Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

The Dance of Love

Tango music is sensuous. Originating in 1800s Argentina and Uruguay, and originally performed only on solo guitar, its staccato phrasing, dramatic swoops and glides, and, especially, the ascension of European sex symbol Carlos Gardel in the ‘20s and ‘30s, forever sealed its fate as a lustful homage to the art of love. Its “new age,” with the accordion as its main instrument, as exemplified by the always progressive Astor Piazzolla [1921-1992], took it into daring new configurations, especially in the 1980s.

It is this “second season” of tango that saxophonist/composer Julio Botti concentrates on in his transcendently beautiful Jazz Tango Fusion (Zoho Music). Playing tenor and soprano, Botti takes free-flowing flights of fancy like a bird on a wing as his men on guitar, guitar, Hammond B-3 organ, Fender Rhodes piano and drums constantly swirl around him. Four of nine are classics by Piazzolla but Botti pummels them into submission with daring arrangements.

Jazz Romanticism From A Radiohead Fan

If German composer Robert Schumann [1810-1856] is rolling over in his grave right now, it may be because he somehow heard Chase Baird’s rendition of his classical gas called “Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai.” With the help of drums/piano/guitar/bass, composer/saxophonist Baird jams it out for almost eight minutes to close his delicious A Life Between (SoundsAbound Records). Of course, if he had his way, he’d be in his favorite band, Radiohead, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. So it’s a life between his prog-rock leanings, his Coltrane fanaticism and his penchant for classical romanticism as seen through a jazz prism. Pretty damn cool.

She Only Cries When She’s Alone

Singer-Songwriter-Guitarist Beth Bombara’s Evergreen (Lemp Electric) is the result of her barricading herself deep within the Rocky Mountains where, for her sixth album, in a remote cabin, she penned these slices of her psyche. File it under Americana. This Missouri native, born and raised in Michigan, had to try and top her 2017 Map And No Direction, which, uh, put her on the map, so to speak. She did…in spades. This listener was so glad she included a libretto because her words are pure poetry, especially “Tenderhearted,” wherein no wife ever professed such unadorned love for her husband. She rocks on “Good News” as her band (electric and acoustic guitars, drums, piano, organ, harmonica, bass and synth) sizzles on a low burn. She opens with a beautiful lament, “I Only Cry When I’m Alone.” And she gets real on the closing “All Good Things” when she asks, “Do you get the feeling/that everything is broken/and every word that’s spoken/is lying through its teeth?

Hippie Love

He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, actor, multi-instrumentalist and Musical Director (for the Wild Honey Orchestra in his native Los Angeles) but Rob Laufer, is, first and foremost, a communicator. His last solo album, Excruciating Bliss, was in 2010. Why? “I forgot how to finish songs,” he sheepishly says. Inspired by Bon Iver’s debut, and Tom Petty’s death, and delving deep into the catalogs of Donovan, Cat Stevens and George Harrison, this singular talent, once called the “great lost artist” of the Power Pop era, finally got it together to finish a damn record. It’s not like he hasn’t been busy. He was George in Beatlemania. That’s his guitar on Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” and, although he had no lines, that’s him as part of the famed Wrecking Crew studio band in the Brian Wilson movie Love and Mercy. And, yeah, he couldn’t turn down the dough so that’s also him on those Sears commercials.

Now comes the self-released self-produced The Floating World that sounds like nothing else out there today. There’s an economy at work on these 10 beautifully-crafted songs. Not one extraneous note! In fact, it reminds me of what my grandmother used to say: “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Opening with an “Avalanche” and ending with some “Hippie Love,” all points in-between traverse a rocky road through serendipitous nostalgia, unabashed make-out music, simplistic sonnets set to stark arrangements that allow his meanings to crystallize, roots-rock plus, yeah, power pop. And he did it all himself.

Real Country…Not That Fake Stuff

Discerning listeners, rock’n’roll fans, alternative geeks and hipsters have been turning away from country music in droves. And you can’t blame them. The pure crap that’s been shoved down our throats and incorrectly heralded as “country music” is so awful, no wonder “country” is a dirty word to the terminably hip. Just turn on so-called “country radio” if you want to know what I’m talking about.

Enter Dallas Burrow.

He’s a songwriter in the mold of the venerable Guy Clark [1941-2016] or Townes Van Zandt [1944-1997]. A real-life died-in-the-wool Texas troubadour, he’s not afraid to rock, and rolls with three chords and the truth, as they say. Southern Wind (Subliminal Hymnal Records) is his masterpiece.

He’s a wanderer, the living incarnation of what Kris Kristofferson once wrote about in “The Pilgrim Chapter 33” when he penned these iconic words in 1971—“He’s a poet. He’s a picker. He’s a prophet. He’s a pusher. He’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he’s stoned. He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction, taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.” Yeah, that’s him alright. Burrow has roamed through Louisiana, California, Spain and Budapest, barely avoiding prison (which he writes about with delicacy in “Rodeo”) and staying high. Southern Wind has him sober, clear-eyed and singing with the voice of experience, the voice of too many late nights, too many smoke-filled rooms where the wine and women flow. He’s jammed with Dylan. He’s eaten buffalo stew with Dr. John. He’s been crushed by love. It’s been seven years since his Western Town debut. But now, with the help of Loretta Lynn’s producer (Eric McConnell) and some all-star Nashville studio cats, he’s staked his claim as the rightful heir to Waylon, Hank, Lefty and Merle.