Trip Peek #38
Trip #100
Hail, Hail Rock w/o Rail

This picture is from my 2011 Hail, Hail Rock w/o Rail trip. Yes, that’s a pretty goofy name but I can explain. In May of 2011, I went to Saint Louis, Missouri, to see Chuck Berry and called the trip, Hail, Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll. My original plans for this trip were to ride a train to Washington, DC, to see two concerts. Calling it Hail, Hail Rock ‘n’ Rail seemed quite clever. But, less than two days before the scheduled departure, the train was canceled. I saved the trip by driving but, in the flurry of rearrangements, the best I could do for the title was replace “‘n'” with “w/o” which isn’t very clever at all. I saw Dirk Hamilton (pictured) and Josh Hisle (opening for Stephen Stills) in concert plus Fort McHenry, Ocean City, museums, diners, and colorful fall foliage. As I said in a trip postlude. “…everything was perfect for a train ride except the train.”

The trip was my 100th so I did a blog post to mark the occasion and reflect a bit on previous journeys. This Trip Peek is being posted following trip 135.

Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

Music Review
Touch and Go
Dirk Hamilton

tagdh_cvrIn my view, the last few weeks have been a truly awesome time for new music. A new Willie Nile CD arrived with a few days left in March then, with April barely a week old, this delightful disk appeared. Dirk and Willie share more than an appreciative fan in Ohio and neighboring CD release dates. Both were touched by fame near the three-quarter mark of the last century and both ran away from the business of music for a few years. But both came back because musicians can’t stay away from music and songwriters can’t keep from writing songs.

Thirteen Dirk Hamilton written songs make up Touch and Go. Most are new but not all. “Build a Submarine” first appeared on 1990’s Too Tired to Sleep.  “The Only Thing that Matters” was on 1995’s Yep!. One of the new songs is something Dirk says he started writing in 1971 and finally finished in 2014. I heard that song, “For the Love of a Lady”, live in October of 2014. In my description of that concert I say that Dirk did three songs for the first time in front of an audience but I couldn’t remember any of the names. This was obviously one. I believe the others were “Head on a Neck” and “Mister Moreno” since I recognize both and both appear for the first time on this album.

Touch and Go owes its existence to a chance meeting with a long time fan. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Rob Laufer introduced himself to Dirk at a California house concert and explained that he had been a fan since the 1970s. One thing led to another and this Laufer produced album is the result.

It seems things started with Dirk recording a couple of songs in Laufer’s studio and Laufer subsequently “producing” “Gladiola” by adding several tracks to Dirk’s voice, guitar, and harmonica. In an interview on KPFA radio (available here) Hamilton says he was initially a little uncomfortable with the process as he is used to doing things live in the studio with the band but eventually decided that he liked the sound. I’m glad he did. Yes, magic can sometimes happen when musicians are recorded as a group with each feeding on the playing of the others and that simply can’t happen here but it’s sometimes only a possibility anyway. Rob Laufer is an excellent player as well as producer and he has constructed some really solid underpinnings for Dirk’s tunes. The organ on “Head on a Neck” and the guitar work on “Gladiola” and “Cheers to the Heart” are particularly nice.

“Cheers to the Heart” is a driving rocker and my current favorite tune on the CD. On my first listen the the album, it was somewhere in the middle of this song that I was struck with the thought that it would be right at home on one of the 1970s albums that made me a Dirk Hamilton fan. With that in mind, subsequent listens revealed that this was true of several other tunes on Touch and Go. The voice has aged but it has done so nicely and there are melodies just as well crafted and lyrics just as meaningful as those earlier offerings. Maybe it helps that Laufer is familiar with and an admirer of those early albums. He makes Dirk sound like Dirk.

What Hamilton calls the most important song on the album closes it. “Mister Moreno” was inspired by the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings and Dirk says performing it can sometimes be a real challenge because of the emotions it brings to the surface. Dirk’s lyrics can sometimes be abstract and sometimes openly playful but they are almost always insightful and thought provoking. Sometimes they are crystal clear as are these lines from “Mister Moreno”:

Politicians talk of peace, dining with gunrunners in the plaza
Sharing photos of their families and the missiles they are selling down in Gaza.

Another thing that has remained constant and is reminiscent of the early days is Hamilton’s caring and concern for this planet. That concern is clearly present in several tracks on Touch and Go but it seems a little more accessible than it has been lately and that just might be because of Laufer’s contributions. Dirk and Rob make a good team. Hope they do it again.

Buy this and other Dirk Hamilton CDs here.

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Rail

octrainAmtrak has a simple but incredibly effective way of avoiding scenes like this at its station in Cincinnati. Eastbound trains are scheduled to depart at 3:27 AM; Westbound at 1:23 AM. That’s AM as in “ante meridian”, as in “before midday”, as in “middle of the night”, as in “dark as a black cat in a coal mine”. That would seem to be sufficient discouragement but, just to be on the safe side, Amtrak frequently misses those times by sizable amounts. On rare occassions, they might even cancel a train a day or two before departure as they did for me in 2011.

I made it this time though not exactly as planned. Between the time I left home and the time I reached the station, the Amtrak Cardinal had gone from 8 minutes late to 3 or 4 hours late. It finally pulled out of Union Terminal with me on board at 8:03 — a mere 4 hours and 36 minutes behind schedule. It was no longer dark. My plans for the evening are clearly demolished but I still have hopes for the rest of this trip to Washington, DC. A Saturday concert remains on the agenda followed by a couple of days roaming around the National Mall before heading back home on Wednesday.

The trip journal is here. This blog entry is to make blog-only followers aware of the trip and to provide a place for comments which are very welcome and appreciated.

Music Review
Sweatshop Pinata
Dirk Hamilton & The Bluesmen

Sweatshop PinataThe album’s full title is Sweatshop Piñata: Most of the Best of Dirk Hamilton & The Bluesmen. If that means there may someday be another album with the rest of the best of Dirk Hamilton & The Bluesmen, I’m in.

Dirk has a sizable fan base in Italy and has spent part of many summers touring there. For the last few years, he has done that in the company of an Italian band called The Bluesmen. A portion of the 2005 tour was captured and made available as a CD and DVD package titled Sometimes Ya’ Leave the Blues Out on the Road. Now they’ve got a studio album with no road involved at all. That 2005 recording included some Dirk Hamilton compositions, a few covers, and a few tunes that Dirk co-wrote with The Bluesmen’s guitarist, Roberto Formignani. The international collaborations were essentially made up of Hamilton’s lyrics and Formignani’s music. That’s the arrangement on every song on Sweatshop Piñata except two where keyboardist Massimo Mantovani also contributed. This is hardly the first time Dirk has collaborated with others. There are plenty of examples of him co-writing songs with guitarist Don Evans or bassist Eric Westphal. This is, however, the first time he has collaborated on an entire album and it is also the first time he has done an album of all blues.

None of that, of course, keeps Dirk from doing some lyrical ear tickling. On The Collector, one of the most hard core blues tracks on the album, the list of things collected starts with “Mojos, yo-yo’s, maybe butterfly wings”. Two of my favorite lines come from the short and funky “Baby Take A U-ey”. When he asks for rent money, it is because “My bullfrog wouldn’t like it if we had to move again”. Then he warns folks at his funeral not to cry and instructs them to “Just chisel on my tombstone, ‘He came, he sang, he died’”. Unlike some Dirk Hamilton offerings, there is nothing at all political here. There is some social commentary (I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t.) but it all concerns individuals like the aforementioned “collector” or the empty headed target of “Automaton Town”.

Good lyrics and good music deserve good execution and they get it. Formignani’s often biting guitar is up front on almost every track. Mantovani takes the lead a little less often than Formignani but he is never hiding. He makes major contributions to most cuts on piano, organ, or both. He also arranged the horns that appear on several tracks. Roberto Poltronieri (bass) and Roberto Morsiani make up the talented rhythm section.

The mention of horns might make you think this album has a big sound. It does. Instrumentation is an area where there is some real contrast between this and Dirk’s preceding album. That album, solo mono, was a true solo effort with nothing but Dirk’s voice, guitar, and harmonica. Oddly enough, one song appears — and sounds good — on both. Assuming a specific meaning for a Dirk Hamilton lyric is never a safe thing to do so I may be way off on this. On solo mono, “Where are all the Rebels?” has lots of nice guitar work and plenty of harmonica. The harmonica supplies a touch of melancholy. To me, Dirk seems to be mourning the disappearance of those 1970s rebels. The Sweatshop Piñata version is faster. The harmonica and acoustic guitar are still there plus there is an electric guitar with some serious tremolo now and then, driving drums, piano AND organ, and a banjo! This time, I feel like Dirk just might be challenging those vanished rebels to come out and make some noise with him again.

I love them all but it’s a fact that some of Dirk’s offerings are a little tough to classify. Not so this one. Sweatshop Piñata is solid mainstream blues. I’ve mentioned that I’ve never seen Dirk live with a full band. My dream is still to see Dirk, Don, Eric, and Tim (a.k.a. The Dirk Hamilton Band) somewhere sometime but seeing a long tall Texan fronting a bunch of Italians at a Mississippi delta blues festival might satisfy me for awhile.

This and other Dirk Hamilton CDs can be purchased here.

My review of solo mono is here.

Technical problems resulted in the posting of this review being delayed one day to a Thursday rather than Wednesday.

Music Review
The Goshorn Brothers

Goshorn Brothers AcousticI thought I might never get this posted but I did it and it’s not even a year late. It’s close, though. The official release of Acoustic, which coincided with Larry Goshorn’s “retirement” party, was 349 days ago. I knew the CD was coming and intended to get a copy at the party, then, figuring I’d pick it up in the near future, opted not to stand in line. To be honest, I could have bought the CD without a hassle but I wanted it signed and for that there was a line and I really believed I’d catch the boys performing together in a couple of weeks. If I had known that wouldn’t happen for six months, I’d have stood in line.

I got my copy just days before leaving on a month long road trip so that, even though I really liked the album and knew what I wanted to say about it, I had no time. Then, when the trip was over, I had no… Well, I had no excuses. Yes, the main reason this review did not get done during the last four month is because I just kept putting it off each week. When it comes to crastination, I’m a pro.

It seems a curious coincidence that the last music review I did, in March, was for an acoustic album and some of the thoughts I had then are applicable here. That album was Dirk Hamilton’s solo mono. and, though it was recorded in a studio, it represented my personal experience with Dirk quite well. Dirk is best known for his work with a full band but that’s something I’ve never seen. With solo mono, I could hear Dirk at home the way I’ve heard him live.

Larry and Tim Goshorn are also best known for their work with a full band though that’s something I’ve seen a lot. From Larry’s early days with Sacred Mushroom, and the time both brothers spent with Pure Prairie League, through various incarnations of the Goshorn Brothers Band. But I’ve also heard them a lot as an acoustic duo. In recent years, seeing the brothers front a band became something of a special event; Something more likely to be at a festival or a concert than a club gig.

There were club gigs but most were, quite literally, Goshorn Brothers gigs rather than Goshorn Brothers Band gigs. I and plenty of other Cincinnati area music lovers have spent many enjoyable evenings in a small bar or restaurant listening to the two brothers trade off guitar and vocal leads and blend their voices in brotherly harmonies. It’s an experience that Acoustic captures pretty darned well but with very little crowd noise and no interruptions from the waiter.

There’s nothing new on the CD and I think that’s the point; To remind you of an evening you’ve enjoyed or reproduce part of a pleasant evening for someone who hasn’t experienced the real thing. Like a typical Goshorn Brothers set, the CD is heavy on originals with a few covers thrown in. Some of the tunes, like Tim’s Just Fly and Larry’s Kentucky Moonshine from their Pure Prairie League days, might very well be familiar even to those who haven’t seen the brothers performing in a local bar. Others, such as Devil’s Due, are more recent and less widely known. Devil’s Due is, to me, the CD’s standout track. It’s a catchy Larry Goshorn tune with some great lyrics and Tim’s excellent slide guitar sets it off perfectly.

Recording for the album took place over a few years in a several locations but rumor has it that most if not all of the tracks that made it to the CD are from the recently demolished Twenty Mile House. They all sound good. There is, as mentioned, little crowd noise; Essentially just some applause and cheering between tracks. These guys have been doing this a long time. They know how to get things sounding right for their live performances and this recording captures both voices and both guitars cleanly. “Just like the record”, Tim sometimes quips at the end of some familiar song. Acoustic is “just like the club” — without clinking glasses and the noisy couple at the next table.

Acoustic available at Everybody’s Records or a Goshorn performance.

Music Review
solo mono
Dirk Hamilton

solo_mono_cvrI’ve never seen Dirk Hamilton in person with a band. I’ve seen him twice with another guitarist and twice with no one else on stage period. Conversely, I’ve never listened to him without a band. OK, maybe “never” is a stretch but a bold print seldom sure isn’t. I own just about everything Dirk has released and it’s the rare track that doesn’t have at least a few top notch musicians backing him up. That’s not a bad thing. The tunes are served well by the added layers and the folks Dirk chooses to play with always add something to the mix. But listening to solo mono is kind of like a “being there” I can relate to.

Depending on who is counting and how they do it, this could be Dirk’s eighteenth release or maybe “only” his fifteenth or maybe something else. Counting solo studio albums is a lot easier. This is it. Dirk is an excellent performer and a darn good front man but his song writing is what has captured most of his fans. solo mono contains thirteen new songs though they’re not all entirely new to me. The album, released in June of 2012, contains several tunes I’d seen Dirk perform the previous October. I put off ordering solo mono thinking that our paths might cross again in the fall of 2012 and I’d buy it at a show. That didn’t work out so I finally did the mail order thing a few weeks ago and not long after I popped the CD into the player I was struck with “that’s just the way I remember it” thoughts.

As with just about any collection of Dirk Hamilton tunes, the lyrics range from insightful to comical with Hamiltonian wit and romanticism everywhere. At this point I intended to quote examples of wit and insight and the rest but I found myself going around in circles trying to make my selections. Instead, I’m going to cheat big time and just point to the lyrics for the entire album. They’re here. All of Dirks lyrics are on his website; From the “First off let me say that I get sick and I get bored” that opened his first album in 1976 through the “Tommy gun placed on a polka dot gown” that opens this one. I’ve always appreciated the fact that, almost from the moment he and the internet found each other, Dirk has made his lyrics available online. With packageless downloads steadily increasing, that is ever more important and something I wish more artists would do

There is Dirk style social/political commentary — usually oblique and sometimes cryptic — in songs like “Delete Deletions” and “Slow Suicide” and there are genuinely fun songs like “Nobody I Know” and “Jan Jan Janet”. Smack dab in the middle there is a five line splash of silliness in “The Pygmy Forest”. And there are love songs; Several love songs. I don’t like love songs but I like Dirk’s. I don’t know the inspirations behind “She Calls Me Bello”, “Our Sweet Love”, “Unreachable”, and “Kalea” though I’d bet they are real. Dirk’s heart writes quite a few songs for him.

The only instruments on the album are Dirk’s guitar, harmonica, and voice and I confess to having lower expectations because of that. I shouldn’t have because I know, from seeing him live and alone, that many of his tunes work just as well without layers of sound as with. And there is, of course, a certain advantage to having less between ears and lyrics.

It is always a treat to hear new Dirk Hamilton material in any form. I know there will be more stuff with a band (a CD with the Italian boys is already in the works) and I hope there will be more stuff like solo mono.

You can order the CD here or purchase its contents here. You can watch Dirk and Don Evans do a song from the album here and Dirk do a song not from the album (it’s from 1978’s Meet Me at the Crux) at that October, 2011, concert here.

Dickens of a Christmas

Ohio History Center ControversyI missed it. I missed an exhibit I really wanted to see. From April through November, the Ohio Historical Center had a display entitled Controversy: Pieces You Don’t Normally See. Of the five items it contained, the retired electric chair seemed to be the main attraction with a KKK outfit, a thumb mitt, an adult crib, and a nineteenth century condom rounding out the bill. I’m sure I drove by the building more than once while the exhibit was in place but, as we often do, I assumed there would always be another chance. It wasn’t until I visited the Ohio Historical Society’s website to sign up for Dickens of a Christmas that I realized that I’d blown it.

Dickens of a Christmas is an annual festival sort of thing that takes place in the recreated nineteenth century village adjacent to the Historical Center. I registered to attend the first night of Dickens of a Christmas and, even though there was no electric chair or condom to be seen, headed to Columbus in time to visit the Historical Center in the afternoon. That’s how I got the picture of the entrance to the recently closed Controversy exhibit.

The American Soldier Photographic TributeOhio Battle FlagsIn addition to the many worthwhile permanent exhibits, the Center currently has a captivating temporary exhibit called The American Soldier: A Photographic Tribute From The Civil War To Iraq and several of the 434 Civil War battle flags in the museum’s possession are on display. Plus, although it’s a poor substitute for an adult crib from an insane asylum, there was, once upon a time, at least a little controversy associated with the two headed calf.

Saint Nicholas at Dickens of a ChristmasThe Ohio Historical Center is certainly a cool place to spend an afternoon but the title of this entry is “Dickens of a Christmas”. My evening at Ohio Village is covered in a separate Oddment page here. It is only the second Oddment page added since the start of this blog. While there is no precise definition of what qualifies one subject for an oddment page and another for a blog entry, it seems likely that I’ve completely covered a subject in a blog entry that might have appeared as an Oddment in pre-blog days and it is all but certain that some of the existing Oddment pages would have instead been blog entries had the blog existed at the time they were created. I believe one of the things that helps decide Oddment or blog is number of pictures. I haven’t posted a huge amount of pictures from Dickens of a Christmas but there are more, sixteen, than I feel comfortable with in a blog entry. Look them over at the Dickens of a Christmas Oddment page.

I know some who see this will have heard of Kickstarter but I’m guessing not all. It’s a method for funding projects with large numbers of small contributions. Learn more about it at the Kickstarter website. Kickstarter depends a lot on word of mouth. Friends tell friends, usually in an indirect Facebook/Twitter/newsletter sort of way, about projects they like and that, in case you haven’t guessed, is what I’m doing here. I’ve contributed to a couple of projects that I liked and blown off a couple more that didn’t quite click with me. I recently learned of a documentary project that I like and, since you’re reading about it here, there’s a chance you will too.

I heard of the project from Dirk Hamilton. It isn’t Dirk’s project but he is in it. I was inclined to give it a couple of bucks ’cause I like the general subject and, of course, I like Dirk but I was hooked for sure when I read the “Part music documentary and part road trip movie…” line. The documentary is called Folk. Check out its Kickstarter page here.

A Trip to the East

I’m on the road again so this entry will basically be a hook to hang comments on. I saw Dirk Hamilton, the subject of last week’s blog entry, last night though I didn’t arrive in DC on a train as planned. The train was canceled so the outing has turned into a more typical road trip. I got in a little bit of National Road on the way east and plan to go home on US-50. I’m curently in Ocean City. The trip journal is here.

Thug of Love

Thug of Love was Dirk Hamilton‘s fourth and (so far) last major label album and it makes a great title for a blog entry. Thug… wasn’t Dirk’s last album by any means. There have been at least ten more and the count keeps rising. But now, as then, too few people know about Dirk Hamilton and that includes readers of this website. If you know me personally, there’s a good chance you’ve heard me mention his name or play some of his recordings, but if you know me only through this website, you could only have seen his name on my “Favorite Links” page or noticed the single quote or my visit to a venue I associate with Dirk. No Road Trip or Oddment has involved Dirk himself though I guess it would have been technically possible.

Dirk Hamilton, Chris Cella, Bradley Kopp, and Denny GibsonI’ve been a huge fan since hearing Dirk’s first album at a friend’s house around 1977 but I’ve hardly ever seen him. I don’t believe he’s played in Cincinnati to this day. Dirk recalls doing a show in Dayton but that may have been before my conversion or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. In any case, the first time I ever saw Dirk was in December of 2000. That was a decade after his self imposed exile from recording ended and two after his drive to stardom veered off course. It was in San Antonio, Texas. My girlfriend Chris and I had flown into Austin where we would see a second show two nights later. Dirk was accompanied at both of these shows by the excellent guitarist (and just generally nice guy) Bradley Kopp. That’s Dirk, Chris, Bradley, and me in the photo from that first show in San Antonio. I assure you that, despite looking disgustingly uptight in the picture, I was enjoying the hell out of meeting my idol after twenty some years.

So, theoretically, I could have documented that trip on this website. The site existed but contained only that first Route 66 trip and a day trip to Dayton. I’m pretty sure I still thought of it as something temporary.

SEXspringEVERYTHING CDIf I had documented it, a highlight of the trip would certainly have been something that happened at the show in Austin. With Bradley producing, Dirk had just completed recording a new CD. I knew of it and was quite disappointed to learn that it wasn’t yet available and wouldn’t be released until the end of January. Bummer, I thought. Missed it by that much. I’m pretty foggy on whether it was before or after the show or during a break between sets but at some point Dirk sat down beside me and slipped something my way under the table. Holy crap, I thought when I realized it was a copy of the unreleased SEXspringEVERYTHING. The disk had a plain white stick-on paper label and was in a bare-bones clam-shell case. I imagine it was created by Dirk or Bradley earlier that day. We had nothing to play it on until reaching home two nights later. The hour was late but there was no way I could sleep without hearing the entire CD. Of course, Dirk had played several of the new songs live but it was still a thrill to hear the studio versions and there were others that were completely new to us. I tried playing the CD just now after scanning it for the picture but no luck. The ten year old CD-R has simply faded to blank. But it sure was cool to listen to it back in 2000 and it still means a lot to me. It may now be nothing but a mute piece of plastic but it’s a very cool piece of plastic and I’m hanging on to it.

I’ve seen Dirk live once since then. It was less than a year later when I was visiting a friend in Dallas and Dirk was opening for someone at a coffee shop sort of place nearby. I’ve kept my library up to date with the new CDs and a concert DVD and there have been a couple of near misses but that night in Dallas in 2001 was the last time I’ve actually seen Dirk. That’s about to be remedied. Next Saturday I’ll see Dirk perform at a house concert in Jessup, Maryland. I’ll be there as part of a Road (partially railroad) Trip and expect to have a panel or two from the concert as part of the trip report. Somehow that fact seemed to justify making a blog entry out of ten year old events.

The show I’m attending in Jessup is one of a handful Dirk is doing in the eastern US. Friday’s concert at Tupelo Music Hall in New Hampshire was simulcast over the Internet. I watched, of course, and got a screen capture of Dirk and long time sideman Don Evans. I’d love to see Don but he won’t make it to Maryland.

I used phrases like “self imposed exile” and spoke of veering “off course” without elaborating. Bits and pieces of the Saga of Dirk can be found around the web but a very good and recent version is here.