Category Archives: CD

Nick Lowe • Love Starvation/Trombone [CD, EP]

NICK LOWE has latched onto a new way of making records in the last few years, and it’s a method that suits him. Instead of waiting until he’s got an LP’s worth of tunes, Basher has been releasing EPs of whatever he deems ready to record. Love Starvation/Trombone is his latest, another 4-song affair recorded with Los Straitjackets and released by his American label Yep Roc.

What’s great to hear is that Lowe has also landed on the perfect latter-day band to collaborate with. Los Straitjackets, those guys with the gimmicky Mexican wrestler masks, provide an expertly empathetic two guitars, bass and drums backing to Nick’s rockabilly tinged pop tunes. They’ve now appeared as his band on a couple of Christmas records and last year’s Tokyo Bay EP. Like those efforts, there’s nothing too slick or too raw here, unless you count the studio-enhanced “horn section” on “Trombone,” the co-title tune that features a ’60s almost-Tijuana Brass arrangement. “Love Starvation” itself is a typically Nick mid tempo rocker with some witty words, while “Blue on Blue” is a sleeper of a slower “blues” song, with some of his greatest, latest lyrics, like “I can’t sleep for all the promises you don’t keep / I wanna run but I’m in too deep, too deep for blue on blue” and “In my mind I’m on the end of a ball of twine / that she jerks from time to time, time for blue on blue.” Finally, “Raincoat in the River” is a cover of an obscure 1960 Sammy Turner tune (produced by Phil Spector, later covered by Rick Nelson) that nicely defies its title with a happy story of a guy whose gal is coming back to him. The song really fits with the other three original Nick Lowe-penned songs, which is no surprise because that’s a skill that the man has had for decades, dating back to his days in Brinsley Schwarz and later with Dave Edmunds in Rockpile.

There’s no telling whether the tracks from this Love Starvation EP and the aforementioned Tokyo Bay will turn up on a long player, but it would be a pretty safe bet. I’m sure Lowe and the ’Jackets  have either recorded more than what they’ve let out or they’re cooking up more tasty treats while they tour the UK and US this summer.

3.5/5 (Yep Roc YEP-2646, 2019)

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Wreckless Eric • Transience [LP, CD]

Our boy WRECKLESS ERIC is on a tear with this, his second album in a year. Transience is its name and “if you think that what you see is what you get / you haven’t seen the half of it yet.”

Out on his own Southern Domestic label, this lo-fi release is a worthy sequel to last year’s killer Construction Time & Demolition. On that album Eric and his conspirators laid down practically off-the-cuff recordings of the man’s musings about where he came from, where he’s been to and where he was then at. Transience (“the state of lasting only for a short time”) finds Wreckless Eric doing the same, and still trying to shake off the adjectivity of his stage name – something he apparently has been working on for a long time. Yet, the very fact that the cuts on these two albums have such a ramshackle (but riveting) feel make the task of trying to shake the stage name’s burden a relatively unsuccessful venture. Luckily, no one picking up one of his albums is going to give a shit about whether he’s now or has ever been wreckless. People new to his stuff will only wonder slightly about where the name came from, and those of us who remember “Whole Wide World” and “Semaphore Signals” (among others) are fine with it. Seriously, Eric: who cares? We love the semi-shoddiness of your albums, your quirky wit and cynical view of (the whole wide) world. Transience contains sarcastic songs like “Creepy People (In the Middle of the Night)” where Eric talks about having a predilection for suffering and the drag of “taking it up the ass” (figuratively), “The Half of It,” which hooks into subject matter first sung about by Ray Davies of The Kinks and Eric’s contemporary (and former Stiff Records label-mate) Nick Lowe, and six more tunes that show he’s still… if not wreckless, definitely wry and feckless. And yet, he’s still capable of writing engaging songs about whatever strikes him: tiny houses, dead end streets (hello again, Kinks), indelible stains, whatever.

Working with Wreckless Eric this time are Steve Goulding (of The Rumour) on drums, amour Amy Rigby on piano and backing vocals, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson on the bass and Alexander Turnquist on 12-string. Transience has a full sounding, freckles ’n’ all vibe, with thick low end and raw guitar and organ that make for a fulfilling listen. I’m really digging his latest work and hope he not only tours the US again (saw him last year in Seattle), but maybe even with a full band. But whether he’s solo or accompanied, Wreckless Eric’s music is definitely worth delving into, if not devouring completely.

4/5 (Southern Domestic SD 008, 2019)

 

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Robin Lane & The Chartbusters • Many Years Ago: The Complete Collection [CD]

Blixa Sounds has been on a roll with their new wave reissues, and this one is a major release for the label. ROBIN LANE & THE CHARTBUSTERSMany Years Ago: The Complete Collection is a 3 CD set that pulls together pretty much everything the band ever recorded, plus some early Robin Lane solo outings.

Lane got her start in the music world in late ’60s L.A. but eventually found her way to Cambridge (our fair city), MA, where she formed The Chartbusters. They didn’t really do any chart bustin’ but they did make a name for themselves in the nascent new wave scene. By 1980 they’d gotten enough renown to get signed to Warner Bros. Records, where they put out two albums, a live EP and a few singles. This set presents their self-released 45, the eponymous first album, Imitation Life and the 5 Live EP, her solo Heart Connection EP and outtakes from those sessions, along with numerous demos and live tracks. If you’re a Robin Lane fanatic then you’ll want this, as it contains a whopping 28 previously unreleased tracks. Phew! Me, I like the band’s guitar-based “modern rock” sound, but I’m not too enthralled by Lane’s singing voice. I don’t know, she comes off kinda unremarkable to me. Like the Pearl Harbor release I already reviewed (here), Robin Lane & The Chartbusters epitomized the slick new wave vibe that was happening then but all these years later, out of context, they come off as your typical, generic new wave band. There’s nothing wrong with it or them, though, and they’re certainly not bad. But the girth of this 3 CD release is a lot to chew.

2.5/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 818, 2019)

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Pearl Harbor and the Explosions • Pearl Harbor and the Explosions [CD]

With an era-appropriate band name, PEARL HARBOR AND THE EXPLOSIONS burst out of the late ’70s San Francisco rock scene with a slick, eponymous debut album that epitomized what “new wave” sounded like. Pearl Harbor and the Explosions was, indeed, the sole LP by the band. Warner Bros. put it out in 1980 and here in 2019, courtesy of Blixa Sounds, we have a tidy little reissue with bonus single and live tracks.

Pearl Harbor – who once went by the name Pearl E. Gates – formed the group after landing in San Fran from Germany (she’s of Filipino descent), joining an existing band called Leila & the Snakes and working with the Tubes. The experience led her to think that what she really needed to do was form a group of her own. She did so, changed her surname to Harbor, and issued the band’s debut single on SF’s indie 415 Records label. “Drivin’” b/w “Release It” earned enough local note and airplay to catch the ear of the A&R folks in Burbank and soon the band’s debut album was recorded and released. Both tracks were re-recorded for the nine track album, which also included the single “Up and Over” and “Get a Grip on Yourself” (not a cover of The Stranglers’ similarly titled tune). The four-piece band had a sound at once familiar and just modern enough to stand out. Peter Bilt’s twangy Tele guitar licks were clean ’n’ cutting, while the Stench Brothers contributed a tight rhythm foundation – perfect for Harbor’s slightly Lene Lovich-esque vocals. “Drivin’” and “You Got It (Release It)” are the best known songs from the album, and have appeared on numerous compilations on Rhino and other labels (such as 1994’s Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the ’80s, Vol. 3).

Altogether, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions is a neat little encapsulation of what the era’s upstart bands sounded like, whether from the Bay Area or some other new wave enclave. The sound hasn’t aged too badly, and this reissue is a perfect one to put on even if you’re only drivin’.

3/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 820, 2019)

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Alex Chilton • From Memphis to New Orleans, Songs from Robin Hood Lane [CD, LP]

Here are a couple of “reissues” from our favorite Big Star, ALEX CHILTON. Both From Memphis to New Orleans and Songs from Robin Hood Lane are compilations of previously released Chilton material, chosen thematically or chronologically to fit together nicely. It’s an interesting way to do it – take the best tracks of an era, for instance – and create one superior compilation, instead of reissue the entire albums or EPs themselves. Especially since Chilton’s discography is a little spotty during his solo years, this may be the best way to find the choice chunks of his solo stuff.

From Memphis to New Orleans pulls primarily from Alex’s mid-to-late 1980s releases Feudalist Tarts, No Sex and Black List. Those first two came out in the States on now defunct Big Time Records, and they were a comeback of sorts for Chilton. Buoyed by some great R&B cover songs (hence this new album’s title), this compilation is a gas. Not only do you get “B-A-B-Y” and “Thank You John,” a couple of horns-laden ditties, you also get Chilton originals like “No Sex,” “Lost My Job” and “Underclass,” the former being Alex’s humorous look at the calamities that were affecting people’s sex lives in the mid ’80s (when AIDS was still new and not at all understood) and the latter two funny, bluesy stabs at the kind of lifestyle our hero was leading at that point in his life. Chilton’s arrangements are really good ’n’ raw – definitely not the clichéd kind of slick ’80s production that would be a turn-off to fans of Chilton’s revered band, Big Star – and are part of why most of these songs stand up to the test of time. This one’s worth picking up.

Songs from Robin Hood Lane, on the other hand, isn’t a no-brainer. While the idea of Alex Chilton belting out selections from the “classic American songbook” might sound good on paper, the recorded results indicate that that doesn’t always translate to analog tape. Chilton’s unschooled, technically imprecise singing is a benefit when he’s doing rock, blues and R&B, but in this genre his slightly wavering vocals often miss the mark. In fact, there are a few clams here that would have never made the grade on a Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald record. I’m talking about seriously wrong notes. Granted, in 2019, with the truckload of artists who have extended their careers by releasing CDs of standards, the burnout factor for this kind of enterprise is high. At the time he recorded these (primarily the early ’90s), his Medium Cool and Clichés releases may have been fun curveballs to throw at a party (and the title of the latter was definitely a home run), but today they’re practically superfluous to Chilton’s discography. The arrangements themselves are spare and pretty listenable, yes, but Alex the singer is out of his depth here. I mean, kudos to him for giving it a go, but I prefer it when Alex Chilton stuck to what he did best: rock ’n’ roll.

3/5, 2/5 (Bar None BRN-CD-258 & BRN-CD-259, 2019)

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Jarvis Cocker • Further Complications [CD, LP]

[Originally published 2/15/2010 on Skratchdisc]

The eagle-eyed, front-of-mind of you will note that JARVIS COCKER’s Further Complications came out way back in June 2009. Yes, I’m playing a little ketchup here. And that’s partly because when this came out I didn’t really give it much of a chance, just kind of assuming I’d like it because I like Pulp – JC’s band of Different Class and This Is Hardcore fame – and Cocker put on a helluva show here in Seattle in support of his first solo record, Jarvis.

Good news: I was right. I do like it. But not exactly for the reasons stated above. It turns out that Further Complications is more of a rock ’n’ roll record than Cocker’s ever done. As it says in the notes, Tim Call plays guitar in the right speaker and Martin Craft does in the left; I wouldn’t be surprised if these were the same blokes Jarvis had with him on tour, because these songs definitely have more of an edge than you’d expect. Or is it because the disc was recorded by noiseo/icon Steve Albini? I suppose that’s where these songs get their sort of dry, “just the facts, m’am” vibe.

Finally, there’s the lyrics. Also dry. For instance: ““In the beginning there was nothing/and to be honest that suited me just fine.” Or: “I met her in the Museum of Paleontology/And I make no bones about it.” Or: “I never said I was deep but I am profoundly shallow/My lack of knowledge is vast and my horizons are narrow.” Okay, sure, out of context these sound like Groucho Marx leftovers, but in the context of a Jarvis Cocker song, you’ve got some great stuff here. All in all the songs are pretty good and the arrangements are snappy. And yet, I think his first solo disc may be the better of the two… Or is that just because “Cunts Are Still Running the World”* is so great that it’s gonna be awhile before Jarvis betters it?
4/5 (Rough Trade RTRADCD 540, 2009)  

[* Buried on the final track of Jarvis; also available as a download single.]

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Big Star • Live on WLIR [CD, LP]

Last time I reviewed something BIG STAR related here, I mentioned that Omnivore Recordings had seemed to have excavated about all there was left to find of the Memphis power pop band’s recorded legacy. (My review of Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos is here.) So far, I haven’t been proved wrong. This “new” release, Live on WLIR, is neither new nor all that necessary – especially if you already own 1992’s Live. That Rykodisc release was the first official issue of a 1973 concert recorded for Long Island, NY radio station WLIR, and though of interest to hardcore Big Star fans, was certainly a lesser part of the group’s canon. This release is a pretty straightforward reissue of that concert. Whether you ought to invest in this version largely depends on three things: 1) How big a fan you are, 2) If you already have that now out-of-print CD, and 3) If you’ve just gotta own that concert on vinyl.

The 14 songs on Live on WLIR (the fifteenth track is an interview with guitarist Alex Chilton) appear to be a pretty representative sample of Big Star’s ’73 set. At this point, after the release of the band’s sophomore, trio-recorded Radio City, the band consisted of Chilton, drummer Jody Stephens and new recruit, bassist John Lightman (who had just replaced the recently departed Andy Hummel). You hear the threesome play songs from both Radio City and #1 Record, and though there’s a pretty rockin’ vibe throughout, the pared down band doesn’t quite pull things off the way the original four-piece with Chris Bell did, let alone the studio arrangements of the Bell-less band. What you do get is a real good idea of Chilton’s guitar playing ability, which is greater than you might expect. His distillation of multiple guitar parts into one, live part is quite remarkable. And that’s why I’m remarking on it right now! Had I the opportunity to review Live when it came out in ’92 I’m not sure I would have picked up on it. But after being submerged in Big Star-mania for a few decades, it’s certainly noticeable to me now.

Live on WLIR’s new artwork is nice but not exactly a game changer. The liner notes here are by the same guy who wrote them back then (Robert Gordon; they’re new notes, though, and augmented by a short interview with bassist Lightman). And the mastering? Again, new but not revelatory; I listened to both versions and there are only minor differences. The ’92 Live, by Dr. Toby Mountain, isn’t as in-your-face, true, but it also doesn’t “feature” the slightly out-of-tune and overly saturated guitar that this year’s Live on WLIR by Michael Graves does. Since a multitrack recording of this concert clearly doesn’t exist, all of the audio quality decisions lie in the mastering. I prefer Mountain’s job on Live myself. But that version of the concert hasn’t been available for some time (and was never issued on vinyl), so this likely may be the only one you come across. I don’t know that having this set on vinyl is all that important, as I can’t imagine something that was recorded live to analog, preserved to digital, and then returned to analog is going to be any better on vinyl than it would be on CD. So, since this isn’t a crucial Big Star release, I’d probably opt for (in this order): 1) The original compact disc on Rykodisc, followed by 2) This Omnivore CD, and finally 3) The 2LP vinyl set, which might just be more appealing to you if you’re absolutely adamant about analog.

2.5/5 (Omnivore OV-321, 2019)

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Neil Young • Songs for Judy [CD, 2LP]

Here’s a left field title for you: Songs for Judy. NEIL YOUNG’s latest archival live release is culled from recordings made during his November 1976 tour with Crazy Horse. They’re not on this record, actually, as these tracks are from Neil’s solo opening sets (the band joined him for the second set each night). The recordings here were taken from the board and are very basic – sometimes in mono – with Neil accompanying himself on guitar, piano or banjo and harmonica. There’s a lot going for this release, though, and it would make another worthy addition to your NY discography.

Songs for Judy gets its peculiar title from a song intro Neil did for “Too Far Gone” one night in Atlanta, a rambling but interesting fictional account of meeting Judy Garland backstage before the show. Luckily, Cameron Crowe and photographer Joel Bernstein were taping these shows (they accompanied Neil and band on the tour to cover it for an aborted Rolling Stone article) and so this rap and all the songs here were preserved and now presented to us. The pair recorded the shows, and then for personal use, compiled what they believed were the best takes of each song Neil did on the tour (he didn’t do the same ones every night) and made copies for themselves. Luckily for us, Young has seen it fit for release (finally!) and here we are.

The takes themselves aren’t perfect – which actually is perfect for a Neil Young live release – but they’ve definitely got that mojo you hope for. Songs for Judy’s selections range from the obvious to the obscure (at least at the time), so you get “Mr. Soul” and “Heart of Gold,” but you also get “Human Highway” and “Pocahontas” (which hadn’t been released yet) and every kind of song in between. I really like the renditions of “After the Gold Rush” and “Mellow My Mind,” and a number of others, too. I could kind of do without this version of “A Man Needs a Maid,” what with its synthesizer (?) intro and middle bit, but it does feature a snippet from “Like a Hurricane” which is otherwise not featured here. On the other hand, the audience between songs is sometimes distracting thanks to abrupt transitions (might be unavoidable since these songs came from different shows) and that’s much less nitpicky than my previous statement. The cover art was done by Neil’s gal, Daryl Hannah, and it’s okay. (I’m a critic so I am supposed to criticize!)

Songs for Judy is the second great live release from Neil Young’s camp in the last year and I hope they continue bringing these out. (My review of Roxy–Tonight’s the Night Live is here.) Like, how about a live compilation of the sets he did with Crazy Horse on this ’76 tour? Or, I don’t know, Neil. You choose. Just do.

4/5 (Shakey Pictures 574192-2, 2018)

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Various Artists • 3X4 [2LP, CD]

Record Store Day usually brings with it some interesting, if not must-have, releases. This one, 3×4, is definitely the former and quite possibly the latter. With tracks by seminal Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” bands BANGLES, THE DREAM SYNDICATE, RAIN PARADE and THE THREE O’CLOCK, these dozen tracks make a unique set of a batch of great songs.

The idea was actually pretty simple. Each band involved covers songs by each of the other three groups: 3 tracks by 4 bands. As all four groups were contemporaries and fans of each other (frequently playing together on club dates and more back in the day), the concept makes sense and it offers – when it really works – an additional level of appreciation of the original tune or band. I say “when it works” because there are a few here that just feel like straight covers (see the video at the end of this review), adding next-to-nothing to the original tune’s stature. I should also mention that my two favorite bands here, Bangles and The Dream Syndicate, are not as impressive as I had hoped they’d be. The Three O’Clock does a nice job of interpreting “Tell Me When It’s Over” (Dream Syndicate) and Bangles’ “Getting Out of Hand,” the opening track of the album, but it is Rain Parade that actually carries 3×4. Not only are the covers of their songs quite good (Dream Syndicate does a nice “You Are My Friend”), but their versions of the others’ songs are the best tracks here. “When You Smile” is a more somber take of Dream Syndicate’s early tune, while their “Real World” adds some beautiful psychedelia to the Bangles song and their “As Real As Real” is a super sweet version of The Three O’Clock’s neo-psychedelic track.

3×4 is a must-have for fans of Rain Parade, for sure. If you’re not as big on them as the other bands, you might want to get the CD and not splurge so much on the vinyl. For Record Store Day, the release is available as a double purple swirl vinyl set and a single CD, and in January 2019 the album will receive a wider release that will include digital formats. Being a sucker for colored vinyl (especially purple!), I may seek out that version. On the other hand, the CD is a good economical way to go, and holding out for downloads wouldn’t really be as real as real.

2.5/5 (YepRoc YEP 2596, 2018)

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The Kinks • The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition) [Box Set]

There have been many 30, 40 and 50th year anniversary reissues in the last decade, despite physical media being given its theoretical death sentence some time ago. The record companies, though, realize that the kids may go for downloads and streaming but us older fans must have something to hold onto. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is 50 years old now and THE KINKS’ “record label” has regaled us with an over-the-top box that can barely be held with two hands, and it’s worth whatever backache you may incur upon its arrival.

You wanna talk about a sleeper of an album? Village Green Preservation Society (from here on out VGPS) died a quick death when it was released in late 1968 (January ’69 here in the US). Maybe it was The Beatles’ heralded White Album that kept people from realizing VGPS’s greatness, maybe it was that The Kinks hadn’t exactly been hot on the charts at the moment. Hell: Maybe it was all the turmoil in the world. After all, ’68 wasn’t exactly the most peaceful year of the decade. And maybe it’s that Ray Davies’s “rock opera” (before Tommy even!) was of such a pastoral, low-key nature that the pop press and record label PR types had no idea how to whip up a frenzy around its release. Or maybe it was just an album that – like The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle – needed time to incubate in the zeitgeist before it could be truly appreciated. Whatever the reason, VGPS gets more and more of the spotlight every year, and deservedly so.

I first learned about this great lost Kinks album in the early ’90s thanks to two local bands who were already tuned in. The Young Fresh Fellows covered VGPS’s “Picture Book” and Flop did “Big Sky,” both excellent covers by great Seattle groups. (If you don’t already know the Fellows or Flop, stop right now and look ’em up. I’ll wait…) Being the intrepid music fan I am, I found a copy of VGPS (not easy back then, actually) and was instantly transformed into not just a kasual Kinks fan, but a full-fledged one. What wasn’t to like about it? Those two songs, “Do You Remember Walter?” “Last of the Steam Powered Trains,” “Animal Farm,” “People Take Pictures of Each Other”… Every track a good one, full of Ray Davies’ unique viewpoint on life in his England home, and every track soaked in the band’s first great incarnation’s particular, spectacular arrangements. In hindsight, twenty five years after I discovered it, the only thing that is a possible negative is the slightly shoddy recording quality of the record. Though that ding definitely stands out on this new edition, it’s of little consequence because the album itself is so damn good. It’s not as gimmicky as Sgt. Pepper, not all over the place like The Who Sell Out (both albums that I absolutely adore), and not as lofty. And that’s the point! Davies wasn’t going for lofty — he was going for little. As in, small-screen vignettes about the people and places that then populated his life. I wonder how Ray feels now about that vanished Britain.

This big deal VGPS box obliviates the album’s quaintness, what with three LPs, three 7″ singles, five CDs, a nice book full of photos of era memorabilia, and a packet of reprints of posters, sheet music and more. (Initial orders through The Kinks web site got you a fourth 45!) And yet, if any great album deserves such a gala presentation, this one does. I can tell you, being the huge Beatles fan I am, that I was looking forward to this even more than the White Album box that comes out later this week.

The lowdown goes like this. Vinyl-wise, you get two LPs of the original UK mono and stereo mixes (in their then Davies-sanctioned 15 track configuration), an LP with the 12 track version sent to Europe and Down Under without Ray’s permission (some months before the 15 track iteration), and three 7″ singles from the era in replica sleeves. (The one that, errrr, reprises the US Reprise 45 is kinda lame – they don’t use the record company logo or fonts or anything, so it looks like someone forgot to include the actual artwork!) As for CDs, the first two are of the mono and stereo mixes (15 track version) along with period singles*, single mixes, B-sides, etc.; a disc of sessions recordings (early versions, work versions and demos, including a killer instrumental called “Mick Avory’s Underpants”!); a disc called Village Green at the BBC (guess); and a final CD of demos, sessions and live versions. Then there’s all the replicated memorabilia. And a big ol’ (picture) book. It all comes in a nice, substantial box that I only very slightly damaged trying to open. (I’ll get over that in time. Maybe.) All of it is good – if not great –and there’s more than enough here for dozens of listenings over the rest of your life.

After all this, all I can say is: God Save the Village Green Preservation Society; Long Live The Kinks!

* Here’s where I add that one of the singles here, “Days,” is included in numerous versions and never outstays its welcome. That’s because it might just be the most poignant, perfect song of all time. Listen to the words and the arrangement and tell me there’s not someone who was once in your life (a mom, a brother, for instance) who fulfills the role of the person in this song who is longed for, memorized, cherished. This paragraph – “Days” – is for Nel Blurton and Dana Gooch, my mom and my brother. Thank you for the days.

5.5/5 (BMG BMGAA09BOX, 2018)

 

 

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