Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Marc Myers - Anatomy of a Song

Anatomy of a Song
Marc Myers
New York: Grove Press
2016: 323 +xiii pages

Marc Myers is a Wall Street Journal columnist who writes on music and other cultural items as well as is responsible for the award-winning Jazzwax blog. The present book is a compilation of an ongoing column he writes about the stories underlying of the iconic songs of rhythm and blues, country, pop, reggae and more which he tells through the recollections of songwriters, recording engineers and the artists themselves. This is reflected by the subtitle "The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop."

Myers takes from Lloyd Price's 1952 smash "*Lawdy Miss Clawdy*" to REM's "Losing My Religion." most of the material is taken from actual interviews with individuals such as discussing "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" with Price, Dave Bartholomew and Art Rupe of Specialty Records, providing details of how the song came about. I was not aware that the phrase "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" had been used by a black radio announcer, but I was aware that it was used in an earlier Bartholomew recording featuring Tommy Ridgely (a point not mentioned here). I was not aware of how Bartholomew heard Price at the piano and had him audition for Rupe and then  record it with Fats Domino on piano, Earl Palmer on drums and using a head arrangement. When released, Price had the sole writer's credit, and he made an observation how amazing that was at a time record company folks regularlyclaimed partial writer's credit.

 Discussing Little Willie Littlefield's "K.C. Loving," Mike Stoller gives the primary details on the song that was written as "Kansas City", why Ralph Bass retitled it for release, as well as discussing the Wilbert Harrison hit and how the that version had a slight change to the lyrics and they needed to contact producer Bobby Robinson to correct the writer's credits so they would get their royalties. Also Hank Ballard guitarist Billy Davis and James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis described the versions by their leaders. It is interesting that Stoller discusses that after he and Jerry Leiber wrote it, showing the song to Littlefield and giving cues on how he should play it and then it was recorded at a session led by the legendary saxophonist Maxwell Davis. I do note that, in a Blues Unlimited interview decades ago, Littlefield claimed to have written the song, although Leiber and Stoller have rebutted this claim in the past.

 We get the perspective of Ronald Isley on the Isley Brother's hit "Shout," while Katherine "Kat" Anderson Schaffner," one of the singers of The Marvelettes gives insight on the early Motown hot "Please Mr. Postman," Dion Dimucci details his song and hit, "Run Around Sue," and co-songwriter Jeff Barry (with Phil Spector), vocalist Darlene Love, Dixie Cup singers Barbara and Rosa Hawkins, producer Mike Stoller and musician Artie Butler talk about "Chapel of Love." On this latter number I was not aware that Phil Spector had recorded Love singing it and then The Ronettes, but not happy with it. Eventually the Dixie Cups recorded it with Wardell Querzergue arranging it, with Stoller adding touches, and then after a United Artists distribution deal fell through had to start a label to issue it.

In addition to Keith Richards' recollections of "Street Fighting Man," Jimmy Page recalls the making of "Whole Lotta Love" (where he explains it was Robert Plant's use of lyrics from a Muddy Waters trouble that caused them legal trouble as his riff the music was based on was not similar to the Wille Dixon song they were sued for infringing). Then there is Linda Ronstadt recalling the Stoney Poney's hit "Different Drum," Gladys Knight on "Midnight Train To Georgia," Grace Slick on "White Rabbit," Tammy Wynette on "Stand By Your Man," Joni Mitchell on "Carey," Jimmy Cliff on "The Harder They Come," and Smokey Robinson recollects writing "My Girl" for The Temptations.

I did find a very minor error. In discussing The Righteous Brothers "You Lost That Loving Feeling." In his introductory passage, Myers mentions that the Brothers signed to Philles Records. Interviewed for the documentary "The Wrecking Crew" (and included among the bonus features with the DVD and on iTunes), Bill Medley recalls that Phil Spector leased their existing contract. Medley along with the songwriters were interviewed by Myers, while for The Wrecking Crew, he was interviewed along with the studio engineers. The details on the production of this classic recording are similar, but there seems to be a bit more detail in the Wrecking Crew bonus feature (which likely can be accessed on YouTube).

It is fascinating to read the back stories on so many hit, and iconic, songs. Overall this is a fun, very readable volume that would make a wonderful gift to music lovers. The back cover includes a number of short quotes that will give an idea of the tenor of the 45 highly readable pieces.

I purchased my copy. This is now available in paperback.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Chickenbone Slim Chickenbone Slim

Chickenbone Slim
The Big Beat
Lo-Fi Mob Records

Chickenbone Slim is the alter ego of Larry Teves, a San Diego based musician who started playing guitar in 2011 after playing bass in many bands for many years. Years of playing in a variety of blues and rockabilly bands is reflected in the performances here where he is backed by Big Jon Atkinson on harmonica, guitar and bass; Marty Dodson on drums and Scot Smart on bass. Recorded at Greaseland Studios, Kid Andersen engineered and mastered this and played guitar on one of the nine songs here.

With austere, relaxed backing and Slim's relaxed, unforced and grainy vocals, some of the songs has an ambience similar to the Baton Rouge based 'swamp blues" of Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and others. The opening title track features superb harmonica as well as Slim's own smartly, played solo while "Me and Johnny Lee" is an even better performance in this vein as he sings about being as lonely as he can be as after she broke his heart is just him and Johnny Lee. "Long Way Down" has a bit more grit in the manner of a Tony Joe White, and a biting guitar solo from Scot Smart, as he sings about meeting his lover on the long way down.

The country-flavored "Hemi Dodge," has Kid Andersen on guitar and mournful harmonica from Atkinson, while there is a folk performance with just his acoustic guitar accompanying his vocal on "Vodka and Vicodin," his best friends as he is out of luck. There is an insistent groove to "Long Legged Sweet Thing" as Slim hammers out his vocal against skeletal backing and strong harp, while "Man Down" has a West Side Chicago feel with a boogaloo rhythm.

The closing "Break Me Of a Piece" returns us to the swamp blues vein and ends a most entertaining album of gritty performances that evoke the golden period of fifties and sixties blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a promo video for this recording.

Andy Adamson First Light

Andy Adamson
First Light
Andros Records LLC

Ann Arbor, Michigan based pianist-composer-bandleader Adamson's influences include John Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea and over 50 years worked, and composed, in a variety of styles. This new release has nine of his straight ahead and jazz fusion compositions with a band including Brennan Andes on bass; drummer Jonathan Taylor; trumpeter Ross Huff and saxophonist Dan Bennett.

This is tight quintet that plays strongly on a varied program that opens with the Coltrane-flavored title track that showcases the leader's fluid piano style along with Bennett's robust, high intensity tenor sax. "Corner Store" is a latin-accented number with a nifty piano riff underlying this high-spirited quintet performance with shifting musical textures with Adamson and Bennett soloing. The opening of "Twilight in the Making" has a romantic tone before it transitions into a fusion evoking mode. Bennett's free-sounding tenor interacting with the leader's piano is at the front of "Velvet Sunset," followed by "Divided We Stand." "High Street Roundabout" is another engrossing performance with spirited tenor sax and piano with bassist Andes and Taylor ably backing and complementing them through shifts in tempo and textures from that the Adamson's lyrical improvisation to the more buzzsaw, vibrato-laden tenor of Bennett.

If Bennett and Anderson have most of the spotlight on "First Light," Huff's blistering trumpet is featured on the vibrant hard bop "Sunny Side Up," which also has a brief, taut solo from Taylor. It is a strong conclusion to this very memorable recording of modern jazz.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Andy Adamson in performance.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Johnny Rawls Waiting For The Rain

Johnny Rawls
Waiting For The Rain
Catfood Records

Another new Catfood release for the veteran soul-blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Johnny Rawls again backed by bassist Bob Trenchard and the Rays. This one is produced by Jim Gaines and is a mix of originals and interesting interpretations of some familiar songs sung with plenty of heart by Rawls set against the Rays' idiomatic backing that is rooted in the classic Memphis sound of Stax and Hi Records.

Rawls has a controlled style that is akin to the smoldering heat of a pit barbecue than steak over an open flame, though he can let loose when needed.. The title track is a strong original co-written with Trenchard and keyboardist Dan Ferguson as he sings about rain washing away guilt, sin and pain with a crisp guitar solo from Dennis McGhee set against punchy horns. It is followed by the Trenchard-James Armstrong penned "Las Vegas," is a wonderful performance with a backing horn riff reminiscent of "Turn On Your Love Light,"although I am not enamored the lyrics mixing playing games and religion. "Waiting For a Train" from Rawls and Trenchard is a nice low-key number with a jazzy tinge and followed by a wonderful rendition of Bobby Womack's celebratory "I'm in Love."

"Blackjack Was a Gambler" is a terrific easy rocking bit of storytelling about a back alley gambler and rambler while Rawls also ably puts his own stamp on Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," and then does a nice cover of the Tyrone Davis hit "The Turning Point," and a driving rendition of Syl Johnson's "We Did It." The soulful ballad, "Stay With Me," provides a close to Rawls' latest soul-blues gem. Rawls may not break new ground on his latest release, and those familiar with Johnny Rawls will know what to expect on a predictably strong recording, while this serves as representative of his music for those new to his music.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Johnny Rawls from a 2017 Boise Blues Festival.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Junior Wells Southside Blues Jam

Junior Wells
Southside Blues Jam

I purchased the vinyl version of Junior Wells' Delmark album “Southside Blues Jam” upon its original release in 1970. The release was an effort to capture what a listener might hear at the baled Chicago blues club, Theresa’s, on a Monday night when Junior Wells and others including Buddy Guy would be featured. Wells and Guy were joined by Louis Myers on guitar, Ernest Johnson on bass, Fred Below on drums and Otis Spann on piano for what was his last studio appearance on record. Delmark has reissued an expanded “Southside Blues Jam” with the original eight selections supplemented by 7 bonus tracks, one of which is an alternate take, another is a warm-up fragment and another is some studio patter.

It was a recording that was quite easy to enjoy. There was a loose spontaneous feel to the performances that Junior and company put their stamp on starting with a easy driving rendition of “Stop Breaking Down” that Junior learned from the first Sonny Boy Williamson’s recording (adapted from Robert Johnson) to a cover of Guitar Slim’s “Trouble Don’t Last” where Buddy takes the lead vocal with Junior adding a rap to the performance. Topicality was heard in the issued take of “I Could Have Had Religion” where Junior dwells on Muddy Waters being out of action at the time and “Blues For Mayor Daley.” There are covers of songs from Muddy as well as a nice rendition of the second Sonny Boy Williamson’s “In My Younger Days.” Wells mixes his blues harp (very much in the spirit of the second Sonny Boy) with his mix of vocals and James Brown funk while Guy and Spann are in strong form.

The unissued performances have their appeal, although listening to them one can understand why the selections on the original CD were chosen. There is a decent cover of Little Walter’s “It’s Too Late Brother,” with Well’s exhorting Spann to rumble on the bass keys as he talks about the blues being funky. “Love My Baby,” a reworking of Arthur Crud-up’s “So Glad Your Mine,” and set to the “Hootchie Kootchie Man” groove with blistering string bending from Guy and Spann’s rumbling piano behind Wells’ vocal. The alternate of “I Could Have Had Religion” is a more traditional performance about a mistreating woman without the reference to Muddy Waters’ health. It has solid Louis Myers’ guitar, while “Rock Me” is done as a dedication to Muddy Waters. The closing “Got to Play the Blues” is an amusing original set to the groove of B.B. King’s (then contemporary recording), “Why I Sing the Blues” with Wells singing about singing the blues and throwing in impersonations of other singers.

This expanded “Southside Blues Jam” is handsomely packaged (credit Kate Moss) with a booklet that contains Bob Koester’s recollections of the session and Michael Cuscuna’s Rolling Stone review of the original LP release and the sound is quite good. This reissue, with its additional tracks, will be welcome to a wide range of blues lovers including those having the original LP.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Here is Junior with Buddy Guy doing "Little By Little" on a PBS show in 1971.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Eyal Vilner Big Band Hanukkah

Eyal Vilner Big Band

Composer, saxophonist and arranger Eval Vilner has come up with a uniquely original holiday offering. His latest re lease is an exciting and festive Hanukkah album, with his 16 piece big band on a repertoire of traditional Hanukkah songs, blending holiday melodies with sounds influenced by jazz and swing, Israeli, Jewish and Middle Eastern music, in addition to Brazilian Choro and Afro - Cuban rhythms. In addition there is a vocal trio on one selection and Israeli flute virtuoso Itai Kriss. It was recorded at one of the oldest synagogues in the U.S. - the Museum at Eldridge Street - a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1887 in what used to be a Jewish immigrant neighborhood and is now Chinatown.

The opening "Prelude" opens as the horns provide a classical choral played by the horns of a traditional song sung every day of Hanukah after the lighting of candles followed by "Maoz Tzur," where the band swings the melody with Vilner taking a fervent sax solo with Jack Glottman taking a crisp piano break with the full and coming across like the 50's Basie Band on the joyous romp. "Sevivon," inspired by the spin of the dreidel, has a strong percussive and Brazilian flavor, including a section dedicated to Batucada music (a drum ensemble) as well as some brilliant flute from, Itai Kriss. A vocal trio of three of NYC’s finest trad - jazz vocalists Tamar Korn, Martina DaSilva and Vanessa Perea, sing the Boswell Sisters inspired vocals on "Oh Hanukah," with a strong tenor sax solo by Evan Arntzen, along with the leader's clarinet break while Vilner's arrangement smartly frames the vocals and the sax solo. On "Mi Yemalel," Vilner plays the shofar to open this musical depiction of the Maccabees and their war on the Greeks who occupied Ancient Judea. Wayne Tucker continues, playing a Taqsim (intro, in traditional Arabic music, which sets the mood of a piece) followed by the harmonized trombone section followed by the saxophones and trumpets playing contrasting melodies.

A joyous bonus track, "These Candles" starting as a march before turning to an Ellingtonian flavored swing number and features the trumpet of Irv Grossman and the break all the doors down tenor of Michael Hashim. It is only available digitally, but complements this wonderful recording of Holiday music. This is available from cdbaby and other sources.

I received a download of this to review from a publicist. Here is the Eyal Vilner Big Band performing "Maoz Tzur."

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Paul McCandless Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe

Paul McCandless
Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe
Living Music

This is described as "A Retrospective Celebrating 45 Years of Genre-Bending Iconic Mastery" and gathers 16 performances by McCandless with the Paul Winter Consort over this period of time with over an hour of music. McCandless, as demonstrated on the performances on this recording, that the oboe is an instrument that can be welcomed out the confines of the Western classical music tradition on performances capturing folk roots, jazz improvisation and new age sensibility. McCandless also brings the French Horn on several selections to the fore in a similar fashion.

Listening to McCandless' melodious playing certainly can bring a sense of calm and relaxation, even when playing some rhythmically spirited tunes. Their is a such a broad spectrum of musical settings represented, including the unusual instrumentation of the Consort that included when he joined it Ralph Towner's guitar, Winter's soprano sax, Colin Walcott's tabla, triangle an drums, and David Darling's cello starting with the the uplifting opening selection "All the Mornings Bring." "Elves Chasm," is a lovely solo oboe performance recorded in the Grand Canyon with the sounds of nature (birds and the Colorado River) in the background while "Whooper Dance" has voices of a pair Whooping Cranes echoed in the Oboe improvisation, and "Eagle," a duet with the melodic theme suggested by the cry of an African Fish Eagle.

A later version of the Consort with Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, David Grusin on keyboard and John-Carlos Perea on vocal, performs "Witchi Tai Too," a Native American traditional healing song that Indian jazz musician Jim Pepper adapted. McCandless plays the opening on French Horn but later taking off on oboe after the first vocal chorus here. The Brazilian singer and guitarist Renato Braz is present on the lovely "Anabela," with lovely oboe accompaniment and sings wordlessly on "The Last Train," with a mesmerizing, soaring oboe solo. On the uplifting message song "Common Ground," there is marvelous McCandless accompaniment to later choruses of the song.

The sereneness of "Sunset on the Great Sand Dunes" is followed by the lively Ralph Towner composition "Un Abra├žo (A Big Hug)" (which was McCandless' first recording on oboe). The stately "Sunderland," has lyrical French Horn framed in a pastoral setting while "Twilight" finds McCandless' French Horn improvising over Grusin's synthesized chordal journey. Bach's "Fantasia in G" was recorded by the Consort at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine employing the Church's pipe organ over which McCandless plays somewhat wildly over Bach's harmonies.

This wonderful retrospective closes with the tranquility of "Morning Sun," with the interweaving of the various solo voices (oboe, Winter's soprano sax and Eugene Friesen's cello). The marvelous compilation of music is accompanied by a 32 page liner booklet with essays, including an appreciation of McCandless' oboe playing, from Winter, a short autobiography by McCandless, and notes on each of the 16 selections from Winter with session information included. Of course McCandless' musical legacy also includes his decades with Oregon, but even this slice of his musical career is something to be savored.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is McCandless with Oregon performing "Witchi Tai Too."

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jimmy Carpenter Plays the Blues

Jimmy Carpenter
Plays the Blues

Veteran saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter is currently part of blues rocker Mike Zito's band, though he previously has lengthy stints with Jimmy Thackery and Walter 'Wolfman' Washington. Zito produced this and adds his guitar and vocals to Carpenter's tenor saxophone, bassist Bob Bridges, Matthew Johnson's drums, and Marc Adams keyboards with a variety of guests including guitarists Tony Diteodoro, Tinsley Ellis, Anders Osborne and Jonn Del Toro Richardson and keyboardists Lewis Stephens and Dave Keyes.

The ten songs heard include two originals and eight covers starting with Magic Sam's "You Belong to Me," and ending with a rousing Junior Walker's "Shotgun." Carpenter plays plenty of rousing, raspy saxophone in a Junior Walker-King Curtis--Boots Randolph vein throughout and, if not a great singer, is like-able with an unforced delivery as on the hot Little Walter shuffle "Too Late." The longest selection is "Jimmy Plays the Blues," a nice blues instrumental with plenty of space for his roadhouse saxophone. The other original is a piece of old-fashioned rock and roll, "Kid in My Head," with rollicking piano from Stephens in support of the leader's yakety-yak sax playing.

Jonn Del Toro Richardson adds some nice guitar support on the cover of "Blues With a Feeling," which has a booting sax solo as well, while Tinsley Ellis joins in for a musical dialogue with with Carpenter on a rendition of Freddie King's "Surf Monkey," and Anders Osborne contributes to an instrumental interpretation of Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," which arguably has Carpenter's finest playing with a more attack employing a broader tonal range. Up next is a rousing rendition of King Curtis' "Preach," and then Otis Rush's "All Your Love (I Miss Lovin').' with fine guitar from Zito and another booting sax solo.

A straight cover of "Shotgun" closes this straight-forward, well played recording that entertains even if it breaks no new ground.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Jimmy Carpenter playing "Shot Gun."