Rick Galusha's Pacific St. Blues and Americana

Since inception (1989), Pacific St. Blues & Americana strives to be a discerning voice helping roots fans sift through the mountains of music released every year. We are not for everyone; we want to engage active, critical listeners that hear beyond d'jour. Interviews include: Johnny Winter, Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jerry Wexler, Tommy Shannon & Chris Layton, B.B. King, Dr. John, Robin Trower, Robben Ford, Mato Nanji, Joe Bonamassa, Harry Manx, Sue Foley, Marshall Chess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Louvin, Kim Richey, Radney Foster, Eric Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Al Kooper, Phil Chen (Wired, Blow By Blow), Ian McLagan, Art Neville, Southside Johnny, Miami Steve Van Zant, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Iglauer, Charlie Musselwhite, Studebaker John, Chris Duarte, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Hamilton Loomis, Peter Karp, Roomful of Blues, James Harman, Hadden Sayers, Malford Milligan, Melvin Taylor, Otis Taylor, Dave Alvin, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Marsha Ball, Maria Muldaur, Shelby Lynne, Magic Dick & J. Geils, Lil' Milton, BuddyGuy, Aynsley Lister, Matt Schofield, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, James Cotton, Robin & Jesse Davey, Hugh Coltman (Hoax), Sean Kelly (Samples), John Entwistle (The Who), Mark Olson (Jayhawks), Walter Wolfman Washington, Anthony Gomes, Bob Malone, Chubby Carrier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Murali Coryell, David Jacob Strain, DeAnna Bogart, Michael Lee Firkins, Guy Davis, Jason Ricci, John Doe, Little Feat, Matt Woods, MikeZito, Peter Buffett, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Corky Siegel, Todd Park Mohr, Watermelon Slim, Magic Slim, Corey Harris,- - - - - - ------------------------Radio archives: http://www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com/. Playlists: http://www.omahablues.com/ Reviews featured in http://www.blueswax.com/. Email: KIWRblues@gmail.com Live online; Sundays 9 a.m. (-6 GMT) http://www.897theriver.com/

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Album Review: Ray Davies, Working Man's Cafe'

Album: Working Man’s Café
Artist: Ray Davies
Writer: Rick Galusha

In 1990 the band best known for singing about working class life and strife in England, The Kinks, were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The Kinks discography includes songs like; “Lola,” “Victoria” and “Til the End of the Day.” They were, appropriately enough, The Hall’s fourth British band; behind the Rolling Stones (who paid for much of the RnR HoF building), The Beatles and The Who. The irony is that among the various British iconic institution’s, The Kinks found commercial success in America while remaining little more than a piece of post-punk rock memorabilia in the UK. Throughout the history of The Kinks, Ray Davies and brother Dave Davies (pronounced Davis) were in conflict (preceeding Oasis’ Gallagher brother’s stage battles by decades.) Ray was the singer/ songwriter and focal point of the band. The younger Dave was the band’s lead guitarist and has subsequently credited with developing the ‘heavy guitar riff’ that would dominate the Heavy Metal genre of rock; as heard on songs like ‘All Day and All of the Night” or “You Really Got Me” (later covered by Van Halen.)

While this is heralded as Ray’s second solo effort; ‘Other Peoples Lives’ being released in 2005, Kinkologists know that the motion picture soundtrack, ‘Return to Waterloo’ was actually Davies’ first solo album. (Admittedly it was basically a Kinks album sans brother Dave – but released under the moniker Ray Davies.) Whereas solo efforts by band fixtures tend to be pathetic, Working Man’s Café is simply brilliant. A perfect balance of topical wordsmithing, memorable tunes and crafted arrangements. By taking a chance and recording outside of the Kinks Davies has been able to cast aside the expectations and stigma’s usually associated with a 40+ year career. However since The Kinks were little more than a band behind Davies, how unique can it really be? Gone are the simple bash n’ pop beauty 2 minute wonders that The Kinks were so good at and instead are songs that could easily fit in with Davies’ late ‘70’s – early ‘80’s Arista album trilogy; ‘Misfits,’ ‘Sleepwalker’ and ‘Low Budget.’

The album opens with a slamming guitar riff that transmogrifies into a faux-Americana shuffle about Globilization while singing about, “Cowboys in Vietnam, making their movies.” The next track, “You’re Asking Me” is akin to perhaps Davies best song, “Waterloo Sunset” while he signs, “If you’re asking me, Don’t take my advice. Don’t make me responsible for living your life. Do we learn from all the questions that we ask? Do we learn from the past? It’s up to your to learn from your mistakes. Go and break your leg but don’t come to me if you do.” The title track, “Working Man’s Café” is a monster track for that will wash over Kink’s fans with an aural of familiarity.

By the seventh track the listener is pulled completely in as Davies strides into, “No One Listen.” As much as any prior Kinks song Davies uses his experience in New Orleans of a being shot during a botched robbery to sing of incompetent bureaucrats and having the tables turned against as he sings, “Why is it difficult to get things done, In the age of computers and communications. The powers that be say that they can’t keep a hold, Of a world that is escalating out of control…But a bureaucrat says we’ve lost your file, So we’ll put you on hold for a while…Blame the hurricane; blame the drug trade, the economy, Blame the Ghettos in the land of the free, Cos they ain’t gonna listen to me.”

On the very next track Davies again harkens a familiar theme of isolation as he sings, “I am the imaginary man, yes I am…I was always in your head, To raise your expectations, And always let it be said, I offered my very best to you… Gave you my dreams to aspire to, Involved you in all my crazy schemes, And took you to place you’d never seen.” As one came to expect on early period Kinks albums Davies’ insight on working class anonymity is striking.

In 1994 Ray Davies wrote his autobiography. It wasn’t your ordinary affair as “he” interviewed a character named, “R. D.” where, in the end, R.D. commits suicide – thus ending the “life” of that character for that Ray Davies could live. In many ways, while the rumors of a reunion with brother Dave Davies abound, clearly Ray has “killed” The Kinks and found a new voice which, for time and investment, is far superior the lackluster revue act the Kink’s had become by the late ‘80’s amid albums like ‘Phobia,’ ‘U.K. Jive’ and ‘Give the People What They Want.’ Some versions of the album include a short DVD of Davies ’91 Fall American tour. References to the 9/11 tragedy are apparent. Dave Davies ’96 autobiography, ‘Kink – The Outrageous Story of My Wild Years as the Founder and Lead Guitarist of the Kinks” can be found in a cutout bin near you. ‘Working Man’s Café’ is a perfect compliment to that vast catalogue of equally brilliant Kinks songs from so long ago.

Album Review: Kelly Bell Band

Artist: Kelly Bell Band
Title: reincarnated
Writer: Rick Galusha

Released on the Phat Blues Music label, The Kelly Bell Band album, ‘reincarnated’ is the near perfect contemporary blues album. Bell ties together traditional blues structures and instrumentation with modern vocal delivery and harmonies in a sexy, tuneful exercise that liberates the artist from the shackles of recorded expectations and frees the band to grab from The Average White Band here or Robert Johnson there in a beautiful expression akin to sonic soaring well above the clutter of today’s independent ‘blues’ releases. This is an excellent album (and that was an awfully long sentence).

The track, ‘Can’t Take That Back’ includes a humorous banter between Bell and a former lover with tasty zingers including, “I got news for you Kelly Bell, you are nothing” and “You think you’re fabulous, NO!” “Kelly Bell, Phat Blues, hrumph, Phat Blues THIS!” “I think you suck, you’re tired and I have just about had it with you!” It is a hilarious quid-pro-quo exchange that cracks me up every time as Bell the ‘gets a ear full’ that all members of the male species have to heard more than once.

Bell’s take on Johnson’s ‘Love in Vain’ is, finally, an exciting, jumping rollick through a well covered field and amazingly comes out fresh. Rather than trying to replicate, Bell’s Band pumps vocal harmony lines with a sassy harmonica played by Dane Paul Russell. The song is given life and while the sharp edge and associated anguish intended by Johnson may be gone – it is an up-tempo and refreshing take on a blues classic.

For whatever reason the album’s eighth track is, ‘SpongeBob Squarepants.” While it is entertaining it sticks out like a sore thumb and may be best skipped. It would have been better tucked away at the end of the CD; a bonus track or something since it certainly throws off the momentum of an otherwise well paced record.

With tongue in cheek the band approaches the track, ‘Porno Star’ in a very Zappa-esque style. Somehow they are able to bring it back and make it sonically fit with the rest of the album although, clearly, it ‘tain’t the blues per se. Again, maybe it is this apparent lack of focus coupled with risk that keeps the album on track and interesting. This is the track that includes the obligatory ‘monster guitar’ licks but with some restraint. Like The Who’s, ‘A Quick One (while he’s away)’ this song melds into another seemingly unrelated songs or breaks…‘People are People’ where spoken word reads over a jazzy musical background. It is poignant and yet you can sense the smirk on Bell’s lips when he says, “You are one of billions and billions of stars, or snowflakes…did you know every snow flack is different?” The speaker goes on to say, “People are people, people need to be loved and not judged but not by you. There is one judge and that’s HIS job, not yours…you got you and then you’re surrounded by the world - that may be how you see it but its not. You’re a part of a great, great tapestry and you’re one thread…people need to be loved.” So, “people are people and I’m not the judge.”

This is a terrifically wide album with superb musicianship and a scattering of musical genres that are at once interesting and resonate. Because it doesn’t easily fit into a comfortable genre box The Kelly Bell Band is not going to set the world on fire but I can easily see this as a cross-over album that, given proper attention, could bring in folds of listeners and in its own special way make your corner of the world better for having heard it. This is a much needed breath of fresh air in the often cerebral-less homologized world that contemporary music seems to want to offer us.