Archive for the ‘cd review’ category

Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life”.

September 9, 2009

From the open dark doorway of a semi-public tavern in a narrow alley in the second city of an island in the Caribbean whose name can never quite be recalled, Whose shape is skated over by fingers on the map on their way to Jamaica, Cuba, Grand Cayman, Aruba, and which has never been bothered much by tourists, (and all that happy business with marimbas, congas and the like never made it there either), sometimes comes the sound of music wafting out to die against the soft ochre alley walls and dark cobblestones dissolving under the weighted tropic glare.

They play for the purest of reasons: to pass the time. They converse in a language of grunts, glances, knowing smiles and random words. Their most articulate, most ongoing conversations they make through their guitars, mandolin, accordion, and the like. The drummer plays a vestigial kit salvaged from the great hurricane of way back when. Sometimes a couple of the ever-present domino players are moved to rise from their endless game and blow along on their battered horns for a spell.

Old cronies, they’d learned about the blues long ago in the same way they learned about approaching weather: via shortwave radio, staticky, interrupted, far off. Without realizing it, they’ve developed their own sound over the years, in their isolation. A lazy tempo, heavy on the bottom end, guitar chords spreading out over the rhythm like a Japanese fan over pulsing coals, accordion’s long exhale, mandolin fluttering above, images of love rising from the singer’s smoky old voice, and those drowsy trumpets.

The singer had left the island out of curiosity many years ago and then returned after twenty five years of singing in second and third tier cities all over the U.S. Singing unloved songs in half deserted rooms where he and his ever-changing audience, if it could be called that, shared a mutual indifference. Curiosity satisfied, he returned to the island. His old acquaintances, friends, liaisons, were all there, playing the old songs in much the same old way. Their faces had sagged, their eyes grown rheumy, and there were fewer teeth among them.

His voice had changed during the last couple of years before his return. He’d struggled with it for a time, in an experience symmetrical with the voice change he’d gone through at 14. He and his new old voice had settled into each other comfortably by the time he returned home. He was taken back into his place in society without much fuss at all.

Sometimes, when a pretty girl, or two, recently come of age, happened down the alley on a sunny afternoon, an old familiar longing would rise up in the bass player and express itself as curiosity about far away places.

Once, as he and the singer stood side-by-side in the doorway to share a cigarette and watch two beauties stroll down the alley to the sun-bleached boulevard at the end, the bass player asked the singer, Why did you return?

The singer, his attention diverted by a savory gust from the ocean, said, with his nose to the wind, Beyond here lies nothing. Except the moon and stars, replied the bass player, glancing up at the glowering sky. It wasn’t necessary for the singer to reply, and he didn’t.
The soft clack of dominoes reminded them then of a song, an old song, a song they could play to pass the time.


Review of Gurf Morlix CD- Last Exit To Happyland

January 26, 2009

Gurf Morlix new cd LAST EXIT TO HAPPYLAND is anything but, unless he missed the ramp. Don’t get me wrong it is an exquisitely beautiful work in it’s bare bones simplicity, but there is a theme of regret that runs through the songs.

Nothing illustrates this more than the opening track, “One More Second”. It is a cautionary tale of a man who sets out to do murder and is filled with remorse the instant he pulls the trigger. Then there is the song “Crossroads”, where we are given another take on the old blues fable of encountering the devil at the crossroads and striking a deal.

It is timely, because in these days we are all more acutely aware of the collective cost of our lust for more of the world. He reminds us there is a price to pay for making that deal, as he sings, “you’re gonna get cut and you’re gonna bleed.”

This theme of regret doesn’t just lurk in the hearts of murderers and those who make deals with devil, for Gurf captures the universal experience of lost love perfectly in the song “She’s A River.” It is a beautiful sad lament about a relationship that’s ended and the sometimes fragile, transient nature of love. This is a missed love that like a river has moved on and the regret is palpable, made even more so by the accompanying harmony vocal from Patty Griffin.

Gurf is known probably more for his production skills than his songwriting, but he is accomplished at both, having released five solo CD’s and played on, engineered and produced artists like Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves, Mary Gauthier, Peter Case, Robert Earl Keen, Jim Lauderdale, Tom Russell, and Ruthie Foster. That is just a partial list, go to <a href=" “>Gurf Discograhy for the complete discography.

It is easy to see why he is such a sought after producer, for the production on “Last Exit To Happyland” is sparse, yet the effect is not bone-chilling, rather it is as if he has stripped the song down deeper than bone to the life-giving marrow that sustains the structure of the song, pulsing right through to our hearts.

If you wish to hear an audio review of the Gurf Morlix CD “Last Exit To Happyland”, then go to <a href=" “>CD REVIEW where you will find a review with snippets of the songs mentioned in this review as well as reviews of Patty Griffin, The Wailin’ Jennys, Joan Osborne, Ray Wylie Hubbard and others.

Diamonds In The Dark by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles

September 6, 2007

“I’m gonna throw my big wide arms around your neck!”

–Sarah Borges, from “The Day We Met” ©2007, James and Jean Music (ascap)

The sound of “Silver City”, their previous release, is the sound of Rock & Roll promises being made. Their latest, “Diamonds In The Dark”, is the sound of those promises being delivered.

This record by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles is how we’d like to think that Rock & Roll in the main would have evolved, had it lived. What a great relief to find that somewhere, somehow, such a cheerful strain has survived, and, yes, evolved.

Borges, who writes much of the material, and producer Paul Q. Kolderie know exactly what they want, musically, and exactly how to get it. Her lyrics exhibit a keen ear for the classic themes of Rock & Roll, wrapped in catchy melodies and irresistible hooks delivered with whipcrack heat and conciseness by the kickass band.

The first song, “The Day We Met”, exemplifies all of that. It starts out at 90 miles per hour and never slows down. When it stops two minutes and twenty five seconds later, you feel as if you’ve been tossed out a side window, but still glad for the ride. Here’s a cheerful thought: listen to this song on your car radio with the windows down and imagine that it was this summer’s runaway radio hit.

On a couple of cuts, like “Around 9”, Sarah and the boys dabble in steel guitar-tinged country ballads, but with less distinctive results. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that when they veer into the Country genre, they seem a little less engaged, and these songs are not why we really love Sarah Borges.

We love Sarah Borges most when we hear her Rock & Roll heart beating loud and fast.

“Diamonds In The Dark” by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles is highly recommended.


Dave Moore’s “Breaking Down To 3” –Revisiting An Old Friend

April 10, 2007

There are very few records that reward repeated listening the way “Breaking Down To 3” (Red House Records, 1999) does.

Revisiting these songs time and again over the years gives you the feeling after a while of a shared history, as if you’re sitting in a familiar room with an old friend as he speaks to you with quiet urgency about things you both know really matter. As if you’d maybe once helped him paint over certain rooms in a house he where he once lived, or you’d maybe once gone scuba diving together where the sharks don’t sleep, with some other good ol’ boys, all long gone now.

Dave Moore remembers these stories much better than you do, and others, too, that he’s only told you about, and it’s no longer necessary for him to be explicit about their details. The singer of these songs sounds like a man who’s had some peace to make, and has made it.


Endless Highway –The Music of The Band

January 23, 2007

“When you awake you will remember everything…”

From “When You Awake” by R.Manuel and J.R.Robertson

(c) 1970 Canaan Music, Inc.



When The Band arrived in 1968, they came in through the basement window, after years on the roads and in the roadhouses of North America and beyond, and they disrupted our psychedelic dream of a disconnected present with a deeper dream of revenant visits from long gone ancestors. They sang to us riddles and rhymes from the “old, weird America” as Greil Marcus has so famously described it.

You could say two events in 1969 signified the end of the Sixties: Hell’s Angels ascended to Altamont, and The Band released their self-titled second album. The first event slapped us awake; the second one led us away.

Consider this: nearly forty years after they were first recorded, web scholars happily discuss and debate the meaning of the lyrics, almost down to the commas, of The Band’s songs “The Weight”, “Rocking Chair”, and others. They ponder the nuances of inflection in the singers’ voices, and the possible autobiographical origins of the mysterious characters. One imagines a dwindling number of people devoting their lives to these cultish pursuits. But is anyone singing the songs?

The new tribute album “Endless Highway: The Music of The Band” poses a simple question: “Why should I listen to cover versions of these iconic tunes when I can listen to the originals?” One answer is because, if no one else ever performs these songs, they will be forgotten by most of us, sealed in the amber of that one long-ago performance, as we move on.

From a record company marketing perspective, tribute albums are a no-brainer. Imagine being able to market a cd that allows you to give top billing to a bona fide popular culture icon, and you don’t even have to convince (or pay) them to perform on it. Just bring together a chorus of lesser-knowns, each one eager to put their stamp on one of the chosen icon’s tunes. Plant the tributee’s name in bold letters front and center on the cover art.

It was with more than the usual mixture of curiosity and dread that this fan placed this new tribute CD in the player. Is it worthy? Do they do justice? Yes and no, of course.

Jakob Dylan pleases with his version of “Whispering Pines”. While it would perhaps be unfair to compare his vocal to the incomparable original, he does acquit himself quite well in conveying the yearning and regret this song calls for.

Lee Ann Womack’s version of “The Weight” also deserves praise. It takes a lot of nerve for anyone to record one of the most iconic Band songs, but Ms. Womack’s voice has just the right southern textures to give this elliptical, mysterious Southern myth a new lease on life. The great Buddy and Julie Miller lend their voices to the chorus.

Josh Turner also pleases with his likeable and completely original take on “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. Heck, he even whistles a little toward the end.

A group called My Morning Jacket’s fresh version of “It Makes No Difference” is noteworthy as well.

Tribute albums with various artists are almost by definition uneven, so it’s not surprising that “Endless Highway” has some performances that don’t measure up to the originals.

I didn’t make it all the way through Death Cab For Cutie’s version of “Rocking Chair”. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding. Bloodless and thoroughly unconvincing, it will send you running back to the original.

Bruce Hornsby’s version of King Harvest is completely forgettable.

The biggest disappointment is The Allman Brothers live version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The idea certainly had possibilities. The Allman Brothers, classic rock contemporaries of The Band when both were in their heydays, are every bit as iconic in their own right. Gregg Allman’s is just about the only voice that could credibly be held up to Levon Helm’s as the True Voice of the Southern White Male. Unfortunately, his fine, world-weary vocal in this live performance is not supported by the plodding, bored sounding noodlings of his backing musicians. A true disappointment.

So, why should you listen to these cover versions when you can listen to the originals? Well, even with the misfires, over half of the 17 cuts on “Endless Highway” present worthy performances that will help carry these songs forward to new generations of listeners and allow those of us who revere the original performances to hear the songs with fresh ears.

Review by Richard Higgs