Grooves & Cuts – August 2022 – by John Apice
Remarkable Vocalists RIP
First things first – RIP – Gary Brooker (vocals/pianist) who was from England & performed for 50 years with Procol Harum a progressive rock band that played well with orchestras (d. Feb 2022). However, they also played around with songs of varying genres & did one live in 1977 called “This Old Dog” which is somewhat of an Americana type song with the fiery fiddle by Pete Solley – quite unlike Procol Harum’s reputation.
Their material has been covered by Americana artists like acoustic guitar master Leo Kottke (“Power Failure”). Though it’s a straight rock song “Whiskey Train,” has also been covered by Americana artists because of its blues thread. Procol Harum also respectfully covered traditional tunes like “Morning Dew.” They recorded songs with reggae flavors “Boredom.”
A progressive type of folk song would probably be “The Devil Came From Kansas,” covered also by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam). Light opera singer Sarah Brightman has covered several of this band’s songs. Storytelling was their strength. It all came from Gary Brooker & Keith Reid primarily with some contributions from Matthew Fisher.
The studio version:
Many of their songs could be adapted by folk artists.
Color photo credit: Max Nash/ AP
Australian singer Judith Durham passed away at 79, on August 6th from a lung condition she had since her childhood. Lead singer of the original Seekers she had gone on to a solo career. She had a pristine voice & could have easily stepped into Fairport Convention once Sandy Denny had departed.
The group had hits in 3 major markets – Australia, US & England & sold more than 50 million records worldwide — (Did you know that Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame)? Judith sang lead on such hits as “I’ll Never Find Another You,” “Georgy Girl,” “A World of Our Own,” and Paul Simon’s “Some Day, One Day,” which he wrote for them after meeting him. Some songs were written by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom (“The Carnival Is Over”). This was a little folk band that knocked off The Beatles, Rolling Stones & The Kinks from the top of the charts in the 60s. And Judith always found that humorous.
She had suffered something like a stroke a few years ago but unlike Joni Mitchell, her ability to sing was not affected. Her farewell Australian concert with The Seekers was in 2013 & it was stunning work with over 2 million hits on YouTube.
Band photo courtesy of Phil Walter
Born in England but raised in Melbourne, Australia — Olivia Newton-John while not being an Americana-Roots artist was considered a country-pop artist several times & does deserve mention (d. Aug 8; she was 73). Olivia had a wonderful voice & a great career & with some formidable guidance probably could’ve had an even better country-folk career.
Ms. Newton-John had a brave 30-year fight with cancer & had been living at her Southern California ranch. She sold more than 100 million records, with 40 entries into the charts & won 4 Grammy Awards.
In 1974 she recorded a song I thought was great – “I Honestly Love You,” simply because she sang it with believability in every word. I thought she could’ve been even more influential (ala Emmylou Harris & Roseann Cash) if her material wasn’t always so pop-oriented & sweet.
Photo credit: Scott Gries/ Getty Images
Laura Benitez & The Heartache – California Centuries
With a touch of Tex-Mex in a Texas Tornados tradition on the opening tune “Bad Things,” their showcase has energy, it’s lively & sincere. California Centuries (Drops Sept 9-Copperhead) is Ms. Benitez’s 3rd LP with 12-invigorating personal songs.
Laura Benitez (vocals/acoustic guitar/harmony vocalist & producer) chose to sing a little more personal in a family reunion style on this collection than create fictional scenarios & characters. Her vocals are pristine & engaging.
Recorded in California the set veers between basic twangy country stylings (“Are You Using Your Heart”) & dips liberally into rock, folk & bluegrass. Laura’s vocals are the focus – lovely tone, with good arrangements & she sounds relaxed on these routine songs that have been polished with lots of artistic merits. She’s excellent. “Let The Chips Fall,” sounds like something Janis Joplin would’ve covered.
Her PR states that she likes to tell old stories in new ways & I’d agree. What it takes to challenge the negative perceptions of others – wow, quite the undertaking for a singer-songwriter but Laura achieves it here. I’m looking forward to more music from this young lady. She at least leaves one wanting more.
Band – Bob Spector (electric/acoustic guitars/electric bass), Russell Kiel (electric bass), Steve Pearson (drums), Dave Zirbel (steel guitar), Ian Sutton (steel guitar/dobro), Amy Scher (fiddle), Bryan Kilgore & Sarah Schweppe (harmony vocals).
Highlights – “I’m the One,” “The Shot,” “God Willing & the Creek Don’t Rise,” & “Invisible.”
Photo by Emily Sevin. CD @ http://laurabenitezandtheheartache.com/index.html
Lauren Monroe – Messages From Aphrodite
This is Ms. Monroe’s 3rd LP produced by Jim Scott & Lauren herself. She’s mastered the instinctual beautiful vocalizing approach that made careers for Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins & Carrie Newcomer. She doesn’t have the jazzy phrasing of a Laura Nyro but her deep passionate vocal makes her an original & could pose possibilities for a jazz career later.
The NY-born, California-based Lauren Monroe (lead vocals/electric & acoustic guitar/Djembe/frame drum/bongos/handclaps) doesn’t sound like those other female vocalists entirely, but she has their delicacies, poetically & expressively. No funny stuff with Lauren’s lyrics – she writes from a deep well of emotion.
“Sparrow,” is a stunner with nothing special except that it’s filled with musical icing. Sweet but never too sweet. Her voice is in sharp contrast to Mitchell’s early career folky reedy vocal & Collins’ more operatic clarity. But it’s just that deeper seductive alto that channels a romantic radiance that doesn’t come from mainstream recipes.
“My Love,” (not the classic hit by Petula Clark) is good with its countrified deeply mature Cher vocal style. However, “Calling All Angels,” hovers too closely to a Sarah MacLachlan voice.
The 11-cut, 44-minute Messages From Aphrodite (Drops Sept 9–Mukti Bella Rose) provides expressive music — but not always. Some teeter safely & well within a mainstream commercial structure. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. The menagerie of Lauren’s songs touches upon varied subjects with intelligence & the fact that she doesn’t follow a trend is admirable.
Highlights – “If You Want,” “Void of Course,” “My Love,” “Big Love Lullaby,” & “Beautiful World”
Musicians – Elizabeth Goodfellow, Rick Allen, Alan Hertz & Steve Ferrone (drums), Mai Leisz, Bob Glaub & Dave Chamberlain (bass), Greg Leisz (electric guitar/pedal steel), Mark Hayes (electric guitar), Brian Whelan (electric, acoustic & high strung guitars/piano/Hammond Organ), John Graboff (electric guitar/pedal steel), Sebastian Steinberg (bass/cello/upright bass), Ben Knapp (vibraphone), David Garza (vibraphone/electric guitar), Steve Uccello (Upright bass/bass/cello), Tyler Bryant (electric guitar/High String Guitar), Dylan Rose, Austin Vallejo & Stoll Vaughn (electric & acoustic guitars), Doug Pettibone (pedal steel), John Ginty (piano, Hammond B3 organ), John Thomas (Hammond B3), Jim Scott (tambourine/shaker/cymbals/little drum/ankle bells/handclaps/bells), Tammi Brown (piano/backing vocals), Moon Calhoun, Otha White, & Carolyn Baker (backing & harmony vocals).
Photo by Spencer Sease CD @ https://laurenmonroe.com/
DB Edmunds – Life’s Wild Ride – EP
This Chapel Hill, North Carolina artist was a member of two local bands (Gladhands & The Stars Explode) that had their own notoriety, but this time out DB (Doug Edmunds) is going solo with a vinyl EP of 6 songs that spin at 45 rpm. On Life’s Wild Ride (Drops Sept 9–Independent).
No relation to English pub-rocker Dave Edmunds.
Co-produced by John Plymale & DB the songs explore hard rock, some soulful tunes & a jangly modern pop tune sweetened with old-school power pop swagger. Edmunds plays acoustic guitar, bass, some drums & percussion. He’s joined by Alan McGinty (drums/on 2 songs), Roger Gupton (bass/on 2 songs) & Brian Dennis (lead & electric guitars/keyboards & bass).
Looking at the cover I expected something along the lines of the aggressive Steve Swindell’s “Fresh Blood,” (1980) LP. But that was not what came in this package though it seemed promising. The opener “Side By Side” has energetic playing ala 70s era Rolling Stones & McGinty’s drums are powerful. Brian Dennis’ lead guitar sounds at first buried in the mix but emerges later to smoke the tune.
DB’s lead vocals are always rocking good except on the slower ones, too wimpy. The “doo-doo-doo’s” are done well considering that sort of thing today could render the song a novelty. Not here. It’s done with vigor & the later guitar solo brings fire.
Edmunds is diversified in his presentation — “Wait For the Rain,” is a harder-edged Beach Boys-type tune. “I Don’t Trust Love,” is almost early James Gang vocally but DB adds more depth. “Higher Ground,” has that Steve Swindells music aura – a tougher center but the lyrics aren’t up to snuff with that kind of melody. It needs to be more cutting, daring & charged instead of repetitious.
Then slip into the brassy “The One True Thing,” where vocals & arrangement shine despite their Average White Band resemblance. The pop approach is too little too late. Who listens to this in 2022? I give it a 5 it’s still good to dance to. Does anyone remember “Soul Finger,” by the Bar-Kays? This is a distant, distant cousin but doesn’t have those shouting vocals or charts.
I just think DB with his good voice needs far more intense material (lyrics). He should take notes from that Swindell’s’ LP – Fresh Blood (“Turn It On, Turn It Off” “Figures of Authority”) & Tom Wilson’s Junkhouse LP with “Shine.” Yes, he doesn’t have those deep voices – but I’m talking material not vocals. Instead of flash, he should have drama – build up the song & bait the listener.
Would I listen to an entire LP of DB Edmunds? Yes, certainly. He is entertaining.
Highlights – “Side By Side,” “Wait For the Rain.”
Song sample available @ Bandcamp. Color image courtesy of Stephen Jablonsky. CD @ https://dbedmunds.bandcamp.com/releases
Scott Wolfson & the Other Heroes – Undercover Heroes – EP
I once said of these guys that they were magicians & wizards – and that’s still true. They play wonderfully & are celebrating their 10th anniversary. With that, they put together an extended play release of 5-cuts that are “audience favorites” of covers — produced by Chris Kelly & Scott & recorded in Brooklyn, NY.
Some tunes on the 20-minute Undercover Heroes (Dropped Aug 21-Independent) go back to 2014-2022 & would then include performances by past members Mya Byrne, Michael Bell & the most recent member Scott Tofte (backing vocals/mixing & mastering).
They open with a Woody Guthrie tune “Hard, Ain’t It Hard” that is filled with their imaginative fiery playing. Too bad Woody couldn’t hear his song performed by these NJ boys in person. I think he might be surprised that he didn’t have to go to another part of the country to find musicians to play this well.
Highlights – All 5 have redeeming value especially the Jack Hardy penned “White Shoes,” & piano-driven “I Hear Them All.”
The band — Scott Wolfson (lead Vocal/acoustic guitar/mandolin), Matt Laurita (electric guitar/ Resonator & nylon string guitar/banjo), Skyler Bode (piano/organ/accordion/backing vocals), Kirk Siee (acoustic & electric bass), Chris Kelly (drums/percussion/electric guitar/backing vocals), Mike Bell (mandolin/slide guitar) & Mya Byrne (mandolin).
Image courtesy of Bandcamp. CD @ Bandcamp + https://scottwolfson.com/
Apple & Setser – Self-Titled
This is something you listen to just to slam the door on the world of politics & idiocy so you can bathe in something soul-defining, an interlude into the peaceful reality of the good things that glorify fresh air, a breeze blowing through your hair, a rushing cool stream, a rustle of leaves on an autumn day raining on your head as if to embrace you personally in the beauty it provides. This is the music I hear.
Apple & Setser fail to make this bluegrass corny, old-fashioned or candy-coated. They perform & sing with vibrancy – they allow one to let go of one’s anxiety – to entertain, tell a story, or just create something from nothing. Create something from nothing – as God did.
The fiddle sings & the vocals are perfect for such a showcase & despite the light-heartedness, there’s a country kick & sophistication that seethes through every note. A child in a candy store feels — a rush down the tracks on a roller coaster, first bite into a big cloud of pink cotton candy. It’s all here.
What’s attractive as well, is this duo’s vocal arrangements (“Hand Me Down My Walking Cane”) that reminded me as a youth in 1967 of that glorious style on Lyme & Cybelle’s 45 called “Follow Me.” But the banjos are live wires with the fiddle sawing.
The music comes from the 10-song Self-Titled CD (Dropped Aug 1-Bell Buckle Records) that even includes an instrumental “Hayes Hoedown,” which is a rollicking piece of music – bring your own jug.
The CD was produced by Brad Apple (vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/in Arkansas. For some accustomed to this music, it may be nostalgic but it’s the recording & performances together that shines. It’s like an old basement oak table that’s been sanded, varnished & refinished to a gleam.
Pam Setser (vocals/multi-instrumentalist) has been working with Brad since 2017. Award-winning bluegrass & gospel guest musicians David Johnson, Tim Crouch & Danny Crawford appear.
Great escape music performed by two pros.
Highlights – “A Friend You’d Never Met,” “Grandma Danced With The Arkansas Traveler,” “I’ll Love Nobody But You,” (first single), “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” & “Too Far Gone.”
Justin Saladino Band – Honest Lies
Kicking off with some jangling authoritative guitar this band has some contagious music on their menu. Canadian Saladino has a bluesy tinge to his vocal & he has excellent intonation, phrasing & style. Good rock vocal instincts but never depends on that to get his expressive material across. He finds the words that need emphasis the way many of today’s singers do not know how, or seldom utilize them. “Sink or Swim,” (first single) starts the 10-cut album off with vibrancy.
Dropping back to a slower showcase on “Let You Go,” the guitar whine around the snap of a tight drum & the drama is added like sugar to a cake. The song drives, it has presence & color. OK, it’s not yet The Rolling Stones or The Who but you can hear the possibilities here. The lyrics are charged & the music is punchy.
Produced by Ariel Posen Honest Lies (Drops Sept. 16-Independent) is Justin’s 2nd LP that lashes together a vibrant course of roots & contemporary rock with pinches of blues. “Blind Faith,” is funky with a Chic – Nile Rogers/Sly & the Family Stone thickness & a suave soulful guitar. It satisfies & fits. Saladino offers up soul music & delivers.
I don’t hear the Southern-roots influence of blues (not dirty enough) but there is an undertow of bluesy motivations with many songs polished along the lines of many other genres that seem to radiate from the showcase. The danger if not careful is alienating the audience especially when they don’t understand what the band represents. Right now, “Honest Lies,” is a well-balanced performance & well-recorded.
The closer is “Don’t Worry About It,” — an excellent soulful chorale of female voices that reinforces this soulful endeavor. The guitar cruises along nicely & is the best of the smoking songs. “Half-Heartedly,” is also an excellent tune, probably the least fiery of all & most memorable. Good singing with soft-focus backup vocals & nice guitars.
Highlights – “Fan the Flames,” “Honest Lies,” & “Won’t Say No.”
Musicians – Justin (guitars/vocals), Gabriel Forget (bass) & Dennis Paquin (drums).
Color image by Calli Makaveli. CD @ https://www.justinsaladinoband.com/
Darryl Purpose – Two Good Hands EP
With a voice tempered by age & experience, this 3-cut EP is slim but warm & characteristic of the fortified songs Darryl Purpose (acoustic guitar/Nashville acoustic guitar) is known for. While he sounds only like himself there are tints of Ramblin Jack Elliott, Jon Dee Graham, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller & the late David Olney in his tone & approach.
The independently released effort Two Good Hands EP (Drops-Sept 6) is a poetically constructed set. “Song of Crows,” (“…sometimes I hear the voice of God in the song of crows.”). Not many songwriters write in that colorful, distinctive & expressive way. Purpose is a narrative storyteller.
On the more mainstream “Eddie and Jules,” Darryl sounds like he’s channeling an inner mature James Taylor & he does it well. He sans the pop-explorations of Taylor & provides the toothier side.
It’s only 3 songs — a sparkling introduction to a singer who may not be known to all the ears that should know him. He is not a singer who performs songs in a commercialized manner, but his repertoire is so accessible.
Produced by Ryan Hommel (background/harmony vocals/acoustic & electric guitar/Nashville acoustic guitar/Nylon String guitar-electric & pedal steel guitar/bass/synth/Rubber Bridge & Baritone guitars) with Reed Sutherland (upright bass), Griffin Goldsmith (drums/percussion) & Cynthia Tolson (violin/viola/string arrangement).
Looking forward to more music from this entertaining troubadour.
Color photo courtesy of Darryl’s website. Music @ https://darrylpurpose.com/home
Nick Dittmeier & the Sawdusters – Heavy Denim
This 10-cut effort dips liberally into varied bands of the early 70s but with a little more roots in their showcase. However, there are fibers of vintage Foghat (“Wide Boy”), early James Gang (“Walk Away”) & Humble Pie (Trouser-Snake Rhumba”) scattered throughout this band’s thrust, whether they know it or not.
Some tunes have soulful repetitive practicality with a bar band tinge, funk redux & some country rock & much of it recycled ideas. But if the musicians are young & didn’t express yet their basic rock instincts I can’t blame them for being loaded with old reliable cliches in their rock lyrics. The music has its moments with invigorating melodies. Not quite as challenging as Big Back 40 & the C. Gibbs Band but they’re game.
The performances on this 37-minute CD produced by Nick Dittmeier (lead vocals/guitars/piano/synths) & Jason McCulley (keys/BGV) on Heavy Denim (Dropped July 15–SonaBlast Records) percolate. It’s the material that older ears will find more nostalgic than the original. Songs are at best memorable. The best songs begin to appear late in the CD. They noticeably improve halfway in.
Musicians – Josh Bradley (drums), JD MacKinder (bass), Gina C (vocals/tambourine), Scott T. Smith & Kilean McCulley (BGV) & Chris Rodahoffer (pedal steel).
Highlights – “You Don’t Know The Truth,” “Hotel Pens,” “Free As We’d Ever Been,” “Doing Wrong For All The Right Reasons,” & “Tonya Jo.”
Color Photo by Chris Witzke. CD @ https://nickdittmeier.com/
Jonathan Terrell – A Couple 2, 3 – EP
Uncannily on Terrell’s single “Texas,” he sounds like tomorrow’s Willie Nelson with singing lessons but with all of Willie’s invaluable inflections & musical rust. Now, while this collection sounds like it has legs Jonathan is going to have to sharpen his pen if he’s going to go toe to toe with a Willie Nelson type.
Dig deep for some dusty tunes & not always sound so pristine & polished. He has to decide like some females have had to – am I, Patsy Cline or Lucinda Williams?
Jonathan has a cool timbre to his voice that is rooted in Willie Nelson’s territory on A Couple 2, 3 (Drops Sept 9–Range Music) but it’s the material that may be a challenge as time goes on. So, what am I saying?
I don’t think Terrell needs to worry about the quality of his singing & playing as much as the subjects he chooses for his repertoire. The late Boxcar Willie was actually an excellent singer & performer, but his voice is too close to a polished Johnny Cash. Because he insisted on dressing like a hobo which endeared him to his many fans it did minimize his importance as an artist. But he was no slouch. Neither is Jonathan Terrell. There’s gold in his mouth – just don’t mine it too quickly.
JT doesn’t need help with music, singing, or playing but CD cover art could use an art director who understands the music Jonathan projects.
Color image by Justin Cook. The 6-cut EP @ https://www.jonathanterrellmusic.com/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.
Grooves & Cuts – August 2022