Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor – Dec. 3rd, 2018

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY SOUNDTRACK Queen (Hollywood Records) *****+
Here’s the soundtrack to the movie, the story of Queen and, more specifically, Freddie Mercury. The film was excellent, though not as revealing as some would hope. The soundtrack, however, is a revelation. More than just the hits, Bohemian Rhapsody has enough previously unreleased stuff to make fans happy.

Freddie Mercury was the best front man in rock & roll, bar none. The movie delves into his private life, but only touches briefly on his sexuality. The music represents all phases of the band, from the pre-Queen group Smile with Roger Taylor and Brian May, plus bassist/ singer Tim Staffell, onward. They revisit Doing Alright as per an early scene in the movie, and it’s included here on the soundtrack. Other interesting gems include Brian May’s version of the 20th Century Fox movie theme, Keep Yourself Alive from Live At The Rainbow, Fat Bottom Girls recorded live in Paris, a movie mix of We Will Rock You and more.

What really did it for me, though, was the inclusion of several tracks from Queen’s legendary performance at Live Aid. Even if the rest of the disc was a simple ‘best of’, I would’ve bought it just for those 5 songs. That gig cemented the band’s status as rock legends when, just months before, they were all but finished with Freddie going solo.

Aside from being a solid movie with a kick-ass soundtrack, Bohemian Rhapsody has reawakened my love for Queen, and that’s a wonderful thing. This is a must-have for fans, and a wise acquisition for those with even a passing interest in the band.

KEY CUTS: all Live Aid tracks, I Want To Break Free, Keep Yourself Alive

LONG LIVE THEM BLUES VOL. 1 Dry Johnson (Connor Ray) ****
The debut album for this Houston based duo is a scorcher. Dry Johnson is bassist Terry Dry & drummer Matthew Robert Johnson, and their ‘day job’ is as Mike Zito’s rhythm section. All songs are originals except a nifty cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s Hit The Highway. A sweet list of guests have helped realize Terry and Matthew’s dream.

The idea for this album came a couple of years ago. “Terry and I originally thought up the idea after a gig with Mike Zito in a hotel room in Florida” Matthew says. “We discussed the idea of doing a project as a rhythm section, with all of the artists that we have either worked with in the past, or would like to work with in the future.”

Those artists include band mate Mike Zito on guitar and mic on several tracks. Also dropping in are Annika Chambers, Trudy Lynn, guitarists John Del Toro Richardson, Mighty Orq and James Wilhite, harmonica master Steve Krase, and Houston’s Kevin “Snit” Fitzpatrick on vocals. With all of these different musicians the sound and feel of Long Live Them Blues is remarkably consistent. There’s great playing all over this disc, and it sounds like all involved where having a fine time.

Yes this is the blues and it’s well played but LLTB has, for the most part, a lighthearted feel. Songs like Drunk Girl With A Tambourine, Too Many Hipsters, Trashy Women & Cheap Guitars and Fried Chicken are as much fun as the titles suggest, but they end the disc with a serious acoustic tune called Little Bird that is as good as any back porch blues you’ve ever heard. Long Live The Blues is a love letter to the American art form Matt and Terry love so much, and the Vol.1 tag already has me looking forward to more.

KEY CUTS: Trashy Women & Cheap Guitars, Hit The Highway, Little Bird

JIM DAN DEE Jim Dan Dee (independent) *****
Muscular, hard-driving rockin’ blues is what you’ll find on this Toronto-based outfit’s debut full length release. This baby has plenty of horsepower and sass, it’s one of the most exciting albums I’ve heard in awhile- like Downchild meets Powder Blues.

So many things to dig about Jim Dan Dee it’s hard to know where to start. Singer Jim Stefanuk’s intense, passionate voice is a beefy combination of Colin James and Jeff Healey. Shawn Royal’s drumming is slinky yet solid, creating an irresistible backbeat along with Brian McCarthy’s wonderfully inventive bass lines. Stefanuk plays guitar (including some smokin’ leads), and the melodies are tied together by the tasty sax work of Bobby Sewerynek. Together they create an urgent, gritty, bluesy, soulful sound that just grabs you and refuses to let go.

I have not heard their 2015 Five Stiff Shots EP and so can’t compare this to it but if it’s as good as this, I gotta get my hands on it. Jim Dan Dee is extremely well produced- punchy and thick with no flab, and the instruments are well and thoughtfully placed across the spectrum. The name of the band may be based on an old cliché, but this rock powered blues is fresh and inspiring. I could listen to this all day… I just might.

KEY CUTS: Stand By My Woman, Trying To Get Somewhere, Just Cuz

DOWN THE ROAD WHEREVER Mark Knopfler (I-Tunes purchase) *****+
This is Knopfler’s 10th solo album by my estimation, not including collaborations and/or movie soundtracks. It’s a laid-back pop noir/jazz pastiche with an Americana feel, as much of his solo stuff has been- which is why I like it so much.

According to Wikipedia, this disc was announced with a press release that referred to Down The Road as “unhurriedly elegant new Knopfler songs inspired by a wide range of subjects, including his early days in Deptford with Dire Straits, a stray football fan lost in a strange town, the compulsion of a musician hitching home through the snow, and a man out of time in his local greasy spoon”. I didn’t read that before listening to the album several times, but having heard the songs it makes perfect sense.

Though a casual Dire Straits fan, I’ve been really into Knopfler’s solos stuff for about a decade now. There’s an elegance to his songwriting and playing that I find relaxing and captivating. Not sure where the title comes from but Down The Road Wherever has a casual excellence that fills me up. Could be the exquisite musicianship or the vivid imagery of Mark’s lyrics- like so many British writers he seems to be fascinated with the West and rural America in general. There’s a melancholy to some of these songs that I really connect to as well that make this great thinking and listening music.

Down The Road Wherever is available in different configurations, including the deluxe edition with bonus songs, which is what I purchased. Up-tempo stuff like Good On You Son and Back On The Dance Floor are jazzy and quite likeable but quiet acoustic songs like Matchstick Man, which closes out the disc, speak to me more. Fans of Knopfler’s elegant playing and song craft will be well pleased with Down The Road.

KEY CUTS: Matchstick Man, Good On You Son, When You Leave

BOB MARGOLIN Bob Margolin (Vizztone) ***
The latest from Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin is a solo album in the truest sense of the word; he plays and sings every note plus he produced, recorded and mixed it. With all respect to him, though, I’m not sure it was the best plan.

The percussion on the first few tracks threw me off the horse- instead of even a partial drum kit, it sounds like somebody tapping on cardboard boxes with either brushes or bare hands. If Margolin was going for a ‘homemade’ sound, he achieved it- but the effect was so irritating and out of time that I barely noticed the songs themselves. The singing and guitar playing are fine… had he used a drummer this disc would’ve really happened.

Bob Margolin consists of 6 originals and 9 cuts he learned back in the day from legendary friends like Muddy Waters, The Band, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Rogers, Snooky Pryor, Pinetop Perkins and James Cotton. The feeling behind this record is something we can all relate to. “As new songs came to me for this album, I have blues the feeling and blues the music for today’s toxic tragedies and growing gaps” he notes. “I believe the blues legends I worked with would shake their heads and cry for us if they were alive to see. That spirit informs my new songs too.”

Bob Margolin is NOT a terrible album- if it were, I wouldn’t have written it up- but I believe it could have been way better. Had Bob either used a band or stuck with just his voice and guitar (not unlike, say, Son House’s legendary Death Letter album), he could have captured the musical intimacy he was shooting for. Sorry, Bob.

KEY CUTS: Goin’ Away Baby, Blues before Sunrise, Dallas

LOVE LETTER Regina Bonelli (True Groove Records) ****
A new disc here from the Brooklyn born, New York Blues Hall Of Fame belter, ready to shake the dust from the rafters. Love Letter is a blues-meets-R&B tsunami that will have you reaching for the ‘repeat’ button on your CD player time and time again.

Love Letter is a set that addresses today’s concerns, framed in a classic musical art form. “This collection of songs represents empowerment and healing in a world so sorely in need of both” Regina says. “These are trying times we live in today, and I truly believe that this is what music can do- especially the blues.” She’s right- the blues has a unique power to touch the heart and soul, and that’s just what songs like Don’t Put Your Hands On Me and Talk Is Cheap do to you.

Bonelli’s band, The True Groove All-Stars, play together effortlessly and with authority. Regina has shared stages with Bobby Rush, Paul Simon, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Blues Traveler, Popa Chubby and Ronnie Earl to list off a few. Just one listen to Love Letter and you’ll hear why she can hang with the big dogs.

From upbeat numbers like Nothing I Can’t Handle to the melancholy Al Green-meets-Etta James groove of A Little Rain Must Fall, the title cut or her cover of The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black, Bonelli and her band have the ability to lift you up and break your heart at the same time. A thoughtful and engaging listen- that’s Love Letter.

KEY CUTS: Love Letter, Nothing I Can’t Handle, Talk Is Cheap

LOVE Michael Buble (Reprise) ****
Buble is one smooth bastard. After dealing with some serious family issues, he’s back with his first album in two years. It’s his 8th record to date, his most romantic so far, and it reminds me of my favourite singer- Nat King Cole.

In 2016, Buble’s oldest son Noah was diagnosed with liver cancer, and Michael dropped all of his professional commitments to be with his family. “Slowly, I began to feel a new commitment to express the emotions and lessons I’ve embraced” he says of coming out of the experience. “Whether I am the narrator, the observer, the main character, the dreamer, the broken hearted guy at the bar or having the night of a lifetime, I have stories to tell on this record- it’s all there in the songs.”

Love was co-produced by Buble and David Foster. This is a lush throwback to another period, really, but the songs themselves are timeless classics. Forever Now is an original song for Mike, but it sits comfortably amid things like My Funny Valentine, When I Fall In Love and Help Me Make It Through The Night, to name but a few. “My end game for the new record was to create a series of short cinematic stories for each song I chose
and have it stand on its own” he comments. “I’m so proud of what we accomplished.”

I know that Buble’s sentimental cocktail pop/jazz isn’t for everyone, but Love is a heartfelt, stunningly well made record. From songs about his kids to the romantic and swingin’ stuff he does so spectacularly well, I’m digging this in a big way.

KEY CUTS: Such A Night, When I Fall In Love, Unforgettable

BLUE. Dale Bandy (BMI/ Elastic Penguin) ****+
It’s the solo debut for this veteran bluesman. The singer/ guitarist/ songwriter/ band leader/ producer steps out on his own and wouldn’t you know it, he has plenty to say.

Dale Bandy handles many blues styles easily as he moves effortlessly from traditional to 50’s style, to blues rock, to contemporary blues with a sort of jazz acumen. Blue is a roughly even mix of original songs and sweet cover tunes. Country Star, with it’s hella-cool walking bass line, was written in a dream, set in a Nashville recording studio with Dale directing and teaching the band the song. When he awoke, he knew he had to take the song into the studio and record it straight away.

As for the blues standard he tackles here, I think blues fans in general will appreciate the authority and respect he brings to songs like Big Legged Woman and The Thrill is Gone. The disc was recorded and mixed by Bandy in Orlando, Florida, and props must be given to his band for their sympathetic and wonderfully nuanced (and rockin’) performance throughout. As a singer, Bandy sounds like David Gogo but that’s cool- I like Gogo.

Bandy’s guitar playing is mesmerizing- as you listen to his style and the way he constructs a solo, you’ll be right inside the song with him and along for the ride.

As your average blues album goes, Blue is a pretty chill listening experience, and that suits me just fine. I think I’ll roll through this one more time before bed.

KEY CUTS: Country Star, My Bad Reputation, The Thrill Is Gone

LATE LAST NIGHT: ELIXIR OF SARA MARTIN Laurie Jane & The 45’s (Down in the Alley Records) *** ¾
A new release here for one of Louisville, Kentucky’s best blues bands, and a history lesson to boot. Their goal is to revive the work of Louisville’s prohibition-era blues original, Sara Martin. Late Last Night should be considered mission accomplished.

Instead of trying to capture every nuance of Martin’s music in a purist way, Laurie Jane & The 45’s deliver these century old songs in the same way the great British rock bands gave the blues back to us. It reminds me of what Maria Muldaur has done with her semi-recent jug band blues albums, along with her tribute to Memphis Minnie. These are songs we may already know- at least some of them- and they’re pieces of art being presented in new frames in a new and exhilarating way.

The band’s southern soul shines through on these 12 cuts with rich horn charts, some jaunty guitar and The 45’s refreshing musical attitude of just going for it. Laurie’s clear, strong voice is the perfect vehicle for these lyrics, and you get the feeling that if she’s singin’ it, she’s means it. That’s important in the blues, that authenticity- it’s one of the reasons I don’t like George Thorogood very much.

Late Last Night is a helluva lot of fun to listen to; 50’s style big city blues mixed with jazz and rockabilly. This is one disc with a whole lotta soul.

KEY CUTS: Blind Man Blues, Atlanta Blues, I’m Gonna Be A Lovin’ Old Soul

Interesting move here; the original soundtrack to the Hugh Jackman film went double platinum, so Warner follows it with a companion disc of songs from the movie, re-done by some of the today’s biggest pop stars. Whether or not you need this depends on what you thought of the movie (Mrs. Rock Doctor & I thoroughly enjoyed it) and how you feel about the singers and bands involved here.

The movie is about P.T. Barnum and the creation of his circus. As the movie is about a man singe mindedly pursuing his dreams against all odds the songs, written by the award winning duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are heroic and inspirational. The movie is certainly a period piece, so lifting these songs into the present-day with modern pop artists is a smart ploy. Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of Never Enough is powerful, and Panic At The Disco’s take on the title track is pretty cool too. I don’t recognize every one of these acts, but other than those just mentioned I rather enjoyed what Kesha, The Zac Brown Band, Pink and Sara Bareilles did with the songs they were given.
Again, if you dug the movie plus know and/or enjoy at least half of the artists on this disc, it’s worth checking out. You know, with the alarming speed that everything seems to be coming undone, a disc of inspiring songs hits the spot. Like Jim Jefferies says at the end of his TV show, “I think we can all do better”- and maybe this music can help.

KEY CUTS: Never Enough (Kelly Clarkson), The Greatest Show (Panic At The Disco), Rewrite The Stars (James Arthur & Anne-Marie)

RISE ‘N’ SHINE Brandon Isaak (independent) *****
Brandon Isaak has done it again with his latest solo album. Smart, insightful lyrics that deal with life, love, acceptance, spirituality and the sixth sense, Rise ‘N’ Shine has a jaunty, old school vibe that really works. This is blues ‘n’ roots at its best.

Rise ‘N’ Shine was laid down in Vancouver. It’s a band effort, done live with minimal microphones and quite the list of special guests, including Jack Lavin of Powder Blues. It has an old-school charm, rawness and feel, but without sounding like it’s trying to recreate a bygone era; more relaxed and natural. As Brandon says in the liner notes, “this fun-to-make record is somewhat different than my first two solo albums. It includes some of my favourite local musicians whom I admire and respect” he says. “Some tunes involved simple and primitive recording techniques, while others were more refined.”

The thing that will hit you about Rise ‘N’ Shine is its soulfulness, particularly on tracks like Blame It On The Girl. Instrumentation is simple and laid back, and Isaak’s voice just fits the lyric like a glove.

Like any truly great blues album this is a collection of engaging stories very well told, and there’s a 40’s jazz/swing energy that I’m really grooving on. Come on in and feel free to get lost for a while.

KEY CUTS: I Wanna be Your Man, Blame It On The Girl, Perfectly Happy With The Blues

MURDER CREEK Murray Kinsley & Wicked Grin (Phoenix Records) *** ½
A bare knuckle, brawling brute of a blues record here from this Ottawa based group. Described by the press as “hellaciously rockin’ new blues”, Murder Creek is a beast- and it’s damned exciting to be around.

Murder Creek is thick and rough in all the right ways. Produced by Nick Blagona (Deep Purple, Cat Stevens, The Sheepdogs), when this comes out of your speakers it has a real heft to it. The lyrical themes of some of the songs is quite dark- my kind of stuff. So Long, Too Soon is a tribute to the many artists who have passed away before their time, and the band was writing and rehearsing in Florida when the Parkland School shooting happened; Trouble Coming is their response to the tragedy.

From darkness comes light and surely Murder Creek as an album is proof of that. There’s a sort of life-affirming feel to this disc that is quite enjoyable. “Oh lord take me down/ I’m gonna live my life this way/ oh lord take down/ women and whiskey gonna make me pay” is the chorus of Take Me Down, and who hasn’t been there? They play hard and, as I said, there are some dark themes scattered throughout, but the ultimate result is a record that makes for pretty good company.

Murray Kinsley’s singing and guitar playing is quite distinctive and is the glue that holds everything together. Murder Creek is definitely a rockin’ good time.

KEY CUTS: This Old Dawg, Trouble Coming, So Long Too Soon

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