Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet
These reviews originally appeared in my column in Jersey Beat webzine (www.jerseybeat.com/quietcorner.html), 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 (myspace.com/andybilinski). 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) (pattyblee.com), 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 email@example.com) 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 (fakechapter.com) 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… (myspace.com/thecaterpillar 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 cobraverde.com) 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 (shanecooleymusic.com) 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 (wampus.com), 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 (aeriarcords.com). 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; myspace.com/kevindevine), 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 (anti.com), 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… (nativeandfinerecords.com), 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 (richiejamesfollin.com). 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 (tuition-music.com), 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 stevejames.com) 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 (krecs.com), 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 (darrellelondon.com) 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 (elliottmurphy.com). 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 (myspace.com/christophermorse). 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 (SPVUSA.com; nashvillepussy.com), 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 (hadarnoiberg.com.com). 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 jshogren.com), 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 (toughloverecords.com), 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 (spankingcharlene.com) 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 (marygatchell.com), 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! (formula7records.com/tapeandwire). 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 (gulcher.gemm.com) 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 (rupertwates.com) 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.
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The following are released by RESONANT MUSIC, a label run by DEE POP and ANDY HAAS (myspace.com/deepopnyc)
ANDY HAAS and DON FIORINO – Death Don’t Have No Mercy (firstname.lastname@example.org): 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-CHING – Last Kind Words (email@example.com): 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 HAAS – Humanitarian 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-CHING – The Fire Keep Burning (myspace.com/ 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 HAAS – The 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).