Sunday, July 3, 2016

Red Sun Rising. Polyester Zeal.

Red Sun Rising.  Polyester Zeal.
Razor & Tie, 2015.  Red Sun Rising:

This alternative hard rock band from Akron has been around for about ten years and this is their third release (plus an EP), but the first on a big label, so Yay for them. As a band on their way up, they are rapidly developing a fan base, some 47,000 strong on Facebook, and have even created their own Twitter hashtag, #WeAreThread, which is supposed to describe their music. I can’t vouch for that, since I haven’t a clue about what “Thread” is (Shred in a thong?), nor a clue about hashtags frankly. But their sound seems to be a contemporary combination of postgrunge, arena rock, and 80s metal, which is certainly a fine thing if one does it right. I’d say that they’re pretty much doing it right on this album.

Soaring vocals, slight echo added, nice hooks, lots of guitar, solidly structured songs, and use of several chords are all clues. They have both skill and variety going for them. Songs are tight, and nothing overstays its welcome, although perhaps one song should have had some extended soloing, since like I said above, skill. “Push” is a great opener, a speedy, edgy song with lots of energy that displays their instrumental abilities. “Amnesia” moves the band to mid-tempo, and showcases their vocal chops. Arena rock influence shows itself well in “Unnatural,” with its anthemic atmosphere, while the metal sound makes an appearance in “Awake,” a nicely jagged hard-rocking tune with a couple of soft edges. Every album needs its ballad, and “Bliss” takes care of that, with appropriate rev-up in the middle.

Personally, I like the fast tunes, and “Imitation” fills the bill, a great closer. It seems to be about how being like everyone else is a sure path to destruction. I don’t think these guys need to worry too much. They’ve got a sound that is very different from the current pack of bands, and should carry them along well. They are touring the Midwest this month, and their next appearance in Ohio is at the Ohio State Reformatory (!), or you might want to wait until late August when they hit Akron.

Personnel:  Mike Protich (vocals, guitar), Ryan Williams (guitar), Tyler Valendza (guitar), Ricky Miller (bass, vocals), Pat Gerasia (drums).
Tracks:  Push, Amnesia, The Otherside, My Muse, Emotionless, Blister, Worlds Away, Unnatural, Awake, Bliss, Imitation.

Jeff Wanser

Monday, May 30, 2016

Scarlet & the Harlots. We Can't Seem to Get Enough.

Scarlet & the Harlots. We Can’t Seem to Get Enough.
Self-produced, 2014.  Scarlet & the Harlots:

This album is a bit old for review, but since the band hasn’t put out a new one yet we can still call it their fresh debut. I’m too old to know where the boundary line between nerd and hipster is these days (it shifts year by year), but this band from the Kent area lies somewhere in that territory, and that is intended to be a compliment. The cover suggests a parody of an old Leon Russell & the Shelter People album--a curious assortment of gender-bending  and overdressed characters indulging themselves with food, drink, and drugs. A carnival is in town and they’ve taken over an Italian restaurant. One might think they’re trying too hard to impress with their decadence.

No batch of amateurs though, these folks know their stuff, with real horn charts backing the strong, bluesy vocals of their lead singer, Scarlet (no last names, please). The mix of rock, jazz, and blues is sophisticated, with some really great singing and playing. The sound is a bit retro, once again bringing to mind Russell and his crowd, as some of the music has a distinct and eclectic early 70s flavor. The songs are uniformly enjoyable, yet in no way uniform. Each takes a different approach. For example, “Moonshine Ghost” featuring Scarlet’s vocals upfront, a great mix of Janis Joplin and Bonnie Bramlett, with a blistering guitar solo that’s hard to beat. “There Once Was a Girl” takes a jazzier approach, with some cool vocal runs (and clever lyrics) recalling Manhattan Transfer, and sweet sax breaks. The title track gets a bit funky, but combines that with some boogie. “We Are in Control” lets the drummer out, and the sound gets more Blood, Sweat & Tears (or even Ten Wheel Drive, for the obscure sophisticate), with the horns vying for domination with the percussion. The band gets heavier with “What to Do,” with a monster beat and all the musicians driving forward hard. This one’s my favorite, a real headbanger. They close with a slower tune, but hardly a wistful ballad, with an insistent, familiar refrain that I can’t quite place.

This is a fine start for a fine band. They have plenty of talent and skill, and a style that will appeal to several generations of rock fans. Their next appearance will be at Beachland on June 4th for the Prince Tribute Night. No telling what they might cover, but it ought to be quite a show.

Personnel:  Scarlet (vocals), Trevor (guitar, alto saxophone), Ryan (guitar), Toussaint (bass, vocals), Chris (trombone, vocals), Tim (tenor saxophone), Dylan (drums).
Tracks:  Moonshine Ghost, There Once Was a Girl, We Can’t Seem to Get Enough, We Are in Control, What to Do, Follow.

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steve Hauschildt. Where All Is Fled.

Steve Hauschildt.  Where All Is Fled.

I came home last week after a hard day/hard month, and sorted through the pile of CDs that needed to be reviewed for Buzzard Tracks. I was looking for something that was different, and something that would give me a break from everything I didn’t want to think about. I chose this, not randomly, but not really deliberately either. When I put it on, I was transported, no joke. The music is joyous, quiet but exhilarating, and damned near left me weeping because it was what I needed to hear at that moment.

This is Hauschildt’s third solo release, if you don’t count his compilation, S/H. We’ve reviewed three of his four albums here at Buzzard Tracks, and would be happy to review everything he puts out, forever. Not to say he can’t make a mistake or release a turkey, but I haven’t heard one yet. This album may be his most accomplished so far, a combination of many different kinds of sound, from synth washes to orchestral instrumentation to natural sounds blended into soundscapes that are simultaneously surreal and very real. The sound is quite different from his previous album, Sequitur (2012), with a darker tone, an emphasis on pulse rather than beat, and a move toward a richer, more symphonic sound. The fourteen tracks are quite varied, as if one is moving from dream to dream, each a delight in its own way.

The opening track, “Eyelids Gently Dreaming,” is a great example of this move towards a different sound. The music progresses in a drifting manner, shifting from one plane to another smoothly before fading. “Arpeggiare” makes a different statement, with rapid pulsing featured over a piano melody. “A Reflecting Pool” is what got to me, with its evocation of water dripping and rippling. By the time of “Edgewater Prelude,” the shortest track, I was completely lost in the sounds Hauschildt was producing. I found “In Spite of Time’s Disguise” delightful, a synthesizer melody drifting and morphing through a tangle of washes and pulses. Several later tracks such as “Caduceus” and “Sundialed” take a more insistent approach with strong, rapid beats. The title track is near the middle of the album, and sets provides a soft piano melody against a variety of background sounds.

As one might tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion into ambient electronic music that Steve Hauschildt does so well. You can partake of this as music alone, or with accompanying visuals on YouTube--they are stunning creations.

Personnel:  Steve Hauschildt (electronics and other stuff).
Tracks:  Eyelids Gently Dreaming, Arpeggiare, A Reflecting Pool, Anesthesia, Vicinities, Edgewater Prelude, In Spite of Time’s Disguise, Where All Is Fled, The World Is too Much With Us, Aequus, Caduceus, Sundialed, Lifelike, Centrifuge.

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Ohio Weather Band. Crooked Light.

The Ohio Weather Band.  Crooked Light.
Self-released, 2016.  The Ohio Weather Band:

The Ohio Weather Band continues the success of their first album with this new effort. We reviewed their first album in 2014, and found it to be quite enjoyable. Sophomore slumps are legendary, but they don’t seem to have succumbed to the ailment. A little more ballad-heavy than the first album, songwriter Corey King is getting more deeply into his lyrics with good results, occasionally heading for Bob Dylan territory, and not being uncomfortable there. This album in a way is a showcase for King the singer-songwriter. Musically, lots of other comparisons are more appropriate, ranging from Mr. Gnome to Stealer’s Wheel, which just shows how eclectic they are.

I tend to gravitate toward uptempo songs, and so will concentrate on those, but the ballads are also very good, and here is where King shines lyrically. They range from the desolate (“Ohio Weather”) to the quasi-religious (“Fate is a Man”), to the obscure (“Sunburn”), with none in the land of the joyful, although that may just be my interpretation. Tunes are generally simple, but sweetly played, and they've grown on me with repeated listenings. Most slower songs clock in at more than four minutes, while the faster tunes are over in a heartbeat.

And those faster tunes are where the band comes in strong. The opening track, “Boardwalk Act,” is a tuneful, rambling song that sticks in the ear. “Messenger Bird” effectively uses echo and interesting chord changes to evoke mystery, reminding me of an old tune, “Spooky,” by the Classics IV (although the song is about something else entirely). “Zeros” moves towards an insistent, bluesy rock, with some nice guitar work and good harmonies. “Advice” recalls Dylan sensibilities combined with Stealer’s Wheel quirkiness in a curious amalgam that I find very satisfying.

I enjoyed listening to this album and look forward to the group’s continuing evolution. The band is in town right now, having just toured key cities in the south, and at the end of the month they’ll be headed for New York. Catch them when you can.

Personnel:  Corey King (guitar, vocals), Derek Strata (bass, vocals), Ray Lumpp (keys, vocals, accordion, percussion), Pete Childerson (drums, percussion).
Tracks:  Boardwalk Act, Messenger Bird, Ohio Weather, Barflies, Zeros, Waitin’ Like a Canine, Advice, Purple Polished Nails, Sunburn, Fate is a Man, Ohio Weather (reprise).

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Maura Rogers and the Bellows. In Light.

Maura Rogers and the Bellows.  In Light.
Self-released, 2015.  Maura Rogers and the Bellows:

We have been remiss in reviewing this in a timely fashion, and so we are getting to it just before the band’s new EP is released next week. I guess that’s timely in its own way. This is the band’s third release (we reviewed their previous album, A Good Heart Will Break, back in 2014), and so they seem to be on schedule, even if we’re not.  

Americana, alt.folk, and other terms are thrown around to describe Maura Rogers’ music. They are all accurate as far as they go, but fuzzy words are inadequate to tell you how her songs sound and feel (she wrote them all). Musically, the band is dominated by Rogers’ strong and expressive vocals and Meredith Pangrace’s accordion--they are the most out front to this ear. But in listening behind them, one can easily find some fine guitar work by Istvan Medgyesi and others. This is particularly evident on the opening bars of most tracks (such as “Georgia” and “Blooming”), where a guitar leads in. The opening track, “Battle Cry,” is a deeply emotional song that Rogers simply slays with her anthemic vocals. The mood changes quickly with “The Chance,” a country waltz, framed as a real cry-in-your-beer weeper. As I listened to this song and the next, “Georgia,” I noticed that the lyrics are not specific with regard to gender, or even place. Georgia could refer to the state, but it could also be a person. This sort of ambiguity  continues throughout the album. Fascinating choices, and good songwriting.

“Blooming” is a heartbreaker, and one of my favorites, a song that contrasts roses in bloom with rejected love and/or fear of relationships. The atmospheric music created by the accordion and guitar in combination creates a sense of desolation. “Thank You” is a catchy, if spare, tune, and is certainly one of the more upbeat songs on the album. The most controversial song is “Damn Angels,” about a lover who leaves in the wake of religious fervor, from the perspective of the one left. Powerful stuff.

Seriously good songwriting.  The music and the lyrics work as one to transport the listener through various stages of heartache, hope, anger, and moroseness. After nine songs, I feel like I’ve been through an emotional washing machine. This is a richly rewarding album, and I urge you to check out the band’s music. They will be having an EP release party on March 19th at the Beachland Ballroom, which I suspect will be quite an evening.

Personnel:  Maura Rogers (vocals, acoustic guitar), Meredith Pangrace (accordion, vocals), Istvan Medgyesi (electric, slide, and acoustic guitar), Brent Stow (bass), Shelby Sangdahl (cello), Jeff Babinski (drums, track 5), Nick Perry (drums), Ariel Karaś (violin, tracks 6 & 7), Al Moses (acoustic guitar, tracks 3 & 7).
Tracks:  Battle Cry, The Chance, Georgia, Lion, Blooming, Good Lover, Thank You, Damn Angels, Hold On.

Jeff Wanser


Sunday, March 6, 2016

John Fedchock Quartet Live. Fluidity.

John Fedchock Quartet Live.  Fluidity.
Summit Records, 2015.  John Fedchock:

John Fedchock describes himself as a New York musician, but his roots are in Northeast Ohio. Born in Cleveland in 1957, he attended Ohio State University and the Eastman School of Music, joined the Woody Herman Band in 1980, and has been a prominent trombonist in several big bands. He leads John Fedchock’s New York Big Band (seems reasonable), which has four CDs to their credit, and also works in smaller group contexts, including a sextet, and here, a quartet. He’s won lots of accolades and awards for his playing and arranging. Let’s see what he’s done this time.

On this release, Fedchock plays mostly standards, with two originals and a Joe Henderson cover. Among the composers are Victor Young, Henry Mancini, Frank Loesser, and Jule Styne, so it’s clear that he delves extensively into the Great American Songbook. He takes the tunes in a bop direction and moves them along in a gentle, dreamy fashion. This is a live album, so there is a bit of audience applause, but it doesn’t distract from listening, and in fact, provides a nice backdrop to the band’s motivated performance. Fedchock’s playing is really quite impressive; I’ve seldom heard a trombone played with such, well, fluidity. His slide technique and articulation are superb, as is evident in such slow tunes as “Havana,” and “Make Someone Happy,” where he is out front and on display. Most of the songs feature one or more of the other players in solos, and they are very effective as well. I am particularly fond of John Toomey’s piano work, both in solos (especially “I Hear a Rhapsody”) and in his support behind Fedchock. Two mid-tempo tunes, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” and “Homestretch,” are my personal favorites here, with great solos and delightful interplay among the musicians.

If you love jazz ballads, small combos, or trombone, this is an album to listen to over and over.

Personnel:  John Fedchock (trombone), John Toomey (piano), Jimmy Masters (bass), Dave Ratajczak (drums).
Tracks: East of the Sun, Havana, I Hear a Rhapsody, Make Someone Happy, Under the Radar, Weaver of Dreams, The Days of Wine and Roses, I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Homestretch.

Jeff Wanser

Friday, February 12, 2016

Apollo’s Fire. Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering.
Avie, 2015.  Apollo’s Fire:

In 2015, Apollo’s Fire released Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering. When I think of Apollo’s Fire, baroque music immediately comes to mind. I was unaware that the group had delved into the folk tradition. The following is a description of this “crossover” tradition from the CD liner notes, which helped me to understand the background of Sugarloaf Mountain:

"Since 1999, Apollo’s Fire have developed a unique ensemble of crossover artists who are steeped in the folk traditions as well as the improvisatory idioms of the 17th and 18th centuries. Exploring British Isles, early American, and Sephardic traditions from a historical perspective, the ensemble strives to break down the modern barrier between art music and popular music to revive the “crossover” spirit of the 17th century, when great composers regularly wrote artful variations on street tunes and tavern songs."

This is their fourth crossover album, with Scarborough Fayre, Come to the River: An Early American Gathering, and Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers preceding this. A new album, Sephardic Journey, is just coming out.

On to the content of Sugarloaf Mountain--a series of ballads and reels brought to the Southern Appalachian region from the British Isles, combined with American minstrel tunes and African American spirituals. And who better to interpret this music than Jeannette Sorrell (having lived in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from age 14), and Amanda Powell (who lived in the same valley within sight of Sugarloaf Mountain). The musicians, including Sorrell and Powell, play these airs, jigs, reels, ballads, and spirituals on period and folk instruments, including fiddle, wooden flute, pennywhistle, cello, lute, hammered dulcimer, guitar, gourd banjo, long-neck dulcimer, and harpsichord. The music is arranged in sections, invoking first the melancholy and sadness of leaving home (the British Isles), and last the enthusiasm of begging those still in the old country to come to this lovely land. Let me take you on this journey and comment on some of the highlights.

The Prologue. “The Mountains of Rhùm” sets the sorrowful mood of the leavetaking--”how can I leave you, my mountains of Rhùm?” (from the traditional Scottish). Crossing to the New World. “Farewell to Ireland/Highlander’s Farewell” introduces a different atmosphere, with dance music (Irish and Appalachian reels), while “We’ll Rant and We’ll Rave/Farewell to the Isles” is a sea shanty with lovely fiddle and voices filled with false bravado--a looking forward to the shores of America. Dark Mountain Home. “Cruel Sister”--now this is where the Scots-Irish darkness takes hold. In this ballad’s bizarre telling, there are two sisters, the younger of which is courted by a young man. The jealous older sister pushes the younger off the cliff into the sea. The younger sister begs to be saved, but is ignored by the elder. Later, the suitor finds the body, makes a harp of her breastbone, and strings of her yellow hair. He takes the harp to the father’s house, and plays a song. “Hang my auld sister,” it cried. Cruel sister indeed. For me, a dismal story, but beautifully performed.

Cornshuck Party. “Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” is quite vivacious--lots of fiddle, flute pennywhistle--and a great story! I picture Peter Spier’s illustrations in a children’s book of the same name. “Oh Susanna!” is a song most of us will recognize, but do we realize that it’s a minstrel song from 1845, written by one Stephen Foster of Pittsburgh, PA? Love and Loss.  “Once I Had a Sweetheart” is a haunting piece laced with misery, which morphs into “Wayfaring Stranger” by way of a slow fiddle, moaning low and mimicking a spiritual (Kentucky Harmony, 1816). “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” from 1864, is a lovely but mournful solo interwoven with another Southern spiritual, “Go March Along.” Glory on the Mountain. “Glory in the Meeting House” is a lively, upbeat Kentucky fiddle tune accompanied by hammered dulcimer and flute, while “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” a Souther spiritual, is sung by male and female voices. Appalachian Home. In “Sugarloaf Mountain” the contented immigrant tries to convince his love and his family to join him. “Oh, leave our sad island, its troubles unending…. Come to our mountain and stay with me.” (Adapted from the traditional Scottish).

And finally, there is happiness! Interwoven into these appealing vocals are several instrumental interludes, showing the various talents of all the musicians. My absolute favorite is the enchanting hammered dulcimer. Those of us who pay attention to Northeast Ohio traditional music should be humbled by Tina Bergmann’s prowess on this instrument. I remember hearing her way back when she was a teenager at the Cuyahoga Valley Folk Festival, and she was good even then.

I was captivated by everyone on this CD. I now want to go back and listen to Come to the River: An Early American Gathering, from 2010. If you like this traditional vein of music, give this a listen. If not, try it anyway, because you never know.

Personnel:  Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell (harpsichord, direction), Amanda Powell (vocals), Ross Hauck (vocals), Tina Bergmann (hammered dulcimer), Susanna Perry Gilmore (fiddle), Kathie Stewart (wooden flutes), Brian Kay (lute, guitar, banjo, long-neck dulcimer), René Schiffer (cello).
Tracks: Prologue: The Mountains of Rhùm. Crossing to the New World: Farewell to Ireland/Highlander’s Farewell, We’ll Rand and We’ll Roar. Dark Mountain Home: The Cruel Sister, Se Fath mo Buart Ha (The Cause of All My Sorrow), Nottamun Town (Round #1044), Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, I Wonder as I Wander/The Gravel Walk/Over the Isles to America. Cornshuck Party: The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night, Oh Susanna!, Pretty Peg/Far from Home. Love & Loss: Once I Had a Sweetheart, Wayfaring Stranger, Pretty Betty Martin/Katy Did/Red Rockin’ Chair, Just Before the Battle, Mother, Go March Along. Glory on the Mountain: Glory in the Meeting House, Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep. Appalachian Home: Sugarloaf Mountain.

Linda Spear
Jeannette Sorrell

Monday, January 18, 2016

Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West 1975-80.
Soul Jazz Records, 2015.

I was not here for the fluorescence of the punk scene in Akron or Cleveland. During the late 1970s I lived in Binghamton, New York, another dying manufacturing city, but a town that didn’t know it was well-suited to the genre. It relied instead on metal, disco, hard rock, and whatever was transported from New York City to the Southern Tier by college students (mostly Springsteen, I recall, followed by New Wave). Thus, I cannot claim first-hand experience, as many around here can (or some who may claim to but can’t). I was, of course, familiar with Devo and the Waitresses through their hits, and the Bizarros because of their connection to New York. As a result of my poking around in Northeast Ohio music history, Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey, and the Numbers Band have become familiar (and enjoyed). Most of the rest are largely unknown to me, some having a moment in the sun, others not. Thus I enter the discussion with a bit of trepidation.

This album is the fifth punk compilation from the British label Soul Jazz. The first four concentrated on the British and American scenes, proto-punk, and Cleveland (we’ll get to that one soon). As such, it is a late-comer to the dissection of the late-70s Akron punk/art rock/New Wave scene that coalesced in the wake of Akron’s industrial decline. There have been other releases, notably Stiff Records’ The Akron Compilation, and two films, It’s Everything, and Then It’s Gone, and If You’re not Dead, Play. There have been reunions, cover bands, and much mythologizing, and everyone seems to have a slightly different version of what happened, ranging from the glorious to the “who cares?” So, what does this CD add to the pile?

First, for the newbie, or those too young to have experienced these bands in the raw, the CD provides an entryway into a particular time and place (late 1970s, Akron/Kent) and the heady mix of local bands influenced by the art scene (and shootings) at Kent State University, the decline of the rubber industry in Akron, and the local music scene (that also included Cleveland) of the time. The accompanying booklet is pretty good in outlining major events (although they spell it “tyre”), although it could have done much more. But it’s the array of music and styles that are the real draw here. Akron “punk” was far more, and not easily categorized, except by music industry. It included a great deal of art rock, experimental rock, garage rock, and blues, put in a blender with the top off, resulting in fascinating chunks of music going in all different directions. Little holds it all together except point of origin, common history, a certain sense of aggression, and the fact that the bands influenced each other (and even shared personnel). Quality of sound is very good, and given that the Stiff Compilation is out of print (as are most of the original albums of the artists, other than Devo’s), this is the place to go for this material. Rachel Sweet is missing, but there are compilations of her material elsewhere.

There are some wonderful surprises. Jane Aire & the Belvederes is a great band. They apparently followed Chrissie Hynde to England to join the music scene there, and their albums seem to have never been reissued in CD. Denis DeFrange did some fascinating experimental work with synthesizers (not exactly a punk instrument). Chi-Pig, on the scene since the 60s in one form or another and the only all-female band, combines punk with elements of experimental music to considerable effect. The lesser known artists are surrounded by the Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels (my favorite), Tin Huey, and couple of demos by Devo, all of whose tracks provide great listening, especially as juxtaposed here. The Numbers Band rounds out the album with their usual combination of experimental rock and blues. The result is an indication of the creativity and complexity of the music scene in the region for a time when much was bleak, but anything was possible. In all, this is an excellent compilation, and well worth the time.

Personnel/Tracks:  The Bizarros/I Bizarro; The Waitresses/The Comb; Hammer Damage/Laugh; Devo/Mechanical Man; Tin Huey/Squirm You Worm; The Bizarros/Lady Doubonette; Chi-Pig/ Ring Around the Collar; Devo/Auto Modown; Rubber City Rebels/Kidnapped; Denis DeFrange and Mark Frazer/The Minkin Shuffle; Jane Aire & the Belvederes/When I Was Young; Tin Huey/ Puppet Wipes; Chi-Pig/Apu Api (Help Me); The Bizarros/Nova; Rubber City Rebels/Such a Fool; Denis DeFrange/Sector Wars; Ralph Carney/Closet Bears; 15 60 75 The Numbers Band/Narrow Road.

Jeff Wanser