408 – Peter Case – New Album, Doctor Moan

Like a lot of us, Peter Case found himself with lots of time on his hands during the pandemic.  A piano in his living room beckoned him and he started to write songs, a throwback to the rhythm & blues, and boogie woogie he heard as a kid.  The result is Doctor Moan, 11-songs, stripped down, without drums, mostly led by his pounding piano.

Case was part of the seminal punk band the Nerves in the late 70’s, before forming the Plimsouls, who had an MTV hit with “A Million Miles Away,” and a spot in the 80’s teen classic, Valley Girl.  Since the mid-80’s, Case has led an eclectic solo career that’s seen him garner three Grammy nominations and lots of accolades. 

All of his past seeps into the pores of this new, sparse offering, available from Sunset Blvd Records.

We chat with Case about how playing the piano during lockdown took him back to his roots as a kid. He also talks about a new documentary about him that should see widespread release soon.

Peach & Quiet – Beautiful Thing (review)

Peach & Quiet – Beautiful Thing (Peach & Quiet)

Beautiful Thing is the latest release from the Canadian duo of Heather Read and Jonny Miller.  

The striking African Peach Moth on the cover of the new album from Peach & Quiet is something that we can all relate to. Post-pandemic, we’re all looking for something we can hope for – a fresh start. Like a lot of albums coming out now, this album was largely written during the recent lockdown.  Yet, there’s a warmth and reassurance that weaves itself throughout these twelve tracks.

On the opening cut, “Beautiful Thing,” Miller sings “I got waylaid and lost / but I figured it out” – a sentiment I think we can all relate to, as our worlds were turned upside down.

We’ve certainly been through some dark times, and that’s perfectly captured in “Pockets Empty.” Read confesses “Now I’m the one with an empty house / no honey and a big black eye,” graphically detailing the end of a poisonous relationship.  The last thing you hear on the track is Read’s voice, allowing that pain to linger. 

On the soulful, “This Time,” Read says over and over “This time /  I’ll get it right” – as if, by repeating this, it will somehow become reality.  By the end of the song, she realizes “you didn’t want me to be someone else / so I became a better version of myself.”  And, by the end of the song, she changes her tune to  “this time / I GOT it right.”

Haven’t we all fantasized about leaving everything far behind and starting over?  In “Oklahoma or Arkansas,” Miller does just that, as he sings “notify the country / and my next of kin / they can search my name / but that won’t help / you’ll never find me / I’ll be someone else.”

Good albums get elevated by little things – like the tremelo guitar on “Beautiful Thing,” or the weepy pedal steel on “Calgary Skyline,” or the echoes of the vocals on “Behind the Sun.” “Save Me Tonight” has an interesting keyboard that suddenly shows up near the end of the song, creating tension.

Read is a rather versatile vocalist – she approaches each of her songs with a different persona.  Obviously exposing a rawness on the aforementioned “Pockets Empty,” but her voice is angelic, clear and soaring on “Just Before the Dawn.” She pleads on “This Time,” and whispers the verses on “Song From a Tree.”

Both Read and Miller duet on “That is For Sure.” – I love the blend of the two of them together.

The album closes with “When You’re Gone,” featuring a loping melody and slide guitar.  Things end abruptly as Miller sings “I’ll see you in my dreams.”

One thing I really like about this album is that nothing overstays its welcome.  There are several times when I was shocked that the song was already over.  The only exception is the slow burn of “Behind the Sun,” which clocks in at almost six minutes. An enjoyable listen that begs to be repeated. –Tony Peters

Various Artists – Wattstax: The Complete Concert (review)

Various Artists – Wattstax: The Complete Concert (10-LP Box Set) (Stax/Craft Recordings)

One of the most important concerts in history gets deluxe treatment

On a recent trip to Memphis, my family stopped by the Civil Rights Museum.  Among all the fantastic exhibits was a section devoted to the Wattstax concert – at the time, the largest, non-protest gathering of Black people in history.  Craft Recordings, along with the resurrected Stax label, has just issued Wattstax: The Complete Concert, a 10-LP box set, documenting this historic event.

They said it couldn’t be done – over 100,000 African Americans, and not a single arrest.  The entire day was a celebration of Black culture – diverse and multi-faceted.  Everyone, from the musicians, the camera crew, sound people, security and audience, were all Black. The music ranged from soul and funk, to blues and gospel, to jazz and rock n’ roll – all genres stemming from this gifted race of people.  

Never before had an entire day’s music been sponsored by a single record label, Stax out of Memphis. They rolled out their fantastic roster of talent, from the Staple Singers, Carla & Rufus Thomas, to the Bar Kays and Isaac Hayes, among many others.

It has been dubbed the “Black Woodstock” and in many ways it was just as important as the original 1969 hippie fest.

For one, the concert was organized to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts Riots.  It also helped raise money for several charities.  But, most importantly, it showed the entire world that an event this large could happen peacefully. This is the place where the Reverend Jesse Jackson gave his famous “I Am Somebody” speech – and it still is chill inducing to this day.  

The concert opens with “Salvation Symphony,” an orchestrated piece written and conducted by Dale Warren, who had just added the great strings to Isaac Hayes’ now-classic Hot Buttered Soul album.  This very long piece, clocking in at over 19 minutes, goes through several movements, including some fiery guitar work.  

After a couple of impressive opening numbers from Kim Weston, and an inspired speech from Rev. Jackson, the Staple Singers storm the stage and immediately set the bar high with the funky “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom).”  “I Like the Things About Me” features a long spoken piece from Pops Staples, saying “no nationality goes through what the Black people went through and still survives like we do – right on”!  They end off with the one-two punch of “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” – the latter just seems to jump out of the speakers in this live setting, and Mavis Staples is a force of nature.  The Staple Singers got the second most time of any of the artists on this concert, yet you’re still left wanting more.

There’s a heavy gospel presence throughout the entire concert.  Jimmy Jones of “Handy Man” fame sings in a low voice “Somebody Bigger Than You and I.”  Several of the lesser-known acts on the Stax label each got one song to showcase their talents.  Louise McCord’s “Better Get a Move On” is phenomenal – her vocals are spine-tingling, while Eric Mercury does a rousing, tent-rising rendition of “I Shall Not Be Moved.”  

It’s amazing the diversity here, gospel numbers like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” rub shoulders with seductive,funk numbers like “Them Hot Pants.”  I particularly like the harmonica workout of “Wade in the Water” from Little Sonny.  One of the original Stax artists, the underrated William Bell, turns in a fantastic version of  “I Forgot to Be Your Lover.”  His delivery is so smooth; a stark contrast to a lot of what’s on display here – rough.  Another Stax veteran, Eddie Floyd, rocks hard with his signature “Knock on Wood.”  

There are plenty of surprises throughout this set, like the falsetto vocal of “Explain it to Her Mama” by the Temprees, or the heavy soul of the Rance Allen Group’s “Lying on the Truth.”  The Bar Kays work the crowd into a frenzy with “Son of Shaft.”  

Sigh.  Carla Thomas is in top form.  She had such a great voice.  Why she faded into obscurity is a mystery, but she has one of the best sets of the whole day.  “Pick Up the Pieces” is fantastic soul, while this version of “B-A-B-Y” is much faster than the studio rendition.  Then, she digs back to her very first hit, the tender ballad, “Gee Whiz.”

Legendary bluesman Albert King turns in a blistering set, including the slow burn of “Got to Be Some Changes Made.”  He really bends the notes on “Angel of Mercy,” making his signature Flying V guitar cry.

There’s a really interesting point during Rufus Thomas’ set where the crowd starts to overrun the football field and Rufus implores them “power to the people / let’s go to the stands.”  His songs get stopped multiple times and he ends up pointing out people individually, rather hilariously, to get them off the grass.  Eventually Rufus treats them all to an extended “Funky Chicken.”

Another left turn is the gospel crooning of Billy Eckstine’s “If I Can Help Somebody.” The warts and all approach to this set means you get 20 minutes of Eckstine also imploring folks to stay off the field (the promoters made a deal with the LA Coliseum to use the facility as long as fans stayed off the grass – home to NFL games).  

The headliner of the entire day was Isaac Hayes, who was arguably the hottest black artist on the planet at that point, having won Oscars and Grammys.  “Theme From Shaft” is actually done twice – there were technical issues with the first run through (although, I think it’s a better version).  Hayes has the ability to be real with “Soulsville” but then gets sensual with “Your Love is So Doggone Good.”  He ends off with the powerful, passionate “I Stand Accused.” 

Closing the over six-hour event was Jesse Jackson and Jimmy Jones doing a gospel version of “If I Had a Hammer.”  

Wattstax ultimately birthed two audio soundtracks and a feature film, all put out by Stax.  The film featured not only Wattstax footage, but also performances of artists that couldn’t attend the event, along with dialogue from a then up-and-coming Richard Pryor.  All of this can be found on the 7-CD and streaming version called Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection.

If you enjoyed the Summer of Soul movie and soundtrack, Wattstax: The Complete Concert is right up your alley.  This is historically significant recordings, but it’s the incredible performances that make this concert a must-hear.  —Tony Peters

Ian Jones – Results Not Typical (review)

Ian Jones – Results Not Typical (Thin Silver Records)

 Introductory full-length from Pacific Northwest singer/songwriter

The first thing that grabs you about the debut album from Seattle musician Ian Jones is how good it sounds.  Right away, you realize that this isn’t the standard, cobbled-together-on-Pro Tools affair.  There’s an airy feel and comfortable looseness that only comes from musicians playing in a room together (hence the album’s title, Results Not Typical).  

The next thing that hits you is Jones’ voice – it pulls you in, and sets you in the passenger seat for the ride that his songs take you on.  There’s a restless spirit to the eleven tracks here.  He doesn’t know where he’s going on “Rollin’,” but that’s the point – there’s freedom in that very fact.  He doesn’t want to ride on that “Lost Highway” any longer, instead saying, over and over to “let it go.”  

Many of these songs are imbued with wisdom that only comes from having lived through times, both good and bad. He’s brutally honest on “You Can’t,” where he acknowledges that we’d all like to take things back that we said…but, it’s not that easy.  On “Someday,” he gives this advice: “See you never know what might be coming / so you gotta say ‘I love you’ soon.”  

The entire album definitely has a cohesiveness, but there’s enough versatility to these tracks to keep things interesting.  The horns really propel the album’s first single, “Lost Highway,” while the strings and piano on “Athens Smiles” add a tension and release to yet another track about leaving home, and then returning again.

“Again” is sort of a Bonnie & Clyde tale where “the sun went down and we never looked back / we ditched the body ‘neath the railroad tracks” (sounds like the start of a great movie).  “Goodbyes Are the Hardest Words” wraps up this excellent album fittingly; there’s an echoey guitar solo that’s just soaked with longing near the end.

This is one of those albums that begs to played on a good pair of speakers because it just sounds that good.  The bass isn’t something that I usually pick out, but you can really hear it, and it really drives these tracks (played alternately by Gabe Noel and Jonathan Flaugher).  

Most debuts aren’t this confident. “Results Not Typical”?  Yes, and we’re grateful  —Tony Peters

407 – Savoy Brown – Final Album, Blues All Around

Savoy Brown was one of the longest-running bands of the British blues rock movement. Formed in 1965 by guitarist Kim Simmonds, the band enjoyed sold-out shows, and hit albums on the Billboard charts.  The lineup changed, but Simmonds remained constant for 57 years, until his passing in December of 2022. 

At the time of his death, he had just completed his 42nd album, called Blues All Around.  Now, that final word from Savoy Brown is being released through Quarto Valley Records. We welcome in the two remaining members of Savoy Brown, Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums.

They talk about working with Simmonds while he was undergoing treatment; he was still giving instructions on how he wanted things to sound from the hospital. They also talk about how he had to adapt his way of playing guitar to accommodate his declining health. Pat and Garnet also reveal possible plans for even more unreleased Savoy Brown material.

The Vogues – At Co & Ce – The Complete Singles & More (review)

The Vogues – At Co & Ce – The Complete Singles & More (Omnivore Recordings)

Sonically superior sound and some b-sides making their digital debut 

The Vogues were one of the more interesting vocal groups to emerge in the mid-Sixties.  Their clever use of harmony and syncopation created some memorable singles that still stand up today.  Omnivore Recordings have just culled together all the band’s early singles, including rare b-sides, many of which have never been available in a digital platform.

The set opens with the Vogues’ cover of a Petula Clark song, “You’re the One.”  Jangly guitars and great harmonies build up to a big chorus.  It immediately made the Top Ten.  The single’s b-side, “Some Words,” is a pretty ballad with a nice sax solo.  Next, is the band’s signature song, “5 O’Clock World,” and it’s just fantastic. With a clever use of “hey” as the percussive background, the song resonates with anyone who’s sick of their job.  They’ve done fantastic work on the remastering, because the track just shimmers (many other versions on streaming sound terrible).  That track’s b-side, “Nothing to Offer You,” is a decent rewrite of the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You,” complete with a great Bill Burkette falsetto.

“Magic Town” is similar to the Drifters’ “On Broadway” in its theme of tough times in the entertainment business.  I’m surprised this wasn’t a bigger hit – it has a great chorus and piano solo.  The b-side, “Humpty Dumpty,” has a Bo Diddley beat and recalls “Hey Little Girl” by Dee Clark.  

Things started to get more sophisticated with “The Land of Milk and Honey” – dig the vocal percussion “chaaa” that repeats throughout the song.  I bet the Zombies were listening to this for their later hit, “Time of the Season.”  The b-side, “True Lovers,” features some fantastic falsetto and harmonies.  “Please Mr. Sun” is imbued with gorgeous harmonies, but the band began veering more toward the middle of the road, away from invention.

Their momentum began to stall with “That’s the Tune” – it really wasn’t the tune, it doesn’t really stand out like their other singles.  “Summer Afternoon” features a banjo, flute, and chimes, but is more of an atmospheric piece than memorable.  Their final single for Co & Ce was “Lovers of the World Unite” – a lukewarm attempt at a youth anthem.

After the several failed singles listed above, the band signed with the much-larger Warner Brothers records and managed to crank out quite a few more hits, including “My Special Angel,” “Turn Around, Look at Me,” and “Til,” but none of those featured any of the inventive elements that made songs like “5 O’Clock World” timeless, preferring instead to keep things safe.

The “& More” part of this collection consists of unreleased material during their tenure at the Co & Ce label.  Curious is “You Baby” – a song that has been done by everyone from the Mamas & Papas to the Turtles.  Not sure why this never came out, because they do a good job with it.  “Where Did We Go Wrong” has a Phil Spector feel in the production, while “Lonely Mixed-Up Girl” has an infectious, Fifties vibe.

The Vogues are certainly not among the most remembered vocal groups of the Sixties.  However, At Co & Ce – The Complete Singes & More shows that the band is deserving of another look.  —Tony Peters

406 – Robin McAuley – New Album, Alive, plus details on next Black Swan album

Robin McAuley’s career has spanned five decades – Grand Prix, Far Corporation, MSG, Survivor, solo records and more recently, the excellent supergroup Black Swan. In fact, the last few years have been some of his most productive to date. He’s back with a brand new solo album called appropriately, Alive. 

He tells us why this album rocks a little harder than the last, and also why there’s push and pull between songs like “Alive” and “Dead as a Bone.” He also recently celebrated a big birthday, and reveals plans for the next Black Swan album. 

Alive comes out Feburary 17 from Frontiers Music

NRBQ – Tiddlywinks (review)

NRBQ – Tiddlywinks (Omnivore Recordngs)

In retrospect, this might be the band’s finest record

Every new album from NRBQ is an adventure.  From the get go, the band’s main focus was to play…everything.  What genre they are varies from song to song.  That ecclecticism made it impossible to market, but was an absolute joy to their devout followers.  

Tiddlywinks, the band’s eighth album, continues the remastering campaign from Omnivore, which began with the excellent box set, High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective in 2016.

This album just sounds fantastic. 

Engineer Tom Mark talks about all the work that went into this record in the liner notes.  Take, for example, the leadoff track, “Feel You Around Me.”  The bouncy beat and catchy melody mask the fact that there’s a lot going on here; layers of instruments (I swear there’s a ukulele in there somewhere), plus a soulful vocal from Al Anderson.  

That’s followed by one of NRBQ’s most famous tunes: “Me and the Boys,” one of the all-time great drivin’ tunes that just sounds better the further down you press the accelerator.  The song has been covered by everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Dave Edmunds, but there’s something more raw and off-kilter about the original – fantastic drumming from Tom Ardolino, and strange noises fading in and out.  Oh, a great vocal from Terry Adams too.

Since there was no way they were going to top that, the band shifts gears for the jumpin’ jazz of the “Music Goes Round and Around,” which dates back to the 1930’s and Tommy Dorsey.  Here, the band is on fire.  The Whole Wheat Horns are on full display while Adams hammers on clavinet.    

After those dizzying heights, it’s time to slow things down with bassist Joey Spampinato’s gorgeous, acoustic “Beverly.”  The harmonies will give you goosebumps and the clever keyboards add some nice flair.  Adams’ “That I Get Back Home” reminds me of Beatles’ around the Second Album era (dig the tasty, Rockabilly-infused guitar solo from Anderson, and the clever use of flange in certain places).  

And, as in all NRBQ albums, just when you thought they were gonna play it straight…nope.  “Roll Call” is, um, hard to describe.  It starts slow with just Adams singing and piano, then bursts into this incredibly catchy section featuring chiming guitars and keys, while he asks “are you here,” but then the songs quickly drops into country during the verses.  

Side two of the original album opens with the boogie woogie of “Want You to Feel Good Too.”  Geez, Anderson had a knack for writing beautiful, midtempo numbers that should’ve been hits on soft rock stations (“Ridin’ In My Car,” anyone?).  “Never Take the Place of You” would fit perfectly on some of these Yacht Rock stations, pounding piano, soulful vocal, and even “ooos” on the background vocals.  I mean, it could be Robbie Dupree or Stephen Bishop.

Things get back to rockin’ with Spampinato’s “You Can’t Hide,” but turn cute with Adams’ “Definition of Love,” featuring a tasty, countrified solo by Anderson.  Things end on the wordless, “Hobbies,” which features some Monk-ish piano plinking and honkin’ sax, the entire things ends with Adams moaning.

They’ve unearthed a few bonus tracks as well.  The harmony-laden “I Don’t Think of…” reminds me of classic Buck Owens, while Adams’ “Big Goodbyes” sounds disjointed until the chorus arrives.   There’s also a pair of commercials (one radio, one TV) featuring wrestler sensation, Captain Lou Albano, that you just have to hear to believe.  

While diversity has always been a hallmark of NRBQ’s albums, Tiddlywinks may, in fact, be the most solid collection in their catalog.  Literally, everything here works – there’s not a miss in the bunch.  Which makes Tiddlywinks an excellent entry point into the glorious world of NRBQ.  —Tony Peters

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

405 – Dar Williams – New Book, How to Write a Song That Matters

Dar Williams first garnered attention with her song, “When I Was a Boy,” from her album, The Honesty Room, almost 30 years ago. Since then, she’s issued nine more studio albums, collaborated with many artists, and written several books. Her latest is How to Write a Song That Matters from Hachette Books, to which fellow songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter says “The wisdom and the lessons she shares will illuminate not only the world of songwriters but anyone who seeks the sustenance of a creative life and practice.”

Williams tells us how she went from writing her own songs to teaching others how to write their songs. She reveals that, even if you don’t play an instrument, you can still compose a song. She also discusses ways to positively critique other songs, and how to start an open mic.

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