Kala Farnham sets the tone of her first full-length studio album with its opening track Naked Honest.
A rolling piano figure opens up into her familiar classically-tinged playing that underpins an arresting melody. It’s all propelled by Farnham’s impassioned and proficient voice that carries through to a soaring chorus.
The tune is one Farnham released on a live EP from 2009 but this arrangement is fleshed out with a small but full-sounding ensemble as opposed to a solo outing. The track as well as all of the album’s tracks are treated this way and they all benefit from what is really a new production approach from the Connecticut singer-songwriter. The arrangement even includes some tasty guitar playing leading into the bridge, somewhat of a departure compared with her previous recordings.
The group includes: Duke Levine (guitar/mandola); Daisy Castro (fiddle/cello), Richard Gates (bass), and Marty Wirt (percussion/drums).
Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart is filled with new and older inspiring compositions by Farnham like that opening track. One of the most ambitious Niantic Bay has an almost epic feel to it similar to some of her past songs, but again is fully developed with background vocals, creative percussion and a wonderful sense of dynamics that runs throughout.
Her voice so easily transitions from full-bodied to delicate falsetto with a sparkling top end on this tune and others such as the staccato-driven, pop-oriented title track.
Farnham treads much new ground here in her approach even to her older tunes. Songbird, which first appeared on the Naked Honest Live EP has a contemporary jazz-waltz feel, straight from the ’60s. The jaunty Singin’ Along’s (Sparrow’s Song) dance hall feel in 2/4 further shows off Farnham’s versatility. Complemented by fiddle, the track illustrates a lighter and refreshing side to her compositions.
But one of the most surprising and pleasing tracks is her take on the classic traditional song House Of The Rising Son, the only cover on the album. She shows she’s fully capable of interpreting the blues though her own song styling and presents one of the most impressive recent versions of this well-worn staple that came to the public’s attention back in the early ’60s via Dylan and the powerhouse arrangement of The Animals.
The track also shows off Farnham’s voice perhaps better than any other with her soaring interpretation of the familiar lyrics. Never harsh always heartfelt, smooth and riding on top of the melody Farnham’s vocals throughout the album are in many ways the main attraction, holding the listener fixed by the music and lyrical content.
All her songs are infused with poignant and penetrating word play. The rushing Pencil and Ink weaves a story of love and love lost through the writing of a song. All this adorning a beautifully conceived arrangement with perfectly complementing drums and violin.
The spiritually inflected Anam Caram and Maitri, a song of unconditional friendship and love, speak to the center of the album’s focus while bringing the work to its satisfying conclusion. Both are arranged in 3/4 and carry an enlightened perspective through Farnham’s singular talents as singer and piano player.
Other surprises and delights within range from the infectious chorus of By Your Side to Mon Cher and La Coupe’s French-English lyrical content to the powerful and impetuous Ruthless, again featuring guitar.
In all, a complete and accomplished first full-album for Farnham that shows so many more sides to her talents than previous live and EP collections. She has the songs, she has the voice and she has a perfectly conceived piano approach that helps meld all the elements of her talents together into style and substance truly her own.
Kala Farnham’s web site: www.kalafarnham.com
Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart at CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kalafarnham3
The two tracks below were recorded about two years apart at different studios and with different drummers. They show off two distinct sides of the band Napi Browne, which played extensively in southern New England and Long Island in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The first, Forget All About It, is an all-out, straight-ahead rocker, written by Nick Bagnasco, one of our two lead guitarists. Nick also sang lead on the track. I used to love playing this tune. It’s an in-your-face, no-holds barred guitar rock song that never lets up. We recorded it at Paul Leka Studios in Bridgeport around 1981. Vic Steffens, who was playing live with us at the time, is on drums and he also co-produced the track.
But the band also liked to play other types of music, particularly fusion and funk, and the second tune, Phase In Phase Out, written by Dan Gulino, our other lead guitarist, displays that aspect. An instrumental, it shows off both guitar players and the rhythm section, which included Dennis DeMorro on drums.
Phase In, Phase Out was recorded at Bearville Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., and was produced by the band. We stayed up there for about three days in a little house directly opposite the Bear Restaurant. I had stayed there previously during the early ’70s with Beau Segal, drummer for Pulse and Island. At the time, we were working as session players for Sam Gordon’s Publishing house in New York.
Check out Dan’s lead on Forget All About it and the harmony guitars in the middle section. That was a trademark of the band and something Nick and Dan had worked on for years. They had a tight and tasty blend together.
The harmony guitars are also in evidence on Phase In, Phase Out. Nick takes the middle section solo and Dan plays lead all around his melody lines throughout the tune.
The band was versatile. We usually played about one set’s worth or our own tunes, including these two. Some of the bands we covered showed the range of the group as well as the original material. We played Bodhisattva by Steely Dan, Freedom, Wait Until Tomorrow and Message To Love by Hendrix, Good Times, Bad Times by Zeppelin, Jeff Beck instrumentals, including Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers on which Danny soloed, material from Les Dudek and Nils Lofgren as well as familiar club fare for the time by the likes of Bowie, ZZ Top and others, even the Beatles.
Island was a trio formed after the final breakup of Pulse, a Connecticut rock group of the late 1960s with a self-titled album on Poison Ring.
Before moving on to Island, though, a little background on the second version of Pulse, a four-piece group, which had changed the direction of the original six-piece band from almost strictly blues-rock to other styles, including country blues, country rock and pop, but still a hard-driving unit.
In the spring of 1970 after the departure of lead singer Carl Donnell from the original six-piece, a variety of lineups were tried until it was settled on Peter Neri, lead guitar and vocals, Paul Rosano, bass and vocals, and Beau Segal, drums and backup vocals, all staying on and the addition of Harvey Thurott, a second lead guitarist and singer/songwriter joining the band.
The group lasted until December, having parted ways with Doc Cavalier and Syncron Studios, the going was tough in Connecticut. Harvey left the band, and Peter, Paul and Beau moved into New York to try to land a record deal.
In New York, the band went even more in a singer/songwriter, pop-rock direction. We had virtually nothing except our equipment when we moved in and a ton of song ideas. We rehearsed in a loft in the mid-20s on the West side between Fifth and Sixth Avenues that Peter and Beau rented and lived in and literally auditioned in the offices of a number of prominent management agencies, including Michael Jeffries, who managed McKendree Spring, Albert Grossman-Benet Glotzer, who represented a plethora of artists such as Dylan, Todd Rundgren, The Band and many others, and even Sid Bernstein, who wanted to set up a showcase for us in the Village.
We settled on doing business mainly with Grossman-Glotzer and in particular Sam Gordon who ran their publishing arm. He promptly signed us to a publishing deal and set up all kinds of studio time.
By the way, the photo above is of the second Pulse with Harvey since I have virtually nothing from the Island era. So you’re getting 3/4 of Island in it.
We recorded most of our tunes at the old Capitol Studios in midtown, which was a cavernous room used for orchestras and musical comedy soundtrack recordings mostly, but the song here was done at Blue Rock in the Village, which is no longer around. A nice studio though. There are some photos of it in the video as well as one of Capitol.
As an added touch to this session, Sam Gordon got Todd Rundgren to come down and help engineer/produce it as a favor. We had produced the sessions at Capitol ourselves. The Blue Rock session is undoubtedly the best sounding of all the Island recordings. Rundgren had just released Something/Anything? and we would have loved to have him as our producer but he was being courted by some heavy hitters such as the New York Dolls and Grand Funk Railroad, both of whom seemingly gave him big paydays. Todd was quiet that afternoon but very easy to get along with and did a masterful job for us.
One thing I recall other than the session itself was that we literally ran into or rather walked into and met Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian singer, who was checking the studio out for a possible location for her next album. Charming and quite beautiful.
Where Am I Going? was the first track we recorded that day and we were all quite pleased with it, still am. We got a particularly good drum sound on the track for Beau’s semi-busy but appropriate parts and everything worked out as planned from the vocals — I sang lead, Peter harmony – to Peter’s guitar parts and a piano part added by Barry Flast, whom we had met at Gordon’s Publishing offices.
The song followed our trend of writing and playing in a pop style. I recall getting the initial idea for it while walking around the city, notably the intro vocal and a piano playing straight fours. I used to love walking around New York on my own and often would trek from Chelsea, where I lived, to the East Village and back, with melodies and chord changes flying through my head, a great way to come up with musical ideas
The tune Street Talkin’ Ways was written by Dan Gulino and Paul Rosano, probably in early 1980, and was a staple in the live set for Napi Browne, a regional Northeast rock band in the late 1970s and early ’80s, mostly based in Connecticut.
The tracks below are an early demo in which the lyric Street Talkin’ Ways isn’t even in the song, and the finished track that we recorded in 1981 at Paul Leka’s Studios in Bridgeport with the other founding member of the band Nick Bagnasco. Vic Steffens played drums on the track and also set up the recording date and helped us produce the track. Vic was playing live with us at the time.
The demo was recorded in my living room in Fair Haven. I lived right next door to Dan and I remember we got together at his place in his music room to work on a tune. He had the original musical idea for the song, particularly the chord changes and rhythm. We sat down and I started to come up with a melody and we worked on an early lyrical idea for the song. We worked on it together and separately for several days.
It was Dan who came up with the lyrical idea Street Talkin’ Ways and the attitude for the song about a tough-minded girl friend. After that, the rest of the lyrics started pouring out and the tune was finished pretty quickly. We brought it to Nick and Vic and arranged it over at Nick’s house, our rehearsal space, and started playing it live. By the time we hit the studio we had been playing this song for quite a while. Nick plays a stinging solo that is so well-suited to the track, every phrase builds on the previous one. I believe he used his Les Paul although it might have been his Tele.
Napi Browne played at Toad’s Place, The Arcadia Ballroom, over on Whalley Avenue, and The Oxford Ale House on Whitney, regularly during the band’s playing days, late 1976 to 1981. The photo above was taken in between sets at Toad’s Place. Looks like we were having a good time.
Days Of My Life was a track recorded after the first Pulse album was finished and was intended for a second album from the original six-piece group based in Wallingford, Conn., at Syncron Studios.
The tune was written by Peter Neri and indicated his development as a writer. Peter had a wealth of material during this period and Days Of My Life was one of his best compositions to date. It showed off the band’s playing in a jazzier blues style along with Carl Donnell’s accomplished vocals and the band’s intricate arrangement of the track, always spearheaded by drummer Beau Segal.
We all make significant contributions to this track from Peter’s driving rhythm guitar to Jeff’s outstanding harp fills and solo to Richie’s keyboard layers. We were all very much involved in the construction of this one.
The tune was recorded in 1969 and is one of the best of the unreleased tracks by the band. It’s hard to say how many tracks are in the can that never saw the light of day, but it has to be in the 15 to 20 range but probably higher. Check out the video below.
Napi Browne was a Connecticut rock band based in New Haven in the mid-to-late 1970s and early ’80s. The band was formed in August 1976, started playing in September, and played its last gig in Westerley, R.I., during the summer of 1980.
The two lead guitarists, Nick Baganasco and Dan Gulino, and the bass player Paul Rosano were together for the life of the band. Four drummers were in the band at various times over the roughly four years: Rich Catalano, George Wilson, Dennis DeMorro and Vic Steffens.
Songs written by Nick, Dan and Paul were recorded in various settings while the band was together, from Bearsville Studios, near Woodstock, N.Y., to Paul Leka’s studio in Bridgeport, and even in Nick’s basement early on in 1977, during which we had a mic in Nick’s oven at one point to record a guitar track.
Let’s Get Right To It (video below) was recorded in Bridgeport with Vic Steffens on drums. The song was chosen as the opening track for WHCN’s Homespun compilation album of Connecticut bands, which was released in 1980.
This tune was pretty much a complete collaboration among the three writers. I can’t remember exactly who came up with the original concept for the song, but I do remember working on it in Nick’s living room at his cottage in East Haven with acoustic and electric guitars with small amps.
I believe it was probably Danny or Nick or perhaps both who had the original musical idea, and I contributed mainly with the melody and lyrics, although it really was one of the few songs on which we equally collaborated. Nick tells me at the start of working the tune up, he sang lead. I don’t remember that. But he says he just wasn’t feeling it, so I gave it a go and felt comfortable with it.
Danny takes the solo, a short but vibrant and compelling statement, and there is three-part guitar harmony, along with three-part vocal harmony, on the choruses. Paul Gabriel was at the studio that night, so the guys asked him if he would sit in so they could record the three-part guitar harmony in one overdub, and he graciously accepted.
We produced this session ourselves and did the first mix on the track, but later brought in Jeff Cannata to tweak the mix a little and he did a nice job of bringing out certain aspects of the track that give it drive, particularly on the build toward the ending.
Here’s the tune with an accompanying video.
My Old Boy is the B-side of a single from the Pulse album from 1969. The tune is interesting because it’s quite different from anything else on the album.
The album is heavily blues-rock oriented and most of the tracks are in the four-to-five minute range with some longer. But this track, which was written by our drummer Beau Segal and Harvey Thurott, a guitarist and friend who would become a member of the four-piece Pulse in 1970, shows another side of the band and is packed with just about everything you can fit into 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
I always believed the opening track of the album, Too Much Lovin’ was the single to pull from it. The A-side actually turned out to be a track I felt was even less commercial than either of these songs, my own Another Woman.
Beau may have been trying to write a single with My Old Boy. He failed miserably and instead created a whirlwind of a track that never lets up from its infectious opening rhythm guitar riff to the phased (old fashioned phasing) harmony vocals and relentless melody lines in the verses and bridge.
There’s some outstanding guitar playing by Peter Neri, although some of it is, if not buried, sitting in the background, and the arrangement overall is inspired with a lot of tight twists and turns.
I believe we played this tune live but not that often, and I’m pretty sure that live Peter used to alternate lines in the verse on the lead vocal with our singer Carl Donnell because of the breathless melody.
Mastered from vinyl. Listen for the crackles.
Thanks For Thinking Of Me But It’s Alright is the closing track of Side 1 from the self-titled Pulse album from 1969. After it was written and we arranged it in late 1968, it was also almost always Pulse’s opening tune in concert.
The group Pulse was based in New Haven, Connecticut, more specifically Wallingford at Syncron Studios soon to become Trod Nossel, which is still operating, and managed and produced by Doc Cavalier. The first version of the band was a six-piece. We started rehearsing in January, 1968 and were together until almost mid-1970. There was a four-piece group for the remainder of 1970.
The personnel: Carl Donnell (Augusto), vocals, guitar; Peter Neri, lead guitar, vocals; Beau Segal, drums; Paul Rosano, bass, background vocals; Jeff Potter, harp, percussion; Rich Bednarzcyk, keyboards.
The album was recorded in 1968 and early 1969, this track as stated probably late ’68. It was written by our drummer Beau Segal. We were huge fans of the Butterfield Blues Band, one of our main influences at the time, and we had seen them a number of times at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York and the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston as well as the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford.
Beau has said he took the lead line from a Butterfield tune he heard live. I know the one. Actually he embellished it a bit. If you listen to a live version of the tune by Butter it doesn’t have the chromatic ascent or the closing phrase that bounces off a minor third. And in fact, it’s not a Butterfield composition.
Butter was covering a Little Walter tune. Everything’s Gonna To Be Alright (1959). Butter’s version changed several times over the years. The only studio track I’ve heard is from an early session on the Original Lost Elecktra Sessions, which pre-dates the first Butterfield Band album.
It didn’t start with Little Walter either. The line was used by Elmore James in his Dust My Blues from 1955 as his closing solo. There are probably other examples from that time frame.
If you dig deeper you’ll hear the line as a part of the vocal melody on the bridge of Robert Johnson’s Kind Hearted Woman Blues, and the line is the basis for the main melody in Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicago. Wonder where he heard it if he didn’t originate it himself.
This stuff is fascinating, the Blues tradition. It’s reminiscent of the folk tradition in which entire chord structures and melodies of existing tunes were continually updated with new lyrics, particularly in the ’50s and early ’60s.
Going forward, it pops up in a number of other unusual places. In 1970, Atco Records released Live Cream, which included a studio outtake Lawdy Mama. The original Cream version of this song was a shuffle and included the same lead line. The outtake on Live Cream sees the track changed to a straight rock feel with the line still used but stretched out a bit.
However, many of us have heard this line hundreds of times on a slightly different track. The group ditched the Lawdy Mama version of the song when Felix Pappalardi was brought in to produce and his wife, Gail Evans, wrote new lyrics creating the tune Strange Brew. I never recognized the similarity until I heard the shuffle version of Lawdy Mama by Cream on a grey market item.
Eric Clapton would use the line again to good effect in his outstanding version of Sweet Home Chicago on the Sessions For Robert J album (2004). And so it goes.
The Butterfield Band was and remains one of my favorite groups of all-time and is sorely underappreciated. Thanks For Thinking Of Me was our tip of the hat to them, one of our major influences.
There’s so much good new music out there. The best music of 2012:
1. Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: Invigorating blend of R&B, funk and jazz infused with top-shelf musicianship and an enticing lyrical quality. This is perhaps her best yet. Spalding sports a fluid, proficient and pleasing voice that delivers her poignant lyricism over the engaging compositions. Get the Deluxe Edition with a Making of DVD.
2. Locked Down, Dr. John: Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach gets an inspiration to record with the N’Awlins legend and they whip up a spooky, funky, voodoo dose of swamp funk mixed with hard rock sensibilities. Some of the best from recent vintage of the good Doctor.
3. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten: One of the truly remarkable and original sounding records from a singer/songwriter whose dense, penetrating lyrics are revealed through inventive arrangements that complement her songwriting.
4. Sunken Condos, Donald Fagen: At his wry, funky, satirical and stinging best. Glossed with a Steely Dan sheen but it still swings like mad.
5. Everybody’s Talkin’, Tedeschi-Trucks Band: Live outing from one of the best ensembles around today. A beautiful combination of blues, rock and pop whipped together with Derek Trucks’ slide lacing through it and the marvelous Susan Tedeschi’s soulful, blazing voice on top. Not to be missed live.
6. Sun, Cat Power: Return of the elusive, mercurial and magnetic singer/songwriter. Her best since The Greatest.
7. Election Special, Ry Cooder: Venerable American music stylist gives his biting political take on the present state of affairs with his usual entertaining, insightful views served with a helping of exquisite string playing.
8. Driving Towards The Daylight, Joe Bonamassa: Another edition in the evolving style and development of one of our best modern-day blues guitarists, who happens to have a soulful voice as well.
9. The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: From the opening strains of the remarkable title track through another set of inspired rock and pop, a step forward and upward from this New England-based group. Their roots are firmly planted in the fertile ground of the 1960s and early ’70s. All framing Potter’s gloriously wild and unrestrained voice.
10. Blues Funeral, Mark Lanegan: Love him for his various collaborations over the years, not the least with Isobel Campbell, but there is something dark and compelling about this bluesy and funereal outing that is addicting. (continue reading…)
The last time we had seen Joe Bonamassa was about five years ago in New London, Conn., at the Garde Arts Center with Sam Bush and his band playing in support of the young blues master. A lot has transpired since then.
Bonamassa can fill a much larger venue now because of his relentless touring of the States and Europe and issuing one, if not, two albums a year. His special blend of blues-oriented rock also routinely jumps to the top of the Blues charts on release and deservedly so.
Bonamassa was in Springfield, Mass., Tuesday at Symphony Hall, a concert hall evidently not built for rock, but was suitable nonetheless as the sound was outstanding during the two-hour-plus show with only Bonamassa and his band of bassist Carmen Rojas, keyboardist Rick Melick and drummer Tal Bergman playing, no opening act. (continue reading…)