Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Isasa-Los días


Isasa plays and composes in the American Primitive tradition or what could be flipped as Primitivista España as the musician is based in Madrid. Besides the requisite acoustic guitar as the foundation, he also incorporates a Weissenborn lap slide guitar and banjo into the frameworks found on his second solo album released in late 2016. With the fretwork infrastructure in place, he shapes his sonic sandcastles in the air.  In these realms, he plays in the ethereal open spaces between the finger-picked notes and the rounded off slide notes, while allowing ample room for listeners’ imaginations.  The musician admits that he needs the tangible instrument in his hands when he is composing and is not one of those artists where melodies hit like a flash of lightning and later the instrument is utilized to decipher, translate and express the inspiration. With this background knowledge, he knows that deliberate practice (aka focused work) can make momentum and sometimes summon the muse that won’t instantly beckon him to compose off the top of his head. Being a creator of all-instrumental music, he’s already working in the realms of the implicit, with the music‘s inherent ability to express and evoke feelings that are beyond the capacity of words.  In translated interviews, he emphasizes the importance for others to bring in their own set of unique experiences in order to make their own interpretations of his music. These fluid sounds bring listeners to the point of reflecting on the subtle and mostly forgotten experiences which stack up to change us (hopefully for the better) as individuals. The lone banjo number, Gorrión (i.e., Sparrow), is actually the standout song on the album and could have fit in on the seminal The Banjo Story-Vol.I compilation from 1963.  Hopefully, he will continue these banjo explorations on future recordings.  Later, “Rondo de Segovia” unfolds to reveal Middle Eastern motifs & Indian ragas running alongside the Spanish accents and flair. The quixotic spirit is imbued in the notes, heard from the strings and felt in air on Las días.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Tak Shindo-Far East Goes Western

While his foray into African sounds and instruments on 1958’s Mganga! is justifiably his most recognized work as it bears all the elements of Grade A exotica including some remarkable  Afro-Cuban percussion, this one might be his most representative of his East-West experience as a Nisei. Takeshi "Tak"  Shindo was born in Sacramento in 1922 and had the severely conflicting experience of being interned at Manzanar for two years and then serving in the U.S. Army starting in 1944.  He exhibited the Japanese way of ganbaru with his determination to make it through those times of extreme adversity and hardship.  After the war, he was a renaissance man in that he led his own Latin-Jazz band, studied at USC under Miklós Rózsa, collected Japanese instruments and acted as an advisor and content provider for Hollywood when it came to Japanese music.  1962’s Far East Goes Western (produced by Quincy Jones) displays Shindo’s ability to take a concept beyond the novelty factor and lay down some enduring tracks. His main approach was to incorporate Japanese instruments to complement and convey the Western melodies.  In this case, Western is specifically the campfire and soundtrack songs of America’s Old West. This was actually not too much of a stretch for Shindo, as he composed music for famous television Westerns like Gunsmoke and Wagon Wheel throughout their '50s heyday.  In several of these textured songs, the shamisen outright replaces the banjo and gongs provides the punctuation points between measures.  In other moments, the koto accents such famous numbers as “The Ballad of High Noon” (aka “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’”). "Deep in the Heart of Texas" even has a vibraphone run that would not sound out of place on an Emil Richards record.  By overlaying these Japanese elements and jazz embellishments over the recognizable Old West melodies, he created enchanting new sonic realms while adding commendable contributions to the overall exotica/ lounge/mood music movement of the mid-century. Fittingly, Shino would later go on to compose the music for the Japanese Pavilion at the EPCOT Center when it opened at the Disney World Resort in 1982.  During the exotica revival of the mid-nineties, the adventurous music of Tak Shino would finally receive its due recognition.  What is more remarkable is his own life as a Nisei, which required sacrifice for his own individual survival and the arduous task of working in the interstitial spaces in order to improve relations one song at a time.

The Flight 13: Make a Hit Record

Rising out from the unpredictable crosscurrents of the old pueblo of Tucson and bordertown of Nogales, the Flight 13 are ready to begin their ascent.  Like the now shuttered Western Plaza,  they play straight up rock 'n' roll which is actually an out of left field rarity in these seemingly protracted yet repetitive times.  Standing out from the glut of slapdash "We Don't Give a Hit" pretenders, this one lifts off with another top flight mid-fi production from Matt Rendon.  Leading off is the potential big hit, "Cast the Night Out" which is like the Resonars and the Chocolate Watchband making their mark at the love-in. "The World that Makes You Mad" features prominent flute flourishes along with a guitar riff that reminds me of getting a haircut and hearing "Lovefool" by the Cardigans overhead at Great Clips.  Things get back-to-basics with the stripped down rip cord rock 'n' roll of  "Catch a Move On" which recalls the Real Kids and "You Make it Move" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (and later covered by the Insomniacs).  Adorned with organ and horns, "No Disappearing" addresses the "The Singer Not the Song" shadows once cast by Rolling Stones and Alex Chilton.  The wham-bam highlights continue with the pelting at the windows and spiraling forever changes of  "Rain and Love." A guitar tone reminiscent of Duran Duran can be heard in "Venomous Planet." "Ancient Dust" is all ratcheted up with Jaggerisms in the verses until it breaks wide open to a welcomed Chocolate Watchband overlook chorus. "Urchin Mind" percolates up with an electric piano between tremoloed Alice Cooper-ish vocals and considerable David Axelrod beats. The stomping Get Hip sound - that is the '80s garage revival recordings of the Cynics and the Town Cryers, along with their Nuggets & Pebbles bedrock predecessors can be heard in "What They Want." (The band's name is actually a direct reference to the song "Flight Thirteen" by the legendary Tucson '60s combo the Dearly Beloved.) Meanwhile, "The Easiest Thing" veers off in the direction of the desert mirage psych of the Mystic Braves. The Back in the USA  shuffling and quavering street rock of "Hassle" laments being forestalled at every turn and connects the dots between the MC5 and CCR.  Rock 'n' roll like this has been pretty pushed off the radar and regulated to corners of the internet here in Century 21, however this fringe contains the musical essence of the past and a departing point for take-off. For now, the Flight 13 are ready to breakthrough the everyday holding patterns and take listeners to exciting new destinations.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Palomar- II

Having their own sound could be considered an understatement when describing this indie-pop band consisting of three females on the front-line and a guy on drums that play with an incandescent energy that could light up every streetlamp in all five boroughs. These creative songs burst out of the starting gates with a brisk pop and then dash down the straightaways before turning some unexpected corners with lyrical dexterity and finesse to some never explored cool parts of town—illuminated by ambitious and actualized idealism. Hard to describe, but very easy to like this band that remembers the concept of playing and living up to potential!

Various-The Gene Pitney Story Retold

From the day I heard my dad’s 45 of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance/ “Take it Like a Man” on a Fisher-Price record player when I was in single digits, I immediately liked Gene Pitney.  The liner notes also revealed that instant attraction was also the reaction of several of the musicians gathered on this tribute. Maybe his ability to simultaneously whirlpool boldness with an authentic fragility is the reason his voice and enduring records can pull you in at any age.  To M’Lou Music has followed the lead and spirit of eggBERT Records and their solid “Melody Fair: Bee Gees Tribute” and “Sing Hollies in Reverse” releases and have rounded-up a collection of like-minded contemporary pop musicians who merge care for their craft with a deep respect for a vital and transitional musician. The dichotomies of Pitney’s lyrics and universal nature of his songs come through loud and clear on almost every one of these interpretations.  I totally overlooked the so-true line of “I Die a Little Bit to be in Love” until of heard Randell Kirsch & Billy Cowsill’s version of “It Hurts to be in Love.”  Also behind the cool front cover, standouts are rendered by the Now People, the Retros, the See Saw, It’s My Party and Lynchpin who sound like Barry McGuire-lite plugged into the better moments of Warner-era R.E.M. (The only glaring omission from the line-up is not including Outrageous Cherry’s remarkable cover of “Lips are Redder on You.”)  This tribute is a triumphant testament of the musicians’ ability to funnel Pitney’s contradictory sentiments embedded in his verse, chorus, lines, words and range into their own sounds and appeal like Gene Pitney himself-to so many ages and on so many levels.

The Beards-Funtown

OK, add the Muffs to cub and Blondie, divide by the Beat and then compound to the power of Buck. Ah forget the formulas because it’s summer and it all arrives out of speakers fitting together like sparkling grocery carts or something.  “Make it in America” should be considered the anthem of this summer if there were a “Funtown” where officially-licensed Beards beach towels and colored-billed visors are sold next to the Panama Jack stuff and a radio station that plays “I Wanna Call in Sick Today” by the Excessories.  I would love to hear “Make it in America” really making it and blasting out of ’76-motif GE transistor radios, shower radios and bikes radio all over this land. “Sidewalks” takes a break from the sun and is cool daydream believer pop for air-conditioned weekend afternoons.  Oh yeah…if you buy the real thing you will be greeted and treated by 11 videos.  Unlike most side projects, the band went all out for this release and the download excuse simply does not hold sway anymore.  I think my favorite video is for their cover of Frank Black’s “Thalassocracy.”   It’s all moving footage of the congested freeways of auto-centric Los Angeles.  Makes me feel like I’m there stuck in traffic and I only want to hear classical on KUSC-FM for some reason.  Well, I don’t live in Los Angeles (any longer), so the already classic “Funtown” has been parked and playing in the car and home stereo all Arizona summer long. 


Freddy & the Four-Gone Conclusions Wigged Out Sounds

Action-packed with fuzz, folk-rock, beat and R&B, “The Wigged Out Sounds” present Freddy and Co. back on the forefront of the middle-sixties garage scene they helped re-open and restore so many years ago.  Freddy’s bands and songs have always stood out from the pack because of their ability to demonstrate a Riot on Sunset Strip sense of urgency underneath Gold Star Studios harmonies and melodies.   The band’s essential element is Freddy’s versatile and veritable voice--that can scorch and sneer like a post-baseball/pre-metal Jim Sohns and then curve into the sweetest ‘60s pop. A live favorite from the ol’ Gold Dollar in Detroit to the Gold Coast in Las Vegas, the single "Today" opens up the album with its striking folk-rock jangle and valiant harmonies that rivals anything on Renaissance by the Association. (The only thing missing is a shrink-wrap sticker demanding that Ben Franklin and Woolco record shoppers, “Tune-In TODAY to the Wigged Out Sounds!”) The piercing, snarling and Tax-ing "Fell from Grace" hooks and lifts the band over the their competitors and the corrosive Detroit river a la the front cover of the first Outsiders album.  "I Can't See You" surges like a live-wire charged with uncoiling freakbeat as seen through the unraveled vision of Arthur Lee.  Halting and haunting are the first two words that tumble down on the keyboard to describe their centerpiece cover of Del Shannon’s "Stand Up." Max Crook and his Musitron organ even appears on this stunning rendering that puts an instant smile on the face and leaves its indelible melody in the head for days.   Like a mid-sixties top 40 boss radio station, the hits keep a coming (each with their own singular and distinct nature) like the forlorn folk-beat of “Cry in Shame” and the fierce fuzz storm of “(Come on Over) To My Side.”  An Ian & the Zodiacs song “Why Can’t It be Me?” is given an American garage overhaul to pleadingly express the stinging sentiment which waylays in the hallways, sidewalks and teardrop driveways of life. With their instantly captivating and built to endure “Wigged Out Sounds,” Freddy & the Four-Gone Conclusions have fulfilled the tall orders and high expectations of listeners around the world.  Moreover, they have continued the big legacy already set by “Little Girl,” “Little Black Egg,” and “Little Annie Lou” with their own “Little Bit O’ Soul.”

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Jon Rauhouse-Jon Rauhouse’s Steel Guitar Air Show

Don’t you just love it when none of the local record stores carry the works of a hometown musician and you have to send away for and/or cross the state lines to get the goods?  This Tempe-born (who remembers watching Reggie Jackson play baseball at Arizona State University) and current Phoenix homesteader/musician plays a pedal-steel guitar in a signature style as timeless as Route 66 and as cool as a dewdrop inn.  Best known for backing city & western musicians like Neko Case, Sally Timms and the Calexico stable, the tables are tuned on this record with the pedal-steel coming to forefront while special guests amble in and out through the swinging saloon doors. Inside the album, it’s the cover songs where Rauhouse and his pedal-steel guitar really glow.  He puts a cool new shade on  “The Lonely Bull” “Perfidia” (with a brief, but welcomed  “Pet Sounds” quote) and “Summer Samba” while reminding listeners how enduring and wonderful those aforementioned songs really are. JR reaches this comfortable fruition by knowing when to illuminate his renditions with single spare candle or when to adorn with the multi-colored glowing patio lights.  His originals have a homespun quality that would be great to hear beyond indieworld and between segments on Nation Public Radio or even on the front porch of an Indiana Crackle Barrel.  Don’t be expecting the grand  sweep of the Friends of Dean Martinez, just be ready for some twangy pedal-steel guitar that sometimes swings like that pirate ship at the fair and other times stretches out like the vast desert itself.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys “Listen” and “New Directions”

While these two albums will probably not be featured in Mojo anytime soon, they are very good unsung sixties soft-pop albums with that unmistakable and straightforward Gary Lewis voice (that you either enjoy or makes you cringe) encased in some vibrant and lush embellishments--resulting in the most listenable long players of his career. The visionary arrangement of Jack Nitzsche takes these songs into depths and realms beyond the standard pop buoys to make “Listen” Gary’s "Save for a Rainy Day."  Case in point, “Listen,” arguably offers his most ambitious song “Jill,” which still floats up like a yellow balloon with its climbing vocals--long after his records have been dumped overboard by the ex-teeny boppers under the misguided concept of relevancy and rolled off the gang plank by most critics. “New Directions” includes songs from Tim Hardin and Bonner/Gordon (songwriters for the Turtles, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mojo Men and Gandalf), which contribute to widening Gary’s breadth and scope. Never really promoted because of thee son’s tour of duty in Vietnam, New Directions is teeming with should have been hits like the bass-anchored “New in Town” and “Let’s Be More Than Friends” which sunbursts so optimistically during such a dark and tumultuous time in his life and this country.   

The Autumn Leaves-The Twilight Hours of the Autumn Leaves

Almost five years after their sparkling debut “Treats and Treasures,” it was great to hear (through the Radio Rumpus Room archives) that the Minneapolis band had not fallen to the forest floor. During those five (deceivingly dormant) years the band has branched off into new and natural sonic directions--while still thankfully rooted in the ‘60s sounds and aesthetics. This album opens up with the ominous and departing “Night of the UFO” which evokes the feeling of being in an iced-over airplane cutting through the blackness over the tundra and frozen lakes of Minnesota.  By the second song, the flickering cabin lights and flangers are squelched and direction is found landing the plane in the ba, la, la sunny West Coast dawn.  Jeaneen Gauthier’s yin backing harmonies arrive and swirl with the yang lead vocals of David Beckey—instantly making this one warm and inviting record.

Gauthier’s bobbing harmonies echo somewhere between the daybreak rays of Wendy & Bonnie and the dusky ones of  Stereolab.  “Maria’s Hat” is told with Davies detachment strung and stung at moments by Electric Prunes guitars and effects.  An autoharp opens up the gate to “Morning” with Beckey playing Lee Hazlewood while guest vocalist Lori Wray wears the boots of Nancy Sinatra and comes off sounding like Sandy Denny. Before the autoharp closes off the song, a slanting bridge connects the number to an exquisite baroque guitar solo.  A Hammond organ makes “Seaside Symphony” bounce and bump like the silver ball off the rubber bumpers of a pinball machine while the abundant harmonies suspend the song like an air hockey puck. Next, a cascading and circular guitar riff introduces “The Light Brigade of Fireflies” like it’s from the same distant shores as the Del-Fi rarity “Things Will Work Out Fine” by Beauregard Ajax.

Lastly, the elusive perfect day (that Lou Reed has even experienced) begins to fade into evening as “Stars in the Snow” begin to appear. Musically, “Stars in the Snow” holds onto some Notorious Byrd Brothers railings before reaching a starburst overlook of harmonies and the conclusion that life can be grand sometimes.  What can be played in the background as a short album echoing moments of the Paisley underground, the Church, R.E.M., Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, Brasil ’66, Stereolab, the Feelies, Yo La Tengo, High Llamas and Beachwood Sparks takes on a different glow when played front and center.  In the clearing, this is one sophisticated song-cycle naturally extending to where they have not gone before—all while still proudly displaying its sixties-tinged vibrant hues!


The Resonars-Lunar Kit

After four years, the Resonars have emerged from their Coma Cave Studios, burrowed somewhere in the cacti-strewn mountains surrounding Tucson, with an album that shines like a molten gold star on the Arizona state flag.  Like on their previous album “Bright and Dark,” “Lunar Kit” starts down the previous trails blazed by the Hollies, the Byrds and Love before veering off into a foothill neighborhood somewhere between the charming pop neighbors of the Blow Pops, Rock Four and Zumpano and out-of-their-heads hoods like the Loons, the Lears and Outrageous Cherry.  “Why Does it Have to be so Hard” proclaims some Electric Prunes albums have been playing up in the their mountain hideaway.  “She’s in Love with Her,” and “Flood Lamp Eyes,” could be beaming from radio ridge atop Mt. Lemmon—if the radio conglomerates ever looked back to history or beyond their shortsighted restrained formats and playlists (or if Little Steven replaces his batteries in his garage door opener).  The band really takes flight when they fasten their jet stream harmonies to the coiling and circling jangling guitars a la the Byrds on “Lunar Kit” and “Way Way Way Way Out.” The only wrong turn the band takes is “Little Spoiled Baby” which sounds like the band accidentally wandered into an overtly bad college bar and had to play some late-night wank blues before being allowed back out with their lives and instruments intact.   Before taking a cosmic rough ride back to the mountains, the Resonars address such earthly concerns as making it through the day and uncertain relationships with some sage-like lyrics submerged in a warm tube glow production.  The Resonars on “Lunar Kit” have once again bridged the summits of the mid-sixties sounds to an elevated place in the now.  Moreover, this still climbing band has opened up additional backcountry routes and magic hallows for listeners to discover and explore on & off their musical maps.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Maria Andersson-Succession

Whatever became of the Swedish musical invasion which was constructed and purported to be the next big thing around 2002?  Part of the answer can be found in hearing this release from Maria Andersson.  She was previously the lead singer of Sahara Hotnights, a Swedish female foursome who were on the verge of a mainstream American breakthrough a decade or so ago. This mature and elegiac solo effort is something entirely different from Sahara Hotnights’ Joan Jett takeoffs and emulations of the Eyeliners.  It’s imbued with that Scandinavian sleekness, spareness and streamlined elegance that is both familiar and foreign.  The rousing and sweeping opener “Lift Me Up” would not sound out of place on the “The Official Music of the 1984 Olympics” record and would have aged better than the actual Loverboy inclusion.  The standout “Birches” expresses the “Life in a Northern Town” desire to return to a time when things were seemingly less impeded, but also acknowledges a pragmatic take-it-as-it-comes acceptance of the forces pushing in particular directions. This bend-with-the-wind theme would not be out of place on a Jens Lekman recording. Echoing the airy, but grounded dance & retail floor vibes cast by New Order, “End of Conversation” was selected as the lead-off single of this album. The closing two songs, “Wild Thing” and "The Girl who Loved Islands" are somewhat hushed under blankets of sound and layers of snow swept up by those relentless Nordic winters winds. Andersson’s voice frequently expresses the persevering determination to slice through life's noise and nonsense and get to the elusive essence-which frequently, surprisingly and paradoxically shows up in the noise and nonsense. Succession presents eight variations on the theme of the attuned adjustments that are necessary for heightened awareness of the ongoing moment, branching out and growing towards the light.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Brazilian Octopus

For some reason, Brazilian music awash in bossa nova seems to really beckon when the daytime temperatures start to climb into triple digits.  The summer winds have blown this reissue north of equator and offers an overall fresh, playful and effervescent listening experience.  Upon initial listens, I was most struck by flights of flute which are evocative of the music that would accompany film strips in ‘70s classrooms or Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to Room 222 (an ABC-TV series that ran from 1969-1974). Subsequent listens revealed the details like a "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (from Cinderella) organ quote in “Canção Latina” and a switched-on moog in “As Borboletas.” The backstory on this ensemble is that a well-heeled São Paulo businessman gave the musicians the impetus to band together in order to play sophisticated affairs and soirées for his fashion company. The same businessman also commissioned this 1969 album for the large outfit.  Their multiple instruments converge together to make for a well balanced and proportional amalgamation of sound somewhere between Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '66 and Quarteto Novo.  “Momento B-8” is a go-go number that could be retroactively said to be the entire circuit board that the mid-nineties Shibuya-kei acts (Pizzicato 5 and Cornelius) fused their sound upon. The breezy and lush “Summerhill” features that aforementioned fluttery flute which evokes soft-focused memories of Roselyn Bakery commercials from childhood. This zingy album exerts a playful push and a lighter gravitational pull, but is not lightweight due to strong compositions and inventive arrangements.  It's melodically propelled by the trinity of organ/guitar/vibes and rounded off by a teeming number of other instruments. This is definitely a rewarding and refreshing half-hour for those who like bossa nova bubbling in their jazz or for those who enjoy their jazz percolating in their bossa nova with no Portuguese required.