Interview: Dean and the Singing Blue Jeannes

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Dean and the Singing Blue JeannesInterview and Video Review of “Fantasy House”“3 Coins in a Wishing Well”, and “Enter This Night”

Dean Bailin and Jeanne Waller are native New Yorkers who have each plied their trade as full-time musicians since the ‘70s. They’ve seen a lot of trends and artists come and go in their collective 80 years in the business. Waller has travelled the country doing musical theater and singing in society bands and orchestras. Bailin has been an industrious session guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and engineer as well as a recording and touring artist as part of Rupert Holmes’ early band. Remember Holmes’ #1 hit single “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”? Bailin played perhaps, one of the most famous guitar licks in pop music history, with the song’s signature flowing ascending and descending melodic interlude.

Dean Bailin and Rupert Holmes

Dean with Rupert Holmes, photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

“What was amazing was coming home from a gig one night and I’m hearing myself on WABC radio in New York,” recalls Bailin. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re on Top 40 radio! ‘ And sure enough, the song shot up the charts. It was amazing to be a part of it, and a life changing event. It was a great thing for Rupert and led to touring and additional albums.”

“And I wanted to say that ‘Escape’ was #1 in two decades – from the end of 1979 to the beginning of 1980,” adds Waller.

As the years ensued, Bailin found himself in demand as a session guitarist in New York City. Some of his credits included work with Gilda Radner, Rodney Dangerfield, Kurtis Blow and many others. From 1985 to 2015 he built a production studio in Manhattan and wrote and produced songs for Petula Clark, Felix Cavaliere and a myriad of NYC solo artists and bands. “I worked with so many diverse people,” explains Bailin. “I had my own studio, could play all the instruments, and charged people by the hour. I saved artists a lot of money doing things that way. Working with so many different people makes you a chameleon, of sorts. It forced me to expand my horizons.”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Glen Coleman; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

Bailin and Waller were always friendly to each other over the years playing in various NYC bands and meeting for coffee to talk shop every so often. And then, about five years ago, their creative professional and personal partnership took a significant upward turn. “We set up a meeting to get together,” says Bailin. “I kind of looked at it as a date (laughs). But Jeanne came over and I played her some of the music I had been working on.”

“I knew he played on ‘Pina Colada’ and in some of the bands I worked in. But I had no idea he was such a good songwriter,” says Waller. “I knew people knew Dean as a great guitarist but didn’t know about the songs. And the first song I heard was ‘Enter This Night.’”

The mid-‘60s Motown-influenced “Enter This Night” was just one of a huge body of original tunes that Bailin had stockpiled in his studio since the early ‘80s. The clever and ingenious lyrical and musical pop elements in his songs really spoke to Waller and it offered a sense of creative direction for her in the process. “My background was in musical theater and singing in country clubs and places like The Waldorf in New York,” explains Waller. “But I always wanted to sing pop music. When I heard Dean’s music I said this is the music I waited so long to hear!”

Jeanne Waller

photo by Glen Coleman; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

“What got me about Jeanne is she has a remarkable musical vocabulary,” says Bailin. “She knows so many songs from the great songwriters going back to Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and so on. But she’s well versed in pop music from the ‘60s and ‘70s on as well.”

So, about 2015, Waller embarked on a mission to learn the lion’s share of Bailin’s original music library. And her extensive theatrical background provided the groundwork for the next chapter in this couple’s lives as video stars.

As Waller became more versed in Bailin’s material they put together a live act around Manhattan. They developed a nice following where they performed as a duo to backing tracks of many original songs. They were getting a strong reaction at various venues until the pandemic hit in March 2020. “We were devastated,” says Bailin. “We just tried to make use of all the time we were together.”

“Being that we were in Manhattan and the New York area, we were at the epicenter of what was to come,” says Waller.

Dean Bailin

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

“The first song that we ever did on video was called ‘Faith, Hope and Love’ and we did it in my living room on March 23rd, 2020, with a cell phone. We dedicated it to all the front line and hospital workers. It was just guitar and vocals. We put it up on Facebook and the response was really nice. I think we must’ve been one of the first ones to post something like this on Facebook. We did it just to say thank you to all these people. We didn’t know what was gonna happen. And when we recorded it I was scared. You can hear it in my voice. We just wanted to help.”

What’s that familiar phrase about life dishing out lemons? The couple loaded a bushel into the musical blender, pressed “chop,” and established a whole new career paradigm. “Dean had this song he had written called ‘Fantasy House.’” explains Waller. “We were pretty good at putting songs together in our head. His songs are very personality-oriented. I saw a movie star, a hippie, Olive Oyl – all the characters mentioned in the song. My theatrical background always had me working out a show in my head. Meanwhile, Dean had mastered this video software so we could do beautiful color and sound. I ordered all these costumes – dresses and wigs and things from Amazon. And because he was learning how to do everything it wasn’t very expensive.”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

What led to their video excursions was Bailin and Waller going to see a friend performing at a Lower East Side Manhattan nightclub. Bailin’s high school buddy Jonny Tessler was there capturing the event with a very high-end video camera. Later Bailin took a look at some of the footage and the images were very crisp and clear. Soon after, Bailin approached Tessler about shooting video for a couple of their song projects. Additional accoutrements like green screens and whatnot were purchased, and the trio were shooting their first video forays in Waller’s living room. “The first video we did was ‘Fantasy House,’” recalls Bailin. “And we did it with our good friend and a brilliant keyboard player named Joel Diamond. We were all wearing the masks the whole time except when we were on camera. This was when the pandemic was in full bloom and everybody was afraid of everybody.”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

In a matter of 12 hours they shot the video for “Fantasy House” and another original tune “3 Coins in a Wishing Well.” The whimsical and funky “Fantasy House” is a playful romp that employs kind of a ‘80s B52’s meets Tom Tom Club sensibility mixed with “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” whimsy. With the blend of the couple’s dulcet vocal harmonies and Bailin’s hip guitar breaks, the song and video offer a very cool alternate reality. “3 Coins in a Wishing Well” takes another turn to more of a mystical direction. In the video, Waller plays a number of different characters, including a gypsy and a witch. Again, it’s a well crafted and graphically compelling aural and visual experience.

“What I saw from Jeanne was her natural ability to take on different characters,” explains Bailin. “She really rose to the occasion and became those characters. And that’s how we came up with our name of ‘Dean and the Singing Blue Jeannes.’ I would regularly put three or four images of Jeanne in our videos and she could act out and sing all these different parts. It’s a takeoff on that ‘60s group ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans’—you know ‘Hippy Hippy Shake?’”

Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

photo by Jonny Tessler; photo courtesy of Dean Bailin & Jeanne Waller

Arguably, the multiple “Jeannes” concept comes together most effectively on the afore-mentioned “Enter This Night.” It’s a brilliant song inspired by the Detroit Motown experience. As a Supremes-type vocal trio, Waller magically appears on Bailin’s television screen as all three vocalists. They are appearing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in some sort of time travelling continuum that falls somewhere between fantasy and reality. Oh, and it’s a ton of fun too!

We’ve started building quite a fan base on Facebook,” says Bailin. “Somehow our videos have been shared over and over. We’ve done a little on Spotify, but have mostly focused on Facebook. We’ve got direct contact with people there. We know immediately who our fans are and we’re up to 4,000 people now.”

“We’ve heard from hospital workers and many other people that our music has given them some joy and has helped them. It feels very rewarding that we’ve offered value to people’s lives,” says Waller.

“It’s been a great ride and this is another chapter,” says Bailin. “We’re having fun, and if cats have nine lives I’d like to think that we’re cats.”

Album Review: Jane Getter Premonition – Anomalia

Jane Getter Premonition – Anomalia

image courtesy of Cherry Red Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Jane Getter Premonition: Anomalia (Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Records)

The word “anomalia” refers to something that is “irregular,” “different,” “quirky” even. Those certainly would describe the new album by the Jane Getter Premonition. “Phenomenal,” “outstanding,” and “innovative” are some additional words you could attach to this project as well. Her first release for Britain’s Cherry Red label, Getter has been recording since the late ‘90s. And she’s plied her trade playing guitar with jazz legends like Brother Jack McDuff, Lenny White, Michal Urbaniak, The Allman Brothers’ Jaimoe and the Saturday Night Live band.

Anomalia is a progressive jazz-rock album, to be sure, but it goes well beyond the “chops fest” trap that the idiom can sometimes fall prey to. Getter is as much an astute songwriter as she is an accomplished guitarist. And her vocals that grace a majority of the tracks on this album are soothing, resonant and really get the point across. Also, the JGP are an actual band that consists of regulars Adam Holzman (keyboards), Chad Wackerman (drums), Stu Hamm (bass), and Alex Skolnick (guitar), with additional contributions here from Gene Lake (drums) and Mark Egan (bass).

Jane Getter Premonition

photo courtesy of Cherry Red Records

Running down the track list, “Kryptone” is a rocking opener, with a dark and ominous veneer. It features nice solo tradeoffs between Getter and Skolnick, with Holzman jumping in exuberantly on Jan Hammer-like synth passages.

“Lessons Learned” offers a hopeful message delivered by Getter’s cool mid-range vocals. The chorus states, “Accept your limitations, focus on your innovations. Trust in your abilities, believe and you will be free.” Now that is solid advice anyone can benefit from. It’s a smooth and melodic number, with plenty of room for dynamic shifts and cutting guitar solos. One doesn’t know for sure if there is political commentary at work here, but I wouldn’t doubt it!

“Dissembler” is a powerful piece that could easily be inspired from today’s headlines. This features guest vocalist Randy McStine who sings “You stand there and say you care, but all you do causes despair… You say you are here to serve, but your greed shows way too much nerve… Your greed is so wide we can’t believe. You care only for you and your needs.” Sound like any administration from the recent past that we know? However, no matter your politics, it’s an intense song that is multi-layered and dynamically structured. Guitarist extraordinaire Vernon Reid also guests and shreds like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone on this track seems to play like their life depends on it. Perhaps, maybe that was the vibe they were feeling in the studio that day.

“Alien Refugee” also seems to have a socio-political bent. But it is tempered, with an empathic core at its center. Getter sings with conviction and heart as she depicts the plight of a refugee who has lost her home. They literally have to flee their homeland, and her words offer a personal point of view that put you in the driver’s seat. The chorus says, “She must be strong, and get past this wrong. Try to find a place to belong… to belong.” It’s another track that will give you goose bumps and make you think. Getter further emphasizes her words, with a beautifully crafted legato-type solo over Holzman’s organ and symphonic flourishes.

Jane Getter Premonition

photo courtesy of Cherry Red Records

“Still Here” almost has a lyrical haiku quality to it. Getter sings “Why am I still here? Why can’t I get clear? I thought I knew the way. What led me astray?” It’s a song that seems to deal with self awareness and reflection. Its concept is somewhat simple, yet nebulous and complex — kind of like the music, in that sense!

Guest vocalist Chanda Rule sings lead on the track “Answers.” It’s kind of a folky-fusion blend that offers another take on looking inside and reflecting. There’s some tasty piano here from Holzman and a fine chorus hook that builds to a magnificent finish.

“Queen of Spies” is an instrumental that appropriately could be a soundtrack for a secret agent TV show or picture. It features a lot of jazzy guitar and keyboard comping over a rock-like context. The track builds in intensity and leads to a coda that showcases Wackerman’s percussive acumen.

“Disappear” was co-written, with lyricist Beth Multer. Lyrically, this is probably the most obscure piece on the album. There is a Joni Mitchell/Annette Peacock vibe at work here. “Like a snowflake I taste you on my tongue. Microcosmic refreshment. Pure fleeting symmetry.” It’s intriguingly ethereal and surreal. Getter’s blend of acoustic and electric guitars is especially effective on this one. The leader concludes the album, appropriately, with a solo performance on acoustic guitar.

“Safe House” is quiet and pastoral, with its blend of flamenco-inspired , avant-jazz shadings. Her finger style arpeggios are sweet and truly put the listener at ease.

The Jane Getter Premonition’s new album and debut for Cherry Red Records, Anomalia, will be released everywhere on Friday March 26th.

EP Review: Alyssa Grace – Breathe

Alyssa Grace

photo by Rose Pierce; photo courtesy of Ileana International

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Alyssa Grace: Breathe

Southern California teenager Alyssa Grace is a singer-songwriter who sings with heart, purpose and a relatable perspective. She seems to really connect with her audience via her emotive songs and videos. The title track “Breathe” garnered 30,000 streams its first month on Spotify. And it has yielded more than 111,000 You Tube views. Grace knows herself and her fans and sings songs that deal with self-esteem, bullying, the environment, and the human condition.

Alyssa Grace – Breathe

image courtesy of Ileana International

“Breathe” is a tune that makes a simple statement about taking the time to stop and reflect. It is almost meditative in that respect. Atop an acoustic guitar and ambient-filled backdrop, Grace asks big questions and makes declarative statements. She sings, “Light is so bright, sky is so blue, and I’m fading with no clue. How do I stand tall if I feel I can’t get through it all?” Later in the song, she imparts, “I need to know where I’m at to start again, cause this is not what I’m supposed to be. Tell me once again why I’m living without you? Tell me once again why I’m breathing with only one out of two?” The chorus simply resolves with “I need to breathe.”

Alyssa Grace

photo courtesy of Ileana International

“Irish Lullaby” is auto-biographical in a sweet tune dedicated to her mother. In it, Grace recalls, “Every night I’d lie in bed and wait for mama to tuck me in. I would listen, sing along and at the end she’d tell me again.” She assuredly describes her mother who utters the comforting words, “Darling go to sleep, I’ll be here in the morning, and the first thing you’ll see will be me.” Again, it’s a song that has a very meditative and calming quality.

“All That You Need” is an introspective number, fueled by a subtle and relaxed piano and hip-hop figure. In it, Grace asks, “Am I special to you? Am I different or just new? Am I one to keep? Is this song getting a little deep?” And then goes a little further, with the question “What if I could be all that you need?”

“Waterfall” addresses more introspection, as Grace states, “Your eyes they sparkle in the reflection of a waterfall. And you’re scared, a little bit scared that you might fall. And your voice whispers like an angel’s call. So dive in, dive deep to the waterfall. Don’t be afraid to fall… scared to risk it all.”  That’s pretty sage advice from such a young artist.

Alyssa Grace

photo by Rose Pierce; photo courtesy of Ileana International

“What’s a Girl to You” is one of her newest songs and asks pertinent questions that address female empowerment and individual pride. Grace is a pensive wordsmith when it involves inner feelings, and she’s not afraid to put them out there on full display. She sings, “Do I have to be like everyone else, popular or can I be myself? Tell me now!” Grace continues, “’Cause everyone’s different… different opinions and different minds. If you wanna be mine, then treat me right!” The whole song seems to be summed up with this key line, “Are you someone that thinks boys and girls are the same? ‘Cause those are the rules of the game that I play.”

Alyssa Grace does not come off cookie cutter or manufactured. Her growing social and multi-media success can easily be attributed to the fact that she writes and speaks from experience and is the genuine article. She has gained a foothold with musical messages many love and respond to. Grace sings her truth, and her words provide a salve and solace for her generation and others. And in these tough and trying times, we could certainly use more of that!

Links

You can find Alyssa Grace’s music and various social media accounts via this Linktree link. Also, though there are none currently listed, you’ll be able to learn about upcoming events via the “Events” page on Grace’s website.

Album Review: Danielle Miraglia – Bright Shining Stars

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Danielle Miraglia: Bright Shining Stars (Vizztone Records)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Danielle Miraglia has been wowing fans and critics on the Boston music scene for several years now. With a series of successful recordings and performances, as both a solo act and as a member of The Glory Junkies, Miraglia consistently delivers a sound that is soulful and authentically earnest. With her latest effort for Vizztone, she presents a collection of originals and classic blues songs that put the spotlight squarely on her acoustic guitar and vocal prowess. She is joined on select tracks by fellow Glory Junky Laurence Scudder on viola, along with guitarist Peter Parcek and harmonica man Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt.

Danielle Miraglia – Bright Shining Stars

image courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

Miraglia possesses a number of innate gifts. With her voice, she’s able to modulate it in several ways to suit the material she’s singing. Her ability to go from a whisper to a wail is impressive. But she utilizes it as a trained actor would to convey the heart of the message in each song. Equally, her skills on guitar are unparalleled. She’s a one woman show in the way she implements traditional finger style patterns and chord work.

“Feels Like Home” is a brief instrumental piece that sets the stage for the album. The pairing of Miraglia’s strong thumb-driven bass and chordal rhythms and Scudder’s warm viola is most welcoming. “C.C. Rider” is a Ma Rainey tune covered by everyone from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to the Animals. Most people might be familiar with the high octane treatments some of the rock community have given it. But, in this format, Miraglia opts for a slower, pensive and more reflective version of the blues classic. You hear every word and absorb every nuance. Her delivery is very literate and self-assured.

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is, perhaps, one of Bob Dylan’s more lighthearted songs. It’s got a country blues-like lilt, and Miraglia sings the love song with a grit and playful irony that definitely gets to the heart of the matter. Parcek is a nice electric foil to Miraglia’s flowing acoustic passages, giving the tune additional weight.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Briana Atkins; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

“Pick Up the Gun” follows and is an original that seems to address gun violence and the motives and thought processes behind using a weapon in the first place. She seems to take both an antagonist and protagonist side in portraying different perspectives on the issue. Musically, Miraglia digs in, with a driving rhythmic figure as Scudder offers some tasteful solo breaks.

Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues” is a song that sounds like a piece that has been in Miraglia’s performance wheelhouse for some time. She really has fleshed this out nicely and invests deep into the soul of the song. There is a cool and aloof gruffness to her vocals that seems to embody the spirit of Janis herself. Parcek’s jazzy accompaniment adds some flair and really makes this a highlight.

For all those folks burned out on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Teen Mom, does this artist have a song for you! “Famous for Nothin’” kind of says it all in the title. And that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s a song about the illusion of fame and the attainment of it for the mere sake of fame alone. The chorus “Have you heard… have you heard? Everybody’s in” kind of summarizes the current state of television and society at the moment.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Caroline Alden; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

“Love Yourself” is a tune by Keb Mo that’s gets a bold and exuberant take here. It’s got a slow vintage boogie feel where Miraglia depicts the personal journeys one may go through in life. There may be some bumps along the way, but when all else fails, you can always “love yourself.”

Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” has a down and dirty rustic vibe to it. It’s all acoustic slide and honking harmonica. Miraglia does some testifying with a vocal that will stop you in your tracks. The same can be said for the follow up classic by Big Bill Broonzy, “It Hurts Me Too.” It’s just the artist and her guitar, and it is marvelous.

“Walkin’ Blues” by Robert Johnson gets a respectful turn, and the album’s finale and title track puts a beautiful bow on the whole experience. “Bright Shining Stars,” written by Miraglia’s husband Tom Bianchi, is a hopeful and positive song for these current times. In it, she sings “Tragedy and dark times, they’ll chase you around. Sometimes this world is beautiful, sometimes it lets you down. How many hearts must be broken? No one said that it would be easy to fight the good fight.” And then the chorus offers hope with, “This world needs bright shining stars, and this world needs superheroes to lead us all. And this world needs goodness to be grown. Let’s give a shining star a new home.” What a great sentiment to summarize this fine collection of songs.

Danielle Miraglia

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Danielle Miraglia

Looking Ahead

When live shows are back, you’ll find Danielle’s listed on the “Shows” page of her website. Danielle has also been streaming occasionally during the pandemic, either solo or as part of multi-artist events. These are generally announced via posts on Danielle’s Facebook page.

Album Review: Ecorse Creek Orchestra – Tales From the Water Shed

Ecorse Creek Orchestra - Tales From the Water Shed

image courtesy of Ecorse Creek Orchestra

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Ecorse Creek Orchestra: Tales From the Water Shed

Ecorse Creek Orchestra is the pseudonym for Detroit-based singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Dean Carls. This is the second release for ECO, following the debut EP Get Your Voodoo On. This is a diverse album rooted in quirky folk tales, amusing personal observations and avant garde tunes.

“March of the Pandemic Shut-In” emerges on the scene as a semi-classical piano-based overture. The introduction of background TV and radio static and news reports reveal Carls’ wry sense of humor and commentary on what many humans have assuredly felt being inundated by all forms of media during quarantine and lockdown.

“Run Runaway” contains a Tom Waits-type growl fueled by a punchy horn chart. The story line seems to address the life of someone named Jackie who is trying to get one over on the mob. It’s got a very noir-like feel, with a moral that simply states “crime doesn’t pay!“

“I Spy, You Spy” is ripped right from today’s headlines. In these precarious times of Russian election interference and online hacking, Carls lays out a message that’s pretty straightforward, “These days it’s all too easy… I can get what I want through technology. I’m intruding on your privacy… I’ll watch you through your laptop, I’ll watch you through your phone, I’ll know when you’re at work and I’ll know when you’re at home.”

Carls dives into little-known history for a story about famed magician Harry Houdini in the song “Rosabelle Believe.” In it, the singer/composer details a tale of the magician and his wife Bess. Apparently he promised her that when he died he would try to communicate with her from the afterlife. And if he did contact her he would utter the title of a song that was the couple’s favorite known as “Rosabelle.” It’s got this gothic atmosphere, delivered by Carls, that gives it a slightly chilling effect.

“Let’s Go Let’s Go” shifts gears completely, with a track that has an upbeat early rock ‘n roll vibe. It’s got a repetitive chorus that indelibly hooks your ear. But then it throws a curve in the mid-section, with an odd time signature and tempo shift.

Hang on, because the song “Jolly Old Man” will hit you with something out of left field, yet again. Carls’ humor comes from all angles, and his ability to change his vocal sound and demeanor makes him a clever and formidable melodic chameleon. Here he takes the persona of some character right out of U.K. central casting, with the lines, “I’m just a Jolly Old Man, living in a manufactured can… I eat my din out of a tin… My body’s 90% sodium.” And the chorus hook will lull you into a trance, “But I like you and you like me and I like you and you like me and you.” Fans of Kevin Ayers, Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band and Abbey Road-era Beatles might get a kick out of this one.

“Party in the Backyard” follows and continues that deep cheeky humor that Carls cleverly places throughout. Again, he shifts his voice into a lower register to mimic a pretty convincing Jim Morrison-like cadence. The lyrics depict all aspects of a major house party in progress, complete with background crowd noise and some killer guitarwork. Pay attention, because in the middle of this tune Carls does a hilarious take-off on a Cheech and Chong-type bit that, when the cops are called for civil disturbance, the boys in blue get bamboozled by some fast talk. It’s a crazy track!

And then, from the ridiculous to the sublime, the album concludes with a somber tune dedicated to one of the most heinous race-related murders in history, “Emmett Till.” Till was a young black kid from Chicago who traveled through the southern U.S. to visit his uncle. He was murdered by a group of racists in 1955. Carls is joined by Australian Pink Floyd vocalist Emily Lynn who adds considerable melodic weight and drama to this heavy and sobering message. Carls sings, “They say he whistled at a white woman, but that ain’t no excuse… For taking a 14 year old boy’s life… His killers deserved the noose.” And the chorus chants “Crosses in Mississippi were burning, yet the world keeps turning… A country stood aside ignoring… But Emmett Till we won’t forget you.”

“I wanted to be true to the album title and make each song a tale of its own,” says Carls. “Some of the inspiration I drew from Johnny Cash’s songwriting because when you’re done listening to a Johnny Cash song, you know what the story of the song was about.”

Album Review: Stick Men – Owari

Stick Men

photo courtesy of Moonjune Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Stick Men: Owari (Moonjune Records)

The credentials of the members of Stick Men are a jaw-dropping resume of epic musical proportions. The collective of bassist/Chapman Stick player and vocalist Tony Levin, drummer/percussionist Pat Mastelotto, guitarist Markus Reuter and guest keyboardist Gary Husband is a creative force to be reckoned with. Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Mister Mister, The Rembrandts, Jack Bruce, Paul Simon, John Lennon, John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth, among others, have all benefited from the contributions of key members in this ensemble.

This album was recorded live in Nagoya, Japan at the Blue Note Club on February 28th, 2020. At this time, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic was emerging throughout Asia, and the band soon realized their sold out tour was about to come to a grinding halt. But, as they say, the show must go on, and they fulfilled their last date on the abbreviated tour, with this stellar document before a modest crowd.

“Hajime (Peace)” opens the album with some taped spoken word by Deborah Carter Mastelotto reciting frequent King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield’s poem “Peace.” It’s kind of an overture or ambient piece featuring feedback guitars, odd sounds, and orchestral washes.

“Hide the Trees” slowly builds into some wild intrepid guitar passages that blend with softer melodic lines and odd time signatures. Dense and complex soundscapes underpin heavily syncopated rhythms and Gary Husband’s keyboards.

Stick Men - Owari album cover

image courtesy of Moonjune Records

A constant pedal figure by Tony Levin anchors the controlled chaos and interwoven melodies of “Cusp.” Various themes waft indiscriminately through the dense musical blend, with effective drum accents by Pat Mastelotto.

The King Crimson classic “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” is an interesting transition, with its ever changing rhythm structures and key modulations. The song gradually builds in sonic power and emotion. There is a raw metallic energy that is offset by Husband’s jazzy dissonance on piano.

The cleverly titled “Schattenhaft” maintains a strong funky groove. It’s kind of an improvisational free-for-all, with a real sense of urgency typified again by intriguing keyboard comps from Husband.

“Crack in the Sky” changes the mood slightly where Levin recites vocals with poetic élan. It’s a dreamy, cinematic track that also puts the spotlight on Markus Reuter’s virtuoso legato guitar lines.

The title track “Owari” translates to “The End” in Japanese. And, in many ways, it signifies the state of being the band was in when faced with having to cancel the rest of their tour. It’s kind of a spacey, open-ended piece that musically bridges the gap between dreams and nightmares.

“Prog Noir” in effect translates to “dark prog.” And that’s exactly what this is. It’s a lurking behemoth-like monster of a tune, with its ominous vibe and feel. Levin’s smooth lead vocals and odd phrasing give this an otherworldly quality.

“Swimming in T” offers more experimentation and a swirling collage of sound and vision. “Level 5” is reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s asymmetrical rhythms and rocky sound. It’s a real showcase for all the improvisational strengths of the band.

The bonus track, appropriately titled, “The End of The Tour” is one huge soundscape that builds to a monumental crescendo. Husband steps out prominently on piano and synthesizer and rises above the ensemble’s well constructed tension.

For a live album, the engineering by Robert Frazza is amazing. It’s so quiet and clean as if it was recorded in a studio. You don’t hear any audience chatter or noise. I don’t know if that says something about the politeness of Japanese audiences or it’s more about the editing skills of Frazza, but it sounds phenomenal. Highly recommended!

Album Review: Bonnie Whitmore – Last Will and Testament

Bonnie Whitmore

photo by Eryn Brooke; photo courtesy of Conqueroo

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Bonnie Whitmore: Last Will and Testament

Bonnie Whitmore is an accomplished vocalist, bassist, guitarist, and cellist from Austin, Texas. She has been a side woman to such notables as Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock, among others. She’s spent a number of years supporting other artists and has recorded some solo work in the past. But with Last Will and Testament, Whitmore is front and center with her strongest musical statement to date.

Bonnie Whitmore - Last Will & Testament

photo by Eryn Brooke; image courtesy of Conqueroo

She’s got a full cadre of some of the Austin scene’s finest, including her sister Martha on backing vocals and sister Eleanor who plays violin and provided some of the string arrangements on two of the tracks. Beginning with the title track, there is a lush Phil Spector-like wall of sound that emanates from your speakers. It’s a gothic feel, with some ‘60s flourishes and an incredible sonic landscape.

“None of My Business” follows and is soulful and slow. There is a tender R&B nature to this wrapped up in Jeff Lynne-like production. Whitmore’s got a big voice and blends really well with her backup accompaniment. “Right/Wrong” asks the question “How will you be remembered?” Amid a smooth samba-like structure with a nice horn arrangement, she explores making the right choices and reminds that “words can get lost in the haze of what really matters.”

Bonnie Whitmore

photo by Eryn Brooke; photo courtesy of Conqueroo

“Fine” features catchy hooks, a skilled use of dynamics and, perhaps, a Stevie Nicks influence in a country rocker about the cycles of a relationship.

Whitmore picks up the pace and infuses the song “Asked For It” with a punkish energy. Never afraid to speak her mind, the dynamic songstress tackles the subject of rape culture where in the bridge she sings “so go on and blame the victim, why should violence have consequence? And each time you silence them, recreates the same event.” It’s certainly material that makes one take pause and think.

“Time to Shoot” focuses on another aspect of human nature dealing with inner perception and knowing oneself. With an almost operatic feel Whitmore delivers the words “Time to shoot, take the shot, show the world what you’ve got. When it’s done, when you’re gone, were you right, were you wrong?” This dynamic artist always gets right to the heart of the matter.

Bonnie Whitmore

photo by Eryn Brooke; photo courtesy of Conqueroo

“Love Worth Remembering” lightens the mood a bit, with some good bluesy old school rock. It addresses unconditional love that will stay the course. The sentiment is sweet and honest and, again, talks about things most folks can relate to. “Imaginary” tends to stray from the norm here, with a waltz-type rhythm and cadence. It’s a quirky fantasy-filled piece supported, in a large part, by Betty Soo’s accordion drone.

“Flashes and Cables” was written by backing vocalist Will Johnson and is the only song on the album not written by Whitmore. It features a dramatic chorus and an interesting mix of guitar dissonance, vivid storytelling, and well-measured dynamics.

“George’s Lullaby” wraps the album, with a dedication to Whitmore’s late bassist friend and mentor George Reiff. It is certainly a tearjerker, with its somber, jazzy baroque-type feel.

Bonnie Whitmore displays that she is totally adept at carrying a whole album herself, in addition to being a support and utility player. She has an interesting and diverse point of view and cuts right to the chase, with her perceptive songs and stories of the human condition.

Album Review: Rachel Brooke – The Loneliness in Me

Rachel Brooke

photo by Jess Varda; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Rachel Brooke: The Loneliness in Me (Mal Records)

From the wilds of northern Michigan (Traverse City, to be exact!), that classic Nashville vibe has been uncannily recreated by vocalist Rachel Brooke and her studio compadres. The Loneliness in Me is the latest in a long line of solo and collaborative recorded works by this vibrant artist. All of the dozen songs here were written by Brooke, with many co-written by her husband and fellow vocalist Brooks Robbins.  It’s a tight and satisfying collection filled with humor, love, heartbreak , irony and honest emotion.

Rachel Brooke – The Loneliness in Me album cover

image courtesy of Hello Wendy

The album begins with the slow and moody “It Ain’t Over Till You’re Crying.” Right away, Brooke hooks you with her angelic vocal twang as she spins a tale of love on the rocks. It’s got a lilting bluegrass feel that sets the tone she means business. “Great Mistake” is a nice mid-tempo ballad that is a mix of sweetness and melancholy. In it, she sings “I was always chasing rainbows… to be that never did grow old. While I was chasing some new heaven, someone stole my pot of gold.” Next up is a surreal and dreamy track called “The Hard Way.” This features some strong backing vocals and an interesting production quality on Brooke’s voice. When she elicits “The hard way is still a hard way to learn,” she seems to draw from personal experience.

The title track “The Loneliness in Me” is a certified single, with all the rowdiness and spirit of Loretta Lynn. Liz Sloan’s agile fiddle work really smokes and supports what sounds like an autobiographical account of Brooke’s experiences in the music biz. Her words are filled with dry humor and wit as she bellows, “I ain’t got time to worry about reality. I’m busy dreaming up tragic potentialities. I’m always prepared for any trouble unseen thanks to the loneliness in me.” It’s very tongue-in-cheek and has a good dance floor feel.

Rachel Brooke

photo by Jess Varda; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

“Picture on the Wall” has a smooth and easy swing rhythm, with Jarrod Champion’s elegant Floyd Cramer-like piano. “It Won’t Be Long” is another slow to mid-tempo track, with stellar guitar and banjo accompaniment.

“The Ghost of You” further blends an ironic lyrical twist with a chilling sentiment as Brooke sings, “The ghost of you is always on my mind, the ghost of you still haunts me from time to time, the ghost of you still loves me, or so I’d like to think, the ghost of you comes back to me… but only when I drink.” And then she follows that up with a nod to Johnny Cash, with “’Cause every time I hit the streets I go out and walk the line. The ghost of you comes with me, the ghost of you is still mine.” Kudos to Dave Feeny who provides a warm and flowing pedal steel solo here.

“The Lovells Stockade Blues” adds some bluegrass flames to this collection, with a bawdy and shuffling beat. “Lucky and Alone” shifts gears, with what sounds like a relationship on the rails. It’s one of those loving and losing kind of songs where the blond songstress sings, “Lucky and alone, you’ll wake up and I’ll be gone. What good fortune to be in my company. I kept you around, but I wore the king’s crown. Your misery is clover to me, lucky and alone.”

Rachel Brooke

photo by Jess Varda; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

That tongue is firmly planted in cheek again for “The Awful Parts of Me.” The hook here is delivered with a knowing grin and a pseudo femme fatale indifference: “You can have it all – revenge and apathy. You only love the awful parts of me.”

“Undecided Love” features a beautiful melody and a heartfelt lyric, with “Take all the time to decide, I’ll be here when she leaves you behind. Undecided love, call heads or tails I could be the one. In the balance I reside… my fate you decide, my love’s the undecided kind.” The album concludes with a somber and somewhat moody “I Miss It Like It’s Gone.” The song casts a gothic and surreal finale to the record and offers a nice contemplative resolve.

Rachel Brooke is an artist who comes from a musical family and embraces her country and bluegrass roots with love and appreciation. That sincerity comes through loud and clear in her songs, stories, and personality.

Looking Ahead

You can find Rachel’s upcoming shows on the “News and Shows” page of her website. She currently has shows scheduled on Friday, February 5th and Friday, March 5th at the American Legion Lounge in Grayling, MI. (Event announcements of the gigs, with additional details if you click on them, also appear on the American Legion’s Facebook page.)

Album Review: Fuzztones – NYC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Fuzztones: NYC (Cleopatra Records)

Since 1980, lead vocalist-guitarist Rudi Protrudi has been at the helm of New York garage rockers Fuzztones. They have been named revivalists by some, but they actually are one of the architects of that classic proto-punk/alternative rock sound. However, in celebration of their 40 year anniversary, Protrudi and company decided to pay homage to those fellow New York City bands and songwriters that have influenced what they do. And it’s an impressive list of songs that could be ripped right from the playlist of Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius Radio.

Fuzztones - NYC album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Joining founder Protrudi on this collection of eclectic musical nuggets are Lana Loveland on keyboards and vocals, Eric Geevers on bass and vocals and Marco Rivagli on drums and vocals. This is a tight and efficient unit that really knows how to effectively interpret their heroes, yet still retain a semblance of their own sound. Much in the spirit of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his infamous take on Sinatra’s “My Way,” Fuzztones cover another classic by Ol’ Blue Eyes, appropriately, “New York, New York.” The band gives it a rocking spin that walks that line between irreverence and respect. Gender bending Jayne/Wayne County is represented here with a psychedelic take on their track “Flip Your Wig.” It’s very Seeds meets Question Mark and the Mysterians, with cool organ comps from Loveland and Protrudi’s buzz saw fuzz guitar work. The Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick” features a primal beat and screaming guitars. Greta harmonies frame a hazy, aural drug-like trip. The very lyrical and ‘60s-sounding “53rd & 3rd” is a Ramones cover. It’s reflective of life on the streets, with strong backup vocals and a catchy pop sensibility. Other highlights on this 15 track album are the urgency of the Dead Boys’ “High Tension Wire,” Blue Oyster Cult’s ultra-hip “Transmaniacom MC,” the lush production of Richard Hell’s “You Gotta Lose” and the fantasy feel of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot.”

The Fuzztones relocated to Los Angeles shortly after the release of their first album Lysergic Emanations in the early ‘80s, but have always remained close to their musical roots. “New York has always been at the core of the Fuzztones entity,” says Protrudi. “So, what better way to celebrate 40 years of fuzz than a tribute to the music that drew us there?”

Album Review: James Williamson & Deniz Tek – Two to One

James Williamson & Deniz Tek

photo by Anne Tek; photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of James Williamson & Deniz Tek: Two to One (Cleopatra Records)

With the pairing of guitarist James Williamson and guitarist-vocalist Deniz Tek you’ve got some proto-punk/alternative rock royalty right here. Williamson, of course, played on Iggy and the StoogesRaw Power and Kill City records. And Tek carved his legacy in the alternative rock world decades previous in the Australian-based band Radio Birdman. But, interestingly, they both have ties to Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that Motor City rock ‘n roll sound jumps out of the speakers loud and clear. As Williamson puts it, “This is a no-frills, good old-fashioned guitar album.”

This 11 track album kicks off energetically, with “Jet Pack Nightmare.” The guitars are full and really mix melodically well. Tek sings in a low register monotone that grabs you from the get-go.

“Progress” follows and further solidifies that blend of Detroit-fueled power pop and Southern California panache. “Take a Look Around” features an earnest Tek vocal laced, with a socially-conscious sentiment. Williamson’s taut and focused solos really support the overall mood. The backup vocalists Petra Haden and Andrea Wasse further perpetuate a cool pop vibe.

James Williamson & Deniz Tek - Two to One album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Good as Gone” mimics latter day Iggy Pop in a loving way. There is an immediate and urgent groove as Tek unceremoniously sings “We had a few good times, the rest was just a crime.” In addition, Williamson throws in some tasty minor-ish Spanish-type motifs ala Dick Dale.

“Stable” is a strong single that borrows slightly from the feel of The Stooges’ “No Fun.” Tek sings a pretty tough and honest lyric, with “Can’t you see that I’m less stable, trying everything to see what works. You say you got me, but I’m falling. What makes you think it doesn’t hurt.”

“Climate Change” is about as topical and current as they come. Tek bellows “Sun beats down on the city streets. They got nothing to believe in but the heat. It’s dry as dust and the old folks calling for rain. All the kids talking about climate change.” The mid-section features a Beach Boys-like vocal backing that gives the song an ironic surf’s up kind of twist.

“Birthday Present” is a break-neck rocker. The rhythm section of bassist Michael Scanland and drummer Michael Urbano offer a really smooth and brisk tempo. The solo parts recall early Amboy Dukes mixed with classic Beck-era Yardbirds.

“Small Change” is a song about the power of personal evolution. Tek sings “It only takes a little bit of change and a great big heart.” Truer words were never spoken. The song has a somewhat blues and folky-type veneer and Tek plays some appropriate harmonica to top it off.

“Liar” is a driving power pop masterpiece. Tek suffers no fools and takes no prisoners as he belts “I’m standing in the rain but looking for the sun. She’s a liar, can’t survive her.”

“No Dreams” is poetic and somewhat dark, with tasteful and dense solos and rhythms. Tek talks and sings his way through this one. The bonus track is a song about a coquettish femme fatale known as “Melissa Blue.” It’s a smooth mix of acoustic and electric textures. It’s also a nice way to conclude this diverse, yet thoroughly rocking album.

Two to One is a powerful statement, with great songs and brilliant guitar work. Overall, it’s a mix of lyrical honesty and technical prowess that is sure to connect with fans and six-string aficionados alike.