PARADIGM MUSIC REVIEWS
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Artist: Death In Vegas
Album: "Dead Elvis"
Label: Concrete/Time Bomb Recordings
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
In England they call it "cow pushing." In America we know it as "cow tipping." Either way, lock up your cattle when Death In Vegas does a US tour later this month. Cow pushing is reportedly a favorite activity of Richard Fearless, founder of the British band Death In Vegas. Fearless, born in Zambia, is also a collector of junk toys, a well-known DJ over in limey-land, and a graphic artist who does all the album art for the band. Along with Steve Hellier, Fearless formed a band called Dead Elvis in 1994, but the name was deemed too offensive to the King worshippers who tended to show up at their concerts, so they changed it to Death In Vegas and saved "Dead Elvis" for an album title.
They've had about half a dozen releases of albums and remixes in England, and "Dead Elvis" will mark their first full album release in the states. It's a fine way to begin, and these guys could pick up a big, big following here. Nominally, "Dead Elvis" falls in the Electronica genre, but it is brilliantly unique and original and I hesitate at categorizing this band. They have some in common with their label-mates Lionrock, reviewed here a few weeks back, in that they rely heavily on rock, soul and reggae rhythms and sensibility along with acid house technology, samples and electronics. There are a lot of really great guitars, percussion, unidentifiable voices and sounds, enigmatic lyrics and infectious melodies.
My pick for breakthrough hits from Death In Vegas include the house-y "All That Glitters," the dub sounds of "Opium Shuffle, and the harder-edged riffs of "Dirt," all of which were successful singles in the UK. "Dirt" in particular rocks seriously.
If you want to preview some of their music, you can find an audio clip or two on the WWW at www.timebombrecordings.com, as well as links to some other Death In Vegas web sites.
Artist: Jim Donnelly
Album: "Mischievous Jim"
Label: Our Records
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
If you've read some of Jim Donnelly's writing, most likely you were displeased. If you've heard him read out loud, however, that's a different story. Many Kingston, New York residents have seen little notes from Donnelly tucked under their car's windshield wipers; Donnelly, you see, is Kingston's one and only parking meter man, and a note from him usually means your dime has run out. For those elite few who follow the area's literary scene, however, Jim Donnelly is known as a poet with a flair for performance, so if you've heard him read, you'll likely remember it long after all your parking fines are paid.
Now Donnelly has teamed up with musician Joe Stote, formerly of the band Peacebomb, to record an album of wonderfully demented poetry and music, "Mischievous Jim." Ordinarily, poetry tapes have all the appeal of... well... a parking ticket, but Donnelly and Stote have created a rare work of art here that is worthy of some stereo time. Donnelly's poems are short, concise, and unique, ruthlessly isolated shards of experience. Don't look for vast, mythological epics here; some of these poems are just a line or two, but they capture the essence of Donnelly's experience with family, cars, guns, corn, meatloaf, can collectors, body parts, fetishes, and deli counter men, among much else.
While Donnelly is declaiming his brief verses, Joe Stote is orchestrating some fittingly unique musical backdrops. Composed from found sounds, samples, and even actual musical instruments, the music is as idiosyncratic as the poetry. For instance, as Donnelly rants about the Hudson River, Stote is playing a demonically mangled version of the Blue Danube Waltz. While Donnelly drags us through the dark underworld of deli counters, Stote is offering up some equally subterranean, electronic gurgling noises, a sort of musical indigestion. Everything about this recording is demented, and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
"Mischievous Jim" is availalbe in just a few record stores... or by sending $8.00 to Our Records, 351 John Joy Road, Woodstock, NY 12498.
Artist: Steve Joliffe
Label: Horizon Music
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
It's always a pleasure to receive a new album from former Tangerine Dream member Steve Joliffe. His explorations of electronic music remain among the best, epic auditory journeys that transport the listener into an inner landscape.
"Omni," Joliffe's latest release on the Glasco, NY-based Horizon Music label, is no exception. Indeed, it is a definite progression from "Zanzi," his previous release. "Omni" is slightly less ambient (though still quite atmospheric), with more emphasis on rhythmic material, and a touch more anxiety mixed into the trance-inducing flow. The album consists of three long pieces, ranging from 16 to 21 minutes in length. Each piece begins with its most atmospheric material and builds steadily to its strongest material, loudest volume and musical intensity.
As with any Steve Joliffe recording, this stuff is ideal with the headphones on, the lights down, and your eyes closed. "Omni" can handle a bit more volume on the stereo than some other electronic music, so crank it up.
You can find out more about Horizon Music by calling (914) 246-1014.
Artist: Patti Smith
Album: "Peace and Noise"
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
Since her recording debut in 1975, Patti Smith has remained an icon of rock as artform. As much (or more) a poet as a rock musician, her words and haunting, rich voice have as much to do with her steady place in rock'n'roll history as her primal, three-chord tunes. Her latest album, "Peace and Noise" is no exception, a work of literary force as well as great music.
The music first: Smith is strong and restrained on this album. Driving rhythms with rich bass lines provide the setting for extremely tasty but spare instrumentation. Some songs pump themselves to powerful, belting rock'n'roll force, some stay on a more meditative level, droning or easing along. Personnel on this one are her long-time collaborators J.D. Daugherty and Lenny Kaye, joined by newer band members Oliver Ray and Tony Shanahan.
As for her lyrics, they range from intensely personal to political to spiritual to literary. Some of the more interesting cuts on this recording are "Spell," a musical rendition of a poem by Allen Ginsberg; and "Momento Mori," a track improvised in the studio with words that explore extremes of death and life and human beliefs while a clave' rhythm drives soaring, serrated-edge guitar lines. On the spiritual/political end, "!959" explores the history and plight of the Tibetan people in poetic terms.
I don't hear any hit singles on this album. I think Smith has moved well beyond such things. "Peace and Noise" is way too sincere to appease radio play lists or sales charts. It is too intense and real. Which means that it could fall into the collection with a few other of her albums as classic recordings that those with more passionate literary and musical tastes will savor for a long time to come.
Artist: Robert Miles
Rating: **** (out of 5)
In 1996, Robert Miles became a star on the international club scene with his instrumental hit, "Children," and the follow-up album "Dreamland." A reaction to the trend of hardcore techno, club music with rapid, adrenaline-producing rhythms and an attendant scene in Mile's native Italy of alcohol, drugs and DWI deaths, "Children" was a dreamy and relaxing composition that was an instant hit worldwide.
As hypnotic as "Dreamland" was, Miles' latest effort, "23am," is even more atmospheric and mysterious. The songs build from languid, leisurely introductions into 125 beat per minute, low-end techno rhythms. Mile's spare piano shines through rich, albeit electronic, orchestration. The arrangements run from minimalist ambient space effects to richly layered dance tracks. Seductively hypnotic spoken samples appear and disappear enigmatically, drum tracks fade in and out, electronic effects burble along, and wonderful vocalists pop into full-tilt song. Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge provides the voice on two cuts, and French singer Nancy Danino chimes in on two. You can dance to it, or just lay back with the headphones.
The lyrics, befitting the music, are hypnotic, upbeat, almost tilting over into New Age sloganeering if it weren't for their surreal and suggestive quality. Miles is, again, attempting to inject some peace and dance-oriented harmony into pop music, and while his intent is quite clear, the message goes down nice and easy.
I suspect Miles will have a few more club mega-hits off this disc, and may well cross some musical boundaries. This is pop dance music that may also appeal to fans of ambient house, electronic music, New Age, electronica, and adult-format pop.
Album: "Burnin' Love"
Label: Band Together Records
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Afire has been playing in the New York area for quite a few years. The Woodstock-based reggae band has developed a significant fan base through their upbeat, positively-inclined music, and their great concert appearances. Along with their own gigs, they've opened for Jimmy Cliff, King Sunny Ade, and Culture, among many others.
The Culture dates, apparently, brought them to the attention of the Seattle-based Band Together Records, where they had the opportunity to record their debut CD effort, "Burnin' Love." A long time coming, this disc, produced by Steel Pulse keyboardist Sidney Mills and Bob Marley engineer Dennis Thompson, showcases Afire's music the way it was meant to be. The grooves are strong and clean, and lead vocalist Laniya sounds powerful and impassioned.
As always, Afire shines with a unique melodic approach to reggae music. The simplicity and strength of the rhythms allow for excursions in melody above and beyond what you may often expect from reggae. Laniya's vocals soar with elements of rock, blues, and jazz that develop into distinctive hooks. Along with the core group of Laniya, Solomon, Johnny Azille, and Archie Francis, the album also includes contributions from Joakim Lartey on percussion, Peter Buettner on some tasty saxophone, Junior Jazz on vocals and guitar, and Sidney Mills on keyboards.
All the songs are original compositions by various Afire personnel, with the exception of a reggae cover of Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Woman" (that makes effective musical allusion to Musical Youth and Rita Marley). As a rule, both lyrics and groove stay pretty much within the realm of roots-reggae: danceable, irrepressible, positive, and "conscious." Peace, love, justice, and Rasta spirituality are the main themes (listening to their cover of "Rainy Day Woman" several times may inspire you toward this state of mind, too).
I hope that this is the start of some wider recognition for a great band that we've been enjoying locally for a long time. "Burnin' Love" is a great addition to any reggae collection. As Afire drummer Solomon would say, "Give thanks."
Album: "Sensual Sensual"
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
While B-Tribe's guiding force, studio wizard Claus Zundel, has carried themes from his two earlier efforts, "Fiesta Fatal" and "Suave Suave," onto his latest album, "Sensual Sensual," the evolution of the music has taken B-Tribe into a relatively different direction and genre of music. Both "Fiesta Fatal" and "Suave Suave" were successful club hits, with highly danceable house rhythms set with samples of Flamenco guitar and field recordings of ethnic vocals. "Fiesta Fatal" was a ground-breaking but uneven effort. "Suave Suave" was a more refined and consistent album that tilted toward electronica with featured vocals from Brazilian singer Deborah Blando.
"Sensual Sensual" still has an emphasis on lush Flamenco guitar, but the rhythms and other instrumentation are almost purely atmospheric, tipping this album well into the realm of ambient music. Vocals on this recording are limited to the field-recording samples and to odd snatches of spoken-word samples that rise and fall, shall we say, sensually. Indeed, this is an aptly named album -- it is moody, flowing, and the rhythms gently bubble along. You probably could dance to this if you really wanted to, but chances are you'll be more inclined to lean back and enjoy.
This is B-Tribe's best effort to date, I think, and highly recommended. It will be interesting to see what direction Zundel and company will take in the future.
Artist: Buckwheat Zydeco
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Stanley Dural Jr., aka Buckwheat Zydeco, is out to prove that he's the current reigning King of Zydeco. He'll get no argument from me on that score, particularly after a few listens to his most recent CD, "Trouble," and a visit to his live performance at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie, New York on Saturday, February 7.
"Trouble" is, perhaps, Buckwheat's best recording in many years. He gets back to some of his roots in the music, with an emphasis on blues and rock mixed into the upbeat zydeco arrangements. The sound, as you might expect from Buckwheat at his best, is big and bright, production that sounds, with addition of accordion and cajun rhythms, like some vintage, full-tilt blues band, B.B. King or Muddy Waters at their best. Buckwheat's band is big and tight, with tasty horns and compelling, bluesy guitar lines riding along on the bayou rhythms. While the arrangement and execution of the songs are rich and precise, the songs themselves are simple and catchy, with frequently repeated tag lines and refrains.
Put this disk on your stereo and crank up the volume and you have an instant zydeco party in your living room. The studio recording, though, is still no match for Buckwheat Zydeco's live show. On stage at the Bardavon last Saturday, there was simply no question about it; in spite of the elegant atmosphere of the old opera house, it took Buckwheat's band only one song to convince just about everyone to get to their feet and dance. That was even before the charismatic Buckwheat himself came out on stage.
An opera house is an odd setting for a zydeco party. The seats are too comfortable, there's no dance floor, and people show up for a concert, not a party. Take for example the well-dressed, middle-aged couple who were sitting next to me in the orchestra seats. While the rhythms were pulling people by the hundreds off their cushions to dance, these two sat rather stiffly, not a smile, not a single toe tapping. After a couple songs, they began to smile just a bit, and I could see their heads nodding a little bit to the rhythms. By the end of the concert, they were up and boogying down with abandon, arms flying, feet stomping, butts wagging to the beat. It was an awesome sight to behold.
Anyway, Buckwheat and company played only one song that I recognized from "Trouble," the infectious and aptly titled "Hard to Stop." Other than that, they stuck to crowd- pleasers, pop songs from the history of rock, blues, and country music that everyone knew well enough to sing along: Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin'," and the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" being two of the most memorable covers turned to zydeco. When Buckwheat Zydeco covers a song, I should note, the zydeco fuel that he applies to the musical engine takes that song just a bit further than expected, and he makes the tune his own. The whole thing was pretty spontaneous, and every song had frequent pauses during which Buckwheat would talk to the audience, exhort the crowd to dance, sing, or clap, or bring children from the audience up onto the stage. I don't know about the rest of the audience, but even after a fairly long concert, I still wanted more.
On the road home from the show, we turned on the radio and listened to a little rock'n'roll. It just didn't do it, with the strains of full-tilt zydeco still ringing in our ears. Only one thing could even come close; when we finally got into the house, I flipped "Trouble" onto the stereo and turned it up. Rock'n'roll may save your soul, but if you just plain want to feel good, zydeco is the answer and Buckwheat Zydeco reigns supreme.
Artist: Suzzy Roche
Album: "Holy Smokes"
Label: Red House
Rating: **** (out of 5)
And speaking of great singers who have been inspired by personal crisis, we now have a unique solo album from Suzzy Roche. Best known as the youngest sister and front-person of the innovative singing group The Roches, Suzzy Roche has given us a recording that carries all the sweet musical genius of her family, but has a decidedly more mature and somber tone than you might expect.
According to press notices, The Roches, Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy, have given their trio work a hiatus following the death of their father, John Roche. In the meantime, Suzzy has worked out a full album of Roche-worthy, yet uniquely solo songs, and recorded them with a spare, yet tasty band, and with some vocal assistance from Maggie and from singer (and Woodstock resident) Jules Shear. The songs here are conversational in tone, yet Suzzy's magnificent voice carries strong, but often restrained emotion.
The Roches, while never achieving major stardom, have been one of the most influential singing groups of modern times, their style of harmony and song-craft providing templates for the current very successful crop of female singers. Suzzy's solo work is equally as strong, and while you're probably not going to hear this much on the radio, I think you'll be hearing the repercussions of it in the music industry for years to come.
Artist: Dimitri From Paris
Rating: **** (out of 5)
It still remains a joy to observe how the spread of house music continues in ever more diverse and unusual patterns. From the Chicago house scene in the '80s, to the British and Spanish acid house scenes in the early '90s, through raves, deep house, ambient house, tribal house, goa, and the enigmatic convergence of psychedelic and electronic music into new, as-yet-unnamed forms. Now, direct from Paris, France, the intimations of a new genre, "bedroom culture," which is a gentle and often goofy mix of house rhythms with '60s lounge music, movie themes, and sampled kitsch.
Bedroom culture is not so much about partying in the bedroom, but refers to DJs who spin records and mix sounds in their own bedrooms, for their own ears. The foremost exponent of bedroom culture is Dimitri From Paris, a DJ who was mixing music in his own home until, in the '80s, he was offered a job as an on-air DJ on a major European radio station, where he hosted what was probably Europe's first house music show. Since then, he has been creating remixes for a variety of musicians, including Bjork, Brand New Heavies, New Order, James Brown, and others.
As his mixes started to become the soundtrack for Paris nightlife, he began to get offers from fashion designers to mix music for runway shows. When a singer sued one of the designers over royalty rights for the use of a sample, Dimitri was asked to go back to his first love, mixing old public-domain stuff together into home-crafted musical melanges.
"Sacrebleu" was released in Europe in '96 and became an immediate hit. It's a rather humorous blend of movie and television detective themes with simplistic (and sometimes deliberately cheesy) house rhythms, lounge music, and fun samples. "I know it's very strange music in general," Dimitri says, "and probably too strange for the mass market. But then again, it wasn't designed as a mass market thing.... It's more of a party record or something you put on in the background for a little get-together or a dinner.... It's music for intimate spaces or intimate moments."
Artist: Michael Thomas Berkley
Album: "Dramatic World Ambient Music"
Label: MTB Productions
Rating: **** (out of 5)
It was nice of Michael Thomas Berkley to give a descriptive title to his impeccably- produced 4-song demo CD, "Dramatic World Ambient Music." If not for that, I might have been reaching for adjectives to categorize this original and eclectic music.
Even so, this isn't ambient music as you might expect if you only listened to, say, old Brian Eno albums, nor is it world beat music as you might expect if you've been listening to afro-pop or island music. Instead, Berkley has forged a rich fusion of ambient music with elements from European-style classical music (the "dramatic" part of his title, I'd say), and compelling rhythms drawn mainly from African traditions. While this stuff doesn't fade into the background like other "ambient" music, neither does it inspire a mosh pit. The rhythmic portion of the music rises to moments of intensity, then drops back into the flow. The melodies that swell along with the usually laid-back rhythms are memorable, and tend to stick in your head even after a single listen. This is fine stuff just to listen to, settled back in a comfy chair, with the headphones on.
Having heard this much of the music, it's not surprising to learn that Berkley, a 24-year- old composer, producer and audio engineer, spent a good portion of his life studying classical music, but then travelled to Africa for ethnomusicology field-work.
I've got two regrets concerning this music... First, that there isn't enough of it. The 4-song demo runs about 17 minutes and is just a tease. This music definitely invites extended listening. The other is that it's not widely available. I found Berkley on an online mailing list, not a record store or publicized record label. If you are interested in his "Dramatic World Ambient Music," you can visit Berkley's home page at http://members.aol.com/berkleym/home page.htm.
Artist: Primitive Reason
Album: "Alternative Prison"
Label: Uniao Lisboa
Rating: **** (out of 5)
A while back, I reviewed an interesting compilation CD from the Portuguese Uniao Lisboa record label. I was recently fortunate enough to come into possession of some of the full- length CDs from the bands on that compilation. I've been having fun listening to the discs. There's some great stuff there. My favorite so far is "Alternative Prison" from Primitive Reason, a band hailing from Cascais, Portugal.
This is simply such fresh and varied music that it just can't miss. The most consistent sound on the recording is a kind of eclectic ska rhythm, with a bent and upbeat approach that is reminiscent of Perfect Thyroid. But Primitive Reason isn't really a ska band. The upbeat stuff can take a sudden turn at any moment and tilt off into reggae, thrash, metal, jazz, rap or hardcore -- and then zig-zag into sax-heavy, laid back muzak -- and then into some more ska. Think about The Specials crossed with Soundgarden, having a party with 3 Mustaphas 3 and Perfect Thyroid, while playing dozens with the Beastie Boys. Stir and repeat frequently, and you have something approaching the Primitive Reason approach to rock'n'roll.
I'm particularly enamored of the sound that their saxophone player, Mark Cain, manages to achieve, the most truly bent sound that I've heard since the demise of the Hudson Valley's Worm Wood. Lead guitarist Mikas also demonstrates some tasty jazz chops, as well as some slamming rock licks. The versatility of all the band members (there are five) are without question, and they are apt to prove their range on almost every song.
Their lyrics are socially conscious, if a tad bleak -- but always delivered with energy and style, jumping in and out of song and rap the whole time.
I suspect that anything on the Uniao Lisboa label will be difficult to find in local record stores. You might have to find a store that specializes in imports, and special order it. It's worth the effort, though. This is a chance to learn about some new and exciting music that's originating outside of the American music industry.
Album: "Farewell to the Sun"
Rating: **** (out of 5)
The art of jamming is not dead (or necessarily Dead). Here to bring us some intense explorations of new rock'n'roll jamming is Schleigho, a band hailing from Northhampton, Massachusetts. Their latest CD release, "Farewell to the Sun," features seven cuts ranging in duration from a mere seven minutes, to a full 12 minutes, extended efforts by any standards.
Even for the amount of time that they stick with a musical theme, Schleigho has the ability to cover a lot territory, and to take a composition to at least a few destinations before they call it quits on a cut. The influences here are eclectic and diverse, with a strong thread of jazz tying together vast yardage of intense, psychedelic rock'n'roll. Remember drum solos? Schleigho pulls them off like they've gone out of style. But if you start to think this is retro-rock, they insert some tasty, contemporary funk, or even a bit of rap, to let you know this band is definitely in the here and now.
The ultimate, overall feel of the music ends up as something not unlike some of the more exploratory of the late Frank Zappa.
The bottom line on Schleigho, is that the music is a lot of fun, very well played and well- produced. This album is destined to spend some time on my stereo.