Friday, March 27, 2015

Abandoned Playground. The Trouble with Angels.

Abandoned Playground.  The Trouble with Angels.

I am constantly amazed at the variety and quality of music found in Northeast Ohio, as well as how much flies under the radar, known and appreciated by an ardent core of fans.  My current case in point is this album by Ray Carmen and Jim Wieser, the two musicians of the group Abandoned Playground.  Mr. Carmen wrote the music, and is apparently a highly prolific composer.  His blog lists numerous recordings under his name or with bands he appears to play with, all released by his Cut and Paste Records label.  He writes in a variety of styles, but the present album is all instrumental, with a few spoken word interludes dispersed amidst the somewhat ambient tracks.  I say “somewhat” deliberately because some of these pieces could be turned into  pop songs or even soft rock music given a vocal track and a few other considerations.

One might casually perceive this album as having a religious theme, given the cover and the opening vocal excerpt from the film The Trouble with Angels, where it is announced that Hayley Mills will be entering the convent.  However one wishes to interpret the music from this point is up to the individual listener.  There is no hint thereafter of what the music “means,” and there are no explicit religious references.  Let the music take you where it will.  The rest of the tracks consist of well-composed and nicely arranged instrumental works with hints of folk music, rock, and more ambient sources.  All eleven works are short, with none more than three minutes in length.  Carmen chooses to call these experimental works, although his meaning here is a bit obscure. To me, experimental music takes one out of the usual range of melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic experiences, into realms of noise, found sounds, or even less pleasant musical phenomena.  Few such things are found here, except for the vocal excerpts.  There are two other tracks with vocal material.  “We All Fall” contains a British shortwave radio broadcast concerning the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, backed by music.  “A Skyfull of Voices” also contains bit of found vocals, although they are muted, and relate to Middle Eastern musical influences.  After the fourth track there are no voices, and the music takes the listener in various directions, all really quite delightful.  Limited in modulation and generally rather quiet, the works flow well from one to another, with few peaks or troughs.  Jim Wieser’s contributions on violin, concertina, and electric guitar are notable and lovely.

I must seek out more of Mr. Carmen’s albums, as I have found this one to be quite enjoyable.  Readers of this blog who are interested in ambient instrumental works may find it as interesting as I have.

Personnel:  Ray Carmen (guitars, bass, keys, percussion, drums, odds and ends); Jim Wieser (violin, concertina, electric guitar).  Borrowed vocal excerpts from the film, The Trouble with Angels, and British shortwave radio broadcasts.  Produced, recorded, and mixed by Ray Carmen; mastered by Alan Grandy.
Tracks:  The Trouble with Angels, Grenadine, We All Fall, A Skyfull of Voices, Wildwood (I Can’t Hear You), Hope for an Early Spring, Going Back to an Empty House, Pictures on the Way We Used to Be, You Are Always Beautiful, First Day of School, Pajama Day.

Gottfried Klass

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brian Lisik and the Unfortunates. Curtisinterruptedus.

Brian Lisik and the Unfortunates.  Curtisinterruptedus.
Cherokee Queen Records, 2015.  Brian Lisik:

We reviewed Brian Lisik’s last release, The Mess that Money Could Buy, back in 2013 and said nice things in the process.  We shall continue that tradition in large part because the Akron native and his band do another fine job on their latest album.  We’re not sure about the origin of the title or who Curtis is, but we suspect he’s in trouble.  These Akron-based roots rockers provide us with 14 concise tracks with no lack of interesting hooks, vocal harmonies, and top-notch musicianship.  And I like the jangly guitars.

The songs were written mostly by Lisik, or co-written with bandmates Steve Norgrove and/or Benjamin Payne, with two tunes by Norgrove finishing up the album.  They start off with their first single release, “Jan. 13,” a well-constructed rocker, followed by the even stronger “Never Was” and “Beaten Up Blue.”  No “I love you baby” stuff here.  This three-song intro gives us vignettes of a somewhat darker nature, the upbeat tunes disguising lyrics that suggest unhappy lives and tough times.  Sex is suggested, but it’s hardly joyous.  Many of the other songs follow this overall theme, including ballads such as “Marietta” and “Paramours.”  Others take on different topics, such as “About Me Back Home,” about a murder, and “Tattered and Broken,” about life in general.  “Needles and Pins” is a gorgeous little song, perhaps the best-sung ballad on the album, with poignant lyrics and simple presentation.  “Chaos is a Friend of Mine” is a close second, a faster but still acoustic tune, with beautiful guitar lines.

“Normalcy” takes us back to rockers, and I like this one best of them all.  The band takes the bridge in high gear and everything sounds right.  Sweet harmonies combined with chugging rhythms follow on “St. Patrick’s Day (Alex),” about one of heroes, Alex Chilton. “Needles (Reprise)” is a lovely instrumental.  They should do these more often.

Lisik said that “An album is about taking a 40-minute vacation from wherever you are.” Given that criterion, Curtisinterruptedus is a success, a fine mix of songs that will take you into a world that isn’t always pretty but is certainly vivid and memorable, which makes it highly recommended.  They’ll be playing the Beachland Ballroom at the end of March and various places around the region in April.  

Personnel:  Brian Lisik (lead and backing vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, percussion), Steve Norgrove (lead and backing vocals, electric and upright bass, Ashbory, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, organ, percussion, castanets), Benjamin Payne (guitars, drums, percussion, banjo, backing vocals, organy sounds), Raymond Arthur Flanagan (electric guitar and ass (Is this a typo?)), Joe “Motion” Waller (bongos), Craig Lisik (drums), Curtis Henderson (harmonica), Tim Longfellow (piano, organ, accordion), Michael Houff (violin), Matt Reese (cello), Rachel Roberts (vocals), Rotumba, S’Phyllis, & Madge--The Beekeeper Singers.
Tracks:  Jan. 13, Never Was, Beaten Up Blue, Marietta, Paramours, The Beekeeper, Born on Needles and Pins, Normalcy, Chaos is a Friend of Mine, St. Patrick’s Day (Alex), About Me Back Home, Tattered and Broken, Needles (reprise), Swagger Sway Fall.

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On the Subject of Buzzards

The Buzzards are returning to Hinckley, Ohio, as they do every year on March 15th.  We thought we would note this annual event here, since our blog is named after these noble creatures.  Rather than go into detail about the similarities between Northeast Ohioans and buzzards, we thought we would just let a link and a couple of photos take care of it.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Charlie Mosbrook. A Time Long Gone.

Charlie Mosbrook.  A Time Long Gone.
Open Mike Records, 2015.  Charlie Mosbrook:

We reviewed Charlie Mosbrook’s last album, Something to Believe, back in 2013, and were quite impressed with his songs, his voice, and his musical skills.  Now, nearly two years later, he’s come out with album #11, a set of postcards as he calls them, of places, events, and people in his life.  Using simple arrangements, his intention is to capture these moments musically with the help of a bunch of friends.  All the songs are his, with the exception of “Hold Me Close” (by Alvin Loki Baird) and the closer, “I Bid You Goodnight” (traditional), both fine tunes.  

Let’s begin with the more upbeat (rhythmically, anyway) tunes, toward which I gravitate.  “Up Above the Stars” is the opening tune, and has a bright, sweet sound, and with help vocalist Cindy Langmack, the song makes a lovely start to the album.  “Emeryville,” which documents a train trip from Denver to California, is an old-timey song, rather jaunty in tone.  I very much enjoyed “Hemlock Hill,” a song about childhood, and Mosbrook asked Becca Bessinger to sing along with him, an excellent choice.  Clearly, “Howlin’ at My Door” is about winter in Northeast Ohio, and manages to make the recent extreme weather seem a bit less awful.  Despite the lyrics about infirm old age with impending death in the near term, “Easy Win” still provides a bittersweet smile in the small victories.  

As for the slower ballads, I find a great deal here to admire, and even more to contemplate in terms of their messages. “Minister Creek” is a case in point, about making life decisions as a youth, out in the wilderness where one can think.  Again, Mosbrook enlists the aid of a female voice, in this case Rachel Brown, to provide a nice contrast to his own vocals.  “Anywhere Else but Here” is a heartbreaker about love gone cold, and is possibly my favorite ballad on the album.  Lastly, I’ll mention “Accidental Fruit” as another vignette, of the sadness of being left but refusing to believe it.

Enough description.  What you need to know is that A Time Long Gone is an excellent album, finely conceived and gorgeously sung.  The more I played it, the more I enjoyed it. I have to warn you, there are some tearjerkers here, and songs that will stick with you long beyond the playing. Mosbrook shows himself, once again, to be a remarkable songwriter.  He seems to be scheduled out of town for awhile, but will be playing on April 25th at Coffee Corners in Burton, and the Barking Spider on May 12th.  

Personnel:  Charlie Mosbrook (vocals, guitar, bass, mandolin), with other musicians on selected tracks.  Bill Lestock (mandolin, guitar, fiddle), Cindy Langmack (vocals), David Krauss (harmonica), Jon Mosey (mandolin, banjo), Xe La (vocals), Jim Brentar (dulcimer), Rachel Brown (vocals), Becca Bessinger (vocals), Becca Rhodes (violin, vocals), Laura Joy (vocals), Stephanie Morris (vocals), Davidione Pearl (vocals), Kaitlin Emmett (vocals), Mackenzie Brooke Cox (vocals).
Tracks:  Up Among the Stars, Emeryville, Minister Creek, Hemlock Hill, Hold Me Close, Howlin’ at My Door, Anywhere Else but Here, Accidental Fruit, Easy Win, I Bid You Goodnight.  (Lyrics available on Mosbrook’s web page)

The Grand Wazoo

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Welshly Arms. Covers EP.

Welshly Arms.  Covers EP.
Self-produced.  2014. Welshly Arms:

Okay, so as a result of being lax about getting reviews done in a timely fashion, it’s a bit too late to review Welshly Arms’ first EP, Welcome, which featured original songs and was released in 2013.  They’ve got a newer one out, Covers, that has, well, covers.  But I’ll talk about both anyway.  The band has come up in the world on the strength of these two releases, a hit on YouTube (“Two Seconds too Late,” from the first EP), some airplay on TV shows such as The Touch and The Vampire Diaries, and a renegade song that doesn’t appear on either album but was chosen by Positively Cleveland as part of their marketing campaign to give the city some love.  They’re working on their first full-length album. Good start.

The band didn’t come out of nowhere, like a High School Rock-Off winner; they’ve been around a while in other bands.  Getz, Weaver, and Gould were in the power-pop band Cactus 12, and Getz had his own blues band.  Lindemann has toured with several artists, including Cleveland’s own Kate Voegele.  Some people have compared their sound to that of the Black Keys and the White Stripes, and they’ve been described So they’re bluesy and the singers use echo effects.  Everybody has a thing.  But let’s evaluate them on their own terms.

Their first EP, Welcome, was a nice blues-drenched rock album of five songs written by members of the band, and a good reinvention of this batch of musicians as a force to be reckoned with.  Echoey vocal harmonies, fuzzy guitars, and head-bopping beats are all good, but what makes the band is that they’re tight, instrumentally strong, and vocally expressive.  That makes for a good combination regardless of what style is being played.  Plus, they’re all good songs and that can’t hurt.  Covers consists of all good songs because they’ve been cherry-picked.  Tunes by Sam & Dave, the Chambers Brothers, Roy Orbison, Golden Earring, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Deep Purple are hard to criticize on their face.  But what they do with them is key, as it’s easy to screw up classic songs, they will inevitably be compared to the originals, and there’s always the possibility of falling into a sort of American Idol syndrome of just copying (how many Stevie Wonders are out there?).  Here’s the blow-by-blow.

“Hold on I’m Coming” is no attempt to copy. They’ve reinvented the song beyond the basic tune, lyrics, and background vocals. The rhythm is slower, less frenetic and more intense.  It reminds me of Creedence doing “I Put a Spell on You,” the old Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song (BTW, he’s from Cleveland), not in substance but in spirit.  Make it your own.  “Time Has Come Today” is a harder sell, because it was a rock song rather than a soul tune (and one of my favorite songs of all time).  They make the smart decision to go with the single version rather than the album track, which clocks at eleven minutes.  Here they borrow the inflections of the lead singer a bit too closely, but otherwise do a credible version, with appropriate cowbell (you have to have cowbell). The politics behind the song are pretty much erased.  With “You Got It,” they have the problem of confronting the matchless vocals of Orbison, which nobody does.  They work around this by focusing on the melody, and the result works pretty well.  Roy would probably approve.  Golden Earring had only two hits, and “Radar Love” was their best by a long shot, a true classic, that helped me get through college commuting in 1973.  They keep the basic song, but lose the histrionic vocals of the original, replacing them with a warmer, bluesier sound.  It does no violence to the original, and I’m good with it.  Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” was originally a soul song in 1974, covered shortly thereafter by Whitesnake and a couple dozen other artists, even Jay Z, so Welshy Arms can do what they want with it.  Their version is just fine.  Lastly, “Hush,” written by Billy Joe Royal and recorded as a pseudo-soul/bubblegum tune in 1967, became a hard rock/psychedelic hit in 1968 by Deep Purple.  I’m not sure which version is the reference point, since Welshy Arms seems to take a bit from each and ends up in the middle somewhere, heavier than Royal, but not quite as intense as Deep Purple (and no wolf howls).  It’s a good place to land.  

Analysis completed, the band has assembled a fine set of covers, either reinventing or repurposing each song to their own ends, and adapting them to their own style and sound.  Sadly, if you want this EP in physical form, it seems only to be available as a CD-R from Amazon, with their stripped-down booklets.  But however you ingest it, please do so.

Personnel:  Sam Getz (vocals, guitar), Brett Lindemann (keys, vocals), Jimmy Weaver (bass, vocals), Mikey Gould (drums).
Tracks:  Hold on I’m Coming, Time Has Come Today, You Got It, Radar Love, Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City, Hush.