Music Reviews — SEPTEMBER 2021
GROOVES & CUTS – Artists Get Old – Some Keep Going
With the passing of The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, it’s becoming obvious that our Beatle-era heroes are older & passing away. Many rock musicians from the 60s are in their mid-70s (Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend & Ray Davies), late 70s (Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Diana Ross), 80’s (Dylan, Tina Turner & Ringo), & older Jerry Lee Lewis (85). But there are some we forget – who still record & perform.
Some that have been forgotten but were/are viable artists from the 50s & 60s who are still alive & performing:
Bobby Rydell, he counts, he charted many more hits in the 60s (35 chart hits) than many artists, his career longevity is phenomenal & still sells out. He sold over 25 million records in overall sales by recording artists in the 60s, Rydell’s in the top 10 (Billboard). He’s performing live beginning in November.
As well as, 79-year-old Chubby Checker, who still records & performs. “The Twist,” alone sold over 15 million units, is a legendary song that charted #1 in 2 different years. Billboard looked at all singles that made the charts between 1958 through 2008, & Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” was named the biggest chart hit of all time. He even made a record with the hip-hop group The Fat Boys.
Dion DiMucci, 82, still records. His career began in the 50s — now records great blues LPs, & has sung a duet with Paul Simon. His latest LP is “Blues With Friends.”
Loaded with major musicians like Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, & 14 other artists recently. Dion is performing live now & into 2022.
Willie Nelson started in 1956. He’s been ill recently but he’s still up there as a living recording & performing artist at 88.
Million-selling rocker Freddy Cannon (“Palisades Park” “Where the Action Is”) is 80 & started in 1956 — still performs today. His latest record was released in 2016. Photo by Fine Art America.
Freddy’s recorded with the Los Straitjackets. Quoted by a famous rock journalist: “Freddy Cannon was a true believer, a rocker to the bone. Cannon made R&R records; great noisy R&R records…” Leon Russell, James Burton, Glen Campbell, David Gates (of the band Bread) were his session musicians. Like Dave Clark (DC5), Cannon was a smart businessman, & owned all his masters. The late Alex Chilton (Box Tops, Big Star) was a big fan.
Many Beach Boys still perform but most important — 79-year-old Brian Wilson. 60s hitmaker Lou Christie is 78 & still performs live. Released a new LP in 2015.
My point is, many senior citizen rockers, pop artists & country singers from the 50s & 60s still work. Not just familiar artists from the post Beatles. Brenda Lee (76) still holds some chart records that haven’t been broken. 47 chart hits in the 60s & ranked 4th in that decade behind Elvis, the Beatles & Ray Charles.
Brenda still performs & received a Dove Award in 2008 & Grammy in 2009. That’s not out of the spotlight.
Some are easy to forget or dismiss — but they’re still doing it.
Singer-songwriter/rodeo rider & Texas-born Ross Cooper has a single out since August “Indian Summer,” but his 11-cut independent LP Chasing Old Highs (Drops Oct 1) is typically based on Townes van Zandt & Robert Earl Keen. Cooper has a nice, relaxed presentation but it’s not quite country, not quite rock. It hovers between the two with excellent musicianship & songwriting craft. Cooper’s voice isn’t gripping like Springsteen, Presley, or Dylan but he has energy, clarity & he’s persuasive as a songwriter. There is an old-fashioned approach Ross applies to many of his songs that is charming & endearing.
If someone threw in the voices of Gene McDaniel’s (“Another Tear Falls,” “Tower of Strength”), Lou Rawls (“Dead End Street”), & recent Keb’Mo, Sean Rowe would emerge. Though he sounds like he might be black, Sean isn’t, but his voice certainly has that rich soulful fever. Sean’s dynamic tonality, & range who unlike many new singers has a deep baritone with color & good intonation: “Little Death” from the LP The Darkness Dressed In Colored Lights (Drops Oct 8-Fluff & Gravy Records), finds Rowe with throbbing drums under sparkling horns & soulful guitars.
What’s great is that Sean musically is diverse & uses his voice wonderfully in upbeat arrangements & ballads. In acoustic settings & with horns. A classic voice. I think my only criticism would be to lay off the echo, voice treatments. Sean’s voice is best heard pure. “Married to the Lord Master,” & “Gabriel Master,” are exceptional songs, superb singing & tone. Well, thought out lyrics & with a punch to the gut showcase. This is quite a different collection from the standard fair. This fellow has a career. (Photo courtesy of Sean Rowe)
Another somewhat weary valium-induced showcase with downtrodden vocals comes from Shortly – but I picked up on this simply because this trio of young people unlike many others – has something to say. They have moments where the music gets aggressive, heavy & decorates the standard whiney approach that blossoms into a solid tune. “Dancer,” from the LP of the same name (Drops Sept. 24-Triple Crown) features female vocals (Alexandria Maniak) that begin to shine more brightly as the song progresses. The lyrics aren’t lame, & they have captivating moments.
The song features stinging nominal well-placed lead guitar & riveting drums that drive nicely. But when they come out of that instrumental break Ms. Maniak returns holding back, when she should’ve come back with more forceful enthusiasm. Give the song a dynamic coda. It’s called show business. A resolution. The song is nevertheless good. Hopefully, the entire LP has equally evocative melodies. “Dancer,” could use a tweak, a re-arrangement to be even stronger. God gave you a good voice – use it. Some will call this music stunning. It isn’t. It has possibilities. The band has to let loose a little more & not sound like they’re wearing straitjackets. Alexandria has a genuinely good voice. The band sounds like they could break out & they do briefly. But that’s not enough. I recommend them because I think their time is still to come.
While not necessarily having the songwriting skills of Tom Gray & The Brains (“Money Changes Everything”), Oklahoma’s Wilderado does have a pounding driving musical sound with distinguished lead vocals. Their self-titled debut is fiery & will drop on Oct 15 (Bright Antenna). It’s more pop-rock than the alternative. This isn’t Nirvana or Pearl Jam. It’s far from Americana-Roots music as well, but their garage band tradition is to be admired. It’s all mindful to older listeners of The Standells (“Dirty Water”), Syndicate of Sound (“Little Girl”), & the Troggs (“Wild Thing”). That’s a deep well.
Now if they could only come up with something as edgy as those classic songs. They have the voice & musicianship. Am I being too strict & old fogey about 60s rockers applied to a bunch of young 21st Century young musicians? No. I want them to experience that thrill that those songs did to my generation. Embedded in the minds of youth. They can do it. “Head Right,” is on the right path. Great commercial mainstream head-bang rocker with all the necessary ingredients. I like the vocals best of all. Filled with angst & aggression.
Sara Trunzo, a Maine-based singer-songwriter has a pleasant authentic retro country-vocal style that’s appealing on her EP Cabin Fever Dream (Drops Sept 24). Somewhat in a Mary Black-Mary Gauthier tradition, she has a good tone & musicians who are sharp. The 5-cut EP is delightful & Trunzo’s songs are not novelty or too ripe. She’s a writer with good descriptive lyrics, nice storytelling (“I Work Saturdays”). Good showcase.
For those who miss the bright Tex-Mex melodic sound of The Texas Tornados, try this 5-member Tejano band out of Texas led by a Caucasian – say what? Forget the details they have the spirit, the sound & richness (“Shouting Your Name”): their 2nd studio LP David Beck’s Tejano Weekend – Vol 2 (Drops Oct 15-Independent) with its aurally beautiful, 10 well-recorded songs in the strong tradition of the Tornados. Not a weak song here. The old Tornados would be proud. Matter-of-fact the living members should do some guest spots with these boys. Lovely accordion-fueled songs, exuberant vocals & arrangements on well-written songs. Once your eyebrows come back down from your hairline you’ll enjoy the authenticity that abounds.
Juliana Riccardi with her nice Italian-native New Yorker name also possesses a warm smoky blues/jazz voice in the Nora Jones tradition. Beautiful tone & songs surrounded by retro horns & organ that add to the snazzy arrangement that punctuates her intimate music. Her sophomore EP “Full Cup,” drops on Oct 8. It’s a good reliable style for such a young attractive woman. The chanteuses of a bygone day would certainly embrace this talent.
Skimming along the rim of 60s rock are Zach Pietrini & McKenna Bray’s collaborative 5-song EP Modern Love, (Drops Sept. 10-Independent) that is recorded bright, cheery & attractively. They do a fine job of just producing catchy songs (“Young Love”) in a satisfying commercial mainstream style that was hot in the 60s & crowded the charts & AM radio. The songs have an instantly glossy & satisfying sound (“Keep On Running”). Good duo, voices alone or together are vivid. Recorded in Nashville extremely well by Caleb Fisher, it’s just below the surface of being too hot, but it’s actually a nourished energetic sound.
For young women with country aspirations along the line of young giants like Brenda Lee, LeAnn Rimes, Tanya Tucker & New Zealand’s Jenny Mitchell that type of voice is still a country mystery since the young Taylor Rae has added her sumptuous vocal skills to her Mad Twenties, LP (dropped Oct 1-Independent). While song-wise she adds nothing challenging, or new, her showcase sparkles with a voice that is a well-oiled machine (“Home on the Road”). If she would just get a little edgier…watch out.
If Tom Waits decided to sing some bluegrass-type songs dipped in a jar of blues spices he’d be as good as Bill Filipiak. 55-year-old Bill comes from the same cloth as Otis Taylor – as he unravels a gritty, upbeat, convincing array of bruised ballads of glittering fragments. Bits of glass in the sidewalk. There’s experience in his musical notes.
Medicine I Need (Drops Oct 1-Independent) is Bill’s 3rd LP of welded together dusty blues, undercurrents of burlesque, foot-stomping boots on the wooden porch & wailing harmonicas scaring off the crows. The penetration of his vintage-ness is ripe. He could sing folk, blues, minstrel, & spirituals, still, come out the real thing. “Fearing the Dawn,” is country-blues brawn & grit.
Brown Bones is a little laid back, but his voice is full, evocative & rich with some compelling lyrics to his tasteful melodies. No new ground is broken but his voice is such a change of pace from the whiney popular vocals of today. He falls somewhere in the area of Joe Henry, John Wesley Harding, & Canada’s Alfie Zappacosta. His self-titled LP (available now) is diversified songs of heartbreak, loss & reflection — but interesting. Brown succeeds in using an old musical mode to reintroduce sensitivity in lyric & melody with a young delivery. I like this. Available with samples of music at Bandcamp.
Blood Harmony Records releases Philly-based singer David Hause & his carefree & romantic single “Hanalei.” A beautiful cut from this 5th LP produced by Will Hoge Blood Harmony (Drops Oct 22).
The LP features members of the E Street Band, Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton & Eric Church. Should be a good musical ride. Many interesting songs & an ideal showcase.
A pleasant raw country approach is what Austin native Chris Roberts, now out of Aspen, CO — takes with his gritty voice drenched in melodic fervor on his 6-cut EP Lost and Found (Dropped Sept 24-Independent).
While the set isn’t anything new Chris does have a good voice for these types of songs. He may need to get a little edgier & find a genre for his music. Tom Waits has that gritty LA downtrodden percussive beat-generation cum Brecht-Weill area highly polished. Randy Newman has satire & a sarcastic childhood genre locked up. Leonard Cohen was all Euro-tragic romantic. What Roberts needs is to see what he can salvage from the late Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, Tim Hardin, Walter Hyatt, John Hiatt & then put his own spin on it.
As of now, his songs are good, but they are typical despite the excellent musicians. The songs ride the crest of commercialization. “Creature,” & “Things Are Changing,” – is good solid potential. But then slides into mediocre. He should listen more to Jon Dee Graham, Otis Taylor. Chris has it but loses it on stuff like “Loving Arms.” Which basks in good songs that sound like 100s of others. He deserves better – needs to focus or needs a producer. The voice, the groove, musicianship – it’s all there. But I’ve heard this before. If it sounds like someone else go back to the crayons & recolor it. (Photo courtesy: Kimberly Hunt)
All CDs are available as noted or on the artists’ website.