Grooves and Cuts Music Reviews

Grooves & Cuts: June 2022

Columns Grooves & Cuts

Grooves & Cuts: June 2022 – By John Apice

GROOVES & CUTS – Traditional Folk – Re-interpretation or Plagiarism

I read a debate online about the origins of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” by The Tokens. That the song was stolen. How can it be stolen if it’s been indeed known to have originated in Africa — even back when the song hit the charts.

I remember them writing about it being based on an African folk song. But I’ll bet it wasn’t copyrighted properly, many folk melodies aren’t. Many Appalachian folk songs aren’t. Is it right? No. But sometimes it isn’t even a matter of stealing — songs can only be copyrighted twice (I believe 27 years each — at least that’s the law a few decades ago). After that, it’s public domain.

Many songs are reinterpreted & adapted. Illegal? No. That’s not like sampling. Until The Tokens recorded the tune – hardly anyone in the world even knew it existed. So, it’s either originalists who want the obscurity to stay in place to preserve its authenticity or allow it to bask in worldwide acceptance however that comes. Can’t have it both ways.

In this case, The Tokens (who only sang it) didn’t even claim to have written it. The original writers are entitled to some compensation — they deserve it. The song itself became a hit because of how “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was edited commercially, arranged & performed by a pop doo-wop band.

The Tokens probably knew little of the song’s origins. They shouldn’t be blamed for their success; they should be celebrated. They performed it respectfully & that’s why many Blacks like the song.

How about some other questionable melodies. Do you really think Bob Dylan wrote “Girl From the North Country”? Then you never heard of “Scarborough Fair” — a traditional English ballad dating earlier than 1847. Exact melody as Dylan’s tune.

Then there’s the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” Sounds like “Any Dream Will Do,” from the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd-Webber play “Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” That play predates the Dead song by 4 years. Ironically the Dead lyricist Robert Hunter admitted he wrote a batch of songs while in England & caught that very show in London. The Dead never wrote another melody like it. Peculiar.

Then there’s 60s pop song “Your Heart’s Not Made of Wood,” which is actually a German folk song “Wooden Heart.” Covered by Elvis Presley in the 60s with the correct songwriters listed. So much for another Presley rip off huh? He stole the black man’s songs then moved on logically to steal European folk songs & lite-operettas. What better victim than a folk song from a foreign country? Sometimes the melody is “borrowed” legally.

Elvis’ “It’s Now or Never,” is actually the Italian operatic pop song “O Solo Mio.” His hit “Surrender,” also Italian was “Come Back To Sorrento.” Elvis’ classic “I Can’t Help Falling In Love,” was written by Italians but based on an old French song “Plaisir d’amour” (1784). I hardly think the original composer has a case.

Songwriters often “borrow” melodies or melody lines from old songs from other sources. If need be, other countries. Some say there are only 12 notes – but in Western music composing is 7. That’s an entirely different discussion for someone who understands music theory better than I do.

However, we are limited to how many variations we have available in the make-up of note sequences. We get to hear all this stuff since some composers are crafty & wily enough to reanimate an old melody from obscure sources.

Maybe, George Gershwin, Cole Porter & Hoagy Carmichael had songs in their repertoire that didn’t work in their era. Rejected. Great songs do remain obscure, just like some great flipsides of 45s from the 50s & 60s. There are many. Plagiarism is one thing, adapted & re-interpreted — yet another.

Anna Kendrick’s novelty song “Cups” (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”) is a glaring example of hijacking. Few know that except for the intro lyrics Anna’s song (melody & chorus) is based on a 1929 Carter Family folk song by A.P. Carter – “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” The song was respectfully updated & modernized but fails to credit A.P. Carter.

The YouTube posters of this Kendrick song “Cups” go all nostalgia believing the song is from 2013 & Anna ingeniously wrote it. But the melody is from 75 years ago. The Carters are American music legends & their version on YouTube substantiates it. It has nothing to do with playing with cups. Why not credit the original writers? Oh…I forget — public domain?

SPILLED MERCURY:

Tobias Backstrand

Tobias Backstrand – Heal

This 36-minute CD opens with an instrumental melody by flutist Magdalena Gerberg — “Irish Coffee.” A calmer Pogues-type blitz of a melody though no one here is Irish. The magic of music interpretation.

It’s a group led by Swedish musician Tobias Backstrand (vocals/guitar/Bouzouki) with a team of musicians that constructed a gossamer of tight tunes that adhere strongly. Produced by Andreas Holmstedt & Tobias, the 10-cut Heal (Released March 18–Paraply Records) is his first solo release of originals.

The music is fiery & if you can get past the foreign language in early songs this music is invigorating in the classic rock-folk tradition. With a little patience, American listeners can appreciate the English lyrics of “Candle Light,” “Drifting In the Wind” & the balance of songs that lead to the finale “Heal.” Sung in English with expertise.

Cut 2 “Och Regnet Foll” (And the Rain Falls) has a bristling guitar. The effort & its spirit of rock with its traditional foils sprinkled in is attractive. There’s a touch of Jethro Tull-type flute but “Om Sa Bara For En Stund,” (If Said Just For a Moment) sung by female vocalist Anna-Lena Seydlitiz (percussion) is a beauty.

When she’s joined by the contrasting vocals of Tobias, the flute drifts in breezily — the song captures the artistry of their music.

Then with the sprightly upbeat “Morker Ljus,” (Dark Light) the group goes American country with articulate pedal steel (Berra Karlsson) recorded upfront. The duet-vocalizing between male & female voices is colorful.

Mikael Persson (guitars/vocals), Hasse Lindstrom (drums) & Pelle Johanson (bass/vocals). The set is balanced by little instrumentals between the vigorous vocalizing & “Gao Shan Liu Shui,” which features heavy-duty drum beats with a Far East dual guitar dueling style — highly melodic. Mindful of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band classic “East/West” (1966) between Michael Bloomfield & Elvin Bishop. A pleasurable listen.

CD @ Amazon, Apple Music & https://www.hemifran.com/news/detail/u/824/Tobias%20B%C3%A4ckstrand/Heal/

 

Reggae Jack

Reggae Jack – Always Magic

This title released May 6, is 28-minutes of a concept by the excellent singer-songwriter Jack Tempchin joined by Jeff Roffredo (bass) & Marc Orrell (guitar/Dropkick Murphy’s) who produced Always Magic (Night River/Blue Elan Records).

The project contains 7 + 1 bonus of interesting pieces by the trio. While the music is identified as Reggae Jack it’s primarily the brainchild of Ohio-born, Southern-California singer-songwriter Tempchin who hired session musicians to make realize his project.

Known as a songwriter of some classic Eagles songs (“Smuggler’s Blues,” “Already Gone,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling”). Jack has 12 solo LPs not counting this which is rooted in reggae – obviously an attempt to broaden his horizons.

Reggae Jack

This isn’t exactly what The Eagles would look for. But what it does show is the acute diversity of Jack Tempchin. I’m not a big fan of falsetto vocals but beginning with cut 1 “Always Magic When the Sun Goes Down,” it’s applied effectively. The feel of this reggae has its own authenticity though it’s not reggae-snake venom beer, it’s reggae-lite. There isn’t anything overtly political or drug-inspired. It’s primarily joyous, happy times, good vibrations, etc. A swim in the ocean with no sharks. However,…

No new ground is broken. But the beats, melodies & sharp snap of the drums do fall into line as cool summer music with the ocean breeze blowing through your hair & not ganja smoke. It’s not the most stimulating reggae but “Do Something Fun,” has a tight viable groove & danceable.

For reggae aficionados & practitioners this will be nothing more than fascinating – since it isn’t performed as a novelty it has redeeming reggae vapors. Nothing was done on the cheap. Lots of tunes have a sandy beach tingle, not with a shantytown destitute & desperate design. While Bob Marley & Peter Tosh would explore more serious political issues they did explore a clear weather sunny musical path at times. “Friend To Me,” & “One of the Good Old Days,” are ideal, spirit-uplifting melodies.

“Great Big Smile,” is likable but it’s too mindful of Carole King’s “Smackwater Jack,” later covered by Quincy Jones. However,…reggae from a trio that’s an unlikely source & doing it with finesse is worth checking out. (An unlisted bonus track — reggae version of “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” is quite good).

Color photo: Joel Piper. CD @ https://www.jacktempchin.com/ + https://hemifran.com/artist/Reggae%20Jack/

 

Heinrik

Henrik Af Ugglas – Another Language

This CD was available on March 18, 2022. Performed by Swedish multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Henrik Af Ugglas the music is folk-pop oriented with lots of atmosphere especially cut 1 “War” that has a Beatles melodic styling.

Heinrik

The debut produced by Asa Af Ugglas is a short 7-track, 26-minute Another Language (Paraply Records). The band plays upbeat, happy tunes — though the titles are in English the vocalizing is a little hard to decipher. May have been intentional since Ugglas doesn’t sound like he has a thick accent.

Christer Jansson (drums/percussion) & Peder Af Ugglas (rhythm guitars) perform with Henrik & at times there are songs that are gentle dark acoustic ballads like “When I Go,” — like modern-takes on the late Nick Drake. Drake wouldn’t use a synthesizer swirl, but the acoustic guitar is a nice touch. The treated vocal sounds like the singer’s conscience through a megaphone. Dramatic.

Henrik straddles the balancing beam of Euro-pop, Beatles-melodic, Drake intensity with a touch of electro-pop that is mindful of early Pink Floyd & Brian Eno. Maybe a bit too repetitious in nature for some but the idea is to penetrate the psyche. It’s amazing how he comes out of such music & into lighter fare mindful of English singer-songwriters like Clifford T Ward, early Duncan Browne & Al Stewart.

His accent is more evident on “Screaming Louder,” but comes across as charming. The tune suddenly goes from sweet pastry to a shot of whiskey in an instant as Henrik goes full grunge. Then slides gently back into the beauty of the lullaby-like tune. Ingenuity.

“I’m In Love With You,” is attractive but Henrik’s voice doesn’t have the range of tonality to suit this. It’s fairly generic in theme & a few lines are cliché – but it’s the melody & how it’s arranged that makes the tune faithful. It just needs a singer with more power & intonation.

Color image courtesy of Hemifran & Paraply Records. https://hemifran.com/artist/Henrik%20Af%20Ugglas/

 

Alias James

Alias James – Free Country

While the tunes hold up as good country songs with tasteful performances & arrangements there’s little compelling here. But does it have to be compelling? Probably not. For instance, “Temptation (Vision To The Blind),” borders on being a silly song with the female vocals shouting “temptation,” but they are soulful. The fiddles sting as they wind around the lyrics. The song could be spiritual & it does qualify as a country song that has a different approach.

“Catch Myself,” starts off with a nice rock riff & James’ deep vocal is rock steady. The addition of the supporting singers shades the tune into a darker vision. Nice. This collection is James’ debut LP — full of ideas, some work but the others don’t necessarily fall flat. They just don’t seem fully realized.

As original as Alias James (vocals/guitar) is, he never adds anything instrumentally that’s totally left-field of country. The instruments are typical country-sounding. At times it seems the creativity rises like cake liveners with the musical arrangements & application of the varied vocals. His vocal inflection is near to Lucinda Williams in how he pronounces his words. That’s not a bad thing.

All the songs except for “Blue Enough For Two,” are listenable. For this song to be listenable it should’ve been given to Chet Baker — when he was alive.

The 12-cut, 50-minute Free Country (Released April 22–Ravenwood) produced by Alias James comes close lyrically to being a country-flavored stab at Tom Waits-Chuck E. Weiss. If that’s what Alias intended. He has good dark lyrics & creative poignant lines. “Kickin’ Up a Shitstorm,” is striking, while “Where You Used To Be,” is distinctive & penetrating. “…there’s a hole in my heart, where you used to be.” A great country song…simply great.

Musicians’ contributions from Dave Zirbel (pedal steel), JP McLean (bass), Jenee Fleanor & Candy Girard (fiddles) & Ezra Lipp (drums). “Hell (If I Don’t Cry),” is a bonafide country-rocker & first single released. That will get feet moving & bosoms shifting in their peasant blouses. Love it.

Recording-wise the sound is faithfully reproduced & warm. There’s no doubt James has been influenced by many genres within the country frame. Does he score with this CD? Hard to say, he does make himself known. I enjoyed it. What concerns me is the country’s entertainment climate. Not sure if this flies on Cat Country. Alias has his Merle Haggard & Buck Owens solidly in his soul. He has value-added.

Color image from Facebook. CD @ https://aliasjames.com/

Ben Sures

Ben Sures – The Story That Lived Here

While this dropped on January 21, 2022, it caught my attention. Edmonton, Canada’s Ben Sures (guitar/vocals) has a poignant CD filled with a good sense of humor & formidable instrumentation & the opening song “End of the World,” would probably be how many people think today.

This is Ben’s 10th LP of eccentric story songs & new ones are found on the 10-cut The Story That Lived Here (Independent). Sures is a troubadour of the old-stripe, the Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Eric Andersen, storytelling singer who can always turn a simple part of life into an entire song. Rich in characters, personality & detail his songs faithfully utilize colorful lyrics many songwriters don’t have in their vocabulary.

A bluegrass tinted LP that features Richard Moody (violin/viola/mandolin & vocals), Scott White (upright bass) with Rebecca Campbell (backup vocals/percussion).

Ben Sures

Sures sings some songs as if simply speaking to someone. A conversationalist singer who strikes the outlines on the painting & then allows accompanists to color within the lines. The addition of upright bass is rich. Highly personal tunes, easily relatable. “Library Ladies,” is a typical everyday nothing that Sures turns into an episode many people remember when they were younger.

While Sures’ voice can be thin & challenging in the higher registers it’s his poignancy, sincerity & “everyman voice” that has the charm. Evident on the title track. Ben mines a vein of songs seldom covered by anyone. This is why his showcase is worthy of attention. Especially since we have lost some great ones like Cohen & Prine. Everyone likes to reminisce. But strong tunes like “No One Will Remember You,” hits hard with the truth. People, in general, have short attention spans & memories. Is it harsh? Yeah. But it’s true & in this song Sures’ vocal sparkles.

“Maybe When I’m Older,” is part of the whole LP — a nostalgic continuation of The Beatles’ “When I’m 64,” – now that Paul McCartney is 80. It’s a tradition embellished beyond & fertilized by the worldwide neighborhood of Penny Lane, dead people like Eleanor Rigby, Lovely Rita, the Nowhere Man & it’ll be easier to recall Yesterday & it won’t be so far away.

It’s been a long, strange trip but people like Ben Sures keep the stories alive – to remind us.

Color image: Pamela Gregg. CD available @ Bandcamp + https://www.lostcatartists.com/bensuresindustry

 

Revivalists

The Revivalists – Made In Muscle Shoals Vol 2 – Live EP

Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios (Muscle Shoals, Alabama) where many hit records were recorded by famous artists through the decades. The chart-topping band The Revivalists lay down some soulful melodies yet again between these fabulous walls.

“The Other Side of Paradise,” is stunning. Guitarist David Shaw’s lead vocal amply captures the soulfulness as the backup singer’s lush vocalizing adds muscle. Just part of an economical EP release I hope doesn’t get lost in the cracks. It’s a great song. By itself.

“You Said It All,” affirms their solid base of music, performance & vocalizing. This is just another tune that’s like tasty foreign cookies. Drums & guitars all mixed together wonderfully, subtle at times, sharp, with an Americana veneer that guarantees freshness. I find this delightful.

The Revivalists

The 6-cut EP Made In Muscle Shoals Vol 2 – Live EP – (Released June 17-Concord Records) includes “You Said It All,” “Got Love,” “Hate To Love You,” “Future,” “Next To You,” & “Otherside of Paradise.” It might be considered alt-rock country, but this unit’s acclaim & popularity are justified. They’re true to the roots of their music & deliver, deliver, deliver.

The band — Zack Feinberg (guitar), Andrew Campanelli (drums), George Gekas (bass), Ed Williams (pedal steel guitar), Rob Ingraham (sax), Michael Girardot (keys/trumpet) & PJ Howard (drums/percussion).

Color image: Zackery Michael. CD @ https://therevivalists.com/

 

Steven Denmark

Steven Denmark – Only Home I Need / Crazy Over You

An exceptional single comes from Steven Denmark (guitars/keys/bass) in “Only Home I Need.” Similar in energy & alchemy to The Revivalists, Denmark’s voice is warm, soulful & solid as an Americana-rock-roots-soul singer can be. Proven on this distinctive song.

Steven Denmark

His livelihood is as a Northern California rancher, but he has searingly good music in his soul. The single Only Home I Need / Crazy Over You (Drops June-Baby Robot) is exciting, spacious & well-written. Recorded in Nashville with Steven Christopher Lucas (lead guitar), Bryson Nelson (drums), Sam Wilson (pedal steel) & Lynn Marie (vocals “Only Home I Need”).

With “Crazy Over You,” Denmark falls back on earlier punk roots & adds an upbeat to his fuzzed-out roots rock. Denmark actually has the goods. If the opportunity presents itself serendipity may be in the audience.

B&W image: Jesse Lendzion. CD @ https://www.babyrobotmedia.com/steven-denmark/ +https://www.stevendenmark.com/

CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.

Grooves & Cuts: June 2022 – By John Apice

 

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