A melodic, guitar-driven blend of ancient past and sci-fi future.
My main instrument is the guitar, but my *focus* is really on music itself.
Songwriting, drums, keys, lyrics... and lots and lots of listening and enjoying. It's all music.
As Zappa said, "the only religion that delivers the goods."
I started a little series on Instagram called “Random Verse Today.” I’ve been learning lots of songs lately, and there are so many great individual verses (or choruses) in songs you might never have paid attention to. There are enough full song covers out there (I particularly enjoy Larkin Poe’s acoustic covers), bu given everyone’s short attention spans and the short time limit of Instagram videos I thought this would be a fun take on it. I also try to sing things in a clear, understandable way so listeners can really hear the lyrics.
I haven’t been to a show at a club like the Hard Rock since last summer, and I haven’t done a live show review in a long time! When I saw Samantha Fish was opening for Jimmie Vaughan I figured it was a good bill at a good price, and I was ready for a night out.
I got an email the day of the show with Hard Rock policies for masks, etc and it mentioned the show was sold out. When I got there it was anything but. In fact, I was the only person in row N, and there were only a handful behind me or in the balconies. Maybe a quarter full. Not good for the artists, but it was nice to have more personal space and not be so crowded. To be fair, it was a Thursday night but while the crowd was good and I enjoyed the evening, it was about the least crowded I’ve ever seen the Hard Rock.
The bartender asked me “Who are you here to see?” and my honest response was “both.” I had never seen Samantha Fish before, but I liked what I’ve heard on Spotify and Youtube. She’s certainly established herself as one of the female young guns of blues. Jimmie Vaughan is a legend, and the last time I saw him and the Tilt-A-Whirl band was probably 20 years ago. It was one of my favorite concerts ever – Junior Brown opened and just blew me away. My wife and I were either engaged or newly married, so we had that vibe going on. It was just a great party all night, which plastered a huge grin on my face the entire show. A few year ago I had a chance to see him at C-Boys in Austin but I didn’t end up going. I was just too exhausted at the end of the week. Anyways, for me Samantha Fish & Jimmie Vaughan was a really compelling package – one established newer artist, and one legend. Both blues, but very different. The pairing of two very different artists within the same loose genre works really well for me. A few years ago I saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Beth Hart together and that was a similar experience.
She came out in head-to-to red leather with her cigar box and was just ripping from note one. I think she’s established somewhat of a niche for herself with more focus on slide than some of her contemporaries. She can also belt on vocals, and that also separates her from others that might just be good on guitar. Her band added fantastic harmony vocals that filled out the sound and added depth. She played some older tunes, and some from her new album Faster. It was a great set full of barn-burners and slow R&B. She mixed it up well, and had a lot of variety in the 50-ish minute set.
She’s built a strong catalog of albums over the last decade, and it led to a set of all killer no filler. Her version of Kill or Be Kind was a lot different from the album, and I like when artists stretch out live a bit. There were long improvisational jams, as well as sing-along choruses. I left impressed and very happy I got to see her and her band live.
Special note to her drummer (Sarah), who had a killer, driving groove and provided consistently excellent harmony vocals. She added a LOT to the set, and I really enjoyed listening to her.
On the plus side, the Tilt-a-Whirl band was Tight with a capital T. Every break, every accent, every transition was simply perfect. They were amazing. As expected, Jimmie Vaughan’s guitar was a highlight. His style is so unique, mostly using his fingers and effortlessly gliding across the fretboard. He leveraged a capo on many songs, allowing him to apply signature licks in a manner not unlike fellow Texas legend Albert Collins. Jimmie Vaughan has that loose, traditional blues sound that few modern players achieve. Often understated but always perfect for the song, it was a joy to watch him plan. Mike Flanigan’s organ was powerful and soulful, and he can sing. I really enjoy their organ trio album (Live From C-Boys), and the songs that showcased Mike’s organ, and the interplay between Mike & Jimmie, were highlights.
On the downside, Jimmie really struggled with his vocals. Whether due to just not having it anymore, or not being able to hear himself, he was out of key and noticeably stretching most of the time. I hate to say it, but it was bad. Mike should have handled the vocals on everything. Another performance note that bothered me a bit was that he asked the audience “how are you doing out there” three times… Okay, i understand asking once as a standard live show trope. But three times? I don’t know why but it rubbed me the wrong way. I was thinking that if or when I start doing my own live shows again, I’m not going to ask the crowd how they’re doing. Instead I’m going to say “I’m feeling good tonight, how about you?” Anyways…
I did enjoy the music and the band. I get the sense it would have come across better in a small club or a bar like C-Boys, but not so much in a 3/4ths empty Hard Rock. It was almost too intimate for that venue.
It was a solid package of new and old, up-and-comer and legend. I’m glad I went and had a good time. Samantha Fish puts on a good show and has carved out a great niche for herself as a unique artist in contemporary blues. Jimmie Vaughan’s set was good overall, bolstered by his guitar and the tightness of the band, but his vocals and the somewhat slower, laid back nature of this band might not have been the best fit for the venue. Interestingly, the crowd seemed to be much more into Samantha Fish. Lots more specific cheering and more people wearing her t-shirts. After her set, she was signing merch at the table, and the line went all the way across the venue. It was probably the longest merch line I’ve ever seen. In fact, the line didn’t disperse until halfway through Jimmie Vaughan’s first song.
As a follow up from an older post about why I love finding and buying vinyl, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of my record player recently. I was able to go to Marley’s Music in Biloxi, MS a month ago and picked up a great score from their dollar bin. I got a whole bunch of records, including:
Chico Hamilton – Catwalk. I picked up his album Perigrinations at Marley’s the last time I was there!) – both great fusion records
Mother’s Finest – Another Mother Further. How could I resist the super man logo with a guitar in it for a cover. No idea what this band is about, but the cover drew me in for a buck. I haven’t listened to this one yet, but I intend to soon…
A Sound Spectacular! Music From The Galaxies. A sci-fi movie soundtrack compilation, and while I have a couple of those already, it has a few things I didn’t have like the Star Trek theme and the theme from Moonraker. It’s a cool compilation.
The Outlaws – Eye of the Storm. I don’t know anything about the Outlaws, other than the name. I’d heard of them. Again, for a buck it’s worth a listen. Greasy southern rock & roll.
And last but not least…
I’m sure I’ve heard this before at some point, either via a friend loaning the CD to me, the library or maybe streaming online, but how can you beat it for a buck? I love finding good stuff like this cheap. And by the way, it’s an awesome album. Super Session!
2021 was a pretty good year for music. I listened to a LOT of stuff: some new, some old, some new material from older bands. While I do listen to a good variety of music (classical, pop, jazz, country, reggae, folk), my wheelhouse is blues, rock and metal. That’s honestly most of my listening so it’s no surprise that all of my favorites fall in there.
Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate
I’ve always been a fan of Greta Van Fleet, and their latest album shows continued growth and maturity. The Battle At Garden’s Gate is an album that really feels epic; with vast, sweeping sonic landscapes, and great performances end to end from every member. There’s a palpable passion coming through the recording. I also love the diversity of the album – there are quiet piano parts, epic guitar solos, great keys, bass, drums… There are straight-forward, catchy hooks as well as and long sonic journeys. This album has everything, and it’s all great. The production and mix are top notch. Crank up a good stereo and listen to the bass in Age of Machine – it sounds incredible. It took me a listen or two in order to get into it, but the album just keeps getting better. Highly recommended. Rating: A+
Highlight Tunes: Broken Bells, Caravel, Age of Machine
The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock & Roll
I’ve listened to a little bit of their stuff over the years. I liked it, but nothing really grabbed me. Death By Rock & Roll is stellar end-to-end. It’s one of those “not a bad track on it” types of albums. From the hard-rock title track to the acoustic ballads, every song holds its own. The album has nice diversity but keeps a common theme. Taylor Momson delivers and incredible and passionate vocal performance. If you wanted to rock in 2021, this is a place to go. Fantastic record end to end. Rating: A
Highlight Tunes: Death By Rock & Roll, 25, And So It Went, Harley Darling
Joe Bonamassa – Time Clocks
Each Bonamassa record hits me differently – some I like a lot, some I don’t like as much. I wasn’t a big fan of his previous record, Royal Tea. Given that, Time Clocks wasn’t an album I was excited about up front. It was on my radar but I didn’t have a lot of anticipation built up. The 3 singles released didn’t grab me, although that seems to be the case more often than not with his records. I usually like the deeper tracks better. When I got the album, though, I was really pleasantly surprised. The 3 singles grew on me upon repeated listening, and the album also gets stronger as it progresses. Many of those later songs grabbed me on first listen, which makes Time Clocks a really compelling whole. Joe’s guitar work is stellar, as always. There’s a nice diversity of tunes. I read somewhere a description of Joe’s music as “cinematic blues,” and I think that sums it up well. I would have rated it just a little higher (perhaps an A instead of A-) but the title track has a few awkward lyrics, though nothing cringe-worthy; and there are one or two songs I tend to skip. Overall though, I think it’s his best complete work in a while. It’s always great to have an album come out of the blue like this and really connect. Rating: A-
Highlight Tunes: Questions & Answers, Hanging On A Loser, The Heart That Never Waits
Other Albums I Enjoyed In 2021
There are a lot of other great albums in 2021, and here are a few that are definitely worth a listen
King Buffalo – The Burden of Restlessness – this is a band I had never heard of, but gave a listen to purely based on their incredible album artwork. It’s a huge, heavy slab of psychedelic doom, fantastic for running, driving, working, or focused listening. The driving groove is incredible, the guitars are continually interesting and the lyrics are cool.
John Nemeth – Stronger Than Strong – this is an artist I found out about through Blues Music Magazine, and I really dig his swamp blues style. He’s got a great voice and great songs on this record and if you’re looking for something cool and fun outside of the “big names” it’s definitely worth a spin.
Sue Foley – Pinky’s Blues – I’ve been a fan of Sue Foley for a while, and this is her first album in a few years. She’s the real deal and does traditional blues as well as anyone out there, but Pinky’s Blues has the subtle variety that all great blues records have. She doesn’t veer into pop or metal or anything like that, this is a blues album, but it covers a range of intensity and emotion. Her sultry voice is of particular notice, as is the impeccable classic blues rhythm to her playing. This is of my favorite traditional blues albums in a long time.
Iron Maiden – Senjutsu – any new Iron Maiden album is cause to celebrate, and Senjutsu has some great stuff. I really liked their last record, Book of Souls, and this is right up there. It’s full of epic songs, and there are great riffs and performances through and through.
The Black Keys – Delta Kream – I wasn’t a huge Black Keys fan, but this year I’ve turned around on them. I got a few of their older records from the library (Let’s Rock in particular), and Delta Kream grabbed me right away. It’s back to the basics, groove-heavy, hill-country blues done right.
Doctor Smoke – Dreamers and the Dead – another random “youtube recommended it and I liked the album artwork” finds. I was blown away by this band, and if you’re into metal with a killer groove, you’ll dig it. Great vocals, cool songs, and a huge-sounding slab of doom worth your time.
On The Radar For 2022
The album I’m most looking forward to in 2022 is Eric Gales‘ new record “Crown,” produced by the power team of blues/rock production of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith. A few years ago I was burned out on blues/rock, but seeing Eric Gales live restored my faith. He’s a force of nature, and I can’t wait for this album.
A late arrival on my 2022 Hype Train is the newly-announced Steve Vai album “Inviolate.” Steve Vai is one of my all-time favorite musicians, so every new album by him is reason for celebration.
Given what’s happening in Afghanistan right now, I wanted to write a brief post to share a wonderful organization: Visit https://miraculouslovekids.org/. Please visit, watch their videos and donate if you can.
Lanny Cordola is a musician who reached success in the 80s metal scene with bands like Giuffria and House of Lords. In 2014 he moved to Kabul and started this incredible organization to help girls in Afghanistan get education and safety, explore the universal love of music and express themselves. He’s made such a positive difference in so many lives, and it’s living proof of the power that an individual can make in the world.
I had a thought the other day that drummers are actually masters of physics. They have to really understand some of the fundamental forces of nature to play their instrument well. It’s not book learning, it’s not mathematics, it’s and understanding how these forces actually work… and then what you can do with them to achieve a desired effect. Drumming is applied physics!
Force, Gravity, Space and Time
Understanding and controlling the bounce of the sticks requires a visceral and deep feeling for Newton’s 3rd Law (every force is countered by an equal and opposite force). I would also say that a lot of stick control is an understanding of gravity, which is part of the bounce.
Of course, space and time are connected, and by the nature of the instrument drummers have to have a keen sense of subdividing time. They also have to understand the effects of slowing down or speeding up time; playing ahead or behind the beat; rushing or dragging it.
Understanding and manipulating the decay of a cymbal is an appreciation of resistance and inertia.
So there you go. John Bonham, Elvin Jones, Marco Minnemann, Buddy Rich, Neil Peart, Gene Krupa and a million others – right up there with Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Richard Feynman and Isaac Newton!
Why Music Connects So Deeply
I’ve long thought that the inherent power of music is due to its nature being vibration. It’s an organized vibration of air received by our ears and into our brains. Since energy is vibration, and mass and energy are interchangeable, then it makes sense that vibrations can affect our very being. It connects with us in at a fundamental level. The realm we exist in is inherently receptive to vibrational input. I’m much more of an auditory person than visual so maybe I’m a bit biased; but I think auditory vibrational input is received more strongly and connects a more fundamental and physical l level than visual input. A deep bass makes our whole chest vibrate. A high pitched dissonant tone can make us cringe. It’s more than something our emotions give meaning to – music is something our very being is connected to.
I was listening to a great interview with two of my favorite “blues adjacent” artists – Joe Bonamassa and Fantastic Negrito, and the latter talked about how music brings people together. People of all races, religions, countries and political beliefs can bond over music and come together. They talked about it in some depth, but it’s one of those things you hear that at first seems “sure, in some ways, I guess” but it was brought home to me in a very real, concrete way last night.
I saw Selwyn Birchwood at the Alley in Sanford, FL last night. It was a great show, the place was more packed than I’ve ever seen it, the band was awesome and we all had a good time. The incident that demonstrated a great example of music bringing people together happened about 20 minutes into the first set.
I was sitting at the bar when I noticed the elderly couple next to me looking on the floor for something. After a few minutes the wife pulled out her phone’s flashlight and they looked more concerned, looking closely all around the area. I started looking around the floor near me as well, maybe I’d spot something unusual and help out. My instinct was to help out, of course. After a few minutes I heard them tell someone they were looking for a wedding ring that the husband was unconsciously playing with and dropped.
I got out my phone light and looked under tables and all around. Others in the area joined in the search. After a few minutes someone ended up finding the right, to many cheers from those who were looking.
After the man sat down, I noticed he was wearing a MAGA hat. Now, this isn’t a political post. What really struck me was my reaction. I’m sure I would have helped out had I seen the hat first. Perhaps, though, I would have hesitated a bit. I certainly would have formed judgments in my head, lost ring or not. F that guy. Doesn’t he know what the lyrics to the songs are? I would have painted an image of this man from one glance, and that image would have filtered every interaction going forward. Without seeing that hat, it was just a guy enjoying music who needed some help.
This man and his wife were cheering as loudly and as often as anyone in the place, and clearly they enjoyed the show. The man kindly bought a beer for the gentleman that did eventually find the ring.
Music brought us together for something common. We shared a positive experience and politics just didn’t matter at that moment. In our world today, those moments are rare.
Not only does that so clearly demonstrate the point Fantastic Negrito made in the podcast interview I heard the other day, but it provides further evidence to me that most people are inherently good. It’s the corruption of societal beliefs, politics, life experience, and stereotypes that turns us against each other. Music actively combats that in such a beautiful way! Last night made that crystal clear to me, and it was a beautiful thing.
It also demonstrates something I’ve thought for a while now. Our age of social media and the internet reinforces us having a two dimensional, black and white, flat image of our fellow man. Going out and interacting with people, in person, for real, gives us a complete, 3D, full-color perspective on people. If you don’t get that full picture it’s easy to think that the 2D/black-and-white picture is all there is with people. What a negative place to be. Whether it’s a live show, or simply chit-chatting with the clerk in the grocery store, interacting with people in real life is so important.
Here is the podcast interview – definitely worth a listen. Fantastic Negrito’s latest album “Have You Lost Your Mind Yet” is one of my favorites from 2020.
Definitely check out Selwyn Birchwood as well – he’s a great up and comer, and his album is as great listening at home or in the car than he is live, which isn’t always true in blues
Wow, I didn’t realize how much I missed live music! I’ve watched a few live streams over the last year+, and it was fun but not the same. I didn’t buy any, though, to me a concert is an event. If you’re just sitting at home watching a screen it’s hard to justify… it’s also hard to carve out the time to sit and watch. I got tickets for the Allman Betts Band at the Orlando Hard Rock. Normally, I’m not a fan of that venue, as it’s a long ways from parking, and it’s usually more expensive for similar acts. I was surprised how open parking was very open… and free, which is NOT the case around Halloween Horror nights, which adds $20 to the total cost). Once inside Universal City Walk, I was also a bit surprised how crowded it was. I hadn’t been around that many people in a year and a half! It took a little bit of time to get used to that, for sure.
The venue was about half to two-thirds full. Definitely not sold out, but a good crowd. I think a lot of people were in my boat: very enthusiastic to be back seeing live bands, and it showed in the crowd response and interaction. I purposefully bought an isle row seat, which I felt would give me a bit of separation.
Have you seen anything recently? What was your reintroduction to live music, if so? If not, is there anything on your radar? Let me know in the comments.
River Kittens opened up – they were a roots acoustic duo with fantastic harmony vocals and fun songs. They did a great job, and it was an excellent reintroduction to live music. They did a mix of covers and originals, and on top of both women singing, they played guitar, mandolin and ukelele. I don’t know much about the duo, but their vocals blended so well I wondered if they were sisters. Definitely check them out.
The Allman Betts Band
I had listened to them a few times on Spotify, but I didn’t know their catalog very deeply. Even not being very familiar, their songs were easy to get into – Southern Rain, Airboats & Cocaine and Much Obliged in particular were good singalongs. They also did a somewhat surprising number of Allman Brothers covers: Trouble No More, Jessica, Ain’t Wasting No More Time, and Southbound.
In my opinion they have a perfect mix of southern rock and blues – some long solos, some more pop-structured songs. It never felt tedious one way or another. Easy to get into, but also deep enough to enjoy over and over.
The band sounded incredibly full and rich – with three guitars, drums, percussion, keys and bass. While of course Duane Betts and Devon Allman are the bigger names, I was particularly impressed with Berry Duane Oakley on bass and vocals – he was super tight – and John Ginty on keyboard. The sound was also a perfect level – I was in about the 15th row, but it wasn’t too loud and the mix was good.
I’m so happy live music is coming back – I’m happy for the bands, and for the joy it’s bringing. Take some time to explore both River Kittens and the Allman betts Band – you’ll be glad you did. And go see live music when you’re able and you feel safe
My kid has gotten to the age where he’s started to get interested in popular music. This has led us to listen to a lot of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” and “Grammy 20xx” CDs over the last few months. Even though pop music isn’t really my thing, I have enjoyed it quite a bit. It was funny to have heard so many of these songs over the years in the bathrooms and common areas of office buildings, but not really knowing the artists. I remember hearing a few songs like Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho” and Imagine Dragon’s “Thunder” literally 5 times a day. It seemed like every time I went to the restroom, one of them was on. It’s been a while, so fresh ears are a good thing. There are some, like Thunder, that have grown on me. Others, like “Sweet But Psycho” I’d be happy to never hear again. It’s also been an interesting listen as a musician and writer…
I’ve started to identify what I actually don’t like about modern pop music. As primarily a guitar player, and with guitar being the foremost instrument in most of the music I love, I sort of assumed that modern pop music not having much guitar is a big factor. I was surprised how much guitar was featured in the 2021 Grammy Awards show. Anyways, it turns out that’s not really the issue. It’s the lack of real drums, played by a real human being, with variation and feeling that is what I actively dislike.
A lot of modern pop music sounds like basically one 4:4 loop repeated for the entire song. Drag and drop the bar of midi, and drag across the song for the whole 3 minutes. I keep saying it, but it’s not the chords, it’s not the notes, it’s the rhythm that defines a genre. With a lot of modern pop, the rhythm is simply… boring. There are no fills to lead from section to section. There is no sense of dynamics.
On top of that, tonally, I just don’t like the generic low end thump used instead of a kick drum and the white noise crack used instead of a snare. Real drums have such a great tone, and such a great variety of sound contributing to the music Kick, snare, hi hat, crash, splash, a million toms. That’s interesting to me! So much modern pop music has that chopped, compressed, generic kick sound and either a finger snap sample, or the generic white noise snare … and that’s it. I’ve noticed over the last year that pop artists who use real drums appeal to me a lot more.
Like anything, there are exceptions to every rule. This isn’t a big, revelatory piece, but it’s been really interesting to examine what it is that appeals to me and not, and why it works or doesn’t work. What do you think? Does it bother you? Do you like that style?
Of course, no matter whether you like a piece of music or genre or not, there’s always something to learn. At least listen with open ears and maybe you’ll get something out of it.
As you may have guessed from my recent posts, I’ve been listening to a lot of blues lately. Over the last few years I’ve been curating a Spotify playlist where I keep track of songs that catch my ear. As I read reviews or interviews in a bunch of magazines, or listen to the Smokestack Lightnin’ show I try to keep my ears open. As much as I liked the classics, that’s great stuff happening now! This was a way to highlight some artists that weren’t as well known, and of course some that are. I include all styles of blues – traditional, modern, funky, soulful, acoustic, electric… I had called it “New Blues From Radio & Magazines” but that doesn’t roll of the tongue, does it?