September 5, 2020

FTV: A Daystorm Records Double Header

     While the live music industry has been in a COVID-19 induced coma, artists have gone to great lengths to fill up their empty calendars.  Some have spent the time pumping out socially distanced  events on various media platforms while others have hit the studio.  Whether these have been low tech phone affairs or higher tech outings with more reliable equipment, all have helped keep our minds off the pandemic.  I, for one, am looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.  We aren’t there yet, not even close, but when we are able to get back to whatever the new normal will be, the return of live music is just one of our greatly anticipated joys.  Artists are using this unfortunate pause in their livelihoods to create new music and our good friend from Daystorm Music in Milwaukee, Gary Tanin, took sometime to send WOAS-FM a couple of prime examples.  As long as Major League Baseball is back in their COVID-19 shortened season, borrowing a bit of jargon seemed a perfect way to present this double shot of new music.  From the tunes I have heard during the first five months of the shutdown, none are better than Jack Spann’s new single and the twelve new tracks Peggy James has crafted in this time frame.

Jack is Back! (and just in time)

     The whole stay at home, wear a mask, social distancing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic are annoying, but they do not particularly upset me.  Not nearly as much as the dent this has put in the music industry.  Be it on the artistic or consumer end of the stick (not to mention venues, merchandise, equipment sales and so on), this was not what any of us signed up for.

     As the end of August approached, Daystorm Music’s Gary Tanin provided just the kind of lift I needed to face the months ahead.  It arrived in the form of Jack Sann’s new CD single Jesus of New Orleans.  Good old Jack!  Rather than let the pandemic get him down, he gathered a few friends, reached into his colorful subconscious mind and produced the funkiest dance track I have heard in ages.  Jesus of New Orleans features Jack on a variety of instruments (lead vocals, piano, keyboards, guitar, and bass) and his old buddies Cecil Robbington (drums and percussion) and a long time friend from St. Louis, John Covelli on Trombone (among others).

     The single (with both the dance mix and radio edits included on the CD) and a full production music video were rolled out on August 15, 2020 in both CD and Digital formats on Big Boo Records and Daystorm Music.  

     The first two minutes of the video had me furiously tapping my toes as colors swirled across the screen and ‘Jesus’ cavorted with two female companions.  They jumped, jived, spun, and grooved  to the infectious beat.  The transition between part one and the jazzy sax featured in the second segment gave my eyes, ears, and mind a brief pause to absorb where Jack was going with his story…then he revved up the engine again.  The funky guitar is just as mesmerizing as the beat.  Halfway home, things break off into an interesting sonic landscape with accompanying (and colorful) video images to match.  The stream of consciousness collage that occupies the middle to three quarter mark of the video is mind-bending!  About the time things seem to grind to a stand-still, Jack’s Rub-a-dub dub face melt segues into some true Nawlins fueled trombone Jazz (move over Trombone Shorty!) and eventually a piano – trombone interplay that would make John Baptiste proud. 

     I do not want to sell anyone short so make sure to stick around for the credit scroll at the end so all the creative people involved get their due.  There will be no COVID blues for me or anyone else who hears or sees (preferably both) Jesus of New Orleans.  Keep the tunes coming, Jack!  {Jack was last covered in FTV:  Propaganda Man – 7-3-19} 

Peggy James – Paint Still Wet

     It was one of those ‘kismet’ moments that put Peggy’s new CD Paint Still Wet in my ears back in early July.  I had sent a quick ‘hope you are well’ email to  Gary Tanin at Daystorm Records and his reply lifted my spirits instantly.  Gary replied, “We are doing well.  I was just thinking about you.  Peggy James has been working on a new album.  Would you mind taking a listen?”  We last discussed Peggy James in this space when we reviewed her 2018 release Nothing in Between {FTV:  Peggy James 6-6-18} so the only thing I could tell Gary was, “Send it!”  

     Peggy James is one of those artists whose music could be labeled many ways, so let us just say she is a gifted singer-songwriter.  There might be a touch more country twang in her songs than some other pop-country artists, but she is capable of delivering many different styles.  At times she reminds me of Joni Mitchell (both vocally and lyrically), otherwise she pretty much does her own thing.  James writes great story songs and it is impossible not to nod along with the pace and rhythm of her music.  Here is a brief blow by blow of the twelve tracks on Paint Still WetThis is so hot off the press that I have no other information about the players involved other than Peggy James and producer Gary Tanin.

     Track 1 – Let’s Fly Away – From the opening strum, this song displays how to orchestrate a radio friendly single.   Before the end of the first verse, James has delivered on her promise to ‘Take you where the fireflies shine’ on a warm summer night.  The minimal tremolo guitar and picking support the lyrics very well.  It is a solid opening track with understated drumming at the foundation and a beautiful violin lead break.  Her vocal style is uniquely her own but yet Peggy sounds familiar.

     Track 2 – Wiser – Peggy has the ability to make her voice sound wistful without it sounding wispy.  A strummer’s delight with minimal percussion, Wiser is a lovely song.  When her voice climbs at the end of the chorus to verse bridge, the sighing quality of her voice can only be described as ‘lovely’.  As with her last album, it takes time to absorb all the musical elements.  I also find it takes several listening sessions before the impact of the vocals becomes more apparent.  Peggy James has a way with casting imagery from words!

     Track 3 – Holdin’ Hands – After the change in rhythm and tone presented on Wiser, the arrangement of Holding Hands goes back to something more similar to Let’s Fly Away.  The echoing background vocals and steel guitar are crystal clear.  The drum and bass tones are perfect for this kind of jangly tune.  The Byrds meet a 1960s girl group and magic happens in Holdin’ Hands.  Name checking The Beatles hints at Peggy’s inspiration here.  It also features a nice slide guitar break.

     Track 4 – San Antone – I hadn’t even looked at the title yet, but the opening chords of San Antone popped the word ‘southwest’ into my head.  The lyrics say ‘If you ever get to Texas, try and stop in San Antone’ but the stylish guitar throughout the song makes you feel like you are already there.  This is a traveller’s tune that tells the listener exactly what kind of impression San Antone left on James’ soul.  

     Track 5 – Can’t do Lonely Anymore –  Time to change up the pace and James offers up a slower honky tonk blues.  I can almost picture a 1920’s cabaret singer working in front of a smokey club audience.  All the elements are there:  the tinkling piano, the strummed guitar, soft hi-hat and drums beats with a soulful guitar break.  I don’t mean to say it sounds ‘dated’, it just wasn’t a style I expected.  Can’t do Lonely Anymore  is a great track that showcases her chameleon-like vocal abilities. 

     Track 6 – Sailor Knots – Perhaps being locked up a home spurred Peggy to write about being somewhere else.  Sailor Knots is another example of how she is able to write tracks that aren’t propelled by percussion, but still move.  The ethereal background vocals that come in around the 2:00 minute mark are, again, lovely.  James’ technique of echoing certain phrases makes sure you are picking up the rich imagery she has created.  Sailor Knots has an irresistible pulse to it.  The tempo change as the song nears 4:00 minutes closes the song very nicely.

     Track 7 – Lighter Than a Feather – “You were once dead weight now you’re lighter than a feather” is a wonderful way to get the listener’s attention.  Beyond the sentiments about ‘soaring on the wind’ are so many interesting musical elements that this track actually makes you feel a little light headed.  With all the heavy stuff going on in the world right now, this is a balm for the soul.  The combination of drums, swirling string like effects and background vocals added in just the right measure make this a great song.  I am not sure if Peggy has listened to the band Lucius but the drum work on Lighter Than a Feather reminds me a lot of their style.  This is a song that evokes a host of emotions from both the musical arrangement and the lyrics.

     Track 8 – Head Over Heels – The lead guitar style here reminds me of George Harrison.  Toss in a soulful harp lead (yes, I seem to find a lot of soulful moments in the album), and a whole list of artists who would love to cover this track comes to mind.  Anyone who has ever gone Head Over Heels will be able to relate to the lyric.  

     Track 9 – Nothin’s the Same – A different beat, more great guitar.  Slow calypso?  The shimmery guitar break over syncopated drums and bass make me want to dance.  The lyrics are about change and James is able to make the story sound more introspective than maudlin.  It isn’t about the current pandemic, but the central thought of Nothin’s the Same could be applied to what the world is going through. 

     Track 10 – Fallen Star – Cue the jukebox.  There isn’t a C&W beer joint in the world that would not put this tune in rotation.  From the rimshot clops to the swaying guitar rhythm, Fallen Star really brings out the country cry in Peggy’s voice.  The southwestern vibe of the guitar break is terrific.  Not sure if this is Jim Eanelli’s guitar work, but whoever it is, they know their way around the fretboard.  James sings about San Diego, but maybe she was still thinking about San Antone?

     Track 11 – Scarlet and Gold – Now how does one interject a little Elton John into a track like this?  The beat and lyrics again pick up the album’s pace a bit.  The ‘Ahhs’ that bridge the verses scream ‘Yellow Brick Road’ and this isn’t meant as a criticism.  Scarlet and Gold is an original tune and having it remind me of a classic album like YBR puts the song writing on a pretty high pedestal. There are multiple candidates for ‘singles’ on this album and this is one of them. 

     Track 12 – Gettin’ Serious – The most distinctive style change on this album comes in the form of Gettin’ Serious.  It sounds like a live recording, but without album notes, I can’t say that for sure (remember, the classic ‘live’ version of Get Ready by Rare Earth was cut in the studio with the crowd noise added later).  The thumping drums and rhythm guitar are the driving wheels and one could see this at either end of a concert as an opener or show closer.  As with many of Peggy’s arrangements, there is a lot going on in the background but none of it distracts from the song itself.

If it was recorded live prior to everything shutting down, it got a good crowd reaction. 

     Paint Still Wet is Peggy James’ second winning record in a row and it is set for a September 18, 2020 release on Happy Growl Records.  She would be a wonderful addition to the 2021 Porcupine Music Festival when we get the world back in shape.  

     These will stand as two of the most creative musical adventures to come out of this strange time.  It has been a long several months and we can use all the distractions we can get to muddle through the rest of 2020.  Many thanks to Gary at Daystorm for sharing this great music by Jack and Peggy. 

Top Piece Video – Jack Spann’s newest technicolor tune.