Dennis Johnson and the Mississippi Ramblers

Rhythmland

Root Tone

Slide guitarists who hit the big time don’t emerge all that often — the genre hasn’t seen much new blood this century outside of Derek Trucks and Luther Dickinson.

But Dennis Johnson might be joining their ranks soon. The San Francisco-based performer who lives in Sacramento is starting to flex his creative muscles on “Rhythmland,” his third album.

Recorded at Paradise Studios in Sacramento — as both of his other releases were — Johnson enlisted in-house engineer Craig Long to co-produce the album and augment his trio on half of the tracks by contributing keyboards.

He cites Robert Johnson and fellow Northern California slide guitarist Roy Rogers as major influences, and credits David “Honeyboy” Edwards with convincing him to go professional when he was unsure if he wanted to make music his career.

“Honeyboy told me, ‘If you like to play the blues, play the blues!’ … When I shook (his) hand, I felt an energy there. … It was fate,” Johnson says in the album’s press release.

For “Rhythmland,” Johnson says, his goal was to use slide to support the rhythms of the songs. In composing the album’s nine original tracks (“Walkin’ Blues” is the only cover), he thought about rhythm first, which “takes slide guitar to a whole new level.”

Witness “Timbale,” a frisky, Latinesque number that Johnson uses a special guitar for. “I have a 1980s Hohner Strat that was fitted with Texas specials and rewired by luthier Sean Chappell (of Richmond, Calif.-based Chappell Guitars),” he told Good New Music via email. “He nailed it — great Stevie Ray Vaughn out-of-phase approach.”

The song cleverly uses a bridge that recalls the beginning of the instrumental portion of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” to segue into its own extended instrumental midsection, which in turn boasts several interesting time-signature changes. A vocal reprise is then followed by an instrumental outro that simultaneously sounds like the climactic ending of Santana’s cover of “Black Magic Woman” and the rhythm chart to Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” (kudos to drummer Tim Metz and bassist Jonathan Stoyanoff for that last bit).

“Fillmore Street” and “High Heel Shoes” are prime barrelhouse/boogie-woogie in the vein of Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers or Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. “High Heel Shoes” features Johnson on a 1961 Martin New Yorker, rather than the album’s predominant 12-string Dobro, and “Fillmore Street” contains some fine ivory-tickling by Long — as does “My Love Is Here for You,” a Tin Pan Alley-style song also featuring the Martin New Yorker.

Long makes another keyboard contribution on “Southbound Train” (electric piano), a lament about days of heartfelt blues — and authentic music in general — gone by. The tune additionally is bolstered by Johnson’s keen emulation of a locomotive whistle.

And Johnson can pull off a lament like that because he’s the real deal: “Rhythmland” successfully wraps slide guitar around various subgenres of blues, folk and rock with an emphasis not only on rhythm but on great storytelling.

 

Tracks
1. Walkin’ Blues
2. Timbale
3. Faith
4. Fillmore Street
5. That Way No More
6. Valley Of Love
7. High Heel Shoes
8. My Love Is Here For You
9. Southbound Train
10. Revolution

Total time: 35:13

External links
artist’s site
Dennis Johnson store
iTunes Store

Tags: , ,

No Comments »

Jerry Douglas Band

What If

Rounder

On a self-issued dare, Dobro/lap steel maestro Jerry Douglas formed a band. Their resulting debut album is right up there with mandolinist Mike Marshall’s 1984 release “Gator Strut.”

Like “Gator Strut,” the Jerry Douglas Band’s “What If” swirls genres in unexpected and mind-blowing ways around a loose core of progressive bluegrass using the best studio sound possible. Douglas, aka Flux — who’s evolved from bluegrass to newgrass to New Age to world fusion, with countless session dates and collaborations along the way as well as a nearly 20-year stint in Alison Krauss and Union Station — has again stepped out of his comfort zone to come up with something new.

“Something new” this time is a pleasantly surreal alternate musical universe that shape-shifts through bluegrass, country, folk, rock and blues but with a constant jazz denominator supplied by JDB guitarist Mike Seal, saxophonist Jamel Mitchell and trumpeter Vance Thompson.

“I’ve always heard horn lines in my songs, and I usually put something else there instead,” Douglas explains in his record label’s press release for the album; oftentimes, that “something else” was mandolin and/or banjo. But this time the listener gets to hear what was originally in the artist’s head.

“Unfolding” unfolds with solos, beginning with Douglas’ bluesy riffing. Next in the spotlight are Christian Sedelmyer’s violin and Mitchell’s sax, which in conjunction with the Dobro recall just how great Loggins and Messina’s extended pieces on “Full Sail” and “Mother Lode” were. Then the song takes a left turn into free-form, as Seal cuts loose with an Allan Holdsworth-ian jam. The final solo is offered up(right) by bassist Daniel Kimbro, before a reprise of the main melody closes out the whole affair.

“2:19,” one of the only two vocal numbers, features some surprisingly capable and soulful singing by Douglas on a Tom Waits cover that’s given somewhat of a “Ry Cooder by way of New Orleans” treatment. The other vocal number (again sung by Douglas) is an interpretation of the massively covered 1960s classic “Hey Joe” and arguably the album’s most bluegrassy production.

The title track easily is the most emotional, with its extended classical intro dissolving into plaintive and mellow twin-horn action that comes and goes throughout before the song drifts away on a short-but-sweet display of guitar subtly reminiscent of Jerry Garcia.

Other highlights include the opening “Cavebop” (beatnik hillbilly jazz, featuring really great offbeat drumming by Doug Belote); a trio of Celtic-style tunes (“Go Ahead and Leave,” “Butcher Boy” and “The Last Wild Moor”); and the closing “Hot Country 84.5,” an overtly country ditty that cheerfully straddles the line between waltz and shuffle.

“What If” is a departure for Douglas in that it’s a band album. But it’s also a more than worthy addition to his lengthy line of fine instrumental releases, and one that admirably extends his creative reach into uncharted territory.

Tracks
1. Cavebop
2. Unfolding
3. 2:19
4. What If
5. Hey Joe
6. Battle Stick
7. Go Ahead And Leave
8. Butcher Boy
9. Freemantle
10. The Last Wild Moor
11. Hot Country 84.5

Total time: 52:00

External links
artist’s site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments »

Jerry Byrd

byrdByrd’s Expedition

Richard Weize Archives

At 30 tracks, “Byrd’s Expedition” is the second-longest (after a five-disc Bill Monroe box) of 20 or so releases to date from the boutique startup launched last year by Richard Weize, founder of Germany’s highly regarded country/rock ‘n’ roll reissue label Bear Family.

Spotlighting the early recordings of perhaps the greatest lap steel player, the compilation draws on Jerry Byrd’s instrumentals for Mercury from 1949 through 1954, focusing mostly on country songs but also including recordings in the Hawaiian genre, which the guitarist later almost exclusively worked in. Byrd’s ax of choice during this period was a Rickenbacker Electro seven-string lap steel (except for a six-string model used on the first few numbers), made of a plasticlike material called Bakelite.

“Expedition” is curated by award-winning music historian/collector Dave Samuelson of Battle Ground, Ind., who also provided (with some assistance from Swedish collector Lars Lundgren) original discs that were used when master tapes and/or copies of masters could not be located or were unsuitable.

Christian Zwarg of True Sound Transfers, a shellac expert, remastered the archive material provided by Universal as well the 78s, 45s and LPs provided by collectors, most of which he also transferred.

These are Byrd’s first recordings as a soloist and virtually all are credited to Jerry Byrd and the String Dusters, with about half recorded in Cincinnati (1949-51) and half in Nashville (1952-54, often featuring Chet Atkins on lead guitar).

Many originated as singles that became part of compilations such as 1952’s “Guitar Magic” and 1958’s “Steel Guitar Favorites”;  others were recorded expressly for 10-inch LPs such as 1950’s “Nani Hawaii” and 1953’s “Byrd’s Expedition” (whose title song was written for Byrd by Jethro Burns).

Good New Music caught up with Zwarg and asked him about the source material:

“The majority of the material was provided to me in digital format, some tracks from Universal archives, others from collectors,” he said by email.

“… Some of the earlier (master tapes), however, turned out to be analog dubs from disc masters, probably made in the 1960s when these tracks were first issued on LP. I did not use all of those, because modern digital dubs from these discs in a few cases gave better sonics — many of the old tape dubs had been “improved” with an extra layer of reverb, and we avoided these. Other, slightly later recordings were indeed master tapes in the usual sense of the word, and yet other titles were only available as vintage 78- and/or 33⅓-rpm discs.

“… I did not use any digital noise reduction, just declicking/decrackling for the disc sources and careful EQ adjustment, to faithfully preserve the original sonic ambience of the tracks. You invariably lose some detail with any kind of single-end denoising. To not denoise, unless absolutely inevitable to achieve listenable quality on very poor sources, is standard practice both at my studio and for the RWA label.”

Producer Dave Samuelson offered some insight into the genesis of the project:

“I’ve been part of Bear Family’s stable of writers for nearly 30 years,” he told GNM in an email. “I pestered Richard Weize about compiling a comprehensive Jerry Byrd box for years, especially while the steel guitarist was alive and could provide valuable insight into the sessions and musicians.”

Asked which songs had to be transferred from discs, Samuelson answered:

“… When this project began, Richard Weize sent me a list of what Byrd Mercurys he had. … (He) did not have a copy of ‘Byrd’s Expedition’ — my own copy of that (1952) 10-inch LP was in VG- shape, hardly a decent source for a digital restoration. Released not long before 10-inch LPs were phased out of the marketplace, it’s not an easy album to find. It took me five years to find one. Fortunately, Weize obtained a copy in better shape from a Swedish collector. Weize’s source copies of ‘St. Louis Blues’ and ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ were drenched in echo that Mercury later added; I supplied 78s and 45s for both titles. The LP reissue of ‘Twilight Blues’ had mistracking problems about a minute into the tune, either a flaw on the master tape or due to a faulty lacquer. I supplied a 45-rpm pressing that yielded a better transfer.”

Speaking of the old 10-inch LP format, other songs on this compilation made their way onto two other 10-inch records: “Nani Hawaii” (1950, Jerry Byrd with Danny Kuaana and His Islanders) and “Guitar Magic” (1952). But “Byrd’s Expedition” was the only one recorded specifically for that format.

“Only the three 10-inch LPs were issued while Byrd was contracted to Mercury,” Samuelson shared. “However, Byrd later implied that the sessions for ‘Byrd’s Expedition’ were conceived as an album, and they probably were. However, the finished release included at least one master from an earlier session and some tracks were set aside for singles. All four of Byrd’s 12-inch Mercury LPs were compilations; I highly doubt Byrd had any input on content.”

Samuelson also was able to tell GNM exactly what percentage of songs here have been previously issued on CD:

” ‘Steelin’ the Blues’ appeared on a CD anthology marking 50 years of country music on Mercury Records,” he said. “Two other tracks appeared on a Japanese CD reissue of ‘On the Shores of Waikiki,’ Mercury’s first 12-inch release of Byrd’s Hawaiian material. Twelve others appeared on a Cattle CD bootleg. If you discount the latter album, 90 percent of this material has not appeared on CD. If you include it, the answer is 50 percent.”

The collection eases into the country instrumentals, starting off first with the lone vocal number (“Steelin’ the Blues,” a rousing Byrd original featuring Rex Allen singing his own after-the-fact lyrics), then a sublime Hawaiian cut (“Maui Chimes”) before taking on a country-proper instrumental (the lively “Byrd’s Boogie”). Things really get underway with “Wabash Blues,” featuring call-and-response guitars between Byrd and an overdubbed Byrd, who answers himself with some amazing wah-wah pedal.

Moving on to 1950, “Steel Guitar Rag” is a fine update on Leon McAuliffe’s 1936 showcase with Bob Wills, itself based on a 1923 Sylvester Weaver guitar instrumental. Byrd likewise covered the 1920s jazz standard “South” by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, which had become a jukebox favorite in 1944, nine years after the pianist died. “South” benefited mightily from twin leads by Byrd and String Duster electric guitarist Zeke Turner, plus short-but-sweet solos by an unknown pianist and Turner.

From 1951, Byrd again dabbles in Les Paul-style overdubbing to great effect on “South Sea Moon,” a number he learned off a syndicated broadcast disc by one of his main influences, Hawaiian guitarist Dick McIntire. Also from the same session (Turner’s last with Byrd) come kicking-the-can Byrd original “Blues Boogie” and a smooth interpretation of Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians’ “Cocoanut Grove,” both featuring Owen Bradley on organ.

The balance of the collection, comprising the “uncredited Chet Atkins” era, includes songs where Byrd and/or Atkins employ overdubs, such as Byrd original “Gold Coast Blues” and ‘Fats’ Wallers’ “Jitterbug Waltz.” Byrd’s “This ‘n That” boasts Nashville fiddlers Tommy Jackson and Dale Potter. “Hula Blues” is a cover of a 1920 standard written by Johnny Noble (who took a Hawaiian-ragtime subgenre and developed it further into a Hawaiian-jazz sound). And the twangy “Georgia Steel Guitar” is a Georgia Peach Pickers cover.

Samuelson’s liner notes in the accompanying 52-page booklet contain a wealth of historical information. But GNM reached out to Joe Goldmark — a San Francisco-based pedal steel guitarist and principal in retailer Amoeba Records who’s an avid record collector (see vinylbeat.com) and author of the “International Steel Guitar Discography” — for an artist testimonial.

“Jerry was a musician’s musician,” Goldmark replied by email. “He was called the ‘master of touch and tone’ because he always played the right part, and played it beautifully.

“He didn’t feel the need to transition to pedals in the late ’50s like most steel players did, because he was a master at slanting the bar to create sliding double stops, much like a fiddler would do, and what the pedals do on modern steels.

‘It’s fun to listen to Hank Williams recordings and hear the difference between the gorgeous ‘Byrd’ recordings and the stark ‘Don Helms’ recordings. They’re both perfect in their own right, but you can really hear the imagination and beauty that Jerry Byrd brought to a recording.

‘A lot of his work dried up in the 1960s in Nashville, as producers wanted a more modern sound. He was still featured on albums when a country artist recorded a Hawaiian album (Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, etc.), but he wasn’t earning a good living. So in the early 1970s, he followed his dream and retired to Hawaii where he continued to play casuals and play in hotel bands until his death in 2005.

“I can tell you from personal experience that Jerry was also a wonderful and humble guy who always had a kind word for beginners and fellow musicians. I met him and also corresponded with him, and got some long letters with good musical advice in response to some of my albums that I sent him.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Steelin’ The Blues (Rex Allen, vocal)
2. Maui Chimes
3. Byrd’s Boogie
4. Wabash Blues
5. Steelin’ The Chimes
6. Steel Guitar Rag
7. Hilo March
8. Panhandle Rag
9. St Louis Blues
10. Three-String Swing
11. South
12. Twilight Blues
13. South Sea Moon
14. Blues Boogie
15. Cocoanut Grove
16. Kewalo Chimes
17. Limehouse Blues
18. Gold Coast Blues
19. This ‘n’ That
20. Kohalo March
21. Jitterbug Waltz
22. Byrd’s Expedition
23. Paradise Isle
24. Wang Wang Blues
25. Hula Blues
26. Georgia Steel Guitar
27. Honolulu March
28. Turner’s Turnpike
29. Hawaiian Sunset
30. Texas Playboy Rag

Total time: 1:16:48

External links
artist fan site
amazon.com
Bear Family

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Comments »

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

External links
artist’s site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

Tags: , , , ,

No Comments »

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

External links
artist’s site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

Tags: , ,

No Comments »