1) Sacred Ground by California Transit Authority (CTA)
In 1969, the band we now know as Chicago rocked the music world. Initially called Chicago Transit Authority, the band debuted its album by the same name before the City of Chicago’s transit company took legal action and the band renamed itself Chicago. Their specialty of fusing blues, jazz and rock was truly innovative. But as the years went by, the band went for more of a pop sound and, frankly, lost some of its distinctive and energized high-octane mix produced on their debut album.
Original drummer Danny Seraphine decided to put a band together called California Transit Authority and get back to that jazz/rock genre. He recruited accomplished guitarist/composer and former Walnut Creek resident, Marc Bonilla, whose co-producing and co-writing are front-and-center throughout the project. Not sure how Marc finds the time as he also works on the hit show Justified, tours and records with Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake and Palmer), and also records his own material. Marc was also featured a few years ago on the very first Come Together show in Pleasant Hill. CTA is built on Seraphine’s beloved music heritage of blazing brass, taut funk, searing guitars, and adventurous musicianship.
Danny and Marc’s second album, Sacred Ground, has all new original material and is everything they could have hoped for. The vocals are shared by Marc, Larry Braggs (Tower of Power), and Will Champlin (son of legendary Bill Champlin of Sons of Champlin fame and Chicago singer for many years). Bill even shows up and delivers a knock out performance on the song “Full Circle.” Highlights are the title tune “Sacred Ground,” “I’ll Love You More Than You Ever Know” and Bonilla’s “Staring at the Sun.” Get this one now!
2) Gold Rush Goddess by Melody Walker
Former Alhambra High School graduate Melody Walker, along with partner Jacob Groopman, describes their music as “Americali,” Americana music with a California twist. It’s a perfect description of their music, which touches on bluegrass, folk, jazz and pop. This CD is a perfect blend of all those genres. Melody’s vocals are spot on and draw you in as she fills every word with drama and passion.
Some of the highlights are “Gotta Write Love Songs,” an infectious little pure pop tune; “Stars Align,” a tune written by her father Brian Walker, another great local Martinez resident; and “Family Band,” a song which is like a great little bluegrass anthem and will have you singing at the top of your lungs in your car. My favorite song, though, is a remake of the Blondie song “Dreaming.” She slows it down to a great folk song.
3) Tender Mercies by Tender Mercies
Tender Mercies is the side project of two members of the Counting Crows, guitarist Dan Vickery and local Walnut Creek resident and drummer Jim Bogios. The band actually goes back many years, when Dan met singer-songwriter Patrick Winningham at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. The band’s debut album was released last year with rave reviews and is a throw back to the Neil Young Harvest period of the West Coast country-rock scene. But that’s not to say this album is a retread, quite the opposite. It is an uplifting modern alternative country album. I would say this album has a very laid back, honest feel to it and its sparse instrumentation brings out the great songwriting. Some of these songs have even ended up being a part of the Counting Crows set list.
Some of the highlights are: “Four White Stallions,” “Mercy,” “Angeline” and “Ball and Chain,” but overall, this album is great from start to finish. This would be a great road trip CD!
Look for these albums at your local music store or you can download them at iTunes and other online services.
Quote of the month: “It's a smile, it's a kiss, it's a sip of wine ... it's summertime!” ― Kenny Chesney