Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rock Salt and Nails. Run to the River.

Rock Salt and Nails.  Run to the River.
Rock Salt and Nails, 2014.   Website:

We posted a review of the debut album by this band from the Alliance area about six months ago, and here they are, back again with a new CD.  The band members are the same, all talented and enthusiastic, and they continue to plow the fields of traditional folk music with a mix of old tunes, originals, and songs by such artists as Si Kahn, Utah Phillips, Guy Clark, and Rosanne Cash.  As with the first album, they trade vocal leads, and although I can’t tell if everyone sings lead, it sounds like it (they gave credits on the last album).  The variety of voices is one of the highlights of the album, providing a new and fascinating mix of leads and harmonies on each track.  

I won’t run through all of the 20 tracks on the album, but instead, I’ll make do with overall impressions and mention my favorites.  As with the first album, the musicianship is stellar.  The combination of guitars, mandolins, banjo, and bass vary with each song, personalizing the tune with a unique signature.  Second, the harmonies are just lovely, the combined voices making each song come alive behind the lead vocalist.  Finally, each of the vocalists has a particular strength, whether it be the timber of the voice, the emotive quality, or the phrasing.  

First, the covers.  I was expecting the Phillips tune, “Rock Salt and Nails,” to show up on the first album, but here it is as the opening track.  and it’s beautifully done.  “Gone Gonna Rise Again” is a pleasant surprise.  I have never been a big fan of Si Kahn (something about his voice bugs me), but the group does a magnificent job on his song.  “Worried Man,” a Rosanne Cash song is a dandy, rather jaunty in style for an essay on anxiety.  “Stuff that Works” is a song that is both clever and poignant, written by two of my favorite songwriters, Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell.  The last of these I will mention, “Unchained,” is by a younger songwriter, Jude Johnstone, and is a quality song, finely done.  These days we often see a stark demarcation between country and folk music, but Rock Salt and Nails cares little for these distinctions, to their credit.

Of the original tunes, I was particularly impressed by Ann Hendel’s “Obsession,” a bleak ballad of love lost at sea.  “Empty Bottle,” by Priscilla Roggenkamp has a cheery sound bolstered by the mandolin, but the lyrics speak of loneliness and solace in alcohol.  The title track is another song by her, and is equally dark, but equally delightful (if that’s the right word), in the form of a warning of bad things coming.  “My Love,” by Andy Dutter and Ann Hendel, is a lovely ballad with sweet harmonies that has lasted in my head long after listening to it.  The group finishes off with a beautiful instrumental also written by Andy Dutter.

The album has a somewhat darker overall tone to it than the first release, not in terms of recorded sound (which is excellent), but in the choice of songs, from “Dark Hollow” to “Empty Bottle” to “Worried Man” to “Obsession.”  But I guess that’s one of the hazards of folk music.  It’s a pleasure to hear this group again on another batch of great songs.

Personnel:  Keith McMahon (guitar, mandolin), Andy Dutter (guitar, mandolin), Ann Hendel (banjo), Jim Dutter (guitar), Priscilla Roggenkamp (bass).  Vocals by all.
Tracks:  Rock Salt and Nails, Gone Gonna Rise Again, New Railroad, Dark Hollow, Empty Bottle, Fannin Street, You Went Away, Nevada Jane, Unchained, Falling, Hole in the Day, Run to the River, Stuff that Works, Caledonia, Uncle Jack, I Often Feel this Way, Worried Man, Obsession, My Love, Leona/Simone.

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chrissie Hynde. Stockholm.

Chrissie Hynde.  Stockholm.
Caroline International, 2014.  Chrissie Hynde:

I still recall my introduction to Chrissie Hynde’s voice, hearing “Brass in Pocket” on the radio in 1979.  I soon got the first Pretenders album as a gift from a friend, and loved it.  It became part of the soundtrack of my often bleak graduate school existence (in a galaxy far away--I swear I will write a book about it all), along with the Cars, Gary Numan, Dire Straits, and Blondie.  You can’t shake music as memory and Hynde’s voice is imprinted on my love life.  I hope she doesn’t find that disturbing.  Shortly after I moved to Ohio, “Where Did My City Go” became a hit as I acclimated to the Rust Belt.  I was excited when I heard that Hynde was putting out a new album, and decided to review it rather than pass it off to another writer.  

Hynde’s voice has changed little, which is a big part of the charm of this album.  I’ve always found her sound unique, tough, sexy, and slightly off-kilter, and I’m glad she’s still got it.  The music is a bit different from earlier albums, probably reflecting both her changing collaborators, in this case Björn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn & John), and her changing tastes through time.  The title of the album refers to where she recorded it with Yttling.  Here, the songs tend to be just a bit less hard-edged than on earlier albums (although there are exceptions), and she seems more willing to let her vocals be structured by the music rather than spill all over it in chaotic bursts.  Both styles are effective, so I’m happy either way.  Ytlling dominates the album from a musical perspective (just look at the list of instruments he plays) and he co-wrote many of the songs.  It’s still Hynde’s album all the way

The songs are great, filled with hooks and riffs that are memorable, and I would peg several for serious hits if only there were still singles charts that mattered.  The opening track, “You or No One,” is retro, not to the late 70s, but more to the 60s, with a Phil Spector-like sound.  Her voice slips and slides all over the song, with nice background vocals.  I put “Like in the Movies” in the same category, not so much for a retro sound (a little), but for the effect, a somewhat pop-oriented tune that I find infectious.  Then you’re suddenly thrown right into a much heavier song, “Down the Wrong Way,” and there’s no mistaking  the guitar of Neil Young.  Well put-together, with just the right balance between vocals and instruments, it’s one of my favorites on the album.  This is followed by “You’re the One,” a more synth-oriented tune that is a serious earworm, followed by “A Plan too Far,” with quite good guitar work by John McEnroe.  Impressive.  “Sweet Nuthin’”  is a real head-bopper and another favorite.  

Hynde does three ballads here, and they make for a nice change-up from the power pop of the rest of the album.  “It’s a Miracle,” is a fine tune, well-delivered, although a couple of riffs seem to be lifted from “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Tourniquet” sounds similar musically.  “Adding the Blue” is the closer, and it’s a real beauty, the best of the three, and anthemic in style.  Lyrically, a few of the songs suffer from the overuse of cliche phrases, but they can be overlooked easily.  Hynde is a bit less acerbic than she used to be, but only on average. Some songs are sadly sweet while others are still full of spit and sass.

Rolling Stone gave the release 3 ½ stars and Pitchfork scored it 5.8.  Screw that.  This is a much better album than they’re willing to give Hynde credit for. I discovered a treasure trove of fine songs, and fans of Hynde’s work should find plenty to enjoy.

Personnel:  Chrissie Hynde (vocals), Björn Yttling (electric bass, acoustic guitar, piano, synth, electric guitar, organ, percussion, mellotron, celeste), Joakim Ählund (guitar, backing vocals), John Eriksson (drums, percussion), Niklas Gabrielsson (drums), Nino Keller (drums, backing vocals), Ulf Engstrom (bass, backing vocals), Mattias Bostrom (electric guitar), Neil Young (electric guitar), John McEnroe (electric guitar), Andreas Pettersson (steel guitar), Petter Axelsson (viola), Andreas Forsman (violin), Conny Lindgren (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello, saw), Zacharias Blad (backing vocals).
Tracks:  You or No One, Dark Sunglasses, Like in the Movies, Down the Wrong Way, You’re the One, A Plan too Far, In a Miracle, House of Cards, Tourniquet (Cynthia Ann), Sweet Nuthin’, Adding the Blue.

Björn Yttling
Jeff Wanser

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jessica Lea Mayfield. Make My Head Sing...

Jessica Lea Mayfield.  Make My Head Sing…
ATO Records, 2014.  Jessica Lea Mayfield:

I’ve read a few of the early reviews of Jessica Lea Mayfield’s new album.  Okay, so she’s changed her style a bit.  Less twang, more guitar feedback and distortion.  Some people have suggested (one presumes with disappointment or anger by Americana fans) that Mayfield has gone grunge.  Well, no, not exactly.  Clearly she has been influenced by that style, but she isn’t really imitating anybody.  She has dyed her hair pink, but the twang is still there, just a little less pronounced (check “I Wanna Love You”).  If you listen to some of her earlier stuff, the guitar was already there, just less up front and more acoustic.  This is a matter of proportion and perspective, and it seems like a positive direction.  These are strong songs, and I really like what she’s doing here.

Unlike her two earlier albums, one doesn’t hear the influence of Dan Auerbach or David Mayfield as much.  Perhaps Jesse Newport, her husband and producer on this third release, has a little to do with the changes, although I would hardly accuse Jessica Lea of being anybody’s clay to mold.  I see this album as a new direction that doesn’t leave the old stuff behind, but changes its character, melding at least three different styles together.  Certainly the guitar is bigger, bolder, and more dominant, but she doesn’t let it get in the way of hearing the lyrics, which I think a lot of grunge does.  Sometimes the guitar sounds more psychedelic, or even surf-like (check the end of “Seein Starz”).  The Americana/ bluegrass aspect of her music is still there, although somewhat muted, since it doesn’t always fit with the instrumentation.  But one thing I find fascinating is that her voice in many of the songs (“Standing in the Sun,” “Do I Have the Time,” “Seein Starz,” and others) sounds like some of the better singers in the genre of synthpop and alt rock, such as Frankie Rose, the Vivian Girls, and even Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura.  The overdubs of her voice make her sound like a group, and all these singers came to mind when I was listening.  Putting this kind of vocal overtop of the heavy guitar is fascinating, like having velvet glide over sandpaper. “Standing in the Sun” has less heavy guitar, and the effect is more pronounced here. I’ve listened to this track a lot.

The songs themselves are excellent, although my one complaint is the lack of lyrics in the insert (You have to go to the website for them).  Some would seem superficially drug-related (“Pure Stuff,” “Party Drugs”), but I’m not so sure that there aren’t multiple layers of meaning here.  I’m reading issues of independence, personal identity, and manipulation in relationships in many of the lyrics.  Maybe a little craziness too, in “I Wanna Love You” and “No Fun.”  Tell me if I’m off base here, since I never considered lyrical meaning my strong suit.  

This is a strong album and a powerful statement by Mayfield, with some unique characteristics that meld different musical styles together that you’d think shouldn’t work but do.  I love her voice.  The band is tight, but not overly so, and the whole effect is one of something quite different and delicious.  She’s off touring the country right now, but I’m sure she’ll be back in Northeast Ohio soon.

Personnel:  Jessica Lea Mayfield (baritone guitar, 12-string guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keys, lead and harmony vocals), Jesse Newport (bass, acoustic guitar, vibes), Matt Martin (drums, tambourine, shaker, vibes, casaba).  
Tracks:  Oblivious, I Wanna Love You, Standing in the Sun, Pure Stuff, Do I Have the Time, Party Drugs, Unknown Big Secret, Anything You Want, No Fun, Seein Starz.

Jeff Wanser

Friday, June 13, 2014

Recent Additions to the Northeast Ohio Music Collection

Recent Additions to the Library’s Collection of Northeast Ohio Music

In our continual efforts to collect everything, here are some new items that we have added to the Hiram College Library's collection that were a bit too old to review.

The Dazz Band.  Time Traveler.  (80s R&B released on CD in 2001)
Alan Grandy.  El Grande: The Music of Alan Grandy.  (A compilation of stuff he’s done with various bands)
Kid Tested.  Lost on Purpose.  (Loud, snotty punk--fun stuff!)
Odious Sanction.  The Face of Love.  (The title just doesn’t seem metal enough)
Boozarama Fest 2012.  (A compilation of tracks from artists appearing at the Canton Festival--has it been that long?)

Cleveland Bob.  Greatest Hits, Vol. 1.  (Bob Rotatoni, a fixture vocalist at Jonny’s, on the West Side, with Mike Petrone on piano)
Paul Ferguson.  Blue Highways.  (Paul’s compositions performed by Jiggs Whigham & the RIAS Big Band)
From the Heart.  Incense.  (Contemporary Christian music from Youngstown)
Dave Thomas/Wallace Coleman.  Repossession Blues.  (These two got together in 2006)
Austin “Walkin’ Cane.”  Murder of a Blues Singer.  (Mr. Charanghat on vocals and guitar, with a batch of friends)

Dazz Band

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Steve Hauschildt. S/H

Steve Hauschildt.  S/H.
Editions Mego, 2013.  Steve Hauschildt:

I very much enjoyed Mr. Hauschildt’s work with Emeralds and his previous two solo albums, and was pleased to be offered the opportunity to review this 2-CD collection of mostly unreleased pieces. The works are divided chronologically, with the second disc containing material composed from 2005-2009, and the first holding more recent material.  Perhaps this is intended to show the development in his compositional thinking.  In total there are 38 tracks, ranging in length from 1 minute to more than 16 minutes.  Some are full-blown conceptual pieces, while others seem more like ideas for future reference.  I am highly linear in my thinking, and so I shall begin with the second disc.

A few of the pieces here have been previously released on cassette tape or CD-R, but none are easily obtainable, and so it is a wonderful idea to place those compositions here.  Some of these were edited or re-recorded.  It is on this disc where we see the greatest range of variation, from short to long, and from simple to complex.  It is difficult for me to discern whether some of the short pieces are complete, or whether they were intended as elements of larger works that were never finished, or if they were simply experiments that were put aside.  Most are fascinating regardless, although I prefer some pieces to others.  A few, such as “Rapt for Liquid Minister,” “Red Corridor,” and “Hemero” are somewhat harsh drones, with insufficient variation to hold my interest, despite their brevity.  Others are lovely works that slowly unfold their shapes, or reveal themselves as aural collages.  I highly recommend “Passing Cars” for its sonic washes and percussive effects that ebb and flow through the 7-minute piece.  “Different Directions” plays with the “ping pong” effect of stereo to offer a lively work that sounds like a series of jaw harps with piano background melody that then morphs midstream to swooping synthesizer, then back to piano (I use the term “piano” only in terms of its sound, rather than the instrument itself).  I also enjoyed several of the short works.  “Jovian” is a highly melodic piece, string-like in atmosphere, increasing in intensity until its fading resolution.  “OCR” is more percussive in effect, overlain by washes of sound.  “Portal” sounds more like celestial harps, with droning effects ebbing and flowing.

The other CD, of newer material, contains fewer long-form compositions, with 9 of the 21 works tracking at under 3 minutes.  If I venture to guess, I would think that these are mostly experimental pieces that inspired works on his two solo albums, or for some reason did not make the cut.  Each piece seems to be a separate work, and I can detect no particular theme in the sequence of tracks (except perhaps the “Liberty” trio).  However, each one is a fascinating soundscape, different in tempo, style, and atmosphere.  Pieces I particularly enjoyed include “Thumbprints,” a soft, glistening work where percussive effects are slowly added and removed; the very organ-like “Uncanny Valley;” the calm “Enter Return;” the friendly outer space twitterings of “Dream in Dial-Up;” “Auto Mile,” which feels like a late-night drive through that section of town; the “Liberty” trio of pieces, which have a lovely cinematic quality; the dirge-like unfolding of “By Buildings;’ and finally, “Still Cloudy,” which reminds me of Northeast Ohio.  Other listeners will find their own favorites.  The sound on this CD is better than the other, richer and more full.  I believe I shall find myself returning more often to the first CD than the second.  I find it consistently excellent.

I enthuse too much, and have gone on longer than my editor wishes, and so I shall finish by recommending this album to all who enjoy Mr. Hauschildt’s music, and to fans of electronic music anywhere.

Personnel:  Steve Hauschildt (synthesizers, electronics).
Tracks:  CD 1: Poinsettia, Galloping, Thumbprints, Uncanny Valley, Dimmer, Enter Return, Familiar Scene, Dream in Dial-Up, Flatbed Scanner, Ampersands, Auto Mile, Liberty I, Liberty II, Liberty III, Intimate Yell, Seabreezes, Flyswatter, Screenburn, By Buildings, Vox Ulterior, Still Cloudy.  CD 2:  In the Waves, Coming into View, Jovian, Venn, Star Map, Backwards Glance, OCR, Rapt for Liquid Minister, Portal, Critique of the Beautiful, Hemero, Hiccup, Verbatim, Red Corridor, Passing Cars, Different Directions.

Gottfried Klaas

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cellocentric. Cellocentric.

Cellocentric.  Cellocentric.
Self-produced, 2014.  Cellocentric:

Cellocentric, formerly the Doug Wood Trio, is an acoustic instrumental group that does its own thing, inhabiting the space somewhere amidst the genres of folk, New Age, jazz, and pop.  All three are experienced musicians with varied careers, performing in many styles and often with nationally known musicians.  I was familiar with Wood from a couple of his previous albums of a similar nature, but with other musicians.  Hanish is a CIM graduate, who also plays with the Akron Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared with Kanye West and the Foo Fighters (have cello, will travel).  Frate (Berklee College of Music) also plays in Guys with Guitars, has toured with a bunch of rock bands, and teaches at the Cleveland Music Settlement.  

While Hanish’s cello plays a pivotal role in establishing the atmosphere of this music, Wood’s guitar is prominent in most of the tunes.  One or the other tends to provide the melody in each piece (sometimes they trade off), with the others in the background.  The dominant theme is mellow, or perhaps “ethereal,” as a couple of the subtitle suggest, with each piece falling gently into the next, for the most part.  There are no writing credits on the sparse notes, but I imagine most of the songs were written by one or more members of the group.  The exceptions are “While My Cello Gently Weeps,” a takeoff on the Harrison tune, the “Norwegian Wood/Cellocentric” medley, and of course, the “Spiderman Theme” at the end of the album.  Some of the other tunes remind me of others, such as “Mount Elbert Peak,” which brings to my mind “Can’t Find My Way Home,” the old Blind Faith song.  Perhaps it’s the chord changes.  Regardless, the music is lovely and gentle, with a playfulness that suggests the artists are very comfortable with each other. The cello, guitar, and bass intertwine beautifully and seamlessly. 

Two of my favorite pieces on this album are the “ethereal” ones: “Stars Over Gallatin” and “Too Far Away.”  There is something wistful about them that I find very charming.  My other favorite is “Baklava,” a lively tune with a bit of Greek atmosphere.  The entire album is highly listenable, although some of my younger reviewer colleagues would describe this as “background music.”  They sell it short. This is definitely not in-your-face material (although the tracks toward the end are faster), but one can choose to listen deeply to this and find a great deal that is worthwhile, and it holds up to repeated listening.  I recommend this to anyone to enjoys contemporary acoustic music.

Personnel:  Doug Wood (guitar, mandolin), Tara Hanish (cello), Darren Frate (bass); with guest Ben Lapps (percussion).
Tracks:  Black Canyon, Stars Over Gallatin (Ethereal Mood II), Mount Elbert Peak, While My Cello Gently Weeps, Too Far Away (Ethereal Mood III), Switchback, Norwegian Wood/Cellocentric, Baklava, Buzzing, Spiderman Theme.

Jeff Wanser