This week brings two new recordings that are rich with superlatives, extraordinary recording quality, musicality, and performance. Livingston Taylor is music royalty (His brother is James Taylor) and “Safe Home” his new binaural recording from acclaimed audiophile label Chesky Records shows off his performing and songwriting talents. “God Like The Sun” is Jimmer Podrasky’s latest gathering of his musical journey.
Livingston Taylor “Safe Home”
“Safe Home” is the latest album from Livingston Taylor, the respected songwriter, educator, and performer, who also happen to have a famous brother, singer songwriter James Taylor. The reference is important, as you can hear echoes of each sibling in each other’s recordings. Close your eyes, and the same smooth, reassuring delivery will greet you. "Safe Home" is a warm, comfortable, and gentle album. Celebrating 50 years of making music, Taylor is still hard at work, playing more than 100 shows a year. Taylor is a professor at Berklee College of Music, and there were moments where I felt like a student in his class, where he would gather fellow faculty to demonstrate different musical approaches, and solutions. This is an album of quiet virtuosity, never showing off, just mature in its confidence.
The lineup includes Livingston Taylor on Guitar, Vocals; Shelly Berg on Piano; Dave Finck, Bass; Bashiri Johnson, Percussion; and Chelsea Berry on Vocals. Recorded at The Hirsch Center, Brooklyn, using techniques pioneered by Professor Edgar Choueiri of the 3D Audio and Applied Acoustics (3D3A) Lab of Princeton University, for the 3D audio aspects of this binaural recording, which allows for the recording to not only sound wonderful though headphones and earphones, but equally at home through speakers. Suffice it to say, David and Norman Chesky produced the album to their usual audiophile standard, and as you might expect it’s available as a high-resolution 192/24-bit recording. The recording quality is exemplary, image placement is precise, and the instruments fill the soundstage with believable musicality.
Musically, Taylor stretches out and tackles some well-known classics, such as “Anything you can Do” and “Merry Old Land of Oz / Over the Rainbow” where Chelsea Berry’s soaring vocal is both sincere and heart wrenching in it’s ache for a different life, migrating into a duet with Taylor. Berry soars again on “Louie is Blowing the World Again” and the Beatle’s “Penny Lane” and provides the vocal counter to Taylor on “Anything You Can Do” for a whimsical spin. "Safe Home" strikes me a mix between a quite evening in your favorite jazz bar, a bit of folk, and two vocalists clearly enjoying themselves by playing against each other. A mix of cover songs, and originals, this is a lovely collection of tunes, smooth, gentle, and relaxing. This is quiet, confident yet not showy musicianship. The guitar solos, the bass lines, vocals and percussion all work together to create a quiet intimate experience. Highly recommended for the Gentle and Loving People in Your Life.
Jimmer Podrasky “God Like The Sun”
“God Like The Sun” is Jimmer Podrasky’s latest stop of the musical journey of this Los Angeles cult favorite. Podrasky, already basking in the glory of Omnivore Records’ wonderful re-release of his seminal album Town+Country with the Rave-Ups puts the musical pedal to the metal with this new release. Already one of music’s most literate songwriting voices, Podrasky’s style is instantly identifiable.
Produced by Mitch Marine, and Executive Produced by Philadelphia local Robert Mongeluzzi, the album was recorded and engineered by Mark Rains at The Station House, Echo Park, California; Mark Dutton At Dirtyhorse Studios, Sunland, California; and Paul Horabin at Readymix Studios, in North Hollywood, California. It was mixed By David Leonard At House Of Blues Studios, Nashville, and mastered By Joe Bozzi At Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood. The production notes matter, as this is a wonderful sounding recording. Available on Bandcamp in multiple formats including three lossless options; AAC, ALAC, and FLAC, as well as the iTunes friendly AAC format. It’s also available from the usual suspects, iTunes, Amazon, CDbaby, Rhapsody, and Spotify. You can also purchase a CD version if physical media is your craving.
Podrasky’s musical lineup is impressive and includes a rich variety of musical influences and it shows in the varying musical styles the album includes. The lineup includes Jimmer Podrasky: Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica; Mitch Marine: Drums, Percussion; Brian Whelan: Guitars, Background Vocals; Ted Russell Kamp: Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin; Lee Pardini: Piano, Organ, Keyboards; Marty Rifkin: Pedal Steel Guitar, Resonator Guitar; Rami Jaffee: Hammond B3 Organ, Marxophone; Mark Dutton, Jonathan Clark, and Sarah Taylor on Background Vocals; Choir and Background Vocals On "Grandma's Song": Toni Scruggs, Jason Morales & Nikisha Grier-Daniels, while the Choir Arrangement and Piano are handled by Jason White. On “You Can Count On Me” one of my favorite tracks, Podrasky shares vocals with Syd Straw. Clearly, a labor of love, it benefits as well from the support of some of the myriad friends that Podrasky has made over the years.
“God Like The Sun” is an effervescent title, allowing Podrasky to stretch his legs, without competing with an overly produced sound. The opening track “Your Heaven or Mine?” is classic Podrasky, catchy riff, organ sneaking over the chorus, and soaring guitars, all the time wondering, “If there’s a God, he’s pissed” yet it somehow manages to come off as a plea for belief. “Half a Dad” is a track that one could imagine the Rave-Ups just killing it in a bar. It's one of those tracks that is both danceable and a sing-along at the same time, with a great opening a riff that I could imagine a crowd just rushing off their barstools to dance to.
Musically, one of my favorite tracks is “Grandma’s Song” which somehow seems to channel a bit of the Stone’s Exile on Main Street with Hank Williams, with guitar licks that weave around Podrasky’s narrative vocals like poison ivy growing on the side of a garage with a light mist in the air. I found this track a didactic lesson in what Podrasky is capable of, which is an audio verite version of film noir. A drunk so in love with the mud, that they can't see the reason for the dawn. I kinda look forward to a new Podrasky album that ships with a handle of a bottom shelf bourbon, unremittingly dark, but unable to stop pouring shots of.
“You Can Count On Me” features Syd Straw on vocals and starts with “You're about as helpful as a shark, you’re as solid as the breeze” proof that Podrasky’s cynical smart-ass approach is still very much a presence in his songwriting, which as Robert Christgau famously wrote about Roxy Music, "celebrates the kind of artifice that could come to seem as unhealthy as the sheen on a piece of rotten meat." And while I don’t think of Podrasky in quite those nihilistic terms, I do love the underlying hardened edge, borne of a really tough life filled with heights countered by some Grand Canyons of pain and disappointment that his work explores. Straw's smoky darkened voice is the perfect counter to Podrasky’s almost Teen Idol optimism his vocal’s project. You can feel in Podrasky a toughed, wizened, beat-up, yet optimistic voice, while Straw seems the whisper of a late night bar patron, hoping against hope of ending up with the right lover at closing time. A somewhat drunken (with either joy or loss) version of Sonny and Cher. An instant playlist favorite to go with a Philly Special ($3 bucks for a shot of Beam and a can of PBR) as the night wears on. I mean, let's get real, Primanti Brothers should name a sandwich after Podrasky at this point.
The album ends with two tracks, both ballads in their own way, “Shoot The Moon” starts with a loving recollection of a “a girl with 11 toes” and transitions into a quirky love story, carrying on Podrasky’s ever present theme of love lost, countered by a soaring choir; the only thing missing is a video with choir members flying around with wings on. Still, Podrasky’s abilities as a narrative storyteller are achingly present here, and after listening to it, I thought strangely of Kinky Friedman. Not so much for his music, but for Friedman’s turn as a novelist. Taken together, Podrasky’s songs envision a novel – of love, life, regret, joy, loss, sexuality, complacency, and even a father’s urgent scramble to survive, even if only for his children. Maybe he will follow this up with a novel or book of prose, but until that happens, go on, download “God Like The Sun” and revel in the musical novellas he creates. It’s a tough album to easily typify. The title song “God Like The Sun” starts as if you are drinking a longneck in a country bar in Bakersfield or Tulare, but suddenly transitions to a haunting and lonely harmonica alone in the middle of a night that Springsteen would love, and then shifts again to something entirely different, then back to a country honk riff. That meandering musicality comes as a revelation, and one that infuses the album with an unexpected and unpredictable energy. "Maybe it's the curse of the Catholic Boy? Maybe some people weren't meant for this world? You ask me why, I'll tell you why." Highly recommended.
Harris Fogel, posted 3/1/2017
For more information on Livingston Taylor “Safe Home” on Chesky Records visit: http://www.chesky.com/artist/livingston-taylor
For more information on Jimmer Podrasky “God Like The Sun” visit: https://jimmer2.bandcamp.com/