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 (jerseybeat.com). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 (afl.fm), 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 myspace.com/theatomage). 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 (myspace.com/guitaremporium) 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) (lauracheadle.com), 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 (gulcher.gemm.com). 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 doloresdagenais.com), 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 (steelcagerecords.com). 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 (acetate.com). 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 myspace.com/ 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 (petefrancis.com), 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.