Monthly Archives: February 2018

MICHELLE MALONE – Slings & Arrows

Album: Slings & Arrows

Artist: Michelle Malone

Label: SBS

Release Date: March 02, 2018


With her stunning new album, tellingly titled Slings and Arrows, veteran singer/songwriter Michelle Malone expands into new terrain with a personal statement that’s both revealing and reflective. She examines issues that have clearly become ingrained in her psyche and etched a deep impression. In the process, she finds an astute balance between desire and disappointment, all in equal measure.

As a result, Slings and Arrows comes across as more than mere meditation or typical rumination. It’s driven and defiant, and uncommonly bold in the way it exacts its raw energy and embraces it as part of her signature sound.

Although it’s not a concept album in the strictest sense, Slings and Arrows does look at a myriad of scenarios and set-ups from the perspective of the disparate characters that populate these songs. It’s through their hardships that Malone draws parallels with the situations that have led to her own conflicts with family and friends. Yet, given its relentless rhythms and her ability to bandy about the blues — opening track “Just Getting Started” sounds like ZZ Top redux, a tack that carries over to the emphatic “Beast’s Boogie” — its tangle and tenacity leave little room for softer sentiments. Still, the soulful strut of “Sugar on my Tongue” and the arched defiance of “Love Yourself” (I love my country but it makes me cry/When I think how great we’d be if we were unified”) leave no doubt as to where her feelings lie.

Ultimately, this is an album that defines Malone in ways that she’s rarely expressed before. Suffice it to say that in these tough times, these lessons about overcoming obstacles ought not to be ignored.

DOWNLOAD: “Just Getting Started,” “Sugar on my Tongue,” “Love Yourself”



HY MAYA – The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language 2LP

Album: The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language

Artist: Hy Maya

Label: Smog Veil

Release Date: January 19, 2018

The Upshot: Challenging improv, Prog-jazz, and experimental sounds from a criminally obscure Cleveland band—part of the Pere Ubu extended family, no less.


A few months back, the estimable Smog Veil label, archivist of all things Cleveland and vicinity, issued a terrific red vinyl/one-sided 12” EP, Terminal Drive, by Pere Ubu synth maven Allen Ravenstine and percussionist Albert Dennis, as part of the label’s “Platters Du Cuyahoga” series, which to date has included titles from the Schwartz Fox Blues Crusade (reviewed HERE), the Mr. Stress Blues Band, and the Robert Bensick Band. It’s been an impressive and revealing series to date, connecting a lot of musical dots that no doubt have proven elusive thus far to all but the most plugged-in Clevo die-hards (or longtime residents). Folks like yours truly typically know about Ubu, Rocket From the Tombs, and the other usual suspects, but the available knowledge and resources have always been relatively slim, which is why Smog Veil—particular kudos to stalwart liner notesman Nick Blakey and his research partners Frank Mauceri and Andrew Russ—has become THE go-to resource. Without the label’s ongoing diligence (obsession?), a crucial chapter in American pre-punk history might’ve gone permanently lost, or at very least, overlooked.

Which brings us to Hy Maya, whose complete 1972-73 output—shows caught on tape, a few rehearsals and demos, plus a “proper” Cleveland studio session—are collected as The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language on CD and vinyl (gorgeous blue/marbled wax at that, as a double-LP gatefold set with insightful liner notes from Andrew Russ), which also includes a thick booklet boasting plenty of rare archival photos and gig posters alongside an extensive oral history from members Bensick, Ravenstine, and Cynthia Black, plus journalist Charlotte Pressler. The lineup was apparently in constant flux, Bensick being the sole constant, at pints not featuring Ravenstine—Black was an occasional member—while including, variously, bassist Albert Dennis, Pere Ubu drummer Scott Krauss, pianist Bob Friedhofer, and percussionist Richard Schneider. Yeah, this was the proverbial “art-rock” collective, and perhaps its essential instability was what prevented Bensick’s outfit from earning more than a few brief mentions from journalists over the years—and also prevented any music being officially released, until now. Kudos to the label and studio whiz Paul Hamann, who tackled the daunting task of tape transferring and mastering, along with Sam Habash, who was responsible for the actual tape restoration.

The Mysticism also makes for the proverbial “uneasy listening,” in part because it’s sourced from both live and studio material rather than being an actual “album” in the conception/execution sense. That’s not to say it isn’t a fascinating listen, however. From moments of raw improvisation to more textured drones and injections of industrial noise to backwards passages—the minimalist track “Left Brain Reflexions” features exotic percussion flourishes, searing electronics, and even a person whistling— Hy Maya clearly had been kissed by the creative muse.

That they probably confused as many as they entranced didn’t do ‘em any favors, but my bet is that the members had the ability to surprise one another each time they rehearsed or performed, and that’s something you can’t quantify, artistically. Oh, did I mention that this is the kind of album that has the ability to surprise every Clevo-attuned listener – and make ’em believers? Utterly, transcendentally, essential.

DOWNLOAD:  “A Quantum Mechanic Mambo” (1972 studio recording, featuring flute, jazz bass, world percussion), “Hold the Holograph” (1972 home recording at Ravenstine’s house), “Ship of Fools” (1972 live recording, possibly the most “straightforward” track in terms of having a full band arrangement and spoken word vocals—like a poetry recitation—from Bensick), “Dance of Illusion” (1972 rehearsal, a 16-minute slice of piano/bass/drums Prog-jazz with Bensick vocals).


SETH WALKER – Live at Mauch Chunk Opera House

Album: Live at Mauch Chunk Opera House

Artist: Seth Walker

Label: Royal Potato Family

Release Date: February 23, 2018

The Upshot: Roots rocker truly “comes alive” onstage in Pennsylvania and leaves the audience demanding more—encore!


It seems rather apt that the eclectic Americana roots musician Seth Walker would choose to record his live album in the quiet, unassuming Mauch Chuck Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PA. Much like the venue, Walker’s not trendy or flashy, but timeless and damn is he ever impressive.

Though the set captured on the album is only nine tracks long – recorded last May – it gives a perfect snapshot of Walker’s brilliant live act. From the onstage banter to the drawn-out jams that veer from folk and bluegrass into blues and jazz territory at times. Tracks like the seven-minute long “Call My Name” and the New Orleans-inspired “2’ Left to the Ceiling” and “Way Past Midnight” go a long way to show his musical depth. He also gives a beautiful, stripped down rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” accompanied by accordion.

With nine albums to his name, Walker had more than enough material to put out a live record twice as long, but sticking to that adage, he clearly leaves you wanting more.

DOWNLOAD: “Call My Name,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Way Past Midnight”


BOBO STENSON TRIO – Contra la indecisión

Album: Contra la indecisión

Artist: Bobo Stenson Trio

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 19, 2018


Given that Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has been active since the sixties, it’s surprising that Contra la indecisión is only his tenth album as a leader. Working with his regular sidemen bassist Anders Jormin – his musical partner of four decades – and drummer Jon Fält, Stenson essays a wideranging program that emphasizes melody over dissonance and interplay over improvisation. That’s not to say there isn’t some fire here – Jormin’s “Oktoverhavet” and “Stilla” ride undulating grooves, and the threesome’s teamwork comes to the fore on the group improv “Kalimba Impressions” and a peppy version of Erik Satie’s “Elégie.” But Stenson’s lyrical keyboard touch lends itself most keenly to the atmospheric impressions of Belá Bártok’s “Wedding Song From Poniky,” Jormin’s “Doubt Thou the Stars” and his own “Alice,” and Jormin and Fält understanding exactly how to support his style. In many ways, Contra la indecisión is typical of the European jazz model ECM has so carefully documented over the past fifty years – those looking for any hard swing will be disappointed. But it’s also a fine example of the form by a stalwart practitioner that underscores the appeal of the style.

DOWNLOAD: “Elégie,” “Kalimba Impressions,” “Alice”


CLUB 8 – Golden Island

Album: Golden Island

Artist: Club 8

Label: Labrador

Release Date: January 26, 2018



 One thing that you can predict about the Swedish duo of Club 8 is that they’re always unpredictable. The band, consisting of Johan Angergard and Karolina Komstedt, have quietly carved out one hell of a catalog over the past few decades (yup, decades….their lovely debut, Nouvelle, arrived in 1996) and the band is always willing to take chances and go places they haven’t before on each new record (listen to 2010’s The Peoples Record one of my favorites by the way, and you’ll wonder if it’s the same band). This new record, the band’s 10th , is quiet, solemn even with hushed, pulsing beats and whooshed vocals that appear when you don’t expect them (and don’t appear when you think they might). It’s also a unique, challenging record for a band who’ve challenged themselves their whole career (not a lot of pop hooks on this one).

“Swimming with the Tide” opens the record like a heartbeat, the beginning of life, while “Pacific”, just like its title, is surrounded by the lap of the ocean and “Got to Live” is a call to arms to continue with life complete with near-chanting (especially for Angergard who recently quipped, “I’ve not really been living in this world lately”). If there’s any kind of a “hit” on this record it could be the Karolina-sung “Fire” which soars gorgeously at just the right time (a pal who’d never heard the band before said it reminded him of M83) and “Touch You” is flat-out one of the best song’s the band’s written yet.

If you’re expecting chirpy indie pop like the band presented early on then you might be disappointed, but if you want to hear a band still firmly in the pop realm but going in a million different places then you could fall in love on Golden Island.

DOWNLOAD: “Pacific,” “Got to Live,” “Fire”




Tedeschi Trucks Band 2/20/18, Port Chester NY

Live at the venerable Capitol Theater, natch.


The Tedeschi Trucks Band tore through an almost two and a half hour two set opener in the first night of two at the Capitol Theater. Opening the show with “Do I look Worried”, from the album made up my mind. The band went through a nineteen song set list. A highlight from the first set was a great cover from Neil Young’s “Alabama”. Susan’s voice was as always nothing short of amazing. Another highlight was the song “Until You Remember”. The sound in the Capitol Theater was amazing. Derek’s guitar work echoed the walls of the Capitol without taking away from the rest of the band. An incredible work of musicianship the dual drummers and the smooth base blended so nicely with the horns and backing vocals. After a short break TTB opened the second set with a scorching version of “Statesboro Blues”. The crowd was more than ready for the second set, and the band did not disappoint. Playing a few cover songs the one that stood out the most was “You Don’t Know How it Feels”, by Tom Petty. Being such a fresh blow to music fans, the song took on a new meaning to me that night, RIP Tom Petty. The show was great and the fans made me think the “Wheels of Soul” will be spinning for a long time to come.

LUTHER RUSSELL – Selective Memories: An Anthology 2CD

Album: Selective Memories: An Anthology

Artist: Luther Russell

Label: Hanky Panky/Ungawa

Release Date: January 26, 2018

The Upshot: Gifted singer-songwriter looks back on an inspiring, if frequently under-the-radar, career that’s encompassed everything from ‘mats-style garage to rootsier anthemic rock to outright experimentalism.


Although he’s not quite a rock ‘n’ roll Zelig, Luther Russell has reared his head in enough disparate settings—from the Bootheels (with Jakob Dylan, no less) in the late ‘80s and the Freewheelers in the ‘90s, to myriad solo incarnations (that found him in the company of such talents as Marc Ford from the Black Crowes and Ethan Johns) and, most recently, guesting at the Wild Honey Orchestra tribute concert for Richie Furay & the Buffalo Springfield (our photo gallery is HERE)—to presume that his music industry Rolodex is pretty damn fat. The songwriter and multi-instrumentalist also finds time to team up with Big Star’s Jody Stephens as Those Pretty Wrongs, so he’s got pretty damn good taste, too.

Selective Memories is a sprawling two-disc trawl through Russell’s archives, some 41 songs in all, 25 of which are only now seeing the light of day. And it’s a fascinating journey, too. There’s a serious Replacements/Westerberg obsession demonstrated as vocalist/bassist for the Bootheels (“Interstate 68 Blues,” a classic lonely-on-the-road number) as well as a budding solo artist (“Thursday Girl,” an unreleased demo from 1989). Career-wise, he gets an early boost fronting the Freewheelers, a rootsier outfit with Stones leanings, whose self-titled debut was released in ’91 by DGC; “Little Miss Fortune,” from that debut, and several demos by the band, showcase a coulda-shoulda ensemble that wasn’t exactly in synch with the post-Nirvana nu-grunge mania of the era, although Russell could certainly turn on the vocal grit ‘n’ gravel, Cobain-style, when he wanted. And a spate of tracks from 1996’s Lowdown World (And Other Assorted Songs) reveal Russell to be a solid fuck-you-trendy-bastards kind of rocker, playing all the instruments (including, on the dark ode to a junkie friend “Seven,” tape loops) and generally experimenting with the studio’s possibilities.

Disc 2 presents an artist who’s gotten older and wiser (though, by his own admission, a total stoner), chronicling Russell from 1998 onward. Key tracks include “Smoke Signals,” a Crazy Horse-esque demo cut with Marc Ford; the frankly brilliant, anthemic “Arthur Lee,” written in 1999 and eventually appearing on 2002’s Have A Piece of American Pie, which should have done for Lee what the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” did for you-know-who (the chorus “Arthur Lee’s not dead/ He’s only doing time” references the erstwhile Love leader’s then-incarceration); “Empty Taxis,” also from ’02, a svocal/piano slice of unabashed heartbreak; and 2012’s “The Sunnyland,” from the as-yet-unreleased “How I Won the West,” a luminous slice of (as he describes it) Bert Jansch and John Fahey that suggests a potentially fruitful side career in film soundtracks.

Intriguingly, things come full circle on the final track, “The Sound of Rock & Roll,” which apparently is slated for the forthcoming album Medium Cool. A lovely, garagey slice of jangle pop, it’s pure Westerberg, rich in melody and awash in lyrical yearning. Nice to know that the songwriter doesn’t forget the music that originally inspired him to start writing—and can still capture a little bit of that musical magic.

DOWNLOAD: “The Sound of Rock & Roll,” “Arthur Lee,” “Smoke Signals,” “Little Miss Fortune”


Album: Calm Before...

Artist: Rising Storm

Label: Sundazed

Release Date: January 12, 2018

The Upshot: Incalculably rare, this mid 1960s album by a bunch of upper class northeastern schoolboys is better than you might think. Ace covers and surprisingly sturdy original tunes, now available on back-to-vinyl.


A bunch of prep school boys put together a rock band in 1965. Big deal, right? American teens (mostly but not exclusively males) did that all over the USA in the mid-sixties. The influences of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds was widespread, and American affluence (for some, at least) meant that instruments and amps were within the budget of many teenagers. And sometimes they made good – even great – music.

Crate diggers have made a fetish of discovering some of those rare recordings. Calling themselves Green Fuz, a band from near Fort Worth Texas cut a song of the same name, often described as a no-fi classic. Copies of that 45 go for top dollar these days. Even rarer is the sole LP from those Andover Academy teens. They called themselves the Rising Storm, and their album Calm Before… is one of the most sought-after obscure LPs of the rock era.

Acclaimed music journalist Richie Unterberger wrote about the Rising Storm and their record in his essential tome, Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll. And the record got a legitimate CD reissue in the 1990s. Now in 2018, Sundazed Records has reissued the album again, this time returning it to its native format of vinyl LP.

The most remarkable quality about the album is the band’s impeccable taste in material The songs they chose the record are a fascinating assortment of well-chosen covers and surprisingly strong original material. The record opens with a cover of the Remains’ “Don’t Look Back.” The vocals are a bit smoother than Barry Tashian’s original, but the harmonies are tight, and the instrumentation is pretty top-notch, especially for a bunch of teens. And they play the damn thing fast.

Even the title “To L.N. / Who Doesn’t Know” betrays a kind of coffee-house sophistication, and the moody, folk rock original is musically appealing. “I’m Coming Home” is a simple enough garage rocker, but the arrangement is ambitious by garage-rock standard. And keyboardist Charlie Rockwell is fleet-fingered on his combo organ.

Arthur Lee’s “A Message to Pretty” wasn’t especially well-known on the east coast in 1967, but these students discovered it. The Rising Storm’s reading of the Love classic is a bit subdued and fragile, but perhaps that’s the vibe they were going for. The harmonica solo is pretty solid in a folky way.

We’ll excuse the inclusion of “In the Midnight Hour,” because every band did it back then. To be fair, the Rising Storm does better than average on the Wilson Pickett chestnut.

By far the weirdest tune on Calm Before… is “Frozen Laughter.” Unterberger spends a good bit of time discussing the track in his book. It really has to be heard to be believed. If it sounds like anything else, it’s perhaps a bit reminiscent of early Velvet Underground. The haunting spoken-word clip that opens the track adds a deeply unsettling air, as does the faraway, funereal organ. (Listen to it at the provided link, below.)

Another original, “She Loved Me” shows that the Rising Storm could fuzz-rock as well as any. The vocals on the chorus of “Mr. Wind” are wince-inducing; it’s the weakest track here, but it’s still not a total disaster. “Big Boss Man” opens as a slow blues but shifts gears into what sounds like an upper-class white boy’s rethink of Northern soul…an uncharacteristically good one.

“Bright Lit Blue Skies” is a strong original number with some sunny harmonies applied to a melancholy melody and lyric. And like all of the tunes here, it’s performed with great attention to detail, and admirable musical skill. The last original on the record, “The Rain Falls Down” is a shimmering, moody and contemplative number with reasonably mature lyrics. The record closes with another well-worn tune, “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The band plays it at breakneck speed, as if they were just told that there was two minutes and 48 seconds left on the tape. They make the most of it, and seem to be having a great deal of fun in the process.

The 2018 Sundazed reissue features the recording in glorious mono, housed in a lovely gatefold sleeve (with rare photos inside). And the translucent yellow vinyl is a nice added touch.

DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Look Back,” “She Loved Me,”  “Frozen Laughter”




Album: Grace

Artist: Lizz Wright

Label: Concord

Release Date: September 15, 2017


Lizz Wright continues to make the most of a commendable reputation she’s sewn for the better part of the past decade. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy; her last album, Freedom & Surrender, was five years in the making and should have brought her to the brink of wider recognition. It was, after all, a superior showcase for a searing, soulful style that freely incorporates gospel, blues and pop. In some circles it came close, close enough at least to create anticipation for what would come next.

Indeed, Grace makes for a fitting follow-up, and it provides another reason for thinking that it may, in fact, be the effort that helps define her career. It surges with drive and determination right out of the gate, with a trio of songs (“Barley,” “Seems I’m Never Tired Lovin’ You,” “Singing In My Soul”) that set the standard for all that’s to come. Wright relies mostly on covers — she’s only credited with co-writing the final track “All the Way Here” — but her choice of classic material — Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand,” Allen Toussaint’s Southern Nights,” the timeless standard “Stars Fell on Alabama, as well as newer, but equally impressive choices by k.d. lang, Rose Cousins and Ray Charles — testify to her ability to make the material her own. Wright is one of those singers who’s clearly capable of putting her own stamp on even the most familiar material, as evidenced by nothing more than the strength her own determined delivery.

Grace? Indeed. Given the accomplishments listed above, it’s a true treasure all on its own.

DOWNLOAD: “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Every Grain of Sand,” “Barley”

STEPHANE WREMBEL – The Django Experiment III

Album: The Django Experiment III

Artist: Stephane Wrembel

Label: Water Is Life

Release Date: January 26, 2018

The Upshot: Followup to 2017’s The Django Experiment I / The Django Experiment II, and an ambitious album that begins the process of not treating the original arrangements with complete reverence and experimenting with different methods of transmission.


Apparently Stephane Wrembel isn’t quite done with his project to revisit the music of gypsy jazz greats Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli – this is the sequel to the pair of album the French guitarist released last year (and reviewed here at BLURT). While there’s plenty of old-school gypsy jazz here, Wrembel doesn’t play it quite as safe as he did on the prior recordings. For one thing, there are only three Django originals, with the rest coming from the late guitarist’s contemporaries, traditional sources or even Wrembel’s pen itself. For another, while the familiar hopping rhythms and fleet-fingered solos (from Wrembel, co-axedude Thor Jensen and sax/clarinet blower Nick Driscoll) dominate, other colors catch the eye. The darkened, Middle Easter-flavored intro of “Les folts du Danube,” the Latin-flavored rhythm in the back half of “Swing gitan/Apocalypse,” the enigmatic, chunky riffing of “Indifference,” the marching intro to “Nuages,” one of Reindhardt’s most famous tunes — Wrembel has begun the process of not treating the original arrangements with complete reverence and experimenting with different methods of transmission. It’s an excellent step in his evolution, and a necessary one – given how few performers nowadays essay this style of jazz, it behooves Wrembel to keep it fresh for himself and the musical generations to follow.

DOWNLOAD: “Swing gitan/Apocalypse,” “Nuages,” “Indifference”