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Reviews by - Matt Rowe

Welcome back to Record Time. We've really crammed this issue with reviews because, well...there are a lot of discs to review. We're learning to provide a basic evaluation somewhat devoid of history, where possible, and yet allows us to help bring to you music that could otherwise be missed. So sit back and catch up. Hey...I had to.

Homeless J -- Three Seconds To Gaze (Selectric Records)

Normally, I’m not good at a single pass on an album.  Many times, I need more than 3-4 passes to catch what the music is doing.  If an album delivers likeable music almost immediately as did Three Seconds to Gaze from Homeless J, despite its mainlining of U2 influence (Unforgettable Fire era), well…someone has got my attention.  Full of melodies and 11 good songs, Three Seconds to Gaze is a good album of music, pretty much start to finish. Myspace.com/homelessJ

DJ Starscream -- The New Leader (N2O Records)

Given the world that uses DJs to create an environment of dance, it only stands to reason that soon, a DJ would arise that would create an environment to mosh by.  That’s what DJ Starscream (Sid Wilson #0 of Slipknot) has done.  Using a newly devised method of mixing metal into an adrenaline laced stream with scratch and other trade tools, DJ Starscream calls this new style Mosh Up.

Mosh is a series of vocals, scratches, music, and sounds of high energy that allow anyone to go into a mosh pit, pound it out, and come away in a haze of exhilaration and bruises.  Although I could never “mosh” even with the least of them, I can feel the energy coming from this album.  I’ve always appreciated an industrial shade of music; this is not too far removed from that.  It is a new genre of sound that is appealing to those who can pound, and be pounded, inside a pit of unleashed frustration, and I love new things.  And no, you can’t get me into a pit.

Leatherwolf -- World Asylum (N.I.L.8 Records)

The marriage of philosophy - greed, bad politics in every form, and the ‘might as well be selfish, everyone else is’ concept – and heavy metal is essential.  It speaks to the inner confusion found roiling in the disenchanted.  With music, the disenchanted is generally the youth of the world.  With fewer choices left to them in an increasingly narrower path of survival, what with the need to be ultra-educated in many fields to advance, it’s little wonder that many find identification in nihilistic rock/metal.

Leatherwolf, with their new album, World Asylum, address all of the usual inner turmoil and confusion still felt in this time, perhaps more so than their ‘80s beginnings.  With their usual brand of multiple guitars, a sound not too far removed from their earlier releases, and a batch of pretty good songs - Judas Priest-like -, and with a new vocalist, World Asylum does a decent job of it.

Funky Nashville -- Hitch a Ride (Iceberg Records)

From the opening notes of “Hitch a Ride” you can tell that you’re in for some good music.  With a blend of down south Texas twangy guitar and Mexican horns, good songwriting and some dark elements, ‘80s style ( a bit like Depeche Mode), the song begins Hitch a Ride from Denmark’s Funky Nashville.  Yeah…funky, I know.  But these guys have tapped into that bit of magic that makes music so much fun to discover and listen to.

The album moves into the second track, “Gone Away” with a “Peter Gunn” guitar sound running through along with a splash of good old harmonica.  “Mexican Stars” adds the Morricone whistle that might have you looking for Clint Eastwood steeping away from the side of a building, evaluating you with the questioning eyes.

The Texan twang of the guitars run through all of the songs found on Hitch a Ride.  And while there might be a sense of sameness threading through the album, it is a different take on musical styles and blends (you have to love that Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” guitar found at the centre of “Ain’t No Cowboy.”)

The album provides 11 tracks with 3 bonus tracks included.  One of the bonus tracks is an excellent remix of “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” half Roy Orbison and half CS&N (“Woodstock,”) with the familiar TexMex Morricone whistle in it.  Despite a concentrated fascination with southern US culture (Texas into Mexico) circa ‘60s musically, Funky Nashville have taken that culture and created an alternative (why do I hate that term?) to today’s alternative sound.

Trevor Ras -- Let It Roll (Old Soul Music)

There’s a wealth of greatness that flows throughout this self-produced, self-released album from current Huntington Beach, CA (The OC) resident (former Portland, OR), Trevor Ras.  The album, Let It Roll, is a high quality selection of 7 songs that reminds of Jack Johnson hangin’ out with John Mellencamp, only Trevor Ras is better.  I also get a sense of the softer side of Elvis Costello on several tracks (“She Said,” “Love Story”).  There’s even an undercurrent of recognition for Bruce Springsteen’s early, early stuff, namely his The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle.

Using genuine lyrics of love and entrancement, Ras incorporates a strong blend of saxophone with his mix of acoustic guitar and drums to create a jazz/folk/pop hybrid that will have your feet tapping, your head nodding, and your mind crafting a mental note to be on the watch for a full-length album.  Seven songs on an EP is great but when you get a dose of this, well…you just want more.

What surprises me is that this release isn’t coming from a major label.  There are a lot of people sleeping in label land.  Shame, shame!

El Presidente! -- El Presidente! (Dangerbird Records)

Some of the fun things in reviewing new music is trying to remember who they remind you of.  If you’re an older listener, with your roots in the ‘60s or ‘70s as your formative listening years, then you have a deep vat to search for familiar musical DNA structures.  Otherwise, born in a different era, it can be new and exciting stuff for you.

On first listen to new band, El Presidente and for the benefit of the older crowd, imagine a healthy blend between pop/rock bands of the time (‘70s.)  But one thing is for sure; El Presidente is a pop/rock band that is more than a lot of fun.  They craft well-written tunes that slip anchors into your brain with every intent to come back and haunt.  If you like the uprising of classic music from the ‘70s heard on popular stations like Jack FM, then El Presidente has the kind of music that you’ll enjoy. 

I’m thinking that if this band showed up, circa 1978, there would have been singles on TOP 40 radio.

Persephone's Bees -- Notes From the Underworld (Columbia Records)

Hailing from Russia and raised on a steady diet of British and American classic heavies (Pink Floyd; John Lennon; Deep Purple; Suzie Quatro; Led Zeppelin; etc.), the Angelina Moysov-led band exhibit a very interesting mix of pop tunes that incorporate sound experimentation sprung from the electro-pop era of the ‘80s and bits and pieces of style culled from the before mentioned classic influences.  However, the best way to describe the eccentric delivery of Persephone's Bees is to point largely to the structures of the pop culture of the ‘80s like Howard Jones, etc.

Their first single is “Nice Day,” a great little departure from what we have been hearing in this new age of era plundering.  The album is completely contagious and will tug at your sleeves.  I derived much enjoyment from this ‘off the cuff’ band that plans to fill your ears with 11 tracks of something different this year.

The Rippingtons -- 20th Anniversary (Peak Records)

It’s a momentous occasion when anyone remains together for 20+ years.  With the release of this 2-disc collection of Rippingtons tunes, mainstay guitarist Russ Freeman trots out his best of what can only be called “smooth jazz,” a term that is in heavy rotation on Smooth Jazz radio stations like LA’s The Wave.  And given the parade of smooth jazz stars that have gone through the band, guest and otherwise, this collection also ends up being a showpiece collection as well.  And why not?  If my uncle is Johnny Winter, you know that everyone will know this fact.

With 10 tracks that feature well-known participants like David Benoit, Patti Austin, Dave Koz, Paul Taylor, and others, it is only reasonable to expect tracks that excel.  The Rippingtons have a run, to date, of 10 studio albums, with some on the popular GRP and Windham Hill labels, a ‘best of’ (besides this one), and a few live albums, all-totaling to 16 albums plus this latest celebratory set.  There is a newer bonus track that

Fans of smooth jazz will not be lost with this collection that span their career.  The album opens with a candied song, “City of Angels,” a piece that is sax dominated but also reveals Freeman’s excellent guitar playing.  It ends with a newer bonus track called “A 20th Anniversary Bonus,” a nice blend of sax, keyboards, and guitar that is airy and happy sounding, as it should be.  This song ends with Jeffrey Osbourne adding in the words to “I’ll Be Around” by The Temptations.  The album set includes a retrospective DVD that includes live footage, interviews, and other things that make the add of this DVD an excellent supplement to a collection of songs that says what The Rippingtons have accomplished all of these years.  For those who have not had exposure to The Rippingtons but can appreciate smooth jazz as heard on the radio stations that play that kind of music, you’ll be in the right place with The Rippingtons – 20th Anniversary.

Amber Smith -- rePRINT (Kalinkaland Records)

The European music market is quite an interesting one.  Their infatuation with all things musical shows in their output.  Accepting influence from the outside, and being musical fodder for others, Europe has always been a major contributor to the legacy of rock music.  And they don’t shy away from an eclectic mix of styles and eccentricities such as are found on this album.

Hungary’s Amber Smith, a group of four individuals shored up by Cocteau Twins guitarist, Robin Guthrie, have produced an album of more than passing interest.  Beginning with a somber tune, “chemistry/arithmetic,” the song incorporates an electronic beat with gothic-like vocals.  The next song, “Hello Sun” is a brilliant display of melodic music that, in its own way, reminds of Eno (immediate post-Roxy Music – Here Comes The Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain) and a journey through several eras of rock music, most notably late ‘60s singles and late ‘70s New Wave.

There’s a wide range of experimental styles here, all rock, all interesting, and all enticing.  If you have an affinity towards any of the style previously mentioned, Amber Smith likely can provide what you like over 11 tracks of music.

Blackmore's Night -- The Village Lanterne (Steamhammer US SPV Records)

Oh, the sheer joy of rock that Ritchie Blackmore has provided to all of rockdom.  With his Deep Purple years producing memorable riffs (Smoke On The Water), and the immensely popular Blackmore’s Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore returns with a themed band that delves into a very different work than what we’re accustomed to.  Bad?  Not at all.  If anything, it deepens my respect of his skills and approaches.

Using renaissance periods as the backdrop, and saving the heavy metal riffs for another time, we’re allowed to hear another side of Blackmore.  The temptation to create projects that derive from current infatuations often times find the music a suffering blend of selfishness and a total departure from what we’re used to.  However, this does work now and again for bands that have the chameleonic nature inherent in their music.

A collaborative effort between vocalist and lyricist, Candice Night, and guitarist/music contributor, Ritchie Blackmore, this album of stories is progressive rock in nature.  There are instrumentals and vocal songs within and the sound is easily English in style, thereby lending a feel of the theme.  The SPV/Steamhammer release has 14-tracks with 3 bonus tracks.  “Streets of Dreams,” while also in the initial playlist, is also in the bonus track but featuring Joe-Lynn Turner.

Different Blackmore, no doubt, but the alternative is no Blackmore, and that might be too much a problem.

Analog Pussy -- Trance 'n' Roll (EsNtion Records)

I cannot dance a step.  No rhythm, no poise, no form.  Bottom line?  I suck at dancing.  ‘Nuff said.  But I have always had a soft spot for trance music, mainly from the raves that my daughter used to attend.  I can’t lay claim to having attended one but I heard the music in the house always, and Shari gets points for trying to teach me some steps and moves, whereby I succeed only at becoming a point of amusement.  But, because I’m a nurturing parent, especially where music is concerned, I helped to find trance music for her to enjoy.

I was whisked into those moments by the reception of Trance ‘n Roll from Analog Pussy, a boy/girl combo band that creates a steady beat and danceable, rave-able, tunes, all clocking in at over six minutes each, with one over nine minutes.  The album opens with a tune based on Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water,” a fast, precise exercise of the classic riff before turning on the beats for the feet.  And like any good trance tune, the rhythms speed up and slow down allowing for a shift of dance keeping the tune workable and not as repetitive as it might sound to “outsiders.”

As “Future” begins, it blends the hard rock sound segueing into the inevitable dance number that they all become.  I particularly enjoyed Analog Pussy and their Trance ‘n Roll, primarily for what they are attempting to accomplish.  I wasn’t aware that raves were still fashionable, and for all I know, they’re as hot as white heat (when your daughter grows out of the phase, you lose touch), but if Trance ‘n Roll is any indication that the phenomenon is still alive, then…hey, if I host a rave, Analog Pussy is my band of choice.  Yes, I’ve heard better, but Analog Pussy still brings the dance to you.

There is an invitation on the print side of the CD to rip the songs to MP3 if you don’t have the money to buy the CD itself.  The reasonable caveat, of course, is to promote the disc.  Yep, I like these guys.

Deadstar Assembly -- Unsaved (Pure Records)

Picking up where Marilyn Manson dropped out, Deadstar Assembly, with similar look and sound, unleashes an industrial barrage of goth-like metal in their latest release, Unsaved.  With the gristle of disenfranchisement lodged in its heart, Deadstar Assembly uses the very same stock that hardcore musicians use to voice their discontent.  Where Deadstar Assembly separate is in their ability to merge the hardcore sound into a melodic undercurrent that moves this album into a new place.

While the lyrics cater to those who feel left out of humanity, the music delivers it to a wider audience who, appreciatively, can enjoy the creativity of the band.  This creativity is what made Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” work brilliantly as did the rest of that album.  And so, when Marilyn Manson vacated that spot, moving into the different styles of experimentation, bands like Deadstar Assembly are all too eager and ready to fill the void.  Deadstar Assembly is set apart by their musicality and use it to good effect.  There is a pop feel to many of the songs but especially so on “And Ashes Will Fall.”  If you miss Marilyn Manson, Deadstar could be your recommended logical replacement.

Gordon Grdina/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian -- Think Like The Waves (Songlines Records)

Think free-form jazz improvisation, a jamming session where talented musicians hear notes in their heads, and effectively play them in sync with each other, and you have a pretty fair idea of how Think Like The Waves with these three jazz musicians turns out.   Canadian guitarist, Gordon Grdina, has a guitar style that is somewhat similar to Danny Heines.  Peackcock comes from many backgrounds, being a double bassist of note and who has worked with drummer Paul Motian before in The Bill Evans Trio.  Gary Peacock has also worked with Keith Jarrett.  Paul Motian, the drummer on this disc, has also worked with Keith Jarrett as well as a collection of other jazz personas.

The album, a Hybrid CD and SACD with 5.1 surround, is a collection of 14 pieces that range from the opening jam-centric, pure and simple track of “Yellow Spot into the Sun,” and continues with the similar “Platform,” the Arabic guitar influences from Grdina heard on “Renunciation,” the quaint and lovely “100 Years,” and the exotic flavour of the title track, “Think Like The Waves.”

I’m particularly interested in this album largely because I like jazz in many forms and I love a certain non-structure to albums of this type.  I find it exhilarating when people mesh well, as this trio has on this album.  Not only can you sense the satisfaction in the music between these guys but also the “connection.”  The fact that this album was recorded and mixed at 24bits/88.2k and expressed thru stereo and surround only enhances the fun of the music.  Add SACD sound and you get the real deal right there in your listening area.


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