The Record Box for Sunday, July 27

My apologies in advance if today’s column has more than the usual amount of typos- there’s a horrible summer flu bug raging through the house right now, and it looks like me turn.  I decided to get these out to you know, before I descend into total madness, rather than sit on them for the next few days.  My apologies again for not proof reading.  ‘Scuse me while I go throw up and lie down.John The Rock Doctor1974 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Rhino) *****The lure of easy money has a mighty strong appeal- a line from Glenn Frey’s 1984 hit Smuggler’s Blues that, in retrospect, applies to CSNY’s disastrous reunion tour. Doomed from the beginning by what road manager Chris O’Dell describes as “Olymian levels of drug abuse” in a recent Rolling Stone article- even dubbed at the time by David Crosby as “The Doom Tour”- our front row seats have finally arrived… 40 years after the fact.Originally formed in 1968 as Crosby, Stills & Nash from former memebrs of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies, they recruited Crosby’s fromer Springfield bandmate Neil Young in the summer of ’69, and the original Woodstock festival was only their second gig. The group only lasted 11 months, thanks to tjhe constant infighting and the members’ desire to make solo albums too. The volatility of these egomaniacs, combined with the insane drug abuse, guaranteed that virtually every gig on the 1974 tour was a powder keg, just waiting for a match to set it off. It’s not unlike live performances by Deep Purple’s Mark II lineup- you never knew if you were in for a transcendant musical experience or a glorious train wreck, and that was part of the thrill.These 4 guys hardly ever got along, so the reunion tour documented on these three discs had to have been the lure of the aforementioned easy money. Produced by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, this box set (which includes a 188 package booklet and DVD of previously unseen live performances), spannnig 40 tracks, represents an idealized show from the tour. It also mirrors the electric/ acoustic/ electric format the band followed in the 31 stadium shows played in 24 cities. This set incudes some of CSNY’s best known tunes, such as Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Helpless, Wooden Ships, and Teach Your Children. They also introduced news songs that would appear later on band member’s solo albums, like Crosby’s Time After Time, Nash’s Fieldworker, and Stills’ First things First. Of note here, though, is the inclusion of several previously unreleased Neil Young songs; Traces, Love/Art Blues, Goodbye Dick (about Richard Nixon’s resignation) and Hawaiian Sunrise.At a time when rock & roll was starting embrace outrageous spectical by the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss, CSNY’s sole stage prop was a Persian rug. For them, even with all the psychotic madness, it was always about the music. These 40 performances are far from perfect but they are decidely human. The soul of the songs shine through, even when the backup harmonies are wobbly at times, thanks at least in part to Stills and Youg cranking their amps up to 11, according to Graham Nash- and I’m sure the mountains of cocaine they were all shoving up their noses didn’t help. Still, the performances are all enjoyable- when they really nail a song, and when they struggle on a track like All Fall Down”. The shows were surprisingly well recorded and have aged remarkably well- even though my only real exposure to the band was their Dej Vu album along with much of Neil Young’s subsequent solo output, by the end of the first run through and even after 3 discs of material I found myself asking “What- it’s over already?”I’ll leave the last word to Stephen Stills and David crosby, quoted from Andy Greene’s article in the July 3-17 issue of Rolling Stone wit melissa Mcarthy on the coveer; “At first I didn’t want to re-visit the tour because we were all crazy” says Stills, “but it’s great to hear how good the music was.” Crosby’s only regret is that they didn’t agree to his proposed title for the album; What Could Possibly Go Wrong? “You can’t say it without laughing” he says. “I don’t think everybody hasa the same sense of humor about themselves as I do”.HIGHLIGHTS: On The Beach, Wooden Ships, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Goodbye Dick, Suite: Judy Blue EyesGOING TO THE DELTA Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown (Ruf) ****This is one of the longest, continuously running blues/rock bands in the world today. Perhaps a good subtle for Savoy Brown’s latest would by By Way Of Chicago because this album has The Windy City written all over it. If you’re looking for road-worthy blues, you have come to the right place!”When I started the band back in 1965″ says Savoy Brown’s founder, frontman and guitarist, “The concept was to be a British version of a Chicago blues band. Now, here we are in 2014, and once again, (this music) echoes the sounds of Chicago.” Truer words were never spoken. This disc is like a cross between The Fabulous Thunderbirds and perhaps SRV, combining some Texas strut with the soul of a Chicago blues band. These songs boast and swagger mostly via Simmonds’ guitar, but never underestimate the importance of a rhythm section that can groove ‘ti lthe cows come home. Kim, along with bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm sound blacker than any three white guys have a right to. “The band on this album gets to show what great blues musicians they are” Simmonds says of his co-conspirators, “and (some) are saying I’m playing guitar better now than in the 60’s.”When The Rolling Stones started out roughly around the same time they, too, were trying to be a British version of a Chicago blues band- you only have to listen to their first couple of records to figure that out. While the went on to be ridiculously huge, Savoy Brown stayed true to their roots through every seismic tsunami that threatened to upend the music business- from punk in the late 70’s, to the pre-fab keyboard pop of the 80’s, grunge in the 90’s, and artificial, machine-made music of post-Y2K Even through the lineup changes over the years, as a band Savoy Brown have always known who they are over the 30-plus albums in their back catalogue- and Going To The Delta is no exception.”Maybe Shuffles, Boogies & Blues should have been the album title” notes Kim Simmonds, “it’s certainly what you’ll be listening to for the next hour or so.” He’s right, and I couldn’t be happier- this disc is the real deal.HIGHLIGHTS: Just A Dream, Nuthin’ Like The Blues, Goin’ To The DeltaTOO MANY ROADS Thorbjorn Risgaer & The Black Tornado (Ruf) *****A blues band from Copenhagen- didn’t know there was such a thing until now. Whether consciously or not they take Blind Dog Fulton’s advice from the movie Crossroads by taking the music past where they found it. That, Thorbjorn’s huge, spellbinding voice make for one of THE blues releases of the year.Immediately evident is Risgaer’s raw, expressive voice- he’s praised as one of the best blues singers in Denmark, but I’ll go one further than that and call him one of the best blues singer’s I’ve ever heard, making a song like China Gate, opening with just his voice and an acoustic guitar, positively spellbinding. Of course he doesn’t do it all himself- there are 8 members in this band, each approaching their gig with 100% professionalism, contributing to the common cause which results in great records like this.Records like this and the Savoy Brown album just reviewed are evidence that the blues is a truly international language. It may have grown from field hollers on Delta plantations in Mississippi then migrated to places like Memphis and Chicago with workers breaking away from the cotton fields and looking for a better life, but as a music of the underclass it translates to countries the world over. Everybody gets the blues- it’s a fine way to express your joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams… and God knows everybody can relate to that.When I first threw on Too Many Roads, aside from Risgaer’s voice, I was struck by the modern sound. It is still most assuredly the blues, Black Tornado takes the music past where they found it (as noted above) without losing the soul of the music. A song like Drowning sounds like a mid-tempo New Orleans dirge, followed by a slow building, greasy blues called Backseat Driver, and we get to rock out with High Rolling. Combine that with some riveting acoustic moments like the aforementioned China Gate and you have a record that just never sits still.Inspired in the beginning by an old BB King record, Risager went for a big sound with a horn section and that has served him well. The Black Tornados are huge in Europe and, with any luck, Too Many Roads will start opening some doors for them over here. Dyann DeAnna of BluesWax compares Thorbjorn’s voice to “one part ray Charles, one part Bob Seger and one part Joe Cocker”, and that feels about right. That, a great band and some great song writing make this one of THE albums of the year, in ANY genre.HIGHLIGHTS: High Rolling, China Gate, Backseat DriverHYPNOTIC EYE Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Reprise) ***** +This is the 13th studio album for these guys, available Tuesday, July 29th. I’ve been living with it fro almost a week and while I’ve never considered myself a huge fan, there is something about this collection of songs that has been really holding my attention.Hypnotic Eye is the sound of a veteran rock band firing on all cylinders, writing great songs and laying down tracks that will likely make you want to exceed the speed limit. In typical Petty fashion they waste no time in getting down to brass tacks by opening with American Dream Plan B, addressing the political landscape in what was once arguably the greatest nation on earth- but like a Springsteen album it’s not the only timethey approach the subject, as witnessed on songs like Power Drunk, Burnt Out Town and Shadow People. Yep, The Heartbreakers are definitely a band with something to say.To be honest I can’t remember the last time I picked up a Heartbreakers album- I always enjoy their stuff when I hear it on the radio, but a greatest hits disc has seen me through for the longest time. Something about this album is reaching out and speaking to me in some unexpected ways, over and above the superior rock beats th urge The Rockmobile to go faster. Perhaps it’s the urgency of the music combined with lyrical messages that make Hypnotic Eye a compelling album, an impossible piece of wrok to ignore.To be honest I haven’t spent enough time with this record to really pick it apart and analyze the inner workings (I’ve only heard it 3-4 times) but it sounds good, it feels good, and it’s the most rockin’ stateent they’ve had out in a while. There’s a certain charm to Tom Petty’s stoner casualness , but he sounds more engaged on Hypnotic Eye than ever… I can even forgive them for ripping off the intro to Gerry Rafferty’s Home & Dry for Red River. I like this album a bunch, and will even go as far as to say it’s damn near irresistible.HIGHLIGHTS: Power Drunk, American Dream Plan B, Burnt Out TownBLACK CROW Cathy Lemons (Vizztone) ***If you like your deep fried blues with a side of gospel, Cathy Lemons is serving up what you’re after. Having plied here trade in the Bay area for 25 years, she started out in Texas where she had performed with SRV- so she has the talent, the chops, and the mileage.Musically this set is blues and gospel with side dish of R&B. She (and her band) combine the rich flavors of Memphis soul and james brown funk with some sweet Delta blues to illistrate the singer’s own personal story of joy, heartache and redemption. Of these ten tracks six are original; the others include covers of tunes by Earl King, Kim Wilson, James Brown and Kieran Kane. From the sultry, menacing feel of the title cut to jump and swing of the leadoff track I’m A Good Woman and the mellow blues vibe of You’re In My Town Now, there are alot of flavors here to sample.I haven’t heard the original, but knowing how frantic James Brown’s music can get, it feels like Cathy and her band throttled back on The Big Payback to give it a different vibe without losing the feel of the song. It’s equally as menacing as I imagine the original to be, and I love the tenor sax solo too. I can imagine James saying “I wouldn’t have done it like that- but I like it.”If you want some straight up blues, Cathy and the band deliver on the next song I’m Going To Try– a passionate vocal with the tune moving at a sad pace while a Hammond B-3 simmers in the background, almost unheard- this is a piece of audio magic to my ears. The album ends with a slow burning acoustic blues called The Devil Has Blue Eyes-a Cathy Lemons original that will just about break your heart and, to me, it’s the highlight of the record. To sum up Black Crow in one word, I’d say “juicy”.HIGHLIGHTS: The Devil Has Blue Eyes, Black Crow, The Big PaybackI WON’T BE AFRAID The Schomberg Fair (Independent) *** 1/2These Toronto-based roots rockers follow their highly acclaimed Mercy E.P. with a full length album. Intense and raw, music that the band themselves describe as “roots rockin’ gospel magic”, I Won’t Be Afraid is one of the year’s albums that clearly needs to be reckoned with.I’ve not heard of this band before but these guys are not strangers ti the country at large, in Eastern Canada in particular, as they’ve shared stages with The Sadies, Ron Sexsmith, Arkells and The Handsome Fus, as well as international acts such as Deertick, Larry & His Flask, and T-Model Ford. There’s something dark in their music that attracts me, and I’m hearing a bass vocal in the background that somehow connects these songs to older music traditions, even with the guitar feedback in Razor.When I put the CD in my player and scanned the back cover as it began to play, I couldn’t help but notice that they cover Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, a song that was on Robert Plant’s last album. Where Robert’s version is more plantive, in The Schomberg Fair’s hands it sounds more like an old coal miner’s funeral march, but the second half includes a distorted guitar solo the should seem out of place- but doesn’t, rendering the song just that much more intense.I Won’t Be Afraid is intense, hypnotic, spiritual, melodic, menacing, sad and uplifting all at the same time. In a time when the music business is supposed to be in its death throes, this disc offers a glimmer of hope. I’ll definitely be listening to this again- and again.HIGHLIGHTS: Razor, Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, Drunkard’s PrayerDON’T CALL NO AMBULANCE Selwyn Birchwood (Alligator) *****What is it with Florida and the blues? Last year I came across Sean Chambers from that state and now, here is the debut from a 29 year old Florida guitarist that may well be the next big thing in the blues- lord knows the evidence I’ve just heard from Selwyn Birchwood supports that view!Birchwood has an unaturally mature singing voice, and his guitar playing is smooth and expressive, much like the late, great Albert Collins. he tookup the guitar at age 13 and picked up the songs he heard on tjhe radio easily. But the grunge, hip-hop and metal of the 90’s didn’t move him, and he quickly became bored- then he ehard Jimi Hnedrix for the first time. He was larger than life, what he did was mind-blowing” says Selwun. “When I realized Hendrix was influenced by the blues, I found my path.” At the age of 17, while witnessing one of his idols (Buddy guy) play live, he said “I comletely connected with the blues- I knew i had to make this music.”From fast numbers like Addicted that starts off the record to the monster slow blues jam Brown Paper Bag that feels like the centerpiece, Don’t Call No Ambulance is a great blues record, with judicious amnouts of fubnk thrown in to keep things lively. His band could teach lessons in The groove, and having guests like Joe Louis Walker and Dash Dixon coming by ceryainly doesn’t hurt! Selwyn’s vocals are deep and soulful, rough around the edges in just the right places, sounding my like a guy my age (mid-50’s) than a 29 year old kid with an MBA. It’s also tellnig that all 12 of these songs are originals. As label chief Bruce Igluaer notes, “he writes smart, infectious, fresh songs and delivers them with a warm, conversational vocal style and a fun loving attitude.” Having just listened to the album twice, I can tell you he’s not fibbin’!Time to take a break, crack a cold one, and spin Ambulance just one more time…HIGHLIGHTS: Brown Paper Bag, Love me Again, Hoodoo StewHOLLYWOOD BLVD Raoul and The Big Time (BTR) *** 1/2Well this is a tasty, unexpected treat. As a squib on the back of the CD cover says, “The Big time is all about creating original music for today, inspired by the genius of the past.” If that sounds like your kind of blues, let me hold your towel so you can dive right in.Formed in 1998 by Ottawa actor/ musician Raoul Bhaneja, the website says their music is “a mix of Toronto/ Chicago/ Hollywood blues”, and they’ve won trophies from The Maple Blues and Real Blues Awards, including best new artist, best debut CD, and multiple instrumental awards. What you’ll notice right away about Hollywood Blvd is the relaxed, good-time vintage feel overall. Love that stand-up bass, groovin’ horn section and overall casual approach- feels good. On the instrumentals (and there are a few of those), Raoul swaps out his vocal chords for some blues harp, playing some engaging meoldy lines without overblowing it, which some players tend to do.One song of note is Pop Staples’ Why Am I Treated So Bad which, in the song’s intro, Bhaneja indicates was one of Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite song. Curtis Salgado (said to be Belushi’s inspiration for The Blues Brothers) blows some harp on Curtis Charm, which you’ll be hearing on my bluies radio show for some time to come.Sometimes I find deliberately lo-fi production values irritating but in this case it gives the music context as it takes us back a couple of decades or so. 8 of the 12 tracks are Raoul Bhaneja originals, and he clearly has a firm grasp on the blues idiom. A good mix of tempos and moods makes this a fun listen. Sometimes that’s all you want, but throw some great playing on top of that and you’ll coe up with Hollywood Blvd, definitely recommended listening.HIGHLIGHTS: Tired, Hollywood Blvd, Spoken ForREFUSE TO LOSE Jarekus Singleton (Alligator) *** 3/4Never heard of this dude before, but I sure hope to hear more. Refuse To Lose is full of swagger, stinging licks and high energy rock tinged blues. I heaven’t heard anything quite like this since I came across Robert Cray back in the 80’s.Singelton’s music springs from the same Mississippi soil that gave us Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters and BB King, his sound a cutting edge mix of rap, rock and blues grooves that meld hip-hop wordplay with rock energy and R&B grooves. {orduced by Singleton and Alligator label chief Bruce Iglauer (who has produced or co-produced many of the label’s artists from day one),Refuse To Lose has a molten and supple way about it that combines power and finesse, not unlike the best of SRV’s stuff. Born into a family of church vocalists and musicians, some of that power we feel and hear from this record comes with a little gospel DNA as well.”Blues is honest music” says Singleton. “I love the blues tradition and have always been inspired by the masters… but I want to create something for today’s audience that is as original as those blues masters were when they first started making records. I want to create blues for the 21st century.” A lofty goal indeed fr this 29 year old guitar hero, but based on the dozen tracks that I’ve just heard here in my music room, completely within his reach. Refuse To Lose is as emotionally intense if not moreso than Cray’s masterpiece Strong Persuader. Singleton isn’t just playing the blues (and he does that very well, by the way) he’s blending it with new elements that will help ensure the music’s survival. A noble goal to be sure but aside all that, this is one hell of a record to listen to at the appropriate volume. Think Robert Cray meets Stevie Ray, and that gies you an inkling of what you’re in for.HIGHLIGHTS: Hell, Gonna Let Go Suspicion 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.