Irma Thomas, a Grammy-Award winning contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James who never experienced their level of commercial success, teamed up with Dan Penn, one of the great Southern soul songwriters for this album. And so, I was excited to listen to it. Unfortunately, although her vocals are certainly great, Thomas just doesn’t seem to connect to many of the songs on this album. I felt like I had walked into the lobby bar of a really nice hotel and was listening to the house band and singer. There’s a laid-back modern soul feel that gets too relaxed at times and not fiery often enough. My favorite track is #4, “If You Want It, Come and Get It”, although many others are solid. Overall good, just not as big or great in this effort from 2000 as her prior and later work.
Judy Henske is a singer of blues, folk, country and jazz. Her career was full of connections with big names: she opened for Lenny Bruce, was a regular on tv’s Hootenanny, performed on the Judy Garland show but turned down a chance to be a regular, shared the stage with Woody Allen and is the original influence for Annie Hall, oh and so much more. These two albums from 1963 and 1964 capture a highlight of her career when she tore up the nightclub and coffee house scene coast to coast. She has a brash, boisterous, powerful voice which really work the lyrics and create a tone for the selections of blues and murder ballads. She never holds back with her emotion. Powerful stuff. What is really exciting, though, is her chat before the songs. These are recorded live and the audience loves her audacious, snarky, suggestive intros to the songs. Henske is like a Lenny Bruce crooner, irreverent and stunning, not afraid to go there. A brilliant collection of an amazing singer songwriter. All Hail the other Judy.
There are times when we luckily come upon something new. It may have been there for awhile but it is new to us. Such is the case of Nick Demopoulos’ project “Smomid”. Standing for String Modeling Midi Device, Nick, initially a guitarist, created smomid as a way for a guitar to interface with a computer. The smomid, along with his pyramidi, a midi device, are homemade instruments that transform sounds in a new way. And they look great. Lights, lights, lights. The smomid looks sort of like a combination of a guitar and one of those synthesizers from the 1980’s that also looks like a guitar. It is a guitar midi controller with all the knobs and buttons necessary to create a multitude of sounds, allowing for samples of tuvan singers and gamelan to blips and bleeps ala the best IDM to what may sound like sitar or stretched out guitar. Add the pyramidi midi devices that go along with it and wow. Talk about psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop. Don’t forget to add the lights, synchronized to send out coded messages to viewers, flashing to the beat of the smomid. Be ready.
The Surfrajettes are an all-female surf band foursome from Toronto. Although their fame might be connected to the novelty of women playing surf, their music is high powered, energetic and well played. Great fun!
Fierce improvisational avant rock from this trio headed by Wendy Eisenberg, a Boston-based guitarist, composer, and member of the no-wave punk band Birthing Hips. When she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, Eisenberg was spotted by John Zorn, who connected her with two accomplished players, drummer Ches Smith (of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog) and bassist Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Nels Cline Singers, and more) . This 2018 release from Zorn’s Tzadik label is the result of this collaboration. Eisenberg’s bold playing is at the fore, as her strings contort from discordant but familiar sounds into skewed sonic shapes or heavy, electronic growls, like on the noisy opener “The Descent of Alette” (T1, a tribute to the poem by Alice Notely) . The trio’s exchanges begin as dispersed bursts that that build in to intense grooves (T1, T3, T9), loose jams (T5), tangled thickets (T6, T10) or driving attacks (T4, T5, T7). Staggering sounds from this talented newcomer.
Per Bloland studied music composition at Stanford and now teaches at Miami University. He often composes for an electromagnetically-prepared piano of his own design. The piano has a series of electromagnets placed along different strings, each of which can be driven by audio signal. This allows the timbre, sustain, and dynamics of each note to be controlled, and enables new type of resonance and feedback.
Chamber Industrial contains 5 works for chamber ensemble inspired by a variety of literary works and performed by The Ecce Ensemble. Moods are tense and suspenseful, contrasting delicate flutes and bells with the discordant growls produced by the sax, double-bass, and piano. Bloland evokes the energy of industrial music through abrasive, distorted textures and simple motifs. The electromagnetically-prepared piano is featured on T4, while T2 and T4 are purely acoustic.
This Los Angeles instrumental band straddles the line between exotica and surf. Guitarist Bill McGlynn’s wide interest in music shows in his compositions and arrangements for all tracks. Very satisfying, well played, and cool.
More fine instrumental work from this Nova Scotia surf trio. Now in their 24th year of playing together, they show no signs of being tired. Good energy on mostly original tunes, these tracks really rock!
Nothing is known about Willie Baker, except that he would, as a child, play in Patterson, Georgia and that he may have gone to a Robert Hicks medicine show in Waycross, GA.
Charley Lincoln on the other hand, was born 3/11/1900. He performed with his brother, Robert Hicks (the same as above), professionally known as Barbecue Bob, for many years. After his mother and brother passed away, Charley became a very heavy alcoholic. He shot someone on Christmas Day 1955, and ended up going to prison. He died there of a brain hemorrhage in September 1963.
Atlanta, Georgia blues. One man, one guitar, one front porch.
Andrew Tuttle is from Australia, but you wouldn’t know it from this enchanting slice of post-Fahey Americana. Tuttle layers his banjo and guitar filigree over luminous drones to predictably trance-inducing effect. On Meterological Warning (T5), he’s joined by viola and prepared lap guitar, while The Coldest Night (T8) sees the addition of electric guitar and trumpet. Soothing stuff.
Laurie Spiegel is a pioneer in the field of electronic music. In 1973, she began exploring computer music at Bell Labs, where Max Matthews and Richard Moore had recently developed the digital-analogue hybrid GROOVE (Genered Realtime Operations On Voltage-controlled Equipment) system. From this work came the album The Expanding Universe, released in 1980. With its clear tones, open harmonies, and mechanical rhythms, The Expanding Universe presented an optimistic, almost utopic vision of technology. In contrast, Unseen Worlds, created using Spiegel’s own Music Mouse software, is altogether darker and more amorphous, with a focus on texture over melody. Hurricane’s Eye (T7) stacks layers and layers of organ-like tones to create a thick, murky, mass of sound, a modern-day requiem. Check out the frankly-terrifying stabs of noise on Riding the Storm (T9), and DO NOT MISS the epic, 14-minute closer Passage (T12), in which harmonically-rich drones, synthetic voices, and ominous clangings rise and fall evoking the grandeur and power of some strange, cosmic machine.
Welsh born Gwenifer Raymond lives in England but plays American Primitive style guitar and banjo as if she was born to it. Wonderful melodies in her compositions, astonishing technique. Some tunes are simple, most show a virtuosity and polyphony that is almost reminiscent of Bach violin partitas. Oh and she has a PhD in astrophysics. Wow, wow, wow!
Nice “South of Heaven” reference. The thick crust presented here will otherwise ward off comparisons to Slayer. Beautifully satisfying, thick, disgusting riffs. Apparently these folks have been pummeling Japan for two decades, so their filth is pretty tight and old-school in an early nineties sort of way. Most tracks clock in at three minutes or less (the shortest track is 1:14). Track 2 is 5:01, and the last track is a protracted grind jam/amalgamation running to 8:36 where the band allowed themselves to deviate from the format employed in the rest of the album.
Lucrecia Dalt is a former geotechnical engineer from Colombia, now settled in Berlin, who has previously collaborated with Julia Holter and Laurel Halo. While her early work has been described as “experimental indie pop,” on this album she leaves the “indie pop” behind. Dalt is an exceptionally skilled sound designer, deftly weaving industrial aesthetics into the conventions of minimal electronics. The result is a sound all her own: raw, rough, tactile, but also precise, polished, icy-cold. And then there are the vocals (T1, T3, T5, T6, T9, T11), spoken-sung and subtly processed, they draw you in and push you away at the same time. These are short tracks (1-3 minutes) that nonetheless evoke a sense of geologic time, of a stasis that masks the presence of tremendous power.
Stephanie D’Arcy is the mastermind on this freshman release from this SF-based project. D’Arcy on guitar and vocals, Ryan Albaugh on drums, Giancarlo Arzu on bass, and Yaryn Choi on keys and providing vocals. Their lo-fi grunge-pop is a slightly off-kilter, head-boppin, house party and you’re sitting in the corner with your head down, all the voices and music faded and muted in the background. First part of the album hits hard, while the last part is not as impressive. Definitely worth a listen!
1 part brass band, 2 parts lounge jazz, one part noisy meanderings, this EP is the sister release to Botafogos in Shadow Position. Buzzing, skronky, cloudy, weirdo sounds. You find yourself lost in a Dali-esque circus show, whose entire show is amalgamated up in a mere 15-minute extravaganza! Let the show begin!
Tetsu Mineta is a Japanese guitarist and singer. He’s a member of the rock group “Both Cheese”, but here he’s solo with an acoustic guitar and tape recorder. As the album title implies, this is his fourth release, all on cassette.
Most of the album is slow, soothing, lo-fi acoustic guitar work layered over quiet beds of tape recorder hum, indiscernible distant rustles, and occasional backwards instrumentation (T2, T6). Fahey-esque at times, but shrouded in a mysterious opium haze. “Nova E.x.P.” (T4) is a rich, blissful stoned-out guitar drone.
The first track, “Moshpitloser”, is unlike the rest. A quick rhythmic percussion riff featuring bongos, toms, cymbals, and a cowbell played faster and faster until the whole thing blasts off like a spaceship.
Mr. Fat Possum Records, R.L. Burnside’s houserockin’ blues. This is one of the few remaining records from this bluesman that we don’t have. For those unfamiliar, R.L. Burnside was born November 1926 in Lafayette, Mississippi, and started playing blues after hearing John Lee Hooker. He got a later start than others, but still knows how to bring the heat. Burnside helped define the sound of Fat Possum Records alongside Junior Kimbrough. His son, Cedric Burnside (who plays the drummer in the film Black Snake Moan), makes an appearance on track 4. Electric, fuzzy, scuzzy, blues.
Come on in, the water’s fine….
This lovely music finessed by Narcisi breathes in and out in a chill way like an accordion, the instrument which Fidanza brings to the table on tracks 6 through 9. Electronic manipulations and field recordings are what’s in store on this release, and listening to it will take you through time quite easily and dreamily. Track 9 even sounds like it has a vox humana which indeed sounds like the celestial voice indicated by the track title. Enjoy.
Some of these songs written and performed by Vassalotti are down-tempo and ballad-like, while others are more upbeat. Throughout, Vassalotti’s guitar weaves his stories together while his echoey voice delivers the lyrics. My favorite track is “The Other Light.” The lyrics are thoughtfully included inside the CD cover, so pull out your magnifying glass and contemplate what this musician is communicating to you.
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