Sunday, April 20, 2014

Enoch Light: Persuasive, Provocative, Percussion

Enoch Light.  Persuasive, Provocative, Percussion. Reissues of Classic Albums.
Persuasive Percussion 1, 2 & 3/Provocative Percussion 1 & 2.  3-Disc Set.  Goldies, 2011.
Provocative Percussion 3 & 4.  Sepia Records, 2013.
Pertinent Percussion Cha Cha’s/I Want to Be Happy Cha Cha’s.  Sepia Records, 2013.
Big Band Bossa Nova/Let’s Dance the Bossa Nova.  Sepia Records, 2013.
Stereo 35 mm/Far Away Places.  Sepia Records, 2013.
Stereo 35 mm, Vol. 2/Far Away Places, Vol. 2.  Sepia Records, 2013.

Exactly how you perceive this music probably depends on many factors, including age, gender, musical preference, and audiophile tendencies.  If you owned an atomic age bachelor pad in the late 1950s, equipped with high-end stereo technology, you love this stuff.  If your memories of the late 50s and early 60s are rock & roll, you might despise it as the creepy music your parents listened to.  Call it what you will, late big band music, space age pop, easy listening, or exotica, Enoch Light had a huge influence on the development of music from 1958 until the mid-1960s, when other folks caught up with him.  His technological experiments with extreme stereo channel separation and use of 35 mm film for recording rather than regular audio tape changed the way sound was perceived on record albums of the time.  He even popularized the gatefold vinyl album cover to contain the notes for his albums.  Most people with a quality stereo system bought at least one of his albums, if only to test their equipment.  Many of the releases charted in the top ten, with Persuasive Percussion 1 reaching Billboard’s No. 1 in 1960, with others following suit.  Here, we review some of the albums produced by him that have recently been remastered and reissued by two labels, IMC/Goldies, and Sepia.  

Enoch Light was born in Canton, Ohio in 1907 (died 1978).  I haven’t found much on his early life, but I’m sure it’s out there.  Trained as a classical violinist, he ended up working in big bands in the 1930s, forming Enoch Light & the Light Brigade, which had a hit or two before the War, toured Europe and played on the radio until disbanding in 1940.  After World War II, he did session work and got into music production.  After some success with Grand Awards Records, where he headed the Charleston City All-Stars on albums of Roaring 20s music, he recorded a variety of material, including cha cha albums and film music.  He changed band names with relative ease, from the Light Brigade to the Command All Stars, to Enoch Light and His Orchestra.  In 1960, Light formed Command Records, where his biggest hit albums were created.  His fascination with the possibilities of stereo led him to try various experiments through the early 60s with channel separation, sometimes using the “ping-pong” effect of moving rapidly from channel to channel, the effect most extreme on either widely separated speakers or headphones.  For a violinist, he was particularly fond of percussion and its effects in the stereo environment, which may have had something to do with his fondness for Latin music.  Many fans of Latin music would object to his manipulation of the style to suit his own purposes.  Others might object to the relentless cheeriness of the music.  Regardless of their origin in wistful ballads, sentimental oldies , or noir atmospheres, the tunes became bright, upbeat homages to a new ultramodern, sleek decade.  Light sold Command Records in 1965, then formed Project 3, which continued to churn out a variety of big band and easy listening music, including covers of everything from Dylan to the Beatles to film themes.  Many of the more experimental albums had only instrumental tracks, but he used vocalists on others.  Cover art was often minimalist in style, featuring artwork by Jerry Albers.

The above-listed albums are all from the prime period of his creative output, the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The 3-disc set of Persuasive Percussion and Provocative Percussion (the first attributed to Terry Snyder and the All Stars, Snyder being the drummer), from the import label IMC/Goldies, while containing five of his best, is burdened by the lack of notes, either the original liner notes or any sort of overview of Light’s career and impact.  This minimizes the value of the set, which is a real shame, because the remastering is quite good, and the music itself is well-presented.  Persuasive Percussion 2 is split between discs 1 and 2, with all the other albums placed on part of one of the CDs.  The music ranges from pretty nice big band tunes (trumpeter Doc Severinsen, pianist Dick Hyman, and guitarist Tommy Mottola were in the band), to exotic percussive excursions, to somewhat gooey versions of popular hits.  I find many of them entertaining, since I heard this stuff on the radio when I was a kid (“Whatever Lola Wants,” “Blue Tango,” “Hernando’s Hideaway”), and they bring back fond memories of my mother’s favorite radio station when I was 8 years old.  Some are admittedly either over the top, such as some of the wilder experiments (bongos and rasps on “Love for Sale”), or just plain wrong as arrangements of tunes that should have been done differently (“Mood Indigo” is butchered, and “Foggy Day” done as a cha cha is simply ridiculous).  

Provocative Percussion 3 & 4, teamed together, mines much the same vein as its predecessors, although by way of a different label.  The remastering is excellent.  The goal was easy listening/big band in high quality sound and they certainly achieved it.  Compression elimination gives the listener all the highs and lows, and it’s all clean, sharp, and bright.  As with the earlier albums, some of the songs do pretty well in Light’s arrangements. “The Continental,” “Old Devil Moon,” and other big band tunes are friendly enough without being over the top.  Other songs, such as “Pagan Love Song” and “Acc-Cent-Tchu-ate the Positive” are loaded with silliness and gimmickry.  Curiously, the liner notes for Vol. 4 stress how little gimmickry was used.  Eye of the beholder, I guess.  I must note my own personal prejudices here.  The more the orchestra sounds like a hard swing band (i.e. Goodman or Barnet) the more I like them, and when they veer toward sweet band novelties and film themes, the less I want to hear.  The issue in one sense is that in order to please as wide an audience as possible (which they did), Light vacuumed up popular music from everywhere and reprocessed it with his own unique stamp.  Generic Latin beats, 60s-style time changes that sound like themes for TV shows of the period, and lots of percussive and brass tricks continued to make his music harder than Lawrence Welk, but way short of Woody Herman.

Arriving at the Latin rhythm recordings, we begin to have more serious issues.  Pertinent Percussion Cha Cha’s, teamed up with I Want to Be Happy Cha Cha’s gives us 28 tracks, four of which never appeared on the original albums.  As with the other albums, the sound is crystal clear.  However, it is the arrangements that disturb me.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what I didn’t like about them, aside from the irritating low-brass farting that begins and punctuates so many of the tunes.  So, I went to YouTube to check out some other cha cha recordings.  It wasn’t hard to find a recording from the same time period, Antobal’s Cuban All Stars from the late 1950s.  Both are big bands, but the difference is striking.  Antobal’s group flows, swings, and has an irresistible groove.  Light’s tunes are square by comparison--cha cha for middle class Americans who can’t quite get the foxtrot out of their heads.  Added to the problem is the choice of songs once again, with cha cha versions of “Volare,” “Tea for Two,” and “How High the Moon.”  Song choice is less of a problem with Big Band Bossa Nova/Let’s Dance the Bossa Nova, as Light chose plenty of bossa nova and samba tunes for the albums (although “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Moon River” are more than a stretch).  But once again, the rhythms are squared off, and the groove, while better than the cha cha albums, is less soulful than many other choices.  “Blame It on the Bossa Nova,” should be easy, but Light’s version compares less with Eydie Gorme’s version and more with Annette Funicello’s in terms of being hip.  Then again, we must consider the audience, one largely unconcerned with issues of authenticity, and more interested in hearing cheery, pleasant music in full stereo sound.

Finally, we have two CDs that demonstrate more innovation in sound, with Light using 35 mm film to record the music rather than standard tape.  The results at the time were much improved, but less exciting from our current perspective when compared with later recording technology.  It was an interesting experiment.  Volume 1 of Stereo 35 mm is paired with Volume 1 of Far Away Places, and Volume 2 of each appears as a separate CD.  Both have 24 tracks.  In Volume 1, the musical result is a mixed bag of wonderful and cringe-inducing, with lush orchestral versions of “The Man I Love,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “With a Song in My Heart.”  Gone is the heavy percussion, and much of the brass is replaced by strings.  These are songs that work very well in this sort of easy listening arrangement.  However, the songs on Far Away Places change the mood radically, with a move back to extremes of percussion combined with what can only be called bizarre exotica arrangements of everything from “Waltzing Matilda” to “The Banana Boat Song” to “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”  To me, they sound nearly comical, as if Spike Jones got into the studio.  Far Away Places also introduces vocals, although not sung lyrics, quite a departure from previous albums.  Volume 2 does much the same sort of thing, with two albums on the CD that simply should not be together.  Pleasant orchestral, string-heavy (more brass is evident here than in Volume 1) versions of “September Song” and “The Very Thought of You” hide in embarrassment as they are followed by quirky versions of “Ching Ching Ching Chow,” “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” (complete with vocalese), and “Under Paris Skies” (with terrible vocal “la la la’s”).  The label might have better served its audience by pairing the two Stereo 35 mm volumes and leaving the others in the vault. Then again, some folks might find the most unusual material to be the most interesting. Time will tell.

In sum, we have here a set of historical recordings that are important both as a window into the history of recording technology, with Enoch Light leading the way with experiments that influenced virtually all subsequent audio recordings, and as a time capsule of musical entertainment that has largely slipped away from our grasp, much like fallout shelters, smoking jackets, and The Man Who Reads Playboy.  If you are interested in entering a musical universe not reflected in the oldies stations on the radio, please enter here.  You may find it fascinating.

Personnel:  Enoch Light & the Command All-Stars, Enoch Light & the Light Brigade, Enoch Light & His Orchestra, Terry Snyder & the All Stars (produced by Enoch Light)
Tracks:  Persuasive/Provocative (60 tracks), Provocative 3 & 4 (24 tracks), Stereo/Far 1 (24 tracks), Stereo/Far 2 (24 tracks), Big Band/Let’s Dance (24 tracks), Pertinent/I Want (28 tracks)

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Death of Samantha. If Memory Serves Us Well.

Death of Samantha.  If Memory Serves Us Well.
Valentine Records, 2013.

During the 1980s, Death of Samantha put out three albums, an EP, and a few singles.  I was sort of here (new in town just after they formed), but not plugged into the local music scene, so I pretty much missed them the first time around.  That’s a shame, because they were, and still are, a great band.  Underground, perhaps indie, is what they were tagged, some hybrid of punk, avant-garde, and what-all, with influences ranging from all the Cleveland/Akron greats of the previous decade, plus other stuff  (do I occasionally hear R.E.M., Stooges, and maybe some Rolling Stones in here?).  Influential beyond their limited exposure, they’ve received accolades from Thurston Moore, Robert Pollard, Mark Lanegan, and other ne’er do wells.  They packed it in around 1990, the members joining other bands such as Guided by Voices and Cobra Verde.  John Petkovic is all official now, a writer for the Plain Dealer, but there was a time when he was a raucous, raving frontman for a band that deserved a wider audience and a bigger paycheck.   

This album reunites the original group, reprising 18 of their original songs and doing a damned fine job of it.  These tracks are from a 2011 rehearsal prior to a reunion concert.  One other reviewer asked why they didn’t just record the concert, but I don’t mind a bit  While I gather that their concerts were spectacular festivals, I frankly prefer to listen to studio albums, which have a longer listening lifespan than concert albums.  Apparently the original albums are slated for re-release, along with a planned album of new songs.

The songs are strong, far stronger than one might expect from a regional band.  Still loud and snotty in attitude, but with significant musical abilities (probably much better than in the 80s), they move through these songs like old friends at a comfortable party.  Nearly every tune is uptempo, with excellent hooks, interesting lyrics, and a driving punk rhythm that never outstays its welcome.  The songs are eclectic (we like that term at Hiram), displaying a variety of influences and styles without imitating, while still sounding like a consistent whole.  Vocals are generally slightly out of tune, part singing, part yelling, which is appropriate to the genre.  The guitars are great.  Some of these could and should have been hits back in the 80s, but for a major label contract.  Ah, well, the life of a band can never be predicted, only lamented.  

I recommend the album highly (I’ve got the CD, but apparently you can get a fancy vinyl package if you prefer), for its high energy, consistency of quality, and rockin’ good time.  Watch for future releases and re-releases.

Personnel:  Doug Gillard (guitar, vocals), David James (bass guitar, vocals), Steve-O (drums), John Petkovic (vocals, guitar, clarinet).
Tracks:  Coca Cola and Licorice, Bed of Fire, Now It’s Your Turn (To Be a Martyr), Conviction, Couldn’t Forget ‘bout That (One Item), Savior City, Good Friday (take two edit), Rosenberg Summer, Sexual Dreaming, Blood and Shaving Cream, Geisha Girl, Monkey Face, Simple as That, Yellow Fever, Turquoise Hand, Harlequin Tragedy, Amphetamine, Blood Creek.

The Grand Wazoo

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Travis Haddix. Ring on Her Finger, Rope Around My Neck.

Travis Haddix.  Ring on Her Finger, Rope Around My Neck.
Benevolent Blues, 2013.   Travis Haddix:

Travis Haddix has his origins in Mississippi, but has been a Cleveland-area resident for many decades.  He is now in his 70s, but put out his first solo blues album in 1988, and released a string of them on the Ichiban label, even while keeping his day job.  I have lost count of how many subsequent to then. His new album has the same strengths of his previous releases--a strong, ringing guitar style in the manner of B. B. King, a good, soulful tenor voice, memorable tunes, and musical variety from track to track. It suffers from the same weaknesses too--a tendency toward sexist lyrics, and over-reliance on cliché.

He certainly has credibility.  A sharecropper’s son who moved north, did military service, a tradesman who worked the clubs on the side in the Cleveland area before getting picked up by Little Johnny Taylor, putting out his own albums, and extensive touring, he’s certainly had a life to play the blues with.  Haddix is an excellent guitarist who know when to solo, when to punctuate, when to play over the horn section or the keyboards, and when to hold back and let the band work.  An excellent example is the slow burner, “Full, but Frustrated,” where he starts the tune with his guitar over the horns before launching into the song, then leaps in with a lick or two after some verses, but not others, where the horns dominate.  He launches into a solo at the bridge that is sweet and soulfully played.  He tends to alternate fast and slow tunes, which makes for alert listening.  As for the band, I tend to prefer the group playing on Tracks 1, 2, and 4.  The horns seem more balanced and better arranged.  On the other tracks they often sound flat, with too much low brass dominating.  The exception is the last song, “Same Thing, Same Way,” where everything seems balanced and just right.

The lyrics are the problem.  Haddix is stuck in an old-fashioned mode of blues writing where almost everything is about sex, only secondarily about love, and very little else.  She done him wrong.  He wants revenge.  She got what she deserved.  He’s horny and it’s her fault.  Commitment is risky.  He’s getting older, but he’s still a stud.  He works hard and she doesn’t appreciate him.  Please, stop; the ridiculous old idea that women are wicked and men are stupid is so tired and worn.  The worst of these is the title track, but there are plenty of others.  If he would only write songs about how things have worked out, despite difficulties, or how they haven’t worked out, but it’s his own fault, the sexism might not be so noticeable.  Perhaps he could sing about his marriage of over 50 years, which flies in the face of all his lyrics.

Travis Haddix is a very good blues musician, and his music is deserving of a wide audience.  Sadly, his lyrics will continue to limit his appeal.

Personnel:  Tracks 1, 2, 4:  Travis Haddix (vocals, guitar), Rick Hinkle (rhythm guitar, engineer), Marlon Hunter (engineer), Steve Crawford (piano), “Big” Royal Joiner (keyboard), Marion McFarland (drums), John Haamid (drums), Poindexter Evans (bass guitar), Jeff Hager (trumpet), David Ruffin (tenor sax), Tony Fortunato (baritone sax).  Tracks: 3, 5, 7-10:  Travis Haddix (vocals, guitar), Brian Hager (rhythm guitar, engineer, final mix & master), Gil Zachary (piano), Don Williams (organ), ED Lemmers (bass), Lonnie Crosby (bass), Jeremy Sullivan (drums), Vernon Jones (drums), Tony Fortunato (baritone sax), David Ruffin (tenor sax), Scott Tenney (trumpet).
Tracks:  Jodie, Doctor Doctor, Ring on Her Finger, Rope around My Neck, Patience with a Purpose, Old Fashioned Justice, In Good Shape for the Shape I’m In, Full, but Frustrated, She’s Good, She’s Better, She’s Best, Two Jobs with a Paper Route, Same Thing, Same Way.

Gottfried Klaas

Monday, March 31, 2014

Burning River Brass. Classical Impressions.

Burning River Brass.  Classical Impressions.
Burning River Brass, 2013.  Website:

A new release by Burning River Brass is always a pleasure.  I’ve enjoyed their previous albums (this is their sixth) and seen them in concert.  They’ve been around since 1996, consisting of folks who work and play in Northeast Ohio (Dave Duro teaches trumpet at Hiram College).  This time out they used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, raising $15,000, and the recording was made at the First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights during March of 2013.  This album was recently featured as a Choice CD of the Day on WCLV.  With that stamp of approval, we proceed.

The title of the CD does not really concern Impressionist works, although there are some, but works that have made an impression upon the musicians themselves, and presumably, their audiences.  They start off with three short pieces by Debussy, totalling less than six minutes.  The first is more of a fanfare, an announcement for the others.  The next slowly rouses the attention with a Spanish flavor, in somewhat seductive fashion, while the third is a lively dance tune.  The group follows this volly with a quick change of pace, Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” a choral work arranged for the group.  Solemn, yet majestic, it is quite lovely, matching the Vespers pieces by Rachmaninoff and Laurisden’s work, but lighter in tone.

At first, I was not terribly impressed with the Bach concerto, written for two violins.  It seemed lackluster, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the recording or the arrangement.  But then I realized I was listening to it on a boom box, and switched to my headphones.  There’s the sparkle I was expecting (always use the right equipment, folks), and it was a joy to hear in this arrangement.  The slower, middle movement is especially delightful, with a very sweet flow, and they really let loose on the third movement, the Allegro.  The Bach piece is the longest work on the album, with three movements, but still only clocks at about fifteen minutes.  BRB knows how to keep things moving.  That energy continues into the Brahms “Hungarian Dance No. 6,” combining with some humor from the contrasting stately and raucous rhythms, before switching back to sacred music with two pieces from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.  This is the most intense work on the album, but it’s never ponderous.  

The transition to Shostakovich is jarring.  The two pieces from Jazz Suite No. 1 sandwich a bit of Gershwin, and it all fits together nicely.  I must say that I have to be in the mood to hear Shostakovich’s jazz suites (being a jazz fan, I have issues--it’s more Kurt Weill than Louis Armstrong), but BRB plays it all quite well.  Comparing it to a full orchestral version on YouTube, with folks from Ukraine conducted by Kuchar, it works about as well.  The atmosphere set by Shostakovich continues with the “Scherzo” by Prokofiev, but is then slowed down by his next piece.  I think I prefer the “Andante Segnando” as a brass arrangement, after listening to two piano versions on YouTube by Ashkenazy and Kissin.  It has a more open feel to me.  We are back into higher gear with the Paganini Variations, a work I find rather irritating in piano version, but is quite a pleasure in brass arrangement.  

The last two works contrast radically.  The Lauridsen piece is another sacred choral work, a modern masterpiece treated with reverence and care.  I’m not sure it reaches the majestic heights of the best choirs, but it has a quiet beauty of a different sort.  The Novarro piece is a fun Latin tune that works perfectly as an encore.  As you may have surmised, I enjoyed this album immensely, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys brass ensemble music.  I also urge you to go see them in concert.

Personnel:  Trumpets:  David Duro, Justin Emerich, Michael Tiscione, Heather Zweifel.  Horns:  Neil DeLand, Christopher Komer.  Trombones: Hans Bohn, Rebecca Ciabattari, David Mitchell.  Bass Trombone: Andrew Chappell.  Euphonium: Rebecca Ciabattari.  Tuba: Matthew Gaunt.  Percussion: Fred Zweifel.  Guest Horn Player: Richard King (Tracks 10 & 18).  Arranger:  Feza Zweifel (except Track 17, arranged by Roger Harvey).
Tracks:  Morceau de Concours (Claude Debussy); La Puerta del Vino (from Preludes, Book II) (Claude Debussy); Danse Bohémienne (Claude Debussy); Ave Maria (Franz Biebl); Concerto in d minor, BWV 1043 (J. S. Bach); Hungarian Dance No. 6 (Johannes Brahms); Blessed Art Thou, O Lord (from Vespers) (Sergei Rachmaninoff); Lord, Now Lettest Thou (from Vespers) (Sergei Rachmaninoff); Foxtrot (from Jazz Suite No. 1) (Dmitri Shostakovich); Prelude No. 2, Blue Lullaby (George Gershwin); Waltz (from Jazz Suite No. 1) (Dmitri Shostakovich); Scherzo (from Piano Sonata No. 2) (Sergei Prokofiev); Andante Segnando (from Piano Sonata No. 8) (Sergei Prokofiev); Paganini Variations (Witold Lutoslawski); O Magnum Mysterium (Morten Lauridsen); La Pareja (Chico Novarro).

Jeff Wanser

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Adam Rich. Virgin Freak.

Adam Rich.  Virgin Freak.
Love Muffin Records, 1994.  Released on CD, 2014.  

Sad to say, I’m not the first one to review this CD.  The Scene got there first by a week, because I was busy grading papers and writing academic-type stuff.  However, I will write a more positive review, because I liked it a lot better than Jeff Niesel.  I grew up on instrumental rock from a different era, with the Ventures and Duane Eddy, so my points of reference are likely a bit different from Mr. Niesel, or Mr. Rich, who plays all the instruments on the album.  This was his first full-length release, on cassette (at least it wasn’t 8-track tape), while he was a college student, so it should be looked at as a debut album.  

These days, Rich is a sophisticated musician, entrepreneur, and record label owner. Back then, not so much. No question, the cover is ugly, and features Rich’s distorted face in black-and-white.  However, a listen tells you that here is a budding young musician with interesting ideas and a lot of potential.  He experiments with every studio trick he can think of and the recorded sound is a bit questionable in some places, with the guitar pitched a bit too high. Even remastering can’t redo everything.  That being said, what attracts me to this album is his guitar playing.  He’s good.  He absorbed various styles, and you can hear the influences of heroes like Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson. but Rich doesn’t play quite as cleanly here as they did.  He likes fuzz tones, and goes a little more metal here and there, especially with the bass.  The drumming is a bit rudimentary, but that wasn’t really his instrument.  

“Hangover” sounds to me part metal, part surf music, something you might have heard on the Munsters TV Show, or at a monster truck rally.  He breaks out the funky wah wah for “Rhet Ro,” and it sounds pretty good.  “The Friendlies” gets more atmospheric, slower paced and melodic, with Rich showing off his guitar runs.  It changes pace about halfway through, running faster and rougher, before returning to the original theme.  It’s the longest track, and the one I like best, as it shows clear development and structure.  “Groceries & Antifreeze” gets a bit psychedelic, while “Judas” is a metal workout with lots of guitar flash, also very enjoyable.  “Ylime” goes acoustic, and Rich gets to show off his softer side, very sweet in a Leo Kottke sort of way.  With “Visually Impaired,” the bass takes over with heavy crunching chords, and “Weaving,” recorded a year earlier finishes off the set with another strong track that rather sums up Rich’s musical influences.

I skipped over “Psycho John,” and I wish he had.  it would have been better left off the album and replaced with other tracks from his first EP.  Psycho John’s bizarre vocals ruin the song, otherwise instrumentally okay.  Overall, as a college student’s debut album, this is really quite good.  Yes, of course he’s gotten much better over the years, both in terms of musicianship and breadth of musical expression, but this album is a lot of fun, with enjoyable tunes.  Fans of Adam Rich should definitely pick it up.  

Personnel:  Adam Rich (all instruments), Psycho John (vocals on “Psycho John”).
Tracks:  Hangover, Rhet Ro, The Friendlies, Psycho John, Judas, Groceries & Antifreeze, Ylime, Nasally Impaired, Weaving (from his 1993 EP cassette, Leave My Fish Alone).


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hoseff. Modern Gypsies.

Hoseff.  Modern Gypsies.
Primal Lemon Records, 2012.  Hoseff:
To be perfectly frank, I had a difficult time with Modern Gypsies. I couldn’t jive with the fusion of blues vocals over the gypsy music. It’s a musical marriage where plates fly and the neighbors avoid looking at the house as much as possible. The mash up of mournful folk music, blues, alternative, and gypsy guitar just never settle in at all. Maybe it’s my lack of exposure to the proper Romany culture and music, but it felt like a hodgepodge of music that could have used some polish. The songs flow from boring to awkward back to boring. The electric bass was dominating, and instead of adding grit the vocals, it was just distracting. The George Lucas sound effects on “In My Arms Tonight” left me as confused as all of the prequel films. The song’s tendency towards drama does work in its favor, but the vocals and weird effects seem self-indulgent to me.
As a music listener, I am looking for music that makes me sit up. Music that distracts me and makes me hyper-aware of the chord progressions and lyrical turns of phrase and doesn’t allow me to ignore it in favor of the voices in my head. I had no such experiences with Modern Gypsies. I was left feeling the way I do when I hear a Zappa album. Confused, unsure, and like even alcohol could not navigate me through the haunted forest. This album came out mostly grunge without the delicate lyrical progression I hoped for. Hoseff tries to incorporate the alternative niche similar to bands like Rasputina and Soundgarden, but just fails to thaw my ice water-submerged heart. However if I ever need a soundtrack to a hallucinogenic sequence, about 50% of this album is up for grabs.
Maybe I missed it. Maybe there is a great signifier that I forgot, skipped, or failed to absorb. Ultimately, though, I was not impressed by Hoseff’s offerings. Their Modern Gypsies failed to deliver anything to me that I was missing, and or to energize me as a music lover.  Hoseff is an Akron-based performer, appearing in various venues around the region.
Personnel:  Joe Garcia (vocals, guitar, bass guitar, piano, upright bass, lap steel, mandolin, percussion, synths), Angie Haze (vocals, accordion, piano, synths).
Tracks: Modern Gypsies, Waitin' on You, In My Arms Tonight, First Desire, This is Why We Live, Just My Dream, The Devil I Know, Sad Song, Yesterday's News, When I'm Gone, Make It Through the Night, Shades of Grey.

Lauren Parker

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Suede Brothers. 13 Songs.

Suede Brothers.  13 Songs.
Bad Breaker Records, 2013.  Suede Brothers:

It starts out heavy, sort of Van Halen heavy, tuneful but without the wiseass snear.  The guitar solo is more like something from the 70s, kind of arena-rockish, but not in the negative way people use the term these days.  The vocals remind me of Billy Squire, a strong tenor, out there, crisp/fuzzy, slightly modified by technology.  The hook is memorable, and the instrumentation moves from foreground to background with some finesse.  This song could have been a hit back in 1980.

“Desert Song” (not the oldie by Sig Romberg) is the opener and a damned fine tune,  quite representative of the quality of music found on the latest release by the Suede Brothers, 13 Songs.  Formed out of the Black Diamonds, in Perry, Ohio, their first album with their new name came out in 2007.  This is their fourth. They mix old and new styles from the 60s to today without blinking an eye.  Big drums, big riffs.  Hard rock, stoner rock, Rust Belt rock--all have been used to describe their music.  They list their influences ranging from Black Sabbath to Blue Cheer to punk and grunge, but you’re likely to find almost anything in here.  You can hear whispers of just about any band, but the music isn’t derivative.  That is part of their appeal, along with really fine musicianship and riveting vocals.  (There’s another great guitar solo, towards the end of “The Doing.”--I’m listening as I’m writing.)

I listened to their other three albums, which all seem to have names, although I’m hard-pressed to find them on the CDs themselves (they show up on the laptop).  Their first, Suede Brothers, tends toward blues-rock, while their second album a year later, I’ll New You, goes more in a straightforward rock direction with some metal influences (and a little “Radar Love” mixed in, along with what sounds like Britpop).  The Night, their 2010 release, shows more sophistication in song structure, but still has both a blues and metal feel, while going for the bombast of the arena.  (They just did a really nice psychedelic bridge on “Falling Apart”).  All three are quite good, but 13 Songs kicks it up another notch in terms of song quality, greater range, and driving intensity.  They don’t get to anything like a mid-tempo song until track 7, “Way Back Home,” which has a smooth Blue Öyster Cult feel to it.  “Mean Muggin’” is an instrumental workout for everybody, with suitable feedback to end the song. (Oh, Lord, cowbell in “Time of Desperation”--I love it!).  “Red Rondo” shows that they can rock out with a Brubeck-inspired tune, and from here, all the songs are a bit shorter, all under three minutes.  Most earlier tunes ran from three and some to nearly five minutes.  “Into My Life” is their only ballad, which for me, is the only song that doesn’t work so well.  I know they need to mix it up, but it felt out of place on an otherwise heavy album.  “Down 44” (the route?) winds things up with another instrumental.  

This is the kind of album that is likely to be enjoyed by lots of different kinds of listeners, but all for different reasons.  No, they won’t attract the singer-songwriter aficionados, but most hard rock fans will find something to please.  The Suede Brothers is a group that seems to cross generations, and folks from the 60s to today will all relate.  That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but they have managed it.  Strong songs, great guitar, and a driving rhythm section will take you a long way.

Personnel:  Dylan Francis (guitar, vocals), Mick Varga (drums), Kevin Naughton (bass).
Tracks:  Desert Song, Call It Done, The Doing, Falling Apart, Take Awhile, Blue Green Village, Way Back Home, Mean Muggin, Time of Desperation, Red Rondo, Setting Sun, Into My Life, Down 44.