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Archive for October, 2009

Bebel Gilberto brings it all together

by on Oct.30, 2009, under Music


Bebel Gilberto has been singing professionally since she was seven, but she really made her first unforgettable mark on the solo debut Tanta Tempo (2000), which sold more than a million worldwide.

bebel-gilberto-all-in-oneTanta was the perfect blending of bossa nova with modern sensibilities, infused with tasteful electronica. Produced by Suba, the album was a wonderful collaboration with a mix of songs sung in Portuguese and English, including Brazilian classics, standards such as So Nice as well as Gilberto’s original material.

The two albums that followed — Bebel Gilberto (2004) and Momento (2007) — both after Suba’s death and both more in a traditional bossa vein, were very good but didn’t quite reach the heights of Tanta Tempo. Her latest, All In One, is perhaps her most varied and eclectic work and it equals, and at times, surpasses the debut.

The disc includes six songs written or co-written by Gilberto and includes musicians and producers such as Didi Gutman, of Brazilian Girls, Daniel Jobim, son of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Carlinhos Brown, a star in his own right in Brazil as well as one-third of the landmark Brazilian album Tribalistas with Marisa Monte and Arnaldo Antunes.

All In One works best on tracks that Gilberto, daughter of bossa nova legend Joao Gilberto, either produces herself or works in concert with Gutman and/or Brown. Where Suba brought atmospherics through electronics, Gutman brings it with keyboard layers, effects and impeccable arrangements, and Brown, with an acoustic array of tribal and traditional instruments, particularly percussion, his specialty.

Gilberto’s voice is suited so well to the material. Soft, cool and sultry at times but also capable of reaching demanding heights on some of the tunes. The rhythms are infectious and brilliantly played by a core of musicians that includes Masa Shimizu, acoustic guitar, Thomas Bartlett, keyboards, and John King, synth and some production work, among many others. (continue reading…)

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Track of the week: Bonnie Bramlett

by on Oct.26, 2009, under Music

Bonnie Bramlett came back to singing in earnest in the early 2000’s after years of pursuing an acting career.

bonnie-bramlett-roots-blues-jazzShe started as the first white Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner in the mid-1960s, then played a big role in the highly influencial Delaney & Bonnie and Friends with her husband at the time Delaney Bramlett. The group featured some prominent members over the years, including Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and even George Harrison. Members of the band went on to play with many other groups, including The Stones, and three — Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon and Carl Radle —wound up with Clapton in Derek and The Dominos.

This track is a cover of the Stephen Stills classic Love The One You’re With from his first solo album. It was also a sizable hit for Stills as a single. Bramlett brings a funky, groove-oriented reading to it with jazz substitution chords in place of the heavily suspended sound of the original.

It’s amazing that Bonnie didn’t sing on the original with Stills because the sound of that chorus with Rita Coolidge, Priscilla Jones, Graham Nash, John Sebastian and David Crosby had Delaney & Bonnie written all over it. This track is from Bramlett’s 2006 album Roots, Blues & Jazz, which shows off Bramlett as a proficient jazz singer as well as a queen of blue-eyed soul and R&B.

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Johnny Cash’s list for Rosanne

by on Oct.20, 2009, under Music


I had a taste of The List when I saw Rosanne Cash in concert this past July at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut.

rosanne-cash-the-list-lpShe performed six selections that night from the album released in September of songs chosen from a list put together by her father Johnny Cash as a musical education for his teen-age daughter in 1973.

The songs on The List are pure country, pure American music as Rosanne puts it, and she brings her special vocal interpretations to them along with wonderful arrangements by her husband John Leventhal, who plays just about all the instruments except for drums.

She also has some special guests in Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright, who put a harmony to Cash’s lead on one song each. The result is an album that started as an education for Rosanne but is now one for the listening audience.

Miss The Mississippi And You, written by William Heagney, is a surprising opener for the album because it’s so unlike anything else on it. It’s the only song arranged with a swing jazz feel, melancholy but light in comparison with much of the subsequent fare. What it shares with the other selections is Leventhal’s basic, pared-down and meticulous arrangement that sees him interweaving guitars and other instruments, as he does on all the tracks.

The traditional Motherless Children is a smouldering, slow-burning house on fire, using beautiful substitution chords with intricate interplay of guitars, mandolin and Larry Campbell’s fiddle, topped with Cash’s expressive vocal. Leventhal takes the first lead in a traditional country style easily riding the rhythm, then closes with a full-bore, hard-edged guitar tone on the tag. The track is a highlight of the album. (continue reading…)

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From The Vaults: Hidden Treasure No. 5

by on Oct.14, 2009, under Music


I saw guitarist Robben Ford play with Joni Mitchell during the Miles Of Aisles Tour at Woolsey Hall in New Haven in the mid-1970s. I’ve followed his career since, but not until the late ’80s did I start to take a closer look.

robben-ford-blues-band-coverEven then, I wasn’t familiar with everything he released. In the past few years I’ve become more acquainted with his various projects and finally had a chance to see him live at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut, in August.

Still, it wasn’t until relatively recently I found that along with his major label releases he also put out a couple of tributes to one of my favorite musicians, Paul Butterfield, on an independent label in the early 2000s with the Ford Blues Band, which includes two of his brothers, Patrick and Mark.

Ford like many other young players who started playing in the mid-1960s was influenced greatly by seeing the Butterfield Band when they played on the West Coast, including at the Fillmore West. It was the same here in the East with musicians I knew and worked with. Butterfield was one of the major influences on my band Pulse in the late ’60s.

Tributes are sometimes a hit-and-miss proposition. When I finally had a chance to listen to A Tribute To Paul Butterfield (2001), though, I was pleased that Robben and The Ford Blues Band had stayed faithful to the material they had chosen but also brought something new to it that makes it as fresh, vital and relevant as it was in the mid-to-late 1960s. It’s our fifth Hidden Treasure.

One of the things that makes this tribute work so well is the choice of material, which hits all of the various phases and the evolution of the Butterfield Band, with tracks from Butter’s six best albums. (continue reading…)

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Pieces of Stephen Stills

by on Oct.06, 2009, under Music


One of the most talented musicians and songwriters of the late 1960s and early ’70s, Stephen Stills is also a confounding one.

manassas-piecesIt’s hard to think of an artist who had a better streak of songwriting from 1966-73 while playing with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills & Nash and CSN & Young, followed by a stunning first solo album, an almost-as-good second and a year-and-a-half with the eclectic rock-country-Latin mix of Manassas.

Then decades of ups and downs, a few hints to rival past triumphs but mostly downs. Unfulfilled promise? Perhaps that’s a little harsh. Stills did give us a wealth of creativity during that roughly seven-year span.

Since 2007, Stills has released three albums from his vault, most recordings about 40 years old. And all three are better than anything he’s produced since. First Just Roll Tape, an extraordinary demo of songs he dashed off following a Judy Collins session in New York, several to appear on the first CS&N album.

Then Demos, in a similar vein, from CS&N, with his contributions undoubtedly the highlights. And now Pieces, early Manassas tapes, with some solo work and early jams with members of The Flying Burrito Brothers mixed in, a collection so good it makes one wonder why it’s taken so long for this material to see the light of day.

The group Manassas grew out of Stills’ frustration with CSN&Y and his contacting ultimate rock ‘n roll sidekick Chris Hillman (Byrds, Burritos) to get together and jam in Miami with members of the Burritos post-Gram Parsons.

The tracks from these sessions are mostly at the tail end of Pieces, Panhandle Rag, which shows off Byron Berline on fiddle and Hillman’s blazing mandolin, Uncle Pen — a Bill Monro tune on which Berline takes the vocals — Do You Remember The Americans and Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music), a Burritos live staple. (continue reading…)

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Under The Radar, No. 2: Neil Larsen

by on Oct.01, 2009, under Music


In 1978, keyboardist/composer Neil Larsen released his first solo album, a touchstone in the fusion genre. Jungle Fever, entirely instrumental, displayed a perfect blend of jazz, rock, funk and Latin influences used in combination with innovative and interesting compositions and some brilliant musicianship, which included his longtime partner Buzz Feiten on guitar.

neil-larsen-jungle-feverLarsen and Feiten had first teamed on the seminal jazz-blues-soul album Full Moon in 1972, a modest hit on the charts but highly influential. Likewise Jungle Fever did well enough on first release but wasn’t a chartbuster by any means. Still, it made a lasting impression on the music scene.

He followed it with a similar collection on High Gear (1979), almost as artistically successful, then enjoyed genuine chart success with Feiten in the Larsen-Feiten Band (1980) and a reprise of Full Moon (1982) featuring the two. Both Larsen-Feiten albums brought pop into the mix along with Larsen’s usual influences and crossed over to the Billboard 100. During the 1980s,  he became an influential and very much in-demand studio musician.

The list of artists he has worked with is daunting. You can find it here in notes for his latest album Orbit, released in 2007. This list of musicians ranges from Gregg Allman and The Allman Brothers to George Benson, Cher, Commander Cody, Dr. John, George Harrison, Rickie Lee Jones, Randy Newman, The Stones and many, many more. This past year, he has been playing with Leonard Cohen on the folk singer’s worldwide tour.

But there is no Neil Larsen web site per se and although you can find him in Wikipedia, there is no page dedicated to him. Despite his influential status in the music community and accomplished playing and composing, he simply is not well known to the public in general.

I have Jungle Fever and High Gear on vinyl. Jungle Fever has been available on CD for a while as an import but at prohibitively high prices, so I transferred my vinyl to CD, using a deck connected to my stereo system not my computer, to excellent effect. High Gear is destined for the same treatment. (continue reading…)

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