Music Review

A Prog-Rock Bonanza: Anthony Phillips Reissued

Anthony "Ant" Phillips, an original member of Genesis, left after their second album (Trespass, 1970) because of stage fright -- an especially problematic situation, one supposes, for the lead guitarist. He spent the ensuing years studying music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (which is to say classical music), along with occasionally recording demos of new material at home. It would be seven years before his first solo album would appear, but after that he would be fairly prolific. Though he never achieved mainstream success -- which sadly makes sense given that this progressive rock legend didn't issue anything in 1971-76, the peak prog years -- aficionados of the style have long admired his work. Cherry Red's Esoteric imprint is now in its third year of repackaging Phillips's work with his collaboration, and with the recent issuance of 1979's Sides meaning that all of his '70s albums are now available again as box sets, now seems like a good time to review the story so far.

Song of the Week: Gary Lucas & Jann Klose - "Fair Weather"

One may surmise that NYC-based guitar maestro Gary Lucas has the magic touch when it comes to collaborating with profound artists. He has found yet another formidable vocal foil in singer/songwriter Jann Klose. As you may or may not remember, Mr. Lucas was responsible for igniting Jeff Buckley's vocal prowess in their band Gods & Monsters and co-writing the two best tracks on Mr. Buckley's solo debut. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Klose handled vocals in the Buckley bio pic Greetings from Tim Buckley and has appeared at numerous Buckley tributes and multiple stage appearances with Mr. Lucas. "Fair Weather" is from their excellent stripped-down simple Americana-centric album Stereopticon (Cosmic Trigger Records). It's my favorite track from said album. Klose's smooth vocals perfectily compliment Mr. Lucas' acoustic guitar majesty. The video was directed by DeAngela Napier.

Getachew Mekurya R.I.P. (14 March 1935 - 4 April 2016)

Tenor saxophonist Getachew Mekurya, one of the greatest musicians in the long and proud history of Ethiopian music, passed away today. 

Boston-based bandleader Russ Gershon, with whose Either/Orchestra Mekurya played in the 21st century, wrote on Facebook, "By playing Shellella, an Ethiopian vocal war chant, on his tenor sax, he arrived at a sound that had something in common with Albert Ayler independently, half a world away, and several years earlier."

By age fourteen, Mekurya was already a professional musician, playing saxophone and clarinet in the Municipal Band of Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. At twenty, he was in the house band at the Haile Selassie I Theatre, and at thirty joined the prestigious Police Band. Read more »

Mike McGinnis - Art Lande - Steve Swallow at IBeam (Brooklyn, NY), March 27, 2016

Chances to hear pianist Art Lande in action in New York City are rare; with bassist Steve Swallow, even rarer (they had a band in the Bay Area in the '70s). Fortunately for New Yorkers, clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Mike McGinnis took it upon himself to bring them together for some trio concerts, and though snow in Colorado kept Lande from arriving for the originally scheduled Thursday and Friday shows, IBeam was able to accommodate them for the expected four sets by squeezing in a late set Saturday and then three sets Sunday night; I caught the first two on Sunday. Read more »

Charity Begins Alone

Adam Miller 
Who Would Give His Only Song Away
(Chelsea Records)

When Wes Farrell, the man who penned the perennial evergreen "Hang On Sloopy," and was overseer to the phenomenal chart successes of the Partridge Family and David Cassidy, set up his own record label in 1972, his maiden release wasn't a sure fire pop confection. He began proceedings with an exquisitely crafted collection of psych outsider introspection. Adam Miller, his new discovery and recipient of this gracious act of faith didn't set the world aflame, he didn't even darken it's edge, and today remains unknown, his album the victim of at best a misreading of the small print one is required to field when stumbling across an artist with no fame attached to the name above the title, more than four decades after the event. Chelsea Records became an outlet for pop and disco, especially the wonderfully camp and catchy Disco Tex and his Sexolettes, to name but one. It didn't suggest a testament of smouldering intensity and insight that would give the likes of Sixto Rodriguez, a man who knows a thing or four about waiting around in the doldrums of obscurity before recognition finally pays a much belated call. The albums enigmatic, cryptic name Who Would Give His Only Song Away is suitably intriguing and enigmatic, as is the young man looking downwards from the front cover. As of now there is precious more to add but the songs which are arranged with immense decorum and class by the respected jazz pianist Michael Melvin. Read more »

Song of the Week: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - "Astonished Man"

The alt folk-rock outfit Thao & The Get Down Stay Down have just released their fourth album, A Man Alive, and "Astonished Man" is the first single from said album. The record was produced by fellow Bay-area musician and tUnE-yArDs leader Merrill Garbus, and she produces the heck out of this single. In fact, their entire album. It's even quirkier than the Talking Heads and her own band, and that's in a grand way. 

This Charming Man

An Evening With Arthur Brown
11th March 2016
The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, UK
To the uninitiated, the title on the flyer suggests an event of essential Britishness, a talk about allotments, a discourse on gardening, or maybe the latest findings of the local historical society. Such is the distinctive ordinariness of the name Arthur Brown, as English as roast beef, and harking back to a time of tweed, flat caps and whippets. This is indeed an aspect of the truth, for the Mr Brown in question has elements of all of the above, but he is much more besides, and is quite simply one of the unsung national treasures, a living legend, the godfather of heavy metal and shock rock, and influence on acts with distances in longevity as Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and the Prodigy. With a four octave range that even now, at the tender age of seventy three puts most "knackers in a mouse trap screechers" to shame. He also possesses a wonderfully rich, almost fruity speaking voice that makes him sound like a prophet or a priest, or an actor about to wander along the finest aspects of Shakespeare.

George Martin R.I.P. (1926-2016): More Than Just the Fifth Beatle

On the evening of March 8, famed producer George Martin passed away at home, in his sleep, at age 90. (The announcement was first made on Ringo Starr's Twitter account.) He is, of course, primarily famous as the Beatles' producer, but I was heartened to see many friends in my Facebook feed chose to mark his passing by posting non-Beatles tracks he produced. Martin was a well-established, and well-rounded, producer before he started working with the Beatles. In his career the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee worked in quite a variety of contexts with any number of famous people, from comedy records with Peter Sellers to jazz records with Stan Getz, and practically everything in between.

The Beatles would undoubtedly have become famous without him -- and perhaps he without them -- but they wouldn't have sounded as good. Who else at that time would have made a Beatles record on which not one Beatle played an instrument? Of course, I have just described "Eleanor Rigby," on which Paul McCartney sang over Martin's lovely string quartet arrangement.

In 1998, struggling with hearing loss, he decided to bow out of the business with the album In My Life, released under his own name but full of guest stars ranging from Sean Connery, Goldie Hawn, Robin Williams, and Jim Carrey to Bobby McFerrin, Jeff Beck, Celine Dion, classical guitarist John Williams, and Phil Collins, all heard interpreting Beatles songs. Martin justly included two of his own compositions on the album too, the instrumentals "The Pepperland Suite" and "Friends and Lovers." As one of the true gentlemen of rock rode off into the sunset, this valedictory album and his induction into the Hall put the period to a long and fascinating tale (though he and his son did work on one final Beatles project a few years later, a Beatles remix for Cirque du Soleil).  Read more »

Achievement in Reverse: Brett Smiley Obit

Brett Smiley 25th September 1955 - 8th January 2016.

The death of Brett Smiley has removed one of the most obscure, but fascinating facets from the chipped, black nail varnished footnotes of rock. Until the turn of the new century his most slender of reputations rested only in the minds of those fortunate enough to possess his lone single "Va Va Va Voom," a wonderfully effete confection which surfaced in Britain in the fading months of 1974. Over-hyped and over the top, this California pretty boy import pouted and pranced like a stick thin bleached and back combed Goldie Hawn in platform boots. He emoted huskily: "I've gone so crazy I'm a certified nervous wreck. A little bit eccentric Ha! Screaming like a discotheque,"  made the cover of Disc magazine as the prettiest boy in the world and managed to briefly render Marc Bolan butch and reveal Sweet as the dockers in drag that they truly were. Had he gained a more prolonged period of exposure his androgyny would have shocked the nation, as it was he crashed and burned, his single bombed undeservedly, despite having Steve Marriott of the Small Faces on guitar duties, and not yet nineteen, he became a teenage has been. A has-been then for the second time because Brett Smiley was no stranger to the fame game. At the age of eleven he'd already conquered Broadway in the lead role of Oliver. Precocious he might have appeared, but it was with an awareness of his own worth and capabilities. Read more »

Darius Jones at The Stone, February 18, 2016

Alto saxophonist Darius Jones recently curated a week at The Stone and I caught the first set that Thursday night. He was playing with his Big Gurl trio, a collaboration with bassist Adam Lane and drummer Jason Nazary. His opening remarks include the observation "I haven't played any of this music in a long time," noting that this was one of his first trios after coming to New York. Read more »

Three J.D. Souther Reissues Remind Us How Good He Is

J.D. Souther's songs are better known as sung by other people, which is good for his bank account but puzzling if you've heard his fine LPs. I wouldn't be surprised if more people nowadays know of him from his acting on the TV series Nashville than from his career in music. If there's any justice, these three reissues will redress that imbalance.

After this Texan moved to L.A., he teamed with Glenn Frey in the band Longbranch/Pennywhistle (they kept co-writing songs after Frey founded the Eagles, notably "New Kid in Town"), lived upstairs from Jackson Browne, and dated Linda Ronstadt. Read more »

Song of the Week: Robert Kidney - "Big Paradise"

Robert Kidney, of the legendary N.E. Ohio-based agro-blues outfit 15-60-75 aka The Numbers Bandis set to release his long-awaited solo album, -- Jackleg (Exit Stencil Recordingsl). Friend, producer and bassist Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) wisely persuaded him to record a solo album at his Brooklyn studio sans any outside distractions apart from a satchel of new songs and his guitar. What you hear is what you get. Unfiltered. His earnest vocals and guitar playing will leave you mesmerized. Not unlike the Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash sessions. "Paradise Lost" is the blues of a white man, blues that never try to mimic the blues of the African-American blues giants of the past, but rather distilled into Mr. Kidney's own unique style, a style that he has nurtured and refined for well over five decades. This track is only the tip of the iceberg and a full ablum review will be posted shortly. In the interim, please listen and share this unique tale of Americana. And order the album today!

ANNIVERSARIES: Wilhelm Furtwängler Born 130 Years Ago

Is Wilhelm Furtwängler (January 25, 1886 - November 30, 1954) the greatest conductor ever? While there are some who, in preference to his highly inflected, interventionist style, would prefer a more straight-forward conductor such as his contemporary Arturo Toscanini, many cognoscenti believe that at the least Furtwängler, when heard in his favored 19th century Austro-Germanic repertoire, ranks supreme of his type in the pre-stereo era. The aforementioned Toscanini himself was an admirer; asked who aside from himself was the greatest conductor, he named Furtwängler, and also pushed for the German to take over the directorship of the New York Philharmonic when Toscanini relinquished its reins, though controversy prevented that. Read more »

In Defense of the Eagles, and Not Being a Jerk About Recently Deceased Musicians













Even as 99% of my Facebook friends were eulogizing the late David Bowie in reverential terms, there were a few dissenters. Aside from a non-musical issue*, the most negative thing I saw about Bowie was along the lines of "I never cared/listened/understood the attraction." It's kind of passive-aggressive, since there's not much point to alerting us all to the fact that you are apparently apathetic yet somehow still feel we all need to hear from you on this trending topic, but it's pretty low-key, so whatever.

Then Glenn Frey died, and a much larger portion of the internet decided that this was the perfect time to remind us how much they hate the Eagles, how bad the Eagles' music is, and how clueless the rest of us are for apparently being deluded into liking them. Read more »

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: The Complete 1978 Radio Broadcasts (Soundstage)

I bought it for myself, but this was my Christmas present, arriving in the mail from England on Christmas Eve: a fifteen-CD set containing five epic Springsteen concerts from the legendary Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. When the Cleveland deejay who emceed the show for WMMS-FM introduced the band by saying, "Round for round, pound for pound, there ain’t no finer band around," he wasn't just rhyming, he was telling the truth.

Why, you ask, did this set come from England? Well, it's an unauthorized collection of bootlegs, but in Europe, radio recordings are public domain, so this is actually a legal release.

The word went out through the fan network I ordered it on Amazon U.K. before the release date. Perhaps Bruce doesn't get a penny out of this, but I've seen it suggested that writers' royalties would still have to be paid. Either way, for £15.99 (slightly under $24) plus Amazon's usual $3.99 shipping, I couldn't resist. In the years soon after these shows, when all of them were individually bootlegged on massive vinyl box sets, any one of them cost more than that. Read more »

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