Grateful Dead

Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe It if You Need It

Rhino

This three-disc distillation of the concurrently released, 19-disc “Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: The Complete Recordings” arranges 20 songs from five of the six previously unreleased shows that comprise the Grateful Dead’s two short exploratory runs through the region.

Unlike the individually numbered, limited-edition (15,000) box set that goes for nearly $200, this $20 version is not chronologically sequenced. “Believe It if You Need It” instead hopscotches between June 1973 and May 1974, creating what could be considered a virtual-reality performance arguably even better than the real thing.

As with last year’s “Cornell ’77,” it’s exquisitely mastered in HDCD by Jeffrey Norman from original master tapes transferred and magically restored by Plangent Processes. This time around, the artwork is by First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers.

The 1973 and 1974 offerings on “Believe It” were recorded just before release of the group’s studio albums “Wake of the Flood” and “From the Mars Hotel,” respectively. Besides selections from those, there’s also a nice assortment from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir’s first solo albums as well as a few from “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.”

Because multiple sources were used, some songs finish with quick but clean fadeouts. Tracks that originally segued from and/or into others are mostly left that way. An unexpected treat is “Eyes of the World > China Doll,” a stunning instance of poetic license in which two songs played four days apart are fashioned into a standalone fantasy medley — an impressive feat, especially considering that the former came from a “Trucking’ > Nobody’s Fault But Mine > Eyes of the World > China Doll.”

Another highlight is the 47-minute “Playing in the Band,” reputedly the longest ever performed; there are no side trips here, just a big fat midsection of unadulterated improvisation.

In 1973-74, the Grateful Dead were riding high. They’d just left Warner Bros. and started two of their own labels — Grateful Dead Records for group recordings and Round Records for solo projects — as well as designing the 600-speaker Wall of Sound for their ’74 performances. Those were undoubtedly heady times, and “Believe It” makes a strong case for the era being the most exhilarating of their career.

Tracks
DISC ONE
1. China Cat Sunflower (Portland Memorial Coliseum, Portland, OR 5/19/74) >
2. I Know You Rider (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74)
3. Bird Song (PNE Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia 6/22/73)
4. Box Of Rain (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 6/24/73)
5. Brown-Eyed Women (Hec Edmundson Pavillion, University of Washington, Seattle 5/21/74)
6. Truckin’ (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74) >
7. Jam (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74) >
8. Not Fade Away (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74) >
9. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74)
10. One More Saturday Night (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74)

DISC TWO
1. Here Comes Sunshine (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73)
2. Eyes Of The World (PNE Coliseum, 5/17/74) >
3. China Doll (Hec Edmundson Pavillion, 5/21/74)
4. Playing In The Band (Hec Edmundson Pavillion, 5/21/74)

DISC THREE
1. Sugaree (PNE Coliseum, 5/17/74)
2. He’s Gone (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73) >
3. Truckin’ (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73) >
4. The Other One (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73) >
5. Wharf Rat (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73)
6. Sugar Magnolia (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73)

Total time: 3:54:00

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Winnie Winston

Wanted for Steeling

Richard Weize Archives (ACD 12570)

Unlike most pedal steel players, the late great Winnie (aka Julian) Winston’s background was in folk music rather than country: As an award-winning banjoist in the 1960s, he formed the New York City Ramblers with David Grisman, a group that shared the stage with Bob Dylan at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.

In the ’70s Winston switched gears. He designed and built his own pedal steel guitar, and later co-wrote a self-teaching manual called “Pedal Steel Guitar” with Bill Keith. Session work followed — as both banjoist and pedal steel guitarist — for Steve Goodman, David Bromberg, Rosalie Sorrels and Mary McCaslin, among others.

His “solo” pedal-steel albums from that period largely consisted of three obscure, long-out-of-print LPs made with friend and guitarist Hank Davis — the first two of which were issued under the nom de plume “Raunch Radley” (a fictitious country-music legend dreamed up by Davis); the third release bore their real names.

“Wanted for Steeling” is a collection curated by Davis that draws from the above-mentioned three albums as well as from previously unreleased recordings. It’s also another excellent release commissioned by reissue meister Richard Weize for the RWA label, his post-Bear Family Records endeavor.

Though they attended the same New York high school in the late ’50s, Winston and Davis moved in different circles socially and musically, with the former inclined toward folk and the latter preferring rockabilly. Upon graduating, Winston studied industrial design and Davis pursued psychology, and both became teachers. Winston kept up his musical pursuits playing pedal steel in a country band, whereas Davis — who’d wound up at the University of Guelph in Ontario — put recording/performing on the back burner. But then things changed.

The following excerpt from an archival newspaper article in the Kitchener-Waterloo (Ontario) Record tells what happened next:

“(I got a phone call from high school friend) Winnie Winston, a guy I hadn’t seen for 16 years. He played pedal steel guitar in a country band, and he called to say that he had dreamed of me three nights running, and thought he’d better look me up.”

Hank invited Winston to his farm near Puslinch, and Winston brought his pedal steel along.

“We sat around the house playing, and we got real good real fast,” says Hank. “We decided to do a recording session and see what happened.”

Davis and Winston booked time in the Mercey Brothers Studio in Elmira. They recorded 10 songs in 10 takes.

Later, they visited a second studio. Everything about the sessions pleased Hank … except the cost.

“I said to myself, ‘If we’re going to keep making records, I might as well build my own studio at the farm.’ I just went out and bought the equipment and now we record at my place.”

“Wanted for Steeling” documents a telepathic interplay between the visually oriented and psychologically oriented minds, respectively, of Winston and Davis.

This is not flashy hillbilly jazz modeled after 1950s pedal-steel/electric-guitar duo Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. Davis wears his rock ’n’ roll heart on his sleeve, sometimes enhancing the bed tracks of guitar and pedal steel with his own overdubbed bass, drums, piano or additional guitar. Winston often solos into uncharted territory, using his mind’s eye as a sextant and Davis’ guitar as his North Star.

Davis uses finesse in sequencing the compilation’s tracks, choosing to blend the Raunch Radley selections with the cuts from “Cloud Dancing.”

“With (the) Raunch Radley (material), we were looking to create the feel of vintage ’50s rock ’n’ roll and kind of painted ourselves into a corner,” Davis told Good New Music recently in a telephone interview. “ ‘Cloud Dancing’ (which followed the two Raunch Radley LPs) allowed Winnie to stretch out on pedal steel.”

“Winnie would play the Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis and come here on his way back,” Davis added. “I got used to the fact that he would come in and put his steel guitar on the floor and be ready to go. I remember one year I had everything ready for him in the studio so he could get it done in Take 1.”

When asked who initiated the idea for the compilation, Davis said it was mutual.

“Richard Weize had put out a Jerry Byrd album,” he told GNM. “I said, ‘If you can put out a Byrd album, you can put out a Winston album.’ He asked if I had the tapes, and I said yes. He wanted to know if I could supply archival photos, and I told him I thought so. ‘Let’s do it!’ he said.”

Among the collection’s previously unissued tracks is “Spider Trap,” at once a groovy and laid-back number. “It’s basically blues,” Davis said. “We did that in one take. It was after ‘Cloud Dancing’ and we never did anything with the tape. I had at least 50 tunes recorded with Winnie and I thought, ‘This is it — it has to come out.’ ”

Another song to see its first light of day is the bouncy “Right Out the Door,” which sounds a lot like “Green Green Grass of Home” but with a Luther Perkins-style chug-along rhythm guitar.

“Dancing Steel” is a previously unreleased instrumental reworking of a Davis vocal song, “I Just Don’t Feel Like Dancing.” Davis explained, “I recorded the vocal version with Winnie in the studio in 1974, the first year we got together. I didn’t have a studio at my house yet. I sang and played piano and Winnie played steel. Years later we tried it as instrumental, and I overdubbed drums and bass.”

In fact, Davis incorporates five songs recorded for his own vocal albums on this otherwise instrumental collection. “But I Do,” “What Went Wrong,” “Conversation” and “Mongoose” have remained in the can for nearly 40 years before seeing release here. “Old New Orleans R&B” came out on Davis’ “One Way Track” album.

The vocal songs were included to show that Winston — besides being a great soloist — was also an excellent sideman, Davis told GNM. “(I knew) those songs … wouldn’t go down well with people who buy my albums today. Otherwise, they were just going to sit in the vault.”

Other standout offerings from among the field of 27 songs (all of which are first-rate) are “Steady as She Goes,” aka “Christmas Train” from the “Cloud Dancing” LP; the previously unissued “Thanksgiving Blessing,” one of three such showpiece tunes recorded immediately after one of Winston’s Pedal Steel Guitar Convention gigs (the other two being “Waltzing Matilda” and the Eagles’ “Desperado”); “Drivin’ and Jivin’ ”; “Misty Morn,” which appeared in a different version on Winston’s 1978 solo album “Steel Wool”; “Big Black Machine”; “Bouncing off the Trees”; and “Dreaming at the Bar.”

Tracks
1. Right Out The Door
2. Almost Home
3. Steady As She Goes
4. Downhill Blues
5. Old New Orleans R&B
6. Dancing Steel
7. Truckstop
8. Snowballs In June
9. Cajun Potatoes
10. The Eagle
11. But I Do
12. The Frog Invasion
13. Lonely Boys Like Me
14. Winding Down
15. Thanksgiving Blessing
16. What Went Wrong
17. Drivin’ And Jivin’
18. Misty Morn
19. Spider Trap
20. Waltzing Matilda
21. Conversation
22. Desperado
23. Big Black Machine
24. Old Time Friend
25. Bouncing Off The Trees
26. Dreaming At The Bar
27. Mongoose

Total time: 1:18:19

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Bear Family Records

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Billy Strings

Turmoil & Tinfoil

Apostol

One of the great things about the Internet Age is the ability to ramble along the Information Superhighway in search of new music, obsessively-compulsively bouncing off the URL walls on a random journey of discovery. And that’s how this reviewer first heard about Billy Strings last summer.

Unexpected Destination No. 1 was a show posted in the Live Music Archive section of the Internet Library. It was an exceptionally well-made matrix (soundboard/audience composite) recording of a stellar performance by Strings and his band at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes Barre, Pa., on July 13, 2017. From there, one hyperlink led to another, and a profile of the wunderkind flatpicking guitarist-singer-songwriter was slowly amassed.

Fast-forward a few months, and Strings (aka William Apostol) has released his crowdfunded, debut full-length solo CD — and it’s more fun than a barrel of virtuosic monkeys playing guitars, banjos, mandolins and occasionally fiddles.

Bluegrass, newgrass, folk, country and even a psychedelic passage or two; it’s all there, sometimes in the same song.

“On the Line” might conjure an image of “Old and in the Way”-era Jerry Garcia smiling down from above in approval, whereas “Meet Me at the Creek” has a lengthy, cosmos-exploring instrumental section.

“All of Tomorrow” is a “San Antonio Rose”-like number, but then there’s “Living Like an Animal” — which benefits from special guest Peter “Madcat” Ruth‘s contributions on harmonica and Jew’s harp, coming across like an updated “Chicken Train” (Ozark Mountain Daredevils).

“Salty Sheep,” the only song not written by Strings, is a flatpicking-guitar medley of traditional songs performed as a duet with special guest Bryan Sutton.

Strings possesses a lived-in bluegrass tenor voice that belies his looks (20-something going on 16) and can play at nearly the speed of light when he wants. Witness “Pyramid Country,” an instrumental that affords Strings, banjoist Billy Failing and mandolinist Drew Matulich the opportunity to take solos in rotation.

But there’s more to “Pyramid County” than meets the ears. It turns out the song shares its name with a skateboard-centric production and apparel company, one of whose principals did the album’s splendidly surreal cover. Good New Music tracked down artist/businessman J.J. Horner:

“I first heard of Billy a couple of years ago,” Horner told GNM via email. “They came through Arizona and played at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale. Jackson (Casey, another owner in Pyramid Country) invited me to go and showed me a couple of his live performances on YouTube to further convince me. I’m a bluegrass/guitar-picking fan so it wasn’t a hard sell. …

“Long story short, I met him at the show and we stayed in contact. … He hit me up about a year ago asking me if I’d be down to do album art. … We worked closely on the concept. I find Billy’s music very psychedelic and visual, sometimes even metal. He pointed out a few paintings he liked on my Instagram and sent me a few songs from the album. I applied those painting concepts to how his music makes me feel and came up with a sketch. I texted it to him and he was hyped. Over the next couple of weeks, I sent him progress photos and bounced ideas back and forth. It was a fun process.”

The album owes its mind-boggling recording quality to co-producer and engineer/acoustician Glenn Brown of GBP Studios, in Strings’ home state of Michigan. GNM also reached out to Brown, himself a guitarist who formed fusion bands in the mid-’70s with Bill Laswell and fronts his own Glenn Brown & Intergalactic Spiral:

“I recorded Billy’s album live to 24-track tape with minimal overdubs,” he told GNM in an email. “Then I finished the mix in a hybrid analog-patched-hardware and digital system (Pro Tools HDX at 96k). I recorded most of the echoes and vibe live during the original takes.”

In other words, the sound is virtually the way it was heard while being created in Brown’s expertly designed workspace, captured using the best of both worlds (analog and digital) to help translate the fire, immediacy and beauty of String’s live shows into a studio environment.

Tracks
1. On The Line
2. Meet Me At The Creek
3. All Of Tomorrow
4. While I’m Waiting Here
5. Living Like An Animal
6. Turmoil & Tinfoil
7. Salty Sheep
8. Spinning
9. Dealing Despair
10. Pyramid Country
11. Doin’ Things Right
12. These Memories Of You

Total time: 1:02:40

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Rusty Young

Waitin’ for the Sun

Blue Elan

“Fifty years in the making.”

While that statement about Rusty Young’s debut solo album might be a stretch, it’s accurate in the minds of diehard “Poconuts” who know that the 50th anniversary of Poco is coming up next year.

Over the past half-century, various members of that seminal country-rock group have recorded a number of solo offerings: Randy Meisner (three), Jim Messina (three), Richie Furay (seven), Timothy B. Schmit (six) and Paul Cotton (three).

Young, sole original member of the still-performing group, quietly bided his time while he and bandmate Paul Cotton kept the group a going concern as — one by one — Messina, Furay, Schmit and even drummer George Grantham moved on. In 2010, Cotton also exited.

As Young gradually evolved from sideman to frontman, the pedal steel guitarist also added acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, lap steel and Dobro to his stringed-instrument arsenal.

When Poco was on hiatus in the 1990s, Young took a shot at Nashville stardom with an all-star group of like-minded country-rockers that recorded not one but 2½ unreleased albums: the first for RCA under the moniker Four Wheel Drive (with Bill Lloyd, John Cowan and Patrick Simmons) and the second 1½ for Warner Bros. as the Sky Kings (after a legal snag forced a name change and Simmons departed). The Sky Kings recordings eventually saw the light of day as a limited-edition compilation on the Rhino Handmade label.

Young’s long-awaited solo record presents the multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter freshly emerged from short-lived retirement, happy to have finally done his own thing and on his own terms.

As Young tells it on several recent radio interviews, he was approached by a record label after one of his occasional gigs with Messina.

“When Rusty asked us what kind of album we wanted,” says Blue Elan president Kirk Pasich in a press release, “we said, ‘What kind of album do you want to make?’ ”

After a year spent writing about 20 tunes, Young headed for Johnny Cash’s cabin studio in Hendersonville, Tenn., and laid down tracks with current Poco compadres Jack Sundrud (bass), Michael Webb (keyboards) and Rick Lonow (drums).

The results proved spectacular, with highlights such as the scene-setting title track; the tender ballad “Heaven Tonight”; and the sensory instrumental “Seasons.”

Other standouts include “My Friend,” which joins previous nostalgic numbers such as Poco’s “When It All Began” (from their 1989 reunion album “Legacy”) and Furay’s “We Were the Dreamers” (from his 2015 album “Hand in Hand”), and features cameos from Furay and Schmit; and the rollicking “Honey Bee,” which boasts assists from Messina and Grantham.

Tracks
1. Waitin’ For The Sun
2. My Friend
3. Honey Bee
4. Sara’s Song
5. Heaven Tonight
6. Hey There
7. Seasons
8. Innocent Moon
9. Down Home
10. Gonna Let The Rain

Total time: 36:37

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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

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