Monthly Archives: March 2017

WIRE – Silver/Lead

Album: Silver/Lead

Artist: Wire

Label: Pink Flag

Release Date: March 31, 2017

Wire CD

The Upshot: Still thwarting expectations and defying being pigeonholed, the granddaddies of British art punk craft a challenging, intoxicating wall of sound and substance.


Ah, those Wire guys—original members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey (aka Gotobed), plus guitarist-since-2010 Matt Simms—never quite knew when to stop, having indulged numerous hiatuses that weren’t true hiatuses (they would play on each other’s side projects), created a musical collective ( becoming the official URL) that operates more like a club house than a project, and announced the proverbial “new direction” numerous times while still maintaining a detectable through-line across 14 studio albums and more than a few live releases.

And we’re the luckier for it—their bloody-mindedness. Debuting in 1977 with Pink Flag, the quartet literally invented a new genre we now call art punk. Loaded with short, dissonant, high-velocity songs, the album was, per the era, identifiably “punk,” but its dystopian mood, esoteric lyrics, and compelling melodies seemed more aesthetically aligned with the progressive and Krautrock camps than the safety-pin brigades. I distinctly remember the first time I heard the band: I was working at a record chain warehouse, and a box of Pink Flag promo LPs arrived from Capitol/EMI. A fellow worker and I commandeered the warehouse stereo, dropped the needle on first track “Reuters,” and within seconds a chorus of barked complaints could be heard coming from the warehouse floor; our “peers” were not impressed, and we were summarily informed to replace the record with the first Van Halen album.

Four decades on, with studio album number 15, Wire continues to thwart expectations and defy pigeonholing, Maybe people aren’t complaining as much, but there remains a good swathe of the populace who don’t and never will “get” Wire. Yet, ironically, Silver/Lead, with its immersive sonic immediacy and lack of abrasiveness, plus rich, colorful melodic schema, has a near-irresistible appeal, Right from the get-go, the grand power chords, monolith-like drums, and belching synth lines of “Playing Harp for the Fishes” signal a cinematic ride ahead. Vocalist Colin Newman, figuratively perched at the lip of the stage, fairly leans into your face to dramatically intone words that feel more like commands than lyrics. Later on, with “Sleep on the Wing,” a brace of chiming, echoing guitars and undulating keyboards conjures a purposefully dreamy, kosmiche ambiance. Even the album’s quote-unquote “pop single,” a three-minute, hooky romp titled “Short Elevated Period,” has an almost Phil Spector-esque wall-of-sound vibe.

It almost as if Wire set out to make a concept album without actually calling it a concept album, so consistent is the sound throughout, and with subtly recurring melodic themes—compare, for example, the similarity between the main chord progression of “Playing Harp…” and the closing title track. Given how inscrutable most of the lyrics (penned largely by bassist Graham Lewis) are, some almost haiku-ish or like a series of non sequiturs, it might be hard to make that concept claim stick.

Trust me, though, it’s not like the guys of Wire are turning into Yes in their old age. The second anyone in the band starts to feel like that, you can bet they’ll make some kind of bloody-minded detour just to make sure that nobody will pin ‘em down.

DOWNLOAD: “Short Elevated Period,” “Forever & a Day,” “Sleep on the Wing,” “This Time”



LAURA MARLING – Semper Femina

Album: Semper Femina

Artist: Laura Marling

Label: Kobalt

Release Date: March 10, 2017

Marling 3-10


Laura Marling has come a long way since beginning her career at the tender age of 17, attaining an impressive pedigree that has elevated her familiarity factor through well deserved notice and accreditation. Her new album, Semper Femina, is her sixth so far, the latest in a string of releases she’s output over the course of the past nine years.

Happily, Marling has again stepped up to the plate, accepting her status with a degree of gravitas that finds her tackling crucial issues that have quickly moved to the foreground via today’s tempestuous world of politics and pontificating. She explores subjects dealing with society and sexuality, all the while hinting at a newfound sense of self-discovery as both an artist and individual.

Fortunately, the heady subject matter doesn’t detract from the music, which is both subdued and sublime, alluring and engaging from first song to last. The aptly titled “Soothing” reinforces that notion, but it’s tracks like “The Valley,” “Wild Once,” “Always This Way” and “Don’t Pass Me By” that show Marling at her most expressive and endearing. The arrangements add to the allure, exotic to be sure, but with a mystique that affirms Marling’s seductive intents. It’s the kind of music that effectively gets under the skin on first hearing, but still manages to grow even more enticing with each successive encounter. Marling’s take on modern British folk (think Sandy Denny or Pentangles’s Jaqui McShee) bears a stylistic similarity to her British forebears, but her lithe delivery distinguishes her all on her own. The lack of anything that’s decidedly uptempo may be a detriment to some, but the blend of strings and acoustic instrumentation more than compensates for the subdued stance. Clearly Marling is an artist of distinction, and with Semper Femina, the woman roars in ways both wonderful and revealing.

DOWNLOAD: “The Valley,” “Wild Once,” “Always This Way”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Girls Gonna Bop – Rockin’ Girls from the Late ‘50s

Album: Girls Gonna Bop

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Cherry Red/ Croydon Municipal

Release Date: November 18, 2016

Girls Gonna 11-16

The Upshot: Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley comes up with the distaff goods again!


More of that 1950s stuff from the folks at Croydon Municipal. I swear that label head Bob Stanley must lock himself away in a room and comb through hundreds….no, thousands of songs to come up with the choice goods. This particular comp sports 25 tunes and these cuts were released on labels with names like Vaden, Satellite, Jeopardy, Flight 7, Imperial, Staff and the like. You and I both know the genius of Wanda Jackson (who offers up “Sparking Brown Eyes” on here), but how about the magic of Jane Martin (“My Boy Elvis”), Rose Maddox “Move It on Over” ….way better n’ George Thorogood), Joyce Green (“Black Cadillac”), Charlene Arthur (“Hello Baby”), and plenty more.

Wait…you want more? How’s about Ella Mae Morse (“Razzle Dazzle”), Linda Glover (“Counting Sheep Over You”) and Bolean Barry (“Long Sideburns”). The is straight up rockin’ rockabilly gunk with the perfect amount of twang n’ reverb.

The liner notes, by Stanley, are super fascinating to see where these women popped up from and what happened to them. You wouldn’t have heard these cuts on any episode of Happy Days but you can hear ‘em here.

DOWNLOAD: Wanda Jackson- “Sparking Brown Eyes,” Jane Martin “My Boy Elvis,” Rose Maddox – “Move It on Over,” Joyce Green “Black Cadillac”





RUTHIE FOSTER – Joy Comes Back

Album: Joy Comes Back

Artist: Ruthie Foster

Label: Blue Corn Music

Release Date: March 24, 2017

Ruthie 3-24


Ruthie Foster is on a roll. Her 2009 breakthrough, The Truth According to Ruthie Foster and its 2012 follow-up, Let It Burn, garnered Grammy nods for best album of the year in the blues category. Promise of a Brand New Day, the album that came after, rode that momentum and became her most successful album yet.

It would seem then that Foster has good reason to name her new album Joy Comes Back, because, if anything, it finds her expanding her palette while resulting in her most diverse offering yet. From tender, tearful ballads — “What Are You Listening To?,” “Forgiven,” “Open Sky,” and “Good Sailor” — to a stirring take on Stevie Wonder’s Motown classic “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” Foster’s soulful vocals raise the bar and ensure an instant embrace. Likewise, Foster’s full of surprises; who would have imagined that a take on — of all things — Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” would work so well?

Foster shares the credit for this accomplishment with an all star cast that includes guitarist Derek Trucks, bassist Willie Weeks and fiddler Warren Hood, but it’s her own ambitious intent that sets the standard. Little wonder than that the song “Working Woman” serves as an apt mantra. Joy Comes Back indeed!  Then again, it never really went away.

DOWNLOAD: “War Pigs,” “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” “Forgiven”

CLOSET MIX – 01 EP 12”

Album: 01 EP 12”

Artist: Closet Mix

Label: Anyway / Tone Scholar

Release Date: February 03, 2017 /

Closet Mix

The Upshot: Woozy, dreamy psychedelic pop guaranteed to put you in a dream state and keep you there.


The incestuous Columbus, Ohio, music scene rarely disappoints, and Closet Mix is no exception. Made up of veterans from the likes of Log, Great Plains, Househearts, Vena Cava, Peck of Snide, the Pringleberries and other outfits, the foursome crafts a sunny, tingly sound awash in dreamy melodies and powered by loping rhythms. It’ll leave you happily humming throughout the day.

This 12” EP comprises five songs, and while the level of songcraft on display here precludes easily selecting the proverbial pick-to-click, the interstellar surf-rock instrumental “Hugh Are You?” is an unexpected delight, cueing up as it does between the elegant pop chime of “It’s Better My Way” and the woozy balladry of “Won’t Be Lonely After All.” Throughout the record, subtle interweaving of Chris Nini’s keys and Keith Novicki’s guitar lends a textural richness ,while bassist Paul Nini’s upper register vocals skate atop the sonic bed with a delicate grace. (Drummer Dan Della Flora rounds out the lineup.)

It all comes to a head in closing track “Vague Uncertainties,” a shoegazey, psychedelic gem that fairly explodes in a series of colorful sonic starbursts; it’s one of those songs that could be extended indefinitely in concert as the band and audience reach out in tandem, higher and higher.

The name Closet Mix is, of course, derived from a Velvet Underground catch phrase—you can research it on your own—while the band Closet Mix has the entire EP posted at their Bandcamp page as a pay-what-you-can digital download. A small handful of the vinyl version are still available as well, although as it’s a super-limited edition, just 200 copies pressed, one should be prepared to jump on it pronto. Tell ‘em we sent ya.

DOWNLOAD: “Vague Uncertainties, “It’s Better My Way”

PONTIAK – Dialectic of Ignorance

Album: Dialectic of Ignorance

Artist: Pontiak

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: March 24, 2017


The Upshot: A fierce, no-holds-barred psychedelic assault that will leave you wasted yet enriched when the smoke finally dissipates.


Pontiak’s latest record is a crack to the jaw with a pair of brass knuckles. Blistering in its delivery, opening track “Easy Does It” smokes everything in its path. With muscular drumming and simmering psychedelic guitar cut with atmospheric vocals, the band produces a two-barreled, full frontal assault that was a one two punch to my cranium.

“Ignorance Makes Me High” quickly ensues, with its heavy double tracked rumbling guitar. Forging elements of Chicago band Tar and dope smoker bands Sleep and Electric Wizard, the song shudders and grunts its way towards the light. Rarely do I review an album where the top three cuts are so distinct yet so devastating when taken as a unit. “Tomorrow is Forgetting” is Pink Floyd meets Loop, with its narcotic singing and repetitive melodic line. These blokes can sure play the hell out of their instruments, which makes the album all-the-more powerful.

The album flows at a consistently high level. The guitar solo on “Dirtbags” smokes hard, and makes it easy for me to imagine that these guys probably put on a killer live show. The bio on the band mentions that the members live on farms in Virginia. I’m apt to believe they highlight that point because it’s isolation that allows a band like this to make music first and foremost for themselves and their friends, like an early Kyuss did. “Herb is My Neighbor” is an homage to the sweet leaf that swirls and permeates every track. “We’ve Fucked This Up” is a psychedelic odyssey of epic proportions. Swirls upon swirls of distorted guitar curl and eddy over a militaristic beat. The song has three distinct phases, the final one being a victorious march towards the blinding light off in the distance.

On Dialectic of Ignorance Pontiak have scorched the earth with their fierce, no-holds-barred psychedelic assault that will leave you wasted yet enriched when the smoke finally dissipates.

DOWNLOAD: “Easy Does it” “Ignorance Makes Me High” “Tomorrow is Forgetting” “We’ve Fucked This Up”



Album: Imaginary Enemies

Artist: Hiccup

Label: Father/Daughter

Release Date: March 24, 2017


The Upshot: Girls rule, yes they do—and in the strongest estrogen-powered punk style.


Hiccup, out of Brooklyn, plays abrasive punk with fizzy grace and tight harmonies. The band is two-thirds women – Hallie Bulleit does most of the singing and plays bass, while PIyal Basu drums and Alex Chute sings and plays guitar. All that estrogen makes comparisons to distaff pop-punkers like the Muffs and the Fastbacks inevitable, especially on hard-charging cuts like “Lady MacBeth and Miss Havisham,” with its rip-cut guitar riffs and sugary-sweet “well, well, oh-well, well” chorus (Corin Tucker-worthy vibrating “ohs” here).

Of course, guys do these things too, and links to bands like the Ramones and Mr. T Experience are equally valid — but not the whole story. “Teasin’” balances blustery banging with gleeful hooks, a roar of feedback sheathing euphoric shouts and croons, Basu’s drum beat rocketing off the skins, both arms extended. Later, on “Tides” the racket subsides and Hiccup sounds more like effervescent, upper registered Palomar than anyone else.   A couple of Chute-led cuts (early single “Dad Jokes” and “Enemies of Friends”) take the tension down a notch and land the band squarely in indie-rock territory (think Pants Yell). Still Hiccup works the best when it sounds like the Powerpuff Girls might swoop in momentarily. Girls rule, yes they do.

DOWNLOAD: “Teasin’” “Tides”

Photos Gallery: Music From Big Pink and Beyond 3/25/17, Glendale CA

Dates: March 25, 2017

Location: Alex Theatre, Glendale, Calif.


Live at the Alex Theatre this past weekend, it was a songwriters’ songwriters love fest of epic proportions (what about those Continental Drifters!). According to the organizers: “Benefit-concert producers the Wild Honey Foundation present The Band’s first two records Music From Big Pink and The Band, plus bonus songs, performed by a star-studded house band and guest singers. The event will benefit the Autism Think Tank.”


Garth Hudson of The Band



Carlene Carter



David Baerwald



Gary Eaton



Jackson Browne



Jerry Riopelle



Julianna Raye



Keith Allison



Louise Goffin



Luther Russell



Morty Coyle



Carlo Nuccio & Peter Holsapple






Sarah Kramer



Steve Wynn



Susan Cowsill



Van Dyke Parks



Victoria Williams


Cindy Lee Berryhill


Peter Case


Rob Laufer


Robert Lloyd


Steve Barton


Syd Straw


Tara Austin


Terry Reid




Rain (Beatles Tribute) 2/21/17, Seattle

Dates: February 21, 2017

Location: Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Performing live at Benaroya Hall, the veteran trib outfit covered all the expected bases while giving the Fab Four’s timeless music a unique feel.


You can expect a lot of Sgt. Pepper hoopla this year, as 1967 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. At the time of its release, it was hailed as the greatest album ever made — a claim that’s been constantly picked over ever since, but that’s another story. As a prime artifact that epitomizes the heralded Summer of Love ™, the Sergeant still reigns supreme.

Sgt. Pepper was Paul McCartney’s idea of how the Beatles could reinvent themselves, and make an album without the pressure of being “The Beatles.” Which makes it a bit ironic to have it as the centerpiece of a Beatles tribute show. Rain is the premiere Beatles tribute band (they don’t call them “impersonators” any more) in the U.S., going all the way back to 1975 when they were based in Laguna Beach, California, and called themselves “Reign.” They weren’t a full on tribute band at the time, but did perform a lot of Beatles covers, which landed them a gig providing the Beatle music for the first feature film about the Fab Four, Birth of the Beatles (released in 1979, and for my money still a better film than Backbeat or Nowhere Boy).

Today, Rain is more of a brand than a band; there are various touring line-ups of the group. The band has grown and changed over the years, and I hadn’t seen most of the members of the line-up that played Seattle on February 21: Jimmy Irizarry (John), Paul Curatolo (Paul), and Aaron Chiazza (Ringo). I had seen Alastar McNeil (George) in Fourever Fab, a Beatles tribute act in Hawaii (a Beatle tribute artist can always land a gig somewhere), and I’ve seen Curatolo’s father, Joey, who’s also a member of Rain, playing Paul (like father, like son!). Also on hand was Chris Smallwood, playing keyboards discreetly at the rear of the stage.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Rain’s shows follow a pretty standard format. Open with the group in their Fab Four Mop Top suits performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. A couple of A Hard Day’s Night songs, and then we’re into the Shea Stadium concert and “Yesterday.” Then to the Sgt. Pepper era followed by The Beatles (aka “The “White Album”) and Abbey Road period. But with this show featuring Sgt. Pepper as the centerpiece — Rain performs the album in its entirety — some adjustments had to be made. And this is what made the show especially interesting, for band rejigged the set list to include some songs that Beatles tribute bands don’t normally play.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

The mood was set as you entered the venue; Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony, so the acoustics were great. Rain has the best production values of any Beatles tribute band, with an attention to detail evident even before the show begins. There’s a black-and-white backdrop featuring pictures of 1960s signifiers (a peace sign, a lava lamp) and images related to the Beatles’ history (a Cavern Club sign, an Abbey Road street sign). The pre-show music is drawn from the early years of the decade (e.g. “Stand By Me”). There are numerous screens built into the set, with clips showing Rain re-enacting Beatles press conferences, and used to good effect at the show’s start, when a clip showing an Ed Sullivan impersonator introduces the band.

The first sequence emulates the Ed Sullivan shows, right down to “applause” signs flashing at the side of the stage after each song. You get the expected hits: “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Though right handed, Curatolo taught himself to play bass left handed — so important to that visual image of the Fabs (he did swap to a right handed guitar when playing “Yesterday”). By the middle Beatles period, the band had started to loosen up, delivering hard rocking versions of “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper.” The screens flashed images tied in with each song (such as trains when the band sings “A Hard Day’s Night,” reflecting the train trip the Beatles make in the movie of the same name), along with vintage commercials shown during the breaks for costume changes (the one showing Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble taking a cigarette break drew the biggest laugh).

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then came a melding of the Rubber SoulRevolver and “White Album” period, which brought the first surprises. I’ve never before heard a Beatles tribute band perform “The Word,” and they rarely tackle “Eleanor Rigby,” due to its having no rock instrumentation. Rain did both songs, along with other less expected material like “Drive My Car,” “In My Life,” and, skipping ahead, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It was refreshing to hear a Beatles tribute band vary the “just play the hits” formula. The Beatles were a band with a fantastic catalogue — why not explore more of it?

McNeil’s star turn in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (a song which invariably brings down the house) brought act one to a dramatic close. The drum head on Chiazza’s bass drum was then changed to one emulating the drum on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and we were ready for act two, with the band naturally attired in the colorful costumes also featured on the album’s cover. (Below photo by Richard Lovrich; courtesy Rain)

RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles is a LIVE multi-media spectacular that takes you through the life and times of the world's most celebrated band. Featuring high-definition screens and imagery - this stunning concert event delivers a note-for-note theatrical event that is the next best thing to The Beatles.

Again, it was exciting to hear a Beatles tribute band play songs you never generally hear: “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Good Morning, Good Morning” (complete with animal noises) Also, it was great to hear the entire album, not just the highlights you usually get in a tribute show. The album stands as the Beatles’ most imaginative work, as well as being one of their most musically versatile, and Rain clearly relished the opportunity to dig into the album start to finish. Though it’s a shame they didn’t take advantage of the Sgt. Pepper suits to perform “Hello Goodbye,” a song whose video also featured those iconic outfits.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then it was back to basics with the late era stuff, including a singalong to “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back” and “Revolution,” and an encore singalong of “Hey Jude.” The band was first rate throughout. Curatolo seemed to have the most fun, mugging and pointing at the audience just like the real McCartney, while Irizarry looked increasingly like Lennon as the show progressed. McNeil was suitably laid back as “the Quiet One,” and poor old Chiazza only got one song to sing. Never mind. As a group effort, Rain delivers. And with a crop of new songs in the setlist, even those who’ve seen Rain before will want to check out the new show.

Rain tours the U.S. through April 23, 2017.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall



Act One: “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “If I Fell,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday,” “Ticket to Ride,” “The Night Before,” “I Feel Fine,” “Day Tripper,” “Twist and Shout,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “The Word,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Drive My Care,” “In My Life,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Act Two: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” “Fixing a Hole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Within You Without You,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lovely Rita,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise),” “A Day in the Life,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back,” “Revolution,” “The End.”

Encore: “Hey Jude.”


Author contact:, Twitter: @GillianGaar

Photographer contact: (Copyright Peter Dervin)

BANJOVI – Laredo

Album: Laredo

Artist: Banjovi

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 01, 2017

Banjovi CD

The Upshot: Outlaw country with a desert twist, suitable for Sturgill Simpson fans and more.


From Oracle, Arizona (near Tucson), banjovi—lower case, please—is one Hadji Banjovi, who plays acoustic guitar and banjo, and sings, on this elegant, quintessentially Southwestern opus. Presumably, he also writes the dozen songs here, although the credits indicate the material was written by one Tom Hodgson, so it’s up to you, the listener, to discern the difference between the man and the nom du rawk—if there is any.

Me, I just know this sound when I hear it, having spent a decade in the Lower Sonoran Desert awhile back. I also recognize a slew of Tucson names among the credits, like studio rats Gabriel Sullivan and Jim Blackwood, and pedal steel maestro Neil Harry (all from the extended Giant Sand family). That’s a Tucson TMOQ for sure. And Laredo has a sun-baked immediacy impossible to ignore.

From the lonesome cowboy vibe and guitar-according interplay on the title track and the deep, dusty twang of “Disappearing Ink,” to the windswept, pedal steel-powered country of “Baggage Handler” and the shimmery mandolin lines arcing through “Paradise Just Lost a Fool,” it’s a gorgeous, evocative album. It’s worth additional note that Banjovi has at least one foot in Sturgill Simpson territory—indeed his vocal inflections are similar to Simpson and George Jones—and it’s not a stretch to imagine this record being embraced by the same audience. Check “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” about a troublesome gal who left and never came back, for a perfect example.

Ultimately, Laredo comes across as the real deal, outlaw country with a desert twist, and well-worth the effort in seeking it out. Look for the record at his Bandcamp page—it’s listed as officially released on April 1, but you can snag the digital version now. There’s also Hodgson’s other project, The Infinite Mercies, whose Texas State Bird was released a little less than a year ago and can also be found at Bandcamp. It’s very similar in tone and texture, if a bit more straight-up country, and features a number of the same musicians. Listened to back-to-back, the two records make a compelling case for yet another unique iteration of the “Tucson sound.”

Incidentally, if you try to search for “banjovi” you’ll come across a slew of bands that employ the monicker; rest assured that this banjovi is not likely to break into a chorus of “Living On a Prayer” anytime soon.

DOWNLOAD: “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” “Baggage Handler,” “Bluebird Eggs for Breakfast”