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Catch your Death
Radiocraft
2007 Radiocraftmusic
***

Detroit's Radiocraft have released "Catch your Death" in the midst of the Detroit garage rock revolution. As a mainstream rock band, Radiocraft are fronted by an incendiary singer named Suzie Ferro and chose to completely ignore this trend. Instead they chose to make their record in Seattle with Producer Rick Parashar who helped usher in the Seattle garage rock movement nearly 20 years ago. Rick's work with members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden on the Temple of the Dog album helped define a genre which would later be deemed grunge rock.

Several thoughts about this gutsy recording. The band sound fantastic. Guitars grind through the disc in a very satisfying fashion. Hashy cymbals combined with a brash rhythm section provide the rhythmic fortitude to make this disc resonate as heartily as Candlebox-meets-Evanescence. Suzie Ferro has an imperative instrument, but every band will live and die by the presentation of their lead singer. Suzie is not consistently the focus of this production. Multi-tracked at times in a loose, almost team-like fashion, laden with delays and distortion, her voice is treated as merely another instrument instead of as the rock star that she can be. Her level of emotion is significant and while one searches for the soul of this singer, there is little exposed in the mix.

All the songs are likeable, but at times underdeveloped. Album tracks make up the bulk of this 7-song release. Album tracks define the character and impact of a record. On "Catch your Death" these are 'Hurricanes', 'Bakersfield', 'The Burning Blanket' and 'Bribe the guards' and they offer no new insites on love and love lost. Obvious single tracks are 'Red' and 'Butterflies', but 'Red' faulters by the end suffering from lack of development of the main melodic theme and a very miniscule bridge section. The arrangement is sorely unsatisfying and incomplete. It's a shame because the chorus of the song is the best melody presented on the album. 'Butterflies' at least yields more room for Suzie Ferros's instrument and we get a better sense of what she is capable of as a singer throughout the choruses of this song. In typical radio mix fashion, the vocals are predominant and for Radiocraft in the future, this should be their consistent highlight.

Overall, this 3rd release from Radiocraft should be an enticing introduction to a band from the midwest looking to break out. With the release of "Catch your Death" their campaign has started, their album is out, their shows are booked, their regional tour is beginning and with this sound they stand to garner the attention they deserve.

Site: www.myspace.com/radiocraft


Reviewed by: Jeff Robinson  Posted: 2007-11-26 18:02:56

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King Cake
Lisa Haley
2007 Blue Fiddle
**

Lisa Haley has been churning out a solid mix of Cajun-style Zydeco music from side-lady to front person for over 10 years. With her 2007 release 'King Cake', the instrumental tracks are fun and the musical themes are good. Backed by noteworthy players like Lee Sklar, Keb' Mo' and Jerry Donahue, the rhythm section is in place to make this sound like a deceptively confident good time. Lisa's violin tone is clear and dominant- almost commanding. Her phrasing with the instrument is thoughtful and complete. What the songs on 'King Cake' lack overall though is a cogent melodic thread from Lisa Haley 'the singer'.

Years back, Michael Stipe from R.E.M. chose the buried vocal approach and from that choice the mystery of the Athens band was born. With music as immediate as what is presented on 'King Cake', her lack of leading the band presents a major 'hole' in the center of this release. There is no middle and thus little content of importance. The disc plays like a bad club mix where the band appears to be good, if only we knew what the singer was saying. Hooks do come though in ensemble fashion from the backing band, particularly on tracks such as the title track with the cast shouting in unison during the chorus 'King Cake'.

Choice of melody is nearly always a songwriter decision, but a producer can weigh in on this as can the record company. Rather than simply produce a 'vehicle for a tour', more time could have been spent crafting the art. This band could make anyone look good, why not use them with stellar songs? Lack of completeness of melody is partially to blame here. Poor choices do not work to present memorable hooks or complete thoughts. Combined with bad melody is an inappropriate 'focus-level', solo artist vocal level. As they are presented they are not an imperative must, but rather seem more of an afterthought. As an independent release produced by Sylvia Massey (Johnny Cash, Econoline Crush), the schedule of an indie budget may well have come in to play on this. Did the producer have more than these 13 songs to choose from before recording this album? Was there better, stronger material? We'll never know, but it could be the case that this might be the result of exactly what the label could afford- no more, no less.

Site: www.bluefiddle.com


Reviewed by: Jeff Robinson  Posted: 2007-11-13 14:00:16

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We're taking over
Hotness
2005 Independent
* 1/2

From the riff rock thrill ride of the early 70's comes the debut EP of Detroit 4-piece Hotness. Geared with the timeless line-up of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, Hotness embark on an attempt to forge new territory in an already well-tread domain. Entitled "We're taking over" the record title promises way more than the recording delivers.

Beginning with track 'Saboteur' one gets a sense of those fashionable and satisfying aspects of vintage Free, Grand Funk Railroad and Humble Pie but without the depth, sincereity or resonance of such monolithic slab-of-rock, blues powered riffs and tones. Steve Marriott, at his pinnacle could sing a grocery list and make it sound exciting- his delivery was nothing less than enigmatic. Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad could at least be deemed a hardened voice for the blue collar everyman with the strength of a Union laborer/soldier. Paul Barney of Hotness possesses no such similar qualities on this release. Partly, he may be hemmed in by the bland melodies and production- future recordings will tell. In most instances with a band, the singer is the franchise.

The production on "We're taking over" does not suit the retro-throwback vibe the band seem keen to obtain with their songcraft. They are writing what could be thundering riffs, but lost in the weak digital ambience of the drums is the true intent of the recording. On those early 70's masters the aspect of live recording combined with the vintage analog warmth provided by tubes and tape instilled a mystery and magic to the sound. A dirty grittiness that said as much about the band as the environment they were recording in. That 70's style of rock was always offered up by a band of true 'mates' recorded in such close confines that one could almost 'hear' the beer spilled, the bong water boil and the sweat seep as one or all soaked in to the threads of the brown shag carpet that covered those classic studios. Those spaces produced such raw power as to emasculate any evidence of pretension in the recording or performance and produce music of such honesty and riveting intensity that the listener was almost phyisically abused. Unfortunately, nearly every aspect of "We're taking over" is lacking such significant character.

Some redemption does come with the final tune of this 4-song release "Somehow, Somewhere, Someday" and hints at all that Hotness can look forward to becoming as the musical interplay and harmony guitar work borders on breaking into something we can perceive as the beginnings of group chemistry. The point that bands seem to miss these days is that style aside, it's show after show after show after show that glues a band's sound together. Crashing the boards at a studio any sooner is putting the cart before the horse. As listeners, we don't want to hear a trepiditious interpretation of the bands record collection, we want to make the band and recording a part of our own. For the most part, "We're taking over" is simply a hollow promise that could have been more clearly stated "Hotness has arrived", the question then becomes, "Who cares"?

Site: www.hotnessrocks.com


Reviewed by: Jeff Robinson  Posted: 2007-06-10 15:12:41

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Shrunken Heads
Ian Hunter
2007 Yep Roc Records
****

Ian once lamented, "Old records never die". Neither do some old rock stars, apparently. Hunter has been making idiosyncratic solo records since he jumped from the lovably neurotic and possibly perfect but sinking ship that was Mott the Hoople back in ‘74, taking with him his curmudgeonly genius for penning punchy, pissed-off pre-punk rock confessions for a solo career full of promise. Over the years, a few tracks (Once Bitten Twice Shy, Just Another Night, Irene Wilde) and a couple records (Never Alone With a Schizophrenic, Ian Hunter Live) hit a popular nerve for a nano-second (you remember that cheesy Barry Manilow cover of Ships?) During the recorded tour in ’79 that was to become the aforementioned double disc Ian Hunter Live (which, by the way, remains one of the best live rock records ever recorded) rumor had it that Hollywood golden boy Jack Nicholson was even part of the backstage entourage. But for the most part, Ian’s solo career has lurched along like a ’71 Cuda with a bad cylinder, garnering mostly kudos critically but belching mostly black smoke commercially. The slow slide into oblivion began with Hunter’s next release in ’81, Short Back ‘N’ Sides, a quirkily entertaining but now sonically dated collaboration with The Clash’s Mick Jones. But while Ian’s star has been on the wane ever since, his rock and roll heart has kept the beat.

Luckily, the story doesn’t end there. Hunter spent the rest of the eighties sputtering out fun but inconsistent (for him anyway) records, a forgettable movie soundtrack cut or two, sometimes with, and sometimes without, his longtime former Bowie guitarist buddy Mick Ronson, who ended up losing a valiant battle with cancer in the nineties. With Ronson’s death, the nineties became a write-off, Ian going underground and staying there, surfacing only for a handful of live guest sightings here or there with the likes of Def Leppard and Ringo Starr. Then in 2001, Hunter resurfaced with Rant, a blisteringly acerbic and surprisingly tenacious return to form that garnered much critical praise and absolutely zero commercial interest. But for Ian, who was by now closing in on his mid-sixties, sales didn’t matter- he went on the road, and by the time 2004 rolled around, he seemed to be basking in the soft light of a meager but satisfying artistic renaissance. His website got some new hits, he recorded a live record with string backing and even re-released his legendary and long out-of-print Diary Of A Rock and Roll Star in paperback. Rocking gracefully into the sunset as an aging and past-it rocker wasn’t looking quite so bad after all…

Fast forward to May 15, 2007 with the release of Shrunken Heads. Turns out Rant wasn’t a swan song, but merely the pre-show warm-up – Shrunken Heads is nothing less than Hunter at the peak of his powers - his voice has been scumbled by the 100-grit sandpaper of life, but he still sounds remarkably like the soulful, golden locked Dude of old. Lyrically, it’s yet another lean, mean, cuttingly accurate critique of the absurdities of life in America, Hunter’s go-to wellspring of inspiration. But it’s the music here that captivates – no, there ain’t any Irene Wilde or Once Bitten Twice Shy here, but sweeping through his over thirty years of solo work, you can’t find a more consistently solid chunk of songs on a single Ian studio offering, well, ever. So now you’re thinking, yeah right, an almost seventy year old rocker releases another pointless record just to prove he’s not dead and we’re supposed to believe it’s not embarrassing and sad and well, really, really, really bad? Yeah, well, I’m not asking, I’m telling you - this is not a swan song – Shrunken Heads is a triumph.

Most Hunter solo sets include a couple (or a few) stinkers, either gimmicky experiments or half-baked dirges that should have died in the mixing room, but with Shrunken Heads, you have to work hard not to like every cut. Words (Big Mouth) begins with Ian croaking "I got a big one" (mouth that is), and his band proceeds to saunter through the gloriously laid-back beat with the lazy satisfaction of a farm cat curled up on a porch swing on a hot summer day. Okay, so Fuss About Nothin’ is mostly just that, but I found myself humming to it by the end. When The World Was Round starts with, of all things, an unnerving little hip-hop beat, but when we’re soon overtaken with a sweepingly dreamy wash of a chorus we know we’re back on stable Hunter ground – lyrically it’s a nostalgic reflection on our digital information world. Brainwashed is the only real clunker – an overworked, overlong, mostly annoying rant on media-entranced dumb-asses, but with the title track all of a sudden we’re back in ’79 (or ’73) with a creamy crop of soulful back-up singers preaching redemption and Ian chiming his way back into our hearts with his familiarly elegant piano intros. Soul of America begins with a too-close-for-comfort riff from an old Del Amitri record, and the whole thing sounds a bit like an ironic take on John Mellencamp’s heartland America shtick, but the Dylan-esque harp holds it together, and Ian rights the ship with the next cut, How’s Your House. A cutting condemnation on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, the song is as swamp-heavy and grinding a cut Ian has laid down since Man O’ War. Guiding Light eerily channels some lighter late-eighties Ronson collaborations, Ian chanting softly "we’ll shoot for the moon together babe". Next up is Stretch, a bit too simplistic chugger that shows Ian can still square his shoulders, heat up the tube amps and bark like a moon dog. The didactic title is the best part of I am What I Hated When I Was Young, a silly little pseudo-honky-tonk toss-off. But Read ‘em ‘n’ Weep finds Ian doing his best Randy Newman, and that ain’t so very bad at all.

All in all, nothing here is going to set what’s left of the rock world on fire – there is no hope of a single – but taken as a whole, "Shrunken Heads" serves as a stalwart summation of the singular talent that is Ian Hunter almost forty years on. The rest of us should dream we could be so relevant at seventy, let alone alive. What can I say? Nobody born after 1969 will give a shit about "Shrunken Heads", but then again, who gives a shit about anybody born after 1969 anyway?

Site: ianhunter.com


Reviewed by: Kevin Ewing  Posted: 2007-05-26 16:30:16

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Walla Walla
Leroy
2007 TML Records
*** 1/2

This era of independent music in 2007 is potentially a bottomless well. Filled with the opportunity to expose true street-level wisdom. In the hands of the right veteran performer, a modern Digital Audio Workstation (PC-based home recording set-up) can yield stunning results. Washington state native Leroy does exactly that with "Walla Walla". Self-produced, self-recorded and self-mixed, the result is absolutely self-realized Americana.

A veteran of several signed, national touring acts prior to this release, Leroy clearly was afforded the lessons of songcraft, musicianship and melodic structure. 6 and 12-string acoustic guitar, Hammond B-3, deep pocket oriented drumming (albeit looped at times) and a raspy, vocal with an earthy madness that is uniquely his own, work in concert to etch a sun-drenched California inspired reality in crisp relief.

"Walla Walla" exudes total confidence. Leroy knows who he is, where has been and exactly where he is heading. This is evident as he addresses subject matter ranging from the worst judgements of nightly alcohol abuse ("I don't care") to the divine nature of all things California delivered with the sense it is someplace we should all inevitably end up ("My Way"). He also speaks to the inequities of relationships balanced with an optimistic heart of realism ("Healin' Time"). Even while his perspective is delivered with complete conviction, it never encroaches like a bellicose refrain. Getting to know Leroy through "Walla Walla" is like getting acquainted with a new best friend. Someone we'd hangout with, confide in and trust to offer that deep, valued, objective opinion only a close-friend could provide.

If one were searching for a brand new American rock and roll mentor beyond the obvious aging, iconic shadows of Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, then Leroy could easily fill that demand- and should!

Site: leroyrocks.com


Reviewed by: Jeff Robinson  Posted: 2007-05-14 23:46:42

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Devils & Dust
Bruce Springsteen
2005 Columbia
*** 1/2

Thirty years into his career, Springsteen’s integrity is still held in almost reverential esteem by fans and musicians alike. Springsteen has always been, from the beginning, the personification of the artist as the voice of the honest hardworking everyman, incorruptible and unassailable through a career that has taken him from Dylan-esque shaman to press-hyped Time magazine cover boy in the seventies, to bigger-than-life and Ronald Reagan co-opted poster boy of popular culture in the 80s. At one point, after the dust had finally begun to settle from his world-conquering, years-long tour supporting the colossally popular "Born In the USA" album, Springsteen admitted wearily in interviews that, for a while "it felt like the gas pedal was stuck to the floor". Whenever an artist attains such mass popularity and success, there is the inevitable backlash from hipsters and nerdies who hold inherent disdain for mainstream popularity in any form. It says something about Springsteen and his art that for the most part, he avoided the typical fall from grace that such stratospheric levels of stardom inevitably produce.

"Tunnel of Love" from ’88 dealt largely with his impending divorce, and it showed Springsteen was struggling to return to simply being a musician, and by the end of the 90s he had for the most part inadvertently succeeded, having released a variety of uncharacteristically inconsistent work, but it wasn’t until "The Ghost of Tom Joad" in ‘95 that the public seemed, for the first time, to largely ignore Springsteens preoccupations. If they had hoped for another under-the-radar masterpiece like Nebraska, what they found was a Springsteen who for the first time seemed to be annoyingly monochromatic and topically obscure.

2002’s "The Rising" was a tentative return to form, Springsteen taking inspiration and heartbreak from the 9/11 tragedy and using the country’s collective angst to try and re-connect with the hearts of Americans. Though the album was an improvement over recent efforts, and he was reunited with the E. Street band, it was also inconsistent, and oddly unsatisfying, and fans were beginning to get used to the fact that Springsteen had settled in to being merely another ageing pop-star struggling to remain relevant.

With the release of the mostly quiet and somber "Devils & Dust" in 2005, critics immediately began to make much about Springsteens tactic of releasing another "Nebraska" every decade or so, and some of the younger Boss haters prematurely jumped on "Devils & Dust" as being just another failed attempt to resurrect past glories. It was better than Tom Joad they said, but it was no "Nebraska". Where was the achingly spare realism of Atlantic City, or the energy and passion of "Born in the U.S.A" or "Born To Run"? And what’s with all the whispering vocals? There is some truth in this critique, and at least half the songs on "Devils & Dust" seem annoyingly sparse, leaving the listener yearning for simply more sounds; why didn’t he add an organ here, why not more backing vocals there, some drums, even Clarence’s sax? At times the album has a feeling of unnecessary constriction, as if Springsteen has become self-conscious about making pop songs and is reigning himself in, trying to reduce the songs to their essence to elevate their power, as he did on "Nebraska". Problem is "Nebraska" was literally a demo tape, whereas "Devils & Dust" sounds like Springsteen trying to mimic a demo tape, or more specifically, a 70s Tom Waits record, and more than a few songs come off as simply undercooked.

Other problems lie in the lyrics. There are some nice vignettes, some beautiful imagery and those juicy bits of wisdom we have come to expect from Bruce over the years, but it is harder now to identify directly with his lyrical content; these are good little stories about interesting little lives, but it is obvious here that Springsteen is scouring his now well-worn America for inspiration. Being a rich man for as long as Springsteen has been can’t help but have a distancing effect on his ability to identify directly with his everyman audience. It’s not that the stories don’t ring true, it’s that we don’t really need the stories, we’d rather just hear what Bruce has to say about his own life, and inevitably, our lives as well.

These are admittedly prickly criticisms. By now, even with the inconsistencies of the last decades output, so much is still expected from a Springsteen record that anything less than another "Nebraska" leaves most listeners feeling disappointed. It is true that Springsteen has grown, unexpectedly, into a frustratingly difficult artist to predict, and this unpredictability leaves us wondering sometimes about his choices. He seems finicky at times now, where a Springsteen record used to be anything but finicky. But maybe it’s his audience who are partly to blame. We expect Springsteen to remain the Springsteen we remember when we first heard "Born To Run", or "Born In The USA" or "Nebraska". These records are so ingrained into our musical landscape that it has become harder and harder to separate the man from the myth, the past from the present, what Springsteen used to be compared to what he has become. This latest Springsteen release isn’t the caliber of his best work, but the truth is "Devils & Dust" is simply the best and most consistent Springsteen record since "Tunnel of Love", and that means it’s better than most every other new record out there. Listening to "Devils and Dust" conjures comparisons to many things, 70s Tom Waits here, Dylan there, The Band, alt-country, and to a much lesser degree, the transcendent "Nebraska". And though it lacks Nebraska's steel-hard, almost myopic objectiveness, "Devils & Dust" is in some ways richer texturally. Though overall it may be a sparse field sonically, we are still able to separate the wheat from the chaff. With "Devils & Dust", we hear what Springsteen has to say after having lived another 20 odd years, and being a 55 year old rocker isn’t always a bad thing. All those years of living may add a bit of melancholy and sentimentality, but it also adds richness, knowledge and wisdom to life. In the case of "Devils & Dust", it also adds focus, subtlety, even a bit of beauty. Give it a spin, listen carefully, and maybe grow up a little bit too.


Reviewed by: Kevin Ewing  Posted: 2005-06-13 14:57:07

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Pretty in Black
The Raveonettes
2005 Columbia/The Orchard
**** 1/2

Pretty in Black is a tremendous retro-60’s outing from the Danish-duo The Raveonettes. Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo's voices blend in sublime fashion and the emotion rings with and an ambient depth and detail, meticulously careening between undeniable pop and an almost David Lynch-esque dreamscape.

'Seductress of Bums' starts like a pop song with a 3/4 time signature, then the chorus slows to a lullabye pace- akin to that of Linda Ronstadt’s twin forays into that domain- we are adrift, floating and sustained by a psychedelic buoyancy.

'Love in a trashcan' is an incredibly engaging pop song. Bright and uptempo, the clean, clangy, vintage guitar tones deliver neo-surf rock riffs with a Dick Dale efficiency. The infectious melodies and vocal treatments are all short and sweet and set up the addiction well.

'Sleepwalking’ begins as a lullabye once again but crashes into a very rollicking tempo reminiscent in feel to 'Paint it black, the mid-60s Rolling Stones classic. The lyrics 'Pretty in Black' are laced within the verses and the influences are shirtsleeve obvious.

In ‘Uncertain Times’, the lyrics "And if the Atom Bomb should end us both, I’ll be happy to go to the stars with you" - an obvious cold-war postulate reflecting the heart of the era this music is centered in. When heard in the same sequence of songs with the 80's goth imagery of the track ‘Here comes Mary’, it becomes clear that the stunning value of this release is how easily the moods and images are supported with the necessary sincereity to make it all so incredibly believable.

Artists like this need to be effusively praised, supported and lauded as regeneration of the generations is precarious terrain at best for most contemporary musicians. It's so easy to seem derivative. One must realize that these fjords are never easily transited. It’s only when an act comes along that infuses their material with an indelible sensitivity to their own unique vision, that such hybridization works. With Pretty in Black, this seamless transition takes us from now-to-then and brings us back again. The Raveonettes have laid an impeccable foundation for their future while strongly relying on the past.

Site: www.theraveonettes.com


Reviewed by: Jeff Robinson  Posted: 2005-06-03 09:19:47

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No Wow
The Kills
2005 Rough Trade/RCA Records
** 1/2

It was through hearing the single 'The Good Ones' on a local non-comm station, that I was inclined to pick this up. The song presentation is a moody and thick dirge. Rude vintage guitar tones fuzz-smear their way, melding the bottom end AND the vocals- resulting in one single insistent ZZZZVOOOOBBB!! of a sound. Being recorded in the midst of the analog heaven at Sear Sound in New York, I'm sure had everything to do with the classic warmth this disc provides.

It took approximately 1.2 listens to this disc however, to nail down exactly why "No Wow" falters as a whole. The Kills have managed to fill an entire album with exactly the same song. Over and over and over. Producer John Agnello should have exposed this fact to the band. The culprit is that the verse vocal phrasing is identical on every song. Rudimentary one or two bar ascending or descending melody phrases take place within only a single octave directly result in nothing but boring-begets-grating-becomes-"didn't I just hear this song?"-insanity.

Having walked into a club in Detroit where the Kills were playing I can say that my feelings were immediately corroborated by the crowd reaction. Mostly there because the media hype said they should be, the audience were a disinterested lot at best when confronted with this drum machine powered (oxymoron?) 2-piece. At present there seems to be a glut of this guy/girl thing going on now too whether it be the White Stripes, or even Ani DiFranco.

As a point of fact, there's a new service that the major labels are beginning to use called 'Hit Song Science' from Germany. The service analyzes the waveforms of songs and then compares them to songs that have been past hits. We all can speculate why this would be a bad, bad thing for the music industry. Was it used here? Don't know, but it sure sounds like it. There are rumors to the fact that those responsible for that first Norah Jones disc used HSS in the process and unfortunately that disc suffers exactly the same fate. Let's hope this is not a trend to come...the sound of this band and recording had promise.


Reviewed by: Jeff Robinson  Posted: 2005-05-20 19:36:52

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