Record Label
and Music Spotlight 

SEPTEMBER 2011

  

 

 


















 

MWE3.COM MUSIC NEWS & NOTES

SEPTEMBER 2011 RECORD LABEL SPOTLIGHT



POP & ROCK



429 RECORDS - A guitar trendsetter who shaped some of the biggest R&B hits of the ‘60s, Stax Records producer / pioneer Steve Cropper returns with a 2011 CD release called Dedicated - A Salute To The 5 Royales. The CD on 429 Records is kind of Steve’s self-styled tribute to his fellow guitarist, Lowman “Pete” Pauling and his pioneering R&B group The 5 Royales. With the subject matter well in hand, Dedicated finds Cropper backed up by a red hot band and in the company of classic rock and R&B voices including Steve Winwood, B.B. King and Bettye Lavette along with high caliber artists like Lucinda Williams, guitar god Brian May and more. Commenting on the album Cropper adds, ‘If I can educate these young ears as to where the music started, because they’re always asking, and if I can get them interested in the Five Royales I’ve done something.’ Produced by Steve and Jon Tiven, the 15 cut CD features cream of the crop Nashville / Memphis session players who could clearly be counted on to play any standard from Cropper’s Stax library of R&B classics. Getting Winwood to sing the lead off track “Thirty Second Lover” was a real coup and throughout, the impressive CD booklet provides a wealth of information behind the project. Perhaps the coolest thing is how the album brings to light the music of the relatively unheralded Lowman Pauling, who wrote a number of pop / R&B standards (“Dedicated To The One I Love”, “Baby Don’t Do It”) and how his music and guitar style turned on ‘60s generation R&B guitar superstars like Steve Cropper. With all these classic rock voices and rock superstars on hand, the only drawback is the album features only two Cropper instrumentals. Even so, Dedicated is a fitting summation of Cropper’s star studded career as guitarist, producer and arranger. www.429records.com

BLACK HEN MUSIC
- One of the hot guitar properties out of Canada is Steve Dawson, the brains behind the well rounded, Vancouver based Black Hen label. Dawson’s latest project is Montreal native singer-songwriter and guitarist Roxanne Potvin, who scores with the 2011 CD release of Play. Produced by Dawson, who also plays many of the electric lead guitar work, the album is definitely rootsy. Bearing the Dawson production stamp, it also draws on what some might cite as white album era Beatles influences as well as alt-pop icon Beck in places. As is par for the course, Dawson has assembled a fine crew of players to assist, including drummer Geoff Hicks. Coming of age in the post-MTV, early internet era of pop, Ms. Potvin sounds truly inspired on a rockin’ (and tongue in cheek) cover of the Right Said Fred hit from ‘91, “I’m Too Sexy.” With the release of Play, Black Hen strikes a refreshing balance between Americana and toe-tapping pop sophistication. www.RoxannePotvin.com

DECCA RECORDS - Being handicapped didn't always mean that an artist would not make it. In modern pop history Stevie Wonder, blind since birth, became a huge sensation, starting in the early 1960's. Legendary songwriter Doc Pomus—one of the key architects of the early rock ‘n’ roll sound—spent most of his time in a wheelchair. One of the true song writing geniuses of all time, Doc would have loved Days To Recall—the 2011 CD from Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Hines. Although Hines himself is wheelchair bound, his spirit is clearly undaunted on an album that sounds inspired by the upbeat, multi-faceted music of legends like Elton John and Paul McCartney. Commenting on his physical limitations, Justin states, ‘There have been so many blessings. It’s afforded me so many other opportunities. It’s a bit of an attention grabber. But then my job is to keep people interested and keep their attention with my music.’ Hines is at his best on upbeat tracks here like “Nothing Better Than Today,” “Tell Me I’m Wrong” and “Come Around”, all of which mix solid backing with a memorable hook and melody. Justin gets solid support from his band including co-producer Justin Abedin (guitars), Kevin Adamson (keyboards) and Jorn Juul Andersen (drums). Among a rising, elite group of 21st century singer-songwriters who are expert at combining heartfelt, upbeat pop and rock, Justin Hines is in a class of his own. www.DeccaRecords.com

FAVORED NATIONS
- Starting out way back in 1982, L.A. Guns are still going strong with a newly recorded unplugged live album entitled Acoustic Gypsy Live. Released by Steve Vai and his Favored Nations label, Acoustic Gypsy Live is a fine showcase for guitarist Tracii Guns and lead singer Jizzy Pearl, who are backed up here by the rhythm section of Chad Stewart (drums) and Danny Nordahl (bass). The pounding of the drums and the passionate vocals are still up front, yet for this live set—recorded at The Hotel Cafe, February 20, 2011—the guitars are acoustic and it shows yet another side of this versatile hard rock band. The guitar work of Tracii Guns is quite a revelation and even ripping out leads, mic'd on acoustic guitar, he’s rarely off the mark. In addition to some classic acoustic based rock, the band takes on some new L.A. Guns style versions of both “These Arms Of Mine” (an Otis Redding cover) and the metal rock anthem “Love Hurts” (made famous by Nazareth). All in all, the 14 track Acoustic Gypsy Live is an acoustic based live album delivered with a lot of passion and verve. www.LAguns.co

JETTY RECORDS
- Putting socially incisive lyrics together with a toe-tapping folk-rock beat is tried and true, yet the genre gets a lift with Perfect World Today, the 2011 CD from NYC-based pop-rock innovator Peter Galperin. I could see fans of mid ‘60s folk rockers such as The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful and Donovan digging where Galperin is coming from on Perfect World Today. Written, recorded and produced by Galperin over the past year, Perfect World Today also blends in some fine electric guitar and keyboard work. Although it’s just seven tracks, Perfect World Today covers a lot of ground musically and overall, the CD provides a solid foundation for Galperin’s singing, songwriting, guitar and keyboard style and studio expertise. In the spirit of Paul Simon at his most folk-rockingest, Galperin isn’t afraid to merge some Afro-Latin rhythms or even smooth jazz fusion into the mix and several cuts even sound samba and bossa nova inspired. A Seattle native, Galperin has spent the past 30 years in NYC and likewise, he was greatly influenced by the music of David Bowie, Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson. With the CD release of Perfect World Today, Peter Galperin has created an authentic sonic destination worthy of return visits. www.JettyRecords.com

MARINA RECORDS
- Let’s face it. American’s greatest contributions of the ‘60s were musical. This fact is still a fact of life with the majority of the civilized world still catching up with the retro-sonics of American pop music. All over the world, kids are turning on to Brian Wilson and the assorted West Coast geniuses that his music brought us. Although he’s from Athens, Georgia—a town best known for wild-eyed rock groups like the B-52’s and R.E.M.—Brent Cash and his music honors the Wilson-ian musical spirit and also songwriters like Bacharach and Rundgren. The eleven cut CD release of How Strange It Seems features Brent’s very Pet Sounds influenced music backed up by a mini-symphony orchestra with real strings, horns, flutes and harps. Cash sounds positively possessed with “Surf’s Up”, the song not the album, and overall here, he manages to create and recreate a range of musical moves that also pays a karmic tribute to a period when American pop composer geniuses ruled the the planet. The Germany based Marina Records are huge fans of that sound, having produced a spectacular tribute album CD to the music of Brian Wilson way back in 2000 called (what else but) Caroline No. www.MarinaRecords.com

MOGADOR MUSIC
- Many rock albums sound good but often are derivative of the genre, while sometimes a prog-rock band arrives that not only fuses the best of the past but also breaks new ground with a fresh, off the wall kind of approach. Mogador is a Pan-European prog band featuring the vocals and lyrics of Richard Allen (drums) with music supplied by Luca Briccolo (keys, guitars, orchestrations) backed up by bass player Paolo Pigny. Allen merging his English prog sensibilities with two formidable Italian progressive musicians yields some intriguing sounds. Allen’s occasional Peter Hammill and Chris Squire inspired vocal outbursts may be the focus, yet there’s plenty of musical interplay and insightful composing that displays some formidable chops. Commenting during the summer of 2011 about new music from Mogador, Richard Allen adds, 'Work on the third CD is well under way; we are finishing the writing of a set of songs inspired by some paintings and poetry that we find inspiring. As usual, I am having to re-programme by brain to be able to play in some challenging time signatures. For those who may not be too familiar with what that means, very simply it means rhythms that you might not be able to dance to that easily...' Funny how, considering the Anglo-Italian axis of musicianship here, one in the know progressive music review web site described Mogador as being "Proghetti at its finest and an artifact that you simply must have.'
www.MogadorMusic.com

MVD VISUAL - One of the top DVD companies in North America today, MVD and its MVD visual division MVDb2b has a 2011 DVD out of the 2010 reunion of Emerson Lake & Palmer. Entitled Welcome Back My Friends, (not to be confused with the multi-disc live album of the same name) this 40th anniversary reunion concert features the original band founders in fine form performing all time prog-rock classics from the early ELP albums. On a live gig that doesn't miss a beat or hit a bad note, it's hard to believe that this live concert appearance was actually the first time ELP had played live since 1998. Classic tracks here include favorites from the fabled first self-titled ELP album from 1970, Tarkus (from 1971), Trilogy (1972) and of course a helpful heaping of tracks from the all time ELP album classic from 1971, Pictures At An Exhibition. Captured live on July 25th at England’s famous Summer 2010 High Voltage rock festival, ELP may be older and more seasoned, but they sound pretty darn impressive. The DVD also adds in new interviews with Keith, Greg and Carl. There’s even an in depth four color booklet that long time fans will no doubt pour over. In addition to the DVD, MVD is also making the release available as a high definition Blu-Ray video. www.MVDb2b.com

OGAN MUSIC
/ SOUND GROUND - Signed to Elektra back in 1972, Oregon based Gary Ogan has slowly built his repertoire of solo albums and he reaches new heights with his 2010 album Sound Ground. Having produced two albums for Leon Russell—and after producing and publishing in Nashville for years—Ogan is really in his element as a solo artist. Influenced early on in his career by Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Todd Rundgren recording every instrument on their early '70s albums, as his jumping off point, Ogan does in fact play, sing and write on every track here with the overall vibe ranging from a mix of slick blue-eyed soul and sultry funk to gospel-flavored ballads and toe-tapping pop-rock. Gary adds, ‘I wanted to reach back to that wonderful place in time when those guys were making records by themselves.’ Even his old boss Leon Russell is sold on Ogan’s infectious pop groove calling him 'a great artist and a quality record maker.’ Throughout the eleven cut Sound Ground CD, Ogan has as much soul as Stevie and he can rock and produce himeself in the finest DIY spirit of Macca and Rundgren. www.GaryOgan.com

PSYCHOTERIA MUSIC -
NYC pop-rock maven Errol Antzis—founder of Psychoteria—is a man of many talents, and one is the ability to craft and release a mind boggling array of guitar based pop-rock. The sound of instrumental guitar that was present on the first two Psychoteria albums has given rise to Errol’s 2011 CD called I Think I’ll Just Stay Home. Decked out with typical Antzis style colorful artwork, the music within features Errol in a solid pop mode, showcasing Antzis, the pop-rock vocalist / guitarist. The results are quite interesting, especially when you consider that backing up Errol on a number of tracks here is none other than Holland's fabled fusion guitar hero Jan Akkerman. One of the four instrumentals here, “The Soft And The Hard” features a fine dueling guitars effect between Errol and Jan that is a must for fusion fans while “Acting Class (POP)” sounds like Dickey Betts in the Allmans. Antzis as usual turns in a fine electric guitar performance and, assisted by drummer Jonathan Mover on the title track, he serves up a smorgasbord of ‘60s style—sometimes humorous and socially satirical—pop songs and instrumentals. The title track “I Think I’ll Just Stay Home” sounds inspired, no doubt by Errol’s endless appetite for dissecting classic pop-rock of the ‘60s—from The Monkees and Buffalo Springfield to obscure psyche-rock groups like The Left Banke and The Leaves. Beatles fans will appreciate Errol’s ringing cover of “It’s Only Love”—fusing the Fab Four fave with a jingle jangle, tambourine turning, Byrds flavored Beatles beat. www.psychoteria.com

THE FREED
- The sound of rave-up rockabilly is alive and well in Zurich Switzerland with the 2011 CD release of Beg, Borrow Or Steal from pan-European revivalists The Hillbilly Moon Explosion. You can hear elements of ‘50s rockers like Eddie Cochran and Link Wray in the mix here, while further comparisons to modern retro-rockers like Imelda May are accurate too. Fronted by singer Emanuela Hutter (vocals) and Oliver Baroni (vocals, slap bass, keys), the group also features some top performances from Duncan James (on lead and rhythm guitar and six string bass) and Luke Weyermann (drums). Ms. Hutter, in particular has a fine voice that can leap and transcend musical genres in a heartbeat. Overall, if you dig ‘50s early rock ‘n’ roll with a touch Gypsy jazz and surf-rock thrown in for good measure, then the Hillbilly Moon Explosion is for you. www.HillbillyMoon.com



INSTRUMENTAL


BLACK RILLS RECORDS - Over in Switzerland, Black Rills has a winner with the CD debut of Sick Sharks In Space. The quartet features the two guitar sound of Marc Beetschen and Bruno Berger topped off by a driving rhythm section. The overall album sound is reminiscent of Bruford-era King Crimson meets Pink Floyd or even Manzanera-esque Roxy meets Velvet Underground. Of course the entire Sick Sharks In Space album is solidly instrumental rock and with many of those bands in moth balls in 2011, SickSharksInSpace is set to amaze a whole new generation of instrumental hard rock listeners. www.BlackRills.ch

BROKEN SILENCE
- Being a huge fan of ‘60s style guitar instrumental music, I was quite impressed by the sound of the Germany based Sutcliffe, who have a number of CDs out on the Broken Silence label. The label is part of the German-based Beste! Unterhaltung company, which distributes the Broken Silence and the Nordic Notes labels. Sutcliffe made inroads into the guitar based instrumental genre with their 2009, self-titled Sutcliffe album and likewise do another fine job on the 2010 CD release on the cryptically titled Mom, Where Are The Seahorses? With the group featuring the guitars of Herr Hofer and Jupp Colt (pedal steel guitar), Sutcliffe might be considered an alternative rock version of a surf-rock band, yet sometimes break the mold by adding in a touch of ska, hip-hop, old world Europe romanticism, New Wave type rock edginess and assorted electronica grooves to their potent surf-based, alternative rock sound. In addition to the great music, the packaging of both CDs is quite impressive, making Sutcliffe a solid choice for instrumental rock fans. www.sutcliffe.de

LONG PLAY MUSIC
- Most everybody over in Finland usually speaks decent enough English yet interestingly, a majority of music over there is instrumental. Following that tradition are Finnish surf-rockers El Supernaut. Led by guitar figure Sami Paananen, the quartet strikes instro surf-rock gold with the 15 track 2011 CD Viva! Of course, the Shadows influence is always in play here and the legacy gets handed down in style thanks to Paananen’s deft skills on electric guitar. This style of music is still quite popular around the globe and El Supernaut is among the best bands of this style around these days. The Long Play music label over in Finland also draws on a different style of instrumental rock with the 2011 CD release of the self-titled Ronnie & His Twanging Little Fellow. Although falling into the instrumental rock genre, this album is just as much influenced by the boogie stomp instro rock of say Neil Young and Billy F. Gibbons rather than the Ventures or Shadows. That said, there is also a remarkable cover here of the Ventures cut “Dick Tracy,” which is credited to the axis of Bogle - Wilson - Edwards - Taylor. There’s also no one named Ronnie in the four piece band but guitarist Antti Kukkola really coaxes some wild, sonic tones from his electric guitar. Don’t forget, this is still Finland and you can even hear a few cool Nordic type, Lapland Au-go-go musical modes shifting throughout the sound. www.myspace.com/elsupernaut

MAD MONKEY
/ EMI - Back around 1986 or so, guitar pioneer Duane Eddy joined forces with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney and The Art Of Noise, to name a few, for his long awaited return to form. Hard to believe it’s taken nearly 25 years for a sequel, but in 2011 Duane returned with Road Trip—a new studio album co-produced by, and featuring U.K. guitar aficionado Richard Hawley. Touching on all aspects of Duane Eddy’s star-studded guitar career, the eleven cut Road Trip is both sentimental and modern sounding at the same time. Backed up by Hawley’s band—including guitarist Shez Sheridan, keyboard players Jon Trier, Dean Beresford (drums), and co-producer Colin Elliot—Duane cuts loose on a range of new original tracks that also features contributions from sax player Ron Dziubla, who simply wails on several cuts here. Anyone who appreciated Duane’s amazing comeback in the ‘80s with Harrison, Macca and Lynne will totally love Road Trip. Duane may be a little older and a lot wiser, yet when he plugs in his Gretsch 6120 guitar, the trip down memory lane is forever timeless. www.Duane-Eddy.com

MUSICA SLOVACA
- Let’s just say, for instance that back in late 2008, Jon Anderson rejoined YES along with Slovakian keyboardist Peter Machajdik, filling in for the Wakemans. Man oh man, that would have been something! Before you go and call the nice young men in their clean white coats, it’s not so far from reality, especially when you take a listen to Anderson’s amazing vocal performance on Machajdik’s CD, entitled Namah, which was released in early 2009. Seems no one was really talking much about this album by Peter yet, now a couple years later, it’s amazing to hear his CD. Best known for his ground breaking work in YES, Anderson sings on the five part suite here called, “Sadness Of Flowing”, which Anderson added his vocals to way back in November 2007. Composing the music here and contributing a range of electronic sounds and tapes, Machajdik is assisted not only by Jon Anderson but by some of his gifted Slovakian musician friends. This music is quite far from rock and is tempered throughout by a near avant gard, yet still quite progressive approach to classical music in the spirit of legendary geniuses like Edgard Varese and even Wendy Carlos. Anderson’s contributions may be the most accessible part of this 77 minute CD yet—featuring some of the most adventurous instrumental and wordless sonic collages most rock fans will ever hear—Namah is filled with a rare blend of atmospheric, soundtrack type music that blends, neoclassical orchestrations with a wild mix of improvisation and multimedia type sounds that truly defies descriptions. Fittingly, Machajdik is based in the city of Prague (pronounced “Prog”), capital city of the former Czechoslovakia. www.Machajdik.de

PRECISION RECORDS
- Guitarist Travis Larson has remained on the cutting edge of hard rock / metal-rock / fusion instrumental music for over a decade now and with the 2011 CD release of Soundmind he’s released his greatest musical statement yet. In the spirit of great 21st century rock instrumental bands—say for instance Chicago’s best, the Flyin’ Ryan Brothers band—the Travis Larson Band kicks up a ton of rock dust on Soundmind. Described as being ‘a lot of meat on the barbecue,’ Soundmind features Larson’s guitar blowing the roof off with the help of his long time band mates Jennifer Young (bass) and Dale Moon (drums). Described by guitar fans in the know as being state of the art, progressive rock-metal, Soundmind also features a guest appearance by Steve Morse band bass ace Dave LaRue. Instro rockers and melodic metal listeners can’t go wrong with Soundmind. www.TravisLarsonBand.com

SAULITO MUSIC -
Based in Dallas Texas, fretboard master Russ Hewitt continues refining his unique blend of acoustic-based Nuevo Flamenco and Gypsy Jazz guitar instrumentals. Sounding equally inspired by vintage flamenco, classical guitar and rhumba flamenco with a touch of glowing Santana inspired guitar moves, Hewitt clearly has the chops and, while his sound is impeccable, it’s also worth noting that on the 2011 CD release of Alma Vieja (Old Soul), Hewitt is also about emotion and feel. The notes just flow off of Hewitt's nylon string guitars and the melodies are memorable too. On the Alma Vieja album, Russ reunites once again with producer Bob Parr, and several of the key players who were also featured on the 2009 CD release of Bajo el Sol—including Steve Winwood drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr. and percussionist Rafael Padilla. Where Hewitt dazzles with his usual deft flamenco jazz sound, on track 8 here, “Las Cruces”, Hewitt also displays a rare compositional knack for composing songs that could very well turn out to be instrumental standards—for fusion, flamenco, jazz and beyond. Texas has turned out some of the great American rock and blues guitar pioneers of all time, and the American Nuevo Flamenco Jazz sound gets a solid boost with the timeless flamenco guitar groove of Alma Vieja. www.RussHewittMusic.com

SONY MUSIC MASTERWORKS
- Commenting on her new album, Guitar Passions classical guitar maven Sharon Isbin states, ‘I’m paying tribute to my guitar heroes.’ It’s that and a whole lot more on a classical guitar album that takes a number of chances. Isbin studied with Segovia at age 14 and her dedication to the classical nylon stringed guitar is beyond question. On Guitar Passions she works in her rock influences with the album featuring contributions from both Steve Vai and Steve Morse performing classical adaptations without any drums. The near fourteen minute “Adagio” from the fabled Concierto de Aranjuez features contributions from both Dixie Dregs founder Morse on electric guitar and Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo. Other artists appearing on Guitar Passions include Stanley Jordan and Nancy Wilson, from Heart singing and playing on “Dreamboat Annie” accompanied by Isbin’s delicate guitar. In addition, Guitar Passions features music from a range of Latin music territory directly—countries including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Spain. The CD booklet features some amazing photos of Ms. Isbin with her heroes including Segovia, Jobim, Barbosa-Lima and more on an album that reshapes the essence of classical guitar in the 21st century. www.SharonIsbin.com / www.SonyMasterworks.com

TEMPORARY RESIDENCE
- The Brooklyn-based Temporary Residence label is doing right by the instrumental rock genre. 25 to 30 years ago, much instrumental rock was based in Europe and England and a quarter century later, a younger generation of American musicians have truly made the genre a populist movement here in the U.S. over the past decade. One of the latest bands to make a breakthrough, out of the state of Oregon, is called Grails. Not necessarily The Grails, but just Grails as in holy grails. Although groups like Love Tractor and Djam Karet pioneered the American progressive instrumental rock sound back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, respectively, clearly there’s a lot of imagination and new directions left in the minds of these players. It’s kind of hard to put your finger exactly on what’s going on with the 2011 CD release of Deep Politics because Grails draw on a number of genres including occult / fringe culture music, film music, strings and all, cut and paste production techniques, hip-hop beats and much more. There’s some amazing guitar and drum work although the mysterious nature of the album packaging doesn’t offer much info into even the musicians names! The instrumental nature automatically means it’s much more complex and accessible at the same time. Another case in point that proves that theory is another 2011 Temporary Residence CD entitled Take Care, Take Care, Taker Care by Austin based instrumental rockers Explosions In The Sky. This latest Explosions In The Sky CD is just as cryptic as the Grails release but it’s more rock based and slightly less eclectic. Much more influenced by downtown NYC based music in the spirit of Massacre, Robert Fripp, Golden Palominos and Velvet Underground than say, the West Coast surf rock of say, The Ventures, the EITS sound is instrumental and cutting edge, often harrowing and takes no prisoners. That said, there’s plenty of sonic guitar experimentation and hard driving beats on hand to keep instrumental rock fans and avant gardists happy. www.TemporaryResidence.com


TODD NELSON MUSIC - Based in Upstate New York, guitarist Todd Nelson earned his reputation by distilling and refining his big musical influences—from Chet Atkins and Julian Bream to guitar icons Metheny, McLaughlin and Martino. Todd will make a whole lotta guitar fans happy with his 2011 CD, entitled Here, and subtitled Songs For Guitar Bass And Drums. On Here, Todd gets solid backup from his trio cohorts Kyle Esposito (fretless bass) and Manuel Quintana (drums). Nelson’s trio specializes in instrumental jazz that’s not afraid to merge in elements of improvisational jazz, rock, electronics, pop, folk and gospel music. Commenting on appealing to a world wide audience with his eclectic, guitar-centric instrumental jazz-rock, Nelson states 'I hope that they recognize that it's simply good music and it doesn't matter what people call it. If it reaches you directly through your heart, or your head, or your body or some combination of these, then it's doing what music does best, and you don't need words to enjoy it.' Over the course of the seven track CD, it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what style Nelson’s trio plays in, but the wondering aspect adds to the overall enjoyment of the album. www.ToddNelsonGuitar.com

TWEETY RECORDS - A subtle mix of mainstream jazz and a well honed mix of funky grooves, Plain ‘n’ Simple is a splendid return to form from guitarist Chuck Loeb. Throughout the 12 cut CD, Loeb conjures up some striking guitar interplay with the B-3 organ of Pat Bianchi and some solid drumming by Harvey Mason—his band mates in the group Fourplay—with added contributions from various horn players and percussionists, along with bass ace Will Lee. A pair of singers—including Brazilian vocalist Carmen Cuesta—lend their talents on the two vocal tracks here. Overall, Plain ‘n’ Simple offers a stellar distillation of Loeb’s early guitar influences—from the early jazz of Wes Montgomery with Jimmy Smith to George Benson and Kenny Burrell. www.ChuckLoeb.com

VORTEXAN MUSIC - A relatively unsung American guitar hero, Eric Johnson continues recording as a solo artist and his 2011 release of Up Close is among his best album releases to date. Placed prominently in a field of instrumental music contemporaries including such as guitar legends as Pat Metheny and Steve Morse, Johnson’s guitar status seemed somewhat overshadowed yet his albums continued to live up to the hype and the press. Like Morse and Metheny, Johnson knows the value of both melody and mood and, like a 21st century blend between Wes Montgomery and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnson can do it all. Among the Up Close instrumentals featured here are several Johnson vocals, including a pair tracks featuring guest vocalists Steve “The Joker” Miller and Jonny Lang. In an era when some labels and some artists are sadly cutting back on physical product altogether, clearly the CD release of Up Close looks like a no expenses spared design, featuring a superbly designed packaging and inserts. Throughout the CD, a number of key musicians assist in backing up Johnson’s original compositions. As an enigmatic rock fusion guitarist, Johnson always managed to make it look easy. With Up Close, the attention to sonic detail is further understated thanks to the work of a number of highly rated audio engineers, topped off by the fact that some of these tracks were mixed by highly regarded sound man Andy Johns. Sonically and musically, Up Close is Eric Johnson at his best. www.EricJohnson.com



REISSUES & RETROSPECTIVES


FIREBALL RECORDS
- Based up in Canada, The Surfdusters are fondly recalled as one of the premier instrumental rock bands of the past twenty years. In 2011, founding member Rich Hagensen has done a great job assembling a 27 track, 80 minute CD compilation highlighting the best of the Surfdusters entitled Save The Waves. Currently receiving much praise in the U.K. press, including surf-rock aficionados from Pipeline magazine, The Surfdusters line their sound with what could best be described as vintage or classic instro rock, while infusing their brand of rock with some finely honed modern edges. There’s plenty of Ventures style instrumental guitar magic on the CD while other influences here includes, of course, legends like The Shadows, Davie Allan & The Arrows and Santo & Johnny. In his fairly in depth CD liner notes, Hagensen details the history of the group while mentioning the various guitarists who contribute both their sound and songs to the group over the years. Funny how a bunch of these instrumental rockers ended up appearing on the now famous “Spongebob Squarepants” cartoon series. Funny stuff, but The Surfdusters are quite serious in their approach to instro rock perfectionism. Contact: surfdust@telus.net

HEAR MUSIC
/ MPL - Back in the summer of 1980 you had to feel sorry for Paul McCartney. It was sometime around then, that early summer period of ‘80, that John Lennon announced he was returning to the recording studio and was, actually in fact, well into the process of producing some of what would become some of his enduring melodies and lyrics based songs. Anyway, in the months leading up to that summer of 1980...bang / boom, Paul got busted for ganja in Japan—abandoned in a Tokyo jail by Denny Laine, who beat the rap. (so Denny, the half pound was all for Paul?) It seemed that checking out his new stuff that summer of 1980, Paul was just getting primed again, going back to his roots (check out Paul’s ironic Hank Marvin impersonation in the “Coming Up” video). In some ways the 1980 album release of McCartney II, is perhaps the karmic sequel to McCartney—his now contentious solo debut following the transformation of The Beatles into four solo acts by early 1970. Of course we know what was supposed to happen. By late 1985—as a result of the paradigm shift from black vinyl to CD, and the untold millions stood to be made by suchlike—the four original Beatles were set to reform for a world tour reunion in 1986, accompanied only by keyboard genius and Moody Blues founder Mike Pinder—who himself is directly responsible for informing John and Paul and George and Ringo about the mellotron, the instrument directly responsible for some of the most pioneering music of the Beatles and Moody Blues and countless other bands that this fortuitous alliance started. Anyway, compared to the ingenious music Lennon was set to unveil before it ended so wrong for him, (think Buddy Holly, even in the raw and under dubbed state, with some of the most promising music of his career) the music on McCartney II is everything we’d grown in that decade to admire about Paul (the ingenious under / over production AND the occasional D-I-Y excess). As was sometimes in case in the late period Beatles, Paul’s excesses are tempered on McCartney II overall by his finesse in the studio and an unfettered sense of glee at, perhaps, ten years after at the thought of shaking off the shackles of Wings and imagine the possibilities... Anyway, newcomers and anyone who missed McCartney I & II—now 31 and 41 years after the fact—are advised to pick up on the latest CD remasters on Hear Music, distributed by Concord Music Group. Don’t expect sonic miracles here, (for that so far pick up the Hear Music reissue of Band On The Run) but yet repackaged again, this time as double CD sets complete with a number of bonus tracks rarities and new packaging design, McCartney I & II once again provides fresh insights into McCartney at his most whimsical and innovative. www.ConcordMusicGroup / www.PaulMcCartney.com

OMNIVORE RECORDINGS
- Back in the mid ‘70s, a Leon Russell concert was a lot like going to church—heaven and hell and rock and roll, Leon style. Anyway, the maestro is well represented on Leon Russell Live In Japan—a 2011 CD remaster of live Leon Russell show (and subsequent nine track ‘74 Japan only Lp release, recorded live on November 8th, 1973 at the Budokan Hall in Japan. The 16 track CD features the original Live In Japan topped off with seven additional Russell classics, recorded live in Houston, TX on April 22, 1971. For both shows, Leon is backed up by a solid band, while the CD features some hot fretboard work from guitar aces Wayne Perkins and Joey Cooper. Ever the multi-tasker, Russell also straps on his Les Paul on the first track “Heaven”. With so much going on here, the original nine cut Live In Japan has got to be one of Leon’s great live recordings. The Japan show was superbly recorded and Leon sounds completely in control. In fact, turning the show into a revival of sorts, Leon whips the unusually sedate Japanese crowds to a fever pitch like some cosmic preacher, making this a sound to behold. Commenting on the first US reissue of Live In Japan, Leon adds, ‘I am excited to hear the Live In Japan album myself, having not heard these tapes in so many years. The band on the show was very inspiring to me, and I think this is the kind of Leon Russell show that fans remember best.’ Designing a comprehensive CD booklet to accompany the album, Omnivore has done a fine job bringing out this vintage sonic relic from the legendary master of time and space. www.OmnivoreRecordings.com / www.LeonRussellRecords.com

VENTURE X MUSIC
- Founding lead guitarist Bob Bogle, of The Ventures, passed away in 2008 yet his legacy lives on in sound with the 2010 Ventures album Hawaii Five-0. Released on the recently established Venture-X Music label, the 16 track CD features original artist re-recordings of songs the Ventures made famous way back in the ‘60s topped off by a new version of the famous “Hawaii Five-0” theme song from the famed TV show, which debuted in 1968. Scanning the cover art you can see that most of the surviving Ventures are featured on this new collection of recent reworkings of songs surf-rock fans know by heart, along with a few surprises. Bob Bogle’s founding partner, the great Don Wilson still packs a mean rhythm guitar punch and on the back of the CD jacket you can also see the names of current Ventures drummer Leon Taylor and his dad—Ventures drumming great Leon Taylor. Also performing on this 2010 Hawaii Five-0 CD are more Ventures guitar favorites including Nokie Edwards, Gerry McKee and Bob Spaulding. Also dropping by—imparting tasty guitar on a pair of track—are the great Duane Eddy and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, while sax great Edgar Winter also appears here on a track. Commenting on the release, Ventures manager, (and Mel Taylor’s wife) Fiona Taylor adds, ‘The track with Duane was cut in 1997—Leon's first recording session with The Ventures. The tracks are from all different times—the guys did so many sessions in the 1990’s and early 2000’s that they have a huge catalog of material to work with. Mel was on "Truth", "Two On The Beach" and "Follow Your Heart".’ Surf rock is still huge all over the world, while millions of aspiring guitarists continue to cut their teeth while learning chords and arrangements to the all time Ventures song classic “Walk, Don’t Run”. Now a half century later, the legacy of the Ventures is still alive and well on this classic compilation. www.TheVentures.com


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