Archive for the ‘The Old Grey Cat’ Category

On July 12, 2014, aka six years ago today as I write, I launched this blog on wordpress.com with a review of a Natalie Merchant concert. It followed a two-post flirtation with another blog-hosting service; occasional missives on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch from February 2012 through June 2014; and, from 1997 to 2006, the original Old Grey Cat website. (I delve into those halcyon days here.)

Visitors and views have increased every year since 2014 and, no doubt due to the pandemic keeping folks home and bored, exploded these past few months. 

For those who have recently stumbled upon this blog: As the tagline up above indicates, it celebrates music, shares memories and digs into other stuff – such as TV shows, movies, history and even, on occasion, the spacetime and multiverse theories. I don’t subscribe to the notion that art exists in a vacuum; once it enters the world, it takes on a life of its own, with the viewer’s or listener’s own experiences adding to or subtracting from its power and beauty. That’s why I often expand the lens to include reflections on my life past and present.

I’m also not in the shut-up-and-sing camp; I sometimes share oblique (and not-so-oblique) commentaries on topics d’jour. However, since studies show that most folks confronted with facts that contradict their opinions tend to double down, I usually don’t see the point. (That said, the science is in: If you venture out, wear a mask.)

My most popular posts tend to be ones about Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Merchant and Juliana Hatfield, but I write about far more than just them. I’m a middle-aged white guy with catholic tastes, a product of my time but not a prisoner of it – especially when it comes to music. I like to look back and relive the glory days as much as the next old(er) guy or gal, but also thrive on digging into the new. In the weeks ahead, for example, I plan to write about new releases from Lianne La Havas, Courtney Marie Andrews and Natalie Duncan, celebrate the 50th anniversary re-issue of Roberta Flack’s First Take, relive John Mellencamp and Springsteen shows from 1992, and spotlight another Gladys Knight LP in my ongoing Essentials series.

I may or may not write about the new Margo Price album, That’s How Rumors Get Started. I’ve listened to it a few times since Friday, but don’t think I have anything unique to say about it beyond this: To my ears, it sounds more like a ‘70s-era singer-songwriter LP than a 2020 country set (and that’s not a knock). The powerful “Hey Child” would have fit on a Fleetwood Mac or Jackson Browne album, for instance, and the same holds true for the other songs.

Here’s a flashback to some 22 years ago this summer, when my original Old Grey Cat website was running hot: a review of David Crosby’s band CPR at the Theater of Living Arts in Philadelphia.

The “tough, rough couple of weeks” I mention at the start was that the company I worked for, TVSM, was being purchased by the top TV listings magazine in the land, TV GUIDE. That meant the magazines I wrote for, The Cable Guide, See and Total TV, were likely to be axed and everyone would be laid off. And, sadly, most folks were let go – something that pains me, still. But as the fates would have it, by the time the dust settled (the following November), I signed on with TV GUIDE and joined their “pop and politics” team.

Anyway, one thing that I failed to mention in the Lucinda portion of the piece is that she arrived late to the show; while flying into Philly from parts unknown, her plane was detoured to New York because of thunderstorms. She was forced to take a train from the Big Apple to the City of Brotherly Love and then a taxi from 30th Street Station to the venue. As a result, opening act Jim Lauderdale, who was also part of her touring band, went on later and played longer than usual. She still rocked the house when she reached the stage, however. (I named her performance my Concert of the Year for 1998; CPR’s set was third.) 

Also, the quote from David Crosby hints at this: The TLA was a sea of empty chairs for the CPR gig; at most, and I’m likely being generous, 25 fans were there. The main reason, I think, wasn’t a dearth of interest in Crosby, but that all of the venue’s advertising billed the band simply as “CPR.” No one knew that the C stood for Crosby!

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It’s been a tough, rough couple of weeks for the Old Grey Cat, punctuated by a few moments of feverish glory.

Lucinda Williams in Philly 6/26 was one such moment. Backed by a crack band, she played just about every song from her brand-spanking new album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (it’s great; buy it), as well as classics from her past. She hit the stage a little past 10 p.m. and played ’til 12:30. No breaks. Backed by a killer band, she played acoustic guitar for the first half, then switched to electric guitar. With Bo Ramsey on electric and slide guitar, Jim Lauderdale (who opened for her, too) on acoustic rhythm and Kenny Vaughn on lead guitar, it was – no joke – a massive, near-overwhelming sound.

Kenny Vaughn and Bo dueled during “Joy,” stretching that song to what must have been 10 minutes. Time stopped there, on the delta of the blues, what with Lucinda’s distinctive vocals wavering from orgasmic moans (“Right in Time”) to out-right bitterness (the aforementioned “Joy”) – and often in the same song.

I mention the above to let folks know: I’m not just into the David Crosby’s music. I step back often and listen to what might best be called “American music.” Not the generic rock ‘n’ roll you hear on the corporate-run stations that plague the nation, but music like Lucinda’s that caresses the soul.

And music like CPR’s.

After a very engaging opening set by Anastasia & John that sent the Cat scurrying to the lobby to purchase their lone CD, David Crosby, Jeff Pevar, James Raymond and company hit the stage. “Thank you for coming,” intoned  David. “Without you we’d be playing to an empty house.”

The magic I talked about in my reviews of their two CDs? It was present from the get-go, with a rendition of “Morrison” that actually improved upon the studio version. Hard to do? Maybe, maybe not. Live music is better, after all. Up next was a delicate, harmony-laden “In My Dreams.” “Three or four voices fading in and out of a radio station …” and guess what? Those “three or four” voices are right there, up on stage. With Pevar and Raymond, one does in fact forget about Crosby’s erstwhile partners Stills, Nash and Young – CPR is that good. A jazzy, uptempo version of the “perverted” “Triad” came next, and while I think I prefer the more genteel take from Four Way Street, I have no complaints about this arrangement.  It was rather exciting to hear Croz recast an old favorite. “Thousand Roads” was another gem recast into a heavier number. To be succinct: It rocked.

Another high point: “Delta.” One of the Old Grey Cat’s favorite Crosby tunes, here it was simply. . . hell, I’ll crib from myself. I’m not proud. In my review of the Neil Young bootleg Blue Notes, I wrote: “You feed off the performer, he feeds off you and…you’re there, wherever there is, not stoned but STONED, and not from drink or drugs but from the music itself.” That about sums up the entire night, but most specifically the performance of “Delta” – and, in this case, it wasn’t just “performer” but performers, as in Crosby, Pevar and Raymond.

Jeff Pevar, aka “The Peev,” is simply phenomenal. His solos during “Delta” brought the audience to its feet. The thing about him, too, is that he’s in sync with the songs. His solos never veer into flash for flash’s sake but, instead, echo and expound the melodies with grace and warmth. Likewise, James Raymond is a true find. Forget the fact that he plays the piano with a precision and passion missing from most folks who tickle the ivories. His contributions to the set, “One for Every Moment” and “Yesterday’s Child,” easily surpass  most of the music passed off as “meaningful” in today’s rock ‘n’ roll climate. Think of him as a mix between Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby and … who? I can’t think of who else at the moment, but maybe that’s the point. He’s talented. A real find. David has reason to be proud.

Of course, although CPR is a band, it is David who’s out front. He’s the one who the fans come to see and he’s the one who makes or breaks the show. Have no fear, folks. Aside from the fact that he’s in excellent voice, he’s singing some of the best material of his illustrious career. Check out the driving version of “That House,” which puts into song one of his old nightmares. Or what might be considered that song’s flip side, “At the Edge”:

And it’s life and it’s dying
It’s beginnings and ends
it’s what did you do
with the life they gave you?

It’s a memorable moment in the show, because you know: The song, the sentiments, are from his heart. This music, and the emotions behind it, aren’t fantasies fabricated for radio airplay. It’s the real deal, ego, anger, lust and love rolled into one.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the crowning moment to the show: “Ohio.” Yes, that “Ohio,” by the wayward Y of CSNY. This version was electric – and I don’t just mean “plugged in.” It was hot. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/we’re finally on our own/this summer I hear the drumming/four dead in Ohio.” Simple lines about a complex time, when for all intents and purposes American troops were patrolling American college campuses – and for what? To quash kids exercising their freedom of speech?!

We in the audience were singing along, stamping our feet, on our feet and clapping. Don’t – I mean, don’t – miss CPR…or Lucinda, for that matter. Support great music!

set list: Morrison, In my Dreams, Triad, One for Every Moment, That House, Little Blind Fish, Homeward Through the Haze, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, At the Edge, Delta, Rusty & Blue, Somebody Else’s Town, Thousand Roads, Yvette in English, Ohio, Deja Vu encore: Eight Miles High

Despite the varied features, album reviews and artist overviews, the day-to-day draw of the old site – which I launched 23 years ago this month – can be summed up with a name: Neil Young.

To give you an idea of what I mean: I created two mirrored versions of the same basic content: The Unofficial CSN/Y Pages and The Unofficial Neil Young Pages. By the time of the Y2K tour in 2000, the Neil pages were attracting 300+ unique visitors a day, the CSN/Y-branded pages about 50, and the rest of the site – en masse – maybe 25. As a result, my Neil pages – along with a few other NY-centric sites – were spotlighted in the short-lived Mojo Collectibles, which spelled my name wrong, and Record Collector.

(After the Y2K tour ended, I feel compelled to mention, the boom in overall visitors slowly dwindled to about a hundred a day.)

Mind you, folks weren’t visiting for my thorough album discography, which included useful links to CDnow.  They were seeking information on bootlegs. Neil bootlegs, to be precise. And with the help of a handful of fellow (and metaphoric) longhairs, I delivered: The site was home to 100+ bootleg reviews. We dove deep into the music, sound quality and other esoteric stuff, and advised folks on what to look for and what to ignore.

This review focuses on a set that collects Buffalo Springfield’s Monterey Pop performance and various sundries. It’s a good example of what we aimed to do: educate, ruminate and pontificate.

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“I’d like you to welcome now–with a great big, fat round of applause–my favorite group, the Buffalo Springfield…”

With that introduction from The Monkees’ Peter Tork, the Buffalo Springfield took to the stage at the now-legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival missing an important ingredient: Neil Young. The enigmatic guitarist had quit the band a month earlier, on the eve of the Springfield’s Tonight Show appearance. In his stead at Monterey sat replacement lead guitarist Doug Hastings and, on rhythm, none other than Byrd David Crosby.

In John Einarson’s For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield, bassist Bruce Palmer claimed that Crosby “stunk to high heaven.” Doug Hastings’ take was that, due to David’s deficiencies as a rhythm guitarist, “he would rush the tunes.” While agreeing that their performance was rather lacklustre, Richie Furay shifted the blame from the Byrd to the Springfield itself, and their lack of rehearsals sans the absent Neil Young. “We were struggling because we didn’t have the whole band, the family.”

Since the band’s performance was inexplicably left off of the mammoth Monterey Pop box set from a few years back, fans themselves haven’t been in a position to judge – oh, sure, there was a Monterey Pop bootleg series in the early ’90s, but finding it was just about impossible then. Besides, it only contained four of the songs from what was a six-song set. Do you really want to pay $50 for four songs? I thought not. Along comes Monterey, Mannix & Gold Star…a one-CD affair that comes close to collecting the entire Monterey performance, adds in the two songs the band performed on a truly weird appearance on Mannix, as well as recordings from the Gold Star Studios that date from early- to mid-1967.

Like most rock scholars, the Old Grey Cat has always considered the Springfield to be “Stephen’s band.” Stephen Stills was the glue that held the group together; and the Monterey set offers strong supporting evidence…forget what the band members themselves thought. Musicians – like most artists – are their own worst critics, after all. The band cooks, especially on “For What It’s Worth,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman” and “Bluebird,” with the latter two joined at the hips in an unintentional – but fantastic – medley. Richie Furay also comes off very well with his two forays into the spotlight. To these trained ears, David Crosby more than holds his own.

Now for a few quibbles: “A Child’s Claim to Fame” and “Pretty Girl Why” are displaced in the lineup. In fact, they weren’t the concluding songs that night; they were the third and fourth numbers. But my main gripe? “Pretty Girl Why” cuts off midway through the first chorus!

The sound quality is good, if somewhat muffled.

The “studio out-take” of “Bluebird” is the nine-minute version found on the double-album best-of titled Buffalo Springfield released in the early ’70s, as well as on several bootlegs, most notably the cd version of CSNY’s Wooden Nickel. It’s Stills at his best, pure and simple.

What follows next is definitely not Stills at his best – though it’s not really his fault. In one of the most surreal moments in the history of the band, the Springfield guested on an episode of the TV series Mannix – yes, you read right. Mannix. In the episode (taped on August 14, 1967, but not aired until October), they provided the “atmospherics” in a bar … the only member of the band to be clearly seen on camera was Stephen, who was decked out in hippie regalia. The two songs they performed, “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth,” are featured complete with the dialogue from Mannix’s Mike Connors and the episode’s other actors. In other words: “Ugh!”

Perhaps the most startling factor of the appearance was that Neil had rejoined the band three days earlier. One assumes, then, that he also took part in this Mannix episode – Mannix but not The Tonight Show!? Go figure….

Now for the Gold Star material (much of which can also be found on the Stampede and Down to the Wire bootlegs): Forget what the accompanying liner notes claim; these songs were not the band’s “first attempt to make an album.” Rather, they’re demos and studio out-takes, primarily from early 1967 when the band was marking time. Sound quality is on par with Stampede (which is to say so-so), but the material itself is – for the most part – wonderful. Neil’s demo of “One More Sign,” for example, features a tender vocal. The two takes on “Down to the Wire” are great, too, with Stills’ lead vocal a delight to be heard. The only difference between this material and Stampede is that, here, “Come On” is replaced by an early run-through of “Mr. Soul.” (A-)

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As part of The Old Grey Cat’s ongoing 23rd anniversary shindig, here’s a favorite review/Q&A from 1999.

New England-based singer-songwriter Dana Pomfret came to my attention by way of her husband, guitarist Jeff Pevar (they since split up), who I interviewed in early 1999. I soon checked out her CD, Soul Collage, and was surprised at just how good it was. In fact, I liked it so much that I reached out and asked if she’d answer a few questions; she graciously consented. (Although the album is no longer in print, her 2004 Tracks compilation is available on the usual streaming services. It’s well worth a few dozen listens.)

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Soul Collage is the audio equivalent of a powerful, seductive drug: One listen and you’ll be hooked. Dana’s intoxicating vocals weave in and out of the catchy melodies, conjuring comparisons to such singers as Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Laura Nyro and Carly Simon, among others. Soon enough, however, those comparisons fade and you’re left with Dana, who takes you down funky and slow, alternately wooing and cooing you into her soul.

It was toward the end of my interview with CPR’s Jeff Pevar, I’d asked about his work with his wife, the singer-songwriter Dana Pomfret. I’d never heard of her and, as is my wont, admitted my ignorance. “You’d like her,” he assured me. Spoken like a proud husband? You bet. Yet, to be honest, I harbored my doubts. Blame it on my ever-increasing cynicical outlook on life. I mean, what was Jeff going to say? “She’s terrible”?

Imagine my surprise, then, when a few weeks later I plunked Soul Collage into my CD player. “In the ’50s they had the hula hoop” – Dana’s vocals immediately swoop in, and swoop you into the groove from the get-go. The first song, “Buttermilk Highway,” hitches a hook-laden ride into a then-now comparison of the ’50s and the present. A lot’s changed. A lot hasn’t: “Riding high on a buttermilk highway/Keepin’ tight on a jigger of gin/On our way to the pearly skyway/Pass the buck and I know I’m in…” Kids gunned down in Denver, hate crimes on the rise, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo…the list goes on. And rather than doing something about it, we tend to look the other way and pray the problems will disappear on their own. “Buttermilk Highway” makes you think – as well as hum its chorus while walking down the hallway at work.

The rest of the album’s just as potent as that opening track. “Girls In Their Cars” is a mid-tempo gem that comes across–to my ears, at least–as a marriage between early Rickie Lee Jones (minus her hipster lingo) and the Beach Boys. “Girls in their cars sing with the radio….” 

Accompanied by a deft backing track (featuring a nice mandolin solo plucked by the omni-present Jeff Pevar), it could very easily be a trip down a foggy nostalgia lane, but it’s not: “And girls on their feet/still raise up their kids alone.” There’s more going on here than the lush, to-die-for vocals, in other words. Rather than hitting the listeners over the head, Dana seduces us into the groove, into the stories she tells, and allows us to draw our own conclusions. Another such moment arises with the album’s gorgeous closing track, “Sally,” which draws us into prepubescent innocence, painting a picture of kids playing kick-the-can.  “I’ve been waiting on my change,” she sings. “Sitting here waiting for my change/thinking I would shed my skin/come back new and strange.” But innocence isn’t as innocent as we might like to think: “I see her Dad’s belt buckle out/He ‘really means it this time’/so banged up – she never cried.” 

That’s not to say Soul Collage is just about “important” issues. To the contrary, it’s about life large and small–the world around us as well as the world within. For every “Buttermilk Highway” there’s “Trick’s on You”: “When my Grandma calls out to me/I curl up on her breast/she says ‘don’t sweat the b.s. baby and just forget about the rest.'”

Like many of the albums – CPR’s, Stacey Earle’s – reviewed within these pages, this one stands head-and-shoulders above the “product” the major labels and today’s static radio stations routinely push at consumers. As I stated above, I approached this disc with some trepidation–and wound up a convert.

My (Email) Q&A with Dana:

You dedicate the album to Sammie Coleman. Who is she?

Sammie Coleman was a brilliant, poetic, fierce, funny woman. Born and raised in rural Georgia, she came North to try and make a better living for herself after graduating high school. When we moved to NYC, mom went back to school to get her teaching degre–and Sammie came to take care of my little brother and me, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was my “second mom”–as she put it. We baked, played, danced and sang. Early on, she was one of the people who gave me genuine, unconditional support and love–and she encouraged me to become a singer. “Don’t be a doubtin’ Thomas” and “take what you got and get what you want” were two of her favorite expressions. She taught me to follow my heart and never give up. Sadly, she died in Feb of  ’98, so I dedicated the CD to her…

Looking back at when you recorded Soul Collage, is there any moment that crystallizes the process? In other words, what’s the first thing you think of?

Heh…Here are a few:

  • Doing vocal takes in between plane landings (we’re in a bucolic spot – but close to the airport).
  • Living with ALL the musicians in our little cabin while we recorded the basic tracks nearby at Jim Chapdelaine’s studio – who worked long hours with his screaming cockatiel Dizzy perched on his shoulder.
  • Taking the drummer, Franck Ridacker–who’d come all the way from Paris to record–on 
  • a 2 a.m. tromp through the woods, where we got lost. All he could say was, “where is my bed?”

Where’d the title come from?

I’d written a little poem with that title – just a word list, really. I thought it applied to the record; the cover painting ended up being a collage, the music is an amalgam of styles, all music comes from the soul, and a wonderful mix of people came together (from Paris, NY, CT, past & present) to help make it happen. My whole feeling about life-on-the-planet is that it’s a kind of moving collage – everything all-at-once: choose your vision.

Who are your influences? I hear Laura Nyro in there…

It’s funny – because I never had any of LN’s records – but I heard her on the radio and liked her a lot. My folks were into wonderful jazz – Jelly Roll Morton, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, etc. – and classical (courtesy of my dad). And incredible folk stuff – everyone from Odetta to Pete Seeger to Woodie Guthrie to the Weavers (courtesy of my mom). My own picks were Marvin Gaye – his hits as well as the more obscure stuff – the Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, CSNY, The Persuasions, The Temptations, Gladys Knight, Aretha, Jethro Tull, Prince, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Sweet Honey in the Rock. ETC! – everything I could get my hands on and especially music that moved and harmonized. Couldn’t get enough.

What comes first – the words or the melody?

It depends on the day, the minute, the mood. Sometimes it’ll be a bass line, sometimes a rhythm, sometimes (and I kiss the floor when this happens) whole songs just seem to spontaneously write themselves. I carry a tape recorder everywhere because inspiration always hits in the weirdest places.

For “Tricks on You,” you credit the novel The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer… 

The book is a big, moving picture about the underbelly of the ‘wild west’. It’s poetry, pornography, love, tragedy, humor. An inspired yarn with a lot of soul and some incredible images.

Crosby & Nash…how’d their contributions come about? Martin Sexton?

I met David & Graham through Jeff – and eventually they each got copies of my first disc. Graham knew I was recording a second CD, and emailed Jeff that he could “sing his ass off” for me if I wanted. WOW! I went through the ceiling, then emailed David and asked if he’d do it as well. He agreed – they are both incredibly generous spirits – and we did the back-ups to “Permanent Bitter Pill” and “Underground World” at Graham’s studio in Los Angeles. It was a lovely rush to work with them; I learned so much about harmony from listening to their records – and there we were doing “aaahhhhhs” together!

And Sexton… I saw Sexton sing his ass off one night at a little coffee shop upstate, so I called him up and asked him to sing on the disc. I was especially interested in his trumpet impersonation. He came down to the cabin with his daughter and just nailed it.