Saturday, February 2, 2019

It's about that time of the new year, my top music picks from 2018....

Yea, I don't write to this blog all that much, but this entry is pretty much a top record choices from last year. As a rule, I always wait a month in to give myself a chance to look back, do some thinking, and some re-listening. Easy pickins' this year-by far hands down, Alejandro Escovedo was my fave, and the rest are in no particular order, just good stuff I've heard and really liked. There are a few standard favorites who can do no wrong in my book, but there are a few curve balls for you also....
When it came down to looking back, I realized I didn't probably listen to as much music as I normally do...been in the studio a good chunk of the year working on a new record with The Dirt Nappers, but overall, and looking back there were a bunch of good things that caught my ear.

I've also compiled a Spotify list of some songs- feel free to follow me and check it out-

Here we go:

Favorite/Best Of The Year:
Alejandro Escovedo-The Crossing
Alejandro Escovedo: The Crossing « American Songwriter
Timely, passionate and raw, this is a beautiful work of art, both musically, and in the design of the CD. Alejandro teamed up with Don Antonio, an Italian musician and his band and recorded a truly stunning piece of music here. There's an in-your-face-gut-punching delivery that Escovedo does SO well- one that echoes the desperation of people looking for asylum, looking for a new home, and willing to do anything they can to attain that. The stories of those who made it and continue to struggle and fight are here too, and given the current debacle of our current compassionless response to the immigration needs at the southern boarder, and the global refugee crisis, these song have an extra resonance and weight to them. The delivery of some of the songs is heart-wrenching- "Footsteps in the Shadows", "Texas is My Mother"- capture the desperation and the pound in your chest fear of being on the run. The punk-edged flavors of "Fury and Fire", and "Outlaw For You" get equally tempered by beautiful ballads like "Something Blue" and "Silver City". Not a bad note. Plenty of story. And a record that makes you think, feel, and wonder how we got so fucked up as human beings. Best line- "Come to think of it, the border crossed me, I  didn't cross it. And if you really want to think about it, you're the wetback- coming across the Atlantic." Well said, well delivered. This guy is at the top of his game. Someone needs to turn this into a stage production.

Other Top Picks In No Particular Random Order

Richard Thompson - 13 Rivers-
Richard Thompson Announces New Album '13 Rivers': Hear 2 ...
RT is back. After a few records that were somewhat meandering, -good, but not his best-, this new record leaps out of the speakers and reminds you why this guy's name is always on the guitar player's top guitar players of all time list. Back to a rock and roll vibe, with that traditional feel, Thompson is like cask strength bourbon- biting, smooth, and you just can't stop drinking it.

David Ford-Animal Spirits-
All events - The Joiners, Southampton
David Ford is one of the most under appreciated songwriters, performers and singers out there today. I'm not even sure if anyone played this record on American radio. Honestly, this reminds me a bit of a Tom Waits record- maybe a touch of Rain Dogs- but with Ford's unique sonic quality and sensibility. How can such a nice guy write such edgy tunes? A hard to find CD, but stream this record on Spotify. Again and again.

Ry Cooder-The Prodigal Son
Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son
 - Like Thompson, The Prodigal Son is a return to form for Cooder. I never miss a release, but the last few records haven't been for everyone. Ry teams up with son Joaquin, and the groove, feel and funk is there. Yea Terry Evans and Bobby King are there-God bless them. Yea Ry's playing is top notch. And yea, this album should be played loud. Kinda reminds me of Ry's "Get Rhythm"/"Borderline" releases a bit. The title track is a keeper, and the subtle delivery of "Living on Straight Street" is the definition of "laying back" but still delivering the soul......

Candi Staton - Unstoppable- 
Pop-Neuerscheinungen: Tanz den Apokalypsenporno! | ZEIT ONLINE
I wanna look that damn good in a leather outfit when I'm 79 years old. I know I won't be singing anywhere near this woman for sure. I'm a big fan of Mavis, but I'm sorry, Candi did a bit of schooling here -and she's sounding pretty damn amazing. Her past couple of records have been great, and while this one runs the risk of getting a bit preachy and syrupy, her delivery of the opening track, her heartfelt delivery of "What's So Funny...." and the overall energy of this record earned top marks in my book......glad this woman is unstoppable.

The Reverend Shawn Amos - Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down-
Review: The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down
Producer Shawn Amos's blues persona gives us a pretty interesting album. Some deep songs that wrestle with this country's race problems, some great production, and I love this guy's voice. This album also has a cover of Nick Lowe's tune- so good to see Nick able to generate a few royalty checks. In addition to Amos's own tunes, this record also has a killer version of the Bowie classic - "Jean Genie" - totally worth the price of admission alone.

Amy Helm - This Too Shall Light- 
Amy Helm: This Too Shall Light « American Songwriter
The title cut is hypnotic. The recording is impeccable. Helm sings with soul, sweetness and command. If I had to name a #2, this would be it. She also has an amazing ability to reinterpret songs- her version of "Mandolin Wind" is stunning. The Milk Carton Kids' "Michigan" gets totally owned by Helm. Years ago, Carlene Carter melted my heart. This year, Amy Helm stole it.

Sunflower Bean - Twentytwo In Blue-
Sunflower Bean – “Crisis Fest” | indieBrew.Net
Maybe it reminds me a bit of a Bangles album, maybe because the songs are hooky as hell, or maybe the extra bonus of some really great guitar playing caught my ear. A seriously fun powerpoprockandroll record capturing millennial angst without sounding like some weepy ass emo throwback album.

Jim James - Uniform Distortion-
My Morning Jacket’s Jim James announces solo album ...
James is in fine vocal form here, singing like only he can-and damn, what a wall of sound this record has......Big, booming, thick and fuzzy, but all wrapped around great songs. If you don't agree that "Throwback" is a great hook, go find a drawer at the local morgue.

Kim Ritchey-Edgeland-
Kim Richey Set To Release First New Album In Five Years ...
My favorite "songwriter" album of the year. She edged out Grant Lee Phillips by a hair. I don't have any of her other albums, but this one is a pretty good introduction to a brilliant songwriter. Straight ahead lyrics capturing everyday life ("Red Line"), getting old ("Chase Wild Horses"), and the best "I told you so-" song ("Pin A Rose"-one of my favorite songs of the year) are just a few of this collection's highlights.

Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Downey To Lubbock-
Dave Alvin + Jimmie Dale Gilmore Bio Page | Shore Fire Media
Dave Alvin has the thickest, ballsiest guitar tone I've heard since SRV. He roars, but roars with control, authority and in perfect harmony with Jimmie Dale, that you can feel and hear the camaraderie these two guys shared making this album. Chock full of great songs, "The Gardens" is a powerful standout.

Three random singles I didn't mind hearing over and over:
"Wide Awake"- by Parquet Courts- a bunch of knuckleheads from Brooklyn.
"Cheers"-Anderson.Paak collab with Q-Tip. The best hip-hop has to offer. This guy is great.
"Mr. Tillman"-Father John Misty-Warren Zevon couldn't have written a better ode to drunkeness.
(and of course, "She Moves Like A Mystery"-thrown in there for good measure!)

That's it.....I would say that is a pretty solid year in music. Go out and buy some music for yourself. You'll be glad you did. So will a musician.


Monday, July 16, 2018

A Few Memories, Sights and Sounds of Scotland -a real special place.

We tried to document a number of places we hit on our recent jaunt to Scotland on Instagram, but we figured we'd recap a few photo highlights and videos here.

Edinburgh, as we headed over to The Royal Mile Tavern for our first show, we stopped to take a picture that looks like an album cover.

The Royal Mile Tavern is right on the main drag, The Royal Mile, with numerous bars, music and food....basically an all day party. After we heard that the tavern had a reputation for serving great haggis, we went for it. Highly recommended.

Just a travel tip, when in Edinburgh, stop at The Southern Cross Cafe- 
--really friendly joint, great coffee, food and desserts. I think we ate there four times in three days.

Here’s our trusty tour bus….we never really knew what kind of car it was. and I’m sure once the car rental place in Edinburgh drops a new clutch in it, it will be fine…..and that burning smell will fade.

The Coach and Horses Tavern in Dumfries was your classic local pub. Heather tended a solid bar and kept the beers flowing all night- great crowd and one of the best collection of local band flyers plastered all over the walls. Great place to steal a band name.   Also, the men’s room was plastered with Beatles sheet music over the trough urinal. Kinda gave new meaning to the song “Yellow Submarine” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide- ‘cept for Me and My Monkey”

Mohr84 was located up in the hills- the foothills before you got the the classic Scottish Highlands. Our tour manager hooked us up with some very beautiful accommodations…..very spoiled little rock stars……these guys look like they are posing for a U2 cover band shot....

Our last night of playing music on this little journey was in a beautiful village called Moniave, which is about 15 miles outside of Dumfries. Just a classic town, with a fantastic pub/inn known as The Craigdarroch Hotel....Here's a few shots of us playing-sorry about the lame sound, we just propped an Ipad up on the piano.....Such a great place that Moniave, I left my heart in that town.

After we returned the PA to the rental company, and returned “Stinky”  the tour bus to Hertz, we spent the Sunday afternoon wandering around Edinburgh…..The city was a bit of a buzz because the Stones had played a killer show the night before, and Jagger was supposedly staying down the street from us, thought there never was an actual sighting. It was another beautiful day, and we wandered into this pub-Sandy Bells, where an amazing group of musicians were just sitting around playing. This looked like a scene out of the Waterboys retirement video, but we sat there for forty minutes or so just drinking beer and listening. Just a great bunch of players………and a great way to cap off a week in Scotland.

Here are some of the sights and sounds from the back room.

Thanks to the Kerr family for your amazing hospitality, thank you to The Royal Mile Tavern, Mhor84, The Coaches and Horses, and The Craigdarroch Hotel for having us, and thank you to everyone who came out and listened- we'll be back!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A drinker's guide to the best music of top 10 for your ears, along with appropriate pairings.

So much music, so little time…this year’s list feels a bit incomplete- there are so many records still on “my list” that I haven't gotten to yet-but I’ll let the year fade and draw the line, because I have to start tracking 2018…..But for now in no particular order, except for my "fave" mentioned below, here are  what I think are the best releases of the year (2017)….along with some drink suggestions for you.....just because!

To make it even easier, feel free to check out the Spotify playlist that features selections from each pick-

My fave for the year:
Product Details

Hurray for the Riff Raff- “The Navigator”-This is the record I kept coming back to to again and again this year. Spanning a host of musical genres, some great recording, and and a wealth of songwriting and story telling make for my favorite album of the year. Alynda Segarra’s songwriting captures a new kind of Americana- traditional sounds with a Latino infused beat that weaves a story that is more relevant now than ever before. The album has a sense of struggle, fight and hope to it- and it is a welcomed experience to track through a true “album”- a themed collection of songs with a story.
Put this one on, open a good rioja and take it in like a good book or movie.

Product Details

Ibibio Sound Machine-“Uyai”-My biggest live regret of the year was not catching these guys in NYC this past summer. This album erupts with a sense of energy and emotion that is impossible to ignore. The groove, the sonic composition, and the performance is impeccable- harkening back to blend of Fela meets Talking Heads. Cue a flashback to “Remain In Light”- If you only buy one “world music” record this year, this is the one. Killer cuts- “Give Me a Reason” and “The Pot is On Fire”…but the whole record sways. Go for it.
Could possibly pair this with a serious rum, or if the temperature on the dance floor is right, an ice cold beer.

  The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - “The Nashville Sound”- This guy writes great stuff. This record is on everyone’s top 10 lists. I usually try not to pay attention to the popular flow, but you can’t deny great.  “If We Were Vampires” is an achingly beautiful song.  My favorite song of the year.
Rye…straight up with this one.

Graveyard Whistling.jpg

Old 97s “Graveyard Whistling”-This album grew on me with every listen. And it did take a few listens to truly get it. At first glance, the album seemed to lack a certain amount of dynamics or diversity, but after a few spins, and starting to really listen to the lyrics, this album is gem. “Jesus Loves You” is the best ode to a bible thumping babe since Billy Joel had Virginia Callahan down on her knees. Rhett Miller’s allegiance to whisky, girls and guitars is unparalleled-But the balance of recklessness and human fallibility is given equal weight across the album.
Suggested pairing: This record and your favorite bourbon. Heaven.

14 Steps to Harlem

Garland Jeffreys-“14 Steps to Harlem”- I think I’ve been listening to this guy since I was 13 years old. So much a part of the New York FM radio scene in the early 70s, Jeffreys has persisted over the decades cranking out stellar music without fail, and unfortunately, often outside of the popular public eye. This album, the third of a resurgence of releases over the past few years, shows us a guy who hasn’t slowed down as a writer or a certified burn-you-down soul singer. His voice is as warm and crisp as ever, and how he keeps that falsetto cranking is a mystery- but it is there in all it’s Frankie Lymon greatness. The originals are "Jeffreys the Storyteller" at his finest- the timbre, tempo and delivery of the title track alone captures the energy of the day to day family struggle and the warmth and importance of family strength that thematically and consistently appears in his music. Of note, the album also contains two covers, also high points in the collection. “Waiting For My Man” is a rocking tribute to his fallen buddy Lou Reed, and the amazing, tender and fragile rendering of the Beatles “Help” evokes a sense of longing and loss of another good friend. All good stuff here, and let’s see what this guy puts out next.
Barolo with some homemade pasta for this musical meal with one of my rock and roll heroes.

Dan Auerbach Waiting on a Song.jpg

Dan Auerbach “Waiting On A Song”- the perfect mix of an old box of 45s and an overwhelming dose of Nick Lowe sensibility. Pure pop for a new century with a completely retro nod to that 70s decade. Could have been a song collection for the next Traveling Willburry’s album. The album cover alone evokes a bargain-bin find at Woolworths for 99 cents. Drop the needle on this one, and enjoy this flirtatious romp that sounds great on a killer sound system, but would sound equally great on an AM radio in ‘68 Rambler. Not sure how he does this….but Auerbach is one busy guy. Glad he takes a break every once in a while from producing, the Black Keys, and The Arcs to drop a solo album.
Not a mixed drink guy, but I could see this pairing well with a G&T, or even better, a bottle of Vino Verde.

Emily Duff-“Maybe In The Morning”- Duff is a tough, gum chewing cowgirl from Long Island who now calls NYC home. Met her through the monthly songwriter showcase I host, and she showed up and ripped the place apart. Recorded down at Muscle Shoals, this record is steeped in country licks, soulful backbeat and a storytelling sensibility that simply cannot be beat. As edgy and tough as she can be, you can’t help miss the warm soulful vulnerability of tune like “Don’t Do Me Dirty” or the cinematic weave of “Alabama”, which has this subtle, amazing coming of age sensibility to it. Buy this record, and if you don’t like it, send it to me and I’ll give you your money back. Then I’ll give it to someone with taste.
Six-pack of Pabst, nice and cold, never will taste better.

A Deeper Understanding.jpg

The War on Drugs-“A Deeper Understanding” “Lush” is a word often associated with this recording-and it is indeed that. In some ways, and I might be going out on a dangerous limb here, I hear a tad of “Roxy” in this release. Just a tad. Not sure what has captured my ear on this one- I know it is on most top-10 charts, and rightfully so, but there is something just so listenable about this record that keeps me playing it over and over. Great lyrics, great composition and the fact they had the balls to release an 11 minute song on Record Store day all warrants recognition and praise. It is a beautiful sound, textured and rich, but amazingly catchy.
Definitely a red….Sonoma or Napa. Something stoic. A cabernet.

Don Bryant -“Don't Give up on Love”- On par with Willam Bell’s grammy-winning masterpiece from last year. This guy effortlessly melts the microphone. You think you know soul singing? Ann Peebles’ other half, this guy writes and sings a record that oozes Memphis at its finest. Killer cover of the classic “A Nickel and a Nail”, plenty of Bryant penned tunes, and a few other nods from the vault, this album sounds like it could’ve been recorded 30 years ago. Great horns, great rhythm section, and vocals that have been too long between records. When someone says, "they don't make music like that anymore....." give them this record. My other live show regret from this year, not catching Mr. Bryant with Bonnie Raitt this year. Hopefully he’ll be back, but in the meantime, we got this collection to savor…..
with a fine brandy or cognac and a cigarette or two…..or if that’s too harsh, pop a cork on some champagne- that will work well, sipped slowly.

Spoon-“Hot Thoughts”- Haven’t been disappointed by these guys in years. Consistently writing great tunes and managing to capture the energy of band that loves playing together. There’s elements of albums past- hints of “Transference” & “They Want My Soul”-but not in a repetitive way. This has been one of my favorite rock bands in the past 10 years or so, and they keep rolling. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” is one to crank up to “tear up the lease” volume level, along with the title track.
Tequila….On the rocks, squeeze of lime. Tall glass. With a refill.

All these, plus the Dirt Nappers "Bass, Drums, Guitars & Organs" makes for a pretty good year. Get drunk on some new music this year.  Cheers!

Monday, October 16, 2017

On The Deuce- This song should be that HBO's show theme song

Although I haven’t been catching all the episodes,  HBO’s latest series “The Deuce” has done a great job in triggering some memories. Some of us actually sit around and swap stories, romantically looking back at the old Times Square/42nd Street area with a fondness for the grit, smut and drugs that used to permeate the concrete. It wasn’t Kansas, and definitely not Disneyland, and I remember being offered a wad of cocaine in a phone booth once, grabbing a $5 dinner at Brew and Burger with an all you can drink side mug of beer (usually you got thrown out after 7 or 8 mugs) and getting the best movie value a quarter could buy.

But I never heard the nickname “The Deuce” until 1989.

In ’89, I had the insane idea of starting an independent record label with a buddy of mine, Gene Campanelli, and the first record we produced was a collection of New York City based blues and R&B artists. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but we made a few good print pieces that made us look like we had more than two nickels to rub together, and we convinced a bunch of local artist to work with us. It was a crazy time in New York for blues and r&b- there were clubs all over town- Dan Lynch’s, Delta 88, Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso, Terra Blues, Tramps, The Lone Star, and Manny’s Car Wash to name a few…There was actually a “scene” happening- and any night of the week you could crawl out and check out The Chris Carter Band with the amazing Frankie Paris, Pat Cisarano, John Paris, Diane Scanlon, The Holmes Brothers, The Belmont Brothers, and more. There was even the early and rough version of Blues Traveler playing at Mondo, and Joan Osborne was just cracking her pipes at Dan Lynch’s jam (we actually turned her down for that first record….but that’s another story).

When pulling together the roster for that first record, I happened to get introduced to Crispin Cioe -sax player for the baddest band on the scene- The Uptown Horns- I had always been a fan of Crispin’s playing since he played with Carolyn Mas in the late 70s and early 80s- and the Uptowns had become a powerful fixture in the NY r&b scene. With Crispin on alto sax, the remaining lineup included Arno Hecht on tenor, Bob Funk, trombone, and “Hollywood” Paul Litteral on trumpet.

In addition to being a very successful horn section for other artists (most notably, the J.Geils Band), The Uptown Horns Review was their own musical collective of players from the scene that regularly took the stage at The Lone Star, Tramps or any other place that can handle a large 8 to 12 piece band. The performances were classic R&B revues- with people in the band coming forward and doing songs, and then the band backing up a parade of “guest artists”- which could range from anyone from Bo Diddly Jr. to David Johansen, to Soozie Tyrell dropping by to do a few songs. The shows were magical, fun, and totally captured the spirit of a full blown R&B house party-

So when Crispin said the Horns would be cool with doing two tracks for the new record, we were thrilled- they were our headliner, our big gun that totally gave our project weight and validity. The record was to focus on original tunes-and the Horns had an instrumental called “52 Pick Up” and a song that paid homage to the Times Square neighborhood, “On The Deuce”.

The original "Third Rail Screamin'" CD cover -

With the interest in that NYC legendary neighborhood rekindled, I figured I’d share the tune with you, and give a bit of background on who actually played on the session. Reading the liner notes a while ago, I had forgotten what a powerhouse line up that band and session turned out to be- from the guys behind the recording console, to the background singers-it was an amazing track.

“On The Deuce” opens up with an audio snippet of ambient background- the Horns went to Times Square with a field recorder, with the intention of capturing some to the sounds of the neighborhood to weave into the track. I remember them coming back to the studio pleased as all get out with the results of the field trip. Some of the snippets you hear on the track include a bit of a three card monty game, and a random couple arguing about their rent payments and of course, the constant din of traffic, horns and sirens passing through the space.

We had tapped Steve Burgh to oversee & produce the recording session- he owned Baby Monster Studio- a somewhat worn and weathered but totally solid studio up a creaky set of wooden stairs in a building on 14th Street. Burgh was a interesting cat- it turns out he was friends with David Bromberg, Steve Goodman and John Prine, and had a hand in co-writing Goodman’s classic tune “Old Fashioned”. His engineer was a young Canadian guy- Gil Arbarbanel……who now lives back in Montreal and is involved in the finance world.
After we ordered the contractual obligatory pizza from Arturo’s, we got down to recording.

The Players
The Horns were hot to showcase their vocal protoge- a young soul singer from Nashville named Ben Houston. Armed with good looks and a classic smooth soul vocal range, Houston totally shines on the track, especially on the outro-vamp, where he ad-libs and fades off down the block.

Drums were handled by the amazing Tyrone “Crusher” Green. I had seen him play around town with so many different bands and loved his feel. When Crusher was on the throne, band just sounded better- it was only later on that I found out that this was the guy responsible for the drum track on Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”. Loose but in the pocket, Crusher was masterful at giving “On The Deuce” an amazing sauntering feel.

Tony Garnier - who has been playing bass and traveling with some guy named Bob Dylan since 1989 was around for the session.

Charlie Giordano- on piano and organ. He had come off a stint as keyboard player for Pat Benatar and these days plays with the E Street Band. Yea, that E Street Band.

Guitar duties were in the hands of Danny Draher- one of the UH Revue regulars and another of Buster’s crew, Draher is still out there slinging the guitar and playing with more people than I can list here….

Background vocals were instrumental in defining the Horn’s vision on this song. At the time, there were three women who sang under the name of “BMW” Emily Bindiger, Sherryl Marshall and Leslie Wagner. Ms. Sherryl Marshall- who went on to a successful career as a Banshee of Blue with David Johansen, even showed up on a Dirt Napper album or two. She’s even played the famous Green Growler as part of my monthly singer-songwriter showcase!

Fred Walcott played percussion. Another veteran of Buster’s band, Fred was the go to percussion guy in NYC and beyond- playing with people like Son Seals, Shameka Copeland and rock and roll legend, Dion.

This track still kicks butt today. I think they should use it as theme music for the series, so if anyone knows the music director of “The Deuce”, send them my way.

It was fun tracking down all these players- and thanks to Crispin for letting me post the track up here.

The Horns are still out there. Shortly after recording this song, they got tapped to tour with The Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour. You can still catch Arno playing with Dion, and Crispin keeps busy with his own band and acting as music director for a number of Kennedy Center shows. In addition, he performs regularly with one of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time, Ms. Darlene Love (If you haven't seen the movie "20 Feet From Stardom", do so).
Check out his site here for more:

And definitely pick up a copy of the 1994 release from The Uptown Horns-   It’s good for your soul.

And now, sit back and listen to “On The Deuce”

“On The Deuce”- The Uptown Horns

In the evening-steam is rising
Hot and sticky-on the street
Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Three card monty-for the wet behind the ears
Dealers hustling -with a smile that’s so sincere
Painted ladies who are old beyond their years
They’ll take you round the corner-set you up and disappear

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Now they tell me there’s some stories-but it’s the same one every night
So many different faces  -but the price is always right-

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well they say this place is changing-gonna tear these buildings down
It doesn’t matter where you go there’s a Deuce in every town
On the Deuce

Friday, January 6, 2017

The 2016 Bakers Dozen

Ok, so I blew one of my 2016 resolutions last year---to keep an active, monthly music blog…Nice idea, but just didn’t keep up. Not going to make the same declaration, but since I’m almost done with a new recording, which should be out out in the next month or so, I figure I’ll jump start this process again.

So now that 2016 is gone, I can publish my “Best of” list. I usually wait until the first week in January just in case someone drops a great, phenomenal record the night of Dec. 31, before midnight. Nothing caught my ear, since New Year’s Eve, so here goes. Usual drill, I’ll give you my absolute favorite, and then in no particular order a loose approximate top musical dozen IMHO for 2016. This was a good year-lots of great stuff-my fave:

Peter Wolf-“A Cure For Loneliness” - Just a real simple, rootsy album, with great feel, and great songs. Everyone of this guy’s solo discs have been strong, and this one is no exception. I’ve always been a fan of the Geils band, even in its ultra commercial success mode, and part of that admiration was the relentless commitment and energy that Wolf brought to the mix. You hear that on the this record-this guy is singing from the heart, he’s laughing, he’s got the blues, and he can toss out a full blown rocker. I caught him at the Bowery Ballroom this past February. Best concert I saw all year. Hands down. Maybe someday I can make a record this good-but I doubt it.

Other records I couldn’t stop playing this year:

Sturgill Simpson- “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” - Yea I know it’s nominated for album of the year. but even the Grammys get it right once in a while. This album is like a beautiful painting. Aching tunes, rich musical texture, and stellar musicianship. And a great Nirvana cover.

Yarn- “This is the Year”- From Tennessee, then Brooklyn, then back down south, if you have a chance to catch Yarn live, do it. They’ve been kicking around for a while, and have a number of records out. This is the first one I’ve picked up, and I love it. Low key, great country flavored tunes-just bar room solid. These guys tell great stories and make them real easy to listen to. One of my favorite songs of the year- “Sweet Dolly”- the band’s ode to Ms. Parton. Just an honest, innocent remembrance of falling in love with her when she appeared on the Tonight Show. How can you go wrong when a tune makes you smile?

Cymbals Eat Guitars- “Pretty Years”- All I really know about this band is that they allegedly come from Staten Island, and this is their fourth release. This is no country album. A fair share of distortion, guitars and overdriven production across all the tracks, but good tunes. There’s something in this mix that reminds me of the Clash….not sure if its in the guitars or the Strummer/Simonon/Jones flavored vocals. “Wish” is my favorite song of the year-play it loud.

Alejandro Escovedo -“Burn Something Beautiful” -Escovedo is just a badass. Simple tunes, telling stories, with guitars. His past few records have been stellar, and this one doesn’t miss. Lot’s of NYC tribute references here- somebody spent some time on the lower east side at one point, but he also writes a killer love tune. AE gut-punches you on the opening track with massive guitar chords- but somehow, like with so many of his other albums, he puts across songs with both energy and sensitivity that is sustained tune after tune. If there’s one singer-songwriter who can plug in and roll a little louder than the rest, its this guy.

Bombino-“Azel"- This guitarist from Niger is amazing. I can’t remember anyone taking on a Stratocaster in such a unique style since the first Dire Straits album. But Bombino is no Knopfler wanna be. Totally in command of the grove, the melody and passion, he and the band just push it from the get go, and even if you can’t understand the lyrics, it just doesn’t matter. Afraid “world music” is too granola for you? This ain’t finger cymbals, pan flutes and twangy sticks. Read this guy’s bio on Wikipedia and you’ll learn where this music comes from. This is a guy who has risked his life to play music and you hear it in the album. Check the live archive at for a live recording of this guy. Then buy this record.

Kyle Craft-“Dolls of Highland” - The first time I heard this guy I immediate bought the disc. Still trying to figure it all out. There’s a well orchestrated recklessness that jumps out of this dude. It’s  like Meatloaf meets T-Rex meets the Kinks, without the distortion. Unique vocals, unique writing, almost theatrical in a way, and maybe too over the top for some people, but I liked it. “Berlin” is a great tune about a stripper…..Another KEXP live performance worth watching...

Anderson.Paak-“Malibu”—The best thing I’ve heard out of the hiphop world since The Roots released “How I Got Over”. Anytime a hip hop artist throws it down with a real drum kit, that is worth a listen. And this isn’t just rap- it oozes serious funk, soul and r&b and real lyrics. Kinda gives me hope for the genre.

William Bell- “This is Where I Live” Seventy-seven year old singer with a voice like soul butter bourbon. Can make you cry. Why mess with a good thing? This guy is a treasure, did it back in the 60’s, and is still doing it…-

Eli Paperboy Reed- “My Way Home”- Reverend Eli sets up church in a garage. Raw energy. Great tunes. Sounds like it was recorded in 1966. Grit and soul saving rock n’ roll. Best reverb I’ve heard in years. Lock up your daughters, pass the hat…this ain’t yo’ mamma’s preacher.

Okerville River-“Away”- Will Sheff is a sneaky guy. He kinda made us think this band was through with “The Silver Gymnasium”. Then this record dropped out of nowhere. This takes a listen or two to catch the nuance of this album- it comes across real quiet, but he is writing his ass off, and it just grows and grows on you. Remember when a song could make you throw your fist up in the air?- Sheff is kinda reminiscing about that, but he also delivers it. Hopefully not their last effort, but if this is it, its a great way to go out.

The Jayhawks-“Paging Mr. Proust”- I do like it better when Mark Olson is in the band, but Gary Louris manages to pull this off. “Quiet Corners & Empty Places” is pure Jayhawks ear-candy fair, totally worming its way into your head. There are catchy hooks across the whole recording-sometimes a bit Byrd-like, but you also hear a band playing rough around the edges a bit….sorta like Wilco occasionally does. But the songs are good, and I listened to this one enough this year to have it round out the list. It’s a little different than some of those really clean, slick Jayhawk classics, but it still does it for me.

That’s it. Naturally looking forward to the next year unfolding. And of course, the new Dirt Napper record should set a pretty high bar for everyone across the joint. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.- fm 1/5/17

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Some early behind the scenes recording of "Bass, Drums, Guitars, and Organs"-The next Dirt Napper album

This summer we started working on a follow-up to City Eastern Serenade, with the intention of getting it out sometime in the fall of '16. During the recording of the record, I thought I would put up a few shots of what goes on during the various sessions. This footage is from a tracking session with Tony Tino and Phil Cimino, two great players who have done a bunch of live gigs with me. Tony played on a number of tracks on the last album, and we thought recording the two of them together for a number of tunes would be fun. City Eastern Serenade took over a year to make, with various stops and starts, but this album is going to be a bit more spontaneous, and more "live" sounding-
We tracked through six tunes over the course of the day. Many of you may have seen the end of the day bourbon shot on Facebook.

Here are three clips from the session-

I don't really know how to write a proper chart. I just kind of lay out the tune and these guys figure it out.  I wouldn't really know how to write a chart for drums, Phil Cimino somehow manages to figure out what I was trying to say.....

In this next clip, Phil noted that I was only giving a "4-count" into each song- instead of the normal "8-count" he was used to. I told him I was trying to save time.

The last clip is a bit longer-we were recording a new tune called "Rafferty Train". For the album, I think I'm going to do two versions, one more full band, and one very stripped down and acoustic. These guys fell into such a nice groove on this one- it was amazing. Tony was especially pleased because he got to use his fretless bass, which doesn't get out much these days......wait till you hear the whole tune....

thanks to mattyboy for rolling the camera....
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