GROOVES & CUTS – John Apice
This month is loaded with good music. I won’t be able to get to in an in-depth review on many, but much is worth a listen by curious ears that want something new, varied & interesting.
On the vintage second look front, which I’ll keep brief this month, it’s worth checking a young lady Kris McKay who covered brilliantly an old English Beat (David Wakeling/Ranking Roger) song “Save It For Later” (from her Things That Show LP). Kris sang one of the songs in the old 1989 Patrick Swayze film Roadhouse. The song was an exceptional Marie McKee cover “A Good Heart.” But Kris’ masterpiece from her first solo LP What Love Endures is a David Halley song “If Ever You Need Me,” (seen live on YouTube). Kris had wonderful emotional depth, tonality & presence. She should’ve had a much bigger career. An excellent artist.
Still performing & recording to this day is Burton Cummings the original lead singer of The Guess Who. Burton had a great showcase seated at a white grand piano & belting out blues songs like “Bring It On Home To Me,” on The Midnight Special. Cummings, from Canada, had the songs, voice & performance magic to have a huge career. But it simply never sparked in the USA once he left The Guess Who in 1975. He had several solo albums (10) since the 70s, a few hits & today, still releases compelling work sporadically. Despite his minor solo hits, he still sells out theaters in the States. A favorite that’s basically obscure is “Meanin’ So Much” from 1978’s Dream of a Child. A song that should’ve hooked ears instantly.
RIP: 2 Italian artists: Franco Battiato (76 – who passed May 2021) – was an excellent singer-songwriter who sang in Italian & English. One of his most recognized English tracks was from an EMI release in 1985. The well-arranged all-English “Chanson Egocentric.” Prior to that, he explored more progressive music, before turning singer-songwriter fulltime.
The legendary, beloved Milva, (Maria Ilva Biolcati) was an international Italian singer (81) who sang in nearly 10 languages including English. Her career began in 1958 & only stopped with her death in April 2021. At one time, she was signed to MGM in the States. In her career, she released 173 LPs, sold over 80 million records worldwide. Milva collaborated with the late Franco Battiato, & Ennio Morricone (composer of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”). Her songs encompassed the songcraft & skills of some Americana & recorded “John Brown,” “Pirate Jenny,” “Johnny Guitar,” Sonny Bono’s “Little Man,” “Motherless Child,” “Keep Your Hand On That Plow,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Sonny Boy,” “I Who Have Nothing,” Dory Previn’s “The Lady With the Braid,” Brecht-Weill’s “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar),” plus songs by John Denver, the Jon Anderson-Vangelis classic “I’ll Find My Way Home,” & the classic “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Her collaboration on the superb acoustic guitar/strings cut “La Luna,” in 1968 was memorable. The song was also included in the 1972 Billy Wilder film “Avanti” with Jack Lemmon. A Diva? This woman sang in over 10 languages over a 63-year worldwide career.
SPILLED MERCURY: I was surprised by the recent re-release by veteran pop-punk pioneers Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue (The Collection/Rave On Records/Available now). I didn’t think his music would apply but the 1978-9 tunes featured G.E. Smith (guitar), Hilly Michaels (drums), Jimmy McAllister (guitar), Mick Ronson (guitar), & Roger (lead vocals/Rickenbacker bass/harmonica). It certainly had a refreshing appeal. The 24 cuts cluttered onto this single CD are…quite good. It may be garage in nature, it may be more confection today than a Molotov cocktail, but it has lots of American spirit.
Produced by Thomas “Doc” Cavalier it’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia in a handsome CD package. The lead-off “High Society,” has riveting jangly guitars, machine-gun drums & lots of potency. Their cover of the late Reg Presley’s (The Troggs) “I Can’t Control Myself,” is a respectable hat tip to that classic band. Wonderful trip down Memory Lane though the cops won’t be in pursuit this time, so keep your beer boys.
On first listening to the young Long Island, NY native alt-folk singer Evvan, I found her good but nothing special. So, I busied myself & let the music play through. Wow…her coming-out anthem ”I’m Not Done Yet,” is superb. Well played by excellent musicians, angst mixed with equal measures of assertive positivity, great voice & performance. From her EP Home, (Dropped April 30). Evvan’s in the same realm vocally as NJ veteran folk artist Loretta Hagen. They both share that special tone, sincerity & phrasing in their material though they walk opposite sides of the street. This is excellent stuff. Evvan has energy, enthusiasm & showmanship in her showcase. Love her work. Watch her video but be warned the hook in this song will stay with you all day. Hell, isn’t that what good music’s about? https://www.evvanmusic.com/
While not a new musical group — Azure Ray formed in Athens, Georgia in 2001. Basically, a dream-pop duo consisting of Orenda Fink & Maria Taylor. Their 10-cut LP Remedy (Drops June 18/Flower Moon Records) was produced by Brandon Walters. Very likable despite the rather bland LP title. If it follows the path of their recently released sublime single (same name) it does have affecting attractive power. I like this. Different.
Some say they’re similar to Veruca Salt – not quite. Veruca’s a little more aggressive, more 60s girl-group tough in nature, & lacks the finesse that Azure Ray conveys. Azure Ray’s song is a little more fairy-tale oriented but with expertise. Their voices are cunning, soothing & have reassurance. This is the kind of music that penetrates. Can I listen to 10 songs that sound like this? No. But maybe Azure Ray is not one-dimensional. Remains to be seen. They sound like they have ideas but they’re still trying to navigate. The song itself should have faded & not ended abruptly. Minor glitch. Nice to hear young artists be challenging. Azure does it. They do need something in their showcase to set them apart from Veruca Salt comparisons. I don’t think they deserve to be there. They have more to offer.
Brooklyn’s Nick Africano has an interesting 10 track LP for June 18th with Gossip of Flames. His initial single release is a beautiful noir-oriented video “Mirador.” Nick’s vocals are solid, dramatic & typical of the great singers of another era. He’s assertive, has clarity & if this was the mid-60s he’d have a hit with this because it has the necessary soul, romance & intrigue. I like the way Nick pronounces his words – he never over-emotes. It’s a wonderfully balanced B&W movie melody. https://nickafricano.com/
Nick’s musical approach is not unlike the late English troubadour David McWilliams who wrote & sang many similar songs, as well as Chris Rea who had much success but little in the US. Produced by Lera Lynn in Nashville the sound is impressive. What’s also nice is that his song doesn’t tell the same old songwriter story. There are few cliches, lots of originality & expressiveness. The musicians: Todd Lombardo (guitars/keys/slide), Robby Handley (bass), Chris Lippincott (piano/keys/pedal steel), & Jason Cheek (drums). Good listen.
Orleans’ singer/acoustic/lead guitarist John Hall has a new 13-cut CD Reclaiming My Time (Drops May 28/Sunset Blvd Records) & features Dar Williams among others. This is his 6th solo & it isn’t as popish & sweet as one would think. Though his lyrics are at times a little contemporary & cute with references to Netflix & microwaves. The music is righteously tight, with a beautiful sax solo on “Alone Too Long.”
Hall’s mature vocal is engaging. He’s actually cutting it deeper than Hall & Oates solo work. His voice has nice color. I was never an Orleans fan (I was into progressive rock in that era). The music here is mature, likable & refined. The effort sports many solid supporting musicians. I’m certain it will be another distinguished solo for Mr. Hall. https://johnhallmusic.com/
Founded in 1970, West Virginia’s Grammy-winning Asleep at the Wheel brought its honky-tonk, Western swing music to Austin, TX & that’s where it percolated since 1973. Scheduled to celebrate their 50th Anniversary & produced by vocalist Ray Benson, they have a new 3-song EP — The Better Times (Drops May 28/Bismeaux Records). https://www.asleepatthewheel.com/
Scheduled for June 25th is the sophomore CD Room To Grow from Portland, Oregon’s folk-indie band GoldenOak. They have a nice home-grown sound, authentic solid Americana, with deep bass & drums. Vocals refined. This tree has lots of fruit on it. Their tune “Islands,” is invigorating – so long as they approach their subject matter with civility & little pontificating. The vocalizing is wonderful, the performance bracing, the musicality crisp, but their message can fall on deaf ears if they get too preachy. There are climate issues that are substantiated & there are climate issues that are laughable. Research. Don’t believe everything read or heard. I like how they made this music – hope it stays within the confines of honest construction. Their #1 concern should be fans buying their t-shirts, CDs & seeing them live. If an audience can walk out on Neil Young, they can walk out on anyone. GoldenOak possess a veneer that is genuine Americana. Reminds me a little of groups like Big Back 40 & C. Gibbs Band. They sound excellent. Zak Kendall (guitar/vocals), Lena Kendall (vocals/clarinet), Mike Knowles (bass/upright bass), & Jackson Cromwell (drums).
All CDs are available as noted or at the artists’ website.