Album Review: Happy Thank You Yes More Please, Shauna Sweeney

[Typist’s Notes: FULL DISCLOSURE — Not only have I known fellow musician Shauna Sweeney for years, she has thanked me on several of her CDs, including this one. The thanks over the years have been for different reasons, but in the case of this album the reason will be explained within this review.]

It’ll be worth something some day: not only is my Shauna Sweeney album signed, it’s also numbered

I hate to say it, but when I started buying albums by local musicians all those years ago, I quickly learned that no matter how good the artist sounded live, getting a well-engineered recording was not a given. But with singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Shauna Sweeney’s latest effort, not only are the sonics on her self-produced album great, she has also achieved a much loftier artistic goal.

Shauna has always been a good songwriter, so no surprise she would deliver a great set of tunes. But these songs are the best representation of a local musician’s personality and philosophy I have ever heard.

That may sound like hype on my part, since I have already disclosed that I know Shauna personally. But while previous albums have had infusions of her sunny optimistic personality, this one seems to capture it perfectly.

This eleven-track album was recorded during the pandemic pause when Shauna’s busy gig schedule came to a screeching halt, but none of the fear, uncertainty and doubt of that period found its way into her songs. Shauna counts her way into “The Flow”, a song designed to encourage listeners stuck “in a rut” to “take a step” towards “a new direction.” The song is initially performed mainly a capella, i.e., with a light dusting of percussion, before evolving into a full-band arrangement. This track literally starts the album off on a high note, as it is one of the best on the album.

“The Flow” is followed by the title track, a quietly upbeat ode to domestic bliss nicely augmented by jazzy guitar riffs played by Ryan Haire. “Next To You” has a similar lyrical theme but is performed with more of an acoustic arrangement. And sandwiched between these two depictions of a happy relationship is “Rock Paper Scissors”, a song that started off life as a spontaneous composition during one of Shauna’s pandemic performances online. Shauna’s ability to improvise a song on the spot really shines through on this track. The opening line “Which will I choose” was literally something Shauna said as she wondered which song to play next, and one of her listeners suggested the children’s game of “Rock Paper Scissors” as a way to decide.

Another track that illustrates Shauna’s ability to write a song in a hurry is “Antartica”, which she both composed and performed while on a cruise to that southernmost continent.

The song “You Are The World To Me” sounds like it was composed to be an audience sing-a-long number for a large-stage concert. This track has a funky ’90s-rock feel to it, with drums by Aston Barrett Jr., son of Bob Marley’s bandleader “Family Man”, and bass by his wife Alaina.

“Bittersweet” is probably the oldest song on this album, as Shauna wrote this at the time of her first EP but the producers of that effort declined to record it then. The composition never made it on to any of Shauna’s subsequent CDs either, as I suspect Shauna felt the song, a look back at a failed relationship, was sadder than it actually is. But I think she knew she had something there, though, as she continued to play it at her gigs, particularly at my request. I always found the song to be compelling, and I lobbied for years for it to be recorded, so if you like this track, you have me to thank, in a sense.

(I have often wondered if the title track is a subconscious sequel to “Bittersweet”, with the lyric “I’ve had my share of bitter, now I’m ready for some sweet” seemingly a nod to the older composition.)

The follow-on track is a solo acoustic number “A Little Bit Better” that, albeit brief, is exceedingly effective at evoking a sense of calm and contentment.

The next song “Here If You Need Me” is a sweet composition directed at her younger brother as he celebrated a milestone birthday; the lyrics are a lovely reflection on sibling love and the passage of time. (By the way, this song is mis-numbered in the track listing of the CD, perhaps one of the few flaws of this album.)

Shauna saves her most experimental track “Yours To Choose (Heya)” for what is essentially the album closer, since the last track is another version of “Next To You”. Shauna gets to indulge her love for percussion on this song, including a singing bowl given to her by her sister as a souvenir from a trip abroad. This track is like a hypnotic tribal chant, with lyrics that convey a simple but positive affirmation of people’s ability to choose what they do.

So how to end a review that started out by saying that the album is great? Perhaps with an exhortation to give this collection of songs a listen. I can promise the experience will not be bittersweet.


Reality Killed The Video Star

The MTV moon man proved to be no match for Puck of The Real World

It’s strange to think that MTV is now forty years old, but it was on August 1, 1981 that this music-oriented cable channel made its debut. Stranger still, though, is that a channel with “Music” as the first word in its title is not playing music videos any more, and hasn’t for years. So what does the ‘M’ stand for these days?

The channel should have probably been renamed RTV a long time ago, given its dependence on reality shows such as The Real World, and, more recently, “Ridiculousness”, which seems to have been inspired by another MTV reality program, the stupid-stunt show “Jackass.” But for all of us for whom MTV was the place to learn about new music in the ’80s, it may be shocking to learn that we thought of as the golden age of that channel was one big money pit. Robert Pittman, founder of MTV, once admitted that the channel never made a dime of profit in the ’80s. During its first decade, MTV was losing $1 million a year, at a time when that was real money.

Presumably, it was just too easy to switch to another station after any given five-minute video, whereas the reality programming the channel adopted in the ’90s could hold viewers for 30-60 minutes, and, more importantly, bring them back the following week to watch the next episode. This is what is known “in the biz” as “appointment viewers”, and those are the kind of viewers that advertisers like. Other than the debut of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, when were video viewers ever that reliable?

But while the economics of the switch to reality tv makes sense, as a music fan, the abandonment of music videos and concert films seemed criminal. Surely MTV could have figured out how to make music pay. Even though videos faded in the late ’80s in terms of being a requirement for breaking new singles, people are still listening to the latest tunes and going to the big concerts, so it seems odd that the MTV execs were unable (or unwilling?) to find a way to monetize music.

What’s even worse is that some of the channels MTV has spun off has also gone through the same music-to-reality transition. VH-1 was once a home for the original MTV viewers; now it only seems to broadcast game shows and reality TV oriented to black viewers. Ironically, the channel Palladia, was once a haven for the kind of concert films MTV would show on a Saturday night. But now that it has been renamed MTV Live, ironically, most of its schedule is now taken up by a segment called “Epic. Awesome. Videos.” which shows music videos that are anything but. So what does the “Live” stand for now?

In general, the channel seems to subscribe the bait-and-switch school of marketing. To echo the words of Johnny Rotten, who surely was an idol for Puck from The Real World San Francisco, “I don’t want my MTV.”

Turn It On Again

M key not pictured, unfortunately

Is this thing still on? After nearly three years of radio silence from me, I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming this blog was defunct. But so much of the activity for this blog was driven by Sunfest, the West Palm music festival for which I would partner with Empress K of Reggae Reflection to cover, and, for one reason or another, that has either been difficult or impossible in the last couple of years. For one thing, 2017 was the last year for which we had photo passes, which enabled us to take so many great pictures to accompany the concert reviews. In 2018, I tried to go back to my old blogger-in-the-crowd style of covering the festival, but I couldn’t help but miss the press access I had in the years prior. 2019 was another pass-less year, and though there were certain aspects of that year I wanted to cover, it just never happened.

2020 was another story, of course. Like pretty much every large-scale event that pandemic year, Sunfest was cancelled. And since the lockdown of Palm Beach County was in full swing at that point, downtown West Palm was a ghost town, anyway. I remember walking by the Meyer Amphiteatre on what would have been Sunfest weekend, and marvelling at how deserted it was given that the festival normally pulls in 100,000 people over the course of four or five days.

And now here we are in 2021, and even though the end appears to be in sight for the global pandemic that has wreaked so much havoc on every aspect of our lives, Sunfest is once again a no-show. But even as large concerts and music festivals continue their Great Pause, the musicians that would normally be gigging have been working on recording projects, so I actually have a backlog of albums to review. And I even have a book to review (a what?)

So if there’s anybody actually reading this, please bear with me as I bring this blog back from the dead. And in the meantime, I offer you one of my favourite Genesis songs for your listening pleasure:

Wait till TwinsTheNewTrend watches this

Now Playing on Type M: The May 2018 Issue

Living Colour
Living Colour

You would be forgiven for not noticing the publication of a new issue of Type M for Music, given the ten-month time lapse since the previous issue. But as you’ve seen on this blog, it’s Sunfest time of year, which means it’s time to get our parent publication back up and running (again).

In additon to previews of Sunfest 2018, this issue also features reviews of the previous year’s edition, given that it’s likely to be the last five-day version of the festival, after more than a quarter-century in that format.  So don’t delay, read the latest issue of Type M today…

Sunfest 2018: More Thoughts

Living Colour founder and lead guitarist Vernon Reid, Tire Kingdom stage, Sunfest, May 3rd, 2018

[Typist’s Notes: My previous preview post on Sunfest 2018 was my first blog entry in a while, so it was nice to see how well-received it was. Thanks! Also, the festival got off to a great start with sterling performances by Living Colour and Billy Idol; more on them in a later concert-review post. Last but not least, WordPress just notified me that this is the 100th post published on this blog.]

I just had a few more acts in this year’s edition of Sunfest I wanted to highlight, so here goes:


Son of a Bitch!

Nate Rateliff
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

If you only know one song by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, it’s “SOB.” After all, who wouldn’t want to walk into a bar and yell out the line “Son of a bitch! Give me a drink!” But if you know two songs by this Colorado group, the second one is probably “You Worry Me”, which might be the song Nathaniel would rather you know him for, given its sober lyrics and compelling groove.


That’s My Number

Like Ringo Starr, no one has seen the eyes of Jamaican music legend Toots Hibbert in years

Celebrated Jamaican reggae artists often play second fiddle to reggae-rock bands with considerably less esteem at American music festivals, and such will be the case this Sunfest Saturday. Toots and the Maytals, a band so essential to reggae it literally named the genre with a 1968 single, will be appearing ahead of SOJA (AKA Soldiers of Jah Army). This reggae outfit from D.C. is decent enough, but its songs lack the household recognition of “Pressure Drop”, “Bam Bam” or “Sweet and Dandy”, to name just a few of Toots Hibbert’s classic compositions.

And certainly no SOJA song comes anywhere close to matching the fame of “54-46 (That’s My Number).” Toots lets you know this is his signature tune by selling caps with his former prisoner number emblazoned on the front as part of his concert merchandise. Catch this world-famous reggae/rock-steady/ska band early Saturday afternoon.


A Good Day for Gangsta Rap

Ice Cube
Ice Cube contemplating the use of his AK?

Late Saturday afternoon will see the Sunfest debut of legendary rapper Ice Cube. Interestingly enough, Cube only got the gig because legendary Miami group KC And The Sunshine Band bowed out after the festival schedule was announced. Hopefully, all of KC’s fans got the memo, otherwise there will be some confused disco fans on Saturday. Catch the former NWA member on the Ford Stage late afternoon.


One More Thing

or several, actually:

  • If you’re an EDM fan, Friday is your night, with DJ Adam Lipson opening the Ford stage, and Zedd closing it.
  • If you’re an alt-rock fan, you have your choice of decades, with Incubus from the 2000s playing on Friday, or ’90s eclectic rocker Cake closing out the music schedule on Sunday prior to the fireworks 
  • If you long for a reunion of the Jonas Brothers, you could simulate a mini-version by watching Nick Jonas on Saturday, then DNCE (fronted by Nick’s brother Joe) the following afternoon.

As Bubba from Forrest Gump would say, “That’s about it, really.” Enjoy your Sunfest…



“Thoughts” on Sunfest 2018

The main gate for the Sunfest Music & Art Festival, at the end of Clematis Street

[Typist’s Notes: The reason for the quotation marks in the title will soon become apparent]

This will be the first year in a while that I won’t have press passes for Sunfest, but my press partner Empress K of Reggae Reflection tells me that she will re-post any of my blog posts on the music & art festival, so here’s a quick preview of what to expect this year from West Palm’s biggest event:

Four is Less Than Five

Sunfest Office, Clematis Street, West Palm Beach

What does basic arithmetic have to do with Sunfest? This year’s edition will be four days instead of five, for the first time in at least twenty-five years. But the number of bands (fifty) will still be the same, because all three stages will be up and running all four days. So no harm, no foul, right? Depends on how diverse your musical tastes are. Every year I run into what I call the Sunfest Dilemma: what to do when two bands I like are playing at the same time. For the first two days of the five-day version of the festival, this problem was always less pronounced, because the two stages in operation those days (i.e. the northern and middle stages, currently sponsored by Ford and Tire Kingdom) were not that far apart. But the southernmost stage (sponsored by JetBlue) is a good mile from the northernmost stage. Trust me, I’ve done this walk, usually at an almost jogging pace. This year, I imagine I’ll be doing it more often.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

IMG_20180502_1546124.jpgGiven the longevity of Sunfest (this is its 36th year) and certain groups’ affinity for the festival circuit, it should come as no surprise that this year’s line-up includes a healthy dose of repeat performers. Artistes like Third Eye Blind and Pitbull are appearing for the second time; 311 and SOJA, for the third time. If you love these performers, or missed their previous appearances, this is good news. But if you don’t care for these particular groups, or are tired of seeing them, then at least you won’t be faced with the Sunfest Dilemma.


With A Rebel Yell, More, More, More!”

IMG_20180502_1546049.jpgOne of the performers that I’m happy is returning is punk/New-Wave legend Billy Idol, one of the headliners for the festival’s new opening night on Thursday. I was living in Orlando when the Sneering One last played Sunfest in 2005, but I remember reading a funny story in the Palm Beach Post about his time here. Apparently Billy happened to meet former Lake Worth mayor Tom Ramiccio, who offered him the Key to the City. Billy was happy to receive the honour, but his manager was less than impressed that Ramiccio was technically no longer in the position to give one out. So as Ramiccio bestowed the honour upon Billy at the front of a ballroom in the now-shuttered Gulfstream Hotel, his manager stood in the back of the room muttering loudly, “He isn’t even the bloody Mayor!” Perhaps Mayor Jeri Muio of West Palm Beach can come up with a more official Key for the former Generation X frontman; his manager would probably like that a lot.

Still Fierce After All These Years

Living Colour
Pop/Rock Band Living Color, ironically less colourful than in its late-’80s heyday

Anyone hearing Living Colour’s first and biggest single “Cult of Personality” on the radio in 1989 could be forgiven for assuming the head-banging hit was recorded by a white hard-rock outfit. But these black rockers were exemplified by the lyric from “Glamour Boys”, another one of their hits: “I’m fierce!” Come rock out to guitarist Vernon Reid’s power chords early Thursday evening.


“Think” Local

Former Jumbo Shrimp frontman Benny Rothschild returns to Sunfest with his new group Thoughts

Let’s face it: the local-music component of Sunfest is less than it used to be. The years of plentiful opening spots filled with top local bands have given way to an era of much fewer slots, one of which is filled by the winner of a Battle of the Bands contest. But against all odds, a few worthy outfits have managed to get on to the schedule, including a couple offshoots of previous Sunfest performer Jumbo Shrimp, Inc. The two principal songwriters for that band, front-man Benny Rothschild and bassist Angel Leiser, have joined forces with drummer Roman Conde to form a new band called Thoughts, which was the name of Jumbo Shrimp’s second album. Benny and Angel’s new band are the first act on the JetBlue stage Saturday afternoon; ironically, the other ex-members of Jumbo Shrimp play later that day on the Tire Kingdom under their new band name Night Box.


I have more thoughts on Sunfest, but this is enough to get you started. Stay tuned…



Sunfest 2017: Ziggy Marley

Ziggy Marley with Rhythm Section
Ziggy Marley flanked by his rhythm section, drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis and bassist Pablo Stennett

[Typist’s Notes: The calendar may have turned over to 2018, but I still want to get out the remaining reviews of concerts from Sunfest 2017, given that it is likely to be the last five-day version of this festival, since the organizing committee has already announced that the 2018 edition will start on a Thursday instead of Wednesday.]

The oldest son of reggae legend Bob Marley has played Sunfest before (in 2011) but this time his appearance comes just months after winning his seventh Reggae Grammy, for his 2016 self-titled album.

An artist with fewer releases would probably have built his performance around the award-winning album. But Ziggy’s set-list drew from all phases of his career, including the  song “Justice” which appeared on the album “One Bright Day”made when Ziggy still recorded with his siblings in their group The Melody Makers.


This rendition of “Justice” included snippets of the Bob Marley & The Wailers songs “Get Up, Stand Up” and “War”, no doubt to complement the lyrical theme of Ziggy’s composition. Indeed, the anti-racist sentiment of “War” was greeted by loud cheers. Ziggy’s dad was also represented by covers of “Stir It Up” and “Positive Vibrations”, and also referenced in a call-and-response chant in “Reggae In My Head” (“What you say you got?” “Reggae in my head!)

Tracks from Ziggy’s latest Grammy-winning album didn’t appear till late in the set, the first being “Butterflies.” Also, the final song of the set was “We Are The People”, and the vacation-themed “Weekend’s Long” was one of two songs in the encore, the other being “True To Myself” from 2003’s Dragonfly.


Other highlights of an excellent set were “Beach In Hawaii” and “Love Is My Religion”, with a slow acoustic ending. Another well-received Sunfest performance by the oldest of the Marley brothers.


Ziggy Marley II
Editing by Empress K of ReggaeReflection


Sunfest 2017: Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Ben Harper, with bassist Juan Nelson in the background

In the same way that Florida’s nickname “The Sunshine State” belies its six-month rainy season, so does Sunfest’s name paper over the fact that usually one of the festival’s five days is marred somewhat by bad weather. For the 2017 edition, that seemed to be  Day 2. Right as these headliners were scheduled to take the stage, an angry thunderstorm marched northward, looking as if a torrential downpour was imminent. So the festival management decided to push the start time back by 30 minutes to see if that would save everyone from a soaking.

But the weather of the Florida coast has a habit of being unpredictable, and what seemed destined to be a waterlogged evening turned out to have only a few sprinkles, as all the dark clouds had blown over by time the Californian sextet took to the stage.

Drummer Oliver Charles

The definition of the word “eclectic” could be illustrated by a picture of singer/songwriter Harper, as evidenced by the set-list for this show. The performance began with a reggae tune “Finding Our Way”, followed by “How Dark Is Gone”,  a song driven by a conga rhythm played by percussionist Leon Mobley with drummer Oliver Charles joining in.

This was followed by “Welcome to the Cruel World”, a blues ballad that Ben performed on a lap-steel guitar, and “Fight for Your Mind”, a funky tune where Ben played his lap-steel through a wah-wah pedal.

Ben’s best-known material was well represented in this set, including “Diamonds on the Inside”, a ballad from the 2003 album of the same name. The gently up-tempo “Steal My Kisses”, from 1999’s Burn To Shine, featured an a capella sing-along and a bass vocal, appropriately enough, from bass player Juan Nelson. Not surprisingly, “Burn One Down”, an ode to ganja smoking, got a big cheer from the audience.

Bassist Juan Nelson

The best showcase of the band’s instrumental abilities was an extended rendition of “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)”, featuring a series of solos by lead guitarist Jason Mozersky, keyboardist Jason Yates on a Hammond B3 organ, and finally by Ben on his lap-steel/wah-wah combo.

Keyboardist Jason Yates, with drummer Oliver Charles in the background

After concluding the set with the reggae tune “With My Own Two Hands”, Ben made a point of thanking by name everyone who worked in support of his show — engineers, roadies, even caterers. In all my years of going to concerts, it was easily the classiest thing I’ve ever witnessed, and a suitable post-script to a great performance.


Now Playing on Type M: The July 2017 Issue

Christine & Aidan at the Library
I Read All Your Books: Christine and Aidan of the acoustic duo Friction Farm

In case you thought the revival of our parent publication Type M for Music was a one-time thing, here’s a new issue that includes the complete Friction Farm interview that was previously published on this blog, and the Day 1 review of Sunfest 2017.

This issue also includes my thoughts on why interviews are a boon to the social life of a journalist, the importance of having an outlet for your writing voice, and what local venue doesn’t have its act together when it comes to selling tickets on the day of the show. Not to mention a brief article about the two North American independence days that includes an explanation of the phrase “2-4 weekend.” So don’t delay, read the latest issue of Type M today…

The Giving Type

Ginny Meredith -- PB Post
Violinist Ginny Meredith, founder of the music charity Inspirit

“There’s always something… that happens that makes me feel like we’re doing the right thing here; spreading the joy” — Ginny Meredith

The Thursday edition of The Palm Beach Post always includes a supplement called the Neighbourhood Post, containing stories and features for a given part of the county. One regular feature is Meet Your Neighbour, a column which highlights some remarkable individual living in the area. Today, I was pleasantly surprised to see this week’s Neighbour is my friend and fellow musician, Ginny Meredith. In 2000, Ginny founded the non-profit organization Inspirit, a charity devoted to bringing live music to venues where it normally would not be. For the last seventeen years, Inspirit has paid musicians to play in places such as hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers all over Palm Beach County.

Inspirit’s slogan is “We believe in the healing power of music”, something which stems from Ginny’s personal experience. In 1998, while Ginny was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, she found that the only thing that helped her get through the situation was listening to music on her Walkman.

Two years later, Ginny went on a ski trip to  Utah, where she used to live with a  roommate named Janna Jenson. Janna had founded a non-profit  in Salt Lake City called Heart and Soul, to provide live music free of charge to institutions such as senior centers and rehab units. Thinking back to how helpful music had been to get her through chemo, Ginny “put two and two together.” Upon her return to Palm Beach, she did some research to see if any such organizations existed in this county. “We researched 50 facilities; we just sent out a mass fax questionaire to… different type[s], like rehab centers and shelters, and asked them, would they find a service like this valuable, and we got an overwhelming response… Just about everybody either faxed us or called us and said, ‘Yes, we would love that! Call us next week!’ ”

Renee and Noam
Inspirit performance coordinator Renee Anchondo-Solis (left) and Inspirit board member Amanda Yorke (center) accompany Inspirit performer Noam Brown (right) at a recent Easter Seals event.

Read the Palm Beach Post profile on Ginny here, and for more information on Ginny’s organization, please visit the Inspirit website

p.s. I joined the Inspirit board earlier this year and I am currently planning a concert to benefit Ginny’s organization as a way to commemorate a milestone birthday in September. Stay tuned for further details, but for the time being, remember the name Five For Fifty