Grooves & Cuts March 2023 – By John Apice
Richard Farina & Tom Jans — With Mimi Farina
Time to do some remembering of some artists that in their time had close ties to traditional folk music yet managed to add their own texture not once but twice. But this story is a tragic one since both male vocalists who sang with Mimi Farina in two different eras of her career passed before their time. Richard Farina in a motorcycle accident in April 1966 & Tom Jans had a similar accident in 1983.
Farina was so highly regarded he was befriended by not-yet-famous Bob Dylan who appeared on a Caroline Hester LP (Hester had been married to Farina). Later, Farina met 17-year-old Mimi Baez (younger sister of Joan) in Europe & in 1963 at 18 years old Mimi & Richard married. In 1964 they debuted as a duet. Their first LP “Celebrations for a Grey Day,” came out in 1965. The duo managed to release a 2nd LP “Reflections in a Crystal Wind,” (1966) but only those 2 LPs were issued while Richard was alive.
At first, Richard was one of many “protest singers,” like Dylan, Phil Ochs & Joan Baez. Some songs were overtly political. But Richard Farina was more than that since artists (Sandy Denny, Rhiannon Giddens, Judy Collins & Joan Baez) to this day record songs Farina made famous. Judy Collins covered “Hard Lovin’ Loser,” & some made it into films (Spike Lee’s “4 Little Girls”).
Margarita Mimi Baez Farina was a singer-songwriter & activist. The youngest of 3 Baez daughters who were Scottish/Mexican-Americans. Her husband Richard Farina died on her 21st birthday. Following that, she moved to San Francisco to continue her career. In 1968 having met singer-songwriter Tom Jans & when she wasn’t singing & performing with her sister Joan, she teamed up with Tom. In 1971 they recorded their first LP together Take Heart.
Mimi died from cancer in Mill Valley, CA in 2001 at 56. She appears in a 2012 documentary “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation,” which is currently available on some streaming services. Tom Jans was introduced to Mimi in the early 70s so being a similar type of songwriter to Richard Farina a collaboration was inevitable. They supported acts like Cat Stevens & James Taylor & scored a recording deal with A&M Records. The LP didn’t sell so the duo broke up in late ’72. Jans moved to Nashville where he was a songwriter & recorded his solo LPs for Columbia Records. He didn’t record again until 1982 when he issued “Champion,” (released only in Japan).
Jans wrote one classic song “Loving Arms,” which was covered by many major artists including Elvis Presley. When those solo LPs “The Eyes of a Child,” (1975) & “Dark Blonde” (1976) failed Jans moved to Europe. Almost like Richard Farina, Tom Jans was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident (1983). He survived but the injuries to his kidneys led to his death at 36 of a suspected drug overdose in March 1984.
Singer-songwriter Tom Waits wrote & dedicated his song “Whistle Down the Wind (For Tom Jans),” after he & his wife Kathleen befriended Jans. The song appears on Waits’ LP “Bone Machine.” Now all 3 are committed to our memories & musical history. We’re left with the music. It goes well on a rainy afternoon.
B&W portrait of Mimi courtesy of Chronicle & John O’Hara. Color image of Mimi courtesy of Corbis. B&W of Mimi & Richard outside music store courtesy of Frank Beacham’s Journal.
Matthew Check – Without a Throne
A late entry released (Sept. 2022), Matthew Check (acoustic guitar/banjo/lead vocals) is a 7-song independently produced & arranged by Thomas Bryan Eaton (electric & acoustic guitars/pedal steel guitar/dobro/mandolin/vocals).
The short song set Without a Throne (Independent) is a 27-minute basically rootsy, folk-pop hybrid with a touch of mid-to-late 70s rock that energizes the material. Matt has a laid-back look similar to singer-songwriter Marc Cohn (“Walking IN Memphis” & “Silver Thunderbird”). The songs are basic but with a measure of the late John Prine (“The Very Beginning”), with clever words & easily relatable lyrics.
Matthew Check continues with a reliable Prine feel vocally & his melancholy lyrics on “Old Wooden Floor” are respectful of the Prine tradition. Matt doesn’t imitate as much as sounds like he’s just cut from the same cloth. An imitator would never have such lyrical depth as this.
The singing twang that juices Matt’s southern vocal chords is an exemplary hat tip to some great singer-songwriters. Matt doesn’t sound like J.J. Cale but the songs “Pretty Mama,” “The Way That You Are” & “Because You Care,” have the craftsmanship & compelling edge that’s Cale disciplined. A pleasure to listen to.
There are some songs that rock hard so this collection is quite diversified & I could add satisfying. Even the songs I haven’t highlighted are worth a spin. Matthew Check has a full-bodied sound, well-written songs & manages to sustain interest through his warm vocal tone.
If Matt was performing in the early 70s he’d be part of the songwriting contingent of Leon Russell, Tim Hardin, Mickey Newbury, J.J. Cale & John Prine. Yeah, he’d have a spot between them. Other musicians – Miss Tess (vocals), John Pahmer (piano), Eric Frey (electric bass) & Glenn Grossman (percussion).
Highlights – “The Very Beginning,” “Old Wooden Floor,” “Pretty Mama,” “The Way That You Are,” “What a Father Would Do (Absalom)” & “Because You Care.”
Song Premiere – https://americanahighways.org/2022/08/31/song-premiere-matthew-check-the-way-that-you-are-feat-miss-tess/
Song samples & available @ Bandcamp – https://matthewcheck.bandcamp.com/album/without-a-throne + https://matthewcheckmusic.com/ + https://www.hemifran.com/artist/Matthew%20Check/
Drew Young – Bourbon & Bad Decisions
Another late submission worth exploring is the June 2022 release of Drew Young’s 14-song, 41-minute collection distilled in New Orleans, LA. The majority of the tracks are previously released singles, remastered singles, live versions (3) & some never-before-released songs.
The opener “You’re Just Too Good To Let Go,” is instantly infectious. It’s well-played & Drew has a honeycomb of melodies. Each has that pull of appeal. His voice is deep, rural & each song is preserved in a down-home soulful feeling. Each tune stands a chance at being mainstream ready for radio.
The majority of the work on Bourbon & Bad Decisions (Dropped June 20, 2022–Better Than Pretend Productions) is written out of experiences collected as Drew traveled the world. The typical emotional drain & exhilaration of love, loss, learning & longing. In a word – life. Some songs can be construed as crooning but Drew’s a songwriter & and troubadour & instead of writing novels, he encapsulates his tales into songs with melodies. Short melodies = short stories. And his voice is that galvanic voice of experience & trust. He already has that grandfatherly voice that no matter what the issue – never says a discouraging word.
The title cut “Bourbon & Bad Decisions,” is performed with unmitigated zeal & the background vocals are soulfully ignited to elevate the song & embellish its fluency. I like this kind of rocking folk music that is home to people like Steve Earle, the Del-Lords, Jason & the Scorchers & the late J.J. Cale. The Cale comparison is evident in “The Georgia Line.” A prickly haunting melody with a delicacy of mystery & imagination with graveyard fog & bristling guitar notes. Artistic. Devilishly brilliant.
I appreciate the songwriting & the musicians, but the bottom line is often whether the singer can inject the required trigger factors. Can they tell the story effectively that the lyrics are laying out? Why does Bob Dylan sound better than a polished, trained vocalist on some of his songs? Because Dylan sounds like he lived the lyric. Not the Julliard-trained Simonized singer. Drew Young’s voice goes with what he’s singing. They connect.
The songs vary in topics & have the cohesion that Drew’s voice demands. With the song “Stuck On Something,” was recorded in Nashville with some colorful language that will prick the ears & pass by. Drew sings mournfully & beautifully with Amy Trail’s Delta-soulful wails as impressive as The Blessing’s William Topley with Rebecca Price on “Delta Rain.” These 2 songs can segue together & this CD is worth the price just for this song. The CD is filled with fluency that will engage ears with its punchy arrangements & Drew’s smoky vocal.
Highlights – “You’re Just Too Good To Let Go,” “Try Me,” “Bourbon & Bad Decisions,” “The Georgia Line,” “A Couple of Rounds Before I Go,” “Stuck On Something,” “It’ll Be Soon,” “Wondering Where This Will End,” & “Sing Me a Happy Song.”
Color image courtesy of Hemifran & seated on a porch from Drew’s Facebook. CD/song samples available @ https://drewyoung.bandcamp.com/album/bourbon-bad-decisions
The Okee Dokee Brothers – Brambletown
This 17-tune entertaining collection is aimed more toward children & from the animated film of the same name (visit their website) is deliciously performed by Grammy Award-winning Americana musicians. They take listeners on a woodland musical escape deep inside a forest of imagination & adults will like it too.
Produced by Dean Jones the music celebrates a fantastic place as stated — critters talk, trees walk & nothing is as it seems. There’s a bit of Wizard of Oz, as well as touches of Alice In Wonderland. The songs were all recorded in Rosendale, NY. If you like the work of 1940s Disney animation, the old MGM & Warner Brothers cartoons & DreamWorks you’ll find something to spark your imagination (nostalgically) in this.
Brambletown (Drops March 31-Okee Dokee Music) starts with the catchy “In the Bramble,” & remember this is something good for kids & nostalgic for adults. It’s actually something Disney isn’t doing now, or not as much as it once did.
Joe Mailander & Justin Lansing were childhood friends who grew up in Denver, Colorado. They were always doing things together & which led to music. More specifically outdoor music was written by both Justin & Joe. The animated story isn’t mere entertainment – seems the music lightly cruises through universal messages: environmental concerns, interconnection & plant & animal wisdom. Taking care of ourselves & our relationships is part of taking care of the world. Inspiring a sense of gratefulness, humility, wonder & respect for life. With humor & to motivate family conversation.
Of course, some politically-motivated people will find something wrong here. Being as non-bias as possible I say give it a chance. How heavy-handed could it possibly be? But I’d object if a subject that shouldn’t concern young children is subliminally performed (that’s the former teacher in me). So, anything for children’s consumption should be scrutinized by parents.
I do believe that The Okee Dokee Brothers’ music may be presented in a manner that is beneficial. There should be something redeeming in music such as this. So, long as it’s a light touch. There is an insert but no lyrics. No lyrics? However, the art looks innocent enough – no pagan folk tales or hidden-drug meanings as they often did in some double-entendre lyrics of 60s folk songs & cartoons.
ODB presents its material well, with honest unfussy lyrics, drawing upon traditional folk melodies & friendly instrumentation performed & sung well. No big bad wolf that I can see in this forest.
The only disappointment? No lyrics. “In the Bramble,” does sound in spots melodically or mindful of English band Stackridge (“The Volunteer” or “Do The Stanley”) from either “Extravaganza,” or “Pinafore Days” LPs. Some may scratch their heads but no matter… there are enough children-friendly tunes & vocals that are strongly Okee Dokee original.
While many songs aren’t fabricated for adult consumption (Stackridge is) the quality of the performance by ODB is bearable. The songs stand up. The humor is honest. While the performances aren’t as intensely sculpted as Stackridge (The Beatles’ producer George Martin did these LPs) the effort by the Okee Dokees goes folkier.
Musicians – Justin Lansing (banjo/vocals), Joe Mailander (guitar/vocals), Mark Murphy (upright piano), Jane Scarpantoni (cello), Marianne Tasick (violin/vocals). Rosie Newton (fiddle/vocals) & Dean Jones (vocals/trombone/drums/percussion/electric guitar/electric bass/piano/organ/keyboards/48-Chord Harmonica/clanks & clatters).
With Sonia De Los Santos (vocals), Jillian Rae (fiddle), Jordan Shapiro (mandolin), Wayne Montecalvo (accordion), Chris Stafford (pedal steel), Rahul Krishnan (flute), Andrea Maddox, Merle Igoe, Rhys Ellis & Stephanie Ellis (group vocals).
Highlights – “In the Bramble,” the wonderful “The Life That’s In You,” “Junkyard Raccoon,” “Little Bird,” “Old Badger,” the nice banjo-driven “The Fox and the Hare,” the scariest lesson tune is “The Mycelium Underground News” & the lovely “Little Dipper & Big Dipper.”
Color image courtesy of their website. CD @ Amazon + https://www.okeedokee.org/
An exceptional die-cut CD package with a lyric insert designed by Sean Riley embraces the slinky bluesy percolating music of the East Village New York’s Dean Zucchero (bass/songwriter). A showcase that collects 11-stinging soulful dive-bar blues tunes with varying themes & a loaded roster of sparkling talent to bring it to life.
Produced by Dean the 43-minute CD Electric Church for the Spiritually Misguided (Drops April 28-Pugnacious Records) was recorded in New Orleans. It has compelling edges & the late bluesman Paul Butterfield’s styled harmonica runs. Anyone who enjoyed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band would love this Dean Zucchero & Friends (that should’ve been the name of the CD).
Not only does it have a contagious guitar, wailing harmonicas & several pot-boiling vocals with fat tones – it’s all just so authentic to the blues genre we grew up with. “Independence Day,” is a sure-footed, fiery piece & though the songs are rendered in a more retro style than today’s blues slingers it’s that genuine sound that’s most appealing. No showboating, no effects, just the overwhelming sweet blues feel even when it slides deeper into a soulful “Craft Beer.”
Here, its Jonathan “Boogie” Long’s dialogue in bop mode that isn’t rapping but jiving with a simple subject – beer, stout, & the clever lyrics are crafty like the dialogues of Lord Buckley (“The Nazz”), Iceberg Slim rants & even Eric Burdon with War (“Spill the Wine”). This is an LP that’s simply cool.
With vocals by Ghalia Volt “Last Minute Packer,” has guitar & fiddle notes scattering like midnight kitchen cockroaches across a linoleum floor in fluorescent light. The tune is filled with musicians wound- up like an old clock. Excellent tune.
That Paul Butterfield-inspired harmonica of New Orleans’s Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes (vocals) takes center stage on “Empty Postbox.” This is the blues framed in the tradition of 20s & 30s dusty Texas & Louisiana roads with battered suitcases & guitars with decals on them. Listening to songs like this makes you thirsty for a cold beer & peanuts, dancing on a hardwood floor with a big smile & lots of Moxie. Anything less would not be real.
“Stack It” unravels like a vintage Boz Scaggs blues & “Fascist Love,” is a smoldering tune sung by Leslie Blackshear Smith. This whole effort is reminiscent of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends or Joe Cocker when he led the Mad Dogs & Englishmen. It has a very tight sound.
Musicians – Johnny Rawls (vocals), Jonathan “Boogie” Long (vocals), Johnny Burgin (guitar/vocals), Jake Eckert, Papa Mali & John Fohl (guitars), Phil Breen & Joe Krown (organ), Terrence Higgins, Doug Belote (drums), Alex MacDonald (percussion/washboard), Ghalia Volt, Tiffany Pollack, Whitney Alouiseious Sanders, Megan Harris Brunious. Tif Lamson, Zeus Vee (backing vocals) Wayne Thibodaux (fiddle), Jason Ricci (harmonica), Johnny Sansone (vocals/harmonica), Jeremy Joyce (vocals/guitar),
Highlights – “Independence Day,” “Craft Beer,” “Last Minute Packer,” “Empty Postbox,” “La Belle Poursuite,” “Stack It,” “Fascist Love” & “Mortal Man.”
Color image of Dean & image of Ghalia both courtesy of Ghalia Volt. B&W of Bruce Barnes courtesy of his Facebook. Sepia image of Leslie Blackshear Smith courtesy of Jeffrey Dupuis.
CD @ Amazon & https://deanzucchero.com/
Martha Groves Perry – Call Out
Exceptional photography makes the look of Martha’s 3rd release Call Out (Drops April 21-MapleDream Music) appear quite noirish & compelling. The bolder-than-usual songs explore challenging truths seriously & with humor. Her lyrics are poetic & the 12 songs that make up this new release were recorded by producer Kenny Schick for Basement 3 Productions.
San Francisco-based Martha Groves Perry’s vocals are a disciplined departure from typical mainstream vocals. The music suits her tone as well, dark & melodic, with sufficiently varied styles. “Anyway,” has a Robert Fripp-type lead guitar coiling its notes throughout. Though the song lyrics are fairly simplistic Martha vocalizes with a pinch of deviancy in her aura which allows them to be appealing in a naughty way.
There are moments when Martha grazes the delicacy of expression often provided by the likes of Tom Waits, early Ricki Lee Jones, Tom Wilson (Junkhouse) & Patti Smith. Martha Groves Perry has style with her dark-hued melodies that are tailored with grace. She’s also smart enough to have sculpted an original look, an attitude that works well for her because she looks like someone you’d want to hear. Some images are playfully seductive, some are seriously street-smart & many depict a magnetic personality who’s capable of keeping many musical balls in the air at once.
She doesn’t sing with aggression but has authority on “The Dare,” — a rockier showcase where her Blondie cum Patti Smith by way of Natalie Merchant surfaces. Nice work. Exciting. At times there’s even a polished Grace Slick identity in the tunes. From the era when Slick recorded wonderful solo tunes (her 1980 “Dreams,” LP). “Feel Something,” would be an example. Mystical in sound, upbeat in showcase, with a multitude of instrumental sounds. It continues with “Purely Who You Are,” Slick-like in her childish voice with sensitive percussion. It’s all exceptionally rendered by Martha who effectively sings with a noirish feel & brief muted trumpet.
“The Talk,” is another noirish superb track because it has lovely passages along with grating razor-sharp twists. The contrasts between the songs are riveting & Martha’s cohesive performance is solid.
A shorter song “Four Leaf Clover,” could be considered strange but it’s saucy, contemporary & well-arranged & let out of its cage with musician zeal. The late 60s icon Leslie Gore could’ve covered this.
In “Dumping My Delusion,” Ms. Perry gives us a vocal lesson. Her tone, intonation, phrasings & how she applies her inimitable style is like salty potato chips & dark chocolate. From dark music to riveting in the 57-voice chorus in “McKiely’s Song,” shows the ability of Ms. Perry’s voice to tread through as a pristine ballad singer, traditional interpreter & jazz singer. Impressive.
Musicians – Martha (vocals/cello/acoustic guitar/backing vocals), Kenny (all other instruments & backing vocals) with additional backing vocals by Sabine Heusler-Schick.
Highlights – “Anyway,” “The Dare,” “Let The Wind Come,” Feel Something,” “Purely Who You Are,” “The Talk,” “Four Leaf Clover,” “Dumping My Delusion,” “McKiely’s Song” & “Little Life.”
I’d have expected an equally interesting insert with lyrics but not this time. Images in CD package by Kenny plus 1 vintage pic dahlia photo by Martha. B&W image & color portrait courtesy of Ms. Perry’s website.
Music sample & CD @ Bandcamp & https://marthagrovesperry.com/
Rose City Band – Garden Party
While the band is promoted as a bit psychedelic I believe their standing with that word is the version accountable to the early Grateful Dead, Pure Prairie League & the Byrds (to a degree), rather than comparisons to the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Electric Prunes or Count Five. Here, the psychedelic is a state of mind – the Hippie one that embraced Gram Parson’s style of country music. Bright vocalizations, equally stellar guitars, with retro lyrics that still sound engaging with such measured melodies.
“Chasing Rainbows,” is a delicious tune. If you can remember the late 60s these kinds of well-written compositions were occasionally found on albums by Jefferson Airplane (and then morphed into Hot Tuna). Then, there are bands like the James Gang, Michael Nesmith’s First National Band & Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band – all often-had manicured tunes in this tradition. Rose City Band continues this foray with muscle. They’re delightful & play excellently.
“Slow Burn,” is a picturesque original with colorful vocals released as a single from the LP. Along with “Porch Boogie,” it carries with it a J.J. Cale tonality that’s ear-caressing & the music itself has rural adrenaline. Garden Party (Drops April 21-Thrill Jockey Records) is a rousing 8-cut collection of well-propelled country rock mastered by these musicians.
“Porch Boogie,” & “El Rio,” provide cool jams reminiscent of The Grateful Dead. Even better than many Phish songs since the spirit of The Dead is embedded in these showcases. Add Phil Lesh’s vocals & you’d think The Dead were still backing him. But it’s the Rose City Band. They’re no Dead knock-off or imitation – the songs are original & solid; the repertoire has Rose City Band’s arresting style & what they are is, a respectful supplement to an already established & distinguished sound.
Tortoise’s John McEntire produced & the band includes — guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson, John Jeffrey/Dustin Dybvig (drums), Sanae Yamada & Paul Hasenberg (keyboards), Barry Walker (pedal steel guitar) & Dewey Mahood (bass).
The repertoire has an earthiness many musicians never achieve. It’s an inspired delivery even on the painfully slow “Saturday’s Gone,” that is filled with poignancy & played with expertise. “Moonlight Highway,” spills from the speakers with an opening similar to suggesting The Band backing J.J. Cale. It’s magically persistent & would conjure a smile. The LP is satisfying & if you’re from the 60s – it will make you think it’s something you missed & it found you. If you’re younger – this is like discovering something ethereal.
Highlights – “Garden Song,” “Slow Burn,” “Chasing Rainbows,” “Porch Boogie,” “Saturday’s Gone,” “Moonlight Highway” & “El Rio.”
Color image by Sanae Yamada. CD @ https://www.rosecityband.org/
Stuffy Shmitt – Cherry
The man continues to sing with attitude – you know the kind of rock n’ roll swag Dion DiMucci always had & in his 80s continues to display. Stuffy has an aggressive tone & genuine raunch to render the material with the texture that rock music actually requires. Not that “Eye of the Tiger,” diluted orange concentrate. Stuffy is the real juice.
“The Little Man In the Boat,” is a reference to an intimate body part that’s never used in this tune with vulgarity, just a clever emotional measure. It’s not every song that puts a grin on my face this early in the morning.
There are only 8 cuts on Cherry (Dropped Feb. 24–Independent) but the fat’s been trimmed off & the flavor’s rich. “Billy Kilowatt,” is somewhat silly but its energy is unmistakable. This is a mix of punk-rock dipped deep into that novelty-rich double-fisted style of rock that dominated the charts at one time. Ragnar Kvaran (“It’s All Different Now”), Richard Termini (“Dangerous Games”). You get the idea.
Shmitt even goes funk a bit on “Little Brother,” with a treated vocal similar to what J.J. Cale did on some tunes on his LP “Grasshopper.” Cool effect, as if it’s your conscience singing the words to you. The band plays in a beat generation Tom Waits-Ricki Lee Jones-Chuck E. Weiss style that possesses all the cool of Lou Reed & more.
Stuffy is a Nashville troubadour with an edge since he carries with him the noir melodies of New York City in his heart. Stuffy doesn’t know just how good he really is. He’s compelling, interesting & consistently creative & with all that he keeps the rock n’ roll heart beating.
“Radio’s Broken” could be a R&R classic. It has the old-fashioned grind, but it’s polished up & buffed with Simonize by Stuffy. It glistens with rain beads in the sun & you can see your ragged face in the Buick black hood. That’s how to deliver a song.
Stuffy, like Lou Reed when he wrote songs for the Velvet Underground, isn’t afraid to explore the city’s underbelly. “Don’t Forget the Roach,” isn’t about an insect. Turning serious on “110 Shotguns,” Stuffy shows his solid ballad side with a sensitive soul-search reading. Stuffy fills his LP with humor as well, but he keeps it balanced so the entertainment quotient is easy to consume.
The collection is fun. Goes well with whiskey & dark chocolate. And isn’t that what music’s supposed to do for you? Mr. Shmitt does it for you.
Musicians – Stuffy (lead vocals), Parker Hawkins (bass), Dave Colella (drums), Dave Coleman (guitar/vocals), Chris Tench (guitar), Michael Webb (keys/accordion), Dick Aven (sax) with Jeff Thorneycroft (bass) & Chris Benelli (drums) on “110 Shotguns.”
CD produced by Stuffy. B&W photography by Dave Coleman. CD @ https://www.stuffyshmitt.com
Joe Flip – Home Sweet Home
This one arrived late but is worth a look. I like people who do a job even when they approach it from a quirky angle. Joe Flip plays regular electric guitars, but also plays hand-made oil can guitars (“Hayburners”). This Minnesota musician has 14-cuts on his 4th CD Home Sweet Home (Dropped March 10–Loud Folk Records).
The award-winning artist has already charted with this LP on blues/rock radio charts. He’s highly regarded as a blues guitarist/vocalist. The 55-minute CD starts with an ass-kicking slide guitar-infused title track that has a warm vocal in a Mark Knopfler style rather than a ragged raw one like the late blues master John Campbell who left behind only a few blistering CDs.
Joe Flip never tries to sing in past blues perspectives or imitate many of today’s blues artists who believe you must sing with either a stretch of melancholy, pain, desperation, or anger. Flip has a melodic blues voice which is different & it’s appealing.
“Just Friends,” rollicks in an Elvin Bishop/Boz Scaggs early tradition. It has lots of steady streams of notes crab walking down the fretboard. Joe has expertise in his delivery both on the guitar & with his vocal blend. His guitar tonality is standard blues. On this track, the piano is also exceptional. Great work.
Now “Mississippi Country Road,” (not in the Bandcamp lineup) followed by the instrumental “Jimi Swing,” is marvelous. These tracks bridge an upbeat country blues akin to Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder of the Rising Sons with the later modernized psycho blues of Hendrix. It’s got all the embellishments, old-fashion rural blues where you can see the mosquitoes & flies cruising over the green grass & the railroad train smoke puffing its name into the blue sky & it’s humid, real humid. This is quite authentic heat rippling blues – the skill in blending feeling through a tradition & coming out the other end is quite creative.
To add some dynamic virtuosity “Toxic” is sung by Swanny Rose in a seductive finger-popping ballad with slinky guitar notes that fall around her like raindrops that haven’t broken into a storm yet. I can see Swanny lying back in lingerie on a hotel bed with windows wide open & a table fan spinning on a table with playing cards, a bottle of bourbon & a lover deep in sheets asleep in the bed. When a blues tune can conjure images the song works. Splendid.
Flip isn’t sweeping up John Lee Hooker influences, Eric Clapton’s jubilance or Roy Buchanan’s absorbing blues nutrients – what he does is filter various styles to make his own blues a decisive statement. Some songs despite excellent acoustic guitar fingerpicking can be a tad plodding or repetitious (“Put Your Lovin’ On Me” & “Tulsa Time,” – not the J.J. Cale classic). It’s also not wise to write original songs that have classic titles already known to the public (Cale’s “Tulsa Time,” & the Allman Brother’s “Whipping Post,” are already blues standards). A better title could’ve been “Hammer, Anvil & Chains,” since that’s the sound heard in the tune.
Shades of Mason Ruffner evaporate from “Mess Around,” & a bonus track “Café,” explores the same subtle instrumental blues cachet that Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green had with “Albatross.” Nonetheless, it’s Joe Flip’s diversification & consistent good taste & skill that’s most impressive.
Highlights – “4th Street Alley,” “Toxic,” “Mississippi Country Road,” “Jimi Swing,” “Just Friends,” Home Sweet Home,” & “Café.”
Musicians – Mike DuBois (drums), Trent Boldt (bass), Toby Lee Marshall (piano/organ), Swanny Rose (backup vocals) & John Marshall (bass guitar on “4th Street Alley”).
Color image courtesy of Joe Flip’s website. Photography on the CD by Stacey Stencel & Jake Armour. CD @ Bandcamp & https://www.joeflipmusic.com/
Mighty Poplar – Mighty Poplar
What is featured here are no veteran bluegrass musicians since this effort focuses on the newer crop of “veteran” bluegrass performers still making a name for themselves. For the newly initiated it may not read like an all-star lineup but in bluegrass circles the names carry weight. There are notables Andrew Marlin (vocals/mandolin/guitar), Noam Pikelny (banjo/vocals) & Greg Garrison (bass/vocals), Chris Eldridge on guitar/vocals/mandolin, & Alex Hargreaves (fiddle).
This music also has the added bonus of improvisation, jamming & letting things happen naturally. The songs are a fine cross-section of originals & classics & with deep cuts by masterful artists (Hazel Dickens, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Alice Gerrard, John Hartford & Norman Blake).
Produced by the band & recorded in Nashville the 10-track, 42-minute self-titled CD was released on March 31st on Free Dirt Records. So, besides the actual skillful playing that’s heard in this collection what’s magical is the personalities that come through the strings of each instrument. How it all has a musical “conversation” between themselves. The excitement is evident, the energy level — vibrant & the virtuosity is sharp. Nothing but fresh original takes are infused in each melody. This wasn’t going to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane but a confirmation that the music is still here on both legs.
This debut by 5-musicians is engaging, with fine fiddling on “A Distant Land To Roam,” & it’s more a document of the music than a commercial attempt or stab at the country charts. None of these musicians would compromise the tradition of the music to gain mainstream sweetness. And there are bluegrass aficionados who drive tractors, tap keyboards at computers in city offices, fill glasses with beer, change tires on trucks & teach children in classrooms. Every walk of life, every income bracket & even different cultures. It’s one of America’s homeland music children — like country, ragtime, jazz, blues & rock. And like rock, many in the early days believed bluegrass would be a passing fad. It’s still passing & it’s the 21st Century. Bill Monroe would be proud.
Highlights – “A Distant Land To Roam,” the excellent “Up On the Divide,” the fiery “Grey Eagle,” the classic & excellently rendered “Blackjack Davey,” “Little Joe,” “Let Him Go On Mama,” & the superb “Story of Isaac.”
Color CD cover image by Brian Carroll. CD @ Amazon & Bandcamp + https://www.mightypoplar.com/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites. No photography will appear without a photographer’s credit or owning source.
Wayne Shorter @ 89 – Sax player – One of the most influential jazz musicians of the last half-century. A member of the Miles Davis Quintet in the 60s & a co-founder with pianist Joe Zawinul of the progressive-jazz group Weather Report. No cause of death was listed. (Color image courtesy of Valentin Flauraud/Reuters).
Gary Rossington @ 71 – guitarist & last surviving member of the original Jacksonville, Florida band Lynyrd Skynyrd who was one of the guitarists on the fiery guitar duel “Freebird.” (Photo courtesy of Roy Rochlin/Getty Images).
David Lindley @ 78 – California-born studio multi-instrumentalist who worked with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Warren Zevon & Dolly Parton among others. No cause of death was listed. (Photo courtesy of Tom Mosenfelder/Getty Images).
Jim Gordon @ 77 – superb Los Angeles-born session drummer who appeared on hundreds of major artist LPs & songs (Derek & the Dominoes, Harry Nilsson, Delaney & Bonnie, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Gene Clark & the Gosdin Brothers, Traffic, Steely Dan, Art Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Wrecking Crew, Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” Cher, Helen Reddy, Johnny Rivers, John Lennon, the Byrds, Joan Baez, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Carly Simon & these are just a scant few). He was co-writer of Eric Clapton’s hit “Layla” (he composed & played the classic piano ending). Gordon also played the drum solo on Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire.” Gordon suffered from schizophrenia & murdered his mother (1983). He died of natural causes on March 13 while still incarcerated at a state-run medical facility in CA. (B&W image courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images 1970).
Keith Reid @ 76 – died of cancer in London on March 23rd almost a year after the passing of Gary Brooker (lead vocalist/composer also 76) of Procol Harum. Reid was their full-time lyricist & he composed many classic songs with either Brooker (lead vocalist/pianist) or Matthew Fisher (original Hammond organist/vocalist). He wrote the classic words to the group’s iconic 1967 hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” — covered by many artists through the decades. Also, “Conquistador” became a hit with its Edmonton Symphony Orchestra version. Reid’s lyrics were often poetic, surreal & impressionistic but always considerably original. It fit the band’s musical oeuvre. He also penned words for “Shine on Brightly,” “A Salty Dog,” “Simple Sister” & the epic “In Held ‘Twas In Eye.” He wrote lyrics for virtually every Procol Harum LP except the band’s last “Novum,” which had words by Pete Brown (former Cream lyricist). (B&W image courtesy of Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns).
Jerry Samuel aka Napoleon XIV @ 84 – The New York City-born singer/songwriter/pianist of the 1966 classic #1 Cashbox novelty song “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaaa!” on Warner Brothers Records. The flip side of the single was the same song backward. Samuel also wrote the hit song “The Shelter of Your Arms,” for Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1964 (covered by many artists). Samuels had (written & co-written) songs recorded by Doris Day, Adam Wade, Laverne Baker, Johnnie Ray, Ivory Joe Hunter, Marilyn Maye, Jay Black (of The Americans), The Lettermen, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Amanda Lear, Tiny Tim & Bobby Scott. He passed away ironically from Parkinson-related dementia. (B&W press photo courtesy of Warner Bros Records).
Bobby Caldwell @ 71 – Robert Hunter Caldwell — a New York City-born R&B singer-songwriter who had been sampled by many R&B/Rap & adult contemporary artists had a 1978 hit with “What You Won’t Do For Love.” He passed away at home in my neighborhood of Great Meadows, NJ after a long illness. Early in his career, he’d been Little Richard’s rhythm guitarist. Vocally, Caldwell was often mistaken for a black singer because his vocals were soul deep & he toured with the late Natalie Cole. Caldwell wrote many hit songs for other artists & soundtracks for films. (Photography courtesy of Getty/Andrew Lepley/Redferns).
Bobbi Kelly Ercoline @ no age given. Bobbi was the young girl who stood wearing sunglasses wrapped in a tattered blanket with her boyfriend on the Woodstock soundtrack album. The iconic photo was taken at a concert in 1970. The young man with her was her boyfriend Nick who she’d met 2 months prior & he became her husband of 54 years (1971). Nick announced her passing. The couple never knew their picture was snapped that day but when they saw the picture they recognized the blanket they were wrapped in & instantly knew it was them. RIP Bobbi. (Color images courtesy of Deadline & Greg Evans).
Bruce Barthol @ 75 – died Feb. 20th — was the original bassist with Country Joe & the Fish. No cause of death was reported. (B&W photo courtesy of Bruce’s Facebook).
Michael Rhodes @ 69 – passed away at home in Nashville, TN from pancreatic cancer. He was a studio bassist who played for Johnny Cash, Mark Knopfler, J.J. Cale, Joe Bonamassa, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Jr., Lonnie Mack, Vince Gill, Etta James, Larry Carlton, John Fogerty, the Dixie Chicks, Brian Wilson, Joan Osborne, John Oates, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks & Lionel Richie. (Color image courtesy of Marty Moffat).
Chuck Jackson @ 85 was a North Carolina R&B-soul singer out of Pittsburgh, PA in the 60s who sang many Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs. He had hits with “Any Down Now,” (covered by Elvis) “I Keep Forgettin’” (covered by Procol Harum) & Maxine Brown’s “Daddy’s Home.” He was also a member of the Del-Vikings. (Color image courtesy of Ray Tamarra/GI).
Lillian Walker-Moss @ 78 was a singer/founding member of the soul-pop NY group The Exciters. They had hits on United Artists Records with 1963’s “Tell Him,” their most memorable tune & a remake of Bert Berns’ “A Little Bit of Soap.” They were also an opening act for The Beatles (1964 tour). Ms. Walker-Moss died from a rare form of cancer (angiosarcoma). (Color image courtesy of Soul and Jazz and Funk News website)
Grooves & Cuts March 2023
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