Any compilation, especially those pre-1963 collections, has to have a few clinkers, right? Such is not the case with Let’s Throw A Pajama Party Volume #1 (Atomicat Records) where all 30 tracks return from the dustbin of time to become thrillingly vibrant yet again. In the interest of full disclosure, I was 12 in ’63 and they say the music you loved as a kid stays with you your whole life. Thus, the visceral combo of nostalgia plus rock’n’roll smarts as exhibited by such long-ago and far-away names like Wayne Cochran, the pre-country Conway Twitty, Richard Berry (doing the original “Louie Louie”), Johnny Burnette (doing the original “You’re 16”), Bobby Lewis (with one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs of all-time, “Tossin’ and Turnin’), Curtis Lee, Jimmy Rodgers (“Honeycomb”), country singer Don Gibson (“Sweet Dreams”) plus a whole plethora of doo-wop masters like The Wrens, The Heartbeats, The Flamingos and The Cleftones, not to mention such great instrumental acts that made AM Radio rock like The Champs and Sandy Nelson, make this my latest go-to feel-good fix. And these days, that’s more important than ever.
Singer/Songwriter Billy Prine says A Place I Used To Know (Memphis International Records) is “the record I’ve wanted to make for years.” (It’s been seven years since his last.) Featuring two songs by his older brother John Prine [1946-2020], this compact six-song EP, produced by guitarist Michael Dinallo, is a rough-hewn Americana gem: bluesy, honky-tonkin’, earthy, organic, honest and entertaining. Billy sings like his life depends upon it. Anyone who knows the music of producer Dinallo (check out his Charlie Rich tribute album!) or his sweet-singing wife Juliet Simmons Dinallo (whom he also produces) knows that anything this dude touches is pure gold. Thus, Billy Prine gets a makeover like Waylon…and that’s a real good thing.
Leave it to Bear Family Productions to come out with Destination Health! Doc Feelgood’s Rock Therapy: 30 Bop Pills For Your Recovery. Complete with a fascinating 28-page booklet detailing every artist within from 1939 to 1954, opening and closing with some staunch rockabilly (Johnny Burnette & The Rock’n’Roll Trio/Sonny Burgess & The Pacers), there’s blues (Huey Piano Smith), more rockabilly (Carl Perkins), novelty (Ebe Sneezer & The Epidemics singin’ ‘bout that “Asiatic Flu”), jazz (Woody Herman/Louis Jordan), doo-wop (The Crows), cha-cha (The McGuire Sisters), Bo Diddley, some television theme songs and even Homer Zeke Clemons & His Texas Swing Billies all singing ‘bout medical travails. It’s the perfect stay-at-home and waste away soundtrack.
The third CD, Everyone Everywhere, by alternative Asheville North Carolina trio Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats, goes from psychedelic jams to boogie to funk to indie-rock to retro—complete with social commentary—in only six galloping tracks in 25 minutes that pack a bigtime wallop. They may attack corporate greed with true hippie bravado and Scotchie himself approaches Guitar Hero territory while delivering his cleverly written anti-establishment lines but this band is all about the fun. That and the sterling production. It just sounds so damn good. Remember, as he reminds you in the title track, “even if you feel lonely when this world is unkind/call on me/I’m sure you’ll find/even when you feel you got nothing/everyone everywhere’s got something.” All too true. You just have to figure out what that something is. Right on, boys. Can’t wait to hear a full-length.
In 1977, free-thinking country fans were latching on to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou, Guy Clark and a host of other country-outlaws. Out of nowhere came Me, I’m Feeling Free by a South Carolina tall girl named Marshall Chapman with a rough veneer and a seemingly arrogant attitude. Marshall Chapman embodied everything we loved about that rebel yell. Her debut ended with her “Rode Hard and Put Up Wet” anthem. She followed it up in ’78 with Jaded Virgin and it was enough to get her kicked off the major label yet make me love her forever. In ’82, tired of the corporate mindset, she started her own damn label, thank you, and besides authoring books, acting in movies and writing for the likes of Joe Cocker and John Hiatt, she simmered under the bubble of fame as a cult pet, sometimes going years between albums.
Seven years since her last CD, she’s stepped back from penning her own ditties on the irresistible Songs I Can’t Live Without (Tall Girl Records). Although the title sounds like one of those social media list games, she’s chosen some real gems and doesn’t just interpret them, she inhabits them, steals them for her own, and that’s saying something with songs like Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song,” Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page,” Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” JJ Cale’s “After Midnight” and five more. She ends it with “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” a 1927 Negro Spiritual, the first song in her life that she ever sang.
She almost retired in 2015. I’m glad she didn’t. Songs I Can’t Live Without is an album I can’t live without.
One night in the 1970s, as Pittsburgh working-class rock’n’roll hero Joe Grushecky looked out at the riotous crowd in front of him getting a little bit out-of-control during a particularly inspired Iron City Houserockers set, he leaned into the microphone and warned, “man, have a good time, but get out alive!” Little did he know at the time that that would be the title of one of the greatest albums in American Heartland Rock history. For its 40 Anniversary, Cleveland International Records has reissued and expanded Have A Good Time But…Get Out Alive!, one of the best rock albums of 1980.
How could it not be? With Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter and Steven Van Zandt producing, arranging and performing, the album was a perfect storm of rock’n’roll frenzy, a barn-burner deluxe of blue-collar rock with Joe’s love of Chicago Blues, ‘50s and ‘60s rock and old-school soul all infused in his songwriting with a punk veneer. Joe always played a mean guitar and sang up a storm. Many critics at the time said he was Pittsburgh’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. Piano player Gil Snyder could knock out those Jerry Lee Lewis trills, drummer Ned E. Rankin was a monster, bassist Art Nardini pounded the bottom into submission night after night, Marc Reisman added that tinge of blues-harp and guitarist Eddie Britt had replaced original member Gary Scalese who went down with a hand injury. They had scored on their ’79 Love’s So Tough debut but by the time of this follow-up, the band was so hot on a national level that Neil Young and members of Pink Floyd could be seen in their audiences. Forty years on, this seminal moment in American Rock history comes complete with a second disc of rarities and demos.
Book Of Soul (QDV Records), by Quinn DeVeaux, is exactly that. Quinn’s like a sponge taking from Al Green and Bill Withers but adding enough spice to make it come out Pure DeVeaux, part New Orleans, part Nashville, part Memphis and all-American. He wrote, sang (soulful, powerful, evocative, passionate) and produced this Book in a style one could call Funk Folk. It’s deliciously subtle yet unforgettable. The Indiana native was raised by his jazz-singer grandmother. His phrasing has elements of sophistication, yet the heart of his music is more visceral. Between the arrangements, compositions, production and vocals, it’s easy to tell that there’s something really special about this dude that’ll make you wanna holler. Or just play it again and again.