The Record Box for Friday, May 8th

LIKE ELWAY Lee Palmer (On The Fly) *****This is Palmer’s 3rd album in as many years- when I did a phone interview with him for 2014’s 60 Clicks this record was already on his mind.  Like Elway not only builds on the success of the first two albums, it is one of the best discs I’ve heard in the last decade.A musician and writer for most of his life, Lee has only been releasing albums under his own name since 2013. Like Elway is an intriguing mix of blues, roots, country, jazz and Americana, and past comparisons to Ron Sexsmith, Willie Nelson and early Downchild are on the beam.  To that list I would add Ian Tyson, both for his vocal timbre and ability to tell a story.  The musicianship is superb- uncluttered and unrushed, wonderfully engineered by Juno award winner George Seara, and co-produced by Elmer.Perhaps the real magic of Like Elway (evident on 60 Clicks and Live At Cantebury before it) is that the songs, both musically and lyrically, feel like they’re coming straight from the heart.  Light-hearted stuff like Lonely At The Top and Axe To Grind mix effortlessly with more serious stuff like Those Winter Blues without breaking stride.  “I continue to learn each time I go into the studio” say Palmer.  “I feel this is my best effort yet, and I am extremely thankful to those who have helped me on my journey.”  I can attest to what he’s saying there- the first albums were good, solid pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed- but Like Elway sounds and feels like a giant step forward in terms of writing and performance… this is a seriously outstanding album.ESSENTIALS:  Those Winter Blues, Maybe That’s Why, Lonely At The Top STARLIGHT HIGHWAY Corrine West (Make/ Burnside) ****This is the latest album for this 4th generation Californian, though I can’t say I’ve heard of her before.  This much I do know, however- I am now a fan.Folk-rock is the easiest tag if you must have a handle, but there is so much more going on here than that.  The vocal harmonies are hypnotic, almost angelic, and the acoustic guitar (much of it by Kelly Joe Phelps) is stunning.  “Starlight is my first completely self-produced record” notes West.  “I wanted to create a body of songs that moved my music forward in new directions, while paying tribute to the music I had made in the past.  This influenced my decisions regarding the instrumentation; piano, organ, acoustic rock angles, heavy harmonies, the deep-drive of drums, the laid back floating ballads.”Starlight Highway reminds me of those great folk albums of late 60’s and early 70’s- even while I was becoming a rocker, the right Jim Croce album could just pick me up and take me somewhere else- and this record has a taste of tha.  “This is an intimate record, and covers a lot of territory” Corrine says in summing up her new album. “I marvel at how deeply personal experiences so often translate into universal and mythic principals. Though seemingly different, we are all somehow cut from the same cloth.”Starlight Highway feels like a folk-rock record with a cowboy heart, and it’s a piece of celestial magic that will make you feel good, and maybe a little less alone.ESSENTIALS:  Cry Of The Echo Drifter, Trouble No More, Night Falls Away Singing BAD CO/ STRAIGHT SHOOTER RE-MASTERS Bad Company (Swan Song/ Rhino) *****It worked so well for their label bosses Led Zeppelin, so why not these guys too?  Bad Company has re-mastered and re-released their first two albums, attaching a voluminous second disc to each full of demos, B-sides, different versions and more, and in each case the bonus disc is longer than the original album.  For these two rock & roll classics, the treatment is surely justified.Though the original line-up of the band released 6 albums (they would have some success in the 80’s with a different singer and 6 more albums), Bad Co and Straight Shooter were the only two I bothered with at the time, though why I can’t say.  I have heard the others, but the songs just don’t grab me as these two sets did.BAD CO:  The first record from one of the first super-groups, with members coming from Free, Mott The Hoople and King Crimson.  Guitarist Mick Ralphs had gone to his Hoople band mates with the riff for Can’t Get Enough, only to have it rejected as too simple.  He played it for Paul Rodgers who immediately said “Yeah, I can do something with this”, and a band was born.  Recorded at Headley Grange in November of ’73, it was the first release on Zeppelin’s Swansong label and made it to the top of the Billboard charts, eventually going five times platinum.  The blues/rock vibe certainly spoke to the generation of the time- having great songs like Can’t Get Enough, Ready For Love and the title track amongst the 8 songs certainly didn’t hurt. Essentials just mentioned.The bonus disc has 13 tracks, including different takes, demos of songs included and some that didn’t make the cut.  Best is the “Hammond version” of Can’t Get Enough.STRAIGHT SHOOTER:  Released in 1975 and the more musically aggressive and adventurous, it’s also my favourite of these two.  I was hooked from the first song, Good Lovin’ Gone Bad, especially where singer Paul Rodgers sounds so pissed off his voice cracks. Even though I was a drummer at the time I found the guitar work of Mick Ralphs particularly inspiring on this record.  Jimmy Page often speaks about the importance of light and shade in music, and these guys really nailed it on this album.  The big hit here is Feel Like Makin’ Love, even Kid Rock had success with it just a couple of years ago, but it’s hardly the best song on the album. The essentials on this record are, for me, Good Lovin’ Gone Bad, Deal With The Preacher and Wild Fire Woman, in that order.The bonus disc for Straight Shooter is 14 cuts in all, including some alternate versions, previously unreleased songs and the B-side Whisky Bottle. My favourite her is the early, slower version of Weep No More.For Bad Company fans, these re-mastered versions of those classic first two albums are must-haves especially given the reasonable prices, but to the casual listener it will seem like too much.  These have been in my car since I bought them, and I have no plan to take them back in the house anytime soon.MIDNIGHT MIST Voo Davis (Butter & Bacon Records) *****+The third album from this Chicago based blues ‘n’ roots guitarist is positively incendiary.  Produced by Davis himself and recorded in just 3 days in organic analog at Studio In The Country in Louisiana, Midnight Mist is one of 2015’s “gotta have”s.For the voodoo magic that permeates these grooves, Davis used a number of vintage guitars as well as pedal steel, mandolin and keyboards.  He plays all instruments on 2 of the album’s 14 tracks, being joined on the others by Craig Borchers on drums, Michael Burkhart on the Hammond B-3, Reggie Winterland on bass, Calvin Conway on harmonica and violin.  It’s a distinct mix of swampy blues with a roots thing and the muscle of acid-soaked rock, and a heady blend it is.Part of what makes this album work so spectacularly well is the live of the floor feel, that thing you can only get when musicians are playing together and going for broke. “We recorded the album in three days” says Davis, “two of which were spent on instrumentation and on the third day I finished up vocals.  It was ten hours in the booth that day and if something didn’t work the first or second time, we moved on.”Midnight Mist is dirty, nasty, soulful and heart wrenching, often all at the same time.  Davis’s guitar work on tracks like Find Me A Blackbone and Music In The Streets in particular is genuinely thrilling and his singing voice, not unlike Kid Rock’s, is inviting.  Where different kinds of music collide is where you often get the most exciting stuff, and Midnight Mist is a perfect example of that.  This is one record I cannot recommend highly enough.ESSENTIALS: Find me A Blackbone, Riverside Blues, Music In The Streets LOVE SPIN Debbie Davies (Vizztone)  *** ½ The latest solo effort from this California based guitarist, her 12th I believe, is quite a concoction.  Equal parts blues and soul, Love Spin is the good stuff.  As my favourite Wayne’s World quote says “She can really wail!”Debbie Davies turned pro as a guitarist in the early 80’s and hasn’t looked back.  In 1984 she played lead for Maggie Mayall & The Cadillacs, a band fronted by blues legend John Mayall’s wife.  4 years later she was recruited by Albert Collins and spent 3 years as a member of The Icebreakers.  Further, she played on John Mayall’s 1990 album A Sense of Place and in ’91 recorded with Albert Collins & The Icebreakers on their Grammy nominated self titled release.  Or, to put it another way, she can hold her own with the Big Boys.Love Spin is a rollicking good time full of groove as Debbie and the band embrace several blues styles over the course of this album; from Chicago to New Orleans, New York to Austin to L.A.  Her voice has the mileage to make you believe she knows what she’s singing about, and the precision of her solos is a delightful combination of Albert Collins, with a side of BB King and maybe just a touch of SRV.  I even like the liner notes for this set, particularly the brief descriptions of what each song is about.  As a lifelong music nerd, anything that can lead me even deeper into the music is always a good thing.Love Spin is a solid album that is sure to show up in regular rotation on my CD player this summer, a mix of blues and funk with a side of jazz (on songs like A Darker Side of Me) that is proving hard to resist.ESSENTIALS:  Let The Heartaches Begin, A Darker Side Of Me, It’s All Blues SINK OR SWIM Celleste (single) *****I’ve been following this Quebec-based singer’s career since her Ready To Fly disc a few years back, through her Join The Infestation album and the Infestation Unplugged EP that followed, thoroughly enjoying her music- but my gut tells me that Sink Or Swim is the one.  From the tribal drum intro and rockin’ vibe to the “shit or get off the pot” message of the lyrics, this is a forceful song on all fronts. She has a great pop/ rock voice, and this song was built for summertime radio in particular.  Find out for yourself- you can download this track for free from her website;  www.celleste.comHALLELUJAH Panic At The Disco (Warner single) ***The first new music from PTD in nearly 2 years here, as the band continues work on their as yet untitled fifth studio album, is a short, sweet blast of retro fun. The horns and drums on the intro sound like a 70’s funk sample.  Perhaps they’re running this one up the flagpole to gauge fans’ reactions about the direction the new record is taking.  If that’s the case then play on, boys… sounds to me like you’re on the right track.GOING DOWN Jeff Beck (Warner single) **** +The leadoff cut here from Jeff beck’s forthcoming Live +, due out May 19th.  The album is a career spanning live retrospective recorded last year that also includes a pair of new studio cuts, but this song in particular is a ferocious re-working of the old blues classic, perhaps known best by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.  Beck’s guitar work is vicious, and the rest of his band really steps it up too- vocals and harp from Jimmy Hall, bassist Rhonda Smith and drummer Jonathan Joseph, and guitarist Nicolas Meier.  If this song is any indication of what we have in store from the full album, we’re in for a nuclear blast experience.SOUTHLAND James Day & The Fish Fry (Neon Blue/ Vizztone) *** ½ Southland is James day’s 2nd album, a follow up to Firecracker.  If you want to lighten up the vibe at a party and get things moving, this is the album to throw on.You can hear many styles of American roots music on this swingin’ CD; New Orleans street parades, Cuban rumbas, swamp pop, Zydeco, rockabilly, 1920’s jug bands, Delta and Chicago blues, and the gospel of the title track that closes the album.  James blows some tasty harmonica and has an ‘ordinary’ voice that works particularly well with these kinds of songs, and his band really knows their stuff.  It took me a little time to zero in on Southland’s magic- this label usually sends me straight up blues, but once I stopped looking for that specifically and just laid back and enjoyed, I got it.  Yeah there’s blues here, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.Where ‘Yat Magazine praises James Day & The Fish Fry as “a brew of influences from the 40’s to the present” and that feels right.  Lots of infectious Zydeco rhythms and melodies over these 14 tracks in particular, but again it’s the melange of Americana styles and influences that brings the magic.  If I could describe Southland in two words I’d say “it swings”.  Billed as ‘a musical tribute to the Gulf Coast’ this gives you a lot of bang for the buck.ESSENTIALS:  Don’t Bruise The Melons, Country Woman, Muscadine Wine


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