Feels So Good
Good New Music doesn’t review EPs unless the circumstances are extenuating — say, for instance, when an occasional blues-rock band comes along that makes the listener prick up his or her ears. Such is the case with the Record Company, an independent Los Angeles-based trio whose output now consists of three extended-play albums and a few stray singles.
The band’s guitarist, bass player and drummer grew up, respectively, in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and upstate New York. Perhaps this geographical diversity contributed to their well-traveled sound, sporting influences from Muddy Waters to the Stooges to Morphine. Not since Treat Her Right has a group sounded so smart, passionate and original in their approach to the blues.
Their songs have already been placed in in numerous ads and TV series, and the title track — a swampy rave-up that sounds like CCR jamming with the Yardbirds — was used in the theatrical trailer for “Last Vegas.” Not too shabby considering they formed less than two years ago.
“Roll Bones” recalls Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, with the added attraction of a mix that puts the bass upfront and a less-is-more slide solo smack dab in the middle. “Hard Day Coming Down” has a revivalist feel, complete with heavy acoustic strumming, group-vocal refrains and a taste of harmonica. “Baby I’m Broken” features mouth harp throughout, a pseudomilitary drum shuffle, and lets the bass have a mini-workout without interrupting the vocals.
Ending with “Darlin’ Jane,” the album veers into West Coast country-rock à la “Workingman’s Dead,” perhaps not all that surprising considering the group included a laid-back cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie”on its 2012 “Covers EP” (which, by the way, is available as a free download on the Record Company’s website).
1. Feels So Good
2. Roll Bones
3. Hard Day Coming Down
4. Baby I’m Broken
5. Darlin’ Jane
Total time: 18:46
Posted November 19th, 2013
Tags: blues, country, rockNo Comments »
Sparkle and Shine
Jonny Kaplan has toiled in obscurity stateside since independently releasing his 1997 debut, “California Heart” — arguably one of the best latter-day country-rock albums to come out of Los Angeles.
He’s worked with Kings of Leon, the Wallflowers, Lucinda Williams, Keith Richards and Wilco. He plays to sell-out crowds in Europe, where his last two albums were released before they were available domestically. He was a member of the Sin City All Stars, a revolving collective of LA-based musicians that served as house band for the “Return to Sin City: A Tribute to Gram Parsons” concerts in 2004.
“Sparkle and Shine” is the Philadelphia-born musician and songwriter’s fourth effort and first to receive a proper U.S. release. On it, he broadens his palette with an array of sounds and styles, beginning with the full-steam-ahead, Stones-like title track. Kaplan’s voice is very much in tune, but it’s no stretch to imagine Keith Richards covering it, and Kaplan and Dan Wistrom’s slide guitars clinch the deal.
Also featuring twin slide noises is the bluesy “Annalee Meets the Scorpion,” with Kaplan and Wistrom on resonator and slide guitars, respectively, bolstered by Adam MacDougall’s (Black Crowes) B-3 organ.
“The Child Is Gone,” the album’s longest cut at eight minutes, is one of three songs featuring Chris Lawrence on pedal steel. The waltz gradually builds in intensity, finishing with two minutes of instrumental interplay between Wistrom and Lawrence, whose ethereal playing undoubtedly has Jerry Garcia smiling down from above.
Fans of electric 12-string will dig “I’ll Be Around,” which recalls the Byrds but has more of a sunshine-pop vibe than a jingle-jangle feel, thanks to Kaplan’s smooth multitracked vocals. And “Garage Cleaner” boasts some of the best Fender Rhodes this side of the Youngbloods circa “Elephant Mountain,” courtesy the Wallflowers’ Rami Jaffee, whose Fonogenic Studios served as the spawning ground for “Sparkle.”
Taking the album out on a poignant note is the lustful “Pretty Little Nose,” an acoustic-guitar-flavored tale of a man who craves forbidden fruit. Making things even more bittersweet are the violin embellishments by Jessy Greene (Wilco, the Jayhawks, Golden Smog) and Lawrence’s pedal steel.
1. Sparkle And Shine
2. Annalee Meets The Scorpion
3. Helena’s Afraid
4. When You’re Down
5. The Child Is Gone
6. I’ll Be Around
7. Sweet Magnolia Flower
8. Billings Blues
9. Garage Cleaner
11. Pretty Little Nose
Total time: 48:09
Posted October 7th, 2013
Tags: americana, blues, country, folk, rock1 Comment »
Chops Not Chaps
Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek finished his third collaboration with slide guitarist Roy Rogers shortly before he died. He and Rogers had just signed off on cover art when Manzarek left for Germany, where he succumbed to bile duct cancer May 20 at the RoMed Clinic in Rosenheim.
The two began their collaboration at the behest of their mutual booking agent. “It was the agent that suggested we play together at one of Ray’s solo shows,” Rogers told Good New Music by e-mail. “So, Ray invited me to sit in on his gig — I think it was in Healdsburg (near San Francisco). It was just one of those special situations that some real ‘magic’ happened between us playing together onstage for the first time. We were ‘sympatico’ from the beginning! That is when we became friends and started performing a lot as a duet after that.”
“Twisted Tales” follows 2008′s instrumental acoustic duet album “Ballads Before the Rain” and 2011′s full-band “Translucent Blues.”
“It was a natural transition from duet to band,” Rogers explained, “because both Ray and I wished to expand the sound and rock it up. The new material we were working on at the time (‘Translucent Blues’) called for a rhythm section. … ’Twisted Tales’ is really a continuation of that, but musically — it is very different.”
“Twisted” is more jazzy and less swampy than its predecessor but still rooted in blues-rock. Like “Translucent,” it features lyrics by San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure and late poet/songwriter Jim Carroll, with Carroll contributing to four songs and McClure to three. Of those seven, “Just Like Sherlock Holmes,” “Eagle in a Whirlpool,” “Cops Talk” and “Street of Crocodiles” were performed live in 2003 by the Doors of the 21st Century (Manzarek, former Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger and vocalist Ian Astbury of the Cult). At least some of those appear to be newer versions here, with Rogers credited as writing or co-writing music for two of them.
Rogers brought two new compositions to the table (“The Will to Survive” and “State of the World”) as well as one he wrote with Donna Johnston (“Shoulder Ghosts”), a lyricist with whom he has worked in the past.
“I first met Roy back in the ’80s, when he was touring with John Lee Hooker,” Johnston, a retired school teacher in Connecticut, told GNM. ”As I watched the band, I was completely blown away by this slide guitar player whose dexterity put him into the mutant zone as far as I was concerned. … In the ’90s, after another friend suggested I combine my love of music with the writing skills everyone always said I had, I tentatively began writing lyrics and shared them with Roy, looking for a thumbs up/thumbs down on whether or not he thought my efforts were worth pursuing. He gave me a thumbs up, and when I later gave him ‘My Lost Home in Your Arms’ (from 1998′s ‘Pleasure and Pain’), he read it and concluded on the spot that he would do something with it. And that was the official beginning of our collaboration.”
Excellent lyrics aside, “Twisted” is nothing but high adventure musically. ”Holmes” is heavy on “L.A. Woman”-style barrelhouse piano and spiced up with organ. Manzarek takes the lead vocal, but Rogers lets his slippery slide do the talking.
“Eagle,” included in spoken-word format on last year’s live Manzarek-McClure collaboration “The Piano Poems,” is done boogie-woogie style here, with Rogers handling lead vocals.
On “Cops Talk,” Manzarek and Rogers trade off singing Carroll’s verses (about conversations between dirty police officers) but join in unison for the chorus. The guitar mosty sits this one out, deferring to a jazzy solo by saxophonist George Brooks.
“Street of Crocodiles” boasts an appropriately Cuban beat, with Manzarek and Rogers again trading off on vocals. But hearing a slide guitar on a tropical arrangement makes the song even more of an unexpected pleasure.
As Johnston, who went on the road to sell merchandise for the two “Translucent” East Coast tours, said in her e-mail: “These two intelligent, well-read world travelers shared so much — a love of film, an appreciation of classical music, common roots in the blues, and, above all, a mutual sense of respect and trust. … I think a big part of their willingness and ability to be so courageous in pushing back boundaries was precisely because their extraordinary friendship created a safe and comfortable environment for that exploration.”
1. Just Like Sherlock Holmes
2. Eagle In A Whirlpool
3. Cops Talk
4. Street Of Crocodiles
5. American Woman
6. Shoulder Ghosts
7. The Will To Survive
8. Black Wine/Spank Me with a Rose
9. State of the World
Total time: 44:42
Posted July 1st, 2013
Tags: blues, jazz, rockNo Comments »
If the River Was Whiskey
Forget the kryptonite — Spin Doctors have scored a pocket full of blues.
During the U.K. run of the “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” 20th-anniversary tour in 2011, the blues-rock-pop band resurrected three original blues songs from early in their career. The group and their fans enjoyed them so much, more were broken out for the U.S. and European tours later that year and in 2012. Ultimately those and other reincarnated tunes from the band’s New York City blues-bar beginnings comprised a self-produced album that was recorded last summer, made available at shows during this year’s U.K./Spain tour, and is just now seeing an official release.
“Whiskey” consists of five previously unrecorded/unreleased songs; three rerecorded and rearranged songs (two of which were previously available on 1994 maxi CD singles and one that had surfaced on 1996′s “You’ve Got to Believe in Something”); plus two brand-new songs.
In an interview from January 2012 on the Facebook profile for fan site Spin Doctors Archive, drummer Aaron Comess offers some backstory: “We have a whole repertoire of blues songs that we used to play. Right around the same time that we were writing all these songs for PFOK playing around in NYC, we used to play some blues clubs in New York. So in order to get the gigs, we had to have blues songs. So we wrote a bunch of original blues songs.”
He adds: “The roots we have are in blues music. But the reason we did it was because we wanted to make some money. There were two clubs in NYC called Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso and those were two of the only places where they actually paid you a guarantee while most of the other clubs paid you a cut of the door money. And if you don’t have a lot of fans yet, you weren’t meant to get a lot of a cut from the door. So everybody wanted to play these places, ’cause you could even go on on a weeknight and you could make 250 bucks, on a weekend you could make 500 bucks. And when you’re 20 years old and a struggling musician, that’s a lot of money! So we basically put together a blues demo and gave it to the guy and just kind of pretended we were a blues band.”
Casual fans might be surprised to learn that these killer tracks are all rough cuts, recorded over a three-day period at Comess’ home studio. “By the third day,” reflects singer Chris Barron in the album’s press release, “we’d recorded all 10 of the demos. We went out to dinner that night, we were all having a cocktail, and someone was like, ‘Gentlemen, I believe our demo is a record.’ And we all just laughed.”
So for now, at least, Spin Doctors have come full circle.
P.S. Those wanting to hear what they sound like in concert these days are advised to check out this free late-night performance they gave on the day the album recording session was finished.
1. Some Other Man Instead
2. If The River Was Whiskey
3. Sweetest Portion
4. Traction Blues
5. Scotch And Water Blues
6. About A Train
7. The Drop
8. Ben’s Looking Out The Window blues
9. So Bad
10. What My Love?
Total time: 42:23
Posted April 30th, 2013
Tags: blues, rockNo Comments »
The Town Crier
Take the riff from ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” add a solo vaguely reminiscent of Steve Howe’s from “All Good People” by Yes, and finish it off with an outro possibly inspired by Wings’ “Helen Wheels.” As incongruous as that might seem, it all works on the outrageous opening track from Florida swamp blues master Thomas’ solo debut.
Thank goodness for small regional labels that release hard-to-find music such as this. Bassist, producer and songwriter Stephen Dees explains how he, his wife and an up-and-coming blues pianist founded WildRoots:
“Patti and I met Victor (Wainwright, WildRoots’ first artist) at a charity benefit performance that we were both playing at in Ormond Beach, Fla.,” Dees told Good New Music by e-mail. “We both dug each other’s music. Eventually Victor asked me if I would co-write with him and produce his album. … We all decided that the best way to put out quality records would be to have our own label.”
Dees’ credentials include playing bass for Hall and Oates in the ’70s; forming Novo Combo with Michael Shrieve (Santana, Journey) in the ’80s; touring with Foghat in the ’90s; and working with his wife as The Bandees in the 2000s.
But back to Thomas: “I’ve known Robert for a long while,” Dees told GNM. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with him many times. What we love the most about ‘Top’ is that he’s the real deal — a genuine bluesman. So when it came down to signing our first act other than Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots, it was an easy choice to go with ‘The Town Crier.’ ”
“Mississippi Quickie” and the title track are remakes of tunes recorded in the ’90s by Thomas’ old blues band SmokeHouse, but Dees confided to GNM that he played them with Thomas in other bands before Thomas recorded them with SmokeHouse.
“Blues Grass” homes in on the Delta side of Thomas’ sound, and features some of his tasty electric slide-guitar work. Written by Dees and Wainwright, it originally appeared on Wainwright’s 2009 album, “Beale Street to the Bayou.”
Thomas pays tribute to mentor Lazy Lester by covering the harmonica player’s 1963 Excello B-side, “The Same Thing Could Happen to You,” right down to the Louisiana drawl.
“King Snake Crawl,” a Thomas co-write with Dees, eulogizes Bob “The Midnight Creeper” Greenlee and other artists who recorded for King Snake Records — a Florida-based independent blues label started by Greenlee — whose roster included Rufus Thomas, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Root Boy Slim and SmokeHouse.
Other highlights include the raucous instrumental “YeeHaw Junction”; the acoustic “I’m a Freight Train,” featuring guitar wunderkind Damon Fowler on dobro; and “It Ain’t Easy,” with its gospel-tinged ending featuring the WildRoots Choir.
1. Mississippi Quickie
2. Blues Grass
3. The Same Thing Could Happen to You
4. Lazy Little Daisy
5. King Snake Crawl
6. Bad Seed
7. What’s the Matter Ma
8. Sugar Shop
9. YeeHaw Junction
10. I’m a Freight Train
11. Daddy’s Gone
12. The Town Crier
13. It Aint Easy
Total time: 43:23
Posted March 20th, 2013
Tags: blues, rockNo Comments »