E.P. REVIEW: LISA SAID, “Estranged”

Last year, we introduced you to the lovely Lisa Said, the singer/songwriter/guitarist from Chattanooga (by way of Cairo, Egypt) and her stunning debut, No Turn Left Behind.  She’s been busy – writing, performing and recording and this new E.P., Estranged, are the fruits of these labors.  It hasn’t been easy for her; the songs were born of an emotionally difficult time – separation, dating, separation again and dating again.  The mood and flavor of these songs reflect her feelings and she does so with melody and thoughtfulness.

“Some Dudes” is just plain fucking great – her voice is deadly smoky and sexy; the guitars are dirty and garage-y; she’s pushing The Velvet Underground envelope in a linear, poppy way and this is such a damned fine track.  “Regular Guy” is another dynamic pop piece with nuances; the acoustic guitar, which sounds like it’s almost strummed as a counter to the band on the verses, while the singular guitar notes (to me) recall some of Alex Chilton’s more textured moments during Big Star’s 3rd.  “Peel The Moon” has a country feel; upbeat, which belies the somewhat sad nature of the lyrics and “Up Not Down” could be looked at as either more traditional country or at least, Americana, with its use of mandolin.  Another perfect thread of melody.  If you were to look at this as a vinyl release, side A would be the “rock” side and side B, the “country” side.

No matter what, Lisa Said has shown in her two releases quite a range of style, delivery and emotion.  And an E.P. is always a good taster for what’s to come.  Another fine and impressive piece of work from an artist I’m unquestionably a fan of.


Estranged will be released on Friday, July 7th, 2017


Book Review: The Canadaland Guide to Canada

July 1 is Canada Day. This year, our neighbors to the north are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the confederation of different British territories into one nation.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we are all checking our family trees to see if we have citizenship rights in other countries. For example, my grandfather left England for the oppressive reason that he was born on July 4. Had he caught a ship for Canada instead of for the US, I would be able to receive residency in the UK. Instead, he came here, and now I know more about Mike Brzezinski’s plastic surgery than anyone should and have my senators’ mailing addresses memorized.

Into this world comes a new book, The Canadaland Guide to Canada, by Jesse Brown. He is the impresario of the Canadaland podcast, a regular show about Canadian life and culture. The target audience for that show are his fellow Canucks. The target audience for the book, though, are those of us south of the 49th Parallel who dream of having a president who looks and talks and acts like Justin Trudeau.

Even if we can’t or won’t leave, we need a laugh. The Canadaland Guide to Canada is good for at least a few. This is a book that is a) willing to make fun of Canada and b) willing to go far, far beyond the stereotypes of Bob and Doug McKenzie. We learn that Canadians are not environmentalists, are not sorry for their treatment of the First Nations people, and are not even all that nice. They do like hockey, though.

And, they write a fun book about their country. I’m not sure any Americans could do such a thing about American life, at least not right now. That, alone, makes this book as poignant as it is funny.

Happy Canada Day! Joyeux Jour du Canada!

ALBUM REVIEW: CHRIS BELL, “Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star”

This wonderful, 22-track compilation is just part of the work Chris Bell did before he dug his heels in with Big Star in 1971.  Omnivore Recordings has gathered selections from Chris’ earlier bands like Icewater and Rock City; some of these tracks have been heard previously, but now they’re in one collection and newly remixed/remastered by Ardent Studios master Adam Hill and archivist/historian extraordinaire, Alec Palao.  This is the first of several releases, celebrating the musical life of the man who founded Big Star.

There’s no need to go into Chris’ life story here; it’s been fairly well-documented and, in fact, is the subject of a forthcoming book, but the oncoming releases will be no less spectacular – a six-album set and an expanded edition of (the now-legendary/beloved) I Am The Cosmos – this will be the year of Chris Bell.  And rightly so.  His importance cannot be understated.  The thing is that this particular CD features six previously unissued tracks; what you hear is a true evolution of an obviously gifted and talented singer/songwriter/guitarist.

Some of my own favorites are on here – two of which are the opening tracks:  “Think It’s Time To Say Goodbye”, the Stones-y rocker from Rock City, which has just so much life and energy in it, followed by the gorgeous, Badfinger-esque “All I See Is You” from Icewater.  For the sake of history, Icewater was first, followed by Rock City and both songs could easily have been hits – melody, great vocal harmonies and instantly memorable.  Even earlier in his budding career, Chris recorded “Psychedelic Stuff”, an almost-obvious nod to The Yardbirds; this version has a cleaner, boosted vocal mix you can hear and it’s interesting to hear how advanced he already was.  Two of the better known Big Star tracks, “My Life Is Right” and the heart-rending “Try Again” were originally recorded by Rock City – both are here and you can hear the development of these songs from these slightly-less-layered versions, as opposed to Big Star’s.

Even more surprising are tracks like “Feeling High” by The Wallabys – who were Chris, Steve Rhea and Terry Manning – who were, in fact, Icewater, along with singer-guitarist Alan Palmore and “Looking Forward”, where we hear Chris on lead vocals with an altered line-up of Icewater, which now had Steve Rhea moving to guitar from behind the drums and Jody Stephens takes his place on the drum stool.  This is a very Abbey Road-like, hypnotic kind of piece and filled with neat little production nuances.  “Sunshine” is also Icewater, but this time, playing bass is Andy Hummel, who, of course, would join Big Star.  The acoustic guitar texture is that now-trademark Chris Bell style and the harmonies are incredibly uplifting.

If nothing else, this album fits the recent “educational” releases – such as the recent The Best Of Big Star; it’s a perfect introduction, primer – call it what you will – if you’ve heard the name of Chris Bell or Big Star but never really investigated the music.  There’s no better place to start – or to enhance your collection if you’re like me and have to have anything/everything aligned with Big Star or to enlighten someone uninformed (and, of course, to turn on the younger generation who don’t yet know…).  Regardless, this is the musical journey of someone who has rightly earned the title of “legend” and though he left us early, at the age of 27 in 1978, he and his music do thankfully live on in those of us who have heard, understand and keep it in our hearts.


Looking Forward:  The Roots Of Big Star will be released on Friday, July 7th, 2017


Exit Lines: Haywire

Figures that one of the few Shakespeare in the Park productions I’ve missed in twenty years is one of the few that’ll still be talked about in twenty years. But the Julius Caesar that played to daily headlines struck me as an insult–to Julius Caesar, a far wiser and more competent leader than the one being stabbed to death in Central Park. Leave a legend alone.

But I did have fun with a Trump-era revival of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, a Red Bull Theater production that’s about to settle in for a summer run at New World Stages. This delightful adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty) doesn’t openly parody our dismal president and his inept administration–you get the parallel soon enough, as the graft, bickering, and overall incompetence of backwater Russia in the distant past immediately translate to our own undrained swamp. The premise is simple: Corrupt town fathers are terrified to learn that a no-nonsense government inspector has been spotted. Enter Ivan (Michael Urie), who is rakish, vainglorious, and far from the usual visiting bureaucrat. That’s good news for the townspeople, who find in him a kindred spirit, and an easy mark. But Ivan, a self-deluded “writer” of sorts, is not a government inspector, and, being eminently corruptible, turns the situation to his advantage when he figures out that he’s being played.

Somehow I think Gogol’s play was softened when it became The Inspector General, a musical comedy vehicle for Danny Kaye in 1949. And I suspect Hatcher has heightened the material into semi-slapstick, or lowered it–“this wasn’t that funny when we saw it at the Moscow Art Theatre,” I overheard one patron saying as we exited. Whatever the case, as directed by Jesse Berger it’s at the perfect temperature, with a matchless Ivan in Urie, a frazzled, frizzy-haired wonder who does a hilarious drunk act in one scene, then turns on the charm for pretty, level-headed, and suspicious Marya (Talene Monahon) as the manipulations begin. Marya’s father, the blustering mayor, is played to a fine exasperation by Michael McGrath, just one of several top-flight clowns assembled for one of the best ensembles in town.

Every comedy should come equipped with a role for the great Mary Testa, and this one does–fawning lasciviously over the new arrival, in a succession of costume designer Tilly Grimes’ gowns, she’s terrific. Earning some of the biggest laughs is Arnie Burton, a go-to funnyman since The 39 Steps hit Broadway a decade ago. He plays two roles (Ivan’s tart-tongued servant, and the town’s snooping postmaster) so seamlessly, and so inventively, I thought I was watching two actors until I checked the program. I’m not sure how this take on The Government Inspector might play at the Moscow Art Theatre, but this 200-year-old could not be any more sprightly than it is Off Broadway.

Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living, at Manhattan Theatre Club, has one unforgettable scene. Floating from job to job, Jess (Jolly Abraham) finds what she hope will be more sustained employment caring for John (Gregg Mozgala), a wealthy graduate student with cerebral palsy.  At one point, she bathes him, and watching the process unfold–discreetly, and unsentimentally, under Jo Bonney’s direction–proves riveting. It’s rare to see actual work performed onstage, particularly this very human kind of labor, and everyone involved with this scene earns applause.

There’s an agenda at play here–Jess has begun to have feelings for John, who is a bit of an asshole, and proudly so. (Majok isn’t sentimental about the disabled, either.) Their story is paralleled by that of a more combustible couple, Ani (Katy Sullivan), who has lost her legs and is mostly paralyzed since an accident, and her patient ex-husband Eddie (Victor Williams). He bathes her, too, in a more tender sequence accompanied by Satie playing in the background. It ends differently (like Ani, Sullivan, whose thick local accent perks up the pre-show announcements, doesn’t seem a Satie kind of gal) and leads to the fusion of the play’s two halves.

An awkward fusion, I must add. Ani and John may be disabled (as are the performers), but Jess, afflicted by her own choices and an unforgiving marketplace, is truly down and out, and Eddie is just barely scraping by. The providers are in need, too. The denouement isn’t terribly convincing, but I can’t blame Majok for wanting to give her characters wiggle room amidst so much societal decline. Cost of Living reminds us that dignity is a human right, one in constant need of care.

Soul Serenade: The Tams, “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy”

It’s almost vacation time so I’m going to try to keep it short this week. A couple of weeks ago I recommended SiriusXM’s Carolina Shag channel. I hope you’ve been listening. Sadly, I’m told that the channel is temporary and will end on July 5. There are a group of people trying to change that, and if you love the station as much as I do you might want to sign the petition that calls for the station to be made permanent.

One group in constant rotation on Carolina Shag are the Tams. The Tams are beach music royalty who can still draw a crowd at the venues on the shores of the Carolinas. I wrote about their big hit “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” back in 2013, and you can read that column here.

To briefly recap their story, the Tams got together in Atlanta and named themselves after the tam o’shanter caps that they wore on stage. The signed with Arlen Records and had a hit for the label with the Joe South song “Untie Me.” By 1964, they were recording for ABC-Paramount where they had that hit with “What Kind of Fool.” The single, written by Ray Whitley and recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, reached the top of the Cashbox R&B chart and was a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Tams

The Tams’ follow-up single, “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me,” was a moderate success, but it was their 1968 single, “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” that became a beach music classic. The song had originally been recorded the previous year by the Sensational Epics and released on Warner Bros. Records. The Tams’ version reached #26 on the R&B chart, and #61 on the Billboard Hot 100, but sometimes a record has a life beyond its original chart life. That’s what happened to “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” as it became one of the most popular songs in the annals of Carolina beach music as well and a very popular song on the UK’s Northern Soul scene.

The Tams didn’t have another hit until 1987 when they paid tribute to the music scene that had kept them alive with a record called “There Ain’t Nothin’ Like Shaggin’,” named for the dance that is done wherever beach music is played. Unfortunately ‘shagging’ means something else entirely in the UK, and the record was banned by the BBC.

These days there are two groups of Tams out on the road. One is lead by original group member R.L. Smith, and the other by Charles Pope, the brother of Tams co-founder Joe Pope.


From the first, forceful moment of their debut full-length album, OK, Wreck Loose, Pittsburgh-bred Wreck Loose announce themselves as heirs to the tradition of loud, thoughtful pop rock that dominated AM radio in the 1970’s. Their sound combines a bright piano and analog guitar with lyrics that are both quirky yet introspective, for a sound that remains modern yet consistently steeped in pop music tradition, which is no easy feat.

On OK, Wreck Loose, the band marries big rhythms to off-beat lyrics that are paradoxically epic and vulnerable. Songwriter Max Somerville tells small-scale stories of tragedy and redemption, followed by mountain-high tales that still seem intimate. The album kicks off with “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller,” telling its tale of personal demons and music’s redemptive power – and if you listen closely, you get flashes of The Band and Little Feat. “Carwash” recounts an experience with everyday existentialism and shows off the band’s ability to slow things down, while songs like “Hard Drugs” and “The Day Before The Day Of The Dead” both showcase the band’s talent for unconventional titles and mix strong melodies and hooks with explorations of genre and space.  It also shows a wry, yet subtle sense of humor.  The Harry Nilsson-esque “I Do Right” is one of the most joyful sounds of piano and guitar I’ve heard in years and the subtle groove makes it more danceable than most tracks meant for the floor; “Country Mouse”, with its clever title hinting at the song’s flavor is, indeed, a rolling honkytonk-styled track that lets you relax and kick back with melodic pleasure and the very ’70’s opening to “Heart’s Been Broken” belies the wild rollercoaster nature of this intensely rockin’ piece.

At the end of the day, Wreck Loose grooves nice and strong.  Which makes this an uplifting album, considering the vast lyrical landscape they paint.  So okay – Wreck Loose and have a good time doing so.


OK, Wreck Loose is currently available


POPDOSE PREMIERE: Travis Marsh, ‘Don’t Call Me’

In the tradition of great singer-songwriters through the ages, Camarillo, California-native Travis Marsh sees his role as something a little more substantial than someone who merely shapes ideas into songs. “I’ve always viewed songwriters as the therapists for the public,” he says. “I think a great songwriter is someone that has mastered the art of tapping into our deepest inner emotions and memories. They can bring you back to moments in your life and then they become a part of you.”

It’s with that mentality that he introduces his newest video for “Don’t Call Me,” a track that evokes those SoCal vibes without the urban decay of city life. (Indeed, although Camarillo is often lumped into the greater LA area, Marsh is quick to make the distinction between the two places; his native city is more agricultural and “there really isn’t much to do besides lock yourself in a room and play music all day,” he says.)

If you notice a twinge of country-rock in Marsh’s sound, you’d be right; he draws on influences like the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and the Avett Brothers, but invokes a bit of Joni Mitchell’s depth. He also recalls Bob Dylans’ social consciousness in his aim to “bring awareness to some of the social injustices we face today from LA to the Windy City.”

Check out the video for Travis Marsh’s “Don’t Call Me” — making its Popdose premiere!


NYC’s theShift Brings West Coast Vibes Back Home

Although theShift is a based in New York City (the three members met while attending Berklee in Boston), their sound is decidedly West Coast. Branding their music “cosmic rock and roll,” they conjure classic Seventies vibes while displaying obvious influence from bands like Led Zeppelin through to Ryan Adams and as diverse as John Coltrane.

TheShift’s musical amalgamation is in full force on their debut EP 7th Direction. Even its name is a reference to that hippy-dippy California consciousness. While the first six directions in Native American lore are east, south, west, and north, plus sky and earth, “the seventh direction is the direction within,” lead singer John Shannon told Charged.fm. “Though this direction is labeled going ‘within,’ it is just the same connecting with the cosmos that are on the outside. Therefore, it’s the direction of connecting with all things in an ethereal sense.”

Perfectly illustrating these sensibilities is the group’s video for “Consecrate.” Filmed in the Mojave Desert — a mystical place if there ever was one — it features striking visuals of the vast wasteland, along with a mysterious dancer, alluding to the universe’s great unknown.

To see theShift in action yourself, check out the “Consecrated” video below, and, as a bonus, their video for “Dreams,” both from 7th Direction.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Eighteen

Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross: Eighteen!  And I don’t know what I want…

Actually, we do – you want more Radio City and Jon and Rob are happy to supply you with your weekly fix.  This week’s show, the guys say farewell to Anita Pallenberg and Stephen Furst; an assessment of the band Cowbell and the praises of Michigan’s The Hangabouts; Bob Cashill’s look at Broadway’s Tony Awards season; D.W. Dunphy’s very warm and informative conversation with the glorious Matthew Sweet and the joy of connecting with the person you’re interviewing; horror movies when they were kids; Rob’s take on the movie “Get Out” and the “In Our Heads” segment.  Listen in as the two have a good time talking and trading ideas – join them and see what you can take away from it…

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Eighteen

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.