Category Archives: Reviews

A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack Gets the Royal Treatment (review)

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (Deluxe Editions) (Craft Recordings)

A holiday classic gets a makeover and the results are thrilling

Arguably the most famous jazz album in history, A Charlie Brown Christmas, has gotten the deluxe treatment with a series of new releases from Craft Recordings.  Most importantly, this classic album has been freshly remixed, breathing new life into this holiday favorite.  Larger editions include multiple discs, showcasing hours of never-before heard material from these legendary sessions.  In addition, Craft has reissued the classic, original LP in a fancy, “Gold Foil” edition,”  making the outer package now equal to the fantastic music inside.

First, let’s talk about this brand new, 2022 remix.  

Absolutely stunning

In a side-by-side comparison, the new remix is superior in every way.  In all prior versions, tape hiss is audible throughout the album (not surprising – these recordings are from 1965).  The new remix virtually eliminates all of this – it’s like peeling a layer of film off the sound.  As a result, the music leaps out of the speakers.  

Bassist Fred Marshall benefits the most from this new version: his bass is warmer, and you can hear his fingers on the strings.  Yet, drummer Jerry Granelli also shines – you can really hear his brush work on the classic, “Skating.”  Vince Guaraldi certainly benefits as well – you really feel the low notes of his piano on “Christmas is Coming.”

You don’t have to have a great ear to hear the improvements.  Take the lead-off track, “O Tannebaum.”  On the original version, Guaraldi’s piano opens and you immediately hear tape hiss.  At :37 seconds, the band joins in and Marshall’s bass is distorted.  It stays that way for the entire song.  On this new version, the bass is big, full and free of distortion – a VAST improvement.

The new remix is available in a “Deluxe Edition” on LP, CD and streaming.  The first disc is the new remix, while a second features bonus material; never-before heard, early versions of this hallowed material.  For those wanting even more, there’s a “Super Deluxe Edition,” featuring 5 discs, including a Blu Ray of high-resolution tracks, a 59-page, hardback book, and several discs of previously unreleased outtakes.  Especially interesting is a much-faster take of “Skating” (it’s speed is dizzying).

As if that weren’t enough, the original vinyl (featuring the standard mix) is also getting the royal treatment.  For a limited time, they’ve issued a “Gold Foil” edition, featuring raised images.  Many of these versions have special colored vinyl, only available at certain retailers.

The music of A Charlie Brown Christmas has surpassed the original cartoon that birthed it.  Many people consider it the greatest holiday album of all time.  And, some of the tracks, like “Linus and Lucy” and “Skating,” rank as some of the most recognizable songs in the history of recorded music.  With this ambitious reissue campaign, Craft Recordings has finally put these recordings in the light they deserve.  —Tony Peters

Various Artists – Halloween Nuggets: Haunted Underground Classics (review)

Various Artists – Halloween Nuggets: Haunted Underground Classics (Liberation Hall/Rock Beat)

Spice up that party with these spooky obscurities!

Halloween season is upon us.  Unfortunately, that means we get “Monster Mash,” “Ghostbusters,” “Thriller,” and a few other tired classics, over and over again.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Liberation Hall has just issued Halloween Nuggets: Haunted Underground Classics, to mix things up.  

Out of the 21 songs on this collection, the only ones you’re probably going to recognize are the three movie trailers (for The Blob, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon).  That leaves 18 Halloween-themed songs that will sound fresh to your ears, and will liven up that drab party.

Bobby Bare is probably the biggest name on this collection – he’s featured with “Vampira.” Then, there’s Ervinna & the Stylers, who one-up Redbone for their take on “Witch Queen of New Orleans.”  

“It” from Jonny Fraser and the Regalaires is a swampy instrumental fueled by a honky sax and tinkling piano.  Some of the primitive sounds, like the wind blowing and monster noises in “Rockin’ in the Graveyard” from Jackie Morningstar, add to the charm.

There’s a good deal of instrumentals here – “Graveyard” by the Phantom Five is one of the best tracks here, it’s kind of the haunted version of the surf classic, “Pipeline,” complete with a similar sax solo, while “Devil Driver’s Theme” from The Vettes, mixes car sound effects with werewolf sounds to great result, and Richard Rome’s “Ghost a Go Go” eschews the typical guitar/sax approach and replaces it with organ and harp.

Things go from the strange to the absurd with The Elites doing “Jack the Ripper” who is “decreasing the population / disturbing the situation.”  “Zombie Stomp” by Billy Ghoulston has a Motown feel to it.

This groovy collection is available to stream, and, in physical form on CD and vinyl.

About my only complaint with this great collection is the lack of liner notes.  It would’ve been nice to have a line or two about each song – at least telling us what year every one of the tracks was from.  

Wake the dead with this great new collection from Liberation Hall.  —Tony Peters

John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (60th Anniversary) (Atlantic)

John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (Atlantic)

New reissue of this jazz classic features improved sound and both mono & stereo mixes together for the first time 

John Coltrane’s brief career featured many high points:  Giant Steps, from 1960, was like the shot heard ‘round the world, signaling that the saxophonist was blazing a trail all his own.  A Love Supreme, from 1965,  saw ‘Trane reaching for the heavens, and actually getting there.  Sandwiched somewhere in the middle, My Favorite Things did something else impossible, it actually gave the shy musician a bona fide hit, both in the best-selling album, and in a highly-edited version of the title track as a single.

There are several things that set this 60th anniversary edition apart from everything else that came before it.  First, this marks the first time that both the common stereo, and the hard-to-find mono mixes, have both been on the same collection together.  While stereo quickly became the preferred way of listening to music, this mono mix is superior in just about every way.

Take the title track, “My Favorite Things,” for comparison.  There’s a distinct tape dropout at :29 into the song that’s not there on the mono mix. The stereo version of “Everytime We Say Goodbye” seems distorted at times, while the mono is clear.  Same with “Summertime” – the bass seems to drop in and out of the stereo version, while the mono stays constant.  

While the stereo mix may not be superior to the mono, this version is the best these tracks have ever sounded.  Listening to previously released editions, they all have some sort of noise reduction that muffled things.  Here, you can definitely hear some tape hiss, but the tracks have much more life to them – they really breathe.

Another selling point for this release is the excellent liner notes, written by Ben Ratliff.  Especially telling are the quotes from Coltrane himself on this project, which he admits was his favorite.  There’s also some really great photos of ‘Trane too.

Imagine an alternate universe where they actually played Coltrane on hit radio stations.  Well, this actually happened because of the success of this album.  Atlantic Records released an edited version of “My Favorite Things “(chopped down from 14 minutes to 2:47!) that actually got considerable airplay.

My Favorite Things is the closest John Coltrane ever came to a “hit” record.  This latest edition, especially for the inclusion of the superior mono mix, is the one to seek out.  —Tony Peters

The Cowsills – Rhythm of the World (review)

The Cowsills – Rhythm of the World (Omnivore Recordings)

First new album in 30 years from the original “Family Band”

Long before the Jacksons and Osmonds, the Cowsills were the original musical family.  Hailing from Rhode Island, the band of six siblings and their mother, hit the charts in the late Sixties with songs like “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “We Can Fly,” and “Hair.”  They were even the inspiration for the hit TV show, The Partridge Family.  After a long hiatus, the band is back with an excellent new album called Rhythm of the World.

Their signature, spine-chilling, familial harmonies were what helped propel their original fame, and thankfully, it’s what makes their new album so good.  In fact, there are times when harmonies seem to be coming from every direction – left, right, center; enveloping you in those warm, human voices.  

The group’s sharp rise and fall from grace was chronicled in the 2011 documentary, Family Band, which is readily available on streaming.  Despite so much adversity over the years, you might be surprised at how positive most of the songs here are. 

The trio of Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill remain from the original seven (brother John plays drums for the Beach Boys).  However, furthering the family affair are Bob’s son, Ryan, on keyboards, and Paul’s son, Brendon, on guitar.  Susan’s husband, Russ Broussard, handles the drums, and Mary Lasseigne, also from Susan’s band, plays bass.  

The record opens with “Ya Gotta Get Up,” a phrase that Howard Kaylan of the Turtles (a frequent touring partner of the Cowsills) would often yell to the audience.  The song itself is plea to keep going, something all of us can understand in this post-pandemic world.  The track is mostly sung by Paul with a trippy middle section sung by Susan.  

The song that really stands out (and the one that won’t get out of my head) is “Lend a Hand,” a great, jangly slice of sing-a-long, Sixties-styled pop featuring some excellent, sun-kissed harmonies, and a lead vocal by Bob.  It’s a song that somehow manages to be both classic and completely relevant today.

“Hawks on the Hill” has a spaghetti western feel (think Duane Eddy), while “Every Little Secret” reminds me of Byrd Gene Clark’s solo output, and features a faux sitar, and a nod to Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” on the chorus.

Susan takes the lead on “Rhythm of the World,” which slowly builds from a 12-string electric strumming.  The lyrics admit, “we’re having way too fun to slow down,” but serves as a warning, “please remember there’s this place where we live / it can’t take too much more / something big’s got to give.”  There’s also a nod to Crowded House with the “hey now, hey now” on the chorus.

“Largo Nights” is a gorgeous, mid-tempo number, while “Goodbye’s Not Forever” recalls Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” “The Long Run” features a shuffle beat on the verses, but then the harmonies come in on the “tell you how I feel” chorus – this harmony stuff is addictive, you just want to hear it over and over.  

The album closes with the heavy “Katrina,” a firsthand account of the destruction that left Susan homeless, and ultimately took the life of brother Barry.  The track opens with strumming reminiscent of Chicago’s “Beginnings.”  The verses swirl around you like a building storm, while the chorus asks “K-k-katrina, what did you do to me, do to everyone”?  The song ends in chaos of voices and guitars – a stunning tribute to a storm that changed the course of so many people’s lives.

Rhythm of the World reminds us that, despite most of us spending a lot of time recently alone, we’re better together.  The Cowsills know this too, and this album proves it.  Give it one listen.  You may find yourself hitting the repeat button, just to hear those great harmonies again, and again.  —Tony Peters

Evil Woman: The American ELO – Fraze Pavilion – 7/14/22

Evil Woman – The American ELO (review)

Face it, there’s going to be a time in the not-so-distant future when all the musicians who sang our favorite songs are gone.  That’s what makes good tribute bands important.

After seeing Evil Woman – The American ELO at Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, I give them an A+

They’re hands down one of the best tribute bands I’ve ever seen.

The original Electric Light Orchestra last toured America in 1978, so lots of people (including yours truly) missed out on seeing their favorite band in concert.  But, the music of Jeff Lynne & company is about as sophisticated as popular music ever got, so pulling this off live is no easy task.

Enter Nigel Holland.  He created this project, and wow.

First of all, it wouldn’t be ELO without the ORCHESTRA, and they had a four-piece string section that was fabulous.  Holland was one of two keyboardists, who were joined by two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and an operatic, energetic backup singer.  For those keeping score, that’s eleven musicians so far.  

But wait, what about Jeff Lynne?  Well, they got a guy that looks and sounds like him too (oh, and he plays guitar).

Total: TWELVE musicians

If that’s what it takes to pull this music off live, well then..rock on!

They opened with “Tight Rope,” an album cut off of A New World Record, before launching into a bulletproof set of ELO standards.  “Do Ya,” and “Hold On Tight” both sounded big and rocked plenty, while ballads like “Strange Magic” were done with care.  “Jungle,” off of the Out of the Blue album was the other “deep cut.”

All along the way, they nailed it.  The twin lead guitars on “Showdown,” the big drum sound on “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the operatic voice on “Rockaria!”  Oh, and let’s not forget the Vocoder – yes, we heard it on “Mr. Blue Sky,” but also on “All Over the World” and “Confusion.”

The solos, the vocals, the strings – everything was faithful to the original recording.  

I was fortunate enough to see Jeff Lynne’s ELO back in 2018, and while watching the guy that actually sang and created the songs was fabulous, I have to say Evil Woman: The American ELO is better.  Lynne’s stage show and lights were breathtaking, but Evil Woman had an attention to detail that even the meticulous Lynne couldn’t match.  

We are going to want to sing the music of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s for generations to come.  The bands that can faithfully pull off the classic sounds stand in a class by themselves.

Evil Woman: The American ELO is one such band.

I’m a very picky music fan – and I was thoroughly impressed.

—Tony Peters

On First US Tour in 25 Years, Del Amitri Delivers (review)

Del Amitri – Music Box Cleveland – 4/24/22

Known by the masses for their monster 90’s hit, “Roll to Me,” but known by their devoted fans as expert songsmiths, the Scottish band, Del Amitri, just wrapped up their first tour of the US in 25 years with a stop in Cleveland.

Mainstays Justin Currie (bass/lead vocals) and Iain Harvie (lead guitar) were joined by longtime keyboardist, Andy Alston (who also played accordion), Kris Dollimore on guitar and Ash Soan on drums.  Currie still looked great, dressed in denim and sporting his long hair (a little gray now), while Harvie still had the long hair and beard that made him look more like a member of Motorhead, even in the band’s heyday.

They opened with a fitting, acoustic version of “When You Were Young,” before launching into “Musicians and Beer,” one of seven songs they played from their recent (and excellent) album, Fatal Mistakes. “All Hail Blind Love,” also new, had great harmonies.  “Always the Last to Know,” a single that got considerable MTV play back in the day, was a solid rocker that sounded great.  They played “Kiss This Thing Goodbye,” which was the band’s first hit in the US, at an even faster pace than the record.  

Surprises included the Twisted ballad, “It Might as Well Be You,” and a stripped down version of “Empty” off of Waking Hours.  “Spit in the Rain,” which was only available as an import single for years, was a welcome addition.  The ballad, “Driving With the Brakes On,” should’ve been a bigger hit when it came out in the mid-Nineties.

They played their signature, Beatles’ knockoff, “Roll to Me,” in the middle of the set, which was surprising, but that left room for more interesting songs like “Stone Cold Sober,” and aggressive “Crashing Down”

They encored with a very dark, new song, “I’m So Scared of Dying,” before ending with a stripped-down run through of “Be My Downfall.”  

In an era where concertgoers are overpaying to see musicians that can’t sing or play anymore, Del Amitri was a welcome change.  

Currie was in fine voice throughout, and the interplay between guitarists Harvie and Dollimore was great, as well as Alston’s tasteful additions of keyboards and accordion.

25 years is a long time to wait for a band.  But, I believe everyone in attendance got their money’s worth.  There were rumors throughout the crowd that the band might be back next year, perhaps after completing another album.   All hail Del Amitri!  —Tony Peters

Son House – Forever On My Mind (review)

Son House – Forever on My Mind (Easy Eye Sound)

Stellar live recording of the Delta bluesman, previously unreleased

There is no music as raw and pure as that of blues legend, Son House.  His unique voice, steeped from years in the church and working in the Delta, cuts straight to the soul.  And, his slide guitar playing sends shivers down the spine.  

Forever on My Mind documents a never-before-released performance at Wabash College in Indiana in November of 1964.  It marks the earliest known recording of House’s “rediscovery” period.

House grew up in the Delta and recorded sporadically in 1930 for Paramount Records, but those records were not successful.  In 1941, Alan Lomax taped House for the Library of Congress.  Both recordings were reissued in the mid-sixties, and became part of the “folk-blues revival.”  House was “rediscovered” by a trio of blues fans, including Dick Waterman, who convinced him to start performing again and became his manager.

Waterman owns these recordings and licensed them to Easy Eye Sound, run by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.

The title track, “Forever on My Mind,” has never been on a Son House album before, and features a moaning vocal, where he sings “I gets up in the morning / at the break of day / I be hugging the pillow / where you used to lay.”  

Of the eight tracks from this sparsely-attended show (maybe 50 people), five of them would end up on his Columbia album, Father of Folk Blues, released several months later in 1965. Comparing these two recordings bring some interesting discoveries.

“Preachin’ Blues” is more immediate here, you can hear him breathing, grunting, clearing his throat, and his slide work seems to be channeling lightning.  He also makes the crowd laugh when he sings “I wanna be a Baptist preacher / so I won’t have to work.”  On “Empire State Express” he just sounds possessed and that descending guitar line is utterly hypnotic.

“Death Letter Blues” is slower that the frenetic, studio recording, but is just as chilling.

He also tackles “Pony Blues,” done by his contemporary, Charlie Patton, and the blues standard, “Motherless Children” (here, listed as “The Way Mother Did”).

The restoration work here is incredible.  These recordings, almost 60 years old, and taken from 1/4-inch reels, sound phenomenal.  And, although it’s a “live” recording, you rarely can tell.  The album producers decided to fade each song out before any applause (either that, or they were not impressed with his playing, which seems highly unlikely!).  

The set comes with in-depth liner notes, featuring quotes from both Waterman and Auerbach.  It’s Waterman, who traveled extensively with House, that points out how special these recordings are, noting that later concerts featured the bluesman telling stories, and hamming it up with the crowd.  Here, it’s just Son House and his guitar, with very little talking.  

Lastly, the collection is heightened by the groovy picture of House in a Cardigan sweater on the cover.

Waterman has said to have many other recordings like these in his possession.  Let’s hope more come out like this real soon.  

Forever on My Mind is a fantastic addition to the legacy of one of the true pillars of the blues, Son House.  —Tony Peters  

Bobby Cole – A Point of View (review)

Bobby Cole – A Point of View (Omnivore Recordings)

Frank Sinatra once called him his favorite “saloon singer.”  

Bobby Cole never became a household name.  Yet, the singer, pianist and songwriter caught the attention of not only The Chairman of the Board, but also Ms. Judy Garland, who tapped Cole to arrange her short-lived TV show, and then some live performances.

A Point of View is an obscure album from mid-sixties, finally getting a proper release from the fine folks at Omnivore.  And, it’s an amazing collection of supper-club style music that’s sure to delight any fan of the genre.  Even more impressive is that everything here was written by Cole himself.  

His original compositions definitely reflect his experiences.  The album opens with the frenetic “Status Quo,” as he sings “On through the night / through the smoke and the noise / keeping the pace / while we’re losing our poise” – it’s obvious he’s seen this dance between men and women from years of playing in clubs. 

You can see why Sinatra liked Cole so much, he’s got a swagger to him that especially is apparent in the spoken rap that begins “Lover Boy.” Cole has a magnetic voice, his raspy tenor draws you into his compositions.  Yet, there are times when he almost sounds like his voice is going, it’s so gravely.

There’s diversity here too.  He sings of adultery in a sultry way in “The Name of the Game is Trouble,” then inserts some jazz changes into the wisdom of “You Can’t Build a Life on a Look.” He goes tender for “But It’s Spring,” then increases the temperature again with “Heat,” where he’s helped on vocals by Kathy Kelly.  Once again, the mood softens with “You Could Hear a Pin Drop,” then goes Bossa Nova with “Change of Scene.”

Perhaps the best track of the bunch is “No Difference at All.”  It’s the ultimate kiss off to a former lover.  “She’s like pink champagne / and you’re like beer / you’re like scratchy old corduroy / she’s cashmere.”  

The 12 songs that originally appeared on the album are augmented by 13 additional tracks.  Randy Poe’s liner notes say that they’re not sure if these are outtakes from this album, or perhaps songs attempted for a followup.  Of the bonus material, the cascading “Never Ask the Hour,” the sad, “How the Lonely Spend Their Time,” and the straight-forward, “I Never Saw the Shadows,” stand out from the rest.

I think the best thing about A Point of View from the Bobby Cole is that it sounds fresh.  Let’s be honest, we don’t get many new entries into the “supper club” genre these days.  I would call this a fine discovery.  —Tony Peters

Kasim Sulton’s Utopia – Ludlow Garage (review)

Kasim Sulton’s Utopia – Ludlow Garage – 3/11/22 

A crowd-pleasing great night of music

Utopia is one of the most-underrated bands in history.  Sure, the group provided a vehicle for whatever Todd Rundgren’s fancy was at the time.  But, the truth is, Utopia had great songs – a LOT of them.  The band had a knack for writing radio-friendly tracks that, unfortunately only occasionally got played on the radio.

Three of the four original members reunited (sans their keyboardist) for a tour in 2018.  Honestly, that show was a letdown, largely because Rundgren chose to devote the first half of the concert to the early (and frankly, not as good) Prog-rock era of the band.  

Now, here comes Kasim Sulton’s Utopia.  A show that was originally slated two years ago, but had to be postponed because of the pandemic.

Unlike the reunion from four years ago, this show delivered.

The bassist, flanked by guitar, keyboards and drums, ran through a thrilling set of songs that touched on every album from the band’s career.  Opening with the Beatle-esque “I Just Want to Touch You,” the melodic “Call it What You Want,” the even-more-appropriate-now anthem “Swing to the Right,” the rockin’ “Princess of the Universe,” (which the drummer sang), and the slightly funky “Fix Your Gaze.”  One of Sulton’s best Utopia songs, “Libertine,” just flat-out rocked.

“Lysistrata,” and it’s chorus of “won’t go to war / no more” is about as relevant as you can get in these times.  The band did tackle a few proggy numbers, like “The Road to Utopia,” and “Caravan,” giving everyone a chance to stretch out a little. But, it never seemed to drag.   Sulton made sure to throw in some deep cuts as well.  “I’m in Love with a Thinker,” “Hoi Poloi,” and “The Up” were all welcome surprises.  

The encore consisted of “Set Me Free,” the band’s lone top 40 hit, and ended with a song of unity, “One World,” where members of the audience were invited onstage to sing along.

Sulton was in fine voice throughout, frequently joking with the small, but enthusiastic crowd, while the band made sure they were faithful to the original recordings (I love to sing a long to guitar solos :).  

I was commenting to another fan as we were leaving that there was a whole lot more great songs that could’ve been played.  I guess, that’s for next time, right Kasim?  —Tony Peters

Hoodoo Gurus – Chariot of the Gods (review)

Hoodoo Gurus – Chariot of the Gods (Big Time/EMI)

This album will make you believe in rock n’ roll again.

Despite having a knack for writing infectious songs, Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus have managed to fly under the radar for over 40 years.  The band is back with their first new album in eleven years called Chariot of the Gods, and it contains some of the best music of their entire career.  

The Hoodoo Gurus’ gift has always been their ability to straddle Troggs-inspired, garage rock, with Beatle-soaked melodic hooks, delivered with a New York Dolls’ sneer.  All of this is on display on this extremely solid album.

The record starts with “Early Opener” – it’s a throwback to the way their debut album began; the sound of a bar, people talking.  But, this time, we hear the strains of an acoustic version of “Come Anytime,” one of the Gurus’ most-recognizable songs.  

This gives way to the primitive stomper, “World of Pain.” A whole lot of people turned to the bottle for solace during the pandemic.  It’s heavy on the bass, as leader Dave Faulkner admits “it’s just the same damn things again.” 

“Get Outta Dodge” features some killer slashing chords, and a great, sing a long chorus. The lyrics certainly are appropriate for our divisive climate  – “people here are blinded by hate / they won’t meet you in the middle / and we found out a little too late.” 

The midtempo rocker,“Was I Supposed to Care,” borrows the main riff from Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”  

The amazing thing is vocalist Dave Falkner still sounds great after all these years.

The high-energy rocker, “Hangin with the Girls,”  deals with gender stereotypes, while “My Imaginary Friend” features a Byrds-esque 12 string guitar.

“Equinox,” with guitarist Brad Shepherd on vocals, has a Sunshine Pop feel, while “Hang Out to Dry” is a punk rockin’ good time.

The lead single is a fabulous melodic rocker, “Carry On.”  A great positive song for this troubled times.  

The lone cover on the album doesn’t sound out of place at all.  “I Wanna Be Your Man” is an early Beatles’ track that was also the Stones’ debut single.  Seriously, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Gurus wrote it.

Few bands last 40 years.  Of those, not many are making great music anymore.  The Hoodoo Gurus have somehow managed to weather the years and still sound as fresh as they did on their debut album.  Chariot of the Gods is a welcome return and a damn good rock n’ roll record. –Tony Peters