Album Review Saturdays 2023 Episode 20

These three albums come from different places, but it’s quite possible that one’s legendary status is understated, the other’s status is legendary lineage, and the final review is one that should become or already be that of legend.  The first, which the written review was done by Chef Jeff Johnson, is a southern blues rock album with a lot of those familiarities that makes the genre so loved, especially the well handled slide guitar, and considering the lineage of the person delivering, it does not come as much of surprise how well it’s handled.  Next up is a bandmate of two solid rock institutions, Crazy Horse and the E-Street Band, and his songwriting, multi-instrumentation, and singing makes him extremely legendary but maybe in a different way, even though his solo material is not as well known as the contributions he continues to make to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.  Finally, we come to a Canadian singer, song-writer, incredibly gifted guitarist (maybe the most underrated guitar front men in the modern era) and reincarnated, rich vocalists in progressive rock, who adds to his solo catalog.  Let’s check them all out, shall we!?

 

Click here for our YouTube Channel “Album Review Saturdays 2023 Episode 20” which features discussion on these albums, as well as two (2) more album reviews not in this article.

 

Duane Betts – Wild & Precious Life

Article written by Chef Jeff Johnson (with some Mark Kuligowski additions)

Wow! This blast from the past album brings southern rock full circle. It’s the glory days of southern rock. Without knowing, you might think this was an old Allman brothers album (close your eyes and you’re definitely in the southern most blues valley of Allman). Nope! Fooled you! It’s Duane Betts, son of Allman Brothers Band member and co-founder Dickey Betts and his then-wife, known now as Paulette Howell. Duane was named for Duane Allman, Dickey’s bandmate who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971. Duane, here on this record, is at his best with his cheeky licks and his magical ways with southern style recordings (or is it his legacy-like heritage). He embraces the heart of this genre of music. He starts with “Evergreen,” a beautiful little song with typical Betts guitar and some good ole organ thrown in for excellent measure.

This album is just classic. It’s new songs done in the classic way. The song “Stare at the Sun” is a nice combo of blues and southern with the addition of Derek Trucks (yeah, that’s got no chance of sucking). The Trucks family even offered up the recording space for the album at their Swamp Raga Studio in Jacksonville (it’s a family thing). It’s smooth and classy with clean licks and wonderful organs. Vocals are great, just a bit of country twang. “Under the Bali Moon” showcases Duane’s masterful skills at guitar. This little instrumental is fine, smooth and romantic. Great addition to this excellent album! All and all this album is great for people dying to hear some fabulous southern root rock. It’s done with simplicity and elegance. Folks — this is a winner!

The Band

  • Duane Betts – Guitar, Slide Guitar, Vocals
  • Johnny Stachela – Slide Guitar, Guitars, Background Vocals
  • Berry Duane Oakley – Bass Guitar
  • John Ginty – Keyboards, Piano, Organ
  • Tyler Greenwell – Drums
  • Special guest appearances: Derek Trucks, Nicki Bluhm, and Marcus King

Wild & Precious Life Track listing

1. Evergreen
2. Waiting on a Song
3. Forrest Lane
4. Colors Fade (featuring Nicki Bluhm)
5. Saints to Sinners
6. Stare at the Sun (featuring Derek Trucks)
7. Under the Bali Moon
8. Sacred Ground
9. Cold Dark World (featuring Marcus King)
10. Circles in the Stars

 

 

Nils Lofgren – Mountains

I can start off by saying that I am definitely a fan of how he integrates into the bands he is a definitive part of (E-Street Band, Crazy Horse), as well as the accompanying musician with Neil Young. Whether it’s his guitar playing, which can shift from acoustic beauty to fantastic roots blues, or the simple magic of a piano or organ, right through to the lyric and well-traveled vocal delivery, Mr. Lofgren has earned a certain respect, and has always brought out interesting albums that fit the human condition and his passion for allowing music to tell the stories. Mountains, while the title doesn’t exactly match what you’re about to experience, has a full arsenal of his capabilities both as s song-writer and a storyteller. What it might lack in places is what we might have been expecting in guitar work.  We certainly start there with the opening track, “Ain’t the Truth Enough,” where we treated to the whole host of guitar, slide guitar and organ with the roots rock and harmonies that wheelhouse us right in!  Then we feel an 80’s rock attitude with that edgy guitar work we do love, so all systems go. You had to expect some harmony gospel and modestly sappy ballad at least once, but that’s because his vocal can carry this in an honest area that keeps it grounded and real, but the vocals still hold.  Then we’re back with what we love, “Won’t Cry No More” (which is the best track), and followed tightly, yet in somber style, is “Nothing’s Easy.” Both are totally wheelhouse songs that make the record!  The second half of the album bounces into and out of an 80s Big Country meets adult-contemporary blues, which is okay, but just flows oddly until we end with the “Angel Blues” ballad that reaches for it (and over another two listens you realize the champion of lyrics that Lofgren has), yet the backing vocals and his own voice doesn’t always keep with the beauty and that of the harp.

This is still a well produced record that has all the right mics in all the right places.  It’s a singer-songwriter type album that allows anything to go, which in a few moments doesn’t hurt — but doesn’t help in the flow, but let’s face it, that’s a tough thing to put together when you’re emotionally attaching yourself to writing and then delivering the songs.  If you like Crosby Still Nash & Young, there’s great moments here to hear, and even that 80s Big Country and, of course, fans of Nils Lofgren will cherish the singer and the blues guitar along with some of the guest appearances that you might have expected.  A nice, timely record in the midst of what we’ve been listening to lately.

The Band

  • Nils Lofgren – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
  • Guest appearances: David Crosby, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, and Ron Carter

Mountains Track listing

1. “Ain’t the Truth Enough”
2. “Only Ticket Out”
3. “Back in Your Arms”
4. “Won’t Cry No More (For Charlie Watts)”
5. “Nothin’s Easy (For Amy)”
6. “Dream Killer”
7. “Only Your Smile”
8. “I Remember Her Name”
9. “We Better Find It”
10. “Angel Blues”

 

Jeff Martin – Seven Deadly Sins [EP]

Jeff Martin is no doubt a more occultist Jim Morrison re-incarnate with an incredibly engaging vocal reach as well as Page-like guitar virtuosity that can rip with the best of them as a front man! His band, The Tea Party, is internationally known (for those that understand and appreciate the beauty, pageantry and elegance that rock-n-roll can bring, absorb, and deliver in progressive alternative rock). His solo album, here, is rooted in a middle-eastern gaze, and while his title seems to hint at the harder edges, the album is in fact more rock ballad than his usual progressive alternative tendencies. It does start there with the lustful opening track, but the rest of the album comes at you like “The Messenger” and the tempered areas of Splendor Solis. It still dabbles in occult sinfulness, but it’s also harmonic and hopeful, nestled beautifully between sitar, acoustic guitar and vocal lamenting that only Jeff Martin’s signature vocal can powerfully compel your spirit and ear to!

There is not a solitary moment wasted in this 32 minute conceptual journey EP (is it an EP at that length).  The lyrics are as one would expect from this amazing lyricist. It’s very deep, well thought out, and uniquely universal. His recording style as a soloist has the lyrics and their romanticisms (sometimes dark and lovely my sweets) always at the forefront, while they bask in the musical accompaniment that he provides with whatever string instrument he decides to master over.  Listen long, listen deep for you have 32 minutes that your soul and road will keep, here.  No that’s not lyrics from the album, it’s my statement to you, if you’ve never heard from him solo wise, as well as to the many devoted fans, as this is a splendid recording that’s sinful only in that it’s missing that dark blues he can conjure without even trying.  It’s symphonic.  It’s lyrically lovely.  It’s surprisingly still an acoustic and electric guitar lover’s listen (listen deeper — it’s all there)! It’s another notch in the coolness he exudes no matter himself or with his beloved band — hell, the coolness he probably exudes while cutting his lawn.

If you like progressive psychedelic and Middle Eastern tints with the most charismatic, pitch perfect vocals — you either already know — or you’re in for a musical ride that only he can provide!

The Band

  • Jeff Martin – Guitars, Sitar and whatever else he possesses from the string occult instruments across the world.
  • Darren Evans – Drums, Percussion

Seven Deadly Sins Tracklisting

lust 1. Şehvet Nora
gluttony 2. Down On Your Knees
wrath 3. So Bitter
greed 4. Sorted and Sold
envy 5. Send Her My Love
pride 6. Blinded By
sloth 7. You Move So Slow

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