Franny McCartney’s business card kind of summarizes who she is. She’s shown as a little girl, sitting on a small stool, looking totally content. She has a sweet, impish expression on her face, as though she could be thinking of something special. Her life would take interesting turns. I remember seeing McCartney performing at the Amphitheatre at Universal Studios. The star was Bette Midler, accompanied by a full band and the back-up singers, The Harlettes. They sang, frolicked about the stage, the best they could with mermaid costumes. It was a funny, totally entertaining show, which the audience loved.
McCartney traveled all over the world with Midler to spread the word, get the crowds pumped up, cheering and applauding Midler’s unique talent. McCartney sang, clowned around and traveled wherever fans wanted to hear and see Midler. McCartney recalls long trips with stops along the way until finally arriving in Australia. She has also worked with Bob Dylan, Tanya Tucker, Gene Simmons, and Barbra Streisand. Boy could she write a fascinating memoir!
Today the former Harlette is still singing at local neighborhood celebrations, with church groups and at regular gigs at Viva Cantina in Burbank. She currently sings with the Randy Van Horne Singers, who were famous for all the theme songs they recorded for TV shows such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons and many others. She’s comfortable with her life in a suburb of L.A. As long as she can sing she’s A-OK. She likes being part of a small community, attending meetings to discuss common issues. Her enthusiastic response and sense of humor make her an ideal participant.
Recently I heard McCartney sing with the Woody James Big Band at Viva Cantina for a lunchtime crowd. It was a very hot day and sitting in the backroom at the venue seemed like a smart thing to do. The big band took off with “How High The Moon” for a very cohesive, fast start. The audience was so ready for the band on this hot, muggy day. “Willow Weep For Me” began at a slow, sultry pace by the band. The enthusiastic crowd cheered as the band worked toward the conclusion. The crowd loved the band’s rendition. “Soul Eyes” was a slow, romantic tune that the band finessed to a big finish.
McCartney returned to sing “Taking A Chance On Love” with her big voice. “It Had To Be You” was sweet, swinging with great energy. The band was very supportive. McCartney’s voice was strong to the end. McCartney introduced a Betty Hutton tune, “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in A Hurry.” It was typically McCartney, totally funny. McCartney “sells” every tune with an easy, relaxed style.
The band ended the set with “Basically Basie” which had an infectious beat. This was a tune to dance to at a fast clip. The only female in the band, Laurie Friedman played a baritone sax solo that was terrific. During the second set Dave Burges sang “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me” “Close Your Eyes” and “Ain’t No Use.” with a forceful voice and crisp enunciation.
Franny McCartney is a very entertaining singer and she raises the energy in the room as she banters with band members and laughs at herself. Beneath all the hilarity is a singer who is very respectful of the material, always. She has fun so the audience does too. I left Viva is a very upbeat mood.
The Big Band was especially good on this afternoon and included: Bob Crosby, Dave Weston, Steve Carr, Ted Carnely, Laurie Friedman-saxophones; Paul Litteral, Bobby Mustal, Kendall Wallace-trumpets; Jack Redmond, Brooks West, Sandy Collins, Joe Dvorak-trombones; Rick Hils -piano/keyboard, Jeff Takaguchi- piano/keyboard and Chris Ross-drums.
Viva Cantina is located at the entrance to the Equestrian Center in Burbank with plenty of free parking across the street at the Pickwick bowling alley. Viva Cantina is under new management and the rooms have been repainted a bright red. It looks very festive and fresh now. The Mexican menu is the same and it’s very good . Service is good and of course, the full bar makes delicious margaritas.
Viva Cantina is located at 900 West Riverside Dr. Burbank 91506 For info/reservations call
(818) 645-2425. Another plus, there’s usually never a cover charge.
P.S. Actor/singer Bill A. Jones informed us that music can be heard at Las Hadas Restaurant in Northridge most Tuesdays at 10:30am. They will be holding a fund raiser for the Suicide Prevention Group in September.
One of the new breed in this post-Kurt Rosenwinkel/Brad Mehldau age, Tucson native Tim Rachbach takes his cues from such kindred spirits on the scene as Aaron Parks, Ben Van Gelder and the Brian Blade Fellowship on Under One Moon, his ambitious debut as a leader (Rachbach Records, July 27, 2018 release).
A May 2017 graduate from the Manhattan School of Music, the 23-year-old drummer-composer has recently relocated to Los Angeles after five years in the Big Apple. With the release of Under One Moon, Rachbach is now poised to make his impression on the West Coast and the international jazz scene at large.
Many of the tunes on his debut, explains the budding composer, began as assignments in pianist Gary Dial’s class at the Manhattan School of Music. “They’re based on some kind of particular harmonic devices that we talked about in class,” says Rachbach. “One piece incorporates a Neapolitan sixth chord, another one was an assignment on chord inversions. But beyond that, I wanted to write music that meant something to me, so I spent some time with it and hopefully came up with something good.”
With his former MSM combo bandmate Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Seattle native Xavier Del Castillo on tenor sax, Weinheim native Manuel Schmiedel on piano and Montreal native Rick Rosato on bass, Rachbach demonstrates a rhythmically assured touch and a refined harmonic sensibility on his seven compelling originals while also turning in a faithful, swinging cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Toy Tune” (from his 1965 Blue Note recording Etcetera, a Rachbach favorite).
Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Rachbach was a classical guitar student before switching to drums. “I took guitar lessons for three years and then I just wanted to play rock — Led Zeppelin, The Who, R.E.M. and stuff like that. So then I took electric guitar lessons for a year, and right around that time I got interested in the drums. And the drums kind of took over.”
Jazz came into the picture through the influence of his older piano playing brother Ben, who was enrolled at the highly regarded Tucson Jazz Institute. “I remember listening to jazz records with him right before I entered middle school,” he recalls. “He turned me on to the classic stuff like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. At the time, I liked it and knew that there was a lot there that I needed to really dig into, but actually the first people that I heard and really connected with were Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel. They really inspired me because they were taking kind of the rock approach, where it’s more about the song and the composition. And I was really drawn to that, I guess, because of my own rock roots with R.E.M. and Led Zeppelin. And I also remember listening to and being inspired by Aaron Parks’ Invisible Cinema when it came out (in 2008).”
Shortly thereafter, Rachbach enrolled at the Tucson Jazz Institute, under the direction of Brice Winston, Scott Black, and Doug Tidaback. The big band would go on to win the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition in 2010 and 2012 as well as the Monterey Jazz Festival Next Gen Competition. His combo also won the Downbeat Award for outstanding high school honors small jazz ensemble. In 2011, Rachbach had the opportunity to tour Europe and perform in prestigious jazz festivals in Italy, France and Spain with the TJI ensemble. In 2013, he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with drummer John Riley. From 2014-2016, he played in the MSM Indian ensemble under tabla virtuoso Samir Chatterjee, from whom he also took private lessons. He also studied privately with drummer Kendrick Scott. Additionally, as the drummer for the New York Youth Symphony (NYYS) Jazz Band from 2014-2016, Rachbach had the opportunity to perform with acclaimed guest artists such as Lew Tabakin, Luis Bonilla, Jane Monheit and Robin Eubanks at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. In March 2016, he toured and performed with NYYS in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which piqued his interest in Brazilian percussion and prompted him to join the Brazilian combo at MSM under the direction of Rogerio Boccato.
Under One Moon, which comes one year after earning a Bachelor of Music in Jazz from MSM, is Rachbach’s first fully-realized statement as player-composer-bandleader. As he relocates now from East Coast to West Coast, this stellar release becomes an impressive calling card for this talent deserving of wider recognition.
On the thoughtful opener, “Ancient Thread,” saxophonist Del Castillo delivers a bold tenor solo while Rachbach colors the groove, offering rapid fills beneath Schmiedel’s cascading piano comping. “That’s actually the oldest song on the record,” he explains. “I wrote that in my sophmore year at MSM. I started with the harmony on that one. It’s just a bunch of chord changes that I liked and blended together. It used to be called ‘Unsure’ because it has this unsettled quality to it while also being meditative.”
“The Feels” opens as a vehicle for some bright melodic playing from acclaimed trumpeter O’Farrill. “I haven’t played with anyone who has his kind of range and is able to just execute ideas on the full range of his horn,” says Rachbach of his gifted trumpeter, the son of Grammy award-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill and classical pianist Alison Deane and the grandson of the legendary Afro-Cuban jazz composer Chico O’Farrill. Bassist Rosato turns in a potent solo and Rachbach is highlighted on a polyrhythmic flurry around the kit midway through this anthemic number. “That song has a very specific inspiration,” he explains. “It’s this song called ‘REL’ by Peter Schlamb, the vibraphonist in Ben Van Gelder’s group. It appeared on their album Reprise. I think more younger guys today are writing in that kind of anthemic vein — short pieces that have very strong statements. I was drawn to that and particularly drummer Craig Weinrib’s beat on that song, which was very inspiring to me. It ended up being a meditative drum feature with the sound of Juno washing over everything.”
“Living Noire” is a dark minor key number that features beautiful harmonies on the front line. Says Rachbach, “There’s a ballad-y, love kind of feeling to this song but it also has this kind of almost LA film noir quality to it where it’s black and white and it’s raining and people are in wide brimmed hats like detectives. It also has a meditative quality to it in the harmonic riff that starts off the song. You could almost say it’s the lone ballad on the album, but it does kind of ramp up in energy and goes some different places. It really focuses more on the mood but at the same time it gives you that feeling of a trip.”
Rachbach says his contemplative title track was directly inspired by the Brian Blade Fellowship Band, a band he regards as one of the most inspiring on the scene today. “I remember very clearly playing the chords at the coda section and feeling that it definitely had a kind of Perceptual vibe to it. And I knew that I wanted Adam to solo over those chords and have them be very strong. The rest of it kind of wrote itself. The melody is something that came to me and I just started singing.”
The atmospheric, slow-grooving “Juno” takes its name from the Juno-60 synthesizer, which Schmiedel uses to create intriguing layers alongside his piano. This simple, hypnotic vamp serves as a solid blowing vehicle for both Del Castillo and O’Farrill. “I kind of let Adam and Xavier just freely improvise on this tune,” says Rachbach, “and I’m delighted with what they came up with. I wrote that very quickly. I had a Juno-60 synth for about a week and was toying around with some sounds. And I remember hanging with Kurt Rosenwinkel at Small’s and being inspired to write that song the next day.”
The energized “Fragile Past,” a driving number fueled by Rosato’s insistent bass groove and Rachbach’s percolating undercurrent, features some tight Jazz Messengers-styled harmony lines on the head. Del Castillo delivers a potent tenor solo here while Rachbach unleashes on the kit near the end of this exhilarating romp. “That one used to be called ‘Runners,’” explains the composer. “It was inspired by this video game, a first-person Parkour game which has images of people running on rooftops with messenger bags. It has this kind of trip quality for me, almost where I’m questioning my past and considering how our actions in the past affect what happens in the future.”
“Toy Tune” is a mellow midtempo swinger fueled by Rachbach’s spang-a-lang pulse on the ride and Rosato’s deep-toned walking groove. Trumpeter O’Farrill sparks the piece with a brilliant solo before the whole band lays out to allow Rachbach to shine with a formidable solo on this Shorter classic.
The collection closes with the suite-like “Loch Monster,” which opens on a contemplative note and segues to an anthemic middle section with some bold tenor playing before returning to the calming theme. “This one has a triptych kind of feel,” says the composer. “Again, I like songs that take you on a trip like that and I tried to have that quality here. That song also has a specific inspiration, which is a song called ‘Wise Old Man’ off of Ben Van Gelder’s first record, Frame of Reference. It’s like a waltz, but not a swing waltz or traditional waltz but that kind of Debussy impressionistic piano vibe. I added that B section as another solo section. And the melody really seemed to fall into place on that one, like it just kind of wrote itself.”
With Under One Moon now under his belt, Rachbach looks forward to creating new tunes and new momentum in the future. “I’m very happy with the way this one came out,” he says. “But I’ll just keep chipping away and developing things further. I’ll no doubt be a different person in five years than I am now. But this album represents where I’m at now. And it also sort of represents New York to me…just being in New York and going to school there and trying to take on all the influences from living there and from playing with the people I played with. So it also represents that NYC phase for me.”
Stay tuned for his LA phase. www.TimRachbach.com
The new album features breathtakingly new reinterpretations of songs by the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Soundgarden, Justin Timberlake and more
Firebrand singer-songwriter and pianist Judith Owen has always imbued her original songs with keen intelligence, acerbic wit and bracing poignancy. On her wonderfully engaging new album, redisCOVERed, released on May 25th on Twanky Records, the Welsh-born musician sets out on a different kind of artistic journey, channeling her wildly idiosyncratic and prodigious skills on a remarkably diverse set of cover tunes, and in the process she leaves her own individual identity on each one.
“Over the years, so many people, whether it be [film producer] Nick Wechsler or audience members who hear the covers I’ve done, have always had the question, ‘Why don’t you make a collection of these things because they’re so unique and unusual?’” Owen says. “And I had to really ask myself why I do these covers and why they bring me so much pleasure.”
The answers are found throughout redisCOVERed. Owen’s choice of material – a pop chestnut from Grease (“Summer Nights”), modern chart hits (Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”), classic rock staples (the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), and ‘70s dance floor evergreens (Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”) – exemplifies the spirit of a relentlessly daring and inquisitive artist, one who also, it just so happens, has a pretty mega record collection.
But covering songs means little if you’re not breathing new life into them, and as Owen puts it, “I don’t do karaoke. I don’t perform or sing music unless it means something to me. I knew I had to make these songs matter to me, to have my truth in them.”
Sometimes connections came naturally, as was the case with a pair of Joni Mitchell gems, “Cherokee Louise” and “Ladies’ Man.” Owen was especially struck by a line in the latter song: “Why do you keep trying to make a man out of me?” “I really relate to that because when I met Joni, I realized I knew exactly what she was talking about,” she says. “She is someone who is one of the guys. She does not lead with her sexuality. She leads with her musicianship and her abilities…. She nailed it in that one line and it really touched me.”
Owen had a similar response to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and her mission was to pay tribute to the late Chris Cornell and the message she found within the song. “When I heard it, I thought, ‘This is the best song about depression and being in the darkness that I’ve ever heard,’” she observes. But rather than try to out-grunge a grunge anthem, Owen went a different route, bringing out what she calls a “pompous kind of perkiness to it – which is how I feel when I have my game face on. Like most people who struggle with the ‘black dog,’ they have their daytime face that they go out with so you won’t see what’s going on inside. I liked the idea of doing this almost skipping, ‘Take Five’ version of it, which belies the words.”
Her biggest test on redisCOVERed, however, came from a request she made to her husband, actor Harry Shearer, to “choose the more extreme thing, something contemporary that you would think I couldn’t relate to.” The result is a fully immersive torch song rendering of Drake’s hip-hop jam “Hotline Bling.” Owen clicked with the lyrics immediately because “I’ve been in that place where I was constantly waiting for the phone call that would come from the guy who would call me only when there was no one better to be around. That’s absolutely a woman’s song if ever there was one.”
Aiding Owen on this musical odyssey is Grammy-winning producer/engineer/mixer David Bianco (Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Meghan Trainor), who collaborated with her on the albums Somebody’s Child and Ebb & Flow, as well as two key members of her live band, the legendary bassist Leland Sklar (James Taylor, Carole King) and master percussionist Pedro Segundo.
There are also contributions from such noted players as Paul Beard (Bryan Ferry, James Blunt), George Shelby (Phil Collins, Bette Midler), Snarky Puppy member Michael ‘Maz’ Maher, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton, along with Owen’s dazzling London string players: longtime cellist and collaborator Gabriella Swallow, and violinist Lizzie Ball (Nigel Kennedy, Jeff Beck).
Owen’s adventurous re-interpretations of the dozen tracks on RedisCOVERed are as cathartic as they are entertaining, and they reveal as much about her own artistry as they do the original writers. “This is the thing about music,” she stresses. “We always get a different read from the same song. A song means so many different things to different people, and they’re all true. It’s what it means to you that matters.”
Whether as a headliner or as the handpicked opening act for such as Bryan Ferry’s recent tours of Europe and North America, Owen’s live performances have been wowing listeners and gaining fans like fellow artist Jackson Browne, who said of her onstage prowess: “It’s a masterclass on how a show should be done.”
Judith Owen’s RedisCOVERed is available on all formats on her own Twanky Records. For more information, please visit: http://www.judithowen.net/