Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cold Satellite: “Cavalcade” (2013) CD Review

Cavalcade is the second Cold Satellite album; that is, the second album which teams up guitarist and vocalist Jeffrey Foucault and lyricist Lisa Olstein. All songs were written by the two of them, though not while in the same room. Lisa, who has won the Copper Canyon Press Hayden Carruth Award for her first book of poetry, writes the lyrics, and Jeffrey sets them to music, often swapping or eliminating verses as he sees fit. It’s an interesting way to collaborate, and as you might guess, this CD features some excellent lyrics. I love these lines from the end of “Glass Hands,” for example: “Tell me where you’ll go/When you walk out of here/I think I’m going to want to know/When the wind blows in from there.  Many of the lyrics of Cavalcade truly are poetry. Check out these lines from “Every Boy, Every Blood”: “The clouds looked like swimmers/Dragging their arms across the sky.” Excellent, right?

Of course the lyrics are only half the story. Jeffrey Foucault really sells them with some excellent vocal performances, particularly on songs like “Careless Flame” and “Tangled Lullaby,” two very different songs, and thus two very different approaches to the vocals. The album has some rock songs, and some songs that are more in a folk or country vein. To my ear, the latter are generally more successful, and more interesting.

The album opens with “Elegy (In A Distant Room),” a song that comes on strong, like a burst of guitars, like a force already in full swing. And it remains steady, like that, without much in the way of nuance or variation, except for the lead guitar part playing over the buzz of the other guitar. But I dig the way his vocals rise above the fray, demonstrating a power, even a need. Especially at the end, when he repeats, “In a distant room/You are always dying.”

“Necessary Monsters” has that kind of cool easy southern rock groove, kind of like early ZZ Top, particularly in the guitar. The guitar, when it takes its lead, has a few specific things to say, and allows itself pauses between, which is nice. I also like the keys, which remain somewhat in the background. And when the song fades out, it feels like it’s moving away off into the distance rather than ending. Like the party is continuing elsewhere, and you could follow it if you so choose.

“Cavalcade,” the CD’s title track, has more of a country folk feel that I totally dig. In this one, Jeffrey Foucault sings, “Before the revolution/There was a queen/But I can’t remember her name/I have read the classics/Minus one or two.” I’m totally into this song, and even more when the lyrics surprise me: “You could light a fire to my bed/You could leave the hungry all unfed/What I meant by what I said/Is please please stay.” I absolutely love that. Isn’t that what we’re often saying, regardless of what words are coming out? Please please stay.

“Careless Flame” has a slower groove and a wonderful sadness as he sings lines like, “And all my bags were packed/My ticket was bought/We stayed up through the night/We made love then we fought.” The lyrics to this one are excellent. I’m particularly taken with these lines: “On some stranger’s tongue/Today I heard your name/And it flickered and went out/Like a careless flame.” That’s followed by a slow, gorgeous, sad instrumental section. This is one of my personal favorites. Sure, it’s a kind of cry-in-your-beer country song, but it’s the best of that – you know? Long after things are over, we’re still ending them, and so still living them.

I went to my first rock concert in 1982 when I was ten, and went to many more over the next decade. When folks wanted an encore, they didn’t just applaud. They lit their lighters. During slow songs too, audience members would flick on their lighters. When Aerosmith performed “Dream On,” or Bob Seger did “Turn The Page,” there was a field of small lights dancing above the audience like will-o’-the-wisps. It was beautiful. The first time I saw people use their cell phones in the same way, I thought I was going to be sick. The second time I felt a murderous rage rush through me, and then a heavy sadness. The first lines of “Bomblet” are “At the rock ‘n’ roll show/We hold up our phones/We thought we were taking pictures/But the phones are our candles.” It’s interesting to me that the singer includes himself, as it’s “We hold up our phones,” rather than separating himself from those that are doing it. Also interesting is that this song has a slow powerful groove, one that might have caused folks back in the day to ignite their lighters, especially during the guitar solo after the lines “And sometimes for days/All we want to do is sleep/Sometimes for days.”

“Tangled Lullaby” is a rock song with kind of a blues aspect to the vocals. This is really an excellent vocal performance, the lyrics mostly separated from the music, the band coming in hard at the end of each verse. It’s an interesting way to do it, as it forces you to focus on the lyrics, and then to move with the guitar when it comes rushing in.

CD Track List
  1. Elegy (In A Distant Room)
  2. Necessary Monsters
  3. Cavalcade
  4. Careless Flame
  5. Sleepers Wake
  6. Pearlescent
  7. Bomblet
  8. Silver Whips
  9. Glass Hands
  10. Elsewhere
  11. Tangled Lullaby
  12. Every Boy, Every Blood
Musicians on this release include Jeffrey Foucault on vocals, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar; Billy Conway on drums; Jeremy Moses Curtis on bass; David Goodrich on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; Alex McCollough on pedal steel; and Hayward Williams on vocals, electric guitar and keyboards.

Cavalcade is scheduled to be released on May 21, 2013 on Signature Sounds.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wilderness Road: “Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only” (1973/2013) CD Review

Wilderness Road is a group that formed in the late 1960s to help raise money for the Chicago 8 (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, and John Froines). I’ve always been fascinated by that trial, and yet hadn’t heard of this band. Wilderness Road also did shows to support the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement, and their approach to music, and to these issues, was satirical rather than preachy. So why hadn’t I heard them?

They recorded only two albums, the first a self-titled album released by Columbia in 1972. The second and final album, Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only, was originally released in 1973 on Reprise, and is only now finally getting a proper CD release. Perhaps that is why they managed to slip under my radar.  I really wish someone had turned me onto them back in the late 1980s when I was getting heavily into late ‘60s/early ‘70s music. But I’m making up for lost time by thoroughly enjoying this CD.

Without even paying any attention whatsoever to the lyrics, you can enjoy this album, for the album has lots of good grooves (check out “Reno,” for example). These guys are good musicians. But if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll appreciate it even more, because this is a band that actually has something to say. Hurrah for that. They mainly tackle the commercialism of society, and these songs are often funny.

By the way, if you hadn’t guessed, the album’s title refers to condoms.

Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only opens with “Pot Of Gold,” a great dose of early 1970s country rock. It’s got a great groove and energy, and some wonderful backing vocals. This is one of many songs that positions its singer on the corner of Sunset and Vine, in its opening lines, “Well if you’re tired of Chicago/And you don’t like Tennessee/Come on out to L.A., California/Take a good long look at me/’Cause I’ve been standing on the corner of Sunset and Vine.” This is the album’s sole cover, written by Alex Harvey.

The rock and roll continues with “Rock Garden.” It has a reference to Crosby, Stills And Nash’s “Woodstock” (a song actually written by Joni Mitchell): “Well, I came upon a child of God playing Crosby, Stills, Nash/I said, hey there man, can you give me a hand/He said, sure if you’ve got the cash.” The song’s title also contains a reference to that song, as CSN sing, “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” The guitar in the instrumental section toward the end is wonderful.

“A.M.A.” has a great funky edge, plus the nice addition of horns. And I dig these lyrics: “I look like a lady now, but that’s just my style/I got evil on my mind, but I sure know when to smile/You got to go now, oh yeah, just a little further down the road.” (A lot of these songs mention the road.)

The centerpiece of this album is “The Gospel,” which opens with the question, “What key does the good lord sing in?” This song begins as that sort of gospel folk/country, which always seemed tongue in cheek to me, like when the Grateful Dead covered gospel-type songs in the early 1970s. This one is a medley, “The Wilderness Road Gospel Hour,” and includes “just one brief commercial message.” The commercial is great: “Sunday, Sunday… See the twelve apostles driving their own new, brand new, fuel-injected funny cars” (I didn’t know people were making fun of that as far back as 1973 – very cool).  The commercial continues to rave: “See loaves and fishes!” And it all happens at “the Christ Evangelical Church, salvation capital of the world.” There is “just one more commercial message,” and it’s hilarious, particularly the backing vocalists singing about “genuine simulated” leather Bible Belt. This track really rips on the commercialism of religion (particularly Christian radio), as well as the religious air of commercialism. These guys really go for it. This is the track that makes me really appreciate this band. There is another commercial, this time for “Mouth Jive,” “the miracle mouthwash that doubles as a deodorant” which “fights crime, cures cancer, and removes unwanted hair.” That leads directly into the last part of the track, “Heavily Into Jesus,” a trucker country tune about a man finding Jesus. “He’s my wafer when I’m hungry/He’s my wine when my throat is dry/Heavily into Jesus ‘til I die.”  How great is that? He then feels a need to convert other truckers – “I’d help every trucker to find the way/And put Christ back on the dashboard where he belongs.” Yes, I absolutely love this song.

“Reno” is great fun, with a good rhythm to get you dancing, and some excellent work on horns to raise your spirits. The energy is fantastic, particularly in the vocals. Then the song breaks down, for a cool guitar section (yes, with a steady beat on cow bell). And then they just jam, and it sounds excellent.

This album ends with “The Authentic British Blues,” an interesting tune that starts with vocals over strings – singing, with a fake British upper crust accent, “We’re here tonight to sing and play the blues/The boys in the ensemble all have really paid their dues.” It then becomes a blues rocker, poking more than a bit of fun at all those British rockers imitating the blues (particularly Led Zeppelin – listen to their imitation of Robert Plant’s vocals). The lyrics are often absurd. And it ends with the line, “Now wait a minute.” And you hear a clock ticking. The first time I listened to this album, this caught me totally off guard and cracked me up. Sure enough, it goes on for a minute, and then the album ends. I kind of wish the song would kick back in, or there would be another tune after that minute.

CD Track List

  1. Pot Of Gold
  2. Rock Garden
  3. A.M.A.
  4. The Gospel
  5. Reno
  6. Bored
  7. Long Winter
  8. The Authentic British Blues

Wilderness Road is Nate Herman on lead vocals, guitar and keyboard; Warren Leming on vocals, guitar, banjo and moon lute; Andy Haban on bass and vocals; and Tom Haban on drums and vocals.  Joining them on this release are Rick Mann on pedal steel, Jim Horn on saxophone, Don Menza on saxophone, Venetta Fields on vocals, Clydie King on vocals, and Shirlie Matthews on vocals.

Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2013 through Real Gone Music.

Bridges And Powerlines: “Better” (2013) EP Review

Bridges And Powerlines is a pop band based in New York. They released their first, self-titled, EP in 2006, and since then have put out a couple of full-length CDs. Their new EP, Better, contains all original songs, with all four band members sharing writing credits. Usually CDs order their songs so that the strongest tracks are first. Not so here. This EP, for the most part, actually gets better as it goes along (with my favorites being the third, fourth and sixth tracks). The common thread seems to a hopeful attitude, with these songs having a positive stance on getting through the tough times. The songs on this EP are named after neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Better opens with “Bushwick,” a decent power pop song, with rough male vocals mixed with sweeter backing vocals. This song has a great energy, and kind of a positive vibe with the eager, exuberant repetition of “We find a new way.”  It’s a song of getting through and moving on, with lines like “Don’t cry/We might see tomorrow if we try/We might be the ones who never die/Leave this space behind and go outside.”

“Park Slope” starts with its protagonist in a hospital bed, with the world at war. This one has a positive aspect too, as he sings, “Love tends my wounds.” And then, though he admits he’s broken, he sings, “When it’s over, we’ll see mountains/We’ll see forests when it’s over.”

It’s the third track, “Williamsburg,” that really gets me interested in this band. It’s a great song, partially because of its wonderful build. And it has these excellent catchy touches on keys. I just love the feel of this one. This is when pop is at its best. And then it’s not afraid of ditching that good comfortable groove for a bit, to go into a different section, with a stronger presence on drums. This song really draws me in.  Why close my eyes, sleep the night away when I have you.”

As good as that song is, “East New York” is actually even better, and much more interesting. The vocals start at the fore, over a steady beat that slowly creeps up. The album’s title comes from this song’s opening lines: “Better/I’m doing better/I’m doing better/’Cause I’m not around/Braver with someone less clever/I read old letters to somebody else.”  This track has really nice vocals, both the lead and backing vocals. There is something of a sweet innocence to the feel of this song – “And I was young/And I was wrong.” The repetition of those lines seems as a way of letting go, as when you repeat something enough it tends to lose meaning. This is a wonderful song.

“Greenpoint” begins with drums before the vocals and other instruments come in. “We’ve gone and lost control/Now we’re just another set of separate souls/So come in, and take my shoulder/And release each other.” This becomes more of a rock song when the guitar takes over. It’s like the guitar is acting as a voice, telling another part of the tale, a brief part, for the guitar subsides again.

“Red Hook” features some interesting vocal work, particularly the play between lead and backing vocals near the beginning. This song is actually quite pretty at times. But it’s the keyboard work I love most – it’s nothing extravagant or ostentatious or anything – but the simple feel of it is quite effective.

CD Track List
  1. Bushwick
  2. Park Slope
  3. Williamsburg
  4. East New York
  5. Greenpoint
  6. Red Hook

Bridges And Powerlines are Andrew Wood, Keith Sigel, David Boyd and Mason Ingram. Joining them on this release are Rob Moose on violin, CJ Camerieri on trumpet and French horn, Clarice Jensen on cello, Kieran Kelly on percussion and backing vocals, Maine Sigel on backing vocals, and Vanessa Morales providing the radio voiceover.

Better is scheduled to be released on May 21, 2013 on Daisy Pistol Records.

(Note: I also posted this review on Pop Culture Beast.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Blue Cheer: “Rocks Europe” (2013) CD Review

When I was in junior high and high school, pop music had gone all to hell (this was the late 1980s). So I was buying mostly late 1960s and early 1970s albums and compilations. On one of the compilations was Blue Cheer’s rendition of “Summertime Blues.” And it blew me away. I listened to it a lot, always with the volume way up. I heard some other early stuff from Blue Cheer, but then kind of lost track of them.

Rocks Europe is a two-disc live album capturing a show they did in Germany on April 11, 2008. For this show, they focused on three albums: Vincebus Eruptum (1968), Outsideinside (1968) and What Doesn’t Kill You... (2007). This is pure, unabashed heavy rock, with lots of bass, lots of guitar solos (and no keyboards or backing vocals to lighten things up). I have to admit, this kind of music is usually not what I listen to these days. It’s a bit much. But this album represents the end of a band that got me through some times in my early teen years, and it’s kind of cool to revisit it. Vocalist and bass player Dickie Peterson died in October the year after this concert.

There is some stage banter, some short introductions to the songs. The band greets the crowd, saying “We are Blue Cheer, and this is what we do.” And then immediately they go into “Babylon,” a hard rock song from their second album, Outsideinside. This has kind of a slow groove, and a cool lead guitar section.

“Parchman Farm” (written by Mose Allison) is from their debut record. It’s straight-ahead heavy rock and roll. Then a few minutes in, it becomes quiet, the guitar trailing off, before the bass and drums take over, with a loud pounding rhythm.

“I’m Gonna Get To You” is a song from the band’s 2007 album, What Doesn’t Kill You. This one also has a slow, heavy groove. Dickie doesn’t sing so much as roar, and I have to wonder how his vocal cords could stand it. His voice is so rough, it sounds like a struggle at times – but perhaps that’s just how it always was.

They follow that with another track from that CD, “Rollin’ Dem Bones,” and this one has a quicker tempo, and so is more fun. “You bring your stash/I’ll bring my own/You bring your bong/I’ll keep on rollin’ dem bones.” It’s funny, but I don’t think of this kind of music as pot-smoking music. On “Out Of Focus,” they sing, “Won’t somebody tell me what went wrong with me?” I know the feeling at times. This track has one of those protracted rock endings.

But of course, “Summertime Blues” is the song everyone gets excited about. In that song’s intro, they say, “There’s three of us on the stage. But we’re actually a four-piece band. And that fourth piece is you people.” And, yeah, they still rock this tune, and they still leave out the congressman’s line, replacing it with that cool guitar lick. This version is approximately seven minutes long, but that’s mainly due to its ridiculously long ending.

As long as some of these tracks on the first disc are, they’re nothing compared with the twenty-six-minute version of “Doctor Please” that kicks off the second disc. There is a long jam, with a pretty good groove, the focus of course being on the guitar. And I have to admit, the guitar work is impressive, and I definitely got lost in this groove and caught up in some of the guitar gymnastics. Approximately ten minutes into the track, there is a drum solo – but the change into that solo is abrupt, rather than flowing from the main body of the song. The drum solo (four minutes or so), has  a few different sections, the most impressive for me being when he keeps the cool bit going on the snare, while adding a rolling rhythm on the toms.

The show ends with a cover of Albert King’s “The Hunter,” Blue Cheer giving the song a heavy bluesy groove. There are two more tracks, studio tracks, to round out the second disc: “Alligator Boots” and “She’s Something Else.” "She's Something Else" is a fun song.

CD Track List

CD 1

  1. Babylon
  2. Parchman Farm
  3. I’m Gonna Get To You
  4. Rollin’ Dem Bones
  5. Out Of Focus
  6. Just A Little Bit
  7. Maladjusted Child
  8. Summertime Blues

CD 2

  1. Doctor Please
  2. The Hunter
  3. Alligator Boots
  4. She’s Something Else

Rocks Europe is scheduled to be released on Rainman Records on May 28, 2013.