All posts filed under: CD Reviews

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ALBUM REVIEW: BLUE ORCHIDS, “The Once And Future Thing”

Once upon a band called The Fall, Martin Bramah was the original guitarist in this most important and seminal Manchester group.  But the overwhelming directing fist of Mark E. Smith dictated otherwise and Bramah left along with original keyboard player, Una Baines, to form The Blue Orchids.  While The Blue Orchids have had their stops and starts over the last 37 or so years, Bramah has seen fit to reform the band with a new line-up, a series of re-issues and a brand new album, The Once And Future Thing.  And for someone who’s been around for as long as Bramah has, he still has a lot of the youthful energy that makes this a fun and interesting listen. Opening with the very mid-’60’s/garage-y “Good Day To Live”, things are off on a very high level; catchy and driving, with the right dash of snarling punk-y vibes for good measure.  “Jam Today” has a late-period Kinks feel and is equally catchy and “Motorway” definitely harkens back to Bramah’s days with The Fall (think “Bingo Master’s …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BOB HILLMAN, “Lost Soul”

Popdose first (re)introduced you to Bob Hillman a few months ago with the video for “Big Sur”.  Now, the first full, new album from Bob Hillman in a decade – and produced by legendary singer/songwriter Peter Case – Lost Soul, is out and available and it’s a scorcher.  No frills, no soft soap, no funny business – this is all meat-and-potatoes, straight from the gut and done with skill. Going right for the kill, the album opens with the pointed “I Think I’ve Taken Enough Shit From You This Year” and it’s one of the best fuck-you songs I’ve heard in a long time.  Sometimes, you have to say what needs to be said with no room for misinterpretation and this song says it all; “Overnight Failure” looks at why a relationship goes south and “Big Sur”, as I’ve said before is sweet, wistful and filled with a perspective and maturity.  The very wryly tongue-in-cheek “I’ll Replace You With Machines” is another great swipe – presumably this time, about former bandmates who push you over …

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ALBUM REVIEW: UP THE CHAIN, “The Prison Break”

What had begun as a vehicle for singer-songwriter Reed Kendall’s solo project has now developed into a full band – a rollicking trio from Philadelphia featuring Noah Skaroff on a mean-walking bass and Kirby Sybert on skins.  Up The Chain have a new album, The Prison Break, and this sounds like what a good old-fashioned rock & roll trio should sound like. Kicking off with “Kelly Green”, which is a neat neo-psychedelic opening montage of drone, feedback, some radio snippets and segueing into “Crumbling The Stone”, for some reason, I felt/heard touches of Buffalo Springfield, especially in the harmonies and some of the riffs (nice use of 7th as well); “Sidecar” is a down-home slice of boogie and as catchy as any of those early rock records you listened to when you were a kid in the ’70’s and “Departed Trains” has a cool Chris Isaak-like feel with its heavy reverb and minor chord structures – it’s also a great “cinematic” track as it has atmosphere and visual lyrics.  “Globe”‘s church organ with echo/delay guitar …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Chris Bolger, “No Promises”

Chris Bolger is another of those amazing musicians whose name you’ve heard but can’t understand why he’s not in the stratosphere of stardom.  Well, no worries – his newest album, No Promises is filled with prime cuts of meaty power pop – of the glorious riff-laden, Rickenbacker twang and rich harmonies – and you will have your appetite filled nicely with this sonic blast of damned fine rock and roll.  To sweeten the pot, amongst the players who grace this fine release include (once again) super-drummer Dennis Diken, bass master Graham Maby and the everywhere guitar hero, James Mastro. Opening with the ridiculously catchy and instantly classic “Easier”, my first thoughts were that it was a great, lost Van Duren track (on the order of the Are You Serious? period); that familiar, delicious sound of a Rickenbacker carries this track along with the singalong harmonies; “Souls Turn Blue” feels like one of those great AM radio-friendly singles from around 1971 (!) and the title track, “No Promises” is a tender and melancholic acoustic piece, driven …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BUTCH YOUNG, “Mercury Man”

Butch Young has been one of those names on the scene for a long time – you know you’ve heard of him – you know you’ve heard his music and yet…  But now, with Mercury Man, you should be able to say with solidity and clarity, “yes, I do know Butch Young – isn’t “One Foot In” amazing?” and the like.  A native son of Wayne, New Jersey who once played in the splendid-pop band In Color (where his bandmate was the always-wonderful Nick Celeste and producer was the other-always-wonderful Richard Barone), Mr. Young relocated to California and has been doing his thing out there since. Mercury Man is one of the most solid, cohesive pieces to come into my consciousness and it’s an instant guide for how to write a bold, brilliant pop song.  Except he delivers twelve of them.  Saying they’re Beatlesque may sound overplayed but just with the two opening stunners, “Mercury Man” and “Persephone”, these are glorious post-’68 pieces of orchestrated brilliance – a little Lennon and a little Harrison.  He …

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ALBUM REVIEW: KAREN HAGLOF, “Perserverance And Grace”

2014′ s Western Holiday was a stunning solo debut from guitarist-turned-oncologist-turned guitarist again, Karen Haglof.  Recorded in Brooklyn’s Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig – run by guitar legend Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and produced by another legend, Steve Almaas, the songs were just an out-and-out rock & roll marvel.  So it come to be that now, Ms. Haglof’s second album, the deftly-titled Perseverance And Grace is about to be unleashed to the public and I would say has surpassed its predecessor (!).  Part of it may be due to working in different atmospheres – Cowboy Rig, Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium in Kernersville, North Carolina and Old Colony Mastering in Boston – and add the continuing of working together with the same core players (Ms. Haglof on guitar, Mr. Almaas on bass and guitar and Mr. C.P. Roth on drums and keyboards) to give it that even-more seasoned sound (plus, special guest vocalist Liza Colby does not hurt at all…). Take one listen to the title track and you can easily understand why – it’s a thumper of …

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ALBUM REISSUES: THE FEELIES, “Only Life” and “Time For A Witness”

I’m pretty sure that I won’t be saying anything new or different about The Feelies – I’m sure it’s all been said before since the short summation about this band is that they’re great; they’ve always been great and are not only great, but legendary.  Nevertheless, their back catalog from A&M Records has now been lovingly re-issued by Bar/None; both albums – 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time For A Witness also come with download cards for bonus tracks, more recently recorded, and liner notes by Rick Moody and Michael Azzerad, respectively.  So although that’s more than enough to buy both, a few thoughts on the actual music… “It’s Only Life” is about a sweet a melody as you can ask for and a perfect way to open an album; the inevitable Lou Reed-styled vocal delivery can’t be overlooked but it fits the song’s mood and those little guitar fills shimmer; “Too Much” has a quasi-psychedelic and hypnotic feel; “Deep Fascination” is one of those wonderful pieces of dream-pop from the era and “Too Far …

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ALBUM REVIEW: VAS, s/t

I’ve written about and shared with you music over the last few months from a wonderful new band, VAS (originally known as “Elder”).  We premiered three tracks previously and now Popdose is happy to be the first to bring to the national stage the self-titled debut album from VAS.  I once said that this band’s sound is built around great slabs of soundscapes that are dramatic and lush – and that not only holds true, but is shown/heard to greater effect with these new songs that are unveiled.  Most importantly that this is a young band who already have a great, intuitive sense of sculpting a melody and will, undoubtedly, go from “already very good” to “predictably great” in not too long a period of time. The track “Vipers” is a perfect example – starting quietly and subdued with a tautly understated guitar/rhythm/keyboard that immediately builds up in a dramatic manner with a hypnotic guitar riff and then exiting on a quiet piano/vocal fade; “Soda Pop”, which was their introductory bow, has a swirling keyboard …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BOB MOULD, “Patch The Sky”

There’s always a certain amount of expectations when a new release comes out from a long-established artist that you’ve admired over the span of time and I will grant you, it’s not always fair – certainly to the performer nor to yourself because, of course, you’re bound for a letdown sooner or later.  Bob Mould is one of those musicians who I come to expect the unexpected from for a lot of reasons.  Mostly because it isn’t fair.  But what I do expect – if nothing else – is consistency.  And on Patch The Sky, his 12th solo album, starting after Husker Du with two and resuming after Sugar in full, there is no lack of consistency, coherence and (I know this word gets used a lot when referring to Mould) catharsis.  Of his more recent return to louder guitar/faster tempos, the sound and production of this album is possibly one of the best he’s done yet, so it shows at 55, he’s still reaching and stretching, rather than resting on his laurels or legend. …

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ALBUM REVIEW: GRAYSHOT, “Borders”

This Minneapolis trio, consisting of two brothers, Aaron (guitars/keys/vocals) and Christian (bass/keys/vocals) Ankrum and Reese Kling (drums) deliver their sophomore effort and I’m liking what I’ve heard – once again, trading on the warm soundscapes of ’80’s synth-pop and veering but never plunging into modern theatre-pop/rock, which is Borders‘ saving grace. “Far From Me” has all the right textures of a great lost China Crisis track – something out of 1982 in all the ways I appreciate – pure ’80’s synth; “Echo” is a little more modern pop friendly, but has enough restraint that it remains a quality song and doesn’t go into bombast and “Opposites” is a sharp, taut, pop song with a capital “pop” (and this track shines with great production) – easily has hit potential by its radio-friendly timbre.  “In Control” has some shades of Joy Division (because of its tempo) but the melody is bright, which would lead it more to a New Order-influenced piece; “Mystery” is another excellent and interesting track, as it starts as an acoustic-strummed number but then …

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ALBUM REVIEW: EAST OF VENUS, “Memory Box”

This release makes me alternately happy and sad.  Happy because of who the musicians are; knowing them as well as I do from their amazing work (and actually knowing some of them) and sad because of losing one of their members before this album saw the light of day.  I take a great deal of solace in knowing that Omnivore Records has seen to preserve the legacy of East Of Venus with Memory Box, which is simply beautiful – as it will become timeless in your hearts and minds upon hearing. To give you a brief background on East Of Venus – they were (I hate having to use the past tense) Michael Carlucci (Winter Hours), Glenn Mercer (The Feelies, Wake Ooloo), Stan Demeski (The Feelies, Luna) and Rob Norris (The Bongos, Living With Elephants – who was reviewed here on Popdose). The music is a wonderful mixing and melding from all of those bands, but still is their own. The album features original material, as well as covers of The Red Buckets’ “Jane September,” …

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ALBUM REVIEW: EMITT RHODES, “Rainbow Ends”

There has been a great deal written/talked/whispered about the long-awaited, highly-anticipated return of Emitt Rhodes, with good reason.  His long-out-of-print albums (four, from the early ’70’s) are considered musical prizes to those lucky enough to have them; his songwriting, performances and production styles are almost other-worldly and because he stopped releasing new music in 1973, the myth surrounding him has grown exponentially. There’s more than enough ample history available to read up on Mr. Rhodes and the past; what led to his abandonment of recording, etc., so I’ll leave you to find the details on your own.  What is important is the fact that he has indeed released a brand new album of all new material and it IS worth the advance buzz, hyperbole, etc.  Because it doesn’t matter how much time has gone by – Emitt Rhodes still has it.  That indescribable ability to construct a song with feel, refinement, melody and words that provoke thought.  It’s as if no time has passed by virtue of that alone. The title cut, “Rainbow Ends” is …

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ALBUM REVIEW: FREAKWATER, “Scheherazade”

Not new to any scene; in fact, been missing in action for over a decade, Freakwater return with their new album, Scheherazade.  A crushing, 12-track collection, this album sees and hears the off-kilter harmonies of Janet Bean and Catherin Irwin, who have been doing this since 1989.   Although they eschew any kind of classifications (rightfully so), their country-fied flavor/twang/vibe immediately send chills right up the spine of the fortunate listener as those voices blend beautifully and the music (sometimes deliberately understated) carries you away. “The Asp and the Albatross” is one such track, filled with a wrenching that you just can’t put your finger on; “What The People Want” starts off in such a deliciously sinister way; dark and swampy and then the vocals – always that little bit disjointed – wrap you up tightly and makes you feel it and “Take Me With You” just makes you ache from those voices and that gentle acoustic guitar.  The only word that applies is exquisite. “Velveteen Matador” sounds like it walked right out of 1968 Nashville; …

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ALBUM REVIEW: EDWARD ROGERS, “Glass Marbles”

You absolutely have to love when an artist like Edward Rogers delivers a new album because he gives you a complete package – thoughtful, image-laden lyrics, almost always thematically unified, melody and always a full complement of songs.  And on Glass Marbles, his sixth solo album, no less than eighteen songs – right there, more than your money’s worth. So this splendid gathering of material opens with the sprightly, upbeat “The World Of Mystery”, which is a perfect way to start the program – it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Mr. Rogers takes on the younger Dylan in a very clever and enjoyable way; “Denmark Street Forgotten” has a very “vintage” sound, production-wise, which adds to the overall feel to the song (dark, slighly brooding) and has an on-the-one guitar solo and “Jumbo Sale”‘s wash of reverb and slightly-My Bloody Valentine texture helps the vocals shine brighter as the band builds up (but never explodes) – and listen for that very neo-psychedelic middle – colorful and vivid. “My Lady Blue” goes in a gentle, pastoral direction …

Carl Jackson, the producer of Orthophonic Joy, with The Shotgun Rubies: (L-R) DelNora Reed, Val Storey, and Dani Flowers

Album Review: Orthophonic Joy – The 1927 Bristol Sessions

Before there was rock, there was country. And before there was country, there was an ad placed in the Bristol Herald Courier on Sunday, July 24, 1927. The Clark-Jones-Sheeley Company, a music store in the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia, was hosting a Victor Co. recording machine for 10 days. Any musicians in the area who wanted to make records should make an appointment at the store. The Carter Family was interested, as were Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Phipps. A total of 19 acts recorded 76 songs that formed the start of the country canon. The Bristol Session recordings are sometimes called the “big bang” in country music: the point where the performers, songs, and technology came together to launch the genre. The recordings have been reproduced and studied for decades. However, recording technology was so primitive in 1927 that the original Bristol Sessions are not pleasant to listen to, nor can they be re-mastered. They moved from art to artifact. A few years ago, the Virginia and Tennessee tourism departments and …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BOB WOODRUFF, “The Year We Tried To Kill The Pain”

This new album from Bob Woodruff is only his fourth in a 22-year recording career and it’s a fine statement as to what patience and skill in songwriting can do.  Although he’s a New York City native, this album was recorded in Sweden and sounds more like it comes straight out of Nashville.  A clean, crisp production with a big, radio friendly sound helps lift this collection of songs up even higher, considering the quality of the songs already do this. Wryly titled The Year We Tried To Kill The Pain, the maudlin nature of the title belies some of the joyful and uplifting melodies that shape this record.  The album’s opening track, “I Didn’t Know” is bouncy and catchy, primed to come screaming out of radios; “I’m The Train”, with its very fine-tuned Rickenbacker 12-string chiming sound and sweeping pedal steel lines reminds me of a Tom Petty-oriented tune (and lo – Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench appears on this album!) and the title track is a pure country kicker – dark, pain and perspective …

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ALBUM REVIEW: J.D. SOUTHER, “John David Souther” (reissue)

J.D. Souther’s debut solo album could (at least the argument is there) be looked at as the “lost Eagles album” – between the debut and the more countrified Desperado.  But it isn’t; it’s a fine, sublime beginning from this most lauded and respected of songwriters/musicians.  Having first worked with Glenn Frey in Longbranch/Pennywhistle and then going on to write with The Eagles and play with Linda Ronstadt, Souther’s career has been one melodic journey after the other and this 1972 initial bow is a perfect jump off. Starting off, quite rightly, with “The Fast One”, an uptempo “new” country (as it was sometimes known) track, you hear the trademark tunesmanship Souther quickly became known for; clean bendy licks and catchy, it’s an excellent way to open an album; “Run Like A Thief” is a sweetly, soft narrative and “Kite Woman”, it has to be said, sounds like The Eagles – and I would venture a guess that Glenn Frey is singing the harmonies – regardless, it’s an absolute high point.  “Some People Call It Music” …

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ALBUM REVIEW: PRIX, “Historix”

I’m not going to pretend to be cool, professional or objective – this album is simply stunning.  And for all the right reasons.  If you could find a single place where all the elements on how to write and execute the quintessential “power pop”, by textbook definition, song/songs – this is the album.  And when you see the names of the players involved, it’s no surprise, although the fact that these tracks (save for a few) never saw the light of day could be considered a crime against musical humanity…  Nonetheless, this compilation of songs recorded during 1975 and 1976 at Ardent Studios in Memphis will definitely leave you with a tear of joy at how good they are. So who are the culprits?  The late, great Tommy Hoehn for starters, who released quite a few things (amongst them, two wonderful albums with Mr. Van Duren); Jon Tiven, the all-around talent who produces, writes as a journalist, flails a mean guitar and has seen every scene there is and then there is Chris Bell and …

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ALBUM REVIEW: AU PAIR, “One Armed Candy Bear”

Quite a formidable pairing (hmmmm…) – Django Haskins of The Old Ceremony and Gary Louris of The Jayhawks team up on a knockout project now known as Au Pair (“oh, pair” – see?) and this is, indeed, a winner.  Classic, hooky pop done in a low-fi manner but damn, if it doesn’t sound grand and lush. Case and point as you jump right into the opening track, “In Every Window” – catchy, killer harmonies (the tightness of the two vocals sound startlingly like Townshend and Entwistle, who had some of the greatest harmonies ever) and a deadly McGuinn-styled solo; the ethereal, atmospheric “One-Eyed Crier” would put Roger Waters to shame – warm, other-worldly and subdued-ly psychedelic in a very subtle way and the album’s title cut, “One Armed Candy Bear” has a classic rock & roll acoustic boogie feel while being assaulted with a fuzzy guitar weaving in and out. “Night Falls Early” is a slow, sweet track with touches of Syd Barrett in some places and Chris Bell in others but the harmonies give …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BRETT HARRIS, “Up In The Air”

Confessedly, I’ve been a fan of Brett Harris’ since I first saw him perform at the Big Star Third concert in Central Park, New York in 2013, never mind the fact that I had the chance to also enjoy his keyboard and guitar skills when he was the 5th touring member of The (beloved) dB’s in 2012.  Aside from his deliveries on those classic Big Star songs, he is an incredible singer/songwriter, which I quickly discovered, quite joyfully, through his 2014 E.P. release, Mr. Sunshine.  So you can imagine how much I anticipated something new from the North Carolina resident and I am more than happy with the sounds that emanate from his latest offering, Up In The Air. Ten new songs, placed in “album” formation when you look at the CD’s back cover – divided 5 and 5 and all stellar.  From the moment the Revolver-esque riff and harmonies kick in on “End Of The Rope”, it’s just chills of delight and melody – completely singalong and ripe with subtle keyboard touches; “Don’t Look Back” …

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ALBUM REVIEW: JIMKATA, “In Motion”

Very much in that new vein and crop of ’80’s-influenced synth-pop comes the third release from Ithaca, New York’s Jimkata, a trio who know that part of the key to success for that particular sound is the skill and art in writing a memorable pop song.  And this album has plenty.  From the moment the album begins with the aptly-titled “Wild Ride”, you know you’re in for something good.  Not quite wild, per se, but catchy and memorable, which is what counts. “Build Me Up” has a bubbly sweetness about it, which dispels the notion that electronic-based music is cold and mechanical; if anything, there is a very obvious warmth and sense of purpose in the lyrics.  “Ride The Wave” has a crisp guitar riff that directs the song, with neatly taut drums and builds an intensity to the “orchestrated” chorus, which has a “spacey” feel; “In The Moment” switches directions and gets funky with a groove and straight dance beat (quite good) and subsequently, “Innocence” also has that get-down vibe (not too distant from …

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Review: Tortoise – The Catastrophist

Tortoise’s The Catastrophist, the mighty Chicago jazz-rock outfit’s first record in seven long years, will leave longtime listeners – after 25 years, there are many – in two minds of themselves. First off, there’s some solid material herein and that’s easy to notice. Why? Well, part of it’s obvious. In 2010, take it away Thrill Jockey PR people, “the group was commissioned by the City of Chicago to compose a suite of music rooted in its ties to the area’s noted jazz and improvised music communities.” End there for now. The spark lit quite the fire and tracks like “Shake Hands With Danger” and “The Clearing Fills” reveal the band in fine form. Stand-out “Shake Hands With Danger,” seemingly straight-forward with all of its slinking underbelly, stirs up quite a racket, indeed. Elsewhere, however, they can sound mediocre. Or, better put, mediocre on Tortoise terms. Here I’m looking at lazy genre twists like the vaguely surf-and-sway “At Odds With Logic,” which, while interesting, seems too obvious for the band to wrestle. Elsewhere, the band falls back …