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Event Reviews

Yacht Rock Revue

Yacht Rock Revue

House of Blues, Orlando, Florida • February 8, 2020

A few weeks ago I was emailing with a publicist concerning a particular band, when he asked if I would consider covering Yacht Rock Revue at House of Blues Orlando. Uhhh…who? I had never heard of them, but quickly schooled myself through several internet searches. And then I was intrigued. Their backstory is an unlikely but awesome thing of beauty. The Atlanta-based collective started out as a goof in 2007, performing ’70s and ’80s soft pop hits and even donning wigs and polyester. It was “supposed to be” a one-time gig but to everyone’s surprise it took off, and the band has been touring steadily ever since. The “Hot Dads In Tight Jeans” (also the name of their forthcoming album of originals – their first) garnered such a huge following that they quit their day jobs. Eventually, deals were signed with Live Nation and SiriusXM. It doesn’t get much better than that. They even do private corporate events. They play to sold-out crowds (this one no exception) of die-hard fans who line the stage barricade wearing “yacht” captain hats. This is NOT just your typical tribute band. This is a first-class group of multi-talented, high energy musicians who know how to work the crowd and keep them engaged throughout the show. I literally looked at my phone to see what time it was, and 45 minutes had passed in what felt like five. The place was packed and there wasn’t an inch to move. Lucky for us, we were allowed to photograph the entire show and remain in the photo pit. And what a show it was.

Peter Olson, Keisha Jackson, Nicholas Niespodziani, Greg Lee, and Mark Bencuya

Michelle Wilson
Peter Olson, Keisha Jackson, Nicholas Niespodziani, Greg Lee, and Mark Bencuya


Nicholas Niespodziani

Michelle Wilson
Nicholas Niespodziani


Peter Olson

Michelle Wilson
Peter Olson

Yacht Rock Revue includes frontmen Nicholas (Nick) Niespodziani (guitar/percussion/vocals) and Peter Olson (guitar/percussion/vocals), Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells (guitar/vocals), Mark “Question Mark” Cobb (drums/vocals), Greg Lee (bass/vocals), Mark Bencuya (keys/vocals), David Freeman (saxophone/keys/EWI/vocals), and Keisha and Kourtney Jackson, a soulful mother/daughter backup duo. I can’t say enough about the talent that was on this stage.

Mark

Michelle Wilson
Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells and David Freeman


Greg Lee

Michelle Wilson
Greg Lee

Now, you may be saying to yourself, ’70s and ’80s light rock? Really? REALLY. Who doesn’t love that stuff? And their renditions are spot-on. Songs from Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald, Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Kenny Loggins, America, Little River Band, Hall & Oates, Robbie Dupree, Lionel Richie, Toto, Ace, Fleetwood Mac, Ambrosia, Paul Simon, George Benson, Rupert Holmes, Gerry Rafferty, and even Queen – they were all there, and they were stellar. Some of these singers have even shared the stage with the band in the past. There wasn’t a single tune that the fans didn’t know, and everyone sang right along. Peppered in were two tracks off the aforementioned new release, Hot Dads In Tight Jeans (“Step” and “Bad Tequila”), and they blended seamlessly with the covers. The dazzling light show (courtesy of “Peaches”) only added to the allure.

Mark

Michael Yanko
Mark “Question Mark” Cobb


Mark Bencuya and Kourtney Jackson

Michelle Wilson
Mark Bencuya and Kourtney Jackson

Clad in form-fitting jeans, ’70s-style polyester shirts and even a leisure suit, the band took the stage at 8:45 as 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” filled the venue. Opening with “Sailing” from Christopher Cross and running through a soft rock extravaganza, the concertgoers definitely got their money’s worth. “Orlando feels good tonight! I knew these were our people! I could feel it! Not only is this our biggest crowd ever but our best! Thank you!” Hit after hit kept coming as the capacity crowd of 2,500 belted out the lyrics with the band, all the while dancing and having a great time. The band played until 10:40 and briefly exited, returning to offer a two-song encore, Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and a mind-blowing “Bohemian Rhapsody” from Queen, wrapping it all up at 10:55.

Nicholas Niespodziani

Michelle Wilson
Nicholas Niespodziani


Peter Olson and Mark

Michelle Wilson
Peter Olson and Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells

It’s hard to offer “highlights” because everything was incredible, but some standouts included Michael McDonald’s “What A Fool Believes,” two of my favorites from Hall & Oates, “Rich Girl” and “She’s Gone” (which they absolutely slayed), Toto’s “Africa” and “Rosanna,” America’s “Sister Golden Hair,” Little River Band’s “Lady,” “Hey 19” and “Reelin’ In The Years” from Steely Dan, Paul Simon’s “Late in The Evening,” and crowd favorite, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” from Rupert Holmes (“You ready to sing along Orlando?”). There were numerous sax solos, but two true gems were during Ambrosia’s “Biggest Part Of Me” and of course, Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Also mixed in was Lionel Richie’s “Running With The Night,” a new and welcome addition to their set. At a few different points, Nick and Peter grabbed instant cameras and photographed Monkeyboy and Freeman, tossing the pictures out into the crowd.

Mark

Michelle Wilson
Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells and Peter Olson


Mark

Michelle Wilson
Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells, Peter Olson, Keisha Jackson, Nicholas Niespodziani, Greg Lee, and Mark Bencuya


Mark

Michelle Wilson
Mark “Monkeyboy” Dannells, Peter Olson, Kourtney Jackson, Nicholas Niespodziani, Greg Lee, and Mark Bencuya

I have to admit that going in I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I came out a Yacht Rock Revue convert. There was such a fun, energetic vibe coursing throughout the HOB. I don’t think anyone left before it ended, and I doubt anyone wanted it to end. I can’t wait for them to come back to Orlando! Get out and see Yacht Rock Revue if they come through your area, and take a trip down ’70s and ’80s memory lane with some amazing musicians.

Michael Yanko

Check out all of the photos from Rock Legends Photographers:

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/ROCK-CONCERT-PHOTOS/YACHT-ROCK-REVUE-House-of-Blues-Orlando-2-8-2020

www.yachtrockrevue.com

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Music Reviews

Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman

Southern Blood

Rounder Records

When I received my copy of Southern Blood, the highly anticipated posthumous release from Gregg Allman, I could not bring myself to listen to it immediately. Both the writer and the die-hard fan within me were at a bittersweet crossroads. Once I finally gathered enough courage to listen, cognizant that I was embarking on the musical sunset of Allman’s colorful and storied life, I cried for three hours nonstop as I listened again and again. I knew it would be hard, but I never thought that it would be THAT hard. Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and brilliantly produced by industry legend, Don Was, the meticulously chosen ten songs (eight covers plus one song written by Scott Sharrard, Allman’s band leader and guitarist, and another co-written by Allman and Sharrard) embody Allman’s final, poignant parting gift to his fans and absolutely tear at the heartstrings. Every bit as good yet strikingly different than Allman’s iconic 1973 debut solo record, the Johnny Sandlin-produced treasure, Laid Back, Southern Blood allows Allman to transition in his own way, on his own terms.

Co-written with Sharrard, “My Only True Friend” kicks off the record with emotive retrospection, and as Sharrard has stated, the song was written from the perspective of Allman’s late brother, Duane, but Allman never knew this. With the impassioned lyrics of a man in the twilight of his life, it is a moving testament to the roller coaster existence of Gregory Lenoir Allman.

Heavily influenced by Tim Buckley, Allman’s reinterpretation of Buckley’s “Once I Was” gives it fresh life, and I prefer the use of the full band as opposed to guitar and harmonica in the original. In fact, while I normally love harp, I find it somewhat jarring on Buckley’s 1967 release, Goodbye and Hello.

Falling into the “Bob Dylan as writer not singer” club, I’m always a fan of anyone recording a Dylan tune and creating a listenable masterpiece, and Allman could not have made a more fitting choice than “Going, Going Gone.” With understated guitar and backed by somber horns and the soulful vocals of the McCrary Sisters (who appear on five of the album tracks), Allman has that uncanny ability of morphing an otherwise acoustic number into a full-band gem.

While Allman remains relatively true to the original, Jerry Garcia would revel in the inclusion of The Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River” (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) on this farewell collective. The lyrics reflect a man at the close of his journey, and, as on several of these tracks, it becomes heartbreaking to hear Allman sing these words, fully aware that his time was waning.

Switching up gears to the blues-infused, Willie Dixon-penned “I Love The Life I Live,” Allman lightens the mood considerably, and then follows it with the more somber Little Feat, Lowell George classic, “Willin'” which is absolutely stellar. Throwing some major funk into the mix, the Jackie Avery nugget, “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats” adds a fun groove to the record. It’s hard not to compare it to the iconic Johnny Jenkins version, however, so while I enjoy Allman’s take on the classic, it doesn’t quite work for me as well as the others.

Paying homage to the one and only Percy Sledge and Muscle Shoals legendary songwriting team, Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, Allman absolutely slays “Out of Left Field” with soul-drenched sizzle oozing out of every note, and once again the McCrary Sisters add the finishing touch. Lightening things up next with the Sharrard winner, “Love Like Kerosene,” Allman’s version (with standout piano from Peter Levin) offers a slower tempo than the more frenetic Sharrard version, but both will get you moving.

This brings the record to the closer, Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam,” on which Browne also is featured. Have a box of tissues handy, because you will need it. As you listen, knowing in the back of your mind what you know, you feel the heartbreak envelop you in such a visceral way that is uncanny. You can hear Allman’s voice break as he sings the basically autobiographical words, “still it seems he stopped singing in the middle of his song,” and that is about as tough a pill to swallow as any. Incidentally, Allman covered a snippet of this song years ago and included it on the erstwhile One More Try: An Anthology, which unfortunately was pulled almost as soon as it was released due to disputes with the record label.

Few artists have touched more souls and left such an enduring body of work and a more loyal fan base than Gregg Allman. He may be gone from this world, but his spirit will linger long after him through his music. “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone.” I think it’s a safe bet.

www.greggallman.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Jeff Gutman

Jeff Gutman

No Way Back

Mr. Knees

San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Jeff Gutman rocks soft, telling hard-traveled stories with a snarly understated mix of electric and acoustic guitar on 2006’s No Way Back. From the opening side-of-the-road track “Hitchhiker” to the title track “No Way Back”, Gutman delicately weaves stories of regret, remorse and sorrow, guiding you through an emotive journey through lonesome and mellow ’70s AM radio ballads. Snuggle up and don’t look back.

Mr. Knees: www.mrknees.com

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Music Reviews

Shawn Mullins

Shawn Mullins

honeydew

Vanguard

honeydew is Shawn Mullins’ second release for Vanguard Records and sees him finding a niche that suits him rather more than the overnight success which came his way following the smash-hit success of his major-label debut,Soul’s Core, back in 1998.

Fans who remember Mullins purely for his breakthrough single “Lullaby” will be slightly surprised by the bluesy vibe of “See That Train”, but longtime admirers of the Atlanta singer-songwriter will know diversity has always been a trademark of his records.

The insanely catchy album opener “All In My Head” is the album’s first single, but where honeydew really shines is in Mullins’ ability to paint evocative pictures of people and scenes from his native city, both from the past and present. The chilling “The Ballad of Kathryn Johnson” tells the story of an elderly Atlanta resident who was shot by police when they forced entry into her home by mistake, while “Homeless Joe” chronicles the day-to-day life of a real-life homeless troubadour in the city. But the finest cut of an album characterized by vivid glimpses of humanity is the nostalgic “Home”, which pays affectionate tribute to an old friend of Mullins and then binds her story into a potted history of Atlanta itself.

On honeydew, Shawn Mullins has focused on his natural storytelling voice, and even though he may no longer be in the glare of the media spotlight, I guess he prefers it that way.

Shawn Mullins: www.shawnmullins.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Phonograph

Phonograph

Phonograph

Arclight

There are some tasteful psychedelic swirls here and there lapping gently at the edges of Phonograph’s self-titled debut, but for the most part the band sounds like a spot-on interpretation of Tom Petty fronting Summerteeth-era Wilco. On tracks like “Watch and Ward” the group’s songwriting is based in bar-band alt. country, but the chorus flourishes of cascading electronics and atypical guitar solos coupled with Matthew Welsh’s nasal deadpan vocal delivery is an oddly compelling mix. The same goes for “Radio Waves,” which rides smoothly on an acoustic guitar riff, a soft bed of wurlitzer and, unexpectedly, a crackling, aged optigan. It could be this is the natural progression of sound for this type of music, after the modern age has opened up a stable of previously unused instruments and sounds for direct descendants of ’70s country rock. It’s like they added this new life blood without becoming the Frankenstein’s monster of genres Wilco eventually became. Keep it up fellas.

Arclight Reocrds: www.arclightrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

John Prine

John Prine

Fair and Square

Oh Boy Records

I don’t have to tell you that this is a good album. It recently won Prine his second Grammy. While a Grammy is not something that means it’ll suit any Prine lover’s taste, it is valid recognition of an artist who has been called a “national treasure” by no less than our nation’s Poet Laureate.

Until this album, it had been nine years since Prine released an album of original material. Some whom I have talked to in the interim have wondered aloud what his bout with cancer would do to his writing. The short answer: absolutely nothing. This is classic Prine with all the elements you’ve come to expect. Prine has been an old soul as long as I’ve known him, so nothing has changed and likely it never will. It’s the classic recipe he’s always used. It’s warm, clever, timeless, funny and, on occasion, gently biting (“Some Human’s Ain’t Human”).

The writing here is consistent enough that any song on this album would sandwich quite nicely between cuts on most any of his older work, and it stands as his best work since The Missing Years — and one of his best ever. There are a couple of songs that may aggravate some fans — like “Safety Joe” — but I’ve followed Prine long enough to know that even some of his somewhat silly songs have a way of worming their way into your heart over time.

As Prine himself said about this one…

“It was just time. I had a bunch of songs. I’d started recording ’em, and it turns out, I liked ’em pretty well. So, now, I get to get ’em all just the way I like ’em — and then I get to let ’em go out to meet the world.”

Welcome to the world, little songs. Pleased to meet you.

John Prine: www.ohboy.com/johnprine.html

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Music Reviews

Tony Furtado

Tony Furtado

These Chains

Funzalo Records

Celebrated session slide guitarist and banjo player Tony Furtado’s solo debut is a hugely enjoyable selection of roots-y country and folk, demonstrating not only his talents as a musician but also as a songwriter.

The key thing here is the diversity. Traditional country cuts like the instrumental “Doc’s Bog” and the Waylon Jennings cover “Brand New Goodbye Song” are juxtaposed nicely with the more contemporary “The Prisoner” and the excellent “Standing In The Rain.” Elsewhere, the title track showcases Furtado’s guitar virtuosity and penchant for a rocking, upbeat vibe, while “Need A Friend” wouldn’t be out of place on a Jackson Browne album.

The host of music luminaries Furtado has enlisted to play on These Chains (including Jules Shear, Skip Edwards, NRBQ’s Al Anderson and Badly Drawn Boy’s Gia Ciambotti) provides even more reason for roots enthusiasts to check out this album, and in an era where iPods have helped steer the focus away from “the album,” it’s nice to hear an artist committed to the ethos of a record which showcases his diversity.

Funzalo Records: www.funzalorecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Denison Witmer

Denison Witmer

Recovered

Fugitive

Recovered sees Philadelphian singer-songwriter Denison Witmer covering artists who have influenced his work or, as the liner notes suggest, artists whom Witmer has discovered through reading reviews of his own albums. In any case, this collection of songs seems to have come together perfectly naturally, the music easily translatable into Witmer’s own musical horizon. He tackles the material with quiet grace, avoiding all contrived attempts at straying far from the original versions in some misguided attempt at staking out his “individuality.” Rather, he treats the songs he has chosen with respectful confidence, injecting them with his unique voice seemingly without even trying.

The songs by the most “obvious” reference artists works best: The two Jackson Browne tracks are particularly successful, as are Graham Nash’s “Simple Man” and Neil Young’s “Love in Mind.” Less obvious, but both intriguing and moving, are his version of Big Star’s “Nightime” and the hypnotic take on Carole King’s “So Far Away.” Not Witmer’s most essential album this, but Recovered still bears remarkable testimony to his ability to rejuvenate his musical heritage with a new sense of wonder and intrigue.

Fugitive Recordings: http://www.fugitiverecordings.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn

You’ve Never Seen Everything

Rounder

Bruce Cockburn has been cranking out literate, often impeccably crafted folk-rock for more than three decades now and in the process creating an impressive canon of music that touches on the political, spiritual and personal. Now it’s 2003, and for his first album of the new millennium, the Canadian singer-songwriter is suitably pissed off. “Brand new century / private penitentiary,” he sings on the jazzy “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-like “Trickle Down.” A jazz influence also informs the delicate piano and guitar ballad “Everywhere Dance,” which was co-written with pianist Andy Milne. “And we cry out for grace to lay truth bare / The dance is the truth and it’s everywhere,” he sings. Besides the jazz touches here, Cockburn also dabbles in world beat sounds as on the electric violin-tinged “Open” and the hypnotic, Middle Eastern-sounding “Wait No More.”

Cockburn seems to comment on events of the last few years in songs like “All Our Dark Tomorrows.” “The village idiot takes the throne,” he sings. “His the wind in which all must sway / All sane people, die now / Be lifted up and carried away / You’ve got no home in this world of sorrows.”

With “Postcards From Cambodia” on the other hand, Cockburn imparts seemingly random information in a spoken word monotone against a noodle-y, repetitive backing. At nearly seven minutes, the term self-indulgent does come to mind. But that track only prepares you for the nine-minute-plus title track, which offers more spooky spoken word stuff. Fortunately it’s easy to program the CD player to skip those tracks.

With more than 30 years and 27 albums of experience behind him, Cockburn is occasionally more impressive than actually engaging. But he makes up for his pretentious moments on more optimistic tunes here like the brushes-on-the-snare ballad “Celestial Horses,” which features the album’s best melody. “There’s a darkness in the canyon / But the light comes pounding through / for me and for you.” On another track, he reminds us “Amid the clangor and the dislocation / And things to fear and to forgive / Don’t forget about delight.” The album capper “Messenger Wind” is bouncier still and ends with these words: “Messenger wind swooping out of the sky / Lights each tiny speck in the human kaleidoscope / With hope.”

You’ve Never Seen Everything is not an easy album but then again, these aren’t easy times. Nevertheless Cockburn’s erudite take on the world and all its evils and wonders is always welcome.

Rounder Records: http://www.rounder.com/ • Bruce Cockburn: http://www.brucecockburn.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

James Taylor

James Taylor

October Road

Columbia

It’s a good sign that James Taylor — the prototypical “suffering artist with guitar” of the ’70s — has stopped begging for sympathy and understanding now that the world loves and respects him and he regularly hangs out with the rich and beautiful Grammy-winners of the world. He’s in a good place now and his music reflects it, indicating that he’s actually been brutally honest all the while. Good for him, that. And while his newly found calm and contemplative self doesn’t necessarily make for exciting or stunningly vital music, one can hardly criticize someone for finding what they’ve spent a lifetime looking for.

This isn’t any longer the sound of an influential musical force to be reckoned with, but one senses that Taylor himself couldn’t care less about being one either. What this is, though, is a personal and intimate testament of a man that has made peace with himself, through the love of others. It’s rather cozy, actually, a nice and homely atmosphere, the sound of pretty expensive furniture and a lit fireplace. The John Sheldon-penned “September Grass” is a beautiful opening track, a nostalgic memory of days and loves gone by, while the title track is a confession of the troubles that have been left behind. Taylor may have been patting on a pipe when he wrote this.

The closing take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” may be too much contentment for most of us to take, and elsewhere there are far too many strolling, tepid moments on here. “My Traveling Star,” in fact, may be the only song to really hold a candle to the two aforementioned good ones. But Taylor has found peace and harmony and all, and again, we can’t really hold that against him. It’s a sweet and maybe even a bit romantic album this, and if it’s not one of Taylor’s best, it’s still an honest and self-reflective work. It will probably rake in quite a few Grammys when it’s time for that. Growing old with style and grace. Cheers.

Columbia Records: http://www.columbiarecords.com