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Modern Blue

Music Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘The River & The Thread’

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Rosanne Cash’s latest release illustrates how the label of country singer is far too limiting for a person of her talents. Perhaps she can be called a modern musician.

Here’s a look at the songs on The River & The Thread, which was produced and arranged by her husband, John Leventhal.

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“A Feather’s Not a Bird” is a fine opening, as a Bonnie Raitt style attitude meets Creedence Clearwater Revival type instrumentation. It’s clear that there’s nothing tentative about Cash. She’s confident and in charge as she sings, “…a river runs through me.” “Sunken Lands” is unique as a blend of classic and modern country built upon a Johnny Cash pulse.

“Etta’s Tune” is an introspective love song that might have been written by Jackson Browne: “We’re just a mile or two from Memphis/And the rhythm of our lives.” One can easily visualize Tom Petty singing Cash’s rocker, “Modern Blue”: “I went to Barcelona on the midnight train/I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain/I flew across an island in the northern sea/I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee….” There’s also a touch of the Eagles in the lyrics: “Everybody around here moves too fast/It feels so good but it’s never going to last/Everything I had is twice what I knew….”

“Tell Heaven” is an unplugged song about faith. The Judds would have loved to have sung this. “The Long Way Home” is an angst-filled song about lost love that calls to mind Don Henley, Mark Knopfler and Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”). It’s beautifully realized: “You thought you left it all behind/You thought you’d up and gone/But all you did was figure out how to take the long way home….”

“World of Strange Design” is a song about differences and discrimination, with a musical presentation that channels Dire Straits. “Night School” is a Tori Amos style ballad: “I’d give anything to be lying next to you/In night school.” The uplifting “50,000 Watts” is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”: “To be who we are/And not just who we were/A sister to him, a brother to her/We live like kings/without any sin/Redemption will come, just tune it on in….”

“When the Master Calls” is a touching song about the Civil War which would have fit well on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album. “Money Road” is the relaxing closing song about a dream, but the standard eleven-track edition of this album is only 38 minutes long. Consider purchasing the Limited Edition Deluxe version, which adds three additional songs and 10-plus more minutes of music.

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“Two Girls” is the first bonus track on the Limited Edition, and it sounds like a song from Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album. “Biloxi” is one of the great songs written by the late Jesse Winchester: “Beautiful girls are swimming in the sea/Oh, they look like sisters in the ocean/The boy will find his path with salted water/And the storms will blow off toward New Orleans.”

“Southern Heart” is a short, 2 minute long, song with plucked violin strings that would have been a great single in the 1960s; it’s a song very much in the style of the Andy Williams hit, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”

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Cash has laid out her musical skills for the world to see on this release. It’s a highly recommended masterpiece or very close to it. But forget the ratings, just think of this as a near priceless gift delivered by Cash to her fans, current and prospective.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Blue Note Records.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-rosanne-cash-the-river-the-thread/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Rosanne-Cash-The-River-The-5411097.php

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Domino

Music Review: A Look Back at One of Van Morrison’s Best Albums.

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A lot of attention has been focused over the years on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album from 1968, and the album that followed it, Moondance. I’m sure that many of Van’s fans would list one of these two releases as their favorite of his, but my personal favorite is His Band and the Street Choir from 1970.

Here are some track-by-track notes on this record whose songs offered a lot of variety in musical style, and were placed in near-perfect order.

“Domino” – A great rocker and album opener; Van with an eleven-piece band. John Klingberg’s fine bass work can be clearly heard on the 2015 remaster from Warner Brothers. I’ve always loved the lines: “There’s no need for argument/ There’s no argument at all/ And if you never hear from him/ That just means he didn’t call…”

“”Crazy Face” – A pre-Eagles Desperado-type song. “He stood outside the church yard gate/ And polished up on his .38 and said/ I got it from Jessie James…”

“Give Me A Kiss” – A bouncy number that sounds like Elvis Presley circa 1956. More sweet brass backing from the band.

“I’ve Been Working” – Van as a macho soul man. This has always been his best on-stage performance number, and there’s just a touch of Tower of Power, War and the Doors in the break.

“Call Me Up in Dreamland” – Ragtime meets Dixieland meets southern Belfast rock. The Band might have sounded like this if they’d been less heavy.

“I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” – The haunting love poem that closed out side one of the L.P. His then-wife Janet Planet explained this best: “I have seen Van open these parts of his secret self – his essential core of aloneness I had always feared could never be broken into – and say… yes, come in here… know me.”

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“Blue Money” – Side two of the long player opened with this blazing tune. As much as I love “Domino,” “Wild Night,” and “Brown Eyed Girl,” this has always been my all-time fave Morrison single. (I often wonder if this was the song that inspired Steely Dan’s “Peg”?) It seems that almost every time a “Best of…” Van Morrison collection has been released, there are numerous complaints because this song is not included. Janet Planet contributed the Linda McCartney-ish background vocals.

“Virgo Clowns” – A positive take on Jackson Browne’s irony. “Now you know exactly who you want to be now. Let your laughter fill the room.”

“Gypsy Queen” – Smooth as a slide across the ice… Van captures the spirit of Motown. Say it’s alright. (Van himself said in 2007, “It’s always been about soul.”)

“Sweet Jannie” – Back to the cradle, with a blues rocker featuring a B.B. King-style guitar lead. Elmore James had nothing on this.

“If I Ever Needed Someone” – Van’s “My Sweet Lord.” “To keep me from my sorrow/ To lead me on to givingness/ So I can see a new tomorrow.”

“Street Choir” – The closer. A great, downcast, tribute to a long-lost love; one who will not be accepted back. “Why did you leave… Why did you let me down?/ And now that things seem better… Why do you come around?/ You know that I can’t see you now.”

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Like all of rock’s best albums, from What’s Going On to Graceland to The Rising, this one is life affirming. My score: 89.5 out of 100 points.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note: The 2015 reissue of His Band and the Street Choir, remastered by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, contains five bonus tracks; alternate takes of five of the twelve songs.

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Everybody Knows It Was Me

Music Review: ‘Pop/Art’ by Adrian Bourgeois (Disc One)

Los Angeles-based musician Adrian Bourgeois has released a double-album containing 24 songs. Here we take a look at the first twelve songs on Pop/Art, to be followed shortly by another reviewer’s look at the remaining twelve songs.

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Pop/Art is nothing if not ambitious, and it makes for a sometimes sprawling introduction to Adrian Bourgeois, who now lives in the greater Los Angeles area but earlier lived and performed in Sacramento and Elk Grove.

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Pop/Art opens with “New December” which feels like a Paul McCartney song from the Beatles White Album melded with a track from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. This is a nice opening and it segues into “Time Can’t Fly A Plane”, a song that has an America-style (“Ventura Highway”) rhythm and feel. One of my two favorite tracks follows, “Everybody Knows It Was Me”, which hits the ears like a song that was inadvertently left off of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 opus Something/Anything?

“Pictures of Incense” made me think of both the Traveling Wilburys and of A. C. (Allan Carl) Newman, whose Get Guilty album was pure genius. “Jonah” comes off as Bob Dylan mixed with the stinging electric guitar work most often heard on a Matthew Sweet album. “Have It Your Way” is a ’80s pop-rock confection. It’s a treat, especially as it’s not too hard to imagine a band called Bourgeois Tagg playing this song back in the day.

When I listen to “Hanging Day”, I think of McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon”, Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain.” It’s a haunting, yet fun, track that grows on the listener. “Aquarium” is my other favorite track on Pop/Art; it’s beautifully sonorous and sounds as if it was produced by both Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. The lyrics are also life affirming: “If you can’t be touched, you can’t be healed.”

It’s not too hard to see the line between Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Adrian’s “Too Much Time.” Think of a speeded-up rocking and rollicking variation on the classic “From a Buick 6.” As Sir Paul would say, “Oh, yes!”

I tend to like songs on which I can hear and observe a musician’s influences, which is why I have focused on these particular tracks. However, I suspect that some will most enjoy the songs that demonstrate Bourgeois’ originality – the sui generis “Waterfalls”, “Don’t Look Away”, and the regretful heartbreak song, “My Sweet Enemy.”

These songs were created while Adrian Bourgeois lived in Northern California. It will be interesting to see the changes in life’s attitude brought about by a change in physical latitude – the move to Southern California. (More sunshine and less rain?) No doubt this will be apparent on his next offering. Until then, this aspiring work should satisfy more than a few discriminating music lovers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Pop/Art was purchased by the reviewer.

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Once More, With Feeling

A review of You Should Be So Lucky, an album by Benmont Tench.

Benmont Tench

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A review posted in the April 30, 1971, issue of the UOP Pacifican newspaper (“CSN&Y Present New Album: 4 Way Street is Dishonest”) dealt with the issue of honest and dishonest recordings. Although that article dealt with the release of a band’s carefully selected and edited live recordings, the discussion might be expanded to include solo recordings. With his first solo album, Benmont Tench has defiantly issued an honest record.

From Tench’s days with Tom Petty – days that began before they formed Mudcrutch, Tench has been experiencing life and the mysteries that come along with it. Touring with Bob Dylan in 1987 and his subsequent work with Mr. Dylan certainly added to his musical experiences.

Those listening to a concert or album bring their own baggage and then try to incorporate their thoughts, feelings and emotions into a composer’s work. Some cannot enjoy a Nick Drake album while others will play it over and over. When it comes to You Should Be So Lucky, I offer the notion of sitting back and leaving the analyst’s hat on the table. Jump on the musical roller coaster, put your head back and just listen. Sit back and enjoy the ride as this album is a good one. Tench’s album is an honest recording – one free of tricks and unnecessary adornments, that should be experienced for the pleasure and enjoyment it brings.

Well recommended.

Robert Gorham

Mr. Gorham is a Sacramento resident and a past president of the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library.

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