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Category: Album Review (page 1 of 4)

Dr. John’s Gumbo

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Dr John's Gumbo45 years ago Dr. John released his iconic tribute to New Orleans music, Dr. John’s Gumbo. This fifth album by this artist is a collection of covers of classic tunes associated with his native city. The resulting sound falls somewhere between the earliest rock n’ roll and the contemporary sounds of the early seventies, all while remaining musically true to the New Orleans R&B sound.

Dr. John was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack with French lineage in New Orleans dating back to the early 1800s. His earliest influences were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, while as a teen he was present at some of the earliest recordings of Little Richard. At age 16, Rebennack gained employment as a producer at Ace Records while playing guitar in local clubs through the late 1950s. After deciding to concentrate on piano and adopting the stage persona “Dr. John”, he migrated to Los Angeles to join the booming session musician scene and became part of the famous “wrecking crew”. Here, he played on albums ranging from Sonny & Cher to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

In the late 1960s, Dr. John struck out as a solo artist, at first combining his core New Orleans-style with psychedelic rock tilted towards his fascination of voodoo religious ceremonies. His acclaimed debut album Gris-Gris was released in 1968 followed by the subsequent yearly releases Babylon, Remedies and The Sun, Moon, and Herbs, which all worked to build Dr. John’s cult following.

Co-produced by Harold Battiste and Jerry Wexler, Dr. John’s Gumbo was the first studio album to significantly change musical direction. He later wrote that this album was, “both a tribute to and my interpretation of the music I had grown up with in New Orleans in the late 1940s and 1950s.”

Roots Rock Review logoDr. John’s Gumbo by Dr. John
Released: April 20, 1972
Produced by: Harold Battiste & Jerry Wexler
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Iko Iko
Blow Wind Blow
Big Chief
Somebody Changed the Lock
Mess Around
Let the Good Times Roll
Junko Partner
Stack-A-Lee
Tipitina
Those Lonely Lonely Nights
Huey Smith Medley
Little Liza Jane
Dr. John
Lead Vocals, Piano, Guitars
Harold Battiste
Clarinet, Saxophone, Horn Arrangements
Sidney George
Harmonica, Saxophone
Jimmy Calhoun
Bass
Fred Staehle
Drums, Percussion

 

Dr. John’s Gumbo starts with its most significant hit, “Iko Iko”, originally composed by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford in the 1950s and telling the story of a parade collision between two tribes of Mardi Gras Indians. Musically, the choppy rhythms are accented by scratchy lead vocals, responsive backing vocals and just the right amount of boogie-woogie piano and brass sections, nicely setting the pace for the album. “Blow Wind Blow” the first of several Huey “Piano” Smith songs, works its way in from the ending of “Iko Iko” in medley-like fashion and offers another fine upbeat and entertaining rock boogie.

Earl King‘s “Big Chief” is built on a cool electric organ arpeggio, offering a spooky-cool groove upon which to build – other elements including a growling sax and more call and response backing vocals. “Somebody Changed the Lock” leans the most towards New Orleans jazz, especially through the various iconic horns throughout above the now standard boogie piano. Next, (Ahmet Ertegün) – here Dr. John puts a a Dixieland spin on the Ray Charles classic, “Mess Around” (written by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegün), with this version offering not too much in terms of substance but plenty of pure musical fun.

Dr John

“Let the Good Times Roll”, another song originally by King, stays within the original blues structure of the song, with much a capella vocals in between the musical chops during the verses. “Junko Partner” is built upon a consistent, shuffling drum beat before the fine piano-led blues verses. This song persists in its methodical rhythms throughout, even having a bridge which is purely vocals over drum shuffle. “Stack-A-Lee” follows with as good a version of this much covered staple (usually titled “Stagger Lee”), featuring a frantic piano and contrasting growling vocals, while Professor Longhair‘s “Tipitina” is recorded much more low-fi, almost sounding like it was recorded live in a club or even during a rehearsal.

The final stretch of the album starts with “Those Lonely Lonely Nights”, rapid piano over steady rhythms in Fats Domino-like fashion. Next is a seamless tribute to Huey “Piano” Smith, with a medley of three tunes (“High Blood Pressure”, “Don’t You Just Know It”, and “Well I’ll Be John Brown”) are offered over steady boogie rock, never breaking out of key or rhythm. The album wraps with “Little Liza Jane”, featuring a good sax lead and rich harmonies.

Dr. John’s Gumbo commenced a very successful phase in Dr. John’s career and set the stage for the follow-up 1973 album, In the Right Place, which became his most commercially successful album ever.
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The Tinker’s Dream
by Chris Murphy

The Tinker's Dream by Chris Murphy“Irish Fiddle Music” is stamped on the CD cover of Chris Murphy’s latest release, The Tinker’s Dream. However, that phrase may not aptly describe what awaits the listener who dares open the package to hear what it actually contains. The sounds are definitely steeped in traditional Irish sounds and instrumentation featuring fiddle, pennywhistle, mandolin, bodhran and bouzouki along with acoustic guitar, bass, piano and drums. However, the result is something more worldly. The songs leap and bound along painting lush landscapes with bright waves of sound, the sequencing is masterful as the journey is mapped through the sounds and feelings conveyed through the music.

Released on January 27, 2017, this is the third album in less than a calendar year by the Los Angeles based performer, recording artist and musical instructor, following the 2016 releases Surface to Air and Red Mountain Blues.

Roots Rock Review logoThe Tinker’s Dream by Chris Murphy
Released: January 27, 2017
Produced by: Chris Murphy
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Connemara Ponies
Union of the Seven Brothers
The Tinker’s Dream
Wicklow
Gibraltar 1988
Cape Horn
The Artful Dodger
Small Wonder
The Tower
Maritime Jig
The Thistlewood Bridge
The Hayloft Waltz
Chris Murphy
Lead Vocals, Violin, Mandolin, Guitar
Nate Laponte
Guitar, Vocals
Tom Moose
Mandolin, Guitar
Zac Leger
Bouzouki, Guitar, Flute, Penny Whistle
Trevor Hutchinson
Bass
Andy Reilly
Drums, Percussion, Bodhran

 

The album opens with three instrumentals, “Connemara Ponies”, “Union of the Seven Brothers” and the tile track, “The Tinker’s Dream”.
In “Connemara Ponies”, one can imagine the traditional horses of Ireland galloping through emerald green meadows as the fiddle and mandolin dance along. “Union of the Seven Brothers” has a bit of a darker tone though it still feels as though there is hope and sunshine peering through a misty horizon, while “The Tinker’s Dream” is a joyful dance of sunshine and happy thoughts with the fiddle dancing over the
steady percussion and accented flute.

The remaining highlights of the album include one of three songs with lyrics, “Small Wonder” which showcases Murphy’s soothing vocal style, “The Tower” which is a simple jig featuring fiddle and acoustic guitar and a simple percussive beat which create a stunningly dramatic portrait, and “Cape Horn”, one of several songs about travel and adventure at sea.

Cape Horn from The Teahouse Company on Vimeo.

Overall, The Tinker’s Dream only contains three songs with words, but that does not keep it from speaking volumes. The instrumentation, arrangements and songwriting capture and convey moments exquisitely. This album also marks the midway point of Murphy’s planned six releases over a short time span and so far his three albums have been diverse and entertaining.

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Elvis’ Christmas Album

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Elvis Christmas Album by Elvis PresleyReleased during the height of Elvis Presley‘s initial popularity, the original 1957 release Elvis’ Christmas Album found popularity both initially and through the subsequent decades. This fourth studio album by the eventual “king of rock and roll” consists of a mix of traditional Christmas and contemporary Gospel songs and spent four weeks at the top of the American Pop Albums chart and found repeated success in several subsequent reissues and formats.

Following his initial recordings with Sam Phillips at Sun Records, Presley signed with RCA at the beginning of 1956 and released his self-titled debut in march of that year. Here, along with his Presley’s initial appearance on national television shows, sparked a meteoric rise in popularity throughout 1956 and into 1957. Over this period, Presley released two more LPs, Elvis and Loving You, both of which reached number one on the album charts.

Through this period, Elvis had a strong backing band consisting of guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black and drummer DJ Fontana, who joined him on live occasions as well as in the studio. Elvis’ Christmas Album consisted of eight Christmas-themed songs recorded over three days in September 1957 along with four Gospel songs recorded earlier in year for an EP entitled Peace in the Valley. Along with the core rhythms section and several keyboardists, Presley is backed on most tracks by a vocal ensemble known as “The Jordanaires”.

Roots Rock Review logoElvis’ Christmas Album by Elvis Presley
Released: October 15, 1957
Produced by: Steve Sholes
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Santa Claus Is Back In Town
White Christmas
Here Comes Santa Claus
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Blue Christmas
Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Silent Night
(There’ll Be) Peace In the Valley (For Me)
I Believe
Take My Hand, Precious Lord
It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)
Elvis Presley
Lead Vocals, Guitars
Scotty Moore
Guitars
Dudley Brooks
Piano
Gordon Stoker
Piano
Hoyt Hawkins
Organ
Bill Black
Bass
DJ Fontana
Drums

 

The album’s upbeat first side begins with one of two songs commissioned for this album. Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” is an excellent blues rock tune which was composed on the spot in the studio and gets the album off to a rollicking start. “White Christmas” follows as a slow and jazzy rock version, built on low piano notes to offer a canvas for Elvis’s unique vocal interpretation. The song was composed by Irving Berlin in 1942 for Bing Crosby and had charted during every Christmas season in the 15 years since its composition. Berlin was not happy with Presley’s version of the song, calling it a “profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard”.

The most iconic and longstanding classic from this album is Presley’s interpretation of “Blue Christmas”. Originally composed in 1948, Presley solidified this song as a rock-and-roll holiday classic with his dramatic vocals. Rounding out the first side are covers of Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus”, a crooning ballad version of the World War II era classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the second new song written for this album, “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)”, another pure Christmas rocker.

Elvis Presley and band

The album’s second side features much more somber and religious-oriented music. In fact, it opens with two 19th century church hymns,
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”, which are delivered in their traditional, choir-like arrangements. The four Gospel songs which finish off the album are each done with a soulful vocal style by Presley. Two of these, “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” were composed by the Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey, with the latter of these reportedly being Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite song (in its original form by Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson). “I Believe” originated as a television show theme by Jane Froman, while the closing “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)” may be the best of the lot of Gospel songs, delivered as a soft but rich fifties classic and becoming a major influence on Paul McCartney when he began recording with The Quarrymen the following year.

Through its many different versions, Elvis’ Christmas Album has sold over 13 million copies in the United States alone. A few months after its release, Presley was conscripted into the U.S. Army which temporarily disrupted his incredible commercial momentum. Seven years after its original release, “Blue Christmas” was released as a single in 1964 and became a Top 20 hit worldwide.

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Elvis Presley online

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