Marty Stuart has won multiple Grammys, had big hits on the Country charts, like “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin” with Travis Tritt, and has played with a who’s who of country legends. In 1999, Stuart recorded a concept album called The Pilgrim. Based on true events from his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the album is a story of tragedy, loss and redemption. Featuring guest performances from Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, and more, it was a heady project for sure.
Unfortunately, the album was deemed out of step by his then-record label, who didn’t know what to do with it. Yet, the album’s commercial failure help set Stuart on a truer path musically. Now, 20 years later, he’s revisiting project in a beautiful, hard cover book called The Pilgrim, a Wall to Wall Odyssey from BMG books. The 187 page coffee table item is chock full of essays about the writing and recording process, plus fantastic photographs, many that Stuart took himself. In addition, the set comes with a bonus CD of this landmark album.
We talk to Stuart about the events that led to The Pilgrim, how he chose the guest artists, and what advice Johnny Cash gave him after the album’s commercial failure.
With the release of first the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) and then A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), we’ve been reminded of the genius of Mister Rogers. Omnivore Recordings first put out It’s Such a Good Feeling last year, which collected songs from various releases over his career. Now, they dig deeper with a quartet of albums that Rogers released, all four making their digital debut.
You Are Special
Coming and Going
Honestly, now more than ever, the world needs Mister Rogers. His sheer brilliance was right there in front of us the whole time. But, we were too busy being adults. Now, when we feel our most vulnerable, just like a child, it’s music that touches us deep, and gives us comfort.
Three of the albums came out in 1992, followed by Coming and Going, which came out in 1997. Each album is only loosely based on the title. Mostly, it’s just Rogers doing his thing.
He’s backed, as always, by the multitalented Johnny Costa, who is talking and singing too – just on the piano. These recordings, just like the TV show, are a dialogue, not just between Rogers and his audiencem but also between Rogers and Costa. Also part of his erstwhile band is Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on percussion.
Each disc opens with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and closes with “You Are Special,” providing a familiar bookend.
When he spells out the word FRIEND in “You Are Special” or asks questions like “why aren’t live babies like my other toys” in “Some Things I Don’t Understand,” you realize Rogers had an ability to relate to exactly how a child felt.
He also tells stories, like on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – but here we get to see his genius. We know in the story, the girl ate porridge, but he changed it to “lunch” – far more understandable for everyone. The accents of the story are punctuated by Johnny Costa’s melodic piano. Again, at the end of the story, there’s changes. The bears made their beds, fixed Baby Bear’s chair and divided the remaining lunch. Then, they discussed how afraid having Goldilocks in their house was.
“I’m a Man Who Manufactures” features some great piano, we just take it for granted. This was the first introduction to jazz for thousands of little people.
“It’s You I Like” – Rogers isn’t a gifted vocalist, but there’s such a warmth in these recordings – even as adults, you can’t help but get goosebumps. His gift is capturing the wonder of children, like in “Pretending.”
He’s also not afraid to tackle very complex emotions too, like with “The Truth Will Make Me Free,” which deals with why we shouldn’t hide our feelings.
“You Are Growing,” the classic title track, somehow has this genuine yearning. “Are You Brave” is the kind of song that we need during troubling times. “Are you brave above and under especially when you’re inside out.” He reminds kids to take their time growing up before the addition lesson of “One and One Are Two.”
Time and again, Rogers deals with unsavory feelings, like fear, as in “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny.” He not only says it’s ok to feel that way, he assures that you’re not the only one who feels that way. The same goes for dealing with anger in “What Do You Do”? Rogers doesn’t sweep these feelings under the rug. Instead, he assures us that it’s normal to feel that way.
Sophisticated thoughts like “Sometimes People Are Good,” approach the complex idea that things aren’t black and white – sometimes people are good and those same people are bad. Yet, he has this way of explaining things so that everyone gets it.
“Going to Marry Mom” is cute, covering a feeling that a lot of us boys who admired our mothers feel. That’s followed by the silly “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.”
From the album Bedtime, when Rogers sings “I’m Taking Care of You,” it doesn’t sound corny, it sounds reassuring. “I Like to Be Told” expresses everyone’s desire to know what’s coming next.
The sweetness of “Then Your Heart is Full of Love” – in the hands of a more adept vocalist, this could’ve been a hit song – the lyrics are beautiful. “Many Ways to Say I Love You” – who thought that there’s the “cooking way” or the “eating way” to say those three words? “Nighttime Sounds” normalizes the evening noises that can be scary.
The Coming and Going album came out five years later in 1997. By this point, Rogers’ voice seems a little raspy. Whimsical songs like “I Like Someone Who Looks Like You,” are intermingled with “Be Brave, Be Strong” to a light, marching beat, exuding confidence. “Look and Listen” is another one of his classic of tunes, while “I Like to Take My Time” lopes along with Costa adding accents.
There’s a pair of complex thoughts here too – “I’m Still Myself Inside” and “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True.” Rogers shows off his ability to change his voice on songs like “Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft” and “Museum Wares.”
In a world that seems crazier than ever, it’s too bad we no longer have a daily visit to Mister Rogers Neighborhood. But, he did leave us plenty of comfort and direction in these fine recordings. —Tony Peters
Out of Chicago come The Claudettes – their music grabs elements of jazz, blues, surf rock and punk, and the results are what the band likes to call “garage cabaret.” They’ve just recorded their fifth record, called High Times in the Dark, for Forty Below Records. It was helmed by Ted Hutt, who’s produced Old Crow Medicine Show, the Violent Femmes and the Dropkick Murphys.
The results of the collaboration is easily their best album to date – a perfect showcase for singer Berit Ulseth. Johnny Iguana is the keyboardist, he also writes all the songs. He has an impressive list of collaborations, including being Junior Wells’ piano player, as well as stints with BB King and Buddy Guy.
Canadian rocker Sass Jordan is probably best known in the States for a pair of gritty albums in the mid-90’s and hit singles like “Make You a Believer” and “High Road Easy.” She won a Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist of 1989, she’s portrayed Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love Janis, and she dueted with Joe Cocker on a song from the Bodyguard soundtrack. But, all along, the best word to describe Sass is REAL.
Her latest project, Rebel Moon Blues, embodies that description, featuring seven blues covers, casting a wide net over the genre – from Willie Dixon and Elmore James, to Rory Gallagher and Taj Mahal. Plus, she’s written a brand new original that fits in perfect with this hallowed material. Everything was done live in the studio with her signature, whiskey-soaked vocals over top.
Sass talks about the origin of this project and the fun process of picking the songs. Plus she talks about how she was able to have raw rock hits, even during the height of Grunge.
Robin McAuley is probably best known for his stint in the McAuley Schenker Group in the late 80s/early 90s – putting songs on rock radio like “Anytime” and “When I’m Gone.” McAuley has also spent time in Grand Prix, Survivor and Far Corporation.
His latest project is a star-studded affair – Black Swan features McAuley on lead vocals along with Reb Beach of Winger and Whitesnake on guitars, Jeff Pilson of Dokken and Foreginer on bass, and Matt Starr of Ace Frehley and Mr. Big on drums. The combination of all four of these great musicians manages to sound both familiar and fresh.
McAuley talks about how this all-star lineup came about, how vampires inspired one of the new songs, and how he almost died earlier in the year!
2020 marks Johnny Mathis’ 64th anniversary as a recording artist. He has never stopped touring and recording since his first album was released back in 1956. “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “It’s Not For Me To Say,” and “Wonderful, Wonderful” are just a smattering of his timeless hits.
He continues to stay busy in many ways – he’s recently dueted with both Freda Payne and Dionne Warwick on two new songs, plus Second Disc and Real Gone Music have been reissuing some of Johnny’s albums from the Seventies, including a “lost” record with him and the funk band Chic. In addition, he’s recently guested on the season finale of Criminal Minds.
Johnny is currently on the road with his Voice of Romance Tour, coming to a city near you.
We talk with Mathis about the “Voice of Romance” moniker, plus he tells us how he beat out NBA legend Bill Russell in a high jumping competition (and what he thinks of the hoopster’s singing ability!). Mathis also talks about his other interests outside of music and gives us the story behind his classic song, “Misty.”
Marshall Crenshaw has spent the last 40 years creating memorable, melodic-laden rock songs, scoring hits with songs like “Someday, Someway” and “Whenever You’re on My Mind.” Plus, he co-wrote “Til I Hear it From You,” a big hit for the Gin Blossoms, and he’s had several bit parts in some Hollywood movies, like La Bamba and Peggy Sue Got Married.
Well everything old is new again – when Crenshaw was issuing albums in the 1990’s and early 2000s, vinyl was dead – so those records only came out on CD. Now, he’s regained the rights to those albums and has started reissuing them, with bonus tracks – and on…you guessed it, vinyl. The first in the series of reissues is Crenshaw’s 1996 album, Miracle of Science, which also features some brand new material.
Myles Goodwyn has been a guiding force behind Canadian rockers, April Wine, for 50 years running now, scoring hits in the US, like “Just Between You and Me,” “Roller,” and “You Could’ve Been a Lady.” In 2018, Goodwyn issued a solo album titled Myles Goodwyn – Friends of the Blues, which garnered an East Coast Music Award and a Juno nomination. Now, he’s back with Friends of the Blues 2, and once again he’s assembled a who’s who of Canadian blues giants, including Jack De Keyzer, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and Angel Forrest.
Goodwyn, who’s known more for his rock music, talks about how this blues project came about. He also tells us the origin of April Wine’s first hit, “You Could’ve Been a Lady,” and how the band was embraced in the early days of MTV.
When I was a growing up in the 1970’s my neighbor owned a custom van. Both sides of the vehicle were the canvas for a larger than life painting of an owl, with piercing yellow eyes and outstretched wings; a meticulous airbrushed version of Hugh Syme’s original album artwork for Rush’s second album, Fly By Night. This was a van that belonged to a true Rush fan, a place where any music would do as long as it was all Rush all the time.
My musical journey with the band started in earnest a few years later with my oldest sister’s copy of Exit Stage Left. There was and is something special about listening to music on vinyl. I remember holding the album, reading the liner notes and seeing the artwork that Hugh Syme designed for the album, it would have looked great on an Econoline van.
Fast forward to 2019, the five LP box set Clockwork Angels Tour (Rhino/Atlantic Records) arrives in the mail. In the era of streaming music, it feels almost remarkable to see and hold an LP box set. Clockwork Angels Tour is an exquisitely packaged and pressed live recording from Rush’s tour to support the studio album Clockwork Angels. While it is possible to stream thefive-album box set,this is a body of work that begs to be consumed in a linear fashion, on vinyl. Clockwork Angels Tour is an epic 31-song musical journey, that rolls, twists and intertwines, each song effortlessly slides into and beyond the other.
The majority of the tracks from the exceptional Clockwork Angels album are found on Sides C-F of the box set. These songs are not a separate act of the play, but a musical thread that weaves the incredible talent and development of Rush, it’s the evolution and pursuit of the craft. With Rush this pursuit never seems to be complete, it is the process and the product.
The brilliance of the band’s 38 years of musical creativity is on display, this is not a greatest hits album it’s a sample of the live experience with Rush. It’s a complex story that seems to be aimed at drawing you in and placing you within the interplay of all things that came before and will come after. Clockwork Angels Tour is a musical and artistic work of art, that begs you to slow down, take some time and lose yourself in the remarkable musical talent of Rush. —Brian Dzwonek
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (180 Gram Vinyl Edition) (Fantasy/Concord)
This new version blows the original vinyl away
As a lifelong collector of vinyl, I will often tell you that “older is better.” I’d rather search out an original pressing of an album than buy some new version. The reason is that, in my experience, a lot of new vinyl is done with very little quality control. Well, here comes Craft Recordings to, once again, prove me wrong.
Craft Recordings has recently re-issued both Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys on vinyl in celebration of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 50th anniversary. They sent us Willy and the Poor Boys and we compared it to an original vinyl copy in our library.
The results are stunning.
While the original vinyl sounds pretty good, this new, 180-gram, edition is far superior in every way. First, this new version is very quiet – the pressing was done with a great deal of care. Second, and really the biggest difference, is that there is so much more depth to this new pressing. The guitar at the beginning of “Down on the Corner” is rich, there’s more punch to the drums on “It Came Out of the Sky,” and the acoustic guitars on “Cottonfields” are warm.
The album was created using the half-speed mastering process, meaning the original audio was played back at half the speed and the cutting lathe was also slowed down, allowing the grooves to be cut more precisely.
Everything from “Fortunate Son” to “The Midnight Special” jumps out of the speakers. These classic recordings have never sounded this good on their original, vinyl format.
As an added bonus, the album comes packaged in a heavy weight cardboard sleeve, replicating the original, tip-on jacket.
CCR were one of the original, roots-rock American bands. It makes sense then, that they should be enjoyed in analog.
I sincerely wish that all vinyl reissues were given the same treatment as this Willy and the Poor Boys edition. Vinyl fans rejoice! —Tony Peters