Sunday, November 23, 2014

CD Review: Veteran Musicians Swamp Dogg And Willie Nile Produce Some Of Their Best Work

American soul/R&B singer Jerry Williams first hit the music charts in 1966 with the hit single "Baby, You're My Everything." Shortly after that, he reinvented himself and continued to record under the name "Swamp Dogg." He released twenty albums throughout his forty year career and has earned the accolades of "musical genius" and "one of the great cult figures of the 20th century." Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams recently released his latest album "The White Man Made Me Do It" on November 18th through Alive Records. It features fourteen compositions that could have easily been released in the seventies as the songs carry a strong funk/R&B sound, beginning with the title song. The song "Hey Renee" has a very contagious rhythm as Swamp Dogg also showcases his skills on the piano. The album does contain a few covers, including the sixties sway of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" and the soulful blues of The Clovers' "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash." You can feel the emotions in Swamp Dogg's delivery of the soulful vocals of "What Lonesome Is" and he gets funky with his tribute to Sly Stone in "Where Is Sly." The album finishes with his opinions on prejudice in the storied lyrics of "Prejudice Is Alive And Well" and the Southern groove of "If That Ain't The Blues Nothing Is." To find out more about Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams' latest release "The White Man Made Me Do It," please visit swampdogg.net.

Veteran rocker Willie Nile is releasing some of his best work these days. His last album "American Ride" made many critics "best of" lists of 2013 and he returns with the intimate "If I Was A River." The new release features Nile amongst a backdrop of piano with the occasional acoustic guitar or violin. The piano he performs on was the same one that he was playing on the night John Lennon was shot as Nile was making his second album in the studio next door to Lennon. The songs on this album showcase Nile in the stark setting as he sounds vulnerable on the opening title song, "If I was A River." His lyrics in "Lost" are some of the best of his career as the song shows grace and emotion, while "Lullaby Loon" is a rock song slowed-down and turned into singing drinking song. The grand feel of "Gloryland" and the folk styling of "Goin' To St. Louis" has Nile in a comfortable setting allowing his lyrics to become the focus of these songs. The album closes with "Let Me Be The River," which could easily have Nile be measured alongside legendary songwriters like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. This new release is only available on CD at live shows and from willienile.com and digitally through music distributers. To find out more about this new album, please visit jsrdirect.com.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

CD Review: The Complete Basement Tapes Shows Intimacy Between Bob Dylan And The Band

Bob Dylan fans can finally rejoice as the "holy grail" of Bob Dylan's music catalog has been released! The "Basement Tapes" have become the most sought after bootleg recordings in the history of music. Back in 1967, a twenty-six year old Bob Dylan retreated to a house in upstate New York, following his motorcycle accident, to become a family man and get back to the roots of music. He invited his former backing band, The Hawks, to join him for what would become informal jam sessions that would last for about nine months. During the recordings, Dylan and The Hawks (who latter became The Band) performed over a hundred songs consisting of Dylan's originals and timeless folk and country music classics. An album of these recordings was released in 1975, titled "The Basement Tapes" as The Band's guitarist Robbie Roberson took it upon himself to go through hours of tape to find the best songs to release to the public. But Robertson felt the songs seem incomplete and added overdubs to help flesh them out. Plus, of the 24 songs released, only sixteen were from the "Basement Tape" session while the other eight were recordings of The Band at various locations between 1967 to 1975. Diehard fans were dissatisfied with the end results and have since sought out bootleg records to hear the amazingly fruitful original sessions.

On November 4th, Sony Legacy and Columbia Records made things right by releasing "The Complete Basement Tapes" on 6CDs (a 2CD set of highlights was also released). The songs featured in this set were mixed from the original recordings that have been held onto by The Band's Garth Hudson all these years. The first five discs have been compiled to closely follow the recordings chronologically as to when they were recorded during these sessions. The sixth disc contains 21 tracks that are rough versions of songs that didn't quite match up quality-wise with the other music, but stilled needed a place in this set.

The first two discs of the set show the musicians getting used to each other once again, performing loose covers of songs by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Pete Seeger, John Lee Hooker, Curtis Mayfield and others. The atmosphere of these early recordings is laid back with none of them really performed to be final takes for an album. Discs three and four are where Bob Dylan and The Band begin to settle-down and get serious about performing some ground-breaking music. While bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Doors were looking to shake things up with loud, rocking rhythms, Bob Dylan was looking to do the opposite with getting back to his acoustic folk roots. Songs like "Tears Of Rage," "Quinn The Eskimo" and "Sign On The Cross" showed how fruitful these sessions were to create new music that would eventually becomes hit songs for other artists. Many of the songs on these discs contain multiple takes as each one sounds different and is a necessary addition to this set. Dylan's voice is in fine form during these sessions as The Band begin to come into their own as a group of performers, creating this timeless music that would eventually propel them into one of the folk/rock icons of American music. The fifth disc begins with Dylan and The Band performing the classics "Blowin' In The Wind" and "It Ain't Me Babe" as if the were looking to recreate these masterpieces. Dylan does a masterful job throughout the set taking traditional folk songs like "She'll Be Coming Around The Mountain" and "Ain't No More Cane" and recreating them into potential hit singles for either The Band or himself. While six discs may never be enough, it certainly will fill the need of historical documentation of Bob Dylan and his great extensive musical catalog.

The discs are housed in an 8.5" by 8.5" hardcover book that looks to replicate the boxes that the reel to reel tapes were stored in. Included alongside the discs is a 42-page full-color history of the recordings as told by Sid Griffen (author of "Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band & The Basement Tapes"), Clinton Heylin and Jan Haust. The box set also includes a 122-page hardcover book of "Photographs & More" as it shows Dylan and members of The Band in a more vulnerable, playful atmosphere. The book also contains historic newspaper clippings and articles that are a real treat to read.

This outstanding new release should be at the top of every music fan's Christmas list this year and should easily be considered one of the top new releases of 2014. While not every Bob Dylan fan will be completely satisfied with what this set contains or how it was presented, the time and effort that went into this set should be awarded as this should put to rest one of the great mysteries of the Bob Dylan catalog. To find out more about this amazing box set, please visit bobdylan.com.

Friday, November 21, 2014

DVD Review: New Documentary Shows Rock Music's Influence On Bringing Down The Berlin Wall

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In honor of that achievement, Lightyear Entertainment and Specialty Studios created the documentary "Rockin' The Wall: How Music Ripped The Iron Curtain." The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 in order to keep the civilians of East Berlin and the Eastern Bloc from traveling to West Berlin for freedom of expression. The seventy-plus minute documentary discusses the impact that rock 'n' roll music had on the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the wall was built over in Germany, the U.S. was booming with the automobile industry and rock music and how music was everywhere. The documentary includes interviews from members of The Doors, Vanilla Fudge, Toto, Quiet Riot and Mother's Finest. One of the great discussions is how British and American rock music was smuggled into East Berlin and what sort of an impact it had on the youth of that city. American funk/rock band America's Finest was one of the first bands to perform live in East Berlin and how difficult it was to cross through the famous "Checkpoint Charlie." Members of Vanilla Fudge discuss how they took popular songs from the early-sixties and added a hard rock edge to them to give their music a more political charge. Quiet Riot's Rudy Sarzo recalls his emotions the day he heard that the Berlin Wall came down and was already looking ahead to try and cure the troubles of bands performing live in Cuba.
 
The film was inspired by Larry Schweikart's book "Seven Events That Made America America" as rock music became a liberating force against Russia's Iron Curtain. The movie's soundtrack features over a dozen songs performed by some of the musicians that played a big role in the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The "Rockin' The Wall" documentary has been touring across the U.S. over the course of the past few months. A DVD and digital download of the documentary was released on November 4th. To find out more about this historic event, please visit rockinthewallstudios.com.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

CD Review: Omnivore Recordings Releases Deluxe Reissues From Old 97's And Game Theory

The Dallas, TX band Old 97's released their debut album "Hitchhike to Rhome" in 1994 and instantly became one of the founders of alternative-country music alongside such bands as Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and The Jayhawks. Since then, the band has released ten studio albums during their twenty year career and has became one of the top live draws around the country and one of the few successful alt-country bands that is still together. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Omnivore Recordings is re-releasing it as an expanded two-CD set featuring demos and outtakes from the recording sessions for the album. The first disc contains the original sixteen-song album which has been remixed from the original session tapes by Rip Rowan, Old 97's longtime engineer. The songs definitely benefit from these remixes as the twang of the country-stomp opener "St. Ignatius" and the punk-like speed of the grunge-like rocker "504" sound very fresh and new. The sixties-sway of "Dancing With Tears" and the southern surf-guitar of "Leaf Clover" shows the band's diversity in these early days. Their cover of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" shows their respects to the early days of country, while also injecting youth into their sound in "If My Heart Was A Car."
 
The second disc begins with the band's four-song demo cassette that contained the storied lyrics of regretful love in the unreleased song "Making Love With You." The demo version of "Dancing With Tears" has a more laid-back acoustic feel, while "Ivy" is a work-in-progress that has the Old 97's still searching for their alt-country sound. The final six songs on the second disc contain outtakes that the band recorded for their debut album, but never made the final cut. The quick pace of "Eyes For You" is a shot of punk youth, while "Victoria" has the perfect blend of country and rock that would have fit perfectly on the original release. Fans can thank guitarist Ken Betha who discovered these tracks while digging for the original tapes for remixing the album. This new set from the Old 97's was released on November 17th. The band has a handful of live shows to finish out the year. To find out more about this new expanded version of "Hitchhike To Rhome," please visit old97s.com.
 
Underground 80's power pop band Game Theory released five full-length albums that have since been out of print, that was until Omnivore Recordings stepped in. The band's 1982 debut album "Blaze Of Glory" was remastered and re-released in September by Omnivore Recordings and now the label is looking to re-release the French-only compilation "Dead Center." The album was released in 1984 in France only and it combines the band's first two EPs "Pointed Accounts Of People You Know" and "Distortion."
 
The music definitely carries that synthesizer sound that made every pop song a hit in the 80's. Beginning with the modern, keyboard-heavy "Nine Lives To Rigel Five," Game Theory were full of pop anthems that never caught the ear of the general public, but found an underground following as the band grew to cult status. The band looked to be the leaders of the early 80's new wave movement with "Dead Center," but also show their post-punk edginess with their rendition of "The Letter." The original ten-song release adds on another eleven songs to this newly released version of the album. The bonus tracks are made up of demos, live versions and rare mixes of the song's that have showed up on this and other albums from Game Theory. The live versions of "Mother Of Pearl" and "Trouble" shows the band enjoying the live setting as their passion for performing is heard in the delivery of these songs. One of the highlights of the bonus tracks is Game Theory's live cover of "Gloria" as they try to capture the intensity of the original. The newly remastered version of Game Theory's album "Dead Center" will be available on November 24th. To find out more, please visit omnivorerecordings.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

CD Review: New Independent Artists Tackle Country, Jazz, Soul, Punk & Alternaitve Music

From the Chicago area comes some new independent releases from singer/songwriters Angela James and Sarah Marie Young, along with new music from the alternative/punk band Dead On TV. The new quick-hitting EP from Dead On TV features six high octane, energy-filled songs beginning with the title-song "Creeper." Their rhythm is contagious as you can easily get into the punk bashing of "Pour Your Heart Out." They do slow the tempo down for the grunge-like alternative feel of "Screwdriver," before finishing with the reckless attack of "I'm Easy." To find out more about Dead On TV, please visit deadontv.org.
 
Americana singer/songwriter Angela James recently released her full-length debut album entitled "Way Down Deep" back in October. The album has a gentle feel to it as you are introduced to James' warming voice with the minimal instrumentation of the opener "Halo." The laid-back country feel of "Drink And Try Not To Cry" and gentle folk sound of "Lost And Found" showcases why there is no need to rush through this album. It is like a fine wine that you take your time with in order to enjoy it more. The chorus of "All I Need" hooks you in after only one listen, while "Can't Go Home" sounds like a potential hit on the country charts. The album closes with the mellow sway of "Lighting Strikes" as you realized that you are hooked by the voice of Angela James. To find out more about her new album "Way Down Deep," please visit angelajamesmusic.com
 
Soulful Jazz singer Sarah Marie Young recently released her second album "Little Candy Hearts" through Snip Records. The new eleven-song release of originals showcases Young's sweet, sultry voice as in "Can't Stop."  She gets a little more jazzy on the up-tempo swing of "Little Candy Hearts," then gets her pop groove going with "Black And White," but the soft smoothness of "Long Way To Go" is where her voice shines. The album closes with the gospel-like hymn of "Be With You" as Young's voice continues to impress. To find out more about Sarah Marie Young and her latest release "Little Candy Hearts," please visit sarahmarieyoung.com