The Trick Is To Keep Going

Tag: country rock

Island: Where Am I Going?

by on Nov.23, 2013, under Music


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.

Pulse as a four-piece band with from left, Peter Neri, Harvey Thurott, Beau Segal and Paul Rosano, back.

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


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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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Best of 2011 so far

by on Aug.16, 2011, under Music


Best 10, plus one, I’ve heard this year:

1. Hard Bargain, Emmylou Harris: A longtime fan, I was still stunned by the beauty and poignancy of this record. Dark but not despairing lyrics that hold a wealth of experience and ring Emmylou Harris Hard Bargaintrue. Spare instrumentation expertly chosen, and a clear, full production by Jay Joyce. Harris, whose voice — gorgeous and penetrating —  is one of the best in not only country but contemporary music today, has consistently released quality albums, but this is the best of recent vintage.

2. Revelator, Tedeschi Trucks Band: A delectable brew of blues, R&B and southern soul. Tedeschi’s voice is suited well for the material and Trucks is stellar on his signature slide or single string guitar playing. Augmented by a fine horn section, the material, from slow burners to infectious grooves, brings out the best in the musicians with opener Come See About Me, Until You Remember and Learn How To Love standouts from a quality set.

3. Buddy Miller’s The Majestic Silver Strings: Miller leads a dream guitar band of Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz with guest singers, including Ann McCrary, Patty Griffin, Lee Ann Womack, Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin through a roots-style outing with western, country, jazz and rock overtones. The playing is a joyful listen, as expected, on material in part from Lefty Frizzell, Libby Cotton, Tex Owens and traditional pieces. 

4. Mayhem, Imelda May: May’s follow-up to the big success of debut Love Tattoo sees her stretching out from her rock-a-billy base to show jazz and R&B leanings. Don’t worry there’s plenty of ’50s and early ’60s rocking  material on hand. She’s been attracting a lot of attention for her collaborations with Jeff Beck in the past two years, but her own steamy, proficient delivery shines here.

5. Let England Shake, PJ Harvey: With each new album it seems Harvey perfects her playing on an instrument or learns a new one and for this one it’s autoharp, last seen with the Lovin’ Spoonful in the late 1960s. Much has been made of the lyrics on this record being more outwardly directed and socially conscious rather than a reflection or Harvey’s inner self. That’s true, but it’s Harvey’s wonderful vocals, melodies, instrumentation, arrangements and production that make this another compelling addition to her strong catalogue.

(continue reading…)

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Three quick ones: Plant, Thompson and The Union

by on Nov.30, 2010, under Music


Three varied but commendable releases have graced my CD player and iPod of late from four, what you might call, elder statesman of the music world.

Robert Plant Band Of JoyThe first, Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, a follow-up to the hugely successful Raising Sand of three years ago with Alison Krause. This is not a sequel, as that broke down almost before it started, but it shares a lot in common with Raising Sand.

The title is the name of a band Plant played in before Led Zeppelin, but the music bares little resemblance to that never recorded blues-psychedelia mashup and even less to Zeppelin. Plant continues his journey through Americana-based country, bluegrass, blues and Rock ‘n Roll with a small, tight ensemble, featuring Buddy Miller on a variety of stringed instruments and as band leader and co-producer with Plant, and backing vocals from Patty Griffin.

These are mostly covers, but impeccably selected beginning with the opener Angel Dance from Los Lobos that rings with glistening mandolin and acoustic and electric guitars under Plant’s effective low-key delivery, at least low-key in comparison with what he is most noted for as the quintessential rock frontman. The track in underpinned by a churning, almost dirge-like marching rhythm.

The production on most of the album has a heavy sounding bottom that gives each track a dark, menacing drive, but each song also has adeptly placed ornamentation, including mandoguitar, baritone 6-string bass, octave mandolin, banjo and pedal and lap steel that lifts the overall sound up and all of which lends an Appalachian quality to the proceedings.

There is only one original co-written by Plant and Miller, Central Two-O-Nine, and the team arranges two traditionals, Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down and Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday, both imaginative versions meticulously executed. But Plant loves good songwriters and has an excellent ear for them. (continue reading…)

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Potter & Nocturnals ignite a slow burn at Ridgefield

by on Sep.17, 2010, under Music


 

It’s not often I get to see an act twice in a calendar year. Last year, The Derek Trucks Band; this year Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. We saw Potter at the Infinity Music Hall in January, when I knew virtually nothing about them, and this past Sunday at the Ridgefield Playhouse, knowing a little bit more, well considerably more.

The performance Sunday was every bit as good as back in January but it was quite different. The Playhouse is a nice venue, my first time. It looks a little like a refurbished auditorium with a proscenium style stage, which in fact it is, being the auditorium of the old Ridgefield High School. A very high ceiling helps provide excellent acoustics and there isn’t a bad seat in the house, which holds about 500. We were about seventh row left on the aisle.

Grace Potter Red Dress GuitarThe main difference in this set was that it was more of a slow burn building into a fiery peak rather than a hit-you-over-the head, drive-it-right-at-you affair right from the beginning. In contrast to the Infinity opener Medicine, an infectious blues-rock tour de force, the group opened with That Phone, a nice tune but a strange opener with guitarist Scott Tournet doubling with Matthew Burr on drums.

Much of the first set was filled with tunes from the group’s latest self-titled album. It included Oasis, another moderate to low-key tune, which was given an extraordinary arrangement featuring an extended vocal vamp by Potter; Apologies; Money, more of an upbeat tune; the country-flavored One Short Night and the others listed below, including Tiny Light. If you are at all familiar with their material, you get the idea.

The second set opened low-key as well with a two-song acoustic coupling, featuring Potter, Tournet and second guitarist Benny Yurco, but after the reggae-inflected Goodbye Kiss, the group started cranking it up with the scorching Hot Summer Night from the latest and building to a climax with Stop the Bus and Medicine to finish off the set. The group returned for an 18-minute encore leading off with White Rabbit, then Paris, and what was the regular set closer at the Infinity, Nothing But The Water to end the proceedings.

Check my earlier review of the Infinity show for more details on some of the live renditions of these tunes. The band, which also includes bassist Catherine Popper, was in fine form at The Playhouse. Potter’s voice and stage presence are still impressive and hot, one of the best voices around today in rock. The band plays very well together as a unit, and Tournet does some nice soloing. And Potter’s songwriting is inspiring.

Lacking any photos from the gig without a watermark, I give you two performances from Jimmy Kimmel Live in July, which give you an idea of what to expect if you haven’t seen this outfit, and a video of Paris. One of my favorite new bands, I love how they mesh the roots of American blues-rock and country with a modern day musical sensibility. Catch them.

Setlist:
First set
That Phone
Oasis
Apologies
Money
One Short Night
Low road
Ah Mary
Colors
Tiny Light
Second set
Ain’t No Time
Treat Me Right
Fooling Myself
Goodbye Kiss
Only Love
Hot Summer Night
Stop The Bus
Medicine
Encores
White Rabbit
Paris
Nothing But The Water

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Shelby Lynne on her own

by on May.11, 2010, under Music



 

It seems truly unbelievable that a record company such as Lost Highway could reject an album by Shelby Lynne, particularly when it is as compelling and heartfelt as Tears, Lies & Alibis.

But it happened. It goes on more than you would think with top artists. As Lynne mentioned during her set at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass., Friday, she was through with the world of corporate companies and has released Tears, Lies & Alibis on her own label, Everso Records.

Now, she said, she can release an album anytime she wants to and promised a Christmas album this year, something she has been trying to convince a record label to do for 20 years.

Amid all this life-changing turmoil, Lynne is touring the country in support of Tears with a three-piece band that includes Nashville guitarist John Jackson and Lynne’s producer and bass player, Brian Harrison.

At the Iron Horse they ran through a beautifully arranged set that featured songs from the new album and material from her previous albums, all of which since 2000’s I Am Shelby Lynne have showcased her extraordinary voice and songwriting skills, with an eclectic mix of country, rock, folk, Southern soul, blues and more.

Fortunately, the videos above and below, shot by one of her crew, show off Lynne’s performance at the Iron Horse. So, you can get an intimate and immediate display of her talents. She also often talked extensively between songs and some of the raps were very funny.

Hearing her music in this stripped-down setting was revelatory and a wonderful showcase for Jackson’s prodigious picking skills, particularly on slide that he makes sound like a pedal steel. Jackson is on the new album as well as Harrison, so between recording and playing live now for several weeks, the three were tight and played with a strong feel and connection to the music and each other. (continue reading…)

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Karla Bonoff’s timeless songcraft

by on Apr.16, 2010, under Music


In the 1970s heydey of the singer-songwriter, southern Californian Karla Bonoff emerged as one of the genre’s brightest lights. A gifted songwriter, whose melodic and well-structured tunes were often made more famous by other artists, Bonoff also produced a string of memorable albums and toured with her own band extensively.

Karla Bonoff Live 3She never achieved the kind of recongition some of the artists who covered her material did —  Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, among many others — but her interpretations of her songs often struck home much more profoundly, as she displayed a beautifully crystal clear voice that could handle all of the demands her compositions make of a singer.

Although she has toured frequently, I never remember her coming to Connecticut. Happily, she stopped in Norfolk Thursday night at the Infinity Music Hall, and along with longtime collaborator Kenny Edwards and the remarkable guitarist Nina Gerber, Bonoff presented about an hour-and-a-half of truly inspired performances of some of her most well-known songs and some even her most avid followers were probably not that familar with.

I always associate piano with Karla Bonoff’s songs, but for most of the night she played one of two acoustic guitars and used the baby grand on about five or six tunes. Edwards alternated among mandolin, acoustic guitar and electric bass and Gerber played a white Fender Strat, often bringing to mind the style of the late Clarence White, from one of the last incarnations of The Byrds, who made his Tele sound like a pedal steel much as Gerber does with her Strat. (continue reading…)

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Return of the Beehive Queen

by on Nov.09, 2009, under Music


Christine Ohlman hasn’t really been away. In the past five years, she has continued to work with her band Rebel Montez and as a singer for the Saturday Night Live Band, and released the retrospective Re-Hive last year.

the_deep_end_coverBut The Deep End, released this month, is her first record of new material since Strip in 2004. It is certainly worth the wait. A collection of bluesy and soul-infused rockers and ballads with emotional, heartfelt lyrics of love and loss, The Deep End is Ohlman’s most complete and accomplished work.

The album benefits from an impressive cast of guests who each add something special. Al Anderson plays guitar on two tunes, including the title track, Dion, Ian Hunter and Marshall Crenshaw each sing duet vocals with Chris, and Levon Helm, G.E. Smith, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Catherine Russell, Paul Ossola and Andy York, guitarist from the John Mellencamp Band who also produces with Chris, are among the many contributors.

Chris and her band will debut the album at Cafe Nine in New Haven on Saturday, Nov. 14.

Chris sets the scene on the opener, There Ain’t No Cure, a gritty, infectious rocking track that features York on lead guitar and Hunter adding a duet vocal. The title track, one of Ohlman’s best compositions, follows with its Latin feel in the verse, interesting melodic twists in the chorus and telling lyrics that speak of loss, something Chris has endured in these past five years losing her mate and producer Doc Cavalier and longtime guitarist and collaborator Eric Fletcher. Anderson provides the lead work on the track in his signature country-blues style.

All the uptempo material is a delight. The grooves are deep and the playing exemplary. Ohlman is in fine form vocally throughout, bringing her unique soulful delivery that ranges from smooth as glass to rough and raspy. Among them — Love Make You Do Stupid Things, driven by Ambel’s chord-flavored lead style, the country-rock feel of Love You Right, again with Anderson, Bring It With You When You Come, which sees Rebel Montez guitarist Cliff Goodwin take a fiery, spitting solo, and Born To Be Together, on which Goodwin is again featured this time playing off the melody through what sounds like a Leslie speaker — are all highlights. (continue reading…)

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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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Furay’s little bit of magic

by on Aug.30, 2009, under Music


I expected to see a good performance from Richie Furay Friday night at Stage One in Fairfield, but I was taken back by just how good.

richie-furay-live-2-small1With a five-piece band that includes multi-instrumentalist Scott Sellen and Furay’s daughter Jesse Lynch, Furay played a set that traveled from his past to the present, playing many songs that helped lay down the country-rock tradition, leaning heavily on rock, and are rarely played by any band today.

This is not just an aging musician running through songs with which he is associated. This is an extraordinary band.

When the opening song started with drummer Alan Lemke laying down a beat on his tom toms, I asked myself is that what I think it is? It was. This little band was playing Crazy Eyes, a Poco epic from the album of the same name from 1973. And the arrangement didn’t lack one bit.

Furay’s voice was full, clear and able to scale the heights he has always been known for on a song that demands it from the start. Every time I looked to the left of the stage Sellen was playing a different instrument. First electric piano, then banjo, then lap steel guitar and electric guitar. (continue reading…)

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