Pop Culture Classics' Recommended CDs, DVDs and Books
By Paul Freeman
AMOS LEE - “LIVE FROM THE ARTISTS DEN”
Filmed at Tucson’s Fox Theatre, this is a top-notch set from one of our finest singer-songwriters. The Philadelphia native presents a perfect blend of folk, rock and soul that resonates with authenticity. Highlights among the 16 gems here include “Street Corner Preacher,” “Seven Spanish Angels” and “Flower.” This artist deserves much more attention and this DVD should help him garner it.
Inception Media Group has just released the second season of this classic western TV series. First broadcast in 1956-57, these episodes stand up admirably. The show offered intelligence and character development, as well as the requisite brawling and gunfire. But the big attraction was charismatic lead Hugh O’Brien. He’s still magnetic, a dapper deacon with steadfast morals who eschews booze and cigarettes. Armed with his distinctive Buntline Special, he shoots, not to kill, but to wing the villain’s gun hand. Other Old West icons like Ned Buntline and Doc Holliday make appearances. The 39 episodes, on five DVDs, include such familiar faces as Paul Brinegar, Gloria Talbott and Lloyd Corrigan. As the theme song goes, “Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp ... brave, courageous and bold. Long live his name, and long live his glory, and long may his story be told."
“I’M NOW: THE STORY OF MUDHONEY”
This documentary, now on DVD, takes fans from the band’s origins through a recent world tour. Along the way, we get comments from not only grunge gods Mudhoney, but peers, including members of Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth and Soundgarden. The footage is filled with enough fierce lunacy and gritty rock to hold the attention of even non-fans. Highly entertaining.
“PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE”
Spending two years filming his subject, Stephen Kessler fully captures Paul Williams, songwriter/celeb. It’s an intimate, touching, insightful and very enjoyable journey. At his peak, in the ‘70s, Williams nearly overdosed on fame... among other things. Ironically, the chat show favorite, star of the cult film “Phantom of the Paradise” and great pop songs for such artists as The Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, Three Dog Night and the Muppets, eventually found himself forgotten. But he has recovered - sobriety, respect and a new lease on life. Currently the president of ASCAP, he makes a fascinating focal point for this inventive documentary.
“JAY AND SILENT BOB GET IRISH!”
Recorded during live broadcasts from a pub in Ireland, the diabolical, dynamic duo of Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes deliver the sort of wildly irreverent fun fans have come to expect. In addition to their prickly patter, there’s plenty of interaction with the audience. In this package, subtitled: ‘The Swearin’ of the Green,’ They hold nothing back, including details of Mewes’ well-documented battles with addictions. ‘Off-limits’ isn’t in their vocabulary. Their antics earn laughs galore. Disc Two includes a bonus Vegas show.
CELTIC THUNDER - “MYTHOLOGY”
There’s a great sense of drama as these powerful voices entwine in their distinctive sextet style. Each group member gets his own moment in the spotlight, as well. Sets and lighting add to the theatricality and impact. Exploring their roots, the Thunder moves and uplifts the viewer with such numbers as “You Raise Me Up.” The show was filmed at Dublin’s Helix Theatre. A two-disc deluxe version is also available, which includes behind-the-scenes and at home footage.
By Chris Epting, author/music journalist
Once a flower child, always a flower child I suppose, in both the figurative and literal sense. Wendy Flower first floated onto the music scene back in the late 1960s as part of the underground folk duo, Wendy and Bonnie. Their single release, the folk rock classic Genesis is a lost classic; a feathery and flowery soundtrack to the patchouli scented air of the era.
But now Flower herself is back with New, her first new pop albums since 1969. She is joined on the record by many ethereal friends with deep roots embedded in the rich 1960s soil. The credits of the musicians are all webbed around names like Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, even two other, less-Bay area related icons like Rod Stewart and Mary Wells.
But for all the strong support and atmospheric accompaniment, it is Flower herself here that commands the most attention. That she actually lived through the era and was raised in San Francisco in an ultra musical household gives her latest release an integrity and organic flavor that shimmers across the entire song cycle.
New sounds like it may have been recorded during the summer of love yet it is also very much grounded in the now, steeped in an earthiness and innocence that is simply timeless. In particular, the song “Wind Chimes” feels like a modern classic retro adventure back to the days of tie-dye and protest marches. And there are plenty of other tunes with gentle yet transportive power. “Child's Play,” “Ferris Wheel,” “In the Attic” and “Long Night” are all fully-flavored, emotional documents voiced by an authentic troubadour that doesn't have to act the part, because she is the part.
There are many modern artists today trying to capture or recapture the magical psychedelic air of the late 1960s. Wendy Flower produces the real article with New. Like some sort of musical time capsule, she has created the fine balance of preserving the essence of another era while wrapping it in a contemporary blanket. This is a soothing and evocative musical scrapbook that while feeling perhaps a bit nostalgic, also casts an eye forward toward the horizon, in the true spirit of what the 60s were supposed to be about in the first place.
Clark certainly ranks among his generation’s most eloquent poets, poignantly expressive vocalists and captivating melody makers. And his era was the zenith for singer-songwriters. Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica, these early demos for his second solo release, 1971’s “White LIght,” allow you to hear the songs in their nascent, pure, unadorned beauty. His voice throbs with an aching, restless, melancholy yearning. This rare intimacy will hold the listener enthralled throughout. Among the memorable tracks are the Dylanesque “Please Mr. Freud,” the emotive “With Tomorrow” and such exquisite gems as “Here Tonight,” “For No One” and the album’s title track. “For A Spanish Guitar” is hauntingly lovely. There are political, social and religious elements, but Clark is primarily exploring the themes of love, loss and emptiness. The previously unreleased “Jimmy Christ” will be a revelation for the artist’s fans. He left us far too soon, at age 46. The Byrds’ finest songwriter, Gene Clark is worthy of renewed examination and appreciation.
JIMI HENDRIX - “PEOPLE, HELL AND ANGELS”
One of 2013’s most exciting albums is comprised of tracks recorded more than 40 years ago. Sony Legacy has gifted rock fans with a dozen previously unreleased Hendrix studio tracks. Among the highlights - “Somewhere” (with Buddy Miles on drums, Stephen Stills on bass), “Hear My Train A Comin’” (the guitarist’s first recording with Miles and Billy Cox) and “Easy Blues,” which showcases Hendrix’s gorgeously fluid guitar licks. Hendrix eventually transformed some of the material here into familiar works like “EzyRyder” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun”). But they’re striking in these earlier forms, as well. Hendrix’s genius is indisputable.
EMY TSENG - “SONHO”
Taiwan-born, Washington, D.C.-based, and MIT-educated vocalist Emy Tseng offers a fresh take on Brazilian jazz in “Sonho,” her debut album. The title is Brazilian for “dream.” And there are certainly dreamy qualities at play here. Her voice exudes both cool and clarity. In addition to obscure, but beautiful numbers from Latin America, she delivers a slow, surprising, wistful take on The Mamas and The Papas’ “California’ Dreamin.’” It’s morphed into a bossa nova beauty.
KACEY JOHANSING - “GRAND GHOSTS”
The San Francisco singer-songwriter, who’ll be gigging in Europe this May, has released a sparkling sophomore album. There’s a gorgeous tranquility to the sound she creates here. Among the gentle gems are “River,” “Disappearing Act,” “Into View” and “Lighting the Dark.” Johansing’s vocals are warm and evocative throughout. Indie-pop, folk, jazz and classical elements blend beautifully.
ERIC BURDON - “’TIL YOUR RIVER RUNS DRY”
It’s been 50 years since Burdon and the rest of The Animals burst out of Newcastle to become a key force in the British Invasion. At 71, his gritty, bluesy voice is as effective as ever. And his songwriting has only improved with age. This new album is gripping, from start to finish. Burdon brings a gospelish zeal to “Water.” “Old Habits Die Hard” is a scorching rocker. In “27 Forever,” he salutes his fallen rock ‘n’ roll comrades. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, Burdon does, in fact, know Diddley. He pays tribute to one of his idols in the song “Bo Diddley Special,” which surges with that pioneer’s famous beat. Burdon sings of life, death, love and social issues with equal intensity. As he confronts mortality and morality, his passion never wanes. Burdon’s self-reflection has a universal resonance. This work transcends nostalgia. It’s an important new collection.
SALLIE FORD & THE SOUND OUTSIDE - ”UNTAMED BEAST”
Sallie Ford knows how to serve up savory, sizzling rock ‘n’ roll with punk and blues seasonings. The singer-songwriter-guitarist and her band rollick through such saucy numbers as “Bad Boys,” “Lip Boy” and “Do Me Right.” When she slows it down on “Roll Around,” Ford is equally effective. Based in Portland, Oregon, she’s feisty, fiery and fearless.
RED - “RELEASE THE PANIC”
The Christian metal/alt rock band out of Nashville is back with a potent new effort. Lead vocalist Michael Barnes can handle the group’s more melodic metal/pop-oriented numbers on this album, as well as the screamers. The title track and “Perfect Life” make perfect singles. On “Glass Houses” and “If We Only,” they again cushion the layers of roaring guitars with violin and cello, returning to their trademark sound and giving the album some variety. Their fourth studio record might not be a risk-taker, but it should be a crowd pleaser.
MARIA SCHNEIDER - “WINTER MORNING WALKS”
Acclaimed Minnesota composer/musician Schneider set poems by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser to music. The poem “Winter Morning Walks” was written during Kooser’s daily strolls, while he was recovering from cancer. Schneider sweeps up the listener with her uplifting, life-affirming melodies. To bring them to fruition, she teamed with soprano Dawn Upshaw, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Though Schneider puts the poetry into a classical music context, she also seasons it with elements of her jazz background.
LISA KIRCHNER -”UMBRELLAS IN MINT’
Drawing from jazz, Broadway, cabaret and Great American Songbook influences, Kirchner presents a dozen outstanding originals. They’re rich in diversity, imagery and emotion. “Under The Paris Moon” and ‘”Southern Starlight” are especially enchanting. “A Billion Stars Ago (In The Shadow of a Crow)” is intricately designed and intriguingly performed. Kirchner’s elegantly expressive voice caresses her well-crafted lyrics and delicately woven melodies.
LISA FORKISH - “BRIDGES”
Born in Oregon, now residing in Oakland, Lisa Forkish has shared the stage with Pink Martini, Bobby McFerrin and opened for KD Lang at Hilary Clinton’s birthday party. For her second album, “Bridges,” Forkish has penned eight of the tracks. They span folk, jazz, soul and pop. Her emotive voice maximizes the impact of such powerful ballads as “Unraveling” and “You Give Me Breath.” Forkish, founder of Musicians Against Sexual Violence, presents an intensely affecting look at that subject on “Solidarity.” She takes a breezy, swinging approach to Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” This is an artist whose work is diverse and genuine.
KEN STRINGFELLOW - “DANZIG IN THE MOONLIGHT”
Revered for the glorious music he created with The Posies, as well as collaborations with Death Cab For Cutie, Snow Patrol, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Big Star and R.E.M., Stringfellow returns with a new solo collection of his sweet, sensitive, supremely alluring songwriting and vocalizing. He gracefully dances from one genre to another, touching on pop, country, indie rock, soul, folk and jazz. Yet his warming, wondrous style ensures that all of the shifts are smooth, from the gentleness of “Jesus Was An Only Child” to the horn-driven surge of “Drop Your Pride.” A prolific, imaginative artist, Stringfellow has always deserved more mainstream attention than he has received.
STONE BLIND VALENTINE - “BURN LIKE A FIELD”
Chicago’s extraordinary singer/songwriter Emily Hurd teams with musicians Colby Maddox and Gregg Ostrom in this appealing new Americana trio. Bluegrass, blues and gospel influences are woven through the album. Among the instant classics found here are the title track, “Vintage Heart,” “Crown The Kings” and “Think What You Will.” Hurd’s stirring voice glides over the banjo, piano, guitar, bass, fiddle and mandolin accompaniment. Spanning a variety of tempos and moods, the album is eminently satisfying.
This is one versatile violinist. Kang has worked with Pierre Boulez and Lady Gaga. Here, in this genre-defying creation, she complements her electric violin with musicians playing guitars, bass and drums. She uses her voice as another instrument to shade the atmospheric music. There are forays into hip-hop and electronica, as well as classical. She appears to be as well versed in Brian Eno and Philip Glass as she is in Mozart and Bach. Her debut is a mind-expanding exploration of her instrument’s possibilities.
EMMY ROSSUM - “SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY”
If you know Rossum only from the Showtime series “Shameless” or the recent film “Beautiful Creatures,” you might be surprised by her fabulous singing voice. She had an opportunity to showcase that in the film version of the musical “Phantom of the Opera.” This collection spans tunes from the ‘20s through the ‘60s. Rossum can adapt her trained voice to be charming on anything from the old-timey “I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover” to the torchy “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” and “All I Do Is Dream of You” to Andrew Sisters-type harmonies on “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time,” through a bluesy “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and the country lilt of “Things” and “Paper Roses.” Her serene take on the Sinatra standard “Summer Wind” is exquisite. Like Sarah Brightman, Rossum is capable of developing crossover appeal as a vocalist. On this, her second album, the bewitching Rossum takes listeners on a very enjoyable nostalgic journey.
LOTTE KESTNER - “THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS”
There’s beauty in simplicity. And Lotte Kestner (lead singer of Trespasser William) captures that magic in her new solo album. Using only her exquisite voice, accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano, she movingly conveys her emotions. Lovely, wistful melodies and elegantly crafted lyrics are more than enough to mesmerize the listener.
STONE FOXES - “SMALL FIRES”
San Francisco's Stone Foxes return with their third album, and it's a scorcher. Recorded in L.A. with producer Doug Boehm (Dr. Dog, The Vines), it breathes flat-out rock 'n' roll fire. The band has moved away a bit from their bluesier roots, veering more into Black Keys territory. And it suits them. Strong, compact songs, a powerhouse rhythm section, driving guitars and urgent vocals form the core. "Everybody Knows" recalls vintage Rolling Stones. Other top tracks include "Ulysses Jones," Jump in the Water" and the title track. If you're on the hunt for unpretentious, rootsy rock, Foxes fill the bill.
PANDA RIOT - “NORTHERN AUTOMATIC MUSIC”
Vocalist/keyboardist Rebecca Scott and guitarist Brian Cook, who front Chicago’s Panda Riot, create mood-altering, ethereal dream pop that recalls such bands as Stereolab, Broadcast, Portishead and My Bloody Valentine. With fuzzy, distorted guitars, rhythmic keys and mesmerizing vocal blends, they transport the listener to other worlds.
KYLE EASTWOOD - “THE VIEW FROM HERE”
With his sixth album in his 15 years as band leader, Kyle Eastwood shows once again that he deserves to be known first and foremost not as Clint’s son, but as one of the contemporary jazz scene’s most exciting creators. Eastwood grew up in Carmel, but now spends most of his time in France, where this new work was recorded. The bassist/composer, with his excellent quintet, establishes strong grooves and arresting melodies. Playing both acoustic and electric bass, Eastwood’s subtle, elegant lines unobtrusively provide solid foundation for the group’s varied and compelling sounds.
“THE BIBLE” - SOUNDTRACK
This evocative score to the TV mini-series, composed by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe is involving on its own. It’s eloquent in both subtle, nuanced passages and sweeping, majestic movements. Middle Eastern musical influences are threaded through the album. Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard (who worked with Zimmer on the “Gladiator” soundtrack) adds heavenly vocal interludes. From the serene and pastoral to the passionate and divine, the score paints vivid biblical pictures.
SCOTT JAMES - “DESTINESIA”
The 17-year-old Southern California singer-songwriter makes his debut with this breathtaking six-song EP. Using piano on some songs, guitar on others, Scott James delves deep in terms of emotional content. His plaintive vocals are somewhat reminiscent of the great Canadian artist Ron Sexsmith. And James displays a similar gift for crafting eloquent lyrics and memorable melodies. There are also traces of the sort of the vibrant sensitivity that made Jeff Buckley so inspirational. scottjamesmusic.com
PHIL LEE - “THE FALL AND FURTHER DECLINE OF THE MIGHTY KING OF LOVE”
The former truck driver has some sandpaper, as well as plenty of sharp humor, much of the self-deprecating variety, in his new album. Phil Lee’s brand of alt-folk-country-blues has a gritty, rowdy sense of fun about it. But he can be meaningfully mournful, too. He’s a colorful, spellbinding storyteller. The grabbing tracks include the ribald “Blues In Reverse” a convincing “All You Need” and “I Hated To See You Go,” a co-write with the legendary Barry Goldberg of Detroit Wheels and Electric Flag fame. Lee has obviously done a lot of living and it’s all in his songs.
SCOTT RAMMINGER - “ADVICE FROM A FATHER TO A SON”
Ramminger delivers a funked-up blues-rock romp. The earthy, D.C.-based vocalist/saxophonist can be profound, as on “The Other Man’s Shoes,” or tongue-in-cheek, as with “More Than One Flavor.” There’s a New Orleans panache to his rousing sound throughout.
RAQUEL BITTON - “RHYTHM OF THE HEART”
You might recognize Bitton from her PBS special, “Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs.” This time, it’s Havana meets Paris as Bitton sings sumptuously, in French, songs made famous by Latin legend Tino Rossi. Backed by a large Afro-Cuban band, she brings her own distinctive flair to the Samba, Bossa Nova, Cha-cha, Merengue, Danzon, Tango, Milonga and Bolero rhythms. The album was produced by 11-time Grammy winner Rafa Sardina.
VARIOUS ARTISTS - “REASON TO BELIEVE: THE SONGS OF TIM HARDIN”
Tim Hardin, who passed in 1980, was truly a songwriter’s songwriter, certainly one of the most distinctive folk singers ever. His works have been covered often over the years. Now many of his most memorable tunes are reimagined by contemporary artists on this splendid tribute. The most faithful to Hardin’s original vision is Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), who performs “Red Balloon,” with the creator’s jazzy/bluesy vocal style. Alela Diane offers a riveting, impassioned “How Can We Hang On To A Dream.” Sarabeth Tucek’s breathily beautiful version of “If I Knew” will linger in the listener’s subconscious. Okkervil River does a fine job with “It’ll Never Happen Again.” “If I Were A Carpenter,” “Lenny’s Tune” and “Don’t Make Promises” veer into more atmospheric indie territory, courtesy of Smoke Fairies, Hannah Peel and The Phoenix Foundation, respectively. And Iceland’s Snorri Helgason captures the haunting loveliness of Hardin’s masterpiece, “Misty Roses.”
MILES DAVIS QUINTET - “LIVE IN EUROPE 1969”
Legacy’s The Bootleg Series, Volume 2, features the astonishingly adventurous Davis band that’s come to be known as “The Lost Quintet.” With Davis the driving force on trumpet, the musical circle is completed by the combination of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, all jazz legends themselves. They formed the core of the larger ensemble that fueled 1970’s historic “Bitches Brew” album. The ‘69 recordings are sort of a sonic, stylistic bridge between Davis’ acoustic, more traditional, and electric, more experimental periods. This important package, consisting of three CDs and a DVD, presents live performances recorded in Stockholm, Berlin and at the Antibes festival. Previously only available as bootlegs, these dazzling sets, brimming with inventive solos, prove thrilling, as they hint at the even wilder Davis music to come.
Brooklyn-based, Texas-born John Mease, recording as Lapland, offers wonderfully crafted, breezily wistful pop/psych/folk/electronica. His intimate, introspective compositions are enhanced by winsome, textured synths and harmonies. On this bedroom project, Mease himself plays guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. He welcomes the listener into his world, where we can float through a myriad of emotions.
The stage musical, a smash in London, has now created excitement in the U.S., as well. “Backbeat” tells the story of the early Beatles as they carved out a raucous identity in Hamburg’s rough clubs. It explodes with the turbulence of not only the sounds, but the relationships among John, Paul, George, Pete Best, the ill-fated Stuart Sutcliffe and Astrid Kirchherr, the German photographer who became artistically and romantically entangled with the Fab Five. The extraordinary exhilaration of the music is fully captured on this original cast album. Lennon-McCartney’s sweet “P.S. I Love You” is here. But the set list is primarily comprised of the rock ‘n’ roll classics The Beatles were tearing through at venues like the Star Club. Daniel Healy (McCartney) and Andrew Knott (Lennon) deliver convincing vocals and the band seizes the raw, unbridled energy the real Beatles unleashed on such scorchers as “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Money,” “Road Runner,” “Slow Down” and “Twenty Flight Rock.” This is a wildly entertaining trip back to the songs that influenced the world’s most influential band.
“MOLLY HOLM” - “PERMISSION”
On her debut release, Berkeley-based Molly Holm proves herself to be an extraordinarily dextrous and imaginative vocalist. The album gets off to an adventurous beginning with the riveting “Improvised Raga,” featuring an interplay between Holm and bassist Jeff Chambers. Holm reconnects with her roots, as an original member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, with the inventively intricate vocal arrangements used on “The Bear.” On that number, her own composition, she’s backed by an a cappella ensemble of outstanding Bay Area singers. Holm is also impressive on classics penned by Chick Corea, Joe Zainul Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
DEVON ALLMAN - “TURQUOISE”
If he keeps making records like this, Devon Allman will definitely establish his own strong musical identity. Gregg’s son is a soulful vocalist and dynamic guitarist. And he’s not confining himself strictly to Southern rock. Touches of everything from R&B to Latin to jazz enter this musical landscape. But blues and rock remain the foundation of Allman’s gutsy songs, such as “Don’t Set Me Free.” The one cover is an appealing rendition of Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Samantha Fish joining on vocals. This is Allman’s first solo album, after fronting such bands as Honeytribe. And its an impressive debut.
"CLIVE: WORKING WITH THE MAN IN THE AGE OF VINYL" By Don Silver
This fascinating memoir details the two years in the ‘80s Silver spent in A&R at Arista Records, under the direction of Clive Davis. It offers deep insights into not only Davis, perhaps the ultimate record executive, but also into the soul-crushing industry itself. It’s also a compelling journey of a young man following a dream, losing his way, and having the strength and courage to step away from a job that others envy, so he can find a more fulfilling path.