Big Apple Blues – Live At O’Flaherty’s (2012)

FrontCover1Big Apple Blues is a New York City-based collective of NYC-blues scene veterans. Band members have shared the stage with some of the all time blues & roots greats: Hugh Pool, NYC-Blues-of-Famer (Chris Whitley, Government Mule, Levon Helm, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Canned Heat), guitarist Zach Zunis (Lester Butler & Red Devils, William Clark, Rick Holmstrom, Ronnie Earl, Janiva Magness), harmonica wizard Anthony Kane (Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Kane Brothers), drummer Barry “Baron of the Blues” Harrison (Johny and Shamekia Copeland, Saron Cranshaw, Steve Guyger), bassist Admir “Dr Blues” Hadzic (NY Blues of Famer Hugh Pool, Mason Casey, James Wormorth, Sim Cain, Jason Ricci) and Hammond B3 master himself – James Alfredson.

If you want to hear how Big Apple Blues really sounds live and uninhibited, this is a must have album. Recorded in a small NYC club using only a stereo microphone into 1970’s Ampegs half-inch tape recorder by one of the most revered NYC studio engineers, Hugh Pool, no overdubs or additional takes. If you were at O’Flaherty’s that night this is the energy you would have heard. Tracks range from Chicago blues grinders to Texas shuffles to jump swing propelled by time machine, Barry Harrison, and flavored by the incredible harmonica master, Anthony Kane. Zach Zunis’ signature guitar playing behind Kane’s harmonica should be made obligatory listening for all budding blues guitarists.

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Fourth album by New York’s TOP blues cats whose previous album (Big Apple Blues: “Brooklyn Blues”, StoneToneRecords, Inc) was voted # 10 out of 100 best recent blues releases by Real Blues Magazine. “Live at O’Flaherty’s” captures raucous, sweltering, energy-oozing live performance of Big Apple Blues in a NYC club. To top it off, the CD was recorded unlike any other album in the last 3 decades – using old school, brutally revealing ½” vintage 70’s stereo Ampex tape recorder with virtually no postproduction. The result is – Blues like it is meant to be – true to the bone and free of studio tricks! Turn up loud and enjoy!

Outstanding blues band in such a great record music quality! Inspiring photos not only from their gigs. That’s a must and a master of the eternal blues sound! Unmissable !!! (Sixcilian Mzwel)

Oh yes … a must for every Blues-Rock fan …  !!!

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Personnel:
Admir  “Dr. Blues” (*) Hadžić (bass)
Baron Harrison (drums, vocals on 10.)
Anthony Kane (vocals, harmonica)
Zach Zunis (guitar)

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Tracklist:
01. Slammer (Hadžić/Harrison/Kane/Zunis) 5.17
02. How Long Can A Bell Ring (Murphy) 6.05
03. Brooklyn Swamp (Hadžić/Harrison/Kane/Zunis) 6.02
04. Zach’s Mood (Hadžić/Harrison/Kane/Zunis) 5.31
05. Black Night (Fulson) 7.14
06. Chitlins Con Carne (Burrell) 5.55
07. Cleo’s Mood (Walker) 4.18
08. Come Back Baby (I Wish You Would) (Arnold) 5.31
09. Midtown Blowout (Hadžić/Harrison/Kane/Zunis) 5.19
10. Walk Right Up To Me Baby (Brown) 4.27

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(*) Admir  “Dr. Blues” Hadžić is a  real doctor …

Doctor

… and a real good bass player, too:

Bassplayer

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Ry Cooder – Election Special (2012)

FrontCover1Election Special is the 2012 fifteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ry Cooder. After his 2011 album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, Cooder continued writing topical and storyline-inspired songs. Displeased with the Republican Party and its financial supporters, he also wanted to write an album that would address listeners during the United States presidential election of 2012, which he believed to be a critical event in the country’s history. Election Special was recorded mostly at Drive-By Studios in North Hollywood and produced by Cooder.

Election Special is an American roots and blues rock album of protest songs with music characterized by upbeat melodies, simple instrumentation, and sparse arrangements. Cooder played all of the instruments, including bass, guitar, and mandolin, with the exception of drums by his son Joachim. A deeply political album, it expands on the socio-political musings and current event topics of Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down with forthright, satirical lyrics and song-form vignettes. Cooder’s songwriting exhibits liberal and populist sentiments and draws on older musical sources such as broadside ballads and country blues.

Election Special was released by Perro Verde Records and Nonesuch Records on August 16, 2012, one week before the 2012 Republican National Convention. It received generally positive reviews from critics, who complimented its topical protest songs and Cooder’s musicianship. The album peaked at number 164 on the Billboard 200 chart in the US, but charted significantly higher in other countries. Cooder did not tour in promotion of the album, citing a lost interest in both playing large concert venues and the commercial aspect of releasing records.

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In 2011, Cooder recorded Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down after being inspired by a headline about bankers and other affluent people profiting from bank bailouts and the resulting recession during the late-2000s. Released in August to critical acclaim, it showcased Cooder’s return to his early work’s musical style and told topical stories about political and social corruption, various economic victims, and an emerging class war. With the album finished, Cooder had developed a penchant for writing such songs and wanted to continue writing more storyline-inspired songs. A month after the album’s release, Cooder had his first short-story collection, Los Angeles Stories, published by City Lights Bookstore. In June 2012, he joined Time political columnist Joe Klein on the latter’s road trip across the United States, speaking out to people in towns about the state of the nation and its forthcoming presidential election in 2012.

I have to find little storylines. I have to have something I can play and sing, in some style or some instrumental point of view – a country tune or a blues tune – updating these things that I grew up listening to … it seemed that the more I did it, the better I got at it, like anything. It’s an acting job. You put yourself into the spirit of the thing, the character of the thing. (Ry Cooder)

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With Election Special, Cooder wanted to write an album with direct lyrics and encourage urgency in listeners during the US presidential election of 2012. He felt that the election season was “the time of decision in this country … the most critical time in the history of the country”. When asked about concerns over “preaching to the choir”, Cooder said in an interview for the Los Angeles Times, “I thought I should have a record that says, ‘This here record is for you during election time.’ Rather than be vague and poetic, let’s just call this what it is. That way I may get people’s attention. That’s the idea.” Cooder drew on music he grew up listening to such as Depression-era songs and sought to appropriate contemporary subject matter to them. When writing the album, he also touched on the Occupy movement, which he felt optimistic about, saying that “There’s a sign of something. Those people are having conversations, and the conversations become issues and the issues become talked about. Pretty soon, the rest of the world picks up on it, even the politicians.”

Cooder’s displeasure with the Republican Party and its financial supporters, particularly the Koch Brothers, also inspired his songwriting. He found the party to be “insanely dangerous” to Barack Obama’s presidency and the US, and said of them in an interview for The Guardian, “in case anybody thinks Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin are clowns because they misspeak or don’t know their history or they say silly things: that’s just an act, and it’s a useful act. Everything is a distraction from the core truths which are, first of all, that corporations have taken over the country.” He viewed that his songs for the album provide a more convenient alternative for citizens who do not research politicians, saying that “I don’t write books and give speeches but with a four-minute song you can use allegory and other means to suggest a different point of view. It’s like looking around the corner, and that’s what songs are good at sometimes. They hit you with a new thought – assuming that people will listen.”

Ry Cooder

Cooder recorded most of Election Special at Drive-By Studios, the living room of engineer Martin Pradler’s house in North Hollywood. Sessions also took place at Wireland Studios in Chatsworth, California. Pradler later mixed and mastered the album at both recording locations. The album was produced entirely by Cooder. He performed most of the album himself, playing bass, guitar, and mandolin. His son Joachim contributed on drums, and session musician Arnold McCuller sung harmony vocals on the song “Take Your Hands off It”. At Drive-By Studios, Cooder recorded songs in a series of unrehearsed, single-take performances, which he felt helped him channel the songs’ respective characters more efficiently. He later said of his approach to developing the songs, “The way I think these songs can work is if you don’t ponder over it too hard, because the tunes wanna have a spontaneous-combustion effect. What I want to do is get a certain attitude in the voice, and I can only do that once. By take two, I’m startin’ to think about it. By take three, I’m startin’ to map it out – it’s gone. It’s spoiled, y’see? So I need to get through this fast.” He first recorded the song “The Wall Street Part of Town” in November 2011. On June 7, 2012, the album’s release was announced for a date in August, intended to be a week before the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Election Special is an American roots and blues rock album of protest songs. It is characterized by upbeat melodies, simple instrumentation, and swinging, sparse arrangements. Music journalist Robin Denselow describes Election Special as “musically … very much a DIY album,” while Matt Snow of Mojo compares Cooder to Tom Waits as a “gloves-off DIY soundscapist in wood, steel, and string.” The album’s music also incorporates folk, roots rock, and, most prominently, blues styles. Music writers compare the album’s mix of folk and blues styles to Cooder’s earlier, distinguishing albums. Zeth Lundy of the Boston Phoenix characterizes Cooder as a “Keith Richards/Woody Guthrie hybrid” on Election Special.

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The deeply political album expands on the socio-political musings of Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down. Cooder’s forthright lyrics exhibit satire, dark humor, and bitter, apprehensive feelings about current events, including Guantanamo Bay, the Occupy movement, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Barack Obama’s plight as US President, and the election of 2012. He addresses these topics through song-form vignettes, which express his anti-Republican party perspective. Cooder’s songwriting also reappropriates lyrics from older musical sources, including protest songs, broadside ballads, and country blues. Nick Coleman of The Independent describes it as “heartfelt and unencumbered with musicological pedantry”, while the newspaper’s Andy Gill comments that Cooder “employs demotic” language and “variations of the blues … to carry his broadsides.” Jeff Schwager of PopMatters cites Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie as influences on Cooder’s songcraft for the album.

Music writers characterize Cooder’s sentiments and political stance on the album as liberal and populist. Joseph Jon Lanthier of Slant Magazine observes “liberal convictions” and a “bleeding heart” in his lyrics, which he says express “reductive sympathy for President Obama and suspicions that fat cats are perverting the Bill of Rights”. Music essayist Robert Christgau writes that Cooder “reappl[ies] the Popular Front mindset to the messy compromises of electoral politics, and all the must-hears illuminate the 2012 presidential election rather than merely referencing it”. Bud Scoppa of Uncut calls the album “an impassioned screed against the dumbing down of America” and comments that Cooder eschews conventional “preaching” for “three-dimensional characters whose beliefs and opinions span the political spectrum of America in 2012.”

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“Mutt Romney Blues” is a three-chord, acoustic Delta blues song.[3][12] Drawing parallels between the Mitt Romney dog incident and his political “plans and schemes”,[19] the song criticizes Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and is sung from the perspective of the Romney family’s dog. Cooder was inspired by Al Sharpton’s quote “how he treated his dog tells you a lot about him”, and found the dog to be “a useful character … when you view it in the light of the blues. Like a servant, a yardman, someone very low in the social order. He’s just begging to be let down [from the car roof].”[25] Bud Scoppa of Uncut characterizes the song as “the musical equivalent of a political cartoon”.[4] “Brother Is Gone” is poignantly styled as a sad folktale and features a haunting mandolin riff, a rueful tone, and wounded vocals. Its lyrics attribute the conservative Koch Brothers to the Deal with the Devil myth, which Cooder adapted from Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues”. The lyrics cite their “crossroads” as “the prairie town of Wichita”, where Koch Industries is headquartered. He said in an interview that “the only logical explanation for the Brothers I could come up with is, they made their deal at the crossroads with Satan.” AllMusic’s Thom Jurek cites it as “among the finest songs [Cooder]’s written.”

“The Wall Street Part of Town” incorporates mandolin, Americana guitar riffs, and offers encouragement to protesters. Literary journalist Alec Wilkinson writes that the song’s narrator is “looking for refuge in the part of town where the wind always blows at your back and the ground tilts in your favor.” “Guantanamo” features cascading guitar by Cooder and handclaps. The song is about the nadir of human depravity. A slow, 12-bar blues lament, “Cold Cold Feeling” features juke joint, bottleneck guitar, and lyrics placing Barack Obama as the narrator singing his blues in the White House.Cooder meant to draw sympathy from listeners for Barack Obama.[6] Geoff Cowart of musicOMH draws similarities of the song to “the voodoo blues of Screaming Jay Hawkins”. “Going to Tampa” is a string band country song in Alla breve meter. Using scathing humor and burlesque lyrical elements, the song’s farcical lyrics depict a fictional hijacking of the 2012 Republican National Convention by the Tea Party, as Cooder accuses both parties of racism and social engineering.

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Titled after the “drinking the Kool-Aid” metaphor,[10] “Kool-Aid” has a dark electric blues style, noir musical vibes, and lyrics about the politically misguided lower middle class who support Republican tax cuts for the rich.[19] The song’s narrative follows a young American who accepts the Bush administration’s pro-war stance, heads off to a foreign land willing to fight any person of color, and returns to his home jobless.[4] According to writer James C. McKinley, Jr., the song continues a theme Cooder established on Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down: “the idea of poor whites who have been let down by the politicians they have supported.” It also paraphrases the lyrics to the Western swing standard “Cocaine Blues”, and touches on the controversial stand-your-ground law,[16] which Cooder viewed as “new Jim Crow laws – the stand-your-ground law is already responsible for about 80 shooting deaths of African Americans.” “The 90 and the 9” repurposes the gospel hymn of the same name and the worker songs of Joe Hill with apocalyptic themes, an anti-war narrative, and a depiction of modern union workers as part of the lower 99% of income distribution in the US. Cooder was inspired to write the song by military recruitment of high schoolers in his native Los Angeles. “Take Your Hands off It” has a defiant tone, prominent guitar, and lyrics that rousingly defend constitutional rights.

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Cooder released “The Wall Street Part of Town” as a free download on November 21, 2011. The song, which he wrote in support of the Occupy movement, was also aired that month on Democracy Now! and Jon Wiener’s radio show on KPFK in Los Angeles. After reading her article on Larry McCarthy’s affiliation with the pro-Romney Restore Our Future group, Cooder sent “Going to Tampa” to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker in February 2012; the song makes reference to McCarthy’s Willie Horton ad during the 1988 presidential campaign. Mayer subsequently posted the song on SoundCloud and the magazine’s website on February 10. Cooder also sent “Mutt Romney Blues” to Brave New Films, who subsequently produced a music video for the song. Released virally on February 17, the video features clips of Romney and a cartoonish depiction of the 1983 incident with his dog, who is in a car rooftop carrier singing the song.

Prior to the album’s release, Cooder played a union hall in San Francisco for a longshoremen’s union, which according to him, “got every turn of phrase. They’d never heard of me before or any of my records, but they understood all of these lyric things immediately. Because they’ve been educated in the union, you know what I mean? Because they lived it.” On October 14, Cooder performed at This Land Is Your Land, a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in tribute to Woody Guthrie. Cooder did not tour in promotion of Election Special, as the Kennedy Center was his last show.[40] In an interview for The Strand at the time, he expressed disinterest in playing larger concert venues for the album, finding them more suitable for “fame” purposes rather than spreading a political message. Cooder remarked on the album’s potential with listeners in general in an interview for Uncut, saying that:

“Who can say anymore? We’re talking about an arcane pursuit. I mean, making records, are you kidding me? Some people would say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I would say that it’s the only thing I like to do. I’m finally where I’d like to be in my ability. It only took fucking forever, 60-odd years of trying to get good at this, for God’s sakes. So what else would I do, whether or not people ever hear it or buy it? When I get ’em, I give ’em away to people. I know they’re not gonna buy the damn things. But we’ll see.”

Election Special charted at number 164 on the US Billboard 200, on which it spent one week. It was Cooder’s fourth-highest charting album in the US. It attained higher charting in other countries. In the United Kingdom, the album debuted at number 41 on the UK Albums Chart, and at number five on the Official Record Store Chart. It also debuted at number 25 on the Scottish Albums Chart. Election Special reached its highest position in Norway, where it peaked at number nine. It has charted for four weeks and reached number 28 in the Netherlands. (by wikipedia)

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The risk in writing political songs, especially about specific issues and historical periods, is that over time, those that are run of the mill become dated. Not everyone can write timeless tunes like Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, and Bob Marley. Given the content of Election Special, Ry Cooder knew the risks going in and welcomed them. Using American traditional musics — raw blues, folk, and roots rock — Cooder’s songs express what he considers to be, as both an artist and a pissed-off citizen, the high-stakes historical gamble of the 2012 presidential and congressional contest. He wrote and recorded this album as a witness to the era. Other than drums (played by his son Joachim) and some backing vocals, Cooder plays everything here. He uses foreboding acoustic blues in “Mutt Romney Blues” (written from the point of view of the candidate Mitt Romney’s dog). The more poignant “Brother Is Gone” is at first blush a seemingly heart-wrenching folk tale fueled by Cooder’s mandolin. Yet it slowly and purposely relates a deal-with-the-devil fantasy about conservatives Charles and David Koch.

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It’s among the finest songs he’s written. But Cooder rocks up his anger too: “Guantanamo” is a raucous barroom strut. “Cold Cold Feeling” is a deep, slow garage blues that’s chilling in its effectiveness. His screed is a link in a chain of political blues tunes that date back to the Delta. “Going to Tampa” is a cut-time string band country tune. It’s a farce about the 2012 Republican National Convention as hijacked by the Tea Party. He accuses both of outright racism and social engineering, with scathing humor. The album’s finest cut is the dark, Delta-style electric blues of “Kool-Aid,” which recalls Junior Kimbrough musically. Guthrie’s own spirit is evoked in the antiwar narrative “The 90 and the 9,” with its singalong choruses. Election Special closes with a scorching, rocking blues entitled “Take Your Hands Off It.” It’s a militant anthem that demands that the Constitution and Bill of Rights be returned to their rightful place at the heart of mainstream American life. Sure enough, because of its soapbox style, Election Special is the most overtly political album of Cooder’s career. As such, it serves two purposes: one is that it is the most organic record he’s issued in almost two decades; and, more importantly, it restores topical protest music to a bona fide place in American cultural life. (by Thom Jurek)

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Personnel:
Joachim Cooder (drums)
Ry Cooder (guitar, bass, guitar, mandolin, vocals)
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Arnold McCuller (background vocals on 09.)

Tracklist:
01. Mutt Romney Blues 3.45
02. Brother Is Gone 5.03
03. The Wall Street Part Of Town 3.43
04. Guantanamo 3:29
05. Cold Cold Feeling 5:.26
06. Going To Tampa 3.58
07. Kool-Aid 4.10
08. The 90 And The 9 5.16
09. Take Your Hands Off It  3.48

All songs were written by Ry Cooder
except 09., written by Joachim Cooder and Ry Cooder

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Take Your Hands Off It

 

 

Ashes Remain – Christmas (2012)

FrontCover1Ashes Remain is an American Christian rock band, formed in 2001 and based in Baltimore, Maryland. The band was founded by Josh Smith and Ryan Nalepa. While they released two albums in their first six years, the band is popularly known for its third album, What I’ve Become, which was released in 2011. They have released four albums, Lose the Alibis (2003), Last Day Breathing (2007), What I’ve Become (2011), and Let the Light In (2017), two EPs, Red Devotion (2009) and Christmas EP (2012) and two non-album singles, “Separated” (2004) and “Here For a Reason” (2014).

Ashes Remain is from Baltimore, Maryland, where Josh Smith of Florida and Ryan Nalepa met at a summer youth camp during worship services. They prayed about forming a band, which they did when the opportunity arose for Smith to become worship leader at a church. This church was just minutes from Nalepa’s home, so this facilitated the band’s creation. The other members of the band, which comprised Rob Tahan, Jonathan Hively and Ben Kirk, were not added until some years later. In the summer of 2003, Ashes Remain released their first independent record, Lose the Alibis. According to the band, the album moved around 2,000 copies in one year.

On August 2, 2003, the band announced on their official website that they competed and won the “Philadelphia Regional Christian Artist Talent Search 2003”. Later on, they went to Charlotte, NC for the next round of competition on September 24, 2003.

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On February 17, 2004, Ashes Remain stated on their website that they will be interviewed on February 29, on Baltimore’s 98 Rock. On March 13, 2004, they stated on their website that their live DVD had gone into post production, and they had already started working on their second album.

On September 4, 2004, bass guitar player Ben Ogden left the group, and hand-picked Jon Hively as the band’s new bassist before leaving. Lose the Alibis was followed by Last Day Breathing on March 13, 2007 and the Red Devotion EP on July 22, 2009. In early 2010, Ashes Remain signed with Fair Trade Services. Ashes Remain has been together for ten years as of 2011.[1] Their album What I’ve Become was made “from the perspective of feeling like there’s no hope but finding out that there really is.”[2] The band feels that the “journey from dark to light isn’t overnight and sometimes has to be traveled many times, but it’s a journey the band is familiar with and feels called to travel with its fans.”[2] They have widespread appeal and their songs are played on CCM and Christian Rock and Rap stations around the country. Ashes Remain toured with Fireflight on the Stay Close Tour in early 2012.

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On November 14, the band announced their release of their Christmas EP on Facebook, which was released on November 20. They announced that the song off of the album “Gift Of Love” will be the band’s new single and was available for free download on December 12.

“All of Me”, was released on August 15, 2017.

Let the Light In was released through BEC Recordings on October 27, 2017. (by wikipedia)

I really like the original Christmas music on this album. True to form, Ashes Remain’s songs are grounded in the Word and they sing with a passion that you seldom hear. I highly recommend this album if you are looking for an album with original Christmas music that celebrates the True Reason for Christmas! (Vicki Williamson)

And I was surprised, how powerful this album is … sounds like a soft version of post-grunge.

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Personnel:
Jon Hively (bass, background vocals)
Ben Kirk (drums, percussion)
Ryan Nalepa (guitar)
Josh Smith (vocals)
Rob Tahan (lead guitar, background vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Joy To The World 2:56
02. Gift Of Love 3:58
03. O Holy Night 4:27
04. Room For A King 4:17
05.Christmas Medley 3:52

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Madeleine Peyroux – The Blue Room (2012)

FrontCover1.jpgWhen Ray Charles’s Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music was released in the summer of 1962, it caused quite a stir. For those of us who already worshipped Ray Charles and were initially exposed to the album through its first single “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the massive, very white choir that sang the first lines of the song made us cringe. It convinced us that our idol had sold out to the major label mentality. To purists with a tendency toward musical genre profiling, Ray Charles had no business giving credibility to redneck hillbilly music.

This wasn’t the first time Ray Charles had crossed the line in his pursuit of a natural fusion of the music he heard growing up. He dipped into boogie woogie for “The Mess Around.” But when he blended country blues and urbane rhythm & blues with Gospel music in mid-fifties hits like “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” and “I Got A Woman,” he added blasphemy to his list of crimes against humanity. Now he wanted to cross the color line with the music of the deep South. Clearly, he didn’t know his place.

Oh yeah, then there was the general public who came out in droves to make Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music Ray Charles’s most successful album to date rather than his most controversial. After all, genius is half talent and half impeccable instincts and Ray Charles was a genius. By September, he was in the studio cutting Volume 2. And everyone came around. The second single from the album was “You Don’t Know Me,” an eight-year-old song by Canadian country singer Eddy Arnold, who delivered the original version in his unemotive, plaintive style. Ray Charles, on the other hand, elevated it to its status of instant standard with a raw, poignant, heart-breaking reading.

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What we all eventually realized in hindsight was that this album, like no other Ray Charles recording before it, represented an artistic freedom that most recording artists over the past fifty years have routinely enjoyed. Nobody wanted Ray Charles to sing country & western songs… except Ray Charles. When he reluctantly left Atlantic Records where his musical artistry and style emerged and took shape, he signed a revolutionary recording contract with ABC-Paramount in 1960 where he retained artistic control of his sessions and ownership of his masters. It was unprecedented and a major blow to the label system that foisted bad songs and mediocre arrangers on singers in search of the almighty hit. In the process, he used his artistry and genius to break down musical categories and barriers and legitimize cross-pollinating, genre-bending music.

A year later, the ‘60s (the era, not the decade) began in earnest with the assassination of Medgar Evers and Governor George Wallace’s attempt to block the entrance of two black students at the University of Alabama in June, the Civil Rights March On Washington in August, the church bombing in Birmingham which killed four children in September and the assassination of President Kennedy in November. A succession of assassinations, protests, abuses of authority and riots defined the next seven years as race, war and class divided a country. Bob Dylan articulated our outrage and Ray Charles healed our wounds and fed our souls. Oh yeah, 1963 was also the year that Billboard combined its mono album and stereo album charts. Heavy stuff.

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By the time Larry Klein discovered Modern Sounds, he was 12 and it was 6. Modern Sounds was already a classic and its hits were golden oldies. By that time, the massive white choir didn’t sound so alien; it had just become an ingredient in the final work.

Larry found himself revisiting the album frequently over the next four decades.

In an inspired moment, he thought a re-examination of this album would be an ideal project for Madeleine Peyroux because “she comes from the same places – jazz, country and blues.” His concept was in no way intended to replicate the instrumentation or arrangements or style or sequence of the original album. Trying to beat Ray Charles at his own game is the true definition of “Born To Lose.”

Georgia-born and Brooklyn and Paris-bred with a New Orleans pedigree, Madeleine Peyroux grew up in a household rich in Southern culture and yet vehemently against the ignorance and racism associated with that region. Born in 1974, her childhood home was filled with the sounds of Fats Domino, Fats Waller, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Buddy Holly to name a few. “Ray Charles was a part of that mix and an important one,” she explains, “but I never knew that album per se. I knew many of the songs as part of anthologies alongside tunes like “Georgia On My Mind” and “Hit The Road, Jack.” But Ray Charles had a huge impact on me and even more so when I moved to Paris at age 11 because those American artists were so much more revered there than they were in the United States in the ‘80s.”

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Madeleine is an artist whose sensibility and eclectic musical mix make for magnificent story-telling. And the songs that Ray Charles chose for Modern Sounds are, above all, stories. Wisely, Madeleine felt that the infusion of newer but like-minded material was essential to this project and gems like Warren Zevon’s “Desparadoes Under The Eaves” and Randy Newman’s “Guilty” attest to her impeccable instincts, as does the resurrection of a wonderful and obscure Buddy Holly song “Changing All Those Changes.”

Larry Goldings, Dean Parks, David Piltch and Jay Bellerose form the group that provides the spare, tasteful backing arranged by Larry Klein for each song. Vince Mendoza’s string arrangements on six tracks are beautiful, unpredictable and perfectly appropriate to the tone and mood of each song. If there is a direct musical link to Ray Charles, it’s Goldings’s soulful, in-the-pocket keyboard work with the same kind of perfectly placed notes and use of space that were part of Charles’s signature.

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Larry Klein is a producer who knows his artists well and creates hand-tailored environments that suit them perfectly. When Madeleine takes “Bye Bye Love” slower than usual or “Take These Chains” faster than most, these are not decisions of style, but fundamental choices in her approach to the material. This is an album of music that is letter-perfect but coursing with blood, and it is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. And like the Ray Charles album to which it pays homage, it reinvents everything it touches. (Michael Cuscuna)

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Personnel:
Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion)
Larry Goldings (keyboards)
Dean Parks (guitar, pedal steel-guitar)
Madeleine Peyroux (vocals, guitar)
David Piltch (bass)
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John “Scrapper” Sneider (trumpet on 04. + 09.)

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Tracklist:
01. Take These Chains From My Heart (Rose/Heath) 3.12
02. Bye Bye Love (F.Bryant/B.Bryant) 3.28
03. Changing All Those Changes (Holly) 3.10
04. Born To Lose (Brown) 4.27
05. Guilty (Newman) 3.51
06. Bird On The Wire (Cohen) 5.37
07. I Can’t Stop Loving You (Gibson) 4.18
08. Gentle On My Mind (Hartford) 6.42
09. You Don’t Know Me (Walker/Arnold) 4.01
10. Desperadoes Under The Eaves (Zevon) 4.18

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Blackberry Smoke – The Whippoorwill (2012)

FrontCover1The Whippoorwill is the third studio album by American southern/country rock band Blackberry Smoke. It was released on August 14, 2012 through Southern Ground Records in the North America and on February 17, 2014 through Earache Records in Europe. The latter contained three additional live tracks; “Country Side of Life”, “Pretty Little Lie” and “Six Ways to Sunday”. (by wikipedia)

Atlanta, Georgia’s Blackberry Smoke does upward of 250 shows a year, relentlessly crossing and re-crossing the various club, bar, and festival circuits, and the group’s classic Southern rock sound, which recalls bands like the Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd, has been honed to a sharp edge by the constant playing. This is a solid band with a good rhythm section in bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner, a stand-out keyboardist in Brandon Still, and plenty of electric guitar work from Paul Jackson and lead singer Charlie Starr. Starr’s voice is really what makes Blackberry Smoke more than a Southern rock nostalgia act, though. He’s a country singer with a rock attitude and heart, and when the song’s good, and the band’s on board, this is a top-tier group who merge country and rock so seamlessly that it’s both at once.

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There are several very good songs on The Whippoorwill, the band’s debut for Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label, including the chugging “Six Ways to Sunday,” which opens the set, the tell-it-straight-like-it-is small town anti-anthem “One Horse Town” (which sounds like Steve Earle in his heyday), and the cranky, defiant, and determined “Leave a Scar,” any of which deserve to be in regular rotation on contemporary country stations, but probably won’t be because they sound more like Muscle Shoals productions than they do Nashville. Think Steve Earle fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd. Great stuff, ragged and real, and yes, there are a lot of cliché stances and phrases woven into these songs, but Starr’s voice and this band’s loose yet crisp playing style pulls it all off more often than not. (by Steve Leggett)

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The second coming of Lynyrd Skynyrd… with some Black Crows, Allman Brothers and ZZ Top tossed in for good measure. An amazing album with no filler songs. I can listen to this from start to finish again and again. (Tim Pickering)

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Personnel:
Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals)
Charlie Starr (vocals, guitar, pedal steel-guitar banjo)
Brandon Still (keyboards)
Brit Turner (drums, percussion)
Richard Turner (bass, vocals)
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Clay Cook (percussion, harmonium on 04)
Matt Mangano (guitar on 04)
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background vocals:
Maureen Murphy – Lo Carter – Kyla Jade (on 03.,09.,12.,13.)
Sarah Dugas (on 09.)
Arnold McCuller (on 06.,10.,13.)

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Tracklist:
01. Six Ways To Sunday (Starr) 3.27
02. Pretty Little Lie (Meadows/Starr) 3.35
03. Everybody Knows She’s Mine (Starr) 3.50
04. One Horse Town (Meadows/Spillman/Starr) 4.16
05. Ain’t Much Left Of Me (Murphy/Jackson/Starr/Still/B.Turner/R.Turner) 4.59
06. The Whippoorwill (Starr) 5.32
07. Lucky Seven (Meadows/Jackson/Starr/Still/B.Turner/R.Turner) 4.17
08. Crimson Moon (Brown/Mangano/Starr) 4.01
10. Ain’t Got The Blues (Starr) 4.04
11. Sleeping Dogs (Kennedy/ackson/Starr/Still/B.Turner/R.Turner) 3.22
12. Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost (Starr) 3.46
13. Up The Road (Starr) 5.53

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Thanks a lot to the greygoose, a woman with a real great taste for good music !

Atomic String Quartet – Places (2012)

FrontCover1.jpgThis is the second album by the Polish Jazz string quartet called Atom String Quartet, comprising of violinists Mateusz Smoczynski and Dawid Lubowicz, violist Michal Zaborski and cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski, which introduced a novel and revolutionary concept on the local scene combining the Classical Chamber music tradition and Jazz. Following the debut album recorded live, this is their first studio effort and it includes ten pieces, with just one originating outside the quartet (Chick Corea’s “Spain”); the rest are all originals: four by Lenczowski, two by Zaborski, one each by Lubowicz and Smoczynski and the remaining one co-composed by Smoczynski and Lenczowski. The album was recorded at the Polish Radio studios in Warsaw and mastered by Jan Smoczynski at his Studio Tokarnia, as usual with spectacular sonic results.

Following the spectacular debut, which took the local scene by surprise, the approach on this album is quite different. This album is much more concentrated on the compositions rather that the virtuosic performances and the element of novelty which dominated its predecessor. The album presents a “concept” of the relationship between music and the place it originates from, trying to show the different and the similar at the same time. Therefore many folkloristic themes from all over Europe appear here as part of the milieu, including of course the beautiful Polish melancholy, which is omnipresent in music originating from Poland. This World Music tendency takes this album a bit further away from Jazz, at least conceptually.

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As expected, the individual performances are nothing short of sublime, and the entire album is a deeply moving listening experience. However, listeners familiar with their debut might miss the “spark” and “spontaneity”, which was so evident there and which were replaced here by careful planning, maturity and eloquent elegance. It is therefore almost impossible to compare these two albums, as they in fact present the different facets of the same group. Listeners longing for the lively approach of the debut will have to see the group live or perhaps wait for the next live recording.

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For me the most important and meaningful aspect of this album is the progress in the quality and strength of the compositions, which start to become identifiable with the ensemble, which of course is an important step forward. Once the quartet develops its true individual musical identity (overcoming the fact that the music comes form four individual members), they will reach the apex of their development.

For now we are presented with another excellent album by one of the most intriguing music ensembles in contemporary music, which is definitely not only a great listening experience but also a victory of quality and intelligent music over our mundane “cultural” encounters in real life. Well done Gentlemen! (Adam Baruch)

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Personnel:
Dawid Lubowicz (violin)
Krzysztof Lenczowski (cello)
Mateusz Smoczynski (violin)
Michal Zaborski (viola)

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Tracklist:
01. Na Siedem (Lubowicz) 5.35
02. Irish Pub (Lenczowski) 5.13
03. Iława (Lenczowski) 7.28
04. Fugato & Allegrina (Lenczowski/Smoczyński) 6.30
05. Too Late (Zaborski) 6.40
06. LaTina (Lenczowski) 3.45
07. Spain (Corea) 5.29
08. Song for Mario (Lenczowski) 6.12
09. Zakopane (Smoczyński) 7.27
10. Fade Out (Zaborski) 5.42

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Rob Tognoni – Energy Red (2012)

FrontCover1Rob Tognoni and his guitar have been treading the stages worldwide for the past 35 years.

He has opened for the greats – Roy Buchanan, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s mentor Lonnie Mack, Joe Walsh from the Eagles, shared stages with Sting, ZZ Top, Bo Diddley. He has represented Australia at the Royal Wedding celebrations of Prince Frederik & Princess Mary of Denmark, performed for FIFA World Cup Football in Kaiserslautern, played from maximum security prisons in Australia to Mozart’s House in Vienna plus countless other experiences that have honed his skills.

Rob is originally from Tasmania, Australia and goes under the pseudonym of “The Tasmanian Devil”.

His style is fiery, energetic, inventive and explosive. His roots are from blues, blues rock & classic rock but also adding many other colours to the palate to give him his sound & uniqueness.

Rob is also energetic & physical on stage, a performer & not just a musician. Echos of Cream, Hendrix, BB King, AC/DC can be heard woven through his musical fabric.

20 albums over the past 22 years are to his credit through labels such as Provogue, Dixiefrog, Blues Boulevard coupled with countless, tireless tours.

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His shows are a true experience not to be missed. As written by a British journalist: “You have to admire Rob Tognoni’s stamina. He is able to sustain a ferocious pace, few could manage it…Perhaps his stamina is the consequence of 30 years conditioning. Perhaps it’s natural selection…” (Blues In Britian Magazine)

From Tasmania, Australia, Rob Tognoni delivers a 100% powerfully charged experience with every performance. After 30 years his explosive guitar playing and unique songs are now being compared with the greats of his genre and have firmly established him in the European venues & festivals as well as gaining many fans of hard blues rock worldwide. Her is the Rob’s new studio CD : “Energy Red” which contains 9 original tracks, as well as 4 covers from The Marshall Tucker Band, Crowded House, Rolling Stones & Australian bluesrock legends, Chain. A real boogie-rock oriented record, full of ideas and inventiveness! -(bluesweb.com)

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Personnel:
Mirko Kirch (drums)
Frank Lennartz (bass)
Rob Tognoni (guitar, vocals, percussion)
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Kel Robertson (keyboards)
Leigh Robertson (didgeridoo, percussion)

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Tracklist:
01. Take You Home Now (Tognoni) 5.41
02. Boogie Don’t Need No Rest (Tognoni) 4.05
03. Fire From Hell (Tognoni) 3.32
04. Someone To Love Me (Tognoni) 5.24
05. Don’t Love (Tognoni) 5.03
06. Queensland Heat (Tognoni) 4.04
07. Blue Butterfly (Seven Reasons) (Tognoni) 4.51
08. Can’t You See (Caldwell) 6.03
09. I Remember When I Was Young (Taylor) 4.47
10. As Tears Go By (Jagger/Richards/Oldham) 2.36
11. Better Be Home Soon (Finn) 2.41
12. So Fuckin’ Bored (Tognoni) 2.59
13. I Wanna Play An Iggy Pop Record Today (Tognoni) 2.31

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Oblivion Sun ‎– The High Places (2012)

FrontCover1Oblivion Sun hail from Maryland, USA and rose from the ashes of Happy The Man (HTM). Founding members Frank Wyatt (keyboards, sax) and Stanley Whitaker (guitars, vocals) started this band in 2006 together with Bill Plummer (keyboards), Dave DeMarco (bass guitar) and Chris Mack (drums). Their eponymous debut album has been released in 2007. Now five years later they finally recorded a successor.

On The High Places their second keyboardist Bill Plummer has left the band. As a result you might expect that the music on this album sounds differently, or in any case more guitar-orientated than their first CD. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t; it depends on how you listen to the guitar and keyboard parts throughout the album, but I guess that’s a minor aspect as long as the songs are worth listening. And they surely are! The style of HTM can still be heard in the band’s compositions, but that seems logical to me. In the opening piece Deckard these influences are evident. This instrumental composition could have been taken from any of their albums. The drum patterns, the piano parts and the guitar riffs clearly tend towards the music of HTM.

On March Of The Mushroom Men, the second instrumental, the band shows to be capable of playing another type of music as well. This time the music refers to albums recorded by bands like Focus and Camel, mainly due to Whitaker’s melodic guitar parts. Sometimes his playing reminds me of Jan Akkerman’s or Andy Latimer’s playing. Whitaker proves to be a fine singer as well in Everything. This short ballad already appeared on the eponymous album recorded by another Whitaker-Wyatt project namely Pedal Giant Animals (2006). This rather short composition sounds like a track of Primary Elements from his other band Six Elements that contains musical elements from early Genesis and Cat Stevens. Next track Dead Sea Squirrels is the third instrumental piece on which the guitars sound rather heavy and a bit in the vein of the riff in Crazy Horses (The Osmonds). Fortunately the keyboards assure that this song holds enough prog rock sounds to keep you focussed till the end.

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The album ends with the title track. Having a playing time of 22 minutes it’s not only the longest track, but also the best one. It’s an adaptation of the old HTM piece Merlin Of The High Places from the Death’s Crown (1999) album. On this epic piece, which is divided into six chapters, they sound like a mixture of HTM and Genesis at the time of A Trick Of The Tail (1975). It’s mainly Whitaker’s voice and Wyatt’s playing on the acoustic piano, sounding like Phil Collins and Tony Banks respectively, which are responsible for this comparison. This piece also contains the best keyboard playing of the album; the synthesizer solo on the second chapter Awakening is just awesome! It makes you forget ex-HTM keyboardist Kit Watkins. After listening to this epic track I felt in a good mood and I realized that these musicians are still able to write superb compositions.

Of course Oblivion Sun aren’t HTM and The High Places isn’t an album like Crafty Hands (1978), but that doesn’t mean that the music of Oblivion Sun is less enjoyable. On the contrary! I’m inclined to say that people who cherished the music of HTM are obliged to listen to the music of Oblivion Sun! I’m certain that you won’t regret it; neither did I. The High Places contains music of a very high standard similar to the music of HTM! (by Henri Strik)

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Personnel:
Bill B. Brasso (drums)
David Hughes (bass)
Stanley Whitaker (vocals, guitar)
Frank Wyatt (keyboards, saxophone)

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Tracklist:
01. Deckard (Wyatt) 6.34
02. March Of The Mushroom Men (Whitaker) 3.38
03. Everything (Whitaker) 2.39
04. Dead Sea Squirrels (Whitaker) 6.35

The High Places (22,22)
05. My Eyes (Wyatt) 6.10
06. Awakening (Wyatt) 2.00
07. Flowers (Wyatt) 2.31
08. The Rules (Wyatt) 5.41
09. The Cage (Wyatt) 3.53
10. Our Eyes (Wyatt) 2.07

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Yasmin Levy – Libertad (2012)

FrontCover1.jpgArriving three years after Israeli singer Yasmin Levy’s previous album, Libertad exudes careful craft and consideration. She’s now including a greater ratio of original material, and these arrangements are very elaborate.

Much of this recording has an aura of intimate communication, yet its sound is considerably expanded, with contributions from The Strings Orchestra Istanbul. Producer Ben Mandelson harnesses these forces, fine-tuning them, and directs a further roster of guests.

Throughout, Levy refines her fusions. Flamenco is her foundation style, but across it she smears elements from Argentine tango and Portuguese fado. Three songs are delivered in Levy’s Ladino tongue, the rest in pure Spanish, but two are translations of songs from Turkey.

This might suggest that Libertad is something of a patchwork, but Levy and Mandelson have effectively squinted their eyes so that a single, cosmopolitan style prevails. It’s a canny move, as followers of flamenco, tango and fado tend to be gathered into a single camp, at least within the UK.

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The bulk of Libertad was recorded in Tel Aviv, with strings laid down in Istanbul. Levy’s father was Turkish, so this is a further exploration of her tangled roots. The core trio features acoustic guitar, upright bass and globally-aware percussion, but there are additional showcases for accordion, clarinet, trombone, flute, and more besides.

Levy’s delivery is characterised by a dramatic, emoting flair, but understated balance is provided by the measured moves of the band. The title track matches earthy cajón percussion with sleek strings. Flamenco is usually found fusing with Moroccan music, highlighting its own Andalusian roots, so it’s unusual to hear the disc’s Turkish or Persian flamenco mash-ups. But it all coheres in seamless fashion.

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The Spanish singer Buika guests on Olvidate de Mi, her smokier, huskier depth contrasting well with Levy’s voice. Aman Doktor features haunting spaces in the music, Levy’s voice poised carefully, awaiting the strings towards its conclusion.

Shoef K’mo Eved also has a different feel, slinking with sparing bass and guitar picking, with strings crowning the song once again. The orchestra makes an even bigger impact during La Rosa Enflorece, imposing a strong Turkish feel, and almost heading all the way down to Cairo.

A carefully crafted collection from the Israeli singer. (by Martin Longley)

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Personnel:
Itay Abramovitz (piano)
Itamar Doari (percussion)
Gilad Efrat (bass)
Yechiel Hasson (guitar)
Yasmin Levy (vocals)
Vitaly Podolsky (accordeon)
Amir Shahsar (ney, clarinet)
Shuky Shveiky (percussion)
Yair Slutzki (trombone)
Niv Toar (trumpet, flugelhorn)
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Concha Buika (vocals on 06.)

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Tracklist:
01. La Última Canción (Levy) 3.23
02. La Nave Del Olvido (Ramos) 4.05
03. Libertad (Levy) 4.08
04. Firuze (Gürel/Özdemiroğlu) 5.04
05. Tal Vez (Levy) 4.36
06. Olvídate De Mí (Levy) 6.03
07. Aman Doktor (Traditional) 3.58
08. Recuerdo (Soghati) (Heidari/Sarfaraz) 6.32
09. Skalerikas De Oro (Traditional) 3.56
10. Cada Dia (Hasson/Levy) 4.47
11. Shoef Kemo Eved (Gvirol/Traditional) 5.02
12. La Rosa Enflorece (Traditional) 2.55

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Chuck Leavell – Back To The Woods (2012)

FrontCover1.jpgChuck Leavell pays homage to the early pioneers of blues piano including Leroy Carr, Little Brother Montgomery, Otis Span, Ray Charles and others. Guest appearances by Keith Richards, John Mayer, Danny Barnes and more.:

Pianist and ace session player Chuck Leavell’s many fans consider him to be a true master of his instrument; his fills and solos possess imagination, lightning-quick twists and turns, imaginative chord voicings, and a very physical attack. His detractors claim he plays far too many notes and plays them loudly, that he cannot be a backing or ensemble player because he always has to stand out. One has to ask this question of the latter group: if these criticisms are accurate, would he be sought out by the Allman Brothers, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and the Black Crowes (just to name a few)? Back to the Woods: A Tribute to the Pioneers of Blues Piano is a fine collection of 15 standards from the greats of the blues piano canon, with tunes by Leroy Carr, Little Brother Montgomery, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, Charlie Spand, and Charlie Calhoun, among others.

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Leavell is backed by Chris Enghauser on upright bass and Louis Romanos on drums throughout, but there is a slew of well-known guests on the session to boot: Danny Barnes plays loads of guitar and banjo, Keith Richards and John Mayer each appear on a couple of tracks (both on Spann’s “Boots and Shoes”), and Randall Bramblett plays saxophone on a few more. Carr is obviously the muse here; five of his tunes are included in this mix, including “Mean Mistreater.” Other highlights include Barrelhouse Buck McFarland’s “I Got to Go Blues,” the title track authored by Spand, and the reimagined Skip James number “If You Haven’t Any Hay.” This is a spirited collection, played and recorded beautifully. If anything, perhaps it’s a bit too clean, but that’s a trifling. The set also includes song annotations by Leavell and a liner essay by blues historian Larry Cohn. (by Thom Jurek)

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Personnel:
Chris Enghauser (bass)
Chuck Leavell (piano, vocals)
Louis Romanos (drums, percussion)
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Danny Barnes (guitar on 04., 07., 13. + 14., banjo on 06., vocals on 13., tuba on 07. + 13.)
David Blackmon (violin on 08.)
Randall Bramblett (saxophone on 05., 10. + 11.)
Davis Causey (guitar on 04., 05., 10. + 11.)
Neal Fountain (guitar on 01., bass on 11.)
Col. Bruce Hampton (vocals on 08.)
John Mayer (guitar on 03. + 09.)
Tom Ryan (saxophone 0n 05. + 11.)
Keith Richards (guitar on 02. + 09.)
Candi Staton (vocals on 10. + 14.)

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Tracklist:
01. No Special Rider (Montgomery) 3.00
02. Evening Train (Carr) 4.10
03. Wish Me Well (Slim) 2.46
04. Low Down Dirty Dog (Carr) 4.24
05. Losing Hand (Calhoun) 3.46
06. Naptown Blues (Carr) 3.41
07. Back To the Woods (Spand) 5.22
08. I Got To Go Blues McFarland) 3.04
09. Boots And Shoes (Spann) 4.02
10. Mean Mistreater (Carr) 5.08
11. Southern Casey Jones (James) 3.39
12. If You Haven’t Any Hay (James) 2.50
13. Memphis Town (Carr) 3.46
14. The Blues Is All Wrong (Manning) 2.45
15. Vicksburg Blues (Montgomery) 3.21

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