THE CONCORD SESSIONS Howard Gladstone (Sonic Peach Records) ****
A charming new record here, the 7th, from this Toronto-based folkie. Part James Taylor/ part Bruce Cockburn, Howard Gladstone’s The Concord Sessions focuses on the broader picture of where we are at collectively as a species, exposing many sides of our nature; our strengths, weaknesses and foibles. It is a relaxed, intimate and urgent experience.
There’s a story behind the creation of this album. “Three years after suffering a spinal cord injury, I recovered sufficiently to write the songs and record the album Hourglass” Howard says. “Immediately upon finishing (that), I asked the same musical crew to return to Concord Avenue Studio the following week, and we recorded the tracks being released as The Concord Sessions.” Of this album, recorded in 2017 over a 2 day period then released just last month, “Gladstone notes that “What you hear now is what went down in the studio over the two day recording period, there are no overdubs. The only thing that was added was background vocals. It’s recorded in high resolution audio so every nuance and wrinkle is audible.” That reminds me of James Taylor’s Dad Loves His Work (81), mixed with ‘The Aphex Aural Exciter’- the sound there is exquisite too.
Howard’s bright, shimmering acoustic guitar and warm, distinctly un-mannered vocal style make The Concord Sessions pretty effortless to warm up to. Two singles, Building A Fence and World’s Become A Warmer Place are deceptive in their gentle friendliness. Fence is an upbeat, bluesy kind of tune that deals with themes of division, privilege, separation and impending crises. Warmer Place explores the climate crisis we face and those who are subsequently displaced by the disrupted weather patterns. The easy company throughout of Tony Quarrington, George Koller, Bob Scott and Laura Fernandez help make this disc the delightful company it is, along with the recording, engineering, mixing and mastering talents of Concord owner Peter J. Moore.
At its most basic, The Concord Sessions is an engaging folk album about some pretty deep subjects; definitely worth checking out. www.howardgladstone.com
BEST TRACKS: Building A Fence, Occupy, The World’s A Warmer Place
SHE SAID John DeNicola (Omad Records) ***
After 5 decades in the music industry as an award winning songwriter and producer. DeNicola has just made his second solo album. She Said is the follow-up to 2019’s The Why Because, but even with just 2 recent solo records I KNOW you’ve heard his stuff before. Perhaps an explanation is needed…
Familiar with the movie Dirty Dancing? John is the co-writer, along with Franke Previte, of the two humungoid hits from the the soundtrack, (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life and Hungry Eyes. As a kid in the 70’s DeNicola was in a band called Flight, but he was drawn to a creative life behind the scenes. Now, all these years later, after decades of penning hit songs for other artists, and after interpreting tunes he’d written for others on the aforementioned The Why Because, he decided narrow his focus down to one voice, one touch and one heart; his own. There is an exception here, though, as he does a quite excellent version of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home, written by Steve Winwood.
She Said is a pop record rooted in the 80’s as well as today, a mélange of sounds from both decades that mix surprisingly well. Of course, how you feel about this disc will depend largely on whether or not that idea interests or excites you. There’s some old school pop/ soul song craft at work here like on the title cut that opens the record, a languid and sexy song with a double tracked falsetto that really works. In a way this feels like Paul Stanley’s recent Soul Station record- at least in terms of vibe. But does this sort of thing translate well on today’s pop landscape? I don’t know as I’m not really a fan of today’s pop scene; but DeNicola was involved in Time Of My Life from Dirty Dancing, the one pop song I never seem to tire of, so I’m willing to cut him some slack.
I prefer a more organic ‘real’ sound and many of the songs on She Said are awash in keyboards and synthesizers, so that ups the aural fatigue factor for me. As the three star rating indicates this doesn’t feel like a great record, but it has enough going for it that I’m up for a few more spins to discover its secrets. www.john-denicola.com
BEST TRACKS: She Said, Morning Dew, Can’t Find My Way Home
CHOCOLATE CAKE Zoom with Shawn Kellerman (Mouhaha Music) *****
Greasy, nasty and full of attitude; that’s the kind of blues I love best, and so Zoom’s new album is right up my alley. After a couple of decades off to raise her family she’s back with Chocolate Cake, as powerful a blues album to be released this year- maybe ever.
Zoom was born on a small farm in Romulus, Michigan but has been seen on stages all over the world. She was introduced to the blues at 3, and in the late 70’s seeing Koko Taylor for the first time changed her life. In the 90’s she took part in prestigious Chicago blues tours across Europe, sharing the stage with some of her idols like Koko, Bobby Bland, Albert King and James Cotton, just to name a few. With her career going great guns she made the hard choice to make a sudden stop and turn her attention to her family. It must’ve been hard, but I admire her for knowing what’s really important.
After making the decision to get back in the game, Zoom contacted her old friend Shawn Kellerman, who had spent the past two decades touring with his old band plus Bobby Rush, Sherman Robertson and Lucky Peterson. The result is this fire-breathing blues record, Chocolate Cake. Shawn plays guitars while a host of others play keyboards and Zoom is at the mic, singing with a frightening intensity and coiled sexuality the likes of which I haven’t heard since Koko Taylor. It’s fair to say that this is a blues album with rock & roll power and swagger and funk running strong through its veins.
Chocolate Cake is old school, new school and everything the blues should be… raw, real, honest and sincere. This album is who Zoom is; loud, dynamic, over the top, bold. I love how it doesn’t seem to even occur to her to hold anything back, and Kellerman and the rest of the musicians are right with her every step of the way. She is the rightful heir to the blues crown worn by Koko Taylor, and I think Koko would agree. This album is so good I can’t wait for the next one! www.zoombluesmusic.com
BEST TRACKS: Are You Ready, Born To Sing The Blues, Damn Well
GREATEST HITS 1970-2020 Bruce Cockburn (True North Records) *****
As Bruce Cockburn mounts his 2nd attempt at a 50th anniversary tour- the first deep sixed by that pesky Covid virus- True North, his record label for the whole of his career, will issue Greatest Hits 1970-2020 on December 3rd. It’s a welcome chance to wander through some of his back catalog once again, and remind ourselves what a fine artist (musician and songwriter) he has always been.
I first ran into Bruce’s music in the summer of 1973 when one of my brother’s roommates was a huge fan. In 1987, when I first started buying CD’s I bought his double disc Waiting For A Miracle compilation, and I still have it. Of course being a deejay in Canadian radio made me even more familiar with his music. At this point in his career, 34 albums in and on the eve of his 50th anniversary tour, another retrospective is due.
According to an interview with Blues Rock Review I found on Cockburn’s Facebook page, picking the 30 songs for Greatest Hits 1970-2020 was surprisingly easy. “They’re all singles” Bruce says. “It’s a bit of an exaggeration I’d say but they were all songs that we would have liked to have been hits and some of them actually were. They are all the singles that were fired in the direction of radio.” So if you’ve listened to the radio at all in the last few decades, particularly here in Canada (I live in Alberta) at least some of these songs will be familiar to you- some may even be on your all time favorites list. “Among them certainly are songs that people have kind of embraced more than others” Bruce says in that interview, “so we can use the term ‘hits’ metaphorically.” I’ll post a link for the entire interview at the end of this review.
As Bruce looks back on his career I’m sure some of these songs take him back to a time, place and/ or circumstance as music so often does. When I did a phone interview with him in 2010 before a solo concert at the Charles Bailey Theatre in Trail, BC I noted that many people see him as a ‘political songwriter’, but he said that a song, for him, starts with an emotional response to a situation. So songs like If I Had A Rocket Launcher, If A Tree Falls or Tokyo, all included here, are more than just political statements. Of course there’s more to Cockburn than such insightful observations; give Going To The Country (his first single), Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long or Wondering Where The Lions Are a spin to catch a glimpse of his lighter side.
If the Waiting For A Miracle set is the limit of your contact with Bruce Cockburn’s music, Greatest Hits 1970-2020 is a also great introduction to what he’s done between 1988’s Big Circumstance and 2019’s magnificent Crowing Ignites and I highly recommend it. If you get a chance to catch Bruce on his 50th anniversary tour, do it- it just might change your life. Again, release date for this is Dec.3rd. www.brucecockburn.com
- DISC #1: Going To The Country, Wondering Where The Lions Are, Tokyo
- DISC #2: Night Train, Pacing The Cage, States I’m In
TIGRESS- WOMEN WHO ROCK THE WORLD Jim Peterik & World Stage (Frontiers) ***
The title tells you what you need to know. For Tigress Jim Peterik wanted to showcase women in music that he admires, and by God he’s done exactly that. It’s a hard rock record featuring several different female rock singers, so listening to this is an act of pure discovery. Some good stuff here, but overall it feels a bit ‘Broadway’.
Peterik has always relished a musical challenge, and when label president Serafino Perugino approached him about a new World Stage project, Jim suggested a women’s World Stage album. He then made a wish list of female artists, singers and musicians, he wanted to work with and set about creating the music. “I discovered that I needed to write songs that reflected the female perspective rather than the male” Peterik says. “It was gratifying when women like Janet Gardner (ex-Vixen), Cathy Richardson (Starship), Jennifer Batten, Mindi Abair and so many others gave me the thumbs up.” You’ve heard Jim’s music before, even if you don’t realize it. He wrote or co-wrote Eye Of The Tiger, .38 Special’s Hold On Loosely and Heavy Metal with Sammy Hagar.
Tigress is well played and well sung, but as implied at the top this sort of feels like the soundtrack album of a Broadway play, and I still can’t get rid of the bad taste left in my mouth by Rock Of Ages. Think of the high drama in a song like Eye Of The Tiger then realize there are 16 songs on this disc at that sort of level. The tunes themselves are energetic, well played and, in many case spectacularly well sung, but does having that many different people involved somehow dilute what Jim is attempting? I wonder. While it’s true hard rock and metal trade liberally in melodrama and grand gestures, over the course of listening to this it feels like a bit much.
I’m also aware that I could be missing the mark here. It’s worth noting that the blues was a dying art form in the 60’s before it went over to Europe and came back to America via the British Invasion. That side of the pond has a thriving hard rock scene thanks to labels like Frontiers, so maybe a similar thing is happening again to the dreadful pop and country landscape in the U.S. and Canada. Tigress, to my ears, is good- just not great. http://jimpeterik.com
BEST TRACKS: Lazarus Heart (Janet Gardner), Strong Against The Wind (Kate French), Sin To Believe A Lie (Cathy Richardson)
FROM NOWHERE TO SOMEWHERE Phil Gammage (PreFab International) **** ½
From Texas by way of New York City comes the alt-country of songwriter/ vocalist/ guitar player Phil Gammage. From Nowhere To Somewhere is a diverse and heartfelt collection of songs that Trouser Press describes as “Under wrought darkish Americana echoing Nick Cave’s melodrama might well make Phil this generation’s Hank Williams.” Now you’re interested, aren’t you? You should be.
From Nowhere To Somewhere draws inspiration from Phil’s life as a musician, historian and fiction writer. There’s a looseness to the songs, from the casual musicianship to Gammage’s wobbly vocals that really sneaks up on you to bring them home. When I first listened I thought “well I’m not sure about this” but there’s a spirit to the album, from the songs Phil wrote or co-wrote to the chosen covers, that will have you saying “wait a minute… I REALLY like this!” Top shelf story telling is the key I think, and the songs feel sacred without being precious… not unlike listening to old Hank Williams.
I suppose I shouldn’t quote other articles when I review someone’s music, but I’ve already done here in the first paragraph; what Huffington Post had to say is just too delicious not to include. Of Phil’s music they say he “evokes comparison to Bob Dylan’s 21st century canon wherein the blues and roots are rendered in a timeless noir manner; a rare feat in an era where retro is vogue and all too prevalent.” It’s as if Bob Dylan, Murray McLauchlan and Webb Wilder were somehow blended into the same guy. This is rough around the edges, but in a way that’s really heckin’ cool.
The songs Phil Gammage has elected to cover here are almost as telling as the ones he actually wrote; Willie Nelson’s Night Life and Hank Williams’ Alone And Forsaken absolutely belong on this disc. From Nowhere To Somewhere isn’t particularly tight nor is it pretty, but its ramshackle charm is bound to win you over as it did me. It will never be popular, it will never be a huge hit, but those that give this album a real chance to settle in will love it fiercely- of that I’m certain. www.philgammage.bandcamp.com
BEST TRACKS: Come On Lightning, Walk In The Sun, Night Life