Album & Artist Reviews

Dolly Parton "Blue Smoke" - Music Charts Magazine Country Music CD Review by Donna ReaDolly Parton has done just about everything a person can do in one lifetime, and it doesn’t appear that she’s about to slow down. She still tours, the U.S. and the world. She’s still working behind the scenes at her theme parks, and she is very involved in the Imagination Library, where children are provided a free book every month through the age of five. She has an honorary doctorate, she’s worked with Girl Scouts, she has been in movies, written songs, and been nominated for at least one Tony Award, Emmy Award, Grammy Award…the list goes on Dolly recently released her 42nd studio album. I listened to the review copy for several weeks before it was officially released on May 13. She always has something different to offer her fans. We’re talking about Dolly Parton here. A unique, recognizable voice that can sing any kind of song out there. And, the new album definitely shows us that. The album includes the song “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” which features Kenny Rogers, and “From Here to the Moon and Back,” with Willie Nelson. The album has an old Bob Dylan song, “Don’t Think Twice”. And, the album has nine songs that Dolly wrote. Dolly actually started recording in 1959. She became a huge success in the mid 1960s, putting out hit after hit. When the sound of country music changed, Dolly changed with it. But somehow, she never left the sound of real country music behind. She has the ability to let us hear her gospel sound, her folksy sound, her country sound, and for certain a little of that bluegrass side. You can dance to Dolly’s music, you can sing along with it, you can cry with it. But, whatever reaction each song generates, you are for sure going to enjoy it. Here are the songs you are going to get on this new album:  Blue Smoke, Unlikely Angel, Don’t Think Twice, You Can’t Make Old Friends, Home, Banks of the Ohio, Lay Your Hands on Me, Miss You-Miss Me, If I Had Wings, Lover Du Jour, From Here to the Moon and Back and Try. First time through the album, I had a few favorites. Second time through, I changed my mind, and picked different favorites. But by the third time I listened, I realized there is something to like about each and every one of the songs on the CD. This is one of those albums that will find you are really listening to the lyrics. “Try” and “Unlikely Angel” remained two of my favorites, no matter how many times I listened. Dolly is very convincing when she tells the listener, “And if you fail at first just keep on trying, ‘Cause you are not a failure in God’s eyes, So spread your wings and let the magic happen, ‘Cause you’ll never really know if you don’t try”.

For everything you want to know about Dolly, visit her web site at dollyparton.com. You can follow her on Twitter, too, @DollyParton. Country music news and reviews are always available at www.countryschatter.com, and you will find us on Twitter @countryschatter.


Music Charts Magazine Country music CD Review of Dolly Parton - Blue Smoke - by Donna Rea /of the website we all know and love: www.CountrysChatter.com

Sonny Rollins - Road Shows - Volume 3 - A Music Charts Magazine Jazz CD Music ReviewDate = 21 June 2014    

Artist Name = Sonny Rollins   

Genre = Jazz

Title = Road Shows, Volume 3

Record Company = OKeh

Review =

            Some superior Sonny Rollins performances have been made available in recent years as a result of his decision to release selections from concerts on his own label, Doxy. The first CD appeared in 2008, and the second three years later; the third has just been issued on OKeh, sixty-five years after his initial recording (with Babs Gonzales) in 1949. His desire to circulate this worthwhile music as he ages (he was born in 1930) is understandable; it is also cause for celebration.

            Recorded in France, Japan, and St. Louis, the six selections come from 2001, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2012 (two). At over fifteen and twenty-three minutes, respectively, the standards “Someday I’ll Find You” and “Why Was I Born?” are the longest ones. (Could some of the former, a Noel Coward composition, have influenced Thelonious Monk when he was writing “Ask Me Now”?) Two Rollins originals are familiar (“Biji” and “Don’t Stop the Carnival”), while he wrote “Pantanjali” only recently. A curiosity, “Solo Sonny” is more a melange than a unified whole.

            Though all of Rollins’s recordings are worth hearing, even the least inspired ones, the music on Road Shows, Volume 3, which is of almost uniformly high quality, supports the view that Rollins usually plays better in live performances than on studio recordings. Aided by effective rhythm sections, his rhythmic drive is impressive on “Biji,” “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” “Pantanjali,” and “Why Was I Born?” He plays only “Someday I’ll Find You” relatively slowly. His tone is as full bodied and attractive as ever. His inventiveness never flags. Though the other soloists (trombonist Clifford Anderson, pianist Stephen Scott, and guitarists Bobby Broom and Peter Bernstein) are adequate, they are largely of incidental interest; they mostly fill time as the high-energy leader rests and recharges. He is the main attraction.

            I find two aspects of this release irritating. One is “Solo Sonny.” Played without accompaniment, it consists entirely of quotations from familiar tunes that lack any obvious connection. Its presence on this CD indicates Rollins’s approval of it, and many listeners will probably consider it a highlight, going so far as to attempt to identify all the compositions from which Rollins quotes. Yet it strikes me as a stunt, an exercise appropriate for a practice session, not a concert. I wonder why Rollins values “Solo Sonny” and decided to release it instead of something else from among the hours of unissued concert performances to which he doubtless has access.

            That these performances deserved enthusiastic audience response is obvious, but too much of it is retained on this CD. The applause totals five minutes, time that could have been given to the inclusion of another musical selection. People listening to this release more than once at a single sitting will have to endure two full minutes of applause between the end of the final selection and the beginning of the music on the first one. Around forty seconds of clapping typically separate tunes, applause that, in linking one piece to another, creates the impression that the selections were played in sequence at the same concert. Nothing would have been lost, and something would have been gained, from significantly reducing the amount of audience response to Rollins’s playing. This sublime music does not need the validation implied by excessive applause.

            These reservations aside, the third volume of Road Shows is a major addition to the rich recorded legacy of Sonny Rollins. I hope he will release, or permit others to release, additional concert material of similar quality.        


Author = Benjamin Franklin V

Matt Stillwell - Right On Time - A Music Charts Magazine Country Music CD Review by Donna ReaJust about every country music fan remembers Matt Stillwell for his hit single, “Shine”. But there is a lot more to this artist than one hit song. If you are one of the many fans who have lost touch with him over the past few years, it is definitely time to reconnect with this very talented vocalist and musician.
On March 11, he released his sophomore album, “Right On Time”. The album has 12 songs, five of which Matt co-wrote. Each song on the album is better than good, and several of them had me asking myself, ‘why haven’t I heard this on the radio?’

The title track, written by Matt Stillwell, Sherrie Austin and Will Rambeaux, is my favorite. “Right On Time” is a slow song, great melody, great lyrics, and basically great country music. Not the country/rock, country/pop or country/rap we’ve been hearing on the radio lately. This song will remind every country music fan why it is they fell in love with country music.

Matt’s new CD is definitely worthy of a raving review. I hope all of his fans who don’t have a copy yet will get over to iTunes and pick one up. When I first got this album, I found myself listening to “Right On Time” over and over. It wasn’t too long before I knew every word, and could sing with it from the first word to the last. 

While that title track will probably remain my favorite, there are 11 more on this CD that are every bit as good.  I think “Enough” is another great song. And, I’m really sure most of our country music listeners will agree with me on this one. There is not one song on the CD that you will want to skip over when you see it coming up next on the play list. Here is what you are going to get on this awesome album: “Cold Beer” (Dean Dillon, Phil O’Donnell, Matt Stillwell), “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” (Mickey Jack Cones, Matt Stillwell, Lynn Hutton), “Ignition” (Sherrie Austin, William Rambeaux, Paul Duncan), “I Do What I Do” (Wil Nance, Jim “Moose” Brown ), “Enough” (Justin Moore, Ashe Underwood, Jamie Paulin), “I’m A Sinner” (Lynn Hutton, Matt Stillwell), “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Michael Jackson), “Make Love For A Livin’” (Brad Crisler, Craig Wiseman, Gary Nichols), “Rough Draft” (Johnny Bulford, Phil Barton), “Sunshine” (Lynn Hutton, Rodney Clawson), “Remember Where You Come From” (Lynn Hutton, Matt Stillwell, Jon Henderson), and “Right On Time” (Matt Stillwell, Sherrie Austin, Will Rambeaux).

Matt is a great entertainer. I have seen him work with a full band, and also at several acoustic shows. His performances usually include his songs, as well as songs made famous by George Jones, Keith Whitley, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and many others. He is putting the country back in country music, and I am sure I’m not the only one ready for that.

You can keep up with new about Matt, as well as his show schedule, at 
mattstillwell.com, and follow him on Twitter @mattstillwell. For all the latest country music news and reviews, visit countryschatter.com, and follow us on Twitter @countryschatter.


Music Charts Magazine® Country music CD Review of Matt Stillwell - Right On Time - by Donna Rea /of the website we all know and love:  www.CountrysChatter.com

Music Charts Magazine® Country music CD Review of Marcus Boyd - The Bird - by Donna Rea of website CountrysChatter.comIt is always exciting find local talent with a national future. I found that in Marcus Boyd. The Richlands, Va., resident recently released his debut CD, titled The Bird. In addition to singing all of the songs on this CD, Marcus also wrote all 11 songs, and produced the album.

Marcus started playing guitar when he was 8 years old. While growing up in Virginia, he played and sang at church. In addition to guitar, he plays banjo, piano, mandolin and bass. Over the years, he found himself playing just about every kind of music. While  his favorite has remained country, he also plays bluegrass, gospel, and even a little rock and classical. The songs on his album prove that country is the right genre for him.

The CD cover shows us that Marcus has a great sense of humor. The cover art says "The Bird...music from the warped mind of Marcus Boyd". I'm not sure where that came from, since the music doesn't really reflect that. I asked him why he chose The Bird for the album title, and he said, "I named this CD after the song on track six. Really, I could have named it after a number of songs on the CD, but I chose The Bird because it’s a fun song. I write mostly serious songs about all facets of life, and there’s nothing really that I wouldn’t touch. I wanted to keep some “fun” in the album, though. I am not one to take myself too seriously, and I get requests to play this song when I play live. So, I went with it when naming the album”.

The 11 songs you are going to hear are, Gonna Love You, I Gotta Go, Real Man, Leavin’ Virginia, Ain’t Met Her Yet, The Bird, Tuesday Sunset, Pucker  UP, Girlfriends and Ex Wives, Little Church Girl and End of Our Song. Every song is country. Every song is well-written, and it goes without saying that Marcus did a great job singing every song, too. He has the kind of voice that you could fall asleep to, but at the same time, he is such a good entertainer, that you wouldn’t want to sleep through one of his performances.

Somehow, Marcus Boyd manages to make country music sound the way it did 50 years ago, and still makes it sound like we should be hearing it on country radio today. He lists his influences as Gary Allan, Tom Petty, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Leo Kottke, Counting Crows – I hear those influences in his music, but I hear some that go back a lot farther, too.

I never review a CD without picking a favorite song – this time, I can’t pick just one. My absolute favorite is “I Gotta Go”. ‘….It’s never quite what it seems, you spend your life chasing dreams, but I gotta go; I can’t let my life pass me by, you gotta know, I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve tried; I’m not one to say I told you so, but I gotta go….’  Those are a few of the lyrics, now wait until you hear this melody. If you like a ballad, sung from the heart – this is your ballad.

“Gonna Love You” is another one of my favorites. It’s a a mid-tempo song, with great lyrics. If Marcus wasn’t a singer/songwriter, I think he would have made a great storyteller. But, I suppose that’s what he is doing through his music. And, he does it well. I am sure that if I were in position to select tunes ready for the radio, “Tuesday Sunset” and “Pucker Up” would be on my playlist.

While they can’t all be favorites, I will say there is not one song on this entire album that isn’t good. “Girlfriends and Ex Wives” should be getting played in every honky tonk in the country. I can just hear the entire bar singing along to that one. Then again, I think a lot of the songs Marcus sings would have that same affect on the people listening. They would want to sing along.  Marcus produced this album, and he did a great job with it. It is an album I will play a lot, and I think everyone who buys a copy will be playing it a lot, too. The album is available on iTunes.

Marcus plays a lot of shows in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. To keep up with his show schedule, please visit marcusboydmusic.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @MarcusBoydMusic. Remember, for all the latest country music news and reviews head over to countryschatter.com, and follow us on Twitter @countryschatter.


Music Charts Magazine® Country music CD Review of Marcus Boyd - The Bird - by Donna Rea /of the website we all know and love:  www.CountrysChatter.com

Working Man's Poet - A Tribute To Merle Haggard - Music Charts Magazine® CD ReviewBroken Bow Records has got something special for all the Merle Haggard fans. Actually, what they have is something special for all country music fans. On April 1, Working Man's Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard will be available in stores, and through digital outlets. The album has 20 of Merle's songs, performed by some of the biggest names in country music today.

This is a great way to pay tribute to Merle, and at the same time, introduce his music to today's listeners. The songs are being sung by artists that new country music fans hear on the radio every day. Fans of Luke Bryan, Randy Houser, Joe Nichols and others will enjoy this album. While they are listening to some of their favorite artists, they will also have what might be their first opportunity to hear the great country music of Merle Haggard.

Merle Haggard was the first ACM Entertainer of the year back in 1970. In 1965 he won Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year, and won his first of six Male Vocalist of the Year awards in 1966. He joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.

On April 6, the 49th annual Academy of Country Music awards will be broadcast live on ABC (8-11 p.m.). This year, Merle will be receiving the Crystal Milestone Award. Past recipients of this award include Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Jennifer Nettles and Taylor Swift.

The songs you will hear on the new album include Misery and Gin, performed by Randy Houser; Footlights, performed by Joe Nichols; Going Where the Lonely Go; performed by Jason Aldean; Today I started Loving You Again, performed by Kristy Lee Cook; Carolyn, performed by Toby Keith; Pancho and Lefty, performed by Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley; Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, performed by Garth Brooks, You Take Me For Granted, performed by Thompson Square, Mama Tried, performed by Ben Haggard; That's the Way Love Goes, performed by Dustin Lynch; Make Up Faded Blue Jeans, performed by Jake Owen; I'm a Lonesome Fugitive, performed by James Wesley; Workin' Man Blues, performed by Parmalee; Are The Good Times Really Over, performed by Jason Aldean; Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room, performed by Thompson Square; I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink, performed by Dustin Lynch; The Fightin' Side of Me, performed by James Wesley; My Favorite Memory, performed by Joe Nichols; Ramblin' Fever, performed by Randy Houser; and Sing Me Back Home, performed by Ben Haggard.

Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley team up for Pancho and Lefty, the Townes Van Zandt song that Merle and Willie Nelson took to the top of the charts back in 1983. Jason Aldean took on two of Merle's hits from the early 80s, Going Where the Lonely Go and Are the Good Times Really Over. Randy Houser lends his powerful vocals to Ramblin' Fever and Misery and Gin. From the first song to the last, this album is everything you would expect it to be.

I can't imagine having a country music album collection without this Tribute to Merle Haggard being part of it. You get the best of both worlds with one. Today's artists delivering yesterday's hits. It's a good album, and it is going to spend a lot of time in my CD player. I think it will in the player of every country music fan as well.

Keep up with the latest country music news and reviews at www.countryschatter.com. And be sure to follow us on Twitter, too, @countryschatter.

Music Charts Magazine® Bluegrass Review - "Head For The Hills" Blue Ruin - in cooperation with Prescription BluegrassBlue Ruin consists of 12 selections composed and performed by the Colorado based group, Head for the Hills, including 10 vocal cuts and 2 instrumentals.

The opening cut, Take Me Back, is reminiscent of an early Country Gazette-style offering, particularly with respect to the rhythm style and vocal arrangement.

Though there’s no banjo on this cut, it would otherwise suggest that a regimen of modern Bluegrass fare might be forthcoming. However, with the opening of the next cut, Never Does, you know you’ve stumbled onto something exotic indeed.

Never Does’ feel is more like modern Indie/Grunge merged with Bohemian Gypsy music, complete with train-whistle style background harmonies.

That said, Never Does is brilliantly seductive, as is the title cut, Blue Ruin, which starts out harmless enough, with guitar rhythm and solo vocals, followed by nice violin and guitar fills. But, just when you thought you were safe, the delicate tintinnabulations of electric piano start sneaking out from your speakers to remind you (in case you momentarily lapsed into a coma) this is not your grandpa’s string music.

Priscilla the Chinchilla is one of two instrumentals that serve to establish to the listener that these guys are serious musicians. Michael Chappell’s mandolin chops are especially strong, and obvious, on this cut, as is his taste in note choices and rhythms.

One of my favorite cuts is Wish You Well, with its persistent undercurrent of swelling jazz lines and chopped rhythms complimenting the vocals. It also has a few of those magical moments when you’re sure you’re hearing something both unique and cool.

If Dependency Co.’s clever lyrics aren’t enough to reassure you that you’re in uncharted string-music waters, the trumpet solo should do it. That effort, for the record, comes off really well. Overall, Head for the Hill’s ability to tastefully integrate horns into their recordings is a testament to their very capable production skills.

Another of my favorites from this project is Bosun Ridley, a dark tale of maritime tragedies. Joe Lessard’s violin layered with Matt Loewen’s bass is a particularly effective haunting touch, as are some of the special effects, all tastefully rendered. 

Read the rest of this interview at Prescription Bluegrass's website:  http://prescriptionbluegrassreviews.blogspot.com/2013/06/prescription-bluegrass-reviews-head-for.html

Cole Swindell - A Music Charts Magazine® Country Music Album ReviewCole Swindell recently released his self-titled, debut album. This is a CD fans have been waiting for since Cole's first single, "Chillin' It", started climbing to the top of country music charts. That single has been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and Music Canada.

Northeast Tennessee fans had an opportunity to see Cole in concert, when he opened for his Georgia Southern University fraternity brother, Luke Bryan, at Thompson-Bolling Arena in Knoxville. Luke had something to do with Cole's start in country music. For three years, Cole Swindell was Luke's merchandise guy, selling Luke Bryan CDs and tee-shirts at all of his shows. 

Cole is about as normal, and down-to-earth as any neighborhood kid in a ball cap. He said that he didn't think he was cut out to be an artist. "I was worried I didn't have a cool story, cause I didn't start off singing when I was a kid," Cole said. But for Cole, the story of his college years and not being a superstar as a child isn't nearly as important as the story he tells with his music.

Like most of today's country artists, Cole didn't just wake up one morning and find himself a success. He has been working at this for more than six years, and has spent a lot of time writing. One of the hits he co-wrote was "This is How I Roll", with Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley.

He tells us that "Hey Y'all is a song he has been opening his live shows with. It's a fun song, and one he said came from an idea he had watching concerts. "I can imagine being in an arena and singing a song and making everyone wave, and thought this was just a cool, party song. It has good lines that I think people will remember," Cole said.

"I Just Want You" is the one Cole describes as the love song on this album. He co-wrote this one with Luke Bryan and Michael Carter. Cole said it's a special song to him, it is just 'straight-up feelings, nothing about back roads or moonlight. The song is from an artist’s point of view, but Cole believes it could really be sung by any guy to his girl. It's about love, and trust.

About his current hit, “Chillin’ It”, Cole said there wasn't really much of a story behind that one. He came up with a title, took it to his co-writer. They got the melody and one line, and just went from there.

The 12 songs on Cole's new album are Hey Y'all, Chillin' It, Swayin', Hope You Get Lonely Tonight, Let Me See Ya Girl, Ain't Worth the Whiskey, Brought To You By Beer, I Just Want You, Get Up, A Dozen Roses and a Six Pack, Down Home Boys and The Back Roads and the Back Row.

All of the music on this CD is good. The music is modern enough that radio stations playing country music’s Top 40 will air it, but it is still close enough to real country that traditional country music fans will enjoy it.

You can keep up with all the news about Cole at www.coleswindell.com, and follow him on Twitter @coleswindell.  Find out what all your favorite country artists are doing with the music news and reviews at www.countryschatter.com, and follow us on twitter @countryschatter.

Duocracy - Ben Stolorow and Ian Carey - A Music Charts Magazine® Jazz Review by Benjamin Franklin V


Date = 4 March 2014   

Artist Name = Ben Stolorow and Ian Carey

Genre = Jazz

Title = Duocracy

Record Company = Kabocha

Review =

            Inventive and pretty, the music on Duocracy (recorded in 2013) is reminiscent of that created by Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman on several albums, including Play Nice Tunes (1994), though Braff usually performed on cornet while Ian Carey plays trumpet.  Pianist Ben Stolorow and Carey mostly favor tunes from what is often called the Great American Songbook, ones similar to those Braff and Hyman played occasionally.  Jazz writers who decry musicians’ continued interest in such music should listen to Stolorow and Carey’s fresh treatment of standards.

            Ranging chronologically from the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On” and Rodgers and Hart’s “You Took Advantage of Me” (both 1928) to Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” (1967), seven of the ten selections are well known.  The tempos range from sprightly to deliberate.  The briskest selection, “Cherokee” begins with a brief fanfare, as if to announce that something special is coming. Indeed, the trumpet-piano interplay is impressive, as it is throughout this CD.  The contrast between “Cherokee” and the next tune, Gordon Jenkins’s “Goodbye,” the longest and least hurried piece, is extreme; pairing these pieces reveals the musicians’ emotional range, from playfulness to introspection.  In tempo and sensitivity, the remaining selections lie between these two performances. 

            The interpretation of one standard tune is particularly noteworthy.  Stolorow and Carey capture the beauty of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” while approaching it obliquely.  Instead of stating the melody, improvising, and restating the theme, they improvise until introducing the melody in the last few bars.  As Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond engage in polyphony on their 1953 recording of Kern’s composition, so do Stolorow and Carey briefly on theirs sixty years later. 

            In addition to standards, the duo performs tunes by two jazz composers and one original piece.  Thelonious Monk’s jaunty, idiosyncratic “Four in One” is less well known than such Monk compositions as “Blue Monk,” “Rhythm-a-ning,” “Round Midnight,” “Straight, No Chaser,” and “Well You Needn’t,” which have been recorded numerous times.  To their credit, the musicians retain the tune’s quirkiness and do not smooth its angularity in order possibly to make it more palatable to the general listener. The presence on this CD of “Social Call,” played lyrically, serves as a reminder that the sadly neglected Gigi Gryce wrote some first-rate tunes, including “Blue Lights,” “Hymn to the Orient,” “Minority,” “Nica’s Tempo,” “Reminiscing,” and “Wildwood.”  To me, Stolorow and Carey’s “Comin’ Along” is the least satisfactory selection, not because the musicians don’t play well, but rather because the composition is not particularly tuneful.  The performance of this piece based on the chords of Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” alludes to both “All the Things You Are” and “Four in One.”

            Hardly radical, the trumpeter and pianist are content to investigate the nuances of, mostly, established compositions, ones that some commentators consider effete.  These tunes have endured because of their attractiveness and richness, qualities that appeal to instrumentalists and singers. Stolorow and Carey’s treatment of them is uniquely theirs. They play nice tunes nicely. 

Author = Benjamin Franklin V

Art Pepper - Unreleased Art Vol VIII - Live At The Winery - September 6, 1976Date = 21 February 2014

Artist Name = Art Pepper

Genre = Jazz

Title = Unreleased Art, Vol. VIII: Live at the Winery, September 6, 1976

Record Company = Widow’s Taste

Review =

Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman—these and perhaps one or two others rank as the major jazz alto saxophonists. If they receive the grade of A, Art Pepper probably deserves A-.  Inventive, impassioned, and technically adroit, he played in an appealing individual style. Over almost four decades (from 1943 until 1982, the year he died), he recorded mostly at a high level, though he was off the scene in the mid 1950s and for most of the first half of the 1960s while incarcerated for heroin addiction, twice in San Quentin.  He rehabbed at Synanon.

Though Pepper was not underrecorded, his widow, Laurie Pepper, has issued a series of his previously unreleased performances on Widow’s Taste, most recently Live at the Winery.  I cannot think of a Pepper album that better demonstrates his skills.  It has flagwavers and sensitive ballads, as well as a blues, all performed by a musician playing at his best, which is something of a miracle, given his troubles along the way. Recorded in 1976 in Saratoga, CA, these performances are emotional, even highly so on one selection.

On the middle-groove, gritty “Saratoga Blues,” Pepper demonstrates his facility with the twelve-bar format.  At the end, he is especially effective when hinting at Charlie Parker’s “Parker’s Mood” but not actually quoting from it.  Some people applaud the tendency of soloists (Dexter Gordon, for example, and Parker himself) to quote from other tunes; I find it lazy, an unsatisfactory substitute for invention: Can’t think of anything original?  Then quote from another tune.

There are three swingers.  “Caravan” and “What Laurie Likes” are intense.  Evidencing the influence of John Coltrane, Pepper plays a long introduction before getting to the melody of the former.  The group plays the latter, melodically similar to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” in a funk groove, with a bow to Roland Kirk toward the conclusion. Yet “Straight Life,” one of Pepper’s signature tunes and the title of his autobiography (written with Laurie Pepper), is the performance that will most attract listeners who like music performed way up-tempo.  This reworking of “After You’ve Gone” is played so fast that one marvels at bassist Jim Nichols’s ability to keep the beat and at Pepper’s to create.

Though not precisely a ballad, “Ophelia” is far more subdued than the swingers.  Pepper states that he wrote it in order to capture various aspects of women, including their madness and beauty (an obvious reference to Ophelia in Hamlet). I cannot determine the degree to which he succeeds.  It is, in any event, an attractive composition and performance.  “Here’s That Rainy Day” is not only a ballad, but it approaches Frank Sinatra’s 1959 version as the most poignant recording of this song. Pepper’s interpretation ranks, in my judgment, with Miles Davis’s “It Never Entered My Mind” (1956) as among most supernal modern jazz ballad performances.  Pepper was so moved by pianist Smith Dobson’s solo that he almost chokes up when talking about it after the music stops.  He goes so far as to say that Dobson’s solo could serve as a definition of jazz: “That’s what they’re talking about when they say ‘jazz.’”  While Dobson’s solo is beautiful, Pepper’s impassioned playing is even more impressive.  Some soloists, such as Lester Young, insist on knowing the lyrics to tunes they play so they can faithfully render the emotions the words express.  On “Here’s That Rainy Day,” Pepper conveys the sadness and introspection—even the agony--of someone suffering from lost love.  

Live at the Winery is spectacular in every way, so much so that it might be Pepper’s most rewarding album.

Author = Benjamin Franklin V


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Levi Lowrey - Music Charts Magazine® - Country Music Album ReviewAnyone who is a fan of the Zac Brown Band might be familiar with the name Levi Lowrey. Levi co-wrote the Zac Brown hit, “Colder Weather”. On Feb. 25, 2014, Levi will release his self-titled, sophomore album through Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Artists.

I first heard Levi when he opened for Zac Brown Band in Kingsport a few years ago. I enjoyed his performance. But somehow, he then fell off my radar, and I lost contact with this great artist. I am glad he is back on my playlist. While Levi may not be your typical country artist, he definitely gives us some of the best country music you will ever hear. His sound and writing have been described as ‘one of a kind,’ and you don’t have to listen long to know that is true.

As I listened to the new album, I found myself getting into the lyrics more than I usually do. The songs make you think, and you just know how much the words mean to the writer. When you get to the end of a song, you are probably going to want to start that same song again, to study it, and learn it, and really listen to it before moving on to the next one.

“December Thirty-One” is one of my favorite songs on this album. This song isn’t just about Dec. 31. It’s about Dec. 31, at 11:59 p.m. We’ve all been there. One year is ending, a new year is about to begin. There’s a lot to look forward to, and there’s a lot to remember. When you couple memorable lyrics with a great melody, you have a hit record. I would love to hear this one on country radio. I have no idea what Levi’s plans are for putting a single out on country radio, but this is the one I would like him to consider.

There are 15 tracks on this album, with a total time of a little more than an hour. When you think you’ve heard the best one, you probably haven’t. Because when the next song begins, you will find out it is just as good as the one you just heard - and is some cases, even better.  Out of all the songs, the last one, “War Pigs,” is the only one I didn’t think fit with the rest of what Levi had to offer. It’s fast, it’s loud, it is a little weird. “War Pigs” is the only song I will probably not listen to over and over again. I know there are people who are going to love that song. But I believe, to thoroughly enjoy 14 out of 15 songs on a CD is quite an accomplishment for the artist.

 “When it comes down to the end, are you living, my friend – of just trying your best not to die?”. That is a question Levi asks in the third track, “Trying Not To Die”. Every song on this album gives you something to think about. And you are going to relate something you hear, to something you’ve done, or something that has happened sometime during your life.
The 15 songs you will get on Levi’s album are Picket Fences, December thirty-One, Trying Not to Die, High and Lonesome, That is All, Before the Hymnal Died, I’ve Held the Devil’s Hand, Urge For Leaving, Window Pane Soul, What She Don’t Know, Barely Getting By, Don’t Blame Me, Long Way Home, Flywheel and War Pigs.

All of the songs, except one, are original, and the CD features Levi working with a lot of guest musicians. Clay Cook, from Zac Brown Band; Ross Holmes, fiddler for Mumford and Sons/Cadillac Sky); and Oliver Wood from The Wood Brothers all help to make this album what it is. Ad Mac McAnally, performer, producer and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee to that list, and of course the fact that the album was produced by Zac Brown, and co-produced by Matt Mangano and Clay Cook, and there is no way this new project is going to be anything but great listening.

This is an album that belongs in the collection of every country music fan. It is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. We’ve got an artist here who has produced 15 songs, and not one of them sounds like rock, pop or rap. 
You can keep up with all the news about Levi on his web site, www.levilowery.com, and follow him on Twitter @levilowrey. And remember, for all of your country music news and reviews, visit our site, www.countryschatter.com, and follow us on Twitter @countryschatter.

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