Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Chris Botti - The Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, 5/06/2017; Botti Elevates the Art of the Trumpet; Also Reviewed: Impressions (2012)

Photo courtesy of

When Chris Botti played the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, Saturday night the sixth of May, I could not help but think how much has changed in the sixteen years since I last saw him. Back then, in a venue located just a few doors up the street, Botti wowed the crowd with a tight set of the jazz rock that he had just released on the album Night Moves. That was one fantastic show.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Botti had a female Israeli drummer who played so well with the bassist that they seemed connected in some fashion. The guitarist, Marc Shulman, was a phenomenal player we had seen many times before. Botti played his trumpet and was cooler than cool, Chet Baker reincarnate.

Fast forward to 2017. With a series of albums featuring a diverse array of duet partners, Chris Botti has expanded his music to include both pop and classical. In the process, he has become a major star at the level of Yo-Yo Ma, Sting, and Andrea Bocelli, to name just three of the artists with whom Botti plays regularly.

The sound system at the Merriam was loud, filling the theater with sound; and on top of the mix was Botti's trumpet, clear and true. After a couple of numbers, Botti began to introduce the songs. He seemed to relish the job of emceeing the concert, giving background on the songs, telling stories, cracking jokes, and talking about the other players in his band.

Botti is one of the most generous band leaders in that he gives ample time for his players to do solos and perform pieces devoted to their instrument. There were songs featuring Geoffrey Keezer on the piano. He sounded especially good duetting with Botti on "My Funny Valentine" to end the show. Lee Pearson got to rock out with a serious drum solo. Sy Smith was the featured vocalist on a number of selections. She did a fine jazz vocal on "The Very Thought of You". Later she and the rest of the band delivered a high energy cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", which featured some fiery lead guitar by Leo Amuedo. Botti's superb band also included Richie Goods on bass and Rachel Eckroth on keys.

Several songs included the beautiful violin work of Caroline Campbell. One piece she performed was introduced by Chris as an epic jam; you can watch the video below and see her develop this improvisation which crescendos into a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". It's both dramatic and satisfying. Botti spoke at length about playing with Andrea Bocelli and his search for a classical tenor. He then introduced Rafael Moras who proceeded to sing a phenomenal take on "Time To Say Goodbye". That song was, I thought, the high point of the entire show. Watch the performance below.

See more videos from this show:

The Very Thought Of You

Epic Violin Solo/Kashmir (Led Zep cover) feat. Caroline Campbell

Let's Stay Together (Al Green cover)

My Funny Valentine

Bonus Videos:

EPK: All about the making of his most recent album, Impressions, 2012

Roy Firestone Interview, Part 1 (mislabeled on video)

Roy Firestone Interview, Part 2 (mislabeled on video)

Chris Botti - Impressions (2012)
Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
Stream on Spotify

Chris Botti's latest album is Impressions. The fact that it's from 2012 just means that we can probably expect something new from him anytime. If you don't have, or haven't heard Impressions, it is a really brilliant record, perhaps Botti's best yet. One track features Andrea Bocelli, Vince Gill sings on another, and Herbie Hancock plays on another. Caroline Campbell, who dazzled the audience at the Merriam (video above), was also the featured violonist on this album. There is a gorgeous instrumental version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". The album ends with a track that, for my money, is worth the price of the album. Mark Knopfler guests on "A Wonderful World", which he not only sings, he also plays his guitar. Combined with Botti's trumpet, that's pure brilliance.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Joey Landreth - Whiskey; Joey's Excellent EP is a Worthy Follow-Up to 2015's Brilliant Debut by the Bros. Landreth

Photo: Cadence Music Group
"When Dave and I tossed out the idea of making music together, just for fun, over four years ago, we had no concept of how it would shape, enhance, and ultimately transform our lives. We never imagined in our loftiest of dreams that it would take us on the ride that it has. We didn’t think we’d ever finish a single song, never mind a whole record. Yet, almost unbelievably, and at long last, we want to introduce you to our second.

It’s an EP called Whiskey and we’re going to be releasing it under my name, Joey Landreth, as my big brother Dave is going to be taking a bit of a breather from life on the road to throw some roots down with his amazing new wife! We will still be playing some shows as The Bros. Landreth while we prepare to record more new music in the new year, so please do stay tuned to our band calendar too!

We humbly submit to you that it may well be the best thing we’ve done."
Let It Lie is the name of the brilliant debut album by the Bros. Landreth. In addition to placing on my Ten Best list for 2015, the Winnipeg group so homered in their first time at bat that Let It Lie also won the Juno Award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, Group, in 2015.

Maybe Joey Landreth found the prospect of moving from group member to solo artist on the second album daunting, but you'd never know it listening to Whiskey, Landreth's new seven track EP. “It’s different in the sense that I think it kind of showcases the progress of a band of guys that have been playing together for the last four years. And I really do think it’s a continuation of the work we sort of set out doing at the beginning with The Bros. Landreth.” [Joey Landreth, Rossland News, Feb 23, 2017]

Watch "Gone Girl" live from Stereobus Recording

Joey Landreth - Whiskey
Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes (N/A)
Stream on Spotify (N/A)

All of what was great about Let It Lie continues on Whiskey: top notch guitar work, superb blending of acoustic and electric guitars, excellent songwriting and vocal performances, and perhaps of equal importance, Whiskey was recorded using the same production team as the debut album.

Let's start with that. The Whiskey EP sounds different (read better) than other records. There is definitely something to the sound quality achieved by Paul Yee in his studio. That, combined with the skill of producer Murray Pulver, begins to get to the heart of just what it is that makes this EP sound so good. It occurred to me during "Still Feel Gone" that Pulver has something that's quite rare among producers, commercial or otherwise. That illusive quality is a sense of space, actually building silence into a recording, giving the elements that are there some room to breathe. Play track five and you'll see what I mean. You hear the relaxed pace of the drums and bass allowing the slow guitar solo the room it needs in the mix to seemingly luxuriate in its own tonal quality as it slowly escalates to a perfect storm. You can hear evidence of that sort of thinking all through the Whiskey EP. There is one more production touch I'll mention, then we'll move on. I love the way that the ending of the song "Whiskey" segues with the beginning of "Hard As I Can".

Photo: Joey Landreth

At first glance, perhaps the most impressive attribute of this record is the guitar work. It is exceptional. When the electric guitars kick in, the production shines again because the sound gets very muscular and it doesn't sacrifice any of the character of the music, let's call it North Americana. In a way, this EP brings to mind the slightly harder edge The Eagles had on their third album On The Border. With that thought in mind, it's hard not to pick up the similarities in the vocal between Joey Landreth and Glenn Frey.

Landreth talked about taking this EP out on the road.
Landreth will be accompanied on tour by Voth and bassist Meg Dolovich in what will be a kind of reunion tour for the trio.

“My very first band ever was with Ryan and Meg and a singer by the name of Alexa Dirks, who plays in a band called Begonia now, and so we had our very first band together. And then the offshoot of that band was a three-piece band with me and Ryan and Meg called The Dirty Denominators, and we just played pub dates playing rock ’n’ roll cover tunes, explained Landreth." [Chelsea Novak, Rossland News, Feb 23, 2017]

Photo: CBC Music


1. Whiskey
2. Hard As I Can
3. Gone Girl
4. Time Served
5. Still Feel Gone
6. Better Together
7. Remember

Watch "Whiskey" live from Stereobus Recording

Note: The Whiskey EP by Joey Landreth is still awaiting a U.S. release. It is not available for download, Amazon, or iTunes, and it is not available to stream on Spotify. Watch the videos for "Gone Girl", "Whiskey", and the EPK and you'll have a good idea of what this EP sounds like. Amazon is carrying the CD as an import, the link is above. When I last heard from Landreth, his team was shopping for a U.S. label. He said that they were looking for more than just a U.S. distributor, what they really want is an American label partner. As soon as there is further news regarding the status of a U.S. release, I will update this article.

Bonus Video: Watch the EPK

Joey Landreth Website
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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
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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