Friday, December 10, 2010

Music Dead? Not Even Close! A Preview of 2011 and More.....

They won't be carrying me out of 2010 kicking and screaming but I will be sad to see it go.  It was one hell of a year musically and I'm not referring to the media-hyped novelty tunes (and videos) and the box set and remastering mania which has captured the media's attention.  I'm talking about honest to God music, something which is seemingly being left in the dust by a world so engrossed in electronic gadgets that terms like texting and sexting are included in dictionaries mere weeks after creation and the public (and not just teens) pride themselves on choices in ringtones.  Music?  To many, it is mere background to the many applications their phones and computers can find, their world existing somewhere between landlines and wi-fi.  The media would love for you to believe that that world is the only world available to us--- it does sell advertising--- but as is the case more and more these days they would be wrong.  There are plenty of us who still hold music dear to our hearts and who do not need a multimedia experience to create artistic orgasm.  Of course, there are those who are trapped in the past, feeding off of the morsels handed to us by a music industry living off its fat.  There is so much repackaged music out there that you have to work in the industry to make sense of it all, as if anyone who still works for a major label even knows what sense is.

"There just isn't any good music out there anymore....."

There's a statement which warms the cockles of my heart.  You bet.  (Pssst... I'm being cynical)  What it does is make me want to bash some heads.  If there wasn't any more good music I wouldn't be writing this, and if you're one of the idiots who make such statements while spending your entertainment dollar on music you already have, remastered and remixed or not, please stop reading here.  You are an idiot and you have lost any sense of adventure when it comes to music, if you had any to begin with.  I leave you with your Katy Perry's and Lady Gaga's and Justin Bieber's and your other flavors of the moment.  Right now, I have more important music to discuss.

Important to me, anyway, and hopefully important to other people as well.  There are lots of incredibly talented musicians out there busting their hump to get their music to you and if you don't pay attention, you lose.  The music world of today is chock full of next year's and the next decade's discoveries.  Why settle for more Beatles and Springsteen when you can get music by new and exciting artists or even under the radar musicians who have been pounding away for years to little response?  How cool would it be to listen to music you hear almost nowhere else instead of plugging in to the lame pap being churned out on Sirius/XM's "Radio Margaritaville" or the Dylan Channel?  Damn cool, if you ask me, but then I don't think music is dead.  And I do think those channels are for people who think that way.  Me, I look for music anywhere and everywhere and when I find it do a little jig in my heart.  Tell you what.  I'm feeling generous.  I will give you tips on a few of next year's musicians to watch.  You may not like all of them, but you will amaze friends and family at that next dinner party when someone says, hey, you ever hear of Liz Pappademus and the Level and you can say, yes, I have.  In fact, I was listening to their new CD on the drive over this evening.  In my dreams, that is the way I meet the woman of my dreams who has thus far been attending different dinner parties, evidently.

But I digress.  Here are capsule rundowns on albums I am anxiously awaiting and are already, even though I have yet to hear them, vying for a place on my list of "Best Albums of 2011".  Here we go.....


My friends are groaning already.  They have been forced to endure my ranting about these guys for a full year now and though many of them are Research Turtles fans, they probably wish I would wait until their next release is at least available.  Well, it's not, but their last album was so damn good (read my review here) that they are at the top of my list for upcoming releases.  Steeped in sixties and Brit rock, they rely on simple punchy chords and catchy hooks.  Think Shoes with a touch of Big Star.  After much deliberation, they decided to head back to Dockside and Justin Tocket.  Excellent choice. 


Make all the jokes you want about Des Moines and Iowa (I've heard plenty, most having to do with corn).  If they harbor bands like Bright Giant, they're aces with me.  They lean a bit toward The Black Crowes and early Rolling Stones, but don't hold that against them.  They have the flair to pull it off and quite unpretentiously, thank you.  Not underdone.  Not overdone.  Just right.  Their five song self-titled EP has me anxious for what's next.  If all goes well, it will be coming this Spring.


Zoe Muth is one of those talents who could easily fall through the cracks but whose fans will not allow it.  She is a little bit folk and a little bit country with a dash of rock but it isn't the genre that you notice, it is the package.  She writes like a pro and has a voice which is a knife through soft butter.  The first time I heard You Only Believe Me When I'm Lyin', I was irretrievably hooked, and that isn't even my favorite song on her first (and outstanding) album.  She just recently signed with Signature Sounds and is working on a new one.  It can't get here fast enough for me.


Ireland wouldn't be having financial difficulties if they had a few more bands like this.  Pack ten bands of this caliber in a state-sponsored international tour and, if marketed correctly, the money would be rolling in.  There is more than a little of the Rory Gallagher aura about these guys but they bring way more than that to their music.  And Tony Colton (Heads Hands & Feet) has their back.  Their latest single Hot Tramp was released a couple of months ago and the album is not far behind.  How about a Riptide Movement/Bright Giant tour?  I'd drive miles to see that one.


I painted my house to Sydney Wayser's The Colorful a year ago last summer.  If I heard it once I heard it a hundred times and it never got old.  In fact, the more I listened the better it got.  One of the better constructed albums I've had the pleasure to hear and I say constructed for a reason.  Seems that Wayser and band became fascinated with tools, toy and otherwise, and much of the percussion was provided by such.  But you don't need gimmicks for what she does.  Her songs are just that much better than the norm.  New album soon, but I think you should check out her earlier albums as well.  If you want to hear an amazing production job, check out her studio version of La Di Da.  It is immaculate.  She hasn't been given even a small percentage of the respect she's due.


Sheldon Gomberg mentioned Liz Pappademus & The Level almost in passing in one of his Facebook posts and I'm not one to pass up one of his recommendations.  He had just finished recording them and I stopped by and really liked liked what I heard--- rock with edges, but oh those edges.  The album has been awaiting funds for release and evidently the check has cleared the bank because here comes their album--- a concept album titled Television City.  Late enough in 2010 to be called a 2011 release and one I intend to review in detail when a copy makes its way to Frankville.  Check them out and while you're at it, check out Gomberg's site as well.  He is busy as hell and has some impressive stuff making its way out of his studio.


These guys are getting tired of hearing from me, I am sure.  This album was supposed to have been released what seems like a million years ago, but like so many out there (just read the previous entry), lack of funds intervened.  So they have done what so many are doing--- leaving it up to fans and superfans.  Their Kickstarter campaign just kicked in and, well, it's all happening at the zoo, as Simon & Garfunkel used to sing.  The music?  Country rock with a crunch edge (or is it rock with a country edge). Not really alternative but too damn good to be mainstream.  Watch the video (it's a killer live performance) and you might just want to kick in a little yourself.


When I first heard Jill Stevenson, I heard something but had no idea she would sweep me away like she has.  At first listen, you can tell she is good.  After many, you know how special she really is.  I have her two 2009 EP's, The Jill Stevenson Band and Where We're Not (recorded with Adam Widoff) and have listened to them constantly but have been salivating for something new.  Word has it that she is in and out of the studio with Widoff (and maybe without) and you can bet that I will stop the presses when the next project comes my way.  At that moment, it will be an unplugged phone, a cold beer, a lounge chair and headphones.  At the very least, she's earned that much respect.  At the very least.....


If Arborea lived in New York City or Los Angeles, they would have filmmakers and fans of acoustic music packing house after house, but they toil in the relative obscurity of Maine--- a bit off the beaten path, shall we say?  Consisting of Buck and Shanti Curran, Arborea has an ethereal and cinematic view toward music.  This video is new, put together to promote their upcoming album Red Planet and allows you to see and hear their commitment to film and music.  Also using Kickstarter for funding and have evidently reached their goal.  New album release imminent.  Life is good.


I am in awe of Dala's ability to turn two voices into clouds of such beauty one moment and joyful glee the next.  They have just signed to Compass Records in the US and that label is readying their Everyone Is Someone for release in January (it has been available in Canada for some time).  When you hear it, you'll know why they grabbed this one instead of awaiting the next.  How much do I love these girls?  Here is an indication....


Sometimes you have to get back to the basics and Colorado's The Big Motif do it in style.  They've played in varying combinations over the past few years and even under a different name, but they are going back to their roots.  This is bluesy balls out rock and they are damn good at it!  And they're in the studio with Morris Beegle readying another monster release.  Get ready.....  Oh, and yes, I know it ends short.  What is there, though, is what counts.  These guys can rock!


Okay, this isn't a  Kirsti Gholson video, but it's almost as good as one.  Tom Mank & Sera Smolen are two majorly overlooked and talented musicians who use Kirsti whenever she's available and she was available when this was recorded.  Hey, they know talent when they hear it.  Anyway, Kirsti put out an outstanding album she calls her "demo" back in 2000 that caught me quite by surprise around 2006 and I've been awaiting new music from her since.  The good news is that it is on its way.  She is finishing up an album of songs she's been writing and working on for a few years now and it is great.  I say that because Kirsti was kind enough to send me (what she calls) rough cuts close to a year ago and I thought it would be ready back then.  She has a touch, does Kirsti, and you can bet when the music is available, I will be heralding its release.  Two words:  Sing Hallelujah.  You'll understand when you hear it.


 I had the great fortune to see Carrie Elkin at the Alberta Street Pub in Portland this last summer and was treated to a powerful yet sensitive performance.  She has the sense of the folkie about her and yet transcends the genre.  Small and almost waif-like, her size belies her strength of voice.  On a couple of songs, she was forced to turn her back to the audience for fear of turning us all into the Maxell guy (you know--- the guy sitting in the chair with his hair blowing with the force of music?).  If you understand that reference, you know what I mean.  What I mean to say is that it has been all too long--- this video was recorded two tears ago--- and it's about time.  Danny Schmidt, also in the studio at the time of this recording, is rumored to also have another album in the works.  More on that when it is close to completion.  Elkin's will be available sometime after the first of the year.


Tons of new music out there, but the mind wanes, buried beneath the mountain.  A couple of bands stick out, though.  One, from Buenos Aires, is called Mothership and have an odd connection to the seventies and eighties which they wear well.  Their music is a combination of mainstream rock a la Journey and REO Speedwagon with a heavy dose of seventies prog rock.  When they crank out the straight rock, it is impressive.  When they prog it up, it's even better.  New album in the works, but they have rough tracks up on their MySpace page worth checking out.....  The other is a new version of Emma Jo & the Poets Down HereWhile the band has not changed personnel, they have changed their name (they now go by the name of 49 Stones) and have a new album ready.  I'll be checking them out soon.  Maybe by next post.

Hopefully also in the next post will be 25 albums which made 2010 one exceptional year in music.  Capsule reviews and links to websites and full reviews on artists like The Georgian Company, Ted Pitney, Aloud, The Beige and more.  Stay tuned.....

Friday, November 12, 2010

SPACE OPERA--- The Incredible Power of Music

I sit here at the keyboard listening to old/new music from one of my favorite bands of the early seventies, knot in my throat and tears in my soul.  Space Opera was one of those bands I stumbled across quite by mistake, finding a copy in the racks at one of my favorite Eugene record haunts, The House of Records, and playing it straight out of the racks, a perk for those of us who spent as much time at that store as we did at our own houses.  We weren't a half a minute into Country Max before I claimed the record for myself, the sweet harmonies and country rock sound sweeping me away as did other favorites of the time--- Cowboy, Uncle Jim's Music, Johnny Rivers (his Homegrown album is toward the top of my country-rockin' favorites list), Pure Prairie League, and Robert Thomas Velline (Bobby Vee, for those who don't know), whose Nothing Like a Sunny Day album gets airplay whenever I need to recharge my country-rockin' batteries.  Imagine my surprise when Country Max gave way to music of a whole 'nother genre, Over and Over, which gave way to the even more adventurous and sweeping Outlines, which gave way to something I could hardly imagine, Guitar Suite, a track which can only be called a composition due to its complexity.  Country rock?  Hardly.  But there was something in that side which caught my ear and would not let go.

It wouldn't and didn't.  Space Opera and its handful of replacement copies have made their way all over the West Coast, an anchor in my always changing record collection.  So when John Reagan, who had read a history piece I had written about about Tulsa's legendary Cargoe, sent me an email asking if I'd be interested in writing a similar piece on Space Opera, how could I refuse?  After three years of research, interviews and editing, that project not too long ago saw light (read it here).  Theirs was a fascinating history and while I enjoyed working closely with the band's David Bullock in writing it, I began to regret never having seen them live, never having known them personally and never having heard the many recordings that they had made both before and after the one album they had released.  Actually, it turns out that there were two, the second having been put together in the late nineties and released around 2000 (I got one as soon as I found out).

Not only that, I found that three of the band members were crucial members of Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill who released one until recently very hard to find to find album (The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc.), much sought after by a handful of people I knew who were actually aware of it (I, myself, had only heard the name and had no idea they were Space Opera-related until Reagan pointed it out). On The Unwritten Works, they worked with a very young T-Bone Burnett, went on to sign with Epic Records (Columbia, in Canada) and record an album to their (the band's) specifications (quite unheard of in those days, labels being very anal when it came to their investments), released an album very quietly decades later and...  Well, if you want to read the story, follow the link above.  Suffice it to say that it is worth reading for the real music and/or history fan.  Oh, and one other thing--- they were from Fort Worth, Texas, a fact obscured by the lack of information on the album jacket (the album was recorded in Canada, so many of us thought they were from Canada until the truth came to light).

But I digress.  The point here is that recently there has been a release of lost Space Opera material--- the music to which I alluded at the beginning of this blog.  Comprised of tracks recorded directly before signing with Epic and others recorded in the late seventies, all worth hearing, both historically and musically.  Safe at Home, released on and available through them as well as Amazon, is pure treasure.  It is packed with unreleased gems as well as excellent alternate versions of songs from the Epic album (Country Max and Over and Over). 

So I sit here, ecstatic about the music but sad that three of the four band members are no longer here to see it.  I also wonder what life would have been like for them if they had made it.  They deserved to, you know.  They were something else.  They were Space Opera.

Instant Replay.....

I've been listening to Rita Hosking's latest CD and have to admit to a chuckle or two.  Hosking, from Davis, California, is a real coal miner's daughter, her grandfather having worked in mines in Northern California and possibly her father as well.  She grew up amongst the heritage of the miners, to whom music held a special place.  For her latest effort, she actually went into the 16-to-1 Mine to record a number of excellent folk and old-timey songs, including two co-written by Utah Phillips.  Recorded live, it uses the mine as sound chamber and it works beautifully.  You get seven songs (well, six, as they do an extended version of the opening track Bright Morning Stars at the end) and, supposedly a thirteen-minute film.  Unfortunately, my computer is not set up for viewing the film (it is a dinosaur and just about ready for the scrap heap), so I have no idea what the film is like.  I can tell you that the music is exceptional and, gasp!, educational (if those clowns in Texas want to rewrite history, we can keep truth alive through our music, eh?).  It is titled Live In the 16-To-1 Mine.  Check it out.

A couple of days ago, I posted an article about two of my favorite musicians, Tom Mank & Sera Jane Smolen.  Not only are they two of the nicest people I've ever talked with, they have put out a number of albums worth hearing.  The latest is Paper Kisses and is another step up the ladder for them.  Their story is an interesting one, Smolen being a cellist of major repute and Mank being a singer and songwriter who just keeps getting better with every release.  You can read about them here.

In future blogs, I hope to slowly work my way through Bob Segarini's list of The 15 Artists I Would Most Like To See Have Huge Success (or however he phrased it).  Stay tuned for tidbits about Dala, Research Turtles (who go into Dockside Studios in January to record another album), Courage My Love, Ali Milner and a whole slew of artists Segarini loves.  But I'll be the judge of that, eh?  Stay tuned.....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rewriting Music History--- The Truth (or Lie) Is In the Details.....

"I never really felt like Big Star was part of the Memphis music scene at all.  I just finished reading Robert Gordon's book It Came From Memphis and, quite frankly, that was the first I've ever known of most of the 'Memphis Music Scene'." -- ANDY HUMMEL,  Big Star, from a 2001 interview with Jason Gross for the Perfect Sound Forever website
It's taken 30 years, but we've finally reached a point where you can hardly throw a pop bottle at a major rock concert without hitting a Big Star fan.  And if the bottle's full, when they come to, they'll inevitably swear that hardly anyone knows about them (Big Star, that is).
It's interesting.  The growing fan base is enough to keep the band going even today, though the band has not really existed for years.  True, there is a Big Star living off of the name and a convoluted lineup consisting of the Biggest Star, Alex Chilton, and the core of the Posies.  And their jangly, hook-filled guitar sound does strike a note with the fan, but for those less enamored it's more akin to expecting Creedence Clearwater Revival and getting John Fogerty with a few studio musicians.  I mean, if that's what you want, fine, but it isn't Big Star.

What we really have is a case of the legend overtaking reality.  It's Martin Strothers all over again.  You know.  "What we have here is a failure to communicate?"  Cool Hand Luke?  Hello?  Is this mike on? 

The truth is that whereas Big Star is a minor supernova in today's rock world, during their actual existence, they were barely a lit fuse.  Yet somehow, the legend has given credence to no less than two books about 70s Memphis rock and a history of anything and everything Big Star by Brit Rob Jovanovic.  Not only that, but numerous Big Star CDs and 60s and 70s Memphis compilations line the shelves of music stores everywhere (that is, if you're lucky enough to know where one is anymore).  Hell, it practically takes a supercomputer to handle the Google responses to a Big Star/Chilton query on the Net.

So allow me to mouth the Big Question--- What the hell is going on?  And allow me to mouth the answer--- we are, once again, rewriting history.

The first time I noticed it was in the 70s.  Being a native Pacific Northwesterner, I cut my teeth on the armory and teen fair circuit of the 60s and music was as important to me as it was for most young kids of the day.  I say this only to explain that I knew the bands and the music and the scene and the fact is, it wasn't really close to what has been written. 

Let me guess.  I say Pacific Northwest and the first group that pops into your mind is The Sonics, right?  Maybe Paul Revere and the Raiders if you leaned away from the harder edge.  But they were only two cogs in the Northwest wheel.  We were inundated in bands of varying success and popularity, from The Daily Flash to Don & the Goodtimes to The Frantics to Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers to....  well, you get my drift.  So why is it that the vast majority of interest in the scene circles around The Sonics?  How is it that The Sonics can elbow reality out of the way?  The mere fact that it does is an example of rewritten history.

It is a simple matter of logic.  You start with A, move to B, then to C, then to D.  Now, A to B is a given, but the chances are progressively greater that the further along you move, say from A to D or A to G, the chance of solid logic (and reality) fades.

Big Star may be a good place to start when you think Memphis, but there was a lot more to it at the time than them.  Cargoe made the trek from Tulsa and beat Big Star from the Ardent gate, being the only Ardent act to chart on a national level.  Moloch rocked the houses and eventually morphed into Jim Dandy and Black Oak ArkansasThe Hot Dogs' tadpole studio sessions evolved into a live frog act. 

There were many others.  But they did not constitute a "scene."  They were all musicians not unlike those who permeated the Pacific Northwest, trying to play music and survive.  The cohesiveness was in the music and the survival, not in the banding together for a musical purpose.  The same for Seattle and grunge, and the Athens, Georgia movement of the late 70s and early 80s.  The same for all of rock music.  I mean, would there have been a British Invasion without The Beatles?  Would rock and roll have died without Elvis? Think about it.

The truth is that truth lies somewhere between the poles and always has. In music history, it is a matter of perception. The problem arises when we apply today's perception as reality. So be aware, all of you young musicologists out there.  When you step beyond the music, you take a chance of warping any future conception of the reality you know.  If you don't believe me, just ask Andy Hummel.  Of course, what does he know?  He was only there.

Note: This was written before Andy Hummel and Alex Chilton slipped off this mortal coil. Any references to them in the present were truth at that time. And no disrespect is intended toward any members of Big Star. I love those guys and listen to them still. But you have to admit, they are a great case in point.


Music is flowing fast and furious these days, maybe because of the impending Christmas season, maybe not.  Let me share a few of the more worthy albums passing through the player.....

DONNA HUGHES/Hellos Goodbyes & Butterflies---  Now I've heard of  Donna Hughes and have even heard her, but it took the name of producer J.D. Crowe to make me really listen.  What I'm listening to is some of the best vocal bluegrass available, I am sure, and what I would expect out of a Crowe-backed project.  Hughes lays out fifteen exceptional originals (one co-written with Keesy Timmer) which would have been worthy of any of my favorite bluegrass bands--- Seldom Scene, Hot Rize, and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver included.  The harmonies are beautifully done, the band tight as hell (the list of players is a who's who of musicians I would drive miles to see) and the production superb.  As for Hughes' vocals, all I can say is, I'm in love.

PAT ANDERSON/Magnolia Road---  Anderson contacted me a week or so ago and normally I would have brushed him off because, truth be told, I don't have time to listen to everything and won't write about the music I don't think is worthy, but he was kind enough to include a link to his MySpace page and I had a few minutes, so...  So I replied.  Review your album?  Sure thing, Pat.  Like he'll need my endorsement.  This guy is just enough country to have the semblance of twang but so good he transcends the genre.  He is rock and country and folk and has truth in his music.  And he has Will Kimbrough backing him up.  Kimbrough's Wings album is, to my ears, the best he's done in some time (and I thought the others were damn good) and, well, you can place Magnolia Road alongside it.  And believe me, that is a huge compliment to Anderson.  Huge.

GILEAH TAYLOR/What Kind of Fool & Crooked Line EPs---  I've been following Gileah since her initial album, The Golden Planes, caught me off-guard.  Her simple and almost minimalist approach  was at the time (2005) a breath of fresh air and her songs were pleasant if not downright inspiring.  A couple of years later, she teamed up with The Ghost Train and filled out the sound with full band and her unique touch.  These two EPs are a step beyond that or maybe a marriage of the two earlier albums.  With a wisp of breath, she lulls you into her world and with full band and choir she presents a majestic front for more inspiration.  In between, she does what I've loved from the first Gileah note--- plays and sings from the heart.                                  


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Segarini Effect... or Okay, I'll List 15, If I Have To.....

The people who know me are no longer surprised when I mention Bob Segarini.  He was one of those I-love-his-stuff-but-I'll-never-meet-him "rock stars" back when my revolving door girlfriends were leaving me because I could not pass a record store without a quick peek.  Okay, sometimes they may have turned into long peeks with a couple of over-nighters thrown in, but only a couple, I swear.  Anyway, Segarini has this column he writes for and I try not to miss any.  Like any writer, he can be hit or miss, but it is always an enjoyable read and some columns, like today's, he hits on all cylinders.  Today's subject?  Lists.

I don't know what it is about us these days, but we are a world of list-readers, if not list makers.  Throw Top Ten in any headline and people who don't even know how to read pick up on it.  David Letterman has made a living off of it (and I wish he would stop) and so-called experts have raked in a shitload of cash telling people what they did or didn't already know.  You want to get action on the Net?  Print a list of the Top 100 albums of all-time, post it and send the link to your friends (maybe post it on Facebook, too).  Wait a few minutes and watch the comments come rolling in.  Of course, they're usually not about your list.  It is about readers' perspective of your list.  It is like one of those parties I stopped going to when I worked in the record business--- the ones where everyone splits up into cliques and flaints their musical knowledge like it means something.  My favorites were always the buyers, possibly because I was one.  I swear to God, sometimes they stopped just short of unzipping pants and comparing sizes, in record terms.  I laugh when I think about four or five guys standing in a corner tossing around numbers like they were trade secrets.  "36555," one would say.  "Heart, Dog & Butterfly," would come anxious retorts.  "32817."  "Kansas!"  If it wasn't so pathetic, it would have been hilarious.  And guys, I have no idea if those were the original catalog numbers, so don't bother correcting me.  I printed them to make a point.

Anyway, Segarini's lists got me to thinking.  I have been known to print lists and, on occasion, point to an album as my pick for album of the year.  I think 2005's was Jess Pillmore's Reveal and 2006's might have been Greg Laswell's Through Toledo.  Both of those albums completely planted me on my keister and, like I said, sometimes I do it to make a point.

What caught my eye in today's column was a section headed Top 15 Artists I Would Like To See Succeed Big Time.  Now there is a list worth reading.  Not his.  Mine.  Kidding, Bob.  Yours is a treasure map waiting to be utillized.  Here it is:

Research Turtles
Harlan Pepper
Eagles of Death Metal
Courage My Love
Mike Robins
Rival Sons
BlackHeath Hounds
Ali Milner
Dave Borins
Justin Nozuka
Tom Wilson
Carlos Morgan

Of those fifteen, I have only really heard four--- Research Turtles (a solid personal favorite), Courage My Love (because I was afraid Segarini might pull the pop quiz on me and I didn't want to embarrass myself--- they turned out to be another class Segarini pick), Ali Milner (the first, I believe, in a string of topnotch artists I have found through Seg) and Dala (a duo I found all by myself and was so taken that I promote them whenever I get the chance).  Of the other eleven, I have dabbled into the music of a few.  The remaining I have yet to hear, but you can bet I will.  Segarini, you see, is a treasure hunter like myself.  I would be afraid to miss an artist he recommends for fear of missing something important.

Anyway, I thought I would put together fifteen of my own.  I know the guilt will be overwhelming because I will play hell to remember all of the deserving and, hell, keeping it to fifteen is akin to pissing into the wind, but what the hell--- here goes:

My Top 15 Artists I Want To See Succeed Big Time------

Research Turtles---  Yeah, I know, Segarini already copped them for himself, the bastard.  If we were putting together a football or baseball team, I would be pissed because these guys have the goods.  My buddies Stanley and Howie and Sam are on board, Nate likes them kinda but they are a bit too saccharine for his tastes (he prefers more raunch and punch with his breakfast), but he listened and didn't hate them.  If you want, you can get a free download of their album by clicking on their MySpace page...  The music?  I call it power pop, but Nate corrected me.  He calls it garage pop.  Tomato, tomato.....

The Beige---  Out of Vancouver BC.  These guys are all over the map regarding genre, but put together an album which really knocked my socks off.  I listened to it the other day and it happened again.  There are socks all over my listening room.  I wish I could tell you what their music is like, but right now words escape me.  It is very adventurous--- I can tell you that much.  If you're at all interested, here is a link to a review I wrote.....

Tom Mank & Sera Jane Smolen---  Dave Pyles at FAME asked if I would review Mank & Smolen's Where the Sun Meets the Blue for the FAME website.  I cannot thank him enough.  This is no folk duo.  Mank & Smolen are accomplished musicians and step way beyond the folk genre.  Not only that, but they surround themselves with some of the best supporting musicians I've had the pleasure to hear.  Here are two reviews I've written--- one for Where the Sun Meets the Blue, the other for their latest:  Paper Kisses.  I am presently trying to wrap up a short synopsis of their musical lives and will be posting that when it is completed.  Yeah, I think they are worth the effort.  And then some.

Kirsti Gholson--- I keep begging Kirsti to get a more up-to-date page up, but she is very busy and I understand the delay.  She released an album she calls her "demo" in 2000, but it is hardly a demo.  It is a pop gem.  Her voice and songwriting style is just off the beaten path enough to make her music comfortable yet on the edge.  How amazed was I when I saw Gholson listed as a contributor on Mank & Smolen's albums?  Pretty amazed.  She has been working on a new album for the past year.  Soon, Kirsti?

Ophelia Hope---  Speaking of on the edge, these guys are doing what no other artist I've yet heard are doing.  I'm not going to say any more.  Here is my review.  You're either going to love it or hate it.  I love it and can only dream of an American tour.  Based in Norway, but members are from Belgium, Norway, the UK and Australia.  Damn, I hope I got that right. 

Bright Giant---  These guys have a good following in the Midwest, but they're from Des Moines.  Hard to break out of Des Moines, but it can be done.  They're rockers in the vein of early Stones and Black Crowes.  They have a touch.  They put their guitars to my head and made me write this.  Those guys in the Midwest are cruel and heartless.

Old Californio---  I suppose you could call them country rockers, but they have a magic rock they rub on some songs and it catches my ear.  I fell in love with Westering Again in just a few listens.  Then Justin Smith, their drummer, sent me a 2006 album, unmastered, titled Along the Cosmic Grass.  I'm sold.  New album coming.  It's taking too long.....

Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri---  There may be two listed here, but I always think of them as one.  These guys have a large following in the UK but struggle for respect in the States.  I don't understand it.  Check out their latest albums (Sproule's Don't Hurry For Heaven and Curreri's California) and you'll hear what I mean.

Hymn For Her---   I've been following Maggi, Pierce & EJ for some years now.  Not long ago, Pierce and Maggie started their own side project they named Hymn For Her.  They load their songs with beautiful folk, manic and driving rock and everything in between.  MPE should have been huge.  Ditto H4H.  Their new album, Lucy & Wayne & The Amairican Stream, was recorded in their 16-foot Airstream trailer.  How cool is that?  I can't tell you how they did it (trade secret), but it sounds great.

The Minnows---   This Belfast band at first listen doesn't seem to be much out of the ordinary, but they have a way of sneaking up on you.  After hearing it a number of times while writing a review, I found that it had somehow become part of my genetic makeup almost.  I see they have a few more vids up on their MySpace page.  Just click on the name and enjoy.

The Weaver Twins---  These guys slay me.  Their videos are classic and their music--- well, let us just say that it's a bit out there.  Great, adventurous stuff, though.  I heartily suggest you start with Mounting the Scaffold and Girl In Dolorous Blue.  Waaaay up at the top of my all-time favorite songs list.  I'll make it easy for you.  Click on these for the vids:  Mounting the Scaffold...  Girl In Dolorous Blue...  Not even 500 views in two years?  Something is horribly wrong here!!!!!!  My words.....

Arborea--- If you haven't noticed, I have a thing for guy/girl duos.  I don't know why.  Well, in Arborea's case, it has to do with the eclectic handling of their songs.  Buck Curran is a class guitar player and wife Shanti has a voice which sometimes puts you in the etherworld.  Spacey, beautiful, haunting, ethereal all describe what they do.  They do it well.  Here are my words on their last album (new one now being prepared for release), House of Sticks...

Mist and Mast---  When I saw these guys at Sam Bond's Garage in Eugene, they started out fine, but by the third song were ear-bleeding loud.  Not their fault, though.  They had no idea.  They worked their way through a bunch of tunes--- an hour and a half's worth--- and that justified my long drive to see them.  Absolutely superb musicianship brought their music alive.  Better than the album (and I can seldom say that about anyone).  Came out of The Red Thread.  Again, my words...

Sweet Talk Radio---  Even if these guys had not placed two songs on one of my favorites TV shows (Haven), they would be at the top of my hope-you-make-it list.  Kathrin Shorr and Tim Burlingame have a symbiotic musical relationship that will get even better with time, and they are plenty good now!  You might want to check out the two songs from Haven, but their album is packed with outstanding stuff as well.

Kink Ador---  When my good friend Joe Lee sent me a link to these guys' website, I thought it would be just another better than average rock band because the really good ones come around all too seldom (though more often than you might think).  Kink Ador is one of the really good ones.  Three musicians who play like four or five, a feel for their music and a rhythm in their souls.  Unlike any band I've heard.  Again, more than likely you will love or hate them.  You know where I stand

Tomorrow, I will regret doing this.  I already have artists' name coursing through my brain and a growing sense of guilt.  Not towards the artists listed but towards the ones which should be.  There are plenty out there.  They work hard.  They play hard.  Their music is not always for them, you know.  Even when they virtually have to play out of a sense of urgency, they put their very essence on display.  Next time you say someone sucks, remember how it felt when people say that about you.  If you don't like it, move on.  A negative never helps anyone.

Seg, I thank you for the idea, but I'm going to kick your ass if I should see you anytime soon.  I have this intense flu coming on but didn't want to quit until this was finished.  I feel like crap.  I just hope this reads better than I'm feeling.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And the Hits Just Keep On Comin'.....

You think you're behind.  I think I forgot to turn in a book report my sophomore year in high school and I know I still have an incomplete on my college transcript.  And that's just the beginning!  My To-Do list for even just the past few weeks is a few miles long and the music is coming faster than I or anyone else can keep up with, so let's get to the music right away, okay?


I know most people will think me overdramatic in making statements like I am about to make, but the thrill I get from  discovering new music from old favorites is real.  Many of the artists I follow are not only good, they are creative and unique.  None moreso than Charlottesville's Devon Sproule, who this morning posted a video from her brand spanking new DVD, Live In London (link here).  She posted it on Facebook with a nod to Megan Huddleston, another talented Charlottesvillain who evidently wrote the song.  I laughed (it is about a lady who is pissed at her boyfriend/husband/lover and has the line, "You better sleep with one eye open...") and I reveled because it had a hillbilly jazz tone to it that caught me totally by surprise.  When they got to the break, Sproule strangled her guitar with minor chords and showed herself a part of a band and, well, I am a sucker for women who really know how to play.  Sproule, for those in the dark, has released a handful of albums and has a style all her own.  Her Don't Hurry For Heaven album is to my ears a stunner and contains what might very well be my pick for song of the year--- Sponji Reggae, which is not reggae at all but not not reggae, either.  Truth is, I haven't heard anything quite like it.  And it has the added advantage of being a duet with her ingenious husband, Paul Curreri, who is an incredible talent himself (his California album is still in heavy rotation at my house and has been for over a year).

I have been awaiting the new Old Californio album for the past few months and, after bugging publicity maven Kim Grant all that time, have been awarded a consolation prize of great worth to me.  Drummer Justin Smith just last week sent me a copy of a 2006 release titled Along the Cosmic Grass and I'm floored.  He sent a note to explain technicalities (There was no need, for I care about the music more than any audiophile qualities) and I hope he forgives me for printing it here:  "Here's 2006's Along the Cosmic Grass," he writes.  "I hope that it will suffice until Sundrunk Angels is released.  Keep in mind--- this is 100% a home recording.  Rich (Dembowski--- the songwriter/guitarist) and I mixed it and there is essentially no mastering."  Well, if they could have done a better job, I couldn't hear it.  The songs are just different enough to separate the 2006 OC from the 2009 OC, whose Westering Again easily worked its way into my subconscious.  Westering might be better recorded and might lean a tad more toward country roots (They are more rock than country--- you can read my review here), but Cosmic is plenty good enough.  The songs are fresh, the sound is good and OC fans could spend money on less and be happy.  I would like to see OC make it available at possibly the website level--- maybe a CD-R for a budget price.  If you are a sound fanatic, you aren't in to the music anyway, but if you know and love these guys (if you really hear them, you just might learn to), this is something to look for.  I know, Justin, I shouldn't be writing checks that you have to cash but it is, after all, about the music. Speaking of music, if you're ever in L.A. and want to find some, you might want to check out Grand Ole Echo, a worthy project of Ms. Grant.  Always good music.  And live!

Randy Burns just released a new album:  Hobos and Kings.  I received a copy a week ago and haven't listened yet (I have visitors from out of town and, well, I like to pick my times, you know?), but I will soon.  The reason I mention Randy is that I have been a fan since the early seventies when he was fronting the Sky Dog Band, a folk/country rock band of some distinction.  They were pretty much New York, Burns having cut his teeth on the old Phil Ochs-era, Bleeker & McDougal folk scene.  Burns has a great voice and when I heard Song For an Uncertain Lady, I was sold.  The album was/is classic and the song--- well, there is just nothing like it.  I still play it on occasion just to recapture that folk/psych vibe I hear all too seldom.  Anyway, you might want to check out the new album or any of the other CDs he has made available.  By the way, Song For an Uncertain Lady is on The Exit and Gaslight Years.  If you decide to scope it out, sample the other songs as well.  It is topnotch music from a golden era.  More on Hobos and Kings when I've had a chance to absorb the music.  Thank you, Randy!

Have you ever had an album smash every critical objection you might have to bits?  Well, that's what Shade's (now) outstanding debut Highway is doing to me.  I liked it but was not overwhelmed when I first heard it (here is my review), but time has a way of correcting your first impressions.   Numerous listenings have moved this to the top of personal favorites--- the albums I play when no one else is around so I can concentrate on the music.  I am enthralled by their use of background vocals and the honesty in their music. Don't be fooled.  This is good stuff!  Check out their video

I'll end this with really good news--- Jill Stevenson is finishing up a new album!  Jill blindsided me with two EPs last year--- The Jill Stevenson Band  and Where We're Not with Adam Widoff.  There is an understated quality to the songs she writes and the way she sings them which makes them way more than they are.  Actually, it makes them what they are--- damn impressive.  I've already put this at the top of my wish list.  Like I said, the hits just keep on comin' and as long as they do, life is good.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Do We Know How To Listen Anymore?

It sure as hell doesn't seem like it.  If you want to delve into why the music industry is failing, do not disregard what modern technology has done with our lives.  I was in the store the other day and a lady about my age (ancient) was standing in line texting while waiting.  She didn't take her eyes off her phone (or whatever gadget that was) until she hit the register.  And she wasn't the only one.  I go to a park, people are talking or texting.  I go to the movies, people are talking or texting.  Many times I have turned to speak to someone who has seemingly just spoken to me only to find that they are speaking on the phone.  Books are being written about what such things have done to us as human beings.  And books are being written about what they are doing to our listening habits.  One Jay Frank, in the first chapter of FUTUREHIT.DNA, even went so far as to set a time limit to gain one's attention--- seven seconds.  Seven seconds?!!! I can't recognize songs I know in seven seconds!  How the hell am I supposed to make a judgment call in that short a time?  Thing is, it wasn't a guess.  It was research.  Research that, if correct, is telling us that the music industry as we know it no longer exists.

Like that's news.  In a world of Lady Ga Ga's and Katy Perry's and Taylor Swift's, music has become a distant second cousin to outlandish buffoonery and skin and whatever sound- and/or video-byte can catch the public attention.  A once emotional and many times personally fulfilling art form is being morphed into the background for circus performances--- into background music for TV commercials--- into background music for everything.  Music is evidently not enough anymore.  The new world demands more.  The angst has built until if we are not multitasking, we are not living.  Even most who listen to music seriously now demand visual accompaniment. 

Every day I hear and read statements to the effect that there is no good or new music anymore.  When I am forced to respond, it takes every bit of strength I can muster not to scream "Kill me now!".  It makes me want to stomp every iPhone I see into atoms!  Why, there is more music than ever and it is just as good as it has ever been!  People would know that if they took a little time to listen.  And read.  And learn.  Quick show of hands.  How many out there even know about cdBaby outside of its mere existence?  Maaah!!!  Those who raised their hands because they have heard of it can put them down.  I said outside of its mere existence!  Do you know, for instance, that the artist gets the majority of money applied for the purchase of their music--- physical product, anyway?  Do you care?

It absolutely breaks my heart to see musicians loaded with talent and producing outstanding music kicked to the curb because of what we neither know nor care about.  No good music?  Seven seconds?  Tell me that's what you really think and then duck.  What am I saying?  If you really think that way, you won't hear my fist coming.  You, my friend, have simply forgotten how to listen.

And on that note, let's take a little walk through today's discovery garden.....


Ever hear of Winterpills?  If you have, you were one up on me until this past Friday.  A copy of their impressive Tuxedo of Ashes CD appeared just before a drive to the Coast and pushed four other albums I need to hear out of the way--- for the present.  It is as good and as stylish a folk/psych/pop album as I have heard in some time.  Downright beautiful in places and a production gem.  Read my review here.  Better yet, head over to their MySpace page and listen.  They don't have tracks off of Tuxedo of Ashes on their player there yet, but they should soon.  And what is there is plenty good, believe me.....

Two-thirds of one of the best and most creative bands I've ever heard recently released an album worth checking out.  I have every album (to my knowledge, at least) that Philadelphia's Maggi Pierce & EJ have ever recorded--- commercially--- and I paid for most of them.  In recent years, MPE has had to share time with Maggi & Pierce's duo Hymn For Her and they just released an astonishingly good album titled Lucy & Wayne and The Amairican Stream which they recorded in their 16-foot American Stream trailer.  The music is as cool as their trailer, having that manic trailer trash edge amidst their normally smooth and folky offerings.  Their MySpace page at present displays one track from the new album (Slips) and four from their first album, Year of the Golden Pig.  Might I suggest Drive and The Mountain to hear that manic edge in action.  After hearing that, you might want to check out MPE, as well.  Oh, and you might want to check out their Youtube videos too.  Good stuff.  Start with this one.

Incandescent Sky is one of those groups reminiscent of a handful of jazz fusion and progressive groups of the seventies and eighties, only better.  Adventurous, innovative and inspired, they have a drive you cannot help but feel.  I will write a review, but wanted to put in a good word now.  Sometimes reviews are like songs.  You have to wait for the right words.  In the meantime, follow the link and check them out.  The production alone is worth it.  And the drummer, John Orsi, has another project worth hearing:  Knitting By TwilightBe prepared.  It's out there.

There will be more to come, barring an act of God or Congress, so stay tuned.  If anyone has any suggestions about music I should hear, feel free.  The first person to sat The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, however, will win my Fist In the Face award and be ridiculed in this column forever.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CARGOE, 40 Years Later... And more!

Talk about timing!  Just as I set off on this little blogging adventure, one of my favorite bands (Cargoe) is releasing a new album.  Three of the four legs are there--- Bill Phillips, Max Wisley and Tim Benton--- Steve Thornbrugh making up the fourth and evidently producing as well.  No, I haven't heard it yet (samples are available on Cargoe's Facebook page--- click on 'Cargoe' above), but you can bet I will.  I have been a fan since I found them in the early seventies and wrote this little piece about them, should you desire to know more.  Colleagues of Big Star and other Memphis bands during the Ardent years.  House band at The Machine in Tulsa in the late sixties, along with Steamer's Trunk.  Ready to break big when the music industry and life kicked them in the nuts.  Luckily, it didn't break them completely.  They're back, much older and wiser, and ready to give it another go.  Watch for updates.


You can place this under the heading of 'What?  Not again!',  because people who have visited my website or has slogged through my Facebook postings have probably heard it enough, but I won't be satisfied until every manjack who has ever made a comment about music not being what it used to be hears this.  Every time I pull this CD from the stacks, to quote Yogi Berra, "it is deja vu all over again."  It makes me laugh and gives me faith in mankind once again, and I lose it all too often.  It is unique.  It is, in its way, magnificent.  I found the album while scrounging through cdBaby's 'new arrivals' and followed it up.  From Norway, with roots in England, Australia and Italy as well.  I won't go into details here, but feel free to read my review here.


I listen to music... all the time.  I have since I was a kid.  To me, it is an adventure every bit as important and exciting as cinema is to a movie buff and baseball and football and basketball are to the American sports nut.  I turn over rocks to find things which have that something special which separates the chaff from the wheat.  I love it when people turn me on to music I might have missed or respond to something I pass along to them.  I call this blog Indie Musicology because it is a learning experience and an archeological dig as well as a musical anthropological study.  I hope it is not about ego, but music.  I know that in my past, I introduced some music as "look what I found."  If I do this right, it will be more "listen to this."  And one way to do it right is to list the albums I am reviewing and/or looking forward to.  Here is this week's list:

HEARTSFIELD/Here I am...  Heartsfield is one of those bands I discovered early and never let go.  Out of the Chicago area.  They blew me away with their self-titled first album in 1973, with their slight twang on a rock theme.  They were colleagues of my favorite country rock bands of the day (Cowboy, Pure Prairie League, et. al.), could bring the house down with smokin' rock and could charm a cat out of a tree with their harmonies (I saw them at The Troubadour in '75 and was enthralled when they finished a set with a six-part a capella version of 21st Century Schizoid Man...  I'm kidding!  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention!).  Actually, I don't remember the song, but it was beautiful and masterfully performed. 

So Dick Reck, executive producer, sent me the new CD along with notification that Perry Jordan, who has been carrying the Heartsfield flag for decades, had medical problems.  His heart evidently had beat in an odd time signature and Perry has hung up the guitar for a short time.  I wish him the best of recoveries and am sure he will be back.  In the meantime, I am listening to Here I Am and digging it.  When the right words come, a review will follow.


I spent a good portion of last year's Christmas season listening to Georgian Company's Side A EP.  There was a lot to like.  There will be even more when they release Side B later this year.  They're out of Austin, have the slightest of country bent and are deceptively good.  It's the little things.  Like the background vocals on From Day To Day (After a Storm).  But that's getting ahead of myself.  You can check them out by clicking on this.


They will not all be specific--- at least as regards music.  I have been in the music business for years and have watched the Major Labels place themselves in a totally untenable position.  I have watched musicians work their asses off with varying degrees of success.  And I am currently watching people argue about the way things were or should be instead of accepting what is.  I will make comment now and again, and maybe give insight.  Mostly, though, I will concentrate on the music.  I will try, as I always have, to find what is worthy and the artists who deserve.  I've always said that it's about the music.  If I should stray from that, let me know, because music is a wondrous thing and ego has little if no place.  Except maybe for the artist.