REVIEW: Why?’s “Eskimo Snow”

free image hosting Why?‘s Eskimo Snow (Anticon) was recorded the same time their Alopecia album was made, and apparently it was meant to be released as two separate albums. You can consider them flip sides of the same coin, or just two albums done at the same time, but for you it means another collection of Why? songs to dig and get emotional with.

Their brand of anti-folk at times comes off like the kind of sentiment one doesn’t expect for a man to sing, but here it is, songs about self-reflection (“These Hands”), occasionally longing for days gone by (“Even The Good Wood Gone”), or the mysterious of a confusing world and live as one tries to understand ones purpose on this planet (“Eskimo Snow”). Or if it’s not anti-folk, it can be outsider country, or loner blues, but isn’t some of the best country music made by self-proclaimed outsiders and lonely bluesmen looking for a sip, scent, and song? In a track like “In The Shadows Of My Embrace”, Yoni Wolf sings with innocent openness “I conquered my own childhood silence and now the world is my lit confessional marquee/but it’d take a busload of high school soccer girls to wash those hospitals off me”, only for him to make more revelations that he knows he shouldn’t but “you got to yell something that you’ll never tell nobody”, and that is exactly what he has done on Eskimo Snow and the many albums and singles he has released over the years. It may be as effective as confessing your secrets to a wall or tree, and at least under the guise of Why? there are many walls and trees to bump into in one’s life.

REVIEW: The Hidden Cameras’ “Origin:Orphan”

free image hosting The Hidden Cameras are a group created by the master known as Joel Gibb, and immediately I sense you are going “well damn, a master? Who is this Gibb kid?” Well for one, I don’t know if he’s a kid, and most likely not. Most likely he is not related to the famous Gibb brothers of Barry, Maurice, Robin, and Andy, even though one of the songs here (“He Falls To Me”) sounds like an incredible tribute to The Bee Gees pre-1972. So what makes him a master?

Origin: Orphan (arts & crafts) is perfect ear candy for fans of psychedelic and power pop, complete with layers of vocals, wrong-yet-somehow-right placement of echo and reverb, and nonsense lyrics that somehow still sounds good in the context of the song. I’m talking specifically about “In The NA”, where the title is repeated in every line by line and we never really know what exactly is in the NA or what may be going in or out of the NA, but it doesn’t matter: you are spellbound by what the NA may or may not be and that’s fine. It reminds me of the kind of pop music one was willing to give a shot in the 60’s and 70’s, as if The Partridge Family and The Cowsills were given ludes by the guys in the Bay City Rollers or something equally bizarre. It doesn’t sound like an album that was released in 2009, but by looking at the pop music that came before us, it allows us to see and hear the formulas that worked, revealing that this is very much about the future. Or maybe that good music is simply timeless, and this will no doubt be timeless 40 years down the line.

Then to add confusion into the mix, there’s a song here that sounds like The Thompson Twins. Is that when the ludes kicked in? I have no idea, but whatever worked must’ve been good, and I’d like for it to be breaded onto my chicken.

REVIEW: Sarah Corman’s “Happy Little Tune”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Not having any idea who or what this was, I looked at the cover and did something that I normally don’t do and something I always tell my readers not to do either; I attempted to judge things by the cover. Yeah, that’s not exactly good. The cover of Sarah Corman‘s Happy Little Tune looked like it could be an indie pop album, with the singer in a dress appearing to be dancing and spinning. Could it be like Lisa Loeb? Melissa Etheridge? No idea. The back cover photo of her had the top of her head cut-off but it looked like it could’ve been taken with a cell phone or maybe she was in a photo booth. Inside of the digipak showed her with her musician friends, and it looked spirited. To me, it looked like it would be welcoming, so I put the CD in.

I really liked the music, musicianship, and arrangements on this album, especially how The Beatles‘ “Honey Pie”, Fleetwood Mac‘s “Never Going Back Again”, Joni Mitchell‘s “Both Sides Now”, and a song from the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory soundtrack, “Pure Imagination”, are played. Unfortunately, what turned me off was her voice. She sounded like Lois from Family Guy, and I am a huge fan of the actress/comedienne who plays Lois. But imagine Lois combined with Johnny Mathis and you get a sense of what Corman sounds like here. I did like her original compositions (she has three here) and I would like to hear them performed by others. I was going to type out the word “unfortunate”, but maybe that’s inappropriate. Corman is just not to my liking, but she does have incredible potential to contribute material for the 21st century songbook.

REVIEW: Sylvia Bennett’s “It’s Christmas Time”

free image hosting Trying to find the perfect Christmas CD for grandma, but the mass heap of music out there makes you confused? Check out Sylvia Bennett‘s It’s Christmas Time (Out Of Sight), a pleasant 10-song collection featuring seven holiday classics and three brand new originals, two of them co-written by Bennett herself.

The music is adult contemporary pop and the standards are of course performed faithful to how people know them. They include “Winter Wonderland”, “Silent Night”, “Silver Bells”, and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”. The originals will hopefully become standards in the years to come, including the album opener “A Rainbow Christmas”, along with “Wrap You Up For Christmas” and “Christmas Lights”. If you are a fan of The Carpenters‘ Christmas albums, you will definitely enjoy this disc, and it doesn’t go overboard with anything you or your grandmother do not want to hear.

REVIEW: Melba Moore & Phil Perry’s “The Gift Of Love”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic A recent episode of Unsung on TV One made people realize the many ups and downs singer Melba Moore has had in her career. With the help of Shanachie Records, she has teamed up with Phil Perry for an album that puts her back into the spotlight once again. The Gift Of Love has them doing primarily covers with a small hint of original tunes from Perry, and the album opens with a personal favorite, a cover of Sounds Of Blackness‘ “Optimistic”. They show how great they are, and how great they are together, on a song that still works 20 years after the fact.

Another great performance of them is their cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “Weakness”, which he wrote and recorded for The Woman In Red soundtrack. It’s a nice ballad that will definitely be some nice mood music for those special moments. Also here are two Ashford & Simpson compositons made famous by Marvin Gaye & Terri Terrell, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

If there’s a song that stands out as something exceptional, it would have to be “We’ll Be Together, Then”, written by Dwayne C. Palmer. In this song, Moore takes the lead and while the background vocals are shared by three people, there’s a primary male vocal that stands out in this song. It’s credited to Vonquest but I’m not sure if it’s Gary Vonquest. Nonetheless, he and the arrangement from Palmer is exceptional, very reminiscent of Howard Hewett and Tony! Toni! Tone!-era Raphael Saadiq and in better times, this would be promoted with a classy video and a push that would make this a hit single. Moore’s performance sounds like some of Patti LaBelle‘s best, but in truth it’s one of Moore’s best and you can now hear why she has moved people in the last 40 years.

If there’s one downside, it’s the smooth jazz approach to some (read “some”) of the songs, where everything is synthesized and computerized, songs that would have sounded a lot better if it sounded less plastic and more down to Earth. The songs that do work on this album, they should have done more like that. Nonetheless, it is a Gift that will keep on giving, and one must give thanks to The Gift Of Love that they have chosen to share. Perry as always is in fine form with his vocals, and perhaps it will get more people to explore their collective catalogs, especially Moore. With luck, it will also bring more work her way too.

REVIEW: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s “One Day In Brooklyn”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The idea of how one should “expect the unexpected” is maybe a played out cliche, and one that I admit to using a lot to describe songs or albums by bands that offer a bit of adventure. In this case, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are a jazz group who are adventurous, but fans have come to expect that adventure in everything that they do. If that’s a nicer way of saying “expect the unexpected”, so be it. On their brand new One Day In Brooklyn (Kinnara/The Royal Potato Family) the group have expanded for a moment to a quartet, adding Chris Combs on lap steel to add new twists to their always-changing approach to music.

Let’s get The Beatles reference out of the way, because there is one here. The new album features a well-arranged rendition of “Julia”, expanded from the song’s original 2:54 length to an incredible 7 minutes, where it at times sounds like those luxurious George Shearing-type albums from the early 60’s. Brian Haas has always been brilliant on the piano, but here he just takes the emotion and sentiment of the song and brings it home. But then the group wants to open the door to their “home” and start exploring.

“Country Girl” has the group mixing up jazz with a nod to country with the help of Combs and his lap steel guitar, but at one point the lap steel goes into a completely different direction and it sounds like a Mellotron. Psychedelic prog rock jazz? I don’t know, but the moment in the song when it makes that shift, it’s exciting to hear and feel but… is that the unexpected or simply expecting the “anything goes” attitude of this group? Their renditions of Abdullah Ibrahim‘s “Imam” and Rahsaan Roland Kirk‘s “The Black & Crazy Blues/A Laugh For Rory (For Joel Dorn)” (from Kirk’s The Inflated Tear album) are moving and will definitely appeal to fans of these two great jazz journeyman, for Haas, Josh Raymer (drums), and Matt Hayes (bass) have been a part of this exploration too, now joined by Combs.

It’s being promoted as an EP, but at 35 minutes this is legally a full length LP. But if the JFJO continue to make music like this, the format is of course important. For years the group have often been compared to modern jazz trios, but these guys are in their own league, their fans have known this for years. If the music on this is meant to represent One Day In Brooklyn, I think it would be a beautiful place to live in and be inspired to create.


REVIEW: Ellynne Plotnick’s “Life Is Beautiful”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic One look at the cover and I thought “well, this is yet another vocal jazz album” and at times I hesitate to listen because as I’ve explained many times before, most of the time it’s just not something I want to listen to ever. But what thrilled me about the pathway to her voice is how full her backing band sounds, and once she started to sing… let me just say that she didn’t need the thrill of the band to move me. Instead what I heard was someone who metaphorically said “thank you band, now it’s my time to shine”, and shine she does.

I’m speaking of Ellynne Plotnick, whose album Life Is Beautiful (Princess Monkey) is a remarkable listen from start to finish, because her voice is moving, powerful, and something you must here. She is indeed someone who sings jazz and pop, but she does so in a way where she doesn’t sound like a stereotypical jazz and pop singer. She’s not a showoff-y vocalist, someone who does a lot of vocal gymnastics only to fell over the initial “scooby-de-bweep bweep bweep”, in fact she’s not like that. I don’t know of chanteuse is the right world, or even loungy. I will say that Plotnick’s voice has a lot of character, whether it’s the sensuous side, the bold tones, or the simple fact that this lady can sing. What makes this even more appealing is the fact that she had a hand in all of the songs (taking full credit for 8 of the 10 songs, and co-writing the other two), so this isn’t someone who just loves jazz because her husband gave her money to enjoy her hobby. She sounds like someone who truly wants to explore this music with her fans and the world, and she does so in a way that shows how talented she is. Or at least partial talent, for I think she has a few surprises awaiting on future projects.

REVIEW: Tom Braxton’s “Endless Highway”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Endless Highway (Pacific Coast Jazz) begins with a nice chicken scratch guitar played through a wah-wah before a very boppy beat comes in and almost ruins the song. But what I want to hear is the saxophone work of Tom Braxton, and he sets himself apart from what’s going on around him in this song. The guy can play, and despite his mundane backdrop, I was entertained enough to want to hear more.

Fortunately the musicianship gets better as the album goes along. The majority of the songs are originals, whether it’s by Braxton or his bandmates. They keep to the jazz structure but they mix up pop and smooth jazz elements to create a very accessible sound that would be perfect at wineries or picnics. That’s not a slam to him or his music, but that’s what I hear. His version of America‘s “Venture Highway” is smoothed out with a soprano sax and acoustic guitar, and almost sounds like something that would be covered by Hawaiian groups with much success.

I like Braxton’s playing, so if you are a fan of smooth or pop jazz, this is a perfect addition to your collective. I would love to hear for him to get into some serious jams,something that goes beyond 4-6 minute song lengths.

REVIEW: Torben Snekkestad’s “Conic Folded”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Avant-garde jazz appeals to me because here’s a music that has form but goes out of its way to create it with no form. Add to it an avant-garde mentality and it’s freedom of the highest order. That is what you get with Torben Snekkestad, who plays saxophones and clarinet along with Jon Balke on piano and prepared piano and Jonas Westerrgaard on bass) on Conic Folded (ILK).

It’s an album that takes on different textures and themes and one can only imagine certain concepts and scenarios unfolding itself to reveal new textures and themes. The beauty of some of these songs are revealed slowly but surely and the end result is fantastic, as is the case with “September”, “Seated Man”, or “Lovetann”, while others are more like a spaniard in the works (“Francis Faced #2). Then you have tracks like “Noodles or Icecream, Sir?” and “E.P. Flowers” where you’re simply mesmerized as what these three are doing, especially Snkkestad where at times it’s as if his saxophone is an actual voice. But Snekkestad and his many voices are heard hear, and they deserve a lot of uninterrupted attention. The detail of his work on this is really astonishing.

REVIEW: Torben Ulrich & Soren Kjærgaard’s “Suddenly, Sound: 21 songlines for piano, drainpipe, etc.”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Now this was an interesting listen.

Torben Ulrich and Soren Kjærgaard united to create a collection of sounds while in Seattle two summers ago. They brought a wide range of items that made sound, everything from Chinese steel balls and a jar of dice to a drainpipe and marbles, and went into the studio to make something. In this case, Suddenly, Sound 21 songlines for piano, drainpipe, etc. (ILK) consists of 21 pieces, I don’t know if you’d even call them proper songs but proper this isn’t. You’ll hear someone tapping something, leading to Ulrich speaking over it. The page is so slow that I felt like pulling my hair a few times. Arguably it goes nowhere, but there’s an objective in hearing 50 minutes of nowhere. I mean, there’s a steady pace throughout, but don’t listen to this for deep rhythms (although in truth there are a few sections that are worthy for sampling).

It’s poetry spoken over sounds, with each layer being revealed one by one at an eerie pace, that you can’t help but just wonder in amazement “what is this?” But allow each layer to make itself known and you’ll sense something, even if the objective mentioned in the last paragraph is not made clear.