Archive for November, 2011

Hundred-word Reviews, Part Two

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Four more hundred-word reviews

Dodd Ferrelle – Hide the World
I favorably reviewed Dodd Ferrelle’s Lonely Parades about a year and a half ago, and of course that led to my being on the list for a promo of this, his followup. I’m glad. While he’s generally classified into the Americana genre – generally enough to cause me to pass something by – he rocks a good bit harder. Some very tasty horn charts on “Control” are supported by some insistent rhythm section work. Damn it, this isn’t Americana at all, unless one thinks of Steve Earle, John Mellencamp (at his best) and Bruce Springsteen as belonging in that category as well.

Fallon Cush – Fallon Cush
If your idea of musical bliss includes Crowded House, this is a record you need to hear. Not really sounding all that much like Neil Finn and company, Fallon Cush – an Australian studio aggregation – crafts warm and intimate songs that are strong on harmonies and subtle-yet-catchy melodies. Crystalline production (one band member is an in-demand producer) and expressive playing supports the hooky songs. The disc is littered with reflective, contemplative tunes that have just the right amount of energy, but rarely rock out in a big way. This is an album that will stay with you for a long while.

Shawn Pittman – Edge of the World
When one thinks of loping, swaggering Texas blues (SRV-style), there’s often an assumption made: the ideal recording situation is one as close as possible to a live setting. The idea being that such an approach is the only way to capture the right “feel.” Well, Shawn Pittman has – by design or necessity; probably a bit of both – -thrown this idea out the window here. On his homemade album, Pittman plays everything (guitars, piano, bass, drums) except the horns. The results are pretty organic-sounding. Nearly all the songs are self-penned or co-written with a friend. For fans of the style.

Lunatic Soul – Impressions
Mariusz Duda again steps away from his band Riverside – and from that band’s style – on his third album under the name Lunatic Soul. While the first two Lunatic Soul albums explored a concept from opposite sides, this makes it a trilogy. Foregoing lyrics (though not necessarily eliminating vocals), this disc is more ambient in nature. But don’t assume it’s an easy-listening record: “Impression V” sounds and feels more like Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” than anything Eno or Cluster ever did. Some tasty acoustic guitar gives an organic feel to what otherwise might be a lopsidedly electronic outing.

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I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.


Hundred-word Reviews, Part One

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Quite a few worthy CDs have piled up on my desk in recent days. Since Musoscribe is a one-person operation, it’s simply not practical to provide in-depth coverage of everything that I find deserving of it. So every now and then I do a collection of capsule reviews. My self-imposed limit for this particular exercise is 100 words on each release.

Miles Zuniga – These Ghosts Have Bones
If the artist’s name strikes you as familiar, you’re right: Zuniga is a member of Fastball, the band that gave us the great hit “The Way” and the shoulda-been-hit “You’re An Ocean.” Fastball’s still around, but this side project finds Zuniga in a more pop-oriented mood, occasionally (though not always) less rocking but equally compelling. “Rock Paper Scissors” sounds like a more melodic Cake. One suspects that these songs were selected because they didn’t fit as well within the band format; that’s what a solo album should be. Influences from all over are distilled into Zuniga’s intimate style. Good stuff.

Slowtrain – Bound to Find You Out
This piano-based rock-pop from Austin TX shows some healthy influences. A Dr. John-meets-Randy Newman sensibility is crossed with dramatic flourishes of grandiose pop (think: Queen or Jellyfish) to create something that sounds oddly familiar while being fresh and new. On some songs, lead singer Adoniram Lipton’s blues-shouting approach is wedded to story songs from the John Hiatt/Nick Lowe school of songwriting. On others, a breezy, this-side-of-country approach is used, but it’s delightfully free of that genre’s overused tropes. Uptempo rockers, contemplative ballads: they’re all here. In a just world this sort of music would catch on in a big way.

John Illsley – Streets of Heaven
Here’s another name that might strike a chord with liner-note readers. Illsley was a guitarist in Dire Straits; and even if you didn’t recognize the name, you’d almost certainly pick up on the tone when you spin the disc. (And you thought that sound was all Mark Knopfler!) For whatever reason, this record is the guitarist’s first solo album since his old band folded in 1995. In places the record sounds very much like Dire Straits. In other spots – take “Tell Me,” with its south-of-the-border horn arrangements and gypsy fiddling, for example – Illsley charts territory that is more his own.

Grand AtlanticConstellations
Soaring, big guitars of the anthemic variety are juxtaposed with airy arrangements that show the band knows when to back off to allow the songs to breathe. A hallmark of this record is chiming guitars with just enough distortion. Grand Atlantic play and sing as if they’ve already made the big time — think U2 – and maybe, just maybe, that “conceive it so you can achieve it” approach will work for them. Constellations is filled with catchy, rocking, memorable songs. The band bursts out of the gate with “Searchlights,” but album as whole shows they’re not one-trick ponies. Highly recommended.

More to come.

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Bootleg Bin: Spooky Sings the Hits

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Here’s a little gem that has been tucked away in my collection for more than two decades. About ten years ago or so, I was cleaning out some old files when I came across a long-forgotten cassette tape. I received it from my kid sister circa 1988; she got it from a friend who — as the story went – worked in a recording studio. The actual tape is of unknown generation, but I can safely assume it’s no more than two or three generations from the studio master. Most of the hiss present was, I believe, due to the fact that my tape was a Type I with no Dolby® noise reduction applied.

But what to say of the music? It is definitely for fans of the incredibly strange. If you like Hasil Adkins, Jandek, Skip Spence’s Oar or perhaps the brief mid-70s Syd Barrett session(!) then you may find this recording of an anonymous singer/guitarist (both terms used in their loosest sense) compelling. If not, you will in all likelihood find it excruciatingly awful. You have been warned.

There’s some degree of technical proficiency here, though filtered through a warped sensibility beyond description. The slide guitar work is especially, um, interesting. The lyrical subject matter may offer some clue to the subject’s state of mind (especially tracks #4 and 5) but then again, perhaps not. He certainly has a good memory for the words to these songs.

I can only speculate as to the circumstances leading up to this recording session. My memory fails me; I don’t now recall if the story that comes to mind was of my own imagining, or if the story came (verbally) with the tape. But such as it is, our hero had a few bucks, and booked time at a local (Atlanta) studio. The engineer set up mics and levels, and let the tape roll. That sounds about right to me; this does not sound like a mid-80s home recording job. Sadly, there’s no real interaction between artist and engineer, so the circumstances will never be proven one way or another.

As far as changes to the source recording, I set the noise floor at 8dB and rolled off some tape hiss; this did not appreciably reduce the high end. Also the source tape’s balance was off (likely a result of the tape dub) so I boosted the right channel approximately 200%. Then I boosted the entire signal an additional 300% and trimmed one or two millisecond-long sections of oversaturation. There are a couple places on the tape where one channel seems to drop out completely; my best guess is that the engineer was amusing himself.

The entire session (or what circulates of it) is a mere 11:30 in duration; I’ve divided it into tracks and identified the songs where I could. This gent (whom I’ve nicknamed “Spooky” for reasons that will be become clear upon listening) covers Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Doors and more. I defy anyone to correctly name the last track*.

* Late update: My friend Jerry says it’s Cream‘s “White Room.” Me, I don’t hear it.

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I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.


Concert Review: The Miles Davis Experience 1949-1959

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Miles Davis’ work passed through a number of phases; the characteristics common to all his musical eras were his uncompromising attitude toward composition, arrangement and performance, and his commitment to innovating, moving forward. A current aggregation of young players is traveling the country to bring the music of Davis’ earliest work to the masses. A traveling show titled The Miles Davis Experience: 1949-1959 seeks to recreate the style and substance of Davis’ music from that formative era.

I caught one of the later dates on the current tour, a November performance at the Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center on the campus of Western Carolina university in the tiny mountain town of Cullowhee NC. In the classic-meets-steampunk architecture of the Bardo Center, to a house of roughly 500 (mostly WCU students), a prodigiously talented five-piece group traveled the 1950s Miles Davis timeline with the aid of narrator Donald E. Lacy, Jr.

Davis’ uncompromising attitude seems to have been a guiding concept for this project. Miles Davis’ work of that era – both as bandleader and on other artists’ recordings — ran the gamut from highly accessible, melody-based work like his reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s “Surrey with the Fringe on Top’” to more abstract, difficult cuts like the hyperkinetic “Salt Peanuts.” But for The Miles Davis Experience, the numbers chosen fell decidedly toward the challenging end of the scale. For listeners weaned on a diet of pop or rock music – and/or, for that matter, soul, R&B, blues, country, funk, disco and almost any other genre one might care to reference – there was little in the performance on which to hang one’s musical hat. Those (like this writer) not schooled in jazz might have found it difficult to follow the music, which adhered to few conventions of melody, verse-chorus structure, or beat. Put another way, you’d be unlikely to find a concertgoer humming any of the tunes from The Miles Davis Experience on their way out of the concert hall.

None of that necessarily made the performance less enjoyable; instead, it demanded more of the audience, presented as they were with challenging works of music. What the crowd was also presented with was some mighty expert playing. The no-electronics instrumental lineup featured Jason Palmer on trumpet (taking Miles’ leads); Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone (as often as not, playing John Coltrane’s parts); Sam Harris hunched over his piano, Bill Evans-style, but with his back to the audience; Harish Raghavan on just-barely-audible (yet deeply felt) upright bass; and drummer Justin Brown.

All but Brown took an ultra-cool sartorial approach to their visual style; the drummer went for a casual look in a striped t-shirt. Harris kept his eyes on his hands most of the evening; if he stole a glance toward his band mates, he did so without being noticed by the audience. Other than a few quick glances (and even rarer appreciative, almost imperceptible post-solo nods), none of the players seemed to make any eye contact with each other.

Nor, for that matter, with the audience. Not a word was spoken from the stage by any of the quintet. That duty was left to Lacy, who conveyed his words with gravitas in the extreme. Riffing on the words of poets and musicians alike — Langston Hughes and Quincy Jones were among the quotable notables invoked – Lacy provided narrative setup for each segment of each set. His emotive delivery set just the right tone for the music to follow.

As is standard, each player took a solo or three; sometimes these were spotlight solos, within the context of the band; other times these were true solo excursions, with the remaining players exiting the stage so the spotlight could literally be trained on a single player. All were impressive in their technical (and athletic) brilliance, but Smith’s extended sax solo was jaw-dropping in its intensity. Not always “musical” in a traditional sense, Smith’s solo was – in places – more of the I-didn’t-know-you-could-do-that variety. And although for most of the evening Justin Brown seemed almost to be holding back a bit, he got a chance to shine — and evoke fond memories of Art Blakey‘s style — on his energetic, inventive, colorful drum solo. It was made all the better by the stage setup: his kit was set almost perpendicular to the stage front, allowing the audience to witness his complex yet lyrical drumming work.

A minimal stage setup – the instruments, as few mics and stands as possible, a couple monitors – kept the focus on the players. Tasteful and minimal lighting applied focus as needed, and a multi-screen backdrop projected relevant images (mostly archival photos and album covers). I later heard one concertgoer muse that perhaps more could have been done with the multimedia portion of the presentation. While my own tastes tend in that same direction, on reflection I’m convinced any effort in that direction would have been inconsistent with the overall tone of the show.

Two sets — each running about 45 minutes – were punctuated by an intermission, and post-show at least some of the players wandered into the lobby crowd to receive well-earned one-on-one accolades.

Postscript: A minor mystery is the fact that The Miles Davis Experience: 1949-1959 is billed as “A Collaboration with Blue Note Records.” During the decade in question, Davis was first signed with Capitol (for whom he recorded Birth of the Cool in 1949) and then went to Prestige, a label for whom he recorded abut ten albums under his own name. (From 1951-56 Davis was under exclusive contract to Prestige.) Then he went back to to Columbia. Davis cut two (admittedly important) records for Blue Note, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. One wonders why Concord Music Group — the conservators of the Prestige catalog — didn’t get in on this action. In the end, jazz fans should be glad that somebody – anybody – helped with the funding/promotion/etc. to make this compelling and important show a reality.

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A Thanksgiving Thank-you

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Maybe you’re the sort who doesn’t spend Thanksgiving in front of a television, watching men run up and down a field in funny costumes. Further, maybe you didn’t eat so much turkey on Thanksgiving to cause a tryptophan-induced coma (or maybe it hasn’t kicked in yet). Or maybe you’re not reading this humble little note on the day it was published (Thanksgiving Day 2011). In any event, if you’ve wandered here (or arrived on purpose), I might direct your attention to some recent interviews you might find enjoyable.

  • Van Dyke Parks was the lyricist with composer Brian Wilson for the decades-delayed SMiLE album arguably a milestone of popular music of any era. Parks and I sat down for coffee and a chat not long ago.
  • The recently-concluded Two of a Perfect Trio tour brought together three veterans of King Crimson with three younger (yet equally impressive) musicians. I spent some time at soundcheck and then backstage with the band, and they patiently fielded my questions, both arcane and pertinent.
  • The Grip Weeds are keepers of the rock’n’roll flame, though they try to avoid the term powerpop. Whatever you call it, it’s good stuff. The Grip Weeds’ Kurt Reil discusses the group’s Strange Change Machine and previews some upcoming projects.
  • Tommy Keene released Behind the Parade — the latest in a long line of ace albums – in 2011. He took time to discuss his approach to songwriting and production in this illuminating interview (the second time I’ve interviewed him, by the way).

There’s loads more. Look around, and tell your friends. On this day of giving thanks, allow me the indulgence of thanking all of the artists, publicists, label reps and promoters who help me do what I do. And, of course, a sincere thanks to all of my readers. Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. here’s another Thanksgiving tradition…

Album Review: The Hangmen – Lost Rocks

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Sporting a cover that riffs visually on the Rolling Stones Aftermath is pretty much asking for trouble. And using Photoshop to imbue the cover image with surface wear that mimics a well-used LP sleeve, well, that’s courting an extra-critical approach to the contents of the album. Luckily, Lost Rocks from The Hangmen stands up defiantly to such pressure.

The press kit calls The Hangmen a “legendary Los Angeles band.” Me, I’d never heard of ‘em. The same presskit describes the band as “raw, punk rock’n’roll,” but classifies The Hangmen as heavy metal. Now, when I think of L.A. punk, that calls to mind bands that don’t do a lot for me (I prefer the generally less pissed-off and more musical east coat, Midwest and English variants). And Los Angeles heavy metal? Let’s just not go there.

But judging from the eighteen tracks this collection, The Hangmen are really a straight-ahead, rocking-out no-bullshit band in the tradition of The Georgia Satellites and The Replacements. Vocalist Bryan Small sounds like an American Graham Parker as he snarls lyrics about life and love.

Despite the implications inherent in its title, Lost Rocks is no fazed-cookies collection of unreleased demos and b-sides: it’s more a best-of set (three early demos are tacked on the end for fun). The sleeve’s Stones connection is heard in the songs: “Bent” filters American c&w through a Mick Taylor-era Rolling Stones sensibility. Some of the songs do swagger in a just-this-side-of Guns’n’Roses style (probably responsible for the metal tag), but prominent use of harmonica on tracks like “Desperation Town” moves things back toward Long Ryders territory. Thank goodness.

There’s a garage vibe (sans organ) on many of the tracks, but The Hangmen seem less concerned with evoking a bygone style than they do in throwing in whatever sonic elements best get their musical point across. In the case of “Wild Beast” it’s a wah-wah guitar solo, something not often found among the Nuggets-worshipping set.

Brief testimonials from the likes of Mike Ness (Social Distortion) and Radio Birdman’s Rob Younger make the point that The Hangmen (a) have some hip fans and (b) aren’t a bunch of musical poseurs. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Lost Rocks is how all this music (originals spanning 1989-2007) escaped my notice for so long. Lost Rocks happily rights that wrong.

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Album Review: Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins – A Scarcity of Miracles

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

In my recent feature on the Two of a Perfect Trio tour featuring the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Stick Men, I posited the (largely rhetorical) question: when is a band King Crimson, and when is it not? That question – one which has no real answer, I believe – comes racing back to me as I listen to A Scarcity of Miracles, the new album credited to Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins.

The three artists name checked, of course, all have major connections to King Crimson: Robert Fripp may insist he’s not the “leader” of King Crimson, but he’s certainly the only constant over the band’s on-off history (1969 to now, more or less). Renowned reedman Mel Collins appeared on three Crimson LPs: In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard and Islands (all of which have been reissued as part of the 40th anniversary remaster project). And Jakko Jakszyk was the able stand-in for Fripp (guitar) and Greg Lake (voice) in the 21st Century Schizoid Band, a project that – while technically not Crimson – was truer to the early Crimson in sound and lineup than anything else.

Moreover, the rhythm section for this album is Tony Levin (bass, stick), a man who’s been on nearly every King Crimson recording since Discipline, and Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree’s drummer, but also the official King Crimson drummer from 2007-2009, at which point Crim went on its umpteenth hiatus). And A Scarcity of Miracles is officially designated as “A King Crimson ProjecKct” (“P7” for those keeping score).

With that out of the way, what sort of music have we on A Scarcity of Miracles? Well, the genesis of the project offers remarkably little in the way of clues. As explained in Fripp’s liner notes, the recordings grew out of an afternoon of extemporaneous improvisation between Fripp and Jakko. With such a basis of sound, one might expect an unconventional product, one with few connections to the pop song idiom.

One would be mightily wrong, as it happens. Jakszyk took the sound files from the session and constructed them into a half-dozen highly melodic songs – yes, songs that make up A Scarcity of Miracles. Mel Collins added his alto sax, soprano sax and flute to the recordings. And then – only then – Levin and Harrison added rhythm tracks. So, although the players involved followed an almost inverse-to-tradition methodology, the result ranks among the most melodic and accessible collections to come out of the Crimson camp in ages.

In those liners, Fripp also notes that “for the first time since 1981, the gene pool drawn upon is more English than American” (Levin is American). Exactly what to make of that is up to the reader/listener, but it’s true that A Scarcity of Miracles (an official Crimson ProjeKct) is very different than – yet inextricably related to – the Two of a Perfect Trio aggregation (tellingly not an official ProjeKct), a mostly American group.

The songs are all credited to Jakszyk/Fripp/Collins, but it’s Jakko who assembled the songs from the raw files, wrote the lyrics, and sang them. Thus it is his style that most indelibly forms the character of A Scarcity of Miracles. Fripp does play more of his trademark guitar runs — not just soundscapes, though there are plenty of those as well – and he is more prominent here than on (relatively) recent Crimson albums or on any of his numerous guest spots (John Wetton etc.). Collins’ lyrical reedwork floats in and out of the mix, always seeming to appear at precisely the right time to offer the right thing, and then receding into the shadows when it’s someone else’s (usually Fripp’s) turn to shine.

The songs drift by in a melancholy mist: A Scarcity of Miracles rarely rocks out in a traditional sense, and there’s no “Red 2011” to be found here. The vibe is closer to lite-jazz, but wholly lacking in the vapidity of that justly-maligned genre. In fact the songs work on two levels: they can serve as an aural backdrop for whatever else you might be doing (similar to Eno’s ambient work, but with higher melodic content), or they can be examined closely. Choosing the latter path rewards the listener with inventive splashes of exotic eastern influences, thanks mostly to Jakszyk’s Gu zheng (a Chinese zither sort of thing visually reminiscent of a pedal steel guitar).

“The Other Man” is the heaviest track on A Scarcity of Miracles, and it’s also the most foreboding, mysterious musical offering. A few son-of-“Frame by Frame” licks crop up now and then, one of the few instances in which the album references earlier Crimson (though Collins’ distinctive saxes certainly call to mind some of the better moments on Islands). The atmospheric “The Light of Day” is the least conventional track structure-wise, but its dark, foreboding feel will draw the willing listener into its maelstrom.

A fascinating listen, A Scarcity of Miracles may well qualify as that rarest of breeds: the Crimson-related record you can play for your friends who don’t think they like progressive music.

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Album Review: Shirley Brown – Woman to Woman

Monday, November 21st, 2011

“Hello? May I speak to Barbara?” With that ominous spoken intro, Shirley Brown kicked off the hit song (#22 pop, #1 R&B in 1974) “Woman to Woman.” The album to capitalize on that success was also titled Woman to Woman, and featured the hit plus nine other tracks (including the minor R&B hit “It Ain’t No Fun”). With able support from Stax sessioners (Duck Dunn and Al Jackson from the MGs, plus guitarist Bobby Manuel and Marvell Thomas on piano), Brown delivered her smooth and soulful vocals.

Stax founder Jim Stewart produced the session (a rare occurrence by this point in Stax’s history), and the songs were provided mostly by house writers. Reliably evocative brass and string arrangements give Woman to Woman an unmistakably Memphis feel: that’s The Memphis Horns and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, so what else could one expect?

There’s a subtle Caribbean flavor on “Long As You Love Me,” vaguely reminiscent of Johnny Nash’s 1972 monster hit “I Can See Clearly Now.” The understated slow-jam “Stay With Me Baby” successfully folds gospel elements into a sexy number. The proto-disco vibe of “I Can’t Give You Up” sounds like a hit, and the sultry “Between You And Me” serves up some stirring strings to back its Shaft-y guitar and funky electric keyboard work.

The 2011 Concord remaster (the original was issued  on Stax imprint Truth Records) appends five bonus tracks, and while Brown is in fine form on the album-proper – specially on her soaring, gospel-inflected vocals near the end of “It Ain’t No Fun” – the real undiscovered gems here are the bonus cuts. Almost certainly dating prior to Woman to Woman, four of the five bonus tracks are from a session that finds Brown covering Aretha Franklin to winning effect. It’s especially interesting to hear her reading of “Respect,” successfully combining the female vocal style of Aretha’s version with an updated take on Otis Redding’s original via unknown Stax sessioners. “Rock Steady” is a departure: a funk jam with some especially tasty bass work. The track suggests that Brown could have easily pursued a different direction with equal success. And the reissue’s sole previously-unreleased track, a slow, bluesy reading of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” weds Brown’s talking-intro formula to the classic, creating something wholly original in the process.

Remarkably, though Brown long ago left Stax (well, Stax left itself), these days she remains active, purveying a winning style that hasn’t really changed all that much in the ensuing thirty-five years. Some of that credit must go to Frederick Knight, composer of “It Ain’t No Fun” and writer of some tracks on her most recent outing (2009’s Unleashed). But in the end it’s Brown’s distinctive no-nonsense heartfelt delivery that is the enduring hallmark of her work.

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Seven-inch Vinyl Roundup, Part Two

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Continued from my last entry…

Dave Rave / Madnuts – Double Single
I loved Dave Rave’s Live With What You Know, so I figured I’d dig his side of the single. “Rock the Party” aims for anthem territory, and would have fit nicely on the soundtrack to Rock & Roll High School. With its timeless vibe and vaguely Bo Diddley-sort of beat, it’s easy to imaging a screen full of extras twisting and frugging to Rave and band as they chant “I don’t care” and similar sentiments. “Gimme Gimme Gimme” Rave punks it up for a swaggering, slightly menacing rocker. Imagine “Pump it Up” covered by The Damned. Much harder-rocking than the platter of powerpop served up on Live With What You Know, Rave’s side of this single likely captures something closer to his live show.

The Italy-based Madnuts have a slightly Merseybeat approach, sprinkled with a more modern vibe a la Hoodoo Gurus. “We Need Time” evokes the paisley underground scene of the 1980s, but ultimately owes more to the sixties. When a clanging piano figure comes in near the song’s end, it’s a surprise addition to what had been a simple riffy rocker. “Living Too Fast” kicks off with a drum solo and then moves into a jittery, stuttering melody, then into an almost powerpop arrangement…then back to the jitters. Then, a long and catchy guitar solo. The song is stuffed with more ideas than one usually finds in a three-minute pop song. As a sampler, this does the trick: I’d love to hear more from these guys.

The 7” Dave Rave / Madnuts 33 RPM disc is encased in a sturdy four-color gatefold sleeve.

The Ceiling Stares / The Super Vacations – Split 7” Record
This limited-run 33 RPM disc is pressed on green or purple vinyl (mine’s purple) and features one song from The Ceiling Stares and two by The Super Vacations.

The Ceiling Stares’ “A Tunnel Though the Air” combines sixties garage sonic elements – cheesy organ, distorted fuzz guitar – and creates something decidedly more modern in the process. Lots of spirited harmony vocals contrast nicely with the garage vibe, and a stomping beat propels this catchy rocker along. The Super Vacations play what we used to call pilled-up rock. Wedding pop melodies (with lush vocal harmonies) to an amphetamine beat, “Hexing” is a bit reminiscent of The Lime Spiders. (I thought there was a second track called “Controller” but I guess they segue together.)

Lovely packaging and full-color cover art on this one.

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Seven-inch Vinyl Roundup, Part One

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

A delightful trend-in-miniature is the resurgence of vinyl as a medium. I was sadder than most when the music industry migrated over to CDs in the 1980s, and never did trust their motives for doing so. I remember how they charged “development costs” for the new medium to the artists — and charged more to the consumers — even though manufacturing a CD was cheaper than pressing a vinyl record.

In 2011, then, the arrival of a black disc with a little hole in it is a joyous occasion here at Musoscribe World Headquarters, and I’m not ashamed to admit that vinyl submission get a good bit more attention than CD-based ones. (Try as I might, digital downloads are almost-but-not-quite ignored. I’m old-school.) Here’s a look at four 7’ packages, spanning six acts and even more songs.

Fat History Month – “A Gorilla “ EP
Sounding like some unholy hybrid of Jonathan Richman, Violent Femmes and Black Sabbath, Fat History Month creates what one might call a hooky sludge on the EP’s title track. At their best, they serve up equal parts doom/stoner and pop ditty. The rest of the time, it’s just the former. “B” traffics in psych-folk vibe reminiscent of Pearls Before Swine before folding some distorted, squalling guitar slashing into the mix. “Heart Takes a Beating” lopes along with more of a beat, and a feel vaguely (only vaguely) recalling some of the more jagged moments on Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets. “Untitled” is a spooky lo-fi drone, engaging in what we’ll call an open relationship with the idea of properly tuning one’s instrument. All four songs are brief, so even if you don’t love one, you’re onto the next one soon enough. The 33-1/3 RPM disc is pressed on mustard-yellow vinyl and packaged in a picture sleeve that’s the visual equivalent of lo-fi.

Ross and the Wrongens – Life in the Loo’s
The sole 45 RPM in the bunch, Ross and the Wrongens’ Life in the Loo’s also boasts the most lavish packaging. A full-color gatefold sleeve features the black vinyl in one pockets, and related ephemera in the other. The music is jangly pop-rock of a breezy variety: high melodic contents, top-notch production values and an overall spirited approach calls to mind the dBs. The photography and press kit aim for an edgy style, but in the end this is happy-rock. “Ba-ba-ba” harmonies find their way into romantic yet upbeat songs about love and heartbreak. “Reason 2 Live” bursts out of the gate with a memorable riff that gives way to a shimmering melody. The song is a textbook example of old-school pop at its best; in a just world it would be a hit. “Summer sun” is more of the same, in the best possible way. A tasty dueling Hammond-and-guitar instrumental break shows that’s there’s talent to burn in this group.

More seven-inchers in my next entry.

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I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.