Tommy Talton

Somewhere South of Eden

self-released

Ttaltonommy Talton, who along with Scott Boyer comprised the core of ’70s country/Southern rock ensemble Cowboy, has achieved the solo masterpiece he always had in him.

Cowboy recorded four criminally under-appreciated studio LPs before hanging it up after their self-titled 1977 effort. The group backed up Greg Allman on his 1974 orchestral tour, which yielded a live double LP and Cowboy’s only officially released live music (two of their songs were featured on Side 2) until “Reunion 2010.”

Talton didn’t release a solo record until 2008. That one and its two follow-ups, while enjoyable, turned out to be mileposts en route to the idyllic “Eden.”

Such bliss arrives in the form of well-crafted compositions, whose presentation is enhanced by a revolving cast of six world-class keyboard players, and maximized by meticulous engineering and mixing that puts the singer-songwriter’s estimable guitar skills — particularly his slide work — front and center.

“I remember when I was first trying to (learn how to play slide guitar) … back in late 1968 or so … in Venice, Calif. … I could not play and it sounded awful,” he said in a recent interview on Macon, Ga.’s WNEX-FM. “… (But I kept at it and) I went to bed one night, and the next morning when I woke up I could play. … Something happened that night, and I was not hanging out with the devil at the time, either.”

Markham White, proprietor of Afterdark Designs Studio in Smyrna, Ga., offered some quick logistics on the album’s recording as well as detailed technical insight into how the engineering and mixing process for “Eden” did justice to Talton’s guitar work:

“The initial tracking of drums, bass, and scratch guitar and vocals were done at my colleague David Pinkston’s studio, Boomtown Recorders, in the Nashville area,” White told Good New Music via email. “All good recordings must start with a great drum and bass sound, and David certainly delivered. Otherwise, it is difficult to finish with a great product.

“All the guitars and vocals were recorded at my studio … and all mixing was done there as well. The keyboards were recorded by each artist in their own studios and sent to me for mixing, as were the great horns by Randall Bramblett (on “I Can’t Believe It”). Paul Hornsby at Muscadine Studios recorded Chuck Leavell’s great piano on “Poblano.” Jimmy Nutt at the Nutthouse studio recorded Spooner Oldham. Ike Stubblefield and Kenny Head contributed great performances, as well.

“As for the guitar sounds, first let me start by saying that as a guitar player myself for over 40 years, I truly believe most tone is in the hands of the player. That said, it is important to work toward the best sound you can achieve. To that end, Tommy and I worked on several setups (different guitars, amps in different settings) to find what worked for him best on each song.

“The vast majority of electric guitar work was done on my SamAmp VAC 23 and Tommy’s Epiphone solid body and his mid-60’s Gibson 335. The amplifier was mic’d mostly in the tracking room of my studio but on some songs, in my studio bathroom shower. … We even used my Fractal Axe-Fx II on a song. Whatever served the sound is all that matters. I am not married to any particular technology, old or new.

“The signal chain for electric guitar recording is mostly a Royer R-121 or Sennheiser e 906 close-mic’d and an Audio-Technica AT4033 as a room mic thru API 512c preamps, API 550A EQs, etc. The acoustic guitars were mic’d with either a pair of Neumann KM 184s or Telefunken M60 FETs. Vocals were mostly done on a Telefunken U47 reissue through an Avalon 737 preamp/EQ/compressor.

“Recording and mixing was done on Pro Tools HD 7.3 thru a pair of ATC SCM25As with referencing on our respective car stereo systems. … The entire project was a bit over a year given our schedules. My recording and mixing philosophy is pretty conventional. I believe in letting the music dictate the approach. In this case, we wanted very clean recordings and mixes reminiscent of my idol Roger Nichols of Steely Dan fame. In the end, the project dictated its own sound, and Tommy and I were very happy with the results.”

As on his earlier releases, Talton covers an array of genres, from Memphis soul/R&B (“I Can’t Believe It”) to slow-shuffling blues (“Hard Situation”) to instrumental Latin jazz (“Poblano”) — even to pseudo-bluegrass (“Don’t Go Away Sore!” with special guest “Rev.” Jeff Mosier of Blueground Undergrass on banjo).

But unlike his previous albums, “Eden” has a thread tying it all together — one that initially was intangible to this reviewer. Good New Music came up with a theory about what it was, posited it to Talton and received the following in response:

“I suppose the ‘introspective’ aspect (you think might be present) is just a natural outcome of my state of mind while deciding what I would like to put out there,” he told GNM by email. “Actually, there are three songs included that have been in the ‘must record someday’ files! ‘I Surrender,’ ‘Hard Situation,’ ‘When I Fall Asleep Again,’ ‘It’s Gonna Come Down on You’ and even ‘Poblano’ have been sitting and waiting patiently to be recorded at some point.

“I had forgotten there were five,” Talton added parenthetically. “Wow, thanks for reminding me!”

As long as GNM had the artist’s ear, there was — as TV’s police Lt. Frank Columbo would say — “just one more thing”: What ever became of those recording sessions that reportedly took place about 10 years ago with an eye toward a new Cowboy album? Is there a finished album sitting on a shelf?

“Actually, it’s very timely of you to ask about those ‘secret’ Cowboy sessions,” Talton confided. “Just last week I received some final mixes on that project that was begun, believe it or not, in 2008! There are four tracks with all the original members of the band, and the rest are more of a ‘Boyer and Talton’ affair. We are getting closer to those seeing the light of day! But, that’s another story.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. I Can’t Believe It
2. Hard Situation
3. We Are Calling
4. Somewhere South Of Eden
5. Poblano
6. Center Of My Soul
7. Don’t Go Away Sore
8. It’s Gonna Come Down On You
9. I Surrender
10. Waiting On The Saints
11. When I Fall Asleep Again

Total time: 49:12

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David Bromberg Band

The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues

Red House

bromberg2“The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues” is the best of David Bromberg’s four studio albums released since ending his 17-year recording hiatus 10 years ago — and also among his best ever.

His excellent previous three releases (2007’s solo acoustic “Try Me One More Time,” and the 2011 and 2013 band efforts “Use Me” and “Only Slightly Mad”) were just setting the stage for this superb compendium of standards and obscurities.

Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” is fully electrified by Bromberg’s slide guitar and also features an ultrafine solo by second guitarist Mark Cosgrove.

Bromberg handles all solos — slide and otherwise — on the rest of the songs except for “Delia,” a guitar duet between Bromberg’s acoustic and producer Larry Campbell’s acoustic slide. The traditional song is reprised from Bromberg’s 1972 eponymous debut.

Other exceptionally noteworthy standards include Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Eyesight to the Blind,” graced by Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne’s nimble fingers on the organ as well as a quick fiddle solo by Nate Grower; and “Yield Not to Temptation,” a Deadric Malone (aka Don Robey) composition that was a hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland but which, as pointed out by Bromberg in his liner notes, received an inspiring treatment by Tracy Nelson, Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas on their 1998 summit, “Sing It!”

In the Obscurities Department, a bone called “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come ‘Round?” has been dug up — rare because it’s not the Prince Patridge number that Dr. John covered to great effect. Many have recorded and taken credit for songs going by that or similar names, including Memphis Slim, Lorraine Ellison and even Buck Owens. Bromberg says he doesn’t know who wrote this one, but learned it from a lead sheet while considering songs for a ’70s album: “I think the album I was doing was “Reckless Abandon,” he told Good New Music by email.

Another obscure gem is the sexual-innuendo-laden “You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon,” a Bessie Smith tune written by John Willie (aka “Shifty”) Henry, with Payne on piano, Grower on fiddle and Cosgrove on mandolin.

And then there’s the title song. “We thought that we’d finished recording the album,” Bromberg says in the liners, “which was already titled ‘The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues,’ when (manager) Mark McKenna found this song by Gary Nicholson and Russell Smith. Of course we had to go back to the studio and record it.” The song originally appeared on an album by Memphis R&B group Fish Heads & Rice in 1994.

Bromberg concludes “Blues” with two new original compositions: the humorous “This Month” (“The first time that woman left me — this month — I couldn’t even tell you why”) and “You Don’t Have to Go,” whose lyrics are a mashup of several Chicago blues numbers including “Sweet Home Chicago” and “The Sky Is Crying.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Walkin’ Blues
2. How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come ’Round?
3. Kentucky Blues
4. Why Are People Like That?
5. A Fool For You
6. Eyesight To The Blind
7. 900 Miles
8. Yield Not To Temptation
9. You’ve Been A Good Ole Wagon
10. Delia
11. The Blues, The Whole Blues And Nothing But The Blues
12. This Month
13. You Don’t Have to Go

Total time: 57:42

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Bob Weir

Blue Mountain

Legacy

weirIt’s hard to believe, but “Blue Mountain” is only Bob Weir’s third solo studio album and first since 1978’s “Heaven Help the Fool.”

Over the years, the Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist/vocalist has released several studio albums by side projects (Kingfish, 1976; Bobby and the Midnites, 1981 and 1984; Weir/Wassmerman, 1998; Ratdog, 2000), but this is the first new music under the name of just “Bob Weir” in nearly 38 years.

It took some young blood to get the old man of the “Blue Mountain” to come down to the Red River Valley and cut some new tunes — specifically Josh Kaufman, Josh Ritter and Aaron Dessner.

It was Weir’s mention of his love for cowboy music (developed while working a summer job on a Wyoming ranch when he was 15) to these pups that got the ball rolling.

Brooklyn-based Kaufman, whose résumé as a sideman includes work with Dessner’s indie-rock band The National as well as albums by folk-rocker Ritter, produced the record. Ritter — either alone or with Weir — wrote lyrics for all but a few songs, and Kaufman/Ritter/Weir supplied most of the music.

(Side note: Dessner and his brother Bryce, also in The National, curated “Day of the Dead”: this year’s 59-song compilation of exclusive Grateful Dead indie covers co-produced by Kaufman and benefiting the Red Hot Organization.)

“Blue Mountain” has an independent-Americana feel, with Weir’s central acoustic guitar often circled by Aaron Dessner’s electric. But the album — references to “Shenandoah,” “I’m an Old Cowhand” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” aside — is not a bunch of songs in the vein of “El Paso” or “Big Iron.”

Rather, the mellow and mostly slow-mo (except for “Gonesville”) music takes the listener on a surreal journey back to Weir’s 15th summer — a ride that gets more enjoyable with each trip.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Only A River
2. Cottonwood Lullaby
3. Gonesville
4. Lay My Lily Down
5. Gallop On The Run
6. Whatever Happened To Rose
7. Ghost Towns
8. Darkest Hour
9. Ki-Yi Bossie
10. Storm Country
11. Blue Mountain
12. One More River To Cross

Total time: 51:42

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The Carnivaleros

carnivaleros5Dreams Are Strange

RootaVega

The Tucson, Ariz.-based Carnivaleros have always possessed a knack for unusually interesting arrangements, often combining instruments not normally heard together.

On “Dreams Are Strange,” the band makes a swampy Appalachian acoustical foray into Americana, with an expansion of its sound due to the presence of Heather “Lil’ Mama” Hardy’s violin on most tracks.

Tying it together is the decidedly non-Tex Mex/non-polka accordion of singer-songwriter Mackender, who favors basic North American folk and, occasionally, Middle Eastern and klezmer idioms.

Six of the album’s tracks are instrumental, including “Chestnut Oak” (featuring banjo); “Tumacacori” (vibes and lap steel); and “High Speed Yard Sale” (tuba).

Highlights among the album’s eight vocal numbers are the country-and-Cajun “Hesitation Bridge”; the incredibly witty title track; the jump zydeco “Gonna Jump in a Hole”; the upbeat “Who’s to Say” (which would have been a perfect vehicle for the late Dan Hicks, with its Hot Licks-type chorus); and the hard-luck tale “Wore Out My Welcome.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Hesitation Bridge
2. Dreams Are Strange
3. The Chestnut Oak
4. Gonna Jump in a Hole
5. Mamie Eisenhower
6. Tumacacori
7. Who’s to Say
8. Moving On
9. The Red Maple
10. Wore Out My Welcome
11. Donna’s Song
12. Psychic Mary
13. Time Traveling
14. High Speed Yard Sale

Total time: 48:49

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Dr. Dog

The Psychedelic Swamp

Anti-

DrDogDr. Dog has pulled a hallucinogenic surf-country-rock-pop rabbit out of their hat with “The Psychedelic Swamp,” a hi-fi reimagining of the Philadelphia band’s 2001 low-fi debut.

The not-so-nutshell backstory, from a 2010 Detroit Metro Times interview with member Scott McMicken:

“Dr. Dog didn’t make ‘The Psychedelic Swamp.’ It was sent to us by a character named Phrases, who … escaped Earth and … all his woes to go to the psychedelic swamp as a means of release. …

“Then he gets there and at first he’s really excited and … amazed at the lack of logic and … order to the universe. … Shortly thereafter (he) realizes that the same issues … persist. …

“He starts to get desperate … but at the same time (realizes) he’s … losing perspective on how to communicate with his former self and … former world. … So the record becomes … more and more incoherent. … He has this strong message that he really wants to spread to people, so he chooses Dr. Dog to be the band to … translate this mess into an American pop context.”

The never-officially-released original “Swamp” of 15 years ago has been distilled from its rumored 35 tracks (a 28-song version exists deep in the Internet) to 13 tracks, with just enough psychedelia intact — “Swampadelic Pop,” for example, features keyboard solos that inspire thoughts of a surreal “Palisades Park” or “Crocodile Rock.”

“Golden Hind” hands over the vocal reins to former member Doug O’Donnell, on a tune that sounds eerily like Johnny Cash hanging ten on a Southern California beach.

But the centerpiece is “Bring My Baby Back,” a lost-love ballad juxtaposing good ol’ piano and organ with synthesizer and processed drums.

Other highlights include the incorporation of synthesized whistling into “Holes in My Back,” the Neil Young and Crazy Horse-style feedback on “Engineer Says” and the Ray Davies/Marc Bolan vibrato vocals that propel “Good Grief.”

Peppered throughout the album are reasonable facsimiles of various vintage video-game sound effects. A few spoken-word interludes by Phrases, à la Frank Zappa’s Central Scrutinizer narrator from “Joe Garage,” tie together some of the tracks.

It all adds up to an enjoyable listening experience that’s at once offbeat and mainstream — psychedelic music for the masses!gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Golden Hind
2. Dead Record Player
3. Swampadelic Pop
4. Bring My Baby Back
5. Holes In My Back
6. Fire On My Back
7. Swamp Descent
8. Engineer Says
9. In Love
10. (swamp inflammation)
11. Badvertise
12. Good Grief
13. Swamp Is On

Total time: 39:02

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