Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Al Kooper - Black Coffee (2005)

Back in 2005, Al Kooper, one of the lesser known but one of the more important 1960s classic rockers, released Black Coffee, his first solo album in thirty years. The founder of Blood, Sweat, & Tears gave us a very full, fourteen song album that clocks in at over an hour but it doesn't feel too long because Kooper's eclectic talents demand your attention. The veteran rocker and his backup band of music professors he dubbed The Funky Faculty deliver a set of tunes that don't sound like BS&T or his famous Super Session LP with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills but he connects with his listeners anyway. Not every song is blessed with horns but there are enough of them to satisfy fans who were hoping he would give us something similar.

Kooper plays many instruments and he often recorded tracks all by himself. His one-man band outings are often looser than one would normally expect from such a dynamic. The best of these is a robust cover of The Temptations' "Get Ready" where he plays everything except for drums courtesy of Anton Fig. This version simply rocks.

The former Bob Dylan organist always has original, jazz inflected, and bluesy ideas. Both "My Hands are Tied" (an obvious Stax/Volt tribute) and Keb Mo's "Am I Wrong" prove that mandolin can play a part in R&B arrangements. "Imaginary Lover" is a ballad with touches of Philly Soul.

Kooper has a sense of humor too. There's a rather silly but pleasant essay on aging, "Going, Going, Gone," that he wrote with Dan Penn.

Two live tracks from 2001, an outstanding cover of "Green Onions" with superlative bass by Tom Stein and "Comin' Back In A Cadillac," an original tune that cooks for almost ten minutes are strong crowd pleasers. Both were recorded on stage in Norway with The Faculty.

The disc is not perfect. Kooper's voice is shot and it's almost unrecognizable from his BS&T days. There are two tracks where he plays the lounge lizard and while "How My Ever Gonna Get Over You" and "Just For a Thrill," are great musically and fine lyrically Kooper shows us he is no Frank Sinatra. The highlight of the former is an excellent alto sax solo by the Faculty's Daryl Lowery and on the latter it's Larry Finn's trumpet solo that saves the day.

Overall, Black Coffee is a very fine album that proves Kooper hasn't lost anything as a writer, producer, arranger, or as a musician and his surprising vocal shortcomings don't detract from the satisfaction you will feel after listening to this set.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some Musical Odds & Ends For Spring

Here are a few musical links you may find interesting.

  • A really fine, young band from Austin, The Wild Feathers, gave The Vinyl District an interview in January 2014. You can read it here.
  • 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair have teamed together to come out with their 2014 music poll. It covers everything from how good or bad today's music is (Guess what? It stinks), to which band you would want to go back in time to see, to the sexiest musical instrument to play. Here are the results.
  • A very intelligent music blog, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, posts a monthly In Memoriam series that is so popular that when it's publisher tried to end it a couple of years back due to time constraints his readers begged him to carry on. The blog compiles and honors anyone in the music business who passed away the month before, from the most famous to the very obscure. It's a must read.
  • In 2007, recent Rock Hall of Fame inductee, Daryl Hall, began recording full length concerts with guests he invited to his home and posts them online. You can see guest shots by Ray Manzarek, Nick Lowe, Todd Rundgren, and partner John Oates as well as newcomers K.T. Tunstall, Diane Birch, and a whole lot more. Listen to all of them at Live at Daryl's House.
  • From Rolling Stone Magazine: Hear Neil Young and Crazy Horse play "Cowgirl in the Sand" live in Japan way back in 1976.
  • Finally, we'll end with one of Bloggerhythms' own highlights from the past. It's a two part article about former Poco frontman and Buffalo Springfield member, Richie Furay, including an online interview the former rock star so graciously gave to us. Please take a look at part one and part two for some very interesting rock history and a whole lot more.

That's all for now. We'll be back soon.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Terry Chimes - The Strange Case of Dr. Terry and Mr. Chimes (2013)

Terry Chimes (born July 5, 1956 in London, England), credited as Tory Crimes on The Clash's first eponymous album, was their original drummer and is a member of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.

Chimes is a very fascinating individual who is not your proto-typical punk-rocker. In his short, 167-page autobiography, The Strange Case of Dr. Terry and Mr. Chimes, the teetotalling, vegetarian, and spiritual rocker relates tale after tale about the rock 'n roll lifestyle and great insights about his famous band. He also tells us why he left the music business for a totally new, unrelated career.

Unusually for a punk-rocker, Chimes grew up in a loving, stable family with two parents. That difference immediately set him apart from Joe Strummer and his mates so Chimes often felt like he didn't fit in.

In addition, Chimes was not aligned with the angry, political left as the other members of The Clash were and he wasn't shy about benefiting from the riches and privileges that being in a major rock band could bestow upon him. On the other hand Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonin were quite vocal about giving their money away if the band eventually made any.

While all of this did create some friction in the band, the others wanted Chimes to remain a loyal member even though his unhappiness made him determined to leave. It even got to the point where Strummer offered the drummer his share of the band's profits if he would stay on after their first album began making some positive noise.

The rocker's departure from "the only band that matters" led to a discussion about one of the book's more important overriding themes: the promise Chimes made to himself to never work at a job he didn't love.

After the East Londoner left The Clash and was replaced by Nicholas "Topper" Headon he continued to work in hard rocking bands. He went on to play with Hanoi Rocks, Johnny Thunders, and Black Sabbath before the 80s came to a close. Then, after Headon left the band in 1982 due to his heavy drug addiction Chimes returned to The Clash but he stayed less than a year because the band broke up.

While in Sabbath's lineup Chimes experienced severe arm pain. When the band's chiropractor, a member of a profession he never heard of before, helped cure him a new spark ignited inside the still young man. When this internal fire spread the musician gave up rock 'n roll for twenty years and become a chiropractor himself. He eventually opened up a chain of practices across Britain. Then, when he felt that life was being sucked out of him again he followed his belief of doing only what he loves and sold the business. After the sale he went to work at one of his former offices and that allowed him more time to renew his musical interests.

Today, Chimes is still a practicing chiropractor. He is also a motivational speaker and continues to follow his musical muse in a new band.

Chimes still has genuine affection for most of his old band mates and he is still close with his family.

The author appears to be a deep thinker and his prose is clear, concise, and good enough to hold your interest. He should also be credited with the ability to find success in whatever path he pursued and in being his own man because he never allowed the excesses and lifestyle of the more glamorous of his two professions to control him.

Visit Terry Chimes' website to get details about his music, medical practice, charity work, and speaking gigs.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Forgotten Music Thursday: Larry Kirwan - Kilroy Was Here (2001)

This review was originally written for a small, short-lived website I began in 2001. Later the review was offered to and published online by a popular cultural arts webzine, Rambles.net. Then it was posted here in 2005 shortly after this blog began. Only thirty-two people have ever read it so it's time for an encore presentation, this time hopefully to a larger audience.
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I’ve never been a fan of singer–songwriters. You know the genre, music created by folkie minstrels who play guitar while singing their own confessional songs. Most recordings and live performances by these artists feature sparse instrumentation with lyrics that are often far more important than the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that accompany them. I have often wondered why these musicians just don't become poets.

Now, I'm not saying that lyrics are unimportant. Great lyrics enhance any musical experience. When the music and the lyrics mesh perfectly a song can be a truly moving experience. The most beautiful lyrics can be wasted if the music is not involving.

Larry Kirwan’s Kilroy Was Here, his first solo adult excursion away from New York City's resident Irish rock band, Black 47, (His children's disc, Keltic Kids, was his first solo CD) manages to be one of those rare instances when lyrics and music complement each other perfectly. One enhances the other. At no time does the music take a back seat to the wordy songs. This is not an easy feat.

Kirwan is one of the best lyricists in rock. His narrative style is reminiscent of Dylan. But his words are surrounded by musical arrangements that are far superior to almost anything else in the singer–songwriter genre. While Kirwan wants you to notice his profound lyrics he also wants the listener to take in a full musical experience.

Don’t expect this CD to sound like Black 47. No uilleann pipes or Irish folk instruments appear anywhere and while Kirwan and the musicians often get a good beat going, there is no hard rock, reggae or hip hop to be found. Trumpets, acoustic guitars, and strings predominate, with the musicians often giving the songs a jazzy texture such as on the "History of Ireland, Part One." Guest vocalist Suzy Roche adds beautiful vocals to the disc's opener "Molly." Particularly enjoyable is Black 47 sax man Geoffrey Blythe blowing a perfect solo on a cover of Paul Simon’s "The Only Living Boy in New York." The musicianship is superb throughout.

Despite the lack of an Irish sound to this disc there is no mistaking Kirwan's Irish roots on many of these tunes. In "Life's Like That, Isn't It?" he tells a story of a boy growing up in Catholic Ireland whose life events eventually cause the character to immigrate to America. Is the little boy in this story the author?

On the "History of Ireland" Kirwan simply and chronologically tells us all about the tragic history of his homeland, but the bright, upbeat, playful arrangement seems to tell us that Ireland has maintained her pride and better days are ahead.

Kirwan puts his multi-cultural experience of living in New York to good use on "Fatima," a story of an immigrant Muslim girl who falls in love with an American man. This grieves her father so much he laments that "Why didn’t they tell him back home that things fall apart in America." The song ends with a sad but believable ending that often occurs in a place such as New York where different cultures live and work together but cannot fully understand each other.

My favorite line on the entire disc is from "Spanish Moon" a song that is a commentary about poets trying to co-exist in the Spanish military dictatorship of the late Francisco Franco. Believing in the eternal power of the printed word Kirwan sings, "The poet lives forever, the general dies alone."

These are serious songs from a serious rock musician who can be proud of his work. It's a shame most Americans will never hear a note.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Forgotten Music Thursday: Dan Fogelberg - High Country Snows (1985)

We have a double shot of forgotten music this month. Today's is a week earlier than usual.

One of my favorite music blogs, The Hits Just Keep on Comin', is mostly a look at Top 40 radio's colorful history but publisher J. A. Bartlett's highly entertaining and informative site frequently detours into other musical topics too.

More than once Bartlett challenged the late Dan Fogelberg's legacy proclaiming how "dorky" much of the singer-songwriter's music was and I can't say that the Wisconsin disc jockey's views are totally off the mark. Some of Fogelberg's records do cross the line but as my tastes have mellowed over the years I've come to appreciate him more.

Despite how I may feel about much of Fogelberg's over the top balladry that's not all the man was about because when his muse finally took him down a different path he made an album for the ages. On High Country Snows (1985) he combined his singer-songwriter gifts with a genuine love of bluegrass and country music (strains of these two genres were already incorporated into his work regularly) to give birth to the best, most intelligent, and heartfelt album he ever released.

You can tell Fogelberg was serious about his explorations into more traditional music by the company he kept during the sessions for the eleven song record. He not only covered Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on the very brief "Down the Road" he was joined in the studio by a full lineup of all-stars schooled in the genre: Jerry Douglas on dobro, David Grissman and Chris Hillman on mandolin, Vince Gill, Herb Pederson, Ricky Scaggs, Al Perkins (steel guitar), Doc Watson, and more. There are harmonicas, banjos, tambourines, and fiddles.

Highlights include "Sutter's Mill," a moving tale about the fate of many of the adventurers who traveled West to seek their fortunes during the California Gold Rush. Douglas plays some top notch dobro while Fogelberg relates the tale of the mostly sad endings many of the pioneers experienced once they arrived in the so-called promised land. For my money, it's the best song he ever wrote.  He sings in the chorus:

"Some would fail and some would prosper
Some would die and some would kill
Some would thank the Lord for their deliverance
And some would curse John Sutter's mill."

Another very good story is "The Outlaw," one of two tracks on the album by Jay Bolotin (a woodcut artist who also writes songs) about a man who becomes the title of this song in order to win the girl of his dreams (or so it appears).

The instrumental, "Wolf Creek," features both Fogelberg and Watson as acoustic guitar pickers with a flair and you can't help but tap your feet to the relentlessly upbeat, "Shallow Rivers."

You can't blame Fogelberg for going to the bank with his usual fare but he should be credited for branching out and taking a risk, especially when the experiment is very successful.