Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CD Reviews: Mose Allison – The Way Of The World (Anti- Records) & Graham Parker – Imaginary Television (Bloodshot Records)

Still Tickin: Mose Allison and Graham Parker
Sometimes you get some song stuck in your head, and you just hope that it’s a good one. Right now, I have a good one and, no pun intended, it’s “My Brain,” a new Mose Allison tune.
I must admit that I have listened more to his daughter Amy Allison’s music than his own work (not that I wasn’t familiar with him). I also must admit that his new album The Way Of The World is a pure delight that makes me want to explore his work more.
Besides the marvelous “My Brain,” the disc is populated with a “cool little clutter” (to borrow one of Allison’s lyrics) of gems that he forges by masterfully melding jazz, blues and American Songbook pop ditties. His performance exudes a looseness that suggests a living room show from your favorite (and musical talented) uncle tossing off tunes filled with worldly-wise bon mots. In “Modest Proposal,” Allison suggests that people should “start making sense today” by taking the road of self-reliance over being dependent on organized religion. In “Ask Me Nice,” he asks that “if you can’t sympathize with me/please let me be,” as he is “just trying to swing my way through” life.
This disc, the first in a dozen years from the 82-year-old Allison, nicely matches his witty and wise originals with the covers choices, from Roosevelt Sykes’ funky “Some Right, Some Wrong” to London Wainwright’s “I’m Alright” (which fits Allison like a glove). Producer Joe Henry does his typically terrific job, lining up ace session men (drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist David Piltch and string wizard Greg Leisz) to back Allison, who still is a nimble piano player. Daughter Amy “appears” twice here. Mose covers his daughter’s wickedly insightful “Everybody Thinks You’re An Angel” and she duets with Dad on the old Buddy Johnson nugget “This New Situation.”
It all adds up to a wonderful offering from this renowned musician, who not only is “still tickin’” but also has made of a feisty disc that should stand as one of the year’s best.
Another old geezer who’s still tickin’ is Graham Parker. The one-time angry young man of ‘70s England now has settled in America and settled in a mature, yet still not sedate, musical existence. While the vitriol isn’t raging as much as when “Mercury Poisoning” was coursing through his veins, Parker remains a sharp-tongued singer-songwriter.
Parker performs a clever conceptual twist on his latest effort, Imaginary Television. He has penned themes to TV shows that he made up himself. Parker had been asked to write theme songs to two TV pilots; however, his submissions were rejected. Those two songs – “Always Greener” and “See Things My Way” – are included here. One of the fun parts of this disc is reading the liner notes that contain short descriptions of his TV shows. While Network Execs probably won’t be beating a path to his door, they do reveal his still caustic views of civilization.
Interestingly, these “theme songs” find Parker in a perkier mood than normal. “Always Greener” offers a musically chipper view of dysfunctional domestic situation. “1st Responder,” about car thieves, is a particularly punchy number while the eminently catchy “See Things My Way” boasts a jaunty reggae lilt. My favorite track is “Bring Me My Heart Again” is jazzy ditty that makes a nice companion piece – body part-wise - with Mose Allison’s “My Brain.”
Imaginary Television might not provide the powerful blasts that epitomized Parker’s early albums, but the modestly scaled disc definitely comes packed with nifty nuggets. Parker may have mellowed but he certainly isn’t mellow, and hopefully he will keep crafting tart but heartfelt discs like this one.
By Michael Berick

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Go See Hear March 21-April 10

Here’s a double-sized list of recommended Southern California shows for your concert-going consideration.
The Recommended Shows are the appearances by the Low Anthem with the Barr Brothers and Timber Timbre at Largo on 3/24 and the Bootleg 3/25 and then Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller at the Wiltern on April 10. The Low Anthem put out an excellent CD, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, last year – it was one of my favorites for ‘09. You can write my LA Weekly blurb at Griffin recently released another stellar album, Downtown Church, and Buddy is…well...Buddy.
Also recommended:
John Wicks plays Genghis Cohen on March 21 (and Molly Malone’s on April 9). Wicks, as my colleague Falling James described in the LA Weekly, led the ‘80s UK power pop band in The Records, who created such sublime tunes as “Starry Eyes” and “Hearts In Her Eyes.”
The Miniature Tigers mine a Weezer-like sound. Last year’s Tell It To The Volcano was a fun slice of modern rock. They are at the Troubadour on 3/25.
Imelda May is a young UK chanteuse who has been creating a buzz on the other side of the Atlantic. Her retro stylings are more grounded in roots music than the retro soulsters like Adele, Joss Stone and the Winehouse girl. She plays the Avalon on 3/25.
I saw Ben Sollee several years ago while he was playing cello with Abigail Washburn but now is making his own fine chamber Americana. He recently teamed up with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore for a disc entitled Dear Companion. They come to McCabes on 3/26.
On the 28th, McCabes hosts 3 talented singer/songwriters: Wendy Waldman, Cindy Bullens and Deborah Holland, who go by the Refugees - perhaps because they are all Major Label refugees
The always entertaining, always musically adventurous Michelle Shocked has a show at McCabes on April 4. The next day, the dynamic duo of singer/songwriters Tom Russell and Dave Alvin play McCabes, but the shows look like sellouts.
The longtime Australian band,
the Church, has a show at the Roxy on April 5 as part of their 30th anniversary tour, which is billed as an acoustic tour too. Both Steve Kilby and Marty Willson-Piper put out albums. It all makes me want to hear Unguarded Moment.”
That living legend Willie Nelson wheels into the Grove of Anaheim on 4/11.
While the Mother Hips pulls into Redondo Beach’s Brixton club on the 11th too. Check out their latest effort Pacific Dust is a highly recommended offering of California country rock.

Friday, March 12, 2010

DVD Reviews: The T.A.M.I. Show (Shout! Factory) & The British Invasion Box Set (Reelin’ In The Years/Voyage Digital Media)

Before MTV played music videos (remember what they did play music videos?), music still made it to TV and the big screen through a number of ways. Two new DVDs that I have been enjoying lately offer a great look into Sixties rock ‘n’ roll.
The T.A.M.I. Show (Shout! Factory) is something of an elusive legend in the annals of rock. The T.A.M.I. Show, which stands for (at least in this incarnation) “Teenage Awards Music International, was a high-wattage, low-budget film that was came out in 1964. A quickie release, the “concert” was recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October and was in the theaters by November. While it has been floating around for years in the pop culture consciousness - it probably is best known from the Police lyric: “James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show” – this actually is its first full length, official version.
The show’s lineup combines a Motown package tour (Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles) with a British Invasion tour group (Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), plus some additional acts (the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Leslie Gore, the Barbarians, Jan & Dean and, of course, James Brown and the Flames). It all makes for a fantastic time capsule of rock’s past.
The movie looks mostly like a Sixties variety show with nominal sets, go-go dances (including a very young Terri Garr) and comical hosts (the blond and genial Jan & Dean). However, the performances run from good to superb. The standouts include the electric James Brown, the Rolling Stones (their biggest hit here is “Time Is On My Side”), Marvin Gaye (particularly “Can I Get A Witness”) and the Beach Boys.
It’s also interesting to see Chuck Berry and Gerry And The Pacemakers square off with versions of “Maybellene,” Or how Lesley Gore was featured as a big star then with several acts coming out to form a chorus on her set closer, “Judy’s Turn To Cry.” However, the show’s big finale was even cooler, with everyone joining the Stones for “Let’s Get Together” (not the Youngbloods’ tune). There’s a fun, spontaneous quality to this low-budget film that - combined with the treasury of performers - makes it such a landmark work. In fact, the movie was selected in the Library of Congress’ Film Registry in 2006.
The other look at rock’s past comes in the terrific new set of DVDs from Reelin’ In The Years and Voyage Digital Media. The four discs in this “British Invasion” series cover Dusty Springfield, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry & The Pacemakers and the Small Faces. The DVD creators have done a great job of putting together old TV performances with archival footage and newer interviews. These aren’t critical documentaries but well-crafted appreciations of the various artists. Among this foursome, I was drawn particularly to the Dusty Springfield and Small Faces discs.
The Dusty DVD covers the years 1964-69 and is stocked with performances of her classic tunes like “I Only Want To Be With You, “ Wishin’ And Hopin’,” “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” and “The Look Of Love.” It’s interesting to compare her 1965 Ed Sullivan Show appearance in classic, button-up Springfield fashion with her “groovier” outfit on a 1968 appearance. While the TV spots offer somewhat canned performances, it also features several live performances from NME Concerts that reveal her even more loose and soulful live vocals. This disc contains some old Springfield interview clips along with recent ones conducted with longtime background singers Simon Bell and Madeline Bell as well as the songwriter legend, and frequent collaborator Burt Bacharach.
In America, the Small Faces are more of a legend than legendary band - better known as the launching pad for Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones into the Faces, Humble Pie and beyond. Their one true hit here was “Itchycoo Park,” so this DVD provides a welcome close-up look at the band, starting from their early Mod-influenced days to their latter more psychedelic phase. The band’s sound suggests a unique intersection of the Animals, the Who and the Move. It showcases Steve Marriott’s wonderfully soulful rock vocals and the band’s ambitious, if sometimes drug-influenced, musical ambitions
The disc features recent interviews with Jones and McLagan along well as older ones of the now-deceased Marriott and Lane (in fact, the bonus features hold all of Lane’s last filmed interview). While no one song really knocked me out, the 20 plus tunes here demonstrate what a dynamic band they were. The highlight here being a splendid 7-song set, from their landmark Odgen’s Nut Gone Flake album, that the band did on a 1968 BBC program Colour Me Pop. It’s not often that a band gets to do a full-blown theme set on TV like this.
Both of these discs are colored with sadness, along with nostalgia. In Springfield’s case, it is with how her career languished after her Sixties success, although her legacy is extremely large. Similarly, the deaths of Marriott and Lane hover over the Small Faces’ story. Combined with the stories of their drug use, the deaths of the band’s leaders suggest an unfulfilled potential of this band and these musicians.
These DVDs – the T.A.M.I. and the British Invasion set – all come with excellent liner note, and the British Invasion box-set also contains a fifth disc filled with extra interview footage and additional performances from Herman’s Hermits and Dusty Springfield. The Hermits and the Pacemakers might not be rank as members of the British Invasion pantheon but there is no denying the terrific job the filmmakers did in putting these discs together. Similarly, kudos to Shout! Factory for putting the magnificent T.A.M.I. Show back into circulation.
- Michael Berick

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Go See Hear: March 8-14

A couple of gigs have grabbed my attention for this week, with three falling all on the same night – isn’t that the way it is.

March 10 – Great American Taxi pulls into the Mint. The band, headed by ex-Leftover Salmon singer/guitarist/mandolinist Vince Herman, delivers a funky, jam mix of rootsy rock ‘n’ roll and their new album Reckless Habits makes for a fun, lively ride.

March 12 – The Truth & Salvage Co. ends its residency at the Hotel CafĂ©. The local LA band creates a sound that’s wonderfully rich with the Southern California country rock vibe. The group, gearing up for a May release of their Chris Robinson-produced debut disc, boast four singers, which creates some truly fine harmonizing.

The Dutchess and the Duke are on the bill at the Echo on the 12. The Seattle-based band – basically the duo Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison – have a beautifully beguiling sound that blends rustic Americana with stripped down garage rock that can recall plugged-in early Dylan or an acoustic Velvet Underground.

Zac Brown Band, which has a show at the Gibson Amphitheatre on the 12th, was something of a 2009 phenomena. Coming out of nowhere, they delivered a good-timin’ country-fringed rock album that wound up being a platinum seller and earning them a Grammy nomination for best new band. Opening for them is another impressive act that favors country a little more than rock, the duo Joey & Rory.