Saturday, August 31, 2013

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

Our additions to the Northeast Ohio part of the library's collection continue to move along at a steady pace, closing in on 800 CDs. We should hit the magic 1,000 number sometime next year. These are the ones that were a bit too old to review.

Jim Brickman. Destiny. (1999 album from this easy listening artist)
Cellbound. Fallen Angels of Sui Caedere. (Some heavy metal, of course!)
Cobra Verde. Haven't Slept All Year. (Alternative garage from 2008)
Devo. Duty Now for the Future. (1979 album)
The David Mayfield Parade. The David Mayfield Parade. (Their first)
Kate Voegele.  The Other Side.  (A release from 2003, before she left Cleveland)
High School Rock Off, Volumes 1 & 2.  (From the earliest of these annual events)
The Sojourners.  Let’s All Go On!  (Singing group associated with The Church of Cleveland)
Lev Polyakin.  Russian Blue.  (The violinist is joined by Bob Fraser, guitar, and the Mike Petrone Trio)
Andrew Rindfleisch.  Choral Works.  (Performed by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble)


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Elias and the Error: Help Yourself

Elias and the Error.  Help Yourself.
Self-produced, 2013.   Elias and the Error:

Elias Gowins describes Elias and the Error as alternately, a project, and theatrical electronic rock music, and avant-garde pop.  Okay.  It took me awhile to get this all straight, because there is a band pictured on the CD sleeve, but they are not the Error.  They are the musicians who work with Elias in concert.  The Error is an artistic collective who do video, photography, costuming, and other smart stuff, all based in Canton.  For the album, Elias seems to be the sole performer.  In preparation for reviewing this album, I listened to the previous release, an EP called Americans.  It has three tracks of mostly punk music, with some electronica thrown in.  Pretty good, but it’s hard to get a good feel of an artist from three tunes.  Help Yourself has eleven, and gives me a much better idea (I think) as to where this is all coming from.  This is also his eleventh release.

At first listen, I would describe his music as a chaotic cross among several styles, including punk, new wave, and electronica.  Imagine Ric Ocasek and Ian Dury singing over tunes written by Gary Numan, with a touch of Devo.  Elias sings better than Dury, but perhaps not as well as Ocasek, and some of the tunes are not very Numan-like.  But Elias isn’t focused on sex, drugs, and rock & roll, or even love, although Numan’s alienation is certainly present.  Help Yourself takes us to a deeper place, the realms of mental illness.  All of the tracks lyrically relate to the topic, from the opening tune, “As I was Going to St. Clair,” about being dropped off at a mental health institution (with some degree of comedic flair), to the feelings of helplessness of the title track, to the relatively hopeful final song, “Unfamiliar Optimistic View” (again, a bit of humor present).  He covers a wide array of apparently self-confessional issues, including depression, suicide, and gender identity.  I appreciate the honesty and forthrightness in his songwriting.

Musically, the songs are pretty good, varying in impact, from the strong electropop of “Let the Music Go,” to the almost Queen-like “Invective Vows Implied Consent,” to the rocketing Zero-Son, the Mercurial.  There are lots of rhythm changes, lots of pivoting within songs, and a good deal to think about.  Much of it is loud, if that makes any difference.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this, and was ready to dismiss it as just a mess, but closer listening revealed considerable talent and skill in a postmodern vein.  Elias and the Error has apparently achieved a loyal following, and this album may continue to cement that loyalty.  Given the Error’s emphasis on visual arts, I suspect that the best way to experience Elias and the Error is in concert.  Here’s a taste:

Personnel:  Elias Gowins, (also, Mike Bianchi (drums), Sandra Emmeline (keytar, piano), and Zak Keith (guitar), when in performance), the Error (an artistic collective).
Tracks:  As I was Going to St. Clair; Utik; Gelobtes Land; Satic Onanism; Let the Music Go; Invective Vows Implied Consent; Zero-Son, the Mercurial; Good Morning, Master; Depraved Indifference; Help Yourself; Unfamiliar Optimistic View.

The Grand Wazoo

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Demos Papadimas. Wanderin' through the Wilderness

Demos Papadimas.  Wanderin’ through the Wilderness.
Self-released, 2013.   Demos Papadimas:

About every twenty minutes, somebody comes along who’s been labelled the “new Bob Dylan.” Demos Papadimas is one of them, and there is some resemblance, both positive and negative. However, there’s a lot more there than that facile comparison suggests.  I think he’ll weather that storm, and move on.  Recently listed by Cleveland Scene as one of their “13 Bands to Watch in 2013” (, along with various other accolades, he’s certainly on the move.  Based in Howland (that’s near Warren, for all you Clevelanders who don’t have a map handy), Papadimas got his start in New York City clubs, and in touring the East Coast.  He’s also lived in Europe, traveling and writing songs, good credentials for a singer-songwriter.  Papadimas lists his influences as Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Gypsy music, and Greek Rembetiko.  

His new CD is a 12-pack of mostly short songs, which vary considerably in style, but all (except the instrumental “Minore Tis Avgis”) are held together by his voice, a good, strong, clear tenor, heavily reminiscent of Mr. Dylan when he wants it to be, but he can also sing differently.  The Dylan imitation is most evident on the first and fourth tracks, especially “How Long” where he’s in full harmonica.  On other songs, he sounds more naturally himself (I guess it’s him).  He also does impressive Americana tunes (“Oh Persephone,” “If I Had Religion,” “Wasted Days”) that sound more like Guthrie or some of the Lubbock, Texas guys.  Where he differs from most is in songs with tango, Cajun, and Greek influences, which are refreshing and unusual.  

“Barrier Doors” is where he begins to change things up, with accompanying tango rhythm and violin.  The lyrics, as with most of his songs, deal with sadness and disappointment (although some speak of travel, probably to get away from sadness and disappointment).  The Cajun influence is found in “Winds Foul and Fair,” a spritely tune that doesn’t fit the sentiment of the lyrics, sending a mixed message.  “Poor Boy Blues” (the only non-original) throws harmonica on top of some bluegrass, and is the most rocking tune on the album.  Papadimos’ own roots show up in the last two tracks, the Rembetiko instrumental, “Minore Tis Avgis,” and “Weary Words,” a solid ballad that tops off this fine album.  I’d have to say that my favorite tracks are the last and “If I Had Religion,” both strongly featuring his voice, his playing, and his band’s abilities.

After listening to this CD three times, I find I like it more each time.  Papadimas’ songs started to stick, and now I can’t get them out of my head.  I suspect that’s a good sign.  He’s got a show coming up next month in Kent.  Check him out.

Personnel:  Demos Papadimas (vocals, resonator and acoustic guitars, harmonica, bouzouki), Brian Dozoretz (upright bass, tracks 1, 2, 3, 4,  12), Ethan Jodziewicz (upright bass, tracks 5, 6,  7, 8, 9), Dana Billings (drums), Laurie Hart (violin, tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 7), Rosie Newton (violin, tracks 1, 8), Bob Alexander (accordion, tracks 3, 6, 9, 12), Harry Aceto (mandolin, track 9).
Tracks:  How Long?, If I Had Religion, Barrier Doors, Double Knots, Wasted Days, Winds Foul and Fair, In all the Years, Poor Boy Blues, Oh Persephone, Wanderin’ through the Wilderness, Minore Tis Avis, Weary Words.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Macy Gray: Talking Book

Macy Gray.  Talking Book.
429 Records, 2012.   Macy Gray:

Anytime a musical artist takes on the task of covering another artist's work, there is a certain amount of risk involved. And when the work being covered is something as well known as Stevie Wonder's Talking Book, which includes tracks such as “You the Sunshine of My Life” and “Superstition,”  the risk rises exponentially. Macy Gray sends a "love letter" to Stevie Wonder on the 40th anniversary of his 1972 release Talking Book. Gray is not shy about this endeavor. She not only covers the "hits" but the entire album track for track. If this shows anything at all about Gray, it indicates she is a risk taker at the very least. It speaks volumes about her appreciation of the effect that Wonder has had on her career.

Please allow the novice reviewer a little leeway in the following observations:
1) As for Ms. Gray's singing voice, she herself has stated that she hates it. As one New Yorker magazine reviewer said, "It's like honey with a few of the stingers left in it." So, get over it.
2) Few recording artists have the vocal pipes of a Stevie Wonder, especially in their prime.
3) Nearly all recording artists have augmented their voices either via technology or the producer's/recording engineer's input.
It's this third observation that really comes to the forefront on this particular recording. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account for each track on this CD, the sum total is a very mixed bag.
There are a few generalities that really stand out. The production on Macy Gray too often allows the instrumentals, backup singers and the level of echo to drown out her vocals. This is particularly noticeable on “You've Got It Bad Girl,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and especially “Superstition.” Let’s examine this last track. In Mr. Wonder's version his work with the synthesizer, his clear give-and-take with the horns section and the instrumental in general are the strong points that provide the funk on this track. One expects some dramatic and creative license on a tribute album. There's a balance to avoid reinventing the wheel and the pressure to surpass the original. In this instance,  Ms. Gray's slower tempo which gives the track a dreamier twist, is again thwarted in the mixing as it overwhelms her voice to the point where the vocal overdubbing becomes a distraction.  

Macy Gray really shines the on the ballads, most notably on “Big Brother,” as her voice is very suitable to the original. On this piece, the percussion and rhythm sections truly shine. In “Blame It on the Sun,” the clear vocals and gospel like backup singing truly do justice to Stevie Wonder's version. Another high point for her vocal range is “Looking for Another Pure Love.”
The final track on the album, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love)” is truly the high point of this     
endeavor. The harmony on both renditions are complementary and on Gray's version the choir
like backup is a positive addition.
To conclude, other than the over-exuberance of the engineering, to release a complete cover album of a legend is a tough row to hoe. North Canton's Macy Gray deserves credit not only for the attempt, but also the results.

Performers:  Macy Gray (vocals), Zoux (Hammond, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, clavinet, Moog, programing), Mike Torres (bass), Martin Estrada (acoustic and electric guitars), Ronald “RJ” Kelly (drums), Marina Bambino (percussion), Dan Brantigan (trumpets), various backing vocalists.  
Tracks:  You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Maybe Your Baby, You and I (We Can Conquer the World), Tuesday Heartbreak, You’ve Got It Bad Girl, Superstition, Big Brother, Blame It on the Sun, Lookin’ for Another Pure Love, I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Raccoon County Music Festival 2013

Raccoon County Music Festival, Saturday, August 17, 2013

It’s tough to review a music festival, at least if you’re only one person.  There’s too much going on, too many activities, other distractions (meeting up with friends, food, necessary restroom visits), and more than one stage, whether official or impromptu.  And if you leave before it’s over, you miss some stuff.  This year’s Raccoon County Music Festival in Burton, Ohio was no different.  For this review I’ll have to stick to the main stage, from Noon to 6 pm, so I was able to see six scheduled acts.

The RCMF is a Geauga County institution of sorts, begun in 1977, running until 1989, then sporadically through 1999, then re-emerging in 2006.  I’m glad it’s back, because it showcases local musicians (some out-of-towners too) in the relaxed setting of the grounds of Century Village, the architectural manifestation of the Geauga County Historical Society.  So, along with the music you can visit the various buildings on the property, watch the blacksmith work, and enjoy the amazing vista to the east.  The weather was simply wonderful, with sunny skies, not too hot, with a pleasant breeze.  

The music kicked off at Noon, after announcements from perennial and tireless organizer Pete McDonald, and the entertaining M.C. Bill Kennedy, who among other things, is a DJ on WCSB.  First up was Hupalowsky & the Slackers, an area polka band.  Paul Hupalowsky is a Parma boy, and has played accordion with various bands for years.  I was somewhat disappointed this time out, partly because of the choice of time-worn tunes (do we really ever need to hear “Too Fat Polka” again?), but also because the band members seemed to get lost a couple of times, and that didn’t help things.  Combined with a seeming lack of energy, their performance was lackluster.  Things picked up at a rapid rate with Harmonia, the Eastern European music group from the Cleveland area.  With dazzling pyrotechnics from Alexander Fedoriouk on cimbalom, and hairpin-tight work from the other musicians, they ran through a set of Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and other dance tunes at breakneck speed.  They did a polka too, and it was better than anything the previous band played.  The only part missing was their lead singer, Beata Begeniova.

Harmonia (photo not from the festival)
Mike Eberle & Friends turned out to be Mike Eberle & Friend.  The fiddler was accompanied by a guitarist whose name I didn’t catch.  They sounded pretty good, playing a selection of old-time music.  It was at this point that food and friends interrupted my concentration, so I can’t say much more about them.  When my wife and I went to get ice cream, there was a pickup group playing similar music right next to the booth, and they were good enough to be on the stage.  Similar casual sessions were going on around the grounds, and I caught a few moments of some Cajun music next to another booth.  Sad to say, I missed the fiddle contest and the performances in the church.  There were also workshops on clogging, bluegrass banjo, and old-time banjo.  

Next up on the main stage was Rebekah Jean, a rising local performer who was described in the program as “bluegrass/original.”  I’m not sure that it captures her style, since her voice reminded me more of Dolly Parton’s mountain-style, and much of her music seemed pretty straight country, with a twist of alt.folk.  She did a fine job, and sang mostly originals with a few covers.  There will be more to say about her soon on this blog.

Wallace Coleman, one of the last old men of the Cleveland blues scene, came on to perform an enjoyable mix of songs with his band.  He’s an excellent singer and a great harmonica player.  Finally, Stand Bayou came to the stage with some very good Cajun music.  They had a clear, sweet sound that I enjoyed a lot.  I’m sorry that I missed the winner of the fiddle contest performing at 6, and the sacred harp singing in the church.  So many choices.

The Raccoon County Music Festival goes on every year about the same time.  I highly recommend it for the music, the friendly atmosphere (lots of kids), and the beautiful setting.  Oh, and they have beer.

Wallace Coleman (photo not from festival)
Jeff Wanser

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Les Délices: Myths & Allegories
Les Délices, 2012.  Les Délices:

This recording delights the ear with historically informed style, instruments that beautifully blend and contrast, and musicians with years of experience playing together.  Les Délices is dedicated to research and performance of French Baroque music from the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV.  Here the ensemble offers rarely-heard works by early 18th-century Paris and Versailles composers, several in arrangements created by the group (as was standard Baroque practice).  The instruments are reproductions of historic models with appropriate tuning and temperament.  
The works included on Myths & Allegories are dance suites and cantatas with themes drawn from Homer’s epic about Ulysses and his long journey home to the faithful Penelope.   These include “Ulysse”  and “La Fidelle” by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747); “Les Sirènes” by Thomas-Louis Bourgeois (1676-1750); “Cinquième Suite ‘La Guerre’” by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737); and “Le Sommeil d’Ulisse” by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729).  Debra Nagy has written extensive notes explaining how each reflects different aspects of the Ulysses saga.  These range from Montéclair’s programmatic instrumental suite depicting moods of battle, to Ulysses’ escape from the wrath of Neptune through magical sleep in the cantata by de la Guerre—one of the rare female composers of earlier eras to be remembered.
All the musicians on this disc have excellent credentials and the instrumentalists play together with astounding unanimity of tempo, rhythm, and pitch.  They improvise and elaborate with assurance as the texture constantly varies from one to five voices, producing a web of color.  The always-elegant violin playing of Julie Andrijeski is memorable here but all play at the highest level.
Alas, putting the human voice into such a happy mix is often problematic.  To this reviewer’s ear the vocalist has rather over-generous vibrato and less than the fairy nimbleness required of this repertoire.  One wishes that the final two tracks of the recording were reversed, ending with not a vocal air but with a chaconne—a much longer chaconne—as these calm dreamy dances are arguably the most magnificent remnants of the Sun King’s reign.
This recording is highly recommended.
Personnel:  Debra Nagy (baroque oboe & recorder), Julie Andrijeski (violin), Emily Walhout (viola da gamba), Michael Sponseller (harpsichord), Clara Rottsolk (soprano).
Recorded in Harkness Chapel, Case Western Reserve University, March 2012.

Tina Spencer Dreisbach

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Darker Shore: The Mechaphysik

The Darker Shore.  The Mechaphysik.
Love Muffin, 2011.  The Darker Shore:

Describing themselves as “hard rock, progressive rock, art rock, metal” on their web page leaves The Darker Shore with a lot of territory to explore.  They also use the phrase “eschewing the stagnant norms of typical groups,” which means that they’re smart guys.  However, I had to go to the web page to get any info on the band because there are no notes with the CD.  Maybe not so smart.  I was wondering if they still exist as a band, since their web site lists shows from 2012, but their Facebook page tells us that they’re in the studio for a new album.  I’d better get this review out now.

The Cleveland band is indeed a very good hard rock group, with tinges of all that other stuff, especially traditional metal, although all that other stuff counts because it does set them apart from other bands.  Their sound is sophisticated, informed by a variety of styles.  One might write them off as just another metal band with the title track, but wait.  The guitarist is hitting chords that are reminiscent of surf music (to me), recalling Dick Dale.   While Eric Scott has a rather deep voice, he eschews the distorted vocals of some groups.  Their songs are generally of the gloomy variety, but the lyrics suggest deeper thoughts.  “Divider” takes on contemporary issues (with a delivery that is disturbingly like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in some spots), although all the songs seem to reference alienation and coping with an indifferent universe in a way Mr. Joel never would.  “EGR” seems to be led by the drummer, Nick Lammarino, with some unusual time signatures.  Time changes in “Dirt Harvest” suggest the art rock influences they mentioned, and includes very nice solo by bassist Jay Ketchaver.  I like the fact that he gets a number of chances to lead off or take over.  Songs alternate between pulverizing and the thoughtful/melancholy, and a few combine the two, although the music never stops its forward motion.  

The latter portion of the album includes two slower tracks, which are the ones I like best.  They display power without the pyrotechnical displays that are featured in earlier tracks, although those are enjoyable too.  “Dragging a Body” and “Dark House” show how much musical prowess the band has, and takes us into the progressive/art rock that they promised.  The former has a Led Zeppelin quality to it, with significant contributions by everyone.  The latter is the longest song, at eleven minutes, and recalls some of the lengthy tracks on the Doors’ early albums.  “Dark House” is particularly enjoyable in its atmospheric qualities.  Scott even gets on his Jim Morrison to some degree, and Tony Klein’s guitar sounds a bit like Robbie Krieger’s.  Very enjoyable trance music.  “Wee Wah” closes out with distortion, soaring guitar solos, and all-around bombast.  

The Darker Shore is a fine band, and The Mechaphysik an excellent start.  I hope their new album takes them to new heights.

Personnel:  Eric Scott (Story Teller/vocals), Tony Klein (Technical Guide/guitar), Jay Ketchaver (Atmospherics/bass), Nick Lammarino (Sensory Exploration/drums).
Tracks:  The Darker Shore, Divider, EGR, Dirt Harvest, My Mechanical Brain, Ne Plus Ultra?, Dragging a Body, Dark House, Wee Wah.

The Grand Wazoo

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dan Miraldi: The Freewheelin' Dan Miraldi

Dan Miraldi.  The Freewheelin’ Dan Miraldi.
DM Experience This Music LLC, 2013.  Dan Miraldi:

You might have guessed from the title of Miraldi’s new EP that the cover would be a take on Bob Dylan’s album.  He certainly includes Dylan as one of his major influences, but on first listen, it seems that, aside from the acoustic turn this time around, his sound lies elsewhere, but not far away.  Thematically, he does indeed resemble Dylan, often singing small vignettes that suggest larger themes related to love, tragedy, and justice.  It works well for him.  This six-song release includes three new songs and three alternate takes from previous albums.  I reviewed his last album, Sugar & Adrenaline, a rocker that I liked a lot.  This one slows the pace with an acoustic approach that gives us a different picture of the artist.

The opener, “Out of Eden,” begins to mind not so much Bob Dylan as Buddy Holly, or possibly Jonathan Richman doing Buddy Holly.  Rockabilly with punk sensibilities.  Miraldi has this youthful, innocent voice that rings clear as a bell, rather than the mumbling world-weary hipster approach of the early Dylan.  “The Folk Singer is Dead” is closer to Dylan in content, but more Byrds-like in delivery, especially since he relies on vocal harmonies with his band mates (no jangly guitar though).  The song is sad, but with elements of dark humor that dovetail nicely.  “Ex-Girlfriend” sounds even more like the Byrds doing Dylan, another song combining love, sadness, humor, and irony.

When Miraldi sings “I’ve seen it all” in “The Holy Roller Stone Revival” the sentiment tends to get cancelled out by his voice.  He needs to try the song again in ten years.  The last two tunes appeared on previous albums and they still sound great here.  “Thirsty” is a fine love song, and “More & More” gets us back into Americana/rockabilly territory, which seems to be his comfort zone.

The songs are great, the singer is great.  I haven’t mentioned the band, but they’re great too, a very tight unit that backs Miraldi beautifully.  I’m very impressed with Miraldi’s work.  He is maturing as an artist and has a fresh, clean sound that ought to take him to national prominence.  Listen to this guy.  If the larger market can glance away from hip hop/dance pop, he might just be the next big thing.

Personnel:  Dan Miraldi (vocals, guitar, bass, keys, percussion), Alex Bowers, guitar, bass, keys, vocals), Joe LaGuardia (bass), Sarah Luffred (drums, percussion, vocals).
Tracks:  Out of Eden, The Folk Singer is Dead, Ex-Girlfriend, The Holy Roller Stone Revival, Thirsty, More & More.