Friday, November 27, 2009

PHOTO ESSAY: Getting Immunized from H1N1

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Click on picture for larger image

I decided to get immunized. Yes, I know there is a debate on whether it's good or bad, but having just gone through H1N1 with someone else, I thought I'd take my chances. I've had flu shots consistently over the past few years, so it's not that big a deal to me, and I'm certainly not worried about it beyond the usual hating needles.

The immunization is free in Saskatoon, but the line-ups have been fierce. Two days ago, they started general inoculations, after it only being available for those with "high risks," like the elderly and the infants.

I arrived at one of the two places where the shots were being administered, Prairieland Park, and was happy to see the line not going out the door (just). From the beginning, I was concerned as I haven't yet received my health card, and only had a valid driver's licence.

The first room, about the size of a basketball court, had the line snaking up and down it five times. There were lots of signs warning about the "pandemic", such as warnings about who should not get a shot, such as those who are currently ill.

At the end of this room, there is a ramp and the line had three folds snaked around it. Once inside the next room, there was - yep - another two-snake line to register. Though there was an eyebrow raised of "no card?!" she still put me through, with "Card not yet received" written into the space where the number should go. Gotta love Canada.

The last line was to actually get the shot in the arm. It snaked three loops, and after a bit over two hours, I then we entered the large room with tables that reminded me of voting areas. Actually, the whole place, with its exposed pipes, dull walls, and curtains, sort of reminded me of the scene in Cloverfield where Susan Sarandon's daughter explodes.

The shot was very painless, I'm happy to say, though that night it was sore as all get-out, and today I'm feeling a little weak. Still, life goes on and I have work to do, so after this, I'm back at it.

[Prairieland Park]
[Beginning of the line]
[Center of first room; no that is not her hand]
[The ramp]
[The signs by ramp]
[View of the first big room from the top of the ramp]
[Nurses stations aka the shooting gallery]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SPANKY McFARLANE: Really Getting to Know Her

Text by Mary Anne Cassata
Images from the Internet
© 1985 FFanzeen

The following article/interview with Spanky McFarlane was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #13, in 1985. It was written by Mary Anne Cassata. In the original pressing, I mistakenly misspelled Spanky’s last name, and would like to take this moment to apologize. – RBF

In 1966, the contemporary pop group Spanky and Our Gang because a huge success with their classic “Sunday Will Never Be the Same.” In the tiny, smoke-filled Mother Blues Club, in Chicago, Spanky McFarlane and her group originated accidentally. Spanky, whose given name is Elaine, used to live in an apartment over the club. “The manager called up one night and said he needed an opening act, so we rehearsed all day and night, and got some good reviews,” recalled the lead vocalist of Our Gang, with a smile. “I was real good friends with the manager, so we performed that night.”

Before long, Spanky and Our Gang were signed to the Mercury label and hits began to populate the American music charts, such as “Lazy Day,” “Sunday Will Never Be the Same,” “Making Every Minute Count,” and “I’d Really Like to Get to Know You.” Legendary radio DJ Murray “the K” debuted “Sunday” on his show, and it almost instantly made Spanky and Our Gang a national success. “Murray ‘the K’ really made our first record for us,” says Spanky. “Back then, records weren’t usually played on New York radio stations, but he didn’t seem to care.”

Selling albums in the millions allowed the group to make many television guest appearances on such shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and The Hollywood Palace. By 1969, however, the popular music group almost came to a grinding halt when their lead singer decided to retire and raise a family. Although Spanky didn’t have the desire to perform live anymore, she did remain productive in doing television commercials and singing backup for many legendary recording artists on the West Coast.

By 1974, McFarlane grew restless of her “retirement” and formed a 14 piece country and western band as the new Spanky and Our Gang. Her group performed through the Southwest as special guests for the Willie Nelson Picnic. Having garnered a favorable response with their country act, Our Gang were singed for a special one album deal for Epic Records, called Changes.

In 1981, Spanky received an important call from John Phillips, who was in the midst of reassembling the Mamas and the Papas. To McFarlane’s surprise, he expressed interest in having her assume the role of the legendary “Mama” Cass Elliot. “I didn’t even know him and he called me,” Spanky said. “I asked him who the other Mama would be, and John said his daughter Mackenzie. My only other question was ‘Can she sing?’”

The newly formed group made their debut on Good Morning America and performed up until last year, to sell-out concert halls across the country.

This past summer, Spanky and Our Gang, along with other popular ‘60s acts like the Association, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Three Dog Night, and the Turtles, appeared together in the Happy Together Tour ‘84. The oldie artists performed to more than 125 sold-out concert halls across the country. Spanky enjoyed her recent concerts and is looking forward to the next one. “It’s so much fun,” she smiles. “It’s great, especially when you’re the only girl with 24 guys.”

The following interview was conducted with Spanky McFarlane in New York City.

FFanzeen: How is the Happy Together Tour working out so far?

Spanky McFarlane: Incredible. Much better than anyone ever dreamed. We get standing ovations every night. People are smiling and happy.

FF: When did the tour open?

Spanky: We played the Beverly Wilshire Theater, which is everybody’s home in L.A. It was kind of hard to open there. We would have liked to play three or four dates before that to see what we had. We didn’t even know what the show was. But it went really well. We got great reviews there.

FF: What song do you open your set with?

Spanky: I actually open the set with one of my favorite songs, an old Martha and the Vandellas tune, “Dancing in the Streets.” See, I did my time with the Mamas and Papas in ’83, so I feel I should include some of their songs in my set, too. Now they are part of my legacy. It was great when we sat down to sing the tunes of the Mamas and Papas. We had about thirty hits to cover. It was incredible. The whole time I was with them, I told my friend, “You better see this while you can.” I just knew it wasn’t going to last. We had good press and everyone that came to see us thought we put on a great show.

FF: What has being part of the tour been like for you?

Spanky: It is funny, because everybody that is in the show spends a lot of time watching the show, which is pretty amazing, since we have done about seventy shows. I think the shows have all been of quality and the people that are in it enjoy it. We are all there for the music. When the Association sing “Walk Away Renée,” I want to be there. It’s a celebration. Between the four groups, we have 23 hits, and I don’t think the Turtles do all of theirs. We don’t have time to do them all. I perform for about 25 minutes, and I don’t’ perform all of mine, and we all do a finale together. It’s really a fun thing. When we sing a hit, the audience stands up. They love it. We all take bows and it’s a lot of fun.

FF: “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” is certainly one of the all-time favorite ‘60s songs. Did you ever think when the song was recorded in 1966 that it would be a classic today?

Spanky: Well, I certainly have no regrets about it. People just like the song and that makes me happy.

FF: Last year, with the Mamas and Papas, wasn’t there supposed to have been an album?

Spanky: We have a demo tape with ten songs. I did some writing with John Phillips and Mackenzie. It was a lot of fun. Actually, we were all writing together. I wish we had more time to do more of it. We think the songs we wrote were all pretty good.

FF: In 1974, after your retirement, you formed a country version of Spanky and Our Gang. Why the switch to country music?

Spanky: Well, in 1978, there wasn’t anything good, musically, to listen to except country music, in my opinion. I like a lot of vocal harmony, so I thought I’d swing in another direction. I was listening to the Byrds and anyone who harmonizes.

FF: What did the old Spanky and Our Gang fans have to say?

Spanky: I don’t know, and I don’t really care. When I had the country band, I didn’t even sing any Spanky and Our Gang songs. For the first couple of years, I wouldn’t even listen to them. But finally, the pressure was on and I did sing some of the songs. We worked up a little medley of songs. I can see why now I guess being a little bit selfish. I mainly wanted to do what I wanted to do.

FF: Were you trying to break out of your old image?

Spanky: Yes, I was. The thought of singing “Lazy Day” – oh, please! How can I keep singing it? It’s funny, I saw one of the guys who wrote the songs on this tour and he came backstage and said, “I know you weren’t going to sing that song.” I said, “You were right, I can’t sing it.” Even, “Making every minute count / making it groovy….” Eh!

FF: I guess lyrics like that don’t really apply to the ‘80s lifestyle too much.

Spanky: Yeah, I guess they don’t apply too well. Maybe I should rewrite some of it, and scare the shit out of some people! [Laughs]

FF: There is a cross section of people that attend your concerts. A lot of young kinds, as well as parent – not to mention the over-30 audience.

Spanky: Yes, parents have played the records for their kids and everybody sings along. It is really neat. We see a lot of people singing along and, of course, we urge them to sing along, too. At the end of the show, everyone sings along with us. All the bands come back on stage together for the finale.

FF: Why was there two different versions recorded of “I’d Really Like to Get to Know You”?

Spanky: I think one was the single version and one was an album version of the song. One was only shorter, that’s all. The original was in the album [Like to Get to Know You], we just extended it. We had quite a long instrumental for it at the end. When I produced the Greatest Hits album, I decided I really liked it. I also had a tape of everyone talking and by then a couple of the guys had died, so it meant a lot to me to have their voices there, laughing and joking.

FF: Malcolm Hale passed away at the height of the group’s career. How did that affect you?

Spanky: Actually, two members died, Malcolm and Lefty Baker. Malcolm died in ’68. We were about to start a summer show called Rollin’ on the River. When Malcolm died, everyone wanted to quit, especially me. So we all quit. In 1971, Lefty died. That can sure break up a group. Malcolm died of pneumonia. He didn’t even know he had it. He died in his sleep. We really didn’t do a big publicity thing about it. We were really in mourning. The group broke up real quietly about two months after he died. We just didn’t have the heart to get any publicity out of Malcolm’s death. It wasn’t something we wanted to discuss. We all just went our separate ways. We said goodbye and remained friends for life. Actually, Nigel, who was in the first group, helped start the second one up. The county band was really a continuation of Spanky and Our Gang. All I have left is the ties to those guys.

FF: How do you feel about performing on this tour with the remaining members of Our Gang?

Spanky: You know, the thing about it – and I realize it now – is that you get closer to the people you work with. Sometimes more than your own family. I had five brothers when I was growing up. I was close to them, but then, I haven’t lived at some since I was 14 years old. All these bands I’ve had have become my family. It is not just like losing a partner; it’s like losing a brother. I have a daughter who is very pretty and very bright and she loves rock’n’roll. When I brought my kids home from the hospital, the first thing I did was set them between the speakers and turn the music up. It probably wasn’t every good for them, but I did it anyway. I was listening to [Dylan’s] Blood on the Tracks when Nat was born.

FF: During your heyday, did you feel Spanky and Our Gang was more of a cabaret act or contemporary rock band?

Spanky: Well, that’s funny. We started out as a joke band and we played acoustic instruments. We did a lot of comedy and show tunes, folk tunes, and rock’n’roll. We did anything that pleased us. We were contented with ourselves and everybody loved what we were doing. It gave us all a chance to shine at what we do best. We sand the blues or anything we felt like doing. We always did our songs with harmony and a lot of style. We even had the first electric jug and washboard. I even had an electric banana, which was a kazoo. That was something to see. When we went over to Europe, all our equipment was stolen. The silly hats and these silly instruments we had were gone. That part was an aspect of our show. We just didn’t have the heart to find new outfits, so we dropped a lot of our comedy numbers. We did get more serious songs like, “I’d Really Like to Get to Know You,” and “Give a Damn.” It’s funny to look back in time and now we don’t do the comedy act. It’s weird.

FF: How did the Happy Together Tour originate?

Spanky: In my opinion, it evolved from the Mamas and Papas. I think if they were still together they would have been on this tour. It’s, like, a spin-off of a TV show. Everyone thinks that Our Gang is my band, but it is actually Gary Puckett’s, the Union Gap. I’m with Gary, and we’re Spanky and Our Gang again. It’s amazing. No one knows it’s the Union Gap. Everyone thinks it’s my band. It really doesn’t seem to matter.

FF: We had mentioned earlier about the reunion of the Mamas and Papas. How were you asked to assume the role of Cass Elliot?

Spanky: That tour was because John Phillips had called me and I went to spend a year with them before I ever went on stage. It was the most amazing year of my life. I changed everything. I moved to the East Coast, brought my clothes and family to be close to John and Mackenzie, who were having drug treatments in New Jersey. At the time, they had to do their way of life. We put the band together. It was very exciting. I brought a friend of mine and that is probably why we are all together now for this tour. Carlos [Bernal] used to work with the Turtles, and my ex-husband [Charly Galvin], and the Byrds. As the plot thickens…

FF: Why was the Mamas and Papas’ tour so short?

Spanky: That’s interesting. Last year, at about this time, Mackenzie went back to her TV show [One Day at a Time] . She was going to be gone for 26 weeks out of the year. It wasn’t going to be enough to tour just for the six months. Shortly after she had lost her show; by then I wanted to do something else. I felt I just couldn’t’ do it any more.

FF: What was it like, singing with Mackenzie?

Spanky: She’s a very talented actress and you know what? J A good singer, too – once she got over her initial fear of the stage, which didn’t take more than five minutes. She let her voice settle down, too. She had good power and range and, after a while, we were sounding like sisters. We were that close in our voice range, and we can get the same timbre. She is still pursuing her acting career in L.A., although I think she would like to be doing the Mamas and Papas very much. It just doesn’t seem possible for her and her father to work together. As close as they were, it was still very hard. I also want to say that Denny was really good. He was like a rock throughout the whole thing.

FF: A few years ago, your debut album had been reissued by Mercury. What did you think of that?

Spanky: I thought it was very interesting. It had been one of the first album covers that folded out with pictures inside. When they reissued the album, it wasn’t the same cover. Good ol’ Mercury Records – good ol’ cheap Mercury Records. The cover didn’t fold out. I wish they would have re-released the Greatest Hits album [re-released in 1986, and again in 1999 and 2006 – ed.], actually, because that is more logical than our first album. We also had a bootleg album put out. They bought a tape from 1966 and put out an album in 1971 as a new album. It was called Spanky and Our Gang Live. We had been together about a week when that tape was made, and to have them put it out as our new album – after the group had three or four successful albums already. It is amazing the record company can do things like that. It was a little bit embarrassing because it was a live album. There was no overdubs or instrumentations, or a chance to correct anything. It was strictly bootleg. You never know what your own label is going to do.

FF: Have you ever considered taking your talents to Broadway?

Spanky: Oh yes, I have. I think my voice is suited for Broadway. I think that would be a fun thing to do. I have thought a lot about that; more lately than the past. Do you know anybody who would be interested? I wish they would do the Ethel Merman story, or Ernest Borgnine. I don’t think I have anything more to say.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

MARC H. ELLIS Lecture: Does Judaism Equal Israel?

Text and photos by Robert Barry Francos
Book cover image and video from Internet

Earlier in the week, I was told about a coming evening lecture at the university, which was to feature historical theologian Marc H. Ellis discussing Israel.

On November 19, 2009, in the afternoon of the presentation, while I was on the phone with my good pal, Alan Abramowitz (who is historically knowledgeable about Israel and its neighbors), I looked up Ellis on the Internet. There I saw that he has numerous books and articles about the Holocaust, Israel, and Christians (he teaches at Baylor in Waco, TX, a heart of Born Again fundamentalism), but mostly it was pretty clear that he was an apologist for Israel, and in favor of a two-state solution. At that point I knew that (a) he would be interesting, (b) I would disagree with him, and (c) I would need to keep my temper wholly in check.

This is not exactly a town full of Jews (there are two synagogues for a population of 250,000), and during a march against George Bush recently, there was someone with a scarf covering his face carrying a sign which read, “Bush is a Zionist Patsi” [sic]. The overfull room reflected many more of Muslim faith than of Jews, and I certainly knew which side they were on. That is the problem with the Middle East, as it is hard to be centralist; it’s usually either “them or us,” depending on your stance.

Let me start out by stating clearly, Marc Ellis is an excellent speaker. Scheduled to go on for 45 minutes to be followed by 30 minutes of questions, he talked for well over an hour and was never boring, was often charming and humorous, and especially self-deprecating in a culturally European Jewish way. He is someone you would meet at a dinner party and probably enjoy spending time with. In mild mocking tones, he said that traveling around the world was difficult with Bush Jr. being president, but now it’s easier with Obama (he admits he loves Obama, but doesn’t believe he will do anything to solve the Middle East issues), especially in Canada with the prime minster, Stephen Harper, being “right of Bush.”

Ellis started by positing that he is proud to be a Jew, but does not like how Israel is (re)acting. He brought up what he called the “prophetic,” meaning that it was Jewish culture, specifically the Exodus story with Moses bringing down the commandments, which is the basis of the entire Jewish-Christian-Muslim culture. As he spoke, a PowerPoint presentation flashed overhead, initially including the covers of some of his tomes, which seemed a bit disingenuous to me (but I feel that way about any author who lectures and pushes more than the present book, Judaism Does Not Equal Israel: The Rebirth of the Jewish Prophetic).

His essential argument is that the Jews of Europe, who migrated to the Middle East after World War II, basically used the Holocaust as a tool and justification for taking over the land, and treated its inhabitants poorly. Ellis used images of the walls built in Israel and especially the West Bank, and compared them to the walls built around the Warsaw Ghetto. What he left out mostly was why both these walls were built, and the difference between the motivations. The Warsaw wall was built to keep the Jews in for extermination purposes, whereas the walls in the West Bank are to keep the threat of violence to the Israeli citizens out. Ellis referred to “a few crude missiles” lobbed over to Israel so the wall is an overreaction, but in fact it is thousands of missiles every month that fly into Israel. As I’ve stated before, if Hamilton, Ontario, started lobbing bombs into Buffalo, NY, within a week the US would be attacking and sealing off Hamilton. Meanwhile, Israel is told by everyone else to just say, “Oh, well.”

He also discussed the “Nakba” (Arabic word for catastrophe) which is the “Palestinian” word for their being kicked out of Israel at its formation in 1948 by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). This is a misnomer, however, and what Ellis did not address at all that “Nakba” is a word created as a tool for something that pretty much never happened on a large scale. What actually occurred was when Israel was formed, the leaders of the neighboring Arab states declared that if any Arabs stayed in the territory after Israel was created, then when the neighboring Arabs destroyed “the Zionist entity,” then they would be tortured and killed as collaborators, so most Arabs left their homes of out fear from other Arab states. When these “refugees” moved out and to what was to be safe havens in their threatening neighbors, they were ostracized and placed instead into miserable ghettos and mistreated worse than anything done by the Israelis. No one has been crueler to the “Palestinians” than their own brother states. This is never addressed by apologists.

Ellis declares that he is in favor of a “two-state” system, with the West Bank and a large part of Jerusalem becoming a home-land for the “Palestinians.” However, what he does not mention is that when the British left Palestine, the UN split Palestine into two parts, a tiny percentage to the west went to become Israel, and the rest became an Arab State of Palestine, which became annexed by Jordan shortly later. But when the Arab people who were living in the territory to become Israel were forced to leave by other Arab states under threat of death and thereby losing their land that way, that is what became known as Nakba.

As for Jerusalem being bi-owned, this will not solve the problem of the Wailing Wall and the adjacent building, a holy Muslim site. After the Six Day War in 1968, as is stated in Wikipedia, “Jews could visit the Old City of Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall to which they had been denied access by the Jordanians (in contravention of the 1949 Armistice agreement). In Hebron, Jews gained access to the Cave of the Patriarchs (the second most holy site in Judaism) for the first time since the 14th Century (previously Jews were only allowed to pray at the entrance).[67] A third Jewish holy site, Rachel's Tomb, in Bethlehem, also became accessible.” Since the Israeli’s took over Jerusalem, all can come to the holy sites, with the only restrictions being that a visitor must go through a check point similar to going to, say, the Statue of Liberty or the Arch of St. Louis.

Ellis claims he is glad Israel exists, but is also in favor of arming the “Palestinians” so they can fight for themselves. Che? He states that there is a “second Diaspora,” where 2 million Jewish Israelis have fled, he claims out of guilt of how the “Palestinians” are treated. That may be accurate for some, and in fact I’m sure it is, but for most Israelis in New York I have known it was for two basic reasons: first, they can make money here (like most immigrants from anywhere), and they are tired of living in fear of daily threats and bombings.

The largest question I had about what he did not talk about was why Israel has its policies, such as building walls. But he went around that by stating his talk is about Israel, “not about the Palestinians.” So he is only talking one sided, which is hardly impartial.

What would I like? I’d like to see the Arabs recognize Israel and declare (and follow through) that they will stop attacking. If that happened, I bet within a couple of years trade between all parties would start and both would benefit, then the walls would come down, and a second Palestinian statehood would probably emerge. Most of the world just wants Israel to give and give, and not get anything, especially safety, in return. While I certainly do not necessarily agree with all of Israel’s policies about the “Palestinians,” on the other hand I understand the reaction to them. Sure it is sometimes harsh, but it is a country that was built by the survivors of the Holocaust, was attacked by all its neighbors within 24 hours of its creation, and is still under constant threats (too often one hears some Middle East head of state claim that they want to eliminate Israel).

On the part of Israel, and here is the part I actually agree with Ellis, I can imagine it becoming a secular state rather than a “Jewish State,” where everyone was equal, but be put into the charter that is especially safe for Jews and aboriginal Arabs. Theocracy as rule just does not work, as is evident in many countries in the Middle East, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. That’s why the US has a separation of church and state (though there are those in the US who would both argue against the separation, and believe it should be a “Christian State,” and others that fight for it, such as the much-bashed ACLU).

At the beginning of the Question and Answer period, the moderator (who is a Jewish professor from another university), clearly stated she would take charge and there would be no statements allowed, only questions, and they must be respectful. In other words, one must agree. Ellis denigrated Bush, but seems to follow his questioning policies. All the questions I heard (I left after about 30 minutes of this section) clearly showed that most of the audience was behind Ellis, though one woman asked why he showed slides of walls but not of the blown up and burned bodies of babies from the suicide bombers, to which he dodged the answer to a query that I found very relevant.

The important thing to remember is that truth is like the word “objective,” as it doesn’t truly exist in a pure form. There is always bias, as Harold Innis pointed out. My truth is not necessarily “your” truth. Language philosopher Alfred Korzypski declared his Law of Non-Identification as, "Whatever I say a thing is, it is not."

This event was sponsored by the Dean’s Office of Arts & Sciences, Religion and Culture of Arts & Sciences, Sociology of Arts & Sciences, St. Thomas Moore College, the Fellowship for Reconciliation and Peace (FRAP), Independent Jewish Voices, and Near East Cultural and Educational Foundation.

Information on Ellis:
Baylor University site on Ellis:
Some online articles:

A very similar lecture, given five days earlier, in Toronto:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: Two Weeks Since My Last Confession, by Kate Genovese

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

Two Weeks Since My Last Confession
By Kate Genovese
Mountain Valley Publishing, 2009
368 pages, $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-934940-63-1

But first I digress… The central character of this book, Molly O’Brien, was born on October 19. Not only is that my mom’s birthday, but it’s also the day I started reading this! How much of a portent is that?

The focus of the novel is the large, Boston-based Irish-Catholic O’Brien family, who smacks of a Kennedy political mien. As the siblings grow up from the 1950s through the mid-‘80s, this story pinpoints mostly on three of them: Molly, Susan, and their brother Sean, highlighting their relationships, interaction with each other, the power of their family, and their participation with Catholic Church.

In this, Genovese’s third release, she uses her background in nursing to cover a multitude of sins including a large number of social ills, such as teen pregnancy, prostitution, PTSD, and abuse, such as drug, physical and sexual.

As we meet Molly, it is the late ‘70s and she is in rough shape. She wonders how her life came to this point, and so we begin a flashback to her birth. Growing up, she was one of eight kids, and the one with the strongest will. And yet, her mother’s ferverant religious zeal tears at her and wears her down. She acts out again and again, and a memory of an uncomfortable series of nights at home keeps her out of the house, leading her into more and more trouble. Genovese shows the reader step by step, making us desire to help and yet feel powerless.

This is also a story of its time. The effects of teen pregnancy or spousal abuse then would not have the same effect on a political family now. Also, with the present technology and celebrity family media fixation, there would be less chance for the political head of a family to be able to pull as many strings to keep family laundry more secretive.

While very little of the story takes place within the Church proper, its pull is felt on nearly every page, hence the title. The shunning led through the Church’s influence on its parishioners to unwed mothers through the pressures of confession and supposed forgiveness, is only conceded on the parish’s terms. This is its form of abuse most prevalent throughout these pages.

As a storyteller, Genovese knows how to keep the reader interested in what happens to the people this story revolves around, and in fact, I wouldn’t mind a second book about the rest of the clan that gets more of a peripheral glance. For example, two of the sisters see beyond what troubles Molly, and stand by her. What makes them tick, I wondered, since they were raised by this same intense family?

Despite the good storytelling, there are a few concerns that plagued me. First of all, the ending seems just a little too feel-good and pat. Also, by placing the time of the novel, Genovese avoids HIV/AIDS, though I doubt this was meant intentionally.

My biggest problem with the book though, and I realize this may be nit-picking, is that like many self-published works (it can be bought on-line though, from numerous sources), it needs more solid editing and proofreading, as it’s rife with grammatical errors (for example, the word “seen” is used rather than “scene”). There is also the occasional clumsy sentence structure that could easily be picked up by a dedicated line-editor. The story and author deserve that, especially in this instance, when the narrative is so solid.

I do like that while the abuse is aplenty, much of the physical stuff is left kind of vague, thereby relying more on story than on mere shock value. This seems to give the tale more validity, as life is vague, especially when one looks at memories many years later.

Despite the high drama, there is a good and firm story here that is enjoyable to follow, and I must admit it was enough of a page turner that I kept reading more often than most books I’ve read recently. Definitely a quick and enjoyable read, that makes me want to seek out her other works.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CD Reviews: A Jersey Beat Special

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

These reviews originally appeared in my column in
Jersey Beat webzine (, which is well worth checking out.

ANDY BILINSKI started out as a punker here in the New York area, and then became a successful singer-songwriter down in Wilmington, NC. His sophomore release is The Meaning Behind Nothing is Everything ( For me, Andy’s strong point (and I’m not the first to say this by a long shot) is his introspective lyrics. In strong songs like “Paper Airplane,” “Silver Gull Motel,” “Strange World,” and “Brooklyn,” Andy looks at his emo side by being poetic rather than melodramatic (From “Silver Gull Motel”: “I reach my hands out across the sand/I part the tide with a fine toothcomb”). Andy either uses a full band or does the self-played-multi-instruments to give a plush sound, and this usually works (the rare exception is the overly electronic “Breathe”). While Andy’s voice is kind of “woody” and earthy, it fits the tone of the song, so it definitely achieves what he apparently sought.

Americana comes in many forms, as does rock’n’roll, such as the ‘20s Appalachian styles of Allison Krauss and Rachel Harrington, through the more bluegrass and country.. Then there is the raw C&W genre, like Emmylou Harris and PATTY BLEE. Her 6-songer, From the Inside (EP) (, shows a solid feel for various forms of old school country. Right from the start, Patty comes out twangin’ with the what-are-we-waitin’-for? rave-up, “From the Inside.” After a power boogie “Can’t Explain It,” she goes into the love ballad “If I Knew”… Well, I could go song by song, but it really is pointless because this is such a strong release that it has me itchin’ for a full release. This is one of my fave of this batch of reviews.

Possibly the best way to describe KATH BUCKELL & THE FOLKS (c/o on their eponymous release is classic Celtic. With an Irish-based lilt, Kath gently jigs her way around topics such as lore, love, and loss. Her voice is soft and it swells and meanders around the song, which, in typical fashion for the genre, rises and falls in scale often (though not as much as, say, modern R&B). Much more pure than the Corrs, also present are all the necessary instrumentation for this style, like flutes and strings. If one is a fan of bands like Renaissance and the Rankin Family, as am I, this will most likely be an exciting find.

No matter what, one has to truly respect DOMENICK CARINO. His six-song, 23-minute The Only Thing That Comes to Mind are Songs About Us ( contains two disks, which are identical. One is notched as “Yours to keep,” the other “Yours to share.” Brooklyn-born, this ex-singer of Red Engine Nine and Sunday All-Stars once again strikes out in a singer-songwriter genre. With a sweet-sounding voice, Domenick presents life moments, highlighting emotions with people (“Lovers, Neighbor or Friends,” “Streets of Dublin”), places (“Alabama”) and love, of course (“Delicate,” and just about all the others). Luckily, Carino has a nice turn of a music phrase, including lyrically, so the interest stays, especially with his guy-next-door voice.

THE CATERPILLAR BOOK is a collection of a few good friends, who include some cult musicians, such as a member of Hoboken’s Cucumbers (an underrated band) and The Remains from Boston. On their first CD, Maybe This Summer… ( book), they all show their love for pop music, along the lines of, say, Cheap Trick. There is lots of melody, harmonies, and some wicked good vocalizing by Ryan O’Dell. Musicianship and production are in top gear, like a smooth coat of paint that assures they can play at any place from Maxwells to the Sidewalk Café. There are a lot of good songs here, including “Maybe This Summer,” “Time to Go,” “Spring,” “A Girl Like That,” and the catchy coda (which could have been the first song, as well), “Already Wasted.” When some friends who have known each other for a long time assemble and decide to put something together, it can either be self-indulgent or harmonious. Luckily, this is the former.

Haven’t Slept All Year (Scat, c/o is a solid release from COBRA VERDE. They do it old school style, reminiscent of the blues-rock of bands like pre-“Shake Some Action” Flamin’ Groovies. Frontman John Petkovic has a bit of a wandering key voice, evocative of Ray Davies, and together with the band form a tight and totally enjoyable release. From beginning to end, there’s one good cut following another, with tales of drink, drugs and women. Even the song titles are clever, like “Riot in the Foodcourt,” “Something About the Bedroom,” “I Could Go to Hell For You,” and “Haunted Heavens.” But don’t be fooled that they are just a turn-of-a-phrase kind of band, coz no, they are a lot of fun. Hell, at one point, it even sounds like there’s a theramin in there (though it’s most likely a keyboard). This was above a pleasant listen.

Hailing from Virginia, SHANE COOLEY opens up Whirlpool ( with describing his home town as “My Asbury Park,” which of course is going to get the attention of a magazine named Jersey Beat (even though this reviewer is currently in/from Brooklyn). It also helps that the song is so, well, for a simple superlative, great. In the Kevin Devine style, Shane successfully walks two grounds: his catalog, sung with full band as it is mostly here, consists of good rockers; when in just a boy-and-guitar mode, such as with “Breath Sped,” are strong singer-songwriter material. I am on my third time through the CD, and find much to keep my interest, like “Whirlpool,” “Kamikaze,” and “Double-Edged Sword.” Shane’s voice is strong with an occasional warble at the end of the lyric line. Certainly, I can see him catching on, especially as a start with college radio.

THE CROWD SCENE is a trio, based upon couple Grahame Davies (on most instruments and vocals) and Anne Rogers (bass and mostly harmonies), with Evan Pollack adding drums. There are also some other players who contribute on *With Complete Glossary for Squares (, such as pop cult icon (and rightfully so), Chris Stamey, who also produced some of the cuts here. This trio+ calls itself “Chamber Pop,” which basically means ballads with high production values and based strongly on melody. Okay, that’s an oversimplification for this collective, since they do not hit the listener over the head with studio work, but still keep in the smooth pop genre. I’ve heard some cathedral pop that makes me feel diabetic, but fortunately, this isn’t one of those. Well, anyone who is familiar with Chris Stamey’s solo work (“Summer Sun” is still a fave) probably has an idea of what kind of tone is set. The lyrics are somewhat bittersweet, jumping from “Walk Up to the Heath” through “Great Jones Street.” Grahame has a sweet voice that is hardly bland, and on her one solo outing, “Which Way,” Anne proves to hold her own. While the songs sometimes seem to blend together in its tone, the Crowd Scene does not lose its direction. It’s been a while since I heard something from Wampus, and it is good to see they have kept going.

JAMES DALTON has a strong, classic singer-songwriter voice, in the way he sings, the way in writes, and the posture he projects on Butterflies and Passerbys ( His structure, while being “classic” is hardly formulaic, thankfully, which makes this an easy listen. Sometimes he treads on Greg Brown territory (meant positively), but mostly he covers his material with freshness, right from the start, with “Kiss of the Dark Haired Girl,” straight through to the end. There is even a blues thrown in, with “Alafaya Mama” (named after a road in Orlando, FL, James noted to me). One of my fave cuts is “Wednesday Night Mass,” soaring through people’s lives. A one-man band (writes, plays), Dalton keeps it simple, exposing as much as is needed, rather than everything he has, which makes for a cleaner, clearer recording.

The latest by KEVIN DEVINE AND THE GODDAMN BAND is Brother’s Blood (Favorite Gentlemen;, and I may be tipping my hand here, but I think it may my favorite of his releases so far. Kevin has a wide range between rocker and pop balladeer, and here he leans more toward the introspection of the softer side, but never giving in to the easy formulaic tune (like Springsteen did with “Dancing in the Dark,” for example). Quiet and delicate (yet never wanking) pieces like “Fever Moon” and “Yr Husband” share space comfortably with more forceful pieces like “Brother’s Blood” (which he goes full on power mode). There are some cuts that have been noted for possible “single” release, like “I Could Be Anyone,” but there is so much to choose from, like the opener “All of Everything,” “Hand of God,” or the CD’s coda, “Tomorrow’s Just Too Late.” Kevin Devine, if there were any musical justice, would be on the A-list of musicians, and perhaps his release will chip away towards that.

For those who don’t know, RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOT is a contemporary of the likes of Woody and Pete. On his umpteenth release, A Stranger Here (, Jack takes on the blues with both feet in the Delta. Produced by Joe Henry, and accompanied by the likes of David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and the legendary Van Dyke Parks, Elliot leaves his Americana comfort zone, and here covers a number of pre-‘40s blues that influenced the sound he helped promote (the equivalent may be the Ramones covering the Ronnettes). Sometimes white artists covering the blues sounds disingenuous, but after living a road weary musicians’ life through the ‘50s and ‘60s, and now in his late 70s, his voice fits the emotional form. Some of the stronger cuts include “Rambler’s Blues,” “Richman Women Blues,” “The New Strangers Blues,” and the extremely personal feel of “Please Remember Me” (which emotionally reminds me of Phil Ochs’ “When I’m Gone”). RJE does not disappoint here, even as he stretches at this point in his life.

From the banjo and violin that open Let’s Do Something… (, BILL EVANS & MEGAN LYNCH clearly posit their interests’ foundation, in an Americana sound. Megan carries most of the vocals here, with her sweet, high voice, though Bill also handles a few; and on rare occasions, they blend together beautifully. One of the interesting aspects of this particular release is that along with two of Bill’s textured originals, the rest of this is filled with reimagining of others’ songs, such as Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and their beautiful interpretation of John Gorka’s “Morningside.” Bill and Megan aren’t a flashing duo, so they get a chance to play some intertwining complex eclectic folk and bluegrass rather than trying to out blaze anyone, which I so respect.

Battle is the first solo release by the lead singer of the Willowz, RICHIE JAMES FOLLIN ( Okay, I’m willing to admit that I don’t know the Willowz, so I’m just going to take this for itself. All 72+ minutes of it. There are 12 songs, each with a single-word title. The music here is competent, though pretty generic, classic rock, including those C&W-influenced numbers. Little bit of guitar flash here, stretched out echoed vocals there. The press says, “RJF takes it a step into the future with a nod to the past.” Nod seems an accurate term. The process in which it was recorded is wicked cool, basically done in a single day during a barbeque in CA at the home of Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks, Mezzanine Owls), who also plays on the collection. I totally respect that, but there just does not seem to be a spark to ignite the music, especially on the vocals. Maybe if they recorded less and focused on fewer songs there would be, well, more. The recording is a functional vanity project, but one would think that some of the excitement of the day would have passed along into what was recorded. This sounds more like a demo. Perhaps it will come across better on the DVD?

In his liner notes for Passing Train (, JOEL HARRISON posits a treatise for this release, saying that he usually does improvisational jazz, but in this case tried going more “pop.” Actually, what he does is spiritually infused singer-songwriter in most cases. He also claims this was hard for him, though the only time I caught that was on “Midnight.” Okay, now that I’m done whining, nearly all the rest of the CD is actually pretty good. His mildly gravely voice fits well with singer-songwriter style, especially so on numbers like the powerful anti-war “Glory Days Are Gone,” the lyrically moving opener “The Wishing Well,” the Ritchie Havens-esque “Travel On” (with the help of the voice of the ever amazing Toshi Reagon), the twang-infused traveling “Just For the Ride,” and the spiritual finale of “Wash Away,” buoyed by the piano of Henry Hey. On two of the songs, Joel gives away his lead to vocalist Jen Chapin, backing her up on the anti-drug “No One Knows How to Die,” and sharing with her on the down-and-outer “God Loves a Loser.” While I am not familiar with Joel’s seven CDs previous to this, it seems “Regret” may be the closest mix of his jazz style with his singer-songwriter. The only song I was not fond of was the discoy-to-R&B-to-acid rock (and way too long at over 5 minutes) “Northwest Jewel” (a tribute to counterculture cult king Ken Kesey), though it is obvious this song meant a lot to him.

STEVE JAMES takes the title of his latest CD, Short Blue Stories (Hobemian, c/o to heart. Most songs clock in at just over three minutes, quite short for some blues that have riffs that last longer. Using Delta-style steel strings (though he HQs in Austin), James swamps his way through traditional I-IV-V to breathe some life into 16 originals (in 54 minutes). With aplomb, James (and occasionally collaborator Del Rey, who also adds some interesting vocal counterpoint) wails through great numbers like the finger waggin’ “Sparky’s Tune,” “Factory Girl,” and my fave cut closer, “Why the Blues Don’t Worry Me (part two)”. While “Reckon I Did” sounds like new lyrics to the tune of “Froggy When A-Courtin’,” he mostly takes the classic sound and respects it, even with the humorous “Folk Radio” (which would be ironic considering he’s been on numerous shows, such as NPR’s Prairie Home Companion).

On Slow Dance (, JEREMY JAY presents his synth pop style, in which his soft, child-like tenor is either highly echoed or he is overdubbing his own voice (honestly, I can’t tell which). There is, naturally, a strong synthesizer presence that sounds like it came right out of the ‘80s, but without the strong bottom which synth needs so badly. There is a definite in-motion thread running through all the songs, but most of them don’t seem to go anywhere. There are a couple of good songs here, I must say, such as “In This Lonely Town” and “Where Could We Go Tonight,” but that’s about it. Best way I can sum it up is by presenting the lyrics to you. Here are the opening stanzas for four songs in a row. First, there is “Gallop”: “Sometimes we gallop through the forest / Sometimes we gallop through the rain / Sometimes we gallop over moonbeams / Giddy-up horsey giddy-up / Giddy-up horsey giddy-up.” Second, “Canter Canter”: “Canter canter canter / Over moonbeams / Canter canter canter / Over starstreams / Canter Canter Canter / In the night air / Canter canter canter / Going somewhere.” Third is “Slow Dance”: “We are / slow slow slow slow slow / Slow slow slow slow slow / Dancing / We are / Slow slow slow slow slow / Slow slow slow slow slow / Dancing.” Finally, “Winter Wonder”: “Winter wonder winter wonder / Tear / Drop drop drop drop drop drop / Tear / drop drop drop drop drop drop.” Yes, the songs are about motion, but it feels like the “needle” is stuck. I’m not sure if he is trying to be something between early Jonathan Richman or possibly Suicide, but this is, well, let’s just say this is not a CD that will be on any kind of rotation at my casa.

Edible Word Parade ( is DARRELLE LONDON’s sophomore release, and even within this short time, I am impressed by her growth, which is saying a lot considering how much I enjoyed her first one. She starts off running with the very catchy “Understand,” and just keeps on going. Her looks at life and love are filtered through her sweet, childlike lilt, but do not hold back on different aspects of relationships. Darrelle not only has a way with a lyric phrase, but also has a strong pop melody sensibility that makes her songs memorable and hummable. Just check out cuts like “These Days” and “Bad” to see what I mean. I can see some critics may lump her into a category with the likes of Kimya Dawson, but that would not be fair, because as good as Kimya is, I find Darrelle’s songs to be more mature and enjoyable. I will definitely be listening to this beyond the reviewing process. Though she hails from Toronto, I so look forward to getting the chance to see Darrelle play at some point. Why is Joe’s Pub waiting to call her?

Yeah, ELLIOTT MURPHY has been around forever…well, since 1973 anyway. Now comes his 30th release, Notes From the Underground ( I had the opportunity to see him play a couple of times in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. He tours a large chunk of the year, and that is reflected in the strength of his material and playing. Elliott has mellowed a bit through the years, but just because some of his songs are a bit melodious, they still have a strong punch with both melody and deep (yet accessible) lyrics. There are lots of good songs here, including the opener “And General Robert E. Lee” (which is rightfully somewhat of a hit overseas), “Ophelia,” and “Frankenstein’s Daughter” (perhaps a sequel to the Doll’s tune?). He was an under the radar figure back then, let’s hope that people like college radio programmers take notice and start a grass roots swell.

Usually, I don’t review CD-Rs, but I’m happy to make an exception with CHRISTOPHER MORSE and his Here’s to Better Days ( Christopher’s style is solid singer-songwriter, and I must say he has a very clear voice that is very listenable, even though his topic on this is not relationship-friendly. From “Super Me” through “Caught in the Headlights” and “Friend Line,” this 5-songer is touching without being treacle, with sharp lyrics and melodies, in a Richard Shindell kind of way.

Like jazz, country is a purely American musical extension. For over 10 years, NASHVILLE PUSSY has been taking the Country genre and wringing it through a metal perspective. Their latest is the hard-hitting From Hell to Texas (;, proving that time has not softened them a bit. There are still the expected songs of substance abuse (“Drunk Driving Man,” “I’m So High,” “Dead Men Can’t Get Drunk,” “Give Me a Hit Before I Go”), local pride (“From Hell to Texas”), a look at the larger picture (“Late Great USA”), and the controversial (“Lazy Jesus,” “Pray for the Devil”). This mixed gender band never lets go to take the easy road, with Ruyter Suys laying down the metal crunch twang taking the place of the lap guitar (I was particularly taken with her riff on “Stone Cold Down”), while husband Blaine Cartwright growls and spits his vocals with the best of ‘em. For a crossover release recorded in country stalwart Willie Nelson’s studio, this is sledgehammer subtle. A head-pounding successful release.

It’s not often I get to review something from Israel. HADAR NOIBERG and VLADIMIR KATZ are part of a jazz quartet, who have produced Lunch Special ( As the CD begins, it sounds like it’s going the way of avant-garde, but as the music continues (about 1 minute in), what is presented is more freeform (though probably scripted). Excellent material and musicianship throughout the hour-plus presented here. With a pleasant and heavy use of Hadar’s flute followed secondly by Vladimir’s piano, Gon Amir (drums) and Avri Borochov (standup bass) ably keep the rhythm flowing. The one piece with vocals is the haunting “One for Yulia,” which is sung (in Hebrew) by Hadar (it is translated in the liner notes), and one of the few that is heavily klezmer-influenced. This is not a garden party kind of ensemble, but rather a roll up the sleeve and groove, but mostly it is a beautiful collection of material.

J. SHOGREN has a voice that’s a bit gravely and rough-hewn. Americana can absorb that if the songs hold up, and on American Holly (Jaha!, c/o, they do just that. The opener, the album’s title cut, is obviously meant to be the “single,” but it was the third cut, “Everyman,” that caught my “ear.” As the CD glides along, it really started to reach me. The songs are catchy in a folky singer-songwriter pop kind of way, with melody lines that stay with the listener. There is really nice horn work here, like where they counterpoint with the banjo in “Holes.” Another piece that caught my attention was a sort of revisioning of “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” with the biting “Hand Grenade” (“I’ll be a hand grenade for Jesus / And spread His word like shrapnel”). It is also amusing (or can be seen as such) that a “women is bad” song like “Relativity” is followed by the romantic “She’s With Me.” While many of his songs are poignant, it is his closing number that touched me the most in my life right now, “Come All This Way.”

I approached the British quartet SITUATIONISTS (why hasn’t anyone used that name before? It seems like such a “duh”) new release, Onward & Upward EP (, with a bit of trepidation. Two four-song EPs and a full collection only released in Japan. Seems a bit too designed marketing for a new band. Plus, there are supposed to be only 500 hand-numbered copies, but mine is not. That was all washed away, though, when I actually played the thing. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “paux de quad,” but it would seem appropriate for this group. Musically – both melodically and vocally – they don’t harmonize as much as move around each other, maneuvering in smooth pop rhythms, reminiscent of a four-way helix. It really is quite well handled, without being overdone. The production is slick, with an occasional slip towards a boy-band sound, but nevertheless, they keep their integrity. Sort of flings right to the edge, and then pulls back in an explosion. Crafty. All four songs are good, with well-done catches, and it never lets the listener down. If they make it, all these EPs and foreign releases are bound to be issued as a “bonus” at some point, but for now, enjoy.

I was fortunate to meet Mo Goldner, the guitarist for SPANKING CHARLENE at a Brian Cogan book signing. Shortly, his band’s release, *Dismissed with a Kiss ( arrived. Fronted (mostly) by Charlene McPherson (does she really enjoy spanking?), the band has a bit of a mainstream rock sound, but without pandering to the lowest common denominator. There is no overproduction; rather the songs are really tight with good hooks. If I may, they have sort of a Cheap Trick feel to them, with perhaps the slightest hint of some country. Charlene’s voice is a solid, straightforward (i.e., non-growl), and enjoyable. Better than nearly anything one can hear on the radio these days, this should be played instead. “I Hate Girls” is a perfect antidote to the lame Katy wazzername’s “I Kissed a Girl,” though SC’s “Pussy is Pussy” probably won’t get much airplay. Some of the other strong cuts include “When I’m Skinny” and “Red Rolling Papers.” Worth seeking out.

MARY GATCHELL once stated in a song that “brutal honesty will set you free.” Well, regarding her new CD, Syretha (, composed of standards, this was wise choice of material – especially for her. Well versed in jazz pop piano, Syretha (listed as both artist and title, after Mary’s middle name) slides into pieces by the likes of Gershwin (“Summertime”), Kerns (“Yesterdays”), and Ellington (“It Don’t Mean a Thing”), bringing fresh life into some songs that will never get tired. For example, her takes on “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing” is to present these uptempo numbers and slowing them down to smoldering ballads bedded with a jazz-heavily piano accompaniment (surprisingly not played by her), and made them into something that she can keep as her own. In a day when Etta James complains that Beyonce is merely copying her, no one can say that about anything on this release. Songs like “Summertime” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” have been done countless times, so bringing some new breath into them is no small feat. Piano, bass and drums ably accompany Syretha. The only jarring aspect of the CD is the suddenly upbeat “It Don’t Mean a Thing” in the middle of the rest of the collection of relative mellowness; definitely a sudden mood change. That said, even that number is solid. I always look forward to hearing Mary’s work, and will be enjoying this one for a long time.

Let me start off with a digression by saying that Brian Smith did a great job with the artwork on this one, with the cover representing a board game and each space sequentially connected to a song, and the disk looking like a spinner. That being said, TAPE AND WIRE is an interesting melodic New Jersey punk band who present their newest release, Sleep! ( This power trio (with sometimes help from others) range from acoustic guitar ballads to blast in your face power. It makes for a nice mix. Amusingly, there are a few songs about alcohol, but either in the past tense or in the use by others. Is this a straight-edge band? The lyrics vary from the obtuse (“As the grain goes by, you’re alone again / All you outbound ideas / Caught in the same old inbound delays,” from “We’re Not in Secaucus Anymore”), to the in-your-face introspective (“”In the town that I grew up in, we’re so cool / In the permanent reunion of high school,” from “Church of Beer”), but mostly the songs are looking inward without being navel gazing to the point of wanting to ask them to stop whining. One song, in particular, I could identify with is “Teenage Pricks,” about aging and remembrances hopefully without regrets. It’s a good release ripe with thoughtfulness and retrospection, rather than just a sophomoric “Let’s get drunk and fuck!” Now all they need to do is add their e-address to the CD.

Bob Richert has run the Gulcher label ( since the ‘70s, and while it is most known for the Gizmos and early releases of John Cougar (Mellencamp), Bob should also be commended for championing and releasing some of the more interesting non-commercial independent music over the years. I haven’t always liked everything the label puts out, but I cannot begin to express my admiration for his devotion. The last release I received from Gulcher is Constant Hitmaker, by KURT VILE. Vile’s music is dripping with electronica, which I usually despise, but on some cuts, he doesn’t hit the listener over the head with it, using it more to promote the music rather than take it over. Sure some are solid variations of noise, like “Trumpets in Summer,” “Intro in Z,” and “American Folded,” but others not as much. Vile’s vocals are usually filtered through heavy echo, but the dissonant pop tunes still shine through, with catchy phrases and offbeat melodies. For me, the best cuts are the ones that are more pure, like “Classic Rock in the Spring” and “Don’t Get Cute.” However, my fave is easily “Slow Talkers,” which is straightforward Vile and an exceptionally played guitar, sans meddling. A lyric sheet would be appreciated to help through the vocal fog, but if one listens to it on an ambient level, it makes it listenable.

British singer-songwriter RUPERT WATES now lives in Brooklyn, but he recorded Dear Life ( in Washington state. It was recorded live in the studio, usually with one take, which works here because it sounds like he’s playing in the same room. Well done on that. Wates’s voice sounds like a clearer and more theatrical Gordon Lightfoot, and his songs are foisted by his light-fingered guitar work and backing musicians. Each song is a single piece, without any blending into each other, a mark of a true tunesmith. Most of the songs though, are pregnant with death, war, daddy-issues (“The Sound of Applause”), mommy-issues (“Fairy Tales”), and true visions of horror like Katrina (“Please God”) and that man who was murdered by the police in Queens the night of his bachelor party (“Fifty Shots”). Definitely a look at the dark side, though well written, Wates could make Phil Ochs look cheery. There are some potentially hopeful numbers, like “Blackness of the Nights” and “You’ll See Me Again” (and perhaps “I Dream”), but there are more tunes leaning toward the “Elegy for the Coming Man” mode. I especially liked “Please God,” which uses the “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” kind of repetition and is strongly in a traditional folk mode, and his use of lyrics makes it all the more powerful. Wates definitely has a way with words, thought structures, melody lines, and musicianship, so this actually is a positive review, and I truly believe this is worth a listen, just don’t expect the feel good CD of the year.

* * *
The following are released by RESONANT MUSIC, a label run by DEE POP and ANDY HAAS (

ANDY HAAS and DON FIORINODeath Don’t Have No Mercy ( It is probably safe to say that this is abstractly as far above Miles Davis as he was to, say, Louis Armstrong. Using Sax, piri, fife, electronica, guitar, lotar, banjo and dobro, this duo mixes both originals and standards, such as the U.S. national “Anthem,” “Comes Marching Home,” “Que Sera Sera” (whose horn feels closest to Davis), and the title cut. Recorded in a day, there is a definite feel to the songs, almost like this anti-war collection is at war with our sensibilities of sound, especially mixing the feel and sound of the “Civil” War and a Middle Eastern pastiche. Some standouts are “Ashes in the Sand,” “Memorywound” (which reminds me of some of Wendy Carlos’s works), and especially “Sinawi Spirits.”

RADIO I-CHINGLast Kind Words ( For this recording, Don Fiorino and Andy Haas (who used to play with Martha and the Muffins, by the way), are joined by genre pushing drummer Dee Pop (Bush Tetras, the Good, and so much more). Less “competitive” oriented (both topic and stylistic) than the last release, this one is more focused on the traditional side, even though the music is just as esoteric (get used to that word, because I am sure it will be used a lot in this section). The number of covers has also increased, including a earthy “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” Duke Ellington’s “Walk on Gilded Splinters” and “The Mooch,” Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che,” and a couple of versions of the spiritual “Let My People Go.” There is still a “gun section,” it may be called, with the original “Fife and Drum” and “Machine Gun Blues,” and a different version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” than the first disk. Standouts include Geeshie Wiley’s “Last Kind Words,” the before mentioned “Caravan,” and the 8:13-long original “Morsing Code.”

ANDY HAASHumanitarian War: This is Haas’s solo project is definitely closer to the first above than the second, filled with originals. There are two interesting aspects of this collection. First is the instrumentation: shofar, raita, fife, electronics, and taal tarang. Second, this was all improvised live, with no overdubs. Haas continues a sort of Middle Eastern over-theme in an non-melodic, non-sequential, non-formulaic method. I respect the work, but a lot of this honestly goes over my head. The shofar and the taal tarang add some interesting touches, but much of the sound is lost on me. However, if the listener is into no wave electronica, well, have I got a CD for you!

RADIO I-CHINGThe Fire Keep Burning ( radioichingnewyork): The trio of Haas, Fiorino and Pop return with more middle eastern influenced jazz electronica. Again, covers out number the originals, including by the likes of Mohamed Ardel Wahab, Hamza el Din, Thelonious Monk, Jimme Driftwood, and “Abba Zabba” by the ever lovable Captain Beefheart. I also liked their cover of Count Ossie’s “Let Freedom Reign.” This release is by far the most overall modern jazz in some kind of “coherent” form (i.e., there are some definite melodies in there). This is one of my favorite overall recordings from this collection.

ANDY HAASThe Ruins of America: While this solo material by Haas is still more electronica than the others where he performs with others, it has an overarching theme of sort of a dance macabre, as is indicated by the title and cover art (taken from Rowlandson’s 1815 The English Dance of Death). Haas has taken his usual instruments (sax, piri, fife) and fed them through a synthesizer to create the sounds here. Cleaner and clearer than his first solo CD, this release feel more haunting. Much of the music here is based on traditional music from the nineteenth century, or feels like it, even those from Tin Pan Alley (e.g., Irving Berlin makes more than one appearance).