Doobie Brothers, Judith Owen, Roger Rosenberg + others: Five for the Road

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Five for the Road is an occasional look at the compact discs and / or downloads that have been in my car recently – some new, some old …

JUDITH OWEN – SOMEBODY’S CHILD (2016): How does this talented singer-songwriting, piano-playing voice actor follow up her stellar 2014 release, Ebb and Flow? By looking forward and digging deeper into her dark and formidable muse. While some of the singer-songwriter textures that permeated Ebb and Flow are evident in Somebody’s Child, Judith Owen reaches and achieves a higher level of stunning sophistication. Returning are the A-list of California players including Russ Kunkel on drums, Leland Sklar on bass and Waddy Watchel on guitar. Percussionist/drummer Pedro Segundo also adds unique colors to the mix. Owen brings in violin, viola and cello to build the mood, but once again her songs and her enchanting voice are clearly the focus. The title track and “Send Me a Line” are standouts among standouts.

ROGER ROSENBERG – BARITONALITY (2009): Five for the Road continues with baritone sax player/clarinet player Roger Rosenberg, who released this criminally overlooked gem a few years back. Produced by Walter Becker, one of his Steely Dan bosses, Rosenberg employs a warm, big sound through his baritone sax while also showcasing his deft skills on the clarinet in this collection of mostly original songs. As a jazz producer, Becker is known for his ability to capture great live-sounding studio work and does just that here, while Roger Rosenberg’s dexterity may make you feel like the baritone is the only sax there has ever been. Check out his cover of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and the song “The 8th Day” to become a true believer. This is a must-have for any true Steely Dan fan.

NATE SMITH – KINFOLK: POSTCARDS FROM EVERYWHERE (2017): There are a series of videos taken by singer Jose James where he refers to his drummer as “the legendary Nate Smith.” If you have seen James’ on tour recently – whether his jazz focused tour or the current one supporting Love in a Time of Madness, you would know James’ claim is not hype. Nate Smith’s Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere not only demonstrates Smith’s tasty, high level of jazz sophistication behind the drum kit; it also demonstrates his enormous talent as a composer and arranger. Songs like “Disenchantment: The Weight,” featuring vocalist Amma Whatt, and the instrumental “Home Free (for Peter Joe)” contain elements of contemporary and traditional jazz with splashes of R&B. Delicate yet powerfully nuanced, Smith has created one of the finest releases of 2017. The legendary Nate Smith, indeed!

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS – LIVIN’ ON THE FAULT LINE (1977): If I ever finish my YESterdays series on the world’s greatest progressive rock band, I’m going to start a weekly exploration for Something Else! on the music of the Doobie Brothers. Maybe I’ll just do an abbreviated Doobie series, and only cover their good albums: You know, the ones from when Jeff Baxter was a member, starting with 1975’s Stampede and concluding with 1978’s multi-Grammy Award-winning Minute by Minute. Five for the Road focuses today on Livin’ on the Fault Line. The third release in the Baxter era, this album was much maligned – partly because it had no huge hits, and also because it totally jettisoned the Tom Johnson, three-chord biker-band persona. Give credit not only to Michael McDonald’s writing and Fender Rhodes playing, but also to Patrick Simmons’ composition skills, stellar bass playing by Tiran Porter and late drummer Keith Knudsen’s fine chops. The title track (which featured the late jazz vibraphonist Victor Feldman) and the opening track “You’re Made that Way” (featuring a stunning horn and string arrangement by a young David Paich) are must listens for any sophisticated AOR fan.

ARI HEST – NATURAL (2017): Ari Hest has been on a fine roll, with his lovely 2015 duet project called Bluebirds of Paradise with Chrissi Poland, and his tours with troubadour Judy Collins. This self-released 2017 album finds Ari Hest in familiar territory, with minimal production and instrumentation. Don’t take this as a negative, as Hest’s talents include his effective use of his smooth and big baritone voice and a sense of evocative story telling. Natural is fine listening from start to finish. Songs like “Heart of a Lion” and “June” prove you can indeed go home again.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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