Record Label
and Music Spotlight









- Singer-songwriter and guitarist Steve Palmer sometimes sounds like a cross between the booming baritone of the late, great Phil Ochs, the classic rock style Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and for a modern comparison, how about jam band-rocker Dave Matthews. Palmer’s big-hearted sound is definitely on the right road to the Harry Chapin or Phil Ochs league. Released through Palmer’s own Arythmia imprint, the 12 track Apparition CD features Palmer in the fine company of Bryan Ewald (guitars), Tony Morra (drums) and other top players. Palmer’s rock heavy sound is being touted as the latest American rock sound to emerge from the burgeoning Nashville rock scene. Etched with a cross section of Americana music styles, Apparition echoes the time honored tradition of legendary rock sounds to which Palmer states, ‘I draw from the music I know and love. I grew up with bands like Kansas and such legends as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, and also all the solo artists who were first and foremost songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Cat Stevens. And my biggest rhythmic influences were artists like Yes, Led Zeppelin and Joan Armatrading, and all the great jazz artists like Count Basie, Stanley Turrentine, Oscar Peterson, Joe Sample and Weather Report.” With an abundance of rock, Americana and progressive pop in play on Apparition, let’s hope Palmer gets to record another album this good and hopefully maybe even better down the line.

ASTRALWERKS - France has always been a huge country contributing to the developement of symphonic and New Age music. From Jean Michel Jarre to Michel Legrand and beyond, the French are among the most emotionally driven among European pop / instrumental composers. Taking the best of both those worlds, the group AIR bring their ultra modern approach to electro pop into focus with their 2009 CD release, Love 2. Somewhere between mid ‘80s T. Dream, Sly Stone and Animals era Pink Floyd, Love 2 is just oozing with all types of sonic ear candy. Huge worldwide because their sound so often transcends mere English words, Air founders Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin—with added beat of drummer Joey Waronker—really hit their stride with the upbeat cosmic space dance of Love 2. The vocals here, tracks like “Sing Sang Sung” offer a really spry euro-pop bounce but it’s the mostly instrumental tracks, including top tracks like “Tropical Disease”, “Be A Bee”, with it’s semi Hank Marvin meets Jarre kind of vibe, and “Eat My Beat” with it’s edgy, slightly over the top space rock in overdrive vibe, that displays Air’s truly novel approach to French electronica in the millennium. Of course, it isn’t Jarre, who isn’t even Jarre himself these days, but its close enough. Growing out of the amazing Scamp label of the ‘90s, Astralwerks continues on as one of the top American labels for edgy over the top Euro and U.S. rock. /

- One of the first and certainly among the most illustrious indy labels going back to the ‘80s, Bar None has a catalog that makes pop fans and CD collectors drool with anticipation and excitement. In addition to their pop bent, I can also remember that Bar-None released a bunch of albums from lounge music legend Esquivel back at the height of the exotica revival of the ‘90s! Back in the pop realm, the latest Bar-None release is a 2010 CD from singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston entitled Rain On The City. Recorded in Nashville with producer Richard McLaurin, the eleven cut CD is just filled with pop delights. It’s been a while since Freedy released his 2001 CD Right Between The Promises, but clearly his new CD has been worth the wait. There’s a slight Nashville kind of country-rock vibe in play on Rain In The City, but the pop energy also sounds inspired by greats like James Taylor, Neil Young and most notably, the great Marshall Crenshaw
whose influence is never far off. Same for Buddy Holly, whose influence, along with Marshall’s, is noted on track ten, “It’s Gonna Come Back To You.” There’s some great guitar work on a track that seems to fit in perfectly on this latest batch of songs from one of America’s best unknown singer-songwriters. /

- Hailing out of Denmark, The Kissaway Trail released their new album in 2010. A mixed bag containing a cross section of post modern rockers, Sleep Mountain has a number of high points including a fine, CD closing track called “Three Million Hours.” That great song—composed by TKT guitarists / songwriters Thomas Fagerlund and Søren Corneliussen—was also featured on the CD sampler of one of England’s biggest monthly music mag's and no doubt caused quite a stir as it was clearly one of the best songs on the sampler. There’s some pretty lush neo prog-rock soundscapes dotting the terrain here. Another Sleep Mountain highlight is a pretty sonic cover of the famous Neil Young composition “Philadelphia” (from the movie of the same name) that really kicks the song up a notch. TKT have been compared to modern rock bands like Flaming Lips and the band have also cited Daniel Johnston and The Beach Boys as big influences. With the promise of “Three Million Hours” and “Philadelphia” as solid high points, Sleep Mountain will no doubt put Denmark further on on the map as a bastion of creative modern rock.

- The illustrious record company home of jazz giants, Blue Note has the wisdom to also feature CD releases from 21st century L.A. pop/jazz sensation The Bird And The Bee. Highlighted by the golden voice of Inara George and studio wiz / sonic pop genius Greg Kurstin, Bird And The Bee released Interpreting The Masters Vol.1, a nine cut CD which retools eight originals written and recorded by late ‘70s / early ‘80s pop superstars Daryl Hall & John Oates. Back in their heyday, Hall & Oates were considered blue-eyed soul pop pioneers with a pop sound that had more to do with Motown than say, rock music per se, and they chalked up hit after hit like “Private Eyes,” “Maneater” and “I Can’t Go For That”, songs that are each covered in turn by Inara and Greg Kurstin on their 2010 CD tribute to some great music from the pen on Hall & Oates. Kicking off this nine track disc is the lone Bird And The Bee original here, a track called (what else but) “Heard It On The Radio”, while the next eight cover songs feels like rediscovering some great timeless pop music.

- Pop producer Jason Falkner released I’m Okay You’re OK in Japan in 2008, and it’s taken a while but L.A. based music distributors Cobraside has finally released it in early 2010 on their in-house label, here in the good old USA. Way back in June 1999, this writer put Mr. Falkner on the cover of 20th Century Guitar after the magazine's owner Lawrence Acunto flipped out upon hearing Jason’s 1999 Elektra CD, Can You Still Feel. We were lucky to include Jason in the mag over the years and of course there’s my great 2001 interview with Jason discussing the first of his two Bedtime With The Beatles CD releases. As I remember about that first 1999 interview in 20th Century Guitar mag, Larry was amazed that Jason could not only play every instrument on the album but that he could make it sound like a completely rocking band. I’m Okay You’re OK continues on the same plane and it's a most worthy addition to Falkner’s discography. Cobraside’s US release mirrors the original eleven track Japanese CD release minus the track 12 bonus cut on the Japanese release. The cover of the US version is a real hoot, changing the Japanese CD cover art with a cover pic of the mellow looking Lion painting that was actually featured in the original Japanese CD booklet! The U.S. CD pressing also features a new rerecording of the lead off track “This Time” and a new remix of track three “The Knew”. Likewise the CD booklet of the US release features lyrics and photos along a brief mention as to why it took so long to give this CD an American release!

DECCA RECORDS - Singer-songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón strikes gold on his 2010 Decca Records CD, Synthesis. Back in the ‘60s, the best pop albums always had at least one catchy top 40 single contender and on Synthesis, there’s a standout song called “Next Generation” that should be a big hit if pop fans are lucky enough to hear it. The sound on Synthesis combines R&B, pop, Brazilian music and much more. Midón adds "I've always been interested in combining elements. This album has elements of soul and pop. There are some improvisational elements. There are some songs that are perhaps a bit challenging musically, but my hope is that the album appeals to a broad audience. I think there's something here for everyone." The eleven cut CD is superbly produced by the renowned bass ace Larry Klein, and overall features a number of Klein cohorts including Dean Parks (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Paulinho Da Costa (percussion) Larry Goldings (Hammond B3) and other top players. In addition to the memorable tracks written by Raul and Klein, Synthesis also features a syncopated cover of the Beatles’ classic “Blackbird” with a sound that fits in fine with the eclectic, mostly acoustic moods here. Commenting on working with producer Klein on Synthesis, Raul adds, ‘I wanted to work with someone I can communicate with as a musician, who has that background and vocabulary, particularly harmonically. Larry is the kind of producer who is coming from where I'm coming from.’ Whether you dig folk, pop, R&B, or jazzy Latin vibes, there’s bound to be something here for discerning music fans.

DOONE RECORDS - The music recorded by Yes and Flash back in the early ‘70s had a huge impact on progressive rock ears world wide and the reverberations continue to be felt 40 years on. Case in point is the 2010 CD from IZZ called The Darkened, released by Doone Records. Although there’s more than a shred of originality in play here, IZZ drummer—actually one of the band’s two drummers—Brian Corallian claims, ‘Each person in the band brings a different aspect of music with them, but there is certainly a shared passion for The Beatles, Genesis and YES. Like early Yes, Flash and King Crimson there’s some great harmony vocals here as well as excellent guitar work from Paul Bremner, all balanced out to perfection by the production and engineering of IZZ keyboardist / guitarist Tom Galgano. The recording is top notch as well and overall IZZ will put a smile on the faces of postmodern prog-rock listeners.

E1 MUSIC - Vibraphone master Joe Locke assembles an excellent bunch of players for his 2010 CD For The Love Of You. With the CD featuring a stellar crew, including jazz bass legend George Mraz and the soulful vocals of Kenny Washington, the sound is pure classic jazz that dip deep into the Great American Songbook and the contemporary pop / soul lexicon. Seven vocal cuts with Washington are offset by some vibe-y Locke instrumentals plus a lyrical reading by Locke and company of the Ennio Morricone soundtrack classic “Cinema Paradiso” and another cover here of Neil Young’s “Birds” from 1971, slowed down to a mellow blues underscored by Washington’s lyrical vocals.

ELECTO GROOVE RECORDS - Wow, this is one crazy, rockin’ CD! Echoing the spirits of ‘50s rockers like Little Richard and Gene Vincent, singer-songwriter and guitarist Paul Curran knocks ‘em dead on his 2010 CD Reform School Girl from his outfit, Paul Curran And The Lowlifes. Everything about this CD speaks of the golden age of American music—from Curran’s authentic ‘50s flecked rock and roll songs to his vocal mannerisms to the scintillating cover art and packaging. Described by guitar critics in the know as a mix of ‘raw rock and roll and lowdown blues,’ Curran and his rough and ready blend of blues, rock and roll and rockabilly sounds, get solid support from a hot band including bass player Billy Horton, drummer Nikki K. and even Blasters’ guitar hero Phil Alvin, appearing as a guest artist. Fascinating, authentic ‘50s and early ‘60s rock and roll at its best, Curran’s Reform School Girl is a vital flashback to the golden age of classic American music.

ENNISMORE RECORDS - One of the great voices from the golden age of ‘60s pop, singer-songwriter Colin Blunstone is well represented on his 2009 solo album entitled The Ghost Of You And Me. Released on his own Ennismore Records, the ten track studio CD features a stellar cross section of pop tracks as well as several cuts featuring Colin backed up by a mellow string section sound. As he was back in 1964, Colin of course is still the lead singer with British Invasion superstars, The Zombies and Colin’s latest solo effort is well worth the time for his fans as well as those original fans who grew up listening to classic Zombies albums like the forever brilliant Odessey & Oracle. Superbly produced by Jon Sweet, The Ghost Of You And Me features some excellent guitar work from three top players as well as other key contributions from U.K. rock legend, Argent bass great Jim Rodford, along with Jim’s son Steve Rodford on drums. Guaranteed to produce goose bumps, The Ghost Of You And Me works wonders as a round trip ticket to the magic of the Zombies’ ‘60s heyday and brings you safely back home again.

EYEWALL / RHINO - It’s just mind blowing how Steve Stills has evolved in the millennium as a guitarist on his latest CD / DVD set entitled Live At Shepherd’s Bush. The DVD half is pretty cool showing an older, weathered Stills live in London sometime in 2009. For video buffs, the DVD is quite good but the CD is really great andfree of watching Steve labor up a sweat as he retells slices of his music historythe CD enables the listener to focus on just how great these songs are. Stills last broke ground with his Summer 2005 Man Alive! CD and, true to the hard rock energy of that album, Live At Shepherd’s Bush kicks up quite a storm with a range of music classics done solo acoustic, as well as with a full band including drummer Joe Vitale, who worked so well with Stills on the underrated Man Alive! CD. Working with Rhino Records in L.A., Stills is making good on earlier promises to reissue his archive and a good example is a 2009 collection entitled Manassas - Pieces from his early ‘70s band Manassas, with Byrds founder Chris Hillman. This first ever Manassas retrospective features guest spots by rock icons like Joe Walsh and Bonnie Raitt. Following his reputation as a classic rock singer-songwriter, Stills may be best known for his groundbreaking work on both the acoustic and electric guitar. Manassas - Pieces is a great look back at Still’s early ‘70s studio approach to recording, while on Shepherd’s Bush Stills really comes alive and solidifies his reputation as being among the most influential and fretboard savvy American rock guitarists since the heyday of Jimi Hendrix.

FLORENCE RECORDS - According to liner notes in the nicely layout out CD digi-pak artwork of his 2009 CD Last Call, singer-songwriter and guitarist Roger Salloom started in the center of the 1960’s rock scene in San Francisco rock scene playing on bills with Santana, Procol Harum and B.B. King to name a few. Where has this guy been? Disappearing to raise a family and get into song writing, Roger returned in 2009 with a new album that finds him living up to his legacy. Hard to know who exactly to compare him to but some sagacious critics have cited very early ‘70s Wings period McCartney influence with a touch of Nilsson and personally, I hear a Clapton-esque guitar influence in there too. These songs are bluesy and have a good beat with a solid attention to a pop edge. With Salloom backing himself up on rhythm guitar, the CD features some excellent fretboard work from Tom Filiault and Hal Benoit and tasty back up vocals on some tracks featuring Delaney & Bonnie offspring, Bekka Bramlett. All told Last Call is a good bet for roots rock fans and pop fans who are lucky enough to catch up to Salloom’s rare pop gift.

429 RECORDS - Out in L.A., 429 Records released some cool discs in the dubya dubble 0’s including a fine comeback from pop genius Marshall Crenshaw. Marshall appears here too on 429's really fine tribute CD to the folk-rock boom of the early ‘60s, The Village - A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village. The ghosts of geniuses like Fred Neil fly overhead while key early ‘60s Village people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and John Sebastian are brought back in time to bask in the early years greatness by a number of singers appearing here like Rickie Lee Jones, Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne, Los Lobos and more. While the early years are given their due, the already jaded ‘65 era when Dylan wrote “Positively 4th Street” and “Don’t Think Twice”, and John Sebastian was already flying high with the Spoonful, is given a futuristic sheen here too. The brilliant Marshall Crenshaw in fact does appear here (contrary to's earlier review error, although c'mon his name isn't even on the slip cover!) on a revisiting of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Darlin' Be Home Soon," even though John Sebastian's unlikely left field pop hit with the Spoonful owes more to Billboard mag, than to the struggling Village / mid town scene Sebastian, along with his room mate, the criminally neglected Buzzy Linhart, was a part of in the early '60s! Much feels missing, yet one amazing song covered here “Violets Of Dawn”, written by folk singer Eric Anderson, was a hugely influential sounding top 40 acid rock hit for Al Kooper's Blues Project, and is given an icy cool remake here by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Check out the Blues Project's version for a real feel of what it was like in New York back then! Highly listenable with some cool remakes / remodels, the Village CD offers an interesting twist on the Village music scene in it’s heyday. One would hope this would be only the first volume of the early ‘60s folk-rock scene and, anyway it’s good to know that young kids may tune into this release and learn about the magical musicmakers of the early / mid ‘60s. Also extra credit for some fine artwork depicting NYC's Washington Square Park.

- Despite nearly getting killed in a car crash, Texas singer-songwriter Jon Dee Graham was able to record a new for 2010 album called It’s Not As Bad As It Looks. Just imagine Tom Waits and Buddy Holly making a CD together and you get the drift of Graham’s muse. Born in Levelland Texas, Jon Dee certainly has that Texas musical thing down pat and also in the finest Texas tradition, there’s some excellent guitar work on the CD from Graham and Michael Hardwick. As gritty as Graham’s sound can get, he almost sounds like he’s channeling the angst of Jim Morrison. Backed by a solid crew, Jon Dee knows a good pop hook when he writes it and he pegs it on the radio friendly fourth track (not surprisingly entitled) “Popsong.” It’s Not As Bad As It Looks is Graham’s sixth solo album and first since 2006. /

- There’s many different forms of pop and rock music. One advocate for the advancement of American pop in the big 21, Hail The Size join forces with pop visionary Maria McKee on the ten cut, 2010 CD release of I Can’t Die In L.A. Sometimes sounding kookie like Roxy Music and then like the slick country pop Chris Hillman era Byrds, Hail The Size consists of the L.A. based song writing team of vocalist Charles Ezell and drummer Matt North. The sound is at once lush and sparse throughout and after repeat listens its clear there’s something very cool going on here. Appearing on several cuts here, Ms. McKee is in fine form here as is guitarist Carey Fosse and Clint Davidson on bass.

- All the pop mavens and pundits are falling over themselves in praise of Watercolor Day, the 2010 CD from 21st century pop proponent Seth Swirsky. Swirsky of late, is being compared in a favorable light to pop innovators like Brian Wilson, McCartney, Jeff Lynne and even songwriter Burt Bacharach. Back in the 1960’s the ears of EMI, the late great Norman Hurricane Smith worked so hard in the studio with The Beatles, helping them get that one of a kind ‘fab four’ sound. Luckily Swirsky was able to get a quote on his own music from Norman before he passed away in early 2008. After hearing Swirsky’s earlier work with the group Red Button, Norman claimed, ‘If the Red Button was around in the ‘60s, I would have signed them to EMI!’ Hardly faint praise from the studio genius who basically crafted the Beatles’ studio sound and also the same guy who signed Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd to EMI as well. As a staff writer for a major publishing company, Swirsky has written tracks for a number of artists including Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson, Rufus Wainwright and he’s also busy completing a documentary called Beatles Stories, featuring key Beatles insiders like Graham Nash and Sir George Martin. He’s also written three best-selling books on baseball, including the wryly titled Every Pitcher Tells A Story. That said, for an up close and personal look and listen to Seth Swirsky, pop genius, look no further than the essential pop sounds in play on the 2010 CD release of the 18 cut Watercolor Day. Some top players assist Swirsky including producer Rick Gallego of the acclaimed pop band Cloud Eleven (bass, sitar, guitar), Probyn Gregory (french horn) and much more, but the songs are the real stars here. /

- Back in the latter ‘80s, say after ‘86, the CD transformed the way people listened to albums. One artist who clearly benefitted from the then burgeoning CD technology of wider digital dynamics was the beautiful and ultra fashionable
singer Stacey Q. who broke new ground with her unique blend of hip electronica and groovy pop dance music. Well, 24 years after her famous her famous “Two Of Hearts” hit song, Stacey is back with a fabulous, new for 2010 album called Color Me Cinnamon, released on the Hydra Productions label. Just like in the ‘80s, Stacey gets bountiful assistance, including top production chores from Jon St. James, who co-wrote a number of these bouncy, super modern, yet decidedly retro tracks with Stacey and exec producer Shawn Winstian. Having worked with Ms. Q, as well as illustrious pop singers such as E.G. Daily, Debby Gibson and Tiffany over the past 20 years, Winstian in particular, apparently has a strong affinity and knack for co-producing for top female singer-songwriters. The team of Ms. Q, Jon St. James and Shawn Winstian works wonders on the scintillating 14 track dance pop groove of Color Me Cinnamon. /

- Joe Bonamassa has got the blues and man, that’s a good thing! Just hearing Joe and B.B. King rock out on a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Night Life” is worth the price of admission of Joe’s 2010 CD, mysteriously called Black Rock.On the 13 cut Black Rock, Joe’s legendary electric guitar chops are simply on fire and after a couple good listens, it’s clear to the listener that he’s still finding new and exciting musical roads to explore. Balancing out five fresh Bonamassa originals are eight covers including “Night Life”, along with rocking covers from the pens of diverse musical heroes such as John Hiatt, Jeff Beck, Otis Rush, Leonard Cohen, Bobby Parker, Blind Boy Fuller and more. Recorded in Greece with solid band support—including Rick Melick (keyboards), Carmine Rojas (bass), drumming legend Anton Fig and others—Black Rock is yet another masterful album from the team of Bonamassa and noted producer Kevin Shirley. Kevin’s deft touch in the studio continues to infuse Bonamassa’s sound with rare solid blues cred and their fantastic teamwork continues on in style on the Black Rock album. Bonamassa and Shirley worked wonders on Joe’s 2009 album, The Ballad Of John Henry and the pair continue to knock’ em dead with Black Rock. Commenting on the Black Rock album, Joe adds, ‘It was the kind of record Kevin and I wanted to make. We needed to rock again a bit like on my first album. It’s youthful, like going back to your childhood.’ Shaping up to be Joe’s most successful studio album yet, Black Rock follows Joe’s 2009 2 DVD live set entitled Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall, which captures the guitarist's live sound in full flight live from London.

- The good folks at Kool Kat Musik strike pop gold with the 2009 CD release of Jupiter Optimus Maximus from Canadian pop rock sensation The Tomorrows. Featuring a fresh batch of pop cuts from the pen of singer-songwriters Marc Stewart and Scott Fletcher, Jupiter takes the bull by the horns on an unwavering set that touches upon the usual suspects from the land of Kinkdom and Beatledom, I guess. Not only fine singer songwriters, both Stewart and Fletcher impart some ringing, electric guitar interplay throughout the CD. Good imaging in the studio makes the recording quality here quite good. A more solid pop debut would be hard to match and the title track is a minor sonic miracle that deserves replay.

RICH McCULLEY - A solid little radio friendly pop / rock album, Starting All Over Again is actually the fifth solo album from L.A. based singer-songwriter Rich McCulley. The CD cover art is a real hoot and backing up McCulley’s bouncy pop confections are top players like Adam Marsland (organ), Brian Young (drums), Grant Langston (backing vocals) and more. In addition to his catchy hooks and low key but effective singing, McCulley more than acquits himself on electric, acoustic, lead and slide guitar and dobro. Pop comparisons abound—some tracks here are reminiscent of the great songs of Americana pop ace Warren Zanes—but there’s plenty of originality in play to make it of interest to pop and rock fans.

MUSIC GATE - Among the most musical people in the world, the Japanese can take credit for a lot of things including the development of the audiophile medium, especially their groundbreaking work on the compact disc in 1983. A singer whose mission is turning on audiences to the great American songbook, Hiromi Kanda gets to the heart of the matter on her 2010 CD, Hiromi In Love. Not to be confused with the Japanese keyboard player also called Hiromi, Ms. Kanda does a great job on the 13 cut Hiromi In Love, which was recorded with members of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, with arrangements from conductor / composer Matt Catingub. The CD soundscape is lush and wide screen and overall, Catingub has a pretty impeccable record when it comes to this type of classic American jazz recording, having worked with Rosemary Clooney and John Pizzarelli to name a few. Although pretty established in Japan, Ms. Kanda is set to reach out to a wider market with Hiromi In Love. Commenting on the CD, she adds, ‘I love this music. I love the tension of the chords and the blue notes. When I hear a good song with a good sound, it leaves a deep impression on me.’ Produced by Yusuke Hoguchi, Hiromi In Love is a great spin for fans of orchestral jazz album classics from pop / jazz giants like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Ray Charles. On the accompanying DVD of Hiromi In Love—released separately—the live videos capture the sound of these American pop/jazz classics, as well as Hiromi portraying the look of the era’s female divas and film stars. Fans should keep an ear out for Hiromi’s next CD, to be recorded in Hollywood with grammy winning engineer Al Schmitt.

NEW DOOR /A&M / UMe - Back in 2006, Peter Frampton released his first instrumental album called Fingerprints, a brilliant album that also featured key contributions from guitar icons Hank Marvin and John Jorgenson. Three years later Frampton is back with a fresh set of poppy blues rockers on the intriguingly titled Thank You Mr. Churchill. Commenting on the title, Frampton explains, ‘This album is very autobiographical. It starts with my birth, which I thank Mr. Churchill for bringing my father back from the Second World War.’ Of course we’re talking Sir Winston Churchill here and, as the son of a father who gave up a city college scholarship because he had to go fight the Japanese in the Asian theatre, I totally sympathize. Of course we’re happy the German Nazis didn’t kill Peter’s dad and that he returned home to England and became a father and that can be said for many of the great musicians from that era who followed in his footsteps. A modern day protest song of sorts, the title track, “Thank You Mr. Churchill” is one of Frampton’s best ever rock tracks—a song that echoes the finest of his early ‘70s work in Humble Pie as well. In the spirit of the Fingerprints album, Frampton also wisely included an extended instrumental track here, a two part 7+ minute cut called “Suite Liberte,” that starts off in a sort of acoustic flavored Santo & Johnny mood, that then veers into a slight Shadows style before turning up the heat on part two with some blues-etched jazz-rock guitar stylings. Put together in Frampton’s home studio in Cincinnati, Thank You Mr. Churchill is pretty well recorded, while long time fans will note the reunion of Frampton with co-producer / co-engineer Chris Kimsey, who worked with Frampton back in 1972 on his first solo album, Wind Of Change. A number of players contribute to TYMC, including Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, who also played on Fingerprints, topped off by a great shot from Frampton’s son, Julian Frampton, who takes the lead vocal on track three, ‘Road To The Sun (With Smoking Gun).”

OBSOLETE MUSIC - Here’s one for all the popaholics. Sounding permanently imbedded in the Beatle-esque legacy of McCartney and disciples, Gavin Guss strikes a blow for pop autonomy with his 2010 CD called Mercury Mine. From the great state of Washington, Tacoma born Gavin conjures a brave new world of rock and pop all his own in the big 21 and as such would be recommended listening for Macca fans as well as those who’ve experienced joy while listening to post modern pop wonders from Split Enz and Crowded House to Julian Lennon, Jellyfish and beyond. Professionally recorded and produced by Mr. Guss, Mercury Mine features some fine playing all around including guitarists Chris Ballew, Dave Mortenson, drummer Brian Young and a host of gifted musicians.

ORGANIC MOUNTAIN - Guitar fans will remember guitar icon Jerry Donahue from his days with the all star guitar instrumental band, The Hellecasters, this in addition to a myriad of session work with a number of U.K. music giants. Anyway, most recently Jerry teamed with blues-rock singer-songwriter Peter Barton and the results can be heard on their 2009 CD, simply entitled Fallen. Guitar fans note: Donahue gets to cut loose on a couple guitar based instrumental tracks that will appeal to fans of his work with John Jorgenson in The Hellecasters as well as with fans of Hank Marvin, Peter Frampton and Mark Knopfler. That said, the Fallen CD is primarily rock based and further establishes Barton as a great country-rock kind of singer with a cool and humourous attitude, most notably on a fine track here called “What’s Life About” that should make big waves with fans of American country music, if they’re luck enough to hear it! In addition, Barton is also the front man and bassist with the Animals revival band called Animals & Friends, singing the classic '60s pop hits of The Animals, alongside fellow brummies Bev Bevan and Trevor Burton, both of genius rock innovators The Move. Ever the tasteful guitar sound maker, Donahue's famous guitar gift frames Barton’s country tinged vocals and songs. A fine band back up enhances the sound and there’s even a guest appearance by the classic Yes rocker Rick Wakeman, who adds a synth solo on the track “Silver Horses”, along with further appearances by Jethro Tull alumni Dave Pegg (bass) and Gerry Conway (drums). The sound quality is excellent throughout, while the Fallen cover art / painting is simply fascinating. Overall, the ten track Fallen is a worthwhile CD for fans of English style countrified rock and blues. Catch it also for Donahue’s brilliant guitar work throughout.

- Original drummer player in British Invasion superstars The Animals, John Steel is back on record again with his group Animals & Friends on their 2004 CD Instinct. Steel of course was in The Animals when they cut “House Of The Rising Sun” back in 1964, riding the wave of Beatlemania that amazed America way back when. Although a completely different band than the classic Animals lineup with Eric Burdon, Alan Price and Chas Chandler, the Animals & Friends lineup on the Instinct album features Steel and company backing up the songs of Animals & Friends lead vocalist Peter Barton. And what company it is! Also appearing on the CD are original members and ex-members from Yes, Deep Purple, The Kinks, Jethro Tull and more, including original members of The Move, guitarist Trevor Burton and rock drumming icon Bev Bevan. Even though Animals & Friends came out five years back, the CD is well worth picking up on. Consisting of stick in your head sounds, the songs are pretty rocked out and the ace production by guitar great Jerry Donahue gives a good indication of the Fallen CD, recorded by Donahue and Barton in 2009.

- That great soul and funky sound that turned America inside out back 45 years ago in the mid ‘60s returns in tact with the 2010 release of Burn It Down from The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker. The 12 track Dynamites CD features singer Charles Walker singing up a storm on the songs of guitarist Leo Black, while backed up by a burning band, punctuated by a hot horn section that rivals the Tower Of Power horns. Influences abound here—from the gritty groove of Dr. John to the uplifting soulful spirit of Curtis Mayfield. Filled with the sound of vintage soul, hard funk and classic R&B, Burn It Down is a rockin’ soul CD that takes no prisoners. Commenting on working with songwriter Leo Black after years of being asked to record songs whether they inspired him or not, singer Walker adds, ‘I didn’t have the songs that I felt were right for me. Now I can pick and choose the songs I want to do. I feel so confident now.’ Get down with some funky ass grooves and pick up the red hot soul/funk sound of Burn It Down.

- Based in Upstate, New York, guitarist Kim Simmonds rose to fame as the leader of legendary British blues rockers Savoy Brown. Famous for Savoy's brilliant classic rock albums like Blue Matter, A Step Further and Street Corner Talking—all released 40+ years ago—Simmonds in recent years has gained acclaim for his solo career. Released in 2009, the overlooked Out Of The Blueis a solid solo acoustic CD from Kim. Even though he didn’t feature his vocals, up front, in the early Savoy Brown lineup, this latest album features Kim’s baritone voice backed up by his always tasteful acoustic guitar work. Also on hand here is backup from guitarist Mark Doyle—who adds in keyboards, bass, percussion, string arrangements and associate production—as well as harmony vocals from Donna Colton and production from Greg Spencer. The setting may be rural in places, but there’s no denying that some of Kim’s recent, catchy, down tempo songs like “North Country Town” and “Heart To Fill” would fit on famous ‘60s country / acoustic albums like Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. Also recent on Kim’s Panache Records label is a collection of more recent Savoy Brown tracks entitled Too Much Of A Good Thing - The Savoy Brown Collection 1992-2007. As the CD booklet indicates, a number of top players assist Simmonds on the Savoy collection including fellow guitarist Duke Robillard and bass player Gerry Sorrentino. The music may have a date on it, but both of these CDs—Kim’s solo acoustic release and the ‘92-’07 Savoy Brown collection—are both pretty much timeless examples of 21st century blues.

- Pop fans will be rocked high into orbit with the latest release from L.A. based Plasticsoul entitled Peacock Swagger. Sounding very influenced by classic L.A. power pop outfits like Jellyfish and the great Roger Manning Jr., Plasticsoul kicks off Peacock Swagger with the killer, but strangely titled “You Sentimental Fucks / Life On Other Planets.” Rocking out since 2002, Plasticsoul features the music and vocals of Steven Eric Wilson and cohorts Marc Bernal, Brandon Schott and Carlos Nieto among others. Wilson, not to be confused with Porcupine Tree’s founder of the same name, proves to be quite a competent singer and guitarist in his own right, performing all electric guitars, piano and the almighty, spacey sounding Chamberlain with excellent results. Displaying their prevailing harmonies and catchy as hell melodies and arrangements, Wilson and Bernal prove to be quite a potent pop production team. Power pop fans will totally dig where Wilson and company are coming from on the memorable and fascinating rock and pop bent of Peacock Swagger.

- Arising from the ashes of his early band The Coyotees, Chicago-based singer songwriter Mario Novelli and founder Jorie Gracen form a solid pop front as The Pondhawks and their modern retro-pop classic is entitled, what else but, The Legend Of The PondHawks. One of the most savvy pop pundits on the scene today, Ms. Gracen—the web mistress of the best Paul McCartney info-site and the author of the coffee table picture book classic featuring her Wings photos entitled I Saw Him Standing There
makes an interesting female vocal tag / keyboard figure for Novelli’s very McCartney / Left Banke kind of pop approach. Anyway, featuring Jorie and Mario backed up by some fine players, The Legend Of The PondHawks is a great pop spin. A couple tracks here like “Your Mind Is Hard To Find” sound permanently embedded in the happy go lucky era of pop circa 1974—the happiest days of your life, when groups like Wings and 10cc ruled as kings in the land of post-Beatles pop. Let ‘em in on myspace or Jorie’s Macca site.

- Young musicians studying jazz for the first time always get to learn from the music of Duke Ellington. Jazz-pop guitar favorite John Pizzarelli knows this full well and with the 2010 release of Rockin’ In Rhythm he devotes a whole CD to covering the music of Sir Duke. The most obvious Ellington cover, “Take The A Train” is missing here but there’s “Satin Doll”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and a various other tracks Ellington’s pen made famous. Taking the vocal spotlight on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, Pizzarelli sets the song in a minor key while combining it with another Duke track, “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” while citing the Steely Dan cover of “Toodle-Oo” as reference. Not surprisingly, Pizzarelli also cites his dad, jazz guitar icon Bucky Pizzarelli, as being a source of his Ellington education. In turn, Bucky sits in and supplies a solo here on “Satin Doll” as well as playing rhythm guitar on a couple tracks. Recording at the famous NOLA recording studios in NYC, the younger Pizzarelli takes center stage on vocals and most of the guitar work here while receiving solid support from members of his quartet of the past four years, including Larry Fuller (piano), brother Martin Pizzarelli (bass), Tony Tedesco (drums), a full horn section and various guest artists including dad Bucky, singer Kurt Elling (sharing a vocal on “Perdido” with singer Jessica Molaskey), sax great Harry Allen and famed arranger Don Sebesky. In his liner notes, Pizzarelli adds, ‘What is wonderful about Duke’s catalog is that it lends itself to many different interpretations, whether it’s combining songs instrumental versions, or vocal selections.’ Long time Ellington fans or newcomers to the Ellington legacy would be well advised to pick up on John Pizzarelli’s tribute to Duke Ellington. /

- Based out in Cleveland, Ohio and a part of the Concord Music Group, Telarc Records have a new Otis Taylor album out in 2010. On the twelve track Clovis People Vol.3 Taylor comes through on a fresh batch of tracks displaying his modern blues approach. Taylor’s approach is definitely the blues, but in a way not unlike how J.J. Cale approaches rock and roll with that crazy bluesy beat always in the background. Guitarists will be in for a treat here, because backing up Otis’ bluesy vocals, banjo and rhythm guitars on
Clovis People Vol. 3 are both U.K. blues rock guitar great Gary Moore on several tracks here, as well as pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell with additional support from Taylor’s daughter Cassie Taylor and cornet player Ron Miles. Commenting on the CD, released in May 2010, Otis claims, “I just thought it was a cool title. I went back to my musical past with these songs. That’s why I called it Volume 3. There really is no Volume 1 or 2. My music only goes back about ten years, but there’s something about reaching back to an earlier time and revisiting the stories of the past from a new perspective that I find compelling.” Low key, yet very powerful music, on Clovis People Vol. 3 Otis Taylor puts a new spin on the time honored tradition of the blues. /

- Blues fans will be over the moon with the 2010 CD release of Booker’s Guitar, from blues guitar hero Eric Bibb. Bibb has a number of titles on Telarc and, in the spirit of blues legends like Robert Johnson, there’s a pretty cool story behind Telarc’s CD release of Booker’s Guitar. Bibb was approached in a London hotel and was shown a 1930’s Resophonic National steel-body guitar that had belonged to Delta blues legend Booker White—an older cousin of B.B. King. As blues fans already know, Booker T. Washington White was also known as Bukka White (1909-1977). While still in London, Bibb luckily recorded the title track to Booker’s Guitar with Bukka’s fabled guitar to which he adds, ‘Booker White was someone who I was aware of and listened to while growing up.’ Once he’d written the title cut of the album, Bibb states, ‘I really wanted to make a complete statement and document my connection to the Delta blues tradition.’ The 15 cut Booker’s Guitar ain’t no glossy high tech blues rock production. Instead, Bibb focuses on the original, traditional acoustic blues sound originally pioneered by White, who recorded many of his songs back in the 1930’s and ‘40s. With Bukka White’s Delta blues legacy in mind, Bibb’s release of Booker’s Guitar is one of the most haunting and authentic sounding blues releases of 2010.

- Hard to believe singer-songwriter Jess Klein has seven albums out but she strikes gold with number 7, her 2009 CD, Bound To Love. A New York native who emerged from the Boston music circuit, Klein moved to Texas a couple years back and her latest, recorded in Austin, has a true to form, rootsy pop-rock feel. The CD features Ms. Klein backed up by a number of players, including some solid electric guitar work from Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who also co-produced the album with Mark Addison. On her latest CD for the NYC-based United For Opportunity, Jess Klein may evoke a singer-songwriter kind of vibe, but overall Bound To Love rocks with a solid beat that offers a tasty merger of country, pop and rock. /

/ SEE OF SOUND - Elvis Costello rose to fame in the crazy New Wave boom of the late ‘70s. Back during that wacky era, bands like Yes and Gentle Giant—true geniuses of 20th century music
were somehow replaced, especially in the mainstream rock press, by ranting ravers like Sex Pistols and, yet there were also guys like Elvis Costello vying for a slice of the New Wave pie. There was some resentment by progressives, but over the course of time, the Sex Pistols faded and Elvis literally transcended his New Wave raver roots to become somewhat of a rock statesman of sorts. Anyway, 20 years on, Elvis put his legacy to good use on a reissue DVD set of his acclaimed TV show called (what else but?) Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... In 2010, Wienerworld and their USA partner MVD / See Of Sound released a 5 DVD box set of the first 2008 season of this Elvis TV show and it’s a really welcome release. Filmed in NYC, Spectacle offers the best of talk and music televisioncombining musical performances (often pairing Elvis with his guests) with fascinating one on one interviews with historic names like America’s greatest and most progressive leader of all time, President Bill Clinton, Sir Elton John, music icon Tony Bennett, The Police, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Smokey Robinson and many more. Don’t forget, this is five DVDs containing more than 650 minutes of classic television, so there's plenty of Elvis and company on tap. The Spectacle DVD box also features a 28 page color booklet, boasting photos and in depth information about the 2008 TV show that enhances the performances, interviews, unseen footage, behind-the-scenes interviews and bonus cuts accompanying the package.

- Compared to the Okie / Nashville guitar smarts of Zip Records label mate Steve Allen, U.K. born / New York City based singer-songwriter Edward Rogers finds a niche all his own on the 2010 CD release of Sparkle Lane. Nowhere near the rave up of Allen’s Thinline, Rogers sounds more influenced by U.K. tunesmiths like Ray Davies and Rod Argent. Also there’s a definite Roger McGuinn influence in Rogers’ music. Commenting, Rogers says, ‘Sparkle Lane is a street in England where my grandmother lived. Rogers brings his love of pop right to the surface of Sparkle Lane, which is a great pop album to play and play again. Rogers gets great backing from a tight band of backup players including guitarist Pete Kennedy, bassist Sal Maida, drummer Konrad Meissner and more. Rogers’ third solo album carries his legacy forward.

- Out of SF, CA, the Zip Records imprint is laying down some mighty fine pop / power pop style discs of late. Back in the ‘90s (remember then?) Oglio Records released several CDs including reissues from the power pop group 20/20 featuring guitar ace and singer-songwriter Steve Allen. So, it’s taken a while but Allen reappears as if by pop magic with a fine solo album called Thinline. He names the ten track CD after the Fender Tele style guitar he bought new in 1972. Anyway, the album is really fine. Nine toe-tapping, road-running pop jewels that linger long are offset by a cool instrumental track called (what else but?) “Oklahoma Sky”. No offense to Sir Paul, but he could learn a trick or two from our man Steve, who not only plays outstanding electric lead guitars and most of the instruments but has recorded the whole thing quite impeccably. That said, Allen employs some fine backing players, like three bass playing musicians
Brad Jones, Allen’s former 20/20 bandmate Ron Flynt and Springsteen bassist Gary Tallentalong with a bunch of drummers. Commenting on the album Steve adds, ‘I wanted this record to have tighter songs and to feature more of my guitar playing. It was written and recorded over a few years and when it came time to look for a title, that guitar tied it all together.’ /


- A truly strange record indeed, Space Travel, from guitarist Aaron Lewis is sort of in the strange as guitar Leo Kottke school of thought. Aaron’s hypnotic instrumental six string guitar work, treated with copious amounts of strategically placed echo makes it of interest. Of note here besides Aaron’s excellent fretboard work is the CD art and packaging and quite intriguing titles descriptions and recording notes. After further investigating, some of the tracks reveal some strange electronic treatments that add unique layers of sound. A former public school guitar teacher, Lewis looks to the constellations for this album inspired by the futuristic concept of space travel. For a self-produced artist, Lewis gets a great tone and the CD is quite well recorded to boot.

- Although he rose to fame as a key member of The Yardbirds back in 1966, Jeff Beck is perhaps better known as a solo artist who has remarkably evolved over the better part of the last half century. In fact, there is maybe no one guitarist more responsible for ushering the dawn of the progressive rock music era, save George Harrison, than Jeff Beck. Not predictably, Beck’s transcendental late/mid ‘60s era with The Yardbirds tends to overshadow all things about him for some original fans, yet remarkably, Beck has done more than anyone for the art of rock guitar. That’s especially true of his patented, sometimes over the top instrumental sound that’s once again skillfully explored on this 2010 album Emotion & Commotion, released on the famous ATCO imprint—distributed nowadays by corporate reissue giant Rhino Records. There’s some amazing music on Beck’s new CD, including a weepy tribute of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”—for the now late great Les Paul—as well as a moving track just before Beck’s Les tribute, a song called “Never Alone,” that conjures up images of Jan Akkerman and old world Europe. On that track at least, Beck once again turns into the Ennio Morricone of rock guitar! That track was actually composed by Beck group keyboardist Jason Rebello. Commenting on the track Beck adds, ‘When Jason and I were writing together on the road last year, we started talking about The Swingle Singers, an incredibly gifted acapella group that does these gorgeous five part harmonies. I suggested he try playing voices on his keyboard instead of strings or a Rhodes. He got an amazing sound and started playing through some chord changes that led to “Never Alone.”’ With the tragic passing of Europe’s greatest instrumental rock composer, Pekka Pohjola on November 27, 2008, one can hope the art of rock instrumental indeed evolves again at some point. Ever the rock guitar protagonist, Jeff Beck comes pretty close on “Never Alone” and on certain tracks here the resulting Emotion & Commotion is truly good to go. Balancing out Beck’s impressionistic instro side, half of Emotion & Commotion is vocal pop and bluesy rock material with top female vocalists like Miss Imelda May—the singer who appeared with Beck on that fantastic Les Paul tribute at the 2009 Grammy awards. Also singing up a storm with rockmaster Beck is Ringo Starr conspirator Joss Stone and a lady called Olivia Safe. As usual, Beck’s band is whip crackin’ good and coupled with studio savvy from producers Steve Lipsom and the esteemed Trevor Horn, Emotion & Commotion offers ten tracks of solid, in your face Jeff Beck. There’s only one guitarist who could deliver a more solid, pleasure packed hour of guitar instro fun and that’s Hank Marvin. Good to know that Jeff, one of Hank’s early disciples continues driving the art of the rock guitar instrumental onward and upward.

- It's hard to describe the music guitarist Jim Campilongo is well known for in musicians circles, but on his 2010 album, called Orange, he cuts goes deep on a CD of wide ranging instrumental guitar rock that encompasses avant gard to neo-jazz. In other words, in places, it’s very daring downtown NYC sounding from the free spirited schools of Cale and Reed. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I watched U.K. guitarist Fred Frith blow minds in Manhattan with a new kind of ‘shock and awe’ guitar with his group Massacre, and although in his own way as daring as Freddy Frith was back in 1980, Campilongo’s wider rock influences includes more Americana influences like fellow Tele-blaster Roy Buchanon and blues icon Muddy Waters as well as Ry Cooder and Chet Atkins. Not far off are more guitar-istic influences like Steve Morse, especially on the lead off track on Orange, entitled “Backburner,” which sounds like a Dregs track. Produced by Golden Palominos legend Anton Fier, and abetted by the rhythm section of Tony Mason (drums) and Stephen Crump, Campilongo wields his way through an introspective set of instrumental rock balanced out by a pair of vocals covers from the songbooks of the Stones and Stooges, here spotlighting Campilongo’s guitar and singer Leah Siegel. Also on hand appearing with Jim on a pair of intimate guitar duets is fellow guitarist Steve Cardenas. A glance at his session work resume—including stints with both Norah Jones and steeler Joe Goldmark—reveals Campilongo to be a much in demand set of hands. Even so, guitar fans would be hard pressed to find as wide a ranging an album of offbeat, live sounding neo-prog / jazz-rock guitar instrumentals as one can find here on Jim Campilongo’s Orange.

- What the Finns can’t sing about lyrically, they transform instrumentally via their usually vivid musical imagination and that concept stays true to form with a superbly recorded 2010 CD from Bogdo Ula—their second album entitled Aerograd. This kind of free form space rock sort of took form back in the ‘70s with several concept bands from Sweden as well as early ‘70s works from Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal and RTF guitar hero Bill Connors. Those comparisons say a lot of the the strangely titled Bogdo Ula—a group crafted by guitarist Samuli Kristian and drummer Ivan Horder. There’s even a trace of Pink Floyd style improv in Samuli’s guitar work (both Syd and Gilmour) which is also quite Hendrix-y in places too. Jimi would have loved this strange and beautiful electrifying guitar blend.

- Way back in 2008, NYC based Jake Hertzog broke the guitar sound barrier with his then new release Chromatosphere release. That CD introduced Hertzog as a contender on the instrumental jazz fusion guitar front. As good as that CD is, Hertzog’s 2010 release, simply entitled Patterns will completely convince anyone who might have missed him the first time around. Hertzog cites Hendrix and Joe Pass as big guitar influences and you can here both trains of thought in the grooves of Hertzog’s muse. Once again produced by Joshua Paul Thompson, the release of Patterns finds Hertzog stretching out into even more dramatic and electrifying guitar terrain. Also like Chromatosphere, the eleven cut Patterns finds Hertzog comfortably recording in the studio with renowned bass ace Harvie S, along with Victor Jones on the traps. CD liner notes from renowned music scribe Bill Milkowski puts the finishing touches on a CD sure to perk up the ears of all guitar fans who like their instrumental fusion simultaneously jazzy and rocking. /

- Instrumental rock guitar icon Jimmy Ryan is a huge fan of Sweden’s latest instrumental rock band Plankton and in Jimmy’s words “They've set a marvelous and intimidating precedent in modern guitar music for everything else that's yet to come in the wake of their brilliance. Rare? Indeed." Back in 1985, this writer created and released the first ever CDs from some geniuses that spun out from the first instrumental rock era in Sweden and Finland. Throughout the ‘80s I would go on to release the first ever American releases on Lp, and the first ever CDs anywhere from guitarist Peter Bryngelsson of Ragnarok and Triangulus, early ABBA guitarist Janne Schaffer, Swedish keyboard genius Stefan Nilsson and now sadly the late great Pekka Pohjola. Amazingly 25 years after those first anywhere CD instrumental releases on Breakthru’ Records, a new Scandinavian band has risen, from a new generation aiming to carry forward the torch of Svenska instrumental prog-rock forward, and that band is Plankton, who dazzle and amaze on their 2009 CD Ocean Tales. Get it? Ocean Tales? Plankton? See weed. Love is all you need. That fantastic living breathing proponent of instrumental rock himself, ‘ol Jimmy Ryan is rarely wrong and—banking on some truly amazing guitar work from Plankton-ites Christian Neppenström and Emil Fredholm—Plankton live up to their rising stature on an album that will amaze fans of rock guitar icons—from Hank and Hendrix to Morse and Beck.

- Among the up and coming young lions of the jazz world, guitarist Charlie Apicella stakes his claim with the 2010 CD release of Sparks, from Charlie Apicella & Iron City. The eight track CD features several Apicella originals as well as covers of classic standards from the songbooks of jazz giants like jazz guitar pioneer Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, Stax icon Steve Cropper with Don Covey, Dr. Lonnie Smith as well as a set closing Apicella cover of “Billie Jean” from the now late great Michael Jackson. The sound of Sparks is pure uptown jazz with a solid accent on Apicella’s upbeat guitar sound. Assisting Apicella’s guitar vision are a number of players including his core trio mates Dave Mattock (Hammond organ) and Alan Korzin (drums). Two violinists also appear on a pair of tracks along with Stephen Riley (tenor sax) who appears on five cuts here. With the 2010 CD release of Sparks, guitarist Charlie Apicella’s soulful, retro jazz sound keeps the groove front and center on a CD that keeps you coming back for more, spin after spin.

- Funny how in promoting his new CD, bass player Derek Frank included an 8-track cartridge of his new CD Let The Games Begin. Funny stuff indeed but after hearing his CD, you really do kind of get the feeling that Derek would rather be back in 1975 again! Loose California style jams with plenty of struttin’ stuff, the CD features Frank at work, playing in the studio with great players like guitarist Brett Farkas and, keyboard great Brian Auger guests so there’s great mix of funky fusion and swirling Hammond B-3 to admire. An artist on the rise with a lot to say, instrumentally that is, Frank clearly has one foot in the ‘70s groove of the Curtis Mayfield school of soul jazz and one in the 2000’s sound of say, new bands like Groove Collective. A good example of how Frank plays into the future can be heard on his instrumental cover of “Black Hole Sun”—a song also covered instrumentally by Peter Frampton and originally written by Chris Cornell. A guitarist here called Yogi bares a fantastic lead guitar sound on that track and—maybe even better than Frampton’s version—Frank nails the track with a keen arrangement and excellent studio sound. If anything is askew here its the CD is a bit too hotly mastered in places, but, audio techica aside, still that shouldn’t stop jazzers and rockers from catching a buzz off the Derek Frank instro sound now.

- Over in the U.K., synthesist Ian Boddy is doing great things with his DiN label. One look at his web site and you can clearly seea vast array of amazing electronica related CD releases released by DiN since it was established in 1999. One new release on Boddy’s imprint is Arcadia Borealis from Erik Wøllo and Bernhard Wöstheinrich. Although Boddy is quite active as a composer in the “library music” world of documentaries, films, commercials, jingles and more, this release in particular, while not featuring him as an artist, is a major electronic music accomplishment and is not to be missed by fans of all things synth in the spirit of icons like Vangelis and beyond. Speaking of Boddy’s work as an e-music conceptualist, CD buffs should take a listen to his 2009 CD, Dervish, credited to Ian Boddy and Markus Reuter. On Dervish, Boddy cooks up a fresh batch of his patented synth soundscapes while Reuter chimes in with some excellent work on 8-string Warr guitar. Reuter and Boddy make a worthy team that furthers Reuter’s penchant for creating tasteful “orchestral soundscaping.” E-music fans are highly recommended to give a listen to this CD as well as Arcadia Borealis, which is a multi-faceted, kaleidoscopic masterpiece of modern electronica.

- For his 2010 album—a tribute to the writing of J.R. Tolkien and the spirit of progressive instrumental music—keyboardist / composer Marco Lo Muscio returns with another classic keyboard album. The nine track CD, The Book Of Bilbo And Gandalf is mostly comprised of solo music from Marco on both grand piano and organ as well as various tracks featuring guitar ace Steve Hackett, his brother, flutist John Hackett and Swedish keyboardist Pär Lindh. Also appearing here is Estonian flute player, Oksana Sinkova. One of the best tracks here, track seven—John Hackett’s “Thoughts Turn Homeward”—features Marco and Hackett performing together on a tasteful duet between flute and grand piano. For his part in the CD, famed Genesis guitarist, prog icon Steve Hackett offers a solo classical guitar piece here entitled “Galadriel” and further comments about the track in the pages of the stunningly packaged CD booklet and design. Marco’s original music here features recently recorded, 2009/2010 performances on both Steinway grand with pipe organ highlighted on the final cut—a duet between Marco and Ms. Sinkova. As always, Marco’s keyboard instrumental music never fails to enchant and, with contributions from these legendary players, The Book Of Bilbo And Gandalf is a truly a fitting tribute to the Tolkien influence on modern progressive rock. Also out on CD from Drycastle in 2010 is Neogothic Progressive Toccatas from The Three Monks. This kind of instrumental horror show intensity fits in perfectly with Marco Lo Muscio’s kind of massive wall of keyboard based pipe organ instrumental sound. In the spirit of Marco and other Italian soundtrack kings like Goblin, Three Monks features the pipe organ and compositions of Paolo Lazzeri, backed up here by Maurizio Bozzi (electric bass/engineering) and drummers Roberto Bichi and Claudio Cusersi. Lo Muscio has made a lot of people happy with his influential pipe organ sound and fittingly, the gothic horror show spectacle of Neogothic Progressive Toccatas should easily find a home among fans of giants like Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson and beyond. Cool artwork and intriguing liner notes sheds light on this splendid fusion of baroque and contemporary organ craft.

- One smokin’ jazz guitar CD release worth hearing, Inner Dance is a great introduction to the sound of Italian guitarist Fabrizio Sotti. Recorded in New York City and released on New York based E1 Music (formerly Koch Entertainment), the 2010 CD release also serves as a homage of sorts to jazz giants such as guitar icon Wes Montgomery and organ legend Jimmy Smith. Cutting loose on both electric and acoustic guitars, Fabrizio gets solid support from fine players like Sam Barsh (organ) and Victor Jones (drums). Also appearing on drums is the esteemed Mino Cinelu as well as singer Claudia Acuna, who also cameos on the mostly instrumental nine track album. Jazz fans are well advised to give Fabrizio Sotti a good listen.

- Nashville guitarist Tom Hemby strikes more guitar gold with his 2010 CD entitled In The Moment. Hemby made guitar fans quite happy with his 2007 CD entitled Chasing The Wind, which was released by the excellent Autumn Records, which has unfortunately been kind of quiet after releasing a bunch of excellent CDs from guitar gods like Phil Keaggy, Hemby and more. Anyway, Tom’s latest CD is a veritable fusion guitar fest featuring top players like the rhythm section of Vinnie Colaiuta and Nathan East. Commenting on incredible jazz -rock fusion dynamics of his latest CD, Hemby adds, 'My ear has always bent towards the out-of-the-norm, whether it’s a different harmonic progression, an odd meter, an unusual melody or a different arrangement or sequence of notes in a solo. I incorporated all those different elements here.' Although primarily instrumental, the CD does close things out with a vocal track, a tribute to Habitat For Humanity, featuring American music icons like Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Christopher Cross and more. Hemby has received much praise in the past from his peers, such as guitar god Steve Lukather and overall, the release of In The Moment should go a long way to further establishing Hemby as a vital rock fusion guitarist / composer well worth hearing.

- In 2009, guitar ace Steve Vai released Live In Minneapolis: Where The Wild Things Are on both DVD and CD. That release was so widely acclaimed that Vai follows up in 2010 with a second volume of the live concert. Entitled Where The Other Things Are, the 12 cut CD is a great companion to the first CD, by combining the “other” tracks from the DVD on CD. This band lineup featured on the CD is one of Vai’s best and like a machine with all parts moving in synch—including the twin electric violin team of Alex DePue and Ann Marie Calhoun—the sound is like a modern, instrumental rock version of Mahavishnu Orchestra. From an audio perspective, again, Vai has an impeccable credentials when it comes to sound on CD, and the live sound of the CD almost jumps out at you. And if you stare at the specially designed CD artwork at a certain angle under the light, you may have an out of body experience.

FLOATING FEATHER MUSIC - Finger style acoustic guitar is among the most challenging of all guitar styles because in many cases it encompasses a combined tradition of classical, jazz chord melody guitar styles, as as well time honored traditions like ragtime. All of the above can be found in abundance on Many Moods, the eleven track 2010 CD release from Minnesota based guitarist Ben Woolman. Commenting on his choice of guitar techniques, Woolman claims, ‘I played in bands for quite a few years, but it is difficult to sustain common goals, so when my third band broke up, I gravitated to playing finger style acoustic guitar because it allows me to create much of an ensemble sound all by myself.' True to form, Woolman’s sonically pleasing guitar palate provides plenty of common ground for fans of guitar icons—as well as being a reflection of Woolman's own heroes such as Leo Kottke, Pierre Bensusan, Michael Hedges, Tim Sparks and other top practitioners of acoustic guitar wizardry. Many Moods is superbly recorded and the packaging is quite good as well. Summing up his guitar aspirations, Woolman adds, ‘I pride myself in trying to play as many styles of music as I possibly can, and solo finger style acoustic guitar is the perfect instrument to give me the freedom to pursue that.’

- The legacy of Django Reinhardt is in the good hands of Gypsy Jazz guitarist Angelo DeBarre, who is caught live with his group on a 2009 CD release from Fremeaux. Recorded in concert at the famous Le Quecumbar in late 2007, the thirteen track Live In London CD proves why DeBarre is considered one of the top Django exponents working today. With DeBarre simply dazzling on his finest late period Django covers, the CD also features a spirited performance by DeBarre’s backing group, including Christian Garrick (violin), Dave Kelbie (second guitar) and Andy Crowdy (contrabasse).

- One of the best instrumental albums from the end of 2009, One Way Ticket from the Harvey Band is an interesting cross between the sound of Bela Fleck, Ry Cooder and the Dregs. More than a progressive Americana sound, One Way Ticket is the latest and best album yet from guitarist Harvey Possemato, who employs a number of classic acoustic and electric guitars that are listed in the CD booklet. The drum sound is great and Harvey’s guitars weave in and out of the sound mix like a trip-tik of American music itself. This is the kind of music that makes you feel good to be an American again.

- U.K. born, West Coast based guitarist Jon Dalton makes a stand for bop jazz with his 2009 CD Warm Ghosts (In A) Cold World. Liner notes by jazz critic Scott Yanow puts Dalton’s career into perspective along with an interesting story line behind Dalton’s musical M.O. Backed up by some great U.K. players—including John-Paul Gard (Hammond organ) and Andy Roger (drums)—Dalton swings hard and fast. While this kind of sound has been explored in the past by jazz guitar giants like Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, Dalton breathes new life into the modern jazz guitar scene on an album that finds him covering his own music to great effect while including covers of jazz giants like Miles Davis and classic jazz songwriter Harry Warren.

- It’s not often you come across a jazz-rock fusion instrumental CD from Korea but here comes quite a good one with the 2009 CD release of Across The Ocean by Infinite Loop. Guitarist / producer Kimie Kim enlists the help of a solid band including Nokyung Lee on keyboards, drummer Tagg and Duyoung Yoon (bass) and their pretty cool funky jazzy rock sound permeates the mix that is likely to find a home among fans of guitar groovers like Scofield, Metheny and Rosenwinkel. Some of the tracks veer into a subtle prog mode although for the most part this is upbeat guitar fusion. The recording quality is very good and the CD cover art and packaging helps to create an appealing image. /

MACK AVENUE RECORDS - The wide ranging influence of guitarist Django Reinhardt continues to reap benefits and unveil new chapters of inspiration for music lovers and budding guitarists alike. Adding to Django’s seemingly never ending influence, Hot Club Of Detroit keeps the Reinhardt legacy strong with the release of their third album, It’s About That Time, released by Mack Avenue Records. The Hot Club Of Detroit’s bandleader, guitarist Evan Perri, formed HCOD back in 2003 with his fellow students at Wayne State University in Detroit and with the 2010 release of It’s About That Time they’re poised to carry the group’s guitar laden sound forward. Commenting on their Django influenced vintage guitar based sound, the group’s rhythm guitarist Paul Brady comments, ‘To me, Django Reinhardt was a jazz improviser like Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young or any of the other great improvisers of his time. We don’t approach our music as a Gypsy Jazz band, but one hundred percent as a jazz group.’ Released in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Django’s birth, It’s About That Time finds the Hot Club Of Detroit covering music from the pens of Joe Zawinul, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Chick Corea as well as Django, with Brady adding, ‘He wrote a ton of stuff so we can always find something that we can have fun and stretch out on.’ Django fans will eat this up as will jazz lovers with an ongoing interest in Gypsy Jazz and a love of the guitar in general. /

MAD GUITAR RECORDS - More ingenious than mad per se, the 2010 CD release of Melodic Soloists compiles a roster of American and Euro guitar shredders over 17 tracks mostly recorded between 2006 to 2009. One of the best tracks on this multi-artist CD, “Power Lane” (A Tribute To Shawn Lane) features guitarist Magnus Olsson on a dynamic sonic jewel that the late Shawn Lane would no doubt have loved. Released by the Finnish based Mad Guitar Records, the Melodic Soloists CD is filled with instrumental, guitaristic power rock and metallic jazz-rock fusion and would make a fine addition to the music libraries of fans of Steve Morse, Steve Vai, Jimmy Page and assorted guitar heroes from around the globe. The 70+ minute CD is a great introduction to some rising guitarists and the CD booklet contains links to these guitarists. Maybe too much of a good thing, but if highly charged rock guitar based instrumentals is your thing, Melodic Soloists has you covered.

MADSMAN RECORDS - Commenting on his 2010 solo album The Playmaker, violinist / composer Mads Tolling says, ‘It is my goal with this recording to highlight the link between music and sports, athletes and musicians; two worlds that are not often compared. However, the basic qualities are so similar—it’s all about teamwork.’ There’s plenty of fine performances throughout the eleven cut Playmaker CD, which also features guest appearances by Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass, electric guitarist Mike Abraham, drummer Eric Garland and many others who help frame Tolling’s intricate instrumental sounds. A member of The Turtle Island Quartet, and a soloist with Stanley Clarke’s band, Danish violinst Mads Tolling offers an interesting cross section of electrifying, string driven instrumental jazz fusion with the release of The Playmaker. Amid the range of jazz, fusion, funk, classical and even Danish folk music are instrumental covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and Radiohead’s “Just.” Well recorded and nicely packaged, the CD also features impressive four panel liner notes by renowned Jaco Pastorius author Bill Milkowski.

MAYA LE ROUX - Swiss based / Serbian bred classical guitarist Maya Le Roux is making waves with her 2010 solo CD entitled Symphonic And Guitar. A unique blend of classical guitar performance and symphonic string backing, the music here is all original and speaks of good things for this aspiring guitarist. Gaining a solid reputation for her movie scores, symphonic pieces, solo guitar music and stage music, Ms. Le Roux clearly has a solid platform from which to launch her career here in the U.S. Starting off her album with the album’s lone vocal—an operatic overture sung by soprano Ljiljana Milovanovic—might not be the best intro for guitar fans, but the album settles down and overall there’s some very atmospheric orchestral mini-symphonies that should appeal to a range of classical music lovers. Commenting on her musical approach on her CD, Ms. Le Roux adds, ‘The recurring theme of my compositions is to transmit pleasure and emotion,’ and on that note, her album definitely succeeds.

MCORBIN - When he’s not busy building guitars and mandolins, teaching, doing studio work, repairs and instrument set-up, guitar all-star Mitch Corbin gets to record his flatpicking instrumental acoustic guitar music. Featuring some of the finest instruments he built over the past 25 years, the ten track Looking For Home presents an interesting musical portrait of Corbin’s timing and technique in action on the acoustic guitar. Having worked with musical legends—from David Bromberg and Byron Berline to Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris—Corbin strikes a chord all his own on an all instrumental CD that blends jazz, folk and bluegrass guitar sounds. Thanks to some clever studio recording, Corbin seamlessly blends his roles as lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist and mandolinist on an album that will appeal to fans of guitar icons like Leo Kottke and Jerry Douglas.

MOONJUNE - Along with the great Robert Wyatt and sadly now, the late, great Hugh Hopper, keyboard genius, Mike Ratledge was a key member of Soft Machine during their fabled Soft Machine 2 era circa 1968. That album remains one of the most influential rock albums and truly paved the way, not only for progressive music but a new hybrid form of jazz-rock that became so popular with rock fans. One of the architects of the famous Canterbury music scene that spawned heroic bands like Caravan and Egg, Ratledge is paid significant honors with the 2010 Moonjune release of What’s Rattlin’ On the Moon? by keyboardist Beppe Crovella. Subtitled A Personal Vision Of The Music Of Mike Ratledge, the sixteen track CD features Beppe interpreting the music of the Soft's keyboard giant while adding in several of his own compositions. Essentially a solo effort filled with multitasking keyboards of the highest magnitude, Beppe’s CD features a great use of a number of wild keyboard sounds with added emphasis on classics like the Mellotron and Hammond and Wurlitzer organs, along with good old Fender Rhodes and more. Soft Machine fans will not be disappointed with this release. From the liner notes by Beppe to the excellent, colorful CD artwork, this is one of the best Soft Machine related titles yet from Moonjune.

MOONJUNE RECORDS - One of the most adventurous record labels in the U.S. today, NYC based Moonjune continues on a roll in 2010 with the latest CD from experimental guitarist Barry Cleveland, entitled Hologramatron. As the top editor at Guitar Player mag for years, Cleveland is privy to some of the best guitar-based music released anywhere, and coupled with his legendary expertise as a avant-prog guitarist, Barry comes through with flying colors on his latest solo endeavor. Cleveland displays his cutting edge fretboard skills on a range of instruments including six and twelve string guitars, Moog guitar and Guitar Viols. A bunch of top players assist Cleveland on Hologramatron including bass icon Michael Manring, drummer Celso Alberti, pedal steel guitar ace Robert Powell, Turkish guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu, vocalists Amy X. Neuberg and Deborah Holland and many more who help turn Hologramatron into a veritable prog-rock guitar fest. Just when you think Cleveland is a purist avant rocker, he comes in with a cover of the pop classic “What Have They Done To The Rain” (Malvina Reynolds’ anti-nuke anthem) and a cover of The Tornados' “Telstar,” written by the late great Joe Meek. Having written one of the best books on the late great composer, Cleveland is a noted Meek aficiando and clearly Joe would love Barry’s version of “Telstar,” which was in fact the first U.K. single to top the U.S. charts, a couple years before the Beatles’ arrival. Cleveland isn’t afraid to combine his various influences on Hologramatron and as such the CD is a cornucopia of art rock, psychedelia, ambient, world music and even funk influences. Guitar fans who thrive on diversity and challenging musical combinations will appreciate where Cleveland is coming from on Hologramatron.

MOTEMA MUSIC - One of the top jazz labels in New York City, and possibly the world, Motema has made a lot of jazz fans happy with the 2009 CD release of Lagos Blues from The Antonio Ciacca Quintet with Steve Grossman. Recorded in Bologna, Italy, the seven cut CD just smokes with a vital jazz passion. Backed up here by his stylish sounding quintet band, Ciacca is widely regarded as both one of the top jazz and piano virtuosos in the world today and his pairing here with jazz sax great Steve Grossman on the Lagos Blues sounds like a musical marriage made in heaven. CD liner notes from album producer and jazz enthusiast Todd Barkan sheds interesting light on Grossman while further in depth notes from Antonio Ciacca seals the deal on this most impressive traditional, yet completely modern sounding example of acoustic yet very hot, and expertly performed instrumental bebop jazz.

NEW FOLK RECORDS - If you want to play guitar alongside rock music icon Steve Miller, you’d better be good. Fans of Miller’s lengthy rock and roll career would do good to take a listen to Miller band guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis on his new CD, entitled New Vintage. Like Miller, Lewis has a real penchant for jazzy instrumentals and he really gets to stretch out on his twelve track 2009 solo effort. Lewis also has a thing for classic jazz guitar heroes like Wes Montgomery, Howard Roberts and Grant Green, and some of the smoother tracks here echo the classic L.A. style mid ‘70s era of smooth jazz originator George Benson. So amidst the smooth, jazzy vibes how funky does Lewis get on the New Vintage CD? Well for an answer take a listen to Kenny’s fresh cover of the Average White Band classic, “Pick Up The Pieces,” written by none other than one time Wings guitarist Hamish Stuart back in the ‘70s. Other highlights abound including instro covers of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, topped off by a set-closing cover of “If I Only Had A Brain,” written by Harold Arlen for The Wizard Of Oz. Besides being a testament to Kenny’s diversity as a guitarist over the past 35 years, New Vintage is a superbly recorded album of smooth guitar jazz. /

NINJA TUNE - Ten piece Norwegian art-rock experimentalists Jaga Jazzist are spear-headed by multi-instrumentalist / composer Lars Horntveth, percussionist Martin Horntveth, who is the onstage spokesperson for the band, and sister Line Horntveth, who in addition to tuba, flute and vocals, acts as the publicity face for the group. The group's 2009 CD One-Armed Bandit is a virtual distillation of the cream of 20th century music as made by a band that will hopefully make a larger impact on 21st century ears. Sort of like being put into a futuristic musical blender, one can discern musical strains—from Finnish instrumental fusion legend Pekka Pohjola to more out there comparisons like Trevor Horn and The Art of Noise and Philip Glass and even early Soft Machine with daredevil keyboard genius Mike Ratledge. Like Pohjola's fabled Finnish fantasies, the jazz influence is never far off the mark while, in the spirit of Horn's productions, the sonic drop is harrowing. Also, like the Softs and Glass, Jaga is filled with sonic architecture worth surveying time and again. If you’re lucky enough to pick up the real CD release, you’ll also be amazed at the great CD packaging, complete with some crazy interchangeable artwork. Sounding like a twenty handed monster on One Armed Bandit, Jaga Jazzist takes you to the place where jazz and rock meets to shake hands once again. This is the future sound of the 21st century.

NORTH STAR RECORDS - A cool little recording label based up in Rhode Island, North Star Recods have a number of CD releases of mostly American flavored music under a number of genres and sub genres like celtic, jazz, relaxation, classical, traditional, world, nostalgia, Americana, etc. and you get the picture. One thing all these releases have in common is quality in both sound and CD packaging and pressing. It’s great to have a label like this still devoted to keeping the vision of the compact disc front and center. Case in point is a circa 2008 recording from guitar great Jay Geils entitled Toe Tappin’ Jazz. Backed up by some great session ears, famed rock / jazz guitarist Jay Geils cuts loose here on a CD of swinging jump-blues and jazz standards from the pen of jazz giants like Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Neil Hefti, Ray Brown and more. One vocal track fits in nicely on an instro album of classic, vintage jazz with one eye on it’s future legacy. Forty years ago, Jay Geils led his J. Geils Band, featuring singer Peter Wolf, to international success with a smokin’ blend of blues-rock. Nice to see that Geils has, over the past decade, has mellowed and settled in as one of the leading practitioners of classic vintage guitar jazz as evidenced by the twelve tracks on Toe Tappin’ Jazz.

REAL MUSIC - For years now, California based Real Music has reigned among the top labels of the New Age music world. Countless classic instrumental albums from big New Age names like Chuck Wild, Govi and Gandalf have solidified the label's impeccable reputation among New Age and meditation music enthusiasts. True to form, Real Music strike more New Age gold with the 2010 CD release of Path Of Compassion, from music conceptualist / multi-instrumentalist Karunesh. Subtitled A Collection For Yoga, Massage & Other Delights, the 11 cut CD is actually a best of collection from Karunesh, who thrilled listeners with earlier Real Music releases like Nirvana Cafe and Zen Breakfast. The superbly recorded and mastered compilation CD also features two new tracks from Karunesh so you can pick up on his best as well as his new music. It probably helps that this music was recorded in Hawaii as there’s a real sense of splendid isolation permeating through the grooves here. World Music, Indian music, New Age and meditation music are just some of the musical touchstones in play here. Backing up his wide screen vision, Karunesh receives top support from New Age stars like Real Music label mate Govi, who contributes guitar and sitar throughout the proceedings.

SANDRO CAMERIN MUSIC - I’m always up for a great guitar album that’s not afraid to combine a wealth of fretboard moves and strategies and that’s just what you get with Once In A While, the 2010 CD from Canadian guitarist Sandro Camerin. Based up in the Vancouver British Columbia part of Canada, Sandro often performs as both a soloist and as a part of various groups. Co-produced by Sandro, keyboardist Henri Lorieau and Frank Ludwig, the 13 track Once In A While also features key contributions from great players like drummer Jerry Adolf and others. One minute there’s an upbeat kind of smooth meets cool jazz/fusion vibe in play and then, especially on an outstanding track here called “The Falls”, where Sandro conjures up a touch of prog in the night moving across the sound stage. Fans of Steve Morse, Albert Lee, Hank Marvin and even Mahavishnu era McLaughlin will dig that track but there’s plenty of other original tracks composed by Camerin that would be of interest to fans of Santana, Metheny and Ritenour or for that matter, any number of the best players working today. Commenting on the release reviews editor and noted L.A. guitarist Eric Paulos notes, ‘There's an unspoiled sort of seed of inspiration here. And while it's always easier to critique someone else's hard labor than to outdo it, this record kicks guitar ass. There's also a bit of Celtic vibe somewhere behind the scenes here and the work is all extremely tasteful and fresh. As a bonus, Henri Lorieau plays wicked keyboards as evidenced by the intro on "The Picture of Happiness". His keys are reminiscent of Allan Zovad's fluid synth work on the early Jean Luc Ponty albums’. Featuring a number of cool / smooth jazz and guitar fusion tracks, all featuring Sandro center stage cutting loose on a range of electric and acoustic guitars, Once In A While is a valuable asset and splendid spin for fans of instrumental jazz and rock fusion.

Back when was in it’s early years, we reviewed a CD by a group called Project 7 titled Birth/Death/Infinity. That was back in May 2001 and lo and behold in May 2010 there’s a new Project 7 CD out in 2009 called Paradigm Shift. In fact, the nine cut CD features the same lineup of players from the first CD, including guitarist Dan Begelman, John DeCesare (bass) and Tony Gallino (drums). Now like then, these guys represent some of the finest musical intelligence on Long Island these days. The all instrumental CD still features P7’s modern approach to instrumental jazz-rock fusion, with the emphasis on rock. Clearly, guitar fans into Beck and McLaughlin will still get a buzz off of Begelman’s sonic guitar interplay between his two Project 7 band mates. That first Project 7 CD that reviewed way back when featured a great rave up instrumental cover version of the Yardbirds’ classic “For Your Love” and fittingly, this new Project 7 features a dynamic instro cover of the famous 1970 Mountain classic “Theme For An Imaginary Western” that will impress fans of Leslie West and Mountain as well as Jack Bruce and Cream. All in all, Paradigm Shift offers a fantastic listening experience for guitar fans into high quality instrumental fusion. /

7D MEDIA - Warr guitar pioneer Trey Gunn was a vital component of King Crimson for many years and outside of KC he’s built quite an impressive solo career. Case in point is Gunn’s 2010 CD Modulator, a 22 track CD. With Gunn handling guitars, fretless guitars, Warr touch guitars, basses, keyboards, samples and arrangements, Modulator also features key contributions from drummer Marco Minnemann with further contributions from Michael Connolly on uilleann pipes and fiddle. With the recording done at 7Directions studio in Seattle, WA. between March 2008 and March 2010, the mood on Modulator runs hard and fast, very much in the daredevil King Crimson mood, and clearly this amazing sounding, all instrumental CD will find a home with Crimson-ites of all persuasions. As stated in the CD booklet, this recording was composed and produced on top of a single 51 minute, often frenetic, live drum solo by Marco Minnemann. Ever the innovator, Gunn did a great job throughout adding, ‘This project has been one of the most challenging I have ever taken on. But, overcoming the daunting hurdles of Modulator proves the old adage that with great restrictions comes great creative leaps.’

SEVENTH SPRING PRODUCTIONS - Nuevo flamenco is currently one of the most popular instrumental music forms of the 21st century and has remained at the forefront for at least the past ten years. With a stunning combination of daredevil guitar techniques and melodies with hi-tech, glossy electronics and studio polish, Nuevo Flamenco is in good hands on the 2010 CD release of Behind The Curtain, from Rochester, N.Y. based guitarist Rick McKown. McKown has earned a solid reputation over the past thirty years as a professional guitarist, composer and music educator and he serves his purpose well with the dazzling instrumental guitar vision on Behind The Curtain. While the groove may be Nuevo Flamenco based, clearly McKown has enormous talent on the guitar and would excel in any kind of musical / recording setting. Showcasing his guitar as the star here, McKown drapes his flamenco sound with his own digital orchestra which is clearly a real find for guitar fans. McKown receives support from both Jeff Sawyer (piano, synths) and Harry Ford (five string and fretless bass) but the real star here is McKown’s vivid guitar imagination and finesse in the recording studio. Guitar fans as well as Flamenco fans are advised to pick up on McKown’s latest release.

SOUNDSCAPE PRODUCTIONS - Having recorded over 30 albums since the mid ‘80s, Robert Rich is no newcomer to the New Age and World Beat music scene. Released in time to coincide with his 2010 U.S. and Canadian tour, Rich offers up a fine new CD entitled Ylang. Having worked with verified New Age musical legends like Steve Roach, Ian Boddy and David Torn, Rich reaches new heights with the nine cut Ylang. The only musician I know here is violinist Forrest Fang, although there are other vital contributions from a number of musicians, including guitarist Haroun Serang and drummer Ricky Carter. Like Roach, Boddy and even Eno to an extent, Rich crouches his sound in deep layers of something called South Indian Kamatic music, post-rock, jazz and minimalism as well. In addition to writing the impressionistic, instrumental improvisations here, Rich turns in a pretty amazing performance on flutes, lap steel guitar, piano, percussion and various electronics. Not that you’ll hear too many cut loose electric lead guitars here. Instead Rich takes the listener on a dark, sonic journey into the land of meditative electronica. Even as an avant gard listening experience, there’s still plenty of healing New Age musical signposts that signals a return from this acclaimed musician. New Agers will dig it as will jazz fusion fans into ECM style guitar music of Terje Rypdal and Steve Tibbetts. CD sound quality is great and the cover art also enhances this fine CD.

SUBLIMINAL SOUNDS - 40 years after Bo Hansson received world wide acclaim for his solo debut, Lord Of The Rings, Sweden continues to produce some remarkable pop and instrumental talent. Instrumental rock is alive and well and living in the grooves of Dungen 4, from Swedish hip-pop proggers Dungen. Several cuts here remind me kind of like Wigwam from 1970, when Jim Pembroke and Pekka Pohjola were smoking from the same peace pipe. Sure, Kim Fowley produced that famous Wigwam album, Tombstone Valentine, which found its way to release in the U.S. as a beautifully packaged double Lp back in 1970 or so, on Verve Records, which was interestingly Frank Zappa’s label at the time too! So you take a couple pages from the book of orchestral Zappa and anything Pohjola-esque and you have the essence of a couple cuts here, specifically track 10, “Bandhagen”—the beautiful CD closer—and sort of (knowingly or unknowingly!) Dungen's tribute to Pohjola, “Målerås Finest” just kills with Scan-Am nostalgia. In a musical twist, track 9 here, “Samtidgt 2” sounds like the Grateful Dead in full flight, instrumental guitar sounds ablaze circa ‘69. Dungen leader Gustav Ejstes—playing more piano then guitar this time—gets great support from his band including outstanding work from guitarist Reine Fiske. There’s a few vocal cuts here—sung in Swedish no less—even something in a hip-hop vein, but clearly, as they’re living up to some of the finest 20th century music, the band’s instrumental numbers make Dungen 4 an exciting giant step for 21st century music.

SUGAR HILL RECORDS - For years the Sugar Hill Records name has been at the top of the acoustic instrumental Americana world and they follow up in fine form with a 2010 CD from Oregon-based Black Prairie entitled Feast Of The Hunter’s Moon. Described as a cross between Clarence White—himself, the late great, spine-tingling, countrified guitarist who brought country to rock in late ‘60s The Byrds—and Ennio Morricone—the impressionistic king of Italian instrumental movie music—the sound of Black Prairie is pretty stark, acoustic Americana instrumental that mixes accordion, dobro, bazouki, archtop and acoustic guitars with violin with several cuts taking in the sultry vocals of Annalisa Tornfelt. Featuring three-fifths of The Decemberists and two of Portland’s finest folk music stylists, the old world folk-jazz instrumental sounds of Black Prairie also mixes in various elements from blues, Klezmer, Latin and even polka music. A perfect late night spin, Feast Of The Hunter’s Moon makes for some quite evocative listening.

TELARC - California guitar legends, LAGQ, also known as Los Angeles Guitar Quartet team with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra for the 2010 CD release of Interchange. The centerpiece of the CD is a world-premiere recording of a major new concerto written for LAGQ by Brazilian guitar legend Sergio Assad, entitled Interchange For Guitar Quartet And Orchestra. The other half of the CD features LAGQ’s recording of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto Andaluz, a concerto for guitar quartet, first written for a major LAGQ influence, Los Romeros way back in 1965. The Interchange CD was recorded in May 2009 at the historic Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware and is in fact the Delaware Symphony’s debut recording. Commenting on the concept of the Interchange guitar suite, Sergio Assad explains, ‘Interchange represents my intentions of using traditional musical styles of the world blended as a whole organic unit, while at the same time suggesting a casual meeting of different people on an LA freeway. The titles of the movements all have a sort of ‘double meaning’ with the musical styles and references to roads and driving.’ Commenting on working with maestro David Amado of the DSO, LAGQ founder Bill Kanengiser adds, ‘Without the tremendous dedication of David and the DSO, the project never would have been possible. We had a fantastic time working, playing and drinking coffee with him!’ Interchange is an all around winner for both LAGQ fans as well as fans of Sergio Assad’s major guitar contributions.

TELARC - Telarc continues releasing great classical guitar albums from master guitarist David Russell. On his 2010 CD, Sonidos Latinos, subtitled Guitar Music Of Latin America, David Russell explores the repertoire of four Latin American guitar masters including Augustín Barrios Mangoré, Manuel Maria Ponce, Jorge Morel and Héctor Ayala. Among the 23 tracks on the CD, Argentine-American guitarist Morel actually wrote two works here with Russell in mind while another Morel track covered here, “Mangoré” is a tribute composition written by Morel for Augustín Barrios Mangoré, a guitarist so influential to both Morel and Russell. Recorded in Maryland, using the audiophile friendly Direct Stream Digital (DSD) technique, Sonidos Latinos is the latest and maybe greatest album yet from a guitarist who is often referred to as the modern heir to the guitar throne of icons such as Julian Bream and Andrés Segovia. /

THOUGHTS AND REALITIES - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in 1791 but not before completing his last work entitled Requiem Mass In D Minor KV 626. That also happens to be the name of an excellent late 2009 CD from Canadian guitarist Warren Robert. An innovator in the realm of heavy rock guitar technique, Robert extrapolates upon Mozart’s final work—a full mass for orchestra—as a motif of sorts for his own guitar prowess. Most classical music fans are quite used to hearing Mozart’s legendary prolific works performed in a classical setting with real strings and things but guitar fans—both classical and rock—who dig this kind of thing, will be in for a real treat with Robert’s instrumental rock approach to Mozart. The 14 track, 50+ minute CD features choruses of wild volume swells and searing guitar lead lines that mark Robert as a guitar player, while the sound is enhanced by Robert’s programmed, synthesized, computerized orchestrations. The sustained harmonic counterpoint of Mozart’s wondrous classical works are in good hands in the rock era thanks to the unique and electrifying rock instrumental guitar sound of Warren Robert. The cover art of Requiem is also quite effective, depicting Robert somber with guitar on the ground, paying homage, ostensibly, at Mozart’s grave site. One of the best hard rock / metal guitar shredders in North America today, Robert can also be appreciated on another of his recent CD releases entitled Music From The Void. An album of Robert originals with assistance of several backing players, Music From The Void summons up a wealth of original, instrumental guitar sounds from the depths of heavy metal and even progressive hard rock lore.

- Guitar fans are in for a treat with Trance Groove, the 2010 CD release from Massachusetts guitarist Julien Kasper. You can file Kasper’s guitar work under atmospheric instrumental jazz fusion. In the spirit of jazz guitar superstar John Scofield, Kasper combines funky grooves, soulful chord patterns and a solid fusion beat that makes for a rockin’ listening experience. Commenting on his guitar sound, Kasper adds, ‘Soul, groove, melody, tone and the element of surprise are my priorities as a composer and an improviser. As a guitarist I am coming equally from the schools of rock, jazz and blues.’ Backed up here by a number of qualified musicians, including Zac Casher (drums) and Jesse Williams (bass), Casper won over a number of guitar fusion lovers with his earlier CD releases—Flipping Time (2003) and The New Imperial (2006). Clearly a rising guitar hero in the styles of Scofield and Beck, Julien Kasper is on track to turn on even more guitar lovers with the atmosphere fusion of 2010’s Trance Groove.


ANGEL AIR RECORDS - England’s Angel Air Records sets the pace with somewhat of a recent comeback album from English rock legends Stray. Featuring guitarist Del Bronham, Stray released a number of classic ‘70s rock albums including their fantastic Stand Up And Be Counted, back circa 1976. A double disc CD, Angel Air's package combines both a CD of New Dawn (1997) and the in concert Alive And Giggin’ recorded in England on August 31st, 1996. Bronham was always about combining brains and braun, sort of a thinking mans rock and roll so to speak. As the leader of Stray, Bronham was a triple threat back in ‘75, as both a singer / songwriter and a guitar stylist. Angel Air’s 2 CD set of these two rarely heard rock albums offers a good chance to catch up on Bronham and the Stray legacy. Another U.K. rock legend from the mid ‘70s, Foghat has a release on Angel Air entitled Not Live At The BBC. A spoof title for sure but instead the live convert was caught live on June 27th, 2007 out on New York's Long Island. Long Island has always been a hot bed for rock music and the Commack crowd eats this up. Amazing that this 2007 recording features original Foghat member, drummer Roger Earl, who goes all the way back to the lineup from the days of the first Foghat album back in 1972! Living up to band's legacy, on Not Live At The BBC Earl and this current Foghat lineup serves up a smokin' set of classic rock and roll.

- Bookending the career of Jefferson Airplane, U.K. based BGO Records have a 2010, two on one CD comprising Early Flight and Thirty Seconds Over Winterland. Interesting in that this pairing of these two albums features the earliest of the Airplane, even before Grace Slick joined in 1967, as well as the final Airplane album on RCA / Grunt, a live ‘73 release called Thirty Seconds Over Winterland. BGO bookends the two albums as a single 16 track CD while the music, though eight years apart time wise, has a kindred spirit running through it all. What was cool about the live Winterland set was that it featured the final Airplane lineup with the late, great Papa John Creach, while copping tracks from late period Airplane albums Bark and Long John Silver. A colorful CD booklet that also includes December 2009 liner notes by John Tobler puts the Jefferson Airplane story into fresh perspective. Also coming in 2010 from BGO is a double CD set from the Aussie / UK band Air, featuring the Now And Forever album, released in 1982 with the self-titled Air Supply album, originally from 1985. There’s a bunch of huge charting singles on both albums—especially “Even The Nights Are Better”—from Air's ‘82 album. BGO’s 22 track double CD from Air features complete lyrics and again, insightful liner notes from Mr. Tobler offers history and up to date insight into this highly successful pop rock band. After leaving Poco, guitarist / producer and one time Buffalo Springfield member Jim Messina joined up with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins for their Sittin’ In album on Columbia Records, back in early ‘72. I still remember bringing it home, the day it came out no less, and finding a terribly warped copy that I couldn’t even play! Remember vinyl? Let's forget it please!! Anyway, that album went on to become one of the huge FM radio albums of ‘72 and set the stage for the 1973 release of their second album—the self-titled Loggins & Messina. That was the album with their breakthru' hit “Your Mama Don’t Dance (And Your Daddy Don’t Rock and Roll”) in case you forgot! There was also a great L&M comeback live album, on Rhino, from 2006 called Sittin’ In Again—a CD and DVD recorded live at the Santa Barbara Bowl. BGO’s double Loggins & Messina CD set, featuring both their classic Sittin' In and the Loggins & Messina album sounds great and features complete booklet and fresh insightful 2007 notes from our Mr. Tobler. Another classic ‘80s rock artist given the royal treatment by BGO, Pat Benatar is remembered with the BGO double CD set of True Love (from 1991) with Gravity’s Rainbow (from 1993). The original ‘80s rock chick, Benatar’s first album, 1979’s In the Heat Of The Night found her riding into town on the crest of the post New Wave boom of the late ‘70s. Still one of the top reissue CD labels on planet earth in 2010, BGO has a batch of Benatar double CD sets and their 2010 double CD set bookends both the eleven track True Love, originally released in 1991 with Gravity’s Rainbow, first released in 1993.

BGO RECORDS - Back in the late ‘60s, The Groundhogs had a number of album releases on UA Records that were also released Stateside here in the U.S. Of course, the competition back then was so steep. U.K. blues rock icons like John Mayall, Cream, Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After and other groups were breaking new ground and were fast on the track to world wide superstar status. With the emergence of Jimi Hendrix on the U.K. and U.K. rock scene, Clapton, Alvin Lee, Kim Simmonds, Peter Green and more were fast becoming guitar gods in their own right so its not surprising The ‘Hogs ended up with the short end of the blues-rock stick, at least here in the U.S. Even so, its not too late to check out one of the bands great classic albums on BGO Records, who have a 2010 remaster of the Groundhogs’ 1969 album Blues Obituary. The power trio of Groundhogs guitar master Tony “T.S.” McPhee, bassist Pete Cruickshank and drummer Ken Pustelnik broke new ground with the ‘69 release of Blues Obituary. Perhaps it was the morbid album cover art, but the music on this album is every bit as cool as say the first Fleetwood Mac album and maybe even rivals parts of the Mac’s English Rose album from about the same time. With it’s haunting merger of Delta blues, progressive rock styles and even traces of rock trio Blue Cheer style psychedelia, Blues Obituary captures The Groundhogs in full flight during the heyday of the late ‘60s English rock scene. BGO’s great sounding, single CD remaster of Blues Obituary puts the album into the context of ‘60s blues rock history and features key pictures of the album cover photo shoot along with 2010 liner notes from John O’Regan.

CAMEO-PARKWAY / COLLECTOR’S CHOICE - Although the late great Allen Klein’s ABKCO Records took hold in the late early 2000’s with bunch of reissues from the Rolling Stones, they also started in on releasing titles from the famous Cameo-Parkway Records label. One of the great pop labels of the late ‘50s it was really in the early ‘60s that the label began cranking out huge hits from the biggest taste makers of the golden era of rock and roll. This post Buddy Holly era was really great. This was the time when JFK’s smiling face was on television every night and before Vietnam became a sobering reality for America’s youth. Anyway, in 2010, Allen Klein’s son, Jody Klein states, ‘We are delighted to have Collectors’ Choice Music on board for these releases of great historical relevance.’ And what a great round of reissues they are! For their first teaming together to further plunder the Cameo-Parkway vaults, Collectors’ Choice and ABKCO offer up first ever reissues of complete albums by twist king Chubby Checker. CC’s first Chubby remaster pairs It’s Pony Time with Let’s Twist Again. Both of these Cameo Parkway album classics were released in 1961, which was really the height of Chubby mania. This 24 track, 2010 remaster features both complete albums, along with freshly minted reproductions of the CD cover art of both albums along with February 2010 liner notes by James Ritz. Discovered by their high school classmateand singer of the great single “1-2-3”, Len Barry, one of Cameo-Parkway’s most popular bands was The Orlons. The Orlons struck gold with their hugely popular single from early ‘63 entitled “South Street.” Essentially a girl group from Philly, with added bass notes from singer Stephen Caldwell, The Orlons scored several other big hits including “The Wah-Watusi” all featured on a 24 track single CD reissue pairing their only two charting albums from ‘62 and ‘63, The Wah-Watusi and South Street. For this first ever reissue from Collectors’ Choice and ABKCO, both of these original Orlons albums on Cameo are presented in original mono, with that great original early 60s album art, along with in depth liner notes from noted rock critic Gene Sculatti. Not every Cameo Parkway single, or especially Lp, made it into the hearts and minds of the baby boomers back then. Case in point Bobby Rydell (who made it huge in the movie of Bye Bye Birdie) had some great singles on Cameo including “Butterfly Baby” (more about that song later) and in 2010, Rydell is recalled on a 21 track 2 on 1 CD (all stereo mixes) that pairs his two 1961 albums Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones with the live Rydell At The Copa. The first album is a tribute to Jolson, Crosby and Sinatra while the live Copa album starts off with Birdie’s “A Lot Of Living To Do” and proceeds to blow away the trendy Manhattan crowd. Hard to believe it but actor Clint Eastwood recorded a 1963 album for Cameo Parkway and in fine form, Collectors’ Choice / ABKCO reissues the 14 cut Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites. Also out in 2010 on Collectors’ Choice / ABKCO is Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1. The 24 track compilation features a cross section of singles releases on Cameo Parkway from the label’s earliest years, including never before released tracks from future Cameo Parkway stars The Dovells and The Tymes. A nice lineup of lesser known Cameo Parkways stars, Remember Me Baby features liners from noted music scribe Ed Osborne. Even though Cameo Parkway is best known for their early ‘60s JFK-era singles, they also had a big breakthru’ with a couple albums during the fabled ‘66-’67 era by Flint, Michigan natives Terry Knight And The Pack. Originally released on Cameo’s Lucky Eleven label, and extremely hard to find back then, both the self-titled Terry Knight And The Pack and the Reflections album truly established singer Terry Knight as a name to reckon with. The group’s way cool cover of the Yardbirds’ sleeper, “You’re A Better Man Than I” had a huge impact on Top 40 radio back then. Besides establishing Knight as force on the pop front, the band Terry Knight And The Pack also featured future Grand Funk Railroad members Mark Farner and Don Brewer—an even more huge band that Knight had more than just a hand in helping create. Sadly, having passed away, Knight’s brief tenure as band leader is recalled in the CD’s Jeff Tamarkin-penned liner notes. All told, these album reissues from the vaults of Cameo-Parkway—through the auspices of CC Music and ABKCO are truly a musical revelation.

COLLECTOR’S CHOICE MUSIC - The final word when it comes to reissuing classic American rock and pop, Collector’s Choice is proving to be the ultimate destination for so many great unreleased recordings. Case in point, CC Music have four 2010 CD remasters from ‘60s AM radio superstars Tommy James & The Shondells. Bursting on the scene back in 1966 with their huge hit “Hanky Panky,” Tommy James and his group went on to become a mainstay of AM radio during the fruitful years of American pop between 1965 to 1969. Among the Tommy James & The Shondells albums CC Music have transferred to CD in 2010 are I Think We’re Alone Now (1967 with classic original album art), Gettin’ Together (also 1967), Travelin’ (final 1970 album from Tommy James & The Shondells) as well as My Head, My Bed & My Red Guitar (Tommy James solo album from 1972 w/ Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana guesting). While most of the big hits Tommy James originally made for Roulette Records are best heard on the multitude of best of collections, clearly, as these CC album remasters point out, there’s plenty of music still to be appreciated. Collector’s Choice enhance their Tommy James & The Shondells CD reissues with illuminating discography information as well as newly penned 2010 liner notes by noted rock scribe Ed Osbourne.

- One of America’s best CD reissue labels, Collectors’ Choice Music has a great new LIVE imprint on the shelves and kicking off CCM’s live in concert CD series are four illustrious rock legends. Personally, my beef with live albums is that sometimes the audience noise overshadows the recording levels. Isn’t that why The Beatles stopped touring? You’re one whistle away from an auditory ouch! Thankfully, these Collectors’ Choice live in concert CDs are superbly remastered, tucking obtrusive audience hoops and whistles well under the mix, thus pushing the music more clearly on to the soundstage, front and center, the way it should be. CC Music’s LIVE label remembers the late great John Denver with a 2010 two CD set called Live At Cedar Rapids 12/10/87. A solo live set, with added string quartet on six tracks, this live Denver release in particular offers a good example of how a concert should be mic’ed and recorded. That trend continues with a live CD from Hot Tuna called Live At New Orleans House Berkeley, CA 09/69. The single disc set captures the early live Hot Tuna acoustic sound with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady in peak form, just prior to the release of their RCA Records debut in 1970. Also from CC Music’s LIVE label is Poco Live At Columbia Studios, Hollywood 9/30/71. This CD captures the fantastic middle era, post-Jimmy Messina Poco with Richie Furay, Tim Schmit, Paul Cotton and pedal steeler Rusty Young. Performing in the studio at an Epic Records gathering in L.A. just before two shows at the Santa Monica Civic, the sound of the fourteen track CD is first rate throughout. Last, but not least of the first four CC Music LIVE releases is a real find for live rock and roll fans called Johnny Winter And - Live At the Fillmore East 10/3/70. This live treat from the legendary Fillmore East is a must for fans of Winter’s great And band lineup with guitarist Rick Derringer. In the spirit of the famous King Biscuit Flower Hour CD series from the ‘90s, this first installment of the Collectors Choice Music LIVE series bodes well for collectors of classic rock and pop.

- Soul / pop icon Ray Charles is best known for being one of the main players on the mid ‘60s pop charts, chalking up hit after hit like “Cryin’ Time”, “Hit The Road Jack” and countless others. Unbeknownst to many of Ray’s fans, he was also a prolific jazz artist, having released Genius + Soul = Jazz back in 1961. Interestingly, that album made it to the top of the pop charts back then. Compiling Ray’s mostly instrumental jazz output, Concord Records reissued Genius + Soul = Jazz in 2010, as a double CD also featuring three other Ray Charles jazz classics including My Kind Of Jazz (1970), Jazz Number II (1972) and My Kind Of Jazz Part 3 (released in late 1975). Anyone expecting vintage Charles, the soul singer, better look elsewhere as these albums, featuring The Ray Charles Orchestra, portray Charles as a well rounded jazzer, receiving ample support in the studio from jazz giants like producer / arrangers Quincy Jones, Creed Taylor and Ralph Burns. The original Genius + Soul = Jazz is still a classic of the era and takes you way back to the JFK era with a classic early ‘60s jazz sound. That first album even featured a few of Ray’s vocals while backed by members of the Count Basie Orchestra. Concord’s double CD set includes all four albums on two CDs and is literally packed with original artwork and liner notes, as well as new liner notes by Will Friedwald, vital discography info on all four albums and even a bonus cut. Concord have reissued a number of Ray Charles albums in the recent past, including a career compilation just called Genius. Genius + Soul = Jazz should go a long way to reintroducing the jazz side of Ray Charles to a whole new generation of music fans.

- Alternating with Irish guitar icon Rory Gallagher, U.K. rockers Free blew many a mind on the Summer 1969 Blind Faith tour of America. What stood out back in 1969, for this writer, was Free’s fantastic album debut, Tons Of Sobs as well as their late, great guitarist Paul Kossoff, who, especially at the Blind Faith show at Madison Sq. Garden, looked like a wild, uncaged lion as he coaxed raging rock tones out of his Les Paul guitar. The ‘69 A&M release of Tons Of Sobs led to 1970’s Free Lp and then of course Fire & Water, which became famous for Free’s first top ten hit “All Right Now,” a song which changed Free, some say for the worse especially when considering the near progressive blues-rock nature of the band’s first two albums. Anyway, the best of Free’s early “All Right Now” era can be relived thanks to a fine double DVD set on Eagle entitled Free Forever. Highlights on the first DVD include Free’s live video performances from Germany’s Beat Club and England’s Granada TV show along with five original video clips, while a second DVD includes three videos from the now legendary Free performance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival as well as an array of DVD audio clips from the festival. Special DVD features include new edits, including split screen and multi-angle camera views, while 2006 video interviews with surviving Free founders Paul Rogers, drummer Simon Kirke and bass ace Andy Fraser sheds light on Free’s underrated influence on the early ‘70s rock scene. The Free Forever DVD packaging is also exemplary, including detailed liner notes from 2006 as well as a gigantic Free poster filled with vital Free data.

- I thought this show was more like 1985 or so but in fact, the huge concert Live At Knebworth—sometimes referred to as “the best British rock concert of all time” actually took place on June 30th, 1990. A benefit for Nordoff-Robbins music therapy group, the huge outdoor festival featured the surviving kings of British rock on home turf at the dawn of the '90s. True to life, Beatle Paul McCartney—backed up here by his Off The Ground era band including wife Linda McCartney—takes center stage. Of course, where else but dear old mother England could you find Macca sharing a bill with Hank Marvin, who appears here in The Shadows backing up Cliff Richard. This was the type of event that sometimes occurred during the weird pre-internet MTV, nether-world Bush I era. Also appearing here with a track or two are huge stadium rock megabuck stars as Genesis, Eric “Slowhand” Clapton, Dire Straits, Elton John, Pink Floyd, then currently huge Tears For Fears and much more. Eagle released a DVD of the Knebworth ‘90 festival several years back and overall their double CD sounds great, making it an audiophile treat while the CD booklet gives more insight in the Nordoff-Robbins charity, that continues on today, while including featuring key color pics from the ‘90 show.

/ CAROLINE - Gentle Giant made the impossible possible in progressive rock around 1971. When their third album Three Friends coming out in early 1972, they quickly evolved out of their cult status into globe trotting classicists. GG bass player Ray Shulman was a true genius and some may say the backbone of the band. Thirty years after Giant’s reign ended, Ray set about remastering the band’s middle period recordings from the original quarter inch tapes and the results are really amazing. Gentle Giant albums have been reissued on a number of labels from Line in Germany, the early remasters from the late ‘80s, to Columbia in around 1990 up to including 2005 remasters on the label owned by Ray’s brother and Gentle Giant singer Derek Shulman. For these EMI remasters, Ray Shulman’s ear guides these tapes into some pretty sonically amazing musical waters and long time fans won’t be disappointed in these hi resolution sounding transfers. Gentle Giant remasters appearing in 2010 on the EMI label services Caroline distribution include classics like In A Glass House (1973), The Power & The Glory (1974) and Free Hand (1975). This latest series of Gentle Giant remasters continues on with more titles as well as an upcoming DVD called Gentle Giant At Winchester College, which is said to be the first show that Gentle Giant ever performed.

/ SONY LEGACY- Releasing a new album from Jimi Hendrix, in 2010, 40 years after his death is kind of like putting money in the bank. In a wildly calculated shift of musical power, Janie Hendrix, Hendrix-ologist John McDermott and the entire catalog of Experience Hendrix records makes a label shift over to Sony Legacy after a dozen or more years with Universal. To mark the occasion, the Hendrix estate is offering a pretty remarkable album that’s being billed as a new Jimi Hendrix album called Valleys Of Neptune. Featuring a mix of post Electric Ladyland studio cuts that never really got finished and different versions of classic Hendrix, the twelve cut Valleys CD features Experience cofounders Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding as well as Hendrix chitlin’ circuit buddy, bassist Billy Cox. Although the crux of this final 1970 era Hendrix is best represented on The Cry Of Love—first released in the '90s, and again reissued in this 2010 Sony Legacy series as The First Rays Of The New Rising Sun—this low key, bluesy new collection of classic Hendrix on Valleys just exudes charisma and timelessness and has enough punch to make you feel like it’s 1970 all over again. Long time engineer Eddie Kramer remains on board as the ‘ears apparent’ of Experience Hendrix and Eddie’s typically brilliant audio engineering work on the loose, bluesy Valleys Of Neptune, is still a trademark of the Hendrix studio sound. So where was Jimi going in that post Electric Ladyland era represented on this CD? Well for a short answer, take a listen to the last two Valleys tracks—“Lullaby For The Summer” and “Crying Blue Rain.” Both display an embryonic snapshot of that instrumental guitar fusion bent that Hendrix was so enamored with at the dawn of the '70s. Sort of like stepping into the musical time tunnel to relive a magical era that was cut short so abruptly on that dark, soul searching September day in 1970, Valleys Of Neptune will nevertheless be huge with Hendrix buffs. With today’s kids asking, ‘just who was Hendrix’ they should be pointed towards Legacy’s other 2010 CD ‘double disc’ remasters, including the first three classic essential albums from Jimi Hendrix Experience. Coupled with a second disc—a DVD with a mini videos documentary of each album, including Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland—each title is impeccably restored with spiffy digi-pak casing and eye-poppin’ packaging. Where will Jimi’s masters be in fifteen years? Who knows, but in 2010 Experience Hendrix teaming with Sony Legacy keeps Jimi’s flame burning bright.

- Fans of strange and beautiful European music often look to the vast catalog of music distribution titan Forced Exposure for some unique listening. Forced Exposure are a great source for recorded music from a number European record labels including the German based Shadoks Music. Shadoks have a pretty cool CD reissue out in 2010 from Finjarn & Jensen. Released in Norway on the EMI distributed Columbia Records label, the 1970 album spotlights guitarist / composer / singer Svein Finjarn backed up by a number of players including Leif Jensen. Mixing prog-rock with psychedelic flower-power style pop, the Finjarn & Jensen CD is a pretty cool rediscovery for collectors of Euro rock flavored reissues. One of the amazing English record labels distributed Stateside by Forced Exposure in North America is the Past & Present imprint, who offer yet another volume of rare British psychedelic pop called Piccadilly Sunshine Part Three: British Pop Psych And Other Flavors 1967-1970. 20 groovy pop rock unknowns with names like Paul Slade, Dead Sea Fruit, Mighty Joe Young, Howard Walker featuring The Bombthrowers, Episode Six and scads of other gifted unknown U.K. rockers, who just made the grade back then, provide a fine sonic cross section of sounds. It’s all accompanied by the excellent booklet and packaging that’s become synonymous with all Past & Present CD reissues. On the subject of unique electronic music from Germany, Forced Exposure are handling The Diary Of The Unforgotten—a collection of recordings spanning 1973 to 1978 from German electronic music pioneer Roedelius. Roedelius is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking electronic recordings with Harmonia and Cluster, the latter a group who recorded with Brian Eno. A haunting album of instrumental electronica from a distant era, The Diary Of The Unforgotten reflects the time Roedelius spent in the natural, idyllic splendor of the Weser Uplands. The breathtaking sonic terrain foreshadows the vibe of the best New Age music of the classic mid to late ‘70s era.

- One might rightly say the true beauty of music is that at it’s finest, it’s able to transcend borders and artificial boundaries set up by man’s intolerance of his fellow man. The greatest artists of all time knew this—from Les Paul to The Beatles. And you can add the name Django Reinhardt to that list of musical pioneers still revered today. Over in France, Django is still considered a treasure of musical history and his legacy is well preserved thanks to a series of huge box set releases on the Freméaux label. Case in point is a 14 CD box set from Django, released by Freméaux called The Complete Django Reinhardt with the French title Intégrale Django Reinhardt - L’ Edition Du Centenaire - Saison 2. Freméaux released a Saison 1 Django box and they pull out all the stops on volume 2, which spans the years 1938 - 1947. Like their first box set, Freméaux does a spectacular job here, tastefully remastering Django’s delicately recorded Gypsy Jazz guitar instrumentals for CD in the 21st century. Another perk here is that combined, the seven double CD sets feature a total of 284 pages of liner notes in both English and French with fascinating pics. Each of the seven double CD sets is subtitled as well. For instance, number 14, the final double CD in box 2, entitled Django’s Dream features 40 tracks of studio recordings and radio sessions with his group Django Reinhardt & Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France, including classics guitar lovers all know and love like“September Song,” “Brazil” and Django’s theme song “Nuages.” Compiling Django’s vast recorded output has been described by guitar fans in the U.S. as being a ‘herculean endeavor’ yet Freméaux, under the auspices of label head Patrick Freméaux and the series director Daniel Nevers, has done a great job compiling these tracks under one roof so to speak. Django fans will want to keep an eye and and ear out for the third Freméaux box set on Django which they promise is coming in September 2010.

/ FANTASTIC VOYAGE - Ironic how a great new reissue label from England is called Future Noise but perhaps the sound of yesterday has yet to be heard by future generations. What will tomorrow’s people think about what we did in the 20th century? A couple good examples can be heard in the form of some excellent multi CD sets on the Future Noise owned Fantastic Voyage label, including a 2009 three CD box set from the now late, but forever great Les Paul entitled Les Paul & Friends - How High The Moon, subtitled Hits & Rarities From The Wizard Of Waukesha. Since as of early 2010, that great Les Paul box set from 1991 on Capitol is still out of print, collector’s may want to take a look and a listen to this mini-box set. As the set points out in the beginning of some well crafted liner notes from October 2009, Les Paul passed away the summer of 2009, although not before leaving a phenomenal decades spanning legacy of everything imaginable. Decked out in fine artwork, packaging and fine liner notes with rare pics, this Future Noise release packs 76 tracks encompassing, The Capitol Years 1948-1952 (on CD 1), The Capitol Years 1953-1958 (CD 2) and a third CD called Pickin’ & Swingin’ 1937-1947, featuring early Les tracks as Rhubarb Red and, with The Les Paul Trio and cuts featuring singers including Bing Crobsy, the Andrews Sisters and Helen Forrest. This CD closes out with two tracks featuring Les with Nat King Cole from their live 1944 album Jazz At The Philharmonic. Another 2009 Future Noise box set is from U.K. beat music innovator and soundtrack king John Barry entitled John Barry Revisited. A very impressive Future Noise CD reissue, the four CD box features three Barry soundtracks including Elizabeth Taylor In London (complete Television soundtrack from 1963), Zulu (1964) and Barry’s 1965 soundtrack to the movie Four In The Morning. Also included is an additional CD entitled The Ember Singles Plus, combining a number of single tracks and extended play EP tracks Barry cut for Ember Records between 1963-1965, including several of Barry’s James Bond film score recordings. The Future Noise Barry box is superbly packaged, with each disc encased in a mini LP jacket style slipcase along with a large CD poster detailing the history within. The box set gives a good overview of the time between Barry's early work with The John Barry Seven and his later film work including his early classic soundtracks such as Born Free (1966) and Midnight Cowboy (1969). Collector’s looking for a cool new reissue label from England will enjoy discovering a number of classic titles on Future Noise.

- A major sonic achievement as well as being one of the great DVD to CD transfers in recent memory, David Bowie’s A Reality Tour arrives as a 2 CD set in 2010. Bowie fans have waited six years for a new studio or live album from him and, even recorded way back on November 22, 2003, the music here—first featured on DVD back in 2004—sounds equally great in 2010, nearly seven years later. Maybe its that Bowie hasn’t recorded anything since his near brush with death in Germany in June 2004. Fans have voiced concerns over his health issues in recent years, but lemme tell you steve-o, this is one rocking CD and I almost hate to file it in the reissues reviews! Still, what can you say about what has remained Bowie’s last band since he stopped touring in ‘04? Pianist extraordinaire Mike Garson remains a pivotal asset in Bowie’s arsenal, ever since he joined the Aladdin Sane lineup in 1973. John Lennon’s last guitarist, the equally brilliant Earl Slick is still one of the great rock guitar icons of the 20th century. Tour band leader guitarist Gerry Leonard is yet a vital component for Bowie and I can’t wait to hear what he does next. Thanks also here to the brilliant musical mind of Tony Visconti for his studio expertise on what has to be among Bowie’s great sounding live albums, and there have been a few. The A Reality Tour CD set focuses on the music and keeps the audience noises at bay (kind of) while still preserving the up close and personal live feel of a Bowie event. There’s no “Space Oddity” or “Karma Man” here but the CD’s version of the song “The Man Who Sold The World” brings early believers back to the hazy winter of 1970, when (most) nobody in the U.S. had ever seen Bowie, let alone heard a complete album from him yet! A focus on 21st century Bowie, old faves, a great band and stellar live mixing makes A Reality Tour an essential CD set.

- Even though he had played keyboards with Bob Dylan at Newport in ‘65 and co-founded The Electric Flag shortly thereafter, Barry Goldberg is perhaps best known for writing “I Really Got To Use My Imagination” with songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, who himself ushered in the dawn of ‘60s by co-writing “Who Put The Bomp” with Barry Mann. Back in August 1973, Goldberg had a wish granted when Bob Dylan offered to produce the eventual 1974 ATCO Records Lp release of the self titled Barry Goldberg album. Quite Dylan-esque in places, with splendid backup from the Shoals studio crew including guitarist Eddie Hinton, the album flew way under the radar in that diffracted year of 1974, and is a vital rediscovery for fans of Goldberg, Dylan and Goffin. Recorded with Dylan producing in Muscle Shoals, AL., the BG album also leaned heavily on the ears of album co-producer, Atlantic Records honcho Jerry Wexler, who against the wishes of Goldberg actually had Barry re-cut his vocals in Miami. Ironically, Goldberg has another wish fulfilled on this 2009 Micro Werks CD, whereby his original, complete pre-Miami masters with his original echo heavy vocals, are reissued here for the first time with Goldberg adding, ‘I was frustrated about this for more than 35 years.’ Wild artwork is enhanced by well researched liner notes by rock PR insider Bob Merlis and complete track info and personnel lineup info.

- Filmmaker Michael Lawrence adds another feather to his hat with the 2010 double DVD release of Bach & Friends, released by his own Michael Lawrence Films company. Mr. Lawrence has a number of film productions in his resume, including movies on guitarist Manuel Barrueco, guitarist Aaron Shearer, classicist Yehudi Menuhin, and even astronaut John Glenn. Although Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750, his influence over the centuries on all types of music has remained enormous. Whether you perform or listen to classical, jazz or rock, there really hasn’t been any area of music untouched by Bach’s grand musical vision. Even rock fans into the early electronic music scene got a taste of Bach thanks to the first recordings of Walter Carlos, the moog synthesizer pioneer, who tuned modern ears in to Bach with the 1969 album release of Switched On Bach. Filmmaker Lawrence makes good on his latest documentary production, introducing Bach’s legacy to 21st century music fans with Bach & Friends. The double DVD set is impeccably filmed and recorded with numerous interviews and performances from Bach lovers and noted performers like Richard Stoltzman, Joshua Bell, Bobby McFerrin, Philip Glass, Manuel Barrueco, The Swingle Singers, Jake Shimabukuro, Béla Fleck and many more. A second DVD captures all the various performances of Bach as performed by these great artists and many more, although J.S. Bach’s history on disc one, as portrayed by these great artists, is so fascinating you’ll be riveted from start to finish.

- America’s, and if fact the whole world’s, seemingly endless fascination with trashy tabloid infected videos will no doubt be gratuitously satiated with the first releases in a series of videos entailing the Final 24 television series on DVD. We’re talking Final 24, as in the last day of a person’s lifeline, in these cases well known actors, musicians and celebrities who died way too soon, usually under secretive or sensationalist circumstances. MVD claims the purpose of this new DVD series is to be kind of psychological detective stories attempting to uncover the mystery of why the celebrity died. According to Nick Godwin—executive producer of the Final 24 series, ‘Final 24 goes to the very heart of how these celebrities lived and died.’ The first four Final 24 DVD titles released by MVD here in the U.S.—through the auspices of Cineflix and Nextfilm—include an expertly filmed, hour long color documentary depicting the final day in the life of rock’s greatest drummer Keith Moon, as well as DVDs on ill-fated blues rock singer Janis Joplin, Nicole Brown Simpson (O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife and death target) and Italian fashion magnet Gianni Versace. Each hour long Final 24 DVD serves as a suspenseful, documentary chronicling some often grueling, hard to watch and messy death tales. There’s certainly enough of this kind of stuff to go around, and moving forward MVD Visual are promising future Final 24 DVD titles remembering the final day of Sid Vicious, John Belushi, Anna Nicole Smith and David Koresh—and that’s just in time for Summer 2010. This stuff ain’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure but, hey I guess that’s just the point. Final 24 indeed.

- 25 years after the compact disc ushered in a whole new way of listening to music, the appeal of the reissue CD stays strong. While England remains the bastion of the rock reissue, Australia-based Raven continues on after making huge inroads for the CD reissue during much of the double O’s. Raven has a fine 2010, two albums on one CD release on Helen Reddy entitled Ear Candy / We’ll Sing In The Sunshine. The release is Reddy’s fourth 2 on 1 CD on Raven and pairs the singer’s tenth and eleventh albums. A hugely popular singer and actress during the ‘70s, Reddy made a perfect addition to Capitol’s post-Beatles image. These two albums Reddy recorded for Capitol in 1977 and 1978, respectfully produced by L.A. pop wunderkind Kim Fowley and guitarist Earle Mankey, offers Reddy a chance to upgrade her early image with some fine Brian Wilson inspired orchestral pop. On We’ll Sing In The Sunshine, Reddy even covers the Beatles (“One After 909”) and there’s key contributions from a number of pop aces like Jeff Lynne with Sunrays founder Rich Henn arranging. With Raven’s booklet featuring in depth credits and liner notes, the 20 cut CD offers a good chance to find out about Helen Reddy’s often misunderstood pop genre.Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi is given some much needed respect on the 2010 Raven reissue of his first two solo albums. Combining both 1972’s Oh How We Danced with Capaldi’s 1974 album Whale Meat Again, Raven’s 15 track CD features Capaldi in good hands backed up by the Muscle Shoals team of players who joined Traffic back in 1972, as well as rock legends like Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Paul Kossoff, Chris Wood and drummer Jim Gordon. The intriguing story of Capaldi’s first two albums up to and including his passing in 2005 is retold in the detailed CD booklet accompanying the release. Guitar aces Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed are the subject of Raven's 2010, 29 track, 2 albums on one CD release of the self titled Me And Jerry (from 1970) and Me And Chet (from 1972). Rock was king back in 1970 but, thanks to Raven’s 2010 remastering, that doesn’t mean guitar fans are too late to appreciate a couple timeless instrumental albums of jazzy country guitar sounds from two of country music’s greatest guitarists. Combining Chet’s patented fretboard precision with Reed’s spirited finger-picking, the CD features the two stretching out on several originals along and finger-pickin-good covers of classics like “MacArthur Park,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Old Man River”. Raven’s latest Atkins / Reed remaster tops it off with eight bonus cuts and in depth CD booklet featuring original art and original and new liner notes. Founded in 1976 in good old Queens, NYC, power pop / garage band legends The Fleshtones are feted on a new compilation entitled It’s Super Rock Time: The I.R.S. Years 1980 - 1985. Raven’s 25 cut Fleshtones compilation collects the best of their five years worth of recording on Miles Copeland’s classic I.R.S. Records label. Like always, Raven packs their 2010 Fleshtones CD collection with plenty of informative liner notes, discography information and cool b&w and color pics. Speaking of post New Wave raver rock on Miles Copeland’s I.R.S. label, Raven has a 2010 two albums on one CD from early ‘80s punk art-rockers Wall Of Voodoo. Featuring 21 tracks, the 2-on-1 CD combines Dark Continent (1981) and Call Of The West (1982). Mixing art rock with rhythm boxes, guitar noir and synth washes, Wall Of Voodoo are perhaps best remembered for their lead singer, Stan Ridgeway, who sings up a storm on Wall Of Voodoo’s best known track, “Mexican Radio,” featured here on Call Of The West.

REELIN’ IN THE YEARS / VOYAGE DIGITAL MEDIA / NAXOS OF AMERICA - The day before JFK had his beautiful head blown apart in Dallas, on TV no less, America seemed to be a peaceful and happy place...or so it seemed to this nine year old pop music fan. Imagine this: In the months before 11/22/63, with not an Englishman in sight, America’s Top 40 AM radio was buzzing with hit after hit from hot acts like The Four Seasons, Beach Boys, Dion, Del Shannon, Ricky Nelson, Chubby Checker, Barry Mann, Neil Sedaka, and top producers like Phil Spector and his wrecking crew, with simply dozens more classic American songs powering out of tiny AM radios nationwide.At the same time, unbeknownst to most radio fans, a young kid named Dylan was gathering steam on the healthy college front. Record stores were the place to be and, although totally unimaginable now, singles and Lp albums were sold everywhere, from the corner candy store to 5 & 10’s and major chain record stores like Sam Goodys. Every department store even had a record department and many sold pretty high end audio equipment too. Hugely popular in the New York City area, Goodys, as we called it, was the coolest of all the record shops. Even with this quite prolific American era abruptly interrupted on November 22nd, just about by December, 1963 the word at school was something else entirely. A band from England called The Beatles had come and they were gonna come to NYC in February 1964 and play live on the Ed Sullivan Show. Egged on by the early Beatles hit and run on American ears that started several weeks earlier, with notable 45 releases on Vee Jay and Swan Records, Capitol Records finally sprung into action, releasing their first official Beatles hit single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and by January 1964, music fans were inundated with all things Beatles—not only the band’s first U.S. singles and Lps, but Beatle wigs, Beatles playing cards (complete with complimentary bubble gum inserts) and glossy mags galore. The answer to JFK’s killers couldn’t be more complete. By the time The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show in February, no one remembered JFK anymore. A new John had arisen to save and enlighten American youth with songs that, ironically (in retrospect) have long since proved to be anthems of a generation. John Lennon and The Beatles were here for good. Although The Beatles are remembered best for their gift of music, another great thing they spearheaded was the fabled British invasion of 1964. Unbeknownst to the teenyboppers at least, The Beatles were just the top of the U.K. pop iceberg so to speak and before your knew it, the Cashbox charts were full of English mop-top bands espousing the Beatles’ vision—names like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5, The Kinks, Peter & Gordon, Freddie & The Dreamers and countless more. Upon reflection, after the horrors in Dallas, it was as if God had sent these musical pied pipers to our shores from the motherland to free us of the country's deep pain and confusion in the aftermath of JFK’s brutal assassination. And we still don’t really know who killed President Kennedy, do we? Well, there’s been dozens of great documentaries on the Beatles but not too many about a number of the other great bands from England that followed in their footsteps. At least until now because Reelin’ In The Years has unveiled the first four DVDs in their much vaulted British Invasion series. First off are four well done DVD releases documenting some of the great English bands to first hit American shores following the Beatles—with titles including Herman’s Hermits - Listen People 1965 - 1969, Small Faces - All Or Nothing 1965 - 1968, Gerry & The Pacemakers - It’s Gonna Be All Right 1963 - 1965 and Dusty Springfield - Once Upon A Time 1964 - 1969. Released March 30, 2010, all four of these first DVD documentaries will be made available separately as well as in a deluxe box set containing a fifth bonus DVD with two and a half hours of additional content. Each DVD is filled with live performance videos, both separate and with commentary as well as newly filmed rare interviews from the surviving band members. Each DVD also features a separate 24 page color booklet containing loads of pictures, info and historical insights into the phenomenal British invasion of 1964 and 1965. Reelin’ In The Years did a great job with their previously released DVD series—both their American Folk Blues Festival and their Jazz Icons series—and this British Invasion series makes sense and is a fantastic addition to the company's acclaimed DVD catalog. Series producers David Peck, Phil Galloway and Tom Gulotta did a superb job here. The film content of the vintage material is amazingly clear and this is the most revealing glimpse into the young pied piper musicians who landed on U.S. shores all those years ago. One can only hope producer Peck and company will go on to chronicle more of the great English rock groups who changed American ears back in the mid ‘60s. I’m almost certain that by the end of November, JFK knew the Beatles were coming in February as, of course something like this surely would be making major international noise just a couple months later. Nevertheless, long gone JFK would have been proud at the historic music that soon followed his premature demise.

- A record label most famous for their groundbreaking album releases of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Reprise Records also landed the back catalog of The Bee Gees, who are reappraised on a 2010 triple disc set called The Ultimate Bee Gees. Whether or not this is the ‘ultimate’ Bee Gees collection depends on your specific favorites from the vast back catalog of the legendary Brothers Gibb. A double CD set, featuring 40 newly remastered Bee Gees favorites, is further complimented by a third disc here—a DVD featuring unreleased BeeGees vids and promo clips from Top Of The Pops and various TV shows from the late ‘60s on. In addition to The Ultimate Bee Gees, Rhino also has another Bee Gees package set for late 2010 called Mythology: The 50th Anniversary Collection. Put together by the surviving Bee Gees founders—Barry Gibb and Robin GibbMythology, when released will contain four discs each spotlighting a different Gibb brother, including the late great Maurice Gibb and kid brother, the late Andy Gibb, who was not actually part of the Bee Gees group. Song writing legend Tim Rice, who penned liner notes for the Ultimate Bee Gees package adds, ‘Within this package is a collection of performances and songs that very few practitioners of popular music of the past could match for quality, originality and emotion.’ Featuring long awaited CD remastering on the two CDs—including rare mono mixes of the group’s earliest singles on disc two—and a bevy of rare vintage video clips on the DVD, The Ultimate Bee Gees captures much of the excitement and creative focus that the brothers Gibb have given the music world for the past five decades.

- Living in L.A. between June 1974 and October 1976 was a great experience for this native New Yorker. As a music student at Santa Monica City College by day and then a cave dweller in any number of the amazing record stores and musician haunts of Los Angeles then, I remember seeing and, I believe briefly meeting musicologist Harvey Kubernik at one or maybe more of the groundbreaking concert events that I attended back then. I can still see Harvey in the lobby of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium late in 1974 or early ‘75 at that historic Roy Wood’s Wizzard concert just after Roy had released his amazing Eddie And The Falcons Lp. The scene in L.A. in 1974 was truly amazing—massive wall to wall Tower record stores everywhere and stocked to the rafters with the great music coming out in England and America back then. Well, 34 years after reluctantly leaving my beautiful L.A. in the fall of 1976 for the hard confines and pending doom of New York City, I met up with Harvey again through—this time to feature a review of his massive, 364 page, 2009 edition musical encyclopedia called Canyon Of Dreams. Scripting his book around the magical music and artists in L.A. who resided, created and in general flocked to Laurel Canyon, Kubernik displays his encyclopedic passion of the entire L.A. pop-rock music biz world, mostly from of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as looking back at key figures from the classic Hollywood era of the 1920’s through the ‘50s. The front cover art—with pictures of CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass Elliot and Roger McGuinn—is reason enough to draw the book to the attention of music fans but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The beautifully printed artifacts, memorabilia and grainy color and b&w pics about L.A. is alone worth the price of admission. Amidst the fantastic photos and pics of the musicians, as taken by the great Henry Diltz (who took the majority of photos presented here), the front cover art of the famous Ah Fong’s menu is amazing, (they really did have the best won ton soup I ever tasted!)) as is a great ‘50s era pic of Jack Larson, Superman’s sidekick Jimmy Olson! We’re talking about the real Superman TV show, with the late George Reeves, not the Superman movies from the ‘70s. Kubernik’s knowledge and description of the many musicians, family members of musicians and in fact, the whole family tree of the early rock scene in L.A. back then—including the amazing Laurel Canyon scene—is more than merely descriptive, it’s downright uncanny. Drawing on his perspective as the quintessential L.A. native, Harvey provides a veritable history lesson—from a music industry insider’s perspective—on just how culturally and history changing the L.A. scene of the ‘60s and early ‘70s was and really still is. Perhaps the greatest L.A. band to come out of the ‘60s Laurel Canyon scene were The Doors, and fittingly Doors keyboard giant Ray Manzarek opens the book with some apropos liner notes for the foreword to Canyon Of Dreams. In his acknowledgments Harvey cites a near who’s who of L.A. music cogniscenti, including notable legends like Kim Fowley, Carole King, Graham Nash, Randy Meisner, Chris Darrow, Micky Dolenz, Slash, Rick Rubin, Bill Mumy, Danny Hutton and countless other musical icons of the embryonic L.A. music scene. Canyon Of Dreams isn’t only about Harvey Kubernik’s great vivid memory or about injecting Rod Serling like trivia into the mystique of these historic figures who lived on/off Sunset back then, but it’s really about the music. Read on as the words and pictures filter through your memory and take you back into the time tunnel to what will surely be viewed as the greatest era in 20th century musical history. Deviating from the classic Laurel Canyon world of 1974 to 1972, and to his credit, Kubernik also brings the readers into the last 30 years with the new Laurel Canyon music scene. In his afterword, none other than L.A. music legend impresario Lou Adler adds ‘The power of the mythology of Laurel Canyon was hard to resist.’ The mythology created by Lou Adler’s world, the world of music that emanated from Laurel Canyon and literally exploded a few minutes away down on the fabled Sunset Boulevard, comes to life again in the Canyon Of Dreams.

/ MVD / ABC - Just about every time frame during the rock era of The Kinks can be relived on a 2010 DVD entitled You Really Got Me - The Story Of The Kinks. Original fans from the ‘60s clearly have a different opinion of the band from, say someone who first heard them sing “Low Budget” back in 1979. Of course, the band’s ‘60s and ‘70s releases are often regarded as being a direct link to the holy grail of U.K. rock lore first handed down to Brian Epstein by God on Mt. Ararat. But of course, lets not forget the brilliant Kinks Komeback, the Think Visual album from 1986, which in some Kinkster's minds can almost be mentioned in the same breath as rock monuments like Arthur, Kink Kontroversy and Preservation Act II. With some interesting ‘60s B&W footage from the ‘60s, a dazzling (though too incomplete) taster of video footage from a rarely seen Village Green Preservation Society vid clip and a few others set against recently shot, grainy, b&w interview footage featuring original Kinks members Ray Davies, Dave Davies and Mick Avory, the 87 minute DVD is well worth the time of Kinks aficionados, although in total, it may very well be more geared for music fans new to the Kinks legacy. Also, one drawback here is an over reliance upon the high octane music from the Kinks' famous 1979 One For The Road video, featuring somewhat overrated punk era Kinks classics from the Low Budget album, hardly the definitive Kinks album by any means. Hard to believe that nearly nothing was filmed (or at least presented here) of the late ‘80s Kinks and nothing of the early ‘90s Columbia years that was capped off by their great 1991 Did Ya? CD ep. Still until it’s done right, if ever, this DVD should have broad appeal among fans of certainly one of the greatest and most prolific British rock and roll institutions.

- A fascinating documentary on England’s late ‘50s pop music hero Cliff Richard, the 2010 DVD release of The Rare And Unseen Collection presents a number of classic interviews of England’s first major pop star. Clocking in at an hour, the interviews only DVD features various compiled Cliff interviews, from the late 1960’s through to 2009’s reunion tour with The Shadows, who are also featured here stepping out of the shadows (so to speak). The DVD is a pretty wild expose that really dwells on interviewers questioning Cliff’s devout religious beliefs. Of course both Cliff and Hank Marvin are famous for being pretty religious by nature. After years of being a heathen myself, even this writer got religion after I was just a few hundred yards from the very spot on that day when John Lennon was slaughtered on 72nd Street. And in the brutal season of glass that followed, who was there to comfort my shattered soul in the painful months that followed but Hank Marvin and The Shadows, soothing my battered earthly soul with their transcendental guitar instrumentals from heaven. Looking back on it, I know John directed them to me. Note here that despite the Jesus jokes, John Lennon was a big fan of Hank Marvin. Now, thirty years after the end of The Beatles in 1980, I still can’t say I share or even understand all of Cliff’s religious beliefs yet, but in retrospect, it might have been, that after his huge success with “Move It” in 1958, Cliff ordered what would became famous for being the first Strat imported into England, for his guitarist Hank Marvin, and what a Strat it was! Laugh at Cliff if you want to. Sure he wasn’t really involved in much of the rock music that we grew up with here in the U.S. in the ‘60s but without him, that Strat might not have made it into the hands of Hank B. Marvin and a dynasty would never have happened. So for that Cliff, thanks for the memory. Probably the polar opposite musically of Cliff Richard, Beatles icon John Lennon is feted with his own Rare And Unseen DVD collection on Wienerworld. Since I knew next to nothing about Cliff’s personal life, I right away started to see where this distinctly British Rare & Unseen concept is going with Lennon’s DVD. I guess people are still fascinated by odd side effects created as a by product of genius, and both Lennon’s and Cliff’s R&U DVD focuses on the more aberrant things about the pair or rather they look at the stuff most fans don’t really want to think about. Since Lennon has remained dead 30 years now, (as George Harrison would say) for original fans, it remains unbearable on a day to day basis to think about what might have been had it gone in our favor and he was still living. Nevertheless, fascinating stuff really and very well done, Wienerworld’s Lennon Rare And Unseen cobbles together some memorable b&w interview footage of John Lennon with The Beatles and Yoko Ono.

/ SEE OF SOUND - When it comes to fascinating interviews and documentaries on pop culture figures, few can touch Wienerworld and, thankfully we have MVD / See Of Sound to release it in the USA. Case in point is an amazing documentary of The Rolling Stones entitled Rare And Unseen. Just how did the Stones turn from small time band to megastar rockers? Part of the answer to that question is to be found on this 64 minute DVD which features rare film and video, newsreels and photographs from private collection. Of course we’re talking classic Stones here, back when the quintet featured the genius of the late, great Brian Jones. Ditto for the Wienerworld / See Of Sound DVD release of Elvis ‘56. This 61 minute DVD presents the Elvis story during his breakthrough year of 1956, complete with early b&w TV clips of Elvis and his group performing live on the Dorsey Brothers Show, the Milton Berle Show, the Steve Allen Show and the Ed Sullivan Show. This was when TV was king and Elvis was about to becoming the leader of the new rock and roll music scene. A must for fans and those looking to see how rock and roll started, Elvis ‘56 is one of the best DVD’s yet depicting the early years of the king of rock and roll.

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