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BOB BRADSHAW – American Echoes

Album: American Echoes

Artist: Bob Bradshaw

Label: Fluke

Release Date: October 20, 2017

https://www.bobbradshaw.net/

The Upshot: Attempting to categorize Bob Bradshaw and his 7th release would prove a complete disservice, as he’s one of those rare artists who’s bound to represent something different to anybody who happens to hear him. Folk? Americana? Blues? Roots-rock? Country? All of that. And none of that.

 BY ERIC THOM

 In the ‘not what you expected’ department, Bob Bradshaw delivers an eyebrow-raiser on American Echoes – 12 tasty originals defying traditional categorization. While the disc’s peculiar cover art might suggest a New Age outing as the inside sleeve conjures the Old West, you’d be hard-pressed to connect either image to the music found inside. American Echoes is, instead, a fully realized collection of masterful songs and fully fleshed-out arrangements that feature an impressive cast of like-minded musicians. Admittedly, it may take some time for these songs to glue themselves to your brain because there’s so much going on, both musically and lyrically – but they will, eventually proving irresistible. Like wet puppies in a rainstorm. It’s Bradshaw’s vocals that hit you first. His is not an immediately likeable voice – but herein lies its charm and appeal as you come to know him. A mongrel of sorts – you swear you’ve heard this voice before. Darden Smith? Richard Shindell? Think more of a non-alcoholic Robert Earl Keen – a warm, laidback tone with all its rough edges worn off. A disparate collection of songs, each sounds unlike the one before it. The hooks are subtle, but they’re there – the type which sink their roots deeper and deeper with continued listening. So Bradshaw is hard to peg. Why do you need to? An honest singer-songwriter of poetic proportions, he seems both blessed and cursed with a world-weary outlook and a voice to match. His music is more beautiful than it is cool, a throwback to the ‘60s in some ways. Born in Cork, Ireland, Bradshaw’s time spent in America (Boston) has paid off in his ability to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly – many of the characters in these songs read like entries from a diary. Mix in the lessons he’s learned from Berklee and it’s quite understandable why Bradshaw dances to a different drummer. He’s a skilled storyteller, painting elaborate pictures as an observer more than he is the subject of each song, arousing our interest as he chronicles each vignette. He’s been there – as have we all. Kicking off with “Exotic Dancers Wanted”, you’re instantly engulfed by warm, acoustic bass and gentle piano as a full tapestry of acoustic and electric guitar joins Britt Connors and Annie Lynch’s lush backup vocals. Bradshaw mirrors an intersection of Keen to John Prine, possessed of all the confidence in the world, owning the end result. Likewise, “Meet Me” presents a beguiling invitation which leans on Connors’ background vocal as Andrew Stern turns in a tasty, country-dipped solo on electric guitar, all set against the burbling keys of James Rohr’s electric piano. You might pay special attention to the drums and percussion work of Mike Connors, who repeatedly brings much more to the party than a mere beat. A comparably darker “Call It What You Will” is buoyed by Rohr’s delicate touch on piano, lifted further by keyboardist/ co-writer Scoop McGuire. Britt Connors’ mournful vocal support helps darken the clouds behind this stormy relationship despite McGuire’s odd choice of synth. Cue the more upbeat, ”The Assumptions We Make”, driven by the strumming of Bradshaw’s acoustic guitar, challenged by the electric guitar and resonator work of co-writer, Andy Santospago and abetted by Stern. Rohr’s B3 provides real body to the mix over the rhythm section of Ed Lucie and Mike Connors. Next, audition the downright peculiar, almost angular, “Workin’ On My Protest Song”, which features the dynamic, exploratory, spidery guitar of Andrew Stern and the soft, combined hush of backup singers Connors and Lynch. As Mike Connors provides a powerful foundation of soothing percussion in African proportions, the chorus breaks to reveal one of this disc’s true highlights. The addition of Chad Manning’s fiddle to “A Bird Never Flew On Just One Wing” provides a country feel as Bradshaw’s vocal preens, Keen-like, over Stern’s tough guitar sound and Connors’ fat backbeat. Suddenly, Bradshaw rocks out with a guitar-driven “Weight of the World” which, more Beatles than Petty, more Mellencamp than Seger, commands a charm of its own for the trucker in all of us. Co-writer/lead guitarist Andrew Stern is clearly off his leash and this pounding power ballad offers a distinctive wake-up call – right down to its cowbell – marking the album’s halfway point. Alternately, “Stella” proves an intoxicating love song in the form of a waltz, bathed in Rohr’s B3, Stern’s soothing electric guitar with Rohr doubling up on accordion. “My Double And I” features the sparring, double guitars of Stern and Santospago, offering up wah-wah and lead accompaniment, built around an odd, jazz-fueled swing beat. The more melancholy “Material For The Blues” celebrates the invisible bruises of the heart, reinforced by Manning’s country fiddle and Annie Lynch’s ghosted vocal support. Tale special note of Andy Santospago’s seductive baritone guitar break. “O Brother” incorporates a slide guitar technique (Stern) that could’ve fallen from George Harrison’s trickbag, yet this device, together with Bradshaw’s bent lyrics, succeeds in conjuring a doomed, too-casual relationship between two strangers championing distinctly opposite needs. The Celtic-edged “Old Soldiers” erupts like American bedrock – all fiddle, banjo and military snare, adding meat to the old adage that, for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, will live forever.

Bob Bradshaw is clearly a different breed of singer-songwriter who has spent a lifetime honing his craft – invested as he is in each and every song. Lovers. Losers. Dreamers and derelicts collide with the hopeful and the helpless. They’re all lovingly depicted here in their stark beauty, wrapped in a readily-identifiable reality – as observed in exacting detail by a writer with the power to see in from the outside, while experiencing life from both sides to be able to tell their tales so convincingly.

 

WATCH VIDEO:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCvX4cKDojY

 

 

DIRTY SIDEWALKS – Bring Down the House Lights LP

Album: Bring Down the House Lights LP

Artist: Dirty Sidewalks

Label: No-Count

Release Date: January 12, 2018

www.facebook.com/nocountrecords/

The Upshot: Classic, anthemic shoegaze with a contemporary twist, and more vocal hooks per capita than a box set of Beach Boys ‘n’ Beatles.

BY FRED MILLS

Swervedriver. Ride. Chapterhouse. Jesus & Mary Chain. If none of those classic outfits twang your heartstrings, move along citizen, nothing to see here. But for all the smart people in the room, here, folks, is your new favorite band: Seattle’s Dirty Sidewalks, brothers Erik and Evan Foster on guitars and drum programming, plus “the other Evan” (O’Neil) on bass, debuting with a 12-song smorgasbord of fuzz ‘n’ drones, classic ‘80s anthemism and ‘60s Brit Invasion vocal harmonies, and no shortage of just plain kickass.

If Erick and Evan’s names sound familiar, that’s because you know their surf/garage combo, the Boss Martians. (Evan is also a contemporary member of NW garage legends the Sonics, just in case you need an additional CV reference.) But this is a whole ‘nuther thang, a veritable gobsmack of a record (on CD and vinyl) that does indeed pay homage to the aforementioned UK shoegazers but also updates the file to stake out turf that is utterly and undeniably theirs. It kicks off with some telltale backward-tape squiggles then launches into the manifesto-like “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” a thrumming, shimmering slice of JAMC pop revisionism that’ll have you swiveling your tailfeather in perfect synch with the shaker percussion. And the thrills subsequently pile up: the brief (2-min.), anthemic “Never Wanted to Be Love”; druggy, echo-drenched stomper “Euphoria”; experimental, samples-punctuated Black Holes, essentially an instrumental but with soaring Beach Boys-like wordless vocal harmonies. Oh, and for all the Oasis fans in the house, don’t miss “2nd Song,” which is more Noel Gallagher grand guitar symphony than Liam Gallagher vocal yowl/sneer, a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

That the Dirty Sidewalks use a James Dean-on-motorcycle as their band logo also speaks volumes. Get yer motor runnin’, punk.

Consumer note: In addition to Bring Down the House Lights being available on heavy vinyl, download card included, the band’s debut 45, “It’s Getting Better,” is apparently available on wax as well, in both super-limited white and very-limited black iterations. Act now before the word gets out on this gifted band.

DOWNLOAD: “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” “Euphoria,” “2nd Song”

NICOLAS MASSON QUARTET – Travelers

Album: Travelers

Artist: Nicoloas Masson Quartet

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 16, 2018

http://ecmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Nicolas Masson has been all over ECM Records’ recent works – not as musician, but as photographer of many of their distinctive album covers. For his first ECM album under his own name (after two LPs with the trio Third Reel), the Swiss reedsman renames his longtime band Parallels and gives it airily arranged and classically-informed compositions to stimulate improvisation without chaos energy. Whether blowing tenor sax, soprano or clarinet, Masson prefers a stark tone and clean lines, encouraging his musicians to leave as much space as he does in the tracks. In that sense, pianist Collin Vallon is his perfect foil, as he lays down a chordal foundation, rather than running up and down his keyboard. Masson’s veteran compadre/bassist Patrice Moret, who also plays in Vallon’s trio, often finds himself up front when it’s time for solos – a status that suits his particularly melodic style. Drummer Lionel Friedli, meanwhile, keeps to the background, letting his cymbals drive the music subtly and letting the beat percolate without boiling over. Whether essaying enigmatic melodics in “Philae” and “Almost Forty” or exploring the arrangements’ well-lit corners in “Blurred” and “Jura,” the Masson Quartet stays elegant, channeling its passion into the right notes at the right time in the right way.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Philae,” “Almost Forty,” “Blurred”

 

BLIND IDIOT GOD – Undertow + Before Ever After (2LP reissues)

Album: Undertow + Before Ever After (2LP reissues)

Artist: Blind Idiot God

Label: Indivisible Music

Release Date: February 23, 2018

http://indivisiblemusic.com

The Upshot: The monstrous Bill Laswell-approved NYC outfit embarks upon a tantalizing colored-vinyl reissue program, including 1989’s Undertow and 2015’s comeback album Before Ever After. The former now comes in a deluxe gatefold sleeve and is pressed on brilliant tan/copper wax, while the latter goes even further with a trifold sleeve and luminescent green vinyl.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND & FRED MILLS

As Dr. Toland pointed out in his “Throwing Horns” metal roundup recently, ”the New York trio’s second LP found its patented blend of thrashing doom and jazzy dub in almost bifurcated form, with neither side of the band’s coin rubbing up against the other.  Undertow has the deep-dub hallmarks of a Bill Laswell production, and it also features a couple of the extended Laswell family intimates, Henry Rollins (vocals on two tracks) and John Zorn (sax on one of them). Yet guitarist Andy Hawkins, bassist Gabe Katz, and drummer Ted Epstein never surrender their stage in terms of their blistering jazz/skronk/hardcore approach to music making. Whether serving up a Bad Brains-worthy thrash epistle (“Atomic Whip”), a luminous meditation in the key of the aforementioned dub (“Watch Yer Step”), an improv-powered wall of noise (“Wailing Wall,” which justifies its title), or even a quick jazz-sax freakout (Zorn’s 2-minute appearance, “Purged Specimen,” may be brief, but it’s brutal), Blind Idiot God makes the most of its four vinyl sides.

And if you’re looking for some good old fashioned late-period Black Flag-meets-Rollins-Band, uh, boogie (term used loosely), there’s a long and a short version of the appropriately titled “Freaked,” from the Alex Winter film. Hank, we love the spoken word, but seriously, your rock audience needs you, and Blind Idiot God would be the guys to help you deliver the goods once again.

Sigh. 1989 was such a different time. At any rate, this 2017 remaster for double vinyl is essential uneasy listening. Grab it on sight. (—Fred Mills)

***

A baker’s dozen years since its last platter Cyclotron, Blind Idiot God came stomping back in 2015 with Before Ever After, a double LP that displayed the NYC instrumental trio at its BIGgest.

On the album, although joined by a new rhythm section, guitarist Andy Hawkins stays the course of the past three decades of his singular career, keeping one foot in amp-melting doom and the other in airplane-hangar dub.

As Hawkins terrifies his amp and bass/drums bash and crash, “Earthmover,” “Strung” and the appropriately-titled “Under the Weight” rumble like a Brontosaurus across the rubble of a fallen city, crushing debris underfoot as its stomach growls. On the other side of the bent coin, “Ramshackle,” “Shutdown” and “High and Mighty” skank through the dust as it settles, letting a little sunlight echo through the destructive aftermath. Not everything is quite so direct, however. “Voice of the Structure” alternates between spacy swirl and heavy pound, while “Barrage” fractures its rhythm in a manner not dissimilar to postpunk. “Fub” takes the band to the next level of development, its light-on-its-feet feel full of jazzy lightning and improv thunder.

Brandishing its weaponry with power and grace, Before Ever After both reclaims the legacy of Blind Idiot God and paves the way for its next epoch. (—Michael Toland)

 

 

 

 

 

 

TREES SPEAK – Trees Speak (2LP)

Album: Trees Speak

Artist: Trees Speak

Label: Cinedelic / Forced Exposure

Release Date: December 07, 2018

www.facebook.com/treesspeakmusic/ / www.forcedexposure.com/Artists/TREES.SPEAK.html

The Upshot: A kosmiche, psychedelic, improvisational slab of genius, spread across four beautiful clear vinyl sides, announces the arrival of a visionary new outfit from the Old Pueblo.

BY FRED MILLS

Trees Speak, hailing from Tucson, Arizona, is visual artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s musical persona, formerly of Blind Divine and Crystal Radio, and here joined by Michael Glidewell (Black Sun Ensemble), Gabriel Sullivan (XIXA, Giant Sand), Connor Gallaher (Myrrors, Cobra Family Picnic), Damian Diaz (Human Error), and Julius Schlosburg (Jeron White Acoustic Trio). They consider themselves more of a “sound laboratory”—crafting long, live-in-studio improvisations, then editing them in the studio, adding effects, and more—along the lines of early Can, than a straight-up rock band.*

Although that’s not to even remotely suggest that these cats won’t rock the fuck out, because like the Krautrock greats of yore, Trees Speak can shift instantly from a luminous, ambient electronic shimmer to a pounding, pulsing, powering wall of sound. Trees Speak, released this past December on the Cinedelic label, home to numerous electronic and experimental Italian artists (including several film soundtrackers—Ennio Morricone’s Eat It is among the label’s catalog), and distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure, is the group’s debut, and to these ears, at least, it is utterly unlike anything that the Old Pueblo had produced to date.

Side A is highly instructive. The ominous “Soul Machine” kicks things off on a heady Neu!-esque motorik note before yielding to a percussion segue leading the listener directly into throbbing, electronics-splattered drone territory, “Black Butterfly” and “Atomic Heart.” This in turn gradually turns into a series of restful, melodic passages via harmonium and nylon string guitar—although “restful” may be a misnomer, or at least misleading, since there are also some abrupt glitchy effects as well as some strange background vocal samples. The side concludes with the track “Trees Speak,” which synthesizes all of the foregoing into another moment of motorik magnificence—the key here being the use of repetition for both texture and dynamics, whether within the context of a minimalist or a full-arrangement composition.

One could similarly describe the other three sides, but it wouldn’t really do the music here justice. If the core elements of Krautrock appeal to you, along with the notion that genuinely transcendent psychedelia always is rooted in the improvisational aesthetic, then you won’t be able to resist this remarkable debut. I found myself playing certain tracks over and over—the aforementioned “Atomic Heart,” side B’s lengthy, aptly-titled “Spirit Oscillator” (which sounds uncannily like Can’s classic “Mother Sky” in places), the sizzling/searing uneasy listening of “Unconscious Through Control.” A single synapse-snapping composition, “Shadow Circuit,” takes up the entirety of sides C and D, split into Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, recalling at times fellow Tucson bands The Myrrors and Black Sun Ensemble in all their mystic, lunar-worshiping, Lower Sonoran glory; during the song, heady bursts of kosmiche guitar dart hither and yonder as if they were desert creatures engaged in their nocturnal hunts, only to be frightened back into their burrows by predatory rapid-fire percussion and zooming electronics—and then the cycle begins all over.

There’s a palpable sense of time standing still while Trees Speak performs, like standing on the floor of a rock venue, the lights turned off with only red LED lights on amplifiers for illumination, and simply letting the music wash over you. I realize that these tunes are the product of post-performance editing and tinkering, but they were also originally created live over a five-day period (at Sacred Machine Studio and Dust & Stone Studio in Tucson), and to their credit, the musicians retained that live feel for the finished product.

For you vinyl fans out there, the photo above should be all the motivation you need to scoop this up while it’s available: 2LP, 180-gm. clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, plus a 12” double-sided print, five 5” postcards, and two stickers. An artistic beauty, courtesy Diaz. And only 250 copies were pressed, so don’t sit ‘cos if you do, you won’t be able to spin.

————

* I usually refrain from quoting a band’s press info at length, but in this case I think it’s wholly appropriate to let them state their musical manifesto directly. It’s spoken like true Tucsonans: “Our intention is to create music with an unrehearsed minimalist approach performing simple beats, riffs, and sequences that take one inward. We attempt create a sonic environment to set one’s mind free and to become aware of the nuances of tone, melody, and structure. We organize our recording equipment with the same approach, in a transparent manner. Our recorded performances are never rehearsed. Our belief is that a brilliant rehearsal is a lost opportunity to capture a magical moment. We are chasing the mystery of music and tone. We let the musical performance sculpt its own destiny and create imperfect perfection. Our tool of creation is the anxiety one feels when they are unrehearsed or prepared for a performance. We believe this approach brings us closer to the authentic self. The result is genuine music without an agenda that captures the unfiltered spirit.”

Live band photo by Allan Robert Sturm, via the band’s Facebook page.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Shadow Circuit (Pt.1),” “Spirit Oscillator,” “Soul Machine”

 

U-MEN – U-Men (3LP box)

Album: U-Men Box (3LP)

Artist: U-Men

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: November 03, 2017

www.subpop.com

The Upshot: Crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, noisy, charismatic band. Warning: no grunge here.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Before Sub Pop Records launched, before Nirvana made “grunge” a household word, before Eddie Vedder made flannel shirts and Doc Martens chic, before the major labels descended upon Seattle in a feeding frenzy, before silly national acts like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 turned the term “alternative rock” into a punchline—there were the U-Men, whose tenure spanned the ‘80s and spawned one full-length and a handful of singles, EPs, and compilation appearances. And while one hesitates to label the noisily primal, skronk-powered Seattle quartet along lines of “wildly influential,” it’s likely that the proverbial Velvet Underground Effect, whereby people who happened to see the U-Men perform back in the day or bought their records (issued by labels both well-known, such as Homestead and Amphetamine Reptile, and justifiably obscure, like Bomb Shelter and Black Label) went on to eventually form their own bands, was operative at least to a small degree. (Go HERE to read a lengthy testimonial from Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, who calls them “the undisputed kings of the Seattle underground.)

 

U-Men is a sprawling 3LP box set (or 2CD should you not be a wax fetishist) that collects everything the band released along with five unreleased tracks, and as an artifact from Before The Dawn Of Grunge, it’s absolutely essential. And I say that as a ground zero U-Men fan, so to speak, as I either purchased or was gifted with, promo copy-wise, the bulk of the group’s original output, duly reviewing them for some of the fanzines I was scribbling for at the time. They were an irresistible draw, from the Gun Club-goes-thrash rev-a-rama of “Clubs” (off the 1985 12” EP Stop Spinning), to the unbridled, possibly improvised, dissonance-rawk of the subsequent “Solid Action” / “Dig It A Hole” 45 (it sports two of unhinged singer John Bigley’s gruffest, most extemporaneous vocals ever), to the dark, swampy blooze of “Whistlin’ Pete” in which the U-Men solidified their rep as America’s answer to the Birthday Party (it appeared on the group’s lone album, 1988’s John Nelson-produced Step on a Bug, a collaboration that yielded a relatively expansive, dynamics-rich sound).

 

The vinyl set is gorgeous, smartly graphically designed, with a thick outer box housing an inner slip-box that contains the three heavyweight LPs in their individual sleeves. Both the LP and CD versions have a thick booklet with full track annotations and interviews from the members—who would go on to bands like Gas Huffer, the Crows, and Love Battery—arranged oral history style, and it’s a colorful history, to say the least. Fun Fact #1: the group got its name from the bohemian section of Seattle the members came out of, the U-District. Fun Fact #2: for a short stretch, there was a U-Woman too, a female bassist named Robin. Fun Fact #3: the U-Men mounted three national tours, although we should use that term somewhat lightly; at least one of those tours consisted of something like five shows in three months plus a month-long sabbatical in Austin hanging out with fellow sonic discombobulators the Butthole Surfers.

 

Ultimately, it’s a crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, charismatic band.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Blight,” “Clubs,” “U-Men Stomp” (previously unreleased), “Dig It A Hole,” “Whistlin’ Pete,” “That’s Wild About Jack”

 

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MUDHONEY — L.i.E.

Album: L.i.E.

Artist: Mudhoney

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: January 19, 2018

https://www.subpop.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

 

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

 

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

 

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

 

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

 

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

DOWNLOAD: “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme,” “Broken Hands”

 

 

FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – Fantastic Plastic

Album: Fantastic Plastic

Artist: Flamin' Groovies

Label: Sonic Kick

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.facebook.com/TheFlaminGroovies

 The Upshot: Cyril, Chris, & Co. hit the ignition button and blast off in a spectacular return to form.

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

With the state of decay that rock ‘n’ roll has composted into over the last several years, it’s important to have a touchstone like the Flamin’ Groovies to reboot our brains and remind us what it’s really all about. Since the original lineup formed in ’66, their lineups over the years have seen more changes than Drumpf’s White Power House staff appointments, but, have remained pretty true to their original sound through it all. This point in time finds them still creatively brilliant in both writing and playing. Although ex-Charlatan/Groovie Michael Wilhelm and band co-founder Roy Loney weren’t involved in this latest resurrection, original bassist George Alexander makes the scene on most of the tunes, drummer Victor Penalosa and former member Chris Wilson co-writes about half the numbers with Cyril Jordan, after a 38-year separation. This partnership is where the ignition hits the combustible and blast-off is achieved, and is pretty damned spectacular. Their touring lineup includes bassist Chris von Sneidern and Tony Sales (grandson of Soupy; Tony’s father is Tony Fox Sales of Tin Machine) on drums. After Jordan and Wilson rekindled their friendship in 2013, they started slowly recording tunes at a Sausalito studio, slowly piecing together an album over a 3-year period.

Having been a fan since Sneakers was released in ‘68, I was blown away from the first couple of tunes, and greatly impressed by this latest incarnation. Through the decades, their musical

choices have always been a bit out of sync with the current time period, making them not exactly appealing to the hippies of the late ‘60’s, with songs that sounded like they were lifted from artists of the previous decade, in a period of folk-rock and psychedelia. Plastic Fantastic stays true to their vision, belting out tunes that cover ground remindful of British Invasion bands, classic rock, power-pop, Mod and Freakbeat. There’s even a tasty instrumental thrown in. I can’t let the great cover by Jordan go by without a nod. Jordan drew Mickey Mouse comics at Disney in the ‘80’s, and had hoped to get famous Mad magazine Jack Davis draw a cover for some future project. Davis agreed, but passed away before it came to fruition. Putting rapidograph to paper, he came up with this very serviceable homage to Davis’s 1959 cover for Monster Rally.

The album kicks off with a ballsy, bluesy, Stones-flavored smack-down, “What The Hell’s Going On.” It’s a clear shot across the bow, letting you know that they aren’t screwing around. It also makes for a pretty good anthem for 2017.  “The End Of The World” couldn’t sound more Groovies-infused (think “Shake Some Action”) if they had a gun pointed at their head and were forced to clone their signature sound. They dig into the Beau Brummels’ catalog and juice up their classic Mod-ish number “Don’t Talk To Strangers,” really capturing the atmosphere of that time period. Their Flamingo-era flavored “Let Me Rock” shakes things up old-school style and belongs on juke boxes in soda shops everywhere. This is not the ’71 version, but a fresh update. Rock on, indeed!

“She Loves You” and “I Want You Bad” revisit the jangle of “Shake Some Action” and “You Tore Me Down” to lovely effect, making it not much of a stretch for them both to have come from that era. Early Beatles-sound shines through (ala “Long Tall Sally”/”Matchbox”/”Slow Down”) on “Crazy Macy,” thanks to a pounding Jerry Lee beat. This was a single released by the band about a year ago as a tasty appetizer for the upcoming album. “Lonely Hearts,” as the title evokes, is a broody ballad about separation, love lost and hope of reconciliation. “Just Like A Hurricane” rolls in a lot like Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together” but with throbbing guitars and wah-wah instead of a horn section.

It sounds like all voices are joining in on “Fallen Star,” which locomotes and chugs right along like a freight train, with some fine guitar riffs, fading out with some Byrdsian guitar chimes. I’m endlessly disappointed that bands don’t do more instrumentals, but the band shines through here with “I’d Rather Spend My time With You,” which is about one step removed from a surf number, with a sprinkling of “ahhhs.” Drummer Prairie Prince joins in on drums, along with bass parts laid down by noted producer-archivist Alec Palao. A Byrdsy beginning kicks off “Cryin’ Shame,” a very ‘60’s sound, accompanied with nice harmonies on the chorus parts.

It has to be noted, that even with a pretty amazing catalog on the shelves from decades back, Fantastic Plastic might just be their finest effort. This is the music that stirs your loins and flies in your face like the sweet bird of youth come home to roost. Fingers crossed that this isn’t their Final Vinyl.

DOWNLOAD: “What the Hell’s Going On,“ “End

JAKOB BRO – Returnings

Album: Returnings

Artist: Jakob Bro

Label: ECM

Release Date: March 23, 2018

http://ecmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

By now, guitarist Jakob Bro is a veteran of the Scandinavian jazz scene. For Returnings, however, he and his stalwart bassist Thomas Morgan call upon the talents of musicians who’ve been plying their trade in Northern Europe for even longer: drummer Jon Christensen and trumpeter/composer Palle Mikkelborg.

No high velocity fusioneer, Bro puts his watery tone to the service of tunes that take their time getting where they’re going. As a rhythm section, Morgan and Christensen walk around the beat more than alongside it – the drummer in particular plays without much care for keeping the pulse. Riding Christensen’s amorphous groove, “Lyskaster” and “Song For Nicolai” saunter forward, not so much relaxed as unconcerned. This approach well suits Bro and especially Mikkelborg, who prefers a sonorous tone and likes to make each note count, rather than engage in pyrotechnics.

Though ostensibly the leader, the Danish six-string master gives his guests plenty of space, often more interested in providing backgrounds over which Mikkelborg and Morgan solo than opportunities for himself. Besides highlighting Bro’s generosity, it makes the times when he does step out, as on Mikkelborg’s purposefully meandering composition “View,” extra special. Other highlights include the title track, an atmospheric Bro-Mikkelborg co-write that sounds like Miles Davis if he did In a Silent Way for ECM, and “Hamsun,” a duet between Bro and Morgan that doesn’t need its high-profile guests to stand out.

Bro has long proven himself a master of his main instrument – with Returnings he shows that he’s come into his own as a bandleader as well.

DOWNLOAD: “View,” “Returnings,” “Hamsun”

 

CLAUDETTES – Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Album: Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Artist: Claudettes

Label: Yellow Dog

Release Date: March 23, 2018

www.yellowdogrecords.com

The Upshot: A musical magician’s act, primarily based around hi-nrg blues-jazz compositions for piano, bass, drums, and vocals, and a helluva lot of fun.

BY FRED MILLS

If you just gave a cursory glance to the band name, album title, and sleeve art gracing this Chicago outfit’s third full-length you might think “garage punkettes,” but nope, the Claudettes are a sleek—but decidedly non-slick—blues band with elements of jazz (particularly with the song arrangements’ emphasis on songwriter Johnny Iguana’s piano work) and poppy soul (Ms. Berit Ulseth’s rich vocal stylings). At the same time, those first four letters of “punkettes” definitely apply here, because the quartet, which is rounded out by drummer Matthew Torre and bassist/guitarist Zach Verdoorn, musters more per-capita energy across these dozen tunes than most any garage combo you’d care to mention. That they are produced by Mark Neill of Black Keys fame is no coincidence.

Indeed, from the peripatetic “November” (an epic-in-feel cinematic number that finds Ulseth cooing from the mountaintop) and the whomping boogie-woogie of “Give It All Up for Good”; to the dense, avant-garde-esque wall of Tom Waitsian sound that is “Influential Farmers” which was apparently inspired by an NPR report on occupational trends, and the titular-appropriate “Utterly Absurd” (a kind of cross between Dr. John-styled N’awlins rock and Krautrock-laced psychedelic punk), Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! is an exercise in sonic and thematic gotcha. Song after song, just as the listener thinks he or she has nailed down what the Claudettes are all about, the band duly yanks the rug out from under those expectations, leaving you gasping and laughing from the surprise. I mean, there’s even a tune about Bill Clinton (“Bill Played Saxophone”) which could rightly be described as Political Prog—if that’s an actual genre. Who the hell knows?

“Yanks the rug out”? Make that “yanks the dinner cloth out from under the place settings and dinner.” This is a musical magician’s act, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.

DOWNLOAD: “Influential Farmers,” “Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium,” “November”