Monthly Archives: September 2012

Firewater – Reissued Catalog

January 01, 1970

(Bloodshot)

 

www.bloodshotrecords.com

 

Inland Empire band Kaleidoscope is renowned as
the first rock band that played what would be later called ‘World Music,”
performing a mashup of musical genres and mixing in exotic international music
as well. They commonly explored Middle Eastern, Turkish, African, Gypsy,
Eastern European, Balkan, Spanish and other cultures regularly. Years later
artists like David Byrnes and Paul Simon would tap similar ethnic veins for
inspiration.

 

 Around
1996, Tod Ashley, late of industrial grunge-head band, Cop Shoot Cop, took home
a box of old records from a Russian thrift store and had his mind blown forever
by the Balkan, Klezmer and Gypsy music he found therein. This was the igniter
to his passion for Klez-rock, Gypsy and Eastern European music and the concept
incubator of Firewater. The resolute rocker used the cultural influences as
inspirations to experiment with these regional folkish colorings and flavors.
What developed was his critically praised Get
Off the Cross…We Need the Wood For the Fire.
Later travels to the Middle
East exposed him to other musical traditions in far-flung locales like India
and Pakistan and getting bombed with the locals on drinks like the
cannabis-enriched milk, spices and almond drink called bhang.

 

On that and the albums that followed, it’s
almost like an eclectic college radio show on every album, the styles changing
fast and furiously, fitting in with eccentric, exotic college radio fodder by
the likes of Rufus Harley, Martin Denny and Esquivel!  In other words, possibly challenging
listening for the less open-minded listener, but that said, it should be
pointed out the songs are not all ethnically derived, and he rocks out
American-style plenty. Tod A is no slacker when it comes to cranking out
endlessly creative songs, similarly to songwriting

machines like Cotton Mather’s Robert Harrison,
Guided By Voice’s Robert Pollard and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, all
endlessly creative founts for new and exciting music. Of course, musical style
dabbling and

 

experimentation doesn’t always produce gold,
and a few songs here and there on the albums come across as lightweight,
over-the-top, or simply under or over-cooked. But, for the most part, this is a
solid catalog deserving of being reissued and kept in the public eye and
ears. 

 

And now, for something completely different.
In 2004, Ashley released a stunning album of covers, Songs We Should Have Written. Included were numbers such as “The
Beat Goes On,” “This Town,” “Storm Warning,” “Hey Bulldog,” “Paint It Black,”
and the song he was born to cover, “Some Velvet Morning.” This may seem a
release that would be easy to dismiss, but the contents are pure dynamite,
they’re so lovingly and amazingly reproduced. “Folsom Prison Blues” starts off
a bit creaky, but halfway through it also shines, half true to the original,
half sounding like the illustrious version by The Charlatans.

 

Recently released is his first effort in four
years, the most-excellent International
Orange,
which further explores Balkan-beat and Klez-rock, as well as a
plethora of other musical influences.

 Read
the Blurt review of that here… Blurt reviews International
Orange.
  – BARRY ST. VITUS

 

 

 

FIREWATER
CHRONOLOGY
:

 

Get
Off the Cross…We Need the Wood For the Fire. – 1996

The
Ponzi Scheme – 1998

Psychopharmacology
– 2001

The
Man On the Burning Tightrope – 2003

Songs
We Should Have Written – 2004

The
Golden Hour – 2008

International
Orange – 2012

 

 

 

Strawbs – Of A Time

January 01, 1970

(Witchwood Media)

 

www.strawbsweb.co.uk

 

There’s been a Strawbs revival of late, somewhat surprising
considering the fact that the band was actually in its prime more than 40 years
ago, and their brand of progressive folk rock has more or less gone the way of
hula hoops and Hostess Snowballs. Yet, there’s something enduring and affirming
about the band’s assertive dynamic, dedication to purpose and David Cousin’s distinctive
wavering vocals.

 

That formula is sometimes stretched to the limit on Of A Time, an expanded first-time release
from Cousins’ own Witchwood Media archives, one that gathers together stray
tracks, outtakes and alternate mixes from an unreleased album circa 1967. It’s
a primal effort to be sure, meant to follow their first album, All Our Own Work –recorded with a young
and yet untested Sandy Denny — and their self-titled proper debut. As such,
it’s more or less a hodgepodge that finds a band still searching for its way.
Several songs would show up on later efforts, albeit it differing forms –
“Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth,” “Tell Me What You See In Me,” “Josephine,
For Better Or For Worse” and “The Man Who Called Himself Jesus,” among them.
Surprisingly, these initial versions were heavily orchestrated, which led the
record company to reject it, believing that the group would be better served in
their original folk rock vein.

 

Listening in retrospect, it’s easy to see why; with its
heavy-handed approach and quirky asides — the Vaudevillian “Ah Me, Ah My” and
an assortment of spoken word interludes (producer Tony Visconti’s Ed Sullivan
impression is especially regrettable) — Of
A Time
is mostly attuned to diehard devotees as opposed to the novice or
newcomer. Consequently, it’s best to take its title to heart — Of A Time is clearly the product of
another era.

 

DOWNLOAD: “The
Man Who Called Himself Jesus,” “Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth” LEE
ZIMMERMAN

 

Renaissance – Renaissance Live in Concert Tour 2011 CD/DVD

January 01, 1970

(Red General)

 

www.renaissancetouring.com

 

 

Lead singer Annie Haslam, original (or close-to, from the
band’s second, 1970-71 incarnation) guitarist Michael Dunford, and  members of Renaissance’s 2001 line-up
admirably commemorate Renaissance’s 40th anniversary via the tour captured on two audio discs and one DVD as Renaissance Live in Concert Tour 2011. The performance, at the Keswick Theater in Pennsylvania,
was mounted with the sophistication of a jazz or classical offering. The stage
is simple; writ slightly trippier by a starry sky backdrop. No swirling smoke
or miniature Stonehenge(s) would make sense at
this revival showing of a group that always fit the “classy” category.

 

Longtime fans will be less than surprised at the opening of
“Turn of the Cards.” A lone, honky-tonk-ish piano intro is almost as theatrical
as music for an old-time Broadway show. Still, after an orchestral flourish,
when Annie Haslam tucks into “Running Hard,” there’s no doubt that this
recording would serve the cocktail (or mead) after-party for, um, a Renaissance
Fair. Celtic flounces still punctuate Haslam’s vocals. And Renaissance’s
trademark, jazzy intonations add color and interest to what might otherwise be
statically traditional, by-the-book British folk stylings. Everything’s staged
carefully. Enthusiastic responses from the sold-out house confirm that fans
were probably thrilled at the group’s first American show in many years.

 

Unfortunately, Haslam’s voice hasn’t held up as well as have
those of British folk contemporaries such as Maddy Prior and June Tabor.
Granted, the latter two singers have always had richer, fuller tones than Ms.
Haslam’s. But time hasn’t been kind to Haslam’s thin soprano. What really saves
the proceedings is the group’s spirited presentation of its songwriting; here
underscored by its two most popular albums. From Turn of the Cards, the 10-minutes plus of “Mother Russia” are
steeped in evocative pastoralism. Also effective are “Ocean Gypsy” and “Song of
Scheherazade.” And by Act 2 (“Scheherazade and Other Stories”), Haslam’s vocals
are considerably stronger than they are at the beginning of the first disc. You
go, girl.

 

The “extra bits” consist of a short explanation of the
project from Haslam and Dunford. -MARY LEARY

Stephen Kalinich & Jon Tiven – Shortcuts to Infinity

January 01, 1970

(Foothill)

 

www.foothillrecords.com

 

Stephen Kalinich
& Jon Tiven have a storied history, one that would likely be the envy of
any music biz veteran with a significant amount of years under his or her belt.
Their combined resumes include efforts by Paul McCartney, the Beach Boys, Alex
Chilton, P.F. Sloan and dozens of others of similar stature. As a lyricist,
Kalinich can claim numerous compositions sung by several of aforementioned
artists and various others. Tiven, a former music journalist, took his early
R&B influences and plied them to partnerships with Bettye LaVette, Steve
Cropper and Alabama Shakes, the latter among the more recent of his many collaborations.

 

It’s fitting,
then, that this sprawling collaboration finds them in a more or less retro
mode, with its ample stock of joint compositions — more than 30 in all —
reflecting their prolific prowess. The first disc of this two-part opus, Yo Yo Ma/Symptomology (the Yo Yo Ma presumably referring to
Tiven’s recently departed mother) finds the duo — with help from Brian Wilson
producer Mark Linett — taking a decidedly Stones-like stance, Tiven’s
Jagger-like vocal and the band’s swagger and strut bringing to mind the Glimmer
Twins’ ‘70s era output. That’s particularly evident on songs such as “You Want
What You Want,” “When I Leave My Body,” “Grow a Pair” and “Once My Zits Go
Away,” all slithering, swampy melodies that bring especially close comparisons.

 

Disc two, Shortcuts to Infinity, finds them in more of an R&B
groove, the brassy “Out of the Darkness” and “Livin’ and Dyin’,” and the sheer
propulsion of “Fingers 2 the Sky” bringing to mind the sound of Muscle Shoals
back in its ‘60s and ‘70s heyday. Then again, having enlisted cameos from Steve
Cropper, Brian May and veteran drummers Chester Thompson, Steve Ferrone and
Cody Dickinson, that groove is all but assured. Nevertheless, when, on the
track “I Believe in Elephants,” they testify, “I believe in Bob Dylan and PF
Sloan,” it’s all but assured that the inspiration remains all their own.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Fingers 2 the Sky,” “Grow a Pair,”
“You Want You Want” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Helio Sequence – Negotiations

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

The versatility
of duos is ever amazing and it has been a long wait, four years to be precise, since
Brandon Summers (vocals, guitar) and Benjamin Weikel (drums, keyboard) have
released an album. Helio Sequence’s self produced, fifth LP, Negotiations is more pensive and subdued
when compared to 2008s acclaimed album Keep
Your Eyes Ahead.

 

This talented
twosome knows how to create massive, ethereal sounds with their carefully
selected instruments and effects; a sonic foray that is epitomized on the
closing title track, “Negotiations.” At times, unfortunately, their penchant
for calm, atmospheric compositions becomes homogenized when all confined onto one
album; a song begins with plucky guitar, Summers enters with his calm vocals
and Weikel’s drums (plus Summers’ lead guitar over his looped rhythm guitar)
builds the track to a climax. Yet, the good definitely outweighs the bad as
tracks like “Downward Spirals,” “Silence on Silence,” “One More Time,”
“Negotiations,” and “When the Shadow Falls” cannot help but to snare you with
their infectious beats.

 

A welcomed, warm
and quality return for Helio Sequence, Negotiations yet again unveils the superlative sonic possibilities of these talented gents
and how their creativity perfectly complements each other.

 

DOWNLOAD: “One More Time,” “Downward Spirals”
APRIL S. ENGRAM

Seapony – Falling

January 01, 1970

(Hardly Art)

 

www.hardlyart.com

 

I’m glad that
someone is doing this kind of music so it might as well be these Midwest
transplants (living in Seattle
for the past few years). In the late 80’s and early 90’s it seemed like lots of
bands were doing this kinda of low-key, fuzzy pop (Velocity Girl, Heavenly,
etc.) and while I’m not sure who their influences are I’m guessing I could pick
them out (Velocity Girl, Heavenly, etc.). 
The core of the band is Jen Weidl (vocals and guitars) and Danny Rowland
(guitar and lyrics), a couple who met in the Midwest (Ian Brewer rounds out the
trio) and seem to love to sprinkle their songs with a healthy dose of pop dust
that bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Northern Portrait might be
dipping from.

 

On their 2011
debut, Go With Me they band seemed to
effortlessly lay down their breezy pop songs and while Falling doesn’t seem like a huge departure (i.e.: not much has
changed from said debut) on here they seem to refine their sound and put a more
pronounced stamp on things. Seriously, give one listen to unforgettable pop
songs like “What You Wanted,” “Follow,” “Be Alone,” and “Never Be” and you
might not listen to anything else for the next month.

 

While this kind
of pure,  jangly pop might be coming
back, this trio seems seem to be doing it better than anyone, at least at the
moment.

 

DOWNLOAD: “What You Wanted,” “Follow,” “Be
Alone,” “Never Be,” “Prove to Me” TIM HINELY

 

 

Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky

January 01, 1970

(Jagjaguwar)

 

www.jagjaguwar.com

 

Far too often, a reunited band stays too long and shits on
the legacy it created.  Not Dinosaur Jr.
Since mending fences in 2005, the original lineup (J Mascis, Lou Barlow and
Murph) has recorded three quality albums, with the new I Bet on Sky being the best yet. 
It is the group’s strongest, most challenging and most cohesive offering
in years.

 

Sky is an album built around layers and layers of soundscapes
that, with repeated listens, the subtle textures and waves become
apparent.  There is everything that a
longtime Dino fan would come to expect from their weirdo heroes: heavy guitar
riffage, J’s bullfrog croak vocals and sickeningly sweet, spaced out grooves.  Barlow provides great bass lines and
background vocals while Murph coaxes power from his drums that has not
diminished with age or time.

 

This record is not a J Mascis record with the Dinosaur Jr
name slapped on it.  No, it is a
undeniably wholly Jr effort; the players have embraced what made Dinosaur Jr so
musically successful; all three members are experts at what they do and the
intertwining of heaviness with a poppy mellowness.  Most notably on “Almost Fare,” “Don’t Pretend
You Don’t Know” and the album’s best and catchiest track, “Rude,” the tracks
here make for an exceptional record.

 

The gawky awkwardness that continually peppered the now
“classic” Dinosaur Jr records like Farm is still there with Sky, lurking just
below the surface.  There are moments of
doubt and nervousness, especially on “Watch The Corners,” that tells their fans
that no matter how legendary they become, J, Lou and Murph will forever be the
music nerds that recorded Bug and who
couldn’t talk to girls.  Sometimes great
things come from the awkward and I Bet on
Sky
is definitely one of them.

 

DOWNLOAD:  “Rude,”  “Stick a Toe In” DANNY R. PHILLIPS

 

 

Band of Horses – Mirage Rock

January 01, 1970

(Columbia)

 

www.columbiarecords.com

 

A lot has
changed since the Band of Horses’ ace debut Everything
All the Time
back in 2006. Band members have come and gone and leader Ben
Bridwell up and moved the band from its home base in Seattle
to his childhood home of South
Carolina. It was there that they recorded the
terrific 2010’s (Columbia
debut) Infinite Arms. It’s always
been tough to categorize the band’s music (Is it country? Western? Rock?), which
is a compliment to the band on the strength of its songs and Bridwell’s vision.
Which leads us to 2012 and Mirage Rock.
On this, I hear a country rock band.

 

Recorded by Glyn
Johns (The Eagles, etc.), he was apparently brought in to rein in the band’s
excesses (excesses which completely worked, I might add) of Infinite Arms and lasso a back to basics
approach. Which he did do, but the songwriting – all but one of the 11 songs on
here were either written or co-written by Bridwell – takes a bit of a dip on
this one. Oh sure, the first few songs are pretty good but that’s it, just pretty good and there’s no “Factory’ or
“Laredo” on
here. Punchy opener “Knock Knock” lacks the killer hook of an opening song, but
they nearly make up for it on the second tune, the more laid back “How To
Live.” Song three, “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” could’ve been off David Crosby’ hazy
If I Could Only Remember My Name, while
“A Little Biblical” is a bouncy pop number showing off the band’s sense of
humor. A few of the songs, namely “Shut In Tourist” and “Dumpster World” place
them squarely in former labelmates Fleet Foxes’ vein of layered, harmony folk
and “Electric Music,” one of the best songs on here, sounds like it could have
been straight off an Eagles record (hey, it is Johns producing, after
all). 

 

Of the remaining
songs, the gritty “Feud” packs a nice punch while the spare, cello-laden,
acoustic “Heartbreak on the 101” closes things out wavering between dramatic
and whimsical. It’s obvious Bridwell is in this for the long haul so this is just
a bump in what hopes to be a very long road

 

DOWNLOAD: “How to Live,” “A Little Biblical,”
“Electric Music,” “Feud” TIM HINELY

 

 

 

Bettye LaVette – Thankful N’ Thoughtful

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

 

www.anti.com

 

Four releases into one of the
more remarkable musical resurrections in recent memory, Bettye LaVette is
clearly in it for the long haul. 

 

Her decades of toil after
slowly sliding off the national map in the late 1960s and ‘70s have given
LaVette a most unique point of view, five + decades after she first made a
splash as a young, strong voiced soul singer out of Detroit. Her struggle, and
ultimate vindication, have been on full display on all of her previous recent
releases, but never as overtly as on Thankful N’ Thoughtful (excepting maybe “Before the Money Came (The Battle of
Bettye LaVette”) from the brilliant The Scene of the Crime). The fact
that this is played out through her highly personal interpretations of eleven
cover songs is all the more intriguing. 

 

There’s several decades of
bitterness, disappointment and anger pent up in many of these tracks,
fortunately more than a little leavened by a sense by a pride in her survival
and a well-earned realization that her ship finally came in. So the first half
of the CD is pretty down and dark, as evidenced by the song titles: “Everything
Is Broken,” “I’m Tired,” ” The More I Search (The More I Die),” “Dirty Old
Town.” But this is also
bracing, emotionally bare-knuckled stuff: a world weary, swampy blues take on
Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken;” a hushed, noir version of the Black
Keys’ “I’m Not The One;” a beautiful, mournful rendition of “Dirty Old Town” by
The Pogues; a hard, rocking bluesy remake of the Savoy Brown classic “I’m
Tired;” and a stunning, emotionally wrenching version of “Crazy” by Gnarls
Barkley. 

 

Things pick up a bit in the 2nd
half, starting with a New Orleans music hall reworking of Tom Waits’ “Yesterday
is Here” and an eerie, methodical take of what clearly could be an
autobiographical number, Sly Stone’s “Thankful N’ Thoughtful.” Even better is a
positively luminous version of Patty Griffin’s “Time Will Do the Talking” and
an upbeat, positivist rendition of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is
Nowhere.” The best might be the slow, smoky funk groove of  Beth Nielsen
Chapman’s “Fair Enough,” with LaVette digging deep into some serious
heartbreak. 

 

Producer Craig Street and LaVette’s killer band
have concocted a  pleasingly minimalist melange that mixes bluesy, soulful
grooves with country and rock, putting LaVette’s voice front and center,
exactly where it should be. LaVette is in incredibly fine form, squeezing every
amount of emotional resonance out of every track, her voice a well burnished,
emotionally charged instrument that she plays like a master. 

 

Thankful N’ Thoughtful isn’t for the faint of heart or the smiley-face crowd, but for anyone seeking a
visceral connection to the lifeblood of real people living real lives, park it
right here. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Fair
Enough,”  “Time Will Do the Talking,” “Everything Is Broken,” “Crazy,”
“I’m Not the One.”    CARL HANNI

 

Trapper Schoepp & The Shades – Run, Engine, Run

January 01, 1970

(SideOneDummy)

 

www.sideonedummy.com

 

Milwaukee-based Trapper Schoepp and his band the Shades
(featuring his brother Tanner on bass, Jon Phillip on drums and Graham Hunt on
electric guitar) don’t do anything fancy on Run,
Engine, Run
. They use the old alt.country template – mixing rock riffs and
country twang – but invigorate it with spirited playing and Schoepp’s tales of
youthful adventures.

 

The band’s twang/rock blend recalls the long-running No Depression-bred band, the Old 97’s.
In fact, Schoepp’s vocal timbre and cadence holds some similarities to Old 97’s
frontman Rhett Miller, and their loping country rock numbers like “I-94” and
“Cold Deck” could fit easily in an Old 97’s set. Some Old 97’s traces also
surface in the title track, but the propulsive tune is able to shake them as
Schoepp describes a roadtrip in his grandfather’s old Mercedes Benz.

 

Yet there is a raw, rockier feel to Schoepp and the Shades
music, marking them as being inspired by the Rolling Stones and the
Replacements, while the Old 97’s have tended to favor the Beatles.  Big power chords ring out in “Wishing Well,”
helping to make it an album standout, and undoubtedly a live favorite too.
“Wednesday, My Dear” and “Pins and Needles” are two more tracks that resonate
as rousing rave-ups, while the scruffily romantic “To Have You Around” and the
fiddle-fueled prison tale “Twenty Odd Years” reveal the band’s more acoustic
and countrier side.

 

Throughout the disc, Trapper Schoepp displays a strong
lyrical sense. There is an evocative cinematic feel to the way he tells his
stories that roam from Wyoming to his native Wisconsin. He weaves
themes of searching and troubled relationships in with images of nature and
traveling into this set of songs. Although the shadows of their influences are
still slightly too present, the twenty-something Schoepp and his group have
fashioned a memorable, impressive album that mark them as a highly promising
band on the Americana
horizon.

 

DOWNLOAD:  “Wishing Well,” “Pins and Needles,” “To Have
You Around” MICHAEL BERICK