What I’ve Been Listening To: Devon Allman/Ride Or Die

Allman’s third studio album shows skilled blues rock guitarist comfortable carrying famous family name

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Yesterday, I coincidentally saw a commemorative event for Gregg Allman pop up on Facebook Live and ended up watching for some time. Among others, it included Gregg’s former guitarist and music director Scott Sharrard and Devon Allman. Not only had I not realized that Gregg Allman had a son, but I also had not known Devon is a professional guitarist who has been playing since the early ’90s and has had a recording career of more than 10 years.

Let me say this right upfront. Devon is a pretty good guitarist who writes his own music and has a decent voice. While after experimenting with other music styles in his twenties he eventually embraced the genre of his famous dad, he is not trying to be a Gregg Allman copy. In fact, the two of them didn’t even meet until Devon was in his teens and already had taken up music. But he is also no longer denying what feels natural to him and coming from the heart: blues rock.

All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman - Backstage & Audience

Devon’s mother was Gregg’s first wife, Shelley Kay Jefts. When they divorced in 1972, Devon was still an infant. He grew up with his mom in Corpus Christi, Tex. and later also lived in Tennessee and St. Louis, MO. In a Dec. 2006 interview with Blogcritics Music, Devon noted, “I actually got to grow up in a very normal suburban American existence. I didn’t meet him [Gregg Allman] until I was in my teens, but we formed a bond instantly. Luckily, I didn’t have to grow up amidst the insanity that they went through. He is just one of many heroes of mine… those who sing and play from the heart. Those who overcome insane odds to still do what they love to do. He really lets me do my own thing with no meddling.”

On to Ride Or Die, which is Devon Allman’s most recent studio album that was released almost exactly a year ago. The 12-track set kicks off with Say Your Prayers, a nice blues rocker. Co-written by Allman and rhythm guitarist Tyler Stokes, the tune features a catchy guitar riff and some cool wah-wah sound that is also present on various other tunes on the record.

Galaxies is another blues rocker with a great groove. In addition to the guitar work, I like the Hammond-style keyboard played by Kevin McKendree. The song, another co-write by Allman and Stokes, includes the line, “when galaxies collide will you ride or die?” from which the album’s title was derived.

The record also has quieter tunes, such as Lost, featuring Allman mostly on acoustic guitar. He adds some nice accents with what sounds like a mix between electric wah-wah and the Talkbox effect – pretty cool.

Shattered Times is another standout on the album. The blues rock tune, which features great wah-wah rhythm guitar, was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge, who also played drums on all tracks, and Richard Fleming.

The last track I’d like to highlight is one of the quieter songs, Live From the Heart. It’s one of five tunes Allman penned by himself. Similar to Lost, the track is mostly acoustic and also features nice keyboard work.

Ride Or Die was recorded in Nashville and appeared on the independent German label Ruf Records, which also issued Allman’s two previous solo albums Ragged & Dirty (2014) and Turquoise (2013). Other musicians on the record include Steve Duerst (bass), Ron Holloway (saxophone) and Bobby Yang (violin). With Hambridge, Allman had an experienced and award-winning rock, country and blues producer, who has worked with other artists like Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy.

The album was well received. Blues Blast Magazine noted Allman “continues to produce blues-rock albums that have a wide appeal through the quality of the songwriting, Devon’s distinctive voice and guitar skills.” Blues Rock Review called it “the highlight of Allman’s career thus far,” while Relix concluded it’s “a purposeful effort by a second-generation artist well worthy of his pedigree.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Blogcritics Music, Blues Blast Magazine, Blues Rock Review, Relix, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Art of McCartney

Tribute album illustrates McCartney’s incredible song catalog and admiration from artists like Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Smokey Robinson

This is another album I somehow missed when it was released in November 2014, even though it features music from Paul McCartney, one of my all-time favorite artists. Ironically, I came across this cover compilation earlier today when I looked for Bob Dylan in Apple Music and saw his single of Things We Said Today. In my humble opinion, Dylan’s voice has changed quite a bit and not for the better, and his version of the 1964 Beatles tunes from the A Hard Day’s Night album sounds pretty awful. But there are many other covers on this record I like.

The 34-track set opens with Maybe I’m Amazed, performed by Billy Joel, who I think together with Elton John is the greatest contemporary pop rock pianist. McCartney first released the tune on his 1970 solo debut McCartney and dedicated it to Linda McCartney, his first wife and I believe the great love of his life.

Heart did a nice version of Band On the Run, one of my favorite McCartney songs. Ann Wilson’s vocals are great fit, and Nancy Wilson, one of most underrated guitarists, does a terrific job. Band On the Run is the title song of the 1973 studio album McCartney recorded with Wings.  It was also released as a single in 1974, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. and no. 3 in the U.K.

Let me preface this next tune by admitting that I’ve never gotten much into the music of Kiss. But I have to say their version of Venus/Rock Show is pretty cool. The medley first appeared on Venus And Mars, the fourth studio album by Wings from May 1975.

Another great cover is Let Me Roll It performed by Paul Rodgers, one of the greatest voices in rock. Rodgers stays pretty close to the original, which was also first included on the Band On the Run album.

Who better to sing Helter Skelter than Roger Daltrey? Holy shit, I just love the man! The furious rocker initially appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from 1968.

Chrissie Hynde, another artist I admire, recorded Let It Be, doing a great job with this timeless, beautiful ballad. The track, of course, is the title song of The Beatles’ final studio album released in 1970.

When Motown legend the great Smokey Robinson covers your music, it probably doesn’t get much better and speaks for itself. It doesn’t even matter that the tune Robinson chose, So Bad, perhaps is not among the best songs McCartney has written – when Smokey sings, magic happens. So Bad first appeared on McCartney’s fourth studio album Pipes of Peace, released in October 1983.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Eleanor Rigby performed by Alice Cooper. Yep, you read that correctly – Mr. Shock Rock singing the tune from Revolver, The Beatles seventh studio album that appeared in 1966. And he did a nice job with it!

According to a Rolling Stone story, the initial idea for The Art of McCartney came from producer Ralph Sall. At the time, Sall, who has also produced for other artists like The Ramones, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith, was working with McCartney on polishing up A Love For You for the soundtrack of In-Laws, an American sitcom that aired from September 2002 until January 2003. A Love For You originally appeared on Ram, McCartney’s second post-Beatles album from May 1971.

There are many other remarkable artists on this tribute record, such as Steve Miller, Brian Wilson and B.B. King, who I didn’t include in the above selection, in part because other than snippets, I couldn’t find clips on YouTube. I’d like to finish this post with a trailer about the making of the album.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Spirit/The Family That Plays Together

Sophomore album showcases band’s remarkable versatility

One of my favorite George Harrison songs, The Inner Light, includes the wise words, “The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows.” This how I frequently feel when writing this blog. During research I oftentimes come across things I wasn’t aware of. The most recent example is my post about Walter Becker, who I learned took guitar lessons with Randy Craig Wolfe. Wolfe was also known as Randy California, and an original member of Spirit, an American rock band that wasn’t on my radar screen.

When I looked up Spirit, I realized it’s the band that wrote the instrumental Taurus, which features an opening guitar progression that sounds very similar to the main theme of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In April 2016, original Spirit bassist Mark Andes ended up filing an infringement lawsuit against Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, but a jury ruled the similarities between Taurus and Stairway didn’t add up to copyright violation. In March this year, an attorney and trustee for Wolfe filed an appeal.

While I believe the outcome of the appeal is still pending, there is much more to Spirit than this legal dispute. In fact, once I started listening to their music, I noticed they were a pretty remarkable band. This brings me to The Family That Plays Together, their second study album, which appeared in December 1968.

At the time, Spirit still had its original lineup. In addition to California (lead guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, bass) and Andes (bass, backing vocals), the band included Jay Ferguson (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion), John Locke (keyboards) and Ed Cassidy (drums, percussion).

The record starts off with I Got a Line On You. Written by California, this upbeat rocker has a great groove and a catchy chorus. The tune was also released as a single ahead of the album in October 1968. The song ended up at no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Spirit’s biggest chart success.

I Got a Line On You nicely transitions into It Shall Be, a mid-tempo relaxed tune that incorporates some jazz elements and nice horn arrangements. The tune was co-written by Locke and California.

All The Same, a co-write by California and Cassidy, is another track that caught my attention. It features some cool double lead guitar parts by California and a drum solo by Cassidy. The singing reminds me a bit of Cream.

Jewish stands out, since it’s performed in Hebrew. According to Wikipedia, the lyrics came from a traditional song called Hine Ma Tov and were based on King David’s Psalm 133. The tune is solely credited to California. I don’t think I had ever heard a Hebrew song performed by a rock band.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Aren’t You Glad. It’s one of the six tracks written by Ferguson and includes some great guitar work.

The Family That Plays Together was produced by Lou Adler, who is known for his work with The Mamas And The Papas and especially for producing Carole King’s  iconic Tapestry. Adler was also an executive producer of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A 1996 reissue of the album includes five additional tracks, including Mellow Fellow, a previously unreleased song.

The original lineup of Spirit recorded two additional studio albums, Clear (1969) and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970). Starting with 1972’s Feedback, the band issued 10 more studio records with different members, the last being California Bus from December 1996. One month later, California died under tragic circumstances at age 46 while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current. In 2005, another record from Spirit appeared, which was a collection of material from 1968 that was used for the soundtrack to the 1969 motion picture Model Shop directed by Jacques Demy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come

1986 album from “King of Rock ‘N’ Soul” is a soul gem

Solomon Burke came to my mind earlier today when looking at fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast’s great list of his top 25 favorite singers and commenting that I might have included Burke in that list. If I recall it correctly, a good friend of mine recommended A Change Is Gonna Come to me in the late ’80s, a few years after the album had been released in 1986.

From the get-go, I liked Burke’s voice and the way he delivered the album’s nine tunes, though sadly I never continued exploring his music beyond this record – something I’m planning to correct! A Change Is Gonna Come mixed covers of a few older classics with then-new material written by Burke and songwriters Paul Kelly, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham and Jimmy Lewis.

The album kicks of with the Kelly composition Love Buys Love, a beautiful mid-tempo ballad.

Next up is Got To Get Myself Some Money, one of two tracks written by Burke. The upbeat tune has a great groove driven by a pumping bass and a great Memphis style horn section.

The title song A Change Is Gonna Come is the standout on the album. It truly takes Sam Cooke’s beautiful original to the next level. Burke’s singing simply gives me the goose bumps. Burke, who also was a preacher, extends the tune into a sermon. According to the liner notes of my CD, the tune has always meant a lot to Burke. He is quoted as saying, “Even though it’s a song that’s over twenty years old, it still hits home. The world’s still got problems – drugs, crime, apartheid. We’ve progressed a long way since Sam wrote that song, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Here We Go Again, the album’s second track written by Burke, has a great funk grove. It also features a cool part where Burke calls out the bassist, the guitarist and the keyboarder, with each responding by playing their respective instrument.

The last song I’d like to call out is a great cover of one of my favorite soul ballads, When A Man Loves A Woman. Written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, the song was first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. Burke’s version slightly kicks up the speed and turns the song more into a mid-tempo classic soul tune with a great horn section.

Produced by Scott Billington, A Change Is Gonna Come continued a revival of sorts in Burke’s career that began with 1984’s Soul Alive! Still, these albums, which both appeared on Rounder Records, did not bring mainstream chart success for Burke, though they increased his popularity as a live performer.

While Burke never achieved the commercial success of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown, he is considered to be one of the artists who helped shape soul music in the ’60s. He was revered by other musicians like The Rolling Stones who covered Everybody Needs Somebody to Love and Cry to Me on their second and third U.K. albums, respectively.

Late in his career, Burke finally received some well-deserved recognition. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a performer. He also won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Contemporary Blues Album for his 2002 studio release Don’t Give Up On Me. Last but not least, Rolling Stone ranked Burke at no. 89 in its 2010 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, A Change Is Gonna Come Liner Notes (Jeff Hannusch), Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jane Lee Hooker/No B!

Debut album from all-female New York band serves hard-charging blues rock

Jane Lee Hooker is another discovery I made when looking for free outdoor concerts in my area this weekend. The five-piece all-female blues rock band from New York City is scheduled to perform Sunday evening in Long Branch, N.J. as part of that seaside city’s summer concert series. The moment I started listening to No B!, I literally thought, ‘holy shit’ – these ladies are playing a furious type of blues rock, sometimes mixed with a dose of punk.

Just like my previous discovery this weekend, The John Byrne Band whose most recent album I reviewed here, Jane Lee Hooker or JLH doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry- too bad! But their website does provide some background. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Hail Mary Z (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston (drums) and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin. In 2015, JHL signed with blues label Ruf Records and released No B! in April 2016.

Jane Lee Hooker Live

As the website points out, while JLH was only founded four years ago, the band’s members have “between them decades of experience in the studio and on the road.” Each of these ladies were in other bands before they joined JHL. The two guitarists previously played together in the ’90s in a band called Helldorado where they “honed their love of blazing dual leads.”

JHL has shared bills with WilcoSouthside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and The Blasters, among others. Earlier this year, they conducted a European tour, including Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland. One of their gigs was a performance at the end of May on Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German rock TV show.

No B! starts off furiously with Wade In The Water, setting the tone for the album. According to Wikipedia, originally, the tune is a negro spiritual written by John Wesley Work III and his brother Frederick J. Work and was first published in 1901 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Next up is Mean Town Blues, which kicks things up a few notches. The song was written by Johnny Winter who first released it on his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment. JLH’s version of the tune sounds like Winter spinning on 78 instead of 45 rpm!

While I Believe It To My Soul slows down the speed, the track sounds just as intense as the two previous tunes. Originally, Ray Charles wrote and first recorded the song in 1961 on his studio album The Genius Sings the Blues.

In The Valley is only JLH original tune on the album. It was written by Athens, the singer, whose voice at times reminds me a bit of Melissa Etheridge.

Free Me is another nice cover showing a soulful side of Athens. Written by Otis Redding and Gene Lawson in 1967, the song appeared on Redding’s fourth posthumous album Love Man, which was released in 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the great Muddy Waters tune Mannish Boy. Waters recorded it first in 1955. While it’s perhaps a bit peculiar hearing a woman sing, “I’m a man, I’m a full-grown man,” JLH does a great job with it.

JHL, whose current tour apparently started in mid-July, will be on the road all the way to mid-November. After Long Branch they are scheduled for seven additional U.S. gigs until early September before taking their tour back to Europe in late October, returning to Germany and Switzerland. They are also adding Denmark and the Czech Republic where the tour will conclude in Šumperk on November 18 at the Blues Alive Festival.

Here is a clip of JLH’s above mentioned live performance on Rockpalast – not sure how long it will be available.

Sources: Jane Lee Hooker website, YouTube, Wikipedia

What I’ve Been Listening To: The John Byrne Band/The Immigrant And the Orphan

Album mixes Americana with traces of Irish folk

During this time of the year, I like to go to free outdoor concerts. Fortunately, there are many parks and other facilities within about an one-hour driving radius from my house, featuring summer concert series. This is how I came across John Byrne, who I’m going to see this evening at one of these venues. Until a few hours ago, I had never heard about this Irish-American singer-songwriter.

Other than his website, there is very limited information about Byrne on the Internet. Surprisingly, Wikipedia does not appear to have any write-up on him. If I were his publicist, frankly, that’s something I would change. When I checked Apple Music, I noticed Byrne has released three albums as The John Byrne Band since 2010, though his website suggests he started recording music in 1999. Immigrant And the Orphan, which appeared in September 2015, is his most recent studio release.

Byrne was born in Dublin, Ireland, and lives in Philadelphia. He and the band he leads tour in two configurations: an acoustic four-piece formation, including banjo/accordion, fiddle/cello, guitars and horns, and a six-seven-piece band that adds drums and bass to its lineup. I have no idea which of the two I’m going to see tonight.

In a YouTube video about the making of Immigrant And the Orphan, Byrne notes, “My biggest influence has always been folk music from Ireland and America…because to me it encompasses all manner of real organic music, and that’s what I love.” Following are clips of some of the record’s songs. This selection is based on my initial impression, after browsing the record a couple of times.

The album opens with Sing On Johnny, a song about Byrne’s father. Like the majority of tracks on the record, it’s predominantly acoustic.

Dirty, Used Up, Chewed Up, Screwed Up Love, one of the few tunes that cross over into folk rock, has a catchy chorus and some nice ups and downs.

Lie to You has a country flavor. It’s one of the tunes that stood out to me.

Me Over Him is another acoustic track I like.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track, which features a beautiful string arrangement.

Immigrant and the Orphan, which apparently at least in part was financed via a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, was recorded at Spicehouse Studios in Fishtown, Philadelphia. The record was produced by Rob Schaffer, who also plays guitar and banjo in Byrne’s band. I’d like to finish this post with the above noted video clip about the making of the album.

Sources: John Byrne Band web site, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listing to: Keb’Mo’/That Hot Pink Blues Album

Live album showcases Mo’s signature style mixing blues with pop and soul

These days, the blues seems to be on my mind a lot. I’m happy to report though that my mental state hasn’t changed – I’m still crazy about great music, and music is my doctor! Plus, when it comes to Keb’ Mo’, the blues rarely makes you feel down.

Born Kevin Roosevelt Moore on October 3, 1951 in South Los Angeles, Calif., Keb’ Mo’ initially broke through in 1994 with his eponymous second studio album. While the blues forms the backbone of most of his music, Mo’ has frequently mixed in other genres, including pop, soul and jazz throughout his 35-year-plus recording career.

Keb Mo

Country and delta blues hard core fans may dismiss Mo’s breed of the blues, but I like the fact that he’s been broadening the genre. In this regard, he reminds me a bit of Taj Mahal, who has mixed acoustic blues with folk and roots music from around the world, such as reggae, zydeco, West African and even Hawaiian music. To be clear, I also love pure country and delta blues but can always listen to artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sleepy John Estes and Robert Johnson.

I’m still relatively new to Keb’ Mo’ and only started paying closer attention to him when he and Taj Mahal released their collaboration album TajMo in May this year. I previously shared my thoughts on this outstanding record here. I’ve also been motivated to explore Mo’ more deeply, since I’m going to see him and Mahal next Thursday as part of their ongoing tour.

After listening into various of Mo’s 16 albums to date, I decided to highlight his latest solo record, which captures live performances from his 2015 tour. According to the bio on his web site, That Hot Pink Blues Album “began as almost an afterthought and an assortment of concert gems “for the fans,” because his front of house engineer decided to hit “record” at the beginning of each show.” The album ended up with 16 tracks captured from shows in nine different cities.

Keb Mo and Band

The live record presents tunes from throughout Mo’s career and, as such, is a great introduction to his music. Following are some of the songs I’d like to highlight.

The opener Tell Everybody I Know is written by Mo’ and first appeared on his above mentioned 1994 eponymous album. His guitar-playing has a bit of a J.J. Cale feel to it. I also love the keyboard part!

Next up is Somebody Hurt You. Co-written by Mo’ and John Lewis Parker, the track was included on BLUESAmericana, Mo’s 14th album released in 2014. The tune is a relaxed mid-tempo blues that showcases Mo’s electric guitar skills. The great background vocals add a nice dose of soul.

The Worst Is Yet to Come, another tune from BLUESAmericana, is one of the highlights on the album. Mo’ co-wrote this song with Heather Donovan and Pete Sallis. The amazing groove of this mid-tempo electric blues just makes you want you start moving. It’s another nice illustration of Mo’s electric guitar skills.

Government Cheese stands out to me for its seductive funky groove. Written by Mo’, the song first appeared on 2009’s Live of Mo’, his first live album. The track also includes an unexpected Moog-sounding keyboard part.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is More Than One Way Home. Written by Mo’ and John Lewis Parker, the song illustrates Mo’s pop side. He recorded it first for Just Like You, his third studio album from 1996, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. He won two more, in 1998 and 2005, and had various additional Grammy nominations. The catchy pop jazz track features a nice electric slide guitar and a cool bass solo.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d also like to acknowledge Mo’s excellent back-up band: Michael B. Hicks (keyboards) Stan Sargeant (bass) and Casey Wasner (drums). Hicks is known in the funk and soul scene in Nashville, where Mo’ resides, and beyond the city. In addition to touring with Mo’, Hicks also records his own music. In 2013, he released an album called This Is Life, together with an 18-piece funk group, Mike Hicks and the Funk Puncs. Sargeant is a prominent session and touring bassist, who has worked with an impressive array of music artists like Dolly Parton, Vanessa Williams, Leonard Cohen, Jonathan Butler, David Benoit and Al Jarreau. He also released a solo record in 2014, a pop jazz album. Like Mo’, Wasner is a multi-instrumentalist. He also produced Mo’s BLUESAmericana album and writes his own music.

Sources: Wikipedia, Keb’ Mo’ website, Mike Hicks website, Stan Sargeant web site, Casey Wasner website, YouTube