Tag Archives: Jon Tiven

New Album! Steve Cropper

Guitar legend Steve Cropper has followed the recent trend of revisiting old chestnuts with the aid of other musical stars, but his effort is also a tip of the cap to one of his first and biggest musical influences, Lowman “Pete” Pauling of The 5 Royales. For all his contributions to music over the past half century, Cropper is not a household name, nor is the band he honors here. But let’s hope that for those without a proper frame of reference, his decision to include artists like Steve Winwood, B.B. King and Brian May will bring listeners like moths to a flame.

Of course, Cropper needs no help; his tone and feel are seminal and he shines throughout. Never overtly flashy, he’s not all over the songs but inside them like a heartbeat. Soulful, pensive, exciting – he breathes these songs to new life with inspired licks and a palpable sense of joy. And with Jon Tiven at the helm, the entire project shines.

The band is amazing, featuring David Hood and Spooner Oldham, and I was particularly thrilled with the inclusion of Dan Penn. Winwood fits like hand in glove, and I was pleasantly surprised by John Popper’s performance (I can count my favorite Popper songs on no fingers). But if there are star performances on Dedicated – A Salute To The 5 Royales, they belong to the dynamic Sharon Jones, the emotive Lucinda Williams and the electrifying Bettye LaVette.

This album is both fresh and a time trip; it will play with every emotion you own. Get your wallet out now.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

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New Album! Scott Morgan

Longtime favorite Scott Morgan has a new one out, a mix of originals and great covers (Sam Cooke, Bobbie Gentry, Holland-Dozier-Holland, among others). Morgan has always paid respect to other’s music alongside his own, and as usual he’s chosen wisely and done them justice. Recorded with a crack band of fellow devotees, this new self-titled album is another rock’n’soul testament from a man who deserves to be far better known. He’s Detroit rock royalty, and his kingdom deserves rezoning.

Guitarist Matthew Smith, drummer Dave Shettler and bassist Jim Diamond all contributed background vocals and shared production duties on the album, recorded at Diamond’s legendary Ghetto Recorders in Detroit. (Powertrane axeman Chris Taylor is the critical fifth piece; Morgan primarily plays organ and piano.) It’s tight but not pristine; indeed it’s five guys jamming for the shared love of the material getting soulful and wonderful results. There’s probably not a radio format eager to play it and I doubt any of them saddled up with that in mind. I’m reminded of a couple of albums Jon Tiven issued several years ago, which similarly flipped the bird to the naysayers and said “this is for the believers”.

Morgan is equally adept at introspective blues as he is with joyous expressions; standouts include “Since I Lost My Baby”. “Memphis Time” and “She’s Not Just Another Woman”. There’s some Stonesey rock, some psychedelic nods, some serious name-checking and most of all an organic and honest feel to the selected songs. I’m not certain how long they spent in the studio but I’ll bet it was relatively quick and dirty, guys looking for the groove and not an Auto-tune in sight. (What a refreshingly ancient concept!)

It’s been wonderful to have so many of Morgan’s projects released in the past couple of years. Some new, some long unavailable, work from Sonic’s Rendesvous, Powertrane, The Solution and even The Rationals is now there for the asking. For anyone who hadn’t followed his career it’s an amazing legacy of work that is obviously still chugging along in full gear. While Scott Morgan doesn’t blister like many of his other albums, it will move you.

Visit Scott’s website.

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New Album! Christine Ohlman

All Hail The Queen!

Fifteen years removed from her debut album, The Hard Way, the Beehive Queen has not only recorded her strongest effort to date, but an album that should pepper several best-of lists in December. The songs on The Deep End draw as much upon gospel and urban doo-wop as they do blues and Americana, perhaps reaching the apex on the hypnotic title track.

Ohlman and her band Rebel Montez (now Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Cliff Goodwin) are rock-solid, and if you’ve not heard Ohlman’s gripping vocals before, I can’t totally blame you. Despite enough industry cred to fill multiple warehouses, she might best be known for being a long-time member of the Saturday Night Live band. Of course, you’d have to be attending the taping to hear her; seldom will you see any of the non-sax playing musicians get highlighted.

I first discovered her thirty-odd years ago when I was enamored with the cast and crew at Big Sound Records, whose albums featured stellar musicians like G.E. Smith, Jon Tiven, Mickey Curry, Ivan Julian, Roger C. Reale and Ohlman, among others. Producer extraordinaire Thomas “Doc” Cavalier had a golden ear for quality, and his work on Big Sound was the stamp of approval for me in the same way that Motown or Stiff were when in their prime. Sadly, just about all of that music is out of print.

I like all of her solo work, but this one really speaks to me. Ohlman suffered two big losses in her life recently – guitarist Eric Fletcher and Cavalier are no longer with us – and the ache resonates in her voice. Stellar guests like Dion, Eric Ambel and Al Anderson provide great support, and Ian Hunter producer Andy York continues his string of sympathetic collaborations with his artists. But Ohlman and her band had this one nailed from the jump.

Read my review of this album at PopMatters.

VIDEO: “Like Honey”

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Blast From The Past: Roger C. Reale

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

Everybody has an album that sits atop their list of “records that need to be on CD”. Mine is Radioactive by Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue. One of the great perks of working in a record store was the ability to crack open an interesting looking record and see what it was all about. For example, I thought the song titles on Slug Line were as off-the-wall as the horrible picture of the artist on the front cover, and that album wound up changing my life. (Thanks, John Hiatt!). I also found Herman Brood’s Cha Cha mistakenly filed in the disco section, but I can’t blame the clerk for that when the cover looked like this. Another lifelong partnership between an artist and my ears.

I had that same gobsmacking wallop when I slapped Radioactive on the turntable, but sadly it would turn out to be a one shot deal. It did lead me to grab everything I could get my hands on from Big Sound Records, where Jon Tiven and Van Duren and Doc Cavalier and Ivan Julian and G.E. Smith held court, but those are stories for another day…especially since G.E. Smith’s In The World might be #2 on that “needs to be on CD” list. Roger C. Reale did guest on a lot of albums and reappeared last decade to record an EP with his friends The Reducers and then started a more traditional bluesy rock band called The Manchurians. But none of them were like this.

So if you’re going to make one album before sliding off the radar screen, why not spike the ball and run? Clocking in at less than twenty-five minutes (!), Reale and his crack band (popster Hilly Michaels on drums and G.E. Smith – yes, that one – on guitar) just torched their way through crunhing rock originals and a couple of killer covers. Reale’s voice was as low as his bass and was powerful enough to saddle up this sonic typhoon of a trio and take it for a spin. Every track was roll-down-the-windows, sing along at the top of your lungs rock’n’roll. No wasted notes, nothing fancy, just clever lyrics and gigantic hooks propelled by a truly melodic power trio.

“Stop and Go”, “Pain Killer” and “Please Believe Me” were pop enough to be hits, while “Madonna’s Last Stand”, “Kill Me” and “High Society” could power a muscle car down a highway by themselves. And the covers were fabulous – a druggy, droning take on The Troggs’  “I Can’t Control Myself” and the most kinetic, manic cover of Chuck Berry’s “Dear Dad” you will ever hear in your life. Because it is so long out of print and never was issued on CD…I can point you here so you can join me in celebrating this masterpiece of an album. (Kudos to Angelo, who has obviously had the same epiphany.)

Thirty-one years later and I still play the shit out of this record, it’s absolutely timeless. I will play this record until the day I die and then pack it for the trip to the great beyond.

Roger C. Reale, you flat out rock!

The official Manchurians MySpace site and their CD BABY page.

An outdated Manchurians site – track list info, a couple of MP3 links and links to purchase the CDs.

An outdated Reducers/Roger C Reale page with info about the EP and one MP3.

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