Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Album Review: Warren Haynes — Ashes & Dust

Friday, July 24th, 2015

A true son of the South, guitarist Warren Haynes has built a varied career imbued with musical values that proudly display his Appalachian roots. And though he’s strongly associated with the electric guitar – largely through his work with Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band – his interests have always extended well beyond the relatively narrow idioms of blues and rock. Even a decade ago he was featuring an acoustic guitar reading of Radiohead‘s “Lucky” in his solo live sets.

So it’s not at all without precedent for Haynes to release an album that digs deeper into his affinity with the more acoustic-flavored and rootsy parts of his own musical makeup. On Ashes & Dust (released today), Haynes enlists the musical support of newgrassers Railroad Earth, a group renowned for their own skill at folding in influences from a wide variety of American musical styles (which, come to think of it, is as good a definition as any for the slippery genre known as Americana).

While a significant portion of the disc features quiet, relatively simple arrangements, Haynes makes intelligent use of Railroad Earth’s instrumental prowess (not to mention his own chops). The yearning fiddle work of Tim Carbone helps connect musical dots with some of the 1970s’ best singer/songwriters (Jackson Browne, Neil Young). The prominence of mandolin and banjo on Ashes & Dust gives the music a decidedly Americana air, but Haynes isn’t afraid to apply mostly acoustic tools to decidedly rocking-out goals. The eight-minutes-plus “Spots of Time” executes a slow burn that rocks, while still showcasing Haynes’ Latin-flavored acoustic and electric guitar licks.

From its title, it’s clear that “Company Man” – one of two tracks that have been premiered ahead of the album’s release – is a story song. A tune written years ago by Haynes, it explores the decisions the songwriter’s father had to make when facing a company shutdown. It’s a story familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small town, and Haynes delivers the lyrics in a heartfelt manner.

Ray Sisk‘s “Glory Road” has been a part of Haynes’ repertoire for more than ten years; with the nuanced backing of Railroad Earth, Haynes renders it in a more thoughtful and evocative manner than he was able to do in a solo setting (for Ashes & Dust, he’s radically transposed it, too).

Haynes doesn’t, however, do anything interesting with Fleetwood Mac‘s “Gold Dust Woman.” Beyond an extended instrumental break, there’s little difference between his reading and the Rumours original. But that track is the only comparatively weak spot on an otherwise solid, varied and engaging album. With a long intro that suggests melodrama leavened by the sound of a band tuning up on stage, “Hallelujah Blvd.” unfolds into a weary, melancholy and contemplative tune.

Ashes & Dust is widely being described as Haynes’ “Americana album.” But attempting to pin the record down to a single genre – however stylistically inclusive that genre might be – does it and Warren Haynes a disservice. The music on Ashes & Dust invites all listeners.

An edited version of this review was previously published in Mountain Xpress.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 2

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Five releases from five acts from five different countries (Poland, The United States, Germany, Belgium and Sweden) are the focus of today’s brief reviews.

Lunatic Soul – Walking on a Flashlight Beam

Bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda seems to be taking a cue from the astoundingly busy Steven Wilson; he’s involved in several musical projects all at once, and each is both unique and very worthwhile. His primary band, Riverside, has been slightly less active of late (new album coming later this year), but as Lunatic Soul, Duda has released four albums. Walking on a Flashlight Beam continues the project’s avoidance of electric guitars, and Duda sings and plays everything except drums. The music is ambient-leaning melodic progressive rock; it’s deeply textured and contemplative music that holds up well to active listening. DVD included.

Hildegard – Hildegard
I’ve occasionally wondered why hardly anybody has come up with music that spans the divide between accessible, electronic-leaning vocal pop and more adventurous progressive-minded rock; it seems as if that could – if it’s done right – be a winning combination. To my delight, I’ve found that such a thing does exist. And it comes from an unlikely place: New Orleans. Hildegard is guitarist Cliff Hines and vocalist Sasha Masakowski, and on their self-titled debut, the seamlessly blend a dizzyingly wide variety of musical styles. The subtle, quieter moments are a slow burn; the many rocking parts do indeed rock.

Camouflage – Greyscale

It’s my firm belief that the musical styles of the 1980s aren’t all used up; while the MTV era gave us untold amounts of by-the-numbers synth-pop and -rock (and then moved on to other things), there’s a lot that can be done with the musical tools and aesthetics of that period. The cool synthesizers of that period represented the gradual displacement of analog by digital machines. On Greyscale (their eighth studio release), Camouflage continues their winning approach of sturdy, moody music. The German group’s sound suggests a less bloodless Human League, or a less melancholy Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark.

Brainticket – Past Present & Future

Originally a (sort of) krautrock band of the early 1970s, Brainticket released two of the odder entries in the genre, 1971′s Cottonwoodhill (reissued in 2013) and 1972′s Psychonaut. The prime mover of the group was keyboardist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Now it’s more than forty years later, and while everyone else involved with the 70s lineup is long gone, Belgium-born Vandroogenbroeck has enlisted members of non-German krautrockers Hedersleben to craft a new album. Past Present & Future features hypnotic works a la Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd; it’s dreamier and less insistent than the early stuff, and thus more accessible. Quite enjoyable and recommended.

Last Days of April – Sea of Clouds

It’s a peculiarly American perspective to think of ourselves as the center of the pop-culture universe. But the truth – of course! – is that there’s some great pop coming from places that don’t have English as their primary language. As I’ve just now discovered, Sweden’s Last Days of April is one of these acts. They’ve been around for two decades, and their sound is one that should please American ears. Singing in non-accented English and featuring simply lovely use of pedal steel guitar, they trade in an engaging, hooky, country-flavored timeless pop. A serious contender for best of 2015.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 1

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Power pop is a term that can be taken to mean a lot of different things. For me it almost always means fun and appealing music. Here are five examples, each reviewed in brief.

The Shoe Birds – Southern Gothic

During my recent conversation with him, Drivin’ n’ Cryin‘s Kevn Kinney threw out a phrase I hadn’t heard before: kudzu rock. The phrase was new to me, but I knew exactly what he meant: a kind of jangly southern rock that draws from classic rock but is informed with a c&w sensibility. R.E.M. and Tom Petty are kudzu rock; Charlie Daniels and Danny Joe Brown are most assuredly not. But The Shoe Birds are: their music features heartfelt lyrics coupled with memorable, hooky song craft. At its best, Southern Gothic conjures the ghosts of Big Star without copying their style.

Kurt Baker Combo – Muy Mola Live!

As part of The New Trocaderos, guitarist/vocalist Baker showcases his skill at crafting fast, catchy and memorable rockers. But here, fronting his own four-piece, Baker ups the wattage considerably. The songs are even better, and – thanks to the live setting for this recording – the energy is much more palpable. The visceral feel of punk is combined with the cheery perspective of power pop and the swagger of full-on rock’n'roll. They start and stop on a dime, and play to the small audience like rockstars. Their reading of The Remains‘ “Don’t Look Back” is stellar and incendiary. Vigorously recommended.

The Hangabouts – Illustrated Bird

Swimming in the less powerful – but supremely melodic – end of the power pop pool, The Hangabouts (John Lowry and Gregory Addington) craft melodic, acoustic flavored pop of the highest order. Their songs are reminscent of some of Pilot‘s best work, and fans of Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn and Jeff Lynne will quite possibly fall head-over-heels in love with the thirteen songs on Illustrated Bird. This music is proof (if it were needed) that one needn’t rock out all of the time. The production and arrangement (by the duo) are both up to the standard of the songs, too.

Aerial – Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak at School?


The album graphics and packaging suggest a sort of teenage, angst-filled punk pop, and in some ways, that’s what the music delivers. But this American band has a more nuanced and textured musical approach than, say, Green Day. With guitars that pummel along like Bob Mould‘s old band Sugar, Aerial definitely have one foot in the punk/hardcore camp. But the poppy songs lean very much in a melodic direction; listening to their wonderfully hooky songs, one might guess that the group’s favorite Ramones album is End of the Century. Bonus points awarded for the ace backing vocals throughout the album.

The Super Fuzz – Super Famous

Taking a page from the way-out-front, exuberant playbook of Cheap Trick (“Speedball” even musically quotes Rockford’s finest), The Super Fuzz play a sort of glam-inflected, power-chording rock that puts strong emphasis on melody, groove, vocal harmony and roaring-guitar-centered performance and arrangement. One might detect hints of Fastball and Redd Kross in the grooves of Super Famous. Song titles like “Surprised Your Boyfriend’s Still Around” make it clear that this isn’t deep philosophy. What it is, is fun, fist-pumping rock that will have most listeners singing along. But please keep a hand on the steering wheel. Find this and buy it.

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Album Review: The Volt Per Octaves — Joining the Circuits

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

There’s a line of thinking that insists electronic-based music is cold, bloodless, and bereft of emotion. And in its most high-profile variant (EDM, or electronic dance music), the style places infinitely more emphasis on beat than melody. But while there’s plenty of aural evidence to support those assertions, that perspective simply doesn’t account for the music created by Asheville NC-based trio The Volt Per Octaves. As displayed on Joining the Circuits, their new (and fifth) album, the group’s music is emotionally evocative, lush and textured, melodic, and – for lack of a better word – organic.

The Volt Per Octaves are a family group: Nick Montoya plays an assortment of synthesizers (more on those in a moment) as well as a talkbox unit, Theremin, and electric piano. He also handles drum programming; there are no “real drums” on Joining the Circuits. Nick’s spouse Anna Rhoney Montoya plays more synthesizers and electric piano. And the couple’s daughter Eva Montoya plays yet-more-synths and melodica. Though their music is largely instrumental, all three handle vocals. Most songwriting is credited to Nick and Anna, with occasional compositional collaborations with daughter Eva; famed Parliament/Funkaledelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell (a longtime friend and mentor of the VPOs); and multi-instrumentalist Jason Daniello (of the very different synthesizer outfit Orgatroid), who also lends lap steel guitar to “Trim Pot.”

If such a thing were needed, Joining the Circuits could serve as a demonstration disc for a wide assortment of products manufactured (hand-built, in fact) by Moog Music, the Asheville-headquartered company that employs all three Montoyas. The gear list – happily printed on the back of the album sleeve – features new and vintage Moog instruments including Minimoog Model D (circa 1972), various Little Phatty synths (a current-day Moog innovation), the Memorymoog Plus (dating from the early 1980s), and various Moog-built Theremins. The trio also makes use of several Korg instruments, as well as the distinctive Wurlitzer Electric Piano (“student model” 206), featured on several cuts.

But none of that would matter to anyone beyond synth geeks and gear fetishists were it not for the music itself. With a sound that recalls the warmer, more humanistic end of Kraftwerk, the Volt Per Octaves apply their analogue technology to catchy, midtempo melodies. Unlike the dark and distant aesthetic favored by many of the 80s-vintage synth acts (Depeche Mode, New Order) or the sometimes hyperkinetic, dance-oriented synth outfits of that era (The Human League), The VPOs favor a warmer, friendlier approach that doesn’t reply upon any kind of faux-mopey poseur stance. It’s not difficult to imagine the trio’s songs recast as acoustic melodies; they would certainly sound different, but the sturdy underlying song structures would retain their appeal.

But The Volt Per Octaves’ chosen medium is the analog synthesizer – many of which are monophonic (capable of playing a single note at a time) – and so while the realization of their songs remains complex enough to interest musicians and other musically demanding types, the music’s firm rooting in melody means that the songs on Joining the Circuits are accessible to all listeners. There’s a playful feel to many of the disc’s seven tracks, one that may remind listeners of another trio, Trio (the German group that gave the world 1982′s “Da Da Da”). In fact, Trio described their music as Neue Deutsche Fröhlichkeit (New German Cheerfulness), which gets to the heart of The Volt Per Octaves’ musical personality: electronic but not foreboding; technology-based but never emotionless.

On the album’s opener “Trim Pot,” Anna Montoya’s faraway, kittenish vocals are reminiscent of Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand, with a touch of Cocteau Twins mixed in for greater expressiveness. Guest player Steve Maass‘ bass trumpet adds a delightfully unexpected non-electronic character to the instrumental “Altadena.” Whirring and whistling synth lines buzz by while a simple percussion program and a bass-bombtastic foundation hold things together. The groove-centered, dance-oriented “Mimi Cupcake” continues the instrumental approach with a melodic line that will lodge itself in the listener’s memory. Another instrumental, “Squidgity” takes things in a moodier direction; subtle touches of broken chords on the Wurlitzer heighten the pleasingly eerie, hypnotic vibe of the track.

The minor-key dynamics of “Divide Down” suggest film soundtrack music; here, The Volt Per Octaves are at their most Tangerine Dream-sounding. The track makes the disc’s most effective use of percussion simply by dropping the synth drums out of the mix at strategic parts of the tune. Nick Montoya’s talk box work on the cut calls to mind some of the best moments on The Alan Parsons Project‘s 1977 I Robot album.

“Equidistant” again features Maass’ trumpet, albeit in a slightly less prominent role. The track’s relatively simple, spare melody could have rendered it as Joining the Circuits‘ least fully-realized tune, but the varied and interesting synth textures throughout the track more than rescue it. The primary musical focus of “Ehbah” is a dance-flavored synthdrum beat, but creamy synth lines float in and around the percussion; the contrast between the motorik-styled beat and the lush synthesizers is very effective. The track fades out to the sound of electronic “wind.”

Joining the Circuits wraps up with the title track, and features Worrell on synthesizer and Wurlitzer. It’s the busiest track on the album, and it’s also among the disc’s best. Multiple melodic line crisscross one another, atop a relatively intricate synthdrum track and a propulsive (yet still decidedly midtempo) bass line. Joining the Circuits finds The Volt Per Octaves moving forward musically while remaining faithful to the sonic approach upon which their musical aesthetic is based.

Note: a release party/show for Joining the Circuits will be held on Friday, July 17 at Asheville’s Grey Eagle. The Volt Per Octaves welcome their friend, mentor and guest, “Uncle” Bernie Worrell, onstage for the performance.

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Album Review: Thelonious Monk — The Complete Riverside Recordings

Monday, July 13th, 2015

In my final year of college, I was exceedingly fortunate to have signed up for a course called American Popular Music History: Stephen Foster to the Present. There were only six of us in the class, and our professor was one Murray Silver; he had just co-authored Myra Lewis‘ book, Great Balls of Fire. But I digress, already.

One of the things we learned was that – according to at least some music scholar-historians – the term jazz was a corruption of the slang term “jass,” which was another word for “mistake.” (Of course there are other, less, um, savory theories as to the etymology of the word jazz, but this one suits my present purpose.)

Few jazz artists have more fittingly embodied that theory of the word’s origin than Thelonious Monk. Though an advanced and expressive technician, Monk’s unorthodox, dissonant phrasing and chording (if one can even call it that) led many to think he was just plain sloppy, that his performances were full of mistakes. In truth, that was simply not the case.

Monk recorded and released some forty albums under his own name; more than half of those came from the periods during which he was signed to Riverside (1955-1961) and Columbia (1962-1968). A Grammy-winning 1986 box set, The Complete Riverside Recordings, compiled all of Monk’s recordings for Riverside onto 15 compact discs. Taking note of the present-day music consumer’s preference for physically more compact sets (see also: parent company Concord Music Group’s recent small-size reissues of 2009′s The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings and The Complete Stax Soul Singles Vol. 3), 2015 sees the CD set reissued in a box measuring 5” x 5½” x 1¾.” The fifteen discs are each packaged in a thin cardboard sleeve, and the original set’s booklet – featuring liner notes from the late, famed producer Orrin Keepnews – has been downsized to a 60pp CD size as well. With the new reissue’s decreased focus on packaging, the music returns to front-and-center.

Rather than taking the approach of compiling Monk’s Riverside albums and then appending each with unreleased bonus tracks (alternate takes and such), The Complete Riverside Recordings presents a chronology based upon recording dates. Thus, regardless of when a track was originally issued (or, in some cases, not issued), the set presents an audio document of 153 studio, club and concert recordings – solo and with sidemen – in the order that Thelonious Monk experienced them.

The list of sidemen whose work shows up on the set is, of course, a who’s who of the era’s jazz giants. Drummer Art Blakey, John Coltrane (sax), Johnny Griffin (sax), Coleman Hawkins (sax), Thad Jones (trumpet), Gerry Mulligan (sax), Max Roach (drums), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Sonny Rollins (sax), Charlie Rouse (sax), Clark Terry (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Wilbur Ware (bass) are just some of the musicians who appear.

Monk’s arrangements on the band material are quite democratic – most everyone gets his turn in the spotlight. And the live tracks have a level of excitement that the studio cuts – no matter how inventive and well-executed – simply cannot match. His solo pieces are by definition a bit more idiosyncratic, but once one allows for and accepts Monk’s unconventional approach to the piano keyboard, they’re fascinating.

The alternate takes demonstrate the level of inventiveness and spontaneity inherent in Monk’s (and his sidemen’s) playing. While it’s generally clear why one take was ultimately chosen for (original) release over another, even the initially-unused takes and breakdowns, for that matter) are a treasure. The alternates and breakdowns constitute about 10% of the total music on these discs, but their presentation in context helps provide the listener with a sense of how the original sessions unfolded.

For anyone whose interest in Thelonious Monk extends beyond casual – in other words, for anyone whose appetite has been whetted by, say, Misterioso – the comprehensive The Complete Riverside Recordings merits serious consideration.

Note: A vinyl version of this set seems only to have been released in Japan (circa 1988) and sells on eBay – assuming you can even find one for sale – for more than twice the price of this new, slimmed-down CD set.

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Album Review: The Standells — Live on Tour 1966!

Friday, July 10th, 2015

The Standells – considered a quintessential protopunk band of the 1960s – got their start as a matching-suited, club band playing frat-rock and covers of the day. The pride of Boston thanks to their name-checking 1966 hit, “Dirty Water,” The Standells weren’t even from Massachusetts; they were a Los Angeles group.

But with the passing of a few months and a few band members, The Standells quickly coalesced a lineup around founder and former solo act, keyboardist Larry Tamblyn, and former Mouseketeer Dick Dodd on vocals and drums. The band toughened their image, and signed with Tower Records, where they began to work with producer Ed Cobb. Cobb would write (or co-write) “Dirty Water” for (or with) the group, and went on to produce another legendary 60s garage group, The Chocolate Watchband.

Buoyed by the success of “Dirty Water,” the group cut more songs in the nascent garage rock style, including genre classics “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” “Riot on Sunset Strip” (from the 1967 teen exploitation movie of the same name), “Why Pick on Me,” and the banned-in-Texas “Try It.” By ’68 the group’s style was past its sell-by date, and though they would continue with various lineups, no new music was forthcoming.

Back in ’64 an early Standells lineup released The Standells in Person at P.J.’s, but that set captured the pre-garage version of the group. In 2001, Sundazed released a 10” vinyl record, The Live Ones! (a riff on the title of The Standells’ second of three 1966 LPs, The Hot Ones!). That set provided the first officially-available live document of the garage-era group. Recorded in the summer of 1966 at Michigan State University, the surprisingly good quality recording found the band at their snarling yet good-natured, fuzztone best.

Now – almost fifty years after it was recorded – Sundazed has unearthed yet another live document of The Standells from that banner year of 1966. Recorded no more than a couple of months after the show that would yield The Live Ones!, and performed less than sixty miles southeast, Live on Tour – 1966! is equally exciting, and it features twice as many songs.

The recording opens with a laughably tepid introduction (probably by a college administrator) explaining that there will be two acts on the evening’s bill: The Standells (curiously, this is met by silence from the audience) and The Beach Boys. The crowd seems to chuckle inwardly at the announcement before breaking into delayed applause. But once the announcer introduces The Standells, the crowd’s reaction is much more enthusiastic. A friendly bit of pandering from Dick Dodd (“We hear somebody won a game today; is that right?”) leads straight into the guitar buzz of “Mr. Nobody.”

Dodd’s vocals come through loud and clear, as do Tony Valentino‘s electric guitar, Larry Tamblyn’s Vox Continental organ, and Dave Burke‘s Fender bass. Dodd’s drums are less distinct, but overall Live On Tour – 1966! is a superbly recorded (and preserved) recording.

The setlist doesn’t differ greatly from what’s showcased on The Live Ones!; while that set featured songs closely associated with The Standells, this disc features the complete opening-act length set, a setlist that included covers that were well-known (and oft-played) by garage bands across the USA: “Good Lovin’,” James Brown‘s “Please, Please, Please,” Wilson Pickett‘s “Midnight Hour,” and the all-but-required “Gloria.” But The Standells imbue their readings of these tunes with just the right combination of polish and grunge.

Mid-set, they feature a Tamblyn lead vocal (with ample vocal support from the rest of the band) in a faithful cover of the then-brand-new “Sunny Afternoon.” The Kinks‘ single had been released in the USA weeks before; at the time of this concert (October 22, 1966) the tune was riding high on the singles charts. Dodd notes afterward, “That song can be found on an album of ours which will be released around Christmas time, where we do nothing but everybody else’s hits…probably the best album we ever made.” It wasn’t, not by a long shot; the world didn’t really need a Standells reading of “Eleanor Rigby.”

But there are no Beatles ballad covers on Live on Tour –1966! “Now that we’ve messed up everybody else’s number, we’d like to mess up one of our own.” Drawing out the tension with a serious of groan-eliciting one-liners, the band finally relents and launches into the garage rock anthem, “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” playing it in a fashion that’s both Just Like the Record and shot through with the energy that only comes from an onstage performance. The crowd claps along start to finish while the band closes their set with their million-selling hit, “Dirty Water.”

With the fine exception of the low-key Kinks cover, Live on Tour –1966! is a consistently uptempo, rocking good time, and proves – in case there were any doubts – that The Standells were a solid, engaging live band, one that leveraged a garage-punk image with professional musicianship.

This review was previously published in BLURT Magazine.

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Album Review: The Shadows of Knight — Live 1966

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

In their heyday – a period that began in 1966 and ended, well, in 1966 – Chicago’s Shadows of Knight embodied what we now look back upon as the garage rock aesthetic. A group of suburban teens inspired – like countless other groups of teens in those days – by the British Invasion, the Shadows of Knight channeled American blues through the filter of British sensibilities (Them, Rolling Stones, Animals), reinterpreting it yet again and creating something fresh and exciting in the process. A newly-released live recording, Live 1966 offers a previously unheard document of the group’s onstage power.

The group released two albums in 1966 (and one more a few years later) but their strength was best expressed on the 45rpm single. Their reading of Van Morrison‘s “Gloria” – originally a b-side of Them’s top ten hit “Baby Please Don’t Go” – helped enshrine the tune as a garage rock classic. Though the group’s success was short-lived, The Shadows of Knight received belated attention when their reading of Bo Diddley‘s “Oh Yeah” was featured on Side Two of Lenny Kaye‘s influential 1972 compilation, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968.

On the group’s 1966 singles and albums, the production (credited on the sleeve only as “A Dunwich Production”) was of the basic, let’s-get-it-done variety. In those days – especially where a small regional label such as Dunwich was concerned – bands were expected to have their repertoire tight, ready to lay down in the studio in one take. (With their bigger budgets, larger labels often dispensed altogether with the niceties, enlisting so-called Wrecking Crew session players to record, one-and-done, in the stead of the named groups.)

What this meant in practice for The Shadows of Knight is that their finished studio recordings did indeed sound a good bit like the actual group. The eleven songs on the group’s Gloria LP – nine overs, three originals – captured the band’s assertive, energetic playing and singing. They had certainly gotten tight playing live gigs, and the records captured that vibe as best as could be expected.

But there’s nothing like the real thing, and Live 1966 is that real thing. Recorded in front of what Jeff Jarema‘s liner note essay calls “suburban Chicago’s hands-down hippest teen club,” Arlington Heights’ Cellar, Live 1966 finds the group playing to a familiar and appreciative hometown crowd. Jarema notes that there’s no way of knowing the date of this performance – club owner Paul Sampson was known to record shows – it likely dates from late in the year, after two of the group’s albums had been released (the compilers’ best guess is December ’66).

These white suburban kids sure did have a thing for the blues; their first LP featured no less than three Willie Dixon numbers alongside covers of Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. Live 1966 features several of these. Even their Chuck Berry cover (“Let it Rock”) was delivered in a bluesy manner. And their original tunes were a clear attempt to write in that same blues-based style.

The second album widened the group’s scope a bit to include their take on New Orleans funky pop (Huey “Piano” Smith‘s “High Blood Pressure”). A cover of the Boyce/Hart number “Tomorrow’s Going to Be Another Day,” released at almost the same time as the Monkees‘ version, couldn’t have less in common with the prefab four’s reading; in the hands of The Shadows of Knight, the tune sounds like early Rolling Stones.

A solid selection of tunes from Back Door Men figures into the Live 1966 set, too, including a soulful run-through of Jimmy Reed‘s “Peepin’ and Hidin’” sung here not by drummer Tom Schiffour (he sang on the single version) but by lead guitarist Joe Kelley.

Live 1966 is presented in astonishingly good audio quality; the monaural recording accurately captures David “Hawk” Wolinski‘s walking bass lines. The drums aren’t as forward in the mix as modern tastes might dictate, but overall Live 1966 is quite the well-balanced recording. Occasional amplifier hum only adds to the you-are-there feel of the recording, and Kelley’s stinging guitar leads punch through the mix. The group shines on “Oh Yeah,” with the band – led by a screaming Jim Sohns – adding just a bit more swagger and abandon than found on their studio version.

Closing with six wild minutes of “Gloria,” The Shadows of Knight deliver a loose yet forceful performance that renders The Doors‘ posthumously-released live version (recorded in the late 60s) completely unnecessary. And a brief quote from The Mothers of Invention‘s just-released Freak Out! suggests that the group had more than just the blues on their mind.

As a heretofore undiscovered document of mid-sixties garage rock at its rawest and most authentic, The Shadows of Knights’ Live 1966 is essential for fans of the genre.

The review was previously published in BLURT Magazine.

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Album Mini-review: Rhett Miller — The Traveler

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

File Next to: Old 97s, Pete Yorn

In his role as guitarist and lead vocalist of Old 97s, Rhett Miller has been at the modern-day vanguard of successful rock/country cross-fertilization. His solo career dates back even farther than Old 97s’ debut, and while he put solo efforts on hold for most of that band’s first decade, he resumed his solo career in 2002. The Traveler is Miller’s seventh album. The Traveler doesn’t represent a major shift in musical emphasis; while album’s arrangement choices mean that a track like “Jules” features a string section that will remind listeners of Out of Time-era R.E.M. (specifically “Losing My Religion”), Miller’s straightforward songwriting always keeps the melodic quotient high. His breezy, laconic vocal delivery has a genuine (but not overly earnest) quality that makes listeners stop and pay attention to what he’s singing about. And nobody combines c&w’s musical virtues with glam-rock quite like Miller does on “Most in the Summertime.”

An edited version of this review previously appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent.

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Album Mini-review: Tyondai Braxton — HIVE1

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

File Next to: David Byrne and Brian Eno, TR-i

Son of legendary jazz improv master Anthony Braxton, Tyondai Braxton (formerly of Battles) has set out to make a name of his own. The experimental HIVE work was initially commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process initiative. Employing multiple musicians manipulating content via laptop computers, amplified acoustic percussion, and other instruments, HIVE was a multimedia feast. Subsequent performances of the work took place in London, Sydney, and at the boundary-pushing 2015 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. HIVE1 features eight pieces conceived for the original installation. The man-meets-machine pieces successfully hybridize bass-bombing synthesizer lines and percussion into a sweeping, majestic, often heady mix. There’s a three-dimensional feel to the album; even without headphones, the listener is virtually transported to the center of Braxton’s sonic activities. The lines between synthetic and organic are constantly blurred, and – even stripped of its visual components – HIVE1 is never less than interesting.

An edited version of this review previously appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent.

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Album Mini-review: The Veronicas — The Veronicas

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

File Next to: P!nk, t.A.T.u.

When Australian twins Jess and Lisa Origliasso scored their first record deal, it made sense: though young, they had already established themselves as skilled songwriters. Their 2005 debut, The Secret Life of The Veronicas was packed with intelligent, well-crafted pop, with a decidedly rock-oriented sensibility. No pop tarts were they. But then came the sophomore slump: 2007′s Hook Me Up reeked of market analysis and packaging, and found the sisters mired in ill-advised electroclash arrangements. Next came a several-year battle with their label, a time during which the Origliasso sisters all but dropped off the pop landscape. But all has been made right with a label change and a self-titled album. “Sanctified” is all melodrama and heavy beats, and “Did You Miss Me (I’m a Veronica)” is a hip-hop flavored musical statement of renewed purpose. The Veronicas is a welcome musical rapprochement of modern production flourishes and solid pop songcraft.

An edited version of this review previously appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent.

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