FIREHORSE: PILLS FROM STRANGERS

(SELF-RELEASED EP; 2013)

Firehorse - Pills From Strangers

Firehorse is, essentially, the vehicle which singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Leah Siegel uses to drive her tunes. This short (seven songs in less than 27 minutes) release is an odd conglomeration of indie rock and pop excess – think Lady Gaga channeling Liz Phair with a dash of Pink for just the right dose of snottiness and a dollop of Tom Waits for just the right amount of strange. All of this is over a new wavey, synth-fueled bed that brings to mind the good (Gary Numan) and the bad (Peaches, referenced here just to keep the band honest and making a concerted effort not to swerve in that direction) of the genre.

PILLS FROM STRANGERS is the follow-up to the band’s 2011 debut, AND SO THEY RAN FASTER… and features the same players (Siegel, drummer Brian Wolfe, bassist Tim Luntzel and guitarist Steve Elliot) with the addition of keyboardist/programmer Mendeley Wells, whose presence is felt immediately on the quirky opener, “Bloodstream,” with its bizarre, blippy synthesizer coda that could be majorly annoying. Toss in a delivery of the line “Get in my bloodstream” that immediately conjurs up visions of Mike Myers and “Get in my belly!” and the song comes very close to tanking in a disastrous, Peaches kind of way. But, you know what? It works, thanks in part to several other attributes, including the lyrics. A fun way to kick things off!

Firehorse's Leah Siegel (photo credit: WILL O'HARE)

Firehorse’s Leah Siegel (photo credit: WILL O’HARE)

The new wave synth pattern and drumming are the real highlights of the throwback sound of “Good,” a nifty little number that has that certain something that makes it immediately appealing, if not exceptional. “Wave” is the first song on the disc that would actually prompt me to buy the thing. Again, a bouncy new wave vibe turns into the perfect setting for Leah Siegel’s Siouxsie Sioux-cum-Kate Bush vocal delivery. The first two and a quarter minutes of “Any Other Day,” with Leah’s soulful gospel inflections and a choir behind her totally makes the tune work. When the full instrumentation is introduced, the transition to the rather menacing final minute is quite a fine piece of musical structuring. Really nice!

The metallic clang and sparse percussion of “Scarecrow” transforms the tune into a minimalist nightmare. Siegel’s lyrics and voice are perfectly menacing. Without a doubt, this is the single most impressive song on the record! Though not as overtly ominous as the previous track, “Walls” keeps the quality high and the instrumentation stripped to a bare minimum, with a nice acoustic lead driving the tune. “Fool” maintains the minimalist feel going with a strange funk vibe, evoked more than anything by Leah’s vocal performance… kinda like a soulful Nikka Costa thing filtered through Prince at his most funky purpleness. I do like this record, but… I can’t help wondering what an entire album of material like the last three… make that four… songs, ’cause “Any Other Day” has the same less-is-more ambiance that seems to propel Leah’s vocals to whole new level. PILLS FROM A STRANGER is available at the usual download places and at the band’s website, thisisfirehorse.com. Physical copies of AND SO THEY RAN FASTER… are also available from their site. Go ye forth and consume, my brethren and… uh… sistren!


GHOST AND GOBLIN: SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

ghost and goblin cover

Over the past couple weeks, I find myself thoroughly enamored with this record. Ghost and Goblin (the duo of Nicholas DiMichele and Spencer Synwolt) bring completely original ideas to themes introduced by such disparate auteurs as the Misfits, Alice Cooper, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Damned. They have built upon the objective of providing the soundtrack to the coolest, creepiest haunted house/funhouse attraction in the world, tossed their lot in with true masters of the genre and have immediately elevated themselves to those same lofty heights. I know, I know! There are those among you who will dismiss the seemingly over-the-top hyperbole as a disingenuous attempt to garner favor (and free stuff), but I truly find myself liking SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND more and more with each listen. So… “Nyah!” to you.

From the haunted house intro (“SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND”) into the creepy vibe of the first song (the pairing clocks in at just over ten minutes of metallic bliss that borders on industrial), “Rust Golem,” you know that this is going to be as fun and spooky and intense as the album title implies. The slightly breathy, slightly echoey vocals are amazingly effective here. “Step inside the machine/All your sins will be wiped clean.”

Ghost and Goblin (publicity photo)

Ghost and Goblin (publicity photo)

Who’s There” continues the haunted feeling (literally and figuratively) with some powerful guitar work and a frenzied refrain of “I’m scared” repeating through the final minute of the song adds a certain manic intensity to the already sinister tone. An oddly placed Flaminco-style guitar solo only works to heighten the creep factor. “Skeletons In the Closet” reminds me of some of Alice Cooper’s early solo work, particularly “Some Folks” from the classic WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE. The tune begins with an organ piece worthy of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA before the main section kicks in with a cool Rhumba/Samba/Tango (I know it’s one of those, I’m just not up on my ballroom dance terminology) feel. The PHANTOM… organ returns toward the end of the song only to be supplanted again by the main musical theme to end the track. With “Rust Golem,” this is definitely one of my favorite songs here.

Look At the Clouds” is the first “real” song, eschewing the horror themes and echo for a funky, psychedelic vibe, intoning the Purple One himself, Prince, especially the stylistic approach to the vocals. Tacked on to the end is the minute long “Ultra Puzzle Song,” which sounds like an extensions of those short pastiches of sound and lunacy used by Frank Zappa to thematically tie the SHEIK YER BOUTI songs together. I wonder if the song title may not be a nod to Zappa and that album. “Magic Missiles” brings us back to the major album theme. It’s a harpsichord instrumental that would have brought a smile to Lurch’s face and had Gomez and Morticia tangoing madly through the graveyard. “Blood Beach” has a very eerie Joy Division new wave thing happening. Is that the ghost of Ian Curtis swinging to the beat?

Ghost and Goblin (uncredited photo)

Ghost and Goblin (uncredited photo)

On the surface, “Low (Bringin’ Me Down)” seems an anomaly. As the name implies, the song’s lyrical content is a downer, though the feel is more one of melancholy than spooky. The lone guitar throughout lends to that sense of melancholia and the addition of accordion (or is it a hurdy gurdy?) in the final section is nice, prompting a comparison to early 16 Horsepower. The metallic crunch is back for the doublet, “Fleshcraft”/”The Transfiguration.” Atmospherically, we can again harken back to Alice Cooper, as well as Rob Zombie and old Hammer Studio horror movies. These two lead back into a tarted up reprise of “Low (Bringin’ Me Down),” with a heavy, fuzzed-out guitar replacing the acoustic of the main song and histrionic screams and wails replacing the lyrics, bringing everything back around to the beginning. Have I mentioned yet how much I like this record? Visit the band’s Bandcamp page (ghostandgoblin.bandcamp.com) to listen or to purchase a limited edition vinyl pressing of SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND. Your ears will thank me.


ANDREW LEAHEY AND THE HOMESTEAD: SUMMER SLEEVES

(SELF-RELEASED EP; 2013)

Andrew Leahey

So… here’s what I know about Andrew Leahey and the Homestead: the band features a Virginia-bred, Nashville-based singer/songwriter named Andrew Leahey. Apparently, a guy named Phil Heesen plays lead guitar. There may or may not be a guy called Ben Willson appearing on piano and Fender Rhodes. There you go… that’s it. This EP is less than 20 minutes long; I spent over three hours trolling on-line for information about who played what. Amazingly enough, the site with the least amount of useful information is Leahey’s own – www.andrewleaheymusic.com. Go figure! Anyway…

Andrew Leahey (publicity photo)

Andrew Leahey (publicity photo)

That’s the only thing I can find to complain about with the music (and nameless musicians who performed it) on SUMMER SLEEVES. The music of Andrew Leahey and the Homestead can best be described as Heartbreakers (the Tom Petty variety, not the Johnny Thunders variety) style countryfied rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes a little more rock, occasionally a little more country (or country rock or country pop or alt country or Americana or whatever this style of music is being called at this moment in time). SUMMER SLEEVES features four songs, each with a decidedly different stylistic approach and all of them likely to get stuck on repeat in your head.

Little In Love” is the most overtly rock tune here, with an acoustic guitar (by Leahey, I’m guessing) marking rhythm under a fluid electric lead (Heesen, no doubt) and a solid slide solo. Though Leahey’s vocal delivery is rather reminiscent of Tom Petty, his voice is smoother, without the nasal twang that Tom is known for. The swirling Fender Rhodes diving in and out of the mix is very Benmont Tench-like and, thus, heightens the Petty reference. “Don’t Make Me Sad” starts off a little more uptempo than “Little In Love,” but not much. Don’t expect any overt shredding from the Homestead, as MOR rock and poppy alt country is where this band plays best. I would not be in the least surprised to hear this song on a rock, country, or alternative radio station; to my ears, it fits comfortably within the parameters of any of those genres.

Andrew Leahey and the Homestead (uncredited photo)

Andrew Leahey and the Homestead (uncredited photo)

The most “country” sounding track is “Waiting On a Plane.” It delivers all of the standard country features: a pedal steel guitar, brushed drums, a swinging one note bass line and a honky-tonk style piano pumping rhythm. The “story” aspect of the lyrics only adds to the overall country vibe. “Who Wants an Easy Love” starts like a slower, slightly more country version of John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over.” The melody persists throughout, but the tune actually sounds like three very distinct songs – a virtual suite, in the tradition of “A Quick One While He’s Away” by the Who. The second “impression” (to steal – oops, I mean, “borrow” – some terminology from classical music and Emerson, Lake and Palmer) falls more toward the rock end of things. The instrumental section that draws the seven minute epic to a close reminds me of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” with its organ swells and a nice guitar solo weaving its way throughout. On the band’s Facebook page, they note that “Who Wants an Easy Love” is “the closest to a love song” you’re going to find on SUMMER SLEEVES. I humbly disagree. Love is all over this thing! From love lost to love unrequited to love unwanted, I think that – for better or worse – this is a collection of love songs. And a darn fine one, at that!


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.


SONS OF HIPPIES: GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN

(CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

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Sons of Hippies are exactly what they sound like… sorta. First off, I’m fairly certain that one of ’em ain’t. I’ll go out on a limb and call it now: Katherine Kelly was never anyone’s son. Second, they borrow from the early psychedelia of the ’60s, the hard rock of the ’70s, the New Wave of the ’80s and everything that came before and after and in between. By my estimation, that’s around 60 years of rock and roll to draw from and, while the Sons’ songs can be said to sound like a certain band from a certain period in time, they have a sound that can best be described as… well, Sons of Hippies. I kinda like bands that sound familiar and, at the same time, completely new and original. So, for purposes of this review, I’m gonna give you as many musical reference points as I can to convince you that this trio is the real deal.

The album kicks off with “Forward,” a swirling piece of mid-tempo, mind-melting Hawkwind-ish spacey psychedelic goodness. “Mirrorball” features a peppy little guitar signature that continually threatens to explode into a ravaging solo. The only things that ever really explode are the multi-layered vocals on the chorus. That’s okay, though, because those vocals add a quirky vibe to what would otherwise be a rather pedestrian attempt at a Widowspeak type pop tune.

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

Dark Daisies” kinda sounds like a Sabbath tune for the very latest century – if Sabbath hadn’t already given us a number one album full of those things – with an ominously heavier-than-thou guitar riff and equally heavy (steady, never showy) drumming. As the song progresses, the heaviness morphs into an Ian Kilmister-era Hawkind sorta space groove. Now, that’s cool! Ms Kelly’s voice has a Susannah-Hoff-filtered-through-Siouxsie-Sioux quality through-out the album, a comparison that immediately jumps out on the next track. “Rose” is a trippy Bangles style power pop tune and the album’s second single, with a bloody, awesome video to accompany it (it’s sure a shame that MTV isn’t any longer because this one would play great there). GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN doesn’t get much better than “Rose.” It may be the perfect Sons song.

Sounding a bit like classic Dick Dale surf tunage, “Spaceship Ride” adds solid vocals and a crunchy-sounding chorus leading into an echo-laden guitar solo, the first time that any musician really busts out of the quasi-laid back late ’60s vibe. “Man Or Moon” continues to kick-up (and mix up) the tempo with another solid drumming job from Jonas Canales and a nifty descending bass line from David Daly. Again, Katherine Kelly adds a nice solo and some cool Annabella Lwin like vocals. “Magnets” is another fine – if rather unimaginative – tune. The vocals are, as always, top notch but, overall, this may be the weak link in an otherwise highly enjoyable album.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

Blood In the Water” wanders through all of the musical territory mentioned before, adding a sweet Monster Magnet heavy space feel to the proceedings. Canales and, especially, Daly have seemingly found the muscle that’s been missing from some of the other tracks. Of course, Kelly adds another great solo. “Whatever We Spend” has a neat New Wave-y sound with a very Siousxie-esque vocal performance from Katherine. Odd – dare I say – hippie lyrics add to the strange, circular vibe of the music. “Minute x Minute” brings the chunky, heavy leads of “Dark Daisies” back into play. Solid vocal and drum performances help propel the song toward its raucous end, 2:40 later.

A snaky, sinewy sitar lead features on “Animal Battle” before slamming headfirst into a wickedly arrogant guitar. The song plays out as another killer slice of Hawkwind/Monster Magnet space rock. The final track is “Cautionary Tale.” It is, I suppose, the album’s power ballad. It features another strong vocal performance, underpinned by great guitar work and solid backing from the rhythm section.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

In the late ’90s, there was a band called Medicine. The more I consider it, I’m kinda reminded of them as much as anybody when I listen to Sons of Hippies. The one thing that I remember about that band was how awesome they were live. I’ve never seen the Sons play, but I have a feeling that the songs from GRIFFONS… would be absolutely killer in a live setting! I can’t wait to find out.


BLACKMORE’S NIGHT: DANCER AND THE MOON

(FRONTIER RECORDS; 2013)

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Ritchie Blackmore is a rocker. Starting in the early 1960s with Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages and the Outlaws, Blackmore rocked. Through two stints in both Deep Purple and Rainbow, Blackmore rocked. He tried really hard not to rock with Blackmore’s Night but, as may have been mentioned somewhere else, Ritchie Blackmore is a rocker. Thus, the duo’s (that would be Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night… see the nifty wordplay involved there?) latest, DANCER AND THE MOON, rocks harder than any of their previous releases… in a very Renaissance Fayre sort of way.

The album starts with a kind of slow burn on Randy Newman’s classic, “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” before the percussion kicks in followed, in short order, by a classic Blackmore fill and a solo that, while understated for Ritchie, reminds the listener just who we’re talking about here. Candice’s beautiful, lilting voice adds a certain “classical” sound to the tune that makes this one of my favorite versions of the song. The next couple of songs, “Troika” and “The Last Leaf,” revert to form for what this group has become best known for: Old European Folk Music. The latter definitely sounds like something that you would expect to hear from a minstrel in the Courts of Camelot, while the former is very reminiscent of a Russian or Eastern European gypsy song.

Blackmore's Night (MICHAEL KEEL)

Blackmore’s Night (photo credit: MICHAEL KEEL)

A very atmospheric take on one of Uriah Heep’s best known songs, “Lady In Black.” is next, with Candice’s woodwinds adding a great touch and Blackmore doing what he does best… shredding. Yes, I said shredding! The only thing that could have possibly improved this version of the song would have been inviting Ken Hensley to add a little heft with that awesome Hammond B3 that he’s so well known for. “Lady In Black” is followed by a nifty little madrigal performed by Ritchie on acoustic guitar. “Minstrels In the Hall” is short and certainly sweet.

Temple of the King” is the last of the “covers” on DANCER AND THE MOON, a tribute to Ritchie’s friend and Rainbow vocalist/lyricist, the late Ronnie James Dio. I’m sure that Ronnie would have approved of this arrangement, replacing the bluesy hard rock vibe with a more medieval sound. Blackmore once more steps out of the wandering minstrel boots to offer a fiery electric lead and another great solo. The title track has a very Celtic sound that, once again, returns to the core concept of Blackmore’s Night. Coming, as it does, after “Temple of the King,” it’s easy to imagine “Dancer and the Moon” as something that Blackmore and Dio would have written for LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.

Blackmore's Night (publicity photo)

Blackmore’s Night (publicity photo)

Galliard” and the traditional tune, “The Ashgrove,” continue in the vein, with Night’s voice taking front and center and Blackmore chiming in with some understated acoustic instrumentation before adding what can only be described as an “elegant” solo on the next track, “Somewhere Over the Sea (The Moon Is Shining).” Completely eschewing the medieval and folky arrangements and instrumentation, the band reworks the previous song as “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over the Sea).” With modern keyboard textures, the use of electronic drums, and some very haunting lead guitar work from Ritchie, I could see this one getting some airplay on some Classic Rock stations around the country. Think Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow on this one.

Saying that Candice Night is Ritchie Blackmore’s muse may be a little over the top, but how can you listen to something like “The Spinner’s Tale” and at least not think it? Ritchie is here just to offer atmosphere, as it’s really Candice’s vocals and penny-whistle that carries the tune. The final track of the album is another instrumental, another tribute. “Carry On… Jon” is a slow blues riff with great guitar and an organ solo (compliments of Bard David of Larchmont, also called David Baranowski) that’s very reminiscent of Blackmore’s Deep Purple cohort and best friend, Jon Lord. Ritchie mentions that he had the song ready to record and once the tape started rolling (so to speak), it took on a rather melancholy feel. Like “Temple of the King,” it is a fitting tribute to a colleague so closely associated with Blackmore’s career. DANCER AND THE MOON offers more of the guitar histrionics that we’ve come to love and expect from Ritchie Blackmore, the rocker, but it also offers a glimpse at a softer, more nostalgic side of the man in black and somehow manages to maintain the stated aesthetic of Blackmore’s Night: To present an updated version of Renaissance and medieval style folk music. The album succeeds on all counts!


BRAINTICKET: COTTONWOODHILL

(PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS/CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

brainticket-cottonwoodhill

A couple of interesting things about Brainticket’s debut album: First, upon its original release in 1971, it was banned in several countries including, incomprehensibely, the United States (where hippie, drugged-out psychedelic music of this variety was born); second, it came with a label warning that you should “Only listen once a day to this record” because “Your brain might be destroyed.” The record’s good, but I’m not sure of the validity of that statement (of course, everybody and their dog – well,at least Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone – will tell you how unbelievably awesome Springsteen is and I know that’s an outright lie). That warning label must be close to the truth, though, because I played COTTONWOODHILL twice a few days back and had to rest for awhile. So, I’m guessing that you guys wanna know what prompted the warning and the bans and why the album still sounds so good today, right?

Okay… let’s start at the beginning then, shall we? “Black Sand” comes off as a funky Yes hoedown with Santana-like leads and a heavier-than-thou Hammond (provided by band leader, Joel Vandroogembroeck) pounding away throughout. At a mere 4 minutes, “Black Sand” is like the preliminary bout before the main event. That remark will make a lot more sense a little further down the page… trust me. “Places of Light,” another prelim (again clocking in around 4 minutes), isn’t as killer heavy as the first tune, but with Vandroo… uh… Joel offering a jazzy flute signature throughout and the introduction of some way trippy processed vocals by Dawn Muir, it still ranks high on the psychedelic Krautrock meter.

Joel Vandroogenbroeck of Brainticket (uncredited photo)

Joel Vandroogenbroeck of Brainticket (uncredited photo)

Now, like most albums of the type back in the embryonic phase of what we’ve come to know as “Krautrock” and the waning years of the psychedelic movement, this album takes a cue from Iron Butterfly and IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA: a few (or in this case, a couple) short songs on one side (we’re talkin’ original vinyl release now, children) with a much longer track of the more experimental variety filling the second half. Brainticket goes the Butterfly one better (well, actually, a half better) as the tune “Brainticket” is broken up into three parts. Finishing out Side One of the album is “Brainticket I (Part 1),” over eight minutes of odd noises (credited to Hillmuth Klobe utilizing “potentiometers, generators and sound effects”), more vocal acrobatics from Dawn Muir, as she whispers, screams, orgasms and talks her way through a seemingly (derailed) train-of-thought set of lyrics and a percussive, rhythmic organ pattern that repeats through the entire song (which includes another four-and-a-half minutes of “Brainticket I (Part 2)” and nearly 13 minutes of “Brainticket II”). This is, indeed, the main event that we were hoping for! As we are discussing a CD reissue here, it should be noted that the fade out/fade in of the original vinyl is not present on “Brainticket I,” which is presented as it was recorded, as one solid 13 minute piece of brain-damaging tunage. My one complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that the two pieces of the 26 minute suite should be presented as one track. There’s a definite end to “Brainticket I” and a definite beginning to “Brainticket II,” but they don’t present (at least to me) as two separate entities… the one should start immediately after the other ends but, on this reissue, there is a several seconds pause which is somewhat distracting to me. COTTONWOODHILL was, for many years, a lost jewel at the crossroads of psychedelia and Krautrock. Now, thanks to the fine folk at Purple Pyramid and Cleopatra Records, it has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of mind-bendingly great albums, something to be revered and listened to over and over again. My sole request of you is this: “Please – listen responsibly!”


DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS: IN EXTREMIS

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

Days Between Stations In Extrimis

IN EXTREMIS (a Latin phrase that means “at the point of death”) features some of the final recorded work of legendary Yes and Flash guitarist, Peter Banks. Given Banks’ resume, it isn’t in the least bit surprising to note that the music of the California-based duo of keyboardist Oscar Fuentes Bills and guitarist Sepand Samzadeh (performing under the odd moniker Days Between Stations, after the novel by Steve Erikson) is what could be classified as “neo-progressive.” There are eight tracks on the self-released IN EXTREMIS, with fully half of them clocking in at more than 10 minutes each. The title track, presented as a suite with six separate movements, is over 21 and a half minutes long. “In Extremis” features Peter Banks on lead and rhythm guitar, as well as “guitar textures.” He also features on the 12 minute “Eggshsell Man.”

Add to the mix uber-bass and stick man Tony Levin, drummer/vocalist Billy Sherwood, keyboard guru Rick Wakeman and XTC bassist/vocalist Colin Moulding and you’ve just turned an impressive progressive concept album into a formidable piece of progressive hero-worship. So, let’s look at this work track by track to learn why this is most certainly an album that you will want to add to your collection.

Days Between Stations: Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepand Samzadeh (uncredited photo)

Days Between Stations: Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepand Samzadeh (uncredited photo)

No Cause For Alarm (Overture),” led by Oscar Fuentes Bills’ militaristic piano and the very marshal-sounding drums of Billy Sherwood, leads into “In Utero,” which is more of a soundscape. It features some very ethereal keyboard and guitar washes by Bills and Sepand Samzadeh, as well as a cool, tinkling guitar effect and a nice Samzadeh solo. Chris Tedesco provides a long trumpet solo, adding to the Crimson-esque atmosphere of the piece.

Visionary” builds on the emotional feel of “In Utero” with more nice guitar work from Sepand. This is the first of the vocal tracks, with Sherwood’s voice reminding me of Trevor Horn’s work on DRAMA, his only album with Yes; they’re kinda hard to understand, but the power of this vocal stands more in the melody and feel. Sherwood’s drumming is rather subdued but features some very nice fills. Bills once again offers some great piano to the instrumental section. He is joined by Matt Bradford on dobro and, together, they offer one of the more emotionally charged pieces of the entire album. “Blackfoot” is a tasty piece of jazz-tinged progressive rock, especially the slower middle section. A nightmarish piano line repeats to start the song, then an equally nightmare-inducing guitar solo is added. There is a definite Mothers of Invention vibe to this song, with guitar parts that are very much Zappa influenced and drums that remind me of Chester Thompson or Ralph Humphrey and their work with the Mothers. “Blackfoot” ends with some quite nice Floydian guitar freak-outs, definitely reminiscent of the swirling, calamitous sounds of a cinematic death scene.

Colin Moulding appears on “The Man Who Died Two Times,” a song whose title sounds quite a bit like something that he would do within the confines of his band, XTC. The tune seems to be a song about revived hope – a very poppy, happy sounding song. Moulding’s voice adds just the right touch, as “The Man Who Died Two Times” is very much in the vein of mid-period XTC or early Genesis with Peter Gabriel.

Peter Banks (uncredited photo)

Peter Banks (photo credit: GLEN DICROCCO)

The Angel City String Quartet performs the short, quiet piece, “Waltz In E Minor,” which is dedicated to Peter Banks. A very fitting requiem for a major influence on the art form known as “progressive rock music.” “Eggshell Man” is a very folky sounding tune. The vocal melodies and phrasing remind one of Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding’s XTC bandmate, though they are provided by Billy Sherwood. They add just the right emotional air to the tune, as a man once drawn from the brink of death has been walking on metaphoric eggshells and realizes that he is once again at death’s door. As the song progresses, Ali Nouri solos on the tar (a Central Asian stringed instrument), Rick Wakeman offers a mini-moog solo and Peter Banks adds great atmospheric guitar “textures,” all of which give the song a very Middle Eastern sound. “Eggshell Man,” along with “The Man Who Died Two Times,” are my favorites on an album of great tracks.

Finally, “In Extremis,” is Days Between Stations’ magnum opus, the centerpiece to a highly enjoyable album. The first movement is called “Mass” and, as should be expected, is an atmospheric mass for the dead. “On the Ground,” the second movement, is very much “funeral music,” with lyrics evoking either a life wasted or a life well-lived and much missed by those who loved the deceased. This section features great guitar and keyboard work and interaction by the core duo of Samzadeh and Bills, alongside Banks. The third movement, called “A Requiem,” is exactly that, with very dark lyrics set against an almost claustrophobic musical backing. Along with the instrumental fourth and fifth movements (called “Writing On Water” and “Overland”), “A Requiem” borders on schizophrenia, perhaps hinting at the soul’s departure from the mortal coil as a battle rages between Heaven and Hell to determine its eternal resting place. “It Never Ends,” the final movement, revisits lyrical themes from the entire album, offering, at times, a gloomy overview of life, but also a pastoral, restful triumph that ultimately comes with the end of life. Overall, “In Extremis” is a song cycle that leads you through just about every emotion that you would feel knowing that your birth certificate does, indeed, come with an expiration date.

IN EXTREMIS is an album that has a little something for everybody. Whether your musical tastes tend to run to progressive or classic rock; classical music; Gothic lyrics and motifs; or just darn good music, this is the record for you!


THE PASSION: ALL MY YESTERDAYS

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

The Passion

The Passion are from Columbia, MO. Their music is from all over. They have a kind of Joy Division meets the Smiths meets Echo and the Bunnymen sound, with guitarist Chris Dohm evoking (invoking?) memories of Will Sergeant and Johnny Marr and their slashing, percussive style of playing. There’s even a little hint of very early David Evans (you may know him better as the Edge from U2). Singer Larry Krapf could (and maybe does!) front a Smiths tribute band (for some reason, these bands insist on calling themselves “tribute bands” instead of cover bands which, in fact, they are… they just cover songs by one band… but I digress) as he has a definite Steve Morrissey sound, only with less whining.

Carved In Sand” starts things off nicely, with a very Joy Division sounding tune. I suppose if you squint your eyes and hold your head just right while listening to ALL MY YESTERDAYS, you can hear a bit of Ian Curtis in Krapf’s voice, as well. Now, all of these comparisons may have you thinking, “You know, I already have all of the Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen albums I need and I can’t stand the Smiths because of Morrissey’s whiny voice and hissy fit lyrics, so why do I need this record by the Passion?” A valid point, I assume (except for the Morrissey thing,,, that’s just me), if this band didn’t have more to offer. Making comparisons is kinda what I have to do so you’ll have a musical reference to see if a particular band’s music falls somewhere in your listening wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean that the Passion are a carbon copy of any of the band’s mentioned. In fact, dip down a few songs, to track 7, and you’ll find a very goth sounding tune called “Everybody Wants,” with Melissa Robertson’s synth out front more than any other song here.

The Passion: Chris Dohm, Larry Krapf, Melissa Robertson, Shannon Morris and SeanErickson (publicity photo)

The Passion: Chris Dohm, Larry Krapf, Melissa Robertson, Shannon Morris and Sean Erickson (publicity photo)

Robertson’s playing is understated and her parts are well thought out and add just the right texture. Her voice is also well used, not all over the place but appearing when (and where) it’s needed. The rhythm section of Andy Gibbs on bass (he left shortly after this album was recorded, replaced by Shannon Morris) and Sean Erickson on drums are solid, with Erickson exhibiting a more adventurous side on several of the tracks. The title track (“All My Yesterdays,” in case you’ve forgotten) has a little bit of everything: great vocals from Krapf, gang vocals on the chorus, a driving rhythm propelling things forward at nearly breakneck speed, a punchy synthesizer part and a trashy garage-like solo from Dohm.

Overall, I can find very little negative to say about the Passion’s ALL MY YESTERDAYS. It definitely brings back memories of some really great late ’70s/early ’80s bands; it also breaks some new ground production-wise, giving Larry Krapf’s voice a more meaty sound than Morrissey ever dreamed of and a certain bright sheen on Chris Dohm’s guitar. If you’re still thinking, “So why do I need this record by the Passion?,” how about this: you can pick up a digital copy on the band’s Bandcamp page (that would be thepassionband.bandcamp.com) for a “name your own price” download fee. Listen to “Carved In Sand,” “I Won’t Be Another Story,” “Everybody Wants” and the title song and I can virtually guarantee that you’ll be hitting that download button!


RICK DERRINGER: RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR

(ANGEL AIR RECORDS; 2009) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

Rick Derringer

Alternately called LIVE AT THE RITZ, NEW YORK – 1982, this album features Rick Derringer and his then-current band performing some of his best tracks and being joined by several guest artists to play a couple of their’s. The sound has been called “raw” and that works as well as anything to describe a nearly 30 year old show remastered from a video source. It has its faults but, that’s part of the charm.

Rick Derringer (uncredited photo)

Rick Derringer (uncredited photo)

Things kick off in fine fashion, with one of my favorite Derringer (the band) songs, “EZ Action” from IF I WEREN’T SO ROMANTIC, I’D SHOOT YOU. Rick and the boys in the band (Alan Merrill, sharing guitar licks with Derringer; Donnie Kisselbach on bass; Jimmy Wilcox on drums; Benjy King on keyboards) are obviously having fun. This thing ain’t called RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR for nothin’, though, as Karla DeVito (you know… the girl who wasn’t on BAT OUT OF HELL but appeared in all of the accompanying video material and toured with the Loaf for several years) joins the band for “Cool World,” from Karla’s album, IS THIS A COOL WORLD OR WHAT. The song is one of those B-52’s/Cyndi Lauper kinda new wave pop things that sounds a little quirky played by a solid-state rock ‘n’ roll band, but they pull it off. Nothing, however, can save “Just Like You,” a ballad from the same album. I guess every album or show has to have one cringe-worthy moment and this fits the bill perfectly!

Karla DeVito, Southside Johnny (video stills)

Karla DeVito, Southside Johnny (video stills)

Next up is Southside Johnny Lyon, who brought his harmonica but left his Asbury Jukes behind. Southside Johnny may be the only musician from Asbury Park, NJ who is worth even a second look. Check out the voice and harmonica on Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” (it’s called “Honey Rush” in the artwork) and the Eddie Boyd blues workout “Five Long Years” if you doubt the veracity of that comment. Probably the most well-known (one might say “infamous”) of all of Rick Derringer’s songs is “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo,” first recorded on the JOHNNY WINTER AND record in 1970. It has one of the coolest riffs in rock history and I’m not certain if Derringer can ever play live without at least referencing that riff (I’m fairly certain that his family Christian group won’t touch those lyrics with a 10… make that a 50 foot pole!). The version here is… serviceable. I don’t know what the deal is with those backing vocals, but they sound like they borrowed the guys from Spinal Tap to faux heavy them up.

Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert (video stills)

Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert (video stills)

For two glorious studio albums (and one live release), the band Derringer featured Vinny Appice (pronounced Ap-puh-see) on drums. So, of course, what would this show be without a little Appice? Carmine Appice (pronounced A-piece), Vinny’s big brother, brings his former Cactus and Beck, Bogert and Appice bass-playing partner, Tim Bogert, along to do “Have You Heard,” a riff-loaded track from Carmine’s then-new ROCKERS album. With Derringer (and, one would assume, Alan Merrill) supplanting Jeff Beck on the guitar parts, they rip into “Lady” from BBA’s one and only studio album. Probably one of the coolest thing about Carmine is the fact that he can utterly beat the crap out of his kit AND sing lead. Before “Lady” he mentions that instead of Jeff Beck, the song’s going to be played by “Derringer, Bogert and Appice,” a band that actually came to official fruition nearly 20 years later.

Ted Nugent (video still)

Ted Nugent (video still)

As is Carmine’s wont, he tends to take things into his own hands. So, rather than Rick announcing the next guest, Carmine does the honors. As Appice mentions, he had just finished a tour with Ted Nugent (in support of the NUGENT album, which featured Carmine on drums) and the Motor City Madman – alongside Derringer, Appice and Bogert – rips into an impressive, if a little ragged, version of “Cat Scratch Fever.” That group sticks around for a funny-car-fueled take on the Chuck Berry classic, “Oh, Carol,” with Ted on lead vocals.

Alan Merrill (uncredited photo)

Alan Merrill (uncredited photo)

It’s back to the Rick Derringer band for the yet-to-be-released “Party At the Hotel” from Rick’s upcoming album, GOOD DIRTY FUN. To be perfectly honest, the guest performers were fun and the interaction with Derringer was nice to hear but, the three songs with just Rick, Alan, Benjy, Jimmy and Donnie are just a notch or two above in energy, excitement and delivery. The big “let’s bring everybody back out” number to finish the set is – next to “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” – the other number for which Rick Derringer will forever be remembered: “Hang On Sloopy,” a song that a 17-year old Rick Zehringer took to the top of the charts with the McCoys in 1965. Even with the “everybody solo” feel, this is one time that everything (and everyone) was hitting on all cylinders. A good way to end the evening and this disc. Are there rough spots along the way? Certainly. Do they detract from the music and the vibe of the performance? Not really. Is RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR worth owning? Absolutely!