Western Island (Phantom Records: 1985) and Mercury's Well (Phantom Records: 1992)

John McCormick

By Bob Mitchell

Western Island was produced by Alex de Grassi and released by Schanachie as an LP (remember LPs?). Recently, McCormick obtained the rights to re-release it on CD. The recording contains twelve extraordinary tracks that established McCormick as a Celtic artist. The title cut alone is worth the price of a CD. But "Louisville's old friend" does not stop there, he masterfully presents material from Archie Fisher ("Lindsay" and "Western Island") and from John Martyn ("May You Never"). His guitar work is exceptional on Bert Jansch's "Veronica," as well as traditional selections "Merrily Kiss The Quakers Wife," "The Mist Covered Mountains of Home" and "The Boys of Bluehill."

Mercury's Well is a self produced project that had some success in Europe but no substantial distribution in the US. This re-release will end an unfortunate drought. McCormick is at his traditional folk best in "Death and The Lady." Si Kahn's powerful message song "What You Do With What You've Got" is handled as boldly as the lyrics.

"Big Mac's" distinctive vocals and guitar work is sensitive throughout. However, he outdoes himself with an impressive arrangement of "The Fisherman" (Leo Kottke). Bassist Pat Klobas is subtle yet substantial, especially in "Kodak Ghost."

These projects are a compelling performance from one of the folk world's most gentle vocalists ... a true troubadour for the new millennium.

To learn more about McCormick or obtain a copy of either CD contact Phantom Records, PO Box 884704, San Francisco CA 94188, (phone) 1-510-204-9782. Or order through the web site  http://www.mccormickjohn.com

Life’ll Kill Ya (Artemis Records)

Warren Zevon

By John Kusak

Life’ll Kill Ya is Warren Zevon’s ninth album in thirty years but only his second studio album since 1991's Mr. Bad Example. During that stretch of time, he has traveled widely and sought out some of life’s more interesting paths to travel. He has continued to perform and create and the results as illustrated on “Life’ll Kill Ya mean that this might be his best album of the last decade.

No need to ask where he’s been, but to listen to what he’s given us. And on the album, he covers much territory. From catchy songs with great riffs to autobiographical sketches to covers, Life'll Kill Ya is a CD without a bad song, by a great songwriter who life hasn’t killed yet. What outs Zevon among the great songwriters of our time is his ability to coalesce simple folk wisdom into songs that are simple and poetic, but still crafted with irony, wit, and humor. The words follow the flow of the song without struggle. The songs have verses and a chorus, which flow together with ease.

“I Was In the House When the House Burned Down” is a song with a desperate, ecstatic tone, announcing a climatic end to all things, but the vibe is light and it creates a fervent foot tapping sing along.

The title track “Life’ll Kill Ya” is filled with trademark one-liners:

You have an invalid haircut / It hurts when you smile

 You better get out of town before your nickname expires

You need a license to dance.

He follows up by saying: "Life’ll Kill Ya / that’s what I said

 Life’ll Kill Ya / then you’ll be dead.

“Fist of Rain” is a pretty song that embraces the contradictions and paradoxes of life. He’s not preaching but stating the obvious with a twist of irony:

You’ve heard all the answers/But the question remain.

 Grab a hold of that fist full of rain.

He covers Steve Winwood's “Back in the High Life” with a slow version that pays tribute to Winwood’s beautiful lyrics, but which are spoken by a man who has finally come to experience the "high life" himself.

“My S*s F*d Up” is an unpretentious slogan that drives to the heart of the matter. No excuses, it is an existential song without remorse. Its irony again is that it follows “Back in the High Life.”

Yeah, yeah, my s*s f*d up/It has happen to the best of us

The rich folks suffer like the rest of us

It’ll happen to you.

Songwriting aside, Zevon also displays his instrumental virtuosity on this album: if he's not playing his catchy rhythms on guitar or his soothing keyboard work, he can be heard on the penny whistle, theremin (the thing that made that weird, wobbly sound in all those '30s science fiction movies), piccolo or percussion.

In The Mood (Heads Up)

Roberto Petera

by Bob Mitchell     

Two words say it all: enjoyably smooth. “In The Mood” is filled with tasteful arrangements that never overpower the delicacy of Petera’s harp. Listening to this CD is a perfect way to end a hectic day, because you cannot listen without being touched by its refreshing elegance and sensitivity. Each track is an unexpected and pleasant surprise containing melodies that get into your head and heart. You will experience the soothing sounds of a waterfall and fresh spring breezes floating through the air.

“Take your Time” is a light and breezy opening track. “Insatiable” is simply beautiful and the strings add a nice touch. A trumpet and acoustic guitar prove a Mexican feel for “Six A.M.” There is a subtle driving force in “Coming Home” and the soprano sax provides a perfect underpinning. Petera’s thoughtful solos evolve into a musical bowl of salsa! Savor the Caribbean flavor of “Seven Bridges.”

“In The Mood” is also recorded on an enhanced CD that allows you to see and hear a variety of other artists. “Heads Up” is an interesting label with  exceptional artists. Joyce Cooling, for example, is a jazz guitarist with an excellent release titled, Keeping Cool. Cooling was a nominee for The Gavin’s Smooth Jazz Artist of the year and named the Best New Talent (Smooth Jazz) in the JazzizReader’s Poll.

To learn more or to obtain a copy of this CD, contact the company at 23309 Commerce Park Road, Cleveland OH 44122, 1-877-CDMUSIC or on the internet    http://headsup.com