DAVID GERGEN – Album Review: “The Golden Light”

David Gergen2

David Gergen is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. He’s been making music for over two decades, and just released his 7th self-produced album The Golden Light in early February. He seems to drop a new album every four years – previous efforts being The Dreaming in 2014, The Nearer It Was…The Farther It Became in 2010, and Haunting Whirlwinds in 2006 (although he did release a five-song EP Odyssey in 2012).

Incorporating elements of alternative, indie and experimental rock with Americana and easy-listening, he writes beautiful piano and guitar-driven melodies to accompany his thoughtful lyrics about love, loss and renewal. He explains his writing process on his website: “I write songs faster than I can record them….lyrics are important to me. I change direction with each piece of work and rather than submit to any trends, I create music that I like first and foremost. Music that keeps me interested, that is the secret to longevity I think.”

As I listened to The Golden Light, I was struck by David’s exceptional piano playing and skill at writing melodic piano compositions, both of which are well represented on the lovely album opener “Closer to the Light.” The main piano riff is serene and hauntingly beautiful, and backed by a second layer of piano, as well as a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, mandolin and strings. The track has a spiritual feel, with lyrics that seem to be about hitting rock bottom and seeking a way out of the hole you’re in through love and redemption. David’s smooth vocals have a quiet intensity as he implores “I’m falling, fallingFalling, I’m falling…down. Down, worn and busted. Can love save me again? The only must have is light coming in? Closer, closer, closer to the light.” The song is one of the album highlights for me.

Talking About Love” is an uptempo song with more of a progressive rock sound, thanks to the predominance of electric guitar and a more aggressive drumbeat. The layered guitars on this track are really good. The brooding “Here and There” ventures toward an Americana vibe, and features some awesome moody guitars and piano keys that convey the sentiments expressed in the lyrics: “Slowly, the twinkle is leaving those eyes. Somber days the overture of the times. The moment you notice it’s already gone. I’m afraid to notice who’s driving this train. I know I’m falling in love with this feeling that’s here and there.

Another beautiful piano-driven track is “Looking Glass,” a poignant song that seems to be about facing your own truths with honesty and an open mind. David’s piano playing is exquisite, and the accompanying acoustic guitar and soaring string synths make for a really gorgeous song. His vocals are comforting as he sings: “Don’t run away there’s a price to be paid, it’ll come back to find you again. So many of us running in circles to find out what’s lying within. Life is so pretty like a beautiful city with its lights climbing up to the moon. High rising wild fire burns what it needs to renew. It passed through the looking glass….it’s gone, gone, gone, gone.

Sirens” is an interesting track with rather unusual melody progressions that keep us just a bit off balance, but in a good way. David employs otherworldly synths and a funky distorted guitar riff to create dissonance and a sense of uncertainty that complement the lyrics: “The sweet singing on the red sea leads you right to the edge. The sirens watching are breaking us in. How many signs does it take.

Another unconventional track is “Mountain,” which has two distinct parts. The first 50 seconds of the song consists of eerie, discordant synths and an echoed pounding drum that impart a sense of foreboding. That disturbing part ends with an abrupt shift to a melodic and pleasing Americana song with strummed and chiming guitars, lovely synths and piano. David croons “Can anybody see through the mountain? Can anybody see what’s there? If you only see, what you want to see. It’s an easy way to get lost.” The track closes out the last 10 seconds with a repeat of the discordant sounds, perhaps symbolizing the feeling of being lost?

David goes off in an experimental rock direction on the fascinating “Coffee in Bed.” He uses layers of differently-textured strummed guitars that are sometimes discordant, backed with spooky, ethereal synths to create a hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscape. David’s soothing vocals are almost seductive as he sings about the ardor of love’s desires: “Calm breeze, sun on her face. I bring her some coffee, she wants me to stay. Not in a long time has anyone said, you must be waiting for coffee in bed.

He follows up with “Big River,” a pleasing Americana ballad about making it home to be with his loved one, and closes the album with “Clouds and Lightning.” Piano is the only instrument on this lovely track about what appears to be death and rebirth, whether in the literal or figurative sense: “It’s easy now, when it comes. Separate the heroes from the villains. Higher than the clouds. The offering to guide you on the way out.  Talk slow, it’s me you’re looking for. Why are you trying to be so strong? Resting clouds, resting angel. There’s a story she’s trying to tell. And then they’re gone, crimson angels.”

I must concede that The Golden Light is a remarkable work that requires at least a couple of listens to fully appreciate the nuance and complexity of the music and poetic lyrics, though the songs still sound wonderful to the casual listener. I discovered new sounds and meanings with each additional listen, and grew to like the songs more and more, to the point where I now think the album is brilliant. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys piano rooted alternative and experimental rock music that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.

Connect with David:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

JD & THE STRAIGHT SHOT – Album Review: “Good Luck and Good Night”

Good Night and Good Luck

JD & The Straight Shot is a folk rock/Americana band based in New York City, and in September 2017 they released their sixth studio album Good Luck And Good Night.  Drawing inspiration from such legendary acts as The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and The Beatles, along with traditional Irish folk music, Country and classic rock’n’roll, JD & the Straight Shot deliver pleasing and sometimes topical songs that range from introspective folk ballads to catchy bluegrass foot-stompers.

The band is comprised of musicians with impressive credentials. Front man Jim Dolan, (lead vocals/guitar) is also CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the New York Knicks and New York Rangers; guitarist Marc Copely has worked with B.B. King and Rosanne Cash; bassist Byron House with Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton; violinist/fiddler Erin Slaver with Martina McBride and Rod Stewart; drummer/percussionist Shawn Pelton with Sheryl Crow, Levon Helm, and the Saturday Night Live band; and backing vocalist/guitarist Carolyn Dawn Johnson with Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney. The all-acoustic Good Night and Good Luck was produced and mixed by Copely and engineered by Chuck Ainley at Soundstage Studios in Nashville. 

The album kicks off with “Redemption Song,” a rousing bluegrass number about searching for salvation and forgiveness. Slaver’s exuberant fiddle is one of the highlights on the track, and plays a major role in the band’s overall sound. Keeping with the gospel theme of finding redemption, “Ballad of Jacob Marley” is a an updated interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. The lyrics speak of making amends with one’s greedy ways before it’s too late. “Every day another link, you’ve taken yourself to the brink. / Time is short to right what you’ve done wrong.” Banjo and fiddle are the standout instruments on this great track, and Dolan and Johnson’s vocals harmonize well together, as they also do on “Moonlight” and the lovely “I Know You Know I Know.

One of my favorites on the album is “Run For Me,” a stirring song with a delightful Irish folk melody. The track opens with a sound imitating a galloping horse, followed by a catchy guitar riff and charming fiddle that continue throughout the song. The lyrics are a plea of hope that a bet on a horse race will pay off, easing worries about how to pay the bills: “Gotta pay my bills, running out of time, I’ll never get ahead. It’s all riding on the line. God help me win this time, just once to feel alive. Come on take the lead, come on baby bring it home to me.”

Referencing the phrase that the legendary early TV newsman Edward R. Murrow uttered at the end of every newscast, the compelling title track “Good Luck and Good Night” addresses the political divisiveness that permeates today’s news. “Hear a rumor make up a quote. Put it out there to see if it floats. Found your secret, told everyone. Doesn’t really matter as long as we won. Black and white. Must be right.” The languid country/folk song features a child chorus similar to that used to dramatic effect on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”

The deeply moving ballad “Tonight” takes on the horror of domestic abuse: “From up above comes a terrible scream. Woke me up, I thought it was a dream. Sounds of breaking dishes and slamming doors. One big thud as something hit the floor. / She says she’s going to heaven, that’s right. I hope she’s not going tonight.” The band pays homage to their departed friend Glenn Frey with a lovely cover of the Eagles’ song “It’s Your World Now,” and incorporates lines from Maya Angelou’s poem Alone on their contemplative, gospel-like “Never Alone.”

The only miss on the album for me is their cover of the Three Dog Night hit “Shambala.” The song just feels lifeless and flat compared to the original, and lacks the energy or emotional depth of their other songs. Oddly, JD & the Straight Shot chose to perform “Shambala” when they appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on March 8. They would have been better served performing one of the many better tracks on Good Luck and Good Night, an otherwise terrific album.

The band kicks off a month-long tour in Chicago beginning this evening, March 14, where they’ll be opening for The Eagles. They’ll also open for Chicago and The Doobie Brothers for some shows. I will be seeing them in Rancho Mirage on April 6th.

3/14 Chicago, IL @United Center w/ the Eagles
3/15 Grand Rapids, MI @Van Andel Arena w/ the Eagles
3/17 Thackerville, OK @Winstar Casino w/ Chicago
3/18 St. Louis, MO @Scottrade Center w/ the Eagles
3/23 Nashville, TN @Bridgestone Arena w/ the Eagles
3/24 Nashville, TN @Bridgestone Arena w/ the Eagles
3/30 San Antonio, TX @Majestic Theatre w/ Chicago
3/31 Sugar Land, TX @Smart Financial Centre w/ Chicago
4/6 Rancho Mirage, CA @Agua Caliente Casino w/ The Doobie Brothers
4/7 Las Vegas, NV @ Chelsea at Cosmopolitan w/ The Doobie Brothers
4/8 Columbus, OH @Nationwide Arena w/ the Eagles
4/10 Lexington, KY @Rupp Arena w/ the Eagles
4/11 Charlotte, NC @Spectrum Center w/ the Eagles

Connect with the band:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon

ANNA MITCHELL – Album Review: “Anna Mitchell”

Anna Mitchell album-cover

Anna Mitchell is a singer/songwriter based in Cork, Ireland, and she’s released an astonishingly beautiful album. Her self-titled Anna Mitchell dropped in January, and it’s as close to perfection as any recent album I’ve heard. This is Anna’s second studio album, which follows her 2015 debut effort Down to the Bone. With a lot of albums, it can take a couple of listens for the music to grow on me, but with Anna Mitchell I was blown away the moment I heard it. Each new track was a revelation, leading me to quickly recognize that here was an exceptional work of musical art.

Anna Mitchell

Drawing inspiration from some of the best singers and songwriters in music – including  Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Ray LaMontagne, Stevie Nicks, Tim O’ Brien, Bob Dylan, Shawn Colvin and Gillian Welch – Anna melds folk, country, Americana, rock’n’roll, pop and blues influences to create exquisite songs that speak to oft-covered subjects of love and relationships, and the joy and pain they bring. Her strong, clear vocals could easily go toe to toe with many of the aforementioned singers. The album was recorded independently, with musical assistance from well known Irish musicians Davie Ryan on drums, Brian Hassett on bass and Alan Comerford on guitar. It was engineered and co-produced by Brendan Fennessy.

Anna Mitchell opens with the gorgeous ballad “All These Things.” Anna immediately casts us under her spell with captivating vocals that seem to float and soar above layers of stunning, richly-textured guitars and a humming bass line. Davie Ryan provides just the right amount of percussion, and the lush horns add a jazzy flourish later in the track. The song’s unusual video is extraordinary:

Anna dials up the tempo on “It Pours,” a great pop-rock song with the kind of strong driving beat that I love. The bluesy guitars are terrific, and Anna’s sultry vocals turn passionate as she admonishes one to stop whining and start living: “Hold your tongue, hold your tongue, I’m not listening. You’re not the only one with sadness or sin. I feel the weight of the world creepin’ in. And if you don’t start kicking you won’t stop sinking. It pours outta you, outta you.” The trippy video shows blacklit images of faces painted with phosphorescent colors in the dark.

Radio Waves” is a lovely but bittersweet Country-rock song with slide guitar, piano and organ as the primary instruments. Anna earnestly sings of escaping from life’s troubles through music: “Radio waves, audio slave, turn me up ’cause I’m down.” On “Never Learn,” Anna’s smooth vocals are accompanied by a bewitching piano melody as she tells someone their broken relationship is beyond repair: “You can waste your time, but keep your hands off mine. Past the point of no return.” Staying with that theme, on the Country-rock track “Get Out” Anna tells a man in no uncertain terms that she’s through with him: “It would be nice to stop and chat, but I don’t like you. Well they say that you’re a really good catch, but I don’t want you / Do you just feel like a man when you shout? Oh, get out! Just get out!”

One of my favorite songs is the rousing foot-stomper “Dog Track.” Thanks to heavy, distorted electric guitar, buzzing bass and pounding drum beat, the track’s harder and edgier than the others. And like the music, Anna’s echoed vocals are more aggressive as she snarls the lyrics about a guy she finds attractive who’s also bad news: “Is that a wolf howlin’ or is it just the wind? Well I met him down at the dog track. He was walking around like he was on the attack.”

Here’s an electrifying live performance of “Dog Track” with the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra.

Anna’s impressive songwriting talents are showcased on the melodically complex “Better Life.” The mysterious and powerful song features a strong bass line overlain with tremolo-heavy guitars and an array of instruments, including piano, slide guitar, organ, violin, and drums. “Slice of the Pie” is a call for respect for the working class in  their struggle to make a living: “You don’t judge a man, just by the way he found to feed his children. Everybody wants a slice of the pie. They’re just like you and I, trying to get by.” The album closes with Anna acknowledging she was wrong, asking her man to “Come Home.” She teases: “I like your bedside manner / Come home, when you coming back to me?

Anna Mitchell is a phenomenal album that needs to be heard by as many ears as possible. I’m so glad Anna reached out to me, and I’m thrilled to do what I can help promote her and her incredible music.

Those of you in Ireland can see Anna and her band at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, February 10      Levi’s Corner House, Ballydehob  8 PM
Friday, February 16       Whelan’s, Dublin  8 PM
Sunday, February 18      John Cleer’s Bar & Theatre, Kilkenny  8 PM

Connect with Anna:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

RICH EVANS BAND – Album Review: “B Sides and Outtakes”

I’ve always liked songs that tell a story, and what genre does it better than Americana/Country? One such artist who’s extremely skilled at weaving compelling stories is Rich Evans, a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. He’s a prolific songwriter, and has recorded music in several genres, including rock, blues, and punk, but his greatest love is Americana. He’s been involved in a number of music projects and bands for more than 20 years, including The Mariachis (who toured with Joe Cocker, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Cliff) and the Americana band Roosevelt Bandwagon, as well as recording music for labels in Chicago and Nashville. He formed the Rich Evans Band to record and perform his solo material, an astonishing output of songs! As Rich Evans Band, he’s released several albums and songs over the past decade or so, which he’s been re-issuing over the past year through his label Baby Dylan Records (named after his son Dylan).

Rich Evans

One of those albums is B Sides and Outtakes, a collection of seven wonderful tracks that address common themes of life, love, relationships and the struggles of being a musician through honest, deeply-moving lyrics. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Evans plays many of the instruments on his songs with help from his backup band. But guitar, mandolin and harmonica seem to be his specialties, and are beautifully featured on the opening track Roll on Mississippi. Evans’ vocals sound raspy yet soothing on this sweet Country ballad, and backed by a lovely chorus of female vocals.

As good as Evans is on his guitar and harmonica, it’s his skill at writing tender, heartfelt lyrics where he really shines. On the poignant Old Midnight Special he sings about an aging musician unable to accept his growing irrelevance in the music business:

Guess the talent that he’s got has worn a little thin
Time was when he played they’d line up outside the door
Still plays the same bars, but they don’t come round no more
They’ve all grown up, got old and settled down
Guess he still fools himself he’s the new kid in town

These days the kids call out for songs that he don’t know
They don’t care unless they’re ones they play on the radio
He can’t reconcile himself that his better days are gone
Guess he’s still in the same place while the world keeps movin’ on
He still got the ticket stubs, pictures in frames
Of him up on the billboard when people knew his name

One of my favorite tracks is Bad Turns, where an upbeat, bass-driven tempo belies the bittersweet story line about a son inheriting his father’s penchant for making poor life choices:

Must have been about five or six
When Momma set me down and she told me this
Don’t go doin’ like your daddy done
I don’t believe it’s gotta be like father like son
Left us before you turned one
Yeah, the son of a bitch been a long time gone
He’s been making bad turns for so long
I can’t put my finger on what went wrong

Thought history wouldn’t happen again
They wouldn’t do to me what they done to him
But the devil come a knockin’ in the middle of the night
I was good and drunk there was a barroom fight
Swear I never touched that guy
Told me later that he’d up and died
Judge sentenced me to death just to help clear up the mess
I been making bad turns for so long
I can’t put my finger on what went wrong

Evans sings about a life compromised by a lifetime of alcoholism on the melancholy Blues Are Gonna Get You. And on the song about a hardscrabble life in Bakersfield, he touches on other California locales such as the Kern River, Bakersfield’s oil-producing neighbor Oildale, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Highway 99, as well as Illinois – all places I know well. I’m impressed that a musician from Britain would have such a good working knowledge of California geography.

He turns romantic on the sensual Irresistible, pleading with a woman he still loves to leave her new boyfriend and come back to him. “Have to steal your love away from him. Have to steal your love right back again.” The bluesy guitars and bass line on the track are particularly good. The album ends on a high note with the bouncy rock’n’roll track Midnight Creeper. Evans tells the object of his desire that nothing’s gonna stop him from winning her love: “I don’t care if your Momma won’t let you. Honey I’m gonna come and get you. I’m the midnight creeper, gonna slide right through your door. It’s a good metaphor to describe how, through his music, Evans slides right into our hearts and minds with his catchy melodies and relatable lyrics. Good stuff!

Connect with Rich Evans Band on  Twitter and Facebook
To hear more of his music, go to Spotify or Apple Music and purchase it on iTunes