I will admit that Sarah Vaughan is probably one of my favorite jazz vocalists. Billie Holiday is number one followed by Vaughn. Apart from them, others pale by comparison. Vaughan had an incomparable style and a personality to boot. She was discovered when she was 18 in 1942 and she performed right up until her health failed her in the fall of 1989. Vaughan was an original. I was intrigued by a new EP I discovered this week called “Sarah + 1: A Tribute to Sarah Vaughan” by Canadian songstress Delilah. It seems I am not the only fan left. Delilah was born in Budapest, Hungary and was immersed in music from a very young age. She performed with her family in a 20 member touring ensemble with some of Hungary’s greatest musicians. Political upheaval forced the family to move to Canada in 1998 and she quickly became a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene. Beginning with her first release “Jazz” in 2002, Delilah has continued to engage audiences with her vocal presence and her style reminiscent of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s big band era.
On this 4 song EP, Delilah has chosen songs not necessarily made famous by, but certainly in the catalogue of the late Ms. Vaughan. The EP begins with two jazz standards from the 1930’s, ‘September in the Rain’ and ‘Just Friends’ and includes ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ from the 1955 play “Damn Yankees”. The +1 in the EP title refers to the fourth and final song on the album ‘Smile’ which bridges the material and gives it a cohesion. The music for ‘Smile’ was written by Charlie Chaplin and included in his 1936 film “Modern Times” and the lyrics were written in 1955 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
Delilah is not trying to imitate anyone nor is she attempting to recreate Vaughan’s style. She puts her own spin on these classic standards and brings her own interpretation to the material. In fact, rather than a tribute to Vaughan, I see this record as more being inspired by the greats of the past, Vaughan in particular, and bringing the material to a modern audience. She worked on this record with Jim Peterik of Ides of March (‘Vehicle’) and Survivor (‘Eye of the Tiger’) fame and he has certainly brought out her best here. Those classic standards from the Golden age of jazz will not be forgotten and it is great to see young artists embrace the material and bring it to a modern audience. If you must call it a tribute album, go ahead, but I think it’s just a clever excuse to bring songs you love back to life.
John Parnell is a, composer, I guess is the right word, from Alabama. Parnell’s musical project is called 061180 for reasons that are probably obvious. I call this project a band in the loosest sense of the word. When I conjure up the image of a band I think of several individuals coming together with similar influences or sometimes disparate influences and creating music based on those influences and experiences. To call 061180 a band might be too kind. 061180 is John Parnell and John Parnell alone. He has created his “music” he tells us with a gadget called The Reach, manufactured by a company called NoiseKICK. The Reach is actually a guitar pedal described as a custom distortion + tremolo + oscillating noisemaker. I like to poke fun at records like this because I know that an unsuspecting public would be aghast at the sounds present on 061180’s newest release “I'm considering being a cloud”.
In actuality, Parnell extends a long musical heritage starting after World War II known as the Avant-garde movement. The grandfather of the genre is Arnold Schoenberg and his famous experiments with the twelve tone scale. Schoenberg’s contributions to musical theory have been called the most influential of the 20th century so let’s not discount 061180 out of hand. Post Schoenberg, composers like Philip Glass and John Cage brought those theories to classical music and in turn artists like Brian Eno, Edgar Froese and Robert Fripp brought the theories to rock.
To a casual listener, it sounds like simply noise. In actuality, it is noise, ambient noise, and there is more thought and effort put into it that may be evident at the surface. Parnell states his music “plays like the score to a depraved horror movie. The first parts are quiet but hint to an ominous under belly. While the last parts are loud and sinister.” All in all, a pretty apt description. Ambient music is designed to highlight tone and atmosphere rather than traditional instrumentation and melody so based on that criteria, 061180’s “I'm considering being a cloud” is a triumph.
The 1990’s was an interesting time in rock music. Grunge, Britpop, industrial rock and alternative rock music dominated the scene and elements of hip hop and electronica creeped in from the fringes. The 1990’s is really when many styles started to meld into each other and the genres became so specialized, one almost had to make up new genres to explain some of the new sounds emanating from studios and basements all over the world. Now that we are a generation into it, we are seeing a number of bands influenced by this “melting pot” in American popular music. A New Way To Live Forever is one such band from Ft. Lauderdale Florida who is not afraid to cite these influences and give the casual listener a real sense of where they are coming from and what they are hoping to achieve. I mean, Let’s face it, The Beatles put their stamp on popular music forever but if I hear one more band telling me they sound like the Beatles I think I will scream. Nobody else sounds like The Beatles, or hasn’t since the mid-seventies. Let’s get real. ANWTLF cites their influences as Lenny Kravitz, Kings of Leon, Radiohead, and Prince and for the most part that is a pretty accurate description although Prince might be a little bit of a stretch.
What you can expect from their latest EP entitled “Rumoura” is a batch of well-crafted songs with driving guitar lines and enough hooks to keep you humming for hours. The band is led by songwriter and vocalist Russ Rogers and is rounded out by Daniel Dyer (Guitar), Steve Velez (Bass) and Phil Tucciarone (Drums). If you are familiar with the Florida rock scene, I think ANWTLF is an inevitable product of that scene and those influences. Florida has always been a bit progressive in terms of its rock music scene but still feels the influence of its native sons the Van Zandt’s, Tom Petty and later transplants the Allmans. In addition to that southern rock lineage, Florida has been the incubator for such later post punk and industrial rockers like Rev 7, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Against Me! and Less Than Jake. The intersection of the musical angst of these latter bands with the sensibilities of these former local heroes makes a band like ANWTLF almost a certainty. They have taken the best from both worlds and combined it into a style of music all their own.
The band is working on a new EP helmed by Candlebox’s Peter Klett. The new record called “Monument” is expected at any time and with the roll this band is on, their fans should expect another fine record in the near future.
When the Ivy League MBA’s started to take over Hollywood some years ago, pitch meetings were no longer about the subject and tone of a film, it became about merging two films into one. For example, an aspiring filmmaker had to pitch his project as “Blade Runner meets Jurassic Park” rather than a thoughtful explanation of the subject and tone of the film he wanted to make. In essence, the studio heads giving the green light to a picture knew little about the art, they knew money and if you could boil your concept down to two pictures that made money, you could get a green light. Now that a generation or two has passed, that thinking has seeped its way into other art forms as well. Granted, in this day and age, an aspiring musician does not need a green light from a multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation to make an album but I hear that way of thinking even in the music business these days, albeit at the end of the process rather that at the beginning. A band trying to attract “ears” and sales must compare its music to other music that listeners may be familiar. This is especially true for indie bands that want to attract an audience.
The Great Game is a band put together by Mounzer Sarraf, a Belgian / Lebanese composer. The band combines a wide variety of musicians with diverse backgrounds and styles and according to their press, is a democratic band where each member theoretically contributes equally. What they have achieved is nothing short of interesting. In the parlance of today’s classification game, they are equal parts Talking Heads, King Crimson and Zappa’s Mothers. The instrumentation is all over the place with horns, accordions, and of course guitars, bass and drums. They combine world beats with rock, blues and Latin idioms to create a style of music all their own. It may have a difficult time appealing to the mainstream but anyone looking to broaden their musical horizons should pick up a copy of their self-titled album released in early March of this year. In keeping with the “democratic” spirit of the band, this album is available for free on their website alongside a link to a crowd funding campaign to support the band if you so desire. In the tradition of a European street busker, The Great Game is not afraid to put their music out there for free and if the recipient is so moved, they can leave a donation at their Indiegogo campaign. A novel approach for a novel band.
The Monks of Mellonwah from the land down under is beginning to stake their claim to audiences in the US. The Monks formed in 2009 and are another in a long line of sibling indie bands. Brothers John and Joseph de la Hoyde form the nucleus of the band and have just released a new single from their forthcoming album, the follow up to 2014’s “Turn the People”. The band toured extensively during 2014 supporting the album and rode the wave of accolades such as being named International Rock Band Of The Year at the LA Music Awards in 2012 and Best Indie Rock Band at the AIM Awards, also in 2012. They were invited to perform at The Rock Summit and Musexpo both in April of this year and wowed audiences at both shows.
The new song ‘Never Been Good’ is a delicate fusion of classic rock, 80’s indie pop with elements of electronica in the mix. It’s no accident that they have been mentioned in articles and reviews in The Huffington Post, Guitar World, Music Connection Magazine, Pop Matters, Absolute Punk Technorati among others. They have been singled out in one report as being “…one of the most impressive rock groups emerging from the world of alternative music.” The band is taking no chances with this their second full length album. They have enlisted the services of producer Keith Olson (Fleetwood Mac, Ozzy Osbourne) and acclaimed engineer Mark Needham (The Killers, Imagine Dragons) to craft a record that builds on their impressive resume to date and should catapult them to the next rung up the ladder.
The band is currently in the studio putting the finishing touched on the record which should be released later this year and I would expect them to be touring the US again soon to support the release. I have heard a number of the newer bands coming out of Australia and dare I say that Sydney is fast becoming “the” new spot for emerging bands and The Monks of Mellonwah are certainly helping to bolster the claim.
Every band needs a gimmick. I get it. The Brits have usually been on the cutting edge of what’s new in music but there is a new band coming out of London that I’m afraid is a little behind the curve. The best way to describe CalatrilloZ is that it is a highly theatrical Goth or death metal band. I guess they could be described as a symphonic metal band if that is your cup of tea. In all honesty, I have never been a big fan of the genre and wouldn’t know the subtle difference between Goth metal, Glam metal and thrash metal music. What I do know is that CalatrilloZ has found a gimmick and I would imagine their live shows are truly an event. The band dresses up in all manners of theatrical stage makeup a la Kiss and their press goes something like this: “Led by a madman haunted by the sins of his past, they are a ramshackle assortment of lost souls bound by their search for redemption, isolation and guilt forever driving them forwards. Scouring the four corners of the Earth for five marionettes, in each of which is imprisoned a powerful demon lord, their hunt takes them to realms where few can travel and return sane.”
Right. Did I mention gimmick? Not being a fan of the genre as I said before, I would imagine that with no less than 50 subgenres of heavy metal music, a new band on the scene has got to have an impressive hook to make themselves noticed in that world. Either that or fantastic music. Let’s stick with the gimmick. CalatrilloZ’s music, I am sorry to report is nothing to get too excited about. It’s not bad, but it is not anything that will distinguish themselves from a hundred other heavy metal bands. The music is fast and loud with plenty of trilled guitar parts and a rhythm section strong enough to make my grandma bang her head against the wall but as I have said, nothing new or earth shattering here.
I do have to hand it to the five members of the band though for conceptualizing their persona to such a degree and for living in those characters night after night. I like to imagine what their lives as regular people is like or if “regular” is even an operative word at this point. Kudos for the imagination and execution even if the music is a little of a disappointment.
Artistic disciplines are a funny thing. When an artist finds his or her calling that is usually what they concentrate on. Only the rare artist can bounce from one discipline to another with success. Not many musicians who write symphonies, for example, can whip off a pop ditty. Screenwriters have a difficult time writing a novel, and poets can rarely do much else. I bring this up because of a new EP I heard recently. It is by an artist who calls himself dsfečo. If you think the moniker is a little strange, you should hear the music. When you start to peel away the mystery, we learn that dsfečo is the “nom de plume”, if you will, of David Fetcho. Fetcho has spent decades in the business writing music for dance, theater, video and broadcast works. I hate to be so blunt but if he had found success in that arena, he should have remained there.
The new EP entitled “Watch It Sparkle” is a hot mess. A cross somewhere between Godley Creme’s experimental period right after they left 10cc and Zappa’s early work with the Mothers. In 1972 in a hallucinogenic haze, I might have found this record amusing but today, I just find it kind of comical and sad. The production is muddy and the vocals are lost in the mix and the music itself reminds me just how difficult it truly is to write a good song. Fetcho has said that this project was a labor of love and that he was passionate about its completion and for that, I applaud him. He goes on to say that he does realize that “this sort of music wasn’t going to find a huge audience” but it would appeal to people ready to engage attentively to the way words and music embody some meaning. This reviewer is not quite sure what that meaning would be other than to demonstrate that words and music can go together without any rhyme, reason or melodic component. The best and only way to describe this EP is it’s as if Arnold Schoenberg, Philip Glass and John Cage all got together and tried to write rock and roll music. It just does not work.
Kevin Jenkins’ new album “Til The Story's Told” opens with a stirring, soulful rendition of Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 classic ‘Spirit in the Sky’. It may sound like an odd choice until you read the press for the album. Jenkins’ sophomore follow-up to his debut CD 'Step Inside' was conceived and written at a time surrounding the loss of his father, his new happy marriage, and the birth of a grandchild. Now, strangely, the song takes on a very personal meaning and sets the tone for this very pleasing record. It is evident from the outset that Jenkins is not a novice to the music business. Even if you are not familiar with his name, chances are you have been touched by his artistry at some time in the past. You see, Jenkins has been a professional bass player and in-demand session player for almost 40 years. He has contributed bass licks on albums from Cyndi Lauper, Graham Parker, Tom Rush and Taylor Dane to name just a few and he has shared the stage with the likes of BB King, Eric Clapton, The Police, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson. Not a bad resume for anybody.
As I listened to the record, I can’t help but hear the influences of Keb Mo’, Lou Rawls, Robert Cray and even a little Ray Charles to boot. Managers and publicists are quick to try and classify an artist’s sound and stick it in a genre that seems to make sense. Someone has tried to classify “Til The Story’s Told” as having a “Black Americana” sound palate but personally, that sells the record short in many ways. From the breezy melody of ‘Tangled Up’ to the contemporary bluesy ‘Janie’s Silver Lining’ to the upbeat stomp of the title track, Jenkins has created a record that keeps giving the listener track after track of aural excellence.
A skilled recording engineer can create almost every aspect of a recording these days. They can give an artist perfect pitch and cover weaknesses in an artist’s performance. Authenticity is a quality that cannot be faked in the studio and Jenkins delivers it in spades on this record. The emotion almost jumps from the tracks. I’ll be honest; I hear a lot of music and very seldom does a complete album pass my desk that I would gladly purchase. Jenkins’ “Til The Story’s Told” is one such record and I for one can’t wait until its official release. The line starts behind me.
Secondborn is a self-described post hardcore rock band out of the Louisiana bayou country. If nothing else, Secondborn is a high energy rock and roll band determined to make music their own way. The band is a six piece unit made up of members of various other bands that “almost made it”. They are probably fortunate none of the previous bands did “make it”. It's the best time to be an artist in the history of the world...especially if you make popular music, if you are willing to do it yourself. There are no barriers to entry, but if you'd rather sign a deal with a major label, it’s kind of like a slave signing up with a plantation owner. The days of major label dominance are over and if a band has the creativity or at least be able to hire someone with that creativity, a modern band can create a loyal following and a lucrative career without the pressure and oversight of the major label overlords. In fact, I contend that the only way to make music that brings out an artist’s true vision is to do it independently. Major labels are in the business to make money. Period. If they don’t like what they are hearing, they will either make you change it or they won’t support you. I have known too many musicians over the years who got a label contract and either had to compromise their artistry or in some cases ended up with nothing or owed the record company in the end. In reality, the only thing a record label is good for is distribution of physical product and in music, there is very little physical product left.
Secondborn was formed in March of 2014 and have funded the costs of production and marketing themselves. They must be doing something right because they have over 20 thousand followers on Facebook and rival other bands with label affiliations in popularity. Their new EP “Symbols” is due out on June 2 and based on what this reviewer has heard, ought to help the band tremendously in reaching new fans and followers. The EP contains six songs and each and every track is a party in and of itself. The band’s style is reminiscent of bands like Styx or Fall Out Boy with a touch of Coldplay.
Secondborn is Daniel Pinner on vocals, Patrick Trumps, and Stefan Hawkins on guitars, Tim Bensonon on guitars and synths and the rhythm section is Alex Daigle and Lee Gauthreaux on bass and drums respectively. As long as this band continues to follow their own path, I believe they will continue to grow and continue to produce music their fans will enjoy.
Uncle Duke; a.k.a. Rob Penland is the producer and host of "The Mad Music Asylum" a 4 hour weekly syndicated radio show and now a 24 hour streaming internet station.