New Reviews, January 2011
John Prine * The Singing Mailman Delivers * Oh Boy “He needs no introduction, John Prine” is his introduction on this great 2-disc collection which comprises two 40-year old historic performances from Prine in the year of his national emergence, 1970, but recorded before he signed with Atlantic Records. The first session occurred unplanned when he was at WFMT Studios in his native Chicago to be interviewed by the late great Studs Terkel (one of the few Chicago legends as beloved there as Prine) and asked afterwards if he could stick around to record all his songs. Ray Nordstrand, host of their legendary weekly “Midnight Special” show, where Prine and his pal Steve Goodman were first heard, engineered the session and John played the stunning songs he’d been writing while delivering the mail around nearby Maywood. It’s a revelation to hear how many amazing songs he’d already written, such as “Blue Umbrella,” “Quiet Man” and “Souvenirs” before he made the first album, but which he held for subsequent ones. Prine simply wrote so many classics while walking his daily mail route that he had more than enough to fill out the brilliant debut collection (featuring “Hello In There,” “Sam Stone,” and “Angel From Montgomery” ) we have come to know. The second session here is from November of that same year, where Prine – though still officially a mailman – speaks and jokes and sings with the soulful poise and perfect timing of a longtime showbiz vet; though he said later he just talked between songs out of nervousness, his patter was always as smart and funny as his lyrics. He plays many of the early classics here, such as “Hello In There” and “Angel from Montgomery” exactly as they were to be rendered, though with more instrumentation, on his debut (which remains one of the most impressive and miraculous debuts ever of a singer-songwriter; whereas almost all his peers and those who preceded him took a few albums before creating masterpieces, Prine had already written more than an album’s worth by the time he signed.) There’s also some unexpected songs here, such as the funny original “A Star, A Jewel, And A Hoax” and a cool and spirited mash-up of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Jambalaya.” — Paul Zollo
Live at the Troubadour, January 12, 2012
By ABIGAIL MILLER
As alternative hard-rock band ACIDIC took the stage at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on January 12, the commitment and passion of this extremely talented foursome was quite obvious. Frontman Michael Gossard is a force of nature, connecting to his audience and his band mates in ways that make an ACIDIC show highly electrifying. Despite a very early opening slot on the bill, Gossard and his mates managed to get the crowd revved up for the night, almost bouncing off the walls of the club with excitement. Speaking with Gossard post-performance, one can tell that his truly amiable personality isn’t reserved for the stage, as he was just as happy to be wading through the Troubadour crowd as he was singing his ass off.
Formed in 2008, these four young men, who are barely out of their teens, have released three aggressive, heart-pounding albums since 2009. Their show proves that they are wise far beyond their years and will be giving the world more of their unique, classic-rock flavored intensity for many years to come.
Freebo * Something To Believe * Poppabo Music Freebo is more than a beloved musician, he’s an institution. Most famous for the funkified precision and fluid soul of his bass playing for Bonnie Raitt, he’s also a longtime beloved studio cat, a musician’s musician, sought out for his greatness in the studio by everyone from Ringo and Dr. John to CSN, Aaron Neville, Marie Muldaur and the late great Willie DeVille. But Freebo is more than one of this town’s best players, as those in the know have known for a long time: he’s also a richly gifted and distinctive songwriter. Like other famous musicians most often linked in the public’s mind with artists they’ve supported onstage and on records, his own voice as a singer-songwriter hasn’t received the attention it’s been due. But the guy is a seriously good writer, as expressive in his writing as on a bass. If anyone has written a more poignant song about homelessness than “Where There’s No Place Like Home,” I haven’t heard it yet, but I hope someone tries. Because it’s aiming high, to write a song about a subject so hopeless without being hopelessly maudlin or cliché, so most songwriters don’t even try. Freebo does it with easy grace, as simple and right as the beautifully understated arrangement. Considering the subject matter of those millions of Americans who sleep every night in the streets of our cities, so close to our happy homes, a big musical production on this would just seem extravagant and wrong. It’s about recognizing the abundant blessings we enjoy everyday, but delivered with a great tenderness of spirit, far from the kind of preachy sanctimony into which such songs can fall. It’s a song of kindred spirit, and is a remarkable amalgam of influences, as if Harold Arlen collaborated with Pete Seeger – a timelessly tuneful chorus with lyric of folk wisdom and compassion. (I saw Freebo perform this song recently in concert and it was stunning; just him on guitar and voice with the great Chad Watson playing Freebo’s fretless fills on bass for him). It sings like a modern standard, with a great economy of words and a melody any Broadway audience would swoon for. And in the wrong hands could suffer from a greatly overblown arrangement. But it’s in the right hands here, framed delicately with Chris Gage’s stunning accordion playing against Freebo’s fretless bass and guitar and with warm synth strings. Written with Karen Taylor-Good, it’s a perfect song. But there’s a lot more here, including the great opener “Standing Ovation,” written with Robert Tepper, a spirited elegy for a musician’s life, the wish for one final standing O before moving on.
Freebo’s famous for enabling other great musicians to shine, and that’s the case even here on his own record. A king of rhythm, it’s no surprise that the grooves throughout are immaculately tight, like the great rock shuffle of “My Personal GPS” as solid and soulful as Steely Dan, built on the solid rhythm section of Freebo on bass with the legendary Jerry Marotta – who played with the Dan, after all – and the great Fuzzbee Morse burning like Buddy Guy on electric blues guitar. With musicianship this good, you don’t need much else – this has everything and more. You think it won’t get better, but then comes “In The Afternoon Heat” – also with Fuzzbee and Marotta – and Fuzzbee is on fire throughout the whole song, lighting not one but several incendiaries, like Hendrix or Clapton with Cream, playing rhythm and lead at the same time. Freebo wrote the heartbreaking title tune with Eric Lowen of Lowen & Navarro, and it’s heartwarming to hear Eric’s longtime partner Dan Navarro bring his beautiful soul and voice, as he has with Lowen for so many years, in harmony on this track. Freebo also composed a beautiful string arrangement for this one, performed by cellist John Krovoza and Miriam Mayer on violin and viola. We also hear Navarro’s harmonies on a song of his own, the beautiful “I Don’t Believe In Yesterday.”
It all wraps up with a tremendous party track built on the great playing of a whole other super group: the legendary Albert Lee on guitar, Peter Bunetta on drums and Skip Edwards righteous throughout on Hammond B3. Albert’s as eloquent as ever, as intimate and alive as if we’re in the basement for a late-night jam hosted by our famous host in which nobody’s not dancing. This is fine songwriting of a high level and infectious record-making performed by some of the best musicians around. So the secret isn’t that secret anymore: Freebo’s doing it all. This is pulling the car over to the side of the road to listen music. This is turn the TV off and listen music. This is stop complaining that nobody is making albums anymore like they used to music. It’s the real deal. If you haven’t been yet initiated into Freebo-world, this is a perfect place to start. — Paul Zollo
Emily Hurd * Long Lost Ghosts * Deep heart and soul. Songs of much genuine beauty and grace. A masterpiece. I love this music. A beautiful album by Chicago-based songwriter-singer and pianist Emily Hurd, supported amiably by John Abbey, who produced, engineered and played both bass and guitar. Like Jon Brion and other musician-producers who know best how to frame a songwriter and her songs, Abbey brings out the power of Hurd’s voice and spirit with great passion and focus. The title song is haunting and infectious, and makes you want to jump in an old Ford and drive cross-country with this on the radio the whole way. Propulsive and gentle at once, it’s a special fusion which is especially welcome in these times of turmoil and drama. “Silent Conversation” expands from a quiet ballad to a miraculous counterpoint of voices and violin and a ragtime funeral band. This is an album to fall into and swim in forever. “Irreparably Yours” matches the promise of its title. Connected by rich strands of warmth and dynamism, the album’s got echoes of Feist with its inventive acoustic hip-hop amalgam of folk and funk and fun. This is inspired songwriting brilliantly produced, and performed with strength and warm authority. If you haven’t yet heard Hurd, first forgive me for that, then listen to this. — Paul Zollo
Nneka * Soul is Heavy * Decon Records A great multi-cultural mash-up of infectious soul. Connecting musics from disparate portions of our globe comes naturally to Nneka, born in Nigeria, educated in Hamburg, world-toured with Lenny Kravitz. Brilliant compositions like the hauntingly exalted hip-hop of “God Knows Why,” which features Black Thought, lift this to an unexpectedly epic and visceral place, as passionate as Stevie Wonder in his expansive Songs In The Key of Life era . This is important and great. — Paul Zollo
Severin Browne * Lucky Man; A Songwriter’s Notebook * He’s long been cherished as an honored member of the L.A. folk music community with good reason – he’s an extraordinary songwriter – one of the best and most sophisticated melodists around, and a unique and gifted lyricist – as well as a fine guitarist and soulful singer. He shows here, as he does in his live shows, his ability to write any kind of song and make it work, from stunning ballads to rock and roll to Calypso. The range here is remarkable: We get elegantly-produced new versions of songs we have been enjoying in his shows, such as the gloriously tuneful and yearning “To The Light,” co-written with Freebo, James Lee Stanley and David Roth (featuring the fine fretless bass of Mr. Freebo), and the masterful “I Am Not Cactus,” which is both one of his most haunting melodies and poignant lyrics. A great example of a perfect marriage of words & melody, “Cactus” was composed alone by this frequent collaborator, and is a great lesson in the power of metaphor, taking its title symbol to stirring extremes. Wisely and beautifully understated in its production, it’s punctuated only by Sev’s gentle tenor voice and guitar, Richard Dodd’s lovely cello playing and Leslie Beauvais’ harmony vocal. For “Cactus” alone this album is important, but there’s much else to recommend it. Sev’s birthday song for his friend and frequent collaborator, the author/songwriter Britta Lee Shain, is a beautifully timeless wish from one friend to another. Sev’s great band, with whom he often performs spirited shows, is here on several songs, featuring the playing of the great Aaron Wolfson on electric guitar (though not enough – Wolfson is so good one hungers for much more), Sweetwater legend Alex Del Zoppo on piano and Gary Popenoe resplendent throughout on chromatic harmonica. “Don’t Give Up On Me, Virginia,” sports one of Sev’s signature heartbreak melodies and a beautiful lyric co-written with the aforementioned Shain, who also co-wrote the title song. He sings his heart out on this one, and also plays piano – who knew?- this is a piano ballad Billy Joel would have been proud to write, with perfect tenor sax by Jerry Peterson. “Cat Woman” is a cool and unexpected delight, a swampy New Orleans tale set to a modified Bo Diddley shuffle, while “Calypso Rose” is a festive Caribbean excursion replete with warmly ebullient steel drums played by Doug Lacy. It’s all wrapped up with the amazing “Lessons,” which succeeds somehow in being simple and complex at the same time, with another lyric-tune marriage that works so rightly, talking to the heart and mind at once. This is another great collection of songs by a songwriter who loves what he does, and shares that love directly and effusively, giving us a great antidote of calm, focus and sweetness for these chaotic and uncertain times. — Paul Zollo
Cameron Daddo * Ten Songs… and change * Camel Records Hard to believe this was recorded live at Hallenbeck’s [in beautiful downtown North Hollywood] because it has the crystalline intimacy and dimension of a fine studio record. Produced by Daddo with multi-instrumentalist John O’Kennedy and percussionist Scott Lund, this is ripe with beautiful songs, heartfelt singing and delightful acoustic instrumentation. Daddo writes tuneful songs, both gentle and dynamic, such as the elegiac “Cool Change” and the fun indigenous rave-up of “Big Ball of Chocolate.” With great spirited harmonies throughout provided by Dan Navarro, Steve Dunstan and others, this is passionate and driven, soulful in its acoustic splendor, reminding one and all that great power can be created even without any amp stacks. “Lyle’s Love Song” is arch and new, and rocking with a great bluesy funk. Excellent harmonica playing by Daddo himself has the meaty muscle of Corky Siegel, and locks in just right with the groove. “Wedding Day” is poignantly momentous, so beautifully punctuated by counterpoint vocals at the end, a wonderful expanded tag that is one of the album’s highlights. O’Kennedy shines throughout, with eloquent electric and acoustic guitar work as well as tasty slide and mandolin. Also Phil Parlapiano’s accordion cushions into the sound so delicately that it’s stunning. This is really good stuff. Fine songs by a serious songwriter, inspired production and excellent musicianship; it deserves some serious attention. — Paul Zollo
Andy Hill & Renee Safier * Many Miles To Go “I came to you like a parachute/And landed all around your world,” sings Renee Safier on the lovely “Kids These Days,” written by Andy Hill. Produced by Hill & Safier with the great Marty Rifkin, this is an album of tremendous power and passion. Both Andy & Renee are strong songwriters, but with styles vastly different, so marrying their songs brings a great range to their music. Even when he writes one, he sometimes has Renee sing it, as on the wonderful “Kids,” a sad and beautiful reflection of life’s brisk passage. Multi-instrumentalist Rifkin brings the great pedal-steel he’s played with Springsteen to these tracks, as well as beautiful layers of lap steel, slide, dobro and bass. But Andy Hill is no slouch in the instrumental world, playing inspired piano, organ, and acoustic and electric guitars. The album comprises all their originals, except one exceptional exception, Robbie Robertson’s glorious “It Makes No Difference,” which they deliver together with much purity and passion, and fidelity to the Band’s great earthy vocal sound and even Garth Hudson’s big church organ (played by Hill) and celebratory sax (by Nelson Rangell). John Hoke delivers crisp drums on most songs, though Tim Fillman is on “It Makes No Difference.” “The Fallen Man” is a remarkable contemplation of suicide and mortality set to a great Peter Gabriel-like groove layered lovingly by Hill’s heartfelt keyboard work. Long beloved for their great annual tributes to the songs and spirit of Bob Dylan, Andy & Renee remind us that to connect with a genius as intimately as they have with Bob requires a lot of emotional depth, which glows in all these tracks. If you’ve enjoyed their shows over the years but haven’t had the chance to absorb their own songs, here’s your chance. This is a beautiful collection of songs by musicians who knows a lot about what makes songs great. — Paul Zollo
Sharif * Almost There * It’s only an EP, which is a shame, because it’s so good you want more. Produced and mixed in the UK by Tim Bradshaw, it’s a great introduction to an excellent new songwriter and singer with a profusion of charisma that comes through on every track. “I Don’t Miss You” is a smart and funny attempt at loosening love’s grip. With great telling details and powerful pop song thrust, it’s an infectious and memorable song of love lost. He’s got a silken voice ideal both for a soft croon, as on “More For Me,” or the confident romance of “Dangerous Destination.” Look out for Sharif: his star is on the rise, and it’s almost there. — Paul Zollo
My Best Fiend * In Ghostlike Fading* Warp A Brooklyn-based quintet, they remind one of the haunting rawness of Velvet Underground merged with the expansive epic looseness of early R.E.M. “Higher Palms” starts out simply and sweetly and morphs into an unexpected and inspired tapestry of yearning. The title song, “In Ghostlike Fading” is hypnotic, like a Donovan dream sung by Patti Smith in some alternative Nashville, it’s a fall into this forever kind of song; you can put this one on repeat, as I have, for hours at an end and it works. Ambitious and heartfelt music, this is music of little contrivance and all feel. From the “thirstiest fish in the sea” of the great “Cracking Eggs” to the cool doves of “Cool Doves,” this is a collection of great ambition and success from My Best Fiend, a name that refers to the greatest buddy movie ever, Werner Herzog’s love letter to the mad and brilliant Klaus Kinski. This is one worth keeping. — Paul Zollo
Dave Morrison * Shout At The Moon * Trough Records Recorded live at the Sierra Madre theater, this is the new Dave Morrison album his fans have long been waiting for. Produced, as was his debut, by Mark Humphreys, it’s a record that captures the intimacy of a live show but with studio warmth and sheen. Dave’s crystal vocals never sounded better, and his finely detailed songs are delivered with an uncluttered purity of intention. Previously unrecorded masterpieces like “Ocean Avenue” and “Puppet Town” are lovingly rendered here, as are some of his greatest hits, such as “Quartzite” and the eternally infectious “Times Like These.” Surrounded by seriously great musicians like Chad Watson on bass, Greg Krueger on guitar, mandolin and dobro, Dale LaDuke on accordion and Luke Halpin on fiddle & mandolin, he’s also supported in song by the great harmony singer Lisa Turner, who inhabits Morrison’s songs as thoroughly as he does. His distinctive wit and big heart come across in “Almost A Relief,” a song about a dynamic rarely approached in song, the romantic liberation that comes with knowing you don’t have a chance so don’t have to try. He’s a savvy and sensitive songwriter, and on this record shows there’s no excuse for spending years in the studio (you know who you are) – get a great producer/engineer like Humphreys and do it in all in one night. This was worth the wait. — Paul Zollo
John Batdorf * One Last Wish Many of these songs have the Springsteen-like dynamic of endurance and self-belief. Unlike so much current music which paints landscapes both bleak and lonely, this is affirmative music, music that seems to have emanated from an old soul of much empathy and soul. He’s a great singer, with an expressive tenor like an unbound Don Henley on some songs, with hints of Stephen Stills and Dan Fogelberg. It’s a voice that cuts like a knife through the rich folk-rock textures of acoustic guitars, twin electric guitar leads, vocal choirs, tapestry drums and sparkling mandolins. “Can You Hear Me Now” has a hook like a great pop song from the ’80s; it sounds like a hit we never heard. “Heaven Help Me” is as good as it gets, a song of creative persistence with a melody as heavenly as the title promise. “Forgotten” is a gorgeous song of enduring love with a passionate tune bolstered by heavenly harmonies that evoke echoes of Dan Fogelberg at his most romantic. The title song is like Stephen Stills at the peak of his powers, and is maybe the most powerful track on an album of much power. The record culminates with “Revolution,” a dreamy track that ties together all the disparate and unified themes of this record. It’s a revolution of the spirit and the heart, a revolution fought peacefully, as “all the world will see,” a war waged by musicians. With celestial and earthy harmonies like CSN radiant around him, he delivers a remarkable song of peace to a hip and syncopated acoustic riff. People think nobody’s making music this meaningful anymore. They’re wrong; Batdorf is. This is great. — Paul Zollo
Graham Weber * Women Wise and soulful songs of love and desire written by a Texan with a relaxed vocal delivery, Harry Nilsson-like tunefulness and dynamic grasp of earnestness and exaltation. His songs are finely etched with telling details of starkness and romance. “All About You” says it all, a songwriter telling the listener that all his songs are and always have been “all about you,” which is the main message at the heart of every song in some ways, crystallized here with soulful focus. “Unrequited Love” is gentle and intimate, and deceptively simple. Painted with tender vocals, acoustic guitar and yearning pedal steel, it’s a song rich with beautiful lyrical details, the work of a seasoned songwriter, a guy who knows what he’s doing with these elements of chords, words and melodies. The harmonic shift on the title speaks to either great inspiration or great instincts and probably both. There’s a lot of emotional depth here, behind all these songs, like smiles hidden behind sad eyes. “Black and White,” is an emotional epic, soaring on a swelling bed of Hammond organ. It’s got the soulful swagger and youthful abandon of early Springsteen. “All your silver linings flash before you,” he sings in “Still Be Mine,” a musical suite with a wonderful title, a poignant promise, sung to a Tom Waitsian tune as produced by Brian Wilson, “Don’t cry, you can still be mine.” It ends with a perfect ending tune, “Sleep It Off,” a nicely nostalgic sounding duet with the wonderful Betty Soo about sleeping off what came before to start again in the morning. Jonathan Doyle plays a drunken Guy Lombardo clarinet which is the ideal celebratory seasoning surrounding the loving advice, “Sleep it off, and then start it off again.” Inventive and inspired songwriting and record-making, and a damn good listen. — Paul Zollo
Glen Campbell, Club Nokia, October 6, 2011
Words & Photos By PAUL ZOLLO
Glen Campbell’s concert at Club Nokia in downtown L.A., on this, his farewell tour, was a beautiful and sad night. Sad because this legendary musician is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and won’t be coming this way again. But beautiful because he bravely faced the crowds knowing he’s faltering, but did it out of great love for the music, and gratitude for the audiences which have enjoyed his work for decades.
That gratitude was expressed repeatedly throughout the evening, and there was no question this man was speaking from the heart – same way he’s always sung all these years. It’s why he’s so beloved – when he sings one of his classics, as he did on the evening, be it “Wichita Lineman” or “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” he brings so much heart to these poignant Americana ballads penned by Jimmy Webb that no one can touch him. The love affair was mutual throughout the show, as the crowd responded with successive standing ovations.
He also expressed his great pride at sharing the stage with a great seven-piece band which included three of his children Cal Campbell on drums and vocals, Shannon Campbell on guitar and vocals, and Ashley Campbell on banjo, keyboards and vocals. (The three are also part of the band Instant People, which performed a spirited opening set).
Also backing him up was longtime keyboardist and musical director, T.J. Kuenster , who has shared the stage with Glen for nearly four decades, and who played astounding keyboard parts throughout while sitting to the side of the stage, like Ian Stewart did with the Stones for all those years, all for music rather than glory.
The band was rounded out by Ryan Jarred on guitar and Sigve Sjursen on bass.
Though the two previously mentioned Jimmy Webb songs, along with “Galveston,” which he also performed, are the ones most often linked withCampbell, it was his performance of a fourth Webb song, “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress,” which was the evening’s most stunning moment. Performed only with Kuenster playing the keys, it was one of the most emotional performances ever of this miracle song which has been performed by vocalists from Joe Cocker to Linda Ronstadt. Though the lyrics and phrasing of some of the other songs sung got confused, he inhabited the splendor of this song so completely the crowd seemed genuinely stunned, pausing a moment before erupting into yet another cheering ovation.
He played several guitars throughout the evening, including an acoustic 6-string Ovation like the one he played back in Smothers Brothers days, as well as great electric 12-string for a rousing rendition of “Southern Nights,” and a custom Strat for those songs in which, like B.B. King, he kept it hanging round his neck while singing until leaping into stinging, soulful solos between verses.
That Glen is faltering a little was apparent – he had a teleprompter at his feet between the monitors for lyrics, but still got lost a few times in the songs, especially when he did Chris Gantry’s domestic hymn, “Dreams of an Everyday Housewife.” He also quoted Minnie Pearl’s famous declaration of “I’m proud to be here,” adding “I’m proud to be anywhere,” returning sweetly to this quote several times. But the crowd’s adoration was nearly palpable, so obviously appreciating his willingness to share so much when others would have left the stage far behind, that they cheered him on as he laughed his way through these brief lapses. Glen Campbell, even not operating at full capacity, still is a exceptionally charismatic performer. In the words of folksinger-journalist Ross Altman, who was in the audience, “The man sings like an angel.”
He performed “Dueling Banjos” as a fiery instrumental duet with Ashley, who is an surprisingly virtuosic banjoist. Though he faltered for a few moments in the slow introductory phrases of the song, when it came to full-on bluegrass pyrotechnic time his playing was flawless, reminding us that he was a sought-after session guitarist, part of Phil Spector’s legendary Wrecking Crew, who played on countless hit records, long before he became a hit singer.
Similarly, though some of his solos were slow to ignite, when he got going he was on fire with fast, clean Chet Atkins meets Les Paul lines that were as elegant as they were scorching.
He was as humble as he was happy, saying after one ovation that “I’ve still got some licks left. I’ve been practicing” to much delighted laughter. That practicing paid off in what was a magical and singularly inspirational concert, linking us to the sweetness of his early days with his first hit “Gentle On My Mind” through the elegiac Paul Westerberg song, “Ghosts On The Canvas,” the haunting title song of his new album. This is a man who has created music which has colored our lives for decades, music as powerful and heartfelt as when it first emerged. That he found the strength and courage to bring it live to America one last time is a reason to rejoice. If he comes to your town, do yourself and favor, and don’t miss it.