Wednesday, December 30, 2009
We're music lovers, you and I.
It is what we do; share music and try to turn others onto the music we enjoy.
There is a song that has absolutley "smitten" my ear of late - and I'd like to share it with you...
Over the past year or so I've formed an online friendship with Mister Ally Lee - who hosts the 'Roots, Rock, Riot Show' at www.lionheartradio.com. Ally's program runs 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. CST. Lee's in-depth knowledge of music adds to a rather "wide" radio playlist - keeping the listener on their toes and ever open to this sound or that. It is the way innovative radio should be...unpredictable and fresh.
Ally also operates a recording studio in his hometown of Alnwick, Northumberland; on the north east coast of England. I was able to visit him this October and be on his show along with other 'Roots, Rock, Riot Show' luminaries including; Paul Shucksmith, Oil Slick Mick, Dave from Shipley and my very dear friend, David Wilson.
Anyway, recently Ally emailed me a track he has just finished, "She Moves Like Water" by a local band, 'The Poor Boys.' It is fantastic and a song I think deserves to be heard and shared. If you think of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (circa 1978) and you put JC Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) in front of THAT band...well you're getting pretty close.
I suppose it is no coincidence that one of JC Fogerty's songs, "Down on the Corner" refers to a street corner band, 'Willie and the Poor Boys.' (It is also of interest that former Rollin' Stones bass player Bill Wyman's post-Stones band is 'Willie and the Poor Boys.'
You can stream or download this song at www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com. If you like this song, or these archival recordings of the 'Pacific Street Blues and Americana' radio program, please share the link with your friends. If you enjoy "She Moves Like Water" as much as I do, please download the song and send it to your friends...it can be a real Cinderella story in the making if you let it.
Thanks and Season's Greetings across the globe.
Recepient: 'Keep the Blues Alive Award' public radio, '09.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The Pine Ridge Reservation
In many ways South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Lakota Sioux Tribe, is a saturated “fly trap” of well intended do-gooders. While researching life style statistics for this report I found volumes of websites, blogs, articles and postings by groups and individuals working to alleviate the extreme poverty and harsh living conditions of the 18,600+ people on the Pine Ridge.
While I have been unable to verify all of these figures (see attached sheet of verified figures), the Pine Ridge Reservation Is among, if not thee, poorest counties in the United States.
This area is afflicted with some of society’s most devastating problems including; poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, teen suicide and violence.
Here are some facts, many of which contradict each other, I have found on the internet;
1.) According to ‘Red Cloud Indian School’ (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Demographics, 2009);
• 80% of residents are unemployed (versus 10% of the rest of the country)
• 49% of the residents live below the Federal poverty level (61% under the age of 18),
• Per Capita income in Shannon County is $6,286,
• The Infant Mortality rate is 5X higher than the national average,
• Native American amputation rates due to diabetes is 3 to 4X higher than the national average
• Death rate due to diabetes is 3X higher than the national average
• Other than Haiti, Life Expectancy on the Pine Ridge is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere;
-Men 48 years,
-Women, 52 years
2.) According to the New York Times (Kilborn, 1992);
• The Pine Ridge covers 2 million acres (Larger than Connecticut),
• 63.1% of all residents live in poverty in 1989 (national average 14.2% in 1991)
• The interview was with Father Joseph Daniel Sheehan
3.) According to City-Data.com (Pine Ridge, South Dakota (the city), 2007);
Pine Ridge South Dakota % Difference
Median Household income $24,346 $43,424 56.07%
Median Age 19.7 35.6 55.34%
Est. per Capita Income $7,373 $22,252 33.13%
Est. median home value $27,379 $118,700 23.07%
Average household size 4.4 2.5 (people) 176.00%
Percentage family hholds 86.2% 67.0% 128.66%
Residents with income below the poverty level 2007
61.0% 13.2% 462.12%
Residents with income below 50% of the poverty level 2007
25.9% 5.8% 446.55%
For the population over the age of 25;
- High School or higher 62.1%
- Bachelors degree or higher 4.3%
- Grad. Or Prof. degree 1.2%
- Unemployed 35.5%
4.) According to ‘Native American Times’ (Schwartz, 2006);
• 58.7% of Grandparents on the Reservation are responsible for raising their own grandchildren,
• The median income varies between $2,600 and $3,500 per year,
• 97% of the population lives below the Federal poverty line,
• The unemployment rate “is said to be approximately 83-85% and can be higher during winter…”
• Teenage suicide rates on Pine Ridge Reservation are 150% higher than the U.S. national average for this age group,
• The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 300% higher than the U.S. national average,
• The rate of diabetes on the Reservation is reported to be 800% higher than the U.S. national average,
• Reports indicate that 50% of adults on the Reservation over the age of 40 have diabetes,
• The tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately 800% higher than the U.S. national average,
• Cervical cancer is 500% higher than the U.S. national average,
• “It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation are infested with Black Mold Stachybotrys.”
• The school drop-out rate is over 70%
• Teacher turnover (rate) is 800% that of the U.S. national average,
• “There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home( a home which may have two to three rooms).”
• 39% of homes on the Reservation have no electricity,
• There are no public libraries except one at the Oglala Lakota College (in an area the size of Connecticut),
• Alcoholism affects eight out of ten families on the Reservation,
• The death rate from alcohol-related problems on the Reservation is 300% higher than the remaining U.S. population,
5.) According to the United States government's Census Bureau, 2009
South Shannon Reported
Nebraska U.S.A. Dakota County Pine Ridge
2008 Bachelors Degrees 23.70% 24.40% 21.50% 12.10% 4.30%
2008 High School Diploma 86.60% 80.40% 84.60% 70.00% 62.10%
2008 Population Change 4.20% 8.00% 6.50% 9.40%
2000 Home Ownership 67.40% 66.30% 68.20% 48.60%
2000 Persons per Home 2.49 2.59 2.50 4.36
2008 Below Poverty 11.1 13.0 13.2 47.4 (below)
2008 Med. Hhold Income 47072 50740 43507 25964
2000 Med. Home Value 88000 119600 79600 25900 27397
1999 Per Capital Income 19613 21587 17652 6286 7373
2008 Retail Sls per Capita 11729 10615 12626 2347
2008 Building Permits 6346 905359 3884 0
2008 Population 1783432 304mill 804194 13637 28787
1990 Native Population 12410 1937391 50575 14295
1990 % Native Population 0.8% 7.3% 0.8% 92.2%
2008 Federal Dollars 13.9m 2.536b 8.7mil 139,986
2008 Fed Dollars per Cap. $7.84 $8.34 $10.92 $10.27
1995 Population % Veterns 11.0% 10.5%
Poverty Reports for Pine Ridge residents U.S. Census Report 2000
46.4% of households on Pine Ridge are in poverty.49% 1990)
39.4% of Sioux families lived in poverty; 44.4% of individuals
60.5% of households have no father figure in the home.
47.5% of the Pine Ridge above the age of 18 live in poverty.
Native Population U.S.A. taken in 1995
Native Population Shannon County taken in 2000 Approximate
Indian Health Services Budget 2007 (HIS) $4.2 Billion $13.92
Bureau Indian Affairs 2010 Budget 2007 (BIA) $22. Billion $73.07
"Reported" Annual Pine Ridge income from Casino per individual $0.15
Kilborn, P. T. (1992, September 20). Life at the Bottom - America's Poorest County / A Special Report; Sad Discinction for the Sioux: Homeland Is No.1 in Poverty. Retrieved 2009 October, from The New York Times : www.nytimes.com/1992/09/20/us/life-bottom-america-s-poorest-county-special-report
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Demographics. (2009, July ). Retrieved 2009 October, from Red Cloud School: www.redcloudschool.org
Pine Ridge, South Dakota (the city). (2007, July). Retrieved August 28, 2009, from City Data.com: www.city-data.com/city/Pine-Ridge-South-Dakota.html
Schwartz, S. M. (2006, November 3). Life, conditions, and hopes on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Reservation of SD. Retrieved 2009 23, October , from Native American Times: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdlink?vinst=PROD&fmt=3&startpage=-1&ver=1&vname=PQ...
United States Census Bureau. (2009). Retrieved September 2009, from quickfacts.census.gov: www.quickfacts.census.gov
This report compiled by Prof. Rick Galusha
Galusha can be contacted at email@example.com
Listen to the Pacific Street Blues & Americana radio program on Sunday, December 6th for our 3rd annual 'Toys for the Pine Ridge' phone drive. Hear the show live, online at www.897theriver.com 9 a.m. - Noon CST. Join us as Lash LaRue's citywide effort to bring a smile and a ray of sunshine to a Native child's face. YOU really can make a difference!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Artist: Mark Knopfler
Title: Get Lucky
As the founder of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler found vast success and recognition with songs like, ‘Down to the Waterline’ and ‘Money for Nothing.’ Since reaching the pinnacle of economic success, much like Neil Young or even Bob Dylan, Knopfler has downshifted his career by going solo and putting out albums that lean heavily on roots and less on ‘rock n’ roll.’ While FM radio audiences may have felt slighted, music aficionados have been the beneficiary as Knopfler’s solo records have been consistently excellent.
Along with fellow Northumberland son, Sting, Mark Knopfler hails a part of his life from the Tyneside area of northeast England near Newcastle upon Tyne. Like his musical doppelganger, Knopfler goes back to the sound of his northern heritage using bagpipes, flute & whistle and accordion to create a soundscape enhanced by Celtic textures but anchored in post-1980’s folk music. Knopfler’s songs are panoramic with haunting tones that are fresh and familiar; telling stories of characters from his youth including meeting noted British race car driver Bobby Brown or memories of the United Kingdom’s ‘Remembrance Day’ along with “Angry Alfie, Bill and Ken.” It is interesting that both Knopfler and Sting draw upon the memories of the now long gone shipbuilding industry that once employed the working ‘Geordies’ and ‘Macums’ of the Tyneside area. As heard on Sting’s, ‘Soul Cages’ album and on Knopfler’s song, ‘So Far from Clyde’ (a reference to a water inlet in Scotland).
In recent year’s music’s “in crowd” crowed about Knopfler’s two duet albums with American songstress Emmylou Harris. While tasty the real gems of Knopfler’s body of work lie within his solo efforts rather than the albums by Dire Straits or Harris. For radio programmers, ‘You Can’t Beat the House’ is an easy entry into this album while ‘Piper to the End’ is a rich Celtic sound. The album’s title track is another accessible track to allow listeners a doorway into Knopfler’s rich musical expression. This is a true artist and therefore plan on it taking a few listens before the album begins to unfold for you. Knopfler is a master ballad writer and, as his work with Dire Straits has shown, a pretty good up-tempo songwriter too. Due to the niche nature of his work and the seemingly unique roots he brings together for the foundation of his songwriting, Knopfler is not for every listener but for those willing to invest the ear-time – his work will become among your favorite, ‘return to albums.’
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Band: Tower of Power
Title: Great American Soulbook
Writer: Rick Galusha
Combine one of recorded music finest horns bands with the best of the best soul songs and you get the new Tower of Power album, ‘Great American Soulbook.’ While mass appeal has overtly missed this terrific bay area act, for more than four decades (’68 – present) Tower of Power have graced, albeit surreptitiously, some of radio and recordings most popular acts including; Aerosmith, Elton John, Little Feat, Phish, Santana, Heart, Huey Lewis and the News, the Monkees, Santana, Elkie Brooks, Elton John, John Lee Hooker, Rod Stewart, Jefferson Starship, Mickey Hart, Spyro Gyra, Lyle Lovett, Poison, Phish, Toto, and the Brothers Johnson.
Perhaps the comfort of this album is that there are no surprises. Across their 22 albums the band has been consistent and ranged from brilliant to good. As the title of the album implies, TOP covers twelve well known soul songs including; Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs. Jones,’ a medley of James Brown hits (an early influence on the band’s sound development) and Bill Wither’s ‘Who is He and What is He to You.’ Perhaps the highlight of the album is Tom Jones version of Sam & Dave’s, ‘Thank-you’ (as covered earlier by Z.Z. Top). Other guest appearances include; Sam Moore’s (Sam & Dave) cover of the Otis Redding hit, ‘Mr. Pitiful, ’ two songs with British youngster Joss Stone who joins the band for, ‘It Takes Two’ and ‘Your Precious Love’ and the aforementioned Huey Lewis on, ‘634-5789.’
Any song on this album is immediately radio friendly and music fans will find the performances and singing to be excellent. No, TOP is not breaking any new ground with this release but perhaps seeing the rewards that Rod Stewart and others had using well known covers to find financial success, Tower of Power has fallen back on their early influences and personal favorites to release an album that most soul music fans and many blues fans will find hours of enjoyment listening to.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Artist: Dani Wilde
Title: ‘heal my blues’
Much like Motown, RUF Records has created a formula to produce “blues” albums with European overtones that are beginning to be embraced by a wide, white American audience. More than anything else the ‘Suburban Blues’ audience craves a wailing guitar and smooth melody lines. Recently I asked friends to name their top blues albums of the last decade; one said simply, “the one with the guitar solos.” And so it is.
At the dawn of this new millennium Europe seems to be making an effort to replicate the blues boomerang of England in the 1960’s and Wilde seems to be a full fledged member of that movement. To reach wider audiences radio and music gets homogenized. Wilde’s new album, ‘heal my blues’ is a near perfect example of the “demographic specific slotting” that we see in “pop” music today. Wilde’s songs are slick and entertaining; well arranged tracks that include appropriate blues textures and good production value. If you’re a listener that defines “authentic” blues as rough and unfinished; this is not an album for you. However, if you are among the vast unwashed masses that appreciate a well performed tune with sufficient emoted emotion and over arching guitar solos – you will probably be drawn into Ms. Wilde’s album. Harp playing brother Will Wilde’s wailing jumps in and out of the songs with apropos vigor. Surely this is exactly the type of album that radio programmers interested in building a larger audience will embrace. Wilde “sells” her music through visual as well as visceral content creating an enriched entertainment value that many acts today miss.
Is it credible? It’s British. Can the British play the blues? Some would say that from Peter Green to the Hoax, the answer has been yes. Will everyone agree? No. Does it matter? It only matters if it is your money. Is there a marketing machine behind Wilde and is it gathering momentum? Yup! Will you play it on your radio show? Until the cows come home. This is a packaged artist that can check all the boxes of being a blues artist but will not add anything to the genre; there is nothing original going on here (but the point is, there doesn’t have to be). Wilde’s music and showmanship is unlikely to create a circle of lasting influence or be escalated to significant stature by gathering critical acclaim. None-the-less, it is well done, it is fun and chances are good you’ll be seeing Wilde and band at a venue near you. Chances are even better that Wilde will strike a chord with appreciative festival audiences who use the term “great” with ease but with the usual lack of discernment.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Plateros: Hang On
Levi Plateros is this year’s version of Los Lonely Boys minus the kooky antics and overdriven hype. The Plateros band includes what I assume is his father on bass and a cousin on drums. Their multi-layered vocal lines are pure and sweet. While Levi’s muse is a blasting guitar line set over rich melody lines, this band can pile-drive a song with the best of the blues genre’s bashers and then just as easily pull back with heavy pop music hooks and soft, melody rich tracks.
In small doses the band’s uses its unique musical influences to add a sonic flair that are subtle yet compellingly interesting. In the end Levi runs wild with loaming and lilting guitar solos that likely draw in all but the most harden blues-rock guitar aficionados’. For some the lack of chain-saw ratcheting will be a turn off and thus the band perceived as having too much melody; however, if the debut album by Los Lonely Boys ever got your toes tapping – Plateros is a fine second step.
Least we remiss the marketing aspect, Plateros is an all Navajo band and fits nicely among other indigenous and/or sibling acts like; Santana, Indigenous, Los Lobos, Homemade Jamz Blues Band and the aforementioned Los Lonely Boys. Again, this is a band worth keeping your eye on and it is fair to expect big things from them in the future.
Aynsley Lister: equilibrium
For anyone that has been listening to ‘Pacific Street Blues & Americana’ over the years you know I love a well played guitar. Love it to the point of being downright discerning – which is a nice way to say finicky. While tasty players like B. B. King, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy are perhaps the progenitors of tasty blues licks – there is a new generation of players that deserve some kudos. Yes, we all lost something special when Stevie Ray died. Among the players I really enjoy are included; Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, the late Rory Gallagher, Mato Nanji of Indigenous and Aynsley Lister. Lister is the new kid on the block and based upon his last two albums; ‘Upside Down’ and this new effort, ‘equilibrium’ Englishman Lister has easily moved solidly into the world’s “next big thing” slot.
In a traditional sense, if Luther Allison is the blues, then Lister ain’t. Sorry folks, no 12 bars here. Instead Lister uses the tones and textures of contemporary electric blues against a melody rich lyric line that is immediately accessible and immediately enjoyable. While the blues-rock genre is ripe with slingers – there are few bonafide songwriters in the mix and, as perhaps the first real blues-rock songwriter might say, “Move over rover and let Jimi take over.”
Lister’s ability to lift and soar while honoring the song is an impressive art. His bursts of energy lie beneath slower moving passages that provide emotional uplifts that are “gob-smackingly good” and at the same time beautiful and genuine. From the perspective of player records for the last twenty years, Aynsley Lister is clearly a talent worthy of your attention and interest.
Blog: August 13, 2009
I recently got into a conversation with a local impresario. It seems there are more n’ more shows in the market every year. As we have seen in the housing, electrical, airline and energy industries, when supply dramatically exceeds demand there is a retrenchment. In this example, between the free shows and the possibly over-abundance of quality line-up shows – there simply isn’t sufficient audience to support all these shows. On first blush this is hardly a negative; when was the last time someone had the gall to complain that there was too much going on in Omaha? So we have it pretty good right now; as the Horseshoe Casino realized by literally having to give away concert tickets to see the recent ARC Angels show. So tune your fiddle Nero as amid a recessionary decline there is less and less ticket buying capacity up against more and more shows.
Interestingly, since CD’s sales have fallen more than 50% in the past five years, the Wall Street Journal recently discussed how CD’s are being used to drive concert ticket sales as artist derive income from performance now rather than album sales. So where does the “equilibrium point” between ticket demand and artist availability meet? The market will determine. I know this; my days of paying $75 or more for concert tickets is over. And if very many others feel as I do; that either than cannot afford high priced tickets or they simply see their home, vacation or IRA as a better investment, artists are going to be getting crunched from both sides.
Think about that; CD sales are nearly inconsequential and a recessionary period coupled with too many concerts will likely drive ticket prices down. Seemingly one can draw the impression that contemporary society is reducing the value of music across numerous fronts.
Is it fair to say that Bono was the last rock star?
While I still place a premium on recorded music, I find the thuggery of modern sports to be beyond the pale. As a society we are paying virtually uneducated brawlers millions to throw a ball across the plate while we ask the educators of the next generation of American’s to use their comparatively meager incomes to buy supplies that our education system can no longer afford to purchase.
Where does the source of this problem lie?
With you of course - And with me. As a society we get what we pay for. In America today we vote with our dollars and more of us are voting for ‘Tiger Woods’ and ‘A Rod’ than that gal in the classroom teaching our kids. Damn shame it is too. It seems to me we are voting less and less for the ‘Eric Clapton’s’ of the world but still dramatically over-paying for the ‘Bob Stoops’ of the world. So before you bitch, look in the mirror – there lies the problem.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Artist: Kris Lager Band
Title: The Mighty Quinn
Writer: Rick Galusha
Along with Des Moines’ Matt Woods, Nebraska’s Kris Lager has laid the groundwork to become the High Plains’ next blues act of note. Earning their road apprenticeship as the band for Mato Nanji’s Indigneous, The Kris Lager Band has release their fourth album, ‘The Mighty Quinn.’ Like many bands that are allowed to develop at the less than frantic pace of today’s internet driven music industry, Lager’s second and third CD’s displayed progressive improvement and strong lyrical melody lines that are indicative of the early bluesrock progenitors such as The Allman Brothers, Bonney & Delaney and Leon Russell. As the critically applauded band, ‘The Screaming Cheetah Wheelies’ learned however, this is a narrowing genre today and although the Derek Trucks Band is doing well with their World Music come blues feel, few others within this field seem to rise above a regional cult status.
‘The Might Quinn’ is a powerful record where the nuisance of the inter-play between Lager’s slide guitar and Miah Weir’s keyboards can, at times, over-shadow the songs but, after numerous playings, Lager’s true-to-self style slowly transcends and the true power behind the album emerges. This is not your passive listening, blues friendly, compact disc. Instead the listener is required to invest in the audio experience as the band moves through complicated but enjoyable passages.
On the track, “Mean Old World” Lager’s emotive vocals lines broach new areas for the band as they pioneer in a more tentative yet heart-felt layer brushed up against an aggressive slide guitar line. On ‘Hold On’ the band melds an island rhythm over rich blues textures akin to the sounds of “461 Ocean Boulevard.” While not an easy album to digest in initial airings, ‘The Might Quinn’ shows the Kris Lager Band growing by writing songs that are well outside of the narrow confines of the blues industry today. This is a serious album that is filled with songs that separates the partisans from the artisans and like anything work having – the climb is worth the view.
“Mama always told me not to look into the eye's of the sun, but mama, that's where the fun is.”
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Artist: Cyril Neville
Title: Brand New Blues
Writer: Rick Galusha
Whether the Neville Brothers or the Marsalis’ are the first family of the New Orleans music community, both have a ready history of making fine music. And whether as solo artists, members of the Meters or recording together as, ‘The Neville Brothers,’ the Neville’s have , since 1954, made some highly listenable recordings including; ‘Fiyo on the Bayou,’ ‘Yellow Moon,’ and ‘Brothers Keeper.’
In the linear notes of his first solo album in eight years, Cyril Neville notes that Tab Benoit told him, “go blues” in 2005. While Cyril Neville’s album, ‘Brand New Blues’ may be his “blues record,” for me it is a more focused outing for the New Orleans native.
Often albums by the Neville Brothers include messages of social criticism. While the blues is usually personal, the outcry from New Orleans musicians over the 2005 flooding of New Orleans has been pervasive. On this record Neville delves elbow deep into the issue. In the linear notes writer John Sinclair tells readers that the flooding of New Orleans, “wasn’t really due to natural causes but was actually caused by the refusal of Congress to appropriate sufficient funding.” The actual finding, done in part by Louisiana State University, is, “Investigators criticized Congress for years of irregular funding and state and local authorities for failing to maintain the levees properly.” Sinclair goes on to say the flood was, “merely a trigger for institutional racism and civic ugliness.” You may agree or disagree where the blame lies; or the extent of who holds how much blame, however as a source for anguish and therefore material, the flood of New Orleans is a contemporary catastrophe and is now a part of America’s ‘disaster songs lexicon.’
So let’s talk about the music. This is not a “great” album in that it will not be widely embraced by the blues listener base. Instead it is a very strong record by a known American artist that aficionados of New Orleans and/or niche areas of blues and roots music will greatly enjoy. What Cyril shows us is a refraction of how the textures of blues music can be amalgamated into other genres and sounds. The sense and feel of this album is immediately familiar and, after hearing this recording, fans of the Neville Brothers will better recognize how Cyril contributes to the overall sound of his, ‘family groove.’
Like nearly any recording based in the poly-rhythms of New Orleans, it’s hard to keep your toes from tapping and your feet from dancing. ‘Cream Them Beans,’ is the equivalent of a Crescent City 12 bar jam as Neville talks over the track while the band rollicks.
Traditional blues radio programmers will want to focus on the album’s closing track, a cover of Bob Marley’s, ‘Slave Driver’ (where Marley’s album title, ‘catch a fire’ is coined.) This is a slow, highly textured track with a languid, slow burn. (Interestingly, Severn’s latest R n’ B singer Charles Wilson covers Marley’s ‘Is this Love’ on his latest release, “Troubled Child.”) Neville adds to Marley’s composition as he sings, “When I first saw what happen to New Orleans, my blood ran cold. My people’s freedom bought and sold,” in what develops into a quarter by quarter review of the current state of the 3rd Coast’s finest city…in its current form.
This is a good album; a credible showcase but it needs the listener’s full focus and an understanding that Neville is going to use his music as a vehicle for political advocating and, at times, I just want to hear music.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Artist: Deanna Bogart
Title: 11th Hour
Writer: Rick Galusha
The evolution of technology has profoundly impacted music listening habits. Due to the demise of the grip by the music industry’s major label system, music fans are now being bombarded with more CDs than ever before. Like the average consumer in a wine store, many of us are standing in front of a massive selection of choices, mouth agape, (and possibly drooling), trying to make “heads or tails” out of an oceans of music in front of us. Therein lies much of the popularity of the Blues; like a McDonald’s hamburger, listeners have a pretty good idea what they’re going to hear, usually. As most blues fans graduate from their old collection of Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin records, even the traditionally rather narrow genre of the blues is exploding to encompass more and more influences. To the chagrin of traditionalists…it is what it is (and like other “music gatekeepers,” snobbery is becoming passé).
Although “blues rock” has been a part of the blues scene since the early 1960’s – more than ever it has become an entrenched category. Today, it seems to me, “pop” blues is coming on strong. Let’s define this a bit; pop music is by definition popular. It also tends to be melodic, well arranged and contains a memorable tune. Some of the progenitors of this include Jason Ricci, David Grissom, Bob Malone and this latest album by Deanna Bogart.
The latest album by Deanna Bogart, 11th Hour, pushes the envelope of what many would consider to be, “the blues.” However this is an artist that any music fan can easily embrace because the music defies hewn category. Bogart’s songs are intelligent, her lyrics are endearing and her arrangements far surpass the vast minions of faceless sound-alike zombies that permeate the landscape. Yes, it is that good.
Radio programmers will want to pay close attention to the album’s 3rd track, “Love and Attention.” While this stunning, show stopping duet with Tommy Castro is certainly not going to draw much reward from the blues award system, this is simply one of the finest radio friendly pop songs since the term, ‘Philadelphia Soul’ was coined in the 1970’s. The track is immediately credible with Bogart’s songwriting and arrangement on the ballad well beyond exceptional. Yes, it is that good.
On ‘11th Hour’ Bogart does two covers, ‘Since We’ve Ended as Lovers,’ written by Stevie Wonder but given to Jeff Beck as a reputed payoff for reneging on the promised track, ‘Superstition.’ John Hiatt’s, ‘Have a Little Faith’ is also given Bogart’s careful touch.
Admittedly, while Deanna Bogart is an extraordinary musician, the presence of a gifted band is apparent. On the albums opening track, ‘Sweet Pea’ guitarist Dan Leonard slices in chords while the band swings in a groove reminiscent of “Aja” period Steely Dan. The band’s bassist Scott Ambush and drummer Mike Aubin carefully under-play while giving the songs a solid base from which to grow. On the track, ‘Unkl Funkl’ the band ventures into a tasty funk/ jazz piece that shows just how talented this band really is – with Ambush’s rapid fire fingers giving the listeners that much loved guitar attack while Leonard fires back with a highly textured response. More traditionally orientate blues show will want to focus on the smoky late-night sultry notions of the album’s closing track, “Eleventh Hour Blues.”
So no, purist blues fans are probably not going to fawn over Deanna Bogart’s latest collection of songs. Everyone else will easily find this an album that will bear up to repeat listening for years to come. Yes, it really is that good.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Artist: Michelle Malone
Writer: Rick Galusha
In a world where ‘chic rock’ in now its own category; few really do. That’s not to denigrate the artform – but often the bar is lowered to compensate…but then I feel that way about most “rock” records released in this new millennium. With the release of her last album, Debris, Georgia based Michelle Malone has laid down a wall-to-wall rock n’ roll record that defies such petty niche labels as ‘chic rock.’ Malone has a sharp Southern rock flavor more akin to the Black Crowes and Tom Petty than Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Malone plays a lyrically rich guitar style under the influences of Rich Robinson and Keith Richards; where biting counter-licks sneak in behind verses and choruses with impressive subtly. Her songwriting shows great texture and depth as she moves from overt rocker, ‘Chattahoochee Boogaloo’ and ‘Feather in a Hurricane’ to the FM friendly sing-a-long, ‘Yesterday’s Make Up.’
This is not a good ‘chic rock’ record: this is an excellent rock n’ roll record in the finest sense…and these are getting to be few and far between.
As an independent artist, Malone’s songwriting will immediately appeal to roots rock fans albeit ‘Debris’ has a fully produced sound that includes Malone’s slide guitar and harmonica playing behind her intelligent lyrics. On the album’s eighth track, Weed & Wine, Malone recalls a time familiar to most baby boomers when she sings, “Remember when we used to sneak out. Remember when we howled at the moon. Radio cracklin’ with, ‘Sweet Melissa,’ on a steamy summer night in June. You always wore that corduroy jacket; and them bell-bottom patched up jeans. Well baby put’em back on and meet me at reservoir by the statelLine. We’ll cause a scene. You bring the weed – I’ll bring the wine. Crawl in the backseat honey and have a real good time.”
On June 3rd Malone brings her tasty blues-base rock sound to Omaha’s Barfly at 114th and Dodge Streets. With nearly twenty road harden years under her belt, and at least twenty albums for sale on her website (www.michellemalone.com), Michelle Malone’s “overnight success” could easily become the surprise gig for the summer of ’09. You’ll be able to hear Malone’s music every Sunday on Pacific Street Blues – yeah, it’s that good.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Artist: John Mellencamp
Title: Life, Death, Love and Freedom
Writer: Rick Galusha
It’s a human trait to dwell on mortality: it’s where religion is rooted. Since recorded history began musicians have released recordings of this pondering; perhaps none so much as those of the roots genres including blues. However, like political criticism, it is an easily fumbled message and few can carry the torch beyond one, maybe two songs in the span of a career.
After finding commercial success early in his career John Mellencamp dropped the ‘Cougar’ moniker and began to turn his music-making towards a more roots based sound. While musically snobby 40 something’s may have written off Bloomington’s sage as “a hack” long ago, in 1985 Mellencamp released an album, ‘Scarecrow’ which lent a Midwestern credibility to the cultural landscape that heretofore had been rooted on coastal seaboards. Bruce Springsteen made New Jersey a state with romantic ballets in the streets: Mellencamp sang of farm foreclosures, national pride and growing up in 50’s seeing life from a ‘rumbleseat.’ Suddenly the lure of the living within spitting distance of Los Angles and New York City was not as bright as it had been and, finally, being from the Midwest, and its small town manners, was kinda cool.
When Mellencamp fully embraced a ‘roots’ sound to his music is debatable; however, by the 1993 album, ‘Human Wheels’ it was clear that writing hits was off the agenda. Although the title track was radio friendly, the voice of the album spoke of deeper thoughts and the music took on a rawer edge. Radio and retail no longer asked what had happened to John, we all knew, he’d pulled a Neil Young and chose art over commerce… finally put the finishing fork in the pop star, “Johnny Cougar.” Casting aside any lingering fears, Mellencamp ventured into liberal activism, whether political or social (ala’ founding Farm Aid along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson), Mellencamp’s new personification, ‘Lil’ Bastard’ had taken over.
With the release of his latest album, ‘Life, Death, Love and Freedom’ (LDLF) Mellencamp fully realizes this transition with, perhaps, his strongest artistic statement to date. At first glance the album is full of morbidity: apparently the ‘Lil’Bastard’ is afraid of something. LDLF is a 14 track testament to one man’s midlife reconciliations. The opening track, ‘Longest Days’ sets the tone as the Mellencamp sings,
“So you pretend not to notice,
That everything has changed,
The way you look,
And the friends you once had.
So you keep on acting the same,
But deep down in your soul,
You know you got no flame.
And who knows then which way to go?
Life is short even in its longest days.’
It has been a long time since a lyric resonated as when he sings,
‘Sometimes you get sick,
And you don’t get better,
That’s when life is short,
Even in its longest days.’
While the subject matter is heavy, and the music is compelling, Mellencamp’s latest effort is the finest full length album from one of Classic Rock’s pantheon. While other’s struggle to find a new voice that fits with their aging bodies, Mellencamp saddles up and bangs away with a album that shows, finally, that aging and music can remain symbiotic. It is as if the age-old struggle between Jagger and Richards has finally been settled; you can be “great” and release exceptional music even though “midlife” is now in the rear-view mirror.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Mellencamp hoists up the social commentary albeit using a thinly veiled analogy in the song, ‘Without a Shot.’ He takes a swipe at false nationalism.
“We open our eyes at midnight,
Seeing the setting of the sun.
Foundation are crumbling; The inner structure’s gone;
Used up by corruption,
And the passage of time.
We hope we got some fight left,
Cause our children, our children are dying.”
Within the same tune he rails against false piety with resonation.
“So we think that forgiveness,
Is a God given right.
And equality for all,
Is just a waste of time.
With our nickel-plated Jesus,
Chained around our necks;
Handing out versus of scripture,
Like we wrote it down ourselves.”
A compact disc is the equivalent of a double album set. Over the past 50 years you can probably count, now on two hands, the number of studio-recorded-rock-double-albums that maintain a high level of quality throughout ( Exile on Main Street, Quadrophenia, Electric Ladyland, London Calling, Blonde on Blonde are a few). I readily suggest that, ‘Life, Death’ Love and Freedom’ be added that select group of records. ‘Life, Death, Love and Freedom’ is a thinking man’s roots album that is rich in textures with carefully crafted songs and arrangements; it is a brilliant musical statement…albeit by a “hack” from Indiana.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Title: Laurel Canyon, The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood
Author: Michael Walker
When rock music was young and yet to be infiltrated by hard drugs, MBA’s and big BIG money, there was a hippie enclave holed up in the hills and valleys behind the Sunset Stripe in Los Angles. After the Beatles came in and decimated the musical landscape, numerous artists on the verge of fantastic success congregated in the Laurel Canyon area – buying inexpensive homes with proximity to the developing music center of Southern California. Included in this cavalcade of rising stars were the Byrds, Joni Mitchell & Graham Nash, Frank Zappa, Mama Cass Elliott, Neil Young, Jackson Brown, The Eagles and others. The Doors hailed from Venice Beach which was across town and a million miles away. In his tell-all-book Michael Walker talks about the unique artist community that lived on Laurel Canyon road in central Los Angles.
The book recounts how Cass Elliott brought together Graham Nash (of the Hollies) with Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield) and David Crosby (of the Byrds) in her living room, “…she pulls up in this convertible Porsche. I got in and she drove me up Laurel Canyon to this house” says Nash. ‘Waiting there were Stills and Crosby, who sang for Nash the Stills composition, ‘You Don’t Have to Cry.’ “That was a moment that is indelibly etched on my soul,” Nash recalled.
Walker is sure to dish the dirt including Robert Plant’s (Led Zeppelin) fancy for 16 year old groupies and the, ‘L.A. Queens’ that catered to, “provide the fulfillment of fantasies of these men [who] were older than me” recalls Morgan Welch. Walker recalls the now infamous, ‘Riot at the Hyatt’ hotel on Sunset Strip and the debauchery that seemed to go on nightly as rock bands target Los Angles for much needed breaks from the road.
Walker talks about Charles Manson getting thrown out by Gail Zappa and his suspected reasons for the murdering Leno & Rosemary LaBianca and Sharon Tate. “Sally Stevens, an L.A. record executive who lived on Lookout Mountain at the time, recalls, ‘I was kind of wandering about this party and there was a door slightly open and I could see people sitting in a circle. There was a candle in the middle of the floor, and there was this guy sitting in the corner. He was kind of holding forth to everyone and they were all sitting like a bunch of sheep. And as I looked in the door, he said, ‘Come in, come in.’ I just got a bad feeling from him and said, ‘No, that’s okay.’ Later on, when they arrested Manson, I went, God, that’s the guys.”
As cocaine overtook marijuana as the drug of choice, Laurel Canyon’s innocence fell away behind a shroud of paranoia and the onslaught of Glam Rock. “A young misfit named Frank Ferrana, at the time being a transient being raised at the Sunset Tower apartment building on the strip, was obsessed with the Sweet’s vocalist, Brian Connolly, and why, among other matters, Connolly had, ‘bangs that curled under,’ Ferrana would change his name to Nikki Sixx and found Motley Crue…”
To lift from Charles Dickens, ‘it was the best of times’ and the future was tomorrow rather than yesterday. This is an easy read that is fun, packed with lots of known music names of when innocence was the norm and baby-boomer youths were hitting their teens and early 20’s. Yes, its fun. No, it’s not explicit. And best of all, the Omaha Public Library has it on hand…so it is free!
Artist: Hague a/k/a Mark Stenton
Title: (self titled)
A few folks have heard the bromide, “Taking coals to Newcastle.” A substantially smaller circle will know that Newcastle Upon Tyne, a northeast English town, was “home” to significant rock music talents including; Sting (The Police), Brian Johnstone (Ac/Dc), Brian Ferry (Roxy Music), Eric Burden (The Animals), Lindesfarne, Splinter, Nic Armstrong, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Andy Taylor (Duran Duran). Much like the midwest American cities of Omaha or Detroit, Newcastle has a perchance for rust-belt rock n’ roll that leans towards metal. So it a tribute to the internet that, ‘Hague’ has been able to muster any accord amid the heavier sounds that Newcastle is known for.
As an avid music fan, I lost my muse. Where it went I could not say. Perhaps it was the grind of 24 years in the pre-recorded music retail business – an industry that is literally less than half the business it was five years ago. And more than a few musical muses have been pilloried on the rail of radio’s endless blah, blah, blah. Having celebrated the twentieth anniversary of, ‘Pacific Street Blues & Americana’ (www.KIWRblues.Podomatic.com) I’d become a part of that dinge albeit trying to convey art over amassing an audience. I lost my rock n’ roll heart…so much so that I’ve resorted to trolling the internet listening to obscure LPFM (low powered frequency modulation) radio stations that recent legislation in Britain created. One day I found a heartbeat. Lionheart Radio, a real community station, located in Alnwick, Northumberland: a mere hamlet on the North Sea coast between Newcastle and the lowlands of Scotland. It was art. Oh, it’s not that their air-talent is that “talented.” One day it’s a conversation about Mrs. Thompson’s fresh garden tomatoes and the next it’s a choir of school children. Host Ally Lee is perhaps the most spontaneous deejay I’ve heard since KQKQ died in May of 1978. Lionheart is a come-to-life ‘Petticoat Junction’ that streams across the internet. It’s a community and you’re welcome to listen in.
It was on Lionheart that I heard the musical project by forty year old Mark Stenton’s. In a world where tits sell toothpaste, this was all together different. ‘Hague’ is at once a nostalgic memory you never had and the lilting smell of mom’s hug after coming in from the cold. It is the simple interplay between vocal, acoustic guitar and rich backing textures that allow the listener to focus on the well written music that sweeps you away with mental images and rendering lyric lines. The used of space is brilliant. Whether a keyboard, flute or super low bass, Hague builds a audio soundscape that is immediately friendly. Stenton’s sound is a bit ‘Bare Trees’ (Fleetwood Mac), a tad ascending English sing-a-long and a less palliative David Gray.
This five track EP opens with the track, ‘Fool.’ Stenton juxtaposes a flute against a strumming guitar as he sings, “You act like a fool, so they think you’re a fool. You want to fit in but I don’t know where on earth to begin.” It is a powerful song with layered texture and solo-era Lennon bite. “You say many things, without saying anything. Who’s in the mirror staring at you? What are trying to prove, when you act like a fool?”
“These northern stars flicker in silence, and the moon is burning red.” The album closes with the near cinematic song, ‘Northern Blues.’ Stenton uses space among a sonic pallet that harkens Townshend with, ‘See me, hear me, come on talk to me. Feel me and heal me, come on home to me.” A kick drum emulates a heartbeat as the song’s character bemoans a departed lover or the death of a dear someone. “These northern lights, they dance awhile, like the spirits breaking free. I’ll sing to you, my northern blues. Till you’re resting with me.” At 2:21 this is a powerful and moving artscape that is dramatic, underplayed and wrenchingly beautiful. This five track EP “has no filler.” Hague can be heard at; http://haguemusic.co.uk/