The musical universe spawned so much great music this year. From rock to rap to pop to country, jazz, and even family music, the musical universe gave audiences a lot to like about 2020. For all of the entertaining and engaging music that was released this year some proved to be the best of its given categories. Not all of that music could be the best of the best though. Only certain records could obtain that title, and they come this year from a wide range of genres. The Okee Dokee Brothers and their new album Songs For Singin’ are here among the best of the best in Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New Albums of the Year. They are joined by new albums from the likes of Sons of Apollo, Ricky Byrd, and The Devonns among others. Topping this year’s list of the best of the best is Jessie Wagner’s new album Shoes Droppin’.
As with every other list from Phil’s Picks, the Year’s top new albums list features the year’s Top 10 new albums and give honorable mentions for a total of 15 titles. Without any further ado, here is Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New Albums of the Year.
PHIL’S PICKS 2020 TOP 10 NEW ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Jessie Wagner – Shoes Droppin’
Chris Stapleton — Starting Over
Sons of Apollo – MMXX
Yellowackets – Jackets XL
U.D.O. – We Are 1
Ricky Byrd – Sobering Times
Deep Purple – Whoosh!
The Devonns – The Devonns
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI
Joe Bonamassa – Royal Tea
The Okee Dokee Brothers – Songs For Singin’
The Tibbs – Another Shot Fired
Ala.ni – ACCA
Ben Harper – Winter is for Lovers
Now that all the music lists are done, it is on to the DVD and Blu-ray releases. Up first in that side of things is the year’s Top 10 New Documentaries. Stay tuned for that.
Good things can and often do come to those who wait. Everybody knows that timeless adage. It is a statement that rings especially true for Ben Harper with his latest album Winter is for Lovers. Released Sept. 15 through Anti Records, the 15-song instrumental record was a decade in the making. Listening through this record, that wait proved well worth it, too. That is evidenced in part through the record’s arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. Keeping the arrangements in mind, the next logical aspect to examine here is the record’s production, which will be addressed a little later. The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements and will be discussed later, too. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Winter is for Lovers. All things considered, this record proves to be a presentation that is easily one of Harper’s best albums to date and one more of this year’s top new albums.
Ben Harper’s latest studio recording Winter is for Lovers is such an enjoyable offering from the veteran musician and singer-songwriter. It is a presentation that will unquestionably engage and entertain Harper’s longtime fans and generate a whole new fan base. That is proven in part through the record’s musical arrangements. The arrangements are about as simple as one can get, featuring just Harper and a lap steel. That is it. It harkens back to a simpler age of music, which is in itself so appealing. That the arrangements exhibit so many different styles and are meant to reflect his thoughts of places to which he has traveled during his life enriches the listening experience even more. Case is in point is the arrangement featured in ‘Paris,’ which is one of the album’s singles and the record’s closer. This simple arrangement reflects the sense of ease that he must have felt just walking the streets of Paris. Even with the likely hustle and bustle of the city, what he obviously felt was more a sense of relaxation and ease. The picture that the arrangement paints is one of all of the images people have ever seen, the lights over the city at night, the countryside, etc. Even the very stylistic approach here has a little bit of that French influence. It makes the song that much richer. ‘Toronto’ on the other hand presents a completely different mood. This critic’s own interpretation is that of a feeling of aloneness and sadness. That is evidenced in the dissonance in the chords and even the sense of hesitance as Harper plucks the strings. It is the polar opposite of the feeling exuded by ‘Paris.’ That contrast of moods and sounds is in itself such a clear picture of why these arrangements are so important to this record. ‘Inland Empire,’ which allegedly is a tribute to the area in which Harper grew up, is yet another example of the importance of the album’s musical arrangements. If in fact it is that, then it paints a warm, loving picture of the region where his roots lay. There is a certain sense of happiness in this song. It conjures thoughts of the sun slowly setting and rising daily, and just so many happy memories, such as friends and family spending time together in various situations. It paints yet another vivid picture for listeners. When it is considered along with the overall picture that is painted by this record (whose arrangements allegedly are meant to tell one big musical story), the result is a presentation that listeners will not once find themselves skipping around. This is just one way in which the album shines, too. The album’s production adds its own touch to its presentation.
The production that went into Winter is for Lovers is important to examine because of the simplicity in the arrangements. One might think that producing the album would be something simple since the arrangements are so simple. However, it is just as difficult if not more so. That is because extra attention has to be paid to every single little nuance of each song. Case in point is the way in which the lap steel echoes at certain points, allowing for a sustained note here and there, or the shortness of certain notes at other points. It is attention to such details that makes the album even more engaging. One could even argue that being able to hear the slide make its way up and down the guitar adds its own positive aesthetic element to the experience. It is something that is early thought of in so much of today’s music, but was so commonplace in so much older music. To that end, that aspect brings back something that while perhaps minor, adds so much to the record. When this aspect is considered alongside the album’s arrangements in whole, they make even clearer why album is such a strong new offering from Ben Harper. They make up just a portion of what makes the album stand out, too. The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.
As has already been noted, the arrangements that are featured in Winter is for Lovers exude so many different emotions and paint so many pictures from one to the next. The sequencing of the songs brings those musical paintings together and makes the overall picture a true musical work of art. The album starts off on a relatively positive note in ‘Istanbul,’ but wastes no time pulling back, as is evidenced in the reserved ‘Joshua Tree.’ That song’s introspective and contemplative nature only lasts a short time though, giving way to the warmer, ‘Inland Empire.’ ‘Harlem’ continues the sense of warmth exhibited in ‘Inland Empire’ but changes things slightly at the same time, making it its own unique composition. The clear Middle Eastern influence exhibited in ‘Lebanon’ breaks things up since the song lasts only 30 seconds, but is a good change of pace. Harper changes things up even more in the country-esque and more upbeat ‘London.’ The energy in this arrangement, the accents and the slides does well to illustrate how busy that city must have been as he made his way through. So again, after all the reservation of the album’s first half, opening the second half with this song (and Lebanon) really does well to break things up and keep listeners engaged. Of course from there, things pull back in a big way in the aforementioned ‘Toronto.’ As the record progresses into the brief 47-arrangement of ‘Brittany,’ it changes again, just as with ‘Lebanon.’ That ensures even more that the album does not lose audiences. As the album makes its way towards its finale, the mood changes again just enough from one song to the next, ensuring yet again, listeners’ sustained engagement and entertainment. Looking back through the record, the crests and troughs, and even journeys between show how much time and thought was put into organizing the record’s sequence. That time and thought paid off in its own right. When this is considered along with the impact of the album’s arrangements and their production, the whole of these elements makes the album another solid offering from Ben Harper and one of the year’s best new albums.
Ben Harper’s latest studio recording, the instrumental Winter is for Lovers will not leave listeners cold. That is proven in part through the album’s arrangements. The arrangements are simple, minimalist compositions that evoke so much emotion and so many emotions. The production of the arrangements adds its own unique touch to the record, serving as the basis of what brings about those emotions and thoughts. The record’s sequencing puts the finishing touch to its presentation, ensuring that the changes in mood are just right at all of the right points. All things considered, this 15-song record proves to be another success from Ben Harper that his longtime fans will appreciate just as much as those who are less familiar with his work. The album is available now. More information on Winter is for Lovers is available along with all of Ben Harper’s latest news at:
Independent alt-folk artist Jeremy Squires debuted his latest single last week.
Squires debuted his new single ”Labyrinth’ Thursday through Americana Highways. The song is the second single from Squires’ forthcoming album Many Moons, which is scheduled for release Aug. 28. Squires debuted the album’s lead single ‘Cast Spells‘ and its companion video last month.
‘Labyrinth’ is a starkly different song from ‘Cast Spells’ in terms of its musical arrangement. The arrangement features Squires by himself performing on what sounds like a steel guitar in a very familiar blues-based Americana style approach. It is a sound that will appeal to longtime fans of Ben Harper. By comparison, ‘Cast Spells’ is a much more subdued composition even though it boasts the same kind of approach as that presented in ‘Labyrinth.’
The lyrical content featured in Squires’ new song matches well with the song’s subtle musical arrangement, as explained by Squires himself.
“This song is about living in the same place where you grew up and watching everything change around you,” he said. “This line from ‘Labyrinth’ conveys what I try to express in the song: ‘The neighbors were building a treehouse for the kids in the yard where I used to play for hours dreaming.’ I tried to write and sing it in a way that paints a vivid portrait.”
Independent singer-songwriter Andy Jenkins debuted his latest single this week.
Jenkins debuted his new song ‘Far Away From Here‘ Tuesday. The easygoing arrangement, whose foundation is formed through its subtle guitar, piano and vocals, is a work that will appeal to fans of similar acts, such as Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. Audiences will find the song’s lyrical theme just as familiar in its own right as its musical arrangement.
Jenkins discussed the song’s lyrical theme in a recent interview.
“‘Far Away From Here’ is a song about the after images of love, remembering those free and easy times, heightened emotions and lengthening shadows,” he said. “It also describes the realization — after love is gone — of feeling pretty alright. I pictured someone at the end of a long day of traveling, who realized they felt good for the first time in a while. ‘I don’t mind the way I felt today, far away from here.’ What’s the saying? Distance makes the heart grow.”
Additionally, Jenkins talked about the song’s creation during his interview.
“We tracked last summer to tape at Spacebomb Studios with four of my favorite musicians: Pinson Chanselle, Cameron Ralston, Alan Good Parker and Jacob Ungerleider,” he said. “I produced a song of my own for the first time. Erin Rae recorded vocals in Nashville. her last record, Putting on Airs, was a personal revelation, beautifully crafted, cutting and calm. I feel lucky that she is singing on this track.”
Rae appears as a guest performer on Jenkins’ new track, singing alongside him throughout the song.
‘Far Away From Here’ is available to stream and download through various platforms here.
Jenkins’ new single is his first new music since the release of his EP The Garden Opens last year. He released his debut album Sweet Bunch in 2018. That record was received with praise from the likes of Mojo magazine, Uncut and Stereogum.
More information on Andy Jenkins’ new single is available online along with all of his latest news at:
From the mainstream to the underground, from the worlds of jazz and blues to the worlds of pop and rock, audiophiles have been given quite a bit this year to appreciate. Up-and-coming blues-rock band The Record Company and veteran jazz outfit Yellowjackets joined World Music act Yiddish Glory to prove to be some of this year’s best new music.
Experience Hendrix, LLC’s new Jimi Hendrix album Both Sides of the Sun, composer Klaus Schultz and veteran performers Elvis Costello & The Imposters also provided some memorable new music along with Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ry Cooder and Femi Kuti.
Considering how many top notch records were released this year, developing this year’s list was not easy by any means. The acts noted previously all turned out some very impressive offerings.
After much analysis and consideration, this critic has placed atop the year’s top new albums list is the long-lost album from John Coltrane, Both Directions At Once. The record stands out as a shining beacon that music lovers across the board should hear at least once, regardless of their familiarity with Coltrane and his body of work.
Second in this year’s list is taken by Yiddish Glory’s new album The Lost Songs of WWII. Listeners learn some very important history about Jewish music, culture and history through this album that should be in so many listeners’ libraries.
Third place in this year’s list goes to composer Klaus Schultz and his new album Silhouettes. The otherworldly compositions featured in this record are stunning in their presentation. They conjure thoughts of some of Nine Inch Nails master mind Trent Reznor’s most powerful instrumental works crossed with just a touch of John Williams sensibility. It really is a powerful presentation that crosses genres and deserves so much attention.
The remainder of this year’s list features new albums from the likes of Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Femi Kuti and The Record Company just to name a few acts. As always, the list’s top 10 titles are the best while the five that follow are honorable mention titles. Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks 2018 Top 10 Albums of the Year.
PHIL’S PICKS 2018 TOP 10 NEW ALBUMS
John Coltrane — Both Directions At Once
Yiddish Glory — The Lost Songs of WWII
Klaus Shultz — Silhouettes
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite — No Mercy in this Land
The Jamie Lawrence Sextet — New York Suite
Jimi Hendrix — Both Sides of the Sky
Femi Kuti — One People, One World
Ry Cooder — Prodigal Son
Yellowjackets — Raising Our Voice
The Record Company — All Of this Life
Billy Gibbons — The Big Bad Blues
Elvis Costello & The Imposters — Look Now
Onyx Collective — Lower East Suite Part Three
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats — Tearing at the Seams
Jazz and the blues are among the great genres of music to ever grace the world’s airwaves. From the days of the “chitlin circuit” that featured so many of the greatest blues musicians of all time, to the fusions sounds of Weather Report, Yellowjackets and others to the more modern jazz and blues of Joe Bonamassa and The Jamie Lawrence Sextet, both genres have produced an infinite number of timeless, influential albums and songs.
That is why as with past years, Phil’s Picks is featuring again, a list of the year’s top new jazz and blues albums. The two genres are being combined as they are invariably connected to one another. It has not made crafting this year’s list any easier than in year’s past. Keeping that in mind, there are no bad albums here.
Taking the top spot in this year’s list is the long lost studio recording from John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once. Up until this year, the recording had been long thought lost to time, and its “resurrection” of sorts this year is welcome. The arrangements show a unique side of the famed saxophonist and his fellow musicians featured throughout.
Second Place in this years list goes to Yellowjackets’ new album Raising Our Voice. This record is everything that the jazz outfit’s fans have come to expect with a little something extra thanks to the record’s guest vocalist.
Third Place belongs this year to The Jamie Lawrence Sextet and its debut album New York Suite. The record’s arrangements throw back to some very interesting influences while also using those influences to generate an identity of their own in the process.
Also featured in this year’s list are new releases from the likes of Joe Bonamassa, The James Hunter Six, The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band and Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite just to name a handful of other acts.
As always, the list features 15 total acts and titles. The first 10 records are the Top 10, while the five that follow are honorable mention titles. Without any further ado, here is Phil’s Picks’ 2018 Top 10 New Jazz & Blues Albums.
PHIL’S PICKS 2018 TOP 10 NEW JAZZ & BLUES ALBUMS
John Coltrane — Both Directions at Once
Yellowjackets — Raising Our Voice
The Jamie Lawrence Sextet — New York Suite
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite — No Mercy in This Land
Ry Cooder — The Prodigal Son
Onyx Collective — Lower East Suite Part Three
The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band — Poor Until Payday
Joe Bonamassa — Redemption
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa — Black Coffee
James Hunter Six — Whatever It Takes
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall — Love Is Here To Stay
Gary Moore — Blues & Beyond
Brian Bromberg — Thicker Than Water
Kamaal Williams — The Return
Victor Wainright & The Train — Victor Wainright & The Train
A little more than twelve years ago a little band that went by the name of The Movement made its first impact in the reggae community when it released its debut full-length studio recording On Your Feet. The fourteen-song record established the South Carolina-based band as one of the leaders in the next generation of reggae. That is because it broke the mold used by seemingly nearly every other reggae act out there at the time. Fast forward back to today. The band has maintained its place at the forefront of the genre since 2004 with the release of its sixth full-length album Golden. Golden was released Friday, April 8th via Rootfire Cooperative. The album’s twelve total songs are everything that fans have come to expect from the veteran reggae outfit. In many cases, a band doing the same thing for so long would be a death sentence for said act. However that has not been the case for The Movement in this case because its sound, while familiar, doesn’t just repeat the band’s previous work. Instead, the band has taken its familiar sound and used it to craft an album of wholly new tunes that any listener will enjoy.
The Movement’s latest full-length studio recording Golden is a fittingly titled new effort from the veteran reggae act. That is because while the album’s overall sound is familiar to the band’s longtime fans, that familiar sound has not equaled to the same old songs as before. Rather, the band has managed to re-invent itself once again (so to speak) on this, its sixth new album. The end result is an album that is yet again more than just another run-of-the-mill reggae record. It is a reggae record that leads the way within its community. This is evident early on in the album’s title track. The song, which features Elliot Martin, mixes the band’s familiar reggae sound with EDM elements for what is one of the album’s most standout offerings. What’s truly interesting here is the group’s ability to balance both musical elements. Neither one overpowers the other at any point. That balance forms a solid foundation for the song. It is just one part of what makes the song stand out. Its lyrical content makes it stand out just as much. Vocalist Joshua Swain sends some positive vibes through the song’s lyrical content. He sings in the song’s lead verse, “Frost say nothing gold can stay/I guess you can’t measure how much a soul can weigh/And I’ll never let this love unfold and fray/So my heart will stay golden after I’m old and grey/Frost say Eden-ya know it sank to grief/Don’t mean to offend you but it’s not my belief/Wanna scream to the world/There’s only hope and peace/When you have a gold heart and give away the gold leaf.” This message of optimism and is echoed in the song’s second verse, in which Swain sings, “Frost say nature’s first green is gold/But depending on whether the prior scene is told/It’s a cycle/Forever infinity remolds the heavens/Relax and let the dream unfold/And why is it so hard for us to see/I’m thinking we’re all just in a rush to be somebody/But first ya know we must be free/And in time you will say first I must be free.” Swain comes across as saying to listeners that they should have love for others, not for themselves. That is hinted even more in the song’s closing verse in which Swain notes that the fighting among men worldwide will be overcome by that love for one another. That positive vibe is commonplace in reggae. But its wording is original in its own right. And when it is set against the song’s EDM musical arrangement the song stands out even more. It is just one of the album’s most standout compositions. ‘On Top (ft. Leilani Wolf)’ is another prime example of what makes Golden live up to its title.
Golden’s title track shows easily in itself why this new record from The Movement stands out. That is thanks to the combination of its hybrid reggae/EDM sound and the positive message presented in its lyrical content. It is just one of the songs that shows why Golden lives up to its name, though. ‘On Top (ft. Leilani Wolf)’ is another of song that proves the importance of this album among this year’s crop of new reggae albums. Whereas the album’s title track mixed the band’s familiar reggae sound with EDM elements, this song mixes that reggae sound with a hip-hop sound for yet another original composition unlike any presented by the band’s many counterparts. Also as with ‘Golden,’ the song’s musical content is just part of what makes it stand out. Its lyrical content will keep listeners just as engaged. Swain spits rhymes here with the fluidity of a river as he raps, “Pickkin’ up pieces – pardon the prime alliteration/Apparently people notice and perk with participation/But life is a puzzle – Put it together with pride/And you’ll probably find purpose if you put your ego aside.” This harkens right back to the message presented in the album’s title track. And it’s just one verse buried within the song, too. He goes on noting in the song’s final verse “I hate to see my people/Like a flower with the root gone/Drenched like they took a shower with their suit on/Benched – sit or you sleep – Life ain’t a futon/Time to strap ya boots on/Hike a million miles a week to get ya move on/Party like it won’t ever peak/To get ya groove on/Wig out with ya locks/Or be sleek and rock a buffoon/Doesn’t really matter – Just be – And get ya truth on/Dready speak the truth mon.” It’s just this critic’s own interpretation but Swain comes across here as saying that people should be the most that they can be and do the most possible with life. Don’t just be weak and sit around and let things happen. Get out there and make things happen. That could be totally off the mark, again, being that it is just one interpretation. What everyone will agree on here is the depth of these lyrics. That depth, when considered along with the song’s equally enjoyable musical content, shows why the song in whole is yet another of this record’s most notable compositions. Together with the album’s title track, both songs show even more clearly why Golden is indeed golden. They are not the only songs that can be cited in making that argument either. The album’s poppy, guitar-driven closer is one more piece proving why Golden lives up to its name.
‘Golden’ and ‘’On Top (ft. Leilani)’ are both key examples of what makes Golden live up to its title. They are both stark contrasts from one another stylistically speaking. And even while their lyrical messages differ, too, they are still similar in that both present positive messages in said content. While both prove in the end to be key examples of what makes Golden shine (pun fully intended) they are not the only of the album’s songs that can be cited in making that argument. The song’s poppy, guitar-driven closer ‘Wild Time’ is one more example of what makes this record stand out in whole. Musically speaking Swain’s work on guitar and his vocal delivery conjure thoughts of Jack Johnson, and to a lesser degree Ben Harper. Drummer Gary Jackson’s work behind the kit adds even more depth to the song with cymbal crashes in all of the right places and a gentle backbeat. The song’s touching tribute to Swain’s family and friends back home partners with the song’s musical content to make it all the deeper and more emotional. Swain sings in a bittersweet manner, “To all my friends up in Philly/And to my family down in Charleston, too/For all my faults/Please forgive me/Didn’t mean to be so rude/I miss my sister out in Rainbow City/I miss my mom and dad out in Columbia, too/I only pray that you believe me/God only knows my words are true.” This is a deep and moving passage that will leave not a single eye dry in hearing it. The emotion doesn’t let up at all from here as Swain continues on, singing, “My eyes water as I scan the night sky/And I dream of everything that we might do/I fall asleep praying, “please just let me wake up”/I need another day to make it come true/It’s been a wild time loving you.” Again, Swain tugs at listeners’ heart strings here, presenting so much truly heartfelt emotion and wording. And one again, the combination of those moving words and equally moving musical content makes this song stand out just as much as ‘Golden’ and ‘On Top’ if not more. Regardless it can be easily said of this piece that thanks to its combination of deeply moving musical and lyrical content, it is indeed one more piece proving why The Movement’s new album is in fact musical gold.
The Movement might not be one of the biggest names in the musical universe or maybe even the reggae community. But it can be said in hearing the group’s sixth full-length album that it should be. That is because this record does indeed live up to its name. It lives up to its name as it once again mixes the band’s familiar reggae sound with a mix of sounds from other genres within the musical universe for a record that is in whole another original release from the veteran band. The hybrid EDM/reggae sound of the album’s title track, the mix of hip-hop and reggae in ‘On Top’ and the poppy, almost Jack Johnson/Ben Harper style sound of the album’s closer all prove this in their own way. Together with the album’s purer reggae compositions, the album in whole proves to be a record that definitely lives up to its name. It is available now in stores and online. More information on Golden is available online now along with all of the band’s latest news and more at:
Courtesy: Stax/Concord Music Group/Prestige Folklore
Childhood Home, the new album from Grammy award-winning musician Ben Harper and his mother Ellen, has easily made a place for itself on this critic’s list of the year’s best new albums. The ten track album is comprised of entirely new material written by both the elder and younger Harper. And being that it was released only days before Mother’s Day only serves to make it an even more touching album. The album speaks volumes of the lives of both Ben and his mother, both of whose music is rooted deeply in the world of folk and roots music. Harper has shown those roots numerous times over the course of his career. However, nowhere have those roots been so clear than on this beautiful collection of songs. The album proves its value right off the top with the Harpers singing of what really makes a home in the aptly titled ‘A House is a Home.’ The elder Harper, who wrote four of the album’s songs offers another of the album’s best moments in the lightly bluegrass influenced ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’ The whole thing closes with what is one of the most powerful and moving pieces in ‘How Could We Not Believe.’ The depth of the piece is certain to leave not a single eye dry after hearing it. Having heard it along with the album’s other songs, any listener will agree that Childhood Home more than deserves to have a place on any critic’s list of the year’s best new albums.
Ben and Ellen Harper open their stunning new collection of songs with an opus that is just as certain to leave listeners teary-eyed as the album’s closer. That song is the gentle ‘A House is a Home.’ The song emphasizes that no matter what a person’s house looks like, a house is still a home. It is a home because of the memories that it creates. The duo makes this clear as it sings, “A house is a home/Even when there’s ghosts/Even when you gotta run/From the ones you love the most/Screen door’s broken/Paint’s peelin’ from the wood/Locals whisper/When they gonna leave the neighborhood?/A house is a home/even when we’ve up and gone/Even when you’re there alone/A house/A house/Is a home.” The mother and son duo continue crafting such a vivid picture to which so many listeners can relate singing of chores left undone, life getting in the way as families are built, etc. They emphasize that through it all, a house is still a home. It is made a home through everything noted. The gentle strains of the guitar set against the even gentler backing percussion, and the Harpers’ vocal harmonies come together to paint a picture that will leave smiles on any listeners’ faces and tears in their eyes. Not tears of sadness, but of joy at remembering their own childhood homes. It is the perfect opener for this album. And the perfection continues throughout the album, too. This is evident even halfway through the album in what had to have been one of the pieces penned by Ellen Harper, ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’
‘Farmer’s Daughter’ is another example of what makes Childhood Home such a stunning work from Ben and Ellen Harper. It is such a wonderful example of what makes this album great because it shows the album’s versatility. Where the album’s opener was full on folk, this song is more rooted in an Appalachian/Bluegrass vibe. Ellen sings about growing up on a farm as a girl and the pain of her family losing the farm. Considering the song’s lyrical content, one would have thought the song to have a more subdued musical sound. But that’s not the case, interestingly enough. Mrs. Harper recalls in her song, “My daddy is a father/That makes me a farmer’s daughter/It’s no joke/We’re always broke/We live on dirt and water/We can’t live on dirt and water.” She goes on to sing about her family’s farm not even belonging to them and how the bank eventually forecloses on the farm. She sings, “Jesse James/He robbed the banks/Shot that boy to death/Now the banks are robbing us/We got nothing left.” Along the way, she sings about the impact that these stresses had on her family. One of her sisters even left to strike out on her own. The song itself is quite the powerful statement. Again, the more powerful statement is the song’s less than stereotypical musical backing to those words. There is a certain tension in the music that heightens the emotion in Mrs. Harper’s lyrics. And it definitely helps translate the message to listeners. It is a far better choice for the song than what could have been used. It’s one more example of what makes this record such a joy, whether or not one is familiar with the work of Ben Harper or even his mother.
Ben and Ellen Harper present a vast sea of emotional depth throughout the course of the songs on Childhood Home. That depth comes courtesy of both the songs’ lyrics and music together. The album’s closer is the finishing touch on that exhibition. As with the nine songs that precede this song, the very first thing that will pull in listeners on this song is its simplicity. It is just the Harpers singing. Their vocals are backed by an equally simple percussion section. There is a shaker and what sounds like a Cajon Drum. The younger Harper and his mother sing about what would seem to be their religious beliefs. They sing, “So beautiful we had to stand aside/So beautiful we had to stand aside/We had to stand aside/With our arms open wide/So beautiful we had to stand aside/So beautiful we had to close our eyes/So beautiful we had to close our eyes/And listen to those sounds/It could be heard miles around/So beautiful we had to close our eyes.” Ben Harper alone has always had a knack for crafting songs that could tug at the deepest depths of the human soul. Alongside his mother, the duo’s harmonies in this song will tug at those depths like never before. When taken in as part of the whole that is Childhood Home, this song will most certainly leave not a single dry eye among listeners. Any listener not left even slightly teary-eyed after taking in this closer simply isn’t human. For that matter, anyone not left moved after hearing this song and the songs that precede it isn’t human. It is a beautiful work that boasts so much depth both musically and lyrically. That depth from the songs’ music and lyrics together makes Childhood Home one of this critic’s favorite new albums overall of 2014.
Childhood Home is available now in stores and online. Ben Harper is currently touring in support of Childhood Home. He is currently winding down the European leg of his tour in support of the album and will kick off the North American leg of his tour May 31st in Claremont, California. Fans can find out when Ben Harper will come to their town and keep up with the latest news from Ben Harper online now at http://www.facebook.com/benharper and http://www.benharper.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.
Eagle Rock Entertainment and Montreux Sounds formed a new landmark business partnership a year or so ago. The partnership in question allowed Eagle Rock distribution rights for a number of new and archived shows that were recorded at what is one of music’s most revered festivals. And the recordings in question have been nothing short of impressive. From the likes of Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and Etta James to newer acts such as The Raconteurs, the Montreux Jazz Festival has seen some of the industry’s top names take its storied stages. Now, one more piece of the legendary festival’s history has been released to the masses in the form of George Thorogood & The Destroyers Live at Montreux 2013. The concert, which was recorded this past July, marked the first time that Thorogood and his band mates—Jeff Simon (drums), Bill Blough (bass), Jim Suhler (guitar/vocals), and Buddy Leach (saxophone)–had ever performed at the venue. And Thorogood himself makes note of his excitement at getting to finally perform at Montreux after more than two decades. That excitement pored over throughout the band’s entire performance, too. It’s one of the key factors of this recording that makes it so fun to take in. The band’s set list is another reason that fans will enjoy this recording. Thorogood and his band mates hit on every one of their major hit songs. There is even a tribute to Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure. If that isn’t enough for fans, the combination of the recording’s bonus interview and companion booklet will push the recording over the top. They, along with the set list and the band’s performance, make this recording one more huge success from Eagle Rock Entertainment and Montreux Sounds.
George Thorogood has been making music and performing for over four decades. So it comes as quite the surprise that 2013 marked the first time that he and his band mates played the famed Montreux Jazz Festival. The festival, which started out mainly as a venue for the top names in jazz and blues, has grown each year to incorporate bands and artists from across the musical spectrum. Thorogood and his band mates obviously held no ill will toward festival organizers when they took the stage at the festival. Thorogood makes no bones concerning his excitement at finally being invited to perform at Montreux. His positive energy isn’t confined to just that one moment, either. From the high energy opener that is ‘Rock Party’ to hits like ‘I Drink Alone’, ‘Bad to the Bone’, and ‘Madison Blues’, the band exudes so much energy and excitement. The audience in attendance feeds off of every bit of that excitement, too. The mutual sharing of excitement and energy can be felt even by viewers watching this recording from the comfort of their own living rooms or bedrooms. Home viewers may even find themselves feeding off of that excitement, dancing around and playing air guitar, etc. That shows just how much fun Thorogood and company make their performance for all of their audiences. Home viewers will discover this for themselves when they order or purchase the recording for themselves on DVD and Blu-ray.
The positive energy and excitement exuded by Thorogood and company is key to the overall enjoyment of this recording. Whether one is seeing the concert for the first time or reliving the concert again, everybody can agree that the band’s stage performance alone is enough reason to take in this concert. Just as important to the overall enjoyment of this concert recording is the set list chosen for the performance. Fans won’t be disappointed at the set list chosen for the concert. The veteran rockers included all of their fan favorites over the course of the near ninety-minute set. From the likes of ‘I Drink Alone’ to the band’s now famous cover of John Lee Hooker’s ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ to the Johnny Cash tribute in ‘Cocaine Blues’, the band leaves little if anything on the table. Audiences will especially appreciate that in the tribute to the late country singer, Thorogood actually seems to channel him. He actually sounds like Cash, vocally speaking, at points in the song. The same can be said of his guitar work, too. It is just one of so many high points offered throughout the course of the concert. And it’s just one more part of what makes the recording as a whole so enjoyable for audiences of all ages. It’s not the last, either. The bonus interview and companion booklet included in with the DVD and Blu-ray put the finishing touch on this recording.
The songs chosen for this concert and the band’s performance collectively make up the most important and impressive part of this latest recording from Eagle Rock Entertainment and Montreux Sounds. There is still one part of the overall presentation of this recording that puts it over the top. That last part ifs the collective bonus interview and companion booklet. The show’s bonus sit-down with Thorogood shows that the persona presented on stage was as real as it comes. Audiences get even more insight into his excitement over playing Montreux at long last. And through the show’s companion booklet, audiences get a brief history of Thorogood’s career leading up to his performance at Montreux. Audiences will be interested to learn that along with George Thorogood and The Destroyers, ZZ Top was at Montreux this year, as were Prince, Sting, Ben Harper, Deep Purple, Leonard Cohen, and so many others. It’s just a tiny piece of the whole history that audiences will enjoy learning in reading through the included literature. And together with everything already mentioned, that history and the bonus interview make this presentation complete. It all collectively makes this latest release one more huge success from Eagle Rock Entertainment and Montreux Sounds. It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Live-At-Montreux-2013-Blu-ray/dp/B00FFLBXJQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1387537259&sr=1-1&keywords=george+thorogood+%26+the+destroyers+live+at+montreux+2013. More information on this and other concerts in Eagle Rock’s ongoing Montreux series of concerts is available online at http://www.eaglerockent.com and http://www.facebook.com/EagleRockEnt. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.
Ben Harper’s latest release, Get Up! is both one of his finest releases to date and one of the best new albums of 2013. Playing the blues is nothing new to Harper. Much of the work that he has churned out throughout his career boasts an obvious blues influence. This includes his 2004 collaboration with the famed Blind Boys of Alabama, There Will Be a Light. Next to that record, this most recent release is the only other time that Harper has gone full blown blues. Of course without fellow musician Charlie Musswelwhite on board for the project, it might never have gotten off the ground. Thankfully though, it did. And because it did fans of both Ben Harper and the Blues have an album that is one of those rare albums that can be enjoyed from start to finish without skipping even one song.
Get Up! opens in impressive form with the mid-tempo song, ‘Don’t Look Twice.’ This is a modern blues classic both in its lyrical and musical side. It’s a song that reminds listeners their woes aren’t as someone else’s. Harper sings to his listeners, “If your ship hasn’t come in/Don’t’ have a problem with the shore/If you’re locked out of your house/Don’t’ have a problem with your door/The dice are no man’s mistress/Black diamond snake moan/Wake up in the morning/Honey I’ll be gone.” He’s telling listeners, don’t blame one thing for something else happening. He’s saying that some things are just uncontrollable. While it may sound like some sort of inspirational speech, it shows that the blues don’t have to be sad to be enjoyed even when the music boasts a classic, slower twelve-bar style. They can be uplifting in different ways whether it is through those sad, slow songs or through something with a little bit more fire to them. For that reason, this song makes for a proper opener.
Where ‘Don’t Look Twice’ leaves off, the album’s next song, ‘I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone’ picks right back up. This song has more of a classic Chicago blues sound about it. Musselwhite’s harmonica playing is wonderfully countered by Jesse Ingalls’ steady bass line and Jordan Richardson’s complimentary time keeping on snare. The trio comes together with Harper’s vocals to make another song that is a modern classic. Its lyrical side makes it just as interesting. It really shows the link between the blues and gospel music as he sings verses that are more gospel than blues. He sings, “You gotta answer to somebody/If you didn’t learn/Then you didn’t read/Gotta live with it/What’s a man to do/Gotta answer to somebody.” It is very much the spiritual song. But its ability to mix two genres so seamlessly makes it one more of so many highlights that show up throughout this impressive opus.
Get Up! offers listeners so many impressive songs from the opening moments of ‘Don’t Look Twice’ to ‘I’m In I’m Out I’m Gone’ to the much slower closer, ‘All That Matters Now.’ That song echoes blatant hints of Muddy Waters musically speaking. It instantly conjures images of a smoky, dimly lit blues club. And even Harper’s vocals are so akin to that of a young Muddy Waters. What’s ironic about the song is that just as with the album’s opener, the music is old school, twelve-bar blues but the lyrics are actually quite uplifting. Harper is singing here that while things are so tough, his subject is still happy because he has that special someone. He sings, “It’s been a long hard day/And a long hard night/Been a hard year/It’s been a hard life/But we’re together/And that’s all that matters now…Been thrown by the wind/Drowned in the rain/I walked through some things/You don’t want me to explain/But we’re together/And that’s all that matters now.” There’s just something magical about that mix of music and lyrics. Whether it’s just the feel of the two combined or something else, it taps into the very soul of the blues, just like so many other songs on this new record. It’s one more part of the whole that makes this record one of the year’s best and one of the best that Ben Harper has ever released. It is available now in stores and online and can be purchased via Ben Harper’s official website at http://www.benharper.biz/getup.html and via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Get-Up-Deluxe-CD-DVD/dp/B009ICQ6KO/?tag=conmusgro-20. It can also be downloaded via iTunes. Harper’s European fans will get the chance to see him this Summer as he tours across the continent and into South America. His European tour kicks off July 3rd in Pistoia, Italy and wraps September 20th in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Ben Harper fans can get all of the latest tour updates and news from him online at http://www.facebook.com/benharper and http://www.benharper.com.