Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grand Halls 39

A EUPHONIOUS WAIL – “A Euphonious Wail” CD ’73 (Kapp/MCA, US) – You know what I’m going to do now, don’t you? “Yep, Ray” you say, “You’re going to launch into one of your patented 3-paragraph intros to this review, somehow interconnecting a story from your past with your acquisition of this album.” Well, I dunno, maybe you could consider it that. Really what I want to do is thank my ol’ bud Andre’ for turning me onto this one…and a bunch of other stuff over the course of the last few years. See, one of the things that has happened with me especially of late is that in my efforts to stay on top of what’s currently going on in the underground of music, I’ve tended to overlook my forays into the dusty bins for “new” old stuff. Thanks to my man, Dr. Dre’, I’ve been kept “in the know,” so to speak, with a host of gorgeous gems from the vaults. One of them is this eponymous (and only) effort from California-based quintet A EUPHONIOUS WAIL.

Composed of Doug Hoffmann (drums), Bart Libby (keys), Suzanne Rey (vocals), Steve Tracy (guitars, vocals) and Gary Violetti (bass), EW (unfortunate abbreviation, I know!) had a moniker that fit the bill. The reason I say that is, Suzanne Rey’s vocals are a major factor in this album from beginning to end. “Euphonious” means “pleasant to the ear” and when you put that together with “wail,” you get a real nice handle on Suzanne’s pipes. Ironically, opening song “Pony” doesn’t see her letting loose all that much. She and Tracy harmonize nicely as the song launches into a driving Purple rhythm topped with a Lordian Hammond-fest by Libby. Tracy’s hypnotic guitar figure completes this one. It’s with the 2nd cut, “We’ve Got The Chance” that Rey comes into her own. Set on a bubbling boiler and accompanied by some luscious organ swells, Suzanne lays down a sultry siren song that has probably made more than one man lose his concentration. The guitar fills by Steve T here are highly reminiscent of Bloodrock’s axe guru, Lee Pickens. After the heartfelt ballad “Did You Ever,” wherein Tracy’s Clapton-like vox go down smooth, the WAIL shift into a higher gear with the mega-original “When I Start To Live.” A Southern hard rock feel (that will occur more & more frequently) takes center stage., with the “Hallelujah” part of the vocal sporting a real cool Gospel vibe.

And now, folks, it’s time to get heavy! “F#” comes on like gang-busters with a nasty riff that reminds me of a brutal Point Blank song (think “Uncle Ned,” from “Second Seasons”). The lead guitar freak-out over top a neck-snapping stop-start rhythm at the end is awesome and I wish it had gone on a bit longer before the song fades out. To be honest with you, I’m not sure why somebody would name a song “Chicken” (especially a good one!) but this one is, and it picks up with the mauling lead guitar of Steve Tracy that ended it’s predecessor. A long instrumental section featuring a duel between heavy-ass 6-string bending and jabbing organ begins this mutha-clucker, draped over a fast-paced jazzy rhythm. Around 2:50, the band shift into a stomping “I’m-gonna-tell-you-what,-boy!” vocal tour de force from Suzanne Rey. This lady has a voice that lived halfway between Janis Joplin and Anne Wilson and I’m captivated, that’s for sure!

With the final 3 songs of the album, A EUPHONIOUS WAIL bring things home in fine flourish. “Night Out” slides in like a heavy Rory Gallagher blues. Man, Rey is just wailing here, what a set of lungs! Some of the best guitar on the album resides in these grooves, with the middle solo opening on slide, then slipping into a raucous lead paint peeler. The bottleneck returns for a killer nod to Brother Duane at the end. More smoldering bluesy smoke is on offer with “Love My Brother” before EW just “hit it” with the closing ballad, “I Want To Be A Star.” Here Rey and Tracy try to outdo each other, soaring vocals matching scalding axe leads note for note in a track wrung dry of all emotion by it’s end.

The unfortunate part of this story is that this self-titled record apparently fell on completely deaf ears at it’s time as it and it’s author’s fell deep into the realms of obscurity and were never heard from again. It’s for that reason I owe a big huge thanks to my buddy Dr. Dre’ for bringing this one to sit in it’s rightful place in The Grand Halls. Get out there and find yourselves a copy as this, my friends is the good stuff. A Wail Of An Album

NOTE: If anyone has any info on activity by any of A EUPHONIOUS WAIL’s band members beyond this record (especially vocalist Suzanne Rey) please let me know!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Right In The Pocket

ECHOES – “Nature Existence” CD ’10 (ProgRock, Venezuela) – "Amleto Monacelli." Those are the first words that come to my mind when I hear mention of the South American country, Venezuela. Now I would suspect that a goodly percentage of you are saying to yourselves, “Who the hell is Amleto Monacelli?” and this reaction is entirely understandable. In fact I would dare to say that, unless you’re like me and have actually purposely watched professional bowling finals on TV, you would truly have no idea who the hell Amleto Monacelli is. So, for what it’s worth Mr. Monacelli was one of the most kick-ass bowlers this lifetime 10-pin fan has ever seen. Taking off on the power game developed in the ‘70’s by Mark Roth, Amelto lit up the PBA Tour during the ‘80’s and ‘90’s with a devastating, hooking strike ball that seemed to make the pins explode. The only international pro bowler to be inducted into the PBA Hall Of Fame, Monacelli is from Venezuela. So is ECHOES.

Now I would suspect that a goodly percentage of you are saying to yourselves, “Who the hell is ECHOES?” and this reaction is entirely understandable. But, you know that after a typical, lengthy intro I’m going to explain all this…kinda like listening to a Metallica song, eh? Anyhoo…. ECHOES are a 6-piece band and the first thing that struck me when I looked at the insert for this CD was the fact that they had 3 guitar players. You must understand, my friends, that seeing 3 guitarists in a band’s line-up is always going to grab my fucking attention. Sorry to be coarse, but there are some things I get passionate about. Squire’s Pizza is one. A weekend alone with my beautiful wife is another. A triple axe attack is right up there as well. Colossus, early Lynyrd Skynyrd, that’s some pretty bad-assed stuff…so, ECHOES had my interest piqued from the outset. But, as we all know, you need a whole band as well as a clutch of fine ditties to make an album. And, folks, we got one here.

If I was going to hang a genre on ECHOES, I’d hesitate ‘cause I know what you’re all going to say when I utter “prog metal.” But before you get your knickers in a bind, let me explain. Sure, there are keys in this, sure there’s some left-turn kinda song structures, yes indeed. Thing is, this is one seriously good listen that will never bore you with some 18-minute yawn fest induced by a brace of Julliard grads trying to cram 64th notes up your ass. ECHOES take that metallic base and instead of trying to prove what great technicians they are, they infuse it with the kind of melody and soaring dynamics that permeates the folk music indigenous to their own land. Layers of guitars, both electric and acoustic from Javier Landaeta, Antonio Silva and Rafael Sequera build a metalized yet emotionally charged base for the band to top with glorious, memorable songs like “Leaf Motif” and “Rude Awakening.” Wonderfully, the soloing is breathtaking and vibrant, not overwrought with the genre-typical neo-classical shit that’s become so commonplace. Oddly, the album features the lead vocals of 4 different guests (Tobias Jansson, Nick Storr, Carl Webb and Pedro Castillo) and reading this before listening made me wonder how cohesive a listen it could be. I’m happy to say that the quartet, while each sounding different, fit perfectly into the rich sonic storm created by the band firing on all cylinders behind them.

ECHOES has produced a record with “Nature Existence” that is not only striking for a new band’s debut but one that would be a scorcher for a bunch of wily old veterans. I wonder if Amleto Monacelli has ever heard these guys? Ripping The Rack

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Love Is Like Oxygen

ADRIAN SHAW & ROD GOODWAY – “Oxygen Thieves” CD ’09 (September Gurls, Eng) – Well, to wildly paraphrase Three Dog Night, I have been to England. And I kinda like The Beatles. See, the ladies are insane…. Ok, well right, who doesn’t like The Beatles then, right? From their mop-top beginnings to the hyper-creative albeit fractured existence of “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be,” the Fab Four were just that. Not that I don’t love The Stones but their once-in-art-school-now-badass-chic always came up short to J, P, G & R who were an authentically roughneck bunch that honed nicely into a 20th Century icon.

With all that, I think Messr.’s SHAW & GOODWAY (of Bevis Frond and a multitude other UK psych legends) were no different from the rest of the rock & roll world in following The Beatles’ illustrious wake. The difference is, this pair have done one of the best jobs I’ve ever heard in gleaning their essence without lapsing into musical ape-ism. The period mostly on note, I believe is that magical one between “Revolver” and the “…Mystery Tour.” Right from the git-go, “Coloured Rain” positively comes alive with a wonderful blend of psych, pop and progressive elements, all distilled into 3:46 of gold through musical alchemy. It’s like “Tomorrow Never Knows” channeled through 2009. Elsewhere, the duo (GOODWAY – vocals, lyrics; SHAW – all instruments, music) stir up a swirling, trippy and catchy ambrosia in the form of “Stranger Things, the title cut and the “Grapevine” groove and modern humor of “Spammed Man.” Not content to be harnessed by the 3-minute radio formula, ROD & ADE often stretch things out to the 5 ½ - 6 minute mark but in keeping that as the max, none of the songs come close to dragging. What’s gotta be my fave though, comes 4 tracks in, in the form of “Dog Fight.” While not a total lift, this one shares a snatch of melody with one of the greatest pop/metal songs of all time, Crack The Sky’s “Hot Razors In My Heart” and thereby has endeared itself to me forever. The unpolished “real” production here is only the icing on the cake.

All in all, “Oxygen Thieves” has been a real surprise to me since it slid unceremoniously into my mailbox. More than that, it’s one of the most memorable and original albums in recent months. Well, I have been to England. And I kinda like ADRIAN SHAW & ROD GOODWAY. Stealing My Ears

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Root Boy Siena

SIENA ROOT – “Different Realities” CD ’09 (Transubstans, Swe) – Does anybody remember Face Dancer? Hey, at least the Baltimore / Maryland readers should. They were a killer local hard rock band who had their heyday back in the ‘70’s and used to absolutely crush covers by everybody from The Who to Jeff Beck. Well, they also had a wealth of great originals that led to 2 psychotically-overlooked albums. In one of those gems, they made the point that “When the music starts, I can’t stand still.” That might be a great mantra for Sweden’s SIENA ROOT.

See, while a lot of bands are content to establish a style and then beat it into holy shit with each successive album, that’s not how the SR boys roll. Through their previous 3 records (and a single), they’ve begun with an early ‘70’s base of warm & heavy guitar and swirling organ, then dolloped it with vocals that effuse all kinds of soul (albeit, it seems, different singers on every release). From that, they’ve extrapolated into extended song structures and open-ended jamming, never knowing the meaning of resting on their laurels. This ever-moving tapestry positively explodes on “Different Realities.”

The new SIENA ROOT disc is composed of 2 lengthy pieces. (Not to fret, ye of oughties-little-patience, as they have bee sub-divided into shorter sections). The first of these, “We,” is surely grounded in hard rock but not so simply. Just take the opening section, “We Are Them” as an example. This 10+ minute opus begins with a building, upward spiraling movement that mirrors the rising of the sun over a panoramic landscape. The hues painted by the instruments invoke a dawn that detonates into day around the 4-minute mark. Heavy Strat chords that are at once Hendrixian and modern dance together and we’re off on a journey. It’s a voyage that passes through the pensive oasis of “In The Desert” and into the Truth-&-Janey-like riffs of “Over The Mountains” before coming to rest in the sweeping “As We Return,” a movement hinting as much to Amon Duul II as it does to the Zeps.

And now, my friends, the music has truly started and SIENA ROOT has some ants in their pants! To say that the album’s 2nd sprawling piece, “The Road To Agartha” is adventurous would be akin to calling Leif Erikson’s trip a jaunt across town. Heralded by the power of opening section “Bairagi,”The ROOT dive headlong into a deep exploration of Indian music. The hypnotic rhythms & traditional voicings of this instrumental vision may seem as though they’d be jarringly out-of-place but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, by the time we get to “Bhimpalasi” and the music has been distilled to merely percussion, you’re attention will be rapt. It’ll stay that way as the rest of the band rejoins the fray, through “Shree” and “Jog,” where heavy rock melds with the traditions of thousands of years in a stirring conclusion.

In all, “Different Realities” is surely everything the first word of it’s title defines and I’m certain there will be an element of past fans who find it “too much,” at least on first listen. My only hope is that those of you who don’t “get it” at first will at least give it a few shots. The rest of us already know: When the music starts, you can’t stand still. Masters Of Reality

Blue Dreams

ROGER POWELL – “Blue Note Ridge” CD ’09 (Unicorn Digital, UK) – I have to admit, I’m way out of my normal comfort zone on this one as reviewer. I mean, let’s face it, the things that most frequently pass across this desk are born of Marshall Amplification and ragged riffs. Yes, The Realm is also home to bedfellows as seemingly strange as Celtic folk and bluegrass, but these are genres I’ve delved into enough to know my way around. So when Utopia man ROGER POWELL’s collection of solo piano improvs fell out of the stout envelope of goodies from Unicorn Digital (more of which to be reviewed soon), I was in uncharted territory. Being the open-minded kinda guy I am, however, I threw the disc in and…hmm…found myself turning to it again and again. It’s usually been late in these winter evenings that I do so, letting the melodic-yet-exploratory tones of “Snowfall,” “Flint Hill” and “Path To The River” wash over me. As ROGER’s fingers caress the ivories, it’s as if all the stress and bullshit of the day is purged. There’s a palpable warmth to those and others, like “Shadow Of Pines” & “Valley Fog.” It’s a warmth that names the piano as what it really is, a string instrument with the same poignant emotions as an acoustic guitar. This, of course, is emphasized by the gentle command of Powell’s playing and his thoughtful, improvised melodies. Someone else may be able to tell you the technicalities of “Blue Note Ridge.” I just know I like it. Hittin’ That Note

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not Utah Jazz

DETHRONE THE SOVEREIGN – “Dethrone The Sovereign” CD EP ’09 (Private, US) – I have to admit that my first impression upon hearing this 6-song effort from Utah’s DETHRONE THE SOVEREIGN was “What the hell?” The first track, “Carnival Of Horrors” struck me on first blush as an oddly slammed-together package of thrash guitar riffs, alternating black metal shrieks / death metal growls with a canopy of keyboards draped over the entire affair. This impression continued with “Acceptance” and my initial listen wasn’t gaining a whole lot of footing until the intro to “Legends Of The Hidden Temple” came up and took me by surprise. Here was an almost accessible opening, bathed with harmonies I hadn’t expected at all. And yes, it led into a math-like thrash attack, but one that seemed suddenly a lot more cohesive. It then progressed into a middle section that could be the soundtrack to a host of souls chanting in The Grand Hall Of Pandemonium. “UniBrain” and “Skin (w)horse” feature more well-crafted melodies among the prog-death tableau, including a positively soaring middle part in the latter. With “Sects,” DETHRONE THE SOVEREIGN save the best for last, a nearly all-instrumental cut that sees the band reach an apex around 1:50. Gorgeous melodies and the best guitar work on the disc dominate here, as they slow down on the neo-classical shred-fest and play with real emotion. In several listens to this EP, I think that DTS are quite possibly onto something unique here. As the disc unfolds, it sees a band who are not afraid to try something new and coupled with that, have a very strong command of melody. I’d like to see them accentuate that and smooth out a little more of the math-y stuff. That in mind, I’m looking forward to what they do next and in the meantime, I say check this one out. Ready To Ascend

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Your Mama A Llama?

DALI’S LLAMA – “Raw Is Real” CD ’09 (Dali’s Llama, US) – California’s DALI’S LLAMA released “Raw Is Real” late in 2009 and it is their eighth album. How do you like them apples?! 8 albums! Here is a band that, I’m willing to bet, a lot of readers have never heard and they have put out 8 damn records on their own label! That’s the kind of thing my mom has always called stick-to-itiveness. Of course, I hear you saying, “Hey, aren’t those guys stoner rock, Ray? So they put out 8 discs of “In Search Of…” / “Sky Valley” clones, am I supposed to be impressed?” Yes, smart-ass, you’re supposed to stick this little round thang in your player and be pretty friggin’ impressed. I know I was. Now I’ve gotta admit, I was expecting a little something because I dug the band’s last effort, ‘08’s “Full On Dunes.” But dang, this one’s even better…and by a good margin, actually. On the surface, there’s enough overdriven Laney-tone here from Zach Huskey and Joe Dillon to keep the local acoustic earplug factory in the black for awhile. But that’s where the days of stoner blasé end and the fun get’s going. DALI’S LLAMA (completed by Erica Huskey – standard & bowed electric bass & Jeff Howe – drums) raise the bar by writing songs that go well beyond the norm. “Theocracy” may be powered by thundering chords and Zach’s mid-range drawl, but it’s also buoyed by some layered guitar stylings that dwell in late ‘60’s psych land. “Grump” packs an energy wallop that nods toward D.C. hardcore and the deliberate pace and airy melodies of “Always” speak of an sort of Southern indie rock that goes down smooth as silk. The ‘70’s hard rawkin’ “Blackout” and “Fluids,” with it’s “Arc”-like Neil Young feedback complete what is not only a very ambitious but cohesive album. It’s, without question, DALI LLAMA’s best and one you should check out before they release another 8!
Real Damn Good

NOTE: DALI’S LLAMA also seem to put some real thought into their lyrics, addressing issues that are topically political and quite perceptive.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Keep up with all the latest news, reviews, interviews, polls, etc. by becoming a Follower Of The Realm. Click the Follow button to the right! And, as a reminder, for those of you who I haven't heard from yet... 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:

Virginia Freedom

FREEDOM HAWK – “Freedom Hawk” CD ’09 (Meteor City, US) – Swagger. What is it? It’s when you can not only talk the talk but you can also walk the walk. That’s what Jimmy Johnson called it when he talked about ‘dem Cowboys. Judas Priest called it delivering the goods and Tidewater Virginia’s FREEDOM HAWK calls it their new self-titled disc and first on Meteor City.

Yeah man, from the minute the opening bass lines of “On The Other Side” kick in and T.R. Morton issues his call to arms “Go!” you know you’re in for an ass whoopin’ if you need one anyway! 7 songs, 30-some minutes and if you’re still standing after this prime belt of hard rock/metal, MMA may be in your future. See, FREEDOM HAWK soar way above the endless litany of most of today’s so-called “heavy” saviors by being so much more. Depth, not grease, is the word, baby. Rather than dabble in one-dimensional QOTSA quap, they reach back and grab a big handful of stick-to-your-ribs meat & potatoes like Zep and Free to stir into their pot of Gibsons and overdriven Marshalls. The results are a lot more than merely impressive. Just check out the aforementioned opener with it’s sudden smash-mouth rhythm shift part way through. Ride the high-octane beast called “Universal” down the dusty highway to riff heaven and then take a quick left onto “My Road” with it’s smartly-placed harmony leads. “Bad Man” sees the band in, yup, that full swagger as the doors swing open on a brazen riff. With “Hollow Caverns,” the boys let their full range show in flying colours with moody, ethereal intros & outros framing a goddamn epic of a song that, amazingly, reaches those proportions in a svelte 5:07. Through the course of this in-your-face & to-the-point disc, all 4 of the musicians excel. Morton & Matt Cave’s guitars lock together in heavy-as-shit rhythms, take some harmony flights and are always there with a blistering fuzz lead when called for. Mark Cave (bass) & Lenny Hines (drums) churn up a warm, organic rhythm but it’s T.R. Morton’s vocals that, aside from the excellent songs, set FREEDOM HAWK apart. With an upper range dripping in soul, he calls to mind vintage names like Plant & Ray Gillen and lends a timeless vibe to the whole affair.

Some might say it’s lacking in imagination to self-title any release other than a band’s debut, but with FREEDOM HAWK, it’s mighty appropriate. They’ve made an album that’s defined themselves in no uncertain terms. That’s swagger, baby. Their Road Or The Highway

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Winter Of My Content

IONA – “Mid-Winter Light” CD EP ’09 (Barnaby Productions, US) – Something you may notice about this disc by Virginia’s Celtic band IONA is that it would appear to be a “holiday” release. With that in mind, you may be thinking, “Dang, Ray, a little late on that one, eh?” And truth be known, I am. IONA was kind enough to drop this one in my mailbox several weeks back and yet here I sit, having just now fully digested it nearly halfway through January. And for just over 13 minutes, it’s a hearty treat.

The opening track sees the band take on a set from Derbyshire, Isle Of Man, Shetland Islands and Ireland. The infectious “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In” blends with “Three Little Boats Went Out To Sea” and “Christmas Day Ida Moarnin’.” It all segues nicely into the ripping “Christmas Eve Reel” for a melody and energy-laden 5 minutes. “The Wran” (Ireland) sees Jim Queen taking lead vocals, at first in a pensive, deliberate pace with flute accompaniment. The band then joins in for a commanding take on “Ballyhoo” and the “The Wran” comes in again, much faster. After a blistering fiddle/Irish hard shoe duel (Queen & Kathleen Larrick) we hear Queen rip through the vocals at light-speed, with female backing. Finally, Barbara Tresidder Ryan takes lead vox on “Gloucestershire Wassail/Can Wassel,” a piece just begging the listener to join in on. Through each number, the entire band fuses effortlessly, whether it be Ryan’s bodhran, Bernard Argent’s flutes & whistles or the bass guitar of Chuck Lawhorn.

The fact of the matter is this: “Mid-Winter Light” may on one hand be a 3-track EP with a decidedly holiday theme. On the other, it’s a powerful testament that IONA is one of the best Celtic bands out there…any day of the year! A Light In The Black

NOTE: All IONA’s releases come highly recommended!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Grand Halls 38

RUSSIA – “Russia” LP/CD ’80/’08 (Warner Bros. / Wounded Bird, US) – They say controversy can be a good thing. You know, gets you attention, puts you in the spotlight. They also say timing is everything. And there can be instances where the 2 conspire to produce a virtually impossible situation. Enter Seattle band RUSSIA. Frankly, the idea of an American hard rock band calling themselves RUSSIA and issuing an album fronted with a bright red Soviet star during the height of the Cold War was controversial genius. Well…to me, anyway. Seems some other folks were not entertained and even with it’s release on a major, the album sank like a stone. The real shame of it was, it was brilliant…and it did garner a cult following. And thusly begins our tour of an album that, as far as most of the general public was concerned, might as well have shipped chiefly to Siberia.

RUSSIA was composed, at least for a brief moment in musical history, not of millions of citizens but of just 5 guys: Thomas Richard Brighton – guitars & vocals, Richard Allyn White – keyboards & vocals, Larry Tuttle – bass & vocals, Jeff Swisstack – drums and Griff Stevens – lead vocals, woodwinds & railroad springs (!!!). And as they launch into “Fight Back (Time After Time),” the listener has no idea about the interesting journey they’re about to embark upon. It’s a super-catchy pop-rock opener kinda like mid-period Queen meets The Knack. But hey, those background vocals at around 1:30 actually sound Russian (!) so maybe there’s more than meets the ear here. “Who Do You Think You Are?” is not a Deep Purple send-up but another slab of prime late ‘70’s FM ear candy that could’ve been a major hit. And then we take a left turn and go down the rabbit hole….

You know something different is afoot when “Gotta Get Away” opens with a 49 second bass solo from Larry Tuttle. In then, comes the song proper and we hear a much heavier, funky guitar rhythm reminiscent of Crack The Sky’s “Skin Deep” or “Techni Generation.” A manic chorus leads into a searing guitar solo by Thomas Brighton, fueled by a sharp biting tone very similar to Crack’s Rick Witkowski. I’ve heard very few bands (possibly City Boy at times) that I could ever reference to CTS and it’s a signpost of originality that will appear frequently with RUSSIA. “Nothing To Say” features a crazy syncopated rhythm in the verses and Jeff Swisstack’s drumming is wild here. There’s a Rundgren-esque (and yes, John Palumbo as well) feel to the humor in the lyrics of Griff Stevens. “Nobody has to know what you do, where you go. It’s your business, so let your curtains down and let your castles burn.” Stevens is beginning to emerge as quite the wordsmith and vocalist. Side One draws to a close as “Laughing (In The Face Of Fire)” finds it’s acoustic intro bleeding into a verse of ethereal chords. It’s an interesting dichotomy in that it has the feel of a Priest riff played by a space-rock band. The chorus in this one is just awesome, the amazing melody nestled atop heavy power-pop riffs. The soaring guitar solo is augmented with deep, resonating backing vox. Damn, they sound Russian too! Wow!

Side Two of “Russia” begins with “If I Were You” and, if I were you, I’d describe the rhythm here as almost like a vaudeville show tune played by a hard rock band. Picture Sparks’ Mael brothers playing CTS’s “A Night On The Town (With Snow White)” and you might have it. The axe solo is piercing in a Brian May sorta way and the coda is charging heavy swing! RUSSIA is really getting motoring now (if they weren’t already) and after a short vox/keys intro they erupt into “Out Of My Mind.” The melodies and harmony vocals are stunning as Stevens belts out lines like “I think it’s a crime, the way you drive me out of my mind. But don’t get me wrong, it’s only a song I’m singing.” All that, and lead guitar work as good as anybody! Next is one of those cool little segues bands used to do back in the day. The 1:30-ish of “Poignant Clams,” replete with acoustic guitars, flute (I hope I’m right here, it’s a woodwind of some kind) and keys, exits as a marching drum beat comes in. “Piece Of Ice” (another CTS reference?) opens with a militaristic rhythm and an authoritative guitar riff to match, the melodic verse and heavy chorus establishing more scorching dynamics. “Nice, so nice. You thought you’d found a piece of paradise, alright. You turn around and find it’s just a piece of ice, alright.” It all comes to a fantastic conclusion with “Outer Space Seeds.” Sporting a cool piano/drum verse, the guitars crash in at just the right times. Background vocals of near Beach Boys lushness wash in and the 6-string fills are magic. Then, out of nowhere, a horn piece comes in, accompanied by a repeating Fripp-like guitar figure. At around 3:40, the overall effect is downright Beatle-esque, with the vocals, horns & keys playing off each other like an orchestra.

I would like to say that this ultra-unique masterpiece of rock & pop went on to take the world by storm. Sadly, as you already know, it didn’t. Because of all those factors like timing, who knew who and the band’s provocative name, not many were “Russian” to buy it (ouch!!!) and it disappeared like a CIA agent at the Kremlin. 28 years later, this CD release saw the light of day and one year after that, I’ve told you all you need to know. Go forth with wallets open, Comrade! Songs Of Soviet Sons

NOTE: The same 5 guys who populated RUSSIA regrouped in 1981 under a new, slightly-less eye-catching name, FORCE 10 (apparently Warner Bros. refused to allow the band to issue any more material under the RUSSIA moniker). The fascinating result will be discussed in another upcoming episode of Grand Halls.

NOTE II: I have just learned that in the near future, I will be able to bring you an exclusive Raysrealm conversation with RUSSIA / FORCE 10 man Griff Stevens. Does that rule or what?!