Album Review: Steinar Karlsen – Destination Venus

Steinar Karlsen

photo courtesy of Rock Rose Music

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Steinar Karlsen: Destination Venus

Norway’s Steinar Karlsen knows his way around a guitar or two. He mixes a number of different styles together to create a unique brand of spacey and cinematic-based instrumental music. Picture an early Pink Floyd meets The Ventures mash-up for a taste of this super Scandinavian’s sonic vision.

All twelve tracks seem to tell a story that touch on various aspects of a journey through outer space. The album opens with “The Goodbye”’s slow and brooding minor key sounding Mediterranean blues. Right from the get-go Karlsen demonstrates impressive flamenco-sounding flourishes on electric guitar.

The fuzz-toned electric riffs of “Night Flight” blend elements of jazz and rock. It contains a meaty industrial strength-infused melody supported by spastic drums and a loose jam feel.

Steinar Karlsen – Destination Venus

image courtesy of Rock Rose Music

Karlsen shows his semi-classical side utilizing exotic modes and motifs in “The Karman Line.” Martin Langlie employs tasteful dynamics and snare-driven rhythms that really propel the piece into the band Focus territory.

“Weightless” is an interesting segue into experimentation that sets up a nice interlude for “Picnic on the Moon.” As the title suggests, this has a bright and light-hearted feel to it. The melody leans toward vintage surf rock, with modern overtones like Los Straightjackets.

The band goes on caravan for the exotic and cool “Space Camel.” The tune has a symphonic/gypsy vibe, with an obvious Middle Eastern quality.

“Monsters” swings as if Les Paul and Link Wray met and wanted to form a band. Eerie Theremin-like warbly saw sounds transport you to some bad B-movie sci-fi soundtrack music.

“The Trip” features really dense and animated drums and percussion. As the title indicates, you feel like you’re on an interstellar journey. The Farfisa-like organ gives it a cool retro feel that rips in an open and funky manner.

Another brief interlude called “Red Skies” leads into the signature track “Venus.” It’s got a catchy and danceable groove that spotlights a smooth breakdown between guitar and bass.

The mood alters slightly for the mellow “A Billion Stars.” Karlsen crafts a very lyrical and rich melody that harkens to one of Jeff Beck’s early instrumental fusion albums.

The voyage to Venus is concluded with a track called “Acid Rain.” It is an experimental Hendrix-like piece that dramatically pivots to an abrupt drum-induced finale.

Steinar Karlsen has released a successful series of guitar-oriented instrumental albums. This is certainly one of his best, with a playful and colorful blend of earnest, pop-induced melodies, thoughtful experimentation and brilliant musicianship. The perfect soundtrack for your resident billionaire’s next rocket ride through space.

Album Review: Merry Clayton – Beautiful Scars

Merry Clayton

photo by Mathieu Bitton; photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Merry Clayton: Beautiful Scars (Motown Gospel/Ode Records)

Go back and listen to some of your favorite tunes over the years – The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker, or Ringo Starr’s “Oh My My.” Or maybe check out early recordings by Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt and Coldplay. All these classic songs and artists have one thing in common – Merry Clayton. She is, arguably, one of the most recorded session vocalists in pop music history. Her soulful and big booming voice has been a part of the soundtrack of our lives since the ‘60s.

In 2013, she starred in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. As a result of appearing in that film, she bounced back into the public spotlight. But then, in 2014, tragedy struck in the form of a serious auto accident. As a result of trauma from the crash she lost both legs from the knee down. However, Merry Clayton is an amazing testament to the power of prayer, personal fortitude and purpose. It never kept her down. And it’s her faith in God and a higher power that brought her back full circle in making Beautiful Scars.

Merry Clayton – Beautiful Scars

image courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Multi award-winning producer Lou Adler partnered with his long-time friend Clayton to bring this album to light. And what an incredible album it is! It’s a blend of the sacred and the secular where the bottom line is all about positivity and praise. For instance, the album opens with a classic song by Leon Russell called “A Song for You.” The song is a pensive ballad focusing on dedication to a significant other, whether the “other” is a lover, the listener, or The Lord himself. Clayton’s beautiful interpretation of this song transcends earthly parameters and is, simply, pure love.

Sam Cooke’s wonderful “Touch the Hem of His Garment” is a stirring tune that is a prime example of an artist that could walk that secular/sacred line. Gerald Albright really shines here on sax and adds spiritual weight to Clayton’s reverent delivery.

The title track was written by celebrated composer Diane Warren. Although it is dedicated to Clayton’s late sister it certainly encapsulates the rise from adversity that the singer has experienced herself. In it Merry Clayton sings: “These are beautiful scars that I have on my heart, these are beautiful scars that I’ve made it this far. Every hurt I’ve endured, every cut, every bruise, wear it proud like a badge, wear it like a tattoo.”

Merry Clayton

photo by Mathieu Bitton; photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

“Love is a Mighty River” was written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin. It’s a modern gospel tune, with a strong Mahalia Jackson feel. Kudos on this track go out to the brilliant voices of the Soweto Gospel Choir.

A simple message of looking to God for all things is expressed in keyboardist Terry Young’s funky “God’s Love.” It’s a catchy number that recalls something Chaka Khan might do. Some of L.A.’s finest session/side players show up and show out on this track.

Another Terry Young standout is a track called “Deliverance.” Clayton sings: “Deliverance is yours for the asking. Ask Jesus and I know he will deliver you.” There is a comfort and assurance in the singer’s words that should hit home with anyone with a pulse. The song is a powerful multi-dimensional piece that builds to a soul-stirring finale.

“Room at the Altar” has a lot of rhythmic vibrancy and really swings. It’s a rousing call and response number between Clayton and members of “L.A.’s Finest Choir.” Clayton sings: “Just call his name, ‘cause I know he answers prayer. I’m standing on the promises of God.” This is some of that old-time gospel that is sure to get you on your feet!

Merry Clayton

photo by Mathieu Bitton; photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Music director Terry Young’s “He Made a Way” is a mid-tempo pop tune that is sure to connect on a visceral as well as spiritual level. The song states: “Oh, what a friend you are to me, when I was bound you set me free. There’s no one like you, you brought me through… You’re always right there for me.”

The great Herb Alpert appears on “Oh, What a Friend.” It describes the definition of friendship and gets a decidedly light-hearted treatment via Tijuana Brass alum’s classic gossamer-toned trumpet.

Clayton and Adler’s blend of the secular with the sacred really comes together on the album finale “Ooh Child Medley.” In it the suite transitions from classic soul tune “Ooh Child” to the spiritual “It is No Secret (What God Can Do)” and concludes with the Jackie DeShannon joining Clayton for the uplifting “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

Beautiful Scars is a perfect album on so many levels, not the least of which is the great Merry Clayton’s return from the ashes to the recording world. Here’s to many more and fruitful years for this inspiring and essential artist!

Album Review: Sheila Landis and Rick Matle – Walkin’ After Midnight

Shiela Landis & Rick Matle

photo by Bill Dwyer; photo courtesy of Shiela Landis & Rick Matle

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Sheila Landis and Rick Matle: Walkin’ After Midnight, feat. George “Sax” Benson (SheLan Records)

Sheila Landis is a Detroit-based multi-award-winning jazz vocalist and composer whose career spans 45 years. Rick Matle is a guitarist’s guitarist and composer, with a musical resume nearly as long, having played in big bands and combos throughout the metro Detroit area. Together, since 1991, they’ve released a number of unique albums exploring all aspects of jazz, blues, world music, funk, and everything in between.

“Walkin’ After Midnight” is not only the title track of the album but was a signature hit for country crooner Patsy Cline. Landis, an ardent maven of Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and all the greats, puts her gossamer spin on a classic singer and song. Detroit woodwind virtuoso George “Sax” Benson offers up some nice tenor work, with Matle ushering in cool bop lines. This is a well balanced mix of pop and swing courtesy of frequent collaborator Karen Tomalis on drums.

Shiela Landis & Rick Matle

image courtesy of Shiela Landis & Rick Matle

Louis Jordan’s “Knock Me a Kiss” is textbook vocalizing for Landis. She injects the suave and sexy tune, with just the right amount of playful humor and wordless scatting. Benson answers her phrasing by responding with smooth tenor shadings. “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues” is a Duke Ellington classic. It gets a funky treatment here as if James Brown or Curtis Mayfield were arranging. Matle’s Wes Montgomery-like  guitar, along with Benson’s muscular sax, make this sizzle.

“Something Wonderful” is a Landis/Matle co-write, and it recalls an old-school R&B flavored tune. Growing up in the ‘60s and ’70s, they were both heavily influenced by the contemporary sounds of the day. This is their loving tribute where Landis sings, “The music of those Motown artists really touched my soul.”

Acclaimed poet Maya Angelou’s work was the basis for “Phenomenal Woman (Inner Mystery).” Afro-Cuban rhythms fueled by drummer Gayelynn McKinney make the vamp-like groove sparkle. The harmonized trumpets of David Thomas recall Hugh Masakela or vintage Herb Alpert.

Shiela Landis & Rick Matle

photo by Andre B. Thomas; photo courtesy of Shiela Landis & Rick Matle

From there they bring it down a tad for a tune popularized by Peggy Lee, and written by Little Willie John, called “Fever.” Recorded in 2017 at the Arts, Beats & Eats festival, this is the kind of stuff Landis can really sink her teeth into. It’s appropriately cool, bluesy and mellow, with outstanding chordal guitar solos by Matle. At that same festival, a medley of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and a poem set to music called “Bold as Love” take the sound and spirit of the guitar legend to amazing and noteworthy heights. The rhythm section of bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Tomalis interact with Matle and Landis for a true and authentic re-creation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience band. While they are somewhat faithful to “Little Wing’s” original intent, Landis takes liberties with it in a suitably psychedelic manner. The original Landis poem “Bold as Love” is not only a fitting tribute to Hendrix, but it is a showcase for all her formidable and incomparable vocal and lyrical skills. She beatboxes, scats, utilizes word play, and straddles the stratosphere with her incredible range. Meanwhile, led by Matle, the rhythm section takes a journey through a collage of sound referencing Hendrix’s catalog of hits. About Jimi’s legacy Landis recites: “He has the psychedelic showmanship of Louis Jordan in the Age of Aquarius.”

They return on that same concert to some mainstream jazz for an oldie but goodie “It Don’t Mean a Thing If it Ain’t Got That Swing.” The Duke Ellington number never sounded so lively and fun! And it really does swing where Landis mimics a muted trumpet, among her many vocal iterations.

They conclude the album with a novel and unusual track, recorded live in 2017 at the Detroit Jazz Festival, called “Kazoo Who?” It’s kind of a jamming sort of situation where the moral of the story is that everything goes better with a kazoo. Drummer David Taylor and bassist John Lindberg lay down a jazzy hip-hop-type groove as Landis raps about her love of the kazoo, leading to an impassioned solo on said instrument. You just gotta hear it to believe it! It’s cool and one kids young and old can really dig into.

Sheila Landis and Rick Matle are a great team in the same family as Tuck and Patti and artists of that ilk. The combination of Landis’ sturdy modern bop roots, with Matle’s sense of guitar experimentation and rock sensibilities single-handedly take  jazz in new and exciting directions.

Looking Ahead

Sheila and Rick have several upcoming shows this month around metro Detroit. This weekend, they’ll be at the Village of Rochester Hills Gazebo on Friday, July 9th and at Johnny’s Speakeasy on Royal Oak on Sunday, July 11th. For additional details on these and other live dates, be sure to check out the “Shows” page on their website.

EP Review: Paola Bennet – Maybe the Light

Paola Bennet

photo by Mim Adkins; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Paola Bennet: Maybe the Light

The somewhat cryptic and surreal Paola Bennet is a singer-songwriter originally from Boston, Massachusetts. Based in Brooklyn, New York, this accomplished artist has steadily been garnering positive press and making her mark, with a series of groundbreaking independently released albums. This current five song EP is filled with interesting sound design and vivid dream-like textures. She has been compared to singers like Phoebe Bridgers, Sara Bareilles and Daughter, with a blend of darkness and light in her vocal delivery.

Paola Bennet – Maybe the Light

cover photo by Justin Oppus; image courtesy of Paola Bennet

“My Mother Says” is moody, spacey and somewhat ethereal. Bennet’s voice is warm and familiar, yet exotic and totally original. Her interplay on electric and acoustic guitars with producer Adam Tilzer is inventive. It’s not so much about solos and improvisation as it is the creation of an ambient sheet of sound. This combined with the vocal backing of Elijah Mann and Jordan Popky, and strings from Ward Williams, complete a rich aural picture.

“Anthea” puts emphasis on lush orchestration. What appears to be Bennet reaching out to a friend in need becomes a spiritually moving anthem on the definition and the pursuit of love.

Paola Bennet

photo by Scout Sheehan; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

“In This Body” seems to address issues of body image and personal reflection, both physically and emotionally. With references to a lack of wholeness and houses falling apart, Bennet uses stark imagery to depict someone in various stages of inner struggle and crisis. That environment is further sparked, toward the finale, by heavy guitars and Brian Delaney’s well conceived drums.

“Astronaut” could almost be a companion piece to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” As with many of Bennet’s songs, it could, perhaps, be taken literally or figuratively. She sings about the the vastness and beauty of interstellar travel and documents the distance between the protagonist in the song and her love, the astronaut, in outer space. Benett sings: “I may never go further than crossing an ocean.” And then she sends a communiqué that she hopes connects with her significant other: “Do you miss it down here? Stars can’t love you like I do, my dear.”

Paola Bennet

photo by Mim Adkins; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

“7:23 AM” concludes the EP, with subtle orchestration and a strong acoustic guitar figure. Bennet sings in almost hushed and laid-back tones as she describes the silence of the morning. It’s a peaceful and serene time where she expresses the beauty of simple pleasures and sharing those with her lover.

Paola Bennet is in a class by herself in terms of how she arranges and assembles her song concepts and ideas. The somewhat baroque quality provided by Williams’ cello and viola combined with avant garde electronic embellishments defy the typical folk/Americana category. In a lot of ways she’s chosen a road less travelled. And we, the listener, are musically richer for the experience. Highly recommended!

Paola Bennet

photo by Mim Adkins; photo courtesy of Paola Bennet

Looking Ahead

Though no shows are currently on Paola’s concert calendar, keep an eye on the “Tour” page of her website for shows as they’re added.

EP Review: Lisa Bastoni – Backyard Birds

Lisa Bastoni – Backyard Birds

image courtesy of Lisa Bastoni

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Lisa Bastoni: Backyard Birds

Lisa Bastoni an accomplished songstress from Northampton, Massachusetts that has earned award consideration and wowed audiences and major Folk/Americana events like the Boston Music Awards (folk category) and Kerrville. Her sweet, expressive voice recalls artists like Gretchen Peters and Patty Griffin. It’s a modern, poetic style that speaks from the heart and personal experience. And her delivery is so billowy and comforting, as to lull one into almost a meditative state. Bastoni has two previous albums to her credit, The Wishing Hour and How We Want to LiveBackyard Birds was recorded at home during the lockdown of 2020. It’s a low key release, in that it simply features Bastoni and producer/multi-instrumentalist/harmony vocalist Sean Staples. The production is minimal, but therein lies its power. The simplicity totally serves the music and message.

“Bring it On” is a wise song that rings true for anyone that has a history between themselves and a partner. It’s about cleaning one’s own emotional closet and honestly observing truth in how you feel toward someone. Bastoni in the chorus sings: “There’s a whole lot of things you’ve been carrying too long. If you want to love me, if you feel that strong, bring it on.”

“Southern Belle” has an early Linda Ronstadt/Emmylou Harris feel. There’s nice Dobro guitar work here by Tim Kelly. The storyline centers on a woman that doesn’t wanna rush things in a relationship. She’s all about biding her time and waiting for love to take hold. The protagonist sings: “When you want to come around, I’ll meet you at the station. I’m not going to force your hand. I love you but I’m patient.”

Lisa Bastoni

photo courtesy of Lisa Bastoni

“Sorrow’s a String” is about changes one goes through in their personal life. Memories and a love for someone — in this case, her grandparents — forever endures, even though the people may not physically be present anymore. “When I cry my sorrow’s a string,” sings Bastoni. “I want to love you as long as I can. I would fly if I had wings. How I wish I could see you again.” And here she recalls fond moments in her grandparents’ house: “I can still hear your footsteps running down the stairway, I can still see your smile as you open the door. A new radio tower has gone up in the distance, but the backyard birds still whistle your songs.”

“If Not Today” features sleek acoustic guitar work from Staples. It’s got kind of a folk/blues vibe. The chorus encapsulates the urgency of the tune, with: “You can be a wallflower when the dancing starts, be a February empty of little paper hearts. A new morning’s coming and you’re right back where you’ve been. If not today, then when?”

“Red Rocks” has a relaxed country feel that documents an account of a burgeoning, yet fleeting love affair. In it, Bastoni unpacks heavy emotions : “I carried deep the promises of something just begun, felt it burn inside me like the high desert sun. You made me feel like I could be, a way I’d never been. Maybe someday I will go back there again.” And the chorus pulls no punches: “We had Red Rocks, blue skies, turquoise and tiger’s eye. We had young love, wild as a desert rose. Young love comes and goes.”

“Hidden in the Song” is another piece that seems to deal with speaking plainly and stating true feelings. Bastoni sets the scene in this verse: “At the party in the backyard you were soaking up the stars. Did you stand so close together or did you stand apart? Did you look her in the eye, did you find the words to say, or did you send a message in every note that you played?” The chorus states: “Simple words, but you can’t hide the meaning, hidden in the song that you were singing.”

The final song on the EP is called “This is My Love.” This is Bastoni in her purest form, so to speak. It’s just her and solo acoustic guitar recorded in her kitchen on a cell phone. It’s a basic, yet thought-provoking song of unfettered admiration for her significant other. She sings: “There’s a tugging at my shoes on this road I walk to you. Runs as far as a dream can dream. I’ve been asking without words, I wonder if you heard, I wonder if you ever think of me?”

On this sublime and unpretentious collection of original stories and songs, Bastoni is not afraid to be vulnerable and transparent. This new release features the artist at her most lyrical and melodically astute.

Looking Ahead

Available digitally via Lisa’s Bandcamp website since May 20th, the official release date for Backyard Birds is Friday, June 25th, with a release party to be held on Saturday, June 26th at the iconic Club Passim in Cambridge, MA. Other upcoming shows on Lisa’s calendar, which you can find at her website, are Friday, July 9th with Cloudbelly at the Northampton Summer Park Series in Northampton, MA; Sunday, July 18th with Danielle Miraglia on the Burren Back Patio in Somerville, MA; and Saturday, August 28th with Naomi Summers at the St. John’s 3rd Annual Bluegrass Fest in North Guilford, CT. Check out Lisa’s website for more information and keep an eye out for addition dates as they’re added.

Album Review: John Hall – Reclaiming My Time

John Hall

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of John Hall: Reclaiming My Time (Sunset Blvd. Records/Redeye Distribution)

“Dance With Me,” “Still the One,” and “Love Takes Time” were chart-topping tunes for the harmony-driven band Orleans. During the ‘70s and early ‘80s, key vocalist, songwriter and guitarist John Hall was one of the prime movers and shakers in that band. He has also had success as a songwriter for a bevy of artists, including Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner, and James Taylor. In addition, Hall has played guitar on tours and records for Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, and Seals and Crofts. A lot of his music has a very personal and socio-political slant to it. And being a man of his convictions, Hall co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), with his environmental activism leading him to serve two elected terms of office as a (D-NY) congressman.

John Hall - Reclaiming My Time

image courtesy of Anne Leighton

The man has lived a colorful life, for sure, and, after serving a number of years in elected office, he’s back full time making music, with his sixth solo album called Reclaiming My Time. The album title cleverly references a phrase used in Congress when someone in session is interrupted and wants to return to the floor. But it also slyly could refer to the time Hall has spent away from active duty as a singer-songwriter. Well, he’s back, and we could sure use a guy like John Hall right now! He speaks his mind most eloquently on a number of topics. And his ability to combine sublime lyrics with beautiful melodies and killer guitar work is a rare treat, indeed!

“I Think of You” is the opening song on the album and sets a scene, with plenty of romance, sun, surf and pleasant atmosphere. It is one of those pining and heartfelt love songs that transports you to a better place.

“Alone Too Long” is a tune that easily could have been written about life in quarantine and isolation.  Here are some sample lines: “My friend you miss the touch of a warm hand. A voice from across the room saying I understand. How it feels to be hurtin’, the future’s so uncertain. Don’t you stay alone too long, I could be that person.” Come to find Hall wrote the song before the pandemic about a friend who lost his wife and was wondering when it was time to start again. The groovy R&B-type song seems almost prophetic, in a way.

John Hall

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton

That’s followed by another romantic and ethereal type tune called “Mystic Blue.” Great hooks and a tasty country/blues vibe combined, with a Van Morrison meets Jimmy Buffet aesthetic abounds. Hall’s blues roots come shining through on the streetwise ballad “Lessons.” The master storyteller lays some knowledge on you, with the message: “I learned to have patience, I wound up in a traffic jam. I learned to handle money, it slipped right through my hands. Wanted to travel the whole world over, that’s when I lost my home. And then the chorus brings it all in focus: “If you ain’t hurtin’ you ain’t learning….I’ll be a genius before long.” The moral of the story is a classic one: “Watch what you wish for because you might just get it!”

“Islamorada” recalls a fantasy kind of getaway. It’s a holiday augmented by lots of percussion and multi-layered guitars and rhythms. It’s a nice break in the action, so to speak. “Somebody” almost has a retro early ‘60s feel. It’s got a driving and relentless beat that supports the sentiment: “Treasured friends can lift me up, but sometimes that’s not enough. I need somebody… I need somebody to love.” Hall nails the human condition in its purest form.

“Another Sunset” is a fine collaboration and co-write with Steve Wariner. Wariner plays nylon string classical guitar and gives the song a wealth of romantic ambience and elegance. Really nice!

John Hall

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton

“Now More Than Ever” reunites Hall with former writing and life partner Johanna Hall. Johanna was on board in the early days of Orleans for some of their biggest hits. A nice mix of electric and acoustic guitars, along with lush harmonies and signature choral hooks make this a highlight.

On “Save the Monarch” Hall is joined by Dar Williams on vocals. This tale of environmental and ecological awareness is wise and poignant in its account of man’s mistreatment of plants and animals. Hall and Williams sing: “In you who we trust, eternal and just, save them from us!” It is spiritually stirring and thought provoking. “All Up and Down From Here” has a topical message as well, but delivered in a light-hearted manner. It depicts a day in the life of a guy just trying to find some happiness and catching a break in life. In it, Hall sings: “I’m on cloud nine hangin’ with my baby mama. She said ‘this is it,’ you’re my futurama! But I came home from work the other day, a strange car’s parked in my driveway, I feel like a clown, but it’s all up and down from here.” The bridge wraps it with a nice bow: “It’s a roller coaster ride, not a straight line. I’m in darkness, but I know soon the sun will shine.” Life can be a balancing act sometimes and Hall conveys that message in the most entertaining terms possible.

John Hall

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton

“World on Fire” has a great hook in the spirit of Bob Marley or Toots and the Maytals. It’s basically a reggae/world beat-tinged song centered on global unrest and renewal.

“Future Ex-Wife” is another tonal shift back to more country-flavored territory. It’s essentially a song, with a farcical premise, that is as much introspective and revelatory as it is humorous. In it, the focus is on a guy that keeps repeating the same love connection missteps. Hall’s guitar acumen here is filled with plenty of Nashville charm and spirit.

The album concludes on a reflective note, with the returning military veteran saga “Welcome Home.” The sobering sentiment here says it all: “There were no parades of victory, no marching bands. He’s alive but still not whole. Invisible scars – wounds that would not heal. Stripes and stars – none of it seems real. Can he start to pick up his life and move on? But he’s waited all these years to hear ‘welcome home!’” Well said and highly recommended!

Looking Ahead

In the next couple of weeks, you can catch John on Friday, June 18th at the Beacon Theater in Hopewell, VA; on Friday, June 25rd at the McGrath Amphitheater in Cedar Rapids, IA with Pure Prairie League, and on Sunday, June 27th at the Southern Atlantic Hemp and Arts EXPO in Fletcher, NC with Firefall and Atlanta Rhythm Section. He already has more than dozen more dates scattered across the United States during the second half of the year, too, so check out the “Tour” page of John’s website to see when he’ll be performing near you.

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.