I got snookered into reviewing this one. Gaff Records sent it to me along with Walter Egan’s “Apocalypso Now” a while back, and I felt obligated to give it some column space. After all, like a record or not, a reviewer can’t ignore that the work is someone’s labor of love, someone’s baby, and I’m not about to tell Arrogance that their baby is ugly.
Thankfully, it isn’t ugly. It’s a very generous compilation of late ’70s/ early ’80s bar-band pop, featuring twelve original tunes–and another ten bonus tracks! The booklet notes lament that no coked-out A&R suit had the gonadic vision to promote this North Carolina-based quintet’s work, and while, after listening to it, I can’t say that I fell head over heels in love with their work, I concur that Arrogance certainly was solid enough to merit airplay, moreso than plenty of the drivel that wound up in tight rotation (“I’m Not Lisa,” anyone?) from 1975-1985. A couple of the tunes– “Uh Oh” and “Eyes on Fire”–could have been big hits in the mold of Hall and Oates or The Little River Band. In fact, listening to the entire CD gave me the opportunity to compare notes (oops, that was pun intended) with the other bands.
Overall, a lot of the Arrogance’s bar-band contemporaries were steady journeymen who produced memorable hits-The Bellamy Brothers, Pure Prairie League, REO Speedwagon, Pablo Cruise, Men at Work, the Stanford Townsend Band, Huey Lewis and the News, hey even Hootie and the Blowfish. I didn’t like everything these artists produced, but once in a while, they scored with some serious wonders: The Little River Band’s sublime “Reminiscing” (I am still finding new things to hear in that sweet little recording), Huey Lewis’ exhilarating “The Power of Love,” Stanford Townsend’s sax-inflected “Smoke of a Distant Fire,” Hall and Oates’ melancholy “Sara Smile.” Did Arrogance deserve to rank with them? Well, why not? Their sound was tight enough and in sync with the pop of the times, and lead vocalist/bassist Don Dixon certainly had the chops of a Huey Lewis or a Colin Hay. They also offered deliriously idiosyncratic keyboard lines (courtesy of Don Stout, whose fingers may be an incendiary device subject to BATF regulation). Plus, they wrote a song about a praying mantis, which sets them apart from the rest, at least as far as born-to-boogie entomologists are concerned.
Know Nothing Stays the Same
The Militial Group
Copeland’s web site says that the test of a well written song for the band is whether it holds up when you strip away all the fluff, well that said, Copeland’s all cover songs cd is still fluffy and in most cases too similar to the original to call. Some songs like Billy Joe’s “Always a Woman” sounds like they played that karokie game where you sing over the existing track. They’re, just a new kind of fluff, a better fluff in some cases, making Copeland a superior fluffer, so to speak. They get points for their strong back beat behind Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover”, and their cover of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” took me back to the days when couples skate time was important. Fluff indeed.
Fun, fun, fun exotic space lounge smooth meets Latin beat makes the perfect background for those long into the night martini soaked conversations. Clouseaux manages to mix up the madness enough to keep you from getting bogged down in the wackiness of it all. Just when you think you’ve heard enough of the space inspired musings, they launch into a matador based tune with horns, and then it’s off to surf island style. The whole time I could close my eyes and feel the thick shag carpet beneath my feet and the heat of the tiki torch on my face. I saw visions of Hawaii Five-0 and Frankie and Annette as aliens…wild, man.
Shadow in the Light
Float Upstream Records
In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that Dan Cox is a former
coworker and remains good pal of mine, although we haven’t seen each other in person in several years. We’ve kept in touch by e-mail and the occasional phone call (“Hey, Amélie, which sounds better? A film by Bob Misculkewskivichovonson or A Bob Misculkewskivichovonson film?”
” Neither.”). What I recall about working with Dan at Universal Studios Marketing (aside from our shared love of L.A. radio commercial jingles and our penchant for singing the entrada of horn charts of Santana’s “Everybody’s Everything”) is that Dan loved his classic rock. The former drummer for an L.A.-based band Taurus, Dan would regale his coworkers by slapping out the drum solo to “Wipeout” with his flattened palms. He was fearless. If you are a metal music lover, here you can find the new metal album releases.
Anyway, thanks to advanced technology at reasonable prices, this year Dan was finally able to do something he had wanted to do all his life: record an album of his original instrumental compositions. Only after I heard the CD did I offer to write a review because I genuinely like the work he did. Homemade labor of love, yes indeed, but the CD is pretty danged good.
There are five instrumental compositions on SHADOW IN THE LIGHT, all of them catchy, clearly influenced by the giants of the decade in which Dan and I grew up (the 1970s), seamless, and original. Each composition varies distinctively in mood, tempo, and instrumentation, and each would make a first-rate cut on a soundtrack album. Yep, a new film composer is born, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m pleased to say he is my man, Danno. If you’re looking to get crazy in the Avid bay, dance, take a road trip, or smoke something suspicious, this CD should be in your carryall.
The CD gets its Larry Carlton groove on with the first tune, “Rosa Road,” reviving that mid-to-late ’70s California Sound. Think an optimistic Steely Dan. Think Santana hitting the open road. Dan’s music developed its muscle spotted at the bench by the guitar gods, but his work has a strength all its own. He expresses original ideas through his
guitar solo work on the guitar.
From the Deep Purple-style distortion of its opening measures to the superfine Stevie Ray Vaughan-inflected fretwork, “Avanti” brings back the heady days of day-long concert events for the great outdoor masses à la California Jam. It’s a piece to get all shirtless and boogie to while
you bake in the sun.
My favorite cut, “Erotic Words & Pictures,” sways its way around the dance pole with a sidewinding Hugh Masekela flavor (absent the trumpet,
but you know the kind of melodic unfurling I’m talking about). The composition is simply splendid and downright hypnotic-not because of repetition, but due to Dan’s sublime and complex axe work. It’s a first-rate, soul-seasoned instrumental. This could have been a hell of a hit with the right record company and airplay. I mean, c’mon-chart notchers Hot Butter, Michael Oldfield, and Dennis Coffey did not produce instrumental hits this good. Why is “Music Box Dancer” a hit?! Wait, I’m
getting all wound up. Sorry.
” For Linda” (that would be the fair Mrs. Cox) presents a filigreed melody, fragile, feminine, any occasionally brought back to earth by some
tried and true pop chords. It would go great with just the right sunset and Chardonnay.
Finally, the title cut, fueled with Tangerine Dream’s more cinematic inspiration, takes flight with some beautiful passages, its mellow chords
cascading like multicolored horizons.
I had no idea you had so much beauty in you, Dan. It must have been
because you were too adept at making me laugh all those years.
HOT ROD CIRCUIT
Reality’s Coming Through
Reminiscent of the Gin Blossoms with a slight edginess, and I mean that in a good way, Hot Rod Circuit is a pleasing mix of angst and anger with a hint of empathy. Their songs all have a distinct sound unlike some of their more pop driven brethren. SAVE YOU shifts into FEAR THE SOUND with a good jolt, and on to FAILURE with a strong sense of personality. By the time the band hits THE BEST YOU EVER KNOW they’ve fallen deep into ballad territory without missing a beat. It’s always nice to hear a band that can harmonize and play their instruments at the same time.
Fuck World Trade
You have to love a band with ridiculous lyrics like “don’t drink this, it ain’t beer it’s piss” and social commentary about NAZI WHITE TRASH like “money and religion, segregation and division, your dirty cash in the pockets of the wicked politicians, lobbying for slavery in a new and modern way.” Or at least I do. I love a sense of humor coupled with a sense of homicide. Couple that with a real feel for breaking up the monotony of the normal pounding punk rock with good guitar and drum solos as well as the well placed silence and you have a better than average thrash band. Follow Twilight-Distribution and always stay updated for the best new heavy metal bands.
MOSES AND THE GUYS WITH JOBS
Old Shoe Records
Call this Aging Boomer Rock. And I’m not just talking about the portraits of the balding band mates on the back cover. Musically and thematically, thisalbum reflects the experiences and tastes of those who grew up in the 60’s, and have never quite left that time period.
Stylistically, The Guys W/Jobs play a combination of rock, R&B and jazz. They sound like a bar band which has been jamming together for years, and
that’s a good thing. They are tight, yet relaxed, play comfortably. The sound is similar to early Springsteen, or, even more, Southside Johnny.
The songwriting is solid, but unremarkable. (Perhaps that’s the reason for those supposed many years in the bars, without any big success.) To continue the nostalgia theme, many of the songs sound vaguely familiar, sound almost
like some forgotten hit from your youth.
Many of the lyrics deal, directly or indirectly, with looking back, from the straight nostalgia of ‘Ave. 21’ to the missed chance romance of ‘Juanita’. Throughout it all, there is a sense of time passing, but things not necessarily getting better.
The overall feel of this album is of the best days being behind, but making the best of that.
G. Murray Thomas
PC MUNOZ AND THE AMEN CORNER
A Good Deed In a Weary World
A Good Deed in a Weary World manages to be a very religious album without being overly preachy. It is a religion of personal redemption, and the questing which goes with it. From the hero of ‘Skin City,’ the opening track, who got kicked in the head by a stripper’ and went on to serve the needy, to the ‘High Minded Man’ whose glorious ideas proved insufficient, these songs tell the stories of people who found a higher purpose in life.
These songs are not only concerned with the possibility of redemption, but firmly believe in it. Therefore, they are quite happy, positive songs. Even the break-up song (‘I’ve Been Loved’) focuses more on the happiness of the romance than the heartbreak of its ending. Interspersed with the songs are snippets of people giving their definition of a ‘good deed’; significantly they
are common actions we could do every day, and this adds to the hopeful tone of the disc.
Musically, PC Munoz and the Amen Corner perform slow, funky soul, with a heavy gospel influence, especially on the vocal choruses. Folk and jazz influences also show. In most cases, the lyrics, more spoken word than songs, are
recited, rather than sung, or even, as one might expect, rapped. This allows the listener to focus on the stories being told, and their meanings, rather than the vocal delivery.
Overall, this is a pleasant, hopeful album, offering the hope of redemption.
G. Murray Thomas
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES
I’ve always enjoyed Siouxsie and the Banshees, but never really considered myself a big fan. I don’t own any of their records. So I figured this CD was a good chance to really give them a listen, see what they’re all about.
I found basically what I had expected — enjoyable goth-pop, with a dark, minor key atmosphere, and lots of catchy hooks. Still, nothing really
spectacular. Except…I couldn’t stop listening to it. Every day, one of their songs would be caught in my head, demanding that I listen to it again. And every time, it was a different song. And that, I’ve decided, is their genius — to produce dark yet incredibly catchy music.
This collection brings together all their best known songs, which is more than you might think. Before listening to it, I could have named maybe two of
their songs off the top of my head, yet I recognized most of these. As an introduction to the band, this is a great place to start. And for the fan, there is a bonus disc of extended mixes, which has some interesting variations on the theme, even for the casual listener.
G. Murray Thomas
Were You Prom Queen?
About a year ago I reviewed Tales from the Fruit Bat Vat, Lindsay Smith’s first CD, and found her to be an amazing songwriting talent. Now she
has a second album out, and, while not as immediately gripping as her first,
it shows she continues to grow as a songwriter and performer.
Smith is more confident as a songwriter now.Musically, she has expanded her palette. Many of these songs are done with a full band, in a straightforward pop-rock style. Still she continues to experiment with
different forms. In addition to the rockers, there are songs based on bluegrass (“The Ersatz
Bluegrass Band”), blues (“Love and Airplanes”), even lullabies (“Are You Sleeping?”) and nursery rhymes (“One Fish Two Fish” and “Mr. McGoo”). The songs are filled with deft, atmospheric touches, like the mandolin on “New England,”
the banjo on “The Ersatz Bluegrass Band,” and the slide guitar on “Love and Airplanes.” Also, Smith’s voice has become both stronger and more
But with this confidence comes a loss of risk taking. These songs are not as adventurous, especially lyrically. While her first album was full of introspective and metaphysical wonderings, on WERE YOU PROM QUEEN?, Smith is much
more interested in basic relationships. These include her relationships with her parents (as explored in “Ersatz Bluegrass Band”) and her sister (“For Lee”), as well as an assortment of usually unsuccessful romantic trysts. She is as perceptive as ever about these relationships. Many of these
songs, such as “Sebastian” and “Runaway Bride”, explore her search for the right man, and her fear of commitment. In “Sebastian” she sings:
I’m accustomed to freedom
Sebastian likes his cage
I know I can’t change him
And I won’t change at my age
She brings a wry, cynical humor to these dilemmas on songs like
“ Runaway Bride,” and especially, “I Don’t Like Drinking,” about trying to
get over a
I don’t like waking up with strange men
In a place I know I’ll never go again
Hung over, wondering how I got there
And how I ended up in my underwear
But at least I’m not wondering if you called.
Like Smith’s first album, WERE YOU PROM QUEEN? is self-released (although one would never know it from the professional packaging), so it’s unlikely
you’ll find it at your local Tower Records. Instead, go to www.lindsay-smith.com, and discover this great singer/songwriter for yourself.
G. Murray Thomas
THE SPECTACULAR FANTASTIC
New Equations for the Simple Mind
The computer cover art, and the patterns of 1’s and 0’s on the disc itself, lead one to expect electronica on this CD. Instead, the sound is much more classic rock. The most immediate influence is the Beatles, which comes out in the song structures, uses of harmony, and even some of the melodies. Pink Floyd and Neil Young also show up, in the blending of acoustic and raunchy electric guitar; ghosts of both also seem present in the often depressing lyrics.
But the images still make some sense when you realize this is the work of a home recording whiz. Everything on the disc was ‘written, performed and recorded by Mike Detmer in his living room.’
Ah, another guy sitting alone in his room writing songs about how lonely he is. I don’t want to be glib about it, but it really sounds like Mr. Detmer
needs to get a social life. And not just to cheer himself up; his music would improve.
While The Spectacular Fantastic does a good job of imitating the sound of a full band, especially in the harmonizing with himself, there is camaraderie missing from the songs. They sound somewhat thin as a result. While the songs
themselves are strong, they need the actual interplay of musicians to flesh them out and liven them up.
My suggestion to Mr. Detmer would be to consider this a demo, and get a full band to play these songs. Then you would probably have a very strong record.
G. Murray Thomas
Is Anything Alright
The Strange’s new release, IS ANYTHING ALRIGHT? came my way because lead guitarist Seth Turner decided he’d get to know me on a first-name basis. In other words, he slid me a CD whose final song is titled “Amelie.” Oh, how could I resist?
Perhaps I’m getting too old to review contemporary music. Naw, my ears are fine, and my tastes (however retro) remain open to new adventures, but my darned eyes just can’t read the tiny type on CD booklets anymore! Fortunately, Seth also slid me the lyrics in much, MUCH larger type, so I’m ready to go, now (thank you Seth, you whippersnapper).
A mellow, up-tempo quartet hailing from Rome, Georgia (not to be mistaken for Rome, Wisconsin, the setting for the brilliant and much-missed the series “Picket Fences” or Athens , Georgia, the home of the B-52s), The Strange consists of Adam Beck (drums and percussion), Paul Cantrell (vocals, acoustic guitar), Clinton Dillard (bass), and Seth Turner (electric and acoustic guitar, plus a varietal garden of other string sounds that sound suspiciously like a Chapman stick). They are a tight, smooth ensemble, but their whimsical, clever lyrics and jazz-inflected jams keep their sound safely out of the territory of immaculately processed New Age crap. Not quite as dark bluesy as Widespread Panic and less prone to complaint than Counting Crows, these limber-fingered fellas sound like they’re having a lot of fun when they play, which drops them right into my all-important music category of “good stuff to have on a long, open-road trip.”
My fave tunes (aside from “Amelie”) are the gorgeously titled “In the Realm of Jellyfish and Time,” the castaway confessional “Ginger Grant,” and the inventive pot paean, “The Dumb Bug,” a stoned etymologist’s number that coasts along with six-legged gusto:
Fireflies light up phosphorescence
Flaunt their presence yellow dot to dot
Growing bolder with the season
There’s no reason for us to get caught
Slugs are sliding leaving slug trails
Salty dinner for the bourgeoisie
All their dreams piled up on platters
Wash them down with a fine chablis
Okay, well, slugs don’t have six legs, but you get the idea—lots of bugs, lots of color, a little commentary about indulgence, smart rhymes, and a dandy song.
Aside from an inexplicable (but cute) cartoon on a walrus stamped onto the CD itself, I can find no fault with The Strange’s second CD release and recommend it for fans of latter-day Southern jams and songs about sexy French gamines.
Food Chain Records
It’s hard to tell how seriously to take these guys. It’d be very easy to assume they’re a Spinal Tap style parody of hard rock, but they do it with
such a straight face it’s entirely possible that they’re serious.
Everything about this album screams exaggerated rock’n’roll cliches, starting, of course, with the title. The songs are all hard, riff rock, a la AC/DC; the lyrics are built strongly on cliches (including some blatantly ripped off lines), and seem to all be about rock’n’roll. Even the cover photos are done like classic rock posters. The attitude is all decadence and braggadocio. Like the best rock’n’roll, it’s all about being bigger and better than anyone else.
Supagroup can certainly play their rock’n’roll. There may not be an original note on this album, but the cliches and classic riffs are played perfectly, tight and loud and aggressive. Whether serious or tongue in cheek, these guys know, and love, classic rock.
The fact is, I hope this album is satire, or at least tongue in cheek. If Supagroup is really taking these cliches completely seriously, they’re
kidding themselves. The album is much more enjoyable if they’re consciously kidding us. If this isn’t intended as satire, they’re missing their true calling.