Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band. Voodoo Doll and Other Blues Lessons.

Gaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band.  Voodoo Doll and Other Blues Lessons.
Letizia Music, 2014.  Gaetano Letizia:  http://www.gaetanoletizia.com/
Underworld Blues Band:  http://www.underworldblues.com/

Older veterans of the Northeast Ohio blues/jazz scene, the Underworld Blues Band describes itself as a “progressive” blues band that came together in 2010. The star of the show is guitarist/singer Letizia, but the core of the group is both Letizia and Larry Keller, along with newcomer and/or replacement Steve Renko (Mike D’Elia is listed as the drummer on the website).  Letizia has decades of experience, with multiple bands going at once (his jazz trio with some other guys, as well as solo work).  This background is reflected in the sophisticated stylings and the varying combinations of blues, jazz, fusion, funk, and other stuff in the dozen tunes presented here.  While they often play standards in concert (Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and others), here they’ve chosen to present a dozen originals.  No credits on songwriting show up, but I suspect that Letizia was involved in most if not all of them.  On this album the core group gets some help from Jake Tijerina on keyboards, which adds both depth and breadth to their sound.  

The band starts off the album with a funky blues instrumental, which does a nice job of showing off their collective and individual talents.  Letizia’s guitar gives way at the halfway mark to solos by Tijerina on organ, Keller on bass, with a bit of time at the end for Renko on drums.  The other instrumental, “Orange Sunglasses,” is in more of a jazz vein, less high-octane, but another fine showcase for the musicians.  Letizia’s guitar can be gentle or blistering, pinpoint or fuzz-heavy, depending on the mood, but in all cases demonstrates truly fine playing.  Kudos to Tijerina, as I love the organ in this context, and his work is phenomenal.  The title track is a humorous excursion into the singer’s pecadillos and the rectification of the situation through magical means.  It’s here where an alternative meaning to “progressive” starts to appear, with lyrics beginning to eschew the traditional bad boy and misogynist talk of so many blues songs.  “Kill My Conscience” is in a similar vein, with the singer wrestling with desires vs. doing what’s right.  “The Devil is a Nice Guy” offers a bit of parody, and “Sold My Soul” presents a similar theme of compromised values, but in a more serious context.  The good vs. evil theme seems to follow through quite a bit of the album, and provides a lyrical context a cut above most blues songs in sophistication.  Surrounding the lyrics is some dynamite jazz/funk/blues by all involved.

“Hurt Myself” takes us back to a more basic blues sound, with Bobby Huszar on vocals, who reminds me a bit of Jon Hendricks (of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross fame).  The mood continues to change through the second portion of the album, with “Bleed” and “All I Need” lean more towards rock, although the latter contains some sweet acoustic guitar work by Letizia.  Curiously, “Blow the Blues Away” seems more rock than blues as well, while “Torture Me’ is back to the blues, and fits thematically better with material at the beginning of the album.  Blistering solo work by Letizia continues.  The group finishes up with a jazzy pro-Cleveland anthem, complete with monologue, that doesn’t sit quite right with the rest of the album from my perspective, but would certainly go over well in concert.  

This is a fascinating album, with Letizia and the band to be congratulated on their sophisticated musicianship and enjoyable songs.  They play around the area, so catch them when you can.

Personnel:  Gaetano Letizia (guitar, vocals), Larry Keller (bass guitar), Steve Renko (drums), Jake Tijerina (keyboards), Bobby Huszar (lead vocals on “Hurt Myself”), Ro Brown (background vocals).
Tracks:  Big Foot, Voodoo Doll, Kill My Conscience, The Devil is a Nice Guy, Sold My Soul, Hurt Myself, Bleed, All I Need, Blow the Blues Away, Torture Me, Orange Sunglasses, Big Secret.  (Track listings for “All I Need” and “Bleed” are reversed on CD)

The Grand Wazoo

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Super Awesome Macho. Deep Water

Super Awesome Macho.  Deep Water.
Self-released, 2014.  Super Awesome Macho: https://www.facebook.com/SuperAwesomeMacho

Finally, we get an opportunity for the big time; reviewing a CD before its release party! Super Awesome Macho hails from Medina, and has kicked around the underground punk circuit for a few years before finally releasing this full-length album.  Their release party will be at the Grog Shop on December 19th, so be there or keep your hearing.  Clearly not shy or modest, these four gentlemen are the latest incarnation of the band, having been through a few personnel changes since their start.  Pete Wildman, former drummer, is now the lead vocalist, and provides the necessary boldness and aplomb  needed to front this clamorous but effective band.  

Describing a band with reference to other bands is sometimes critics’ shorthand for “I can’t really describe the music,” but I can describe the music, so I’ll do both.  Songs are loud, snotty, and short, in the fine tradition of punk music, but with a bit more sophistication, since they throw in some good solo breaks.  Steve Dixon borrows from both garage and surf traditions in his playing, most evident in tunes such as “TMKASE” and “Complete & Total,” where he shines on long guitar runs.  The rhythm section of the Walker Boys is, well, rock solid, keeping everything to the point.  Wildman’s singing is appropriately rough-and-tumble, which is what one is usually looking for in a punk/garage band.  The songs are well-performed, nicely recorded, and often clever (cases in point, “Bus to Youngstown” and “Pill Poppin Mama”).  I must admit that the last track, at six seconds, is a mystery to me.  The real last song, “FSU,” is a concert track, with extended wild applause at the end (unless they grafted it on for self-aggrandizement).  

As for comparisons, their publicity mentions the Mummies, the Misfits, and the Stooges. I would add a touch of Ramones, Whiskey Daredevils, and a pinch of Dick Dale. If you’re looking for some good, loud punk music, you won’t go wrong with Super Awesome Macho. Check out their show at the Grog Shop, and pry open your wallet for Deep Water.

Personnel:  Greasy Steve Dixon (guitar), James “The Gooch” Walker (bass, backing vocals), Neil “The Animal” Walker (drums), TX Pete Wildman (vocals).
Tracks:  Main Event, Celebrity, Beatnik Beach, Bus to Youngstown, Death by Unicorn, Truck Drivin Daddy, Me vs. You, Pill Poppin Mama, TMKASE, Bad Ass, Complete & Total, FSU, 1<3U.  (Most songs written by Dixon and Wildman)


Monday, December 8, 2014

Recent Additions to the Library's NEO Music Collection

Recent Additions to the Hiram College Library’s NEO Music Collection.

We’ve been very busy the past three months, and so haven’t been able to make a list of the older stuff we’ve added to the collection.  But here it finally is, and it’s wonderful!  The variety of Northeast Ohio music is amazing, and it’s truly surprising to discover who has roots here.  Take a look---

Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts.  Temporary People.  (2008 release by this Akronite)
Cletus Black.  Shades of Black.  (The country rocker brought this out in 1996)
The Dreadful Yawns.  Early.  (Cleveland band’s debut album, from 2003)
Steve Hauschildt.  Tragedy & Geometry.  (Electronica from Bay Village)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.  A Portrait of a Man and His Woman.  (1972 album from this Clevelander--how many of you knew that?)
Howard Hewett.  The Very Best of Howard Hewett.  (2001 hits collection from this R&B/Gospel Akron native)
Marti Jones.  Match Game.  (Not too many singer-songwriters come out of Uniontown.  From 1986)
Mary Martin & the Tuna Band.  Mary Martin & the Tuna Band.  (Re-release of one of their 80s albums)
Maureen McGovern.  Greatest Hits.  (Best-of set from this songstress from Youngstown)
Midnight Syndicate.  Vampyre: Symphonies from the Crypt.  (Gothic mood music based out of Chardon)
Pretenders.  Last of the Independents.  (Chrissie Hynde & Co. in a 1994 release)
Suede Brothers.  I’ll New You.  (Maybe that’s the name of their second album, and maybe it isn’t.  All of their albums seem to be called Suede Brothers)

The Boondockmen.  Swing Batter Swing: Tribe Fan Anthem 97.  (All the rage when the Indians went to the series.  We picked it up for a buck.)
Travis Haddix.  What I Know Right Now.  (1992 release by this blues guitarist & singer)

Joe McBride.  Lookin’ for a Change.  (2009 date by the pianist and singer, with Hiram’s own Dan Wilson on guitar!)
Mike Petrone Trio.  Live at Turner’s Mill.  (Mid-90s concert at the former swanky restaurant in Hudson.  Not that it’s no longer swanky, just that it’s no longer.)
Jimmy Scott.  Moon Glow.  (2003 release by the recently deceased jazz singer)

Robert Schumann.  Piano Music.  (Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi currently teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mark McGuire. Along the Way.

Mark McGuire.  Along the Way.
Dead Oceans, 2014.  Mark McGuire:  https://www.facebook.com/MarkMcguireMusic

Progtronica is the term Mark McGuire uses to describe his music.  I guess that’s as good a term as any, and it saves me the trouble of coming up with one myself.  Originally from Cleveland, and a former member of Emeralds, McGuire is now in Los Angeles.  He continues to produce music and art (this is his third full-length album), and it would be best to get this CD reviewed now, as he has already released a digital EP since this came out.  We’ll stick with this for now.

“This story is an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind, the endless unfolding of psychological landscapes, leading to perpetual discoveries and expansions, in a genuinely emergent and infinite world of worlds.”  (from the accompanying story- booklet).  So, these are love songs.  You scoff, but later in the booklet, McGuire refers to Love as “the true life-blood of the planet,” and the thread of discussion about the music leads back to this theme in a variety of ways, from awakening of consciousness, to the quest for the understanding of existence, the nature of loneliness and evil, spiritual growth and compassion, interconnection and change, and the self in the world.  Heavy and heady stuff, but useful as a guide to working one’s way through the fascinating array of musical compositions.  Not that it’s necessarily work (in the negative sense), because the music itself is a beautiful set of interrelated tracks that one can listen to without considering McGuire’s take on his own work.  It’s approachable at many levels, from deepest thought about McGuire’s conceptions to meditation on one’s own, to background music.  Your choice, and consume as you will.

While McGuire’s music is electronic/ambient in the broad sense, it is also guitar-laden, which tends to give it a propulsive quality that much ambient music lacks.  Reminiscent of some work by Steve Reich or Brian Eno, it sometimes it heads in the direction of rock music (“The Instinct”) or film music (“The War on Consciousness”), other times it takes different qualities, incorporating spoken word dialogue or sung lyrics, distortion and fuzz, or light and airy electronica.  But in all cases the production is multi-layered and complex and harmonically lovely, making each listening an enjoyable experience and an opportunity to hear new things.  The music is lighter in tone than the booklet’s musings would suggest in some places, but that doesn’t bother me.  Organized into four broad parts, each with several sections, he presents a framework for understanding his philosophical underpinnings and the unfolding of a life.  He’s telling a story, and it is a coherent and fascinating perspective.  I don’t know if I go along with it all the way, but I appreciate his explicit and honest approach.  
The music is simultaneously fun and serious.  Again, you pick, in an and/or kind of way.  It is also gorgeous and highly recommended.

Personnel:  Mark McGuire (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, vocals, piano, synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines, acoustic percussion, talkbox, mandolin, effects and electronics).
Tracks:  Part I,  To All Present in the Hall of Learning: Awakening, Wonderland of Living Things, In Search of the Miraculous, To the Macrobes (where do I go?); Part II, The Age of Revealing:  Silent Weapons (the architects of manipulation), The Instinct; Part III, After the Heavy Rains:  The Human Condition (song for my Father), For the Friendships (along the way), Arrival Begins the Next Departure; Part IV, To the Palace of the Self: The War on Consciousness, The Lonelier Way, Turiya (the same way).

Jeff Wanser