Bentley's Bandstand: November 2015

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Peter Case, HWY 62. There aren't many working musicians today who wailed in new wave, flourished in power pop, and then helped start the whole folk/Americana music push of the mid-‘80s. In fact, there are only a handful who continued to grow into doing their very best work in the present moment. Put Peter Case at the head of that class, because as he shows on HWY 62, there really isn't anyone in his league right now. His new songs take off on a journey down a road that Case first explored as a young man. Highway 62 snakes from Juarez, Mexico all the way to Niagra Falls on the Canadian side, and along the way passed the singer's home in Buffalo. Once the young man took off to discover himself and the country, there could be no turning back. To show how it all affected his life, Case enlisted a wide range of players including Ben Harper and X drummer D.J. Bonebrake, with Grammy Award-winning producer Sheldon Gomberg to make sure he gets it right. No problem there, because these are songs that will not leave the listener alone. They get inside the mind and start pulling the molecules together in a way that does not end. "Waiting on a Plane," "New Mexico," and "Long Time Gone" are among some of the very best work of Peter Case's perpetual career, and it's apparent he takes songwriting as seriously as his many, many fans do. On his first album of songs in five years, there are some happy faces among those who have followed him from the start, and just as good is that for anyone who hasn't been onboard before, HWY 62 is the perfect place to start and move in a while. Case closed. 

bentley chapin sisters (380x380).jpgThe Chapin Sisters, Today's Not Yesterday. Echo Park, not that far from downtown Los Angeles, has its own aesthetic. It's dreamy but also down home, and lets Abigail and Lily Chapin gather the influences of everything from their beloved Everly Brothers right on up to Fleetwood Mac, and then spin that brew into their own sound. Both are singers who could easily lead their own groups, but fortunately know that sometimes two is better than one and have stuck together. They've also kept their iconic individualism, one that has carried them through a variety of scenes unscathed. Continuing on that trip, when the sisters moved to New York a few years ago, they immediately found a new tribe to join. The Chapins’ harmonies can only be done with blood relatives it's been proven, and while their Everlys tribute in 2013 made them a force to reckon with, these original songs show they will always be their own people. When everything's soaring and there appears to be no limit where the music can all end, another power appears and things quickly get even more thrilling. New lives are starting and old ones are being shed, but through it all is a timeline of musical invention. Something says it will not stop, and the Chapin Sisters are tuning into a whole new landscape. Follow them anywhere.   

Jon Foose, Points South. Throughout American soil, singer-songwriters are lurking. They're crunching onto bandstands now and then, just to share what's boiling inside them. Or they rent tiny studios and pull friends and fans into the recording room to take a run at eternity. Sometimes these off-road excursions can take decades, and sometimes they can even be worth the wait. Jon Foose is the living breathing example of that. He started playing around with songs way back in the '60s, when he was growing up on a place called Pluto in the Mississippi Delta. A crazy route to Oxford's Ole Miss, Vietnam in the Navy, then Austin and New Orleans and back to Austin proved plenty of ammo for some outrĂ© originals and even a few new classics. Song titles might explain his attack better: "Patent Leather Pickup," "Crank Up the Honky Tonk," "Gator Get Down," "Drunk Before the Party," and drop-dead stunner "Snowing in Nashville." There's plenty of hippie, country, rhythm & blues, and swamp rock to satisfy anyone with a deep itch for something they haven't heard before. Jon Foose isn't shy about letting it all hang out, and with backing by the youngish Gold Magnolias, there's also fire in the belly to set the songs alit. If it's been long since something came from way beyond left field to hit the monkey nerve just right, start right here. Like Foose suggests, crank it up. 

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Donnie Fritts, Oh My Goodness. Southern soul from the 1960s is really church music, only preached on the street. There is nothing that can beat the sound of those songs, played in a pulsing nightclub full of lit-up patrons ready to groove way past when the train leaves the station. No matter who was singing or what record label they were on, the chances for lift off were a given. Some of the patron saints from that crowd didn't always get headline attention, but provided playing gifts and songwriting skills way beyond the call of duty. Color Donnie Fritts in that crowd, via the mighty Muscle Shoals axis. He was on hundreds of recording sessions and wrote songs that went so deep in the groove that air had to be piped in. Praise the God of song, but somehow Fritts has done it again with this new offering. To say it's a classic is one of the understatements of modern life. Produced with a sparse but utter beauty by John Paul White and Ben Tanner, this is something that stops time. Donnie Fritts has always had the goods, but never captured much beyond an insider's appreciation from the public. These are songs that should change that. To hear something as powerful in 2015 as "The Oldest Baby in the World" or "Temporarily Forever Mine" is like walking into a beautiful dream and having life make total sense again. In many ways, it is a dream that was way past dreaming, but hallelujah here it comes again. Finding gifts like this brings back the joyous freedom of soul music in its prime, and also gives hope there will be such days again. Donnie Fritts is a treasure, and what he is sharing now is proud proof that miracles still happen. 

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Billy Gibbons and the BFGs, Perfectamundo. For 46 years, ZZ Top has burned down the hard road highway. They've done it with pure musical strength and endless soul. And the person leading that particular parade all these years has been Houstonian Billy Gibbons. Now it sounds like is his time to shine out front on his own, and he doesn't waste a trick or a lick. With an album that is full of thrills and chills and even a few circus spills, Gibbons goes nuclear on all kinds of music. From bayou blues (Slim Harpo) to Chicago street (Jimmy Reed), and even a mess of Cubano kicks. Wouldn't you know it all works like a hidden charm, and feels like one big holiday fantastico? Maybe that's because Billy Gibbons has one of the biggest and most playful hearts in rock & roll. He has always taken his music extremely seriously, without putting himself on a pedestal. Rather he gets the job done with Texas class and plenty of sass, never oblivious to what cool visuals can do to up the velocity. Then, just when it seems like nothing else can shoot his rocket any higher, Gibbons turns on the boosters (don't forget he comes from the home of NASA), and all hell breaks loose. One listen to the hip-busting cover of Roy Head's "Treat Her Right" makes that more than abundantly clear. The true beauty of a solo debut this strong, but so long in the making, is that it sounds worth every second. Vamos al git down all over town. 

bentley ironing board sam (380x380).jpgIroning Board Sam, Super Spirit. With the best stage name since Bongo Joe, Ironing Board Sam is the kind of person who paints his own world. A singer of maximum force, he also pulls down interplanetary love to share with his fellow creatures here. The is such an infusion of enlightened feeling in all of the man's songs that it could well be spiritual service of the highest degree. Coupled with a kicking funk base, songs like "Hold On," "Loose Diamonds," and "The Thrill Hunt" could fuel any house party, and then turn around and take everyone to the river. Seriously, there isn't anyone else out there quite in Ironing Board Sam's world, and for that we should be happy. He travels the South and pulls words and chords from the ozone, and is able to put them together in a way that will hit a willing listener right upside the head. Live, if there could be someone who went to school on Dr. John's Night Tripper period, this would be them. Cosmic vibrations float off the stage and swirl around the room, until they land inside of all those present, only to ferment and explode in fragments of beaming lights buried deep within the brain. If that sounds far out, then it should. This is music powered by the super spirit—and then some. Groove now and forever keep your psyche turned on. 

bentley youssou (380x380).jpgYoussou N'Dour et le Super Etoile de Dakar, Fatteliku: Live in Athens 1987. World music didn't really exist in America until the '80s. Maybe with scattered pockets of devoted connoisseurs that congregated around elite stereo shops, but for the most part that crowd was entirely underground. But 35 years ago a new brigade of musicians started populating the American landscape, and then with Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon's attention all hell broke loose. One of the African artists that grabbed the spotlight then was Dakar's Youssou N'Dour, surely one of the great singers of the century. This live 1987 show in Athens opening for Gabriel's So tour lets N'Dour really show his stuff. His didn't hurt that Gabriel gave him a laudatory preshow introduction, not to mention using him on the hit song "In Your Eyes," so it's a no brainer the crowd threw themselves into the night all the way. The West African tradition of songs that flow effortlessly through addicting progressions and rhythms is captivating no matter who does it, but Youssou N'Dour and his nine-piece band make everything fly to the ceiling and stay there. It's one of those albums to play during any and all occasions, and opens the window on a different way of listening. The last song of the night is "In Your Eyes," which N'Dour does with Gabriel's band, and it's a capping moment when cultures and continents merge into one conclusive moment. The world and its music are right where they belong. 

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Clark Paterson, The Final Tradition. Outlaw country was a little bit of a trick. Some of the hardcore hombres tilling that soil were the real deal. Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver got thrown into the crowd, but quickly proved that were too out for the outlaws and found their own horizons to chase. Clark Paterson comes from different—but equally strong—stock. He grew up on his family's farm Sandusky, Michigan and towed the line through high school, going on to college in Chicago. Then he hit the road hard, with a guitar and backpack, no doubt exploring a few Jack Kerouac visions, making it all the way around the world. Then he went into commercial real estate. Really. That couldn't last, and classes at the Windy City's Old Town Folk School sealed the deal. That's when the big muses started to visit Paterson, and this album shows what a welcome home they found inside him. These are real-deal songs, the kind that will pulverize what has come before in the artist's life. Lyrically he's writing short stories based in verse, and sonically he owes as much to Nick Cave as Ferlin Husky. He lives in East Nashville now, and just might be the flag carrier for what can be done there. If it's been too long since soul-scary music has invaded the neighborhood, this is the one to find. Ranging from "Kansas Saturday Night" to "My Hand Knows the Touch," a killer contender has claimed the right to call himself that. Darkness has never spread so much light. 

bentley art pepper (380x355).jpgArt Pepper, Live at Fat Tuesday's. Sometimes the doors just need to be blown down, and at those times the only thing that will get the job done is a full-tilt jazz session where the leader is ready to take off for the moon and take the whole band with him. That's exactly what alto saxophonist supreme Art Pepper does on this incendiary set from a New York jazz room in 1981. Pepper is one of jazz's poster boys on how to almost destroy your life through drugs before pulling up and taking another run at a career. Hell, there are even stores in Studio City that Pepper broke into at night and burglarized. He finally ended up with his own suite at San Quentin before finding sobriety and his artistry again, the living testament of which is featured on this five-song, 70-minute set at Fat Tuesday's on April 15, 1981. Beginning with a ferocious take on Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," which firmly announces Pepper and pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster definitely came to play, will take no prisoners. When jazz is this burning, it's almost like watching a building come down. It just starts and won't stop. Art Pepper obviously lived through fire to get to that place where he could do this again and, with the wonder of locating a collector's tape of this performance, jazz lovers of all persuasion around the world have new cause for celebration. Not only does the music soar, but the booklet notes include intriguing interviews with Pepper, wife Laurie Pepper, and insightful essays by others involved that bring to life what one of modern jazz masters was able to do. As history rolls on and what once was lost is found, these new opportunities to rejoice are to be observed and welcomed. Art Pepper always reached for the stars, one example of which is the recording here of Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye." It throws an everlasting light on the things that make love and loss an endless occurrence. It takes forever to learn how to play like this, and a feeling of forever is exactly what Art Pepper's music gives us today. Long may he play in our hearts. 

bentley cold tears (380x347).jpgVarious Artists, Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins. Tribute albums can be tricky business. If the original songs are too well known, there is usually no way to do them better. But if the artist being tributized is a total unknown, it's tough to get anyone to listen. Luckily with Ted Hawkins, he made a name enough to have opened the door, but never got so famous he's a household name. Hawkins was really a hard-luck street singer in Venice, California during late '70s and '80s, but someone who made a few albums that kicked up plenty of sand. Best of all, he wrote incredible songs that completely captured the emotional depth of existing on the edge of society. These covers of 15 of them are a moving immersion in all that the man accomplished. The way the music swings from country and blues shows just how varied the songwriter was, and from that irresistible inspiration the new recordings rise to that occasion. Co-producers Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell, Jenni Finlay, and Brian T. Atkinson have an unerring eye for who ended up on the collection, and a partial roll call includes James McMurtry, Kasey and Bill Chambers, Mary Gauthier, Jon Dee Graham, Randy Weeks, Gurf Morlix, the Damnations, and yes, Shinyribs' devastating version of "Who Got My Natural Comb," which could almost be the album's theme song. Make sure and stick around after the end, because none other than Ted Hawkins—his own bad self—comes back for the hidden track "Great New Year." King tears guaranteed. 

bentley loaded (380x380).jpgThe Velvet Underground, Loaded/Reloaded: 45th Anniversary Edition. An all-time unbeatable-don't-even-think-of-trying rock & roll album that should have been a mind-blowing hit in 1970 is reissued in savage glory. It is a set of ten songs that will be saving lives well beyond the end of life on this planet, but for some reason the Velvet Underground's fourth studio album came and went with very little notice. To this day, there is no explanation for the sales slighting back then, but such is life in the artist lane. Leader Lou Reed would one day have great solo success with a live version of "Sweet Jane," and fortunately history has been righted enough to include the innate awesomeness of this album on most critics' best-of lists. On this second pass at a voluminous reissue of the album, no expense is spared to do this right. There are a grand total of six CDs in this gorgeous collection, and they include everything from that 1970 era that could possibly be collected. The only thing missing are Reed's Eddie & Ernie 45s, Sterling Morrison's CCNY student ID, Doug Yule's personal phone book, Maureen Tucker's rosary beads, and sit-in drummer Billy Yule's high school diploma (he was still attending there when Loaded was recorded). There are demos, live versions galore, new mixes, mono editions, and a whole disc of a '70 set at the Philadelphia nightclub Second Fret. Still, take away every single note of music except the original ten songs, and the 45-year-old album would still exist as a monument to everything that is everlasting about the human heart and spirit. It is just as inspiring today, and especially with hindsight after the loss of Reed and Morrison. Lenny Kaye's dead-on liner notes along with photographs of the band in the studio and beyond literally take the breath away, making this one of the most monumental box sets ever assembled. "Some people they like to go out dancin' and other peoples they have to work—just watch me now / and there's even some evil mothers they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt / you know that women never really feign and that villains always blink their eyes / and that you know children are the only ones who blush and that life is just to die..." the band once sang. To this day no one has ever done rock & roll better. Loaded makes the Beatles’ Abbey Road album from that era sound like the Archies. Jimmy and Ginger Brown from the VU's "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" epic song--both likely still shirtless and shoeless--are smiling somewhere.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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