The phone rings. It's Southside Johnny on the line. One of New Jersey's many homegrown heroes, John Lyon, 67, has done nothing his whole life but sing. Hey, it ain't summer unless Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes tour. 'Soultime!' (Leroy Records) is the best damn album of his long career, although 2013's 'Songs From The Barn sure comes close.
Darryl Purpose, on 'Still The Birds' (Blue Rock) sounds like James Taylor. He co-writes with Paul Zollo like Paul Simon or Leonard Cohen on subjects as wide-ranging as Edgar Allan Poe ("Baltimore"), Dylan Thomas ("Prince Of The Apple Towns"), L.A. gangs ("Evergreen Avenue"), Vietnam war draft dodgers ("Hours In A Day"), Buddah ("When Buddha Smiled At The Elephant") and the Civil War ("Shiloh"). But it's his life story that's even more fascinating.
When Blind Willie Johnson recorded "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" in 1927, he couldn't have known that 50 years later, in 1977, it would be launched into space with 26 other songs just in case any aliens wanted to know about our culture. Thirty-nine years after that, in 2016, 'Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground' is also the sound of a Connecticut sax man, Noah Preminger, getting real.
It's called 'Stick It: My Life of Sex, Drums and Rock'n'Roll' by Carmine Appice with Ian Gittins (Chicago Review Press, hardcover $26.00). In it you'll find tales of lust, degradation, cocaine, power and, yeah, a little music too. But the most heartwarming relationship of all is one he shared with his idol, jazz drum legend, Buddy Rich.
Right off Delancey Street on the Lower East Side Of New York City stands a bar called The Back Room that used to host such notorious criminals as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. It was during prohibition and the room served illegal booze. It's still there. Svetlana & The Delancey Five have been holding court Mondays for the last four years. Their 'Night At The Speakeasy' is one of the best jazz CDs of the year.
When rock'n'roll first sprouted regionally in 1950s New Orleans, New York City, Memphis and a few other towns, the new music liberally borrowed from the blues. As rock mutated into prog, metal, glam, fusion, punk, etc., something was lost along the way. In 2016, it's hard to find rock'n'roll but maybe we're looking in all the wrong places.
One of the supreme pleasures of my life is hearing music for the first time. That all-important first-listen can only happen once. To make matters even more dramatic, I purposely do not want to have any inkling whatsoever what I am about to hear. The instantaneous shock-of-recognition that accompanies, for instance, a riveting new cover version of an old favorite song, can keep me enthralled and talking about it for days on end to friends and family. They're used to it. Some of them are sick of it. So I write. The four CDs by Melissa Aldana, Jon Stickley, Cristian Perez and Bastian Stein made me smile. They're all keepers.
Jerry Lee Lewis isn't the only Lewis who pumps a piano. Younger sister Linda Gail Lewis has been opening shows for her big brother for years after performing in his band and in the band of Van Morrison. Her new CD, 'Hard Rockin' Woman' (Lanark Records) is a tour-de-force of rockabilly, blues, country and the kind of crazed pianistics one expects out of this Ferriday, Louisiana family. But there's another story worth telling...
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-The hulking rotting remains of Bethlehem Steel is lit up like an art deco sculpture to provide a stunning monolithic background at the MusikFest Café at Steel Stacks, where singer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist Beth Hart is in the process of totally blowing away the room, raising the roof with the kind of hard rock that not too many in the sold-out crowd expected.
Move over Trombone Shorty! Born in Louisiana, raised in Texas, now based in Brooklyn, Matthew Hartnett, he of the big fat greasy trombone sound, has self-released the kind of debut that not only celebrates his musical upbringing, but drags it into the new year all gussied up with funky asides, hip hiphop flourishes, soulful jams and jazz-rock fusion cliffs that get hard and heavy.
Trumpeter/Composer/Producer/Music Executive Nick Phillips channels his inner Chet Baker in dreamy duets with singer/songwriter/pianist Jenny Maybee on their self-released new 'Haiku' CD. Backed by only bass, it's an 11-track rarity of pristine playing, beautiful vocals and original compositions in a kind of fragile junkie brilliance.
Meet Pam -- She lived in a cluttered apartment on the Upper West Side with two cats and cockroaches galore. The ashtrays were overflowing with dead butts. There was never any food in the fridge. I once photographed her with Guns N' Roses' drummer, Steven Adler. She put the picture in a frame on her wall and told people that Adler visited her in the hospital. She cried a lot, saying she had no life, and she was sick most of the time.
As the follow-up to singer Cyrille Aimee's promising 2013 Mack Avenue Records It's 'A Good Day' debut, 'Let's Get Lost' should catapult this intriguing woman into the upper echelons. At 31, she stands on the brink of stardom. Beautiful, talented, precocious, funny, cultured, with the kind of instantly-recognizable voice that has no known precedent, she goes from Sondheim and Piaf to jazz legend Oscar Pettiford ("Laverne Walk") and Dominican superstar Juan Luis Guerra. Her band is also unique, boasting an Australian bass/drums rhythm section and two guitarists, one doused in Gypsy Jazz, the other an electric lead.
I swear my grandmother's leftovers tasted even better the second day. Likewise in music, there's going to be great CDs overlooked in the plethora of sound ending up in my doorway. It's a wonderful problem to have and every year there's stuff I miss so every year I get to digest some delicious left-overs. 2015 was no exception and there are some wonderful overlooked CDs I'm revisiting in order to share the best music with you that originally slipped by.
There's a story in the new book, 'Playboy Swings: How Hugh Hefner and Playboy Changed the Face of Music,' (Beaufort Books) by Patty Farmer from 1963: The New York City Playboy club had just opened. Tony Bennett would go there almost every night and, invariably, he'd bring his famous friends with him including Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis, Jr. Bunny Teddy was working the night Sinatra showed up...