Friday, March 27, 2015

Abandoned Playground. The Trouble with Angels.

Abandoned Playground.  The Trouble with Angels.

I am constantly amazed at the variety and quality of music found in Northeast Ohio, as well as how much flies under the radar, known and appreciated by an ardent core of fans.  My current case in point is this album by Ray Carmen and Jim Wieser, the two musicians of the group Abandoned Playground.  Mr. Carmen wrote the music, and is apparently a highly prolific composer.  His blog lists numerous recordings under his name or with bands he appears to play with, all released by his Cut and Paste Records label.  He writes in a variety of styles, but the present album is all instrumental, with a few spoken word interludes dispersed amidst the somewhat ambient tracks.  I say “somewhat” deliberately because some of these pieces could be turned into  pop songs or even soft rock music given a vocal track and a few other considerations.

One might casually perceive this album as having a religious theme, given the cover and the opening vocal excerpt from the film The Trouble with Angels, where it is announced that Hayley Mills will be entering the convent.  However one wishes to interpret the music from this point is up to the individual listener.  There is no hint thereafter of what the music “means,” and there are no explicit religious references.  Let the music take you where it will.  The rest of the tracks consist of well-composed and nicely arranged instrumental works with hints of folk music, rock, and more ambient sources.  All eleven works are short, with none more than three minutes in length.  Carmen chooses to call these experimental works, although his meaning here is a bit obscure. To me, experimental music takes one out of the usual range of melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic experiences, into realms of noise, found sounds, or even less pleasant musical phenomena.  Few such things are found here, except for the vocal excerpts.  There are two other tracks with vocal material.  “We All Fall” contains a British shortwave radio broadcast concerning the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, backed by music.  “A Skyfull of Voices” also contains bit of found vocals, although they are muted, and relate to Middle Eastern musical influences.  After the fourth track there are no voices, and the music takes the listener in various directions, all really quite delightful.  Limited in modulation and generally rather quiet, the works flow well from one to another, with few peaks or troughs.  Jim Wieser’s contributions on violin, concertina, and electric guitar are notable and lovely.

I must seek out more of Mr. Carmen’s albums, as I have found this one to be quite enjoyable.  Readers of this blog who are interested in ambient instrumental works may find it as interesting as I have.

Personnel:  Ray Carmen (guitars, bass, keys, percussion, drums, odds and ends); Jim Wieser (violin, concertina, electric guitar).  Borrowed vocal excerpts from the film, The Trouble with Angels, and British shortwave radio broadcasts.  Produced, recorded, and mixed by Ray Carmen; mastered by Alan Grandy.
Tracks:  The Trouble with Angels, Grenadine, We All Fall, A Skyfull of Voices, Wildwood (I Can’t Hear You), Hope for an Early Spring, Going Back to an Empty House, Pictures on the Way We Used to Be, You Are Always Beautiful, First Day of School, Pajama Day.

Gottfried Klass

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brian Lisik and the Unfortunates. Curtisinterruptedus.

Brian Lisik and the Unfortunates.  Curtisinterruptedus.
Cherokee Queen Records, 2015.  Brian Lisik:

We reviewed Brian Lisik’s last release, The Mess that Money Could Buy, back in 2013 and said nice things in the process.  We shall continue that tradition in large part because the Akron native and his band do another fine job on their latest album.  We’re not sure about the origin of the title or who Curtis is, but we suspect he’s in trouble.  These Akron-based roots rockers provide us with 14 concise tracks with no lack of interesting hooks, vocal harmonies, and top-notch musicianship.  And I like the jangly guitars.

The songs were written mostly by Lisik, or co-written with bandmates Steve Norgrove and/or Benjamin Payne, with two tunes by Norgrove finishing up the album.  They start off with their first single release, “Jan. 13,” a well-constructed rocker, followed by the even stronger “Never Was” and “Beaten Up Blue.”  No “I love you baby” stuff here.  This three-song intro gives us vignettes of a somewhat darker nature, the upbeat tunes disguising lyrics that suggest unhappy lives and tough times.  Sex is suggested, but it’s hardly joyous.  Many of the other songs follow this overall theme, including ballads such as “Marietta” and “Paramours.”  Others take on different topics, such as “About Me Back Home,” about a murder, and “Tattered and Broken,” about life in general.  “Needles and Pins” is a gorgeous little song, perhaps the best-sung ballad on the album, with poignant lyrics and simple presentation.  “Chaos is a Friend of Mine” is a close second, a faster but still acoustic tune, with beautiful guitar lines.

“Normalcy” takes us back to rockers, and I like this one best of them all.  The band takes the bridge in high gear and everything sounds right.  Sweet harmonies combined with chugging rhythms follow on “St. Patrick’s Day (Alex),” about one of heroes, Alex Chilton. “Needles (Reprise)” is a lovely instrumental.  They should do these more often.

Lisik said that “An album is about taking a 40-minute vacation from wherever you are.” Given that criterion, Curtisinterruptedus is a success, a fine mix of songs that will take you into a world that isn’t always pretty but is certainly vivid and memorable, which makes it highly recommended.  They’ll be playing the Beachland Ballroom at the end of March and various places around the region in April.  

Personnel:  Brian Lisik (lead and backing vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, percussion), Steve Norgrove (lead and backing vocals, electric and upright bass, Ashbory, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, organ, percussion, castanets), Benjamin Payne (guitars, drums, percussion, banjo, backing vocals, organy sounds), Raymond Arthur Flanagan (electric guitar and ass (Is this a typo?)), Joe “Motion” Waller (bongos), Craig Lisik (drums), Curtis Henderson (harmonica), Tim Longfellow (piano, organ, accordion), Michael Houff (violin), Matt Reese (cello), Rachel Roberts (vocals), Rotumba, S’Phyllis, & Madge--The Beekeeper Singers.
Tracks:  Jan. 13, Never Was, Beaten Up Blue, Marietta, Paramours, The Beekeeper, Born on Needles and Pins, Normalcy, Chaos is a Friend of Mine, St. Patrick’s Day (Alex), About Me Back Home, Tattered and Broken, Needles (reprise), Swagger Sway Fall.

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On the Subject of Buzzards

The Buzzards are returning to Hinckley, Ohio, as they do every year on March 15th.  We thought we would note this annual event here, since our blog is named after these noble creatures.  Rather than go into detail about the similarities between Northeast Ohioans and buzzards, we thought we would just let a link and a couple of photos take care of it.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Charlie Mosbrook. A Time Long Gone.

Charlie Mosbrook.  A Time Long Gone.
Open Mike Records, 2015.  Charlie Mosbrook:

We reviewed Charlie Mosbrook’s last album, Something to Believe, back in 2013, and were quite impressed with his songs, his voice, and his musical skills.  Now, nearly two years later, he’s come out with album #11, a set of postcards as he calls them, of places, events, and people in his life.  Using simple arrangements, his intention is to capture these moments musically with the help of a bunch of friends.  All the songs are his, with the exception of “Hold Me Close” (by Alvin Loki Baird) and the closer, “I Bid You Goodnight” (traditional), both fine tunes.  

Let’s begin with the more upbeat (rhythmically, anyway) tunes, toward which I gravitate.  “Up Above the Stars” is the opening tune, and has a bright, sweet sound, and with help vocalist Cindy Langmack, the song makes a lovely start to the album.  “Emeryville,” which documents a train trip from Denver to California, is an old-timey song, rather jaunty in tone.  I very much enjoyed “Hemlock Hill,” a song about childhood, and Mosbrook asked Becca Bessinger to sing along with him, an excellent choice.  Clearly, “Howlin’ at My Door” is about winter in Northeast Ohio, and manages to make the recent extreme weather seem a bit less awful.  Despite the lyrics about infirm old age with impending death in the near term, “Easy Win” still provides a bittersweet smile in the small victories.  

As for the slower ballads, I find a great deal here to admire, and even more to contemplate in terms of their messages. “Minister Creek” is a case in point, about making life decisions as a youth, out in the wilderness where one can think.  Again, Mosbrook enlists the aid of a female voice, in this case Rachel Brown, to provide a nice contrast to his own vocals.  “Anywhere Else but Here” is a heartbreaker about love gone cold, and is possibly my favorite ballad on the album.  Lastly, I’ll mention “Accidental Fruit” as another vignette, of the sadness of being left but refusing to believe it.

Enough description.  What you need to know is that A Time Long Gone is an excellent album, finely conceived and gorgeously sung.  The more I played it, the more I enjoyed it. I have to warn you, there are some tearjerkers here, and songs that will stick with you long beyond the playing. Mosbrook shows himself, once again, to be a remarkable songwriter.  He seems to be scheduled out of town for awhile, but will be playing on April 25th at Coffee Corners in Burton, and the Barking Spider on May 12th.  

Personnel:  Charlie Mosbrook (vocals, guitar, bass, mandolin), with other musicians on selected tracks.  Bill Lestock (mandolin, guitar, fiddle), Cindy Langmack (vocals), David Krauss (harmonica), Jon Mosey (mandolin, banjo), Xe La (vocals), Jim Brentar (dulcimer), Rachel Brown (vocals), Becca Bessinger (vocals), Becca Rhodes (violin, vocals), Laura Joy (vocals), Stephanie Morris (vocals), Davidione Pearl (vocals), Kaitlin Emmett (vocals), Mackenzie Brooke Cox (vocals).
Tracks:  Up Among the Stars, Emeryville, Minister Creek, Hemlock Hill, Hold Me Close, Howlin’ at My Door, Anywhere Else but Here, Accidental Fruit, Easy Win, I Bid You Goodnight.  (Lyrics available on Mosbrook’s web page)

The Grand Wazoo

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Welshly Arms. Covers EP.

Welshly Arms.  Covers EP.
Self-produced.  2014. Welshly Arms:

Okay, so as a result of being lax about getting reviews done in a timely fashion, it’s a bit too late to review Welshly Arms’ first EP, Welcome, which featured original songs and was released in 2013.  They’ve got a newer one out, Covers, that has, well, covers.  But I’ll talk about both anyway.  The band has come up in the world on the strength of these two releases, a hit on YouTube (“Two Seconds too Late,” from the first EP), some airplay on TV shows such as The Touch and The Vampire Diaries, and a renegade song that doesn’t appear on either album but was chosen by Positively Cleveland as part of their marketing campaign to give the city some love.  They’re working on their first full-length album. Good start.

The band didn’t come out of nowhere, like a High School Rock-Off winner; they’ve been around a while in other bands.  Getz, Weaver, and Gould were in the power-pop band Cactus 12, and Getz had his own blues band.  Lindemann has toured with several artists, including Cleveland’s own Kate Voegele.  Some people have compared their sound to that of the Black Keys and the White Stripes, and they’ve been described So they’re bluesy and the singers use echo effects.  Everybody has a thing.  But let’s evaluate them on their own terms.

Their first EP, Welcome, was a nice blues-drenched rock album of five songs written by members of the band, and a good reinvention of this batch of musicians as a force to be reckoned with.  Echoey vocal harmonies, fuzzy guitars, and head-bopping beats are all good, but what makes the band is that they’re tight, instrumentally strong, and vocally expressive.  That makes for a good combination regardless of what style is being played.  Plus, they’re all good songs and that can’t hurt.  Covers consists of all good songs because they’ve been cherry-picked.  Tunes by Sam & Dave, the Chambers Brothers, Roy Orbison, Golden Earring, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Deep Purple are hard to criticize on their face.  But what they do with them is key, as it’s easy to screw up classic songs, they will inevitably be compared to the originals, and there’s always the possibility of falling into a sort of American Idol syndrome of just copying (how many Stevie Wonders are out there?).  Here’s the blow-by-blow.

“Hold on I’m Coming” is no attempt to copy. They’ve reinvented the song beyond the basic tune, lyrics, and background vocals. The rhythm is slower, less frenetic and more intense.  It reminds me of Creedence doing “I Put a Spell on You,” the old Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song (BTW, he’s from Cleveland), not in substance but in spirit.  Make it your own.  “Time Has Come Today” is a harder sell, because it was a rock song rather than a soul tune (and one of my favorite songs of all time).  They make the smart decision to go with the single version rather than the album track, which clocks at eleven minutes.  Here they borrow the inflections of the lead singer a bit too closely, but otherwise do a credible version, with appropriate cowbell (you have to have cowbell). The politics behind the song are pretty much erased.  With “You Got It,” they have the problem of confronting the matchless vocals of Orbison, which nobody does.  They work around this by focusing on the melody, and the result works pretty well.  Roy would probably approve.  Golden Earring had only two hits, and “Radar Love” was their best by a long shot, a true classic, that helped me get through college commuting in 1973.  They keep the basic song, but lose the histrionic vocals of the original, replacing them with a warmer, bluesier sound.  It does no violence to the original, and I’m good with it.  Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” was originally a soul song in 1974, covered shortly thereafter by Whitesnake and a couple dozen other artists, even Jay Z, so Welshy Arms can do what they want with it.  Their version is just fine.  Lastly, “Hush,” written by Billy Joe Royal and recorded as a pseudo-soul/bubblegum tune in 1967, became a hard rock/psychedelic hit in 1968 by Deep Purple.  I’m not sure which version is the reference point, since Welshy Arms seems to take a bit from each and ends up in the middle somewhere, heavier than Royal, but not quite as intense as Deep Purple (and no wolf howls).  It’s a good place to land.  

Analysis completed, the band has assembled a fine set of covers, either reinventing or repurposing each song to their own ends, and adapting them to their own style and sound.  Sadly, if you want this EP in physical form, it seems only to be available as a CD-R from Amazon, with their stripped-down booklets.  But however you ingest it, please do so.

Personnel:  Sam Getz (vocals, guitar), Brett Lindemann (keys, vocals), Jimmy Weaver (bass, vocals), Mikey Gould (drums).
Tracks:  Hold on I’m Coming, Time Has Come Today, You Got It, Radar Love, Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City, Hush.


Friday, February 27, 2015

The SpYder Stompers. CannonBall.

The SpYder Stompers.  CannonBall.

If you’re looking for a heaping bowl of old-time string band music and acoustic blues, you can stop, because the Spyder Stompers are serving just that in this CD released back in 2013.  The team of DiAlesandro, Richards, and DeForest, who have been playing together for a long time, are stalwarts at the Barking Spider Tavern, near University Circle in Cleveland.  This album brings together nearly two dozen songs, most old enough to be in the public domain, with a couple of original from Richards and Mark Freeman just to show that they can write stuff too.

In some ways the Stompers remind me of Koerner, Ray, & Glover, the blues revival trio from the 1960s, but they were a bit more intense in their delivery, and more focused on blues to the exclusion of other styles of the period.  The Stompers are more versatile, and I think, better musicians.  These guys have taken songs from Blind Willie McTell, Mance Lipscomb, and Big Bill Broonzy, but also Riley Puckett, Jimmie Rodgers, the New Lost City Ramblers, and others, a veritable cross-section of Americana originating in the pre-war period.  They mix it up nicely, with slow blues, fast shuffles, string band tunes alternating, and with fewer than half the songs clocking in at more than three minutes, nothing sticks around too long except as earworms later in the day.  

The musicianship is stellar, as one might expect from guys who teach other folks how to play.  Especially noteworthy is the guitar work displayed by DiAlesandro on tunes such as “Dallas Rag.”  I’m not sure who is playing on “It Won’t Be Long Now” and “Flopped Ear Mule,” but they are also spectacular.  The harmonic work is delightful, and the vocals sound right.  I could play the instrumental “Buck Dancers Choice” ten times without tiring of it.

Recently, the group has added another member, Sugar Pie Das, who plays ukulele and washboard.  They’ll be playing at several places around the area in the coming months, including the Barking Spider on the first Thursday of the month.  Catch them when you can.  

Personnel:  Kevin Richards (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Jack DiAlesandro (guitars, harmonica, vocals), Ray DeForest (upright bass, vocals), with special guests, Rockin’ Robin Montgomery (piano, vocals), Mark Freeman (washboard, support), Joe Hunter (harmonica).
Tracks:  Cannonball Blues, Baby It Must Be Love, Ticket Agent Blues, Raggin’ with Ray, Handy’s Florida Blues, Wee Midnight Hours, Nashville Blues, Ragged but Right, Ninety Nine Year Blues, Ain’t Nobodies Business, Going Down Slow, Dallas Rag, When I Get the Mississippi Blues, Going Down to Georgia on a Horn, Buck Dancers Choice, I Got Mine, Flopped Ear Mule, It Won’t Be Long Now, Memphis My Home Town, Carroll County Blues, Papa Wants a Cookie, Mean Mistreater Mama, Shuffle Rag.

Jeff Wanser

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mushroomhead. The Righteous and the Butterfly

Mushroomhead. The Righteous and the Butterfly.
Megaforce Records. 2014. Mushroomhead:

Mushroomhead, amongst member swaps and mask change-ups, is a band that has always vied to keep itself from becoming stale and predictable. Through one pack of musical rifts after another the band has maintained its development and image of rage and artful psychosis with dutiful consistency, cultivating a loyal fan base that reaches far and wide across generations. That dedicated following is very likely to be pleased with their newest album, The Righteous and the Butterfly, an above-average release that continues Mushroomhead's legacy, albeit with a less victorious aftertaste.

What is clear pretty quick with this album is that in terms of content and subject matter there's plenty of familiar territory here. By no means has the aggression and vitriol entirely disappeared from the throats and brains of Mushroomhead, with the fare still full of sickle-toothed sentiments, but in comparison to precedent for what usually is offered up the tracks now have more polish and a more moody vibe reflected in the instruments as much as the vocals. Nothing feels terribly arbitrary or forced, including a cover of Adelé's "Rumor Has It" daringly thrown in at the end.

Along with lineup changes due to some of Mushroomhead's long-time members exiting (the delightfully-named Pig Benis and Gravy) and others joining (Church, Dr. F, and Roberto Diablo), some of the same faces are at the mics for most of this disc, bringing expected clashes at times and assonance at others. It all works together pretty well, as in preceding albums, and what's experimental never strays anywhere it doesn't belong. On a side note and to get this out of the way it is, to my understanding, that no one at any point in the history of the universe has ever compared Mushroomhead to Slipknot (or vice-versa), and that will not be done here for the vocals or otherwise since it is a pointless, impossible comparison- not unlike contrasting twinkies and choco-tacos.
The big time compliment and criticism that can be given to this album is stacking it up against Korn's Untouchables, a sordid, sweet release that shares one significant problem that also plagues Mushroomhead's 2014 venture here. The Righteous and the Butterfly is, as a whole, a pretty unbalanced package, with some songs possessing absolutely incendiary focus and swagger but the others.... not so much. The second track "How Many Times," fuels the senses in the best of ways with its jungle-evoked percussion and sudden rampage of tempo, with the fourth track, "Qwerty," keeping the appetite whetted with its simplistic pleasures via this steady, keyboard-plodding sound mixed with the simple, aggravated lyrics ("I HAD A BAD DAY/ WITH HER ANGEL'S WINGS/ I HAD A BAD DAY"). There's variation enough leading up to "Graveyard Du Jour" on track twelve, whereupon you're then pretty much done. It's easy to pick out a couple of songs from the line-up that quickly become favorites in your head but the others take more time before their style and messages sink in.

There's a tough, obvious truth to face with this album that comes from Mushroomhead having a twenty year history at their back: they are competing against themselves. If
these infernal men had come into existence as an act only a few years ago with less notches in their belts then the Overton window would be much more favorable for what is here. But with a span of two decades in tow these men have left quite the mutated trail in their wake, a living creature floating through the air, emanating from speakers and sound systems everywhere. Expectations come into being when you hear increasingly honed content from an artist, and while the anticipation is satisfied in part with The Righteous and the Butterfly you can't help but feel the gaps where they exist- lyrically, instrumentally, and conceptually. They've done better than this and will probably do better on future releases.

These guys don't give a crap what anyone thinks about their music and there's plenty to be said for that. There are embers of promise and it depends on each listener to determine if the message and sound burst into flames on your senses the way you want them to. For me it never quite gets past 3rd gear in terms of overall momentum and I notice it more with every completion of the 13 tracks.

Dedicated to John "JJ" Sekula and Vanessa Solowiow, friends of the band, give this album a few listens, and definitely scope out the fantastic, sprawling cover art, (measuring out to 2 1/4' feet when unfolded!).Then, flip back through the years and get more acquainted with the really good material Mushroomhead pumped out so you can judge for yourself where you think this album falls in the hierarchy of their discography.
And now I must cheat.

As tempting as it is to stop here and lock up the coffin for The Righteous and the Butterfly while I was looking up lyrics online I came across a quote at from (interviewer was a fellow named "thanos") that gave me a better insight into what Jeffrey Nothing's thinking is, in this case for the role of the internet when it comes to music and the world as a whole:

"People don’t go out anywhere near as much. They can’t function or be themselves without a keyboard to hide behind. A Rock Concert was the epitome of a social event. Now a chatroom is. Everyone being something they’re not. It’s sad. I hope things change before listening to Music is sitting alone with a pair of headphones."

That whole interview was quite good, to give credit where it is due, and I would encourage others to seek out the rest of it. And though that snippet of the response concerned primarily the web and the cloying effect it can have in destroying the communal and hindering the elements of the agora found in live shows it spoke to me about the rest of the album. Now the core emerges of what this message sounds to be: isolation, estrangement, frustration, a changing world that is devolving--when everything around you is becoming a sort of societal sloth and corruption thickens into a crust of filth that can't be avoided. Or so the subject matter struck me as potentially being such. Again, it's turf Mushroomhead has been over before, but with far more emphasis on the desolate this time around.

It's not that it takes effort to enjoy the The Righteous and the Butterfly so much as it takes a certain attitude to appreciate the content for what it is. If you are fed up with the world and seeking to find a disc that might help navigate that pit of aggravation that can be life then you've come to the right stronghold of music. Mushroomhead dedicated this album to two of their beloved, and while it may be lacking in certain respects it is certainly in possession of edges and notions worth examining.

Personnel: Jeffrey "Nothing" Hatrix (clean vocals), Jason "J-Mann" Popson (harsh vocals, rap vocals), Waylon Reavis (harsh vocals, clean vocals), Tommy Church (guitars), Ryan "Dr. F" Farrell (bass), Steve "Skinny" Felton (drums, percussion), Robbie "Roberto Diablo" Godsey (percussion, water drums, drum technician), Tom " Shmotz" Schmitz (keyboards, samples), Rick "ST1TCH" Thomas (turnables, samples, electronics, percussion, water drums).
Tracks: Our Apologies, How Many Times, Devils Be Damned, Qwerty, Portraits of the Poor, Childlike (feat. Mikel "Jus Mic" Mahoney Jr.), This Cold Reign, We Are The Truth (feat. Jackie Laponza), Son of 7, For Your Pleasure, Worlds Collide, Graveyard Du Jour, Out of My Mind, Rumor Has It (Adele cover).

Robert Gojo

Monday, February 2, 2015

Additions to the Northeast Ohio Music Collection, January 2015

Latest Additions to the Northeast Ohio Music Collection at the Hiram College Library

As usual, we’ve been busy adding more CDs to the library’s collection.  Here are the latest ones that were never reviewed in Buzzard Tracks.  For the entire list of what we added last month, check A Fistful of Music:

The Forty Thieves.  Lion’s Den.  (Hard core rock from Akron)
Granicus.  Thieves, Liars, & Traitors.  (Psychedelic rock from the early 70s)
Doug Lebo & Dave Marko.  Things I Keep.  (Members of the band Blunt Force Trauma do a duo album of rock/Americana)

The Bergmann Brothers.  Fine Artiste.  (Tina Bergmann and Bryan Thomas, with hammered dulcimer, bass, and friends)
Alex Bevan.  I Have No Wings.  (NEO singer-songwriter/institution)
Pastor Melvin Duane Brown.  Grateful.  (Gospel music from Campbell, Ohio)
Dead Guy Blues.  Cold Wind in Cleveland.  (Jeff Powers and crew with electricity)
Joe Rollin Porter.  Troubles Just Like Mine.  (Singer of traditional folk songs)
Rio Neon.  Coffee Love.  (Folk/jazz group--highly caffeinated)
John Schmid.  Almost Bluegrass.  (Bluegrass gospel from this musician from Berlin, down in Amish country)

Joe Hunter/Dallas Coffey.  From this Moment On.  (The pianist and bassist are joined by a pair of drummers, Paul Samuels and Val Kent)