Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry
Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg
Kimberley Rew is not a well known commodity in this vast world of ours. He's even less well known than...say...Robyn Hitchcock, who is also not particularly famous either...in the great scheme of things.
But, if I were to hum 'Doot-doot-doot da doot-doot da dotta-dotta, doot-doot-doot da doot-doot da dotta dotta...' to anyone, from my niece to my great aunt, they will all say "I know that song!"
Rew not only played guitar on that song, he wrote it, along with "Going Down To Liverpool," a hit for The Bangles and "Love Shine a Light," which was the last song to claim the Eurovision prize for England in 1997. Rew penned Celine Dion's hit song "That's Just the Woman In Me" along with a score of other lesser known rock and pop gems that are no less delightful.
Before any of that happened, Kimberley Rew was very well known to me and a few of my friends as the angular and frenetic lead guitarist for The Soft Boys, an out of time, neo-psychedelic Cambridge, UK collective led by the aforementioned Robyn Hitchcock in the late 70s.
Rew's guitar pyrotechnics are best showcased on the Soft Boys' debut LP A Can of Bees. His playing was reined in just a bit for the somewhat 'poppier' songs Hitchcock penned for their seminal follow up/swan song Underwater Moonlight, a discipline that would serve him well when he formed Katrina and the Waves and set out to conquer pop music.
The Soft Boys L to R: Kimberley Rew, Robyn Hitchcock (obviously), Matthew Seligman, Morris Windsor
Lee Cave-Berry is a figure lurking behind and astride the scenes during this entire period.
"We met, actually, ages and ages ago in 1977. The band my boyfriend and I were in had supported The Waves and we supported The Soft Boys on their first gig after Kimberley joined. It's, by the way, the only gig I've ever played where I was spat at," Cave-Berry tells me on the phone from their lock down sanctuary in Cambridge.
Rew adds, "The Waves were an early version of Katrina and the Waves, before I joined The Soft Boys." Tracks by the pre-Katrina Waves, along with a couple of early Rew penned songs recorded by The Soft Boys can be found on The Bible of Bop compilation. The previously unreleased, Rew composed song "Stomping All Over the World" [Included on Sunshine Walkers] is so catchy it deserves to be in its own sandwich commercial.
"Kimberley and I knew each other for a long time, but we were both going out with other people and were both concentrating on our own bands. We were in the friend box for along time, but then some things happened that took us out of the friend box about twenty years after we first met."
Lee Cave-Berry's contributions on Kimberley's early solo albums were modest at first — some backing vocals here and a bass part there — but things eventually developed into a full-fledged musical partnership sharing the billing on subsequent gigs and album releases.
This is all culminating in a new chapter for the pair as they have signed a deal with Ball In The Jack Records and are kicking things off with a summing up of the story so far. Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry is packed with twentyone tracks culled from Rew solo albums, Kim & Lee full collaborations and a couple of tracks from Lee Cave-Berry's outstanding solo album Spring Forward.
"We've never done any kind of promotion for any of our records really," says Cave-Berry. "We decided to do some promotion for our next record and the team at Ball In The Jack said we should put together this compilation first. We got suggestions from friends on what to include and chose others ourselves. We had a lot of fun doing it."
The album is a delight. Pure bop for wow people. It's full of rock, pop and a healthy dose of English whimsy as heard and seen in the video below for "Bloody Old England" which features a series of drawings by Rew who, by the way, also has a degree in Archeology from Cambridge University [bloody polymath!]. It is a welcome boon to fans that may have been asleep for the past two decades and missed the original albums which are becoming hard to find collector's items these days.
"The Dog Song" pokes some healthy fun at religion, while the bouncy, child friendly, ear worms "The End of the Rainbow" and "Purple Pajamas" will have you humming all day. There are some beautiful love ballads like "Happy Anniversary" and, especially, "The Safest Place," a song that will doubtless be used for a poignant scene in a movie one day. The lengthy set is punctuated with driving rockers like [literally] "English Road," "My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long," the whimsical "Backing Singer Blues" and a funky, wah-wah inflected Curtis Mayfield tribute "Flower Super Power," which includes a guitar solo that sends a wink Robin Trower's way.
If I have managed to make you at all curious about Kim & Lee's music, Sunshine Walkers is the perfect place to start your education.
Of course, I couldn't let Kimberley go without grilling him a little bit about The Soft Boys, particularly their surprising reunion in 2002, which included a new studio album, an EP and a lengthy world tour. I was curious whether he was all in or took some cajoling to participate.
"I was very OK with it. This was twenty years after the original split of The Soft Boys and I'm very glad I had all those experiences in those twenty years. It gave me some perspective, as they say in Spinal Tap. The timing was actually quite fortunate as Katrina and the Waves had just split up. Robyn, his [then] wife Michele, Lee, Alex [Cooper, Katrina and the Waves drummer] and his wife and I were all at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell in 1999 and Robyn sort of implied that perhaps it was time for a reunion.
Alex and I had just put a song up for the Eurovision song contest. The news came through that our song had been knocked out of competition, which was kind of a relief, actually. It meant that I wouldn't have entered into a reunion with divided loyalties as it were."
Lee Cave-Berry recalls, "I remember that tour fondly. I saw a lot of that tour. I remember Kimberley saying 'I can't believe I've found a girl that actually enjoys sound checks'!"
Kimberley Rew, if he had not found his voice as a remarkable and prolific songwriter, would doubtless have become a top flight session guitarist. Rew's rhythm chops are unrivaled. He keeps time like an organic steam hammer. He hits the strings harder than anybody I've ever heard play but is always in complete command. I asked him how he developed his aggressively competent style.
"I'm not a confident person — I'm not outgoing. I'm not a bandleader or a front man or a lead singer type. I guess that all gets transferred to the guitar. That's kind of my strong suit. There is a certain amount of will power I use to keep the song moving forward."
Since this lock down began, Kim and I have been performing live on Facebook Wednesday nights. We're able to play together because we live together, just guitar and bass. In our earlier Wednesday internet sessions the sound of my hand hitting the strings was the loudest thing in the room. It was drowning out the amplification and louder than our vocals. We had to get microphones."
The Soft Boys "Insanely Jealous" is a great example of the 6-string mischief of Kimberley Rew
Throughout our interview it is apparent how much in love the pair are, even after months spent together cooped up in their house to avoid contracting the Covid-19 virus which sadly took the life of Rew's former Soft Boys band mate Matthew Seligman at far too young an age.
Kimberley Rew is very humble about his abilities and his accomplishments and Lee Cave-Berry, no slouch herself in the talent department, is his biggest cheerleader. When Rew tells me "I don't improvise very much..." Cave-Berry immediately chimes in "He can improvise, he just chooses not to very often!" When I compliment Cave-Berry on the remarkable breadth of songs on her solo album she coyly states that she isn't currently writing much new material for a follow up because "It's a bit difficult when you have a songwriting icon the house. Everything ends up chucked in the bin!" Rew sheepishly interjects "Steady on, old girl!"
Rew and his former band Katrina and the Waves were recently honored by Eurovision when the global pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 contest in its normal format. A replacement television show was devised and renamed Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light, and featured all of this year's contestants performing Rew's prize winning song "Love Shine a Light."
Rew and Cave-Berry, despite the current state of the world, seem energized and ready to carry on. They have three more videos ready for release to help promote Sunshine Walkers and "Our bid for world domination, will continue with a couple more albums of new material, Rew says"
Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry is released worldwide on July 17, 2020 and will be available as a download and a CD. See links below.
01 The Dog Song
02 It Makes Me Happy
03 Bloody Old England
04 Backing Singer Blues
05 The End Of Our Rainbow
06 English Road
07 The Safest Place
08 All I Want Is You For Christmas
09 Yours Truly
10 Hey War Pig
11 Some Days You Eat The Bear
12 Purple Pyjamas
13 Stomping All Over The World
14 Happy Anniversary
15 Flat Cat
16 My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long
17 Flower Superpower
18 I Want You
19 Restless Ocean
20 She’s Still Got It
21 Simple Pleasures
Album review by Eric Sandberg
I recently reviewed a tribute album called Garden of Earthly Delights, a sprawling two-disc collection of XTC covers. All told, if you include the bonus digital selections, there are forty nine tracks by forty nine different artists, virtually none of whom had managed to come to my attention previously.
That this collection was uniformly excellent throughout is a tribute to Futureman Records and the project's coordinator Keith Klingensmith. More importantly it is an indication that there is a mind bogglingly large assortment of skilled musicians, artists and producers roaming this planet albeit with very small audiences.
As a music fanatic with a strong natural instinct to explore and support aspiring musicians, this put me in a quandary. I wanted to check out many of these artists' own music but, where to start? even as a latecomer to Spotify, the prospect was daunting.
To start, I chose the most memorable name from the album's roster, Coke Belda, who did a delightful, spritely version of Colin Moulding's "Standing In For Joe." Of course, I read the name as kōk , like that soft drink that tastes like battery acid, but it is, in fact pronounced like croquet without the 'r.' The first thing I learned about Coke Belda from his Facebook page is that he is from Pittsburgh (via Valencia, Spain), a city where I spent my deformative years and holds a special place in my heart.
Digression: As a teenager in Pittsburgh, music was the single most important thing in my life (at least until I got a girlfriend). As a budding record collector and guitar player, my two most frequented establishments were Jim's Records and Pittsburgh Guitars. These sanctuaries were operated by surrogate uncles (older brothers?) Jim Spitznagel and Carl Grefenstette respectively and were frequented by a host of characters — older guys who were part of the local music community.
I wasn't old enough to go to the clubs where they played, but I was a fan of The Flashcats (Carl's band), Eddie & The Otters (Jim's band), The Hank Band (fronted by the quixotic Hank Lawhead III) and The Hornets (which combined various members of the above named bands, anticipating Asia by several years).
The industrious Grefenstette formed his own record label Bogus Records with Lee Walker and set about recording and compiling tracks for a record called Made In Pittsburgh Vol. 1. For me, it was very exciting to know people who were on a record, even if they made it and put it out themselves. The album had a little of everything from the paisley rock of Eddie & The Otters and The Hank Band to the country rock leanings of Gravel (fronted by Bob Corbin and Dave Hanner who went on to gain international acclaim as songwriters) to the arena rock aspirations of Empire.
Bogus Records would issue two more volumes, with Vol. 3 highlighting Pittsburgh's burgeoning New Wave scene. All three albums sound really good and are a treasured part of Pittsburgh history, but are not likely to be confused with a Steely Dan record production-wise.
Of course, all these people had day jobs (in my capacity as a buyer for a Los Angeles based record and video chain in the early 90s I crossed paths with Hank Lawhead III who was a representative for a potential vendor), but put countless hours into their passion for music.
It wasn't as easy back then. Putting together a recording studio was an almost prohibitive expense. This brings us back to Coke Belda and so many artists like him here in 2020.
Just as I was investigating him, Belda announced the release of Coke Belda 4. I ordered a CD copy from Kool Kat Music and received it in the mail almost as quickly as if I had just bought the download. The album, recorded at Coke Belda Studios, which is likely a computer in his basement, sounds like it could have been recorded at Air Studios or Abbey Road. Belda wrote all the songs and performs nearly all the instruments and vocals himself in a melodic power pop tour de force.
Belda doesn't wear his influences on his sleeve, they're tattooed on his bicep, and he's not shy about it. The first track "Thank You, Paul" announces itself with Revolver style guitars and name checks a litany of relatively obscure McCartney songs. The Beatles influence can be heard throughout. "Believe" is a pop shuffle updating of the riff from "Blackbird," while Andy Partridge's own Beatles influence filters through on "Harlan, Kentucky," and John Lennon's ghost informs "6X8 Basement" and "Watching You." You'll also detect snatches of Squeeze and other new wavy styles in some of the arrangements.
Repeated listening, however, reveals Belda's own voice and sensibilities as a songwriter and performer. Listen to the album again and again (and believe me, you will be compelled to) and your admiration for Belda's talent will grow. Like all great pop music, it's infectious. This album has big time international appeal and deserves to be heard by a wide audience. And to think it was it was made in Pittsburgh by a guy with a day job.
Album Review by Eric Sandberg
Under normal circumstances, I would have made a beeline to Rhino Records in Claremont, CA on my lunch break Friday to snag a copy of Canadian treasure Ron Sexsmith's new album. Knowing this was not going to be an option, I pre-ordered a copy on Amazon, who understandably weren't able to get it to me on time.
But, as I set out to walk my dog Freddie Mercury this morning, I realized I could sneak in a first listen on Spotify. I turned my phone all the way up and slipped it into my pants pocket. The first thing I noticed was that Sexsmith's velvety, butterscotch pudding voice loses none of its warmth and charm as it shimmers out of the tiny speaker in my pocket. I've been struggling with my blood pressure the last couple of weeks but I don't think the extra medication my doctor prescribed has been as effective at bringing it down as has listening to Ron Sexsmith sing his new batch of songs.
Of course, the release of this album was planned long before current events, which adds extra, unintended, meaning to the album's title. The songs were inspired by Sexsmith and his family's move from the big city to the quiet village of Stratford. I visited Stratford once in my senior year in High School, but saw none of it. We were bussed up there from Pittsburgh overnight so we could sleep through a Shakespeare matinee and bussed back right after — the only positive result being a hook up with my first serious girlfriend.
The album's fourteen songs are all lovely, impeccably arranged and played, and serve as a wonderful oasis from maniacal "press briefings" and death tickers. The lead single "You Don't Want To Hear It" is as prescient as the album's title and is as perfect a slice of flawless pop music as you'll ever hear.
It's hard to imagine how Sexsmith found time to write and record this album as he seems to be constantly providing free entertainment on Twitter — whether its his elaborate, cornball punning, performing acoustic renditions of his favorite songs or being one of the leading (and imaginative) foreign Donald Trump bashers — his Twitter account is a must-follow.
Finding ways to be entertained in these trying times has become a priority of sorts these days and new releases by great and seasoned artists like Ron Sexsmith and Fiona Apple, who seems to be pulling all the media attention with her first album in eight years, are like a jutting branch to grab onto for a moment's respite as we flail down the rapids.
This is great time to pretend Ron Sexsmith's Hermitage is a well-adorned island in Animal Crossing. Go pay him a visit.
Album review by Eric Sandberg
Editor's note: Before I get started I would just like to allay any suspense and declare that this is the greatest tribute album to one band ever compiled.
Dozens of tribute albums are released every year. Current Yes bassist Billy Sherwood has turned the tribute album into a cottage industry for fun and profit, trotting out the usual cast of aging progsters he has on speed dial.
Mike Varney of Magna Carta Records and studio rat Bruce Kulick have also churned out countless tribute records featuring the same cast of classic rock characters as selling points. These tributes usually consist of backing tracks recorded by house musicians and later adorned with vocals or guitar or keyboard solos from name artists via the internet. The quality of these efforts range from average to misguided to shameful money grab.
Garden of Earthly Delights — An XTC Celebration is special for several reasons:
Firstly, proceeds benefit The Wild Honey Foundation, an organization that seamlessly intertwines great charitable work with great music, benefiting cutting edge Autism research and data sharing.
Secondly, this album has all the hallmarks of a Wild Honey Orchestra tribute show minus people running on and off stage, forgetting to plug in their guitars and your legs going numb in a chair for three hours [I listened to this album twice through today while curled up in a fetal position on my couch]. I confess to not being familiar with the majority of the musician's names associated with each track, though I know of Paul Meyers, The Anderson Council and Gentle Hen, whom I love like they're my nephews.
L to R: Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers, Dave Gregory, Andy Partridge of XTC
Some of the names I associate with the aforementioned Wild Honey Orchestra, and I suspect that at least a couple of the band names are merely clever conceits, masking collaborations among various combinations of members of that extended musician family. These can possibly be spotted by their lush, Brian Wilson influenced arrangements.
Thirdly, the album is, to quote Andy Partridge, "big and long and supercharged with song." It's available in a beautiful 2-CD package from Futureman Records, with artwork by Yamato Kawada, and includes a download with seventeen additional songs — or — just as a download including all forty nine uniformly excellent XTC cover versions, digital artwork and a complete track information guide.
Until now, I've never heard a tribute album that didn't have at least one misguidedly horrible take on a beloved song [anybody remember Encomium?]. Garden of Earthly Delights provides forty nine sides of joy and I don't have even one minor quibble with any of them. Many of these versions are downright thrilling.
Some highlights among the highlights include Coke Belda and El Inquieto Roque's urgent rock shuffle version of Colin Moulding's "Standing In for Joe," Tom Curless and the 46%'s "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love," and Chris Church's "Stupidly Happy", where Church comes up with many interesting variations on the song's repetitive guitar riff. You can fight me on this, but Andy and Colin sounded tired on those final two albums and these cover versions breathe new life into these three worthy songs.
Also notable are I Think Like Midnight's Acid Jazzy instrumental take on "Runaways," Randy Sly's "Books Are Burning," the aforementioned Gentle Hen's "No Thugs In Our House," Paul Meyer's "Rook" and...well, this is truly a rabbit hole I could go down because every track in this tribute is a delight.
The collection also includes songs only deep end [like me] XTC fans will appreciate as several songs from Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles series and Blu-ray only songs from Steven Wilson's XTC remix project are also represented.
Sadly the digital booklet that comes with the download lists the individual production credits but does not include who was responsible for coordinating this amazing project because I would like to submit whoever it is for a Knighthood...or a Damehood, or both. Now, I'm going to curl up and listen to it again.
Daydreaming at Midnight: The Wild Honey Orchestra Presents a Celebration of The Lovin' Spoonful, Saturday, 2/29/20, The Alex Theater, Glendale, CA
Concert review by Eric Sandberg
Question: How many musicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Possible answer: it depends on the arrangement.
Actual answer: most musicians can't afford to pay their electric bill.
If you love musicians — their enthusiasm, their quirky dress style, ridiculous hats, and their relentless confidence that there isn't anything they can't play — then you should have been at the Alex Theater in Glendale, CA Saturday night where a veritable host of working musicians paid tribute to the classic American rock band The Lovin' Spoonful.
More importantly, the show featured the first reunion of the surviving original members of the band since their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, although main songwriter John Sebastian said in an interview that the show isn't a true reunion as he, drummer/singer Joe Butler and bassist Steve Boone were merely participants of a larger celebration and that it can't be a true reunion without their late lead guitarist Zal "Zally" Yanovsky who passed away in 2002.
The evening began with a bang, literally, as concertgoers were startled by a loud sound that seemed to shake the building. Indeed, Paul Rock, director of the Wild Honey Foundation, began the evening in vamp mode, alluding to an accident in which someone was hurt and they were awaiting the arrival of paramedics.
Rock used the time to re-introduce his sixteen year old son Jake who suffers from non-verbal autism. Jake's appearance on stage illustrated the importance of the evening's true cause which is to benefit The Autism Think Tank/Autism Healthcare Collaborative, a group of physicians, therapists and parents of non-verbal autistic children who share research, treatment options and dietary breakthroughs online with the goal of reducing the often misunderstood pain and suffering of these children.
Rock discussed the progress Jake has made over the past five years after going on a specially developed nutrition plan. Seeing Jake stay on stage with his father throughout was touching and inspiring.
San Francisco musician/journalist Pat Thomas took the stage to begin a long night as emcee/play-by-play commentator, keeping us apprised of the endless musical lineup changes occurring between every two and a half minute song (forty numbers in all after the dust finally settled in the early hours of March).
The three Spoons began and ended the show together onstage by themselves, occasionally reappearing throughout the lengthy set for various numbers, with John Sebastian staying on stage for many of the guest shots. He seemed to be having a wonderful time, as were we.
There were moments when the sheer number of musicians coming and going from the stage threatened to become tedious and the varying degrees of rehearsal that went into each number and musician grouping was apparent. It's a fun evening for these musicians and clearly many petitioned musical director Rob Laufer to be involved, with Laufer apparently loath to say no to anyone.
An argument could be made that the pacing of the show and the ability of the musicians involved to play in at least similar time signatures consistently might be improved by paring the backing band down to a consistent six or eight musicians, but all the chaos proved to be part of the show's charm. Former Cars guitarist Elliott "underrated" Easton was more than fashionably late to the stage for a couple of his numbers, providing some unintentionally humorous moments.
You can refer to the official graphic posted above for a list of the featured guest stars that performed, but I will mention some of the performances that were highlights for me.
Marshall Crenshaw played a sparkling version of "Rain on the Roof," and did all the singers that came after him a tremendous favor by sternly requesting that the vocal mic be turned up, "way up." Susan Cowsill, looking like she just rode in on a TARDIS from 1969, gave an excellent reading of "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice." David "It's..." Goodstein showed equally impressive chops as a drummer and a singer on "Warm Baby."
Claudia Lennear leaned on a chair for support as she belted out the Mann/Spector/Weil classic "You Baby," accompanied by an admiring Sebastian. Mickey Dolenz brought every ounce of his showbiz charisma and seasoned vocal styling to "Daydream" while Peter Case and his Telecaster nearly brought down the house with two consecutive rave ups "Blues In the Bottle" and "4 Eyes."
Dave Alvin strayed from the format with a powerful electric blues workout affording John Sebastian the opportunity to showcase his nasty blues harmonica skills, but the best performance of the evening award must go to Frankie Lee Drennen and Cindi Wasserman of Dead Rock West and their powerful, sublime, and clearly well-rehearsed take on Sebastian's solo song "How Have You Been," a performance that elevated an already excellent tune and momentarily grounded a delightful albeit hectic night of music.
Many more excellent musicians contributed to this wonderful program but the true stars were the songs themselves, the vast majority of which were written, or co-written by John Sebastian and make a strong case that he should be recognized as a national treasure.
The evening, which began with a bang, ended with a whistle as Sebastian, Butler and Boone remained on the stage, with midnight looming. Sebastian told a funny story about Diana Ross and, leaving an open mic between them, to honor the departed Zally, the three reprised "Daydream" with Sebastian whistling the evening to a close.
Photo by Michael Berman
Sadly, there was no opportunity for patrons to bask in the afterglow of the show in the lobby as every minute after midnight was eating into the profits. Pat Thomas was forced to sternly admonish everyone to "Leave now!" But the sold out audience got what they paid for and, more importantly, the Autism Healthcare Collaborative received more funding for its great work.
So close I could smell the fancy red wine on his breath.
(Editor's note: As I was about to leave for this show, my youngest approached me telling me she needed a manatee costume for a church play the next morning. Desperate, I called up our foreign correspondent (he's from Perris) Cletus R. Dungleberry to see if he could cover the show for me. As it happens, Cletus is the Shits' mother's uncle's daughter's [out of wedlock] Pastor's son, so he knows the boys in Jackshit well, and hadn't got up with them since last week, so he was happy to go – Eric Sandberg)
Concert review by Cletus R. Dungleberry
Saturday afternoon, I was out splittin' logs when mama called me in for a phone call. My editor needed me to drop my axe and get on over to Jack Nicholson Canyon in Hollywood to report on a rock and roll show at a house. Now, that didn't seem too appealing to me. I hadn't been to Hollywood since the roads were dirt, and I was about to tell him my truck was broke, when he told me the band was Jackshit.
Now I've knowed those boys in Jackshit since we was knee high to a gopher, and I don't really like them much personally, but I lent Shorty Shit $20 last Thursday and he said he would come by the house and pay me back that night after his horse come in but he never showed. So I told my editor I would go, if only to knock that glistening cock off Shorty's head.
Well, my truck really was busted, but I knew Jackshit's drummer Pete Shit would be passin' right by my house on the way to the gig, and Pete is the only guy in Cochtotan who has a horse with a side carriage. I also could have asked Beau for a ride but I was afraid he would make me late for the show because he likes to stop and take a drink on the way. Pete don't drink nothin' but Lemon-lime Spindrift so I knew I was safer ridin' with him.
Pete woke me up when we got to the house, and it was a big house, with lot's a city folk standin' round eatin' fancy crackers with cheese and drinkin' Stella Artooey beer, so I hung out with the pretty dog in the foy-ee-ay [that's French].
This here's that pretty dog I was tellin' you about.
Anyways, I had heard a rumor that Jackshit had added a second guitarist because Beau was startin' to like his wine a bit too much and was gettin' to be unreliable, kinda like when Pink Floyd brung in Dave Gilmour when Syd Barrett was actin' goofy [I know my shit – I got this job for a reason].
Well, It's time for the show to start and Beau, Shorty and Pete are all still in the kitchen eatin' crackers and this new guy Hasty Shit [the oldest brother who recently got released from Chino] likes to get to bed on time so he goes and starts the show by hisself. He gets up there and starts singin' the Dylan Brothers' "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight." He ain't bad, so the boys figure they better get up there. I was sittin' right up front, 'cause I was the press and all, and I heard Beau and Hasty have a few words. Hasty kept calling Beau "Val" and I was like, damn, because I knew that Val was the name of the guy in middle school who looked just like Beau and stoled his girlfriend.
Next thing I know, Hasty sets his guitar down and stomps off the stage leaving the Shit's to muddle through with Beau who was knocking back some fancy red wine like it was pickle juice. Well, they set to fallin' into their old routine, startin' things off with "Hi, How Are Ya?" from their second shitty album and went right into "Devil In Disguise (AKA: Christine's Tune)" what another group of brothers named Burrito covered first.
New member Hasty Shit starts the show. I suspect their mama might have been steppin' out.
Then they set to chattin' amongst themselves like there wasn't a room full of people settin' in front of them. Shorty said the place looked like Canigli Hall but I know for a fact he ain't never been there 'cause he don't practice. Finally they started playin' "Tiger By The Tail" which was first covered by the Buckaroo Brothers.
Then they just start jawin' again about their favorite subject which is the glistening cock on Shorty's chapeau [that's French]. I learned a lot of French from the Shits 'cause they grew up on a Indian reservation in Cochtotan, California. Pete Shit reminded everybody that it was the Croissant Tribe of Indians with that funny way of talkin' he has.
Well, they kept on like that – runnin' their mouths and playin' one great song after another. One thing I'll say about those boys, they can play. When Beau takes it easy on the red wine, no one can touch him on the guitar. The boy can flat out rip it and he had the folks gaspin' and droppin' the cheese off their crackers.
I truly believe Beau thinks he may have sharted here and Pete is pretty sure he did.
Now Shorty is right good on that bass, practice or no. He done played this really hard bass part on a song The Bowie Brothers covered called "Ashes To Ashes," and sang it great, too – even though he had a Ricola in his mouth [that's just talent, son]. Shorty never made eye contact with me once so I knowed he didn't have my $20. Pete? He's just back there by hisself with a blank look on his face, keepin' time like a Swiss watch.
Jackshit ran through their "five song trilogy' [Beau was always math-challenged] of darkness and gloom before bringing down the house with "Ugly and Slouchy" their famous medley of all the other songs they wrote that got covered by more famous folks like The Brothers Who, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sugarloaf, Jeff Beck, Chicago, The Creamy Triplets and many, many more. It went on so long, my titanium lower back started fussin' in the chair, but boy howdy, you ain't seen nothin' like it, and if you ever get the chance, you gotta go see Jackshit play.
During "Ashes to ashes" Pete really had to concentrate to keep the Shits on track.
Meanwhile, he don't think nobody can notice, but Hasty Shit keeps sneakin' up behind Beau with a bottle and fillin' up Beau's wine glass hopin' Beau might do somethin' to get hisself fired. Beau did get a little loopy. At one point he called Pete "Thomas" which was the name of their real brother who fell down a well. Pete ain't blood kin to Beau and Shorty. They said he got left on the porch in a basket which might be why he talks so funny.
Anyways, it was a great show, good crackers and a pretty dog, but Pete Shit took off with the pretty dog in his side carriage so I had to walk home to Perris. I wasn't gettin' in the car with Beau 'cause he either needs to quit drinkin' or quit drivin' and there's a FOR SALE sign on his windshield.
Photos by Michael Berman and Cletus R. Dungleberry.
Shorty tryin' not to get outsharted.
During the show, Beau came over and asked me to pass his regards to my mama.
Press On album cover art by Isaac Himmelman
Album Review by Eric Sandberg – Press On by Peter Himmelman
After two major label stints and many releases through various indie distributors on his own Frinny Records imprint, Press On is Peter Himmelman's third straight album made under the aegis of his own fans via Kickstarter. Over this period his supporters have been rewarded with early access to three of his finest albums to date, each one better than the last.
These releases are likely break-even affairs for Himmelman, if not losses considering how the most carefully planned project budgets can go awry. Himmelman's primary means of support is his company Big Muse, a consulting firm that assists corporations and businesses to grow by helping personnel remove mental barriers and unlock their creativity. Himmelman published his self-help process in book form Let Me Out: Unlock Your Creative Mind and Bring Your Ideas To Life in 2016.
So why does Peter Himmelman still regularly go through the tremendous bother to seek funding, assemble musicians, rent expensive studio time, pay a producer, engineer and a mastering technician, etc? To paraphrase one of his best songs 'the songs keep ticking out and the songs must keep him sane.'
Himmelman is a prolific songwriter who has released fourteen solo rock albums, five albums of music for hip children and ten collections of songs that didn't quite make the cut in the Himmevaults series. These songs ultimately serve as his best and only public outlet for all his rage, sadness, love and hope for humanity as it faces whatever is going on in the world when these songs come to him.
Himmelman is one America's greatest and most under-appreciated lyric songwriters. Why isn't he more famous? It's most likely because he has stayed steadfastly true to himself and never succumbed to the pressures of major label marketing. He didn't change his last name to Byron or Keats, and he recorded a concept album [the excellent Skin which Sony struggled to promote] just as he was poised to break through with major label support.
Peter Himmelman in studio recording Press On
Himmelman also has the tendency to come off as overly serious, if not pedantic. The first time I heard his music was in the buying office of Show Industries [parent company of the nearly forgotten LA-based record chain Music +]. I went over to the Sony buyer and asked "Who is this guy and what on Earth is he whining about?" But a few weeks later, at party to kick off a joint promotion with Sony, I got to see Himmelman perform live and I immediately understood. In person, Himmelman is as funny and engaging as his songs are serious and profound.
After performing a few songs, Himmelman felt isolated on stage with only his acoustic guitar. He tested the length of his cables and moved to the floor and continued to sing with such unbridled passion that the only barrier between him and his audience was the distance the spittle flew from his mouth as he tore through his repertoire.
It is Peter Himmelman live that has garnered him a small but fiercely loyal audience that is willing to pay in advance in anticipation of new music. Not enough to sustain him and his family, but enough to make it worthwhile to make an album such as Press On.
On social media, Himmelman is circumspect, offering positive philosophical platitudes aimed at promoting spiritual growth. On record, Peter Himmelman is a snarling groove monster, delivering his ever-insightful and poetic takes on the current state of the world.
"This is the sound of guns and silence
After a year of blood and violence
These are the men grey with ash
Rolling their barrels of useless cash
The clocks have frozen on a night so cold
The sun has dropped the jokes growing old
And wouldn’t you know the joke’s on us my friends
The dam has burst the bubble’s popped
We dove headfirst, we belly flopped
Inhaling whatever providence sends
This is how it ends
This is how it ends,"
Himmelman sings to an ironically hopeful ascending piano line draped over a pulsating rhythm which recalls Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes." "This Is How It Ends" is followed by "The Wail of the Trumpets, The Clatter of the Hoof Beats" with a finger picked treble-y guitar riff so wicked that Himmelman lets it go on for two extra bars before singing,
"Plugged in full time, turned on high crime
Can’t take your eyes off your tiny little screen
Nothing’s worth a damn if it ain’t the color green
Lift off back down what’s your background
Safe inside your home while it storms and sleets
People walkin ‘round with crosses and sheets
Listen so close for the wail of trumpets and the clatter of the hoof beats"
The album's thirteen tracks each instantly grab you with their urgency and poignancy, all driven by a crisp acoustic guitar groove and adorned with just the right amount of drums, piano, organ and electric guitar. The album closer "This Is My Offering" brings it all back home with a pledge,
"This is my offering, it don’t dance or sing —it ain’t no diamond ring
You can’t buy it at the five and dime, it’s beyond logic, money or time
It’s not a place or thing —this is my offering
This is my sacred vow, it ain’t no horse or plow, it ain’t no milkin cow
It won’t protect you from the drivin rain, it won’t relieve your muscle pain
It’s in the past, it’s here right now —this is my sacred vow."
Press On is a groove, a thrill ride, a signal of hope in desperate times, and a promise to continue. More people need to hear it.
Concert Review by Eric Sandberg
There was a time not too long ago when it seemed like Robyn Hitchcock might be getting old. After his association with The Venus 3 [R.E.M. alumni Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin] came to its natural conclusion, Hitchcock's black and white polka dot Telecaster drifted to the back of his closet.
Hitchcock toured extensively with his acoustic guitar, recording only sporadically, his voice showing some raspy wear and tear on the higher notes. During this period Hitchcock moved to Nashville and had chance encounter in a festival audience with a wry, whip-smart singer/songwriter from Australia named Emma Swift. The two struck up a friendship, a romance, and a partnership.
Swift began appearing on stage with Hitchcock, providing lush and ethereal harmony vocals, taking Hitchcock acoustic classics like "Glass Hotel" and "Raining Twilight Coast" to new heights. They released two well received vinyl singles together and Hitchcock became inspired to push aside the golf clubs in the closet and fish out his electric guitar, playing shows on tour with pickup bands in various cities and a special show performing his first solo album Black Snake Diamond Röle with Yo La Tengo backing him up.
The Hitchconaissance continued, with Hitchcock penning the gorgeous "Sunday Never Comes" for Ethan Hawke to sing in the film Juliet Naked, and later releasing a single with an electric band version of the song along with the urgent "Take Off Your Bandages."
If that weren't enough, a fabled potential collaboration with XTC songsmith Andy Partridge manifested itself in the number one [in Great Britain] selling EP Planet England. All this and the indefatigable Hitchcock continues to tour, never letting his fans across North America, the UK and Europe go too long without a chance to see him entertain.
Robyn Hitchcock's December appearance at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles has become something of an annual event. In the past they have featured numerous guests on stage, most notably Heartbreaker, and session ace, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion and, of course, Emma Swift.
This year the show was nearly 100% Robyn Hitchcock on stage, by himself, with an acoustic guitar [he was joined midway through the second set by Emma Swift and Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats on harmony vocals] but no one was the least bit disappointed as Hitchcock played two engaging sets, drawing heavily from his A&M period. "Balloon Man," "Madonna of the Wasps," "One Long Pair of Eyes," "So You Think You're In Love," as well as "Raining Twilight Coast," "Linctus House" and "Glass Hotel" from the beloved Twin Tone solo album Eye.
Hitchcock sounds utterly rejuvenated, his voice returned to full strength, easily navigating the highs and lows. With Hitchcock's unorthodox playing style, his fret hand often resembles a tarantula scampering up and down the neck of his guitar.
Hitchcock began the second set at the house piano, playing his first solo single "The Man Who Invented Himself," "Ted, Woody and Junior" [a song inspired by a feature in a thinly disguised men's fitness magazine], and a brand new "song in progress" which is among the most sophisticated, beautiful and un-cynical love songs this, now young, man has ever written.
As usual, Hitchcock delivered his highly entertaining, stream of consciousness, between-song banter, eliciting many laugh out loud moments. Hitchcock's digressions are ephemeral and hard to remember the next morning. I do recall several references to spores, squids and his cat, a one-eyed Scottish Fold named Tubby; along with the notion that poor old Great Britain appears to be in the process of shedding Scotland, Ireland and Wales and will soon be towed across the pond and moored off the coast of Delaware. Perhaps the funniest moment came during the encore as Hitchcock prepared to sing Bob Dylan's "Dear Landlord."
"Some people resist aging and some move right along with it. The composer of this next song is like wax that is melting faster than the candle. He's become unrecognizable."
Hitchcock began the encore at the piano, banging out an astounding arrangement of the early Pink Floyd classic "Astronomy Domine," From my vantage point, near the back of the house, Hitchcock's hands began to resemble lobster claws as they rose and fell onto the keys. Robyn returned to the guitar for one final number, John Lennon's "God" [I dare you to name another artist with that song in their repertoire].
In an era when most veteran artists, of great and small stature, milk their fans with pricey meet and greet sessions, Robyn Hitchcock continues to come out to greet a lengthy line of fans, Sharpie in hand, no charge.
Alice Howe & band: Live at Genghis Cohen, 10/18/2019
Concert Review by Michael Berman
Photos by Michael Berman
It's not always easy to go out on a Friday night in LA, at least if you have my life. You've worked all week and maybe been on a couple of planes, and you know there's going to be traffic. You want to go to a show at a Chinese restaurant on Fairfax and your first two thoughts are -- how long will it take? where will I park? But when you get to hear great singing with masterful accompaniment in an intimate setting -- the rewards are real.
I've been a fan of Alice Howe since I first heard her sing in New York last summer, and downloaded a copy of her 2019 album Visions. Produced by bass player & all-around musical mind Freebo, recorded in a small studio in Bakersfield, it's a striking debut that assures you of three things about Alice Howe: she's got a talent for writing songs, she has a great voice, and she knows how to find the right musicians to hang around with. Visions is a timeless collection of music that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1978 as easily as 2018, with clean clear up-front vocals and shimmering musical accompaniment. If you like Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Taj Mahal, and old Bob Dylan, you will really enjoy Visions.
Of course this presents a challenge. While there's surely music fan's Alice's age that like such music, her natural draw is my generation, and it seems like most such folks would rather fork out $300 to see The Eagles than go to a venue off the side of a Chinese restaurant and pay $10 to hear a singer who's probably younger than their children and who was never on FM radio. But that's a shame, because what Alice Howe has is gold, and what it's worth won't change.
I'm confident that Alice's natural stage presence, warm voice, and quite decent acoustic guitar playing make her well-worth seeing on the solo stage, but catching her with most of the band that accompanied on her recent record was ideal. Freebo is a solid and soulful eminence on the fretless, sliding effortlessly between notes and always hitting the right places. Buzzbee Morse knows just when to lay back and when to step in on the guitar, and when brought forward to solo on Muddy Water's Honey Bee, his facial contortions were nearly as entertaining as his crack blues guitar licks. And John "JT" Thomas on the keys did the perfect job complimenting Alice's voice and arrangements; his accordion performance on Gold was particularly moving.
But none of this would matter without the songs, and Alice brings the goods. She's got about a half-dozen first-class numbers in her repertoire -- Homeland Blues, Twilight, Still On My Mind, What We Got it Gold, You Just Never Know, some written solo and some in collaboration with Freebo -- that are gems any songwriter would be proud of. I'm excited to see what will come next as her writing seems to be getting stronger and more sophisticated with time. And her confidence in her singing also seems to be growing; as she seemed to dig deeper into them live than on her recordings, good though they are.
After she closed with a stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You which moved most of the small crowd nearly to tears, I was aware that I was in the presence of a music talent. But I also wondered -- where is the rest of the audience? Does Alice Howe have better songs or sing them better than Joni Mitchell? That would be too much to ask of anyone, but seeing her live, her energy bouncing between her outstanding band and her attentive audience, was a special, one-of-a-kind experience that you don't get listening to Spotify or classic rock radio, or from watching 60% of the Eagles going through the motions from 1200 feet away. I only wish more people were willing to get out there and hear Alice and the many other current musicians who are making great music in traditional styles or blazing new musical trails. There's gold out there and you don't even have to look that hard for it. Please get out there and support live music!
Dead Rock West: Live At McCabe's — Glitter & Gold Record Release Celebration
Concert review by Eric Sandberg
Photos by Eric Sandberg
If Dead Rock West were ever to saunter onto the stage of America's Got Talent, and stand before whatever four schlubs are the current sitting judges, they could sing any song from their repertoire and shortly find themselves covered in Golden Buzzer confetti.
Their music is as American as music gets, whether they're singing covers or their own first rate songs, the combined voices of Cindy Wasserman and Frankie Lee Drennen immediately evoke the Everly Brothers, without copying them. They clearly embrace the similarities, having just released their second collection of Everly's covers Glitter & Gold, which also features one new song written by Drennen and Exene Cervenka.
The Cars' Elliot Easton and The Blasters' Dave Alvin let loose on guitar and two tracks feature the late, great Ratdog bassist, and brother to Cindy, Rob Wasserman. Many of the tracks also feature The Section (String) Quartet.
As worthy counter-programming to the Emmys, Dead Rock West played an intimate show at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica Sunday night to celebrate the release of Glitter & Gold. They opened the first set as a duo, performing an impassioned rendition of the title track from their previous, John Doe produced, album of all original songs More Love.
Then, as is custom, Wasserman launched into a powerful accapella reading of the hymn-like "Tell the Angels" from their Peter Case produced album Bright Morning Stars, serving as a walk-on for Dead Rock West's band, consisting this evening of Geoff Pearlman on electric and acoustic guitar, David J. Carpenter on uke bass and upright bass, and the natty Phil Parlapiano on keys.
The first set heavily showcased songs from the brilliant More Love, including "Stereo," "Boundless, Fearless Love," "Nail Gun" and "Darkness Never Tells," featuring a fantastic San Francisco psychedelic extended tele solo from Pearlman.
...at this point I would like to digress from my admittedly dry account of the evening's festivities, because I have a purpose here, and that purpose is to get you to check out Dead Rock West. I do not possess the talent to describe how wonderful they are. Cindy and Frank knew, coming down the creaky wooden stairs, that the audience was going to be on the smaller side — the folding chairs were set with two spacious aisles, did not extend to the back wall and were not all filled.
Yet they thanked the diminutive, but exuberant crowd for being there on a Sunday night opposite the Emmys and performed as if they were in front of a sell-out crowd at the Hollywood Bowl. Cindy Wasserman is a sensational vocalist who can out warble more famous divas with one tonsil tied behind her uvula. Frankie Lee Drennen gives everything he has to each song. Like a method actor, he becomes the heartsick people in his lyrics, his face contorting as other spirits seem to inhabit his body.
The touch players who back them add delightful color to the performances but Dead Rock West is powered by Drennen's acoustic guitar and the arresting voices of the pair. I have no doubt that a set with just the two of them would be no less enthralling.
Towards the end of the show Dead Rock West played several brand new, yet to be recorded, songs that suggest their next album of original material could take them to yet another level.
This band deserves an audience. Calling all hip cats who need something to get excited about!
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.