Grooves & Cuts May 2023
Connie Converse – A Pioneering Early 50s Female Singer-Songwriter Who Disappeared in 1974
Unlike many of the singer-songwriters & folk artists who emerged from New York City this young lady Connie Converse was recording crudely, writing her own vulnerable, haunting, poetic trailblazing solemn songs & performing them as early as 1954.
Born in New Hampshire in 1924 as Elizabeth Eaton Converse & raised in a strict Baptist family she made her way to NYC to become active in its Greenwich Village early 50s folk scene long before there was a popularity for solo singer-songwriters.
Woody Guthrie wrote his own songs & Pete Seeger did some, but the popularity of the genre was not inherent or heavy during this period, especially for a woman. John Fahey wrote instrumentals & Odetta sang ballads, folk songs & traditional material. The eccentric Moondog wrote songs of his own, but he was too strange & out there to be commercial or mainstream as a recording artist. There were singers that touched upon originals, but their repertoire was primarily traditional – Elizabeth Cotton & Josh White. But the folk boom as recollected — actually came in the late 50s (The Kingston Trio, Theodore Bikel, Burl Ives, Hamilton Camp, Harry Belafonte, Leadbelly, the Weavers & John Jacob Niles).
Connie’s material was obscure, primitive in recording technique but not so primitive in songwriting quality. Her popularity became more evident posthumously once her music was performed on a 2004 radio program. By 2009 a compilation of her work originally recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a kitchen was released independently as “How Sad, How Lonely.”
Connie worked in the city at a printing company in the Flatiron District & lived in Greenwich Village, Hell’s Kitchen & Harlem. She started to write her own songs on an acoustic guitar (lyrics, music & performing them in coffee houses) & was a bit rebellious. Her family didn’t approve of smoking & drinking – something Connie picked up during her more Bohemian early downtown days.
Connie’s only appearance in public was on the CBS Morning Show with Walter Cronkite in 1954. Bob Dylan didn’t appear in NYC until 1961 so Connie was already there nearly 10 years before the folk-singer bard. However, Connie grew frustrated with the entertainment routine of the era. So, in 1961 she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Despite being a singer-songwriter Connie was a private person so there is no information about whether she ever had a boyfriend, married, or was involved in any relationship. Reports say that by 1973 several factors contributed to Connie’s possible depressive state (or just confusion).
In August 1974 a few days prior to her 50th birthday & possibly going on a vacation with her family — she wrote letters to everyone to suggest that her intention was to start a new life elsewhere. There was nothing desperate in her tone. She was quoted saying “Let me go, let me be if I can. Let me not be if I can’t. Human society fascinates me & awes me & fills me with grief & joy. I just can’t find my place to plug into it.”
Even the titles of her many songs were fairly modernistic for the early 50s – “Father Neptune,” “Roving Woman,” “How Sad, How Lovely,” “Down This Road,” “Empty Pocket Waltz,” & “Unknown (A Little Louder Love).” Titles that suggest what would eventually come from songs by Judee Sill, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez & even Melanie Safka a decade or more later.
Connie Converse went voluntarily taking her music with her & disappeared in 1974. She got into her Volkswagen Beetle & left her home in search of a new life & was never seen or heard from again. There was no indication that she was struggling with schizophrenia, or any other serious mental issues, suffered from alcoholism, or was running from any problems. She simply wanted to be free of the life she led.
There are documentaries, videos & books about Connie if a reader is interested in additional material.
All color images courtesy of Elizabeth Converse/The Estate of Elizabeth Converse/Squirrel Thing Recordings.
B&W image courtesy of Phil Converse/Squirrel Thing Recordings.
Boris Garcia – It’s Time For Tea
Philadelphia-based Americana acoustic/bluegrass/jam band produced by Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone (fiddle/hand percussion) the 10-cut It’s Time For Tea (Dropped May 17–Porchwerk Music) was recorded in studios at the Delaware Water Gap in PA.
There is no one member of this band called Boris Garcia – it’s a 5-man operation with dreamy backup on a strong pop song “Tea Time” decorated with mandolin & friendly vocals. Could even approach a modernized Grateful Dead tradition. Vocalist Jeff Otto is not a strong vocalist, but he has an attractive whiskery tone that is sincere & has little old English touches similar to Stackridge & at times, late-career Beatles.
There are suggestions of influence that will more or less remind one who has dug deep in rock & its country affiliations to lump Boris Garcia into the respectful pile of wonderful attempts made by Seatrain, Goose Creek Symphony, The Flock Ozark Mountain Daredevils & early James Gang. What’s interesting about this band is they don’t sound like they’re performing to entertain but to rustle up.
Songs like “Love Me Only,” is chilling & “It’s Time,” has the tonality & lyrical magic of a young Steve Forbert. They avoid the country corn & apply ingredients to make it flavorful. “Just Run Away,” strides in on a Jerry Jeff walker cum Charlie Gearheart (Goose Creek) vocal tone that is admirable.
Using the idea of a Spanish woman’s dialogue over the song as Eric Burdon & War did with “Spill the Wine,” the upbeat story song “She Said To Me,” is done well, creatively & suggestively catchy.
Among the members this time around: English-born Dave Mattacks (drums/percussion/piano) – famous for work with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, XTC, Nick Drake, John Martyn, former Procol Harum members Matthew Fisher & Gary Brooker, Joan Armatrading, Cat Stevens (Yusuf), Paul McCartney, Elton John, Chris Rea, Richard Thompson & Sandy Denny.
Highlights – “Tea Time,” “the excellent “Go Long,” “Wasted,” “Breathe,” “Love Me Only,” “It’s Time” & “She Said To Me.”
Musicians – Bon Stirner (vocals/guitar), E. J. Simpson (bass), Jeff Otto (vocals/ukulele), Bud Burroughs (mandolin/keys/piano/harp/banjo/guitar/marxophone/vocals) with guests, Graham Ford & Joanne Lediger (backing vocals), Bill Patton & Mike Robinson (pedal steel guitars).
Color photo courtesy of Gratefulweb & Dennis McNally. The 42-minute CD @ https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063762322277
Meris Gantt – Forced Revival – EP
Coming June 2 is North Carolina bluegrass/folk-singer-songwriter Meris Gantt (guitar) who breaks no new ground with her 5 song Forced Revival (Independent) produced by Glenn Deuel (guitar/rhythm guitar) — but Meris is a pleasant vocalist who has contemplative melodies that are well-crafted & entertaining.
Meris’ showcase deals primarily with exploring life’s journeys coupled with longing, regret & some of the silver linings that may lie in between. Personally, she has experienced some of life’s challenges (migraines, alcohol) but that didn’t deter her from writing & expressing her feelings. She feels her music may help others to find the missing piece of the puzzle in their own lives.
None of her songs are lame by any measure – she has a laid-back optimistic approach though she doesn’t slam it home gregariously. It’s serious stuff addressing fairly intense topics. At times Meris will sing in a breathy vocal (borderline Sarah McLachlan) but with a far better folky tone. With “The Reckoning,” Meris unloads with an intense country melody & no-frills lyrics. Intense.
Highlights – “Don’t Let Me Lie,” “The Reckoning,” “We Got Time,” “Fine” & “Closer.”
Musicians – Kim France & Anna Huffman (stand-up bass), Rachiel Musumarra & Trevor McKenzie (fiddle), Anna Huffman & Erin Deuel (bgv), Devin (lead guitar/fiddle/bgv) & Chad Berry (banjo).
Color image courtesy of Enowen. CD @ https://merisgantt.com/
Todd Partridge – Autumn Never Knows
Recorded in Iowa Todd Partridge provides vivid storytelling starting with his opening tune “Postcards From the Sea,” – a travelogue played with lots of atmosphere & a touch of country twang but not so much as to render it corny. Partridge has a good musical instinct – even with his narrating moments, he touches a sincere chord.
The 8-songs produced by Bryan Vanderpool (drums/percussion/guitar/banjo/bgv) on Autumn Never Knows (Dropped March 1–Independent) is made up of bright blue-sky feelings & rusty automotive bodies out in a prairie soaking up the sun. Todd has a rural feel to his voice & his music is filled with honeysuckle, straw & red soil mud. His country is not born from the whiskey stills, crazy mules & skinny-dipping school girls. Todd hoes & rakes the land of the country Grateful Dead, Pure Prairie League, Hot Tuna & early James Gang.
Todd’s voice is unique enough & to be compared to Jimmie Dale Gilmore, but he has the true-spirited allure of John Denver & challenge of Steve Earle. Lots of traditional vitality runs through each song. It’s both front porch late at-night music & wide-open fields with hawks in “Sioux Falls,” – exceptional. The atmosphere, mood & deep dynasty of folk-country.
I thought Mr. Partridge (guitars/vocals) was going to be your dependable, standard, right-off-the-menu artist but he’s not – instead, he shapes a good signature sound for himself that conjures lots of images in a listener’s mind. Descriptive words, creative with every note & not afraid of colorful language, a “symphony of chainsaws,” he sings. Indeed.
Right up to the classy conclusion of “Sorrow,” which is a beauty.
Highlights – “Postcards From the Sea,” “Sioux Falls,” “Wood,” “Junk Train,” “Blessings” & “Sorrow.”
Musicians – Jay Foote (“Fender bass), Kathryn Severing Fox (violin/viola) Chris Hansen (pedal steel), & Sarah Vanderpool (keys/organ/bgv).
Gregory Page – Modern Man
Though this music features the use of synths this time out — the arrangements & performances don’t depict much of a progressive rock spacey type showcase. The folksiness of Gregory Page’s songs is still solid, catchy & “The World’s Gone Mad,” is probably quite appropriate for our times. Page’s voice isn’t heavy-duty baritone or aggressive, but it’s melodic when he applies his friendly-oriented tone to upbeat humorous sparklers like “F The Future.”
The keyboards seem to always pound straight chords like the old rock ‘n roll songs & as simple as that can be it does keep beat with the heart & is always a cool addition. The 40-minute, 12-song Modern Man (Dropped March 17-Independent) was produced by Jason Mraz (synths) & Gregory Page Hovelian.
Some tunes are loaded up with cliches & clever genre-bending but Page’s never-boring skill (vocals/Omnichord) with melody & vocalizing that turn the simple words into catchy phrases as exemplified on “Modern Man,” with its ‘oop-pah-pah’ basics & cheerful narrative. Songs are generally melodic & always anchored in light-hearted silly topics that may also add certain Tom Waits ingredients for flavor. This one has creepy organ chords. Makes it attractive.
There’s significance to many of the playful tunes. I like the effort because it shows a certain ingenuity. From futuristic tales to pieces like “Dinner and a Movie (alone),” is laid out with a romantic sad flavor often used by the near-vaudeville/cabaret rock band Deaf School years ago. Many of their songs were showcased with an old style that effectively still resounds in nostalgic ears.
I still have a copy of Gregory’s earliest album 1994’s The Romantic Adventures of Harry, which was also an interesting set. He’s come a long way with a pleasurable discography but hasn’t lost any of his skills & ability to turn out a compelling melody with fluid lyrics. He remains a provocative diversified artist. His voice mostly resides in the area of John Wesley Harding (Wesley Stace) with a fortifying tone. A gratifying well-written showcase.
Not on this CD — check on YouTube a live performance of Page’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” from 2021 with many of the same musicians on this CD. Quite impressive & a good introduction to the well-rounded top-tier character that is this musician.
Highlights –“The World’s Gone Mad,” “F The Future” “Modern Man,” “Dinner and a Movie,” “A Modern Love Story, “Are You Ready” & the driving bonus cut “Stars Above You.”
Musicians – James East (bass), Enrique Platas (drums/percussion), Josh Weinstein (piano), Chithrinie Nirupama (sitar), Leonard Patton (backing vocals) & Dave Page (percussion on “Fell Into You”).
Color image courtesy of Bonnita. CD @ https://www.gregorypage.com/
Steve Mednick – 1952
Quite an upbeat collection with some moments where the guitars soar & the melodies are free of what’s ordinary. Steve Mednick has well-articulated tunes from the rocking guitar slash of “Version of the Truth” to the tearjerker with angelic soulful background vocals on “It Hurts Me.” All done with finesse.
The songs that are highlighted are filled with many imaginative fills, riffs & solos. It comes across as an exciting showcase because Steve (vocals/guitar/piano/organ) has a folky-rock voice that is warm when it needs to be & enthusiastic when it’s necessary.
The generous 54-minute CD 1952 (Dropped November 2022– Cottage Sound/Hemifran) was produced by Isaac Civitello (drums/percussion/keys/guitar/vocals & lead guitar “Reading The Signs”). The Connecticut artist mixes it up & paces the showcase with expertise. The slow songs are plaintive & “Fulton Hill,” has a suggested Dylan vocal but never to the point where you’d suggest imitation. Many of the songs are constructed carefully & most importantly Steve doesn’t waste anything – the songs are short & never outlast their welcome.
Mednick’s work is written about topics that explore the enigma of the memory, stories one tells & that should not be taken seriously always, after all, many of us say things with a wink of the eye.
We are the sum of our own experiences, the places visited, people we come to know – Mednick does this through these little, short stories from 1952. This LP is probably aimed directly at the heart of baby boomers. I was born in 1952 too. Each song resounded clearly & I understand exactly where Steve is coming from. Younger people will listen & the smarter ones will know that this album will eventually creep up on them until many of the songs will apply to them as well.
Some songs will remind listeners of other writers. “Stars That Shone Like Diamonds,” sounds like a Tim Hardin song but Mednick decorates the song with guitars the way Hardin wouldn’t. Many of Steve’s instrumental breaks in his songs are all arranged with excitement, the Dylan-haunting vocal intonation sneaks in here too but done cleverly (“After All These Years”).
The album is a good journey – listen with headphones, a Jack Daniels, a good cigar & silence. Oh, it won’t scare you…it may enlighten you.
Highlights – “Version of the Truth,” “Lost & Found,” “Secret Message,” “Fulton Hill,” “It Hurts Me,” “Reading the Signs,” “Stars That Shone Like Diamonds,” “After All These Years” & “You Can Never Take Back Time.”
Musicians – Karl Allweier (guitar/bass/vocals/lead guitar), Brett Calabrese (lead guitar on 4 songs/keys) with Ashley Bathgate (cello), Seth Adam, Issac Civitello, Falshyuyy Holos & Eddie Seville (vocals) & Eddie Seville (harmonica).
B&W photo courtesy of Steve’s Facebook. CD @ Amazon + https://www.stevemednick.com/home
Jaime Michaels – How To Shine
I find Jaime Michaels (acoustic guitar) to be a singer-songwriter with the melodic intuition & lyrical instincts of artists like Tim Hardin, Mickey Newberry, Bobby Darin (“Amy”), & Greg Trooper (who Jaime covers with “This I’d Do”). His voice is warm, the showcase tight & the musicians bring their best to this showcase.
There’s poignancy, melancholy, tall tales, short tales, clever lines, wise lines & memorable melodies. “I may not be the wisest one, but I’ll be laughing when I’m done.” Everything is superb. A well-balanced showcase by a skillful artist who can tempt the ears with every melody. Each is carefully constructed with a folky point but drawn with a broad brush.
This 11-cut CD How To Shine (Dropped April 22–Appaloosa Records) was produced by Jono Manson (electric tenor guitar/electric guitar/vocals) & recorded in NM, TX, NY & 3 Italian locations! This set includes a beautiful colorful 20pp lyrical insert. An impressive package.
Michaels is consistent with his songcraft. Maybe at times optimistic? Maybe, but maybe that’s what music needs.
Many of the songs are pure Americana (“In My Home”) but nothing reads like it couldn’t be understood by anyone, anywhere, no matter their culture or heritage. “You might think you know me; you might think you do, maybe you just recognize, the part of me that is you.” Heavy.
Finally, “The Fisherman,” had 5 writers but one is Genoa’s Gian Piero Reverberi — an incredible musician out of Italy who has worked with top-tier Italian artists & issued several albums in the mid-70s of his own that were even played on NYC’s progressive rock radio WNEW-FM. This gives Michaels a little Euro-flavor & it’s done well.
Highlights – “How To Shine,” Angelus,” “Beauty Doesn’t Need Forever,” “In My Home,” “Midnight Bus Station,” “Want What You Get,” “This I’d Do” & “The Fisherman.” Musicians – Andrew Hardin (2nd guitar), Dirje Childs (cello), Char Rothschild (accordion), Jeff Scroggins (banjo), Ronnie Johnson (bass), Paul Pearcy (drums), Mark Clark (congas/percussion), Jon Graboff (6 & 12 string electric guitar/pedal steel guitar/electric guitar/6-string bass + mandolin), Jason Crosby (Hammond organ/piano/electric piano/violin), Paolo Ercoli (dobro), Claudia Buzzetti, Andrea Parodi, Ksenia & Vladi Vasylenko (vocals), Craig Dryer (tenor & baritone sax), Barry Danielian (trumpet) & Clark Gayton (trombone).
Color image courtesy of Jaime’s website. The 38-minute CD @ https://www.jaimemichaels.com/home
Gert Taberner – As Good As You Thought We Might Be – EP
This 5-cut EP comes with a light touch of David Gray style songwriting & vocalizing. Interesting opening tune “Rhythms,” with spare instrumentation yet a good sad melody.
Mr. Taberner grew up in Germany & has a method that’s rooted in noir-dark balladry as depicted in “Life,” but the gentle acoustic guitar keeps the song’s sensibility at the surface. Gert’s voice is just a naturally sad tone but it’s not weak or sympathetic. It displays a subtle strength in its performance. As if he knows he will find a way to fix whatever’s broken.
I think the only issue I have with Gert’s 5-song EP As Good As You Thought We Might Be (Dropped March 10-Independent) is that he displays intense ideas but settles for one-word titles that don’t suggest any intensity to the music. A whole LP someday would just be a downer. He should work on more creative song titles & kick the can a little harder.
Gert should also mix it up a little more. Even Nick Drake had some songs that had uplifting melodies like “Northern Sky.” As I’m listening Gert does put his foot down on the accelerator with “Hannah,” which is a nice ballad with chiming guitars. I’m just saying he shouldn’t always stay in the same gear. His voice is melancholy but it’s not a crutch. He has entertaining value; he just needs more variety.
Highlights – “Rhythms,” “Life” & “Hannah.”
Color image courtesy of Gert’s Facebook. CD @ https://nettwerk.com/artist/gert-taberner/
Stephen Jacques – Groove Atlantic-O
Richmond, Virginia native Stephen Jacques has on tap a fairly average set of pop-song confections that are at least catchy & well-written but not breaking any new ground or being compelling.
I don’t know who the audience is for songs like “Where’d My Surfers Go?” if you live in New York City Detroit, Tucson, or Chicago. “Weird Iceland Hotel Dinner,” also – what’s the point, the message? Unless – it’s all intended to be dry humor.
What’s peculiar is that Jacques writes in a pleasant enough manner. He creates melodies that have lovely arrangements that are light-hearted. There are no deep-meaning swipes, nothing controversial, aggressive, or political. Songs don’t always have to be like that anyway.
The 31-minute, 10-cut Groove Atlantic-O (Dropped March 27-Independent) was produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana/Pixies/PJ Harvey) & is fairly innocent music that leans more into English-humored singers of the 60s like Peter Starstedt (“Frozen Orange Juice”), Lonnie Donegan (“Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor”) or even Jimmy Buffett. They aren’t exactly novelty songs since Stephen doesn’t seem to step over that line. Just humor-laden tongue-in-cheek entertainment. The highlighted songs are more serious, expressive & well-composed & performed than the earlier ones. You could place Stephen in a respected category that was once occupied by the likes of Hamilton Camp, Roger Miller, or Ray Stevens – humorous but not comic.
Highlights – “Syracuse Lawn Chair,” “Slept On a Ridge,” “He Got Religion,” Queen Bee Gone” & “Dining With Horses.”
Musicians – Stephen Jacques (lyricist/guitarist/vocalist), Jason Narducy (guitar/bass), Chris Siebold (lap steel/electric & Spanish acoustic guitar), Vijay Tellis-Nayak (piano/keys) & Gerald Dowd (drums).
Color image & song samples courtesy of Stephen’s Bandcamp.
Mostly Trees – Moon Dogs
A laid-back form of ethereal alternative rock out of Nashville, TN. The more than a decade-old Minnesota band has equal parts of light grunge with a smatter of psychedelia. The quartet does provide interesting instrumental interludes throughout their set. Nothing overpowering or over-indulgent.
Songs on their self-titled 9-track Moon Dogs (Dropped April 21–Chase Bliss Records) are somewhat in a vulnerable mode – with their dream pop approach. They’ve been regarded as a guitar-driven rock unit but hardly in an Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck tradition. Their approach on “Never Break,” is closer to the subdued style of the Scottish band The Blue Nile.
The showcase is well-recorded by producers Daniel Tashian & Craig Alvin. It’s for younger, selective tastes but the musicians are indeed creative & that keeps the curiosity level high. John Nelson’s drums lay down some cool fills & he never intrudes.
Many songs that do venture into the psychedelia border on the style of its early progenitors – the Electric Prunes (“I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night”), Strawberry Alarm Clock (“Incense & Peppermints”) & Texas psychedelic band Fever Tree (“Death Is the Dancer”) & not say, Jimi Hendrix or Robin Trower.
Mostly Trees do their “thing” well though valium-induced ballads like “Lemonade,” slow their momentum down. The good guitars are early on & they do satisfy, even nostalgically older listeners.
Highlights – “Fears,” “Never Break,” “Electric Sheep,” “Sandstone,” “Sun Dog,” “If You Knew” & “I Don’t Care.”
Musicians – Joel Korte (lead guitar), Dan Crowe (rhythm guitar), John Nelson (guitar) & Jon Po (bass/vocals).
Color image courtesy of their Facebook. The 30-minute CD @ Bandcamp & https://www.facebook.com/mostlytrees/
Willie West – The Soul Sessions
Mindful of the vintage soul music that originated in Muscle Shoals in the 60s this set includes covers that range from Sam Cooke to George Gershwin to Curtis Mayfield to Johnny Mercer. Quite an impressive conglomeration.
Tunes have a fuel-injected Bar-Kays (“Soul Finger”) pinch. Some are fairly standard while others like (“Somebody Have Mercy”) tells a compelling story paralleled by superb playing. On “Said To Myself,” the wah-wah guitar is refreshing to nostalgically hear it again. With horns & thrilling, pulsating drum fills.
81-year-old New Orleans R&B singer Willie West (now out of Minnesota) had been singing for several decades. He fronted both The Sharks & later The Meters. The 12-track CD Soul Sessions (Dropped April 21–New Folk Records) was produced originally as LaFourche Crossing (original cover art below) by John Wright it began in 2008 when Willie approached the producers about the possibility of recording some of his favorite & personal songs. They agreed & started to gather talent & that talent even brought some fiery guitar & tight charts.
The set is a fine example of what pure soul music once was & still is when in the hands of an experienced master. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Percy Sledge, Levi Stubbs, Curtis Mayfield & David Ruffin – are all gone. But Willie’s here to remind us with 12 diversified slices of sweet soul music clocking in at a glorious 50 minutes.
Highlights – “I Got the Blues,” “Somebody Have Mercy,” “Summertime,” “Got To Cut You Loose,” “People Get Ready,” “Dust My Broom” & “That’s Where It’s At.”
Musicians – YaDonna West (guest vocals on “People Get Ready”), Scotty Miller (keys), Dan Neale & Jimi Smith (guitars), John Wright (bass), Toby Marshall (Hammond), Donald Hyepockets Robinson (drums), Thad Simmonds (sax), Jeff carver (trumpet) & Matthew Probst (electric cello).
B&W image courtesy of Willie’s website. CD @ Collector’s Choice Music & https://newfolk-records.com/shop/ols/products/willie-west-the-soul-sessions & https://williewestofficial.com/
Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years – Volume 1
This is quite an endeavor, a 79-minute CD that covers 6 albums by Dwight Twilley & though his music was never a favorite of mine in the new wave/punk era of the 70s – the pub music attraction of it all does sparkle. It fits in with the Brinsley Schwartz melodies, Nick Lowe, Ian Gomm, Rockpile & The Rumor. They all possessed that sweet edgy melodic sugar mixed with alcohol fizz.
It’s fun music. Dwight (acoustic guitar/guitar/vocals/keyboards/piano/harmonica/percussion) knew what he was doing on each of the tunes found on the Jan & Dwight Twilley produced The Tulsa Years – Volume 1 (Dropped April 21–Paramour/Big Oak Records).
If you’re cooking over a hot stove you’ll be conducting the air over the steamy macaroni pots when Twilley starts to rock. This isn’t The Archie’s, Banana Splits, or Monte Rock III. This is good bar room jukebox sticky candy rack ‘em up on the pool table songs.
Don’t expect an Elvis Costello grimace, Dire Strait’s perfection, the dual guitars of Tom Verlaine & Robert Lloyd with Television, or Iggy Pop’s craziness. Twilley had expertise with the power pop melody — only he was able to twist it around like Gumby & add some stinky face to The Searchers cum The Shoes cocktail. As exemplified in “It’s Hard To Be a Rebel.”
Of course, Dwight may stumble into Bon Jovi territory, it happens – “Reach For the Sky,” isn’t bad, but Twilley’s rock cred is wider than that perimeter. After all, Twilley shared the same “legendary status” in his quarter as Alex Chilton, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers. Some LPs are meat & potatoes while others are Krispy Kreme donuts with shots of Jack Daniels. That’s Twilley.
When Dwight sang “Get Up,” he was frying hot like the late Michael Stanley (Band). Quite exceptional. Even at my advanced age of 125, I appreciate the occasional delicate rock n’ roll suggestibility of — I wanna play “Doctor” with you. Playful. Where’s my stethoscope & black bag? This music is low-fat, consume as much as you wish & reminisce.
Highlights – “Could Be Love,” “Runnin,’” “It’s Hard To Be a Rebel,” “Better Watch Out,” “Beauty Dirt,” “Oh, Carrie,” “No Place Like Home,” “47 Moons,” “Let Her Dance,” “Speed of Light,” “Me & Melanie,” “Get Up” & “Doctor.”
Musicians – Bill Pitcock IV & Pat Savage (acoustic guitars/lead guitars/solo guitar), Jan Allison (bgv), Darrell Clingman, David White & Jim Ziegler (bass guitars), Chandra Kovach (cello), Bill Padgett & Jerry Naifah (drums/percussion/tambourine), Pat Savage, Terry Cooper & Tom Hanford (guitars), Bingo Sloan (choir guitar/solo guitar), Larry Bell (organ) & Rob Armstrong (percussion).
CD @ Amazon + https://www.dwighttwilley.com/
Bumpin’ Uglies – Live at Sugarshack Sessions – Vol. 2 – EP
This 6-cut EP is Annapolis, Maryland’s Bumpin’ Uglies 8th release. A live acoustic set released as Live at Sugarshack Sessions – Vol. 2 (Dropped April 21-Sugarshack/Ineffable Records) in Bonita Springs, FL.
Some colorful language distinguishes this set as some horn-oriented tunes have a lite-rap approach that’s effectively attractive with the instrumental expertise of the band. Playfully “Wild Girls,” is funky & the added rap-vocalization works well.
The more reggae-styled & cleverly conceived “Serving,” has a savvy delivery with punctuated horns & tight percussion. Nice sax solo & good sound overall for a live performance.
The band draws liberally from folk, classic country to hip-hop & they’re polished throughout. They understand the value of a good groove, a tight vibe & melody. The versatility comes through when the band performs songs like “Cover Me Up,” featuring a violin by Liz McBryde that takes the band down a different lane. It gives the melody an emotional heft & Hardesty’s vocals go for the bell at the top of the high striker.
As a unit, they play impressively tight on any genre they choose to perform. I’m partial to the more horn-oriented tunes that are surprisingly often done with a tinge of soul though Brandon’s vocals aren’t of that tone. He at least has the fine instincts of a fluid consistent performance that’s convincing.
Highlights – “Wild Girls,” “Serving,” “Cover Me Up,” “Make It Through the Day” & “Lie To Me.”
Musicians – Brandon Hardesty (vocals/guitar), Dave Wolf (vocals/bass), TJ Haslett (drums), Ethan Lichtenberger (keys/horns), Will Lopez (tenor sax/guitar), Nick Reider (trumpet), Ben Bays (conga/percussion), Joey Harkum (add’l vocals) & Liz McBryde (violin on “Cover Me Up”).
Color image courtesy of the band’s Facebook. CD @ https://www.bumpinugliesmusic.com/
Bayonne – Temporary Time
This is Austin, Texas’s Bayonne’s 3rd studio LP & while not entirely musically Americana-oriented it’s what he focuses on & what’s the music’s driven by that is interesting – his father’s recent death, his loops of childhood audio to capture an earlier time, a happier time.
But traditionalists will not find this to their liking since it’s deep into a techno-electronica well. The showcase of music, vocals & compositions is well done but its exuberance will be lost on a genre more accustomed to acoustic instruments & more accessible melodies.
Bayonne is not a band per se as much as a soloist. Temporary Time (Drops May 26-Independent) is for more eccentric tastes. “Right Thing,” & “Come Down,” has some interesting sonics laid out along with the nearly 18-minute presentation. “Words,” is more accessible but the dreamy state of the music is far from what roots listeners would expect. Most of the music is more synth-based than a legit electric guitar, piano, or bass & all the songs have fine singing if you don’t mind treated vocals.
This, like artist Ben Noble, is in a category similar to NYC’s Richard Termini. However, Termini has a more fine-tuned sense of melody as applied to his electronic excursions. It allowed him to have an income composing for commercial endeavors (radio, TV, advertising). For those who enjoy this kind of musical panorama, it’s done well.
It’s at least charged with everything needed to appreciate the intricacies of the varied soundscapes.
Color image courtesy of Eric Morales. CD @ & https://www.bayonnemusic.com/
Ben Noble – Bitter Work
A peculiar piece from Minneapolis-based artist Ben Noble. The music is heavily laced with sonic textures than the more traditional Americana route of acoustic instruments. Dream state vocals dominate. It’s not wholly roots music in nature & the CD doesn’t feature many roots-oriented instruments.
I gave this a spin since some songs were interesting. Noble isn’t a powerful singer but does have a certainly plausible circuitry to the manner in which he applies his oral transmission. Lots of vocals border on falsetto rather than the full throat. The arrangements are exploratory but impressively rhythmic. The tunes surge in clusters when there’s a discernable melody yet it’s decorated in a morass of electronics & effects.
“The Lowly Ones,” has drama. Hard to tell what Noble sings. The words are filtered & are more shaped for atmospherics than lyrical emphasis. Ben produced this 9-track, 39-minute set Bitter Work (Drops May 26–Independent). His 3rd LP isn’t aimed at traditionalists. May not be their cup of tea. While this isn’t in the category of say Depeche Mode the presentation is more intense with “Gamora,” & has an expressive latter-career New Order to it.
The music identifies with buttery rhythms & techno shadings similar to work created in the 80s by New York City artist Richard Termini (“Dangerous Games”) who’s a bit more melodic & commercial.
There are a few political/historical statements (some accurate some not). But it’s not showcased in any prevalent manner like folk songs of the 60s (Vietnam War, Civil Rights, or women’s rights). It’s a bit blurred in the electronic voicings as if it’s AI’s opinion based on input.
Despite the fullness the instrumentation is spare & the performances at times gain their momentum by being fairly scattered (it sounds intentional to make a statement). There are good ideas that sprout from Ben, but they don’t blossom fully. “Deafening Light,” has a good staticky drive.
On “Regrow,” Ben sings interesting words but because of vocal over-treating a bit hard to decipher what’s trying to be conveyed. However, this was cool noodling in a Brian Eno fashion & the synth emulated lightly Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics. Surprisingly though, it’s Noble’s most grand track.
“Bitter Work,” itself is a well-sung, lovely & ethereal piece. Ben’s finest vocal. The effects don’t distract & the musical painting is more Dali than Jackson Pollack.
Highlights – “When the Mountains Fall,” “The Lowly Ones,” “Gamora,” “Deafening Light,” “Regrow” & “Bitter Work.”
Musicians – Ben Noble (vocals/guitar/piano), Reese Kling & JT Bates (drums) & Charles Bartels (various instruments).
Color image from Ben Noble’s Bandcamp. CD @ Bandcamp & https://www.bennoblemusic.com/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites. No photography will appear without a photographer’s credit or owning source.
Tina Turner @ 83 – passed away in Switzerland from a long illness on May 24 (1939-2023). She was a bonafide soul/R&B artist with a raw voice with her husband Ike Turner’s Revue that began in 1960 with the hit “A Fool In Love.” Other hits followed (“River Deep, Mountain High,” in 1966 & “Proud Mary” in 1970). In 1969 the revue opened for The Rolling Stones. But her widest superstardom developed in the early 80s when her solo career was filled with inspired hits & albums & energetic performances. A Grammy Award-winning LP Private Dancer, (Capitol Records) in 1984 was a rebirth. She went from soul singer to magnificent rock singer & then actress in “Tommy,” (The Acid Queen) & “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” Technically, she retired in 2000 but made sporadic appearances. Over her career, she sold more than 100 million records. Simply the best ‘cause that’s what legends are made of.
Color image courtesy of Denize Alaine/Sygma
Gordon Lightfoot @ 84 – passed away on May 1st in Toronto, Canada. Singer-songwriter Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. over a career recorded 20 folk albums beginning in 1958 that netted many familiar classics: “If You Could Read My Mind,” in 1970, “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” “Dream Street Rose” & “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Bob Dylan admired him & many major singers recorded his songs including Elvis Presley (“Early Morning Rain”), Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Anne Murray & others. Lightfoot passed away in a hospital & had been in ill health for several years.
B&W photo courtesy of Everett Collection.
Tim Bachman @ 71 – passed away on April 28 from complications of cancer. Another Canadian artist, guitarist, vocalist & one of the founders of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. A band that sold over 30 million albums. The band consisted of his two brothers Randy & Robbie Bachman with Fred Turner (bass/vocals). Tim left BTO in 1974 & rejoined in 1984 for a reunion album & tour.
Sepia colored photo courtesy of his son Ryder Bachman.
Pete Brown @ 82 – passed away May 19 – lyricist. Ironically, Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) passed away Feb. 2022, followed a year later by career-long lyricist Keith Reid. Now Procol Harum’s final LP “Novum” lyricist Pete Brown. Brown was also known for his words associated with the supergroup trio Cream. In the 60s he wrote words with Eric Clapton & Jack Bruce for their classic “Sunshine of Your Love,” & with Jack alone — “I Feel Free,” “White Room,” & “SWLABR” among others.
Color image courtesy of Pete’s Facebook.
Rolf Harris @ 93 – (1930-2023) –Australian novelty singer/singer-songwriter/TV personality & painter who scored a 1962 hit on Epic Records with “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport,” (using a piece of flat cardboard to wobble to great instrumental effect) in the 60s. He could also play the didgeridoo. A second minor hit came in 1964 with the rambunctious “Ringo For President.” He had other hit songs in Australia & England, but they didn’t score in the States. His career started in England in 1952. His career abruptly ended in 2014 when he was convicted of sexual assault (12 attacks on 4 girls) & became a disgraced entertainer. He had an OBE, MBE, CBE & BAFTA fellowship honors from England but was stripped of those honors following his conviction. Harris passed away from cancer.
Color image of Rolf Harris courtesy of the BBC.
Chris Strachwitz @ 91 – Ethnomusicologist passed away in CA on May 5th – he dug up & discovered Americana-Roots Music & belonged to a respected club of such hard researchers as the Lomax Brothers who set out to record unknown blues & folk artists of the 30s & 40s & music compiler Harry Smith (Folkways Records). The Polish-born Chris did the same for Arhoolie Records (He founded & established in 1960). Traveled all over America to discover & preserve the work of little-known blues, Cajun, folk, roots, Americana & Mexican singers, musicians & songwriters. He was inducted as a non-performer in the Blues Hall of Fame & in 2016 received a Grammy Trustees Award for his contributions.
Color image courtesy of Tom Pich/National Endowment for the Arts.
Sean Keane @ 76 – on May 7th — Irish fiddler for The Chieftains – a legendary Irish traditional music band. Sean was born in Dublin & became the band’s first lead fiddle player as far back as 1968. His last live performance was for President Biden when the American President visited Ireland. Keane also recorded several solo albums.
Image courtesy Julien Behal/Copyright – PA Wire/PA Photos
Linda Lewis @ 72 – (1950-2023) was a British singer born Linda Ann Fredericks. She was inspired by Motown & had a string of British hits. She also was a session backup singer who worked on albums by Cat Stevens (Yusuf), Rod Stewart, Joan Armatrading & the late David Bowie. Her career spanned 4 decades & she allegedly possessed a 5-octave range. She had a 70s solo career & hit in the U.S. on Warner Bros with “Rock-a-Doodle-Do.” She was in a 1961 British film “A Taste of Honey,” & a “screaming fan” in a crowd scene in The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” Her backing vocals graced Bowie’s 1973 “Aladdin Sane,” LP & Cat Steven’s 1972 LP “Catch Bull at Four” among so many others. No cause of death was given.
B&W 1976 image of Linda courtesy of ITV/Shutterstock.
Grooves & Cuts May 2023