Grooves & Cuts: October 2022 – by John Apice
Rest In Peace…
Jerry Lee Lewis (Sept. 1935-Oct. 2022) – Photo by Rene Perez/AP 1975
Robert Gordon (March 1947-Oct. 2022) – Photography – Nick Sangiamo & Gary Green
Jody Miller (Nov. 1941-Oct. 2022) – Photo courtesy of GAB Archives/Redferns 1965
Mary McCaslin (Dec. 1946-Oct. 2022) – Photo courtesy of Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel File
Kim Ware & The Good Graces – Ready
Sometimes I don’t know if I’m complimenting an artist when I say they sound popish-60s. But that was a glorious time. Hit singles were always melodic, tight, ingenious & catchy. That’s what Kim Ware & The Good Graces’ new CD Ready provides on their September release on (Potluck (CD) /Fort Lowell Records (Digital).
The opener “capital R” is soaked in an expressive pop melody. To me it’s attractive. It’s done well. The air around it is almost like many of the classic girl groups of that era: The Shangri-Las, The Toys & Dixie-Cups if not Marcie Blaine’s little classic “Bobby’s Girl,” & Robin Ward’s unforgettable “Wonderful Summer.” Its sweetness mixed with melancholy. Not easy to do. There’s a girl-group toughness to her vocalizing that’s vulnerable & charming.
It doesn’t sound retro or nostalgic – just a vintage style refreshed, filled with high-octane originality & relatable. “I don’t want to be here, but you’re so inviting…” is so cool. The clean chiming guitars& Kim’s vocal is pure adolescent glee.
The Kim Ware original songs were produced by Jerry Kee (multi-instrumentalist) & the North Carolina recording features Kim (acoustic & electric guitar/lead vocals/whistling), Wyatt Espalin (fiddle on “Palisade Peaches”) & Carrie Shull (oboe on “Ready,” & “So Many Questions”).
There are 13 cuts & that at times Kim starts to sing with a more old-timey country vocal, but she does it with such a reliable sound that it will bring a smile (“Bird In One Hand”). The variety in the tunes is solid without losing focus. I can’t criticize Kim’s moments of humor as being a novelty song, but she does lighten up the repertoire on occasion. There are enough well-developed songs to support the delicate ambiance of the set.
Highlights — “capital R,” “Bird In One Hand,” “Stopped Making Plans,” “Spider Lily Two,” “Odds & Evens,” “Nightmarish,”
Color photo by John McNicholas. Music samples & purchase @ Bandcamp –
https://fortlowell.bandcamp.com/album/ready + https://www.thegoodgraces.org/
Sweet Megg – Santa Baby
About 8-weeks away from Christmas so it’s obvious that now is the time to stack up on some new holiday music. Start with this one. It’s an early entry — Sweet Megg’s 10-cut CD Santa Baby (Dropped Oct 21– Turtle Bay Records). The 36-minute collection was recorded in New York City by the Nashville-based artist who mixes up new holiday tunes with a heavy load of classics.
Produced by Scott Asen the performance of the lead-off track “Winter Weather,” doesn’t even attempt to showcase a modern technologically clinical approach. Instead, Sweet Megg ingeniously sings with arrangements with a solid Benny Goodman big band nod embedded in his 1940s technique. And Ricky Alexander’s clarinet sparkles.
Not to go stale too quickly with holiday fruitcake flavors the title track “Santa Baby,” shifts into 1950s gear with a warm expressive sax & a sterling backdrop of a black & white era. Even the backup singers accentuate with typical old rock ‘n roll finesse. Amy Winehouse would’ve loved this.
Sweet Megg (vocals) is joined with tailored holiday grace by Mike Davis (trumpet), Sam Chess (trombone), Ricky Alexander (sax/clarinet), Tal Ronen (bass), Justin Poindexter (guitar), Jesse Gelber (piano) & Chris Helb (drums).
What’s enduring is Sweet Megg’s ability to effectively maintain an even-keel holiday jubilee feeling throughout. With the classic “Here Comes Santa Claus,” she greases the wheels with a Dixieland blast that is delicious & returns with the same formula on “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Then she falls back into austere sweetness with a warm vocal in a 1940s satiny “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” that hovers in a Julie London atmosphere. This is quite impressive in its capturing a mood, another time & just leaving behind nostalgic smoke in its wake. Yet, the mistletoe, jingle bell & gently falling snow scenario is all there. Excellent instrumentation.
Elvis’ classic “Blue Christmas,” is given a good update with a snazzy cover with a Les Paul-type guitar & a solid bass line & charming piano. Nice stuff. Going jazzier Sweet Megg cooks on “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” with a wonderful Jesse Gelber piano solo.
With a long, lovely intro “Silver Bells,” starts with a satiny vocal soaked in holiday musical delicacy. The entire CD has not a single misstep & could easily sit beside holiday classics by Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, Elvis & Mel Torme.
If you want your Christmas music to reflect the sentiments & the holiday spirit in a vintage amalgam of newer tunes with covers – this is a good starting point. The band never oversteps & the arrangements to each song are respective of the sentimentality & nostalgia that is the holidays. Nothing is presented heavy-handed. Even the classic “Silent Night,” is rendered with poignancy with suave instrumentation.
Color image courtesy of Sweet Megg’s website. Music samples & purchase @ Bandcamp –
https://sweetmegg.bandcamp.com/ & https://sweetmegg.com/
JoJo Green – The Summer Tree EP
This 5-cut extended play from this Minneapolis indie-pop fusion quintet has the energy to spare especially in its opener & title cut “The Summer Tree.” It has moments of nostalgic splashes throughout this significant performance. It’s mindful of some lesser bands that explored this in the 70s – War with Eric Burdon, The Flock, Iguana, Dreams & the like. But while this doesn’t have a powerhouse male vocalist (Burdon) the enthusiasm in the vocals of Sharisse Germain is enough to keep it afloat with its subtle mix of Motown, Muscle Shoals & funk.
The sax is especially bright & the guitar slinks throughout with finesse & rhythmic impulses. To some, the music may sound dated since this was a hot 70s sound. How JoJo Green performs it now is quite a refreshing sound to younger unacquainted ears. It is no doubt soulful, the touch of Sharisse’s vocals winding through the showcase is exciting, the drums are always solid & the entire band has good instincts.
“Fire Escape,” with Sharisse Germain’s lead vocals is in perfect control (keys/backing vocals) with lots of fire. Produced by Scott Yonke Germain (bass/vocals) & Kevin Israel the 25-minute CD yields some interesting results.
The Summer Tree EP (Dropped Oct. 6 – In Mono Records) also features Conner Allen (guitar/vocals), Nancy Long (drums/percussion/vocals), Anna Dolde (alto sax/vocals) & Zach Miller (tenor sax). What makes some songs sound a little retro (but it’s not detrimental to the showcase) is obviously the Hammond organ & electric piano sound that was a dominant feature in 70s horn bands. However, songs like “Billie,” rise above any retro suggestion because Ms. Germaine’s voice is just so deliciously dominant in the song.
Fortunately, the band doesn’t show signs of being repetitious with their repertoire. “Station,” is an ideal performance. Well-written & recorded with a well-developed arrangement & expressive lyrics & Sharisse’s vocal is pristine & soulful – quite a winner.
If they have a good live show JoJo Green is a band to see. They will display the intricacies & creativity of bands like Seatrain, the exceptionally soulful Ballin’ Jack (“Hold On”) & the delivery of funky hard edges as good as Sly & The Family Stone in their early days.
Photo courtesy of Chelsea Oxborough. CD @ https://jojogreenmusic.com/
The Lowest Pair & Small-Town Therapy – Horse Camp
This 39-minute, 11-cut CD Horse Camp (Dropped Oct. 14-Delicata Records) is rooted in the soil of delicate thoughtful music. The Lowest Pair is comprised of Kendl Winter (vocals/guitar/banjo) from Arkansas & Palmer T. Lee (banjo/vocals/guitar) who fronted string bands in his career. Kendl has a quirky Nanci Griffith-type tone & the music’s eccentric in nature, but the outdoorsy natural element tinge is warm & has a homestyle woodsy appeal.
“Couple of Jerks,” may not be an ideal Americana song title but the fervent violin of the progressive string band duo known as Small-Town Therapy — Leif Karlstrom paired with Adam Roszhiewicz’s mandolin (& guitar/banjo on other songs) along with guest musicians Charlie Muench (bass) & Tony Sales (drums) is vibrant. Combined they colorize the performance. As a unit, the music pours brightly from their fingers.
The melodies never sound too vintage – but are tantalizing as that scent from a pot of coffee perking with bacon & eggs on an open campfire early in the morning in the autumn mountains. The music reflects the relationship between the talents of each musician with the others. It’s because of Kendl’s quirky childish voice that squeezes out the authenticity of the mountain music. This isn’t music that’s supposed to sound polished & perfect for mainstream consumption. It’s the difference between Campbell’s chicken noodle soup & what your grandmother made fresh herself.
The playing sparkles through each song like “Oak Leaf.” This is outdoor music with its rushing stream & evening breeze melodies. A touch of Appalachia, a pinch of folk & country, abundant traditional breath & lots of inner feeling. Many of the scattered instrumentals are filled with fiery ideas & interplay. Nothing will make you grimace. It’s shiny music that’s the complete opposite of the blues.
Other musicians featured – Erin Youngberg (bass) & Bart Budwig (trumpet & voice). The CD was produced in Oregon by The Lowest Pair & Small-Town Therapy.
“Mt Rainer,” & “Dandelion Tides” are highlights. Excellent duet songs with sophisticated violin & dual banjos. Superb.
Color photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook. CD @ https://thelowestpair.com/home
Christie Lenee – Coming Alive
She really is “Coming Alive,” on this bluegrass original with a dynamic vocal showcase – the music has instant ear gratification. Christie’s voice just makes me happy to listen to her bright finger-style guitar playing. The arrangement for the tune is like eating pastries, not cookies. It’s watermelon, not grapes. How can you possibly feel blue listening to this cool breeze of North Carolina music.
The 10-track drops on November 18th & I have it on repeat already. It’s autumn here & this album has brought the summer back. She doesn’t sound like anyone – that’s how creative & original she projects. With a tight band & juicy melodies, her personality spreads across each song effectively.
These are some of the best songs of 2022 for sure from her 6th album. It just makes you feel liberated, free & happy to be alive. The complete opposite of the angst-filled music that dominates many of today’s pop releases. It sounds like Christie had a great time vocalizing these songs. Produced by Ms. Lenee (acoustic/electric guitars) with Jars of Clay’s Matthew Odmark. The band includes Keith Carlock (drums) & Adam Nitti (bass).
“That Voice,” has a tint of Melissa Etheridge’s style but the song rollicks along with Lenee’s signature enthusiasm. If you can perform with the likes of Tommy Emmanuel you must be good. She is. My ears can tell. This is great stuff. She’ll make the whole world want to sing.
Color image courtesy of Christie’s website. CD @ https://christielenee.bandcamp.com/album/coming-alive & https://christielenee.com/
Nine Mile Station – Fall Into The Sea
I rarely do singles, but I had some space & wanted to mention that it’s taken from their album Open Highways. The band has some vividly demonstrated sounds scattered throughout this well-arranged tune. Will Hawkins (lead vocals/acoustic guitar) provides the warm raw vocals & like Steve Earle always sings with a dramatic alt-country demeanor.
“Fall Into The Sea,” was produced by Fernando Perdomo (lead guitar/bgv) & Will. It was released to radio Oct 24 & the video premiered on October 21.
Nine Mile Station has always provided some interesting roots rock. This tune has presence & though they sing of typical subjects the showcase is wholly original & has its innovative appeal. The song possesses a heartwarming almost traditional melody curve, but in the manner, Hawkins endeavors the musicians the song becomes a full-tilt stab at originality & is reinforced by pristine performances.
Hawkins always sings with authority & maturation. It’s a faithful showcase featuring superb musicians. It isn’t country, it isn’t folk, it’s just a genuine stroke of folk-rock with an alt-country sauce on top. Sprinkled liberally.
The addition of a new guest violinist, Lainey White doesn’t overplay her position but that sound within the construct of the band is quite appealing. Maybe she’ll step up a little on other songs. The interplay between other musicians would be exciting if it’s tight & decisive.
Musicians – Brendan Vasquez (bass), Nick Moran (drums) with guest Michael Russeck (piano/B3 organ).
Color photo of Will by Rob Staley. Band photo from NMS website.
CD @ https://ninemilestation.bandcamp.com/track/fall-into-the-sea & https://www.ninemilestationmusic.com/
The Jorgensens – Americana Soul – Paramour Records – Nov 4 release
A typically cool male-female vocal parallel that provides the undercurrent of the rural sound of The Band/Little Feat. Spiced with low-flame brass bursts & ambitious melodic tunes that are supported by an array of superb instrumentation.
The band originated in 2014 in Minnesota & their latest release Americana Soul (Drops Nov. 4–Paramour Records) contains 10-well-recorded songs. Sleek & distinctive. Just about every cut is likable & engaging. There’s enough variety to find ears to appreciate their work. I did.
“Old Black Crow,” is an appetizing showcase. The tunes have personality & varied genres mixed in a heady stew. Headed by the husband & wife team harmonizing duo & songwriters Kurt (vintage guitar/bass) & Brianna Jorgensen (keys/guitar/mandolin & other/vocals). The band also consists of Andra Lee Suchy (vocals), Brenda Lee King (bass), Jeff King (sax/clarinets), Jeff Levine (trumpet), Mark O’Day (drums/percussion) & C Harris (percussion). The unit is feisty with its sometimes-swampy approach that has penetrating music.
“Dark Road,” continues this set with a driving, percolating & faithful showcase that would’ve fit perfectly in a Dr. John repertoire. At times the lead vocals are as distinctive as Little Feat’s Shaun Murphy.
More in a sweet pop vein is “Miles,” that’s rollicking with competently punctuated brass that follows the magical arrangement that supports the vocalist with delicacy. They have an economy of style that never overrides their performance. Nothing hot & saucy just soulfully impulsive.
Old-school jazz struts into “Hey Baby,” & even in its retro progression, it has an exceptional groove. Expressive sax & the vocals are superior. “Shake It,” continues in a similar vein but the presence of a banjo & fiddle show some reliable creativity.
“Leave Your Light On,” follows in traditional footsteps but has enough originality to satisfy lovers of this homegrown sophisticated charm of songwriting. Quite nice.
Photo by Jim Vasquez. CD @ https://www.thejorgensensepk1.com/
Moon Shine – The Land In Between
Though born in Memphis, Moon Shine is Brooklyn, New York-based alt-country artist Angie Glascock’s debut The Land In Between (Drops Nov 11-Independent) a deeply autobiographical set of lighthearted attractive songs produced by Teddy Kumpel.
She doesn’t dwell on the typical country fare subject-wise but sings from a deeply personal place. Her opener is the title cut & it’s peppered with well-arranged brass. While she doesn’t sound like the 60s pop-country female artists she does fit with them admirably.
While Ms. Glascock doesn’t go the retro route she does design her music in the tradition of the more old-world country singers who don’t get too hokey but maintain a modicum of seriously thought-out songs & ballads with sparkling arrangements.
Because of the addition of the type of brass she utilizes she treads lightly in a jazzy forte while maintaining her pristine country levels of feeling & has some achingly beautiful tunes (“Ether of My Mind”).
The 10-cut CD has varied approaches which keep it interesting. She’s not going to grab your ear the way Reba or Dolly do but her voice is warm, sincere & with tailored grace (“Right In Time”) she has an enduring repertoire. Then she wisely dirties up her sweetness with a more blues-based country tune “Wrong Hands,” which has a fortified nature.
More country traditional is “I Tried To Keep Loving You,” which skims the surface of an Emmylou Harris style. Nice work. She goes deeper into traditional folk balladry, but she never loses sight of the mainstream value of her music. Moon Shine never goes provocative or showboats instrumentally. It seems their ideal is simply good songs that stick in the memory & leaves a good impression. She does.
Musicians – Cat Popper (bass), Steve Williams (drums), Todd Caldwell (keys), Charlie Burnham (fiddle), Mark Spencer (pedal steel), Michael Blake (tenor sax). Bruce Harris (trumpet) & the late Don Heffington (drums).
The picture of her beside the truck would’ve been a far better CD cover, just an opinion. Highlights – “The Land In Between,” “Ether of My Mind,” “Right In Time,” (a Lucinda Williams cover), “The Promise,” & “Better a Peal.”
Truck cover photo for the “Country”/b side of the record is by Melissa Breyer. The “Rhythm and Blues”/a side of the record photo is by Gabriela Herman.
Photo courtesy of Angie’s website. CD @ https://www.moonshine.band/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.
Grooves & Cuts: October 2022