Friday, December 12, 2014

FFanzeen FFiles: Music release reviews

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

At the bottom of each the reviews is a video from the release, if available.
John Batdorf and James Lee Stanley
All Wood and Stones II
The other day I was in a store and they played that horrible disco mash-up of the Beatles. What a waste when they could have put on this much more enjoyable release.  Singer-songwriters/folkers Batdorf and Stanley have this side project where they take some rockers and quite successfully translate / re-imagine songs we all know so well. This is their second excursion into the Jagger and Richards songbook, covering material like “Honky Tonk Women,” “Jumping Jack Flash, “Sympathy For the Devil,” and “Time is On My Side,” to name just a few. Stanley and Batdorf trade off on lead vocals as they pound their acoustic instruments. Stanley tends to play his songs more like the originals with a folk twist. With Batdorf, he totally makes the songs his own, transforming “Get Off My Cloud” into a near singer-songwriter ballad. This is a wonderful excursion. Sure, purists are going to be scratching their heads on what to make of this, but I smiled throughout. Batdorf and Stanley are their own Glimmer Twins as they do the rearranging and producing. The ballads like “Play With Fire” and “Wild Horses” definitely lend themselves to the harmonized playing here. The production is clean and I could easily listen to and enjoy this almost as much as the originals. Gutsy.

Beautiful Sky
Big Radio Records
BlueRace (or, actually, bluerace), have been around for a bit now, and they definitely wear their influences on their guitar straps. There’s quite a bit of the later Beatles, Byrds, and the late ‘60s American guitar sound (more rock with a touch of garage than blues, for example). Normally, classic rock is not something that is my expertise, but I gotta say these guys are fun. The songs are catchy as all get out, and listening to this full length release was an easy pleasure from beginning to end (and not because I’ve known the Media Ecological rhythm guitarist, Thom Gencarelli, longer than the band exists).  A good example is the reverb-infused “Why Is There Goodbye (Temporary Angel)?,” which has a hook that will stick with you. Yeah, the cuts are arguably a bit long at an average of 5 minutes apiece, but if the songs are as strong as these, it’s forgivable.  Vocalist (and bassist) Dean Diaz thankfully sounds more late ‘60s than, say, hair band screechy ‘80s, which is a major plus in my view.  Roger Diller’s lead guitar never overwhelms even as it flashes its smile on cuts like “Left to Turn.” I mean, these guys’ sound would fit right in at the Fillmore, both East and West. There is also a good balance between the vocals and the instruments, none really drowning out the other, each one quite distinguishable, which is always a bonus. Some fave cuts include “Daily Minefield” and “Bridge of Sighs.”

Jeremy Gluck and Robert Coyne
Memory Deluxe: I Knew Buffalo Bill 2
It was many and many a year ago in that kingdom by the sea – aka the UK – that ex-pat Jeremy Gluck was part of the 1980s post-surf/paisley revival with The Barracudas, and infamously put out the first volume of I Knew Buffalo Bill with the likes of late giants Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nikki Sudden nearly three decades ago. I’ve heard of this release of course, but haven’t heard it. Now, with Robert Coyne, Jeremy musically resurfaces with the sequel.  This collection of fourteen tunes shows a definite progression in the sound of what I’ve heard of Gluck and co., using a slashing guitar and synth beats. Now, synth is something you won’t hear mentioned much in this blog, so the fact that I’m covering it means there is definitely something to which is worth paying attention.  With a husky voice with an edge of growl, Gluck uses the years on his vocal chords to strike a mood effectively. Most of the “pop” sound of “I Want My Woody Back” is replaced by a poetic earnestness that remains accessible. Honestly, my fave cuts were the ones that were more guitar-based than synth, such as “Old Father Death” and “The Extra Mile,” but giving a chance to this set is worthwhile.

Jann Klose
Having reviewed Jann’s releases before, it does not surprise me that this release was going to be excellent, but I was still impressed. He does keep getting better. The opening cut, “Make It Better” grabs you by the collar and never lets you go.  More than just a pretty face singer-songwriter, Jann shows he can hit the notes both figuratively and literally. A blazing electric guitar complements the acoustic, and the messages are as powerful as his voice and production. Most of the songs are heart related, both present love or past, but for me, it was the opening political songs that raised my eyebrows highest. That being said, “Long Goodbye” is a lovely pastiche of a love fading. “Falling Tears” has reflections in classic blues, as “Four Leaf Clover” has a light tone with reggae touches. The exceptional Carrie Newcomer joins Jann for “Beautiful One,” showing how well their styles go together. Better known for slice of life songs, she backs this romantic ditty supported by Leah Potteiger’s luscious violin. The closer is a luxurious a capella cover of singer-songwriter touchstone Tim Buckley’s “Song of the Siren.”  

Larkin Poe and Thom Hell
The Sound of the Ocean Sound
Edvins Records
I have a lot of Norwegians in my extended family, so this CD intrigued me. Recorded mostly at Ocean Sound Studio in the city of Giske, for those who don’t know, Larkin Poe is two folk-rock sisters from Atlanta, Rebecca Lovell (vox and guitar) and Megan Lovell (vox and resonator guitar / steel top). They joined forces with Norwegian-based singer-songwriter Hell (vox, piano, acoustic guitar), including songwriting, and have come up with this lush, folk rock collective (yes, there are other musicians backing them up). The sisters are actually a powerhouse on their own, both individually and as a team, and joining in with Hell has certainly complemented their sound quite strongly. While some of the lyrics, especially those by the sisters can be a bit opaque in their poetic leanings at times, their message gets across to the listener, which is fortunately worthwhile. Hell’s contributions are a bit more straightforward in their message, that is not to say his lyrics and tunes aren’t well written. It’s a beautiful collection whose topics tend to heavily lean on the topics of different shades of love. Among my faves here are “I Belong to Love,” “PS, I Love You” (which has nothing to do with the Beatles or Robin Sparkles/Daggers), “Tired,” and “Wait For Me,” but to be honest, as there isn’t a bad cut here, my faves may change and vary over time. Lyric booklet included.

Lydia Lunch & Cypress Grove
A Fistful of Desert Blues
RustBlade Label
Without taking away any of the importance that Lydia Lunch had to No Wave, Transgressive Cinema, and Spoken Word since the late 1970s, and she was key in all of those movements, I don’t like her as a person, as I can never tell when she is begin genuine or not. I’ve seen her do both. Just so you know in case you believe it has colored my review.  Joining with British noise blues guitarist Cypress Grove after Grove’s previous collaboration with Gun Club founder Jeffrey Lee Pierce, they have quite successfully released something here that is both familiar and new. Borrowing from Sergio Leone’s scalding guitar on numerous spaghetti Westerns, Grove lays down the foundation of scorched earth guitar riffs, while Lunch does her own vocal riffing, sometimes whispered, other times full throated, but always echoy and “mysterious.” Y’know what, it works. With song titles like “Sandpit,” “Devil Winds, “I’ll Be Damned,” Summer of My Disconnect,” “End of My Rope,” and “TB Sheets,” they managed to consistently keep this listener’s attention. It’s often hard to make out what Lunch is saying thanks to the reverb, but even without the text, the vocals layer on the guitar well. There is also an interesting cover of Pierce’s “St. Mark’s Place.” The songs feel like the waves of heat that rise off the highway in the distance on a blistering day.

Molly Hatchet
Live at Rockpalast 1996
Molly Hatchet never really crossed my musical bow, but the powers that be brought a live performance of Hatchet from the famed Rockpalast show dated June 23, 1996, at the open-air Loreley Stadium in Germany. Then-new vocalist Phil McCormack replaced long-time voxer Danny Joe Brown, who left for health reasons. I have to say, as of this 1996 version – as it’s all I have to go by – is awful. Well, the band itself is stereotypical of the Southern Rock sound and not much exciting, but McCormack is, well, bad. Sure, he has a growl, but there is nothing noteworthy about his style. He isn’t even too determined to worry about being on key. I mean, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie could fuckin’ wail, as with Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas, but Phil suffers from lack of stage presence.  The songs here are okay, but nothing that’s going to sick in my mind longer than writing this review, quite frankly. It’s obvious the band can play, centered on Bobby Ingram’s lead guitar, but overall this was hardly what I would call electrifying.  This show is also available on DVD.

My Own Worst Enemy
“Paul Revere” / “Angel of the Underground”
Pristine Indigo Records
A vinyl single. While I can hear an ex-colleague of mine say, “How quaint,” this is a powerhouse release. I had the pleasure to have seen MOWE on their home turf in Boston in ’08 or so, and they had the audience (including me) moving. “Paul Revere” is a wonderful example of powerpop punk by this trio that has nothing to do with a Disney musical. This is a hysterical tune with an anthemic chorus that will definitely get you pumping that fist in the air. While Steve does a solid job on the vocals with this rocker (he’s also on guitar), his partner Sue picks it up for the more serious ballad on the flip (she’s also  guitar, as there is no bass), “Angel of the Underground” about one of my favorite buskers, Mary Lou Lord (who I interviewed almost two decades ago; her tune “Light Are Changing” is referenced here). It’s a touching song focused on a talent that is missed (by me, too). AJ’s drumming and harmonica on the flip is just the right touch. This slower B-side is a perfect yin to the A-side yang, and this release is not just quaint, it’s a fun mix of silly and somber.

Tess Parks
Blood Hot
359 Music / Cherry Red Records
With one foot on either side of the “pond,” Tess meanders back and forth from Toronto to London, and shows the influence from both in this post-psych release. With a nice voice that is hidden behind echo and the music, the melodies are a bit chaotic sounding, in an off-beat and sometimes jangling way, that make it a cross between the late ‘60s flower power sound, and a bit of noise rock as it clashes along in a sort of meditative labyrinth.  Honestly, I could hardly make out a word, if that’s important for you, but I have found when dealing with music that is flowing and repetitive (not in an insulting way), it’s more the entirety than an aspect.  The fact that her voice is deep and throaty, and not always classically on-key, is meaningless, because the zeitgeist is what is important here, and that is what’s effective. This could be a missing link cross between hippie and punk. You can hear full album HERE.

Michael Schenker Temple of Rock
Live in Europe (2 CDs)
For the greater good or bad, Germans are known for their precision. With his guitar in hand, Michael Schenker has proved over the decades that he knows his way around a metal fretboard. His decades on the stage and in the studio have rightfully made him a legend. Despite his name on the helm, Schenker is a member of the band, standing to the side of the stage with fingers ablazing, while for one of the show recorded here singer Doogie White stands front and center, in another, Michael Voss, making it practically a Scorpions reunion. Schenker is a superb musician, no one can argue with that, and yet I seriously wonder when does it become too clinical? Celine Dion is a surgical singer, and that makes her dry as a bone, all the emotion ripped out of her songs. That is not to say that Schenker’s guitar is emotionless, but it certainly borders on a Metal cliché, and one he helped birth. The same can be said about vocalist Doogie. He hits all the notes, but he can also be seen through rear-view mirrored glasses as a Metal cliché: high pitched and wavering vocals, especially on the last note of each stanza line.  For the Voss songs, they seem to play faster. I would like to add that everyone sounds to be having fun. There is a strong reliance here on some of their varied classics, including “Armed and Ready,” “Another Piece of Meat,” “Shoot Shoot,” “Rock Bottom,” and of course their best known “Rock Me Like a Hurricane,” with its ear worm chorus. No matter what the Michael Schenker Group incarnation, they have extremely high energy. There are a couple of ballads, but mostly this is full tilt, and they never waiver. Not  bad for a bunch of guys in their 50s. Also available in DVD.

Sweet Magma
Atrocious Saints
Once when I was hanging out with metalhead lead vox/bassist Nick Massios, there was some background music playing. I said, “This sounds familiar, what is it?” He said, quite surprised, “You write about music and you don’t know Dark Side of the Moon?!” That is typical of the kind of jokingly sharp conversation we have had. Of course, I tease back with an earlier song of theirs, “The 8 Foot Bong” (more about that later).  And despite the Floyd reference, it’s pretty obvious that Black Sabbath and Motörhead are bigger influences, with a solid bottom and Nick’s growly (but not death metal’s annoying level) vocals. For a power trio, they sound much fuller, including live (yes, I have seen them play a while back).  Their newest release starts strong with the nearly hardcore laden “LTBM” (which ironically stands for Let There Be Metal). When the band gets cranked up, such as on “I Go Zen,” the mix of noise and metal screeches together solidly.  There had been moments before this, where there were flashes of guitar solos, but the band lets loose here and everyone gets a few moments to shine. Yeah, this is metal, but they seem to keep the solos to a minimum, which of course gets my interest (hence my lack of caring about Floyd or other prog bands).  Oh, it’s not the last time for them to show off their multiple talents, that’s for certain: for example, “Lifeline,” one of my fave cuts, is consistently in the listener’s face/ears, in metal assault mode. It also takes some chances with fake endings and pounding beats, which works just fine.  Towards the collection’s end is a cover of Sweet Magma’s own “The 8-Foot Bong,” as I mentioned above. Pure goofiness, which made me smile, even as a semi-strait-edger. This isn’t rocket science, and honestly I believe it shouldn’t be, and isn’t pretending to be either, but man it is enjoyable fun. And, yes, I would say the same thing about Motörhead. Lyric booklet included.

Up For Nothing
In Trance
I’m proud to say that I was there at UFN’s very first show, and have had a sit down at Lenny’s Pizza in Bensonhurst with lead singer/guitarist Justin Conigliaro. They are a solid alt punk trio that has changed over the decade they’ve been around in one way: they’ve gotten better. Justin’s songwriting has improved remarkably, and it wasn’t shabby to begin with. He’s doing better at nailing the catches.  They lean a bit to the Green Day pop side, but honestly, I think they’re actually more fun than that other overrated band. Right from the opening cut, “This Moment,” with its chanted chorus, you can feel the power consistently through the 5 song EP. That being said, “The Worst Things to Say” is more classic pop hardcore. Just really good stuff. The opening cut and “The Side of Caution” are my fave cuts. They’ve played the Fest and tour often, so if you get the chance to catch ‘em, do it.

Kathy Zimmer
Static Inhabited
Having heard Kathy on and off over the last few years, I can tell you she’s quite versatile, be it jazz or standards. Here she stretches into original music that that has a jazzy but theatrical folk vibe. She fluctuates between them by vocally exercising up and down the scales. That’s not an easy thing to do, and she flexes like a champion, showing she not only sings sweetly, but can write a decent tune as well.  There are a few toe tappers, such as “Laundry Chute,” as well as ballads, but it’s the brash experimental adenoids stretchers that also keep you tuned. There are some definite theatrical references, the obvious one’s include “Glinda,” “Lost Boys,” and “Farinelli.” The background choral vocal “ooohs” and “aaaah” lean towards this as well.  If that wasn’t enough, there is also just hint of country themes, though I would not call this C&W by any stretch of the imagination. Fave cuts include “Right Around the Corner,” “Take You As You Come,” and the sultry “Eva.”


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