Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Clean Bandit, Zara Larsson, & Starley - Union Transfer, 4/22/2017; "No Place I'd Rather Be"

In a time when the internet and modern technology has splintered the music audience down to every possible genre, surprisingly, the conventional wisdom still holds: hit singles equal crowds. Clean Bandit has had quite a few, Zara Larsson (the nineteen year old pop star from Sweden) has had any number of worldwide hits, even opener Starley seems to have dented the airways judging by the crowd response she got on Saturday night, April 22nd at Union Transfer. The upshot of all this was a sold-out Union Transfer and a most receptive packed house.

Singer-songwriter Starley went first. Starley Hope hails from Sydney, Australia and she defines her genre as "basically just whatever I feel at the time. I write about my life... ;)". Her debut single "Call On Me" reached the top ten Down Under as well as all over Europe. In Sweden it reached number one.

She played a quite listenable set of mostly originals plus a nice cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car". Her second to last song was "Into You". She was the featured singer on this Odd Mob single, which also had its share of chart success. Following that, Starley told a very personal story about pursuing a music career in London. She was writing songs for others because she supposedly didn't fit the profile of a lead singer. Starley talked about grappling with her weight, even thoughts of suicide, leading to an obsession with going to the gym and giving up music to became a personal trainer. Eventually, she wound up back in Australia with a new found singing career. Her message was "never give up on your dreams". That said, she ended her set with "Call On Me", with a good assist from the crowd who sang along. Atlantic City Beats posted a video of Starley doing "Call On Me".

Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson was next. Larsson first gained notoriety for her singing at the age of ten when she won the Swedish equivalent of America's Got Talent. In 2013 (when she was fifteen), her first Swedish EP, Introducing, sold a million copies in the first month; six months in, it had gone triple platinum. Her second Swedish EP, Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself, was also released in 2013 with similar results. Now at the age of nineteen, Zara Larsson is a true phenom; everything she releases goes platinum in Sweden. She is huge in Denmark and Norway, too, with increasing worldwide popularity.

Larsson's many hit singles populated both her set and her international debut album, released this past March. They included "Never Forget You", "Ain't My Fault", "I Would Like", "So Good", and "Lush Life", much to the delight of the capacity crowd. In addition, she sang several covers of songs by Tinie Tempah, David Guetta, and Ed Sheeran; when she said Sheeran's name, she got a huge crowd reaction. Atlantic City Beats posted three videos from Larsson's set; click to watch. "It Ain't My Fault", "I Would Like", and "I Know What Boys Like". The beats were pounding, and the synths were soaring for a sound so loud that it made the floor physically vibrate (the heavy duty sound may have been needed to drown out the din coming from the audience). The vocals were nicely mixed to be loud and clear on top of the pulsating pop. Zara was well loved by the crowd who sang along to many of her songs. Her set did not contain "Symphony", but she returned to the stage during Clean Bandit's set to sing it.

Clean Bandit took the stage with their 2017 touring configuration of original members Grace Chatto on cello, percussion and vocals, Jack Patterson on keyboard and electronic clarinet, and Luke Patterson on drums, plus Stephanie Benedetti on violin, Kristin Child and Yasmin Green on vocals.

Clean Bandit's main draw is their uniqueness, the way they stretch classical music until it becomes pop, and then they put a dance beat to it. That together with excellence in songwriting, arrangements, and production, with a series of guest vocalists, begins to explain their popularity. So far, their recording career consists of one full length album New Eyes (2014), three EPs, and at least nine singles including their current hits "Symphony" feat. Zara Larsson and "Rockabye" feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie.

"Rockabye" was #1 in the UK for a total of nine weeks, including seven consecutive weeks during which it also earned the coveted Christmas number one honor for 2016. On their debut album, Clean Bandit worked with a number of guest vocalists: Rae Morris, Jess Glynne, Sharna Bass, Noonie Bao, Kandaka Moore, Nikki Cislyn, Stylo G, Javeon, Love Ssega, Elisabeth Troy, Lizzo, and Eliza Shaddad. Jess Glynne was the vocalist on their other UK #1 hit, "Rather Be", a crowd favorite that closed the show at Union Transfer. Both "Rather Be" and "Rockabye" charted top ten in the US. The live version of "Rockabye" featured Kristin (supported by Yasmin) sounding so good that nothing was lost in the absence of Sean Paul and Anne-Marie. The same goes for "Rather Be".

Performing live, Clean Bandit did not disappoint with virtually every song seeming like a highlight. Check out the setlist below and click on the song titles to watch their Union Transfer performance.

Even though it was louder than loud, the sound mix was excellent with every instrument clearly heard. The two singers, Yasmin and Kristin, were both phenomenal. Songs, which on record featured other vocalists, sounded great in their hands. Zara Larsson returned to the stage to sing on "Symphony" and the crowd loved it.

They ended their set with "Real Love", while at the same time receiving plenty of same from the crowd. This brought them back for a two song encore culminating with "Rather Be", which got the full audience sing-along treatment.

There seemed to be complete audience cross-over between Zara Larsson and Clean Bandit. Starley also held a great deal of appeal for this audience. This was another fine night of music at Union Transfer.

Photo: Clean Bandit's Instagram "Chilly Fease Cakes ! ! !"

I may not be in the target demographic for this music. I thought we'd get another opinion from someone who is. Take it away, Breanne.
Starley: I was not familiar with this artist before going to the concert; in fact, I did not even realize that she would be an opener! However, after listening to a few of her songs, I feel as though she was the perfect person to open the show. She had wonderful stage presence and brought so much energy to her performance. She definitely looks like the stage is where is she is meant to be. Vocally, I found her voice to be very soulful and sultry, with a lower register that was particularly strong. When she began to sing "Call on Me", i immediately recognized it as being a song I frequently listen to Spotify without knowing who sings it. It received a huge reaction from the crowd, rightfully so as it is a song with both a catchy melody and inspirational lyrics.

Zara Larsson: Zara has been one of my favorite up and coming artists for a while now, so I was understandably very excited to see her perform live. Having heard from several people that her live performances are amazing, she definitely lived up to my expectations. Though she sang several catchy songs and made the show a lot of fun to watch, I was most impressed by the strength and maturity of her voice. I feel as though she could take any song and sing it well. Her voice never waivers, despite doing choreographed dancing the majority of the set. I can definitely see her becoming a household name in the near future.

Clean Bandit: Going into the concert, I only knew a few of their more popular songs (Rockabye, Rather Be, and most recently, Symphony), but this show made me a huge fan. Being a violinist, I love listening to classical music, so this classical crossover group (which I didn't even realize was a musical genre) was right up my alley. I feel like any time string instruments are included in pop songs, it adds so much depth and beauty. The two singers, Kristen and Jasmine, each brought something different to the table and really did the original songs justice.

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the show! I felt that the three groups complimented each other perfectly. My favorite part of the concert, by far, was when Zara Larsson and Clean Bandit joined forces to play "Symphony", their newest single. I am absolutely obsessed with this song right now and have been playing it on repeat for the past few weeks, so it was amazing to see it played live. I haven't been to a great deal of concerts, but of all the ones I have been to, this was by far my favorite. I can't wait to see what each of these three artists come out with next!
Many thanks to Breanne Pottie the second opinion. Many thanks to Union Transfer for the booking and the powerful sound and lighting. Thanks also to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.
Thanks again to Atlantic City Beats for the additional videos.

Watch Clean Bandit & Zara Larsson - Symphony

01. UK Shanty
02. Stronger
03. Cologne
04. Symphony (with Zara Larsson)
05. Extraordinary
06. Heart on Fire (Courtesy of Atlantic City Beats)
07. A+E
08. Birch
09. Come Over
10. Rockabye
11. Telephone Banking
12. Should've Known Better
13. Piece of You
14. Real Love
15. Tears(with band introductions)
16. Rather Be

Bonus Videos:

The day before Union Transfer, they played Webster Hall in NYC. Watch Clean Bandit with Zara Larsson perform "Symphony" on LIVE with Kelly on 4/21/2017

Watch Clean Bandit perform "Rather Be" on Elvis Duran Live on 3/8/2017

Watch Clean Bandit with Jess Glynne perform "Rather Be On" on Later with Jools Holland on 5/10/14

Clean Bandit's Website
Clean Bandit's Facebook
Clean Bandit's Twitter
Clean Bandit's Instagram

Zara Larsson's Website
Zara Larsson's Facebook
Zara Larsson's Twitter
Zara Larsson's Instagram

Starley's Facebook
Starley's Twitter
Starley's Instagram

Friday, April 14, 2017

Livingston Taylor - The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, 4/01/2017; Taylor is a Total Charmer as He Celebrates His Fifty Year Career

After Susan Werner and an intermission, it was time for Livingston Taylor. Taylor's set was either a delightful batch of songs performed in celebration of his now fifty year career, or his set may have been a master class in the popular song, giving the crowd a taste of what it might be like taking one of his courses at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In actuality, Taylor's set was a little of both.

A little more than half of his selections were originals, and although he didn't draw many songs from his early days, Taylor's compositions showcased his finely tuned sense of melody with all the lyrical humor and poignancy that his fans have come to expect.

After leading off with "Blame It On Me", Taylor got right to it, talking about Jerome Kern (1885-1945). "He was the grandmaster of the popular song. All he wanted to be was a pop writer, and boy was he ever. He had so much grace and so much dignity that all the young pops that came after him, Richard Rogers, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, they looked at Jerome Kern and said, 'Well if he wants to be a pop writer, so do I', and boy weren't they too."

With that he sang the delightful "Pick Yourself Up", which the more you hear it, the more you realize that it is a perfect pop song. As a standard, it's been done by most of the major pop singers over the years; I've always been partial to the Nat King Cole version. During the set, Taylor came back to this subject a number of times.

Some of the other pop standards in Taylor's set came from the movies, "Never Never Land" from Peter Pan, "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair, and "Merry Old Land Of Oz" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" both from The Wizard of Oz. Singer-songwriter Susan Werner, who performed earlier, came back out to join Taylor on "It Might As Well Be Spring" contributing vocals and piano. For the final encore song Taylor sang the medley from The Wizard of Oz and Werner added guitar.

There was so much humor in this set it was the kind of concert that keeps you smiling. Taylor's "Olympic Guitar" never gets old and the same can be said for "Railroad Bill", which had the crowd howling with laughter. There were also plenty of favorites from Taylor's records such as "Life is Good", "Pajamas", and "City Lights".

During the introduction to "I Must Be Doing Something Right", Taylor talked about the joy he gets from teaching, then he brought out singer-songriter, musician, and arranger Matt Cusson. Cusson played piano for the rest of Taylor's set, adding his vocals to "City Lights". He returned to the stage during the encore for a rousing version of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely". Cusson did the lead vocals and if you weren't looking at the stage, you might have thought that Stevie himself had dropped by to sing. Cusson is highly regarded as an artist and collaborator. He released his self-tittled debut album in 2009.

Livingston Taylor has achieved a body of work in his fifty year career with the excellence of both his songwriting and his cover choices. In any given concert, he can only scratch the surface. Earlier when Taylor was describing Jerome Kern he used the terms grace and dignity, I think that these terms apply equally well to Livingston Taylor. I can say without reservation, after having seen Taylor any number of times, that in performance he is always nothing less than charming.

Many thanks to the Colonial Theater for the sound and lights. Thanks to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Watch "Pick Yourself Up"

Setlist: Click linked song titles to watch
01. Blame It On Me
02. Pick Yourself Up (Jerome Kern)
03. There I'll Be
04. Never Never Land (Peter Pan)
05. Everybody's Just Like Me
06. I'm Writing A Book
07. Never Lose Hope
08. Olympic Guitar
09. Pajamas
10. Railroad Bill (Andy Breckman)
11. I Must Be Doing Something Right w/ MC
12. Penny Lane (Beatles) w/ MC
13. City Lights w/ MC
14. Life is Good w/ MC
15. It Might As Well Be Spring (State Fair) w/ SW
16. Isn't She Lovely (Stevie Wonder)
17. Would You Mind w/ SW & MC
18. Merry Old Land Of Oz (Wizard of Oz)
19. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Wizard of Oz) w/ SW & MC

Livingston Taylor's Website
Livingston Taylor's Facebook
Livingston Taylor's Twitter
Livingston Taylor's Instagram

Matt Cusson's Website
Matt Cusson's Facebook
Matt Cusson's Twitter
Matt Cusson's Instagram

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Susan Werner - The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, 4/01/2017; A Superb Set of Decidedly Necessary Songs

The Colonial Theater crowd was the beneficiary Saturday night April 1st as Point Entertainment booked a pair of headliners to perform, Livingston Taylor and Susan Werner.

Susan Werner did the opening set, even though she's been headlining her own shows for many years. I've been to her shows a number of times, but as she played this time it occurred to me that I had somehow forgotten just how good she is. At the outset, Livingston Taylor came out and introduced her with tons of praise.

Werner started strong with "Kicking the Beehive," the lead track from the album of the same name (2010). She followed with "The Last of the Good, Straight Girls", which led into "I Can't Be New", all three seeming like signature songs, in a way.

One of the things I like best about Werner is the way that she unapologetically writes her views into her material, no matter whether the topic is political, religious, or social. Her next two songs opened a few eyes (and ears), the first one coming from an album called Eight Unnecessary Songs. "Just what you don’t need! Eight little tunes on topics ranging from cosmetic surgery to the extraordinary properties of cheap beer to global warming. At turns facile, petty and uncharitable, these songs offer a kind of comfort to those of us falling wayyy short of Mother Teresa out here." Watch Susan perform "Dog" and you'll see what I mean. Although "Herbicides" comes from her latest album Hayseed, she introduced it saying something about it also being unnecessary. I thought about quoting some lyrics here, but just watch the video.

After "Red Dress" her set got even more topical starting with a track from her The Gospel Truth album, one that she considers “agnostic gospel”. From that album she drew "(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small", a song that hits the nail on the head in so many ways. While she sang it, I kept thinking that the song could not be more relevant now. Then I realized that I thought the exact same thing when she first released that album in 2007, which may be the last time I'd seen her. But then that's the beauty of songwriting like this, it's timeless.

Her set culminated in another true Werner gem, "My Strange Nation". Based on recent events, she has updated the song with a new verse about Donald Trump. See video below.

There was a lot of love in the Colonial Theater for Werner. She stuck around and came back out to sing a couple of tunes with Livingston Taylor at the end of his set. If you haven't seen Susan Werner, or haven't seen her lately, I heartily recommend going to her website and catching up with her.

Many thanks to the Colonial Theater for the sound and lights. Thanks to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Bonus video: Werner posted her 2017 version of "My Strange Nation".

Susan Werner's Website
Susan Werner's Facebook
Susan Werner's Twitter

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Anuhea - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 3/22/2017: A Delightful Bit Of Hawaii Heats Up A Frigid Night, Plus Sets By Mahi & WonderBoy

Anuhea played at the upstairs venue of World Cafe Live for the second time on Wednesday, March 22nd. It was four years less one day since her last show there on March 23, 2013. We arrived nice and early, which was good for a couple of reasons. We got a great location right up front, which you'll see in the videos. We had time for a leisurely dinner. The World Cafe menu is always interesting, and the food is always good. And finally, as we sat down, Anuhea began her soundcheck, which was a nice and lengthy version of "Higher Than the Clouds", the song that she chose to close her set. She left the stage to her guitarist Mahi, who played some dazzling lead guitar.

The show began with an opening set by Philly local BoyWonder (Andre Coles), who sang accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. According to his bio, he grew up in West Philadelphia, "Andre was exposed to a myriad of music genres Blues, Jazz, Motown, Philly International, and Gospel yet the Police remained his number one inspiration." He did a wide ranging set of mostly originals that was quite enjoyable; watch the videos of "Love Struck" and "Toxic (Britney Spears cover)" shot at the show.

After a break, Anuhea's band took the stage. Guitarist Mahi warmed up the crowd, accompanied by Jason on bass and Revelation on drums. Mahi played "Kissing You", a great sounding original, composition and a number of soul covers starting with a terrific version of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly". Even if he was possibly covering The Fugees version, the result was excellent just the same. Jason then began the iconic bass riff that opens "My Girl" (Temptations) and Mahi knew he had another crowd pleaser. In light of the music's innate appeal, Mahi perhaps didn't need to come on so strong with audience participation, but the crowd liked him regardless. When taking requests some fan who knew his music made him a happy man by asking for another of his original tunes, but the request he wound up settling on was a Jackson 5 oldie. Check out videos "Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack cover)", "Kissing You", "I Want You Back (Jackson Five cover)", and Shining Star (The Manhattans cover).

When the band started the next number, Mahi introduced Anuhea who launched into her set with "Come Over Love". Her set was so well constructed that it seemed like, for the first half hour, each new song began as the previous song ended, some even overlapping like a good radio segue.

Anuhea's band was superb. Jason on bass and Revelation on drums were so rock steady that I think they could have given any song the full Jamaican reggae treatment. They played some mighty fine "riddim". Mahi is an enormously gifted guitarist whether he's dazzling on his Fender Stratocaster or voicing beautiful moodswings on his acoustic. He also sang with Anuhea on a couple of tunes. This band is talented, tight, and you can see why Anuhea brings them with her from Hawaii.

When she played "Island Inside Me" from her first album, she mentioned that it had been eight years since that debut was released in 2009. That record put her on my map, making my list of the ten best albums of that year. She has a great singing voice with a facility for rap, which she busts out from time to time, like on the encore when she introduced and invited each band member to take a solo. Anuhea is naturally at ease with the audience, telling long stories over the intros, which sounds quite like an old friend bringing you up to date on what she's been up to.

Anuhea is also a super songwriter. Her music blends rock, pop, soul, and reggae into something that comes out decidedly Hawaiian. She can more than hold her own with more well-known singer songwriters. Anuhea said that she's been doing some recording in L.A. for her next album and she plans to go back next month to do more. She also mentioned that it will be on a new label (her third). I think that with the right exposure, Anuhea could see the breakthrough that her music deserves.

Many thanks to World Cafe Live for the excellent lighting and sound.
Many thanks also to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Watch "Come Over Love"

Setlist: Click song to watch.
01. Come Over Love
02. Only Man in the World
03. Looking for Love
04. Big Deal
05. I Just Want You Around (including Drop, Baby Drop)
06. Forever Summer
07. Sweet Thing
08. Island Inside Me
09. Simple Love Song
10. Shoulders
11. Higher Than The Clouds
12. Send My Love (to your new lover)[Adele Cover] w/ band solos

Anuhea's Website
Anuhea's Facebook
Anuhea's Twitter

Mahi's Facebook
Mahi's Twitter

BoyWonder's Facebook
BoyWonder's Twitter

Monday, March 20, 2017

Murray McLauchlan – Love Can't Tell Time; McLauchlan Delivers An Exquisite Set Of "New" Standards

Photos courtesy of Murray McLauchlan

New Music Friday: Many singers, at some point in their career, find their way to the Great American Songbook. Some go to that well more than once, such as Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan. Of all the standards albums I've heard, I don't think that anyone has produced one more enjoyable than Love Can't Tell Time by Murray McLauchlan, released Friday, March 17th. And this isn't even a standards album, it only sounds like one.

Murray McLauchlan is a Scottish born Canadian singer, songwriter, and musician with eighteen previous albums to his credit. I started listening to him back in the early 70s when men were men and records were made of vinyl. I enjoyed a number of visits to Montreal in those days, including a mid January honeymoon. There is a lot to like in Montreal: there's the food, the metro system, the diversity of international cultures, and the shopping, not the least of which is some fine record shopping.

Among my many finds there, I usually came home with McLauchlan's latest LP. I don't know if it was the switch to CDs in the 80s, or if I just didn't get into Montreal that often, but I lost track of McLauchlan... until last Friday when I noticed his familiar name on the list of new releases. Listening to it this morning flooded me with good feeling, hence this article.

The concept could not be simpler, or more well done. A batch of first rate material gets a thoroughly organic arrangement of acoustic guitar, voice, and bass with some of the sweetest swinging violin you've ever heard. McLauchlan says that the basic tracks where recorded "live off the floor" with the violin and some pedal steel added later. Click either the Spotify link or a track below to listen and you'll see what I mean.

The first track is "Pick Yourself Up", written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. This version is so good that McLauchlan actually reclaims the song from Breaking Bad, which used it to soundtrack a sequence of prison killings with Nat King Cole's version. That image was so disturbing that I hadn't been able to disassociate the scene from the song, at least until now.

Next up is the title track plus two more originals that are so well written, and so well played, that the first time through I didn't even realize that these were not simply standards that I didn't recognize.
"Of the songs I wrote or co wrote," says McLauchlan, "Love Just Can't Tell Time and Little White Lies have a special place in my heart. They were co written with my friend Alison Gordon, a take-no-prisoners gal who was a sportswriter, a novelist, a broadcaster and a great critic when any of us got off the rails. She passed away before I finished this record but she lives on in these songs."

"Hey There" and "Come Fly With Me" are two more covers of standards that are every bit as delightful as "Pick Yourself Up". Regarding those three covers, McLauchlan says, “They’ve been around for quite a while but they are my songs, in so much as I have made them my own. They’ve seen me through some dark times and helped me celebrate seeing the clouds from the other side..."

The album concludes with a string of four more originals. Beyond the beauty of the performances, arrangements, and production, the real genius of this album is the relentlessly high quality of the songwriting. The lyrics are wordy and use the language in a way that we don't hear much anymore. Combined with melodies that seem to be of a piece with the classics, it's no accident that this album plays like a standards collection; it can be hard to tell the difference. What I'm getting at is that Murray McLauchlan's Love Can't Tell Time offers seven original songs on par with the three standards he covers, so let's just refer to this as an album of "new" standards.

Murray McLauchlan – Love Can't Tell Time
Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
Stream on Spotify

Tracklist: Click song name to listen.
01. Pick Yourself Up
02. Love Just Can't Tell Time
03. The Luckiest Guy
04. My Martini
05. Hey There
06. Come Fly With Me
07. Little White Lies
08. I'm Not Gonna Waste a Minute of My Life
09. The Second Half of Life
10. When You're At The Top

Bonus Interview: by Lynn Saxberg, Ottawa Citizen, February 23, 2017
Murray McLauchlan preview: 'The most important thing is always the song'

Canadian singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan is gearing up to release his 18th studio album this spring. Lynn Saxberg talked to the veteran musician, 68, about the no-frills recording, and how a sojourn in Italy rekindled his love of playing guitar.

Q: Tell me about the new record.

A: It’s called Love Can’t Tell Time. It’s related in a way to the last one I did, Human Writes, insomuch as it’s recorded in a very basic way. My motto is, “As the world gets noisier, I keep getting quieter.”

Q: Did you work with a producer?

A: Are you kidding? I’m Canadian. What would I do with a producer?

Q: I don’t know. Maybe take orders?

A: Well, no.

Q: Fair enough. What was your goal in the studio?

A: I wasn’t really planning so much on making a record. I was just going in to lay down some stuff in this really kind of no-frills, no-artificial-preservatives-or-flavours manner, which is the way I like to hear music. I like to hear that it’s not possible to fake the fact that you can actually play.

Q: You’ve reworked some old songs and written new ones, including some co-writes with Alison Gordon, who’s not known as a musician.

A: Alison was a really dear friend who passed away before it got finished. She was a journalist, the first woman journalist on the baseball circuit. They nicknamed her the pecker checker. We wrote songs kind of on a bet. We’d been sitting on a patio at Allen’s restaurant on the Danforth, with some friends, and Alison sorta got on to the subject of how hard can it be to write songs. So I brought her into the process, and she fell in love with it. The title song is a co-write with her, and the idea of the song is that love just doesn’t happen for people who are the age of Romeo and Juliet. It can happen in a Chartwell home to people who are 85, and it’s just as intense.

Q: What about the song, The Luckiest Guy?

A: I wrote it for Denise (Donlon, his wife). It’s straight and simple: I am the luckiest guy. There’s a lot I could say about how quality of a person she’s been in my life. It’s not the first song I’ve written for her, but it’s one of the best. I like that line, “You stand out in any crowd of thoroughbred city girls.”

Q: It also has some cool guitar playing on it. Where’d that come from?

A: It’s sort of a progression of what started in early 2013, when I was living in Italy. I had time to reflect a bit, and fell in love with playing guitar and music again. During that time, I started learning this whole new language on guitar, which dovetailed nicely with my love of great guitar heroes, like Django Reinhardt. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Paris Hot Club records, and I’ve always loved Texas swing music. Now I find I can sit down and play along with Count Basie and his orchestra and I’m a very happy guy.

Q: Why were you living in Italy?

A: Well, I don’t know if you need a reason to go and live in Italy. It’s one of the greatest places in the world to hang out. It wasn’t that I was mad at Canada or anything, but I just wanted to get out of here for a while because if you’re here too long, it becomes too small a place and you have to get out every so often to get some perspective on different ways of living, and different thoughts. I also really wanted to try to get past the journeyman Rosetta Stone Italian I’ve been working on so I figured the best way was to go live there for a few months. And Denise had some time because she was working on her book.

Q: You weren’t planning to write songs there?

A: Nope. I didn’t have a plan other than to stretch out and open up my head. I absolutely fell in love with the place. It was not the first time I’d been there.

Q: What made you realize the recordings were turning into an album?

A: The results. The songs came out much better than I ever hoped they would. To me, the most important thing is always the songs. They’re at the centre. Whatever the technology, whatever you dress it up with, if there isn’t a good song at the centre of the exercise, it isn’t really worth it.

Q: You’re still touring consistently. Is it still fun?

A: I don’t not like it. I like playing music. That’s what I do. If I don’t do that, all kinds of bad things could happen.

Q: Anything else on the go?

A: Well, as a footnote to the “why do you record?” thing, I’ve been talking to a lot of people in the recent past and a lot of the conversation is, “How are you surviving?” It wasn’t really by any particular instinct, but suddenly when everyone is running around with their hair on fire, I made a little record, that if you sit down and listen to it for 45 minutes, it’s a chance to actually feel good.

Murray McLauchlan Facebook

True North Records Website
True North Records Facebook
True North Records Twitter

Friday, March 10, 2017

Svetlana & The Delancey Five At Joe's Pub, NYC, Saturday 3/04/2017; Swing for Spring – A Birthday Celebration!

Early last Saturday, I posted this: "I'm excited to see Svetlana & The Delancey Five tonight at Joe's Pub. If you're in the New York area, there are only a few tickets left and you must see this delightful singer and her amazing band. I don't see how music can get any better than this." Within about three minutes at Joe's Pub, I answered my own rhetorical question. The only thing better than the music on the debut LP by Svetlana & The Delancey Five might be hearing it live. No matter how good a recording may be, even a live one, there is no substitute for being right there in the moment to experience a great singer and band. There's nothing else quite like it.

Svetlana & The Delancey Five were in fine form for her birthday show Saturday night, March 4th at Joe's Pub. This is one of the best venues in New York, in that it's small and intimate, with excellent lighting and sound. Svetlana voice was clear, true, and strong. The band was tight, loose, and played some superb solos.

The opener was an instrumental, "Bernie's Tune", a jazz standard written by Leiber and Stoller with Bernie Miller (hence the name). Svetlana followed with the first of five songs that she drew from her debut album Night at the Speakeasy, which I included in my top 10 list of Best Music of 2016. "Sometimes I'm Happy" was the first such song, a totally delightful standard: "Sometimes I love you, sometimes I hate you / But when I hate you it's 'cause I love you." It was also a pleasure to hear "It's All Good" and "Lady Be Good", the latter also featured tap dancer DeWitt Fleming Jr. who, at one point, seemed to duet with the drum solo. I had momentarily forgotten that Svetlana had done a Beatles' cover on the album, so when she said that the next song would take her to Liverpool and New Orleans, I was pleasantly surprised by the New Orleans-style treatment of "Because" from the Beatles Abbey Road, so good. The fifth song from Night at the Speakeasy was the encore, and we will get to that shortly.

There were two new originals, which got their world premiere at the show. "Baby I'm Back" featured a horn arrangement with piano, including a piano solo. The song's two best features are the melody (by Svetlana and Ryan Shea Smith) and lyrics (by Svetlana). I knew I liked it when I first heard it; with repeat listens to the video, my appreciation only grows. The other new song was "It Is You" (music by Svetlana / Ryan Shea Smith + lyrics by Svetlana). Both her introduction and the song itself was so sweet, sincere, and tuneful you could not help but fall in love with it. These new songs are so good that I can not wait for the second album.

In addition to the opener, there were three more cover songs not from the record, and they were all great to hear. The full house at Joe's Pub was treated to some fine genre bending on the "Tennessee Waltz", a country standard written by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King, which got an uptempo horn arrangement with some swinging solos on sax, trombone, and trumpet. "Pure Imagination" was sweet in more ways than one. The song was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the original version of the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory; it was sung by Gene Wilder in the film. The Irving Berlin standard "Blue Skies" closed the show, complete with solos from Michael Hashim on sax, Charlie Caranicas on trumpet, Corey Wallace on trombone, William Test on piano, Endea Owens on upright bass, and Robert Garcia on drums (who also duetted again with Fleming on tap). Oh, and the exuberant vocals were by Svetlana.

The band returned to the stage minus Owens and her bass (who had to leave after "Blue Skies"). I really enjoyed Svetlana's subtle sense of humor when she introduced her last song, "You Are Like A Song", sung in Russian. "...For those of you who don't speak Russian ...yet." This beautiful song capped off an excellent set by Svetlana & The Delancey Five. I had been wanting to get up to New York to see this group play live for a long time, and I am quite glad that the birthday show at Joe's Pub presented an opportunity that I could not pass up.

Many thanks to Svetlana Shmulyian for the setlist, musician credits, and for an incredible night.
Many thanks to YouTube user WANDERMIND for the videos of tracks 3, 5, and 6.
Many thanks to Bev Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production on tracks 7-11.
Whatever these videos lack in sound quality, they more than make up for with live energy.

Watch "Baby I'm Back", live at Joe's Pub.

Set List: Click song name to watch.
1. Instrumental - Bernie's Tune
2. Sometimes I'm Happy - Arranged by Adrian Cunningham (from Night at the Speakeasy album)
3. It's All Good - m/l Svetlana Shmulyian, arranged by Wycliffe Gordon (from Night at the Speakeasy album)
4. Lady Be Good - with special guest on tap dancing, DeWitt Fleming Jr. - arranged by Rob Garcia (from Night at the Speakeasy album)
5. Baby I'm Back - new original - music Svetlana Shmulyian / Ryan Shea Smith + lyrics by Svetlana Shmulyian, arranged by Jay Rattman
6. Because (the Beatles) - arranged by Rob Garcia (from Night at the Speakeasy album)
7.Tennessee Waltz - arranged by Rob Garcia
8. Pure Imagination - arranged by Rob Garcia
9. It Is You - new original m/l by Svetlana Shmulyian and Ryan Shea Smith, arranged by Wycliffe Gordon
10. Blue Skies - with special guest on tap dancing, Dewitt Flemming Jr , arranged by Svetlana Shmuylian and Seth Weaver
11. You Are Like A Song - Eddie (Ady) Rosner (from Night at the Speakeasy album)

Svetlana & The Delancey Five - Night at the Speakeasy
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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Stevie Nicks Expanded Remasters: Bella Donna (3CD) & The Wild Heart (2CD); These Excellent Sounding Remasters Come With Rare Tracks Aplenty Plus A Legendary Live Show

Photo courtesy of Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks joined a growing group of artists, which include The Who, Phil Collins, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and many others, who are seeing their catalogs revamped with double disc reissues of remastered albums containing rare material as a bonus. Nicks wrote and sang some of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs including "Landslide" (Fleetwood Mac), "Silver Stream" (Rumours B-Side), "Beautiful Child" and "Sara" (Tusk).

When Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in late 1974, listeners immediately found their one album called Buckingham Nicks that had come out in 1973. When the reformulated Fleetwood Mac released their self-titled (white album) in 1975, fans marveled at the way in which Fleetwood Mac seem to have adopted the Buckingham Nicks sound. That album and its follow-up, Rumours, were both huge hits selling millions of copies and making Fleetwood Mac a household name.

Nicks remained a member of Fleetwood Mac when she established a solo career, releasing Bella Donna, her first album (1981). Its follow-up, The Wild Heart, was released in 1983. Both albums were majorly successful, both were certified platinum for having sales in excess of a million copies. These are the first Stevie Nicks albums to be remastered and released in expanded deluxe editions.

Bella Donna Remastered, Deluxe 3CD Edition
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First off, I'll say that the live concert on Disc 3 is worth the price of purchase all by itself. Disc 1 is the remastered album, and it sounds great. Driven by four hit singles, Bella Donna went on to sell over six million copies. "Edge of Seventeen" has become her signature song. Two of the singles were duets: "Leather and Lace" featured the Eagles' Don Henley; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers both wrote and performed on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around". "After the Glitter Fades" was the forth single.

Disc 2 has the rarities. There are four alternate versions, the most interesting of which is a solo Nicks version of "Leather And Lace". The other alternate versions will probably be most valuable to fans and collectors. There's a demo of "Bella Donna" and an early version of "Edge of Seventeen". In addition to the above, this disc also includes three songs that were previously unreleased. Finally, there are two songs that appeared on movie soundtracks, "Blue Lamp" is from Heavy Metal and "Sleeping Angel" is from Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

Disc 3 contains the live concert, recorded on December 13, 1981 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, on the last night of a short Bella Donna tour. The performances are excellent, and the set includes a number of Fleetwood Mac songs in addition to the tracks from Bella Donna. The finish is especially nice with a powerful "Edge of Seventeen" leading into Nicks' "Rhiannon" from Fleetwood Mac. The performance included a guest appearance by Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. "Rhiannon" opens with an acoustic first verse, which Bittan plays on piano while Nicks sings; then the full band kicks in.

Watch the official music video for "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"

Track Listings - Click song title to listen
Disc: 1
01. Bella Donna (Remastered)
02. Kind of Woman (Remastered)
03. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) [Remastered]
04. Think About It (Remastered)
05.Edge of Seventeen (Remastered)
07. How Still My Love (Remastered)
08. Leather And Lace (Remastered)
09. Outside The Rain (Remastered)
10. The Highwayman (Remastered)

Disc: 2
01. Edge of Seventeen (Early Take)
02. Think About It (Alternate Version)
03. How Still My Love (Alternate Version)
04. Leather And Lace (Alternate Version)
05. Bella Donna (Demo)
06. Gold And Braid (Unreleased Version)
07. Sleeping Angel (Alternate Version)
08.If You Were My Love (Unreleased Version)
09. The Dealer (Unreleased Version)
10. Blue Lamp (From "Heavy Metal") [Remastered]
11. Sleeping Angel (From "Fast Times At Ridgemont High") [Remastered]

Disc: 3
01. Gold Dust Woman (Live 1982) [Remastered]
02. Gold And Braid (Live 1982) [Remastered]
03. I Need To Know (Live 1982) [Remastered]
04. Outside The Rain (Live 1982) [Remastered]
05. Dreams (Live 1982) [Remastered]
06. Angel (Live 1982)
07. After The Glitter Fades (Live 1982) [Remastered]
08. Leather And Lace (Live 1982)
09. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (Live 1982) [Remastered]
10. Bella Donna (Live 1982)
11. Sara (Live 1982) [Remastered]
12. How Still My Love (Live)
13. Edge Of Seventeen (Live 1982) [Remastered]
14. Rhiannon (Live 1982) [Remastered]

Bonus Video - The concert which appears on Disc 3 was also filmed, and a shortened version appeared on HBO.

The Wild Heart Remastered, Deluxe 2CD Edition
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Disc 1 is the remastered album. The Wild Heart spawned three singles on its way to selling over two million copies. Guests on the album included Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Sandy Stewart (who also did some songwriting), and Paul Buckmaster (Elton John) who arranged and conducted the strings on the closing track, "Beauty And The Beast". Steve Lukather (Toto) played on the album's biggest single, "Stand Back", and according to Wikipedia, an uncredited Prince played synthesizer on the track.

Disc 2 contains the rarities. There are two alternate versions, "Sable on Blond" and "Wild Heart", which is labeled as a "session" version. "Violet And Blue" came from the movie Against All Odds, it also previously appeared on the Stevie Nicks box set. There is one demo, "Are You Mine", one B-side, "Garbo", plus four tracks that were previously unreleased.

Watch the official music video for "Stand Back"

Track Listings - Click song title to listen
Disc: 1
01. Wild Heart (Remastered)
02. If Anyone Falls (Remastered)
03. Gate And Garden (Remastered)
04. Enchanted (Remastered)
05. Nightbird (Remastered)
06. Stand Back (Remastered)
07. I Will Run To You (Remastered)
08. Nothing Ever Changes (Remastered)
09. Sable on Blond (Remastered)
10. Beauty And The Beast (Remastered)

Disc: 2
01. Violet And Blue (From "Against All Odds") [Remastered]
02. I Sing For The Things(Unreleased Version)
03. Sable on Blond (Alternate Version)
04. All The Beautiful Worlds (Unreleased Version)
05. Sorcerer (Unreleased Version)
06. Dial the Number (Unreleased Version)
07. Garbo (B-Side) [Remastered]
08. Are You Mine (Demo)
09. Wild Heart (Session)

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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Rolling Stones - Havana Moon, The Stones Rock Cuba on 3/25/2016; With Their Career In It's Sixth Decade, The Rolling Stones Truly Take A Licking And Keep On Ticking; Still The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band

Photo: Steve Atkins

The Rolling Stones played a free concert in Havana, Cuba on March 25, 2016, capping off an historic week in which the thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States was celebrated with an official visit by President Barack Obama. The concert had it all: history for one thing, Cuba had never seen a rock concert on the scale of this magnitude. The concert had a huge audience; estimates varied but it's a safe bet that the Stones played to several hundred thousand people. The Rolling Stones are never short on drama, but this one had drama to the max. The one thing this concert had that may be surprising is that the Stones, despite their advanced ages, gave a superb performance, much more about that below.

Photo: NME

First, about the event:
“Finally, the times are changing,” proclaimed Mick Jagger to a vast, euphoric crowd in Havana on Friday night, as the Rolling Stones completed their Latin American tour with a concert that may well prove a pivotal moment for a generation of Cubans.

Hundreds of thousands thronged to the Ciudad Deportiva stadium to see the British rockers, who follow hard on the heels of a visit by Barack Obama, in a week that few on this island are ever likely to forget.

Amid growing hopes of reform and further opening, the Stones frontman emphasised how far the country has already come in cultural opening from the 1960s, when their songs were considered ideologically divergent.

“We know that years ago, it was difficult to listen to our music in Cuba, but now here we are in your beautiful land,” Jagger said in Spanish. “I think that, finally, the times are changing. That’s true, no?” The crowd roared their agreement.

It was the closest to an overt political statement in the two-hour concert, which some democracy activists feared would be used by the one-party state to perpetuate its hold on power.

The Stones – who long ago made the transition from youth rebels to rock aristocrats – avoided any hint of criticism of the current government of Raúl Castro. Instead, they largely let their music – and spectacular special effects – speak for themselves about the benefits of greater engagement. Their fans had still bigger expectations.

“This will be one of those weeks that people will use to measure other events. In the future, they’ll ask, was it before or after the Stones played,” predicted Tania Livia, a businesswoman attending the concert. “This is the biggest moment in my life,” said tattooed club owner Ferrer Castillo, who had travelled 200km by bus and taxi to see his heroes.

“For me, this is a historical moment on the same level as Nelson Mandela walking out of prison,” suggested Francoisse Fraissenet, a French woman who said she has seen at least 25 gigs by the Stones. Another fan from Brazil pushed her way to the front to ask: “Where do I get a concert T-shirt?”, but it wasn’t that kind of gig.

This was a free concert, rushed into being in just a few months. There were no seats, no refreshment kiosks and only a handful of rusty metal portable toilets. With no turnstiles, estimates of the crowd size were largely guesswork. Some said 200,000. Others more than half a million. All this observer can report is that it was dense, stretched in all directions as far as the eye could see, and was extremely good natured.

When it came to the staging, no expense was spared. Even before the music started, the lighting and video displays were breathtaking. While many Cubans have to make do with small, old grainy televisions in their homes, here they were suddenly in a field staring up at giant high-definition screens.

Considering the paucity of time that the team had to unpack the 85 container loads of equipment, set up the stage and erect the lighting rigs and screen towers, there were remarkably few glitches. Jonathan Watts for The Guardian, in Havana, Cuba, Saturday 26 March 2016.
Note: The above is an excerpt, the complete article appears in the booklet to the concert CD/DVD/BRD, The Rolling Stones: Havana Moon..

Photo: MQLTV

The Rollings Stones: Havana Moon
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For the record, when the Rolling Stones took the stage at Ciudad Deportiva stadium on March 25, 2016, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both 72, Charlie Watts 74, and Ronnie Wood 68. I am sure that when they were in their thirties, they never imagined themselves as rocking septuagenarians. So, then, it is a little bit amazing to report that Havana Moon is as good a live Stones record as they have ever done. Yes, I know that's a rash statement, but if you listen to any track in this tight two hour set you will hear a band playing like they mean it. Perhaps most incredibly, you will hear Jagger doing a vocal in which he doesn't sound any older than when the song was first recorded; it doesn't matter whether it's a rocker like the set opener "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or a sensitive ballad like "Angie".

The band sound is very muscular and the mix is excellent. The guitar work by both Richards and Wood is phenomenal; you might think these two have played together before. Watts' drumming is always just what the song needs, so reliable. The Stones have said in interviews that they consider every concert to be an opportunity to continually get better, to outdo everything they've done before. This might sound like hyperbole, but I would say that the evidence is right there in the proverbial grooves.

Those are the primary members. The support musicians have been with them a long time and they excel as well, especially Chuck Leavell on piano; he also serves as the band's musical director. They have Darryl Jones on bass and backing vocals, Karl Denson and Tom Ries play saxes (Ries doubles on keyboards), and Bernard Fowler and Sasha Allen handle vocals. At this point they play like a well oiled machine.

The setlist for this show could not have been better. For early singles they did "Satisfaction" and "Painted Black". There were the middle period rockers such as "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Honky Tonk Women", and "Brown Sugar"; the explosive guitar work was most satisfying. From Exile On Main Street, Jagger ripped it up on "All Down the Line" and "Tumbling Dice". After "Honky Tonk Women", Jagger did all the band intros, speaking what sounds like fluid Spanish I might add. The intros are edited out of the CD except for the last one in which he introduces Keith Richards. Jagger then gave the spotlight to Richards, who took the lead vocal on the next two songs, a very bluesy "You Got the Silver" and a rousing "Before They Make Me Run".

There were later hits like "Miss You" and "Start Me Up", still sounding shiny and new. There were the concert staples from the Let It Bleed album, a fiery "Gimme Shelter" with nice vocals by Sasha Allen and a very long "Midnight Rambler". In the entire set, my only quibble would be that the call and response between Jagger and the crowd (at the peak of "Midnight Rambler") drained the song of its usual drama and danger in that moment. That's a small nitpick. Considering all the factors, I'm guessing that it added to the audience enjoyment.

They saved "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for the encore. Entrevoces, a Cuban choir, started the song beautifully, then the Stones played a version that was ridiculously good. Then they closed the night with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". Jagger spoke to the audience in Spanish quite a bit. In about two hours of performance, The Rolling Stones made an excellent case for the continuation of their title of the world's greatest rock and roll band. I think there are several hundred thousand Cubans who would agree.

The setlist from the concert is shown below, courtesy of Havana Moon offers the entire concert, in correct running order on two CDs, which is my ideal for a live album. The director of the film was quoted as saying that he wanted a program that could be broadcast on television throughout South and Central America. Apparently, for the purpose of time, five songs were omitted from the program, but those same songs are included on the DVD as bonus tracks. The package is also available with two CDs plus Blu-ray disc.

Havana Moon is the latest in a series of archival Stones concerts, which they have made available at very reasonable prices. There is a touch of irony in this because tickets to the Stones' regular concerts are so expensive. Still, the archival releases are to be applauded and encouraged. The street price for Havana Moon with DVD is about $21 or with Blu-ray disc $25. The DVD and Blu-ray disc have two sections that are not on the CDs. One is an introduction with shots of Havana, Cuba and the site of the concert, the set-up of the stage and speaker towers, etc. The other is an interlude of interviews with the band during which a performance of "Loving Cup" plays in the background; this song is not part of the live set.

Watch "Brown Sugar"

There are three more tracks from Havana Moon available as videos: "It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It)", "Paint It Black", and "Out of Control".

01. Jumpin' Jack Flash
02. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
03. Tumbling Dice
04. Out of Control
05. All Down the Line (by request)
06. Angie
07. Paint It Black
08. Honky Tonk Women (followed by introduction of band members)
09. You Got the Silver (Keith Richards, lead vocals)
10. Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards, lead vocals)
11. Midnight Rambler
12. Miss You
13. Gimme Shelter
14. Start Me Up
15. Sympathy for the Devil
16. Brown Sugar
17. You Can't Always Get What You Want (with Cuban vocal group 'Entrevoces')
18. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Bonus Videos
Watch the Out Now! trailer

Watch Havana Moon, Behind the Scenes posted by Sergio Barone

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Ronnie Baker Brooks - Times Have Changed & Delbert McClinton - Prick Of the Litter, Two New Must-Hear Albums That Seem Like They Were Made For These Times

The rich keep getting richer,
We can't feed our poor.
The whole wide world,
About to go to war.

Times have changed
Times have changed
Nothing remains the same
Today is a brand new game
Times have changed

So sings Ronnie Baker Brooks on the title track of his new album Times Have Changed. Brooks and Delbert McClinton have released the first new albums to get me excited in 2017. These are not specifically blues albums, but both are steeped in the blues. I don't know if periods of political and social turmoil are specifically conducive to the blues, but I do know two things. Times definitely have changed, and these two records sound especially good right now.

Photos courtesy of Ronnie Baker Brooks

Ronnie Baker Brooks - Times Have Changed
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Ronnie Baker Brooks (RBB) has been called "Chicago Blues Royalty" referring to his lineage as the son of blues legend Lonnie Brooks. His younger brother, Wayne Baker Brooks, has also made his mark as a blues guitarist. According to his bio, RBB first picked up the guitar at age six; at 19 he joined his father's band where he played with many of the guitar greats. Since going solo in 1998 he has made four albums, the latest of which is Times Have Changed, just released. Produced by Steve Jordan, Times Have Changed is as strong a soul album as it is a superb blues album.

The album opens with a familiar (if you were around in 1968) cover version of Joe Tex's "Show Me". Brooks' version is so true to the original that I went back and played both for comparison, and the Brooks version is far and away better. Brooks' vocals are not only perfect but I love when he calls out guitarist Steve Cropper, who was such an integral part of the house band at Stax Records in Memphis. I'm not going to try to single out each and every track here, I encourage you to listen to them all, either with the track list below, or using the Spotify link above.

Lonnie Brooks guests on the instrumental "Twine Time" and you will have as much fun listening as they were obviously having in the studio when this was recorded. The title track follows, which is an RBB original, and his observations are as perceptive as his presentation is powerful. The tune features heartfelt lyrics, an indelible melody, and a pleasing finish provided by Memphis rapper Al Kapone, who Brooks calls a bridge between the blues and hip-hop.

The legendary Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland joins RBB for a positively stunning version of the Eric Clapton/Robert Cray composition "Old Love". This is so good that I am certain it would turn Clapton into a fan, if he's not already. "Come On Up" is an unstoppable powerhouse RBB original that features guests Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals) and Lee Roy Parnell. The album closer, "When I Was We", sounds like the great lost 60s soul track and this glorious finish was also written by Brooks.

This is one of those albums on which every track excels. I urge you to check out the album trailer, below, then listen to some of it. If you find this music at all appealing, you might be fascinated, as I was, to read Ronnie Baker Brooks' description of making the album. I'm going to give you a little of it below, just to whet your appetite; read this excerpt then follow the link at the end to read the full story.
...“We used the same mics that Al Green used on his record”, says Brooks. “Matter of fact, we were using much of the same band! It kind of took that vibe.” The first track recorded was a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly hit Give Me Your Love. The second, Twine Time, the instrumental jam from Alvin Cash.

“To be honest with you, when Steve said ‘Man, we need an instrumental,’ the first person I thought of was Freddie King. Steve wanted something more appealing to all people, not just guitar players. He said ‘What about Twine Time?’’ I said, ‘Is he serious?’ Yeah, Twine Time. But that song was a key to this album. Man, that just lit the fire for this record. It became one of the funnest tracks we did"...
Read the full story.

Watch the album trailer:

Track List - Click on song name to listen.

01. Show Me (feat. Steve Cropper)
02. Doing Too Much (feat. “Big Head” Todd Mohr)
03. Twine Time (feat. Lonnie Brooks)
04. Times Have Changed (feat. Al Kapone)
05. Long Story Short
06. Give Me Your Love (Love Song) (feat. Angie Stone)
07. Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants (feat. “Big Head” Todd Mohr & Eddie Willis)
08. Old Love (feat. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland)
09. Come On Up (feat. Felix Cavaliere & Lee Roy Parnell )
10. Wham Bam Thank You Sam
11. When I Was We (feat. Archie 'Hubby' Turner)

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Photos courtesy of Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton - Prick Of the Litter
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Delbert McClinton is a well respected Texas blues musician, who over the course of decades has been honored with three Grammy awards. The Lubbock native has mastered a blend of blues, rock, and country that perfectly fits his weathered voice.

I first encountered him in the early 70s, when I was working as an FM D.J., and McClinton was part of a duo named Delbert & Glen. After they split, McClinton's solo albums could always be counted on for quality. But now, over fifty years into his career, he has added something new to the mix, it's jazz and it suits him incredibly well. Thom Jurek from explains how McClinton put together the musicians for this project.
The Self-Made Men are a studio and live group assembled by singer and songwriter Delbert McClinton for his 19th album, 2017's Prick of the Litter. The singer assembled them for the purpose of capturing a softer, jazzier side of his sound, inspired by the tunes and music of Johnny Mercer and Nat King Cole. The core band is comprised of seasoned studio and road veterans. The core of the group includes guitarist Bob Britt, keyboardist Kevin McKendree, bassist Mike Joyce, drummer Jack Bruno, and trumpeter Quentin Ware.
The album opens with "Don't Do It" a track that both rocks and swings with a soulful swagger. The song features guest turns by Lou Ann Barton on vocals and Jimmie Vaughan on guitar. McClinton's voice strikes me as somewhere between Louis Armstrong and Steve Forbert.

I love, love, love the band sound that kicks in on track two, "Doin' What You Do", and continues for the rest of the record. The key is the sound of the electric guitar combined with the keyboard, which in this case is electric piano. The rhythm section is right on time, and with McClinton's endearing vocals in a song that begs to be replayed, this tune (by all rights) ought to be his next Billboard charting single.

Everything I just wrote about track two, also applies to track three, "Middle of Nowhere", except that on this one his voice leans more toward a cross between Forbert and Rod Stewart. It's similarly easy to love "San Miguel"; on this one the vocals remind me of Toy Caldwell singing "This Ol' Cowboy" with the Marshall Tucker Band. "Pulling the Strings" is a slow and bluesy number that opens with the great line, "Life's a bitch but it's so sublime, I'm going nowhere but I'm making good time." McClinton's talky vocal reminds of Mark Knopfler's similar humorous persona ("Hot Or What" from Privateering).

"Neva", another deliciously bluesy jazz number, again with McClinton's talky vocal, reminding this time of Tom Waits at his smoothest. "Waits at his smoothest" is not quite the oxymoron that it may seem. On Waits' soundtrack to One From the Heart, his vocals are very reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, so, if we filter them back through Steve Forbert, we've come full circle.

I've cited quite a few touchstones that come to mind listening to this album, and I haven't even mentioned yet Dan Hicks, Southside Johnny Lyon, or Dr. John. It's not that McClinton sounds specifically like any one of these talents, it's just that the songs are so good, the band is so right, and the vocals are so perfect for this material that they inspire comparisons. Every track on this record is another solid reason to love Prick Of the Litter by Delbert McClinton.

Track List - Click on song name to listen.

01. Don't Do It (feat. Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton)
02. Doin' What You Do
03. Middle of Nowhere
04. Skip Chaser
05. San Miguel
06. Pulling the Strings
07. Neva
08. Like Lovin' Used to Be
09. Jones for You
10. The Hunt Is On
11. Bad Haircut
12. Rosy

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