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Music Reviews

Daniel Donato

Daniel Donato

A Young Man’s Country

For country music fans whose blood starts to race seeing a guy wailing on a Fender Telecaster at a honky-tonk, meet your new obsession. Daniel Donato is the latest country-pickin’ ace from Nashville, and his new record A Young Man’s Country will satisfy guitar fans of everyone from Reggie Young to Redd Volkaert, with a large dose of “Cosmic Country” ala Gram Parsons and the Dead. In fact, on certain numbers here, such as his “Meet Me In Dallas/Fire On The Mountain” Donato sounds eerily as if Jerry Garcia got his wish and joined a country band around 1971.

Donato is an 25 year old Nashvillian, who has been performing professionally since he was in the house band at the iconic Robert’s Western World in the heart of Nashville – at age 16. I’ve been there, and nobody gets and stays on that tiny stage without having some serious chops. And he certainly does. The album opens with “Justice”, and you’re transported back to the rowdy days of, as they say… “Waylon, Willie and the boys”. “Always Been A Lover” follows, and shows Daniel knows his way around a hook. Produced by a not too shabby guitarist Robben Ford and Donato, and featuring Nick Fry on guitar/vocals, bassist Jake Bostick, Daniel Pingrey on keyboards and Will Johnston on drums and vocals, his “Cosmic Country Band” is a seasoned unit, who anchors Donato’s frequent guitar adventures with smooth and robust backing. In fact, the only misstep here is a version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” which doesn’t lend itself to really any version of jamming, and frankly, once Bonnie Raitt sung it, even Prine himself said “that song is hers now.”

But that said, once the record ends with a barely constrained gallop thru Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, you won’t be able to wipe the smile off your face, and you’ll wish for a night at the Basement East in Nashville, watching this young kid pick a blue streak. Somewhere Jerry Garcia and Waylon Jennings are giving Daniel Donato thumbs up for his crispy release A Young Man’s Country. Get it, hoss!

www.danieldonato.com

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Music Reviews

The Allman Betts Band

The Allman Betts Band

Down To The River

BMG

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Allman Betts Band’s debut release, Down To The River, but I was thrilled at the prospect of a record that would include three sons of original Allman Brothers Band members. What I did discover is a truly great album that pays homage to their legendary fathers while still remaining true to their own sound. Produced by Matt Ross-Spang and recorded at legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, the nine songs offer a successful contrast between Devon Allman’s soulful vocals and Duane Betts’ country/Americana leanings, all held down with amazing guitar work. Allman and Betts co-wrote five of the nine tracks along with Stoll Vaughan except one, which was written without Allman plus a sixth that Allman wrote alone. He also co-wrote one track with Cisco Adler (Backbone69). The remaining two songs are covers from Tom Petty and the late Chris Williams (Backbone69).

The band is comprised of Devon Allman (vocals/guitar), Duane Betts (vocals/guitar), Berry Oakley, Jr. (vocals/bass – son of original Allman Brothers Band bassist, the late Berry Oakley), Johnny Stachela (guitar including slide), John Lum (drums), and R. Scott Bryan (vocals/percussion). Guests include Peter Levin (keys – also a member of the late Gregg Allman’s band), Matt Ross-Spang (guitar/percussion), Lamar Williams, Jr. (background vocals on the title track – son of the late Allman Brothers Band bassist, Lamar Williams), and former Allman Brothers Band member and current Rolling Stones keyboardist/musical director, Chuck Leavell (piano on “Autumn Breeze”).

The record starts off strong with “All Night,” a bouncy Southern rock song featuring Allman on lead vocals with fierce guitar and Levin’s subtle keys. It was released as the first single, and rightly so since it has a radio vibe to it (as does “Try,” co-written with Adler). The guitar solo is VERY Allman Brothers Band-esque as is the next track, “Shinin’.” Stachela smokes on slide guitar.

“Down To The River” is one of my favorite cuts. Levin’s tasteful keys really stand out and Lamar Williams Jr. is featured on backing vocals. This fact makes Allman Brothers Band fans very happy (this one included). Somewhere down the road I would love to see Williams collaborate on lead vocals with this band.

“Autumn Breeze” oozes Allman Brothers Band out of every pore. It has the extended jams like The Brothers plus Betts’ twangy vocals. The song was written by the late Chris Williams who was part of Backbone69 with Duane Betts, Berry Oakley, Jr., Cisco Adler and Alex Orbison. The original was more keys and drum-heavy than this version. The guitar work is brilliant.

Allman Brothers Band alum Leavell offers piano accents to the reflective, Devon Allman-penned “Good Ol’ Days,” a heavy acoustic track that also highlights some amazing slide from Stachela. The opening notes have a Gordon Lightfoot/”Sundown” feel to them.

Another standout track is “Melodies Are Memories,” a song that packs the punch of Allman Brothers Band-type guitar with a Grateful Dead vibe. Betts could easily be mistaken for his father, Dickey Betts, on vocals.

Anyone familiar with Devon Allman knows that Tom Petty was one of his favorites. The band’s rendition of Petty’s gorgeous gem, “Southern Accents,” features a stripped-down version of the original with Allman on vocals accompanied by piano and subtle guitar. It is stellar in its simplicity and does the song true justice.

Allman and Betts share lead vocals on “Long Gone,” a beautiful, heartfelt composition that finishes off the record perfectly. It builds slowly and sweetly, and then midway it breaks down to just an acoustic guitar and Allman’s voice, and you almost think it’s over. But then what follows is a mammoth two and a half minutes of swirling guitars.

Allman Brothers Band fans will absolutely love this record. It’s a fine line between tipping your hats to your fathers while still creating your own style, but they have managed to do just that. Every track is great. The band continues to tour, and with the addition of keys master John Ginty (Robert Randolph and The Family Band, Dixie Chicks) they are unstoppable.

www.allmanbettsband.com

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Screen Reviews

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N Roll

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N Roll

directed by Tom Jones

starring Steven Van Zant, “Southside” Johnny Lyons, Bruce Springsteen

Trafalgar Releasing

A huge part of musical mythology is linked to location. Mention San Francisco and you’ll probably think of hippies, the Summer of Love and the Grateful Dead. Mention Detroit and you can’t help but think of Motown. Chicago has the blues, Memphis has soul and New Orleans has the funk. Asbury Park is the embodiment of the “Jersey Sound.”

Asbury Park has been a muse for some of Bruce Springsteen’s most memorable songs, from “10th Avenue Freeze Out” to “My City of Ruins.” “10th Avenue” celebrates the thriving music scene in the 1960’s. This is the scene that birthed the E Street Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. “My City” is a lament for the loss that followed riots that devastated the city in the summer of 1970. Like other American cities, the riots heralded a long period of decline with loss of business, population and civic pride. The scars left by the riots have lingered for decades.

Director Tom Jones tells the story of Asbury Park through interviews, archival photos, home movies and news footage. The first part of the film takes us through the development of Asbury Park as a thriving seaside resort community. Famous faces like Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven are joined by less well known musician and local residents to tell stories about the beach clubs on the east side of town and the jazz and blues clubs over on the west. Southside Johnny compares the town he grew up to a carnival of music and vice.

A lot of time is devoted to the Upstage Club. The club was an after-hours spot where musicians could hang out and jam after they finished their paying gigs. The Upstage has amplifiers and speakers built into the stage to make it easy for musicians to play the third floor walk up venue. It was at these all night jam sessions that future members of the E Street Band and the Asbury Jukes honed their craft.

The middle section is devoted to the riots that rocked the summer of 1970 and the decline that followed. Springwood Avenue was the heart of Asbury Park’s black community. The blues and jazz clubs along Springwood were an important element in making the city a go-to music destination. Springwood Avenue was heavily damaged in the riots the rocked the summer of 1970. In the years that followed, structures were torn down and never replaced leaving a gaping hole in the community.

The movie ends with the ongoing revival of Asbury Park. Jones spends a lot of time at Lakehouse Studios is a music school that serves as an incubator for new talent. Other indicators of revival are reopened theaters, new shops and restaurants (many opened by members of the gay community) and The Light of Day Festival, which returned music to Springwood Avenue after more than 40 years.

I admire the passion poured into this movie. You really feel the pride people have for Asbury Park’s past and their hope for the city’s future. The team that made Asbury Park may actually be too close to their subject. They assume that people are going to know things that are implied in the film. For example, when they are discussing the Upstage Club, they show clippings of ads for gigs by a band called Steel Mill. Nowhere in the film do they make the connection that Steel Mill was the group Springsteen led before striking out on a solo career. It would have been nice to see that connection made for the many who will see the film who are not as well versed in Jersey music lore. Another example is how long they dwell on The Upstage Club. Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Gary Tallent and Little Steven tell how important the club was to them. Hosts of other people tell practically the same stories about the venue. It feels like the film makers wanted to make all their friends got their moment on screen.

My biggest lament is that Asbury Part tells us more about the city and the music scene than it shows. We are told about a proto-punk band that made waves called Margaret and the Distractions, but no film is shown and no music is played. Many people tell us about the 1970 riots, but most of the visuals are newspaper clippings floating across the screen. I’m sure there has to be more dramatic film tucked away in TV station vaults somewhere.

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N’ Roll tells a good story. It’s a film that will resonate best with the residents of Asbury Park and the truest fans of the Jersey Sound. It may not play as well to others, less familiar with the area, but gives them a place to start picking up the legend of the seaside resort on the Jersey Shore.

www.asburyparkmovietickets.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Chris Butler

Chris Butler

Got It Togehter!

Future Fossil/Smog Veil Records

Got it Togehter! is a collection of tunes Chris Butler recorded over the years. The oldest tunes date form his days with Tin Huey and The Waitresses, with the most recent being brand new. What holds everything together is Butler’s penchant for playing with odd sounds, warped song structure and off kilter perspectives.

If this were a college essay, Butler’s thesis statement would be the opening track, “Physics”. Chris asserts, “Reality never applied to me, never did and never will.” If that’s true, then all the weird sounds and scenarios that follow make perfect sense. So a song about not wanting to be a parent with a rhythm track provided by a sonogram (“Mommy Glow”) shouldn’t be seen as unusual. Songs for Guys turns out to be tune about a female bass player who “doesn’t write songs for guys, her words are like walls that keep me outside.” The thing is, Chris has an intellectual crush on this bass player. He really wants to understand her and where she’s coming from. He even likes her graphic designer boyfriend.

“Awake” shares the awkward situation of going to funeral for someone you don’t think you know that well and finding out they considered you their best friend. Chris makes the situation even more awkward by trying to pick up the deceased’s girlfriend.

As someone who likes to travel as much as my finances allow, I appreciate the situation described in “Dromomania (Wind in My Shoes)”. Locals and a seasoned trekker make fun of the tourist trying to “go native.” “Aches for Gauguin, barely makes Gilligan.” And the whores at the hotel bar sing, “oh novice castaway. Oh passport stamp marooned, but you’ve got a back to go back to.” The tune is dedicated to Bruce Chatwin, the author of the book, Song Lines. Check out the book sometime.

The final song of the vinyl edition deals with aging gracefully. Well, maybe not gracefully, but not giving up. “Better Than I Ever Was” is a fun, upbeat pop song. “All of the dumb things that I’ve ever done, now just add up to who I’ve become. And all the bad breaks I’ve ever had, now count as wisdom, and it didn’t screw me up that bad.” It’s a pretty good pep song for old farts like … me.

The CD version of Got It Togehter! has two bonus tracks from Butler’s achieves. “Touch of Grey” was written before the Grateful Dead song of the some name. It’s an acoustic tune telling his grandfather’s story. “Curious Girl” is a synth pop tune recorded back in the ’90s with George Gilmore of Tall Lonesome Pines on lead vocals. It might have been a hit for someone back in the day. It’s probably the most “normal” song on the disc. It’s like the after diner mint at the end of an adventurous banquet.

www.smogveil.com

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Print Reviews

Mother American Night

Mother American Night

by John Perry Barlow with Robert Greenfield

Crown Archetype

If ever there was an American renaissance man, John Perry Barlow would be he. Raised in Wyoming on a cattle ranch, Barlow was, at various times, a Grateful Dead lyricist, a digital rights activist and a cowboy. His friends ranged from Jackie Onassis to Jerry Garcia, fellow Wyoming resident Dick Cheney (whom Barlow came to realize was a sociopath) to Steve Jobs, Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil to John F. Kennedy Jr, and hundreds more. He was quick-witted, outspoken and prone to misadventure.

Barlow’s account of his path from raising cows on the family ranch to Wesleyan and Harvard has a touch of the surreal about it, as does his befriending of Bob Weir in a Colorado high school for “troublesome types”. Together Weir and Barlow wrote of some of the Dead’s most memorable moments such as “Cassidy”, “Hell In A Bucket” and “Black-Throated Wind”, and Barlow took the Deadhead mindset into the digital environment, becoming an early defender of phone hackers such as Acid Phreak and establishing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to fight for the rights of online content creators, digital activists and early “cyberspace” game creators such as Steve Jackson, creator of “Chez Geek” and the “Illuminati”. He helped create Algae Systems, which “grew” crude biofuel from water energy. And he did it all in dirty cowboy boots.

His account of his near-fatal heart attack – well, actually fatal considering he was DOA for eight minutes, which prompted Bob Weir to chide “Well Perry, guess you weren’t dead enough…” is equally harrowing and hilarious. The book ends with his acknowledgments, written two days before he passed in his sleep at the age of 70. This memoir recounts a man and his life that is almost beyond comprehension, and we certainly will never see such a man again. America and the world have no time for such free spirits anymore, so ruthless is the profit margin, and so intolerant of those who don’t parrot the party line. John Perry Barlow will serve as an inspiration to all freedom loving outcasts that follow, and his work – from songs to digital rights and more will give comfort, strength and hope to all. What a man.

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Music Reviews

Roots of Creation

Roots of Creation

Grateful Dub

I was a Deadhead when I was in high school. It wasn’t a cool thing to be back then. I got into the band through Terrapin Station and Blues for Allah. I have a recording of the first Dead show I saw at the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium. I saw the Deadhead followers at that show; there were about 20 of them. Of course, all that changed after “Touch of Grey” became a hit and the band took on mythic proportions. The last Dead show I tried to go to had several hundred followers camped out in the parking lot. Now, there is a whole industry of Deadness with legions of tribute bands, endless merchandise and bars dedicated to the bands legacy.

Roots of Creation are a reggae band working the jam band circuit. Their latest project puts a reggae spin on a dozen Grateful Dead tunes. The album is called Grateful Dub, even thought only the ska instrumental of “Shakedown Street” could be called a dub mix. The band does a nice job mixing the set with deeper cuts like “They Love Each Other” and “He’s Gone” with the standards like “Ripple”, “Friend of the Devil” and “Fire on the Mountain”. Roots of Creation lay down solid grooves with funky horn and faithful interpretations of the source material. Playing this disc, I imagined a laid back beach bar somewhere with happy hippies of all ages boppin’ to the riddim. I don’t think we needed the moment of silence for Jerry Garcia, but I’m sure they know their audience better than I do.

rootsofcreation.com

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Music Reviews

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead – 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Rhino Records

How five scruffy freaks, jazzed on the blues, jug band music and bluegrass became an American institution boggles the mind, but for over 50 years the Grateful Dead have been a pop culture mainstay, and this is where it all started. Released in March of 1967, The Grateful Dead showed the San Francisco band starting off pretty much as they ended, playing a mixture of classic blues – “Good Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl”, “Sitting On Top Of The World” coupled with the more exotic – the opener “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” and “Cream Puff War”. Looking back 50 years, this release hasn’t weathered well, when put against their such releases as city-mates the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow or the debut album from the Doors, both from 1967. The early days of the Dead were built around Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s blues organ and vocals, and sounded a bit tentative, at least on record.

But live, now that was a different story, which the second disc relates. Made up of two shows from 1966 from Vancouver – which bassist Phil Lesh deadpans “Our fame has preceded us” when the band is introduced to faint applause – now this is the initial stirrings of the Dead we came to love. Numbers such as “I Know You Rider”, “Viola Lee Blues” and “Cold Rain and Snow” remain in the set list of their latest incarnation, Dead & Company. Because the music is timeless, and the Dead are such distinctive, imaginative artists that it all sounds fresh, decades down the line.

It is impossible to write about the Dead without cliché- so here goes. No one on earth, particularly Jerry Garcia, Pigpen, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann – would have believed they would be around in 50 years, no matter what drugs you had ingested. But it’s 2017 and most of us are still here, listening to music that at its most potent, can scramble your brain.

What a long, strange trip it’s been. We need it now, more than ever.

www.dead.net

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Music Reviews

Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass

Shouted, Written Down & Quoted

Big Blue Zoo Records

When Sam Bush started New Grass Revival in 1971- based upon hearing John Hartford’s groundbreaking Aereo-Plain– he had no idea what in the world he started. Called “progressive bluegrass” now, it wove strands of rock and pop music into old-time and bluegrass to create something entirely new, yet built on the past. In the years since the genre has exploded, with large bands of bearded banjo and mandolin players showing up on festival stages and causing Grateful Dead-level enthusiastic dancing and intense mellowing.

But sadly, along the way, a lot of bands forgot what Bush and the Dead did primarily- which is write great songs. Sure, for every “Dark Star” 30 minute freakout, you had a “Casey Jones”. Greensky Bluegrass didn’t forget- and their newest, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted portrays a band that can both write a catchy tune…and jam your face off. Opening with “Miss September” and following it up with “Past My Prime”, GB has both the lyrical instincts to craft a memorable tune- they are known as a “rock and roll band with no drummer”- as well as having chops galore. The group- Anders Beck on dobro, Michael Arlen Bont on banjo and vocals, guitarist Dave Bruzza, bassist Michael Devol and Paul Hoffman on mandolin and vocals- matches anyone around technique-wise, and the record shows their varied moods. “While Waiting” is a pensive reflection of a man taking stock of his life, while “Run or Die” is driven by Beck’s Dobro and a hummable chorus.

Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is Greensky Bluegrass’s sixth studio album, the first since 2014’s If Sorrows Swim debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Top Bluegrass chart, and if there is any justice, the new one will achieve wide recognition for the stellar songwriting, melt your shoes jamming, and general good times found within. Waitin’ for a miracle? Wait no more.

www.greenskybluegrass.com

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Music Reviews

The Rave-Ups

The Rave-Ups

Town + Country

Omnivore Recordings

The Rave-Ups were another blink and you missed them band in the ’80s, but not for lack of skill or heart. Their 15 minutes of fame occurred when they appeared in the John Hughes epic Pretty in Pink, performing a few songs in the background, including Town + Country‘s “Rave-Up/Shut Up” and their signature song, “Positively Lost Me”, which sadly didn’t make the movie soundtrack, and it’s exclusion probably crippled the band, in hindsight.

Ancient history aside, this reissue of The Rave-Ups 1985 album Town + Country will hopefully serve to hip wise ears to their sound. Luckily for us, they couldn’t quite decide what sort of band they were – the moody New Wave of “Positively Lost Me”, the righteous twang of “Better World” or “Radio” or the punkers of “In My Gremlin”? Produced by Stephen Barncard (who worked on the Dead’s American Beauty) and featuring the legendary pedal steel of Sneaky Pete Kleinow (Flying Burrito Brothers), the group- Jimmer Podrasky, vocals, Terry Wilson, guitar, Tommy Blatnik on bass and drummer Timothy J- were an amalgamation of sounds and influences. Their version of the Dylan staple, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is spot-on, and the inclusion of “If I Had A Hammer” and “Nine Pound Hammer” (guys had a thing about hardware, I guess) are good fun, if not exactly reverent to Pete Seeger or Merle Travis.

But it’s the yelp of Podrasky that ties it all together, and he reminds you a bit of Jason Ringenberg from the Scorchers, all hell-fire and giddyup, and fans of the early days of alt-country – the Long Ryders, Lone Justice and the like need this reissue, it’s the lost link between Pretty in Pink and, well, Hank Williams. With guitars. Wonderful stuff that thankfully wasn’t lost to the ages.

www.omnivorerecordings.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Circles Around The Sun

Circles Around The Sun

Interludes For The Dead

Rhino Entertainment

For their “Fare Thee Well” concerts the Dead enlisted fellow traveler Neal Casal (Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood, Phil Lesh and Friends, Hard Working Americans) to provide break music to be played between sets at the mammoth concerts, and boy, did he deliver. Out of the five hours requested Rhino has assembled a two CD set, and while it ain’t the Dead, it maintains the same groovy vibe and stellar musical prowess that Jerry Garcia and crew were known for.

Casal brought along Adam MacDougall, keyboard player in both the CRB and Lesh’s Friends, bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks) and drummer Mark Levy (The Congress) and together they went into a studio and wrote the songs as it flowed, collectively and live. And it works. Totally instrumental, it reminds you at times of the longer, improvised sections of Dead shows -particularly the sun-drenched “Saturday’s Children”- and at other times the funky interplay between Garcia and Bay Area keyboardist, the late Merl Saunders on those late ’70s records.

The record ends with their version of the Garcia- Robert Hunter song “Mountains of the Moon”, originally on the 1970 Dead release AOXOMOXOA, redone acoustically, which provides a fitting end to this unique collection. For something that was conceived originally as background music, Interludes for the Dead stands on its own both as a musical work, and as a testament to the lasting influence- and continuing inspiration- of what the Grateful Dead achieved. I think Jerry would be proud.

www.rhino.com/article/now-available-circles-around-the-sun-interludes-for-the-dead