Grooves & Cuts: December 2022 – By John Apice
Laura Nyro’s Difficult Acceptance — That’s Been Forgotten
Many who read this may misunderstand my intent. But I’ll toss the dice. Since the passing of Laura Nyro, she’s been acknowledged as a genius, a great songwriter & singer. But it wasn’t always so. What saved her ultimately was her songwriting & those who covered her work with brilliance. It wasn’t her singing alone, her recordings or live performances that left behind a legacy. That was mostly posthumous.
Laura Nyro was indeed a talented, viable artist, no doubt. But there were many: Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Judee Sill & Leonard Cohen are just four. The kinds of artists would take time to develop. They needed to be nurtured, & produced & it took years before they were finally acknowledged. Warner Brothers in the late 60s & early 70s had a production crew that indeed took chances, & stuck with their beliefs & some of those second-tier artists became major artists.
It took Tom Waits several albums before he became the fine artist he is today. Bryan Adams as well as, John Mellencamp (who started as Johnny Cougar). The Grateful Dead was a miracle that Warner Brothers stayed with them through all their musical shenanigans, experimentation & selling scant few albums. Their saving grace was their sold-out concerts, but their record sales didn’t always translate.
Some artists never get going after initial success. Norman Greenbaum had “Spirit In the Sky,” Ruthann Friedman had a hit with her “Windy” when it was covered by The Association, but she never gained any momentum.) Heather Mullen, Gene Ryder, Michael Dinner & Greg Copeland – gone nowhere musically.
Laura appeared at the Monterrey Pop Festival (1967) but was initially booed off the stage. Some accounts say it wasn’t so — but a Newsweek reporter who reviewed the festival & Laura’s melodramatic set included a negative review of the performance. He said “the evening hit bottom” with Nyro’s set. Melodrama in a concert isn’t pop or rock.
In this video — Laura sings for an NBC TV audience with her 3-octave mezzo-soprano range during The Kraft Music Hall (1969). She was even introduced by a giant like Bobby Darin who gave her a respectable introduction. Some have said her performance that night was absorbing. But TV audiences don’t want absorbing. They want entertainment. They complement her “genius” songwriting yet there are few artists who actually write & sing the way Laura did. If she was indeed such a masterful artist why didn’t her albums sell? She did receive critical acclaim & praise but so did Judee Sill, Janis Ian & Buffy Saint-Marie. But wider recognition for her musical artistry was posthumous. (She died in 1997).
She started her career where Janis Ian began hers – Verve/Forecast. Both moved to Columbia. Many of her songs were covered by other artists & those artists had successive hits. Songs that came from these early albums. But Janis Ian had commercial success too with her songs. The career error made by Laura, her managers & the NBC talent coordinators during the Kraft show is evident & was never considered. It was the wrong musical style for that particular show. Wrong selection of songs, & no consideration for the demographic with their asses in the seats. Kraft wasn’t exactly a young audience.
Laura did look marvelous & beautiful when she performed – but the opening song chosen by Laura isn’t for mass consumption. It isn’t for this kind of stuffy middle-class conservative straight-as-an-arrow NBC audience. These ears don’t accept things like this quickly. They won’t understand the song & sadly they won’t care. This isn’t a song for a mainstream TV audience. They want Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Dionne Warwick, Caterina Valente, Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand & Vikki Carr. What Laura was doing wouldn’t even pass muster as lite-jazz. It was melodramatic & singing impressively had nothing to do with it.
Yes, the applause sign will light up on the Kraft Show above the stage & they will politely applaud for TV cameras & home viewers. But her effort is lost. This is one reason why Nyro never caught on big. Never had the outrageousness of the notoriety of Patti Smith (who wouldn’t be booked on a Kraft Show anyway), the soft rock approach of Carole King, Carly Simon, or Linda Ronstadt.
The fact that Nyro took long spells between some albums didn’t help her. Tours were short. Columbia stuck with her – but give me a break — they stuck with her for the publishing of songs — to “sell” more of her songs to other artists. That’s where the dough was. Her albums became expensive demos.
I was buying records then. I know that she never made as big a splash as they’d like you to believe today. I found many of her albums in the $1.99 bin at Woolworths. I got to know her name simply by buying records by other artists who sang her terrific songs. I had the patience & eventually bought the originals to see what this woman was about.
But unlike many pop female singers of the day including Dusty Springfield as well, Mary Hopkin & Judith Durham of The New Seekers, Laura’s voice was a bit shrill, the way Joan Baez could be. She wasn’t commercial. She wasn’t a pop singer in the truest sense. Her album output was rather erratic & not consistent. She made an LP of her favorite teenage pop/soul songs with LaBelle with songs Laura always liked to sing. That’s a totally different direction from the singer-songwriter pianist reputation Laura had conceived. What audience was she aiming for? The black audience? She continued to not appear on TV or did rarely.
But when given an opportunity like the Kraft Music Hall, her song choice & performance were off the mark. I’m not talking about whether she performed well or not. She was fabulous. I’m focusing on the audience she was trying to reach. Her 2nd song — one of her bigger tunes but not the way she sang it didn’t resonate with the audience. No applause at the recognizable opening notes. The 5th Dimension made it a hit, the audience may have even recognized it, or maybe not. There should’ve been applause. There wasn’t.
She should’ve sung “And When I Die.” It was a hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears,” & a more mature audience may have known that one. The 5th Dimension knew how to caress the mainstream ear & the arrangements of her songs were far more appealing than Laura’s thin vocal versions. I would’ve tried to book The 5th Dimension to sing it with her. Yes, Nyro’s may have had more soul, but this style of song wasn’t what the pop charts or contemporary audiences were accustomed to.
Nyro never convinced anyone of her commercial potential. She was an artist & she was in a dicey “show” business. She was indeed a great writer & vocalist but never had a manager or a producer that guided her toward that wider audience.
Columbia Records was guilty of this lack of promotion. Aretha Franklin failed at Columbia Records. It wasn’t until she moved to Atlantic Records that she began to chart. Columbia was busy with Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears & Chicago to be bothered with Laura Nyro. Everyone says she’s great…today.
That’s because other musicians & writers have said so through the decades of articles & interviews. Many therefore re-discovered her over time. Elton John, Todd Rundgren & Bette Midler were among many who endorsed her. But I don’t recall these people helping her career. Ms. Midler has had a long career, but she never even recorded or sang a Laura Nyro song (to my knowledge).
Laura sold few records, but the Labelle showcase may have confused audiences. Ms. Nyro wasn’t treated nicely at live concerts & this happened to Joni Mitchell as well. But she didn’t have that type of performance skill. She was bankable only as a songwriter. She didn’t have a commercial voice, appeal, or arrangement. Her only “hit” wasn’t even one of her own. It was a Carole King song — “Up On the Roof.”
No one ever paired her with other Columbia artists – the LaBelle pairing was the only one of note. Ms. Nyro’s biggest success while alive was her songbook. And many songs were excellent. But there were many reliable sources for her songwriting — Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End”), the 5th Dimension (several hit singles), Three Dog Night, Frank Sinatra & Blood, Sweat & Tears. Her name should’ve gained more popularity through her songwriting. Carole King did. Hopefully, the residuals benefitted Laura & she deserved it.
TV appearances became thin since she said she experienced discomfort on television. If you’re a performer your management wouldn’t be pleased with a decision not to perform. Non-appearance — it’s one of the reasons singer-songwriter Nick Drake’s career suffered & the reason Harry Nilsson didn’t sell millions of records. The reason Steely Dan eventually reneged & started to play live (they played live rarely in the early days because except for Fagen & Becker there was no real show band).
Nyro has a respected reputation today. But not having a successful career like Joni Mitchell or Judy Collins was due to her own career decisions. Today, many singers continue to sing Nyro songs. She never became known as a major entertainer or singer just a great songwriter who had some good eccentric records. Outside of the ten or so famous tunes covered by many artists written by Laura many couldn’t tell you what her other songs were unless they were major fans or admirers of her work.
It’s a shame. In interviews, she sounded like an interesting person & artist. Maybe she should’ve developed a stage patter routine at the piano as Tom Waits did. Singing great songs is wonderful but you have an audience seated out in the dark & you have to entertain them. The songs alone won’t do. But I still play Laura at home – just for her sheer originality, the beauty of her compositions & creativity.
Career-wise, she deserved better treatment.
Humbletown – The Path I Chose To Walk
Coming a little late is this bright traditionally based Americana 12-cut set. The majority of this duo’s material is based on a clean updating of several vintage musical styles. A little old-time country, folk & bluegrass. The musicianship is stellar, with fingerpicking on acoustic guitar & banjo. The mix of male & female vocals balances the material impressively.
On careful listening, the lyrics come off sharp with good storytelling & arrangements. While not everything is loaded with gunpowder many songs are enthusiastic. “Fade To Nothin,” is instantly memorable & “Pretty Little Things,” dances around an invigorating melody that’s probably quite good live.
This is where much of the independent scene is – this may not see Cat Country radio because it’s not commercial fanfare, but I hear possibly it on Sirius & more exploratory media. While nothing new is being created the duo has good vocalization in their showcase. Their sincerity comes through each song. “Anna Lee,” is steeped in a pleasant traditionally rooted Americana performance. Pete Seeger would’ve enjoyed their effort & the playing of Dylan Lewis & Morgan Carnes.
The music has been available since Oct 7 & the CD The Path I Chose To Walk (Independent) was produced by Dalton Coffey (dobro/mandolin/bass). Joining the duo also Eddie Faris (bass) & Tom Schaefer (fiddle). It’s a close-knit unit that plays with lots of gusto.
Particularly good is also “Out West,” – memorable as it is. The entire 44-minute set is well-recorded & can be heard exceptionally well on “Drink To the Desert.” One of Morgan’s finest vocals. While everything plays well I’d like to hear just a little more diversification instrumentally. An occasional upright piano, slide guitar, stand-up bass & creative percussion. Just to further colorize the performance.
“Sunshine In the Rain,” is lovely but a little tinkling of a windchime or some such instrument to illustrate a gentle summer rain would add to the atmosphere. There’s nothing controversial or challenging in Humbletown’s music. One of the most progressive tunes is the excellent “Coyote Song,” & one of the most driving & melodic “Long Way To the Ground,” with Morgan’s laid-back, near-whisper lead vocals.
It’s entertaining music that’s well-thought-out & performed. You can almost smell the dew on the grass & the coffee on the stove. Nice stuff.
Color image courtesy of their website. CD @ Amazon, Apple + https://humbletownband.com/product/833090 + https://humbletownband.com/
Scott Allen – My Own Grown Eyes
Another latecomer that couldn’t be ignored is the 12-cut Scott Allen set recorded in Minneapolis. My Own Grown Eyes (Dropped Dec 2–Independent). Produced by Patrik Tanner who also did some arrangements & played guitars/piano/keys/percussion/autoharp/banjo/mandolin/backing vocals/drums).
The 47-minute CD starts with a rockin’ fluid beat on “The Finest Hour,” & while Allen doesn’t have a strong commanding authoritative vocal like Jim Morrison or Neil Diamond he does possess an exuberant precise vocal style. This song arrangement is simple but it’s instantly likable. A good melodic tinge with nice touches of percussion. Good commercial mainstream quality. This is the kind of song that catches an ear & won’t let go. Just enough lead guitar to keep the tuneful traffic moving.
Some songs are light touches with the pop-ingenuity that has a wide spectrum. From Marshall Crenshaw, & Paul Carrack, to the more latter-day serious Rick Springfield to the deeper reaches of the late Emitt Rhodes. But Allen smartly avoids the pitfalls of sugary-pop detours & musical confection. He maintains a level of quality that keeps the songs buoyant.
Despite its pop-leanings of “The Safening,” this concludes with a clean jazz-like lead guitar. That’s creative. Great lead guitar(s) ring & jangle throughout this CD. “Before My Own Grown Eyes,” the interplay is thrilling, well-recorded & another ear-tugger.
Scott has the talent to sound almost like he’s an English-bred pop singer who more often than not is deeper than the American hybrid. “Delivered No Tomorrow” rocks steady with guitars that stab with their melodic tone. Scott also has lyrics that aren’t as cliched as the mainstream standard. Scott changes gears on this set which offers diversified interesting performances. “Badge of Honor,” is more serious than many of the others. More dramatic. Just a tad away from the cliff of pompous. But Allen pulls it off. No showboating in the vocal – just steady on course. Lovely acoustic guitar picking & sharp snare beats. Played this one smartly.
Then, the next track opens with piano notes & jangling guitars. Nice segue into “73” which has a Jackson Browne punch. But it’s the support of those coherent interplaying guitars between Allen’s vocals that support plaintive stretches. A style that works well for Scott Allen.
With excellent versatility, Scott begins “New and Improving,” with an early Elton John style before John went burlesque on many songs. This is almost “Empty Sky” in tradition. Sophisticated lyrics & arrangements. This may not be the way to go in 2022 but the song has a unifying coolness.
The best song is “Family Christmas Knife Fight,” because it has balls. Varied instruments in a rumble of sound – the tenor sax (Jeff King) adds a nice slick soulful touch. Sung with a keen dazzling street edge – it shakes off the potential commercial primacy but wails into a masterful show business rocker.
Scott really comes to life toward the end of his set when even “Black Ice Freeway,” kicks the doors down with a motivated vocal. It burns tires doing wheelies with the musicians on the roof of the vehicle. Noah Levy’s drums are superb pistons. The guitars grind like gears needing oil. An excellent rocking display as America used to do it.
Musicians: Scott (vocals/bass/baritone guitar), Andra Suchy (backing vocals), Doug Christianson (percussion) & David Feily (banjo/mandolin).
B&W image courtesy of Scott’s website. CD @ Amazon & https://scottallensongs.com/home
Don Antonio & The Graces – Colorama
This is a latecomer filled with stark performances that open this 14-cut set & decorates it all with atmosphere from the beginning. “Louise,” is an instrumental with crisp drums & Duane Eddy-type guitar flourish. Excellent music for a noir film or imaginary motion picture. (Netflix picked up some of Don’s music).
Colorama (Dropped Sept. 21–AudioGlobe /Santeria/Strade Blu Factory) is the Italian guitar maverick’s third. The 44-minute foreign-tinged music is intriguing. The foreign-sung (Italian) tune “Cinque Miniuti di Te,” — rough translation: (“4 Minutes of Tea”) is well sung by Italian vocalist Daniela Peroni. Then it’s back to a 1950s noir instrumental “The Good Son,” with a tropical beat & swirling exotica guitars. Nice stuff.
The music is eccentric in a way though it possesses many of the facets of American music long into the firmament occasionally picked up as a novelty return to the past. Italian guitarist Don Antonio (Antonio Gramentieri) does a credible job of performing with tight arrangements & lots of atmospheric instrumentation as depicted in “Mustah.” The most accessible tune is “Calacumbia” which is upbeat & catchy.
Don Antonio has played with many famous names throughout his 20-year career including Alejandro Escovedo, Dan Stuart (Green On Red), Hugo Race, Marc Ribot, David Hidalgo, drummer Jim Keltner, Richard Buckner, Wayne Kramer, James Williamson, Howie Gelb & John Convertino.
At times there’s an instrumental mood that’s set with a typical Tom Waits allure. Dark, plodding but always with emotional resonance & decorative flourishes. The noir aspect is syrupy, but the flow is like thick blood across a linoleum floor. Played with lattice work of guitar notes set against effects that lend propulsion & daring. “Late Bloom,” is a sophisticated blend of soundscapes. All interesting cuts.
The female singers The Graces add voices on some tracks (“Black Wolf Boogie”) with a Jane Siberry-type vibrance & Laurie Anderson’s relevancy. But the focus is always the breathy diaphanous voice of the guitar with its perceptive tone. This is like a folk song interpreted by a progressive rock unit. Quite convincing & haunting with crunchy lead guitar & heavy bass & drums.
With the sitar-like guitar on “Billie”, one could almost be reminded of the sitar-guitar interplay found on the 1966 classic “East-West” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It was exciting then & it’s equally compelling now.
Despite the foreign creation, many tracks are instrumental & music is universal. The melodies are saturated in ambiance & character – all superbly played. “La Mann,” is a masterfully crafted tune performed with expertise that even a progressive rock fan could wrap their ears around.
Musicians included: Piero Perelli (drums) & Luca Giovacchini’s additional guitars. This collection is a challenge but like a roller-coaster, it’s worth the ride.
B&W image courtesy of Elisa Bertocci. CD @ https://www.facebook.com/santeriaetichetta/ + https://www.hemifran.com/artist/Don%20Antonio%20&%20The%20Graces/
Suzie Vinnick – Fall Back Home
Released Sept. 23rd this Canadian roots singer-songwriter celebrates her 7th release with 11 intriguing tunes. Some are originals, some are co-written & some are covers.
Suzie Vinnick (vocal/acoustic guitar) is an award-winning performer with a 41-minute Danny Greenspoon (steel guitar) produced set on Fall Back Home (Independent/Hemifran).
The CD is salted with poignant tunes, but she also rocks on “Talk To Me,” & “Salt & Pepper,” where Suzie skates across a Bonnie Raitt-type style with her sultry bluesy approach. Colin Linden’s lead guitar (& acoustic guitar) slinks throughout & the tune is a jewel. Suzie has her own vocal sensibility that she displays richly throughout the showcase.
“The Pie That My Baby Makes,” is seductive & sung with a touch of Maria Muldaur sexiness (“It Ain’t The Meat It’s The Motion”) that’s all done tongue in cheek & with finesse. This one’s fun. But Suzie isn’t about novelty songs – the balance is serious blues with flair & fat tones. She sings & plays with a band that’s self-assured & confident.
This is a performer who enlivens the blues in a manner that doesn’t date the genre. What I’m impressed with most is that Ms. Vinnick knows & understands how to use intonation, phrasing & pacing in her vocalizing. She knows what lyrics to emphasize & her songs are that much more enticing to the ear. Forceful, delicate, sexy, gruff, a dozen slices of vocal magic to convey words the way singing is meant to be. Instinctively brilliant. (“Lift You Up” is a great example).
The CD is balanced with fast tunes & poignant ones. “City & Skies,” is wonderfully sung with creative lyrics & a cordon bleu instrumentation. Each song conveys its own degree of passion, precision & invention. A steady diet of blues from one artist can be a little taxing on the ear but Suzie manages the paths with dignity & weight. Each song has its attraction.
Musicians: Davide DiRenzo & Gary Craig (drums/percussion), Alec Fraser & Russ Boswell (bass/upright bass), Jesse O’Brien (organ), Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (BG vocals), Matt Anderson (vocal), Kevin Breit (electric guitar/mandola/Resonator guitar/High-strung guitar/acoustic guitar), Mark Lalama (organ/Wurlitzer/accordion), Michael Biggar (BG vocal), Paul Pigrat & Bill Henderson (electric guitars), Roly Platt (harmonica), Carlos Del Junco (harmonica), Steve Dawson (pedal steel) & Gwen Swick (vocal).
This music (“Hurt By Luck” for one — with its nice Mark Lalama accordion) has its rural paths, hard luck stories & poignant reflective moments. So, if you’re looking for bar room brawls, pickup truck spin outs & drunken tales of mangy men — this isn’t the blues Suzie Vinnick explores. She has a lock on the steely skin of a woman who won’t be deterred by life’s detours.
Good for her.
Color image courtesy of Kevin Kelly Photography. CD @ https://suzievinnick.bandcamp.com/ + https://www.suzievinnick.com/music/fall-back-home/
Tina Ross – While I’m Here
A little old school in approach with a genuinely warm voice Warwick, New York’s Tina Ross will appeal to those who once thrived on the appealing voices of Pam Polland (“Abalone Dream”), Cris Williamson (“Last Sweet Hour”) & Ruthann Friedmann (“Windy,” “People”).
Ross not only has a good voice on “While I’m Here,” but she has style. Her simple upbeat song is like a hawk with its wings outstretched in one long magnificent cruise in the blue sky. The words are basically Whole Earth Catalog in tradition – naturalistic. But the folk approach is not preachy, it’s melodic with a good progression & Tina’s tonality has a razzle-dazzle vocal sweep – it’s the way Joni Mitchell & early Judy Collins would perform their spells. Ross has similar potions.
This CD is Ross’ debut. While I’m Here (Drops Feb 17–Independent) includes 10 captivating original songs recorded in Woodstock, NY (where else?). Her “Artemisia,” will remind listeners of the quality of tunes once written & performed by the McGarrigle Sisters.
There’s nothing bombastic or intense. It’s just an array of well-sung melodic songs that cover distinctive subjects in a way songs once became enlightening in the 60s to the counter-culture. But that counter-culture is over 70 now. These tunes would appeal to a much wider audience. There’s little here that’s retro. Ross is too finely tuned for that. She puts the lard back in a great apple pie.
While not as operatic as Sharon Osborne (Paul Winter Consort) who sang “Lay Down Your Burden,” – Tina walks that tightrope of beautiful music consistently. Few songs are controversial or touch upon heady subjects. No Pandora’s Box. Tina Ross seems to be more aligned with a healing process than stirring up the mix. “Dawn Redwood Winter,” is written & sung firmly in an early Joni Mitchell style – but it’s riveting how Tina showcases it. Quite beautiful.
“Night Thoughts Speak,” & “Hold The Door,” are in different voices. Poetic & similar in manner to early Cris Williamson. The addition of the cello is a nice touch. The songs warm the soul like a fireplace in the winter & fill the room with a special amber glow. A Judy Collins-type presentation in the house of Tina Ross. This has substance. She doesn’t waste a word. “…will she leave some life unused…” nice stuff, thought-provoking. Not what you’d find on mainstream radio by cookie-cutter singers.
With “Summers Like These,” Ms. Ross proves she can step away from the folk stream & perform as a full-fledged lounge, middle-of-the-road & easy listening vocalist (just a step away from jazz). She renders this song with genuine poignancy. This will go directly into your ears & down into your heart. Her final tune “Catching Up,” continues in the MOR tradition & yes, I think Ella Fitzgerald or Lena Horne would’ve considered covering such music. The whole CD doesn’t miss the target…ever.
Produced by Tina (vocals/harmony vocals/acoustic guitars) with Mark Dann (bass/electric guitar/grand piano/percussion). Others include Kipyn Martin (harmonies), Bobby Sabella (rhythms) & Kristen Jones (cello).
CD @ CDBaby + Bandcamp – https://tinarossmusic.bandcamp.com/releases + https://tinarossmusic.com/
Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley – Living In a Song
A refined touch of Randy Travis seeps through the vocals on the opening tune “Living In a Song,” & one would think it’s hokey old-fashioned gibberish country cornpone but it’s not. The lyrics tell stories that are not contrived but potent & they’re well-conceived.
The musicians play on a tightrope of a more progressive country enthusiast realm despite their deep roots in tradition. They have some sizzle that dips gently into Poco, early Eagles spaciousness, the sear of the Marshall Tucker Band, the mannered ghosts of the Goose Creek Symphony & the mainstream appeal of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. These guys can play.
The duo’s mature songwriting has the savviness of late 60s Everly Brothers (“Lord of the Manor,” “I Wonder If I Care As Much”) & Lowen & Navarro (“Cry”) with just a little more country pinch than they had. But it’s the storytelling lyrics that are the spice without bowing to mainstream cliches & clusters of repetitiveness. The guitars ring out with a purist maturity tone yet lend themselves to the rhythmic punch of a more obligatory structure. These are well-polished songs with precise playing (“Backstreets of Broadway”).
“Way Downtown,” has vocals but they’re surrounded by vivid instrumental interplay that’s fiery. It chisels away with fine acoustic guitars & fiddle sawing. It’s an exciting tune — sure to get boot-heels smoking on the dancefloor. Exceptional performances.
Grammy Award nominees Ickes (dobro) & Tennessee’s Trey Hensley’s 6-string guitar have clarity peppered with highbrow ingredients. Their new 10-song CD Living In a Song (Drops February 10 – Compass Records) is a fine collection.
Legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich once said on network TV that country music wasn’t real music. It should be done away with completely because it dumbs down an audience. Obviously, he never heard music played like this. The PR states these songs are a love letter to a bygone era of Nashville. I say it may be serving notice to the commercial country to come home. All is forgiven.
There isn’t an anemic novelty song in the bunch. It has a potent sting as featured on “Moonshine Run.” A song that could’ve been done by The Grateful Dead, J.J. Cale, Leon Russell, or Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. It possesses richness & appeal.
Produced by Brent Maher (The Judds/Merle Haggard/Willie Nelson) who helped sculpt the songs into radio-friendly possibilities without being sugarcoated. “Just Because,” is like a country cousin to The Beatles’ “Something.” Just as poignant, powerful, simple & catchy.
“I’m Working On a Building,” & “I Thought I Saw a Carpenter,” both have an incredible instrumental jam sewn into their fabric. It could’ve gone on for another hour – creative & driving. Anyone who enjoys Hot Tuna will find this effort of interest.
The PR outlines that the duo has enthusiastic admirers who shared stages & collaborated with them. Guitar great Tommy Emmanuel, Taj Mahal, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, David Grisman & Jorma Kaukonen with Hot Tuna, among others. The showcase is a primarily vintage country with lots of polish, some bluegrass, a touch of Tex-Mex (it sneaks into “Louisiana Woman”) & instrumental prowess — all produced with care & virtuosity. Slap down some hard-earned dollars so your ears can hear something cleaner than today’s politics. You won’t be sorry.
Color image at the Jack Daniels’ Distillery courtesy of Stacie Huckeba & Compass Records. CD @ Amazon + https://www.robandtrey.com/
Kevn Kinney – Think About It
Mr. Kinney is still the frontman & driving creative force of the wonderful band Drivin’ N Cryin’ & he seems to continue to record & release some compelling music. When I was younger I had my Drivin’ N Cryin’ music alongside my Bobby Sutliff, The Windbreakers, Russ Tolman, Steve Wynn, the Beat Farmers, Beat Rodeo & Rubber Rodeo.
The music is basically melodic pop with an edge recorded in Athens, Georgia (where else?). “Stop Look Listen Think” has this component of catchiness. Jangly guitars, low-fi vocal approach sung with a matter-of-fact tone instead of a showboating vocalese. The tune features Peter Buck & Bill Berry of R.E.M. & Dave Barbe (Sugar). It makes it all sound like he’s singing out beside an overheated Buick parked by a vacant lot on a summer day drinking Ballantine ale from a paper bag.
“Another Scarlet Butterfly,” has the same melodic recipe married up to a completely original individual song style & tightly strung guitar strings. This could’ve been an outtake from an early Rolling Stones album. This is the frontman of Drivin’ N Cryin’s first solo effort in more than a decade. His first vinyl release since his wonderful “MacDougal Blues,” LP from 1990 (which I have). This effort is speckled with some talented guest appearances.
At 11 songs & 39 minutes Think About It (Dropped Dec 9– Independent) is a nice walk down memory lane for some & discovery of sorts for younger ears.
Some songs are whisked in a country mix – “Wishes,” is such a tune. An excellently composed song. Gentle acoustics, what sounds like a cello, slide guitar & fiddle – played & sung with maturity & tasteful words. He’s joined by Kevin Scott & Darren Stanley (Col. Bruce Hampton), & Laur Joamets (Drivin’ N Cryin’ & Sturgill Simpson).
“The Innocent,” has a cool jazz hi-hat beat & gentle vibes that sneak through the whining growl of a guitar. Nice contrast. This is my favorite track – the melodrama, the dialogue & singing is noirish & dark. Musicians are quite cool & it’s loaded with atmosphere & ambiance. While not having a deep voice like Tom Waits it does profess that kind of edge – a Waits edge. Done with expertise.
Kinney continues in this gear with “Shapeshifter Grifter,” another beat generation slice of indulgent cool, cigarette below the squinting mascaraed eye, fire engine red lipstick & black fingernails – & that’s the guys. Lou Reed is sifted through the colander of this formidable music. Great lyrical narration with a bellowing upright bass that booms between the twinkle of piano notes. Nothing mediocre. Pull up a stool & kick off your wingtips – watch the second-hand smoke drift above your head to the music.
Many songs have an essence – “Half Mast,” has another bracing Tom Waits shift but much more like Rickie Lee Jones at her early best. The flute driven “Down in the City,” is sung in an almost Garland Jeffries style that lends it street credibility. “I’m Invisible,” eases from Kinney’s lips & the flute is no distraction. It’s what makes indie-rock penetrating & interesting. You never know what color rabbit they’ll pull from their hat. The song also has a great groove, & beat — it dangles in a metropolitan Coney Island/haunted carnival posture. Pass the cotton candy & switchblade.
I always enjoyed Drivin’ N Cryin’ so I’m not surprised that Kevn Kinney & his friends have carved out yet, another set of well-nourished tunes.
Produced by David Barbe. Cover art by Anna Jensen. Shades image courtesy of Kevn Kinney. CD @ https://www.drivinncryin.com/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.
Dino Danelli – Incredible Drummer for The Young Rascals & later The Rascals (July 1944-Dec. 2022) @ 78 – Inducted in the R&R Hall of Fame — the NJ-born Dino was without a doubt one of the great drummers in rock history. He brought a jazzman’s virtuosity to the kit with speed, accuracy, finesse & skill. Easily right up there with Ginger Baker, Charlie Watts & B.J. Wilson. Just watch the films when the cameras are on him.
Jeremiah Green – Drummer for indie-rock band Modest Mouse founded in Washington State @ 45
Fred White – Drummer of Earth Wind & Fire @ 67
Kim Simmonds – Co-founder & guitarist of The Savoy Brown Blues Band @ 75
Harvey Jett – Guitarist for Black Oak Arkansas @ 79
Gabe Baltazar – Hawaiian-based alto sax & flute player @ 92 (June 2022). Gabe played the amazing flute solo for Elvis Presley during the live performance of “An American Trilogy,” at the 1973 Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii Concert. A satellite performance viewed worldwide by over a billion people. Good job, Gabe.
Ian Tyson – Legendary Canadian folk singer @ 89 – Wrote “Four Strong Winds,” & the Judy Collins hit “Someday Soon.” Performed & recorded with his wife (Ian & Sylvia) then formed the group the Great Speckled Bird.
Shirley Eikhard – Grammy-Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter @ 67 – Penned Bonnie Raitt’s hit “Something To Think About” in 1991.
Angelo Badalamenti – Composer of the “Twin Peaks” haunting theme & incidental music @ 85
Terry Hall – Lead singer of The Specials & Fun Boy Three @ 63 (March 1959-December 2022).
Anita Pointer – Frequent lead singer of The Pointer Sisters in the 1980s @ 74.
Thom Bell – Producer of many successful Philly soul groups in the 70s @ 79
Charlie Gracie – American singer, country & R&B musician @ 86
Thank you all, for your contributions.
Grooves & Cuts: December 2022 – By John Apice