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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Les Kerr, The Americana Boogie



Listening to a Les Kerr cd is like getting a hug from an old friend.  Warm, familiar - and energizing. There’s something about Les’ music that brings back happy memories, even though the tunes you’re listening to are brand new. Les’s latest cd, The Americana Boogie, is a great example – with the mash up of musical styles on the title track, the shuffling “Comfort Music”, and “Mississippi Sunshine” –  a driving around with the top down kind of tune.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

CD Reviews: Jambo Joe Bones, Barefoot Man, Dani Hoy, Dave McKenney



Jambo Joe Bones “Buccaneers, Ballads & Bellyflops”.

Like Don Middlebrook, Swim Skinny, and The Boat Drunks, Jambo proves once again you don’t have to live at the beach to act like you do. Hailing from the very un-tropical climes of Wisconsin, Jambo Joe nevertheless finds plenty of warm weather inspiration for his music. He also holds the distinction of having the best mustache in all of Trop Rock.

Jambo’s latest collection of beach worthy tunes kicks off with one of three songs on the cd that involve airplanes. ”Air Sunshine” is a bouncy number about an airline that doesn’t exist but would get a ton of Parrot Head business if it did. With hammocks and bar stools for seats, bikini-clad stewardesses, and Isaac from the Love Boat onboard to pour the libations…where can I buy a ticket? At the core, it’s a song about a subject many of us can relate to – escaping. In Jambo’s case, from “The coldest damn day of the winter” to “a tropical place”. Where, exactly, doesn’t really matter. It’s all in your head, after all. Speaking of in your head, “Mermaids Are For Real” makes a case for the existence of the finny females. At least, that’s Jambo’s story and he’s stickin’ to it. It wouldn’t be a proper Trop Rock cd without a drinking song or two. Check. “Margarita Bomb” is a cautionary tale that rocks, co-written by and featuring Bones’ frequent musical partner in crime, Amy M.

Another one of my favorite tracks is the loping country ditty, “On A Scale of One To Dumbass”. It’s an appropriate soundtrack for taking stock of a wild weekend: “You can’t bellyflop on a table top, or swim skinny while you’re baked…” You may have heard a live version of it on my BeachFrontRadio show, “Trop Rockin’ Live”. I mentioned there are three airplane songs on “Buccaneers, Ballads & Bellyflops”. “The Plane Left Without Me” is a familiar tale of having one (or three) too many and “accidentally” missing the last plane out. And track six, “Dairy Air” happily reps Wisconsin while showcasing Jambo’s often salty sense of humor. And who doesn’t like polka music and double entendres? The nautical bow on Jambo’s latest cd is “Living Like A Pirate”, a sea faring sing-along that inspires rum drinking and once again features Amy M singing lines like “Scallawags are after me booty”. It’s also another song I have played a live version of on TRL…


  
The Barefoot Man Sand Dollars

From his beach-side perch at the Reef Resort in Grand Cayman, George Nowak, aka, The Barefoot Man is a local legend for his raucous and rowdy shows, not to mention his penchant for getting women to want his autograph in places where the sun don’t usually shine. His bio claims that he has written 2,000 songs and recorded 500 of them. Swerving from Calypso and Reggae to Country – and a little bit of everything in between -  the nine originals and three covers on his latest release, “Sand Dollars” happily add to that collection.

Personal favorites include: “Sailing on Moku”, a nautical tune that rides a Calypso beat. The pedal steel infused “I’ll Never Leave Nippers Again”, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hank Snow cd. And the Hawaiian-y title track, “Sand Dollar”.

“It’s A Rental” pokes a stick at inconsiderate tourists, “Have You Tried Fishing” offers a tropical solution to the daily grind, and “Dumb Ass” puts the Barefoot spin on the old Kenny Rogers classic, “Lucille”

Much of  ‘Foot’s notoriety is based on his “not for kids” material…Tracks like “The Pussycat Song” and “Beaver Island” always get the crowd fired up. “Sand Dollars” includes the equally salty, “Should Have Used A Condom”. And his cover of the Great Mighty Sparrow’s “Congo Man” throws plenty of double entendres, along with a couple of not so willing females, into the cook pot.

http://www.barefootman.com/



The other two cds I received this month came via Drop Box instead of the mail. The only down side to that delivery method is that I don’t get the cd sleeve with liner notes, and, often, lyrics… But, I do have the music and that’s the best part!

Dani Hoy “Songs Of Love & The Ocean”.

Dani’s disc is one of the most pleasantly surprising albums I’ve heard in a while from a relative newcomer. It’s also great to hear another female voice on the Trop Rock scene, especially out in front and recording solo records.

Like the Barefoot Man, Dani plies a variety of musical genres – from the Zydeco inspired title track to the Blues/Country ballad, “Walking In The Rain In New Orleans”. “Summer Songs”  throws some ska-horns and Hawaiian slack-key guitar in to the Gumbo for a great top down driving song. ”Gone Native” sounds like Bonnie Raitt at the beach. “Last Day On The Island” is a smoky, down tempo number that conjurs up images of candle lit tables in an after-hours Caribbean bar. And “Whiskey Kisses” gets the full old-school country treatment from veteran producer, Kevin Johnston.

Although her bio says she’s been playing guitar and singing for several decades, it’s only been in the last four or five years that she has taken her talent out on the road. Twice nominated for Trop Rock Music Association Awards, Dani’s first cd, featuring songs like “Tropi-Gal”  and “Meet Me On The Boardwalk”, introduced her to the Trop Rock world. “Songs Of Love…” should make her a full-sail force to be reckoned with.

http://danihoy.com/


Dave McKenney “Four Hour Lunch Break”.

Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, singer/songwriter Dave McKenney stays busy playing all along the eastern Seaboard. He has also made appearances at Parrot Head phriendly events like Stars On The Water and Meeting Of The Minds. Another relative newcomer to the Trop Rock world, Dave’s debut disc features mostly originals from what I can tell (again, not having the cd sleeve means I don’t have songwriting credits). The one track I’m sure is a cover is John Frinzi’s “Bouyancy”. Of the originals, several tracks stand out – including “The Inlet”, which features some nice acoustic finger picking, the bouncy country of “Florida Kind Of Sunday”, the jazzy “Martin’s View”, and the appropriately titled “Carolina Laid Back Point Of View”.  Maryland boaters and trop rock fans will also recognize the subject of “The Big Owl”. If I was going to judge by the music and lyrics of “Four Hour Lunch Break”, McKenney seems to believe in “No worries, no hurries”…and that’s a worldview that works for me. Add this cd to the collection, pour a glass of good Rum and throw it on next time you’re sitting on your deck watching the sun go down.

http://www.davemckenneymusic.com/

Sunday, July 21, 2013

CD "Review": Jim Morris, "The Man Who Offered The Moon"



I have seen Jim Morris live a number of times and have been to – even hosted – lots of House Concerts. But, I have never seen Jim Morris at a House concert. It’s on my Bucket List! Jim is one of those rare singer/songwriters – like Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett -  able to populate his songs with larger than life characters. Whether it’s the serendipitous lover and her teacher and banker friends in “Thursday Afternoon at the Conch House Lounge” or the Tropical Man in “Laid Back and Key Wasted” - they may not ACTUALLY exist, but they sure seem like they could – or should. I’d love to spend some quality time listening to Jim talk about the stories behind his songs, find out how much is truth with “names changed to protect the guilty” and how much is poetic license.

Jim continues the tradition on his latest cd, “The Man Who Offered the Moon”. Take track number nine, for example - “Long Money” - where Jim gets booked to play a private party at a beachfront mansion where the guests are “doctors and lawyers and assorted egomaniacs”. The women in attendance are “surgically blessed and all those parts they purchased seem to fit together well”. The host of the shindig, referred to only as the “Big Dog”, is a “smiley fella” who has been “working hard turning paradise into condos”. It’s a five and a half minute short film set to music. You can imagine the “beautiful lady” when she walks in to the party, picture the manicured lawn “littered with bottles of bourbon and vodka and gin”. It’s the sign of a great songwriter when you can “see” the song, as well as hear it.

In “Party Dress”, the scene is another party, this one “right there on the bayou, down around New Orleans”. The host of this soiree is a fella named “Dickie Bones” who likes to drink and dance and who “greets you when you come to call”. Beer and Margaritas flow, and a band plays while “Frankie boils the crawfish”. Once again, it’s such a vivid picture you’ll find yourself wishing you had been there!

Another reason Jim Morris sits among the upper echelon of Trop Rock artists is his often understated sense of humor. I say understated because he doesn’t resort to tired clich├ęs – doesn’t hit you over the head with the punch line. Take “Your Girlfriend Says Hello”: The hero in the song quits the job that was making him unhappy, tells the boss “the dream you were selling just didn’t work out” and runs off to enjoy sand and sea with a new lady friend - who is, well the title says it all. The twist is that, throughout the song she is referred to as “your girlfriend”, until the last thirty seconds of the song when that changes to “MY girlfriend”. Then there is “Tonight I Came Here To Drink”, where the singer tells a woman at the bar in a skimpy dress and great legs to “stop pointing them at me”, then observes “I see you’re from Brazil, or at least you appear to be”. That doesn’t mean Morris can’t be blunt when he wants to. He also says “Came Here to Drink”, “It’s hard to concentrate when I’m staring at your ass”. Or take “Mr. Right”. I don’t think anyone is going to accuse him of subtlety when the object of the singer’s affection is asked “Why don’t you do me?”

Other stand out tracks include the nostalgic “One Layer of Clothes”, with Morris and a college buddy jumping into a sports car and hitting the road in search of “ a world we’d never seen, things we’d never done”. Who can’t relate to their younger days when money wasn’t important and time was irrelevant? “The End Of Time” follows the popular Trop Rock scenario of a guy who ditches the corporate world to find what really makes him happy, including “sunny skies, salty air” and a “girl who says she loves me, fine Jamaican Rum”. It includes one of my favorite Jim Morris lines of all time: “I’ll be happy until the end of time, but I hope it never comes.” And, finally, remember the old Disco nugget “It’s Raining Men”? Personally, I like Jim’s weather report a whole lot better. “Raining Rum” tells the story of a guitar player who “grew up in Kentucky on a rutabaga farm”, whose “mom died in a bar fight, and “dad was Baptist preacher ‘till the cops found all the dope”. You’ll just have to listen to the song to find out, as the late Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. It’s another one of those colorful narratives that makes you want to find out how much is based on reality and how much is pure fiction. One of the most upbeat songs on the cd, it’s destined to be a Jim Morris concert favorite.

Some additional details: Trop Rock heart throb John Patti is responsible for the steel drums and percussion on “The Man Who Offered The Moon” and twelve of the thirteen tunes are Morris originals – the only cover being Rodney Crowell’s “Song For Life”.


Friday, June 28, 2013

CD overview: Scott Kirby, "Sol Searching"



Scott Kirby, Sol Searching, Little Flock Music

I’ve told this story so many times, if you have heard it before feel free to skip forward a few lines. Back about seven or eight years ago, I was listening to Radio Margaritaville when I heard –  with a nod to Monty Python – “something completely different”. The lyrics had to do with the beach, but it wasn’t done by Jimmy Buffett. The RM website didn’t tell me who it was and I listened for the dj to announce the song but he never did. The same thing happened the next half dozen or so times I heard it – but each time I would stop whatever I was doing and listen, transfixed by the lyrics about living by blue water – something I have had the opportunity to do a couple of times, only to get yanked back to reality way before I felt it was time. I long to do it again someday and I wore the words of the song like a dream coat. Eventually, I found out the song was called “Lucky Enough” by Scott Kirby. I have had the good fortune to see Scott perform several times – interviewed him for my blog, Beaches, Bands & Bars. Not only do I credit him (and Radio Margaritaville) for opening my eyes and ears to the world of Trop Rock, but Scott remains one of my favorite Trop Rock performers – and that song, “Lucky Enough”, still sits on my list of favorite songs of all time... “I’ll raise my glass, you can kiss my old ass” indeed.

Fast forward to 2013 and Scott’s latest cd, Sol Searching. It’s his sixth studio outing – seventh overall, counting his live “Night On The Beach” cd. And, once again, it’s full of reflections on the turning of one’s calendar pages and the desire to find that place in your life that makes YOU happy, where you’re “Lucky Enough”. But, unlike some artists who tend to focus on the partying side of our annual trip around the sun – the “bright and shiny” - Scott’s songs tend towards the wistful and introspective. But, not in a negative sense. I made the observation to Scott once that, at first listen his lyrics may sound “glass half empty”, he is really an optimist. He seemed surprised by that but thought some more and finally said, “I guess you’re right!”. It’s the difference between writing about the rainbow and writing about the guy holding the empty pot at the other end, waiting for it to get filled with Gold. And, if only a few coins fall in it’s ok, as long as you’re near someone you love – and blue water. The opening track is a great example, “Turning Of The Tide”. Featuring a melancholy harmonica and gentle piano, it includes lines like “Days go by and how time flies…” and “Baby we were born to be in a shanty down by the sea…cause folks like us were meant to live in small houses”. But, like many of Scott’s songs, it isn’t about giving up, it’s about acceptance, and finding fulfillment in those things that make you smile. In “Turning”, once the singer accepts that “the big new place, you see, it was never meant to be” he lays his head down to get a good night’s sleep.

Next up is the title track, with its play on words (Sol being the Spanish word for Sun). Cut from similar cloth, musically, with a saxophone substituting for harmonica, “Sol Searching” immediately makes me want to pack up the car and drive somewhere whenever I hear it - Anywhere there are boats bobbing on the water. “Pick up the pieces, pick up the pace…when all you want to do is feel the sun on your face” and “When you wake stark mad in the middle of the night…southwind whispers, baby, book that flight”. If I ever get a boat, I want to name it Sol Searching.

Although Scott spends a lot of time in Key West and the bar in which he’s a co-owner, the Smokin’ Tuna, he splits his year between there and his “home port” in New England. Several songs on Sol Searching pay homage to those roots, including track three, “Any Old Town In New England”. A clap along rocker, the focus is on Beantown but places like Nantucket Sound and Narragansett Bay also get name dropped. ”Vineyard” (the only track on the cd not written by Scott) and the closing number, “Old Beach House” also take the listener to the Northeastern US – the latter an especially poignant song about respecting where you come from that could have just as easily been recorded by the late, great John Denver. “Life is not a perfect thing, it’s tattered and it’s torn, like the curtains in this old beach house the wooden steps so worn. But, when it’s all been said and done we do the best we can and pray for one more perfect day…”

I have used words like wistful, melancholy, and poignant to describe Scott Kirby’s music but he is no sour puss. As I said earlier, his songs brim with an understated optimism - and more than a little humor. “Guys Like Us”, for instance, explores the chemistry between crazy women and the fellas who fall for them, “You Better Believe Her!” is about – well, crazy women (“If she tells you she’s bat shit crazy you better believe her”) and “Whiskey” is a funky, bluesy love letter to that golden spirit.  
I can’t review a Scott Kirby cd without mentioning the sound. While some Trop Rockers opt for the lo-fi approach, letting electronics substitute for real musicians (generally due to limited budget), Kirby cds, Sol Searching included, are full-on professional productions, with strings, brass and lots of top notch guests. Peter Mayer lends backing vocals and the All-Star rhythm section of Russ Kunkel and Leland Sklar (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt) lend a hand on “Guys Like Us”.

Another outstanding outing from a true singer/songwriter. Now, excuse me while I pour a glass of rum, settle in to my comfy chair… and do a little “Sol Searching”. For more on Scott and his music, www.scottkirby.com