Sunday, May 25, 2014

Michael Stanley. The Job.

Michael Stanley.  The Job.
Line Level Music, 2014.  Michael Stanley:

I suppose that we could just endlessly lavish praise upon Hiram College alumnus and Cleveland rock superhero Michael Stanley and be accused of shameless sucking up (just as my young colleague below mentioned concerning me), but there is one flaw in that accusation.  Stanley is just that good.  We don’t have to make stuff up folks.  Go listen for yourself.  I have spent time with his last several albums, and he is consistently excellent, with fine songs, deeply-felt lyrics, and a wonderful band to make his musical visions a reality.  

For his new album, he approaches his music from a different emotional direction.  If The Hang was about grief and recovery, and The Ride was a rocking good time, The Job has a cynical and angry bite to it.  Not that it doesn’t have the same musical trappings of previous albums, including a similar mix of musicians and Stanley’s own unique sound, but the atmosphere has changed.  In many respects this album puts him closer to heartland rock colleagues in a topical sense--the everyday frustrations of living, the life of a working musician, being haunted by the past or personal demons--but Stanley has always gone his own way, which is all to the good.  His view on this album is dim and dark, and it sounds beautiful for it.

While the atmosphere and lyrics are thematically related, the music varies in style and tempo from the high-energy opener, “Everything’s Fine,” to “Breaking News,” an acoustic ballad break that may or may not be self-referential about being “damaged goods.”  Most others fall somewhere in between, tending toward slower-paced tunes with a blues-like or even a country feel.  A few would sit comfortably on the somewhat funkier previous album, such as “The Same River Twice,” aided by Jennifer Lee’s fine vocals.  A couple are anthemic, which I can imagine easily as singalongs in concert--”Maybe This is the Day,” and “Taking the Long Way Around.”  Two are longer discourses, running over seven minutes to good effect--”Last Good Nerve” and “Dark Angels”--deep and dark and highly emotional, each in its own way.  The title song is a musical autobiography of sorts, a tale of an aging rocker, some of it funny, some regretful, all quite realistic.  All the songs are good, several are excellent.  You can decide which ones are which, and they all go to prove that Stanley isn’t out of a job yet.  Most notable musically are the guitar solos on both the faster and the longer songs, whether by Stanley or by Powers, although the band is of a single piece and the quality of musicianship never flags.

Stanley displays his heavier moods on this album, but it all reflects his life and the lives of his fans, and ultimately it’s about survival.  You can wrap this one around you like a cloak when you need it against a cold world.  It should keep you warm for a long time.

Personnel:  Michael Stanley (vocals, guitars, bass), Jennifer Lee (vocals), Danny Powers (guitars), Bob Pelander (piano, organ), Tommy Dobeck (drums), Eroc Sosinski (bass), Rodney Psycka (percussion), Ed Caner (violin, viola).
Tracks:  Everything’s Fine, The Job, Last Good Nerve, You Just Never Know, Survive & Advance, Maybe This is the Day, Velvet Parkway, Breaking News, Unfinished Business, Get in Line, Taking the Long Way Around, Same River Twice, Dark Angels.

Jeff Wanser

Michael Stanley. The Ride.

Michael Stanley.  The Ride.
Line Level Music, 2013.  Michael Stanley:

Our esteemed editor (did I suck up enough?) asked me to do this review as sort of a followup to his review of Stanley’s latest album.  I was tempted to say, “thanks for the crumbs, man,” but this is a cool gig, so I figured, what the heck.  Turns out this is a really cool album, Heartland Rock-style, so I got a bonus.

Most of the songs were written by Stanley. The exception is “To Love Somebody,” which freaked me out because it’s an old Bee Gees tune, but I guess it was before they went all disco.  Stanley and the band do a really nice job with it, making it sound more like an old tune by Eric Burden & the Animals, kind of a bluesy ballad.  Some of the other songs are kind of funky rockers, and it sounds like the band is having a good time.  “Shiny Things” is a great opener.  The team-up of Stanley with Jennifer Lee on vocals gives it a soul push.  Makes my head bop, so it must be good.  I like the guitar solos too, but there are so many guitarists I don’t know who to give props to.  Everybody I guess.  “Take that Ride” sounds E-Street Band-ish, but I’m okay with that.  Good tune.  “A Fool in Love” does what “Shiny Things” does--makes me want to dance, and “Anything Goes” (not the ancient Cole Porter tune) is neat blues tune, with Stanley singing about being a bad boy.  I get the feeling he’s not, but he can play one on the album.  

Some of the other songs are more...what’s the word...simmering.  They rock, but they’re not really rave-ups either, just strong tunes, and the lyrics are worth listening to.  “Uptown” does that, and so does “Justine,” with its sweet organ work.  “Lucky Again” is a little faster, but it should because it’s going for optimism in the lyrics.  And again with the nice keyboards--I keep noticing them.  “Making Beds” is more menacing, with cool guitar solos.  “Shining Through” is one of those songs that will get the audience all up and yelling--anthemic I guess is what you’d call it--with a positive message.  “I Can’t Wait” is another mid-tempo tune, with pretty funny lyrics about getting the hell out of a bad situation.  Been there, man.

Finally we get a couple of ballads, good changeups from the other songs, but most of them have some grit (and some saxophone), so I liked them too.  “If Anybody Could” is one, and it sounds pretty soulful.  He finishes up the album with another, with Lee chiming in on vocals, an upbeat song with lots of good piano.

I thought I was getting leftovers from the Editor, but it turns out that The Ride is a full meal.  I listened to this a bunch of times, and it doesn’t get stale.  Plus, it all fits together. Who said albums were dead?  Great stuff from a Hiram alum and a dynamite band.

Personnel:  Michael Stanley (vocals, guitars, bass), Jennifer Lee (vocals), Danny Powers (guitars), Marc Lee Shannon (guitars), Bob Pelander (piano, organ), Tommy Dobeck (drums), Eroc Sosinski (bass), Rodney Psyka (percussion), Paul Chistensen (saxophone); with special guests: Don Dixon (vocals), Frankie Starr (guitar), Gary Jones (piano, organ), Michael Gismondi (bass), Colin Dussault (harp).
Tracks:  Shiny Things, All I Want, Take that Ride, To Love Somebody, Uptown, If Anybody Could, A Fool in Love, Justine, Lucky Again, Making Beds (in a Burning House), Shining Thru, Anything Goes, I Can’t Wait, When the Smoke It Finally Clears.

Ron Yoyek

Monday, May 19, 2014

Instrusaurus. Instrusaurus.

Instrusaurus.  Instrusaurus.
Silvercloud Records, 2013.  Instrusaurus:

In a week when Godzilla has just premiered it seems appropriate to consider another monster.  But this one was not the result of radiation; it’s rather more the kind that’s cobbled together out of parts.  A Northeast Ohio supergroup of sorts (if you don’t recognize the names, look them up), this one is made out of jazz, blues, and rock musicians who have come together to create an instrumental band that surfs among the waves of all three.  I use the surf analogy deliberately, since the first tune up is “Pipeline,” the old hit for the Chantays back in 1962.  Some of these guys have long memories.  Regardless, this is one good-lookin’ monster.

Their music reminds me simultaneously of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Ramsey Lewis, King Curtis, and every other 60s band that had instrumental hits with infectious grooves that couldn’t be pigeonholed or ignored despite British invasions and other musical upheavals.  These guys have grabbed “Green Onions,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and “Watermelon Man” among others, rearranged them for this group, and continued the honored groove.  This is dangerous business, since those of us who grew up with these tunes can't help but compare them to the originals. You'd better not mess with "Green Onions." It's a permanent part of my musical makeup. But they did okay, slowed it a little but gave it a good ride. It’s hard to come up with standouts, since all the tunes are great ones, but let me pick out some moments that I love:  Todd Sharp’s guitar on “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Pipeline” (and everywhere else), Dave Thomas’ organ on “Green Onions” and “Soul Serenade,” Sean Jones’ trumpet on “Can’t Find My Way Home,”  Bobby Selvaggio’s sax on “Soul Serenade,” Shea Pierre’s piano and Paul Christensen’s sax on “Mind if I Smoke?”  I’ll stop there, but I could go on.  The solos are great, but when they all hit at once is when things really get crazy.  Rapidfire solos combined with solid togetherness on “Don’t Lose Your Cool” and “Don’t Cry No More” speak volumes about how much these guys love what they’re doing and how they do it so well.  

I credited arrangements and production down below, because Ashby is an Oberlin guy, and Peters and Silverman were both members of the James Gang.  It’s hard to get more iconic than that.  Excellent work all around.  Members of Intsrusaurus have been doing a series of concerts in the area this weekend.  I hope they can be enticed to do a few more.

Personnel:  Todd Sharp (electric, acoustic & baritone guitars), Jamey Haddad (drums, percussion), Sean Jones (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joe Miller (trumpet), Jeff Ciampa (bass), Shea Pierre (piano, keyboard), Howard Levy (harmonica), Johnny Cochran, Jr. (baritone and tenor sax), Dave Thomas (Hammond organ), Larry Galloway (trombone), Paul Christensen (sax), Bobby Selvaggio (alto sax, arrangements), Jay Ashby (arrangements), Dale Peters (recording engineer, mixer), Ronnie Silverman (producer).
Tracks:  Pipeline, Sen Sa Shun, Green Onions, Can’t Find My Way Home, Watermelon Man, Mind if I Smoke?, Soul Serenade, Hard Way, Don’t Lose Your Cool, Dimming of the Day.

The Grand Wazoo

Friday, May 16, 2014

So Long, Albatross. So Long Albatross

So Long, Albatross.  So Long, Albatross.
Cellar Door Records, 2013. 

So Long, Albatross is a Cleveland band founded in late 2010.  This is their first studio-released album.  The song “Out of Focus” starts off with a strong opening beat and throughout its course  you can get an idea for the kind of music the band has owned and made its own. I have never heard a bass manipulated in such a unique way (utilizing a “fuzzy” type of sound) and I found myself liking it. It’s not a traditional sound and this is by no means a traditional rock band.

I never found myself bored listening to this album. There were no lulls in the music and no songs I found lacking interest. I’m used to albums having slower songs mixed in with the music, but there were no slow songs. Every song is jam packed with fast-paced rock beats and in your face vocals, which is a great mix for a successful rock album. Honestly, whenever they came on my shuffle I just wanted to jump around and sing along. There is so much passion and energy in every song and that sort of combination is infectious. I certainly wanted to be productive whenever I listened to them.

My favorite songs (which I had to listen to multiple times) are “After the Ether” followed closely by “Outlasted”. I really liked all of the songs, but if I had to pick favorites, it would be those. The intros for both of those songs in particular really pull me in and get stuck in my head.
I would definitely recommend keeping an eye on So Long, Albatross. They would be worth checking out live if you get the chance! Give these guys a listen, really. They’re something fun and you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy!

Personnel:  Keith Vance (vocals, guitar), Adam Horwatt (bass), Eric Baum (drums).
Tracks:   Out of Focus; After the Ether; Head for the Sky; Outlasted; Wild Eyes; Flash Around; Wolves; Stellar Mass; Wildfire; Crutch; Exit Eyes.

Bryn Wolanski

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

David Ake. Bridges

David Ake.  Bridges.
Posi-Tone, 2013.  David Ake:

There’s a new jazz guy in town.  He’s not really new, but he’s got a job here now, so that makes him ours (“gooble gobble, one of us”), whether he wants to be considered a Northeast Ohio artist or not.  David Ake is the relatively new Chair of the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University, having relocated from the University of Nevada, and before that, California.  He’s put out a half-dozen jazz albums, has authored or edited three books on the subject, and is trained as a musicologist.  I didn’t really notice that I had heard his work before looking him up, but he did an album with the trio EEA back in 2010 that I picked up somewhere, and liked a lot.  I thought I’d give this new one a try.

Here, the pianist has put together a stellar sextet.  It’s sort of odd that he is one of the less well-known member of the group.  These guys are all major players, and many have worked together on other projects (Alessi and Coltrane, Colley and Epstein), so it seems Ake is well-respected outside of academic circles.  If I had to characterize the music, I don’t think I would.  There’s too much variation--some postbop, some minimalism, some avant-garde, and even a touch of New Orleans now and then.  This makes it hard to pigeonhole, which is probably the point.

The title tracks starts off as a minimalist mixing up of instruments on a simple theme that reminds me of a traffic jam, with its insistent horn repetition; deceptively simple.  Ralph Alessi takes off on “Sonomads,” a lovely, balanced composition that, while still exhibiting some of the minimalist approach of the first track, takes off in a different direction, with the Ake and the rhythm section taking much of the foreground, and the entire group sounding like a big band at the end.  Epstein comes out front for “Story Table,” with some fiery sax work in a post-bop mode.  The interplay among the two saxophonists and Alessi is really grand throughout.  “We Do?” gets weird, moving from a bop beginning, picking up some Ornette Coleman-like stuff along the way, then moving back to bop for the finale.  Colley’s bass solo is sweet.  Ake’s melodic piano is out front for “Boats (exit),” with the horns sounding like a flock of Canada geese in the background, getting closer.  The nearly nine minute workout of “Year in Review” displays the talents of everyone, but I was especially taken by Alessi’s playing here, as well as Ake’s elaborate piano.  The other long piece is “Dodge,” which makes the sextet sound like a tight big band again, with excellent work by Coltrane.  It gets a bit far out in the middle, but comes back home, seemingly an exercise in order and chaos.  The more relaxed “Grand Colonial” precedes the closer, “Light Bright,” which acts as a bookend to the opener, seemingly simple, but maybe not so much as one delves in.

I hear a theme to the album, one that explores the relationships between structure and anti-structure, with some compositions in one camp, and some veering wildly between the two.  Ake’s piano and the rhythm section hold it all together.  This makes for considerable eclecticism, but the fine musicians Ake is working with are up to the task, and the result is a worthwhile album.  

Personnel:  David Ake (piano, composer), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Peter Epstein (alto sax), Mark Ferber (drums).
Tracks:  Bridges, Sonomads, Waterfront, Story Table, We Do?, Boats (exit), Year in Review, Open/Balance, Dodge, Grand Colonial, Light Bright.

Jeff Wanser

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Ohio Weather Band's Debut Album.

The Ohio Weather Band.  The Ohio Weather Band.
Self-Produced, 2014.  The Ohio Weather Band:

Think we used their name up above enough times?  I guess we’ve established what we’re reviewing.  These guys are from Alliance, a place that always struck me as part college, part blue collar rustbelt town.  I think they’re from the second part, but I could be wrong.  They describe themselves as blues and Americana, band and they’ll probably be compared to the Black Keys, just like every other band that’s even vaguely similar.  But I’d like to try a different Black comparison--The Black Crowes.  Just like that band, they’re out of sync with time.  Their music harks (note use of cool, archaic word) back to older styles of bands like the Stones, Humble Pie, and Rod Stewart.  They combine a mix of blues and classic rock vibe with some other things, including folk, psychedelia, and maybe their own unique stuff.  The result is a damned fine album.

At first glance, I thought they were going to start off with the old Standells tune, which would be really cool, and they should do that song, but this “Dirty Water” is their own.  That’s okay, because it’s a down-and-dirty blues rock workout.  This is the first song that reminded me of the Black Crowes.  They’re not as Southern, and Corey King’s voice is higher than Chris Robinson’s.  Come to think of it, King reminds me a little of Dan Miraldi--a little less rockabilly and more blues, but in the same range, and both Northeast Ohio boys.  King is a really good singer, and that can make or break a roots band like this.  “Whole Damn Town” reminds me of a blues version of the Who’s “Join Together,” but slowed down.  Similar chord changes, and an excellent listen.  I hear a little country rock in “The Wear on These Bones,” but “Feathers and Tar” takes me back to “Whole Damn Town,” although it revs up a bit more.  We get a real guitar solo in “Feathers and Tar,” and it sounds great.  Actually, the whole song does.  It’s got a good groove, although the music sounds happier than the lyrics, which are about love and death.  Actually, most of their songs are lyrically kind of downers, but I guess it comes with the territory of Northeast Ohio.  Hey, sing all the songs you want about failed love, drinkin’ too much, and crappy lives, as long as the music works, and theirs does.  “Backpack with Whiskey” is more hardass rock, with some good guitar work.

They move into ballads with “Bears & Bees,” a song about being a target: “That I am honey in a world of bears and bees.”  Nice harmonica.  “The Good Life” brings us back around with a blues shuffle, and “R. Mutt” is a hard rock tune about a death in their town.  It sounds a little Neil Youngish, with a beat that reminds me of “Ohio.”  “Darkest Blues” is misnamed, since it’s more of a folky ballad with some pretty deep lyrics about lost love.  It features what I think are King’s least adventuresome vocals, but he follows it up with some of his strongest singing on “She is the Devil” (although I don’t care for the lyrics--he’s blaming the girl, but I think he’s the problem).  “White Chariot” finishes off the album on a somber note, with another ballad contemplating our mortality.  A bummer, but a pretty one.

Hey, I didn’t mention the rest of the band.  They do a great job, and they get to shine on the faster, more hard-rocking numbers.  The Ohio Weather Band is probably a good name for the band--changeable, sometimes gloomy, but with serious points of brightness in terms of talent.  This is a really fine first effort, and I’m glad I got to hear them.  

Personnel:  Corey King (guitar, vocals, harmonica),  Derek Strata (bass, vocals), Ray Lumpp (keys, vocals), Pete Childerson (drums, percussion).
Tracks:  Dirty Water, Whole Damn Town, The Wear on These Bones, Feathers and Tar, Fortune Teller, Backpack with Whiskey, Bears & Bees, The Good Life, R. Mutt, Darkest Blues, She is the Devil, White Chariot.

Ron Yoyek

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Angie Haze Project. Heat to Cold.

The Angie Haze Project.  Heat to Cold.
2014, TheAngieHazeProject.  The Angie Haze Project:

When we reviewed Angie Haze’s The Addiction EP back in October, Gottfried Klaas had great things to say about her.  I went back and listened to it before reviewing the first full-length release from this Akron-based band.  Everything he said is true.  Haze has a delightful, supple voice that can change as the song requires from folksy-exuberant to sexy/desperate to blues mama.  She employs a variety of styles, ranging from gypsy to cabaret to folk, with tinges of jazz and rock.  She’s also a versatile musician.  Here she has a bit more help than on the EP, and uses quite a few instruments on every track to good effect.  Haze produced the album, and David Mayfield mixed it. The band has opened for the David Mayfield Parade.

Let’s start with the three songs that overlap the two albums.  They’ve been rearranged, in large part to good effect. “Addiction” is about a minute shorter here than on the EP but retains all of its gypsy/cabaret feel and sensuality.  “Fireflies” is also a bit abbreviated compared to the EP but loses none of hits joyous atmosphere (although it uses a little less accordion).  The song is incredibly infectious, and should be a hit on some radio somewhere.  “Wave Goodbye” is the most different.  Both versions are excellent, with Haze singing in her most bluesy voice, but the EP version has her singing more down and dirty, more closely miked, more Janis Joplin.  The mix here is lighter and she feels further away.  Either way, I wish the song was longer, because I love it.  

But on the new album we’ve got seven more songs to hear.  “Step into Freedom” is a little like “Fireflies” in mood, but has a touch of country flavor (except for the cello).  It’s very effective, the sort of song people will sing along to.  “Make Me Beautiful” is a gorgeous ballad with a sweetness that reaches into the heart.  There’s a lot of interesting background instrumentation going on, but it doesn’t distract in the slightest from Haze’s voice, front, center, and commanding full attention.  She soars, cries, and whispers, running the gamut of emotions through the wringer in five minutes.  “Poison,” as one might imagine, is a sort of a breakup song filled with regret and pain as well as indecision, piano and percussion driven and full of cabaret/blues style.  Wow.  “Second Movement” (which is supposed to follow “Poison” but seems to precede it on the album. Perhaps I'm confused.) is another gorgeous vocal ballad, with Haze getting the opportunity to hit some extended high notes that pull strongly at the emotions.

The album takes a turn with “Switzerland,” a more hard-edged, soulful song, a story of not taking sides.  The pointed lyrics are matched by both the complex instrumentation and Haze’s strong, insistent voice.  In “March On” Haze takes sides politically, with some poignant statements about war, the environment, and class struggle.  It has a folk rock protest feel to it, with Haze’s voice taking a more plaintive turn.   The edge continues with “Wave Goodbye,” but an uplifting theme is found in the last track, “We Will Lead,” an anthemic folk song with chorus.

The Angie Haze Project displays a quirky versatility that few other bands can match.  Lyrically, stylistically, musically, emotionally, this album is a many-faceted gem.  But whichever side one observes, Angie Haze’s expressive, exquisite voice intertwines and holds the parts together.  Everyone is likely to have their favorites, but there are no weak songs here, only strength upon strength.  The CD release show is on May 24th at Jilly’s Music Room in Akron.  Be there.

Personnel:  Angie Haze (vocals, piano, guitar, percussion, accordion, mandolin), Hoseff GarcĂ­a (upright bass), Timothy Ellinger (drums, percussion).  Assisting musicians include Christina Colletti (flute), Sam Kristoff (clarinet, cello), Christian Lee Hutson (tenor banjo), Jen Maurer (harmony vocals), Leigh Ann Wise (harmony vocals), David Mayfield (harmony vocals, production, and other stuff).
Tracks: Addiction, Fireflies, Step into Freedom, Make Me Beautiful, Poison, Second Movement, Switzerland, March On, Wave Goodbye, We Will Lead.

Jeff Wanser