SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY Bruce Springsteen (Columbia) *****+
Just when you think he’s done it all, The Boss finds a new way to reach in and squeeze your heart and stoke your dreams. Broadway is the ultimate Springsteen experience. Recorded during Bruce’s record setting run at Broadway’s Walter Kerr theatre as a one man show, Springsteen On Broadway takes us into his life and his songs in an inspirational way. If you weren’t a big fan before this, you will become one.
I dig anything that takes me deeper into the music I already love, and this does it in a big way. This is Bruce solo, alternately on guitar and piano, recalling incidents described in his 2016 autobiography, plus other material written for the show. Of these performances, October 3rd 2017 to December 15th of this year according to Wikipedia, Springsteen says “I wanted to do some shows that were as intimate as possible. I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theatres which seemed like the right setting for what I (had) in mind. In fact, with one or two exceptions, the 960 seats of the Walter Kerr Theatre is probably the smallest venue I’ve played in the last 40 years. My show is just me, the guitar, the piano and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung. It loosely follows the ark of my life and my work.”
You’ll recognize lots of these songs of course, but Bruce uses them here to advance the narrative of his storytelling. He’s not just winging it, S.O.B. is well prepared, plotted and thought out, delivered disarmingly with casual precision. This isn’t a set of toe tappers to blast in the car, it’s more like a good friend telling you his story. Bruce sets up each song with a story that relates to it, then sings with either his guitar or the piano. Plenty of serious moments of course but some good laughs that occur naturally throughout. Wife Patti Scialfa’s appearance for a couple of songs is welcome too.
I’ve always enjoyed Springsteen’s music, though it wasn’t as important to me years ago as it is now. Springsteen On Broadway invites us into his world in a breathtakingly intimate way, and the version of Born In The USA here is quite raw. Informative, inspiring and funny- this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard.
KEY CUTS: Growin’ Up, Thunder Road, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Born In The USA
STRONG ROOTS In Layman Terms (Endless Blues Records) *****
If you’re in the mood for a swanky musical adventure, try this on for size. Strong Roots is strong medicine for the soul; New Orleans-inflected funk and soulful rockin’ blues that may well make you sweaty in the naughty spots.
This is a brother & sister act; Logan Layman (a freshman at Indiana University) on bass and sultry vocals, and her brother Cole playing some very tasty guitar. Rounding out the group is Hamed Barbarji on horns and percussion and Nick Davidson on drums. Together they create a jazzy blue energy that’s irresistible. 7 of the 8 tracks are originals, and their cover of Peggy Lee’s Fever is just… ooo yeah. In his review journalist Michael Limnios calls their sound “gritty (and) traditional with modern twists- this music comes straight from their souls! A melting point of blues, jazz, funk, R&B with feeling coming from all over the decades.” Well said!
Musicianship, production, songs; I can’t think of anything about Strong Roots that I do not like. Logan’s expressive voice carries a world of experience, surprising in someone so young, and she’s an excellent bassist too. As a band they play together and bounce off each other so well they’re a joy to listen to. Cole’s slide guitar on I’m Somebody almost sounds like a Theremin, and elsewhere his soloing gave me goose bumps.
I’m loving Strong Roots and you can bet it’s being considered for my Best of 2018.
KEY CUTS: Ain’t Gonna Fake It No More, Fever, Way Too Far
TRIBE OF ONE Ruth Wyand (independent) *** ½
I don’t usually get into one man (or woman) bands, but Ruth Wyand is an exception. With a powerful singing voice, an intricate finger style technique on the guitar and armed with some pretty damn good songs, Tribe Of One has made me a believer.
As a ‘one woman band”, Wyand is the real deal. Tribe Of One was recorded live in the studio with Ruth singing, playing guitar and multiple foot drums at the same time. I admit I thought it was akin to a ‘party trick’ or a gimmick, but the more I listened the more I dug the songs. This disc is a mix of Wyand originals alongside 3 cover tunes; Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing, Bob Dylan’s Mint Julep, and a song by Etta Baker.
Tribe of One is, by its nature, an intimate experience. As Ruth plays, alternating that delicate finger picking style with thumb bass, bottleneck slide and foot drums, the songs come across like vivid sketches, or portraits of a scene or character. It’s like sitting around with one of the coolest people you know, and she starts telling you stories.
Yes, I do miss the interplay between musicians you get from a full band album and that accounts for the score given to Tribe of One… but there’s a certain uncomplicated joy in what Ms. Wyand has pulled off here, I’ll definitely be listening to this again.
KEY CUTS: Blind Willie McTell, On The Porch With Ella, Little Wing
THE CHRISTMAS SWING Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers (Vizztone/ Juicy Juju) ****
Having spent over 40 years in broadcasting, I’m mostly sick of Christmas music- so when something different comes along, I notice. This is different from what you’re hearing in stores and malls this month; it’s a fun, seasonal romp chock full of hooky blues guitar-fuelled gems to put a bounce in your holiday step.
Christmas Swing features Erin’s songs plus her arrangements of traditional holiday faves by Chuck Berry, Bessie Smith, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly and Bo Carter. The Christmas Swing is a festive re-working of the band’s 2014 hit Delta Swing, and the perennial holiday poem The Night Before Christmas works quite well as an upbeat blues.
The Christmas Swing features Erin Harpe on guitars and vocals, plus kazoo & percussion; Jim Countryman on bass, Matt Prozialek on harmonica, and Chris Anzalone (Roomful Of Blues) on drums, seriously talented musicians one and all. For reasons I won’t bore you with, Christmas is not my favourite time of year- Mrs. Rock Doctor hates it when I refer to it as “The Season Of Evil”- but this is a seasonal record I can deal with. “We had a lot of fun making this album” Erin says, and it shows in the performances. “It’s a holiday album for music fans that don’t necessarily like holiday music.” It’s a non-traditional take on Christmas music… let the good times roll.
KEY CUTS: The Night Before Christmas, The Christmas Swing, Run Run Rudolph
ONE VOICE Johnny Gioeli (Frontiers) ***
I’m no expert on the European rock scene, so Johnny Gioeli is unknown to me- he sings for bands like Hardline, Crush 40 and Axel Rudi Pelli. After serving time in all these bands, he felt it was time to step out on his own to see what he could come up with. The result is One Voice, a guitar-driven set of melodic rock designed to uplift. And it does.
“One day I just woke up and said ‘I wanna do this’” notes Johnny. “I’ve always been so faithful to the groups I’ve been in, and remain that way, but I just thought that it was time that I do something on my own and see how it goes- for the creativity and the freedom to express myself.” As a singer Johnny is very much like Jon Bon Jovi, and the songs he’s written for One Voice are upbeat melodic rock… not as slick as Bon Jovi and a more ‘heart on the sleeve’ feel, but pretty much in the same ballpark as BJ’s earlier stuff.
“I love a big ballad, I love guitar driven rock, melodic hard rock” Johnny says. “I love a song that lifts you up, gets you moving, and gets you into a positive frame of mind.” The title One Voice is a tribute to Gioeli’s fans, and a big portion of the money raised for this album through a crowd funding campaign is going directly to help a young man named Joe Barber, who is recovering from an accident last year that left him paralyzed. Groundbreaking? No. Uplifting? Good company? Most certainly.
KEY CUTS¨ Let Me Know, Drive, Oh Fathers
TEA LEAF CONFESSIONS Ynana Rose (Ynana Rose Music) ****+
‘Love songs for grown ups’- that was my first thought on this. It’s Ynana’s second album, only one other is mentioned on her website. Tea Leaf Confessions features classic and contemporary folk with honky-tonk country, gypsy jazz and back porch Americana.
Ynana wrote her first song at age 37, which opened up a world of creative passion. “Songs are like puzzles of the heart that I have to solve in order to sleep well at night” she says. “I find myself writing about longing, healing, faith, love, everyday miracles and tragedies. Writing keeps me honest, staying true to the emotion and structure of the song. Music invites an eternity of pursuit, and I feel blessed to be able to go chasing it down.” Regardless of the form each song takes, this makes for a riveting listen.
To realize Tea Leaf Confessions, Rose was able to call in some fine musicians from the California coast, Seattle, Nashville, Portland and Los Angeles. Fiddler Tammy Rogers has played on most of Buddy Miller’s albums, and drummer Paul Griffiths’ laid back style has led him to work with Sheryl Crow, k.d. lang, John Prine, Todd Snider, Greg Brown and Jack Ingram. Together they make the kind of music you’re not likely to find on mainstream radio, but it’s worthwhile to track down.
The country elements here owe much to the classic country elements of TLC Ynana grew up listening to, as the only child of a single mom on the side of a mountain in Mendocino county. I’d call the vibe ‘refreshing nostalgia’, and the overtly folk songs speak directly to the heart as well. This one will definitely grow on you.
KEY CUTS: Hard Work Of Love, Mendocino Sunrise, Leave Me Lonely
TALES FROM THE WEST Shaw Davis & The Black Ties (Chin Music Records) ***¾
Holy Stevie Ray, Batman, there’s a new guitar slinger in town. Shaw Davis & The Black Ties hail from Florida and this is their sophomore album. Winners of the 2017 South Florida Regional Blues Challenge, they’re a 3 man wrecking crew that infuse the blues with hard rock muscle to gratifying effect.
As Obi-wan might say, “the force is strong in this one”. Shaw Davis is a ferocious guitar player that combines the muscle of SRV with the cosmic dexterity of Hendrix and perhaps Bridge of Sighs-era Robin Trower. He and his band- bassist Patrick Stevenson and drummer Bobby Van Stone- play so hard, you can almost smell the sweat coming out of your stereo speakers. Tales From The West is 9 songs, including covers of Junior Kimbrough’s I Gotta Try You Girl and Frank Zappa’s Willie The Pimp.
Tales From The West is the kind of disc you need to hear a couple of times before you decide how to feel about it. The first time through it felt like I’d been beaten up, but it’s the follow-up spins where you start to really hear and absorb the songs themselves. This hard-hitting trio is taking blues/rock to the next level, combining maximum heaviosity with the soul of the blues. Not terribly keen on some of the echo-y production sound here but make no mistake; Tales From The West is an album to be taken very seriously.
KEY CUTS: My Friend, Willie The Pimp, Know Where You Been
KEEP ON TURNING Seth Rosenbloom (Holmz Music) ****
Following an E.P. last year, Keep On Turning marks this Boston-area guitarist singer’s full length debut- and this kid has serious game. He’s a serious player who makes his Telecaster growl and has a voice to match. The album is due January 18th.
“For me, playing the blues is all about expressing emotions” Seth says. “What’s always drawn me to the genre is the fact that it allows for an extraordinarily wide range of emotion. That, I think, is the key to making great music overall.” That’s exactly what he does throughout these 6 originals alongside covers of stuff by BB King, Elmore James and Albert King, From uplifting to down and out blues, it’s all here,
It’s tough to make good music without a great band, and Rosenbloom sure has one here in Travis Carlton on bass, Scott Kinsey on keys and Gary Novak on drums. Keep On Turning was produced, and most excellently so, by Josh Smith at his Flat V Studios in Reseda. Seth has a great voice for the blues and his guitar playing is compelling, like the firepower of Albert King with the delicacy of David Gilmour.
Displaying a surprisingly wide range of emotion, Keep On Turning is a traditional blues recording but the playing is superior. The band lays the groundwork over which Rosenbloom can soar, and he takes full advantage. Yep, this is good… maybe even great.
KEY CUTS: Keep On Turning, Broke And Lonely, Right About Now
HIGH ROAD Katie Henry (independent) *** ½
A sweet new album from the mountains of North Jersey. High Road is a combination of blues and country with an innate pop sensibility, and Katie has the kind of voice that can sing it all- from the up-tempo romps to some real down n dirty blues. I like this.
High Road is a disc of all original material, and this young lady is quite impressive. Aside from that wonderful voice Ms. Henry also plays vintage vibe piano, acoustic piano, guitar and clavinet. Having cut her teeth on the New York scene, she commands the respect to assemble an excellent band, masters of subtle grooving. John Ginty, on keys and percussion, also produced the album; we also have Antar Goodwin on bass, Moe Watson on drums and Jonathan Fritz on guitar… names you might not recognize, but each of them are wonderful players. Guests include Anthony Krizan (Spin Doctors) on guitar and Billy Harvey from The Patti Griffin Band on vocals.
I guess if you’re going to throw a label on this blues/ rock with some country and pop overtones would fit as well as any, but that feels kind of limiting for what we have going on here. Katie Henry’s sassy, sultry vocals work well with pretty much any vibe, particularly a blues number like Dead Man’s Hands where she can really dig in.
Blues rock? Southern rock? Don’t waste you time categorizing High Road… just put it on and enjoy.
KEY CUTS: Dead Man’s Hands, Nothing To Lose, Carry Me
NEW EYES Magic Dance (Frontiers) **
If you love synth-heavy 80’s pop songs, Magic Dance is making your kind of music. It’s melodic and guitar heavy but light, thanks to the keyboard textures. For my ears it’s the sound of an era gone by, but to you it might be new and thrilling.
Magic Dance was born on Long Island in 2012 as a solo project for singer/ songwriter Jon Siejka. 4 EP’s followed before his full length debut, 2015’s Vanishings that combined 80’s influenced AOR, pop rock, and synth pop to create his own sound –not unlike, say, Survivor. I guess the problem is, to people like me that lived through the 80’s as an adult, that sound feels generic and somewhat dated.
For New Eyes Jon enlisted the help of Jack Simchak and Tim Mackey on guitars, Mike Peniston and Kevin Krug on bass, and Kevin McAdams on drums. Together they’ve created a sound that looks to cash in on the revival of the 80’s scene… but whether or not said revival will actually materialize is anyone’s guess.
They say that you stay fond of the music you grew up on, and my own experience tells me that’s true. I still love traditional metal, the blues, and the classic blues-based hard rock that I grew up on in the 70’s. So, I understand that there will be people that came of age in the 80’s who will love this in the same way that I still love Sabbath and Kiss… but I’m not one of them.
KEY CUTS: none- they all sound the same to me
PUT ON YOUR RED SHOES Bobby Blackhat (independent) **** +
If you’re in the mood for some harmonica-driven blues, look no further. Bobby blends the influences of Chicago, Memphis, Piedmont and Delta style blues into a toe tappin’, finger poppin’ experience with some soul that you’ll really enjoy.
BlackHat (that can’t be his real name, right?) is a coastal Virginia bluesman who originally hails from Cleveland. He’s a retired US Coastguard Commander with 27 years’ service, who is now obviously in the mood to kick out the jams. 12 tracks in all, and only 2 covers; Jimmy Reed’s You Got Me Runnin’, and a melancholy and affecting instrumental version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, where Bobby’s harmonica delivers the vocal melodies- had to hit the repeat button on that a few times.
Put On Your Red Shoes is straight up blues but there’s a sense of fun in tracks like Baby Mama Drama Blues that you might not expect. Mike Holtzclaw praises this as “an album that paints in every shade of the blues”, and John Porter from WCVE Music says “It’s just like one of his live shows- entertainment and excitement all at the same time!” This disc’s subtitle really tells you everything you need to know; Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blues. The band is solid and the work of guitarist Tom Eueler, in addition to Blackhat’s harp, is particularly noteworthy. Put On Your Red Shoes will grow on you, and quickly too.
KEY CUTS: Grim Reaper, When I Cry It’s Ugly, Hallelujah
DREAM GIRL Juliet Simmons Dinallo (BFD/ Orchard) **** ++
If you’re into Alison Krauss and/ or Emmylou Harris, you might want to add the new album from Juliet Simmons Dinallo to your music collection. Dream Girl is a combination of Nashville and Memphis, with vocal harmonies that positively shine. This isn’t ‘just another country record’, it’s a work of art.
Originally from Boston but now based in Nashville, Dinallo has delivered a set of songs about transition, change, and growing older. Produced by her husband Michael, Dream Girl has a cleared eyed sound and directness that harkens back to some of the old school country that I still enjoy. There’s a similar feel to these songs as the Trio album done by Dolly, Emmylou & Linda Ronstadt, a combination of sweet vocals and a salt-of-the-earth way about it that feels really good, really right. Weirdly, my mind can also hear Roy Orbison singing these songs too, it’s the emotional kind of stuff he used to do so well.
Dream Girl opens with the title track, written by Juliet and Michael for their daughter, and closes with another version of the song that includes their girl on vocals- a rather charming way to end the record. In between are songs like Moonshine & Sweet Tea, an old-timey waltz, and The Abyss, a song about facing your fears and staring them down. Fly (Prayer For Sandy Hook) addresses that tragedy that we know all too well.
Combining country aesthetics with Memphis soul grooves may not seem an obvious choice to make, but it works gangbusters here. Dream Girl and Juliet’s sweet voice are comfort food for the soul… listening to this is like getting into a really deep conversation with an insightful friend- something we could all use a little more of.
KEY CUTS: Moonshine & Sweet Tea, Dream Girl, The Abyss
I GOT LUCKY Randy Casey (independent) *****
This is the 8th album from Casey, and it gives new meaning to the word ‘excellent’. I got Lucky is a dose of swamp inflected blues, impressively eclectic yet firmly rooted in blues traditions.
I Got Lucky started a ’69 Les Paul Custom, the first guitar Casey every played. Decades later, the neighbour who had let him play it had an offer from Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilsen to buy it. The neighbour offered it to Randy first, who dug deep and was able to make payments. When he got his hands on the guitar again, songs began to just flow from it. It’s the guitar from which Casey coaxes the swampy slide of Bed Bug Blues, Broken Arm Blues and so much more. It must be an impressive instrument to inspire tunes like these.
As I listened to I Got Lucky for the 2nd and 3rd time, it felt like I was listening to someone doing what he was put on this earth to do, and every note feels… right. Casey is an impressive guitarist that stretches his playing between different styles and influences- .I don’t even mind when he gets a bit twangy. As a singer he has kind of a blue-eyed soul sound that works so well here. Every piece of this puzzle is in place, and that’s kinda thrilling. Is I Got Lucky good? No- it’s GREAT.
KEY CUTS: Little Weed, Six Feet Underground, Bedbug Blues