Record Label
and Music Spotlight 









DECCA RECORDS - Singer-songwriter Paula Cole doesn’t make a lot of albums but when she does it’s a real treat. After Cole’s 2007 album Courage came out, she took a break and after a few years she’s back again with Ithaca. Commenting on the album Cole claims, ‘My albums are polaroid snapshots of my life. The writing is the hard part because my process is highly personal and autobiographical.’ Cole credits producer legend Bobby Colomby with getting her back into the music world and, Colomby also produced Courage, which was recorded during Cole's painful divorce. She adds, ‘The overall theme of Ithaca is the return to home and making peace with it.’ She can wail with the best of them, including Yoko Ono, yet Cole cites John Lennon among her biggest musical influences and, in a kindred spirit with Lennon’s gimme some truth style of music, Cole bears her soul her and the lyrics printed in the booklet are often brutally honest.’ Compared to the softer spoken Courage album, Ithaca also rocks when it has to and when she gets it rolling, Cole rocks with the best of them. Backing Paula up in the studio are renowned session stars including Marc Ribot (guitar) and Tony Levin (stick), along with guitarists Kevin Barry and Ben Butler, drummer Ben Wittman and more topped off by solid co-production from Chris Roberts and engineer Kevin Killen. Whether rocking out or going deep and dark, Cole brings it all back home with Ithaca. /

EMARCY / UNIVERSAL - Based in NYC, the Emarcy label continues releasing amazing jazz-pop CD releases. High on the list of 2010 CDs from Emarcy is Home, a new album of jazz standards from singer Jane Monheit. For Home, Ms. Monheit is joined by a number of jazz musician heroes including guitarists John Pizzarelli and Frank Vignola in addition to studio legends like Mark O’Connor (violin), Rick Montalbano (drums) and Larry Goldings (piano). If you love jazz standards—the kind you might hear in a late night bar on a rainy night in Manhattan—you have to give a listen to Ms. Monheit’s Home album. Commenting on the twelve track CD, she adds, ‘I wanted to return home to doing what I love best. Getting back to my roots. For me, there’s nothing like singing a jazz standard and giving it new life through one’s own interpretation; bringing it to a new audience in a whole new and different light.’ For a good insight into just how well Ms. Monheit works with these top players, take a listen to track 4, “Tonight You Belong To Me,” composed by Billy Rose and Lee David. Short and sweet, the track features a cozy duet between Ms. Monheit and John Pizzarelli, that really encapsulates the best spirit of the jazz standards brought to light here. Summing up, Jane adds, ‘This is a project I’ve been thinking of for a long album of songs and a group of musicians that are deeply important to me. My relationship to these songs and my love for the people playing them make this album what it is.’ /

- Dedicated to his dad, the 2010 CD release of Mannerisms Magnified presents a good introduction to the music of Dale Turner. Turner has proven himself time and again as a guitarist—including several solo releases and a stint playing guitar in the group of avant gard guitarist David Pritchard—yet for Mannerisms Magnified Turner’s sound is quite eclectic, eclectic pop. Turner’s adventurous guitar work sounds influenced by a wealth of icons like Steve Morse, Tommy Emmanuel, Ty Tabor, Jeff Beck and other fretboard heroes. There’s also a definite Zappa-esque and Mike Keneally like influence in Turner’s guitar sound and vocals. The first track—”Brian On The Brain”—starts off at least as an homage of sorts to Brian Wilson, yet other parts of the album takes off on a more progressive rock tangent that is quite harder edged and in doing so, presents Turner as a multitalented yet quite eclectic composer / guitarist who never fails to take a hard left turn or roll out a turn on a dime chord sequence. Frank Zappa would also enjoy Turner’s off-the-wall lyrics which he claims was influenced by writers and comics from Dr. Seuss to George Carlin and Bill Maher. According to the liner notes of the CD, Turner was very impressed as a kid, watching his dad build things out of nothing and Mannerisms Magnified is basically his attempt at following in his “craftperson” footsteps by writing, performing, recording and mixing everything himself. The whole album is so well designed and engineered you’d never guess it was all one person doing it all. In addition, the CD packaging is fantastic with Turner also creating the illustrations, art direction and design. An interesting choice for fans of adventurous American progressive rock, Mannerisms Magnified takes rock music in a daring new approach and direction.

LASER’S EDGE - Laser’s Edge founder Ken Golden was a big fan of the music this writer was releasing on Breakthru’ Records back in the early ‘80s. And although I have seen him since the Pekka Pohjola concert at the Bitter End in 1993—I’m happy to say, Ken has done quite well over the years turning Laser’s Edge from an import CD mail-order company at the end of the '80s into a world class record label. Ken’s vision has included releasing a range of classic Eurock style albums—including historic, first ever CD remasters on Laser’s Edge from Finnforest and Secret Oyster—over the years that draws on the spirit of the great European instrumental and prog-rock music of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Hey Ken, remember ordering me the Humpe Humpe CD in 1989 just after I lost my label and I was living down in Florida? (LOL!) Anyway, Laser’s Edge hits a new musical height with the 2010 release of Hybrid Child from the group District 97. A conglomerate of Chicago based players backing up singer Leslie Hunt—including the group’s main composer and percussionist Jonathan Schang (drums), Jim Tashian (guitar), Rob Clearfield (keys), Katinka Kleijn and Patrick Mulcahy (bass)—District 97 skillfully mix the no holds barred rock fusion style of say, early YES, Canterbury proggers National Health and 21st century American fusioneers like Liquid Tension Experiment. In the spirit of Ann Wilson of Heart, the band’s new singer Leslie Hunt was an American Idol top ten female finalist in 2007 and in this setting she fits into the prog-rock style quite handily. With Hunt’s multi-textured vocals giving a voice to a solid progressive rock sound, District 97 actually breaks new ground for the state of rock music in 2010.

LOST HIGHWAY / ISLAND RECORDS - Back in 1965, Tom Jones made his big breakthrough with incredible pop classics like “It’s Not Unusual”, “What’s New Pussycat” and by ‘66 “Green Green Grass Of Home”. Of course huge albums released in the U.S. through London / Parrot Records made Jones a household name and by the dawn of the ‘70s he eventually became a king in Las Vegas. Personally, my favorite Jones moment came years later with in his now classic performance in the late ‘90s Mars Attacks! movie which saw him in Vegas once again, this time helping to obliterate armies of martian monsters who were invading Earth! Can’t believe Tom didn’t win an oscar for that! Well, despite all the many compilations from his wistful ‘60s heyday, Jones is back big time in 2010 with Praise & Blame, an album of religious hymns. Kicking off with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?”, the album segues perfectly into “Lord Help” which Jones just smokes with rock power and glory. Jones may be 70 already but he’s still got the vocal dynamic of his younger years. On Praise & Blame Jones has a rocking band which really zones in on his new 21st century rock sound here including some sizzling electric guitar from Ethan Johns, who also produced the album. With half the album featuring Jones tackling music from Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Rosetta Tharp, Jesse May Hemphill and more, the second half features kindred tracks written by Jones and producer Ethan Johns. A round of top players assist Jones and Johns including SYN drummer Jeremy Stacey, bass ace Dave Bronze, with guest spots from Augie Myers (farfisa), B.J. Cole (steel guitar,) Booker T. Jones (keyboards) and much more. Inspired by classic gospel / hymnal albums by Johnny Cash and Elvis, Jones does the genre right on an album that simply rocks with a born again, god-fearing fervor.

NEW FOLK RECORDS - Specializing in acoustic instrumental music—and then having much success with Steve Miller Band guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis and scoring critical acclaim with folk-rock instrumental artists Greg Herriges and Lehto & Wright—the New Folk label scores folk-rock gold with the 2010 CD from U.K. singer-songwriter Peter Bruntnell. Bruntnell’s seventh album and first since 2004’s Played Out, the ten track Peter And The Murder Of Crows continues on with some splendid folk-rock featuring Bruntnell’s vocals carrying each song on a roller coaster of musical twists and turns. Influenced by both Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett and noted U.K. guitarist Bert Jansch, Bruntnell is primarily a singer-songwriter yet he’s quite skillful on acoustic and electric guitar among many other instruments while he also gets fine studio support from a full rock band including Dave Little on electric guitar and electric sitar, drummer Mark Roberts and more. Bruntnell was noted by on the october 2002 review of Peter’s then Back Porch Records release of Ends Of The Earth, and his latest U.S. release on New Folk Records continues on with some splendid dreamy pop-rock and overall, is equally intriguing.

NU NOISE RECORDS - It’s interesting that the three big guys behind Atlantic Records in New York City were actually three Turkish immigrants; Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun and a fellow Turk Arif Mardin. As history recalls, Ahmet died in December 2006 at age 83, several months after Arif Mardin died in June 26 at age 74. Mardin was a key producer, composing genius and string arranger who was a star at Atlantic and later at Manhattan Records. Arif's famous smooth as silk productions of key acts like The Bee Gees, Aretha Franklin, Hall & Oates, George Benson, Ringo Starr and more are legendary in the music world. Before he passed away in 2006, Arif was writing music for what was to be his final album. Compiled and released posthumously in 2010 by his son, Joe Mardin for the NuNoise label, All My Friends Are Here features key vocal contributions from a number of artists and friends of Mardin, including Bette Midler with Barry Gibb, Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Phil Collins, Dr. John, Hall & Oates, Raul Midon, Nikki Parrot and many more backed up by a crack band and orchestra on an album that serves as a good introduction to Mardin’s jazzy, breezy pop music and his loyal musical friends who serve him well on this righteous tribute CD. Mardin himself closes out the CD with the piano soliloquy title track. To further his dad’s musical legacy—and as a companion to the All My Friends Are Here CD—Joe Mardin has also produced a critically acclaimed DVD documentary about his dad entitled The Greatest Ears In town - The Arif Mardin Story.

NEUF-ANGLED RECORDS - The story of 1967 would take encyclopedic volumes to explain in full. For the teeny boppers as we were called, the Summer Of Love collided with “All You Need Is Love”. Vietnam was raging and every night we’d sit around the dinner table and just be shocked into submission hearing about the scores, sometimes up to 50 or 100 young G.I. soldiers killed and maimed every day by the the supposed communist guerillas as we came to call them. Of course invading Nam was a tragic flaw by the American government as JFK knew all full well and that is why some postulate as to why he was murdered in Dallas, a great city that is interestingly the current home of the infamous George “W” Bush. In a new fangled way, coming in to pitch from the bull-pen far out in left field, the Colorado based group, The Strolling Scones play up 1967 in a musical way by picking and choosing a dozen (some obvious, some not so obvious) covers of classics made popular during that illustrious period by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, Hendrix, Donovan, the Kinks, Cream and a whole lot more culminating in a set closing cover of “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman”, which came out on the Deram label, at the same time Deram / Decca had Procol Harum with “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and Cat Stevens with “Matthew & Son”, two songs (not covered here) that really shaped Deram as England’s key pop label back in the day. Recorded by one Whistlin’ Jack Smith, “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” took the pop charts by storm making it the first instrumental, albeit a complete musical anomaly from the U.K., to top the U.S. charts (even as a whistler) since “Telstar” took the U.S. charts by storm in 1962. Any way, these tongue in cheek music lovers—comprised of Rick Stockton (recording here under the name T. Malcolme Oxford) and Helen Highwater (recording here under the name Yardley London)—are backed up by some fine players who help flesh out their full band sound here. Sometimes sounding like Kassentz-Katz playing the best of swinging London, there’s an air of the romanticizing of an unforgettable time that is hard for pop lovers at any age to resist. When the great music of the 1960s are taught in college curriculums in the next hundreds of years or so, they may want to turn to this record of us looking back at who we really were in 2010 and how amazing it was when just a transistor radio the size of a pack of cigarettes was as cool as it got! Unimaginable now, I carried my little AM radio everywhere. Superbly packaged with a “peeling” graphics (LOL!), Two Vegans by The Strolling Scones shows how a CD should be presented (in case you forgot!) while the back cover got me all sentimental for my old troll orange headed one that I sometimes called Maha, as I recall now.

NEW FOLK RECORDS - Specializing in acoustic instrumental music—and then having much success with Steve Miller Band guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis and scoring critical acclaim with folk-rock instrumental artists Greg Herriges and Lehto & Wright—the New Folk label scores folk-rock gold with the 2010 CD from U.K. singer-songwriter Peter Bruntnell. Bruntnell’s seventh album and first since 2004’s Played Out, the ten track Peter And The Murder Of Crows continues on with some splendid folk-rock featuring Bruntnell’s vocals carrying each song on a roller coaster of musical twists and turns. Influenced by both Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett and noted U.K. guitarist Bert Jansch, Bruntnell is primarily a singer-songwriter yet he’s quite skillful on acoustic and electric guitar among many other instruments while he also gets fine studio support from a full rock band including Dave Little on electric guitar and electric sitar, drummer Mark Roberts and more. As was noted by on the october 2002 review of Peter’s then Back Porch Records release of Ends Of The Earth, his latest U.S. release on New Folk Records continues on with some splendid dreamy pop-rock and is equally intriguing.

RADIANT RECORDS - When guitar ace Steve Morse isn’t busy touring with Deep Purple or making new albums with his power trio, he can be found doing what most music lovers do, which is listening to music and discovering new singers and groups. Mr. Morse strikes gold with his new album Angelfire, featuring the debut of a new singer Sarah Spencer. Morse and his music often lends itself to lyrical melodies just begging for a singer as pure and pristine as Ms. Spencer. And to find her in his own area in Florida must have been a great windfall for the guitar icon. According to Steve, ‘It started when her father asked me to listen to her demos and give her some advice about a music career. I was reluctant to get involved in anyone’s decisions, but then I heard her sing. I realized that right here in Florida was this girl with an amazingly pure voice.’ After a couple years recording in the studio, Morse and Spencer—backed up by Steve’s band including Dave LaRue (bass) and Van Romaine (drums and percussion)—show the music world they make a great team. Co-written by the pair, the music on Angelfire is very Morse inspired with the melodies and lyrics so skillfully sung by Ms. Spencer. There’s a great pop edge here coupled with the guitar-based mastery that Morse and his trio brings to the jazz-rock world. In a way inspired by Mike Oldfield teaming up in the ‘80s with Maggie Riley and even the acoustic rock driven sound of Blackmore’s Night, Angelfire wins you over with a winning performance by all the players here.

SIDE B MUSIC - What a great year 2010 has been for L.A. pop music! For fans of the genre, first off has to be Brian Wilson's George Gershwin tribute album while other key releases have also come out on 2010 by noted Beatles / Beach Boys disciples like McCartney band utility guitarist Brian Ray, Nelson Bragg, Anny Celsi, Maple Mars and now a return to form from Chewy Marble. first reviewed this fine group way back in March of '01 and their 2010 Modulations is well worth the long wait. In the spirit of Rick Hromadka of Maple Mars and Mr. Ray, Chewy Marble kingpin Brian Kassan is still steering the Chewy Marble sound with able support from vocalist Stu Forman who blends with Kassan on many of the tracks along with Derrick Anderson (bass). With his great pop presence, Kassan rocks and he even adds in a couple intriguing instrumental tracks that could presage a new sound. Kassan supplies most of instruments including drums while it's also interesting to note that L.A. pop masters such as Rick Hromadka and Rick Gallego add in further production touches on what will come to be chronicled as the best Chewy Marble album yet, while also highlighting definitely one of the best years on record for L.A. pop.

SOCIAL SCIENCE RECORDINGS - A big fan of Harry Nilsson and Paul McCartney, L.A. based singer-songwriter Vincent Minor released his first album in 2010 and it’s been getting great press from the pop cognoscenti. Why stop here, so is also pleased to say it’s a solid pop set with lots of ‘68 era Nilsson and McCartney-esque white album era Beatle inspired pop magic. Sometimes low key, yet a rocker when he chooses, Minor has a midas touch in the studio and accompanying his tinkling ivories, voice and songs are fine players including Tom Biller (bass, production), Stewart Cole (horns), Zac Rae (keyboards), Ed Maxwell (bass) and more. Minor cites Morrissey and Bowie as big influences, yet with his effects-enhanced acoustic piano laden pop tracks—there are no guitars here—Minor comes across a unique and rising pop talent in his own right.

WHOORAY - Back when I interviewed Brian Ray on September 29, 2005, for 20th Century Guitar magazine I knew full well his was a name that would come to pass into books on rock history. As the utility player in the Paul McCartney group for the past eight years, Ray may have toured the four corners of the world with Sir Paul, but he has also been game to establish his own name as a solo artist. He came close on his ‘05 solo debut CD, the brilliant Mondo Magneto, and 5 years later on his own Whooray label, Ray comes ever closer with 2010’s This Way Up. The up arrow on the outer CD slip case, signifying a positive sun-shiny type Beatles inspired sound, gives a good indication where Ray and his group are going on the eleven cut album. And, I mean how bad could it be anyway with Ray co-writing on a number of tracks with fellow guitar enthusiast Oliver Leiber, son of Jerry Leiber of rock and roll songwriting pioneers Leiber/Stoller, on the album. Personally, I can’t think of a better and cooler guitarist / bass player than Brian Ray, for McCartney to recreate that vintage Beatles sound especially in the live setting Paul loves. The Ray man can do it all himself, like Sir Paul, however he does collaborate with Oliver Leiber here, who is an amazing authority on guitars and guitar sounds himself, along with a number of fine players players including a guest spot from McCartney band drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. who propels the big beat with Ray directing the festivities on his latest rockin’ rollover trip into the land of power pop.

WOODSTOCK RECORDS - Back in 2009 Woodstock Records—actually based up in Woodstock N.Y.—released an excellent comeback album from New Riders Of The Purple Sage called Where I Come From. Now in 2010, Woodstock Records have a new album release out called Songs Of The Grateful Dead: A Tribute To Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter by singer-songwriter Jesse McReynolds & Friends. Those friends include New Riders guitarist David Nelson and studio guitar ace Stu Allen. Reviving 13 classics from the songbook of The Grateful Dead, specifically songs penned by Garcia and Hunter, McReynolds and company strike a musical nerve that really gets to the gist of why the Dead are considered an American treasury of great songs. Renowned for his work with Jim & Jesse, McReynolds is a Grand Ole Opry member for 45 years and his knowledge and expertise in delivering the Grateful Dead classics is really something to behold. In his liner notes, Dead lyricist Robert Hunter adds, ‘Jesse’s singing is like a long lost brother voice between Jerry Garcia and David Nelson. The singing is steady and strong. Jerry would approve, I’m certain.’ In addition to the cross section of Dead classics—including favorites like “Ripple”, “Fire On The Mountain” and Garcia’s ‘72 solo jewel “Deal”—there’s also a bonus cut, a new original song called “Day By Day” penned by Jesse and Robert Hunter. Compared to the psychedelic vibe of the early Grateful Dead, Songs Of The Grateful Dead is a more more relaxed, with a near country rock vibe and will appeal to New Riders fans as well as Grateful Dead albums like American Beauty, which is really the prototype for this blend of country-rock magic. A number of like-minded musicians back up McReynolds, Nelson, Allen and company, while excellent packaging and artwork topped off by freshly penned liner notes from McReynolds and Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz (of Crowmatix fame) seals the deal on this appealing and highly listenable tribute to the timeless magic of the much missed Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead.


1K RECORDINGS - A studied revival mixing influences like early ‘70s U.K. jazzers such as Soft Machine and Henry Cow, the 2010 release of The Seven Dreams by Goldbug takes the avant jazz fusion genre to another level. Guitarist Tim Motzer gets solid support from his band mates Eric Slick (drums), Barry Meehan (bas) and Soft Machine flute/sax man Theo Travis. Mix in the spirit of Syd era Pink Floyd and the strategies of King Crimson founder Bob Fripp and you come close to a description. Being all instrumental, this superbly recorded album blends New Age, jazz, fusion and the rage of futuristic beats on a CD that just sounds more intriguing with each spin. In addition to The Seven Dreams, Motzer has also released Descending, credited to Tim Motzer & Markus Reuter. The duo’s ambient excursion includes guest spots once again from Theo Travis as well as pedal steel ace B.J. Cole and Pat Mastelotto adding electronics.

BLACK MAMBA RECORDS - From jazz-rock to guitar based fusion to surf-rock, guitarist Adrian Raso has it covered on his 2010 CD Clean Up The Mess. A number of influences come to mind including Mark Knopfler, whose guitar sound has obviously influenced Raso. Based out in Ontario, Canada, Raso gets solid support from drummer Jeff Consi, and overall the entire album just rocks up a storm. Although he’s devoted to the instrumental rock genre, Raso was influenced early on by rock icons like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Prince, although he’s quick to point out in his liner notes that his real love affair is with his guitar—the Fender Stratocaster. Although he’s recorded several acoustic-based guitar instrumental albums, including a Django Reinhardt tribute called C’est La Vie in 2008, Raso’s 2010 release Clean Up The Mess—with its mix of driving guitar tracks—should find a home right away with the rock instrumental crowd. www.Adrian

BOGDO ULA - Guitarist Samuli Kristian and drummer Ivan Horder are on a roll this year. These creative Finns form the basis of the instrumental rock fusion band called Bogdo Ula. The all instrumental Bogdo Ula broke down musical walls in 2009 with their CD Aerograd and they return in late 2010 with the equally fascinating sound of Charge. If anything the CD takes the Bogdo Ula sound further out there, creating hypnotic waves of cosmic, celestial guitar sounds in the spirit of David Gilmour, Syd Barrett, Terje Rypdal and Steve Hillage, who proffered a similar guitar sound in Gong during the mid ‘70s. With a keen fascinating for 21st century recording techniques, Finland’s Bogdo Ula bring the sound of cosmic instrumental rock up to date with often startling, cosmic results. Charge is a haunting roller coaster trip into the land of intergalactic instrumental rock guitar.

DEADSLACKSTRING RECORDS - With a name like Deadslackstring it better be good right? Well funny enough one cool CD on that label happens to be a 2009-ish solo piano work from Richard Moult entitled Ethe. Recorded live on piano in July 2008 in St. Leonards Parish Church in Hastings, England, the mood is dark and severe—the music like a door slightly ajar in a dark room begging to be opened. Check out the cover art—blackness pervades the view and the music doesn’t even think of letting in the light. Moult is a master of piano suspense and his music borders on a nightmarish soundtrack. With further “lysergic morphing” in the studio by someone called The Bricoleur, Moult’s piano borrows its sonic vision from kindred influences such as the Eno’s and Harold Budd. A solo piano album geared for the avant gard / prog and ambient chill set, Ethe is superbly recorded and guaranteed to enhance any color you like.

DECCA RECORDS - Back in the '60s, the illustrious, original Decca Records label from England was responsible for so many of the great classic rock albums from the Rolling Stones and Moody Blues to say nothing of their amazing classical repertoire which is world renowned. The label is handled Stateside here in America by Decca Records US who are owned by multi-national conglomerate Universal Music. In late 2010, Decca worldwide have a great new CD from remix / producer genius William Orbit entitled Pieces In A Modern Style 2. Released as a follow up to William’s 1999 volume one of Pieces, this second installment features more newly worked-up, switched on electronic adaptations of Orbit’s influential classical music favorites including electronic symphonic covers of music we all know and love from the pens of classical music heroes with famous last names like J.S. Bach, Pucccini, Faure, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Saint-Saens and more. As astute music fans will remember going back to the early ‘80s, William Orbit earned his stripes as a recording artist back the heyday of the mid ‘80s, just when CD was first coming out, while producing very appealing dance pop and instrumental no-speak electronica for Miles Copeland’s now historic IRS label back in the ‘80s and for much of the ‘90s. As a side project to his continuing success as a producer and remix artist, Orbit sounds right at home on this magical foray into the world of classical electronica. Commenting on his instrumental classical New Age mix Orbit adds, ‘My parents loved classical music. So those sounds come naturally to me. Classical was the only music that was played in our house. That’s why I keep returning to classical pieces for inspiration.’ Fans of Wendy Carlos, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre will get a buzz off of Orbit's modern approach to classical music. Fans should note that there’s also a companion CD to Pieces—entitled Pieces In A Modern Style 2 - Remixes, that reworks the CD release and adds in even more electronic and percussive effects—but (so far) it’s only available as a download, while there is yet another companion CD available on Decca entitled Pieces In The Original Style which compiles the original classical works which inspired William Orbit. Back around the time when this writer first started in the music business back in 1983, I sent William Orbit my first Lp release on Breakthru' Records of the Pekka Pohjola album Urban Tango. I don’t know if William remembers this but I recall he said some nice things to me about the Lp and I was very grateful somebody of his enormous musical intellect would say something cool about the late Pekka Pohjola, and it’s more than gratifying for this long time fan to see William Orbit still winning over whole new generations of pop, classical and electronic music fans with Pieces In A Modern Style 2.

GALAXY MUSIC / INAKUSTIK - Guitar icon Al DiMeola as always been a huge proponent of acoustic jazz / fusion in the spirit of his musical mentors, such as composer giants like Astor Piazzolla. In this latest musical wake-up call, Al gets to flex his acoustic guitar chops on a stellar 2010 CD release entitled He & Carmen. Featuring Al paired with the flute of Eszter Horgas, the twelve track live in concert CD clocks in just under 69 minutes while the entire event was quite well received by the attentive, yet respectful crowd. Recorded live in Budapest on November 14, 2008, this live CD pairing of DiMeola and Horgas also features splendid backing from a number of gifted Hungarian musicians who help fill up the sound stage. Interestingly, the album was inspired when Al and Eszter joined together for a proposed jazzy, Latin-tinged remake of music from the opera Carmen, composed by Georges Bizet (hence the title). Fittingly, the He & Carmen album features jazzy instrumental adaptations of Bizet, Astor Piazzolla as well as several DiMeola and Horgas originals. The all instrumental sound is definitely jazz based but there’s enough Eastern European musical intrigue to make it of interest for the classical crossover crowd and even soundtrack music fans, to say nothing about devoted fans who have followed DiMeola and his guitars since his groundbreaking mid ‘70s heyday with Chick Corea and Return To Forever.

GRANT GORDY MUSIC - With its mix of rootsy Americana bluegrass (“newgrass”) music—along with a heapin’ helpful of jazz, classical and “dawg” music—the self titled CD release of Grant Gordy is a great introduction to the guitar-centric music of Denver based acoustic guitarist. Gordy is also a key member in the band of David “Dawg” Grisman, and on his own album Gordy follows Grisman’s lead and cuts loose with some splendid new musical ideas of his own. In a similar back with the rootsy acoustic folk jazz instrumentals of David Grisman, Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer, Gordy is never at a loss to implement his wide-ranging instrumental music ideas and backing up Gordy on his 2010 CD are fine players such as Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), Paul Kowert (bass), Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Jamie Stone (banjo) capped off by a guest appearance from David Grisman on a track here. There’s also a strong element of Gypsy Jazz in play on the Grant Gordy album with Gordy’s acoustic guitar sound getting some very retro-flavored Stephan Grapelli style accompaniment from Hargreaves on violin / fiddle. An ear-opening treat for fans of the genre, the Grant Gordy CD just sounds better with each spin while by the studio production by Gordy and Jayme Stone is first rate. The CD packaging is good and is capped off by illuminating liner notes by David Grisman.

- Nuevo flamenco guitar is huge all over the world, especially in Europe where the guitar has been romanticized for centuries. Case in point is a German group called Luna Blanca, a group of guitar practitioners who have just released a 2010 CD called Provence. The music of Luna Blanca is as appealing as the album’s cover art, which features pastel type colors adorning a scenic ocean type beach scape. Key to the Luna Blanca sound are the group’s two composers Richard Hecks (lead guitar) and Helmut Graebe (piano, organ). The two receive excellent support form a number of players including Bino Dola (rhythm, second lead guitar). I guess in part, thanks to the lush scenic soundscapes, Luna Blana describe their instrumental nuevo flamenco as new meditative flamenco, which should hold much appeal for New Age music fans. Although Hecks grew up listening to The Shadows and The Spotnicks, in recent years his focus has been further influenced by the guitar-centric sound of New Age guitar pioneer Ottmar Liebert as well the guitar based sound of The Gypsy Kings. A fine choice for nuevo flamenco and New Age guitar fans, Luna Blanca breath new life in the sound of 21st century guitar instrumental music.

- Based up in the Boston area, Mill City Trio combines the talents of Anthony D’Anna (drums and percussion), Jamie Dunphy (guitar) and Greg Passler (guitar and bass). With a sound that is similar, at least in style, to guitar fusion trendsetters like Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel, the group’s 2010 CD Looking Up has received much praise from critics and fans alike. Guitar fans will note that Mill City Trio have several other albums in their catalog—including Solstice (2006) and Deep Down (2008)—but 2010’s Looking Up is a great place to start to discover the jazzy, atmospheric, guitar based Mill City Trio instrumental sound. The overall sound of Looking Up is modern mainstream jazz, yet fitting in on the album, among the electric guitar based tracks, there’s also an intriguing acoustic based cut here called “Whirlpool” that features a kind of bolero like Nuevo Flamenco groove that also holds up quite well after repeated listening. Interestingly, in addition to their original jazz compositions, at their concerts, Mill City Trio has also featured revved-up versions of “Canarios” by Baroque composer Gaspar Sanz as well as a cover of “Overkill” from ‘80s rock band Men At Work. One of the best guitar-based instrumental jazz albums of 2010, Looking Up is a worthy musical mood changer that will have you looking up in no time.

- Among America’s greatest, albeit underrated instrumental music guitarists, Richard Bennett has made his name in modern times touring with rock guitar icon Mark Knopfler, although Bennett has had an illustrious love affair with guitar music for decades. The inspiration for Bennett’s 2010 solo album Valley Of The Sun takes you back to Bennett’s original infatuation with the guitar during the time he was first discovered in the late ‘60s in Phoenix by guitar god Al Casey, after which when he then went on to session work, including cutting numerous albums and touring with rock/pop legend Neil Diamond. Valley Of The Sun features eleven Bennett pop/jazz/country style guitar instrumentals, featuring Bennett backed up by a range of fine players—a full band including three drummers and additional guitar support from George Bradfute and Mike Noble. Whether you thrilled to Bennett’s work as a sideman for Mr. Knopfler or whether you dig Bennett’s undying fondness and appreciate for his Phoenix background where he was smitten by the sounds of Duane Eddy, Lee Hazelwood and of course, Al Casey, you just can’t go wrong with the pure guitar-centric instro paradise of Valley Of The Sun. The music can’t be beat and is superbly packaged with cool Phoenix, AZ inspired art work and additional liner notes by Bennett that puts the whole album into a logical perspective.

- Guitarist Taz Taylor turned heads and caught ears in the guitar world with his 2004 CD release Caffeine Racer which introduced Taz as a proponent of the hard rock guitar sound in the spirit of Gary Moore, Richie Blackmore and others. The 2010 CD release of Big Dumb Rock, by the Taz Taylor Band is the best yet from the San Diego based guitarist. Described by Taz as making the album, ‘simply for the joy, the artistry and above all the fun of playing music’, the ten track Big Dumb Rock CD features Taz in the studio with drummer Val Trainor and keyboardist Bruce Connors. Tastefully produced by Richard “Blitz” Livoni, the net result is a very cool guitar based instrumental rock that sounds somewhat like modern hard rock progressives like the Flyin’ Ryan Brothers and even Wishbone Ash. Taylor’s electric guitar sound is superb and clearly works as both instrumental hard rock and a more rock based type of jazz rock fusion kind of sound. Anything but dumb in the conventional sense of the word, Taz has it covered, guitar wise, on the humorously titled, yet quite hard rockin’ Big Dumb Rock.

- On of the hippest jazz B-3 organ players on the current jazz scene, New York’s own Pete Levin can alway s be counted to lead up solid jazz ensembles and for his 2010 album Jump! he gets it right. Guitar fans will note the ten track instrumental jazz set features Dave Stryker while jazz-rock fans will note on the traps, none other than Return To Forever timekeeper Lenny White on drums. Manola Badrena adds in some cool textures while the CD also features guest spots by the late great guitar ace Joe Beck—a duet from 2008—and Danny Gottlieb drums on a track here. There’s an uncanny air of musical ESP these players share. The studio sound is first rate while the package is topped off by cool digi-pak layout. Levin keeps it uptown and the groove just flows track to track.

- One of the key impresarios behind the history of rock and fusion instrumental music from Finland, Tapio Korjus was directly involved with key Finnish artists such as Pekka Pohjola and Wigwam right from the start in the early ‘70s. They say a leopard never changes his spots so it’s gratifying to see Tapio continuing on recording and remastering classic Finnish CDs on his own Rockadillo Records. Key to Rockadillo’s roster in 2010 is a new CD from Finnish World Beat music pioneers Piirpauke, who are back big time with a fascinating instrumental release called Koli. Formed by multi-instrumentalist Sakari Kukko back in the early ‘70s, Piirpauke have always featured a fantastic electric guitarist in their various lineups and on Koli Sakari draws on the talents of one time Jim Pembroke / Jimbo guitarist Jukka Orma. Orma is a faultless guitar rocker by nature yet he fits in perfectly with Kukko’s legendary World Beat fusion groove. Although Kukko is a masterful jazz / World Beat instrumental composer best known for his impeccable flute / sax playing, on Koli, Sakari and Piirpauke work up some tastefully adapted covers of classical composers such as Finland’s Sibelius and Russian composer Tchaikovsky. With a new twist on the time-honored classical sound, Piirpauke make this music their own, and the compositions of these revered classical masters sound like they were literally written for Kukko’s 21st century World Beat sound and vision. Such is the genius of Sakari Kukko that he can adapt classical music of this magnitude within the context of what Piirpauke do so well. There’s also several Kukko originals—including the brilliant, nearly eight minute “Lo-Hi”—just in case you forgot what a composing genius Kukko is in his own right. Anyway, in the liner notes here, Sakari goes into depth on Jean Sibelius and the overall approach on Koli. As mentioned before, Jukka Orma does a great job filling in the electric guitar slot in the 21st century Piirpauke and Jukka and Sakari also get excellent backup from the other group members including Ismaila Sane (percussion), Eerik Siikasaari (double bass) and Rami Eskelinen (drums). As if Piirpauke fans need any further motivation to track down this 21st century music classic, the CD cover art Koli is simply exquisite, while the recording sound is first rate, the liner notes informative and well written and the eye-catching packaging is a joy to behold.

- An obsession with all things guitar—especially the colorful sound of nuevo flamenco guitar—is right at the center of the 2010 CD from guitarist Benise. The latest Benise CD, The Spanish Guitar, is filled with all the flashy elements of flamenco—from the sound and style of the music, all the way down to the flashy dancing and costumes associated with the genre. Commenting on his musical mission, Benise adds, ‘When I was younger, I felt the guitar calling to me...challenging me, ‘play what’s in your your feelings in melodies and notes...make me (the guitar) an extension of your soul.’ I did not so much choose the guitar as it chose me.’ Even though he’s quick to point out that he is not so much pure flamenco as much as a fusion of world music styles, there’s no doubting his devotion to the flamenco genre throughout the sound and look of The Spanish Guitar. Whatever you think of his music, there’s no escaping the fact that his incredible stage show and spectacle—filled with his Spanish guitar music, along with numerous dancers, cirque performers and exotic drummers and more—has turned Benise into the Yanni of the nylon string flamenco guitar.

SPINOUT RECORDS - Fans of the early surf rock and roll groups like The Ventures and The Shadows might not be readily familiar with the name Sandy Nelson, but they should be. A native of Santa Monica, Nelson had a huge single with “Teen Beat”, which hit the Billboard top ten back in 1959, that more or less established the drummer as the Gene Krupa of the rock and roll era! Nelson also went to high school with Jan & Dean and Kim Fowley so that’s amazing in and of itself. “Let There Be Drums” went to number seven in ‘61—though in ‘63, Nelson was in a motorcycle accident and lost his right foot and part of his leg. Nelson continued making numerous singles and albums throughout the ‘60s—his repertoire on the Imperial label is historic—and amazingly, Sandy is back in action in 2010 with an album called Nelsonized from his new band Sandy Nelson And The Sin City Termites. A hot band indeed, Nelson gets ardent support from guitarist and Nelson fan Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets, rhythm guitarist Remi Gits and Billy Favata on bass. A joint production with writing input from all these players, it’s nevertheless Nelson’s big rock band drum sound that turns the whole thing into a retro surf-rock blast.

STONEDBIRD PRODUCTIONS - Admittedly influenced by jazz legends such as Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, drumming wizard Asaf Sirkis is making waves with his 2010 CD entitled Letting Go, recorded by his group The Asaf Sirkis Trio and released on his own Stonedbird Productions. There’s a definite air of instrumental jazz-rock fusion on the release with Asaf and his trio evoking the spirit of guitar trendsetters like Pat Metheny and Allan Holdsworth. Key to Asaf’s sound is guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos, who has his electric / acoustic fusion guitar sound down to a science. Also in Asaf’s band on the CD is Yaron Stavi on electric bass with added coloration on harmonica by Patrick Bettison on a few tracks here too. Atmospheric, jazzy and rocking in all the right places, Letting Go is a superb introduction to the sound of the Asaf Sirkis Trio and overall the CD is a cool spin for fans of the instrumental jazz-rock fusion genre.

URBAN NATURE MUSIC - Guitarist in the San Francisco based Urban Nature music duo, Todd Boston is making waves as a solo artist with the 2010 CD release of Alive. On Alive, Boston merges his finely tuned finger-style guitar picking with some adventurous modern looping technology and the result makes for an instrumental acoustic guitar album that should have wide crossover appeal among guitar fans and those who enjoy guitar based meditative New Age style instrumentals. Throughout the CD, Boston receives excellent support from his partner in the Urban Nature duo, Ramesh Kannan (tabla) as well as current New Age favorite Matthew Schoening, who adds his cello on a track here. Boston, a guitarist to keep your eye and ears on, is currently planning to record his next upcoming release with Windham Hill Records founder, and New Age enthusiast and guitar virtuoso Will Ackerman.

WAIKIKI KUKS - Not only is Finland a great place for progressive instrumental rock music in the spirit of the late great Pekka Pohjola but it’s also a known hot spot for the tropically troubling sounds of surf-rock, specifically the sounds of American guitar icons like Duane Eddy, The Ventures and Link Wray. Those looking for 21st century bands carrying on the spirit of those vintage '60s instrumental guitars legends must take a listen to Finland’s Waikiki Kuks. Their new album No Man’s Wave features a few ‘60s chestnuts yet most of the album written by guitarist Tomi Liljankoski, who gets solid backing from Janne Vastamaki (drums) and Jouni Honkala (bass). Excellent CD production and cool colorful artwork make this CD release a good bet for guitar instrumental fans. Contact the band directly:


- Steve Vai and his Favored Nations imprint have been branching out recently with their download / music on demand label Digital Nations and they make guitar fans very happy with a 2010 digital reissue of Telethon by Nashville guitar slinger Forrest Lee Jr. Forrest has yet another new album coming later this year—a rock solid blues-rock vocal based album called Mr. Classified—but guitar fans into smokin’ bluesy, jazzy instrumentals are well advised to pick up on the brilliant Telethon. The Telethon CD originally came out in the mid ‘00s but it’s been out of print in recent years so the only way to hear it now is with the CDR on demand or download only through Digital Nations. Growing up in Washington state, Forrest was greatly influenced by country rock guitar giant Albert Lee’s work with Emmylou Harris as well as Vince Gill and the usual rock influences—from The Beatles to Zeppelin. On Telethon—backed up by a solid band including Pat Coy drums and Jim McLaughlin (harmonica)—Forrest summons up a red hot instro guitar fest with added guest appearances from current guitar heroes like Redd Volkaert and Matt Rae, just to name a couple. Commenting on his working with Digital Nations, Forrest says, ‘Me and Johnny Hiland have been close friends since he moved to Nashville in 96. So having known Steve would take something like Johnny's style, I figured he may like mine as well, country but with some ass kickin rock stuff and off the wall tunes as well. How cool is it to sign your name next to Steve Vai's? Pretty damn cool.’ Fans of the instrumental rock sides of icons like Albert Lee, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Reed and any of the other guitar legend 'influences' Forrest mentions on the inside of the CD insert for Telethon, are strongly advised to give a listen to Forrest’s acclaimed classic from the world of instrumental rock and country rock music. /

- After rock icon David Bowie sadly parted ways with the late, great Mick Ronson, he went on a veritable musical tirade, first releasing the insanely brilliant Diamond Dogs in the spring of ‘74 and then going blue-eyed soulfully psychedelic on the early ‘75 release of Young Americans. By that time, Bowie had done a brilliant job reinventing himself as the most unique rock star of all time, and despite the dismay of some of his original fans who were still enthralled with album classics like The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory, Bowie yet again reached a new musical zenith with his 1975 album Station To Station. By that time, the lead guitar slot in Bowie’s band was the most coveted in the rock guitar world and fittingly, both Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar were once again included in Bowie’s recording and touring band for the Station To Station album. In retrospect, perhaps a culmination of what Bowie achieved with Diamond Dogs and Young Americans, the late ‘75 release of Station To Station may have been a stop-gap release in retrospect, yet when it came out back then on RCA, it appeared fully formed as a mind-blowing, ear shattering, eye-blinding musical statement that just may have been Bowie’s finest post Ronson recording. Unlike Diamond Dogs and Young Americans, which took some time to process, Station To Station featured an instant radio hit in “Golden Years” that was seemingly played everywhere back in in 1975. The album has held up quite well in the 35 years since it came out and in 2010, EMI revamped Station To Station album for CD reissue yet again—this time as a special three CD edition featuring the original seven track album remastered yet again—taken straight off the analogue master—with two additional CDs that recapture a Bowie concert recorded live on March 23, 1976 at the Nassau Coliseum, in Uniondale, N.Y. Decked out with a 16 page CD booklet with 2010 liner notes from Cameron Crowe, the attractive box set comes with all kinds of extras and inserts including the double live album of the Long Island show plus some impressive hard back post card style pics of Bowie circa late ‘75. Hard core Bowie fans, who want the full treatment might want to go all the way for the EMI / Virgin deluxe edition 5 CD / DVD audio / 3 Lp version of Station To Station that features the original album, remastered, plus the double live CD album, plus a repressing of the original RCA CD album remaster of Station To Station from 1985, plus another CD of rare singles edits, plus a 3 Lp (black vinyl version of the album and the Coliseum show) plus a DVD audio version! There’s also a digital download version that comes with an exclusive bonus track, but the 3 CD box set with the sundry extras should hit the spot with long time fans. I mean, I don't even have a record player anymore! Plus, who knew the RCA master would come back to life in 2010, especially considering Rykodisc reissued another version of Station To Station on CD four years after Bowie’s RCA contract was up in 1989, right Doug? Strange scenes, and quite rightly so, Bowie fans never tire of this timeless hard rock masterpiece from the magical, transitional year of 1975. The return of the thin white duke, indeed. /

- One of the great American success stories in the indy label music world, Jeremy Morris is a multifaceted artist. On one hand a prolific pop singer and composer, on the other hand a gifted guitarist and instrumental music composer, Jeremy fulfills his mission as the owner of Jam Records, one of Michigan’s great indy record label stories. Of note in recent years Jeremy has released an abundance of music including a 2007 instrumental album entitled New Day Rising, that in places sounds like the instrumental version of Dylan or Donovan—pastoral pop music spoken in a solo setting by the acoustic guitar. Not to be outdone by his guitar expertise, in 2005 Jeremy released Home In The Sky and then in 2009 he released Rays Of Hope—two instrumental solo piano albums that again merges Jeremy’s pop leanings within the acoustic New Age solo grand piano realm. Jeremy’s 2009 album, Journey To The Center Of The Heart says a lot about why he’s also favored by a number of vintage pop fans. Jeremy himself was greatly influenced by the groundbreaking mid ‘60s rock and pop music of the Who, The Byrds and Syd-era Pink Floyd and over the past twenty five years he’s been able to coalesce his sound in an appealing way that brings pop into the millennium, with love. Jeremy’s love of The Beatles is also legendary and he gets to put that love on disc with the CD release of Yesterday, Today, And Forever. I’m guessing 2007, but there’s no exact copyright date on the CD or booklet, but this is Jeremy covering The Beatles so the word "timeless" pretty much applies here. On his self-styled Beatles tribute a bunch of musicians assist, making it quite a varied Beatles tribute album with the accent on Jeremy’s near impeccable recreations of seventeen life like Beatles covers that brings the Fab Four into the future in style, with a cache of unusual musical twists and turns, including two different fade out versions of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and adding a unique arrangement of “Goodnight” complete with a 4 minute coda! Interestingly, also available through Jeremy’s web site is a various artists tribute album to Jeremy himself from 2005 entitled Jam On Jeremy, featuring 14 younger bands devoted to covering Jeremy’s own psyche-pop and power pop chestnuts. Released on the Ear Theory Recordings label, the fifteen track Jam On Jeremy tribute shows why old Jeremy has remained one of the leading indy pop rockers and guitar icons of the past 25 years. One look at Jeremy’s web site—featuring all his solo releases and his distribution catalog including the latest pop releases—and it’s abundantly clear, Jeremy is one of the top guys in the world of 21st century pop.

MVD VISUAL / CHROME DREAMS - Let’s face it, being a 16 year old living in a comfortable suburban home on Long Island was not the same thing as living in the East Village and hanging out at Max’s Kansas City back in 1970! Even though David Bowie was a household word in my world by late 1969, in the mainstream media he was still pretty much unknown. Same could be said about Long Island native Lou Reed and Stooges main man Iggy Pop. What these three guys had in common and the circumstances that linked them all around that 1970-72 period is superbly brought into focus on The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou 1971-1973—a 2010 DVD released by Chrome Dreams and handled in the US by MVD Visual. MVD, along with Eagle Vision, has established themselves among the most important DVD makers and distributors in the US. As the 107 minute Sacred Triangle DVD points out, Bowie, Lou and Iggy being signed to RCA Records in 1971—thanks in no small part to Mainman sharpshooter Tony DeFries—remains a master stroke of rock music business lore. And while Bowie’s early producer Tony Visconti was temporarily out of Bowie’s circle, the rise of Ziggy Stardust propelled Bowie’s career to amazing heights only dreamed of during the days of The Man Who Sold The World, thus benefitting all concerned. Anyway this Sacred Triangle DVD is fascinating stuff really—put together by expert hands with a clear admiration of the timeless music Bowie, Lou and Iggy—but especially Bowie—was making at that time and just how Bowie’s MainMan team convinced RCA to change the world of music as we knew it. A whole cast of characters brings this DVD to light and, while there’s no new Bowie interview footage here per se, there’s plenty of vintage video clips and photo stills. Plus, there’s a whole lotta love here thanks to cool new interviews with the great Angie Bowie—Bowie’s wife back then and clearly a woman who was in a position of authority at the center of Bowie’s star bound ascent. In addition to the excellent DVD production and narration, there’s also some fascinating circa interviews from a number of Bowie’s inner circle. And of course the always fascinating Angie Bowie, along with fresh insights from all sorts of characters from the heyday of Mainman and Andy Warhol’s Factory scene—unbeknownst to this precocious 16 year old on Long Island—really encapsulates the darker side of Major Tom. The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou 1971-1973 is a must see DVD for Bowie fans who want to know the dark truth behind the fascinating Ziggy Stardust era.

VIRGIN RECORDS - Back in the early ‘90s Enigma introduced the talents of Romanian born keyboardist / guitarists / musical conceptualist Michael Cretu. The heyday of Enigma is remembered with the 2010 3 CD box set entitled Enigma: The Platinum Collection. With its mix of female Gregorian chant vocals and chill / disco beats, Enigma fit in perfectly with the goth crowd and went on to sell more than 50 million albums. Described as a mix between ethnic, electronic and classical music melded into a mythical, sensual pop symphony, Enigma's beat heavy synthesized sound bordered on ear pornographic sound at times. If this ain’t X-rated electronic disco then I don’t know what is! (lol)Beneath the huge club dance hits and electronic Gregorian choirs, Cretu is clearly a gifted electronic music artist. While the first two CDs, disc one and two, of this set focus on Enigma’s album hits up to and including their current 2000s releases along with a remix collection, on disc three you can hear ten tracks—entitled The Lost Ones, tracks one through eleven—of Cretu’s even more avant gard and experimental instrumental electronic work with some creating pure sonic beauty as is the case with track two entitled “Lost Two”.

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