Aug 142021
 

Layla RevisitedWhen Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs turned 50 last year, a box set anniversary reissue materialized. The classic album by Derek & the Dominos (aka Eric Clapton and band, plus Duane Allman) was given its due with state-of-the-art remixes and other assorted love tokens—a 12-by-12-inch book, certificates of authentication, discs full of outtakes (Clapton and Allman action figures sold separately, I guess). This summer Layla enjoys another, more vivid celebration: Layla Revisited, a live concert recording by the formidable Tedeschi Trucks Band, with guests Trey Anastasio and Doyle Bramhall II. It’s a lively and focused performance, as the soulful and high-powered ensemble romp through the full Layla album in original song order, in a single live show (with one small exception recorded in studio).

These releases are all pretty impressive for an album that was initially met with mixed reviews, tepid sales, and some measure of confusion about the artist, this mysterious Derek. The label execs wanted an “Eric Clapton” album, of course, but by then he’d had it with the spotlight. (After a short tour in support of the album, he dissolved the band and withdrew into a long, dark seclusion.) No one knew the Dominos, either, though the band had formed the core of All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s first post-Beatles effort. Harrison’s project came out the same month as Layla and attracted all the attention and praise that Layla missed out on.

A feeling of fate surrounds Layla Revisited. Derek Trucks is named after Clapton after all (or after his pseudonym, anyway), and is the nephew of Butch Trucks, founding drummer of the Allman Brothers Band. Derek quickly emerged as an exceptional guitarist in the Duane Allman mold, and eventually led the Allman Brothers Band in its final decade. He has also shared the stage a number of times with Clapton (they played “Layla” together, naturally). One more simple twist of fate: the stellar singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi–Trucks’ life partner–was born on the very day the original Layla came out. So, yes, there’s a lot to celebrate here, and a lot of history to revisit.
Continue reading »

Aug 032021
 

Native SonsIn two years time Los Lobos, as a band, will be an astonishing fifty years old, with a staggering seventeen albums to their name between 1978 and now, let alone a myriad of other appearances, including dozens of cover versions and a host of tribute recordings. Few bands are as able to flit between genres so effortlessly, as their presence on projects as varied as records in praise of Fats Domino, Richard Thompson, and the Grateful Dead displays. Now, with their new release Native Sons, they’re putting their latest varied covers in one place.

Native Sons is by no means the band’s first all-covers project either, thanks to Ride This, a covers EP of seven songs in 2004, and the frankly astonishing Los Lobos Go Disney, a 2009 album of nothing but Disney soundtrack favorites, played in their inimitable East L.A. sound. Flitting between an abrasive rock music, Tex-Mex stylizations and full on conjunto Tejano, they have a massive footprint in modern roots based musics.

The theme here is Los Angeles, the L.A. music they grew up listening to, the music on the radio as they honed their trade. So we get songs by big hitters like the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, alongside some of the popular Chicano fare from the barrios. Like so many releases this year, it arose out of the sense of claustrophobia inflicted by the coronavirus; unable to play, unable to tour, the band hit on the idea of a playlist of all those L.A. songs that had inspired and fed their appetite for music. Whittled down from a longlist of around 60 songs, here are the top 12, which must surely give hope for a second volume or so, or at least for a later deluxe edition.(By the way, top 12, but 13 songs on the record, the title track being a newly written original, which sums up the point and the purpose of the whole exercise.)
Continue reading »

Jul 232021
 

Hail Satin Foo Fighters "Dee Gees"Did I have a Bee Gees cover album from the Foo Fighters on my Summer ’21 bingo sheet? Not at all! However, maybe the recent Bee Gees fever should have foreshadowed this endeavor, from the documentary released at the end of 2020 to Barry Gibb’s album focused on reimagining Bee Gees songs in the country genre released earlier this year. Hey, we even found the Best Bee Gees covers ever last summer. When I first read the news about the impending Hail Satin album, I may or may not have busted out the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and passed along the announcement to all of my fellow Foo Fighters admirers. Then the first single from the Foo Fighters’ alter-egos, the Dee Gees, came out, “You Should Be Dancing,” and it was worthy of the hype (that “back-ety-back” part is a nice touch!).

But now that Hail Satin has been released, it raises an important question: Does the rest of Side A continue the fun-loving, genre-bending homage, or does it devolve into a gimmick?

Continue reading »

Jul 172021
 

Rock music has always idolized and iconicized those seen to be casualties. If you sing and/or play, premature death and/or mental illness always seems to add to the luster of flickering creative flames. Conversely, good health and a productive work ethic is sometimes demonized, until old age brings about a respectability to earlier derided middle-aged output. Roky Erickson fell firmly into the former category, a wide-eyed and vibrant presence in the 1960s, knocked down by the all too familiar cocktail of which came first, drugs or mental instability. The answer, as always, and as with Syd Barrett, Peter Green and Brian Wilson: probably a bit of both.
Continue reading »

Jul 162021
 

Dave McMurrayCovering the Dead means a whole lot more than just playing the tunes; to give their songs credibility, there also needs to be a recreation of their spirit. That Dave McMurray has it in spades is immediately apparent from the first few bars of “Fire on the Mountain,” the opening track on his new album Grateful Deadication. That faithful dancing-bear swagger, halfway between a lope and a canter, is indubitably present, correct and reporting for duty. Few bands have such an unmistakable footprint, and to reproduce that–and with your own voice, yet–is little short of remarkable.

McMurray’s “voice” is his saxophone, predominately tenor, and a thing of beauty it is, as is Grateful Deadication as a whole. McMurray is the real deal, a dyed in the wool jazzman with a long and parallel career in sessions; it is his sax on records as diverse as the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge and Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.

Remarkably, he had never really heard the Dead and their music until a chance encounter with Bob Weir, leading to his playing alongside him and the Wolf Bros at 2019’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Intrigued by the odd chord structures and quirky time signatures that litter the songs of the Dead, McMurray immersed himself in their back catalog. He found he was able to fully get into their music, and to appreciate its closeness to the jazz of artists he had greater awareness of–Miles Davis, Weather Report, even Soft Machine.

This, in turn, led to Grateful Deadication, which features his own regular sidemen as well as cameos from Bettye LaVette and Weir, and is his second album for acclaimed jazz label Blue Note. (His first, Music Is Life, featured a cover of the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army.”)
Continue reading »

Jun 212021
 

Dylan LeBlanc PastimesLike many a performer, Dylan LeBlanc spent the pandemic lockdown to good intent, producing Pastimes. This six-song EP consists entirely of covers, songs that have “inspired him musically and spiritually,” drawing back, as they do, on his childhood and the music he was exposed to by his father, a jobbing Nashville songwriter. Father and son spent Dylan’s teenaged years in the Nashville clubs, where LeBlanc senior was plying his trade as a writer and session man. And one, I might say, with a mighty fine taste in music.

Self-produced in Muscle Shoals, the performances on Pastimes are all live in the studio, with sympathetic backing from a mix of musicians, guitars, keyboards, steel and, gloriously, a string quartet. Strings can often over egg the work of sensitive singer-songwriters, the label most often attached to LeBlanc, but here they complement and complete the arrangements delightfully. These are not dramatic reframings of largely well-known songs; rather, these fall more into loving recreations, the respect for the songs–and, by default, the authors–hugely evident.
Continue reading »