The Trick Is To Keep Going

Napi Browne: Let’s Get Right To It

by on Mar.18, 2013, under Music


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.


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Pulse: My Old Boy

by on Mar.06, 2013, under Music


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.


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Pulse: Thanks For Thinking Of Me …

by on Feb.18, 2013, under Music



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.

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Best of 2012

by on Feb.01, 2013, under Music


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…)

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Joe Bonamassa at Symphony Hall

by on Nov.22, 2012, under Music


Joe Bonamassa and band rocking out at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., on Tuesday night.

Bonamassa used a variety of guitars including what appears to be this sweet sounding Gibson 339, style of a 335 in a body the size of a Les Paul, or is it a 335?

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…)

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Robben Ford at the Infinity Music Hall

by on Aug.20, 2012, under Music

Robben Ford Live 6 550

Robben Ford Live 3 330

Robben Ford played at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk Friday night. It was the second time we had seen him in three years at the venue and he was on fire, playing a variety of blues and jazz inflected solos over traditional blues material and some of his own tunes.

From Robert Johnson (Travelin’ Riverside Blues) to Paul Butterfield (Lovin’ Cup) to Elmore James and Jimmy Reed (Please Set A Date/You Don’t Have To Go) as well as some of his own compositions, including two  instrumentals, Indianola, a tribute to B.B. King, and a nod to the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King (Cannonball Express), Ford displayed his creative and eclectic approach on each of the songs in his setlist.

We saw him last in August of 2009. You can view a post on that show here. (continue reading…)

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Early gems from the quiet Beatle

by on Jun.18, 2012, under Music


Tucked away in the Blu-Ray/DVD Deluxe Edition of Martin Scorcese’s Living In The Material World, a biopic on Beatle George Harrison, is a 10-track CD made up of acoustic renderings and some early takes of Harrison songs, some of which run through the feature film.

George Harrison Early Takes VolThe collection has also been released as a single CD or on vinyl, and is appropriately titled Early Takes Volume 1. The 1 teases at possible subsequent releases in what is presumed to be a series. That’s not guaranteed but has been indicated by Harrison’s widow, Olivia.

This set is nothing short of wonderful. A nice glimpse into George’s world, where he is in the early stages of getting songs down on tape, either purely with acoustic guitar and vocal or with a small backing band. Some of these tunes are so familiar to the Harrison fan that the many instrumental parts we’re all familiar with on songs such as My Sweet Lord, Awaiting On You All and All Things Must Pass, for instance, run through your mind in the background even while listening to the demo versions.

But it’s nice to hear the songs in their raw state. The listener gets a greater appreciation for the singer and the song. And in some cases those bombastic Phil Spector-produced tracks are improved upon in a more primal form.

There are some delightful covers as well, one of Bob Dylan’s Mama You’ve Been On My Mind and the classic early ’60s Everly Brothers ballad Let It Be Me. On Let It Be Me, Harrison delivers simple acoustic guitar accompaniment to his lead and harmony vocal tracks. One of the few times, if ever, Harrison sang a harmony part to himself on tape. The effect is beautiful on this gorgeous melody.

The only other listed musician on the album in Jonathan Clyde on mouth harp for the bluesy Harrison original Woman Don’t You Cry For Me from his solo album 33 1/3. (continue reading…)

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Roberta brings something new to The Beatles

by on Jun.12, 2012, under Music



Recently a tepid review of Roberta Flack’s latest offering put me off a bit on checking it out right away. But I thought to myself that Flack covering The Beatles sounded refreshing and intriguing. She is one of our great song interpreters and the album had to be worth a listen, no? What have I ever heard by Roberta Flack that I didn’t like?

Roberta Flack Sings The BeatlesI came across it in my local library and immediately scooped it up. I’m glad I did. Let It Be Roberta – Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles is a wonderfully inventive, imaginative approach to classic tunes many of us have grown up with. And why wouldn’t it be? This is what Flack does – brings her own special style and creativity to songwriters’ material.

With the help of a number of producers, but mainly the remarkably talented Sharrod Barnes, Flack has produced a poignant and mesmerizing set breathing yet new life into these standards. Her voice is alternately as delicate and as fiery as it ever has been and her way with a melody is, as always, rarely rivaled.

She takes In My Life, a Lennon tune from Rubber Soul, and gives it a Latin samba feel, infused with a middle eastern opening and repeating riff, while playing with the melody in various combinations, making it her own. McCartney’s Hey Jude is a stripped down acoustic folk number in contrast to the choral tour de force it becomes in The Beatles’ hands.

We Can Work It Out has a moderate R&B feel, while Let It Be retains its gospel roots but features a seering guitar solo by Barnes that stands in stark contrast to the original. Not necessarily better, but just as valid. Her bluesy take on Oh Darling places this ’50s style rocker in a new light and features another hot guitar solo, this time from Dean Brown. The Long And Winding Road, which employs a novel electric sitar in the backing, features a soulful duet vocal with Barnes, a form long associated with Flack for her stellar collaborations with Donny Hathaway.

The only misfires and they are slight are the dance house treatment of I Should Have Known Better and a quirky rhythmic feel to And I Love Her, though her vocal treatment on each is still exquisite. As it is on If I Fell, another that becomes Flack’s own as she weaves her way through the melody in myriad variations. On Come Together she almost sounds child-like and her inclusion of the Harrison tune Isn’t It A Pity is inspired, the only song from a Beatles solo album. Although in truth it was demoed for The White Album.

The set ends with a beautiful live version from 1972 of Revolver’s Here, There And Everywhere.

Not enough can be said about Barnes’ production and particularly the arrangements, which are all inspired and effective.

It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a Roberta Flack album. I’m glad I picked this one up. One of my favorites from this year’s releases.

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Best of 2011 and early 2012

by on Mar.27, 2012, under Music


Finally a list of favorite albums from 2011.  I’ve included the best albums of early 2012 as well. Here are the top albums from 2011:

The Black Keys El Camino1. El Camino, The Black Keys: No they haven’t lost their way. No, this isn’t a step back or a step to the side. This is infectious, rocking and raw, though not as raw as their early releases, tuneful and driving. They keep moving forward.

2. The Harrow & The Harvest, Gillian Welch and Let England Shake, P.J. Harvey: It’s a tie. Second choices each. Can’t separate them. Welch and her partner David Rowlings have produced an extraordinary duet album underpinned with roots guitar and banjo and enchanting vocals. The songs are spare country-folk pieces beautifully executed. As for Harvey, I’ve already mentioned this one in an early 2011 best-of list. It continues to grow on me if that’s possible. Highly thoughtful, enveloping musical statement featuring Harvey’s and her friends’ expert muscianship and musicality. There, I’ve used a form of music three times in that sentence.

4. I’m With You, The Red Hot Chili Peppers: Talk about an overlooked album. Oh, I’m sure it sold well. The only problem with this album is that it had to follow Stadium Arcadium, which was a career effort in creativity and popularity. Still, it’s more of the Peppers and the Peppers are quite something.

5. Hard Bargain, Emmylou Harris: This was my top choice for the early list. It’s dropped a few places, not because it isn’t worthy, because the later releases were just that good.

6. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator: Another early choice that stood up. Blues, soul, R&B mix with Tedeschi’s heartfelt, soulful vocals on top and Trucks’ dynamic, penetrating slide running through it all. (continue reading…)

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Concerts Vol. 14: Led Zeppelin

by on Dec.29, 2011, under Music


Led Zeppelin in Paris Smaller Size
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early August, 1969, there was quite a buzz about Woodstock. I don’t believe anyone, even at that late date, anticipated how big it was going to be. At least not among my friends.

Most of us were not planning on a trip to upstate New York though. On Sunday the 17th during the festival weekend, a concert was scheduled at the original Oakdale Music Theatre, with its theatre-in-the-round stage, in Wallingford, Conn., that was not to be missed, Led Zeppelin.

We’d seen Cream there the previous summer and myriad other mid-to-late ’60s acts: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Lovin’ Spoonful, Ray Charles. Shows I didn’t get to see included The Who, The Doors and Chicago. One of my bands, The Bram Rigg Set opened for The Dave Clark Five in late summer, 1967. It was an almost-perfect venue to get an up-close look at performers. Seating was perhaps no more than about 2,000, the closest within about 15 to 20 feet of the musicians, sometimes even closer when they came to the edge of stage, which was only a few feet off the ground.

Zeppelin’s first album was released in early 1969 and it made quite an impact. Surprising really. Jimmy Page was well known and I’d seen him with the last version of The Yardbirds in 1967 at the Village Theater in New York. But Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, where did they come from? (continue reading…)

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