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
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.
The 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…)
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?
I 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.
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 true. 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.
When the first of Ace Records’ Jackie DeShannon retrospectives came out in 2009 chronicling all of her singles releases, I didn’t pick up on it immediately. By the time I did it was well into 2010, but I would have easily included it in my Best of 2009 as an archive release.
I already owned quite a bit of vinyl and most of her CD releases that have slowly become available during the digital age. I figured I had almost everything on it.
But when I finally picked up You Won’t Forget Me: The Complete Liberty Singles, Volume 1, it revealed not only an impressive and accurate chronology of her singles, but also B-sides and several cancelled releases all in mono as they had been originally released.
The set put things in perspective because even though I’ve been aware of DeShannon since I first was hooked by her version of Needles & Pins in 1963 and the follow-up, her own penned classic When You Walk In The Room, putting together her career at times has been confusing.
Ace’s second installment of the planned three-part series, Come And Get Me: The Complete Liberty and Imperial Singles, Volume 2 has recently been released and it is again a stellar issue.
The release shows off DeShannon’s prodigious skills as one of our greatest songwriters, singers, as well as an outstanding interpretive singer of other writers’ material, and to some extent pop icon. Although if you could somehow be an overlooked and under-appreciated icon, DeShannon fits the bill.
Despite huge global success with tunes such as Burt Bacharach’s What The World Needs Now Is Love and her own Put A Little Love in Your Heart, she is not that well-known to the general public. She is, however, an icon to musicians in the industry who either came up alongside her or followed her and are fully appreciative of her stature. That goes for her long-time fans as well.
One could conclude Deshannon was mishandled by Liberty, of which Imperial — the label she was eventually moved to — was a subsidiary in the 1960s, because of all the career shifts and changes in musical direction they made for her. But I love her take on it. She was willing to try anything. She fought for her own songs being placed on her albums. And no matter what the record company and producers threw at her, she always pulls it off. (continue reading…)
Here’s my Top 10 for the past year along with a few bonus selections and various related categories:
1. The Union, Elton John & Leon Russell: A collaboration made in heaven and one wonders why it took so long for these two to get together. The record brings out their similarities, differences and a wonderful melding of their talents with some of their best songwriting in years. A truly inspirational collection.
2. Band Of Joy, Robert Plant: Another entry on the road of Americana from the transplanted Led Zeppelin lead man. Almost every bit as good as The Union with interesting and well-executed covers as only Plant has been able to deliver in recent years.
3. I’m New Here, Gil Scott-Heron: 28 minutes of bliss from the commander of narrative R&B. Scott-Heron is still here and as relevant as ever.
4. San Patricio, The Chieftains with Ry Cooder: A mythical adventure, cloaked in reality, that brings together Mexican, Celtic and American blues and country into one steaming pot of influences.
5. Tears, Lies & Alibis, Shelby Lynne: Stripped-down Shelby Lynne and she greatly benefits from the sparse arrangements putting the emphasis on her singing and songwriting.
6. Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom: It took a while to warm to this unusual songwriter with the reedy, young girl voice but this triple album is captivating and expressive.
7. The Stanley Clarke Band, Stanley Clarke: A bass hero for the ages re-engages with his jazz-rock roots on new and revisited material with a sympathetic and proficient group of musicians.
8. Chamber Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: One of the most unusual and ultimately satisfying collection of songs from a performer/composer who continually surprises and delivers.
9. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (self-titled): Fourth outing from a group with all the signs of breaking out big-time and it appears they’re finally starting to catch on in a bigger way.
10 Naked Honest, Kala Farnham: Honest, heartfelt, poignant lyricism backed with prodigious keyboard chops and crystal clear vocal styling from this rising solo artist. (continue reading…)
About six months after writing a series of pieces in 2009 on Cream concerts I’ve been to, I was contacted by Ken Melville. Ken was in the band Catharsis in Boston in September, 1967 and opened for Cream for their one-week run of concerts at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Kenmore Square, just a stone’s throw from Fenway Park.
I went to see Cream on a Sunday, the first night of the engagement, which was supposed to last two weeks but only survived the one. A detailed description of the concert, a particularly memorable one, is available here.
I do recall an opening act, but don’t remember much about the band. To my amazement, Ken sent me some photos from that week after leaving a comment on one of the posts. Taken by his girlfriend with a Kodak instamatic, as I recall, the photos above and on the following page show the band on stage and in the dressing room with Ken and some of his friends.
It’s all quite remarkable really that more than 40 years later, we’re viewing photos from that week.
Also on the page, you will see two shots from their June, 1968 date at the original Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Conn. A piece on the two shows at Oakdale and the last concert I saw of Cream during this stretch in the fall of 1968 at the New Haven Arena during the Farewell Tour is available here.
It took a jury of people to identify the Oakdale shots, which I’ve come across through an astute friend on the Internet. A fellow who worked at Oakdale and another similar summer tent theater in Rhode Island identified it by the lighting grid you see above Clapton’s head. Also the shot with Jack Bruce sitting on the edge of the orchestra pit includes Rich Bednarczyk in the foreground of the pit, surfer blond hair, who played keyboards for my band Pulse.
There is also a piece on this site describing the April, 1968 concert at Woolsey Hall at Yale in New Haven here.
If you’re an avid Cream fan, it’s likely you’ve already come across these. The only place I’ve seen them is in a few of Ken’s posts to a music forum. The subject, of all things, started out as a discussion of whether Clapton used a Gibson ES-335 on the classic cut Crossroads from Wheels Of Fire. I don’t think that was ever resolved but some of the discussion is interesting and, of course, Ken’s photos are the highlight.
All quite heady. Click on continue reading for the other shots. (continue reading…)
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.
She 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…)
I caught snippets of the T.A.M.I. Show in the ’60s when a short segment would turn up on network television or a smaller local station. I didn’t make it to the theatrical release at one of the locations around the country, which started just a few weeks after the show was filmed.
So watching the newly released Shout Factory DVD of this rather amazing collection of eclectic talent was an almost entirely new experience. But it certainly brought back memories of how pop and rock music was presented in the early ’60s. This show was filmed in October, 1964, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in front of a group of mostly high school students over a two-day period, performed twice for a live audience and once without.
What made it into theaters was the second filmed performance. The lineup is truly inspired and included, among others, hosts Jan & Dean, Chuck Berry, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, The Beach Boys, James Brown and the closing act, the still rising Rolling Stones, before The Last Time, before Satisfaction, before worldwide acclaim. You see what I mean about a varied lineup spanning several genres.
It’s all presented in a style you would never see today. All the acts performed live, a big plus, and all acquitted themselves quite well. The camera work is steady, not choppy. There are no quick cuts with nonsensical flashes of scenes that have no relation to the music as we’ve become accustomed with music videos as well as film. The action stays on the entertainers and for that the film is greatly enhanced.
The one novelty that you might object to is the presence of dancers throughout most of each of the artists’ sets, giving performances that can only be described as filled with over-the-top exuberance, literally all over the stage. In back of the artists, sometimes in front, next to, working out in the dance moves of the day or borderline modern dance/entertainment style choreography. These are pros though and it’s remarkable the energy level they keep up. (continue reading…)
Between the departure of Peter Green and the arrival of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac soldiered on in the early-to-mid 1970s re-fashioning their sound over six albums, a span of time and music that is largely forgotten by the general music listening audience.
On those six releases, there are nuggets worth discovering or revisiting and an indication of where the band would eventually wind up artistically, considerably distant from where it started.
Fleetwood Mac quickly became a British blues institution in the late 1960s with a lineup that included the rock solid rhythm section of John McVie, bass, and Mick Fleetwood, drums, along with Green, one of the U.K.’s preeminent blues guitarists and Jeremy Spencer, an Elmore James loyalist and early rock ‘n roll enthusiast.
Mac enjoyed single and album chart success in the U.K. and enjoyed good album numbers in the States for their self-titled debut, second release Mr. Wonderful, augmented by horns and guitarist Danny Kirwan, and third record English Rose, along with the compilation Pious Bird Of Good Omen.
After Green’s semi-involvement with an excellent fourth record, Then Play On, which has a muddled history of its own, founder Green left. It wasn’t until 1975 that Mac found mega-million selling worldwide success with Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie with the release of Fleetwood Mac and then Rumours in ’77, music in a much more pop-oriented vein but executed beautifully.
The years in between saw the release of Kiln House (1970), same as the lineup for the second album minus Green, Future Games (1971), which saw the departure of Spencer, the additions of American guitarist Bob Welch and singer/songwriter/pianist Christine McVie and the emergence of Kirwan as an equal if not dominant writer in the group, Bare Trees (1972), Penguin (1973), goodbye Kirwan, hello singer Dave Walker and guitarist Bob Weston, Mystery To Me (1973), so long Walker, and Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974), adios Weston.
Welch left after Heroes and a year later came the Buckingham-Nicks era. (continue reading…)