PEACE TRAIL Neil Young (Warner) ** This was Neil’s 2nd record for the 2nd half of 2016, new songs written since the release of Earth in June. Primarily an acoustic affair the production is sparse, more of an intimate conversation than his albums tend to be, reflecting the issues on his mind. It’s getting rave reviews from The LA Times and Rolling Stone- but I have no idea why.Peace Trail was recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-la studios and was produced by Neil and John Hanlon. The band is a trio this time- Young on vocals and guitar, Paul Bushnell on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. This disc has a rough and tumble sound as so much of Neil’s stuff does… sometimes that approach works, but this time I don’t think it does the songs justice. The intrusion of Neil’s squalling, overdriven harp is jarring and Keltner’s drums sound like laundry tubs… the whole thing sounds pretty ‘bush’.As you might expect from someone decades into his career, some of these tunes will remind you of some his past work; for instance, Indian Givers sound a lot like the title track to 2005’s Prairie Wind, but the junky sound of Keltner’s drums nearly ruins it. I’m a fan of his playing and so was surprised that he’s the drummer here.Neil Young has made a lot of records- a lot of music comes to him and through him, and he likes to get it out of his head so he can move on to the next thing. Sometimes the result is original, powerful work; Harvest, Ragged Glory, Prairie Wind… other times, we get a fart in a wind tunnel. While I applaud him doing whatever the hell he pleases that doesn’t mean I have to like everything he does. Peace Trail feels like one of his records I’ll never get close to, and I know he’d understand.
ESSENTIALS: Can’t Stop Workin’, Glass Accident, Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders
BONAFIDE Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps (Jesi-Lu) *** ½ Teresa James Popped up in mid-October with her 9th album but, thanks to a busy holiday season, I’m just getting to it now. Swampy, soulful and raw with a strut that I love, Bonafide is the real deal.James’s voice has a sort of Bonnie Raitt vibe that really suits these songs. As the late Levon Helm once said, “Teresa James is a true original. When she sings, you can feel it in your bones.” These songs (10 of 13 are originals) I wouldn’t call blues directly, but they are bluesy. The covers include I Like It Like That by the 5 Royales, and John Hiatt’s Have A Little Faith In Me, which I’ve heard covered by artists like Jewel and Joe Cocker, and Teresa’s version certainly stands alongside them.Great songs aside, this is a great sounding album too. Warm and inviting, it’s kind of like a Gladys Knight or Bonnie Raitt album in the way it just kind of pulls you in. When she’s singing a song like No Regrets you don’t just hear her voice, you feel it too. Engineered and produced by Terry Wilson, he clearly understands James as an artist and frames her and the band in the best possible sonic light at every turn- from her voice to the “thwack” of the snare drum to the rolling, rumbling bass lines, Bonafide sounds perfect.The title is given the dictionary definition on the front cover; “1. genuine; real 2. sincerely; without deception or fraud”, and that describes the pleasures of Bonafide well. This is one of those records that will hit you right in the ‘feels’.
ESSENTIALS: No Regrets, The Power Of Need, Have A Little Faith In Me
PREACHIN’ BLUES Reverend Freakchild (Treated And released Records) *****+Sometimes, simple is the way to go. With music, it’s easier to find the truth and beauty in a song when it’s not dressed up like a twenty dollar hooker. With just harp, National Steel guitar and his voice, the Rev keeps it simple on Preachin’ Blues, recorded live for broadcast on KBOO in Portland, Oregon. The result is not only the most authentic blues/ gospel you’ll hear, but one of my top 5 blues albums of all time.Living Blues Magazine says “His attitude is irreverent, but his enthusiasm for the blues is clear”, and judging from the patter between songs, he gets the connection between gospel and blues- what the bio refers to as “some mellow meaningful preachin’ in between tunes.” Prior to this gig, all of Freakchild’s guitars and gear was stolen in San Francisco but, with more tour dates on the hook, he picked up another guitar and just kept on going. Included along side his originals are songs originally cut by Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson and, as he had just died, Prince’s Kiss.As you listen, it’s obvious that he’s playing to and off a group of people listening and watching from the sound booth. His guitar playing has the casual grace of someone to whom this kind of music is second nature, and he’s a solid harp player too. Preachin’ Blues is as much a spiritual experience as it is a stunning blues album, and no doubt you’ll enjoy the heartfelt academic essay that the Rev wrote (included on the enhanced cd) called Transcendence Through Music: Buddha And The Blues- it’s a wonderful read.Unusual to find a record I like this much this early into a new year, but Preachin’ Blues will be a tough one to beat for 2017’s top spot.
ESSENTIALS: Breathing Blues (instrumental), In My Time Of Dyin’, Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down
IF YOU WANT A GOOD WOMAN Tim Gartland (Taste Good Music) ****This is Gartland’s 3rd album of original music, and it’s real easy company. From a relaxed vocal style that recalls Leon Redbone (just a little bit) to some sweet harmonica work, he delivers up-tempo barrelhouse to lowdown blues, and everything in between.To sum up Good Woman in a single word, that would have to be “soulful”. As a singer Tim has a smooth, relaxed baritone, and his band provides just the right support- supple, in the pocket, no showboating needed. All 12 tracks are originals, melodic compositions with lyrics that address real feelings and situations with memorable hooks and a wink of irony, like the leadoff song What The Blues Look Like. Gartland’s voice wraps itself around a lyric like a warm blanket, and is nicely offset on many songs by Wendy Moten’s crisp backing vocals. Tim is one of those singers that doesn’t need to yell to get his point across.When it comes to blues harp I tend to favor an overdriven sound through a cheap amp, but here Gartland favors a largely acoustic or punchy but clean amplified tone, and I gotta say it fits in nicely with the intimate and natural sound of the record, guided by the same musical sensibility that guides his vocals. He doesn’t show off either, opting instead to play just the right notes and leave all the right spaces.If You Want A Good Woman is solid, soulful blues- definitely worth having around.
ESSENTIALS: What The Blues Looks Like, I Come When You Call, Go West!
WHY I CHOOSE TO SING THE BLUES Derrick Procell (Here and Now Music) *****Though he’s been performing and recording for years with songs appearing on shows like The Office, Boston Legal, True Blood and Criminal Minds, this is Procell’s first full on blues record, and it’s a thing of beauty. Consisting of songs written either by himself or with Grammy winner Terry Abrahamson. Why I Choose To Sing The Blues is an album of depth, soul, and pure joy.What his collaborator has to say about Derrick on the back cover sums up the spirit of this disc well; “On the day Derrick Powell got born, his soul was waitin’ for him 90 miles South. On the West side. Under the el. In back at Silvio’s. Perched on a keg it rode down from Milwaukee. Soakin’ in the last jagged echoes of Howlin’ Wolf and the grit, sweat and muscle of the man who hauled that keg. Lines like it’s in the sins of old Son House and the Wolf will howl again waited a lifetime for the voice that carries that soul. Weren’t no other way. The Wolf is listening.”Procell’s voice is indeed passionate and gritty, and his piano and harp work really gets the job done here too. Thanks to the respect given him by the blues world, when he asked heavy hitters like Eddie Shaw, Billy Branch and Bob Margolin to pitch in, they gladly did so. The end result is a record the Chicago Blues Guide calls “a treasure trove of richly detailed story-songs that immerse the listener in the blues experience, from the Delta to Chicago and beyond.”Why I Choose To Sing The Blues kicks, rocks, growls and moans- this is a great record.
ESSENTIALS: Sorry, The Wolf Will Howl Again, title track, Who Will Tell Lucille (a tribute to BB King)