The Rock Doctor Reviews – July 4th, 2016

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SKRONKY TONK Little Charlie &Organ Grinder Swing (Eller Soul Records) *****With a title like that, I was expecting something… weird. But what we have here is a disc of gorgeous jazz swing, some originals mixed with the standards, and I absolutely cannot take my ears off of it.Known as leader of Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Charlie Baty has stepped out to make the album he’s always dreamed of.  He’s always dappled the Nightcats repertoire with swing jazz tunes, and this combines his creative blues guitar playing with swing in one of his favourite settings, an organ jazz trio, with former Nightcat band mates Lorenzo Farrell on Hammond and J. Hansen on drums.Skronky Tonk emerges from the mists of time, like a long lost record from the 40’s, a vigorous display of chops and quiet excellence.  Covering songs by the likes of Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman and Django Reinhardt this set showcases swing, blues, jazz standards and even some gypsy jazz, all done with Charlie’s  unique guitar stylings.  From the opening title track to the closer, Flying Home (also covered by Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis on their Conversations In Swing Guitar collaboration), this set grooves and moves effortlessly on superb musicianship.  These are the kind of players that make it seem easy, that never let you see them sweat.Skronky Tonk, despite the oddball title is an elegant and mesmerizing trip, one that musicians and straight up music fans will love and appreciate for its exhuberant excellence.  This is one of THE finds of the year.ESSENTIALS:  How High The Moon, Django, Pennies From Heaven THE GETAWAY The Red Hot Chili Peppers (Warner Bros.) ** ½ The Chilis are back with their 11th album overall and first since 2011’s I’m With You.  Over 60 million albums sold worldwide throughout their career- but do they still have it?  Yes, and no.To be honest, RHCP haven’t blown much wind up my skirt since 1991’s Bloodsugarsexmagik, and I almost gave this record a pass completely- but when I saw it was produced by Danger Mouse and mixed Nigel Godrich I thought “Well, this could be interesting” and it is, to a degree.  They’ve put more flex into the band’s unique and rubbery brand of funk rock and they sound refreshed without going too far out of their comfort zone, which should keep long time fans satiated.That could also be the problem here; The Getaway feels like more of the same.  I enjoy each of the musicians individually- Flea has always been a great bass player, as a drummer myself I enjoy Chad Smith’s power behind the kit, and Josh Klinghoffer’s guitar licks are tasty and, on occasion, surprising, but I’ve never really dug singer Anthony Kiedis- I find him quite boring and monotonous to be honest, and always have.I like The Getaway more than I did Stadium Arcadium, whose popularity has always baffled me- it put me to sleep more than once- and 2016 finds RHCP sticking pretty close to their blueprint.  AC/DC has made quite a nice career out of doing the same album over and over again, and it would seem like the Chilis are doing a similar thing, sticking pretty close to home base.  This is far from a terrible album, in fact I rather enjoy the laid back grooviness- but it’s hardly a crowning achievement.  If you go into this not expecting too much, or anything very tripped out or innovative, you might enjoy it too.ESSENTIALS:  Dark Necessities, Sick Love, Go Robot  DOWN IN A HOLE Kiefer Sutherland (Warner Music Canada) ***+When I found out Kiefer Sutherland had an album coming out, I imagine that my reaction was pretty similar to yours; “another Hollywood actor boy/ douche canoe thinks he can play rock star too?  Fuck off.”  In fact I almost skipped this album because of it, but gave it a listen on a whim.  Lo and behold it’s actually pretty good.Dig into Sutherland’s history a bit, and this disc of acoustic cowboy blues isn’t that much of a surprise after all.  Always a music buff, in 2002 he and best friend/ music partner Jude Cole started a small label called Ironworks, the goal being to record local musicians and distribute their music at a time when the music industry was going through a monumental shift.  Kiefer resigned from the label in 2009 to figure out his next move.Early last year he played Cole two songs he had written and wanted to record as demos for other artists to record.  Cole responded positively and the album grew from there, much to Sutherland’s surprise.  But what does it sound like?  Acoustic country/ rock, somewhere between The Eagles and maybe Steve Earle, but with less sophistication, sung in a rough but pleasing baritone.  There’s a naïve earnestness to his lyrics but he’s a capable storyteller and if he were to throw all of his creative energies into this new pursuit, he could end up traveling paths carved by artists like Ian Tyson or Tom Waits.Of Down In A Hole, Kiefer says “It’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a journal or diary.  All of these songs are pulled from my own personal experiences.  There is something very satisfying about being able to look back on my life, good times and bad, and express those sentiments in music.  As much as I have enjoyed the writing and recording process, I am experiencing great joy now, being able to play these songs to a live audience- which is something I hadn’t counted on.”  Color me pleasantly shocked too.ESSENTIALS:  Going Home, Not Enough Whiskey, Down In A Hole A LITTLE TOO LATE Travis Green (independent) ** ½ The latest release here from this Austin-based roots artist of the singer/ songwriter variety.  After plans to record in Austin fell through, Green moved operations to California where he hooked up with producer Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in San Jose and got a band of West Coast all-stars to back him up, with very cool results.Recorded and mixed in about a week, six songs recorded on the first day according to Travis.  A Little Too Late tries for a balance between blues-oriented tracks and roots rocker/ rockabilly sounds, but for the first few songs I thought I was in for another hayride- not that there’s anything wrong with that.  The musical diversity of this disc creates a trove of grooves just right for dancing and listening which is cool, as my dancing days are well in the rear view mirror.“My favourite song on the album is probably Please Don’t Cry” says Green.  “This is one of the songs I wrote just a few weeks before heading to California.  Lisa Leuschner Andersen sings with me on that track and her voice gives me chills.”  Of course that’s just one song out of ten, so there’s lots more to take in and dissect- that’s half the fun of listening to music for many of us.  Damage Done is about asking for forgiveness- “I’ve found I’m most inspired when I’m either beginning a relationship or in the process of ending one” Travis observes.  “I believe we captured the emotion and feeling I had envisioned for this recording, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it came out.”I really enjoy A Little Too Late as a record that resonates emotionally, but it seems a little more rustic feeling than the place I’m in right now, which is nothing more than an accident of timing.  A solid record that digs deep and boasts inspiring musicianship- I’ll definitely be revisiting this one.ESSENTIALS:  Damage Done, Please Don’t Cry, Road Runs Cold RELENTLESS The Paul Deslauiers Band  (Big Toe Productions) ***** This one hit me in the face like a barbequed steak hurled across the room.  Talk about your sleeves-rolled-up bare-knuckle blues… The PDB have followed up their 2014 self-titled debut with a greasy, nasty, high cholesterol rack of rockin’ roadhouse blues sure to peel paint at the appropriate volume levels.This album was written and produced as a group, by singer/ guitarist Paul Deslauriers, bassist Greg Morency and drummer Sam Harrisson.  It was recorded in their usual way, the guys playing together in the same room, live off the floor.  Hell, Relentless is far more energetic than almost any live record you’d care to name, with a rugged energy that belies the precision with which the PDB play as they lock in and just go hell bent for leather until each song is done.  Like southern rock, only more joyously vicious.The songs on this disc, from a barn burner like Ten Feet Tall to the slow, tortured blues of If I Still Had You, have the ability to lift you up- even lift you up and carry you away to somewhere else, if you’re willing to let go and take the ride.  The PDB’s rhythm section is excellent, but for me the draw on this disc is Paul’s scorching guitar work.  Whether he’s throwing down some fat, muscular chords or taking off with a solo his playing is fierce and emotional.  He’s a fine blues singer too, sounding not unlike David Gogo here- and that’s a very good thing.The blues may be considered by some to be an archaic art form, something to be studied by musical archaeologists, but records like The Paul Deslauriers Band’s Relentless prove that the music is alive and well, vital, and in very good hands.  This is flat-out awesome.ESSENTIALS: Stewtro Rock (Just Got Back), Ten Feet Tall, If I Still Had You GYPSY BLUES BLUE MOON MARQUEE (independent) ****Blue Marquee, a self styled gypsy blues band, has just released their 3rd album.  Influenced by early blues, swing and ragtime it ain’t pretty- but it’s definitely worth your time, and a worthy follow-up to 2014’s Lonesome Ghosts.This is actually a duo- A.W. Cardinal, a Metis of Cree heritage (any relation to Lorne from “Corner Gas”, I wonder?) has a distinctive, thick smoky vocal that sounds like Tom Waits meets Jim Morrison, and his guitar playing is bluesy with a jazz edge.  Jasmine Collette is the rhythm section, playing upright bass as she keeps the swing with both feet while singing harmonies.  Jeez- she sounds busier than Geddy Lee!The overall sound on Gypsy Blues is a little rough around the edges which means it can mean a little work to get comfortable with it, but that is also part of BMM’s magic.  The songs swing, they don’t sound forced or ‘manufactured’, and that’s a priceless quality in this day and age.  I love their way with words too, offering these lines from Shading Tree as an example; “Your greed is pride, well your creek’s mud dry/ and lust is a brush fire, dressed like a raging bull”.  Imagine hearing that in A.W.’s Waits-y voice or, as someone else called it, a “Bukowski-esue” mystique.Gypsy Blues is a deep and spiritually satisfying listen.  Originally from the Rocky Mountain Prairies but now based in Duncan on Vancouver Island, they’ve been touring steadily for the last four years and are one of the most requested bands for the 2016 International Jazz festivals across Canada.  If I were to fall into some shitty little dive bar in the middle of nowhere and Blue Moon Marquee were on stage playing these songs, I’d never want to leave.ESSENTIALS: Trickster Coyote, Shading Tree, Double Barrel Blues LIVE AT THE KESSLER Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat (Underworld Records) ***The one job a live album has above any other is to make the listener feel as though they were there at the gig.  This live disc, gathering songs from the band’s 4 previous records along with a pair of new tunes, does just that.“I chose the Kessler Theater in Dallas for the recording of our live CD because it is the best listening room in the north Texas area, but still retains an excitement due to the intimacy of the room” says bandleader Jim Suhler about the new album. “The sound is stellar as well.  I knew we’d have a happy, loving crowd as well- which we did!”  It is a good sounding room as LATK approaches the perfection of a studio recording.  Though Jim has been George Thorogood’s guitarist since ’99, this band has been playing together about 22 years, and that shows in the tightness of their playing here.  Live At The Kessler was produced by Jim, and he obviously knows what he wants out of his guys.This is a pretty tasty set, quite rootsy, but not as sweaty, hairy or willing to flirt with disaster as I was hoping a live blues/rock set would be.  The playing is phenomenal; Jim Suhler (guitar, vocals), Chris Alexander (bass, vocals), Shawn Phares (keyboards) and Beau Chadwell (drums) acquit themselves nicely as they revisit songs from records like Panther Burn, Tijuana Bible and Dirt Road.  The sound is tight, and as a very marginally talented musician myself I appreciate that a great deal, but that’s kind of as far as this goes for me.Live At The Kessler is a solid, well played album, but without the grime that perhaps playing in a big bar in front of a drunken crowd may have provided.  Good- but not great.ESSENTIALS:  Devil In Me, Deja Blue, Reverie SWINGIN’ IN THE SWAMP The Kat Kings (Kool Kat Records) ***If you like swingin’ 50’s style rockabilly, these kats are playin’ your tune.  Steeped in the same traditions that fuelled The Stray Cats in the 80’s, these guys have it going on!Led by singer/ guitarist Kevin McQuade, The Kat Kings have followed up their 2011 debut The Winning Hand with a worthy successor in Swingin’ In The Swamp.  It took some time to get this far, though.  Just as the promotion machine was gearing up behind the debut, McQuade’s daughter was in a near fatal traffic accident. “All of a sudden touring to support a new record didn’t seem that important” he recalls.With swing being the tie that binds these 13 original jump blues, rock ‘n’ roll, country and rockabilly numbers together, it’s a foregone conclusion that this disc is bound and determined to show you a good time. I Work For You was inspired by Wilson Pickett.  “I wrote that song for my wife” says McQuade, “you have to work hard to keep the home fires burning!”  Before I Found Him has a real CCR swamp groove going, and Juke Joint Jimmy is the true story of a sharkskin-suited patron of Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto.  Before I Found Him, for me, is the highlight of the disc.  “I wrote this song about a guy on death row” says Kevin. “They interviewed him on TV before his execution and asked him if he had found God. He said he wished that God would have found him before he found God.”Swingin’ In The Swamp is a bright, lively and upbeat musical experience with some dark corners, a rockabilly experience that I think you’ll enjoy.ESSENTIALS:  Before I Found Him, When I Say Jump, Juke Joint Jimmy HEAVY DAYS Kay Guillen & The Girls (Vizztone) ****+A little roadhouse rock & roll, anyone?  That’s what you’ll get from this band’s sophomore release.  The playing is solid, but what it might lack in finesse it makes up for in spirit and the all-important groove.The musicianship here is actually really good as these three chicks go roaring down some southern highways here.  Bassist Claire Adams and drummer Stephanie Williams are in lock-step, laying down some fluid grooves for singer/ guitarist Katy Guillen to sing and play over, her lead breaks biting and expressive. The only guest musicians listed are Mike “Shinetop” Sevoic, who put some keys on Cold Was The Night and Baby Please Don’t Go, and Ryan Heinlein, who played trombone on Pulling Up From The Grooves.The temptation might be to say “for three chicks, this band is pretty good”, but the fact is they rock, no matter if they stand up or sit down to pee.  There’s a greasy southern charm to these songs, almost an Allman-esque and Muscle Shoals feel to the grunt and grind that drive these songs down the highway.  Guillen is a great guitar player, not so much coaxing the notes out of her Telecaster as pulling them out kicking and screaming with the way she attacks it.  A prime example is the classic Baby Please Don’t Go– very bluesy and quite different from the versions we know by Them, AC/DC, Aerosmith and the hundred other bands that have covered it, yet still recognizably the same song- perhaps the way Billy Gibbons might have at it, or at the very least utilizing a groove he’d approve of.Katy Guillen & The Girls are definitely a band on the way up.  They’ve taken their vivacious brand of blues rock all over the world, rocking the Montreal International Jazz Festival, playing Joe Bonamassa’s “Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea” cruise, to earning a finalist spot at the 2014 International Blues Challenge, and routinely selling out venues in their hometown of Kansas City.  Heavy Days is a disc worthy of serious attention.ESSENTIALS:  Baby Please Don’t Go, Cold Was The Night, Don’t Need AnyoneMOMENTUM Turbo Street Funk (independent) ** ½From a street savvy busking crew on the streets of Toronto comes the follow-up to their 2014 debut To The Street.  This is quite different from the roots, blues and rock I usually find on the stereo, but they’re having so much damn fun it’s impossible NOT to listen.TSF started as a professional busking band, performing on the streets of Toronto 4 days a week each spring and summer while its members attended university, gathering crowds wherever they go.  Sax, guitar, drums, tuba and French horn with voice sounds like it might be an unusual combination, but it works. They’ve performed their lively brand of jazz/ pop at a TON of festivals in the Ontario area and their tunes have been featured on Jazz FM 91 and CBC radio as well, so people are listening.Stylistically their sound is rooted in the New Orleans horn band tradition, and they combine top 40 hits with savvy originals for an entertaining mix, with elements of funk, like Chicago or Lighthouse if they were to really loosen up and have some fun. The Mariposa Folk festival declares them “Exuberant, highly entertaining and loads of fun”, and after having a wander through Momentum I don’t doubt that for a minute.ESSENTIALS:  Momentum, Free, Ghostbusters (2016) VALLEY OF THE WINDMILL Circa (Frontiers) ** ½One man’s gold is another man’s nonsense.   If you’re in the mood for pretentious, lengthy prog-rock pieces, if you’re into Yes, then these guys are speaking your language.Circa can arguably be called an offshoot of Yes as members include original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood, who stepped in on bass after Chris Squire’s untimely passing last year, but Billy plays guitar here.  Rounding out the group are bassist Ricky Tierney and drummer Scott Connor.  Valley Of The Windmill, understandably, sounds rather akin to a middle period Yes album- plenty of noodling and deft time signature changes, occasionally majestic, but to what end?  I suppose their fan base consists mainly of males saying “Wow, look at those guys play!”It sounds like I’m taking the piss (as my British friends might say) and I suppose to a degree I am, but make no mistake- the musicianship on this disc is excellent.  My preference in rockis 4 or 5 minute bursts of controlled fury, and these songs are quite lengthy- just 4 cuts on Valley, with the title cut being the shortest at 7:32.  As a singer Sherwood reminds me a lot of Peter Gabriel, and while overall the musical arrangements don’t feel as ‘out there’ as classic Yes, the songs are clearly in the same vein.Lots of nice melodic twists in these tracks and top notch musicianship to marvel at. Let’s face it, as with jazz that’s the whole point of the prog rock thing- “Wow, look at us play!”  A record like Valley Of The Windmill will clearly take more than the single listen I’ve been able to give it to absorb and listen again I shall, but whether that results in a deeper appreciation of the musical treasures within or not remains to be seen.  As it sits Valley is kinda cool, so let’s go with that.ESSENTIALS:  Silent Resolve, Valley Of The Windmill COUNTING SHEEP Emma Cook (Last Tango) ***This E.P. is the first of a two part project being released this summer and fall by the Toronto based indie folk singer.  A fine storyteller with an expressive voice, this is a very easy trio of songs to like.Emma was well on her way to making a name for herself, releasing two well received records before a falling tree branch caused a serious head injury and forced her to set aside music for a time.  After a three year battle with “post-concussive syndrome” she’s back to making music, the thing she does best- writing and recording sweet folk music with depth and soul- she’s definitely a gal with a story to tell.Counting Sheep, and the instalment that will follow in a few months, was produced by Mitch Girio and features some amazing guest musicians which, like any EP should, has the listener looking forward to what’s coming next.  The cover, a single branch, is both a reference to her injury and ongoing battle to recover from the effects.  It took awhile to get her groove back, but in 2016 Emma began writing songs again.  “They just started pouring out me” she says.  “I am channelling all of my loss and frustration, all of the pain and hardship of the last few years.”Counting Sheep comes out July 8th, its follow-up later this fall, and Ms. Cook hopes to release her third full length album in 2017.  When she does, I’ll be there.ESSENTIAL: Counting Sheep (title track)

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