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 »

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
iTunes Store

Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments »

AndersonPonty Band

Better Late Than Never

Liaison

andersonpontyEver since the collaboration between Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty was announced as a Kickstarter project last summer, prog and fusion fans have been anxious to hear how these icons would sound together. The end result far and away exceeds anyone’s expectations.

One of the first things that stands out is Anderson’s embrace of the jazz vocal ethos. The former Yes singer doesn’t float downstream with the current — he rides thermals into the stratosphere. Of course, it would be hard not to be swept up by the jazz vibrations when the other musicians are all from Ponty’s camp, having been in the electric violinist’s band at one time or another. However, it wasn’t always like that.

Guitarist Jamie Glaser is heard on the live CD/DVD but not seen in the DVD, having been overdubbed in on both as a replacement for Jamie Dunlap, the Anderson associate who had to bow out of the project after the one-off Colorado concert from which the DVD and its CD counterpart had been sourced.

“(Dunlap’s) success in the TV and film world made it impossible for him to continue with us,” Ponty told Good New Music by email. “Then Jon really liked Jamie Glaser’s playing and personality after hearing and seeing some videos of him performing in my band before and also solo. So we hired a second Jamie after our first Jamie left!”

But leaving Dunlap in the DVD when the music was now performed by Glaser posed a problem.

“From what I remember Jon suggested to add some footage of Jamie Glaser in the recording studio, since he was not with us in Aspen but joined our project later on, but it didn’t really work with the flow of our concert DVD,” Ponty told GNM. In the end, the Dunlap footage was left on the cutting room floor.

The convoluted changes caused an online ruckus among a number of fans, some of whom were already up in arms because postings to the Kickstarter page were interpreted as indicating there would be a studio CD and a live DVD — a misunderstanding the artists attributed to overzealous promotion by someone other than themselves.

When asked if the intention was always to enhance the live performance with overdubs, Ponty said in his email: “Yes, the plan was to capture the raw energy of our live performance and to enhance it later. As we were listening to our live recording, Jon and I would come up with new ideas, Jon usually taking the lead for his songs and me for mine. I am sure glad we did — I love what we achieved this way.”

But keyboardist Wally Minko, drummer Rayford Griffin and bassist Baron Browne did no overdubs, Ponty said. “All you hear on the album is their live performance except for one of Jon’s songs, ‘I See You Messenger.’ We didn’t like our live performance of that one, so Jon came up with new ideas and I did a totally new arrangement for it, so this is the only song which was recorded from scratch and why you see recording studios credited. As for me I kept all my live solos but I was not yet mastering all the songs in Aspen and even forgot to play in some sections, so I overdubbed a few parts. Jon’s singing in Aspen was excellent overall but he came up with additional ideas afterwards and overdubbed a few more vocal parts.”

Regardless of the long road taken, “Better Late Than Never” was worth the wait: It’s an amazing mix of newly arranged Yes/Jon Anderson songs, as well as Ponty instrumental standards infused with newly written Anderson lyrics. Here’s hoping the album and tour do well enough to inspire the duo to co-write and record an entire studio follow-up.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Intro
2. One in the Rhythm of Hope
3. A for Aria
4. Owner of a Lonely Heart
5. Listening with Me
6. Time and a Word
7. Infinite Mirage
8. Soul Eternal
9. Wonderous Stories
10. And You and I (CD only)
11. Renaissance of the Sun
12. Roundabout
13. I See You Messenger (CD only)
14. New New World (CD only)

Total CD time: 61:24

External links
Jon Anderson’s website
Jean-Luc Ponty’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

Tags: , , ,

No Comments »

The Aristocrats

Tres Caballeros

Boing

aristocratsInstrumental rock/fusion trio The Aristocrats take flight on their third studio album, eschewing their modus operandi of “live-in-the-studio with no overdubs” in favor of expansive sonics via texturing and layering, and recording at storied Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood after road-testing their new material.

Sidemen and solo artists all, guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann became a trio by chance in 2011. The latter two had a trio slot scheduled at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, Calif., and their guitarist was a late dropout. Govan was a last-minute replacement whom they met for the first time in rehearsal the night before the show.

Far from a typical “all shred, all the time” outfit, the three like to blend genres — as in opening track “Stupid 7,” which mixes metal with a hint of twang. And the song titles aren’t their only outlet for humor, as every number has a certain degree of tongue in cheek, whether in the form of unexpected time changes or the way a player chooses to discreetly (or not so discreetly) accentuate a tune’s underlying vibe.

The second track, “Jack’s Back,” takes the concept of hodgepodge to the nth degree: At times atonal, dissonant or both, it structures sections boasting such characteristics in an orderly manner, with Govan interweaving staccato picking à la the “Twilight Zone Theme” with some mandolinlike tremolo. The whole thing is given a tremendous backbeat courtesy Beller’s fluid fretless playing and Minnemann’s impressive Bill Brufordisms.

And on and on it goes: the pastiche of SRV-style runs on “Texas Crazypants” that culminates in sound effects painting a visual of a dragster running afoul of the law — immediately preceded by a random reference to the percussion break from the James Gang’s “Funk #49”; the “Eric Johnson meets Allan Holdsworth” feel of “Pig’s Day Off”; the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Mexico” motif of “Smuggler’s Corridor.” In fact, the album title and cover art foreshadow a Southwestern thread throughout the album, albeit one that is sometimes subtle, other times not.

Speaking of subtle, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the song title “Kentucky Meat Shower” is just a random combination of words. But an Internet search for the phrase quickly proves otherwise!gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Stupid 7
2. Jack’s Back
3. Texas Crazypants
4. ZZ Top
5. Pig’s Day Off
6. Smuggler’s Corridor
7. Pressure Relief
8. The Kentucky Meat Shower
9. Through The Flower

Total time: 58:02

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

Tags: , , , ,

No Comments »