Search This Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kelly Joe Phelps - a style that's all his own

Kelly Joe Phelps -
“Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind”
live concert recordings
Rykodisc, 2004
A few years ago on the Blues discussion groups on the internet (Blues-L), I was reading the occasional comment about this guy out in the Northwest who was a new phenomenon of the acoustic blues and slide guitar. It took me a while before I could get my hands on his first three albums, “Lead Me On“, “Roll Away The Stone”, and “Shine Eyed Mister Zen”.

Kelly Joe Phelps soon rose to popular acclaim and fame in Folk and Blues circles. While the first three albums were classic solo acoustic ventures, his next two albums became more complex and filled with additional instrumentation and personnel, which spoiled for me the intimate, immediate and personal nature of his music.
Now comes a new album that was recorded live, with only a man and his guitar – pure, bare, personal, meditative, lovely!

The album opens with a 10 minute rendition of the classic Nehemiah (Skip) James “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and also includes a cover of the Rev. Gary Davis tune “I Am the Light of This World” (which has been identified with Jorma Kaukonen’s repertoire for the past 35 years).There are plenty of evocative and lyrical singer-songwriter folk numbers penned by Phelps, alongside the Blues numbers which are his forte.

Kelly Joe Phelps is a fine guitar picker as well as slide player, playing with the acoustic guitar on his lap. He also has a very pleasant mellow voice with just a hint of that smoky rasp of singers like Dave Van Ronk. This album is highly recommended for late night listening, meditation, or for those who love hearing lots of fine acoustic guitar fingerpicking…

Geoff Muldaur - Blues with class

Geoff Muldaur
“the Secret Handshake” (Hightone Records, 1998)
“Password” (Hightone Records, 2000)

Geoff Muldaur has class, and that is a double entendre, because he not only has class in the sense of culture and quality, but he also has a thing or two to teach us, as if her were holding classes in Blues and Jazz appreciation.

I have always known that Geoff Muldaur has impeccable taste in music, his repertoire has always been a wide mix of styles that are both entertaining and instructive. More often than not, his repertoire has inspired me to go do a bit of research and discover new artists or musical sub-styles in the rich American Folk/Blues/Jazz heritage that I wasn’t previously aware of or familiar with. Longtime fans of Ry Cooder will know what I’m talking about, if he doesn’t already have one, Geoff Muldaur should have an honorary degree in ethnomusicology…

Geoff has always made music very personal, never compromising over the arrangements or orchestrations or complexity of musical ideas, nor the fine musicians that accompany him. He began recording in the mid 60’s with the (Jim) Kweskin Jug Band alongside his wife, singer Maria (born D’Amato) Muldaur, continuing with his own solo efforts with Maria, and also as part of Paul Butterfield’s Better Days band. He even had a bit of good fortune when his recording of the song “Brazil” was used as the theme song in the popular Terry Gilliam futuristic science-fantasy film “Brazil”.

I recently rediscovered the magic that Geoff does with music in a pair of solo albums on Hightone records – “the Secret Handshake” (1998) and “Password” (2000). Both records are similar in their scope and flavor, labeled by Muldaur as “American Music: Blues and Gospel”, ‘though for my tastes I would characterize the first one as more dynamic and eclectic, and the second one as more subdued and introspective.
Make no mistake, both albums are interesting and varied, but I simply feel a stronger connection to “Secret Handshake”.

The album begins with an acoustic rendering of “The Wild Ox Moan” (from the late 30’s Library of Congress recordings of Vera Hall) where Geoff does a beautiful falsetto moan. The opening number is followed by a full brass band and vocal choir for the Gospel classic “This World Is Not My Home” and then we suddenly switch to a Zydeco groove for the classic Leadbelly song “Alberta”. This is followed by a quiet personal tale of Geoff’s escapades as a youth in trying to find the grave of Blind Lemon Jefferson in East Texas in order to sweep it off as the classic Blind Lemon verse on the gravestone epitaph requests – “see that my grave is kept clean”- “Got To Find Blind Lemon – Part One” (part two can be heard on the album “Password”).
A couple more Zydeco style numbers follow, a country stringband number, a solo piano and vocal song, a lovely blues arrangement of Sleepy John Estes’ “Someday Baby”, and closing with solo vocal and guitar. I can almost guarantee that you’ll play this album over and over again before you have heard enough.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Some Memories of Willie P. Bennett

I keep getting the picture in my mind of a festival (probably the Ottawa Festival For the Folks, summer 1977 or 1978)
where it started pouring rain in the afternoon, and everyone was looking for shelter,
Willie spontaneously (or so it seemed to me) saved the day by starting to perform in some old dinning hall on the grounds,
completely acoustically, no mics or amplifiers,
as all of us huddled inside - it was hard to hear, but still a great experience - experiencing his voice live in front of you was always something special....

or the time that he showed up at the Toronto Folklore Centre (TFC) on Avenue RD. (in an old redbrick house on the west side,right near the bridge of the railroad tracks) right after he had shaved his head for the first time and everyone was inspecting and questioning him, and he just picked up a harmonica and started to play...he used to hang out at the TFC quite often in the middle of the day, sometimes trying out guitars, sometimes just resting (or waking up)...I wasn't on speaking terms with him, just on "hey there" nodding to each other kind of terms.

these are some of the nice memories I have of him

R.I.P. - Willie P. Bennett

I just received the sad news today -
legendary Canadian Folk/Country singer songwriter Willie P. Bennett
has passed on to the other side following heart trouble over the last year.
****Willie P. Bennett****
October 26 1951 - February 15, 2008
Some of you may have heard me speak in reverence of Willie P. Bennett and
I have sung his songs many times at the local Tel Aviv Folk Club and other venues,
songs such as "Take My Own Advice" or the song quoted at the end of this post, "Down to the Water".
I think that the best way we can help commemorate this man is by learning more about him and his music
you can hear many of his songs here:

I feel so lucky to have known Willie back in the glory days of Folk Festivals
and Folk Clubs in the late 70's in the Toronto area.
Willie was a one of a kind troubadour, guitarist, mandolin player, harmonica player,
and a powerful singer with a deep voice.
He was an amazing songwriter who could make you laugh, or melt your heart, or leave your jaw hanging in awe of his lovely words.
He was a man who "didn't take sh*t from no one", and dealt in the bare truths of life in his writing.

It is no wonder that three of his musical friends formed a popular band based on his music - "Blackie and the Rodeo Kings" or "B.A.R.K." (after one of Willie's classic songs)with Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson, and sometimes Willie himself joined in.

here are the lyrics to one of Willie's classic songs:

"Down To the Water"
From "Tryin' To Start Out Clean"
LP originally released 1975

My mind was sinking in a sea of darkness
My eyes were blinded by the light of you
The reasons for leaving were not all that harmless
The lessons I learned both straight and true
The stars were rising in a light of triumph
The time for leaving was about half gone
The sun was drowning in sea of silver
My heart was as low as the sun in the dawn

So come on...
Let's go down to the water
And show me what you think is the truth
You know that you could
Let's go down to the water
I'd show you my crown if I could

My mouth was frozen in a thousand faces
My words were hanging in the air
My thoughts were scattered in a thousand places
How come you start out running scared
The time was running on a little further, and further
The moon was rising right beside your head
You always lose yourself in someone else's need
Always looking to find love in a bed

So come on...
Let's go down to the water
And show me what you think is the truth
You know that you could
Let's go down to the water
I'd show you my crown if I could

Thinking about the ways of the seagull
Spending my time on every one
You could keep on reaching out forever and forever
With out ever touching anyone

So come on...
Let's go down to the water
And show me what you think is the truth
You know that you could
Let's go down to the water
I'd show you my crown if I could

here is a message from Willie's website:
"Dear friends,

It is with pain in our hearts and deep sadness that we formally inform the music community that our friend, lover, troubadour, mentor, and musical artist Willie P. Bennett passed away suddenly at his home in Peterborough Ontario, Friday February 15th 2008.

More information will be available soon at the discretion of Willie's partner Linda and the Bennett family.

Thank you for your compassionate words and positive thoughts. Willie always expected the best from us, especially in our kindnesses to each other, and I am sure he is still proud to call us his friends.

Letters of condolence and support may be sent to:

his companion in love,

Ms. Linda Duemo,
272 Bold Street
Hamilton Ontario L8P 1W2

his family,

Mrs. Margaret Bennett
Box 526
Picture Butte, Alberta T0K 1V0

care of his mother Margaret, sister Esther, (son Richard Barrett, wife Judy,grand-nephews William James and Jason Alexander), and brothers David (Brian), and Paul (Shelley, nephews Ryan, Adam and Brandon)

".....we'll understand it all in time......."

Best wishes to you all

Robin "

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The previous 8 posts were formerly on another ...

The previous 8 posts were formerly on another blog that I thought might be a good idea - "Now Playing In My Car", record reviews combined with gripes about driving my car to work or elsewhere on the highway,
but alas, nobody seemed to notice.
So here they are again, maybe someone will take notice and try some of these recording out for themselves!

John Scofield - Blue Matter

Ok, so I'm driving home again after an annoying and tiring day at the office, where I also felt at one point like I had food poisoning from the onion soup at the vegetarian restaurant...I needed a cool kind of album to "chill out" on the way home.

I've got the windows down to enjoy some of the breeze of the fall night, as I slip in another of my favorite John Scofield albums - "Blue Matter" .
If "Still Warm" has a warmish texture to it, "Blue Matter" is a bit more cool and distanced, especially due to some of the seriously dated synthesizer sounds from Mitchell Forman - if there is one thing that seems to date an album more than anything else, it's the embarrassing synth sounds that are often used in many 70's and 80's recordings, in Fusion and modern Jazz in particular. Getting past that, this album still has some great tunes on it with a killer rhythm section in bassist Gary Grainger and super drummer Dennis Chambers.

I saw Dennis Chambers live once or twice, and he nearly stole the show the second time - he is such a powerful and funky drummer with an amazing groove, that I don't think anyone today can come near him in this niche, I mean he's like Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, and Dave Weckl all in one, playing on amphetamines...

As I'm waiting for some of the congestion to clear up along the 2 1/2 lane boulevard that passes by the Yarkon river, I get a waft of the local sewage treatment station along the way - oh putrid!!! - gotta crank up the volume on "Now She's Blond" and try to ignore the olfactory affront. As I pass the Diamond Exchange business area, another waft of sewage comes up - you can also get that whnever you pass by the Sheraton City Tower on the highway heading north, it always seems to smell terrible around there, at least for the last 3-4 years...

I flip back to one of my favorites - "Blue Matter", the first track on this album and what originally sold me on it when I bought the fine German pressing of the LP around 20 years ago, and I used to sit with the album and try to pick out the tune on my own guitar.

Just a couple of years after that album came out, I managed to help persuade someone that it would be a good idea to have Scofield over here for a live concert or two, and I even got to meet my idol and get him to autograph my Ibanez guitar (a similar model to the one that he plays).

Cool, I've chilled out now...

John Scofield - Still Warm

On average,I have a 20 minute ride from home to work each day. Usually, this involves weaving in and out of high traffic areas and some driving on the highway. Every morning is a different story, and every morning there is a new set of "challenges" to face.
Music helps to take off the edge, to help me ignore or forgive the countless inconsiderate assholes and idiots out there on the road who are either a danger to you and everyone else, or just a nuisance for which you need supreme amounts of patience in order not to loose your cool...

This morning I placed in my CD player one of my all time favorite Jazz/Fusion guitar albums - John Scofield's "Still Warm" from 1986. I admit that I am a total John Scofield addict, and I have loved many of his albums over the years, but I keep coming back to "Still Warm". After all these years, I think that it has become a kind of classic. The different tones, colors, the rhythms, the mix of subtlety and boldness on this album are the result of an unusual team of players from different parts of the musical spectrum - guitarist Scofield and keyboard player Don Grolnick are from more mainstream and slightly traditional Jazz backgrounds, while drummer Omar Hakim and bassist Daryl Jones are from more commercial Jazz/Fusion/Rock origins.

As I'm winding through traffic on the main street in the city, I jump to track 5 - "Rule Of Thumb" which begins with a delicate keyboard rhythm, and then turns into a delicate but funky and upbeat collaboration between Daryl Jones lightly snapping the bass and Hakim on a solid funk riff, as "Sco" adds some pizzicato picking. As I am forced to weave in and out of different lanes to avoid the stupid rich-bitch that has double parked her car and has the door open - further obstructing the right hand lane...the music soothes my pain, makes it easier to grin and bear it 'till I actually get onto the highway.

The gentle but steady sounds of track 6 "Picks and Pans" begin, the fast pace of the traffic matches the music, and the idiots that can't seem to choose a lane to stay in are easier to ignore as I hold back a little and turn up the volume on Sco's long solo.

I flip back to track 2 "Still Warm", an up tempo but fairly quiet tune, very subtle and understated both in the playing and the harmonic composition - this is a great relaxation tune that doesn't put you to sleep. I'm rounding the corner now to the neighborhood of my office building, traffic seems fairly clear now, all the way up to a few meters from the entrance to the building - that's when all hell seems to break loose as all sorts of inconsiderate and impatient people are making U-turns and blocking traffic in both directions as other impatient people try to weave around them...all I can do is put up the volume a bit and wait in least another 5 minutes before the mess resolves itself and I can make it into the parking garage as the first track "Techno" starts playing.

There, I made it safely to work once more,
another annoying morning in traffic,
but I had John Scofield to keep me company
and I managed not to blow my stack...

the Pentangle - Live at Royal Festival Hall 1968

Last night as I drove home from work, I was feeling a bit ill and very tired, sort of like serious jet lag. I put in my CD player a recording of the Pentangle live in concert from the Royal Festival Hall, June 29, 1968...and I was already starting to feel a bit better.

I've been a big fan of the Pentangle and all of the individual members too for over 30 years, but I don't recall the last time I gave them a good listen in the past year. So last night as I was negotiating the tricky turns of the newly built but badly mis-planned bridge near the big Ramat Gan Mall complex, it was a great delight to once again hear the delicate tones of Jacqui McShee singing "Hear My Call" and "Way Behind the Sun". As her voice gives way to the rest of the band in improvisation mode, I recalled the greatness of this ensemble - who took Elizabethan style Folk songs and zapped them with pure Jazz and Blues feeling.

The bowed Bass riff that Danny Thompson plays at the start of "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" invokes a real Blues feeling, as does the rhythm that is later established by the rest of the band - this song is probably 300 years old or more, but they have made it totally 20th century.

As I turn into the underpass that leads me home - only about 2 km left to go, I hear Bert Jansch's unmistakable voice begin singing "A Woman Like You" with his lovely acoustic guitar sounds in the background. Jansch is one of the first virtuoso guitarists that I ever became enamored with, and his playing can still make the hairs rise on the back of my neck to this day.

It's such a pleasure to be able to listen to the Pentangle again in this digital age where so much of the recent musical offerings seem to be a rehashing of yesterday's commercial trash over and over again. So go out today and get yourself a Pentangle album!!!

Root Doctor - "Change Our Ways"

I just received the new CD from Root Doctor Band a couple of days ago, so this morning I gave it a "test drive" so to speak on my way to work.

It was a fairly normal day today, with moderate traffic as I got onto the highway. But of course, the laws of "Carma" - the cosmological laws of driving and traffic, have a way of balancing out your experience sometimes. What you gain in a break in traffic at one part of your journey, you certainly will lose as you encounter a minor jam somewhere further on up the road.

Root Doctor are an interesting band of mostly young Blues musicians fronted by a more veteran vocalist named Freddie Cunningham. Cunningham has one of those soulful voices that have a rich rounded tone and deep vibrato or sustain in his technique. He wouldn't stand out that much among old style R&B/ Soul singers, but in the Blues idiom it adds a breath of fresh air and a different take on the Blues.

Root Doctor are a tight band with a good dose of Soul and Funk in their playing, but they can certainly prove their mainstream Blues roots as well. Their previous album from last year (Been A Long Time Coming - Big O Records 2406)impressed me as a fresh new band on the scene, and this new CD just keeps up that good feeling with a selection of original tunes, and some interesting covers.

One such cover, "Soul Shine" by Warren Haynes, is a very pleasant surprise since I am a very big fan of Warren and his band Gov't Mule, and Root Doctor do a fine cover of this inspirational song.

Well, I finally made it through that last surprise traffic jam just 800 meters from the office, and managed to slip into the parking lot without event as I flipped to the first track on the CD - "Blues Will Take Care of You", written by their keyboard man Jim Alfredson, a very nice Blues song to carry with me through my day...

Frank Zappa - OZ Live

I think that I first remember hearing Zappa back in high school at some friend's basement after school. I recall the song Dyna-Moe-Hum,so I guess it was the Over-Nite Sensation album that was on the turntable at the time. As I drove home tonight, facing the wind-down of the weekend, tired from the whole week of work and other little worries of life, I tried to play a Jazz album that I recently acquired, but my car CD player refused to register it properly - even though it was an official commercial pressing. So I slipped in the burned copy I have of Frank Zappa's OZ double CD - live from Sydney Australia back in January of 1976.

I love Frank Zappa, I have always thought of him as the greatest genius of the Rock/Pop/Contemporary music field - he could do it all - compose, write lyrics, play amazing guitar, sing, produce, promote, perform , conduct an orchestra, and of course, he had vision and an amazingly sharp wit.

A number of DVDs and video clippings have recently become available with segments from Frank's 1973 band performances with the great Napolean Murphy Brock on Sax and , mania, and vocals. Well, Napolean is also on hand at the Australian tour that is featured on OZ. It's always fun to hear some of Frank's on stage talk and antics from a live show, and this show is no different - die hard fans can probably pickup all the nuances and variations in this show over other performances, and that is part of what makes each live recording a unique experience and a fresh take on something you may have heard many times before.

As long as I can listen to the guitar solo masterpiece "Black Napkins", I'm cool. That tune is one of my top 5 all time greatest guitar instrumentals of all time and all music. It was originally presented on the album "Zoot Allures", where Zappa and his studio editing magic has it dissolve into the surreal song "The Torture Never Stops". I can't ever seem to get enough of that tune "Black Napkins"

I'm sure I'll play this double CD a number of times in my car in the months to come...

Bill Withers - Acoustic Soul!!!

Sunday morning traffic is always the heaviest around the greater Tel Aviv area, as well as other parts of the country. A large number of traffic jams seem to be unnecessarily caused by drivers who simply don't know how to use lanes properly - they hesitate too much, block exit lanes that could easily flow faster if they were surer of themselves or decisive in any way.
To compound all that, there is a fanning out or widening funnel effect caused by assholes who try to cut in further down the line and block additional lanes that are not part of the exit, this causes a chain reaction that slows down the rest of the lanes, causing a traffic jam backup of a few miles...So I wanted a mellow album to help me be patient, and also to try to wake up. I took along the new Bill Withers Super Hits compilation that I picked up last Friday.

Sundays are hard days to get back to work, the one and a half day weekend is short, and I'm quite often still very tired - the body wakes up at 6:30 in the morning, but the brain sometimes takes it's sweet time in fully waking up 'till around one hour after I arrive at the office...

I was just starting high school as Bill Withers began hitting the charts with songs like "Ain't No Sunshine (When She's Gone)", "Use Me", "When I'm Kissing My Love", and the following year, "Grandma's Hands" and his all time classic "Lean On Me".
I consider Withers to be a real crossover artist - someone with true R&B sensibilities - he started his career teamed up with Booker T. Jones.
Withers played acoustic guitar and wrote very catchy pop-oriented tunes, so it's not surprising that he made it big at the time as part of the Pop-Folk-Singer/Songwriter scene. Many of his songs are timeless, standing up today as well as they did back then when I would hear them on Boston radio stations all the time, and I have performed his classic "Lean On Me" quite a few times on stage over the years.

Well, maybe it was the karma of Bill Withers' music, and maybe it was sheer luck, but once I got past the unnecessary jam in the Sheraton City Towers area of the highway, the rest was smooth sailing, and I was in the office trying to wake up in no time...

Mingus is God

Tuesday, the middle of the work week, another one of those unexplained traffic slowdowns where the highway seems like a parking lot more than a thruway. Just as soon as I entered the highway from the La Guardia exit, I was already making my way back out at the Shalom exit, to continue up the main road parallel to the highway, that takes me northward to the edge of the urban center.

There is an old Jazz musician's joke about the musician who just arrived in heaven, and is sitting in at the big band rehearsal with all the great legends of Jazz, and there is one guy in the corner with a trumpet playing something awful. The punchline is: "oh, that's just God, he thinks he's Miles". Well to me, Mingus has always been and always will be God.

I finally cracked open that Mingus at Antibes CD that my buddy Yair gave to me for my birthday. This is a classic live session (so many of Mingus's recordings are...) from a festival on July 13, 1960 at Juan Le Pins, France. On hand with "Chazz" (Mingus never liked the nickname Charlie - he felt it was demeaning like calling a Black man "boy")were Ted Curson (Tpt), Eric Dolphy (various reeds), Booker Ervin (T Sax), and Dannie Richmond (Dms), with special guest Bud Powell sitting in on one song.
The first tune, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" is true Mingus, a happy and upbeat Gospel song that allows each of the musicians to stretch out a bit and "present their case" as it were with Mingus egging them on with shouts and screams as well as his bass riffs.
The third track, "What Love" has an amazing blowing session as both Curson and Dolphy get to really explore some of the "outer limits", Curson soloing first, followed by Dolphy, who then gets into a direct dialog of call and response with Mingus's bass and the encouragement by Dannie Richmond from time to time.

As I make the turn into Devora Ha Nevia St. I see a bit of a slowdown, so I try the shortcut through the Ramat Hachayal residential neighborhood, only to find just as big a pileup on Raoul Wallenberg. Well, I finally get through it all as I hear the beginning of "I'll Remember April" with Bud Powell as a guest on piano.
It must have been a very hot day on stage at Juan Le Pins that day,
Mingus is God!!!

Todd Wolfe - Live

OK, my body is moving toward the car, but my brain doesn't seem to be fully awake yet.
I've got a piece of cake and my portable coffee mug (with a spring loaded seal at the top for drinking and driving) filled with hot Turkish coffee/swill.
I pop a live CD of Todd Wolfe in the player and get going while the getting is good.
It's a nice sunny day today, not hot, just pleasant. As I get onto the highway and start devouring the cake, I realize that some days you just gotta get tough with traffic - you gotta seize the moment and get past all the idiots who are hogging a lane while driving 60 kph while everyone else is up at 80-100 kph.
It doesn't hurt to have the hot guitar work of Todd Wolfe playing "The Cissy Strut" in the background, as I find the empty holes in traffic to maneuver around the slow-pokes and get myself ahead in line and into a more free and open zone of traffic going 100-120 kph.

"Cissy Strut" has become a minor classic instrumental piece favored by Jazz, Rock, and even some Blues artists, it was originally written and recorded by the New Orleans funk band the Meters. I first heard it on one of John Scofield's late 1980's albums, and in recent years I've discovered recordings by the Derek Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Danny Gatton and Redneck Jazz Explosion, and by Jaco Pastorius playing with Hiram Bullock.

Two tracks later, and Wolfe is doing the early BB King number "Woke Up This Morning" from BB's first recordings in the 50's.
I've now managed to sip at least half the coffee and taste the strong Turkish coffee aroma from the Galilee with cardamom and ginger and other special Yemenite coffee spices that I put in this morning, this is no ordinary coffee at all, it is a festival of flavors.
A little background on Todd Wolfe - he's a hot Blues-Rock guitarist that I was alerted to by someone who returned from a year in New York and was a number one fan of Todd's live shows, and brought me a few CDs of his music.
Wolfe has a good bit of professional mileage behind him, playing in assorted Rock and Blues bands in the 80's on the east coast, followed by a five years working closely with Sheryl Crow both as guitarist and co writer, but then he turned his back on the Rock and Roll fame game, and decided to return to the Blues. More power to him!! for keeping the Blues alive and for reaching new and young audiences with the Blues.

As I approach the high tech industrial area where I work, Todd is singing the Peter Green classic "I Need Your Love So Bad"
I guess that getting tough paid off this morning as it was a relatively short ride with no serious nerve wracking situations...