Music Reviews: GROOVES & CUTS – Spilled Mercury – Brief Reviews That Got Away
I had many good submissions for brief reviews in October. So, I chose not to rant this month. But in the coming months, I’ve prepared articles about how some middle-of-the-road/easy listening artists of the past (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Eydie Gorme, Jack Jones, Mel Torme, Pat Boone, Frank Sinatra, Jr. & several others) took the dip into blues, rock & country music.
They bravely tried their hand at interpreting an alien genre. Some came away surprisingly successful & others with mixed results. Some old-school singers even had a genuine rock feel in their vocals. But then, after all, they were professionals.
Then later classic rock band Steppenwolf’s lead singer John Kay will be featured. Once he departed that band he released several good Americana-Roots-Blues LPs but they were largely, sinfully, ignored. The LPs had wonderful songs. They all deserve to be revisited.
Along with Kay other musicians who weren’t necessarily roots singers explored the music in solo efforts.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Hootie & the Blowfish’s Darius Rucker, the late Ricky Nelson, the solo work of Mike Nesmith (The Monkees), a solo Atlantic LP with Tex-Mex flavors that won a Grammy by former Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs lead vocalist Sam Samudio (with Duane Allman on lead guitar, the Sweet Inspirations & The Memphis Horns).
The brief dip into the blues by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, the innovative storytelling of Australian band The Black Sorrows (recording since 1983) & Mark Knopfler former Dire Straits lead guitar/vocalist (with 9 certifiable LPs all Americana-Roots based).
It’ll be interesting. Coming in the next few months. It’s all about the hunt for good music.
Of interest this month was a Sept. 24 release of the easy-going, melodic & Donnie Iris looking Stephen Inglis’ “Music Is a River” (Independent). On this cut, Inglis is in a smooth troubadour genre once dominated by the late Kenny Rankin. https://stepheninglis.com/
However, what Inglis has is a mix of Rankin’s easy-going storytelling style vocals stitched to soulful blaring horns & a Steve Cropper-type lead guitar. It works, it’s attractive too. I included the live version because it’s so well done by a bunch of mature cool cats. A good arrangement with a female chorus line accentuating nicely. A well-thought-out & executed piece. Produced by Inglis with Pierre Gill. The band is Eric Peterson (bass/vocals), Steven Howells (drums), Joshua Kaye (keys), Ginai Hill (harmony vocals), Todd Yukumoto (alto, baritone & tenor sax) & Eldrid Ahlo (trumpet).
Coming Nov. 12 is a rousing spiritual-oriented CD On the Horizon – Vol 1 by the North Carolina Freeway Jubilee & produced by Kenny Crowley & the band — that has average, yet clever, vocalizations. It’s a kick-ass band with horns, soulful lead guitar & organ runs.
Freeway Jubilee has its moments of instrumental exhilaration, especially on “In Motion,” & “Not the Same.” The band’s strongly reminiscent of a 1971 Australian spiritually driven horn band that issued 2 LPs on Atlantic Records. SCRA (Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly) & specifically their song “Midnight,” off The Ship album. This has this same deep-rooted feeling & vocals & is a forebearer to what Freeway Jubilee does, & the vocalist(s) sound similar.
On “Sunlight Stream,” the vocals are lukewarm in approach (not entirely bad), the voice does have substance in how everything is sung. Nice musical touches throughout keeps this an encouraging effort. All the songs have a pleasant individuality melodically. It’s just not flashy – they maintain a nice steady groove throughout. https://freewayjubilee.com/
An interesting cross between Sheryl Crow & Lucinda Williams arrives as Brandy Zdan’s Falcon, (Drops Oct 29-Independent) LP.
Just about every song touches upon a pivotal moment in Brandy’s life. A miscarriage, loss, grief, giving birth during Covid, an isolated mother, depression, opportunities that were missed resulting in her producing & releasing her work herself.
The songs grind away at times, sound close to 60s girl group angst (The Shangri-Las) with a Patti Smith edge (“Falcon’s Wing”). This is good stuff. Brandy (guitar/lap steel/keys), Aaron Haynes (drums), Will Honaker (bass) & Josh Grange (pedal steel on “Mama”).
Brandy changes gears from song to song with expertise & never loses sight of her image. “Protector,” is jaunty with deep Honaker bass tones & slides into a Lesley Gore-Mary Weiss pop-toughness without getting obnoxious.
With “Everyone Wants,” Brandy adds poignancy to her repertoire. A good catchy simple pop tune that grabs the ear as tightly as that first Janis Ian song back in 1965 – this has it all. This is an impressive CD.
British singer Tom Rodwell lives & works in New Zealand & recently released “Wood & Waste” (Fireplace) with its lead-off track that sounds like it came from the percussive eccentric school of late-career Tom Waits. Rodwell doesn’t sing in a growl like that other Tom, but he does have character. “Don’t Be a Fugitive All Your Life,” is fairly interesting as Rodwell pieces it all together with his own percussion & atmosphere.
Dropped Oct 22, it’s an entirely analog production & does possess a nice warmth to it all. Not everything is going to appeal to every listener, but this has moments of interest as Tom tries to use past genres & embellish them with a new ambiance. It has some quirky stuff but that’s what made many enjoy Tom Waits, Chuck E Weiss & Captain Beefheart. “Make Believe,” with its samba beat & weird percussive additions is another curiosity that is ear-candy. Tom never gets carried away; he keeps a lid on the weird & shapes the beauties with musical polish.
NYC-based, Kentucky-born singer-songwriter Sam Phelps offers “Hunter Springs Road,” it’s a slim 4-cut EP (Nov 4).
The independent release was produced by Grammy-Winner Chance McCoy. The outstanding tune is something the late folk-singer-activist Phil Ochs would’ve appreciated. “New York Newsstand Blues,” is a jaunty little folk-rocker with harmonica notes coloring it. Electric guitar courtesy of Laur Joamets.
The acoustic guitar picking shines & Phelps’ vocal is distinctive on his originals. A previous tune not on this EP “I’m Weak,” is engaging & worth tracking down. Phelps sings in a vintage folk-rock style but his music is composed to be played with bright instrumentation he does so well. If you’re still a serious listener of this kind of music Sam Phelps won’t disappoint.
As for something wholly acoustic the John Sierra collection on his debut EP “The Wonder.” (Drops Nov 5/6-Independent). It’s reminiscent of the extremely early works of Billy Joel & Elton John where their albums were filled with spare instrumentation, lots of reflective lyrics & their voices alone carrying the songs.
Listen carefully to each song, especially the title track “The Wonder,” & you’ll hear tales of hope, forgiving, healing, & restoration. The roots of addiction, the strength to overcome & push aside regret to attain the dream.
Heavy stuff with lots of optimism. Despite being influenced by many modern-day artists John’s style goes further back than he probably realizes. https://johnsierramusic.com/
Two new singles from singer-songwriter Bob Sumner who I’ve known since I listened to his debut in 2019 always with something of interest. “California,” is lush in a beautiful way (Drops Nov 18-North Country Collective Records) & was produced meticulously with soft sounds, a little Spanish-flavored, with pristine acoustic guitar & a humid atmosphere. When the accordion kicks in that’s when a listener should be cracking open a tequila, kicking off the boots & lighting a Maduro.
“Riverbed,” is from his debut CD Wasted Love Songs. The 2 new singles have not been made available yet.
A second single “Broken Record,” is scheduled for Jan. 13. 2022. Produced with Erik Nielsen they were 2 songs that could’ve easily fit on Sumner’s excellent CD “Wasted Love Songs.” Bob’s music is for ears accustomed to Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, mixed with Warren Zevon’s best ballads like “Carmelita.” That’s like the taste of good dark chocolate & salty potato chips.
Many legendary country singers have passed but it’s when you hear someone like Bob Sumner that you have renewed faith that vintage country with a modern twist is in the right hands & will continue to find ears to satisfy. https://bobsumnermusic.com/
Georgia band Swamptooth released their first 11-cut, 44-minute LP “B-Flat Earth,” Sept 17 & issued original songs dipped into traditional bluegrass styles. The band is comprised of seasoned pickers that play with swift currents that aren’t so much retro as invigorating American shots of musical insulin.
“Space Base,” is an ill-conceived title but the tune itself is dynamic. I’m going to call it what it feels like to me – “Eat Your Heart Out Flatt & Scruggs” (Just kidding, I like Flatt & Scruggs). This is a good song to wake up early in the morning with. Like a cold splash of icy water in your sleepy face.
Now, this stuff is based on old-time music so the whipper-snappers may wince, but the craft is there with skill & humor. “I Lost My Soul,” sounds like it was inspired by many familiar 70s outings by Charlie Gearhart’s beloved Goose Creek Symphony.
Is it corny? Not really. It has a down-home earthy feeling & its lyrics are not silly or tepid. “The Owl Theory,” is an instrumental with fire. The interplay between musicians “tells a story” for your spirit to interpret without words. “Platinum Blonde,” is a well-written & performed tune with commercial potential. The entire LP is filled with an assortment of irresistible significant picking. “Made In China,” is played razor-sharp – an absorbing melody.
“B-Flat Earth,” is something Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead would’ve loved. No last gasps of an old tradition on this.
Produced by Matt Eckstein & Jay Rudd. Color image courtesy of their website.
Cory Chambers (guitar/bass/vocals), Evan Ross (mandolin/vocals), Vito Gutilla (fiddle), Jay Rudd (guitar/bass/vocals), & Jimmy Wolling (banjo/sitar) provide the bright musical colors. Guest musicians: Lynn Geddes Wolling (tabla) & Eric Dunn (upright Bass) both on “GOA.” https://swamptooth.com/home
All CDs are available as noted or on the artists’ websites.
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