Grooves & Cuts April 2023 – By John Apice
Pat Boone & Ann-Margret – Octogenarian New Music
Two peculiar releases were recently made available & I’m not certain why or what the motive was except for generating nostalgia with the added benefit of income. As talented as both artists have been throughout their careers — why wait until now?
So, along with new material in April written by 88-year-old Pat Boone & it features several country greats on one song. 81-year-old singer/dancer/actress Ann-Margret has released an entire LP — Born To Be Wild (Dropped April 14-Cleopatra Records). I think it was bad judgment to put an image on the album that was Ann-Margret 59 years ago – it looks like a still from “Viva Las Vegas.” Ann-Margret still looks remarkably well for her age, so they should’ve stuck with something more current (& believable). Pat Boone opted for no picture on his cover jacket just graphics.
Her album features her friend The Who’s Pete Townshend (whom she met while filming “Tommy” in 1974). There’s also Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, the Oak Ridge Boys, legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper, Linda Gail Lewis (Jerry Lee’s sister), T.G. Sheppard, guitarist Robben Ford, the late Mickey Gilley (in one of his final performances), Pat Boone as well & a variety of other name artists. It’s either comical or Pat & Ann still have some high octane in their musical tanks. A risky venture, nonetheless.
Ann covers some personal favorites like Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” the classic Frankie Lymon & the Teenager’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” The Frankie Valli solo classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” the Everly Brothers’ 1958 hit “Bye, Bye Love,” & the Platters’ timeless “The Great Pretender.” Her LP has 13 tracks. And for someone who is 81 – she does have some liveliness in her voice.
Ann-Margret portrait image courtesy of Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal. CD cover image courtesy of Matthew Eisman/Getty Images.
Pat Boone’s single disc Grits (Dropped April 7-Gold Label/The Orchard) celebrates Southern cuisine & features Larry Gatlin, Deborah Allen, the Gatlin Brothers, Dean Miller (Roger Miller’s son), Lorrie Morgan & Ray Stevens in a unique collaboration.
Boone has sold over 45 million records in a 70-year career & had 38 Top 40 hits. What, no Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for him? With this set, he reconnects with some humor with his Nashville roots. The song was written by Boone & produced by Jimmy Nichols & Frank Myers. Boone’s 88-year-old voice sparkles but it’s not the rock voice of “You better come home, Speedy Gonzales.” None approach the beauty of 1961’s “Moody River” or “Love Letters In the Sand.”
It’s a novelty record. Done with exhilaration but novelty. Novelty today can also mean disposable. My question is why now? With such a fine voice? With these country greats? I blame the producers – Boone should’ve recorded a more serious mature album. They should’ve said, “Stop.” Let’s reconsider this. One of Pat’s earlier albums was a ”metal” collection. That was a mistake. It did prove that Boone had guts. But he’s no metal singer.
These octogenarians are worth a listen for nostalgia purposes. It’s also interesting to hear how their talent has aged. Some songs sound surprisingly good while others expose their dated charms. An old professional boxer may not last 12 rounds in the ring but if he catches you within 5 it’s lights out.
This recommendation is left to the fans & admirers of each to decide because I have respect for my elders. And I can’t sing.
Color image of Pat Boone courtesy of Pat’s website.
Both CDs are available @ Amazon.
Florencia & The Feeling – Birthday
Despite the silly CD art, which definitely doesn’t reflect the genre of music displayed — the set begins with shades of Pat Metheny-Larry Coryell-type guitar doodling in the short intro & outro. It then segues to the upbeat female vocal of Florencia Rusinol on “Meant To Be,” with plenty of 70s pop-funk fusion essences.
The vocal in some spots is laid back compared to the tight instrumentation, but it doesn’t distract from the showcase since the singers are all potent. From Johnson City, Tennessee this unit unleashes a vital debut with Birthday (Dropped March 24–Independent).
It’s a well-produced album for listeners who like this kind of music & remarkably here, it doesn’t sound dated. They managed to inject some irresistible groves. “Three Steps,” has all the ingredients – the cheesy electric piano overtones played with skill & a bit of a bossa-nova Astrud Gilberto-type approach. The pinches of saccharine jazz, strong Latin roots & bright harmonies do indeed work.
Ms. Rusinol (rhythm guitar) has a beautiful voice & as a primary songwriter has laid down some mannered words into her electrifying melodies. Formed in 2021 I can understand the appeal because it’s not a music that has carried over from the 70s effectively & it should. The music is in its perfection of form as presented in the 9 songs. There’s heartbreaking lyrics but it’s never dour or melancholy.
Rusinol’s warm voice on the slower songs is lounge-nightclub bliss. Produced by Florencia & Grammy award-winner Martin Walters the creation sheds light on luscious vocals that are often supported by soulful backup. This is actually what most rhythm & blues (R&B) songs should convey. There’s power but the showboating is at a minimum. Raised in Tennessee, Florencia has Argentine roots & the mix of both cultures is brilliant. The song “You,” bristles with fine performances & excellent guitar work. The Spanish-language sung “Que Sera,” is lovely. Great summer CD.
Highlights – “Birthday,” “You,” “Que Sera” “What Else Can I Do?” & “In My Fantasy.”
Musicians – All tracks performed & arranged by Florencia with Diego Nunez (violin/arrangements), Tom Peterson (sax), Brett Long (trumpet), Austin Herron (drums/bgv), Isaac Ratliff (keys/bgv), Nick Castro (bass/bgv), Noah Wise (lead guitar/bgv), with additional arrangements on listed songs by Sebastian Barinol & Zach Ross (horn arrangements).
Lyric insert included. B&W image courtesy of the band’s FaceBook. The 36-minute CD @ CDBaby + https://florenciaandthefeeling.bandcamp.com/album/birthday
Walk That Walk – Big World of Trouble
Heaped in rootsy music this CD slides into some capable grooves with first-rate harmonica, haunting guitar & ensemble singing. A mix of Poco-ZZ Top-Doug Sahm & Canned Heat this is an interesting set. 9-cuts of refined & decorative country folk. The lead-off track “Roof Got a Hole,” focuses more on the vocalizing shine than instrumental gradations. Nice touch. Recorded in Vermont & Boston, MA this has Paul Butterfield cinders glowing in its stove. Good work by the redoubtable Tim Gartland & his band who lay down irresistible intensity without breaking a sweat.
The Canned Heat-density comes through with clarity & stylistically with the classic John Lee Hooker classic “Boogie Chillen.” This is a banquet of sound – old as it is – it once again, sounds renewed.
Produced by Poppa C the 38-minute workout on Big World of Trouble (Dropped February 7– Independent) cooks & smolders throughout & what makes it special is its avoidance of showboating. It stays true to its roots, it’s all about feeling, groove & fleet-fingered performances. There’s a nice attitude to the vocals – it isn’t sung straight but peppered with technique & moxie.
The title track has a dark blues feeling reminiscent of the late guitarist/vocalist John Campbell. The addition of the backup vocals & piano renders this one equally haunting.
This is not so much a heritage act as much as a classic one. These fellows know how to apply their blues narratives with potency without losing the urgency. Each song has something to recommend it. Not as diversified & resourceful as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (“East/West”) but Walk That Walk has weight in their blues. They pack muscle. They’re 12-year-old whiskey. The spark in this music doesn’t come from technique – it comes from the soul.
There are many musicians in this world who have graduated from Julliard & have technique — but they can’t play this music. You can’t learn feeling. You can’t acquire soul. You have to be born with it & what’s miraculous is that each member of this band was born with it & they’re not from Louisiana, Georgia, or Tennessee. Paul Butterfield & John Lee Hooker would agree. I rest my case. This is one of the best blues albums of 2023.
A creepiness sets in with “Mississippi Jukin’” where Tito & Tarantula (Tito Larriva) comes to mind as well as, the bluesier side of The Blasters. This one is bluesy with airy jazzy noir piano & drums. Vocals are mindful of the gritty sound of Mutzie (“The Light of Your Shadow” – 1970). Cool stuff.
Highlights – “Roof Got a Hole,” “Boogie Chillen,” “Big World of Trouble,” “Get Up Get Out,” “Mississippi Jukin’” “You Can’t Stay Here” & “Still a Fool.”
Musicians – The late Dirk van Gulden (electric bass/double bass), Randi Laak (drums), Ted Hastings Armstrong (keys), Tim Gartland (harmonica/vocals), Poppa C DeSnyder (guitar/slide guitar/dobro/vocals) with Ben DeSnyder (baritone sax), James “Stickman” Waldron (harmonica on 2 cuts), Mike Barrows (electric bass on 2 cuts), Bob Sparadeo (percussion), Maria Tollefson & Jonathan Rosoff (backing vocals).
Photo courtesy of Walk That Walk website. CD @ https://walkthatwalk.com/
The Next Waltz – One Night In Texas – Various Artists
Amazing how skillful artists can take old-timey music & arrangements polish them up & turn them back out with a refreshing newly realized showcase. This is one. It’s vintage in tradition but it has the energy of people who are not 80 years old. It’s also a compilation album made up of various artists participating in a tribute to The Red-Headed Stranger. Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday.
Vincent Neil Emerson (“Bloody Mary Morning”) kicks off the proceedings followed by the sweet country voice of Margo Price (“Shotgun Willie”). The 14-track LP features a variety of artists from all genres – including Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Robison & Ray Wylie Hubbard – but the sad part of growing old is that your cohorts, equal legends & friends like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings & Roger Miller aren’t here to celebrate as well.
Nelson started his career in 1956 when Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee & Carl Perkins were also getting ready to launch their careers. Only Nelson remains standing (he & New York singer Dion DiMucci). But Nelson has seen & done many things throughout his career. In the beginning, he was a conformist — wore a suit & tie, but he wasn’t getting anywhere fast. Until he grew a beard, wore a bandana & started to sing songs that were a little more compelling than country music was accustomed to.
Ray Wylie Hubbard ran a tape of the gathering & captured the 14 live performances that are on One Night In Texas (Dropped April 28–Motel Time Music) where he insisted that the house band not rehearse. It was the soundtrack to living in Texas – the musicians had played these songs thousands of times. It had to be loose. Margo Price said Willie pushed the boundaries of Country & that’s probably what they wanted to achieve on this night.
It’s a respectable document of country music by country artists of several generations & it touches on one of its fatherly heroes. For listeners & admirers of Willie Nelson, this will be poignant. For others, it’s a selective taste. All the performances are worthy of a tribute, but contemporary country audiences may not reach this far back or get nostalgic. Their loss. You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. Simple as that.
I’m not a country music fan but I raise my glass of Old Crow to Mr. Nelson. One of the last men standing – along with Dion DiMucci (83) & Kris Kristofferson (86).
Highlights – “I Gotta Get Drunk,” (Shinyribs), “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain,” & “Crazy,” (Nathaniel Ratliff), “Pancho and Lefty,” (Steve Earle), “Last Thing I Needed First Thing In the Morning,” & “(How Will I Know) I’m Falling In Love Again,” (Bruce Robison) & “Whiskey River,” (Ray Wylie Hubbard).
Musicians – Bruce Robison (vocals/guitar/producer), Jamie Lin Wilson & Kelly Mickwee (bgv), Emily Gimble (piano), Trevor Nealon (keyboards), Geoff Queen (pedal steel guitar), Conrad Choucroun (drums), Scott Davis (guitar) & John Michael Schorpf (bass).
The 45-minute CD @ https://www.thenextwaltz.com/
Vance Gilbert – The Mother of Trouble
Strictly a polished singer-songwriter with varied approaches to his showcase Vance see-saws between upbeat creative tunes “The Mother of Trouble,” to typical balladry that admirers of Kenny Rankin, Dan Friedman & Steve Goodman would appreciate as exemplified by songs like “One or Two of These Things.”
Gilbert’s vocals appeal though he breaks no new ground. He doesn’t have to. If he sings children’s songs he will be listened to & if he does some heavy poignant material adults will perk up. It’s one thing to sing a song but to understand it – that takes a deeper step. Vance Gilbert makes listening fun & because many of his songs always have a twist of humor he’s convincing. “Body In the Well,” is performed like a children’s song but the subject is not for children. That’s where the humor lies. The contrast – something seemingly innocent yet, pointed. This is where Vance unleashes his Arlo Guthrie vinegar but it’s all tongue in cheek.
The guitar work is superb & the handclaps make the song even more tantalizing in a Harry Chapin-Jim Croce way. It’s found on The Mother of Trouble (Drops May 5-Independent) — Mr. Gilbert’s 14th release that he produced with Sam Margolis. He must be doing something right.
Vance steps into 40s style vocal ala Cab Calloway-Leon Redbone with “Bad For Me,” that’s tightly constructed. This one’s another “children’s song” for adults. Wonderful band work & charts.
“Hand Back the Keys,” is humorous but serious as well. Clever wordplay lyrics & another good arrangement with borderline Tom Waits structure & tragedy. Vance does it all beautifully & the atmosphere of the melody as it’s played is sauteed over a low flame. Then the jazzier slow & beautiful “A Room Somewhere,” comes across & it’s one of the delights of the CD.
Philadelphia-born Vance Gilbert isn’t just a singer-songwriter since you can hear from the recorded works that his songs are constructed to entertain when performed live. With “Simple Things,” & the articulate “Black Rochelle,” Vance must have been blessed by the late John Prine. The spirit is here. Two stunning ballads with assistance from singer Lori McKenna. These have Wow factors.
“Honeysuckle Fences,” has an Eric Andersen feel & Mr. Vance sings this one with a little Euro-flavor in its melody. Quite beautiful. However, “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” is a misstep. Just doesn’t suit the high octane of the other songs. It bogs down the momentum the album had. Skip it. Too many other great songs on this CD.
Highlights – “The Mother of Trouble,” “One or Two of These Things,” “Body In the Well,” “Bad For Me,” “Hand Back the Keys,” “Simple Things,” “A Room Somewhere,” “Black Rochelle” & “Honeysuckle Fences.”
Musicians – Joey Landreth (guitar – not related to Sonny), Joe K. Walsh (mandolin) & Vance (acoustic guitar/vocals), Marco Giovino (drums), Craig Akin (bass), Dennis Montgomery III (organ), Wynter Pingel (violin), Joey Dalton & Amy Malkoff (vocals), Fernando Michelin (piano) & Herb Gardner (trombone).
Color photo courtesy of Vance’s FaceBook & portrait with red hat by Rob Mattson. The 12-track CD @ https://vancegilbert.com/
Kip Loui – Cold Out There
A peculiar song subject opens with a rocking beat on “ADHD” — a common neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood. But Kip (acoustic guitar/lead & harmony vocals) keeps it serious & melodic. Not making light of the issue but shedding brighter light on it. If artists can sing about alcoholics & drug addiction they should sing about these other issues. The music is countrified pop that leans more generously towards country than pop & that’s what keeps it all authentic. It isn’t outlaw, it isn’t corny & it is indeed entertaining throughout.
The 12-song, 36-minute set was recorded by bassist David Torretta (Chuck Berry) for Cold Out There (Dropped April 3–Kaplooey Music) which chugs along with rhythmic urgency & tidy melodies with some of Pittsburg rocker Donnie Iris-type rock inflections (& Kip even has Donnie Iris’ black rim glasses).
The music’s rooted in 50s rockabilly somewhat without the theatricality touch. Sifted through a colander that separates novelty silliness from a crucial thread with humor. The vocals are superb, the guitar is retro in the interplay but every inch of the way it’s persuasive. “Cold Out There,” is sensitive, elaborate & reflective.
“Only Child,” is a beauty. It has an Everly Brothers charge & the melody will wreak havoc in your ears. You’ll hum this all day. I love the military drum dynamic surrounded by a platoon of chiming guitars. Cool. While “Endure,” & “Missoula,“ have a more guitar tinge of the late 70s-early 80s inception of The Searchers.
More serious is “Douglas County,” a warm ballad with engaging guitars & Kevin Buckley fiddle work. Loui’s vocals are country-warm & sincere. Nothing new, but what’s here is done with confidence & it’s satisfying.
Highlights: “Missoula,” “I Don’t Drink It For the Taste,” “Cold Out There,” “Only Child,” “Douglas County,” the Bottle Rockets’ “Get Down River,” “Send Me Home” & “Endure.”
Musicians – The Del Lords’ Eric Amble (electric lead guitar 3 tracks), The Bottle Rockets’ Brian Henneman (electric guitar – 4 cuts), BR’s John Horton (electric lead guitar – 2 cuts), Son Volt’s Mark Spencer (electric lead guitar/acoustic & steel guitars/keyboards/harmony vocals), Jon Ferber (electric lead guitar & acoustic lead guitar), BR’s Mark Ortmann (drums/percussion), Joe Meyer (drums/percussion), JJ Loui & Jesse Irwin (harmony vocals), Carl Pandolfi (piano) & Brad Sarno (pedal steel guitar).
Portrait image courtesy of Kip’s Facebook. Recorded in St. Louis, Missouri. CD @ Bandcamp
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites. No photography will appear without a photographer’s credit or owning source.
Harry Belafonte @ 96 – The New York-born Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr., whose career spanned 6 decades was one of the best-known Caribbean-American pop singers who also popularized Jamaican folk music & calypso. His career began as early as 1949 but by 1955 Belafonte was making inroads on the charts on RCA Victor Records with tunes like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” – made even more famous with its appearance in the 1988 film “Beetlejuice.” “Jamaica Farewell,” “Jump In the Line (Shake, Senora)” & “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” followed. Belafonte sang in various musical genres & also made several appearances in film & television. He was a Grammy Award winner, an activist, an actor & UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador & was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. Harry passed away Tuesday, April 25th from congestive heart failure at his home in NYC.
Color image courtesy of Charley Gallay/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards file.
Ahmad Jamal @ 92 – Born Frederick Russell Jones he was a pioneering pianist, composer & bandleader who redefined jazz piano & influenced musicians such as Miles Davis. He was born in Pittsburg in 1930 & passed away from prostate cancer in his Massachusetts home on April 16, 2023. He began recording in 1951 for Epic Records & his last issue was “Ballades,” in 2019 — piano solo work on the Jazz Village label. A compilation of his work was released in 2022 on Jazz Detective called “Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-4. He appeared as a sideman on Shirley Horn’s album “May the Music Never End,” in 2003.
B&W image courtesy of Harcourt Paris – Photos.
April Stevens @ 93 – Caroline Vincinette LoTemio (April 29, 1929-April 17, 2023) died Sunday, April 17. She was part of a sibling duo with her younger brother & became Nino Tempo & April Stevens. Their big Atco Records hit was the 1963 million-selling #1 Grammy Award-winning “Deep Purple.” The song featured guitarist Glen Campbell. Other minor hits followed including “All Strung Out.” The cause of death was not listed.
B&W image courtesy of Wiki Commons/KRLA Beat.
Keith Gattis @ 52 – died Sunday, April 23rd — was a Texas-born country singer-songwriter/producer who wrote hits for other artists like Kenny Chesney, George Jones, Willie Nelson & George Strait. The cause of death was not reported.
B&W image courtesy of Christopher Durst.
Grooves & Cuts April 2023