BLAZE Soundtrack Paints Moving Tribute to Fallen Legend

Various Artists
BLAZE: Original Cast Recording
(Light in the Attic Records)
Release date: 9/21/18

Listening to the soundtrack of a film one has yet to see is a test for the ears. Free of images to pair with the music, the mind digests the sounds heard in as-is fashion. While such an experience can be just as fulfilling as playing a record linked to a well-watched favorite movie, the flip-side is akin to looking at an incomplete picture. The bones are there, but the rest of the canvas is waiting to be fleshed out.

For the soundtrack to the new biographical film “Blaze” directed by Ethan Hawke, the above description is pretty apt. Centered around the tumultuous life of deceased country singer and songwriter Blaze Foley, “Blaze” sounds like a movie that attempts to paint a picture of a character who defies easy description. The soundtrack to the film, featuring performances by the musician and actor portraying Foley, Ben Dickey, amongst others, is a fitting companion piece. What the project lacks in completeness, it makes up for with musical highlights.

Foremost among these highlights are Dickey sung covers of some of Foley’s best-known songs “Clay Pigeons” and “Picture Cards.” The former is a seemingly hopeful tune played on acoustic guitar in Foley’s signature loping finger-picking style. Over added sound effects that mimic chirping birds, Dickey sings of starting over again and going “down where people say y’all.” However, the song’s bright melody belies additional lines about hiding sorrow and changing the shape the singer is in. It’s an optimistic number shrouded in sadness, and given the tragic outcome of Foley’s short life the sentiment is liable to cut straight to a listener’s heart with repeated listens.

Perhaps even more aching in nature, “Picture Cards” is a love song sung from the edge of despair. Again featuring Dickey on vocals and finger-picked acoustic guitar, the track is accented by lonesome harmonica that trails over lyrics that talk of finding daylight in a lover’s eyes, but also of not trying to fall in love and trying instead to wash those feelings away. Still more heartbreaking is the addition of the sound of pool being played in the background of the song’s latter half, as if Dickey is performing the number in a lonely bar with apathetic patrons focused more on their billiard game than on the singer in the corner.

If the impression given so far is that the Blaze soundtrack consists of nothing but melancholy country tunes, then let the record also show that there are moments of levity too. Snippets of chatter like Dickey’s introductory “Okey-dokey smokey” that opens the album, or what appears to be director Hawke cheering at the conclusion of the song “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries” give an added air of informality to the recording of the soundtrack as a whole, and promote jovial feelings of what the atmosphere may have been like on set. This observation goes double for the off –the-cuff sounding duet between Dickey and co-star Alia Shawkat on the cover of Roger Miller’s “Oo-De-Lally” best known from its appearance in Disney’s animated feature “Robin Hood.”

It is also worthwhile to note the album is not just a showcase for Dickey’s talents, though he shoulders the majority of the workload, even writing his own tribute to Foley and the singer’s former partner Sybil Rosen, entitled “Blaze and Sybil’s Lullaby.”  Musician Charlie Sexton, who appears in the film portraying another ill-fated singer and songwriter, Townes Van Zandt, gets in on the action too, contributing a cover of the Van Zandt song “Marie.” And Alynda Segarra of the band Hurray for Riff Raff, who plays Blaze’s Foley’s sister Marsha in the film, is tasked with bringing the soundtrack to a close with her sparse rendition of the Lucinda Williams’ penned tribute to Foley “Drunken Angel.”

The lyrics to Williams’ song provide a telling summation of Foley’s life and untimely death. “Sun came up it was another day / And the sun went down you were blown away,” the words go. “Why’d you let go of your guitar / Why’d you ever let it go that far.”

Those are good questions. Blaze Foley lived a life full of contradictions, so many in fact that even a film garnering as much early praise as “Blaze” probably has its hands full trying to accurately portray every angle of a man, who spent his time running away from tidy identification. The pieces of his story are there, like breadcrumbs ultimately crafting a phantom trail to some firm resolution, but legends are always more than the sum of their parts.

With BLAZE: Original Cast Recording both Foley and Ben Dickey have been cast as stars. Listeners who track down the album and see the film will gain a fuller picture of both men, but if the soundtrack is all one gets to experience just the songs will do. The best of the bunch rise above the level of simple stars. Their timelessness, like Foley’s own saga, will live on forever.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

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The Green Sisters’ “Endless Blue” is Familial Gem

The Green Sisters
Endless Blue
(self-released)
Release date: 6/30/18

Call it a family affair. Given these turbulent times, this debut release from four singing multi-instrumentalist sisters from Hubbardston – Rebecca, Betsy, Brianna and Melody Green – is a welcome slice of sibling harmony and country living put to music.

Opening track “To Build My Dreams On” sets the amiable tone. Penned by Brie Green and featuring lines about the sun, land, water and fire, the tune forgoes instrumentation and rides along on the sisters’ shining voices alone, employing a group a capella delivery to charming effect and giving a preview of sounds to come.

Since the Green Sisters grew up singing together while doing chores on the family farm, their practiced vocal interplay is what steals the show on Endless Blue. No matter which sister takes the lead, the backing of the others accents the proceedings often achieving the effect of sounding like one voice.

The quartet picks up its instruments though for the album’s second number “Sailor’s Valentine.” Fiddle, guitar and mandolin, all appear to have their place in the mix and contribute to the song’s Celtic-tinged tale of a seaman and his love. Not content to stick with one traditional style, the sisters continue to merge multiple genres throughout the rest of the record’s run time.

For example, “Walkin’ After Midnight” is perhaps best known as a country classic popularized by Patsy Cline. But re-interpreted here by the Green Sisters, the tune takes on a more jazz-inflected style exemplified by its string-bass intro and the group’s inventive vocal arrangements.

Another merger occurs on the aptly-titled “Fiddle Medley.” For nearly six minutes, the sisters turn the track into an old-time and bluegrass instrumental showcase that picks up speed around the two-minute mark, while still allowing for a breakdown or two to spotlight the group’s string playing prowess.

Elsewhere, the Brie Green written “Here and Gone” emerges as one of the album’s latter half highlights. Filled with reflective lyrics focused on the passage of time, the song is one of the record’s most mature efforts aided by both its engaging melody and the sisters’ sighing harmonies.

Yet, it is the languid album closer “Oak Tree” that may best exemplify the Green Sisters’ roots as well as their ambitions. Revolving around a repeating guitar figure, the song starts as a story about finding peace and truth in the welcoming arms of a stately oak, however, more philosophical questions come to light as the tune progresses. Soon the narrator’s rising voice explores a higher register as listeners are transported along, higher into the tree’s branches, asking, “What am I doing up here?” and “Am I a bird or am I really a human?”

The answers aren’t as important as the act of asking. Still, the number as a whole is very telling. The Green Sisters are four individuals who take obvious solace in the charms of nature, but they aren’t afraid to push at their own boundaries, or the forms of music they choose to employ. Where their searching takes them next will be intriguing to see. There’s plenty of space to explore in the “endless blue.”

The Green Sisters perform Aug. 16, 8 p.m., Luthier’s Co-Op, 108 Cottage St., Easthampton, (413) 527-6627, http://www.luthiers-coop.com/

For more information on The Green Sisters please visit https://thegreensistersfour.com/.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Set Sail with Snackbeard

According to a passage in his novel “Redburn,” no less an authority on seafaring life than Herman Melville states, “It is a great thing in a sailor to know how to sing well.”

For, he explains, those at sea who are blessed with a talented voice may help raise the spirits of a lagging crew, and make even the most drudging of work feel less monotonous. Could, though, such a songster on a ship even lead one to buried treasure?

To test said hypothesis, enter into this swashbuckling tradition the figure of Snackbeard the pirate (aka former Valley Advocate writer and editor Tom Sturm), who embarks on such a quest on a self-titled children’s music album, which is available now.

Consisting of 10 tracks that merge a narrated tale of adventure on the high seas with songs that give life to such topics as getting a ship ready to sail, and what happens when someone is forced to walk the plank, the album is not short on storytelling moxy.

The record’s opening cut sets the scene with a backdrop of sounds that include water lapping against the shore and gulls soaring overhead. Snackbeard/ Sturm provides a fine voice for the proceedings, consisting of equal parts wizened sea scallywag and cryptic storyteller, who alludes to interactions with a “harebrained” scientist as well as informing listeners of his own intriguing backstory.

The music doesn’t start until track two, where the speedy “Ship Shape” blurs by like an old LP played at 78 rpm instead of the recommended 33 and 1/3. The sub-two minute blast also introduces a plethora of additional voices that paint a picture of a merry band of scoundrels running around decks trimming sails, tightening lines, and trying to obey the captain’s orders.

“Salmagundi,” the next track, features perhaps the album’s most appropriate subject matter – food. Described as consisting of “a bit of this and that,” the dish itself may be a mystery, but there’s no mistaking the tune’s Caribbean rhythm with acoustic guitar strummed over what sounds like distant steel drums.

Variety in instrumentation and overall story keep Snackbeard an engaging listen. As events progress from a treasure hunt to mutiny and even to an encounter with a dreaded kraken, the music changes too. Violin and guitar fade away as distorted riffs and tolling bells emerge like subterranean sea monsters crawling up from the ocean floor. Even the many voices in the mix evolve from upbeat pirates “yo ho hoing” to ghastly specters on a ghost ship cackling and chanting.

Listeners be warned. If your kiddo has already sat through all of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, then nary an eye will probably be batted at the ominous sounds that emanate from some of Snackbeard’s darker tracks. But, the tiniest of audience members may have a question or two for mom and dad regarding bilge rats, shanks, and just what happens down in Davy Jones’ Locker.

Parents may even enjoy Snackbeard as much as their children. The album is filled with references to pirate lore and history. So many details are included in fact that repeat listens are quite rewarding as opposed to the grating irritation that can come from hearing certain kid favorites ad nauseam. Sturm’s life as a writer shines through with a veritable treasure trove of a vocabulary sprinkled throughout, providing ample terms to research together, maybe even for a pirate-themed spelling bee or two.

Despite the record’s replay value, what Snackbeard begs for is a sequel. A bunch of adventure is crammed into 40 minutes, and many grateful parents will no doubt applaud the tales for not going on too long or overstaying their welcome, but by the time events conclude, sans treasure and the pillaging of even a single merchant ship, the ending of the story arrives sooner than expected.    

Will the Crimson Crest sail again? What too of the captain’s daughter? Has the kraken disappeared for good? Fans will just have to wait until Snackbeard takes to the waves again in search of gold and goodies to eat to find out the answers.

For more on Snackbeard please visit https://www.facebook.com/snackbeardthepirate/.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seams” album review

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seams” album review

 

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

 

 

Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold is Celestial Smash

Foo Fighters 2017 (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

Foo Fighters 2017 (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

Foo Fighters
Concrete and Gold
(Roswell Records/ RCA Records)
Release date: 9/15/17

How does a stadium-filling rock band follow up its most ambitious album ever? In the case of the Foo Fighters, the answer is by achieving rebellion through an embrace of normalcy.

Whereas the recording of 2014’s Sonic Highways took place in eight different studios across eight different cities nationwide, the recording of the Foo’s ninth studio album took place in just a single location, EastWest Studios, in California. Inside the same walls that witnessed the creation of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Dave Grohl and company committed to making their first record inside a commercial studio since 2002, a choice that appears almost pedestrian when compared to the previous road-tripping project.

However, to keep matters somewhat unpredictable, the band joined forces with new producer, Greg Kurstin, this time around, instead of bringing back trusted hand Butch Vig, who helmed the Foo’s previous two albums. Kurstin, known for his work with Adele, Sia and other more pop-leaning artists, first came across Grohl’s radar because of his membership in indie pop duo The Bird and the Bee, whose other member, Inara George, contributed vocals to Concrete and Gold.

Together, Kurstin and the Foos decided to craft, “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper…or something like that,” according to Grohl. And for those imagining a universe of noise mashed with patches of psychedelia, the ensuing result is not far removed from such a statement.

Opening track, “T-Shirt” doesn’t wait long to announce itself. Beginning with Grohl singing a soft plea over simple acoustic guitar, the song explodes out of the speakers at the 30 second mark. A giant chorus of layered vocals provides the backdrop for hammering drums and what sounds like a wall of guitars before a return is made to the quieter intro for the closing seconds.

A similar pattern emerges on the album’s next number and first single “Run.” Familiar picked notes underscore Grohl’s gentle urge for listener’s to “wake up” and “run for your life with me.” Then the drums come in, pounding an insistent beat as Grohl’s singing grows more stressed. This, of course, is before all hell breaks loose. Suddenly the song’s speed shifts into overdrive and Groh’s feral hardcore screaming rides atop a churning metal-like frenzy. Just as suddenly a return is made to the slower rhythm, and one can easily picture the track’s back and forth nature playing out before a live audience – all mayhem and head banging interspersed with moments of appreciative swaying as revelers catch their breath.

After such a pummeling, the ‘70s rock-inspired “Make It Right” seems downright tame by comparison. Garage guitars crunch out a repeating riff as lyrics about a “train to nowhere” share time with declarations of not needing another martyr. Pop superstar Justin Timberlake adds backing vocals, apparently as a result of Grohl’s chance meeting with the singer at the studio, but you’d have to check out the liner notes to confirm such a fact as his contribution is just one piece of a stacked mix.

A heavy mix of layered vocals, harmonies and arrangements, throughout multiple tracks, appears to resemble what Grohl’s vision for this record was inside his head all along. The partnership with Kurstin allows for many of these touches to be fleshed out, so too does the inclusion of guests like Timberlake, as well as singer Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men fame, who lends his vocals to Concrete and Gold’s title number.

Perhaps no guest looms larger though than Paul McCartney, who unexpectedly mans the skins for the Taylor Hawkins vocal turn “Sunday Rain.” The story goes that Macca wanted to borrow Kurstin for some work in the middle of the Foo’s recording sessions, so Grohl pulled the former Beatle into the studio. Hawkins’ raspy singing provides a nice change up from Grohl’s throatier howling, and suits the song’s shaggy jam-like feel. With a running time of six-plus minutes there’s plenty of time for the tune to wander off and find itself again. As for the inclusion of some random piano noodling at the end of the track, the explanation is anyone’s guess.

Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold cover art

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold cover art

No explanations are required for two other Concrete and Gold highlights. Second single “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” marries a plodding beat to sighing backing vocals and a rhythm reminiscent of a forgotten nursery rhyme. Every chorus of “banging on the ceiling” brings to mind the classic image of a parent wishing their child would just “keep it down” upstairs, but the song manages enough odes to heaven above to perhaps strive for something more constellation-inspired, an idea explored more fully by its Grohl-directed video starring his two daughters Violet and Harper.

“The Line” finds the Foo Fighters in full-on anthem mode. The song is already popping up as the soundtrack for major league baseball promos on television, and seems ready-made for future stadium sing-alongs. “Are you there?” Grohl sings over driving power chords and shimmering single notes. “Everything is on the line this time.” A likely candidate as any if the band decides to release a third single, the song is melodic without relying on variations in speed and tone and doesn’t overstay its welcome, possessing the second shortest running time on the album.

Every great record needs a fitting finale, and Concrete and Gold’s title cut suffices in spades. Starting with a menacing opening crawl, the song lurches from the gate with distorted guitars and restrained drums before artfully deploying Stockman’s aforementioned vocals as dramatic mountains of noise. Time is made for an interlude featuring sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a broadcast to distant planets, but the track’s status as a budding epic is sealed by its echoed guitar strums and rising harmonies. Harkening back to Grohl’s claim that this is his take on “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper,” the song even ends on a sudden sustained blast that fades out over the final minute, leaving just one mystery – who’s Darrell*, and what did he do to merit the “Fuck you” hurled his way in the album’s closing seconds?

For more information on the Foo Fighters please visit www.foofighters.com.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

* A likely candidate is Darrell Thorp, who mixed and helped master the record.

LuxDeluxe Delivers with New Album “Let’s Do Lunch”

LuxDeluxe
Let’s Do Lunch
(Spirithouse)
Release date: 5/5/17

The latest release from these Northampton rockers is a pretty straightforward affair. In fact, the album’s opening track, “Intro,” even welcomes listeners and lists each band member’s name in succession.

Ned King, Jacob Rosazza, Gabriel Bernini, Caleb Rosazza and Jake Edwards, have seen their collective profile rise over the past few years playing sold out shows, earning the song of the year (“So Far Away”) title on WRSI, and opening for none other than Bernie Sanders at a rally held at the Mullins Center in Amherst. But it’s the group’s continued refinement of a classic sound that still garners the most notice.

That sound, once described by former Advocate writer James Heflin as, “solidly delivered, exuberant pop music that draws from the sounds of several decades ago,” is on fine display throughout “Let’s Do Lunch.” Album single “Keep Your Distance” rides some bubbling bass over its sub-two minute run time, while “I’m Goin’ Fishin’” features a tasty, extended guitar solo. “Baby Whatcha Feelin’” conjures the same vibe John Fogerty and company once dredged up from the bayou, and “Hey Girl” resembles a take on some lo-fi indie rock with just vocals and a couple of guitars making up the mix.

The mere existence of such a variety of tunes on one record is a testament to LuxDeluxe’s craftsmanship, especially given that the tracks were recorded live by the band on a Tascam Portastudio four track cassette recorder, which was set up in the group’s rehearsal space. Outtakes from the recording sessions are even included on “Let’s Do Lunch” via “Interludes,” a song-length medley of music snippets, studio chatter and unfinished ideas, some of which beg to be expanded upon. But if all this creativity and experimentation doesn’t sound the least bit straightforward, hear me out.

The members of LuxDeluxe know exactly what they’re doing. By marching from start to finish to a steady, rhythmic lockstep groove “Let’s Do Lunch” is a complete album experience. The record begins with “Intro,” and ends with “Goodnight” – a clear beginning and a logical end. In between are songs that push and pull at different emotions without overshadowing one another or feeling out of place. There’s time for nods to classic sounds. There’s time to expand, fly free, and try new tricks. There’s even a section (“Interludes”) acting as an outlet for this overflow of ideas. But the proceedings work best as a cohesive whole.

In a recent interview, Bernini said, “We wanted the record to represent our influences and the music that we’re most comfortable with. It’s definitely a return to form for us. It’s the music we grew up on and still listen to and it’s what we do best as a band.”

Enjoy the ride. Just don’t forget to start at the top.

LuxDeluxe album release show with co-headliner Madaila, April 8, 9 p.m., $10-13, Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl Street, Northampton, (413) 584-7771, http://www.iheg.com/pearl_street_main.asp

For more information on LuxDeluxe please visit https://www.luxdeluxemusic.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/luxdeluxemusic.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.