AndersonPonty Band

Better Late Than Never


andersonpontyEver since the collaboration between Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty was announced as a Kickstarter project last summer, prog and fusion fans have been anxious to hear how these icons would sound together. The end result far and away exceeds anyone’s expectations.

One of the first things that stands out is Anderson’s embrace of the jazz vocal ethos. The former Yes singer doesn’t float downstream with the current — he rides thermals into the stratosphere. Of course, it would be hard not to be swept up by the jazz vibrations when the other musicians are all from Ponty’s camp, having been in the electric violinist’s band at one time or another. However, it wasn’t always like that.

Guitarist Jamie Glaser is heard on the live CD/DVD but not seen in the DVD, having been overdubbed in on both as a replacement for Jamie Dunlap, the Anderson associate who had to bow out of the project after the one-off Colorado concert from which the DVD and its CD counterpart had been sourced.

“(Dunlap’s) success in the TV and film world made it impossible for him to continue with us,” Ponty told Good New Music by email. “Then Jon really liked Jamie Glaser’s playing and personality after hearing and seeing some videos of him performing in my band before and also solo. So we hired a second Jamie after our first Jamie left!”

But leaving Dunlap in the DVD when the music was now performed by Glaser posed a problem.

“From what I remember Jon suggested to add some footage of Jamie Glaser in the recording studio, since he was not with us in Aspen but joined our project later on, but it didn’t really work with the flow of our concert DVD,” Ponty told GNM. In the end, the Dunlap footage was left on the cutting room floor.

The convoluted changes caused an online ruckus among a number of fans, some of whom were already up in arms because postings to the Kickstarter page were interpreted as indicating there would be a studio CD and a live DVD — a misunderstanding the artists attributed to overzealous promotion by someone other than themselves.

When asked if the intention was always to enhance the live performance with overdubs, Ponty said in his email: “Yes, the plan was to capture the raw energy of our live performance and to enhance it later. As we were listening to our live recording, Jon and I would come up with new ideas, Jon usually taking the lead for his songs and me for mine. I am sure glad we did — I love what we achieved this way.”

But keyboardist Wally Minko, drummer Rayford Griffin and bassist Baron Browne did no overdubs, Ponty said. “All you hear on the album is their live performance except for one of Jon’s songs, ‘I See You Messenger.’ We didn’t like our live performance of that one, so Jon came up with new ideas and I did a totally new arrangement for it, so this is the only song which was recorded from scratch and why you see recording studios credited. As for me I kept all my live solos but I was not yet mastering all the songs in Aspen and even forgot to play in some sections, so I overdubbed a few parts. Jon’s singing in Aspen was excellent overall but he came up with additional ideas afterwards and overdubbed a few more vocal parts.”

Regardless of the long road taken, “Better Late Than Never” was worth the wait: It’s an amazing mix of newly arranged Yes/Jon Anderson songs, as well as Ponty instrumental standards infused with newly written Anderson lyrics. Here’s hoping the album and tour do well enough to inspire the duo to co-write and record an entire studio follow-up.gnm_end_bug

1. Intro
2. One in the Rhythm of Hope
3. A for Aria
4. Owner of a Lonely Heart
5. Listening with Me
6. Time and a Word
7. Infinite Mirage
8. Soul Eternal
9. Wonderous Stories
10. And You and I (CD only)
11. Renaissance of the Sun
12. Roundabout
13. I See You Messenger (CD only)
14. New New World (CD only)

Total CD time: 61:24

External links
Jon Anderson’s website
Jean-Luc Ponty’s website
iTunes Store

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Webb Wilder

Mississippi Moderne


wilderSlide guitar has more of a presence on “Mississippi Moderne” than on Wilder’s other albums — perhaps because Nashville session player Bob Williams, who’s been co-guitarist since 2007 but played on just three songs off 2009’s “More Like Me,” is fully incorporated this time around.

“Moderne” also has a bluesier bent, which seems only natural given its focus on Mississippi, Wilder’s home state. Yet he continues to defy categorization, sounding a bit like Phil Alvin on “Rough and Tumble Guy” and Nick Lowe on “Too Much Sugar for a Nickel” (both being collaborations with John Hadley, of country music publisher Tree International fame), and covering Ray Davies’ “I Gotta Move,” a song he used to play with The Drapes back in Hattiesburg.

“Yard Dog” (originally recorded by Biloxi garage-rock band The One Way Street in 1966) and “Lucy Mae Blues” (a 1953 regional hit for Texas guitarist Frankie Lee Sims) were previously released as a 2013 digital-only single. Other covers are Conway Twitty’s “Lonely Blue Boy,” Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time,” Jimmy Reed’s “I’m Gonna Get My Baby” and Charlie Rich’s “Who Will the Next Fool Be?”

Another noteworthy cut is “Only a Fool,” co-written with Dan Penn (“The Dark End of the Street,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”) and featuring twin-lead electric sitar riffs. Furthermore, former Wilder guitarists Joe V. McMahan and George Bradfute return to help out with the aforementioned “Yard Dog” and “I’m Gonna Get My Baby,” respectively.

Wilder’s eighth studio record was recorded at Nashville’s Studio 19, originally Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders, just before it was demolished. Maybe a sense of inevitability spurred the musicians to new heights, but Wilder, Williams, longtime bassist Tom Comet and original drummer Jimmy Lester (also a founding member of Los Straitjackets) play like nobody’s business.

1. Stones In My Pathway (intro)
2. Rough And Tumble Guy
3. If It Ain’t Broke (Don’t Fix It)
4. Only A Fool
5. I Gotta Move
6. Too Much Sugar For A Nickel
7. Lonely Blue Boy
8. Yard Dog
9. I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool
10. It Takes Time
11. Lucy Mae Blues
12. Who Will The Next Fool Be
13. I’m Gonna Get My Baby
14. Stones In My Pathway

Total time: 46:05

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Lowell Levinger

Get Together: Banana Recalls Youngbloods Classics

Grandpa Raccoon

levingerEven serious Youngbloods fans may have had a hard time keeping up with Lowell Levinger (the artist almost formerly known as Banana) since that group disbanded 42 years ago.

Shortly after the breakup, he released an eclectic album with his Youngbloods bandmates sans Jesse Colin Young called “Mid-Mountain Ranch,” under the moniker Banana and the Bunch (a name he’d resurrected from a pre-Youngbloods folk group). Then he became a sideman — most notably as accompanist to Mimi Farina in the 1970s and ’80s, and as keyboard player for psychedelic jazz-rock ensemble Zero in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

He laid low until 2009, when he started releasing solo albums under the name Grandpa Banana. For last year’s “Down to the Roots,” Levinger used his given name, albeit with “Banana of the Youngbloods” appended. For his fifth solo album, “Get Together,” he moves “Banana” into the title to help explain that this is his lovingly crafted celebration of the Youngbloods’ 50th anniversary.

The outstanding collection of inventively reimagined and masterfully played Youngbloods songs is mostly acoustic-flavored, featuring Levinger on various five-string tenor guitars, banjo and piano. Old friends such as Ry Cooder, Duke Robillard, David Grisman and (on backing vocals for three songs) Young lend a hand. On the title cut, he’s backed by the Grand Chorus: Dan Hicks, Maria Muldaur, Peter Rowan, David Nelson and others.

Good New Music caught up with Banana/Levinger via email and got some questions answered.

Q: I’m assuming that the album was recorded at Owl Mountain, because Jesse says in his note that the three songs he was involved in were recorded there. What’s the origin of the studio? Is it yours? Jesse’s? From what I can tell, co-producer/drummer Ethan Turner (Jesse’s godson, son of Rick Turner of Autosalvage) is the studio’s engineer/principal.

A: This is Jesse’s old studio just down the hill from his old house (in Inverness, Calif.). Many Youngblood recordings were made there in the early ’70s. In the fire of 1995, the house burned down but Ethan Turner was there and he singlehandedly saved the studio while all the neighboring houses around it burned to the ground. There is a huge melted shard of metal on the porch of the studio that was once a bench. Ethan has been maintaining/upgrading/tweaking/adding cool equipment etc. to the studio since then and does many other recordings there as well as his own and mine. And it is basically now his studio.

Q: Speaking of Autosalvage, did they finish their new album?

A: I went with the reunion of Autosalvage as guitarist/steel guitarist to SXSW in 2013, and we did a few sets there after having rehearsed like crazy in Bolinas over the previous couple of months and made a sort of video. I don’t think anything further has evolved.

Q: How did you meet the album’s bassist, Sam Page?

A: He subbed one night with the Barry (“The Fish”) Melton Band at the Saloon (in San Francisco) and I had known a little about him before but never actually played with him. I was impressed and we talked and he also plays the “real” acoustic bass, which is what we use (on the new album), and we tried it out and it clicked. He is solid as a rock and knows a gazillion songs.

Q: How did you meet the guys from the Italian band Red Wine, who make guest appearances? Was it related to your online vintage instrument business?

A: I became infatuated with Italy when I went for the very first time in 2007, and I came home and made a vow to spend a little less at home, work a little harder and go to Italy at least twice a year for the rest of my life, getting to know all 20 regions and their cultures, cuisines, wines, art, architecture, literature, etc. I enrolled in an Italian class and have been in classes ever since, several long-term ones in Italy. When my friend David Grisman came home from there in 2009 with a Giacomel mandolin, I was immensely impressed. And when I heard him play it at a gig and on a record, I decided I better get one. I started communicating with Corrado Giacomel and then met him and it was through him that I met Martino Coppo and the rest of the Red Wine gang and also Carlo Aonzo, and also a wonderful circus troupe called Compagnia Teatro Scalzo who are all great musicians as well.

Q: Your singing voice has come a long way. Did you make a conscientious effort to improve it?

A: Yes. I’ve always been a good harmony singer and able to blend well with different types of voices. I realized in about 2004 that my voice was improving and that I could actually engage people just by singing songs solo — self-accompanied. So I started practicing singing just like I practice playing instruments. It seems to be working.

Q: Is it true that the Youngbloods recorded a never-released country album?

A: Yes. It’s called Country Home and it may be released at some point by Sundazed Records.

Q: When you played live with the Youngbloods as a trio, was it an either/or thing with the guitar and electric piano? Or did you sometimes play both on some songs?

A: I almost always played one or the other. It was after The Youngbloods that I started sometimes wearing a guitar while standing at the organ and going back and forth between the two. I played the Wurlitzer sitting on a psychedelic piano bench.

Q: Do you miss playing the electric piano?

A: I prefer the acoustic piano.

Q: How did you get the nickname Banana?

A: In 1962, Peter Golden and I were at the dress rehearsal of the Boston University production of “On the Town” by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein.

We were merely stagehands, as freshmen are not allowed to actually appear in major productions, which this was. There is a scene in “On the Town, with whose plot you may be familiar but I shall synopsize it here: Three sailors are on leave in New York City for only 24 hours; will they get lai …. no no … will they find romance?

The show includes many great songs, but one not so great is when one of the protagonists and his newly found girlfriend are taking an open cab ride through Central Park. The “cab” is actually a flat painted to look like a cab, and it has large dowels protruding from its back so that two stagehands crouching down on their knees can hold on to the dowels while they painfully shuffle along making the cab look like it is moving on its own across the stage with the two actors walking in back of it. Hey — you asked.

Guess who those two stagehands were?

The cab pauses in the middle of the stage, and while the stagehands endure their agony the couple sings a romantic song. This song kept being interrupted during this dress rehearsal by costume people and then makeup people and then stage-blocking people and all the while Peter and I, yes, crouched down there.

Well, in our extreme agony and boredom we decided that it was absolutely imperative that we think of the funkiest, folkiest name that might have been used in 1936. The best we could come up with was “Harmon N. Banana,” so we went with it. We formed the band right then and there. “Harmon N. Banana and the Bunch — Old Time Music With Appeal.” Within minutes we had created the secret handshake and high sign, which we both now have forgotten.

I can drag this story on for many more paragraphs about the clubs we played and how we realized the name was holding us back, so we changed it to “Harmon N. Banana and the Down Home Redneck Jamboree.” When our draw failed to improve, we decided a more drastic name change was in order: “Harmon N. Banana and the Knights of Pytheas Wake the Dead Gospel Choir.”

Nope, still no stardom. … Eventually we dropped the “Harmon N.” as it just confused people. What in the world, they wondered, was the “N” for?

“Nothing” was our standard response.

Enough already.gnm_end_bug

1. Grizzly Bear
2. Supersonic Transport
3. Darkness Darkness
4. The Pool Hall Song
5. Interlude
6. Hippie From Olema
7. Euphoria
8. On Sir Francis Drake
9. Eyes Eyes
10 Stagger Lee
11. Get Together
12. Sugar Babe

Total time: 46:46

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Colin Lake

One Thing That’s for Sure

Louisiana Red Hot

lakeColin Lake traded in the Pacific Northwest for the Deep South, relocating from Portland, Ore., to New Orleans and finding a mentor in musician Eric Lindell. “One Thing That’s for Sure” is Lake’s second post-migration album, continuing his metamorphosis into a notable blues/soul/R&B singer-songwriter who excels on slide and lap steel guitar.

On the title track he sounds like B.B. King jamming with the Subdudes. For “The World Alive,” Lake conjures cosmic pedal-steel sounds out of his lap steel. “I’m Trying to Tell You” gets funky with wah-wah and organ. Gospel-style background vocals and folksy harmonica grace the stripped-down “A Quiet Mind.”

“La Madrugada” is the album’s lone instrumental, comprising Dobro-like lap steel, organ and drums. On “Pay the Price,” Lake plays fuzzed-out electric slide à la Ry Cooder and sings like Ben Harper.

The record closes with “Lonesome for the West,” an eight-minute showcase for dueling and double-lead multitracked slide guitars.

By using a horn section on several songs, background singers here and there, and a guitar solo by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars (on “She’s Mine”), Lake elevates himself to the real deal — and that’s one thing that’s for sure.gnm_end_bug

1. One Thing That’s For Sure
2. She’s Mine
3. The World Alive
4. I’m Trying To Tell You
5. A Quiet Mind
6. La Madrugada
7. Pay The Price
8. Ninety-Nine Miles
9. Just Begun
10. If It Ain’t For You
11. Lonesome For The West

Total time: 53:05

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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The Aristocrats

Tres Caballeros


aristocratsInstrumental rock/fusion trio The Aristocrats take flight on their third studio album, eschewing their modus operandi of “live-in-the-studio with no overdubs” in favor of expansive sonics via texturing and layering, and recording at storied Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood after road-testing their new material.

Sidemen and solo artists all, guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann became a trio by chance in 2011. The latter two had a trio slot scheduled at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, Calif., and their guitarist was a late dropout. Govan was a last-minute replacement whom they met for the first time in rehearsal the night before the show.

Far from a typical “all shred, all the time” outfit, the three like to blend genres — as in opening track “Stupid 7,” which mixes metal with a hint of twang. And the song titles aren’t their only outlet for humor, as every number has a certain degree of tongue in cheek, whether in the form of unexpected time changes or the way a player chooses to discreetly (or not so discreetly) accentuate a tune’s underlying vibe.

The second track, “Jack’s Back,” takes the concept of hodgepodge to the nth degree: At times atonal, dissonant or both, it structures sections boasting such characteristics in an orderly manner, with Govan interweaving staccato picking à la the “Twilight Zone Theme” with some mandolinlike tremolo. The whole thing is given a tremendous backbeat courtesy Beller’s fluid fretless playing and Minnemann’s impressive Bill Brufordisms.

And on and on it goes: the pastiche of SRV-style runs on “Texas Crazypants” that culminates in sound effects painting a visual of a dragster running afoul of the law — immediately preceded by a random reference to the percussion break from the James Gang’s “Funk #49”; the “Eric Johnson meets Allan Holdsworth” feel of “Pig’s Day Off”; the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Mexico” motif of “Smuggler’s Corridor.” In fact, the album title and cover art foreshadow a Southwestern thread throughout the album, albeit one that is sometimes subtle, other times not.

Speaking of subtle, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the song title “Kentucky Meat Shower” is just a random combination of words. But an Internet search for the phrase quickly proves otherwise!gnm_end_bug

1. Stupid 7
2. Jack’s Back
3. Texas Crazypants
4. ZZ Top
5. Pig’s Day Off
6. Smuggler’s Corridor
7. Pressure Relief
8. The Kentucky Meat Shower
9. Through The Flower

Total time: 58:02

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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