Banana, Corb, Israel, and Others
As we move toward the end of the year, it’s natural for me to mentally compile my list of the best releases of 2015. We have some good ones worth noting this week, but I don’t think any of these will make my final cut.
Lowell “Banana” Levinger
Get Together – Banana Recalls Youngbloods Classics
Lowell Levinger was one of the original members of the Youngbloods, a 1960’s band that bridged the gap between the Greenwich Village folk stringbands and rootsy blues rock, much like the Lovin’ Spoonful. He enlists Jesse Colin Young, the better-known ex-Youngblood, to sing harmony on a few of the songs, but this is definitely Banana’s album. He has tastefully rearranged the songs using mostly acoustic instruments like mandolins and mandolas, with David Grisman, Ry Cooder, Peter Stampfel, and others helping out. The songs that hold up best are the old jugband flavored tracks like “Grizzly Bear,” “Euphoria,” and “Sugar Babe.” Of course, we all remember “Get Together,” which Lowell sings with a bunch of guests stars. Some original songs are so iconic that they never can be improved upon.
Things That Can’t Be Undone
Lund is a sixth generation Alberta farmer and his country style and quirky vocals have earned him a good reputation and many awards in his native Canada. After at least seven albums, he has yet to break through in the States. Even though this new one is produced by hot producer Dave Cobb, Lund remains true to his roots. He always shows his humorous side and this time it’s a song called “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues,” which is about a touring musician having a bad dream about having to go back to his old job. Sample line: “Here’s your backstage pass to the warehouse boiler room/That’s what he said as he handed me my broom.”
Way Back Home
Syms’ second album shows a lot of maturity, highlighted by her evocative songwriting and soulful vocals. She reminds me of singers like Kim Richey or Patty Griffin. This is a promising album with good songs but I feel that it’s a little over-produced.
Israel Nash’s Silver Season
I’ve enjoyed Nash’s earlier albums and this one is good too. While moving from his Austin folksinger base toward a more dreamy psychedelia land, with pedal steel. I keep thinking of very early Neil Young or even Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon.” Pretty cool stuff, I gotta give it more time.
Oh My Goodness
Lastly, we have Muscle Schoals keyboard legend and songwriter “Funky” Donnie Fritts. This is only his fourth album in 40 years, but he’s played on hundreds of sessions through the years and has even appeared in three of Sam Peckinpah’s movies, thanks to his association with Kris Kristofferson. This one is produced by John Paul White, formerly of the the Civil Wars. Fritts keeps things pretty simple, with mostly his raspy voice and his 1970 s-era Wurlitzer.