What I’ve Been Listening To: Rick Barth/Hand Me Down Soul

A mix of rock and acoustic-oriented roots music on Jersey singer-songwriter’s studio debut

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Rick Barth is another promising example that good music isn’t dead, just harder to find nowadays than say in the 60s and 70s where all you needed to do was to switch on the radio. FM radio definitely played an important role in the start of my music journey, along with my sister’s vinyl collection and my terrific guitar teacher. But back to Rick!

I met Rick last Sunday at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, Pa., while attending The Acoustic Singer-Songwriter Series. Organized by Rick, the event features a rotating lineup of New Jersey singer/songwriters and acoustic musicians. I was primarily there to see John Hathaway, a singer-songwriter from Asbury Park, N.J., who also fronts a great Neil Young tribute band called Decade. I’ve previously written about John, most recently here. John introduced me to Rick.

Rick Barth

In addition to organizing this great event, Rick is a Jersey singer-songwriter himself. In 2015, he released his studio debut Hand Me Down Soul. After having listened to the album a few times, I like what I’m hearing – a nice mix of rock and acoustic-oriented roots music, delivered with a slightly rugged voice. I can hear a little bit of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Steve Earle here and there, who are all artists I dig. Interestingly, according to a previous review by Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog, Rick started out his music career with hard rock and metal. He has certainly come a long way!

Hand Me Down With Soul kicks off with Wherever You Are, a nice mid-tempo rocker. Like all tracks except for one tune, the song was written by Rick, who also plays acoustic and electric guitars.

Another mid-tempo rock tune I like is Another Time With You.

The title track takes things slightly down a notch. In particular, I like Rick’s soulful vocal delivery of the tune.

I Love You (Now Go Away) is another standout to me. One of the country-oriented song’s defining features is the bluesy harmonica provided by Lou Tambone.

One of the all-acoustic songs on the record is Beautiful, an appropriate title. In addition to Rick’s vocals and acoustic guitar, the tune only features some organ by Jim Reeber in the background – really all that’s needed.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the album’s closer Invincible, another acoustic-oriented song. Rick co-wrote the lyrics with Darren Parker.

Hand Me Down was produced and engineered by Brian Csencsits at his studio Supreme Sound in Woodland Park, N.J. Apart from the above, other musicians on the record include Ralph Heiss (bass), Jeff Bridi (bass) and Mari Byrd (backing vocals on Good Old Days). Hand Me Down Soul is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and via Rick’s website.

Rick told me he is currently working on his next record. He joked he wants it be acoustic-oriented but that the folks who work with him keep suggesting to add drums and other instruments. According to his website, the album will be called Fade.

Sources: Rick Barth official website, Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Johnny Hathaway/Deep Cuts And Bruises

New Jersey singer-songwriter’s debut album presents nice mix of melodic rock and acoustic songs

Oftentimes, I complain how terrible most of today’s music is and how true craftsmanship seems to be a matter of the past. Modern technology makes it possible that artists no longer need to know how to play an instrument; heck, they can even get away with mediocre vocals, since you can pretty much correct anything with computers. But what I really mean is the majority of music dominating today’s charts. However, as I’ve realized time and again, fortunately, there is more to the picture.

Good music is still out there, but since it is largely gone from the mainstream, it is harder to find. A great example is John (Johnny) Hathaway, a singer-songwriter from Asbury Park, N.J. I met John last September at Colts Neck Rockfest in Colts Neck, N.J., where he was performing with his excellent Neil Young tribute band Decade. I dig Young, so we started chatting about Neil and John’s band. I’ve since been to various other of their gigs. But it was only recently that I realized John is also writing his own music and released his debut album Deep Cuts And Bruises in April 2016.

John Hathaway

Recently, I went to a solo performance by John at The Acoustic Singer-Songwriter Series,  a live performance series by a rotating lineup of New Jersey singer/songwriters and acoustic musicians, organized by Rick Barth, another Jersey singer-songwriter. Rick is a great guy. His singer-songwriter series is a nice opportunity for up- and coming artists to perform their music in a nice, relaxed and relatively low pressure atmosphere. He also has an album out, which I’m planning to review separately.

John told me since he didn’t have a band at the time, he pretty much produced Deep Cuts And Bruises by himself at home with a 24-track machine. Except for drums and percussion, which were played by Ken Biedzynski, and lap steel guitar on one track by Mike Flynn, John played all of the instruments himself, including acoustic and electric guitars, bass, mandolin and harmonica. There are also various guest vocalists. Given that only the mastering was done at a professional studio, the sound is great; frankly, if you didn’t know, you’d never guess you’re essentially listening to a home-produced record. Time to get to some music!

Here is the album’s opener Release Me, a nice rocker with a catchy chorus.

Another rock-oriented song and one of my favorite tunes on the album is Ride Along. I really like the guitar sound on this track, which also has a strong chorus.

Two Days From Tucson is one of the acoustic tracks on the record. It has a nice, relaxed, rootsy and country vibe to it. Backing vocals are provided by Pam McCoy.

Another acoustic standout is Real Men. The singing is beautiful, featuring alternating lead vocals between John and Linda King, who also provides backing vocals. Flynn sets nice pedal steel guitar accents.

From Deep Within is a mid-tempo melodic rock-oriented tune. In particular, I like the harmony guitar parts that are reminiscent of Boston – and it’s safe to assume all of it done without the sound technology of wizard Tom Scholz!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the title track, another gem on the record. This song has great dynamic, with a grungy main section nicely framed by a low start and end with mandolin.

Other guest vocalists on Deep Cuts And Bruises include Lisa Barone, Wendy Horn, Laura Catalina Johnson and Sandra Huth. The album was mastered by Dave Florio at Sound Cave Studios in Sayreville, N.J. The record is available on Spotify.

While John hasn’t started work on another album, he told me he has about 60 songs, which sounds like a good quantity to me. I’m pretty sure we’ll hear more recorded music from him at some point.

Sources: John Hathaway Facebook page, YouTube

Great Music Isn’t Quite Dead Yet

Four coinciding releases from Roger Daltrey, Ry Cooder, John Mellencamp and Glenn Fry

Yesterday was a great day in music as far as I’m concerned. When was the last time you can remember new releases from four great artists coming out the same day? While admittedly sometimes I don’t recall what I did the previous day, I really couldn’t tell you. Sadly, when checking iTunes for new music, I usually see stuff I don’t care about, so why even bother? Well, part of me refuses to give up hope that amid all the mediocre crap that dominates the charts these days, I might find something I actually dig. This time I surely did, with new releases from Roger Daltrey, Ry CooderJohn Mellencamp and Glenn Frey.

Since I just wrote about Daltrey’s new single How Far from his upcoming solo album As Long As I Have You, I’m only briefly acknowledging it in this post. Based on this tune and the previously released title track, his new record surely looks very promising. It’s set to come out June 1, tough I have a feeling we might see a third single leading up to its release – really looking forward to this one!

Ry Cooder_The Prodigal Son

Ry Cooder’s new album The Prodigal Son is his 17th solo record and first new release in six years. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on his music – in fact, I know far too little about it. But here’s what I know. I’ve yet to hear bad music from this virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and I know good music when I hear it. And this it, baby, great music – plain and simple – no need to over-analyze!

The Prodigal Son is a beautiful collection of roots and gospel music. Eight of the 11 tunes are covers from artists like Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Alfred Reed and Carter Stanley. All of the reviews I read noted the album represents a return all the way to the beginning of Cooder’s 50-year recording career. Asked by the Los Angeles Times why he decided to make a gospel-focused record, Cooder said, “In these times, all I can say, empathy is good, understanding is good, a little tolerance is good. We have these dark forces of intolerance and bigotry that are growing back…The gospel music has a nice way of making these suggestions about empathy…Plus I like the songs, I have to admit.” Well said!

Here’s a nice clip of the Blind Willie tune Everybody Ought To Treat A Stranger Right – sadly, this couldn’t be more timely! Watching the maestro at work live in the studio is a real treat. By the way, the drummer is Cooder’s son Joachim, who has collaborated with him on several records and tours in the past and apparently was an important catalyst for the new record.

More frequent readers of the blog know that I’m a huge fan of John Mellencamp. His new release Plain Spoken: From The Chicago Theatre is a companion to a concert film that debuted on Netflix on February 1st. It captures a show Mellencamp performed at the landmark venue on October 25, 2016. The set features country singer Carlene Carter, with whom he has been on the road for several years and recorded the excellent 2017 collaboration album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies.

John Mellencamp_Plain Spoken From The Chicago Theatre

The new DVD-CD set includes the original version of the Netflix film with commentary from Mellencamp throughout, a “non-commentary” version of the film, and a live CD of the concert. While I’ve only listened into some of the tunes from the CD via Apple Music, I certainly like what I’ve heard so far. Here’s a clip of Cherry Bomb, a track from the 1987 studio album The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite Mellencamp records.

Last but not least, there’s Above The Clouds: The Collection, a new four-disc box set capturing the solo career of Glenn Frey. The set combines well known tunes like The Heat Is On, Smuggler’s Blues and You Belong To City with lesser known, deeper cuts and, perhaps most intriguingly, a copy of Longbranch Pennywhistle, a pre-Eagles 1969 album Frey recorded with J.D. Souther. The set also includes a DVD capturing footage from Frey gig in September 1992.

Glenn Frey_Above The Clouds Box Set

Admittedly, I had not been aware of Longbranch Pennywhistle, which according to Ultimate Class Rock until now had only been available on CD as an import. Frey and Souther also performed as a duo under that name, though it was a short-lived venture. Frey went on to co-found the Eagles in 1971, together with Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. Souther ended up co-writing some of the band’s best known tunes, such as Best Of My Love, Heartache Tonight and New Kid In Town. Here’s a clip of Run Boy, Run, one of the tracks from the Longbranch Pennywhistle album, which was written by Frey.

While Daltrey’s upcoming album is something to look forward to, I’m under no illusion that yesterday was an aberration. The days when great music releases were part of the mainstream are long gone. Still, why not enjoy the nice moment while it lasts!

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, NPR, John Mellencamp official website, USA Today, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube