HOLD YOUR LAMP HIGH: Singer, songwriter and Illinois native, Deb Ryder invokes the best of the blues in her latest set of eleven original works, Let It Rain. 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.

Jeremy Morris (JAM)
Suffice to say that 2014 was a banner year for veteran singer, songwriter, label president (JAM Records), session musician, producer, family man and senior pastor of the Portage, Michigan Foursquare Church, Jeremy Morris.

The year began with considerable acclaim for the third in the ongoing series of the JAM label’s Sweet Relief Various Artists CDs, which was released at the end of 2013. In a remarkable coup for the label, Sweet Relief #3 featured a new track by first generation garage rock legends, the Pete Best Band.

Interestingly enough, it was a coup brought about by circumstances that suggest both fervent intercession and divine intervention.

“Nearly every year for the past ten years I fly across the pond and play over in England, France, Spain and Sweden”, said Morris.

“More recently, I got to go to Pete Best’s house in England. I got to talking with Pete’s brother, Roag. The man has a lot to say! I got to hear the real story from his brother of why Pete was ousted from the Beatles. There are too many, many details to go into right now. But it is quite sad how the wool has been pulled over the public’s eyes. The moral is don’t believe everything you hear and read.

But the Pete Best Band has never needed any such name dropping to verify their aesthetic merit. Their work more than stands on its own attributes, as Morris readily concurred.

“If only more people could hear the Pete Best Band, I think they would be surprised at how good it is”, he said.

“When I was in the audience, Roag, who is also a drummer, called me on stage and I got to jam with the band. We did (the 1962 Big Three / Richard Barrett classic) Some Other Guy. It was a blast!”

Morris also enjoyed considerable success during the year with his return to form live album, All Over The World. By year’s end, he was back in the studio, adding to his remarkable discography of more than five dozen albums as a solo artist with his most ambitious new entry into the Gospel rock idiom, Bright Morning Star.

Morris’ latest venture comes in timely fashion, given the growing concern within some factions amongst the faithful about the perceived tight parameters of the genre and its execution in a worship setting. For the past several decades, a number of churches have (for whatever reason) deferred to music ministries that adhere to a fast song, followed by a mid-tempo song, then a “slam on the brakes and meander for the duration of the worship time” template. And while by definition worship music is supposed to first and foremost bring glory to the Lord, the familiarity of format has for some become a distraction.

But true to form and in right submission to the Lord’s leading, Morris has herein opted for heart and substance over deference to the status quo.

“This one is a praise and worship CD”, said Morris.

“But I decided to break all of the rules of convention in the creation of it. I broke down all presupposed ideas of what a praise and worship CD is supposed to sound like and to be. For me, what this means is just letting the music flow free of categorization, both lyrically and musically.

In the vernacular, such procedure is often referred to as being “led by the Spirit”. Indeed, in such undertakings, that is the ideal precedent. Herein, Morris rises to the calling accordingly by not only remaining steadfast and uncompromising in terms of lyrical content, yet in the process diversifying the material by determinedly vacillating back and forth between the upbeat and exuberant versus the reflective. From the unique and irresistible hook of Jehovah Sunshine to the atmosphere of submission found in Fill Our Hearts (not to mention the hard and heavy approach of Forever The Same), Morris has taken worship music to a long overdue and much needed new level of structural diversity.

All Because Of You takes it a step further by drawing its foundations from the Masters Apprentices’ 1971 monster classic, Because I Love You. The acoustic backdrop for the verses coupled with the celebratory atmosphere of the chorus has always worked well for the earlier track (which could easily be adapted into a worship setting in its original form) and does likewise for Morris’ like minded variation on the theme.

To his considerable credit, Morris herein has also invoked a most beloved and venerable standard, with pertinent lyrical revisions for the Gospel format. The track in this case is the Skip James blues standard, I’m So Glad, which was covered to perfection in 1967 by the Scot Richard Case on the A-Square label. As was the case with like minded efforts by others with respect to Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancing In The Street and Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is, Morris’ experiment suitably glorifies the creator while sacrificing nothing musically from the definitive Scot Richard Case version.

“The time now is right”, said Morris.

Indeed it is. Not only for the continued spread of the Gospel, but for a soundtrack that will minister accordingly to an often overlooked demographic. With this latest release, Jeremy Morris has once again done so while bringing Glory And Honor to the One who has duly inspired him.

Deb Ryder (Bejeb Music)

Citing as key inspirations such standard bearers of the idiom as Joe Turner, Jamesetta “Etta James” Hawkins, Henry Saint Clair “Taj Mahal” Fredericks and Canned Heat’s Bob Hite (amongst others), vocalist, songwriter and Illinois native Deb Ryder herein has delivered a collection of eleven duly motivated originals that successfully tread the fine line between familiarity and foresight.

To that effect, in terms of delivery, Ryder falls somewhere between Lillian Briggs, Koko Taylor and Big Mama Thornton. Such a determined approach to execution serves her well throughout the set’s more aggressive material, highlighted by That’s Just How It Is, the Gospel-flavored Cry Another Tear and the spiritually encouraging (albeit peripherally) Guilty As Sin.

Conversely, the occasional foray into balladry (Kiss And Dream) manages to sustain the momentum quite well via an elevated sense of atmosphere, highlighted considerably by keyboardsman Mike Finnigan’s Bill Evans-inspired fills.

To their credit, Ryder’s backing band would seem to be equally at home at a Jimmy Smith, Georgie Fame, Joe Liggins or Joey DeFrancesco session. Indeed, their penchant for taking the charts to the limit does much to sidestep the potentially confining parameters of the twelve-bar blues template.

In turn, Ryder’s horn section, Lee Thornburg (trumpet, trombone) and saxophonist Lon Price add engaging, early Atlantic Records-styled flourishes to Can’t Go Back Again and the jump shouter, Money Monsoon. Likewise, Thornburg and Price are particularly effective in contributing to the highly reflective mood in the aforementioned Kiss And Dream.

To her considerable credit, Ryder has made a concerted effort throughout the proceedings (which were produced by her bassist husband, Ric Ryder) to chart her own course; keeping nods and deferences to as much of a minimum as possible. While such noble aspirations can be an exercise in futility in light of the often trod territory in which she ventures, Ryder has nonetheless very much successfully straddled the fine line between the new direction and blues roots to which she aspires. And with Let It Rain, Ryder can successfully follow the advice that she offers in Hold Your Lamp High.

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.