Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Rick Nelson & Mark Lindsay – Former Teen Idols Return with New CD Collections from Real Gone Music

8 Apr

Most of us 50 and over types remember Paul Revere and the Raiders. We also remember the 1970 smash “Arizona.” A singer by the name of Mark Lindsay was the voice behind most of those hits. Just Like Me, Good Thing, Steppin’ Out, Hungry, and Kicks were all solid rockers — driven in part by Lindsay’s snarling, cocksure vocals. Mark had plenty of swagger in those days. But he also had a sensitive side. That side of him didn’t fully emerge until he embarked on his solo career in 1969.

Casual music fans may be hard pressed to name any of Lindsay’s solo tracks after Arizona. He never gained much traction after that initial success. However, this new collection reveals that Mark recorded several near misses that are worthy of being heard today. His success with the Raiders put him in touch with some of the industry’s most talented songwriters and session players. Tim Hardin, Jimmy Webb, Jerry Fuller, Sonny Curtis, David Gates, Burt Bacharach, and the storied team of Mann/Weil all contribute songs in this 24 track compilation. Lindsay even wrote a few himself — including the memorable “Man from Houston.”

Mark Lindsay’s versatility is evident on songs like Reason to Believe, Miss America, Been Too Long on the Road, and Small Town Woman. He at turns evokes comparisons to everyone Gary Puckett and the Grass Roots to B.J. Thomas and Blood Sweat and Tears’ David Clayton Thomas. It certainly caused me to re-think my earlier position that Lindsay was a dime a dozen 60s garage shouter. This guy could really sing! But don’t just take my word for it. Have a listen for yourself – we think you’ll be impressed.

After a spectacularly successful stint as the lead singer and saxophonist for Paul Revere and the Raiders, Mark Lindsay commenced a solo career for Columbia that cemented his reputation and legacy as one of the truly great pop-rock singers of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Now, for the first time, all of his singles for the label—plus an unreleased track, a stunning version of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” that was originally slated to be one side of Mark’s first solo single—have been collected on to CD in one place in chronological order and in their original commercial format (which means mono on the first five tracks, stereo on the rest). Most of these original single mixes have never appeared on CD before.

The accompanying booklet features photos from Mark’s private archive, and liner notes by Ed Osborne that feature interviews not only with the artist himself but also with Jerry Fuller, Artie Butler and Tom Bahler, all of whom worked on these singles.

Spanning his entire solo career with Columbia, carefully mastered by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios in New York, and representing his finest work for the label, these recordings render all other Mark Lindsay solo collections superfluous.

Reason to Believe (Previously Unreleased); First Hymn from Grand Terrace; The Old Man at the Fair; Arizona; Man from Houston; Miss America; Small Town Woman; Silver Bird; So Hard to Leave You; And the Grass; Won’t Pay No Mind; Funny How Little Men Care; Problem Child; Bookends; Been Too Long on the Road; All I Really See Is You; Are You Old Enough; Don’t You Know; Something Big; Pretty, Pretty; California; Someone’s Been Hiding; Mamacita; Song for a Friend; Photograph

I have long been a fan of Rick(y) Nelson. Some consider him a lightweight. Others write him off as a teen idol who solely benefited from his parent’s show biz clout and endless TV exposure on the hit show, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” I beg to differ. Nelson had a pleasing voice and delivery, surrounded himself with great musicians, and consistently displayed a great ear for quality material and winning arrangements.

Never one for relying on his past success, Nelson was always looking forward. This caused friction between Rick and some diehard fans and eventually led to the writing and recording of the biting song “Garden Party.”  Just listen to “Change Your Mind” on this collection. It is a far cry from Be Bop Baby — that’s for sure. Or check out Nelson’s unique arrangement of the Arthur Alexander pop standard “Every Day I Have To Cry Some.” This is certainly not an artist resting on his laurels.

I really enjoyed this collection — especially the Al Kooper produced tracks on “Back to Vienna.”

Rick Nelson’s short, late-‘70s tenure at the Epic label was an exceptionally creative and productive period for him, but you wouldn’t know it by what has been released, especially in this country. He recorded three albums’ worth of material, but only one, 1977’s Intakes, was released during his lifetime; the tracks he laid down the next year met a much less kind fate.

The first, the Al Kooper-produced Back to Vienna, was never released as an album at all; the next, originally titled Rockabilly Renaissance, a startling return to his rockabilly roots and a forerunner to the cow-punk and alt-country movements to come, was released in 1986, the year following his death, in watered-down, overdubbed form as The Memphis Sessions. Some of the unreleased material leaked out on the 18-track 1993 CD release Stay Young—the Epic Recordings, but much of his work for Epic remained buried in the vaults—witness the fact that 11 of these 41 tracks see their first American release right here (and another 12 tracks make their American CD debut)! In fact, NONE of these three albums has ever been on CD in this country, and, even better, Memphis Sessions has been remixed under Richard Weize’s supervision to eliminate the posthumous studio dubbing that adulterated Rick’s original vision. Produced and annotated by renowned Rick Nelson expert James Ritz and featuring photos from the period, Rick Nelson: The Complete Epic Recordings offers a long-overdue look at a neglected period of a true rock legend’s career.

DISC ONE: INTAKES LP SESSIONS

1. You Can’t Dance; 2. (Love Is) Something You Can’t Buy; 3. I Wanna Move With You (1st US CD Release); 4. Five Minutes More; 5. Gimme Little Sign; 6. Stay Young; 7. Wings; 8. It’s Another Day (1st US CD Release); 9. One X One; 10. Change Your Mind (1st US CD Release)

BACK TO VIENNA SESSIONS

11. Everyday I Have To Cry Some (1st US Release); 12. Love You So (1st US Release); 13. Chump Change Romeo (1st US Release); 14. What Is Success (1st US Release); 15. Carl Of The Jungle; 16. No Words Of Love (1st US Release); 17. New Delhi Freight Train; 18. Mama You’ve Been On My Mind; 19. Getting it On (1st US Release); 20. Conversation

DISC TWO: ROCKABILLY RENAISSANCE (aka MEMPHIS SESSIONS)

1. That’s All Right Mama; 2. Send Me Somebody To Love; 3. Stuck In The Middle (1ST U.S. Release); 4. It Shall Remain (1st U.S. Release); 5. It’s All Over Now (1st U.S. Release); 6. Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone; 7. That Ain’t The Way Love’s Supposed To Be; 8. In My Heart (1st U.S. Release); 9. Almost Saturday Night; 10. Dream Lover; 11. True Love Ways (1st U.S. CD Release); 12. Sleep Tight Goodnight Man (1st U.S. Release); 13. Rave On; 14. Dream Lover (with conga overdub) (1st U.S. CD Release); 15. Send Me Somebody To Love (alternate mix) (1st U.S. CD Release); 16. Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone You Love (alternate version) (1st U.S. CD Release); 17. Almost Saturday Night (alternate version) (1st U.S. CD Release); 18. Rave On (alternate version) (1st U.S. CD Release); 19. Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone You Love (EP version) (1st U.S. CD Release); 20. Almost Saturday Night (EP version) (1st U.S. CD Release); 21. Rave On (EP version) (1st U.S. CD Release)

Advertisements

Our Dixie Dining Book Close to Being a Reality — You Can Help Here!

6 Dec

Our book is just about ready for publishing, but we need your assistance to complete the project.

Please click on this link and learn more … and THANKS A MILLION!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/401662102/dixie-dining-touring-the-souths-best-homestyle-res

Our New Libations of Choice in “The Old Dominion” of Virginia

4 Nov

I was determined to sip some good local libations during my recent trek to Virginia. I spotted this six-pack (above) at Leesburg Vintner in historic downtown Leesburg. Nice little shop. Port City Brewing’s Monumental IPA is precisely that … monumental. Some might say “epic.” Really enjoyed it.

Port City’s IPA is a full-flavored brew. Not for the feint of heart. I personally like my beer with a little character and this variety certainly fits the bill. I shared the six with my two brothers and all parties agreed it was an excellent choice. Virginia has developed a pretty good history of winemaking. That history goes back to the days of Thomas Jefferson. Vineyards and wineries continue to thrive in the gentle hills surrounding Tommy’s Monticello. But you may also know that our forefathers were equally interested in making fine home brew. George Washington was very much into this, so it makes sense that a brewing tradition be reborn in The Old Dominion. Does my heart good to share this news with you.

I learned a few years back that legal moonshine was being sold in Virginia. It’s obviously not shipped across state lines or taken on board aircraft. So it took my recent visit home to introduce me to the many wonders of Virginia Lightning. I had sampled a little moonshine before, but it was the bootleg stuff (from the mountains of Western NC). It was OK, I guess. But it really required the addition of a mixer of some kind (in my case, apple cider) to make it truly enjoyable. This is not the case with Virginia Lightning. Distilled by the folks at Belmont Farms in Culpeper, VA, this small batch shine is smooth and, to my surprise, quite sweet.

The graphics of each bottle of Virginia Lightning add to the product’s folksy charm. Yet this is serious stuff. The flavor reminds me a bit of a fine Schnapps. The price is right too at about $14 per bottle. It imparts that familiar warm “burn” as it works its way down your gullet. It would be a perfect evening warm up on a cold winter’s day.  I might even prescribe it for the occasional medicinal purpose. Of course, I am not a doctor … nor do I play one on TV. I am not an alcoholic, either, so I was not able to finish off my fifth of corn whiskey over the course of my brief 4-day stay with my parents. This produced a windfall for my younger brother Mark, who gladly inherited the hooch once I jetted back to Alabama. My loss, his gain.

Port City Brewery – 3950 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria, VA

(703) 797-2739; www.portcitybrewing.com

Virginia Lightning – Culpeper, VA; www.moonshine.com

Food Festivals in Dixie, November 2011

4 Nov

Looking for something fun to do this month? There are plenty of food festivals around the South even as the chilly weather sets in. Here’s just a sampling of some annual festivals in the land of Dixie. Whichever ones you decide to attend, we’re sure you’ll have an enjoyable time. Don’t eat too much!

November 4, 5, 6: Colfax Louisiana Pecan Festival http://www.lapecanfestival.com/

November 4-13: National Peanut Festival in Dothan, AL
http://www.nationalpeanutfestival.com/

November 4-13: New Braunfels Wurst Fest, TX
http://www.wurstfest.com/

November 4 & 5: Hog Happnin’ BBQ Championship in Shelby, NC
http://www.hoghappnin.com/

November 10-13: Port Barre Cracklin Festival in Louisiana
http://portbarrecracklinfestival.com/directions.html

November 13 & 14: Pig Fest in Richland, Georgia
http://www.cityofrichlandga.com/pigfest/index.htm

November 24-26: Food and Feasts of Colonial Virginia
http://www.historyisfun.org/foods-and-feasts.htm

Herndon, Virginia’s Tortilla Factory Re-Visited

3 Nov

Herndon, Virginia — the neighboring community to my hometown of Reston. I attended Herndon High School (there was no high school in Reston at that time). As kids, we would ride our Schwinn bikes (yes, with the banana seats) into Herndon to buy 7-Eleven Slurpees and purchase a few packs of baseball cards. Over the years Reston’s growth has exploded. It now boasts more office space than the state capital of Richmond. Herndon has grown a bit too. But it still retains some of its Mayberry-like charm. The Ice House Cafe has long been a fixture on the Herndon dining scene. So has Venus Pizza. But you can’t talk Herndon and dining traditions and not talk about The Tortilla Factory.

The Tortilla Factory has hung around for several decades now. In the mid to late 1970’s, it was thought by some to be a hippie outpost. I guess it truly was. Matter of fact, it still has something of a “granola” vibe. They even grow their own peppers (see above) out front of the restaurant. As I recall, they started out by making tortillas and tortilla chips — and they continue to make really good ones. Stop by and pick up a large bag of chips sometime. The salsa is mui bueno too.

Original menu board (above) – can you believe those prices???

Chips are sold by the bag – get ’em while they’re fresh. So good!

These glistening amber beauties didn’t stand a chance. Crunch!!!

Tortilla Factory Salsa – unchanged thru the decades. A real treat.

Specials were tempting, but I was determined to order a classic

Brother Bill broke down and ordered a frosty cold margarita

Machaca Beef has long been my favorite Tortilla Factory ingredient. It can typically be found here in a variety of incarnations. The Machaca Enchilada caught my eye on this recent return visit. It was served with the traditional Spanish rice and black beans (both were serviceable). The two substantial enchiladas (fashioned with flour tortilllas) came topped with cheese, pico de gallo, and a verde (“green” for you Gringos & Gringas) sauce. The sauce was disappointing … far too slimey in texture and lacking in the usual tart punch. I quickly solved that problem by peeling back the tortillas to reveal the signature shredded beef, prepared with cilantro, onion, tomato, and green chiles.  To my relief, it was just as good as I remembered. Tender, spiced just right — delicious. Ahhhh, the memories came flooding back. Past dinners with old friends. Long ago family visits with my parents and now fully-grown brothers. Good times! 

So, contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s famous quote, I guess you can go home again. It was far from a perfect meal. Flaws did present themselves. But the company (my brothers, Mark & Bill) was good and the old surroundings comforting. The framed black & white Pancho Villa images and “Day of the Dead” figures dangling from the restaurant’s walls apparently unmoved for decades. Chips – check! Salsa – check! Prompt servicecheck!  Perfectly seasoned beef – check! And enough good memories to fill my emotional fuel tank until my next visit (whenever that might be).

Each time I return home (which happens about once every 2 to 4 years) I observe dramatic changes. In the urban landscape. In the people. In the pace. In the traffic. The more things change, the more the Tortilla Factory manages to remain the same. And, frankly, I like it that way. So go ahead and change your verde sauce recipe if you want, Tortilla Factory. But leave everything else just the way it is — and has been for my entire adult life. This factory not only churns out tortillas. For me, and many other longtime fans, they have manufactured lasting memories that linger long after that last sinful bite of their amazing Bill’s Butter Walnut Cake fades from your palate.

THE TORTILLA FACTORY – 648 Elden St., Herndon, VA

(703) 471-1156; www.thetortillafactory.com

***Open for lunch and dinner; 7 days a week***

Mobile’s Own Eugene Walter Lives Again with the Release of “The Happy Table”

9 Oct

Talk about a renaissance man! Eugene Walter was surely that. The term “Bon Vivant” comes to mind. Walter loved life – and fine cuisine. But he was no food snob. Sure, he had a palate that was appreciative of the gourmet. After all, he traveled the globe and rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. He even appeared in a prominent Fellini film. Yet Walter was a man unafraid to crack open a can of Campbell’s Soup (or “Mr. Campbell’s Soup” as he called it) if he felt it could elevate a home recipe.

Eugene’s book entitled “Hints & Pinches” has long been one of my favorite “cookbooks” (if you could call it that). And his novel “The Untidy Pilgrim” is a wonderful look at the Mobile AL of days gone by. So I was pretty excited when I learned that “The Happy Table” was being prepared for release. It is essentially the posthumous release of boxes full of recipes, drawings, and anecdotes from Walter’s exceptionally creative mind and kitchen. The editors have done a fine job of piecing all of this together. No small task. The common thread is booze — or perhaps spirits is a better word. Eugene Walter had spirit in spades. And he knew how to best employ alcoholic beverages in both food and cocktails.

So consider this your formal invitation.

Raise a glass and join the ever-jovial Eugene Walter in a toast and a belly laugh.

This is one party you do not want to miss.

The Happy Table of Eugene Walter

Southern Spirits in Food and Drink

By Eugene Walter

 Edited by Donald Goodman and Thomas Head

Awards & Distinctions

A Fall 2011 Okra Pick: Great Southern Books Fresh Off the Vine, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

A southern Renaissance man, Eugene Walter (1921-98) was a pioneering food writer, a champion of southern foodways and culture, and a legendary personality among food lovers. The Happy Table of Eugene Walter, which introduces a new generation of readers to Walter’s culinary legacy, is a revelation to anyone interested in today’s booming scene in vintage and artisanal drinks–from bourbon and juleps to champagne and punch–and a southern twist on America’s culinary heritage.

Assembled and edited by Walter’s literary executor, Donald Goodman, and food writer Thomas Head, this charming cookbook includes more than 300 recipes featuring the use of spirits in the food and drink of the South, as well as numerous asides, lovely short essays, and countless witticisms that make for great reading as well as good cooking. A wellspring of southern eating and drinking traditions lovingly collected by Walter over the years, the volume is also a celebration of Walter himself and his incomparable appetite and talent for life and its surprising pleasures. The Happy Table showcases Walter’s remarkably contemporary gustatory sensibilities and the humorous and quirky yet incisive voice for which he has long been embraced.

About the Author

Eugene Walter (1921-98), a native of Mobile, Alabama, and author of the classic American Cooking: Southern Style, was a pioneering food writer and editor who enjoyed long sojourns in New York, Rome, and Paris when he wasn’t at home in the South. A translator, screenwriter, novelist, puppeteer, artist, costume designer, actor, and more, Walter was a man of arts, letters, and food. The Happy Table of Eugene Walter, a cookbook that Walter was working on in the final years of his life, is the first new book by Walter to appear in more than a decade.

Donald Goodman was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He and his wife currently live in the Washington, D.C., area, where he manages the Eugene Walter estate.

Thomas Head, a native of Louisiana, is a food and travel writer based in Washington, D.C. Former executive wine and food editor of Washingtonianmagazine, he has published articles in many nationally distributed magazines and newspapers.

 Reviews

“This cookbook contains over 300 Southern-themed recipes for foods and libations that not only inspire but offer a history lesson. . . . this collection shines. . . . It uniquely captures the history and culture of the South and is highly recommended.”
Library Journal

A top “10 Must-Read Fall Books for Food Lovers.”
–Zagat.com

“Any cooking lover should know the work of Eugene Walter, a great Southern food writer and notable character in the foodie community.”
–Zagat.com

“Eugene Walter was a southern writer of dazzling gifts. He possessed an uncanny ability to make the English language dance the flamenco across the page. He loved great humor, clowns, monkeys, food, and bourbon, in no particular order. He acted in Fellini movies, wrote screenplays, poems, cookbooks, translations, novels, and short stories of rare but complete genius. Eugene was one of the cofounders of The Paris Review and lived one of the richest lives of any American writer that I know of. I only wish he had written more. This book is a wonder. I love Eugene and I’ve always loved his writing.”
–Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and Beach Music

“Eugene Walter was not too timid to live life to the fullest, and we are indebted to him for sharing his flamboyant insights into this wonderland of food and drink. The Happy Table captures a history of southern culture that might otherwise be lost and most certainly needs to be preserved. I envision readers using these recipes and throwing Eugene Walter parties as a salute to this great, eccentric Southern man–and I hope to be invited.”
–Frank Stitt, James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, AL

 “This is just like sitting at a table with Eugene Walter, hearing his stories about Rome, Italy, and the pursuit of Southern food. His charm and wit show throughout! And he was a first-rate author–without him, we would never have had the Time-Life Foods of the World volume American Cooking: Southern Style, which is a masterpiece in itself.”
–Nathalie Dupree, author of New Southern Cooking

West Mobile’s Brick Pit Keeps Turning Out First Class “Q” Along Old Shell Road

8 Oct

Competitors come and competitors go. After some 17 years in business, Bill Armbrecht is now used to the routine. Bill didn’t start out thinking he would ever become Mobile’s King of BBQ. In fact,  he started out his professional career as a charter boat captain. He did love to grill out and entertain friends — and over time he developed a true passion for it. Thus began his quest for what eventually became The Brick Pit. He found his destiny in a small white house not far from the University of South Alabama campus in West Mobile.

Armbrecht claims it was love at first sight. Something in his gut told him that this was where he was going to make his stand. A “Pig Stand,” you might say. He was determined to do it right, so he procured the proper equipment and started turning out amazing, slow-smoked pork BBQ and ribs. Word spread pretty quickly. It does that here in the Heart of Dixie. Folks love good BBQ … and love talking about it too!

There have been a few ups and downs along the way. Road construction almost shut Bill down a few years back. Then there’s the competition: first Dreamland, then The Shed — and Moe’s BBQ. It used to worry him, but Armbrecht has mellowed a bit thru the years. And he knows how loyal his customers have been and continue to be.

This little smoker (above) is not used in the cooking process. It is simply for show — and for luring in potential customers motoring along scenic Old Shell Road. The smoker is loaded with wood each morning and in moments the sweet smoke is drifting across the street and into passing vehicles. Now that is some Old School marketing for you!

Bill Armbrecht created the above slogan when the fabled Dreamland BBQ moved into the Mobile market more than a decade ago. Bill braced himself for an all out BBQ battle, but it never really materialized. There was enough room for both joints. This remains the case in 2011. Mississippi-based The Shed BBQ is the latest arrival on the scene, having set up shop just a stones throw down Old Shell. Each eatery has its following, yet Bill has more than held his own despite not having big corporate backers or investors. It’s all about the food quality — and The Brick Pit continues to do it right.  

The Brick Pit is nestled underneath giant live oak trees. It’s a cozy little spot. The trees are smoke-stained and they smell, well, really good. Not that I usually go around sniffing trees, mind you. I haven’t asked, but I’m guessing the red and white color scheme (both inside and out) is in tribute to Armbrecht’s beloved Crimson Tide. He’s a lifelong fan and the restaurant’s interior decor bears that out. Bear … as in Bryant … get it???

The sign at the front entry (aove) is no exaggeration. We have been all around Dixie and Bill’s BBQ is right up there with the best of ’em. The Q here is artfully smoked overnight and Bill’s expert pitmaster has been with him on and off for most of the eatery’s lifetime. The process is slow and painstaking, no doubt. But the rewards are worthwhile. Deep dark, smokey BBQ pork that will satisfy your most ancient carniverous cravings.

The Rib Plate at lunch (served with your choice of 2 sides & a thick slab of white bread) is $9.99. Now that is a pretty fair shake. They do make a fine cole slaw at The Brick Pit. However this time I stepped outside the box and ordered the potato salad. It was very good — as were the beans. The beans are not just dumped out of a giant tin can. They’re seasoned up nice and have a sweet tang to them. The ribs were thick, super meaty and finger licking good. Armbrecht offers regular or spicy BBQ sauce options. I have long been a fan of the spicy variety, which isn’t scorching hot. I like that, since I want to taste the dark crusted meat that Bill and his crew have worked so hard to turn out of the pits.

The ribs at The Brick Pit are indeed sublime, but please do not miss out on their pulled pork platter. It has long been my favorite call here. The portions are substantial and the meat lean & delicious. Many other BBQ joints around the South are now taking shortcuts to save time and money. Times are hard and desperate measures are sometimes resorted too. Not at The Brick Pit. Bill Armbrecht would surely close his doors before he would allow that to happen. Too much pride. Too much respect for his customers. The day may one day come when Bill again dusts off his Captain’s hat. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon. When it does, West Mobile will be a much sadder (if less smokey) place.

THE BRICK PIT BBQ – 5456 OLD SHELL ROAD, MOBILE, AL

WWW.BRICKPIT.COM – 251 343-0001

Willie Nile’s “The Innocent Ones” is a Rare Rock ‘n Roll Treat

7 Oct

Willie Nile is another one of those artists who deserves a larger audience. Petty, Springsteen, Dylan, The Clash, Buddy Holly — the spirit and energy of all of these iconic artists can be heard in the music of Willie Nile. But his style is ultimately all his own. Nile has always surrounded himself with great players. And many of the greats frequently sing Willie’s praises. I do too. There is truly not a weak link in this entirely new 11-song collection. The opening track (“Singin’ Bell”) is a cracking, sing-along anthem, which is followed up by perhaps the CD’s best track, “One Guitar.” It reminds me a bit of Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. Remember them?

“Hear You Breathe” is a straight-ahead rocker complete with staccato guitar flourishes and plenty of ringing Byrds-like jangle. “Song for You” slows the tempo with a Dylan-esque vocal passionately delivered over sparse piano. It eventually builds into another strong arena anthem, so raise those Bic lighters high. You can almost hear the ghost of Buddy Holly in the sweet innocence of “My Little Girl.” “Topless Amateur” follows with the wild abandon of vintage Springsteen or Mellencamp.  “Rich and Broken” again features echoes of a certain Mr. Robert Zimmerman. You can detect the pub rock influences of bands like The Waterboys in this number too. Very cool track.

“Can’t Stay Home” has a punk edge with a distinctly Brit Pop bounce. “Sideways Beautiful” is indeed a gorgeous effort and “Far Green Hills” ends the CD on a shimmering high point. Terrific guitar work on this one. The vocals have a Tom Petty wistfulness to them. It’s a fine way to wrap up a wonderful effort from the talented Mr. Nile. I hope Willie’s got more in the tank because this is some high octane stuff that needs to be heard, enjoyed and savored.

WILLIE NILE’S THE INNOCENT ONES
TO FINALLY SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY IN THE U.S.

The album, widely acclaimed in Europe, was co-produced by Nile, collaborator Frankie Lee, noted producer Stewart Lerman and Eagles/Rosanne Cash guitarist Steuart Smith.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — “This is as good a record as I’ve ever made,” Willie Nile says of his new release The Innocent Ones. That’s saying a lot, considering the amount of indispensable music that the tenacious New Yorker has produced over his long and eventful career. The CD, which long eluded the American market except as an import and the odd merch table, has a U.S. brick-and-mortar street date of November 22, 2011.

In that time, Nile has survived life as a Next Big Thing, walked away from the major-label world twice, and reinvented himself as a scrappy DIY artist. Along the way, he’s built a deeply impressive body of recordings, earned the loyalty of a devoted worldwide fan base, and amassed an extensive backlog of effusive critical acclaim.

Willie Nile is both a songwriter’s songwriter and an impassioned performer whose stirring, personally charged rock ’n’ roll marks him as a true believer. His compositions are as impassioned as they are infectious, and he performs them with a fervor that matches their melodic craft and lyrical insight.

The ranks of Willie Nile’s fans include Bruce Springsteen, who has invited him to perform with the E Street Band on multiple occasions, including a pair of historic shows at New York’s Shea Stadium and Giant Stadium, and Pete Townshend, who personally requested him as the opening act on The Who’s 1980 U.S. tour. Other avowed Nile admirers include Bono, Lou Reed, Graham Parker, Ian Hunter, Jim Jarmusch, Adam Duritz, Little Steven and Lucinda Williams, who once remarked, “Willie Nile is a great artist. If there was any justice in this world, I’d be opening up for him instead of him for me.”

The Innocent Ones decisively demonstrates that, more than 30 years into his recording career, Willie Nile is at the top of his game, making music that’s as powerful as anything in his esteemed catalog. The album, recorded in New York and Hoboken with such longtime cohorts as songwriting collaborator Frankie Lee, noted producer Stewart Lerman and Eagles/Rosanne Cash guitarist Steuart Smith, has already won considerable praise from critics and fans overseas, where BBC Radio Scotland recently named it Album of the Week, calling it “stunning . . . THE rock ’n’ roll album of 2011!,” and JAM magazine proclaimed it to be “full of timeless songs . . . passionate . . . romantic . . . stupendous,” and called Nile “one of the best American singer-songwriters of our time.”

Those raves are borne out on such new tunes as “Singin’ Bell,” a bracing anthem that the artist describes as an effort to filter the populist sentiment of Pete Seeger through the in-your-face sensibility of the Ramones, and the album’s moving title track, on which Nile draws upon some harsh truths to create an uplifting rock anthem.

“This album,” he says, “includes a number of songs dedicated to the downtrodden, the forgotten, the outcasts, the hopeless — the innocent ones. It deals with some heavy issues here and there, but at the same time I think it’s an upbeat, feel-good record. I wanted it to be light on its feet and fun to listen to, and it’s all that.”

Another album track that holds particular significance for Nile is “One Guitar,” a moving ode to music’s ability to heal and inspire. “It’s about what one guitar and one voice can do to help change the world,” the artist asserts. The response that the song has already received from audiences, critics and fellow artists has inspired Nile to create the One Guitar Campaign (oneguitar.org), a collaborative charitable initiative. The One Guitar Campaign encourages other artists to record their own rendition of the song, with the various versions being sold as downloads on iTunes, and the net profits donated to a variety of worthy charitable causes.

His passionate belief in the power of music has been a cornerstone of Nile’s life since his childhood. Born into a large Irish Catholic family in Buffalo, NY, he began playing piano at the age of eight, and within a few years had begun writing his own songs. After graduating from the University at Buffalo with a B.A. in Philosophy, he moved to Greenwich Village. He was initially sidelined in New York by bouts with pneumonia and mono, which put him out of commission for a couple years. While recuperating, he concentrated on honing his songwriting skills.

After recovering, Nile became a popular fixture in the Village’s folk clubs, while drawing energy from the emerging downtown punk scene. An extended residency at the Bleecker Street club Kenny’s Castaways led to a high-profile piece by legendary New York Times critic Robert Palmer, who called Nile “an exceptional talent” and “one of the best singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in a long time.”

The Times piece led to a record deal with Arista Records, for which Nile  recorded a pair of albums, Willie Nile and Golden Down, released in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Those albums won a sizable audience and established Nile as a major talent, with one critic calling his debut effort “one of the most thrilling post-Byrds folk-rock albums of all time.” But his career momentum took a dive when legal disputes with his label caused him to walk away from the music business, beginning a recording hiatus that lasted nearly a decade.

Although he continued to write, Nile maintained his distance from the spotlight until 1991, when he reemerged with a new deal with Columbia Records and a new album, Places I Have Never Been. That album, which featured guest appearances by Roger McGuinn, Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III, restored Nile to prominence with fans and critics. The following year, he went the independent route with the four-song EP Hard Times in America. 1997 saw the release of Willie Nile — Archive Alive, which documented a 1980 performance in New York’s Central Park. In 1998, Nile lent his unmistakable voice to the all-star concept album Largo, alongside the likes of Levon Helm, Carole King, Cyndi Lauper and Taj Mahal.

In 1999, Nile released Beautiful Wreck of the World, which launched an exciting new chapter in his career, one in which he’s embraced independent status to create and distribute his music on his own terms. His new approach yielded substantial results, with the disc chosen as one of the year’s Top Ten Albums by critics at Billboard, The Village Voice and Stereo Review. By that point, Nile had substantially stepped up his touring activities in Europe, where he’s built a large and enthusiastic following in several countries.

2005’s Streets of New York, acclaimed by many longtime fans as his most potent work to date, ushered in the busiest and most productive period of Nile’s long career. Graham Parker called the disc “a real gem . . . Stirring melodies, passionate vocals, intriguing lyrics — every track a winner,” and Lucinda Williams was moved to note, “If there was any justice in this world, I’d be opening up for him instead of him for me.” The CD Live From the Turning Point and the DVD Live From the Streets of New York followed in 2007 and 2008, respectively. His widely celebrated collection of new songs in 2009, House of a Thousand Guitars, inspired UNCUT to liken him to a “one-man Clash,” and Power Pop to rave, “The title song references Hendrix, Dylan, The Stones, Lennon, and John Lee Hooker, and manages the incredible feat of living up the best of every one of them!”

That ongoing burst of creative momentum continues with The Innocent Ones, which makes it clear that, after more than three decades of music-making, Willie Nile remains as much of a believer as ever. “There have been some tough times, but overall I think that taking the long road has been a good thing,” he reflects. “The same fire and passion that I felt when I first came to New York City still burns as bright, and maybe even brighter, now.” I love what I do. I’m writing all the time and still have ideas coming out of my ears. It feels like I’m just getting started, and I look forward to the days ahead and the adventures to come.”

# # #

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery Unveils Exciting New Menu

17 Sep

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery on Old Shell Road in Mobile, AL has just introduced an updated menu. This news was cause for excitement in my household. Owner Mike Perez has a passion for great food. Spend some time with him and you’ll see. His smile widens and his eyes sparkle when he speaks of his quest for the very best recipes and ingredients. This is a rare quality — especially here in Mobile. Sadly, I have sensed a great deal of apathy among many local restaurant owners and cooks. Are they just in a rut? Have they lost their mojo? Or is it all about making a buck? I can’t really say. But I can say with 100% certainty that Mike and his chef Chris Beichler do not fall into this category. Just look at the menu (above and below) — this is not your run of the mill, Americanized Mexican restaurant.

Get a close gander at the new menu seen above. This is some pretty challenging stuff — especially for Mobile. A lot of these ingredients are not easily sourced in this part of the world. It is obvious that Mike Perez is not a man who always seeks the path of least resistance. He knows his food costs may creep higher, but he cares about pushing the culinary envelope and offering his customers the most authentic dining experience possible.

Part of the new strategy at Fuego is their focus on homemade soups. The weather is finally starting to cool down here on the Gulf Coast, so this change is right on time in my book. I had not tried Fuego’s Tortilla Soup before — and I was not disappointed. It was unlike any Tortilla Soup that has danced across my palate before. A rich, tomato based concoction thickened with whizzed up corn tortillas and spiced with fresh peppers. It had a thick, chili-like consistency and was topped off with chopped avocado, crispy tortilla strips, and crumbled queso fresco. In one word: satisfying. I also sampled the soup of the day, which Mike simply called a “caldo” (Spanish for soup). I called it Mom’s chicken soup on steriods. My bowl was absolutely overflowing with fresh veggies (yellow squash, carrots, etc.) and meaty strips of chicken (mostly dark, flavorful thigh meat). I even found a snapped off stub of corn on the cob and a few dark green chunks of Poblano chile. It’s a substantial blend – not too spicy and a quite fitting call on a crisp Fall day.

The housemade salsa (above) hasn’t changed at Fuego. And that is a good thing.

The featured ceviche at Fuego this past Friday afternoon was called the “Seven Seas Ceviche.” It is aptly named, for sure. It is packed with fresh, delicious local seafood. Shrimp, calamari, crab, chunks of Mahi Mahi — quality stuff. And they surely don’t skimp on these treats from the deep. You’d think they’d charge about $20 for such a bountiful chalice of King Neptune’s bounty. Happily, the daily ceviche offering will range between $10-$12. As an appetizer, it’s enough for 2-3 people. Or you can order it for your meal and keep your dining partners at arms length. I suggest the latter — it’s that good.

The Seven Seas Ceviche at Fuego is finished with onion, cilantro, fresh lime juice and two generous slices of newly skinned avocado. The creamy texture and flavor of the avocado is an ideal foil for the tart, tangy citrus-soaked seafood. Fuego recognizes this and provides just the right amount of the green stuff.

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery is hotter than ever and their attention to detail is even more obvious than before. If you haven’t tried them, you should really go today. Sure, the food is outstanding and consistently so. Yet it’s the great people and their passion for authentic, adventurous cuisine that makes this place truly special. We are lucky they are here in Mobile — so let’s do our part keep them here!

Fuego – 2066 Old Shell Rd, Mobile, AL; 251 378-8621

www.fuegocoastalmex.com

Three More Stax Winners from Concord Music

17 Sep

I have always been a huge STAX fan. The big hits have been easy to find. Collections of the label’s most popular tunes have long been available. Top tier artists like Otis Redding, Booker T and the MG’s, Isaac Hayes, and the Staple Singers  have received a great deal of attention – and rightly so. But bubbling just beneath the surface are other fine artists deserving of a retrospective.

The Dramatics’ WHATCHA SEE IS WHATCHA GET is a fine album and an ideal introduction to the group’s sound. You can tell that they were experimenting with a variety of musical styles. The Four Tops & Temptations are perhaps the most obvious sources of inspiration. The Dramatic’s don’t always hit the target, but when they found their groove the results were unquestionably groovy. The title track remains amazing, while tracks like “In The Rain” and “The Devil is Dope” run the gamut from cool to downright freaky. “Hot Pants In The Summertime” is a terrific lost track that has found its way onto my iPod.

Shirley Brown is best known for her hit “Woman to Woman.” But there’s so much more. Her voice is reminiscent of Aretha Franklin … and that alone is a massive compliment. It was only the lack of more potent material that kept her from becoming a bigger name. You might consider Shirley a “one-hit wonder.” Dig a little deeper and you will prove yourself wrong.  

Rufus Thomas, on the other hand, is sort of the “Clown Prince” of Memphis soul. Was he a serious artist? No. Was he a great entertainer? Yes. Did his songs make you want to both laugh and move your feet? Yup. “Do the Funky Chicken” is a great example of Rufus’ appeal. There are a few clunkers here. Or should I say (in the case of “Old McDonald”) cluckers??? But that’s why God invented the fast forward button. Just go ahead and savor the chicken — and toss away the bones.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In 1968, on the heels of the label’s severance from Atlantic Records, Stax Records president Al Bell decided to initiate a massive 28-LP release program that would auger the label’s return to the top. The initiative fostered a new generation of Stax hitmakers including the Dramatics and Shirley Brown. And, it proved an artistically and commercially fertile time for Stax veteran Rufus Thomas.

On September 13, 2011, Concord Music Group, as part of its Stax Remasters series , will reissue Rufus Thomas’s Do the Funky Chicken, the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get and Shirley Brown’s Woman to Woman — each featuring a chart-topping title track. All three reissues feature 24-bit remastering, rare bonus tracks, and new liner notes to frame the recordings in historical context.

Rufus Thomas: Do the Funky Chicken: Although Rufus and his daughter Carla Thomas had given Satellite Records (precursor to Stax) its first hit in 1960, followed in turn by Rufus’s solo hit “Walkin’ the Dog,” his star had faded by the late ’60s. The self-proclaimed “world’s oldest teenager” (age 51 in 1968) found inspiration in 1968 when he recorded Eddie Floyd’s “Funky Mississippi,” backed by Booker T. & the MGs and the Memphis Horns, for an album that never saw the light of day titled May I Have Your Ticket Please? A year later, Thomas entered the studio again — this time with his son Marvell Thomas on keyboards and members of the Bar-Kays — to record “Do the Funky Chicken.” The song was a smash, reaching #5 R&B and #28 Pop. Rufus was back on top, and the album Do the Funky Chicken was hailed as a career highlight. The follow-up, a two-sided hit of the menacing voodoo funk of “Sixty Minute Man” backed with the gospel-inflected “The Preacher and the Bear,” made it to #42 R&B. The reissue is rounded out by “Funky Mississippi,” “Funky Way” and “Itch and Scratch,” the last recorded not at Stax but rather at Jackson, Mississippi’s Malaco Studios. Stax historian Rob Bowman contributed liner notes.

The Dramatics: Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get: In diversifying the A&R focus of Stax, Al Bell brought in Detroit producer Don Davis to work with core artists Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. He brought with him a Motor City vocal group called the Dramatics. Davis turned to fellow Detroit producer and songwriter Tony Hestor to work with the group. Hestor wrote a great song with “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and crafted an extraordinary arrangement as well. Annotator Bowman writes, “The slight Latin feel fit the first wave of disco like a glove while the use of claves and congas combined with a fuzzed lead guitar line and seraphonous strings and horns.” The chemistry of artist, song, and arrangement drove the record all the way to #3 R&B and #9 Pop in the summer of 1971 on the Volt label. The follow-up was “In the Rain,” of which then-lead vocalist Ron Banks recalls, “We looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa, that’s a smash.’ And for once we were right.” The song went to #5 Pop. The Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get reissue contains no fewer than nine bonus tracks including charting hits “Fell for You” and “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain,” both recorded in Detroit instead of Memphis. The closer “Hum a Song (From Your Heart)” was produced at Atlantic South Criterion Studios by the legendary production triumvirate of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin.

Shirley Brown: Woman to Woman: “Phenomenon means having your first single, ‘Woman to Woman,’ sell a million in its first eight weeks,” wrote Stax employee Deanie Parker in her liner notes for Shirley Brown’s Woman to Woman album, released in 1974 on Stax’s Truth imprint. The East St. Louis native came to Stax by way of Albert King, who’d discovered her when she was all of 14. When matched with the powerful James Banks, Eddie Marion, and Henderson Thigpen composition “Woman to Woman,” Brown hit a nerve with female listeners. In a spoken intro, Brown said: “Hello, may I speak to Barbara? Barbara, this is Shirley. You might not know who I am, but the reason I am calling you is because I was going through my old man’s pockets this morning. And I just happened to find your name and number.” After presenting her case, Brown sang earnestly about not letting anyone else “break up my happy home” because “I love that man and he’s mine.” The song notched #1 R&B and #22 Pop. A follow-up, “It Ain’t No Fun” by Fredrick Knight, charted #94 Pop. Songs by Knight, Sir Mack Rice, and the late Jerry Ragovoy round out the original album release. The reissue contains five bonus tracks by writers Carolyn Franklin, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder. After Stax’s closure, Brown signed to Arista and with Stax’s co-founder Jim Stewart and Bettye Crutcher producing, reaching #15 with “Blessed is the Woman (With a Man Like Mine)” and has more recently recorded for Malaco.

About Stax Records: Stax Records is synonymous with Southern soul music. Originally known as Satellite, the Memphis company was founded in 1959 by Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton, and took its new name in 1961 from the first two letters of their last names. Among the many artists who scored hits on Stax and its Volt subsidiary during the ’60s were Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the MGs, Sam and Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, and Otis Redding. Redding’s death in 1967 signaled the end of the first Stax era (to which Atlantic retains distribution rights). Subsequently the company spawned a new crop of hitmakers, among them Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, the Dramatics, and Shirley Brown. In June 1977, a year-and-a-half after Stax went bankrupt, the company’s masters were purchased by Fantasy, Inc. Concord Music Group purchased and reactivated Stax in 2004 to release both new soul recordings and catalog reissues.