Mike Phelan • Donora Street CD

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A review of my CD from Tom Clancy of the Irish Herald
Mike Phelan
Donora Street

Donora Street Music CB99001

Donora Street is a sweetly crafted, engaging album from local singer-songwriter Mike Phelan. Phelan plays mostly with Marley's Ghost, a party band for the musically-minded who have been playing together for over 15 years. Their 2001 album Live At The Freight is a splendid introduction to their diverse musical passions. The four band members have never seen a genre they could not embrace: reggae, American roots, bluegrass, blues, folk, traditional, gospel and country. Their musical reach makes the term eclectic seem hopelessly inadequate.

Phelan and the band made a pilgrimage back to their Irish and Scottish roots last year and some of those melodic influences can be heard on his new solo album. The title track is a deliciously simple song that quickly pulls you into its orbit.

God Help A Sailor is a big weepy ballad, a song that Van Morrison would be proud to call his own. Thick Soled Shoes is a kind of a wry lament from a man who lacks those Michael Flatley shoes to skip through life. The King is a touching tribute to the late, great Elvis Presley: "If he'd lived a little slower.../ We'd be lovin' that boy yet."

Ellen & Roy is an intricate, smartly Simon-esque song with more percussion than you can shake a stick at and guitar parts to beat the band. Your Town and Maybe She Will get a bright and brassy big band treatment. The first has a killer honky-tonk piano piece from Dave Lebolt and Alex Murzyn plays a fine sax solo on the latter. Food Chain Of Love comes with a funky guitar and brass setting, a humorous metaphor for a disintegrating relationship

The album closes with a five-song solo acoustic set. Phelan has a rich resonant tenor which he uses to great effect on Gonna Rise Again, Should I Be Singing The Blues and the Freddie Powers song I Always Get Lucky With You. Phelan wrote 11 of the 13 songs, including If You Love Someone, a modern Buddy Holly-ish song. This album is one of those treasures which may be completely overlooked by the music "industry" but that's no reason not to rush out and get it for yourself.

Donora Street is available at www.cyberbites.com/mikephelan/
‚‚Tom Clancy
The Irish Herald

Well, I got my solo CD recorded!
Solo isn't a very accurate description since I never would have been able to do it without the generous support, talents, ideas and work of several very bright and talented people.

I wrote 11 of the 13 songs. The selection of styles embodied in these songs are a reflection of most of the styles I love -- from solo acoustic to gospel piano and Hammond organ to full-dress horn band. I think my next project will be a folk record with the old folk songs I learned and performed as a young teenager...man, there is a lot of good music out there!

...But I digress.

Peter Gotcher came up to me a while back and said, "How would you like to make a Mike Phelan CD at my new studio?" ...What could I say but "Yes!"
Peter turned out to be a brilliant and tireless collaborator, as well as a talented engineer , co-producer, drummer/percussionist, guitarist,
... there is no end to Peter's talents and I was and am delighted to be making music with him.

We put a band together with Peter on drums, me on guitar and Rick Walsh on bass. What can I say about Rick Walsh?... the problem is where to stop -- I would need the whole page to chronicle Rick's musical accomplishments, but suffice to say that he is as good a friend as he is a player and is a first-rate, first-call bassist, trombonist arranger and copyist for everybody from Gladys Knight to Natalie Cole. He holds a degree in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music of Boston, but it don't hurt his playing none...

I started writing songs and showing them to Peter and Rick and next thing you know, we needed a piano and organist -- enter Dave Lebolt

Dave toured for years with David Bowie and Billy Joel as a keyboardist, had great stories about working on the road with Zigaboo Modaliste and the bigtime, rock, glitter lifestyle and can flat play *anything*.

It was really fun to bring songs to these guys and hammer out the arrangements with them. I had some old songs I wanted to re-record, but it turned out that every time I scheduled a recording date, I wrote a song or two... I don't understand the process, but I liked the new songs and so we recorded all the new ones and never got around to the old ones ...oh, well!

The graphics and artwork for the CD were done by my dear friend and great talent, Catherine Barry. Catherine is an ex-Dubliner and the Managing Editor of California's oldest Irish Newspaper, The Irish Herald, as well as being a brilliant photographer and stunning beauty. Had she edited this page, it would be correctly spelt and the grammar and clarity much improved, not to mention eliminating run-on sentences...

The Songs
1. Food Chain of Love
A full horn band arrangement over a hard-rocking rhythm section. "I'm sinking down in the food chain of your love". ...says it all.

2. Ellen & Roy
American roots rock meets Paul Simon. Dave Lebolt produced this one and it reflects his amazing grasp of detail and well-crafted parts. Dave designed a buncha cool guitar parts including an African highlife/soukous part I played as a duet with Peter. Peter went crazy with percussion instruments, including the 'googly-moogly', (the tinkly metallic thing you hear back there somewhere), talking drum, ...even playing the hardwood floor with a pair of drumsticks!.

3. "If You Love Someone"
I love to write mega-weeper ballads, and this is one. I put acoustic guitar and Tele against Dave's Fender Rhodes and organ. Grab your Kleenex and turn it up, dude.

4. "Maybe She Will"
Rick wrote a great horn chart, Dave sat down at the piano and Peter got this one popping. When I used to work clubs with a rock band, there was a certain type of young woman, often wearing a brief, tight black skirt and top, who would breeze in, gather all the attention of the room, then dash the hopes of all the guys in the place by blowing back out again to do it all over someplace hip. Baby, this one's for you.

5. "God Help A Sailor"
Dave played both the grand piano and organ with Rick and Peter. I added a Tele through the little Vox 15-watt amp w/vibrato and I have to say I love the feel of this one. This one probably comes from listening to a lot of Van Morrison... Hey, "what's a camel got to fear from a straw...?"

6. "Your Town"
This one is, in a word, urban. Rick wanted Marvin McFadden, the trumpter who led Huey Lewis' band -- I said "OK"... what was I gonna say, "No?" Alex Murzyn plays the sax solo and the tag at the end, which is what I call Alex's 'Lisa Simpson' ending.

7. "The King"
"Somewhere over Missouri, I got the word the King had laid it down..."
I had it in mind to do this one like Nanci Griffith would ...Did I? I dunno. ...but I like it. I played Dobro and guitars against Dave's piano while Peter and Rick kept it all solid. I wrote this one for all our friends who keep shuffling off.

8. "Donora Street"
I wrote this one a few minutes before I left for the studio. I got there, laid down a track with my old 50's Epiphone Zenith and sang it... I kept thinking about adding elements -- and decided not to.

The Solo Acoustic songs
I have a great acoustic guitar made by Rob Girdis of Seattle. Peter suggested I use it and lay down five solo acoustic performances, no overdubs, just record it, warts and all. Good idea -- Here they are...

9. "Brother"
Glenn Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame wrote this for a movie. Peter suggested I cover it -- good tune.

10. "I Always Get Lucky With You" is a beautiful Freddie Powers song that Merle Haggard recorded. It reminds me to wear my heart where it belongs ...on my sleeve.

11. "Gonna Rise Again"
I was listening to "The Band" and their southern-influenced music. Next thing I knew --I'd written this song. The politics of relationship in the war between women and men...

12. "Should I Be Singing The Blues?"
What I wrote while thinking about the swing standards of yesteryear that I sang as a boy. " The stars in the sky, they won't tell me, Silvery moon hasn't spoken one word..."

13. "Thick-Soled Shoes"
I'm kind of amazed by this one, because it wrote itself. I was working away when it quite suddenly came into my head. I hopped up, wrote this old Irish tune and resumed working. When it came time to record it, I had no idea how to play it! Rick Shubb to the rescue! Rick had given me a Shubb Partial Capo he invented, which covers three strings of the guitar, leaving the other three out. I used it so it emulated a DADGAD tuning and the tune played itself.
Thank you Rick!
Players by song • Mike-Vocals
Peter - Recording Engineer, Mixdown
Mark Pappakostas - Mastering Engineer
Produced by Peter & Mike except 2. Ellen & Roy • Recorded w/ProTools 5.1 TDM at Subterranean Studios, Hillsborough CA
1. Food Chain of Love• Mike -Gibson LesPaul through Vox, Tele, Magnatone Lap Steel w/wah-wah , Rick -Bass & Trombone, horn charts & arrangements, Peter-Drums, Dave-Organ, Marvin-Trumpet, Alex-Alto Sax, Gene- Baritone Sax 2. Ellen & RoyProduced by Dave Lebolt Mike - Telecaster through Fender Deluxe all guitar parts except Tele duet w/Peter on soukous/highlife parts,Lap Steel, Peter- Drums & Percussion [hardwood floor/drumsticks, googly-moogly, talking drum, shakers, gan koki], Akil Wemusa- fretless Bass, Dave & Mike harmony background vocals
3. If You Love Someone • Mike-Tele, Peter - Drums, Rick- Bass, Dave- Fender Rhodes, Organ 4. Maybe She Will • Peter- Drums, Rick -Bass & Trombone,horn charts, Dave-Piano, Marvin-Trumpet, Alex - Alto Sax, Gene- Bari Sax
5. God Help A Sailor • Peter- Drums, Rick- Bass, Dave- Piano & organ 6. Your Town • Mike- Tele, Peter- Drums, Rick -Bass& Trombone, horn charts, Dave- organ, Marvin- Trumpet, Alex- Alto Sax (&solos), Gene- Bari Sax 7. The King • Mike- acoustic guitars, Dobro, Peter- Drums, Rick - Bass, Dave- Piano, organ
8. Donora Street • Mike- Epiphone 9. Brother • Mike- Acoustic Girdis guitar w/ Shubb Partial Capo 10. I Always Get Lucky With You • Mike- Acoustic Girdis guitar
12. Should I Be Singing The Blues? • Mike- Acoustic Girdis guitar 13. Thick-Soled Shoes • Mike- Acoustic Girdis guitar w/ Shubb Partial Capo

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