Monthly Archives: August 2016

Sadies 8/20/16, Denver

Dates: August 20, 2016

Location: Bull and Bush, Denver CO


The Upshot: The uniquely-named Bull and Bush pub hosted a genuine Canadian export – and we’re not just talking about ale! Meet the Sadies…


I’d seen Canada’s finest purveyors of reverbed-out, surfy country rock once before, in Portland, but it had been years ago and watched to catch up with them again.

Plus I had never ben tio the Bull and Bush before though I’ve driven by it numerous times. It’s a cool Brit. style pub over in Glendale (a separate area within Denver ) and a pretty quick drive for me. Got there at 8:45 PM and the place was pretty packed, plus no opening band so that’s always a plus, The 9 PM starting time ended up being about 9:45 but what the hell, it was Saturday night and still relatively early (though me, my pal Ben and another guy we chatted with all agreed that one of us needs to open a club up where the headliner starts at 8 PM and everyone is home and in bed by 10 PM….yeah?).

So yeah Toronto’s Sadies have been around for the better part of the last two decades and led by the brothers Good, Travis and Dallas (and let’s not forget Mike Belitsky on drums, he formerly of the Pernice Brothers). I forget the stand-up bass player’s name but he was a solid player as well.


For those two decades their many, many releases alternate between the Bloodshot label and the Yep Roc label. All of them are worthy of your time and well-worth hearing.

The boys came out to a crazed applause of fans and proceed to play a healthy mix of tunes off all of their records (1998’s Precious Moments being their debut). We heard “Leave this World Behind” (from 2013’s Internal Sounds) as well as “Strange Bird,” “Pretty Polly” (from said debut) and plenty more.

In the second set we heard jolters like “Stay All Night” (a Willie Nelson cover), and “So Much Blood.” These guys just kept playing and while I would’ve loved to have hung until the bitter end my bed was calling. Still I’d caught enough to remember why I wanted to go to this gig so badly in the first place. The Sadies are crown princes and deserve all of ther encores they get. Catch ‘em now, catch ‘em later, catch ‘em always.



THE BLUE ORCHIDS – The Once and Future Thing; Awefull / MARTIN BRAMAH – The Battle of Twisted Heel

Album: The Once and Future Thing; Awefull / The Battle of Twisted Heel


Label: Tiny Glogal

Release Date: June 03, 2016


The Upshot: Fans of the beloved ‘80s UK group have their faith rewarded, not only via an anthology and reissue but also with an out-of-the-blue new album.


Originally formed by singer/guitarist Martin Bramah and keyboardist Una Baines, both ex-members of the Fall, the Blue Orchids released one album called The Greatest Hit in 1982, as well as singles and an EP, before disbanding. (A short-lived reunion in the early ‘aughts produced a handful of albums now out of print.) Given that the pair were Fall members for that band’s debut album Live at the Witch Trials and Bramah’s subsequent rejoining for Extricate ten years later, the Orchids could have easily remained a footnote in the history of one of rock’s most unique bands.

Bramah’s not going to let it go down that way, however. Brand new album, The Once and Future Thing (Tiny Global) picks up where the band left off 30+ years ago with “Good Day to Live,” a garage rocking pop song heavy on burbling organ and Branah’s gritty croon. The Orchids’ strength lay in combining the abrasive groove of postpunk with the trippy drive of mid-60s psychedelia, and that aesthetic stays true here. Witness the way Bramah’s voice works against the melody of “Motorway,” or the ranting and raving over the fractured party rock of “August Rebels” and “Iron Tree.” The band leans more towards straight psych elsewhere, as on “Road to Perilous” and the surprisingly sweet-tuned “Feather From the Sun.” Remember in the 80s when industry mags and MTV used to talk about “modern rock?” The Once and Future Thing is what they meant.

Collecting the band’s early material on vinyl for the first time since it was issued, Awefull gathers up the Orchids’ pre-LP singles and the Agents of Change EP. The droning postpunk of “Work,” “Agents of Change” and “The House That Faded Out” reveal the influence of the musicians’ former employer, with Baines’ organ as main support to Bramah’s ranting and a more even-keeled take on the Fall’s trademark mania. The music takes on a subdued, almost wistful tone on “Conscience,” a ballad (!) written and recorded after a stint backing Nico. “Release” and “The Long Night Out” up the tempo but follow suit, showing a new dimension to the Orchids’ quirky vision. Demos of later songs “The Unknown” and “Sleepy Town” (on which Bramah does a straight-up imitation of Lou Reed) round Awefull.

In between Orchids reunions and dalliances with other bands, Bramah produced his first solo album The Battle of Twisted Heel in 2008, originally sold only by mailorder. Eschewing the band’s style, Bramah instead goes for a folky, mostly acoustic vibe, not unlike contemporaries the Waterboys or the Lilac Time. It’s a surprising detour, but a successful one. Without having to compete with the Orchids’ driving rock, Bramah’s voice takes on a conversational tone, and he proves himself quite adept at writing coffeehouse tunes like “Lucybel,” “Stone Tumbling Stream” and “I-Super Real” that strike a balance between universality and introspection. Bramah goes electric for the grungy “Black Comic Book” and the ethereal “Strangely Lucid” for added spice, covering the Dave Van Ronk standard “Green Rocky Road” in the bargain. Several of these songs resurfaced in the repertoire of his next project Factory Star.

These releases prove Bramah and the Blue Orchids worth the effort on their own merits, not just as a footnote on a more famous band’s timeline.

DOWNLOAD: “Good Day to Live,” “Agents of Change,” “I-Super Real”


THE CHUBBIES – Jive and Honey

Album: Jive and Honey

Artist: Chubbies

Label: The Kitten Next Door

Release Date: April 15, 2016 /


The Upshot: Vinyl swansong for the beloved pop/punk femme-rockers finds Jeannette Kantzalis referencing her past and laying the groundwork for future endeavors via rockin’ nuggets and torchy gems.


Inland Empire rock vixen Jeannette Kantzalis first pinged the rock radar circa ’92 as Jeannette Katt, whose Pink Mischief album was issued by A&M and remains a genuine, not-necessarily-guilty, pleasure. The label, sadly, dropped the ball, marketing-wise, unsure of what to do with a gifted, assertive female songwriter who declined the opportunity to be pigeonholed into either the Courtney Love or the Indigo Girls camps. Most folks, however, remember The Artist Formerly Known As Katt from her subsequent tenure fronting all-girl Cali band The Chubbies, a beloved Sympathy For The Record Industry label mainstay that started out as a solo vehicle for the young Kantzalis but at various points would operate as a duo (with her friend Christene Kings) and even a trio in order to tour and record more extensively. 1997’s Tres Flores remains a must-hear thanks to standout tracks such as the punkish “Play Me,” the torchy “I’m Not That Girl” and the irresistibly anthemic “Didjahaftasaythat?” (Consult eBay and Discogs to get your fix, and quite a few Chubbies titles—including the relatively recent archival title Official Greatest Hits that Kantzalis released via her own The Kitten Next Door label—can be grabbed digitally at Bandcamp.)

In any event, here’s a lot of intriguing history here worth tucking into, particularly for fans of never-say-die DIY punk, distaff punk/garage and classic girl-group pop. Along the way Kantzalis has operated an indie record store, started a family, and at one point put together a short-lived, power pop-tilting band called the Tragic Hearts. Yours truly, reporting on the latter, commented, “A three-guy/one-gal combo [whose] pulchritudinous vocalist/guitarist teases you with her coquettish, Bangles-esque come-on while the band unleashes brawny garage raveups. Yet the Hearts aren’t out to indulge a retro vision of power pop, and by injecting a vigorous, punkish vibe they ultimately come off as contemporary—‘alt-power-pop,’ as their Web site bills ‘em.”

More recently, she’s been releasing music under the name A Brokeheart Pro, which both incorporates elements of, and builds upon, her previously-laid musical groundwork. To date there’s been 2007’s The Kitten Next Door and 2012’s Josephine the Outlaw King—the latter also sharing its title with a noirish Kantzalis-penned novel—along with material posted online both at SoundCloud and at YouTube, including a series of cover songs by the likes of Ryan Adams, Portishead, Old 97’s and the Gin Blossoms.

As the musician herself put it not all that long ago at Facebook, “I’ve always been fascinated with the crossbreeding of styles by accident or because of curiosity. The melding of rock and soul, mostly. I used to devour stories about the working class ethics of the Beatles, Bowie, Prince… how they’d show up when they were supposed to and respect the time and talents of others. I found so few in the music world I was in. I suppose that’s why I ended up teaching myself how to do everything. I never found anyone who wanted to put in the hours, who found music’s creation so intoxicating they just didn’t want to stop creating it.”

That sure sounds like a mission statement to these ears. Kantzalis, throughout her myriad musical explorations, has garnered a loyal fanbase enamored of her instinctive tunefulness and forceful-yet-silky arrangements, piqued by her charismatic, provocative style of lyricism and delivery, and impressed by, yes, her work ethic. All that, plus the aforementioned intrigue, rears its head with the new self-released Jive and Honey. Kantzalis bills the album as her Chubbies swansong, writing in the record’s liner notes how the band “started off with just me, playing, writing, performing and producing everything by myself in my garage on my 8-track” and how now, in 2016, “that’s how I’m ending it,” with eight songs pressed up on limited edition vinyl (or available digitally) via CDBaby. It kicks off with the part-cautionary/part-defiant “Gotta Get Away” which, against a thrumming guitar/bass/drums backdrop that’s classic Chubbies (particularly with the three-part backing harmonies), smartly sets the stage for what’s to come…

“Let me get out of this sticky conversation,” Kantzalis sneers, at the start of brittle, Nuggets-worthy garage raveup “The Quiet Ones,” adding suggestively, “Words turn to glue in a bad conversation/ I see you across the room contemplating/ I think I need more of what you’re not saying…”. That’s followed by “He’s Got A Way,” all sweet ‘n’ sour, shadows ‘n’ sunshine, one minute serving up come-ons (“he’s got a way about him”), and then the next, confessions (“I can’t take it back”). Side A then closes out on the delightfully Sixties-ish pop of “Wonderful,” a sweeping, pledging-my-love anthem. Flip the record to cue up the New Wavey electropop of “I Am Jeannette,” which doubles as a personal manifesto and—spoiler alert—a career summation lyrically referencing the artist’s past. You want manifestos? Try on “I’m A Rebel,” a sleek-but-stilettoed Blondie-styled slice of drama that leaves multiple earworms in its wake. Then Kantzalis opts to turns cinematic, first with the Spector-esque girl-group pop of “Stay Right Here (Flynn’s Song)” and finally, to complete the cycle, the luminous “I Wasn’t Looking For Trouble.” The latter, with its jazzy sway and darkly sensual lyrics (“trouble came looking for me… I ached with a low burning glow”), is pure Dusty Springfield—and, in its echoes of that much earlier “I’m Not That Girl,” is also pure Chubbies.

It’s a fitting conclusion for this long-running musical project. Way back when, on the group’s first album, Kantzalis announced I’m the King. Here, on the final release, she declares, “I Am Jeannette,” firmly taking hold of her Chubbies legacy, putting it proudly up on the shelf, and clearing the table for what’s to come. “I conquered anger, I conquered fear,” she confesses, adding, “They tried to kill me but I’m still here”—then threatening, “I could break your heart.”

Indeed she did. Indeed she is. And indeed she could.

DOWNLOAD: “The Quiet Ones,” “I’m A Rebel,” “I Wasn’t Looking For Trouble”


FREAKWATER – Scheherazade

Album: Scheherazade

Artist: Freakwater

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: February 05, 2016


The Upshot: Twenty-five years in, how well these two sides of a sung coin fit together and complement each other remains remarkable.


As the fable has it, Scheherazade owed her life to her skill at spinning a mesmerizing yarn. Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Ann Irwin, who since the late 1980s have paired together as Freakwater, know a thing or two about that life-affirming talent. So the title of their first LP in 10 years doesn’t surprise; what does, though, is just how vital and reinvigorated Freakwater sound on the dozen songs that bear their inspiration’s name.

Bean and Irwin were last heard from in this incarnation on 2006’s Thinking of You, backed by Chicagoans Califone and Tim Rutili’s production. The fit was fitful; fantastic bands both, but the latter uses roots music as a launching pad for sonic exploration, while Freakwater’s strength has always been sticking to country’s sonic foundations while updating its content to regenerate the form. Thinking of You still showcased the duo’s considerable songwriting skills and distinctive vocal harmonies, but the record sometimes felt like it wanted to go in two directions at once.

Not so Scheherazade, released last month by the ever-reliable Bloodshot label. The songwriting pushes in a few new sonic directions—”Down Will Come Baby” has a reverb-heavy Buffalo Springfield feel in the sinister wah-wah pedal guitar from Evan Patterson, and “Velveteen Matador” has a Spanish vibe that recalls Desire-era Dylan—but succeeds mostly by concentrating on the vocal interplay and lyrics-writing chops of its two co-creators. They also left Chicago for the first time to record, returning to their home turf of Louisville to have Kevin Ratterman, My Morning Jacket’s longtime engineer, oversee the six-day session.

Whether it was a decade away from Freakwater, the addition of Ratterman, a different studio, or the move to Louisville’s “Kentucky crawl” (as Irwin puts it), the combination finds Freakwater’s eighth album recapturing the magic of their earlier recordings. Gruesome murders, cheaters and adulterers, desperate thieves and restless ghosts, gamblers and addicts, Icarus hubris and righteous vengeance pervade these songs like a compendium of old time-y music themes. But Bean and Irwin have always transcended the genre’s tropes through the depth of their narratives and clever—though never ironic—phrasing, and those skills shine here in more serious fashion than ever before. Pick any song, and couplets and images stand out for the beauty or desperation (often both) like the “diadems of light” Bean sings about over long-time collaborator Jim Elkington’s pedal steel swells on “Memory Vendor.”

“What the People Want” opens the LP with a girl split “stem to stern” as whorls of fiddle and eerie flute from Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis ominously shadow the women’s crosshatched harmonies and a pump organ drone. But Irwin plays with the notion of murder ballads by turning the spotlight back on the killers and equating their nameless victims with someone more dear: “So deep in blood the deed was done/and everyone some mother’s son/whose baby are you?”

Irwin’s gorgeous slow waltz “Bolshevik and Bollweevil” finds pedal steel adding just the right mournful tone to a Dust Bowl tale that rings down the ages to an era of middle class impoverishment, where it’s not too tough imagining that, “every last goddamned thing/will be the first thing you lose.”

Bean’s songs tend to bend the country traditions toward rock more, but mostly along the lines of “Velveteen Matador,” a loping, syncopated cautionary tale about cheating—”you know there’s a loser in this game/bank it all on a face down card/raise it blind on a double bluff/just so you feel like you’re living large”—that recalls late-era Byrds, complete with guitarist Morgan Geer channeling Clarence White’s Telecaster twang. Those simpatico contrasts between the styles of Bean and Irwin wind up strengthening both and making Scheherazade‘s sequencing another one of its pleasing aspects.

And just as Scheherazade sought, mercy is a common yearning. Over the sinister guitar licks and haunting fiddle of Bean’s “Falls of Sleep,” the duo plead for elusive mercy, taking it wherever they find it: In sleep’s “false oasis,” in a firing squad’s “coup de grace,” or even at the end of a vengeful god’s sword, where “we’re too weak to punish/the seven times your sword is brandished/so we thrust ourselves upon its point/begging for nothing more/than to reach its joint/and deliver us mercy until dawn.” The LP’s most traditional, simply arranged and uplifting cut, “Take Me With You,” follows, a song which would’ve fit neatly on the group’s earliest efforts. Or course, in fine Freakwater fashion, the promise of a golden land of repose comes with load-bearing clouds, too: “where is the mist that clung to every mountainside/has it fallen back to earth with every tear that we have cried/when all these hills are gone and all this work is done/our tears will rise to fill the skies and dark clouds will hide/the sun.”

Twenty-five years in, how well these two sides of a sung coin fit together and complement each other remains remarkable. That’s especially true given how many others pitched beneath the “alt-country” tent have either abandoned the fight or moved on to other forms. That kind of longevity reflects the “authenticity” so many pretenders hoped a Western shirt and a fondness for whiskey would earn them. But like their LP’s namesake, these stories resonate because the stakes are high—the need to sing them is part of Bean and Irwin’s   survival instinct, too, and that beautiful urgency comes across throughout. As the latter puts it on the gorgeous “Number One with a Bullet,” where a subtle tapestry of guitars, organ chords and fiddle billows beneath the women’s urgent harmonies, “I love the way you tell it/you tell it so low /like we’re already under the waves /my ear to your mouth/I can hear the blood roar/we rage on the ocean/to crash on the shore.”

 DOWNLOAD: “Number One With a Bullet,” “The Asp and the Albatross” “Falls of Sleep” “Memory Vendor” “Velveteen Matador”


WALTER MARTIN – Arts & Leisure

Album: Arts & Leisure

Artist: Walter Martin

Label: Ill Flottante Music

Release Date: January 29, 2016


The Upshot: With the kind of laconic detail and precision normally reserved for a Paul Simon or Loudon Wainwright, the young songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with indie-rock band The Walkmen serves up a classic.


If nothing else, Walter Martin deserves accolades – and maybe a Grammy nomination – for rhyming “Philippe de Montebello,” former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with “unsuspecting fellow” in the album’s opening song, “Jobs I Had Before I Got Famous.”

It’s a wry, autobiographical song that paints the young Martin – now a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with indie-rock band The Walkmen – as a merry prankster in his youth, working at the Met’s switchboard and transferring calls to its director to his sleepy roommate at home.

Yet the song is more sweet – bittersweet, actually – than funny. Martin’s reflective, straining and understated voice, which sometimes leaps up an octave at a line’s end as if still changing or breaks into a whistle, carries a sense of melancholy. That touch of sadness or loneliness gives this quirkily sincere album with its likably subdued songs a deceptive depth.

It’s primarily about Martin’s memories of how he became interested in visual art, but it’s also an examination of his youth.

To continue with “Jobs I Had Before I Got Famous” a minute, it’s a marvelous song that keeps unassumingly peeling off insights. Martin recalls working at the information desk of The Cloisters museum when Billy Joel walks in:

I take a long long look at him.

A dignified old music man.

And that’s when I devised my plan.”


That’s a striking image – you can see Joel visiting a New York museum in a free moment, perhaps seeking commanding artistic inspiration, and commanding respect not by demanding it but because of what he’s accomplished. You don’t even have to like Joel’s work to be moved by line.

The “plan” Martin refers to was to become a New York rocker like Joel. He closes the song by describing that as his current job.

“Where the spotlight shines and the people all cheer.

And the pretty girls flock from far and near.

To touch my hand and hear my song.

And buy my t-shirts and sing along.”

Maybe that’s true, but maybe there’s also some self-deprecating irony there, as well in the song’s title. But not in the final line, where he refers to another job he once had: “Goddam this sure beats mowing lawns.” No doubt.

 Much of the rest of the album is almost as good, as the well-traveled Martin reflects on first seeing such artworks as “Calder’s Circus,” the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow (“Charles Rennie Mackintosh”), the David in Florence and Sistine Chapel in the Vatican (“Michelangelo”), and visiting “Amsterdam” with his father.

He’s nicely in touch, without being sentimental, about how art was experienced by him as a youth whose parents take him to a museum. In “Watson and the Shark,” about how as a kid he loved John Singleton Copley’s thrilling, terrifying 1778 painting of a shark attack near Havana, he can precisely, analytically (and wittily) recall – in a mid-song spoken-word passage – why other art at the National Gallery bored him:

“Portraits of old people, blurry water lilies, landscapes of places that looked boring, and interior scenes that said nothing.”

 (A child’s view of art history, however, does have its limits. One hopes by now his thoughts on Monet have changed.)

The arrangements provided throughout the record by his accompanists vary – there’s a touch of country (“Old as Hell”), reggae (“The Tourist”) and polite singer-song rock. A couple do veer into a thin slightness, however, like “Down by the Singing Sea.”

Because Martin earlier released a children’s album, We’re All Young Together, with a childlike point of view and a musical simplicity, it’s tempting to compare him to Jonathan Richman in his “Ice Cream Man” period.

But Martin isn’t trying to be an adult naïf or an outsider musician. His writing has the kind of laconic detail and precision of a Paul Simon or Loudon Wainwright. He might be on his way to someday becoming a “dignified old music man.”

DOWNLOAD: “Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich and Famous”


ZOMBI + STEVE MOORE + PERTURBATOR + JOHN CARPENTER – Shape Shift + Cub OST + The Uncanny Valley + Lost Themes II

Album: Shape Shift + Cub OST + The Uncanny Valley + Lost Themes II


Label: Relapse/Blood Music/Sacred Bones

Release Date: August 12, 2016 + +



The Upshot: Three sonic and compositional progeny of filmmaker/composer Carpenter weigh in with intriguing new albums—as does the maestro himself.




For the past few years, it seems like the worlds of EDM and ambient have been the sole domain of synthesizer-dominated music. As usual, though, there’s more to the story if you scratch beyond the surface. There’s a whole movement of keyboard-wielding artists inspired by Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter soundtracks – electronic music that requires creators to sit down in front of an actual instrument and play it. Some of these synthwavers have been in practice for years and are just now starting to get attention beyond enthusiasts, while others have been the big dogs for a while.


One of the best-known acts of the current wave, Zombi returns from a hiatus with Shape Shift (Relapse; released 2/12/16). On its sixth LP, the Pittsburgh duo ignores any pretension toward ambience and puts some serious oomph into its performance. That’s in large part due to the fiery kit work of drummer Anthony Paterra – his jazz and metal inflections give the music a rock drive that makes it perfect for in-concert enthusiasm. Keyboardist/bassist Steve Moore responds with pulsing loops, licks that could translate easily to guitar and cosmic washes of sound that emulate space travel. “Interstellar Package,” “Mission Creep” and “Pillars of the Dawn” demonstrate the pair’s chemistry as much as its instrumental and compositional fortitude, directly translating its live power to disk. Zombi drifted off into the ether a bit on recent work, but Shape Shift puts it back into hyperspace toward greatness.


One reason for Zombi’s prolonged absence from the stage has been Moore’s increased responsibilities as a film composer. On Cub (Relapse; 2/12/16), the soundtrack to a Belgian horror flick, Moore takes a more orchestral approach than he does with Zombi – unsurprisingly, given the medium. Most of the pieces serve as support to visuals, as intended. But Moore’s ability to conjure some serious creep factor, a la the buzzing synth snarl of “The Hunt” or the ascending pipe organ melody of “The Treehouse,” makes this more than just an item that completes your collection. Play it from your porch next Hallowe’en.


Unlike a lot of current synth music revivalists, Parisian one-person-band Perturbator eschews pure atmosphere and embraces beat. The Uncanny Valley (Blood Music; 5/6/16), the erstwhile James Kent’s sixth LP, certainly maintains the film score ambience of its forebears – song titles like “Neo Tokyo,” “Assault” and the title piece indicate tracks that might be found on the soundtrack of some sci-fi exploitation flick from the 80s, and the cover looks like a Heavy Metal homage/knock-off. But Kent looks to the dancefloor and the charts as well. “Diabolus Ex Machina” (which adds some chunky electric guitar to the mix), “She Moves Like a Knife” and the appropriately titled “Disco Inferno” aim to engage your hips as well as your cerebral cortex, while singers Greta Link and Hayley Stewart help mold “Venger” and “Sentient” into brooding atmo-pop. Kent maintains a strong grip on melody throughout, ensuring that nothing here comes off as a mere pre-programmable trifle. The Uncanny Valley could soundtrack both your next DVR anime fest or your nightly sojourn to the alternative dance club.


In a way, the godfather of all these folks is John Carpenter. He’s better known as a filmmaker, of course – one of the most successful independent directors of all time, in fact. But he also composes and performs most of his own soundtracks – he’s responsible for the creepy-as-fuck piano line from the original Halloween – and they’ve been a great inspiration to the other folks in this review. He finally showcased his music side on last year’s excellent Lost Themes, and now he’s produced the inevitable sequel, Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones; 4/22/16). Backed by a band led by his son Cody Carpenter, the filmmaker worries less about scoring for scenes than for pure musical pleasure. “Persia Rising” and “Angel’s  Asylum” soar, “Dark Blues” and “Windy Death” snarl and “Last Sunrise” and  “Bela Lugosi” brood –  all are clearly meant to be enjoyed minus moving images in the foreground. Carpenter’s no Keith Emerson, but for the atmospheric tunes he conjures, there’s no need for him to be – the resounding  piano chords of “Virtual Survivor,” for example, make a perfect foundation for his band to flesh out. With Lost Themes II, Carpenter solidifies his second career.



Zombi: “Pillars of the Dawn,” “Mission Creep,” “Interstellar Package”

Steve Moore: “The Treehouse,” “The Hunt,” “The Truck”

Perturbator: “She Moves Like a Knife,” “The Uncanny Valley,” “Sentient”

John Carpenter: “Angel’s Asylum,” “Dark Blues,” “Virtual Survivor”

THE MINUS 5 – Of Monkees and Men

Album: Of Monkees and Men

Artist: Minus 5

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: August 19, 2016


The Upshot: M5 maestro McCaughey does more than just pay tribute to the Faux Four – he and his pals become ‘em.


Minus 5 founder Scott McCaughey (er, you may have heard of him; think R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows, The Baseball Project…) knows his way around a good homage. As if the new Minus 5 album title isn’t tip-off enough, or the fact that he has been known to operate under the nom du rawk of “Scott The Hoople.” (Go HERE to read a review of his recent Spain Capers album for evidence.)

Of Monkees and Men, then, is just that, and then some—not just a random hat-tip to the Faux Four, aka Micky, Peter, Davy, and Mike, what with songtitles that invoke their names: the twangy, mandolin/pedal steel powered “Michael Nesmith” (from a poem that McCaughey’s Texas pal Bucks Burnett penned), the shimmery baroque pop of “Davy Gets the Girl,” the dreamy psychedelia of “Song for Peter Tork,” the thumping, percussion-heavy romp that is “Mickey’s A Cool Drummer.” There’s even an anthemic garage rocker titled after the quartet’s hit-wielding songwriters, “Boyce and Hart”; how can you resist lyrics that go, “AM gave them their chance/ And indeed they had their day/ I guess it wasn’t easy/ But they had a lot of fun/ They made the scene on TV with a genie, a witch and a nun!” The album artwork even mimics a vintage 16 Magazine cover with its cheeky teen-centric graphics. While there are also tips o’ the McCaughey hat to the late hardboiled actor Robert Ryan, beloved Americana band Richmond Fontaine, and a “Blue Rickenbacker,”

McCaughey/Hoople’s double- and triple-tracked vocals here give the songs a Beach Boys-esque luminosity. He’s also joined by a roster of talented pals, among them singer/songwriter Laura Gibson, Peter Buck and Mike Mills from R.E.M. and the Smithereens’ Dennis Diken and Jim Babjak, and the result is a musical summit in which all assembled sound like they’re having a whale of a good time. Indie rock was never so joyous. Hey-hey, we’re the Minus 5!

Incidentally, Of Monkees and Men was originally part of the limited-edition, vinyl only Record Store Day release Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror. Copies ain’t cheap nowadays, so you have no excuse not to scoop this rec up in the here and now.

DOWNLOAD: “Boyce and Hart,” “Davy Gets the Girl,” “Blue Rickenbacker”

BETTY DAVIS – The Columbia Years 1968-1969 LP

Album: The Columbia Years 1968-1969 LP

Artist: Betty Davis

Label: Columbia/Light In the Attic

Release Date: July 01, 2016

Betty Davis 7-1

The Upshot: Previously unreleased Miles Davis-produced sessions from 1969 featuring the powerhouse funk/soul vocals of Davis’ then-wife Betty, it’s got a who’s-who of jazz and rock legends as house band.


Although throughout the late ‘60s Betty Davis (born Betty Mabry) was making the NYC scene, rubbing shoulders with the elite, releasing a couple of independent singles, and eventually snagging a contract with Columbia Records (which released a 45 in 1968, “It’s My Life” b/w “Live, Love, Learn”), it wouldn’t be until 1973 that she would actually release a full-length en route to becoming the “Nasty Gal” funk-soul dynamo. And by the end of the decade, she’d already decided to leave the music business, just three albums to her name—hardly the type of career that gets inscribed in the history books.

However, there was that stunning 1975 Nasty Gal album. And there was that short-lived marriage to Miles Davis, to whom she introduced the rock-world likes of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. So she’s definitely more than a footnote. And the marriage also yielded an intriguing set of Miles-produced demos cut for Columbia on May 14 and 20, 1969, released here for the first time. The Columbia Years features a veritable jazz-rock supergroup backing her in the studio: Herbie Hancock, Harvey Brooks, Billy Cox, John McLaughlin, Mitch Mitchell, Wayne Shorter, and Larry Young. (Miles himself does not perform on the songs, but his voice can occasionally be heard in the studio talkback.) And it’s an intriguing collection, primarily originals penned by Betty.

BEtty Miles

The best track is her “Down Home Girl,” an outrageously kinetic five-minute swamp-funk workout that spotlights both the singer’s kittenish vocal come-ons and McLaughlin’s uncharacteristic chicken-pickin’ guitar licks. There’s also a pair of covers: a rousing, equally swampy “Born on the Bayou” which, with Mabry’s extemporaneous grunts and yelps, steers the band directly into Tina Turner territory; and “Politician Man,” served up as a bluesy sultry manifesto for Mabry but which doesn’t quite hold its own next to the version Jack Bruce originally cut with Cream. Also included are three tracks from an October 18, 1968, session produced by Jerry Fuller and arranged by her then-boyfriend Hugh Masekela. Those are equally engaging, and perhaps even a bit more expansive with the dynamics, which benefit from string arrangements and Masekela’s upbeat horn lines.

The album was put together by Light In the Attic with the cooperation and input of Betty, and her involvement surely gets the hopes up for longtime Davis fans who bemoaned her truncated career and always hoped there might be material stashed away in the vault—or even that she might return to performing and recording.

Consumer Note: The LP version is pressed on handsome gold vinyl, and the set’s graphic design is another class production from the stalwart archival label, with a thick gatefold sleeve and a booklet boasting iconic Baron Wolman photos and interviews with Masakela, bassist Brooks, and Davis herself.

DOWNLOAD: “Down Home Girl,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Live, Love, Learn”

Below: Instagram photo from a fellow satisfied customer…






Album: Lovers

Artist: Nels Cline

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: August 19, 2016

Nels Cline 8-19

The Upshot: Wilco fretboard virtuoso steps out with a solo album of originals and Great American Songbook selections that find him expertly connecting sound/song and intimacy/romance.


Nels Cline’s Blue Note debut Lovers is a musical bonanza: guitar, the lyrical and the experimental. And it’s monumental when the album’s band lets loose.

Lovers is two discs of 18 songs. Some are original compositions and others are Cline’s own. According to Cline (who’s also a guitarist in Wilco), Lovers “is meant to be as personal in its sound and in its song selection as it is universal in its endeavor to assay or map the parameters of ‘mood’ as it once pertained, and currently pertains, to the peculiar and powerful connection between sound/song and intimacy/romance.”

Cline’s songs certainly meet those objectives. We hear mood throughout, a sort of sensual and melancholic mood at times, and an upbeat though dark mood at others. There’s even a song named “Glad to Be Unhappy” (a songbook classic with music written by Richard Rodgers) on the first disc. Cline’s guitar shines, but so do songs other instruments such as trumpet, leading us down some sort of neo-’50s of gallant entertainment.

This album’s songs do succeed at connecting sound/song and intimacy/romance, though with limitations. This society has come to associate with intimacy/romance like never before, to lyric and not to instrumentation; an Apollonian turn to clarity with which any musician of romantic song must be concerned, adding to any Dionysian harmony, melody, and rhythm. Cline’s songs are sultry, nuanced, and often slow, so all signify romance, but only as much as can be conveyed via purely instrumental music.

Cline’s “The Bond” is light, lyrical, and at times experimental. It’s this album’s highlight. “The Bond” has the singalong quality of a song like “Au clair de la lune.” That it’s being played primarily on guitar makes it that much more easy-going.

“You Noticed,” also written by Cline, is the opposite of “The Bond”; it is dark and hesitant. However, the song is beautiful in its own right. It takes much more sitting attentively through than “The Bond,” but it’s worth one’s undivided attention.

Aficionados of jazz’s beginnings will want to listen to “Why Was I Born”; the tune’s trumpet may remind listeners of Papa Celestin or Louis Armstrong. It is a song that is raw in a way that life can be. Cline attempts to lead the song with his guitar, but it’s the trumpet that will capture a listener’s attention the most.

On Lovers, Cline is effective at making re-interpreted songbook selections his own. Comparing his “Beautiful Love” to Benny Golson’s (the music was originally written by Wayne King, Victor Young, and Egbert Van Alstyne) is strong evidence of this. He does the same to Jimmy Giuffre’s “Cry Want,” adding some depth and city slick to it by replacing wind instruments with guitar.

In an article on Miles Davis’ album Bye Bye Blackbird, French writer Philippe Sollers invoked the following from a Guillaume Apollinaire poem to describe Miles’ artistry: “I do not sing this word nor the stars, I sing all the possibilities of myself outside of this world and the stars.”

“I sing all the possibilities of myself” can also be said about of Cline’s Lovers. He succeeds at imposing himself throughout these tunes, creating a valuable album in the process.

DOWNLOAD: “The Bond,” “Beautiful Love,” “You Noticed”



Album: Rise

Artist: Michael Juan Nunez

Label: Parish Line

Release Date: April 01, 2016


The Upshot: There’s an incorrigible soul deeply ingrained in the music of southern Louisiana that’s as essential as blood and water to all who live in her mystical shadows. MJN drops praise into just the right spot on every occasion.


 How many times have you come to realize that some of your favorite artists are those who consistently prove to be the most difficult to categorize? Michael Juan Nunez (MJN) is a graduate of this school. He’s driven by some other-worldly demon to play whatever he feels – to hell with the rules. Head over heart. And while that may sound like a recipe for failure, it’s exactly this trait – one of being thoroughly unpredictable and impossible to define – that has cemented the foundation of his appeal. You just never know what you’re going to get – you only know it will be exceptionally good.

To not know what to expect has long been Nunez’ Ace of Spades. A disciple of Sonny Landreth with a side of Stevie Ray, he’s also influenced by the real-world of local legends Lil’ Buck Senegal and Harry “Big Daddy” Hypolite, having also toured with a treasure trove of Louisiana’s richest bedrock. MJN has earned his position the hard way, driven by something more than dreaming of an eventual payday. It’s like he’s got no choice in the matter – and the music will out – as it has on Rise, his 5th release.

Begin with the cacophonous “Betta” – drink in its dark, distorted vocal, electronic-pulsed intro and thunderous, dirge-like beat, adding a blistering blend of pulverizing guitars like you’ve just stumbled into a fearsome, Led Zeppelin-fueled, Satanic reunion of lost dreamers. He succeeds in scaring off the meek of mind, launching into the comparably upbeat “Come Into The Light” – which anyone would be anxious to do at this point. What’s this? Uptempo, happy music – like you’ve just been rescued by Harry Belafonte, flashing his patented smile and waving a bolero from atop his rearing, white steed? Toss in Mike Burch’s crisp snare, Nunez’ deft, finger-fired, near-Flamenco runs on acoustic guitar, the angelic backup vocals of Charlene Howard and Dudley Fruge and you’re about ready for the volleyball net to go up. Did somebody change the disc? But wait – Beelzebub is back – with a searing guitar and bass-driven attack – and just when you thought the flowers might actually begin to grow. “Lost It” returns the trend to into the dark tunnels with processed, almost-other-worldly vocals that turn out a tough, punishing sound that, still, leans on strong guitar hooks and scorching leads to register its general disdain. “Trouble” is all clean-sounding acoustic guitar as it introduces Eric Adcock’s B3 and the haunting vocal support of Charlene Howard to deliver its bleak predictions. Make note of “Burning” – an exacting power ballad if ever there was one, driven by Adcock’s rich keyboards, Nunez’ soulful vocals and a tasty slide solo for good measure.

If that all feels like an incredible musical range, you’re right. Know that Nunez & his American Electric hail from lower Louisiana – where nothing much counts much unless it’s benefited from the osmosis of everything else first. Hence, British rock is roughly married to Texas blues, Cajun to N’awlins R&B, funk to elements of Louisiana soul and a rich gumbo of everything in-between – sometimes blended into the same song. So “Lemonade” funks up an age-old expression and, with the creative assistance of Clint “Chief” Redwing on drums and percussion, Adcock on Hammond B3, plus (daughter) Jordan Nunez on clavinet, Nunez anoints it with liquid-sounding leads and his own lead and backing vocals, creating a head-turning boogie with a difference. Likewise, little can prepare you for the inventive, deeply soulful groove of “BLTLO (Baby, Leave the Light On)” – packed to the hilt with ardent vocals, a lush chorus, animated percussion and deep-set blues guitar leads – all wrapped up in Djembe Lee Allen Zeno’s warm, fat basslines. The Prince-friendly “Human” is an evil-sounding, sex-dipped, slow-sizzler of a track – an erotic, slow-boil of custom guitar-effects which builds towards a techno-climax, hinting at glam-rock – a true space oddity for a futuristic Science Fiction film, to be named later. “Nickel Roll” is a piano-drenched taste of N’awlins blues with all the dirty guitar you can eat, sensational ivory-tinkling from Eric Adcock and a solid rhythm section in Redwing and Zeno. Adcock’s piano is featured here together with MJN’s dark slide to supernatural effect. As always, MJN’s vocals are his sleeper play – all earthy tones, warm register and capable of bringing each character to life. If you listen close, you’ll see images of Chris Whitley forming over a moss-packed bayou backdrop. “Devil’s Daughter” presents a powerful offering that’s almost commercial in its scope and degree of shine. At the same time, it kicks into a second gear at the 4-minute mark that’s equal parts Texas blues jam and sheer South Louisiana hypnotics. And, in keeping with an aura of authentic Louisiana mojo, snakes, skulls and slammin’ the devil’s brood only adds more zest to Rise’s already distinctive sauce, with its double shot of piquant bite.

All this and a complementary Rorschach Test of a front cover, depicting a bird that may think he’s Phoenix-bound but who’s more than likely headed anywhere but heaven. Satisfy your darker side and seek out this seductive spellbinder. Michael Juan Nunez is one of those rare talents who gets there with his music without ever having tried to jeopardize the process by forcing it or doing anything against the natural flow of things. He’s just that good.

DOWNLOAD: Betta,” “Levee Breaks,” “Mr. Jones”