These are the CDs that have been reviewed at my Jersey Beat: Quiet Corner column, at JerseyBeat.com/quietcorner.html.
Due to computer issues, I had lost a bunch of reviews I had written to be published here. If you sent me a CD and it still has not been reviewed, please let me know!
Talk about international: PAT ALLEN and ANDY BUCKLE are two British musicians teaching grade school in Connecticut, who have recorded this CD, Through the Same Eyes (kef4kids.org), to help build a school in Africa (Kilimanjaro, to be precise). While the collection is all over the map, from solid rock to children’s songs (think Wiggles) to ballads, to Hall & Oats-ish soft rock, to singer-songwriter, it comes together as a cohesive effort, thanks to the blending of both their mellow voices to the central themes of encouragement, empowerment, and positivism. Now, I know that this all sounds kind of preachy and has a high possibility of a yecch factor, but yes, they do pull it off, and quite well. As for the charity aspect, hey, we did the Rock Again Racism, Rock Against Reagan, and Hands Across Your Face, so why not help these kids in Africa? I don’t know if we are the world, or if they know it’s Christmas time, but I do know that this is a solid piece of work worth listening to on its own. It’s a bit steep at $25, but think where it’s going.
This seems to be the year of all ABBA-all the time. To add to the pile is Australian band AUDIOSCAM, who have produced their own interpretation on their CD Abbattack (australiansunrecords.com). All the hits that are in the movie, on the radio, coming out of storefronts, etc., are here. But what makes this different is that it is done in a poppy hair metal milieu. Yep, guitar solos, and all. It’s kinda interesting in its own twisted way, and would be more so if I was a fan of the Swedish acronym. One song that actually comes across especially well here is “S.O.S.,” on which they put just the right sheen. “Momma Mia” seems as if Queen arranged it, so I guess that works as well. Problem is, I was sick of these songs by 1985, so it was a tough listen at times, not because of Audioscam, who do a fine job, but because, well, as I said, all ABBA-all the time. Wonder if they’ll do a similar-yet-more-fun (to me) band next time, and cover The Seekers: “It’s a long, long journey, so stay by my side…”
For those who don’t know, KEVIN AYERS is a legendary British musician who was an original member of the psychedelic Soft Machine back in the late ‘60s, playing often with the likes of Syd Barrett. The Unfairground (giganticmusic.com), which is also the name of his back-up group, is his first release in 15 years. While his voice has mellowed, as it were, he is not just “famous for what he did before,” as his songs are top notch. The psychedelia is mostly gone but there is definitely a late ‘60s-early ‘70s feel that leans more toward glam (without the over-the-top exuberance that is usually iconified by the style), but mixed with some folk and even Tex-Mex! It is often said that the quality of a musician can seen in the company they keep. Backing Kevin in various songs include the old guard like Roxy Music’s Ray Manzanera, Brit folk marvel Bridget St. John, and Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper. Some of the newer ones include Teenage Fanclub singer/guitarist Norman Blake and Frank Reader from the Trash Can Sinatras. All the cuts here are musically superb, and even Kevin’s rough voice works well within the frame.
JOHN BATDORF and MARK RODNEY were cult favorites in the early ‘70s, with their mellow folk rock output. They broke up in 1975, but got back together again recently to record Still Burnin’ (johnbatdorfmusic.com), a mostly live recording at XM Studios, which is mostly their own covers plus two brand new songs. Have to say that before this CD, I hadn’t heard of them (though my go-to-guy, Bernie Kugel, who is a ’60-‘70s musical encyclopedia, knew them right off. Of course). I can only go by what I’m hearing here, and I have to say, as much as I like folkie stuff, this was the kind of material that originally made me want to listen to the Ramones. B&R would probably fit somewhere between Seals and Croft and CSN (sans Y). After all, in one form or another, B&R had toured with the likes of America, Hall and Oats, and, well, you get the picture. Yeah, the songs are okay, with a deep view of personal growth and heartache, and I don’t mean to put that kind of musical stretch down, but they are not my cup of tea. Melanie was more ‘core than they were (I loved Melanie, to whom I lost my concert cherry, so back off). That being said, for those B&R fans out there, please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying they are bad. Their musicianship is tight and Batdorf still has his voice (“Burnin’” comes across as Batdorf BACKED BY Rodney more than Batdorf AND Rodney) after all these years, but to me it is just…meh, whatever. Get this if you like Kansas and Poco.
THE BUGS (myspace.com/zodiackillerrecords) is a Cali post-hardcore band that owes a lot to the Ramones and the Descendants. Their self-titled release is 11 songs in just over 13 minutes. From what I can see, there are three main topics here. In no particular order, one is drugs (e.g., “Back on the Weed,” “Meth on My Mind,” “Dopefiend”), looks at culture (e.g., “No More Emo Haircuts,” “I Wish I Was a Mexican,” and my favorite in this category, “Dave Navarro’s Goatee Fucking Sucks”), and the most outstanding one is about homosexuality (“Lesbo! Lesbo!,” “Never Went Gay,” “I’m Turning Gay,” and “Email From a She-male”). I don’t know these guys, and despite the very humorous and sophomoric tone, they seem old enough to know what they are saying. Are they homophobic or homo-core, I’m not sure, but they made me laugh. The songs are little paragraphs of statements with a grin and elbow, and can be summed up by something in the one-page booklet that thanks someone “who was supposed to play drums on this record but could not due to state issued mandatory jail time.” If you like your ‘core with a non-serious bent, well, here ya go.
CAMERA-HEAD SHARK is the kind of band that just gets better the more you listen to it. Oh, You (cameraheadshark.com) at first came across as a slightly skewed pop rock band, but oh, it is so much more. With a sharp sense of melody and harmony, layered under the off-kilter but actually quite fitting vocals, the songs have memorable hooks, and a sound that if not unique is certainly in short supply. In other words, they don’t sound like every other damn band you hear these days. Some of the better cuts here, and they are actually all worthwhile, are “Baby Midnight,” “Pack Up Your Suitcase,” “It’s So Evil,” and especially the opening “Punched” (which could have been written by They Might Be Giants) and what should be their breakout single, “Since the Stone Age.”
It is amazing how much STEVE CARLSON at times sounds like Greg Brown on Stripped Down (smokinglionmusic.com or stevecarlson.com). Mind you, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And please let me be clear that Steve’s material is really well crafted, and not reductive. From “Without You,” the opening cut, his emotion is on his sleeve in a powerful performance. Yeah, he looks like he w/could beat the crap outta ya, but there is definitely some heart in there and is not afraid to show it, evident by the one cover: the Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.” It’s brave to go up against Ronnie Spector’s voice, especially as raspy as Steve’s is, but his heart definitely pulls it off. This CD, Steve’s fourth, is actually full of really strong material, like “All That I ever Wanted,’ “Happy Hour,” straight through to the finale, “Love Your Or Leave You.” If you like singer-songwriter with just a hint of western flair (sans country), check it out.
Seems when bands focus on horror flicks, they fall into two general categories: you have the non-human monsters, such as Children of the Night and The Scared Stiffs), or the human monsters (e.g., cannibals and mass murderers), such as The Cramps and now CHESTY MALONE AND THE SLICE ‘EM UPS. Their CD, Now We’re Gonna See What Disaster Really Means (Wrecked; c/o chestymalone.com), is a fuckin’ hoot. Post-hardcore speed with a New York ‘80s style, they pound their way through 13 numbers, such as “Trouble With Cannibals” (one of my faves), “13 Killers” (what, no mention of New Yorker Albert Fish?), “Meat Factory,” “Skincrawl,” “Livereaters,” “Dotti Douchebag Sings the Blues,” and “Beavershot.” Thing is, from the first to the last, this is such a fun release, that its 30 minutes goes by so quickly. Chesty Malone, in her latest incarnation (she was the lead singer of Lady Unluck), is Jaqueline Blownapate, whose throaty voice is not so much a death rattle, as it is a body slam, using a 24-pounder. The rest of the band, which includes her partner/co-writer/guitarist Anthony Allen van Hoek, keeps up with her (or she keeps up with them…either way it works). There are a lot of cool subtle film references throughout, such as “Spiderbaby” in “Livereaters” and perhaps “The Corpse Grinders” in “Meat Factory.” I haven’t caught them live, but it’s definitely on the agenda.
The Colorado-based MICHAEL HARRISON BLUES is – of course – Michael at the center, and a bunch of studio musicians, releasing Lost in the Blues (michaelharrisonblues.com). This CD is mostly blues standards, with some originals thrown in. Gotta say, Michael’s electric blues style is right up there with Stevie Ray and Eric C, with a sharpness like a razor. And what he lacks in the vocal area with a tendency to be flat (both literally and emotionally), he certainly makes up for with his flying fingers. Some of the covers include “Mean Mistreater” (a Muddy Waters’ wailer), Robert Ross’s 1991 “White Boy Lost in the Blues,” “CCR’s “Wrote a Song,” Buster Burnett’s Jumpin’ at Shadows,” and the late and underrated Tommy Bolin’s “Sweet Burgundy” (which is vocally the weakest here). It is nice that Michael’s originals fit in pretty well with the standards. Jennifer Burnett’s vocals on the opener and closer helps, but I do have to say that as a release that is put out by Michael himself, he did an above decent job. Maybe an instrumental release next?
Rather than producing the usual concept of songs, HOLLER, WILD ROSE! uses each cut of Our Little Hymnal (blacklightrecords.com) to create a soundscape experience, which is almost a world of their own. There are multiple instruments ranging from the classic guitar/bass/drum to all different types of synthesizers. For well over an hour, they stream out sounds that all flow together. No bleep or blurps, but rather texture and waves. It is hard to imagine them playing out, as each member of this group is listed as playing numerous instruments which are all blended. The vocals are wispy, sometimes in a John Lennon-ish way, other times, more pastoral. Despite such heady music, the lyrics are actually very accessible, which helps the whole project be approachable.
When I was in high school, I had a friend named Robert Gordon (not the rockabilly singer) who introduced me to his three loves: Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull, and pot. It took me a few years to appreciate Dylan, the other two not. Back then, I found arena rock really, excruciatingly dull, perhaps because I was not a lover of pot? I took chances and went to see Led Zeppelin at MSG, and was bored to sleep, literally. Now I was given the opportunity to review the new DVD by JETHRO TULL, Jack In the Green: Live in Germany, Recorded Between 1970-1993 (Aviator-Entertainment GmbH). There are 18 songs covering a few performances, the forefront of which is in 1982. Since high school and now, I have learned to value Celtic music, which is a large part of Tull’s sound (along with rock, jazz, and fusion). As the DVD started, at first I thought, oh, wow, this isn’t bad at all. Maybe Robert had something here. I mean, I still remember the main riff from “Aqualung,” but I didn’t recall anything else from that album or “Thick as a Brick,” which were quite prevalent in my high school days. Then, somewhere around the fourth of fifth song, I started looking at my watch. The quality of the DVD is excellent, with the visuals and the sound being very crisp. As the DVD went into the second show (1986), and the 10th song, I subconsciously I caught myself fiddling with the remote in my hands, feeling restless. About halfway through the ’86 shows, I started fast-forwarding a bit through the instrumentals. The ’93 part, taken from TV appearance, is nearly pure jazz, and the two songs kept my interest. The last part is from the “Beat Club,” also TV, one song from 1970, and one from 1971. While I was amazed at the sharpness of the image (with the typical German way of superimposing the full names of the band members), I was totally bored out of my mind, though it was interesting when Ian Anderson grabs his side in pain, walks off the stage, and end the song short. Of all the cuts here, the 1982 ones are the best sound, lighting, and most entertaining, showing Anderson at his best, but that’s limited for me. I think I’ll still with my “just Dylan,” though I appreciate the chance to see if I was missing something. Speaking of absence, there are no extras on this disk.
The handsome JANN KLOSE resides in the Bronx now, but throughout his life, he has lived on numerous continents, all of which has affected his music views. His latest is Reverie (janklose.com), which was recorded in New Jersey. It’s kind of hard to put a handle on Jann’s material, but it is somewhere in the theatrical jazz singer-songwriter area. His songs take you on journeys though emotions and styles, sometimes with basic guitar (by Jann)-piano-bass-drum, and on others, the lovely Jann’s voice, piano and cello. I can see this ensemble playing Carnegie (Hall, not Deli), or some of the ritzier jazz spots. Yet, the style never tries to talk over the listener’s head; I admire that. Jann’s vocal stylings are reminiscent of Sting, but with some major exceptions: first, Jann has a very beautiful and pure voice, where Sting has that nasal twang that is sorta chalk-on-blackboard; and most importantly, Jann comes off totally sincere and not focused on “self,” unlike…you know who. There are a lot of really enjoyable cuts here, such as the lush, jazzy “All These Rivers,” and the subtle “Questions of the Heart.” The instrumental “Ithaca” is pretty, and this ends on a high note, ironically, with “The Beginning.” I haven’t heard Jann play live yet, but I have met him (tremendously intelligent and nice guy). On the other hand, I have heard Sting play but have not met him, and don’t need to do either with Sting again.
EDDY & KIM LAWRENCE have released their first folkie singer-songwriter (including blues and country influenced) duo-focused cleverly named CD, My Second Wife’s First Album (snowplowrecords.com), but Eddy has been releasing solo stuff for over 20 years. Based near the northeast corner of New York State where Quebec meets Vermont (though he’s original from deep south), they recorded this on their own. Kim plays stand-up bass and adds minimal vocals, and most of the rest, such as writing, singing, and picking is by Eddy. Unlike some other DIY work, they seem to have good control of their material and recording (i.e., no over-indulgent “what will this button do to the sound?” here), thankfully. Eddy is a fine songwriter who takes his everyday life into accord, including addictions, presenting the likes of “Rescue Somebody,” “Camp Cumberland,” “Black Ice,” “Turnpike,” and “Apology.” Sometimes it gets a bit “hunh?” (like “Sammy From Massena” and “Weekend at the Muggles”), but even there the melody takes you, and his framing works. But there is a certain level of deepness that comes through when you least expect it, like on “Your Mama Likes Me,” “One Day at a Time,” “Truth or Consequences,” and “Step 8.” At a bit over an hour, this may have been able to be edited down a bit, perhaps to the next CD, but still good to hear what’s on his mind. What I like the most is that the crisp recording that makes it feel like they’re sitting in the room with the listener, all homey and comfortable. Kim seems to be good for him!
[Life Underwater photo by RBF/FFanzeen Prod]
There are lots of double things to mention when it comes to Staten Island’s LIFE UNDERWATER (liveunderwateronline.com). First, sometimes they’re a group, as in their Live at Café Verboten, and now they are back to a duo with their self-titled release. Sometimes lead singer Jamie Glass plays guitar, and sometimes bass…oh, and sometimes she’s just Jamie (the other part of the duo is her partner, Shane, who plays great guitar), and sometimes she’s amazing novelist JD Glass (Punk Like Me, Punk & Zen, Red Lights, American Goth, and yes, I’ve read them all; there is a huge interview I did with her linked to their MySpace page, but I digress). Both these CDs are their own flavor, and are superb in their own rights. The live CD is solid straight through, as a four-piece. I like the drum sound, and the songs on there are among my favorites of Jamie’s, such as “I Fall,” “I Say Goodbye,” and especially “Lead Me On.” The band helps give it a beautiful bottom rhythm. The self-titled one is stripped down to just Jamie and Shane, who play off each other well. Once again, Jamie’s wonderful use of melody and lyrics in her songs keep the listener’s attention. All the songs here, including “The Kiss,” “Complicated,” and “What Am I Fighting For” show solid songwriting in my melody and lyric. So, basically, check out their songs on their site, get the CDs, and read the books; you won’t be disappointed.
MICHAEL LINDNER is one of those DIYers who does it all, from playing all musical parts, to engineering and recording (his “day” job), to even designing the packaging of Cocktail Napkin (alleyonemusic.com). This CD consists of 8 original instrumentals, and 4 cover songs with vocals. His own pieces are lounge-based, with a strong surf guitar influence. Many of them remind me of the kind of music playing on the soundtracks of ‘60s exploitation films, such as those by Russ Meyer. Believe me, I mean that as a major complement, as those tunes were amazing. While multi-instrumentally talented, Michael’s main axe is the bass, which he uses as the cornerstone of pieces like “Tremulux”. All of these Linder-penned songs are strong. The only weakness seems to be in the vocal tracks, which are very vanilla. He opens up with the Bararach-David tune made famous by Love, “Little Red Book”; mind you, it’s hard to follow someone like Arthur Lee, or even the Stones on “2000 Man.” He just does not have the of the blues heartfelt singing chops. Even the post-doo-wop era “Party Doll” comes off flat. But that’s just four uninteresting songs for eight pretty amazingly fun ones. Definitely the odds are good, and worth a listen.
When the press release starts off with a quote by one of my old mentors and professor, Neil Postman (from “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” I believe), I’m going to pay a little more attention. THE LOVE KILLS THEORY takes Happy Suicide, Jim (xomu.com) as a look at Huxley’s version of dystopia, which is blinding ourselves with consumerism. Rarely does this post-pop group hit the listener over the head with its message, but it is definitely a theme throughout, from specifics, like giving up smoking (“This Thing”) and computers (“Suicide Girls”), to general ownership (“The Love Kills Theory”: “Things you’re wanting become things you’re hating/What sustained you now makes you weary”), to just general cultural morass (“Dream of Sleep”). Now before you start saying, “Ya commie bastids,” it’s not that at all, but rather a request to look inside. These guys are more into the Situationalists than Lenin. The music is quite interesting, in a pop way, with an industrial/electronic influence, though I thought a few more songs would have more power if they hadn’t been electronically affected: a couple times works, but about half are processed, which is overkill. Despite the down-tone of the lyrics, it is actually a positive message (much like Postman). And the final chorus of “Dream of Sleep” is hard to get out of one’s head.
JON MACEY & STEVE GILLIGAN make up the core of Boston pop rockers FoxPass. Now they expand into their own foray with Everything Under the Sun (Actuality Records, Box 408, Arlington, MA 02476; jonandsteve.com). Here, Jon and Steve have the support of percussionist Barry Marshall (of the classic Boston ‘70s band, The Marshalls, who double-duties as producer). I had the pleasure to see Jon and Steve doing their duo stuff up in Boston last year at the Cantab, and they are amazing together. Their material could have been right off Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” but it is all their own. In pure partnership, they each wrote 5 songs apiece, and two together, and yet all are seamless. The songs of life, losing oneself and redemption are woven together through various stringed instruments (such as guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, mandocello), and both their individual and harmonious voices. Truly, I could not pick out a fave because there is not a bad cut here, and each is as impressive as the rest.
While it is safe to say that the ROBERTA PIKET TRIO is built around Roberta’s piano on Love and Beauty (robertajazz.com), it is also fair to say that Ratzo Harris’s bass and Billy Mintz’s drums are equally strong in their mostly support role. Roberta is quite the fingerer. She flits and floats around the keys like a magician as much as a musician. Frickin’ impressive, really. The trio’s sound, for those who lack familiarity with jazz, is reminiscent of some of the “Charlie Brown Christmas” flavoring, but she definitely brings something of her own. Whether it’s the hyperness of “I’m My Everything” to the ultra romantic “Love and Beauty,” the trio shine. While mostly originals, there are interesting riffs on Jimmy Webb’s (known by the Fifth Dimension, though) “Up Up and Away,” and Cole Porter’s “So In Love”. If anyone uninitiated and is looking for a chance to step into some jazz, it would behoove them to seek out this nearly an hour of beauty.
Going to a cool She Wolves show at Delancey (of coz, all She Wolves shows are great), I met some guys who do a cable access metal show. Having worked on a cable show myself (Videowave), I understand the work it entails. They presented me with their DVD, Reality Check TV Presents Collector’s Series Volume One: Real Rock Divas (realitychecktv.com). These dudes know their stuff, and they have managed to interview and record shows by some amazing talent. And yet it is all looking two-cent, which I mean as a total compliment as it is appropriate. This is the video equivalent of a fanzine, sort of what Wayne and Garth may have done if they had balls and gotten out of the basement and actually attended shows. The list of bands is long, but I’ll rattle off a few, like the Donnas (who really open themselves up), The Runaways drummer Sandy West and ace underrated guitarist Lita Ford, the overrated Bif Naked, the ultracool Lunachicks and L7, Barbee Killed Kenn, Doro Pesch, and so on. Sometimes the sound quality is questionable, and subtitles may be helpful, but I repeat, “fanzine.” I am certainly looking forward to seeing Volume Two, which hopefully will include the likes of the She Wolves, maybe the Vesties and Chesty Malone. Oh, there is so much great talent, and I expect Reality Check TV to be there!
It takes all four names to identify Brooklyn resident MILES BENJAMIN ANTHONY ROBINSON, which is appropriate since the music on his freshman eponymous CD (sayheyrecords.com) is just as complex. Miles is an ex-homeless junkie who has knocked around Coney Island for a while, and has settled into a musical groove that I would identify as anti-folk. His songs are dark and gloomy, sometimes nearly dirge-like, aided (and abetted) by members of TV on the Radio and Grizzly Bear, who fill in the music and some haunting harmonies. And speaking of that sorta thing, each song is overdubbed with Miles’ own voice, but not to add in harmony, but more as a counterpoint. It certainly does not add a pleasant or enhancing element, and is in fact disconcerting, which I’m guessing is the point. The songs about his life of hardship are made all the more dissonant this way. To add to this, the songs are either played slightly off-key, or off melody, I’m not certain which, making it all the more poignant. The only real issue I have is because of the double voice recording, usually with an echo, the sound is a bit muddled, making the lyrics a bit hard to make out (and no lyric sheet included). Still, I am impressed with the work, taking the risk, and doing something a bit different than the norm.
STACIE ROSE is a both a musician and humanitarian, who has a history of releasing her own quality pop material and compilations for various charitable organizations. I have reviewed some of both before, and this time I have the pleasure to pass on her new works in Shotgun Daisy (Enchanted, c/o stacierose.com). Stacie has a velvety voice, and her songs are equally as lush, looking at relationships – both positive and negative – with extremely catchy hooks, such as on “Hit Me in the Head,” “Mr. & Mrs. Happily Ever After,” and “Not Listening,” though it’s hard to pick a favorite. While they all are better than anything one can hear on mainstream radio these days, which is where a lot of this could be, Stacie needs to be careful not to overproduce her material. Producer Jeff Allen has played bass for Avril Lavigne, and it seems like he’s trying to make this sound like “Complicated.” Stacie’s material is too precious to take the chance to squander. Luckily, her voice and songs rise above it.
It is sort of an understatement to say SCRIBES OF FIRE is a metal band. Zauberer (myspace/scribesoffire) is loaded with a sound that roars, which is amazing considering they have only one (very talented) guitarist, Phil Salvagione. Backing him on rhythm is an acquaintance of mine from the Brooklyn Punk Temple/Peggy O’Neill’s days who is an equally strong bassist, Mike Delfino, and Dan Kurfirst on drums. The centerpiece is, of course, Ben Abelson on soaring vocals (and lyric writing). Now, when I say metal, I don’t mean either the death metal growl-scream that is seemingly omnipresent, or the sludgy kind that is sodden and molten; in fact this is the crisp fire that melts the metal. There are five songs here, over a span of 42 minutes. Yeah, long songs, but each one is practically a suite, broken up into sections to tell the story not only lyrically, but also musically. If you’re into intelligent headbanging rather than just the usual girls and drugs as so many metal bands are these days, than I suggest digging this up. Only negative thing I can say is that there are at least four typos in their booklet.
Hamilton, Ontario, is some ways is a mystical city. This is especially true when it comes to music. As Boston was to New York City during the mid-‘70s explosion, the Hammer was to Toronto. One of the first bands to come out of that rise was SIMPLY SAUCER, let by Edgar Breau. Despite a shoddy recording history on fan labels, mostly consisting of an album, Cyborg Revisted, put out by writer/musician Gary Pig Gold, and then by writer/local music historian Bruce “Mole” Mowat (both great guys and great writers, by the way), Simply Saucer (SS) have reformed recently, and recorded Half Human/Half Alive (sonicunyon.com). The first half of the hour-long release is a newly recorded record of their earliest material, which had not seen the studio before. The second half, recorded live, is their LP and single recently re-recorded before an audience. Now the thing that is important to remember is that SS is a band of their time, leaning more towards the Detroit MC5 sound than the New York Ramones style. The music is kinda rough and popish, with more than a hint of a synth. SS were highly experimental and thereby influential. Even with a limited recorded history, they managed to help change the face of what was cool. This is a worthwhile historical record of the music was like on the verge of revolution.
Now here is an interesting concept: STRATOSPHEERIUS is the brainchild of Joe Deninzon, and the result of his group is Headspace (stratospheerius.com). What makes them so unusual is that Joe is a classical-level violinist, who uses mostly 6- and 7-string electronic fiddles that he uses in place of a lead guitar. When Joe and southern blues guitarist Mack Price duel and play off each other, as they do on “New Material,” it’s pretty amazing. Now, one would think violin/fiddle = country, but not so here. The style is more classic R&B, rock, and jazz. Yep, one might say “Jew-Eyed Soul,” especially on cuts like the instrumental “Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle.” Joe has a very sweet, high tenor voice, which actually gives this a bit of a glossy feel, and the occasional over-production also makes it kind of slick, and yet it is easy to appreciate them bringing something interesting and a concept to liven things up.
This is the first time I’ve heard JIM WHITE, though Transnormal Skiperoo (luakabop.com) is certainly not his first release. He’s known for being alt country, but other than a couple of twangy guitars here and there (mostly not, though), he comes across as pretty straightforward singer-songwriter. Anyhoo, Jim has a sort of sweet Jimmy Buffet kind of voice and tone, and the songs are, with one exception, deep and personal, either looking at his own life, foibles, and missteps, or his imaginings of those he knows. What I like about his work is that while I was not blown away by it, still I was impressed that even though it is heartfelt and layered, it is also extremely accessible. Personally, I wish it was more alt country, and perhaps his earlier releases were (MOJO called his work “Sweet hillbilly swing,” which I found very little of here). There are some standout numbers here, like the opening “A Town Called Amen,” “Take Me Away” and especially the haunting “Jailbird”. I’m curious to see where he’s going, musically, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to find out.
I love the concept of Born To Shine, Vol. 5: Seattle, WA, 01.27.07 (trixiedvd.com) DVD. Actually, as exposition, the press release says it perfectly and succinctly: “Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie brought together 14 of his favorite bands on one day to create a portrait of one of the world’s most thriving music scenes. Each band plays one song each and it is delivered here as it happened, in chronological order, in a jam packed 55 minutes.” Also, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty (Fuzagi) produced this collection, and was recorded by Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys). This is the fifth of (so far) six collections in different cities, and a wonder to behold. With this one exception, all of them are performed in condemned houses (this one was moved, as shown at the end of the DVD). The performances are quite crisp as they are performed in a living room, and the viewer can see as the sun as it goes through the day, and darkness sets through the windows. Since the 1990s, Seattle is basically viewed as the “grunge” city, but as with every other town, there are actually a full arc of styles one can see perform, and that is evident here. There’s the poppier rock sounds of Spook the Horse (who open the collection) and Harvey Danger, the anti-folk of the wonderful Tiny Vipers (aka Jesy Fortino), total psych-out instrumental Kinski (who have been known to play single songs for 45 minutes), dissonant (may have been called No Wave at one point) of the badly named Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death (and I thought When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water was a awful moniker), the rap duo Blue Scholars, post modern rockers Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, and the – yes – grundgy Minus the Bear. What is also interesting is what is sort of missing. Dave Bazan (ex-Pedro the Lion), Benjamin Gibbard, and Eddy Vedder (Pearl Jam) all sing with no back-up other than their acoustic guitar (or in Vedder’s case, an electric ukelele). There are a few previously unheard before songs by Gibbard and Bazan, for example. As a side note, it amazes me how many musicians in Seattle have beards. Not the Cobain two-day growth, but full-on bushes. I am looking forward to hearing the rest of this magnificent and yes, historically important, series.
There are a number of reissue labels, some cheesy like K-Tel, and some are a blessing, like Rhino, which specializes in ’60-‘70s. Now there is a new label, AMERICAN BEAT (myspace.com/americanbeat), whose vision is more ’70-‘80s. I contacted them, and they sent me 25 of their products. Truly, there is stuff there I’m certainly not interested in, like the works of Billy Squire, but there is so much more that made me salivate. And that is what I will discuss here. David Johansen’s Here Comes the Night was from his early solo period (post Dolls, pre- Buster “Hot Hot Hot” Poindexter). I remember many of us mocked it at the time, but it certainly stands up after 20 years. The Simthereens’ Green Thoughts was a solid CB’s band from New York, who had a pretty dedicated following that even touched some mainstream listeners. Peter Wolf’s Long Line was one of his post-J. Geils Band that was noteworthy. Graham Parker came so close in the early ‘80s to breaking through in the States, but was considered too close in style to Eric Costello here. His The Real Macaw shows that he wasn’t reductive. Tex-Mex cult hero and should-be legend Joe Ely recorded Live Shots while on tour with the Clash. This re-release also includes his Texas Special EP. After Ian Hunter left Mott the Hoople, he released this underrated All of The Good Ones Are Taken, which produced a title song that should have been at the top of the FM charts at the time, and is still one of my favorites. The Tubes were known for two things: humor and it’s lead singer, Fee Waybill. While Remote Control doesn’t contain their one charting hit, “Sushi Girl,” it shows how much fun they were, and that they were way ahead of their time. Todd Rundgren, who also plays on the recording, produced this collection. I once insulted Joe Jackson to his face around the time of “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” but his later, jazzier stuff, such as the rerelease of Beat Crazy, is much better. What I particularly like about American Beat is when they release two-on-one-disks. Some of the noteworthy ones they sent along are Ian Hunter’s live collection Welcome to the Club and Live, Gary U.S. Bonds’ Dedication and On the Line, and especially Robert Gordon’s With Link Wray and Fresh Fish Special. This is the rockabilly material he left Tuff Darts to do, and actually started a fresh movement (which led to bands the Rockats and the Stray Cats). He covers such material as “Red Hot,” “Boppin’ the Blues,” and “The Way I Walk” (though I have to admit I like the Cramps’ version more). I hope American Beat stays around for a long time, and I thank them for sending me hours of great music.