Monday, August 21, 2017
John Sebastian, World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 8/10/2017; With a Wealth of Experience and Music, The Lovin' Spoonful Singer & Songwriter Tells It Like It Was
Photo: The Acoustic Centre
The last time I saw John Sebastian perform was in the Woodstock movie, documenting that most momentous live concert of August 1969. Which is not to say that Sebastian sat on his hands for the last forty-eight years. It's just that I had not crossed paths with his tour schedule, so when I saw him booked at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live on August 10th, I jumped at the chance to see him play.
A quick check online revealed lots of gray hair and a voice that while somewhat older, was still easily recognizable and his spirit seemed intact.
On record, Sebastian's latest is an acoustic duet with David Grisman from 2007. The album, Satisfied, covered mostly acoustic blues, and as such it contributed three numbers to Sebastian's set. In fact, he opened the show with a superb version of Mississippi John Hurt's "I'm Satisfied". I associate that song primarily with Taj Mahal, but it does seem to be a mainstay of the acoustic blues repertoire.
Sebastian was every bit as engaging as a storyteller as you might think if you heard any of his 1960s performances, maybe even more so in that there are now many more miles on the proverbial odometer. As someone who grew up in the thick of the blues and folk scene of New York's Greenwich Village, he has a wealth of experience and many stories to tell. He punctuates his stories by playing the songs that he's talking about. The songs all sound great but the crowd reaction grows strongest as he delves into his Lovin' Spoonful history. The Spoonful songs that he played were definitely highlights in that he could not help but be playing someone's favorite song. For myself, even though I like them all, I've always felt something special about "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" dating back to when it was classing up the AM airways in 1965. And it still sounds terrific even now.
Watch "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice"
I think that the stories actually occupied more of the concert than the songs, even though he played a generous nineteen tunes. As the show seemed to be ending, someone yelled a request which he obliged and played a crowd-pleasing rendition of his TV theme song and #1 hit, "Welcome Back."
Even though he covered a lot of territory during his time on stage, he never got to talk about Woodstock. I would love to hear his take. Other than "Welcome Back", he didn't get into what he's been up to since the sixties. Every now and then I see his name on a songwriting credit such as "Face of Appalachia", which he wrote with Lowell George. That oft-covered tune sounded especially good on the first Valerie Carter album Just A Stone's Throw Away.
As much as Sebastian shared during the show, I have a feeling that he only scratched the surface of his life in music. At one point, he talked about dating a girl named Maria and taking her to see a performance by old timey folk and blues singer Geoff Muldaur, and how Geoff took a liking to her; they married and eventually divorced. After that, the girl came back to Sebastian. I wonder how many in the audience realized that he was talking about singer Maria Muldaur ("Midnight At the Oasis", 1973). I'm sure that there is much more where that came from. The untold stories make for a good reason to return.
Setlist: Click linked tracks to watch
01. I'm Satisfied (Mississippi John Hurt)
02. Just Don't Stop 'Till You're All Worn Out (Jimmy Vivino, John Sebastian)
03. Shining Moon (Lightnin' Hopkins)
04. Do You Believe In Magic (John Sebastian)
05. You Didn't Have to Be So Nice (Steve Boone, John Sebastian)
06. Jug Band Music (John Sebastian)
07. Prison Wall Blues (Gus Cannon)
08. Younger Girl (John Sebastian)
09. Strings of Your Heart (Mississippi John Hurt)
11. Geoff Muldaur tune
12. Passing Fantasy (Gary Nicholson, John Sebastian)
13. My Creole Belle (Mississippi John Hurt)
14. Sittin Here Lovin' You (Dr. John)
15. St. Louis Tickle (Dave Van Ronk)
16. Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind (John Sebastian)
17. Nashville Cats (John Sebastian)
18. Daydream (John Sebastian)
19. Welcome Back (John Sebastian)
The linked videos are in full 1080p HD; no cell phones were used (or harmed) in the making of these videos. Many thanks to World Cafe Live for the excellent sound and lighting.
John Sebastian's Website
Monday, August 14, 2017
Bill DeMain - Transatlantic Romantic; With Swan Dive On Hold DeMain Delivers His Full Length Debut, 'Left of Center Pop' At Its Finest
Photos courtesy of Bill DeMain
After eighteen years and ten albums, the guitar playing and songwriting half of Swan Dive, Bill DeMain, just recorded his first full length solo album Transatlantic Romantic. This record excels in many ways, from songwriting and performance to production, but above all else Transatlantic Romantic is a triumph of vocals. I'd wager that if you made a list of your top ten favorite songs from the sixties or seventies, no matter if they be rock, pop, or soul, the one thing that they will have in common is great vocals. Spinning the radio dial these days, one might think that this is becoming a lost art.
As a songwriter, musician, and a singer, DeMain is adept at creating some of the more memorable music that you will hear; the man knows his way around a hook. What's more, on this record DeMain multi-tracks the vocals and accompanies himself on all of the exquisite harmonies he writes. Think The Association crossed with Fountains of Wayne.
The album's lead track is one that I just can't get enough of. The album opens with "Begin", a beautiful intro similar to the way that The Beach Boys opened their last album That's Why God Made The Radio. The gorgeous vocals of "Begin" slide seamlessly into "Leroy Boy". I doubt that anyone else in 2017 would have thought that we needed an answer for Todd Rundgren's first solo hit single, "We Gotta Get You a Woman" (1970). But therein lies the source of its charm. "Leroy Boy" doesn't copy Rundgren's original, but the chord changes and melody are definitely simpatico. Lyrically, DeMain updates the story, plus delightfully name checks Rundgren and talks about the music. The bicycle bell that you periodically hear throughout the track instantly references the Philly neighborhoods that were the location of the Rundgren original. This tune is so infectious that you won't want to stop playing it.
As a long time fan of Swan Dive, I'm thinking that I would have come across this album sooner or later but I've got to thank Mike Marrone for playing "Leroy Boy" on his Sirius XM radio show on The Loft.
Living in Nashville, DeMain has his choice of some fine song writers. He says that his cowriters all share his love for 'adventurous left of center pop'. They included Gabe Dixon ("Brewster, Illinois, April 3rd, 1952" and "The Golden Age"), Kim Richey ("Alaska"), and Larry Goldings ("Honey Bear", "Lemon Yellow" and "Boffo & Beans"), adding his keyboards to the latter.
Although DeMain's primary instrument is guitar, on this album he played piano. The phrase "No Guitars" on the album jacket reminded me of the first Queen album in that they bore the inscription, "No Synthesizers". DeMain said, "I’m a guitar player and have written all the Swan Dive records and my first EP on guitar. This album grew out of a challenge to put the guitar down and write only on piano. A challenge, since I’m really only a beginner. But yes, definitely a nod to those early Queen albums!"
Transatlantic Romantic also excels with some beautiful arrangements for strings, woodwinds, and horns by Jim Hoke and Austin Hike. They are used judiciously to best effect in a manner that I can only call Beatlesque. In fact, on DeMain's cover of the Beach Boys' "Wendy", his falsetto reaches Brian Wilson proportions. With its intricate layered vocals combining only with orchestration, it sounds like the Beach Boys meet the Beatles.
“'Wendy' is an old Beach Boys track from the mid-60s. Always a favorite of mine. Brian didn’t have any direct involvement, aside from writing the song with Mike Love. But I did play my version to Brian’s current musical director, Darian Sahanaja, and he loved it. Said it made him think of Van Dyke Parks arranging the Beach Boys. A very nice compliment."The consistency of the quality of this album is extraordinary. It is a privilege and a pleasure to both listen to and write about Transatlantic Romantic by Bill DeMain.
About the future of Swan Dive, DeMain says "That’s a lot of music, and I’m proud of it all. My singing partner Molly lives out in Seattle now, so it’s a little more difficult for us to make music or plans together. But we’re leaving the door open for a possible album in the future."
This album is available for $12, which includes postage.
Email BillDeMain@gmail.com for ordering instructions.
Tracklist - Click on linked titles to listen
01. Begin (Bill DeMain)
02. Leroy Boy (Bill DeMain)
03. Honey Bear (Bill DeMain, Larry Goldings)
04. Lemon Yellow (Bill DeMain, Larry Goldings)
05. Brewster, Illinois, April 3rd, 1952 (Bill DeMain, Gabe Dixon)
06. Boffo & Beans (Bill DeMain, Larry Goldings)
07. Dori (Bill DeMain)
08. Alaska (Bill DeMain, Kim Richey)
09. Wendy (Brian Wilson, Mike Love)
10. The Golden Age (Bill DeMain, Gabe Dixon)
Bill DeMain: piano, vocals
Jim Hoke: string and horn arrangements, sax, flute, clarinet, autoharp and uke
Austin Hike: string arrangement on "Wendy," cello, violin
Kristin Weber: violin
Gil Perel: bassoon
Jennifer Kumer: french horn
Larry Goldings: keyboard on "Boffo & Beans"
Produced by Bill DeMain and Jim Hoke
Bill DeMain's Website
Bill DeMain's Facebook
Wednesday, August 02, 2017
Photo: Taylor Dayne Concert Photos
I've been listening to a new album by Billy Ocean and liking it quite a bit. I first became aware of Ocean when he sang "Caribbean Queen" on the Live Aid telecast in 1985. Since then, I haven't followed him, my loss apparently. According to his website,
Billy Ocean is the biggest black recording star Britain has ever produced, one who has sold over 30 million records in his lifetime.Here You Are: The Music Of My Life came out on Friday, July 21st. I checked it out along with the other new releases of interest, but after once through I kept coming back to it.
He has collected a pile of Gold and Platinum records across the world and hit the number one spot worldwide on pop charts including the USA, Australia, Germany, Holland, and the UK. Billy has achieved extraordinary success as both an artist and a songwriter.
Born in Trinidad, Billy settled in London’s East End when just seven years old. The calypso crazy kid soon got turned on to soul singers like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, as well as pop groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, leading him to spend much of his study time in the music room.
There are actually two parts to this album. It begins with ten newly recorded tracks. The set opens with "Here You Are", a new original that gives the album its name. About this song, Ocean says "I intentionally tried to write a song that I thought reflected the influences of the music that inspired me throughout my life so far."
That is a fair description of the album's concept. The next nine songs are covers; these are the songs that influenced Ocean throughout his life. He covers artists from Sam Cooke to Frank Sinatra to Bob Marley and the O'Jays, to name a few. The writers of these songs are shown on the track list below.
After those first ten tracks, the second part of this album is a mini greatest hits collection offering five classic Ocean hits. This is (fortuitously for me) designed as an introduction for those who may be new to Ocean on record.
Billy Ocean is such a talented singer and musician and this record is so ably performed, with superb production by Barry Eastmond (who also co-wrote the title track with Ocean), that the end result is a record that sounds so good you won't want to turn it off. This is a perfect mood record for summer, and I suspect it will sound just as good during the other seasons.
Watch the music video for "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car"
Buy at Amazon
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Stream on Spotify
Tracklist: Click on song titles to listen
01. Here You Are (Barry J. Eastmond / Billy Ocean)
02. A Simple Game (Mike Pinder)
03. A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke)
04. No Woman No Cry (Vincent Ford)
05. Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton)
06. Having a Party (Sam Cooke)
07. It Was a Very Good Year (Ervin Drake)
08. These Foolish Things (Harry Link / Eric Maschwitz / Jack Strachey)
09. Judge Not (Bob Marley)
10. Love Train (Kenny Gamble / Leon Huff)
11. Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run) (Keith Diamond / Billy Ocean)
12. Suddenly (Keith Diamond / Billy Ocean)
13. Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car (Mutt Lange / Billy Ocean)
14. When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going (Wayne Brathwaite /Barry J. Eastmond /Mutt Lange /Billy Ocean)
15. There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry) (Wayne Brathwaite / Barry J. Eastmond / Billy Ocean
Bonus Video: Acoustic live version of "Caribbean Queen" on Today FM, The Tony Fenton Show, Sept. 18, 2013
Billy Ocean's Website
Billy Ocean's Facebook
Billy Ocean's Twitter
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Jackson Browne - The Load Out /Stay Made the Billboard Top 40 Chart This Week in 1978; Jackson Browne's Running On Empty Leaves 'em in the Dust
Mann Music Center, Philadelphia, 1978
Gems From the Record Room: This week's 70s Top Forty Countdown on SiriusXM was from the last week of July, 1978. I often think of the 70s as being divided between the first half of the decade, which was dominated by great songs and classic artists that got plenty of airplay on both FM and AM, and the second half of the decade when it seemed that the singles charts were dominated by disco.
As such, it was a bit surprising to tune in to this week's countdown and hear a string of tunes that had more in common with the first half of the decade.
The American Top 40 from Billboard Magazine for the week ending July 29, 1978
TW - LW TITLE Artist (Label) - Weeks on Chart (Peak Position)Now that's a great Top 40 chart, still I think somewhat uncharacteristic of the late 70s. It's neat to see Chris Rea making the Top 40 with his first single, "Fool If You Think It's Over". After his U.S. marketing effort rubbed him the wrong way, he basically quit trying to have a career here in this country, but had good success in the U.K., Europe, and Asia. Success was well deserved for the likes of Gerry Rafferty, the Stones, Bob Seger, The Commodores, The O'Jays, Joe Walsh, Walter Egan, Atlanta Rhythm Section, and many more. Just read the list and you're sure to see some favorites and some surprises.
1 - 1 SHADOW DANCING • Andy Gibb (RSO) - 16 (7 weeks at #1) (1)
2 - 2 BAKER STREET • Gerry Rafferty (United Artists) - 15 (2)
3 - 3 MISS YOU • Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones) - 10 (3)
4 - 5 LAST DANCE • Donna Summer (Casablanca) - 12 (4)
5 - 6 GREASE • Frankie Valli (RSO) - 10 (5)
6 - 10 THREE TIMES A LADY • The Commodores (Motown) - 7 (6)
7 - 4 STILL THE SAME • Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (Capitol) - 12 (4)
8 - 8 USE TA BE MY GIRL • The O’Jays (Philadelphia International) - 14 (4)
9 - 7 THE GROOVE LINE • Heatwave (Epic) - 13 (7)
10 - 11 LOVE WILL FIND A WAY • Pablo Cruise (A&M) - 9 (10)
11 - 14 HOT BLOODED • Foreigner (Atlantic) - 5 (11)
12 - 13 RUNAWAY • Jefferson Starship (Grunt) - 10 (12)
13 - 15 COPACABANA (At the Copa) • Barry Manilow (Arista) - 8 (13)
14 - 17 LIFE’S BEEN GOOD • Joe Walsh (Asylum) - 8 (14)
15 - 18 MY ANGEL BABY • Toby Beau (RCA) - 9 (15)
16 - 20 MAGNET AND STEEL • Walter Egan (Columbia) - 10 (16)
17 - 9 TAKE A CHANCE ON ME • Abba (Atlantic) - 15 (3)
18 - 21 I’M NOT GONNA LET IT BOTHER ME TONIGHT • The Atlanta Rhythm Section (Polydor) - 8 (18)
19 - 12 IT’S A HEARTACHE • Bonnie Tyler (RCA) - 19 (3)
20 - 16 DANCE WITH ME • Peter Brown with Betty Wright (Drive) - 22 (8)
21 - 19 BLUER THAN BLUE • Michael Johnson (EMI-America) - 15 (12)
22 - 23 FM (No Static At All) • Steely Dan (MCA) - 9 (22)
23 - 27 STAY / THE LOAD-OUT • Jackson Browne (Asylum) - 8 (23)
24 - 26 KING TUT • Steve Martin and the Toot Uncommons (Warner Brothers) - 10 (24)
25 - 25 SONGBIRD • Barbra Streisand (Columbia) - 7 (25)
26 - 35 HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU • Olivia Newton-John (RSO) - 4 (26)
27 - 30 I’VE HAD ENOUGH • Wings (Capitol) - 7 (27)
28 - 36 BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE • A Taste Of Honey (Capitol) - 6 (28)
29 - 40 AN EVERLASTING LOVE • Andy Gibb (RSO) - 3 (29)
30 - 32 CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS • Todd Rundgren (Bearsville) - 10 (30)
31 - 22 THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY •Love and Kisses (Casablanca) - 13 (22)
32 - 34 LOVE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT • Kenny Rogers (United Artists) - 9 (32)
33 - 37 SHAME • Evelyn “Champagne” King (RCA) - 7 (33)
34 - 38 STUFF LIKE THAT • Quincy Jones (A&M) - 8 (34)
35 - 43 YOU • Rita Coolidge (A&M) - 5 (35)
36 - 49 FOOL (If You Think It’s Over) • Chris Rea (United Artists / Magnet) - 4 (36)
37 - 39 RIVERS OF BABYLON • Boney M (Sire / Hansa) - 9 (37)
38 - 46 TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE • Eddie Money (Columbia) - 6 (38)
39 - 44 MR. BLUE SKY • The Electric Light Orchestra (Jet) - 6 (39)
40 - 48 MACHO MAN • The Village People (Casablanca) - 6 (40)
One track in particular that's close to my heart surprised me when it came in at #23. Perhaps I am so used to hearing this from the album or on FM radio, I either had forgotten or never knew that "The Load Out /Stay" was released as a single and did that well on the chart. I guess I knew that "Stay" was a single, but as Casey Kasem explained, they put "The Load Out" on one side of the 45 and "Stay" on the other and it charted as a double sided single. I hope that no radio station actually played "The Load Out" without "Stay"; Asylum Records sent radio stations a promotional 12" of the two songs as one long track, as on the album.
In December 1977, Jackson Browne released the groundbreaking Running On Empty album. It was a live album, recorded on the road, with all new material. It was the ultimate concept album. The songs were about being on the road, some of it was even recorded on the tour bus as it rolled down the highway.
The final track on the album is a combination of a Browne original, "The Load Out", and a cover of "Stay" the 1961 hit by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs. The two songs went perfectly together. When it concludes, Browne sings:
'Cause when that morning sun comes beating down
You're going to wake up in your town
But we'll be scheduled to appear
A thousand miles away from here.
Right at that moment, every time I've seen him sing it live (and sometimes even on record) the hair stands up on the back of my neck and a chill goes down my spine. Now that is some high voltage songwriting.
"The Load Out" was written by Bryan Garofalo and Jackson Browne and "Stay" was written by Brian Kelly McKnight with additional lyrics by Bryan Garofalo and Jackson Browne. "The Load Out" is about what happens at the end of a concert after the band has finished playing. It is written from the performer's perspective set to an indelible Browne melody. Browne's version of "Stay" is another delight with revised lyrics, David Lindley's slide guitar, a strong vocal by Rosemary Butler, followed by an almost giddy Lindley falsetto vocal. So, enjoy the video and read the lyrics. It turns out that 1978 has a lot more to offer than you might think.
Jackson Browne - The Load Out and Stay - Live... on BBC
Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stag
Pack it up and tear it down
They're the first to come and last to leave
Working for that minimum wage
They'll set it up in another town
Tonight the people were so fine
They waited there in line
And when they got up on their feet they made the show
And that was sweet...
But I can hear the sound
Of slamming doors and folding chairs
And that's a sound they'll never know
Now roll them cases out and lift them amps
Haul them trusses down and get 'em up them ramps
Cause when it comes to moving me
You guys are the champs
But when that last guitar's been packed away
You know that I still want to play
So just make sure you got it all set to go
Before you come for my piano
But the band's on the bus
And they're waiting to go
We've got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago
Or Detroit, I don't know
We do so many shows in a row
And these towns all look the same
We just pass the time in our hotel rooms
And wander 'round backstage
Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
And we remember why we came
Now we got country and western on the bus, R&B
We got disco on eight tracks and cassettes in stereo
We got rural scenes and magazines
And we got truckers on CB
And we got Richard Pryor on the video
We got time to think of the ones we love
While the miles roll away
But the only time that seems too short
Is the time that we get to play
People you've got the power over what we do
You can sit there and wait
Or you can pull us through
Come along, sing the song
You know you can't go wrong
Cause when that morning sun comes beating down
You're going to wake up in your town
But we'll be scheduled to appear
A thousand miles away from here
People stay just a little bit longer
We want to play - just a little bit longer
Now the promoter don't mind
And the union don't mind
If we take a little time
And we leave it all behind and sing
One more song -
Oh, won't you stay just a little bit longer
Please, please, please, say you will
Say you will
Oh won’t you stay
Just a little bit longer
Oh won’t you stay
Just a little bit longer
And the promoter don’t mind
And the roadies don’t mind
If we take a little time
And we leave it all behind and sing
One more song
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Jackson Browne's Website
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70s on 7 Facebook
The Beach Boys - 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow; In Which the Beach Boys Offer the First True Stereo Mix of the Wild Honey Album and They Open the Vaults for a Treasure Trove of Recordings From 1967
The Beach Boys rehearsal for a concert in Honolulu, 1967
[Photos courtesy of The Beach Boys unless otherwise specified]
1967: Sunshine Tomorrow by The Beach Boys has been eagerly awaited by Beach Boys fans. This 2-disc set opens with the Wild Honey album, for the first time mixed in true stereo (tracks 1-11). Then it's Christmas in July as The Beach Boys offer 54 essentially bonus tracks of previously unreleased studio and live recordings. Sunshine Tomorrow brings you back into the control room as you hear 1967 recording sessions. The Wild Honey sessions are first after the album. Hearing early versions, alternate versions, vocal arrangements, etc., it's just fascinating to me. Then we get five live Wild Honey tracks, four from '67 and one from '70. Following that, one song of session vocal highlights from "Mama Says" closes Disc 1.
Disc 2 opens with ten tracks of sessions from Smiley Smile, also fascinating. I must admit here that my love for "Heroes and Villains" is counterbalanced by my distain for "Vegetables" (the song, not the food); I guess this is a classic example of you take the good with the bad.
Up next are fourteen tracks that in my opinion are worth the entire price of the album. Here's what happened: In August of '67, The Beach Boys recorded two concerts and two rehearsals in Hawaii intended for a live album called Lei'd in Hawaii. When these tapes were determined to be "unusable", they sought to rerecord these performances in recording studios in California. The production on these tracks was a little thin, most of the versions would not be considered definitive. Still, based on what they were trying to do, being a fly on the wall during these sessions is pure joy. These were not only some of The Beach Boys best loved songs, there are some amazing covers such as "The Letter" (The Boxtops), "With a Little Help from My Friends" (The Beatles), and "The Game of Love" (Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders). I absolutely love this version of "With a Little Help from My Friends". It was recorded at Brian Wilson's home studio and it is presented in both mono and stereo mixes.
The next five tracks were actually recorded in Hawaii. There are three concert recordings plus two tracks recorded at rehearsal including "Heroes And Villains". The Hawaii master tape was found in a closet at Brother Records (The Beach Boys' label). Next up are three live tracks recorded on The Thanksgiving Tour of that year. After that are two very nice studio recordings. One is an early version of "Surf's Up" recorded during the Wild Honey sessions; this tune was originally intended for the legendary Smile album. The other is a gorgeous a cappella vocal mix of "Surfer Girl" recorded during the LA Sessions for Lei'd in Hawaii.
Although this album will be undoubtedly considered as essential by Beach Boy fans and collectors, I think even casual fans will like the new true stereo Wild Honey album as well as the real and faux live recordings. I also want to thank Capitol Records for releasing this at a street price well under twenty bucks, and not making it necessary to buy an elaborate box set. Although I haven't seen anything specifically addressed on this topic in terms of this album, it is possible that this release is as much about protecting the copyright as it is a gift to Beach Boys fans. Whatever the case might be, I say when the label vaults swing open like this, it's time to rejoice.
Excerpt from the press release: (PRNewsFoto/Universal Music Enterprises)
1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow dives into a fascinating and frenetic chapter in The Beach Boys' long, groundbreaking creative arc, exploring the band's dynamic year in the studio and on tour. The Beach Boys' final studio session for the shelved SMiLE album took place on May 18th, 1967, with Smiley Smile album sessions booked at Brian Wilson's new home studio from June 3rd through the end of July. The band's 12th and 13th studio albums were released exactly three months apart to cap the year's studio efforts: Smiley Smile on September 18th followed by Wild Honey on December 18th.
"I wanted to have a home environment trip where we could record at my house," recalls Brian Wilson in the liner notes for 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow. "I wanted to try something different, something new. I produced Smiley Smile, but Mike inspired me. He said 'Brian, let's make a really good, easygoing album'. We had an engineer convert my den into a studio. We had my piano detuned to make it ring more."
"Just prior to that, Brian had built up this production peak and then just completely reversed field, and (for Smiley Smile) did something so light and airy, and y' know, easy," explains Mike Love. "That was an underground album, I figure, for us. It was completely out of the mainstream of what was going on at that time, which was all hard rock, psychedelic music, and here we come with a song called 'Wind Chimes.' It just didn't have anything to do with what was going on – and that was the idea."
"Times were changing," adds Al Jardine. "We were happy to put our musical skills to work. We didn't have to look at the clock; there was virtually 24-hour availability to experiment."
"Take away their sorrow / Give them sunshine tomorrow"
On August 25th and 26th, 1967, The Beach Boys (absent Bruce Johnston, but with Brian Wilson on organ in his first concert appearances with the band in more than two years) recorded two concerts and rehearsals in Honolulu for a prospective live album to be titled Lei'd In Hawaii, applying a new Smiley Smile-inspired aesthetic to the performances. Just over two weeks later, the band (with both Brian and Bruce participating) began re-recording the live set in-studio at Brian's house and at Wally Heider Recording in Hollywood, after the Honolulu concert tapes were deemed unusable. Although completed and mixed, the final planned audio element of a canned concert audience was not added and the Lei'd In Hawaii project was canceled. Those live, in-studio performances morphed into sessions for the Wild Honey album, primarily comprised of original Brian Wilson/Mike Love compositions.
In a 1976 look back at 1967's most heralded albums, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau praised Wild Honey with an "A+" review, writing, "It's perfect and full of pleasure; it does what it sets out to do almost without a bad second."
Bruce Johnston says that Wild Honey showcases a band devoid of pressure: "Here's the thing – the most important thing – you need to know about Wild Honey. It was just an album for us to exhale and do something real simple; but as it's Brian and Mike's music, it's still fabulous and not so simple. I love the album."
Two days after wrapping the Wild Honey sessions on November 15th, 1967, Mike Love, Carl and Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston returned to the road for The Beach Boys' Thanksgiving Tour, premiering several songs from the forthcoming album at their concerts.
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Tracklist: Click on titles to listen
Wild Honey Album (Stereo)
New stereo mix, except as noted above.* Recorded September 15 to November 15, 1967 at Brian Wilson's house and at Wally Heider Recording in Hollywood, California
01. Wild Honey (2:45)
02. Aren't You Glad (2:16)
03. I Was Made to Love Her (2:07)
04. Country Air (2:21)
05. A Thing or Two (2:42)
06. Darlin' (2:14)
07. I'd Love Just Once to See You (1:49)
08. Here Comes the Night (2:44)
09. Let the Wind Blow (2:23)
10. How She Boogalooed It (1:59)
11. Mama Says* (Original Mono Mix) (1:08)
Wild Honey Sessions: September-November 1967 (Previously Unreleased)
12. Lonely Days (Alternate Version) (1:45)
13. Cool Cool Water (Alternate Early Version) (2:08)
14. Time to Get Alone (Alternate Early Version) (3:08)
15. Can't Wait Too Long (Alternate Early Version) (2:49)
16. I'd Love Just Once to See You (Alternate Version) (2:22)
17. I Was Made to Love Her (Vocal Insert Session) (1:35)
18. I Was Made to Love Her (Long Version) (2:35)
19. Hide Go Seek (0:51)
20. Honey Get Home (1:22)
21. Wild Honey (Session Highlights) (5:39)
22. Aren't You Glad (Session Highlights) (4:21)
23. A Thing or Two (Track and Backing Vocals) (1:01)
24. Darlin' (Session Highlights) (4:36)
25. Let the Wind Blow (Session Highlights) (4:14)
Wild Honey Live: 1967-1970 (Previously Unreleased)
26. Wild Honey (Live) (2:53) — recorded in Detroit, November 17, 1967
27. Country Air (Live) (2:20) — recorded in Detroit, November 17, 1967
28. Darlin' (Live) (2:25) — recorded in Pittsburgh, November 22, 1967
29. How She Boogalooed It (Live) (2:43) — recorded in Detroit, November 17, 1967
30. Aren't You Glad (Live) (3:12) — recorded in 1970, location unknown
31. Mama Says (Session Highlights) (3:08)
(Previously unreleased vocal session highlights. Recorded at Wally Heider Recording, November 1967)
Smiley Smile Sessions: June-July 1967 (Previously Unreleased)
Recorded June and July 1967 at Brian Wilson's house, Western Recorders, SRS, and/or Columbia Studios, except as noted above*
01. Heroes and Villains (Single Version Backing Track) (3:38)
02. Vegetables (Long Version) (2:55)
03. Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (Alternate Mix) (2:28)
04. WWind Chimes (Alternate Tag Section) (0:48)
05. Wonderful (Backing Track) (2:23)
06. With Me Tonight (Alternate Version with Session Intro) (0:51)
07. Little Pad (Backing Track) (2:40)
08. All Day All Night (Whistle In) (Alternate Version 1) (1:04)
09. All Day All Night (Whistle In) (Alternate Version 2) (0:50)
10. Untitled (Redwood)* (0:35)
(Previously unreleased instrumental fragment. Studio and exact recording date unknown. Discovered in tape box labeled "Redwood")
Lei'd in Hawaii "Live" Album: September 1967 (Previously Unreleased)
Recorded September 11, 1967 at Wally Heider Recording in Hollywood, CA, with additional recording September 29, 1967 (except as noted above*). Original mono mixes from assembled master 1/2" reel, dated September 29, 1967, discovered in the Brother Records Archives.
11. Fred Vail Intro (0:24)
12. The Letter (1:54)
13.You're So Good to Me (2:31)
14. Help Me, Rhonda (2:24)
15. California Girls (2:30)
16. Surfer Girl (2:17)
17. Sloop John B (2:50)
18. With a Little Help from My Friends* (2:21)
(Recorded at Brian Wilson's house, September 23, 1967)
19. Their Hearts Were Full of Spring* (2:33)
(Recorded during rehearsal, August 26, 1967, Honolulu, Hawaii)
20. God Only Knows (2:45)
21. Good Vibrations (4:13)
22. Game of Love (2:11)
23. The Letter (Alternate Take) (1:56)
24. With a Little Help from My Friends (Stereo Mix) (2:21)
Live in Hawaii: August 1967 (Previously Unreleased)
The Beach Boys recorded two complete concerts and rehearsals in Honolulu on August 25 and 26, 1967. Brian Wilson rejoined the group onstage for these shows; Bruce Johnston was not present. The following tracks derive from the original 1" 8-track master reels discovered in the Brother Records Archives.
25.Hawthorne Boulevard (1:05)
27.Gettin' Hungry (3:19)
28. Hawaii (Rehearsal Take) (1:11)
29. Heroes And Villains (Rehearsal) (4:45)
Thanksgiving Tour 1967: Live In Washington, D.C. & Boston (Previously Unreleased)
The touring Beach Boys — Mike, Carl, Dennis, Al, and Bruce — embarked on a Thanksgiving tour immediately after delivering the finished Wild Honey album to Capitol Records. For this tour, the band was augmented by Ron Brown on bass and Daryl Dragon on keyboards.
30. California Girls (Live) (2:32) — recorded in Washington, DC, November 19, 1967
31. Graduation Day (Live) (2:56) — recorded in Washington, DC, November 19, 1967
32. I Get Around (Live) (2:53) — recorded in Boston, November 23, 1967
Additional 1967 Studio Recordings (Previously Unreleased)
33. Surf's Up (1967 Version) (5:25)
(Recorded during the Wild Honey sessions in November 1967)
34. Surfer Girl (1967 A Capella Mix) (2:17)
(Previously unreleased mix of Lei'd in Hawaii take from the Wally Heider Recording sessions in September 1967)
Excerpted from the 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow Producers' Notes by Mark Linett and Alan Boyd:
After the decision was made to shelve the unfinished Smile album in early 1967, The Beach Boys opted to return to recording as a self-contained band, working mostly at Brian Wilson's home and using rented recording equipment. The two albums they released that year, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, were both originally presented in mono only (with Capitol also issuing re-channeled “pseudo stereo” editions). Smiley Smile was remixed and released in stereo in 2012. Now, at last, The Beach Boys and Capitol present the first true stereo mix of Wild Honey, along with outtakes, session highlights, and selected backing tracks from both the Smiley Smile and Wild Honey sessions.
*Note that the 8-track master for “Mama Says” could not be located, so that song is presented here in its original mono mix. In addition, the organ solo on “How She Boogalooed It” was actually overdubbed as the song was being mixed to mono (as was the organ on the rest of the song), so that section is also presented in mono.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Kasey Chambers - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 7/05/2017; Kasey Crushed It; Plus An Excellent Opening Set By Garrett Kato
Photo courtesy of Kasey Chambers
Kasey Chambers and her band gave a phenomenal performance, Wednesday night July 5th, at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live; they flew in the night before from Sydney, Australia to resume the American leg of her Dragonfly tour. "I was glad that they let us in to your country" [audience laughter]. Dragonfly is Chambers' newest album, available since March Down Under, it was only just released here. Dragonfly is a double album with one disc produced by Kasey's brother Nash (her long time producer) and featuring her road band. The other disc was produced by Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and features numerous guest appearances such as Ed Sheeran, Keith Urban, Paul Kelly, Foy Vance and more.
There were three generations of Chambers this time. Kasey's dad, Bill Chambers, plays guitar in her band as he's done for the past nineteen years since she first went solo. Kasey also had one of her three children with her; her younger son Arlo (9) came out on stage during one song to play a cajón. Not joining mom on tour was daughter Poet (5) and her older brother Talon (15). Talon provided Kasey the inspiration to write "Is God Real". She told the story of co-parenting with her ex and Talon's creative solution to the seemingly disparate religious views of his parents.
The downstairs venue, though not sold out, gave Chambers such a warm and enthusiastic reception that she was knocked out by it, "I never thought so many of you would come along." Part of the reason that the crowd was so receptive was the way that Chambers told stories with so much heart and emotion that some of the intros seemed longer than the songs. She really put herself out there and the audience loved it.
Her set surveyed most of her career and even though her new album, Dragonfly, is a double CD with twenty songs, she only played about four of them. She was unusually apologetic about playing new songs, basically offering that if the audience was "nice about the new one, I'll reward you with an old one." I'm thinking that since Chambers is such a major star in Australia that she might be used to larger concert crowds offering some resistant to new material. Here in America, I feel that fans that know her seek out her shows and may be more interested in her new stuff than she realizes.
Chambers was amazing, as was her band. In addition to lead vocals, Kasey played guitars and banjo. Bill Chambers played guitars and James Haselwood played bass. Kasey talked about finding her band's two newest members, Brandon Dodd (banjo and guitars) and Josh Dufficy (drums and percussion), playing together in a beer garden in one of the small beach towns of the central coast of New South Wales, Australia where she lives.
The highlights were many. Click on the linked titles below to watch video. Chambers was especially delighted after "Not Pretty Enough", the second song of her set. "Nothing makes me happier than looking down and seeing a big tough guy like you singing, 'Am I not pretty enough?' [crowd laughter]."
Chambers' last five songs were killer. First she did a cover of the Little Feat song "Willin'" written by Lowell George. Next, she introduced "Aint No Little Girl", a new one from Dragonfly, as being "the glue that holds the whole new album together." As she started playing the song she added, "it's actually the glue that holds my whole life together... a lot of glue" The reward for that wonderful new one was her signature song, "The Captain", which closed her set. She came back and encored with what may be my personal favorite from her new album,"Talkin' Baby Blues". I can't adequately describe this tune, or her life story which came as the intro. You just will have to click and watch the video. Finally, after checking to make sure that the venue didn't mind her going overtime, she finished with "Barricades & Brickwalls". Kasey's performance was so good and her stage presence was so cheerful and overflowing with energy that you could not help but love her.
After the show, Bill Chambers came out for some conversation with members of the audience who hadn't left yet. It was great to meet him, a super nice guy.
Many thanks to World Cafe Live for the lighting and sound, and especially to Garrett Kato for the live mix of Kasey's set. Many thanks to Bev Kates for the camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production. Thanks also to IvanBourgeois and squintyt4e for use of their videos on the last four songs.
Watch "Not Pretty Enough"
Setlist: Click on linked titles to watch
02. Not Pretty Enough
03. This Flower
04. Rattlin' Bones feat. Brandon
05. Is God Real
08. If I Died
09. A Million Tears
10. Oh Grace
11. Georgia Brown
13. GT Song feat. Brandon & Josh
14. Willin' (Little Feat cover)
15. Ain't No Little Girl video by IvanBourgeois, June 8, 2017, Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA
16. The Captain video by squintyt4e, July 12, 2017 at the Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA.
17. Talkin' Baby Blues video by IvanBourgeois, Mar 9, 2017, Live at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley, California
18. Barricades & Brickwalls video by squintyt4e, July 12, 2017 at the Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA.
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Photo courtesy of Amplify, JohnnyD Photography
Garrett Kato lives in the same central coast area of New South Wales, Australia as Kasey Chambers. That's where she found the Canadian native busking on the street. As Kato tells it, the two struck up a conversation; soon afterwards they were both recording at the same studio and he asked about opening for her.
Kato is a man of many talents, which were evident in his performance. The seven song set consisted of six originals. Kato won over the crowd immediately with his understated story intros, which showed his disarming sense of humor.
He introduced "Trouble Will Find Me" by talking about relocating from Canada to Australia, only to discover that life there was basically the same and that change had to come from within. The influence behind "Take It Slowly", according to Kato, is advice that he has for his daughter.
Kato's one cover song was the Temptations' "My Girl". His unhurried acoustic version answered the question of what "My Girl" might sound like without that iconic bass line. Kato told a sincere story about writing "Sweet Jane" for his mother, only to find out later that the song had been selected to be used in the movie Bad Moms [more crowd laughter].
Kato has been compared with Bruce Springsteen by Rolling Stone Australia. Without any mention in advance, Kato dropped a verse of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" right into the middle of "The River Mouth". His last song was a sing-a-long.
All through his set, Kato seemed genuinely touched by the warm reception he was getting from Chambers' audience. The crowd reacted to the degree that he spoke between songs. After his set, Kato went behind the venue's sound console and did the live mix for Kasey's set.
The next day, I purchased Kato's second and latest album, That Low and Lonesome Sound, and it's quite good. Rolling Stone Australia said, "Kato’s debut LP is a warm and gentle gem, rich with songwriting nous, simple instrumentation, emotion leaking from every pore." I agree.
Watch "Trouble Will Find Me"
Setlist: Click on linked titles to watch
02. Trouble Will Find Me
03. Take It Slowly
04. My Girl (Temptations cover)
05. Sweet Jane
06. The River Mouth
07. Oh My My
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Friday, July 07, 2017
Shannon McNally - Black Irish; McNally and Producer Rodney Crowell Both Triumph on Shannon's Compass Record Debut, It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This
Photos: Compass Records
“There is something for every roots-loving, singer-songwriting fan in these dozen tracks. . . it ought to move Shannon McNally to the forefront of Americana artists, where she clearly belongs.” - Hal Horowitz, American Songwriter
When I was checking out the new releases on Friday, June 16th, the one that was immediately the most impressive to me was Black Irish by Shannon McNally. The next morning I gave it a thorough listen and I was knocked out by the quality of the record. McNally's vocal gifts have been a given for some time. Even though the songwriting of the originals was so strong and the covers so impeccably chosen, I think that the thing that impressed me most were the performances and the production. I was more familiar with Rodney Crowell as a recording artist and singer-songwriter, but on this album he completely knocks it out of the park as a producer.
I absolutely love the sound of Black Irish. Right in track one, the band sounds surprisingly muscular. I could single out every instrument because they all excel throughout the record. The arrangements, the instrumentation, the pacing and the sequencing are superb as well.
I first became aware of Shannon McNally in 2002 when she released her debut album Jukebox Sparrows which featured the unstoppable "Down and Dirty". We went to see her then at a small club in Philadelphia (North X Northwest) where she opened for Levon Helm of The Band.
McNally has done many great things over the last 15 years and 9 albums, but I was excited that her new album sounded so good. Reading my email, I was also excited to learn that McNally had signed with Compass Records who released Black Irish. Compass is one of the few labels who really know and care about music. They also have a vital and growing roster of Americana, British, and Celtic artists.
You can clearly see what I'm talking about in the detailed discussion of Black Irish, provided by Compass, which is included below. I encourage you to click on the tracklist and listen to these fine songs while you read. Regarding McNally's performance on the cover versions, they compare her to great interpreters such as Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmylou Harris. To that list, I would add Joan Osborne; I thought of her especially during Stevie Wonder's “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It”. And there are many excellent aspects to this record, as you'll see below, but the bottom line is that I would totally agree that this is Shannon McNally's career defining album. It doesn't get any better than this.
Black Irish Trailer
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Tracklist: Click song title to listen
01. You Made Me Feel For You (Rodney Crowell)
02. I Ain't Gonna Stand For It (Stevie Wonder), Feat. Cody Dickinson - drums and organ
03. Banshee Moan (Shannon McNally/Rodney Crowell)
04. I Went to the Well (Shannon McNally/Garry Burnside)
05. Roll Away the Stone (Shannon McNally/Cary Hudson)
06. Black Haired Boy (Susanna Clark/Guy Clark), Feat. Emmylou Harris, Elizabeth Cook - backing vocals
07. Low Rider (J.J. Cale)
08. Isn't that Love? (Beth Nielsen Chapman/Rodney Crowell), Feat. Beth Nielsen Chapman - backing vocals
09. The Stuff You Gotta Watch (McKinley Morganfield)
10. Prayer in Open D (Emmylou Harris)
11. It Makes No Difference (J.R. Robertson)
12. Let's Go Home (Roebuck Staples)
Audley Freed - Guitar
Colin Linden - Guitar
Rodney Crowell - Acoustic guitar, organ, backing vocals
Jedd Hughes - Electric guitar
Steve Fishell - Steel guitar
Michael Rhodes - Bass
David Santos - Bass
Lex Price - Bass
Chris Wood - Bass
Byron House - Bass
Michael Rinne - Bass
Jerry Roe - Drums
Dom Billet - Drums
Byron House - Drum
John McTigue - Drums
Micah Hulscher - Keyboards
Jim Hoke - Piano, pedal steel, flute, sax
Kai Welch - Piano
Chris Tuttle - Keys and organ
Dave Cohen - Organ
Tim Lauer - Organ
Shannon McNally - Lead vocalist, acoustic guitar
Wendy Moten - Backing vocals
Tania Hancheroff - Backing vocals
Kim Keyes - Backing vocals
Hannah Sutherland - Backing vocals
Produced by Rodney Crowell
Read the following unabridged description of Black Irish.
From Compass Records:Videos:
In Irish folklore it’s said that the darker Celts have special powers; it must be true because Shannon McNally’s blues-Americana return, BLACK IRISH, will make you dance, break your heart, and save your soul.
Black Irish is McNally’s most personal project yet, which is saying a lot, given the Americana singer-songwriter’s deep catalog. But it speaks to the power of connection, and the power of music to create it and to reflect it. The kick off track “You Made Me Feel For You”, was written by her producer, Americana icon, Rodney Crowell, and serves as a metaphor for their collaboration - how his particular understanding of her unique gifts pulled out the career-defining album many have been waiting for since she came on the scene.
The album concept began in 2013, as she was going through what she calls “a miserable divorce,” raising her daughter Maeve, and nursing her terminally ill mother Maureen. Her parents had relocated to Holly Springs, Mississippi, and McNally moved in, caring for her mom until her death in 2015.
“I had no vim or vigor in me for a couple of years,” she admits. What saved her was her email relationship with Crowell, who’d been talking about producing her since 2012. He writes in the liner notes for Black Irish that their musical connection was immediate, describing McNally as “this dark- eyed beauty who wrote grown-up songs, played a pretty mean Fender Stratocaster and, at times, sounded a lot like Jesse Mae Hemphill. From our first meeting I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was the right man for the job of shepherding the next Shannon McNally record into existence.”
It wasn’t easy. Too depressed to write, McNally recorded a favorite Emmylou Harris song on her laptop and worked up the nerve to email it to him. With lines like “There’s a river of darkness in my blood,” “Prayer in Open D” spoke to pain she couldn’t verbalize. “And he called me back and said, ‘That’s gorgeous, you were meant to do that song. Do more.” That was all she needed.
“We started this really wonderful thing of just lobbing song titles back and forth. And I just sat at that table and learned about a dozen tunes, my favorite covers, anything to spark a fire in this really dark turn.”
She co-wrote three of the album’s 12 songs – one with producer Crowell, who also penned two more for her; the rest include personal favorites by Stevie Wonder (“I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It”), Robbie Robertson (“It Makes No Difference”), and J.J. Cale (“Low Rider”). The result is an album that stands with the best of classic vocal interpreters like Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Maria Muldaur.
“I just love great songs,” she says. “I’m inspired by Willie Nelson, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Bill Withers, Mavis Staples. None of them hesitate to sing any song they feel like singing, even if they didn’t write it. I think great songs need to be spotlighted, they need to recycle back up into the consciousness.”
Today, McNally makes her home in the Mississippi hill country, “the most Southern place on earth,” she says. But her musical journey began in New York, where she was born on St. Patrick’s Day and raised in Hempstead, Long Island. Growing up in the age of ‘80s MTV-pop, she found an escape route. “When I was 12, my uncle gave me a J.J. Cale album. That saved me from the Debbie Gibson era.” So began her obsession with roots music. (She pays tribute to that early influence here with a swampy take on Cale’s “Low Rider.”)
McNally became a performing singer/songwriter/guitarist in college and eventually signed with Capitol Records. After some time in Los Angeles, she moved to New Orleans soaking up that city’s music, culminating in her 2013 tribute to singer/songwriter Bobby Charles, Small Town Talk, with an all-star band that included her producer Dr. John. (Earlier, she’d recorded a definitive version of Charles’ “Tennessee Blues” on 2005’s Geronimo.)
Between those albums she’d moved to North Mississippi as a Katrina refugee, and became part of legendary producer Jim Dickinson’s extended musical family. “Jim was the first person I met up there. He was a big mentor for me.” She sings about her early Mississippi days on “Roll Away the Stone,” a swaggering, horn-driven, Stones-inspired rocker, as well as “I Went to the Well,” a slinky blues co-written with Garry Burnside, the youngest of legendary bluesman R.L. Burnside’s 13 children.
The third McNally original, and an album standout, is “Banshee Moan,” about her experiences in the music industry, experiences common to working women everywhere. “I wrote that a ways back, previous to the
rebirth of the women's movement we've seen of late. I’m thrilled to see women truly engaged and pissed off again.” With its haunting melody and McNally’s rich, deep-blue vocals, “Banshee Moan” is no mere protest song, it’s a howl of the collective female spirit, equal parts softness and strength.
Black Irish was recorded in Nashville, but its distinctive sense of place lies 210 miles west, where Memphis meets Mississippi. The primary colors of American music are black and white, and Black Irish displays that hybrid in many shades, mixing country, blues, soul, rock, folk balladry and classic pop.
“Sense of place” is important to McNally. “I don’t do anything half-assed,” she says with a laugh. “I tend to move into a place. I’m a Pisces and that’s a water sign. And water takes on the shape of the vessel that carries it. When I lived in New Orleans I became fast friends with Bobby Charles and Dr. John and was really kind of consumed whole by that. And then, when I came up here (to Mississippi) the blues stuff was so organic and authentic and natural that I kind of got consumed by it.”
That’s her approach to Black Irish. Whether singing her own songs or others’, she “moves into” them, making them hers.
When it came time to record McNally enlisted her friend, Memphis soul- gospel powerhouse Wendy Moten on background vocals, while Crowell called in some of Music City’s finest, including guitarists Colin Linden and Audley Freed, bassists Michael Rhodes and David Santos, and drummer Jerry Roe.
For those familiar with Levon Helm’s ramshackle take on Muddy Waters’ “The Stuff You Got to Watch,” McNally’s smoothly swinging rockabilly/ jump blues will be a revelation. It’s her tribute to Muddy. “I love how classy he was, how sharp-dressed and handsome, with his pompadour and his gold and his perfect suit.”
To McNally, the late Susanna Clark’s song about Townes Van Zandt, “Black Haired Boy” (with Emmylou and Elizabeth Cook singing harmony) is a bookend to “Prayer in Open D,” the two most “singer-songwriter” tracks, both featuring Crowell’s fingerpicking.
“Isn’t That Love,” by Crowell and Beth Nielsen Chapman, expands the production with an organic pop feel. It’s McNally’s finest vocal showcase, her voice soaring into hitherto unheard upper registers. “I love Otis Redding and all those great soul singers who go right up there and get to that place,” she says. “That was the scariest, being that honest and vulnerable and that far out on a limb vocally. It’s liberating.”
Another challenge was The Band’s “It Makes No Difference,” originally sung to tragic perfection by the late Rick Danko. “I cried all over it in the studio, and I had to sing it a bunch of times, ‘cause I just couldn't keep it together,” she remembers. “And that’s where you’re supposed to be, the emotional intensity on the precipice of ‘I’m about to lose it. I’m about to break down, and it’s going to take everything I have not to.’”
She inhabits that song, her performance more resilient than Danko’s. “You don’t have to agree to the abyss,” McNally says. “You can be a quality singer and songwriter and not just drown yourself in the bottle. Everybody’s a little tortured if you do this; I’d just like to be there for the long haul.”
From that darkness comes light, as McNally and company close Black Irish with the joyous, roof-raising Delta gospel of The Staple Singers’ “Let’s Go Home.”
She won’t be staying long. With Black Irish, Shannon McNally moves into the next part of her journey.
"You Made Me Feel for You"
"Ain't Gonna Stand For It"
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