I HEAR YOU TALKIN': Veteran Chicago jazz vocalist Solitaire Miles tackles the Western Swing genre successfully in her all new collection, Susie Blue And The Lonesome Fellas. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


The Drifting Sand (Pina Colada)

In the world of the recording studio, the term “generational loss” refers to a reduction in quality when making copies of a given musical work. A number of factors can contribute to the process, including anomalies in bandwidth, mixers, amplifiers and the like.

The generational loss analogy can also be applied to a given musical endeavor, when an artist attempts to emulate the work of those who inspired them, without fully understanding or discerning the subtleties and nuances that contributed to the aesthetic merits of the original. The results are often little more than a caricature, which in a worst case scenario can work against the newer artist’s best intentions.

One perhaps not so obvious example of seemingly good intentions gone awry is the mixed bag of inspirations that contributed to the erratic early catalog of the veteran Bay Area band, the Flamin’ Groovies. As a byproduct of their mission statement, the band endeavored to create a body of original work based on the inspiration of the pioneers of the rock and roll movement, from the rockabilly and rhythm and blues visionaries who were there from the onset to the first generation garage rock greats that immediately preceded them.

Whether timing was the primary factor in the outcome is certainly open to further research and analysis. But in the case of the Flamin’ Groovies, the timing could not have been worse. Making their debut during the height of the counter-productive Woodstock era, with its resultant narrow focus and intolerance of any perspective that was not in unwavering lockstep with their agenda, the Flamin’ Groovies countered with roots inspired material that was ultimately seen as tongue in cheek and (as such) perhaps not worthy of consideration by both factions. That they opted for a name that invokes a slang term which was most assuredly never in favor with the demographic believed to have coined and/or perpetuated it only made their attempts to take on the challenge in a relatively more serious manner upon signing with Seymour Stein’s Sire Records in the mid-1970s all the more difficult.

For all practical purposes, the Burlingame, California-based Drifting Sand faces similar challenges in their endeavors to bring their enthusiasm for first generation surf rock into the forefront. In reality, the group represents a third generation attempt at such musical altruism, given that such bands as the Wedge, the Malibooz, and Jon and the Nightriders ushered in a second generation of the genre in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

That they did so with a musical sensibility tempered in part by the punk/new wave movement of the mid to late 1970s served in part to distinguish them from such genre standard bearers as the Marketts, Challengers, Pyramids and Dick Dale. Yet in the case of many of those second generation aspirants, such were their intentions, as borne out in the results.

All of which adds to the complexity of the issues faced by the Drifting Sand. For all of their professed admiration for the work of those that preceded them, they nonetheless find themselves in a situation perhaps only slightly less disconcerting than that with which the Flamin’ Groovies dealt.

However, to their considerable credit, the Drifting Sand has taken the proceedings a step further by not only embracing the contributions of both earlier generations, but by dispensing with the cookie cutter approach and instead creating and delivering from their own collective muse. The band even highlights and exacerbates caricatures along the way as a means of demonstrating that embracing a given inspiration does not mean being held accountable to a purist perspective.

To wit, the title track invokes the familiar spinning radio dial motif at the onset to establish at least a modicum of solidarity with the overall mission statement. From there, the band executes with a combination of dutiful (and most adept) musicianship, offset by a slightly smarmy (a la the Mothers Of Invention) vocal approach, whose propensity for multi-level perception is exacerbated by such atypical call and response lyrical couplets as, “Wanna go to the beach?” “Need you even ask?” that probably owes as much to Thelonious Monk as it does a concerted effort to reconcile any perceived cross-generational dichotomies.

Beach Tour USA follows suit with a straight ahead 4/4 template that serves as a clarion call in much the same way as did the Beach Boys’ 1965 album cut, Amusement Parks USA. Conversely, Santa Cruz’n takes a no nonsense approach in drawing from the basic Dick Dale template, reinforced subtly with the trademark variances in dynamic indigenous to the Chantays’ Downey label-era material. Surf, Surf, Surf takes the point even further, as a variation of sorts on Benny Goodman’s 1938 Louis Prima-penned signature track, Sing, Sing, Sing (Victor 25796).

In a move that would have served the Flamin’ Groovies well in their own endeavors, the Drifting Sand somewhat confounds expectations by plunging head first into greater depths with the most impressive Blue Water. Equal parts Orange Crate Art-era Van Dyke Parks and the dreamscape-rich, like minded outings of Harpers Bizarre (tempered ever so slightly with wisps of Nirvana/J&D-era Jan and Dean-like psychedelia), Blue Water is indeed the band’s key to long term aesthetic productivity, should they be so inclined. The Drifting Sand drives the point home by concluding the proceedings with the lone cover selection, a spot on rendition of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s mid-1967 high drama B-side, Sand (flip side of Lady Bird, Reprise 0629).

To be certain, with Summer Splash, the Drifting Sand suffers from no generational loss. If the evidence at hand is any indication, the band instead seems poised to catch the Big Wave as standard bearers for their generation. 

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.

The Grip Weeds (Jem)

What is a second and third generation garage rock-inspired band and/or solo artist to do when it at last becomes apparent to them that paying consistent homage to the first generation visionaries that inspired them can actually hinder them from furthering their own mission statement?

The better ones (such as Jeremy Morris) instead press ahead with their own vision. In the process, they create a rich body of original material that can arguably hold its own alongside the legacies of those who initially inspired them.

Given their long standing deference to a certain omnipresent Merseyside-based quartet of some renown, such a declaration of independence could just as easily be an albatross around the collective neck of the ever diligent Highland Park, New Jersey band, the Grip Weeds. Indeed, even their very name pays direct homage to one of that band's ranks.

A noble sentiment for those who are so disposed, to be certain. But ultimately such pandering can generate misdirected and/or overinflated expectations amongst the band's faithful.

That reality has apparently availed itself to the Grip Weeds.

“All bands go through their rough periods, and the Grip Weeds are no exception”, said lead guitarist Kristin Pinnell.

“Being in a band with my husband and brother-in-law is a double-edged sword. The familial bond helps us endure some situations that usually kill other bands off. Conversely, it’s tougher to leave arguments in the studio when your bandmates are also your family.

In their most recent and aptly named Jem Records release, How I Won The War, the Grip Weeds met this potential identity crisis head on and emerged victorious. Band members credit new bassist Dave DeSantis for providing the inspiration to reassess priorities.

The resultant seventeen track album finds the band sounding refreshingly independent of such concerns. From the mid-tempo, Yes-flavored Other Side Of Your Heart to the Salvation Army/Three O’Clock-ish See Yourself, the Grip Weeds have taken decisive steps to adapt a broader perspective, drawing from inspirations only when doing so serves to enhance their collective vision.

The high drama of Vanish underscores the point, as does the engagingly Amon Düül II-like Force Of Nature. And as if to solidify the decisive break with obligatory deference, the Grip Weeds close the proceedings with a spirited cover of George Harrison’s 1968 romp, The Inner Light (Capitol 2138).

As has been the case with many of their fellow aspirants to the legacy of the genre, the Grip Weeds have at last sufficiently come to terms with their own vision. In the process, they can press ahead and pursue a legacy that stands on its own merits. For them and others of similar intent, such ambition is certain to ultimately prove to be a Life Saver.

Hot Roux (Hi Hat)
In their endeavors to sustain their considerable lead within the genre, the various artists and labels collectively operating under the Delta Groove Music banner have been both prolific and consistent in presenting a healthy variety of artists who excel in blues-based rhythm and blues and country rock.

The Southern California-based Hot Roux is one such band. Led by drummer and principal vocalist, Jerry McWorter, the ambitious quartet (which also includes guitarists Tommy Harkenrider and Ed Berghoff, as well as bassist Brent Harding, who plays on seven of this album’s ten tracks) herein presents a collection of primarily original material that gravitates with both mastery and enthusiasm between country rock (Broken Again, which takes its cue in part from Brian Barrett’s Jimmy Got Saved), the traditional twelve-bar romp (Woman Where You Been),  the Blasters (Tick Tock), straight ahead rock (Another Seven Lonely Nights) and Link Wray/Santo and Johnny-inspired swamp rock (the title track).

Through it all, Hot Roux remains faithful to the basic blues template, in keeping with the precepts of the mission statement at large. With their above the herd compositional skills and crisp, inspired execution, the band herein most assuredly has done its part in diminishing the occasional charges of redundancy leveled against the genre in some circles. Indeed, while the band may sing of Stranger’s Blues, theirs is anything but a lone voice in the wilderness.

Solitaire Miles (Seraphic)

A true artist never lets such periphery as genre myopia circumvent their creative process. However, it sometimes takes a concerted effort on their part to convince their faithful to follow suit.

To wit, pioneering folk and country rock greats, the Byrds readily cited the impact of such diverse inspirations as Bobby Darin and John Coltrane in their own work. In turn, Coltrane and such fellow visionaries as Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk often included a wide variety of standards in their numerous studio sessions. And in his six decade recording career, veteran vocalist Pat Boone has made it a point to record in virtually every musical setting imaginable, from rock and roll and rhythm and blues to Gospel, jazz, country and western, heavy metal and folk.

Chicago, Illinois-based vocalist Solitaire Miles has apparently encountered a bit of resistance within her own circle of observers in light of this most recent project. Long established as a world class interpreter of material by such stalwarts of jazz as Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey, Miles herein has taken the not so giant step of embracing Western Swing, tempered slightly by the occasional deference to classic middle of the road.

Indeed, such a step is logical, if not inevitable. The best loved pioneers of Western Swing, such as James Robert “Bob” Wills, Donnell Clyde “Spade” Cooley, Milton Brown and his Brownies and Sollie “Tex” Williams had much in common in both ability and execution with their jazz counterparts, with all concerned making a concerted effort on a consistent basis to keep the often incongruous components of heart and technique front and center in their respective mission statements.

As such, it is no surprise that Miles’ initial venture into her Susie Blue And The Lonesome Fellas persona finds her both completely at ease with and in complete command of the genre. Herein, she successfully delivers faithful yet personable takes on Cooley’s Crazy Cause I Love You (which in and of itself owes much to the often covered Wills/Cooley classic, Miss Molly) and You Can’t Break My Heart, as well as Wills’ I Hear You Talkin’ and Hang Your Head In Shame.

Floyd Tillman’s Columbia label single, I Gotta Have My Baby Back (which was subsequently covered by label mate Ray Price) follows suit here in its trademark dichotomy of misery rendered genially, as does the great Cindy Walker’s Me And The Man In The Moon. And to further emphasize the attributes of diversity, Miles takes on both the dreamscape prototype of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s I’m A Fool To Care (later reinterpreted by Joseph “Joe Barry” Barrios) and the high drama of Vaughn Monroe’s Ghost Riders In The Sky (albeit via the like minded interpretation of Katherine LaVerne “Kay Starr” Starks) with equally successful results.

With most capable support from such sympathetic musicians as Patricia Barber sidemen Neal Alger (guitar) and Larry Kohut (bass), as well as Jump ’N The Saddle slide guitarist T.C. Furlong, Miles has herein taken a most necessary and welcome step of bridge building. Given its relatively short span, it will hopefully be a brief matter of time before the last of the holdouts follow the lead of the like minded Patti Page (not to mention the Flamingos) and Cross Over The Bridge.

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.