EP review by Eric Sandberg
A collaboration between two of England's preeminent weirdos has been mooted for years. An abortive attempt some years ago appeared to have fizzled, leaving the two not exactly on speaking terms.
That I found this four-song EP on my porch today can almost fully be put on Twitter. Andy Partridge's relatively brief time on the social media platform (initially disguised as a fan of his own former band, XTC) enabled some unprecedented access for Partridge devotees — and detractors (who are really just disappointed fans who want more music).
If asked a direct question on Twitter, Partridge would provide a direct, unvarnished answer. The inevitable question was posed: 'What happened with you and Robyn Hitchcock?'
Photo by Kevin Nixon/Louder Sound
The answer is as plausible as it is mundane: 'We started, but the guy is always on tour!' It wasn't long until Robyn Hitchcock was drawn into the Twitter thread and the two reconnected. Hitchcock, who lives in Nashville, remains perpetually on tour but, in the midst of a spate of UK dates, he found his way to Partridge's shed in Swindon to put the finishing touches on these four tracks.
With the alternative being nothing, we'll take it, won't we? Yes...yes we will.
What do the songs sound like? They sound like a collaboration between Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge albeit with Hitchcock handling most of the lead vocals. "Turn Me On Deadman" is pure Hitchcock as arranged by Mr. Partridge. "Flight Attendants. Please Prepare for Love" sounds like a Vulcan mind-meld between the pair, while "Got My..." is pure Partridge with Hitchcock inserting himself.
The all too brief tram ride closes with "Planet England." Partridge writes and Hitchcock sings,
"Kind old lady in the tower
Pressing up a withered flower
What's she got to live for? Power!
Here on Planet England
There are far worse places
and I've seen a few"
It's all very English...and jangly...and beautiful. And I want more.
Planet England is available on 10" vinyl, CD and as a download.
The Rails — Live in Nichol's Canyon — 8/31/19
Concert review by Eric Sandberg
Photos by Mike Berman
Before record labels, Soundscan, Sam Goodies — long before there were
recordings of any kind, musicians survived through a system known as patronage. Wealthy patrons of the arts, including the courts of kings, queens and emperors, commissioned composers to create works and arrange and conduct performances. Musicians made their livelihoods by performing for patrons and their invited guests in their homes.
Haydn embraced the patronage of a prince while his contemporary, Mozart, famously despised his musically ignorant benefactors, burned his bridges and essentially became music's first freelancer.
Chances are, even Mozart would have loved Peter Hastings, Hollywood producer, writer, voice actor, musician and music lover. With the music industry in a shambles, and composers and performers receiving checks for pennies from billion dollar streaming companies, the idea of patronage is making a modest comeback. Noted New Orleans jazz pianist Tom McDermott recently documented his house concert tour on social media after booking a number of inquiries from eager patrons before setting out in his marginally reliable car.
Hastings often turns his spacious, post-modern home, nestled in winding Nichols Canyon above Hollywood into a music venue, not too dis-similar to McCabe's guitar shop in Santa Monica, with various vintage stringed instruments lining the walls of his spacious front room.
After parking on an adjacent street, a polite young man with an English accent picked up our party of three in a black SUV and drove us up the steep driveway to Hastings's house where our fit, middle-aged, host greeted our arrival in rose pink slacks, a gray collarless pullover and flip flops. Any similarity to a music venue ended there as Hastings operates on the honor system, assuming that, if you knew to come, you must have paid the $20 in advance or were prepared to drop $20 in an urn whether or not he was around to witness it.
From this point forward we were at a swanky Hollywood cocktail party with Hastings's de-facto co-host, the inimitable Nancy Covey, greeting and chatting up each new arrival. As the ranks of beautiful people, who all seemed to know each other, swelled I began to feel as if I had crashed the party. There was an aircraft carrier-sized kitchen island full of hors d'oeuvres, a wine table, Stella Artois on ice and a bucket of La Croix flavored water, all out of Hastings's pocket as all the proceeds from the event were going to the performers.
By 8:30 PM an announcement was made and the attendees filed into the front room to their seats, already mostly claimed by the presence of an article of clothing or a half-filled wine glass, and Peter Hastings introduced The Rails in a humorous, self-deprecating manner.
The Rails are a wife-husband duo from England who have released four albums [their first was under a different name] and a handful of EPs. Kami Thompson and James Walbourne have just released their latest Cancel the Sun [Psychonaut Sounds/Thirty Tigers]. Produced by Stephen Street [The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur, Cranberries, Sparks].
Cancel the Sun is a departure from the duo's acoustic folk roots and is teeming with infectious power chords and biting, sardonic, lyrics while leaving their luscious vocal harmonies intact. It is a remarkable album where each song embeds a subtle hint to their influences, from The Everly Brothers to the Beatles and maybe a dash of a little known beret-wearing English guitarist and his former partner.
In Peter Hastings's front room, The Rails performed seven of the album's ten songs in stripped-down, acoustic fashion which only enhanced the beauty of the songs and their astute observations of our rapidly decaying society.
"Save the planet, Kill yourself, It's the least that you could do..."
"Praise your dictator, Love the revelator, All the news that's fit to sing, Doesn't mean a single thing..."
These lyrics and many more are delivered sweetly by voices that compliment each other like they are in love.
The set was rounded out with a couple of traditional songs, two from their previous LP Other People and four selections from The Rails's debut LP Fair Warning including the highlight "Panic Attack Blues." Walbourne had been hinting at his devastating acoustic guitar skills all evening, but this track's opening salvo of prestidigitation left no doubt why Walbourne is currently the latest in the line of worthy successors to James Honeyman-Scott in The Pretenders.
After thirteen beautiful and charming performances, the duo with "nowhere to hide" as Thompson put it, brought their patron for the evening Peter Hastings to the stage [and, by stage, I mean a couple rumpled carpets that the duo miraculously avoided tripping over all night] to perform the evening's final number "I Wish, I Wish" on upright bass. To his credit, Hastings looked like he had been playing the song with them on tour since April.
After the show, Thompson and Walbourne graciously made themselves available to the large group of appreciative attendees and were probably still doing so long after our party had tiptoed down the steep curving driveway to
L-R: Nancy Covey, James Walbourne, Kami Thompson
The Rails return to the UK in October for a nine date tour.
Call Me When It All Goes Wrong
Something Is Slipping My Mind
Ball and Chain
Other People (Dedicated to Boris Johnson)
Panic Attack Blues
Cancel The Sun
Encore: I Wish, I Wish
(with Peter Hastings on upright bass)
The Road Less Traveled: The Fab Four Perform Abbey Road Live — Pacific Amphitheater, Costa Mesa, CA 8/3/2019
Concert review by Eric Sandberg Photos by Mike Berman
"Whew!" Ardy Sarraf must have been thinking moments after crooning "...someday I'm gonna make her mine" last night in Costa Mesa. A lot of the more casual Beatles fans were already flooding the exits when Sarraf and guest guitarist Doug Couture sauntered back on stage to remind everybody that the "The End" isn't quite the end of Abbey Road.
In fact, "Her Majesty" was followed by a relaxed and relief-driven encore of "Hey Jude" forcing many of the early 'Beatlexiteers' to freeze in their spots like latecomers to a baseball park during the National Anthem.
This capped off a sublime evening of Beatles music from Sarraf as Paul McCartney, Joe Bologna emulating Ringo Starr, Liverpudlian Gavin Pring as George Harrison, and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne native Adam Hastings taking the role of John Lennon. The fabulous foursome opened the show with a set of road-worn songs from the Beatles's earlier catalog:
"She Loves You"
"All My Loving"
"Hard Day's Night"
"Eight Days A Week"
"Can't Buy Me Love"
"I Saw Her Standing There"
"Twist And Shout."
Over the past twenty-two years the Fab Four, clad in period-correct Shea Stadium outfits, have played these songs live countless more times than the real Beatles ever did, and it shows. Sarraf and Hastings also provided an updated version of Beatles style banter:
"The people in the cheap seats, clap your hands. The people in the front, rattle your IPhones!"
"We'd like you to stand up for this one............take your time."
After the first set concluded, the momentousness of what the Fab Four were about to attempt started to take them a little bit out of their comfort zone, leading to a couple of Spinal Tap moments. As Bologna riffed on a drum pattern that made me want to shout, 'It's! Time! For Southernnnnn Girls!' Sarraf set about to give away a t-shirt while Hastings and Pring changed into their "professional period" duds backstage.
This went on for quite some time as Doug Couture banged in the dark on a silent keyboard and shook his head. Ultimately, Sarraf and Bologna were forced to perform the Beatles Anthology version of "Got To Get You Into My life" with just the rhythm section. It worked for me. As the crew continued to tackle the technical problems Sarraf and Hastings combined to ask the audience to cheer for the t-shirt winner at least four times. I was afraid someone was going to toss Sarraf a top hat and cane.
Adam Hastings then entertained the crowd dressed in Lennon's iconic 1971 white pants suit before sitting down at the piano to perform "Imagine."
The full band shortly reconvened, aided and abetted by Eric Clapton tribute guitarist Couture on additional guitar [taking several of the leads] and The Fab Four's founder, and original John Lennon, Ron McNeil on keyboards and guitar. The need to augment the band for the task of performing Abbey Road live on stage is the first indicator of the many challenges involved with pulling off such a venture.
Previously, they have been able to perform Sgt. Pepper's in it's entirety with just the four of them — why is this straight rock album a bigger challenge? Mainly because The Beatles took full advantage of EMI Studio's new 8-track console to record Abbey Road, allowing them far more largess to overdub additional guitar, keyboard and percussion elements onto the recording.
They got off to a great start with "Come Together" with McNeil, barely recognizable as himself in the shadows, nailing the electric piano groove. Gavin Pring announced that they were about to play "the best track on the album...along with track seven" and a lovely version of "Something" ensued.
Let's just get this over with right here. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a gawd-awful song and the live performance of it did nothing to change my mind about this. I would have forgiven them for substituting "Mr. Moonlight" in its place.
Moving on, Ardy Sarraf had to sing "Oh Darling" early in a sequence of songs that required him to do a lot of singing. He did a tremendous job. On the technical side, he made clever use of a tight echo effect to shore up the lines that were double tracked by Paul in the studio. Well done, Mr. Sarraf!
Joe Bologna got his moment to step out front for "Octopus's Garden" while Sarraf handled the drums. Bologna, who uncannily apes Ringo's posture and movements on the drum stool, can be forgiven for not imitating Ringo's awkward front man style as, technically, it wouldn't be invented for another couple of decades anyway.
Up next is a song that is begging to be performed live more often, John Lennon's angst-ridden ode to Yoko Ono "I Want You." It was a powerful albeit imperfect performance — Couture's guitar was slightly out of tune which took some of the shimmer off the song's urgent arpeggio and Sarraf, a naturally right-handed player, struggled with the loping solo bass runs that undulate between the staccato guitar bursts. Sarraf shook his head after not quite hitting the mark on any of his three chances.
With side one out of the way, the six musicians braced themselves for the roller coaster ride that is side two of Abbey Road. "Here Comes the Sun" is a deceptively complex number that requires a lot of precision, something you only notice when said precision isn't quite achieved.
"Because" is where things really start to get challenging. They had to hit those breathtaking harmonies while keeping part of their minds on their instrumental cues. I get the impression they spent more time rehearsing this number than any other as their performance was flawless — easily the highlight of the evening.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" serves as the gateway into the frenetic medley of half-tunes brilliantly shoe-horned together by The Beatles and George Martin, like some music publisher's clearinghouse, and the Fabs navigated this minefield adeptly, building momentum toward the three-way guitar solo in "The End." It would have been perfect, too, if Adam Hasting's volume pedal wasn't pushed down, effectively silencing his first turn. But that's rock and roll. If everything was perfect, it all would have been less memorable in my opinion.
Overall, the evening was a triumph for the Fab Four and their team, but I'm pretty sure they're glad it's over.
Album reviews by Eric Sandberg
Having rewritten "Sweet Jane" three times over his last two albums notwithstanding, Peter Perrett is an effortlessly charming and engaging songwriter. In 1978 Perrett scored a hit with "Another Girl, Another Planet" as a member of The Only Ones. The band folded in 1980 after releasing three albums.
Perrett briefly resurfaced fifteen years later as The One — but drugs, and the ensuing poor behavior often caused by their use, cut this comeback short. In 2017, buoyed by his son, guitarist/arranger/producer Jamie, Peter Perrett surprised everyone who cares with the release of How the West Was Won, a strong collection of all new songs.
Now, just two years later, the rejuvenated Perrett has graced us with another album of first rate new songs. Humanworld finds Perrett in full command of his [previously thought lost] melodicism and poetic lyricism. Jamie Perrett provides all of his dad's songs with the musical grandeur they deserve and even contributes one of his own which fits in seamlessly thanks to the similarity of their voices.
Humanworld is simply a great album by a great songwriter. It's one of those rare albums that is instantly likeable but is not going to wear out its welcome any time soon.
Remember when Michael Jordan tried to play professional baseball? It's kind of like that when Richard Hawley tries to rock. OK, that is admittedly unfair and shameful hyperbole — Richard Hawley can rock — at least far better than MJ can hit a curveball. It's just not what he does best.
Richard Hawley is the Michael Jordan of slow tempo, reverb-drenched, aching romantic balladry. He has the soul of Roy Orbison at his saddest, the pathos of Nick Cave at his most wistful and the lonesomeness of Hank Williams at his — oh never mind — as a balladeer, Hawley is a law unto himself — impossible to describe adequately with words.
After an EP and five full-length albums of gorgeous melodies and sublime arrangements Hawley threw his devoted fans a wicked curveball in the form of Standing at the Sky's Edge , a distortion-soaked, psychedelic romp. He got a lot of stick for it, too. As one reviewer put it, "WHY!?" At the time, I didn't mind the diversion. He deserved the opportunity to try something different, and he is one mean guitar player.
Hawley returned to his previous form three years later with an achingly beautiful album Hollow Meadows the first track of which "I Still Want You" sounds vaguely like an apology to his fans.
After composing the scores for a couple of films and a TV show Hawley is back with a new album and he's taking things further again. On Further, Hawley mixes uptempo rockers with his more familiar lighter touch and the results are...well...mixed. It's a fine album from start to finish, and an enjoyable listen, but the juxtaposition of his fair to middling rock songs with his ever perfect balladry makes me wish it was all ballads, all the time. The proof is in the pudding, so I will leave you here to listen to the rockin' lead track from Further to compare to a lush track from Hawley's previous album album Hollow Meadows and let you decide. Let me know which you prefer.
"Off My Mind" The lead track from Further
Album review by Eric Sandberg
The Ocean Blue are on a roll. With the release of their seventh full-length album Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves on June 21, the band has cut the gap between albums to a paltry six years. Their previous record, 2013's Ultramarine was widely hailed as their finest to date, but that standing may be in jeopardy.
The new album continues to explore the unique musical niche the band created for themselves with their debut self-titled Sire/Reprise album in 1989. Indeed, the semi-title track "Kings and Queens" kicks things off with all the band's hallmarks: a shimmering guitar arpeggio buoyed by a Wurlitzer counter melody and a lyrical reference to the ocean delivered in front man David Schelzel's soothing, laconic voice, which I might describe as Nick Heyward after the Ambien has kicked in if I had less self-control as a writer.
At first blush, this album seems no different — another in a series — familiar and reassuring. One really doesn't want this beloved band to change much lest something precious and dear be lost. After listening to the album repeatedly, however, I did begin to notice something. Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves is The Ocean Blue's most confident sounding album since their debut, and their most sonically pleasing.
Jim Ladd take note: this is a headphone album. A great deal of care, inspiration and attention to detail went into the arrangements of these songs. There is a varied and pleasing pallet of guitar tones employed by chief songwriter Schelzel and ace utility player Oed Ronne — each perfectly suited to the song. Ronne also delivers some of his best work on the keyboard front, mixing modern sounds with retro synth flourishes that recall Ultravox and Gary Numan, and are spooned out in doses measured to serve each song.
Ronne, Schelzel, Mittan and Anderson
Holding it all down is the tight, economical drumming of Peter Anderson, who especially shines on the spritely "Paraguay My Love" [a song that could be mistaken for The Decemberists sped up to 45 from 33 1/3] and the urgent, pulsating bass lines of founding member Bobby Mittan. The Ocean Blue are fortunate to have kept Mittan in the fold all these years as he is the key to maintaining the band's sound. Just compare any post Pete de Freitas Echo & the Bunnymen album to their earlier work and you'll understand what I mean.
Standout tracks include: "Therein Lies the Problem In My Life" a mouthful of a lyric but one that has been stuck in my head since its release on a Korda Records sampler last year. The bouncy, acoustic driven "Give It a Little Time" is a simple ditty that threatens to become a symphony during the bridge. "Love Doesn't Make It Easy On Us," featuring guest vocalists Charlotte Crabtree and Allison Labonne, is lush, brooding and charming all at once. The beautiful "All the Way Blue" has a title that immediately conjures Nick Drake and musically sends you drifting, not unlike Drake's best songs.
If you're already a fan of The Ocean Blue, there is nothing here that disappoints. If you're not that familiar with them, Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves is a perfect place to begin — and then go fast forward in reverse.
The Ocean Blue have dates scheduled, hopping back and forth across the continent [and even dipping down to Peru for a couple of gigs] scheduled into December in support of Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves. You can check if they're coming to a venue near you here: http://www.theoceanblue.com/shows
Order the album and other merchandise here: https://www.theoceanblue.com/shop
To read a review of an The Ocean Blue concert from last year click here.
Album review by Eric Sandberg
Mike Scott used to make music so big that the first three albums by his band The Waterboys are collectively referred to as "The Big Music." The fiery young Irishman wrote passionate, powerful songs about important things and delivered them, with key band mates multi-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger and saxophonist Anthony Thistlethwaite, in a manner that is required listening.
Wallinger, a gifted songwriter himself, departed to form World Party, after which The Waterboys broke through with "The Whole of the Moon" from their third album This Is the Sea. After this success Scott decamped from London back to Ireland with a huge batch of new songs that veered away from rock toward folk. The addition of fiddle/mandolin player Steve Wickham enhanced the charm of these songs and Fisherman's Blues is regarded by many as the band's high watermark.
After a fine follow up, Room To Roam, their final album of new material for Chrysalis Records, Scott signed a deal with Geffen, moved to New York City, put together a whole new Waterboys and made some not so big music. After the relative failure of Dream Harder Scott made two low key albums under his own name before resurrecting the Waterboys moniker permanently, ably restoring the name's reputation with two strong albums A Rock In the Weary Land and Universal Hall which boast appearances from both Thistlethwaite and Wickham.
Scott continues to deliver a steady stream of Waterboys product including unreleased material from the Fisherman's Blues sessions, live albums and several albums of new songs backed mostly by session musicians. Lately, perhaps aware of his own mortality, Scott has ramped up the band's activity releasing three new albums in five years including the double album Out of All This Blue in 2017.
Though this must be heaven for a Waterboys "Mike can do no wrong" acolyte, it has been a bit of a strain on the discerning completest that is this writer. On Fisherman's Blues Scott wrote a song called "And a Bang On the Ear" an ode to to girlfriends past which, though lovely, established Scott as a bit of a rake. In the late era of The Waterboys many of Scott's songs fall into two categories:
1) name-dropping famous people and,
2) past girlfriends
Late, iconic musicians pervade Scott's dreams. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis have all appeared to him and gotten a song out of it. Out of All this Blue is a twenty-three song litany of women he has loved and left, or have wised up and left him. This, coupled with Scott's new fascination with already tired hip-hop beats, renders the entire affair a bit ponderous.
Only two years later, Scott and The Waterboys have released yet another album with ten all-new songs Where the Action Is. Oy vey! But wait...from the opening power chords of the driving title track, this album sounds like it might be fun. Tasty organ fills — check, wickedly distorted fiddle from Steve Wickham — check, some really decent songs that aren't all about girlfriends — check.
Track two "London Mick" is the inevitable name-dropping song but, this time, The Clash's Mick Jones isn't appearing in a dream — apparently they saw This Is Spinal Tap in a theater together. Track three is the title track from the previous album Out of All this Blue which has some very nice Matthew Fisher style organ from Paul Brown.
Tracks four and five present a pair of songs that are among the best Scott has written in years. "Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love)" is inescapably catchy while "In My Time on Earth" finds Scott looking back on his passionate youth and recapturing quite a bit of it.
"Ladbroke Grove Symphony" continues his reminiscing but "Take Me There I Will Follow You" is drenched in faux hip-hop with a programmed drum loop, rap backing vocals and [ulp!] scratchin'. "And There's Love" is another old girlfriend song which comes off as sincere but is again steeped in a hip hop vibe that just doesn't suit the song. "Then She Made the Lasses O" is also marred by loops and beats but is ultimately rescued by Steve Wickham's georgeous fiddle.
The album closes with "Piper At the Gates of Dawn" a compelling recitation of a passage from The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame over a beautiful piano melody reminiscent of mid period Rick Wright and Wickham's ethereal electrified fiddle.
Taken all in, Where the Action Is represents a tentative return to form and further verification of the old adage less is more.
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A Musician Profile by Eric Sandberg
Michael Lee Wolfe grew up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Point Breeze in the 70's, graduating from Taylor Allderdice high school [the school that gave the world Marty Allen and Wiz Khalifa, among other luminaries] in 1979. An avid music fan, Mike embraced what is now called classic rock, jazz and jam bands like the Allman Brothers and The Grateful dead. He took up guitar in his teens, playing with friends taking a year of lessons from Pittsburgh jazz legend Ken Karsh but...
"I wasn't a very good student so I mostly taught myself."
Mike's parents wanted him to become a lawyer but he felt there were enough of those already. After finishing his studies at the University of Michigan he spent the summer "Eurailing" where he eventually met up with a school friend living in Leon, Spain, a classical guitarist named Cy Williams.
While there, he was introduced to some people from Oviedo, the capitol of Asturias in northern Spain, who invited him to come up and party like it was 1984. Within minutes of stepping off the train in Oviedo Mike met Monica, the woman who would eventually deign to marry him. He wrote a song about it for one of his many musical projects Maraya Zydeco.
Maraya Zydeco: Flechazo [Love]
Despite only taking one semester of pass/fail Spanish 101 at Ann Arbor, a connection was made. It wasn't long before Michael Lee Wolfe started making other kinds of connections in Asturias — musical connections. In 1991 Wolfe founded Michael Lee Wolfe Productions and began a career as a successful concert promoter.
"I brought over a bunch of American jazz, blues and gospel acts and ran a bunch of festivals," Mike wrote to me from his home in Spain. "I worked with a fair number of European artists: Celtic musicians from Ireland and Scotland, Fado [a traditional form of folk and popular music] singers from Portugal and even a terrific songwriter from France who writes in Yiddish and surrounds himself with incredible players.
I never had to worry about ticket sales. Like health care, the government picked up the tab for everything. I was really just an organizer and tour manager. This lasted until the economic crisis in 2013. I still promote some events here and there."
But Wolfe wasn't just promoting concerts and festivals, he was proving himself a capable musician who was able to adapt his skills and play with the folk and jazz musicians of Asturia.
"Being a musician with "a Jazz mentality" musical associations began to form naturally. Music is a wonderfully promiscuous endeavor. If you stick at it, you get much better at it and it turns out I'm a natural producer type. So, if the idea is clear, it's not hard to get a new repertoire going."
The preceding is an unquantifiable understatement. The wealth and breadth of music that Lee Wolfe [his professional name] has produced in support of and in collaboration with other artists and on his own is simply staggering. Over the past thirty-five odd years Wolfe has parlayed his love of music — playing, composing, producing and organizing, into becoming a historic figure in Asturian folk music.
Wolfe's first band in Spain, Xaréu, had made a couple of records for the small label FonoAstur, but after a falling out with the label over promotional support [a tale as old as time] the band became an indie act, with all the pitfalls that come with it.
"Our first indie record was made with my old friend Carlos Pinto. He said he had a studio and a label but the studio was really crappy. He had one studio monitor with a busted cone and someone had to keep his finger on the multi-track recorder to keep the tape from spooling on the floor, which it inevitably did anyway. A lot of songs had to be spliced back together so it took a grueling six months of endurance and patience to complete our third album which was the first to be issued on CD."
After this experience Wolfe became determined to take control of the recording process for his work and utilized the experience he had acquired over the years, going back to making living room recordings with friends back in Pittsburgh, to become a producer. Through his concert promoting connections and his own musical efforts, Wolfe built a reputation as an efficient, reliable and knowledgeable project director with an elite musician's ear and skill.
Over the following twenty-five years Wolfe became a driving force in the music scene in northern Spain as a promoter, a producer and a musician. He has played with and produced albums for Asturiana Mining Company, Ubiña, Astura and Anabel Santiago, the premier neo-folk singer in Asturias.
Asturiana Mining Company
In addition to adapting his skills to the folk music of his adopted homeland, Wolfe promoted his own brand of traditional roots music, blues and singer-songwriter styles as a solo artist and in a series of newer bands including Maraya Zydeco with accordionist Maria Alvarez, The Pink Rangers and the "Don't call us jazz" outfit De Miguel, Wolfe & Quintana featuring the gifted pianist Jacobo De Miguel and brilliant scat-singing percussionist Mapi Quintana.
The trio's one album Xota Pa Tres [Dance With Three or, if you go with the Portugese translation -- With Three Vaginas], co-produced by Wolfe, is an astonishing musical work that transcends labeling and description.
During his career Wolfe and his various compadres have played in Cuba, France, Switzerland, Scotland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Corsica, Algeria, Venezuela and Chile, as well as all over Spain.
"Since the economic crisis we still get out and travel a bit — play some festivals, but it's mostly a bar club life now for me."
Wolfe embraced and added to the culture of Asturian music but is also a bluesman and a jazzer at heart — music that figures prominently in his many projects. Rather than delve into a complex timeline of Mike's career in the limited space we allow ourselves here at Knock and Knowall, I want to share as much music with you as I can, sprinkled with comments from this amazing and humble musician.
"Tielve" [the name of a Parish of Asturia] is a traditional song from Patrimoniu by Asturiana Mining Company, produced by Michael Lee Wolfe and issued in 2000 by Lochshore Recordings, Glasgow, UK. Wolfe: "We are an Asturian folk band. We did the theme song "Trova del Mineru" [Mining Ballad] for the movie Pidele Cuetas al Rey." [a film about a miner who walks from Asturias to Madrid to petition the King for miner's rights].
Asturiana Mining Company performing live on Spanish Television
The hilarious "[I Put Your] Pussy on Facebook from The Last Day I Got Laid by The Pink Rangers, a splinter group from Asturiana Mining Company which performs American roots music.
"La Islla de Brasil" and "Tabaco de Pipa" [Pipe Tobacco] Two remarkable live television performances of tracks from Xota Pa Tres by De Miguel, Wolfe & Quintana. Wolfe: "We got great feedback from the biggest jazz guys around Spain and yet my partners didn't want to see what we did as jazz, which pretty much stopped forward progress on this project."
Wolfe performing "Ay un Galán d'esta Villa" on Spanish television with Anabel Santiago "The female voice of Asturian folk" from the Wolfe produced album Desnuda.
"Louisiana," from Lee Wolfe's 2003 solo album Corners of the World, shows off his instrumental chops and versatility while the next video for "Reunion" presents Wolfe in fine singer/songwriter form.
In 2009, Wolfe released the compilation album Lee Wolfe: Xotes Asturianas 1984-2009 which featured highlights from his twenty-five years of shepherding, supporting, producing and playing Asturian folk music.
Now in his late fifties, with two grown children, and seven years into the era of government fiscal austerity, Wolfe has slowed things down a bit, but he continues to play music live regularly, most recently in partnership with Puri Penin as the roots music duo Hoot 'N Holler and still takes on the odd project with any number of the horde of people he has worked with over the decades. His unlikely musical journey is far from finished.
Michael Lee Wolfe
A Select Visual Discography:
Eric Sandberg reviews David Lindley live at McCabes Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA 5/4/19
What better place to watch maxi-instrumentalist David Lindley perform than a guitar shop. In fact the packed house was rife with guitar enthusiasts. it was a long running joke for former McCabe's emcee Lincoln, while introducing the show, to ask the audience members to each grab a guitar on the way out in case of a fire. My Knock and Knowall partner Mike killed the time before the show by rating the guitars on the wall on their extraction worthiness with the guy sitting behind us.
At 8:00 PM sharp, with little fanfare, the seventy-five year old Lindley ambled down the creaky wooden stairs and tiptoed through a minefield of exotic and expensive looking stringed instruments strewn about the floor.
Except for his brightly colored shirt, which he claimed to be Christian Dior, Lindley looked like a long haul trucker who never saved a dime — with requisite cap and billowy white sideburns. From his perch Lindley scanned the floor around him. "Looks like shit!" He mentioned that it had been a while since he'd been here and that he took a year off.
"I've been on tour constantly since I was sixteen. I decided maybe I should [sotto voce] slow.....down. My father's mother — I called her grandmother — had a hernia from moving a couch. Her philosophy was just keep movin.' keep liftin."
With that, the former sideman for Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan and many others bent over and retrieved a Turkish oud that was perched precariously on a flight case and began plucking a mesmerizing raga which finally resolved into "Ain't No Way" from Lindsey's brilliant first solo album El Rayo-X.
With each song Lindley bent over, laying one instrument down and picking up another: Ouds, bouzoukis, Weissenborn acoustic lap slides, but he never touched a traditional guitar — that would have been boring. He paid homage to the late Warren Zevon with two songs, "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me' and the exquisite "The Indifference of Heaven."
"When I heard Warren Zevon had written a song called "[Beneath] The Indifference of Heaven" I said 'ooh...I've got to hear that. That sounds good...and it was."
After Praising Danny O'Keefe to the rafters, "If he's playing, cancel what you're doing and go," Lindley performed O'Keefe's humorous ode "[He Would Have Loved You] More than Eva Braun," a song O'Keefe himself has performed on the same stage.
The hour and a half set included many more stories, instrument switches and Lindley's unique singing voice which occasionally channeled deepest Appalachia. Lindley wrapped things up with a funny story about Ry Cooder receiving a phone call as they were about to begin a rehearsal one day.
"Ry listened to the caller with a concerned look, occasionally saying 'that's too bad.' After a while he began rocking back and forth on his heels. He held the phone away from his ear and made a face. He finally told the person he was in rehearsals and people were waiting for him and he'd call back. Ry told us 'That was a fella who is in the self-meat grinder.' I thought 'Now there's a song!"
After performing his wry and lengthy concert favorite "Meat Grinder Blues" Lindley thanked the audience for coming but stayed seated as he received a standing ovation.
"Okay, Okay," he said and played us one more song. When you're seventy-five you get to perform encores without actually leaving the stage. It was just another sublime evening with a charming, witty and talented man who, I can only imagine, has been a joy to tour with for all these years.
If you live in Southern California, be warned that David Lindley continues his guitar shop tour, bringing his stringed menagerie to The Fret House in Covina Saturday, May 18th.
Concert review by Eric Sandberg — The Fab Four Live at the Rose in Pasadena, CA 4/26/2019
Like the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, The Fab Four are playing a four game home stand which began Thursday evening at the Canyon in Santa Clarita, followed by the Rose in Pasadena last night, with the final two games...er...shows at The Saban Theater tonight and the Canyon in Agoura Hills Sunday.
If last night's show at the Rose is any indication, you must buy, steal or Lyft yourself into one of these remaining shows if you live in the greater Los Angeles area. The Fab Four have never sounded, or looked, better.
After two support acts [the first played while I was eating a Holy Aoli burger at the Dog Haus on Hill Street, and the second as I sat on the Rose's patio checking on the aforementioned Dodgers] and a hilarious introduction by Ed Sullivan impersonator/stand up comedian George Trullinger, The Fab Four promptly took the stage at 9:00 PM, dressed in their accurate Shea Stadium finery, and played a sparkling set of favorites from the first half of The Beatles' career, including "Love Me Do," "A Hard Days Night," "Eight Days A Week," Twist And Shout," "Yesterday" and several others.
George "Ed Sullivan" Trullinger warms up the crowd for a rilly big shoo.
As the band, consisting of Joe Bologna as Ringo, 'Liverpeuwel' native Gavin Pring as George, ageless founding member Ardy Sarraf as Paul and newcomer Adam Hastings as John, played these timeless, perfectly crafted pop songs...well...perfectly. I kind of wished they could stay in those gray suits all evening. The addition of Newcastle upon Tyne native Hastings has delivered a noticeable upgrade to the Fab Four's close harmonies. With eyes closed, or even just squinting a bit, it was impossible to tell them from the real thing.
Just squint a little and pretend you can't hear them over the screaming
Newcastle's most famous exports include ships, Sting, Brian Johnson and now you can add Adam Hastings to the list.
Trullinger's Sullivan again entertained the capacity crowd while the band slipped into their colorful 1967 uniforms for the second set. How much, I wonder, does Gavin Pring rue the fact that George was the only Beatle to wear a hat the size of a schooner during that era? They played the opening and closing pairs of songs from Sgt Peppers sandwiched by "Taxman" from Revolver.
The closing set was signaled by the appearance of Adam Hastings in a white suit jacket and long hair. He did some quite funny bits involving a list he had in his pocket before broaching the serious subject of hunger. Pre-orders are now being taken for a special "Imagine No Hunger" California license plate with proceeds to benefit the California Association of Food Banks.
With that, Hastings sat down at the piano to play John Lennon's iconic solo number, joined by the rest of the band on the second verse, which allowed the rapt audience to imagine what could have been.
Despite my preference for The Beatles' earlier songs, I would not have traded this show's encore for anything. The band were joined onstage by Eric Clapton emulator extraordinaire Doug Couture, who gave the impression he had just leapt out of a cab on Green Street as he bounded onto the stage to strap on a Les Paul. His performance on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" not only reminded everyone how great Eric Clapton is, it also put an exclamation point on how thrilling it can be too see musicians of this caliber giving you everything they have in a live venue.
Eric Sandberg speaks with Ardy Sarraf, The Fab Four's own Paul McCartney, about their upcoming live performance of Abbey Road to honor the albums 50th anniversary
Ardy Sarraf as Paul McCartney Photo courtesy of Manny Dominguez Photography
I've never been overly fond of tribute bands. I'm not against nostalgia but I'd rather listen to someone sing his or her own songs, or at least spirited versions of classic songs by a variety of artists, than see a band fall all over themselves to look and sound like one established act. I especially don't get tribute acts for bands that are still around. What is the point of a Cheap Trick tribute band when the real Cheap Trick is more than likely going to play your town four times this year?
My general disdain for tribute acts has one notable exception — Beatles tributes. Among the thousands of rock and pop acts to emerge since Little Richard began abusing his piano in public, The Beatles are a law unto themselves and an integral part of worldwide culture. When Gustavo Dudamel conducts the LA Phil no one calls it a Mozart Tribute act. The Beatles are on that level.
There are many, many Beatles tributes operating throughout the world. Notable ones include Rain, The Fab Faux, England's Bootleg Beatles and, of course, Southern California's The Fab Four who, in my opinion, are the best of them all.
They do it right. For example: Ardy Sarraf, who has been portraying Paul McCartney since the show's inception in 1997, is normally a right-handed player. We've all tried to write, throw, or maybe play an instrument with our opposite hand at one time or another — it ain't easy. That's dedication.
It doesn't stop there. There are the costumes, the accents, the banter, the staging, the Ed Sullivan impersonator; along with the breathtaking skill and attention to detail brought to the musical arrangements and performances. Over the years The Fab Four have progressed from a Tuesday open-mic night lark, to a Disneyland attraction, a Vegas headliner and, ultimately, the globe-trotting, ticket selling phenomenon they are today.
Over the years there have been several changes to The Fab Four cast, the most recent being the semi-retirement of founder and President Ron McNeil from performing as John Lennon. Ron has been ably replaced by veteran John Lennon impersonator [and dead ringer] Adam Hastings who most recently held that position with Bootleg Beatles. This leaves Ardy Sarraf as the only constant cast member since the show's inception, currently abetted by Joe Bologna as Ringo and Liverpool native Gavin Pring as George Harrison, along with Hastings.
Ardy Sarraf and Gavin Pring
"It's different..."Sarraf tells me on the phone from Baton Rouge where the Fabs are preparing for a gig. "...but because we've all substituted for each other over the years it's not that big of a deal. We're all used to seeing different guys on stage with us but, you've seen pictures of Adam [It's uncanny], he looks great on stage and, to be honest with you, the blend that Adam and I have is like the Everly Brothers. Everyone knows John and Paul were going for that Everly Brothers vocal sound with the contrast between Paul's soft, smooth voice and John's gravelly voice.
With Ron, we never quite had that sound because our voices were too much alike. Ron doesn't have that nasally type of tonality. So vocally, we sound much better. Instrumentally, it's hard to touch Ron, especially with the keyboard stuff, but I will say that Adam has been working very hard, with us and on his own, which is commendable.
People have been saying for years 'If only the John from Bootleg Beatles would join the Fab Four — that would be the ultimate.' Now it's happened and it's a big boost for us as a whole. It gives Ron time off to be with the family. Adam is excited and we're excited to have him."
Though The Fab Four are continually playing gigs all over the world, they always come back home to Southern California and one of their most important traditions is to play a huge, special show at the Pacific Amphitheater every summer during the Orange County Fair. I recall seeing them perform a tribute to Beatles movies a few years ago, featuring appropriately costumed sets of tunes from A Hard Day's Night, Help! and Let It Be. For this summer's extravaganza the theme is obvious. 2019 is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' brilliant swan song Abbey Road.
For me, Abbey Road is the album that set the standard for the FM radio revolution that was to come. Without the sonically superior Abbey Road you never get to The Dark Side of The Moon or Steely Dan's Aja. It was certainly an album that was never meant to be performed on stage.
As I peruse the back cover of my Abbey Road LP a number of challenges spring to mind in terms of performing all the tracks live — not the least of which include how to keep the patrons from heading to the bathroom during "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Octopus's Garden" [thank goodness the can't miss "Oh Darling" sits between them].
"It's funny..." Sarraf muses, "...because Ringo didn't even play it ["Octopus's Garden"] a month ago when I saw him. That was one of the songs he did not play, which was...interesting. But it's a fun song, I like that song. We'll be able to pull it off."
On performing "Because": "That is a great vocal harmony. It's not that tricky because we are competent musicians and singers — we each know what part we are going to sing. We've already started dissecting this stuff and putting them in our set here and there.
On "Maxwell's Silver Hammer": "We're trying to work out who is going to play what. Joe is probably going to play the synthesizer part because the song has no drums. Ron is also going to be playing on stage with us for some of the songs because you can't recreate the whole album with just four guys. There's places that need tambourine, there's acoustic and electric [guitars], extra percussion...so we'll have Ron and Joe, when he's not playing drums, on keyboards, percussion or whatever else is going on.
I've played "Maxwell's Silver Hammer before and it's a bit tricky, especially on bass when you're also singing. I might be performing it at the piano this time just to change things up. I think that and "She's So Heavy" are going to be the most challenging ones for vocal and sonic reasons. Luckily we have Mike [Amador, the band's original George Harrison and current manager] mixing us because he knows the stuff, he's played the stuff, so he knows what to listen for. By now you know what it's all about...the devil is in the details, still."
On Playing the big side two medley: "The medley...well that's...it's not like it's sacred or anything but everybody knows it. For us it isn't any different than doing the Sgt. Pepper's album which we did a couple of years ago. That was a bitch to do that stuff live. "Lovely Rita on the bass, left handed, while singing — that was a little bit of a chore but we pulled that one off.
We're trying to work out where I will switch to guitar [for the famed three-way solo-trading section]. Visually it would look cool if the three 'Beatles' were up there trading the solos. I've never done it like that, I've always just played the bass and let the other two handle the solos. We'll have to see how it works out.
Gavin, Joe and I have never done "You Never Give Me Your Money" all the way through. "Sun King," "Polythene Pam," "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" — to me, that's the tricky stuff right there. Even when there is no singing going on, all that instrumental stuff, solos and counter solos. It's all about relearning and rehashing it. It's fun stuff for sure."
How will they handle "Her Majesty?": "I don't want to give it away."
Finally, I asked Sarraf, as the last man standing, how much longer he'll be doing the Macca Mambo with the Fabs. Is it starting to get old for him? "No but I'm starting to get old though! It's funny because Ron and I started out about the same time, playing in other bands. I played with different Beatles bands around the world, I went to Japan when I was twenty.
It's just like any career, especially with all the traveling. You've got to know when to hang up the boots. On stage you've got to look good and sound good. I've got a few more years yet, before I hang up those boots.
The Fab Four return to Southern California next week for four shows before heading out for a run of shows up and down the eastern seaboard. You can check for dates near you at the link below.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.