Monday, January 18, 2016

Sunday Radio Fun - Casey Kasem's ATF Countdown on SiriusXM, This week: 1974 Including Steve Miller, Jim Croce, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Led Zepplin and more

One of the most fun listens I've found is on SiriusXM, their 70's on 7 channel, where they run Casey Kasem's American Top Forty Countdown every Sunday at 9am and midnight. I have recently made a habit of tuning in Sunday nights.

Kasem hosted the nationally syndicated radio show on a weekly basis from 1970 until 2009 when he retired. Kasem played the Top 40 songs according to Billboard Magazine's Hot 100 Chart. Casey (1932-2014) may not be with us any longer, but SiriusXM has the tapes of every show he did during the 1970's. Each week they play a show from one of the years of that decade. Each week is a different year and with 10 years to choose from, any given year is played about once every 10 weeks; this gives ample time for the chart to turn over and repetitions are rare. Last night they played the countdown from the week of January 12th, 1974.

One big reason why these shows are so much fun is that the first half of the 1970's was an insanely creative period for music and this was reflected in the pop chart. The second half of the decade had lots of great music too, but you could sense that the creative peak that was reached (1970-74) was on the wane, to be gradually replaced by disco in the later years of the decade. Take a look at this week's Top 40 from 1974. If you are familiar with the current state of the Hot 100, say since the year 2000, the amount of great music on this chart will be a revelation.

Below the chart I have a few of the songs for listening and a few notes on the chart.

American Top Forty - Week of January 12, 1974:
1. The Joker - The Steve Miller Band
2. Time In A Bottle - Jim Croce
3. Show And Tell - Al Wilson
4. Smokin' In The Boy's Room - Brownsville Station
5. I've Got To Use My Imagination - Gladys Knight And The Pips
6. You're Sixteen - Ringo Starr
7. Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up - Barry White
8. Living For The City - Stevie Wonder
9. Let Me Be There - Olivia Newton-John
10. Helen Wheels - Paul McCartney & Wings
11. The Way We Were - Barbra Streisand
12. The Most Beautiful Girl - Charlie Rich
13. Love's Theme - Love Unlimited Orchestra
14. Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) - Helen Reddy
15. When I Fall In Love/Are You Lonesome Tonight - Donny Osmond
16. Me And Baby Brother - War
17. Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do) - Aretha Franklin
18. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
19. Top Of The World - Carpenters
20. Hello It's Me - Todd Rundgren
21. Livin'For You - Al Green
22. Spiders & Snakes - Jim Stafford
23. Walk Like A Man - Grand Funk Railroad
24. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me) - The Staple Singers
25. Sister Mary Elephant (Shudd-Up!) - Cheech & Chong
26. You 'n' Me - Chicago
27. Rockin' Roll Baby- The Stylistics
28. Jungle Boogie - Kool & The Gang
29. Mind Games- John Lennon
30. D'yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin
31. My Music - Loggins & Messina
32. If We Make It Through December - Merle Haggard
33. Americans - Byron MacGregor
34. Painted Ladies - Ian Thomas
35. American Tune - Paul Simon
36. Joy Pt. I - Isaac Hayes
37. Who's In The Strawberry Patch With Sally - Tony Orlando & Dawn
38. Let Your Hair Down - The Temptations
39. Put Your Hands Together - The O'Jays
40. Rock On - David Essex
(Chart courtesy of

Listen to 1. The Steve Miller Band - The Joker
During last night's show, Casey said that the group with the number one record used to play Bill Graham's Filmore West in San Francisco back when Creedence Clearwater Revival was still known as the Golliwogs, meaning prior to 1968. Miller's albums from the 60's were staples of FM rock radio and he was routinely categorized with San Francisco rock bands such as Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead. It was hard to reconcile that band with the hit making machine that the Steve Miller Band became by 1976 with Fly Like an Eagle and 1977's Book of Dreams. We can look at the Joker (1974) as Miller's transition from FM to AM.

Listen to 2. Jim Croce - Time in a Bottle
It's always a tragic loss when someone dies at a relatively young age. Somehow, it always seems more senseless when it's due to a small plane crash; too many musicians have died this way. Jim Croce was killed September 20, 1973 in such a crash. This is as beautiful a love song as you could ever want to hear and some of the lyrics are even more poignant considering Croce's passing. The week of this chart, Croce's album You Don't Mess Around With Jim was number 1 on the Billboard album chart.

Listen to 6. Ringo Starr - You're Sixteen
This was one of three solo Beatles' singles on the chart this week. Paul McCartney and Wings had the number 10 record with "Helen Wheels." And number 29 was John Lennon, "Mind Games".

Listen to 7. Barry White - Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up
Barry White actually had two records in the top 20 this week. White's band, the Love Unlimited Orchestra, checked in at number 13 with the instrumental "Love's Theme". Also "Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up" is one of the deep, deep voiced singer's most iconic hits.

Listen to 8. Stevie Wonder - Living for the City
Stevie Wonder virtually owned the charts during the 70's. He had a string of five consecutive albums beginning with Music of My Mind (1972) that are among his most beloved and successful albums both critically and commercially. Wonder was the first artist to obtain creative control of his music from Motown Records, not coincidentally beginning with Music of My Mind. "Living for the City" comes from Wonder's 1973 masterpiece, Innervisions.

Casey mentioned that the number 9 song, "Let Me Be There" was Olivia Newton-John's best selling single as of that date.

Watch 10. Paul McCartney and Wings - Helen Wheels
This is an official video for "Helen Wheels". "This video can be found in the special and deluxe edition of the 2010 Remastered Version Of Band On The Run" (YouTube page).

Elton John has had many a great song but I think my favorite of all is "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", which was number 18 this week. John has had all manner of chart success so it comes as no surprise to find this still in the top 20, considering that both the single and the album were released at the beginning of October 1973.

The Carpenters also had lots of hits during the 70s. "Top Of The World", which came in at number 19 this week, was a Carpenters original; Richard Carpenter wrote the music while John Bettis wrote the lyrics. This song came from their album A Song For You. I have long thought that Karen Carpenter possessed one of the best singing voices I've ever heard, and I've always wondered where her career would have gone if she had not lost her life at age 32 due to complications from anorexia nervosa. A Carpenters' single always makes the countdown sound better.

Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" was part of the 1972 double album Something/Anything?, his third solo album. This was actually the second release of "Hello It's Me". The Upper Darby, PA native previously released a much slower version with his first band, Nazz (1968); it was the B-side of Nazz's first single, "Open My Eyes".

Coming in at number 25 was "Sister Mary Elephant (Shudd-Up!)" by Cheech & Chong. Remember when comedy singles actually made the chart? Cheech & Chong did some of the best.

"D'yer Mak'er" by Led Zeppelin checked in at number 30. This was from Led Zeppelin's fifth album Houses of the Holy. Led Zep was not thought of much as a singles band, "Whole Lotta Love" and "Rock & Roll" not withstanding, so seeing "D'yer Mak'er" on this survey was a nice surprise.

"If We Make It Through December" by Merle Haggard was number 32 on the pop chart, but that week it was also number 1 on the country chart.

At number 33 was a spoken word single called "Americans" by Byron MacGregor. This was a commentary written by a Canadian news anchor in defense of the U.S. It was read with patriotic music behind it. The record went on to peak at number 4 on the Billboard chart while racking up sales of 3.5 million copies. It became the subject of a parody on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, which was so well done and so funny that it will be the subject of its own article here on the blog.

Paul Simon's "American Tune" from his album There Goes Rhymin' Simon was number 35. "American Tune" is my personal favorite of all the great songs Simon has written.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Svetlana and the Delancey Five - Night at the Speakeasy; Stunning Debut From One of New York's Finest Swing Bands Is, In a Word, Delightful

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It is a rare and wonderful thing when an album contains excellent versions of familiar songs side by side with new original songs that sound as good as, if not better than, the classics. Night at the Speakeasy, the stunning debut from Svetlana and the Delancey Five, is just such an album. Treat yourself to the opening track, "All I Want", then we will resume below in about 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

Svetlana and the Delancey Five - "All I Want"

Everything you need to know about Svetlana and the Delancey Five is right there in this song. Start with Svetlana Shmulyian the Russian born front woman, vocalist, and songwriter. I love the vocals, I love her clear and sweet tone as well as her delivery. The level of musicianship in the Delancey Five is extraordinary. There is the sure and steady rhythm of bassist George Delancey and drummer Rob Garcia. The other instruments each answer every vocal line before a succession of sweet solos. There's Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Adrian Cunningham on woodwinds, specifically clarinet on this song, Charlie Caranicas on trumpet, Vinny Raniolo on guitar and special guest Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. Gordon also contributes vocals and arrangements on certain tracks. "All I Want" was written by Svetlana showing that she has a true gift for melody as well as lyrics. Svetlana also penned one other original song, "It's All Good (Big Noise)" and she wrote an additional verse for "You Won't Be Satisfied".

The other original composition on this album is "Dance Inbetween the Moments", written by drummer Rob Garcia. This uptempo number directs you to "take the F train to Delancey and dance...". It also has a nice clarinet solo; Cunningham amazes me with his seemingly effortless performance.

"You Won't Be Satisfied" is one of two tunes on this album that Louie Armstrong once sang with Ella Fitzgerald. The other is "Under A Blanket Of Blue". Svetlana's duet partner on these songs is Wycliffe Gordon; Gordon's vocals are outstanding, he sounds something like a modern day Louie Armstrong. These tracks are a highlight of Night at the Speakeasy and "Under A Blanket Of Blue" is rapidly becoming my favorite song.

The diverse song selection is just another of the joys of this album. Night at the Speakeasy was produced by Guy Eckstine. The Grammy Award winning producer did an amazing job on this record; it's a home run on every level. Watch the EPK below.

Talking about the project, Eckstine said, "I had a blast making it. Svet reached out to me via Facebook. I went to see her live show at Backroom Speakeasy and I was sold. I thought she had a great voice that I could really work with in the studio, and her band was top notch. The addition of Wycliffe just sealed the deal."

Talking about the sessions and working with Svetlana, Eckstine said, "She had arrangement ideas solidified with Wycliffe and drummer, Rob Garcia. She had more than enough songs to record, so I helped her whittle down the repertoire. The band recorded a few takes of each song and picked out the best version and then really worked her hard on the vocal sessions. I think that is where I contributed most...and then attending the mixing session too. She is very open, warm and is not afraid to go for it in the studio... It's a swing record with some new standards thrown in too, and encompasses a few different eras from tin pan alley, be bop era and pop music. I hope she wants to work with me again as I had a great time!"

About Svetlana, Eckstine added "I just love her tone and spirit. She is unafraid and in a sense her naiveté is what adds that special something that is intangible and innocent." Many thanks to Guy Eckstine for his comments.

Showing their versatility, Svetlana and the Delancey Five take on standards of swing and jazz alike, such as the Gershwins' Broadway show classic "Lady Be Good". They swing out on two Duke Ellington standards, "Just a Sittin' and a Rockin'" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me." I've heard "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" (seems like) a million times, but never before noticed the all important line that follows, "and baby you never will".

I like that this set includes two modern standards. The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" lends itself to a jazz interpretation pretty well. The Brian Wilson composition would seem to resist any urge to swing, but the Delancey Five gives it just the right amount of nudge in that direction. Beatles purists might cringe when they hear "Because" done in a 1930's cabaret style, but there's no denying the beauty of the composition or the imaginative interpretation so elegantly executed. Trombonist Gordon has mastered the art of using the muting bell on the business end of his horn to give the music a wah-wah effect which provides the retro cabaret flavor. This song sounds like it could just as easily be the soundtrack of a classic 1930s Warner-Brothers cartoon.

In the liner notes, Will Friedwald writes: "My personal favorite song on the album is a rare vintage tune 'You Are Like A Song' by the legendary Russian German trumpeter and composer Eddie Rosner (known as 'the Soviet Satchmo'). Svetlana sings in the original Russian of which I don't speak a word, but the warmth and sweetness in her voice makes me holler 'Da!'"

This is smile inducing music and it seems likely that the players are smiling too. If I had one word to describe the music on this album, it would be delightful. And nowhere is this more so than on the two jazz standards that close the album. These are both compositions by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar. "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)":
Sometimes I love you, sometimes I hate you
But when I hate you it's 'cause I love you
That's how I am, so what can I do?
I'm happy when I'm with you
The final track is "Tea For Two" from the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette. It doesn't get any more delightful than those two tracks.

In the EPK, Svetlana says, "People just connect to this music even if they don't like jazz. You know, they just connect to the happy feeling and to the groove and to the soul and so I think that's what makes this music universal." That's so true. I believe that this album has the potential to tap into a huge audience that doesn't listen to jazz or buy records. In 2002 Norah Jones did exactly that with her debut album Come Away with Me; the most common reaction to that album was "I didn't know they made records like this anymore." I think that Night at the Speakeasy has the goods to both have a hit single with "All I Want" and win lots of Grammy's as Norah did.

Svetlana has a very unique back story. "It's an interesting culmination of the story of a Russian girl who grew up singing, studying piano and classical vocal, singing in traditional Russian choirs - but, at insistence of her family of engineers, studied a more practical subject of mathematics.

It's not an immigrant story that begins in hardship, however. 'I had a fabulous, happy childhood in the dark concrete buildings of Moscow,' Svetlana recalls. 'I have a great family and I guess that's where it starts and ends - it doesn't matter where you are or how long you have to stand in line to get bread and butter. I come from a family of nerds and engineers and the reality of becoming a full-time artist seemed really far-fetched, but in my heart of hearts I always knew I was an artist'" (from their press release). If you'd like to read more, Svetlana did an excellent and very thorough interview with Danielle Miceli of New York Cabaret Today.

Svetlana formed the Delancey Five about four years ago on New York's Lower East Side. They have played numerous New York venues such as B. B. King's and The Blue Note, but their home is a place called The Back Room located just off Delancey Street behind Rattner's Deli. It is an authentic speakeasy that is accessed using a secret passageway and a password (provided on their Facebook page) is required for entry. Svetlana and her band play there every Monday night. This speakeasy, which has been in continuous operation since Prohibition, is said to have been a hangout for historical mob figures like Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. Click here to watch an excellent five minute feature from The Travel Channel showing the Back Room and including Svetlana.

This is a terrific record, and I can't get enough. I'm already ready for them to record another. If I could get into NYC easier, I surely would be a regular at the Back Room on Monday nights.

Photos courtesy of Svetlana and the Delancey Five

01/22/2016 Update
: The CD release show by Svetlana and the Delancey Five on January 15th at B.B. King's in NYC was sold out. Way to go Svetlana. Wycliffe Gordon has quite a catalogue of albums and I've been listening to them on Spotify. There is a lot of good listening here and it may be the subject of a future article.

Svetlana and the Delancey Five's Website
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Svetlana's Twitter
Svetlana's Instagram

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Vanessa Carlton - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 12/09/2015, A Very Satisfying & Personal Set; Opener Joshua Hyslop is a Super Talent

Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Carlton

Something told me to go see Vanessa Carlton, even though I knew very little about her. I was familiar with her first hit "A Thousand Miles" and I knew her name, but, I don't think I even connected the two. The song was a top five Billboard hit in 2002, was used in the movies Legally Blonde and White Chicks, and the album it came from, her debut, sold platinum. I'm not normally a believer in cosmic events, but I'm also not a fan of coincidence. Here's what happened. One day in the fall of 2015, a friend just randomly happened to play me two songs by Carlton. A few hours later that same day, I read an email from World Cafe Live and their big news was a pre-sale for a Vanessa Carlton concert. The more I thought about how strange the combination of events was, the more I thought that something was directing me to go see Vanessa Carlton. So I ordered tickets.

Now, I don't go to see pop star concerts very often, even though I enjoy a good album in that genre. Seeing the videos of major concerts by artists such as Madonna, Katy Perry, etc, I always think that it would be so cool to see such an artist perform in a small venue with a small band, without all the costumes, lights and production. I thought this could be just such an opportunity, plus the World Cafe Live is a great venue in terms of sound, lighting, and intimacy for a mid-size venue.

Vanessa Carlton - A Thousand Miles, World Cafe Live, 12/09/2015

The concert was, in fact, all that I had hoped. From Carlton's comments it seems that after her first three albums, she parted ways with the major labels and left the pop star business behind. Beginning with her fourth album she became a singer-songwriter, and she said that she loved the independence and artistic freedom it gave her. This tour followed the release of Carlton's fifth album, Liberman. The press release on Liberman describes it thusly:

"An unusual light shines through Liberman, Vanessa Carlton's fifth album. Its ten songs, built on ethereal melodies and lush orchestration, seem to climb out of the shadows, each resonating with a sense of haunting positivity. Each note and lyric on Liberman builds on that aesthetic, creating an ongoing narrative that unfurls over its classic side A and side B."

Photo Courtesy of That Music Magazine

Carlton performed singing and playing piano with only one backing musician, Skye Steele, who played violin and a few other instruments, but mostly violin. Steele has been Carlton's collaborator for the past seven years; his website describes him as a songwriter, improvising violinist, and composer. The combination of piano, violin, and Carlton's voice was both evocative and most pleasing. The set began with three older songs, then she played a seven song set from Liberman, concluding with three more older songs. She opened with a most intriguing combination of Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly" and her own "Carousel" from her Rabbits on the Run album. She then followed with "Tall Tales for Spring" from that same album. Next up was "White Houses" from Harmonium. After the Liberman set, she treated the crowd to a fine performance of "A Thousand Miles". Then came "Hear the Bells" from Rabbits on the Run. She closed the show with "Home" from Heroes and Thieves.

Carlton had a nice rapport with the audience telling lots of stories about her life and career and giving plenty of insights into the songs. She talked quite a bit about her eleven month old daughter, her husband, and their dog, and about sometimes bringing them on tour. The set was very much like the old MTV Unplugged show. Anybody remember MTV Unplugged? Overall, it was a very personal and satisfying set from this one time pop star.

Setlist, click links for videos, (L) indicates songs from Liberman.
1. Learning to Fly/Carousel
2. Tall Tales for Spring
3. White Houses
4. Take it Easy (L)
5. Willows (L)
6. House of Seven Swords (L)
7. Operator (L)
8. Blue Pool (L)
9. Nothing Where Something Used to Be (L)
10. River (L)
11. A Thousand Miles
12. Hear the Bells
13. Home

Video credits: Sound and Lighting - World Cafe Live; Many thanks to Beverly Kates for another great job on camera, and to Amy Hockstein and Lindsey Emma Mitchell for the excellent production assistance.

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Opening the show was a fine set by Joshua Hyslop. A native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Hyslop is opening for Vanessa Carlton's entire winter tour. He played solo acoustic and his mostly original compositions were well-written and sung. He did one cover, Bob Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm", which was most enjoyable (he also included it on his first album). Hyslop has a way with storytelling and he has some most interesting stories to tell; I must admit that I was enjoying his stories even more than his music. About that, solo acoustic, the sound of Hyslop's voice and guitar didn't really dominate the room plus he had to compete with some typically thoughtless conversation during his set. However, I heard something in his music that told me that his songs, if fleshed out with some more musicians, have a great deal of potential. So much so, that I bought his two full length CDs at the show and I am very pleased to report that both albums are terrific. His latest album, In Deepest Blue, made my list of the best albums of 2015 (as did Vanessa Carlton's Liberman).

On record Hyslop sounds remarkably like Ed Sheeran. I think if you played Hyslop's album for a group of Sheeran fans, they might think it's something new from Mr. Sheeran. I like Sheeran's X album just fine, but if I had to compare them I would have to say that I like Hyslop's In Deepest Blue even better. I think we've found a major talent in Joshua Hyslop; thank you Vanessa Carlton.

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