Travis – The Man Who (20th anniversary edition)

Travis – The Man Who (Craft Recordings)

One of the finest albums of the late-Nineties gets the deluxe treatment

20 years ago, the Scottish band Travis issued their breakout album, The Man Who.  At the time, it was a departure for the group, whose debut, Good Feeling, had been a rockin’ good time two years earlier.  This new direction was darker, and more melodic.  It also paved the way for many other UK bands, like Coldplay, who went on to even bigger fame, with their own spin on this style of middle of the road fare.  

The Man Who still stands up – full of jangly guitars and gentle hooks, courtesy of leader Fran Healey.  There are times when he sings so softly, as on “Writing to Reach You,” that he sounds like he’s whispering.  

The gentle funk of “The Fear” – the chiming “Driftwood,” the Pepper-esque ballad “Last Laugh of the Laughter,” the slightly rocking “Turn” and the epic standout “Why Does It Always Rain On Me,” all contribute to an impressive song cycle.

The music is mellow, but still really catchy.  And the entire record is solid from start to finish.

The original disc has unlisted bonus material at the end of “Slide Show,” track 10.  After a 4 minute silence, the rocker “Blue Flashing Light” comes roaring in.  Recorded during the sessions, but oddly out of step with the mellower material.  

The original American disc has two extra bonus cuts not here, “20” and “Only Molly Knows.”  

The second disc comes with 19 bonus tracks – b-sides, live cuts, etc.  “Green Behind the Ears” is a great rocker, while “Only Molly Knows” is a gentle acoustic number that was a bonus cut on the US disc.  “Coming Around” is a great, Byrds-esque flavored single that came right after the album.  Some of the tracks rock like their first album, as on “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “High as a Kite.”  There are some odd covers – “Be My Baby” is, um, the Ronettes cover, slowed down.  There are two Joni Mitchell songs – “Urge For Going” is buoyed by acoustic guitar and “River” is her “Christmas” song, on piano. “Baby One More Time” is the Britney Spears song (why?).  And “The Weight” is their (not bad) version of The Band song.  There’s a great acoustic rendition of “Driftwood” which is another highlight. 

Travis would go on to release many more albums.  Some really good, like Ode to J. Smith, and some others, just sort of so-so.  But, The Man Who is still Travis’ masterstroke.  —Tony Peters

339 – Zev Feldman of Resonance Records – Wes Montgomery and Bill Evans archival releases

No record label has done more for the genre of jazz over the last decade than Resonance Records.  The California independent has unearthed gems from a who’s who of jazz, from John Coltrane and Jaco Pastorius, to multiple releases by piano great Bill Evans and guitar master Wes Montgomery.

Those last two artists are the subject of Resonance most-recent projects.  Evans in England features previously unheard live performances from 1969, while Back on Indiana Avenue culls a collection of studio and live tapes of Wes Montgomery right before he became famous.

We chat with Zev Feldman, the co-president of the label, about the crazy stories that led to unearthing these releases by two of the legends of jazz. He also tells us what new project the company is working on for the Christmas holiday.

James Taylor – One Man Band (review)

James Taylor – One Man Band (vinyl edition)

James Taylor – One Man Band (Craft Recordings)

A very fine concert recording makes its debut on vinyl

For an artist who’s been making music for over 50 years, James Taylor has very few live recordings under his belt.  His best, One Man Band, was released in 2007, but has never been available on vinyl – until now, thanks to Craft Recordings.

One of Taylor’s strengths is his warmth, and it comes through in waves on this 2-LP set.  The title, One Man Band, might have you think that it’s a solo, acoustic thing, when actually it refers to the one accompanist, Larry Goldings, who plays piano, organ and bass throughout.  

Honestly, Goldings should be given equal billing, as many times the two musicians interlock, as on a very fine run through of “Country Road,” where Taylor’s voice is surprisingly strong as well.  Unlike so many of his rock contemporaries (Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, etc), James Taylor never screamed.  Perhaps that’s why, unlike them, he’s still got his voice, fully intact, after all these years.  

Of the 19 total songs, most are familiar, but there are surprises too.  Goldings shows off his boogie woogie chops on “Mean Old Man,” while “Chili Dog,” originally from One Man Dog, is good fun.  There’s a “drum machine” (actually a real person) on the funky “Slap Leather,” while a backup choir joins things on “My Traveling Star.”  

Taylor is the ever-professional.  Just think how many thousands of times he’s done “You’ve Got a Friend.”  Yet, he still turns in a mesmerizing performance where his voice is clear, and his finger picking is as supple as ever.  He’s always been an underrated guitarist, and he shows off his chops on electric guitar on “Steamroller Blues.”  In fact, this may be the finest version of that song ever put to tape.  With Taylor on electric and Goldings on Hammond, there’s lots of space for each musician to roam.

The choir returns for the gospel-tinged “Shower the People,” before Taylor does a solo acoustic “Sweet Baby James.”  He does tell a few stories, like the inspiration behind “Carolina in My Mind.”  

The mostly-acoustic instrumentation sounds fabulous in the vinyl format.  The LP’s are quiet, and the music leaps out of the speakers.  The gatefold jacket shows off a nice photo of the venue, The Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  

Taylor did release the album Live in 1993, and it sold millions of copies.  Yet, that concert is a full band recording, which dulls some of his appeal.  At his roots, James Taylor is one of the greatest songwriters of our time.  One Man Band gives his talents a chance to fully shine.  —Tony Peters

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

Southern Avenue - photo by David McClister

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

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

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

Bill Evans – Evans in England (review)

Bill Evans – Evans in England (Resonance Records)

Previously-unreleased live recording of jazz giant in 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Jerardi
Photo by Allen Farst

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

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

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

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

335 – Van Duren – Waiting – New Documentary & Soundtrack

Van Duren

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

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

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

The Delines new album is mesmerizing

The Delines – The Imperial

The Delines – The Imperial (El Cortez Records)

Incredibly evocative, this is music that draws you in

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewel - Pieces of You - vinyl edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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