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)
10. Unknown
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."

Bill DeMain - Transatlantic Romantic

This album is available for $12, which includes postage.
Email 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

Billy Ocean - Here You Are: The Music Of My Life; The Perfect Mood Album for Summer

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.

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.
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.

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"

Billy Ocean - Here You Are: The Music of My Life
Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
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