is excellent. Blues All Over My Shoes is her debut so she’s starting out with one hell of a bang. www.hannapk.com
BEST TRACKS: Two And Four, Bad Woman, It’s Alright baby