Record Label
and Music Spotlight









ANNA FERMIN MUSIC - A cool little CD of contemporary Americana, You Belong Here is a good introduction to the music of Anna Fermin. Credited to Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, the ten track CD mixes in country rock and pop to great effect. Lead singer Anna Fermin gets solid backing from her Trigger Gospel band mates. Some tracks are slightly derivative (“I’ve Got Friends” sounds a lot like “Makin’ Whoopee”) but Anna’s voice carries the day on most of the tracks and the support from her band is quite inventive and the songs are for the most part toe-tapping and catchy. With five previous albums to their credit, Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel is back in fine form with You Belong Here.

CARPARK RECORDS – Hands down the best record company name I’ve heard in a while, Carpark released Slugger, by the artist known as SAD13. The moniker of singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis, the eleven cut CD is futuristic space age pop. This kind of music was thought to be the music of the future and guess what, it’s hear now. The CD is brilliantly packaged with unbelievable looking artwork. Lead singer with the band Speedy Ortiz, on Slugger Ms. Dupuis quite tastefully distills 50 years of rock like moves into a time machine of an album. Influences seem to collide: 1960s style melodies, combined with progressive elements and jettisoning forward into the droll nature of 1990 retro-post Bangles girl group sounds and all types of synth inspired dance music and even early 1980s post punk. In addition to her memorable songs and spot-on vocals, Ms. Dupuis also proved her worth as an able bodied guitarist, coaxing all manners of sounds from her guitars, including laptop keyboards (lol) and fine drumming from Gabe Wax. Hear the future of rock today on Slugger by Sadie Dupuis.

CHICKENCOOP RECORDINGS – Back in 1968, the band Silver Apples released what has now become a world renowned, self-titled debut album on the Kapp Records label. Somewhere between Iron Butterfly and early ‘70s Gong, the wildly eccentric electronic rock sound is revived again on a 2016 CD by Silver Apples called appropriately Clinging To A Dream. Had band leader, keyboardist and vocalist Simeon not broken his neck in a tour bus crash this first album in 20 years might have happened sooner. But for those who thrilled to the original band ’68 classic, Clinging To A Dream will be in for a treat as the studio sound is excellent and fully features Simeon’s inventive keyboard sounds and spacy effects, songs and vocal arrangements. Born in 1938, Simeon is a legend of the early electronic scene of the mid ‘60s when American bands like The Zodiac and Clear Light were making freak out psychedelia. Performing as the last surviving member on Clinging To A Dream, Simeon gets to bring his Silver Apples vision into the 21st century.

ECHO XS RECORDS - With NYC and Los Angeles still the central hot spots for the American rock music scene, being a working musician in South Florida can be challenging. Even so, Florida-based guitarist / songwriter Billy Livesay rises to the occasion with Hold On… Life Is Calling, his 2016 album with the Miami-based band The Livesays. Billy cut his teeth working with Springsteen’s sax man, the late Clarence Clemons as well as touring with Tone Stevens of Foghat and Savoy Brown, and as this CD proves, The Livesays really pull out the stops with the action-packed sound of Hold On… Life Is Calling. As a singer-songwriter, lead guitarist and front man, Billy takes the pop-rock music art form to unexpected heights with the Livesays’ 2016 album release. Speaking about this 2016 rock classic, Billly tells, “As the group The Livesays, this is our fourth album. The first, Little Bit Of Hurt was a bit more bluesy/country-rock. There was a different line-up of musicians that influenced the direction at that time. Hold On… Life Is Calling is an evolution of 2011’s Rose Colored Glasses and 2014’s Faith, Hope And Love. I don’t consider it the best because I love the last 2 albums. Again, it’s just a musical evolution.” The music on Hold On… Life Is Calling spans the range of human emotions, from lost and unrequited love to parental loss and socially satirical diatribes about the chaos of life in the 21st century. Showcasing Billy's Springsteen-influenced songs, all tastefully backed up by the rock-steady band sound of Victor “Cuqui” Berrios (keys, vocals), Jorge Laplume (bass) and Eddie Zyne (drums), Hold On… Life Is Calling is an action-packed, hook-heavy album of memorable pop-rock classics by South Florida’s best rock group, The Livesays.

GUNS OF THE SENECA – The band known as Guns Of The Seneca are a power rock trio from Louisiana. Featuring the guitars and vocals of Plair - David Plair, the band is further fleshed out by Olivier (Grant Olivier - bass) and Frost (Britton Frost - drums). Of the nine tracks, six are instrumental rock and three feature a more prog-metal type of rock sound. The instrumental tracks are the best part with Plair’s guitar sound given free reign to explore the sonic universe in the best spirit of 21st century instro rockers such as Explosions In The Sky and also guitarist Andy Summers comes to mind during Plair’s fretboard extrapolations. The CD packaging is excellent with lyrics of the vocal tracks and mind-blowing color artwork adorning all six digi-pack panels. Instrumental rock fans who like their sound hard and heavy will get an action-packed sonic jolt from Guns Of The Seneca.

KARMA FROG – Any record label called Karma Frog better be good and so it is. Headed up by producer / musician Adam Marsland, Karma Frog is making waves with their 2016 CD by Rob Martinez called New Love Environment. The ten track CD clocks in a little over a half hour yet it’s filled with a rock solid dose of L.A. style pop-rock. Written by Marsland and performed in the studio by Martinez and Marsland, New Love Environment was mastered by Concrete Blond guitar hero Earle Mankey. Comparisons to McCartney, The Raspberries and even The Left Banke notwithstanding, there’s plenty of power-pop goodness in store on New Love Environment. Another Karma Frog CD, headed up by pop producer Adam Marsland that’s getting loads of attention is The Dance Divine by Pacific Soul LTD. Like the name indicates, the 12 track CD combines So-Cal pop with a dose of soulful R&B that should find a home among fans of Prince, The Bee Gees and even Sly & The Family Stone. There’s even a remake of “God Only Knows”, given a kind of pop meets R&B remake in the spirit of Al Green.

– Norway born / Sweden based singer-songwriter Thom Hell is making inroads into the pop world with his 2016 CD called Happy Rabbit. Younger artists like Hell, and Sweden’s own Citizen K are making strong inroads into the upper reaches of the pop echelon with their latest works and as such, Thom Hell’s CD is being pitched to fans of McCartney, Harry Nilsson and even ELO. There’s plenty of convincing evidence that is the case and fans won’t be disappointed with Happy Rabbit. There’s even a sidesplitting good humor track here called “Without You”, that is believe it or not, a tribute to the beloved Cannabis Sativa plant. Several musicians appear in supporting roles but, with his expertise including guitars, keyboards and bass supporting his strong suit as a singer and pop auteur, music fans will be in for a real treat with Thom Hell’s Happy Rabbit.

MARINA RECORDS – German-based Marina Records label are true aficionados of American pop. America’s greatest pop composer of the 20th century, Brian Wilson is just one of the myriad of pop influences in play on the 2017 CD release of The New High by Athens, Georgia based Brent Cash. In 2001, Marina released an album by L.A. pop greats The Free Design and in 2000 The Free Design Contributed a track to Marina’s Brian Wilson tribute CD called Caroline Now! As of now, that full circle is finally complete with Brent’s New High album. With Brent performing as an entire band, the album is pure pop pandemonium and will leave you in a state of sonic bliss. The vertigo cover means Brent continues to take pop to new heights... just watch that vertigo! Not every track is a masterpiece but there’s enough pop greatness here to make The New High worthy enough to stack-it among the pop classics of the future.

MUTE RECORDS – Furthering his fascination with the music of French music composer Serge Gainsbourg, Mike Harvey released his fourth volume of Gainsbourg covers Intoxicated Women in 2017. Gainsbourg’s dramatic music, sung in English on the album, works like magic in Harvey’s hands. Kind of Bowie-esque in a uniquely, tasteful way, on Intoxicated Women Harvey enlists the help of some great female vocalists including Channthy Kak of the Cambodian Space Project and German singer Andrea Schroeder. Harvey has also recorded a number of instrumental movie soundtracks in Australia. Recorded in Australia and Germany, Intoxicated Women features Harvey’s band, including electric guitar ace J.P. Shilo, who turns in a stellar performance along with Harvey on rhythm guitar, keyboards and vocals. Fans of retro rock legends like Velvet Underground and Roxy Music will get a buzz from Mick Harvey’s Intoxicated Women. /

/ PIAS – Going back to their early albums in the late 1980s, The Pixies have always been on the cutting edge of post-punk rock and pop. Nothing changes with their 2016 CD called Head Carrier. The Pixies give The Sex Pistols a run for their money on Head Carrier. Mixed and produced by Tom Dalgety, the 12 track Head Carrier features a classic Pixie lineup with singer-songwriter Black Francis leading the charge while getting back up from guitarist Joey Santiago, David Lovering (drums) and Paz Lenchantin(bass, vocals). Some of the songs are truly stellar such as the title track and the album highlight “Tenement Song”. The CD album is remarkably packaged and the lyrics are neatly tucked away in the multifarious packaging. The Pixies carry the spirit of Bowie and Lou forward into the 21st century with the glorious post-punk pop-rock groove of Head Carrier.

PLASTIQUE RECORDINGS – The artist known as HiFi Sean brings his vision of 21st century house and dance music to life on his 2016 CD called Ft. I kid you not Ft. (featuring?) but the album is quite a lot of fun, if you’re into thumping disco inspired bass lines and sky high techno riffing. The electronic music effect is in full flight here but uses pop to transport Sean’s vision. A number of singers take the lead vocals layering their voices on top of Sean’s pumping electronica grooves including Yoko Ono, Fred Schneider, Bootsy Collins and Alan Vega just to name several. In that way, the U.K. based HiFi Sean (real name Sean Dickson) covers a number post punk and neo avant gard rock sound ideas. One highlight, “In Love With Life” is great and features Yoko Ono’s effective spoken word poem over Sean’s powerful synth layers. Ft. features excellent CD sound, further enhanced by impressive album packaging.

SEACREST RECORDS – From Finland with love comes Paidarion and their 2016 masterpiece called Two Worlds Encounter. Joining forces with several U.K. music heroes, Paidarion founder / drummer Kimmo Pörstri and bassist Jan-Olaf Strandberg are joined by singer Jenny Darren and guitarist / keyboardist Robert Webb, guitarist Bogati-Bokor Akos and keyboardist Otso Pakarinen and the results make for a first rate prog-rock experience. The driving rock vocal sound of Ms. Darren, who has a number of albums out under her own name, sounds super energized by the enormity of the Paidarion sound, sounding very much in the Annie Haslam mode of vocal prog. One highlight is a unique prog-country version of “Ode To Billy Joe” that is truly brilliant. The driving instrumental music parts show how Kimmo Pörstri is such a fine composer and arranger as well as a drummer and his post-production work layered with the overall design of the album concept by noted graphics wizard Ed Unitsky is brilliant to say the least. A Paidarion album is always an adventure—not only musically, but also from an artwork inspired concept that catches the eye. Out at the same time on Seacrest is another Pörstri related project—a 2016 double CD set by his other band The Samurai Of Prog called Lost And Found. Even more elaborately packaged with Unitsky wonderment and a 32 page booklet, the double CD set features Kimmo and a wide range of musicians, including album cofounders and co-producers Steve Unruh (voice, violin, flute) and Marco Bernard (bass, project coordinator). All in all, both of these unique albums are time well spent for progressive rock disciples.

STICKMAN RECORDS – Germany based Stickman released The Mules Of Nana, the sixth album from Norwegian rockers Orango. Yet another hard-hitting blues-rock masterpiece by Orango, the ten track CD features a solid set of tracks featuring Orango guitarist / vocalist Helge Bredeli Kanck joined by his band mates Hallvard Gaardiøs (bass / keys / vocals) and Trond Slåke (drums / vocals). In 2013, Orango released their classic rock album Colonial Militia Vol. 2 and in the spirit of that album, The Mules Of Nana kicks up quite a sonic storm and their classic vocal harmonies are also quite in tact. Describing Orango back in 2013, Helge told “Orango sees itself as a guerilla kind of rock ‘n’ roll band, a little bit on the outside of the mainstream music business, doing what we want to do when we want to do it.” Speaking about the new CD, Helge more recently tells, "Mules Of Nana is performed by Orango; Trond Slåke (drums, vocals), Hallvard Gaardløs (bass, vocals), Helge Bredeli Kanck (guitars, vocals). The album was engineered by Kai Christoffersen and was produced by Orango and Kai Christoffersen. All tracks were recorded at Ocean Sound Recordings and Calmeyer Studio. It's different from previous Orango albums in the way that we tried to keep Nana very close to the sound created by a classic rock trio live. It's not a lot of overdubs, and there is almost nothing on that album that can't be performed live more or less like it is on the record. And also, we think it's our best album, so far!" Speaking about the Mules Of Nana album track "Give Me A Hundred", Helge also tells, "The track Give Me A Hundred was actually written 16 years ago, and was recorded for our first album, but was never released. We have thought about it for time and decided to give try during the Nana sessions. It worked out very well, and captures the more mellow and acoustic side of Orango, with West Coast-ish vocal harmonies and a touch of country." Fans of classic rock bands like ZZ Top, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin are advised to hunt down and enjoy Orango’s 2017 album The Mules Of Nana.

– The age of the internet has ushered in the era of world wide musical information heaven. One band recently discovered online, The Simple Carnival released Smitten in early 2017. The project of singer-songwriter Jeff Boller, assisted by several guest musicians, including drummer Chris Belin, the music does bring to mind one man band wonders like Todd Rundgren and Emitt Rhodes, yet Boller brings it together nicely decades later. There’s no messing with the formula here, just tried and true McCartney-esque / Beach Boys style pop brought up to date by The Simple Carnival. The packaging is first rate and features 3-D artwork enhanced by the inclusion of cardboard 3-D glasses. Perhaps a throwback to 1970, nevertheless, the Simple Carnival’s Smitten will leave you in a state of pop euphoria.

TRUE NORTH RECORDS – From the country of Canada, in 2016 singer Lori Cullen joined forces with Kurt Swinghammer and rock music icon Ron Sexsmith and the results can be heard on the appropriately titled Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs. Ms. Cullen is an excellent singer and sound wise, she alternatively echoes the breathy vocals of bossa nova singer Astrid Gilberto and progressive rock singer Barbara Gaskin, of Hatfield And The North. Melodically, if not stylistically, these songs are also somewhat reminiscent of the great California band Blue Shift, minus the jazz fusion arrangements of course. Alternatively folk-rock and breezy pop, these are great songs and the CD holds up nicely spin after spin. Sexsmith remains in the background, mainly as the album lyricist while Swinghammer’s melodies are elegantly embellished by his guitars, strings and synths and the bass / production of Maury Lafoy. Above it all, is the soaring voice of Lori Cullen, making Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs among the finest of 2016. /


12 TON PRODUCTIONS – Washington State based composer / musician Bryan Tewell Hughes is making waves in the New Age music world his 2016 CD called When, released by his musical artist name AeTopus. Hughes cites Ray Lynch and Kitaro as being big influences. The fifth album from AeTopus, When is filled with sweeping, synthesized, keyboard dominated soundscapes that also combines a darker Tangerine Dream meets Popul Vuh teutonic ambient with a tinge of unusual medieval sounding and gothic chamber music edges. Several artists are credited as contributing field recordings, and the mixing and mastering is quite good, but the central focus is on the impressive electronic keyboard of Hughes. Clocking in at 64 minutes, the 12 track When takes the listener on a most welcome sonic journey.

AL MARCONI MUSIC – Based in the U.K. guitarist Al Marconi gives a huge boost to instrumental Nuevo Flamenco guitar music with his 2015 CD Alchemy. Al played on the excellent Mandala album by fellow U.K. flamenco guitar ace Mark Barnwell so clearly those who enjoyed Mark Barnwell’s CD will love Alchemy. Following his two previous albums, Terra Nova (2007) and Insomnia (2011), Al Marconi’s Alchemy takes his impeccable instrumental flamenco guitar sound one step beyond. Although Al Marconi is very much part of the 21st century Nuevo Flamenco sound, the sonic guitar effects he achieves on Alchemy will appeal to guitar fans of all persuasions and not only fans of Flamenco and neoclassical instrumentals. Al Marconi’s Alchemy is very much a dynamic and intriguing “outside the box” type of Nuevo Flamenco album that stands up quite nicely even after numerous spins.

ANGEL AIR – U.K. guitarist Gordon Giltrap needs no introduction to the multitude of music fans who’ve followed his prolific output of music releases since the late 1970s. Giltrap is still releasing impeccably produced and recorded albums and proof can be heard on his 2016 CD The Last Of England. The title may be sobering but the music is quite mellifluous sounding. Credited to both Gordon Giltrap and Paul Ward, the 14 track CD balances Giltap’s compositions and guitar work with the keyboards of Paul Ward, with the latter employing a most impressive range of synth keyboards – from Hammond and Mellotron to all forms of Roland keyboards. The artwork of the CD is great and extensive liner notes by Giltrap and Ward gives the album a most illuminating presentation. The Last Of England is essential listening for fans of instrumental prog, folk-rock and 21st century guitar-centric neoclassical sounds.

APOLLON RECORDS – Scandinavia is a center of jazz-rock fusion and its reputation goes unblemished with Meeting Point by the Norwegian band Pymlico. Released on Apollon Records, the eight cut CD just sizzles its way through an array of fascinating fusion moves. Produced by brothers, Arild Brøter (drums, keys, guitars) and Øyvind Brøter (keyboards, sythns) (note those wild Norwegian umlauts), the two are backed a number of fine players, yet the accent is clearly on the remarkable music these two talented brothers have brought forth on this serentipitous jazz-rock album from 2016. In some ways, with their accent on Scandinavian melodic structures, you can hear in Pymlico, subliminally or not, wide sweeping elements and traces of Finland’s great classic rock synthesist, the late great Pekka Pohjola right away on the lead off track “Crab Key”. Clearly with the band echoing his ground breaking style from forty years ago, Pekka Pohjola would have appreciated this band.

BETWEEN THE LINES – Swiss guitars Christy Doran returned in 2016 with Belle Epoque by his group Christy Doran’s Sound Fountain. The album is jarring, freeform guitar-centric inspired by alt-jazz guitarists like Sonny Shamrock and other players that border on the avant-garde including Fred Frith, founder of Henry Cow and Massacre. Doran’s stinging and singing electric guitars get suitable backup from Franco Fontanarrosa (electric bass) and Lukas Mantel (drums, percussion). The sound occasionally dips into less aggressive sonic terrain, including several techno-inspired fusion tracks, but for the most part, the 8 track, 62 minute Belle Epoque is hard-hitting, aggressive guitar excursions that takes instrumental jazz into quite disturbing territory.

BFM MUSIC – Recorded and filmed live at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY on June 26th, 2015, Way Back Home is an excellent 3 disc set by jazz-fusion drumming legend Steve Gadd. The CD part of the package features eight cuts taken from the twelve live performances featured on the DVD. On Way Back Home, Gadd is backed up by an excellent band including Michael Landau (guitars), Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugelhorn), Larry Goldings ( keys) and Jimmy Johnson (bass). Known as one of the finest drummers in the world today, Gadd isn’t a composer in his own right yet the songs he and his band covers here sound tailor made for his sound. That said, his band members are also fine composers and share many of the songwriting credits here alongside more prominent covers by legends like Keith Jarrett, Jan Hammer and even the rock classic “Them Changes”, written in 1970 by the late great Buddy Miles. DVD one features the entire twelve cut concert, while a second DVD features a series of interviews with Gadd and a range of musicians. Musically, the Way Back Home CD is excellent and offers a fitting concert retrospective of Gadd’s impeccable skills both as a drummer and as a band leader.

BLUE NOTE RECORDS – Renowned for years by guitar fans, L.A. based guitarist Nels Cline returned with a new album and a new label in 2016. Recorded in NYC, Lovers is a long planned double album that combines a wealth of instrumental guitar music by a rock guitarist with clear jazz and neoclassical inclinations. Nels’ 2016 album, a double CD with 18 tracks, makes an auspicious Blue Note Records debut by a guitarist long renowned by guitar watchers as well as fans of Wilco, who feature Cline as lead guitarist. It’s interesting that Cline is a huge fan of Hendrix, Coltrane and Neil Young and even his choice of cover songs always combines rock and jazz influences. Even though he is an instrumental rock aficionado, Cline really takes his sound out there on a double instrumental album that is influenced by all forms of guitar moods. Fans of guitarists from Marc Ribot to Django and Steve Howe and eclectic Americana master Bill Frisell will relate to Cline’s vision on Lovers. The CD is amazingly produced by David Breskin with arranging and conducting by Michael Leonhart while also featuring an impressive lineup of backing musicians. The studio sound and mastering by the legendary Joe Gastwirt is also impressive. The music on Lovers is spread over two discs so there’s plenty of variety of originals and cover songs given the Cline edge. Designed by Nels and Breskin, the silver and red dagger through the heart motif is quite effective as is the packaging listing all the players on hand here as well as neat liners by Nels. Like a dagger through the heart, Nels Cline pierces a wall of sound on Lovers. /

CANNONBALL RECORDS – Italy is the ancestral homeland of Santo & Johnny and Italy’s love of the guitar continues on in the 21st century with Surfobia by surf-rockers known as Bad Riders. Definitely more influenced by Dick Dale and Link Wray, as well as late ‘60s instrumental Fleetwood Mac, the Bad Riders plow through ten instrumental gems featuring the guitars of the group’s main songwriter Massimo Di Beradino backed up by his quartet including Berado Sciascia (drums), Daniele Colaneri (organ) and Lorenzo Saverio Berardi (bass). The cover art and CD packaging is excellent and the sound is clear and clean. It’s hard to do a lot better than the classic surf-rock and instrumental rock sound of the 1960s but Italy’s Bad Riders brings the instrumental guitar rock tradition into the future with Surfobia.

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON – One of the oldest classical music labels in the world, Deutsche Grammophon is the latest label home of 21st century Icelandic composer / musician Jóhann Jóhannsson, who has released a couple recent albums on the label. Jóhannsson’s recent 15 track, 47 minute solo album is called Orphée and it’s quite a stark and depressing affair pitting the artist’s keyboards against a four piece string section and the Theatre Of Voice, featuring a mix of cameo vocalists. Written and produced by Jóhannsson and recorded in London and Copenhagen, Orphée has been compared to classical composers such as Michael Nyman and even to some of Erik Satie’s minimalist compositions. Also recent by Jóhannsson on Deutsche Grammophon is the 20 track soundtrack to the film Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Again, with this more recent release, very somber neoclassical tones engulfs the listener. A number of musicians assist Jóhannsson’s keyboards and tape loops including The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Anthony Weeden. The soundtrack to Arrival is a fine companion work to Orphée as both are equally stark and dark sounding, yet both are also filled with a deep Nordic majesty that Jóhannsson brings to the 21st century classical music world.

DIMMA – Icelandic guitarist Andrés Thor released his album Ypsilon in 2016. As far as instrumental jazz-rock fusion goes, it’s a solid and entertaining album. More jazz than rock style instrumental fusion, the nine cut CD is nevertheless a welcome addition to the jazz world and especially the guitar world. Combining jazz smarts with a more aggressive near Scandinavian approach to 21st century fusion, Ypsilon features Thor’s full-bodied, jazzy guitar sound receiving ample support from his band mates, Agnar Már Magnússon (piano), Richard Anderson (bass) and Ari Hoenig (drums). Ypsilon is actually the fourth album to date from Thor and as far as modern day jazz-rock instrumentals go, it’s a keeper.

DSI MUSIC – California-based guitarist Dan Sistos is all over the musical map with his 2016 CD called Ventura Blvd, and as it turns out, that’s a good thing. Named after that famous strip in Southern California, the all original, instrumental ten track Ventura Blvd mixes smooth jazz, jazz-rock, flamenco style acoustic guitar wizardry, soundtrack sounds and more. Backing Dan is a top band including drummer Paul Alexander, plus a full rhythm section and occasional horn section. Whatever guitar sound Dan sets his sights on he breezes through it all with ease and the tracks fly by. The acoustic numbers offer a cross between New Age guitar instrumental and a Flamenco driven guitar sound. An all around winner, Ventura Blvd is an upbeat trip into the guitar universe and is time well spent by fretboard fans.

EARTHSIGN RECORDS – One of the best instrumental guitar duos on the planet today, Terra Guitarra returns in early 2017 with Of Sea & Stars. The 13 track CD follows in the footsteps of their last two albums—Firelight (2015) and Dragonfly (2013). Commenting on the concept regarding Of Sea & Stars, Terra Guitar composer / guitar ace and Bruce Hecksel explains “There is a connectedness between the sea and the stars. A thousand years ago humans were starting to venture out into the oceans of the world in search of new land masses and now we are taking our first tentative steps into space. The early ocean voyagers navigated by using the stars at night.” The beauty of Terra Guitarra is that they draw on the music from all over the planet. Bruce’s partner in Terra Guitarra Julie Patchouli explains, “Our music has always been Latin-based, with rhythms and sounds from either the Mediterranean, or the Caribbean or Central and South America.” That also includes music from Greece as one of the highlights on Of Sea & Stars is clearly a cover of the famous title them from the movie Zorba The Greek, composed by Mikis Theodorakis. In addition to the exquisitely recorded all-instrumental guitar music, Of Sea & Stars also features some truly eye-popping artwork by Bruce Hecksel that sets the scene for the breathtaking music within. Connecting musical imagery and sounds of the Old World meeting the New World, Of Sea & Stars will surely be regarded as one of the best Nuevo Flamenco meets World Groove guitar instrumental albums of 2017.

GONZO MULTIMEDIA – Back in that fabled 1970-1975 era, Clearlight Symphony rose to fame as the preeminent space rock electronic band from France. Signed to Virgin Records by Richard Branson and Simon Draper, Clearlight fit in perfectly with that era and other Virgin bands like Gong and even Henry Cow. Clearlight visionary Cyrille Verdeaux went on to release a number of Clearlight Symphony albums over the years and he returns as part of the Spirits Burning & Clearlight album from 2016 called The Roadmap In Your Head. American musician and producer and synthesist Don Falcone is central to this album that features a number of musicians, including a number from Gong as well as an appearance, including a quite eerie, set-closing vocal by the late Daevid Allen, founder of Gong. Overall, The Roadmap In Your Head covers a wealth of sonic terrain and is an excellent example of 21st century Euro-style jazz fusion. With Allen gone but not forgotten, and regardless of how the album was actually made, featuring musicians from all over the world, the sound is great and the credits read like a who’s who of space rock legends from the 1970s up to today. Also consider the amazing album mastering by avant guitarist Robert Rich. Gong and Clearlight fans should not pass this album by.

GUNS OF THE SENECA – The band known as Guns Of The Seneca are a power rock trio from Louisiana. Featuring the guitars and vocals of Plair - David Plair, the band is further fleshed out by Olivier (Grant Olivier - bass) and Frost (Britton Frost - drums). Of the nine tracks, six are instrumental rock and three feature a more prog-metal type of rock sound. The instrumental tracks are the best part with Plair’s guitar sound given free reign to explore the sonic universe in the best spirit of 21st century instro rockers such as Explosions In The Sky and also guitarist Andy Summers comes to mind during Plair’s fretboard extrapolations. The CD packaging is excellent with lyrics of the vocal tracks and mind-blowing color artwork adorning all six digi-pack panels. Instrumental rock fans who like their sound hard and heavy will get an action-packed sonic jolt from Guns Of The Seneca.

HEART DANCE MUSIC – Released in early 2017 on Sherry Finzer’s Heart Dance label, Urban Metta Vol. 1 features the ambient / chill out instrumental New Age sound of Arizona-based Phil Strickland. On this first album on Heart Dance, Strickland goes by the name Anaamaly. Although he became interested in trip hop and chill-out music, the passing of his mother in 1987 prompted Phil to reach for a more introspective type of instrumental sound. That celestial blend of meditative New Age electronic music is explored by Anaamaly on Urban Metta Vol. 1. Phil's early interest in music for meditation and yoga is also another influence on Urban Metta Vol. 1. In fact the 71 minute CD is divided up into 11 distinct tracks with titles such as “I Stand In My Own Power”, “I Am Grateful For…”, “I Am Awakened”, “I Am Surrouded By Abundance” and so on… The existential element on Urban Metta Vol. 1 is further underscored by Strickland / Anaamaly’s message that there is more to life than this physical experience and he intends to follow that sonic reasoning on future album titles. Elements of healing and enlightenment, empowering affirmations that focus on love, compassion and self-knowledge are some of the concepts explored via instrumental New Age music on the Urban Metta Vol. 1 album. Fans of sonically soothing and uplifting meditation music will find much musical solace on Urban Metta Vol. 1 by Anaamaly.

HOLLAN HOLMES MUSIC – Texas-based electronic music maestro Hollan Holmes released Incandescent in 2015 and in 2016 he partnered with Bill Olien and Gary Johnson for the first release by their electronica ensemble Common Ground. Hollan revives his solo career in 2017 with a two CD set of newly minted, synth driven instrumentals called Prayer To The Energy. The double CD set features two distinct sides of Hollan’s music. Hollan’s sixth full length solo album, Prayer To The Energy features eight tracks of Hollan’s sequence-driven, ultra melodic, Berlin-School style of electronics, which Tangerine Dream helped to popularize, on the 62 minute disc one. Disc two, at 59 minutes, features six tracks of drone-based, long-form ‘soundworlds’, which are more ambient sounding, compared to the more kinetic sounding electronics on disc one. The sheer amount meticulous craft involved in Hollan’s new album is reflected in his use of vintage and new hardware synths, which adds an even more authentic aura to his latest recording. With the double CD release of Prayer To The Energy, you can add Hollan Holmes to the names of outstanding American ambient music composers recording ground-breaking synth electronica in the 21st century.

– Long considered one of the finest Nuevo Flamenco guitarists on the planet today, Lawson Rollins is still gaining accolades for his many fine albums and his 2017 album 3 Minutes To Midnight won’t let his many fans down. Lawson’s fretboard work has rarely sounded better then on his latest album and he’s brought back the same crew that brought him such excellent results in the past, including producer Dominic Carmardella, Charlie Bisharat (violin), Randy Tico (bass) Stephen Duros (drums programming) and other fine players. Like all of Lawson’s music, the moods and music run hand in hand, and without lyrics and vocals, Lawson’s music draws you inside with powerful feelings and melodic vibes. Lawson adds, “I just wanted to be as impactful and expressive as I could across a range of emotions – from exciting, passionate and bursting with energy to sad, contemplative and meditative.” Filled with 12 newly penned Lawson Rollins’ originals 3 Minutes To Midnight will amaze guitar fans worldwide.

INFINITY MUSIC – Backed up by a hot band of like-minded players, guitarist Tatiana Pará sets the music world ablaze with her 2016 CD called My Moods. A must for guitar fans, My Moods features a range of blues-rock instrumentals written by Ms. Pará that are most impressive to say the least. Ms. Pará’s album is superbly produced and recorded and the songs are quite enjoyable in a unique and slightly surprising way. Although Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans are well versed in blues-rock guitar instrumentals, Ms. Pará approached the album in totally unique way, adding in elements of jazz-rock to her bluesy guitar instrumentals. The album also features a guest spot from guitar icon Scott Henderson. Ms. Pará is pictured on the front of the CD packaging with a Fender Strat and on the back with a Les Paul so guitar enthusiasts are nicely represented on this welcome instrumental blues rock album. Guitarist Tatiana Pará spans continents and decades of guitar history with My Moods.

JARRELL’S COVE MUSIC – Based in Washington, pianist Elizabeth Naccarato will make music fans very happy with her 2016 CD called Souvenir d’Italia. On the twelve track CD Ms. Naccarato is backed up by a sparse yet effective band of musicians including Joel Trueblood (drums), David Lange (accordion) and others. At the center is Ms. Naccarato’s superbly syncopated solo piano style, which frames her elegant piano musings. As the title states, the album sounds greatly influenced by Italian and other continental European sights and sounds. Ms. Naccarato is hardly a newcomer to the New Age piano scene having released music on various album releases on famous labels like Miramar and 7th Wave Records. It’s all very romantic sounding but clearly, Ms. Naccarato’s music and piano skills are more than up to the challenge, making Souvenir d’Italia one of the most memorable piano albums of the year.

LELIO PADAVANI MUSIC – Italian jazz-rock fusion guitar ace Lelio Padovani returned in 2016 with a 20 minute CD/EP called Waves. Filled with four solid tracks of fiery jazz-rock power, Waves is the perfect showcase for Lelio and his wide-ranging, cinematic guitar concepts. What’s also impressive is that Lelio is playing all the instruments himself and it sounds like an entire band. Speaking about Waves, Lelio tells, “I always thought about music as architecture, so I guess the experience of writing for movies just steered my music even more towards a compositional point of view. I also love to work with sounds and I love recording and the process of layering instruments and editing. I love to write instrumental music and love electric guitars, all kinds of guitars in fact so every time, I compose I try to balance these two elements. Actually, the more guitars, the better!” All these fretboard pyrotechnics and hi-tech recording gear would be meaningless without well thought out compositional ideas and precise execution and there’s plenty of that throughout the Waves CD to which the guitarist adds, "The mission on this new CD, as with everything I release, is to write good music, where you can find new details every time and achieve the best sound quality I can... this is what I look for in the music I listen to myself." A much welcome return to form by a 21st century jazz-rock fretboard maestro, on Waves Lelio Padovani takes the electric guitar in a crossection of bold and exciting new directions.

MAIDEN VOYAGE RECORDING COMPANY – Steel Guitar is truly an art form. Many players continue to espouse the wonders of the modern twangy steel sound and Henry Senior Jr. gets it down to a science on his 2016 CD humorously entitled Plates Of Meat. Backed up by a hot band, including electric guitarist Paul Lush, Henry steels his way through eight tracks that clock in around a half hour. This is time well spent for music listeners. Fans of modern masters like Paul Neer and Ville Leppänen of Finland’s Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang will lap up Henry’s hard driving, instro steel-rock. Although Henry is masterful on his Emmons and Williams pedal steel guitars, this album is no Nashville love fest. Henry sounds equally inspired by say, Duane Allman who was known for his great electric slide work. Being all instrumental in nature, Plates Of Meat is sonic food for thought while devouring Senior’s fantastic steel guitar instrumental sounds.

MIKE NEER MUSIC – In late 2016, Lap steel guitar ace Mike Neer released his tribute to jazz legend Thelonious Monk, Steelonious. Playing lap steel guitar, ukulele, bass and percussion, Neer is joined by a top flight band. On the 12 track Steelonious, Neer sounds inspired by greats like Les Paul and beyond, well into the legendary jazz / country music steel guitar pioneers of the postwar era. There’s an almost Wes Montgomery-like depth to Neer’s guitar-centric, noir-like approach to Monk’s linear and lean melodic concepts. His band’s take of Monk's originals sounds very jazzy at times but Neer is also a master of 21st century, eclectic Americana and that Nashville twangy type sound that’s so popular now and forever. Speaking about the genesis of his Monk instrumental guitar album, Mike tells, “Truthfully, the first time I became aware of Monk's music was on a record called That's The Way I Feel Now, which was a collection of artists from rock and jazz backgrounds playing Monk. It taught me early on that Monk could be open to interpretation. In my case, I wanted to highlight the steel guitar, so I brought Monk into my world.” Further enabled by an excellent studio sound, Neer and company find the Monk jazz groove, featuring Neer embellishing Monk’s acoustic piano melodies with his incredible lap steel guitar wizardry. Jazz purists and guitar fans even from the Surf-rock spectrum will be impressed at how tastefully Neer and company turns Thelonious Monk’s patented piano jazz sound into a veritable lap steel guitar revival.

– NYC based Moonjune release a 2016 solo album from Indonesian guitarist Tohpati called Mata Hati. Credited to Tohpati Ethnomission, the nine track CD rides the jazz-rock gauntlet and comes up with some very scenic sounding results. The first track “Janger”, sounds like a John Barry outtake as it does feature the Czeck Symphony Orchestra. Tohpati’s band is first rate throughout and they sound quite on the same wavelength. Some of the tracks featuring Flute master Diki Suwarjiki sounds like Thijs Van Leer playing to Tohpati’s Jan Akkerman style guitar sound and that’s a good thing. With its Indonesian style of the melodic, blending well with the universal language of jazz-rock fusion, Mata Hati is worthy of jazz rock fusion ears world wide. Also out in very early 2017 is The Stone House by the quartet known as Wingfield Reuter Stavi & Sirkis. Wingfield of course is gifted UK guitarist Mark Wingfield, who has a stellar solo career in his own right. The Israeli born rhythm section of Asaf Sirkis (drums) and Yaron Stavi (fretless bass) are also joined by the touch guitars of Markus Reuter and the net result is a most engaging album of music recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The combination of Reuter and Wingfield on guitars is amazing sounding. With a range of gifted musos on their roster already, could it be that Moonjune is the new ECM records of the 21st century? With albums as well done as The Stone House, it’s hard to argue against that line of reasoning. Either way, fans of Wingfield’s electrifying electric guitar sounds will find much to applaud about The Stone House.

MOTEMA MUSIC – One of America’s feisty, upstart record labels Motema released the 2016 CD by Donny MaCaslin. The nine cut Beyond Now merges electronica with McCaslin’s sax, flute and clarinet. In the liner notes McCaslin reflects on being part of Bowie’s last band with whom he recorded * (Blackstar) in 2015. There’s even a near nine minute cover here of Bowie’s oppressive Heroes instrumental “Warszawa” from 1977. One can see why Bowie, an excellent sax player in his own right, would choose McCaslin with his forceful overpowering squonk. Another Bowie cover of “A Small Plot Of Land” features guest vocalist Jeff Taylor and the only appearance by any guitarist in Nate Wood. There’s plenty of fine players driving the McCaslin band’s big beat forward including * alumni Jason Lindner (keys), Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Marc Guiliana (drums) with David Binney adding in additional synths and vocals. With Beyond Now, Danny McCaslin proves to be a vital new force on the avant gard jazz scene of the 21st century.

MUTE RECORDS – The art of solo piano is explored and conquered on EUSA, the 2016 solo album by Yann Tiersen. The first solo piano album by Yann, EUSA features ten solo pieces, divided by improvisations (“Hent” 1 through 8) formatted into album of 18 tracks that are all inspired by Yann’s home island of Ushant, located in the Celtic sea between Brittany and Cornwall. EUSA was originally created as a book of sheet music for ten new piano tracks, which was so successful that it inspired the album. EUSA sounds great no doubt as it was recorded in the famous Abbey Road studios. The album also features a subtle drone of natural sounds from his island which takes the concept even further. Partly New Age and part neoclassical, Yann Tiersen’s EUSA is a fascinating look at the art of solo piano performance and recording.

Colorado-based New Earth does such excellent work when it comes to releasing CDs by their celebrated roster of New Age musicians so it’s never unexpected when one of their artists comes up with another winner. Long celebrated as one of the finest piano virtuosos and one of the most prolific recording artists in the world today, Peter Kater released his first as a New Earth recording artist with his 2016 album Resonance. Playing piano, synths, gongs, chimes and sampled strings, Kater is in prime form on Resonance. Following Kater’s involvement in over 50 albums as a solo artist and musical collaborator, Resonance is long and flowing, with four of the eight tracks running over nine minutes in length. The artist explains, “This music emerged within a three-month period of deep inquiry and reflection.” Kater explains his musical vision on Resonance adding, “It was born of the fire and ashes of self-dissolution and self-discovery, of a deep longing for connection and sustained intimacy, and a powerful surrender into and acceptance of what ‘is’. There is love and there is fear. There is light and there is darkness. And as we learn to embrace all of our selves and all of each other, we nurture the experience of grace and compassion, and a deep loving and passionate peace. Throughout our life’s experience, within ourselves and each other, we share a deep ‘resonance’ with all that exists.” In the CD liner notes, RJ Lannan compares Peter Kater’s music to the search for balance in a precarious world. Instrumental New Age music has long been a refuge for sensitive souls seeking salvation through music and as Lannan also states, through his music, Kater allows people to withdraw from the craziness and channel into feelings of beauty and compassion, which is really what Kater and New Earth Records is all about. Peter Kater has come a long way since his 1983 album debut and he takes his music and his audience to new sonic heights with Resonance. /

NICK DECESARE MUSIC – The world of New Age / ambient solo piano has many great artists within its realms yet how about the ambient jazz side of solo piano music? While many New Age pianists cite jazz artists as inspirations, most are content to write and record within their New Age and ambient keyboard styles. One pianist coming from a slightly different perspective is Nick De Cesare, who released his solo piano album Openings in 2016. Nick’s specialty is piano music in the spirit of jazz giants like the late Vince Guaraldi, best know for writing the “Peanuts” theme and his all time classic “Cast Your Fate To The Wind”. Nick has carefully listened to some of the great jazz pianists, including Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and even McCoy Tyner to which he adds, “My background is split between playing solo piano and performing in jazz groups, so I guess it makes sense that one of my greatest heroes and influences is Keith Jarrett.” Fans of Jarrett, Corea and of course Guaraldi will totally enjoy Openings, as will New Age fans looking for a slightly jazzier take on 21st century solo piano music.

ROCK BEAT RECORDS– Best known as an electric guitar pioneer who has worked with rock legends, from Dylan and Mayall, to Canned Heat, the Stones and many others, Harvey “The Snake” Mandel returns in early 2017 with the ten track Snake Attack. A recent recording, recaptured and released from the vaults by L.A. based Rock Beat Records, the ten track CD features brief biographical liner notes and more notes by Harvey describing that he wrote all the music, recorded all the instruments and mixed and mastered it by himself. From the CD liner notes, Harvey explains, “This is a project I did a few years ago. It’s a recording done entirely in my home studio. Working in my own home studio allowed me to do all sorts of great guitar overdubs.” The Snake Attack album features Harvey’s impeccable guitar skills yet it also transcends the blues and even rock with its electronica meets electric guitar soundscapes. Some sonic influences that come to mind while listening to the super-charged Snake Attack would be to recent music by Jeff Beck and even going back to Jan Hammer’s mid 1980s soundtrack work on Miami Vice, especially on melodic, Mandel composed gems like “Exotic Predator” and “A Luscious Life”. With Harvey armed to the teeth with a full wall of sound, the overall approach on Snake Attack is hard-hitting and quite potent. The jazz-rock beat and the occasional funk flourish is also on fire here. Filled with a litany of dazzling guitar overdubs and synth programming, the whole album is very futuristic, progressive and even sci-fi sounding. An impressive spin from start to finish, Snake Attack is totally mind-blowing and odd-sounding yet, it's also a thoroughly engaging album of high-powered guitar-tronica from one of America’s finest guitar treasures. /

ROPEADOPE RECORDS – Part old school, part new wave of 21st century jazz, Kansas City based jazz keyboardist Eddie Moore strikes a blow for modern instrumental jazz-centric music with his 2016 CD, Kings And Queens. The 12 cut CD features the three part “Kings And Queens”, presented here in three movements. Credited to Eddie Harris And The Outer Circle, Kings And Queens features Eddie’s impeccable piano sounds and Fender Rhodes playing with Adam Scholzman (guitar) Pat Adams (drums) and Deandre Manning (electric bass). Moore’s interaction with Scholzman’s guitar is brilliant and the whole band gets it on in style with a set of solid grooves. The sound achieved in the studio and post-production is outstanding, also making it one of the finest sounding jazz studio recordings of the decade. Looking back at the great sounds of past jazz giants and also looking towards the brave new world of jazz, Kings And Queens is a most impressive sounding instrumental jazz work by rising jazz star Eddie Moore.

Breaking new ground in the world of 21st century modern jazz, guitarist Ryan Carraher steps out on his own with his 2016 CD Vocturnal. One look at his resume is most impressive. Graduating from Berklee School of Music with the Berklee guitar achievement award, Ryan has played with Allan Holdsworth, Leslie West, Pete Best, Sly Stone and much more. All this and the guy is still 23 years young. On Vocturnal, Ryan joins forcers with some like-minded musicians, including Brandon Wilkins (sax) and the results make for a beguiling album of instrumental, experimental guitar-based fusion. Speaking about his CD, Ryan tells, "The name Vocturnal is a combination of the words Voyage and Nocturnal. Most of these songs were written at night and do have a dark vibe so it seemed to fit the music appropriately but in an abstract way. It was a way for me to express new ideas and explore new sounds I was inspired by. I am very lucky to have such an amazing group of musicians playing with me on this record." Described as an album of modern jazz that pushes the boundaries of improvisation, Vocturnal also combines influences from avant-garde classical masters like Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Fans of Pat Metheny’s work with Ornette Coleman will find much to like about Ryan Carraher and his intriguing Vocturnal album.

SPACE ROCK PRODUCTIONS – The sonic art-rock collective known as Øresund Space Collective continues making waves in the electronic music world with their 2016 CD called Visions Of… The four part CD features the band, headed up by synthesist Scott Heller, in prime form once again. Recorded in Denmark with mainly Sweden-based musicians, the album once again proves that ØSC are the premier space-rock jam band in Scandinavia today. Sweden was always a forerunner of instrumental space rock, going back to the late 1960s with Bo Hansson and ØSC takes that long-standing tradition well into the 21st century. Even cooler than Visions Of… is yet another album from Space Rock Productions called Series Of Nested Universes by the group known as Sista Maj. The double CD is even more spaced out than ØSC. Recorded in Stockholm at the end of 2015 and mixed in mid 2016, the double CD set features Jonathan Segel (from Camper Van Beethoven) on guitars, violin, bass and synths along with Mikael Tuominen (bass) and Andreas Axelsson (drums). The result is an action packed, super-heady, four part space-rock jam that defies all sonic expectations and yet, is very much in the Scandinavian instrumental jam-band tradition with some 21st century twists and turns. Commenting on working with Jonathan Segel on these latest Space Rock Productions releases, Scott Heller tells, “I am really happy to be making music with Jonathan. What a great person and musician. We had known each other since the early 1990s when I used to go see his band Hieronymous Firebrain. I went and recorded most of their Bay Area shows when I was a student at UC Berkeley. We just made some new studio recordings in November that will start to come out with a split LP with Maat Lander in March and a double LP in the summer.”

SPOTTED PECCARY MUSIC – Back in the mid 1990’s, music producer Howard Givens brought forth some great music on his then fledgling Spotted Peccary label. Good news is that Howard is still at it and proof is a fine, late 2016 CD called Where There Is Light by the duo called Weingarten – Charlton. Of course, Bay area guitarist Carl Weingarten needs no introduction among progressive music fans, although lesser known, Steinway performing artist Catherine Marie Charlton proves to be a valuable foil for Carl’s ambient, textural electric guitar sounds. Recorded in Pennsylvania and California, the eight track CD is described as an “experience where guitar, electronic manipulations and acoustic piano share a series of late night melodic conversations.” Ms. Charlton’s piano is superbly backed up by Carl Weingarten’s trance-inducing guitar scopes making the superbly recorded Where There Is Light one of the New Age sleeper classics of 2016. Another Spotted Peccary CD sure to cause interest among New Age electronic music fans is A World Bathed In Sunlight, by multi-instrumentalist Matthew Stewart. The ten cut CD is described as being both cinematic and emotional. Stewart has appeared on a number of SP CD titles over the past two decades yet, A World Bathed In Sunlight is his solo debut on the label and it’s a wonderful addition to Spotted Peccary’s venerable roster of fine artists and album releases.

– Texas-based Nuevo Flamenco guitarist Russ Hewitt came to the attention of thanks to his two early releases Bajo El Sol and his 2011 CD Alma Vieja. Russ continues on with his 2016 CD Cielo Nocturno and the results will make his early fans quite happy. Produced by long time Hewitt associate Bob Parr and featuring many of the same musicians from his early works, including drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr., on the eleven cut Cielo Nocturno, Russ is also joined by jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton and guitar ace Ardeshir Farah of Strunz & Farah. Cielo Nocturno features all original tracks and is one of the great Nuevo Flamenco guitar albums of 2016. Although early in his guitar career, Russ was influenced by hard rock and metal bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, he soon turned on to Gypsy Jazz and acoustic New Age guitar heroes like Ottmar Liebert. Russ Hewitt's mastery of Nuevo Flamenco has led him on a wildly successful career and Cielo Nocturno is a most welcome addition to his growing catalog of guitar albums.

VILLAGE GREEN – The 21st century sound of Soft Error combines a wealth of electronica in a comfortable Air meets Jean Michel Jarre in the French space lounge on their 2017 album called Mechanism. Some have also compared Soft Error to the Krautrock pioneers like Faust and Neu! yet there’s also something softer and nostalgic about the today sound of Soft Error (hence the softs inspired name). Like those German bands, Soft Error combines heavy synth programming with ambient guitar effects ala Robert Fripp meets Rick Wakeman. Two guys who call themselves Tim and Rupert handle all the playing and writing and the album was mysteriously recorded in Reykjavik in Iceland. Soft Error take its leading edge New Age instrumental electronic rock sound forward with Mechanism.

WESTERNMOST RECORDS – Two of the finest North American guitarists—Ken Emerson and Jim “Kimo” West—joined forces for the 2016 CD release of Slackers In Paradise: Slack And Steel Guitar Duets. Early in 2016, Kimo released Guitar Stories: Slack Key & Beyond and in 2014 Ken Emerson released Sacred Slack & Steel Guitar. Each of those previous CDs were and are highly influential among fans of Hawaiian and Americana instrumental music so it’s quite fulfilling to note that Slackers In Paradise is also bound to be quite a hit album among their fans. Slackers In Paradise fittingly includes 16 tracks of Hawaiian folk, blues, jazz and ragtime—all played with the finesse and expertise worthy of these modern day guitar masters. Speaking about Slackers, Ken Emerson tells, “We wrote and recorded in between my traveling and Kimo’s. He was going out with Weird Al on tour, and I was traveling all over the West Coast and Hawaii. Then my Dad had a stroke so things got pretty heavy for me, and I can say working on the record with Kimo was good for me as I spent a lot of time in Oregon under a lot of stress and then would come down to LA and get a respite from it all by jumping into the music production. It turned out to be very therapeutic. Kimo has a nice home recording set up, as well as a road rig, he worked on a lot of the editing and mixing while he was on the road with Al.” Discussing the origins of the Slackers CD Jim “Kimo” West tell, “We put this record together over the last couple years, 2015 and 2016. We did it mostly at my studio but Ken contributed a few basic guitar tracks that were recorded at Ron Pendragon’s studio on Kauai and I actually did the basic track for “Mango Season” in a hotel room when I was on tour with Weird Al.” Both Ken and Kimo have busy lives so it’s more than incredible that they not only had the time for an album of Hawaiian instrumental guitar music that is superbly relaxing. Highlights of Slackers are the many fine original instrumentals here but there’s also a very cool cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Ruby Tuesday” that almost sounds like a Hawaiian meets Baroque instrumental of one of the most beloved pop songs of the late 1960s. With hardly a note out of place, Slackers In Paradise is an instrumental guitar classic befitting the sound and vision of these two superb musicians. /

WHALING CITY SOUND – On his 2017 CD for Whaling City Sound, entitled Color Tones, composer / teacher / musician John Stein reestablishes himself as one of America’s preeminent jazz guitarists. The 11 track, 57 minute CD is packaged with exquisite artwork and the music follows in the same bright sonic outlook. Once again on Color Tones, John is joined by his excellent trio with John Lockwood (acoustic bass) and Zé Eduardo Nazario (drums) and he's also joined on the CD by the colorful sounding horn / wind section of Phil Grenadier (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Fernando Brandao (flutes). Yet another well-recorded and well-composed instrumental jazz guitar album by Boston based John Stein, Color Tones flows effortlessly and reveals new twists with each fresh spin. Liner notes for Color Tones were written by John Thomas, author of the book Kalamazoo Gals.

WHALING CITY SOUND – Led by musicologist / businessman Neal Weiss, New England based Whaling City Sound continues on the front lines of 21st century instrumental jazz with Night Music, the 2016 CD by guitarist Rale Micic. The eleven track CD features Rale’s electric guitar backed up by a full band including jazz pianist Danny Grissett. The CD sounds full-bodied and really swings. Grissett’s acoustic piano merges perfectly with Rale’s jazz guitar and compositions. Recorded in NYC in 2015, the 55 minute CD also features in depth liner notes that should create more of a buzz around this Serbian-born, NYC based guitarist and his music. With a range of Micic originals and three tracks composed by fabled Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, Rale Micic’s Night Music is a fine addition to the growing roster of outstanding Whaling City Sound recording artists.


ANGEL AIR RECORDS – Angel Air have released several titles already featuring rock legend Jim McCartey, cofounder and drummer with British Rock legends The Yardbirds. Following The Yardbirds, Jim was a driving force behind the original Renaissance yet, following the first two Renaissance albums, they split with Relf’s accidental death following in 1975 adding much to the disappointment of original fans. Released by EMI in 1973, On The Frontier was the first and only album by McCarty’s post-Renaissance band Shoot. McCarty sang just like Keith did and on this sole Shoot album, he takes on the role of keyboardist and vocalist backed by a solid rock band including guitarist Dave Green with contributions by pedal steel / dobro legend B.J. Cole. As the excellent CD liner notes point out, bands like Tull, YES and Bowie were all the rage by 1972 and with its amalgamation of melodic rock and cosmic country rock (mellotrons and all), the Shoot album went totally overlooked... that bizarre cover art didn’t help, yet most Yardbirds fans finally caught up with Shoot by the mid 1970s and have reveled in its grandeur ever since. Surprisingly, this Angel Air CD of On The Frontier is actually the first ever official CD reissue though I’m sure the Japanese found a way to issue it before. Angel Air does Shoot well on CD, complete with a discourse of historic liner notes and full credits that also indicates the superb sounding album was recorded at Abbey Road studios with engineering by Fab Four legend Geoff Emerick.

BEAR FAMILY RECORDS – In the wake of the awesome German CD blitzkrieg of the mid 1980’s it was doomsday / sink or swim for the American labels who for the most part were still pressing Lp and cassette. The rise of the great German CDs labels of the 1980s is a remarkable event of music history yet one label has kept going strong. Formed in 1975 by Richard Weize, the Bear Family label has produced hundred of Lps and CDs, most featuring the great American rock and roll pioneers of the 1950s. The first Bear Family CD I ever owned was the first pressing of their (1990s?) compilation, From A Jack To A King by the great Ned Miller, who recently died in 2016. You name it, they’ve been exhaustively researched and annotated by Bear Family Records. Reaching out to American music critics and distributing through the great MVD label in PA, one sees the Bear Family legend branching out in 2017 and publicizing a superb sounding, 28 track CD retrospective called Great Drums At Sun. Sun, of course being Sun Records in Memphis and the CD accents the great drummers who backed up many of the great singers at Sun, including Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and dozens more. A number of drummers who propelled the big beat behind these early R&R legends at Sun Records are highllighted here, including Johnny Bernero, who added so much groove to the Elvis track here “I Forgot To Remember To Forget You”, from 1956. A superbly layed out sixty page CD booklet adds much info and insights into Bear Family’s concept of their “great drums” album. Bear Family’s Great Drums At Sun is a classic rock ‘n’ roll compilation—tailor-made for roots-rock fans who like their classic oldies accented with spectacular drums.

BURGER RECORDS – Fullerton, California based Burger flips their lid with a very cool 12 track CD cover-view of The Jigsaw Seen. Going back to the early 1990s, L.A. pop mavens – the Jigsaw Seen - started turning up in the best scene places like their appearance on Eggbert’s fabled Bee Gees ‘94 tribute album with their version of “Melody Fair”, one of 12 TJS rarities found on The Jigsaw Seen For The Discriminating Completist. Disc? Criminating? Subtitled Rarities And Singles 1989 - 2015 this retrospective is littered with pop greatness including a range of singles versions, EP versions and alternate versions, to differentiate them from album versions. A recent track here is a version of “Have A Wonderful Day”, the Jigsaw Seen’s 2015 single cassette out on Burger too (I did say cassette right?). Like their earlier releases, The Jigsaw Seen For The Discriminating Completist is superbly packaged with unique artwork and outside concept. Long time band members Jonathan Lea (guitars), Dennis Davison (vocals, keys), Tom Currier (bass) and Teddy Freese (drums) have been recording together since 1993 and one can hardly wait for their next studio album. The CD follow up to their acclaimed pop masterpiece Old Man Reverb, this retrospective, The Jigsaw Seen For The Discriminating Completist will drop right into the collections of those discriminating L.A. pop aficionados. File under: Back To Monocle.

CHRYSALIS RECORDS – The world wide revolution of the Compact Disc in 1984 continues to reap strange sonic fruit 33 years later. In 1991, Sony debuted their World Renowned ES series of CD players, made exclusively in Japan—with the best one, the ES89 selling for well over $1000.oo new. You could pick up lower end Sony ES and CDP players with slightly similar features (they created dozens of models) starting about $450.oo. If you take that ES89 player from '92, in mint condition today (it is possible, trust me!) 25+ years later and insert the 2016 Steven Wilson CD remix of Stand Up by Jethro Tull, you will be in for a great sonic treat. Of course, in this economy, spending big money on upgraded and “remixed” versions of famous albums from nearly 50 years ago is kind of a real shame as there’s hardly enough attention (or royalties) being paid to today’s so many great young artists. Yet, after hearing the historic 2015 Steven Wilson remix of the first Emerson Lake & Palmer and now this remix of Tull’s Stand Up, you will surely have to admit that Wilson has truly done some incredibly historic work—both for technology and for music. One has to realize, of course, that most people don’t even know what a Sony ES89 CD player is, let alone have one! Lol What the hell was I thinking? So original Chrysalis producer Terry Ellis, who I used to visit during during his years with Imago on Broadway and Spring Street, must have been a true sonic visionary to sign and nurture Ian Anderson as Tully moved so swiftly from relative obscurity to the well deserved world wide fame that Stand Up brought to the rock world in 1969. Much credit should also go to American record company genius, president then of Reprise Records, Mo Ostin for doing such great work on all the early Tull albums truly defining their image for the early 1970 music scene. Wilson’s excellent 2016 remix of Stand Up puts the Mobile Fidelity gold CD of Stand Up—before this the sonic standard—to the test and proves that Wilson actually betters the MoFi gold CD. Audiophiles repeat after me: wow. So now, is Wilson eager to take on the The Beatles “White Album” or maybe Satanic Majesty’s Request next? As Jack Gilford says in his skit called “The Convicts” from the Lp You Don’t Have To Be Jewish: “On my back, I want Wilson”. Jethro Tull fans: don’t miss the historic 2016 Steven Wilson remix version of Stand Up, available in a definitive, brilliantly packaged 2CD/1DVD version, a single CD of the Wilson remix (plus several goodies) and on the ancient, yet venerable Lp.

HOWLING WOOD RECORDS / DOYLE DYKES PRODUCTIONS – One of America’s greatest, though underrated, guitarists is Doyle Dykes. Based in Nashville for years, Doyle’s company Howling Wood Records released two double CDs sets from Doyle back in 2014. Those two releases are Quintessential Guitar Collection Volumes 1&2 as well as Quintessential Guitar Collection Volumes 3&4. Those two double CD sets present 55 classic Americana style guitar instrumentals from Doyle. Musically, the sound is very much rooted in the Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel model of toe-tapping guitar music that Doyle recorded and released between 1994 and 2004. A number of musicians appear yet the main focal point is on Doyle’s steady, melodic guitar sound. Some of the players who appear include rock and roll guitar icon Duane Eddy. Though the music is much more country instrumental than rock ‘n’ roll by any standard, there’s so much guitar goodness on these four discs that any self-respecting fan of guitar instrumental music will want to hear them. Also of note from Doyle in recent years is an 18 track Christmas album not surprisingly titled Christmas With Doyle Dykes, featuring cameos by Eric Johnson, Johnny Tilloston and Doyle’s daughter Haley ‘Dykes” Johnson. It’s been a long time since Doyle released Bridging The Gap back in 2008, yet these two double CD retrospectives and his recent Christmas collection are reasons to give another listen to one of America’s great guitar heroes.

MUSICK RECORDINGS – Headed up by label honcho Art Bourasseau, the Musick imprint is back in action after too long off the scene with Live Supernova, an archival CD by long time surf-rock band The Space Cossacks. The 21 track CD features a fine performance by guitarist Ivan Pongracic and company. The CD cover art is great and the liner notes by John Blair of Jon & The Nightriders gives a brief history of the fabled Summer 1998 Space Cossacks tour and this show in particular, which was recorded on July 10th, 1998. With a mix of Space Cossacks originals, the album is offset by several lesser known covers written by Herb Alpert and Norrie Paramor to name a couple. The recording sounds great, Ivan sounds on fire and the entire package will prove to be a hit among fans of instrumental surf-rock guitar music.

SUNDAZED – Bob Irwin and Sundazed Records kick off 2017 with their trifecta of the Tower Records years by American psych-garage 1960s band The Standells. The Tower label was also the Capitol Records-owned label that released the first American Pink Floyd single "See Emily Play" during the summer of love. If anything, L.A. legends The Standells were a one hit wonder with their AM radio smash “Dirty Water” in later 1965. A great singer, group founder, keyboardist Larry Tamblyn was quite effective as a front person, alongside, Italian guitarist Tony Valentino, Dick Dodd (drums) and Gary Lane (bass). “Dirty Water” was a great moment in the history of AM radio and it was one of the great garage rock singles of that year. Composed by group producer Ed Cobb, the song “Dirty Water” was of course featured on the Dirty Water album—one of three detailed CD and Lp remasters of the first three Standells albums on Tower. With all three CD titles featuring hard hitting mono sound, the original Dirty Water album is enhanced by five bonus tracks. Also out on Sundazed are the Standells albums Try It (with five bonus tracks) and their final Tower album Why Pick On Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White. Fitting in perfectly with Bob Irwin’s other work with classic bands like The Leaves and The Knickerbockers, these Standells remasters are among the finest relics of that mind-blowing mid 1965-67 era of American garage rock.

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