Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Music Reviews: Catch-up for April 2018

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

There was a point where I just found myself starting a new job, and other responsibilities weighed in, so here I am catching up on some of the CDs I’ve received over the past few years that I haven’t gotten to as yet. Note that CDs will mostly have first shot over digital/streaming releases. If you are interested in me reviewing something, contact me at to find out where to send it. This is going to be a bit of a series, so patience…

Sands of Time
Carved in Stone
Boston is a center for metal, and this is a perfect example of a heavy sound. Most people think of Aerosmith for Bosstown rock, but they’re pure pop compared to this. The center is Jeffrey Baker on vocals (y’know, they type that warbles on the last syllable), Aart Knyff on lead guitar and Joe Black pluckin’ bass. These three would later record together under the moniker Joe Black’s Blackenstein. Here they are joined by Tom D’Amico on keys, leading to one solid metal song after another. If you like the classic heavy sounds, this will not disappoint, since whether it’s a ballad or a rave up, it’s a piledriver, with titles like “Let It All Hang Out” (with a strong musical catch that one can pump their fists to), “What Comes Around Goes Around,” “Real Woman” and “Don’t Play with Fire.” Lyrics are included.

Buzzy LInhart
Electric Lady Dream: The Eddie Kramer Sessions
Buzzart Enterprises
Buzzy Linhart has spent a large chunk of his career flirting with the big time. Yeah, he’s recorded with the likes of Hendrix, Carly Simon (his ex-girlfriend), CSNY and John Sebastian (his ex-roomie). These sessions that were recorded at the fabled studio in 1969 (this album was originally released in 1971 under the title MUSIC), starts in solid Hendrix-style rock that mixes with the breeze of the West Coast sound, but with a more bluesy edge. He continues on with various styles, but its rock in one variation or another. His claim to fame may be co-writing Bette Midler’s “(You Gotta Have) Friends” with Moogy Klingman, but his near psychedelia-fueled sounds are post-Sgt. Pepper’s/Pet Sounds’ heavy production values. This may have killed if he had found a proper outlet for it at the time, and fans of American rock from that time, you certainly won’t get disappointed. Most of the songs are originals, like the enjoyable opening “IF You Love Me,” but there are also a couple of covers, like Fred Neil’s (one of Buzzy’s early mentors) “The Bag I’m In,” Tim Hardin’s “Reputation,” and another collaboration with Klingman, “The Birds.” Long guitar and vibraphone solos punctuate the music, continuing to solidify his sound to those in the know. He may never be a household name, but he is a musician’s musician.

MVD Audio
Wow, talk about feeling like you’re being hit over the head! This Texas trio can generally be put into the Southern Rock category… or perhaps Southern Metal Rock? They are definitely closer to ZZ Top’s wicked guitars than, say, anything from sweet home Alabama or dark wood Arkansas. It’s no surprise when you consider that one member, bassist and vocalist JD Pinkus was a member of both the Butthole Surfers and the MELVINS. He’s joined by Bobby Ed Landgraf on vox and a thunka-thunka guitar; pounding the skins in wild zeal is Trinidad Leal. This power trio never lets up for a second. They manage to make lots of noise and yet keep a melody and rhythm going. The instrumental “4:21,” shows some Butthole Surfer kind of noise that’s impressive. By the half-way point, it’s a bit more accessible, albeit still heavy as hell. I do believe that both southern rockers and metalheads can find mutual ground here. It ends on the impressive “Black Joe’s Bitch.”

Jah Wobble & Keith Levene
Yin & Yang
Cherry Red Records
If you are anywhere familiar with Wobble and Levene, you know that (a) they were key components of PiL, and that (b) their direction is anything but conventional. They have updated their sound to include some rap (the “fuck” filled title cut) and what sounds like Harry Potter-ish incantations (“Jags & Staffs”), but lyrics don’t really seem to be a main focus of their intentions. There’s a lot of noise within the melodies (electronica, I’m assuming), that relies on rhythms and odd sounds, and the occasionally distorted singing (echoes, reverb, etc.). There is one weird cover of the originally weird George Harrison cut, “Within You Without You,” and lots to unpack of their own creations. I would argue that this is either updated No Wave or Fusion Jazz, but it would fit in well with the likes of Kraftwerk or DeadMou5, except it’s a bit more melodic and not quite as rhythmic (thank god). I don’t think there’s anything here that’s you’d necessarily sing along with, per se, but as an adventure in experimentation, it’s a valiant and I believe successful endeavor. Hey, anyone who can make The Hybrid Kids (1979) collection is okay with me!

Metal Pistol
Magnum Force
FNB Productions
Sometimes one can succeed without pushing the envelope, just sticking to the path. Metal Pistol is solid metal, with brilliantly flashing guitar work by Steve (Laz) Stanley. He’s bound to gain most of the attention, along with Benatar-ish vocals by Sunny Lee, and rightfully so. However, drummer Roy Adams’ and Brett Sinclair’s bass bottom definitely deserves equal notice as all are integral to this pounding sound and rhythm. This is a fun tat-a-tat-a-tat type of metal that feels like being hit with a sledgehammer, and yet it feels so good. I’m not sure how much of it is in the production, but screw that, just put this puppy on if you’re metal-bound, and I’m sure you might have a good time. In typical metal mania, the songs are typically in the 5 minute mark, but they fly away fast.

Mud, Blood & Beer
Gone For Good
Mud, Blood & Beer Music
Technically, I assume that this could be considered country rock, but for me it has kind of a ‘60s garage sound, with an additional kind of Scottish pastiche, especially on the second of the 5 cuts here, “New Math.” “Mine the Light” is a bit more traditional, post-“9 to 5” commercial country, the only cut with a pedal guitar, but it still has a sharp edge to it that has it stand out. “Gramercy Park” has vocalist Jess Hoeffner puts on a bit of Townes van Zandt growl on the stanzas, and the choruses rock out a bit, with harmonies.  This is one of the few I sat through twice, so that tells ya something.

Ralph Carney’s Serious Jazz Project
Smog Veil Records
While I enjoy jazz, especially this kind, I have to admit it’s a bit out of my wheelhouse; I don’t know who these guys are, so I hope they don’t take that personally and I’ll give it my best shot. This is definitely not avant-garde (the punk equivalent would be No Wave), which means it’s a lot more accessible to a larger amount of people. With a bit a boogie thrown in here and there, this reminds me more of the early days of swing, like Cab Calloway, Count Basie or Benny Goodman (my parents’ favorite type of sound). This is heavy on the sax and clarinets, which Carney plays multiple types of both, for which he is joined by Randy Odell on drums, Ari Munkres on bass, and Michael Macintosh on keys. There are others who add their expertise here and there, such as the sultry sounding Karina Denike on vocals. If you liked listening to your parents’… well, now I guess grandparents’ old records, you might enjoy this. I certainly know I did. There’s an original or two, but mostly it’s covers by the likes of Ellington (“Carnival in Caroline,” “Gypsy Without a Song”) and Rodgers and Hart (“You Took Advantage of Me”), so if that sounds familiar to you, certainly you know the sound I mean. Definitely more upbeat than boring lite jazz, and not as atonal as Coltrane, so it’s a swing-fest of fun.

Sean Burns
Cold Beans & Broken Eggs
Folk singer-songwriters in a country vein is a category I don’t hear enough of, and Sean Burns is a really nice way to easy back into it. This CD is a bit of a travelogue, with each song about a different place, such as “A Postcard from Rochester, New York (Talkin’ ‘Bout Now),” “Texas,” “If You Need Me I’ll Be in Wisconsin,” “Mexico Town,” and I especially enjoyed “Tumbleweed,” which name-checks a bunch of locations in Saskatchewan (he’s from Manitoba). Considering how much he tours, it’s hardly surprising. I’m hoping he plays Saskatoon at some point. There’s some country that runs through most of the songs with a pedal guitar (that has a Mexican lilt). For those who don’t know, C&W is overall bigger in the Prairies than, say, the pop of Alanis Morissette or the rock of Rush. For this, Sean’s voice has just the right amount of warble (think less than Melanie Safka), and a pleasant tone that feels comfortable from the first note. His songs are basically about real life situations and daily emotions, rather than something grand and esoteric. The band backing him is well mixed on the CD, with Sean right in front rather than being buried. Each song is well done, which makes it hard to say one is a standout among the others, because they are all of high quality.

Steve Gilligan
Jacob’s Well
Actuality Records
From his work in the Stompers to pairing up with Jon Macey (Fox Trot), Steve Gilligan’s history in the Boston music scene is unquestionable. I had the opportunity to see Macey and Gilligan perform about a decade ago, and it was quite enjoyable. This marks Steve’s first solo effort. Despite the rock-pop background, this time the coast to coast sound is solid singer-songwriter balladry, and Steve’s alto voice is actually quite suited for it. His sound could fit into the “feel-good music” category, which the Lovin’ Spoonful and Turtles successfully embellished. The songs are quite poetic and melodic, and I am quite impressed by how good it all is. While Steve is the main focus and plays most of the instruments, he has quite a few locals filling in, including most members of the Stompers in one form or another, including its vocalist Sal Baglio who adds some electric guitar on one cut. A couple of songs, “Out of the Rain” and “Niki’s Blue Waltz,” are almost a Stompers reunion. The rare rave-up, such as “What’s a Little Rock’n’Roll Between Friends” (Dave Friedman’s keyboards are enjoyable) are also standouts.  Most of the songs are about love, so Steve’s harmonica is also a key instrument through most of the cuts, which gives you some idea of the sound. Steve should be recording more often, even knowing there’s another album out there titled Winter Rain. Lyrics are included in a booklet with very small print (my only complaint about this).

Vonda Shepard
Panshot Records
Along with Diana Krall, Shepard has pretty much cornered the market on the very blonde womyn jazzy piano and singing. There is a reason for that; okay a couple at least. First is that she had just the right vehicle at just the right time when she appeared (musically) on the television show “Ally McBeal,” back around the turn of the Millennium. The other and larger reason is that she is extremely talented. Most people know her for the songs she covers, but she has also been a songwriter for decades, so this is a good opportunity for her to shine as she plays live in the studio: just her and her piano. Her voice is sort of like water flowing over pebbles; I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the image it conjures. She has a cadence that is all her own, which is part of what made her popular in the first place. If there were two themes to pick out of these slow ballad-paced songs, it would be travel and heartbreak. Many songs deal with moving on in both the physical and emotional senses, with a piano tinkling behind it. For examples, the opening song is about traveling down to “Maryland,” or in “Soothe Me,” she starts with “Maybe I should wander down these streets a little longer.” Though mostly originals, even the covers she’s chosen talks about moving: “You Belong to Me” (“See the pyramids along the Nile…”) and the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” For break-ups, there are the likes of “Don’t Cry Ilene” (“It’s hard to say exactly why he left you”) and “Baby Don’t You Break My Heart Slow,” the two songs that close out this collection. There’s no doubt it’s a beautiful albeit sadness-focused set, but it may be just want is needed on a lonely rainy afternoon. Lyrics are included in a nice booklet.

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