Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jason Vieaux. Play.

Jason Vieaux.  Play.
Azica, 2014.  Jason Vieaux:

In a dozen albums over twenty years, and hundreds of concerts throughout the world, Jason Vieaux has shown that he is one of the finest guitarists around.  In terms of repertoire he ranges from Baroque to contemporary, and sometimes into jazz and pop.  Often, his albums have focused on a specific composer (Bach, Ponce, Piazzolla, Albéniz, Pat Metheny), but here he plays a set of short pieces across the spectrum of music.  We thought we’d talk about his latest album, Play, since Vieaux teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music (where he also studied).  Oh, and because the album has been nominated for a Grammy Award.

This album is a collection of showpieces selected from a wide variety of styles and composers, although Latin American and Spanish works predominate.  In the seventeen works here, only two composers show up twice, Agustín Barrios and Francisco Tárrega.  I don’t mind a bit, since I love Barrios’ music (by way of David Russell), and Tárrega is always a joy.  Vieaux brings out the wistful atmosphere of Tárrega while still remaining crisp and technically beyond reproach.  He continues the Latin American thread beyond Barrios through compositions by Sagreras, Brouwer, Lauro, Ponce, Bustamante, Bellinati, and Jobim.  This is indeed wide-ranging, across South and Central America, with the last two listed from Brazil.  I was particularly taken by the works by Bustamante and Lauro, which require a great deal of dexterous playing and sensitivity.  Tárrega’s Spain (although perhaps not his alone) is represented by pieces by Segovia and Sainz de la Maza.  The composition by French guitarist/ composer Dyens fits in nicely with this mix, and is a fun piece.

Vieaux brings in other materials to add different spices to the program.  The contemporary pieces by Andrew York and Stanley Myers contrast in style from the previously mentioned composers, and change up the atmosphere.  The Myers piece is the only one on the album I’m not so crazy about, but others may find it quite pleasing.  He finishes up with an arrangement of Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” which again, fits well with much of the feel of the rest of the album, but adds a jazz touch that is welcome as a closer.

Best of luck to Mr. Vieaux in his Grammy nomination.  This album is certainly deserving of such an honor.  I highly recommend it to all those who enjoy solo guitar music.

Personnel:  Jason Vieaux (guitar).
Tracks:  Jongo (Paulo Bellinati), El Colibri (Julio Sagreras), A Felicidade (Antônio Carlos Jobim (arranged by Roland Dyens)), “Cavatina” from The Deer Hunter (Stanley Myers), Capricho Arabe (Francisco Tárrega), Sunburst (Andrew York), Danza Caracteristica (Leo Brouwer), Tango en Skai (Roland Dyens), Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Francisco Tárrega), Las Abejas (Agustín Barrios), Estudio sin Luz (Andrés Segovia), Vals Venezolano No. 3 (Antonio Lauro), Misionera (Fernando Bustamente (arranged by Jorge Morel)), Por Ti Mi Corazon (traditional Mexican (arranged by Manuel Ponce)), Zapateado (Regino Sainz de la Maza), Vals, Op. 8, No. 4 (Agustín Barrios), In a Sentimental Mood (Duke Ellington (arranged by Jason Vieaux)).

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Earls of Leicester.  The Earls of Leicester.
Rounder Records, 2014.  Jerry Douglas:

We reviewed Traveler, Jerry Douglas’ last album, a while back, and he’s been a busy boy since then.  Between the Warren native’s Transatlantic Sessions series with Aly Bain (If we can afford them all, we’ll review the lot), his triple dobro work with Mike Aldridge and Rob Ickes, his session work with various folks, and who knows what else in the last couple of years, he seems unstoppable.  Here he has assembled a group of bluegrass and Americana giants to pay tribute to Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys.  A more traditional project than we might expect from Douglas, this still makes sense.  These musicians were all profoundly influenced by the original sounds created by this dominant bluegrass machine of the 1940s-1960s.  Heck, Johnny Warren is the son of FMB fiddler Paul Warren, so as Ronnie McCoury, who provides the liner notes to the album says, “It’s in the genes.”  

This album contains fourteen tracks, but it seems like less.  The music just flows, and it’s easy to get lost in.  All tunes are from the FMB catalog and they’re all familiar if you’re a bluegrass fan, but they’re not necessarily the usual songs one might expect.  No “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” or “Cumberland Gap” (much as I’d like to hear them).  In fact, not a single tune here is found on the classic Complete Mercury Sessions album, but the FMB catalog is a deep one, and they had plenty of choices.  There’s not a single clunker in the batch here, and the band is tight and expert at every turn.  They bring forth the sound of the FMB, but don’t just reproduce it.  These guys are of a different generation, and while their hearts can be found in the most traditional of bluegrass styles, they can’t help but make the sound a bit more modern.  The arrangements are slightly different, the vocal harmonies a bit updated, their playing influenced by so many changes in music since the FMB were making music.  Of course, the recorded sound is top quality.  They sound traditional, but their playing and singing is influenced by but not restricted by the gentlemen they revere.  Shawn Camp is a fine vocalist for this project, and every musician is to be congratulated on his contributions.  

If you’re searching for classic bluegrass, you won’t go wrong with this album.  Jerry Douglas has done a spectacular job of putting together this tribute.  I’m just not sure why they chose their band name.

Personnel:  Shawn Camp; (lead vocals, guitar), Charlie Cushman (banjo, rhythm guitar, lead guitar on “Who Will Sing for Me”), Jerry Douglas (dobro, vocals, producer), Tim O’Brien (vocals, mandolin), Johnny Warren (fiddle, bass vocal), Barry Bales (bass, vocals).
Tracks:  Big Black Train, Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, I’ll Go Stepping Too, Till the End of the World Rolls ‘Round, Dig a Hole in the Meadow, Some Old Day, I Won’t Be Hanging Around, I Don’t Care Anymore, On My Mind, You’re not a Drop in the Bucket, Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, The Wandering Boy, Who Will Sing for Me.

Jeff Wanser

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Strange Familiar. The Day the Light Went Out.

The Strange Familiar.  The Day the Light Went Out.
2014, Krian Music Group.  Strange Familiar:

This band is doing pretty well. They have their own Wikipedia article and everything.  Maybe it has something to do with getting airplay on The Vampire Diaries and other TV shows, with a lot of buzz afterwards.  Not bad for a couple from Cuyahoga Falls (pronounced “Cahoga” for you foreigners) who started out in the band Jaded Era (Leyden and Andrea, and geez, they’ve been together since grade school!).  Along the line, they picked up Freeman and Sainato, also from the area.  After Jaded Era, off to L.A. in 2006, and boom!  Well, maybe not quite that fast, but you get the drift.  

Readers of this blog (are there any?)  (Editor’s Note:  Yes) who liked the band that our editor just reviewed (Editor’s Note:  Wire & Wood, by Rambler 454) probably aren’t very fond of the kind of the pop/rock that The Strange Familiar are known for, although maybe I’m stereotyping (Editor’s Note: Yes, yes you are).  What we’ve got here is a nice batch of piano-led rockish pop songs.  Not candyass stuff, just good solid material.  I like it.  Some of it reminds me of Carole King. The tunes are catchy, the harmonies are cool and dreamy (I’m thinking overdubs, but maybe not), and the mix of voices and instruments are something you can get lost in, in a good way.  Yeah, it’s TV-ready stuff, but that’s not a bad thing, since it’s not venue that matters, it’s quality.  Some people work this style in a crappy way (see American Idol, any season), but others know their stuff, and these people really do it right.  From the lyrical perspective, it’s pretty much all about love and life and perseverance, but if I’m looking for political statements or deep philosophy I’ll probably be listening somewhere else, like punk or art rock.

Some of these songs already sound strangely familiar (Editor’s Note:  I left this bad pun in; forgive me).  I think they’ve already been on TV or got heavy radio airplay, but I can’t remember.  The first song, “Painkiller,” is one of them.  Good solid tune, and the closest to a rocker they have here, other than “And I Wait,” also excellent.  The title track was inspired by a sunset in Denmark, so they get around.  Lots of ballads, which are fine by me, and the more I listen to the album the more I get into it, and the songs seep into my brain.  Okay, I’ve waited to the end of the review to tell you that I love Kira Leyden’s voice, and that’s all I’m going to say.

Personnel:  Kira Leyden (vocals, piano), Jeff Andrea (guitars), Frank Freeman (bass), Nicholas Sainato (drums, piano, percussion).
Tracks: Painkiller, Gone, Rain, Surrender, Except to You, Lies, And I Wait, The One, We All Fall Down, The Day the Light Went Out.

Ron Yoyek

Monday, January 5, 2015

Rambler 454. Wire & Wood.

Rambler 454.  Wire & Wood.
2014, Danny McMusic.  Rambler 454:

How do we describe this Cleveland band?  The group is currently a four-piece bar band, with strong ties to Southern rock, Heartland rock, country rock, blues rock, and other time-honored styles of musical heritage. They like to refer to their music as “Drinking Man’s Rock.”  They make me thirsty, so this could very well be true.  This is their fourth album by my count, and it is an entertaining one, delivered with high octane guitar, bass, and drums, alcohol-soaked vocals, and good humor.

All the songs are originals, and so it is more difficult to compare them to other bands (covers make this easy), although George Thorogood, the Black Crowes, and Son Volt come to mind, as well as the more local Lords of the Highway.  In ten tracks they cover the assortment of topics you might expect them to lyrically, from love, to drinking, lifestyle, playing music, and having fun.  Every song is uptempo--no ballads to be found--and even mid-tempo is rare, except at the beginning of a few tunes, and no song tracks longer than four minutes.  Vocals are generally pretty good--you expect Pavarotti?--and entirely appropriate to the style of music.  Their best qualities are the strong rhythm section, vital in this kind of music, and some fancy guitar work peeking out here and there in solos.  A good example is the break in “Red Wine and Whiskey,” where I hear a bit of Allman Brothers.  The song also features a funny ending with the drummer leaving before the tune finishes.  Head bopping favorites include “Must Have Been a Good Night,” “Charleston Early,” and the title track.  

If you’re expecting art rock with synthesizers, look elsewhere, but if you want to listen to a fine, tight bar band without actually going to the bar, this album might just be the thing.  The band keeps its Facebook site more up to date than their web site, but the website gives more information.  Check out future concert dates.

Personnel:  Dan McCoy (guitar, vocals), Tim “Cooter” Brennan (bass, vocals), Jason “Jesse” Linder (drums), Rick Pflueger (guitar, vocals), Samantha Fitzpatrick & Greg Markell (backing vocals on Track 8).
Tracks:  Charleston Early, Blank Pages, Such a Shame, Something in the Water, I Think I Love You too Much, How About Me, Red Wine and Whiskey, Must Have Been a Good Night, I Ain’t Much, Wire & Wood.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band. Voodoo Doll and Other Blues Lessons.

Gaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band.  Voodoo Doll and Other Blues Lessons.
Letizia Music, 2014.  Gaetano Letizia:
Underworld Blues Band:

Older veterans of the Northeast Ohio blues/jazz scene, the Underworld Blues Band describes itself as a “progressive” blues band that came together in 2010. The star of the show is guitarist/singer Letizia, but the core of the group is both Letizia and Larry Keller, along with newcomer and/or replacement Steve Renko (Mike D’Elia is listed as the drummer on the website).  Letizia has decades of experience, with multiple bands going at once (his jazz trio with some other guys, as well as solo work).  This background is reflected in the sophisticated stylings and the varying combinations of blues, jazz, fusion, funk, and other stuff in the dozen tunes presented here.  While they often play standards in concert (Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and others), here they’ve chosen to present a dozen originals.  No credits on songwriting show up, but I suspect that Letizia was involved in most if not all of them.  On this album the core group gets some help from Jake Tijerina on keyboards, which adds both depth and breadth to their sound.  

The band starts off the album with a funky blues instrumental, which does a nice job of showing off their collective and individual talents.  Letizia’s guitar gives way at the halfway mark to solos by Tijerina on organ, Keller on bass, with a bit of time at the end for Renko on drums.  The other instrumental, “Orange Sunglasses,” is in more of a jazz vein, less high-octane, but another fine showcase for the musicians.  Letizia’s guitar can be gentle or blistering, pinpoint or fuzz-heavy, depending on the mood, but in all cases demonstrates truly fine playing.  Kudos to Tijerina, as I love the organ in this context, and his work is phenomenal.  The title track is a humorous excursion into the singer’s pecadillos and the rectification of the situation through magical means.  It’s here where an alternative meaning to “progressive” starts to appear, with lyrics beginning to eschew the traditional bad boy and misogynist talk of so many blues songs.  “Kill My Conscience” is in a similar vein, with the singer wrestling with desires vs. doing what’s right.  “The Devil is a Nice Guy” offers a bit of parody, and “Sold My Soul” presents a similar theme of compromised values, but in a more serious context.  The good vs. evil theme seems to follow through quite a bit of the album, and provides a lyrical context a cut above most blues songs in sophistication.  Surrounding the lyrics is some dynamite jazz/funk/blues by all involved.

“Hurt Myself” takes us back to a more basic blues sound, with Bobby Huszar on vocals, who reminds me a bit of Jon Hendricks (of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross fame).  The mood continues to change through the second portion of the album, with “Bleed” and “All I Need” lean more towards rock, although the latter contains some sweet acoustic guitar work by Letizia.  Curiously, “Blow the Blues Away” seems more rock than blues as well, while “Torture Me’ is back to the blues, and fits thematically better with material at the beginning of the album.  Blistering solo work by Letizia continues.  The group finishes up with a jazzy pro-Cleveland anthem, complete with monologue, that doesn’t sit quite right with the rest of the album from my perspective, but would certainly go over well in concert.  

This is a fascinating album, with Letizia and the band to be congratulated on their sophisticated musicianship and enjoyable songs.  They play around the area, so catch them when you can.

Personnel:  Gaetano Letizia (guitar, vocals), Larry Keller (bass guitar), Steve Renko (drums), Jake Tijerina (keyboards), Bobby Huszar (lead vocals on “Hurt Myself”), Ro Brown (background vocals).
Tracks:  Big Foot, Voodoo Doll, Kill My Conscience, The Devil is a Nice Guy, Sold My Soul, Hurt Myself, Bleed, All I Need, Blow the Blues Away, Torture Me, Orange Sunglasses, Big Secret.  (Track listings for “All I Need” and “Bleed” are reversed on CD)

The Grand Wazoo

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Super Awesome Macho. Deep Water

Super Awesome Macho.  Deep Water.
Self-released, 2014.  Super Awesome Macho:

Finally, we get an opportunity for the big time; reviewing a CD before its release party! Super Awesome Macho hails from Medina, and has kicked around the underground punk circuit for a few years before finally releasing this full-length album.  Their release party will be at the Grog Shop on December 19th, so be there or keep your hearing.  Clearly not shy or modest, these four gentlemen are the latest incarnation of the band, having been through a few personnel changes since their start.  Pete Wildman, former drummer, is now the lead vocalist, and provides the necessary boldness and aplomb  needed to front this clamorous but effective band.  

Describing a band with reference to other bands is sometimes critics’ shorthand for “I can’t really describe the music,” but I can describe the music, so I’ll do both.  Songs are loud, snotty, and short, in the fine tradition of punk music, but with a bit more sophistication, since they throw in some good solo breaks.  Steve Dixon borrows from both garage and surf traditions in his playing, most evident in tunes such as “TMKASE” and “Complete & Total,” where he shines on long guitar runs.  The rhythm section of the Walker Boys is, well, rock solid, keeping everything to the point.  Wildman’s singing is appropriately rough-and-tumble, which is what one is usually looking for in a punk/garage band.  The songs are well-performed, nicely recorded, and often clever (cases in point, “Bus to Youngstown” and “Pill Poppin Mama”).  I must admit that the last track, at six seconds, is a mystery to me.  The real last song, “FSU,” is a concert track, with extended wild applause at the end (unless they grafted it on for self-aggrandizement).  

As for comparisons, their publicity mentions the Mummies, the Misfits, and the Stooges. I would add a touch of Ramones, Whiskey Daredevils, and a pinch of Dick Dale. If you’re looking for some good, loud punk music, you won’t go wrong with Super Awesome Macho. Check out their show at the Grog Shop, and pry open your wallet for Deep Water.

Personnel:  Greasy Steve Dixon (guitar), James “The Gooch” Walker (bass, backing vocals), Neil “The Animal” Walker (drums), TX Pete Wildman (vocals).
Tracks:  Main Event, Celebrity, Beatnik Beach, Bus to Youngstown, Death by Unicorn, Truck Drivin Daddy, Me vs. You, Pill Poppin Mama, TMKASE, Bad Ass, Complete & Total, FSU, 1<3U.  (Most songs written by Dixon and Wildman)


Monday, December 8, 2014

Recent Additions to the Library's NEO Music Collection

Recent Additions to the Hiram College Library’s NEO Music Collection.

We’ve been very busy the past three months, and so haven’t been able to make a list of the older stuff we’ve added to the collection.  But here it finally is, and it’s wonderful!  The variety of Northeast Ohio music is amazing, and it’s truly surprising to discover who has roots here.  Take a look---

Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts.  Temporary People.  (2008 release by this Akronite)
Cletus Black.  Shades of Black.  (The country rocker brought this out in 1996)
The Dreadful Yawns.  Early.  (Cleveland band’s debut album, from 2003)
Steve Hauschildt.  Tragedy & Geometry.  (Electronica from Bay Village)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.  A Portrait of a Man and His Woman.  (1972 album from this Clevelander--how many of you knew that?)
Howard Hewett.  The Very Best of Howard Hewett.  (2001 hits collection from this R&B/Gospel Akron native)
Marti Jones.  Match Game.  (Not too many singer-songwriters come out of Uniontown.  From 1986)
Mary Martin & the Tuna Band.  Mary Martin & the Tuna Band.  (Re-release of one of their 80s albums)
Maureen McGovern.  Greatest Hits.  (Best-of set from this songstress from Youngstown)
Midnight Syndicate.  Vampyre: Symphonies from the Crypt.  (Gothic mood music based out of Chardon)
Pretenders.  Last of the Independents.  (Chrissie Hynde & Co. in a 1994 release)
Suede Brothers.  I’ll New You.  (Maybe that’s the name of their second album, and maybe it isn’t.  All of their albums seem to be called Suede Brothers)

The Boondockmen.  Swing Batter Swing: Tribe Fan Anthem 97.  (All the rage when the Indians went to the series.  We picked it up for a buck.)
Travis Haddix.  What I Know Right Now.  (1992 release by this blues guitarist & singer)

Joe McBride.  Lookin’ for a Change.  (2009 date by the pianist and singer, with Hiram’s own Dan Wilson on guitar!)
Mike Petrone Trio.  Live at Turner’s Mill.  (Mid-90s concert at the former swanky restaurant in Hudson.  Not that it’s no longer swanky, just that it’s no longer.)
Jimmy Scott.  Moon Glow.  (2003 release by the recently deceased jazz singer)

Robert Schumann.  Piano Music.  (Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi currently teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mark McGuire. Along the Way.

Mark McGuire.  Along the Way.
Dead Oceans, 2014.  Mark McGuire:

Progtronica is the term Mark McGuire uses to describe his music.  I guess that’s as good a term as any, and it saves me the trouble of coming up with one myself.  Originally from Cleveland, and a former member of Emeralds, McGuire is now in Los Angeles.  He continues to produce music and art (this is his third full-length album), and it would be best to get this CD reviewed now, as he has already released a digital EP since this came out.  We’ll stick with this for now.

“This story is an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind, the endless unfolding of psychological landscapes, leading to perpetual discoveries and expansions, in a genuinely emergent and infinite world of worlds.”  (from the accompanying story- booklet).  So, these are love songs.  You scoff, but later in the booklet, McGuire refers to Love as “the true life-blood of the planet,” and the thread of discussion about the music leads back to this theme in a variety of ways, from awakening of consciousness, to the quest for the understanding of existence, the nature of loneliness and evil, spiritual growth and compassion, interconnection and change, and the self in the world.  Heavy and heady stuff, but useful as a guide to working one’s way through the fascinating array of musical compositions.  Not that it’s necessarily work (in the negative sense), because the music itself is a beautiful set of interrelated tracks that one can listen to without considering McGuire’s take on his own work.  It’s approachable at many levels, from deepest thought about McGuire’s conceptions to meditation on one’s own, to background music.  Your choice, and consume as you will.

While McGuire’s music is electronic/ambient in the broad sense, it is also guitar-laden, which tends to give it a propulsive quality that much ambient music lacks.  Reminiscent of some work by Steve Reich or Brian Eno, it sometimes it heads in the direction of rock music (“The Instinct”) or film music (“The War on Consciousness”), other times it takes different qualities, incorporating spoken word dialogue or sung lyrics, distortion and fuzz, or light and airy electronica.  But in all cases the production is multi-layered and complex and harmonically lovely, making each listening an enjoyable experience and an opportunity to hear new things.  The music is lighter in tone than the booklet’s musings would suggest in some places, but that doesn’t bother me.  Organized into four broad parts, each with several sections, he presents a framework for understanding his philosophical underpinnings and the unfolding of a life.  He’s telling a story, and it is a coherent and fascinating perspective.  I don’t know if I go along with it all the way, but I appreciate his explicit and honest approach.  
The music is simultaneously fun and serious.  Again, you pick, in an and/or kind of way.  It is also gorgeous and highly recommended.

Personnel:  Mark McGuire (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, vocals, piano, synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines, acoustic percussion, talkbox, mandolin, effects and electronics).
Tracks:  Part I,  To All Present in the Hall of Learning: Awakening, Wonderland of Living Things, In Search of the Miraculous, To the Macrobes (where do I go?); Part II, The Age of Revealing:  Silent Weapons (the architects of manipulation), The Instinct; Part III, After the Heavy Rains:  The Human Condition (song for my Father), For the Friendships (along the way), Arrival Begins the Next Departure; Part IV, To the Palace of the Self: The War on Consciousness, The Lonelier Way, Turiya (the same way).

Jeff Wanser