386 – John Hall of Orleans – New Holiday Album, New Star Shining

Orleans, formed in Woodstock, New York in the early Seventies, found success in the middle part of the decade with “Dance with Me” and “Still the One.” Founding member John Hall left in the late Seventies, scoring a Rock Radio hit with “Crazy (Keep on Falling)“ with his John Hall Band in 1981, while the rest of Orleans hit with “Love Takes Time” in 1979.

Hall became a US Representative for New York’s 19th Congressional District from 2007 to 2011. He documented all of this in Still the One: a Rock n’ Roll Journey to Congress and Back.

Now, Hall and his band mates in Orleans have put together their first-ever holiday album, called New Star Shining, which even features former lead vocalist Larry Hoppen on a couple of tracks.

We chat with John Hall about piecing the album together over email while COVID was raging, and the origins of the songs, some of which date back over 20 years. He also talks about the story behind “Half Moon,” a song he and his ex-wife, Johanna wrote for Janis Joplin.

NRBQ Dragnet (review)

NRBQ – Dragnet (Omnivore Recordings)

A new album from the Q?  Proof that the world isn’t ending…just yet!

Face it.  It’s been a tough couple of years.  The pandemic is still hanging around, yes.  But, we’ve also lost a lot of great, irreplaceable musicians.  Thankfully, the guys in NRBQ are still kickin,’ and they’ve just put together their first new album in seven years called Dragnet.

The band has spent the last few years looking backwards: first, issuing the fantastic, career-spanning box set, High Noon, in 2016, then a reissue campaign of some of their classic albums in 2018, and finally a rarities collection called In Frequencies in 2020.  The band did manage the five-song EP, Happy Talk in 2017, but Dragnet marks their first full-length in quite a long time.

And?  It’s everything we’ve come to love about NRBQ.

The album kicks off with the rockabilly-infused bit of weirdness, “Where’s My Pebble?” a song that could’ve easily been included on their debut, over 5 decades ago.  All four members contribute tracks to the project, and guitarist Scott Ligon turns in the catchy, country-flavored “I Like Her So Much.”  Drummer John Perrin penned the quaint “Memo Song.”

The band has always taken an “anything goes” approach to what gets included on their albums, and founder/keyboardist Terry Adams provides a lot of diversity, with the quirky “Miss Goody Two Shoes,” featuring a whacked out keyboard solo, being one example.

One of the highlights is Adams’ “You Can’t Change People”; it’s bouncing melody and sleigh bells make it sound like a Pet Sounds’ outtake, and the 12-string guitar solo is a nice touch.  The lyrics are certainly timely, with all the divisive air of today.  The song is a mere two minutes long with the resolution that “there ain’t nothing you can do / but let them exist.”  

The band has tackled TV themes before (their out-of-tune rendition of “Bonanza” from All Hopped Up comes to mind).  For “Dragnet,” they forgo the famous opening “bah, bah bah bum”and dive right into the next part of the song.  The track is powered by Casey McDonough’s bass, which sets the groove, before Adams’ adds a fuzzed-out, Clavinet solo, which Ligon answers with some tasty guitar work. 

One of the surprise tracks comes from McDonough:  “The Moon and Other Things” is a great ballad with some interesting chord changes, great harmonies on the chorus, and a nice acoustic solo in the middle.  “That Makes Me a Fool” sounds like a classic, supper-club jazz standard, but is in fact an original from Ligon, augmented by a beautiful Adams’ solo.  

The frenetic “Five More Miles” proves that the band can still exercise their free jazz side, while “L-O-N-E Lone-Ly” feels like a stream-of-consciousness piece with just Adams talking backed by a ticking clock and sparse piano. Not many songs capture the paranoia and despair brought on by the COVID pandemic better than this.  The album ends with “Sunflower,” at first just an Adams’ solo piece, but then the band joins, with Ligon mimicking his lyrics beautifully on guitar.  Yet, even that bit of beauty is brief.

The record is pretty short, clocking in at only 33 minutes.  I found myself going, “wait, that’s it”?  Which means, I just start the record over again, right?

Rockin, quirky, tender, with moments that still make you go “huh”? NRBQ still has it, and Dragnet is proof —Tony Peters

385 – Sue Foley – New album, Pinky’s Blues

Sue Foley has been putting out music for the last 30 years, issuing a remarkable 16 albums in that time.  She hails from Canada, but spent her formative years in Austin, soaking up the scene and playing with a host of legendary artists.  She’s won a Juno Award, many Maple Blues Awards, and most recently, A Blues Music Award in 2020, garnering the Koko Taylor award in the Traditional Blues Female category. 

When the pandemic hit, she grabbed her musicians and hunkered down in a Texas recording studio.  The result is Pinky’s Blues, named after her pink paisley Fender Telecaster, it’s some of the rawest, most immediate music she’s ever laid down.  She’s also hitting the road to play the album for the people.

Foley talks about working again with her friend, Jimmie Vaughan, on the song, “Hurricane Girl,” doing some interesting music videos for the song, and how she’s put together some basic guitar instructional videos that are available on YouTube.

The Beatles: Get Back (review)

Long and winding documentary might bore casuals, but will tantalize devoted fans

Despite what the commercials might suggest, The Beatles: Get Back isn’t for everybody.  An eight-hour movie (now available at Disney+) about the Beatles writing and recording an album will likely come off as utterly boring to most people, especially those who are not devoted fans of the band.  However, those who are, and those who are intrigued by the song creation process in general, will find this film highly rewarding, especially after repeated watching.  

Director Peter Jackson was tasked with wading through 60 hours of video footage and 150 hours of audio that was originally used to make the Let It Be album and film, which the Beatles were never satisfied with.  Jacksons goal?  To paint a more honest picture of what happened during the filming and recording of January 1969.  

Did he succeed?  Absolutely.

The video and audio restoration is staggering – you feel like you’re in the studio with them.  You also get a real feel for the individual Beatles as people – their humor, their warmth, their quirks.  You also get to know the people surrounding them – especially Beatles’ roadie Mal Evans, who is at the band’s beck and call.  Yes, Yoko is ever present.  But, you see that she and John are truly in love.  Photographer Linda Eastman (soon to be McCartney) drops by to take pictures and is filmed snuggling with Paul. 

There’s a fantastic scene with Linda’s daughter Heather, who’s just a child, dancing and carrying on in the studio.  Yoko starts singing and Heather’s look in response is just priceless. The little girl floats from band member to band member, and it’s really cute.

The movie is broken down into three parts.  But, be forewarned: the first segment is unfortunately the hardest to get into.  This is the footage filmed on the Twickenham soundstage and it’s largely full of endless noodling, with some arguing and flashes of brilliance thrown in for good measure.  But, realizing that “All Things Must Pass,” from George Harrison, “Another Day” from Paul McCartney, and “Gimme Some Truth” and “Jealous Guy” from John Lennon, all originated during these Get Back sessions is really cool.  Part one closes with Harrison quitting the band.

Part two is where things really start cooking.  Harrison returns, and soon enlists Billy Preston to help out on keyboards.  This immediately lightens the mood, as does the change of venue, from the cold, cavernous Twickenham soundstage to the newly-built Apple Studios.  The Beatles rise to the occasion, and the results are really good music.

The real highlight of part two is a never-before-heard exchange between McCartney and Lennon while eating lunch (the filmmakers had somehow placed a hidden microphone on the table where they were dining).  In it, Lennon humbles McCartney, telling him that he’s being too bossy toward Harrison, and really everyone.  

Part three’s high point is the historic rooftop concert.  Here’s where the filmmakers really shine, utilizing numerous camera angles, footage from down on the street and in the Apple offices.  It’s a spine-tingling bit of cinematography.  Truly capturing that magical, final time the Beatles’ played live as a band.  

There’s so many little bits of things that go by so quickly in the movie, you might miss them the first time.  For instance, Lennon coming in one morning raving about seeing Fleetwood Mac on television the previous night and how the singer sang “soft.”  Or Harrison helping Starr finish his “Octopus’ Garden.” 

Lennon is definitely high at least some of the time, and there are parts where he’s too enraptured with Yoko to contribute, while Harrison is often bristly.  Ringo Starr is seen sleeping several times, while McCartney is undeniably in charge of the proceedings, coming off as bossy, but certainly backing it up by introducing a string of fantastic new songs.  Despite their differences, it’s incredible when they all come together and the music is clicking.  There’s also plenty of laughs between all four members dispelling the notion that there was nothing but animosity during these recordings.

I watched my copy of the original Let It Be movie (on Beta!) to compare.  Jackson purposely used different footage wherever possible, so as not to “step on Let It Be’s toes.”  Still, the original, 80-minute film, while somewhat bleak, stands up.  It’s obviously more to the point, but also more music-centric.  If there’s one fault with Get Back, it’s that whenever the guys are really cooking with a song, it always seems to get cut short.  While in Let It Be, they let the full versions of songs play.  There’s also renditions of “Besame Mucho” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me” that didn’t make the 8-hour cut, along with a far-superior version of George’s “I Me Mine.”  

Word is that Let It Be will finally get reissued, in remastered form, when Get Back hits DVD status.

The real triumph of Get Back isn’t so much the music, we’ve all heard it over and over, it’s in the rare opportunity to really get to know the personalities of the Beatles, not as gods, but as human beings (human beings that smoke A LOT).  Get Back isn’t the kind of film to just veg to, you’ve really got to pay attention.  But, if you’re present, there’s a lot to love here.  —Tony Peters

384 – Photographer Lisa S. Johnson – Immortal Axes – Guitars That Rock, Featuring Hendrix, Cobain, Lennon, Gilmour, Page and More

Back in 2013, photographer Lisa S. Johnson released 108 Rock Star Guitars, and it was a unique book. She photographed some of the most hallowed guitars in history from the likes of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Keith Richards. But, she went a step further, often zooming in on a worn fretboard, or flipping the guitar over to see sweat stains on the back of the body. By focusing on each guitar as a piece of art, it gave us a deeper appreciation for both the instrument, and the artist who played it.

Now, Johnson is back with another fantastic guitar book, Immortal Axes, Guitars That Rock from Princeton Architectural Press,  and she’s captured some great ones, among them, the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock, Duane Allman’s Les Paul, Kurt Cobain’s smashed but repaired Strat, even John Lennon’s acoustic that he played during his “Bed In For Peace.” The 388, full color, hardback book is out from Princeton Architectural Press and would make a great gift for any guitar enthusiast.

We talked how Johnson tracked down many of these guitars, including one of her idols, Joan Jett. Plus, we talk Peter Frampton, who wrote the foreword, and Suzi Quatro, who penned the Afterword, and how the two are related.

More info can be found at immortalaxes.com

Seminal Albums From Buck Owens are finally back in print

Nine classic records are making their digital and CD debut

Omnivore continues their association with the Buck Owens’ Estate by reissuing a whopping nine Owens’ albums, spanning 1968-1974.  Each set comes with an essay from Owens’ biographer Randy Poe, with excerpts from the autobiography Buck ‘Em.  Also included in each booklet are photos, trade magazine ads, vintage fan club applications and other rare goodies.  This era spans the time right before and while he was a host of the popular variety show, Hee Haw.

Driven.

After immersing in these reissues, that’s the first word that comes to mind.  Buck Owens was driven like no other artist.  In 1968, he issued no less than FOUR albums, with the majority of the songs written or co-written by Owens.  He was also touring and owned his own management company and was developing other artists.  Oh, he was also a hit star on television.  Whew!

With all this activity, you might think that the quality of these recordings is sub par.  No way.  Each one of these albums has some merit, and many of them stand alongside his finest work.  Above all, you see that Buck was obsessed with how his songs did on the Country charts – if it didn’t go Number One, it was a failure.  Here’s our notes from each individual album:

Sweet Rosie Jones (1968)

Leads with “Hello Happiness, Goodbye Loneliness,” the kind of catchy song that Owens could write in his sleep.  “Sweet Rosie Jones” is a classic tale of love gone wrong, complete with a spoken last verse.  One of the few songs that Owens didn’t write here is “Swinging Doors.”  Of course done by former Buckaroo Merle Haggard.  But, Buck’s version is more subdued, and less rockin’  Another great one is “You’ll Never Miss the Water (Til the Well Runs Dry)” featuring great harmonies and steel guitar.  “Sally, Mary and Jerry” is a great take on gossip.  I like the clever use of handclaps that help bridge the different parts of “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone,”  while “Leave Me Something to Remember You By” is a great tearjerker.  Another highlight is “The Girl on Sugar Pie Lane.” The album closes with “Happy Times Are Here Again.”  

I’ve Got You on My Mind Again (1968)

Part of Owens’ signature sound was how he boosted the high frequencies, check out the way the piano sounds on the leadoff title track.  “Let the World Keep on a Turnin” features guest vocals from Buck’s son, Buddy Alan,  Another great sad one is “Don’t Let True Love Slip Away.”  Another duet is “I’ll Love You Forever and Ever,” with its signature, high energy tempo.  There are a few cringe-worthy moments – Owens is a little creepy on “Love is Me” – he just overdoes the vocals.  But, I love “Alabama, Louisiana or Maybe Tennessee.”  This also marked the first time in a long while where Owens approved background vocals, done by the legendary Jordanaires and Anita Kerr Singers.

Tall Dark Stranger (1969)

The album has a Spanish overtone with the guitar.  It’s interesting because this sounds more like a Marty Robbins record from the early Sixties than a typical Owens’ album.  The Tall Dark Stranger was first introduced on the song, “Sweet Rosie Jones.”  Owens decided to revisit this mysterious gentleman.  I like how the background vocals echo “danger” – a very classic, Western-style element.  “There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made” has some great harmonies and pedal steel.  The finest track here is “White Satin Bed,” where Owens’ vocals really shine.  It’s a tale of a poor man who’s looking forward to lying in a casket, because it’s the first time he’s ever slept somewhere comfortable.  “Darlin,’ You Can Depend on Me” revisits the fast/slow/fast tempo changes first introduced on his hit, “Before You Go.”  Owens would try just about anything in a country song, take the waltz tempo of “Hurtin’ Like I’ve Never Hurt Before,” or the strings, brass and a large vocal ensemble of the final song, “But You Know I Love You.”  

Your Mother’s Prayer (1970)

Owen’s second foray into Gospel music, this album was also the first to not hit the Country charts, ending a seven year run.  Perhaps the overexposure of his weekly appearance on Hee Haw was taking its toll?  Despite its relative commercial disappointment, there’s still a lot of great material here.  I really like the harmonies of Owen’s original, “The Great Judgement Day.”  Earl Poole Ball contributes some great piano work, heard prominently on “That Old Time Religion,” but is sprinkled throughout the entire album.  He does an interesting take on “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” I like the way the steel guitar echoes the chorus, “bah, bah-bah.”  There’s some tasty fiddle that drives “That Lonesome Valley,” while “That Sunday Feeling” might as well be a secular song, it’s sung with the same fervor as his hits.  “My Savior Leads the Way” is fueled by a bouncing bassline.  Overall, a pretty solid listen. And, the booklet reprints Owen’s mom’s original prayer to him.

The Kansas City Song (1970)

The title song is a little too sugary, with a glutton of background vocals, and a goofy organ.  One by one, the original Buckaroos were exiting, and the accompaniment sounds a little less cohesive on this one. There’s more songs about places, like “(It’s a Long Way To) Londontown,” “Amsterdam,” and “The Wind Blows Every Day in Oklahoma,” but nothing really stands out.  Better is the waltz tempo of “Black Texas Dirt,” and the instrumental “Scandinavian Polka” is good fun.  Things finally catch fire on “You Can’t Make Nothin’ Out of That But Love” – Owens finally sounds energized here, and I really like the bridge where everything drops out but the drums and bass.  And the goofy minstrel number, “Full Time Daddy,” wasn’t going to help him regain any credibility.

I Wouldn’t Live in New York City (1970)

Owens continued his fascination with doing songs about places, but the title song was better than anything on his previous album.  There’s a great story about what inspired the song in the liner notes.  And, talk about authentic – he recorded his lead vocal, right there on the streets of Manhattan! (you can hear a police siren right near the end).  He chose to add sound effects to every song, adding casino sounds to “Reno Lament,” but sometimes they’re just too distracting, like the train effects on “Down n New Orleans,” or the cattle sounds on the revamped “The Kansas City Song.” He also retooled songs from previous albums – “The Wind Blows Every Day in Chicago” was actually “Oklahoma,” while “Amsterdam” became “Houston Town.” The best song is saved for last – the heartfelt “Big in Vegas” – it became Owens’ biggest song in quite some time.

In the Palm of Your Hand (1973)

His best album in several years, this record is full of great songs.  It also featured his final number one hit, the fantastic “Made in Japan,” a clever recording full of Farfisa organ and guitars that give it an Asian feel.  But, that’s just the beginning.  “Arms Full of Empty” is classic, upbeat Bakersfield goodness, while “Sweethearts in Heaven” is midtempo, driven by pedal steel.  Another good example is “You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck to Kick Around No More” – with a title like this, things could’ve easily fallen into parody, but Owens instead plays it straight and sincere, like his classic recordings.  Everything here works, whether it’s the sad “Something’s Wrong” or the rockin’ “A Whole Lot of Somethin,’” everything is firing on all cylinders. “There Goes My Love” is another standout.

Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie (1973)

The title song is classic, upbeat Buck, complete with steel guitar and Don Rich harmonies. Some of the record plods along – “Long Hot Summer” just kinda lays there, while “She’s Had all the Dreamin’ She Can Stand” is slightly better, but “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)” just doesn’t sound sincere.  “You’re Monkey Won’t Be Home Tonight” is decent, but there’s something missing here.  Things are a little too polished, and Owens’ voice sometimes is mixed too loud, like on “I Know That You Know That I Care.”  “When You Come Back From Nashville” does have some fine harmonies.  Actually, the best was saved for last.  “When You Get to Heaven (I’ll Be There)” is spirited and good fun.  The album is also significant for the inclusion of the original version of “The Streets of Bakersfield,” an LP cut that he’d later revisit in a duet with Dwight Yoakam.  

It’s a Monster’s Holiday (1974)

The last album featuring longtime Buckaroo, Don Rich, who would pass away from a motorcycle accident before it got released, this record is still one of the better of his latter-day Capitol releases.  Of note is the title song, which is good fun.  I’m kinda surprised this doesn’t get played around Halloween.  If it does, I’ve never heard it on the radio.  Also notable is “On the Cover of the Music City News,” a rewrite of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.” There’s some good cover tunes too – he does Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” and Charley Pride’s “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” – neither outdo the original, but they help keep the album interesting.  “Great Expectations” is one of Owen’s best ballads from this period.  Rich’s death would rob Owens of the man who provided all those unique harmonies on every single one of his hit songs, not to mention his impeccable guitar playing.  Owens really never recovered after that. –Tony Peters

383 – Bob Heimall – Cover Stories Book, Featuring the Doors, Carly Simon, Jim Croce, John Lennon & More

Artwork in music is mostly an afterthought these days. A small, thumbnail photo shows up when we stream a song from our phone. But, for decades when vinyl was king, album covers played a crucial role in the success of a record. Think about what Sgt. Pepper or Led Zeppelin IV or Dark Side of the Moon would be without the packaging.

Bob Heimall was responsible for creating some of the most iconic LP art from artists like the Doors, Carly Simon, Jim Croce and John Lennon, and he showcases it in his book, Cover Stories – Tales of Rock Legends and the Albums That Made Them Famous.

He talks about taking a job with Elektra Records and almost immediately dealing with Jim Morrison and the Doors. He also tells us how he helped Carly Simon, who was a brand new artist at the time, develop her image. He also talks about having to put together albums from Jim Croce and John Lennon after both passed away.

Jefferson Starship rocks sidney

Jefferson Starship – Sidney High School – 10/24/21

Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Mickey Thomas – Jefferson Starship has had some extraordinary vocalists pass through their band.

Add Cathy Richardson to the list.

The 52-year old singer played the lead role in the off-Broadway musical, Love Janis, several years ago, then joined J. Starship back in 2008. Her voice is a force of nature.

On a rainy, Sunday night about an hour north of Dayton, I was not sure what to expect here.

The band opened with “Find Your Way Back,” and I swear it sounded like Thomas was up there singing. I’m not talking about direct copying, but Richardson just nailed it. She seems to know just what to give each song. She was tender on “Miracles,” yet boisterous on “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”

David Freiberg, the remaining founding member, is 31 years Richardson’s senior (!), but was absolutely amazing as well. His role in the band has changed over the years, sometimes playing bass or keyboards in the past, but here he sang.

And boy did he sing.

The band paid tribute to those great Balin ballads, like “Count on Me,” “With Your Love,” and “Runaway,” and the 83-year old sang every one of them. And those songs aren’t easy to pull off.

Jefferson Starship is touring in support of an album they released last year called Mother of the Sun, and the pair of tunes, “It’s About Time” (sung by Richardson, and co-written by Grace Slick), and “Setting Sun” (written and sung by Freiberg), fit in excellently with the band’s older material.

Guitarist Jude Gold gave a nod to the Airplane days, taking a solo performance of “Embroynic Journey” (which originally appeared on the album Surrealistic Pillow).

Freiberg sang the rocker “Jane,” which he co-wrote, before they unleashed their show-stopper – Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” – and Richardson just let her voice loose on their one. Just wow.

Even though the band has gone through multiple lineup changes, they are obviously in the capable hands of the stellar Richardson and the ageless Freiberg (who’s FIVE years older than Mick Jagger).

I was thoroughly impressed. This incarnation of Jefferson Starship is the real deal. —Tony Peters

382 – Cathy Richardson & David Freiberg of Jefferson Starship – New album, Mother of the sun, Tour

Jefferson Starship has gone through a lot of changes over the years. First, rising from the ashes of the previous Jefferson Airplane, it was a vehicle for Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg.

Over the years, and numerous lineup changes, the band scored many hits, like “Miracles,” “Count on Me,” “Find Your Way Back,” and “Jane,” which was co-written by Freiberg.

The band is currently out on the road in support of their brand new album called Mother of the Sun, and from the band, we welcome David Freiberg and vocalist Cathy Richardson.

We talk the new album, which features several nods to the past, including a brand new song, “It’s About Time,” co-written with Slick, and another song written by former vocalist Marty Balin. The album also features a live version of “Embryonic Journey,” a song dating all the way back to the Jefferson Airplane days.

381 – Chris Hillman – Time Between: Autobiography is Now an Audiobook and Paperback

Chris Hillman is one of the unsung heroes of popular music. Starting out as bassist for the Byrds, the band was part of the American answer to the Beatles, electrifying the lyrics of Bob Dylan on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but showing they could write trailblazing material of their own in songs like “Eight Miles High.”

Hillman introduced Gram Parsons to the band and their all-country Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the result. Hillman followed Parsons to the Flying Burrito Brothers, also took part in the Stephen Stills-led Manassas, recorded some solo records and eventually found surprising success on the country charts with the Desert Rose Band in the 1980’s. Hillman chronicled all of this in Time Between – My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond from BMG Books, now out in paperback, and as an audio book, narrated by the author, from Random House Audio.

He talks about recording little snippets of songs he was involved in exclusively for the audio book. He also tells us about a pivotal session he did with Hugh Masekela that helped give him confidence as a musician. And, he discusses the anniversary concert for Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

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