SING YOUR DREAMS: An exclusive Q&A with ACE OF CUPS’ Denise Kaufman

STEPHEN SCHNEE: SING YOUR DREAMS is now available. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
DENISE KAUFMAN: Well, it isn’t really quite out yet, so our friends and fans have only heard the tracks we previewed – “Made for Love,” “Jai Ma” and “Put A Woman in Charge.” We’ve gotten wonderful responses to those songs. When we toured last summer/fall we played a few of the songs from this album live and people wrote to us asking where to get the tracks. We’re glad we can finally share them all!

SCHNEE: Were the tracks on the album relatively new compositions or do any of them date back to the band’s early days in the late ‘60s?
DENISE: It’s about 50% vintage Ace of Cups songs. The rest were either written recently or sometime in between 1972-2012. How’s that for a span of time? “Waller St Blues” was the first song we wrote as a band in January 1967. In recording it for this album, we wrote a new verse about the Haight-Ashbury today. Mary Ellen Simpson wrote “Dressed in Black” in 1967 about her crush on one of the guys in Blue Cheer. We revamped it and wrote a new verse/bridge when we reunited and started playing live again. On “Gemini” we stayed true to the way we played it in the old days with psychedelic organ sounds and all! Diane’s song “Little White Lies” was written in the last couple of years but the theme of a cheatin’ boyfriend goes back, doesn’t it? The song “Slowest River” grew from one stanza of a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne that Mary Gannon Alfiler found on a crumpled napkin at The Sleeping Lady, a restaurant/venue in Marin County, CA. Mary brought the napkin home, started writing at the old upright piano, and I joined in to co-write the lyric. The song evolved further as we were working on Sing Your Dreams. The mantra/chorus in “Made for Love” (the second song in the closing medley) was written by Mary Gannon Alfiler about 20 years ago in Kauai and I wrote the spoken word verses in February, 2020, as we were finishing the album. Some of our songs from back in the day felt current to us just exactly as they were, and some called out for a new approach or some rewriting.

SCHNEE: You experience with a lot of different musical styles on the album. From the Glam Rock stomp of “Put A Woman in Charge” to the African grooves of “Jai Ma”, this album really displays your diverse talents. Were you originally concerned that you were taking the album in too many directions? Or is that what excited you about making SING YOUR DREAMS?
DENISE: We’ve always played in and explored different musical styles and we never felt as though we shouldn’t or couldn’t do that. We have five singers/writers in the band with different musical influences and passions. We honor the lineages that nourish and inspire us and hey – this is music – let’s play and sing! Fortunately for us, our amazing label, High Moon Records, gives us full freedom to express our musical range.

SCHNEE: With such a diverse batch of songs, what do you feel is the perfect ‘gateway’ track, the song that you feel best defines the album?
DENISE: Oh gosh. I was hoping you’d tell me that!! For a straight up 60’s vibe, I’d say “Dressed in Black” or “Gemini.” If someone wants to know more about our hearts and values, I’d say “Basic Human Needs,” “Sister Ruth” or “Slowest River/Made for Love.” If you want to rock out to some strong women laying it down, “Put a Woman in Charge” and “Boy, What’ll You Do Then?”

SCHNEE: “Lucky Stars” is a joyous slice of Pop. What inspired that track?
DENISE: Mary Ellen was in a Mark Knopfler phase – immersing herself in all his music the way she does when she focuses in on someone. (These days, it’s Stevie Ray Vaughn.) Anyway, she was thinking about how inspired she was by having a hero, how she loved the sound of Mark’s guitar and how her own music had carried her through really challenging times. You know, we’ve lost so many of the friends we played music with in the old days. We’re one of the only bands we know whose original members are all still here on earth and playing. Who could have imagined that, 50 years after our original incarnation as a band, we’d finally get the chance to record and share our songs? As the song says,” it’s been a long, long road” and we DO thank our lucky stars. We hope our story and our music encourages people to keep on keepin’ on and to sing/live their dreams, whatever they are.

SCHNEE: Who were some of the musical guests on the album?
DENISE: We’re really honored to have all the wonderful guests who shared their musical mojo with us. Some of them are our old friends from the 60’s with whom we toured and shared stages.  The very first track we recorded when we reunited was Wavy Gravy lead singing his anthem, “Basic Human Needs.” Bay Area luminaries Sandy Griffith, Nate Soulsanger, Larry Batiste and Bryan Dyer joined us on vocals supporting our Hippy Icon and Temple of Accumulated Error, Wavy Gravy. Jackson Browne sang lead on “Slowest River” and Jason Crosby played the beautiful grand piano on that track. Jackson also sang the mantra/chorus of “Made for Love” with Bob Weir and David Freiberg. On “Jai Ma,” we have Steve Kimock on lead guitar, Bakithi Kumalo on fretless bass and the whole Escovedo family on percussion and vocal ad libs: Sheila E, “Pops” Pete, “Moms” Juanita and brothers Peter Michael and Juan. It was a great family day in the studio! Steve Kimock also added some guitar magic on “Dressed in Black.” On “Gemini,” our longtime brother Peter Coyote talks about the ethos of the “Free Store” on Haight St. on the spoken word outro. On “Sister Ruth,” Jason Crosby played the grand piano and Jack Casady played bass. On “I’m on Your Side,” a gem written by Mary Gannon Alfiler and our producer Dan Shea, Dan’s friend and musical colleague Sheldon Brown played the clarinets. Finally, our amazing multi-instrumentalist producer Dan Shea played on a number of tracks – always adding just what was needed.

SCHNEE: The overall feeling of the album is hope, strength, and power. However, it is also a reminder that we all face adversity and we need to look to those positive feelings to lead us to our own personal triumphs. Were there any particular incidents – personal or otherwise – that inspired the overall direction of the album?
DENISE: Certainly, the political realities since 2016 affected us. The rise of white supremacist groups, hate crimes, racism, misogyny and environmental degradation – devastating on all fronts. We finished the album the week before the COVID shutdown in California and released the track/video for “Made for Love” as a stand for generosity, kindness and connection in troubling times. Then George Floyd was killed and we each got into action in our own way. We feel the themes of this album are timely. In “Basic Human Needs” we sing with Wavy “not just churches, not just steeples, give me peoples helping peoples…. down in the garden, where no one is apart. Deep down in the garden, the garden of your heart.” When the band reunited and started recording, it was Diane, Mary Gannon, Mary Ellen and me – just four of the original five band members. When our first album was released and we started touring in late 2018 and early 2019, we reached out to our friend Giovanna Joyce Imbesi to play keyboards with us. She was a brilliant musician, a deep and wonderful soul and she loved our songs. Giovanna had lived with neuroendocrine cancer for 12 years. She couldn’t commit to joining the band but was well enough to go on some adventures with us. She lifted us musically and spiritually and it was a joy to play with her. Sadly, by last summer her health had deteriorated and she couldn’t go on tour. Fortunately for us, we met the amazing Dallis Craft, our permanent new member and lead singer of “Put a Woman in Charge.” There were still a couple of shows when Giovanna was able to sit in with us. Our last show with her was at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley, CA, in October 2019. She passed away the following month. SING YOUR DREAMS is dedicated to Giovanna. Life is precious. Wear a mask and take care of each other, please.

SCHNEE: When Ace of Cups reunited, were you initially focusing on your original audience or were you hoping to appeal to a new audience that may not have been aware of your musical legacy?
DENISE: We were hoping to appeal to old friends and connect with new audiences as well. Ever since the release of our live album in 2003 (culled from rehearsal tapes and various gigs in the 60’s) people of all ages from all over the world have reached out to us through our website. We got messages such as “I’m at 22-year-old guy in Buenos Aires and I’ve been waiting for your music all my life.” or “I KNEW women were making their own music in those days, but I just couldn’t find it!” So, it’s both for us. We want to stay connected with our original cohort and also be open to anyone who feels the pulse and heart of our music.

SCHNEE: When Ace of Cups originally formed, the idea of an all-girl Rock band was considered a ‘novelty’. Since Ace of Cups, we’ve seen everyone from Fanny and The Runaways to The Go-Go’s and The Bangles (and many others) prove that playing Rock music is not just a man’s game. Was there a moment or era when you realized that the novelty had worn off and people were taking female rock bands seriously?
DENISE: Hmmm. Good question. It was certainly clear that by the late 70’s – 80’s there were many more women playing in bands. I am not sure who was taken seriously and by whom. Fanny was a great band. All wonderful musicians. I didn’t/don’t know much about the Runaways. I recently watched the new documentary on The Go-Go’s and had to admire their determination – especially on that first European tour when they played for some really rough audiences. I still think female rock bands are judged by “male” standards and, as far as I know, very few women are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

SCHNEE: “Waller Street Blues” recalls the spirit of the hippie nation of 1968. Were things back then really as wonderful as we’ve all read about?
DENISE: There was a period of time early on when it truly was wonderful. 1965-67 especially. It seemed as though the old structures were giving way and there was a sense of community and creativity. The Free Store which Peter Coyote talks about at the end of our track “Gemini” was a corner store on Haight Street where people brought what they didn’t need any more and took whatever they needed and wanted. No financial exchange. Just a sense of sharing. The Diggers were feeding people daily in Golden Gate Park. Much of the food they sourced was discarded by supermarkets for being a little discolored or because a new shipment had arrived. Add some rice or beans and they’d turn this “found food” into wonderful meals where everyone was welcome to gather and eat. Music, dance, poetry, prose, journalism, poster art, clothing as art, theater, new social structures and communal living – everything was up for exploration. Psychedelics were at the center of these transformations and even though times changed, the ripple effects of those days are still reverberating today.

SCHNEE: Ultimately, the album is pure joy. What keeps the band so optimistic and youthful?
DENISE: We were drawn together in 1967 because we loved playing music. We loved singing together. Even though we went our own ways after the Ace of Cups dissolved, none of us ever stopped playing. We were all in various bands and kept growing musically and as human beings. Most of the music we wrote in the 60’s still lives for us today. It’s relevant and still speaks from our souls. We don’t know how much longer we have on this earth, but we’ll offer the best that we are for as long as we can. The Ace of Cups card in the Tarot has clear streams of water flowing forth out of a chalice into the world. That’s us.

SCHNEE: What’s next for Ace of Cups?
DENISE: Well, all the shows we were scheduled to play this summer and fall have gone the way of COVID cancellations. We are scattered across California and Hawaii, so we haven’t been all together since March. We do a Sunday Zoom convergence and really enjoy that. We have at least one more album to release in another year – it’s about half finished and we look forward to getting back into the studio to finish it. Right now, we’re excited to share SING YOUR DREAMS and see what magic synergy might come our way. We hope that our music can lift some hearts and be a reminder of what matters in this world. “Remember what we came here for – hold on to this connection, it’s all that we are.” (‘Made for Love’)

SCHNEE: What music have you been listening to lately?
DENISE: I’ve been listening to Ola Onabule’s song “I Knew Your Father,” Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build The Wall,” D Smoke’s “Black Habits,” anything by Bill Withers, Jorma Kaukonen’s Saturday night live shows from Fur Peace Ranch, and my grandson Eli Smart’s new track/video, “Cruella Deville.” And from here in Kauai on our family farm, a lot of birds.

 

Thank you, Denise Kaufman

 

Additional thanks to Steve Dixon and Dave Rayburn

 

ACE OF CUPS

SING YOUR DREAMS

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: HERB ALPERT/HERB ALPERT IS… (SOUNDTRACK)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Herb Alpert is a national treasure. The legendary trumpeter and music mogul has not only created an enormously satisfying back catalog of his own – solo and with The Tijuana Brass – he also co-founded A&M Records, a label responsible for a plethora of hits since the early ‘60s. If you love The Carpenters, The Police, Rita Coolidge, Supertramp, Cat Stevens, Amy Grant, Quincy Jones, Janet Jackson, The Dickies, Bryan Adams, Cat Stevens, Joe Jackson, and Peter Frampton, you can thank Herb (and co-founder Jerry Moss) for taking those artists out of the wild and bringing them straight into your living room. However, Herb Alpert is much more than a successful musician and music industry mover and shaker. He is a painter and sculptor, as well as a philanthropist. Although not as prolific as he was in decades past, he still continues to record both as a solo artist and with his wife, vocalist Lani Hall. And over the years, rumors have circulated that Herb Alpert is one of the kindest and most personable music legends in the industry. And it all started with a trumpet and a trip to Tijuana, Mexico…

In the early ‘60s, while on a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, Herb Alpert was attending a bullfight and was inspired by the sound of a mariachi band and the crowd’s excited cheers. He decided to try to recreate that feeling in the studio and “The Lonely Bull” was born. With the release of that song in 1962, Alpert laid the foundation for his career for the next decade… and beyond. Naming his ‘band’ The Tijuana Brass, Herb and his bandmates – the studio version of the TJB consisted of members of The Wrecking Crew – created a unique sound that was often copied (The Brass Ring, anyone?) but never equaled. The 1965 album WHIPPED CREAM & OTHER DELIGHTS features one of the most iconic album covers in music history. After a dozen years of TJB glory (and millions in record sales around the world), Alpert retired the band name and continued as a solo artist. In 1979, he scored a #1 hit with “Rise”, a single taken from the album of the same name. And then…. Well, there’s just not enough space to talk about all of his accomplishments here. The only way to tell a more complete story would be a documentary and an accompanying soundtrack. And guess what? We’re in luck!

HERB ALPERT IS… is the title of the long-awaited documentary that covers the incredible career of Herb Alpert. An amazing look at an amazing career deserves an amazing soundtrack and the newly released HERB ALPERT IS… does not disappoint. The release – on three CDs or five 180gm vinyl LPs – comes in a lavish set that easily matches the majestic music contained within. The music begins with “The Lonely Bull” and features a very healthy amount of classic TJB tracks – including the #1 single “This Guy’s In Love With You” as well as other longtime favorites like “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea” (AKA The Dating Game theme) – before heading off on a more varied solo career tackling everything from Smooth Jazz to Funk to Trip Hop… with some Reggae thrown in for good measure. While some of these recordings date back nearly 60 years, they are still fresh and invigorating. Alpert’s knack for recording songs with instantly hummable melodies is undeniable and a great hook stands the test of time. Herb Alpert is a man who turned an inspiration into a career that continues to inspire others. The proof is here for all to behold. Herb Alpert is… music. And music is… Herb Alpert.

HERB ALPERT

HERB ALPERT IS… (Soundtrack)

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: BOB MOULD/BLUE HEARTS

Forty years ago, a Rock artist’s longevity was not something that was guaranteed. The first Rock ‘n’ Roll boom of the ‘50s had been swallowed by the late ‘50s/early ‘60s teen idols. Then those heart throbs were dethroned by the British Invasion. That joyful racket was overcome by the Summer Of Love/Hippy scene of 1967. And so on… The new kids would replace the old guard, who would then reluctantly slip into the shadows and wait for nostalgia – or a song used in a movie or commercial – to make them relevant again. In 1979, the Punk movement was initially viewed as a ‘novelty’ by the industry bigwigs and they certainly didn’t expect any of the artists to last beyond a two or three-year window. You know, just like any other musical movement that came along since the days of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. Over time, we have learned that nearly every artist from every genre was capable of something much more than their “15 minutes of fame”. As for the unruly Punk kids, Bob Mould was going to break the mold…

In 1979, Bob Mould was a founding member of Minneapolis Punk trio Hüsker Dü. The Hardcore Punk sound of their early years matured into a melodic yet very powerful sonic wall of Punk that eventually earned them worldwide critical acclaim and a fanbase that continued to grow with each release. Right when they were on the verge of massive commercial success, the band split in 1987. For many bands, a split can be the end of some members’ musical career… until the inevitable reunion, of course. Instead of standing still, Mould dived into a critically successful solo career, releasing two solo albums to great acclaim. Then, wanting to dive back into the harder-edged sound he was known for, he formed Sugar in 1992. After three years, he split that band up and followed the solo route again. And since then, Mould has refused to remain idle. Releasing an album every year or two, he tends to always bring something new to the table. His career has been unpredictable in the best way possible, never serving up the same reheated formula and always taking a few chances along the way. And 41 years after his debut with Hüsker Dü, he still has so much to say.

Mould’s 2020 album BLUE HEARTS is, to be honest, an astonishing release. Jam-packed with power and melodic punch, the album is a reminder of what has made Bob Mould such an important artist for over four decades. If you love him for his passion, it is on full display here. Or do you prefer his melodies? This album is a smorgasbord of delightfully delicious hooks that come fast and furious. Speaking of furious, are you a fan of his brisk and bold Punk rave-ups? Well, expect to be knocked over by BLUE HEARTS. The album finds Mould returning to the passion and politics that propelled his songwriting back in 1983. While not a complete return to the sound of Hüsker Dü – his songwriting has matured since then – BLUE HEARTS is about as close as he’s come to those heady days. This is an album that is fueled by emotion and melody. It is dangerous, daring, and awe-inspiring. Don’t be fooled by the acoustic album opener “Heart On My Sleeve” (complete with vinyl surface noise), because the album takes off like a rollercoaster when “Next Generation” kicks in. The non-stop wall of buzzsaw guitars and hooks leads up to the slower but still emotionally powerful closer, “The Ocean”, the perfect ending to a perfect platter.  BLUE HEARTS is an album that proves that Mould is still on a roll four decades on. An astonishing accomplishment in so many ways.

BOB MOULD

BLUE HEARTS

9.25.2020

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: ZIGGY MARLEY/MORE FAMILY TIME

Like the Blues, Reggae is a musical genre that has been embraced by music lovers and critics alike. In fact, Reggae has been appropriated into nearly every other musical genre, introducing listeners of all ages to the mystical rhythms from Jamaica. The Police’s early career was bolstered by their blend of Reggae and Pop/New Wave. Even the Eagles added a splash of Reggae to their massive hit single “Hotel California”. However, we can’t forget the Jamaican artists that brought Reggae to the forefront and straight into the charts: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Toots & The Maytals, Third World, Gregory Isaacs, and so many others. While Reggae has long been associated with the smoking of the ‘herb’, you don’t need to be under the influence to enjoy its joyful vibes. Those riddims are infectious!

As we all know, Bob Marley & The Wailers remain the most popular Reggae act of all time. Well, at least outside of Jamaica. Marley was a true musical pioneer, lifting the genre to a new level. Before Marley, Reggae wasn’t a household world. After Marley, every household owned at least one Reggae album… and it was probably LEGEND, the most popular Bob Marley compilation of all time. When Bob died in 1981, the world mourned with the Marley family and, while he didn’t create the genre, his spirit became one with genre – you can’t talk about Reggae without mentioning Bob Marley. Four years later, Bob’s son Ziggy entered the musical arena with his Melody Makers (which included his siblings Cedella, Sharon, and Stephen). By the time Ziggy released his third album, CONSCIOUS PARTY, in 1988, he was an international superstar. Over 30 years later, he remains one of the most visible voices in Reggae music.

Ziggy’s 2020 release, MORE FAMILY TIME, is the sequel/follow-up to his Grammy-winning 2009 release FAMILY TIME. While the album – like the original – is considered a ‘children’s album’, the album is really a joyful celebration of family, love, and life. On this extremely infectious slice of audio sunshine, Ziggy is joined by a cast of superstars including Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, Lisa Loeb, Alanis Morisette, Angelique Kidjo, Tom Morello, Busta Rhymes, and Jamie Lee Curtis (!), plus fellow Marleys Stephen, Isaiah, and the Marley Kids. Oh, and we can’t forget Romeo, the dog! The hook-filled sing-a-long songs on MORE FAMILY TIME include “Music Is In Everything”, “Wonderful People”, “Everywhere You Go”, and “Play With Sky”. However, the album’s 11 tracks are infectious and joyful and will provide a perfect soundtrack to family time, beach time, party time, and just about any time you have to spend together with friends and family!

ZIGGY MARLEY

MORE FAMILY TIME

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: RANDY BRECKER & ERIC MARIENTHAL/DOUBLE DEALIN’

Randy Brecker is considered a Jazz icon, but throughout his career, he’s been so much more than that. The trumpeter began his recording career in 1967 as a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears. He left the band after their debut album, CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN, and joined Jazz legend Horace Silver’s Quintet. In 1969, he recorded his debut solo album SCORE, where he was joined by his brother Michael on tenor saxophone. For the next 50 years, Randy Brecker nearly 20 solo albums, eight albums with Michael (as The Brecker Brothers), and has worked with a long list of Jazz and Rock luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, George Benson, Todd Rundgren, Bob James, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Stanley Turrentine, Robert Palmer, Carly Simon, Jaco Pastorius, Rickie Lee Jones, Paul Simon, Spyro Gyra, James Taylor, Michael Franks, Yoko Ono, Donald Fagen, Jimmy McGriff, and many others. Many, many others!

Saxophonist Eric Marienthal is one of the most respected names in Jazz and Jazz-Fusion. His professional career began when he joined trumpeter Al Hirt’s band. He then moved over to Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, recording six albums with the band. He began his solo career in 1988, releasing a half-dozen albums on the GRP label beginning with VOICES OF THE HEART. He has continued to release a series of successful albums for labels such as Verve/Polygram, Peak, and Shanachie, where he released the acclaimed BRIDGES album with Chuck Loeb. Outside of his solo career, he’s also played alongside a variety of acts including The Rippingtons, The Jeff Lorber Fusion, and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. To top it off, he’s played on recordings by Elton John, Aaron Neville, and Ramsey Lewis, among others. Always in demand, Marienthal has continued to surprise and delight his fans for four decades.

Now, in 2020, these two Grammy-winning Jazz greats join forces on the album DOUBLE DEALIN’, which is a spirited blend of classic Fusion and straight-ahead melodic Jazz. While we may have expected something special from these two, what we get is something more. There’s an electric excitement on display on DOUBLE DEALIN’, and album that features funky blasts of horn power as well as some deeply moving softer passages that will take the listener to a more melancholic place. Brecker and Marienthal are aware that you don’t have to go ‘big’ to be powerful and the utter beauty of “Mind The Fire (For Chuck)” is proof of that. Elsewhere, the title track lights a fire that will certainly heat up the room. Other highlights include “3 Deuces”, “Fast Eddie”, and more. DOUBLE DEALIN’ is a feast for the heart and soul and is a powerful musical statement from two veteran musicians.

RANDY BRECKER & ERIC MARIENTHAL

DOUBLE DEALIN’

9.11.2020

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JOSIAH JOHNSON/EVERY FEELING ON A LOOP

Josiah Johnson may be a new name to some music lovers, but he’s nearly an industry veteran, having been a professional musician for more than a decade. And these days, that can almost seem like a lifetime for today’s popstar. He began his career in the Indie Folk band The Head and the Heart, who formed in 2009. The band’s self-titled debut album was released in 2011 and went on to be certified Gold by the RIAA. Their second album, LET’S BE STILL, was released in 2013 and reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band’s career was on the rise, but getting stuck on the ‘write/record/tour’ treadmill was more stressful than expected and Johnson turned to substances, which inevitably led to rehab and his subsequent ‘leave of absence’ from the band. The Head and the Heart continued without Josiah, although some of his work appeared on their third album, SIGNS OF LIGHT (2016). The band’s most recent album, LIVING MIRAGE, was released in 2019.

Since his hiatus from The Head and the Heart began, Johnson hasn’t been idle. He has continued to write songs, recorded home demos, and sought out a producer. Even while he was preparing the next step in his musical career, he even contemplated leaving the music industry and pursuing a career in social work. However, the power of music kept him rooted and focused as he composed even more new material for his next project… if there was going to be a next project. Johnson performed at a private show in New York City and connected with a group of musicians including Peter Lalish (Lucius). Inspired by this new group of musical friends, Johnson headed into the studio to record his first solo album. Armed with a batch of new songs – his most personal and honest material yet – Josiah Johnson returns with EVERY FEELING ON A LOOP (Anti-), an album that will remind fans, old and new, just how special his talents are.

EVERY FEELING ON A LOOP is an album that sounds like a continuation AND a reboot of what Johnson had been doing with The Head and the Heart. While the album is mature and confident, there’s also a hint of uncertainty and loss lurking beneath the gentle songwriting and quirky arrangements. The Folk and Pop genres in 2020 are very different than they were in the ‘60s, yet EVERY FEELING ON A LOOP is a wispy stroll on the bridge that connects the two disparate decades together. While certainly rooted in modern times, the songwriting on the album is simple and engaging on the surface, but peel away the layers and you’re going to discover many musical parts working together to create the sounds you eventually hear. Add in the proper amount of emotion, and you’ve got an album that not only sounds great but ‘feels’ right. Highlights include “Woman in a Man’s Life”, “Same Old Brick”, “I Wish I Had”, and “World’s Not Gonna End”. The magic of music is that it makes you FEEL something. That’s why you’ll keep coming back to EVERYTHING ON A LOOP again and again.

JOSIAH JOHNSON

EVERY FEELING ON A LOOP

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MOLLY TUTTLE/…but I’d rather be with you

Although she’s only 27, singer, songwriter, banjo-player, and guitarist Molly Tuttle has been a professional musician for over a dozen years and has accomplished more than most musicians twice her age. The Bay Area-raised Tuttle began playing guitar at the age of 8 and by the age of 11, she was playing onstage with her multi-instrumentalist father Jack Tuttle. She then recorded a 2007 duet album with him at the age of 13. She joined The Tuttles with AJ Lee. She was joined by two other siblings in the band: Sullivan (guitar) and Michael (mandolin). They released INTRODUCING THE TUTTLES in 2011, followed two years later by ENDLESS OCEANS. In between the Tuttles albums, she was awarded merit scholarships to the Berklee College of Music for music and composition,  received the Foundation for Bluegrass Music’s first Hazel Dickens Memorial Scholarship, won the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at the Merlefest Music Festival, and was named Best Female Vocalist and Best Guitar Player by the Northern California Bluegrass Society.

While attending the Berklee College of Music, she joined the all-female Bluegrass outfit The Goodbye Girls, who released a 2014 EP and a full-length album two years later. During this period, she also released an EP with fiddler John Mailander and became a member of supergroup The First Ladies of Bluegrass. After relocating to Nashville, Tuttle released her first solo EP, RISE, in 2017. That same year, she signed to Compass Records, finally releasing her debut solo full-length album – WHEN YOU’RE READY – in 2019. During this long and prolific journey, Tuttle has continued to grow as an artist and as a human being. In March 2020, just as the world began to slow to a halt thanks to the pandemic, she also faced the sudden devastation of a tornado that ripped through East Nashville. Stuck amid a world that had suddenly been turned on its head, Tuttle turned to the music that had inspired her long and fruitful journey. Working remotely with producer Tony Berg, she recorded all her parts alone and forwarded them to Berg. The resulting album is her 2020 release …but i’d rather be with you.

but i’d rather be with you is a personal album that seeks to not only revisit that music that inspired her as a musician, it is also a record that reconnects her – and the listener – to a time that was more hopeful. It is also a release that embraces more than just bluegrass – there are also touches of Country, Pop, Folk, and other genres. Her spirited rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” is the perfect encapsulation of the album, touching on the life-affirming joys of music. However, it also mirrors the realities of rebuilding something new out of something old. The rest of the album Tuttle-izes songs by artists as diverse as Cat Stevens, Rancid, The National, FKA twigs, Karen Dalton, and The National. Musically, the album is pure Molly Tuttle even as it passes through different musical universes. Regardless of the original genre, all musical roads on but i’d rather be with you lead back to Molly Tuttle.

MOLLY TUTTLE

but i’d rather be with you

Available NOW!

NEIL INNES/How Sweet To Be An Idiot (review)

Neil Innes was best-known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Rutles, and his association with Monty Python. However, it almost seems unfair that a gentleman so musically gifted is remembered for his humor more than his fantastic and wildly eclectic back catalog of great songs. From his ‘60s recordings with the Bonzos to his final album released just prior to his death in December, 2019, Neil Innes was an exceptional songwriter, taking his influences, blending them together and creating many instant classics. He may not have been prolific, but he sure made each release matter.

HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT was his official solo debut album after five albums with the Bonzos (1966-1972), one with The World (1970) and two with Grimms (1973). While his overall history of bing involved with humorous projects and the title and album cover of HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT may lead you to believe that this is a comedy album, that isn’t entirely true. The album is funny, fun, eccentric, and eclectic but it shouldn’t be filed under ‘comedy’ in your local shops. This is a Pop album, through and through.

If you loved Innes’ work with the Rutles, there are certainly plenty of musical nods to The Beatles here, although they are far more subtle than anything by the Rutland lads. “Dream (On)” could be a Ron Nasty solo release, followed by “L’Amour Perdu”, which could be a Rutles-era Dirk McQuickly vaudeville-influenced nuggets. Then again, “Momma B” could easily have been a Rutles rocker…

There’s more to HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT than Rutles references. “Song For Yvonne” is the perfect vehicle for his eclectic creativity and his gift or melody. “Immortal Invisible” has a wonderful Gospel groove. “Topless-A-Go-Go” could have been recorded in the middle of a New Orleans bender. “Feel No Shame” is a good-time rocker with a shot of Rhythm & Blues – and boy does that instrumental riff sound familiar! The album’s closers are the most serious cuts on the album – “This Love of Ours” and “Singing A Song Is Easy”. The former is a heartfelt, moody mid-tempo ballad with a slight reggae stomp, while the latter is a melodic, uplifting sing-along with a hint of Gospel and a touch of melancholia. If all you’ve heard is his more humorous material, you’ll be surprised at how emotional Innes can be on these last two tracks.

And about the title track, “How Sweet To Be An Idiot”… this reviewer used to own a vinyl copy of the album that featured the ‘piano and vocal’ version of the song, so hearing the ORIGINAL album version with full band and string quartet was a surprise and a real treat. The two different arrangements may be radically different, but the feel – the ‘vibe’, if you will – is still very similar.

BUT WAIT! THAT’S NOT ALL!

This expanded reissue features 10 bonus tracks including the ‘piano and vocal’ version of “How Sweet To Be An idiot”, and some great non-album material including the miraculous “Recycled Vinyl Blues” (you have to hear it to believe it!) and so much more.

HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT is proof that Neil Innes should be considered, first and foremost, a musician and songwriter before you even add in humorist, comedian, or whatever silly names you want to throw at him. Don’t think of him as a former Rutle, Bonzo, or Python – just think of him as Neil Innes. You’ll rest easier at night, trust me.

Rest in peace, Mr. Innes.

Keep on truckin’,

Stephen SPAZ Schnee

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: BRIGHT EYES/DOWN IN THE WEEDS, WHERE THE WORLD ONCE WAS

It has been nearly 25 years since Conor Oberst began his musical journey under the name Bright Eyes. He was originally a member of Omaha, Nebraska Indie Rock band Commander Venus, who split in 1997. Then, operating under the name Bright Eyes, he compiled A COLLECTION OF SONGS WRITTEN AND RECORDED 1995-1997, which was released at the beginning of 1998. At the end of the same year, the second Bright Eyes album, LETTING OFF THE HAPPINESS, hit the shops and raised the eyebrows of critics and music fans alike. By the time of 2000’s FEVERS AND MIRRORS, Conor and Bright Eyes – which now included Mike Mogis as part of the core line-up – were Indie and Alternative Rock darlings. The band reached their commercial zenith in 2005 with the album I’M WIDE AWAKE, IT’S MORNING, an album that featured recent band addition Nate Walcott. However, after the release of 2011’ THE PEOPLE’S KEY, Oberst called a time-out on the band and each member went their separate ways. Bright Eyes had taken hiatuses before but this one ended up lasting nearly a decade.

While Oberst’s main project was Bright Eyes, he also participated in many other projects including Desaparecidos, Monsters of Folk, and Better Oblivion Community Center along with his own solo releases. While fans embraced his other musical endeavors, their hopes of a new Bright Eyes album dimmed as time went on. However, unbeknownst to many, the idea of Bright Eyes’ return was hatched nearly three years ago. Oberst attended a Christmas party thrown by Walcott in 2017. He mentioned the idea to his bandmate and they both reached out to Mogis, who immediately agreed. A lot had changed since they released their previous album in 2011, but the trio accepted all the challenges that time had thrown at them and dived into a new Bright Eyes project. And then, as they prepared for the release of their latest opus, a worldwide pandemic hit….

DOWN IN THE WEEDS, WHERE THE WORLD ONCE WAS is the highly-anticipated Bright Eyes album, their first in nearly a decade. Their most collaborative release yet, DOWN IN THE WEEDS… is an album that finds Oberst at the wheel with Mogis and Walcott riding shotgun and occasionally steering the project into new and interesting directions. And while the album was in motion before the pandemic, this is a release that accurately reflects the mood of our times. Once you rip off the shrinkwrap and immerse yourself in DOWN IN THE WEEDS…, you’ll find anxiety, creativity, emotion, hope, and, flowing threw it all, the joy of making music together. Tracks like “Dance And Sing”, “Just Once In The World”, “Tilt-A-Whirl”, and “One And Done” represent just some of the moods on display on DOWN IN THE WEEDS…, an album that heralds the miraculous return of one of America’s most beloved Indie bands.

BRIGHT EYES

DOWN IN THE WEEDS, WHERE THE WORLD ONCE WAS

8.21.2020

LET ME ROLL IT: An exclusive Q&A with Tanya Donelly

Dave Rayburn: As you began to shape your list of song options for this new covers album, what prerequisites did you have in mind?
Tanya Donelly: The overarching theme of it is, loosely, songs that just run through my head all the time for whatever reason. So, it’s kind of a part tribute, part exorcism exercise. (laughs) That was the main theme of it. The one exception to that would be The Pretenders song “Kid”, which my friend Laura… Bill Janovitz’s wife… sort of suggested that one when I asked her.

Dave: So, if we were to look at your record collection, the albums that these songs come from are likely more dog-eared than the rest. 
Tanya: Yes! (laughs) Absolutely. Yip. 

Dave: Not everyone may be familiar with The Parkington Sisters. How would you best describe them, and how did they become the core group behind this new record? 
Tanya: They’re brilliant. I would say, edgy folk. Very New England, but they just have their own twist on everything, and you can tell when you’re listening to them as soon as the song starts. I met Nora Parkington first, which is the only one who is not playing on the album (laughs)… I met her first at Hot Stove Cool Music which is a benefit I do every year here (in Boston). And, she was playing with several bands that night. I sort of fell in love with her playing, and then we became friends. Then I started listening to her family band and was just immediately in love. And when Joe Spadaro asked me to do a covers album, my knee-jerk reaction was to say no. It’s not that I didn’t want to do it, I just felt like… should I?… and, can I? And, all of the songs I love have already been done perfectly. But then the idea to have it sort of pulled together under one cohesive sound that I loved led me to the Parkingtons. I play guitar on just one song on this album because I just really wanted it to be their vision and their sound, and when I got in touch with them initially, I was like… I want it to sound like you… and it does. 

Dave: Yeah, I was gonna say, with the arrangements, they kind of transform the songs into different vehicles, swapping out well-known guitar riffs in songs like “Let Me Roll It” (Wings) and “Kid” with fresh, exciting string flourishes. So, that’s kind of what you had in mind in giving it all a different stamp? 
Tanya: Mm-hmm. Yes! 

Dave: Well, you’ve got a long history of releasing your own interpretations of classic material ranging from Henry Mancini to Neil Young to The Smiths and beyond. Creatively, what do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of recording songs that you already consider to be perfect in their original incarnations? 
Tanya: Just making sure that I’m not lazy about it. That’s been a real challenge with doing the Sunday Series too, is just having a week to do them. I just want to make sure that it does the song justice. And also, to understand that, as I’m saying, many of these songs have already been done perfectly, and I genuinely mean that. So, not to make myself too crazy about it, but… imagining that the songwriter is just sitting on jury the whole time you’re recording… (laughs) 

Dave: It’s a fine line to decide to do a faithful cover or to take the dare and try and reinvent a little bit. But, putting that in mind that maybe Chrissie Hynde is watching you the whole time you’re doing this… that might help you decide what to do. (laughs) 
Tanya: That’s right. Yeah. (laughs), especially with that one, I was always thinking… what would Chrissie think? 

Dave: And on that subject, songs like “Kid” as well as “Different Drum” by The Stone Poneys are monumental in stature if for nothing else other than the vocalists that brought them into the world. That’s a large spotlight to fill, but you manage to channel their subtle honesty with no problem. What other empowering female voices of your younger years would you say helped form your own voice and give you the confidence to be in your own spotlight? 
Tanya: Well, every single one of the Go-Go’s. Every last one of them. From a very early age on it was Joni Mitchell. Janis Ian when I was really little. I was completely obsessed with her. And, there’s really no undermining how excited the Go-Go’s made me feel to play guitar. And then, the women I’ve played with. Not to sound corny, but I’ve played with some power-packed women and some game-changing women. So, absolutely I would say the women I’ve shared the stage with for thirty plus years. 

Dave: It’s been noted that Leonard Cohen is one of your songwriting heroes. On this new record, you present “Dance Me To The End Of Love” from his 1984 album, VARIOUS POSITIONS. When were you first impacted by his work? 
Tanya: Well, my dad has always loved him along with Tom Waits, and so I was raised with it. As soon as I hear his voice, I just want to hear every word. I don’t want to miss a word. In a crowd of many, he’s probably my favorite lyricist of all time. He’s just one of those artists that has always been in the foreground for me my entire life, from childhood on. I don’t forget about him. There’s never been a period in my life where I’ve said… hey, I haven’t listened to that in a while. He’s a constant for me. And, in particular, VARIOUS POSITIONS is my favorite. I love ‘em all, but that one is one that I just come back to so regularly. 

Dave: Mary Margaret O’Hara may be the most obscure artist you draw from on this collection, yet “You Will Be Loved Again” may be the most potent performance on this record, with a lush mix of harmony vocals highlighting its delivery. The song also closes the album, which carries the same hallmark of O’Hara’s 1988 debut, MISS AMERICA, as well as Cowboy Junkies’ 1990 album, THE CAUTION HORSES. It’s powerful and coincidentally has the timeless feel of a Cohen-esque standard. What led you to select this song to wrap up the record? 
Tanya: Well, as you’re saying… it’s a closer, and that’s it. It has to be the last thing. When Throwing Muses were on tour in England, Ivo Watts-Russell gave that (MISS AMERICA) to us to listen to in the van and we were just floored. I mean… silent throughout the whole listening of it. And to this day, I think for all of us, it’s probably up there on our favorites. First of all… all props to her band because the instrumentation on that album is so cool. It’s just so interesting and spidery and I just love it. And, with her very odd but perfect rhythm weaving in and out of everything, and that clear, gorgeous, vast-ranged voice of hers… it’s just beauty. 

Dave: Your multi-faceted career with Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly, as well as your busy solo work and guest collaborations have covered much ground over the years, but you’re far from done. In the post-pandemic world, following this release on American Laundromat Records, which creative outlet of yours might we see emerge next? 
Tanya: I’m working on an album with Dylan In The Movies right now. And then Gail Greenwood, from Belly, and I have been writing some songs together. That’s been ongoing. We’ve got a few under our belts already. In quarantine we’ve been writing them and then sending them to Paul Kolderie. And he’s been sort of tweaking things. And then Belly… we were curating a festival in Providence that was supposed to happen in August with a bunch of bands. It was supposed to be us and Buffalo Tom and Madder Rose and Kate Hanley… a bunch of people. And now, that is going to be pushed back to 2021. So that will be probably the next big live project… and hopefully we can do it then.

Special thanks to Tanya Donelly, Joe Spadaro, Mike Donohue and Jocelynn Pryor.