338 – Southern Avenue – Keep On – Second Album Blends Many Styles For a Unique, and Very Memphis, Sound

Southern Avenue - photo by David McClister

Soul is an over-used term.  What it’s supposed to describe is music that’s real, human and authentic.  There’s a Memphis group that embodies that term, mixing elements of R&B, blues, rock and gospel into something that’s unique, and very much southern and from the streets – hence the appropriate name Southern Avenue.  They’ve just issued their sophomore album, Keep On, on Concord Music.

Recorded at Sam Phillips’ legendary studio, the record serves up a dozen examples of their potent approach to a classic sound. Led by Israeli-born guitar virtuoso, Ori Naftaly, and fiery singer Tierinii Jackson, the group is rounded out by Tierinii’s younger sister, Tikyra, who plays drums and sings backup, and keyboardist Jeremy Powell. They’re currently on a tour that will take them coast to coast in the US before heading overseas.

We chat with Naftaly about what got him to relocate 6,500 miles from his home country and settle in the U.S. He tells us how growing up in the church gives the Jackson sisters a very authentic backbone for their music. He also sheds light on how the band hooked up with legendary soul man William Bell for one of the songs on their new album.

Bill Evans – Evans in England (review)

Bill Evans – Evans in England (Resonance Records)

Previously-unreleased live recording of jazz giant in 1969

No label has done more for jazz in the last decade than Resonance Records. Their co-president, Zev Feldman, literally traverses the globe in search of rare recordings by legendary artists. Yet, it’s the label’s attention to detail that truly puts them in a class all their own. Each new release comes with an exhaustive booklet, featuring rare photos and extensive background notes, adding further detail to each recording, and, as a result, enhancing the legacy of jazz itself.

Their latest project is a concert recording by Bill Evans from 1969 entitled Evans in England. The piano legend is joined by longtime bassist Eddie Gomez along with drummer Marty Morell, who had recently joined the trio at the time of these shows. The recordings were made by a fan of Evans’ for personal enjoyment, not commercial release, yet they are of surprisingly good quality.

The venue, Ronnie Scott’s in London, was a favorite of Evans. It was a place he felt comfortable. And, this is an important factor: when an artist feels at ease, the performance becomes more than just a paid gig – it gives him a chance to be himself.

The track listing for the two-disc set is impeccable, covering a lot of terrain, from standards like “Stella By Starlight” and “Our Love is Here to Stay,” to Evans’ classics like “Waltz For Debby.” But, the trio also tackle the Miles Davis classic “So What,” which Evans played on the original recording from Kind of Blue – it’s a thrill to hear this familiar classic reworked for the trio setting.

There’s a buoyancy to these performances. Evans is one of the all-time great melodicists on piano – yet often in his career, there’s a shroud of sadness that lingers. Here, a lot of the music seems to be floating – as on the superb version of “Round Midnight.” “Elsa” is another song Evans tackled many times, but rarely at this fast of a tempo. “Stella By Starlight” is bouncier than the version he cut with Miles, and gives Gomez a chance to really shine.

And there’s more here than just great piano playing – listen how all three musicians talk back and forth as on “Very Early.” The set closes with a gorgeous rendition of the standard, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”

There are multiple essays in the accompanying booklet that go into how these rare tapes finally saw the light of day. Really, for a single microphone recording, you can hear all three musicians clearly.

There are a handful of minor quibbles with the sound: from time to time, when all three players are really cooking, the music will distort (remember, this wasn’t intended for actual release). Also occasionally, the tape slows down (as if someone bumped up against one of the reels), like on the intro to “Waltz For Debby.” Yet, Evans is so joyful in these performances, it doesn’t matter.

Don’t let the “previously unreleased” tag scare you off. Evans in England is a fantastic showcase of Bill Evans in his prime. —Tony Peters

337 – Toad of the Cryan Shames – “Sugar & Spice,” Advice From the Byrds, and Those Great Harmonies

The Cryan Shames came out of Chicago in the mid-Sixties, scoring a minor national hit with “Sugar & Spice” in 1966. Yet, several of their other songs, including “It Could Be We’re in Love,” did very well in major cities around the country. The band was signed to Columbia records and released three albums that still hold up today.

The Cryan Shames became known for their intricate harmonies melded over jangly melodies, reminiscent of bands like the Byrds and the Beatles. The group broke up in 1969, but has reunited several time over the years.

We chat with lead singer, Toad, who remains active with the band. He tells us the origins of the group and their record contract. Plus, he reveals a piece of advice that Roger McGuinn of the Byrds gave him that helped steer the band in a different direction.

336 – Eric Jerardi – Muscle Shoals-infused new album Occupied

Eric Jerardi
Photo by Allen Farst

Dayton, Ohio guitarist Eric Jerardi has been honing his craft for decades. From his humble beginnings winning a Battle of the Bands back in 1989, to going solo a few years later, to a string of critically-acclaimed albums and hundreds of gigs all over the world – Eric has kept at it for over 30 years now. But, just because he’s been doing things a long time, doesn’t mean he can’t still surprise.

His brand new album, Occupied takes the blues that he’s mastered so well and adds in a big helping of soul courtesy of Muscle Shoals – the result is hands-down his finest effort to date.

He tells us what it was like recording with some of the legendary musicians that played on the record, plus what producer David Z brought to the project.

Jerardi also talks about playing Icon Fetch host Tony Peters’ wedding, the one and only time he’s played in a church.

335 – Van Duren – Waiting – New Documentary & Soundtrack

Van Duren

Van Duren emerged from the same fertile Memphis music scene that gave us cult heroes Big Star. In fact, Duren was one of the many artists interviewed in the 2012 Big Star documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me. In an odd twist of fate, Van Duren has gone from being interviewed in a documentary to having a documentary made about him.

Waiting: The Van Duren Story, debuted in Memphis last November. The origins of this film are about as crazy as you can get, involving fans from halfway around the world. In anticipation of the film being released publicly, Omnivore Recordings has assembled a fantastic, 12-track overview of Duren’s largely unknown career. Yet, the music on this disc shows an artist that needs to be heard.

We chat the unlikely circumstances that led to this new documentary. Plus, he goes through some of the tracks on the film’s soundtrack, including songs recorded with former members of Big Star. Plus, he talks about the possibility of new music from him.

The Delines new album is mesmerizing

The Delines – The Imperial

The Delines – The Imperial (El Cortez Records)

Incredibly evocative, this is music that draws you in

The Imperial is the welcome return of Portland, Oregon’s The Delines. Their second studio album took a lot longer than planned, when singer Amy Boone was involved in a car accident back in 2016. She spent over a year in physical therapy, having to re-learn how to walk. Thankfully, her voice, a whiskey-soaked version of Bobby Gentry, is still intact. Guitarist Willy Vlautin has put together another ten songs that work as mini stories, based on losers, and those down on their luck, and Boone’s voice is the perfect vehicle. These tales are wrapped in a blend of gentle country-soul that’s deceptively magnetic.

The album opens with “Cheer Up Charley.” With its horns on the chorus, it comes off like a psychobilly version of the Carpenters. But, then things really settle in with “The Imperial.” Boone evokes goosebumps as she asks “all those scars / what did they do to you” while the music gently swirls behind. I found myself turning out the lights and turning up the music – it’s been a long time since I just listened.

“Let’s Be Us Again” is a poignant love song that smolders along as she sings “I can’t wait to be like I used to be.” “Roll Back My Life” crawls along at a dirge’s pace – there just aren’t too many singers that could command restraint to pull this off.

“Side two” begins with the upbeat “Eddie & Polly,” but don’t let that fool you, the story of the doomed lovers is just as harrowing. Boone gives more of a matter-of-fact delivery on “Holly the Hustle,” the tale of a girl who had to grow up too soon. The gospel-tinged “He Don’t Burn For Me” compares couples breaking up to broken down cars left alongside the road.

Like the run-down apartment building on the front cover, the music tucked inside doesn’t attempt to sugar coat things. No 5-star hotel, this is real life, where the only things free are the stains on the carpet. If you give them a chance, the Delines will mesmerize you. —Tony Peters

Jewel’s Multi-Platinum debut is back on vinyl from Craft Recordings

Jewel - Pieces of You - vinyl edition

Jewel – Pieces of You – vinyl edition (Craft Recordings)

Jewel’s path to success is so unique, they should make a movie out of it.

Released over 20 years ago, her debut, Pieces of You, was a slow-moving juggernaut. At first, it bombed, yet eventually it sold over 12 million copies, yielding three huge singles. Craft Recordings has taken this landmark album, long out of print on vinyl, and reissued it with bonus tracks.

Jewel was just 18 when she moved from her native Alaska to Southern California to try and break into the music business. Famously, she was living out of her van when Atlantic Records saw a live performance and gave her a record contract. Pieces of You was issued in February of 1995 to little fanfare.

The album sold poorly at first. While most labels would have given up on this struggling artist, something kept them going. A year and a half later, “Who Will Save Your Soul” peaked at #11, and the parent album started to catch fire. An opening slot for Bob Dylan helped, and TV appearances started to happen. Then, she re-recorded “You Were Meant For Me,” and the more polished version struck a chord with radio and the record-buying public alike, eventually peaking at #2.

Tucked away on the b-side of “You Were Meant For Me” was another ballad, “Foolish Games.” As the former song fell off the chart, the latter picked up steam, sending the now-two-sided single back up the list. Eventually, both songs racked up a combined
(and largely unheard of) 65 weeks on the singles’ chart. The parent album, originally a flop, became one of the biggest-selling albums of all-time.

Listening back to these recordings after over two decades, there’s an innocence to all of it. This is the world seen through the eyes of a girl barely out of high school. Our treatment of people less beautiful, or of minorities hasn’t changed much in 20 years, so “Pieces of You” still rings true, even if its approach is a little blunt. The cloying “Adrian,” a song about a boy in a coma, wears out its welcome at over seven minutes when its point was made at about 3 1/2.

The slick hit singles notwithstanding, the remainder of her debut is largely under-produced. A lot of these are acoustic, in-concert renditions. While there’s an immediacy to the these tracks, her voice would benefit greatly from the better production she would receive on later albums. Yet, there is still plenty that still stands up here too. “Amen” sounds like it was sung by a much-older and wiser woman and is a gorgeous ballad.

There’s a sassy tone to the original version of “You Were Meant For Me” that isn’t present on the redone one. “Who Will Save Your Soul” is Jewel backed by Neil Young’s Stray Gators, and it still packs a whollop.

The vinyl format is perfect for the acoustic tunes. There’s a warmness to “Morning Song” (another great ballad) that just oozes from the grooves of the record. This does not sound like a teenagers’ romance.

There were a lot of non-LP and b-side material recorded around this time, and side 4 of the vinyl grabs five of the best (although “God’s Gift to Women” is surprisingly absent). “Rocker Girl” and “Cold Song” are both quaint, but “Everything Breaks” is phenomenal, and one wonders why it was never included on a Jewel album.

One of the benefits of the vinyl format is that you get all the photos and lyrics that originally came with the CD, but they’re much larger, so they’re legible! The gatefold cover opens with additional credits and a photo too.

Pieces of You might be the most-unassuming best-selling album of all-time (it ranks at #45 all time). Yet, it blazed a trail for the many female performers that followed, and the album’s blend of coffee-house folk and teenage sass still stands up today. —Tony Peters

334 – Carmine Appice – Guitar Zeus

Legendary drummer Carmine Appice got his start in hard rock pioneers Vanilla Fudge. He’s played with Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, backed Rod Stewart, and led bands like King Kobra and Blue Murder, all the while, setting a standard for rock drumming that’s unparalleled.

One of his most impressive projects, is also his most under-appreciated. Guitar Zeus began as a pair of albums in the mid-Nineties, featuring a venerable who’s who of guitar slingers, including Slash, Yngwie Malmsteen, Queen’s Brian May, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Ted Nugent, Neal Schon of Journey, and many more. But, because of poor distribution and little label support, these great performances went largely unheard.

Now, Carmine is re-issuing Guitar Zeus – all the tracks from the original project, plus some newly recorded ones – for a total of 32 songs. And it features some of the finest drumming of Carmine’s career.

Appice also tells us how he helped a young John Bonham get started, plus the crazy story behind Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which he co-wrote.

Luther Russell – Medium Cool (review)

Luther Russell - Medium Cool

Luther Russell – Medium Cool (Fluff & Gravy)

Rock n’ roll done just right

Everywhere you go, music seems to have a label on it. Yep, categorize it, create a new sub genre, and market it, right? Problem is, we forget where all of this came from – rock n’ roll. Thankfully, there’s people like Luther Russell who still know how to deliver the goods – no bullshit, no agenda, no Auto Tune, just guys capturing a spirit. That’s what his latest long-player, Medium Cool, is all about.

Russell is not a household name, but he’s kept some good company over the years. He and Jakob Dylan were bandmates before the Wallflowers, he teamed with guys from the Black Crowes in another underrated group, and he frequently collaborates with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. He’s released a string of albums that have explored many different styles, yet never straying too far from straight-ahead rock. We talked with him in 2018 about his 2-disc anthology called Selective Memories

While his more recent releases have been heavily-produced affairs, Medium Cool is more stripped down, you can hear the sound of the amps echoing off the walls. And the title of the album is perfect for the music that lurks inside – not over-polished or heavily-distorted – but Medium Cool…indeed.

The album opens with the mid-tempo rocker “Deep Feelings.” The groove, guitar licks and heavy drumming capture the spirit of Big Star’s “O My Soul” without directly copying anything. “Can’t Be Sad” features churning verses that morph into a great chiming chorus that reminds me of Elvis Costello’s early work. There’s also a nice, long jam at the end of the song.

Russell has a gift for painting these pictures of fractured individuals, like the girl who’s drawn toward “The Sound of Rock n’ Roll,” with lyrics like: “she’s all torn apart / cause the drummer broke her heart.” This one features some great harmonies too.

The real standout here is “Corvette Summer” – a track that could be mistaken for a lost hit song from 1978, blaring out the single speaker on the dash of your car radio (or 8-track player). It’s fueled by an absolutely killer riff that reminds you of something, but you can’t put your finger on it, and features some damn good soloing in the middle. Fully in the moment, we hear him shout “dammit” at the end.

Taking a break from the rock for something gentle, we get “At Your Feet,” a poignant number played on the 12-string.

“Have You Heard” kicks off “side two,” name checking cities like Brooklyn, San Francisco and Milwaukee. It’s a cross between the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.” “Sad Lady” features cowbell and some fine chord changes surrounding a driving rhythm. Russell turns in a somewhat fuck-it-all vocal performance on “Talking to Myself,” which is too bad, because it’s probably the best song on the album; plenty of jangly chords here. Closing off the record is another 12-string number, “Can’t Turn Away.”

What sets Luther Russell apart from a seemingly endless array of indie artists, is that he’s genuinely a rock n’ roll dude – not a college alternative guy with a beard posing as a rocker. All this comes through in his new record, Medium Cool. —Tony Peters

Two new Alex Chilton compilations show depth of artist (review)

Alex Chilton – Songs From Robin Hood Lane (Bar None)
Alex Chilton – From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar None)

A pair of new compilations focus on the multi-faceted career of this power pop legend

Mention Alex Chilton’s name and you usually think of his brilliantly melodic, yet criminally under-appreciated work with his band Big Star, or the sugary-sweet, blue-eyed soul of the Box Tops. Yet, if you look at his entire oeuvre, you’ll find a far more stylistically-diverse artist than he’s given credit for. There were times when Chilton seemed far more intent on shocking an audience than creating lasting music. He would often embrace his past, then disown it, sometimes in the same breath. Two new compilations from Bar None Records attempt to add some clarity to the twists and turns in Chilton’s long career. From Memphis to New Orleans chronicles his post-Seventies solo career, while Songs From Robin Hood Lane compiles the best of Chilton mining the jazz standards of his youth.

Songs From Robin Hood Lane seems light years away from Big Star, but this is what the young Chilton cut his teeth on.

Three tracks come from a one-off collaboration assembled by bassist Ron Miller, featuring multiple vocalists, called Medium Cool. The project released one album called Imagination, which served as a tribute to jazz trumpeter and crooner Chet Baker, who was enjoying a resurgence in popularity in 1991 (Chilton had often cited him as a big influence). The trio of songs Chilton recorded for the album: “That Old Feeling,” “Like Someone in Love,” and “Look For the Silver Lining,” definitely channel the late jazz legend in the cool, somewhat detached vocal delivery. All three tracks are augmented by excellent sax from Robert Arron. These are fairly hard to find, so it’s nice to have them available again.

A couple of years later, Miller reconvened the same backing band for a proposed full album of jazz standards featuring Chilton. The four songs from those sessions are all previously unreleased, but arguably are some of his finest performances of this genre. “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” (the Ray Charles’ song, not Gerry & the Pacemakers) is sweetened with a fantastic flute solo (also done by the multi-talented Arron), while “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Time After Time,” and “Save Your Love For Me” feature fine sax breaks. Chilton seems fully engaged here, his singing is passionate and soulful.

The remaining cuts come from a 1993 album called Clichés, which show a completely different side – Chilton alone, just vocals and guitar. This is some pretty heady material to tackle solo, yet he’s up to the challenge. Jazz chords adorn the extended opening to “Let’s Get Lost,” then he fluidly tackles “All of You.” He even whistles on the album’s closer, “What Was.”

From Memphis To New Orleans sums up Chilton’s mid-Eighties’ work, after returning home from a sabbatical in the Crescent City. He had left town after the noisy, unhinged Like Flies on Sherbet. The first four tracks come from 1985’s Feudalist Tart EP, and find him refocused. A pair of R&B covers track his journey – “B-A-B-Y” comes originally from Memphis native Carla Thomas, while “Thank You John,” now a Carolina Beach Music standard, was recorded by New Orleans’ own Willie Tee. Both these tracks are driven by a great horn section and fat bass.

“Lost My Job” was a biting Chilton original about his trials in cajun country, which features great harmonica and slide guitar, while “Paradise” sounds like a 1950’s country classic, but is actually another Chilton original.

“No Sex” is a blunt account of single life in the post-AIDS environment of 1986, featuring a honking sax, while “Underclass” is a self-deprecating slice of jump blues, featuring more great slide guitar.

There are no two songs that better sum up Chilton’s herky jerky career than the stripper anthem “Take it Off,” followed by the Skeeter Davis’ b-side “Let Me Get Close to You.” These both come from 1987’s High Priest, but damn – where the hell is he really going here? “Dalai Lama” is kind of The Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” turned inside out, while “Make a Little Love” is a somewhat goofy cover of an obscure song by Jimmy Holiday.

From the 1989 Blacklist EP comes a faithful cover of Ronny & the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” including the falsetto vocals, and, perhaps the best song on the entire set, “Guantanamerika,” which somehow name checks crop dusters and Tammy Faye Baker over one of the most melodic instrumentals he’s done in years. As an added bonus, Chilton does a respectful take on Charlie Rich’s Sun records’ nugget, “Lonely Weekends.”

Too often Alex Chilton’s solo output is summed up as “difficult” or “unfocused,” and while there was some of both of those elements at times, there’s still plenty of fantastic material to enjoy. From Memphis to New Orleans does a great job of grabbing the best of post-Big Star Alex Chilton, with plenty of surprises along the way. –Tony Peters

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