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 email@example.com, 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 (strangefamous.com) - 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 (oralfuentes.com) 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 (jessiegalante.com). 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 (marygatchell.com), 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 (ruthgerson.com), 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! (gulcher.gemm.com). 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 (gulcher.gemm.com), 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 (myspace.com/jessemarchant), 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 (ketchharborwolves.com). 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 (myspace.com/tenniekomar). 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.