TURKUAZ/GHOST-NOTE

(February 4, 2016; OLD ROCK HOUSE, Saint Louis MO)

Pre-show stage set up (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Pre-show stage set up (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

When you walk into a venue and see the amount of equipment, instruments and cases strewn over the room that met me when I arrived early at the Old Rock House, you can expect a few different things, including (but not limited to): First, a Chicago-like pop-candy type of band; two, a swingin’ wedding band doing sad, tarted up versions of sad, tarted up 1980s radio/MTV hits; or, three, a wicked tight rock and soul nine-piece with gloriously funky overtones. Yeah, I know that there are plenty of sadists out there wishing for a horrible wedding band evening to befall yours truly (and there are still a few masochists out there that think Chicago has made really good music over the past 35 years or so) but, thankfully, rock, soul, funk and more funk held sway on a rainy Thursday night in Saint Louis. The night was filled with funky bass lines, solid horn playing, great vocal work outs and blazing guitar. Oh, and some of the best drum and percussion work you are ever likely to hear in today’s sterilized and homogenized musical landscape.

Ghost-Note (Nate Werth; Sylvester Onyejiaka; Robert Searight) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Ghost-Note (Nate Werth; Sylvester Onyejiaka; Robert Searight) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The groove-heavy Ghost-Note opened the proceedings in… uh… cramped style; I actually feared for a couple of the players (as well as the expensive equipment of both bands) as they navigated their way onto the crowded stage, which included the headliners’ massive lighting rig. This loose construct is the side project of Snarky Puppy percussionists Nate Werth and Robert “Sput” Searight, who were joined onstage by woodwind specialist Sylvester Onyejiaka, bassist AJ Brown and Nick Werth, who handled – after some programming and electrical issues – an instrument called the xylosynth. The sound can best be described as “dumping Terry Bozzio, Latin percussionist Coke Escovedo, Stanley Clarke (or, maybe, Victor Wooten) and Miles Davis into a blender and pouring the results onto a stage to perform.”

Ghost-Note (Robert Searight; AJ Brown; Nate Werth) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Ghost-Note (Robert Searight; AJ Brown; Nate Werth) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

As may be expected, with two percussionists at the helm, the sound is dictated by Sput’s powerful drumming and Nate’s inventive use of just about every other type of percussion instrument, both acoustic and electronc; this is borne out from the opening of the first number, “Ja-Make-Ya Dance,” an impressive workout which also featured a nice flute part from Onyejiaka. Highlights of the set included “Conversations,” a brilliant discussion of the symbiotic relationship between Werth, Searight and the perpetual groove; “Shrill Tones,” which prominently featured the funky bass of AJ Brown, who I would rate among the best on his instrument in any genre from any era; and a cool reconstruction of Bjork’s “Hyperballad.” There really isn’t a standard “melody” to any of Ghost-Note’s music; even Sylevester’s saxes and flutes have more of a percussive feel than a straight melody line that you can pin down and say, “Ah… there’s a nice melody.” In fact, and this may be something that only musicians will understand but, the melody is in the groove and it’s in the beat… and there was plenty of both on display on this night. Oh, yeah… did I mention? Cowbell! Lotsa cowbell! Beautiful, beautiful cowbell…

Turkuaz (Dave Brandwein; Sammi Garrett; Craig Brodhead) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Turkuaz (Dave Brandwein; Sammi Garrett; Craig Brodhead) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

With Ghost-Note’s instruments and equipment removed, the stage opened up into a vast expanse, allowing the nine members of Turkuaz to perform in relative comfort. No, it didn’t… yeah, there was more room, but that extra room was taken up by the equipment and the bodies of four extra people. As with Ghost-Note, the small dimensions of the stage seemed to spur the headliners toward new musical heights rather than stifle the individual players. Back in the day, an ensemble such as Turkuaz would have been called a “rock and soul revue,” the kinda band you’d find backing legends like James Brown or Ike Turner; with some wicked jazz and funk riffs tossed in, the cool factor is heightened exponentially… imagine if George Duke and Earth Wind and Fire had a bunch of white babies. Those babies have been laying down some of the funkiest, dirtiest grooves you’re likely to hear this side of Sly and the Family Stone or George Clinton for the past half-a-decade, including the recently released DIGITONIUM.

Turkuaz (Josh Schwartz, Greg Sanderson; Chris Brouwers; Taylor Shell, Craig Brodhead) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Turkuaz (Josh Schwartz, Greg Sanderson; Chris Brouwers; Taylor Shell, Craig Brodhead) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Speaking of the Family Stone, on of the many highlights of the evening was a cover of that group’s 1973 album track, “Babies Makin’ Babies,” which featured Sammi Garett sharing lead vocals with Dave Brandwein and some funky mid-’70s Stevie Wonder-like keyboards from Craig Brodhead. DIGITONIUM was well represented in the set with the loopy, horny (sax players Josh Schwartz and Greg Sanderson and trumpeter Chris Brouwers, who does double duty, adding keyboard flourishes, as well) “Percy Thrills the Moondog,” the “Atomic Dog” groove of “The Generator” and the New Wavish “King Computer.” The group is definitely well-equipped to adapt to any situation on the fly, dropping numbers from the set and adding another that would be a better fit for the Saint Louis crowd; during sound-check, Brandwein and drummer Michelangelo Carubba tried out a new arrangement for “The Generator,” which led to them flipping the tune with the bouncy, Princely “Chatte Lunatique.” As there were some questions from the band about whether the different arrangement was going to work, I was surprised when the changes were introduced and, I must say, dopping “The Generator” down a spot certainly paid off, as it worked far better coming out of “Chatte… ” and into “Smarter Than the Speaker” than the original order would have. The sound took on a heavier, more rocking sound when Brodhead picked up a guitar, dropping in some wicked solos along the way… not that Brandwein was a slouch himself. Having made a passing mention of the band’s drummer, I should mention the uncompromisingly funky work of both Carubba and his partner-in-rhythm, Taylor Shell; even on more rock-infused songs like “Electric Habitat” and aforementioned “King Computer,” the innate funkiness of the duo came shining through. Shell (along with vocalists Garrett and Shira Elias), solid throughout, really stepped up the game on the set closer, a mean cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Every One’s a Winner.” Other highlights included the charging funk of “Coast To Coast” and the slow, soulful groove of “Future 86.” There was so much happening on stage and the players were all so insanely talented, it was truly hard to focus on any one person for any length of time; add the highly entertaining (and mostly drunk) bodies gyrating on the dancefloor and there was more than enough to keep both my eyes and my ears busy throughout the night… there’s fun and then there’s Fun. This night was Fun, from start to finish.


KOA/THE DRIFTAWAYS

(December 19, 2015; THE DEMO, Saint Louis MO)

Koa display their Hip-Hop street cred at the Music Record Shop; Koa and their Saint Louis Contingent after the show (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Koa display their Hip-Hop street cred at the Music Record Shop; Koa and their Saint Louis Contingent after the show (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

This evening started much like most others when the show is scheduled at the Demo or Ready Room: A visit to Rise for a cup of coffee, followed by a visit to Music Record Shop, conveniently located between the two venues. Walking into the MRS, I noticed a few young people milling about, obviously excited that Koa were being interviewed at the back of the store. Once the guys finished with one journalist, they were accosted by a second… me. The labors of our mutual work is at the top left of this review. The band were nearly as excited to see the kids as vice versa, labeling them “the Saint Louis contingent.” The youngsters were enthusiastic enough that guitarist Conor Kelly announced that they would be his guests for the show; when he was told that the group’s guest list was full, he paid for the extra tickets out of his own pocket. A class act that paid off with an appreciative, zealous group of fans at the front of the stage (and, later, onstage, for the group photo above, right).

The Driftaways (Zaq Nunley; Dane Wells; Nick Christie) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The Driftaways (Zaq Nunley; Dane Wells; Nick Christie) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Local artists, the Driftaways, opened the festivities, with their Midwestern mash-up of Ska, Reggae and Dub. I happened to be talking to Koa bassist Ryan Ladd during the Driftaways’ sound check and commented on Nick Christie’s ability to coax that authentic, low rumble sound of Dub out of his bass… I wondered what kind of effects pedal he was using. Ryan told me that it was all Christie; he was using Ryan’s rig and he didn’t have any pedals. I was suitably impressed. From the Two-Tone Ska of originals like “Sun Shining” to their spot-on cover of the Wailers’ “Burn Down Babylon,” the six-piece group (trombonist Sean Myers was absent) offered a set that was, not only widely varied but, totally fun and engaging from the start. Guitarist Dane Wells (who serves double-duty as the band’s vocalist, as well) lays down some seriously wicked reverb-drenched roots-rockin’ leads and solos, particularly on the slow burn of “Creepin’.” Zaq Nunley, Dane’s sax-blowing counterpart, added a nice balance with his own leads, as well a series of quite inventive solos. But, as awesome as the other guys (including drummer Kevin Krauss and Ryan Stewart on keyboards) were, the set belonged to Christie and his spongy bass; his Dub riddim offered a strand of continuity throughout the genre-bending set. His talents were most prominently featured on a pair of instrumentals, “Golden Dub” and the band’s theme song, “Driftaway.” If you have a chance to see the Driftaways, don’t waste it… they will definitely put a smile on your face!

Koa (Conor Kelly; Will Youngclaus; Alex Mathews) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Koa (Conor Kelly; Will Youngclaus; Alex Mathews) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

On record, Koa are a funky, jazzy smooth sorta jam band with a definite hippy cast to their lyrics; live, they rough up their sound into a hard rockin’ funk monster. As good as the studio Koa sounds, it’s obvious that they are built for the stage; in fact, as guitarist Conor Kelly told me before the show, “ …the jam element kind of embellishes on the live performance… keeping things fresh by playing things a little bit differently every night.” It’s hard to believe that these guys have only been a band for barely two years. Chase Bader’s voice has a certain husky rasp that can carry a show; add Kelly’s slide work and you have a show and a sound that many older, more experienced bands can only dream about. The jazz-tinged “False Calls,” featuring a smoking Alex Mathews sax solo, kicked the set off in fine fashion. “What Now,” the first track from the group’s new EP, THIS IS KOA, followed. The new material has a more hard-edged sound that translates quite well in a live setting. Which could explain the fact that all five tracks from the EP (offered as a free download from NoiseTrade, which is where I discovered Koa) were featured in the band’s ten song set.

Koa (Ryan Ladd; Ryan Ladd, Chase Bader, Will Youngclaus; Chase Bader) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Koa (Ryan Ladd; Ryan Ladd, Chase Bader, Will Youngclaus; Chase Bader) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Unexpect Ability,” had a cool, punky Jam (as in, Paul Weller’s late ’70s trio) vibe, with a chiming guitar part from Kelly and solid rhythm work from both Ryan Ladd on bass and Will Youngclaus on drums; special guest, keyboardist Ian Miller, added some nice piano to the affair. Miller continued to impress on the Southern Soul groove of “Cool It Down,” which also featured one of Bader’s more impassioned vocals of the evening. The syncopated, nearly Caribbean rhythms of “Corbett’s Place” again allowed Youngclaus and his partner in percussion, Ryan McClanahan, to strut their stuff; Mathews also added to the song’s flavor with a double sax solo (duet?). The diversity of THIS IS KOA was perhaps best exhibited on “Gemini,” a kind of Country hoedown with power chords aplenty and a killer slide solo from Conor, as well as a sax part from Alex that kinda reminded me of Boots Randolph’s classic “Yakety Sax.” After the shortest of breaks, the guys returned to the stage (well, to be honest, they never actually left the stage… they just kinda stood at the back before heading back to their instruments) for an encore of the atmospheric “Turtles,” here transformed into a swirling stew of genre-bending jamming and heady solos from just about everyone on stage – a great way to end what was an exceptionally fun night with two groups of highly accomplished musicians.


THE EDUCATED GUESS/SYNA SO PRO

(August 21, 2015; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis MO)

Wear the Educated Guess home!

For whatever reason, the tag “local band” is anathema in these parts; unless, of course, you’re talking about a cover – oh… I’m SO sorry… I meant a “tribute” – band playing in the corner of a bar somewhere. I’ve never quite understood that mentality, ’cause every band is local SOMEWHERE… right? Now, obviously, there are exceptions – bands and artists who offer a sound so unique or simply too good to be ignored… even in their hometown. The Educated Guest is one such band. This Friday night saw a packed house at Off Broadway, there to see the self-proclaimed symphonic pop brainchild of Charlie Brumley rock the rafters. And, as we’ll impart later, they most certainly did!

Syna No Pro (Syrhea Conaway) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Syna No Pro (Syrhea Conaway) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The evening kicked off with Syrhea Conaway, a solo artist doing business as Syna So Pro. Initially, I thought, “Oh, great! Another singer/songwriter with a keyboard! How imaginative!” Man, was I wrong! Syrhea picked up a guitar, punched a couple of buttons on her keyboard and tapped a pedal or two with her feet and played a series of power chords while intoning a line or two of lyrics into a mic; she then hit another few buttons, looping everything, before picking up a violin and repeating the process. The piece eventually brought her back to the guitar, where she played a rather intricate progression of notes that, once looped and re-looped, brought the whole thing together. The really cool thing about the way Conaway works is the fact that most of her songs seem to emerge fully realized BEFORE she starts adding layer after layer of guitar, vocals, keys or violin; watching her basically produce a new piece of music on the spot was mesmerizing. Aside from the digital trickery, it is quite apparent that Syrhea Conaway possesses a massive amount of talent as both musician and composer. Another quirky aspect of the live set was the stage banter, with Syrhea holding a conversation with herself, via pre-recorded comments, questions and jokes; they didn’t all work, but it was still a neat touch. At one point, her digital recorder misfired. A lot of performers would have had a major meltdown; Syrhea’s incredible stage presence and self-effacing humor came to the fore, as she kept the crowd entertained while fixing the problem. As ultimately enjoyable as this performance was, I would kinda like to see Conaway in a full band context (she has played in several over the years), creating these mind-boggling soundscapes while bouncing ideas off a group of like-minded musicians. Even if that never happens, I will still have this six-song set by Syna So Pro stuck in my head as one of the most imaginative performances I’ve ever seen.

The Educated Guess (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Educated Guess (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Charlie Brumley’s eleven piece (yes… I said eleven piece!) band worked as a well-oiled machine, delivering a show that was part Motown Soul, part Vegas spectacle, all 1960s-style pop brilliance. An Ike Turner/mad genius type (without the violence and mounds of white powder that not-so-mysteriously disappear up his nose), Brumley acts as lead vocalist, keyboardist and musical director, leading a four-piece brass section (Devin LaRue and Kenny Summers on tenor and bass trombone, respectively; Zack Hall on trumpet; Jim Scheffer on alto sax), three background singers (Arrika Rayburn, Jess Speropulos, Jamie-Lee Green) and a soulful rhythm section (drummer Brian Pincus, bassist Jon Venegoni, guitarist Grant Alexander) through what one would imagine an early ’60s pop or Motown live extravaganza would look and sound like… without a feeling of nostalgia or the kitsch generally associated with such endeavors.

The Educated Guess (Charlie Brumley, Jon Venegoni, Arrika Rayburn) (photo credit DARREN TRACY)

The Educated Guess (Charlie Brumley, Jon Venegoni, Arrika Rayburn) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The tone for the show was set from the get-go, with the wonderful “Sweet On You (and Getting Sweeter).” Brumley’s deep, soulful voice plays well off the backing and harmony vocals of the three ladies, while the horns add a warm, rich layer that many like-minded bands cannot hope to recreate. As the band (and the crowd) loosened up, their sound took on an even funkier groove, interspersing – of course – the poppy dance tunes with a slow jam or two. One such song, “The Best Part,” taken from the group’s new album (get it here), is a kind of Righteous Brothers ballady thing. That number was followed up by another track from THE EDUCATED GUESS, a Sunshine Pop confection called “Saint Monday (Love, Love, Love).” Later, another pair of songs from the new recording highlighted, not only Brumley’s writing and arranging abilities but, the talented members of the ensemble; “Get You Girl” has a loose sorta “I Can’t Help Myself” (the Four Tops song commonly referred to as “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”) with a pumping bass, beautiful backing vocals and a nice solo from saxophonist Scheffer, while “Maybe” is a slow building tune that again features Scheffer, this time as singing counterpoint to Brumley, who adds his own amazing piano signature.

The Educated Guess (Arrika Rayburn, Jess Speropulos, Jamie-Lee Green) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Educated Guess (Arrika Rayburn, Jess Speropulos, Jamie-Lee Green) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The twelve song set ended with an absolutely stunning “remix” of R Kelly’s remix of his own “Ignition.” Other highlights of the set proper included “A Good Kisser (Don’t Kiss and Tell),” “Wandering Eyes,” and “Playing For Keeps.” Not close to having their fill, the audience demanded – and received – an encore of “Tell Me Honey” and “Missin’ Me Some Kissin’ Blues.” Most of the Educated Guess’ recordings and previous performances featured the Emperor Norton Orchestra, so one would have expected the sound to be… uh… a little thin. Far from it, the musicians and singers filled any void that may have occurred due to the (relatively) smaller pop-oriented group. This was, simply stated, an evening filled with fun music, meant to evoke the warm fuzzies and to get toes tapping and butts shaking. If you haven’t seen (or heard) the Educated Guess, you owe it to yourself to do so at your earliest convenience.

The Educated Guess (Zack Hall and Jim Scheffer; Brian Pincus, Grant Alexander and Jon Venegoni) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The Educated Guess (Zack Hall and Jim Scheffer; Brian Pincus, Grant Alexander and Jon Venegoni) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)


CHUI WAN/BUG CHASER/TONE RODENT

(May 11, 2015; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis MO)

Chui Wan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chui Wan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

To say that I was stoked to see Chui Wan, a young psychedelic band from Beijing, China, is something akin to an understatement. All it took was hearing one song from their self-titled second album and, I was hooked. The fact that some old friends, Tone Rodent, were on the bill, alongside the belligerently unhinged octet, Bug Chaser, was merely icing on an already perfect cake. Though, as a touring band, Chui Wan were the de facto headliner, the decision was made to slot them between the two local acts (a choice precipitated by the fact that drummer Li Zichao was using Tone Rodent Adam Dick’s kit; plus, bassist Matty Coonfield was pulling double duty, playing in both Saint Louis bands); to maintain a certain “you were there” sense of continuity, this review will start with Tone Rodent and end with Bug Chaser.

Tone Rodent (Matty Coonfield, Adam Watkins) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Tone Rodent (Matty Coonfield, Adam Watkins) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

At some point in the last decade and a half, I reviewed a Tone Rodent show (give me a break if I can’t remember specifics, huh? I’m old!). Here’s what I do remember: I liked them. So, now, all these years (or months or days or hours… whatever) later, I can unequivocally tell you this: I still like them. At this point, Adam Watkins (vocals and guitar) and Matty Coonfield (bass) are the only original members from that band I saw way back when; the current version – with guitarist Jeff Robtoy, keyboard player Mark Early and drummer Adam Dick – were playing what may have been their final show, as Adam Dick is calling it a day and Coonfield is leaving to direct his energies toward Bug Chaser. The band lumbered, rather than tore, through a shambolic 35 minute set that, aside from some minor technical issues was, nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyable. Watkins and Robtoy complimented and played against each other (as the situation dictated) quite well and Early’s ambient drone added a depth that isn’t usually found in the noisy, hard-edged psychedelia at which Tone Rodent excel. Dick proved himself to be much more than a timekeeper, with precise fills and unexpected flourishes. And, as I’ve said too many times to count, there’s just something in the water supply that lifts Saint Louis bass players to another level; the style of music being played is irrelevant… once I hear that deep-in-the-pocket groove of the bass, I can almost always tell that the player has Saint Louis roots. Matty is no exception and is as solid and as funky as any bassist to come out of the Lou in the past three decades. Six songs into the set, Watkins said, “We have two more. After sixteen years, we’re down to two songs… and we plan to fuck both of ’em up.” The next tune sounded great but, as the group started “Amen,” Jeff’s guitar cord shorted out but, after much chiding from his bandmates and a save from a Bug Chaser, the final song from the current line-up of Tone Rodent was over, the notes ringing in the ears of the Monday night denizens of Off Broadway.

Chui Wan (Liu Xinyu; Yan Yulong) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chui Wan (Liu Xinyu; Yan Yulong) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Okay… so this is where a little learnin’ may come in handy. To understand the importance of a group like Chui Wan, I think we should first understand a bit about where they come from. Beijing’s history traces back more than three millennia – under different names – and boasts such cultural and historic sites as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. As the cultural and political center of the People’s Republic of China, it has also been the scene of political unrest, revolution and protest: The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the infamous Gang of Four and, perhaps, the most famous societal event in recent history, the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Beijing is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with more than 20 million citizens packed into an area a little over 6,300 square miles (that comes out to something like 3,400 people per square mile… to paraphrase Cheap Trick, “That’s tight!”). That’s the background – the culture and the history – that informs the music and lives of Chui Wan, alongside a diverse musical landscape that includes, individually, Classical and traditional Chinese music, avant garde pioneer John Cage (himself influenced by Eastern music and the philosophy of the I CHING) and, the one major influence that all four members cite: The Velvet Underground. Now, imagine these four young musicians venturing forth into a very different Western culture… a culture where, especially in the United States, celebrity and money are more important than history and tradition; a culture that claims superiority and looks down upon the cultural and societal mores of someone – anyone – who doesn’t share our culture and beliefs… even when we’re on their home turf. Let’s face it… we are arrogant and shallow. So, it’s with that backdrop of major culture shock (not to mention the language barrier… WE expect these young people to be conversant in our language because… “Hey, we’re Americans. What makes you so special that you can’t even learn our language?”) that Chui Wan made their third appearance in the USA (Visa problems caused them a delay of about ten days and seven shows). And what an appearance it was!

Chui Wan (Wu Qiong; Li Zichao) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chui Wan (Wu Qiong; Li Zichao) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As bassist Wu Qiong began an intro riff that would make Tony Levin proud, all of those cultural differences didn’t matter anymore; all that mattered was the music. Though their sound is seemingly tight and structured, there is also a sense of the adventurous, the experimental. I immediately heard an Adrian Belew-era King Crimson influence (though I was assured that reference would have been lost on the quartet) – or to be more accurate, Fripp’s other, more improvisational group of the same period, the League of Gentlemen – as well the free-wheeling feel of some of the early 1970s (mostly) instrumental offerings from Zappa’s Mothers of Invention; there were also moments that had me nodding my head, thinking, “Now I get the John Cage reference.” Though many of the band’s compositions border on free-form jazz, it’s Liu Xinyu’s effects-heavy guitar and Li Zichao’s progressive drumming that garners the group its psychedelic label; the sounds Liu coaxes out of his instrument can best be described as “otherworldly,” and isn’t that a prime definition of psychedelic music? Yan Yulong adds atmospheric soundscapes on, not only guitar, but keyboard and – briefly (and very effectively) – viola, as well. Yan, who also supplies the majority of what vocals there are, delivers them in a nearly inaudible drone that further feeds the psychedelic miasma; Wu Qiong has one vocal, a quiet and – dare I say – humble performance that seems a much more comfortable match for her demeanor than is her spirited, funky bass playing. Maybe the most amazing aspect of the inspired (and inspiring) performance is the fact that the four are – literally – wunderkinds… all are in their very early 20s (drummer Li is barely 20) and have been playing – individually and collectively – since an early age (the band’s debut album, WHITE NIGHT, was released in 2012). Even if most of the Monday night denizens were unfamiliar with Chui Wan when they took the stage, after their set, I heard nothing but terms of reverential awe regarding what will long be remembered as a triumphal Saint Louis debut.

Bug Chaser (Pat Grosch; Kevin Insinna) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Bug Chaser (Pat Grosch; Kevin Insinna) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After a prolonged delay, the eight-headed beast known as Bug Chaser took the stage. If Tone Rodent’s set was shambolic, then Bug Chaser’s could only be labeled chaotic, with Matty Coonfield reveling in the unbridled insanity. There were actual songs played but, naming them would merely be an exercise in futility… all you really need to know is that the band and the crowd were having too much fun to worry about things like song titles. The group was occasionally augmented and exhorted by a gentleman who originally appeared to be a drunken, overzealous fan but, as the set proceeded, seemed to be more of a well-placed prop, dancing and prancing behind the group one minute and playing the role of cocktail waitress the next. The tunes (noises?) ranged from boisterous boogie to raging rock to furious funk (see what I did there?), all delivered with a reckless abandon reminiscent of George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars at their most debauched. The percussive unit of Kevin Insinna and Taylor Huff (for I believe it was they of whom I speak) laid down a solid groove, where the notes they didn’t play were as important as the ones they did; their rhythm section inmate, Coonfield, pumped out bass riffs dense enough to caulk a large-scale bathroom at the Mall of America. Zeng Zengerling and Jake Jones are potent forces of guitar showmanship, sharing frantic leads and trading querulous solos over the expansive bottom end, which also included keyboard and effects work from Jake Bremler and Jeff White. Standing over all is the strutting vocal peacock, Pat Grosch, who reminds me of a younger, more boisterous Weird Al Yankovic… but with better hair. For a full-on sonic assault, you’ve gotta see these guys live… until then, check out some tunes at Bandcamp.


HERE COME THE MUMMIES/SUPERFUN YEAH YEAH ROCKETSHIP

(April 10, 2015; THE PAGEANT, Saint Louis MO)

Here Come the Mummies (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Not exactly knowing what to expect from a band called Here Come the Mummies, I packed up the ol’ sarcophagus and lumbered across the mighty Mississippi (our very own version of the Nile) to see what the archaeologists had dug up down in Nashville (that is in Egypt, isn’t it?). I found myself rather surprised that the Mummies’ acolytes were a more… mature crowd than I had anticipated for a group with such a moniker. That didn’t mean that they were any less vociferous than the youngsters… I mean, there was rump-bumpin’ aplenty and the audience participation was unparallelled in the annals of the ancients. But… I proceed myself; let’s back things up to the beginning (of the show… not Genesis; just wanna be clear on that), shall we?

Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship (Correy Goodman; Christopher Eilers) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship (Correy Goodman; Christopher Eilers) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The comedic duo of Corey Goodman and Christopher Eilers – better known as Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship – took the stage, flanked by cardboard cut-outs of Fabio and a herd of hot dogs (a fourth wiener, Franklin, is missing and – though there have been no ransom demands – presumed to be held hostage) and, thus, a totally improbable evening of rock, pop, disco, ska and, yes, the funk of five thousand years was upon us. Between their familial in-joke bantering, local boys Corey and Christopher delivered some truly danceable and utterly outlandish doses of rock and roll, including “Throwin’ Up,” “Randy Savage,” and a stunningly obtuse cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Eilers delivered sheets of metallic riffing as Goodman’s apoplectic shenanigans and not-so-sly wink-and-a-nod lyrics virtually bulldozed the crowd into joining the frenzied frolic of the Rocketship’s forty minute flight… as if they weren’t already hyped in the extreme for what was yet to come. Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship proudly wave their influential flags high: Comic books (“Magneato,” “I Like Marvel, You Like DC”), professional wrestling (“Randy Savage,” “The Undertaker Joins the Avengers”), cheesy ’80s teen movies (“Totally Awesome,” “Throwin’ Up”). Yeah, they may an acquired taste but, like your Mom used to say when she wanted you to eat your Brussels sprouts, “How do you know you don’t like ’em if you don’t try ’em?” You can take Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship out for a test drive at their Bandcamp page, but… you gotta be quick, as their furious dance moves and hard-rocking tune-age may soon be swept up in an undercover vice raid!

Here Come the Mummies (Java) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (Java) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After a surprisingly short intermission, the houselights dimmed and a martial drum coda permeated the electric crowd. This being my introduction to live Mummies (yes… I realize the dichotomy of that phrase), I assumed it was a recorded intro before the band took the stage; shortly, however, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, as the group entered from the back of the venue like the percussion section of a marching band. The crowd erupted as the eight rotting players took to the boards, stage right, before ripping into one of the coolest intro tunes ever, “Carnal Carnival,” a funky New Orleans celebration of lust and death. Percussionist and head instigator Java, playing the demented ringmaster, stalked the stage, leering like a serial killer on a bloody bender. All I could think was, “This is even better than I thought it would be! Play that funky music, dead boy!” For the next 90 minutes, Here Come the Mummies had the Saint Louis faithful roiling and stewing in their own libidinous juices, with crowd favorites like the Mexican banda vibe of “Ra Ra Ra,” the hard rocking funk of “Single Double Triple,” the lonely-loin lament of “Everything But,” the barely disguised double entendre groove of “Booty” and “Attack of the Wiener Man,” and, of course, the Mummies’ mission statement and national anthem, “Freak Flag.”

Here Come the Mummies (Mummy Cass) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (Mummy Cass) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The music of Here Come the Mummies, like that of His Purple Majesty, is littered with sexual innuendo and sweaty crotch-thrusting that borders on the misogynistic. If I had to describe them in one sentence, I would say, “Imagine George Clinton and James Brown had a bunch of 5,000 year old funky dead babies.” While the music is awesome, it takes a back seat to the stage show, with its manic pace and Motown-on-crack choreography coupled with a brilliant use of lighting and smoke effects. Guitarist and primary vocalist, Mummy Cass, gets the funk out with Princely rhythm work and, while he may not be the reincarnation of Eddie Hazel, he definitely embodies the equally late and great Gary Shider. In other words, the ol’ carcass can PLAY! The horn section (BB Queen on trumpet, The Flu handling the baritone sax and Mummy Rah blowing tenor sax and shaking that trunk-fulla-junk that Mama Mummy gave him) is loose and funky at times, tight as a military corner at others; the soloing is soulful, highlighting the individual player’s creativity and obvious (if unstated) musical pedigree. And… did we mention the dance moves? Most mummies I know can’t move like that!

Here Come the Mummies (BB Queen, The Flu, Spaz, Mummy Rah) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (BB Queen, The Flu, Spaz, Mummy Rah) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The rhythm section displayed some pretty nice moves themselves. We already introduced you to vocalist, percussionist and maker-of-mischief, Java; when he’s not out front, inciting the crowd, or leading his fellow Mummies in another syncopated dance routine, he handles a variety of percussion instruments that aren’t part of a standard drum kit, including – naturally – the cowbell; at one point, he strapped a mallet and cowbell to his waist, showing his… uh… musical acumen via a series of pelvic thrusts. Eddie Mummy is the powerhouse that keeps time, never missing a back-beat or a vocal part; Eddie’s drumming is the epitome of jazzy precision and funky hard rock fills. The Pole, whose deep-in-the-pocket groove is in monstrous lockstep with Eddie, stalks the stage, letting his sonorous Bootsy-like bass “trombipulation” do his talking for him. Keyboard player Spaz fills every conceivable sonic void with everything from a classic piano or organ sound to varying blips and bloops and synthesizer noodles; he earns bonus points for not looking like a Jonathan Cain-type idjit when he joins the others at the front of the stage with keytar in hand.

Here Come the Mummies (The Pole) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (The Pole) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Obviously, this is a group who, while having honed their craft to a razor’s edge, don’t take anything too seriously. Except the funk and grind and, of course, delivering a butt-shakin’ good time every time they take the stage. As I mentioned in the intro, this is my first Here Come the Mummies experience… it will not be my last!

Here Come the Mummies (Eddie Mummy) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (Eddie Mummy) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)


SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS AND FRED SCHNEIDER: PARTY AT MY TROUSE

(YEP ROC RECORDS 12” EP; 2015)

Party At My Trouse

The limited edition 7” sensation from last year’s Record Store Day is back, with remixes of both the A and B sides. So, by this time, most of you know that I’m an old school kinda music guy; my feelings regarding remixes is simple: If everybody thought that the version that was released first was the best, why is everybody else tellin’ them they’re wrong by offering up their own fixes? Having said that, while I definitely prefer the two originals, these remixes aren’t too bad. The first (and closest to the original) “Party At My Trouse” is a sonically imposing trashy mash-up of styles, with the Skids’ Mary Huff playing both Kate and Cindy, the twin leads of the B-52’s, to Fred Schneider’s white trash lothario. Fred does his backwoods best to sweep Mary off her feet and into his bed with such sure-fire lines as, “C’mon, Mary, shake yer frisky biscuits/Everybody likes her frisky biscuits.” Though there is a definite nod to the B’s “Love Shack,” this is more like some good ol’ SCOTS gut-bucket rock ‘n’ roll than one of the former’s new wave dance frenzies. You don’t have to occupy a trouse – half trailer, half house, all party – to shake your butt (or your frisky biscuits) to this infectious groove.

Southern Culture On the Skids (Dave Hartman, Rick Miller, Mary Huff) (promotional photo)

Southern Culture On the Skids (Dave Hartman, Rick Miller, Mary Huff) (promotional photo)

Hey, Mary” has a slinky be-bop, Reverend Horton Heat sorta vibe as Fred and the SCOTS-men (Dave Hartman and Rick Miller) attempt to chat up Mary, only to be rebuffed… shot down in flames, one after the other. The bumbling, tongue-tied guys (as is every man when they try to talk to a pretty woman) are rejected by a simple but emphatic “No,” causing each and every male of the species in hearing distance of the tune to recoil, fist to their mouths in a collective “Ohhh!” as we pretend to be looking at the cat poster on the wall, the spider-web in the corner, the lint in our navel… anything but the poor sap in full retreat, tail between his legs. The number is highlighted by a twangy guitar, boisterous bass line and a wicked, garagey Farfisa organ.

Fred Schneider (uncredited photo)

Fred Schneider (uncredited photo)

The “Uptown Explosion Remix” (by Alap Momin and Jon Spencer… yeah, THAT Jon Spencer) of “Party In My Trouse” is a compressed sounding thingy with a weird dance vibe. There’s a lot of reverb and echo and other patented Jon Spencer lo-fi trickery going on. I actually kinda like this one; if this version had been released first, I could see it as MY definitive version, but… Clocking in at more than two minutes longer than the original, the “Skidz Mix” of “Party… ” (track 5 here) features some fuzzy, funky, skittering guitar and a bumpin’ bass. The vocals are sorta muffled, though Fred somehow sounds even more lecherous than on the other versions. Again, if this had been the original release, I think I coulda lived with it. The second version of “Hey, Mary” featured here, the “DJ King Smoothie Remix,” wanders into dance club territory with close to four extra minutes of a Santana-like psychedelic guitar riff over a butt-movin’ samba groove. So, yeah, I am not the biggest fan of remixes (for the reason mentioned above), but when they are as much fun as the five on this EP, I’m not gonna complain.


DONATO DOZZY: DIMENSIONS

(MENTAL GROOVE RECORDS 12” vinyl EP; 2014)

Donato Dozzy Dimensions

This EP is a reissue of a 2006 recording by the multi-talented Italian DJ and techno producer who has released a plethora of works on many different labels, and is known for an interest in the trippy, psychedelic side of electronica (a style combining acid, techno and ambient). Rather than boring you with facts about Dozzy’s two-decades-plus long career, I’ll just describe these two tracks, which are fairly representative of at least the stuff I have heard by him: hypnotically repetitious, danceable (if you’re into that), and somewhat edgy. Most listeners of techno, ambient techno, or name-that-subgenre of electronica don’t care what the instrumentation is, only the result matters. What you want in this kind of music is something that serves up a potent groove, builds an atmosphere, and engages other parts of your anatomy than just your footsies.

Donato Dozzy (uncredited photo)

Donato Dozzy (uncredited photo)

These two tracks succeed in doing just that. “Gol” is the more interesting piece, with a pinging synth in the foreground, steady mechanized percussion, and percolating sonics moving in and out of the mix. The central groove is a strong one here; this is a ride you WANT to take. Halfway through, the ambient washes become pronounced and rather evocative, adding aural color in a way that complements the danceable tempo. This would be just about a perfect track for a ride to the store about three miles away, and its consistent edge makes it pretty damn engrossing. “Fazah,” a slightly shorter track, commences with some nice neo-tribal rhythm programming, wiry undercurrents laced with periodic crashes and whizzy sound effects, and ghostly, ambient pads that punctuate the mix just often enough to diversify the texture. Which is good, because the beat turns 4/4 dancefloor stomp pretty early on, and that’s fine if you wanna dance but would grow tedious if those other sounds weren’t there. At any rate, this EP is a nice, economical burst of energy that demands little but serves up just the tasty, tantalizing techno tidbits you didn’t know you were craving. This kind of music is sometimes best experienced in immersive but reasonably timed chunks like this, and as such, DIMENSIONS is, well, of just the right dimensions to please most casual electronica buffs.


KIMBRA: THE GOLDEN ECHO

(WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS; 2014)

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Considering the pop landscape over the past few years, Kimbra and her second album, THE GOLDEN ECHO, comes as a breath of fresh air. One of the tunes is called “90’s Music” and it has all of the earmarks and musical cues that highlighted what may turn out to be the last truly musically innovative decade… ever. But, the thought that first crossed my mind as I listened to these 12 (15 on the Deluxe Edition) tracks was how much it reminded me of early 1970s AM radio. At any given point in the day back then, you could hear a pop tune followed by a country tune followed by a rock tune followed by a rhythm and blues tune. My dad, a wise man raised in poverty in 1920s Arkansas, once told me, “If we all liked the same kind of car (or food or movies or music or… well, you get the idea), we would all be driving the same kind of car.” In other words, “Variety is, indeed, the spice of life.” That’s the kind of thinking that has given most humans my age and older more tolerance for different viewpoints and, especially, different musical styles. Kimbra Johnson is a few decades younger than me but, she must have had someone in her life like my father because THE GOLDEN ECHO is like an updated version of that ’60s and ’70s AM radio mentality, with every song dipping into aspects of several different musical genres. I’ll do my best to cover ’em all in the next few paragraphs.

Kimbra (photo credit: THOM KERR)

Kimbra (photo credit: THOM KERR)

Teen Heat” starts as a slow cooking track, with a churchy kinda organ and drum machine, before erupting into a cool R and B groove with soulful, funky vocals. The tune drifts back to the slow burn of the first section, where Kimbra’s high falsetto tends to grate a bit (I have the same problem with Prince when he goes up there sometimes, too). Bonus points are awarded for her use of the word “sacrosanct” (and properly, at that). The aforementioned “90’s Music” is next, a goofy, joyous number that definitely evokes the “anything goes” mentality and atmosphere of that decade’s pop music. On the big-production soul stomper, “Carolina,” Kimbra loses the falsetto and… she has a great natural voice. Though the two are totally unrelated lyrically, the goove of “Goldmine” reminds me a lot of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” kinda sparse with an, ultimately, dark musical tone. “Miracle” is a funky, bouncy declaration of purpose. It reminds me of the first Teena Marie record. “Rescue Him” is the polar opposite of “Miracle.” It’s a bleak, slow-churning funk with a close, claustrophobia-inducing mix.

A standard Cameo-like groove informs “Madhouse,” which features a funkier-than-thou breakdown; it’s a perfect dance floor track to shake… uh… something to (or at). “Everlovin’ Ya” is pretty much what Prince would sound like fronting George’s P-Funk All Stars, though it does need some heavy guitar, a la Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider or His Purpleness himself. A single note piano and minimal orchestration are just about the only interesting things on the ballad, “As You Are.” The lyrics aren’t too bad, either, but Kimbra’s vocal talents do not lie in balladry. A funky click track (or is it rhythm sticks?) and a way-deep-in-the-groove bass highlight “Love In High Places,” which also features a Stanley Clarke-like solo bass run. Now, this is more like it! “Nobody But You” is a slow groove that fares better than “As You Are,” primarily due to a solid vocal delivery, which, again, draws comparisons with not only Prince, but Teena, also. There’s a drop beat right before the tempo picks up for the last minute of the song that is most effective. With an intro that sounds like a scratchy old found recording of a piano waltz, “Waltz Me To the Grave” tries too hard to straddle a creative fence with slow funk, balladic jazz and Dinah Shore-chanteuse pop. The bass is quite adventurous, but at over eight minutes, the song is just too long for its own good.

Kimbra (photo credit: THOM KERR)

Kimbra (photo credit: THOM KERR)

The Deluxe Edition of THE GOLDEN ECHO features three bonus tracks, the first of which is “Slum Love.” The tune’s various percussion instruments – including vocals – make for an exciting listen. Kimbra’s vocals waver between a sing-song spoken word thing and a cool (and totally unexpected) Zappa-like synchopation. Unfortunately, it loses a bit of the cool factor in the final couple of minutes by adding other instrumentation during the breakdown. “Sugar Lies” is a churchy, soul groove with a snotty kinda chorus. The track has a throbbing, sorta swirling vibe where, for once, the ebb and flow theme works. Kimbra uses a combination of what I call her “big girl” and “little girl” voices for “The Magic Hour,” which works really well as a counter-balance to another heavy, throbbing bass line. Though there are a couple of missteps here, this is still one of – if not the – best pure pop records to be releasd this year. The bonus tracks are only available on the CD and download versions, but for the full, rich texture of THE GOLDEN ECHO (especially the bottom end), you should get the vinyl version.


CABARET VOLTAIRE: #7885 (ELECTROPUNK TO TECHNOPOP 1978-1985)

(MUTE RECORDS; 2014)

Cabaret Voltaire album cover

In the days of our youth (to quote that Bob dude from the New Yardbirds), we were continually in search of the next new and exciting sound (thankfully, unlike our hairline, that hasn’t changed!). Somewhere around 1980, we became enamored of an English synth-pop group called Cabaret Voltaire (after the famous Zurich night spot), via their excellent second album, THE VOICE OF AMERICA. In the next couple of years, they also released the exceptional RED MECCA album and an equally impressive double 12” set called 2X45. We thoroughly enjoyed (and continue to do so) these three slabs of influential music, at the forefront of a genre that also included Throbbing Gristle, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and others but, as is our wont, we were soon off, exploring new musical boundaries once again. Now, thanks to Mute Records and founding Cab (and sole remaining member), Richard H Kirk, we have a purposely concise collection, highlighting the prime years of the band’s output. With #7885 (ELECTROPUNK TO TECHNOPOP 1978-1985), Kirk has taken a backward glance at some of the shorter recordings (in fact, the longest track, “Animation,” clocks in at around 5:40) from the band – compiling single tracks, radio edits and well-chosen album tracks – to give old fans and newcomers alike a taste of the growth and diversity experienced by the Cabs during that six year period.

Cabaret Voltaire (publicity photo)

Cabaret Voltaire (publicity photo)

The set starts with two tracks from the first Cabaret Voltaire release, the four track EXTENDED PLAY. Both “Do the Mussolini (Headkick)” and “The Set Up” feature industrial beats, a heavily processed vocal and stinging guitar, a sound that was instrumental in ushering in the post-punk era of rock music. The next three tunes exhibit the punk side of the Cabs: “Nag Nag Nag” is one of the great punk singles of all time; “On Every Other Street” is a killer track from the original trio’s first full-length, 1979’s MIX UP, a primitive punk stomper with snarling vocals; “Silent Command” is a dancey, jangley, dubby, happy single release from the same year… kinda like “This Is Radio Clash” or any of the other dub offerings from that band. A track from THE VOICE OF AMERICA follows. “Kneel To the Boss,” is an oddly minimalist dance track with moody, disjointed vocals. The single, “Seconds Too Late,” is slower, moodier and more repetitive than anything presented so far and, it’s the better for it. “Landslide,” from the RED MECCA album, has a slinky Eastern European or Asian feel that is very appealing (you can check out the entire RED MECCA release, too, as Mute has recently reissued it in a new vinyl edition). 1982’s 2X45 gives us the hard funk of “Breathe Deep,” complete with horns and a guest appearance by drummer Alan Fish.

The second half of the disc is mostly 7” mixes or radio edits, starting with “Just Fascination.” It’s got a creepy Aphex Twin sort of vocal thing going on… kind of breathy and menacing. The synth and bass are particularly menacing here. Following is a radio edit of “Crackdown,” which features a repeating, syncopated drum pattern and almost whispered vocals. The synth and bass are more spongy on “Animation,” a mood lightening dance track. The next two songs, “The Dream Ticket” and “Sensoria,” feature a rather hyper dance club vibe, reminding me of Thomas Dolby’s brilliant “She Blinded Me With Science.” From 1984, “James Brown” is exactly what you think it should be: A sweaty groove with horns and a funky wha-wah guitar thing happening down in the mix. DRINKING GASOLINE featured four tracks, each running over eight minutes. Two tracks, “Kino” and “Big Funk,” were whittled down for radio consumption. They’re both suffering from disco overload but, as the name implies, the latter is funkier and more adventurous, sorta like “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock from a couple years earlier. “I Want You” is a stylistic hybrid. Think Spandau Ballet meets Duran Duran. The final cut, “Warm,” comes from the 1985 record, THE COVENANT, THE SWORD AND THE ARM OF THE LORD (retitled, simply, THE ARM OF THE LORD for obvious reasons in the US). It is a rather unremarkable tune from a rather unremarkable release. We understand that Mister Kirk wanted to be representative of every phase of this period in the group’s career, but #7885 could have done without this last one. This really is a good introduction to Cabaret Voltaire. After checking it out, we strongly suggest that you delve further into the three releases mentioned in the first paragraph, as well as EXTENDED PLAY. They are, indeed, the pinnacle of experimental, post-punk bliss from the group.


BILL NELSON: GETTING ACROSS THE HOLY GHOST

(COCTEAU DISCS/ESOTERIC RECORDINGS/CHERRY RED RECORDS/PORTRAIT RECORDS; reissue 2013, original release 1986)

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I fell in love with Bill Nelson, his songwriting, his voice and his guitar playing in 1977, with LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE, the fantastic live release from his then-current band, Be Bop Deluxe. In the early ’80s, I rediscovered Bill through a pair of commissioned works for the stage – DAS KABINETT (THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI) and LA BELLE ET LA BETE (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), both for the Yorkshire Actors Company – and 1982’s THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS (DIARY OF A THINKING HEART); the second commissioned piece was released as a bonus record with THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS… and stands in stark contrast to the album proper’s poppy New Romanticism. I eventually discovered Nelson’s Red Noise project during a trip to the used record bins at a local shop; I initially passed on those releases as virtually every review I read at the time called it – and I’m paraphrasing here – “A disappointing attempt at electronic dance music.” Anyway, after Red Noise, finding a new Bill Nelson record in the hinterlands of Illinois became an effort in futility; now, nearly thirty years after Red Noise, comes the expanded edition of one of the man’s most well-received records, GETTING ACROSS THE HOLY GHOST (called ON A BLUE WING in North America and Australia). The new edition features a remaster of the original ten-song UK version of the record, as well as a second disc featuring the two EPs culled from the same recording sessions: WILDEST DREAMS and LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT.

Bill Nelson (photo credit: SHEILA ROCK)

Bill Nelson (photo credit: SHEILA ROCK)

There seems to be a vague theme running through …HOLY GHOST… , a theme that reminds me of Sunday mornings in a small country town or village. “Suvasini” is a short, introductory ambient piece with a nice jazzy guitar running throughout; it leads into “Contemplation,” which features a snaky kind of guitar, some mid-’80s poppy keyboards and a slinky bass line (courtesy of Iain Denby). Bill’s voice has always been sort of an acquired taste; here, he straddles the stylistic line that falls somewhere between David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. The song itself is very poetic and lyrically dense (as in, a lot of words). The only part I find objectionable is a sax part that tends to ruin the feel of the whole track. “Theology” is closer to the esoteric near-rock of some of Be Bop Deluxe’s more experimental stuff. The number rather reminds me of solo John Foxx or, maybe, a type of Enoesque Ambient rock. Preston Heyman adds an industrial (as in, machinery) percussion thing that is very cool. There’s more of that industrial sound happening on “Wildest Dreams,” a happy kinda tune that also tosses marimba into the percussion mix. You know, I really like Nelson’s more experimental pop stuff but, I gotta say… I really miss his exceptional guitar playing on some of this material; 1980’s style keyboards just don’t do it for me, though there is a great violin solo from Peter Greeves. “Lost In Your Mystery” could have been an outtake from Bowie’s LET’S DANCE sessions. The music has a very Asiatic (in reference to the Continent, not the band) and pre-programmed (it all sounds synthesized) texture and feel; it’s a very laid back song with an equally laid back vocal from Bill.

In its original form, you could listen to those first five songs before being forced to flip the record over to hear the rest of the music. That’s the way I’ve chosen to review the first disc of this reissue, picking up here with the music on Side Two. “Rise Like a Fountain” comes across as an Adrian Belew/King Crimson kind of thing… if Crimson were an ambient band. Iain Denby chimes in with a great (fretless?) bass part, plus… there’s an actual guitar solo (short though it is). There’s an unfortunate BEVERLY HILLS COP/Harold Faltermeyer synth vibe (sorry, folks… great movie, horrible theme song) happening on “Age of Reason.” Nelson’s vocals are pretty good but, I’m not sure they actually save this thing, especially once the Clarence Clemons-like sax bleats (provided by William Gregory and Dick Morrisey) come in. Simply stated, the tune comes off as nothing more than dance music for left-footed mathletes. “The Hidden Flame” continues the dance floor goofiness, though some nifty processed piano and some funky lead guitar somewhat negate the damage. As always, Bill’s vocals are a highlight, as is the stinging guitar solo toward the end. “Because of You” is up next. Now, this is more like it: Great guitar, great lyrics (“Nailed to the cross of love/Because of you”), funky bass; this number could easily have worked as a Power Station song. The album ends with “Pansophia,” a very short (less than a minute) nylon-string guitar solo laced with minimal processed piano and ambient noises. So, in the harsh reflective light of nearly three decades, the first half of GETTING THE HOLY GHOST ACROSS fares much better than the second half, though there’s enough meat on the bones to enjoy this rather dated blast from the past, mostly because… well… Bill Nelson!

Bill Nelson (LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT)

Bill Nelson (LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT)

And, so, we’re on to the second disc of this collection as we ponder the question: What would a “Deluxe Edition” (or reissue of any kind, really) be without “bonus material?” That material usually manifests as a vault-clearing effort to delve into the artist’s psyche at the time of the recording of the feted release. Thankfully, the minutia that practice entails is eschewed for a more slim-lined package that includes the two EP releases associated with the 1986 album… a total of eleven tracks. Even though the sequencing here is kinda wonky, for the purposes of this review, our exploration will begin with the music from the first of these releases, LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT. Following the first cut from the later WILDEST DREAMS record, the seven tracks from …SPANGLED MOMENT – five of which were issued as part of the original English cassette version of the …HOLY GHOST,,, record – follow in sequence. It should be noted that this release is more of a “mini-album,” clocking in at a little less than a half hour. “Heart and Soul” is another synthesized, mid-tempo dance tune, featuring sax and clarinet solos from Ian Nelson. This is probably as stuck-in-your-head catchy as you’re likely to hear from Bill Nelson. Nelson’s minimalist approach to guitar-playing is once again the touch point for the title track, which is awash in various keyboard texturing, a slinky bass part from Denby and another Morrisey sax solo; the track is… okay… just not great. Though brighter in tone, “Feast of Lanterns” comes off feeling like an extension of the main album’s “Pansophia.” This longer investigation of that tune’s themes features some backward guitar alongside some well-placed harmonic guitar swells and ambient keyboard for a little added atmosphere. The result is quite a pretty piece of music.

Bill Nelson (publicity photo)

Bill Nelson (publicity photo)

Illusions of You” has a nice band vibe, very happy and bright. Bill’s guitar is more prominent here than elsewhere, which is a welcome sound; everything seems to come together on this track… except for Ian Nelson’s sax solo, which somehow seems terribly out of place here. With an almost somber kinda Peter Gabriel feel that belies a sprightly Denby bass line and Nelson’s vibrant vocal performance, “Word For Word” is a slow-build non-ballad. A neat Spanish guitar solo gives way to one of Bill’s trademark ambient electric guitar solos. “Finks and Stooges of the Spirit,” besides having one of the greatest titles ever, is quite possibly the best tune from this period of Nelson’s career. It’s an electronic rocker, with a dense instrumental bed menacing just below vocals that border on the dispassionate (think Gary Numan). Since I’ve been a little hard on him, I must compliment Ian Nelson’s woodwinds; they are an integral part of this wall-of-sound production. Bill’s reverb-drenched solo leads into a short duet with Ian’s clarinet, which really adds to the (intentionally) disjointed feel of the number. Like the closer to Side One of the original LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT release, “Nightbirds” closed out Side Two – and, indeed, the entire record – in similar fashion: It’s another short ambient soundscape, this time featuring Iain Denby on bass. For pure atmospheric effect, it certainly does a nice job, as it leaves the listener yearning for just a bit more.

Bill Nelson (WILDEST DREAMS)

Bill Nelson (WILDEST DREAMS)

Now, back to the top, with the “Wild Mix” of the WILDEST DREAMS’ title track. You know how I feel about remixes… don’t like ‘em. However, this one seems to have a little more of that industrial percussion that Preston Heyman brought to the original album version, as well as a more prominent bass line and… wait! Is that an extended violin solo from Peter Greeves? Okay… I may actually prefer this version to the one found on GETTING THE HOLY GHOST ACROSS. “Self Impersonation” (or, “Self Impersonisation,” as it was originally titled), which crops up after “Nightbirds,” is another ambient thing with some heavy percussion aspects (this time, by Bill himself, who plays everything on this cut) and just enough soloing and noodling throughout to remind us that Bill Nelson coulda been a big shot rock star guitarist. Up next is another version of “Wildest Dreams.” The single mix is basically the album track cut by a few seconds and featuring a more vibrant high-end (for airplay, doncha know?). It doesn’t sound too bad, removed, as it is, from the entirety of the album. “The Yo-Yo Dyne” is another keyboard and percussion piece, with a cool pipe organ thing happening. Once more, this is all Bill, all the time. The song has an odd, Reggae feel to it – not that Reggae is odd, just in this setting. A nice way to end the record, I suppose, but a tad too repetitive to be allowed to go on for five minutes. As mentioned above, this may not have been my favorite period in Bill Nelson’s career, but there is enough meat on the bone to intrigue.