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June 2002





Are You Passionate?

Let’s face it—after nearly 40 years of brilliant music making, rock veteran Neil Young just can’t make a bad album. First with Buffalo Springfield, then Crazy Horse and now, after years of solo albums that have earned him eternal kudos, Young proves he can still deliver the goods—a fact made quite obvious on his 2002 album Are You Passionate? With all the mayhem created in the wake the disasters of September 11th, Young revisits that horrorshow again with his song "Let’s Roll". Dedicated to Todd Beamer—a passenger on Flight 93 who lead a counter attack on the insane terrorists and thus partly foiling their sordid end game—"Let’s Roll" is a moving tribute to our American heroes and is surely one of the highlights of Young’s new album. The lyrics are enough to make your hair stand up on end: "Let’s Roll For Freedom, Let’s Roll For Love, We’re Going After Satan, On The Wings Of A Dove." Consistently delivering his still one of a kind guitar sound and vocals, Young is in fine company throughout Are You Passionate?, which also features keyboard genius Booker T. Jones and bass legend Donald "Duck" Dunn—two members of the classic ‘60s Booker T. & The M.G.’s lineup—as well as Steve "Smokey" Potts (drums) and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, guitarist from Young’s long time backup band Crazy Horse. The new songs—filled with piercing mental imagery and poignant reflections of the past—are among Young’s best ever. Recorded last year in San Francisco and at Young’s home studio, Are You Passionate proudly takes it’s place in the gallery of one of rock’s most seasoned singer-songwriters.

Rhythm & Blues

The music masters at Rhino come through with a U.S. release of the new Jools Holland CD, which was recently released in the U.K. with the name Small World, Big Band.

Holland is renowned for his keyboard work in pop pioneers Squeeze although Jools Holland’s Big Band Rhythm & Blues is clearly the album that’s gonna put him on the map big time. So what’s the big deal? OK - how about vocal slots and new music from Beatles guitar ace George Harrison, John Cale (singing the Jonny Mercer standard "I Wanna Be Around"), Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton (with the Ray Charles composition "What Would I Do Without You"), David Gilmour (on guitar w/ singer Mica Paris on "I Put A Spell On You"), Mark Knopfler, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal and a host of others. The concept centers around these singing greats out in front of Jools and his big band on various standards and new originals. It all works pretty darn good, although the main reason to hear the 79 minute CD is the George Harrison song "A Horse To The Water". Written by George and his son Dhani Harrison and recorded Tuesday October 2nd 2001, the song features a trenchant lyric and an unforgettable vocal by George - an absolute parting shot at the hypocrisy of these harrowing times. Printed lyrics and some amazing photos add a certain glow to one of the most significant albums of 2002.  /

Move Me

One time member of Ultravox and Visage, Midge Ure sheds his post-punk image of the past and arrives with a new musical scope and vision with his 2001 album Move Me. Released by NYC-based Koch Entertainment, the album features Ure on guitar and vocals, backed up by talents like percussionist Russell Field. Songs like the lead off track "You Move Me" and the brilliant "Alone" are quite Beatles-inspired and reveal Ure’s masterful sense of melody. About the title track, Ure claims, "You Move Me" is about moving you physically, moving you spiritually, moving you sensationally—that's the whole idea of it. It's about different things that come into your life that really leave a quite deep affect on you." Ure made music history in 1984 with his song "Do They Know It’s Christmas?"—a song co-written with Bob Geldof—and his early solo albums The Gift (1986) and Answers (1988), but Move Me is surely his best solo album yet.

Rings Around The World

Described as a Sgt. Pepper’s for the 21st Century, the latest CD from Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals raises the bar for pop music. Released everywhere else last year, Rings finally sees a release on the NYC-based XL Recordings. A mix of art-rock, Beach Boys-style balladry, high-tech psychedelia, country rock and vintage orchestral exotica, Rings covers tons of ground and comes up with a truly different sound in the spirit of current pop greats like High Llamas and Mercury Rev. Beatles bass great Paul McCartney even shows up—not quite singing, but actually chewing on some carrots and celery—munch like he did on the Beach Boys song "Vegetables" from Smiley Smile. Another way to appreciate them is to check out their recent, full-length Rings DVD. Filled with spectacular computer animation, the Rings DVD proves that SFA is as progressive and artistic on video as they are on record.

My Ride’s Here

He may have been there and done that, but 32 years after his first solo album—Wanted Dead Or Alive—singer-songwriter legend can still rock and roll with the best of them. Well known for his sardonic lyrics and foreboding song titles, Zevon cuts to the quick with his second CD for NYC-based Artemis Records. Recorded in L.A. and NYC, My Ride’s Here is every bit as sensational as his 2000 album Life’ll Kill Ya with the one difference being Zevon’s choice of co-writer and lyricists like Hunter S. Thompson, Larry Klein and Carl Hiaasen. In addition to penning all but two of the tracks here, Zevon also handles all the vocals, electric and acoustic guitar and keyboard work assisted by Anton Fig (drums) and Sheldon Gomberg (bass). Every Zevon album has it’s share of memorable masterpieces and My Ride’s Here has a number of standout tracks like the lead off track "Sacrificial Lambs", "Basket Case" and a cover of Dan McFarland’s "I Have To Leave". Sure he sounds like he could write these cognitive pop thrillers with his eyes wide shut, yet with the exception of ‘60s legends like Neil Young and David Crosby, very few artists these days even come close to Zevon for sheer musical intensity.

Wigwam Plays Wigwam

The group most associated with the rise of Finland’s ‘60s and ‘70s rock scene is Wigwam. Founded by U.K. singer-songwriter great Jim Pembroke, Wigwam not only featured the greatest Finnish musicians of the post-Beatles European rock scene (including Pekka Pohjola and deceased drummer Ronnie Osterberg), but more importantly, Wigwam’s songs had staying power. Quite a few of those songs are revisited again on Wigwam’s new double live CD, Wigwam Plays Wigwam, recorded in Finland during the spring and summer of 2001. The first new Wigwam album since their masterful 1993 comeback album Light Years, Wigwam Plays Wigwam find’s Pembroke in fine form, assisted by long time Wigwam cohorts Pekka Rechardt, Måns Groundströem and keyboardist Esa Kotelainen. The only missing person is Osterberg, filled in for here by powerhouse drummer Jari Kettunen. On their new double disc set release on the EMI / Harvest imprint, Pembroke & Co. delve into their prodigious ‘70s repertoire, and sound like they’re having fun. The fanfare surrounding their new live album will soon be eclipsed by a new Wigwam 2002 studio album entitled Titans Wheel, arriving in June 2002. One can only hope Pembroke, now living in London again, will finally get some long overdue acclaim.

In this piece, let’s take a look at some recent progressive rock and instrumental CDs from Finland. Guitarist Olli Haavisto has appeared on numerous titles including Flatbroke—the 1980 album from Finland’s greatest pop songwriter Jim Pembroke. Now Haavisto—assisted by a bunch of fine players—steps out with a cool new solo album entitled Music For Bus Stops. Haavisto turns in a great performance on lap steel, pedal steel, dobro and various guitars. There are some vocal numbers that are quite fun (but hard to understand!), but there’s also a number of cool instrumentals (covers of The Beatles’ "She’s A Woman" and The Shadows’ "Shindig) that span a number of jazzy, pop instrumental and surf-inflected boundaries.

Also from Finland is the latest from surf-rock pioneers The Quiets, entitled Take A Flight With The Quiets. One of the best rockin’ guitar instrumental quintets in all of Europe, The Quiets tackle a number of guitar styles, while being influenced by legends like The Shadows and classic film composers like Henry Mancini, Dimitri Tiomkin, A.C. Jobim and John Barry—all of whom are covered on Take A Flight. The cover art is cool ‘60s inspired and the slick guitar work by Sam Saarva (lead) and Ben Engblom (rhythm) is first class.

Another stellar surf-rock combo from Finland—The Surfing Spacemen have made a fine new guitar-based instrumental CD entitled Mental Pictures. Self-produced, Mental Pictures is a stellar showcase for group guitarist J.P. Skott, who’s ably assisted here by Heikki Eloranta (bass), Antti Sunna (organ) and Petteri Tynys (drums). In the spirit of Finland’s internationally renowned Laika & The Cosmonauts—The Surfing Spacemen borrow from instro guitar legends like The Ventures and The Shadows, while also adding in various European musical flavors and just a hint of traditional Finnish musical zing. Mental Pictures is a splendid introduction to a rising surf-rock combo. email:

Speaking of Finnish surf-rockers Laika & The Cosmonauts, the group’s drummer and part time guitarist—Janne Haavisto—recently released a new album on Texicalli Records entitled Permanent Jet Lag by his group Janne Haavisto & The Farangs. The sound—while hinting at the Cosmonauts vintage, surf-rock sound—is something altogether different. Some fine players are here including guitarists Olli Haavisto and Marc Ribot and Chris Cote—the latter adding in some otherworldly vocals. Sounding at times like a lounge band from the twilight zone, Permanent Jet Lag is an amazing, yet exotic and strange sounding CD indeed.

The land of the midnight sun, Finland is also a hotbed for hard rock, pop and progressive jazz music. One recent pop CD from Finland worth mentioning now is the Warner Bros. Records Finland release of the second album from The Crash, a gifted pop trio featuring the guitar, keyboards and vocals of Teemu Brunila. With 11 catchy songs rounded out by solid musicianship, Wildlife sounds like a 21st Century T. Rex album, but with a distinct and dramatic musical personality all it’s own. Vocals sung in English will surely give this top Finnish pop-rock group some well-earned international attention.

Although known for the jazz-rock albums he’s made with his five piece band XL, guitarist Jarmo Saari recently released a solo CD entitled A Tribute To Finnish Cinema. Released on EMI Finland under the Jarmo Saari Filmtet, the album features new interpretations of various Finnish film soundtracks. Spanning music from 1951 to 1998, the album features Saari along with other Finnish musicians including keyboardist Seppo Kantonen. The music is evocative and in Saari’s hands, the result is a moody, progressive-flavored album with an appeal that transcends the limited subject matter. Saari’s compositions and guitar work in XL wins him the most votes and on that front he’s just released the new XL album entitled Surreal on the Pohjola Records label. Filled out with strings and other exotic instrumentation, Surreal travels all over the place—from futuristic-sounding fusion to studious prog-rock—and is a worthy new effort from Finland’s best new progressive instrumental group.

Finnish folk-jazz legend Piirpauke have released well over a dozen instrumental albums since they began in the early ‘70s. Spotlighting multi-instrumentalist Sakari Kukko, the group’s 1985 album The Wild East—reissued with the new title Kalevala Spirit on Finland’s Rockadillo Records—is among their best. The all-instrumental Kalevala Spirit album finds Kukko allied with excellent players like guitarist Badu Ndjay and Wigwam guitarist Pekka Rechardt. Mixing jazz, rock and Finnish folk music, Kalevala Spirit features five bonus tracks from another Kalevala-inspired project Kukko made ‘97. Another Piirpauke masterpiece recently reissued is the group’s 1981 album Birgi Buhtui, out on Warner Music Finland. The album broke new musical ground with Kukko’s sax and piano work augmented by a fine rhythm section and Finnish electric/acoustic guitar wiz Pekka Nylund. Melding Finnish, Turkish and Swedish musics, the hard to pronounce Birgi Buhtui still makes for some pretty intense World Music listening.

A fine source for music from Finland is Helsinki-based Digelius Music.

Attention Artists and Record Companies: Have your CD reviewed by Send to: CD Reviews Editor Robert Silverstein, P.O. Box 630249, Little Neck, N.Y. 11363-0249
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