Bentley’s Bandstand: November 2022
By Bill Bentley
Art of Time Ensemble, Songs of Leonard Cohen Live. An artist like Leonard Cohen is like a walking advertisement for tribute albums. The Canadian wrote so many undeniable songs of greatness there’s a chance that the tributes will go on for decades. The Art of Time Ensemble is a natural to take on the challenge of adding new originality to Cohen classics like “Dance to the End of Love,” “Anthem,” “I’m Your Man” and nine more. Their mix of strings, guitar, piano, horns, double bass and vocals takes the finest elements of classical music and blends it perfectly into songs that really do define timelessness. That’s because Leonard Cohen always existed outside the normal parameters of pop music. He arrived like a welcome intruder into what was happening in the 1960s and brought in a individualism that had not existed before. He only fit in his own category and stayed that way the rest of his life, becoming a monument of music. The element of surprise on a live recording like this adds an exciting tightrope-walk to the disc, like there’s no telling what will happen next but it’s assuredly going to be thrilling. Producer Andrew Burashko ensures that the dramatic flow of the songs, and the various voices that appear, always rise to the level of Leonard Cohen’s songwriting. Without that, there would be no point. But whether it’s Sarah Harmer, Steven Page, Gregory Hoskins, Sarah Slean or Tom Wilson at the microphone, each has their own interpretation to offer of why these songs stays so inspiring. Recorded in Toronto, of course, there is an aura of national pride for what is obviously a Canadian hero that is felt throughout the night, like there’s maybe a sense that Cohen himself is sitting in the balcony with a slight smile for all he accomplished. He’s our man.
Chris Berardo and the Desberardos, American Dust. In 1997 an album was released by a singer-songwriter that should have captured the ears of everyone. The songs felt like instant classics, the band’s sound had a shimmering sound of infinity and Berardo’s voice came from that place inside a singer that never ends. But like many releases, it just didn’t find the place that spread the word. AMERICAN DUST is getting another chance now, and luckily still sounds like a brand new release. The Eastern-born artist always had a West Coast feel in his music, like he had grown up always a mile or two from the Pacific Coast Highway. Which is a good thing when you have a voice like this, and a way of writing songs that have an undercurrent of hopefulness and also a definite strain of heaviosity. Maybe that’s why the public didn’t catch on the first time: there was a tension inside the music that went beyond normal fare. Chris Berardo always filled songs like “Old Man’s Eyes” and “She’s Leaving Me” with a multi-layered grandness. Even though AMERICAN DUST slipped away 25 years ago, it’s now being given a brand new chance including the live track “Still Your Friend.” That song was recorded at a late-night set In Larchmont, New York’s Cellar Bar, and it sounds like it. Which is a high compliment, because sometimes the least likely places can drive an artist to take a performance all the way home. Which is exactly what happens here. Chris Berardo has always been a contender, no matter what year it is. Then and now.
Bird Streets, Lagoon. Once or twice a year an album appears that gathers a dozen disparate sources but somehow manages to weave them beautifully together. And then songs come alive like a indusputable rush of such gorgeous proportions that no is left to do but smile in amazement. John Brodeur is the helmsman of Bird Streets. He has admirably traipsed the path of solodom for several years, but yearned for a band effort where he could enlist a specific amalgamation of players and studio vets to come up with a new vista of sounds. LAGOON surely does that. Even though the music was birthed in the shadow of a divorce there is such an undercurrent of hope and desire woven into songs like “Burnout,” “Let You Down” and, yes, “Ambulance” that Bird Street’s opus move to the top of the year’s best releases. Even though Brodeur wrote all the songs, the twelve songs have such a solid structure that all the various players present become one, no matter who’s on what tracks. In such a good way, Bird Streets has taken all the finest elements of bands that flew to glory in the 1990s and made the music contemporary in a way that sounds like the best of both eras. At the core of what they’ve achieved is John Brodeur’s real ascent to one of 2022’s prime architects of present-day rock. it’s not an easy task in light of the last two years of solitary seeking. But there is definitely a strong sound of the walls of isolation breaking down and musicians doing what they do best: inspire each other, whether together or alone. Bird Streets is without doubt ready to fly. Flights leaving soon.
Jimmy Carpenter, The Louisiana Record. Without a doubt it is time boogie. The world has been churning and musicians have been yearning, and leave it to saxophone king Jimmy Carpenter to put it all together in a way that cannot be ignored. Carpenter drills down on the New Orleans groove of so many Crescent City classics and lets it loose. There is a without-doubt live vibration on the album that instantly translates into a churning late-night swing of total freedom. When the list of songs includes perennials first done by people like Fats Domino, Lil’ Bob & the Lollipops, Chris Kenner, Robert Parker, Lee Allen and others, well, there is simply no way to lose. Guitar slinger Mike Zito fires up the band and makes sure nothing is missing in the danceability department, so the dance floor is covered for any and all moves. There’s even some slow strollers like “Those Lonely Lonely Nights” and “Bring It Home to Me” so this is absolutely one all that fits all. Jimmy Carpenter spent a dozen years rippin’ and runnin’ the streets of New Orleans to all kinds of night spots and a bevy of hot shots, and all those experiences add up to making him one of the finest go-to hornmen in the nationl. And by turning his total attention to those years on THE LOUISIANA RECORD, it’s like he’s paying back all that he learned in the City That Care Forgot and serving it up on a smokin’ set of not-to-be-missed musical elation. In a time when some of the past is started to recede like the land being covered by rising water, the music born and bred there becomes more precious by the year. Jimmy Carpenter is staking his place in that territory with such fine fire and delightful determination that they might just have to name a crawfish shack after him. Find the levee.
Dane Clark and the Backroom Boys, Memory Mile. American rock & roll is a sound that goes on forever. It’s built in the big cities and small towns, on interstate highways and country roads. The songs that come from all those different worlds can zig and zag through styles and eras, but at its basis is a creation of the United States. Dane Clark knows this as well as anyone. A John Mellencamp collaborator for years, Clark also is very much his own musician. On this new album he stretches into new areas but always brings his strengths with him. As a drummer, singer, guitarist and producer-arranger, he pretty much has most of the musical bases covered. But this isn’t a solo album by any measure; there are some red-hot players that venture into different styles and make sure the songs get everything they need. Donovan Leitch has a hand on two tracks, as does Elliot Murphy. And other collaborators are all equally inspired. But whoever’s co-writing or playing, it’s always in service to the bedrock American sound that Dane Clark and the Backroom Boys excel so passionately at. Whether it’s “Chevy Hat,” “Eyes of a Child,” “Still My Baby Girl” or any of the other eight songs there is always a feeling of down-on-the-ground reality that anchors everything to what rock music has always been: true. The closing song, “Memory Mile” is an all-timer. Clark and Murphy, who also guests on vocals, Go as deep as music gets, digging into the the beating heart of what it means to be alive today and showing where memories start and how far they go. The song is a new classic just being born, but is likely to be a shining example of all rock music can be in 2022. Memories begin here.
Brian Eno, Foreverandevernomore. Ambientcana. That might be a new genre that Brian Eno revels in as a party of one, even when his voice is a shining light on the songs. What is for sure is that when the Englishman goes into a studio he does so with an incredible sense of curiosity to find new patterns and sounds that express the kind of feelings that do not fit easily into words. Rather, they are lyrical wavelengths and wondrous emotional blips of the human heart, those that come and go often without acknowledgement but at the same time account for what makes humans humans. Brian Eno’s recordings over the past half century show a constantly-evolving flow forward, even when he is perfectly capable of circling back and bringing forward what he envisioned all those years ago. FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE is surely one of the many mountaintops of this man’s many creations. The way his songs can be soothing at the same time provocative shows a composer who is equally facile at taking the higher and lower facilities of sound and pulling them together for something not heard before. Adding guitar, voices, violin, and other sound textures to the recordings expands them in a way that is never extraneous and always welcome. Above all, the ten titles here are a great vision for the present and the future. In so many ways the world needs Brian Eno. He is one of those who can point to the future without fear, and make it seem that evolution will always be a positive endeavor. Any artist who names the ending song on an album “Making Gardens Out of Silence in the Uncanny Valley” knows things we need to learn about. As always, Professor Eno’s class is in session and it is one not to miss. Burn Eno burn.
Lee Fields, Sentimental Fool. True-blue down to the bone soul singers are a diminishing species, so to hear one in 2022 is truly a moment of joy. Lee Fields, born in North Carolina in 1950, has been on what’s left of the chitlin circuit for years, recording for a handful of labels, getting close to real success and then heading back to the struggle. In the past decade, though, his star has risen again with the mighty Daptone Recording Co., and today Fields sounds like someone who is ready to bust down the door and finally get his due. Part of that is because there are hardly any other soulsters now that have the real deal righteousness it takes to soar with these kinds of songs. Fields’ voice is 100% right-on. Once it’s heard it becomes crystal clear why he deserves to head straight to the top of the class. There isn’t anyone like him. Not really. Fields gets just funky enough so he’s bathed in reality, but doesn’t go across the line where funk puts a headlock on the sound. Instead, the sound pushes things into the ultrazone where the world seems like it’s struttin’ with an upbeat glide that’s heading for the promised land. Of course, the dozen songs are top notch and only add to the cause of natural born goodness. The last track, “Extraordinary Man, has all the grace of preaching in the street and taking listeners all the way to the river. It is a chillbumping moment of life and life only, and is heard far too little. Feel and heal.
Daniel Lanois, Player, Piano. When it’s time to open up a conversation with the higher spirits, Daniel Lanois’ album PLAYER, PIANO is the go-to release of recent years. Someone known for their guitar and vocal power turns to the keyboard to show that in so many ways music is really an unending source of discovery, no matter how it is conceived. Lanois’ grand pianos in Canada called to him, and with producer Wayne Lorenz joining in they took off on a new kind of excursion. It led into the deepest parts of the soul that an acoustic instrument like the piano excels at capturing. It’s almost like a human voice, but instead wood and wire are at the heart of the sound, and the touch of the player opens everything up. The songs sound like they were born in the deepest areas of inner searching, and performed where the mind and soul are an open vessel of spiritual offering. In a time of such constant conflict songs like “Twilight,” “Sweet Imagination” and “Sunday Asylum” ring true straight through to peace. In many ways, thinking becomes unnecessary in the sonic light that spreads out from the music here. Daniel Lanois has ventured into the territory beyond mere thought, right into the middle of a world of healing where words are not needed. It is a place his music has always gone, but here it really does feel like it has gone all the way. And that is an incredible place to be. Hearing is all.
Lou Reed, Words & Music May 1965. Most rock music starts somewhere when one or two people play together, working out a new song or just reaching into the darkness for inspiration. In 1965 Lou Reed and John Cale had decided they would start a band. And, yes, a band needs songs and Reed had several he had recently started, and others from his past that he wanted to put on tape so he could copyright them as originals. The tape he mailed to himself to register ownership in 1965 sat on a desk undisturbed all these years, until recently his archivists opened it and listened to what was on it. WORDS & MUSIC MAY 1965 is that tape of those original songs. It is an unparalleled look at Lou Reed’s very earliest years, and shines a light on someone who knew the way forward was with music. There was no other choice. Light in the Attic Records’ release of this historic collection is the start of a deep dive into the Lou Reed archives, and it’s a good bet the surprises ahead will be equally exciting. There really are only a handful of 1960s rock artists who were working in such emotional and enlightening territory as this New Yorker, and to be able to hear where it all started is unique. It feels like the listener is peeking behind a curtain to see where inspiration really begins. Lou Reed knew, even then, that his road forward could be one not previously taken by others in rock & roll, and he never looked back. It was always about writing songs about things he felt needed to be written about. As Reed often said, if novelists could write books about drugs, masochism, sadism, homosexuality or anything else of human expression then songwriters should be able to do it as well. This album of demo recordings is the very start of Lou Reed’s grand adventure, and he was clearly on a mission of adventure. Sister Ray says.
Paul Sexton, Charlie’s Good Tonight/The Life and the Times and the Rolling Stones: The Authorized Biography of Charlie Watts. Finally, after all these years of certain awesomeness none other than Charles Robert Watts is granted his own biography. The fact that it comes after his exit from Earth makes total sense, because if anyone ever hoped to escape the spotlight it was surely the Rolling Stones’ non-pareil drummer. Watts lived not to be noticed except for the unequaled ability to keep the beat burning hard and hot in the best rock & roll band in the world’s sonic furnace. Luckily, writer Paul Sexton is the perfect man for the gig. He has been a passionate student of the Stones for many years, is unbeatable in an ability to round up all the proper parties to reminisce and, luckily, has spoken to band members over the years about any and all things Stones. The sudden death of Charlie Watts in 2021 surprised almost all, and the quickness of this fine, fine book’s appearance should make all the drummer’s acolytes feel like a psychic gift. At the same time, it allows those still stunned by Watts’ passing a superlative look into someone’s life in a way that was never expected. Because if anything Charlie Watts stayed well-behind the curtain when he wasn’t lovingly playing his Gretsch drum kit. And the grandest result of the book’s incredible information is just how worthy the Englishman is of extreme admiration. Watts was the realest of deals. The book’s apt title, CHARLIE’S GOOD TONIGHT, comes from a Mick Jagger stage quip on the live Stones’ album GET YOUR YA YA’S OUT, which just happens to feature only Charlie Watts on the cover. And this biography is proof positive that without him, the Rolling Stones might never have taken over the world almost 60 years like they did.. Because the drummer’s ability to capture the exact beat needed to make the band–and then the world–swing like it should opened everything that came after the Rolling Stones’ earliest explosion. Charlie Watts lives.
Rob Silverman, Drumology Volume III. Drummers often have great ideas. They really do, and Rob Silverman had one of the recent best. He assembled a wide range of acclaimed players, recorded an album featuring different duets and then donate all the proceeds to the Neil Peart Fund for brain cancer research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Silverman himself is an acclaimed percussionist, and to be paired with stick kings like Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Roy “Futureman” Wooten and others on new compositions was the right call. The players all show up with their best ideas, falling into grooves, solos and flat-out jamming like the professionals they are. Robert and brother keryboardist Michael Silverman are joined by bassist Larry Kornfeld and second keyboardist and producer Jay Ferguson to join this stellar round-up, and the sounds they come up are nothing short of thrilling. For the third volume of DRUMOLOGY, the musicians decided to really open up the playlist to all kinds of sounds, and included areas they had not ventured to before. And being beyond a jam sesssion, the writers and players stretched as far out as they wanted, venturing into Latin styles and singer-songwriter originals. Rob Silverman knew at the start of his DRUMOLOGY he was onto something, and also contributing to a most worthy cause. Volume III is a unique collection, and suggests the question: Where will Volume IV lead? The future calls.
Angela Strehli, Ace of Blues. Timing is everything. Singer Angela Strehli has been in the thick of the Austin blues scene since the late 1960s. Singing in bands like Angela & the Rockets and Southern Feeling, helping launch the Antone’s nightclub at the very start of its days on East 6th Street, and then moving to the Bay Area 30 years ago and singing there with a wide range of people. Through it all Strehli has remained true to what she feels the deepest: blues and soul music as done by the masters of American music. ACE OF BLUES is the kind of album an artist has a chance to make only once. It lets them look back at all their years in the thick of life and making music, and really take measure of what it all adds up to for them. For Angela Strehli, that still means the blues and all the friendships she’s had with seminal artists like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Junior Wells and fellow Austinite in the ’70s and ’80s Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s a wide range of musicians that few younger artists had a chance to get close to then. The twelve songs here read like a who’s who from the very best in American blues history, from Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed and more. Most importantly, the woman’s voice can stand up to anyone. She has a depth of feeling on these recordings that is nothing short of overwhelming. The blues is all about how much reality can be injected into a song, so that those who hear it know what the singer is feeling. There is a one-on-one relationship with blues that is unique, because the music essentially exists to turn hardship into happiness. That is the whole deal. It is why the music has remained a lifeline to listeners for over a hundred years. There is no substitute. Angela Strehli understands that as well as anyone who has ever sung the blues, and the way she opens up on this album is nothing short of striking. It’s all here, right where it’s always been, inside this woman. And now it’s coming out to show that nothing is ever too late. Right on time.
Maurice Tani, All In! There is nothing better than a collection of songs that feels like a Mixmaster had a hand in their writing and recording. There is no easy way to tag them, which means the listener needs to open the mind to whatever comes their way and throw in with the originality brigade. Maurice Tani has had a wild ride in American music, from playing with Flamin’ Groovies front man Roy Loney’s band for years to other outstanding aggregations. When it was time to strike out again on his own, Tani had his own specific style in mind: Hillbilly Noir, which for the musician meant “Americana without limits.” Some of the songs on ALL IN! had a distinctive movie mood, while others just swing for the moon and get on with it. Underneath it all is an inquiring individual who is fearless about peeking around corners in the dark and into abandoned rooms where the light bulb is burned out. Maurice Tani has hit on a style that appears to have no end in sight, and if this new album is any indication his audience is in for plenty of infusive delights and maybe even a few chills. The man has poetry in him: “Go In for Me Slim” is proof positive the doors and windows have been opened, and “Monsters in the Dark” a good bet for a stroll down Mystery Lane. And the mark of any great artist is the ability to cover songs by others; ask Nick Lowe. “Halo Above Her,” penned by Jay Clemens and Rachel Efron, is an excellent example of outside help, as is the co-write with Jim Bruno, “The Loan,” which features the vivid vocals of Aireene Espiritu. Then there’s soul king extraordinaire William Bell’s everblue “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” which is slowly becoming one of the finest ballads ever to find its way out of the original Stax Records studio on McLemore Avenue in the 1960s. The closing song, as it should be, is the full-tilt spritiuall “How Deep is the Water in Your Well,” which gives the Sons of the Soul Revivers vocal group plenty of room to bring the album all back home. Co-producers with Tani, Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh surely got giddy when all the sessions were completed, likely knowing what they’d pulled off. Maurice Tani is righteously ready to go the distance. It can be felt in every note he plays and sings. He’s all in.
Bentley’s Bandstand: November 2022