Category Archives: Current Album Reviews

Our take on some of the latest material from a variety of artists.

Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey in the D (review)

Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge (Resonance Records) review

A never-before heard jazz/funk club offering from one of Motown’s unsung heroes

Dennis Coffey’s list of credits is enough to make your head spin.  He’s responsible for helping Motown Records take a huge leap forward with his innovative guitar playing on singles like “Psychedelic Shack” from the Temptations and “War” from Edwin Starr.  He also helped discover Rodriguez, the enigmatic singer that was profiled in the recent documentary, Searching For Sugarman.  But this live recording predates all of that, finding Coffey flanked by Lyman Woodard on Hammond B3 organ and Melvin Davis on drums; both were also veterans of the Motown stable of session musicians.

The set begins with the band original, “Fuzz,” an extended jam which showcases Coffey’s  melodic, yet trailblazing style.  This particular track is more rock than anything else here (and the closest to his big solo instrumental hit, “Scorpio,” which he had in 1971).  He always sounds like he’s about to lift off into the stratosphere, but then brings things back down just in time.

Continue reading Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey in the D (review)

Buck Owens – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (review)

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (Omnivore Recordings) review

All of Owens’ trailblazing singles compiled

Buck Owens helped rewrite the rules of country music, wrestling away the monopoly that Nashville had on the genre and setting up camp in Bakersfield, California. Owens redefined what a country record could be – stripping away the studio polish and putting his signature Telecaster guitar upfront. Omnivore Recordings has just issued The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966, collecting every A and B side he recorded during that span.

This phenomenal, two-disc set marks the first time the original 45 rpm single versions have been available digitally. Owens purposely mixed his singles with an abundance of high end. This served two purposes: one, his Telecaster was even more prominent, and two, he made sure that his records sounded like nothing else on the radio.

Continue reading Buck Owens – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (review)

Hayley Reardon – Good (review)

Hayley Reardon – Good (Hayley Reardon) review

Good is her best yet

It’s been an amazing journey for Hayley Reardon. She got an early start, writing her first song at eleven, so she’s already been releasing music and playing out live for years. Reardon has never been scared of baring her soul, even if some of her teenage drama now seems a little trivial. Now, she’s attending college and has recently issued her new album, Good.

Right off, there’s a more relaxed feel to these tracks – she’s certainly been here before. Yet, there’s also a hint of weariness, as if the realities of adulthood have hit her in unexpected ways. This is especially apparent in songs like “Would You Wait,” where she confesses “I don’t need to be different / I just need to be ok.” She’s enamored with a boy in “Good,” yet she reveals later in the song that she still digs him “even if you don’t love me.”

This album sounds like growth and not a reinvention, and part of that can be attributed to producer Lorne Entress, who was brought back to once again elevate these songs to acoustic soundscapes. Take the sparse, spine-tingling “Ghost,” led by Reardon’s simple guitar line. Entress adds tremelo guitar, piano and sound effects, yet leaves the track sparse, allowing the track to really breathe, as she reveals “I am not lonely / I just miss the old me.”

One of the best tracks is “Paper Mache’,” which is propelled by gentle funky percussion. Her voice has grown richer, and deepened a little. We get a break from mid tempo with the bouncy “The High Road” and it’s some of her best wordplay to date.

Reardon has been heavily involved in talking with students all over the country, as she was one herself. It’s interesting to hear her look at things from a more grown up perspective now, as on the poignant “Fourth Grade,” where she interacts with a little girl who wants to be all grown up – it could easily be her talking to her younger self.

The album ends with just Reardon and her guitar with “Work More.”

Hayley Reardon originally got noticed because she was so young. Now that that’s no longer a thing, it’s time to take her more seriously as an artist. Good is a big leap forward, and it shows that she isn’t done growing as a songwriter.  –Tony Peters

Alex Clare – Tail of Lions (review)

Alex Clare – Tail of Lions (ETC Recordings) review

His third album was recorded on a boat!

It can be hard to find inspiration when we’re constantly bombarded by technology. Alex Clare discovered the perfect solution: laying tracks down for his new record on a boat, with bassist Chris Hargreaves. The resulting long-player, Tail of Lions, finds the British singer maturing as a songwriter, while keeping in tact his signature sound that catapulted him to worldwide acclaim in 2011 with the double platinum smash, “Too Close.”

He tackles a wide array of topics on his third album – from the difficulties of mental illness, with the pulsating “Basic,” to the struggles of daily life, on the excellent, hard funk of “Surviving Ain’t Living,” which features a nice guitar solo at the end.

Clare, who is married, with two small children, addresses the difficulties of keeping a relationship together in the leadoff single, “Tell Me What You Need.” The song starts with heavy percussion before giving way to a synth-laden chorus.

Clare converted to Orthodox Judaism over the last few years and the title of the disc, Tail of Lions, references an old Jewish saying that “it’s better to be the tail of a lion, than the head of a fox.” Several songs, like “Get Real,” and “Gotta Get Up,” deal with the tension between his faith and the pulls of the real world. A pleasant surprise is the all-voices, no instruments ending on the midtempo “Tired From the Fire.”

The disc ends with the contemplative “You’ll Be Fine.” After he questions “what are you hiding from” and “what are you fighting for,” he reassures that “you’ll be fine,” repeating over and over, a mantra as the disc closes.

Clare had a contentious relationship with his previous record label (Island), who never truly supported his second album (the more earthy Three Hearts). It’s a shame too – Clare is a fine vocalist and melodic songwriter, and if you strip away the electronics, as in this “Stripped Version” of “Tell Me What You Need,” it still stands on its own:

Handling topics of spirituality and mature relationships may seem like heady material, yet Alex Clare’s gravelly, yet soaring vocals pull you in, making Tail of Lions more than a typical pop record. It’s one that reveals more, each time you play it. –Tony Peters

Rayburn – The Living End (review)

Rayburn – The Living End (Excited States Entertainment) review

Get ready to reconnect with the loud function on your volume knob

There was a time when rock music was fun, when people weren’t ashamed of being good musicians, and when people weren’t afraid to write catchy songs.  Rayburn recalls the best of those times with the release of their new album, The Living End.

The disc begins with “At the Gate,” a hybrid of Led Zeppelin and Kansas with a harmony-infused chorus.  “Malachi” is a furious rocker with a killer repetitive riff and an explosive chorus.  The combination of heavy guitar and organ recall what we loved about bands like Deep Purple.

The moody “Jealous Mistress” has a psychedelic feel, while the bluesy “Deep in Blue” has a Tin Pan Alley vibe.   “Almost Home” is the album’s real surprise, a radio-ready smash, if only there was good rock radio around to play it.

“Madness” starts quiet but builds to a big ending, complete with strings. The funky “I Still Believe” features a great guitar solo at the end that recalls Steve Howe’s finest moments with Yes. The disc ends with the yearning “Journey” and then the short, acoustic “Not Going Back.”

Vocalist Danny Archer has a clear voice, capable of a lot of different emotions, yet throughout he only gives the songs what they need, never over-singing (a common problem in this genre).

The Rayburn guys are basically old-school Prog Rockers (one peek at their album cover and you get that).  But, unlike so many of their contemporaries, the band understands the art of writing good melodies, and it’s that emphasis, instead of showing off, that really elevates these tracks.

Melodic hooks, excellent playing, and some nods to the past – The Living End is hopefully not the last time we hear from Rayburn.  —Tony Peters

Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (review)

Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (Omnivore Recordings / Universal Music Group) review

The voice of Spandau Ballet turns in a holiday album that sparkles with the wonder of the season

Spandau Ballet were a much bigger deal in their native England, but they did manage one monster Eighties’ smash in the US with “True” in 1983.  Tony Hadley, the band’s vocalist, has just released his first seasonal offering titled The Christmas Album, and it’s a surprisingly solid listen.   What elevates things is his uncanny choices, which keep things interesting.

The album opens with “Shake Up Christmas,” a song originally performed by Train, but here, Hadley actually improves on their version by imparting a sincerity that’s missing in the original.  Hadley keeps the gentle funk but honestly, he’s got a better voice than Pat Monahan, so it’s overall a success.  He adds a Celtic feel to Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” and invites fellow Eighties’ star Kim Wilde for a smooth rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Wilde’s sultry delivery suggest that perhaps she should do a Christmas album too?

Not sure I’ve ever heard someone do a cover of Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” but Hadley pulls it off, even adding a sax solo.  With “Fairytale of New York,” originally done by the Pogues and Kirsty McCall, he removes some of the desperation of the original, with help from Italian pop sensation Nini Zilli.  Then, Hadley digs deep into the holiday vaults for tracks like “Lonely This Christmas,” originally done in 1974 by the English glam band Mud, and “Driving Home This Christmas,” a Chris Rea song that captures the anticipation of traveling long distances to see loved ones.

Hadley acknowledges in his liner notes that the holiday season isn’t always a joyous time for everyone – and by including songs like “I Don’t Want to Spend Another Christmas Without You,” and the aforementioned “Lonely This Christmas,” he captures some of the pain and sadness that also accompanies the holidays.

If there’s one minor quibble, it’s that the disc runs a little too long.  18 tracks is a lot to take in, and there’s so many great performances here, there’s really no need for too-obvious choices like “Jingle Bells.”

A modern Christmas album from a legendary voice. –Tony Peters

 

Sony Legacy Holiday Vinyl Series (review)


Sony Legacy – Holiday Vinyl Album Series (review)

Give your turntable something fun to do around the holidays

There’s something warm and inviting about playing vinyl around the holidays.  And, with turntables easier to obtain than they have been in years, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with physical music.  Sony Legacy has just issued a quintet of Christmas albums on vinyl, perfect for that holiday get-together.

Elvis Presley – Merry Christmas Baby – The King’s holiday output has been repackaged numerous times, but this may be the of the bunch.  Of the 17 tracks, all eight of the songs he recorded for his very first Christmas album in 1957 are here, including “Blue Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Back in Town,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back.”  This is coupled with the eight best songs from his followup, Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas from 1971, with the real highlight being the searing rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” which ends in an extended jam.  There’s also the one-off Christmas tune from 1966, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas,” making this the quintessential Elvis yuletide album.

As an added bonus, random copies are pressed on either seasonal red or green vinyl.  And thankfully,  none of his recent “duets” with current singers are included.

Johnny Cash – Christmas – There’ll Be Peace in the Valley – Like Elvis, Johnny Cash recorded several Christmas albums, and the goal here is to bring together the best of everything.  Off his 1963 LP, The Christmas Spirit, you get eight tracks, including his classic reading of “The Little Drummer Boy,” plus “Silent Night” and a very different take on “Blue Christmas, and a song Cash wrote called “The Christmas Spirit.”  1972’s

The Johnny Cash Family Christmas is an album full of dialogue from the singer’s family and friends, and is better listened to in its entirety.  However, many of the songs stand on their own, including the spine-tingling “Opening Dialogue,” in which Cash talks about the true meaning of the holiday.  The rousing “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” features June Carter Cash, and is another highlight.  They do throw in one curveball – “Matthew 24 (Is Knocking At the Door)” is a recently unearthed spiritual track that originally showed up on 2006’s Personal File compilation.

Various Artists – The Classic Big Band Christmas Album – the most refreshing of all these collections, virtually none of these songs get played on any of the 24-hours-a-day Christmas stations that pop up in October on FM dials around the country.  Plus, there’s a fair amount of original material here to keep things interesting. There’s legendary bands fronted by legendary vocalists, like Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman on the bouncy “Winter Weather,” and Doris Day fronting Les Brown’s Orchestra on a sultry reading of “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You).”  Even Woody Herman himself steps to the mic for “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

A lot of ground is covered here, from 1932’s “It’s Winter Again” by Isham Jones to 1951’s “Winter Wonderland” by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra.  There’s also a few silly tunes thrown in for good measure – “Hello, Mr. Kringle” is brought to you by Kay Kyser and his Orchestra, the same folks responsible for the ridiculous “Three Little Fishes,” and where would Christmas be without Spike Jones’ “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)”?

Various Artists – The Classic Christmas 80’s Album – Probably the strangest of the bunch, this collection brings together the rather elusive “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses, plus the ubiquitous “Last Christmas” by Wham, and the harder to find “Christmas is the Time to Say ‘I Love You’” from Billy Squier, and couples them with odd choices like “Zat You Santa Claus” from Buster Poindexter and “Slick Nick, You Devil You” from Fishbone – definitely weak choices considering the vast Sony catalog that they had at their disposal.

You do get “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC, and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Daryl Hall (not Hall & Oates as the jacket suggests).  But dubious selections like “Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles (is that really a Christmas song?), and “This One’s For the Children” from New Kids on the Block, make this difficult to listen without picking up the needle.  “Christmas Time is Here” by Ray Parker Jr is less familiar, and you can’t go wrong with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Bob & Doug McKenzie.  But, there is certainly better fare from the Eighties than the Hooters “Silent Night.”

Luther Vandross – This is Christmas – the only straight reissue of the five, this album originally came out in 1995 to coincide with a TV special that Vandross did of the same name.  There’s a warmth and coziness to these tracks, and the singer manages to wrap most in a groove.  Especially good is the funky “The MistleTOE JAM,” with a hilarious spoken-word intro.  Echoes of Phil Spector surround “I Listen to the Bells,” which features Darlene Love, also in fine voice.

But what sets this collection above so many others is that instead of rehashing the tired old classics, Vandross actually wrote most of the material himself.  “With A Christmas Heart” and “This is Christmas” have a sincerity that is missing from most of these type albums, and “Please Come Home For Christmas” is refreshingly NOT the Eagles/Charles Brown shop-worn classic, but a newly-penned Vandross ballad.  “A Kiss For Christmas” has a funky groove that is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye.

The five albums in this collection represent a wide variety of holiday classics to choose from.  The good music is covered, the rest is up to you.  Tony Peters

Ventures – The Ventures Christmas Album (review)

Ventures – The Ventures Christmas Album (Real Gone Music / Universal Music Special Markets) review

The best rock n’ roll instrumental holiday album just got remastered

The holidays are supposed to be joyous. But nothing kills that spirit quite like hearing the same, tired old Christmas tunes, over and over. Well, let’s hear it for Real Gone Music, who have just reissued the Ventures Christmas Album, sure to brighten up even the grumpiest of Scrooges.

The Ventures were always great at giving their unique, twangy take on current hits. But here, they take things to another level. Each Christmas classic starts out as a completely different song – mostly popular hits of the mid 1960’s. So, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” actually starts out as “Wooly Bully,” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” grabs the beginning of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine.” Other examples are “What’d I Say” morphing into “Jingle Bells,” “Memphis” opening up the start of “Jingle Bell Rock,” and even the Ventures own “Walk Don’t Run” switching into “Sleigh Ride.”

The titles are ones you’ve heard a million times, but the band plays them with such energy and excitement that you really don’t mind hearing them again.

A big selling point here is that Real Gone has not only given us the original stereo mix, but also tracked down the super rare mono mix, making its debut on compact disc. The stereo version has the instruments spread out in the stereo spectrum, allowing generations of budding guitarists the opportunity to analyze what each Ventures’ member is playing. The mono mix is arguably more enjoyable – as everything is front and center, allowing for a more even listening experience.

Either version of the album clocks in at under 27 minutes, so it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Ventures Christmas Album is the perfect cure for the holiday blues. –Tony Peters.

Erroll Garner – Ready Take One [vinyl edition] (review)

Erroll Garner – Ready Take One (Legacy / Octave Music) review

A stellar release, made even better when experienced on vinyl

These days, virtually all new releases get issued on vinyl.  Yet, so much of it seems like either a cash-in or an afterthought, with no regard for what used to be “the vinyl experience.”  That’s what makes Ready Take One, a 2-LP set of newly-discovered recordings from one of the giants of jazz piano, Erroll Garner, such a pure delight: it’s as if these tracks were tailor made for the analog LP format.

Issued digitally back in September, these 14 previously unreleased tracks, originally recorded from 1967-1971, are part of a collaboration between the estates of Garner and his longtime manager/producer Martha Glaser that promises more new archival material in the coming years.

Yet, having these recordings on vinyl is an entirely different experience.

Pressed on high resolution, 150-gram vinyl, these tracks jump out of the speakers; full of warmth and clarity – something lacking when listening to streaming services or mp3s.  Legacy claims to have paid special attention to the LP release, and it certainly shows.

Everything about this says top notch: the stunning cover, featuring the pianist’s name in embossed lettering, the gatefold cover’s inside photos of Garner and Glaser in the studio, and the accompanying 12 x12 booklet, featuring extensive liner notes and photos (some exclusive to this vinyl version).

Then, there’s the music.  Of the 14 performances, six are original Garner compositions, never-before heard.

If you only know Erroll Garner from Concert By the Sea, prepare to be blown away

Despite releasing that genre-defining album back in 1956, one listen to Ready Take One, and it’s obvious that the pianist experienced tremendous creative growth in the ten years that followed. Record one, side one begins with the Latin funk of “High Wire” – opening with the sound of a fretless bass, before becoming a showcase for Garner’s unique style – his right hand fluidly roaming the keys, often to a dizzying effect, while his left pounds out the rhythm, all the while happily grunting along.

Another standout is his soulful rendition of Bobby Hebb’s pop nugget, “Sunny.”  The song starts, in typical Garner fashion, with some opening lines that give no indication of the melody.  But, things eventually settle into a gentle groove.  Why this wasn’t considered for a single is a real head-scratcher.

He also tackles familiar territory, with tracks like Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” – after introducing the melody, he takes things to surprising places. The real treat is saved for last – a gorgeous take on his own signature song, “Misty.”  It’s rare that an artist’s best-known track is handled so delicately the second time around.

One of the great aspects of this set is the in-between song banter between Garner, Glaser and the bandmates.  In fact, the album’s title comes from Glaser’s habit of saying “Ready, Take One” to start each recording.  She shouts an encouraging “more!” at the end of a spirited “I Want to Be Happy,”  and “you got it that time” after “Chase Me.”

Just because these tracks are previously unreleased, doesn’t mean they’re throwaways.  Quite the contrary – Ready Take One is full of breathtaking performances.  This album immediately ranks as one of Erroll Garner’s best – a must for any fan of classic jazz.  –Tony Peters

 

Peter Case – Peter Case (review)

Peter Case – Peter Case (30th anniversary edition) (Omnivore Recordings) review

After the breakup of Peter Case’s band the Plimsouls (who had a minor MTV hit in 1983 with “A Million Miles Away”), he stepped out on his own for a solo career.  But, instead of continuing with the rockin’ power pop of his previous band, Case scaled everything back for an acoustic-based album, at a time when everyone else was embracing the screaming guitars of the Big Eighties.  The result, Peter Case, has just been reissued by Omnivore Recordings, complete with seven bonus tracks.

The record opens with the sparse “Echo Wars,” featuring a haunting harmonica solo, signaling this new direction in Case’s career.  “Icewater” and “Walk in the Woods” are both stripped-down tracks, based in the blues.

This disc is credited for jump starting the roots movement, later called Americana.  Yet, Peter Case isn’t a typical folk album – there’s straight-ahead rockers like “Satellite Beach” (featuring guitar from guest Mike Campbell) and the moody “More Than Curious.”   Then, there’s “Three Days Straight,” propelled by a hypnotic Linn drum pattern, the track is augmented by background vocals from Victoria Williams.

The standout track is “Old Blue Car” – sounding like a great lost rock/blues track from the Sun Studios, the song received significant airplay on college radio.  The original album closed with “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” written by the Pogues’ Shane McGowan (but actually released before their version, thanks to an association with producer Elvis Costello).

The bonus cuts run the gamut from the acoustic “Trusted Friend,” to the synth drum-led “Toughest Gang in Town” and a tamboura-infused early version of “More Than Curious.”

This was one of the earliest production credits of T-Bone Burnett, who famously said he’d quit the music business if this record didn’t sell a million copies.  Well, it fell way short of that lofty goal, and Burnett thankfully did not make good on that particular promise. But it has done something else – stood the test of time.  While so many albums from the mid-Eighties now sound horribly out of step (most because of the over-hyped drum sound and synths), Peter Case sounds as fresh as the day it was released.  That, is what you call redemption.  —Tony Peters