Social Distancing Spins – Day 34

Day 34

By Joel Francis

Based on the announcements made today it looks like we’ll be doing this for at least another month. I hope everyone out there is safe and healthy.

Ringo Starr – Beaucoups of Blues (1970) The Fab Four drummer had a busy year in 1970. He not only released two solo albums, but was an integral part of Let It Be, the final Beatles album. Beaucoups of Blues was the last Ringo-related release of the year. Frankly, this is a criminally underappreciated album. The premise is simple: Ringo travelled to Nashville and cut a bunch of country tunes with the best session players in the city. The results are even better than expected. As demonstrated on songs like “Honey Don’t” and “Act Naturally,” Ringo has a great voice for country songs. The instrumental support is superb. Finally, the album barely breaks the half-hour mark, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you like the Beatles, country music or top-shelf musicianship, don’t hesitate to grab Beaucoups of Blues next time you see it.

Mikal Cronin – MCII (2013) If you are a big fan of the prolife garage rocker Ty Segall, you may recognize Mikal Cronin as the bass player from Segall’s band. For his second solo album, Cronin brings a lot of the dirt and scuzz from Segall’s projects, but sweetens it up with lots of acoustic rhythm guitar and some keyboards and strings. The result is nearly 40 minutes of wonderful power pop that changes tempo and textures just enough to remain invigorating throughout. After kicking out the cobwebs with rockers like “Shout It Out” and “See My Way,” Cronin ends the album on a graceful, contemplative note with the slow, string-laden “Piano Mantra.”

MCII was my favorite album that year and it remains an absolute delight. Put this on, turn it up and let ‘er rip.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis (compilation) The First Lady of Song and Satchmo only appeared in the studio together a handful of times, likely because they knew the universe would not be able to handle this abundance of joy. The two-record set I own combines 1956’s Ella and Louis with 1957’s Ella and Louis Again. There has never been a time I’ve played this music that I haven’t felt better afterward. Dwell on that for a moment. Think about how much has changed in the world over the past 63 years, when these songs were released. And these two have been able to deliver unbridled bliss that entire time. If you don’t own this, there has never been a better time to buy it. We are all stuck at home, starving for human interaction. Think of it as therapy and have it delivered. If you own this, I hope I have inspired you to play it now. The world needs more gaiety, in all times, but especially now.

Rolling Stones – Goat’s Head Soup (1973) The Stones’ 13th U.S. long-player ended their incredible hot streak that started way back with 1966’s Aftermath. I’m fairly confident that the Stones were the best rock band on the planet during that run. You could argue the Beatles, but they broke up in 1970. In 1966, the Who were still figuring everything out on A Quick One (a fine album). The Kinks kept pace for most of that time, but peaked with 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies. Look, the point is that the Stones were very, very good for about seven years. And then Goat’s Head Soup came out.

Goat’s Head Soup isn’t a bad album, necessarily, it’s just not as good as the half-dozen albums that came before. “Dancing with Mr. D” starts the record on a tepid note and it takes the last two songs on the side to rescue the album. “Angie” was a No. 1 hit and the horn-driven “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is solid, but neither are as vital as “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar,” the songs that clearly inspired these. The second side is better just because it doesn’t try as hard. “Silver Train” is a ragged romp powered by Mick Taylor’s slide guitar that recall’s the better moments on Exile on Main Street. “Winter” is a beautiful downtempo number to which anyone who has experienced a season that just won’t let go – meteorological or otherwise – can relate. The performance is so good it almost makes up for the malaise plaguing the weaker numbers. There is enough good stuff on Goat’s Head Soup to make it a worthwhile addition, but temper your expectations.

Bruce Springsteen – Human Touch (1992) This was the first Bruce Springsteen album I owned. I know, I picked a really bad time to become a fan. I remember watching Springsteen on Saturday Night Live around the time of this release, when I was just starting to discover him (away from the omnipresent hits, at least). Everything I read said the stage was where Springsteen really came alive. I was underwhelmed. The new arrangement of “57 Channels” was too noisy for my tastes at the time and I didn’t know what to make of the other songs performed because they were on Lucky Town, the other album the Boss released on the same day. I didn’t know what to make of the guy. The live setting didn’t resonate so I kept going back to Human Touch, looking for something that I may have missed.

Here we are nearly 30 (!!!) years later, and I’m still not sure how much gold there is in hills of Human Touch. The album opens with the title track, easily the album’s best song and sonically similar to the Tunnel of Love material. From there it flatlines and coasts. The songs I liked best back in the day remain my favorites today: “With Every Wish,” “Roll of the Dice,” “Real World,” the title track, “Man’s Job,” “The Long Goodbye” – mostly clustered in the middle for some reason. It is only because of Devils and Dust and, especially, Western Stars that I am finally able to appreciate “Pony Boy.”

Thanks to the Tracks box set fans are able to sift through a dozen or so outtakes and piece together their own version of Human Touch. I think the album would have been better with “Sad Eyes,” “Trouble River,” “Red Headed Woman” and “All the Way Home” replacing “Soul Driver,” “Gloria’s Eyes,” “All or Nothin’ at All” and “Real Man.” More importantly, I think we’ve already given this record more time than it deserves. Let’s just move on.

Los Lobos – The Neighborhood (1990) A good friend of mine once commented that Los Lobos were like the second coming of The Band, a group of supremely talented multi-instrumentalists who could sound like themselves while still maintaining the spirit of any genre. For their fifth album, the East Los Angeles quintet enlisted an actual member of The Band to help them along their journey through New Orleans soul (“Jenny’s Got a Pony”), the bluesy swagger of “I Walk Alone” and the heavenly skip of “Angel Dance.” Helm sings on the ballad “Little John of God” where his vocals are understated but the perfect accent. The only element this album doesn’t touch is traditional Mexican music, but that was the focus of their entire previous album, La Pistola y el Corazon, so it’s understandable the wolves bypass it here. There’s not a bad track among the 13 songs here. The Neighborhood remains a high-water mark in the band’s formidable catalog.

Review: Los Lobos

(Above: Unplugged or electric, Los Lobos know how to move a crowd.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

To celebrate how far they have come as a band over the last 40 years, Los Lobos went back to where they started.

Over the course of more than a dozen studio albums, the quintet from East Los Angeles has covered folk, blues, R&B, film scores, and traditional and experimental rock. For two hours on Friday night at Yardley Hall, the only English spoken came between songs, and there were no electric guitars in sight.

Instead, the set list focused on traditional Tex-Mex and Latin American songs, with a few originals tossed in for good measure. Despite their different sources, the material blended perfectly.

The songs also displayed different strengths and talents. Several showcased excellent three- and four-part harmonies. Guitarist David Hidalgo not only played violin during “El Gusto,” he also sang a lead vocal line that took him into falsetto on the chorus.

Perhaps the best singing of the night came during “Sabor a Mi.” The ballad allowed Cesar Rosas to show off a range and expression only hinted at on the band’s mainstream releases.

4006_loslobos_MARQUEE_SNP509546v1Taking the stage, spaced evenly in a single row across the front, Los Lobos opened with “Yo Canto,” a track from their latest album, 2010’s underrated “Tin Can Trust.” The song was typical of the night: rapid tempo, high energy and spot-on. In fact, the band slowed down only twice before pausing for a 20-minute intermission.

Behind the band rested enough guitars of different sizes and shapes to open a music store. Conrad Lozano, the only musician not to trade instruments throughout the night, played an acoustic bass so big it looked like a small rowboat slung over his shoulder with a short neck attached.

Steve Berlin was the night’s not-so-secret weapon. He didn’t play on every song, but his contributions added just the right color to the performance. He played two great soprano sax solos during “Borinquen Patria Mia” and “Bailar la Cumbia.” Berlin’s bass sax on “Chuco’s Cumbia” delivered the deep urgency that made the song hit even harder.

Several numbers were staples of Los Lobos’ earliest repertoire as a wedding and restaurant band. It wasn’t hard to imagine the band’s tip jar overflowing during the final three numbers of the night. “Volver Volver” finally got a few fans on their feet, while “Guantanamera” provided material familiar enough to sing with. Berlin also added a great flute solo on that one.

The quintet returned for a traditional reading of its biggest hit, “La Bamba.” The band has been playing this one since it hit No. 1 in 1987, but as the musicians traded verses and exchanged smiles it seemed no one, onstage or off, had gotten tired of it.

Setlist: Yo Canto, Colas, El Cascabel, La Pistola y el Corazon, Los Ojos de Pancha, El Cuchipe, Arizona Skies/Borinquen Patria Mia, Sabor a Mi, Pajarillo, El Gusto. Intermission. Los Mamonales, Cancion del Mariachi, Chuco’s Cumbia, La Feria de las Flores, Bailar la Cumbia, Mexico Americano, Ay te Dejo en San Antonio, Volver Volver, Guantanamera. Encore: La Bamba.

Keep reading:

Making Movies is making waves

(Above: Making Movies frontman Enrique Chi’s iPhone footage of him taking the stage to jam with Los Lobos at Knucklehead’s in Kansas City, Mo. in September, 2011.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Los Lobos had already played longer than most of their recent Kansas City concerts when the veteran L.A. quintet invited guitarist Enrique Chi and percussionist Juan-Carlos Chuarand onstage for what turned out to be a 25-minute encore.

Chi grew up listening to Los Lobos, and was already excited that his band, Making Movies, would share the bill, let alone the stage.

“I was at the merch(andise) table when I saw Juan-Carlos start to go on and set up his timbales,” Chi said. “I pulled out my phone to film it and on it you can see the tour manager motion for me to come up too. I don’t know if he thought of it beforehand or just saw me and decided I should go too.”

Either way, it doesn’t matter. Chi and Chuarand held their own with their heroes and added another stamp of legitimacy to Kansas City’s local music scene. Without announcing the song or even a key, Los Lobos singer and guitarist David Hidalgo drove the band into “Cumbia Raza.”

“I didn’t know what they were going to play, I just grabbed my guitar and went for it,” Chi said.

Hidalgo and his compatriots were extremely generous, coaxing both Chi and Chuarand into multiple solos, and insisting they stick around for the full encore set. I’ve seen Los Lobos five times in the past decade but had never seen them have as much fun as they were in that moment.

“The whole time I was up there, the adrenaline never wore off,” Chi said. “I though our opening set was good, but I never got that magic moment where your brain turns off and the music just goes through you.”

The moment he started playing with his heroes, though, Chi fell into the zone.

“I was thinking about it later,” Chi said. “You know these guys have been playing together for so long they’re probably able to get to that place without much effort. We were just able to slide into it with them for a while.”

There was little contact between Making Movies and Los Lobos before that magical moment, but the camps have since been in steady communication.

“There have definitely been conversations going back and forth about working together in the future,” Chi said. “I can’t say much beyond that right now.”

Before leaving town, Los Lobos ate at La Fonda el Taquito, the restaurant owned by Chuarand’s family. Making Movies were in Chicago for a show, but Los Lobos stuck around posing for pictures with everyone.

“Since we’re both bilingual bands, I thought it made sense for Making Movies to be there that night,” Chi said. “I never expected this. I was blown away by their generosity. They were very complimentary of us.”

Keep reading:

Review: Los Lobos

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 2 – Saturday)

Fourth of July – “Before Our Hearts Explode”

Review: Los Lobos

(Above: Los Lobos merge an original with a Neil Young classic on the steps of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. on September, 17, 2004.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

Los Lobos made one point abundantly clear during their opening number, a nearly 10-minute romp through “The Neighborhood”: these boys came to play. One of the most versatile, dynamic and enduring bands going outdid themselves Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Knuckleheads. The set was a potent mix of old favorites, new tracks, covers and a mini-set of classic Spanish material in the vein of the band’s “La Pisotla y el Corazon” EP.

Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo formed a triple-guitar threat across the front of the stage, but no one seemed to be having more fun than bass player Conrad Lozano, who performed with a perpetual grin throughout the night.Great weather contributed to the celebratory atmosphere. Slightly less than 1,000 fans packed Knucklehead’s patio and spilled into the road, which had been blocked off in front of the venue. “I Walk Alone,” “Main Street” and “Chuco’s Cumbia” were early high points of a set that stretched more than two hours – a half-hour longer than the 90-minute sets the group has typically delivered in previous Kansas City tour stops.

Hidalgo hopped behind the drums during “Don’t Worry Baby” but returned to his guitar for a rousing tribute to Buddy Holly. The Bo Diddley beat of “Not Fade Away” had nearly died when Hidlago resurrected the groove with a reading of “Bertha” that sounded more like the Allman Bros. Band than the Grateful Dead. The players finally shed their instruments, but quickly returned with two new musicians in tow – Juan-Carlos Chaurand and Enrique Chi from the local opening band Making Movies.

The headliners were more than hospitable during the 25-minute encore, giving both Chaurand and Chi several lengthy solos and letting them trade licks (and more than hold their own) with their heroes. The pair was ready to politely secede the stage after each number, only to have Hidalgo motion to stick around for a little more fun.

Everyone had nearly left the stage when Hidalgo kept stubbornly strumming, hinting at the opening lick of “La Bamba” and sending everyone scurrying back to their instruments. When Perez rolled into “Good Lovin’” a stream of female dancers filled the stage and the crowd carried the vocals, obscuring the boundaries between performers and audience. The medley reached a natural endpoint several times, but the band kept playing, trading solos and smiles.

Setlist: The Neighborhood; Yo Canto; On Main Street; I Walk Alone; Emily; Come On, Let’s Go; Chuco’s Cumbia; Burn It Down; Tin Can Trust; Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes; Chains Of Love; Let’s Say Goodnight; Ay Te Dejo enSan Antonio; Volver, Volver; She’s About a Mover (with David Hidalgo on drums); Don’t Worry Baby; Not Fade Away > Bertha. Encore (with Enrique Chi and Juan-Carlos Chaurand from Making Movies): Cumbia Raza; Mas y Mas; La Bamba > Good Lovin’ > La Bamba.

Keep reading:

Review: Los Lobos (2008)

Review: Alejandro Escovedo

Buckwheat Brings It Back Home

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 2 – Saturday)

(Above: The mini-movie for “Our Deal,” the latest song from Best Coast.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

The big names at the top of the bill will draw the most fans, but sometimes the best performances are from lesser-known acts early in the day. In the week leading up to the inaugural Kanrocksas music festival we’ll examine 10 overlooked acts. Earlier this week we looked at five acts from Friday’s lineup. Below are some great picks for Saturday.

Hearts of Darkness (Main Stage, 1:30 – 2 p.m.)

Kansas City’s worst-kept secret will kick off Saturday with deep Afro-beat grooves so hot the sun may be intimidated. With a five-piece horn section and multiple percussionists, the 18-member band has recently upstaged Snoop Dogg and made Huey Lewis and the News work a little harder. Hopefully it won’t be too long until Hearts of Darkness get the later stage time they deserve.

Making Movies (INK Unplugged Stage, 3:30 – 4 p.m.)

Making Movies took their name from the Dire Straits, but their sound is closer to Los Lobos. And just like Los Lobos, Making Moviesconcerts are likely to skip all over the place, with a salsa cover running into a Modest Mouse song. They will bring a much-needed world music presence to the lineup.

Best Coast (Stagesaurus Rex, 3:40 – 4:20 p.m.)

As their iTunes sessions EP proves, Best Coast have a lot more muscle onstage than their dreamy, lo-fi indie pop recordings imply. That’s good because they’ll have a massive space to fill Saturday afternoon. Singer/songwriter Bethany Cosentino has great songwriting chops. Now we’ll see how her song translate over several sunny acres.

Girl Talk (Main Stage, 8:30 – 9:35 p.m.)

Mash-up king Greg Gillis is the king of plucking a song’s apex and pairing it with another seemingly disparate crescendo to create a nonstop party. By stealing a few pages from the Flaming Lips play book and spraying the crowd with confetti and letting fans party onstage, Gillis is the rare DJ that is as fun to watch as he is to listen to.

Soundtribe Sector 9 (Critical Mass tent, 11:15 p.m. – 1 a.m.)

The world of jam bands is an admittedly crowded and homogenous terrain, but STS9 manage to stand out by combining heavy electronic and psychedelic elements to the standard open-ended, improvisational fare. After withstanding two days and 24 hours of steady live music, zoning out and riding the STS9 wave may be the best way to end the festival.

Look for more Kanrocksas coverage next week on The Daily Record.

Keep reading:

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 1 – Friday)

Review: Snoop Dogg with Hearts of Darkness

Review: Girl Talk

Woody Guthrie – “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”

(Above: Arlo Guthrie pays tribute to his father as their friend Pete Seeger aids in a performance of “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Illegal immigration is a hot-button topic in the current political landscape, but it is hardly a new issue. In January, 1948, a plane crashed carrying 28 migrant farmers being deported by the U.S. government. All 32 passengers were killed in this tragedy, but when newspapers and radio stations reported the incident they only mentioned the names of the pilot, co-pilot, stewardess and guard. The workers were described only as “deportees.”

This incensed Woody Guthrie, who felt the workers were just as human as the other victims. Thus inspired, he wrote a poem expressing the injustice of the situation. Since the workers’ names were not known – 60 years later, 12 of the victims are still unknown – he made up names.

Ten years later, Guthrie had been hospitalized at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital for what would later be diagnosed as Huntington’s disease. Although Guthrie was very much out of the public eye, learning his music became a rite of passage for the musicians in the burgeoning folk revival. Schoolteacher Martin Hoffman was inspired by Guthrie’s “Deportee” poem and set the words to music. The song was quickly passed around the folk community and Guthrie’s friend Pete Seeger added it to his repertoire.

Guthrie’s lyrics not only pay respect to the departed workers, but question the system that seduces workers to leave their families and risk their lives to find unsecured work under questionable conditions. In addition to the 28 workers who died in the plane crash, Guthrie jumps to first person and pays tribute to the other workers who either died on the job in America or perished trying to reach a better life.

“We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same. “

After restoring humanity to the anonymous deportees and chronicling the plights of their families and countrymen, Guthrie delivers some damning questions in the final verse.

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except “deportees”?

In the 2004 book “Reefer Madness,” author Eric Schlosser raises many of the same questions with his essay “In the Strawberry Fields.” Drawing on firsthand accounts, Schlosser describes the conditions of the illegal farmers in the California strawberry fields. The workers’ living conditions and treatment are amount to slavery in all but name, he argues. Schlosser’s questions, like Guthrie’s, remain unanswered.

“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” has been covered so often that Guthrie biographer Joe Klein declared it the “last great song” Guthrie wrote. Artists who have recorded their vision of the song, either in tribute, in protest or both, include Pete Seeger, Guthrie’s son Arlo Guthrie, the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, the country super group the Highwaymen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Concrete Blonde, Nanci Griffith, the Los Lobos side group Los Super Seven, Old Crow Medicine Show and Billy Bragg.

Keep reading:

Bob Dylan – “Workingman’s Blues No. 2”

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

KC Recalls: Johnny Cash at Leavenworth prison

Review: Experience Hendrix

(Above: Jonny Lang and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford blaze through “Fire” on March 6, 2010, at The Joint in Las Vegas.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The lineup for Tuesday’s Experience Hendrix concert at the Uptown Theater seemed to set up a joke: How many guitarists does it take to pay tribute to the most celebrated axeman of all time? The answer: Fourteen, including half of Los Lobos, all of Living Colour, a pair of virtuosos, a handful of bluesmen and several contemporaries.

HENDRIX_FY_031610_CGO_002F
Bass player Billy Cox met Jimi Hendrix while the two were in the Army. He is the last living musician from any of the bands Hendrix lead.

Billy Cox, the Band of Gypsys bass player and Jimi Hendrix’ last living band mate, opened the night with a heartfelt thank you and romp through “Stone Free.” Backing him on drums was Chris Layton, better known for his time backing Stevie Ray Vaughan in Double Trouble, and Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers. The star-power of the opening lineup may have had the loaded house drooling over their guitar magazines, but they didn’t have long to revel.

Every 20 minutes or so, another pairing of musicians emerged, each seeming to emphasize a different aspect of Hendrix’ music. His rhythm and blues roots came out in Living Colour’s set, while members of Los Lobos paid tribute to his roots and Kenny Wayne Shepherd emphasized the rock star angle.

Jonny Lang’s performance of “Fire” was the first explosive moment of the night. Backed by Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and a vivacious chorus of singers, Lang’s feverish vocals and impassioned playing drove the crowd to their feet. Whitford was finally able to emerge from the long shadow of his Aerosmith band mate Joe Perry as he and Lang traded solos.

Lang’s set was followed by Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s explosive interpretation of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Knowing his boss was about to burn down the fret board, singer Noah Hunt, who also sings in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, abandoned the stage after completing his verses. Alone onstage, save the rhythm section of Layton and Scott Nelson, Shepherd struck about every rock star pose imaginable as he soloed endlessly to the rapture of the crowd.

Susan Tedeschi was the lone intruder into this guy’s night out. Although she wasn’t given a set of her own, each of her frequent guest appearances was inspiring. Her singing on “One Rainy Wish” added an earthy sensuality and vulnerability to Hendrix’ lyrics, and her tasty guitar solos were a welcome relief from the pyrotechnics.

The night’s two dozen songs spotlighted classic rock staples “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” and also unearthed some deeper treasures. Cox celebrated the guitarist he met in the Army with “Message of Love,” a song he a Hendrix recorded on the “Band of Gypsys” album. Eric Johnson embraced Hendrix’ love of unusual textures with the deep cut “House Burning Down.”

Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel brought new life into “Purple Haze.” The result wasn’t too different from what Randolph’s Family Band typically serves up, but the playing was much more elastic bouncing between the trio of steel guitars. Eric Johnson enlisted three drummers to help summon the heavy, drugged feel on “Are You Experienced.” Later, Joe Satriani had no trouble coaxing alien sounds from his guitar during “Third Stone From the Sun.”

Midway through the set, guitarist emeritus Hubert Sumlin emerged to represent the pre-Hendrix guitar world. Backed by Tedeschi, and Cesar Rosas and David Hildago of Los Lobos, Sumlin showed none of his 78 years powering through “Killing Floor,” a song he originally cut with Howlin’ Wolf for Chess Records in 1966.
HENDRIX_FY_031610_CGO_001F
While all the expected heavy hitters drew big responses, some of the evening’s best moments occurred during songs Hendrix didn’t write. Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel teamed with Cox and Living Colour singer Corey Glover for a jubilant gallop through Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” Cox tried to end the number, but Randolph wouldn’t let it stop, motivating Glover’s fervent yelps with his riffs. Early in the night, Isley’s unaccompanied incorporation of “Amazing Grace,” mostly played with his teeth, brought back shades of Woodstock.

After every trick and novelty had been exhausted, Cox returned to the stage and closed the night with the blues staple “Red House.” When all the performers were brought out for a final bow, they extended nearly all the way across the stage. Evidently it takes a lot of bodies to fill some very big shoes.

PROGRAM
Stone Free – Billy Cox, Ernie Isley
Message To Love – Billy Cox, Ernie Isley
Manic Depression > Amazing Grace – Ernie Isley
Power of Soul – Living Colour
Crosstown Traffic – Living Colour
House Burning Down – Eric Johnson
Bold As Love – Eric Johnson
One Rainy Wish – Eric Johnson, Susan Tedeschi
Are You Experienced – Eric Johnson, Will Calhoun
Fire – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford
The Wind Cries Mary – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford
Spanish Castle Magic – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford, Susan Tedeschi
I Don’t Live Today – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt
Come One – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt
Voodoo Chile > Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt
Can You See Me – David Hildago, Cesar Rosas
Little Wing – David Hildago, Cesar Rosas
Killing Floor – Hubert Sumlin, David Hildago, Cesar Rosas, Susan Tedeschi
Purple Haze – Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel
Them Changes – Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel, Billy Cox, Corey Glover
Third Stone from the Sun – Joe Satriani, Corey Glover, Doug Wimbish, Will Calhoun
Foxy Lady – Joe Satriani, Living Colour
All Along the Watchtower – Joe Satriani, Living Colour
Red House – Billy Cox, Joe Satriani, Brad Whitford, Robert Randolph, Will Calhoun

Note: Except when replaced by Living Colour or Billy Cox, Chris Layton and Scott Nelson played drums and bass. The Sacred Steel is Robert Randolph, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent. Living Colour is Will Calhoun, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish.

Keep reading:

Rock Hall celebrates the 40th anniversary of Woodstock

Review: Buddy Guy

Review: Los Lobos

Review: Chickenfoot

Review: Robert Randolph and the Family Band

Dylan’s Christmas offers lots of heart, but little else

(Above: The magnificent video for “Must Be Santa,” far and away the best track on Bob Dylan’s new holiday album, “Christmas in the Heart.”)

By Joel Francis

Bob Dylan surprised a lot of people when he announced the release of his first Christmas album several months ago. “Christmas in the Heart” surprises in a different way, however, by playing it straight and offering no surprises at all.

Adorned with a cover that looks like a Norman Rockwell collectible dinner plate come to life, “Christmas in the Heart” features 15 well-worn holiday favorites with arrangements and production straight out of the 1940s and ‘50s.

In retrospect, Dylan’s desire to record a Christmas album shouldn’t have been an astonishment. For the past several years, Dylan has dabbled in pre-war pop. A cover of “Return to Me” popped up on a soundtrack several years ago, and several similar originals, including “Beyond the Horizon,” populated his 2006 album “Modern Times.”

Of course, Dylan has long been a purveyor of traditional song and the folk tradition. As the oral history components of American society diminish, holiday and children’s music are the few remaining songs passed from generation to generation. Christmas music stands directly at the crossroads of these passions.

A third consideration is that Dylan delights in doing the unexpected and challenging expectations. The man who returned to the Newport Folk Festival nearly 10 years ago in a wig (and dons a similar headpiece in the video for a “Christmas in the Heart” song), appeared in a Victoria’s Secret commercial and wrote a song with Michael Bolton, clearly enjoys toying with his dedicated following and legend.

Unfortunately, this understanding doesn’t make “Christmas in the Heart” an enjoyable listen. Producing the album under the pseudonym Jack Frost, Dylan drapes the album in arpeggio guitars that recall Les Paul’s singles with Bing Crosby, lilting backing voices in the style of the Andrews Sisters and a nostalgic gauze that would be at home on a Perry Como platter. By smoothing every surface, Dylan leaves no room for any rough edges, which, frankly, is all his voice has to offer these days.

The song selection is another stumbling block. The vast majority of these hymns and carols have been heard and performed a thousand times over. Although his arrangements are clever – check out the piano on “Little Drummer Boy” or violin and light country touch on “Silver Bells” – they hem too closely to the tried and true. Dylan does not have a traditional voice, so it’s understandable his singing doesn’t work in this traditional setting. The album would have been better served if Dylan played to his strengths, like a reading of “Run Rudolph Run” a la “Summer Days,” or more obscure choices, like Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked a lot Like Daddy.”

The single “Must Be Santa” hints at what “Heart” could have been. Originally a 1961 sing-along with Columbia Records honcho Mitch Miller, Dylan more than doubles the tempo and thanks to the frenetic accordion playing of Los Lobos’ David Hildago – who also bolstered Dylan’s “Together Through Life,” released just six months prior – turns the song into a mariachi rave. Another lesser-known track, “Christmas Blues” was also a good choice. More songs like this and fewer Latin hymns could have made “Christmas in the Heart” a holiday staple.

With all album proceeds going to charity, Dylan’s intentions are noble and his reasons sound, but the flawed execution prove the record’s undoing. It’s too bad “Must Be Santa” wasn’t released as a stand-alone single, with any of the remaining 14 songs on its b-side, or as the centerpiece of an EP. As it is, “Christmas in the Heart” is best purchased as a Black Friday bargain.

Keep reading:

“Together Through Life” is a Minor Masterpiece

Traveling Wilburies – “Inside Out”

“Tell Tale Signs” Sheds Light on Legend

Bob Dylan – “All Along the Watchtower” (live)

George Kalinsky: Painting with Light

Bob Dylan – “Workingman’s Blues No. 2”

What Bob Dylan Means to Me (part 1)

What Bob Dylan Means to Me (part 2)

“Together Through Life” is a minor masterpiece

ttl

By Joel Francis

After delivering three “important” albums in the past dozen years, it’s nice to know Bob Dylan can make an album without making a statement.

“Together Through Life” feels like an afternoon drive through a dusty Texas border town with the windows rolled down. Much of that feel comes from the ubiquitous accordion played by David Hildago of Los Lobos. Lyricist Robert Hunter – who co-wrote all but one of “Life”’s tunes with Dylan and is best known  for writing “Casey Jones” and other songs with the Grateful Dead – deserves some credit for the record’s lack of ponderousness.

But lack of weight doesn’t equal a lightweight record in this case. The album is a cousin to “New Morning,” a solid, offering that is overshadowed by the albums surrounding it and filled with songs Dylan recorded because he wanted to, not because he had something to say.

Sonically, the album is cut from the same cloth that has defined Dylan’s previous ‘00’s offerings. It is a pastiche of Chess blues, Sun Records country and rock and pre-war pop. While there’s nothing as sunny as “Silvio,” a track Dylan and Hunter collaborated on 20 years ago, there’s also nothing as forgettable as “Ugliest Girl in the World,” the other fruit borne of that union.

Guitarist Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers adds light acoustic guitars and mandolin to most tracks, but drops a murky electric guitar reminiscent of Neil Young on “Forgetful Heart.”  Lyrically the song resembles the material for “Time Out Of Mind,” right down to the dark lyrics: “The door has closed, if indeed there ever was a door.”

While Dylan albums are rarely sunny endeavors, the gloom of “Forgetful Heart,” and the sarcasm of “It’s All Good” are broken by upbeat numbers like “Jolene” and “Shake Mama Shake” – both of which sound like they came from the Chess Studios at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue circa 1958. The tongue-in-cheek “My Wife’s Hometown” might be Dylan’s funniest number since his knock-knock joke in “Po’ Boy “ while “I Feel A Change Coming On” has a twilight optimism.

Fans have grown accustomed to waiting nearly five years between new offerings. “Together Through Life” is surprise arrival little more than two years after “Modern Life.” “Life”’s runtime of 10 tracks and 45 minutes and lack of “statement song” like “Highlands” or “Ain’t Talkin’” make a tempting case to write the album off as a lesser work. Although it will never measure among the first-tier cannon, those who dismiss it do so at their own folly.

Review: Los Lobos

Above: “Chuco’s Cumbia” at Austin City Limits 2006

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

For a band as accomplished as Los Lobos, the reach from Jimi Hendrix and Willie Dixon to Richard Thompson and Ritchie Valens is a small one. The gulf between the lip of the stage and the front row, however, can be trickier to navigate.

The sextet’s 16-song, two-hour set was a celebration of all forms of music from New Orleans soul to Spanish mariachi. However, bottom-heavy sound and fixed seating proved nearly insurmountable for the band during the latest entry in the “Cyprus Avenue Live at the Folly Theater” on Sunday night.

The show never completely got off the ground, but it had its share of inspired moments. “Chuco’s Cumbia” featured a dirty Latin groove, while a medley of “The Neighborhood” and “Wang Dang Doodle” bridged the South Side of Chicago to East Los Angeles. The first set ended with a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights” anchored by a thunderous backbeat.

After a 25-minute break, the band returned with a second set guaranteed to knock the yawn out of any weary political supporters (there were plenty of T-shirts from Saturday’s rally throughout the crowd). The one-two of “Come On Let’s Go” and “Don’t Worry Baby” got people involved, if not on their feet. The band traded 88 piano keys for 22 guitar strings on their cover of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man,” which included a shuffling solo from drummer Cougar Estrada.

The high point of the night was a surprise cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing.” Between David Hildago’s lead guitar and Cesar Rosas’ vocals, they not only nailed the song, but stretched it out and made it their own.

There were plenty of covers, but the band also touched on all phases of its career. While lesser bands make a career out of mining the same niche, Los Lobos were able to transition from the early rockabilly of “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” to the more experimental “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” and from the Spanish festivity of “Maria Christina” to the quiet introversion of “The Valley.”

The sound was muddy for most of the night and Steve Berlin suffered the brunt of it. His keyboards and woodwinds were often barely audible in the mix. The Folly is a wonderful venue for intimate shows -– recent performances by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Randy Newman were sonically incredible -– but it is ill-suited for six amplified musicians.

The rigid seating and formal environment also inhibited the dancing and shaking Los Lobos’ music cries for. Toots and the Maytals, an earlier “Cyprus Avenue”/Folly booking, faced the same problem at its reggae concert last year. The younger crowd that turned out that night was less inhibited about dancing in the aisles.

Hildago finally coaxed people to their feet before “I Got Loaded,” and the band followed up with the one number guaranteed to keep everyone on their feet: “La Bamba.” After a brief encore break, the band picked up where they left off with a blistering “Good Morning Aztlan” and a frantic “Cumbia Raza” that featured another drum solo from Estrada and guitar solos from Louie Perez and Hildago. Just as the band and audience were hitting the mark, the band closed the set. It was a shame they had to stop. It felt like they were just getting started.

Setlist: Short Side of Nothing, Chuco’s Cumbia, The Valley, Luz d Mi Vida, The Neighborhood/Wang Dang Doodle, Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Shoot Out the Light (intermission) Maria Christina, Kiko and the Lavender Moon, Come On Let’s Go, Don’t Worry Baby, Little Wing, The Fat Man, I Got Loaded, La Bamba/Good Lovin'(encores) Good Morning Aztlan, Cumbia Raza