Thursday

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (NEW RELEASES) By Michael McDowell


THE BRICK: Burbank, California vocalist, composer and humorist Bill Berry invokes a wide variety of inspirations from Al Bowlly and Billy Murray to Tom Lehrer and Jonathan Richman in his latest Songwriter's Square CD, Awkward Stage. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).

CDs AND VINYL - NEW RELEASES
(REVIEWS ARE POSTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY ARTIST)

AWKWARD STAGE - Bill Berry
(Songwriter's Square)

Sometimes being a gifted musicologist and/or an academician can have its drawbacks.

While a bit of knowledge is invariably an asset, having a wealth of such acumen at one’s disposal can nonetheless be counterproductive in a variety of ways.

To wit, Burbank, California musicologist, composer and humorist Bill Berry has obviously spent a considerable amount of time and effort in mastering all three disciplines. Throughout his most recent Songwriter’s Square release, Awkward Stage, there are repeated acknowledgements (both expressed and inferred) of the inspiration of such gifted and cerebral musical humorists as Ray Stevens, Stan Freberg, Jack E. Leonard, Al Bowlly, Billy Murray, George Formby, Doctor Hook And The Medicine Show and Tom Lehrer.

In turn, Berry offhandedly either directly name checks or invokes through execution a healthy variety of vaunted and learned musical visionaries. They include Coleman Hawkins, Al Jolson, Ozzie Nelson, Jonathan Richman, the Rolling Stones and Arlo Guthrie.

All of which adds up to a wealth of information which would seemingly be difficult to weave into a single cohesive and accessible effort. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Berry has done here.

With its candid overview of a common cultural impasse, the title track (which opens this ten song collection of originals) does just that, with vivid imagery that is certain to resonate with many. Big Heart follows suit accordingly, with its universal theme of bravado that has been tempered with reality.

Berry’s gift for the highly articulate tale told with candor and levity and signifying much continues unabated in The Piano Tuner With The Lazy Eye. Concurrently, his appreciation for a timely observation is sublimely expressed in the variation on Tom Lehrer’s Fight Fiercely Harvard that is Love Is The New Black. He rises to the occasion even more succinctly with the Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out-inspired Three Girls In A Second Story Window before wrapping up the extraordinary proceedings with the Al Jolson-flavored rallying cry of (You Was) Nobody Then.

While the work of many a stand up humorist that has been committed to record has invariably lost some of its impact with its audience by simple virtue of the fact that the respective punch lines are already familiar upon repeated investigations, the work of many a gifted musical humorist nonetheless endures by virtue of its solidarity with the listener on a variety of levels. In that respect, Bill Berry has created an instant classic that not only stands alongside the works of those vaunted inspirations, but which also provides hope for the disenfranchised demographic which he outspokenly champions. Or in the words of two of this collection’s standout tracks, a Big Heart putting The Brick to constructive use. 




DANCING WITH THE MOMENT -
Danny Faragher (Blue Print Souind)

In the sleeve notes of this highly anticipated collection, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Danny Owen Faragher name checks a variety of individuals that have fueled his creative muse. Among them are poets Geoffrey Chaucer, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and John Keats, as well as composers Hank Williams, Willie Dixon, Brian Wilson and Miles Davis.

With the exception of Davis, all concerned are primarily known as extraordinarily gifted wordsmiths. It is within that circle of inspiration in which Faragher has traveled since his days as co-founder of first generation garage rock greats, the Peppermint Trolley Company.

After performing for a season as the Mark V, the ambitious, Redlands, California-based Peppermint Trolley Company made their mark in the autumn of 1966 with a unique arrangement of the late P.F. Sloan’s high drama masterpiece, Lollipop Train as a one-off single for Barry DeVorzon and Billy Sherman’s Valiant label (a song which was also recorded with sublime results by the great Barry McGuire for Dunhill). By 1968, the band had signed with Dot’s subsidiary Acta label, which was also the recording home of the Other Half, the American Breed and Blondell Breed and the Imports. While at Acta, they released a superb self-titled album, and at mid-year enjoyed their biggest success with the acclaimed Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mind single. The band successfully sustained their momentum at Acta for three additional singles, The Last Thing On My Mind, New York City and Trust.

After enjoying acclaimed guest appearances on such television programs as Mannix, The Beverly Hillbillies, Upbeat and Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Happening ’68 show, the Peppermint Trolley Company left Acta in 1969, with the label folding soon after their departure. The band continued for a season under the name Bones, and finally entered into a protracted sabbatical.

A 2009 reissue of the Peppermint Trolley Company’s Acta album (with a generous helping of bonus tracks) on Steve Stanley’s prolific Now Sounds label generated considerable renewed interest in the band. The group even reunited on 11 October 2008 to perform at guitarist Greg Tornquist’s wedding. But sadly, the 2014 passing of band co-founder Patrick McClure (who was replaced by Tornquist when he left the group in 1967) again derailed their momentum.

Nonetheless, Faragher opted to persevere, with this resultant offering of thirteen originals more than living up to the diversity of his various inspirations. Appropriately titled Dancing With The Moment,  the various selections herein are all over the musical map, from the introspective folk rock of  Song In The Night (which is not unlike some of the most recent offerings by Orange County singer/songwriter John Zipperer) to the glorious testimony to the hard bop espoused by the aforementioned Miles Davis (as well as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and others) in Due South On The Blue Line.

Vocal group harmony that takes its cue from such landmark classics as the Nutmegs’ A Story Untold gets its due in Fountain Of Love, while the reflective balladry of Barry Manilow is feted in the like minded Open The Door. In turn, Slo Mo Struttin’ offers a lighthearted take on the ramblings of such genre standard bearers as the Fabulous Counts, the Nite Liters and the Ohio Players, before the gorgeous Pacific Blue celebrates a return to form with the same benefit of hindsight that graced like minded recent offerings by the Bamboo Trading Company, complete with a passing (albeit curious) reference to the Coasters.

In Dancing With The Moment, Faragher has proven himself to be a detail oriented disciple of his inspirations, and in turn has celebrated genre diversity in a manner that relatively few others have done credibly. Apparently (in the words of one of this album’s standout tracks), A Dry Spell Ends and the return to form of a remarkably gifted pioneer has begun.

 

EMOTIONAL FEEDBACK-
Simon Felton (Pink Hedgehog)

If nothing else, Simon Felton is a realist.

The bassist, Garfield’s Birthday co-founder, Pink Hedgehog Records CEO and Dorchester, Dorset native recently emerged from a protracted sabbatical, in which he reassessed priorities in the wake of his decision to restructure operations of the Portland, Dorset-based label.

Coming to terms at last with the changes in the industry that directly impacted his mission statement, Felton has not only brought Pink Hedgehog (which is also the recording home of the acclaimed singer/songwriter Peter Lacey) back to active status, but he has also returned to form as a musician with a pair of releases that succinctly represent both facets of his artistic muse.

In late 2014, Felton released the latest installment in the ongoing saga of Garfield’s Birthday, the band that he co-founded in 1995. You Are Here basically serves as Felton’s ongoing vision of the band’s original mission statement, with a celebratory atmosphere that finds solidarity with the works of Harpers Bizarre, the Love Generation and Twinn Connexion.

Conversely, Emotional Feedback is far more introspective. Therein, Felton takes the same road traveled by Portland, Oregon singer/songwriter Justin Jude in 2012 in his landmark and diversionary 5 Kinds Of Rain album. Felton does so with the likes of Two Fine Lovers/A Warning, Clouds and Coffee And Lies (not to mention the curious If I Were A Single Girl again, which was composed by Felton’s former Garfield’s Birthday colleague, James Laming) taking the basic dreamscape template to new levels of high drama. A remarkable gift, and one rarely seen since the late, great Michael Holliday honed it to perfection more than a half century ago.

Felton summarized his approach thusly:

“Recorded at home on Portland, using Garage Band and Pro Tools. Performed and sung by Simon using real and unreal instruments.

In other words, when basic survival is at stake, protocol and convention often go out the window and are even occasionally seen for the albatrosses that they can be. With commendable discernment, Felton has taken that ambitious step. As a result, not only does a most respectable independent label continue to flourish, but so does the multi-faceted career of a true visionary, who is not at all hesitant to pursue risk. A Safe Bet indeed.



NATIVE LAND -
Gwen Hughes (Zoho) 

A strong case can be made for the notion that the last collective musical gasp of consequence availed itself in the mid-1980s and continued unabated into the early 1990s, with the rise of the so called New Traditionalist movement in country music. Therein, such veteran giants as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Bill Anderson each released career highlights that brought them renewed acclaim. In turn, their accomplishments inspired such like minded artists as Highway 101, the Desert Rose Band, Janie Fricke, Holly Dunn, Ricky Van Shelton, Clint Black, Dwight Yoakam and Restless Heart to elevate the genre to new aesthetic heights.

Arguably, one of the best releases to come from that movement was the great Carlene Carter’s late 1990 Reprise label monster classic, I Fell In Love. A relentlessly optimistic and frantically executed hybrid of the rockabilly, garage rock and purist country that long defined her, I Fell In Love ultimately became Blitz Magazine’s pick for Best Single of the Year.

To her considerable credit, the Atlanta, Georgia-based vocalist and composer Gwen Hughes opens this remarkable collection with an ambitious (and only slightly more subdued) rendition of Carter’s signature track, complete with an undercurrent of the inspiration of Django Reinhardt. Conversely, her understated rendition of the Eagles’ Lyin' Eyes and harmony-rich, Bossa Nova-like take on Swing Out Sister’s You On My Mind ultimately serve to illustrate that fact that a key component of her musical mission statement is diversity.

But it is ultimately with original material that Hughes excels the most. To wit, the mid-tempo Fragile Faith articulates the challenges of solidarity in resolute manner, while the (slightly) tongue-in-cheek This Is A Love Song takes a Marilyn Scott-like approach to a familiar theme, bringing a renewed sense of purpose in the process.

In turn, Olive Tree draws from familiar New Testament imagery and gives a revelatory account of her first hand witness of such faith in action on a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya. She literally brings the point home with the celebratory I’ll Take Your Hand, written in tribute to her percussionist husband, Mike Hinton.

To underscore the point, Hughes gives credit to God in the sleeve notes of this project, which reflects wise stewardship of the gifts with which she has been blessed. To be certain, in Native Land, a Fragile Faith has nonetheless produced a strong witness of universal appeal.
 
EVERYBODY HAS A PURPOSE - 
Joe Kidd And Sheila Burke
(JKSB Media)

There is much to be said for the notion of a lavishly arranged and passionately executed production.

Nonetheless, upon occasion, it takes a return to the basics to command due attention. This approach has long been a key factor in the ongoing impact made by folk music. With a largely acoustic template providing the setting for rich and thought provoking lyrical imagery, folk music has flourished as a voice for a variety of concerns.

Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke were keenly aware of this attribute when they joined forces in 2013. For Kidd in particular, such a venture provided an interesting change of pace from the straight ahead rock that characterized much of his earlier work (which included a season with the much acclaimed White Lines).

Professing the inspiration of bluegrass, country and other like minded musical genres, Kidd and Burke have crafted herein a series of twelve exemplary originals that bring to light a variety of causes and concerns, from military conflict (Veterans Song) and working class struggles (Grandpa Was A Coal Miner) to internal strife (Sad Too Long) and idealism (Just Want To Be Myself).

Most importantly, Kidd and Burke weave each piece together under the common thread of faith. As believers whose gifts are often utilized in church settings, the ambitious and highly charismatic duo summarize their mission statement in part as “thanksgiving, struggle, redemption and love for all people”.

For both long term believers and/or devotees of Kidd and Burke’s individual and collective work, the words of their When The Secret Is Revealed resonate quite well in that respect. In the meantime, the quasi-prophetic Waiting For That Flower To Bloom poignantly articulates from a first person point of view the perspective of those who have not yet come full circle in that respect. 
To be certain, if redemption is a key component of the overall mission statement, then Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke have, with this release, found themselves serving as gifted messengers pointing to that greater glory via the common bond of struggle tempered with optimism borne of faith. An essential release.


ADIEU - Logan Lynn
(Logan Lynn Music)
 
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”.

So said the late and beloved New York Yankees catcher and immensely respected author and philosopher, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. Widely acknowledged as the master of malapropisms, Berra’s seeming verbal dichotomies nonetheless resonated with the faithful, who took such proclamations at more than face value and invariably discovered the inert wisdom and insight behind them.

In some respects, Berra’s maxim could be applied to two musicians whose formative years contained many parallels, yet who nonetheless took markedly divergent career paths, with outcomes that were very much on opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one hand was vocalist, composer and Lancaster, New Hampshire native, Kevin Michael “G.G.” Allin. Given the name Jesus Christ Allin at birth, Allin spent his formative years as a victim of abuse at the hands of his father, Merle Colby Allin. Following the acrimonious dissolution of their marriage, Allin’s mother, Arleta had her son’s name legally changed in 1962 to Kevin Michael, as so to distance him from that phase of his life.

Nonetheless, Allin (who retained the stage name “G.G.” to commemorate his younger brother’s mispronunciation of his birth name) opted to follow the pattern set by his father. His well documented live shows frequently espoused hatred, resentment, rage, revenge and aggression. Unwaveringly defensive of those tenets of his mission statement throughout his career, Allin ultimately succumbed to a drug overdose on 28 June 1993 in New York City at age thirty-six.

Conversely, the remarkably gifted vocalist, instrumentalist, composer and Lubbock, Texas native Logan Dennis Lynn drew from similar experiences in his formative years. Nonetheless, Lynn (however unintentionally) heeded Berra’s maxim and took the fork in the road.

Indeed, Lynn’s circumstances were different in several significant respects from those of Allin. He drew inspiration from both the oratory acumen of his pastor father, William Dennis Lynn and the encouragement of maternal grandmother LaVanda Mae Fiedler (a keyboard instructor who once counted Johnny Cash among her students), as well as his mother, Debra Lynn, who (in tandem with his father) supported and encouraged him to persevere in the performing arts.

And while peripheral developments at that stage of life sidetracked Lynn’s aspirations to an extent, he nonetheless assessed his situation and ultimately opted to take the high road by creating extraordinarily insightful and accessible music. That music at once draws from those negative experiences and presents them in a manner that is at once both universally identifiable and encouraging to those with whom he is in solidarity in that respect.

With Adieu, his ninth full length album since his 1998 debut, This Is Folk Techno / Pull The Plug, Lynn astutely opted for sparse production, in tandem with collaborator Gino Mari. In the process, the essential elements of his material are highlighted, most notably his thoughtful and occasionally provocative lyrics. With an engaging delivery that at times evokes the geniality of early Barry Manilow or the wry and understated self-assurance of Simon Felton, Lynn draws from a wide variety of experiences to state his case.

If those experiences necessitated the occasional reference to past challenges with seeming solidarity to underscore the point, so be it. To that effect, Lynn recalls the perceived impasses which frequently manifest in the thick of battle, such as taking Jesus Christ to task with such rhetorical inquiries as, “What did He ever do for me”, as he does in Let’s Go Home. In turn, the somewhat coyly executed Lucifer states its case in the aorist tense, as if to emphasize the ongoing futility and deceptive nature of the protagonist’s argument.

The answer to the aforementioned question is of course that Jesus saved and continues to save all who call upon Him for that purpose. And while some among Lynn’s faithful (and possibly Lynn himself, to an extent) may still be coming to terms with present hope versus those past seeming impasses (“It’s a wicked life we try to leave”, he rightly concludes in Let’s Go Home), he nonetheless has taken decisive steps in the right direction. 


To be certain, Lynn has to a degree seen some light at the end of the tunnel, as such engaging fare as the Gary Glitter-like Go There When You Want To Be Loved and the mid-tempo Way Out demonstrate, albeit with slight traces of baggage lingering in the latter. And whereas the goal of reaching definitive reconciliation with the impasses that originally fueled his mission statement may for the moment remain a work in progress, with Adieu, Lynn has generated solidarity among the faithful (whose numbers are legion). In the process, he is providing an element of hope that may have otherwise eluded them. In the words of one of this collection’s standout tracks, We Will Overcome.


MADE OF BOXES -
Made Of Boxes (Made Of Boxes)


The Seattle, Washington-based quartet Made Of Boxes (David Testa, John Hage, Dave Chapaitis and Luke Brown) find their inspiration in introspective material that encourages solidarity with (if not a solution to) the challenges that confront many in their day to day journey.

Emphasizing that the sum total is greater than the individual parts, Made Of Boxes approaches their material as a team effort, with all contributing to the songwriting process. Their strategy has paid remarkable dividends with this eponymous release, as evidenced by their (however unintentional) common ground with the work of such like minded bands as the Glowfriends and the Overly Polite Tornadoes.

Made Of Boxes stands apart in that respect in that there is invariably some degree of resignation to circumstances (“I don’t see things changing, not on their own”, they lament in Raconteur). Yet there are nonetheless at least occasional moments of diversion from that perspective which offer a modicum of hope to the like minded observer (“I’ll change the world in my dreams tonight”, as noted in Butterflies).

That the band does so relatively free of any sort of aesthetic baggage in terms of inspiration might cause the purists to take umbrage. But in reality, the notion of being unencumbered as such may well serve to open the door instead for a growing and healthy wave of originality that has heretofore largely flown under the proverbial radar for many.

To be certain, Made Of Boxes might sing rather guardedly of A Fish Too Big (in which such perspective is offset decidedly by the strongest demonstration of instrumental prowess in this fourteen song collection). But when the Floodlight is at last on them, it is safe to say that they will be able to take their own cue and stand on their own terms, rather than (as they so aptly put it) handing out “paper crowns”.


FADE TO BLUE - Mike Pachelli
(Fullblast Recordings)

Technique, heart and a not so subtle penchant for humor.

Those seemingly incongruous attributes are found in abundance in Fade To Blue, the sixteenth and most recent release from the Nashville, Tennessee-based guitar virtuoso, Mike Pachelli. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pachelli has drawn from the most productive and pertinent attributes of his rich and diverse curriculum vitae (including extensive work as a session guitarist, television presenter, producer, composer, and author of guitar instruction manuals) for this ambitious, upbeat, memorable and engaging collection.

Overseen in all phases of the production process by Pachelli at his Nashville-based Fullblast Recordings Studio, Fade To Blue is a profession of solidarity with such inspirations (both overt and inadvertent) as Mose Allison, Wes Montgomery, the Fabulous Pack, Neil Merryweather and Tim Davis-era Steve Miller Band, as well as a determined effort to sustain a high level of personality and warmth in a setting that often overlooks such essential attributes.

Pachelli’s efforts in that respect are especially evident in the juxtaposition of a call to arms and showcase of technical bravado (sans the expendable byproduct of self-indulgence; which by definition is no mean feat) that is I Need My Baby By My Side, as well as the Neil Merryweather-flavored Magenta Haze. Conversely, he demonstrates a most engaging flair for the sometimes difficult to master blues/jazz hybrid in the sublime That Thing They Call The Blues and the set closing instrumental, These Arms, which owes more than mere similarity in titles to Otis Redding’s These Arms Of Mine.

To his considerable credit, Pachelli actually gains momentum throughout the proceedings via the inclusion of genially executed diversions into the world of humor. And while the latter day Swing-inspired Let’s Cut A Rug increases the solidarity factor exponentially as a result, it is the brilliant profession of candor found in the ingenious Mediocre Lovin’ which has anthemic potential.

While many in a given artist’s circle of observers and devotees continue to maintain low expectations based largely on their own limited experiences, thankfully the artists themselves (such as Pachelli) have continued to confound those expectations; most assuredly rallying the devout musicologists of all factions to their cause in the process. Whether or not a trickle down theory of sorts will apply in this case remains to be seen. But suffice to say that for the moment, Pachelli has (in the words of a classic cut from his earlier Good Burn album), taken a decisive step forward that hopefully Might Blow Your Mind.
  



LIVE AT THE KESSLER -
Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat (Underworld)

“I can’t play like B.B. King. When I try, I break a string. But there’s one thing you’ve got to understand, well I’m Doin’ The Best I Can.

It is with that self-depreciating observation that the Dallas, Texas-based vocalist, composer and guitarist Jim Suhler (who since 1999 has concurrently plied his trade as lead guitarist with George Thorogood and the Destroyers) articulates his perspective on his mission statement in his self-penned Doin’ The Best I Can, which is one of the highlights of this collection.

In some respects, such resignation to second-string status can not only discourage creativity, but it also speaks volumes for the inherent limitations of the genre at large. Blues has come under fire in some circles in recent years for the seeming propensity on the part of many of its current practitioners to default to a basic twelve-bar motif, augmented by textbook guitar fills and pedestrian lyrics that fail to build upon the overall legacy.

Indeed, would a genre in which every participant functioned at virtuoso/visionary capacity contribute to its overall betterment? Such methodology long ago proved to be an exercise in futility in the rock and roll community, in which undue expectations of operating at a five-tool player level resulted in either an unhealthy spirit of competitiveness and/or an increasing focus upon technique at the expense of passion.

Major League Baseball has long understood such a working relationship. Hence the necessity of a Chico Fernandez, Mudcat Grant and Todd Hollandsworth to augment the seemingly Herculean efforts of a Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Mike Piazza. Country music in its most fertile period also understood the merits of such a partnership, with such reliable and capable day to day players as Warner Mack, Jack Greene and Charley Pride carrying the torch most capably while such visionaries as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and George Jones continued to break new ground.

In Jim Suhler’s case, such fears are seemingly unfounded, anyway. Live At The Kessler more than adequately showcases not only his competence as a guitarist (with heart rightly taking precedence over his nonetheless demonstrable skills as a technician), but his flair for a well crafted lyric; a much needed attribute in an atmosphere where variations on a familiar theme are often the default approach.

To an extent, encouraging extraneous factors seem to contribute to a degree to Suhler’s approach. To wit, his matter of fact introduction to the aptly titled My Morning Prayer with, “Since I don’t know how many of y’all will be makin’ it to church tomorrow, we’ll do it here” infers a gifting from a Higher Power that simply is not reproducible via normal human devices.

This theory is borne out in his attention-getting testimony of repentance, Sunday Drunk (“Payment due on judgment day”, Suhler sings, with no small degree of authority) and the largely instrumental Reverie (which interestingly enough draws some of its inspiration from the Monkees’ Peter Tork-penned Can You Dig It), and to a lesser extent in the encouragingly traditional Texassippi, which in part serves as a reminder of the inspirational qualities of the blues in its most basic and purest form.

Indeed, if divine inspiration is fueling Suhler’s mission statement to an extent, he in turn proves herein to be a good steward of that which has been entrusted to him. As this collection’s closing number suggests, he is in the process providing both hope and inspiration for the Restless Soul, musically and otherwise.


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.