Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Heavy: Great Vengeance And Furious Fire

Written by Puño Estupendo

British act The Heavy have some obvious good taste in music. Soul bits and funk grooves deftly come come together on their disc Great Vengeance And Furious Fire and singer Swaby channels his best Curtis Mayfield throughout. Hipster production values, a DJ kind of mix to it all, they kind of throw an attitude right up front and center. Therein lies its problem: it's too forced, I don't buy it. If there is such a thing as retro-retro, then The Heavy have it cinched up. It's as if they're hearkening back to the distant days of the long-lost early '90s and imitating the retro funk that was happening then as opposed to doing something actually new or refreshing. All the kinks of this type of music have already been worked out so there's nothing really ballsy about what they've done here. You wouldn't know it by listening to the band though. They come off fairly "We're the shit" and it's pretty obvious they think they're much slicker than they actually are.

"That Kind Of Man" is the greatest song from a sequel soundtrack that doesn't exist to Pulp Fiction that I've ever heard. The horns and laid back, catchy but kind of scratchy beat, is not a bad thing at all. It just seems kind of dated, dated to a time that isn't really old enough to legitimately dip back into yet. Swaby's voice really is nice though and gives the band a little bit of soul cred but strictly because of his Mayfield similarities. "Our Special Place" is a nice track as well, but The Gorillaz kind of have the sound cinched up for awhile.

Y'see what I'm getting at here?

This is a good album, and I'd lay bets that The Heavy sound great with this live, but I just found myself saying "this sounds like this, and that sounds like that". Nothing bad on this album but no amount of slick production and snotty attitude can make up for the lack of originality here.

Dethklok - House Of Blues Chicago - 6/16/08

Written by Puño Estupendo

When Brendon Small put a live band together last fall to hit college campuses and play the music of his Adult Swim show Metalocalypse, tickets were only available to the students of those same campuses and a few Myspace fans. You can well imagine how frustrated this left fans who were dying to see this version of Dethklok live but were harshly denied access to what promised to be brutal goodness. I got to see their Carbondale, Illinois show on this tour and thought it was amazing but still kind of rough in some areas. This smaller campus tour obviously proved that a bigger, traditional venue tour was warranted and so guitarist/singer/creator Small grabbed his live guys once again and got to it.

Standing outside the House Of Blues Chicago, several things were just a little off kilter for me. For one thing, it seemed way too early to be going to a club. The ticket listed a 5:30 pm door opening and there were teenagers all over the place, but not enough to visually support a sold-out show. This was a good thing to me, as I generally hate all-ages shows and was hoping for more of the "Adult" fans of Adult Swim than Billy and Bobby traveling down from Wisconsin for their first concert ever. Don't misunderstand, I realize everybody has to have their first show, but I'm an aged show veteran and there's only so many "Oh my God" and "Fucking fuck fuck fuck shit fuck" statements you can overhear before you want to strangle all of them. The benefit that a show gets from this however, is that a palpable "want" starts creeping around. Energy starts building and people just look over at each other with a grin and a nod, that eye contact that says "It's coming." It's for this very reason that I felt a little sorry for openers Soilent Green and Chimaira, both of whom were great. Both bands sounded good, were extremely tight (which is a must for this type of music) and worked well with the crowd, but for all of that there was no question what the crowd really wanted, what Billy and Bobby had traveled down from Wisconsin for, what had people huddled together with their "Oh my God's" and "I can't wait's." The crowd had since grown to capacity since my earlier observation and Chicago's hardcore had shown up in full, which seemed to make some of the young'uns a little nervous but it added to the excitement at the same time.

When the lights went down and Dethklok hit their first riff, the crowd went ape-shit. The floor started swirling from the pit outward and people were yelling at full strength. Each time a song came to a close, everyone was almost leaning forward to hear what the next song was going to be. Upon every opening note, friends would turn and look at each other the second they realized what song it was and just give a silent "fuck yeah." This never went away, from the start of their set to the end, the crowd was genuinely salivating for every song.

This was essentially the same show that I had seen on the college tour, but more refined. The band sounded better, the show went a little smoother, and Brendon seemed more at ease than when I had seen them before. On the screen flying as backdrop for the band, there were animations that ran completely in sync with the songs. In the murder checklist segment of "Murmaider," the items being named were on screen as they were being sung about. After every few songs, segments of Metalocalypse that were made specifically for the live show ran while the band took a quick break off stage. Funny, uncensored, and a big hit with the fans, I'll be very disappointed if these clips don't make it on to their next DVD release.

The musicians Small chose to join him were just dead on. Small is a very good guitar player (to say the least) and Mike Keneally matched him note for note on not only the riffs but the leads as well. Bassist Bryan Bellar added low end that made the crunch of the show hit you in the chest, but yet it wasn't muddy at all. When performing Death Metal live, keeping that low end mud out of there is not an easy thing to do and between Bryan's tone and the guy handling the mix, they nailed it. Very impressed with that actually. The drums? Forget about it. Gene Hoglan is sick, a fucking machine. That double bass was so disgustingly tight; there were just too many times I was shaking my head in disbelief. They definitely have clicked together and the music was just everything you would want it to be.

A nice highlight happened around the end of the show. The lights were down and Brendon started doing voices into the mic. This was definitely a change of pace as he didn't do this at the Carbondale show. All of a sudden Nathan Explosion, Skwisgaar Skwigelf and Pickles the drummer were heard aloud, a conversation of three coming from one. This seemed to be the culmination of Small being more comfortable with things this time around. I thought it was kind of funny that he only did it with the lights down, but he seems to have a certain honest humility about him which just adds to the loyalty of the fans. From the quality of this show, it's a loyalty that was well deserved.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Railroad Earth: Amen Corner

Written by Fumo Verde

Railroad Earth does it again by giving us a little bit of Americana with their new CD Amen Corner. Meshing traditional bluegrass with a slightly progressive flavor and adding a tinge of R&B, the album not only highlights the talent of this amazing band, but it leaves us with a disc where every song is a winner. Each tune has its own distinct taste like a fine wine and draws the listener into the bright world of Railroad Earth.

This whole album was created and produced in a 300-year-old house deep in the rural countryside of the great state of New Jersey, my home state, where it can get as country as Manchester, Tennessee. As it says in the liner notes, doing this album in this particular house called Lone Croft, was an adventure which helped create this CD. Whether it helped them or not, Amen Corner has some real jewels and those who dig the bluegrass sound should definitely check it out.

I’m going to start with my favorite song right off the bat, “The Forecast.” When first hearing the beginning of this tune one wouldn’t think it’s a bluegrass song, not until the violin comes into play. Even the slight strumming of the banjo plays like the tropical backing of a Jimmy Buffett song. A lackadaisical beat coming gently from the drums with the soft strumming from the stings gives this song that lazy summer day feel. The lyrics tell a different kind of story. “Forecast says there’s a storm ahead/ my opinion is sunny rain/ not a breeze /days of ease /clear skies over head./ Forecast says there’s a storm a-brewing/ heavy rain/ heavy wind /batten down and bored them up/ best stay overhead.” The words speak of disaster as the music puts out a totally different type of vibe.

My next favorite is “Waggin’ The Dog,” a political message bottled up in a progressive bluegrass beat that will have you tapping your foot and shaking your fist. Drums and bass thrust this song forward as the guitar and mandolin add to the lyrics like a chorus. This tune takes the genuine backbone of a bluegrass melody and puts an R&B twist to it, giving it the energy to keep you moving along with it.

For a more traditional bluegrass song, “Bringing My Baby Back Home” rips it open with banjo and violin as they charge forward while guitar, bass, and drums try to keep up. “Little Bit O’ Me” has a traditional rhythm to it too, yet slower than the “Bringing…” It has a political message in it also, asking questions about the world we are leaving behind for the future generation.

“Lone Croft Ramble” is the only instrumental on this disc and sounds like the name it bares, yet it only rambles on for five minutes and thirty-nine seconds, but what a five and half minutes it is. I need to see this band live, because I still can’t determine who is singing on what song, Tim or Todd, but whoever is singing on “All Alone” really sounds like Jerry Garcia on this song more than all the others. This one put a tear to my eye for it is just one beautiful song.

Some critics are saying this maybe the band’s best album yet; I believe they are just beginning to come into their own. When this tour comes to town, one would be a fool not to see them and since I’m heading back to Jersey this summer to see family, if RRE is around I will make it a point to see them. Amen Corner is one of those few albums of which I like every song, twelve for twelve, not a one I would skip. This CD comes off clean and would make even Flatt and Scruggs proud. I give this my highest rating: five full bowls.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Grupo Fantasma: Sonidos Gold

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Grupo Fantasma, as soon as I heard the name I knew that I must hear this band. I’m glad I did as Grupo Fantasma’s third album Sonidos Gold has become one of the year’s favorites. It’s been in my car stereo for over a week now and I only pause to hear the news. The twelve grooves on this CD have invaded my mind, haunting my thoughts and turning every movement into an Afro-Cuban/Cumbia jazz step. I work with rhythm and everything is a song until I catch myself and realize that small children are laughing at me.

Latin/funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma have been stacking up the honors over the past year, playing on awards shows, making appearances on late night television, and scoring a gig as supporting band for Prince, who liked then so much that he took them to London’s 02 Arena for his acclaimed “21 Nights In London” stay there. They’ve even caught the attention of sax legend Maceo Parker, who sits in on the tune “Gimme Some.” This band from Austin, Texas is definitely making waves and deservedly so as they have forged a style all their own.

From the opening drums of “El Sabio Soy Yo” you’re hooked. When the horns sweep in and hit you like a tsunami of rhythmic sound, knocking you back then drawing you in, you have no choice but to listen. You groove and move along to the ocean of sound that Grupo Fantasma have tossed you into. It all flows so smoothly that you don’t realize that they’ve moved on to the next tune, “Levantate,” while you’re still in a daze. The horns are arranged in a way that gives them an other worldly sound and you must do as they command and “stand up” and move.

The horns mixed with the keyboards, percussion and guitars instills a feeling of darkness and mystery as if the boys in the band bargained with El Diablo himself to bring you this unique sound. The chaos that winds down “Arroz Con Pollo” and leads into the chants that open the eight-minute jam “Rumba Y Guaguanco” is a perfect example of what the group has to offer. Drums, horns, hell even a whistle fill the air with music that seems to come from every shadowy corner of the world in your mind. “Rebotar” is another song that calls to you from beyond with its classic horror film organs, sultry horns, and echoing guitar chords.

Guitars take center stage on “Bacaloa Con Pan,” “Cumbia De Los Pajaritos,” and “Perso Fra I Mesquites.” “Bacalao Con Pan” is fueled through out by its Santana-like guitars and full-force funky horns. “Cumbia” takes a trip to the west coast with a nod to surf guitar before slipping into the swirling underworld of keyboards and spacey chords made famous by The Doors’ Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger. The chord bending screams Jimi Hendrix as the big horns make it a wicked instrumental and instant classic. “Perso Fra” is a slow yet rockin’ instrumental as well, this time taking us south of the border in search of a dark cantina to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos with Spanish guitars, bullfight horn.s and violin strings that quietly weep for those that have crossed over.

After one spin of their new CD, you’ll be hypnotized by the beats and rhythms as you are taken in by their modern spin to a classic sound. Blending sounds and influences very well, Grupo Fantasma produces a style all their own. It’s crazy, I know but Grupo Fantasma is the perfect all-day music. Whether cruising down the boulevard or drinking with pals, late night or early morning, this band will possess you with their Afro-Cuban Jazz/Cumbia/Latin funk concoction, commanding you to spread the word and seek them out live in this world before they slip back to the phantom realm from which they must have come.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Band of Heathens

Written by Fumo Verde

I grew up on the country sounds of Willie, Waylon, Hank, and Merle and representing the ladies, Patsy, Dolly, and the sweet Miss Loretta. Acquiring a taste for the new sound of country kind of made me throw up in my mouth just a little bit, and why after Sept. 11 did every other song have to be about God, country, and family values? Thank reason for the Band of Heathens. Here comes a fresh style of county with genuine lyrics and a steady southern beat. Coming out of Texas after being noticed at the Austin Music Awards as one of the best new bands, these Heathens slowed down to make this self-titled debut. So crack open a cold one or pack a freshy-fresh bowl and get ready to enjoy some country music Austin-style.

“Don’t Call On Me” opens up the disc with a perpetual rhythm that will get your feet tapping as the guitar strumming feeds the beat of the drums. Clever lyrics tell the story of everyday life and someone who is fed up with it too. Nothing too complex, which is good when doing a first album because it gives people something to identify with, and this brings us in. Songs such as “Jackson Station” and “Maple Tears” have that down-home southern twang with instruments, such as the lapsteel, mandolin, and Dobro. “Maple Tears” has that “Home on the Range” vibe with a slight hint of Delta Blues. This song alone gave me goose bumps. Patty Griffin adds her lovely voice, lending a lonely soul feel and a sense of realism to the lyrics. This whole album has a deep soul to it, even on the one song I considered the “radio friendly” tune, “Heart on my Sleeve,” and I’m finding myself humming the chorus in my head every now and then.

For a first album the Heathens did a fine job with tender songs like “40 Days” and fun songs such as “Cornbread,” and though “40 Days” seems like a biblical reference the song talks about loving someone through a turbulent world. Again, Patty Griffin joins in and really gives it an emotional bump as a duet.

“Second Line” is another with a Delta Blues feel as the lyrics tell the tale of drunken debauchery over a backdrop sound of mandolin along with slide guitar played by Ray Wylie Hubbard, who helped produce the album. Gurf Morlix adds pump organ, which breathes a sultry sound, giving the tune a gritty taste.

“Hallelujah” closes out the eleven-track disc as the tale is told that for this band, the road is their saving grace and from what I have read about them, these katz are an “On The Road Again” band. From this CD alone I would highly recommend seeing the Band of Heathens live as I also highly recommend The Band of Heathens. I used to feel that mainstream sound of country was as down to earth as cow shit in the meadow, but now with these Heathens out there making music such as this, that has all changed. Get the CD and go see them if they come by you.

This is Fumo Verde saying that I like my cornbread in the morning.