Sunday, January 8, 2017

Housecleaning, Reinvention, and Oh, Hell.

You may have noticed, or not, that there has been a scarcity of reviews coming through this blog for the past six months or so. It’s the result of a combination of factors, most my own fault. Overextension, classes, writer’s block, lack of writers recruited, procrastination, theft (yes, theft of CDs slated for review by certain unnamed individuals), illness, and bad luck have all contributed to the sluggishness of the blog. I am in the process of recruiting trustworthy writers, finding new music to review, and seeing what else I can do to make this site better. It deserves better.

To that end, I have cleaned out the list of CDs for possible review,
and removed everything from before 2016. After all, what’s the point? Unfortunately, that adds up to more than two thirds of the list. Nearly all of those CDs will end up in the collection of the Hiram College Library, so no need to worry about their future.

In the meantime, should you feel moved to write up a review or an article for Buzzard Tracks, please contact me and we can chat about what it is you’d like to write about. I’m open to all sorts of topics in any genre of Northeast Ohio music: reviews of online-only music, concerts, interviews with musicians, essays on a particular artist or genre, mad ravings over the state of music in the region. You don’t have to be a member of the Hiram College community to write for the blog, just sufficiently interested. There is no payment, only glory, and if you’re a student it’s a chance to pad your resume. gets you there.

Jeff Wanser

All CDs pictured here are now retired, as they came out in 2015 or before.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Roger Hoover. Pastures

Roger Hoover. Pastures.
Last Chance Records, 2016.  Roger Hoover:

I’ve always associated Roger Hoover with the Whiskeyhounds, which tells you that I’m seriously out of date with his music and living in the past. He’s been with other bands and also on his own for years. I also think of him more as a rocker than the folk/blues/Americana singer-songwriter he really is (although he doesn’t want to be restricted to such labels), influenced by people such as Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. I’ll try to catch up.

This new album has him singing a set of original songs, recorded in isolated places on Lake Erie and in Northwestern Pennsylvania. He’s out front and center on every song, although he has a fine group of musicians behind him, who seem to change duties from song to song, depending on whether their rockers, ballads, or something in between. In any case, Hoover describes the set as a song cycle, concerning the vicissitudes of life in the Midwest, with a touch of hope for the future. Subjects range from romance to work to more abstract questions about the meaning of existence and why we’re here. You can dissect the lyrics on the website, or you can just sit back and enjoy the music. Either way, the album is a success on every level.

The album itself had me bouncing back and forth: musically, I like the rockers and more raucous tunes, but lyrically, I prefer the ballads. “Dust” and “Life We Create” fall into the first category, the first being the only true rocker, the second more of a bluesy honky tonk, with some heavy piano work. But I can’t lay off the ballads, because the lyrics are touching and cutting, plaintive and hopeful. “Give What You Get Back” and “Cool Blue Starter” are among my favorites here. The one that combines everything perfectly is the title track, a loping, echoey, haunting song that speaks to desires for life and the future. In all cases, Hoover sings with an expressive, slightly gravelly tenor that simultaneously soars above the music and soaks into it. Hard to beat.

Roger Hoover will be appearing at the GAR Hall in Peninsula on December 30th, and at the Beachland Tavern in late February. I’m looking forward to seeing the show in person.

Personnel:  Roger Hoover (vocals, guitars, bass, percussion), Ray Flanagan (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, background vocals), Kevin Martinez (upright bass, background vocals), Russell Flanagan (piano, Hammond B3), Ryan Foltz (drums, percussion, trumpet, background vocals), Ysabel Hoover (background vocals), Danny Jenkins (drums), Doug McKean (electric bass).
Tracks:  Give What You Get Back, Oh How Times Have Changed, Dust, Just a Little, Always on My Mind, There’s Something in My Heart, St. John, Devil in the End, Cool Blue Starter, Pastures, Life We Create.

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rock Salt and Nails. Trouble in Mind.

Rock Salt and Nails & Friends. Trouble in Mind.
Self-produced, 2016.  Rock Salt and Nails:

We seem to have followed the career of this band from Alliance for several years, and reviewed both of their previous albums, Pickin’ Up the Pieces (2013), and Run to the River (2014). With their third album, they continue down the trail of traditional music and Americana, a core trio this time,  enhanced by three additional musicians with special skills. The group includes more material from other songwriters this time around as well, including Bill Morrissey, Randy Newman, Steve Earle, Tom Waits, and John Hiatt, but with plenty of originals (7 of 14). Each member of the trio is represented in songwriting, although Priscilla Roggenkamp has the lioness’s share of the credits. One of the marks of good songwriting is when you have to check the liner notes to figure out which songs are by big names and which are originals.

This is certainly an enjoyable and mostly upbeat album. The variety of songs, the change in lead vocals from song to song, and the excellent musicianship make for a satisfying listening experience. The CD begins with an unexpected tune, “Big Legged Ida,” played with a jazzy feel (helped by Jim Perrone’s clarinet) and the sense that the group was about to start laughing any second. “Put Me on the Top of Your List” is Roggenkamp’s first song on the album, and continues the friendly and open atmosphere of a bunch of folks getting together for a good time. Each of the new songs sounds like old friends. I especially like “Blue Ridge,”, a lovely waltz, and the loping “You Know More than You Know.” “One Lie at a Time,” by Roggenkamp, is prescient  in light of current politics. “Satchel’s Reel,” by Keith McMahon ends the album as an instrumental showcase.

The title track is a traditional blues, and like other songs they’ve done has somewhat downcast lyrics but is presented in an upbeat fashion. Harmonica by Mark Huddleson provides fine punctuation to the vocals. Of course, the songs by the big names are delightfully done. I particularly enjoyed Hiatt’s “The River Knows Your Name,” and Earle’s “Goodbye,” both somewhat mellow in tone, and gorgeously sung and played.

In all a highly worthy effort from a group folk music fans should get to know. The band isn’t scheduled for a concert until late January, in Alliance. Catch their show if you can.

Personnel:  Jim Dutter (guitar, mandolin); Keith McMahon (guitar, mandolin); Priscilla Roggenkamp (bass); vocals by all. With Mark Heddleson (harmonica); Jim Perrone (clarinet); Jon Scott (banjo).
Tracks:  Big Legged Ida, Put Me on the Top of Your List, Feels Like Home, Morning Bird, Blue Ridge, Greenville Trestle High, If It Hadn’t Been for Love, One Lie at a Time, Goodbye, The River Knows Your Name, Promise, I Hope that I Don’t Fall in Love with You, The Wind Calls You on, Trouble in Mind, Snowblind, You Know More than You Know, Satchel’s Reel.

Jeff Wanser

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Blue Lunch. Above the Fold

Blue Lunch. Above the Fold.
Rip Cat Records, 2014.  Blue Lunch:

Blue Lunch is a Cleveland based octet of skilled musicians well into their third decade as a band. If the reader has not heard of them, the most likely reason is a result of being pigeonholed in the quagmire known as “genre”. In the case of Blue Lunch, you’ll find them listed under “Blues”. Ignore them at your own risk. Blue Lunch expertly delivers the blues. However, Above the Fold takes the listener on a serpentine ride across borders that often surprise and mostly succeed. Though Blue Lunch may be classified as a "blues band", they are equally adept at jazz, funk, gospel, and swing. And they may jump from one category to the next and the back on the same track.

Bob Frank is credited as the composer on seven of the 15 songs on this CD. He is one of those guitarists blessed with the ability to front the band when called upon, and the generosity to step back and support the ensemble. His playing versatility is likely his strongest suit. As an example, on his composition The Long Game, an up-tempo blues serves as bookends for a shift mid song into funk and back again. If Mr. Frank has one weakness it is his erratic vocals. On “Woman I Bleed,” and the others written by Frank, there are hints Frank has the ability to vocalize. However, he tends to vacillate between spoken word and singing. It starts to leave one wondering if that is the band’s greatest limitation. However, that suspicion is dispelled the final track, “Good News.” This traditional gospel piece is sung acapella by a quartet of the band’s members and proves back-up vocalists are there for the taking.

“One Fine Day” is a very fine instrumental composed and arranged by saxophonist Chris Burge. Add Mike Rubin on trumpet and Bob Michael on trombone and this brass section will take you back to the days of Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Chicago Transit Authority. They are just that good. Throw in some well-played harp fills by Peter London and Blue Lunch owns this piece.
The band is grounded by its rhythm section of Scott Flowers on drums and Ray Deforest on upright and electric bass. Some slight adjustments on the EQ helps bring their talents as well as keyboard man Mike Sands. Tweak that EQ a tad more and guest Sammy DeLeone’s congas pop into the mix.

There is such a thing as a small-big band. Above the Fold provides ample opportunity for every member to solo. It is the entirety of Blue Lunch’s repertoire that should push Northeastern Ohioans to seek them out.

Performers: Bob Frank (guitar, vocals), Peter London (vocals, harmonica),Chris Burge  (saxophones, harmony vocals), Mike Rubin (trumpet), Bob Michael (trombone, harmony vocals), Mike Sands (piano), Ray DeForest (bass violin, bass guitar, bass vocals), Scott Flowers (drums). Guests: Evelyn Wright (vocals on Track 8), Tim Longfellow (Hammond organ on Tracks 5 & 8), Sammy DeLeone (congas on Tracks 2 & 8).
Tracks: Ain’t Trying to Kill Nobody, One Fine Day, The Long Game, Everybody’s On the Phone, Woman I Bleed, No Time Like the Present, Seven Times, Where Do You Think It’s Going, Lake Erie Highball, Venita, Love No More, All I Needed, Tossin’ and Turnin’ and Burnin’ All Up Inside, Katt’n Around with Moe, Good News.

Eric Ess

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hingetown Hoedown Festival


CLEVELAND, August 23, 2016 -- Grab your boots, friends and family and get ready to stomp at the second annual Hingetown Hoedown -- Cleveland’s first and only free folk and bluegrass music festival to be held
September 10 in Ohio City’s Hingetown neighborhood at the intersection of West 29th Street and Detroit Ave.
The Hingetown Hoedown fills a void in Cleveland’s music scene by hosting a dozen bands with distinct bluegrass, folk, Americana, roots and string band sounds. The first Hingetown Hoedown last October was called a roaring success with more than 1,200 attendees braving the pouring rain to enjoy the show. This year’s event will be held from 1-10 .p.m., and will again be complemented by food trucks, vendors, craft beer from Great Lakes Brewery, and family-friendly activities. Admission is free and open to the public with street parking available nearby.
“Cleveland’s bluegrass scene continues to grow and Hingetown is the perfect city neighborhood for us to gather the community and introduce new listeners to the music of the mountains,” said Adam Reifsnyder who helps organize the event and is in the band Honeybucket who plays the Main Stage at 8 p.m. “We’ve seen Honeybucket’s music grow in local popularity thanks to CIFF and other Cleveland-area shows, so it only makes sense to play here with other great Ohio string bands -- it’s going to be a banjo-pickin’, boot-stompin’ good time!”
Hingetown’s main stage will feature a slew of Ohio’s finest musicians. Among the many scheduled to perform are:
● Hailing from Southeast, Ohio, The Wayfarers are sure to play a high-energy set of traditional American roots music.
● Known for their rock n’ roll inspired live performances, The Hocking River String Band will bring their powerful lyrics and bluegrass sounds up from Hocking County, Ohio.
To kick off the day, Vision Yoga & Wellness will lead a free, 60-minute, all levels Vinyasa yoga class onsite beginning at 1:00 pm. Once again the Hoedown is a family friendly event and welcomes all ages. There will be children’s activities including sidewalk chalk, Hoedown-themed photo ops, and jumbo games. The Music
Settlement’s Bob Stop is generously providing a “Musical Petting Zoo”, showcasing instruments for children to try out, hoping to spark an interest in music and the community!
For more information please visit, Facebook, and Twitter.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ernie Krivda. Requiem for a Jazz Lady

Ernie Krivda. Requiem for a Jazz Lady.
Capri Records, 2015.  Ernie Krivda:

Whether with his quartet or with the Fat Tuesday Big Band, Ernie Krivda is ubiquitous. He plays all around the region, from festivals to clubs to summer bandstand concerts, with an event in the area just about every week. He’s also prolific, having put out a new recording pretty much every year since the early 1990s. Try to keep up. This time out, the saxophonist works with a group of Detroit musicians with whom he’s had a long-term relationship.

The backstory of this album is fascinating. In the early 1960s, Krivda worked the jazz clubs of the region, one of a number of white musicians who played with black artists in a landscape that was racially complex. During that time, a young woman from his town of Garfield Heights was murdered, and he was recently contacted for information about her. This brought back a flood of memories for him and set him on the direction of this album, one that he calls “reflective.” I’d call the music noir, as it reminds me (as does the murder) of films from the postwar era in that black-and-white genre, but he might disagree. In any case, the style of music fits nicely in the bop milieu of the early 1960s, with elements of swing and R&B as well, forming what Krivda calls a “gumbo” that reflects all the various influences of music in the Rustbelt cities of the time.

Ernie in the 60s
He describes in the booklet both his life at the time and the songs he’s written or chosen for this album. Each has its own tempo, mood, and presence, but they all fit nicely together as a portrait of time and place. From the exuberance of “Questions” with its funky beat to the insistent push and strong melody of “The Remarkable Mr. Black” (dedicated to a Detroit pianist, with excellent solo by Lafayette Carthon), to the haunting ballad of the title track, it may be a gumbo but it’s all of a single tapestry. And a beautiful tapestry it is. The level of musicianship is consistently remarkable, and Krivda’s thick sax sound drapes over the whole affair like syrup. I love the sound, and have played this album numerous times at this point. It doesn’t fade in subsequent turns. I highly recommend this one for its evocation of the Cleveland jazz scene of earlier times, and for its all-around excellent playing.

Personnel: Ernie Krivda (tenor saxophone), Lafayette Carthon (piano), Marion Hayden (bass), Renell Gonsalves (drums).
Tracks: The Remarkable Mr. Black, I’ll Close My Eyes, Questions, Emerald, Great Lakes Gumbo, Little Face, Requiem for a Jazz Lady.

Jeff Wanser

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