Bentley's Bandstand August 2023

Bentley’s Bandstand: August 2023

Bentley's Bandstand Columns

Bentley’s Bandstand: August 2023

Jake Andrews, Train Back Home. There are times in a musician’s life when all the circles come together and they can take off on what really does sound like a magic carpet ride. Guitarist Jake Andrews, who started performing while he was still in grade school and sat in with Albert King then in his hometown of Austin, has been someone to watch and hear all these years. Four decades later he is still on the road to the top and on this instrumental album produced by Carla Olson it sounds like he has finally found himself at that place. His playing is beyond inspired. It gets to that place where everything comes together in one gigantic spirit, no matter the song, and goes to a place that not many players can get to. And while it uses blues as the jumping off point, that’s like saying John Coltrane was a jazz player. Because really he was so very much more. So is Jake Andrews. He can start a song in fine order, and then by the time he hits second gear he’s flying. There really aren’t many like him now. Luckily, Olson knows this since she’s watched him grow up, and knows the exact places where he is most natural. And that’s where Andrews and the band go. It’s definitely rooted in the blues, but is so much more than that there really isn’t any category to tag him. Jakes Andrews writes many of his own songs, but also steers into King Curtis and Jimi Hendrix territory to show he is fearless in the music he chooses. Though he may not be that well known outside the Lone Star state, look for that to change. Like a lot of Texas twisters, Andrews won’t be contained forever. There is a good chance that TRAIN BACK HOME is just the beginning of an excursion which knows no bounds. The fire was lit a long time ago, and it’s a good bet it’s getting ready to really explode. Turn it up.

Rodney Crowell, The Chicago Sessions. When one of the modern world’s great artists makes an album that feels like it will last forever, and no matter when played will open up life a little more every time, well that is when the sky starts to sing. Rodney Crowell has made a handful of those all-time albums, but on THE CHICAGO SESSIONS he has outdone even himself. Being produced by Jeff Tweedy has definitely added a whole new third dimension to the efforts, and Crowell’s approach to these songs feels like he has been inspired by some shimmering presence to go all the way to his deepest level and find the truth. The man has always existed outside the boundaries of any stylistic definition. He’s been part of a Nashville musical royalty for many decades, but this time around there is a whole new wonder to what Rodney Crowell has accomplished. Some of that strength comes from an awareness that so many of this man’s contemporaries have moved on to the other side, which makes today is a gift to be honored. But even beyond that knowledge Crowell has tapped into a weightless accomplishment that reminds us our time is to be appreciated in the most wondrous way possible. This life that’s been given to us is really only loaned. We will all have to turn it back in at some point down the line. That realization is driven decisively home on the incredible cover of Townes’ Van Zandt’s “No Place to Fall.” In some ways artists like Crowell and his gang of Guy Clark and all the others that jump-started people’s souls starting in the last 1960s owe massive debts to Van Zandt. He drew the song blueprints for what could be. This time around, Rodney Crowell has stopped time with a Townes Van Zandt cover that is beyond the dimension of life on earth. It resides somewhere up in the stars and imparts a feeling of eternity that cannot be missed. Instead, this song is it and all it ever will be. Don’t pass it by because it might not come again. THE CHICAGO SESSIONS sure sounds like they had a foot in heaven when they recorded it, and should not ever be taken for granted. Forever and ever.

Candice Ivory, When the Levee Breaks: The Music of Memphis Minnie. The idea of a younger artist taking on the songbook of Memphis Minnie at first seems a bit stretched, but one listen to any song on this mesmerizing release says all bets are off. Because Candice Ivory takes these songs so deep into her vast spirit that in many ways they become her own. Ivory infuses them with total feeling, no matter that they originated close to a century ago. One reason this feat is even possible is that Memphis Minnie wrote all these songs herself, and so anything she released between 1929 and 1953 came right out of her heart. If she sang a song it was guaranteed it was worthy of her talent. Because it was all hers, something she had felt so strongly she made it into a song. And now that Candice Ivory has gone through all those songs and chosen which ones she feels she can make her own–or at least give a new zing–guarantees WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS will be a righteous keeper. And not once does this woman disappoint. With producer Charlie Hunter’s guitar and bass and a quartet these accompanying Ivory’s vocals there is a stamp of pure permanence on songs like “Me and My Chauffeur,” “Blues Everywhere” and “New Bumble Bee” break out in a haunting reality. Candice Ivory’s voice comes from another place, one where time doesn’t exist and the overwhelming depth of her singing feels like it has been here forever. This is a woman who has arrived to tell her truth, and there will be no debating that it belongs here now. Listen and love.

Mustangs of the West, Sea of Heartbreak. The Mustangs of the West have a long and distinguished trajectory that goes back to the end of the 1980s and the rambunctious country rock scene in Los Angeles which had a natural home at the Palomino club. The group, called simply The Mustangs then, made plenty of headway rising to the top of their world, and all systems looked go. Then reality set in and the group drifted apart. But reforming always seemed in the cards, and now that they are a solid band again, tagged The Mustangs of the West, it shows a dedication of spirit which few outfits are able to match. And their second album in this incarnation totally feels like they have found a footing that few other aggregations have. The quintet features Suzanna Spring, Sherry Rayn Barnett, Aubrey Richmond, Holly Montgomery and Suzanne Morissette Cruz and their second release is flat-out one of the best by anyone this year. There is a group consciousness that has gelled which brings all the early roots of The Mustangs into the present, and with this lineup they have locked into real greatness. The band shares lead vocal positions that very few modern groups can, and their songwriting skills have moved them into a place where few others can go. It really does feel like this is a group that has every musical strength they need in place and are going to find that key to become a national outfit. It’s like the Mustangs came close in their earlier incarnation, but now on songs like “Fiery Angel,” “Some Blue Sky” and “Learning the Game” it will be their time in the sun. This is music for keeps, and it sure sounds like Mustangs of the West know it. It’s our turn.

Omar & the Howlers, What’s Buggin’ You. This mighty Mississippian hit Austin in the mid-1970s with his band the Howlers and immediately blew out enough pretenders that he rose to the near-top of the honky tonks and blues bars. He had a bop & boogie rhythm section, a tenor man who could blow his face off, and another half-dozen Magnolia Staters. Then there was Omar “Kent” Dykes, who was not someone to be trifled with. At all. He could sing like a wild man, play enough guitar to scare the locals and had an approach to life that showed he meant no harm but was going to get what he was going after. Add to that the extra perk that if you needed some help getting to your ride after a show he would simply throw you over his shoulder and take you there. No extra charge. There really was no one like Omar. Now 50 years later he’s still in his prime in so many musical ways. There have some been some health detours, but throughout the sonifications on WHAT’S BUGGIN’ YOU the man is right there in his heyday. He’s got the serious guitar player Eve Monsees on strings of various persuasions, the former Fabulous Thunderbirds drummer Mike Buck on sticks, along with several other ringers. And Omar can sing enough blues to polish a dozen ’59 Cadillacs with his big voice, and zero in on exactly how blues dissolves the pain of living throughout verse after verse. In so many bodacious ways there’s still no one to back the man down, and his songs are 100% guaranteed to turn on the lovelight in everything. Boogie or leave.

Graham Parker & the Goldtops, Last Chance to Learn the Twist. Color us Graham Parker devotees crazy, maybe, but the Englishman really is one of the very finest rockers of the past 45-plus years. There is a way that his tough sensitivity is able to seep deep into the soul that doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is capable of changing just about everything that is felt. He has a voice that feels like it has seen all sides of life, and isn’t flinching an inch from any of them. Schooled in early soul music, Parker took it to hear in a profound way that changed everything for him. He goes directly to the heart of all the matters he sings about, and always makes sure his warmth factor is turned up to high and he doesn’t look back. He can zero in on the essence of what it means to live life for keeps, and then write songs that reflect the most profound parameters of how to convey those emotions. He really is one of the all-timers, and when an album as lovingly brutal as LAST CHANCE TO LEARN THE TWIST hits, well, like there is nothing to do but breathe deeply and hang on for the ride. So many artists from the golden years of mid-1970s into the ’80s had an incredibly bright light when they burst on the American scene, and then slowly but surely lost their footing as the mondo stadium rock of the 1980s took over. Unless your audience had grown to the size of a baseball crowd life could get pretty limiting. That didn’t happen for this Englishmen. He kept his devoted audience right up to this day, and while it might not be of gonzo-size, it is devoted because not once did Parker sell out. He stuck to his strengths, and really did do things his way. His bands may have come and gone, but there was never the sense the blue-eyed soulster’s intensity was anything except set on stun. Graham’s the man.

Joyann Parker, Roots. There is no doubt that the word “roots” can be somewhat nebulous. So many people have used it over the past 60 years it’s almost impossible to put a definition to it. But make no mistake. When Joyann Parker’s multi-sided music takes over, it can mean many things. It’s obvious her deepest affections goes right into the feel of full-on gospel, but she is anything but a church singer. Her soul spreads across all areas, and there is enough power in how she explores the world of modern music that Parker can go anywhere. She has the kind of vocal that can call down the stars when necessary, but then the woman can go quiet and deep in a way that is nothing short of devastating. It is a road of joy to discover what Joyann is capable of. It really is a road of surprises as genres and arrangements get sliced and diced in a most intriguing way. Every song is like a surprise, and what comes across clearest is that this woman is having the time of her life creating such a playbook. Don’t forget: this is a singer who performs Patsy Cline tribute shows and wins awards doing them. That takes a strength of spirit that isn’t found too often. But in the end, it’s ROOTS which really brings to the fore that there is a new star in town, one who sings like her very life depends on it. That doesn’t happen that often. So where it’s “Wash It Away” or “Old Flame,” “Ain’t Got Time to Cry” or “Going Under,” every single note on Joyann Parker’s new album is done straight from the heart. It is no accident the album is manufactured by Hopeless Romantic Records, and that being her third album might just make true the adage “the third time’s the charm. You gotta believe.

Eli Paperboy Reed, Hits and Misses: The Singles. For a thoroughly funkified young man, Eli Paperboy Reed has the goods. Since he very first struck out on his unique musical journey, Reed has stayed true to the path he chose and continues to hone his vocal goods to where he can cut up with anyone. This 11-song collection of past tracks is a stone cold gas, ranging from covers of Latimore and Jimmy Hughes all the way to Merle Haggard and Motorhead. Yes, Motorhead. That it all works so seamlessly is a total testament to Reed’s ability to take his voice down different alleys. The man has that lonely attack that is crossed with pure power, and is able to tug at the heartstrings right up to the breaking point. And while HITS AND MISSES isn’t going to shake up any musical history books, it will forever be a blast to hear when the lights are low and the signals say go. This man has romance on the brain and is able to distill into songs that beg for hearing. Recorded at various hotspots in Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Brooklyn and, yes, Somerville, Eli Paperboy Reed has an unerring ear that leads him directly to the right producers and musicians to get the job done right. And to hear the singer swing into Bob Dylan’s “To Be Alone With You” is to hear a keeper on the microphone, and be glad to know that someone is taking care of this music that really means it. Soul to go.

Maia Sharp, Reckless Thoughts. Certain albums arrive with an edge so warm there is no way to resist them. The songs sound like they were written inside the artist’s heart, and it only takes one playing for them to go all the way to the center of life. Maia Sharp is a singer born to be great. There is no other way to say it. Her father Randy Sharp, who wrote for Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and others, provided plenty of talent in her daughter’s bloodlines and it pushes at the seams of her soul on every song. There is a timeless beauty in tracks like “She’ll Let Herself Out,” “Kind,” “Fallen Angel” and others that lands solid on first listen. Maia Sharp’s voice is also a natural beauty. It sounds so strong and natural that there’s never a chance it’s warmth won’t land home. What’s also so appealing about RECKLESS THOUGHTS is that it sounds like it was made by a single originator. There are no real outside influences hiding in between instruments and lyrics. Everything is immediately outfront, and Sharp’s way of building momentum in a song is a natural progression of push and pull. There are no tricks here, and the thoughts unlocked over the length of each song isa trip not to miss. This is an album absolutely not to miss, even if its low-keyed approach might let that happen. It is said that the real keepers have to be found, and once they are they never go away. This is surely one of those collections. Reckless thoughts, indeed.

Mitch Woods, Friends Along the Way. Mitch Woods is the caliber of pianist who has played with just about everyone — twice. This double-album celebration is a collection of recordings surely demonstrating a life well-spent. The length and breadth of all those joining in is like a roll call of groovers: John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, Ruthie Foster, Elvin Bishop, Marcia Ball, John Hammond, Joe Louis Walker, Maria Muldaur, Kenny Neal and Cyrille Neville. All are fueled in part by Wood’s bad-ass piano playing, something that has been thrilling audiences in ways that few people possess. Woods plays in a way that sounds like a smile, even if it’s on a low-down blues, and approaches all those he works with in a way that makes them feel completely comfortable. And in reality, every single one of these is a highlight. It is impossible to point out the shiners because shine is what they all do. It’s like the guests know they’re already in exalted company being on this album, and rise to the occasion with deep soul and sassafrass. This is music that is created in the present, but always played for keeps. It is really what true blues is all about: eternity. When musicians like this get together, fun is always on the menu but underneath the miles of smiles there is also the thought that the way time keeps marching on there might not be that many opulent opportunities like this to be in a recording studio with some of these all-time artists. So thank Mitch Woods and every single beating heart on FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY for taking the time and sharing their undeniable gifts every artist possesses to create an album that can never come again. The best news is that it happened this time, and for that we can sing a song and bang a gong it did. Wear it out.

Reissue of the Month
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Live in 1967 Vol. 3. The run of world-class blues guitarists in John Mayall’s early bands in the 1960s reads like a fairytale: Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. In some ways Green gets left a little on the side for some reason. After he left Mayall in 1967 he formed the very first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac and, as they say, the rest of history. But the string-bender’s time with Mayall should never be overlooked. For starters, he was an absolutely original musician who took what he needed from the blues and went to Mars with it. There is no doubt Peter Green will forever be one of the greatest players ever when it came to a striking originality and devastating power in how he took to the six strings. These eight songs, recorded in a London nightclub with no frills but all chills, capture the band and especially Green at full-tilt stun. The lead guitar machinations he’s able to pull from his instrument are in many ways unequaled, even by him. He was hitting the note in ways that never really happened again. On songs like “Tears in My Eyes, “Stand Back,” “The Stumble” and “Double Trouble,” the musician becomes like a man possessed. Maybe that’s because Peter Green didn’t really try and do what other players did. He approached the sounds he wanted to make as those that had never been heard before, and then got to that hallowed place where the blues takes off for outer space. The track “Greeny” is a seven-minute study of that outer voyage. Next stop: Mars.

Book of the Month
Holly Gleason, Editor. Prine On Prine: Interviews and Encounters with John Prine.
When it comes to songwriters in the past half-century plus, let no one cut in line in front of John Prine. He had a way with words and music that felt like he was explaining modern life in not quite riddles, but in ways that were all their own. And they always meant something. He arrived in the post-Bob Dylan world, but journeyed his own path that no one else could. Originality might be the hardest accomplishment of all in songwriting, but John Prince had it in aces. It’s a good bet the phrase the “next John Prine” wasn’t ever used, and if it was it was applied sparingly. Writer Holly Gleason took on the gargantuan task of collecting 40 interviews John Prine had done over his long career, and put them into an order and sense of purpose in a way that definitely defines the man. It’s like Gleason was tasked with the puzzle of helping bring someone who wasn’t really fond of talking about himself in a way that brings that person into life again right in front of us. All the different ways someone can be interviewed are achieved here, and still it doesn’t feel like any of the journalists are intruding on private space. They are able to get John Prine to talk not only about himself, but really life itself. Which is not an easy task. By the time of the last one, naturally titled “When I Get to Heaven,” done by Benjy Eisen for RELIX magazine in 2020, it feels like John Prine’s story has been fully told, and if by miracle he could start over again that would be fine too. Holly Gleason’s search through the treasure chest has surely paid off. John Prine lives.

Bentley’s Bandstand: August 2023

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