Friday, September 30, 2011

Jersey Beat’s Quiet Corner, Fall 2011: Part 4 of 4

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Originally in Jersey Beat webzine, 2011
Images and video from the Internet

Here are the reviews that were in my Quiet Corner column at the excellent Jersey Beat webzine ( Rather than publish all the reviews at once, I will be publishing them on this blog a few at a time. If I found a video of an exact version of a song from the release, I attached it. Other videos by these artists (usually live) exist, so you can check them out.

If you are in a band and want me to review your release, be it CD, vinyl, DVD or digital, write to me at, or if it’s digital, just send it along.

Deciding to go the single name root, reggae singer Ruth A. Brown is now known simply as RUTH. While she has a full album in the making, she had released an eponymous EP (, with five songs. The production is solid, glossy, and could easily be comfortable in the Top-10. But I decided to listen to it all the way, anyway. All five cuts are about love, as in being starry-eyed and at full tilt. While the best cut is “Unfamiliar Feelings,” the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder “Jamtown” (slang for Jamaica) comes in an easy second. “I Love You” is good, if a bit predictable, and “Chillin’ with my Baby” is mostly fine, though the repeated title chorus gets a bit much. But then again, reggae is oft-times based on a repeated rhythm, so perhaps I am being narrow-minded. Now, I’m not sure if it’s the singer’s ego or she has a punk attitude (meant as a compliment, of course), but having an opening track of that professes her love for her guy while slamming music reviewers, “Here Come the Critics,” is nervy. Good for her. That being said, this isn’t hardcore reggae but with a definite pop feel to it, but she does apparently have a better voice than the limited amount I’ve heard of the over-produced and auto-tuned Rhianna. Now Ruth just needs to get a wider market.

KELLI SCARR has had quite the career, with the bands Moonraker, and Salt and Samovar, plus an acclaimed stint writing film soundtracks. Heck, she’s even toured with Moby (for which I will forgive her), as both his opening act and in his band (she co-sang his “Wait for Me” with him on the 2009 release). On Piece (Silence Breaks, c/o, her style is slow ballads reminiscent of Julee Cruise (though not that laconic). Along with some break-up tunes (“Break Up,” “So Long”), there is also lots of introspective life reflections, such as lullabies to her son. Definitely 33 in a 45 world, the tunes are mellow, but hardly dull. There’s a bit too much self-vocal overdubbing, but her voice is sweet so it all comes out on the positive side. The music is a bit electronic keyboard heavy (her instrument) but not obnoxiously so. In fact, she wields the instrument incredibly well, with no rinky-dink plunking, just using the right amount to highlight the songs. Good second cup of coffee in the morning music.

Ubber German metal flash guitarist Michael Schenker was in the bands Scorpion and UFO during the mid- to late-1970s, and, then he formed his MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP in 1980. Now there is the nearly 2-hour, 2-CD 30th Anniversary Concert: Live in Tokyo (, a reunion of most of his original orchestra taped early in 2010. Schenker is a helluva guitarist, whizzing up and down the fretboard of his custom Flying V guitar, and there is the occasional solo by other musicians, such as excellent bassist Neil Murray (from Whitesnake), drummer Simon Phillips (whose huge kit include a double bass) and rhythm guitarist / keyboardist Wayne Findlay, but this is Schenker’s show. My biggest problem with the band, though, is lead vocalist Gary Barden, who has bounced in and out of the band over the years. He’s a decent singer, but his style is formulaic for the genre, and his vocals are, well, certainly not idiosyncratic, like Joey Ramone, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Bon Scott, Lemmy, or Donna “She Wolf” Nasr. He certainly does seem to be having a lot of fun though, as is the Japanese crowd. However, the first number that really got my attention was the 10th one, “Into the Arena,” which I realized most of the way through was an instrumental. From the short (“Welcome Howl” comes in under 2 minutes) to the lengthy (“Rock Bottom” is nearly 13 minutes), there is a fine range of styles and feel, speed and tempo. I’m never going to be a metal head, but I can appreciate what the band is doing, and they manage it with surgical precision. There is also a DVD of this concert available from Inakustik.

What a difference a finger at a console makes. FRED SHAFER has a new release, Resistor (, and the possibilities for this solid rocker are far and wide. His songs are pretty strong with a firm rock bottom, but... This was co-produced by Shafer and Jamey Perrenot, the latter having worked with the likes of Taylor Swift and LeAnn Rimes. In other words, Perrenot knows all the tricks of the trade to make this release so slick that it collapses under its own weight. Yeah, this can be played on the radio as is now, and that most likely is the goal, but this is just so slick that there is no room for it to breathe, all compressed and balanced to the point of the loss of soul (small “s”). There have been a number of great bands that have been damaged by gloss, like Get Wet, Blondie after the first album, and the Dead Boys’ second. I would like to hear him live to see what he actually sounds like. Meanwhile, there are some decent songs here, like “Mama” and “Going Blind,” and his vocal has the right amount of growl in the back of it. It’s just a bit too mainstream for my taste these days.

Imagine if Patti Smith had listened to Delta folk rather than the Rolling Stones before recording “Piss Factory,” and that could give you some idea of what PEG SIMONE and crew do on Secrets From the Storm ( Starting off with the epic 22-minute poetry piece “Levee / 1927,” based on songs by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, the twangy guitar goes on for a while before the spoken word verse begins, telling of a dead body that’s come to the surface after being buried in mud for a while. After the poem part, Peg sings the next part. It’s an interesting and intriguing experiment. The other four pieces, all originals by Peg (and sometimes Holly Anderson) average around four minutes, but are of similar style, with a bluegrassy slide guitar and bass (and occasional piano and drum), and Peg either talking, whispering, or singing over it. It definitely kept my attention throughout. This is thoughtful and complex, even though it is apparently based on simple riffs, but its depth is surprisingly effective, even if the lyrics / poetry is sometimes cryptic.

THE SUPERBEES release, Top of the Rocks (, sounds like it could have come out in 1977, or they could have been on a double bill with the Heartbreakers or Gizmos. They have a raw and solid post-New York punk sound that will definitely rock you. Solid musicianship with great songs makes this too-short 6-songer fly by. “The Lonely Kind,” backed with extra vocals by Reggie Kat, just wails. The Superbees sound like they’d be a riot live by any indication of this release. I may have to search out their previous full-lengther. Not a bad song here.

RUSTY WILLOUGHBY was in the bands Pure Joy and Flop: opposite names with the same result of career stagnation. Here is his second solo release, Cobirds Unite (, and while I can’t predict success, I will say this is a well-thought out collection. Well, the ‘80s post-psych and ‘90s grunge were unsuccessful for him, but the neo-country he’s doing now is definitely a step up. An example of this success is definitely “Streets of Baltimore” (where he shares the vox with Rachel Flotard). His press keeps comparing him to Gram Parsons, which is ridiculous, but it can give you some idea of the direction Rusty is going. A question I have is whether this course is what he wants to do, or the track he thinks will work – two very different things, though I ask it as rhetorical. Rusty does seem to be comfortable in this genre of mixing country with soft rock, mostly leaning toward the latter, thankfully, since it works better with his voice, such as on the short opener “Wrecker of the Heart.” Topic-wise, a lot of it is wishin’ and hopin’ for love. He has a good feeling for melody, and sounds good in harmony. Hopefully, this will be his successful milieu.

I’m going to assume you have been reading this column for a while and know where my music heart snuggles. Here’s some info about Nova Scotia’s “atmospheric indie” (as they’ve been called) band WINTERSLEEP: their last album won a Juno (Canadian equiv of the Grammy) for Best New Band, and they opened for Pearl Jam; so where do you think I sit with their fourth release, New Inheritors ( Well, the press release compares them to Pearl Jam, Band of Horses and Interpol, three bands that have never meant anything to me. And Pearl Jam always seemed a bit harder than this. Don’t get me wrong, these guys play the crap outta their music, but it’s just a bit slick for me, almost like neo-prog. I mean, “Blood Collection” is pretty good, but I’d want to hear them more stripped down without all the studio overlays. But then, when dealing with an “atmospheric” band, that’s just about what a fan of the genre would want to hear, right? I’m torn, because I can tell this band is certainly talented, and know their way around their style and instruments, and also around a studio, but it’s not something I would ever go out (or stay in) to listen to without a specific reason. I don’t know, perhaps they’re more interesting live. Again, this is me talking about what I get outta the band, not the way they are performing (which is why this is a review, not a critique). Okay, rambling aside, if you like the bands mentioned as comparisons, perhaps check them out, or hear some of their samples. If this band touches you in your musical heart, all the better.

KATHY ZIMMER has such a lovely voice. I find people who have some operatic training tend to force their vocals, but not Kathy. The proof is further expressed in her new 5-song EP, Opening Band ( It’s by sheer luck I ran into Kathy at a Tamara Hey show a couple years back, but I’m grateful, because now I have the chance to introduce you to her, once again. Right from the first song, “Fairytale,” she lilts and tilts her tunes over and around her acoustic guitar. Swirling about as well are an electric guitar, violin and percussion. She continues the light ballad trend through all the originals here, giving the listener a warm, cozy feeling. All five are keepers, so go for it. Oh, lest I forget, my only complaint about the whole thing is that all the CD covers are hand-put-together, so no two are identical, and being the collector I am, I didn’t want to break the seal! But I did, and it was worth it…

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Club Flyers and Invites from 1970s and 1980s: Part 4

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Images are owned by the artists
Also, images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

As stated in an earlier blog, throughout the years I have collected flyers, especially from the 1970s and '80s. Many were sent to me directly by the bands while I was publishing FFanzeen. Below are some scans I made from my personal collection, in no particular order. I did see many of them, but not all, and I will comment on them from time to time. Note that I do not financially profit off of publishing them, but only do so to honor the work that was involved, and for archival purposes.

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls was possibly one of the first hardcore fiction films to be released. Actually, its first incarnation was as the VHS-only Desperate Teenage Runaways, which they had to legally change the name due to the growing popularity of the Runaways (yes, I own a copy). The film was pretty bad, and starred or had cameos by many local So-Cali scenesters (similarly, as did the British Jubilee). When the film came out in larger format, it was shown on the big screen for the first time on the East Coast at Danceteria. The opening bands, Adrenalin O.D. (aka AOD) and White Flag were powerhouse hardcore acts. It was a fun night, for sure.

Not only did Donny Fury do sound at CBGBs and have an inexpensive basement practice studio for local bands not far from the club, but he also fronted the Donny Fury Band. We did an article about him/them in FFanzeen, but I never actually saw the band perform. This show was not on his home turf, but deep in Brooklyn, around Caransie (definitely not the so-called cool, hipster part of the Borough of Kings where the clubs are now), at the famed Zappaz. I frequented the club a few times, occasionally clashing with the Tony Manero wannabes on the corner. Anyway, the photo collage on the flyer is excellent.

Though invited to this mainstream rock Press Conference held at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, I didn’t go. WNEW was the classic rock station, and I just wasn’t interested in whomever they would invite. I had been to a similar one for the USO in 1980 with Stephen Stills, and members of Kansas, America, and Cheap Trick, among others. With the exception of the CT… yawn. Now if the Ramones would have been there, that would have been another story.

Though I don’t actually know much about Johnny Jewel, I’m fond of the Television song they were named after. Feel free to let me know if you were at this Ritz gig, and if they found their little wing head.

The Vipers, led by Jon Weiss, were a fun garage band during those heady revival days of the early ‘80s. When I interviewed them for FFanzeen at their loft in Alphabet City, their manager (RIP) had to leave early to go catch Bruce Springsteen at the Garden, which I found weird at the time, for some reason. While “Cheated and Lied” was not their biggest hit, relatively speaking, I still hear it and smile for the extraordinary cut it is. I still have their demo cassette, with the songs in a different order from their LP. While I know someone who worked at the Cat Club, I can’t remember ever being there. But I did see the Vipers numerous times at various venues (mostly Irving Plaza, though).

The Cucumbers’ 1988 Holiday on Ice Tour was, I believe, their first big East Coast outing. Based in Hoboken, NJ, I saw the quirky band play a couple of times around New York, and participated in an interview on cable access show Videowave. They were a cut-up for my (still) camera between takes.

The Undead seem to be more understandably popular now that they’re history than when they played the Mudd Club. Bobby Steele’s girlfriend at the time, Laurie, posed for the cover of FFanzeen wearing nothing but one of our tee-shirts while leaning on a hydrant. That is one of my biggest memory of the band. They did set the local – and then national – scene on fire with their scorching horror hardcore.

The Beach Blanket Blowout at the Palladium seems like a show that may have been inspired by some of the Ritz mash-ups that I loved, such as their Girls Night Out series. Here the performers include Joy Askew and Get Wet’s vox Sherri Beachfront. Then there’s the infamous Neon Leon. I didn’t go to this because, well, it was the Palladium, one the uncoolest venues for us club rats in the city. I believe they were trying to lure us in with some star acts of the downtown fashionistas.

While the Mudd Club had the reputation for occasional debauchery and some amazing acts, such as this night with the Fuzztones and the Chesterfield Kings, I rarely went there because their door policy was ridiculously prohibitive. For example, they would almost never let in two males who were together (but any females were always accepted, as look as they looked “good”). Why travel all the way to the club to find out you probably wouldn’t get in, even though one of my writers worked there. Good show + bad door policy / policing = fuck ‘em.

Speaking of debauchery, probably no club during the ‘80s had the repute of one that had been a grand church, the Limelight. While their shows were interesting, between sets they were basically another Palladium, filling the air with beats and scratching (I remember hearing a 20-minute version of Lauper’s “Girls Just Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-n-n-n-n-n-na have f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-un fun fun fun fun”). It was, however, an excellent venue for Peter Zaremba’s Love Delegation for their signing to Celluloid Records. Zaremba was and is an R&B man who mixed it with punk and garage maniacality (yes, I know there’s no such word… deal with it). As a Fleshtones’ side project, he got to play a more undiluted version of what he loves. (RIP Wendy Wild.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jennifer Warnes, Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon, 20 September 2011

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos, 2011

While Jennifer Warnes was a regular on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour television program during the 1960s and known simply by her first name, I was unaware of her. Didn’t watch the show much, in fact, immersed as I was in such other intelligent programming such as The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, and Petticoat Junction. You know, high brow. I had enough of the troubles of the day in real life, so I escaped into mindless shows. And yet, I was a fan of the Smothers Brothers. Don’t know how I worked that out, actually.

Years later, in 1975, there was a brief reboot called The Smothers Brothers Show, on which she made an appearance. It was love at first voice. From there, I bought many of her early albums, such as I Can Remember Everything (on reel-to-reel!), See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me, and the John Cale produced Jennifer. Around this time, I also borrowed a Mason Williams album on which she appeared (…Ear Show) from my pal Bernie Kugel, which I eventually returned once I had found a copy of my own (which is not listed on her discography on Wikipedia, for some reason…).

When she came out with her country rock album, Right Time of the Night, I picked it up at the local EJ Korvettes. Happily, I saw her play the Bottom Line in 1977 (Jonathan Edwards opening). While Right Time was a hit, it was her all-Leonard Cohen Famous Blue Raincoat collection that brought her notoriety. And rightfully so, I may add. It came after years of touring and friendship with Cohen, and even had some sensitivity in spots that was lacking on the originals. She did the stunning “Song of Bernadette” from that album on the The Smothers Brothers 20th Anniversary Show in 1988.

While the Warnes fan will note all the above, if there is anyone who doesn’t know her by name, all one has to do is sing a bit from her multi-award-winning duo work, such as “Time of My Life” (with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers) from Dirty Dancing or “Up Where We Belong” (with Joe Cocker), the theme of Top Gun to get an “oh, yeah,” from just about anyone. There’s the also-award-winning theme to Norma Rae, of course.

Well, here it is many years and a some albums later, and I learn that Jennifer Warnes is not only on tour through Canada, but she is scheduled to be playing at the 430-seat Broadway Theatre on Sunday, September 18; of course, they needed to add a second night the next day. My tickets were for the second show.

We arrived early, and our tickets were waiting. The acoustics of the Broadway is impeccable, no matter where one sits, and we were happy to be there, even in the back row. Thrilled, actually. The crowd slowly came in to the sold out house, and by showtime, the place was packed, mostly with people in their 50s and above.

The stage was sparse, with two stools to the left and right, and in the middle, a sheet music stand next to a small table with glasses and water bottles. Behind, projected across the back curtain, was a blue light pattern in a series of stationary wavy, interconnected lines.

Introducing the show was the promoter, Jim Hodges, who did a fine job keeping all entertained with comments like mentioning that we owe a debt a thanks to the previous night’s audience because if they didn’t turn out and buy tickets so quickly, there would be no show this evening as it was added later. He also explained how Warnes wanted to play smaller houses on this limited, mostly cross-Canada tour.

Her backing group entered first, with guitarist Billy Watts on the left and bassist Taras Prodaniuk on the right. Then Jennifer entered the stage, with her classic look: white shirt, black vest, and red scarf.

She opened the show with Van Morrison’s ballad, “Carrying a Torch,” which set the mood for the rest of the show. It is amazing how after all these years, her voice is still like a fine wine that has mellowed, and yet retains every bit of power that was there from the ‘60s.

Thinking back to her earliest releases, her voice has deepened a little bit, in a way that actually better suits her present material. I believe that perhaps that’s why, in part, Famous Blue Raincoat was such a milestone record for her, because that is about when her voice settled into its present register.

As an expository, Jennifer posited that thanks to earlier business successes, she’s in a position in her life where she doesn’t need to promote anything, so she can happily sing whatever she wants to, and the audience was definitely warn to the concept by the round of applause the comment received.

In fact, there was a lot of talking on stage between numbers, and none of it felt out of place in the evening of song. We all enjoyed the banter among the three musicians, who seem genuinely fond of each other as they discussed their experiences in Saskatoon (e.g., having Saskatoon berries for the first time, Ukrainian restaurant food, Canadian content). More than once, Ms. Warnes broke out in a hearty laugh at one of the band’s comments. It never felt scripted or preplanned, in that Thank you [name of city], you’ve been great way, or any other. All the comments felt from the heart, whether it was a song descriptor or intra-band banter. It also helped make the show all the more intimate, like a house concert rather than a theater.

One of Jennifer’s comments that received a large round of applause was when she stated, “Thank you for letting me borrow your national poet for 40 years.” There was no need to explain who that was, as she told stories of some of their interchanges before breaking out into an absolutely stunning version of “Night Comes On” from Cohen’s Various Positions. I’d never heard her sing this one, and I sincerely believe she improved it, giving it a rich depth of emotion by saying certain lines as almost a whisper.

The opening song, though, was Van Morrison’s “Carrying a Torch,” followed by Jackson Browne’s “The Late Show.” She explained how she grew up with Browne, hanging out with him in her teens.

Throughout the show, she used the forum of the stage to promote some of her favorite songwriters, such as Stephen Bruton (“Heart of Hearts”) and Mickey Newbury (“So Sad”). With the exception of “Lights of Louisianne," a lovely song written by Warnes (prefaced by the story of how she saw her very first firefly in the Deep South, which inspired it), from The Hunter album, the evening was filled with covers, which she of course made her own.

After nearly an hour, the band left the stage for a 10 minute intermission. She kept her promise of not sticking only to her canon, and gave the audience new material to appreciate.

When they came back (heck, when we all came back), Taras was wearing a 10 gallon hat, which apparently was apropos as they broke into the fastest song of the night, the C&W drenched “Slow This Son of a Bitch Down” (I think that was the name, anyway). Keeping the genre (and Canadian content) going, this tune was followed by one written by Alberta’s country legends, Ian Tyson.

From there, the band shifted gears into Blues territory, including “Go Crazy” and Allen Toussaint’s wonderful “It’s Raining.” After the beautiful “Angel Mine,” Warnes described in an amusing anecdote how she met Bob Dylan and recorded “Every Grain of Sand” with him, which appeared on Dylan’s Bootleg series.. She then began Dylan’s “Deal Goes Down,” after praising his early 1990’s period.

Yet, somewhere I suppose she knew that the audience had some level of expectation, as much as the crowd had enjoyed the dozen or more songs that were presented so far. So, towards the end of the set, she relented and did Cohen’s “No Cure for Love,” to the crowd’s delight; it was a huge Canadian radio hit at the time of its release. After the applause eventually died down a bit, she went on to explain how Buffy Sainte-Marie brought her a song that spiritually changed her life. As the audience writ large know “Up Where We Belong,” it was an upbeat theme produced with a jingoistic air for a war film, but on this night, Warnes sang it as a slow ballad, giving it an entirely new meaning, proving it actually is a better song than many of us were aware (okay, than I realized, happy?).

With that, they left the stage to an audience that was not going to leave without an encore, as the ovation indicated. Sure enough, they returned to the stage, with Jennifer apologetically explaining that the desert air of Saskatoon was having an effect on her throat, so it would be the last song. She went on to once again connect to this specific city’s audience that she was a huge Joni Mitchell fan, and while on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the ‘60s, she tried to sing her songs twice, and they were terrible (her description). Instead, she left us all with Dylan’s beautiful “To Make You Feel My Love.”

At this point I would like to digress and comment on how accomplished her accompaniment was this evening. Watts, who is from the Canadian Maritimes, has a way around the guitar that can be both gentle and strong, crossing many genres. He’s played with Eric Burdon and the Animals, Buck Owens, and many others. Bassist Prodaniuk, who engages lead bass in an Entwhistle style, has played with Dwight Yokum, Spencer Davis Group, Blue Rodeo, and Richard Thompson. Unlike the Who member, he was physically active, though without stealing attention, bowing as he played, or walking over to Warnes. It was easy to see she was impressed by them as well, once asking Watts to repeat a riff that she enjoyed.

They all took a bow to another standing O, and left. The lights came on and, being the polite group Saskatoonians are, we all left with a big smile on our faces. It was a warm night for a late September eve as we spilled out into the street, content.

Somewhere across the city, at the same time, Mudhoney opened for Pearl Jam, which may explain the lack of a younger age group of the audience in part, but I was where I wanted to be, and made the right choice.

This blog is dedicated in thanks to Dee Perez and Jim Hodges.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jersey Beat’s Quiet Corner, Fall 2011: Part 3 of 4

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Originally in Jersey Beat webzine, 2011
Images and video from the Internet

Here are the reviews that were in my Quiet Corner column at the excellent Jersey Beat webzine ( Rather than publish all the reviews at once, I will be publishing them on this blog a few at a time. If I found a video of an exact version of a song from the release, I attached it. Other videos by these artists (usually live) exist, so you can check them out.

If you are in a band and want me to review your release, be it CD, vinyl, DVD or digital, write to me at, or if it’s digital, just send it along.

LED TO SEA is Alex Guy, her viola, and an array of loop pedals. While this has the potential of be an electronica nightmare, her release Into the Darkening Sky ( shows that one can still be loopy and musical. In fact, she has quite the lovely voice, and she employs the strings in a melodic manner (more often plucked than bowed), using it to enhance the sound she’s going for, rather than to mask it. With unusual timing phrases in the structure of the song (i.e., putting spaces in unusual places, or taking an extra beat between choruses, such as in “Rust”), she makes the music experimental, but keeps the integrity of the song. Yes, there are moments of dark and atmospheric sounds and lyrics, but led by Alex’s voice, the veracity remains intact; note it works with the occasional instrumental songs, as well. The lush parts have more of a floating underwater feeling of freeness rather than skimming, and others bouncing on airbags, landing on her voice and viola with a comfortable thud. There is a lot of great music here, such as my fave cut, “Is This the Last Time.” The tunes are recognizable enough to be comfortable, yet off enough not to be formulaic, and kudos for that. It’s not often a viola is the lead instrument in an alternative setting, and especially when used in such a diverse way as Alex does. Yeah, it’s worth getting.

I know APRIL MARTIN has released Pennies in a Jar (Shrimp Toast c/o in a CD format, but at its heart, it really is an LP, with two sides; but I get ahead of myself here… Coming into being as a singer-songwriter in the form of an artist rather than a consumer a bit late in life, April shows that some things are worth the wait. She has a very clear voice, which is smartly put right up front by producer Peter Calo, along with his own, show he has sharp ears), resonates in a way that feels like she is sitting in the living room singing to the listener, and there is some comfort in that. Backed by Peter on guitar, along with some other fine musicians, she is obviously singing from the heart. The first “side” of this release focuses in on the feeling of a slight lack of control in one’s life, where things are just out of reach, or mysterious. “Out of My Hands” (“All my schemes are written in sand”), “Got a Way to Go” (“Don’t know where there is / But I’m heading down the line”), “I Don’t Know” (“I don’t know just how much is in our hands / “I don’t know, is there any sort of plan?”), and “Love’s Been a Long Time Coming” (“Thought it would surely be here by now”) bring life’s experiences of “hunh? wha?” to an emotional depth that is far from alienating an audience, but rather touches the heart gently. The tone of the CD changes with the sexy “When She Says Yes,” or as I like to call it, the start of side two. From here we enter different phases of love from the aforementioned lust (along with an amusing flapperish ‘20s rag style “It Ain’t About the Chassis Anymore”), affection (“One Kiss in the Rain” and “Warrior of the Heart”), and the goodbye (told in both sad mode with “I Won’t Make That Mistake Again” and the Lisa Loeb-style empowering “Bye-Bye”). Not a bad cut here. This may be her first release, but I’m hoping it won’t be her last, nor that it will be too long a wait.

JIM McCARTY was a key player in two major Brit groups during the ‘60s experimental period, being the drummer for both the Yardbirds and Renaissance, as well as being a major songwriter for both. After a few post-period bands and solo excursions, his latest is Sitting on the Top of Time (Easy Action c/o For this release, he plays drums (as expected), writes all the music (ditto), and fronts the top-notch musicians called in to record this collection. The songs definitely lean more toward Renaissance than Yardbirds, with a prog tone touched with mellow notes, some excellent guitar flourishes, and lush melodies. The topics are about life being impermanent, and accepting with peace one’s place as time passes. In “Temporary Life,” he states, “Feeling all the time go by / Accelerating every day / Letting go the fear I find / That everything is just slipping away.” With “Hummingbird” (one of my fave cuts here), he posits, “Moving through the air transforming / Into dignity / With a new found poise that’s really free.” Rather than dwelling on the short visit on earth we all get, he joyously feels the peace that one can find with age. There is also a smattering of really lovely instrumentals. Now, my one contention with the set is not Jim’s vocals, which is well and good, but that he double-tracks them all. Once in a while, the harmony is nice, but throughout is unnecessary, as he sounds fine. Perhaps it’s lack of vocal confidence, or experimenting, but I’m just putting forward that he does not need that studio heavy-handedness, and he should be as at peace with his voice as he is with the rest of the music.

BEN MILLER / degeneration plays his multiphonic guitar while it’s still on the stand, with pick-ups all over it and electronic doohickeys attached, employing it more as a totally different instrument than classically called for. On his one-man Eyelands Under Eyelid (, recorded in New Jersey, Miller produces sonic soundscapes that are idiosyncratic and certainly amelodic, but at the same time keeping it interesting. It’s definitely more Brian Eno than the static feedback noise of Metal Machine Music, but it is also not formulaic in any sort of way. As is common in this kind of experimentation, the pieces are longer than standard song length, as once a groove is reached, it’s up to the artist to figure out where it must go from there. Using an SK1, electronics, radio, and tape, these pieces are all improvised and played live in the studio, without overdubs. While listening, I kept imaging this as the backdrop to panning images of planets on something like Nova show. Very ethereal and esoteric, this could be good music to get totally wasted to, but as I don’t imbibe in recreational hoo-ha, it’s just an assumption.

STUART MOXHAM first came to light as a member of Young Marble Giant, and he has had a thriving career as a solo artist (including as Gist), songwriter, and producer. He has collected some of his rare output into a nearly hour-long anthology titled, Personal Best ( Moxham has a definite flair for songwriting, on a low-fi scale. In fact, about half of this I found kind of uninteresting, honestly, with a plunky keyboard and rhythm machines, but the half I did find remarkable was majorly so. Songs like “Warning Signs 2,” “No More Words” and “Cars in the Grass” show that within the frame he’s shown, there is huge possibility achieved. The tunes are catchy without compromising his aesthetics. Two cuts here that immediately perked up my ears, were “My First Gun” and “Untitled #2,” which appeared on Barbara Manning’s excellent “Barbara Manning Sings With the Original Artists” in 1993 (another CD that’s also worth looking up). Now mind you, this is all my opinion, which doesn’t really account for much in the real world. Low-fi seems to work better for me in some genres than others (the ‘80s garage revival, for example), but considering how many cuts here I did like, I feel it’s easy to recommend the whole lot for fans of the genre.

Someone once told me that they thought Dana Carvey was not funny on Saturday Night Live because his impressions were so accurate to their subjects that they were indistinguishable from the reality. In addition, there is a history of songs that became embraced by the very style they were initially meant to mock, like Blotto’s “Metalhead,” Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck,” and “Cooky Puss,” the first rap by the then-hardcore Beastie Boys. These two thoughts are the issues I’m having with AARON PETA and his release, I’m Not a Hipster ( I just didn’t get it at first, because it sounds too much like what it’s trying to mock, but at the same time is successful at it. Peta is pop in a Plastic Bertrand mode, with a bouncy melody line, a smattering of electronica, and (for others, I’m sure) infectious rhythms. They lyrics are wry, such as “You you you you you you you you / Everywhere we go, everything we do / It’s always always always always always about you,” from “You You You”, or “I got the rock / I got the talk / Can’t find my keys (aw man) / The door is locked,” from the title cut. While not my speed (though “Ca plane pour moi” still gets to me), I can appreciate what Aaron is aiming to accomplish, and that he is successful at what he is doing so well, perhaps the same kind of Blotto-Dees-Beasties success may follow. I’ll be with him in spirit and respect, but I probably won’t have it on my player again.

I had wanted to hear some of the legendary O. REX recordings for years, and now thanks to the 2-CD My Head’s in ’73! (, I can get my fill. In the early years of 1973-74, covered in the first hour-long, 18-song disk, the “band” was primarily Solomon Gruberger and his younger ‘tween bass-master brother Jay (d. 1993 in an auto accident) who lived in Brooklyn, and Krazee Kenne Highland (he would go on to cult fame in bands like the Gizmos, the Korps, Kenny and the Kasuals, and Kenne Highland and His Vatican Sex Kittens). Kenne, the king of I-IV-V, would travel down from the Rochester area to play with the bros (about 350 miles). They were all fans of the likes of Alice Cooper, Mountain, Black Sabbath, and other touchstone bands of that period, and along with occasional others like Kenne’s friend Bill Rowe (who would later be immortalized in Kenne’s classic “Jailbait Janet”), they would record themselves on a very cheap reel-to-reel. The needle must have been consistently in the red, because there is high distortion and lo-lo-lo-fidelity. All of this, of course, makes these tapes of songs that average about 2-minutes each, legendary, if occasionally painful (and I say that with a smile). It is cool to hear them working out their sounds from the beginning, as each of them trade off instruments (which they occasionally tune), vocals, and songs. Right from the start there are some covers, like the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and Link Wray’s “Rawhide,” but there are so many originals, which despite the crappy sound, one can see the unpolished gems there just waiting for some polishing (and hopefully, better recording equipment). For example, there’s Kenne’s “I Shoot Up” (inspired by Lou Reed’s “Heroin”) and “That’s Cool (I Respect You More)” (sung by Jay here; it would become a Gizmos highlights), and Solomon’s “When I Get There” and “Schizoid Girl.” The second hour-long, 24-song disk covers 1976, in which Eddie Flowers, who was with Kenne in the Gizmos at that time, and later would be (and currently still is) in Crawlspace, played in this group. Starting the year with a cover of the Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things,” most of the first batch of 8 songs are Solomon’s originals, influenced by the likes of Blue Oyster Cult and Brownsville Station. The following group of tunes was recorded in the fall, which is after the Ramones influence was introduced to the band, shown in tunes like Solomon’s “Next Time” (which is essentially “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”). Their cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and Solomon’s “My Head’s in ’73” are also clear examples of possibilities. The song’s topics are occasionally period pieces wallowing a bit too much in their rock misogyny (such as “Crazy Jill,” “Right Between the Hips,” “Make Her Know She’s Getting Fucked,” and “Star Girl”), and even some questionable racist overtones (“Boogying With the Jubas”), but it was a different time. I could go on and on about the potential presented on these disks, but I’ll cut this “short.” The next stage of this band is when Kenne, Solomon, and Jay joined with Ken Kaiser and formed the superior Afrika Korps, who released some truly killer tunes. The booklet to this set has members of the band discussing their memories of the songs and their recording, with both humor and hindsight. Whether this is a meaningful 2-hours plus depends on the listener, but I found it worthwhile, despite being questionably amateurish.

JACK PHILLIPS is a singer-piano man, and his release is To Whom It May Concern (Magnolia Group c/o There are a smattering of different styles on here, and most work well for him, especially the Elton John-ish ones such as the title track, “Alowishus,” and the gospel-inspired closer, “Bright One.” His foray into C&W with the traditional style “Motherlode” succeeds for his voice as well. The ‘80s sounding “The Trip Will Make You Well” is a bit retro, but it’s okay. My biggest complaint about this collection is the song order. It starts with his weakest cut, “I Can’t See,” and it isn’t until halfway through that he starts to pick up some real steam. While I can understand why the highly produced (it works here) “Bright One” is the closer, but I would actually have liked this more if the rest of the songs were in the reverse order: start strong and work your way down. As for the songs themselves, the melodies blend well with the lyrics, which are occasionally a bit abstract, especially in the early cuts. The second half of the songs, however, tend to be repetitious, especially lyrically. Entire stanzas and chorus are repeated, sometimes more than once, sometimes in a different order, but the point is made, so either add stanzas or move on (in my opinion). I like Jack and his songs, despite the issues, and I am hoping future releases by him are a bit stronger in the songs themselves, even though the music backing it is pretty solid.

DAVE RAVE has been associated with some great rock bands, like Teenage Head and the Dave Rave Conspiracy. But as the years went on, he bent increasingly toward his origins, which is more on the pop side. Oh, I’m not talking about Top 10 radio, I’m talking Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe ‘60s style (I remember my first conversation with Dave in the 1980s being about Edmunds). Presently, he’s had a relatively recent yet lasting work relationship with jazz aficionado and musician Mark McCarron, and a partnership with ex-rocker, folker, and more recently chanteuse Lauren Agnelli. On top of adding to his pop side with his long-standing relationship with producer / musician / music historian / fellow Canadian Gary Pig Gold, his more melodic side is gaining momentum. In fact, this whole collection is like old home week with various members of Teenage Head and Rick Andrew (from Dave’s first group the Shakers back in Hamilton, Ontario) making some contribution here. Even Richard X. Heyman and Michael Mazzarella (of the Rooks) make an appearance. One would think with all these varied artists chipping in, it would be a complex mess, but just the opposite seems to be true. Even with the diverse recording spaces, such as New Jersey, London, Paris, and various Ontario studios, it all sounds cohesive. Live with What You Know (, put out by ex-Diodes manager / musician / poet (and also Canadian) Ralph Alfonso, is a culmination of all those influences into a beautiful package of songs, starting strong with “Anne-Marie,” and never letting up. Some other toppers (though they are justthisfar from that level) include “One of a Kind,” the later-Beatles sounding “One Day Your Sun Will Shine,” the country-twinged “Silverline” (where Dave gives up the lead vox to the lovely voiced Kate MacDonald), the sweet ballad “Rows and Rows,” “All the Love You Can Handle,” and… well, I could just go on. Most of Dave’s CDs are a reason to celebrate, and this one is especially so.

What pleases me about alt-country THE RUNNING KIND (named after a Merle Haggard ditty) is that their sound is just a bit off. On The Girl For All the World (Bossanova Music, c/o, the vocals are shared by real-life Massachusetts-bred couple Leslie Ann Bosson and Matt Bosson (also on acoustic guitar), and their sounds are not what one would expect for the genre. Leslie Ann has a forced operatic (excuse the redundancy) tone that adds an unusual but effective element; Matt sounds a bit like he’s straining at times, especially on the Neil Young cover, “Don’t Cry No Tears.” When they sing together, it reminds me a bit of Rank & File – not in sound, but how two different and non-formulaic voices can blend and be idiosyncratically interesting. Along with some really fine originals, such as the outstanding “Old Girl” and “I Still Love You (Like I Loved You Before),” there are a couple of noteworthy covers of Gram Parson’s classic “Return of the Grievous Angel” and the George Jones standard, “Life to Go.” The rest of the band holds Leslie Ann and Matt up with strong support.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jersey Beat’s Quiet Corner, Fall 2011: Part 2 of 4

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Originally in Jersey Beat webzine, 2011
Images and video from the Internet

Here are the reviews that were in my Quiet Corner column at the excellent Jersey Beat webzine ( Rather than publish all the reviews at once, I will be publishing them on this blog a few at a time. If I found a video of an exact version of a song from the release, I attached it. Other videos by these artists (usually live) exist, so you can check them out.

If you are in a band and want me to review your release, be it CD, vinyl, DVD or digital, write to me at, or if it’s digital, just send it along.

Hey, Jim, what did I ever do to you? Actually, I may understand why he sent me this to review: the start of SAGE FRANCIS’s Li(f)e ( - great title, by the way – has a sort of singer-songwriter vibe to it. But Sage busts a major move into rap. The rhythm is pure rapper mode, but the melody is something else, using rock and even an occasional country slide, but as soon as the vocals start, my brain is outta there. I tried reading the volumous lyrics along with the songs, but by the fifth cut, I found myself thinking about lunch (at 10:30 am). I fought my way back into the moment a few times and made it through. I will say that the first cut, an interesting story about a jail break called “Little Houdini,” is as much a talking blues which kept me riveted until the rap rears its head. Sage uses lots of imagery, including a running theme of Christian descriptors, among the sex and drugs. I appreciate Sage trying to push the envelope by adding melodies not usually associated with the genre, but it is not an envelope I want to lick again.

I was so glad to get the chance to hear the ORAL FUENTES REGGAE BAND, when Oral handed me his Oral Culture ( release literally over the back yard fence. He’s quite the presence in Saskatoon, not only fronting (and guitar) the top reggae band in town, but for creating and being the artistic director for the Saskatoon Reggae and World Music Festival each summer, which has acts starting to play from all over the world after only being in existence for a few short years. But back to the CD… Hailing from Belize, Oral’s all-originals flavor of reggae is a bit different, here presented in a slower, “One Love” speed (though live he also plays ska speed). Right from the opening “Sum Lovin’” the listener can feel the ease and peace (even with the more political pieces like “Cultural Revolution”) emanating from the songs. But for me, it especially picks up at the fourth number, “Rhaburn” (named after a popular Belize musician), continuing right into “Utilize (Utalize),” and then just keeps going until the end cut, appropriately named “Belize.” I’m hoping Oral will get the chance, between touring and promoting both his act and the festival, to release some more, perhaps this time with some of the quicker paced ska-leaning pieces. I and I like de guy.

Doesn’t it seem as though in the ‘80s, every city had its own rock queen? For example in Brooklyn, the queen of the neighborhood was Marge Reynolds’s Flame. In Buffalo, however, there is no doubt that it was Actor’s vocalist, JESSIE GALANTE. After a time in L.A. fronting the band Fire, Jessie’s come home to upstate New York and released Spitfire ( With an army of powerhouse musicians and producers from around the world, she and executive producer Larry Swist honed it all into some fine, rockin’, metal material. More Guns ‘N Roses than, say, Brownsville Station, Jessie works her wide vocal range, showing off her chops from end to end of this release. Yeah, there’s the buzzsaw guitar and rhythm section, but no lengthy solos because the attention is on that voice, and rightfully so. Much of the material is focused on the high-running emotions of relationships, with a bit of – er – spitfire thrown in. Some of the better songs (and they’re all pretty good) are “Go on Rain on Me,” “Grown Man Cry,” and the bluesy “No Fool No More.” However, the major howling (again, meant complimentary) is in the ballad closer, “Mama (I Get a Little Crazy).” While I am interested in hearing her previous “solo” release of traditional Italian songs (I am from Bensonhurst, after all), this is a nice welcome back to form.

The appearance of a MARY GATCHELL release, such as her newest Saturn Return (, always makes me happy. I’ve been a fan since her first, Indigo Rose, and this one proves that I continue to have good reason. I’ve seen her perform a number of these pieces, and some of them just remain with you. There’s not a bad song here, but two stick out to me right now. First, there’s “Here’s Where We Are,” which could easily have been a Motown song in the ‘60s. The other is the jazzy pop of “Tic Tac Toe.” Both of them have strong catches which you will probably find yourself humming, especially the “Ooo la la la” of the latter. Switching from piano to guitar, depending on the song, Mary is actually hard to compartmentalize into a category (other than a joy), but I would say singer-songwriter with a jazz and pop undertone. There is a lot of sweetness here, and Mary’s tone and light help to give it a romantic, candlelight dinner shine. Backed by a superb band, including Peter Calo on a couple of them, helps make the songs ever more solid. While those two tunes are my current favorites, I know from experience that as I listen more to this, and I will, that may change as I get to know the collection better.

RUTH GERSON has the pipes that could easily fit into a harder rock category, but her latest, This Can’t Be My Life (, places her well within the category of contemporary singer-writer. Released three years after it was completed, Gerson held it back until she had the chance to move on from some of the anger present here, much of it written while in the middle of a divorce. Yes, the ire is definitely there, right from the start with “Fresh Air” (“You and your fresh air should be happy together”), into the title cut (“”But I quit, our sick just got so much sicker / even for me”), followed by “Bulletproof,” all songs about leaving and good riddance. Further in the pack there’s the likes of “You Lie” (with the line, “Dear, he said, you’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on”) and “Does Your Heart Weep.” Even the one that’s more traditionally based (e.g., “Down By the River,” or “Down in the Willow Garden”), “Black Water” is a tale of a man murdering a women because she spurned him. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom, there are some very sweet tunes as well, such as two for her daughters, “Hazel” and the closer “Take it Slow,” as well as the passionate “Stay With Me” and “Don’t Go.” This CD would definitely fit into a category of Chick Lit, but I would not like to see it merely cubby-holed like that. Gerson is far too talented a singer, songwriter, and pianist to be stereotyped. These pieces so obviously come from the heart, and I look forward to future releases, written and recorded after her life has gotten back on its feet, as it apparently has from what I understand. This is not as much a CD as it is a testament of a period of her life, and she certainly deserves the respect.

Jazz can swing, and jazz can be noise. THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARETET set out to prove the later on Testosterone! ( For some reason, I find it more tolerable in jazz than, say, rock (or No Wave, back when). There are some hardcore veterans among the group: on vox and drums is wonderfully monikered ex-stand-up and ‘60s garage band member Larry Copcar, Todd Homer of the Angry Samoans and Mooseheart Faith on stand-up bass, Saccharine Trust’s Joe Baiza on guitar, and Dan Clucas on trumpet. And they make… well, I don’t know if I would call it a joyful noise, but it is solid noise jazz (they even have a song called “Two Miles Davises Walk Into a Bar”). Above the fray, Copcar yells out his rants, which I’m not sure are pre-written or spontaneous. I get the feeling it’s a mixture of both. There is definitely a sense of humor about the whole thing, such as the chorus of “Spahn Ranch” being “I wish I ate / Sharon Tate.” There’s a definite anti-Obama sentiment in “I Ain’t Ascared,” where he screams out, “He’s a motherfuckin’ jive turkey.” To me, the funniest lyric, though is the finale “Free Mandela,” where he plays with the meaning of the title. Nice piece of experimentation, but it really is something the listener needs to be open-minded about.

JAS presents not as much music as most know it on Live at Jerome’s (, but rather they create a soundscape with Jerome Raisin and Steve Painter playing guitar and effects, and Anna Koala using a Moog synthesizer. Taped in Raisin’s apartment in Paris, they play unrehearsed using inexpensive amps while recording on a mini-disc player. Raisin and Koala both live in Paris and play in the band Magnetic Memory, while Painter flew over from Boston where he plays in boundary testing groups like Dark Sunny Land. There are four instrumental pieces over the 50-minute CD, so they get a good workout with their experimenting. While it’s not classically melodic, at the same time it’s also not just noise, and there is certainly cohesion to it all. Well, if one is familiar at all with soundscape theory or ambient music, this is something that you may truly be interested in checking out.

Jesse Marchant, who goes by the initials JBM, has a definite theme to his folk-twinged singer-songwriter Not Even in July (, and not that most of the songs take place during that month. The common theme of the songs go like this: it was okay before, it’s not great now, but it may be great again. Sometimes it’s love (e.g., “Going Back Home,” “In a Different Time”), others it’s the death of a loved one (“July on the Sound”), or the complicated city life of Los Angeles full of corruption, criminals and ennui (“Ambitions & War,” which is vocally accompanied by actress Amanda Seyfried). A classically trained guitarist since childhood who only recently has started to write lyrics and sing, he crafts well-written (albeit sometimes depressing) songs around some hard life questions that are musically lyrical, accompanied by strings, keyboards of various types, bass and drums. His voice is correctly described in his press kit as “unaffected baritone,” sung mostly at a Cowboy Junkies speed in near lilting monotone whisper. It’s something that one may need to have patience with, but it could be well worth the while, once into the Zen of the sound and style.

The KETCH HARBOUR WOLVES started out in, well, Ketch Harbour, Nova Scotia (near Halifax; closest I’ve been is Duncans Cove), before moving on to Toronto, and their release is Anachronisms ( Multi-textured to nearly being soundscapes, KHW uses a thin sheen of their native Celtic empirical imprints, and overlays them with prog-like melodies that have smooth edges and vocals (Jonathan Tyrrell), but have shards in the sounds, especially in the percussion areas, such as in the very strong “August 12.” From the lush sounds coming from this fivesome, it’s obvious that it is less studio trickery than talent that gives them such a full resonance. However, the production here actually complements the output, working well with the balance between the music and the vocals and harmonies. What should also be commended is that when one usually listens to this genre, the songs tend to go on and on, but KHW’s songs average just over 3 minutes, which give it enough to be appreciated without being drowned by it. The lyrics are typically poetic and as such are somewhat cryptic, but that is common for prog, even of the Celtic nature. While this has never been a style that I seek out, I’m definitely interested in seeing this band. That’s says a lot.

The last recording I heard of TENNIE KOMAR was her Future Stories album back in 1980, when she was a fixture on the Boston scene. Now she has released Temptation ( Her music then was sort of a blend of New Wave, and though now her sound is a bit more contemporary, with a mixture of other international flavors, there is a also a definite ‘80s feel to some of the material here, such as “Dance with Me” and “Hunter With Your Eyes.” However, the opener “Summer of Love” and “Temptation” shows the maturation of her sound. Tennie has lots of musical back-up here including horns, and even a xylophone manned by the one-and-only Buzzy Lindhart. I have to admit I’d prefer a bit less synth, which is part what retros this back to the ‘80s; for example, the song “You Can Do No Wrong” is the only cut from back then, and it fits in comfortably. In fact, “And He Says ‘Ah’” and “Savannah LeMar” is solid New Wave disco. If you’re into that ‘80s A Flock of Seagull sound and want to hear something a bit more up-to-date at the same time, it’s hard to go wrong with this. My fave cuts here are the ballad “Light That Would Be,” and the blues chanteuse solid “Sweet Baby Darlin’.” I’d love to hear an album filled with the latter type, as Tennie’s deep, lovely vocals are ideal for it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jersey Beat’s Quiet Corner, Fall 2011: Part 1 of 4

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Originally in Jersey Beat webzine, 2011
Images and video from the Internet

Here are the reviews that were in my Quiet Corner column at the excellent Jersey Beat webzine ( Rather than publish all the reviews at once, I will be publishing them on this blog a few at a time. If I found a video of an exact version of a song from the release, I attached it. Other videos by these artists (usually live) exist, so you can check them out.

If you are in a band and want me to review your release, be it CD, vinyl, DVD or digital, write to me at, or if it’s digital, just send it along.

Living by the philosophy of “Play That Funky Music White Boy,” Saskatoon band ABSOFUNKINLUTELY is a large conglomeration of the usual suspect instruments, with the addition of horns (gotta have horns to have this large of a funk sound). Listing only their first names, there’s (Randy) Woods on vox and guitar, (Geoff) Assman on keys, (Shaun) Dyck on electric bass (now, while Assman and Dyck seem humorous, they are common names in their area), and newcomer to the band, (Jeff) Pierce on drums. Blues Kid City (, their second release, is quite representative of their big sound: it’s loud, brash, and, well, funky. When I saw them play at the S’toon Pride Festival, they played covers, such as the one mentioned at the start of this review, but here, it’s all originals, beginning with the reggae / ska inflected title tune, and they don’t lose anything for it. There are a lot of related genres going through, from soul to R&B to funk. There is even some disco, which is where they lose me a bit, but that’s just me. There’s even some jazzy experimentation, such as the final free-for-all jam, “Moosejaw Coleslaw,” which has a bit of everything and reminds me just a bit of the energy of the ending of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” (a song AFL could do quite successfully). They are a friggin’ tight dance band, there is no getting around that, and the clear sound of this recording just makes it that much sweeter.

ATOM AGE uses a brilliant combination of Iggy and Jan & Dean for the name of their new release: Kill Surf City (Solidarity Recordings, c/o Their music is both post-hardcore, and yet an enjoyable bit of a throwback to the Descendants kind of So-Cali sound (they’re from Berkeley). Part of what makes them especially interesting is their use of a sax. A saxophone in rock’n’roll can be a tricky thing as some use it for good (Fleshtones), and some are ruined by it (Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears). The songs are fast (as expected, and should be), and the vocals are straightforward with some shouting. The meaning of the songs are, well, who cares, this is a fun release. Definitely buzz guitar upfront, even with no extended solo. There is a sense of humor that runs through; for example, there’s a cut called “Rock’n’Roll and Why I Preach Against It.” They seem to pick topics which are not just teen angst writ large (though there are some cuts like that, such as “One Minute to Midnight”). There is a lot of good music here, including (but not exclusively) “Cut and Dry” and “We Become”… certainly enough to be worth checking into. The core of the band is Ryan Perras (current drummer for The Queers), who proves side bands can also be successful. Many groups have hyperbolic press releases, but theirs nails it perfectly: “catchy melodies, demanding riffs, and hectic sax lines.” Recommended.

BODECO don’t rely on I-IV-V as much as they sweat it from their pores and wallow in it. When I saw the band play NYC’s Tramps in 1995, they performed a strong boogie-based blues. As their latest EP Soul Boost ( shows, they’re still going strong. There are some personnel changes since I saw them, but the core is still there, banging through these five numbers. The first two, “I Ain’t Lyin’” and “Hush Hush Naughty Baby” have that Ricky Feathers growl that has grown deeper over the years. The other three, “Zobop,” the title cut, and “Little Joe” are instrumentals. None of the songs are insanely fast, but rather they grind like a good smokin’ sound should. Whether one is into blues, roots, or just wants to hear some good ole music with a slight dissonance, in beautiful lo-fi, jump the train to Bodeco land. They’re callin’ all dogs.

LAURA CHEADLE is one of the more prolific artists in recent memory. Writing songs, playing guitar and singing, she is, as always, backed in her recording by her brother on electric guitar solos and her dad as producer (he as contributes various other instruments, including keyboards, mostly in the form of electric organ). There are a bunch of other musicians helping out to fill out the sound. Her newest is Change (It’s Alright) (, and it’s a little bit of a departure from her previous works. Sure, she’s still in the jazzy R&B mode, which suits her voice and material well, but there is more. Some of her earlier material had loose themes, be it holiday songs or steamy love bit, but this one is by far (in my opinion) her most mature work with well rounded sensibilities, great catch phrases, and her cleanest sound and mix. There’s still the steam, in the likes of “Hey There Devil” and the catchy “Sunday Naps,” but there’s also the R&B title cut burner which Marvin Gaye might nod at (no pun intended), and so on, like “Existing on Wishes,” “Blue Sky,” and “Rainy Day.” The last, unannounced track, is of a little girl singing, and as there is no reference, I’m not sure if that’s Laura as a kid or someone else, but it’s cute. Congrats, Laura.

This is some of the best post-Gizmos style of Midwest proto punk I have heard in a while. It’s hardly surprising, though, since CRAWLSPACE is fronted by ex-O. Rex and Gizmo member Eddie Flowers. Along with Greg Hajic (guitar), Joe Dean (bass) and Bob Lee (drum), the world is now the recipient of Ignorance is Bliss ( What you’ll hear is total lo-fi, hi-noise rock that is simply glorious in its sheer stripped down performances and recording (sounds like one of those early cassette recorders), with the needle staying in the red. Along with two covers, “First I Look at the Purse” (by Smokey Robinson) and “Mark of Death” (by the Mystics, as played in the ’73 film Horror Hospital), the rest are written by the band in one combination or another, and all remain true to form. In early-to-mid-‘70s style, some of the song titles are suspect, such as “(Here Come) Them Sexy 60s,” “Women in Cemeteries (Throwin’ Monkeys),” “Vote Yes on 69,” “The Girl’s Getting’ Lower,” and “Some Shitty Girls.” Despite that, this is a rollicking good time if you like the whole style, which I do. I would rather listen to something as fun as this, than anything on the Billboard Top 10, because there’s no studio tricks, just plug and play (and occasionally tune the guitar). If you’re looking for deep lyrics – hell, if you’re looking for legible lyrics – you’re in the wrong place. This is more a howl-fest, and I mean that with total joy, making it 40 minutes of noise heaven.

I’ve heard most of the recordings put to disk by DOLORES DAGENAIS, and have never been disappointed. Her latest full lengther, Big Girl Art (Blue Newt Music, c/o, is no exception. Moving to Nova Scotia from Ontario has proven to be the right move for Dolores, who has wrapped herself in music from the area (it’s relatively close to Cape Breton, after all), and its influence has only sweetened the pot of her sound. First of all, she has this absolutely gorgeous voice that just keeps getting better with each release. Her material, always strong, has also flourished, as she covers various Canadiana styles from the folkie “Weeping Tiles,” to the Celtic “Big Girl,” to the country “When I Didn’t Know How to Sing.” She even rocks a bit with “Where the Wild Things Grow.” And damn, that’s just the first four cuts. And I can’t stop without mentioning the bluegrassy “Present Situation” or the boogie “Talking to Jack” (Daniels, of course); “Pushing Flowers,” as is everything else here, is an original, but it sounds like it could have been written by Judy Collins or Joan Baez. For the sweet country ballad “Never Seen the Mountains,” Dolores shares a vocal with the duo of Postcard Comets. This isn’t even the whole album, but there’s not a cut here that won’t astound you with its beauty. While I’m glad Dolores is living where her interests lie, but parts of me wishes someone with some promoting power would realize what a treasure is hidden in Pictou.

JEFF DAHL, who has been around the California scene since the ‘70s, wears his influences on his – er – guitar. Picture a bit of MC5 and the Stooges, mixed with the simplicity of the Ramones, and the sloppy guitar of Johnny Thunders, topped off with a crisp West Coast voice and sound, and you’ll have Back to Monkey City ( His songs reflect his rock’n’roll heart with the likes of “I Am a Mess” and “I Ain’t No Rattlesnake,” and a nod to his influences with “All My Favorite Ramones are Dead” and “This Ain’t No Funhouse Baby.” His hardcore background comes out in the likes of the buzzsaw “Dense Pac,” which lasts all of 57 seconds. While there is a heavy rock vibe going on, this is hardly metal. Dahl’s songs are pretty simple and memorable, and his voice is quite suited for the material. Dahl has a long history in the scene, and hopefully he’ll continue to produce collections like this one.

A true love story: the guy who runs Acetate Records has been a fan of THE FACTORY since he used to watch them playing around Washington DC in the early ‘80s. Recently coming across an old demo cassette by the band from that period, he got in touch with a member of the group who managed to lay his hands on the master tapes, which were never released. After some mixing, he releases their first ever official self-titled album ( I can see what he likes about them, as they are pretty much from the pre-hardcore, post-NYC+ scene period when anything went. The Factory shimmy across styles, sometimes sounding like the Dolls, others glossier like the Cars (the sax helps promote this). The vocalist, Vance Brockis, has a style that was popular then, modeled a bit on garage bands like Chocolate Watchband, where there is a hint of slur with intonations like “fay-vuh” (favor), “shy-eh” (she), or “guhll” (girl), but he definitely has some chops. The band backing him is pretty solid, so that helps as well. A fun band who mixes ‘50s (rhythms and again, that horn…), ‘60s (garage) and ‘70s (the whole CBGB/Max’s/Rat vibe). And you can dance to it.

Cry Tomorrow (Bellsound, c/o stephaniefinchmusic), the release by keyboardist STEPHANIE FINCH, is produced by Chuck Prophet, who used to be in Green and Red. She plays in his band, so it’s a very organic process. Stephanie does really well with jangling powerpop, such as the opening, “Tina Goodbye,” but she really starts to shine on the third cut, “Don’t Back Out,” which is a tasty bit of psyche-garage. This song is based on dissonant keys with a bit of a Velvets feel, but its success is all hers. Speaking of the VU, the cut “Sensitive Boys” has a rhythm riff that could have been lifted from “Walk on Wild Side,” though the tune is definitely different and quite more melodic in a light, jaunty way. There are actually quite a few good numbers here, such as “She’s the One,” spookily backed by the Company Men who sing in concert rather than harmony. With “In My Book,” she brings up a more Motown-meets-Brill Building sounds. “Count the Days 1-2-3-4-5-6-7” is a really well done “I’m splittin’” tune in a “These Boots” attitude, but in a musically subtle way. Ending the CD is “All is Forgiven,” which is almost a folk pop rock tune, and a fine way to end. Now, I didn’t mention every song here, but it’s a collection that will not disappoint if you’re into the powerpop-rock-kitchy-‘60s kinda thing, like me.

It took me a few songs to warm up to The Movie We Are In (, the newest release by New York-based PETE FRANCIS, who used to be in the band Dispatch. While I haven’t heard any of his solo, self-produced releases, he experiments a bit here by changing all the elements surrounding the music, including coast (east to west), and relying on producer Jeff Trott (Sheryl Crow’s guitarist) who brought in some mainstream studio musicians (for Beck, NiN, Gnarls Barkley, etc.) to back him up. Pete likes to tell personal landscapes (thereby the collection title), and he does so successfully in various forms, tempos, and hues, including singer-songwriter (mostly). Some of the better cuts include “Light Years,” “Red Cloud Road,” and one of my faves here, “Yellowbird.” His voice is not American Idol perfect, thankfully, and would easily make a good rock sound, but it works here as well. There is a definite Leonard Cohen vocal feel going, though not as deep. My only gripe is Trott’s heavy hand, trying to “modernize” the sound with programming and synth (such as “Constant Fire”). Sometimes a full backing enhances (e.g., Dar Williams), but others, it distracts. To show you what I mean, here is the listing of instruments used: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap steel guitar, strings, keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, celesta, bells, drum programming, strings, piano, Wurlitzer organ, synthesizer, laptop, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and drums. Luckily, the voice is kept pretty upfront so it doesn’t get lost in all the technology.