MWE3  Archives CD Reviews

Winter 1999/ 2000 
CD Reviews



The Virgineers
(Liquid Sound)

Sad Sack
Innocent People
(Bruce Lash)

Albums like Sgt Pepper and Mr. Fantasy were huge influences on music fans and musicians alike. It’s been thirty three years since the heyday of pop psychedelia, yet it’s quite clear that today’s younger bands still want to experiment with the fabled, heady genre. Case in point is the self-titled album debut from The Virgineers, whose new CD is packed with one amazing psych-pop tune after the next. The band consists of two quite talented players, Ken Zawacki and Bruce Lash. Both are quite competent as vocalists and guitarists / multi-instrumentalists, with Zawacki handling much of the songwriting chores here. Judging from the surreal CD artwork you just know you’re in for something strange and unusual and The Virgineers doesn’t disappoint. It might not be quite as great as Magical Mystery Tour but the spirit is there and the melodies linger long in your head.  

Although he’s been quite busy lately with The Virgineers album, Chicago-based Bruce Lash has also found time to release several engaging solo projects. The 1999 solo CD from Lash, Sad Sack is a solid set of cleverly produced and easy-on-the-ears pop music. With Lash self-producing and recording every instrument and vocal track himself, both Sad Sack and it’s 1996 predecessor, Innocent People are never short of well-crafted pop cuts, at times recalling John Lennon’s music circa the first Plastic Ono Band album and some of Neil Young’s more ethereal, pop-driven moments. Sad Sack also features a cool cover of Bowie’s “Golden Years”. In addition to both solo CDs, Lash has also released the unusual Prozac For Lovers which features humorous, lounge-inspired covers of classics like “Proud Mary” and “Aqualung”. Coupled with The Virgineers CD debut, all three Bruce Lash projects present a vital new revelation for pop-rock fans. 


Shadows Breaking Over Our Heads

Just what do these aspiring pop artists and groups have in common? Obviously, a fondness for all things melodic and ‘60s. Subtitled A Tribute To The Left Banke, the songs covered here evoke a kinder, gentler time in pop music history. Guided by the pop visionary Michael Brown, The Left Banke were right there at the cutting edge of ‘60s Beatles-inspired pop with their Smash Records debut “Walk Away Renee”, yet the group failed to last long enough to grow. To get an idea of the depth of Brown’s vision, he left the LB barely after “Renee” hit only to turn up as a founding member of Stories, even composing their big smash “Brother Louie”. Aside from issuing an amazing CD in the mid ‘90s with his wife, Brown’s pop voice remains sadly dormant. Wait till he hears this cool new tribute CD to the legacy of his old group! Most of the 22 artists on hand are established in various pop circles. Among the better known artists, The Grip Weeds, Ken Stringfellow and Jeremy hit their target although the CD is worth picking up just for the great Jason Falkner’s rendition of the the LB’s big follow-up to “Renee” entitled “Pretty Ballerina”. It all makes sense after that. Perhaps a hundred years from now, musicians will rerecord entire pop albums from the 1960s as if they were the true masterpieces of 20th Century music.


Euphoria Morning

Finishing off his time with Soundgarden in 1997, singer-songwriter Chris Cornell has spent the last couple of years recording his solo debut, and for his many fans the wait has obviously been worth it. A compelling vocalist and guitarist, Cornell’s soulful rock vocals recalls singing legends like Paul Rogers and Gregg Allman at their best. On his new A&M Records CD he’s surrounded himself with some fine accomplices in guitarist/sound engineer Alain Johannes, Natasha Shneider (keyboards) and Josh Freese (drums). A number of guest artists add to the dark and dense heavy-pop vibe on Euphoria Morning including pop contender Jason Falkner. In addition to the Free and Allman Bros. influences you can also add in traces of Pink Floyd and The Beatles with Cornell adding in, “I became really inspired by The Beatles, not so much their songwriting or sound, but the fact that they were really diverse.” From the shimmering melodic bent of the compelling lead off track, “Can’t Change Me” to the sweeping, thundering climax of the set closing “Steel Rain”, Euphoria Morning serves up a constant flow of challenging musical ideas. 

August Everywhere

After two releases on A&M Records, guitarist and singer-songwriter Jordon Zadorozny and Co. return for the first Blinker The Star album on Dreamworks. The results range from dreamy pop ala late period ELO to a late ‘90s equivalent of Van Dyke Parks/Brian Wilson, XTC and Todd Rundgren. Produced by Ken Andrews (also appearing on numerous instruments), August Everywhere covers a wide range of pop and rock dynamics. Zadorozny’s vocals take on manifold qualities on various tracks. Many of the songs also feature a three piece string section pitted against the powerful rock dynamics at work here. Zadorozny and Andrews are in good company with the range of fine players making up the Blinker entourage. Intelligent, tightly played pop illuminated by distinctive songwriting, August Everywhere clearly rates as one of the choice pop efforts of late ‘99.


A Room With A Clue
(7 ate 9)

As far as DIY albums go, A Room With A Clue is a most honorable debut effort and in a perfect world would be the ticket to U.S. acceptance for Toronto-based guitarist and songwriter Chris Bennett. Bennett’s uniformly catchy, at times introspective music features well-honed arrangements and more often than not hits a solid groove. Another real attraction here is Bennett’s engaging guitar work. Bennett (known as CB) employs a wealth of vintage Fender, Gretsch, Les Paul and Martin guitars to good avail and gets able backing from a pair of drummers and lap steel guitarist Don Rooke. A rocked-out, often unusual composite of British pop, American rock, folk, R&B and jazz, A Room With A Clue gets better with each replay. Available from the artist himself. e-mail:



Like the album’s macabre CD cover art, the music on guitarist Steve Hackett’s Darktown is potent and penetrating. From his soaring and immediately identifiable early ‘70s guitar sound in Genesis to his recent classical guitar albums, Hackett has constantly turned up with fresh and innovative guitar projects. Just out on the U.K.-based Camino Records, Darktown should prove to be among Hackett’s most acclaimed efforts to date. The sinister title track is fueled by Hackett’s ominous spoken word vocal and repetitive electric guitar riff, further propelled by the soaring sax work of King Crimson founder Ian McDonald and the keyboards and bass work of Julian Colbeck and Roger King respectively. The disturbing, rocked-out title track, the similarly foreboding “Darktown Riot” and two instrumental cuts, “Twice Around The Sun” and “Omega Metallicus” are further examples of the album’s powerful, sonic spark. Displaying Hackett’s virtues as a masterful acoustic guitarist and vocalist, Darktown also contains several pastoral, pop vignettes like the charming “Man Overboard”, “Days Of Long Ago” and the bossa-nova flavored ambient pop beat of “Dreaming With Open Eyes”. Darktown is undeniably a gem of progressive rock, containing that same rare chemistry first heard on Genesis albums like Foxtrot and Nursery Crime. Amusing track by track observations by Hackett underscore the fine musicianship of Darktown. In other news, the U.K.-based Snapper Music is also re-releasing a number of Hackett’s earlier albums like Guitar Noir and There Are Many Sides To The Night. First issued in 1993, Guitar Noir presents a cross-section of progressive rock vocal and instrumental cuts including the amazing track “Sierra Quemada”, easily one of Hackett’s finest guitar instrumentals. Recorded live in ‘94 before an appreciative crowd in Palermo, Italy, Sides To The Night is a treat for fans of Hackett’s classical guitar works. Paired with keyboardist Julian Colbeck, Sides finds Hackett revisiting tracks from solo albums such as Bay Of Kings and Momentum. With liner notes and concert photos, Sides To The Night masterfully blends the subtle shadings of classical guitar with the prog rock spirit in an elegant and intimate setting.


The Ultra Zone

An avid beekeeper with a seat on the Board of Governors of NARAS, guitarist-songwriter Steve Vai is perhaps best known for his ability to combine electrifying progressive rock with instrumental fusion music. A hair-raising set featuring contributions from studio aces such as Mike Keneally (keyboards) and Greg Bissonette (drums), The Ultra Zone serves up 70+ minutes of scintillating electric rock that pushes the genre to the max. Recorded while Vai was in the midst of assembling his proposed upcoming 10-CD box set, The Ultra Zone shines with an ultra-modern high tech glaze of techno bass and drum techniques layered with Vai’s boundless range of guitar acrobatics. Among the thirteen tracks here, almost half feature Vai’s vocals while the instrumentals range from melodic gems like “Frank” (dedicated to Vai’s mentor Frank Zappa) and the world beat inspired rock of “The Blood And Tears” to the dazzling carnival of fusion themes explored on the excellent “Lucky Charms”. Vocal tracks like “I’ll Be Around” displays Vai’s penchant for soaring rock ballads while the stinging “Voodoo Acid” features a Zappa-inspired lyric in which Vai relives a bee-induced tribulation. Merging Vai’s love of instrumental music and rock vocals, The Ultra Zone is a solid and respectable effort from one of rocks leading guitarists.


(Epic / 57)

Subtitled Days Since A Lost Time Accident, the new CD from singer-songwriter Michael Penn is anything but strange or remote. Penn lives up to his reputation as a fine tunesmith and MP4 outshines anything yet recorded by the NYC native. Michael’s brother, Sean Penn, was coincidentally on the cover of the December ‘99 20th Century Guitar. A key strength of MP4 lies in the fact that the album is Penn’s first self production. Penn is also stretching his producer muscles on the upcoming album by The Wallflowers. Fans of fine tuned pop will be drawn in by MP4’s infectious lead-off pop anthem “Lucky One” with Penn adding, “Basically, it’s my nursery rhyme for the millennium.” As is the case with any classic pop-rock album, MP4 features fine support players. Assisting Penn’s vision of pop in 2000 is longtime cohort Patrick Warren (keyboards), Victor Indrizzo (drums), and Penn’s wife Aimee Mann (backing vocals). Recorded in L.A., MP4 rocks like a classic West Coast pop album with Penn’s superb guitar work and insightful lyrics providing pleasurable revelations with each replay.


Coming Attractions
(Thirsty Ear)

Guitarist and pop singer-songwriter Adrian Belew has so many projects in the works that he thought he’d bestow his fans with a CD sampler previewing his future albums. Upon hearing the first three tracks on Coming Attractions it’s quite clear that Belew has lost none of his knack to deliver a wide ranging and quite eclectic musical feast. The first two tracks, “Inner Man” and “Predator Feast” (from Belew’s next solo album) are ideal for fans of Belew’s earlier solo albums like Mr. Music Head as well as his work with King Crimson, while the tracks “117 Valley Drive” (from The Bears) and “People” are both catchy, infectious ‘60s style pop tunes sure to make the McCartney’s and the Rundgren’s of the world envious. A rare live version of the classic “Inner Revolution” is simply staggering and sums up Belew’s uncanny gift to write the perfect rock song. Complete with Belew’s lengthy liner notes, the 12 track Coming Attractions proves that Belew has few peers of equal scope and vision.


Emotional Bends

Anyone who remembers his great guitar work with The Pretenders and Sir Paul McCartney’s late ‘80s and early ‘90s bands will dig where guitarist Robbie McIntosh is coming from on his solo debut for the Nashville-based Compass Records. Co-produced by McIntosh, Emotional Bends features fine sidemen like Pino Palladino (bass), Melvin Duffy (pedal steel) and Paul Bevis (drums). McIntosh proves why his guitar skills are so widely praised and interestingly, he handles all the lead vocals himself. Although there is an album closing instrumental cut here, McIntosh concentrates on his well-crafted original songs that hang their hats on catchy hooks. According to the guitarist, “Even though I love the guitar, the real art lies in writing a good song. It’s just that I think it’s a bigger challenge to play the right guitar part for a great song.” Ranging in scope from hard-edged R&B to catchy roots-pop, Emotional Bends is a convincing, well rounded solo debut from a well respected guitar hero. Fans should also note that McIntosh has also released an acoustic instrumental album entitled Unsung available from  /


Down The Line
(Finer Arts)

Subtitled A Tribute To Buddy Holly, Down The Line revives fourteen Holly tracks with a sensitivity and perception that few other artists could hope to attain. Bobby Vee’s relationship with Holly goes back to his early ‘60s recordings with Holly’s band, The Crickets and of course, there’s his now historic stand in appearance for Holly on that February 3rd Morehead, MN. show that Holly would never get to play on that fateful winter tour in 1959. The story continues for Vee, and, as a follow-up to his ‘94 album Last Of The Great ‘Rhythm’ Guitar Players, he’s back again in ‘99 with his latest Holly-inspired disc. This time out he gets some able assistance from his three sons Jeff Vee (drums), Tommy Vee (bass) and Robby Vee (guitar). The St. Cloud String Quartet add in some interesting finishing touches on several songs while son Robby lays down some authentic sounding Rockabilly guitar solos. Vee himself still sounds like the heir apparent to Holly’s long and winding legacy and should be applauded for keeping Buddy’s music alive.



Using Beach Boys albums like Smile and Friends as a jumping off point, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sean O’Hagan and his fellow Llamas pull off the perfect pop extravaganza on Snowbug. Younger fans may think the band is breaking new ground, but the late ‘60s Brian Wilson influence is always close by. Like Mr. Wilson, O’Hagan is quite adept at composing beautifully melodic pop ditties. On their latest V2 effort, O’Hagan and Co. take a nostalgic, wistful approach to music, blending orchestral Wilsonian pop flourishes with influences like orch-pop innovator Ennio Morricone, avant-gard pop icon John Cale and ‘90s sound explorers Stereolab. Two Stereolab members Laetitia Sadler and Mary Hansen are featured here on vocals while O’Hagan is further helped out by top players like John Fell (bass), John Bennet (guitar, banjo) and Rob Allum (drums). Not only is O’Hagan a competent vocalist, but he turns in an inspired performance on guitars and keyboards. Hypnotic, retro, catchy, quirky are adjectives used to describe their sound, but for their many fans the Llamas make the most sublime sounds this side of heaven.

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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