Friday, December 23, 2005


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 23, 2005

Before you stuff your holiday shopping cart with CDs by those from beyond our state‘s borders, think again and consider giving the gift of local music. Here are some recent examples:

*Unscrambled: The Gospel Truth by Bethleham & Eggs. This band, featuring Joe West, Margaret Burke and Lydia Clark, started out last year as a good-time gospel brunch (Sundays at the Cowgirl restaurant) side project for these veteran Santa Fe musicians. It seems only right that they committed some of their material to CD.

And with three strong vocalists and some of Santa Fe’s finest instrumentalists (guitarist Ben Wright and bassist Josh Martin, two thirds of the late lamented Mary & Mars for starters), there’s no way this could have turned into anything less than a blast.

This is a country-tinged, blues-informed album featuring several familiar gospel tunes (“Angel Band,” “John the Revelator”) and some you may have never heard of.

The album starts off with a West original, “Twelve Gates to the City,” featuring some true Westian lyrics you aren’t likely to find on other gospel records. (“I knew a girl she came from France/She took off her clothes off and she liked to dance ...”)

Other standouts include Clark’s brassy of “Standin’ in the Need of Prayer,” Burke’s sultry version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “House of Gold” an obscure Hank Williams song sung by West.

And there’s a showstopper by guest vocalist Terry Diers, who, back in the ’80s was a real force on the local music scene. (Personal flashback: I thought I was pretty cool 20-some years ago when John Ehrlichman called me “sleazy.” But then, one night backstage at Club West, I heard Screamin’ Jay Hawkins call Terry Diers “crazy.”) Diers sounds like a sage here on the old spiritual “Children Go Where I Send Thee.”

A couple of weeks ago at their CD release party at the Cowgirl, Bethlehem & Eggs did a bunch of songs that aren’t on this album, including covers of Lucinda Williams’ “Get Right With God” and Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” (I was impressed that West had all 37-or-so verses memorized!) I’m already looking forward to Bethleham’s second album.

*Thoughts & Time by Ken Valdez featuring Michael Kott. Valdez is a powerful performer and impressive electric guitarist. At last summer’s Thirsty Ear Festival he joined Alex Maryol on stage and created a living example of the sum being greater than the total of its parts.

So it’s pretty amazing that his new album would be an acoustic album full of almost meditative songs. Aided by Kott, a cellist (!) best known for his work with Robert Mirabal, Valdez has created an intense, brooding and soulful work.

My favorites here are “Best Intentions,” which was written by Santa Fe psychedelico Key Francis and the six-minute odyssey called “Tragiksoul.”

*Sagebrush Alley by The Jimmy Stadler Band. Taos resident Stadler has long been a mainstay of Northern New Mexico stages. With a tight little combo including bassist Dave Tolland and drummer Craig Neil, (who share songwriting credits with Stadler on all the songs here), Stadler plays a rootsy style, with nods to blues, soul and a little country.

There’s a song inspired by a New Orleans cab driver (no, not Mem Shannon) called “The Big Easy.” Besides the nice New Orleans piano, my favorite part of the song is the fact that Stadler rhymes “The great state of Ohio” with “Louisiana bayou.”

The best songs though are “Baby My Honey,” a cool blues stomper with a monster bass; the easy acoustic funk of “Bad Habit” (the bad habits here being hard work and being overly concern for one’s health); and “Let’s Go See Daddy,“ a moving tune about a son who worships his dad, who gets arrested and apparently executed for killing a guy in a barroom fight.

*Live by Bernadette Seacrest & Her Yes Men. Good news and bad news here.

The good news is that there’s a new Bernadette Seacrest album and it sounds smoky, seductive, and slinky.

The bad news is that about the time the CD arrived, The Yes Men are no more. According to the singer, she and the band have split and it’s not quite clear what she’s doing next.

But like, I say, the CD is really good …

Recorded live last summer at Santa Fe’s Swig bar, where the group held court most Friday nights for most the past year or so, Seacrest, backed by a bass, sax and drums, shows her stuff as a torch singer with a punk-rock past.

There are some familiar tunes here (“Summertime,” “Fever”), but the real treats are the originals penned by bassist Michael Grimes and Seacrest crony Pat Bova. The best one here is a Grimes song called “Money,” which sounds like it’s from some imaginary crime movie.

Even though she’s no longer surrounded by a bunch of Yes Men, I bet Seacrest re-emerges soon with something mysterious and wonderful.

*Please Cut My Song, Mr. Travis by Jim Terr & Friends. Subtitled “Songs for other singers (plus a couple that no one else would ever cut)” this collection features some comedy and parody for which Terr is most notorious, (in this respect, I don’t think he’s ever topped “The Ballad of the Queen Berets” from about 15 years ago) as well as just some dang good songs.

Standouts here include a couple of country weepers -- “This Changes Everything,” performed by Nashville singer Kathy Chiavola and “Three-Teared Wedding Cake,” sung by Margaret Burke; and a folky “Excuse Me While I Have the Blues,” sung by Don Armstrong.

Terr’s own best moments are “Some Guy in Kansas City” (a funny look at the effect of greeting cards); “Bringin’ the Honky Tonk Home,” a Jerry Lee Lewis style country song; and the title song, a plea to a New Mexico Music Commissioner. Hey, Randy’s cut worse songs than “This Changes Everything.”

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