ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS Bob Dylan (Columbia) ****
I haven’t always had the easiest relationship with Dylan’s music, finding some songs and albums inspiring and others difficult to listen to. A quick glance at Wikipedia makes this to be Bob’s 40th album, with the 79 year old legend finding yet another gear. Equal parts folk, old fashioned balladry and Chicago blues, Rough And Rowdy is one for the ages.
While the title Rough And Rowdy Ways refers to the emotional content of the record, the music is anything but. The rough, sandpaper vocal style that (to me at least) plagued semi-recent albums like Modern Times and Tempest has for the most part given way to a quieter, more intimate, melodic spoken word delivery that invites you into the conversation like a Leonard Cohen album. If you remember the epic 17 minute fever dream of a single Murder Most Foul released in March, the rest of the album feels much the same way; dark, relaxing and relentless, all at the same time.
Rough And Rowdy Ways is such a perfectly bleak and majestic soundtrack for the collapse of the world, you’d think Dylan knew the pandemic and its consequences were coming but that’s ridiculous… isn’t it? As Rob Sheffield so rightly noticed in his brilliant review for Rolling Stone, “the man offers no words of comfort- he just spins these outlaw tales with the cold-blooded wit and sardonic passion that keeps him pressing on.” It’s quite thought-provoking to listen to Dylan jam with the English language on his new record, a suite of songs that underlines what all of us are trudging through right this minute. In the space of 70 minutes he gives us plenty to think about.
After his last few albums this new, relaxed singing style is perhaps the flipside of those gruff vocals, allowing you to journey even further into each song. The music, generally speaking, belies a blues/jazz conceit that might surprise you if you’ve been away from Bob’s stuff for awhile. In his 79 years Dylan has witnessed much, from the civil rights struggles of the 60’s to the prospering of power mad politicians to… whatever the hell you call this ‘situation’ is that humanity finds itself in today. Will we ultimately be redeemed, or has humanity reach the point of no return? I’m inclined to think the latter and, if I’m hearing Rough And Rowdy Ways correctly, Bob Dylan feels the same way. Now it’s time to cheer up- maybe I’ll go listen to some Leonard Cohen now…
KEY CUTS: Crossing The Rubicon, Black Rider, Murder Most Foul
LOST IN TRANSLATION Daniel De Vita (Imbirrizados Records) ***+
Of all the different forms of music, blues is an international language. De Vita, from Buenos Aires, has been playing the Argentine blues scene for years and this is his 4th album. Offering fresh takes on universal themes like love, heartbreak, mental illness and human bonding, he puts himself out there in these blues with a Dick Dale twist at the end.
While Lost In Translation is his 4th record, it’s De Vita’s first of all-original material. It’s fair but somewhat limiting to call this a blues album as he reaches into other areas of expression like jazz, pop, roots and Americana in obvious and subtle ways. Perhaps it’s his inherent Latin passion that brings these different influences together so deliciously. You want blues? It doesn’t get any bluer than My Sweetest Regret when he sings “Befo’ you took my smile, I took you home/ befo’ you made me cry, I made you moan/ Despite your notified betrayal, I carried on and placed my bet/ I know I should’ve listened to the warnings I was given/ like a fish I swam right into your net.” Who among us hasn’t been on the wrong end of that equation? I thought so.
Lost In Translation is a beautifully expressive album with some interesting twists and turns, like the tempo change in Sand Between Your Fingers and the instrumental DFW that I alluded to in the first paragraph. On some of the numbers Daniel’s guitar has a sort of scratchy distortion that took some getting used to, but perhaps that’s just me settling in with the record. Lest you think he’s just a shoe gazing bluesman, you’re going to love his sense of humor too. The chorus for the jaunty She Claps On The 1 And The 3 goes “She claps on the 1 & 3, but I keep on loving her still/ She claps on the 1 & 3/ but I’m glad she takes care of me”. Really good stuff, this.
KEY CUTS: She Claps On The 1 & The 3, 6 Years Blues, Sand Between Your Fingers
WE ARE ONE U.D.O. (AFM) ***
The latest from the original voice of Accept is a collaboration with the Musikkorps der Bundeswehr, the official concert band of the German Armed Forces. The military bravado of metal and the martial discipline of marching band music, We Are One is a marriage made on the parade square- a natural fit.
We Are One contains 15 new original songs, developed and arranged by U.D.O. and Christoph Scheibling. To the surprise of many I would think, two of Udo’s former Accept band mates Stefan Kaufmann and Peter Baltes had a hand in the songwriting as well. Scheibling has already been on stage with U.D.O., back at 2015’s Wacken Festival. “The motto back then was Metal, mud and military music” he says. “(It was) an event that definitely awoke the wish to work together more intensely. Now our crossover project really finds its highlight with We Are One.”
It’s a uniquely powerful thing, this; a journeyman metal outfit like U.D.O. paired with a 60 piece orchestra that would’ve made Wagner proud. The songs are about the problems facing humanity like climate change, refugee crises, pollution and the dangers of right wing politics. “No matter who we are or what we do, we all just have this one planet” Udo notes when considering the message of We Are One. “There is no planet B. When I see the pictures of all the plastic in our oceans and when I hear about the next climate catastrophe in the news, I really start wondering how respectless and irresponsible we sometimes are. It’s not just about us; it’s also about our children.”
Oh sure- other rock bands like Deep Purple, Metallica and Kiss have collaborated with orchestras before, often sounding like rock songs with string charts stapled on- that’s what they are. We Are One, however, was designed and built from the ground up by U.D.O. and Muskkorps der Bundeswher, combining the strength and power of two forceful types of music to create something dramatic and intense. Produced by Stefan Kaufmann, Stefan Reich and Mattes, the sturm und drang bombast and intensity could be a turn off for some, but these times call for extreme statements made by concept records like this. As the album rails against exaggerated consumption, cyber insanity, nationalism and right wing forces, it’s time to really listen. U.D.O. has just stepped up their game and fans will be well pleased.
KEY CUTS: We Are One, Mother Earth, Blindfold (The Last Defender)
GOOD LIFE Hurricane Ruth (American Showplace Records) *** +
With a name like ‘Hurricane Ruth’ you’d expect something nasty, lowdown, and elemental- and you’d be right. Good Life is a honky tonk roadhouse bar fight on a Friday night… no holds barred, no punches pulled, just plenty of cold beer and good times.
Like Wildfire, the opening track, really sets the scene what is to follow. “(It) takes me back to some of the honky tonk music I heard at my mom and dad’s tavern, The Glendale Tavern, in my hometown of Beardstown, Ill.” Ruth says. “Whether it was music on the jukebox or at Sunday jam sessions, you would always hear an eclectic mix of blues, swing, country, outlaw and rock & roll.” If her goal with Good Life was to reflect that range and that vibe within the confines of a single album, good Lord has she succeeded!
Good Life was produced by Ben Elliot and recorded Showplace Studios in Dover, New Jersey. With a soulful voice that can go from a whisper to a joyous shout, Ruth breathes three dimensional life into these songs, giving them a lived in ‘been there, done that’ feel, but she never sounds jaded… it’s more of a “hey, that’s life” kind of thing. She first began singing in high school, channeling the music she grew up around- Bessie Smith, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, the kind of stuff her dad’s band (he was the drummer) would play. By the time she got around to putting her first band together, she was already leaning towards a a harder rocking style than her idols.
Ruth is a powerhouse singer, but it doesn’t hurt to have a shit-hot band behind her too; Scott Holt (guitar), Burce Katz (Hammond B-3, keyboards), Calvin Johnson (bass) and Tony Braunagel (drums). She’s had the chance to perform alongside blues legends like Willie Dixon, BB King, Sam & Dave, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal, and it shows in her performance, confidence and delivery here. “To be able to sit and talk with Willie Dixon after one of my shows, that’s something I won’t ever forget” she says. “I gained a great amount of knowledge just from listening to him. And John Lee Hooker, he was one of the most memorable. Being in his presence was like being around blues royalty.”
Good, hard rockin’ blues with a whole lot of soul- that’s hurricane Ruth’s Good Life.
KEY CUTS: Like Wildfire, Black Sheep, I’ve Got Your Back
A PLACE I USED TO KNOW Billy Prine (Memphis International Records) ***
An E.P. from the late John Prine’s brother. Country, folky and bluesy, the songs are stark and emotional, as you expect they might be in the shadow of John’s death from Covid-19 earlier this year. It sounds like a really well made Kris Kristofferson record.
“The record is dedicated to my late brother John Prine, 1946-2020. All the best to the best. Love you, Brother” it says on the back cover. Sadly, the only John Prine in my collection is a compilation called Prime Prine, so I’m in no position to compare or differentiate the brothers. Billy grew up in Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s, leading his first bar band at the tender age of 12. He also spent some time in the 70’s as John’s tour manager. In the 80’s he busted a move to Nashville and even spent some time as a bartender at the famous Bluebird Café. I mention all of these things only because I think a guy with this kind of mileage has some interesting stories to tell. After a couple of listens to A Place I Used To Know, that very much seems to be the case.
This six song Ee Pee includes a song written by Bill, a co-write with producer Michael Dinallo, songs by Vic McAlpine, Michael Dinallo, and a couple of his brother’s tunes too; Paradise and If You Don’t Want My Love. I suppose it must’ve been quite something to dwell in the shadow of a famous, successful and respected brother, but with a group of talented musicians backing him up, Billy Prine is definitely staking out his own territory here with his first record in 7 years, quite likely in the pipeline before John’s final illness. I’ll leave the last word to Billy, who says “This is it- the record I’ve wanted to make for years. Hell yeah-we got a hot one here!”
KEY CUTS: Young Man Old Man Blues, Misery Train
WELCOME TO THE PARTY Big Pacific (Independent) ***
Denim clad, blue collar blues-inflected rock & roll that never goes out of style. That’s the vibe I’m picking up from Vancouver Island’s Big Pacific. Welcome To The Party is like a mix of The Hip and The Black Crowes and maybe a touch of Skynyrd, bringing an irresistible West Coast groove to the rest of the country, perhaps even the world.
This album is a celebration of inclusivity and positivity, something we could all use. The press release says it’s “an invitation to everyone to step up and have a little fun as we all join in to the party of everyday life”, and as you feel the natural grooves and delve into the lyrics, the feeling is inescapable. Welcome To The Party is the result of wood-shedding songs in rehearsals and then polishing them in front of live audiences, with each band member contributing to the songwriting, so this disc is literally who they are.
Roly Sandoval, guitar and vocals, started off in the Calgary scene in the 80’s. Nik Dokter, drums and vocals, started his musical career in South Africa before working in London as a sought after session drummer then coming over here. Wayne Veillet, bass & vocals, from Nanaimo, has logged 16 years in a popular local band, and owns Wayon Sound Recording Studio. You need keyboards for extra texture and that’s where John Hannah comes in. He’s done extensive studio and TV work and has had some high profile gigs too including 2 & ½ years in Heart’s touring band and 8 years on the road with Bryan Adams. So, yeah- some serious chops in this band.
Welcome To The Party has a natural, unforced likeability going for it that you don’t find in a lot of records. I have heard better produced records, but Big Pacific has far more important things on their minds than sonic perfection. Songs like As We Go and Hard Road make a very direct personal connection, and Blue Moon Blues is a rave up that no doubt packs the dance floor wherever they play. Nicely done, boys!
KEY CUTS: Blue Moon Blues, As We Go, Welcome To The Party
FEATHER OF TRUTH Poltergeist (Massacre Records) ** +
This is the 5th album from these Swiss speed/ thrash legends, with new drummer Reto Crola kicking things up a notch or three with his blitzkrieg attack. It reminds me of Ripper-era Judas Priest, but more balls-out. Many faces are about to be melted!
As an old man I’m not into thrash or speed metal- I had lined up the latest from Sinister to review before this, but couldn’t even make it through the first song. There’s something about Poltergeist that works, though. It has more of a classic metal sound, though delivered at high velocity, and we don’t get the standard ‘Cookie Monster growl” vocals from singer Andre Greider. Though the guitar solos are enjoyable and well played, I’d have to say the main appeal for Feather Of Truth is rhythmically, the combination of Crola’s manic drumming and relentless palm-muted riffing of guitarists V.O. Pulver and Chasper Wanner, mirrored closely by bassist Ralf Winzer Garcia.
“The lyrics are based on real-life topics, mixed with historical elements” says the band. “(For example) Feather Of Truth is about the Egyptian Goddess of truth, balance, justice and morality that still have a significant meaning to these modern times.” It’s going to take you a few spins to get to that level though, as there is a physical insistence about these songs that you’ll have to adjust to before attempting a deeper dive into this. The historical aspect to some of the tunes and tempo changes on a track like Phantom Army may very well have you thinking about early 80’s Iron Maiden but much, much heavier.
Poltergeist’s brand of ‘sturm und clang’ puts Feather Of The Truth somewhere close to a metal no man’s land; thrashers might find it not extreme enough, and old school metal fans might find Feather Of Truth too intense. Like listening to almost anything by Motorhead all the way through, listening to this bad boy all in one go left me exhausted and craving some peace and quiet, if only for a little while.
At 62 I’m definitely a classic metal guy, so it wasn’t love at first listen with Feather of Truth. It’s forceful, articulate and took me a good 3 spins before I could really connect with it, but now I can picture it as the soundtrack to an epic road trip. Well played, Hey Poltergeist- well played.
KEY CUTS: Phantom Army, Thin Blue Line, Feather Of Truth
WHY SHOULD I BE BLUE? Broke Fuse & Friends (independent) *** ½
Some sweet, soulful blues here from Jay Moonah (Broke Fuse) and his pals. Since 2014, after trying to find other musicians who could commit, Jay went at BF as a one man band. In early 2020 he thought it might be time to add more members and started rehearsals with other musicians. Then Covid-19 hit and put the brakes on that idea. Collaborating, then, with as many of them as he could via remote means, Moonah ended up with a surprisingly intimate and affecting album.
Known mainly as a harmonica player, Moonah plays many different instruments and plays several on each track here. He wrote all of the songs except The Runner Duck, where he shares a co-write with Attila Baraczka. Interestingly enough, on that particular cut he makes his harp sound like a duck. He’s been active on the Canadian music scene for over 30 years, and it was his love of the blues that led to Broke Fuse. He wanted to put a band together to play his originals as well as classics by Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan and others, and that sense of purpose is still evident on Why Should I Be Blue, a rhetorical question if there ever was one.
There’s an easy going grace to this disc, a laid back-ness that belies the awkward and remote circumstances of the recording process. Mind you, people have been collaborating long distance on music for years now, so it should come as no surprise that Why Should I be Blue is a very together sounding album. His blues compatriots include guitarist Mike McKenna, singer Sandra Bouza, drummer Frank Baraczka and bassist Attila Baraczka, and that’s only a part of the guest list. When things get ‘back to normal’, I hope Moonah can put a band together with the people on this record- there’s magic in the grooves; you can really feel it.
KEY CUTS: Whiskey Bottles, Rack ‘Em Up, Bluffer’s Blues
GO, JUST DO IT! Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne (Stony Plain) ****
Not many people out there can pound the 88’s like Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne. From that smooth voice to the uptown horn arrangements, Go Just Do It is one of those records that lifts you up and shows you how it’s done from start to finish.
One of the great things about playing the blues is that, with most artists, their music and performance gets better and deeper with age. “I’m not looking for a new path” says the 75 year old ivory tickler, “I love that jump blues and boogie-woogie. That’s where my heart is at.” Even so the new single I Don’t Want To Be President stretches his boundaries. “I actually stumbled across this song and already had music written that would fit perfectly” Kenny says, “and the timing was right to mention the importance of this year’s election.” What makes the song different is the inclusion of a rap section in the middle featuring SeQual- Kenny’s son- who infuses a rap cadence and fresh verse into this Percy Mayfield classic.
Like the 11 albums that have come before it, Go Just Do It has a smooth, robust sound that makes my stereo frankly sound better than it really is, a sophisticated sort of blues with jazz finesse. This album is 10 originals and 3 covers, including the aforementioned Curtis Mayfield number. A breezy, rollicking song like That’s The Way She Is is great driving music; a blues-type lyric for sure, but the sort of thing I could imagine Bruce Hornsby playing. Kenny is in Cincinnati’s Boogie Woogie Piano Hall Of Fame, has won 7 Maple Blues Awards, a Juno, and… well, you get the drift. The guy sweats talent, and people have been noticing for years.
Born in Spokane then moving with his family to LA, San Francisco and New Orleans, these days he calls Kelowna in the BC Interior home. “My blues career started in Canada, and I think this country really helps people create their art” he notes, “whether it’s painting, theatre or music. Why would I ever leave?” We’re damn glad to have you as a fellow Canadian Mr. Wayne, and with records as good as Go Just Do It you can be sure the whole world is listening.
KEY CUTS: You Did A Number On Me, I Don’t Want To Be President, Let The Rock Roll
DAYDREAMS IN BLUE Anthony Geraci (Shining Stone Records) ****+
Every once in awhile an album will come along that takes your breath away, and this is one of them. Originally slated for an April release until the pandemic, Daydreams In Blue is atmospheric, driving, thoughtful, ecstatic and lowdown. Loaded with fine performances and stunning guest turns, it will haunt you in the very best way.
As a piano player Geraci has been nominated for multiple awards, and he‘s played with the likes of Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, so if when he wants someone in the studio with him he can get it done. The songs on Daydreams In Blue were written over the space of a year, some only a few weeks before the recording sessions. “I’m very sensitive as to who I may want to bring into the recording studio” Anthony says. “I have a vision for each song and who I’d like to play on it. Immediately after I wrote No One Hears My Prayer, I thought of Walter Trout. It was his sound, his spirit that made me want to ask him.” Aside from Trout’s guitar we also hear from Monster Mike Welch, and Boston roots music hero Dennis Brennan is the featured vocalist.
Daydream In Blue is the blues with a jazz IQ. The playing ranges from pounding to sublime, all depending on what each track requires. 10 of the songs are Geraci originals, one penned by Brennan, Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band) and Troy Gonyea, and there’s a classic blues by Earl Hines & Billy Eckstine called Jelly, Jelly. Geraci is a superb piano player and all of the musicians effortlessly follow his lead. “This is by far the most exciting recording I’ve done under my own name” he says. “Having all these great musicians on the recording is a ‘daydream’ come true.”
Knowing where his heart is, too, is helpful in fully appreciating Daydreams In Blue. “Music- all kinds if music- defines my life, and many of my friends, whether they are musicians or fans” he observes. “Where do we retreat to when things just aren’t right? A song is where I go to; Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, ‘New World Symphony’ by Dvorak or a Hank Williams tune- it’s all music.” This kind of thinking gives Daydreams its refreshing breadth, and I will return here often when I need to untie some knots.
KEY CUTS: No One Hears My Prayer, Jelly, Jelly, Dead Man’s Shoes
MASTERS OF WAR Dani Wilde (Vizztone) ***+
Dani’s new digital single is a chilling remake of a Bob Dylan classic. I often find that Bob’s songs come out better, or at least more listenable, when covered by other artists- and that’s certainly the case with Dani Wilde and Masters Of War.
“I feel this song is as relevant today as when Dylan wrote it” she says. “When I became a Mum, I felt more than ever ‘the fear to bring children into the world’- the world is a scary place. When I sing Dylan’s words, my heart is going out to those in war torn countries- the innocent victims of the international arms trade.”
The song is beautifully produced, from the delicate acoustic guitar and the subtle backing band, to Wilde’s keening voice lending extra gravitas to those words that Bob wrote in the early sixties. Dani Wilde has really taken Masters Of War and made it her own, as one should when taking on a legendary song like this. Separated from the original by 50 or 60 years, this is very much like Buffy St. Marie’s The War Racket on her devastating 2017 record Medicine Songs. You think we’d have learned something over the years but it seems that songs like this are still needed, and more relevant than ever.