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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Arlen Roth

Slide Guitar Summit


arlenThroughout the past half-century of recorded music, the idea of “more is better” has been explored. A few examples:

• San Francisco’s Grateful Dead had two drummers.

• In the South, the Allman Brothers Band had two lead guitarists as well as dual drummers; Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws both began with twin lead guitars and later expanded to three.

• In 1970, a country album with the self-explanatory title of “Twin Steel Guitars of Kayton Roberts & Little Roy Wiggins” was released.

• 2002 saw the self-titled debut by blues-rockers Delta Moon, whose lineup features two slide guitars.

• And now, “guitarist’s guitarist” Arlen Roth proves you can’t have too much of a good thing with “Slide Guitar Summit.” Aided by drummer/producer extraordinaire Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, George Thorogood), Roth and nine guest sliders duet on 14 tracks,  six of them instrumental. Twelve songs are covers.

The fan-funded project began in 2013, when the late Johnny Winter lent his talents to a cover of 1951’s “Rocket 88” (one of two songs sung by Roth; the other is “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” featuring Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters).

There’s no Ry Cooder, Derek Trucks or Luther Dickinson, but David Lindley obliges with “Her Mind Is Gone” — a 1950 gem by Professor Longhair, and the album’s sole live performance.

Sonny Landreth appears on his namesake “Sonny Skies,” an instrumental composed by Roth. Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” gets a workout with help from Lee Roy Parnell, who previously used the song in an instructional video called “The Art of Slide Guitar.”

“Stranger on the Shore,” a transcontinental No. 1 instrumental for clarinetist Acker Bilk in the early ’60s, is given the twin-lap-steel treatment via Asleep at the Wheel veteran Cindy Cashdollar.

Jimmy Vivino (Al Kooper, Max Weinberg) guests on two cuts comprising the album’s “just two unplugged guitars” portion: Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” and the traditional “Poor Boy Blues.”

Rounding out the roster are session great Rick Vito on two instrumentals — the Roth original “Paradise Blues” and a commanding interpretation of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” — and Jack Pearson (ABB/Gregg Allman),  who contributes his own “Do What’s Right.”gnm_end_bug

1. Do What’s Right (w/Jack Pearson)
2. Dust My Broom (w/Lee Roy Parnell)
3. Stranger on the Shore (w/Cindy Cashdollar)
4. Sonny Skies (w/Sonny Landreth)
5. Rocket 88 (w/Johnny Winter)
6. Dixie Chicken (w/Lee Roy Parnell)
7. Poor Boy Blues (w/Jimmy Vivino)
8. And When I Die (w/Jimmy Vivino)
9. Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia (w/Greg Martin)
10. Paradise Blues (w/Rick Vito)
11. Steel Guitar Rag (w/Cindy Cashdollar)
12. You Really Got A Hold on Me (w/Rick Vito)
13. Her Mind Is Gone (w/David Lindley)
14. Amazing Grace (w/Greg Martin)

Total time: 1:03:41

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artist’s site
iTunes Store

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Nathan James

Hear Me Calling / Natural Born That Way

Sacred Cat Recordings


Blues artists with a great voice as well as phenomenal guitar chops are rare.

And there are even fewer double albums with one disc acoustic, the other electric. (In the blues category, Taj Mahal’s 1969 landmark “Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home” and Nick Moss and the Flip Top’s 2007 set “Play It ‘Til Tomorrow”come to mind.)

When Nathan James couldn’t decide whether to make his fourth release a solo acoustic or band effort, he decided to record and simultaneously issue one of each.

And solo acoustic for this Fallbrook, Calif.-raised performer doesn’t mean just guitar: He’s a one-man band, playing rack harmonica and suitcase foot-drum as well. Alternatively, the second disc features his Rhythm Scratchers trio, supplemented by pianist Carl Sonny Leyland and guitarist Big Jon Atkinson on seven and three tracks, respectively. Both albums were recorded, mixed and mastered by James at his home studio in Oceanside.

The cover of the 5 Royales’ “I’m Gonna Tell Them,” from the electric disc, “Natural Born That Way,” is a patchwork of genres. The song’s verses have a “Blue Suede Shoes”-style melody, punctuated by brief instrumental Bo Diddley-style rhythm guitar passages that lead into gospel choruses — all laid across a bed of drums straight out of the way the Grateful Dead covered Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”  It’s a one-song encapsulation of James’ ability to play several styles, all of them masterfully.

On the acoustic disc, “Hear Me Calling,” his cover of Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight” is one of the few songs featuring simply James and his guitar, which suits the 1930 murder ballad’s dark theme well.

Artists covered elsewhere on the two discs include Curley Weaver, Freddy Fender, Earl King and Long John Hunter.

Taking into account that four of the same James originals appear on both volumes, the ratio of original to cover songs is about 50/50, with most of the original compositions found on the acoustic disc. “Look Out Your Window,” “Doing the Same to You” and “Don’t Believe What People Say” are prime examples of the artist’s songcraft.

Throw in the facts that 1) James played a National Resonator, a 1956 Martin 00-17 and a self-built washboard guitar; 2) the whole affair was recorded direct to analog eight-track tape; and 3) nearly all the subgenres of blues music are represented across both albums, and “Hear Me Calling”/”Natural Born That Way” are indeed winners.gnm_end_bug

Tracks (Hear Me Calling)
1. Hear Me Calling
2. Look Before I Leap
3. Still I Wanna Know
4. Doing The Same To You
5. Baby Where Did You Go?
6. No No Blues
7. She’s Making Whoopee In Hell Tonight
8. Look Out Your Window
9. Don’t Believe What People Say
10. She Don’t Make A Scene
11. I Know I’ve Got Religion

Total time: 40:51

Tracks (Natural Born That Way)
1. I’m Gonna Leave
2. Look Out Your Window
3. Natural Born That Way
4. Look Before I Leap
5. Take You Back Home
6. Doing The Same To You
7. Ride With Me Baby
8. It Must Have Been Love
9. I’m Gonna Tell Them
10. Cow Pies
11. Don’t Believe What People Say

Total time: 39:07

External links
artist’s website
CD Baby
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Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age!


frisellIn a modernization of the electric-guitar/steel-guitar format pioneered by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant in the ’50s, Bill Frisell — aided by Greg Leisz on pedal steel, lap steel and slide guitar — puts a laidback spin on an instrumental collection of early ’60s guitar music that inspired him as a kid.

It’s always been hard to tell whether guitar hero Frisell’s pigeonhole is Americana with a hint of avant-garde or vice versa. But since this set is space-age music, the debate is rendered pointless. Leisz’s as-always ethereal slide is invaluable in setting the scene, exemplified best on the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You,” in which the two break away at midpoint to simulate Jerry Garcia accompanying himself on pedal steel, then morph briefly into Neil Young hanging ten with Crazy Horse before floating away on a stream of subconsciousness.

Speaking of surf, there are two types represented here: instrumental surf rock (the Chantays’ “Pipeline”) and vocal surf pop (the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”), in surreal and dreamy versions, respectively. Also present is “Baja,” a reverb-soaked, whammy bar workout on the minor hit for the Astronauts. As well, there are a handful of not-quite-surf tracks, specifically Link Wray’s “Rumble,” Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and the Tornados’ “Telstar,” the last of which is set up by one of two original Frisell compositions, “Lift Off.”

For country and folk aficionados, there’s a Charlie Christian-style take on Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag” and a Telecaster-Jazzmaster takeover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Of course, no electric-guitar/steel-guitar instrumental album would be worth its salt without tributes to the afore-mentioned West and Bryant. Hence, the spaciness of “Reflections From the Moon” (from West’s 1962 LP “Guitar Spectacular”) and loopiness of “Bryant’s Boogie” (his first feature side, from a 1950 78 with Cliffie Stone’s Band) become even more so here in the hands of the Nostalgia Bros.gnm_end_bug

1. Pipeline
2. Turn, Turn, Turn
3. Messin’ with the Kid
4. Surfer Girl
5. Rumble
6. Shortest Day
7. Rebel Rouser
8. Baja
9. Cannonball Rag
10. Tired of Waiting for You
11. Reflections From the Moon
12. Bryant’s Boogie
13. Lift Off
14. Telstar

Total time: 55:08

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artist’s website
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Eric Clapton & Friends

The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale


claptonThe first question one might ask upon discovering Eric Clapton has released a heartfelt J.J. Cale tribute one year after Cale’s passing July 26, 2013, would be: How closely did the Oklahoman’s No. 1 disciple hew to that remarkably nonchalant, front-porch sound?

As closely as possible. In fact, it seems oxymoronic but state-of-the art technology was used to recreate Cale’s down-to-earth style. “We did a lot of things where (co-producer) Simon (Climie) would put a Pro Tools (computer) program on top of John’s songs,” Clapton said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “And, bit by bit, we put layers of stuff on, keyboards, guitars, drums, and take John out, so a facsimile was created. And we’d play with that, with the key and length of the track. It would be the same; we just replaced all the instruments. And where appropriate, we’d match what he’d done to try to emulate that and let the moment and the personality (of the guest musicians) take over. I try to sing like John, but I still felt we got to a place where we achieved other things.”

On “Lies,” Clapton’s and John Mayer’s tandem vocals are given equal preference mix-wise, and together they almost sound like one person who sounds a lot like Cale. Other effects are used elsewhere, as on “Cajun Moon,” where Clapton sings alone but overdubs background vocals. And on songs like “Someday,” featuring Mark Knopfler, a guest vocalist handles lead vocals.

Besides Knopfler and Mayer, guest vocalists are Tom Petty; fellow Oklahoman Don White; Willie Nelson; and Cale’s widow, Christine Lakeland. Other guitarists in addition to Clapton are Knopfler; Mayer; Nelson; White; revered Memphis session great Reggie Young; Derek Trucks; Albert Lee; David Lindley; Don Preston; Lakeland; Doyle Bramhall II; and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz.

Three songs are based on unreleased Cale demos: the aforementioned “Someday”; the Nelson-sung “Songbird,” featuring Lindley on lap steel and Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael on harmonica; and “Train to Nowhere,” boasting a three-way vocal share by Knopfler, Clapton and White, not to mention four guitarists in Knopfler, Clapton, White and Preston (who recorded with Leon Russell in the ’70s on Shelter Records, which released Cale’s first five albums ). Another obscure composition is the Clapton-sung “Since You Said Goodbye,” from a 1973 Bradley’s Barn session and issued in 2007 on Cale’s “Rewind” outtakes compilation.

Among many standouts are the sole non-Cale-penned “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me”), an early hit for Ray Price that gives Clapton an excuse to play dobro; “The Old Man and Me,” Petty’s lead-vocal turn and perhaps the best illustration of Cale’s laid-back singing, boosted by Leisz’s ethereal pedal steel; “Starbound,” another Nelson-sung tune that has the added benefit of Trucks’ slide and Leisz’s steel; and the sendoff “Crying Eyes,” a word-for-word duet between Clapton and Lakeland with a concise slide solo by Trucks at the end.gnm_end_bug


1. Call Me The Breeze (vocals Eric Clapton)
2. Rock And Roll Records (vocals Eric Clapton & Tom Petty)
3. Someday (vocals Mark Knopfler)
4. Lies (vocals John Mayer & Eric Clapton)
5. Sensitive Kind (vocals Don White)
6. Cajun Moon (vocals Eric Clapton)
7. Magnolia (vocals John Mayer)
8. I Got The Same Old Blues (vocals Tom Petty & Eric Clapton)
9. Songbird (vocals Willie Nelson)
10. Since You Said Goodbye (vocals Eric Clapton)
11. I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me) (vocals Don White)
12. The Old Man And Me (vocals Tom Petty)
13. Train To Nowhere (vocals Mark Knopfler, Don White & Eric Clapton)
14. Starbound (vocals Willie Nelson)
15. Don’t Wait (vocals Eric Clapton & John Mayer)
16. Crying Eyes (vocals Eric Clapton & Christine Lakeland)

Total time: 51:28

External links
J.J. Cale’s website
Eric Clapton’s website
iTunes Store

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