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
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GospelbeacH

Pacific Surf Line

Alive Naturalsound

gospelbeachPicture a warehouse full of mellow West Coast country-rock LPs from the 1970s. Imagine all those records being loaded into a gigantic “Star Trek”-style transporter and beamed to Alive Naturalsound Records in Burbank — where a malfunction causes them to rematerialize as a single platter called “Pacific Surf Line,” by a new group called GospelbeacH.

In a way, albums by the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Monkees, Rick Nelson, Poco, Pure Prairie League, America, Loggins and Messina, Firefall and others did mutate into this new and wonderfully anachronistic release.

GospelbeacH is a retro supergroup made up of singer Brent Rademaker and drummer Tom Sanford (both of Beachwood Sparks); guitarists Jason Soda and Neal Casal (Everest/Watson Twins and Ryan Adams/Chris Robinson Brotherhood, respectively); and bass player Kip Boardman (Watson Twins/Ramsay Midwood).

Whereas Rademaker’s old group was more of a psychedelic country-rock band, GospelbeacH favors the straightforward variety while occasionally drifting into easy-listening/pop territory — such as on “Your Freedom,” with its twin flute-guitar lines recalling works by Jesse Colin Young and the aforementioned Loggins and Messina and Firefall.

The most overtly country-rock numbers are found in the opening one-two punch of “California Steamer” and “Sunshine Skyway,” especially the latter with its pedal steel guitar à la Rusty Young.

Other songs — such as “Come Down,” “Southern Girl” and “Alone” — illustrate the “beach” in GospelbeacH via guest harmony vocals by Nelson Bragg of Brian Wilson’s band.

No matter how it’s sliced, “Pacific Surf Line” will put a “Have a nice day” face on even the most jaded listener.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. California Steamer
2. Sunshine Skyway
3. Your Freedom
4. Mick Jones
5. Come Down
6. Southern Girl
7. Out of My Mind (On Cope And Reed)
8. Alone
9. Damsel In Distress

Total time: 40:30

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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

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artist’s website
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iTunes Store

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Arlen Roth

Slide Guitar Summit

Aquinnah

arlenThroughout the past half-century of recorded music, the idea of “more is better” has been explored. A few examples:

• San Francisco’s Grateful Dead had two drummers.

• In the South, the Allman Brothers Band had two lead guitarists as well as dual drummers; Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws both began with twin lead guitars and later expanded to three.

• In 1970, a country album with the self-explanatory title of “Twin Steel Guitars of Kayton Roberts & Little Roy Wiggins” was released.

• 2002 saw the self-titled debut by blues-rockers Delta Moon, whose lineup features two slide guitars.

• And now, “guitarist’s guitarist” Arlen Roth proves you can’t have too much of a good thing with “Slide Guitar Summit.” Aided by drummer/producer extraordinaire Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, George Thorogood), Roth and nine guest sliders duet on 14 tracks,  six of them instrumental. Twelve songs are covers.

The fan-funded project began in 2013, when the late Johnny Winter lent his talents to a cover of 1951’s “Rocket 88” (one of two songs sung by Roth; the other is “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” featuring Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters).

There’s no Ry Cooder, Derek Trucks or Luther Dickinson, but David Lindley obliges with “Her Mind Is Gone” — a 1950 gem by Professor Longhair, and the album’s sole live performance.

Sonny Landreth appears on his namesake “Sonny Skies,” an instrumental composed by Roth. Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” gets a workout with help from Lee Roy Parnell, who previously used the song in an instructional video called “The Art of Slide Guitar.”

“Stranger on the Shore,” a transcontinental No. 1 instrumental for clarinetist Acker Bilk in the early ’60s, is given the twin-lap-steel treatment via Asleep at the Wheel veteran Cindy Cashdollar.

Jimmy Vivino (Al Kooper, Max Weinberg) guests on two cuts comprising the album’s “just two unplugged guitars” portion: Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” and the traditional “Poor Boy Blues.”

Rounding out the roster are session great Rick Vito on two instrumentals — the Roth original “Paradise Blues” and a commanding interpretation of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” — and Jack Pearson (ABB/Gregg Allman),  who contributes his own “Do What’s Right.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Do What’s Right (w/Jack Pearson)
2. Dust My Broom (w/Lee Roy Parnell)
3. Stranger on the Shore (w/Cindy Cashdollar)
4. Sonny Skies (w/Sonny Landreth)
5. Rocket 88 (w/Johnny Winter)
6. Dixie Chicken (w/Lee Roy Parnell)
7. Poor Boy Blues (w/Jimmy Vivino)
8. And When I Die (w/Jimmy Vivino)
9. Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia (w/Greg Martin)
10. Paradise Blues (w/Rick Vito)
11. Steel Guitar Rag (w/Cindy Cashdollar)
12. You Really Got A Hold on Me (w/Rick Vito)
13. Her Mind Is Gone (w/David Lindley)
14. Amazing Grace (w/Greg Martin)

Total time: 1:03:41

External links
artist’s site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age!

OKeh

frisellIn a modernization of the electric-guitar/steel-guitar format pioneered by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant in the ’50s, Bill Frisell — aided by Greg Leisz on pedal steel, lap steel and slide guitar — puts a laidback spin on an instrumental collection of early ’60s guitar music that inspired him as a kid.

It’s always been hard to tell whether guitar hero Frisell’s pigeonhole is Americana with a hint of avant-garde or vice versa. But since this set is space-age music, the debate is rendered pointless. Leisz’s as-always ethereal slide is invaluable in setting the scene, exemplified best on the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You,” in which the two break away at midpoint to simulate Jerry Garcia accompanying himself on pedal steel, then morph briefly into Neil Young hanging ten with Crazy Horse before floating away on a stream of subconsciousness.

Speaking of surf, there are two types represented here: instrumental surf rock (the Chantays’ “Pipeline”) and vocal surf pop (the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”), in surreal and dreamy versions, respectively. Also present is “Baja,” a reverb-soaked, whammy bar workout on the minor hit for the Astronauts. As well, there are a handful of not-quite-surf tracks, specifically Link Wray’s “Rumble,” Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and the Tornados’ “Telstar,” the last of which is set up by one of two original Frisell compositions, “Lift Off.”

For country and folk aficionados, there’s a Charlie Christian-style take on Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag” and a Telecaster-Jazzmaster takeover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Of course, no electric-guitar/steel-guitar instrumental album would be worth its salt without tributes to the afore-mentioned West and Bryant. Hence, the spaciness of “Reflections From the Moon” (from West’s 1962 LP “Guitar Spectacular”) and loopiness of “Bryant’s Boogie” (his first feature side, from a 1950 78 with Cliffie Stone’s Band) become even more so here in the hands of the Nostalgia Bros.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Pipeline
2. Turn, Turn, Turn
3. Messin’ with the Kid
4. Surfer Girl
5. Rumble
6. Shortest Day
7. Rebel Rouser
8. Baja
9. Cannonball Rag
10. Tired of Waiting for You
11. Reflections From the Moon
12. Bryant’s Boogie
13. Lift Off
14. Telstar

Total time: 55:08

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes store

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