Record Label
and Music Spotlight 

JUNE 2011








BLUGRASCAL RECORDS / SAGUARO ROAD RECORDS - Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since The Andy Griffith Show took America by storm in the early 1960s. A kinder, gentler time in American history, that early ‘60s b&w TV show era in America yielded some amazing weekly shows and the Andy Griffith Show was one of the best. Released in early 2011 on Blugrascal Records, the seven track Dance ‘Til Your Stockings Are Hot And Ravelin’ (A Tribute To The Music Of The Andy Griffith Show) features seven songs, performed and recorded here by bluegrass / country pop heroes The Grascals. Although Andy's show was not known for music per se, except for the famous whistled opening theme, the songs here, are said to have at different times, proved to be an integral and often humorous part of the show’s eight-year run. Perhaps the coolest thing the show did was that it proved that no matter what state in America you came from—what your accent was, city slicker or country cornpone, east, west, north, south—it showed we were all Americans united and that we could make each other laugh at and with each other. Commenting on this seven track tribute to Andy’s Mayberry heyday, Grascals’ guitarist and lead singer and Indiana native Terry Eldredge states, ‘The Andy Griffith Show has a moral lesson that every human being should live by. It’s an honor and privilege to be associated with the best TV show ever made. It was and still is awesome family entertainment.’

- Hard to believe it’s been five years since The Cars reformed in early 2006 as "The New Cars," with Todd Rundgren taking part in a musical car chase during the departure of Cars singer-songwriter Rick Ocasek. It’s taken 5 years and now Ocasek is back in 2011 on a new Cars album with the original lineup called Move Like This. Featuring some of the best songs he’s written, Ocasek is reunited here with original Cars / New Cars members Elliot Easton (guitars), Greg Hawkes (keys) and David Robinson (drums). With Todd Rundgren currently off with his Johnson tribute CD, it’s great to have the original Cars lineup back in action in 2011. It’s coming up on 30 years since the advent of MTV and, if ever there was a band made for MTV it was/is The Cars. It was tragic that Easton had to actually break his neck in a June 5, 2006 bus crash, thus putting the New Cars with Todd on ice. As great as It’s Alive (the 2006 CD by The New Cars with Todd) was, to be honest, Ocasek sounds revitalized here and his new songs even rivals classic Cars during those heady MTV '80 years. The new original Cars go electric on the fast moving Move Like This.

- When he’s not cultivating pure pop magic with his band mate Steve Barry in Tan Sleeve, and when he’s not cutting solo albums running the gamut musically, singer-guitarist Lane Steinberg can be heard and seen with the band Cracked Latin. A project put together by Lane and musical cohort, Luis Accorsi, Cracked Latin released their debut CD in 2009 and in 2011 they follow with a new live Cracked Latin CD called In Situ - Live At The Iridium. Recorded at the famous Manhattan jazz club, the CD offers a great example of what this band are really capable of. With Accorsi and Lane backed up by a smoking band, the sound conjured is sort of the NYC equivalent of early Santana with more than a nod to the humor of Frank Zappa. The Cracked Latin cover of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Let’s Spend The Night Together” is truly imaginative, turning the Stones’ 1966 pop pumper into a low down and dirty merengue-tinged Miami special.

- I’m not so sure yet about Bruce Springsteen or Metallica, but putting Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi on a new Ray Davies album is a good move in my opinion. I mean, think about it. Guys like Bon Jovi no doubt cut their teeth on the music of The Kinks through the years if not from day one and that rock edge continues to be refined here with Ray joining forces with some of his dedicated followers on an album that spans and touches on all aspects of his Klassic Kinks years. Interesting that after building the U.K. rock cred for the then aspiring Reprise Records, then RCA and then Arista that Ray should end up on Decca Records, the most British and historic of all the English labels. Decca Records in the U.S. these days is a really high profile label doing everything from cabaret to jazz and rock and clearly the attempt here was to back up Ray and bring in huge stars like the Boss, Bon Jovi, Lucinda Williams, Jackson Browne and more. Clearly, it worked in so much that here we have great performances featuring Ray with his disciples, these stars coming round to pay tribute to the master. How fitting and worthy to honor the greatest U.K. rock songwriter to emerge in the wake of the Beatles British Invasion. There's a great bio on Ray's page on the Decca Records site where he goes into great detail about these incredible new renditions of 16 Kinks Klassics. The U.K. music press really griped about the album but in 2011 we ought to thank god we still have Ray Davies live on earth.

- Sounding inspired by those amazing early ‘60s girl group recordings produced by Phil Spector, Australian singer-songwriter Lenka breaks down the walls for modern pop with the ‘11 CD release of the 11 track Two. Moving to the U.S. after her 2008 self-titled CD debut, Lenka really hits her stride on the bouncy girl-pop groove of Two. After all, what’s not to like here? Upbeat, catchy, superbly produced pop, featuring a range of musicians, Two sets up Lenka for a most successful pop career in my opinion. Commenting on the release of Two, Lenka adds, ‘I was writing as a way to process. That’s the wonderful thing about being a songwriter. You have some way to put out all of the emotions and reactions to what you’re seeing. I think we all fall and stumble constantly and usually when I write the song is when I’m getting up again.’ She even recorded part of Two at the famous Konk studios in London to which she adds, ‘It was cool because all the Kinks’ original instruments were in there and I got to use their mellotron from the 1970s.’ From modern day electro-dance pop to a more vintage retro, Phil Spector inspired sound, Lenka has it down to a science on Two.

MPCA RECORDS - You know the world’s gotten much harder over the past 6 years when even Todd Rundgren has got the blues. Five years ago we were chiding Todd about getting revved up over the New Cars CD that came out in the first half of 2006. Half a decade on Todd, like most of us who survived the past ten years, are feeling the blues and Todd comes to grips with it all on his self-styled tribute to bluesmaster Robert Johnson. Todd pulls no punches on the 12 track Todd Rundgren’s Johnson, released on MPCA Records. Most rock fans know about Robert Johnson thanks to Cream and The Rolling Stones, who were turning the teenyboppers on to Johnson's timeless blues in a big way, even as Todd Rundgren’s Nazz were making power pop waves back between 1967 and ‘69. There’s a number of revelations on Todd’s Johnson tribute. “They’re Red Hot” is a definite highlight with it’s upbeat metal shuffle sound, but let’s face it. These songs, written and recorded by a black man back in the 1930s have clearly made a lasting impact a century later. Todd was the original do it yourself artist and he puts his patented guitar and vocal sound, and overall do it yourself studio wizardry to the test and comes up aces on this electrifying and very Cream inspired rock solid tribute. Robert Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986 so, with his bringing Johnson up to date on a most reverend power blues approach here, it’s definitely time to induct Todd too.

- Certainly among the most eclectic of all the independent American record labels, Wisconsin-based Porter has a slew of new CD releases that captures the essence of avant gard rock and jazz. First up, Wicked Work It Out from singer-songwriter Zac Nelson is a most unusual album of new music that will have the most open minded pop fans scratching their heads in amazement. Described as “a playful and serene musical landscape,” the 12 track CD release from 2011 mixes a wide range of experimental music and pop music and the results sometimes sound like Edgard Varese producing the Swingle Singers. There’s some wicked grooves and the bizarre vocal harmonies are truly unearthly. Various guest artists appear, but the wall of sound treatment here is primarily Nelson at his creative zenith in full flight. Also out on Porter in 2011 is Army Of Strangers from NYC based string player and composer Jessica Pavone. Combining instrumental rock with improvisational music, Pavone is joined by a number of musicians including Pete Fitzpatrck (guitars), Harris Eisenstadt (drums) and Jonti Siman (bass). Another noteworthy 2011 Porter CD release sure to pique the interest of adventurous rock listeners is Schlep’m from Oregon collective known as Trawler Bycatch. Another wild amalgamation of sound released on CD by Porter, the seven track CD mixes a wild range of instrumental sounds influenced by ‘70s rock, Indian music, Captain Beefheart and Italian progressive rock from the ‘70s. Zac Nelson plays drums and sings and he’s joined by Zach Delorto Blackwell (vocals, guitar) and Rus Archer (fretless bass, vocals). Even though Porter’s releases are truly quite out there, even by 21st century standards, each of these are still some pretty amazing CD releases indeed.

- Forty years after their early ‘70s heyday, Hot Tuna are back in action on disc with Steady As She Goes, their first all new studio album in 20 years. It’s just amazing to see that founding Hot Tuna rock legends Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy don’t miss a beat on this Hot Tuna return to electric rock and blues rock. Sure Steady As She Goes has got that traditional Hot Tuna blues ala Reverend Gary Davis vibe but there’s also a some quite tasty rockers in “Easy Now Revisited,” “A Little Faster,” “Angel Of Darkness” and “If This Is Love” that are absolutely electrifying. Drummer Skoota Warner, producer / multi-instrumentalist and mando virtuoso Barry Mitterhoff appear, and enhancing the vintage Hot Tuna blues rock vibe, the CD is also packaged in some must see artwork and packaging. Also out on Red House Records is a 2011 tribute to Bob Dylan called A Nod To Bob 2. This second Red House tribute to the “boy from the Iron Range,” features a number of the label’s best artists, Hot Tuna, John Gorka, Peter Ostroushko, Eliza Gilkyson, Pieta Brown and more picking out and covering their favorite Dylan track. Red House describes A Nod To Bob 2 as the definitive Bob Dylan tribute in honor of his 70th birthday.


1214 PRODUCTIONS - As the owner of Breakthru’ Records back in the 1980s, I was fortunate to work with some of the greatest Finnish and Scandinavian jazz-rock guitarists of the 20th century including genius composers such as Pekka Pohjola, Janne Schaffer, Peter Bryngelsson and more. That spirit of classic progressive European fusion music continues onwards with the 2011 CD/DVD release of The Jaz Symphony by guitarist Endel Rivers. Hailing originally from Estonia, Endel landed in Australia and the result of his hard musical work is astounding. A CD/DVD package, Jaz Symphony features studio recordings made by Endel between 2006 and 2009 at Palmstudios in Australia that were later mixed and edited with live recordings made during a 2009 Estonian tour. Featuring Endel on electric guitar—backed up by like minded musicians including Raul Vaigla (bass), Grant Collins (drums) and Leanne Lai (keyboards)—the CD half of the Jaz Symphony set is great with Endel paving a modern progressive instrumental jazz-rock fusion sound, not unlike (in places) the ‘90s recordings from the now late great Finnish jazz-rock maestro Pekka Pohjola. Interesting to note that Endel was actually in contact with Pohjola about future collaborations before he tragically passed away at the end of 2008. In addition to the progressive guitar fusion elements in play here, the CD also displays a neo-metal hard rock (but not quite shredding) guitar sound ala metal guitar kings like Yngwie Malmsteen and Alex Masi. Either way—from progressive symphonic rock to hard rock and back again—the music is quite exciting in places. Overall, Jaz Symphony portrays Endel Rivers as a guitarist / composer worth keeping your eyes on.

CUCKUNDOO RECORDS - The English were instrumental in pioneering the art-rock side of jazz-rock fusion and instrumental is the key word on the 2011 CD from England’s newest instro rock sensation Vessels. Released worldwide by the Cuckundoo Records label, the 9 track Helioscope is a veritable cornucopia of manic, instro-rock intensity. The CD was produced by John Congleton, who worked with Explosions In The Sky, Modest Mouse and other instrumental art-rock groups. Putting together an excellent studio sound, Congleton has done a great job helping the band finesse their sound. Evoking the spirits of Robert Fripp during King Crimson’s Red era, guitarists Tom Evans and Lee Malcolm trade some mean guitar sounds and sound positively possessed on an album that delivers a solid sonic barrage and takes no prisoners. There’s even a vocal track here from guest singer Stuart Warwick. Described by some as ‘math-rock’, the time signatures of Helioscope may be hard for some to fathom but Vessels more often than not hits the mark. The overall results are often sonically shocking but the sound is so elaborate and intricate that return visits are quite rewarding and worthwhile.

DOS RECORDS - 30 years ago, in 1981 I had the privilege to go live in Sweden for nearly a year and while there I met, for the first time, musicians who I revered back in the ‘70s including Kenny Håkansson, Lars Hollmer and Peter Bryngelsson of the group Ragnarök. I saw several live shows with Ragnarök including one in late ‘81 where they played nearly an album’s worth of new music that sadly was never recorded. (Thanks for nothing Anders Lind!) Featuring Peter Bryngelsson's ingenius music and guitar arrangements, Swedish art-rockers Ragnarök excelled at a unique and nearly indefinable progressive Swedish instrumental sound that was actually inventing (right before my eyes and ears) a new blend of electric rock and fusion that had never been heard before. After a whole lot of waters beneath the bridge, 30 years later, Peter Bryngelsson is back with a new solo CD called Wünderbaum. With the deaths of both Pekka Pohjola and Lars Hollmer in late 2008, Bryngelsson remains one of the last great rock instrumental composers and guitarists of the mid ‘70s heyday when the Swedish progressive rock sound came into its own. Peter is supported by a number of players here and on this 2011 CD pressing, the 13 track Wunderbaum album is actually followed by another Bryngelsson album—Winterhjärt, (Winterheart), which was originally released on cassette (believe it or not kids!) way back in 1983, and which is a fascinating enough, though rarely heard neo-prog ambient album from Bryngelsson. A most welcome return, Winterheart perfectly serves as an imaginary soundtrack to a nature or sci-fi documentary, although Bryngelsson’s trademark guitar and compositional sound is quite prominent. As a devoted follower of both the now late great Pohjola and Hollmer back in the ‘70s, I can honestly say that, at least from my perspective, this 70 minute double album on one CD from Peter Bryngelsson provides a double dose of magical, mysterious music.

- Recording with none other than rock and roll’s instrumental guitar icon Duane Eddy on Duane's new album, sax hero Ron Dziubla returns in 2011 with a CD of his own entitled Some Strange Blues. The sound is very much coded after Duane’s classic late ‘50s horn / guitar trademark sound and so no wonder Duane used Ron to recreate the magic of the original Eddy sound. Dziubla (prounded Jube-La) gets major backup from some top players on the current surf-rock and ‘50s rock and roll revival scene including guitarists David Cabrera, Junior Watson, R.J. Ronquillo, Eric Dover and Deke Dickerson along with some tight rhythm sections. Each track comes alive thanks to Dziubla’s amazing horn work which interacts well with the other players, yet drives the sound. In addition to his horn / sax playing, Dziubla also plays keyboards, slide guitar, ukulele and acoustic guitar. Even if you like your surf-rock straight, no chaser, you’ve got to admit by actually using Duane's original late ‘50s template and bringing it up to date, Ron Dziubla makes a bold musical statement that pays significant homage to Duane Eddy and Johnny & The Hurricanes as well as the retro rock beat of classic bands such as instro greats Los Straightjackets and even The Raybeats.

- Over in Slovakia, guitarist Milos Zeleznak is breaking new ground for the electric guitar. In 2007 Zeleznak released his trio album which depicted his love of instrumental jazz guitar sounds and underscored the fact that Milos is somewhat of a guitar hero in his native country. Even so, Zeleznak’s latest album Rusnacke Ruthenian is filled with quite a range of staggering guitar sounds featuring his work on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, loops and more, including guest appearances from several like minded players. What is often represented as folkloristic sounds come across on this CD as cosmic, avant gard instrumental interludes that sometimes sounds like Steve Martin jamming with cosmic spacemasters Gong! What’s even more amazing besides the unusual music, superb recording and imaginative CD packaging is the fact that this CD sounds different and more intriguing with each and every spin. For adventurous guitar mavens seeking out an international artist, Milos Zeleznak is for you.

- Some reviewer over in the U.K. had a near religious experience after playing the seven cut Quipu from Callifornia based guitarist Brian Ellis. I was skeptical but, honestly after playing this CD for a few weeks, I too am amazed. The English spawned some of the original and greatest space rockers ever—from Ummagumma era Pink Floyd to Steve Hillage with Gong—and guitarist Ellis clearly sounds inspired by them all! Recording Quipu as a totally instrumental artist, Ellis lets his fingers and guitars do the talking and then some. Interesting that some jazz buffs are also making comparisons between Ellis and Mahavishnu era John McLaughlin and even influences like Miles Davis, perhaps with a touch of Van Der Graaf Generator. Supporting his own efforts on a range of instruments—including guitars, drums, synths, sitars, sax and more—Ellis crosses over from jazz fusion to a more Euro-centric vibe so effortlessly that you’ll have to check the cover art to see who you’re listening to, often within the span of one song. Even in this age of cutbacks and downloads, Ellis has done a nice job on the CD packaging. It’s not overly elaborate but the CD is cased in an appealing looking cardboard slipcase adorned with a very intriguing front and back cover painting.

PROMINENT RECORDS - Aussie based guitarist Khan Manuel recently cut a track with hard rock guitarist Frank Gambale and the resulting download can immediately be acquired on Khan’s web site. Khan's latest CD is actually a live album recorded at Sydney’s famous venue The Basement. Hence the title Live In Australia @ The Basement. Nice to see the ampersand, or @ sign rather in the title and on @ The Basement, Khan acquits himself on a live set of hard driving rock instrumental numbers that goes far to impress along the lines of Yngwei, Satch and Jimi, who the guitarist covers here with a red hot instrumental of “Little Wing.” Also worth hearing from Manuel is his 2008 CD release of The Knight.

STEVE C MUSIC - In the world of New Age music, it’s always great to discover a major new talent. Case in point is the 2011 CD from piano virtuoso Steven C. For the release of his Spiritual Piano album, Steven has crafted an album filled with energy, intention and emotion. More than just an album filled with beautiful sounds and soothing music, Spiritual Piano is described by the artist as “message music” that is filled with a higher good that seeks to inspire, heal, relax and motivate. Steven C’s Spiritual Piano CD is a vital new discovery for fans of enlightening New Age style piano music that enables the listener to meditate, imagine, dream and simply be. Life is hectic, so if you’re looking to relax in style, give a listen and chill with the intuitive, healing piano sound of Steven C.


ANGEL AIR RECORDS - U.K. reissue label Angel Air have unearthed a forgotten English pop masterpiece with the 2011 CD reissue from Steve Ellis called Loot. The 1970 soundtrack to a movie with music written by Keith Mansfield and Richard Willing Denton, Loot is a real hoot, evoking influences like early Bowie and Cat Stevens circa ‘68. Both Ellis as singer and Mansfield, composer / producer worked together in the U.K. pop group Love Affair, who had a big hit with “Everlasting Love” although Loot, recorded in the aftermath of that band, sounds more like a humorous English movie soundtrack, with Anthony Newley inspired mayhem crossed with a Blood Sweat & Tears type horn section backing Ellis throughout. The recording from 1969 sounds very much in the spirit of the high quality of recordings coming out of England during that magical time. Steve Ellis went on to form the band Ellis and Angel Air has quite a number of Ellis related CD titles in their vast catalog. In addition to a fine performance by Steve Ellis, Loot benefits from the contributions of U.K. studio greats like guitar heroes Clem Cattini, Herbie Flowers and Big Jim Sullivan with super backup vocals from Madeline Bell and Doris Troy. Best known for leading ‘70s rockers Stray, guitarist Del Bromham is also featured on Angel Air with a 2011 reissue of his 2004 album Devil’s Highway. The album was recorded during a period when Bromham went on the road as a solo performer, touring with Leslie West on his “Blues To Die For” tour. Backing himself, Del cuts loose with his patented guitar sound while also handling all the vocals and drums. Gearing up for the Angel Air reissue of Devil’s Highway, Del went back into the studio and cut five tracks in 2011, which are also featured on this 16 track CD.

- Out in California, Global Recording Artists are hitting their stride with some intriguing pop releases including a two CD career retrospective from South African pop singer-songwriter and guitarist Duncan Faure. Duncan Faure (pronounced ‘Four-ah’) was actually the lead singer and co-lead guitarist with Trevor Rabin in the South African band Rabbitt. Anyone who enjoyed Rabin’s time in Yes during 1983-94 should check out this double CD set as Rabin sounds a lot like Faure and there’s plenty of common ground in the grooves, guitar playing and arrangements between Duncan and his band. After recording with Rabin and Rabbitt in the ‘70s, by the end of the decade Faure joined as the lead vocalist in the Bay City Rollers during the ‘80s and even worked with Madonna on the ‘87 Who’s That Girl movie. Tracks from from various Faure albums and a 2010 track are just some of the touchstones on this 37 track, Duncan Faure two CD compilation. Commenting on how he began working with Duncan on this career retrospective, GRA honcho Karl Fredrick Anderson II adds, ‘That is actually a long story. I knew him in the early 80's when he played in a group called Karu and then ran into him later in the early 90's and he was doing a Bay City Rollers thing with Ian Mitchell and then we reconnected a few years ago and I helped him pull together the anthology and I am now working on a new CD with him and reissuing his older catalog. Duncan is a great song writer player and performer. He sold millions and millions of records and Elton John called him one of the best songwriters and performers he has ever known.’ Also out in 2011 on GRA is a collaboration between Sal Valentino and guitar genius John Blakeley called Dreamin' Man. The ten track CD was actually recorded around 2006 or so but long out of print, it’s appearance on GRA renews its appeal. The founding lead vocalist in the ‘60s pop legend The Beau Brummels, Valentino has turned from his Dylan-esque roots into a kind of beat poet singer songwriter. The founding lead guitarist in The Sandals, of Endless Summer fame, Blakeley is possibly the greatest living American surf-rock guitar stylist. John was represented recently with his 2006 solo album Tan Mantis, which this writer wrote liner notes for. Together again on Dreamin' Man, Sal and John weave a kind of post-surf, No-Cal lost highway vibe that enhances each of their stellar reputations. / /

MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVICE - Elvis Presley went into the Army during 1958-1960, and after he got out he made his first post Army movie called G.I. Blues. Thank God the war was over in Europe but shipping Elvis over to Germany also lead to Elvis meeting his future bride Priscilla. In 2011, a new company called Memphis Recording Service released a 4 CD box set by Elvis entitled G.I. Blues - The Café Europa Sessions. Mostly consisting of four hours of unreleased studio recordings, alternate takes and Elvis talking it up in the studio both in Germany, where he was stationed, and in Hollywood, The Café Europa Sessions provides some essential history and listening for Elvis collectors. On hand here are both Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana and The Jordonaires, on backing vocals. A number of sides Elvis did cut in Germany during his Army daze are collected on another Memphis Recording Service release—a CD and book collectable called Off Duty With Private Presley. The 30 track CD features previously unreleased tracks made while Elvis was Army bound in both the U.S. and Germany. As in both collections, the impressive packaging features a 100 page book / insert filled with history and discography information and rare pictures of Elvis in his Army uniform.

PORTER RECORDS - In addition to releasing new music, Porter’s devotion to classic reissues continues with a 2011 CD release of a 1973 album entitled 3rd Version from Finnish horn genius Eero Koivistoinen. A true legend of the Finnish progressive rock and jazz world, who has numerous albums out under his own name, Eero was also an essential element (on certain recordings) written by Finland’s greatest instrumental rock composer Pekka Pohjola. While Pohjola is not on this '73 album, a number of Finnish jazz superstars are including guitarist Jukka Tolonen and drummer Reino Laine among others. There’s a good reason why Pekka Pohjola used Eero’s horn sound on his albums and you can pick up this ‘73 classic and find out why. Also up and out on Porter in 2011 is a pair of reissues capturing some of the best music recorded by the Philadelphia jazz group Catalyst. Released on two individual Porter CD releases, The Complete Recordings Volume 1 & 2 offers a glimpse into just how diverse this group was. Featuring a number of players, including Eddie Harris (guitar), Odean Pope (sax, oboe, flute), Sherman Ferguson (drums) and many others, Catalyst recorded a range of music that expertly combined jazz, funk, R&B, hip-hop and fusion that has to be heard to be believed. Amazing to think that Catalyst was so unheralded back in the early ‘70s, when much of this was recorded, yet their wild blend of instrumental free jazz still sounds fresh and in places quite intriguing on these two Porter CD reissues. Interesting to note that Odean Pope also has a new studio album out on Porter entitled Universal Sounds.

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