Zervas & Pepper Endless Road, Restless Nomad Zerodeo Records/Universal Distribution
The Sound of a Laurel Canyon Summer From the Valleys.
I’m still smarting from missing SummerTyne Americana Festival 2019 as there’s always an act I’ve never heard of that blows me away; just like Zervas & Pepper did in 2015. It appears not a lot and a whole lot has happened since then for the Welsh duo; especially in America where even the legend that is David Crosby is now a fan. ‘Not a lot’ in as much as their stories, harmonies and singing styles are pretty much as I remember; but this is now a ‘Cat A’ release on a major label and the production sounds very luscious and expensive too; but never distracting from what Zervas & Pepper do best; singing from the heart. The album opens with Kathryn turning the clock back to 1968 with The Gift; a glorious Soft Rocker, with Country undertones that harks back to those halcyon Laurel Canyon days when we all thought every day was a holiday. It’s all too easy to drift aimlessly through the songs that make up ENDLESS ROAD, RESTLESS NOMAD, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all; especially during these balmy days of Summer; but then you will miss out on some wonderful songs that should be listened to quite intently; such is the cleverness of the couple’s songwriting. The two very disparate songs that make up the album title Endless Road which has Kathryn’s amazing voice taking us on an epic emotional journey and when Paul goes all ‘James Taylor’ on Restless Nomad; musicians of all persuasions will know exactly where he’s coming from (as will quite a few listeners with proper day jobs too!). With three albums already under their belts; there’s now a distinct maturity to the couple’s complex storytelling; yet all are accessible regardless of your approach to music; Cruising Clear sounds almost too perfect; but keep listening and the story peels away to reveal something that could have been on one of the early Eagles albums; while Gas Bottle Blue is a quintessentially British song masquerading as Americana and will sound perfect drifting out of the car radio on a sunny afternoon. Another track that deserves your attention is Salvador, not just because of Paul’s exquisite guitar playing but the way the beautiful story unfurls leaving you smiling and almost breathless by the end. Selecting a Favourite Song is rarely easy; and with so many here that could be Hit Singles (if such things still exist for our generation); but Catacombs and There Is Only Love really do stand out; and would on the wireless too; but I’m going to choose the charismatic Indian Seas which closes the album as it’s a bit left of centre and I don’t think Kathryn Pepper has ever sung finer…… and that’s saying something! This album sounds like a game changer for the couple who are fiercely proud of their Welsh roots, because Zervas & Pepper don’t really fit into the burgeoning British Country scene, as they transcend borders with grace…….. they are now a truly International Americana act that sit comfortably in all genres of this Musical Gumbo.
Mature, Stylish, Graceful and Classy Songs of the Heart.
It appears that singer-songwriter Dan Navarro was a big deal in the USA Music Biz in the 1980’s and 90’s as one half of a duo called Lowen & Navarro (14 albums in 20 years must count for something!) plus he had a hand in writing quite a few hit songs too…… yet I’ve never heard of him, until now…… his debut solo album in 2019. In fairness, now I’ve played SHED MY SKIN a couple of times I’m more than happy to make this a starting point; as he not only writes an interesting song; he has a husky and ‘world weary’ voice that hooked me in right from the first verse of opening track, Shed My Skin. Much like the album itself; this song sits comfortably alongside many of the artists that came out of Laurel Canyon in the 60’s and 70’s; but also the tightly wrapped music that came from Townes Van Zandt and his merry band in the early 70’s. While many of those songwriters were ‘old beyond their years’ Dan Navarro writes his songs after a ‘life well lived’ and with the wisdom that can only be found, ‘looking back;’ which is what makes Straight To The Heart of Me and Ghosts very special indeed; as each demand your time and effort to get the best from them. For a Singer-Songwriter album that sounds quite simple and easy on the ear; Navarro gets to thank a multitude of people for their help in the making of the record; but thanks to Steve Postell’s mixing and producing nothing ever gets to take you away from Navorro’s heartfelt approach to his bittersweet love songs Bulletproof Heart, Hard For Me Now and especially the cinematic and claustrophobic Let Her Ride too. For an Americana album like this, Navarro includes two fascinating choices of cover songs; Billy Idol’s Sweet Sixteen which now becomes a mean ‘n moody Acoustic Rocker, which I didn’t recognise at all, partly because it now includes some amazing fiddle from Aubrey Richmond, Dobro from Doug Cox and some sensual and breathy harmonies from Grace Pettis (what’s not to like?) and the other gets to close the album; a fairly maudlin rendition of Wichita Linesman which just about perfectly closes the proceedings. Although I’ve been smitten by both those songs, two others have totally captured my heart; the lucid Arrows which conjures up it’s own windswept imagery in a way I’d normally associate with someone like Jackson Browne; and the other is the song that actually is my Favourite Song Here; You Drove Me Crazy, an intensely powerful duet with Janiva Magness that really proves Navarro’s songwriting is up there with the very best; and the way that the accordion, guitars and mandolin interweave behind their voices is quite unnerving at times yet incredibly beautiful at the same time. As I alluded to earlier; Dan Navarro’s songs are all pulled from a world of experiences that only a ‘man of a certain age’ can attain and articulate; and Dan Navarro does it with style, grace and class.
SAFE IN THE ARMS OF TIME
Blue Elan Records.
Deeply Personal, Yet Smile Inducing Songs of Love, Life and Hope.
For the third time this year I’m so excited to receive an album I’m going to review it on it’s initial first couple of plays.
Perhaps it’s my advancing years but I found myself laughing at, then shouting at the accompanying Press Release when it said “In case you don’t know who Rita Coolidge is, she……….” come on chaps; if the receiving reviewer doesn’t already know who the Delta Lady is they don’t deserve a copy of her latest and 18th release, do they?
Mmmmmmm opening song Satisfied whizzed me back to those teenage days in my bedroom poring over the lyrics and photos on my brother’s copy of This Lady’s Not For Sale. Not for one moment is this a ‘throwback song’ quite the opposite actually; it just sounds very mellow as the singer pours herself into a lovely love song, seen through the wisdom of her advancing years.
That last sentence can probably be attached to The Things We Carry and the ultra passionate We Are Blood which may appeal to young lovers; but is firmly aimed at the more Silver Haired among us and will touch our hearts in a way Adele or Ed Sheeran never could.
One song in particular will catch the attention of many reviewers, and that’s Doing Fine Without You, which again pairs Rita with Graham Nash on a timeless and seamless slice of Classy Laurel Canyon Soft-Rock, who wrote the song with Russ Kunkel and immediately though of Rita; although he had no idea she was considering releasing another album.
Shame on me, but I can’t remember the last time I played a Rita Coolidge album until this morning; but listening to the way she delivers The Things We Carry over a gentle piano is spine tingling and can only come from a person who has actually lived a life that has regrets in it; but can’t be changed. A very smart song indeed.
While not a lot has changed from those early records; especially Rita’s distinctively sultry voice; the subject matter most certainly has as she now sings from a position of wisdom rather than the hope of youth; and there are stand out tracks aplenty here from that viewpoint with the duet with Keb’ Mo Walking on Water being especially wonderful and Please Grow Old With Me, which closes the album is a deeply personal yet smile inducing love song that will touch the hearts of a whole generation of Rock fans who have actually done that with not just Rita; and but our own Soul Mates too.
On only two plays it’s not been easy choosing a Favourite Track; as SAFE IN THE ARMS OF TIME is a good old fashioned AOR Singer-Songwriter Long Player that doesn’t need a 45 RPM single to promote it; but there are certainly a couple of songs that could easily fit into a late night radio show on Border Radio.
Naked All Night and We Are Blood are both timeless, tightly wrapped, well constructed stories in that vein; and the delightful Van Gogh takes Don McLean’s Vincent as a starting point and looks deeper into his life and the effect he had on those around him; but I’m going for You Can Fall In Love as my Favourite Track, as it not just covers all of the bases that I would expect from a singer of Rita Coolidge’s calibre but is a song of hope for not just oldies like me (and you?) but younger people who have failed relationships behind them and think that their future is bleak……when there is always ‘hope’ for all of us.
As happens when we get older, negative things that effect us in a million ways hit us hard every day and Rita Coolidge is no different, with the death of her sister Priscilla in 2015 possibly, with hindsight being the catalyst for this collection of songs as they deal with all of the dark emotions one deals with in such an aftermath and a house move back to her home State of Tallahassee bringing the light back into her life.
Now I’m looking forward to digging even deeper into these songs, just for fun which is a rarity at RMHQ these days.