Naked Friends

Spark & Shine

cabinessenceThe Portland, Ore.-based power pop quintet finally releases its sophomore effort, six years after “Comes Back to You” and four years after the stopgap “Ghost Sessions” EP.

Things got a little slow after 2006 because the band members were “all living in different towns and some of us got married and started making babies,” bassist Tim Coulter told Good New Music.

“We’d play a handful of shows a year, writing, rehearsing and recording whenever possible,” Coulter said. “Usually that meant holing up in (fellow member and multi-instrumentalist) Dave (Pulliam)’s house for several days at a time on a long weekend, doing a mini-tour of the Northwest and then going dark for another couple of months.”

The take-it-slow approach paid off. On “Naked Friends,” the group engages in genre-bending calisthenics on such songs as “Thought/Start,” which features funky wah-wah guitar combined with folksy dobro (or maybe it’s lap steel).

Some Beatles-out-West imagery is conjured up on “Pray.” Harry Nilsson (circa “Think About Your Troubles” and “Gotta Get Up”) is resurrected on “Grace” and “Get Down” (respectively). And it’s not hard to imagine The Band performing “Should’ve Known,” a song Rick Danko would have had no problem wrapping his vocal chords around.

Pedal steel and organ are used liberally throughout, the once-prominent Beach Boys influence apparent only on the first of two instrumentals (“Instrumental No. 2”) and in various harmony vocals.

In the end, the gang rides off into the sunset (or in this case, outer space) with “Ruby’s Moon Elevator,” a spaghetti western instrumental with an oh-so-subtle sci-fi theme.gnm_end_bug

1. Thought/Start
2. Blown A Test
3. How I Learned
4. Instrumental No. 2
5. Thumbs
6. Pray
7. The Poet
8. Grace
9. Get Down
10. Should’ve Known
11. Consider The Source
12. Ruby’s Moon Elevator

Total time: 42:42

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East Portal Express

East Portal Express


EPXSome groups start out doing albums of long-form psychedelic music and later hone their craft to produce reasonably short rock songs. For others, it’s vice versa. The debut CD from Sacramento-based East Portal Express gives listeners the best of both worlds.

Call it schizophrenic, but they do well enough at both to pull it off. An across-the-board jam-band feel lends the right amount of cohesion, with the shorter songs pumped up by Shawn Vreeland’s vaguely southern-rock guitar and the longer ones showcasing Steve Bisel’s jazzy-spacey keyboards. The three instrumentals fall somewhere in the middle.

Democracy rules, with the songwriting members (Vreeland, Bisel and bassist Alex Bohl) contributing equally and doing lead vocals on their own songs. Scott McConaha lets his drums do the talking.

The disc’s centerpiece is “Coming Home.” Introduced by a spoken-word excerpt from Matthew Arnold’s mid-1800s poem “Dover Beach,” it quickly becomes an instrumental double-lead guitar fest, deceptively settling into a groove before segueing into a prog-rock synthesizer interlude.

The other instrumentals, “Big City” and “Alexandria,” get funky and trippy, respectively. The former weaves urban sounds such as car alarms and horns into the acoustic and electric piano playing, while the latter employs sitar sounds and Egyptian motifs.

Elsewhere, lyrical topics range from philosophy (“Leaving the Past Behind”) to travel (“Lonesome Highway”) to the ocean (“Sailor,” “Full Fathom Five”). Vreeland especially scores with his romantic “River Rose” and optimistic “Let the Light Shine Through.” His solo album, “High Country,” features all the EPX members and also is well worth seeking out.gnm_end_bug

1. Love And Only Love
2. River Rose
3. Leaving The Past Behind
4. Coming Home
5. Shallow Stream
6. Big City
7. Sailor
8. Alexandria
9. Lonesome Highway
10. The Peruvian
11. Full Fathom Five
12. Let The Light Shine Through

Total time: 1:13:28

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Elvin Bishop

The Blues Rolls On

Delta Groove

Bishop’s newest succeeds on three fronts: It’s a great album; it pays tribute to the Oklahoma-raised singer/slide guitarist’s early influences; and it assembles an impressive cast of supporting musicians, some of whom are old friends and some who are up-and-coming artists, both types to which he often humbly relinquishes lead vocals.

The young players to keep an eye on are John Németh, Ronnie Baker Brooks, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, Kid Andersen and Andre Thierry. Németh is a soulful singer and harmonica virtuoso from Boise, Idaho. Brooks is a Chicago guitarist/singer and son of Lonnie Brooks. The Homemade Jamz Blues Band hails from Tupelo, Miss.: two brothers and their sister on guitar, bass and drums, ages 16, 13 and 9, respectively. Norwegian-turned-Sacramentan Kid Andersen aspires to merge Howlin’ Wolf with Muddy Waters. And Andre Thierry is a hot Zydeco accordionist from the San Francisco Bay Area.

The old friends are Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Kim Wilson, Angela Strehli, Tommy Castro, B.B. King, R.C. Carrier, James Cotton and George Thorogood.

The standout track is one of two non-“influence” songs: “Struttin’ My Stuff,” Bishop’s killer funk-blues title track from his 1976 album. Four slide guitarists — Bishop, Trucks, Haynes and Johnny “V” Vernazza (who played on the original version) breathe new life into what, along with “Stealin’ Watermelons,” arguably represents Bishop’s 1970s apex.

The other non-“influence” song is “Oklahoma,” an autobiographical tune in which Bishop alternates between singing and spoken word, accompanied only by himself on electric guitar. 

Ending the set is something one always hopes to find on a Bishop album — an instrumental. Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” fits right in with past wordless offerings such as “Sweet Dreams.” One of these days, maybe even an instrumental album will materialize. Wouldn’t that be a slice of heaven? 

1. The Blues Rolls On (with Warren Haynes & Kim Wilson)
2. Night Time Is The Right Time (with John Németh & Angela Strehli)
3. Yonder’s Wall (with Ronnie Baker Brooks & Tommy Castro)
4. Struttin’ My Stuff (with Derek Trucks & Warren Haynes)
5. Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket (with B.B. King)
6. Who’s The Fool (with John Németh & Kid Andersen)
7. Black Gal (with R.C. Carrier & Andre Thierry)
8. Oklahoma
9. Come On In This House (with the Homemade Jamz Blues Band)
10. I Found Out (with John Németh, James Cotton & Angela Strehli)
11. Send You Back To Georgia (with George Thorogood)
12. Honest I Do (with John Németh)

Total time: 45:53

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Little Feat

Join the Band


Dave Matthews’ “Fat Man” arguably is the best reinterpretation on this “tribute” album. Radically different from the original, it’s slowed way down and adds African and island overtones, but the real treat is Matthews’ dozen and a half vocal tracks (he’s always used his voice like an instrument) and Sonny Landreth’s soporific slide guitar.

Nearly four years in the making and not really a tribute, “Join the Band” features Little Feat as the core band and boasts seven tracks not found on any of their albums. Of those, “Champion of the World,” a Will Kimbrough tune from his 2002 “Home Away” CD, shines brightest; it’s one of those “I’m a loser but when I’m with my baby I’m a winner” songs.

Other highlights include Craig Fuller and Vince Gill lending a hand to “Spanish Moon” (it’s not every day one hears two Pure Prairie League alumni singing on the same tune); “Time Loves a Hero,” just for its sheer instrumental virtuosity; and Chris Robinson’s take on a song about his home town, “Oh Atlanta.”

Three “throwaways” round it all out — “Something in the Water,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Don’t Ya Just Know It” — but Little Feat’s filler is still better than most groups’ best stuff.

1. Fat Man In The Bathtub (feat. Dave Matthews & Sonny Landreth)
2. Something In The Water (feat. Bob Seger)
3. Dixie Chicken (feat. Vince Gill & Sonny Landreth)
4. See You Later Alligator
5. Champion Of The World (feat. Jimmy Buffett)
6. The Weight (feat. Bela Fleck)
7. Don’t Ya Just Know It
8. Time Loves A Hero (feat. Jimmy Buffett)
9. Willin’ (feat. Brooks & Dunn)
10. This Land Is Your Land (feat. Mike Gordon)
11. Oh Atlanta (feat. Chris Robinson)
12. Spanish Moon (feat. Craig Fuller & Vince Gill)
13. Trouble (feat. Inara George)
14. Sailin’ Shoes (feat. Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush & Bela Fleck)
15. I Will Play For Gumbo (feat. Sam Bush — bonus track)

Total time: 1:06:14

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