Reviews33

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T.A.O. -
The Abnormal Observations
Unicorn 2006
The unknown Polish enitity breaks through the surface of everyday life.

When the riff of “Shruti” cuts the silence you’re afraid of treading the prog metal muddy waters once again, yet once synth flute and moving piano chords scatter between the guitar lines and wordless fusion vocals, there’s a sense of something special looming on the horizon. But it’s Adam Jurewicz’s guitar that sets the rules here, and the music the quartet from Poland play is immense indeed – except, perhaps, for the singing which veers away from the cosmic jazz the band are pursuing by clutching to rather different, if invariably progressive, strains. Funk, classical, hard rock, Eastern motifs: it’s all in there, mixed into a tasty coctail for a gourmet… who’ll hardly appreciate hardcore rapping that’s the base of “Se Ma Nei”, whereas in acoustic “Rhythm Of Silence” it sounds spacily tasty and “I Fot” borders on being a cross-genre heavy yet melodic masterpiece. An impressive statement of intentions!

****
 

NO NATION – Illumine
Illumine 2005
A trip from the Biblical times into the future. Rock artistocrats check in.

Billed as a rock opera, “Illumine”, a musical based on a character called Machiventa Melchizedek who’s mentioned in the Qumran scrolls – is something different, with no real casting and role-playing. But the album composed by NO NATION – that’s keyboardist Steve Roseman, drummer John Hernandez and singer Ed Ulibarri – comes off as an amazing piece of work; a fact confirmed by the high-profile guests appearing here: Steff Burns whose guitar eased Alice Cooper comeback, JOURNEY bassist Ross Valory, Mike Pinder from MOODY BLUES doing narration and YES’ warbler, Jon Anderson. Still, the stars don’t outshine the proceeding but add some light. And there’s much light in this music which is light – the band masterly eschewed expanding over one disc.It’s classic progressive rock with an edge, yet there’s more substance than style, all working for the idea of spiritual evolution that sees songs counting down millenia from 5,000 years ago to a thosand years from now. A lot of time, yes, and a lot of space here, without fearsome overplaying, and the opening “Fear Not” begs for attentive (and rewarding) listening as melodies are alluring as one: “Dark”, stripped of its acoustic guitar lace, could be turned into metal ballad or gripping pop tune, while “One Heaven” cut out of folk cloth is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s deep, and the further you dig, the more addictive – and shining – it gets.

*****
 

GAD BARUCH -
The Vndrshmken Expirience
High Fiber 2006
Get wondering and wandering in search of magic wand.

That’s noise, of course, what Israeli Gad Baruch makes – but what’s music if not noise. A vertiginous collection of beats, burps, bleeps, there’s no need to single out any tracks, that’s something to rush in headlong be it meaty mesh deep on bass or dry electronica meandering. Factor in an E-factor or a lite dose of acid and lead your body to the dancefloor, and it’ll work there as well – very well! – yet a little jazziness brings on intellectual dizziness. Sometimes it gets aggressive but it’s measured too good to hurt like a few empty-on-content bits which don’t go down heavy on the ears, too. You might be a stranger to rave but to not feel this music requires a special blindness.

***2/3
 

JUGALBANDI – 1999
Great Artiste 89 2003
Tune in, tune out, stick out your antennae.

It’s debatable if you’re okay about sitting in on a rehearsal by a band you’ve never heard and don’t care that much, but if the guys have some potential, catching it is out of question. Guitarist Greg Segal has a lot of talent, it’s just that tracks are burning too slow to get your kicks from the music. Segal’s musings, laid over Hyam Sosnow’s not too imaginative drumming, could have been chanelled into a couple of dozens catchy tunes, as the thoughts are aplenty here, yet there’s always a risk of dozing off to a blues workout even as fine as “Atomic Research In The Quiet Bunker” is. Still, cosmic country boogie of “Under The Bridge” comes off fantastic, and if you’re a GRATEFUL DEAD fan you can find it all amusing enough to love and enjoy.

**
 

PHIL SOUSSAN -
Vibrate
Puss In Blue 2006

Read the interview

He’s shooting in it again, differently but right to the point.

“Shot In The Dark” was a nice pop hit for Ozzy and, 20 years on, the man who wrote it has lost none of his pop sensibilities, even though he changed immediacy for the depth. And there’s a genuine poetic depth in the violin-awashed “Water’s Edge”, where Phil Soussan takes a stylistic shot at the “Dark Side Of The Moon”. So it’s not hard rock you could expect from the man, but soft acoustic textures that deceptively simple songs such as “Open Your Eyes” build on. A honorary member of the TOTO family, for his solo debut Soussan, handling most of the guitars and singing, surrounded himself with friends like Steve Lukather, very delicate on the heartfelt “Haunted”, and Simon Phillips who adds unbelievably gentle touch to the folk gem of “Elderberry Trees” – hence the warmth in his contemporary sounding music which tugs on the strongest heart. As for the hits, harmony-filled “Smile” will do there nicely. The albums reveals its real stature with every new spin and grows, and grows. Good vibrations!

****4/5
 

RULLIAN -
Chameleon In Disguise
Raoul Ranoa 2006
Wanna feel how delicious a madness can be? Get your lizard tail around this!

Whatever you may make of the album’s title, that’s not what it seems to be, as there’s no sign of mimicry – masked or whatever. Raoul Ranoa, who’s solely responsible for this one-man guitar fest, could have produced a good three records from the pieces gathered on this one. Gathered? Well, rather heaped on, than orderly laid down, but as soon as crazy fandango of “The Ballet Of Bones” rings away a sense sets in that there’s a method to the madness. Romantic “Stacked Bravado” depicts that nicely.Eclecticism rules the game here and creates the rules of its own, and Master Eclectic would be Raoul’s secret name if his country licks didn’t merge so effortlessly with speed metal riffs, blues workouts and jazz picking – sometimes in the course of a single song. There’s a lot of humor in there and a whole lotta love: all the procceeds from the CD go to the Humane Society that saves animals. But there’s a real wild life in folk anthem “Proper Stella And The Irish Wolfhounds”, fusion of “Myopia” and the baroque of “The Bumbling Villain Vs. The Defective Detective” – a real life! So why it all ends on such a sad note?

*****
 

SPACED OUT -
Unstable Matter
Unicorn 2006
They know their problem, don’t they? Hence the title and the proceeding.

Three albums in the new jazz rock canon, this time the Canadian trio surprisingly allow some slacking. Not that they play less intense, they’re just losing focus. How else the blatant Crimson-isms of the title track can be explained? Worse, all too often the ensemble play on just for the sake of it, like in “Event Horizon”, which must be good live yet not on the record. Still, the music’s classy enough to make a great intellectual background listening: burn a lava lamp, sit back and you’re away with it… It’s just not what’s been expected from SPACED OUT – for the most part, as “Antimatter” rocks fiercely with tempos shifting at the drop of Mad Hatter, and “Glassosphere IV” stitches it all with what’s been before. So there’s a hope for the better.

***
 

FISHBONE -
Still Stuck In Your Throat
Ter A Terre 2006
The invigorating set from the LA rambunctious veterans bunch, seventh album weaving a lucky charm.

In with a donkey roar – a pun on the “Jack Ass Brigade” tagline – these Americans are set to leave you breathless, and you’d be quite shocked to know the band demonstrating such youthful exuberance – “Date Rape” is one helluva fun – have been in action since 1979. Funky guitar, jiving sax, spanking bass all mix in a magic potion. Rap, ska, punk, Balkan dance of “Party With Saddam”, you name it, Angelo Moore can give George Clinton a run for his money and make Joe Strummer’s spirit rejoice. A relentless spurt of streetcore, the grit which comes from the FISHBONE mill is so tasty you can’t escape but heed the fingerpopping call of “Skank ‘N Go Nutzz” and go slo-mo with the 10-minute crazy soul wigout of “We Just Lose Our Minds”. Elsewhere, brass-laden “Behind Closed Doors” is a patented dancefloor filler; but when it comes to sharp rock ‘n’ roll riffage, like in “Faceplant Scorpion Backpinch”, the combo are no slouch either. You can’t get away from it, you won’t be able to get it out, and, more so, you won’t want to.

*****
 

AFTER THE FIRE -
AT2F
Angel Air 2006
It was too late too soon for the band that still had the fire in them, but here the heat goes on.

When this little English ensemble called in quits in 1983, due to the debt to their label and tours with QUEEN and ELO notwithstanding, little did they know that the worldwide success of the “Der Komissar” single was just a few months away, so ATF’s fourth album got shelved – to be dusted off now and mixed in the band leader, keyboardist Peter Banks’ studios. Basically a collection of demos, the songs sound perhaps a bit too scarcely arranged for the early ’80s – just compare “Step By Step” with the ASIA’s “Don’t Cry” – yet that’s what makes them palatable these days. The opening “Young Love”, coming straight from the surf rock catchy wave with Andy Piercy’s perky vocals so innocent, stands out of the bunch, but the rest doesn’t drag far behind.Instrumental “Cariba” takes the quartet into the lively new age territory, and they really were able to cover all bases, even though the cover of Ben E. King’s perennial “Stand By Me”, which preceded the album’s recording, feels rather shaky – but, then, nor John Lennon’s version was top-notch. What with “1984-F”, a follow-up to their European smash “1980-F”, its sprightly mix of synthesizer and guitar riffs is a clear indication as to why ATF were chosen to tour with VAN HALEN whose “Jump”, released in 1984 bears an uncannily similarity to the Brits’ piece. But the Orwellian “It’s Over”, reflecting the band’s near future, doesn’t stand to the subject’s challenge. “Space Walking”, meanwhile, uses its demo airiness to a great effect of real poignancy. And that’s the aftertaste of this collection which you’ll want to enjoy time and again.

***1/2
 

XINEMA -
Basic Сommunication
Unicorn 2006
The Swedish threesome talking in tongues clear to all… those who have ears.

Vocals on the first second of a progressive rock album? Quite unusual, yes, yet what a catchy lick it is! “Colours” comes on nice but sharp, airy keyboards undercut with strong guitar riffing and get off once the piece starts to outstay its welcome: a sign of tact, this. These guys know the measure of things and, while aspiring to a large landscape with two lengthy suites, always keep to their pop sensibilities as “Train To Nowhere”, set to acoustic bedrock, testifies. So there’s no need to dive headlong into the great concepts that are lurking inside, as melodies take on a life of itself, the waltz of “At The Hovel Of Eddie’s” a little gem. The only gripe in this great scheme could be the flat drum sound, contrasting with coruscating guitars and effervescent synthesizers that beckon a listener back right after the soulful, majestic “Dust In Your Eyes” waves goodbye. That’s a language of inner truth which everyone can relate to, and this kind of aural communication is more than welcome.

***1/2
 

GRASSFOOT -
Gestalt
Black Label 2006
Here and now, the shape of things to come.

If you’re in for some psychedelic on the name and the title’s promise, you’re going to be out. This Altanta foursome can play a strong Americana with a twist that’s just not there in the opening “Blue Skies” which paints wide spaces where Rhonda Kay voice feels lonely but it’s not what they do best. Much warmer than Rhonda’s are Ken Hale’s tones whose guitar veers from sharp undercurrent to lyrical picking in just one track showing their collective foot is rooted in the ’70s. Yet the music sounds as contemporary as it gets, and nowadays the understated melody’s not a vice, it’s just the band seem capable to make it all more delicious once they decide on their style. If it’s classic hard rock which most of solos hint at, mixed with a jangly pop of “My Addiction” and “Analyze”, GRASSFOOT may grab that pot of gold they’re reaching for; otherwise, “Pretty Pathetic” can become prophetic. But that’s not the option with this guitar and Jason Smith’s mighty bass: in “Freeland” they’re out in the funky prairie, which is quite the space for the quartet for occupy if they choose the FLYING BURRITO road they take in “Letters To God”. It’s not a shaky ground that GRASSFOOT stand on but the crossroads. Time to nove on.

***
 

Greg SEGAL -
Adventures Of Forever And Nowhere
Phantom Airship 2004
Adventures, you say? At 29 tracks, yes, quite rightly so, but indulgence it ain’t.

A marvellous journey into the world of guitar, though all other instruments are skilfully handled by Mr Segal too. “Forever And Nowhere” is one of the most welcoming openers you’ll ever hear, with a nice buzz and a rollicking bluesy bedrock, but it doesn’t prepare an ear for the album to be a wholly instrumental venture. There’s no gamut-running that many a modern shredder delves in, as it’s not the hands that rule the game here, it’s a sensual mind. That’s why “The Positive Technology” can cause pleasant goosebumps, as Greg’s technique is no less positive. And that’s what makes this mixed bag of styles and influences – the bag where whirls of notes sit peacefully side by side with soulshaking soundscapes and jolly country cuts – so interesting. Herein, you’ll find as much integrity as in Steve Howe’s albums, yet you won’t help waiting for the vocals to kick in. Spliced with acoustic lace of “Corriente”, the hard rocking flamenco of “OVNI” would be one hell of a masterpiece. Still, the highlights are aplenty on “Adventures”, and the singling out any of the tracks can shift depending on your mood.

****4/5
 

GMT -
Bitter & Twisted
RetroWreck 2006
It’s not so much about the time as about tenacity and faithfulness.

“Cannoball”: the lightning-striking opener’s title says it all and sets the tone for this fine record from the British heavy rock veterans. The band’s name comes from the names of the musicians – drummer Robin Guy, bassist John McCoy and singing guitarist Bernie Torme – and the band’s style’s the distillation of their well-known inclinations. With Guy providing the thunderous beat for a string of fine groups, it’s the combination of Torme and McCoy that’s in the focus here. Tightly interwoven and strong as a ship rope in the midtempo sway of the title track, their instruments were the trampoline for the GILLAN singer’s voice; Bernie’s not in the same vocal category as his former employer but with his bluesy punk roots and enigmatic John – big, bald, bearded – a visual template for contemporary alternative metallists, their music is vital and relevant. More so, whereas today’s crop of rockers are a superficial flock, GMT are firmly grounded and, in “Down To Here”, build their own drama from the Hendrix’s balladry tools.Sometimes, they’re anthemic – live, “No Justice” will go down well with a call-and-response with an audience, and “I Miss The Buzz” demands a good dose of orchestration – sometimes, they’re groovy enough to blast the listeners’ socks off, but GMT are always sardonic: so much for the humor and joviality in their songs, yet it’s exactly what their lyrical diary of day-to-day social stress asks for. Still, there’s a lotta fun in the closing “Vincenzo” and a bright light in the “Summerland” echo-ey romantic gloom. Were it not the veterans but clean-faced boys behind these songs, the album would ferociously bite into the charts. But this band are too bitter and too twisted which requires a good taste to relish them.

****1/3
 

David WRIGHT -
Dajinosaurus
Dinosaurus 2006
An instrumental delight for a sunny day – put it on and bask in the light.

Don’t be fooled by the puppy on the cover, the music’s under is neither simple nor comfortable. “Time Constraint”, contrary to its title, may welcome you in in a nice way, but as the flow progresses – the guitars of Wright, a master of liquid fusion style, is supported here by Nob Kinukawa’s basses and Jim Bove’s live drums – the river bed becomes more rocky. The music feels intruguing and adventurous, yet it’s hard to shake off the feeling that you’ve heard it all before, which is quite normal for a debut album (Allan Holdsworth wasn’t too original initially, too). “Early Phase”, though, comes as a prime example of how it should be done with a real feel and without overplaying, and “This To This To” and “ILD”, if set to much a heavier beat, would make great hard rock cuts. The problem is that, at 64 minutes, “Dajinosaurus” outstays its welcome – but taken in portions, the record’s as good as it gets.

***1/2
 

RETROHEADS -
Introspective
Unicorn 2006
Deeper and deeper they dig, out from the past into the future.

This Norway band’s 2004′s debut was called "Retrospective", and there they were re-shuffling the ’70s rock heritage. Not anymore. Now the seven-piece unit deal the cards of their own, and it takes more than one spin of “Introspective” to adjust your senses to what’s in store. The elements are all familiar – luscious vocal harmonies, Hammond’s burp, liquid guitar’s expanse – but the combination… delicious but strange. Never more than so than in “Living In A Bubble” that you get drawn in and love it. There’s still a hint of retro yet the music’s rather futuristic this time: call it future-in-past to nail the gist. Still, it’s more about heart-strings than mind games. “One World” having enough pop hooks to steal away the song’s anthemic feel, even though “Be Aware” uses a quote from the Russian national anthem. The hidden depth reveals all the details little by little. To savor it all and have a joyous resolution in “Karma” get your head around the album on and on.

****
 

NIL -
Quarante Jour Sur Le Sinai
Unicorn 2002/2006
You sense a grand concept when there is one, and what’s grander a concept than the one rooted in the Bible?

Don’t expect Eastern motifs from this French ensemble, they go into the great wide desert open in their own special way. Telling a story of slavery and exodus can be an atmospheric thing, with Samuel Maurin’s bass throb lending an anxiety to the proceedings. And the proceedings are slow: strata of guitars and synthesizers pile up to lift up Roselyne Berthet’s gentle chant until it’s all shot through with a six-string swirl. A little bit of Frippertronics can’t go unnoticed as well as Mike Oldfield’s grandiosity, but how else can a feel of total alienation be spread aurally?Divided in two acts that make a whopping 29 tracks, the album has a lot going on musically, let alone an extra booklet in English and French which explains what’s behind the notes. Yet this just distracts from the seamless flow of ideas – from serene to cutting sharp – so reading must be done once the first spin is over and before the ‘Repeat’ button’s pushed. And it must be pushed, otherwise there’s no way to delve into the sand headlong. As for the grand finale, there’s none, and that’s another reason to get back to the starry desert and enjoy the divine journey.

****1/3
 

LOBBY LOYDE
AND COLOURED BALLS -
Heavy Metal Kid
Aztec 2006
Guest review – by Alex Gitlin

We don’t get a lot of info here in the States about Aussie rock acts, but for those who are curious it’s not a big secret that Lobby’s sort of like a God Downunda, in the rock world, that is. Or at the very least, the king of rock’n’roll. To be more accurate, it’s down to him and Billy Thorpe. Between the two of them, no stone has been left unturned, honestly! So it’s little wonder that for the recent tribute concert, stars of Aussie rock’n’roll came out in spades. And despite his poor health these days, ever the trooper, Lobby and his band headlined and played a blinding set – according to a recent review in a prominent British music magazine.For the fans of Lobby Loyde and Coloured Balls, the latest Aztec remasters are like manna from heaven – lavishly designed, with exhaustive liner notes and of course a bevy of terrific bonus cuts, including both rare live tracks and B-sides, who could ask for more! So far you’ve got ‘Obsecration’, ‘Ball Power’ and the best one of the lot, ‘Heavy Metal Kid’. Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs fans may beg to differ, but this is THE definitive 70s Aussie rock’n’roll album, matching vintage Status Quo blow for blow and riff for bloody riff. This one pulls no punches. From the ‘Big Fat Mama’-like title track to the no-nonsense heads-down boogie of ‘Do It’, ‘Dance To The Music’, ‘Just Because’ and especially ‘Back To You’. Although this album also has plenty of variety, texture and nuance – as exemplified by the gentle ballad ‘See What I mean’, the sheer synth madness of ‘Tin Tango’, the almost James Bond-like vibe of ‘Private Eye’ and the doo-wop revival of ‘Need Your Love’. And there’s also an old Leiber/Stoller chestnut ‘(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care’. So, in short, a little bit of something for everyone. Which can’t be a bad thing.

It is a thrill to see a weighty classic like this get a second lease on life. We, fans around the world, wish Lobby all the best, long may he continue carrying the torch of rock’n’roll!

*****
 

PAUL SAMSON – P. S….
Angel Air 2006
A sad farewell to the fallen guitar hero who rocked on to the very last minute.

“Brand New Day”, that’s how this album was supposed to be titled, and it was supposed to be another SAMSON album. But only a few months after its completion, in August 2002, the band’s leader, a classic British heavy metal master Paul Samson lost his battle with cancer. Feeling obliged to present his late friend’s final work to the public, John McCoy who took part in the recording alongside other bassist, Ian Ellis, drummer Billy Fleming and long-time Samson’s sidekick, singer Nicky Moore, shaped the album which is released under the guitarist’s name now. And now his initials make it a real postscript to what Paul’s done over the last 25 years.If you hear sad overtones and poignancy in songs like “When Tomorrow Comes” and “No Way Out”, it’s just the stretching of imagination, as the music’s here as solid as ever - solid gold easy action of seasoned veterans. Samson didn’t lose his golden touch to the very end, shifting from the cutting, propeller-like riffs to the hurricane yet ever-melodic solos. There’s a traditional metal pathos in “Mean Woman” but Paul and Nicky infuse the track’s blues foundation with such playfulness that it’s hard not to smile while listening, and “Do Right” is such a fine re-write of “Born To Be Wild” that it’s impossible not to love it. A lot of genuine emotions went into the record, too: “Broken Heart” with its acoustic guitar silver lining is a real heartbreaker without a hint of false sentimentality. Towards the end the drift may seem to become a bit tedious but, given the circumstances, you can’t get better than this. It’s just when the “No Way Out” a cappella reprise comes on like a traditional English song to round it off, you feel sad. And thankful.

****
 

MIKE MARTIN – 2 Of 5
Mike Martin 2006
The title is an allusion to “Star Trek”, and this guitarist’s trek may become stars-studded.

Today it’s almost a rule: if you’re a rock guitarist with a classical background your music is interesting to listen to but it rarely brings pleasure – it’s an intellect-versus-pure joy game. Fortunately, Mike Martin, an axeman for, lately, FOZZY and The Duke, counts jazz and folk amongst his influences as well as hard rock and doesn’t bind himself to any particular style on this, his first solo album, a fine collection of instrumental pieces. That’s why “Salute” soars to the sun on the fusion wave and then rolls down the rocky road beckoning a listener to follow, and “Lavender” has a delicate aroma about it. Not that everything comes with a serious expression as suggests the playful “The Trouser Trout” that’s hard not to get hooked on. The centerpiece, though, is “Epiphany”, the best example of what Mike’s capable of in terms of composition. Starting Bach-like, it builds on riffs but it’s the lyrical, spiral way up through both speedy and relaxed soloing to the climactic resolution. There’s no showing off, there’s genuine feelings on display. With certainty that the next album will be a blast, it’s 4 – not 2 – out of 5.

****
 

SAILOR -
A Glass Of Champagne – Live
Angel Air 2006

See the DVD

Sailing the sea of joy is an art in itself. 30 years on, the endeavor continues.

It takes SLADE to challenge SAILOR in the field of merriment, but the former’s incarnation of today can’t stand against the current version of the latter, as suggest this live recording from 2002. While the band’s erstwhile leader, Georg Kajanus isn’t on board anymore, two original members, bassist Phil Pickett – it’s him who operates the notorious nickelodeon now – and drummer Grant Serpell, soldier on in the company of two new guys who, since that High Wycombe concert, left the group. Anyway, the spirit which filled the quatet’s sails in the days of yore is still the same, so be prepared to wear a smile while listening.All the hits of the finest rock cabaret act are here, starting with the title cut, reprised acoustically in the bonus section of this 2 CD set, all the hits – and more. “A Glass Of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” make two appearances in the course of the show, so the gig feels quite conceptual with “One Drink Too Many” and “Mack The Knife” tightly woven into the context of the port pub loose atmosphere. The choice covers work the charm no less, be it a Latin medley featuring “La Bamba”, “Volare” and “Bambaleyo” or a meld of THE VILLAGE PEOPLE’s “In The Navy” and Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”. Oustanding is the SAILOR’s rendition of “Karma Chameleon”: the band don’t even have to make the ditty their own, because it was co-written by Pickett in his CULTURE CLUB days…

And in this group’s case “their own” means a lot. It’s not only the nickelodeon sound that makes SAILOR so special and easily recognizable, it’s the blend of accordion, mandolin and complex but warm vocal harmonies the best example of which is “Vera From Vera Cruz” and the very humorous sort of entertainment, very pre-War, very Weimar if you like. And you’ll like it enough to pour a tear in your own glass when a delicate “Jacaranda” flows by and smile before the tears get dry.

*****
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