blues

#699: Brief Encounter

On the dark days, you just need to find things to cheer you up.

This past weekend, caring for Jen’s mom in the hospital, I had a chance encounter that lasted just a few moments, but gave me something else to focus on.  “Mum” was staying in a very nice wing of a veteran’s hospital.  It was filled with retired war heroes, but also regular people who were fighting their final battles with cancer.  You can always sense the grief in the air.  It weighs down like a heavy, thick antiseptic mist.

Sunday morning we were making our way to see Mum, with other families to see our loved ones.  Walking in front of us was a tall guy carrying a guitar.  It was in a road case, which jumped out at me.  Most guitar hobbyists don’t need one, but professionals do.  He looked like a dressed-down star.  He held the elevator door open for us.  We got in and I had a closer look at his road case.  There was a laminated tag with his name on it, which I recognised immediately.  For his privacy, I won’t say who he was, but I Googled him to verify.  Sure enough, the guitarist in front of us was the guy who came up in my Google images search.

Seven solo albums stretching back 22 years.  12 more album releases as a sideman, for some pretty big names.  If I said them, you’d recognise them.  He has played on Leno, the Oscars, and the Grammies, and he also opened for two of my favourite bands (one of which, Deep Purple, is in my Top Five).

I didn’t bother him.  He was there for the same reason we were.  It would have been disrespectful for me to invade his privacy.

I did, however, stream some of his music on my phone.  Later on, I heard him down the hall, playing blues licks for his loved one.  It was an awesome, awesome sound.

My only real wish was, it would have been nice if Mum was well enough to come out into the hallway to listen.  Mum loved all kinds of music, including the blues.  But she was too sick.  We played some George Harrison in her room, instead.

I talked about this brief encounter all day.  I guess I was a little starstruck.

In the end, the bluesman did more than play some licks for his loved one.  He didn’t know it, but he helped me out too.  Thank you, bluesman.

 

Advertisements

The Big Lebowski radio, tonight!

I will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This Week On Visions In Sound – The 20th Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski – Drop in to see what condition your condition is in this week as this week we celebrate the 20th of the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. We will also be live on Facebook!

I’m a bit of a fan of both the movie and its excellent soundtrack.  My movie review can be found here.  Check out my cool Lebowski ID and swag!

 

 

REVIEW: Rich Robinson – Got to Get Better in a Little While (10″ EP)

RICH ROBINSON – Got to Get Better in a Little While (2016 Universal 10″ clear single for Record Store Day)

This really pretty record (a single or an EP, who cares?) was found on the Taranna 2016 expedition with Mr. Books.  It’s apparently a Record Store Day exclusive from April 2016, although I had no problem getting this one for $16.99 in October.  This my first purchase of anything by Rich without his brother Chris.  Knowing the Black Crowes, I was fairly certain it wouldn’t suck.  I was still surprise to see on the back, an ad for not one not two not three but FOUR Rich Robinson “Expanded Editions” on CD and LP!  Who knew?  Not this guy!

“Got to Get Better in a Little While” is a Derek and the Dominoes cover, apparently one that Crowes used to do regularly, as does Rich.  You have to hear this if you like bluesy rock that produces pure smoke from sheer musical chemistry.  Yes, Clapton is God and the original can’t be touched, but a real jackass could easily make this song sound like shit.  Rich does the opposite, and it sounds as part of his musical being.  There’s some deep bass that just cuts through, and this goes on for eight and a half minutes of jam session heaven.  Just bop along.

The second side has two Rich originals.  Greasy late night blues is on the menu.  “Look Through My Window” sets a scene of steamy Tennessee dusk.  Brilliant stuff for any fan of slippery slidey guitars.  Then an acoustic/electric tune called “Falling Away” closes on a first light of a quiet dawn.  Great tunes, both, making up a tidy little 16 minute EP.  Or single.  Whatever!

The vinyl itself is clear and thick.  The package doesn’t say anything about clear vinyl, but you almost expect clear or coloured when you buy these limited editions.  It looks lovely spinning with its green label.  Great little EP, reasonably priced for the collector and fan.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Blue Heart (2013)

TOO SLIM and the TAILDRAGGERS – Blue Heart (2013 Underworld Records)

I first became aware of Tim “Too Slim” Langford when he and the Taildraggers played Kitchener Blues Fest 2013.  I heard them on the radio and immediately called in.  My comment was that it sounded like “dirty ZZ blues”, and that’s still a suitable description.  Gravelly vocals, references to the “muddy Mississippi”, and bluesy electric guitar licks definitely put them in that category.  The Blue Heart album was recorded in Nashville but this is electric blues!

Whether you like it blastin’ loud (“Wash My Hands”) or slow & miserable (“Minutes Seem Like Hours”), Too Slim has something for the electric blues fan in you.  There’s some honkin’ harmonica on “Blue Heart” to go with the greasy guitar.

Mixing rock and blues is a very precise science. Too much rock and it turns to cheese. Too Slim has a recipe here that works. Blue Heart is a great sounding CD, crisp and edgy.  The song titles say it all.  “When Whiskey Was My Friend” is a colourful title that should paint a picture of what it sounds like.  Dig into the energy, feel the pain and rock your blues away.

Best track:  “If You Broke My Heart”.  Blazing hot and cool as ice!

3.5/5 stars

This was a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

REVIEW: Rik Emmett & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016)

Had I got it in time, this album could have made the Top Five of 2016 list.

scan_20161231RIK EMMETT & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016 Mascot Music)

Rik Emmett had a long productive career as 1/3rd of Triumph, but he has rarely looked back.   Post-Triumph he has released a steady stream of jazz, rock, blues and acoustic music, sometimes revisiting Triumph songs in re-arranged form.  Finally the ice thawed and Triumph successfully conquered Sweden Rock.  In 2016 Rik released RES 9, a new rock album with his new band RESolution 9.

RES 9 is in fact a time machine.  Dial up track 1.  You will be transported back to 1990 with the rock boogie of “Stand Still”.  This is a spiritual sequel to “Drive Time” from Rik’s first solo album Absolutely.  Then punch track 2.  “Human Race” (not a Red Rider cover) could have been a single from 1986’s The Sport of Kings.  With Alex Lifeson guesting on guitar, Rik and the band tapped into the hookiness of 80’s Triumph, but with a modern integrity.  When you hit up track 3, you will find yourself in the future.  Accompanied by fellow Canadian James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Rik turns in a modern rock anthem with “I Sing”.  Big and uplifting choruses preceded by mellow verses are built for radio.  LaBrie’s vocals are the perfect compliment.  Without a shred of hyperbole, “I Sing” is absolutely one of the best songs Rik’s ever recorded.

The bluesy soul ballad “My Cathedral” gives Rik a chance to show off his impeccable chops.  His tone — unbelievable!  Moving on to “The Ghost of Shadow Town” effectively dials up 1976 in the time machine, with a dark heavy Zepp-ish blues.  “When You Were My Baby” continues down smoove blues street, throwing in some jazz licks.  “Sweet Tooth” is turn down a brightly lit side avenue, a sweet treat indeed.

A hard Triumph-like vibe permeates “Heads Up”, another fine hard rocker for the radio.  “Rest of My Life” adds the jangle of acoustic guitars to the rock and roll mixture, creating another fine concoction just begging to be a hit.  Things toughen up with the pure rock power of “End of the Line”, featuring the returns of LaBrie and Lifeson.  The sheer star power of all these Canucks in one studio must have driven the temperatures well below freezing.  Still the track smokes, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear Emmett and Lifeson go head to head, then wish no more.

But it is not the end of the line.  Back to the future, we have a bonafide Triumph reunion featuring the full trio of Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine.  This long awaited reunion happens on the bonus track “Grand Parade”.  The genuine surprise here is that it’s not a hard old time hard rocker, but a thoughtful and musically deep blues ballad.  It strikes me as appropriate that this much anticipated track sounds nothing like old Triumph.  That was, after all, a long time ago.

With RES 9, Rik has re-established his rock credentials.  Whether he does another album like this is beside the point.  RES 9 is the point; a damn fine album indeed.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Daylight Again (21st Anniversary Edition)

scan_20160919THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Daylight Again (2009 21st Anniversary Edition)

Haggis was itching to make some music again, but not with Frank C. Starr.  When the original Horsemen split in 1992, Haggis cut off contact with Starr, and the two never spoke again.  Instead Haggis hooked up with a singer and harmonica player named Tim Beattie, who did some mouth organ on “Homesick Blues” from the first LP.  Tim could sing too, with a slight southern drawl as a contrast to Starr’s AC/DC shred.  Guitarist Dave Lizmi and bassist Ben Pape were not interested in rejoining the band, so Haggis brought in two new members:  Rick McGhee handled the guitar leads, and Duane D. Young held down the bottom end.  Dimwit Montgomery flew down from Canada to complete the lineup.

It wasn’t to last long.  Even without the explosive Starr, the volatile band began to melt down shortly after writing a batch of new, soulful rock tunes.  Rick McGhee quit.  Dimwit too; Les Warner ex-of The Cult came down to record the drums.  Even Dave Lizmi came back briefly, but left after recording an album’s worth of demos.  Lizmi was replaced by a new guitarist named Mike Valentine before it all hit the wall again.

The album that became Daylight Again was recorded in 1994 (with Lizmi) and shelved.  According to Haggis, the fate of the band was “an inevitable outcome.  We had evolved to the point of being unrecognizable from the group that had been signed five years previously.  We started out as card-carrying members of the Bon Scott fan club, and ended up sounding like the house band at an Arkansas chicken ranch.”  The label lost patience and dropped them.  Haggis quit music completely, while up in Toronto, Lizmi decided to give the Horsemen one more try….

Daylight Again wasn’t intended for release as-is.  These are cassette and DAT recordings, cleaned up as much as possible for CD.  Hiss and noise are part of the deal, so buyer beware, this is not the gloss of a Rick Rubin production.  You can taste the rawness; not even blue-rare, just pure raw blues unfettered by mixing consoles.  The sound is modified by banjos and pedal steel.  The location is somewhere in the deep south.  You can feel the humidity in the rehearsal space and sense the hot tube amps humming away.  Somewhere in between the Allmans and Skynyrd, the Horsemen found some inspiration from old grooves.

You can even find a little funk (“Trailer Park Boogie”) among the blues, soul, folk and rock influences.   These traditions are given a boost with a touch of gospel.  Nowhere is this more obvious than the closer, an 11 minute jam on “Amazing Grace”.   Each Horsemen album ended with a long, emotional song of epic quality.  It was “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good” on the first LP, and “What the Hell Went Wrong” on Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By.  “Amazing Grace” trumps both in the emotion and time categories.  It’s also Beattie’s best performance on the album.  The guitar melodies are just sublime.

scan_20160919-2

Daylight Again is an incredible, albeit unfinished album.  Some arrangements sound fluid and not quite there yet; it’s a flawed gem of a recording.  The thing about the blues is that it has a timeless quality.  You can’t nail this album down to a specific period because the blues are eternal.  Whether it’s Beattie blowing away on some harmonica jams, or Lizmi’s pure feel, there are loads of tradition to dig into on this album.

As discussed in a previous instalment of this series, Dave Lizmi formed a new Horsemen lineup himself shortly after the Haggis/Beattie version disintegrated for good. With Frank C. Starr back in the saddle, Lizmi’s Horsemen released the “official” second LP, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By.  However, Daylight Again pre-dates those recordings by almost two years and showcases a “lost” period in Horsemen history.   The 2009 reissue does a great service by finally bringing this lost LP to light.

4/5 stars

scan_20160919-3

REVIEW: O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Soundtrack (2000)

movie-soundtrack-week


O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? – Music from a film by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (2000 Universal)

Hot damn!  It’s the Soggy Bottom Boys!

Even if you hated the film (have a doctor check to see if you still have taste left), you can’t deny the fun and authentic roots music on its soundtrack.

A bizarre re-telling of Homer’s The Odyssey set in the 1930’s depression-era south, O Brother was nothing if not unique.  It mixes a liberal interpretation of Greek mythology, with Americana and the mythology of the blues era.  Some people don’t get it, some people do but don’t like it, and others have long been swept away by its charms.  Those with an allergy to George Clooney, fear not:  he does not actually sing on this soundtrack, although his co-star Tim Blake Nelson certainly does (on “I’m in the Jailhouse Now”). Dan Tyminski from Alison Krauss & Union Station sings for Clooney’s character Ulysses Everett McGill on the signature hit, “Man of Constant Sorrow” though many people assume it’s George.

The soundtrack CD is a mixture of light and dark.  The first two songs  are the perfect example:  “Po Lazarus” is a chain-gang work song, just before Ulysses Everett McGill and his two companions break free and embark on their Odyssey.  It’s followed by a 1928 recording by Harry McClintock, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”, a joyful nonsense song about a hobo finding paradise on the rails.

“Where the boxcars all are empty,
And the sun shines every day,
On the birds and the bees,
And the cigarette trees,
The lemonade springs,
Where the bluebird sings,
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

The composite of light and dark reflects the movie itself, but makes for a fairly inconsistent listen.  The soundtrack follows the progress of the film, but without the story backing it up, it’s harder to go with the flow from song to song.  The a capella “O Death” (Ralph Stanley) for example is squeezed between the popular songs “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “I’m in the Jailhouse Now”, so most people will typically skip it.

I look at this soundtrack CD as a great “starter kit” for exploring more genres of music.  The dominant ones are folk and bluegrass, but there are also blues tracks and hymns.  Norman Blake’s “You Are My Sunshine” sounds wonderful sitting in the shade on a summer day.  Immediately after that, you get the velvet tones of Alison Krauss, from the baptism scene with “Down to the River to Pray”.  You have never heard a more perfect version, serene, still and deep as the water.  And, yes, the Soggy Bottom Boys!  In the film, Ulysses Everett McGill and his companions Pete, Delmar and Tommy Johnson (loosely based on Robert) wind up cutting a record.  There are four versions of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” on the album.  The first is the acoustic track shown being recorded in the film.  The version that became a hit single in the real world is from the climax, a fully augmented mix with fiddles and slides.  That is included closer to the end of the disc. There is an instrumental version on acoustic guitar by Norman Blake, a fine take indeed.  The fourth is an instrumental version on fiddle by John Hartford, barely recognisable.  All four are quite different but valuable.

Blues singer and guitarist Chris Thomas King was cast in the film as Tommy Johnson, and his solo track “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” is a fine example of acoustic blues.  There is plenty of sunny and gleeful folk, such as “Keep on the Sunny Side”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “In the Highways” and of course “In the Jailhouse Now”.  Tim Blake Nelson is certainly a multi-talented guy, but the yodelling part is not performed by John Turturro as it appears in the film.  Still Pat Enright’s yodel part is one of the highlights of the entire album.  It’s important to note that producer T Bone Burnett captured authetic sounding performances here.  Close your eyes, mix some scratchy vinyl sounds over it, and you can imagine these are vintage recordings from the 1930’s.

Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, the Fairfield Four, the Cox Family and more…this CD is a great way to both enjoy an hour of music from the film, and kickstart a collection of folk, bluegrass and more.  Dig in!

4.5/5 stars

Final bonus:  Sh*t LeBrain’s Grandma Says!

I love my grandma with all my heart, but sometimes she gets the names of movies wrong.  We took her to the theater to see “There’s Mail Waiting for You” (You’ve Got Mail), and she also really enjoyed this movie, which she calls “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”

REVIEW: Jim Dead & the Doubters – Pray for Rain (2015)

Multi-site review! For the other Jim Dead & the Doubters reviews, click below:

Scan_20160125JIM DEAD & THE DOUBTERS – Pray for Rain (2015 Jim Dead)

I like Jim Dead’s authentic dark slant on country and blues.  I don’t know how you get such a true slab of blues out of Scotland, but there is no lack of truth in Dead’s music.  With the Doubters he gives a full-on band experience, blues-rock with drums and electric twang, but nothing has changed.  Jim Dead still sounds wracked with all the pain and agony from past records, perhaps even more so.

A “Wooden Kimono” doesn’t sound like comfortable garb, but this song is anything but wooden.  It’s played on wooden instruments plugged in with electricity, and accompanied by Dead, telling it like it is.  “Wooden Kimono” is a swampy stomp; this gives way to “May the Road Rise”, a powerful moaner of riffs and wounds.  Jim Dead has never sounded better, truthfully, than he does baring his soul on “May the Road Rise”.  “Pray for Rain”, the title track, is a storm of rock power so just get swept up with it.


This is a rough mix — the album version sounds better.

The blues vibe comes across on “Holding the Line”, with some very nice guitar work up front.  A soaring chorus and some bluesy guitars are just what the doctor prescribed.  “Lovesick Blues” is heavy shit, grunged up and ready to take it to the next level.  “I’m sick of TV, I’m sick of me,” sings Dead with the anguish you expect, but with a Glenn Danzig howl.

As if to emphasize an LP side change, “Trains” fades in slowly and feels like a new start.  Jim Dead likes writing about trains.  I like that.  “Trains” is the opposite of “Lovesick Blues”; it’s a brief percussive tune that introduces the country twang of “Crows on the Wire”.  Sounding like an upbeat road tune, “Crows” reminds me of Blue Rodeo.  It defies you to stand still.  “Let it rain, let it snow,” sings Jim and this time we’ll agree to disagree.  “Home” then is ominous, with those big fat guitar tones you love, again sounding a bit like Greg Keelor’s work in Blue Rodeo.  “You Coulda Said” has one of the sweetest sounds in the whole wide world, that being a dirty slide guitar.  The final track is the quieter “I’m Not Lost”, also the name of a prior Jim Dead EP.  Call it the album epic, but at almost seven minutes it really does feel like a journey.  It starts somewhere and goes somewhere else.  That’s the key.

If you want something authentic and real to listen to, with the darkness and brightness of the real world, than look no further.  You must simply Pray for Rain, and get this CD.  This is the real thing; the genuine article.  You can buy Pray for Rain by clicking here.

4.5/5 stars

RIP B.B. King (1925-2015)

bbking
Rest in peace Riley B. King  (September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015).

Yesterday, blues legend B.B. King passed away at age 89, leaving a vacuum in the blues that can never be filled.  I’m not very good at writing these tributes, although my soul aches too.  Rather than write something about B.B., I thought instead I would share some of the memories from the WordPress community.  Please click the links below to see the tributes and memories of B.B. King.  If we try to remember, then the thrill will never be gone.

Aaron at Keeps Me Alive:
“I was fortunate to see B.B. in concert four times, over the years.”

Sarca at Caught Me Gaming:
“Now I must go on without him!”

Derek Kortepeter at MixolydianBlog:
“As a guitarist, I reflect on how he, along with many others like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, made my guitar style a possibility.”

#379: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides

THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER

This series is “twice as hard”!  Aaron at the KMA and myself are both taking a look at an old CD-R of Black Crowes B-sides, that he made for me umpteen years ago.  Enjoy!

Aaron:  Black Crowes B-Sides

IMG_20150318_174717

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#379: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides

Aaron has been a generous doner of Black Crowes music to Chez LeBrain for a long time now.  Witness, Record Store Tales Parts 260 and 262, in which he provided copies of the Crowes’ Sho’ Nuff box set, and the CD single for “Kicking My Heart Around”.  One of the most thoughtful items he ever gave me was a custom Crowes B-side CD, culled from his own library of tunes.  The Crowes have a lot of singles and rare tracks, and my collection is still to this day woefully incomplete.  The disc he made me covers a ton of songs that aren’t on albums.

There were quite a few tracks on this CD that I didn’t know the origin of.  I found out that the first three tracks are from the “By Your Side” CD single, which I still don’t own physically.  The opener, an acoustic version of “Horsehead” with a distorted lead vocal, is killer.  It sounds live in the studio, which to me is proof that you don’t have to spend weeks and months and years in the studio to make music.  “Horsehead” don’t need no frills.  “Grows A Rose” and “Peace Anyway” are from the same CD single, but sound more like the By Your Side album.  These are streamlined blues/rock tracks, but man “Grows A Rose” sure does smoke!  “Peace Anyway” is a soulful Crowes also-ran that could have been on the album as well.

“It Must Be Over” is from the “Kicking My Heart Around” single that Aaron gave me.  It’s a midtempo track much in the vein of the By Your Side album but not quite as catchy.  It’s a fine B-side though.  “You Don’t Have to Go” is really strong, but it could use more of that organ from Eddie Harsch.

Back to the olden days, “Don’t Wake Me” is an ass-kicker with plenty of that juicy slide guitar. This track was later reissued on the remastered Shake Your Money Maker album; I don’t know where it was originally from.  For fans of that old Crowes sound before they really started to experiment, this is for you.  The acoustic version of “She Talks to Angels” is available on the same remaster.  It sounds like an old Stones ballad and it’s flawless in this incarnation.

“99 lbs” and the slow version of “Sting Me” are also available today on the Crowes remasters.  I can’t believe how much “99 lbs.” kick ass for a B-side.  I know it’s a blues cover, but that’s about all I know about this amazing steady rocking tune.  Steady until the end that is, where it speeds up to a breakneck pace.  “Sting Me” is one of those tracks that caused a huge battle between the brothers.  One of them liked the slow version as heard on my Aaron Mix, and one preferred the fast album version.  This resulted in one of those physical confrontations that involved a mike stand being used as a projectile.  (I prefer the fast.)

As a B-side from Three Snakes and One Charm, “Just Say You’re Sorry” is surprisingly catchy and straitghforward.  I love Rich’s watery sounding guitar tone.  “Mellow Down Easy” is from the same period, this being a Willie Dixon classic.  I don’t think the Crowes really did anything for it.  Either way, it’s on the remastered Three Snakes, although “Just Say You’re Sorry” is not.

“Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35” is a bit of a gimmicky joke cover as far as I’m concerned.  It comes from a pot compilation of some kind.  “Pimper’s Paradise”, a Bob Marley cover, is a more successful experiment.

Aaron closed his CD with four live tracks in a row:  all four are from Air studios in London, circa 1994.  The four tracks sample the first three Crowes albums quite splendidly.  “Remedy” in particular strikes me as awesome.  The vocal is completely different from the album version which was only two years old.  You can’t say the Crowes are content to leave things be.

Man, you just gotta give Aaron a 5/5 for making this CD.  What a guy!

Monday: QUIET RIOT – Metal Health
Tuesday: DANKO JONES – Born A Lion