Record Label
and Music Spotlight 

MARCH 2011








ANGEL AIR - Okay here’s a weird one for you. Remember the hit single from late 1969, “Sugar, Sugar”? Well that chart topping hit was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim. Out of the public eye and ear for years, Andy is back in 2011 with a new solo album called Happen Again. That whole innocent Nixon era, end of Top 40 radio / Archies era Kim is eclipsed on a powerful solo album that also borrows from the MTV era and the power-pop resurgence of recent decades and comes up with a new hybrid for L.A. rock in the 21st century. Happen Again almost sounds like Phil Spector producing The Archies! I guess after writing a timeless song like “Sugar Sugar” and selling 30 million you’re set for life, because up till now the Canadian song writer hasn’t been heard much of, despite some work with Barenarked Ladies and Ron Sexsmith. Backed up by a solid pop band—with some well tooled rocking guitar work from Gannin Arnold—Kim has put pen to paper again and with Happen Again, he’s reinvented the art of pop-rock for a whole new generation. /

ANOVA - You don’t have to be Jewish...I mean you don’t have to necessarily speak Hebrew to enjoy the 2010 Rockfour album, which translates to Beautiful World in English. After their 2007 English language classic Memories Of The Never Happened, the best rock group in the Holy Land is back with a Hebrew language masterpiece. Because after all, even sung in another language other than English, it is about the music and the arrangements that make Rockfour such an internationally acclaimed band. If you can absorb the foreign language lyric on this and even dig the Israeli rock exoticness you will clearly detect the same high quality of progressive art-rock melodies and arrangement so apparent on their earlier English language albums. Core members Marc Lazare (bass) and Baruch Ben Izhak (guitars) are aided by drummer Issar Tennenbaum and keyboardist Yaki on an album of innovative, genre bending century 21 art rock.

BLUGRASCAL RECORDS / CRACKER BARREL - Down Nashville way, the Cracker Barrel label has recently released some fine CD titles by the Dailey Brothers, Smokey Robinson, George Jones and Dolly Parton and they team with The Grascals on the thirteen track album release of The Grascals & Friends: Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin. The CD starts off with the Grascals and friends covering two certified country music classics—the Buck Owens favorite “Tiger By The Tail” (here with guitar licks courtesy Brad Paisley) followed by a rousing cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues” with Dierks Bentley. A definite keeper here is a bluegrass, guitar-flecked version of “White Lightning”, the amazing '50s rocker made famous by the late, great Big Bopper, who died with Buddy Holly in Iowa. The core Grascals band—a six piece with guitarist / vocalist Terry Eldridge—is supplanted here by Paisley, Bentley and more friends including Charlie Daniels, Tom T. Hall, The Oak Ridge Boys, Dolly Parton and more. If you enjoy mainstream and traditional country music mixed with bluegrass sounds, there’s plenty here to admire and plus a portion of the proceeds from sales of this album will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

- There’s been such a resurgence in late ‘40s and early ‘50s retro-rock, rockabilly and Les Paul style sounds over the past few years. I can cite Imelda May and of course, Imelda’s work with Jeff Beck on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Party tribute concert DVD to Les Paul but also high on the list in 2011 is the debut CD from Holland’s Caro Emerald entitled Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor. Truly a successful retro sound prevails and in the spirit of Imelda May, Caro describes her sound as a mix of ‘50s inspired ballroom jazz, cinematic tangos, groovin’ jazz and primal early rock ‘n’ roll sounds. A fine vocalist in the spirit of Les Paul’s partner Mary Ford, Caro superbly handles all the vocal arrangements here and gets superb backup from a range of gifted players as well as top flight arrangements and production from Jan van Wieringen and David Schereurs, who really imbues the album vibe with a true to life ‘50s Americana kind of sound and style. /

- Coming out of the late ‘70s NYC scene—including a stint in Bleaker St. Incident with the brilliant Ann Magnuson—singer-songwriter and keyboardist Kristian Hoffman also worked with Dave Davies in the early part of the double 0’s. With an already impressive track record as a solo artist, Hoffman rises to the occasion on the Kinks / Zombies / Love inspired CD release of Fop. Okay, Fop you ask? Either way, this CD has to been heard and seen to be believed. If Phil Spector had a chance to produce The Kinks it might sound a little like Fop. In addition to that, one can also detect elements and influences from mid ‘70s T. Rex and Bowie. Merging his soaring vocals with some very curious sounding synth / mellotron induced keyboards, Hoffman nails it into place with solid backup from brothers David Bongiovanni (guitars) and William Bongiovanni (bass) backed up by the superbly tracked drums of Joe Berardi. All told, a textbook example on how to create a retro-tinged pop-rock album in the 21st century.

- Louise Aubrie is a real do-it-yourself success story in 2011. Recorded in Portugal, mixed in London, mastered in L.A. and designed in NYC, the 2011 CD release of Fingers Crossed is filled with nine cuts of solid rock and pop. Louise is a natural rock singer, but the atmospheric vibe sounds quite a bit like R.E.M. for example, yet there’s plenty of authentic rock atmospheres to make it sound completely original. Interestingly, the album was superbly produced by Boz Boorer—the guitarist / keyboardist who is regarded as one of the pioneers of the British rockabilly movement as well as a long-term co-writer and musical director for Morrissey. Louise gets solid support from her band including guitarist Rob Richie. Fingers Crossed by Louise Aubrie offers proof that a convincing lead singer fronting a tight band with a set of memorable pop-rock tunes never goes out of style.

PRESENCE RECORDS - The second album on Presence by Finland’s hottest new musical export Jeavestone, the nine track 1+1=OK is time well spent for fans of European progressive rock and what we used to call art-rock back in the late ‘70s. Presence did a great job on the 2011 album by Kataya and likewise, the new Jeavestone will leave its mark upon prog-rock fans worldwide. The lead off, two part track instrumental “Laser Fluxus / Bombus Interruptus” sounds a bit like late ‘70s Camel, while the album moves on to bridge the musical gaps between rock, pop and a kind of 21st century rock fusion with ease. The lead off track is so cool, one would hope Jeavestone would pursue another instrumental track in the future. Even so, singer / guitarist Jim Goldworth is a great singer in the Finnish rock tradition. In the spirit of the second Jeavestone album Spices, Species And Poetry Petrol, the 2011 release of 1+1=OK nevertheless brings the sound up a notch. Some prog fans have even compared Jeavestone to sort of a 21st century version of Gentle Giant. Track four here, “Mirror Monologue” is a 21st century hard rock / prog classic with a killer arrangement and a melodic bridge that would make Pekka Pohjola smile although my choice for single here is the Beatles inspired “Factory.” Guitarist Mickey Maniac leads the band through the paces and there’s plenty of catchy musical hooks and mind blowing rock landscaping to keep your musical imagination peaking throughout the disc. Also the CD cover art is really great. It’s just so off the wall and the visual shock captures the cutting edge Jeavestone spirit.

- The Massachusetts based Rounder Records is venerable institution among record labels. Rounder is sort of the New England version of Elektra Records. I knew they were up to good things back in the mid ‘90s when they added surf-music label Upstart to their ranks. During the first decade of century 21, Rounder has proven to be a powerhouse rock album label thanks to huge selling albums from rock legends like Robert Plant and country superstar Willie Nelson. That trail of recording comebacks on Rounder continues with the 2011 CD release from Gregg Allman entitled Low Country Blues. Produced by T Bone Burnette, the eleven track excursion into the blues is actually Allman’s first solo album in 14 years. The voice and keyboard sound on the debut album from the Allman Brothers Band back in the late ‘60s, Allman remains an icon among Southern rock legends and Low Country Blues will go far towards furthering his legacy. T Bone is the hottest rock producer on the planet today and backed up by key musicians—including Doyle Bramhall II, Mac Rebennack, drummer Jay Bellerose and Burnette on guitars himself—Allman brings a wealth of experience to the sound and vision here. The key track here “Just Another Rider”—composed by Allman and Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes—is one of Allman’s best while the top notch production, CD packaging and superb CD booklet makes Low Country Blues a valuable investment for any serious Allman Brothers fan.

- Cofounder of Procol Harum and guitar prodigy Robin Trower is gearing up for a huge 2011 tour of the U.S. and it’s worth noting his latest album The Playful Heart was released in early 2011. Trower worked great with lead singer Davey Pattison and after working with Jack Bruce on the acclaimed Seven Moons album, Robin is back in the studio with a solid rock trio with Davey featured on five of the vocals here. With a fine distinctive voice, Robin made mark with the occasional song on those historic Procol Harum albums and he gives his voice a workout on a number of cuts here. Trower’s forte is clearly his amazing guitar tone and like in the spirit of Hendrix and late ‘60s Clapton, Trower continues blazing a trail for the art of the electric guitar in the 21st century. To prove that, he’s also included several atmospheric Hendrix style instrumentals which always seem, quite rightly so, to work out in his favor.


BOLERO RECORDS - One of the most prolific of all the modern nuevo flamenco guitar masters, Armik continues to amaze with his amazing classical guitar techniques and virtuosity. It hasn’t been too long since Armik’s 2009 Serenata album release on Bolero, yet Armik delves right back in and furthers his recording legacy with the 2010 release of the twelve track Besos album. Produced by Armik, and once again engineered by Annette Dashchi and mixed by Armik and Annette, Besos comes across like a pleasurable, scenic trip-tik filled with classical guitar soundscapes that suitably conveys Armik’s impeccable songs and sentiments. The nonstop Spanish inspired castenet flavored percussion effects carry Armik’s brilliant guitar work across the sound stage. If you like the idea of bringing the time honored traditions of flamenco guitar into the 21st century with often dramatic results, then the instrumental guitar sound of Armik is for you.

- Even though L.A. has the weather and that great “West Coast” sound, New York City is and always will be the center of the jazz world. Musicians flock here from the four corners of the world and case in point is Scandinavian guitarist Tomas Janzon, who resides in NYC. Recording on the Changes Music label, Janzon breaks fresh ground in the jazz guitar world by paying tribute to the past masters with his 2010 CD Experiences. Jazz writers correctly cite influences in Janzon’s instrumental mainstream jazz guitar based music—from Metheny and Scofield to legends like Wes Montgomery. Perhaps looking for some respite from those brutal New York winters, Janzon recorded Experiences in L.A. back in February 2010, with the exception of the set closer—a Swedish folk song adapted for a jazz group called “En Dejlig Rosa”—a live cut recorded way back in 2002 at the famous Facshing club in Stockholm. Janzon’s CD is made even greater thanks to some solid backup from his group, including Art Hillery (keyboards), Jeff Littleton (bass) and Albert “Tootie” Heath (drums). With several Janzon originals, Experiences is mainly filled up with covers of jazz classics from the pens of giants like Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery and more.

- The beauty of the acoustic guitar is that it can not only fit into the context of a rock band, but in and of itself—played by just one man or woman—it can have a sublime relaxing effect. Sometimes you need to kick back and slow down with the guitar which is just the effect you get upon hearing Slow Times—the 2010 CD from guitarist Mortimer Nelson. For the CD release of Slow Times—produced by Mark Muldaur—Mort combines his usual acoustic guitar magic that combines various finger style acoustic guitar stylings that are specifically designed to be slow and quiet, with just enough space for the sound of the vibrating steel and wood to breathe. Apparently, Mort lost his thumbnail sometime before recording Slow Times and in his words, ‘I’d planned on recording a couple of other CDs before getting to this stuff.’ Thankfully he did record and release Slow Times and acoustic guitar fans are lucky he did. Give a listen to Mortimer Nelson on the web site.

- California guitarist Prashant Aswani may have a pretty exotic sounding name but his music isn’t really exotic at all. In fact, Prashant makes easy on the ears hard instrumental rock music that skirts the edges of heavy metal and fusion yet with his typical grasp of genres, he leaves the door open for wide interpretation. For example, on the lead off cut of his 2010 album Sonically Speaking—entitled “Stephanie”—Prashant opens the door of sound quite subtlety, yet by the time track two rolls in, the heavy sound is back in motion and so the CD really begins. Handling most of the guitar chores himself—as well as the production and arrangments—Prashant proves decent as a composer throughout the ten track CD. Prashant gets support from a range of players here, including Rhonda Smith (bass) and Joey Heredia (drums) along with guest spots from famed rock guitar hero Brett Garsed and tabla master Abhijit Banerjee. Hard rock, fusion jazz, heavy metal are all styles and sounds in play on Prashant’s latest guitar release.

FAVORED NATIONS - Combining elements from folk and jazz to a hybrid New Age kind of vibe, finger style guitarist Pierre Bensusan makes fans on both side of the Atlantic happy with the 2010 CD release of Vividly. Stateside, Favored Nations founder, guitarist Steve Vai is a huge advocate for acoustic guitar music and, armed with his Favored Nations Acoustic label, he has released Bensusan’s latest to American ears. Since his album debut, thirty five years ago, Bensusan has dabbled sonically in a wealth of guitar genres—from American bluegrass to Celtic music and North African rhythms. Many of the tracks on Vividly were co-written by Bensusan’s wife and co-producer Doatea Cornu Bensusan. Although primarily an acoustic guitar experience, several tracks here feature Bensusan singing, quite atmospherically, in both English and French. A truly sublime musical experience, Vividly redefines the art of acoustic guitar music in the 21st century.

- A true cross-pollination of acoustic based instrumental jazz from around the world, the 2010 CD release of The Way We Talk is a collaboration between Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italy’s Simone Zanchini on accordion and electronics. Ratko is also backed up here by the rhythm section of Martin Gjakonovski (from Macedonia on acoustic bass) and Adam Nussbaum (from America on drums). Recording the album in Germany, Ratko aims to make jazz fans happy on a CD that blends a wide cross-section of guitar-centric jazz and continental European style music in the romantic musical spirit of Astor Piazzolla. The Croatian born Ratko has played and recorded with top jazzers including Gary Peacock and John Patitucci and he adds that his guitar heroes include Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and John McLaughlin, although he claims ‘the biggest influences on my playing have come from composers such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Igor Stravinsky.’ Those just picking up on Ratko’s releases should also give a listen to his 2009 album Continental Talk—recorded in NYC in 2008 and featuring contributions from John Patitucci (acoustic bass), Steve Gadd, (drums) and more.

MAX GOLDSTON - Atlanta guitarist Max Goldston struck guitar gold with his 2009 Emancipation album and likewise he once again serves up a fine album of acoustic guitar instrumental wonders with his 2011 CD Awakening. Played and written in the spirit of his earlier Will Ackerman assisted release—and produced by long time accomplice Toni Colomar—on Awakening Goldston once again does a masterful job entertaining listeners with just his acoustic guitar. Like the windswept prairies of America from which he draws his musical inspiration, Goldston is truly a most promising American guitar master. Flowing with meditative guitar-based ideas, Awakening just sounds better with each repeat spin. Fans of Windham Hill’s Ackerman and Hedges, as well Leo Kottke and Tommy Emmanuel should get a buzz from Goldston’s impeccable finger style solo acoustic guitar sounds.

- Acoustic guitarist Peppino D’Agostino gained acclaim for his CD on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations Acoustic label and in 2010 he’s released yet another fine studio album entitled Nine White Kites. Released on his own Peppino D’Agonstino Records, the 13 track CD is filled with a sense of solo finger style acoustic guitar magic and might even be considered a classic of the instrumental music genre. Reflecting on the title, with its soaring and quite colorful graphic imagery, Peppino adds, ‘Music is weightless. But if you think about it, it can create very deep and heavy feelings. The kite is very light, like music, but it also can evoke feelings. Plus it symbolizes a sense of freedom, and kites are universal, found all around the world.’ Metaphors aside, much like the appealing CD booklet artwork, Nine White Kites is a good example of style versus content—it’s not only a great CD sound and sonic definition but it has the music to back it all up, giving acoustic guitar lovers a reason to celebrate.

- The French are truly masters of sonic art. That country’s devotion to electronic music is historic—even going back to the early 1970’s and the dawn of electronica and synthesized musical art forms. It would take quite a few paragraphs to express the wonders of French music and musicians but suffice to say—at least for this review—that one of the top new labels of France, Ultimae, continues breaking new ground for the art of sonic electronica as it applies to far out rock based concepts and even New Age music. Case in point is both Ultimae’s Solar Fields album entitled Origins #01 and, I’m happy to say the 2011 CD release of Ultimae’s latest release by AES Dana entitled Perimeters. Featuring the music and vision of Vincent Villuis, the eleven cut, all instrumental Perimeters album is in some ways, the 21st century version of Jean Michel Jarre. I’m sure Jarre’s fans will love this AES Dana album. There’s also a slight Teutonic influence here brought to light by Vincent’s music encounter with German composer Chistoph Berg. Now that you mention it, there is also a definite Tangerine Dream influence in AES Dana, although the album’s merger of neoclassical space music brings it into the now thanks to an array of warm sounding down tempo chill music grooves which hypnotically merge with soft e-drum effects. All this ingenious music is suitably topped off by fantastic artwork a great booklet and packaging making AES Dana state of the art of electronica in the 21st century.


- The perfect label name for U.K. guitar hero Phil Manzanera to express himself, Expression Records continues to expand on the genius of Phil Manzanera with 2011 CD remasters of Phil’s most quintessential ‘70s albums. Both the Quiet Sun album Mainstream and Phil’s other album from that period Diamond Head are brother and sister albums, both recorded in that heady ‘74/75 period of the 20th century U.K. rock. To some in the know fans during that time, Quiet Sun represented the epitome of progressive instrumental art-rock fusion. Backed by his Quiet Sun bandmates—bass ace and Expression Records cofounder Bill MacCormick, Charles Heyward (drums) and Dave Jarrett (keyboards)—Phil just pulled out all the stops on the Mainstream album. Expressions super deluxe Quiet Sun CD remaster is packaged in an attractive hard backed book—the keepsake design recreating, in fine design, the fascinating story of the album along with several key unreleased bonus cuts, including an interview track on the CD. In contrast, kicking off with Robert Wyatt singing “Frontera,” Diamond Head—also from that amazing 1975 period—was the shades of light in contrast to the dark and fiery Quiet Sun sound. Balanced out by several whimsical yet effective vocals featuring Robert, Brian Eno and John Wetton, the instrumentals on Diamond Head fit right in perfectly with what Phil was trying to do and did accomplish on the one Quiet Sun album. No bonus cuts on Expression’s 2011 Diamond Head remaster but, the packaging is first rate. Combined, these albums comprise a musical time capsule depicting the most enduring musical era of the 20th century.

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