Billie Holiday’s legacy celebrated with ‘The Centennial Collection’

Billie‘The Centennial Collection’
Billie Holiday (Columbia Legacy)
4.5 stars out of 5

No list of the all-time great jazz vocalists would be complete without Billie Holiday at (or very, very near) the top. She is one of the most tragic figures in the history of music — resorting to prostitution as a young teenager, a lifelong battle with the drug addiction that would ultimately take her life at age 44 — but she managed to become one of the most beloved and influential singers to ever walk the planet.

Billie CDColumbia Legacy celebrates Holiday’s 100th birthday (April 7, 2015) with “The Centennial Collection.” It’s a newly curated gathering of 20 songs that showcase “Lady Day” at her very best. These career-defining tracks were originally released between 1935-45 and are gathered together on a single disc for the first time.

“The Centennial Collection” features definitive recordings of classics like “Billie’s Blues,” “Summertime,” “I Must Have That Man,” “The Very Thought of You,” “All of Me,” “God Bless the Child,” “Gloomy Sunday,” “Strange Fruit” and “Fine and Mellow.” The only complaint I have, and it’s a minor one indeed, is that my favorite Holiday tune — “Autumn in New York” — is nowhere to be found. But that’s just me picking at nits. Do yourself a favor and get this album. (Jeffrey Sisk)

José James honors Billie Holiday with ‘Yesterday I Had the Blues’

Jose James‘Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday’
José James (Blue Note)
4 stars out of 5

With his intoxicating blend of jazz, R&B and hip-hop, José James has become one of my favorite artists in recent years. He has a string of first-rate records to his credit, soaring highest on 2013’s “No Beginning No End” and last year’s “While You Were Sleeping.” For his latest project, James dips way back into the past and tackles the songbook of the late, great Billie Holiday, who would have turned 100 on April 7.

Jose James CD“My first clear musical memory is of Billie Holiday,” James writes in the liner notes to stellar new full-length “Yesterday I Had the Blues.” “Billie’s voice floated through our house — grand, warm, intimate, and wholly unique. Billie Holiday made me want to be a jazz singer and set me on the path that I’m walking today.”

James does justice to “Lady Day” throughout the nine-track, 49-minute platter and gets a boost from a superb backing band comprised of Jason Moran (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and Eric Harland (drums).

They tackle some of Holiday’s best-known tunes, managing to pay homage while at the same putting their own stamp on standouts “Good Morning Heartache,” “Body and Soul,” “Fine and Mellow,” “Lover Man,” “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” This is a fitting tribute to one of the all-time greats. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Gutter rock trio Wake Up Lucid sizzle on ‘Gone With the Night’

Wake Up Lucid‘Gone With the Night’
Wake Up Lucid (WUL Records)
3.5 stars out of 5

Don’t be surprised at all if Los Angeles-based gutter rock trio Wake Up Lucid suck you into latest EP “Gone With the Night” right away. There’s a sense of urgency in the blistering guitar riff from frontman Ryan Baca on lead track “White Collar Love” that immediately makes you sit up and take notice.

Wake Up Lucid CDThat riff is made all the more compelling when cousin Jamie Baca comes in with some seriously frenetic drumming and bassist Ian Baca, another cousin, helps hold down the bottom. In addition to “White Collar Love,” Wake Up Lucid also score with “Let It Roll” (it boasts another splendid riff), “I Want” and “Gone With the Night.”

“Each production that I have been a part of with Wake Up Lucid is proving to be exponentially more expansive than the previous,” producer Joe Cardamone says. “I heard a confidence in their sound this time that was really exciting. This EP is a warning to what will be coming on the new LP. One of the best bands with guitars in their hands.”

If every song on the six-track EP was as good as “White Collar Love,” this would be a truly remarkably slab. Instead, it’s a very good album (that flirts with greatness on a few occasions) from a band whose star is on the rise. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Kopecky to invade Pittsburgh’s Club Cafe on Thursday, April 2

040215-KopeckyIndie collective Kopecky, formerly known as Kopecky Family Band, roll into Pittsburgh’s Club Cafe on Thursday, April 2, at 8 p.m. They figure to serve up plenty of tunes from upcoming release “Drug for the Modern Age.” Tickets for the over-21 show, which includes Essential Machine, are $12. Club Cafe is located at 56-58 S. Twelfth St. on the city’s South Side. Call 412-431-4950 or visit for additional information.

Indie pop outfit The Vantage unveil music video for new single ‘Place in the Water’

unnamed-2Indie pop outfit The Vantage, who scored with 2014 EP “Color Blind” and recently impressed with a performance at the 2015 South By Southwest Festival have unveiled a video for newest single “Place in the Water.” You can check out the video below and visit or for more information about the band.


T. Graham Brown earns Grammy nod with ‘Forever Changed’

T. Graham‘Forever Changed’
T. Graham Brown (Mansion/Sony RED)
3.5 stars out of 5

Peach State native — and fellow University of Georgia alum — T. Graham Brown rose to country music stardom in the 1980s with his ear-pleasing mix of country, R&B and rock. Alcoholism derailed Brown’s career when it was at its peak and he spent the bulk of the 1990s drying out.

T. Graham CDHis 1998 comeback album “Wine Into Water” was a revelation but Brown was never able to recapture that earlier success. It’s been almost a decade since we last heard from the 60-year-old musician (2006’s forgettable “The Present”), but Brown is enjoying a late-career renaissance as a gospel artist.

Newest album “Forever Changed” earned Brown a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Roots Gospel Album and finds him making some of his best music in decades. Joining Brown on the 13-track release are pals Vince Gill, Leon Russell, The Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Cropper and Jimmy Fortune.

“It’s a neat record,” Brown says of “Forever Changed.” “I think it’s probably the best one I’ve ever made, and I’ve got a lot of friends singing on it. I picked out a batch of songs I liked, and it turned out exactly like I wanted it to. Then it gets nominated for a Grammy, and I’ve never been nominated for one before, so I’m loving every minute of it.”

Brown and Gill soar highest on opener “He’ll Take Care of You,” and additional standouts include the title track, “Shadow of Doubt,” “People Get Ready,” “How Do You Know” and “Wine Into Water.” I’m glad to see Brown back in the game. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Texas-based folk/rockers Buxton soar on ‘Half a Native’ album

Buxton portrait‘Half a Native’
Buxton (New West)
4 stars out of 5

Texas folk/rock five-piece Buxton made their major-label debut in 2012 with “Nothing Here Seems Strange” and I really wanted to love the record. I really dig the writing and vocals of frontman Sergio Trevino, but despite a few terrific moments, the album ultimately fell just short of essential. I’m happy to report that Buxton have taken a nice step forward with newest LP “Half a Native.”

Buxton CDTrevino is still the straw that stirs the drink, but he and Buxton are far more effective on an understated song cycle like this 11-track gem. Thanks to producer Thom Monahan, who also works his magic on Vetiver’s latest record, the non-essential elements of the songs have been stripped away.

The opening tandem of “What I’d Do” and “Good as Gone” set the tone for the album, and Buxton later score with the hauntingly lovely title track, fun-filled “High Tones,” “A Little Bit More,” “Be Somebody Else” and set closer “Pool Hall.” If they take a similar leap on the next album, Buxton could become a truly special band. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Lilly Hiatt steps out of her father’s shadow with ‘Royal Blue’

Lilly Hiatt‘Royal Blue’
Lilly Hiatt (Normaltown)
3.5 stars out of 5

Lilly Hiatt knew she had some pretty big shoes to fill when she decided to become a professional musician and follow in the footsteps of her famous father, acclaimed singer/songwriter John Hiatt. After making a minor splash with her 2012 debut “Let Down,” she comes into her own on excellent sophomore slab “Royal Blue.”

Lilly Hiatt CDWith a sound that incorporates elements of country, alt-rock, Americana and folk, Hiatt apparently inherited her eclectic approach to making music from her dad. She said he has proven helpful in her quest to carve out a career.

“We have a really good relationship, and there’s a lot of trust there,” Lilly explains. “So I feel comfortable talking to him about certain songwriting predicaments. I played him some songs I was trying to write, and he said, ‘These are really good, but it sounds like you’re trying to do something different. You don’t have to come up with special chords or anything. Why don’t you just be you?’ That was simple advice, but good advice.”

Hiatt comes out of the gate firing with keepers “Far Away” and “Off Track,” and later delivers the goods on “Get This Right,” the wonderfully titled “Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant,” “Heart Attack,” “Machine” and “I Don’t Do Those Things Anymore.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Curtis Knight & The Squires’ ‘You Can’t Use My Name’ features a young Jimi Hendrix

Curtis Knight‘You Can’t Use My Name’
Curtis Knight & The Squires (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)
4 stars out of 5

In the mid-1960s, long before Jimi Hendrix became “JIMI HENDRIX, ROCK GOD,” the soon-to-be-legendary guitarist worked as an anonymous sideman for artists like The Isley Brothers, Little Richard and the unheralded R&B act Curtis Knight & The Squires.

Curtis Knight CDHendrix was introduced to Knight in 1965 and he served intermittently as a guitarist for The Squires in 1965 and 1966, recording some 40 studio masters during that brief stint. The best of those recordings (plus one 1967 session) have been put together as “You Can’t Use My Name.” While not an essential series of tunes in and of themselves, Hendrix completists should add this 14-track to their collection.”

“We are extremely delighted to now be in a position to offer these rare, historic recordings,” says Janie Hendrix, the late guitarist’s sister and president/CEO of Experience Hendrix. “What makes them so special is that they provide an honest look at a great artist during the pivotal time when he was on the cusp of his breakthrough. They are more than just recordings, they represent a significant segment in the timeline of Jimi’s musical experience.”

Opener “How Would You Feel,” with its not-so-subtle aping of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” is the highlight of the collection, followed closely by instrumentals “Knock Yourself Out (Flying on Instruments)” and “Hornet’s Nest,” in which you can hear Hendrix blossoming into guitar great he would one day become. Additional standouts include “Fool for You Baby,” “Welcome Home,” “You Don’t Want Me” and “Gloomy Monday.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Kickback to invade Pittsburgh’s The Smiling Moose on Wednesday, April 1

040115-The KickbackUp-and-coming rockers The Kickback roll into Pittsburgh’s The Smiling Moose on Wednesday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show, which includes Dreamers and The John Trumaine Show, are $10. The Smiling Moose is located at 1306 E. Carson St. on the city’s South Side. Call 412-431-4668 or visit for additional information.