March 2005, by Bill Ribas
March 2005 CD Reviews:
Theresa Miele, I Am Not Your Puzzle to Solve
Sandbox Kings, Wonderfall
The Blisstones, Slapback
Dead Language, Writing on Walls
Willamena, Far From the Current
Richard Gsottschneider, The Banjo Lady
Bazerk, I Heard Y'all Like Violence 'The Rage Album'
r-h, Blackasia Volume 1
Terry Myrick, I Bowed to the Father
SotoSoundz, Octopus Head
Lisa Alice, Plans in Pencil
Distance, 8 Miles to Empty
Bludshot, Another Day
Jon Fritz, When It's Over
Phame, Chapter Four Verse 15
Nomad, Nomad (© 2004 Nomad)
Coming to you from NYC via Chicago is Nomad, a band that sounds a lot like the average bar band did in the late '70s moderate-paced rock, usually with a liquid distortion guitar weaving in and out of each song. There is also a definite hint of Allman Brothers, and every subset of southern rock band that followed. That doesn't mean there isn't variety, as in "Sleep Away," which veers more toward jam bands than southern rock, giving the sense that the identity of the band lies in the harder edge of rock and roll.
The boys are competent enough, instrumentally, with Guy Engelman on guitars and vocals, brother Dan on bass and vocals, Brendan Cavanaugh on guitar, and Jeremy Randol on drums. Vocals though, could have used a tad more care. On the opener, "I May Dream," the dueling voices of brothers Engelman are harsh as harmonies are approximated and not exact. Were a listener bloated with Budweiser in some sweaty dank bar, the vocal mismatch might not matter, but coming out of my speakers this morning, the sound is grating. The disc was made in just three days, so cut them some slack (studio expenses being what they are),
but they've got some work ahead of them.
Theresa Miele, I Am Not Your Puzzle to Solve (© Mieow Music)
Now here's a refreshing disc. Though the first cut gives the impression that the music will be composed of various electronic and/or dance hits, the songs that follow are quite different. For example, "Too Emotional" and "Metrosexual" both lie in a folk-rock vein, and completely dissolve any preconceptions one may have had after the first number. And despite the panic attacks young Miele used to suffer, with a voice like hers she has little to worry about. Sultry and beckoning is how I would describe it, and quite pleasant to the ears.
Lyrically she is insightful as well, beginning the song "These Walls" with the lines, "We're here in the same room, and yet I'm all alone, how can there be so many miles between us, when we're both here at home." Show of hands for anyone who has been in that situation? With "Moody Moody Guitar Boy," there's a return to an electronic edge, with a hint of Garbage. Here, Miele's voice is playful, teasing, and ever so sexy. Miele also touches country ground with "You'll Never Know," a delightfully bouncy number. She also does a version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love."
An impressive debut.
Wordsmith, Rockstrumentals (© 2004 Wordwise Publishing)
Anthony Parker is Wordsmith, a man who hopes to bring the rock-inclined to the world of hip hop, and vice versa. To accomplish this magnanimous feat, he has released a dual CD, with one side entitled "Classic Material," the other "Rockstrumentals." Will he be successful? He has a good deal of material to offer, and a wide variety of sounds and beats. Although the production on the discs could be a bit sharper, my guess is he has a good chance to advance. "Channel Live," for starters, the tenth cut on the disc, had me moving in my chair about as much as I can move in my chair.
And while Parker may use distorted guitars and drum machines as a background for his raps, there are also sonic bits and pieces that enter and leave on their own, adding an ethereal sound, but also distancing his music from the corporate hip-hop stuff of today. Even on a more mellow number, like "Wildchild," which is predominantly a clean electric guitar over beats, Parker's voice and pacing of words is enough to win me over. Though the production could be cleaned up a bit, Wordsmith might yet achieve his goal. He opened my ears.
Sandbox Kings, Wonderfall (© Sandbox Kings)
On the heavy side of pop, Sandbox Kings attack their instruments with determination and feeling, as dynamic beats pound out of the speakers. Ringleader Brando Hodzic's voice may lack the hard edge of a metal singer, but the emotional side comes through nicely. Much like frontmen for old-school bands such as XTC, Duran Duran, or ABC, his voice melds with the music, balancing out against, say, the snap of the snare or the pounding of the bass.
Together, the sound creates a heartfelt emotional pop soft enough for the lasses, and hard enough for the lads. The title cut contains some interesting rhythmic moments as well a quick break and heavy-muted strumming on a guitar, a dreamy chorus with a descending lead guitar, along with some neat production tricks. In fact, overall production is just splendid. For those in search of intelligent, well-produced pop, check out the Sandbox Kings at
The Blisstones, Slapback (© 2004 Lafabliss Publishing & Wrath of God Publishing)
Yep, they're back, and they still have a hip cool sound. Laura Fay Lewis can play guitar, but more important, it's what she does with the vocals that really directs the band. Oh, she's easy on the eyes too (check the photos page of their website),
but that's secondary. As with the band's previous release,
the guitar work of Michael Aguirre balances out her voice, complementing it, taking off for solos, providing an easy accompaniment. The songs are not your typical 1-4-5 progressions; there is a bit more at play here, and that works to both Aguirre's and Lewis's advantage.
When the structure of the songs is freed up, the pair can examine the numbers, and then improvise. The Blisstones still seem to have just a shade of cowboy cool, as on "Been There," which, though predominantly piano, feels to me like it could be sung on the lonesome prairie. The vibe is laid back, like some old Chris Isaak numbers, sans a guitar drenched in reverb. My favorite cut is the closer, "Runaround Man," which has a lazy slide guitar weaving about, and Lewis singing with a hint of a sneer.
Check them out at
Dead Language, Writing on Walls (© 2005 Dead Language)
The first cut on this four-song disc starts off with a streetwise NYC rhythm, so much so that you expect Lou Reed to start barking out vocals any minute. Instead, it's Jaime Pannone, who sounds more like Maryann Faithful. As the song "Expatriate" shuffles along with guitar chords that hang and sustain, a bass-and-drum combination provides a solid backdrop. Pannone half sings, half talks her way through the number, at times with a nasal arrogance, at other times waif-like. Rhythmically, the song locks you in, with a real primal feel. On "Gray Love," the pace slows down considerably.
Guitars jangle out chords, working through the changes, while Pannone's voice tells the story on top. Her voice is not one to listen to for those with perfect pitch, as they would quickly go nuts. Pannone wavers, warbles, and weaves about the notes, missing the tones more often than hitting them. But her delivery, off key as it is, is highly emotionally charged, and thus the dissonance bolsters the lyrics. Ultimately a mix of urban hipness and emotional delivery, Dead Language offer a sound and a feel that hits the listener in the gut.
Willamena, Far From the Current (© 2003 Ten Lanes Wide)
One of the perks of this job is finding out about great bands that chances are, I never would have heard. Willamena is one of those bands. Probably best described with an "alt" in front of any style, the band has a rootsy, mid-American sound in their songs, occupying a niche somewhere along the lines of bands like Wilco, but more accessible. As song after song emerges from the speakers, I keep thinking, how could a band with this talent and sound not be on a big label? And, again, that's one of the aspects of this job that drives me nuts, seeing talented bands not get support but I digress.
And as the disc continues to play out, I also think, will these guys ever run out of hooks? Most of the impetus comes from the driving guitar of Chad Hendrickson, who plays simple fills and chord chunks, runs lead lines, and beautifully embellishes each song. Against this come the vocals of Lucas Ross, a voice that is slightly gravelly, slightly time worn, but smooth enough when needed, and able to bark when asked to. Fans of bands with an alt-country roots rock sound will find that Willamena fits the bill quite nicely. Make a new friend at
Richard Gsottschneider, The Banjo Lady (© 2005 Richard Gsottschneider & Amber Pastures Music)
At the ripe old age of 47, Richard Gsottschneider started writing songs. Why so late? Well, it seems one of the founders of the Kingston Trio, Dave Guard, had died and left Gsottschneider a guitar. "I thought I should either learn to play it or give it to someone who would," said Gsottschneider, "because that is what Dave would want." And, surprisingly, Gsottschneider writes some pretty catchy folk numbers. Though his voice leaves you wanting at times, aiming for notes instead of singing them, knowing the story behind his playing allows me (at least) to cut him some slack.
The only problem I have with this disc, is that I just saw a rerun of "A Mighty Wind" the other night, and it's kind of hard to judge folk music, and put it in proper perspective at this moment. So maybe he can cut me some slack. And this disc is much more polished than you might be led to believe. In fact, I'm not so sure Gsottschneider didn't play guitar a bit beforehand. But semantics aside, there is a good deal of music on this disc that is enjoyable. There are no out-and-out blazing numbers (this is a folk disc, after all), and the bulk of the songs go by at a moderate pace. The backing musicians are excellent, and had I received no press with this, my only real complaint would have been with Gsottschneider's vocals. Check him out at
Bazerk, I Heard Y'all Like Violence 'The Rage Album' (© 2004 Sds Records)
Bazerk are four guys from LA, and their music is not for the faint of heart. Though just guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, they manage to pump out quite a bit of sound. Similar in some respects to Living Color or Rage Against the Machine, Bazerk hammers out tunes with all the subtlety of a daisy cutter. Drums thrash, bass notes throb, guitar notes shred, and Zoo's vocals, sung or rapped, snap from the speakers with a vibrant urgency. While not all the songs pummel the listener, most do, and so it's refreshing to hear a bit of restraint here and there.
On "Don't Be Long," for example, after the initial guitar riff intro to the song, followed by some pounding chords, the lads pull back into mellow land, where the guitar is more restrained, though the drums and bass express a good deal of urgency. Bazerk also manage to inject a funkiness into their music, with "Out of Control" as a good example. Guitar and bass statements are made while the drums deliver a funk beat in the rear, and Zoo (short for Zookeyne) raps his case out front. The only thing lacking here is a bit of screaming lead guitar, but for those about to rock, here you go.
r-h, Blackasia Volume 1 (© 2004 Compass)
Rajesh Hardwani is what the initials stand for, a man who once wanted to be a dj, but on this disc, found himself on the production end of things. And the 17 cuts here never lack for interest, partly due to rh's scavenging abilities. Seems he has assembled not just the beats, but the instrumentation that goes on top. Now that instrumentation might be an instrument found in Japan, or China, or India, or in Arabic cultures. Simply put, you never know what to expect. The result, however, is seamless. Far be it from me to be a fan of electronica, but the diversity on these tracks is captivating.
On "Indian Blues," for example, a delta blues guitar starts up, and is then overlaid with what sounds like a bus terminal. Then the drums come in, Indian drums that is, and all of a sudden it's the wildest thing you've ever heard. And, sure, some of the 30-second interludes are merely filler, but when r-h is on his game, the songs are damned interesting. Though his website was listed as
www.rh.hk, I could never get it to fire up properly. Maybe you can.
Terry Myrick, I Bowed to the Father (© 2005 Sweet Melody Records)
If you can't guess the type of music from the title of the disc, you should probably go back to sleep. And while I may not have any religion, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate Myrick's singing here. His attack on gospel is infused with a more up-to-date, hip-hop approach. You don't get the big choirs as much as you do drum programming, and that should be an indication of the musical direction. Does it work? Sounds fine to me, although initially I had my doubts. I did, however, have no doubts about Myrick's vocal ability. He can shoot from the depths of the low notes to the shrill higher notes without missing a beat.
And, thankfully, the vocal aerobics are at minimum here instead of getting the most notes per syllable, Myrick can hit a note and hold it. He also does all the background vocals, which would either indicate a budget issue, or an ego problem, though I would guess it was the former. There is enough variety here to listen to on the way to church and on the way home and not get bored. It would be interesting to hear Myrick with a big choir behind him, but maybe he's saving that for his second disc. No website listed.
SotoSoundz, Octopus Head (© 2003 Sotosoundz/Sheba Girl Music)
Wow, garage rock in the real meaning of the phrase. There are heavy guitars, chunking between chords, what sounds like a cheesy Farfisa organ, drums mashing out a simple beat, everything sounding as if it were on the verge of making a mistake or missing a beat. And I can't help but think of velour pants, hookah pipes, black-light posters, and a dense cloud of incense floating around the room.
The fact that Karen Sotomayor is pretty much doing everything by herself makes this disc, well, outstanding I say. "Do I?" evokes Grace Slick in her early days, when rabbits were running around, yet it is Sotomayor whose voice is deep and seductive here. "That's Called Life" reminds me of the Ramones in the way the verses charge out while the simple three-chord repetition hammers away. But it's the opening cut, "Burnin' With Desire," that I keep coming back to. It's raw, loud, in that all the instruments seem like they are clipping just a bit, their levels on the mixing board just a tad too high. But it wouldn't work any other way. I'm glad I heard this disc today.
Lisa Alice, Plans in Pencil (© 2005 Ridiculum Music)
Here's another case of a late bloomer. Lisa Alice recorded her first song for a philosophy department seminar in college. And it's a good thing she did pick up the guitar, because her music, at least what's presented here, is so strangely seductive that I have a hard time turning it off. Part Joni Mitchell, part Suzanne Vega, her voice paints a beautiful picture over her guitar work. And it's the guitar work that is outside the common spectrum of chords, my guess is Alice is using altered tunings, yet she never fails to surprise me, be it through aggressive strumming, or arpeggios, or just dandy finger picking.
Her songs have a hypnotic effect on me, where I'll be listening, and all of a sudden just veg out, coming back a minute or two later. But with a lot of Mountain Dew in me right now, I'm not dozing off. Alice works the dynamics well in her songs, building up noise with percussive strums, taking things down by playing sparsely, and in general, she has a good deal of musical sense about her. That said, it's a shame that there are only a handful of songs on this disc, though that might be due to a shortage of cash. I would bet that Alice has a bunch of material, and I would also bet that a talent like this should go national soon. Her site is
Distance, 8 Miles to Empty (© 2004 Distance Music)
From the Sunshine State comes a quartet that packs a heavy rock-and-roll punch. Sounding along the lines of Creed or Puddle of Mudd, they rock hard and heavy, yet still manage a solid melodic approach. In 2003, the lads shacked up together, their goal to write good songs and form a cohesive unit. Well, for Kevin Hedrick on vocals, bassist Rick Jordan, guitarist Paul Cohen, and drummer Matt Payne, the approach seems to have paid off. Another bit of luck found them in the studio with Brett Hestla (Creed) and Justin Thomas, and, as the French say, "voila, the trick, she is done."
A song like "Role Play" is a bit dark, reminding me more of Seattle grunge and Alice in Chains, in particular, with a syncopated drum beat, an odd time signature, and the slightest of effects on the vocals. The lads are equally effective at the slower paced stuff, as evinced on "Moving On," a song that begins with (gasp!) acoustic guitars, yet builds slowly, while not achieving the ferocity of the other numbers. But the song is solid, and the dynamics evident, nothing horribly out of place. Production is extremely polished, and I see no reason why you won't be hearing this band on the radio soon.
Bludshot, Another Day (© 2004 Shawn Tierney)
A rapper from Virginia? Sure, why not. And before dismissing him, give it a listen. On the opener, "Beautiful Day," you'll detect something different immediately. Yeah, you'll think Eminem, or Jay-Z, but Bludshot has a real wicked delivery when it comes to firing out syllables. Sometimes it's just the way he connects words like triplets, or sparks them out like 16th-note outbursts. The syncopation is way cool, and enough to set him apart a bit in the field. Stylistically, he is not limited to just yakking over the beats. On "Chica Bonita," he raps over a Latin progression, and the contrast is interesting.
Similarly, "Who Am I" starts off with a dub/reggae influence, as a guitar line loops over and over. With 16 cuts here, you get a good glimpse of Bludshot and his abilities, and while I do not claim to be an authority on rap or hip hop, I will admit to being quite interested in this disc. It holds more than enough variety to keep my attention. There are also a few songs where production duties are handled by another person for example, Gina Mohammed is at the helm for "Welcome to My World," and while stylistically there is a bit of a sonic change, Bludshot still maintains a steady rap, applying his approach and making it work.
Jon Fritz, When It's Over (© 2004 Fritzsongs)
The first thing that hits me when I check out Jon Fritz's website is that he is two days older than me. So happy birthday, man, and I hope yours was better than mine, because this year, mine sucked. Anyway, as I read his bio, I know and understand his influences, because I was there too, as his music shows a classic-rock influence. Though an acoustic player, his song construction features ample use of melody, something lacking in many bands out there today. His music has a sense of familiarity, at least to me, while still sounding fresh. His voice is slightly edgy, showing signs of perhaps many years on the road, but it also possesses a good tonal range, and fits his music very well.
On the slow-paced "Somewhere in Her Eyes," his voice wavers just a little, enough to evoke the emotional involvement the song needs to achieve authenticity. And as he sings, I find myself getting ever so slightly choked up, and yet this is the first time I have heard this song. A songwriter who can deliver such feelings immediately to the listener is quite impressive indeed (the flipside, of course, is that I may be a tear-shedding wanker, but believe me, not at this moment). Well worth seeking out.
Uru, Uru (© 2004 Uru)
On the cover she stands, knee-high boots, suede coat, white hot pants, no shirt, tambourine in hand, and she has the longest legs I've ever seen. So what kind of music do you expect? Maybe a '70s funk thing, hmm? Well, turns out Uru is from West Africa, and her music has a worldly feel to it. She also has the audacity to have two songs with the same name (different punctuation), "You Know..." and "You Know!?" While the former is a laid-back, spatial song, the latter is a funk-filled romp.
Wouldn't you know, Uru takes a shot at the blues as well, with "Hummin' the Blues." Though the song starts off in a traditional manner, with an Elmore James riff, it quickly turns into a rocky descending chord progression. Quirky? You bet. But in a way, it's awfully entertaining, being led through all the songs and not knowing what is going to happen next. I mean, there are so many CDs that are so predictable, which is not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps "safe" is a better word. It's just that most discs start sounding the same after 40 minutes or so. Not true at all with Uru, and the constant variety is a delight.
Phame, Chapter Four Verse 15 (© 2004 Phame)
Phame is the name for Chris Salas, from San Francisco. As a Latino rapper slash hip-hopper, he may be one of a few such Latino performers out there, and as a performer, he is certainly talented. The disc presents a variety of beats and styles for Phame to rap over, which he does in both English and Spanish. While not possessing the harsher edge of his African American counterparts, his music nevertheless flows smoothly as he raps his way through the numbers.
A song like "In Tha Heat" has a dark sound to it, but the beats do not jut out or sound erratic. Similarly, "4 Tha People" has a definite hip-hop groove to it, with marimba tones underneath, giving it a Latin flavor. Phame also takes it down just a notch for "Keep It Real," which shows the softer side, as it were, of the rapper. The number features Genevieve, and she provides a nice balance when her vocals come into play. In the end, the 16 songs show a balanced and smooth delivery, without the hard edge of some of the current crop out there. An interesting offering.
Email columnist Bill Ribas
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