Grooves & Cuts

Grooves & Cuts: July 2023

Columns Grooves & Cuts

Grooves & Cuts July 2023 – by John Apice

Boxcar Willie – No Novelty Act

For those unfamiliar with the country entertainer known as Boxcar Willie (the late Lecil Travis Martin) he was certainly a polished performer, with a great personality & a wonderful voice. He projected an overwhelming sincerity in every word he sang & note he played. Audiences always responded to his energy & enthusiasm. Not many famous country artists shared the stage with Boxcar Willie — even Willie Nelson at Farm Aid seemed hesitant.

I think they knew this Texas-born singer could very well unintentionally upstage them. Willie’s enormous repertoire & musical diversification was impressive. Many true-die-hard country fans considered him a novelty act on the scale of Minnie Pearl. Yet, before he began to sing as a “hobo” he had been a flight engineer during the Korean War in the United States Air Force (1949-1976) & his rank was master sergeant.

I’m not a big country & western music fan but Boxcar Willie sounded special to me. He was the missing link between Willie Nelson & Johnny Cash. Cash especially. Willie had the same tone, intonation & stylization. Now that would’ve been a trio to see live. Boxcar Willie was authentic in that he could sing vintage traditional country. His vocal control & sincerity was consistently marvelous.

The band of musicians that backed him were all superb. This Willie was not a novelty act. Except for wearing his hobo clothes, there was nothing corny about his showcase. He was the real deal for country & western music. He had some success in his career, but I think he deserved more respectful recognition.

Boxcar Willie knew how to entertain & was a first-class country singer. Well, he was after all inducted as the 60th member of the Grand Ole Opry.

He had chart success in the UK as well, especially his 1981 LP King of the Road (#54 in the US). He charted 4 times in America with LPs & 10 times with singles (1980-4). He had only one major label (Dot Records) release which was shameful.

He was a beloved international country star that should not be forgotten despite having been relatively obscure in parts of the American country scene — compared to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, or Waylon Jennings. Maybe Boxcar Willie just wasn’t edgy enough, too old-fashioned, too traditional & not an outlaw.

Boxcar Willie

But I think he could’ve stood toe to toe on any given night — with any of those legendary names. RIP Willie (1931-1999).

Coming Soon: A profile of the late fiddler/banjo artist John Hartford who also wrote the classic “Gentle On My Mind,” & was a licensed steamboat Captain.

Spilled Mercury

Ellen Woloshin Grooves & Cuts: July 2023

Ellen Woloshin – Pop Torch

This 31-minute set is a relaxing & fascinating performance of easy listening/middle-of-the-road inspired tunes. There’s no attempt to emulate past legends who mastered this genre. Ms. Woloshin has mastered the art of interpretation on the more familiar covers & added her own subtle touch to some of the more modern pieces she does effectively.

The 9-cut exercise in nostalgia by way of modern plaintive touches & good arrangements occupy these individualistic tunes. Ellen has a gentle torch singer approach similar to Jane Oliver. It’s not drenched in superfluous strings or over-arranged charts. It’s a wry approach. Yes, a lounge singing manner, but her jazzy show-tune sensibilities are sharp. There are moments (“Cheek To Cheek”) when Ellen captures the tonality of the late show tune writer Dory Previn (“Come Saturday Morning” & “Lemon Haired Ladies”) in her intonation. A pleasant surprise.


Produced by Ellen with Gregory Toroian (piano/arrangements/bgv/Mark Tree). Pop Torch (Dropped April 28–58th Street Records) is Ellen’s 3rd CD. Recorded in NYC, with some originals & 2 age-old classics by Irving Berlin, & 1 by K.D. Lang, Paul Overstreet, Russ Ballard & a medley of Rodgers & Hart. All nice delicate touches. No over-emoting or drama like Judy Garland, Bette Midler & Barbra Streisand. Ellen manages to inject some fresh nuisances into some vintage melodies.

Highlights – “Lucky Star,” “Keep Your Heart,” “You Forgot Your Gloves,” “When You Say Nothing At All” “Cheek To Cheek” & “You & A Blue Moon/Blue Moon.”


Musicians – Mick Gaffney (guitar/arrangements), Jonathan Appell (programming/percussion), David Wasserman, Skip Ward (bass), David Silliman (drums), Roberta Cooper (cello), Gary Oleyar (violin), Aaron Heick (sax), Mick Gaffney (guitar) & Jonny Rosch (keyboards/programming/bgv).

Cover photo by Devon Cass. CD @

Nat Myers

Nat Myers – Yellow Peril

This 32-minute set will take you down to the Delta, recall the first time you heard Taj Mahal’s LP Giant Step, in ’69. But this fellow has deep folk blues that drips through his traditional vocal charms. The Korean-American blues poet Nat Myers (vocals/Dobro) who’s from Kentucky is only now releasing his rootsy 10-track debut Yellow Peril (Dropped June 23-Easy Eye Sound/Concord).

The LP was produced by Dan Auerbach (kick drum/upright bass/acoustic guitar/slide guitar/bgv) in Nashville (where else?). It’s loaded up with excellent Dobro guitar & the songs reek of the earth after a spring rain. The majority are expressive but there’s a lilt of satisfaction & homegrown humid days on the porch with lemonade & a stogie to them all. It sounds like some were recorded in the 1920s but it’s too pristine to be so.

If the blues added intelligence to its heartbreak, hard times & melancholy – Nat Myers was the sculptor. “75-71,” opens & slides into “Trixin.” A song Robert Johnson should have written — could’ve written — but didn’t. Nat Myers did.

The playing’s laid back but that’s because Nat’s trying to capture (besides the fine performing) the attitude, era, tradition & atmosphere. “Yellow Peril,” is sung with fangs & venom. It’s upbeat & every wrinkle — ironed out. Juke joint holler performed expressively.

The late John Hartford would’ve had a lot of musical fun with Mr. Myers. But for now, Taj Mahal or John Hammond Jr., need to endorse this young man. His cred is good & his music smokes. It isn’t so much that he plays well & has fine songs, he has the hoodoo when he sings, he hooks your gills. He’s authentic, sounds much older than he is. And he brings along the ghosts of the genre that dance barefoot all around his campfire.

On the tune “Roscoe,” Nat’s a lot like John Hammond Jr. He has John’s deep growly blues mannerism & that predatory musical strut. The showcase is just full of diversified vintage blues polished to a shine that regular blues players seldom achieve with their elementary yet satisfying playing. This is something else entirely.

All the songs are modern originals that have been dipped generously in some magical 1920s blues cauldron to give them all a mature sound that is a vintage classic. It’s one of the year’s best for sure & singer-songwriter Pat McLaughlin’s a wonderful addition to this set.

Highlights – “75-71,” “Trixin,” “Yellow Peril,” “Ramble No More,” “Duck N’ Dodge,” “Roscoe,” “Undertaker Blues” & “Pray For Rain.”

Musicians – Pat McLaughlin (guitar/mandolin/acoustic guitar/bgv) & Leroy Troy (banjo/washboard).

Cover photography by Jim Herrington. CD @ Bandcamp +

Kris Gruen Grooves & Cute: July 2023

Kris Gruen – In Bloom

Kris is a Vermont singer-songwriter & this is his 6th studio LP of alternative-Americana released June 2. His style is a conglomeration of jazzy guitar in a Kenny Rankin, Don McLean & Murray MacLauchlan tradition. Each tune is a tantalizing short story that could’ve been ripped from an old Reader’s Digest magazine. What makes Gruen special is that he does what songwriters are supposed to do. Create. He doesn’t wait for something to happen to him to be inspired. He uses his imagination as an author would.

Kris Gruen

This 30-minute set of music does explore topics others do but Kris takes a different path. With all the global gloom he uses nostalgia to recreate a more joyful scenario. There are love songs that are not about infatuation or getting it on but simply relationships. There are slow songs, tales about children on the cusp of adulthood & family themes.

If Gruen (lead vocals/acoustic & electric guitars/glockenspiel) had more clever lines & more intense approach he would border on a Leonard Cohen territory. But not quite yet. His song arrangements do indeed sparkle as the deep brass trombone splashes on “Beckoning,” – now that’s a nice touch.

There are moments where Gruen even gets an ambitious melody – mindful of the early, late Emit Rhodes. “Beckoning,” is in that class. The 8-tunes of In Bloom (Mother West Records) were produced by Charles Newman & recorded in L.A.


Kris has links to The Clash, Blondie & The Ramones & he often applies that energy lift without sounding too aggressive or punk. This music is quite endearing, well-played & sophisticated. He has a solid group of musicians behind him & the supporting vocal of the ladies flourishes. It’s seductively styled & perfect for this music. “Leaving Light,” was produced by Brett Jazey (acoustic guitar), Maurice Carr & Charles Newman in NYC circa 2002. Julian Cassanetti (glockenspiel).


Highlights – “The Table,” “In Bloom,” “Beckoning,” “You’re The One I’m Looking For,” “Bankrobber” & “Heaven on a Car Ride.”

Musicians – Kendall Jane Meade (lead & backing vocals), Timothy Robert Graham (bgv), Jasmine Gruen (lead vocals), Butch Norton (drums/percussion), Ed Maxwell (electric bass), Eli Wulfmeir (electric guitar), Colin McCaffrey (upright bass/mandolin/banjo/vocals/resonator guitar), Charles Newman (piano/pump organ/Hammond organ/percussion), Probyn Gregory (horns) & Jake Pinto (piano/Hammond organ).

Image courtesy of Kris’ website photo gallery. CD @ Apple Music + Amazon +


Grooves & Cuts: July 2023

Kaiser Cartel – March Forth

This indie-pop band celebrates its 15th anniversary (2008) since their debut CD of the same album (March Forth). This release is a reimagined & stripped-down version known now as March Fourth (Dropped June 10–Mother West). The set displays some sparkling harmonies & unison singing. While some tunes may be a little juvenile for older ears (“Seasons Song”) there are many exceptional (“Oh No,” & “The Good Ones”) titles.

The vocals are faithful & ambitious surrounded by gentle musical applications. The Brooklyn, NY folk-pop duo never applies bombastic ingredients to this showcase. While the duo isn’t as quirky & creative as Golden-Carrillo (“Fire In New Town”) they do have similarities that shine on tunes like “The Good Ones.”

The storytelling is supple, emotive & simplistic. Yet, the attraction is just that. Courtney’s vocals are meticulous & as sophisticated as The Swimming Pool Q’s Ann Richmond Boston’s vocals were on (“Now I’m Thinking About Now,” “Silver Slippers”).


The original LP had 12 tracks; this has 13. It opens with the deep pounding beat of “Oh No,” & Courtney Kaiser’s satiny vocal follows Benjamin Cartel’s deeper Buddy Miller-type voice. Together, that’s where the magic begins. The duo could leave behind the pop moniker & go full throttle into a folk-rock genre as Miller did with his wife Julie, or Richard & Linda Thompson. The combined vocalizing is that exciting. The songs, however, would have to maintain a more cohesive urgent & intense replication.

Originally produced by Matt Hales in L.A. the group worked with producer Charles Newman for this recircuiting project. They added sparse percussion folky guitars, lo-fi pianos, bells & stripped-down instrumentation to reinvent their original album. The CD while not wildly exciting musically does maintain its excellent songwriting (“The Flood”). This is deeper, moodier & atmospheric. The duo creates an enduring musical environment despite its minimalist approach.


Personally, I liked the original LP. I didn’t think it needed to be refreshed. But, for those who are not familiar with Kaiser-Cartel, this is still a worthy introduction. Just keep in mind that the CD covers tell them apart. The original spells it “forth” & the new minimalist issue is “fourth.” To distinguish the difference between the two.

Kaiser Cartel

Highlights – “Oh No,” “The Good Ones,” “Traveling Feet,” “The Flood,” “Okay,” “The Same,” “Favorite Song,” “Blue Sky” & “Free Will Zone.”

Color image courtesy of the Discogs site. CD @ Amazon + AppleMusic +

Christopher Dean

The Christopher Dean Band – Need a Friend

Another late entry that’s interesting is this bluesy B.B. King-type set with The Christopher Dean Band. It features “Chicago” Carl Snyder on piano & organ. An elder statesman who contributes excellently & embellishes this set with runs throughout. Aiding the slinky satiny guitar playing of both Christopher Dean & lead guitarist Mike McMillan. The CD sounds retro but has energy & precision. The musicians are just striking together.


Christopher’s vocals fall into a bluesy area once occupied by the likes of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Elvin Bishop, Boz Scaggs & Savoy Brown Band. There are 13 tracks on this 56-minute CD led off by the exciting blues of “What Have I Done Wrong.” The expertise dilutes the juke joint rawness & elevates it to a more theatrical showcase despite many vintage blues covers. The playing is well-executed, glossy sounding without being overproduced. A credit to the production team that framed this wonderful music with care.

It’s obvious that if there’s no arthritis the blues resides comfortably in nimble piano fingers & age is no border. So, let Mr. Snyder go, go, go.

The set was recorded in Miami, FL & not far from me in Allentown, PA. The guitar switches up with more finesse on “Need a Friend,” & Chris sings with a higher register that sounds like a younger man (Shuggie Otis’s early days). Then it’s back to the fiery Stevie Ray Vaughn-type attack on guitar. “It Takes Time,” while not sounding like John Mayall does have his atmospheric drive & feel.

Need a Friend (Dropped June 16–Lost World Music) possesses excellent blues vocalizing by Christopher Dean. On occasion, the guitar touches upon the vibrancy of the late Mike Bloomfield as well. Hard to tell whether it’s Dean or McMillan – but it doesn’t matter. This is what white bluesmen shaped out of the blues in the late 60s & early 70s.

The vocals don’t have the distinction of Al Wilson or Bob Hite of Canned Heat, the deep resonating power of a John Lee Hooker or T Bone Walker, or the smooth delicate indulgent precision of John Mayall. But on “Out of Bad Luck,” Dean’s voice is black & gritty, aggressive & loaded with every blues derivative necessary to call it genuine. This is superb. Sweaty, humid & exactly what Robert Johnson designed. Fortunately, Christopher Dean didn’t have to go to the crossroads. The under-the-surface piano run is delicious.


The NJ native Mr. Dean has been touring since 1997 & started his band in 2000 with a diversified repertoire of blues & soul. Quite a good resume. Dean didn’t live the blues as some of these old school blues songwriters had – he’s not Willie McTell or Snooks Eaglin or Otis Rush & it’s evident in original songs. No matter. The performances smoke. They never suffer. So, spin the CD & smile.

Highlights – “What Have I Done Wrong,” “Need a Friend,” “It Takes Time,” “Out of Bad Luck,” “Country Boy In New Orleans,” “Blind Love” & “Cold Winter’s Day.”

Musicians – Mike McMillan (rhythm & lead guitar), Walter Jarrett (bass), Dave Hollingsworth (drums), Steve Lombardelli (horns) & Nate Meyers (harmonica/vocals).

CD @ AppleMusic +

Katie Curley

Katie Curley – Penny For My Heartbreak

This set of what amounts to honky-tonk country songs covers love, marriage & social commentary & all sung in a bittersweet voice & recorded in Brooklyn, NY. Katie Curley’s new CD is charming. The 12-track Penny For My Heartbreak (Drops Sept. 8–Pink Typewriter Music) was produced by The Del-Lord’s & The Brandos’ vet Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (electric, acoustic, 12-string & high-strung guitars/tambourine).

The LP comes down a path often traveled by the likes of Dolly Parton, Kelly Willis & Gillian Welch. Katie has expertise with rockers, ballads, country & all its relatives. What I do like is that it’s deeply rooted in the hardcore traditional country & it recorded where? Brooklyn. That’s ballsy. No goin’ down to the stream to catch catfish with sandworms on a hot humid day during these recording sessions. No jamboree dancing til’ 2 in the morning on weekends with possum stew, no hominy & grits in a NYC diner, no moonshine for the spin of silver dollars & no skunk cabbage with red beans. Ah, but it is Authentic Country.

This is going to be a blue-plate special CD. Just fork a dirty water dog with yellow mustard on the corner under an umbrella. This means it’s country music with some quirky bite to it. Pass the Cola, kid. Tighten the belt, straighten your hat — Katie’s goin’ sing for us.

Warming up to Katie’s vocals may be a challenge for some since she has a juvenile high-pitched voice. It’s not Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffith. But in actuality, it has a cool Dolly Parton charm with a bit of Kellie Pickler’s country-rock tonality (“Red High Heels”) mixed with Sue Thompson (“Paper Tiger”). I like it because that youthful tone goes quite well with the tight instrumentation. None of it pretends to be authoritative or aggressive.

Highlights – “DIY Honky Tonk,” “Lucky In Love,” “Starter Marriage,” “Burning The Midnight Oil,” “Last Night’s Tequila” & “First Tattoo.”

Musicians – Katie (lead vocals/acoustic guitar/bgv), Sarah Kinsey & Barbara Endes (bgv), Brendan Curley (electric, acoustic & Nylon string guitars), Jonny Lam (pedal steel), Charles Giordano (piano/organ/Wurlitzer electric piano/accordion), Dave Speranza & Dan B. Green (bass), Konrad Meissner (drums) & Joe Flood (bgv).

Cover color image courtesy of Tom Picasso. The 36-minute CD @

Rodney Rice

Rodney Rice – Self-Titled

Rodney’s forte in songwriting examines topics such as emotional moments, despair, hope, losses, the gains of love & the difficulties in just living. He does it with a jaunty New Orleans jazz swing flavor on some pieces. This is his 3rd CD with 9 all-encompassing country-like stories.

Cut from the same cloth as a Guy Clark, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Eric Anderson, Townes van Zandt & John Prine he adds his New Orleans ingredients. Rodney (vocals/guitar) propels his troubadour originality & as a native of West Virginia, his music comes from life’s experiences. What listeners can relate to. Songs are far from sugar-coated (“Nothing To Lose”).

This collection was recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville. A 34-minute Self-Titled set (Released May 2023- Hemifran/Independent) produced, engineered & mixed by Drew Carroll (baritone guitar).


Rice’s showcase is light-hearted, old-fashioned but not retro. He projects little in the way of controversy, politics, or novelty. Songs are serious, some humorous — but the tunes are always entertaining. There are moments where Rodney will remind an older listener of the more intense songs of country giant Roger Miller (“River In the Rain”).

Rodney possesses both a folky vocal glossiness & a nice warm country fortification. His vocal tone is consistently attractive in each piece. He’s going to occupy that eccentric unlikely country domain where hokum country singers do not reside. The halls of Lyle Lovett, K.D. Lang, Clint Black, Joe Ely & Michelle Shocked. To my ears, that ain’t a bad thing.


Highlights – “Nothing To Lose,” “Rabbit Ears Motel,” “Roll River Roll,” “Little Pieces,” “Set ‘Em Up,” “Wonder Where I Came From” & “Every Passing Day.”

Musicians – Sean Thompson & Steve Daily (guitars), Dennis Crouch & Jack Lawrence (bass guitars), Dave Racine (drums), Jeff Taylor (keyboards/accordion), Micha Hulscher (keys), Billy Contreras (fiddle), Ethan Bollinger (mandolin), Andrew Golden & Kirk Donovan (trumpets), Sam Hoffman, Maureen Murphy, Kyshona Armstrong, Nickie Conley, John Smith, Dave Young, Rich Woodruff, Woody Woodruff & Olivia Woodruff (backing vocals).

CD cover photo by Laura E. Partain. CD @

Israel Nash

Israel Nash – Ozarker

This Texas via Missouri-native who achieved his first wave of fame in Europe is described as a singer-songwriter that makes his home between Neil Young & Pink Floyd. However, on this new CD, he returns to his midwestern roots. The 10-cut Ozarker (Drops October 20–Desert Folklore Records/Soundly) was produced by Kevin Ratterman (synths/programming/electric guitar/drums/percussion) & Israel Nash (vocals/acoustic & electric guitar/harmonica/keys).

The CD itself will document Nash’s migrant great-grandfather whose life had in itself a story worth telling. The mix of intense musical arrangements applied to a heartland edge works to Nash’s benefit without coming off as something pretentious. Israel has strong vocal supported by impeccable performances.

There’s a bit of John Mellencamp stirred into the mix of Tony Carey’s ambitious Planet P (“Pink World”) textures but without the undercurrent of its progressive rock. It’s nicely balanced. Nash’s voice has emotional heft & at times displays sufficient soul to give his songs credibility in place of showboating.


So, while there’s a hint of classic rock distilled in these melodies there’s a clarity & originality in each performance that is uniquely prevalent. Nash has thought this out. On songs like “Ozarker,” Nash enables a soulful vocal tone that is catchy & warm. His music does tease at overproduction & slipping into too many carbs – but we’re at track 3 & Nash’s assemblage holds fast to biting notes, good melodies & excellent vocals. “Going Back,” is a little over the top. Dipped too long in a batter of Bruce Springsteen’s vocal prowess. The guitar playing is exceptional but the similarities to Springsteen’s thickness sinks it. However, “Lost In America,” & “Travel On,” are big winners that display Nash’s excellent rock vocalizing & bring him back to the surface.

The CD is a 6-panel die cut fold out, but it lacks a lyric insert which it richly deserves.

Highlights – “Can’t Stop,” “Roman Candle,” “Ozarker,” “Pieces,” “Lost In America,” “Shadowland” & “Travel On.”

Musicians – Eric Swanson (pedal steel/electric guitar/vocals/synths), Curtis Roush (electric guitar), Patrick Hallahan (drums/percussion), Seth Kauffman (bass), Sam Powell (piano/keys) & Leslie Stevens (vocals).

Cover photography by Chad Wadsworth. CD @ Target + Bandcamp &

Leslie Vincent

Leslie Vincent – About Last Night

Another delightful stroll down memory lane comes with this set of easy-listening, middle-of-the-road lounge music from chanteuse Leslie Vincent. There’s never going to be a shortage of young ladies picking up where Lena Horne, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald & Tony Bennett himself left off. This voice casts a little more soul into the genre though the jazz tones are consistent & aggressive. Think Amy Winehouse had she gone full-tilt jazz & you’d approach the vocalizing discipline Leslie works toward.

Leslie Vincent Grooves & Cuts July 2023

“Psychedelics With You,” is peppered with blaring trumpet, thunderous drums & Minnesota’s Ms. Vincent’s vocals that inhabit the tune with gusto. She understands the genre & is entertaining even if you don’t see her. The 43-minute set of 10 songs is her 2nd LP & it covers some classics (“Black Coffee,” “What’ll I Do,” “Stars Fell On Alabama,”) to name a few.

All are excellently rendered & modernized & nothing is retro. Leslie’s intonation, phrasing & tone is exceptional for these kinds of resurrected tunes. The album’s About Last Night (Drops August 25–Independent) musical direction, arrangements & piano by Ted Godbout is ambitious. Arrangements & bass (on “Black Coffee”) by Matt McIntyre are equally so. The musicians all have skills in the lounge-era genre. Smooth, arousing & penetrating with finesse. Each contributes to its necessary sophistication.


Leslie also possesses the magic to be a show-tune vocalist. Though some tunes are silly lyrically their charm is what makes them work. An art somewhat dead in today’s songwriting. This kind of music is not easy to navigate. The shoes a singer in this style & genre attempts to fill are big shoes. Their classic voices along with the songs they sang have melody & voice signatures that exemplify a time. Leslie is on the right road, but she still has some stylistic polishing to do before her voice becomes as striking & responsive as the legends. I’m confident. “How You Loved Me On Mars,” is superb.

Highlights – “Psychedelics With You,” “What’ll I Do,” “Icetown Blues,” “No Moon At All,” “Black Coffee” & “How You Loved Me On Mars.”

Musicians – Ben Ehrlich (drums), Mitch Van Laar (trumpet – nice work on “No Moon At All”), Tommy Boynton (additional vocals/guitar), Tony Balluff (clarinet), Mary Alice Hutton & Stephanie Skor (violins), Niloofar Sohi (viola), Rosa Thompson-Viera (cello) & Ted Olsen (additional arrangements & co-composition).

Cover photography courtesy of Michelle Bennett & live picture from Leslie’s website. CD @ &

Eli Gardiner

Eli Gardiner – Live In Minneapolis

This live showcase released June 2nd was recorded in February 2023 at the Aster Café in Minneapolis, MN. The 10-cuts were produced by Eli Gardiner (lead vocals/guitar) & feature Greg Schutte (drums), Kevin Gamble (keys), Nick Salisbury (bass) & Dan Schwartz on lap steel/electric guitar.

Eli Gardiner Grooves & Cuts: July 2023

The 59-minute set was recorded fairly well for a small venue. Live In Minneapolis (Independent) is basically a roots rock-blues inflected set. A long track “People of the Bear,” opens the performance & while it’s routine it has its nuisances. A plodding, feisty catchy guitar line augmented by heavy bass & steady drums. Typical at times of good jams by the Allman Brothers Band & Blackfoot. But this isn’t necessarily Southern rock.

While it’s not “Freebird,” or any number of long classic workouts it’s not tedious. It does meander through its groove with no real take off but “Boat At Sea,” while even longer has a nice echoey atmospheric guitar ambiance. Gardiner’s tone is good vocally throughout, but he sings with little inflection on the individual lyrics.

Through the repertoire, I sense an ounce of influence coming from Springsteen, more from Neil Young, with some full-tilt stabs at the Grateful Dead spirit. What Eli has mastered is creating tight grooves in his melodies. Forced rhymes don’t help – “people” & “evil” are fairly elementary. If Eli had a lyricist like Robert Hunter (The Grateful Dead) who could create some surreal exposés for him his music would be even more satisfying.


Eli would also succeed on a grander scale if the tunes weren’t as long. Long jams are usually better suited to famous players with a known set of expertise. Eli has the talent for creative grooves, moods & shaping tunes that can be jam sessions but modified ones, tighter ones & creative ones.

These songs are not arranged effectively enough to display an individual’s modus operandi. “Villain,” however, comes off best musically, but again lots of forced rhymes & lyrical cliches while the melody’s sustainable. Eli’s balladry isn’t poor at all. He has that anxious voice to tell a tale & ring it out for all its worth (“Saints Among Us”). Some seem to boil but never cook. The ideas don’t always have color. They’re monochrome. And they don’t have to be. The ideas are good.

Especially since Eli has a good bluesy vocal tone. His singing for the most part is stuck in a David Blue monotone (“Flatlands”) when it should be more innovative & interesting. Italian rock singer Eugenio Finardi (who sings fluently in English & had a hit CD “Anima Blues” in Texas) had a tune years ago called “Corrina” (on YouTube). What colorized that rocker was the introduction of a clarinet. That was clever. It gave the Chuck Berry-inspired retro tune color & a romantic edge. It wasn’t expected yet, but it worked.

As Eli’s song progresses it does start to musically fire up. It has substance but needs a push. Add a female vocalist to accentuate it maybe. If this were Bruce Springsteen there would have been passages he would have whispered, then he would have shouted. Drama has to be added to a long track to attract & keep attention.


“Mountain” has substance & descriptive lyrics. This is even sung with far more feeling & appeal. Eli is a good ballad singer. With “The Right and the Wrong,” the long form works since there’s some inventive percussion mixed liberally with a full-tilt organ under the surface & catchy guitar riffs. Eli’s vocal works well in this realm.

“Black Crow” is simply excellent. Lots of character but (too long). If it had a tad more shape-shifting to its arrangement it would be epic. I like the guitar reinforcement as it glides through the piece in a 70s rock band style – the bands The Illusion & Fever Tree were famous for this perspective.

“Bad Weed,” & “Saints Among Us,” are both rooted in firmer soil. Somewhat Steppenwolf. Eli doesn’t have that John Kay authoritative tonality that’s displayed in Steppenwolf’s long track “Monster.” But Eli & his band have the stuffing – they just need to get it firmly into the pillow.

They’re worth checking out. Highlights: “Villain,” “Flatlands,” “Mountain,” “The Right & The Wrong” “Saints Among Us” & “Bad Weed.”

B&W image courtesy of Sammie Jean Cohen. CD @ Bandcamp +

Americana Highways video premiere:

CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites. No photography will appear without a photographer’s credit or owning source.


Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett @ 96 – (1926-2023) didn’t start his career during the Big Band/Swing area as many believe — but post that era. His first #1 hit with Columbia was in 1951 with “Because of You.” In 1953 he scored “Rags To Riches,” & in 1962 had his signature song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” followed by “I Wanna Be Around,” (1963). He had rough patches in his career, but ultimately survived the Elvis era & The Beatles.

He reached the MTV Generation (1994) late in his career when his son managed him & dueted with artists like the late Amy Winehouse & Lady Gaga to great success. Tony had 20 Grammy Awards & 2 Prime Time Emmy Awards. He sold more than 50 million records & the Guinness World Book of Records states he was the oldest artist to chart with new material at 95.

Tony early on stated that he did not like Elvis Presley’s music & his songs didn’t impress him. But indeed, Tony covered several Presley hits during his career & in many of his concerts. A coming around that even Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin did. Ironically, Bennett had a change of heart & said in an interview that “I was impressed with Elvis — he was the most handsome guy I ever met in my life, and a very nice person, too…” I suspect Bennett said the negative things initially as Sinatra & Martin did to pacify their original older audiences. It’s too bad a singer like Tony never recorded with Elvis. It would have been special. Tony was one of the best.

Color image of Tony Bennett courtesy of Graham Young/Mirrorpix/NewsCom/Zuma Press.

Sinead OConnor

Sinead O’Connor @ 56 – Controversial Irish singer who released 10 albums in a career that produced a terrific hit with a Prince song “Nothing Compares 2 U” & a beautiful duet with The Pogues’ lead singer Shane McGowan “Haunted.” She is survived by 3 children (her 17-year-old son Shane committed suicide last year & that may have led allegedly to Sinead’s depression). She had dealt with mental issues since 2017. No cause of death has been released.

Color image of Sinead courtesy of Getty Images.

Mo Foster

Mo Foster @ 78 – English bassist who performed on more than 400 albums. Foster had played on many major artist albums/concerts. Nanci Griffith, Kenny Rogers, Jeff Beck, Gil Evans, Phil Collins, Ringo Starr, Joan Armatrading, Tanita Tikaram, Gerry Rafferty, Scott Walker & the Walker Brothers, ABBA, Cliff Richard, Van Morrison & the London Symphony Orchestra among others. Mo released 5 albums of his own & recorded music for motion pictures & television.

Color image courtesy of Mo’s Wikipedia page. Photographer not noted.

Randy Meisner

Randy Meisner @ 77 – One of the founders of The Eagles & lead singer/bassist of their early hit “Take It To The Limit.” Prior To The Eagles, Randy had been a member of a band called The Poor who had a minor obscure hit “She’s Got The Time, She’s Got the Changes,” on the York label. The song had been written by Tom Shipley of Brewer & Shipley. The Nebraska-born Randy was also an early member of Poco (“Pickin’ Up the Pieces” LP). He became a member of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band & co-wrote one of the songs on Nelson’s classic album “Garden Party.” He had left The Eagles in 1977 due to exhaustion. He recorded 4 solo LPs through the years. He passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Color 1973 image of Mr. Meisner courtesy of Gijsbert Hanekroo/Redferns.

Jerry Bradley

Jerry Bradley @ 83 – Longtime Nashville-RCA executive (1973-1982) passed away July 17th. He played an important role in reshaping country music into Outlaw music with the classic landmark 1976 LP “Wanted! The Outlaws,” which sold over a million units & shook up the country genre. He legitimized the Outlaw movement led by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson. The LP became the first platinum country LP certified by the RIAA. The Tennessee-born Jerry Bradley was the son of the legendary producer Owen Bradley (Patsy Cline). Jerry played a pivotal role in Elvis Presley’s return to country music in the early 70s up until his passing in 1977. Jerry was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (2019).

B&W image courtesy of Dignity Memorial.

Grooves & Cuts: July 2023

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