Saturday, May 17, 2008

Poetry In Motion

TIFFANY APAN – “Poet” CD ’08 (Private, US) – There’s been a bit of a dearth of things Celtic, folk and the like showing up in the mailbox here at ol’ Castle ‘Realm lately, so it was nice to see this one come sliding out of the envelope a couple weeks ago. Hearing it once it hit the player was quite a bit better than simply “nice.” You see, it’s been since the last Maireid Sullivan disc, 2003’s “Never Drift Apart” that I’ve been this impressed with a Celtic vocalist. “Poet” is one of those “self-released” discs that I love so much because it has such a pure, vibrant and unfiltered air of passion. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain but as a listener over the years, I really get a feel for certain vibes & feelings. Some things you listen to are coming at you, but only after they pass through the ever-so-slightly (and sometimes moreso!) skewing lens of the producer, the record company, the management, etc. Ms. APAN’s disc is one that’s coming straight on, from the artist to you, with all feelings undiluted. Just listen to the opening cut, “Ghost.” TIFFANY has a voice that is both devastatingly powerful and contemplatively serene and uses this special instrument of her’s to great effect. She also has such confidence in her voice that she’s able to do some very unique things, like the part in “Porcelain Doll” where she seems to change the key in mid-song, adding a dynamic sense of tension/release. Another thing that’s very cool about this album is the fact that while it’s steeped in the haunting and ethereal, it also has a real bite instrumentally. Sure, there’s tons of acoustic guitar & keys, there’s also an abundance of heavy guitar work by Jason English, including some killer solos that sear to the bone. In this way, “Poet” really compares favourably to a classic Black Widow Records band, Crystal Phoenix and believe you me, that’s no faint praise. All through tracks like “Free,” “A Prayer” and “Black Forest,” APAN and her musicians create songs that become a musical landscape and succeed in blurring the lines between Celtic folk and rock in such a way that they become completely their own sound. In this regard, the album only grows stronger as it goes along, with the ending trio of cuts “Ashes To Dust,” Warrior (Soldier For Myself)” and “Whispers” melding to form something that’s simply startlingly good. The well-placed interpretation of “Scarborough Fair” fits like a glove and that says a lot about the original material in and of itself. Truly something out of the blue that I wasn’t anticipating at all, “Poet” is a breath of fresh air and easily one of the year’s very best albums. 9.5
NOTE: I highly recommend checking out TIFFANY APAN’s website. She is not only an exceptional vocalist and songwriter but also, apparently, has quite a career as an actress in the horror genre. Interesting stuff!

ON A PALE HORSE – “A Generation Of Vipers” CD (Corporate Punishment, US) – GPS turn-by-turn navigation, Blue Ray discs, Windows Vista, broadband access…do you ever get sick of it? Do you ever get tired of modern-day complications and just feel like throwing the cell phone away, throwing the tent in the old jeep and trundling out into the woods for a week of simplicity? I do. And the same goes for music…power prog, goth power, blackened folk metal…what the freaking hell, you know? Aren’t there times (and plenty of ‘em) when you just want to stick on an album that pummels your ass into oblivion? Meet Iowa’s ON A PALE HORSE, a band who with their 3rd release, “A Generation Of Vipers” has not only done that but, in the process issued a disc that stands among the very best of 2008 thusfar. Wanna know how they did it? Guitars, bass, drums & vocals, folks. Let’s stick to the meat & potatoes here. You can have your friggin’quiche, latte & whatever else, I’m going to the steakhouse with these guys! Right from the very opening power chords of “Sound The Alarm,” you know this is going right for the gut. The axe-hammering of Jas Spargur & Josh Brainard is raw, loud & in-your-face and Aaron Peltz’s vox are taking no prisoners. Tracks like “Soma Sema,” “The Legend Of John Doe” and “Eye In Hand” bring the rawk just as hard, and likewise are laced with more than enough melody to keep the songs swirling in your head for days. And that’s just the thing. While OAPH would surely rather bring a sledgehammer to the jobsite than a surgeon’s scalpel, they also haven’t forgotten the terms “songwriting” or “diversity.” Witness the cool, Southern-style bluesy intros to to numbers like the title cut, the DOWN-home subtle power of NOLA-styled…wait for it… “Down Home” or the perfectly structured epic “Release The Smoke,” ending with one of those guitar solos where you’ve just gotta put down the cup of Joe and play along on your Air “V.” Put it this way, since ON A PALE HORSE aren’t complicating things, neither will I. This is as good a metal album as you can buy today. So do it. 9.0
NOTE: Check out the interview with OAPH’s Aaron Peltz just added to the site!

STONERIDER – “Three Legs Of Trouble” CD ’07 (Trustkill, US) – Lately, I’ve noticed a particular phenomenon . It’s not a UFO album, but rather a societal, musical leaning marked by a growing number of young guys looking back past their so-called “roots.” You know, 20-somethings who actually can see further back into the past than Metallica’s “Black Album.” That’s good, in general, I think. After all, that’s how an album as spectacular as “Rise” by Ireland’s The Answer can come to fruition. Perhaps not quite as much a blinder but still impressive in this regard is the debut from Georgia’s STONERIDER. In fact, as opener “Rush Hour, Baby” kicks into butt-spanking wah-induced riffery, I’m inclined to think I may be listening to a new track from Eire’s fine young sons. And, it’s in pretty much this style that these Peach State boys continue through the disc, invoking influences that belie their years such as Free and the Zeps, with “Ramble Down” and “Juice Man” really getting the blood flowing. With such yin-ing comes a bit of yang-ing, however, and as the album draws into it’s 2nd half (much like another “stone” crew, Black Stone Cherry) the songwriting wears a trifle thin. Moreover, the inclusion of the cover of Nazareth’s “Hair Of The Dog” both lacks the bite of the McCaffrey-toothed original and nestles a tad uncomfortably close to the word “filler.” Still, these late-in-the-day complaints aside, STONERIDER is a nice listen, a band to watch and more proof that, as Priest once said, you don’t have to be old to be wise. 7.0

BACKWOODS PAYBACK – “Backwoods Payback” CD ’07 (Private, US) – It is my obligation, first and foremost, to sing the praises of any band who would entitle a song “Mickey Morandini.” As a baseball fan, and a closet Phillies fan from Baltimore (lemme tell ya, 1983 was a tough World Series for me!) I always dug Morandini. I’ll take a hard-nosed 2nd baseman with a dirty uniform over a steroid-stuffed homer-bionicle any day. So, when you entitle a song after this dude then include the line, “I’m a motherfucker,” well I’m on board already. And you know what? Cool as all that is, BACKWOODS PAYBACK are also a pretty damn good band. Here’s the skinny. You like heavy doses of sludge-ridden rawk like Pentagram but feel the love really coming on when you add in a steeped-in-the-still feel of the southern backwoods, this is for you. If you come out of your chair and start the air-jamming to “You Shittin’ Me” or “Baja 6 Pack,” that’s cool. If you feel a sublime sensation spreading over you when the ultra-cool organ washes in during “Brandywine,” well that’s even better. Bottom line is that if your musical tastes run anywhere from Earthride (yeah, that’s Dave Sherman guesting on one song) to Clutch to Molly Hatchet, this one’s a hit. And, you don’t even have to be a baseball fan.

TO-MERA – “Delusions” CD ’08 (Candlelight, Eng) – I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know what the name TO-MERA means. Call me lazy, but I didn’t look it up. I don’t know if these guys (and a lady) are going to a place called MERA or something else, but if they keep making albums like this one, they’ll be going quite far in the metal world, not to mention making Candlelight look more than just a sign-em-all money pit. Let’s get one thing straight. If your tastes run a gamut that extends from, say The Ramones to Motorhead, this is not going to be your cup of sunshine. TO-MERA are definitely about the musical dexterity. They can stop & make turns on a dime and, in fact, on cuts like “The Lie,” “Mirage” & “Asylum” a dime may be too cheap. There are more swerves, cuts, bobs & musical weaves in one of these cuts alone than on 695 in rush hour traffic. Still, dontcha go running off with horrifying visions of Dream Theater’s most annoying moments dancing in your head. TO-MERA can write songs that stick and they’re also a perfect vehicle for the vocals of Julie Kiss, which float smartly on the tide & never lose buoyancy in the maelstrom. Hell, there’s even a few laid-back jazzy interludes. While I’ll surely grant you, this isn’t an album for every mood or moment, it is a panorama of ideas that gels very nicely and I’ll wait with great interest for this band’s next work. 8.0

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