Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor – April 18th, 2018

FEELING FINE Marshall Lawrence (independent) *** +

This, Lawrence’s 5th album, is a high energy blues/ rock experience, not unlike what you’d find on the 70’s/ 80’s British and American rock scenes.  Plenty of hard charging riffs and some nimble soloing- I could definitely get used to this!

“I did the rock thing, I did the punk thing, I did the funk thing, I did the blues and for me this album is a progression to coming back home” Marshall says, and if you listen closely there are elements of all those styles laced throughout these hook-laden songs.  Kind of a cross between Johnny Winter (look at that cover photo) and his reverence for the blues with Kim Mitchell’s rock & roll guitar chops, Lawrence is the whole package.

Recorded at Wolf’s Den Studio in Edmonton, produced by Lawrence along with Cam MacLeod, Feeling Fine is a good sounding album that could use some roughing up.  The guitars are clear and up front but for this kind of rockin’ blues to really grab me by the t-shirt, the drums are far too clean and polite- a rude vibe on the skins would’ve helped put these tunes over even more.

All things considered though Feeling Fine is a very enjoyable disc, centered primarily on Marshall Lawrence’s guitar playing… solid riffs, pretty damn good soloing and bits of slide guitar, especially on Going Down to Memphis. The group is a 4-piece, with Marshall on guitars and vocals, Zach Daniel Robertson on bass, Allan Beveridge on drums, and Andrew Glover on keyboards.  They’re a good band- tight, solid- but they just need a little more ‘street’ in their sound.  As good as this album is, I’ll bet they’re more unhinged onstage- a requirement when you play great blues.

KEY CUTS:  Going Down To Memphis, Help Me Find My Way Home, Dancing With A Hurricane

JOHNNY CASH: FOREVER WORDS Various Artists (Sony Legacy) *****+

Here is an unexpected treat for fans of The Man In Black.  When Johnny and June passed, they left behind what their son John Carter Cash describes as a “monstrous amassment of things”, which included his father’s handwritten letters, poems and documents from across his entire life.  These writings have been taken by some extremely talented artists and turned into this incredible batch of songs.

Forever Words has been 2 years in the making, with an amazing cast of contemporary artists invited by John Carter Cash to create new music to accompany these newly discovered words. These artists- Kris Kristofferson & Willie Nelson, Chris Cornell, Rosanne Cash, John Mellencamp and so many more- have adapted Johnny’s words honestly and uniquely, showcasing him as the writer and master storyteller that he was.

Recorded primarily at The Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee and produced by John Carter Cash, Johnny Cash: Forever Words is seen as a companion to the best selling book of unpublished poems of the same name.  Many of the songs were inspired by material from the book while others are drawn from different sources of Cash’s unpublished writings.

As you would expect, this album is deeply personal, emotional and serious in tone.  That much is clear from the opening track Forever/ I Still Miss Someone, featuring Kris Kristofferson reciting the last poem Cash ever wrote, with guitar accompaniment from Willie Nelson.  And 21 years after Johnny covered Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage Chris Cornell returns the favor with You Never Knew My Mind, a somehow fitting exchange.

Johnny Cash: Forever Words is as deep, dark, and rewarding as you would expect it to be, music to think and feel by.  There is no other word for this than spectacular.

KEY CUTS:  The Walking Wounded (Rosanne Cash), You Never Knew My Mind (Chris Cornell), Double Blues (John Mellencamp)

LOVE SONGS & LIFE LINES Kris Lager Band (independent) *** ½

This disc is an emotional statement, particularly for a guy better known for jamming, looking at the bright side and celebrating life.  This band has been zig-zagging across the U.S. and spreading their brand of feel-good funk and heavy soul for over 15 years.  Love Songs & Life Lines finds them getting down to brass tacks and looking at life.

When I first read the line about “funk and heavy soul” it took me by surprise because that’s not what Love Songs sounds or feels like.  This has more of a folk/ Americana feel to it, something Levon Helm would’ve enjoyed.  It’s a great sounding record too, mixed by legendary producer Jim Gaines who is known for his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Steve Miller, Van Morrison and others… that’s pretty good company.

Packaging for Love Songs & Life Lines is simple, a fold-out cardboard thing with an envelope for the disc.  The inside sleeve contains the usual style liner notes plus brief descriptions, a couple of lines from Kris, on the origin and/or meaning of each song.  Of I Wanna Hold You In My Arms for example, Lager says “I wrote this song for my mom soon after my dad passed away.  I was trying to see the loss of my dad through her eyes. It truly is a wonderful and comforting thought to believe that their spirit lives on and resides within us.  I do believe…”

Love Songs & Life Lines feels like a meditation as the songs consider life’s journey from several different angles.  It’s laid back yet spirited, lonesome at times yet somehow comforting too.  This is a record with a whole lot of soul.  Release date: April 24th.

KEY CUTS:  Aurora Borealis, I Wanna Hold You In My Arms, I’ll Be Thinking Of You

THE JOURNEY YYC: VOL. I Paul Brandt (Warner Music Canada) ****

For all the moaning I do about today’s country artists making prefab music, guys like Paul Brandt have always been genuine country performers.  This is the first of two EP’s Brandt is releasing in 2018, following 11 ‘regular’ albums, produced by Paul along with Ben Fowler.  This, kids, is real country music with tons of heart and soul.

“There’s a song (on here) called YYC BNA” he says, “it’s a really special one to me. Bittersweet reflections on the trip from that YYC Calgary airport to Nashville’s “Berry Field” BNA were a catalyst for some of the spirit of this project.  Calgary and Nashville are the only places I’ve ever called ‘home’, and those two cities bookend my journey in life so far.”  So yeah- these songs are about something more than beer, tits and trucks.

I wouldn’t say I’m a big country music fan but I do dabble, and I’ve enjoyed Paul Brandt’s music since the mid 90’s.  When he sings he occasionally goes for a low dip ala Randy Travis, he embraces many of the conventions of country music, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song of his where I thought he was just phoning it in- if Paul is singing it then he means it and you can feel that. Such emotional honesty in a song can be a rare thing, no matter what genre we’re talking about.

This is also an interesting way to release a record; instead of a 12 song album, Brandt is releasing The Journey as 2 EP’s, and I assume the next one will be 6 songs as well.  It spreads the music out over the year, making it more easily digestible, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more artists follow suit. This is a sincere and well-done batch of songs, just the sort of realism that country music sorely needs.

KEY CUTS:  The Journey, YYC BNA, All About Her

THREE RIVERS Jordan Officer (Spectra Musique) *****

Jordan Officer’s 4th album is delightful.  It has everything I love about his music; swing, jazz, the blues, romantic soul, and even a touch of gospel.  Three Rivers is his most fully realized musical expression yet.

Every one of Officer’s albums has been a journey.  It’s fitting, then, that the first stirrings of what would become Three Rivers occurred when he was on the road in the American south. “We may very well know where a musical genre comes from, but when you visit the place where it was born and connect physically with the space,, the aromas, the ambiance, the language of the place, you never hear that music the same way again” he notes.  “In northern Mississippi, on Highway 61, I felt like I was in another world that I felt I knew intimately through the music, but at the same time did not know at all.”

Jordan Officer is a gifted guitarist that plays with more feel than flash, whether he’s playing electric or acoustic, and that makes his music more intimate and immediate.  He clearly loves the blues and really digs in on the slow stuff, but he’s at home when he’s swingin’ on a track like One Handed Push-Ups.  In that song Officer adds a touch of violin, a return to his own roots as that was his first instrument.  Once you hear the chorus it will never leave you alone!

Three Rivers was produced by Charlie Drayton, who’s played drums for Keith Richards, The Divinyls and even thumps the tubs on The B-52’s Love Shack. He gives the album a spacious, organic everyone-playing-in-the-room-at-the-same-time feel, like a cool afternoon in someone’s basement running through some tunes.  This disc has a sort of JJ Cale/ latter day Clapton feel to it… Three Rivers is ridiculously cool.

KEY CUTS:  One Handed Push-Ups, Your Body’s My Home, Just To Be With You

ELVIS PRESLEY: THE SEARCHER (Original Soundtrack) Various Artists (RCA/ Legacy Recordings) *****++

If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about Elvis, this is your chance to find out.  This IS a HUGE treat for fans of The King, and newbies too.  The Searcher is the musical companion to a 2-part documentary airing on HBO, available in multiple configurations, including a deluxe 3CD box set.  The deluxe edition includes from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready’s original score, plus some of the songs that influenced Elvis.  Wow.

The ‘basic’ version of this set includes the 18 essential Elvis hits, powerful live performances, and some rare Alternate versions of songs we already know.  It goes from his early dabbling with the blues and country to his 1976 recording sessions in The Jungle Room at Graceland.  Included is a rehearsal version of Baby Let’s Play House, the song that made Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page want to pick up the guitar.

True fans like my buddy Murray will likely opt for the 3CD deluxe box set.  It features 37 additional cuts by Elvis plus a disc of selections from Mike McCready’s score; Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performing Wooden Heart; and the music that inspired Elvis, including R&B and country classics plus Home Sweet Home, sung by his mother Gladys.

“So, in this collection, one gets not a greatest hits package but a song-by-song curated portrait of an artist” writes Warren Zanes in the book featured in the deluxe box set, “an artist who very consistently and courageously gave himself to his performances, as if in the giving he might find some missing part of himself.”  In the documentary, Bruce Springsteen states that “You hear performers in the thrall of the beauty of invention, not quite knowing where they’re going to go, not knowing exactly what they’re doing. Just discovering and doing it literally as the music is being played.”

I’ll leave the final word on Elvis to Tom Petty; “You know, God bless him, he was the light for all of us. We all owe him for going first into battle. And we shouldn’t make the mistake of writing off a great artist because of all the clatter that came later.”  Indeed. I doubt there’ll ever be another Elvis history lesson to rival The Searcher.

KEY CUTS:  the whole damned thing


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