Real Life Tales of the Disenfranchised

Singer-songwriter Mark Cline Bates writes profound poetry on King Of The Crows, his self-released all-original manifesto on the philosophical conundrums of trying to maintain sanity and happiness in a world gone mad. He sings his songs in a world-weary everyman voice of experience, backed by his own piano. This would’ve made a stark confessional even if super-producer Don Dixon wasn’t arranging and providing bass, trombone, keyboards, and guitar. Dixon is a mastermind of sound. His productions of R.E.M. and The Smithereens resulted in what critics called the rise of “jangle pop” in the eighties. Here he accentuates the Bates motif of yearning by juxtaposing his acoustic with the electric guitar of Michael Lipton just enough to accentuate the feel, humor, and wisdom of these lyrics. 

With the mountains of West Virginia as the backdrop, these story-songs will capture your imagination and continue to reside in your medulla oblongata long after the music ends. “Highway Signs” is a metaphor on the song’s protagonist—a good-natured innocent—who just makes bad decisions. “Ginger” is the elderly lady who cannot pay her bills anymore. “My Heart Is Good” is a cry in the dark for personal redemption.

Mark Cline Bates has a propensity for drama and the promise to become a generational spokesman. Every one of these songs could be made into a movie. Highlight? “Caged Up Bull” is so damn catchy, and so all-too-true, that I’ve taken to playing it when I wake up every morning as fortification.

One Cool Dude

Genre is meaningless to a guy like Jamie Saft. He’s collaborated with the Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, Iggy Pop, Donovan, and The B-52s. He’s a pianist, producer, and composer. His quartet with the astonishing Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano sax, plus flute, acoustic bassist Bradley Christopher Jones, and drummer Hamid Drake contains so much talent, it leaks out of the packaging and might stain your rug. They traverse Hidden Corners on this RareNoiseRecords album. Inspired by the Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah (an ancient wisdom for how to live one’s life), Saft calls this project “spiritual jazz” with its forebears John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Pharoah Sanders as major influences. 

Saft calls his bandmates “masters of conjuring mystical states through music… the re-arrangement of notes, tones, sounds, textures, timbres—each musician here has the power to transport the listener to higher realms through the music.” Highlights include “231 Gates,” as that mysterious flute combines Herbie Mann with Ian Anderson. “Turn At Every Moment” has a bowed bass playing peekaboo with Saft’s arpeggio-laden piano to create heavenly environs. Closer “Landrace” has to be heard to be believed. There’s no describing it in mere words. Ecstatic, fierce, surging like a mighty river, it will leave an indelible imprint upon your psyche.

A New Chick

Every time a new Chick Corea album comes out is a time for celebration. The 72-year-old pioneered jazz-rock fusion in the seventies with Return To Forever after replacing Herbie Hancock in the band of Miles Davis. Practically everything he’s ever done has been nominated for a Grammy Award (he has 60 nominations with 20 statuettes). Antidote (Concord Records), by Chick Corea & The Spanish Heart Band, veers Latin and Flamenco as he revisits earlier compositions from his My Spanish Heart (1976) and Touchstone (1982) albums, as well as writing new originals for the debut of this impressive multi-cultural octet with vocalist Ruben Blades. As always, his piano is a symphony unto itself, a carnival, an orchestra of 88 keys that he intuitively uses to squeeze out every drop of pathos, humor, and drama. Utilizing musicians from Spain, Cuba, Venezuela, and the U.S., a tapestry of emotional vignettes by the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Paco de Lucia, and Igor Stravinsky sound new, modern, and drenched in worldbeat smarts. Highly recommended. 

Ballad Of A Dead Man

Before Del Shannon blew his brains out with a shotgun in 1990 at the age of 55, he was a singular real-rock voice in an age of boy-bands. His good friend Tom Petty wanted him to join the Traveling Wilburys upon the death of Roy Orbison. He should have. Consumed by depression, alcoholism, and the bitter realization that roots-rock was but a fading dream in the nineties pop world, the Michigan native—born Charles Weedon Westover in 1934—ended it all, but not before leaving behind a legacy of American, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll perfectly captured on Two Silhouettes (Bear Family Records), as part of the label’s “The Drugstore’s Rockin’” series. The 33 tracks in just under 80 minutes has its share of novelty clinkers, as Shannon seemed desperate to recapture his 1961 “Runaway” classic. Still, there are nuggets of pure gold here, like a pre-Elvis version of “(Marie’s The Name Of) His Latest Flame,” “Hats Off To Larry,” “Little Town Flirt,” “Hey Little Girl,” and “Keep Searching (We’ll Follow The Sun).” It ends with a real rave-up:  “Move It On Over” features some hard and heavy lead guitar from Dennis Coffey of Motown’s Funk Brothers. Covers of Dion’s “Runaround Sue,” Bruce Channell’s “Hey Baby” and  Lennon/McCartney’s “From Me To You” actually equal the originals. There’s some weirdness, too. “Torture” is a guitar instrumental in the vein of Link Wray or Duane Eddy but with the sounds of men screaming for their lives. 


He may have only lived to the age of 29, but Hank Williams is The Patron Saint of Country Music. In 1949, though, he struggled for fame, finding it on a radio series called “The Health & Happiness Show.” Now, for the first time, all eight episodes of Hank and his Drifting Cowboys Band, remixed and remastered, are collected together on two-CD or three-vinyl packages. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (BMG) has 49 tracks including all his big hits, his sacred songs, fiddle instrumentals, and, unfortunately, some tunes sung by his wife Audrey Williams, of which famed Hank historian Colin Escott writes in the liner notes, “there’s really nothing redeeming about Audrey’s singing… you either hate it or you loathe it.”  

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