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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 balled: “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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Shining Star

Music Review: ‘Paper Stars’ by Ryan Calhoun

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Does the new EP of five songs from Ryan Calhoun signal a musician on the rise?

CSF Music Group has released an EP of five new songs by Ryan Calhoun.   Let’s take a look at the tracks before arriving at a judgment about the release.

“Coffee” is a cute, bittersweet, song about a shy guy who’s mentally stalking a young woman that drops into the local coffee shop each morning.   “She’s the best part of my morning/And she don’t know me yet…/She’s an addiction like a shot of caffeine/She’s the reason why/Why I drink coffee.”   You can watch the video for this song on YouTube.   It’s got a touch of Justin Timberlake in the rhythm.   It’s the deserved single.

“Just as I approach her/She’s walking out the door/And I know that I’ll be back tomorrow.”   If Starbucks ever needs a theme for a TV commercial, this should be it.

Ryan Calhoun Paper Stars

“Paper Stars” combines more Timberlake-style pop-rock with a P. J. Pacifico-like sound.   This title song celebrates the simple joys of poverty, as experienced by a young couple.   “If you threw us a party for two/But the dinner you promised fell through/You ran out of time/We had burgers and wine on the floor/And we’d drink to a quarter to four/Till we pissed off the neighbors next door…/We will never be richer than being poor.”   This one should be popular with the college music crowd.

Ryan Calhoun If I Don't

“If I Don’t” is not rock or pop, it’s modern country.   This is a song that would fit perfectly on a Keith Urban or Darius Rucker album, and it’s spiced up with a trace of Tom Petty/Dwight Yoakum attitude.   “She’s the only thing I’ve ever really loved/Maybe nothing’s ever really good enough/She went left and I went right/There’s nothing left to decide.”   The singer knows he needs to propose to the woman he’s bought a ring for, but he can’t find enough courage to do so.   And if he doesn’t, someone else will take her down the aisle. (Listen to the track on YouTube and see if you agree that Keith Urban could sell a million downloads of this song.)

“Time and December” is pure Jim Croce, a variation of sorts on “Time in a Bottle.”   It channels Croce both in the lyrics and in the guitar-led melody.   “See, I thought I’d be something worth talking about/When I found myself coming back home/The more that I wander the more that I know/The more that I know I don’t know/So let’s raise up our glasses and toast to our dreams/I hope January will listen to me/Cause this year could be heaven or it could be hell/But I guess only time and December will tell.”   Very clever and satisfying.

“Stranger” might have fit well on Billy Joel’s The Stranger album.   It sounds like Joel backed by a U2ish wall of sound.   And the lyrics paint the portrait, as Joel often does, of a character that does not quite fit in:   “Everybody knows what nobody’s talking about/By the time we open up/It’s last call and they’re closing us down…/If I go and open up would you run/Or would you just let me be?/Let me be your stranger.”   Calhoun effectively borrows a line from George Harrison and incorporates it here: “If you don’t know where you’re going/Any road will take you there.”

Paper Stars is very well produced by Bill Lefler in Los Angeles.   There are no complaints about the sound.   The issue with Calhoun is evident if you watch several of his YouTube-posted videos.   He’s a musical chameleon.   Who he is varies with each song.   His versatility is a strength, but also a weakness that needs to be addressed.   After listening to many of Calhoun’s recordings, I’m not sure who he is as an artist and performer.   As an example, “Raise A Flag” from 2012 sounds nothing like the songs on Paper Stars.

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Despite this minor critique, Calhoun’s a clearly talented musician.   Paper Stars is a fine release from a singer-songwriter about whom it can be said, the best is yet to come.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-ryan-calhoun-paper-stars-ep/

 

 

 

 

 

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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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The Real Things

An Interview with Brent Bourgeois

I speak with Brent Bourgeois, who releases his first album in twenty years in June. Joseph Arellano

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You have an album coming out next month, Don’t Look Back, which is your first in two decades or so. Why the long break from recording and what, if anything, inspired you to create music again?

When I made my last record in 1994, I had just moved my family to Nashville at the encouragement of my good friend and co-producer Charlie Peacock. He promised me work as a producer, which was great because I had always been as interested in producing records for others as I had been in making them for myself. I made the determination that whichever road was more fruitful would be the one I would concentrate on. While the album Come Join the Living World was considered a success by many in the industry, my producing career was really bearing fruit and it was an easier career to consider with four young children.

Producing led to a job as VP of A&R at Word Records, and after that, I was considered “too old” to be reconstituting my recording career. With the collapse of the music industry in 2002, I moved my family back to Northern California and had nothing to do with the music biz for over ten years. About a year and a half ago, I was invited to mentor a young singer/songwriter from Malibu. This involved writing songs, and programming them on my computer, and then producing her in the studio. Well, it got me writing again, and one thing lead to another, and here we are.

The new album seems, on a first listen, to be a very eclectic collection of songs; kind of like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. Did you deliberately set out to include various styles and types of music or is this a product of being creative?

I just wrote ’em as they came. I was just happy to be writing again, and didn’t much concern myself about having a coherent style. I think this collection of songs could reasonably be called a walk through my career. I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but the main thing for me was that I liked them, and I hadn’t liked anything I had written for years.

How would you describe the album in one sentence?

A walk through my musical history with most of my best friends.

Are all eleven songs on the new release original?

Yes.

You have a great 80s-style track on the album, “Deep Blue Sea.” When I heard it what went through my mind is, “Rick Astley is back!” Tell us about the song.

That’s funny. I always think about the Saturday Night Live “Night at the Roxbury” skit with Will Farrell, Jim Carrey and Chris Kattan when I hear “Deep Blue Sea.” I don’t know where this latent dance track streak is coming from. I never indulged in it back then. I think it’s because I finally learned how to use an arpeggiator.

Brent Bourgeois Julian Lennon

“The High Road” is a Beatles/Badfinger-ish emotive ballad on which Julian Lennon accompanies you. What’s the back story on his involvement?

I first met Julian Lennon in about 1986. My band Bourgeois Tagg opened for him on a couple of shows. He was a big fan of the band; in fact, we walked into the hall where we were playing with him for the first time and he and his band serenaded us with a perfect rendition of one of our songs. I think one of the things that caught his ear with both Bourgeois Tagg and my subsequent solo material is the persistent Beatle strain that permeates all of it. I grew up on all things Beatles, and their influence can’t help but pour out of my music.

I reconnected with Julian on, of all things, Facebook. He had “liked” a number of my posts over time. When I wrote “The High Road,” I immediately thought of Julian, but had no idea if he would be interested in singing on it or with me. I was very pleasantly surprised when he responded quickly and positively and we set a time to record in Los Angeles after his trip to Africa and South America. He walked into the studio, and upon hearing my first vocal line in the song said, “Now THAT’S Lennon!” It’s a trip to hear those pipes with that obvious DNA singing this song. Oh, and by the way, Julian is doing really good works around the world. That’s why I have agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds of every record I sell to his White Feather Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing safe, clean drinking water to people in need in Africa.

Bourgeois Tagg

The full Bourgeois Tagg band plays on the song “Psycho,” which sounds like it was recorded back in the day. What prompted you to invite your former band members to play on the track?

I knew I was going to have them on the record. It was just a question of how much and which song(s). Larry Tagg and Michael Urbano are also playing on “The High Road,” and I think that sounds like a Bourgeois Tagg song, too. They also played on another one that didn’t make the cut. Lyle Workman was a little more difficult to pin down because of his schedule. And it is no accident that it sounds like that. I got the producer and engineer of our first record, David Holman, to mix it.

Let’s ignore for a second the title of the new album. If you could look back with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, would you have sought to keep Bourgeois Tagg together for a longer period of time?

Everything happens for a reason. One can always play “what if” games, but they are rarely productive. But I made three solo albums instead, moved to Nashville and had a great career there, produced records, worked at a record company, made many of the relationships that are in full force on this new record, etc. If I had to do it again, I would have probably done everything the same. I may have handled it a little differently. 🙂

There are additional prominent musicians that play on and assisted you with Don’t Look Back, right?

Well, yes. Todd Rundgren is singing and Kasim Sulton is playing bass on “Poor Me.” A slew of great Nashville musicians populate the record: guitarists Jerry McPherson and Chris Rodriguez, drummers Aaron Smith, Steve Brewster, and George Lawrence, and bassist Mark Hill. Charlie Peacock produced and played piano on “All She Ever Wanted.” Singers Molly Felder and Rachel Lampa are featured. And Wayne Kirkpatrick played and sang on “Without You.”

Out in California, Vicki Randle added percussion to a couple of songs, singer Michele Tumes is featured on “Don’t Look Back,” Paige Lewis is the female voice on “You & I,” and my son Adrian is playing acoustic guitar on “The High Road,” which also features 77s guitarist Mike Roe, and Los Angeles studio whiz Tim Pierce. I also got a couple of high-profile mixers involved along with David Holman. John Fields mixed “Poor Me,” and Ross Hogarth mixed “The High Road.”

What’s the release date of Don’t Look Back and, most importantly, how can your fans purchase it?

We are releasing the record as part of our Kick-Finisher program on June 2. Those who sign up to sell and help promote the record will get first crack at selling it. Signups to be part of the promotion team are at wwww.kick-finisher.com. We have invented something like the opposite of Kickstarter. I pay YOU to help sell MY record. It will be available later in the summer on iTunes and Amazon.com.

This article was first published on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-brent-bourgeois/

This interview was also posted here:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/An-Interview-with-Brent-Bourgeois-5470161.php

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Once More, With Feeling

A review of You Should Be So Lucky, an album by 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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Not So Lucky

Music Review: Benmont Tench – ‘You Should Be So Lucky’ (Blue Note Records)

Tench Debut Works But Only If Expectations Are Reasonable and Realistic.

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“But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”)

Compared to the pop garbage my fitness club inundates me with every morning, longtime Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench’s debut album You Should Be So Lucky might as well be Highway 61 Revisited, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run or even Damn the Torpedoes. But, because I hold a classic rocker who supported one of my main men, Tom Petty, for so long – producing such terrific music – my standard for him is a bit higher. By this measure, his first solo effort falls – fairly or unfairly – a bit short.

For the most part, the album serves as enjoyable background music for a house party. There’s nothing striking, nor is there anything objectionable on the CD; in fact, some of the tunes that emanate from it are rather pleasant. They simply aren’t anything special.

Tench’s delivery is gravelly and reminiscent of a combination of influences, not the least of which is Petty himself (in fact, one of Petty’s biggest hits is “You Got Lucky”). Another influence is Dylan, with whom the Heartbreakers double-billed two major international tours in the late 80s. Tench’s enunciation is reminiscent of Dylan’s (specifically recalling “If You See Her, Say Hello”) on the first track, “Today I Took Your Picture Down.” This is my personal favorite on the album.

As for the second song, “Veronica Said,” I wasn’t sure whether Tench was channeling Lou Reed or Elvis Costello. I heard some of both, as well as a riff that is strangely similar to Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” The album includes two instrumental tracks (“Ecor Rouge” and “Wobbles”), which are not much more than placeholders, and many of the piano solos sound similar to those of Bruce Hornsby. It also includes two placeholder type covers of Dylan songs (“Corrina, Corrina” and “Duquesne Whistle”).

Many musicians have made a career of covering Dylan songs – most notably The Byrds, and it remains the case that Dylan’s originals are generally superior. Here, neither of Tench’s renditions have any distinguishing characteristics that make them worth listening to more than once. This is especially true of one of Dylan’s better recent works, “Duquesne Whistle.” Whereas Dylan’s guitar chords and swing style boogie-woogie the song forward so that it picks up momentum like a train’s steam engine, Tench’s take moves forward like a snail until it finally comes to an end. As for “Corrina, Corrina,” Dylan’s version features powerful vocals (yes, the man can actually sing) that strike an emotional chord in the listener against a pleasing backdrop. Tench merely mouths the words along to his piano accompaniment.

It appears as if Tench, a talented musician, is attempting to find his distinct voice, sound and style by experimenting with and/or playing tribute to his favorite influences. There is nothing wrong with this and, with some refinement, a second solo album could potentially be quite good. This one is just so-so.

Tench might not have quite “known his song,” but sometimes trial and error can lead to great discoveries.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an educator, sometime musician (he’s on-call to play drums for The Who, The E Street Band or The Rolling Stones), and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel

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Coming Up Next…

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A music review! We take another look at You Should Be So Lucky, the solo album by Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers band.

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