Skeeter Davis & NRBQ – She Sings, They Play (review)

Skeeter Davis & NRBQ – She Sings, They Play (Omnivore Recordings)

Great fun – truly a lost classic – back in print

On paper, this might be one of the strangest pairings in popular music: country star Skeeter Davis and genre-hopping bandits NRBQ.  Yet, after a closer look, it makes perfect sense.  Davis remains the only artist in the history of the Billboard singles to have a Top 5 hit on four distinctively different charts at the same time: Country, Pop, Easy Listening, and, most impressively, R&B.  The song in question was “The End of the World,” and it became Davis’ signature song.

One might expect that NRBQ might tone things down in the presence of country royalty, but you’d be wrong.  One of the reasons this pairing works so well is that both artists get to be totally themselves. 

The album opens with “Things to You,” a song originally included on the Q’s album All Hopped Up from 1977.  This version has a more relaxed feel and Skeeter’s vocal and harmonies elevate it to new levels. That’s followed by the very funny Davis original, “Everybody Wants a Cowboy,” – I love the lyric “I just saw John Travolty / now he’s a cowboy too.”  It’s a juiced-up, twangy good time.  

Next is the Joey Spampinato composition, “I Can’t Stop Loving You Now,” which despite the pedal steel, is still an NRBQ song through and through (Davis and Spampinato would eventually marry).  “Heart to Heart” is an excellent duet between Davis and Al Anderson, then she teams with Terry Anderson on “Ain’t Nice To Talk Like That,” complete with a trombone solo!

Davis wrote the autobiographical “Everybody’s Clown,” which hits pretty close to anyone that’s been a musician, it’s very lonely on the road.  Any fan of NRBQ knows that each album contains at least one curveball – and in this case, a hopped up, 4/4 reading of the jazz standard, “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  Then comes the acoustic, Adams’ ballad, “How Many Tears.”  

There are several bonus tracks that really enhance things.  “I Want You Bad” shows off Davis’ versatility  – she really rocks up this track that first appeared on NRBQ’s At Yankee Stadium album.  There’s also several bonus live cuts from a Bottom Line concert from 1985.  It’s cute to hear Skeeter surprised that anyone in the audience remembers her “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” song from 1964.

Above all, there’s humor that runs throughout the proceedings – you can tell that everyone was having a blast.  This pairing worked so well, it’s a shame it only happened once.  But She Sings, They Play marks one of the greatest achievements for both Skeeter Davis and NRBQ.  —Tony Peters

JM Stevens – Nowhere to Land (review)


JM Stevens – Nowhere to Land (East Austin Recording)

Excellent second album from Texas songwriter

Simplicity is difficult to master in songwriting. Being able to say something in a conversational manner is a gift few artists do well.  Tom Petty was perhaps the greatest at this.  John Mellencamp also comes to mind.  Add Austin native JM Stevens to that list.  His sophomore album, Nowhere to Land, is full of gentle, yet infectious songs that are immediately relatable.  

The album starts with “Dry Creek.”  Fueled by a slinky beat and great guitar work, it certainly could be his “Covid song,” as he sings “as I lay in wait / for what is sure to come / uncertainty everywhere / got a hold on everyone.”  But that “dry creek was once water under the bridge.”

“Cherry Sunburst” might sound like a love song, but it’s in fact about falling in love with a guitar and “caressing your curves.”  Nice!  While “Someday I Will See You” deals with the chance of running into an old lover at various places.  The rhythm and wordplay are reminiscent of Jackson Browne’s best work.

Every one of us has stared at our phone wondering “Why Won’t You Call.”  I absolutely love the lines “I heard you sneakin in / Guess you forgot to WD40 the hinge.”  Stevens voice is particularly strong and clear on the harmony-laden “Nowhere to Land” which features the excellent words of wisdom “it’s hard to find the words to say / so I’m gonna do less looking and more listening today.”  We all could learn more from this.  

Each song has a little extra something to give it a boost.  Take “After the Storm,” another song about carrying on after tragedy, which features great National guitar and accordion, while there’s excellent pedal steel on “Makin’ the Rounds.” 

“With You in the Morning” has a soulful groove and is one of the strongest tracks here.  The album closes with a sentiment we all can relate to, time moving “Too Fast For Me.”  

Nowhere to Land features 10 songs that never overstay their welcome, yet their songs linger long after you’ve hit the stop button.  —Tony Peters

426 – Marshall Chess – New Moves: The Chess Project, and New YouTube Channel & Podcast

Marshall Chess has a long history in the blues.  His father, Leonard, was one of the co-founders of Chess Records, the influential record label responsible for exposing the music of artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson to larger audience.  Marshall produced the trailblazing Electric Mud from Muddy Waters, and the Howlin’ Wolf Album, both were attempts to reinterpret the blues to then current psychedelic rock era.  He was the first president of Rolling Stones Records, and worked on several films, including Cadillac Records, which was based on his family’s record label. 

Now comes New Moves – The Chess Project, several decades in the making.  Once again, Marshall is reinterpreting the music his family helped nurture, this time for the modern age.  With Keith LeBlanc producing, they’ve assembled a top-notch collection of musicians, reimagining songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and more. 

Marshall also has a YouTube Channel celebrating the Chess history, and a podcast, where he tells many of the great stories of his life. 

Craft Recordings Has an Impressive Lineup For Record Store Day (review)

Highlights include Bill Evans, Collective Soul, Filter, and the Orca Soundtrack!

With the the return of vinyl, Craft Recordings have distanced themselves from the pack, both in attention to detail and diversity. Their 2024 offerings for Record Store Day are no exception.

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans 

Certainly the crown jewel of the four releases, Everybody Digs Bill Evans is not just one of the pianist’s best LPs, it’s also considered one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.  Widely available only in stereo, Craft has tracked down the rare, mono mix, and it’s available in limited quantities for Record Store Day. 

The mono mix gives everything a unique feel – more cohesive.  The bass is more felt than heard.  There’s also subtle differences in a few of the songs, not different takes, but edited differently.  Right away with the first track, “Minority,” there’s a drum part at the beginning that is not present on the common, stereo mix.  And, oddly, “Night and Day” is actually shorter.

Featuring Sam Jones on bass and Philly Jo Jones on drums, Everybody Digs was Evans’ second album as bandleader, recorded the same year that Evans participated in the groundbreaking Kind of Blue sessions for Miles Davis.  

The album jacket is also a curiosity – featuring praise from Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal and Cannonball Adderley on the front cover.  This edition was transferred totally in analog and features a heavy-grade, tip on jacket.

Collective Soul – Dosage

This marks the first-ever vinyl release of the platinum, fourth album from Collective Soul.  Stylistically a shift from their previous releases, there was an emphasis on more intricate arrangements, loops, and a heavier use of strings.  

With all the success Collective Soul had achieved on Rock radio, especially with their second album, and singles like “December,” “The World I Know,” and “Gel,” you could say that the band was getting over-exposed.  Which is a shame, because Dosage may be their best album.  

The record opens with the trippy, “Tremble For My Beloved,” which reminds me of “Zoo Station” by U2 in the looping percussion and slashing guitars. That’s followed by the album’s first single, “Heavy,” which set a record (at the time) for most weeks at #1 (15).  

“No More, No Less” is driven by a funky bassline and features a great chorus and guitar solo.  The strings really elevate the ballad, “Needs,” where Ed Rowland shows off his falsetto.  Side one ends with the Sgt. Pepper-sounding, “Dandy Life,” giving lead guitarist Ross Childress a chance to sing. 

I’ve never had an album with a shorter run-out.  The last note of “Dandy” hits, and the needle is immediately is at the end of the record.  The reason is perhaps that this album, clocking in at over 50 minutes, is pretty long for a single, vinyl record.

Side two starts with one of the band’s best singles, the shimmering, acoustic-led, “Run.”  Other highlights include the psychedelic-tinged “Compliment,” and the piano-infused ballad, “Not the One.”  After the final track, “Crown,” there’s a pause, then a hidden track, “She Said,” which was originally included on the Scream 2 Soundtrack.  Honestly, you can really hear a drop in fidelity as I think they’re really squeezing about as much audio as possible in the grooves.

This special, Record Store Day release is pressed on translucent, lemonade vinyl, and includes an inner sleeve with all the lyrics.

While Dosage came at a point where the rock audience may have grown weary of them, giving it a listen 25 years later, it’s an excellent collection of songs, and possibly their best album ever.

Orca Soundtrack (Varese Sarabrande)

Although an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of Jaws by upping the deep sea villain from a shark to a killer whale, and failing badly (the film has a measly 9 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes).  The fact is, the film’s score is pretty interesting. The movie music was helmed by Ennio Morricone, who is best known for his spaghetti western soundtracks, including his most famous composition, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”  

The soundtrack starts with the majestic “Orca (Main Title),” then shifts to ominous foreboding with “Early Ices,” then sad, wordless singing on “Intermezzo.”  Things heat up with “The Fight, the Victory, the Death,” which has a classic, slasher film feel, with cutting sound effects, before giving way to the very odd, lounge feel of “A Ball at Home,” the only track that truly feels dated and out of place.

Side two opens with the lonesome oboe of “Nocturne For a Remorse,” then “Attack and Mistake,” which does have a Jaws’ feel to it, with the deep, brooding strings.  Things close with the majestic, “Orca Finale (End Titles).”  

The soundtrack is making its North American debut on vinyl in a “blood in the water” colored edition.  The set also includes a fold out movie poster (way cool!).

The soundtrack itself sounds fantastic – jumping out of the speakers. If you’re a fan of classic film music, check this one out.

Filter – The Very Best of Things (1995-2008)

First time on vinyl, this collection contains material from Richard Patrick and Co’s first four albums, plus songs only available on movie soundtracks.  Several tracks are the hard-to-find single edits.  

The set opens with the band’s smash debut 1995 single, “Hey Man, Nice Shot,” then weaves through 1999’s “Welcome to the Fold,” and then a pair of soundtrack-only songs, “Jurassitol“ from The Crow: City of Angels, and “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do” from Spawn: The Album, featuring the Crystal Method.

Side two opens with the surprise ballad, “Take a Picture.”  The collection isn’t sequenced chronologically, and that makes for a more interesting listen.  One surprise is the odd cover of the Three Dog Night hit, “One,” off The X Files.

Pressed on mercury swirl vinyl, it will not only sound good, it will look super cool on your turntable as well. –Tony Peters

425 – Tom Rush – First New Album in Five Years – Gardens Old, Flowers New

Tom Rush pretty much pioneered the folk movement of the early Sixties, issuing his debut album in 1962.  He’s also credited with putting compositions by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor on album for the first time, with his LP The Circle Game in 1968. 

We talked with Tom back in 2018 when he issued his album Voices.  Well, he’s back with his first new record in five years out called Gardens Old, Flowers New.  

He talks about how he unearthed one of the songs on the new album from a live recording from 50 years ago. Also, how he wrote a song for his daughter when she was young (now she’s grown up), and how he never intended that one to be on an album. He also talks about Rockport Sundays, a program he started during Covid, where he invites many of his musical friends to play and tell stories.

The Stylistics – Love is Back in Style (review)

The Stylistics – Love is Back in Style (Omnivore Recordings)

Philly soul stalwarts updated for the Nineties

The Stylistics had a string of hits in the early Seventies that were unparalleled in their sultriness.  Led by the unmistakable soaring vocals of Russell Thompkins Jr, and flanked by Airrion Love and Herb Murrell, each single was enveloped in lush arrangements courtesy of producer Thom Bell.  “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” “You Are Everything,” and “Break Up to Make Up” are just a few of their numerous offerings.  

Love is Back in Style reunites the trio of vocalists for the final time, for an album issued originally in 1996.  Led by producer Preston Glass, the idea was to update the group’s sound for the then-current times, while also retaining what made them legends in the first place.

First off, Thompkins is absolutely fabulous here.  Over two decades had passed since their heyday, yet his voice is angelic as ever.  The album opens with “I Once Had a Love,” which successfully recreates that signature sound, right down to the electric sitar, strings and uncanny chord structure, all done over a slow jam tempo.  This could’ve easily been a hit if it had been issued during their peak years.

Even more of a treat is hearing their sound updated.  “She’s All That” has a juiced-up digital groove, and gasp! a rap in the middle.  Thompkins voice absolutely soars on another ballad, “Shoulder,” where he shares vocals with Love, while “Keeping You To Your Promise” is spine-tingling good.  “Have You Ever Been in Love” sounds like another lost track from the Seventies.  

While I like the upbeat tracks, they do all have a sameness to them, especially the beat, which kind of makes them blend together.  But, let’s be honest here: the Stylistics were never known for their peppy material. Their wheelhouse is sweet, sexy ballads, and there are plenty of them here.

Another standout is “Love Can Heal a Wounded Heart,” which actually features all three vocalists, Thompkins, Love and Murrell.  “You Must Love Loneliness” is a happy medium; it’s got a beat, but still retains the fire of the ballads.

As a bonus, there’s a remix of “She’s All That” which features rapper Biggy Smallz.

Love Is Back in Style originally came out on the small Marathon Records and quickly disappeared.  Kudos to Omnivore for unearthing this lost treasure.  Fans of Philly soul take notice.  This album is surprisingly solid.  —Tony Peters

424 – Van Duren – Archival Release of Underrated Band, Good Question, Entitled Cartwheeling: Live in Memphis

Memphis musician Van Duren was the subject of a recent documentary called Waiting: the Van Duren Story, available to rent at most streaming services.  Omnivore Recordings released an excellent summation of Duren’s career in the form of the documentary soundtrack, then issued his first two solo albums in 2020. 

Next up is Cartwheeling: Live in Memphis, showcasing Duren and his underrated band, Good Question, recorded in an intimate setting amongst friends and family back in 1992. Duren talks about events leading to the concert and why the tapes lay dormant for over 30 years. He also reveals why they chose to cover “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

Duren also tells a great story about having Ringo Starr show up at one of his gigs.

The Korgis – Orchestrations (review)

The Korgis – with the Rialto Symphony Orchestra – Orchestrations (Omnivore Recordings)

Strings replace synths, with satisfying results

The Korgis had a worldwide smash in 1980 with the ethereal, synth pop track, “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.”  That song has continued to be covered from artists like Beck, and Zucchero & Vanessa Carlton.  Orchestrations features, you guessed it, new renditions of 10 Korgis’ songs, set to symphonic arrangements.  

Admittedly, I only knew that one track from the Korgis – yet, after diving in, the rest of the band’s catalog is very solid as well, and deserving of a deeper look.

“Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” sounds sweeping and grand in this setting – absolutely gorgeous.  There’s even an additional, “lost” second verse.  If you only know the Korgis for their one big hit, you’re in for a treat.  “All the Love in the World” is a tender ballad, while their first UK hit, “If I Had You,” has great harmonies to augment the orchestration.

“Something About the Beatles” deals the death of John Lennon and the indelible mark his band left on us all.  “The Best Thing You Can Do Is Love Someone,” a more recent composition, is a simple prayer for peace during these divisive times.  “Bringing Back the Spirit of Love” is a more upbeat track with a similar message.

If there’s one word to describe this, I’d go with cinematic.  

A note about the vocals – from what I can discern from the liner notes, these are new recordings (sometimes, as in the recent Elvis with the symphony disc, an old vocal was pasted over new orchestrations).  In this case, these are new renditions.  I have to say, if that is true, James Warren sounds absolutely fantastic on vocals.  His soaring voice has lost nothing over the years.

If you’re a fan of Eighties’ synth pop, there’s a lot here to love about Orchestrations.   —Tony Peters

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The Babys – Live at the Bottom Line, 1979 (review)

The Babys – Live at the Bottom Line, 1979 (Omnivore Recordings)

Proof that they could rock!

The Babys are largely remembered as the band that helped start John Waite’s long musical career.  But, as a brand new, archival live album reveals,  The Babys should be taken more seriously on their own.

Live at the Bottom Line, 1979, finds the British/American band on a rare headlining gig during a US tour mostly supporting other acts, like Alice Cooper and Styx.  The group had just issued their third (and finest) album, Head First, and not surprisingly, it’s the main focus of this set.

The show kicks off with the appropriate, pounding title track from that new LP.  Waite sounds great, maybe a little raspy from the extended road trip?  The band featured both lead guitar and keyboards, and it’s an interesting dynamic, especially on songs like “Give Me All Your Love” and “Run to Mexico,” which are augmented by a clavinet.  A real highlight is the very melodic “California,” which should’ve been a single.

The band’s latest single was the ballad, “Everytime I Think of You,” and it’s interesting to hear Waite’s breathy vocal here.  Plus, not sure who the girl who provides the additional vocal on the chorus is, but it’s fantastic.  This version really rocks.

The brooding “Stick to Your Guns” features someone else singing, and is a totally unreleased Babys’ track – it never appeared anywhere in studio form, that I can find.  Another treat is “Crystal Ball” which would be retitled “Anytime” for their next record.  After an interesting keyboard flourish from new member, Jonathan Cain (who later joined Journey), they launch into their other big ballad, “Isn’t It Time” – here, a little rough and ragged, which gives it more heat. There’s also a nice, extended guitar solo at the end too.

As the concert nears the end, they dig all the way back to their debut for the excellent “Lookin’ For Love.”  And, it wouldn’t be the 70’s without an extended drum solo!  The set ends with a rousing cover of “Money,” which gives Waite a chance to introduce everyone in the band, before the guys encore with another unreleased track, “Loaded.”

Often lumped in with other glam bands, Live at the Bottom Line, 1979, proved that the Babys could definitely rock.  —Tony Peters

Whitesnake – The Purple Album (Special Gold Vinyl Edition) (Review)

Whitesnake: The Purple Album (Special Gold Edition) (Rhino Records)

By Ann Stevens 

It’s not unusual for mothers to have keepsakes of their kid’s childhood. A drawing, a baby tooth or maybe a lock of hair. But if your David Coverdale’s mum or “mam” as he calls her, you keep handwritten lyrics. Some people may not know that Coverdale’s first rock band was Deep Purple and he found some of those original DP lyrics in a trunk of his mom’s personal belongings that was in storage. What a find!

Released in Rocktober 2023, the special 2-LP gold color vinyl reissue of the 2015 Purple Album is “thing of beauty” and “beyond sexy,” according to Coverdale, who marks his 50th anniversary of joining Deep Purple. There are several forms to listen to the Purple Album reissue: digital, Blue Ray and the LP. Each contains revisited, remixed and remastered songs, expanded for each edition with some previously unreleased material.

Inside the double jacket of the album, Coverdale tells the tale of how Jon Lord wanted to have a Deep Purple reunion and how Coverdale wished to make amends with Ritchie Blackmore with a collaborative effort that never was able to come to fruition.

Not deterred, Coverdale went forth with his homage to the band that launched his rock career with current Whitesnake band members Tommy Aldridge, Reb Beach, Joel Hoekstra, and Micheal Devin. All the “snakes” according to Coverdale were enthusiastically onboard with this celebration disc, bringing their own “identity to the music.” Add the Hook City Strings, a string quartet from the Reno Philharmonic, and the Hook City Hooligans on chorus vocals, along with special guest keyboards from Derek Sherinian (Hammond organ) and Derek Hilland and you’ve got an amazing compilation of iconic kick ass songs such as “Burn,” “Stormbringer,” “You Fool No One,” and “Lay Down, Stay Down.” The original demo that Coverdale recorded when he auditioned for Deep Purple is also included on this studio album. 

All in all, Deep Purple and Whitesnake fans will relish unboxing the re-recorded music that has withstood the “sands of time” and gave us some of of the best rock musicians including the “Deeps” rhythm section of Ian Paice and Glenn Hughes.

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