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It’s been suggested that you have to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues. For guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader, Andy Watts, the blues is a way of life (“certainly here in the Middle East,” he jokes), and his dues were paid up a long time ago. Watts has been proclaimed (by Blues and Muse magazine) Israel’s “Ambassador of the Blues,” which is probably accurate when you consider Watts’s longevity as an Israeli blues performer and the fact that he has repeatedly brought many of America’s greatest blues artists to his country.

Watts’s fifth album “Supergroove” is a fully charged dose of the blues, tinged with rock, soul, funk, and R&B, that he says is a reflection of his live show. Produced by six-time Grammy nominee Kenny Neal and released on Neal’s label, the album features ten tracks of Watts with his 9-piece band blazing through five originals and interpretations of five blues classics from Freddie King, Joe Louis Walker, Rick Estrin, and Watts’s greatest influence, Peter Green, the late founder of Fleetwood Mac.

Guests on “Supergroove” include Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker, singer Eliza Neals, Roy Young, and Israeli vocalists Danny Shoshan and Gadi Altman.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020 10:51

A few of my favorite 2020 musical things

Written by Mike Dow

It’s only speculation on my part, but I’m guessing you sought an escape route this year. Many of us, myself included, found it in music.

I’ve never subscribed to the belief that all of the good stuff has already been recorded. I believe a case could be made that there is more good music being written and recorded now than at any other time.

Despite the lack of live shows (and I miss that experience dearly), a wealth of truly great music was made this year. Here are some of the artists and titles that saw me through. As I look over my preliminary list of 2020 musical faves, it occurs to me that they are all independent artists.

You know a film moved you when you can’t stop thinking about it. If you’re even mildly interested in the life and music of Frank Zappa, you need to see Alex Winter’s “Zappa,” the first all-access documentary on Frank utilizing his vast archive of film and recordings.

Through “Zappa,” we meet the real Frank through vintage film and interview footage, most of it unseen until now. We meet the musicians he trusted to deliver his music, both rock and classical, and we discover how he interacted with them. We meet his wife Gail and see Frank being a husband, a father, a rock star, a classical composer and conductor, a free speech advocate and a tireless battler of injustice in its many forms. Frank was a complicated guy.

We see how Frank dealt with the cancer that ultimately claimed his life in 1993. In one of the movie’s most impactful scenes, we see part of his final concert performance in Prague, as well as footage from Frankfurt in 1992 when he conducted Ensemble Modern performing music from “The Yellow Shark,” the last album (of 62) released during his lifetime.

It’s a film befitting of the Zappa name because it’s an honest portrayal of his life and work, even when it doesn’t portray him in the best light. Zappa was all about the truth, and as his son Ahmet reveals during the following interview, staying true to his father’s modus operandi was the vision of everyone involved in this movie through the six years it took to get it made.

“Zappa” is a powerful film and one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year.

My interview with Ahmet Zappa began with a little revelation about his longtime fascination with the state of Maine. I encouraged him to leave L.A. behind and join us here full time.

Wednesday, 09 December 2020 12:39

Paul Carrack on the one positive aspect of lockdown

Written by Mike Dow

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Carrack is one of popular music’s most valuable players, and a man with hits as a band member, a frontman, and as a solo artist. Carrack wrote and sang “How Long” with his mid-70s band Ace. As a member of Squeeze, he sang their biggest American hit, “Tempted.” When Mike Rutherford of Genesis put together his side project Mike + the Mechanics, Carrack sang lead on hits “Silent Running” and “The Living Years.” He’s been a member of Roxy Music, and a session man for The Smiths, John Hiatt, The Pretenders and others. Carrack has been a recording and touring musician for artists as diverse as Ringo Starr, Roger Waters, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton, with whom he’s toured and recorded since 2013.

Carrack has released 17 solo albums, including his most recent, “These Days” released in 2018. With his six-piece band, he keeps up a fairly busy touring schedule but like everyone else, it all came to a stop in March of this year. Carrack says he sought ways to keep connecting with an audience, and while recording a quick video to post online may have been fun, it couldn’t compare with being on a stage with his band.

In September, Carrack and his band, accompanied by a 12-camera crew, took to the stage of ornate Victoria Hall in Leeds, England, to perform their first full concert together in 6 months. It may have felt a bit strange to perform to an otherwise empty room but the concert, he says, was a truly special experience. The resulting two-hour concert is a beautifully filmed affair with a pristine audio mix full of hits from throughout Carrack’s career. It first streamed to fans in October and again last weekend during a partnership with live steaming platform Mandolin.

Carrack phoned from his home near London to discuss that concert experience in an interview that aired on BIG 104 FM. Highlights from that interview follow.

2020 has been full of events that tend to get a person thinking about home. Maine-based singer and songwriter Joel Thetford says he’s been thinking a lot about his current and former homes this year.

The musician, known for his Americana and alt-country roots music has been on a prolific songwriting jag lately, and says home is very much on his mind as he releases his fifth album “Jacksboro Highway,” named for the storied stretch of road from which he hails.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020 13:02

New music from veteran artists

Written by Mike Dow

There are a few benefits that come with doing a daily morning radio show that almost make up for the lack of sleep and/or anything resembling a social life. For starters, the coffee is pretty good, your mailbox is periodically populated with free CDs and books, and your studio phone can become a conduit to speak with the folks who make the music.

I do a morning show with a classic hits format that airs on BIG 104 FM (104.3/104.7/107.7 FM), and have taken a number of calls in recent weeks from veteran musicians excited to share news of their latest projects.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020 11:49

AC/DC leads the charge for November’s new music

Written by Mike Dow

November’s new music release schedule is traditionally populated with big names and this crazy year proves no exception, despite the fact that fewer new titles are being released this fall. About 100 new titles of note saw release in November 2019, according to PauseandPlay.com, a leading online source for music release dates. Roughly 60 new, non-archival titles are listed for release this month, a number no doubt impacted by the pandemic.

Albert and Joe Bouchard, best known as co-founding members of the enduring classic rock band Blue Öyster Cult (“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” “Godzilla”), have each released a new solo album on a jointly-owned label.

Wednesday, 04 November 2020 12:15

A conversation with Martin Barre

Written by Mike Dow

Guitar legend Martin Barre is set to mark the 50th anniversary of his decision to join the lineup of Jethro Tull with a double disc set showcasing two sides of the music he helped create as a member of that iconic progressive rock band.

On November 6, Barre will release “MLB: 50 years of Jethro Tull,” featuring Martin and his band performing live in-studio acoustic and electric performances of Jethro Tull classics and deep cuts, along with four bonus tracks recorded live last year.

Barre joined Jethro Tull in 1969 as the group prepared to record their second album, “Stand Up,” a top 20 LP in the US and a chart topper for the group in their native United Kingdom.

Cited for his fluent, melodic lead guitar style, Barre’s chops graced 20 Tull studio albums and were always a guaranteed highlight during the band’s powerful and theatrical live shows.

Barre formed his own band when Jethro Tull ceased touring in 2012. He saw most of his 2020 tour schedule quickly evaporate due to Covid-19, and says he’s practically bursting at the seams to get back onstage with his band. The group’s next series of shows, tentatively set to begin in March 2021, will be a celebration of Jethro Tull’s biggest seller. Barre and his band will perform the 1971 album “Aqualung” in its entirety, along with a set of Jethro Tull classics and fan favorites.

The Mavericks are a band that have always followed their hearts, and that credence has earned them both Grammy Awards and CMAs, but it’s also led frontman Raúl Malo to ask “Do you want to be an artist or do you want to be famous?”

Three decades after issuing their self-titled debut, The Mavericks have managed to check off a bucket list item this year by releasing “En Español,” the group’s first Spanish language/Latin music album.

The record’s five original songs accompany seven Latin tunes – a mix of standards and rarities that Malo says have always been close to his heart. On “En Español,” The Mavericks literally reconnect with their roots on a record the band has wanted to record since reforming in 2011 after seven years apart.

Cuban songs reside comfortably next to songs from Mexico, Columbia and Argentina and blend seamlessly with the new tunes penned or co-written by Malo.

Guest vocalist Lissette Diaz of Cuban band The Sweet Lizzy Project performs with the band on “En Español” and co-wrote some of the new material with Malo.

Malo’s bandmates in The Mavericks include drummer Paul Deakin, guitarist Eddie Perez, and keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden.

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