QUIET MONEY Al Basile (Sweetspot Records) ***+
A swanky new record here from former Roomful Of Blues coronetist Al Basile. Quiet Money moves even closer to R.O.B.’s jump, urban and Texas blues, combined with a classic R&B vibe that really swings. Yeah- this is a good ‘un.
I first put this on while puttering around The Bat Cave and thought “Jeez, this really reminds me of Duke Robillaird”. It was only after I started reading the accompanying bio that I realized again (hey, I’m old…) that Al and Duke had been band-mates way back when in Roomful of Blues. Further to that Robillard produced and plays on this disc as he has done on other Basile stuff, and many of the Roomful alumni appear too,
As Quiet Money demonstrates, Basile is a triple threat; a superb coronetist, a smooth and enjoyable vocalist, and a prize-winning poet. As a result his songs have an uncommon breadth to them- expertly played with far more than the usual “Ooo baby you done me wrong” lyrics- not that there’s anything wrong with that- which is why he’s often called “The Bard of The Blues”. It’s a potent and thought-provoking mix.
Quiet Money, performed by Al with the aforementioned Roomful Of Blues alumni and the rhythm section for Duke Robillard’s band, is a sophisticated and jazzy take on the blues with the right amount of swing. I like the way this disc feels and sounds and, at the end of the day, that’s what counts. Quiet Money is another winner in Basile’s catalogue.
KEY CUTS: Quiet Money, Blues Got Blues, Who’s Gonna Close My Eyes?
THIS TIME TOMORROW Lloyd Spiegel (Only Blues Music) *****
Wow- what a beautiful and intimate disc! This Time Tomorrow is the 9th album for this wonderfully talented Australian blues master and acoustic guitarist extraordinaire, so it looks like I have a pant load of backtracking to do! This is one of those rare albums that will leave you breathless and craving more.
This Time Tomorrow was written as Lloyd traveled through Europe, Central and North America, returning him to his gut bucket blues roots. “I’ve never written at home” he says. “I find it hard to be creative in my lounge room looking at bills and checking footy scores- and find that the inspiration to write comes from those few quiet hours in a hotel room on tour, the airport transit lounge or the long bus ride. I’ve traveled most of my life so really, (these songs) are like letters home.”
This Time Tomorrow is exquisitely produced with sparse instrumentation- occasionally just Lloyd and his guitar- that really draws you into each story as it unfolds. No bass on Time, but I got through most of the album before I even noticed, that’s how wonderfully rich it sounds. Shady and colourful characters inhabit his songs, some probably feeling like characters you’ve come across in your own life, some dark alleys that you’ve wandered down after dark. It’s a rich, vibrant tapestry he weaves across these 10 cuts.
This Time Tomorrow is an intimate, moving experience that I recommend VERY highly.
KEY CUTS: Devil On My Shoulder, Cure My Soul, This Time Tomorrow
HITCHHIKER Neil Young (Reprise) *****+
A surprising ‘new’ album here from Neil. Recorded in 1976 between the Zuma and American Stars and Bars records as a solo album and produced by long-time collaborator David Briggs Hitchhiker- just Neil, his voice and guitar- is breathtaking in its emotion and simplicity.
Neil liked to record at Indigo Ranch back then on nights of the full moon. Hitchhiker, recorded in a single session, was intended for release at the time but label execs were reportedly unimpressed, rejecting the album and advising Young to record them with a band. According to Wikipedia, producer Briggs said at the time “He’d turn to me and go ‘guess I’ll turn on the tap’- and then out came Powderfinger, Pocahontas, Out Of The Blue, Ride My Llama. Two days, a day. I’m not talkin’ about sittin’ down with a pen and paper, I’m talkin’ about pickin’ up a guitar, sittin’ there and lookin’ me in the face, and in twenty minutes- Pocahontas.”
Neil Young fans will recognize some of these songs from elsewhere; Pocahontas was used on Rust Never Sleeps, Captain Kennedy on Hawks & Doves, and most of the others have appeared in different form on records like Comes A Time, Le Noise and the aforementioned Rust Never Sleeps and American Stars and Bars. Two of the 10 tracks on Hitchhiker appear here for the first time, apparently; Hawaii and Give Me Strength, though Neil has been known to perform live on occasion.
What makes Hitchhiker magical, and I don’t use the term lightly, is that it captures Neil Young in his purest, most elemental form- acoustic guitar in hand, telling stories. The occasional bits of studio chatter confirm the stoner vibe with which this was recorded. In his biography Special Deluxe Young says of the session “It was a complete piece, although I was pretty stony on it, and you can hear it in my performances… I laid down all the songs in a row, pausing only for weed, beer or coke.” Far from being the train wreck it could have been under those circumstances, the result is a collection of vulnerable and open performances.
I don’t love everything Neil Young does; 2016’s Peace Trail was a steaming pile of crap and I said as much when I reviewed it in January of this year… but Hitchhiker is an intuitive singer/ songwriter at the top of his game. Intimate and sparse, this one has been kissed by angels.
KEY CUTS: Pocahontas, Hawaii, Hitchhiker
PEACEFUL EASY FEELING: THE SONGS OF JACK TEMPCHIN Jack Tempchin (Blue Elan Records) ****
Even if you don’t recognize the name, I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve heard at least some of his songs. Noted perhaps most for stuff like the title track as done by The Eagles, Jack’s songs have an easy grace and a big heart.
“This album is my recordings of songs I wrote with Glenn Frey, plus Slow Dancing, Peaceful Easy Feeling and Already Gone”, Jack says on his website. “I’d never recorded any of these songs- it was challenging, but I think the album turned out great and I’m glad I did it.” Jack had a little help from his friends too, of course.. Rita Coolidge duets with him on a marvellous take on Slow Dancing, a more ballad-y version than the one you probably know by Johnny Rivers. Janiva Magness sings with Jack on Soul Searchin’, originally a Glenn Frey solo hit, and The Byrds’ Chris Hillman is featured on Already Gone and It’s Your World Now.
Tempchin’s highest profile successes as a songwriter were with The Eagles as well as a number of Frey solo hits; The One You Love and Soul Searchin’ are included on Peaceful Easy Feeling, but Jack also had a hand in songs like Smuggler’s Blues and You Belong To The City. The original versions of the Eagles and Glenn Frey songs included here are more polished and refined, whereas Jack’s versions tend to be more relaxed and personable- and I like that a lot.
Produced by Joel Piper and mixed by Elliot Shiner, P-E-F is the sort of thing that’s just right for after a tough day in the salt mines. I’ve been listening to the Eagles’ music and Glenn Frey’s solo stuff for decades now, and always wondered who this ‘Jack Tempchin guy’ was- now I know.
KEY CUTS: Slow Dancing (with Rita Coolidge), title track, Soul Searchin’
BONE ON BONE Bruce Cockburn (True North) *****
Canada’s Bruce is back with his first album in 6 or 7 years (33rd overall), a powerful and excellently performed set of tunes. Last we heard from him was his 2014 memoir Rumours Of Glory (a great read, by the way), and the process of writing it left Bruce wondering if he was ever going to write songs again. Like our favourite blues and folk musicians and maybe a good wine, Cockburn just gets better with age. I’d place Bone On Bone right beside my favourite record of his, 1996’s The Charity Of Night.
Writing the book started in 2011 and, on the True North website, Cockburn says “I didn’t write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it. There was simply nothing left to write songs with.” Writing the book, coupled with the birth of his daughter at this stage of life, left him tired too. What got the song writing process going for him was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary about the late, seminal Canadian poet Al Purdy.
Produced by long-time collaborator Colin Linden, Bone On Bone has a rustic, rootsy, acoustic, intimate feel. In addition to Cockburn’s voice and exquisite guitar playing, the album is sonically built around bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig, along with some pretty cool accordion work from his nephew John Aaron Cockburn. Several of the songs also feature singers from the church Bruce frequents in San Francisco, where he’s lived for the past 8 years. All of these elements contribute to a timeless feel and an unspoken spirituality here, perhaps moreso than his last few outings.
In an episode of Q on CBC Radio this morning (BoB has only been out a matter of hours as I write this) Bruce says he doesn’t feel this is a political album. When I interviewed him in 2010 prior to a gig in Trail BC, he told me that his songs that are deemed political start with a personal, emotional response first, and that certainly feels like the case here. “My job is to try and trap the spirits of things in the scratches of pen on paper and the pulling of notes out of metal” he notes on the True North website. Produced with thoughtful nuance, Bone is a gorgeous sounding album full of great songs that gives us much to think about, the best thing he’s done in many years- and that’s saying something.
KEY CUTS: States I’m In, Twelve Gates To The City, 40 Years In The Wilderness