REVIEW: Bill Bentley on `The Essential Yo Ma Ma’ by Stephen Kalinich & Jon Tiven

Stephen Kalinich and Jon Tiven, The Essential Yo Ma Ma.


Cosmic funk? Celestial grit? Call it anything that fits, but the music that Stephen Kalinich and Jon Tiven have been making for several years really has few antecedents. Kalinich carved out his own niche with spoken word performances over the past half-century, along with writing songs for The Beach Boys and others. Jon Tiven has been the designated hitter in various bands and recording sessions long enough to have his own category. But when the two get together something unique happens. The words stay up in the air, but there is a tether to the ground, while the guitar and musical underpinnings get a little cosmic. It really is a wonder that needs to be heard to be understood, and this collection of some of the men’s past work is the perfect place to start.

While the lyrics move to inspire and the playing packs the punch, a new groove gets created. Guest guitarists Steve Cropper and Brian May throw in extra fireworks that light things up, while the rhythm section of Sally Tiven (bass) and Cody Dickinson (drums, along with guest hitters Steve Ferrone, Chester Thompson, Darrell Peyton and Jon Tiven) give the songs the kick of, well, the Rolling Stones. Really.

All of the selections are from past releases, except for the brilliant new “Life is Just a Kiss,” and “Mabel,” an update of an early Dennis Wilson/Stephen Kalinich original from the 1970s that Jon Tiven has helped finish. There really isn’t anything quite like Yo Ma Ma, which makes this collection as timeless as it is tremendous. And absolutely unique.

Bill Bentley has long been one of songwriting’s greatest champions. A Houston native, he’s the author of `Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen.’ He got his writing start at the Austin Sun in the mid-70s, before going on to become the music editor for the L.A. Weekly, a publicist at Slash Records, and at Warners Bros during their greatest era. He’s championed many of the finest musicians of our time: Lou Reed, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, The Blasters, Green Day, X, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M., Doug Sahm, ZZ Top, Wilco, Neil Young and more. He’s also produced wonderful tribute albums for many, including Lou Reed, Roky Erickson, Skip Spence, and Sir Doug Sahm. He got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it.

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