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Music Reviews

Peter Stampfel

Peter Stampfel

20th Century in 100 Songs

Louisiana Red Hot Records

This might be one of the most intimidating projects I’ve ever covered. Peter Stampfel played with the Holy Modal Rounders and has one of those “made for the blues” voices. He’s not slick or over produced, but you can tell he’s in love with musical forms that make the great American song book. He’s gone back over the entire 20th century and selected a single song that he regards as the best of the day, then he sings it with minimal accompaniment – a piano, a guitar, maybe a mandolin. That’s 100 tracks, totally about 5 hours of musical history all presented in project that took nearly 20 years to complete.

The earliest tunes are some of the best on this collection. He starts with the 1900’s “I Love You Truly”, a rather sappy love song from the Tin Pan Alley days when every middle class house had at least a piano to allow folks to entertain each other. This music often comes to us via rips of old shellac discs, compete with their low fidelity, non-mixed lo fi sound. This is the world of American tunes so old and familiar we consider their origin: “row, row, row your boat”, “Take me out to the ball game,” “Toyland” and “Look for the Silver Lining” all feel as comfortable as grandma’s overstuffed couch. Between these “Hits” are tunes I never heard before “Ida”, “Ace in the Hole” SOMETHING. They form a cocoon of old memories, and frankly, they are not bad songwriting by any standards.

As we cruse though the ’20s and ’30s the music of the talkies appears. Movies helped spread popular music, and in this era we find standards including “Charleston” and “Blue Sky” and “Moonglow.” Stampfel is still in his meter of old-time music, he did some time with the Holy Modal Rounders. They were an odd bunch, mostly known for their Dr. Demento hit “Do you like Boobs A Lot?” Stampfel is a guy I could hang out with. Along with these standards we find lesser tunes: “East of the Sun” and “My Reverie” will likely draw blanks. By the 30’s jazz thoroughly infused the musical texture of American pop tunes, and it was the high energy Dixieland sound underneath makes even the lesser known tunes like “Love on a Gray Hound Bus” and “How Are things in Glocomora?” still appeal. Next we hear the 1949 tune “Slipping Around.” This country some open addresses infidelity and may be one of the earliest glimmers of that “Countrypolitan” sound that dominated 1960s and ’70s commercial country music scene.

As Stampfel enters the swinging ’60s the collection begins to get interesting for a new reason: What was he thinking of when he arranged these tunes? The first sign of fun is the 1960 goofy “Running Bare” which centers folks caught skinny dipping. The Johnny Mercier hit “Moon River” takes the 1961 slot and with “Along Comes Mary” and we are now square in the rock and roll era. The 1970s tunes start with a country arrangement of Elton Johns “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and a very interesting take on Dylan’s blues-rock “Tangled Up in Blue.” It’s certainly a blues style, and a significant broadening of my musical world. But things are now getting weird: the 1977 punk tune “2-4-6-8 Motorway” by Tom Robinson is totally transformed. Stampfel goes wild with The Buzzcocks “Have You Ever Fallen in Love with Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With?” and Elvis Costello’s “Girls Talk.” As we roll into the ’90s “Laura the Horse”, the cross species story intrigued me, and there is a gradually returns to earth with Ben Folds treatise on shopping and poverty “Common People.” By the time we hear “Earth To Grandma” all sense of cross style musicianship is subsumed by the sheer scope and weirdness of this project. It overwhelms me. By now, a blues arrangement of “Tubthumping” doesn’t even make me blink. You gotta hear this stuff, you’ll never view music the same way again.

PeterStmpfls20thcentury.com

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Print Reviews

And In The End: The Last Days Of The Beatles

And In The End: The Last Days Of The Beatles

by Ken McNab

From the author of The Beatles In Scotland, Ken McNab, comes his riveting, eye-opening and factual account of the last 12 months the world’s most beloved band while they were still an intact and cohesive music-making machine. And In The End offers over 30+ eyewitness accounts of the events of 1969 chronologically that allows the reader the opportunity to be a fly on the wall of the self-implosion of The Beatles.

McNab recounts the quagmire of hostilities that were present from the very start of 1969 as The Beatles stepped into the recording studio for their next album – no one knowing that it would be the last time The Fab Four would ever be together in a recording studio. He tells us the attitude of each member of the band and the feelings each had for one another. These were not the same days as when they were best friends and hanging out at The Cavern Club. There was jealousy-filled screaming and threatening arguments right from the outset and these arguments were not just limited to writing and recording. Apple Corps was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as the entire establishment had not had a true business manager since the death of Brian Epstein in August of 1967. The only makeshift management in place at the beginning of 1969 was Peter Brown, who was merely Epstein’s personal assistant. Brown had no experience or education to be acting as in such a role for a band of the magnitude as The Beatles. When it was learned by the band that Apple was in such financial shambles it was apparent to them all that a true business manager was urgently needed. Even in the seriousness of the potential loss of Apple, the band locked horns once again. There was an explosive divide over which person would fill Brian Epstein’s shoes. Meeting after meeting there were altercations that would, at points, nearly turn into boxing matches. By the end of the year, The Beatles will discover that the choice of American Allen Klein (against McCartney’s wishes) would be a disastrous mistake.

And In The End gives a glimpse into each of The Beatles personal and private lives. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-ins” in protest against the Vietnam War from whence came the Lennon song, “Give Peace A Chance” is detailed, as well as Ringo Starr’s work with Peter Sellers on the film The Magic Christian. Russ Gibb, a Detroit disc jockey, tells of how the “Paul is dead!” rumor was started and how close it came to sending McCartney into a nervous breakdown. Lastly, McNab tells us of George Harrison’s drifting into Hinduism, his working closely with Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, and how he was beginning to grow in his own music-writing abilities.

This is just a tiny amount of information McNab covers in And In The End. McNab goes to great lengths to make sure the ground is covered in relating each incident in the last year of the greatest rock band. It can be complicated at times as it involves a large amount of data involving investments and publishing rights which can be a headache even for a seasoned person dealing in those business areas. Nonetheless, it is something every Beatles fan should take the time to read, as there is a lot of unknown information concerning the band’s last year together and truly does help in understanding the breakup of The Beatles.

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Music Reviews

Pokey Lafarge

Pokey Lafarge

Rock Bottom Rhapsody

New West Records

Rock Bottom Rhapsody is Pokey LaFarge’s newest album at New West Records and is an amazing 13 track album that takes you through the paces of self destruction, hitting rock bottom, and emerging with a new outlook light that shines through on the other side. Pokey wrote the album during a turbulent time in his life but, thankfully, lived through it and came through the experience with a new perspective as he went in the studio to record. Pokey says “The man singing the songs isn’t exactly the same man who wrote them.”

The first track, “Rock Bottom Rhapsody”, is a smooth instrumental that puts an image in my head of Pokey on stage getting ready to pull back the curtain of the past couple years. It’s the introduction to where he is now as much as the second track “End Of My Rope”, seems to be an introduction to the past. Pokey starts the chorus “let me die on stage singing the last song I know” and ends the chorus with, “Well, I’m a long way from normal and not much left to go, til I get to the end of my rope”.

“Fuck Me Up” has a swing tempo with amazing lyrics as he croons, “Well I might go get drunk and stoned. Cause it’s better than being armed and crazy, If I never come back, wherever I end up at, is where I was supposed to be”. Luckily where he was supposed to be was back in Chicago with friend and collaborator Chris Seefried. Chris and Pokey did an amazing job of stripping the music to precisely what was needed and letting the vocals and lyrics lead the way as the rest of the musicians provide the foundation.

Pokey LaFarge makes albums that are a mix of all the traditional guys like Sinatra, Martin, and Crosby but, as Pokey says, “I also consider people like Roy Orbison, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and Tom Jones crooners as well.” You can hear all those influences in the skillful way he maintains a vintage sound but isn’t bound by those influences as he creates something fresh from them. And, as you travel from song to song, the album will take you in different directions and different emotions for each song.

“Lucky Sometimes” is a chance encounter that ends in a love story that sounds like it played out in a 1950’s Broadway storyline. “Just the Same” is the opposite of “Lucky Sometimes” as the character tries to fix those “two broken hearts” but with a vague ending that might not go the way he hopes. “Fallen Angel” is a true masterpiece of the album with a catchy Latin, Rockabilly, French-ish groove and razor sharp lyrics that you just can’t help but sing along with.

The album has a long list of players and each one is felt throughout the album. Alex Hall is on percussion, keyboards and backing vocals, Joel Paterson on guitar, Scott Ligon on piano, guitar and backing vocals, Jimmy Sutton on bass, Deron Johnson on piano, Johnny Flaugher on upright bass, and Chris Seefried on guitar and keys. Marley Munroe, Casey McDonough, and Marieme Diop all take backing vocals as Paul Cartwright, Lucia Micarelli, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, and Andrew Duckles all contribute with the amazing strings. All the songs were recorded at Hi-Style Studio in Chicago, IL, except for “Lucky Sometimes”, which was recorded at Valentine Studios in Los Angeles.

I honestly cannot pick a favorite track from the album as each one grabs you for a different reason and demands your attention in its entirety. If you haven’t listened to any of his music, Rock Bottom Rhapsody is a great place to start and will instantly make you a fan as it did with me. The album is available everywhere online including his website, www.pokeylafarge.net.

www.pokeylafarge.net

Categories
Music Reviews

Bill Kirchen

Bill Kirchen

The Proper Years

Last Music Co.

If you consider yourself a roots music aficionado and aren’t familiar with Bill Kirchen, friend, what rock have you been hiding under? Kirchen was a founding member of the great country/Americana/sleazy trucker music outfit Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, who, along with fellow pioneers Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, spent the late ’60s and most of the ’70s crisscrossing the country playing their odes to fast cars, loose women and, of course, pot in every roadhouse and honky tonk that would have them. The Airmen broke up in 1976 and Bill went out on his own, becoming known for his amazing Telecaster skills, great songwriting, and live shows.

Early on in his solo career Kirchen hooked up with pop/punk wunderkind Nick Lowe, and it’s from this era that his 2 cd set, The Proper Years springs. And it’s a jewel. Starting with Bill’s ode to the Telecaster guitar, “Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods” and going into “Rocks Into Sand”, “Truth Be Told” and more, Kirchen shows he not just an amazing guitarist, he’s a great songwriter as well as a seasoned interpreter of other peoples material. His take on Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” is as good as any you’ll hear, and he brings the Kirchen touch to Butch Hancock’s “Oxblood”, included here as a bonus track.

Of course the set includes versions of some of his “greatest hits” including “Womb To The Tomb”, “Hot Rod Lincoln”, “Truck Stop at the End of the World” and his stoner ode “Down to Seeds and Stems”. This 38 cut collection serves as a great intro into the man who helped invent this stuff, the great Bill Kirchen. Rev it up Bill, rev it UP!

www.billkirchen.com

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Music Reviews

Green Leaf Rustlers

Green Leaf Rustlers

From Within Marin

Silver Arrow Records

Now understand, I ain’t against old hippies getting high and rippin’ on some tunes, in fact, I want to be one someday (soon!). And when the old hippies in question are Chris Robinson (Black Crowes, etc), legendary bassist Pete Sears (Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship, Rod Stewart), the guitarist from The Mother Hips Greg Loiacono, guitarist/pedal steel player Barry Sless (David Nelson Band) and drummer John Molo (Phil Lesh Quintet) playing Gram Parsons and J.J. Cale covers, well, light me up.

Which, to be fair, is required to fully appreciate From Within Marin, drawn from the groups early 2019 shows in Marin, and recorded – “captured” – by the ears of the Grateful Dead, Betty Cantor Jackson. The result is a two lp featuring cosmic country songs from Parsons (“Big Mouth Blues”), Dylan with a relatively howling “Positively 4th Street” , Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison”), and a go on J.J. Cale’s epic “Ride Me High”. You get the picture. In fact, to fans of the live music on archive.org, this set will sound familiar. Once you get immersed in the tributaries of the Dead, to the point to where you are commenting on moe shows, for example, you live and breath this stuff. These players obviously do – their touch is unmistakably Garcia-influenced, but with a decidedly Nashville elan to it. Robinson is, well, Chris Robinson. Love him or hate him, he sounds completely natural on this stuff, and the rest (particularly the steel of Sless) cast a funky, groovy vibe to the material. I imagine that a Green Leaf Rustlers show is a dancing, singing gathering of the tribes, just with a really rad house band.

Now, if stoned jams (expertly crafted as they are) leave you running for the door, steer clear of From Within Marin. But for us old hippies, sit down on the couch, fire up the vape, and enjoy. Your soundtrack has arrived.

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Print Reviews

The Ragin’ Cajun

The Ragin’ Cajun

by Doug Kershaw with Cathie Pelletier

Mercer University Press

I’ve read loads of musical memoirs, but rarely have they been as compelling as The Ragin’ Cajun from the “Louisiana Man” himself, Doug Kershaw. Born in the southern Louisiana bayou in a little town called Tiel Ridge, Kershaw describes a way of life that most would find completely foreign. Raised on a houseboat, Kershaw and his brothers (Rusty and Peewee) lived in the deep swamps where simply getting by was extreme. They lived off whatever the bayou gave them, from mink hides to fish. He grew up speaking Creole French, didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was sent to school and suffered the loss of his father due to either a suicide or a drunken accident with a shotgun. He was surrounded by Cajun music and was able to play most any instrument but settled on fiddle, and he used it to take him from grinding poverty of the bayou to sharing the stage with jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty and renowned classical violinist Itzahk Perlman.

His first national recognition came from appearing on Johnny Cash’s TV show from the Ryman, where he first met Bob Dylan. Kershaw’s mix of cajun, rock and roll and rockabilly were new to ears in 1969 (a situation that hasn’t changed much since then) and he had his first hit with the autobiographical “Louisiana Man”. It made him a star, but the downside was steep.

The Ragin’ Cajun documents Kershaw’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, starting with pep pills that musicians used to combat fatigue. Soon a potent combination of uppers and Chivas came to rule his life, ending his first marriage and rendering him nearly destitute. He is unsparing in his account of that part of his life, and by all accounts Kershaw is a real SOB – or as Mama Rita, his mother said it a fils de putain, – high or sober.

Thankfully Doug Kershaw survived, and at age 83 still performs a bit, and has written one of the most enjoyable accounts of a musical life in The Ragin’ Cajun. The Louisiana Man is a unique voice, a genuine rarity in American music. Laissez les bons temps rouler – Doug, you did good.

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Music Reviews

Peter Laughner

Peter Laughner

Smog Veil Records

When it comes to rock and roll cities, Cleveland, despite hosting the Hall of Fame, isn’t generally discussed in the same way as New York, Los Angeles or even Memphis. But when someone does mention it, the name Peter Laughner is sure to come up. An early, or founding member of such legendary acts as Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs, Laughner, who died in 1977 at the age of 24, casts a mighty shadow on Cleveland’s underground rock scene. This new box set collects previously unheard songs, lost radio shows and out of print releases to make up a five cd collection, including thirteen songs Laughner recorded solo hours before his death from pancreatitis.

If you draw a blank placing Laughner, it’s because his work saw little release during his life, and he was rarely recorded in a studio. In fact, only a single by Pere Ubu was officially released while he was alive. So this collection ranges from solo radio shows that find him playing original songs and frequent Lou Reed and Bob Dylan numbers (in fact, a large portion of this box set is one of those two, from acoustic guitar flights to grinding rock with his bands such as Friction, Fins or a particularly brutal version of Reed’s “Heroin” with Cinderella Backstreet). His most known song – “Amphetamine” – is noted because Jeff Tweedy quoted it on “Misunderstood” on the 1996 Wilco release Being There (“take the guitar player for a ride”).

As noted, the five discs found here start with a pair of radio shows from 1972, with Laughner covering everything from Dylan to Jimmie Rodgers to “These Days” from Jackson Browne. The second disc focuses on his 1973-74 band Cinderella Backstreet, with a punkish burst of moments from Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and a Laughner original, “I’m So Fucked Up”. Later discs include a duo performance of “Amphetamine” with Don Harvey, and the single greatest moment of the set, a jaw-dropping “Ain’t It Fun” with Rocket From The Tombs, which featured a pre-Pere Ubu David “Crocus Behemoth” Thomas and Cheetah Chrome, soon to be in the legendary Dead Boys.

The last disc, entitled Nocturnal Digressions, is Laughner solo on acoustic guitar, recorded at his home a short time before he died, which lends a certain ghoulish overtone to the songs. His versions of Tom Verlaine’s “See No Evil” and “Come On In” (Laughner played guitar for a brief time in Television), along with numbers from Jesse Winchester, Robert Johnson and Richard Hell show the broad range of Laughner’s influences, and makes you wish that he had lived longer, to truly achieve what this collection hints at. Peter Laughner propelled Cleveland’s punk underbelly, and died before most anyone knew who he was. But now, thanks to Smog Veil, that situation is hopefully in the past, because his work deserves wider acclaim. Not to mention it rocks.

smogveil.com

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Event Reviews

The Record Company

The Record Company

with Buffalo Gospel

Georgia Theatre, Athens, Georgia • June 17, 2019

The intimate Georgia Theatre played host to a brilliant evening of music on a balmy Monday in Athens as Grammy-nominated blues rockers, The Record Company blew the roof off the historic venue. The building itself was destroyed by a fire in 2009 and reopened in 2011. It has the warm, down-home feel of a favorite local haunt, and what a treat it was to enjoy some amazing blues-laced rock in such a cozy setting. The Record Company’s second and latest release, All Of This Life, was unquestionably one of my top picks from 2018. It is in my constant rotation. Yes, the Los Angeles- based trio’s sophomore effort is THAT good.

Buffalo Gospel

Michelle Wilson
Buffalo Gospel


Buffalo Gospel

Michelle Wilson
Buffalo Gospel

Opening the show at 8pm was Milwaukee-based quintet, Buffalo Gospel, an Americana/country outfit that truly rocked the place to the rafters. Founding singer/guitarist Ryan Necci maintained a commanding stage presence and had the killer vocals to support it. Backed by guitarist Andrew Koenig, bassist Kevin Rowe, fiddler Haley Rydell and drummer Nick Lang, the folk band from Wisconsin put on a 40-minute, high-energy set that left everyone wanting more. The nine-song set list included “High Time To Hang Fire,” “Easy Love,” “Can’t Afford To Die,” with haunting vocals morphing into a gritty rocker, “On The First Bell,” the title track off their latest, critically-acclaimed record (2018), “Song Of The Ox,” “Best Get Fitted,” “Letters To Georgia,” “Son Of A Gun,” and “Don’t Do It,” a cover from The Band featuring The Record Company’s frontman, Chris Vos on lap steel, much to everyone’s delight. Necci had a great rapport with the audience, thanking them for dancing and inviting them to move up. He also introduced his brother, Dan at the merch table and encouraged the crowd to visit them following their set. This was a very impressive, tight band and I truly enjoyed them.

Chris Vos of The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
Chris Vos of The Record Company


Alex Stiff of The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
Alex Stiff of The Record Company

Taking the stage at 9pm and playing a 90-minute set plus a two-song encore, frontman/guitarist/harpist Vos, bassist Alex Stiff and drummer Marc Cazorla wasted no time getting the crowd going with Vos’ searing slide and signature falsetto on “Make It Happen.” With Stiff’s solid bass lines and Cazorla’s monster drum chops, people were dancing immediately while the light show dazzled. Vos was truly appreciative of the receptive audience. He gave props to Buffalo Gospel and encouraged fans to support them. He also mentioned more than once that it “takes special people to come out on a Monday night, so thank you.” Vos played several different guitars throughout the show including acoustic, electric and lap steel. His slide work is a thing of beauty.

Alex Stiff, Marc Cazorla and Chris Vos of The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
Alex Stiff, Marc Cazorla and Chris Vos of The Record Company


The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
The Record Company

Offering seven songs from each of their two albums plus an EP cut as well as a cover, the 14 songs and two-song encore were off the chain. I love that this band switches up players and instruments. Guitar tech Johnny, a jack of all trades, played keys and guitar, sat in on drums while Cazorla moved to keys, and also played bass while Stiff moved to guitar. He even played tambourine.

Chris Vos of The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
Chris Vos of The Record Company


The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
The Record Company

Cuts off Give It Back To You (2016) included “On The Move,” “Hard Day Coming Down,” “Rita Mae Young,” the title track, “Give It Back To You,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Off The Ground,” and “Crooked City” in the encore. The title track was out of the rotation since 2016 until a fan wrote and asked them to start playing it again. They had so much fun with it that they decided to add it back into the set. Also included was “Baby I’m Broken” off their 2013 EP and a smokin’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

Chris Vos of The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
Chris Vos of The Record Company

All Of This Life got equal treatment with “Make It Happen,” “The Movie Song,” “I’m Coming Home,” “I’m Changing” (a song they haven’t done much lately so we were lucky to get it), “You And Me,” “Life To Fix,” and “Getting Better” in the encore as the final song of the night. The crowd sang along as Vos blew his harp. What an incredible show this was, and it was over so fast.

The Record Company

Michelle Wilson
The Record Company

Very often I mention the band and I usually get the response, “What record company?” Well, that will all change very soon as more people become familiar with the greatness that is The Record Company. Their sound is such a breath of fresh air and it always amazes me how much volume comes from such a small band. They are touring as supporting act for such bands as Gov’t Mule, Blackberry Smoke and even Rival Sons over in the U.K. If you spend money on one show this year, make it The Record Company. You can thank me later.

Check out the full galleries of photos from Rock Legends Photographers.

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/BLUES-CONCERT-PHOTOS/THE-RECORD-COMPANY-Georgia-Theatre-Athens-GA

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/COUNTRY-MUSIC-CONCERT-PHOTOS/BUFFALO-GOSPEL-Georgia-Theatre-Athens-GA-6-17-19

therecordcompany.net/, www.buffalogospel.com

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Music Reviews

Collective Soul

Collective Soul

Blood

Fuzze-Flex Records

It’s hard to believe that multi-platinum, Grammy-winning Collective Soul has been rocking the music world for 25 years. The alt-rock band from Georgia burst onto the scene in the 1990s with smash hits such as “Shine,” “December,” “The World I Know” and “Gel,” and they have remained one of the most consistently successful groups of the ’90s post-grunge era. On their tenth studio album and latest release, Blood, the unmistakable riff-heavy intros and catchy hooks are still there but co-mingled with a mature, reflective vibe. The ten-song release was written and tightly produced by E Roland (Ed having shortened his name to E). The very title itself, Blood, suggests the strong familial ties that bond the band. Even the cover art displaying the silhouette of an expectant mother through what looks like frosted glass suggests the same theme – Blood – Family – Bond. In interviews, Roland describes how the addition of guitarist Jesse Triplett and drummer Johnny Rabb created the writing spark that the founding frontman needed and a new energy within the band, which also consists of original members guitarist Dean Roland and bassist Will Turpin. Initally slated as a double-album, the idea was nixed and instead another record will be released some time next year. The band has been incorporating songs from the new album into their live sets for over a year. After covering two of their shows within the past year, I can confirm firsthand that the new material blends seamlessly with their tried-and-true favorites.

Starting off heavier and then subtly morphing into more radio-friendly, piano-driven material, Roland does a brilliant job of guiding the flow of this record. The first three songs, “Now’s The Time,” “Over Me” and “Crushed” start off in vintage Collective Soul style – riff heavy, bouncy and get-you-out-of-your-seat great. “Over Me” is particularly frenetic and heavier than the others, while “Crushed” leans more in the pop direction musically but not lyrically. It has a wicked edge and features a killer guitar solo from Triplett. The song focuses on a woman whose life is stuck in drugs and misery, blaming the world for her problems. Roland cunningly throws in the line The ’90s rocked but they’ve come and went, perhaps a reference to the band itself and moving forward.

In an interview with Michael Witthaus, Roland confided that two of these new songs were inspired by one of his favorite artists, the late Tom Petty. In fact, Roland confessed borrowing the riff from “Jammin’ Me” (Tom Petty/Bob Dylan/Mike Campbell) on “Right As Rain,” one of the more pop-oriented cuts and the perfect choice for the first single. Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Sara McLachlan) lends some solo slide guitar. Roland also admitted that the speaking part in “Good Place To Start,” also more pop-slanted, was inspired by the Tom Petty/Mike Campbell-penned “Here Comes My Girl.” I first heard this song live and my immediate take was that parts of it were very Cat Stevens-esque.

“Them Blues,” “Good Place To Start,” “Big Sky” and “Porch Swing” get a brilliant boost from Sugarland’s Kristian Bush on organ. Roland’s piano on “Them Blues” smacks of Elton John while the song itself could have been taken out of a Three Dog Night catalog. “Changed” is a moving ballad with Roland’s stirring piano and Peter Searcy’s poignant cello accompaniment while the drum-driven, bouncy beat of “Big Sky” is a soul-stirring observation about getting older and “going home” to the “Big Sky.”

I truly love every track on this record, but the standouts for me are “Observation Of Thoughts,” a truly moving composition with some incredible guitar, and the closer, “Porch Swing.” In addition to Bush, this last track features Tommy Shaw of Styx on mandolin and backing vocals. Bush’s organ is elegantly subtle and even Rabb’s percussion is perfect. Roland offers a very simple but pointed social and political commentary, and wraps it up with this: Let the summer breeze/Cool our needs right or wrong/Let tomorrow bring/Love to move us on/Til then I’ll be here on my porch swing/Rockin’ all day long/I’ll just be here on my porch swing/Til I write the next song/Rockin’ on my porch swing all night long. The song closes with whistling, and it couldn’t be a more ideal ending.

One last noteworthy observation is the biblical references scattered throughout the music: Wake up talking in my sleep/The Virgin Mary comforts me (“Now’s The Time”), Sister says she’s feeling sick/Gather up a crucifix (“Over Me”), Got a cross I do bare/It’s a Jesus piece I wear/But I don’t/No I don’t know if it makes me whole (“Right As Rain”), Goddamn this moment/Goddamn what lies ahead/I’m just a sinner/Reaching for his Savior’s hand (“Observation Of Thoughts”).

This new record is a testament to Collective Soul’s timeless sound and their uncanny ability to adapt their music to a more mature audience while truly continuing to rock. E Roland sums it up best: “I think Blood expresses where we’ve been on this life journey. And we’ve done so with songs featuring piano and strings to those with a lot of guitar riffs. Blood is an accumulation of all the different styles we’ve used over the years, but it’s still COLLECTIVE SOUL. I think it’s the best we’ve ever done.”

Collective Soul is in the midst of their “Now’s The Time 2019” Tour with Gin Blossoms as support on some of the tour. The beauty of the new record is that every song rocks and it is over before you even realize it. Several cuts are in daily rotation on the tour. I highly recommend buying a copy of Blood and getting out to a show if the band comes through your area. This is one band that brings 110% to every live show.

www.collectivesoul.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Social Power of Music

The Social Power of Music

Smithsonian Folkways Records

I remember a radio station that used the tag line, “music of your life.” The station was an easy-listening station that played what we called, “dentist office music. ” As a kid, we made fun of the easy listening music. But you know, all of the stations up and down the radio dial were (and are) the music of someone’s life. Even if you’re not a music fan, music informs everything all aspects of our lives. From the chanting along to “Rock and Roll part 2” at football games, singing hymns at church, standing (or kneeling) for the national anthem or doing the electric slide, music is everywhere. We sing when were happy, we sing when we’re mad, and we sing just for the hell of it. Smithsonian Folkways Records have put together this ambitious four CD compilation that explores the many ways music functions in our lives.

The Social Power of Music looks at how music binds us together in different ways. Culling tunes from Folkways Records extensive achieves along with tunes from other ephemeral independent labels, the collection is a journey across decades and visits many communities. The first three discs primarily focus on the American experience. The first disc is called “Songs of Struggle”. The songs on this disc are a cross section of social movements from the 20th Century. Broadly speaking, these are protest songs. The second disc is called “Sacred Sounds” and brings together songs of worship and praise. Disc three is called “Social Songs and Gatherings”. These are the songs that bring people together in joy and sorrow, from the dance hall to the graveside. The fourth disc, “Global Movements” focuses on songs of protest and liberation from around the world.

The labor organizer, Joe Hill is credited with saying that “a pamphlet, not matter how good is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over.” The Songs Of Struggle collection has some of those songs that have been repeated over and over. Some are clearly tied to a specific cause; others have become part of the American vernacular. Most of us learned “This Land Is Your Land” in grade school music class as a simple to sing patriotic tune. When you hear Woody Guthrie singing all the verses, you clearly hear the song is really about inequality. Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” have similarly become a part of our shared experience while having roots as protest songs.

Some the tunes are joyous expressions of protest. Bobbie McGee’s rendition of “Union Maid” makes you want to sing along and take pride in being a union member. Country Joe McDonald’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die”, pokes fun at the absurdities of war while still making the point that young people are dying. Other tunes are solemn like Paul Robeson’s rendition of the memorial to martyred labor organizer “Joe Hill”.

Several of the songs resonate with the current headlines. “Estoy De Colores (Made of Colors)” performed by Baldemar Velasquez and “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” sung by Sammy Walker speak to the experience of undocumented workers. With the increased marginalization of the “other,” it’s worth listening to “We Are the Children” to learn from the internment of Asian Americans. “Reclaim the Night”, a call to end sexual harassment, was written decades before #metoo, but is unfortunately still timely. Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers sang “It Isn’t Nice” about civil disobedience during the civil rights era. “It isn’t nice to block the doorways, it isn’t nice to go to jail. There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways failed. ” Those sentiments could easily apply to the Black Lives Matter protests. Times have changed but we’re still fighting many of the same battles.

“Sacred Sounds” address the myriad ways communities address the mysteries of the spiritual life. The songs collected on the “Sacred Sounds” disc are expressions of faith from the many different communities that make up the American. To most listeners, the songs from the Christian tradition will be most familiar. Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers sing “Come By Here” (which most of us learned around a camp fire as “Kumbaya”). “Amazing Grace”, “Peace in the Valley”, “Old Rugged Cross” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” are familiar Christian spirituals. The Shape Note Singers of Stewart’s Chapel and The Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee sound different from other Christian groups represented here. They preserve the old musical tradition known as shape note singing. The hymnals used shapes to designate musical notes.

Of course, Christianity isn’t the only spiritual tradition in the United States. The oldest spiritual practices on the continent belong to the First Nations peoples. The Chippewa people are represented by the drums and chanting of the “Many Eagle Set Sun Dance Song”. The song is part of a four to eight day ceremony held in late spring/early summer by Plains Indians. Salvador Begay sings “Night Chant” (an excerpt from the Nightway ceremony) which is the Navajo’s most sacred ceremony, a nine day event held in the late fall or early winter.

“Sacred Sounds” also features Cantor Abraham Brun singing “Kol Nidre”, which is sung near the beginning of Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The Passover celebration is held in people’s homes and “Dayeinu” (performed here by Alan Mills and Raasche) is one of the songs sung in remembrance of the flight from Egypt. Also included are Hai Phat performing Buddhist chants and prayers, and Ahmad Al Alawi performs the Islamic “Call to Prayer”. While the “Call to Prayer” is common to all Islamic sects (with some variation), the “Zikr” excerpted here is a Sufi song. The Sufi are often called the mystics of Islam.

Disc three is dedicated to “Social Songs and Gatherings”. This disc focuses on how music plays a role in our day-to-day, secular life. Songs mark special occasions such as birth, marraige and death. Music also brings us together to celebrate just being alive. The disc kicks off with Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band pumping out a rousing zydeco dance tune called “Party Down at the Blue Angel”. The tunes on this disc are almost all party songs of one kind or another. Chicago bluesman, John Littlejohn gives us a rocking rendition of “Shake Your Moneymaker”. The Goose Island Ramblers roll out the polka standard “In Heaven There is No Beer”. Flaco Jimenez’s “Beer Drinking Polka”, is a good example of cross-cultural appreciation. Many German and Czechs settled in Texas and the Southwest. Their music influences were picked up by Mexican American and reimagined as the norteno. Also represented are Irish folk tunes, Square Dance tunes, Western Swing and funk.

“Social Songs” is not only about good times and dancing. “Mary Mack” is an example of a children’s game song. John Henry Mealing and group demonstrate the call and response of a railroad work song on “Rooster Call”. The Pembina Chippewa Singers share some pow-wow music. The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra play Eastern European wedding music with “The Broken Hoop Song”. The Liberty Brass Band lead a New Orleans jazz funeral cortege to the cemetery with a mournful funeral march. Coming back from the cemetery, they’d play something more upbeat to celebrate life. Those after funeral songs would sound something like the Mardi Gras tunes played by The Rebirth Jazz Band.

The music on the first three discs represents the richness of the American experience. The music on the fourth disc, “Global Movements” are specific to struggles for social justice in other locales. The struggle for human rights, political representation and decent living conditions are universal. Listening to the songs of people from Angola, Italy, Thailand and Palestine remind us that their hopes and dreams the same as our own.

“A Desalambrar (Tear Down the Fences)” was originally composed by Uruguayan performer Daniel Vigietti, but its call for access to land as means of ending economic injustice has made it universal. The Dominican band Expresion Joven performed the version on this collection. “Hasret (Longing)” performed by Turkish singer and actress, Melike Demirag is about the hardships of being a refugee in a foreign land. “Hidup di Bui (Life in Jail)” takes the Indonesian government to task for the horrible conditions in the Tangerang Prison. Lebanese singer Marcel Khalife wrote music for a poem by Palestinian Mahmud Darwish. Darwish’s poem expresses the feelings of displacement and marginalization of a Palestinian living in Israel and being forced to carry a passport in his native land.

There are two songs on “Global Movements” that I think resonate as cautionary tales in these times. “Bella Ciao (Goodbye Beautiful)” is probably the best-recognized antifascist song ever. Originally sung by Italian partisans fighting against Mussolini during World War II, it continues to be used in protest of authoritarian governments. “Why Need We Cry?” Is a song from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland declaring that the Jewish people will preserver and eventually emerge from the oppression of Nazism. These songs are an important reminder that good people need to stand up to evil, even if it’s hard, even if it’s not popular.

Smithsonian Folkways has assembled a fantastic resource in The Social Power of Music. The compilation includes a 119-page book with essays on the theme of each disc and a lot more information on each of the songs included. It’s a wonderful resource that helps explore the topics in greater detail. The entire package is a deep dive into the important roles music plays in our lives. As such, this compilation a very welcome resource for the scholarly types and just a fun journey for the less wonky listener.

www.folkways.si.edu