Saturday, July 26, 2014

John Mayall - A Special Life

2014 – Forty Below Records

By Phillip Smith; July 26, 2014

A mainstay in the blues and rock world for nearly fifty years, John Mayall is proof; the blues rests for no one.  Mayall, when just a few weeks shy of his eightieth birthday, headed to Entourage Studios in North Hollywood to record his first album in five years, A Special Life.  Accompanying this legend in the studio for this timeless eleven track album were guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport.  

Mayall summons the spirit of New Orleans, covering the late “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier’s creole-flavored “Why Did You Go Last Night”.  Special guest C.J Chenier, Clifton’s son, jams out on accordion and kicks in on vocals to makes this cut stand out even more, as Mayall cuts loose on the piano. While still on the subject of Louisiana Blues, it’d be a huge mistake to not mention “Speak of the Devil”.  Rocky Athas on guitar sounds absolutely amazing on this one originally recorded by Louisiana native Sonny Landreth.  I’ve been an Athas fan since his stint with Black Oak Arkansas, and think his style blends with Mayall’s very nicely.  Athas also stands out on Jimmy McCracklin’s “I Just got to Know”, handing out lush riffs and tasty licks, as Rzab lays down a cool baseline for him to follow.

Putting the covers aside, Mayall goes deep with a few originals of his own.  Singing about the current state of the world, in the thought-provoking, “World Gone Crazy”, Mayall calls out the governments and religions of the world as the contributing sources of global insanity. Performed in a boogie style on piano with a side of harmonica, and a cool little drum intro from Davenport, this song hits the spot.  Slow and easy, like life in the Mississippi Delta, is how title track, “A Special Life” is delivered.  Mayall dishes out a sweet harmonica melody meticulously poured over a retro bluesy rhythm, as in the fashion of Quincy Jones. 

One couldn’t ask for a better bunch of musicians to back the legendary John Mayall, and this album confirms that.  Chock-full of flawlessly performed blues, rock, and boogie, A Special Life is an album to treasure.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Deanna Bogart - Just a Wish Away…

2014 – Blind Pig Records

By Phillip Smith; July 12, 2014

Deanna Bogart keeps getting better and better.  Her latest release, Just a Wish Away is an instant classic featuring outstanding songwriting and superb performances. Capturing the creativity of Carole King, the spunk of Bonnie Raitt, and the vocal style of Christine McVie, Bogart seizes the listener’s attention quickly. Enlisting bassist Charlie Wooton, and New Orleans’s favorite horn section Bonerama, makes the album even more alluring.

I absolutely love “Back and Forth Kid”.  Beautifully played, this heartfelt song about growing up under lousy conditions sports an instant familiarity, as if it were a song heard a million times before.   “What is Love Supposed To Do” a pretty song of longing and dusting off old memories, also has a certain familiarity to it.  Marty Rifkin on steel guitar brings a nice little smidge of country to the song.         

Bogart breaks loose on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tightrope”, hitting the ivories with full force to give the song new life as a piano-centric tune.  Without SRV’s signature guitar present, my brain took a little time to absorb what the song actually was the first time I heard it.  Going deep, Bogart teams up with Chris Jacobs, taking on JD Souther’s “If You Have Crying Eyes”, from his Black Rose album. Jacobs plays guitar and covers the other half of the vocals in this duet.  The two have great chemistry together, and sound as if they have been performing together for years. 

Sure to be a live staple, Deanna takes a turn to the funky side with Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime”. Wooton’s bass breaks loose on this track and Bonerama tops it off with their cool blasts of brass. 

Deanna Bogart’s talents are many, and this new album is very enjoyable.  Take the plunge and give Just a Wish Away… a listen.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Phish - Fuego

2014 – ATO Records

By Phillip Smith; July 05, 2014

Five years have passed since Phish last released a studio album.  The wait, although long, was well worth it.  Fuego, the twelfth studio album from Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon and Page McConnell, is fresh, fun and very easy to connect to.

Title track, “Fuego”, stretches out to just over nine minutes, laced with tasty jams, and harmonizing vocals.  When I hear the intro to “The Line”, a song about stepping up and facing ones responsibilities, I pick up a very retro Sixties vibe reminiscent of Booker T & the MGs as McConnell plays keyboard.  As the song settles in though, it absorbs a more melodramatic overtone.  The quirky “Wombat” gets really weird, dropping references to the late Seventies TV sitcom, Fish and its star, Abe Vigoda.

Gordon lays down a really funky bass line to kick “555” off with.  Heavy doses of keys from McConnell teamed up with Anastasio’s groovy guitar licks and a backing horn section make this a delightful listen.  Another tasty track sporting a little funk and awe-inspiring guitar is “Sing Monica”.  This lifts off like an alt-rock version of the Gap Band’s, “You Dropped a Bomb On Me”, and lands in big bowl of luscious guitar riffs suspended by a chorus of call and response vocals.             

A perfect song to chill out to, “Waiting all Night”, is beautifully soft and melancholy. It reminds me a little bit of John Barry’s “Midnight Cowboy Theme”, sans the harmonica. I really like “Winterqueen” too, another beautiful track with many layers.  For a fleeting moment, when the horn section plays about three minutes into the song, it’s like a lost melody from Chicago.

The ten tracks on Fuego is such a fun listen and so well done.  To borrow lyrics from the final song, “Wingsuit” to describe the album itself, ‘It feels good’.  I am so looking forward to catching the band play live this summer.‎

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Warbringer - War Without End : From the Archives #14

2008 – Century Media
By Phillip Smith; 

Coming face to face with the realization of just how close to midnight the hands on the doomsday clock just are, Warbringer relays the message matter-of-factly via headlines of their own on their newer CD, War Without End.   Impressively, guitarists Adam Carroll and John Laux aggressively create their wall of sound for lead vocalist, John Kevill to perch himself on top of and scream.  Drummer, Ryan Bates is no slacker either.  He plays with ferocious intent, pounding out crafted beats with near-perfect precision. 

War Without End is extreme thrash at its finest.  I latched on quickly to cuts, “Total War“, “Systematic Genocide“, and “Hell on Earth”.   The cut I favor above the rest is “Beneath the Waves” for the melodic interludes and animalistic growls from Kevill.

Guitars screamed in “Instruments of Torture”.  This is a very dark and very cool cut.  It would fit in nicely on a soundtrack the SAW film series, with such lyrics as “Cries of torment echo from the grave.  Satan laughs, your soul cannot be saved.”

The best concept song award goes to “Shoot to Kill”.  Zombies are rising from the grave, and the orders are “Fire at will. Yeah, Shoot to Kill”.  Thrash and zombies, I love the combination.  It works great. 

For the thrash fans, this CD is very much recommended.  

* written 01/17/10  and originally appeared on