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Oh Brother, This Is One Mighty Fine CD, Y’all!

4 Feb

JON DEE GRAHAM, FREEDY JOHNSTON
AND
SUSAN COWSILL
ARE THE HOBART BROTHERS & LIL’ SIS HOBART

Itinerant singer-songwriters unite to record album,
At Least We Have Each Other, due for late February 28 release

The moment I first heard about this collaboration I knew we were in for a major treat. And I’m happy it does not disappoint. In fact, it would be safe to say that this will become known as one of the best Americana releases of 2012. Certainly the critics will love it. All three contributors are highly accomplished in their own right. And each brings something unique to this highly enjoyable party.

Jon Dee Graham is perhaps the least well-known of the group. But he boasts an impressive resume and a loyal Texas following – most notably in the Austin area. Graham has played in bands like The Skunks and the True Believers and sports one of the most well-worn singing voices this side of Tom Waits. Freedy Johnston is an talented singer-songwriter who has released about a dozen CDs thru the years. You may recall his 1994 hit single, Bad Reputation. Susan Cowsill grew up in the music business as a member of the real life Partridge Family, The Cowsills. Their hits included everything from the sublime The Rain, The Park and Other Things to the ridiculously fun Hair. Susan has much more recently made some beautiful music with The Continental Drifters.

The opening track is a cracking number intitled Baby, Didn’t I Love You. Cowsill takes the lead vocal on this one and really shines as she pleads, “How could you leave me here on the track?” This is the obvious “single” on the CD, but the rest of the collection is hardly filler, trust me. Jon Dee follows with a swampy take on Why I Don’t Hunt. It has a a “Wooly Bully” chug to it with Cowsill providing some vocal sweetness to Graham’s down & dirty delivery.  The next track, Sweet Senorita, begins with a Neko Case-like wistfulness. Freedy gives this Latin-tinged piece the meloncholy treatment and succeeds. Susan again jumps in on harmony vocals — she is the glue here.

The 4th number, I Never Knew There Would Be You, is certainly one of the disc’s standout tracks. It is likely the most pop-oriented song included here. Cowsill’s lead vocal soars — at times reminding me of the clear as a  bell tones of the late Mama Cass Elliott. Yes, Susan is a child of the 6os and that influence is clear. The twin-guitar break is really sweet — only wish there was more of it. Track 6, Almost Dinnertime,  features Jon Dee doing his best Tom Waits’ growl, which is followed up by the dreamy Johnston vocal, I am Sorry.  

My First Day On The Job is catchy and humorous, but get the earmuffs out for the kids — some salty language on this one. It’s all about toiling in the not always glamorous restaurant industry, which all 3 of the band members have experienced at one time or another. Soda Pop Tree is just what you’d expect — sweet and cool. The disc closes with Jon Dee Graham singing over the slow yet steady jangle of The Dishwasher, another ode to his former food service career.  

Not a bad track can be found here, friends. What a terrific collection of songs and performances. As I mentioned, don’t be surprised if this CD turns up on many Best of 2012 lists. Let’s just hope this is not the last we hear from this trio. It is rare that 3 such diverse talents come together in such a winning way. Maybe they aren’t really blood relatives, but when they throw on the recording switch, they sure do sound like it.  

AUSTIN, Texas — Jon Dee Graham , Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill, united as the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart , will release their long-threatened debut album, At Least We Have Each Other, on Freedom Records in CD, LP and digital download formats, with a street date of February 28, 2012. A limited tour is planned for spring.

The ten-song LP/CD/download release comprises seven songs from the most recent band recording sessions, plus three from the first, drumless, demo sessions. With every purchase of any format of At Least We Have Each Other comes a free download of the entire demo-session set.

The three singer-songwriters got together in an Austin backyard one afternoon in 2010 to write songs about their early days (yes, even Sue) working in restaurants. They took the family name Hobart, after the dishwasher found in nearly every commercial kitchen, and began to reminisce.

Over the next couple of months, they put together ten songs about cooks and waitresses and dishwashers, but also songs about Mexican-American truck-drivers, pleasant dreams had while living in your car, the collapse of the Texas cotton market, despair on a pay phone, unread letters and, of course, love.

The Hobarts recruited Andrew DuPlantis, bassist from Jon Dee’s band the Fighting Cocks, and drummer Russ Broussard, husband and band-mate of Ms. Cowsill, and played SXSW 2011 to a tremendous response. The band then pursued a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of At Least We Have Each Other at Top Hat Studios in Austin.

The finished album provides a rare glimpse of what three unique and talented artists might come up with when they think no one else is listening. The songs were recorded live with one or two takes, and there is a resonant honesty and completeness to them.

About the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart:

Jon Dee Graham was named Austin Musician of the Year at SXSW in 2006. He was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame three times: as a solo artist in 2000, in 2008 as a member of the Skunks, and in 2009 as a member of the True Believers. Graham has released seven albums and was the subject of a DVD called Big Sweet Life: The Songs of Jon Dee Graham. In August 2008, Graham underwent emergency surgery after being injured in a one-car accident. His current album is aptly titled It’s Not As Bad As It Looks.

The New Yorker cited Freedy Johnston’s “finely wrought, melancholy character studies” as one of the calling cards of 2010’s critically acclaimed Rain on the City album, his twelfth. According to SPIN, “Johnston’s characters always make a deep impression.” He has been recording since 1990’s debut The Trouble Tree on Bar/None. In 1994 he hit with “Bad Reputation” from his Elektra album This Perfect World, and Rolling Stone named him “Songwriter of the Year.”

Susan Cowsill was born into show business as a member of the Cowsills, who hit with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” and “Hair” in the late ’60s. In the ’90s, she joined forces with Peter Holsapple and Vicki Peterson to form the Continental Drifters, and migrated from Los Angeles to New Orleans. In 2005 she released her first solo album, Just Believe It, concurrent with losing her brother Barry and her house to Hurricane Katrina. Her current album Lighthouse, called “an earthy, often crunchy folk-pop gem” by Rolling Stone, reflects upon these experiences and features guest spots from Peterson, Jackson Browne, and former Cowsills session player Waddy Wachtel.

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Moot Davis – “Man About Town” — and Country

4 Feb

New Jersey’s MOOT DAVIS deliversMAN ABOUT TOWN”

Davis enlists Sirius XM host Elizabeth Cook & Kenny Vaughan as guests on new CD.

I had never really heard of Moot Davis when this CD hit my mailbox.  The cover provided a few clues. My wife said Moot looked like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Chris Isaak. He sported a Blues Brother suit and cradled a Black/White Fender Telecaster in his lap. The CD was produced by Kenny Vaughan of the Marty Stuart Band and recorded and mixed by George “The Tone Chaperone” Bradfute. Many of you may remember Bradfute from his tour of duty with the fabulous Webb Wilder.

I popped the disc into my CD player and gave it spin. I was immediately struck by the Dwight Yoakam influence. No big surprise — especially given the fact that Davis’ first 2 CDs were done by Yoakam sidekick and Los Angeles guitar master Pete Anderson. Fans of Yoakam, Kelly Willis, Hank Williams, and Chris Isaak should enjoy this newest collection. It’s pretty straight forward country stuff.

Fade to Gold and Queensbury Rules are especially good. Rocket mixes things up a bit with something of a rhumba beat. Black & White Picture harks back to the South of the Border story songs made famous by the great Marty Robbins. The acoustic guitar pickin’ on this number is tastefully executed. Rust is a bouncy, bluesy, echo-laden romp. Memory Lane is perhaps the closest Moot comes to sounding like Chris Isaak, while Everybody’s Gal is one of those classic, roll up the carpet, fiddle-driven Texas two-step numbers.

Old Moot is not pulling any punches here, folks . Sure, he’s a Jersey Boy. But I don’t expect he watches a lot of “Jersey Shore.” He’s country through and through — and damn proud of it. So if that is where your tastes lie, come and get it.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — From Auckland to Austin to Nashville, New Jersey-based country musician Moot Davis took quite a journey to make his third CD, Man About Town, but it was certainly worth it. Davis describes his new release as the one he likes the most because “it wasn’t altered to suit anybody’s tastes but mine.”

Moot Davis burst onto the country music scene in the mid-2000s. With his self-titled debut, Davis delivered a set of timeless honky tonk that brought comparisons to Hank Williams Sr. Entertainment Today touted Davis as “primed to be the leader in the new insurgent country music scene.” The kudos continued for his second effort, Already Moved On, which about.com’s Kathy Coleman ranked as the Fourth Best Country Album of the Year, ahead of the likes of Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley.

Man About Town fulfills the promise of his earlier efforts while also expanding into new musical territory. Tracks like “Day the World Shook My Hand,” “How Long” and “Only You” should resonate with fans of his earlier, retro honky-tonk sound. “Queensbury Rules,” on the other hand, boasts a harder, rockier sound, while “Rust” mixes country twang with a funky beat. Davis wanted a change with this disc. “I didn’t want to make the same album again and again.”

In a sign of his artistic growth, Davis accomplishes several firsts on Man About Town. “Crazy in Love With You” stands as his first duet, with the delightful Elizabeth Cook serving as his singing partner. He also delivers his first murder ballad with “Black & White Picture,” a highly cinematic tale driven by Mexican-style guitar picking.

Davis populates this CD with a number of vivid character studies. The lead-off track, “Rags to Rhinestones,” is a prime example of his storytelling talents. In this classic honky-tonk number, a musician goes from “rented rooms to mansion homes” only to squander it all and wind up being kicked “out of bars on Lower Broadway.” The tune came together for Davis after his buddy, musician Dave Gleason, told him of a successful country musician whose life and career veered off course. Davis became intrigued by the idea of “someone who rises to a certain level and then just dive-bombs.”

The song’s Nashville references reflect the fact that this album is the first one Davis recorded in Music City. (His first two, released on Little Dog Records, were done with the esteemed producer Pete Anderson in Los Angeles.) The ace players on Man About Town are from Marty Stuart’s band: guitarist Kenny Vaughan, who served as producer; pedal and lap steel player Chris Scruggs; drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin. Also featured is fiddler Hank Singer, who plays with George Jones. These guys, according to Davis, are “all serious players but they are all regular guys too.” He describes the sessions as “one of those things where everything comes together. It’s kinda rare.”

Man About Town marks a return to recording after a short hiatus as Davis extricated himself from his Little Dog contract. A bit disillusioned with the music business, he travelled to New Zealand to do some acting. There, he says, “I fell back in love with music” and started writing songs again on an acoustic guitar. He next moved to Austin, bought a Telecaster and continued working on his tunes. The music evolved even more upon his return to New Jersey, where he played with some local guys. “They’d rehearse for hours with me, just kicking songs around. It was kind of like a therapy session.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Davis actually was more into classic rock than country. In fact, he sparked to traditional country from an unusual source: a TV ad. In his early 20s, he heard Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in a Pepsi ad and, in Davis’ words, “it just got my antenna going.” He immersed himself in the music of Hank Sr., Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce and others from the golden era of honky tonk. This music inspired him to learn to play an acoustic guitar and start writing songs.

A major turning point came for him when he wrote the song “Whiskey Town.” When he played it for other people and saw their reactions, Davis recalls, “I knew I was onto something.” Within a year of writing that tune, he had moved to Nashville and a year later he was flying to L.A. to record with Pete Anderson. “Whiskey Town” also landed a spot on the Crash soundtrack — the first of now nearly 20 song placements that Davis has had over the years, from movies like The Hills Have Eyes to TV shows such as Criminal Minds.

Man About Town also is the first album on Davis’ his own record label, Highway Kind Records. He started the label with Paul W. Reed, a Texas businessman who is a huge Davis fan. Davis marvels how this friendship developed and evolved into a business relationship too. “He really had some guts to help get this going,” Davis admits, adding, “I find it’s always better to be in charge of your own destiny.” Davis feels the current music scene has created a leveled playing field that allows the opportunity to achieve the American Dream if you work hard enough and have some talent. “Every success is a victory,” he exclaims — and with this new album, Moot Davis should have many more victories in his future.

www.mootdavis.com
twitter: @mootdavis

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Frank Sinatra’s “Best of Vegas” — I’m All In!

31 Jan

A new Sinatra release is always a cause for celebration. That is especially true when you’re talking about LIVE recordings. Better yet if the live material includes performances from the ’50s and ’60s (my favorite era of Frank’s stellar career). The first 9 tracks on this collection fall into that friendly territory. The initial 3 tunes (following the introduction) were recorded at The Sands in 1961 — ring a ding ding! Tracks 5-9 are even better, thanks to the participation of conductor Quincy Jones and the amazing Count Basie Orchestra.

The music swings throughout this 17-track live collection and boasts several 1980’s performances captured at Caesar’s Palace and the Golden Nugget. Nuggets found here include Pennies from Heaven and New York New York. Have the earmuffs ready as Old Blue Eyes employs some salty language during his sometimes lengthy and always engaging between song stage patter. Hey, Frankie had some great pipes … but he wasn’t exactly a choir boy.

In the span of a few years, Las Vegas refueled Frank Sinatra’s career and Sinatra in turn became the lead figure in the city’s ascendance. It was a synergistic relationship that has since become legendary in the annals of 20th century entertainment.

Some of the finest moments in that legendary symbiosis are captured in Frank Sinatra: Best of Vegas, a series of live recordings presented by Concord Records. The 14-song set, under license from Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE), captures Sinatra in concert at the Sands, Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas between 1961 and 1987. The collection is a distillation of highlights from Sinatra: Vegas, the five-disc boxed set (4 CD/1 DVD) of live recordings released by Reprise Records in 2006.

 

“From his debut at the Desert Inn in September 1951, no entertainer was ever more synonymous with the city of Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra,” says Charles Pignone, author of The Sinatra Treasures, in his comprehensive liner notes to the Best of Vegas CD. “It has been said that next to legalized gambling, nothing has been more beneficial and profitable to Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra.”

All the Sinatra classics are here, performed live before adoring crowds at some of the most prestigious venues in the history of Vegas. “The Lady Is a Tramp” (The Sands, 1961); “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (The Sands, 1966); “All or Nothing at All” (Caesars Palace, 1982); “Pennies From Heaven” (The Golden Nugget, 1987); and of course, the “Theme From New York, New York” (Caesars Palace, 1982) are just some of the gems in the Best of Vegas collection. 

“If you were in Las Vegas at the same time as Sinatra, there was nothing else that could compare,” says Pignone. “Even when the entertainment in town was changing from headliners to magic and production shows, Sinatra was still the ‘main event.'”

Or in the words of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, Sinatra was “the destination’s most enduring icon, an inimitable original who was influential in shaping Las Vegas’ image and entertainment scene.”

Sinatra returned to Vegas in December with the opening of Sinatra Dance With Me, at the Wynn Las Vegas. Conceived, choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, Sinatra Dance With Me features original recorded masters of Frank Sinatra with a big band and 14 of the world’s finest dancers.

www.sinatrafamily.com

STAX unveils “Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan in Session” CD/DVD Package

27 Oct

While there is no denying the immeasurable debt that modern blues and rock musicians owe to T-Bone Walker, the first bluesman to plug a guitar into an amplifier, and to B.B. King, who added sustained feedback and more to Walker’s innovations, Albert King was clearly the most influential blues guitar stylist from the mid-1960s on. Born April 25, 1923, Albert had begun his career as B.B. King disciple and, for a time, even claimed to be B.B.’s brother. (Both men were born in Indianola, Mississippi.)

By the time Albert signed with Stax Records in 1966, however, he had developed a highly personal guitar style marked by economical, rhythmically propulsive single-note lines and a razor-sharp tone produced by picking with his left thumb while bending wildly with his right fingers on the strings of a right-handed Flying V guitar turned upside down and tuned to an open E minor chord. His ground-breaking, soul-imbued recordings for the Memphis record company from 1966 to 1973 defined the state of modern blues during that period and had a vast impact on guitar players on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only did Albert’s signature style alter the approaches of such already established blues guitarists as Otis Rush and Albert Collins, but it had a tremendous impact on younger players like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and particularly Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Stevie was born (October 3, 1954) and raised in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, the same part of town in which T-Bone had grown up decades earlier. Stevie idolized Albert. Even before he was in his teens, Stevie had been captivated by the Mississippi guitar masher’s torrid tone, incisive phrasing, even the rocket-like shape of Albert’s instrument. The boy had other musical heroes–most notably older brother Jimmie Vaughan, as well as Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix–but it was Albert’s influence that would remain the most pervasive throughout Stevie’s career.

One of 13 children, Albert was raised by his mother in Forrest City, Arkansas. His first “guitar” consisted of a wire nailed to the wall of his house; he picked it with a bottle. Later, he bought an acoustic guitar for $1.25 and eventually graduated to an electric model purchased for $125 at a pawnshop in Little Rock. After practicing for a few years, he began sitting in around Osceola, Arkansas with a group called Yancey’s Band. “They learned me my chords and what key was what,” Albert recalled 1983. “I didn’t know but two or three songs.”

Driving a bulldozer during the day, Albert soon formed his own band, the In the Groove Boys. “I learned ‘em those three songs that I knew,” he explained with a chuckle, “and we’d play ‘em fast, slow, and medium, but we got over.”

After singing gospel with the Harmony Kings in South Bend, Indiana and playing drums for Jimmy Reed in Gary, Albert made his first record, “Bad Luck Blues,” for the Parrot label in Chicago in 1953. The title proved prophetic, however, and he returned to Osceola for a while, then settled in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he began recording for Bobbin in 1959. He scored his first national hit, “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” two years later on the Cincinnati-based King label.

Albert didn’t return to the charts until 1966, when his Stax recording of “Laundromat Blues” became one of that year’s biggest blues hits. The innovative melding of Albert’s dry, husky baritone voice and incendiary lead guitar with the Memphis firm’s crack rhythm and horn sections brought blues into the soul era. His seminal Stax singles, which also included “Crosscut Saw” and “Born Under a Bad Sign,” were initially bought primarily by African Americans. With the introduction of “underground” FM radio in 1967, Albert began attracting white listeners—who had been primed by Eric Clapton’s incorporation of Albert’s licks and even entire solos into his popular sides with Cream—in increasingly large numbers. His 1968 debut at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium solidified his crossover following. “People had been waiting to hear me play a long time before I even showed my face out there,” recalled Albert, who remained until his death one of the few blues artists to consistently attract substantial numbers of both black and white fans.

At the In Session taping, 60-year-old Albert ruled over the proceedings like a benevolent father, retaining control while allowing his 29-year-old guest loads of solo space in which to display his awesome command of the electric guitar. Stevie avoided flaunting his prowess, however, and instead delivered some of the most deliciously restrained playing of his career, laying back when his mentor dictated, turning up the heat only when Albert deemed it appropriate. The interplay between the two blues masters is uncannily empathetic, and Albert’s fans will find special pleasure in hearing him play rhythm parts at such length. At one point between tunes, Albert complained about problems with his guitar strings, then told Stevie, “I’m about ready to turn it over to you…. I’ve got to sit back and watch you.”

Albert was, in a sense, passing the torch to Stevie. The following month, in January 1984, Albert and his band traveled to Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California to record I’m in a Phone Booth, Baby. It would be his final album. He never did retire from the road, however, and continued touring until his death from a massive heart attack in Memphis on December 21, 1992. Albert was 69 and had enjoyed a full life in the blues.

Stevie wasn’t as fortunate. At the height of his career, on August 27, 1990, he was killed in a helicopter crash at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. He was 35.

In Session is the only known recording of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan performing together. Its long-overdue commercial release stands as a fitting tribute to the genius of two of the greatest musicians ever to have played the blues on electric guitar.

Albert King died December 21, 1992.

New Stuff from Marty, Neil and Harry

29 Sep

Marty Stuart continues to crank out classic country in the honky tonk tradition.

Neil Young is aging, but he still likes his music LOUD! Just ask Daniel Lanois.

Harry Nilsson is finally getting his due with his very own documentary.

Undiscovered Ray Charles Masters are Released by Concord Records

24 Sep

Concord Records is celebrating the 80th birthday of the legendary Ray Charles with a special gift for his legions of fans: Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters. This treasure trove of newly discovered recordings, highlighted by a duet with fellow icon Johnny Cash, will become available on October 26th, 2010.

Culled from four decades worth of demos and other previously unreleased material, Rare Genius showcases the remarkable artistic vision, stylistic range and emotionally rich vocals that crafted Charles enduring legacy. Listening to the ten gems from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that comprise this CD, fans will have no trouble envisioning the late singer rocking back and forth at the piano as he effortlessly segues between R&B/soul, pop, country and gospel. “Ray would always get inside the meaning of a lyric and make the listener believe every word,” says Concord Music Group Chief Creative Officer, John Burk. “His vocals carried incredible emotion and intensity, even on demo tapes. What we have here with Rare Genius is on par with some of his greatest works.”

And that’s crystal clear right from the album’s sparkling opener, “Love’s Gonna Bite You Back.” The March 1980 session track features an upbeat horn arrangement behind what Rare Genius liner notes author Bill Dahl calls “a Charles vocal that’s a signature mixture of sandpaper grit and heavenly goodness.” Up next is the stunning ballad “It Hurts to Be in Love,” which underscores the album’s main thematic focus and one of Charles’ favorite subjects: the ups and down of romance. Another compelling standout is the gospel-stirred Charles and Cash duet on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord?” Discovered in the Sony vaults, the song was produced by Billy Sherrill in Nashville and recorded in 1981 for an anticipated release on a CBS album. For unknown reasons, that didn’t come to pass. What’s more important, however, is the emotional charge you get listening to these two powerful voices come together in this spirited and inspired pairing.

Except for “Lord,” the nine other Rare Genius tracks including the soul-drenched “I Don’t Want No One But You,” a blues-infused cover of songwriter Hank Cochran’s country classic “A Little Bitty Tear” and the joyous “I’m Gonna Keep on Singin'” were found in the vault at Charles’ R.P.M. International Studios in Los Angeles. Adding a little sweetening to some of the sparse, stripped-down tracks was a team of top-notch musicians and artists: guitarists Keb’ Mo’ and George Doering, organist Bobby Sparks, trumpeter Gray Grant, trombonist Alan Kaplan, bassists Trey Henry and Chuck Berghofer, drummers Gregg Field and Ray Brinker and background vocalist Eric Benet.

As with its Concord predecessor, 2004’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year Genius Loves Company, Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters is another fitting tribute to Charles, who would have turned 80 on September 23, 2010. It’s a fresh, vibrant reaffirmation of the music icon’s unparalleled artistry and legacy.

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/albums/Rare-Genius-The-Undiscovered-Masters/

Title Track Highlights New Richard Barone CD

21 Aug

RICHARD BARONE IS BACK WITH TONY VISCONTI-PRODUCED NEW ALBUM, GLOW, ON BAR NONE RECORDS, OUT SEPTEMBER 14, 2010

Bongos frontman, author and Tiny Tim producer features co-writes with Paul Williams (yes, that Paul Williams) and Jill Sobule

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Glow, the new album from Richard Barone, frontman of cult faves the Bongos, is a sonic delight, like a lost solo Beatle album from a glam-rock future-world. After taking a break from performing to produce others and write a book Barone is back, working with producer Tony Visconti (along with Steve Addabbo, Jill Sobule and others). Glow indeed glows with songs like “Gravity’s Pull,” “Yet Another Midnight” and a captivating cover of T. Rex’s “Girl.” The king of chamber pop shines on this stunning new addition to his catalog. The recording on Bar/None Records will ship on September 14, 2010.

The album started as a somewhat casual collaboration between Barone and Visconti. Richard had wanted to work with Tony ever since scheduling conflicts prevented the latter from producing the Bongos’ major label debut. Most of Glow’s tracks were written in the studio; some, like “Girl,” came together very quickly and others, like “Sanctified,” became elaborate Visconti productions. The album utilizes lots of vintage synthesizers and obscure music-making devices that Tony had accumulated from working on sessions with Brian Eno, David Bowie, T. Rex and others.

Glow also features state-of-the-art gear that Barone picked up through his close collaboration with Gibson Guitars, including the Digital Les Paul guitar. Each string has the ability to be recorded on its own individual track. The title tune was written when Richard stopped by producer Steve Addabbo’s studio to pick up a hard drive and showed him the prototype instrument. “Walking through Manhattan, I started hearing the arpeggio chords of ‘Glow’ in my head,” says Barone, “Then some words and a melody became attached, set to the rhythm of my walking. When I got to the studio, I couldn’t wait to show Steve the guitar, plug it in and demonstrate the possibilities. I started playing ‘Glow’ and asked if we could record it. It was amazing how quickly it came together.”

Amid the high-tech studio recordings Glow also has some lo-fi parts that just sounded right in sequence. Garageband-generated “Radio Silence,” recorded at home on a laptop, comes off as a Euro-Vision style four-on-the-floor classic. The Paul Williams co-written “Silence Is Our Song” is from a live radio broadcast on New York WFUV-FM DJ Vin Scelsa’s “Idiot’s Delight” program.

How did Barone end up writing with the guy who gave us such pop radio classics as “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “We’ve Only Just Begun?” Did you know Williams wrote the B Side to Tiny Tim’s “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”? Richard did. He met Williams at a tribute show and the two writers from different eras immediately hit it off. After a number of delays Richard made it out to Paul’s house in California and an all-day marathon writing session ensued. “I started strumming chords as he circled his living room spouting phrases I quickly jotted down on a yellow legal pad. We wrote like that all day,” he says.

Another frequent Barone collaborator is Jill Sobule. Among other songs, Barone co-wrote “Bitter” for her album Pink Pearl and Sobule returned the favor on “Odd Girl Out.” The song tells the true story of a lesbian teen in the pre-Stonewall days of the West Village. This time Richard scribbled down lyrics while Sobule strummed.

Barone was born and raised in Tampa, Fla. He actually was a DJ at the age of seven on a local Top 40 station and as a teenager befriended and produced Tiny Tim, who was performing in the area. In 1977 he hitched a ride to New York with the Monkees touring backup group (CBGB stalwarts the Laughing Dogs) and lived in a small room in their practice loft as he attempted to take on the big city. This and many other tales can be read in his memoir Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth, his how-to-be-an-entertainer guide as well as a gimlet-eyed autobiography.

After moving over the East and Hudson rivers Barone found himself in Hoboken, N.J., where Steve Fallon was just opening the famed music venue Maxwell’s; the club maintains its status as the last of the metro area’s ’70s nightspots. Along with the likes of the Feelies, the dB’s and the Individuals, the Bongos put Hoboken on the map as a place where young musicians could get a start. Many would come from all over the USA to place roots in the metro area’s pre-Williamsburg indie-rock capital. The New York Times asked, “Is there a musician more deserving of the moniker Man About Town than Richard Barone?”

The Bongos were the first group from the Hoboken scene to get signed to a major label — on the strength of Drums Along the Hudson, an album that featured a top CMJ Radio single “Mambo Sun” (Barone’s first Bolan cover) as well as “In the Congo” and “The Bulrushes.” The group became a favorite in the emerging college rock circuit and toured the U.S. and Europe sharing bills with the likes of the B-52s and R.E.M. Their song “Numbers With Wings” became a favorite in the early days of MTV. The Bongos released two albums and an EP and left an unfinished album for Island Records called Phantom Train. In 2007 the group reunited for the Hoboken Music and Arts Festival and were given the key to the city by the mayor for their pioneering pop.

Barone would go on to make many solo albums including the much lauded Cool Blue Halo that found him experimenting with the cello playing of Jane Scarpantoni while delivering his songs in a chamber-pop setting.

In the last decade Barone has worn many hats, writing with others and producing large musical events. Moby recently got involved with a re-mix of the Bongos classic track “Bulrushes.” And the B-52s’ Fred Schneider has tapped him to produce, arrange and co-write on numerous occasions. Tom Moon on NPR said, “Barone knows the alchemic formula for converting an everyday thought into a powerful refrain.” Now he moves on with Glow, a singular burst of optimism with the power of a sunset and the sunrise that follows.

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Stan Ridgeway Still Shines on “Neon Mirage”

25 Jul

I have always loved and promoted the music of Stan Ridgeway — from his IRS years with Wall of Voodoo to his countless solo and soundtrack recordings. It’s pretty hard to believe it’s been about 30 years since “Mexican Radio” first hit the airwaves. And judging from his latest CD “Neon Mirage,” Stan still has the knack for strong storytelling framed by atmospheric sonic imagery.

“Big Green Tree” opens this effort in winning fashion. Strumming acoustic guitars and a haunting blues harp are followed by a wistful Ridgeway vocal. It’s tone is vaguely reminiscent of a big screen Western. All in all a fine opening track.

“This Town Called Fate” is more familiar ground for Stan. It offers up a chugging “Camouflage” beat accented by big Marlboro man guitars. “Desert of Dreams” sports a soft Bossa Nova sound that would make Stan Getz proud. “Turn a Blind Eye” is a bit darker — almost Tom Waits’ dark. Good though … really good. It’s one of the CD’s highlights, thanks in large part to the precise interplay between a wispy flute and a honking tenor sax.     

“Flag Up on a Pole” is another standout cut. I really dig the funky reggae beat and scratchy guitar riff that pervades this track. It is further accented by a light, Doors-like organ and Ridgeway’s bold, echo-enriched blowing. “Scavenger Blues” sounds like a pure Chicago blues. Tasty rhumba drum notes and a searing electric Otis Rush-style guitar solo dig deep with truly satisfying results.

The CD closes with an instrumental (title track “Neon Mirage”) that could easily be claimed by both surf guitar and spy soundtrack afficianados. It’s a fitting way to wrap up another fine effort from an unheralded master of his craft. Let’s just hope that Stan Ridgeway continues to “do that voodoo that he do so well.”      

Former Wall of Voodoo frontman is flanked by Dave Alvin,
Pietra Wexstun, Ralph Carney, Rick King and the late Amy Farris

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — “You never really have a choice about the tone and subject matter of the records you make,” confides veteran L.A. singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway about his new album, Neon Mirage. “At least I don’t. They’re obsessions, really. Things happen, good and bad. And for most people, the passing of a parent or a close friend has an impact. It’s really about the music, and how it heals the mind. The records I grew up with still inform me, and the best were like an inner journey — mixing up blues, jazz, pop and country to make something fresh and, in the end, positive. But you can’t ignore the darker side of things, either.”

Stan Ridgway’s Neon Mirage, due for August 24, 2010 release, is arguably the most emotionally revealing, musically far-ranging — dare we say mature? — album of the L.A. singer-songwriter’s accomplished career. Yet it’s also a project whose troubled circumstances might tempt Stan to paraphrase John Lennon’s familiar wisdom: Life is what happens when you’re busy making another album.

Indeed, in many ways Neon Mirage can’t help but feel like an elegy to the colleague and family Stan lost in the midst of writing and recording its dozen, typically eclectic songs: gifted Texas-born violinist/session player Amy Farris; a beloved uncle; and the man who helped forge the very foundations of Ridgway’s unique outlook on life and music, his own father. “Events like that can’t help but have an impact on the music you’re making at the time,” Stan admits. “You’d be lying to yourself — and your listeners — if you thought otherwise.”

Ridgway quickly sets the album’s tone with a warm, accomplished recasting of “Big Green Tree” from Black Diamond (his forceful 1996 debut as an independent) produced by Dave Alvin. The L.A. roots rock legend reinvents it here in a gentler, more hopeful ethos around Ridgway and his longtime keyboardist/collaborator Pietra Wexstun, with Brett Simmons on upright bass and Amy Farris, then a member of Alvin’s own Guilty Women ensemble, on violin. Alvin had heard Stan perform the song solo at a special show for mutual friend and fellow songwriting legend Peter Case, and early sessions also yielded Neon Mirage’s memorable, Alvin-produced cover of Bob Dylan’s elegy to his own fallen hero, “Lenny Bruce.”

Ridgeway’s biggest hit with Wall of Voodoo was “Mexican Radio”

It’s an album in which Ridgway’s familiar wise-guy wit and cinematic lyricism are further tempered by an ever-inquisitive mindset that ranges from the haunting, candid introspection of “Behind the Mask” to an effusive, wistful tribute to lost friends and the Nashville of record producer Owen Bradley, “Wandering Star.” Elsewhere, Neon Mirage centers around more impressionistic takes on the toll patriotism extracts from its warriors (“Flag Up On a Pole”), the reality of being closer to the end of life’s rich pageant than its beginning (“Halfway There”) and the human propensity for myopia in the face of looming catastrophe (“Turn a Blind a Eye”).

Yet, as the foreboding and darkly loping guitar lines of “This Town Called Fate” and the album’s infectious instrumental title track attest, Ridgway’s new songs are also graced by the inventive musicality and unique viewpoint his fans have become well acquainted with since his early days as the driving force behind L.A.’s favorite ’80s experimentalists, Wall of Voodoo. But while the album’s expressive baritone and deft harmonica flourishes are instantly familiar, Stan employs them here on an ever-restless musical odyssey. Ridgway expands an already impressive musical palette via Wexstun’s always intriguing keyboard melodies and textures, the masterful sax, flute and woodwind work of Ralph Carney, the deft acoustic and electric guitar lines of longtime band mate Rick King and the rich symphonic string orchestrations of Amy Farris.

“I’ve probably confused people with my music, my choices, the albums and the changes in direction from year to year,” Ridgway admits. “But I can’t help it. That term ‘eclectic’ fits me perfectly and there are just too many musical styles and songwriters and singers I enjoy to just involve myself in only one type of music. I try to bring all the things I love into the sound. There’s a weird old American jukebox in my head and it still plays everything that’s ever got under my skin.”

Stan is quick to note where his often-mischievous musical curiosity came from: “Your parents’ record collection can be a big influence growing up. Something you thought was corny has a way of hangin’ on if it’s good to begin with. My dad was a big fan of country & western music, comedy records, hi-fi playboy stereo lounge stuff. Hank Williams, Dean Martin, Ernest Tubb, Sinatra, Johnny Cash of course, Allan Sherman, Charlie Rich, Patsy Cline, and Marty Robbins — all of the great originals. I learned to love the singing, the stories, and even when my tastes in music grew far too weird for my dad, we could still come together on those old records we loved and listened to together. The old western myths of heroes and villains and storytelling of Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was an important one. And I never would have thought of covering ‘Ring of Fire’ with Wall of Voodoo without my dad’s influence in the beginning.”

Ridgway also credits his father with informing much of the wry personal/musical viewpoint that’s always been central to his songwriting. “A sense of humor is important in handling the disappointments in life,” Stan notes. “My father taught me that, too. Along with a strong work ethic. A certain type of ‘black humor’ helps put a light on the darker realities of living and let’s you get above them by making a joke about it. But it wasn’t a cynic’s view, more of a frustrated romantic’s perspective over a developed sarcasm about the way things really are and not how they seem to appear.”

Stan explains: “In the last few years in his 80s, he always knew my mother and all of us right up until the end. But memory could sometimes be sketchy for Dad. Even so, he never lost who he was or his love, loyalty and dedication to family and working hard in life to achieve results. Or the hard won values of his generation and what they’d sacrificed to achieve for a greater good. All the great adventures he’d had, the global travel and work, the grand victories he’d experienced along the way were never lost to him. And he recalled them all in great detail with pride and a singular sense of humor. And us there with him.” Ridgway’s father passed in December 2009.

But while Ridgway had long girded himself for his father’s passing, he admits the suicidal death of brilliant violinist Amy Farris in the midst of Neon Mirage’s sessions felt “abrupt and brutal.” When Amy phoned him to cancel an upcoming appearance with his band because she wasn’t feeling well, Ridgway assured her it was no problem, saying, “‘health is everything.’ But that weekend she took her life,” he recalls sadly. “Possibly even the night we were on stage at McCabe’s. Dave (Alvin) called me Monday morning with the news and I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. But mental illness and depression are like any other illness, and Amy struggled from childhood with them.”

“Drive, She Said” was perhaps Stan’s biggest solo hit

Despite the troubled times it was recorded in, Ridgway insists Neon Mirage represents something even more personal than the sum of its songs to him. “It’s as much a journey as a destination,” Stan says of his music. “If I don’t try and create something of my own, I just feel that I’m hangin’ on a corner waiting for someone to tell me what to think and do. It’s a mad society. But the best therapy for me is always creativity and invention. And a dedication to the people and things you love. Most people live their lives upside down and backwards, only jumping in when the consensus says it’s safe. That’s just human nature — who doesn’t want to be safe? But is that really possible?”

“Camouflage” is another memorable cut from Ridgeway

www.stanridgeway.com

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