Monday, December 5, 2011

GUILTY PLEASURES..... When your hard drive crashes

It had to happen.  For months I have been awaiting the inevitable crash of the old hard drive and kept telling myself to back the damn thing up, but do you think I could put one brain cell in front of another and then another and then another to accomplish said task?  Hell, no.  So I hit the bathroom on a gloomy afternoon and come back to a computer screen filled with error messages with lots of click/cancel icons and think, crap!  Oh, I had another computer in the wings.  It was the lost information I mourned.  Lots of mp3s--- demo tracks sent to me by hopeful musicians, interview transcripts, albums downloaded at the behest of PR people and managers, notes for possible future columns--- all gone.

The worst loss, of course, was my recording program.  I have (er, had) a program for recording over the phone which I used with regularity.  I recorded interviews with people I had somehow tracked down and talked into a short talk, some new and intriguing and some older and historically important--- to myself, at least.  I lost chats with Wayne Berry, Steve Young, Wayne Proctor (We The People), Paul Curreri, Devon Sproule and many more.  Thing is, I did have backup on many of those.  I had sent transcripts of interviews to most of them and the attachments were saved in my gmail account.

The music, though?  Pretty much gone.  Most I received through yousendit and the window of opportunity had long since expired.  Some I received directly from PR people or musicians and I suppose I could approach them again, but I won't.  Sigh.

Yep, I'm pretty much starting from scratch.  In a way, it is not a bad thing at all.  I had buried myself in work and probably needed a new start.  Every day I spent feeling guilty about the mountain of work I had to do and my inability to make a dent in it.  Music sat stagnant in my files because I had no time to get to it.  Reviews and articles started in a fit of energy lay untouched after hitting the brick wall.  It is nice to put much of that behind me.  It is like waking to a nice sunny day after a week long drunk.  Sober, at last.

That sobriety has led me on a circuitous path that I am now enjoying.  You see, much of that music was saved on my mp3 player, so I still have access.  Not to all, but to some.  That some I am now listening to and if I ever thought I had been writing out my ass, I should hear it.  I am happy to report that all I hear is the outstanding music I had written about in glowing terms---  buried, perhaps, and unknown.  But outstanding.

This is a discovery.  My discovery.  Not of the music I have found and loved, but the fact that it has stood a test of time--- not much time, but enough.  This is the story of my mp3 files--- music downloaded for review--- most of which I had already reviewed.  This is a look back to what music could be, if only we let it.


I have probably written more about Bright Giant than any artist or band outside of Research Turtles and what the tracks on the old mp3 tell me is that that is warranted.  The entire new album (Kings & Queens of Air) is on the mp3, plus five rough tracks from those sessions, meaning basic tracks minus the final touches.  There is a rough, guttural sound to the band--- distorted guitars, snarky feedback, primal drums--- which I find gripping.  Des Moines.  Who knew?  The most intriguing factor in these recordings are the subtle differences between rough track and finished product.  Listening to You Saved Me before the vocal touches shows me how much a small change can make.  It's raw but good in its earlier form, but after the background vocals (which are very much in the background) it becomes downright magnificent. When band member Josh Davis sent me the rough tracks, explaining that they were unfinished, I asked him what more he could do.  Little did I know.  Kings & Queens of Air, by the way, is one of the best albums recorded this year--- if you like primitive and raw.  Worth it for the guitar and feedback alone.


Finding Jenny was a fluke.  I had stacks of scraps of paper on my desk, each scrap a note from the past, and was forced to clean the desktop one day.  I found a list of artist names on one and searched the web sites and there she was.  At the time I'd scratched her name on that paper, she had had a new album released, Kindred, and I had probably meant to send a request for a review copy.  Somehow it slipped through the cracks and I was forced to listen in hindsight, if you will--- to an album a year old or more.  With good music, I am always finding out, time is not of the essence and I slipped into the ooze of what others termed "shoegaze" and have since refused to leave the hot tub.  Her voice is floating and ethereal on most tracks, the music smooth and relaxing.  The Wurlitzer helps (for those who are unaware, the Wurlitzer piano is an instrument of incredible beauty when used properly) as does the production.  Gillespie stays just far enough from formula to make the album listen worthy and close enough to make you feel at home.  She recently went to New York to record a new album. I thought, anyway.  I see that she has a new EP, Belita, available through her Facebook page.  I have yet to hear it, but I will soon because, wonder of wonders, there is a link to a free download.  Damn, but life is good!  But wait!  Lest we forget, Kindred is still there for the taking.  Just sayin'.


When I stumbled on to these guys, I found myself in uncharted waters, and yet they weren't.  For one thing, this is only one guy, David Jacques.  Suffering from the typical Canadian inferiority complex, I suppose, he decided to market himself as a full group, and it does sound like it.  He lives north of rap and south of pop, a strange combination that he sometimes makes not only palatable but engaging.  Imagine crunching guitar, intricate pounding rhythms and Beach Boys-smooth harmony vocals  with Gruppo Sportivo-quality lyrics (GS were the kings of lyrical content in the seventies).  Original and solid.  From silky pop (Dedicated To You) to crunching rock with touches of trip hop (Pistol Pete) to a combination of the two (Middle Class Revolution), this guy nails one after the other.  He even tosses in an updated version of Rock 'n Roll Hoochie Koo (and why not?  Everyone else is doing it).  Is this guy good?  All I know is that every time I hear him, I'm impressed as hell.  Check his music out on his Facebook Page.


For those who have been looking for that modern old-timey sound, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West have something quite excellent.  Think O Brother, Where Art Thou and you're getting close.  They combine Stanley Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Blue Sky Boys and the modern side of  Tim O'Brien and Chris Thile to make their own modern sounds from the past.  Not long ago, they released The Holy Coming of the Storm, a very impressive collection of what I assume are all original compositions.  The sound is sparse--- mostly acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo--- but sparse is partially what the sound was always about--- a direct unamplified channel to the eardrum.  The vocals are spot on, the playing remarkable and the end result a coup, of sorts.  To hear it, you would think it really was the holy coming, storm or no.  A big, big thumbs up.


There aren't that many bands which I would drive miles for, but when Ollabelle  played the Alladin Theater in Portland, Oregon this past summer, I was there with bells on.  I had spent the previous couple of months diving into their new album Neon Bluebird as well as solo projects by band members Glenn Patscha (Songs From the Jefferson Highway) and Byron Isaacs (Disappearing Man).  The show was incredible (read my take here) and I walked away (well, I drove away, anyway) with a new respect for Ollabelle and their depth of talent.  While I am slowly backstepping through their catalogue, I return to Neon Bluebird again and again.  There is something about a band which can take traditional gospel, blues and even traditional pop music by a composer like Stephen Foster and make them all not only palatable but ear worthy.  Their originals?  Outstanding.


I'm glad I don't live in Charlottesville PA because I would go broke attending shows.  Pound for pound, that city has more quality musicians than anywhere outside of New Orleans and Texas.  Keith Morris is but one example, but an example of note.  He recently released a new album titled Love Wounds & Mars and dragged me back to the early seventies without dating himself (but like he always tells me, somebody has to).  He writes in a style which defies genre, which means that you pretty much have to label him rock if you want to get close.  He put together an outstanding band and they handle the songs with deft hand.  This is nothing like his first effort, Songs from Candyapolis, which has much more of a dramatic flair.  This is just straight on rock--- some harder, some softer--- which seeps into your skin after a number of listens.  Worth it for the background vocals on Bordertown alone. Right now, available from limited sources, but soon available worldwide.  Ask Keith.


I used to spend hours surfing through cdBaby in search of music, which is where I tracked these guys down.  They had an album available for free download (Swim Toward the Sun) and I bit.  There is so much potential in this band, I hardly know where to start.  Musician-wise they are solid, though they have a tendency to wander on Swim.  It is an adventurous and  worthy wander, though, and I have found myself sending emails occasionally to see what they have been up to.  The good news is that they are close to completing a new project.  If they continue in the direction set by Swim, it will be most welcome to my ears.  The music?  At times, it has a classical edge mixed with jazz and at others they dally around the stage (meaning theater-oriented tunes).  While they do not sound at all like Babe Ruth, their approach does remind me of that band on their second release, Amar Caballero, in that they are sometimes pushing envelopes to an extreme.  Stay tuned.  BTW, the link above is for their new website.  It looks like they need to tweak a few things, but it is still worth visiting.


While this is not about Curreri's new and excellent album, The Big Shitty, one of my top picks for this past year, it is about just how eclectic Curreri can be.  A little over a year ago, Paul sent me mp3s for a project he had been working on titled Greenhorns, V.1.  No notes, no nothing.  I listened and I enjoyed.  It was a strange mixture of jazz, new age and roots music  which I found intriguing but confusing.  Turns out that Greenhorns is a group put together by artists (musicians, painters, filmographers, photographers, etc) to support young farmers.  Maybe an attempt at taking the Green Movement up a notch?  I checked out their website and know as much now as I did before.  I don't have the time to delve into the real reasons behind the group, but the music I heard was evidently written for a film being produced by that group, more than likely to help support that group.  It bugs me that I don't have time to research it (I am really behind on my music projects), but it seems noteworthy.  I hope it is.  Paul put in some major time and effort producing the music. 


I could have deleted The Big Motif from my mp3 player long ago, but I didn't.  I didn't because the two EPs they have released (The Daily Motion and Does It Weigh Heavy) are fantastic albums for what they do.  On the first, what they do is trip around bar music, giving their songs a heavy and jazzy edge not unlike that of Moby Grape about the time of Live Grape.  By the time they handed us Does It Weigh Heavy, they had morphed into a heavier three man band, guitar upfront with pounding rhythm section.  Not as heavy as Hendrix but as heavy as, say Bugs Henderson during his days with The Bugs Henderson Group.  It is an onslaught without the massacre.  I listen to these guys because I love the raw feel of the bars and of the better three man bands.  I listen to these guys because they are good.  From Colorado.  Must be the thin air.

The hardest part of being a writer and writing about something you really love is that you are allowed revisitations only occasionally.  In a way, the computer crashing set me back but in others, it allowed me to enjoy music I listen to all too occasionally.  These are but a few.  May the gods keep your computer safe and running, but may you have the experience I have just enjoyed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby--- Women in Music

That's right, sports fans, it's once again time for my cyclical "Music You're Missing" rant and you know how much fun we have with that.  Let's see, awhile ago we had our dog-themed videos (mainly to offset the incredibly huge number of cat videos--- sorry, folks, but they will always be nothing but dog food on the hoof as far as I'm concerned) and before that, videos with a bacterial flair.  The high school reunion one was fun (when you look in the mirror every day, you really don't know how much you're changing, do you?) and how can we forget the Tribute to War post proving that war, too, can be fun.  This time around, we give the nod to Women in Music, which would be Women in Rock, but what the hell is that anymore?  The genres have been gut shot and the music all over the walls and who better to prove it than the artists we'll look at here.  See, I'm old enough to remember when women were a minor segment of the music biz (now, don't go getting your knickers in a knot--- I'm trying to make a point here), a very small percentage of the gate, to use the biz's own terminology.  Thank the gods that those days are gone.  Today, I cannot even imagine a world in which artists of any gender, shape, size, color, nationality, smell, or mental persuasion are not given their just due.  The question is, how much are they due?  Here's your chance to find out.  Here are ten over-the-top exceptional female artists who are struggling somewhat to be heard.  You tell me what you think they're worth.  I think they're priceless.

HANNAH MILLER--- O Black River

Hannah Miller is new to me.  I have no idea why.  This is her fifth release and she obviously has fans somewhere, but I had somehow missed her completely until I stumbled across her sampler on Noise Trade.  Every time I come across a musician this talented with a lengthy musical past, I wonder how I missed them and what more I could be doing to spread the word.  I should not be finding Miller on the fifth try.  I should have found her at the beginning.  Regardless, she has a new mini-LP (six tracks) from which the song in this video was taken and what can I say?  It's a monster.  We should be hearing plenty more from her.


Ah, Sydney.  The girl with the unique voice and the ability to write to it.  I don't believe I've heard an album more creative than her last, The Colorful.  She pulled out all the stops, utilizing toys and work tools and God knows what else to put together an album which after hundreds of listens still amazes me.  I have been awaiting her new album for what seems like years and it is finally just around the corner (hopefully, a winter release).  Titled Bell Choir Coast, it may not be the hurricane of creativity that was The Colorful, but if this song is any indication, it won't have to be.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Sydney Wayser.....

STAR ANNA--- Alone In This Together

Star Anna hails from Ellensburg, Washington, former home of The Screaming Trees and King Krab and now home to The Putters and The 667s.  Her voice is a rubber band slightly stretched, her songs a potpourri of the personal.  Alone In This Together is both title of this song and her new album, released by the prestigious Local 638 record label.  The song is a look inward.  The album is a step forward.  We'll be hearing much more from her, I am sure.

SKYE PAIGE--- Paint the Town Red

I have this friend who lives in Charleston, South Carolina and he's always digging up local and regional music treasures for me to hear.    Through him, I have been turned on to the likes of Th' Legendary Shack Shakers and Southern Culture On the Skids and The Shaniqua Brown--- all excellent, all hot, all on the edge.  Well, he's done it again.  You may not have to have a sense of humor to enjoy Skye Paige, but it sure helps.  I've seen the live videos and all it does is make me want to see her live, period.  She's a trip.  But you be the judge.


I have been following Sarah White for a number of years now and have yet to be disappointed.  She began her musical life solo and with bands, put together Sarah White and the Pearls, went solo again and has just recently reformed the Pearls.  She is a Charlottesville staple for a reason.  Here is the latest video.  Watch and learn.

DEVON SPROULE--- Warning Bell Cycle

Don't ask me what this video is.  I asked Devon once and she started to explain, but she is a busy, busy person and has more important things to do than answer my inane questions.  Like make music.  You know how people sank their money into AT&T and General Electric and IBM and made a fortune?  I'm putting mine on Devon Sproule.  You can ignore her all you want right now, but in ten or twenty years you will be able to deny her no longer.  She is a musical force all her own.  If you don't think so, listen to Don't Hurry For Heaven or, better yet, her latest, I Love You, Go Easy.  Here is a semi-preview of the new albumThis was evidently meant to be part one of four.  I have no idea where the other three are, but we can hope.  Here is Part One of "The Warning Bell Cycle".  Enjoy.

I know that this is not a Devon Sproule video but I have to show you what a great person is Devon.  While on a long flight, she pulled out her laptop and put together this video of a song by Shaun Cromwell on whose album she sang but whom she had never met.  It is a great song, a great duet.  It is a tribute that Devon did it.  You should watch it.

I found Simone Stevens via Fiery Blue's Paul Marsteller.  Marsteller was just beginning to work with Stevens and Gabe Rhodes on what would be Fiery Blue's first album.  He contacted me, asking if I would give the tracks a listen and critique them, as it were.  No critique necessary.  I immediately got the pop sensitivity of the songs, the behind-the-genre feel.  More than that, I got an introduction to Stevens who, it turns out, has a musical life all her own.  This, from her Right On Time album, should be explanatuon enough.

ZOE MUTH & THE LOST HIGH ROLLERS--- Before the Night Is Gone

I am not a huge fan of country music though I don't mind a pick and a grin now and then.  It has to be clean, fresh and exciting to get my attention.  Sometimes, fun will do.  More than anything, it has to be good and the formula pap Nashville is cranking out these days just isn't.  Not to me.  I will say this again just as I have a million times--- a trenchcoat and a naugahyde cowboy hat do not good country music make.  Zoe Muth, my fine feathered friends, wears neither a trenchcoat nor a naugahyde anything, but she and her cohorts The Lost High Rollers play as clean and refreshing a country as I've heard since the fifties and sixties.  I love this girl's voice and the way she writes and presents her songs.  Nothing fancy here, just honest, great (yes, I said great!) music.  Those who have seen this video before are excused until the next video, though I have no idea why they would want to be.  This is as good as country music gets.

GILEAH TAYLOR---  The Light Princess

Gileah Taylor and I have been musical acquaintances for years.   She is one of a number of Contemporary Christian artists (erm, religious rockers, for those who don't understand the term) who pretty much live in their own little world but for the few who have broken into the secular, such as The Newsboys and Switchfoot.  I have friends who wouldn't listen to religious rock on a bet.  Without even betting, they lose.  Some of the best rock I've heard over the years has come from the religious side and Gileah plays some of the best of that.  I tried to find a video of a song from her latest release, a double EP titled A Crooked Line/What Kind of Fool, which I believe are available individually.  It's a  killer.  I have settled for a song from her previous album, one she did with The Ghost Train.  But there is no drop in quality, trust me.  Gileah delivers the goods here, just as she always has.

LAURIE BIAGINI---  Head In the Sand

I won't say I saved the best for last but I do know that I saved the fun for last.  Laurie Biagini, hailing from Vancouver B.C., proves that you don't need 1960 and a stretch of California beach to make good music.  A handful of years ago, she was a ninety pound weakling getting sand kicked in her face by supermodels in bikinis.  Today, she eats sand for breakfast.  Here's a little surf-oriented rock  from her impending A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World album.  Cue Frankie and Annette.

Truth be told, I could pluck gems like this from the Net all week long and not even scratch the surface.  Today is a far cry from the days of The Singing Nun and Dorothy Collins (you know--- The Hit Parade?  God, I must be older than I thought).  Women are taking their rightful place on the stage, some of them kicking guys' asses all over it, in fact.  They have come into their own, if there is a their there.  No if's when it comes to the music, though.  They have, indeed, come a long way.  A long, long, long way.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Ollabelle: L-R  Isaacs, Patscha, McBain, Helm and Leone

Dateline: September 17, 2011.  Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea.  Up-and-comers Ollabelle road the coattails of guitar impresario David Bromberg into Portland, Oregon's Aladdin Theater last night and turned the town on its ear.  Rather than give the Bromberg constituents one and then the other, the two forces threw together a hurricane of musical force, close to three hours worth.  Like they would say in Variety, "Boffo!"  Or something to that effect.

So Walter Winchell might have announced the September 16th show at the Aladdin the next morning in his syndicated column, were he still with us.  It was "boffo".  It was even better than that.  It was a party.

But first, allow me to set the scene.  The Aladdin sits a door off of the busy traffic conduit of Powell Boulevard in Southeast Portland on SE Milwaukie, a two-lane trip into a mixture of past and present, the neighborhood a potpourri of hippie and blue collar with mere hints of money here and there.  At one time, Milwaukie was a somewhat main thoroughfare, a connection between Portland and the Gladstone/Oregon City area, but is now a small paved road connecting small communities, rural in the midst of city.  The Aladdin sits on the very edge of city as is evidenced by the volume of traffic on Powell, but all one must do is close the ears and face away from Powell to feel the pull of the past.

The theater readerboard lists David Bromberg because he is, indeed, the main draw, but Ollabelle follows.  A walk towards the ticket window presents multiple posters advertising musical acts, all upcoming--- Pat Metheny, UFO, Montrose, Basia.  The doors to the theater are plastered with Bromberg posters with one solitary and small Ollabelle poster to the right.  Washed in blue, they stand in a pose, very natural but very focused.  In another hour or so, I would see them strike similar poses--- sans Amy Helm who had other important duties to perform as wife and mother--- only with instruments in hand. 

The box office was doing brisk business handling ticket sales to Bromberg as well as future shows and taking care of will-call and the guest list.  The line was already long, curving from the window all the way past Classic Pianos, the store next door, housing a number of just that--- classic pianos.  A quick glance told me that the audience's mean age was probably fifty or so, hair colors mostly gray, men sporting long ponytails if not balding.  My people, I suppose, for my hair grayed long ago, and more social and gregarious  than myself, though not more anxious than I to see and hear the band and the music.

When they opened the doors, it was a rush to get in, which told me that either most had to use the facilities or it was open seating.  Turns out it was the latter, though I wondered because as I entered, there was already a lo-o-ong line at the counter where they were serving up Lagunitas and Mirror Pond ales along with a wide variety of wines, all by the glass--- erm, plastic cup.  Before long, the crowd, which had grown tremendously, was abuzz with activity.  Looking around, I saw that these were, indeed, mostly my people, ancient by today's standards, home-fed on vinyl but willing to switch formats at will.  Androids and iPhones lit up the theater, people checking messages or sending them, as attached to their lifelines as any fourteen year old kid.  The ones who eschewed the electronic attachment reverted to their old ways, talking loudly so as to be heard above the growing noise.  As anxious as most were for the party to begin, they had wine and ale and Bromberg in common and attached themselves each other.  I sat in the upper right corner of the theater, watching, knowing I had lost most of my social skills and hoping I would never have a need to use them again.

On the inside, the Aladdin is an old theater as much given to vaudeville as well as movies.  The deep stage would have been suitable for dancers and jugglers and any of the acts of that period and the wings were the wings of Hollywood through which actors would enter and exit, stage left, as it were.  The purple backdrop, lit sparsely, was a perfect backing for the equipment strewn in front--- Byron Isaacs' bass setup to the right (my right, their left) and just to the right of Tony Leone's drum set.  An amp to the left of the drums sat alone and then there was the keyboard setup of Glenn Patscha on the far left--- keyboards stacked and plugged into an amp, a guitar on a stand to Glenn's right (actually, his left).  That lone amp next to the drums I was to discover belonged to Fiona McBain, as did the microphone and stand placed directly in front.  There was a cozy feel and music made its way through the PA system, just loud enough to occasionally interfere with the gravelly beehive of noise in the crowd. 

When the lights went down, the sweaters and coats and flannel shirts (this is Portland, after all) took to their seats and the theater went totally black, the only lights courtesy of the exit signs and the Androids still percolating news from the outside world.  To its credit, the crowd hushed quickly and waited patiently.  A few moments later, a flashlight appeared and guided the bad members to their posts.  A few plunks and thuds later, it was "Ladies and Gentlemen, Ollabelle..." and the lights went up with the first notes of Chris Whitley's Dirt Floor, a combination of rock, country and gospel and a song from their new album, Neon Blue Bird.  The sharp, loud and muddy sound quickly gave way to balance as the vocals and instruments plowed their way through the mixing board on their way to the PA Speakers, Voice of the Theater-type boxes stacked high on both sides of the stage.  By the end of the second song, Byron Isaacs' Brotherly Love, the sound was down and the band was cooking with gas.

Brian Cullman, who has in the past worked with the band collectively and individually, had warned me.  These guys are really, really good, he had said, but live they are even better.  I needed no convincing.  As they worked their way through their all too short set list, I heard songs, original and otherwise, which almost defied genre (which many musicians and writers use as a holding cell for the term "Americana").  There are underlying patterns, of course, like folk and gospel and blues, but Ollabelle twisted them into configurations all their own.  Even Taj Mahal's Lovin' In My Baby's Eyes, arranged very similar to Taj's version, stood out.  The band worked their way through the set carefully, giving the audience time to adjust between songs.  Not all the songs were original, the aforementioned Mahal song an example, but even the least original, the traditional Down By the Riverside, came out clean and fresh.  You have to have something to pull off a song like that (unless you are backed by full gospel choir), and they have it.  They have a full range of voices (even without the superb voice of Amy Helm--- I can only imagine what it would have sounded like with her there) and an ability to arrange songs to sound new while retaining their structures.  And they can play!  Man, can they play!  Patscha is a monster on the keyboards and can play a mean guitar as well, drummer Tony Leone is  rhythm perfect on the drums and might probably be a bit more out front with his guitar if he wasn't surrounded by the talent within the band (he can sing, too).  Byron Isaacs makes me appreciate bass players even more than I have in the past, his playing seemingly effortless, though anyone who plays know that it is not.  And Fiona McBain?  Please forgive my dinosaur ways, but when I was growing up in music, women did not play the way they do today.  They strummed and, even then, mostly on acoustic guitars.  Well, McBain turned the acoustic into a musical instrument and when she plugged in the electric, my heart soared.  Not since seeing Devon Sproule work her magic on guitar on the handful of live videos I have seen via YouTube have I heard the crisp, emotion-laden riffs Boyd laid down behind the music.  She was high-heeled refreshment, and I was not the only one who thought so.  Us dinosaurs evidently think alike.

The audience gave Ollabelle a decent round of applause at the end of their set, probably lessened by the number of people needing to relieve themselves of or get even more drinks.  I laid back and accepted the respectful handclaps.  These were, after all, David Bromberg's people and he was who most were there to see, though one could hear from the crowd that Ollabelle had made some inroads.

When Bromberg finally made his appearance, much of the crowd was surprised to see Ollabelle there as well.  Bromberg had made his way onto the stage during that opening set, I have been remiss of saying, adding an extremely tasteful electric lead and bonus rhythm guitar to many of the band's songs.  This time, though, he was there for himself.

What can I say about my first time seeing Bromberg except that he is Attitude on the Hoof.  He grabbed the mic and took over and the crowd loved it, as did Ollabelle.  He blasted his way through songs from his new album as well as a handful of his old standards and was having a ball.  He was self-deprecatingly funny in a laugh out loud way and you could almost see him making his way on the standup comedy circuit, still with guitar in hand.  And he obviously loved playing.  He loved playing with Ollabelle, making the comment as the band left the stage in the middle of the set, making way for his acoustic songs--- "Great fucking band, huh?"  The crowd agreed.

Bromberg's set totaled almost two hours, most with band, and by the time the concert ended, the musicians and crowd were a bit worn.  They still wanted, and got, an encore, but Bromberg is no spring chicken (nor am I) and the theater pulled the plug.  The party was over and, unlike in the days of my youth, I was going home, eardrums intact.  No ringing, no throbbing head, just memories of a great night of music.

I waited around because I had promised to say hello to Patscha and Isaacs, for whose solo albums I had written reviews.  I chatted with Glenn for a bit before the phone rang and it was Isaacs, trying to find me.  We headed next door to The Lamp for a quick drink and chat, Leone and McBain making their way there a bit later.  They were both fried, having had little rest over the past thirty-two hours or so.  Obstacles had been strewn in their path as they made their way from East Coast to West--- dropping a child off at Grandma's, going to the wrong airport, missing their flight when they finally arrived at the correct one, etc.  They looked exhausted and I wondered how they could have made it through close to three hours of musical intensity without collapsing, but they did.

When their equipment had been loaded into the truck, we said our goodbyes.  I had a two hour drive myself and was feeling a bit jetlagged.  As I drove away, Dirt Floor was going through my head and it repeated itself until I found my way to the freeway, before which time I had pulled off the road and plugged my mp3 player into the car's sound system.  It was Neon Blue Bird, Patscha's Songs From the Jefferson Highway and Isaacs' Disappearing Man all the way home.  I made a mental note to pick up a Fiona McBain album.  And the rest of Ollabelle's albums.  I might end up homeless, but I will damn well have the best record collection of any homeless guy out there.  And, yes, I called them records.  They will always be that to me, regardless of format.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NOTARY SOJAC (erm, WEEDEN)... The Lost Chapter

Before I get to the meat of this post, let me say one thing:  Notary Sojac was one of the best bands to ever grace the Pacific Northwest.  Ever.  There were others, of course, but none related to their followers as much, none took the music more seriously nor did any lay down as solid a footprint.  Their history is one of idealism and music taken to an extreme with few regrets, if any, for the mistakes made and the goals unmet.  It is a story you have to hear to understand and one day, if I can ever get my shit together, I will write it.  I have the notes and I have the music.  All I need is 401 gallons of coffee and the time to weave the pieces together.

For now, I will talk about them as if they were mere footnotes (they were not) because many of you don't know Notary Sojac and the magic which surrounded them.  Most of you never experienced the pleasure of sitting around Skinners Butte Park on a hot weekend afternoon, watching and listening to NS and Portland cohorts Sand give you a high no joint could match.  Most of you missed it.  It was a supernova which lasted only a few years but was so intense that it created a legend of its own.  No album (though one was recorded), no Hall of Fame (though many of the musicians around Portland and Eugene at that time would gladly vote for their inclusion), no money.  They were communal, loose and, more than that, all about the music.

They didn't just happen, though.  The various members played in their own towns and within their own circles until the stars aligned.  Steve Koski, in fact, spent a few years honing chops until he was ready.  He moved to L.A. for a short time in 1968 to replace The Weeds' guitar player, who had been hospitalized.  By that time, the band had turned into The Lollipop Shoppe and had released an album on UNI Records.  Steve stayed with the band, recorded a few songs with them and when they returned to Portland, they morphed into Weeden.  I mention this because Koski recently ran across some Weeden tapes, buried amongst memorabilia of the Sojac years (Younger brother David had them.  Wottaguy!) and cleaned them up as best he could.  They are rough and recorded during rehearsals, probably with a single mike hanging from the ceiling.  The sound is muddy and the music cuts out here and there and the mix is nonexistent.  And they're some of the best damn tapes I've ever heard from that period.

The first nine tracks reek of the psychedelic folk scene of the time, just singer Fred Cole, singer/guitarist Ron Buzzell and Koski, who also sings and plays guitar.  The songs vary from schizophrenic to folk pop and beyond and could have been background music in any of the underground stoner movies of the day, at times bordering on the folk side of Love and at others the rock side of Barry McGuire.  Cut to shot of beautiful lithe long-haired blond girl wearing flowing and flowery dress riding bicycle down a side street in San Francisco, long-haired dudes turning heads to watch as she passes, sun shining, life good.  You know.  The American version of Georgy Girl the hippie version of Midnight Cowboy--- salt lightly with folk/psych and simmer.  As rough as these recordings are, as hard as Cole struggles to hit certain high notes, I find these songs intriguing at the very least.  In fact, the more I listen the more I'm intrigued. 

None other than Jack Meussdorfer (Sand) broached the subject of Weeden during a conversation a few years ago.  You ever see them?  No.  You missed something.  They were the band we all looked toward.  They were way out in front.

In front, indeed.  A cursory listen to the next eight tracks confirms it.  This is the electric side of Weeden, straightforward and in your face.  Fred Cole gets a chance to turn loose (he was a bit reluctant to let go on the acoustic tracks, possibly due to the way they were recorded) and the band?  Jesus!  This is schizophrenia in a whole other way.  Amps cranked, band wound tight, they give you what for, psychedelic style (which today would probably fall within the 'jam' category).  What Are You Gonna Do? has a touch of later Notary Sojac mixed with early Santana, maybe.  Tim's Song is, indeed, Tim's song, a nine-plus minute jam which gives drummer Tim Rockson room to solo (seems like everyone was doing it back then) and Shoutin' At You is pure Pac Northwest garage.  Crazy Now is a Koski original which he would drag out on occasion in later years, first with Notary Sojac and later, SojacGettin' a Piece starts out normal enough before turning freak-out.

Then there is CarolinaCarolina was the song which impressed me most that afternoon at Skinners Butte Park.  It had something that few other songs I had ever heard had---  a free-flowing jam-based feel that I couldn't even begin to describe.  A rolling bass, riffing and solid drums, fantastic organ and three guitars ripped me a new one and I was sold.  Well, folks, this is where it came from and how cool is it that I can hear it pre-Notary Sojac and in its "original casing".  Undoubtedly, when NS got hold of it, they started putting their individual stamp on it, but it's the same song with somewhat the same feel.  NS, during the years they were together, motored through a number of originals and covers, tossing some to the curb and adding others to keep the sound and feel fresh.  I thank the gods that they kept Carolina.  Every single time I saw them, I waited for it and was thrilled by it.  It's not like I could go home and put it on the turntable.  No album, remember?

Koski does something very interesting to cap the Weeden collection off--- he MIDI-izes the first two tracks on the CD.  Burgess Home and Burgess Blend are arrangements taken from the old Burgess Home Weeden track and recorded in 2010.  Koski always was adventurous as hell when it came to music and I get it (and I dig it).  Add a redone 2010 version of Weeden's Without You and there you have it.  A look back from the heart and soul of Steve Koski.  He was not all there was to Weeden, but he is the one who is keeping it alive.

An aside:  When researching and gathering notes for this little dip into the underground,  Koski contacted me with this little bit of trivia.  While he was in L.A. with the Lollipops, he co-wrote two songs with Fred Cole.  He explains it this way:   "Two songs from the movie, Angels From Hell, which I co-composed and performed on, were released on a soundtrack LP in 1968 or 1969. (No longer available, I'm sure....very obscure.) We played at a "love-in" type of rock festival in the film, but only a few seconds of the group are on screen).  They are also on the compilation CD, The Weeds, aka The Lollipop Shoppe. Curiously, I am not listed or mentioned in the CD liner notes nor as co-writer on the two songs (Who's It Gonna Be? and Mr. Madison Avenue)."

I have no idea if anyone out there remembers Weeden.  Until I heard this CD, I had only heard about them.  This is real roots music--- the roots of The Warloks and Notary Sojac.  And I am now wondering if anyone has some old Warloks tapes sitting around.  I can only hope.

If you do remember Weeden, I would happily forward any requests you might have to Koski.  If you are as intrigued by the old music, raw and alive, you might be able to talk him into marketing it in an "as seen on TV" kind of way.  Maybe.  What the hell, eh?  Worth a shot.

And that statement about no albums?  It is basically true.  Notary Sojac released no album during their short existence.  They did, however record one.  There are plans to release it when the funds become available.  In the meantime, you can purchase a double-CD package of rough tracks recorded live during the '72-'73 period.  Cheap, too.  Sample the tracks first.  Like Weeden, they were not recorded for release, but it sure makes me happy that they released them.  Here is the link.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Little Green Blackbird, Spotify, Green Pajamas and More.....

Hot damn!  Finally!  I have in my hands a pretty little green and yellow package that I was beginning to doubt would ever see the light of day and it's like Christmas all over again.  I've been saying that a lot this year because the music is coming hot and heavy and it really is like Christmas when albums you've been waiting for what seems like forever show up in the mailbox (or Inbox, if it is a download).  Kirsti Gholson, who records under the name Little Green Blackbird, has been working on The Summer I Stopped Whining for three years, she wrote in an enclosed note, but not three years straight, "just lots of stops and starts."  Well, she's stopped now and has thrown herself into pure work mode (and not music mode).  Time to get the music to the people, methinks.

This is not the first time I have heard some of these songs.  Kirsti had posted three of them on her sadly departed MySpace page awhile ago, rough demos, and a year and a half ago she included me on her list of the "Sneak Peek" people to whom she sent a handful of songs in rough mix form.  For the past year and a half I have been thinking of writing a review of that, calling it a preview of a review, but Kirsti always led me to believe that release was just around the corner, so I waited, and waited, and waited again.  No more waiting.  It is here.

When I played the album last night, I was taken aback a bit.  I expected a couple of remixes from the "Sneak Peek" CD.  What I heard was mostly remixes.  Remixes and re-recordings and a handful of new songs, one of which put me back on my heels.  This isn't rock, folks.  This is pure Kirsti, or should I say Little Green Blackbird.  She has a sound, a sound which caught my ear when I heard her first album (which she calls a demo but which was released ready for the charts back around 2000).  She continues that sound, though it is more refined and more mature (as I'm sure is Kirsti her own self).

Kirsti, I said that I would take back all of the bad things I've said about you when the album was in-hand.  I take them back, as promised.  Now all we have to do is figure out how the album will be made available to the public.  I'll let you know when she tells me.  Review pending, by the way.

SPOTIFY (What's all the hubbub?).....

You might be asking yourself that at this very moment.  Seems like big news, though most big news these days used to be advertising just a few years ago.  The reaction to Spotify reminds me of the "news" surrounding Microsoft's Windows 2007, the most secure PC system ever and full of things to make life worth living again.  What a bunch of crap that was, and I'm not saying anything negative about Windows 2007, just that it was not news--- at least, news that belonged on the front page.

Well, here comes Spotify, another of the sites promising to get you your music faster and better than ever.  Will it live up to its hype?  Probably not, but there may be some positives.  One is that accessibility to the music is easy and smooth.  Type in a name and it lists songs by that artist.  Can't get any simpler.  Thing is, though, if you type in something somewhat generic, you might get more than you bargained for.  I typed in "Steve Young" to see what was available and I got Steve Young, all right.  Two Steve Youngs, in fact.  And a ton of Steve Forbert and a bunch of tracks I have no idea about.  Maybe somewhere in the listing of session men there was "Steve" and "Young".  I don't know.  Still, it did give me Steve Young.

Don't think this is going to be the end-all of music sites.  Steve Young, according to my calculations, has a lo-o-o-ng arm of albums they could have included.  I got a finger.  Not the finger, but a finger nonetheless.  Primal Young, in fact.  Now, with all of this yelling and screaming going on about how the major labels and music publishing companies have signed off on this site, I expected more than that.  Young put out albums on three major labels--- Rock Salt & Nails on A&M, Seven Bridges Road on Reprise and Renegade Picker and No Place To Fall on RCA.  He had three on Rounder Records and a number on small independent labels as well.  One might think that one of those might be available, but they might think again.  I also checked out Green Pajamas, a band who has yet to put out a clunker, and I got three--- Essence of Carol, This Is Where We Disappear and Seven Fathoms Down & Falling.  No Poison In  the Russian Room, no All Clues Lead To Megan's Bed, nothing else.  Seriously?  Spotify people, there are 20+ Pajamas and Pajama-related albums out there.  And the Pajamas are hardly unknown!

To be fair, it is early in Spotify's US existence.  They are still signing deals with corporations for the rights to distribute product.  But one wonders.  Could this be another big hooplah?  The big buildup to something that is less than advertised?  They claim to have 15 million tunes on board, but 15 million means nothing if there is not 15 million there.  So why state it that way?  How about "when we reach our goal we will have over 15 million" or "Coming soon!  15 million!"?

On the plus side, I did find a song I have been looking for for decades:  The Blue Sky Boys' Tears On Her Bridal Bouquet.  When I was a kid, my father had a few 45s, blue-green translucent I believe, of The Blue Sky Boys.  I grew up on their music.  Tears On Her Bridal Bouquet was every bit as much to me as the Sgt. Pepper album was to so many others at a later date.  Spotify had it.  If they can do that--- if they can provide a handful of songs you can't find on any other sites, they will be worth it.  To me, at least.

In the meantime, Spotify, I'm watching you.  And I'll be trying to decipher your files to see just how these agreements with labels and artists function and how much money the artist is paid (and how that money is distributed, because if RCA hands two albums' worth of Steve Young tracks to Spotify and keeps the royalties for itself, they're doing nothing more than screwing the pooch as far as I'm concerned).  We'll see.  More later.


I know.  I've mentioned them recently.  A lot.  But hear me out.  I lived off of two albums by these two musicians for a couple of weeks and am overwhelmed not just by their music, but how they could go in to the same recording studio with the same musicians at the same time and come out with two magical and yet different albums.  It fascinated me so much that I had to write about them. I posted this review, but am finding that it is not enough.  The music is so impressive that I feel the urge to spread the word, but what can I do other than write and carry placards at the mall?  I scoured Youtube and came up with these two videos which will give you an inkling of the talent these two have.  The first video is the first of a five part "documentary" put together by an outfit calling themselves BreakThruRadioTV (at least that's their handle on Youtube).  They give the members of Ollabelle, Patscha's band, and one Ben Arthur one day to write and record an original song and recorded the process.  It is this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps me intrigued by a mostly unfocused and rambling music industry.  For the people who really love music and the way it is made.  Oh, and Ollabelle is at present releasing a new album, which from what little I've heard is outstanding (they play two tracks on their website--- read the review).

Brian Cullman and I started out sharing Nick Holmes' music.  The more we communicated, the more I got what he was doing, musically.  He has recorded and worked on numerous albums (one of which was Glenn Patscha's excellent Songs From the Jefferson Highway) and is one of those producers you follow.  I could name a few I've followed over the years--- John Anthony (Van der Graaf Generator, Genesis, Queen, A Foot In Coldwater), Roy Thomas Baker (Lone Star, Queen, The Cars, Free), Johnny Sandlin (Captain Beyond, Cowboy, Eddie Hinton, Allmans).  Let us just say that I place Cullman in like company.  Here is a video of one of Cullman's more adventurous songs--- at least, more adventurous than on his last album (read the review, damn it!).


Have I posted this before?  It is a video that Devon Sproule put together for Shaun of a song on which she sang, from an outstanding folk-oriented album titled Folk-Worn Prose.  The album is as solid as any I've heard over the past couple of years and this track is my favorite.  I give you Shaun Cromwell and Devon Sproule singing I Am Undone.  It's just beautiful.

Speaking of Devon, she has just released a new album in Europe (no mention of a US release yet) titled I Love You, Go Easy and I'm sure it is another superb effort.  I've been a fan since Keep Your Silver Shined and a fanatic after seeing her play arch top guitar on the UK's Jools Holland Show.  Man, she can play!  Here is a teaser, just for fun.

Speaking of fun, Paul Curreri's The Big Shitty is just about up and running.  I've only heard one track, but goddamn!  It looks like Curreri has done it again.  The guy has talent!  Still waiting on Sydney Wayser to market her new one (she says it's really good, but we'll be the judge of that, won't we?).  All I know is that if it is half as good as The Colorful, it'll kick ass!  John Orsi finally put the finishing touches on Knitting By Twilight's Weathering album.  It is more great stuff (review coming soon) and comes in a limited edition package, numbered, with a three-fold jacket graced with a beautiful painting of a nude by William Bougereau titled Biblis.  Class music deserves class artwork, eh?  The Wackers played a reunion gig recently which they hopefully recorded.  First time together in decades.  Mickey Thomas has an album which just today floated through the front door.  I have been busy with this so I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but if it is anything like Bluesmasters... whew!  The Research Turtles are in Alaska playing a few weeks of gigs.  They timed it just about right, what with everything melting down South.  Bright Giant is evidently lost in the cornfields.  They haven't returned any of my thousand or so calls about their impending release.  Dem bums!  Crap!  I know there is more to talk about, but my notes are scattered.  Coming soon, a rundown of radio, the 45 and its importance to rock music--- oh, and the transistor radio.  I may just drink while I write that one (it helps me think until the third beer kicks in).  Stay tuned.  I may be typing swear words en masse.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good God! I'm Feeling So Alive!!!

Life is good!  Life is so damn good I'm practically dancing and if any of you know any of my old girlfriends, you know that doesn't happen very often.  Oh, I do the occasional jig if I am drinking (it happens all too seldom these days--- the hazards of getting old and having too much to do) and I have been known to traipse around the dance floor when I find a lady too drunk to say no, but the exhilaration dance?  Doesn't happen much anymore.

I'm dancing now, though!  See the middle finger?  I'm flipping off every person who says that music is dying.  Yeah, that's you, Horkey, and you, Ferd!  I've had it up to my ears with your negativity about music today, how there hasn't been any good music for years and how you could live with nothing but The Beatles the rest of your lives.  I feel sorry for your sorry asses because the music flowing across my desk this year is among the best I've heard and you're missing it.  Hell, I'm thinking of putting 2011 up for a Grammy, that's how good it is.  But let us not get bogged down in my rants and raves.  There is music to hear and talk about, so let's get this discussion started.  In fact, let us start with with a very recent discovery and one which has fired more than one jig since that discovery, just a few days ago.


Publicity maven Kimberely Grant popped River Rouge's Not All There Anymore in the mail last week and I received it on Friday, just in time for a much needed drive to the Oregon Coast (I live about 60 miles inland, but that's too far to smell the ocean breeze, so I hop in the car now and then for what I call the Scenic Drive).  I tossed about four or five CDs on the passenger seat and headed out, reached over when I hit the main road and blindly grabbed the River Rouge CD.  It was the luckiest grab of the day.  Somewhat akin to winning a minor jackpot at a casino, but I didn't know it at the time.  Didn't take me long, though.  Half a minute in, I cut the air conditioner, rolled down the windows and cranked up the sound.  You know how you hear a song and you're not quite sure what you're hearing yet?  It is kind of like waking up and initially being unsure of your whereabouts.  All I knew was there was something going on, something digging into my skin.  When the track finished, I replayed it.  And replayed it again.  And again.  The more I heard it the more I got it.  I pulled off the road and grabbed the CD jacket.  Black Licorice, the track was titled, and there was something in it that made me happy.  I mean really happy!  There was something in the rhythm and the up attitude and the sound that struck a note.  At first, I thought Sir Douglas Quintet.  Then I thought Thee Midniters.  Then I stopped thinking.  When I pulled back onto the road, I let the album play past the first track and realized that the song was an anomaly, that the rest of the album didn't fall in line with Track One.  Thing is, it didn't bother me.  I don't think I want an album of Black Licorice's.  I don't think I could take an album of Black Licorice's.  I would rather listen to the song over and over again than have slightly lesser knockoffs for comparison.  What there is is plenty good anyway--- an Americana-ish blend of pop, rock and country.  Plenty good.  After numerous listens, while I like all the songs, I have adopted Murder of the Crows and Arc Welded Love and Not All There Anymore and Yes as favorites after the thousands of hearings of Black Licorice grow thin.  This is good stuff.  And almost as if the musical gods willed it, those bonny L.A. boys just this  morning put up the official music video of the song that kicked my ass.  My song of the summer.  Here it is:


It is not often I can find an album which will soothe the critical edge of all but the hard core rockers, but Brian Cullman sent me a pre-release of Disappearing Man, an album I surely would have missed if not for Cullman's graciousness. Byron Isaacs, bass player for the outstanding Ollabelle, sidestepped that band to produce songs outside the realm, songs which did not quite fit with the other projects he was working on.  He headed into the studio with Cullman and came out with something I don't think either expected.  The music varies in style but has Isaacs all over it, from the orchestral dreaminess of Seeing Is Believing to the Minnows-like easy rocking Disappearing Man to the New York-ish underground sleaziness of Crazy Love  to the floating fifties-infused ballad Gypsy Wind.  Like Cullman's 2007 album All Fires the Fire, Disappearing Man belongs in the classroom as an example of the importance of arrangement and production.  Watch for this one.  It's a beaut.


Sure, I've mentioned Hannah Gillespie a few thousand times before, and I will mention her a few thousand more.  Until people attach themselves to her like they do Adele and Grace Potter and others of their stature, I will continue to promote her as a prime example of music-beyond-genre.  See, there is a bit of Marianne Faithfull in Gillespie's voice which catches the ear and gives wings to her songs.  I know she's worthy of attention because every one I've turned on to her music--- every single one--- has given an enthusiastic thumbs up.  They aren't clowns off the street.  These are people I trust most (at least, when it comes to music).  Don't believe me?  Listen to her music here and if you still don't get it, meet me at The Buckaroo Tavern.  Bring your gloves.


When I was young, I got into the blues through the back door.  It took Cream and Fleetwood Mac and Canned Heat to get me to listen to the likes of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Skip JamesJohn-Alex Mason could well fill that space for the young today.  While his base is the blues, he tosses in a potpourri of influences such as funk, rock and trip hop, among others.  Just electric enough to catch the rocker's ear and just acoustic enough to fit in with roots music, Mason could be today's Cream or Fleetwood Mac.  Youth's gateway to the blues.  This video shows Mason raw and live with a band.  He is more known for his one man show lineup--- himself and a handful of instruments. 


The Green Pajamas are a band I'd turned my back on for years thanks to personal circumstances, but when I rediscovered them through Poison In the Russian Room it felt like meeting an old friend after a long hiatus.  I have whiplash because I am forever shaking my head wondering why people haven't made them superstars, but when I look at the quality of superstars these days I don't think I want them in that company anyway.  They have recently reacquainted themselves with their original record label, Green Monkey, and released The Complete Book of Hours, an outstanding look at the early Green Monkey period, before going Country.  An album of country music by the Green Pajamas?  I never would have thunk it, but it sounds great!  Here's a taste.


 I keep wondering if Arborea might be hurting their chances for exposure by living in Maine.  It is a ways off the beaten path and something is keeping them from their share of success.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  They are ethereal, melodic, practically medieval in places and science fiction in others.  Their music smells of honesty and truth.  I once talked with Shanti for awhile outside a tavern in Portland, Oregon, and I don't think I've ever talked with a lady more genuine.  Buck and I share emails on a fairly regular basis.  He loves Robbie Basho and John Renbourn and John Fahey as much as anyone I know and uses every opportunity to spread their music.  A class act and a hell of a musician.  The way I see it, all of my years with Steeleye Span and Fotheringay and Clannad were preparing me for Arborea and their ilk.  While this video does not use a song from their new album, Red Planet, it is so haunting I had to post it instead of a song from that fine, fine album.  Watch and listen.  It is outstanding.


Yeah, I know.  Caught again.  As I am with Hannah Gillespie, I cannot let any instance pass when it comes to Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers.  I've seen them twice, posted videos a handful of times and talk about them like they are hometown heroes.  I can't help it.  Just like I can't help using the full band name.  Muth is the center, but for me they are a band.  They aren't country, either.  They are Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers.  God love 'em.  'Nuff said (until I deem otherwise).


These guys have come a long way from the old days of country rock and smoky bars.  They have now graduated to bigger smoky bars.  I am kidding, of course. Old Californio has worked their collective asses off to get to this point and it shows.  Their latest album, Sundrunk Angels, is set for official release this next week and I can think of no better way to celebrate it than to post this live video shot last month at The Mint in L.A.  The title track of the new album in all its glory.  I've seen Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers, I've seen Mist & Mast.  Next on my list are Research Turtles and Old Californio.  I'm sure I won't be disappointed.  Not even if Old Californio are half as good as they are in this video.

NOTES (& more notes).....

David Jacques of The Dementians just graced my inbox with a new album.  For those who don't know of him, he knocked me out with his humorous take on pop music.  Not only did it make me chuckle, the music was downright good!  Maybe even better than that.  I haven't cracked the file yet, but when I do I'll run it down for you.  If you aren't interested, you obviously don't get good pop music.  My condolences.

Did I mention that Kirsti Gholson contacted me with the news that her album is nearing completion?  I will take back every bad thing I've said to her once I get it in my hands.  Over ten years between albums seems a but absurd to me, but someone once told me that to forgive is to be divine.  Or Andy Devine.  Either one works.  More when the album finds its way here.

I reviewed an album by Fiery Blue not long ago (and I will review the second when time permits) and was surprised that vocalist for that band, Simone Elyse Stevens, has just released a solo album.  I'm surprised because She is well aware of my fan status with Fiery Blue.  She should have known that giving me a heads up would, if it is any good (kidding, Simone), produce a review.  She contacted me this morning.  The CD is in transit.  It had better be, or I'm deleting all my positive raves about Fiery Blue.  Stay tuned.

Bright Giant say they're getting closer.  I heard some rough tracks and am getting a bit anxious.  I don't know if it will be as good as their freakishly good self-titled EP, but I have heard enough to know it will be good.  More on them when they get the harvest in.

I have mentioned Nick Holmes and Brian Cullman in various posts and if you were paying attention you know how much reverence I hold for both as musicians and producers.  I will be writing an in-depth review of Cullman's All Fires the Fire, released in 2007.  The more I hear it, the more I like it.  In fact, I think it has gone beyond like.  Like I mentioned earlier, this album belongs in the classroom.  It is so good on so many levels, it's scary.  If you don't check it out yourself, I will be posting links to the review when it is posted.  I am also in the process of delving deep into Nick Holmes' music and happenings.  They deserve the attention and have gotten way less than is fair.  In the near future.

Did I happen to mention that Charlottesville's Sarah White has made a couple of her releases available for download?  For free!  Crapola!  That's Christmas in July, folks!  You can check them out at this link:  Both are solid good.  White Light is Sarah and her early lineup with The PearlsSweetheart is an EP and my introduction to another excellent Charlottesvillain, Ted Pitney, who released an EP a few months ago which knocked my socks off.  It's called The Genesee EP and it is a killer!

Mothership is a hard rockin' band out of Buenos Aires which I stumbled upon a good year or so ago.  They have just completed an album and sent me a link to listen.  I will write a review soon, but let me say that if you like the old hard rockers, they might be right up your alley.  Solid vocals and amped up crunchy guitars.  Sometimes you just have to let loose.

Once again, I know I'm forgetting someone.  I take notes, but I lose my notes.  I'll find them, though.  Give me time.  Until then, keep the faith, my friends.  As long as there is good music, life is not half as bad as it could be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The First Half of 2011--- The Best and the Yet To Come

What can I say?  The music just keeps getting better and better and there seems no end in sight.  I feel like Scrooge McDuck diving into his pool of money, except I have no pool and I'm diving into music  and not money--- music good enough to make me pretty much forget about the past.  Pretty much.  Oh, I occasionally revisit my roots--- mostly through the YouTube type channels the Net provides--- but there is just too damn much great music in today's world to spend much time in the past.  So without further ado, let's check out what the music gods have given us in 2011, starting with a real discovery and a reason to smile if not laugh outright---

HANNAH GILLESPIE/All the Dirt.....

Words are going to fail me here and there is a reason.  I have been writing and talking about Gillespie since Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, etc.) posted a link on his Facebook page a month or two ago and I'm plain running out of adjectives to describe her.    In recent reviews, I have compared her to Marianne Faithfull during her Broken English phase and while I believe that is a fair comparison, I think it a bit unfair to both Gillespie and Faithfull because though their voices are similar to a certain degree, their worlds are far apart.  Faithfull lived then in a darker world than does Gillespie--- one filled with, to borrow a song from that period, Guilt.  Gillespie is more roots-oriented, drawing inspiration from her world rather than her angst and you really hear it on beautiful folk-oriented songs like Just a Man and There Are Songs.  There is another side to her, though, a side leaning more toward an angst different than Faithfull's--- an angst of her own.  You hear it in the stark black-and-white portrait of Headlights, with its haunting jazz brush strokes and tonal heartbreak.  You hear it in the chord progressions and the strings, electronic or otherwise, of Tales From the Tote (Vinnie), a song which would have fit Faithfull perfectly in her earlier folk days.  The truth is, I hear this and I hear what Faithfull might have done back then if the world had been then what it is today. 

If you want a review, here's what I posted on my website.  If you want the music, head to Gillespie's bandcamp page (stream the full songs) or scope her out at cdBaby

RESEARCH TURTLES/Mankiller Pt. 1 of 2.....

I want to say, I wait for a year and a half and all I get is five songs?  What I will say is that if every band out there put out songs as good as are on the Mankiller EP, it would be enough.  The Boys from Lake Charles nailed it on this one, stepping beyond the crunchy Power Pop of their previous self-titled album (It, too, is a killer) into the more mature but equally exciting world of Pop Rock. One listen to the excellent Bugs In a Jar convinced me.  Back in the old days, they called music like this "radio-ready".  In other words, it is ready for radio.  And, no, they didn't desert rockier roots.  Mankiller and Rhinestone Gal may be a bit smoother, but they still have plenty of punch.  They also have plenty of Pop.


Mariana Bell is an anomaly in my world.  She is one of those singer/songwriters people without open minds are tossing to the curb merely because of genre (if I have to label her music, I'll call it Mainstream Pop).  This is the kind of music you hear behind Target and Resort ads.  This is the kind of music that makes you sway with the melody and dance to the beat.  This is Perfect Day in places and a  bit of Michelle Branch in others.  There is melody in Bell which can be almost viral (I'm saying it's catchy, folks--- help me out here a little).  My attitude is what's good is good and what's great is great regardless of genre and, man, this is as good as it gets.  She went in to the studio expecting to come out with four or five good songs.  She stayed to complete ten beauts.  I don't want to say that it surprised me (I knew she had it in her), but it did.  From Book (her previous album) to Push.  It's not that big of a jump, but it sure sounds like it.

ISRAEL NASH GRIPKA/Barn Doors & Cement Floors.....

I had not heard of Israel Nash Gripka until this release and I have to wonder why.  The guy has talent and a way of looking at music that takes me back to the early seventies when bands like Cat Mother and Country Funk and the Crazy Horse phase of Neil Young ruled my turntable.  There is grit in his music reminiscent of The Band in their youth, moments which sound like they could have been taken from the beginnings of Capricorn Records with a Muscle Shoals sensibility on the more soulful tracks.  Did I say in my review that this album could be the sleeper of the year?  If I didn't, I should have.  The following clip is from a documentary they filmed of the recording process.  Of all of the films being paraded out at film and music festivals, this is the one I want to see, start to finish.

NATALIA ZUKERMAN/Gas Station Roses.....

Until this album (and Winterbloom, the gathering of women to celebrate the Christmas holidays), I had never heard Natalia Zukerman but thought I had her music pegged.  Every picture I had seen showed a mild-mannered, dyed-in-the-wool folkie ready to sing Kumbayah at the drop of a hat or any song from the Joni Mitchell Songbook, if requested.  So imagine my surprise when those pictures turned to confetti upon hearing Gas Station Roses.  No mamby-pamby folk here, folks.  This lady does everything but.  And when she picks up the slide, man!  Sells them through her website, too.  That is very cool.


I have a problem.  I'm not really into country music but I can't get enough of Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers.  They are country, I know, but hardly fit the mental images being pumped out of Nashville these days.  They don't fit the music, either, most of it being everything but country--- at least, country as I know it.  Zoe and band completely knocked me over with their excellent self-titled 2009 album (which I missed until 2010, damn it!) and have returned with Starlight Hotel, an album of equal or greater value, and you have to trust me when I say that it was not easy to do.  It is packed with country roots music presented simply and honestly, Zoe laying out her stellar song stories with a unique voice and the band supporting her with just enough oomph, but no more.  Flash isn't in this band's vocabulary.  They don't need it.  Neither do I.  Watch and learn.

OLD CALIFORNIO/Sundrunk Angels.....

In spite of the fact that this album is scheduled for a mid-July release, I include it here because I have an actual copy in my possession and I can't wait until mid-July to pass the word along.  Old Californio is back, sports fans, and whether you know them or not they are well worth knowing.  Sundrunk Angels adds a Brit Pop twist to their solid country rock and folk roots base and propels them into my limelight, if not that of the music media on the whole.  It's coming, though.  You can't keep a band this good down for long.

JUBAL LEE YOUNG/Take It Home.....

Jubal Lee Young is the son of Steve Young, a musician who deserves way, way more than he's gotten, and Terrye Newkirk, a singer and songwriter who is re-entering the music business after spending decades doing everything but.  Most will know Steve by the Eagles' live recording of his Seven Bridges Road (a version bested by the earlier Ian Matthews version, to my mind).  Steve's fans might know Terrye as Cheryl A. Young, the writer of My Oklahoma, recorded on Steve's Seven Bridges Road album.

Well, damned if they didn't go off and have a kid, Jubal, who took up guitar and decided he, too, was going to make music for a living.  He's been doing it for a number of years now and has released a handful of albums worth hearing.  He started as a rock 'n roller but has slowly been getting back to his roots.  Take It Home is as rootsy as he has gotten thus far, covering three songs his dad recorded plus a bunch of originals.  Country, rock, blues, folk--- he works them all in with a flair all his own.  You don't believe me?  Check out his music here.....


When Paul Marsteller contacted me about listening to the first Fiery Blue album (self-titled), I told him straight out that I would listen, but no promises.  It didn't take me long to realize that the combination of three (he is joined by Simone Stevens and Gabe Rhodes) was something special.  Stevens' voice and Rhodes' instrumental work and production was impressive, indeed (Read the review here).  Well, Marsteller comes back with thirteen more beauties on Our Secret, proof that the first album was no fluke.  This is Pop music with slight roots flavor, produced to perfection.  Here is a taste from their first album.....

ERIC CORNE/Kid Dynamite & the Common Man.....

Technically, this is a reissue of a 2008 album, but Eric Corne  decided  to reissue it because it didn't gain any traction when it was first released.  The album is stacked high with high profile players and the music shows it.  Kid Dynamite/Rancho Mirage freaked me out when I first heard it, and the rest of the album is almost as impressive.  I say 'almost' because it is one of those 'anchor' tracks around which other songs float no matter how good they are.  You have to hear it to believe it.  I heartily recommend you visit Corne's Bandcamp site to stream what I hear as an overlooked classic.  And he put out a pretty fine video to support the reissue as well.....


This one's personal, but still deserving.  I've known Gary Heffern for many years, having suffered through his tirades against the music establishment when he used to visit my store in the late seventies.  He was young, brash and full of attitude--- an attitude which carried him through a career of pushing the musical and artistic envelope at every turn.  He told me he was going to have his own band one night and I laughed because in spite of  his certainty, I had my doubts.

Gary quelled those doubts when he fronted The Penetrators, a San Diego band of no little repute, and went on to front a number of bands as well as becoming a beat poet or whatever they call poetry performance these days.  While Gary's artistic career has had its ups and downs, his music has remained fresh, edgy and, at times, outside the box.  He continues pushing that envelope, this year with an impressive group of cohorts known as Beautiful People.  Seriously, you have to see this.....

I really need to get more organized.  I should have been keeping notes.  I know I missed someone or some band and probably not only one.  I know I missed finding another hundred or two albums of note, some of those worth including.  You can bet, though, that I won't be missing the Yet To Come, the albums scheduled for release the second half of this year.  Here are a few I have been downright anxious to hear/see released:


I don't have the album title yet, but Kirsti has promised me that it is close to being ready for release.  She caught my attention with a very under the radar self-titled album which she released as simply Kirsti Gholson.  I was impressed with her voice, songwriting and unique style.  That was, let's see..... 2000?  A decade's worth of water has passed under the bridge since then, I know, but I have heard the rough cuts and I'm just plain tired of not writing about it.  It will contain two tracks I play on a regular basis just to recharge my batteries--- Sing Hallelujah, a beautiful song which means something different to me every time I hear it, but always a reflection of the joy in life--- Dr. Lemmon, a musical slam at an icon of research using live animals.  I know it's a slam when she sings "Makes me wish there is a hell and it's where you're listening from." 

I keep  reminding myself the album is coming, but I won't believe it until I have it in my hands.  I've just plain waited too long.  I mean, I don't want to put any kind of pressure on Kirsti, but.....

SYDNEY WAYSER/Bell Choir Coast.....

I'll make this short and simple.  Sydney Wayser's last album, The Colorful, is one of my favorite albums of the last few years (read what I wrote at that time).  I have expectations that Bell Choir Coast will equal or better that album, but I find it hard to fathom.  The Colorful is full of such unique twists and turns and was so well recorded, it will be very hard to match.  Still, I have faith.  I think Wayser has only just begun to tap her reserves of talent.  On the way is good.  On the streets is even better.  Coming very soon--- but if you want to hear some amazing music, check out The Colorful first and keep your eyes open for Bell Choir Coast.  Oh, before I forget, Sydney has placed The Colorful on a pay-what-you-want scale through  Follow the link and be ready to be impressed.....


Bright Giant is right up there with Research Turtles in the band which deserves to make it category.  They are four man crunch with a side of Pop and a Black Crowes/early Stones base.  Their five song EP, self-titled and released in 2009, showed a boatload of potential.  Singer Josh Davis once told me that they didn't want to be stagnant, that they wanted to progress on a constant basis.  It's been two years. I already know I dig where they were.  I just want to hear where they've gone.....


Keith Morris  (not the Black Flag/Circle Jerks guy) is one of the funniest guys I know.  I mean, I'm still laughing at things he wrote to me a few years ago.  When it comes to his music, though, Keith is dead-on serious.  His followup to Songs from Candyapolis has been in the works for some time and may be slow in coming, but it will be well worth it.  I begged Keith for a sample and he sent me three rough cuts.  They are the three best things I've heard out of him yet and that's saying something. 


is Carrie Biell.  I know that people have other things to deal with in life, but when it affects my music collection it is hard for me to understand.  Biell crushed me with When Your Feet Hit the Stars eons ago (2007) and I've been standing in line at the Biell store since, awaiting the elusive next album.  Until it happens, I take solace in the songs on When Your Feet (it is a magnificent album), but every once in awhile I can't help hankering for something new.  I know you're out there playing, Carrie, but where is that new album?  I'll take anything--- outtakes, sound effects, comedy--- I'm easy.