Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year From Raysrealm! Welcome, 2010!

Just a quick Happy New Year message from Raysrealm to all the readers out there who have supported me all year, in past years and even those who just stumbled upon the site today! 2009 produced some great music and here's hoping there's plenty more to come in 2010. Remember, get those Top 10 lists in to my email address... ... by Jan 31, 2010. See the details a couple posts back and, of course, I the paranoid delusionist will remind you again. I'm getting ready to sit down and start working on mine and I want to make sure everybody else has to pull their hair out the way I do. Not that I have very much left to pull out anyway, but hey, you know how that goes!!! Have fun, stay safe and rawk like a mutha!!!

Forecast: Reign!

REIGN STORM – “Tomorrow’s Past” CD ’09 (Arkyen Steel, US) – Been an interesting 6 months or so on the Dorsey / Lembach Reunion front. See, here’s the thing. Back this past summer, in the realms of Facebook, I got friended up by an old record store buddy Jarrett Lembach. Within literally a couple of weeks of that, thanks to my wife Jennifer’s urging, I checked out awesome local metal cover band Deadlock. One of the discoveries I made about them, aside from the fact that they completely stomp ass and that they (in their alternate form, Shift) released a massive album in 2006, was that their drummer is Chris Lembach, brother of Jarrett. Chris, besides being another music store chum from the mists of time, also had manned the tubs for area prog institutions Mystic Force back in the day. So, the last several months have seen me catch up with Chris over a lot of old and new stories at Deadlock shows plus receive in the mail this nifty REIGN STORM CD from brother Jarrett. It’s a lengthy, 16 song collection spanning the life of his band over the years 1991 – 1998. Got all that?

Anyway, “Tomorrow’s Past” by REIGN STORM is a real breath of fresh air. For me, it brings back a feeling of metal that you just don’t hear that much anymore. When I say that, I’m talking about days when metallers had long hair, wore Iron Maiden shirts and didn’t feel the need to write every song about some pathetic loser committing suicide because his goth-girl had left him for another vampire. I’m also talking about the days when the words “progressive metal” didn’t make you feel the bile rising in your throat and have you running for the safety of your Blue Cheer albums. No, when I put on this disc and the opening title cut fires out of the Realm Blaster, I’m picturing guys in muscle shirts with “Mercyful Fate” on the front, Jackson V’s and hair swirling…and that’s a good thing. Yes, because much like our beloved Fate (and even Arch-era Fates Warning), these guys packed a helluva punch into their songs. Why, just in that title cut and “Chapter XXX,” guitarist Robb Peterson crams more riffs and harmony leads than Carter’s got liver pills. The best thing about this is that, like the classic MF duo of Shermann & Denner, he does it in songs that range mostly from 3-5 minutes…thus keeping the listener’s interest, not making everything a half-hour snore-a-thon. In fact, it’s notable that only 2 tracks out of the 16 here last beyond the 7 minute mark. Jarrett Lembach’s vocals are a real eye-opener for me throughout this disc. The guy has a range that goes from a pensive mid-range to stratospheric, all with an ease that references the best of the genre, like Mr. Diamond, Arch and John Stewart (Slauter Xstroyes). Listen to his work, for example, in “Road To Insanity.” That’s impressive! It’s also far more than notable that 9 of the 16 numbers here feature the drumming of brother Chris Lembach. As something like “Ruler Of Today” proves, he’s not only one of the premier sticksmen in the local area but of any I’ve seen. (Watch him nail the Tool covers in Deadlock, as well). The blinding bass work on most of the cuts is handled by John Barr.

Another neat thing about this CD is that it chronicles the band’s progress, from their 1989 demo through some live cuts (’91) and on to demos from ’97 and ’98 (some of which feature the contributions of other musicians as well, like Drew Mazurek, Mike Davis, Dwayne Adams, Charles Parker and Frank Starchak) . Unlike some such collections, where the listener finds him or herself blanching at hideous and wildly variable sound quality, the production values here are not just listenable but very high throughout. It all makes this something I have kept near the player since it’s arrival, the perfect antidote to those times I find myself in need of top-notch, first class pure metal. (Um...isn't that always, Ray?) The packaging is sterling, the sleeve notes describing the band’s history are exhaustive and the artwork is first-rate. The only drawback to the whole affair is that 1998 seemed to signal the end for the REIGN STORM story and I find myself sad that I never got to see these guys trod the boards. Still, that being said, this disc is a super chronicle of a band that any real metaller could hold to their heart. And, it’s a limited edition of 1000, so act now! Metal Storm

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reminder! Raysrealm 2009 Reader's Poll Is Now Open!

Well folks, it's that time again! We're reaching the end of yet another year of music and with that in mind, it's time for us all to go on record & make fools of ourselves salivating over a handful of the better platters of '09. So, send in your Top Ten albums (CD's, albums, records, whatever you want to call 'em). The only requirement is that they were released in 2009 (I know there is sometimes a sticking point over the date on the back of disc... e.g., sometimes something is dated 2008 and actually isn't available until 2009. What we're looking for is things that became available during know what I mean.) Anyhoo, send in your Top 10 list to my email: The cut-off date is Jan 31, 2010 for the simple reason that we give you till the end of the year and then a little time to get your thoughts in order. Then, right after Jan 31, I'll publish the results of the poll, plus my own Top 10 for those of you who give a dern. BE SURE TO INCLUED YOUR POSTAL MAILING ADDRESS IN YOUR EMAIL! Anyone who sends in a Top 10 by Jan 31, 2010 will receive a kewl surprise from me in the mail shortly thereafter! So, list away! Again, send the Top 10 and your mailing address to:

Grand Halls 37

SORCERY – “Sinister Soldiers” 2LP ’78 (Century, US) – The water. It’s got to be something in the water up there, that’s all I can figure. Oh, pardon me for my musings. I was just sitting here, trying to figure out why 3 of my favourite obscure hard rock bands of all-time happen to be from one single area of the United States called Chicago. I’m talking about Slauter Xstroyes, Winterhawk and SORCERY. Bear in mind, now, these were not all the product of some wondrous “scene” like happened in San Francisco in the ‘80’s wherein Metallica & Exodus set the tone and a bunch of others (some good, some not so much) jumped on the chugga-chugga train. No, these were 3 totally dissimilar bands who issued local vinyl during the period from 1978 thru 1985 without the benefit of mass media coverage. Their stuff was unknown except to a few like the late Phil Baker and Dennis Bergeron (Monster Records) who turned me onto all 3. SORCERY is the most mysterious of the bunch and this is what I know, so listen up.

In 1967, a guy in Illinois named Kirk Bryk (real name Brykowski) began playing guitar. In the next few years he got heavily into the emerging UK gods, Black Sabbath, and Tony Iommi influenced him to develop an extremely heavy style. This might not seem all that unusual, as around that time a lot of people who played guitar were probably bent on aping T.I. The only thing is, a lot of people didn’t actually become super players and go on to form SORCERY in 1974. Kirk Bryk did, however, and that’s the beginning of what would become a great band.

In the first couple years after SORCERY’s inception, the group was forced to do a lot of covers in order to get gigs. Some of the bands who’s material they did included Starz, Angel and of course, Sabbath, culling numbers from”Vol. 4,” “Sabbath, Blood Sabbath” and “Sabotage” for their live sets. Still, while all of this was going on, Mr. Kirk Bryk was a busy man. He was writing originals that were gradually being worked into the band’s repertoire, many of which not only held their own with the covers but stood right alongside them in terms of heaviness and writing panache. The band got a break when the local representative of 20th Century Records saw them, dug what they were about and decided to let them record an album for his own tiny label, aptly called Century. At that point, SORCERY consisted of: Kirk Bryk – lead guitar, vocals, bass, synthesizer and percussion; Tim Barrett – lead vocals; Paul Koster – guitar, vocals; Dave Maycroft – bass; Kieran Hoening – drums. The record they produced would be one of the most oddly original and yet overpoweringly great metal albums ever, not to mention one of the rarest.

“Sinister Soldiers” was issued in 1978, while most metallers at the time were checking out “Stained Class” and “Hemispheres” and praying that the Travolta era might soon end. The first thing you notice about SORCERY’s debut, of course, is the cover. Truthfully, the artwork by Janetta Lewis is fantastic and may represent one of the heaviest-looking album jackets ever. It would be pitiful to try to describe it on paper, so just look at the picture above. You’d have bought that sumbitch if you saw it sitting in the store, wouldn’t you?! ‘Nuff said. Secondly, you see that the thing is a 2 record set! Now, granted, it ends up being a fairly short one but still, before the days of 65 minute, spreading-the-butter-way-too-thin CD’s, double albums had the air of “epic-on-a-grand-scale” all over them. But of course, the proof is in the pudding and there’s to be music to back up the trappings. Let’s explore….

Side One of “Sinister Soldiers” opens with “Aracnid (The Dark King).” Immediately after the initial drum beats, the heaviness sets in, blasting riffs of tuned-down Sabbathy gruffness, sort of like “Supernaut” in a garage. In truth, the whole of this album features a very sparse, rugged, back-room raw production that I just love. It really adds to the heaviness and the kind of blast-furnace power erupts again in the second cut, “Fly The Sky.” I dig this song a whole lot, the power chords oozing like molten lead and Kirk Bryk cutting loose some hot Iommi-ish lead. The first real indication of ultimate godliness comes with Side One’s final cut, “Sugar Sweet Lady (Debbie’s Song).” It’s a melodic instrumental, sort of like a cross between Sabbath’s “Fluff” and Priest’s “Cavier And Meths” outro but the lead guitar tone is pure fuzz death! The combination is awesome and leaves you breathless for what will follow.

Side Two of “Sinister Soldiers” is simply one long, beautiful masterpiece. Clocking in at just under 13 minutes, “The Last Goodbye” is one of those cuts that automatically finds it’s way onto a comp of your all-time classics. It begins very mellow and painstakingly deliberate, yet soon forms a melody that reminds me of Priest’s early epics. Tim Barrett’s vocals are oddly (yet greatly!) reminiscent of Bow Wow’s Kyoji Yamamoto and when Bryk cuts on his fuzz machine midway through, it’s instant musical ecstasy. The guy’s tone here is like a chainsaw but it still retains haunting melody. Incredible, yes, but we’re only halfway through.

With Side Three, SORCERY step it up and really kick out the jams on “Slippin’ Away (for K.E.R.).” It’s a raucous garage-metal stomper, with Bryk taking over temporarily on vocals yet, in another twist of great songwriting, the number slows at the end into a wonderfully melodic coda replete with more nasty fuzz soloing. Seriously, the word “brutal” was invented to describe this guitar sound. Completing Side Three is the 9 ½ minute epic “Snowshit,” one of my favourite song titles and another masterpiece. The track opens with a crushing, haggard and up-tempo rhythm on top of which Bryk lays a smoldering run of lead guitar reminding me of Uli Roth in “Polar Nights.” Just when you think you’ve got SORCERY figured out, however, the last strains of distortion lift like a veil of early morning mist and the curtain rises on the song-proper. Yes, that was only an intro! This one is, again, extremely subtle, the semi-acoustic rhythm reminding me very much of Priest’s “Run Of The Mill.” Barrett is chilling here, his vocals telling that “death is surely winter’s snow,” but my favourite part comes when Bryk launches into the middle guitar solo (the 2nd of 3). Just before he picks the first note of the caustic fuzz lead, you clearly hear him kick on the distortion and feel the raw power wash over the last mellow chord he strummed. It might not seem like any big deal on paper, but the effect is so cool and vintage-early-‘70’s that it makes me ga-ga, as does the grinding solo that follows. An interesting sidelight about this song is the origin of it’s title. Seems that when SORCERY first started performing it live, it still had no name but was accompanied by snow-like confetti that wafted down from the ceiling to the stage. One night, a fan commented to the band that he “liked that song where all the snow shit comes down.” You gotta love it!

“Sinister Soldiers” finally comes down the home stretch on Side Four and, for some reason, the recording quality here dips almost too far into a murky drone. Still, while this kind of production might kill some material, it actually adds to the vibe of the three battering rams called “Airborne,” “Sorcerer” and “Schitzoid.” These go back to the short, direct attack of the album’s opening cuts and hit me like classic Sabbath and Motorhead brawling in a dank basement. I think “Schitzoid,” with it’s great B-movie references to being “instantly destroyed, forever trapped on the Planet Schitzoid” is my fave of the trio.

With “Sinister Soldiers,” SORCERY had produced a unique double album that, had it been released on a major label, would’ve had them revered in the same breath as Sabbath, Priest, Budgie, etc. In fact, through some sort of grapevine, the band acquired a following of sorts in L.A. and, sometime in 1978 journeyed to the Left Coast to do a club tour. Word has it that they played some shows with Survivor (the “Eye Of The Tiger” variety, who I’m sure they decimated) and actually headlined over Van Halen at one venue. It’s also rumored that on this excursion, they sold a very nicely made color SORCERY tour program. Find one of them for me and I’m liable to trade my home and property for it! Sadly, however, with only a limited supply of the album to sell (I’ve been told 1000 were made but try to find one now…it’s one of the rarest metal LP’s ever), SORCERY would remain infinitely obscure.

This was not the end of the story, however. After some soul-searching and a line-up change or so, Kirk Bryk and his band recorded and released a second LP in 1980, the single album “Tell Death Do We Part.” It is a good album musically but to be honest, not even close to the epic piece of art that is “Sinister Soldiers.” The songs are all fairly short (i.e. nothing like “The Last Goodbye” or “Snowshit”) and the vocals are not a patch on those done by Barrett, at points sounding like the most whiney ever conceived by Dave Mustaine. Of course, the caked-in-molten-lava guitar tone of Bryk is still rampant and cuts like “Ogre,” “Fly Away” and “Right To Survive” are quite good songs. So, “Till Death Do We Part” is surely worth hearing, although it’s awfully expensive if you can. In keeping with “Sinister Soldiers,” the 2nd SORCERY release did nothing to garner the band a household name in the metal world. Still, Kirk soldiered (ouch!) on and sometime in the early ‘80’s he recorded an album’s worth of solo material that was never laid to wax. I haven’t heard any of this stuff but I’m told it was eons more commercial than “Till Death….” Apparently a single was selected from this collection and a video recorded for it, which was actually shown several times on Ted Turner’s cable TV network rival to early MTV. Anybody remember seeing it?

From what I understand, Kirk Bryk kept playing music well into the ‘00’s and may still be to this day, continuing to extrapolate from the influences of bands like Sabbath, Motorhead and, interestingly enough, Witchfynde. If anyone reading this has any more information regarding the man’s later musical activities, please do me a favour and pass it along. In the meantime, if you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear “Sinister Soldiers,” do yourself a favour and try to do just that. While landing an original LP is completely out-of-sight, an internet foray may land you one of the various CD re-issues that have cropped up over the years. Hits You Like A Ton Of Bryks

NOTE: This Chicago SORCERY is not to be confused with another obscure Sorcery who also released a fantastic album called "Stunt Rock" within the same year as "Sinister Soldiers." But that's for another chapter of the Grand Halls....

Grand Halls 36

SEVENDUST – “Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow” CD ’08 (7Bros, US) – Right about now what I suspect some readers are doing is looking at this, an album by SEVENDUST from 2008 reviewed under the Grand Halls section and thinking it’s a misprint or that I’ve lost my mind. Fear not, my friends, it makes complete sense and here’s why. Over the years, my musical journeys have taken me a lot of places, a lot of them far afield, into places like scraggly demos recorded by bands from North Dakota in the back of a farmhouse and released in microscopic runs of a couple hundred max. Therefore, in an odd sense, and yet one that’s just as true, something like this is what’s obscure, underground or unknown for me. Granted, there are a lot of reasons for people of discriminating tastes to avoid things more mainstream or the radio. All you have to do is take a quick scan of the dial and you’ll see why. By the same token, there are times when, tooling around in the mini-van (that of the broken CD player!) a mood will sweep over me that renders me sick and tired of the AM sports talk shows. And, when I do this and throw on something like 98 Rock in hopes of hearing the scant airing of “Run To The Hills” or “Metal Gods,” an interesting thing will happen: I’ll hear something else I’ll like…a lot. Now, I know, I know. What I’m “supposed to do” when this happens, by all the “True Metal” and “underground” standards is take a sheepish look around, convince myself that said song was really no good and forge an agreement with myself and I that this will never be spoken of again. But personally, I’ve never been one to fall for that kind of dead-end musical elitism and I’ve simply gotta find out whatever it was and check it out. This time, it was “Prodigal Son” by SEVENDUST.

Imagine my feelings of being out-of-the-loop when I went to Amazon and found out this band has not one, but a whole bunch of CD’s. Be that as it may, it took quick work to find out that the song I’d heard had come from their latest, the snappily entitled “Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow.” I slipped into Best Buy under cover of the night and purchased the disc, pulling my collar up around my face and looking over my shoulder as I cringed at the sticker proclaiming “features Chris Daughtry on one song.” (No, that scenario was just to give an uneasy laugh to all the holier-than-thou’s…well, maybe I did hesitate when I saw “Chris Daughtry” but….) So, down to business, I threw this in and was left to wonder what I’d get when the…wait for it…eerie intro started. Thing is, the first song “Inside” finally came roaring out of the speakers with vocalist Lajon Witherspoon announcing “Pleased to meet you, motherfucker!” and I thought I was listening to a lost Pantera track! Varying between down-tuned ass-mauling aggro verses and the kind of chorus Alice In Chains would give pause for, these guys had me impressed. “Enough” continued the proceedings and I’m understanding why people dig this shit. Catchy-as-hell, in-your-face riffs and production, yeah this is good stuff! I’m digging this and then, here comes the song with Chris Daughtry and I’m ready to hate it, ready to ask why the hell they decided to ruin what had the potential to be an excellent album by inviting some American I-Dull onboard and there’s only one problem…it’s a good song and the vocals completely fit. Sheezus, do I stand corrected, it’s not my fave song on the disc but it works. But I don’t really have time to think about all that because up next you’ve got the well-paced elephant gun of “Prodigal Son” wherein John Connolly lays down some seething wah-wah. Gotta say though, “Contradiction” is the star of the show. Holy shit, this song is heavy! The guitar solo overtop the “One”-like machine gun rhythm is a thing of beauty and the Amselmo-like vocals really add the cherry on top. This is the kind of album that’s a purely cathartic listen. Had a hard day? Open all the windows on the Camaro (you lucky people with not only a Camaro, but a car CD player that works!), throw this in on “11” and blast down the road. Aggressive, emotional and it sounds good too. Moral of the story? Sometimes good shit makes it through. No Misprint

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grand Halls 35

ASIA – “Asia / Armed To The Teeth” – (Orginally private, ASI ’78 / ’80, Re-issued ’95, The Wild Places, US) – Melody, especially in hard rock, has always been important to me. Think of the best: Thin Lizzy, Riot, Winterhawk, Rush…. The melodies are so searing and deep that your brain is branded with them. In fact, I read an interview with Riot’s Mark Reale once in which he said “I can’t even listen to anything without melody.” Then listen to these 2 records by ASIA (and NOT the shitty pseudo prog group with John “I ruin every band I join” Wetton). This pair of beauties, which I learned about thanks to the CD re-issue in ’95 by the late Michael Piper, is the absolute king of this theory. I always hate using comparisons but ASIA reminds me of a cross between UFO and old Kansas! Or, for the more obscurely-inclined of you, how ‘bout chewing on a lunch of Full Moon, Winterhawk and Asbury. While the self-titled debut record is damn good, and verging on essential, I must say that “Armed To The Teeth” is nearly in the godly variety, up there with Rush’s “Fly By Night” and Winterhawk’s “Revival.” This is gorgeous progressive hard rock that is world class in everything except the level of acclaim that it received. The vocals of Michael English and Larry Galbraith are devastating and the guitar work of Mike Coates is beyond ridiculous. Listen to “Thunderrider” or “Genghis Kahn.” I mean, Jesus Christ, how do you top that?! Some people will say, “Well, Ray, it’s not that heavy.” Well, go listen to some Satan’s Penis death metal album then and leave me alone. The original LP’s are super rare and have been known to bring big dollars, but if you poke around online I’m sure you can find the nice CD package that includes both records. Carnivorous

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All Is Revealed

REVELATION – “For The Sake Of No One” CD ’09 (Shadow Kingdom, US) – There go John Brenner, Bert Hall & Steve Branagan again, fucking me up. I was just sitting in front of the fire during the season’s first snow, beginning my annual task of whittling 2009 into a fine piece of wood that will eventually share my year’s best when I heard that sound. It’s the sound of a parcel being dropped into the mailbox outside and the deep, resonant tone tells me I’m going to see the initials “J.B.” at the top of the return address. But let’s hold on a minute, because there’s an even odder tangent to this story.

Earlier that day, 2 things happened that cast an eerie aura over that day’s mail delivery. Fist, in the morning when I’d gotten up to dress, I reached in the drawer to pull out a t-shirt and what I’d grabbed ended up being one of the REVELATION persuasion. Poised a moment over a drawer containing maybe 50 shirts, I hesitated then exchanged that one for a Phillies “t,” thinking somewhat weirdly (but again, that’s me) “I need to pick up the new REVELATION before I have the nerve to throw that shirt on.” A few hours later, when engaged in a sports conversation with 2 of my boys, the subject came up about the time an NFL commentator stopped an entire halftime show by using the word “promontory.” Seemed none of the other jocks had ever heard that one before. And, to be honest, I hadn’t heard it in awhile either. However, I “heard” it for the 2nd time in that one day when I opened the mailbox and found in it the new REVELATION CD, sent to me by John Brenner and sporting a song called “On A Promontory”!

But ok, all of these tie-ins aside, what have this dynamic trio offered us this time around? Well, it’s necessary to point out that Mr.’s Brenner, Hall & Branagan are in fact TWO bands, REVELATION and AGAINST NATURE. When they take up their A.N. mantle, the slant is toward more progressive and experimental music and REVELATION sees them forge the path of doom metal. That’s not to say, however, that AGAINST NATURE doesn’t include some heavier moments nor that experimentation is a taboo word in REVELATION. It’s that flowing dichotomy that makes these 3 musicians so special.

“For The Sake Of No One” opens with “A Matter Of Days,” a number that immediately draws 2 points to the fore that often get lost in reviews and those are John Brenner’s ever-increasing vocal prowess and poetic lyrics. I’ve personally witnessed John flower as a singer over the years and his emotional mid-range is haunting here, commanding lines like “…A brick gazebo in the rain, a conversation in the midst of machines, Ice thick on the reservoir….” This is all borne on a crushingly slow rhythm that seems to nearly halt at the top of a precipice, then tumble over into a mid-paced groove, accelerating incisively into the up-tempo coda. “Offset” follows, a stately procession over 7 minutes. Then comes “Canyons,” once again beginning slowly. The nasty, cutting tone of the guitar solo around the 5:00 mark belies it’s heart-wrenching melodies. The coda is Vitus-like in it’s insistence yet mellow in it’s tenor as this 9-minute epic draws to a close.

Around the album’s mid-point, “On A Promontory” takes flight on an absolutely kick-ass mid-paced riff. REVELATION is really motoring here, with Bert and Steve locking into a massive groove. Truly, Hall & Branagan may be the most organic-sounding rhythm section working in rock music today. Over top their thunder, Brenner lays down some brain scalding wah-wah leads that’ll call your mother names and then stomp your ass for you if you need it done. Holy shit, this sounds like Poobah meets Sabbath! “The Whisper Stream” sees the band dial up the melody once more, in a subtle and thoughtful mid-pace before a barnburner of a Crimson-like middle section crashes in. The rhythm here is just sick and the leads hurt! Somebody get me a doctor, baby!

The album then ends with an especially strong pairing, “Vigil” and the title cut. The former, stretching nearly 9 minutes, employs one of the best rhythm changes NOT authored by Tony Iommi just before the 3:00 mark. The latter sees the band once again effortlessly fuse philosophical doom with timeless melody and a pensive guitar solo that reinforces Mr. Brenner as the tone-master he’s become of recent years. Beyond anything simply called “metal,” REVELATION weave a tapestry so rich and colourful as to know neither bounds nor specific genre. Guess I’ll wear that t-shirt tomorrow. For The Sake Of Those Who Like Great Shit

Wye Knot?!

WYE OAK – “The Knot” CD ’09 (Merge, US) – WYE OAK. It’s a couple words that conjure some different things for me. The obvious, of course, is the aged historical tree, the oldest white oak in the U.S. and a pride of Maryland that was finally felled by a thunderstorm in 2002. It shared it’s first name with the town of Wye Mills, one that I passed a million times on my way across the Eastern Shore to summer spot, Ocean City.

The second is the teacher I had for 5th Grade. To be plain, the woman had the loudest mouth I’ve ever heard in my life. Virtually anywhere you stood in the 3-story school building at any time between 9:00 and 3:00, it was an even bet that you would be able to hear her screaming at the top of her lungs at somebody. She once had the audacity to put me out in the hallway for talking in class and while I was out there, she collected a project on which she then gave me a “zero” because I wasn’t there to turn it in. Nice. Anyway, after a number of years, she retired to Wye Mills and founded a company with her son, making an absolutely fabulous crab soup that sold all around Maryland. Years later, I felt a poignant tinge when I’d heard she’d died.

Thirdly, there was the summer night I walked into Fletcher’s night club in Fells Point, MD and onstage were a super-cool heavy and bluesy band called 60 Watt Shaman. As I turned to face the stage, the lead singer, a huge dude bathed in sweat and with the voice of 1000 years, leaned back and bellowed into the mic, “Wyeeeeeeee River!!!” The thundering rhythm, oppressive heat and desperately soulful vocal delivery instantly transported me to a sweltering back porch in an Eastern Shore town.

So what, you may ask, does all that have to do with “The Knot,” the 2nd effort from Maryland’s own WYE OAK? To me, the simple connection is that this duo (Andy Stack & Jenn Wasner) has chosen a name with great depth and who’s music correlates well with that. Interestingly enough, “The Knot” fell into my ears not long after reading Ripple Racer’s commentary on autumn as a season, and it’s a record that really has that feel. The instrumentation is still laced with sparks of the flickering embers of summer, yet there’s a starkness that creeps into the songs to hint of what’s to come. It’s a notable dichotomy in that, especially with Wasner’s vocals, a personable warmth comes through the other side, arising through the chill…one that speaks of the sparks of a fire, a warm drink and friends gathered ‘round. Sure, there’s enough forboding of the deep freeze to come, but that’ll be in time and it’ll be faced with the strength gleaned from the haunting, rising and oddly uplifting feel of songs like “For Prayer” and “Mary Is Mary. It’s almost like Neil Young & Crazy Horse having a religious epiphany on a frost-chilled mountaintop. I’m glad I can listen to the soundtrack. Knot To Be Taken Lightly

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cuppa Joe

THE ALEXANDRIA KLEZTET – “Peace, Love and Coffee” CD ’09 (Private, US) – I am about to make a brutal admission. Up until a couple weeks ago, I had no idea what Klezmer music was. And, who am I kidding, I still probably don’t. Klezmer is defined (by that all-knowing, all-wise and sometimes infinitely wrong thing called Wikipedia) as: “…a musical tradition which parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism…. Klezmer is easily identifiable by its characteristic expressive melodies, reminiscent of the human voice, complete with laughing and weeping. This is not a coincidence; the style is meant to imitate khazone and paraliturgical singing. Several techniques are used to accomplish this. There are krekhts 'sobs', and dreydlekh which are a form of musical ornament similar to a turn or trill.” So, there you have, better than I could have ever put into words.

The problem is, why am I telling you all this and why does it suddenly mean something to me? Why that’s because those very few weeks ago I received in the mail a packet containing the fourth CD by Washington/Baltimore area band THE ALEXANDRIA KLEZTET. The first thing I did was pop it in the player and upon hearing the first cut, my initial impression was, “Damn if that clarinet & violin doesn’t sound like it’s laughing!” Then, you go back & read that description and it all starts to make sense, especially when I then hear a track like “Lev Tahor” and I get the feeling, for all the world, that the instruments are crying. And, I realize as well, that I’m listening to something that on the surface sounds like a cross between chamber music and traditional jazz and yet it also sounds familiar (!!!) to me, the rocker! Really ,it’s pretty amazing to get that kind of emotion out of a kind of music I’d never heard before in my entire life. And that’s what’s alright with me about this disc. Like I said, I don’t know enough about Klezmer music to critique what this band is doing in the traditional sense. What I do know, however is that when I play “Peace, Love & Coffee” I get a good feeling. Surely, from the technical standpoint the group knows their way around their instruments. At the same time, and far more importantly, the sometimes jazzy, sometimes somber, always sans-vocal music here is immediate and personable. It simply sounds good and makes me happy…and I don’t even like coffee! Try a cup today. Visualize Whirled Caffeine

Friday, December 4, 2009

Child In Time

BLACK BONE CHILD – “Black Bone Child” CD ‘0 (Private, US) – 2 people in a band. Were I an individual of the close-minded variety, I might think to myself, “Sounds like a White Stripes wanna-be” and walk (no, run!) the other way. But 2 things sent me pointing in the direction of BBC’s debut instead. One was the fact that I am the sort of guy who takes everything on it’s own terms. The other was that the recommendation on this one came straight from The Ripple Effect's master of ceremonies, the one and only Racer. Being a man of impeccable taste, I tend to take his giving of props seriously. And so, my email to Donny James went winging across the ‘net to Austin TX. I suppose that shoulda been another tip-off, considering that SXSW City seems to be the epicenter for all things musically cool lately. So, as these things usually go, I waited patiently by the mail box for the ‘CHILD’s eponymous disc to arrive. What would it reveal?

Simply put, when I tore the envelope open a week later and planted the circular contents in the Realm O’Matic, I had a big problem on my hands. The problem was, where did I put that Websters New Dictionary Of Superlatives. I also had a 2nd problem and that was, how do I get this sum-bitch out of my player? Maybe I need a special tool that removes CD’s that are so damn catchy they lock their hypnotic grooves into the insides of my digital Wurlitzer and hang on for dear life. And, yes that’s the deal with this spiffy little thing called BLACK BONE CHILD. Any fear, any trepidation about some indie kids wanting to be Jack White vanished with the good-time handclaps of “Time Pass Me By.” Man-e-daze, talk about a fun song! I had just seen my wife walk out with my best friend, take my pick-up truck and last bottle of Jack and I was still up, dancing and singing. Well, I was kidding about the bottle of Jack (lol!) but you get my point. This is music that will put a serious smile on your face without a tad of smarminess or cornball humor. “Ha Ha Hey Hey” crops up next and I’m hearing what could only be described as a cross between the grooves of early King’s X, massive harmonica fills and a chorus that could be a far happier cousin of the sing-along part of “Man In A Box.” Talk about some soulful vocals, as well! The distorted riffs of “Make Me Bleed” remind me of what it woulda been like had Keef and Angus jammed in the mid ‘70’s and “You’re Gonna See” jumps off a distorted bass groove like Dug Pinnick jamming on Shinedown’s “Sound Of Madness” in a New Orleans club. Man, what a kick-ass fucking song! And so it goes through the entire record…a mere 29 sweeps of the second hand that are so focused on a potent blend of Southern-style backwater groove that they render 65-minute corporate discs meaningless.

Funny thing is, after reading up more about BLACK BONE CHILD in an excellent interview on The Ripple Effect itself, I found out that the band is actually a 4-piece in the live format, consisting of aforementioned Donny James (guitar, vocals) and his partner in crime, Kenneth M (drums, bass, harmonica, vocals) joined by Steve Hudson (drums) & Jason King (guitar). Seems like this is a simple case of 2+2 = 4 and if you do the math and listen to the CD, it counts out a beat that spells great rock & roll! Two Rolling Stoned

NOTE: Read several more interesting articles about this bunch on the highly recommended Ripple Effect site:

If You Build It...

SHRINEBUILDER – “Shrinebuilder” CD ’09 (Neurot, US) – Funny thing about so-called super groups. Sometimes they’re not all that super. Take Blind Faith, for example: Clapton and Baker from Cream, Stevie Winwood (Traffic) plus hot-shot bassist Ric Grech (Family). It was ok but you weren’t going to confuse it with “Disraeli Gears,” were you. Sticking to a similar pedigree, how’s about West, Bruce & Laing? The Fat Man & Corky straight outta Mountain tearing it up with Jack Bruce? Wow! Um…again, decent but anybody rushing to trade their copy of “Climbing” for that one? Didn’t think so. Let’s move on in years to a little collaboration between Slash, Duff and Scott Weiland. Bleccchh! “Appetite For Destruction” and “Purple” are still right on your shelf where they belong, aren’t they? And so on, but the point is this: Just because you take a bunch of super-talents from different camps and throw ‘em in a blender, the results aren’t necessarily the sweetest nectar.

And so we come to SHRINEBUILDER, the much-hyped summit between Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed, St. Vitus, Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, etc.), Al Cisneros (Sleep, OM, etc.), Dale Crover (Melvins) & Scott Kelly (Neurosis). To make a long story short, the 5 cuts here are lengthy (in the 7+ minute range). Through their lumbering courses, numbers with titles like “Solar Benediction” offer morsels of each member’s specialties: Kelly’s ragged vo-kills, Wino’s “born too late” riffage, Crover’s thudding tubsmanshipt and Cisneros bottom-end psych plunder. For fans of the more experimental end of doom metal and the psychedelic extremeness, the results are palatable enough. They’re also a bit lacking in the focus of the best of any of the guy’s day jobs. An “ok” appetizer, but be ready to serve up “Punctuated Equilibrium” or “Souls At Zero” for a meal that sticks to the ribs. Under Construction