Thursday, February 25, 2016

Album Review: Larry Keel, Experienced

Friday February 26. 2016 will see acoustic and bluegrass virtuoso Larry Keel independently release his 15th studio album Experienced.  The album is comprised of 7 songs, four written by Keel and three by his songwriting partner Will Lee, and showcases the musical talent possessed by Keel that has brought forth praise from such bluegrass luminaries as Sam Bush and Del McCoury. Bush and McCoury, along with Keller Williams, Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band), Mike Guggino (Steep Canyon Rangers) and Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass) all make guest appearances on this stellar album. Experienced may be considered a bluegrass album, but to me it represents an exploration of American roots music with folk and blues making appearances on the record.

The opening instrumental track "Ripchord" sets the album off at a frenetic pace, with the talents Keel and his compatriots on full display.  Front and center on this cut is Sam Bush with a blistering mandolin solo. Indeed, "Ripchord" is a song that should be played at full volume, with the full risk that the walls may shake right off their foundation. "Lil' Miss" puts the blues in bluegrass, as this song could easily be played in the smokiest blues joints of Chicago or New Orleans. Anders Beck's work on the dobro, along with Larry's growling vocals set this song apart from the traditional bluegrass sound.

The album's third track, "Memories", brings the listener right back to the traditional bluegrass/folk territory.  A wonderful song about making each day a memorable one, allowing yourself to have a life well lived and worth looking back upon with few regrets. The melody and lyrics are reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot's earlier works.  "Fill 'Em Up Again" takes us back in to pure bluegrass territory, with brilliant harmonies from Del McCoury, Will Lee and Jenny Keel joining Larry on the chorus.  The album explores much darker territory on "Miles and Miles" and "The Warrior", but wraps up with much brighter subject matter in the traditional country sounding "Another Summer Day."

Larry will be touring throughout the spring and summer promoting Experienced as the touring entity Larry Keel Experience.  The tour will kick off Feb. 26th in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and then moving on to Washington D.C. at Gypsy Sally's on the 27th.  Do yourself a great favor, pick up a copy of Experienced and check out a show.  It will be an Experience, to be sure.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Soar With the Eagles

This is not what I had in mind for my first blog piece of 2016. We're one month in to the New Year, and we've been reminded in rather rude fashion that we're all getting a little older. The passing of so many great artists in music, film and stage in the span of a few weeks is quite shocking.  For me, like so many others, the passing of David Bowie and Glenn Frey struck home.  Not to take anything away from the passing of Natalie Cole or Lemmy (for all you Motorhead fans out there), but the passing of Bowie and Frey struck deep as they're music was among my first introductions to something outside of the old school country music I grew up listening to.

It was especially the case with Glenn Frey.  It wasn't until high school that my musical tastes expanded. I was still very much a country fan, and it could be argued that the Eagles were more or less a country band. That argument is much stronger when you consider their earlier material ... think pre-Hotel California.  As I entered grade 12, I had something that not every kid had, but every kid wanted.  I had the car. 

Which meant, there was a lot of driving (perhaps when I should have been in school), and a lot of music that was being blasted from that stereo. Not all of it was country.  It was my first exposure to the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and of course, the Eagles.  Like so many other music fans, the Hotel California album was (and still is) something special to hear.  Glenn Frey and his singing/songwriting partner Don Henley were at their creative peak. Don Felder had created one of the most recognizable guitar intros in the history of song, and the band had just added Joe Walsh as their second lead guitarist.  Randy Meisner was still with the band delivering that high vocal that only he can do.  The Eagles became my favorite band in those days and remain so to this day. 

The passing of Glenn Frey was a turning of the page, the end of a glorious chapter in music. There will never be another band like the Eagles with their quality of songwriting and five part harmonies.  The influence they've had on rock, country and North American music in general cannot ever be measured. They have been inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I can only hope the Country Music Hall of Fame follows suit. Really, the best way to honor a great artist and great band is to present their music.  Below is one of the finest songs to feature Glenn Frey on lead vocal and is the best example of their five part harmonies.  It's a country tinged song that was written by Tom Waits and was a B-side off the On The Border album.  Here is "Ol' 55."