BEST OF 2017: Tim Livingston’s Great Eight Albums

December 29th, 2017, 10:00 am by Greg

By Tim Livingston

Memos From the Underground: The Great Eight Best (or at least my favorite) Albums of the Year…

1. Peter Perrett
How the West Was Won
The Only Ones frontman/songwriter returns out of nowhere with a stunning album showcasing his outstanding songwriting, heartfelt delivery and sometimes dark wit as only a man who has traveled a journey such as his could do. Not only album of the year, but also comeback of the year! Top-notch accompaniment by his two sons’ band featuring the beautiful and powerful guitar stylings of Jamie Perrett. Song of the year? Pick one… any one.

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BEST OF 2017: J Hunter’s Best Jazz2K Releases (Part Deux)

December 21st, 2017, 2:42 pm by Greg

By J Hunter

Okay, the awards are handed out, and the servers have cleared away the plates. LET’S COUNT ‘EM DOWN!

Number Ten…
CHRISTIAN SANDS: Reach (Mack Avenue)
After manning the piano chair for über-bassist Christian McBride’s various acoustic projects, Sands jumps out of the nest with Reach and flies like a big freaking bird. Whether it’s on dazzling originals like “Gangstalude” and “Song of the Rainbow People” or a devilish reboot of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” this New Haven native displays a dynamic playing style and a dazzling melodic sense. Although he rocks the piano-trio format with drummer Marcus Baylor and bassist Yasushi Nakamura, Reach shows Sands is capable of so very much more, and the future is so bright, we’ll ALL need shades.

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BEST OF 2017: Don Wilcock’s Top 8 Blues Albums (And Year-End Rant)

December 20th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Greg

By Don Wilcock
Photograph of Selwyn Birchwood at The Upper Room by Andrzej Pilarczyk

As I approach half a century of reviewing music locally, nationally and internationally, I am fascinated by how the various scenes have changed. When I was a student at Tufts University outside of Boston in the early ’60s, folk music was rigidly academic performed by artists who were neophytes and often sounded like it. They rigidly stuck to copying “authentic” American folk songs of the ’30s and ’40s.

Their fans, on the contrary, tended to be rebellious post-Beat, pre-hippy young people searching for an identity that rejected the boredom of post-war Eisenhower white t-shirts and chinos.

Now, the roles are often reversed. The fans I see at Caffe Lena, the Eighth Step and The Egg skew over 50. They’re the same fans who were into folk then, but now they have short haircuts or no hair at all, and they dress like they’re getting ready to do yard work. The older folk acts have gotten much better with age, often are writing their own material, and have been given a green light by Dylan and younger Americana acts who mix genres generally with a heavy dollop of rock, a sound that was very popular in 1962 but sometimes considered juvenile to the college set. (Just as an aside, don’t expect the term “Americana” to stick around forever. It’s become a catchall phrase for everything that doesn’t fit the categories of folk, rock, country and blues).

I’ve spent more than half my time as a music journalist writing about blues. In Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and St. Louis, blues was a fully recognized genre in 1962 when I entered college, but in the Harvard Square/Greenwich Village world, it was a subtext of American folk music where Big Bill Broonzy, Rev. Gary Davis and Leadbelly were looked upon as African-American folksingers, while electric blues artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were not generally known to most of my college friends who were into music. And if they were, they were not held in high regard. Remember, these are the same people who booed Dylan when he plugged in.

Fast forward to the present, and you have a blues scene that, like the folk and Americana genres, encompasses a wide variety of sounds, this despite a minority effort to keep “blues content” as an important criterion by The Blues Foundation in choosing the winners of its annual Blues Music Awards (BMAs). Under the auspices of Barbara Newman, two years into her assignment as CEO of the Foundation, the scope of the organization’s BMAs and International Blues Challenge has broadened to reflect the attitude of fans who today are less concerned with historical authenticity than they are finding music that both makes then feel good and has the cathartic quality long associated with the music’s history. Bottom line is that as a journalist writing for several blues publications I don’t feel that I’m pushing the compass needle one way or another, but rather I’m simply reflecting a much more open attitude towards the genre. Ultimately, it’s the fans spending their money on the music they like that determines who survives in the genre, not what I like.

Fortunately for me, I like the new blues. And for what it’s worth, here are a few of the CDs I like best this year:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet’s “King of Xhosa”

December 6th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Greg

Review by Jeff Nania

Drummer-composer Jeff Siegel’s newest album King of Xhosa marks a return to the era of heavy jazz grooves with some additional South African flavor mixed into the stew.

The record charts many moods throughout its 13 tracks – from “Inner Passion’s” quiet and tame melody with an all-encompassing vibe that embraces the listener to the brightness of “Erica’s Bag,” and “King Of Xhosa’s” fierce bass line and the two percussion tracks that sandwich the album from either end.

As soon as you turn it on you are welcomed with “Totem,” a beautifully captured chant accompanied by percussionist Fred Berryhill’s African drums that transports the listener into this absolute journey of an album and lets you know that you are in for something a little bit different – something steeped in tradition and yet brilliantly modern in its fusion of jazz and some deep roots music.

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CD REVIEWS: Memos from the Underground III

September 29th, 2017, 10:00 am by Greg

Album reviews by Tim Livingston

Some recent album releases that you may have missed but are well worth a listen:

THE GODFATHERS: A Big Bad Beautiful Noise (Metropolis)

Led by singer Peter Coyne, London’s the Godfathers return with a mean, lean, straight-up rock n’ roll record. Sometimes garage-rocking, sometimes a bit psychedelic, the band just flat-out rocks. Fuzzy, layered guitars, thundering drums and a jangly pop number or two all combine to make this release a powerful statement for the band.

The title track is a hard-rocking steamroller of a tune. “Till My Heart Stops Bleeding” follows with a pulsing tempo and sing along-chorus. In a perfect world “You Don’t Love Me” would be a radio hit, and “Lets Get Higher” is a psychedelic guitar feast. The closer, “You and Me Against the World” perhaps gives a vocal nod to David Bowie and is a great song that serves as a fitting tribute (if, in fact, that was its intent).

You like hard hitting straight-on rock? The Godfathers deliver the goods. Get this now!

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CD Reviews: Memos From the Underground II

August 22nd, 2017, 11:00 am by Greg

Album reviews by Tim Livingston

Some recent album releases that you may have missed, but are all well-worth a listen:

RUTS DC: Music Must Destroy (Restricted Release)

One of the early punk bands, the Ruts had so much promise. Their 1979 full length release The Crack was a powerful punch of punk and edgy reggae that combined with a bunch of equally great singles showed the band as true contenders for the punk-rock throne. Alas, it was not to be as their mercurial singer Malcolm Owen, succumbed to the pressures of stardom and some of the temptations that come with it. He tragically passed away in 1980.

The last single “West One (Shine on Me) was a great one, a fitting finale for the band. However, the other three original members, with an appropriate name change to Ruts DC, soldiered on with a few more dub-oriented releases over the years, but soon faded away.

When original guitarist Paul Fox was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2007, the Ruts reformed for a benefit concert for him with long-time fan Henry Rollins filling in as lead vocalist. Fox died later that same year.

Seemingly the end of the Ruts story, but, no, not to be. The two other original members bassist John “Segs” Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy recruited a new guitarist and recently recorded a new album “Music Must Destroy.” The results are stunning – a rock album much in the tradition and spirit of the original band and a monster of a release.

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CD REVIEWS: Memos From the Underground

August 16th, 2017, 10:00 am by Greg

Album reviews by Tim Livingston

Some recent album releases that you may have missed but are well worth a listen:

PETER PERRETT: How the West Was Won (Domino)

Peter Perrett’s punk-era band the Only Ones weren’t really a punk band at all. They were a step above many of their contemporaries in both musicianship and songwriting. Known mostly for the seminal “Another Girl, Another Planet,” the band’s catalog ran much deeper with Perrett’s songwriting and melodies shining bright with several flashes of pure genius. Their career, though, was brief, and by the time the ’80s rolled around (with only three albums produced), Perrett was lost in a world of addiction and looked like just another casualty, a falling star to be remembered only for the promise of what could of been. A few brief comebacks, including one in the ’90s called The One, came and went with out much impact, but then…

Jump forward to 2017… At the age of 65, Perrett returns with a new album, How the West Was Won, and he returns in a glorious fashion. The album is smashing. A brilliant collection of romantic songs of love, addition and redemption. The melodies soar, the lyrics are both introspective and witty, and Perrett shows that his former genius was no flash-in-the-pan. The musicianship, provided by his sons, Jamie and Peter Jr. and their band, is top-notch in the fine tradition of the Only Ones reputation for excellence. Perrett’s South London drawl and sharp pen take you through a journey of undying love, and it is an amazing and fascinating trip.

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BEST OF 2016: Albert Brooks’ Top Jazz Albums

December 28th, 2016, 2:30 pm by Greg

Yes, it’s that time of year once again – best of the year list-time, that is. We’re gathering together Best of 2016 from various media outlets, our own contributors and our readers, too.

Here’s a list of Top Jazz Albums from Nippertown contributing photographer Albert Brooks:

BEST TENOR SAX ALBUM
A Master Speaks by George Coleman is indeed a master class by the esteemed master of the saxophone. Accompanied by Mike LeDonne on piano, (the late) Bob Cranshaw on bass, George Coleman Jr. on drums and Peter Bernstein on guitar, Coleman’s tone is like a warm sable wrap and his improvisational choices a primer in erudition, taste and excitement. The Master Speaks, and those with ears that hear must listen! (Smoke Sessions)

BEST PIANO ALBUM
All hail Kenny Barron, who is the unmitigated, incomparable and peerless exemplar of pianism and quintessential jazz trioism. The combo a trois that delivers Book of Intuition includes, along with Barron, the amazingly simpatico Johnathan Blake and Kiyoshi Kitagawa. They operate as one intuitive organism, and “Magic Dance” – one of many highlights on the album – is commended as required listening for anyone having a bad day, who’s lonely, who may be depressed about the recent elections or who is just in need of sonic uplift. This album is a paragon of beautiful energy and therefore a musical embodiment of hope, something that is sorely needed at this time. (Verve International)

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