Van Wilks

21st Century Blues

Texas ’51

wilksVan Wilks’ first new studio album in 10 years is a solid set of blues-rock boasting some of the finest guitar tone ever put on wax, easily holding a candle to efforts by more-recognizable names such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Joe Bonamassa.

“21st Century Blues” — like many other releases these days by independent artists of integrity — was crowdfunded, a win-win arrangement for the Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter/guitarist and his fans but also confirmation of his relevance.

The record’s wide range of blues-rock subgenres is served by its ever-changing lineup from track to track.

“I wanted to use different players that I felt fit the song,” Wilks told Good New Music by email. “I like to use different players to keep new energy coming into the songs.” 

“Drive By Lover” was co-written with sometimes collaborator Billy Gibbons. Originally recorded by ZZ Top as a bonus track on 2012’s “La Futura” (Best Buy edition), here it features background vocals by Christopher Cross.

Cross (who came full circle four years ago by returning to Texas after 30 years in Los Angeles) also contributes the album’s only non-Wilks guitar on his own “She Makes Me Crazy,” which features former Storyville singer Malford Milligan sharing vocals with Wilks.

The album was recorded at various Texas studios except for parts of “Golddigger,” for which Wilks’ vocals and some guitar were recorded at a studio outside Paris that had been a farm in the 1700s — “a magic place called Lumiere 13,” Wilks told GNM. He explained the French connection: “I’ve played France for years and have a great place in my heart for all things French. There’s a strong connection with Texas blues and the French music lovers. Don’t know why and I don’t try to figure it out!”

The centerpiece is “There’s a Sin in There Somewhere,” which begins like a scratchy 78 with solo resophonic guitar; morphs into a full-band showcase for electric slide à la Led Zeppelin’s version of “In My Time of Dying”; and concludes by smoothly segueing to a solo-resophonic outro.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Strange Girl
2. Drive By Lover
3. Golddigger
4. Just Walk Away
5. There’s A Sin In There Somewhere
6. 21st Century Blues
7. Who’s Foolin’ Who
8. She Makes Me Crazy
9. If I Were A Richman
10. Can’t Stop Thinkin’
11. Livin’ On Borrowed Time
12. Midnight Crossing

Total time: 52:24

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

 

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Circles Around the Sun

Interludes for the Dead

Rhino

CirclesAroundTheSun_Cover.inddLooks like Jazz Is Dead finally has some competition in the subgenre of “instrumental interpretations of Grateful Dead songs” — sort of.

These interludes were created by Neal Casal and friends to accompany the visuals shown during intermission and sometimes pre-concert at the Dead’s five “Fare Thee Well” shows last summer. But unlike JID’s work, these are original compositions written on the fly by four like-minded musicians (guitarist Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy) during two days of jam sessions in Ventura. And Circles Around the Sun don’t sound like the Dead so much as embody the spirit of the band.

The music unofficially circulated online after tech-savvy fans extracted it from live webcasts. By popular demand, Rhino is giving it a proper vinyl/CD/digital release.

Some of the tunes sound vaguely like Jerry Garcia’s side projects with keyboardists Howard Wales and Merl Saunders. Others just sound like, as noted on one Internet forum, “elevator music” — to which someone unabashedly replied that he could use a little Grateful Dead elevator music in his life.

Song titles often indicate a song’s source of inspiration: “Space Wheel” is a spaced-out “The Wheel,” while “Scarlotta’s Magnolias” derives from “Scarlet Begonias” and “Sugar Magnolia.”

Other songs have to be heard before a catalyst can be divined: “Hat and Cane,” for instance, is clearly modeled after “China Cat Sunflower.” More tricky is “Ginger Says,” the title of which comes from a verse included in early performances of “West L.A. Fadeaway” that subsequently vanished.

For those wanting more, three discs of interludes are included in the 12-disc “Fare Thee Well” box set, which Rhino says comprises all the set-break music heard during the three nights in Chicago. Exclusive to the two-disc “Interludes,” however, is “Kasey’s Bones,” which a Rhino publicist says was played at one of the two Santa Clara shows.gnm_end_bug

Tracks

Disc One
1. Hallucinate A Solution
2. Gilbert’s Groove
3. Kasey’s Bones
4. Space Wheel

Disc Two
1. Ginger Says
2. Farewell Franklins
3. Saturday’s Children
4. Scarlotta’s Magnolias
5. Hat And Cane
6. Mountains Of The Moon

Total time: 2:25:07

External links
Neal Casal’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Webb Wilder

Mississippi Moderne

Landslide

wilderSlide guitar has more of a presence on “Mississippi Moderne” than on Webb 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.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
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
amazon.com
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

Tracks
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
amazon.com
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

Tracks
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
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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