Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Truth of the Matter

Antoine Dunn.  Truth of the Matter.  

AtoZ/Elite Music Group, 2012.Antoine Dunn:  http://antoinedunn.com/
Two words describe my feelings about Antoine Dunn’s debut album: “Incredibly Smooth”.  Many debut albums do not come with such delivery and at such high caliber.  Especially impressive is the fact that he is self-trained.   National respect and attention should be coming Antoine’s way soon.  Mark my words, this artist is the total package and is poised for huge future success.
Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, this 24 year old R&B artist has all the right pitches in his arsenal.  Are we talking about baseball you ask?  On the contrary, I am referring to his amazing vocal range and tone.  Antoine brings a refreshing blend of old and new, R&B and gospel that will keep you wanting more.  To be quite honest this was the first album in some time that made me want to listen straight through to its completion.  
The singles “Can’t Forget” and “Miss My Love” reached inside the Adult Contemporary top 20 and rightfully so.  There are segments of songs Like “Can’t Forget” where Motown flavor is present, Dunn’s voice almost sounding like Stevie Wonder’s.  The inspiration of artists like Donny Hathaway really shows in the performance of his songs.  I particularly like lyrics on all the songs as they deliver a very uplifting message and prove relevant to the listener.  All the songs are written and many performed (on piano) by Antoine Dunn and this shows the true talent he has in so many facets of music.  Stylistically, the tracks vary from popular music to gospel music to ballads.  All are done with an unprecedented amount of fluidity.  “Miss My Love” contains soothing tones, sensual vibrato and pain in the vocals.  I am a fan of many songs on this album but this one is a perfect example of how Antoine connects to his listeners with stories being told from the heart.  A tune like “I Just Want to Say” has a classic soft jazz feel characterized in the drumming style and piano work. The musicianship by Antoine and those who play on the tracks is incredible.  Bass guitar is such an important instrument.  The bass riffs are right in step with the groove.  “The Power of Love” is fitting for a drive on a sunny day or for listening to in the comfort of your own room at home.  
Each song on the album brings a new story and flavor to show off Antoine’s sound.  Truth of The Matter showcases the talented artist from the shores of Lake Erie.  It is not often that a great soul man comes along. Antoine is exactly that for this generation of listeners.  Everyone should give this album a listen.  I think you will find it a quite enjoyable experience.
Personnel: Antoine Dunn (All Lead Vocals) Audrey Maupin, Lisa A. Nicholas, Shamia Ruffin, Adrian Dunn, Katrina Marie Hawkins, Edwin Nicholas and Antoine Dunn (Background Vocals), Jack Winsett, Chris George, Edwin Nicholas, Steve Gordon and Alex Tyus (Acoustic and Electric Guitar) Edwin Nicholas (Bass Guitar) Jerry Lang II Rhodes, Antoine Dunn, Travis Payton, Edwin Nicholas, James Timbali Cornwell (Drums, Keyboards and Drum Programming) Antoine Dunn (Piano) Steven Fowler (Organ) Lem Adams (Vibes) Greg Adams (Strings) Hanne-Berit Hahnemannm (Violins) Linda Atherton (Cello)
Tracks: Can’t Forget, Back to You, It’s Over, Miss My Love, I Just Want To Say, Stand Tall, Power of Love, She Pleases Me, Sweet Lady, I Am, One Woman Man (I’m Ready), Truth of The Matter  
Andrew Martin

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sky Road Songs

Elliott Sharp’s Terraplane.  Sky Road Songs, with special guest Hubert Sumlin.
Yellowbird Records, 2012.  Sharp:  http://www.elliottsharp.com/

Stylistically, Elliott Sharp is either a brilliant multi-tasker, or all over the map, depending upon your point of  view and what kind of music you like.  He has made himself quite a name in avant-garde and experimental circles in New York, using mathematical concepts to compose his works.  He also performs jazz, blues, and techno, writes film music, makes sound installations, and plays several instruments as well as creating new ones.  Damn.  In some ways his career reminds me of James Blood Ulmer’s, bouncing back and forth between experimental and traditional forms.  Sky Road Songs is one of his blues-oriented releases, with Terraplane, and seems to be his latest, but he’s so prolific that it’s hard to keep up.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Sharp moved on to various places in New York State for musical study.  I don’t know if he comes back often.  He’s been part of the New York City music scene since the late 1970s, moving in whatever direction his muse takes him.  Sometimes it’s the blues, in electric style but hardly in the Chicago lineage.  As with everything else, he puts his own spin on things, with elements of psychedelic rock, jazz, and things not quite nameable in the mix.  The result is uniquely his in outline, but he clearly depends upon members of Terraplane, not just for instrumentation, but for songwriting as well, with Tracie Morris writing much of the lyrics for Sharp’s music and others contributing their own tunes.  They've been at it since the 90s. Joe Mardin, apparently new to the group, offers the closing tune, plays a lot of stuff, and helped record and produce.

The CD opens with a short intro piece with Sharp on various stringed instruments sounding like something from the John Fahey school.  “Endless Path” brings on the vocals, with Tracie Morris’s fine, edgy voice, backed by lots of electric guitar.  Other songs feature Eric Mingus or Joe Mardin on the singing chores, and all are very effective, each in their own way.  The lyrics tend to be on the more serious side--less about love and more commentary on the world.  “Down on the Block” is a good example, with Mingus growling about his environment, backed by the band driving like a machine.  We start to hear what could be labeled “psychedelic blues” with the next track, something that might have come from an early 70s progressive blues band, or perhaps Hendrix.  Sharp’s guitar soars again in the solos.  Hubert Sumlin, guesting on electric guitar, only appears on one track, “This House is for Sale,” and you can immediately tell the change in style to a more traditional one, and Mingus tries hard to sound more like Howlin’ Wolf (but nobody can).  Sumlin gets a solo, and as you’d expect, it’s great.  

The tracks continue, some getting more spacy (“Off the Hook”), some more jazzy (“Fade to Noir”), and some in the vein of blues rock (“I Blame You).  There’s a lot of variety with each song taking a different tack, and three vocalists trading off.  Nothing is easily anticipated, and every song is a unique experience.  Sharp provides the continuity with his stinging and crying guitar work, which never fails to intrigue.  This is a sophisticated take on the blues idiom, worthy of a wide audience.  (Note: Don't be fooled by the silence at the end of "Inward." "Banking Blues" will come along as a 'hidden' track.)

Performers:  Elliott Sharp (electric & acoustic guitars of various kinds, electronics, mandocello, mandolin, and other stuff), Tracie Morris (vocals), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Alex Harding (baritone sax), Dave Hofstra (electric bass), Don McKenzie (drums), Eric Mingus (vocals), Joe Mardin (vocals, drums, bass, chank guitar, vibraphone, vox harmonica, plastic bag percussion, shaker, handclaps, other stuff).  Songs by Elliott Sharp, Tracie Morris, Eric Mingus, and Joe Mardin, in various combinations.
Tracks:  Outward, Endless Path, Down on the Block, Dangerous Lands, Banking Blues, This House is for Sale, Fade to Noir, Off the Hook, Off My Mind, I Blame You, The Common Extreme, Sky Road Song, Inward, Banking Blues (alternate take).


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Honey Man

Hey Mavis.  Honey Man.

Hey Mavis, 2013.  Hey Mavis:  http://www.heymavis.com/fr_home.cfm

I’m sorry, this is unacceptable.  Self-released CDs are not supposed to be this good. This is a breakthrough album if ever there was one, and Hey Mavis deserves national attention, right now, immediately.  I’ve enjoyed their previous releases, especially their last one, Red Wine, but Honey Man is their best effort yet, and without doubt one of the best folk albums I’ve heard in several years.  No, I’m not a relative.

They work from multiple strengths.  Their musicianship is high-level on all counts.  I particularly notice Eddie Caner’s fiddle and and Laurie Michelle Caner’s banjo, but everyone does a fine job.  Of course, Brent Kirby and Bryan Thomas work with other groups and in other styles of music, and their expertise makes their contributions seamless.  The production and mixing are excellent, with most of the credit being given to Don Dixon.  The group offers a fascinating variety of moods, instruments, and voices (Laurie Michelle Caner and Brent Kirby share lead vocals), although the overall atmosphere seems to be one of melancholy.  I guess songs about lost love, broken hearts, separation, and leaving are likely to lend themselves to that.  Thank Laurie, since she wrote the songs (except for Brent’s “Let the Water Do the Work,” which is even more bleak).  

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Brent Kirby’s vocals are really good, and I especially enjoyed his lead on “Already Down,” which comes closest to rocking out on the album, and “Let the Water Do the Work” is a really fine song.  But Laurie Michelle Caner’s voice is simply irresistible, and sends what would be an otherwise excellent  album into the stratosphere.  She dominates every song where she leads, her high, sweet/salty voice alternately heartbreaking (“Say Hello to Paris”), regretful (“Little Lovebird”), and soaring (“By Your Side”).  And her singing on “Song for Suitors” is simultaneously strong and delicate, a neat trick.  But I have to make special mention of the title track, which is the crown of the album.  Frankly, I’d be amazed to find a more erotic song.  Caner’s voice drips sexuality and the torture of desperation, and her harmonies just add to the aching atmosphere.  I realize that the lyrics don’t apply, but I hope that somewhere in there she’s thinking about her husband.  Of course, I might be way off base, and this could just be a song about beekeeping.  

There are no fillers here.  Every song is excellent, each in its own way, with strength building upon strength, and each musician contributing to the whole.  This is a very satisfying album, and I urge you to give it a listen.

Personnel:  Laurie Michelle Caner (banjo, toy piano, lead and harmony vocals), Brent Kirby (guitar, harmonica, drums, lead and harmony vocals), Eddie Caner (violin, fiddle, viola profunda, string sections), Bryan Thomas (bass, Chank-o-Matic).

Tracks:  Say Hello to Paris, Honey Man, Already Down, Song for Suitors, Red Hot, By Your Side (Strength and Sword), Let the Water Do the Work, Little Lovebird, Some Old Day, Why Must I, Midnight Train.  Lyrics available on the band’s website.

The Grand Wazoo

Saturday, April 20, 2013

National Record Store Day

It's National Record Store Day! Support your local record store. Participating record stores are having specials and activities all day and evening.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Merely a Traveler on the Cosmic Path

Adam Rudolph and Ralph M. Jones
N’zungi a nzilla (Lembe Initiatory Proverb translated)
Merely a Traveler on the Cosmic Path
Meta Records, 2012. http://www.metarecords.com

Adam Rudolph grew up on the Southside of Chicago. He is a master percussionist, visual artist, and writer. In addition, Rudolph is a leader of World Music influenced by his experience of trance ceremonies in Ghana, and twenty-five years of global music study. Ralph M. Jones is a Faculty-in-Residence at the African Heritage House at Oberlin College. Besides his educational devotion to African American studies , he is a master flutist who has recorded and performed nationally and internationally.

These two amazing artists began their journey in sound after they met at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in 1974, when they were both scheduled alongside James Brown. They had instant chemistry, and became musical soulmates who understood each other musically and metaphorically. Perhaps this is because they have many similarities, such as indigenous music traditions, shared languages, and piercing spiritual strengths that they interweave into their music. It is remarkable how their musical tones, even the vibrations that seem discordant, transmit a spiritual intent to unlock the door of our consciousness.
As I listened to the music’s incisive stream of stimulating sounds and rhythms, it was like walking into a tunnel of modernity. Interfused with the percussion and wind instruments, are vibrant industrial sounds, traffic noise, and electronic blurts that are interrupted by unexpected silences. What makes the music fascinating is the way the artists temper the clamorous vibrations with the musical traditions of African, Indonesian and Raga. This mixture successfully captures the sound language of modern social life, while evoking an intense memory of naturalness. The call of the natural world is more evident  in their earlier recording, so I included it for background.  

Yeyi (yay-yee), Meta Records, 2010, an earlier recording by Adam Rudolph and Ralph M. Jones, is more primitive in its sound communication than Merely a Traveler on the Cosmic Path. The name Yeyi (yay-yee) indicates the yodeling of the Mbuti pygmies, who are one of the oldest indigenous people of Africa. For the listener it is easy to sense the forest and its inhabitants erupting into a disturbing struggle as they attempt to survive the upsurge of modernity. It is sometimes uncomfortable as the instruments and vibrations reveal the pain modern social life brought to nature.

Merely a Traveler on the Cosmic Path and Yeyi (yay-yee) are classified in the genre of jazz. Indeed, the flow of the musical tones engages one’s emotions rather than one’s intellect, as is characteristic of jazz. However, after repeatedly listening to the dramatic and spiritual vibrations of our modern culture present in both recordings, I began to think of this music as postmodern tribal music. Interestingly, no matter how many times I heard the recordings, none of the melodies remained with me, but the sensory impressions of modern social life remain in my consciousness.

I would recommend both recordings to anyone who is intrigued by World Music that is influenced by tribal rituals of indigenous cultures. Additionally, I believe it is significant to listen to the arrangements in the order that they were recorded with an open mind because it is truly a cosmic journey.

Personnel: Adam Rudolph: handrumset (kongos, djembe, tarijas, zabumba), thumb piano, cup gongs, gongs, kongo slit drum, glockenspiel, percussion and percussion samples, electronics and sinter
Ralph M. Jones: ney, hulusi, umtshingo, bamboo flutes, tenor and soprano saxophones, alto and c flutes, bass clarinet and piano.
Tracks: Merely a Traveler on the Cosmic Path: Spirit Voices, Storytelling, Illuminated, Rainbow rivers of Skin, Fragrance of Compassion, Ballad of Questions, Refracted Splendor, Spectrum, Calligraphic, Wanderings, Starlit, The Poetry of You, Those Who Know-Will Know, (Who is?) Love’s Lover
Yeyi (yay-yee): performed in a continuous flow and the titles are reference markers. Nectaric Vibrations, Aspects of Motion, Oshogbo, Dream Inflected, Leaf Writing, Celestial Space, forest Geometry, Kind Thoughts, Motherless Child, Thankfulness and Joy

Patsy Gunn

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Misery Jackals

Misery Jackals. No Place For Children.

Misery Jackals Records, 2013.
Misery Jackals: http://www.themiseryjackals.com/

What would eventually become Misery Jackals began coalescing in 1998, when Bill Corgan acquired a banjo.  In 2006, after the death of former bandmate Pat Beck, Corgan learned how to play said banjo, and started working with another colleague, Jeff Selzer.  The two initially stuck to traditional bluegrass and punk rock songs.  Tim Burrows came with 2007, and 2008 brought the Misery Jackals to fruition.  Mike Shubert, Stephanie Serna, Eric Baltrinic, Phil Frederick, and Ben Shuber also join the crew sporadically, and some members have moved on to other projects.  If you see the Misery Jackals perform more than once, chances are you’ll see more than one iteration of the members.  

What doesn’t change is their fabulous mix of punk, bluegrass, zydeco, and native/roots music that you’ll hear at a Misery Jackals concert.  That blend of influences changes from one song to the next on No Place for Children, but the songs are all pretty solid.  The lyrics range from caricature to stories based on real life.  All of the songs tend toward the darker range of humanity, but don’t mistake that for saying that the songs are depressing in any way.  The sound and subject of the album harkens dark carnival art, or circus sideshow freaks put to music- the oddity makes it enjoyable as a reprieve from serious matters in everyday life.  With the breadth of influences that shape Misery Jackals’ music, there’s a sound and a song for nearly every music lover.  Their performances usually feature a Chicken Man, and at times include such stunts as the accordion death match earlier this year, which began as a display of musical talent and ended in destruction.  There’s a reason the group has toured over much of North America, and that reason is enjoyable music and a good show.

Just as mixed-up and crazy as most family reunions, “My Family” is catchy, changeable, and sticks with you for the rest of the day, and the final reprise is a great capstone for the album.  “Patrick” has a definite bluegrass feel, and the vocals have a hearty down-home feel to match the tale of the downtrodden, while the horns and banjo are a sort of wakeful liveliness.  Wandering more into punk feel, the vocals on Skunk Ape are ragged over top of jovial picking and drums.  “La Muerte por el Perrero” brings images of a Dia de Los Muertos mariachi band to mind, complete with sugar skulls dripping morbid sweetness.  Continuing this circus side-show theme is “Josephine,” for which I can’t think of a better description than death-metal calliope music at times (I say that as a compliment).  “The Mortuary Bop” is straight up odd but tons of fun, with backup singers reminiscent of Dan Hick’s Hot Licks, and solid guitar.  The back up singers are also found in “Don’t Remember Me,” but banjo is more prevalent and this song is slightly less bipolar with a more consistent minor tone, but a higher ending.  The title track begins with a liturgical sounding drone before launching into solid punkabilly rock for the duration.  “Pirates of the North Coast” may be the first sea shanty to originate and feature Ohio in recent memory, but the combination of Midwest state and island-culture is nothing new, and holds attention.  The story of “Sick Rick” is one that probably everyone knows, the degenerate friend that’s going through a rough patch.  “Mudflap Girl” is edgier and more musically varied than most country songs on the radio, but draws from that vein with references to truckers, banjo, guitar, and twang.  The only song on No Place for Children, that isn’t a Misery Jackals original is “Liquor and Whores,” written by Trailer Park Boys.  This rendition is solid, and just as debauched and swaying as a bachelor party styled song can get.  “Trapper Jack” has very thick, deep vocals, and a pace that varies considerably, much like the chase and flight that it embodies.  

I can easily say that this album is worth a listen to nearly anyone except religiously conservative people and classical-only listeners.  For the rest of the world, if nothing else the stories in these songs are worth the time, and you’ll probably find something enjoyable with such broad flavors.  From an academic standpoint, it’s interesting to see how such a wide range of inspiration material becomes a unique sound as found in the Misery Jackals.

Personnel: Bill Corgan (A.K.A. Sweet Willy C.; banjo, vocals), Jeff Selzer (A.K.A. Beener Nix; guitar, vocals), Tim Burrows (A.K.A. Doghouse Tim; contrabass, vocals), Ben Shuber (A.K.A. Shubes; accordion, piano, vocals), Eric Baltinic (percussion, vocals), David Badagnani (fiddle), Pete Wildman (tuba), Ryan Foltz (horns), Aubrey Nicole Bunnenberg (vocals).

Tracks: My Family, Patrick, Skunk Ape, La Muerte por el Perrero, Josephine, The Mortuaty Bop, Don’t Remember Me, No Place for Children, Pirates of the North Coast, Sick Rick, Mudflap Girl, Liquor and Whores, Trapper Jack, My Family (reprise).

Lisa Regula Meyer

Sunday, April 7, 2013

March Additions to the Collection

March Additions to the Collection
Here’s another list of older CDs we added to the Hiram College Library’s collection of Northeast Ohio music:

Pop & Rock
Cletus Black.  Black Ice.
Devo.  New Traditionalists.
Steve McClain.  Good/Days.
My Dad is Dead.  Out of Sight, Out of Mind.
Ringworm.  Justice Replaced by Revenge.
Speedbumps.  The Moon is Down.
Charlie Wiener.  Small Truths for Sale.

Country, Folk & Blues
The Waxwings Stringband.  The Waxwings Stringband.
Mr. Downchild & the Houserockers.  Steppin’ on Time.

Dave Sterner Quintet.  Sidetracked.

We are nearing 750 CDs in the Northeast Ohio Music Collection.  For those not affiliated with the college, these can be borrowed through OhioLINK (if you are on an Ohio college or university campus), or either SearchOhio or Interlibrary Loan (through your local public library). Please be gentle.

P.S. Notice that we hit 3,000 page views. YAAAY!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Handel: Dixit Dominus

Handel: Dixit Dominus; Zadok the Priest; Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra and Apollo’s Singers, conducted by Jeannette Sorrell,  with Kiera Duffy, soprano, and Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano. (Avie: AV2270).
Apollo’s Fire:  http://www.apollosfire.org/

In the upper Midwest, monoculture of potatoes and corn (primarily to supply fast food franchises) threatens to obliterate entire crops someday. Similarly, the juggernaut of Yuletide performances of Handel’s "Messiah," to the exclusion of virtually any other choral works of any magnitude, threatens to bury the rich baroque choral tradition of Georg Friedrich Handel and many of his contemporaries. Particularly in the United States, under-rehearsed, gargantuan performances––or worse, “Sings” where little or no rehearsal or preparation is expected or even desired––cast a pall over the broad variety of Handel’s choral oeuvre.  So sing a loud  Hosanna to Cleveland’s resident early music band, “Apollo’s Fire,” for their release of a period performance of four of his shorter, but nonetheless important choral achievements: “Dixit Dominus,” “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (“Eternal Source of Light Divine”),” “The Lord Shall Reign,” and “Zadok the Priest.”
The disc begins with a stunning and wonderful surprise: a timpani processional, “Batteries de timbales” of J. D. Philidor, played by the superb Matthew Bassett, that sets the listener up for the audio feast that follows. (If any couple should want to forego Mendelssohn for a wedding processional, take a gander at this for maximum attention-getting!). What follows under the expert direction of conductor (and founder) Jeannette Sorrell is a cross section of the variety of Handel’s choral output over several decades in his early career.
What you will hear never smacks of pedantic authentic performance practice, though, indeed, the size of the forces and the instruments used are all authentic.  The choral singing is full-bodied and exuberant, the soloists––even when occasionally leaning toward more modern singing practice (i.e. perhaps a tad less vibrato at times might be welcomed)––all bring an excitement to the works that will bear listening to many times over.
The least familiar of the works to the average concert-goer is unquestionably the “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne” (according to the fine notes included with the disc, intended for her 48th birthday in 1713 but never performed). Although it is an “occasional piece,” written by a young German composer for a British monarch, to a text that manages to rise beyond the sometimes painful, embarrassing odes written to celebrate state events, the music is superb, wonderfully varied, and in the final chorus that celebrates “The day that gave great Anna birth” quite dignified and even moving. We can only hope that when she recovered the indisposition that caused the performance to be cancelled, she had an opportunity to hear it,  especially sung as beautifully as it is here.
This disc is altogether a gem. It will serve as a wonderful antidote at that time of year when every classical music station, every concert hall, and every church from hamlet to megalopolis seems capable only of yet one more tired, uninspired read-through of "Messiah."

David Anderson