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

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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

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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

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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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Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin

Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy

Yep Roc

alvinsThree decades after their last full album together (the Blasters’ 1985 “Hard Line”), the Alvin brothers are making beautiful “American Music” together again, thanks to a near-death experience and the “entrance drug into prewar blues.”

A couple of years ago, Phil Alvin’s throat became so swollen after a Blasters show in Spain that he needed an emergency tracheotomy. At the hospital, according to his account in the Blasters Newsletter, an intern “clubbed my heart back from a flatline TWICE.” Ultimately an abscessed tooth was found to be the culprit, and the singer recovered with vocal cords intact.

Prior to this, the brothers had recorded their first song together since guitarist/songwriter Dave Alvin left the Blasters for a solo career: a duet called “What’s Up With Your Brother?” on Dave’s 2011 album “Eleven Eleven.” After Phil’s 2012 health scare, they reunited again in 2013 for the soundtrack of a Stephen King/John Mellencamp musical, “The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.” Then, in November, they started work on an EP of songs by “shared musical square one” Big Bill Broonzy.

“Big Bill … was the entrance drug into prewar blues,” Dave told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s the record Phil came home with that was all late-’30s recordings, and that was an eye-opening thing.” Work on the EP went so well that the project was expanded to an album.

For about half the songs on “Common Ground,” the Alvins are backed by LA session players Bob Glaub on bass and Don Heffington on drums. The other half is Dave’s touring band, the Guilty Ones — bassist Brad Fordham and drummer Lisa Pankratz (sans guitarist Chris Miller) — plus former Blaster Gene Taylor on piano. Phil and Dave share vocal and guitar duties, with Phil also playing harmonica.

Far from a note-by-note exercise drawing upon the Broonzy songbook, the album displays all the styles employed during the artist’s 30-year recording career (country blues, ragtime, early Chicago blues, swing, jump blues and folk) but often features one style being used to interpret a song originally done in another. In one instance, two songs are combined: The guitar melody of 1932’s “Long Tall Mama” is grafted onto the lyrics of 1941’s “All by Myself.”

“Truckin’ Little Woman,” a 1938 boogie-woogie number, is given a West Coast blues treatment to great effect. So are “I Feel So Good” and “Southern Flood Blues,” the latter benefiting from Phil’s authoritative harp playing (he took lessons from Sonny Terry, after all) .

In the acoustic realm, highlights include “How You Want It Done?”; “Big Bill Blues”; the instrumental “Saturday Night Rub”; and Broonzy’s best-known composition, “Key to the Highway.”

An added attraction for audiophiles: stellar engineering by Craig Parker Adams at his Winslow Ct. Studio in Los Angeles (Carlos Guitarlos, the Knitters, Stan Ridgeway, Peter Case, Steve Earl) and Joe Gastwirt’s impeccable mastering.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. All By Myself
2. I Feel So Good
3. How You Want It Done?
4. Southern Flood Blues
5. Big Bill Blues
6. Key To The Highway
7. Tomorrow
8. Just A Dream
9. You’ve Changed
10. Stuff They Call Money
11. Truckin’ Little Woman
12. Saturday Night Rub

Total time: 42:39

External links:
dissertation on Big Bill Broonzy
Dave Alvin’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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