GROOVES & CUTS – John Apice
I ranted a bit last month about artists who write originals but seldom say anything of merit lyrically. They say they wait for inspiration or for a real-life experience. That’s fine, but you’ll never sustain a career.
Dry spells for writers can partially be solved if imagination is used. Be a storyteller. John Prine, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Shane McGowan, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, & Leonard Cohen — all drew from the well of real-life but made up some.
The Pogues’ Shane McGowan’s classic song “Fairytale of New York” mentions ‘the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay,’ & even shows a brief image in the video. But that’s the NYPD Pipes & Drums Band. There’s no NYPD Choir. It’s made up. Imagination.
Cohen knew a Suzanne (her real name Suzanne Verdal). The Beatles knew a Prudence (Mia Farrow’s sister is Prudence), & there was a real Eleanor Rigby, in an ancient English cemetery. There’s a Penny Lane also.
Fiction – there’s no Hotel California, Desolation Row, or Margaritaville. No cities, countries, or places though places called Margarita (in foreign countries) do exist. None answer to the Jimmy Buffett song (except restaurants, hotels & casino names). Imagination.
Take notes, be creative & writing may start to sound more colorful, original & exciting. Don’t just say “whiskey” give it a name. Don’t say cigarettes, what brand? I review many CDs/LPs, & some writers are blessed with songcraft that’s endlessly creative & descriptive (Tom Waits). Many are blessed with music composition, but the words mean little. They should.
Some artists are prolific & record non de plume. The late Scotsman Jackie Leven (aka Sir Vincent Lone & John St. Field) had many well-crafted solo LPs. “Young Male Suicide Blessed By Invisible Woman,” from Forbidden Songs of the Dying West (1995) is superb. Despite his large output, — no clichés or redundancy.
A jazz-rock band predating Steely Dan, from former John Mayall musicians – Jon Mark (classical guitar/vocal) & the late Johnny Almond (Saxes) became Mark-Almond. Their LPs contained multiple jazzy tunes that told stories with atmosphere. One outstanding cut was the poignant “Everybody Needs a Friend.” From its opening piano it chronicles degrees of quiet desperation from an old man in a park each day to feed birds; to a lonely, divorced jilted woman who sips wine in a dimly lit bar; to a young girl in a music store hanging out to closing so as not go home.
Partner Johnny Almond’s vibrant saxes & Billy Cobham’s drums will pull tears from your eyes. Bring tissues. Their suite “Here Comes the Rain – Parts 1 & 2” & “Blackbird On a Night Sky,” are also excellent.
Ex-New Christy Minstrels Keith Barbour’s “Echo Park,” (a Buzz Clifford song-1969) was poignantly about an old man who also walks the park. Feeds ducks alone. But that’s because he lost a son in the Vietnam War. One memorable line is: “…do we measure life in years…or is one day – all we’ll ever know.” Imagination.
SPILLED MERCURY: A bespectacled Georgia musician who tapers his fiery music more toward a raw soulful cum blues performance is Eddie 9-Volt. Decked out in slick 50s 2-tone colors bought at the legendary Lansky Brothers store where Elvis bought his threads. Little Black Flies is a 12-track retro LP on Ruf Records. Expertly played as bands played hops & Palisades Amusement Park. It possesses generous portions of “Sweet Soul Music,” & soul artist Chet Barnes & the Skylarks (“Every Time It Rains”). Every song has energy, separation & musicianship that drips cool. Releases: Bandcamp May 28th. https://eddie9v.bandcamp.com/album/little-black-flies
The cello-acoustic guitar-based New Line Initiative duo Aaron Nathans (vocals) & Michael G. Ronstadt (nephew of Linda) offer an engaging single on April 30th about the American flag belonging to everyone. “My Flag Too” is a reflection of the country’s diversity & our inheritance. No political grandstanding just truth, smart & timely. A nice turn away from bellyaching pontificating songs. Lance Martin (pedal steel) & Greg Brady (electric guitar). https://michaelgilbertronstadt.bandcamp.com
Julian Taylor has a 20-year career & finally earned Solo Artist of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards 2021. He provides an 8-cut “The Ridge” (already released, Howling Turtle Records). The music is consistently stirring, delivered in a deep assertive voice & tight instrumentation. The songs have good grooves & Taylor’s compelling John Gorka-type vocal is attractive. See the Julian Taylor Band streamed live May 20th from the Horseshoe Tavern as part of a “Hootenanny Series.” If interested contact: https://www.horseshoetavern.com/e/julian-taylor-band-144472827115/
April 30 brings a digital release of Alex Jordan’s single of the Tom Paxton ‘64 chestnut “Last Thing On My Mind.” Performed well acoustically, the production is decorated traditionally & recorded pristinely. The song’s respectable reputation: covered by Judy Collins, the Seekers & dozens of others through the years. Jordan’s will find a place among them.
Nostalgic country-roots singer Katie Jo has an approach sharp & delightful on her debut. Sings of topics few country singers dare. Has a young voice but a lived-in voice. Lots of authority. The 9-cut Pawnshop Queen (Big Ego Records) came on April 9th. Think Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette & Kitty Wells. When Katie sings in her less twangy voice (title track) she’s an edgy original. Easily a voice for road songs, & saloon tales. Purchase @ her site on Bandcamp. https://katiejomusic.bandcamp.com
Another pandemic tune dropped in April is done well by Americana indie-folk band Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes. A single with animation (YouTube) for “Pounding the Ceiling!” (Acoustic Music Agency). Michael Ronstadt guests on cello. Produced quite well, the showcase is stirring. Wolfson has an old-timer’s folk vocal & it works with sincerity which prevents it from falling into novelty terrain. It doesn’t.
A nice laid back J.J. Cale style dominates Oregon’s Rose City Band (Earth Trip drops in June). It’s an 8-cut with delectable tunes like “Lonely Places” (with Barry Walker’s pedal steel). Nothing earth-shaking but Ripley Johnson’s playing & vocals are relaxing, beautifully played & should be stacked beside all J.J. Cale LPs. If you like Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, the Fifth Avenue Band & solo John Sebastian this is for you. Available: Bandcamp.
“Good girls don’t make history…” – I’m late to this but it’s good stuff. Sweetlove (a female vocalist with a great vocal demeanor) brings “Devil On Your Shoulder,” — a dark, plodding, and interesting tune that starts with that wonderful line.
The 6-cut reviewed by Americana Highways & yes, it’s “teeming with bittersweet longing” just needs a pinch more angst & power & the new century would have an Edith Piaf 2.0. “Goodnight, Lover” is powerful & borrows the decades-old Irish toast of being in Heaven a half-hour “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” – wonderfully rendered. Song Premiere: Sweetlove/Wes Hutchinson “Christmas Without You”
Sweetlove has good melodies/lyrics that need more bite. Sometimes she’s just a little too sweet. Yes, it takes time to sharpen vocal claws. But that’s what’s needed. She’s already self-assured with clarity & perceptible tone.
Amy Speace has an 11-cut There Used to Be Horses Here (Proper Records) available April 30th A gospel-fired deliciously vibrant voiced Amy dominates with fat tones. Melancholy at times but certainly filled with passion. Mandolin is rustic & plaintive. Amy has originality in her pen. This young lady certainly writes & performs evocative & memorable songs. Could be one of the year’s best. REVIEW: Amy Speace There Used to Be Horses Here is Magic Storytelling
Finally, a somewhat quirky vocalist with an undefinable quality. Dana Sipos sings in a similar style reminiscent of the late Dory Previn & at times writes in a similar vein. I like Dana’s dicey sound with her guitar on “Swallows Call,” it’s captivating. The 9-cuts on The Astral Plane, (Roaring Girl Records) drops June 25th. There are similarities to Nick Drake & Natalie Merchant — but not accurately. Dory Previn digs in deepest for me.
Previn’s clever lyrical sketches were far more cutting & realistic (“Lemon-Haired Ladies”) about young girls who steal husbands. Dory’s cut that echoes Dana’s strange guitar licks from “Swallows Call,” comes muted in her lyrically classic “Mythical Kings & Iguanas,” at the intro. Material that came from a dark place. Dana maintains the same atmospherics with a voice that has an injured tone. It channels Previn’s angst & bitterness though Ms. Sipos may not be aware of it. Ms. Sipos has a musical soulmate in Dory – for Dana treads musical waters few dared as Dory did. And Dana does an admirable job & shares a unique look, as Dory had.
By the way, Ms. Previn wrote songs for films before her singer-songwriter career. She was no greenhorn.
All CDs are available as noted or at the artists’ website.