Artwork Credit: sfphotocraft
Friday, December 25, 2009
Artwork Credit: sfphotocraft
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
After all, I've been listening to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, BTO and others since the early 1970s. Since then I've picked up a taste for UFO, KISS, Scorpions, Winger, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, P.O.D, Machinae Supremacy, Nanowar, and an entire host of metal bands that carry on the hard traditions of the early days. It's almost a given that if you were to ride in my truck, chances are there would be an axe grinding on the stereo. It's just me. Old habits die hard, or not at all.
It might come as a surprise to some that I also like it soft. From time to time I prefer music that doesn't bounce an eardrum, fuzz out an SG on overload, or incorporate a cowbell. Sometimes the quiet life is exactly what I need. For some reason I'm fond of Windham Hill recordings from the late 1970s and early 1980s. I'm specific about the time period because I haven't bought a Windham Hill disc in over 20 years. I know...it's like an F350 driver admitting that he likes to drive his wife's Miata. Think what you like; I'm comfortable with who I am. If you're not familiar with the Windham Hill sound, think of stripped down melodies, built from piano and very little else. The songs can evoke the vision of an old house in winter, a wood floor and a warm fire after dark, or the feeling of your loved one nearby. Sure, the dichotomy is obvious here. Who would have thought a middle-aged headbanger with an English degree would take to the light sounds of piano and flute? Go figure.
Maybe it's the melodies. Maybe it's the choice of notes, or possibly even the memories that surround me whenever I hear songs done in this style. No matter what the reason might be, Kendra Springer's freshman effort "Hope" is a great one to sample the sound. While some piano players are mechanically proficient, in these songs I hear style and feeling. Not perfect, but then I'm not asking it to be. What I ask for in a recording of this kind is to cry. Seriously. I want to shed a tear with every key change. I want the song to tell a story to my soul without a single word. The feeling can be in every keystroke, chord change, or the echoing fade as the song finishes. Perfection doesn't do that. Soul and spirit do. In the title song you can hear the sadness, the desire for companionship, and the long gaze into a future that may or may not include the love sought with a desperate fervency. And the story continues, track after track. It speaks successfully to the heart of a man who is approaching his 40th anniversary of hearing Zeppelin for the first time. Any ivory commando who can do that gets a ribbon, and a post on this blog.
Try it for yourself. This is music for winding down. If your wound tight (like I am sometimes), close your eyes and hear the story that the piano tells. You might have to listen to the album a couple times, but it's worth the repeat as I hear something different each round. Download from the Music Link posted below, or listen to it right here if you see the embedded player.
I think you'll find that a fuzzed-out SG isn't a requirement when speaking to your soul.
Artwork Credit: billtex48
Music Link: http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/55571?refuid=630488
Artist Link: http://www.kendraspringer.com/
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Onslow's Demo 2006 is more proof that Germans rock hard. Really hard. Hard like Eastern bloc Soviet-era concrete apartment complexes. Heavy like Melvins, but faster. Dark like Black Sabbath with more fidelity. The steady driving rhythm pulls you in, and headbanging becomes as uncontrollable as a muscle spasm. This instrumental demo makes the most of tight musicianship, accurate percussion, and unchecked energy.
Only problem is this: There's not enough Onslow to go around! The demo is only 25 minutes long, and every minute of it is like a audio bath in guitar goodness. All instrumental. The first track "624" starts quietly (as quiet as German Stoner Rock can be), and about a minute later explodes into a stew of volume and power chords. Perfect for those mornings when you have absolutely no motivation to do anything at all.
Motivation: courtesy of Onslow.
Artwork Credit: tomanthony
Music Link 1: http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/8620
Music Link 2: http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=633820
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Sekshun 8 released Black Winged Butterfly in 2009, but its sound is authentic early Nineties. In short, it rocks. Rocks like there's no tomorrow. Rocks at a volume that simply asks for more volume. It is the reason for the 11 on your volume control. Don't have an 11? Then twist it to 10 and attach the headphones to your ears with duct tape. You will hear licks and beats which pay honor to Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, early Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice In Chains. My suspicion is that - at 15 - these guys were much like me.
In fact, "Watch the Burn" is written with the voice of someone at that age - the ultimate rebel, akin to Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" or "School's Out." It's about the kid down your street, the one with the dead flatbed Ford in the yard and the old dryer on the front porch. You know him; he took a wiffle ball bat to your rose bushes in the front yard last summer, and knocked over your garbage cans after you complained to his parents.
Together the songs "Three Blocks" and "Hooked" create a study in two ends of a lifestyle. The first song describes the pleasures some feel with over-indulgence through partying and drugs, while the second one describes in detail the sad results from doing so. While I will neither embrace nor endorse the lifestyle portrayed here, I will embrace the music as catchy, heavy, and thought provoking. Both songs go into overtime in painting a picture through words. I can feel the excitement of the first song, anticipating the all-night party that is only three blocks away. I can also feel the sickness and helplessness of Hooked as someone figures out they have taken too much of something and just want it to go away. Not a good place to be. If someone can listen to Hooked and then think that the druggie life is cool, then they need a lot more help than this album can provide. Understand this: I know from personal experience that this lifestyle tends to destroy a lot of lives - more than it helps. The subject matter is nothing to make light of. It's heavy stuff, because the end can be lonely and cold for anyone who crosses the wrong line. Maybe it was the band's goal to send the message that "life can be fun, but without self-control it will go straight down the toilet."
"Zombie Baby" keeps the visuals coming, creepy visuals that are like a window into the soul of someone who cannot love anything with bodily warmth. Alice In Chains - if they haven't heard it already - would be proud.
Check it out for yourself. You can download the album for free at the music link below, or listen to it here if you see the embedded player.
Artwork Credit: Sekshun 8
Music Link 1: http://www.jamendo.com/en/artist/Sekshun_8
Band Website: http://sekshun8.sunsetrecordings.com/
Blog Link: http://belredroad.blogspot.com/search/label/Sekshun8
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Click the embedded player to hear the song. If you don't see it, click HERE to listen and download for free at Archive.org!
Photo Credit: Archie McPhee
Music Link: Critical Mass Featuring The Lazy American
Friday, October 9, 2009
My friend Brett is a huge KISS fan. Been that way as long as I can remember. He can rattle off facts, figures, progressions, playing styles etc. like nobody in the world. A couple of nights ago (literally, not figuratively), he posted a link at 2am on Facebook, for this YouTube Video of KISS playing on Letterman. After watching it, I was stunned at how tight they are and how much they still sound like the old days.
Put simply, I'm buying their new album!
Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkprg4kYI8I
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Who wrote the rules that state German Metal must rock harder than most? I never saw the communique, but I certainly approve. Scorpions have hammered their way through the decades like no other band. Michael Schenker - wunderkind of the axe - did time with some of Europe's biggest rock names. Uli Jon Roth is a true original whose creativity and howling axe work still bounces off the walls of concert halls around the Old World. While much of society equates German music to Electronika or Kraftwerk, I think of rock - hard, heavy, and well-crafted. The Unimog of the music world. Black Sheep by Mad Mav follows that tradition of German craftsmanship.
It has about a much bass response as you can get, short of driving a lowered 1987 Fleetwood with a bass tube in the trunk. The scratch guitar work is relentless, pushing the message hard through every track. There isn't one word spoken throughout the entire album; the music does all the yelling. A nice piece of trivia here is that Mad Mav is one guy. He does everything. Talk about 'creative control.' When you consider this is a solo project, the craftsmanship kicks up to a different level. And overall this is a capable album. Functional. Correct in every way. The mix is a headphone lovers paradise, so long as they're Seventies-style over-the-ear headphones. It even has the customary Evil Child artwork on the cover, modus operandi for any Metal album.
But it's repetitious.
Most of the tracks are great individually; they evoke the sense of an 18-wheeler running hammer down through a bad neighborhood at 65mph. Even a pair of 18-wheelers makes a ripping convoy. But when I listen to the entire album - track after track - it starts to sound the same. Think of it as a truck stop. You've got a bunch of trucks outside. They all look different. Different brand names. Some are idling quietly, while others are moving out and grinding gears. But they're all trucks. At a truck stop you learn to accept that you're surrounded by big rigs. With Black Sheep, you too can learn accept that many of the tracks have the same sound, beat, and even key. After all, this is the Truck Stop of Metal. So given the description, this poses the question, "Is there room in this world for Repetitive German Metal?"
The answer is a resounding and reverberating Yes.
Hey, not everything in this world can be unique at all times. This makes great background music, possibly because of the style and lack of vocals. Black Sheep shines as an album that can be played - in its entirety at full volume - while conducting such repetitious tasks as:
- Cut Rib Eye Roasts
- Hang Sheetrock
- Stir Tar
- Wack Weeds
- Cut Logs
- Wash and Wax four cars
- Dance mindlessly for hours in a sweaty Seattle warehouse with 180 disaffected twenty-somethings
- Display and unleash overwhelming affection for a loved one in a long-term overnight fling
My favorite tracks are 1, 5, and 9:
- The title track Black Sheep builds up with haunting sounds, and launches quickly into a driving assault of scratchy guitar and tight percussion. The vocal chorus and high-pitched solo guitar notes give it a gothic sound reminiscent of stone buildings and tall ceilings.
- If the act of building the Empire State Building had a song, it would have been Freak on a Trip. Various industrial sounds, coupled with repetition, make a song that sounds like a construction project.
- Pia.nist brings out the desperate sounds of a piano, keyboards, and a slowly-building wall of heavy bass tied to multiple guitars. The layering sets the mood of a man who has lost everything, looking towards either a future without hope or possibly a well-planned demise. Think of Elton John's Funeral For A Friend and GnR's September Rain, both songs with the same feeling.
Artwork Credit: Mad Mav
Music Link: http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/27181
Monday, October 5, 2009
The recent death of Lucy - inspiration for Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds - has brought the 40-year old song to the forefront of search engines all over the world, thus giving the song notoriety with yet another generation. We all know the Beatles version; in fact you can still find a the song clip from Yellow Submarine on YouTube. But how many other versions of this popular song were done? More specifically, how many scary versions of this song were ever done? I can think of at least one with enough "Umm...yeah..." to last a lifetime.
And who better than the King of Over-Acting to sing/speak Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds? William Shatner's spoken word version of this psychedelic classic has long been a favorite moaner and groaner with Star Trek fans for generations (yeah, literally generations at this point). The cadence and delivery probably had everyone scratching their heads when it was released. Not much has changed. Listen for yourself!
If you don't see the embedded player above, click HERE to hear it directly from Blip.fm!
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/melissa/
Music Link: http://blip.fm/BelRedRoad...
Friday, October 2, 2009
French Metal. Yeah. French. Usually when I think of European metal bands, they come from Sweden, Germany, or Norway (if you're looking for the really hard stuff). French metal was never on my radar. Jamendo turned me around on all things related to French music. I'll admit to thinking well within stereotype in terms of style - lots of ballads done on accordians with lots of referenced to "l`amore." I never thought I would ever ever hear French metal worthy of a Seattle high-five to the spirit of Grunge.
This band rips up the tracks, with heavy bass, soaring solos, grinding rhythms, unique time signatures, and very few vocals. In fact, only two or three of the songs have any vocals at all. Instrumental Metal is one of my favorite listening choices; don't know why...it just is. The title track will take you back about 17 years, when Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots laid their souls on the airwaves. Effective use of piano and classic licks give the entire album a diverse feel that works will within a particular style.
If I were to ask for one thing on this album, it would have that the tracks with vocals be mixed so the vocals could be heard better. Other than that, I'm syncing this on just about every MP3 player I can find.
Listen for yourself. If you don't see the embedded player below, click HERE to listen to to the album at Jamendo!
Album Page Link: http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/15085?refuid=630488
Thursday, October 1, 2009
I spend a lot of time on Jamendo. This place is like a treasure chest of new sounds. Best part is that all the music there is Creative Commons: download and enjoy.
Paolo Pavan's album, while short here at six songs, was a satisfying experience. Great mood music while you're doing something else. Heck, right now I'm listening to it while my kid's show on Sprout is blaring in the background and I'm still enjoying it. Sweet!
Have a listen. If you like jazz with few embellishments, this one may be for you.
For the record, I'm not a musician. However, I am a world-class stereo operator and vinyl collector. Music is the bomb.