SUNNY SIDE UP: Pink Floyd lead guitarist David Gilmour (left) and drummer Nick Mason are shown above taking a break during the sessions that produced the band's highly anticipated new album, The Endless River. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


The Brothers Four (Seattle Works Entertainment)

“We’re still busy with lots of singing and traveling.

So said Bob Flick, bassist, co-founder and sole active original member of the pioneering folk rock quartet, the Brothers Four. The fruits of their labor are evidenced in abundance in this, their most recent release, and their first since their acclaimed Golden Anniversary collection in 2010. The Beautiful World Of The Brothers Four features a healthy mix of highlights from the band’s fruitful tenure with Columbia Records, as well as several sympathetic covers and a generous helping of new originals.

Interestingly enough, some of the cover material is drawn from the repertoires of artists who came up through the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, as did the Brothers Four. To wit, the band herein respectfully revisits the Harry Belafonte/Kingston Trio staple, Scarlet Ribbons, as well as Belafonte’s Jamaica Farewell (which the Brothers Four had previously attempted on their The Big Folk Hits LP for Columbia) the Bob Dylan-penned Wonder Who/Peter, Paul And Mary classic Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, the Kingston Trio/Pete Seeger/Dave Van Ronk staple All My Trials, the great Rolf Harris’ Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport (as Kangaroo Sing-Along) and the often recorded (Peter, Paul And Mary, the Journeymen, the Kingston Trio, the Highwaymen, Bobby Bare, the Seekers, Jackie DeShannon, Sonny and Cher and others) 500  Miles.

During their association with Columbia, such emphasis on material readily associated with others of like minded artistic vision (with the exception of their aforementioned The Big Folk Hits album) would have been unlikely, given the resolve of all concerned at that time to establish their respective legacies with at least a modicum of individuality. But with sole surviving original member Robert Castle “Bob Shane” Schoen having retired from the Kingston Trio due to health concerns, coupled with the passing of Peter, Paul And Mary’s Mary Travers and the tragic death of Highwaymen co-founder and resident visionary Dave Fisher (which effectively ended the still very much active quintet’s unprecedented half century run), the Brothers Four now reign supreme amongst folk boom survivors. Although the Brothers Four did indeed pay similar tribute to their colleagues in their 1996 Greenfields & Other Gold CD, the cover material herein nonetheless carries with it a relatively heightened sense of respect and admiration for those who came up through the ranks with them.

True to form, the band carries their trademark geniality and rich vocal harmony into the remaining outside material. To wit, their comparatively upbeat interpretation of Henry Clay Work’s 1876 composition, Grandfather’s Clock differs markedly in arrangement and execution from the somewhat otherworldly vocal by the great Larry Hooper on the Lawrence Welk Orchestra’s 1960 rendition for Dot Records. In turn, Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World and former Mitchell Trio vocalist Henry John “John Denver” Deutschendorf’s Sunshine On My Shoulders are rendered faithfully, with perhaps a slight hint of melancholy to reiterate each artist’s ongoing impact on a variety of genres. Even the updates of their own often revisited Try To Remember and Greenfields manage to sidestep the usual consequences of ongoing and frequent exposure, with each benefiting from the fresh perspective of the band’s comparatively newer members.

Not surprisingly, it is with the new material that the band made its greatest impact here. While each stays true to the Brothers Four’s basic mission statement, the variations therein reiterate both the timelessness of both genre and subject matter. Flick’s quintessential folk ballad, Winds Of Green opens the proceedings accordingly, while Little Green Frogs takes a familiar band theme (given their 1961 Frogg single for Columbia) and follows the lead of the Chenille Sisters, the Tokens, the Simon Sisters and others in reworking the format for a very young demographic. Most endearingly, the band herein took the framework of the anthemic 1908 Haydn Quartet monster classic, Take Me Out To The Ball Game and fashioned it into a tribute to the Seattle Mariners. Guitarist Mark Pearson also contributed handsomely to the Americana perspective with his self-penned and engaging, Heart Of The Heartland.

“Our guys, Mark Pearson, Mike McCoy and Karl Olsen continue to do a fabulous professional job”, said Flick.

“So terrific that they love and respect the music so much.

So much so that with The Beautiful World Of The Brothers Four, the beloved quartet has added yet another triumph to their vast and impressive recorded legacy. Or in the words of one of their many Columbia gems, another victory for  the premier representatives of the First Battalion of folk rock.

Dana Countryman (Sterling Swan)

This latest release from the Everett, Washington-based singer/songwriter, Dana Countryman stays fairly close to the mission statement of his acclaimed Pop! The Incredible, Fantastic Retro Pop World Of Dana Countryman CD in being inspired by a select group of his favorite composers.

Those professed inspirations include such prominent second generation names as the Raspberries’ Eric Carmen, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Bread’s David Gates and the highly versatile Harry Nilsson. Yet interestingly enough, somewhere between inspiration, conception and execution, Countryman took a step further within the genre. As such, the fourteen self-produced originals herein are actually more in solidarity with the best known works of the likes of Paperlace, the Bay City Rollers, the Heywoods and (to a lesser extent) the Rubinoos and post-15 Big Ones Beach Boys.

To be certain, Countryman has again proven quite adept at furthering his sub-genre of choice. Tracks such as Good Radio Day, Great Big Goofy Grin, And Suddenly Love Just Happened, Baby I’ll Be Your Star and Celluloid City are certain to resonate with those whose musical preferences were developed along similar lines. 

But where Countryman may find himself having to go a greater distance to maximize his mission statement is in reaching out to the highly discerning demographic whose standards were set as high as possible through the works of the pioneers of the idiom. Despite their respective sustained track records, many of that persuasion view the works of the second generation as relatively less impacting, and in some cases as little more than a temporary stopgap against the major aesthetic slump in which mainstream rock and roll found itself in the immediate post-Woodstock era.

Countryman is not entirely oblivious to such concerns. For that matter, he most assuredly addresses them to a degree, template-wise in the Neil Sedaka-inspired The Summer I Turned Seventeen and the highly engaging I’ll Get Right Back To You. That notwithstanding, he is more importantly faithful to his own muse than in placating the perfectionist perspective of observers. And given its curious yet undeniable sustained impact, Countryman’s labor of love is certain to keep the faithful echoing his sentiments of You’re My Heart And Soul.

WAS - The Electric Prunes
(Prune Twang)

As was the case with Pink Floyd’s The Endless River album, there was some question at the onset as to whether this most recent Electric Prunes release should be classified as new or archival material. For while it does include the participation of the band’s late co-founder and bassist Mark Shalom Tulin (who tragically passed away suddenly from a heart attack in Avalon, California in February 2011), it nonetheless is based on ideas and projects that Tulin, co-founder and front man James Lowe and the band were working on at the time of Tulin’s untimely home going that were ultimately brought to fruition by the surviving members.

WaS is among the most cohesive of the Electric Prunes’ numerous recent releases, featuring as it does primarily original material that takes a more matter of fact approach than that which was indigenous to such nonetheless engaging efforts as Feedback, California and Artifact. Herein, bells, whistles and effects are, while not entirely sidetracked, kept to a relative minimum. In the process, Lowe’s strengths as both lyricist and vocalist are more pronounced, adding a welcome element of increased universality into the mix in the process.

Some of the material herein addresses the familiar tale of life on the road, as evidenced in Tokyo and Frozen Winter. Given the band’s extensive touring schedule over the past decade, such subject matter is inevitable, although theirs is in many respects a unique perspective. Another recurring theme is the perceived dichotomy between the band’s mission statement and the limited perception of same within certain factions of their audience. Lowe endeavors to reconcile both camps in the lighthearted Like Getting High, but takes a tougher stance elsewhere. To that effect, Hollywood Hype takes the basic template of Michael Nesmith’s Cruisin’ (Pacific Arts PAC45-108) and makes as cohesive a case for creative autonomy therein as could be expected.

Happily, WaS also offers a rare opportunity to hear the band’s classic line up (Lowe and Tulin, plus founding lead guitarist Ken Williams and drummer Quint) in a live rendition of Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett’s 1956 signature track, Smokestack Lightning (Chess 1618) that was recorded in 2000. Health concerns have largely precluded Williams’ participation in band activities in recent years, and once again long time colleague Steve Kara has assumed lead guitar responsibilities for this collection.
And as always, Lowe's wife, veteran photojournalist Pamela Lowe has provided state of the art imagery of the band in action.

All told, WaS is yet another triumph in an impeccable legacy. Based on the evidence at hand, it is readily apparent as to why the often expressed Adoration Stuck to them, enabling the band to persevere Between The Cracks and beyond for nearly a half century. 


Throughout the past four decades, Blitz Magazine has afforded much press to aspiring bands and solo artists who draw the bulk of their inspiration from the works of rock and roll’s pioneers, including the vaunted canon of first generation garage rock legends whose legacies have duly been well chronicled in this publication.

But in the majority of those cases, the best of intentions have often fallen short of expectations. For all of their enthusiasm, a number of the bands and solo artists who have endeavored to build their own legacies on such inspirations have often missed the mark. More often than not, the disconnect has stemmed from a basic oversight of the subtleties that made those inspirations the visionaries that they were and are. Or in the vernacular of stage and screen, the aspirants often fail to properly “get in character” before executing the creative process (which for many stemmed in part from a disproportionately elevated preoccupation with such periphery as period apparel). As a result, there has been a great deal of worthwhile music, but that one crucial element in the mission statement has rarely been fulfilled in the process.

All of which makes this most recent offering from Groovy U.N.C.L.E. an anomaly in that respect. Largely the brain child of Medway musician and Offbeats/Kravin’ As veteran Glenn Prangnell, Groovy U.N.C.L.E. has herein produced a collection of originals that more than holds its own alongside the finest first generation garage rock.

To wit, Prangnell and his ever-changing cadre of colleagues not only opt for the analog approach in the studio, but in each case, great care has been taken to present a collection of originals that are both diverse, inspired yet unique, and rich with the often overlooked studio subtleties that have largely been missing in the works of others. For example, with its uncannily perfect otherworldly atmosphere and subtle vocal harmonies, the sublime mid-tempo Should Have Been Mine would have been right at home on either of the first two albums by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. Likewise, the frantic Barefoot In The Car Park evokes the best elements of the Creation and the Move, with a slight touch of Northern Soul in execution.

In turn (and in keeping with the basic template of the band’s mission statement), Your Weight In Gold borrows not so subtly from Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, with vocalist Miss Modus more than ideally suited for the occasion. With her uncanny, spot on execution, Modus' vocal colleague, Suzi Chunk more than does justice to the title track as well, which is offered in both vocal and instrumental versions (with the latter more than doing justice to the fine examples set by the Ventures, Travis Wammack, the Exports and the Marketts).

Not surprisingly, Groovy U.N.C.L.E. has drawn from the best in their quest for perfection, and counts the great E-Types front man and co-founder Bob Wence among their hands on mentors. The results are definitely worth their weight in gold. 

LIVE IN NYC - Lannie Flowers
(Spyder Pop)

In the protracted aesthetic slump that persisted in the world of music throughout much of the immediate post-Woodstock era, there nonetheless flourished a small number of bands and solo artists who were determined to maintain the higher standards that were established by the pioneers of the rock and roll movement at large.

Among the more successful in their endeavors to offset those negative developments were Mud, T. Rex, Mouth and MacNeal, Brave Belt, Lighthouse and the Five Man Electrical Band. To their credit, each produced timeless and enduring original material based upon the tried and true verse, chorus and bridge template.

However, within their overall numbers persisted a sub-genre that, while providing respite from the mediocrity at hand for the moment, nonetheless ultimately cultivated catalogs that are largely derivative and not as impacting as that which reportedly inspired them. Drawing more from such like minded immediate predecessors as the Velvet Underground, Stooges and MC5 (each of whom were far more accomplished in their respective endeavors) than did their aforementioned peers, bands such as Big Star, the Flamin' Groovies, the Raspberries and Badfinger attempted to fill that void with repertoires that were nonetheless somewhat monolithic (which ironically was a concession to the musical developments that they rose up against in the first place). With the possible exception of the Raspberries, each fell short for the simple reason that they attempted to compensate for pedestrian material with period instrumentation at higher volume.

Nonetheless, their records seem to have had greater impact on the mission statements of subsequent generations of garage rock-inspired bands and artists than did the much lauded works of the genre's most respected founding fathers (such as Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Standells, the Seeds and the Rationals). To their considerable credit, many of the latter day practitioners have drawn from that sub-genre's most enduring attributes and added to them elements of their own vision; in essence breathing life and a renewed sense of purpose into a movement that was more about default peer recognition than substance.

This somewhat paradoxical approach has served well the legacies of such enduring second and third generation garage-inspired rockers as Jeremy Morris, the Grip Weeds, Lisa Mychols and the individual whose latest release is at hand: vocalist, songwriter and Kennedale, Texas native Lannie Flowers. As co-founder of the like minded Pengwins in 1976, Flowers had ample opportunity to benefit from the concurrent new wave/punk movement and develop his own musical identity in the process. So much so that with the release of his solo albums New Songs Old Stories and Circles, Flowers' original material had largely superseded that of the artists from whom he claimed inspiration.

Recorded in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012, Live In NYC finds Flowers facing a nonetheless receptive and attentive cadre of admirers, as he revisited earlier triumphs and endeavored to bring a renewed sense of optimism to his beleaguered audience. To that effect, playful references to actress Mary Tyler Moore in Around The World and the hint of melancholy in the mid-tempo Favorite Song bring to the forefront a sense of familiarity that was often lacking in the relatively distant approaches of his inspirations.

To underscore the point, Flowers and his band herein cover Big Star's Back Of A Car, paying homage in the introduction perhaps more as a matter of courtesy than any prerequisite respect. As such, if Blood, Sweat And Tears' assertion that Child Is Father To The Man is true, with this release, Flowers has provided the necessary verification. Bonus points for further venturing outside of the box with the quasi-Mod Circles.

The Terry Hanck Band (Delta Groove Music)
On this latest release, the Florida-based vocalist, saxophonist, composer and former Elvin Bishop side man, Terry Hanck gives credence to the notion that the modern day protagonist of all things musically essential may not necessarily be perpetuating an exercise in futility.

Herein, the genial Hanck combines faithful and passionately executed covers of vaunted classics by Tommy Ridgley, Bobby Bland and B.B. King with duly inspired original material that in turn reflects the inspiration of such like minded visionaries as Dave Bartholomew, Huey “Piano” Smith, Nappy Brown, Autry “Junior Walker” DeWalt and Ronnie Love.

To wit, Gotta Bring It On Home To You opens with Hanck’s take on Bishop’s Right Now Is The Hour, which supersedes earlier attempts by the composer by virtue of its relentlessly optimistic, Junior Walker-flavored delivery; complete with an irresistible Hank Ballard and the Midnighters-like vamp at the fade. Hanck more than brings the point home with his savvy interpretation of Ronnie Milsap’s (There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me, which reiterates the solidarity of country and rhythm and blues that characterized such Milsap staples as Stranger In My House, Where Do The Nights Go and his signature track, Button Off My Shirt, as seen through the unique interpretive eyes of Walker.

In terms of original material, Hanck begins in high gear with Pins And Needles (a saxophone/keyboard romp that would have been right at home on the 1965 MGM label debut album by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs). His enthusiasm continues unabated in the instrumental, T’s Groove, which returns to the Junior Walker template and picks up a bit of Richard “Groove” Holmes and Lou Donaldson along the way.

While a solid case can be made for the notion that many of the recent releases in the blues and rhythm and blues fields suffer from a pedestrian atmosphere that belies the innate vitality of the genres, Hanck herein has made a solid case in favor of perseverance, which, in bringing it home, has paid remarkable aesthetic dividends.

MAJESTIC - Kari Jobe

Albums such as this one often present a dichotomy of sorts for the individual who approaches it primarily from the perspective of a musicologist and/or music enthusiast. As a worship album, Majestic is by definition a release in which performance and aesthetic merit are (ideally, anyway) of secondary importance.

In that respect, the music enthusiasts may find themselves with cause for concern, especially if their experience with the particulars of a worship service is minimal. In such a setting (which more often than not takes place during a church service, although there are numerous examples of such artists bringing that setting to the concert stage), performance is relegated to secondary status, with the primary emphasis of the mission statement being the glorification of the Lord.

In the early days of Gospel music, such aspirations were (perhaps not so unintentionally) often an exercise in futility, given the strong performance capabilities of such genre front runners as the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Statesmen Quartet and Mahalia Jackson. But in its often misguided attempts over the past several decades to expand its impact by deferring to the musical mainstream, the sub-tangent of Gospel music known as worship has achieved its target goal by doing exactly what its mission statement inferred; in the process giving many an observer and/or participant a whole new perspective on the notion of “the sacrifice of praise”.

To that effect, the musicologist and music enthusiast will find that it takes a concerted effort to sustain their interest level commensurate with that which characterizes what they generally seek in a given performance. The inherent detached atmosphere (again, a byproduct of the intended focus) rarely resonates well with the observer whose expectations include sonic, cerebral and emotional gratification.

All of which is an impasse that worship artists often find themselves facing when attempting to translate the experience into a recorded setting. Worship is a blessing that is most effective in its intended capacity when experienced in a live atmosphere, and that prized God/sinner saved by grace connection is often diminished in the second generation template of a recording.

Nonetheless, the prolific singer, songwriter and Waco, Texas native, Kari Brooke Jobe has herein opted for the latter approach. It is apparent that her prerequisite prayers and humility have reaped spiritual dividends, as Majestic does indeed convey (even outside of the live setting) that critical atmosphere of connection commensurate with the setting aside of self and opening up to the leading of the Lord. From invocation (Hands To The Heavens, Breathe On Us) to praise (Always Enough, How Majestic) and ultimately fellowship (Let The Heavens Open), Jobe finds herself serving as an instrument of praise without even the slightest attempt at placating those with differing expectations.

For those who find themselves curious yet presently detached from that perspective, the album’s eighth track, When You Walk In The Room is certain to gain some attention by virtue of its title (although it is not a cover of the Searchers/Jackie DeShannon classic of the same name). Nonetheless, if that particular approach prompts such an observer to further investigation, then hopefully Jobe will be blessed with additional examples of answered prayer.

Jerry Lee Lewis (Vanguard)

When his acclaimed Mean Old Man album for Verve Records was released in 2010, there was expressed concern within some circles about the overall health and well being of the beloved Ferriday, Louisiana native, who four years earlier had proclaimed himself on record to be the Last Man Standing. Various media appearances in support of the Verve release showed Lewis appearing at times both drained and frail, yet thankfully able to rise to the occasion when duty called.

In what surely qualifies as answered prayer, such concerns have apparently been addressed and rectified. With a move to the Welk Music Group’s Los Angeles-based Vanguard Records, the man who for nearly six decades has remained one of rock and roll’s absolute masters has herein reasserted himself in no uncertain terms.

As has been the case with many of his albums since his long and fruitful tenure with the Smash and Mercury labels, the Jim Keltner and Steve Bing-produced Rock & Roll Time draws primarily upon cover material by some of his most respected peers, with each getting Lewis’ stamp of approval and trademark one-two punch delivery. Of these, the Chris Kenner/Antoine “Fats” Domino/Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs monster classic, Sick And Tired is most quintessentially Killer, with his pumping piano taking the basic mid-tempo template up a few notches above all earlier versions.

Long time disciple Robert “Bob Dylan” Zimmerman contributed the like minded Stepchild, which in turns benefits greatly from Lewis’ bravado. In turn, Lewis is joined on a true to form cover of Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie by Rolling Stones guitarists Keith Richard and Ron Wood, with Band alumnus Robbie Robertson assisting in that capacity on first rate renditions of Jimmie Rodgers’ Blues After Midnight and one-time Sun labelmate Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. No slouch himself, multi-instrumentalist Lewis (who is also an accomplished drummer) contributes guitar to the Cash track, which he executes with a somewhat unnerving first person perspective and a decidedly first generation garage rock inspired template. A decidedly Hank Williams-inspired interpretation of the late, great Mack Vickery-penned Keep Me In Mind (complete with Drifting Cowboys-flavored pedal steel from Greg Leisz) provides both a highlight and a welcome bit of diversity to the proceedings.

To be certain, if there was reason to suggest or infer diminished vitality and purpose in the wake of the events of 2010, Rock & Roll Time more than negates any such misgivings. In the words of his 1972 signature album for Mercury, The Killer Rocks On indeed. And we remain immeasurably blessed as a result.

The Jeremy Morris Band (JAM)

When a given artist maintains creative autonomy over all aspects of their career, the inevitable task of delegating responsibility can be akin to the quandary in which Moses found himself until his father-in-law encouraged him to do so (Exodus 18:13 - 26).

Such would seemingly be the case for the man who has arguably inherited the late James Brown’s title of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. As vocalist, solo artist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, label president (JAM Records), session musician, husband, father and senior pastor of the Foursquare church in Portage, Michigan, Morris has released dozens of albums in his career, both as a solo artist and/or as part of a variety of ensembles.

With the projects released under his own name, more often than not, Morris has assumed the multi-instrumentalist role. However (and despite the late Wilbert Harrison’s brief but valiant attempts to the contrary), performing live as a one man band with as richly and lavishly arranged of a repertoire as he has amassed would ultimately be an exercise in futility.

As such, for live dates, Morris enlisted the services of such like minded relatives and colleagues as Dave Dietrich (drums), Todd Borsch (bass), Peter and Mark Morris (guitars and bass), April Zimont (tambourine), Bart Mendoza (guitar) and Joe Kanis (bass). Each contributor was fairly familiar with Morris’ work and were therefore able to rise to the occasion accordingly.

All of which serves to make All Over The World as strong of a live album as the respective tracks are in their earlier studio settings. The team approach works particularly well on such relatively richly structured uptempo pieces as Love Explosion, Come Clean and Cool Your Jets. The pooling of resources even allows for a protracted guitar workout in Pop Rules, which takes the basic templates of the Romantics’ What I Like About You (Nemperor ZS9 7527) and Neil Diamond’s Thank The Lord For The Night Time (Bang B-547) and adds a loose salute to Dick Dale And The Del-Tones’ Misirlou (Deltone 4939), the Chantays’ Pipeline (Downey D-104), the Shadows Of Knight’s Gloria (Dunwich 45-116), the Marketts’ Out Of Limits (Warner Brothers 5391), Otis Redding’s Satisfaction (Volt V-132), Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love (Atlantic 45-2690), and other such standards.

Most encouraging was the successful adaptation of Morris’ unique and somewhat out of character Breaking Out Of This Cage, which made its original appearance in a studio setting on his Love Explosion album in 2012. Arguably the most candid track in Morris’ vast repertoire, Breaking Out Of This Cage sports a righteous anger and frustration that is highlighted sublimely by Morris dispensing with the quasi-psychedelic vocal trappings and venting without reserve. It survived the transition from studio to stage handsomely, and it is easily the highlight of the set.

Whether in his studio or on stage, Jeremy Morris has once again proven that his is a mission statement of considerable purpose, borne of divine inspiration with unwaveringly stellar results. Or, in the words of another of this collection’s standout tracks, one more reason to be Not Of This World.

Pink Floyd (Columbia)
When it was initially announced that the members of Pink Floyd would be releasing an album of material based on a template that was begun at the time of the 1993 recording sessions that produced their March 1994 album The Division Bell, there was some question at the onset as to whether this material would qualify (for categorical purposes) as a new release or as an archival collection.

Most assuredly, The Endless River is as close to a new Pink Floyd album as could be hoped for at this juncture, and therefore is classified as such here. Comprised initially of rough musical sketches from around the time of The Division Bell sessions, The Endless River by definition features the late band keyboardsman and co-founder, Richard William “Rick” Wright, who sadly succumbed to cancer in September 2008 at age 65.

But what qualifies The Endless River as an album of new material is that guitarist David Jon Gilmour and drummer Nicholas Berkeley “Nick” Mason both contributed significantly to the fulfillment of the various musical blueprints therein. In the process, they created a work that, while true to the basic tenets of the band’s mission statement, is most assuredly more than just The Division Bell, Part Two.

Indeed, The Division Bell contains its fair share of material that is true to the verse, chorus and bridge template (including What Do You Want From Me and High Hopes) which eluded much of the band’s immediate post-Tower label work. But with The Endless River, Gilmour and Mason find themselves revisiting the relatively less structured phase of their extensive legacy, as evidenced in such releases as More, Ummagumma, Echoes, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle.

Curiously, in recent years, Gilmour and Mason have made a somewhat concerted effort to distance themselves from those albums, referring to them as attempts to live up to outside expectations in the wake of the significant personnel changes within the band that occurred immediately prior to the release of their second album, 1968’s A Saucerful Of Secrets (Tower ST-5131). Yet it wasn’t so much that the band was conceding to the times, as it was that their momentum was buoyed more by default than by design. The latter approach would was far more suited to the discernment of a well focused improvisational visionary such as the late John Coltrane, whose various albums for Impulse Records were very much the result of careful thought and the retention of a central theme as the focal point, which enabled the various participants to improvise within that framework as they deemed necessary.

To be certain, by the time of the release of their Obscured By Clouds album (Harvest ST11078) in June 1972, Pink Floyd had once again embraced their inner tunesmith, evidenced by such irresistible and comparatively upbeat fare as Free Four and Wot’s...Uh The Deal? While this rediscovered sense of relative structure served them beyond expectations throughout the remainder of the decade and into the 1980s, the release at hand suggests that unresolved artistic issues from that post-Tower transitional period needed to be addressed.

To their considerable credit, The Endless River meets all such concerns head on and succeeds beyond perhaps even their own expectations. As forerunners of the dreamscape motif, Pink Floyd had a quite an advantage in incorporating it into the proceedings at hand, as evidenced by the aptly titled The Lost Art Of Conversation. Indeed, the onus is upon both composer and musician with instrumental music to paint a sound portrait that lives up to its title. The band has done so herein not only with that track, but with It’s What We Do, Things Left Unsaid, the aptly named Louder Than Words (a rare band vocal in this primarily instrumental collection) and the early Columbia-period flavor of Allons-Y (1). Throughout the proceedings, Wright left his colleagues a solid foundation upon which to build. In turn, they have more than done him and their overall legacy justice.

Both Mason and Gilmour have inferred that this may be the final Pink Floyd album, in the wake of Wright’s passing and taking into consideration the ongoing differing perspectives with regards to musical direction between Mason/Gilmour and former bassist George Roger Waters. But given the remarkable job that Gilmour and Mason have done in bringing to fruition such unfinished ideas (coupled with Mason’s professed fondness for the aforementioned verse, chorus and bridge schematic), it is quite possible that, in the words of Free Four, there may well yet be another collection that represents, “The deeds of a man in his prime”. Sunny Side Up indeed.

Jesse Winchester (Appleseed)

Rare is the artist with an extensive repertoire whose catalog contains an example of absolute, utter perfection. Even rarer still is the artist whose catalog contains more than one representation of that level of triumph.

One such artist was the first generation garage rock great and country rock pioneer, Michael Martin Murphey. As the Lewis half (alongside the legendary Boomer "Clarke" Castleman) of the Lewis And Clarke Expedition, Murphey in 1967 was a part of the sublime and absolutely essential Colgems label single, I Feel Good (I Feel Bad). Featuring some of the most impeccable vocal harmonies ever committed to record and a relentless, upbeat optimism found only in the best of efforts, I Feel Good (I Feel Bad) remains a high watermark of both country rock and first generation garage rock.

As such, Murphey could well have rested on his laurels, even when beginning his long and prolific solo career in the 1970s. However, in October 1987, Murphey again took to the studio to record a solo outing for Warner Brothers that not only stands as one of the finest moments of country music's last collective gasp of consequence (that is, the New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s - early 1990s), but one whose deceptively subtle and sublime groove (not unlike that found in George Hamilton IV's vaunted 1963 Abilene single for RCA Victor) is most assuredly deserving of the absolute, utter perfection distinction.

That 1987 track is Murphey's I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl single (Warner Brothers 28168-A), which was composed by the beloved and enormously respected singer/songwriter and Bossier City, Louisiana native, James Ridout "Jesse" Winchester. No slouch in the studio himself, Winchester (who has recorded prolifically since 1970) recently returned to the studio to complete an all new CD for Appleseed Records, A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble.

True to form, Winchester herein excels in every respect. Produced by Mac McAnally (who also serves as lead guitarist for this project), A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble is a most fitting testimony to Winchester’s unwavering commitment to his muse. A remarkably gifted lyricist, Winchester excels in that respect with such characteristically diverse (and occasionally humorous) fare as Neither Here Nor There, She Makes It Easy Now, A Little Louisiana, Don’t Be Shy, and the reassuring (and characteristically tongue in cheek) Don’t Forget To Boogie. He further drives the latter point home in Ghosts, in which he takes himself to task over the all too familiar challenges of standing one’s ground aesthetically.

To that effect, Winchester has long been an ardent champion of pure rock and roll. Herein, he reiterates the point with faithful and reverent takes on the Del-Vikings’ Whispering Bells and the Clovers / Bobby Vee classic ballad, Devil Or Angel. He drives the point home with a remake of the Cascades’ 1963 signature track, Rhythm Of The Rain.

“I'm honored and flattered to learn that on his last CD, he did a cover of my song, Rhythm Of The Rain", said Cascades co-founder, front man and Rhythm Of The Rain composer, John Claude Gummoe.

“A singer / songwriter whose work was loved and recorded by many.

In the months since the tragic January 2014 passing of label front runner and beloved musical pioneer, Pete Seeger, Appleseed Records busied itself with several ambitious new releases, including a live CD by veteran vocalist Johnny Clegg and an all new collection by folk rock pioneer, Tom Rush. Sadly, A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble will also be Jesse Winchester’s last release, as he succumbed to bladder cancer on 11 April. Recorded primarily while he was in remission from the disease, the album maintains an undercurrent of urgency throughout, tempered by the realization on Winchester’s part that it could well be his swan song. Tragically, it was, making this collection’s most moving closing benediction, the Gospel ballad, Just So Much all the more pertinent.

“R.I.P. Jesse and thank you”, said Gummoe. Indeed, he will most assuredly be missed

FULL CIRCLE - John Zipperer
(John Zipperer)

Once in a while, a musician comes along for whom every facet of their artistic vision appears to fall into place with seeming effortlessness, including production, repertoire, arrangement, and execution.

Such an artist is the Los Angeles-based John Zipperer, whose mission statement is most assuredly not merely a byproduct of happenstance. Once an actor (The Agency; Maximum Bob) and  stuntman, Zipperer’s choice of career underwent a paradigm shift after having been hit by a passing oil truck on the 285 Freeway in Atlanta, Georgia while changing a tire.

Upon his recuperation, Zipperer relocated to Southern California and gradually reinvented himself as a world class singer, songwriter and charismatic exponent of original material. His highly engaging repertoire obviously draws its creative muse from such like minded greats as late Decca period Rick Nelson, Van Dyke Parks, Eddy Raven, post-RCA Victor Michael Nesmith and Jimmy Buffett. That he defers to such inspiration by depicting himself on the cover in trademark country rock apparel with head bowed and obscured in deference is indicative of the high level of discernment at which he operates.

The resultant Nick Kirgo-produced  Full Circle is the sum total of the aforementioned elements, and then some. Interestingly enough, Zipperer’s voice resonates with a slight hint of timidity and/or understatement borne of circumstance, which nonetheless works to his considerable advantage. To wit, the Jimmy Buffett-flavored opening track, Sailing Away paints a rich and vivid musical portrait for which a bombastic vocal delivery would only serve to obscure the message. It is an invitation to the so-called good life for which Buffett has long been the default champion with respect to America’s east coast. Suffice to say that Sailing Away qualifies its creator for similar accolades regarding the west coast.

The title track follows suit; eliciting a groove not unlike that found in Eddy Raven’s Bayou Boys (Universal UVL-66016). It is as much a testament to resolutions found along Zipperer’s journey as Raven’s track was with regards to his own circumstances. Yet seemingly in the name of diversity, Zipperer abruptly shifts gears to a perspective of endless optimism in Like Being With You; finding the inevitable duality of purpose between Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues (Columbia 4-43242) and Mel McDaniel’s Stand Up (Capitol B-5513) in the process.

From there, Zipperer is pretty much all over the musical map, and the album is all the better for it. Buoyed by some of the most engaging acoustic guitar work in recent memory, Going Downtown takes the basic blues template of such masters of the idiom as Charly Patton and Ishmon Bracey, with Zipperer’s understated vocal again providing an ideal vehicle for the setting. Zipperer brings the approach home with the 6/8 synthesis of the Renaissance minstrel and the American Civil War balladeer in The Ballad Of Micah McDowde, which sets the stage for a rousing finish via the likes of the relentlessly upbeat (combining the flippant persona of Peter Alsop and the like minded optimism of folk rock-era Chubby Checker, by way of the Kingston Trio's Banua) Sing With Me, as well as the acoustic folk/jazz romp Here By Me, the subtle bravado of Cool Breeze, the redemption of the hippie folk ethic in Know Who You Love and the anthemic, Pete Seeger-like, Gospel tinged album closer, To The River.

To his considerable credit, Zipperer includes only one example of cover material in this collection. And while Van Morrison’s mid-1967 Brown Eyed Girl (Bang B-545) might qualify as the one distraction in the massive and otherwise impeccable catalog of the late, great Bert Berns (who produced the Morrison cut and released it on his own Bang label) by virtue of its massive overexposure in the ensuing years since its release, Zipperer herein more than proves his mettle as an artist of considerable discernment by reinventing the track as an acoustic ballad. In the process, he gives it a new life of its own, as did the Wanted in March 1967 with their definitive rendition of Wilson Pickett’s duly overexposed In The Midnight Hour (Detroit Sound 223).

And while the notion of Full Circle may seem a bit premature for an artist at this stage of their career, Zipperer has nonetheless underscored the validity of the point by drawing from his rich repertoire of personal experience and musical inspiration to produce one of the most engaging and essential releases of recent months. A solid contender for best album of the year.