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mpvernon on 11/18/2009 at 11:30AM

Glass Candy - three albums

I acquired Glass Candy's debut album Love Love Love in 2003 when it was released and it still gets regular play on the CD player. Glass Candy has a somewhat campy sound that wavers between goth, punk and disco. Often billed as Glass Candy and The Shattered Theatre, Its primary attribute is the tortured voice of Ida No who often sounds like she is channeling Siouxise and Deborah Harry at the same time. She also reminds me a lot of Wendy O. Williams on the more turbulent songs. Johnny Jewel's pulsing electronic riffs  are also instrumental in giving the music a somewhat ominous sound.

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mpvernon on 11/04/2009 at 09:00AM

Menhirs of Er Grah - Different World

2qvsj84.jpgBritish musician Thomas Carter doesn't stay in one genre for very long. His project March Rosetta has two albums out on the Clinical Archive netlabel which are quite different from each other. One is a pleasant and mildly avant-garde instrumental effort of electronic music while the other is a more mainstream pop outing.

Again, Mr. Carter shift gears with his new musical project Menhirs of Er Grah. Named after a Megalithic structure in France the music is as sparse and lonely as the stone. Different World can best be described as folk music. It is simply Carter's voice and guitar with another second guitar dubbed in later. The sound is, to put it simply, quite beautiful. Carter's voice has a not unpleasant wavering quality that communicates vulnerability. The guitar work provides a steady base for the lyrics which are complex yet intimate. I especially like the title track and "Red Roses". This is slow and meandering music, easy to relax to but full of meaning.

If you enjoy the music, consider supporting the artist by buying his new EP, Mourning Dove. You can also download a new recording titled "Live at Vombat Radio from Clinical Archives.

(originally posted at Free Albums Galore 4/30/2009)

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mpvernon on 10/14/2009 at 10:45AM

Dallas Kincaid - If You're a Heartbreaker, You Got a Broken Heart

105d5hy.jpgDallas Kincaid plays a brand of blues rock that hovers precariously between psychedelica and just plain psycho. His album is titled If You're a Heartbreaker, You Got a Broken Heart and it is a strange mixture of blues riffs, back alley guitar and mournful out-of-this-world vocals, sort of like George Thorogood  on 'shrooms.  It often sounds experimental in a grassroots back-to-basics way. The lyrics tend to be bizarre, a bit beat generation like Burroughs. One reviewer suggested a comparison with Captain Beefheart which makes sense too. Actually, this is quite a different and exciting record, something you won't ever hear on the usual commercial venues yet rooted in traditional country, rock and blues traditions. "Love n Fears" has a delta blues influence that reminds me of The Black Keys. "The Ice Truck Killers" is unapologetically rock and roll until it drifts into a eerie slow psychedelic jam. Perhaps the most interesting track is "Cherry Chainsaw", a soft ballad of a monologue that is somewhere between romantic and nightmarish.  If you are looking for blues rock or shockabilly country with a different slant, you may have found it.

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mpvernon on 10/10/2009 at 02:05PM

Diablo Swing Orchestra - The Butcher's Ballroom

29dtllj.jpgWhen it comes to odd music, I don't shock easily but Diablo Swing Orchestra got even me off guard on its first listen. This Swedish ensemble has one of the freshest and most exciting sounds I've heard in a long time and they manage it through an insane combination of heavy metal, swing jazz, a traditional European music smorgabord, and a classical soprano voice that probably broke wine glasses in the studio. By the time I got through the first two tracks, I considered going to the emergency ward for the possibility of impending head explosion. There is an operatic feel throughout the tracks and an intensity that hold up marvelously through every musical twist. There are actually two vocalists, male and female, and these two work to good effect on "Rag Doll Physics", a weird cross between Wagner and Ozzy Osbourne. Just about when I thought my head might explode, soprano and guitar make love on the gorgeous ballad "D'Angelo". However if you really want to get the sense of this album start at the first track with "Balrog Boogie", a full-assault barrage of swing and metal that has to be heard to believe. Other tracks all have their surprises like the Raga influenced "Gunpowder Chant" and an epic "Zodiac Virtues". Finally, in case, you haven't received the message that no limits are spared, Diablo Swing exits with a marvelous "Pink Noise Waltz" that offers flute and violin solos among the metal barrage, swing overtones, and the operatic power of the vocal. Even though this album was originally released as a CD in 2007, it soars to the top of my best free online albums of 2009 list and I expect will stay there until the end of the year. (full album here or after the jump)

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mpvernon on 10/09/2009 at 12:38PM

Hilburn, Classic Rock and a Book Review, Oh My!

fmtb7m.jpgI just finished reading Corn Flakes With John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock N' Roll Life by Robert Hilburn. I thought you might enjoy my review which was originally posted on Goodreads...

This will be a hard book to be non-biased about. I first start reading Hilburn's columns in the Los Angeles Times in 1968 when I started going to college, coincidentally the very same university that Hilburn went to himself. It was the LA Times trinity of columnists; Hilburn, Jazz critic Leonard Feather, and classical music critic Martin Bernheimer, that taught me there was even a thing called music criticism. Hilburn continued writing during the golden age of rock music criticism and beyond until he retired from the Times in 2005. When I did a little music writing of my own some mentors compared my style to Hilburn's, sometimes complimentary but sometimes not. I always took it as a compliment. While he didn't have the mad genius of Lester Bangs or the scholarly vision of Greil Marcus, he had something the others did not bring to pen and paper. He wrote for the everyman, the nine-to-fivers who needed the music to enrich their lives. Hilburn himself didn't smoke or drink and around these superstars that lived in an insane world brought enough sanity that these artists came across as real human beings. He may not have been the best of the music writers but he had empathy which served to show his readers the hearts behind the music.

All of this comes out in his new book, Cornflakes with Lennon. This book is a memoir of his experiences as a rock music writer and his relationship with some of the most important musicians of rock music; Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Kurt Cobain and others. As a memoir it does what the writer rarely did in his own columns It gave us a look at the writer himself. Yet even here the bulk of this book is about rock music and rock artists. Hilburn brought out the best in his subjects whether it was a troubled Lennon, a vulnerable Janis Joplin, a insecure Michael Jackson or an obsessively searching Bruce Springsteen. Hilborn wants us to see the thoughts and the person behind the songs and he does that better than any other writer of his time.

Yet there are some issues with this book that troubles me. Hilburn spends way too much time with the superstars, especially Springsteen, but little about the less revered artists that changed the music yet didn't get a mass of fans. I know he paid a lot of attention to artists like P. J. Harvey, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Rickie Lee Jones but little is in this book. I suspect that may have been a publishing decision. Yet they also have tales to tell and I know Hilburn paid more attention to them than this book would let on. Also the writer could have a evil pen to those he called "the superficial artists who shouldn't be on stage in the first place because they have nothing to tell you". Yet he only shows examples of this briefly in about one page which does include an especially right-on assessment of Michael Bolton. Most bewildering is his exclusion of the rather notorious feud with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson that led to the musician writing a scathing song about the critic called "Only Solitaire." Yet, I assume Hilburn wanted his first book on his own writings and experiences in music to be positive and not focus on the negative.

So I really wanted to give this book five stars, maybe even a bonus sixth star, for a lot of personal reasons. But I also realized that without my nostalgic baggage, this book is still a very strong four stars. Certainly if you want to know about the real musicians that made the music and not just the promotional hype, Hilburn will deliver.

..I had a hard time deciding what track to attach. I ended up with this rowdy song by Graham Parker. Although he is not mentioned in the book, Parker was one of the artists that Hilburn championed early in th musician's career.

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mpvernon on 10/07/2009 at 10:00AM

Latche Swing - Demo 2008

2pzjjps.jpgLatche Swing is a swing jazz quintet out of Rouen, France that successfully attempts to emulate the great Gypsy Jazz sound of the Quintette du Hot Club de France which prominently featured the great guitar and violin combination of Django Rheinhardt and Stephanne Grappelli. However Latche Swing changes the instrumentation a bit by substituting the sound of soprano saxophone for violin. The personnel consists of Facundo Fernandez  on soprano sax, Bertrand Tailleux on lead guitar, Remi Pacault on rhythm guitar and Nicolas Beucher on bass. "Hungaria" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" are especially nice romps in the early swing style but all the tracks on this 2008 demo album are worthwhile. All the musicians are exceptional but I really like Fernandez who shows off a smidgen of Sidney Bechet in his soprano sax sound. A delightful 24 minutes of music any way you swing it.

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mpvernon on 09/27/2009 at 01:08PM

Roger McGuinn - Folk Den Project

1zwyvl3.jpgRoger McGuinn's Folk Den Project was my first exposure to online music files. The very first music file I downloaded was his take on "St. James Infirmary" and I immediately grabbed all the others that were available. At that time, in 1995, they were in the clunky 11 KHz 8-bit WAV format but they were still a breath of fresh air. They were traditional acoustic folk melodies played in the way they were meant to be heard. Of course, McGuinn is a seminal voice in the folk rock movement starting with The Byrds and then moving on to his own stellar career. However, these traditional songs show the artist as both an superb performer and a conscientious preserver of folk heritage.  The Folk Den is still alive  but the files are now in the more manageable and popular MP3 format.

In 2005, McGuinn released a box set of 4 CDs collecting his 100 favorite recordings from The Folk Den. WFMU's Free Music Archive, with the artist's permission, has released a free online version of The Folk Den album with 69 of the songs from the four CD set, not in the higher quality CD sound but in acceptable 128kbps MP3 format as found on the actual Folk Den web site. Each one of the tracks is a joy unto its self. I especially like the old songs that I heard as a child like "Skip To My Lou" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". I thought they were silly then but McGuinn gives them new life in surprisingly sincere renditions. The variety of songs on this collection is quite impressive. There are Christmas carols, old blues classics, gospel numbers, and plenty of old time standards and relics of Americana. "Red River Valley" is an especially fine track. There are also lots of obscure songs waiting for you to discover them. And if you wish to adopt any of these songs you can run over to the Folk Den web site where the lyrics and chords for each gem can be found. It's nice to see this collection on the net and to know that the Folk Den is still going strong.

As mentioned, the online album is available in 128kbps MP3. If you enjoy the music, support the artist and the Folk Den Project by buying the much higher sound quality 4 CD set.

(Originally posted on 5/17/09 at Free Albums Galore)

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mpvernon on 09/26/2009 at 04:00PM

Fosforo - Macondo

ie1n3q.jpgBy their own description, Fosforo plays "punky reggae jungle music". Bits of reggae, dub, Latin, punk and electronica all blend together in their free online album titled Macondo. What is impressive is that all these elements sound unforced and authentic when you hear the final result. Even more amazing for me is the fact that the group members went to Van Nuys High School, a school  that is more known for having alumni like Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford and Paula Abdul rather than guys who play multi-cultural socio-political music. Time have changed since I used to cruise Van Nuys Boulevard on a Wednesday night.  But I digress...

Macondo is six tracks and over 30 minutes of addictive foot-moving music. Fosforo has a great range of moods. They can play reggae that sounds right off the streets of Kingston or deliver an sweet Afro-pop influenced "Desconocido"  that would make King Sunny Ade smile or just celebrate and party on with "Cumbia de Obama". This is a fine band that should do well as long as they keep to their global vision.

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mpvernon on 09/23/2009 at 11:11AM

In Her Dreams: Bob Wiseman Sings Wrench Tuttle

It should be said at the beginning that there is no Wrench Tuttle. Former Blue Rodeo band member  Bob Wiseman used the pseudonym and, from what I've read, went to great length to present him as a real person to the Canadian media. In Her Dream: Bob Wiseman Sings Wrench Tuttle was the Canadian musicians' first solo album and was released in 1989. CHART magazine named it as one of the top 100 Canadian albums. Blocks Recording Club out of Toronto will be re-issuing a limited edition vinyl but the free and legal digital version is now available through WFMU's Free Music Archive.

This album may best be described as a casual mixture of country and punk.  Bob Wiseman feels at ease in both genres. His somewhat raspy and out-of-control voice makes the perfect edge to this rough and ready album. The opening "Older Brother" is a good example of his somewhat outrageous folk-rock blend and is what Hank Williams might sound like if he was a punk rocker. Other tracks like "Bhopal" are pure and surreal alternative while "Dog on a Leash" is blues-rockabilly. Whatever genre Wiseman leans into has his unique touch which I am tempted to call a Canadian version of Tom Waits' equally rough and mystic styling. This excellent album will grow on you.

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mpvernon on 09/23/2009 at 08:54AM

Sandro Marinoni - Ten Little Songs

8ytee8.jpgSandro Marinoni's Ten Little Songs from The Clinical Archives netlabel reminds me of Faberge eggs; small, mundane (eggs?..I mean...really!), but full of exquisite detail and flourish. The ten tracks are short, none being over 3 minutes, yet are tiny gems of sounds. Some are repetitive, others are simple, and some do manage to soar like a song. Marinoni plays all the instruments with the exception of the Coltranish Dark Solo in which he is joined by pianist Andrey Kutov and were recorded between 2006 and 2009. I especially like his playing of the tenor sax on "Dark Solo" and Requiem yet he is more than competent on trombone (Head Bone) and flute (Frame).  This album is a quiet but delectable treat.

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