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MARBIN -
Breaking The Cycle
MoonJune 2011

Non-difficult third outing of highly palatable fusion from the hottest Israeli duo on the jazz scene.

Lately, going for improvisation became a boutique kind of shopping, elitism cleverness and all, but then there's MARBIN who cook a tasty groove with no detriment to the adventurousness of the outcome. Two Israelis, six-stringer Dani Rabin and sax-blower Danny Markovitch, interrupted drummer Paul Wertico's family dinner upon their arrival on his doorstep, and now he's a part of their band alongside another Pet Metheny alumnus, bassist Steve Rodby, to anchor the youngsters' flight, which is so contagious that MoonJune's boss signed the combo right where and when he'd heard them. MARBIN indeed possess an instant attractivity, and that's even without an enchanting folk song "Winds Of Grace" which closes this tight collection that links to one's psyche from the bluesy riff of "Loopy". And then the adorable meandering starts...

Between the melodic lines the rhythm section finds a lot of space to explore the Eastern jive, with a touch of klezmer to "Snufkin", yet for the most part the music is as cosmopolitan as it gets, "Bar Stomp" going for the buzzy barrelhouse where guitars chat, while "A Serious Man" takes Duke's "Caravan" to an urban desert. The warmth comes from "Western Sky" and "Mom's Song" that are voiced by THE LOW ANTHEM's Matt Davidson, and the acoustic ballad "Outdoor Revolution" brings a sense of guilty pleasure to the party, yet it's in the tension of "Burning Match" that the ensemble's wings spread across the sky. Quite a gem.

*****
PUSHKING -
The World As We Love It
Pushking Records 2010

Stellar cast rocks the Russian vibe - heavy, adorable yet flawed on the root.

Rock thriving in the former USSR, there haven't been many Russian bands to take on the world once GORKY PARK reversed their expanse, but this quintet make a strong statement. They harnessed many a famous name into their troika to re-record their old songs, and here lies a problem: people like Dan McCafferty who's dealt two romantic pieces here, Udo Dirkschneider who wheels through the speedy "Nature's Child", or Alice Cooper who voices the predatory swagger of "Troubled Love" not only steal the show but make the songs their own, even though the pieces mightn't been written with them in mind. Russian tune? Yes, Eric Martin soars skywards in the orchestral sweep of "Open Letter To God".

To cherish the ensemble's bare nerve, still, one has to get to "My Reflections After Seeing The 'Schindler's List' Movie" that Steve Vai's solo only helps to come down from emotional peak, which the PUSHKING singer and composer Koha Shustarev reaches easily in the Hebrew chorus. But then the group provide a hurricane backing to Billy Gibbons in "Nightrider", pour an acoustic grit under Graham Bonnet's vocals in "God Made Us Free" and make Paul Stanley shake the pole in "Cut The Wire". Yet John Lawton-delivered power ballad "Stranger's Love" kicks up the outdated '80s dirt for Steve Stevens to smooth, while Glenn Hughes does the same on "Tonight" in the company of Shustarev and Joe Bonamassa, but excels in wrapping his pipes in soulful silk of "Why Don't You".

All the singers supplying a line and Steve Lukather a guitar for the swaying closer of "Kukarracha", the album leaves a good aftertaste and will bring a broad smile on an old hard rock aficionado's face, but the question is, how PUSHKING will follow such an ear-catching move.

****
ART OF EMPATHY -
Posthuman Decadence
Creative Commons 2010

Dark and dry, a heartbreak hotel for the new millenium.

Jef Janssen doesn't pursue the stark acoustic loneliness as many nu-folkies do, he wraps and warps his strum in gloomy faux-orchestral attire, so the velvet dirge of "The Design", an opener of the Belgian's second album, can be embraced by both the ambient lovers and the power metal aficionados who'll love heavy riffs and gentle piano interludes. But the pull of such memorable songs as "Is This A Man" or "Good Morning Sick World" with their whispered words isn't kept as strong for all the 64 minutes of "Posthuman Decadence", and it almost falls into the DEAD CAN DANCE morass. "Virile Earth" and "The Source" are the closest to the traditional folk and the most humane pieces on offer, their gentle ripples so alluring. Not for the depressed, then.

***
HALOS -
Living Like Kings In Confined Spaces
Halos 2011

A vibrant debut from the Orange County's space cadets - transparent and alluring.

Since the late '60s, there's been nothing cosmic about California, but HALOS don't mind and ask the listener to do so too. So when the predatory voice lures you, "Meet me in the atmosphere", over the slow ebb of "Hekla", the call feels irressitible even though you suspect monsters on the other side. They come in the U2-shaped scope of these twelve songs, yet for all music's coldness, Dan Lyman's vocals and guitar hold enough fire to burn the air in the booming title track, so "Breaking Windows" and "Amalgam" should make the trend-setters flock into the quintet's direction to learn how the harmonies are applied to the alternative template. Pop hit-ness of "Glass Slipper" aside, here lies true indie spirit, its downside being gloomy mood and tunes lost in it, like in "Never Never Land", that begs to me remixed with a brighter brush, the same that painted "A Rowboat In The Perfect Storm". The acoustic "Land Mine" shows a more soft aspect to the band and can alone win them a lot of fans. Hey, suits, time to sign 'em!

***1/3
ARI SHINE -
Ghost Town Directory
Beverly Martel 2011

A young rocker with a pop sensibility looking for a perfect echo in the crowded, yet empty, street.

A ruffled bed in a broken shed on the cover might suggest a rustic folksiness, but the lad there looks too clean-cut and smart to mingle with the plaintive highbrows, and sure "All I've Got Is Love" proudly wears glam jive, not sawdust, on its rhythmic sleeve and then this guy, Ari Shine, delivers an arresting guitar solo to kill all the roaches that could invade his second album's shed. For all the '70s inflections in his music, so clear in the funky "Better Anyday" and the Kinksy "Miss Nina", Shine's songs possess a modern edge, so the TV screen's embrace shouldn't be far away. The urgent ring of "Not Your Trial" and "It's A Go" easily overshadows most of the current Top 10 fodder, and in "One Silver Morning" a slide guitar and the backbeat create an impossibly arresting connection with deliberately mundane vocals. It's all not complicated, as Ari himself suggests in the closer, "Simple", but the simplicity is deceptive. If every ghost town was so sunny as this record is, the world would be a much better place.

****3/4
ANDY KIM -
I Forgot To Mention
Angel Air 2011

The "Sugar, Sugar" maker returns into the fray to admit he's always been here.

This man composed some brilliant tunes including "Rock Me Gently" and the song that made the non-existent THE ARCHIES a worldwide-known item, but when hits dried up, Andy Kim has stalled the moment for two decades to return now. It was Ed Robertson, a singer with BARENAKED LADIES, who's lured the veteran back into action, the result being the "Happen Again" album and the Kim-Robertson co-write "I Forgot To Mention". Breezy in the '80s way and country-tinged, the song shimmers rather than shines and is charming rather than arresting - it's radio-friendly yet its middle section is really winning and a slide guitar solo feel summery. Not the hit but a song to live with when it's sunny in your soul.

***
KATHI McDONALD
& Friends -
On With The Show
Marin Records 2010

When the lady sings the blues, there's a reason - and a good cause, too.

If she was a star of the caliber she deserves, Kathi McDonald's voice could have really make a difference and change the world. But she isn't which doesn't mean the veteran singer can't try. Cue this EP drawing attention to the problem of domestic violence and dedicated to its victims. Four tracks: three brilliant originals and a cover of Fred McDowell's immortal "You Got To Move" that Kathi nails in a predatory tone in unison with Rich Kirch's guitar while giving the old gem an unexpected feminine slant.

And, of course, the same angle beams from the heartbreakingly engaging title cut featuring Sam Andrew, McDonald's erstwhile colleague in BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY, whose six-string wail, along with Brad Jenkins' sax, brings a sweet bitterness to the party. No such weight to the boogie panache of "Long Arm Of The Law" and the proud swagger of the roaring "It's My Birthday" - they're full of the sensual heaviness instead. That's the social position to take!

*****
RHINO and THE POSSE -
Back In The Day
RLD Records 2010

The legendary axeman cuts the log and stokes his blues red hot.

There always was something artsy about IRON BUTTERFLY and CAPTAIN BEYOND but both bands demonstrated some guts, and that jive came mostly from their guitarist Larry Reinhardt. Never thick-skinned despite his Rhino nickname, on his solo trek the master set about pursuing the love of his life, heavy blues, in more classicist terms, and this short album comes as an epitome of his reckless experience. More so, Rhino inherited his new group from Dickey Betts, for THE POSSE are, in essence, the retired man's GREAT SOUTHERN. And here's a clear southern drive in the mighty riff of the upbeat title track that kicks the dirt in the sweet sludge of Hammond and bass, a bedrock for the veteran's viscous axe.

It's a good time music, not a memory lane walk, as "Run & Hide" has a contemporary radio-friendly ring to it, while Mike Kach's honeyed tone and electric piano in "Rock 'n' Roll State Of Mind" might have made BAD CO proud, and "Justify", propelled by Pedro Arevalo's bass, goes for the funky grit where Rhino builds a quirky six-string pyramid. The optimistic sadness fills only "Don't Know What To Do", but the slow "Shakedown", stricken with mandolin, links the album back to its start - no other nostalgia is involved there. Rhino's bucked it up one more time.

****3/4
DINO VALENTI -
Get Together
ItsAboutMusic.com 2011

The posthumous discovery of long-lost treasure chest full of the QUICKSILVER man silky linen.

Always a drifter, it's no surprise Dino Valenti had forgotten where he stashed away his stuff that, alongside personal memorabilia, included music - also incredibly personal like this trove shows. Laid down with whoever was beside him, between 1964 and 1970, the tapes found their way into the late singer's son's hands, to be savored by the California scene aficionados. The original, almost baroque in its acoustic starkness, recording of the title track, more known in THE YOUNGBLOODS's version and also in JEFFERSON AIRPLANE's reading, is worth the price of admission alone (a bonus disc of additional songs is available for free on demand), yet it's also great to hear Valenti fantastically tackle THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND's "Midnight Rider" and THE MIRACLES' "I'll Try Something New".

For the outsiders, all this can be too plaintive, save for the upbeat "Strange World", but Dino's voice is strong and engaging throughout, and there are mesmerizing jazz-folky tunes like the Dylanized "Country Fair", all 13 minutes of it, and the desperate acid blues "Ain't That A Shame" (not Fats Domino's perennial), shot through with Hammond and electric guitar. They lack the bleak zip of "One Thousand Miles An Hour" and the strings-woven soulfulness of "Star Rider" which is counterbalanced with an anxious wail-and-strum of "That's How It Goes". The quality of recordings is such that, with eyes closed, it's easy to imagine Valenti sharing a room space with you. It's that warm.

****
28 NORTH - Call Me Up
28 North 2011

A Pittsburgh, PA, band makes their clarion statement of intent.

On the way to their fourth longplay, "A Long Walk Home", this quartet gained a weighty reputation in their base-town of Pittsburgh where the band have been voted the best local rock talent of 2010. While getting ready to rip the SXSW festival joints, the foursome baked a new record, off which "Call Me Up" comes on air. An infectious slice of pop wrapped in delicious harmonies and beaded on a soulful vocal, it lodges a memorable tune - sprinkled with piano and smoothed on a surf surge of guitars - into one's lobes to circle round the brain and explode on the middle eight. It's a cry to be welcomed that's impossible not to answer.

*****
TOHPATI'S ETHNOMISSON -
Save The Planet
MoonJune / Tohpati 2010

Indonesian guitar hero makes his own vibrant statement - an eloquent soliloquy to lend one's ears to.

Having shined on SIMAK DIALOG's "Demi Masa", guitarist Tohpati leads his own quintet out of the jungle now. At first glance, the very idea of 67-minute fusion album somewhat jars, yet the ingredients of this delicious dish are diverse enough to keep one's attention for all the span. More so, the title notwithstanding, there's not a lot of ethnic jive here, once the title track's fuzzy buzz settles down, yet arresting prog-folk textures that fill "Battle Between Good And Evil" are full of spank, and riffs are adventurous, even though the Frippery and Santanism of the hot-as-hell "Ethno Funk" are deliberate.

So much for paying dues to the pioneers, SHAKTI fans will find much to enjoy in the grooves, too - especially in "Rain Forest", a bit unfocused but heavy at the low end - while the most impressive are cuts like fantastic "New Inspiration" or delicate "Sacred Dance", where the flow's slow and the tension builds layer by layer to scorch when it peaks. The fire's often stoked by Demas Narawangsa's percussion, so Tophati proves to be a smart bandleader rather than a soloist, which means his mission is complete here - at least, music-wise, if the Earth is still to be saved.

****4/5
KATHI McDONALD -
Kathi McDonald
Kathi McDonald 2004

Something old, something new, something borrowed - that's the blues that hold a place for a good laugh, too.

Self-titling a record might mean indulgence or simplicity, and Kathi McDonald has the right for both keeping the former for her emotions but applying the latter to her approach to this album. Yet there's a nice balance as demonstrated by unplugged, with Peter Kaukonen's strum, and electric, shot with Rich Kirch's guitar, versions of "Pride Of Man" featuring David Freiberg and Dino Valenti's son Joli among the back vocalists: quite a Californian company. The QUICKSILVER classic turns into an irresistible slice of spiritual in Kathi's pipes as does the tinsel funk of "Fantasy". Class oozes of every pore here.

There's no way of mentioning McDonald without linking her to Janis Joplin whom she replaced in BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY and who didn't get to putting voice to "Buried Alive" which her successor compensates for now in style, full-on. This piece's author, one of the album co-producers Nick Gravenites, submits one tune, "I'll Pull The Trigger", especially for Kathi to deliver the swagger in spades and work miracles. So the album may have a relaxed start in "Grand Hotel", posh and plush, if heartfelt, but then the air fills with a juke joint smoke and the singer unleashes her inner alleycat in the threatening and slinky rendition of Tom Waits' "Heart Attack And Wine". And while the pairing of homespun perennials "Evil" and "Money" suggests a more devilish concept, "Save Your Breath" gives it all a tongue-in-cheek spin. A little uneven, if charming, work, rightfully self-titled.

****
CENTRAL PARK -
Reflected
Rockville 2011

Munich veteran proggers sign up for modernity and turn up trumps.

There's something retro about the neo-progressive concept, despite its title, but that's not the case with this German band who rose up in 1983 to wind down six years later without notching a single record and got back in 2006 to make a proper debut. Yet it's now, with their second album and a new singer, Jannine Pusch, that the quintet make their real statement. There are grand concepts, and a three-part epic "Vision Of Pandora" in the "Reflected" burning core: it's too angular and angry to enjoy, while the overall sound is sharp and contemporary with sweet specks like the folky warble in "Path Of Mercy".

It's aloof in the wintry flow of "The Last Tear" and in the opening throb of "Guns R Us" that wraps the rage at those who turn kids into soldiers in the metal sheets and lets Hans Ochs unleash his guitar. When Jochen Scheffter does the same with his Hammond in "White Princess" over industrial beat, the plot which may work fine on-stage is lost, whereas the organ-heated buzz, warm and enveloping, elevates "Free Fall" to a hit height. Even higher aims the record's real centerpiece, the 7-minute adventurous ballad "Another Part" comprising a bunch of memorable - and vaguely familiar - melodies. A strong work which will hardly win the band new fans, but the old supporters will have their antennas out for good.

****
HUW LLOYD-LANGTON -
Classical Guitar Tales
Cleopatra 2011

The HAWKWIND axe pilot weaves a different kind of lace - heavy on classics and easy on style.

One might call it self-indulgence, to fashion an album of classical pieces, if only Huw Lloyd-Langton strived for finesse - but he doesn't. The pleasure of his new effort, therefore, lies in the feel of the master playing it for himself and sharing his pastime with a passerby who'd love to hear "I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger" or a couple of familiar tunes from 18th and 19th centuries with unclaimed authorship. Kudos to the veteran, then, for picking not the obvious opuses, save for Bach's "Bouree", slowed down to make a tongue-in-cheek finale.

Of course, pieces from Brahms and Dvorak's symphonies also exist in the common consciousness, as well as Schubert's "Spring Song" and Nino Rota's main theme to Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet", yet the depth of the guitarist's approach reveals itself in baroque tempering - sometimes his six strings sound like a harpsichord. Sometimes the playing doesn't feel so effortless but is all the warmer for it. Not pretending to be a prog rock virtuoso adept in acoustic prowess in the vein of Steve Hackett, Huw nevertheless proves his own "Elegy" and HAWKWIND's transparent "5th Second Of Forever" can stand their ground alongside immortal opuses, even less known, by Purcell or Giuliani. There are many less romantic ways to spend half an hour.

***4/5
SOFT MACHINE LEGACY
Live Adventures
MoonJune 2010

The unstoppable engine revs up their back pages and charge forward.

With more classic period members in the current line-up than on the old band's final bow, "Land Of Cockayne", the LEGACY part could have been disposed of but it gives the quartet a carte blanche to do whatever they want with the old pieces - and they do so, as documents this album recorded on two consecutive nights in October 2009 in Austria and Germany. The veterans don't dwell on the past, digging only the glittery "Facelift" from the gold mine, but start the proceedings with "Has Riff II", an almost heavy metal soundscape taken out from "Six" for John Marshall's drums to plumb the abyss and Roy Babbington's bass to spare a spank, and there's some unfamiliar cuts such as John Etheridge's angular "Grapehound" where riffs thrive for Theo Travis, the real hero of "Adventures", to add a brass attack.

Etheridge's guitar is at its most lyrical on the ballad "Song Of Aeolus" from "Softs", while the most restrained pieces on offer are the blues of "The Last Day" and the funky-reggae bop of "In The Back Room" from the ensemble's last studio outing, "Steam", that's in turns melancholic and jovial but never breaks loose. At the same time, Travis' solo piece, the wild "The Relegation Of Pluto", lends itself nicely to the group's context, and he lifts new stage takes on "Gesolreut" and "The Nodder" to vertiginous rocky heights. Re-energized and vital, the LEGACY prove to be taking it to the future.

****1/2
BARRY GOLDBERG -
It's All My Vault
ItsAboutMusic.com 2011

The electric flag-bearer digs into his archives to dust off some glittering nuggets - with heavy guests' reflections.

Having backed Dylan when Bob went electric and having formed THE ELECTRIC FLAG with Mike Bloomfield, Barry Goldberg was guaranteed a place in the rock annals even without coming up with, in his own words, Jews blues with a string of his own bands. With a huge gap in the keyboard master's activity between mid-'70s and early '90s, the veteran's output under his own name is smaller than his glorious biography dictates, that's why there's a reason to toast Goldberg's opening of his vaults that must be bursting with gems.

Or jams for that matter, especially when it comes to the country jive of "Goodbye So Long", a blissfully crazy sparring of Barry with the Heartbreaker Howie Epstein, or a live take of "You Gotta Move" with the great Terry Reid on vocals and Mick Taylor on slide. No date of the event (a good bet it's early '00s when Barry delivered "Stoned Again") but the ex-Stone is featured on several cuts here, including opener "After You've Gone", where Carla Olson also shines, yet never overshadows the main man's sensual playing and talent as a composer. That's what drives the brooding flight of "Blue Dreams", the sparkling ivory boogie of "Never Too Late", which can be a nice comment on this collection's release, and Stax-like brass-oiled coupling of Hammond and piano on "Holy High", both bubbled up with Jack Sherman's guitar. And then there's Melanie Herrold in Goldberg's band, one of the greatest blues warblers, singing her heart out in "Crazy 'Bout You Baby" while Barry has a ball with this staple of a song.

It's a great, yet criminally short, peek into the veteran's secret public life. Here's hoping a "Vol. 1" tag has dropped of the disc's title and more is to come.

*****
THE GRAY LIONS -
Run Wild
Marc L. Rubinstein 2010

Classic rock at its more tasty, the veteran cats having a field day.

Yeah! Catchy riffs that slap you across the face, big choruses which make you open up and shout, the drive to get you on your feet - it's all here, in these 38 hard-boiled minutes heated up by two unlikely (well, for the genre they dabble with as LIONS) fugures: Marc Rubinstein, who once filled the most famous halls with his Pig Light Show, and Mark Hudson, of THE HUDSON BROTHERS' fame, and their rhythm-rubbing compadres.

They run the gamut through all the rockin' years, what with pop panache of "It Just Ain't Enough" and boogie swagger of "The Forgotten Man", and give it an '80s-shaped kick, hairy yet not in the poodle way, although glam is smeared all over it, from the sleazy blues "Love Comes Soon" to the a cappella harmonies of "Lost My Woman". Heavy rockabilly of "Crimes Of Passion" and an organ-oiled orgastic metal disco "Who Do You Love" keep it on the roll, turning a cannonball into a mirror ball, so the prickly "Smaug's Revenge" gives it more boost for "You Were Young" to re-jig "Born To Be Wild" in a dance swirl.

Hardly original but fun through and through.

****
MONGREL -
The New Breed Of Old School
Darwinism Failed 2010

The Bostonians bang a gong and twist some metal in a humorous knot.

There's many a band now whose frontwomen soar up in the opertic clouds only to sound like a second-hand Sarah Brightman; not so with this quartet as Jessica Sierra seems to be looking up to Bruce Dickinson, surely is a great example, and the bunch behind her are hellbent on delivering classic heavy metal. Hence the title of their EP that will caress the nerves of any hairy veteran. The cheeky attitude of "I Refuse" packs a velvet punch in its spiky rock 'n' roll, while "Bound To Crash" has both ballad and anthemic germ in its lap. But if "Shut Up, Get Dead" rides in turns a viscous and a sharp groove, with a Doro Pesch tone worn on the choruses, "Houdini Act" drives a shallow aggression, yet there's a nice bend to it all. Now a full album, will ya, please?

***
MOONBAND -
Open Space
Rockville 2010

The Bohemian nu-folk with a Californian harmonic breathe. Fresh and sweet.

Thinking of Munich one will hardly imagine the West Coast waft but sometimes the belly full of beer may render the head and the hands so light that the music they create is dreamlike. That's how it goes for this quintet who, unlike many of their genre co-conspirators, possess a wry sense of humor and a rosy cheek to call one of their more upbeat and twangy pieces "Tom Waits" - where the second word is a verbe, of course - and the other "No Direction Home" with a real nod to his Bobness saved for the harmonica-oiled "Right Before Your Eyes". The music feels warmly homespun, so "Devil's Got A Piece On Us" draws the listener slowly but surely, on the roll of acoustic guitars and the lulling male and female voices; more so, adding glockenspiel, double bass and uke to the mix paints it all a bit otherworldly yet likable through and through.

While "Roll On Blues" delicately chugs into one's soul on the soft rumble of guitars, you can't escape the charm of "Top Of A Tree" which is both ancient in approach and modern in its rocky way. "Days To Live" shows a different, much deeper side to all this jolly ride: a glance into the psyche of a priest in love rarely is so sympathetic and memorable in its tuneful execution, and "The Hiker" leads off as gently as the album started - with a shining hope that promises to burst in full bloom any minute. The record's a grower, and MOONBAND come up as a real contender for all of the American fairy folk. And that's only a debut.

****4/5
NAZCA LINES -
Nazca Lines
Stressed Sumo 2011

Urban-tight, rather than desert-loose, for their first EP the Seattle quartet goes up with a bang.

No linear, Ufology-minded new-age for these four guys who, hailing from the grunge capital, channel the spirit of CLASH with some panache on the three tracks gathered here. "This Crippled Devil" even has a Mexican ring to its metal sheen and nicely-packed chorus that catches you by the jugular without strangling, as the band know well how to give their kick a good release. They employ it in the escapist jive of "This Little Island" which welcomes some sludge, and bass sway, in the brew. Then, "From The Bottom Of A Crevasse" welcomes you to the rave dancefloor - somewhere in Manchester, perhaps - for its beat and guitar flow are nothing less than infectious. Quite a way to launch one's rocket!

*****
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