June 1, 2004, by Bill Ribas
June 2004 CD Reviews:
Prima Donna, Not Having Fun
Transcendence, Sleep with You
Pete Teo, Rustic Living For Urbanites
The Silvermen, Incendiary, Luminary...
Emilie Autumn, Enchant
Kieskagato, You, Are the One, Who Can
Kathy Compton, Gentle Ravings Under a Martian Sky
Drop, Summer Sessions
West, We Feel Better Now
Nina Martinez, Nina Martinez
The Compulsions, Laughter from Below
Buddy Greenbloom, My Little Underground
Levi, Another Jennifer
The Mike Corrado Band, Live at Thalian Hall
Prima Donna, Not Having Fun (© 2002 Prima Donna)
From Philadelphia comes a female-fronted band, with Debbie Kernan handling the vocals and twins Gina and Tina Ciera on guitars. When listening, I'm reminded of the Stonehenge music found in the movie Spinal Tap. There's a garage-band feel, with a minimalist production approach, no bells and whistles. This is not to say the disc is sloppy; in fact, it's quite clean, and therein lies part of the problem for me. I would have either preferred something dirtier, or with more of a pop sheen. The opener, "Love to Die For," maintains a quasi-funk feel over a minor chord, while the lead guitar runs lines in a basic pentatonic scale. Given the title of the songs and the lyrics, one might expect more anger and emotion.
By the time the title track arrives, however, the band seems to fall into a groove. The number begins on the folk side of the tracks with acoustic guitars jangling, then the chorus hits with a hook that draws in the listener.
Yet the bulk of the songs seem to float, hookless, in need of something, and I know not what. Listen for yourself at
Transcendence, Sleep with You (© 2003 Transcendence Music)
It wouldn't be too hard to guess what Ed Hale listened to as a young man, and what influenced him. As the band's singer/guitarist, his vocals weave through shades of David Bowie, Jim Carroll, Lou Reed and others. His songwriting favors a mix of glam rock and hook-heavy street rock. This is, of course, good news for the listener, as each cut begs to be played again and again. Hale seems to take a playful approach to his vocal work, sneering and drawling out words, twisting syllables, ranging through emotions as the band drapes a wall of sound and sheen behind him. Lyrically, he's funny too, as in the title track, where he implores, "I don't want to go out with you, 'cause I don't think that we'd last too long," then with the chorus, "what can I do to sleep with you, what can I do?" Hale is equally at home with ballads, as a song like "Veronica" shows. Dynamically astute, the music rises and falls, and Hale's voice matches the dynamics emotionally, wavering yet authentic.
This is a fine disc that deserves a home in your collection.
Pete Teo, Rustic Living For Urbanites (© 2003 Redbag Music)
Teo is from Malaysia, which is why you've probably never head of him (I know I hadn't), but there's a good reason that you might want to get to know him, and this disc is it. He's a crafty songwriter, with numbers that have a fresh and open sound, a clean shimmer, uplifting and relaxing the listener. Long involved in the music scene, Teo has done film scores, worked as a session musician, as well as gigging musician. His sensitivity and maturity are apparent on a tune like "Marianne Called," a sorrowful ballad, with an Asian violin (well, erhu or zhonghu actually) moving from background to foreground throughout. The sparseness of the acoustic guitar, a light touch on a Fender Rhodes, and Teo's whisper-quiet vocals should provoke tears as the song plays out. Yet Teo can inspire as well, as on "Jesselton Tonight," a happy-go-lucky love song.
The only obstacle I can envision is the slightest of accents that might prompt a listener to think of that loser on "American Idol," but otherwise there is nothing about Teo's disc that I can fault. It's a gem from start to finish.
The Silvermen, Incendiary, Luminary... (© 2003 Silvermen Music)
I have a genuine affection for all things rockabilly, probably due in part to its relationship to the birth of rock and roll. And while periodically, an artist will surface to the top, there is always an undercurrent of great acts out there who continue the sweaty, greasy, and loud tradition that is rockabilly. Many of these acts today also push the envelope a bit, incorporating outside styles in bits and pieces, though at its heart, the music still rocks. Enter, then, the Silvermen, from Kansas City, a trio that pumps out the good stuff endlessly. A two-minute rocker like "My Girl" is a fine example a short, sweet, 1-4-5 with a sound familiar yet fresh, and nothing but fun. The same goes for "Love Shakin' Blues Playin' King," a straight-ahead romp through a rock blues number. Yet on "My Can't Help It," they stretch into a more popish territory. "57 Starchief" is a beautiful ballad that leans toward country swing, and "One Leg,"
a song with some high backing vocals, is, well, kind of country-ish in spirit. As rockabilly is best heard live, hopefully the boys will end up near you soon, and you can get their CD. If not, well, visit
Emilie Autumn, Enchant (© 2003 Traitor Records)
There are musicians, and then there are musicians, and in the rock arena, Miss Autumn is clearly in the latter category. She picked up the violin at 4, played professionally at 12, studied classically, and, well, you can read her bio later. Suffice it to say she is a serious musician. On this, her fourth release, she has made a disc of what she calls "fantasy rock," which falls somewhere in the vicinity of new age meets gothic on the way to the theater. Complex and intricate, but alluring, the songs are more meaty than most of the rock stuff that comes by here, and it takes a bit more attention to digest. The rewards, however, of repeated listening assure a depth of satisfaction. As one gains familiarity with the layering of the instruments and the vocal styling, a higher level of appreciation is likely to formulate. The songs are not slapped together like much of rock and roll today, but composed, which shows Autumn was quite serious in her classical studies.
But neither is it stiff sounding (Autumn does perform with Courtney Love, for example), and a song like "Second Hand Faith" takes a bluesy tack along the lines of Joplin (Janis, not Scott), but manages to toss in a twist at the end of the choruses. A heady disc, but well worth the listen.
Kieskagato, You, Are the One, Who Can (© 2004 Iconic Rocket Records)
Radiohead for the new millennium could be the moniker that best describes this band. Their sound is so close that at times you'd swear it was Thom Yorke moaning out of the speakers. And though that comparison may be unfair, or perhaps peg the band as something they'd rather not be called, there doesn't seem to be any way around it. The production is not quite as lush or layered as their Brit brethren, and yeah, they have a trumpet player, but sonically, it's hard to separate the two while listening. I suppose that's both good and bad; I mean, better to emulate a great band than a shitty one, but any reference one might use to describe them would go something like, "oh, you mean the guys that sound like Radiohead." Lead singer Josh Vasby sounds like you know who, and yeah, well, the band does jazz up things intermittently (and that's a direction I'd like to see them experiment more). Despite the obvious comparison,
the music is good, moody and dreamy, the disc well produced.
Kathy Compton, Gentle Ravings Under a Martian Sky (© 2004 Ether Bunny Music)
This seems a rather grown-up effort for a sophomore release, and though I confess I am not familiar with her first, I will most likely hunt it down and give it a spin. The pictures on her website alternate between sultry and goofy, and her take on the music is similar. Well, not to say goofy, but perhaps playful is a better term. The opener, "Optisong," is bright pop, opening with Tijuana-like horns, and while I was expecting vocals along the lines of Katrina and the Waves, instead comes a breathy, Cure-like approach. She also performs "The Love Boat Theme," which should make some listeners grin as they recall the campy and often schlocky series. Yet she is at her best over medium-paced ballads, such as "Sunrise," a mellow number that wafts about casually, and in which Compton's voice hovers like mist on a spring morning. She never rocks out per se (her up-tempo stuff is more in the disco realm) and I wouldn't mind hearing her belt out just one boozy bar number.
In any event, a varied and interesting disc.
Drop, Summer Sessions (© 2003 Flipped Disc)
Though the first track might give the indication that this band is a subtle coming together of reggae and hip hop, a closer listen reveals that these players are perhaps more skilled than they let on. And a bit of research finds that they all have done time at Boston's Conservatory of Music, a school of rock indeed. This five-song EP veers down different stylistic paths, yet I am most intrigued when the jazz shines through. Oh sure, the rapping and hip hop is okay, quite good, but that's not my bag, and I don't think it should necessarily be theirs either. "To Chick," for example, sounds as if it could have come out of an old "Return to Forever" book, and I'm guessing the "Chick" in question is not slang for a young girl, but the piano-playing Corea. Thus, it kind of throws me for a little loop when "Damn I Shoulda Known" kicks off the disc, and it sounds like an admixture of an Eminem wannabee with an aspiring Bob Marley wannabee.
Fuck diversity, I say, and stick to what you do best. These boys can groove the jazz thing, and that's where they should stay. Whatever. No website given.
Marizen, Field (© 2003 Zen Merchants Music)
Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Imagine pop rock on the heavy side as yet untainted by big glossy studios and execs with opinions. The band is fronted by Mari Calip, whose voice is somewhere between Pat Benatar and Debbie Harry. She doesn't sound polished in a classical sense, but nevertheless can belt it out with authority, which she needs, as her bandmates tend to play loudly. But that's as rock should be, and like any classic-rock disc they bring things down on a number or two. "Little Bit" is one example, spinning now as I type, and it has a laid back vibe that is doing me just fine. A power ballad like "Time," however, shows the band has a good deal of maturity in their songwriting sensibilities. This is their fourth disc, and twice they have been finalists in a Battle of the Bands contest at the Hard Rock in Chicago, so they are seasoned warriors. Of course, this begs the question, why aren't they more widely known?
That, I cannot answer, but perhaps you can, by visiting
West, We Feel Better Now (© 2003 Two Dupes Records)
Dark and brooding, the opener comes at you heavy, pounding, and the disc just keeps getting better. Perhaps a good way to describe the sound is imagining if grunge music came out of New York. Whereas the murky Seattle sound always seemed to have a sense of desperation or anxiety, the music of West has a reserved, almost street-smart feel over a similar murky sound. It is not a sense of bleakness though, and there is a strong pop undercurrent. The songs can, however, have an almost horror-movie feel to them, as on "Skin," a tune that features Genevieve Maull as guest vocalist.
And while her vocal interplay gives an X-like feel, the music, which builds slowly, sounds as if a chainsaw-wielding maniac is just around the corner. Founder/guitarist/vocalist Claremont Taylor did indeed spend time in the northwest in the '90s, and with brother bassist Wellington and drummer Peter Rosch, their sound is a reconstructed grunge, or grunge for the new millennium.
The disc closes with "Don't Come Around Here No More," a heavy number, thundering out much the way the disc started. In between, though, the band varies their style, picking up where grunge left off and forging ahead.
Nina Martinez, Nina Martinez (© 2004 Nina Martinez)
Well, here's a case of a bit of press problems. I get a disc freshly burned; there's a web address, but little else. So I visit the website, www.ninamartinez.net,
and it looks like the disc I received is her self-titled debut, judging from the song-list titles and matching lyrics in the choruses. But that disc is listed as copyright 2003, while the disc I have is © 2004, as the sharpie pen scrawling indicates. Ah well, the good news is the music, for disco, isn't bad. In fact, it's pretty good. Nina may not belt it out as hard as some, but her voice is pleasant, the tunes are bright and peppy. The only fault is that they start sounding similar after a while. But, when you're listening, you can kind of fade away and come back pretty much where you left off. Kidding aside, think of it as Latina-flavored disco, and for those looking to shake their booties, here's something to shake them to.
June, EP-2 (© 2003 June)
From Southern California comes June, with their second EP release. The music is spread out, lengthy, almost like the old days of FM rock, when songs went on forever. They don't here, but they are longer than the average radio tune. On "Arial," guitarist vocalist Nicholas Buck wails his voice in a kind of Eddie Vedder/Ozzy way there's a pained feeling as he sings, and it's an interesting texture. The song is like one of those late great Pearl Jam dirges, wallowing along, melodically albeit. On "… And Yet Still Finish Last," the band continues its journey along the path of ominous and dark ditties, with an almost seven-minute opus of long sustaining power chords, crashing cymbals, and a busy bass. The last cut, "#7" (which would have been good if it were the seventh cut), sounds, well, dark again, like a moping teenager with nothing to do. There is some snappy drumming from Sajid Ali, and bassist Hector Gerardo works thirds in an interesting way,
as the song becomes hypnotic. It would be nice to hear a bit more out of the band, as they sound promising.
In any event, check out www.junemelody.com for more info.
The Compulsions, Laughter from Below (© 2004 Rob Carlyle)
If you followed a line starting from the era of early Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart Faces, then snaked your way through the Black Crowes, at some point you'd reach the Compulsions. There's a bluesy underbelly to the music, an almost drunken sweaty feel to the songs you can sense the smoke hanging. Carlyle's vocals have that Brit sneer to them, the kind of "fuck off" attitude that really adds to the music. And speaking of adding to the music, guests Richard Fortus (GNR, Love Spit Love) provides some killer guitar bits, and 20 Miles' Jimmy Ansourian handles the kit. The only downside is this is a three-song EP, and I wanted more. The good news, however, is a full-length release is slated soon, but until that time, you're either going to have to settle for these three numbers or dig up some old discs. Great rock here, just like they used to make in the old days.
Buddy Greenbloom, My Little Underground (© 2003 Ralph Michael Brekan)
When I read the press I wasn't sure whether it was a joke this disc is essentially the songs of the Jesus and Mary Chain done by a cowboy from Arizona. Yeah, no shit, is what I thought. But as the songs carried on, I grew to love this little disc, despite whatever whacked synergy brought it together. And, you know, even if you aren't too familiar with the originals, or don't know them at all, you can still find something to admire here. Greenbloom plays a nylon-strung acoustic, so the guitar has a soft sound, and his backup band is minimalistic, so the songs don't grab you by the head, rather they have a tendency to seep slowly into your system. And since he is working with good material to begin with, it's hard to screw up. His vocals are a bit shaky, well, shaky is not the best word, perhaps unpolished is a better choice. As such, there's a quirkiness, an unevenness as he sings, though not all the time, and it adds to the appeal of this CD.
Kind of like Lou Reed. An endearing tribute. www.buddygreenbloom.com
Levi, Another Jennifer (© 2004 Levi/Ithacan Records)
A white chick that raps? Has the whole world gone nuts? Kidding, of course, since I know the world is nuts. Nevertheless, Levi is a female rapper slash singer, and yeah, white. She grew up in Ithaca, NY, did the Suzuki violin at 3 (that's what the press says), and went on with her musical education at points elsewhere. And, yes, she raps, but she also sings. On "Who Do You Think You Are," she sounds quite a bit like Alanis Morissette without the whine. Oh sure, she breaks into a rap bit, but in this instance, the song is more sung than rapped. She also does the really high-note thing like Mariah Carey (and I only hope to God she doesn't articulate those notes with her hand as she performs), yet for some reason, I am not annoyed when she sings her range is so good. And as the disc plays out, it's surprising just how good her voice is. The rapping, well, not angry, just a nice contrast to when she's belting it out.
In fact, there's a lot to remind one of Morissette's debut disc, an exuberance that Levi displays, but without the chip on her shoulder. One of the freshest things to pass by this desk in a while.
The Mike Corrado Band, Live at Thalian Hall (© 2004 Mike Corrado)
A former marine turned rock star? Who woulda thought? To top it off, it's a DVD of a live performance. Although, in retrospect, the way things are going, it makes more sense to package music that way. I mean, why should you be content with a dozen songs from a performer, with just a few pictures to look at? Why not a performance video? Then you know what you're getting. And while that argument lies in another essay, I will say I rather like the MCB. There's a vague association to be made between the band and the Dave Matthews Band not necessarily in a stylistic sense, but both acts seem to have a strong following, and perform best live. And like Matthews, the music is somewhere towards the jazzier side, or perhaps jazz infused is a more apt description. How about jazz-infused jam rock? No matter, it works. And while Corrado may not have the stage presence or hippity dance moves of Matthews, like any good marine, he gets the job done.
His vocals are smooth and crisp, his rhythm guitar playing is more than adequate, and he has a tight funky little band behind him. Though the video itself may be of average quality, the music, in jamband fashion, is good, and that's what counts.
Email columnist Bill Ribas
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