Friday, August 30, 2013

Stratic, Michael Coleman, Aram Shelton, Alex Vittum

"For those who don't know where you're at or aren't sure what this is, I'm Della Reese!" So spoke Sarah Vaughan in the middle of a nice appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival years ago. I feel a little sassy today so I'll start with something similar. If you don't know that the Gapplegate Guitar Blog often talks about music sans guitar, that's because it ISN'T the Gapplegate Guitar Blog! You have reached the wrong site!

No, seriously, I am a firm believer that musicians who only listen to those who play the instrument they do are doing themselves a great disservice. I played years ago with a great guitarist who admitted to me when hanging out that he had never heard Charlie Parker. I brought out some sides and remedied the situation as best I could in a few hours, but this can be a common thing.

So today we cover a group that has no guitar. They play an electric avant music that any guitarist who cranks can get something out of, and I mean that. The group is Stratic and the album is also Stratic (self-released). Michael Coleman plays keys and makes an electronic stew for everything to float within. Aram Shelton plays saxes and process musical signals live. And Alex Vittum is on drums.

The result is a heady, soulful mix of super electric avant metal jazz rock. It's dense, it's hard, it's got musicality underneath it all and these are some heavy cats who play this along with other things. It's the thinking person's blast of metallic voltage. There are moments when it quiets down and they are just as cool. And so I would very much recommend you give it an earful. Whether you might know what to expect or have no idea, it's some prime electric outness.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Neomythics, New Corporate Resistance

How you will like Neomythics and their album New Corporate Resistance (ExFed) depends on how much you crave new rock that is catchy but committed to telling a story--and has some heft. This band delivers that. Matt Montgomery and Gregory Howe are essentially the driving forces behind this band, which is strong on guitar plying, bass walloping and hard-ish drumming from one Lumpy and also Thomas McCree. Howard Mandel gets some nice guitar action on a few cuts as well.

It's youthful sounding in the vocal department. If you ARE young that wont be something you'll notice, though. If you aren't you'll get a feeling you were here a while ago, because of course the bands WERE young when we were.

So I am posting here because I find these guys interesting. The band has songs, a slight lyricality, solid arrangements and rock rawness in a combination that used to have a presence on top-forty radio. This is probably not going to be top-40 fare because it is lyrically direct. Well and we don't mind that, do we?

Peter Bruntnell, Retrospective

Peter Bruntnell. Peter Bruntnell. How did I miss this guy? Well if you have too, or even if you haven't, you can get a really solid bead on who this man is and what he is about on a Retrospective (Blind Eye 002), culling together some prime cuts from 1995-2011, eight albums, it looks like(?), plus a newly remade version of "Played Out" with Sarah Joyce on vocals.

Alright, then. So we have his strong story-songs, each with vivid moods and what it looks like from Peter Bruntnell's head and heart about what it is to be alive. Neil Young and Jackson Browne come to mind as precursors, though Peter doesn't sound like them. He does have that epic melodic this-is-a-life-story way about his songs. There is some solid guitar wielding, too. This is rock song as art.

So what more to say, except that a few listens got me completely on his wave-length. It's a heavy collection of real, human song making!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rose & the Nightingale, Spirit of the Garden

When music breaks boundaries, and it's very good, I tend to be especially attentive. Not that I am not paying attention otherwise, but the truly new gets me going and listening in a fully there sense from the first. Rose & the Nightingale and their Spirit of the Garden (Sunnyside) is very much that. The group has an unusual line-up. Jody Redhage plays cello (as, interestingly enough, she also does on the Brian Landrus CD I reviewed today on the Gapplegate Music Blog), sings, and writes the songs. Sara Caswell plays violin and mandolin. Leala Cyr sings and plays trumpet. And Laila Biali sings and plays piano.

So we have four ladies playing an unusual array of instruments, three of them singing beautifully, often in close harmonies. Sara can solo on violin in a very convincing way as well. There is a bit of scatting too.

All told it is the gentle lyricism of the songs, the pastoral mood, the distinctive voices either solo or in harmony and the unusual instrumentation that makes this one so unusual in the best sort of way. It has sophistication but also an unvarnished sort of innocence, even in the face of a rather harsh world out there.

If you feel bruised up in the course of your daily life, put this one on and I think it will help. In is very mellow, yet there is nothing of the smooth slickness that can ruin such an experience. Recommended!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Larkin Poe & Thom Hell, The Sound of the Ocean Sound

Just because I don't usually cover a substyle of music here doesn't mean I shouldn't, if something comes along that's good. Here is that something: Larkin Poe & Thom Hell's The Sound of the Ocean Sound (self-released). It was recorded in Norway and Atlanta, Georgia. Now that may seem unusual but there is a reason. This is a collaborative effort between Larkin Poe (aka the Lovell Sisters) and Thom Hell, a Norwegian rock-pop figure of some repute.

Rebecca and Megan Lovell play acoustic guitars, Megan a hell of a nice dobro, Rebecca also plays mandolin. Rebecca sings lead vocals, as does Thom Hell (and he plays piano and some acoustic guitar throughout). Megan sings harmonies, as do they all as needed. Then there is a solid rhythm section.

It's a lyrical, very nicely done set of songs in a country rock mode. The vocals are really, really nice. And that dobro!

It's just such nice, memorable music. If you like Emmylou Harris or Alison Krauss, there's something here you'll resonate (dobro!) with, I am quite sure. The country Byrds come to mind just a tad too.

So I don't know how far you go in your tastes--in fact this may well match them perfectly. I can go pretty far around the musical planet when something is good. This something is good! It really is!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stephen Savage, Future Memory

It's easy to pan synth-pop tracks that have no soul. I do it myself. What's hard as with any instrumental combination is to make really good, engrossing, satisfying music, if it's with a bunch of keys and synths or just a cathedral organ. A string quartet. It's what you DO that matters. Stephen Savage does that. Future Memory (self-released) finds him composing music that requires him to man all those electronic instruments plus conventional keys and guitar. Michael O'Connor joins him on drums for part of the time and that works out fine.

What this is I suppose you could say is a cosmically aware space and time form of prog rock. Some sounds a little Zappa-esque, some has a fused provenance, but it's all about the place inside where you conceive of good musical composition ideas and then realize them almost all by yourself in a studio. Now that's easy to poo-poo as not "live" (though of course it's as old as electronic music, and face it--ALL recorded music is "not live") somehow not "organic," and not authentic in some back-to-nature hippie sense that as we now know does not give us nature back any more than nature is something to over-exploit endlessly without courting disaster.

My point is only that the musical result is what we should look to and dismiss only if it is not musically worthwhile. Future Memory is very worthwhile as MUSIC! You aren't going to hear a lot of fleet and intricate soloing because this is prog composition more than axemanship. And I am NOT putting down axemanship either. This isn't going to give it to you is all I am saying.

But the music has depth. Substance. Smarts. Nicely turned lines, harmonic interest, atmosphere and a little drive. Thank you Mr. Savage!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Annette Cantor, Songs to the Goddess

Anyone who reads this blog knows there is much about New Age music I do not like. But every once in a while something comes along that stands up (and out) as musically quite valid and interesting. Such an album is on tap today for your consideration. The artist is singer Annette Cantor and the album is Songs to the Goddess (Source Being).

It's cosmic space, ethnically ambient part-minimal, part-modal music for multiple wordless vocals (Annette) and some nicely turned musical arrangements by C. G. Deuter.

It has all the trappings of New Age music but it stands on its own. Imagine that there was no such thing as New Age and instead this was just an album of cosmic things. In that way it is the equivalent to some of the psychedelic mood records that came out in the late-'60s-early '70s, like Music from the Zodiac, if anybody remembers that.

It has its own musical center from which comes Ms. Cantor's pleasing warbles, dedicated especially to Mother Earth.

Well now you may scoff, but it does work as music, and that's all I care about, really. You decide for yourself.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Joelle Leandre & Jerome Bourdellon, Evidence

Not everything is everything. In fact some things aren't much of anything. Not true of Evidence (Relative Pitch 1010) by Joelle Leandre & Jerome Bourdellon. It is neither not much nor is it everything. Which means it is the right thing. What makes it right is the chemistry created by the two artists.

Joelle Leandre has been one of the premiere avant acoustic bassists for some time. She is marvelous, inventive, a sound-texture artist of the highest order, respected by her peers and critics alike. Jerome Bourdellon is not well-known to me but comes through on this recording as fully worthy of this major collaboration. He covers the contrabass flute, C flute, bass flute, bass clarinet and piccolo masterfully, giving Ms. Leandre a full spectrum of pitch zones to react against, which between the conventional pizzicato and bowed pitch ranges and those gained by harmonics, is just as wide.

We are talking about free improvisation here, as many would expect. And it's all about sound color and space, yes, but also about pitch sequences. Joelle is a master of such things and also a vocalist that has carved out her own style of out scatting, which she does at times here (and Jerome sometimes joins in with vocals too, effectively). Bourdellon keeps pace with Ms. Leandre, which is saying something. He has excellent tone control and sound generation inventiveness, yes, but also can run lines that go head-to-head with Joelle's prowess in that zone.

Evidence has excellent pace in its movement from instrument combination to instrument combination, from mood to mood, from color and run to color and run.

Marvellous duo! Beautiful playing! You won't be disappointed. It's very good in everything it does. And it's very worth having even if you don't seek to have everything!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Erica Buettner, True Love and Water

Who is Erica Buettner? She writes very good songs in a kind of sensitive folk vein. Joni Mitchell certainly has influenced her and in the right way. Erica doesn't imitate. She assimilates and gives out with her own music. She plays a decent, very appropriate folk guitar and banjo.

All this on her album True Love and Water (Peppermoon 001). Pierre Faa produced and arranged the music here, without doing so intrusively. There's a touch here, a touch there, but it's all about Erica's songs, her very nice voice, her folk picking. That is what is at the forefront, and nicely so.

It's that personal-poetic thing that makes you happy and sad at once. It's human music without pretension. It's a musical photo album (remember them?) of Erica, a sort of self-portrait in song.

And it's good. It will keep good company with you for many listens.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Song of the South, Duane Allman & the Rise of the Allman Brothers Band, DVD

Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers Band? He and they changed the face of rock. Duane's life was tragically short. The band continues on even today. You can get a good bead on Duane's musical biography and how the Allman Brothers came to be with the DVD Song of the South, Duane Allman & the Rise of the Allman Brothers Band (Sexy Intellectual 576).

As the title makes pretty obvious the organizing theme of the bio-video is the importance and situation of Duane and the Allmans as part of the Southern US and how they energized the rock scene there. The Florida setting for the early musical lives of Duane and Greg gets plenty of attention. The racial segregation, the beautiful southern soul music and blues music coming out of the South, Duane and Greg's fascination with the music and rejection of the politics--all certainly help situate the coming-to-be of their musical consciousness and the social underpinnings implied.

The evolution of Duane and Greg's first bands from average local cover affairs to a more distinctive, harder outfit, the move to LA and the unfortunate two-album psych-pop Hourglass project, Duane's Muscle Shoals studio days and the key step--an Allman Brothers band finally giving fully fleshed impetus to the sounds Duane and Greg absorbed and gave back transformed, all is given due attention. I learned much from the DVD on the early days I did not know. And it's portrayed vividly with first-hand narrative and well paced sequences.

Then as expected we get a detailed account of how the Allman Brothers band started out, the unusual influences and combinations that came to bear on their music, and the initial struggle for recognition both in the South and nationwide. Of course the rest most of us know--breakthrough, the Fillmore album and success. As we know Duane bursts into guitar brilliance and the band establishes a style that wasn't quite like anything before. Then, tragedy. All is given moving and fascinating coverage, some of the best coming out of the interview footage with the Allman's road manager and engineers from some of the original sessions in Florida.

By framing it all as the story of the rise of Southern Rock, we gain much insight into the musical- and political-politics of the nation in that era, and how dramatic it was that the Allmans came to be--a band that was hip, socially-racially unbiased, helping to create and sustain a collective new Southern audience that rejected the good-old-boy, Jim Crow view of some of their forebears and contemporaries.

On the other hand there is a strictly musical aspect of the Allmans that doesn't get enough attention to my mind. That is the importance of the style of music the classic Allman band produced--at once bluesy, progressive and seminally proto-jamband-like with that so distinctive two-guitar sound and two-drummer rock thrust. There could have been a more musically informed discussion on a more specific level, though there is good general attention to Duane as a guitarist and his development. I'd like to know more about Duane's direct influence on the band's style--and I suppose there would need to be somebody from the band in those days to discuss that. But perhaps DVDs of this sort are not meant to be the last word on the music, and so this one most certainly isn't. For that there are books, and your listening ears.

Nonetheless it gives you a very informative overview of the Duane/Allman's advent. I was fascinated and if you want to know more about Duane and the Allman's history, I think you will be too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

House of Love, She Paints Words in Red

When I had to have a tooth extracted a few weeks ago, I spent some time in my dentist's office for several visits. They were playing what I assume was top-40 radio the whole time and I was taken aback. I just don't follow that genre these days for various reasons, partially because it has become somewhat marginalized with the burgeoning of niche programming. A big hit on top-40 these days--it's not a part of the national or world awareness in the top-to-bottom sense than it was when almost everybody listened to AM top-40 and knew all the songs, or at least I get that impression. There is a more specific target, others don't listen anymore so much, though they may know the sexy images of some of the "stars," no? Yeah and that's because the image is what matters now, not the music. But still, what I heard! Never mind what for now actually, it was what I did NOT hear. The influence of rock and r&b was not at all discernible, at least the 10-15 songs I heard. That came as a slight shock. It was homogenized synth pop of a pretty uniform, product-oriented, formulaic sort. I did not find much to like. It was a music churning machine thing and other than some hook there was nothing musically or song-wise that stood out. Rather awful.

I bring this up because today's CD by today's group might in another era have made it to the top-40 charts, with the right song. Like REM did even though REM had strength well beyond pop potential. OK so the House of Love group isn't pop. It's rock. But there are songs, real songs on the album She Paints Words in Red (Cherry Red 556). It's a strong singing going on too--maybe like mid-late Byrds slightly sometimes. There are good, straightforward lead vocals and nice harmonies when they go to that.

It's a guitar band in the combo-rock sense and there's decent playing going on, a decent lead guitarist too, though he doesn't play much in the way of solos and he isn't note-y as much as tasteful. The lyrics are more alt than trailer-trash dumb, and I suppose that's another reason the dentist's station would not find itself playing their songs. And given what I heard at the dentist, I don't imagine anything of substance would get played? So be it?

What matters is that there still is good alt out there if you look for it. This band sounds very good to me, for all that. There is a slight retro element but in the sense that the music has classic rock roots. So much the better since there don't seem to be widespread roots getting layed out into the earth in the mainstream today. It's worse than Bobby Rydell, baby! Worse than the sweet crooner bands of the '20s-'40s of last century. This ain't that and it ain't what's playing at my dentist's. I love my dentist but not her radio! This band would sound much better in there, novocaine or no.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Melvin Taylor, Taylor Made

Guitarist Melvin Taylor comes at us with a 24-minute EP Taylor Made (Melvin Taylor Productions) and it's a pretty fine thing, to me anyway.

What we have is Melvin blazing and finessing through a short set of blues, funk and contemporary soul-jazz with a small group--organ, bass, drums, etc. Melvin sings one and sounds fine and Bernell Anderson sings another and that's cool too. The rest is instrumental doings and the main attraction is the Melvin Taylor guitar--which has a bluesy soulfulness, some electricity and the right feel. It sometimes crosses into organ trio territory, and there are jazzy elements but mostly it comes through when Melvin get's into a bluesy thing.

If he keeps hitting it, maybe tunes even more into the soul blues next time, we're gonna be there!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Soft Machine Legacy, Burden of Proof

Soft Machine Legacy keeps on doing the impossible, seemingly against all odds. They make music worthy of the Soft Machine tradition, in spite of the tragic loss of key members Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean and the retirement of Mike Ratledge from the original band these many, many years ago.

The Soft Machine Legacy have made some great albums for MoonJune records and the newest one, Burden of Proof (MoonJune 052) is one of the very best. The latest lineup turns out to be a very lively one, long-time Soft Machine drummer John Marshall, Roy Babbington on electric bass, Theo Travis on reeds, flute and electric piano, and John Etheridge on guitar.

What made the Soft Machine special continues on. A composition-centered approach, their special spacey combination of jazz and rock, strong riffing, strong soloing, it's all still there.

John Etheridge sounds especially great these days on guitar. He has chops but he doesn't throw away notes--the speed is there for the linear curve of his soloing and he knows what to play when. He does. John Marshall is his usual dynamic-force self on drums. Theo Travis plays the sort of sax-reed solos that push the band forward and his keys give the band the Soft's sound in that much more reminiscent a way. And Roy Babbington has that unshakable solidity on bass that Hopper established as central to the band's identity. So there you go.

The material is strong and the playing is strong. They triumph again and I wouldn't just say that. It's a great disk.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paul Roland, Bates Motel

Have you ever had one of those periods in life when things happen one after another, and after a while you can scarcely believe that there is some continuity between the previous period of relatively good times and the horror of your current everyday life? If like me you've had a bellyful lately, you may be in the mood, feel receptive, get on the wavelength of Paul Roland and his alt-new wavish neo-psych rocker Bates Motel (Sireena 2110).

This is dark macabre rock and it has a combo presence and song presence that stays with you after you hear it a few times. Now I lost the press sheet (figures) so I have no idea what I am supposed to know about Paul Roland. But it IS the music that matters. Think of Syd Barrett today if he were in good mental and physical health, alive and well and moving forward. There's something of that. Not all the time and it's present-day evolved, less in the jam zone, less fritzed. And it is dark fun. Spooky. Well done.

There are some good garagy-psych arrangements for guitar, organ, bass, drums . . . and quirky vocals that wont win Paul Roland any awards I suppose but this isn't about awards; it's about an underground (pun?) rock scene that continues on. I think you'd like it if it sounds interesting to you. This is self-chosen audience music. Word of mouth. I am a mouth. Does that fit together? Now on with my rotten life!! So long for now. Time to commemorate my earth-entry day by...going to buy a coffee pot!

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Monochrome Set, M-80, DVD

When punk and the garage revival came our way, I was so much somewhere else that I did not get it for a few years. I was on the fringes of rock, actively immersed in world-ethnic, heavily into the entire history of jazz, and ever exploring classical from Gregorian and Middle-Ages through to Stockhausen, so to me it was a "What the...?" kind of reaction. Later, I fully got the immediacy and frustration, the anti-booooooshwa thing going on.

So when things were cooking in that zone and bands were sprouting up all over (very healthy tendency) I'll admit I missed a few. One of them was The Monochrome Set and their Velvet-Stooges-Smiths primality. It was an English band. They had songs that came through with a slightly savage garage psych ambiance. Live they were sort of terrible, like tune-up?! But they were terrible in a very garage, artsy way, for sure. The lead singer/rhythm guitarist had a voice that cut through, a punk who almost crooned (like Reed, Iggy, Morrissey). So in 1979 they did a little tour of the States and in the process played the Field House at the University of Minnesota. Hence the DVD M-80, Live at the Marathon 80 Festival, Minneapolis, 1979 (Wienerworld 2567)

Their full set is captured in primitive black and white video and raucous audio. It's invigoratingly good-bad garage. The lead singer/rhythm guitar looks like he is playing a Univox semi-hollow, the lead guitarist gets an almost Chinese sounding lead with a sharp tone, and the rhythm section has that garage enthusiasm. If you are a fan of this band you will revel in this. If not, all I can say is that it captures a band that had verve and took garage into some kind of art zone, which was the point.

Those not into this sort of thing are not going to be converted. But you already knew that, right? I found myself profitably diverted for the 50-minute set.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Arthur Big Boy Crudup, Sunny Road, 1969

When something is right, was right, and will be right forever, you pretty much have nailed it, right? That's how I feel about Arthur Big Boy Crudup and his previous unreleased 1969 session, Sunny Road (Delmark 827).

We have Arthur in great vocal form, his guitar right there doing what it did in a way that was nothing extraordinary from a technical standpoint, but absolutely and totally right for what Maestro Crudup was all about. Then there is Willie "Big Eyes" Smith playing the drums in that same RIGHT sort of way. Then some other cats too and they are where Arthur wants them to be.

The studio chatter with producer and longtime Delmark icon Bob Koester goes a ways in explaining why the album was not released at the time. Arthur tells Bob that he only feels the medium slow blues that day and so that's what he does, song after song, gem after gem. It's the winding out blues, and it is the best. "Got a letter this morning, all I got is gone!" Man, do I know that! In two lines Arthur sums it up and sings it like it feels. And man, that doesn't feel good. Trust me. He sings the truth like that. Just right like that.

So you don't want to miss Arthur Crudup of course. But even if you know him well, this one sounds sooo good. It's just right. And that's all you need sometimes.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Beata Pater, Red

Beata Pater, singer of note, comes through in her sixth album, Red (B&B 0418). The focus is fluid, electric Latin jazz-rock with Beata in the role of singer-as-lead-horn, rock-jazz-funkstress.

There is a large cast of supporting instrumentalists, not always playing at once, including keyboardist Mark Little (who collaborates with Beata and/or goes it alone for some of the original songwriting) bassist Aaron Germain and guitarist Andre Bush.

If Flora Purim and Tania Maria have stirred your soul, Beata follows in some ways in their footsteps with her own take on the possibilities those artists have suggested. And she clearly succeeds. There's a mix of originals and some jazz modern funkoid standards such as Hancock's "Butterfly" and Hubbard's "Red Clay."

The main idea is that the music uplifts. It rocks, it grooves and Beata floats atop in some cool ways. Hey, I liked it. You may well, too!