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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Koch Marshall Trio

Toby Arrives

The Players Club

Every once in a while, someone usually regarded as a rock guitarist comes out of left field with an organ trio album that just blows the socks right off unsuspecting listeners.

A couple of relatively recent examples, both from 2008, are “Hi-Fi Stereo” by Reverend Organdrum (a side project for Jim Heath, aka Reverend Horton Heat) and “The Haunted Melody” by the Steve Howe Trio (yes, Steve Howe of Yes).

Now comes Greg Koch with “Toby Arrives” by the Koch Marshall Trio. Like Howe’s offering, it’s also a father-and-son effort with dad on guitar and son playing drums.

Koch has a sizable back catalog of often instrumental music where getting “out there” is the norm and many genres are covered. But this KMT debut sees a more disciplined Koch distilling his normally “all over the map” sound into a potent blues-jazz blend.

As with many good things, the album coalesced by happenstance. Koch’s drummer son Dylan had been doing gigs in the Twin Cities with a guitarist and an organist, and was always telling his dad to check out the latter sometime. As chance would have it, the organist was going to be in Milwaukee and Dylan persuaded a reluctant Greg into agreeing to a jam. Hammond B-3 player extraordinaire Toby Lee Marshall, expecting only a possibility of a jam at the Koch home, was flabbergasted when Greg took him and Dylan to a studio where drums and an organ were already set up and mic’ed — and the rest is history.

The opening title track is what its name implies: the first of two recorded during that initial March 2017 encounter. Five more tracks were laid down in April, followed by a final one in July. Everything was tracked live in the studio except for an acoustic guitar overdub on “Sin Repent Repeat,” the awesome electric-bottleneck showcase that serves as the set’s denouement.

“Blues-jazz” may be a sufficient modifier in the aggregate, but the trio manages to touch on several sub-subgenres. For instance, the aforementioned “Sin Repent Repeat” has strong gospel overtones.

“Enter the Rats,” with its finger-lickin’ chicken-picking, transitions seamlessly into the ZZ Top-flavored “Boogie Yourself Drade.” For prog fans, the 10-minute “Mysterioso” draws inspiration from Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth and Joe Satriani.

“Funk Meat” is another fine display of chicken-picking that starts out sounding like the theme to an alternate-universe “Sanford and Son” and then throws in a contrapuntal snarl or two from Greg’s 1958 Gibson Les Paul reissue. That ax is also used on the title track, but for the rest the Gristleman uses his 1955 Fender Telecaster Custom Shop model.

With all the great virtuosity, tone and recording/mixing/mastering (by Steve Hamilton at Makin’ Sausage Music), it’s no wonder Ed van Zijl of the Netherlands-based Mascot Label Group made “Toby” the first release on his Players Club imprint — and signed KMT to a multi-album deal.

“I am and have always been a lover of great guitar playing,” van Zijl said when Good New Music took a shot in the dark and reached out to him via email. “(On) The Players Club … you will find freestyle jam music all based around the guitar. It might be instrumental, it might be vocal. The artists do not get any instructions from me, only my trust and belief in them.”

Van Zijl added, “I want an outlet for great musicianship and to let the artists do what they are good at, what they love, and have them not make any compromises whatsoever for commercial reasons.”

When asked if anyone else was lined up for future Players Club releases (“Toby Arrives” and Tommy Emmanuel’s “Accomplice One” are the only entries so far), van Zijl replied: “We currently have two more artists recording for TPC: Vernon Reid … (and) Jan Akkerman. … We have more on our target list, of course, who we will announce in due time. I do not know release dates yet for the above albums, but I estimate fall at the earliest.”

Van Zijl said he has plans for taking the Players Club concept on the road, as well.

“Once we have enough albums out, we want the artists to tour together and in the right circuit,” he told GNM. “Imagine Vernon Reid and Jan Akkerman together — that would make a cool package. Just an idea so far. It will take a little time to start that up as that part is never easy, but touring is part of the plan.

“We just did our first Provogue label tour in Europe under the name Rockin’ the Blues … (and did) seven shows in three countries. You can find plenty of that on YouTube. 2019 will see more countries and shows, and I hope to launch it in the U.S. in two or three years.

“(For) The Players Club we will do something similar … but in a smaller and more specialized circuit with maybe residencies in certain towns.”

Go Ed!

Tracks
1. Toby Arrives
2. Funk Meat
3. Heed The Boogaloo
4. Let’s Get Sinister
5. Mysterioso
6. Enter The Rats
7. Boogie Yourself Drade
8. Sin Repent Repeat

Total time: 50:48

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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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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

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