Record Label
and Music Spotlight









Following the release of their 2012 album, Lonely Hills, Austin-Texas based band The Aaron Clift Experiment received some well-earned comparisons to progressive rock icons like Genesis and Porcupine Tree. True, the progressive rock comparisons have merit but the band was also influenced by classical music and jazz and display that well-rounded musical experience on Lonely Hills. Handling the vocals and keyboards, Aaron Clift receives solid backup from his band, including Joe Resnick (drums), Joe Green (bass) and Jim Ragland (guitars). In 2013, Jim Ragland left the band and was replaced by guitarist Danny Brymer. The songs on Lonely Hills are very well written, featuring unique-sounding harmonies, arrangements and a wealth of intriguing melodies. The Aaron Clift Experiment's web site features a series of videos filmed during the recording sessions for the album, including a 10 minute documentary entitled, 'The Making Of Lonely Hills.' A most impressive first album from prog-rock trendsetters, The Aaron Clift Experiment, Lonely Hills also benefits from fine CD packaging that features all the song lyrics.

- Started by one time Beatles business manager, Allen B. Klein, ABKCO has released a number of classic CD and DVD titles in the years since John Lennon’s death, and after years of reissues and classic compilations, ABKCO released a new CD from the great Eric Burdon, one time leader of British invasion superstars, The Animals. Unlike many of his contemporaries, including Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, Eric Burdon lives on to tell his story again with his 2013 CD entitled ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. After years of comeback releases, with this 2013 CD Burdon has released his definitive statement. Produced by Burdon and Tony Braunagel, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry features Burdon rockin’ out in style backed by a number of classic musicians including guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and Billy Watts with that classic Animals keyboard / organ sound handled by the great Mike Finnigan and Red Young. Adding to his top notch production work, Braunagel handles the drums while the CD features other fantastic players. Most importantly, the songs really hold up and some (including “Memorial Day” and the lead-off track “Water”) are as great as any of the big Animals hits from the 1960s. Some tracks point to the great beyond, (“Bo Diddley Special”) that place where so many of Burdon’s friends are now, while some tracks (“Wait”) are great here and now songs, celebrating the always fleeting moments of our lives. Most importantly, with ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, Eric Burdon is back and he’s lived to retell the tales to a whole new generation.

- The 2013, 12 track CD by Gary Hunn, entitled Breaking Blue sounds like it could have come out of Nashville or Bakersfield or even Austin, but in fact Hunn hails from Australia. Such an authentic country music album is rare these days but if you like pioneering C&W legends like Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons and George Strait give a listen to Gary Hunn. There’s some excellent pedal steel from Phil Backer with electric guitar from Anthony Taylor. Hunn’s whole band really clicks and, filled with a mix of honky-tonk, western swing and pure country music, Hunn's songs have staying power. Hunn came out of the honky tonk and garage rock worlds and he’s also a musicologist and it’s really rewarding to see where he’s going on on Breaking Blue.

- Singer-songwriter Tina Malia keeps good company on her new CD entitled The Lost Frontier. The ten track CD is well produced and engineered by Ms. Malia herself. On guitars on some tracks is Bowie alumni Gerry Leonard, so the sounds are languid and sometimes Eno-esque in places. Some of Bowie’s 1990s era music has a similar tone. Sometimes Tina sounds like Suzanne Vega and the great Anna Domino and other times maybe shades of Mike Oldfield and William Orbit’s singers. Tina's dreamlike songs have cool soft beats that borders on chill music at times. In addition to Gerry Leonard, other fine players fill in the colours. The CD is very well recorded and the packaging is effective.

Guitarist Jean-Pierre Llbador has remained a favorite among guitar connoisseurs since his recordings with his 1970's band Coincidence. In the 1980's, Jean-Pierre released a number of great guitar based instrumental albums and CDs that were critically acclaimed world wide. Now in 2013, Jean-Pierre has released his first ever vocal based album entitled Voices. Highlights of this 25 track CD are featured vocals from Jean-Pierre’s daughter, Suzanne Llabador and lyrics from daughter Géraldine Llabador, who each sound totally in sync with their famous dad. Regarding working with his two gifted daughters on CD for the first time Jean-Pierre adds, 'I feel great about the fact we could all three of us work on a common project'. Further commenting on his first ever vocal-based album, Jean-Pierre confesses, 'I felt the urge to kinda open up the window after a lot of instrumental jazz albums, to work with talented young people. They're all in their twenties, I'm the old fox.' Backing up the three Llabadors are a number of top side players and great singers who add further prestige and shine to this jazzy, pop-based album from guitar hero Jean-Pierre Llabador.

- All Wood And Stones is the name of a Rolling Stones tribute band started by L.A. guitarists / vocalists James Lee Stanley and John Batdorf, the latter of the ‘70s folk-rock duo Batdorf & Rodney. On the ten track All Wood And Stones II, these seasoned music vets take on a number of Stones’ classics and folk-rock them with an unplugged kind of bluesy way. All Wood And Stones pays tribute yet also redefines these Stones songs from the 1960’s and ‘70s remaking them with a newfound sense of maturity that kind of flavors them in a new way. Anyone who listened to FM radio back in the early 1970s will remember Batdorf’s cool radio friendly approach to folk / rock. Several other players appear adding percussion and bass where needed. Both Batdorf and Stanley are fine singers and really excel in this acoustic, unplugged tribute CD to these memorable classics from the Stones.

- U.K. based Bella Union keeps coming up with some intriguing pop albums, case in point being the 2013 CD from singer-songwriter Alessi Laurent-Mark and her group Alessi’s Ark. Seeking out a rural Americana vibe on her latest CD, entitled The Still Life, Ms. Laurent-Mark traveled to Athens, Georgia to work with esteemed pop producer Andy LeMaster. The results are quite beguiling, mixing sedate pop with a range of studio wizardry that borders on electronica thanks to some fancy overdubbing. LeMaster arranged a number of musicians to connect the musical dots so to speak and the resulting album holds up quite nicely under repeat listening. Commenting on the album title, Alessi adds, ‘The phrase “the still life” has always resonated with me. In my mind “The Still Life” is what we’re all aiming for, the chapter in our lives that we find peace and understanding, within us and in our surroundings.’ Americana pop via Mother England, complete with a a sonic twist, The Still Life will seduce you with illuminating charm and good taste.

- Country rock nirvana, The Road from singer-songwriter Aaron Lewis is filled with one twangy country honk track after the next. Lewis sings in the rock band Stained while on The Road he gets solid back up from a number of great guitarists including Brent Mason and Sol Littlefield while some slinky pedal steel sounds from the legendary Paul Franklin adds that distinctive country twang. The drums of former Brian Wilson thumper Eddie Bayers keeps a steady rocking beat. Lewis has been compared to other big name country artists such as Brad Paisley and Toby Keith, while also noting a definite Eagles influence. Produced by country legend James Stroud, The Road is put together with passion and style helping to separate Lewis from the current pack of country rock greats.

BONGO BOY RECORDS - Back in the late 1960s, Paul Revere & The Raiders were sitting on top of the pop world. With one Top 40 hit after the next, the Raiders featured singer icon Mark Lindsay, the tall, ponytailed rocker who was at the core of the band’s sound. It’s been way too many years since Mark stepped out but he surprises long time fans with the 2013 CD release of Life Out Loud, a 14 track rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza released on Bongo Boy Records. Very much in the spirit of the Raiders’ sound circa 1966, Life Out Loud finds Mark in primo form backed up by a tight band including song writing partner / guitarist Gar Francis and pop maven Richard X. Heyman, here on drums, while Steven Van Zandt also kicks in some backup vocals on a track. Life Out Loud also benefits from solid studio wizardry from Kurt Reil. Liner notes by Mark and Gar Francis seals the deal on this most welcome and quite authentic sounding comeback CD from 1960s pop hero Mark Lindsay.

- The first album of fresh material by Davie Davies circa 2007 and the Fractured Mindz CD, the 2013 CD release of I Will Be Me has a comfortable sounding Davies / Kinks vibe on it. Released by the L.A. based Cleopatra Records, I Will Be Me kicks off with the song “Little Green Amp”, which serves as an homage to Dave’s first guitar amp that he used on the Kinks’ breakthrough single “You Really Got Me” back in 1964. Compared to his great 2002 CD Bug, the 13 track I Will Be Me almost sounds like a hard rock / heavy metal kind of album, with Dave’s electric guitar backed by a fine band of players including long time Davies’ guitar cohort Jonathan Lea along with a range of players and guest artists including U.K. guitar great Chris Spedding who appears on the CD closing title track. I guess Dave will print the lyrics online as unfortunately they’re not included in the liner notes, which does offer track by track credits of all the musicians on hand as well as 2013 liner notes by Rebecca G. Wilson.

- Over in Los Angeles, Cleopatra Records continues mining the music fields for new music from established rockers and new talent. Released around the same time as their 2013 Dave Davies CD, Cleopatra also released the CD debut by Sons Of Hippies entitled, Griffons At The Gates Of Heaven. There’s is a slight acid rock touch to the CD which features some beguiling vocals from singer Katherine Kelly, who in turn gets solid support from drummer Jonas Canales and bassist David Daly. In a band that has been described as a mix between Flaming Lips and Hawkwind, Ms. Kelly more than acquits herself as a singer and her electric guitar / sitar work is interesting too. Resident Cleopatra producer Billy Sherwood also kicks in some mellotron adding some prog-rock flavors and producer Tom Klimchuck puts the sound together with some tasteful production chores. If they can keep it together and evolve their sound, which is rife with racy overtones, (check out their “Rose” video on youtube) the Florida based Sons Of Hippies are in for a bright musical future. The Sons Of Hippies album artwork is great, stunning in fact, and the album is also available on 12 inch vinyl and (yes, wait for it) cassette tape too. Dig the sounds of today’s future passed with Sons Of Hippies because tomorrow never knows.

- Released by the U.K. based Concert Live label, Live 2012 is a most noteworthy double CD set by Jack Bruce & His Big Blues Band. Recorded live in the U.K. on March 19, 2012, the 2 CD set starts off with three classics from Jack’s 1971 breakthrough album, Harmony Row. A couple of lesser known tracks appear and give way to more favorite classics from Harmony Row and Songs For A Tailor, Jack’s first solo album from 1969. This welcome trend is repeated on disc two, followed by big band versions of several live Cream songs. What more could a long time Jack Bruce fan ask for? Two things worth noting includes the band Jack has chosen here—a smoking horn heavy lineup of guys half Jack’s age. With the maestro leading the festivities, Live 2012 is like a master class in classic rock 101. A highlight of the octet, Tony Remy gives it his best Clapton-esque sound on “Deserted Cities”. The other thing here is that this double CD sounds amazing. Crisp and clear, with Jack’s spider-like bass work front and center, Live 2012 must be the way Jack always wanted his best music to sound in a horn-based rock fusion big band.

- The release of Mea Culpa introduces the pop world to the music of Rob Bonfiglio. Taking a Todd Rundgren-esque approach to his album, Rob has produced it all by himself—performing all the instruments and vocals himself. Inspired by modern pop masters such as Jason Falkner for example, Mea Culpa sounds like a full rock band firing on all cylinders. Also known as Brian Wilson’s son-in-law, Rob really comes alive on Mea Culpa, delivering the pop-rock goods in a breezy Southern Californian way, sounding at times inspired by pop giants like The Beach Boys, The Eagles as well as current day California pop exponents such as Jeff Larson and Gerry Beckley. An all-around winner of a pop album, Mea Culpa is a fitting showcase for Rob Bonfiglio’s appealing singing, song writing, studio skills and guitar styles.

- The daughter of Eliane Elias and Randy Brecker, Amanda Brecker puts her best foot forward with her 2013 CD entitled Blossom. A notable recording artist in her own right, Amanda’s new CD is actually a tribute to American songwriting superstars Carole King and James Taylor. A mix of Taylor and King covers, Blossom also no doubt benefits thanks to Amanda being backed up in the the studio by veteran session guys like Lee Sklar (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums) and other players from both King and Taylor’s band. Although the CD was first released in Japan in 2011 on the 40th anniversary of Carole King’s Tapestry album, and released in the U.S. in 2013, Amanda Brecker’s Blossom is filled with timeless classic music and is very much worth hearing by fans of both Carole King and James Taylor.

/ EMARCY - Using the 1962 release of Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music by soul crooner Ray Charles as a template, Madeleine Peyroux stakes her claim as one of the great musical stylists of the 21st century with her 2013 CD, The Blue Room. Like Ray did back in 1962, Ms. Peyroux serves up a number of covers of Ray’s early classics from The Blue Room. Although Ray didn’t write “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (it was written by Don Gibson) Ray’s version has remained his trademark song, and a standard ever since the early 1960s. Also on The Blue Room are a number of other classics from that era including new Peyroux covers of “Bye Bye Love”, the Buddy Holly favorite “Changing All Those Changes” and other songs immortalized by Ray, Buddy, the Everly Brothers and even newer songs, added into the mix, written by Warren Zevon, Randy Newman and John Hartford. Overall, The Blue Room is a lush, near pastoral neo-symphonic soul-jazz album made even greater thanks to the expert hands of producer Larry Klein and string arranger Vince Mendoza along with the cream of the crop among the great L.A. session guys. Illuminating liner notes by Michael Cuscuna adds historical depth to the mix making The Blue Room a fine choice for jazz and blues fans.

The country of Norway is becoming a music lover’s paradise and one of the hottest rock bands coming out of the northern European stronghold is Orango. With its near hard rock sonic attack, the 2013 CD release of Colonial Militia Vol. 2 should go far to put Orango on the map big time. Essentially a well produced hard rock album with some serious sonic etchings, the CD echoes some of the great English hard rock bands of the late 1960s / early ‘70s including Deep Purple, Quartermass, Black Sabbath and others. There’s also some very cool instrumentals that bookend the CD, giving rise to a progressive hard rock orchestral side. At the hub of the Orango sound is singer-songwriter Helge Bredeli Kanck (guitars) who gets solid support from his band mates including Karl-Joakim Wisløff (bass / keyboards) and Trond Slåke (drums), with additional percussion work from producer Kai Christoffersen. Commenting on the band’s growing stature in the following interview, Helge adds, ‘The band and the songs are becoming better all the time, at least that’s what we believe.’ Some have compared Orango to ZZ Top and Deep Purple, but there’s also some cool layered vocal harmonies amid the sonic bedlam. If you dig the ‘70s sounds of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, you’ll be in for a treat with the sound of Orango.

- He may be unknown to a majority of guitar fans in North America, yet in Europe guitarist Christy Doran continues breaking new ground for the electric guitar. On Mesmerized, his latest CD release with his group Christy Doran’s New Bag, Christy breaks new ground for jazz-rock fusion. Truly a group effort, on Mesmerized, Doran gets fine backup from his band including singer Sarah Buechi, who sings some wicked scat vocals over Doran’s Hendrx-inspired lead guitar work. The whole thing threatens to veer out of control at various points but Doran’s fretboard expertise reigns it all in just at the right time. The CD is quite well recorded and packaged and the CD booklet feature lyrics. Also featuring some hot playing from Vincent Membrez (mini-moog / rhodes) and Lionel Friedli (drums), Mesmerized is neither jazz nor rock but some truly unique sonic experiment that will truly blow the roof off of your house. No newcomer to the jazz fusion music scene, Doran has rocked out with a number of players over the years including Carla Bley, Sonny Sharrock, Edward Vesala and many more. If you like your fusion played with daredevil precision, Christy Doran’s New Bag is for you.

EDITIONS RECORDS - Legendary jazzer Kenny Wheeler came to the attention of astute progressive rock fans thanks to his impeccable flugelhorn playing on Bill Bruford’s classic 1977 album Feels Good To Me—an album that changed the face of progressive music for good. Released on CD by the U.K. based Edition Records in 2013, Mirrors features Kenny Wheeler in primo form joined by singer Norma Winstone, the U.K.’s leading contemporary choir The London Vocal Project, drummer Dave Maddren and a range of other fine players on a fascinating vocal set. A contemporary jazz artist in the finest sense of the word, Wheeler—joined by Ms. Winston and the London Vocal Project and company—sounds right at home on an album that places music to the words of English poet Stevie Smith with other tracks featuring lyrics by Alice In Wonderland poet Lewis Carroll. The sound created is truly innovative sounding and is kind of reminiscent of the 1960s albums by The Swingle Singers—a group that created tight vocal harmonies in a decidedly swinging ‘60s sound. Mirrors is equally ground breaking in its own way. 2012 liner notes by Mirrors producer—and London Vocal Project director Pete Churchill—puts the Mirrors project into perspective. Listeners who thrilled to Wheeler’s tasty sounding flugelhorn backing up Bill Bruford and singer Annette Peacock will also enjoy Norma Winston and The London Vocal Project backing up Kenny Wheeler on Mirrors.

- Retro rock is a live and well in the U.K.. After a four year wait, the band known as Attic Lights are back in action with Super De Luxe. The 10 track CD is filled with fresh 21st century pop and rock in the spirit of Flaming Lips, Fountains Of Wayne and Super Furry Animals. The CD is filled with memorable tunes and blazing electric guitar work, tight rhythms in the finest post-punk pop nirvana. Vocals and harmony vocals sound like Eric Carmen and The Raspberries. The whole band more than pulls their own weight and there isn’t a weak link in the sonic chain. Interestingly, the CD was put out by Madrid based Elephant Records and the CD sounds great and very importantly, the packaging and design is impressive too. The Spanish music fans are huge supporters of Beatles style pop-rock and this Elephant never forgets with the new Attic Lights CD.

- The U.K. prog-rock band known as Big Big Train are making inroads in the music world with their 2013 CD release, their 8th entitled English Electric Part 2. Featuring the vocals of singer David Longdon, bassist Andy Poole, the drumming of Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio, multi-instrumentalist Greg Spawton and the guitar work of Dave Gregory. Musically, Big Big Train have been compared to mid 1970s Genesis and it’s true that Longdon’s voice is very similar in tone and mannerisms to Peter Gabriel and in fact he worked with Genesis during the late 1990s. Part of a two part album series with the first half released in 2012, English Electric Part Two is full of unique and special symphonic rock in the best spirit of mid 1970s era Genesis and Tull. Even the subject matter is very English—described as prog-rock tales of old English steam trains. The CD packaging is really quite elaborate decked out with multi-panel packaging and detailed booklet consisting of artwork and lyrics. If you like your progressive rock very English and very reverent then Big Big Train should be right up your alley.

- A self-produced CD project, Conversation Pieces is a fine introduction to the recorded music of NYC based singer-songwriter Geoff Barone. Overall, the 19 track Conversation Pieces is a sprawling affair featuring Barone backed up by quite a variety of musicians, including a full rock band, various lead and backing vocalists and guitarists galore. Admittedly, there’s some blazing electric guitar solos throughout the CD. The album fully qualifies for a prog-rock concept album that deals with the turmoil and pains of childhood. One of the more adventurous artists among the new breed of prog-rockers, Barone has cited soundtrack composers Andrew Lloyd Webber, Danny Elfman and even Frank Zappa among his musical heroes while the prog crowd has compared him to recent stars like Devin Townsend and Arjen Lucassen too. All of those comparisons ring true after hearing the widescreen, sweeping and near cinematic concepts behind Geoff Barone’s Conversations Pieces. If anything, the CD is a bit too eclectic yet Geoff Barone, more often than not, hits the mark with his wildly adventurous and highly conceptualized music.

- Florida-based / Jamaican bred guitarist Eugene Grey has performed and recorded with classic pop and Reggae artists such as Burning Spear, Toots And The Maytals and Big Youth as well as playing on albums by Kid Creole And The Coconuts. Over the past ten years, various album releases under his own name have solidified Eugene Grey’s reputation as a world class guitarist and composer. Fueled by a love of the guitar and enhanced by his status as a premier Jamaican - American trendsetter, Eugene’s albums have, over the years, featured a wealth of guitar-based instrumental tracks. Coming years after his acclaimed 2007 album Authentic, his 2011 double CD set, Diversity combines instrumental tracks with a range of vocal tracks that feature Eugene’s strengths as both a guitarist and a singer as well. Commenting on the making of Diversity, Eugene adds, ‘The double CD set is called Diversity simply because the styles are diverse.’ For the double CD set Eugene receives solid backup from a range of artists including several drummers and percussionists. In addition to handling all the guitar work (as well as the vocals on the second CD of this double CD set) Eugene also performs, bass, keyboards and drums too, no doubt adding to his reputation as a diverse musician. In the CD set liner notes, Eugene comments about his concepts of energy and how ‘we are all connected’. After giving a good listen to Diversity, it’s clear that you won’t find a more diverse and entertaining guitarist than Eugene Grey. Island jazz fans, Reggae fans and guitar fans in general will completely savor the wide range of tropical, breezy guitar sounds of Eugene Grey’s Diversity.

In his liner notes for the 2013 CD release of The Golden Demon, Swedish pop pundit Citizen K describes the album stating, ‘The subject of the evening is the current sense of chaos and transition, experienced in places where stability was supposed to last until the very end.’ There’s some sure fire pop nuggets on the double CD, 24 track various artists compilation including NoCal singer-songwriter Jeff Larson with his bouncy pop track “Satellite Sky” somehow fitting in an what some are calling a modern day protest album, touching on occupying Wall Street, and other tracks that speak of injustice and societal woes in 2013. Commenting on his track, California pop maven Larson adds, ‘That (track) is mainly about longing for inspiration even with all the technology. Simple pop tune. I played the acoustic, 6-string banjo, piano and lead vocals. Hank Linderman on electric guitar and bass. Jim McCarty on drums.’ Some tracks on The Golden Demon are blatantly political including “Occupying Wall Street” by Bob Cheevers. Artists from the U.S., the U.K and Sweden are featured side by side on a double CD set that skillfully combines rock, folk and pop music.

/ LIGHTYEARS MUSIC - The new album from drummer Simon Collins and his new band called Sound Of Contact, the 2013 CD release of Dimensionaut breaks new ground for 21st century progressive rock. With three solo albums already to his credit, Simon Collins is a fine singer-songwriter / drummer in the spirit of his famous father, Phil Collins. On this 73 minute debut album from his new band, Sound Of Contact, Simon has enlisted a fine group of musicians to back up his prog-rock vision, including Matt Dorsey (guitars / bass) and keyboardist / producer Dave Kerzner along with other players including Kelly Nordstrom (guitars / bass) and Hannah Stobart (backing vocals). Like many Inside Out prog-based CD releases, Dimensionaut is filled with sweeping, wide-screen sonic landscapes. Album producers Kerzner and Collins worked with Genesis founder Steve Hackett on Hackett’s recent Genesis Revisited II album. That tone of classic progressive rock that emanated from the dawn of the 1970s is carried forth with new vigor on this fine Sound Of Contact CD.

- Based over in Norway. Mona & Maria make truly indescribable pop music. Very much influenced by the experimental San Francisco psychedelic rock sound of the late 1960s, their 2013 CD entitled My Sun features breathtaking harmony vocals with some wild and electrifying studio effects courtesy of some excellent backing musicians. Although these two young ladies—Mona Andersen and Maria Knudsen have been recording for the better part of the past decade, their first as Mona & Maria breaks a bunch of musical rules but in doing so they arrive with something that is both sonically breathtaking and compositionally innovative. Combined, these two have the voices of the angels at their fingertips. Hard to find here in the U.S. but well worth the time indeed.

- Ricky Byrd played guitar on a number of albums for artists as diverse at Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and folk-rock singer Marti Jones. With the 2013 release of Lifer, Ricky Byrd finally gets his own album out. Released on the NYC based Kayos Records the 11 track Lifer is awash in an assortment of Byrd’s rock ‘n’ roll influences including Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, The Stones, The Faces and more. With Byrd handling the electric guitars with his patented classy fretboard sound, the album features Byrd backed up by a fine band. Described as a restless New York City poet, Byrd puts all his influences together into a combustible brew of rock 'n' roll, punk, R&B, British rock & roll, soul, R&B and more. Byrd confesses, 'My main goal with this record was to try and craft the songs with the same heart and soul that filled the music I listened to as a kid in my parents' Bronx apartment—the music that even at the young age, made the hair go up on my arms.' Produced by Byrd, Bob Stander and Ray Kennedy, Lifer features a fine studio sound and production while the CD adds in liner notes by Byrd, complete with full credits and a row of pics of Byrd through the years.

- One of the most inventive progressive rock bands in the U.K. today, Mostly Autumn released The Ghost Moon Orchestra to great reviews in 2012. Fans of progressive rockers Renaissance, featuring singer Annie Haslam, will find much enjoyment from Mostly Autumn’s latest hard rocking yet melodious and atmospheric CD. Featuring the lead vocals of the alluring Olivia Sparnenn and the guitar work and compositions of founding member Bryan Josh, the seven member Mostly Autumn is fleshed out by other excellent musicians including Iain Jennings (keyboards), Andy Smith (bass), Anne-Marie Helder (acoustic / electric guitars, vocals), Liam Davison (guitars, vocals) and the powerhouse drumming of Gavin Griffiths. In other words, the Mostly Autumn sound is big and powerful and the memorable music more than fits the bill. Music lovers who like their prog-rock both atmospheric and enchanting would do well to give a good listen to Mostly Autumn.

- Back during the now fabled summer of 1980, Canadian rockers Martha & The Muffins scored the left field pop smash of the year with “Echo Beach” off their classic first album. Years of great music followed through the ‘80s, then years away from their original fans led to a great comeback in 2010 with a new M+M album entitled Delicate. 2013 has witnessed the first ever solo album from group copilot Martha Johnson entitled Solo One. Released on their Muffin Music imprint, the CD finds Martha once again working with long time M+M guitarist / composer Mark Gane. The eleven track CD finds the pair in a pop lounge kind of groove. Intimate yet complete, intact in fact with the same high standard pop excellence that permeated those great Martha And The Muffins albums. While the Solo One CD might come off a little low key, there’s still plenty of cool pop grooves in play, proving a great pop song is a great song no matter how it’s played. In addition to the usual levels of genius by Gane and Johnson, the CD benefits by fine production by Ray Dillard (drums, percussion) and other key musicians including Ron Sexsmith (guitars, vocals). There’s a good reason why Martha Johnson can sing eleven pop songs on one album that you never get tired of hearing and you can hear those reasons on Solo One.

- There’s plenty of hard rock and prog-rock action in play on the most recent CD from the U.K. band known as Gandalf’s Fist. Formed back in 2005, Gandalf’s Fist mixes up 1970s era prog with elements of folk music and hard rock and the results of their 2012 CD entitled From A Point Of Existence will certainly make them of interest to progressive rock fans. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dean Marsh and vocalist Luke Severn, Gandalf’s Fist has a bright future and is in the throes of finishing their late 2013 CD. Even so, their third and latest full length CD, From A Point Of Existence is well played and features some solid electric guitar based prog-rock sounds and styles. What’s even more amazing is that Dean Marsh plays just about everything on the CD that, through the art of studio overdubbing, sounds like a full band. There’s a definite kind of hard rock meets near metal vibe but the concepts and sounds are very much rooted in classic progressive rock. Carving out a unique space in a crowded prog-rock scene, Dean’s electric guitar work is on fire for most of the CD. Decked out in the kind of artwork that was so appealing back during the heyday of prog-rock circa 1975, the CD even has a story line, making it a kind of modern day rock opera, which helps to make the album a unique collection in the global prog-rock world.

- As MVD gains a higher profile, they’ve taken on more high profile releases including Making Tracks: On Tour 2010 - 2012, a 2013 double DVD live set from British invasion superstars The Yardbirds. Looking back on time, it’s been decades since The Yardbirds turned the music world on its head in the mid 1960s. So influential were they, that the group introduced Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton to the rest of the world and their story is now history. Ten years after Steve Vai released their 2003 comeback CD, Birdland, the Yardbirds are further lionized with this double DVD on MVD. There’s plenty of classic Yardbirds redone by this current incarnation including founding members Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja. Dreja unfortunately fell ill in early 2013 and has since retired from touring yet legendary drumming and vocalist McCarty keeps the home fires burning. As far as the Making Tracks DVD set, disc one features live performances of a number of classic Yardbirds while the second disc features more live tracks plus interviews and much more, making this package a valuable asset for long time Yardbirds fans. /

/ ESOTERIC - Back in the late 1960s, Todd Rundgren broke the sound barrier with his group The Nazz. Then in 1972, Todd discovered the key to his pending mass appeal with his Something / Anything double Lp. Now in 2013 Rundgren is back with his 24th solo album called State. Todd describes the CD as being among his most radio friendly in a while. Lyrically, there’s a definite 21st century kind of aura here. With Todd playing everything, there’s a burnished, synthesized air about the album, which is rich with lush sounding synth keyboards played to perfection over loud but solid drum and bass workouts. Todd’s famous electric guitar forays are also in the spotlight, notably on the CD closing “Sir Reality”. After years on Screen Gems Records, Bearsville, Reprise and Sanctuary Records, Todd released State on Mark’s Powell’s growing Esoteric Antenna label—the U.K. based imprint who, in addition to releasing a great 2012 debut album by Squackett, are also planning a new studio album from Cream founder Jack Bruce this coming Autumn 2013.

- MVD are doing great things on the current pop music front in 2013 and in the spring 2013 they’re making the new CD set from The Blow Monkeys available Stateside. Entitled Feels Like New Morning, the two CD set features a whole new Blow Monkeys album plus a second CD titled Dr. Robert Plays Acoustic Blow Monkeys. The Feels Like A New Morning CD features ten new alt-rock tracks composed and sung by Blow Monkeys front man Robert Howard. There’s a breezy post-New Wave kind of vibe to this new Blow Monkeys album, mixing a kind of Van Morrison meets Elvis Costello meets Bowie kind of vibe, but the songs click and Howard gets great support from his Blow Monkeys band mates. In addition to the fine songs, worth noting is Robert Howard’s sparse yet effective electric guitar work.

MVD ENTERTAINMENT GROUP - Also out on CD on Peppermoon Music, and available Stateside from MVD is True Love And Water, the 2013 from American singer-songwriter Erica Buettner. Described as a commanding new presence on the avant-folk scene, Ms. Buettner sounds kind of low key but the CD is not without its charms. Interesting that her CD was recorded in a home studio in Paris. The CD is tastefully packaged and features an extensive booklet filled with lyrics and intriguing artwork. One of the most intriguing releases of 2013, The Sound Of The Ocean Sound by the band known as Larkin Poe, features a very cool collaboration between Rebecca Lovell and sister Megan Lovell and Norwegian pop maestro Thom Hell. Featuring a wide range of musicians, including guitarist Mike Seal, the ten track CD creates a memorable, dreamy, alt-pop landscape that is well worth hearing. The incredible harmonies of The Lovell sisters will leave you breathless. Thanks to MVD for bring these excellent CDs to the attention of pop fans.

- A band in search of continued pop excellence, The Kingsbury Manx makes a triumphant return to form with their 2013 CD Bronze Age. The Kingsbury Manx have been releasing fine pop albums for over a decade now and there’s so much pop in play on Bronze Age it will make your head spin. Somewhere between Baroque 1960s pop legends The Left Banke and the poptronica sound of Stereolab, Kingsbury Manx are not afraid of merging pop and rock and electronica genres into one sonic brew and they achieve full lift on the Bronze Age CD. Most of the vocals and guitars are handled by William Taylor yet each of the four members adds to the overall sound mix which is eclectic to say the least. Bronze Age is well worth time listening for open minded pop disciples.

- With her train of thought singing and otherworldly vocalizing, Icelandic singer-songwriter Ólöf Arnalds sings in English and she has been compared to singing legends such as Björk, Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. With her high-pitched singing, Ólöf sounds sometimes (with all due respect) like a female Tiny Tim. Whatever she does, (and she does it quite well), Ólöf is both beguiling and enchanting at the same time. On her 2012 CD Sudden Elevation, Ólöf makes the most out of her low key yet quite effective musical style. Several other musicians back up Ólöf who more than acquits herself on acoustic guitars, koto harp and charango. The sound of Sudden Elevation is sparse, yet there’s something magic about Ólöf’s music that draws you in and keeps welcoming you back again.

/ HEMIFRÅN - So who is Citizen K and why is he so underrated? The good Citizen K, (real name: Klas Qvist) released his Meet Citizen K back near the end of 2009, and just as winter returned with a vengeance his music became a pop oasis of sorts. Citizen K comes from Sweden and like a number of the 2000-era musicians from Sweden (and in fact all of Scandinavia), the sun kissed sound of Brian Wilson’s California was way too tempting and so, as Swedish prog-instrumental music was to the 1970s, so have many of Kvist’s Swedish generation turned into Wilsonian West Coast pop disciples in 2013. Featuring Kvist taking the lead, backed up by several comrades, Citizen K gets it right again on his King Of Second Thoughts CD single spotlighting the title track, “The King Of Second Thoughts” and two additional tracks planned for the upcoming double album King Of Second Thoughts, coming later in 2013. Since 2009 Citizen K has released several tracks on samplers, released on Hemifrån that came close to the pop greatness of Meet Citizen K. So it’s worth noting that if these three new songs from King Of Second Thoughts are any indication, we’re in for a real treat. /

- On an album filled with many unmentionable expletives there’s also some great pop tracks. We’re talking about the 2013 from pop maestro John Grant entitled Pale Green Ghosts. Grant made his breakthrough in 2010 with his CD Queen Of Denmark and in 2013 he’s still turning heads with Pale Green Ghosts. It’s hard to pick a sonic signpost but Morrissey, Bowie and even Procol Harum and John Cale come to mind, although clearly Grant is firmly rooted in 21st century pop and rock. Recorded in Dallas, London and Iceland, the CD is filled with excellent performances from a number o musicians. In addition to his songs and vocals, Grant also adds in some nice sonic edges on synth and moog like sounds which bubble and gurgle away in the mix. The CD is superbly produced by Grant and Biggi Veira while singer Sinead O’Connor also appears on backing vocals. Great song titles like “GMF” (the very cool expletive fueled single off the CD) and even a tribute to the great actor “Ernest Borgnine” adds a cool shred of mystery to Grant’s sonic raptures.

- The country of Sweden continues to amaze with the 2013 CD from singer-songwriter Marie Lalá entitled Surrender My Soul. You’d be hard-pressed to find as upbeat and bouncy record as this. Maybe not since the heyday of Kirsty MacColl has a singer been so adept at merging such a wide array of pop, jazz and soul music. There’s also quite a knees-up raving groove when Marie even sounds like Mary Ford or The Andrews Sisters in places. Backing up Marie’s music and vocals are some fine players including a full rock band and buoyant horn section which only adds to the fun. If you like some of Marianne Faithfull’s more cabaret approach to rock, there’s no reason why you won’t completely enjoy Marie Lalá and her unique approach to progressive pop, rock and jazz.

- L.A. based Thorcraft Cobra tap into a fertile pop/rock minefield with their 2013 CD release entitled Count It In. The CD features guitarist / lead vocalist Billy Zimmer teamed with drummer / singer Tammy Glover. As this solid sounding CD indicates, both artists are well in sync with each other and the studio work is excellent. Ms. Glover works with the group Sparks while Canadian Zimmer has a great pop handle that seems to spit out hooks and studio tricks at rapid speed. Is this 1981 or 2013? Plug in, tune in and drop out with Thorcraft Cobra and their 21st century pop classic.

/ BRILLE / MUTE - It may be hard to believe in 2013, but at one time prog-rockers YES were considered avant-garde. In fact, The Beatles were once avant-garde too, especially when John met Yoko. That whole John meets Yoko, “Revolution Number 9” experimental era of music (or in some cases, non-music) is well in tact on the 2013 double CD set entitled Shaking The Habitual from the Swedish band known as The Knife. Essentially the brainchild of the brother/sister team of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, The Knife makes truly otherworldly music in the spirit of Yoko Ono and even English avant rockers Henry Cow during their In Praise Of Learning era. Karin’s vocals and lyrics are truly mind-blowing and the album's soundscapes are the perfect foil for her wild vocal forays. The CD set is quite elaborately packaged and some tracks are all instrumental based, including the very cool, 19 minute CD set closing track entitled “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized” which is just incredible. Apparently when The Knife tour there’s a whole bunch of musicians on the stage. For their first album in nearly seven years, The Knife reinvent the whole concept of avant gard meets rock meets electronica on the wildly adventurous Shaking The Habitual.

- The third CD from The Doughboys, entitled Shakin’ Our Souls, is filled with 14 potent pop nuggets. Doughboy guitar ace Gar Francis is currently garnering acclaim for his involvement on the 2013 CD by Mark Lindsey, who happens to also play on and contribute liner notes for the Doughboys' CD. Sharing the group spotlight here is drummer Richie Heyman, singer Myke Scavone and bassist Mike Caruso. The sound of The Doughboys, on this album, evokes the best rock spirit, while clearly going after the same audience as past heroes such as The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Pretenders and other guitar-centric rock legends. There’s plenty of hard rocking guitar riffs, sneering vocals and clockwork rhythms on Shakin’ Our Souls to make The Doughboys of immediate interest to dedicated followers of 1980s power-pop and mid ‘70s rock and roll.

- New on Brooklyn based Ribbon Music is the 2013 CD from U.K. songstress Laura Marling. Blessed with a sublime voice and impeccable guitar / song writing skills, Ms. Marling strikes folk-rock gold with the 16 track Once When I Was An Eagle. An essential late night folk-noir sort of album, Once When I Was An Eagle flows across the sound spectrum with a smokey, dreamy kind of sonic mood fueled by Ms. Marling’s shifting musical moods, which seems to effortlessly flow between folk, rock, jazzy blues and even country-tinged music. Her fourth CD, Once When I Was An Eagle was tastefully produced by noted rocker / multi-instrumentalist Ethan Johns, who also adds in some electric guitar work where needed. With 16 diverse, yet compatible tracks to choose from, there’s truly something for everyone on Laura Marling’s eclectic, yet sonically satisfying CD.

- Rock Ridge Music has a winner on its hands with the 2013 CD from Montreal based singer-songwriter Patrick Krief. Entitled Hundred Thousand Pieces. Credited to his band name, Krief, the CD is a dreamy orchestral flavored pop-rock affair that displays his guitar, keyboards and vocals to great effect. Orchestral in places, yet the CD does rock up a storm too. Receiving assistance from a couple close musical cohorts, including keyboardist Roberto Piccioni, Krief handled most of the instruments himself, including drums to some great effect. There’s a melodic intensity that makes the album quite unique so it’s quite hard to draw references, although Krief’s band The Dears were considered orchestral indie-rock innovators in some circles. Krief’s guitar work is also famous up in Canada and now with Rock Ridge releasing his latest, Hundred Thousand Pieces will spread the Krief name far and wide.

Finland has such an illustrious musical history dating back to the Kalevela and the days of classical music maestro Jean Sibelius. In the first rock era of the 1970's, the late great Pekka Pohjola and Wigwam put Finland on the map big time and in the 21st century a whole new generation of musicians are making a concerted effort to bring progressive Finnish rock music forward. The 2013 CD from the group called Paidarion, their second album entitled Behind The Curtains, is filled with soaring musical soloing and virtuosity. Produced by group drummer Kimmo Pörsti and the rest of the group, the sound of Paidarion borrows from the worlds of progressive rock, jazz and instrumental fusion. The 9 minute, CD closing instrumental “The Final Show” is magnificent and very Pohjola-esque in dynamics and scope, proving that clearly, these musicians can take on any form of music and make it work. Singing the poetry and words of group lyricist Pirkko Salhi, the female vocals of Elina Hautakoski adds a jazzy touch while the guitars of Jaan Jaanson, the 4, 5, and 6 string bass work of Jan-Olof Strandberg and the keyboards of Kimmo Tapanainen adds further detailed sonics to the mix. Like the greatest Finnish prog-rock bands of the past, Paidarion sings in English in a smart move to broaden their international appeal. The production of Behind The Curtains is first rate and the CD packaging and booklet is filled with an abundance of color pictures of the group and complete lyrics.

SHOWCASE MUSIC PRODUCTIONS - Back in the early 1980’s guitar pioneer Les Paul began his residency at Fat Tuesday’s jazz club in Manhattan. That tradition moved forward in later years with Les doing his famous Monday nights at the uptown night spot Iridium. On any given Monday, at both Fat Tuesdays and the Iridium, Les and his trio, featuring guitar great Lou Pallo, bassist Nicki Parrott and John Colianni on grand piano, would host and jam with international music superstars while entertaining throngs of devoted fans coming to pay homage to the guitar hero. Les, the great night bird finally flew the coupe and left the world stage for the last time in 2009, but now nearly four years after his passing, Lou Pallo as released a CD/DVD set entitled Thank You Les: A Tribute To Les Paul featuring The Les Paul Trio along with big names like Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, Arlen Roth and daughter Lexie Roth, Jon Paris, Eddie Brigati Jr. (of The Young Rascals) backed up by guitar hero Bucky Pizzarelli, Slash, Jose Feliciano, guitar hero Nokie Edwards of The Ventures, jazz guitar hero Frank Vignola, former Beach Boys singer Blondie Chaplin covering his not so distant relative’s, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and of course Steve Miller, who’s very close relationship to Les is well documented. Of course Miller puts text to internet and has written some good liner notes for the package. In the spirit of the great 2007 DVD release of Les Paul Chasing Sound!, the DVD half of Thank You Les is also filled with classic performances and new interviews with all the above artists as well as Les himself, son Russ Paul and Les Paul insider Tom Doyle. Just watching these great artists remembering Les and offering up fresh performances of classic songs Les has long been associated with just makes you miss Les all the more. The 21 track Thank You Les CD itself is great with its mix of both vocal and instrumental tracks that really offers insights into just how much of an influence Les Paul was, is and will be for decades and the centuries to come. /

- A new U.K. band influenced by folk-rock artists such as Pentangle, the Band, CSN&Y, John Martyn and more, One Mile An Hour may move slow yet they cover a lot of ground. On their 2013 self-titled CD, the group offers up ten tracks of near pastoral folk bliss with a solid guitar-based rock edge when needed. Lead singer Jeff Kightly sounds very influenced by John Martyn, Nick Drake and other “outsider folk” singers. The whole album sounds a bit mysterious yet it’s never oppressive. Highlights include the lead-off, Strawbs flavored track “Sunken Ships” and the CD closing “Nine Eight”, a live 11 minute electric guitar based instrumental jam that simply sizzles. The acoustic and electric guitar work is quite good throughout and the album sounds quite crisp and clear thanks in part to sonic mastering by John Dent, who has worked on projects by John Martyn, Nick Drake and PJ Harvey.

STAX RECORDS - Back in the 1960s, the label name Stax Records meant music gold. Associated with Atlantic Records, Stax put R&B on the charts and one band strongly identified with the label is and was Booker T. & The M.G.’s At the core was the Hammond B3 based groove of Booker T. himself. Together with guitar god Steve Cropper and the late great rhythm section of Duck Dunn and Al Jackson, Booker T. & The M.G.’s literally invented R&B soul pop instrumental music. Kids today have little idea how the powerful Stax sound was ingrained into American youth back then. Following two instrumental albums, one with Neil Young, Booker T. serves up another classic with the 2013 CD release Sound The Alarm. Booker T’s long awaited return to Stax Records, the album features several soulful R&B flavored instrumentals in the realm of his famous band while there’s also a more mainstream pop approach thanks to a group of young lead vocalists, who are probably unknown to Booker’s core of loyalists. Backed by a fine band including guitarist Raphael Saadiq and percussionist / drummer Iz, along with a host of guest artists, including guitarists Gary Clark, Jr. and Booker’s son Ted Jones, Sound The Alarm is a great album that serves as career spanning overview. Back just five years after the CD was first invented, in 1990, Booker T. actually cut an instrumental progressive New Age type album for MCA. The diverse, yet ultimately satisfying Sound The Alarm really shows how far Booker T. has come back in 23 years to reinvent a new form of 21st century R&B.

- Sounding like a mix between Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and cutting edge 21st century prog-rock, U.K. rockers Stolen Earth rise to the occasion with their 2012 CD A Far Cry From Home. Featuring the enchanting vocals of Heidi Widdop and the musical expertise of Adam Dawson (guitars), Paul Teasdale (bass), John Sykes (keys) and Barry Cassells (drums), the Stolen Earth sound is rich and powerful. Borrowing from groups such as Heart and Stevie Nicks, Ms. Widdop’s voice is potent instrument in its own right. With some additional honing, the melodies will evolve, but the musicianship is first rate and the cover art is quite appealing in its own right. Prog-rock fans looking for some new sonic thrills should give a good listen to Stolen Earth.

SUBTERAUDIO DIGITAL - Language, or rather the hundreds of languages most English speaking denizens don’t know, should never get in the way of appreciating great music. One way to transcend is to listen to only instrumental music or the other way is just to appreciate great music for what it is, as you can readily do on the 2013 CD release of Luz Interna by Mexican prog-rockers Ekos. A band in love with the 1970's and specifically groups such as YES and Pink Floyd, (they double as a Pink Floyd tribute band), Ekos captures all that goodness on their 2012 CD. Commenting on naming their band after the title of the Pink Floyd magnum opus and side long track from Meddle, “Echoes”, group keyboardist / vocalist Ana Camelo told, ‘Pink Floyd is one of the greatest bands of all times, they achieved something fundamental that characterizes them and makes a difference among other bands.’ On this first Ekos CD there’s plenty of progressive rock inspired instrumental passages that blends in Spanish language lyrics, but the vocals are so convincing and the whole CD meshes so well, that the sound goes beyond words. Other musical influences on the Luz Interna CD include the hard rock / metal sound of bands such as Pantera, as noted in a recent review by a prestigious prog-rock magazine, although according to Ana Camelo, 'Our influences in the metal area comes directly from Dream Theater, Metallica or Iron Maiden, even gothics from Lacrimosa, maybe jeje, that would be better choices for us.' Guitarist / vocalist Jesus Torres sounds electrifying and group keyboardist / vocalist Ana Camelo and fellow band mates Victor Juárez (bass) and Ricardo Castro (drums) have all the sonics down to a tee. For international loving progressive rock disciples, Mexico’s EKOS offers a sublime dose of prog-rock nirvana. /

- U.K. based Reggae legend Jashwha returns in 2013 with his latest CD entitled No War On Earth. Jamaican born, U.K. bred Jashwha released his 15 track compilation entitled Joshua To Jashwha - 30 Years In The Wilderness in 2012 and his first album under the name Jashwha features a batch of new songs that are paired with dub wise companion versions of the same songs, complete with hypnotic grooves and Reggae beats. 21st century Reggae at its best, the 15 track No War On Earth features Jashwha’s rhythm guitars and vocals supported in the studio by the guitars and drum programming of Mikey Taylor-Hall and further vocal treatments by Fionulla Rochford. Tune in and turn on to the magical reggae groove of Jashwha.

SWAMP GAS MUSIC - Singer-sngwriter Brooke Shive has show biz in her blood. Her dad Steve Shive toured and played with artists such as Daryl Hall and David Lindley. Clearly some of that good musical taste has transferred down the line to Brooke who scored a big hit with her 2013 CD entitled Way Past Gone by Brooke Shive & the 45’s. The ten track CD features a electrifying mix of rootsy rock ‘n’ roll, blues, soul and country-rock that fits neatly into the modern Americana sound niche. Backing Brooke on her CD are some top players including Steve Shive (drums), Jim Gilheany (bass, guitars) and Randall Thompson (lead guitar). At times, Brooke sounds like a modern day Janis Joplin and certainly fans of gifted female rockers such as Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks would clearly get a buzz from Brooke’s CD. Commenting on her CD, Brooke adds, ‘I have been around the stage my entire life. As long as I’m entertaining others, I know I’m where I belong.’ On Way Past Gone the band clicks and the tunes stick making Brooke Shive & the 45’s a band to keep your eyes and ears on.

TULSI RECORDS - Being the son of Simon & Garfunkel founder Paul Simon must have good and bad parts but despite being of Simon genetics there’s plenty of music that you could never guess Paul Simon could make. Of course it’s not Paul, it’s his son Harper Simon and the offspring redeems himself aplenty on his 2013 album Division Street. The CD is a good indicator of the musical distance between generations and how Harper’s generation has assimilated the sound of the 1960s into a new composite. Instead of his alt-folk sounds of Harper's folk-rockish first album, you can hear influences of Low era Bowie or early ‘70s T.Rex. Division Street sounds more like generation X channeling Kraftwerk and Velvet Underground rather than Paul Simon. Several big names adjoin the younger Simon including renowned singer Inara George and Jon Brion. There’s plenty of weird instruments and vintage keyboards making the mix very dense and multilayered. Perhaps most surprising is Simon’s excellent guitar work and the lyrics are printed.

VIRTUE RECORDS - Based up in New Hampshire, Virtue Records released There And Gone by acoustic guitar master Ed Gerhard in 2013. For those who haven’t heard him, Ed carries on the spirit of greats like John Fahey and Leo Kottke and other renowned acoustic guitarists, those who are gone and those still with us. Like Kottke, Ed Gerhard is capable of coaxing some true feelings from his music and his instrumental based acoustic guitar work. Even though Ed claims that his new CD is intimate and raw, the feelings and spirit and that “moment of discovery” thing Ed speaks about is in abundance on There And Gone. Gerhard plays a number of fretboard based instruments on There And Gone including guitars, bass, Weissenborn guitar, lap steel, octave 12 string and, in this mostly solo setting he receives support from Tony Markellis on upright electric bass. These new Gerhard instrumental originals sound great while the CD also features some fine acoustic guitar flavored originals balanced by some covers including a pairing of the John Lennon / Beatles classics “Imagine” / “Across The Universe” and a heartfelt instrumental cover of the Hank Williams favorite “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” With There And Gone, Ed Gerhard remains one of the top American acoustic instrumental guitar masters.

UNSUNG RECORDS - Singer-songwriter Fabio Trentini and his group Moonbound turned music heads on with their 2006 CD Confession And Release. Although not widely publicized, in 2011 Moonbound released the follow up album entitled Peak Of Eternal Light. Based in Italy, Trentini gets solid support from name musicians including King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, touch guitarist Markus Reuter and various guests including Dave Gregory of XTC and several other musicians from Italian prog legends Le Orme. The overall all feel is like a cross between The Police, early 1980s King Crimson with Adrian Belew and late 1980s YES, the latter especially evident on the Peak Of Eternal Light instrumental title track. Described as 1980s pop-rock with progressive music influences, Moonbound’s Peak Of Eternal Light is a modern music classic filled with truly wondrous sounds that will have across the board appeal among open minded pop and prog-rock fans.

VAPOR RECORDS - Vapor is the recording label started by Neil Young’s wife Pegi Young. Vapor has released several fine Neil-related albums over the page decade and in 2013 they have released a great new CD by Crazy Horse bass ace Billy Talbot. The nine track CD release of On The Road To Spearfish is very much rooted in the Neil Young / Crazy Horse musical mold and, just like Billy's acclaimed 2005 CD, Alive In The Spirit World, his 2013 CD, On The Road To Spearfish is filled with deeply reflective and slightly stark, singer-songwriter material. On the best tracks such as the CD closing “Ring The Bell”, the CD rocks out in fine fashion. On The Road To Spearfish features a number of fine musicians who back up Billy’s legendary bass playing and very Neil Young inspired songs and vocals, including guitarists Matt Piucci and Erik Pearson (banjo, lap steel, horns), Mark Hanley (lap steel, guitar, mandolin), Ryan James Holzer (horns, keyboards, guitars) Tommy Carns (bass) and Stephan Junca (drums). If you dig Neil Young / Crazy Horse rock classics like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Sleeps With Angels, then by all means give a listen to On The Road To Spearfish.

VELLAMO RECORDS - Not much is known about the folk-pop band known as Vellamo. They come from Finland and they feature the vocals of Pia Leinonen, who combines her ethereal folk-rock vocals with the talents of guitarist Joni Tiala, who also adds in mandolin and Hammond B3 organ. Drummer Ken Anderson, who also recorded the album at his home studio in Vermont, and backing vocalist Rebecca Hall adds in further colors. There have been successful folk-rock albums from Finland and Sweden before and with their excellent CD, Vellamo really hits the mark. Very authentic sounding and full of traditional sonic signposts, there’s plenty of musical goodness and adventure for folk-pop mavens. Fans of Joan Baez, Judy Collins and even some of Jethro Tull’s acoustic music should give a listen to Vellamo. Some tracks are sung in Finnish while others are sung in English yet all these songs possess memorable sonic moods and atmospheres.

VIZZTONE - Vizztone Records continues onward as kings of the blues-rock world with the 2013 CD release of It Wasn’t Real by singer-songwriter Gina Sicilia. With one foot in the blues world and one in the 1960s pop world, Ms. Sicilia has been compared to singers like Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur but there’s also an early 1960s oldies kind of groove here, especially on track 4 “Please Don’t Stop”, which sounds like The Shangri-La’s produced by Phil Spector. Commenting on her diversity, she adds, ‘Even though I’m mostly known in the blues world, I love and I’ve absorbed all kinds of music. So when I get inspired to write a song, it’s likely to go anywhere.’ The rootsy bluesy fan base, that makes up the Vizztone audience, will love the diversity of It Wasn’t Real. Throughout the ten track CD, Gina gets splendid support from a number of musicians including guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Ross Bellenoit and whole lot more. A great singer-songwriter worth keeping your eyes and ears on, Gina Sicilia takes you to blues-rock nirvana on It Wasn’t Real.

- Solid pop-rock competently written and recorded, Minnesota based War Poets hit the ground running with their 2012 double CD set entitled Dulce est Decorum Est. Broken into two halves, rock songs on CD 1 and ballads on CD 2, the songs stick. The rockers are fine indeed with War Poets leaders Jenny Case and Rex Haberman backed up by a fine band of players including several fine guitarists in Matt Kirkwold, Danny Neale, Steven McKnight and Kevin Bowe. The songs fall somewhere between the Grateful Dead and R.E.M. so there’s a lot of diversity in play. The tunes click and the guitar work is on fire throughout. War Poets are well worth the time of alt-rock fans.


- The sound of the harp can be a heavenly experience. Remember the angels play the harp when you enter heaven and then of course Harpo Marx was the coolest of all the Marx brothers. All kidding aside, harp maven Yolanda Kondonassis has released a modern masterpiece of instrumental solo music for the harp. Entitled American Harp, the 9 track CD covers a lot of ground, covering music from American classical masters including Elliott Carter, John Cage, John Williams and a whole lot more. Commenting on her latest recording, soundtrack king John Williams states, ‘We can be enormously grateful to the brilliant artist, Yolanda Kondonassis for this intriguing and unique collection of contemporary American music for the harp.’ Moving beyond the tried and tested French / European world of the harp, Ms. Kondonassis has focused primarily on covering pieces that are distinctly American. Unlike many classical albums, American Harp is quite a relaxing experience, almost soothing in its wondrous approach to solo harp music. The CD is superbly recorded and the CD packaging and liner notes are excellent as well.

BASTA MUSIC - Over in Holland, Basta Music are constantly looking for new ways to amaze music lovers. Case in point is their 2013 CD from Dutch surf-rockers Ocobar, who have teamed up with world champion whistling legend Geert Chatrou for a new CD entitled Strange Flute. Can you imagine the combination of instrumental surf-flavored guitar music with the whistled sounds sharing the lead guitar as the main instrument? Well wonder no more as it’s a done deal on Strange Flute. Some tracks work better than others (that whistling is hard to record! lol) but when it does click (“Short Skirt Day”) it's a nice diversion that should have surf-rockers and whistling aficionados in a sonic tizzy. The CD is well packaged and sounds pretty good overall. Speaking of strange musical occurrences in 2013, Basta have released a tribute album to space age / lounge music icon Esquivel, entitled Perfect Vision: The Esquivel Sound. Featuring all new recordings of classic Esquivel music and arrangements, the 21 track CD features the Holland based Metropole Orkest conducted by American orchestral jazz icon Vince Mendoza. Although Esquivel passed away in 2002, his legacy still lives on, thanks to a whole new generation of music fans who began to devour his legacy back during the 1990’s lounge music / exotic revival. Basta’s CD shows that Esquivel’s music can be recorded and reenacted with the benefits of 21st century recording wizardry, yet also stay true to Esquivel’s original sonic concepts. Strings and things, 1950’s style guitars, weird percussion and conductor Mendoza’s seasoned expertise combine for a garden of space age sonic delights that will transport you back to the dawn of the 1960’s.

- Contrary to public opinion, the Germans do have a sense of humor. I mean look at Kraftwerk for God’s sake. Case in point, regarding that matter, in 2013 is the group known as Der Petunienmann Von Metaluna Vier and his CD entitled Weisser Alarm. Kicking off with a track that can be best described as sounding like Michael Rother meets The Ventures, the CD veers rapidly into all forms of experimental musical areas, some harrowing, some sublime. Fans of Rother, Kraftwerk and T. Dream should check this guy out. Amid the mostly instrumental sonic shapes is a female singing doing her best Debbie Harry routine in German and plenty of Teutonic weirdness to make the CD quite a wild, though enjoyable ride. Plus the guitars are well recorded and being mostly instrumental, with some German language vocals here and there, there’s (mostly) no problem getting on board this strange sonic rocket ship.

- In the land down under, the twang is still the ‘thang and to prove it guitarist Martin Cilia—guitarist in Aussie surf-rock legend The Atlantics—has released one of the great instrumental surf-rock albums of the decade. The 2013 CD release of Going To Kaleponi is filled with 15 tracks that sounds like a surf-rock triptych, an almost like a deja vu type soundtrack of all that is great about the genre. Dare I say it but if Hank Marvin had today’s technology back in 1960 this is what The Shadows might have sounded like. Apparently, according to Martin's liner notes, his latest CD was recorded in Sydney but the songs echo time Martin spent in Southern California in 2012, meeting legends like Dick Dale and Paul Johnson and swimming in the blue pacific. Is it any wonder that the word "Kaleponi" is Hawaiian for California. As par for the course Martin plays anything with frets on it as well getting splendid back up by drummer Lloyd Gyi. Best part is that Going To Kaleponi is clearly Martin’s best sounding solo album yet thanks in part to superb mixing by Paul McKercher and mastering by Mick Wordley. Another essential surf-rock style album on Bombora well worth hearing is the 2013 CD release of Space Farm by The Break. Fueled by the guitar sonics of group captain Jim Moginie, The Break features excellent group interplay. Commenting on these two different yet joined at the hip releases, Bombora label head David Minear adds, ‘Both are sensational CDs. Love the production on both - quite different. Martin's CD is a classic mono, early ‘60s surf sound - but great tracks. The Break and Space Farm is awesome. It feels like they brought Joe Meek back to life to produce it.’ After giving Space Farm a couple goings over, David’s Joe Meek comparison isn’t out of limits, no pun intended. Moginie’s incredible Hank Marvin / Vic Flick induced sonics, again sounds incredible in 2013 thanks again to some impeccable mixing and mastering. It isn’t easy to improve on the great instrumental guitar music of the early and mid 1960s, but these two albums kind of challenge that statement, and break the sound barrier, bringing today’s technology back in a sonic time capsule 54 years.

COMPASS RECORDS - Nashville-based Compass Records stays on the cutting edge of acoustic guitar instrumental music with the 2013 CD release of Mysterious Boundaries from Celtic guitar player Tony McManus. Produced by McManus and recorded in Annapolis, Maryland, the ten track CD release features acoustic guitar covers of mostly classical pieces from legends like Bach, Granados, Satie and Couperin—all huge names in the erstwhile music world. Interestingly, McManus plays these works on his steel string guitar, proving that timeless music from centuries past, that you’d think would be better played on nylon string classical guitar, works just as well if not better on steel string finger style acoustic guitar. Inspired by a challenge from friend and mandolinist Mike Marshall, McManus proceeded to look at the guitar in a new light and recorded this batch of classical masters on Mysterious Boundaries. A slight touch of Americana guitar adds a nice edge to these noteworthy classical masterpieces. Excellent CD sound and track by track liner notes by McManus sheds new light on a most intriguing album of solo guitar works.

- Having made his mark backing up artists, guitarist Danny Caron rallies in 2013 with his own album entitled How Sweet It IS. The 11 cut CD features a mostly instrumental set with three added vocals, one featuring singer Maria Muldaur on the illuminating “I Don’t Want To Know”. Most of the other tracks are really uptown, groove based, swing jazz with Danny’s guitar superbly backed up by Kent Bryson (drums) and Wayne De La Cruz (keyboards). The addition of B-3 organ gives the CD a smokey vibe and there’s plenty of good sounds and tasty fretboard work on hand to make How Sweet It Is a solid choice for jazz listeners and guitar fans alike.

Over the course of several acclaimed solo albums and several collaborative works, U.K. guitarist Mark Wingfield has released his strongest album yet. A group effort centered around a compositional collaboration with keyboardist René von Grünig, the nine track Cinema Obscura features Wingfield and company performing highly charged and atmospheric instrumental tracks that offers the perfect showcase for his electric guitar work and Grünig’s keyboard work. Although Cinema Obscura is jazz, it also rocks when it wants to and the details which go into making the album are quite startling at times. Commenting on this amazing 2013 CD release, Wingfield's sometimes recording partner in the Boston area, and a fellow guitarist with whom he’s planning a new CD later this year, Kevin Kastning adds, ‘"Mark's virtuosic playing is always in effect on all his albums, but I think that he should be especially proud of Cinema Obscura. It's a wondrous album from some truly amazing artists." Recorded in Switzerland and mixed in England, Cinema Obscura also features strong contributions from Iain Ballamy (sax), Yaron Stavi (double bass), Andi Mötz (drums), Christoph Leistner (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Mike Mower (flute). An irresistible composite of free form, soundtrack inspired colors and more, Cinema Obscura is the perfect sonic storm, from start to finish.

DEACON RECORDS - New from Steve Hunter is a great 2013 CD entitled The Manhattan Blues Project. A play on words so to speak, the 12 track CD is an instrumental jazz-rock tribute to that part of New York City that is smitten with history. Of course Manhattan is ripe with legend and landmarks known the world over, even though most have never set foot on the fabled island bought from the Indians for 28 bucks. With track titles like “222 W. 23rd”, “The Brooklyn Shuffle” (the lone tribute here to that outer borough), “Twilight in Harlem” and “Flames At The Dakota”, the CD captures all the moodiness of Manhattan island with a few added in surprises, including an instrumental music cover of “Solisbury Hill”, written by Steve’s old boss Peter Gabriel of Genesis. A number of guest artists appear including Joe Perry, Johnny Depp, Joe Satriani, Steve’s wife, Karen Hunter and more but the star here is Steve Hunter and his amazing guitar sound. Commenting on the CD, Steve explains, ‘This album has been inside me trying to get out for a long time. I wanted to show the other side of New York, the soulful side plus it also says a lot of what I have always wanted to say on guitar.’ Rock based electric guitar instrumental music that touches upon all forms of modern music—from Beatles inspired beat-group guitar sounds to Island music soundtracks and of course the blues—The Manhattan Blues Project is a 21st century album classic that has something for all instrumental rock fans.

Is it possible to have too much guitar goodness on one CD? Well, Texicalli guitar ace Mike Vernon breaks through the outer limits with the much anticipated new album from his band 3 Balls Of Fire. Entitled Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific, the twelve track CD features a range of new Vernon originals played by Vernon and his long time drummer Dusty Watson, with several guest artists, in the deepest spirit of fretboard greats like Jerry Cole, The Sandals and the 1960’s era sound of The Ventures to name a few. Of course Vernon’s major and ongoing California influences won’t preclude him from summoning up the strategically mounted L.A. twinge of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book”, done instrumentally. A 3BOF cover of A.C. Jobim’s “Wave”, done L.A. style with a nod to both Creed Taylor and Chet Atkins, sets a new barre for the song. Cool as the covers are, it’s on these new 3 Balls Of Fire originals where “Burnin’ Mike Vernon” gets things rolling. Clearly, on his own songs Vernon takes his guitar instrumental thing to the max, a factor noticeable on a track such as “Lost And Found”, which just tears into a new breed of spy-surf guitar instrumental. Vernon cites guitar genres aplenty among his influences—from instro Texas twang to spy/surf, lounge, exotica, space-age, crime jazz and 1960s Hollywood soundtracks—that coalesce into a true guitar lovers paradise. One could say that the new 3 Balls Of Fire CD borders on a new genre called progressive surf-rock fusion. Several tracks written for independent Hollywood movie productions feature synth keyboard sounds doubled for orchestration while others are sheer lounge exotica. Speaking of which, a new 3BOF cover of the John Barry classic “From Russia With Love” is yet another highlight here. Somewhere in heaven James Bond is smiling down on Mike Vernon. The CD closing “Guitar City” is just that and sounds like an out take from a 1960s Morricone flavored, twangy Texas style spaghetti western soundtrack, although Mike claims, instrumental or not, that it’s more influenced by The Byrds and Keith Moon! As has been witnessed, thanks to his writing liner notes about American guitar instrumental pioneer Jerry Cole for the U.K. based Ace Records reissue label, Vernon is a musicologist of the highest order so he knows the value of our collective rock instrumental guitar culture. With the release of Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific, Mike Vernon and 3 Balls Of Fire raise the stakes with a veritable ‘60s style, generation spanning guitar classic.

DÉVAH MUSIC - Described as “not your typical string quartet”, the group known as déVah quartet released their six track debut CD to much critical acclaim in 2013. Fans of classical based instrumental rock and exotic instrumental rock-based string quartets will eat this up. Featuring four dynamic looking women playing instrumental string music fueled by rock rhythms and enhanced by fuzz, octave, distortion and reverb pedals, the CD DÉVAH sounds beguiling and one thing is certain: DÉVAH is a CD that will be played more than once by those lucky enough to listen to it. Not surprisingly, the Toronto based ladies of déVah cite a number of progressive rock, rock, jazz and classical music influences including YES, Beethoven, Brahms, Iron Maiden, Apocalyptica and Metallica. Talk about eclectic but with this much zeal and musical enthusiasm these ladies have a bright future ahead of them. Comprised of Emily Hau (electric violin), Sharon Lee and Moira Burke (electric 5 string violin/viola hybrids) and group composer Liza McLellan (electric cello), déVah is augmented on their CD by drummer Mike Vanderhule, who adds in what is described as modern breakbeats and metal beats, no doubt giving these ladies a solid foundation from which to rock. Clocking in at under a half hour, the CD, superbly produced by prog-rock legend Robert Berry, consists of six tracks which covers a range of instrumental classical / rock moves. The only track to feature some vocals, track 4 “I’m Far Away” is also enchanting and fits in well. If Beethoven and Brahms were alive in 2013, they’d surely be grooving to the déVah quartet.

DISCO GECKO RECORDINGS - Featuring the sonic guidance of Toby Marks, the group from England known as Banco De Gaia returned in 2013 with a new album entitled Apollo, their first new album in seven years. A mainstay of the New Age / Chill Out music world for years, Banco de Gaia have been on the ambient dub music scene since the early ‘90s and, with its fine mix of musical scenery and sonic serenity, Apollo will no doubt please long time fans and draw in newcomers alike. Although there’s a definite electronic music edge in play on this latest Banco CD, there’s also a sense of earthiness and also being one with the earth to make the sound quite universal in scope. Marks comes across as a sonic scientist of sorts while guest spots by drummer Ted Duggan and New Age flute legend Tim Wheater, among others, fills up the sonic spectrum quite nicely. The CD is well produced and the booklet is filled with all sorts of otherworldly artwork by Dave Whitehead that really enhances the listening experience. New Age music for the World Music and chill / hip-hop crowd, Banco de Gaia lives up to its legacy with Apollo.

DIVISION RECORDS - One of the most talked-about CD releases of the past year is the 2012 CD release of Slav To The Rhythm by Norwegian progressive fusioneers Farmers Market. Featuring a solid band headed up by guitarist / multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen, Farmers Market have been, perhaps unjustly, ridiculed for their funny name and sometimes Zappa-esque approach to instrumental music but one thing that’s not funny is just how skillfully and deadly serious Farmers Market approach their sound and vision. In the mix of their 11 track CD you can hear elements of prog-rock, World Beat inspired Bulgarian music, daredevil fusion music, soundtrack sounds and the way too many diverse musical elements to mention, that go into the unique Farmers Market sound. Since they started out back in 1991, Farmers Market have released five albums so if you’re coming late to the phenomenon, Slav To The Rhythm is a perfect place to start to appreciate and enjoy just how amazing Farmers Market truly is.

DMG / BROKEN SILENCE - French guitarist Philippe Caillat-Grenier is a legend of the early 1980s jazz-rock and fusion scene and he’s back big time with his late 2012 “Surf-Jazz” CD entitled Twist For Horse Riding Heroes. Released over in Germany, where he plays a lot, the nine track CD is filled with a range of jazz mixed up with a surf-rock twist, hence the appropriate name of the CD. Caillat has guitar chops aplenty and he puts his vast fretboard technique to good use here. Backed up by a tight rhythm section and second guitarist Johanna Weckesser, there’s plenty of hot jazz grooves and surf-rock instrumental fans will listen in amazement. The CD is quite well recorded, as you’d expect, plus there’s some great artwork including a picture of Philippe looking like Zorro The Fox. If The Ventures put a jazzy spin on their rockin’ instrumental guitars sound, they might end up sounding like this. Filled with nine all new original tracks, Philippe Caillat-Grenier’s Twist For Horse Riding Heroes is surf-fusion for the 21st century made to be played loud by surf-rock, jazz-rock and instrumental rock fans.

DON LEADY MUSIC - Located over in Austin Texas, guitarist Don Leady is turning heads around with his 2013 CD entitled Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues. The self-produced CD finds Don in the studio backed up by a pair of excellent drummers running through a dozen instrumental rockers that touch on surf-rock, jazz, blues and early roots rock ‘n’ roll in the spirit of fellow Texan Buddy Holly, who actually did cut instrumental sides way back in the 1950's. Come to think of it, I could see Buddy really liking Don’s CD, with its inspiring pristine recording sound and all. Don Leady earned his reputation as one of Austin’s finest musicians thanks to his work with The Tailgators and the incredible Big Guitars From Texas lineup with Denny Freeman. Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues features fun-filled CD cover art and, enhanced by a pro studio recording, coupled with a very clean sounding mix and master, the sound is first rate. Featuring 12 rockin’ guitar tracks, Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues is one of the finest instrumental surf-rock / hillbilly-jazz guitar albums of 2013.

THE DOUGS - So many young bands today don’t even bother to form a record label. The Dougs, from England, is a good example. On their CD and web site they don’t even tell you what country their from. Their web site features a link called “album art” but they don’t even put the CD with their name on it. It’s sad because musically, The Dougs have a lot to offer. Their 2012 CD, called transportOtter (I kid you not and with that spelling, lol) is quite interesting instrumental jazz-rock fusion. The four piece group, featuring guitarist Chris Jones, are well versed in the art of 1970’s era fusion ala the Canterbury sound of England during the late ‘70s. Crunching metal-tinged guitar work from Jones, flashes around the sound spectrum enhanced by some might wailing sax work from Gareth Hill, while the rhythm section of Jonathan “Potter” Kinsey (drums) and Jim Bradley (bass), round things out nicely making The Dougs a fine choice for fans of jazz-rock fusion devotees.

- So many great rock and pop songs are orchestral in structure so of course they’d naturally make great instrumentals as played by orchestras, guitarists and pianists alike. Case in point is a fine 2012 CD from piano virtuoso Jeffrey Michael. Piano Rock Experience, subtitled Featuring Piano Music From Famous Rock Songs, features Jeffrey Michael performing instrumental solo piano renditions of pop-rock songs we all know and love. Some of these renditions feature light synth strings in the background but most are piano instrumentals played in a neoclassical kind of manner. Some tracks that are real standouts include “Light My Fire” and “Paint It Black”, two 1960s songs that were quite memorable to begin with. Other tracks made famous by Led Zeppelin, Journey, The Beatles, Coldplay and more truly sound great with these instrumental versions played by Jeffrey Michael on his grand piano. I could think of a thousand more songs that would be great too, but this is a good start. Is this the way they’ll remember the great music of the 1960s and 1970s in a hundred years? Probably, but why wait that long! Enjoy Piano Rock Experience today.

FORREST YORK GUITARS - Nashville guitar proponent Forrest York strikes instrumental rock gold with hs 2013 CD Rainy Season. Thanks to his Forrest York Guitars enterprise, Forrest is renowned as a guitar maven in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and he puts his vivid guitar imagination to work on a CD that combines a range of instrumental guitar sounds within a near indescribable mix of free form New Age meets hard rock guitar fusion workouts featuring multi-instrumentalist Ryan York. A kind of late period Hendrix mood prevails on an album where carefully coordinated guitar soundscapes take precedence over melody and form and rules are meant to be broken. Commenting on Rainy Season, Forrest adds, ‘I just wanted my favorite pieces on it even though the record is all over the place. This is my life's work. The solo record I always wanted to make. It covers a lot of ground because I've covered a lot of ground.’ One of the essential instrumental guitar-based CDs of 2013, Rainy Season breezes by on a cool wind of sound for the senses.

GREYDISC RECORDS - The label created by guitar master Kevin Kastning, Greydisc has released a number of excellent guitar-centric CD titles over the past 10 years and they continue onwards with the Summer 2013 CD release of Nowhere, Now Here — an instrumental duo album featuring Kevin Kastning and Carl Clements. Into his fourth decade as a musician, Clements is a noted horn player and on Nowhere, Now Here he’s featured on tenor and soprano saxophone as well as flute. Somewhere between neoclassical and the fabled ECM style of instrumental / experimental music, Nowhere, Now Here features Kastning working magic on his new 30 string Contra-Soprano guitar as well as his patented 16- and 17-string Contraguitars. Paired with the sonic dexterity of Clements, Kastning is in rare form on Nowhere, Now Here, which continues onwards with a similar form of beguiling, magical musical ESP that works so well on his various collaboration album titles on Greydisc. Clements—described as being conversationally inclined, explorative and emotionally invested in his musical approach—is the perfect collaborator for Kastning’s deep web of sonic fretboard forays. Among Kevin Kastning’s best collaborative works, Nowhere, Now Here is one of the most sublime sounding, relaxing and deeply introspective CD releases of 2013. /

GREYPHONE RECORDS - Florida-based / Jamaican bred guitarist Eugene Grey has performed and recorded with classic pop and Reggae artists such as Burning Spear, Toots And The Maytals and Big Youth as well as playing on albums by Kid Creole And The Coconuts. Over the past ten years, various album releases under his own name have solidified Eugene Grey’s reputation as a world class guitarist and composer. Fueled by a love of the guitar and enhanced by his status as a premier Jamaican - American trendsetter, Eugene’s albums have, over the years, featured a wealth of guitar-based instrumental tracks. Coming years after his acclaimed 2007 album Authentic, his 2011 double CD set, Diversity combines instrumental tracks with a range of vocal tracks that feature Eugene’s strengths as both a guitarist and a singer as well. Commenting on the making of Diversity, Eugene adds, ‘The double CD set is called Diversity simply because the styles are diverse.’ For the double CD set Eugene receives solid backup from a range of artists including several drummers and percussionists. In addition to handling all the guitar work (as well as the vocals on the second CD of this double CD set) Eugene also performs, bass, keyboards and drums too, no doubt adding to his reputation as a diverse musician. In the CD set liner notes, Eugene comments about his concepts of energy and how ‘we are all connected’. After giving a good listen to Diversity, it’s clear that you won’t find a more diverse and entertaining guitarist than Eugene Grey. Island jazz fans, Reggae fans and guitar fans in general will completely savor the wide range of tropical, breezy guitar sounds of Eugene Grey’s Diversity.

HC PRODUCTIONS - Since the mid 1980s, Djam Karet have been releasing wild and trippy instrumental rock albums that have often transcended genre and description and in 2013 they return again with a fresh CD of new music entitled The Trip. One of the first really successful American bands to combine European style avant garde "eurock" sounds with a more outside (re: experimental) American jazz-rock sound, Djam Karet still features original guitarists Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson as well as long time drummer Chuck Oken Jr. On The Trip, in contrast to other albums, Ellett is mostly performing synths, organ and mellotron (among other out there instruments such as field recordings and sundry effects), while this DK lineup also features kindred guitarist Mike Murray and Aaron Kenyon on bass guitar. With Oken handling the recording chores and Ellett the mixing and mastering, the CD may be in house but it’s all very professionally presented, from concept through packaging, and well recorded. Although they’ve been known quite a while for their wild mix of instrumental music in the spirit of Pink Floyd meets The Dead, on The Trip the sound is very meditative and soundtrack oriented. That’s not to say it doesn’t rock when it has to, but for a 1 track, 47 minute “concept” CD, The Trip goes through a wealth of musical moods. Perhaps, listening to The Trip is the sonic equivalent of climbing Mt. Haleakala. The Trip’s CD cover art is quite peculiar as well yet it perfectly suits the other worldly nature of the music within. Lesser bands might not have been able to pull off an album of this magnitude but as usual, Djam Karet raises the bar for experimental rock instrumental albums with The Trip.

HF RECORDS - Instrumental guitar based surf-rock is alive and well and living in Alabama n the self titled CD from The High Fidelics. The 9 track High Fidelics CD features guitarist Edwin Cleverdon backed up by band mates Robert Huffman (keyboards), Jeff Waites (bass) and Ken Adams (drums). Guitar fuzz and ‘60s organ sounds swirl for a rockin’ little CD bound to please fans of 1960’s surf-rock sounds, Duane Eddy and Ventures fans and a whole lot more. For a DIY CD, The High Fidelics get a lot of mileage out of their retro-cool surf-flecked instrumental grooves.

One of the most accomplished and creative World Fusion guitarists on the planet today, Lawson Rollins released his fourth solo album Full Circle in mid 2013. In the spirit of Lawson’s other excellent solo albums, the 12 track, 56 minute Full Circle CD features solid production from Dominic Camardella. While admittedly approaching the recording sessions with a “less is more” philosophy, on Full Circle Lawson keeps the sound full and fresh, enhancing his spirited guitar work with the backing of several gifted musicians who assist in filling in the colors behind Lawson’s often fiery and quite nimble guitar work. Skillfully injecting his tasteful Flamenco fusion-based nylon string classical guitar flavors into the diverse musical worlds of Afro-Cuban, rumba, bossa nova, samba, Middle Eastern, tango, reggae, rock, classical and jazz, on Full Circle Lawson arrives at something that borders on sublime, instrumental, pan-global guitar-centric jazz that is truly colorful and invigorating. Surely Lawson’s most well-rounded album yet, Full Circle is overflowing with a wide ranging sonic backdrop of sounds that makes you feel that one minute you're high in the Colorado Rockies then the next you’re in Rio for Carnival time. In addition to the overall winning direction of the entire Full Circle CD, with its memorable and majestic guitar-centric Americana flavored / Metheny-esque title track, the song “Full Circle” is also one of Lawson’s greatest compositions. Travel in style around Lawson Rollins' guitar universe and arrive back home safe and sound with Full Circle.

INNOVA RECORDINGS - Minnesota-based Innova Recordings are never squeamish when it comes to their unique approach to avant gard instrumental music. Innova’s concept is the perfect segue to the release of Heavy, the 2013 CD from NYC based Ethel. Comprised of four string players—Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Mary Rowell (violin) and Ralph Farris (viola)—Ethel tackles a number of NYC based classical music composers and turns each of their string forays into a mini collage of symphonic sounds. Much more classical music based then any pretenses to rock or jazz, despite their swinging image, Heavy is adventurous instrumental music that more or less redefines the 21st century classical music scene. The focus of Heavy is Ethel celebrating and reinterpreting works by eight NYC-based composers, including Don Byron who is featured here with Ethel covering his “String Quartet No. 2: Four Thoughts On Marvin Gaye”. Some have compared Ethel to the late 1980s classical group The Kronos Quartet, yet with their incredibly daring and driving classical sound, Ethel are clearly paving their own road. The eleven track Heavy CD is superbly recorded and mastered while the CD packaging is as thoroughly unique and rewarding as the music within. /

LINDEN HEIGHTS RECORDS - Based out in SF, CA., Leigh Stephens was the founding guitarist with psychedelic power trio Blue Cheer. Cheer’s huge 1968 hit, a remake of “Summertime Blues” became as big as the national anthem for a while! Where has he been since? Well for starters in 2013, Leigh has a new, all instrumental guitar album called A Rocket Down Falcon Street. Hypnotic, languid guitar-scapes, the ten tracks CD covers a wealth of musical moves including an all instrumental, near abstract reworking of the Beatles’ classic “Across The Universe” that nearly borders on New Age rock. Another cover of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” is handled with care. Leigh’s originals are equally cool, blending instrumental rock with jazzy, neoprogressive guitar juggernauts. There’s even a wildly rockin’ spaghetti western guitar instro cover of Elmer Bernstein and his main title music for “The Magnificent Seven” with great orchestral work from Eric Chun. A number of players assist including Pete Sears (keyboards) from Jefferson Starship, Fred Rautman (drums) and Johnny Colla with a great Jim Horn inspired honking sax on the Duane Eddy inspired “Wild Blue Mavericks”. Check Rocket Down Falcon Street out for that incredible CD cover art but buy it for the psychedelic jazz factor.

In an age and time in history when the sheer speed of life can actually slow you down, Australian composer and piano virtuoso Fiona Joy Hawkins encourages you to stop and smell the roses with her 2013 CD entitled 600 Years In A Moment. Once again, Ms. Hawkins joins forces with the production team of Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman and Corin Nelsen and the results provide yet another winning instrumental album that combines modern classical, jazz and World Music. Although based in Australia, Fiona is on track towards becoming a world wide music phenomenon and the release of 600 Years In A Moment only enhances that fact. Featuring Fiona performing her hand made Stuart & Sons piano, 600 Years In A Moment finds Fiona in the studio backed up by a number of veteran musicians including Will Ackerman, Eugene Friesen (cello), Todd Boston (wooden flute), Marc Shulman (guitar), Tony Levin (bass guitar) and a whole lot more. A sense of floating, sonic timelessness is rooted at the core of 600 Years In A Moment. Commenting on her latest masterpiece, Ms. Hawkins adds, ‘600 Years In A Moment was created as an answer to the question of “globalization” in a musical sense. I played a contemporary hand made Australian piano with ancient world instruments from around the world to bring the village and its hidden treasures into a modern musical setting.' Highlighting the pairing of Ms. Hawkins and her concert piano with a range of old world instruments, performed here by a number of musicians, there’s quite a contemporary feel to the music on this album. Being all instrumental and mainly acoustic based, with a pair of tracks featuring female vocals, 600 Years In A Moment encourages your mind to wander and ultimately find safe haven in the magical, fantastic music of Fiona Joy Hawkins. /

LÚNASA RECORDS - If you enjoy traditional instrumental Irish acoustic music, then the music of Lúnasa will be your cup of tea so to speak. Recording since 1997, Lúnasa released their 2013 CD entitled Lúnasa With The RTÉ Orchestra, an orchestra who have worked with jazz legends such as Lalo Schifrin and rock legends such as Jon Lord of Deep Purple. The group Lúnasa actually consists of five musicians who play all manners of pipes, whistles, fiddles, double bass and guitar. Lúnasa have been called the best Irish instrumental band on the planet and, the instrumental music of The Chieftains would be a good analogy and some of this reminds one of the music from the Barry Lyndon soundtrack. Irish music, when played well is both sprightly and mournful (must be those Uilleann pipes!) and clearly, with their novel adaptations of traditional Irish music, Lúnasa is one of the best. The CD is well recorded and the CD packaging is filled with credits, bio info and track by track info on each song performed here.

LUKE HOWARD - Recorded in Norway and Iceland, Sun, Cloud is a most intriguing CD from Australian New Age synthesis Luke Howard. With song titles such as “Sleep”, “A Softer World”, “August”, the 11 track CD is a fine exercise in the creation of instrumental neoclassical music as performed on treated piano and other various electronica. Sun, Cloud isn’t over the top breakbeat style synth music. Instead Howard leans more to the Brian Eno school of somber space music. Very impressionistic, Howard’s sonic approach is more like soundtrack music. Howard receives support from a number of players including a string section which harks back to Eno’s Discreet Music series and some of Harold Budd’s influences creep in too. For the most part, the CD sound is very good and the mix of Howard’s ambient piano with with strings is breathtaking. The CD is well packaged with fitting artwork and overall, Sun, Cloud will please purveyors of esoteric instrumental music.

- Few musicologists and even few musicians would argue that the second half of the 20th century was the golden age of pop music. Those days before pop changed into rock music is still fondly remembered and that statement rings even more true after listening to the magical guitar sounds of U.K. fretboard master Peter Williams. Williams has a number of CDs out under his own name and his 26 track, 2013 CD entitled Poetry In Motion: Jukebox Favourites keeps the spirit of late 1950s / early ‘60s era pop music alive and well. Bobby Darin, The Everly Brothers, The Shadows, The Beatles, The Bee Gees and other groundbreaking artists from the U.K. and the U.S. are given the instrumental guitar treatment by Williams who basically plays everything on this CD. Williams has such a reverential touch and tone on these song classics. On Poetry In Motion, Peter Williams sounds like a one man guitar jukebox that never seems to run out of musical ideas and guitar inspirations. In mid 2013, Williams is planning his next move, an instrumental guitar tribute to Roy Orbison, but Poetry In Motion is a good place to discover Williams and his guitar.

MACK AVENUE RECORDS - On his second CD for Mack Avenue Records, guitar hero Kevin Eubanks gets back to his jazz roots. On the 11 track CD release of The Messenger, Eubanks pays tributes to James Brown, Jeff Beck and jazz hero John Coltrane. There’s also several tracks that are downright bluesy. Either way, The Messenger makes for some pretty eclectic listening with Eubanks demonstrating his diversity and versatility on this album. In addition to featuring his quartet members, The Messenger also features solid jazz-based contributions from his younger brother Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and older brother Robin Eubanks (trombone). A couple of vocal tracks dot the landscape on this mostly instrumental CD. An album filled with jazzy, rocky, fusion-y, funky, guitar-centric instrumental grooves, The Messenger is yet another well-rounded CD from guitar master Kevin Eubanks.

MARK DWANE MUSIC - One of the most prolific electronic musicians on the 21st century New Age instrumental scene, Mark Dwane has released some amazing full length albums during the past decade. Regarding the 9 tracks released on Dwane’s 2013 CD entitled Archives 2, the songs here are tracks that Dwane didn’t feel belonged on a full length album so these assorted pieces collected over time and he finally got around to releasing them now. Combining for a kind of a mosaic of sound, the tracks on Archives 2 are unique to each other yet they also compliment each other. Rather then one continuous stream of music, the CD collection here features that songs that Dwane describes as ‘musically diverse short stories’. True, this is another of Dwane’s limited run CDR projects yet the cover art is fantastic as usual per a Mark Dwane album and the sound if first rate making Archives 2 a must for Dwane disciples.

MATT RAE MUSIC - One of the great Telecaster masters of the 21st century guitar world, Matt Rae returns with his 2013 work and his fourth solo album entitled Teleblaster! If twangy, rocked out guitar instrumentals in the spirit of the late great Danny Gatton, Forrest Lee Jr. and Arlen Roth are for you, then Matt Rae will be right up your sonic alley. Rae is a reputable guitar teacher in the Connecticut area and clearly, over the past five years, his growing repertoire of guitar based instrumental CD releases are adding fuel to his world wide reputation among guitar enthusiasts. Some tracks here rock harder than others (check out the guitar sonics on “Dumble Vision”) yet the one thing they all have in common is Rae’s clean Fender Telecaster guitar tones and his lightening quick leads and runs. Assisting Matt are his tried and tested crew of players including Stuart Stahr (drums) and Mark Bridgman (bass) as well as producer Paul Opalach. If you enjoy twangy, countrified guitar instrumental workouts, (and what guitar fan doesn’t?) then Matt Rae is essential fretboard listening.

MOONJUNE RECORDS / GUDARI RECORDS - Is there anything new in the jazz-rock fusion world? Well considering that everything old is new again, there are some great groups paying homage to the ground breaking instrumental art rock / fusion music of the 1970s and you can count guitarist Belado on that list. The Uruguayan guitarist has formed a kind of modern day jazz fusion supergroup called The Avengers and they’ve released a CD on Gudari Records that’s being promoted through NYC based Moonjune Records. Guitarist Belado is very much coming from the Allan Holdsworth school of jazz-rock fusion and he gets solid backup from his Avengers band mates including Adam Holzman (keyboards), Lincoln Goines (bass) and Kim Plainfield (drums). If you like your guitar fusion played with a wink and a nod to the great jazz rockers of the past as well as having one foot in the genre’s future, then The Avengers are right for you.

For his 2013 CD release, The Sky There’ll Always Be, Italian guitarist / composer Marco Iacobini is joined by some esteemed jazz-rock fusion musicians including Tony Levin, Billy Sheehan, Stu Hamm, Carl Verheyen, Dave Weckl and more. Members of Marco’s core band, including keyboardist Stefano Sastro, are also featured on this outstanding CD. Even with inviting such well regarded fusion names on his CD, the main focus is still on Marco and his daredevil electric guitar pyrotechnics. While the majority of tracks are full blown instrumental guitar-based fusion workouts, some tracks, such as “Red Sunset On L.A.” and “Sunny Day With You”, the former including Verheyen and Hamm along with drummer Phil Maturano, are filled Iacobini's atmospheric, majestic and quite melodic approaches to 21st century instrumental guitar based fusion. Filled with an impressive range of jazz-rock stylings, The Sky There’ll Always Be is a most impressive step forward in the progressive guitar world of Marco Iacobini. /

MVD AUDIO / SIREENA RECORDS - Arguably, the Germans invented space music, or at least the Kraut-rock version of it. Early synth experimenters probably didn’t plan on bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk putting electronica on the map big time back in the mid 1970s but nevertheless, it’s a genre that’s still quite popular world wide. One artist who made breakthroughs back in the 1970s is back in a big way. Electronic music maven Stephan Kaske and his group Mythos are back in 2013 with a newly recorded studio CD entitled Surround Sound Evolution. If you like Tangerine Dream, Klause Schultz and that style of dark and light electronica, Mythos and specifically Surround Sound Evolution is a great sonic choice. This new Mythos CD sounds great and is even recommended to surround sound systems but in stereo it sounds great too. The packaging is great and the extensive CD booklet sheds light on Mythos and their undiminished long standing reputation in the world of electronica.

MVD AUDIO / TAXI - Fans of instrumental reggae rhythms will enjoy the 2013 MVD CD release by superstars Sly & Robbie entitled Sly & Robbie Present: Stepper Takes The Taxi. The 11 track all instrumental CD is filled with cool reggae grooves and being all instrumental, the CD allows you to enjoy maximum musical downtime. Legends of the Jamaican music scene, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robert Shakespeare have been superstars in the music world since the mid 1970s. Long story short, Sly & Robbie opened their vaults for Guillaume, also known as Stepper, who picked and proceeded to choose classic riddims and mixed in some brand new Jamaican musicians for Stepper’s debut album. In addition to featuring Sly & Robbie, the CD also features a number of other top Jamaican musicians. Basically a mix of new and old sounds combined together, and superbly remixed by dub master Fabwise, Stepper Takes The Taxi is a very cool new CD of instrumental reggae grooves.

OKEH RECORDS / SONY MASTERWORKS - The famous Okeh Records label was actually started back around 1920 and thanks to a 2013 deal with Sony Masterworks, the label is back with some quite interesting new titles. High on the list is a 2013 CD by guitar master Bill Frisell entitled Big Sur. Basically a sonic tribute to the legendary California coastline known as Big Sur, the 19 track all instrumental CD features Frisell and his band in rare form covering a range of guitar based instrumentals spanning jazz fusion, guitar-tronica, soundtracks, neoclassical jazz and more. Backed by a band that includes strings and drummer Rudy Royston, the mood on Big Sur is both progressive and reverential at the same time. Regarding working with his group on Big Sur, the guitarist adds, ‘This quintet feels like family. It’s evident in the way the musicians interact intuitively to shape the music while playing. Hopefully every time we play Big Sur, something new will happen. Frisell’s approach to Americana and all things guitar is well served on the sonically beguiling Big Sur. Eye catching artwork and top production chores from Lee Townsend goes a long way towards making Big Sur a sonic masterpiece.

RAINSTORM RECORDS - The 2013 CD release from Paul Speer, entitled Ax Inferno is a guitar-cetnric masterpiece. With a history of releasing sonically groundbreaking albums, Speer has been a mainstay on the New Age guitar fusion scene since the mid 1980s and, although he can create moody atmospheric instrumental music that does border on cosmic “New Age” music, on Ax Inferno Speer gets back to his rock fusion roots on a CD that echoes the spirit of Jeff Beck and Jan Akkerman. Like Akkerman’s post-Focus classics, Paul Speer makes the most of his programmed guitar-centric synth sounds and combines real drums to create the aura of a full band. Tackling all the guitars, synths and bass work, Speer gets solid support from drummer Ron Krasinski. With the drums recorded in the fabled Ardent studios in Memphis, much of the music was recorded at Speer’s Rainstorm production studios, also in Memphis. Ax Inferno is filled with a range of jazz-rock instrumentals that blend in several tracks, and some are delineated as being a “rock mix” or a “techno mix”, yet Speer’s guitar work has the entire thing under control. Perhaps the key track on the CD is the lead off track entitled “Contents Under Pressure”, one of Speer’s greatest tracks. Atmospheric, electrifying and thoroughly rocked out, Paul Speer’s Ax Inferno is a boldly inventive CD that takes state of the art guitar-based rock fusion instrumentals to a whole new level.

RASTER-NOTON - From the German Raster-Noton label comes Kuopio, the 2012 CD from Finnish avant garde experimentalists Vladislav Delay, a/k/a Sasu Ripatti. Very much entrenched in the sonic electronic realm, the CD is one part music concrete, yet it’s also filled with organic sounds made possible through the use of complex electronic manipulations. With Kuopio, Vladislav Delay takes the progressive avant gard electronic genre one step deeper into the 21 century. Raster-Noton is a pretty adventurous label and they have an even wilder album out from the German artist known as Atom™ entitled HD, that’s so wild that it makes Kuopio sound normal. For fans of wild sounding and quite exotic Teutonic electronica, Raster-Noton is clearly a label to follow.

Among the leading labels of the New Age music scene, Real Music keeps their sonic vision strong with the 2013 CD release of Aqua Essence by Amberfern. Inspired in part by England’s New Forest National Park, Clive Brooks chose the name Amberfern, in praise of the forest woodlands which turn amber colors in the autumn. An organic mix of healing, instrumental music, AquaEssence is built around what Amberfern calls “electronic ecology”, featuring a cross section of piano, synth keyboards, light percussion and guitars, which combines for a veritable garden of sonic delights. Throughout this CD, you can really feel and hear how influenced Amberfern is by the coastline landscape and oceanic environment in which he these days lives and works. Although Amberfern plays Martin D-28 guitars and even a Fender Strat, the guitar sounds never intrude as they are perfectly intertwined into the fabric of sounds that also mixes in Shakuhachi flute, nylon string guitar, Fender Rhodes, fretless bass guitars, synthesizers and what Amberfern calls “ocean waves”. Recorded and mixed along the Southwest coastline of England, Amberfern’s AquaEssence is truly an ocean of serenity and overall, is time well spent when you want to calm down and chill out from the turbulence of the often crazy times we live in.

REAL WORLD MUSIC - A brilliant pianist with awesome chops, Samuel Yirga is one of the bright young stars on Peter Gabriel's Real World records label. Yirga made news with Real World artists Dub Colossus and his new solo CD, entitled Hagere is filled with very cool jazzy, solo instrumental piano music that mixes jazz, Latin and of course traditional music from his native Ethiopia or as he calls it “Ethio-fusion”. Working in a similar way as piano geniuses like Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, Samuel Hagere does amazing things with traditional songs of his country’s roots, rewriting contemporary Ethiopian music for a whole new generation of music lovers. For instance, track 2 entitled “Abet Abet” feature a full band and, with Samuel’s electric piano in the forefront, is instrumental Afro-jazz at its finest. The CD features four tracks that clock just over 30 minutes and the whole CD just flows with a great sense of wild musical freedom. All in all, Hagere is a fine follow-up to Samuel’s 2012 CD entitled Guzo.

REAL WORLD RECORDS - Known as one of the preeminent World Music labels on the planet, Real World is also home to the U.K. group known as Portico Quartet who have released a fine double CD set of their live shows entitled Live / Remix. A 78 minute live CD document of their 2012 tour, Live / Remix also features a second CD of remix tracks put together by some big name producers and DJs including Will Ward, Luke Abbott and others. In 2012 Portico Quartet released their self-titled album and the 2012 tour, now caught on disc, features live versions of tracks from that CD as well as favorites from the band. As far as mixing electro/acoustic “nu-jazz” with ambient electronica and shards of neoclassical soundscapes, Portico Quartet have few peers and the wide scope atmospheres of Live / Remix will surely please long time fans and newcomers to the Portico Quartet phenomenon.

- Roundly praised by music critics and musicians alike, Israeli born / London based drummer Asaf Sirkis keeps the spirit of progressive instrumental jazz-rock fusion alive and well on his 2013 CD entitled Shepherd’s Stories. A trio of electric guitar, bass and drums, The Asaf Sirkis Trio sound harks back to the mid ‘70s when U.K. based groups like Gilgamesh and National Health ruled the progressive instrumental jazz-rock world. On Shepherd’s Stories Asaf’s band clicks and his own drumming—clearly influenced by giants like Bill Bruford and Jack DeJohnette—is both skillful and sensitive. In another Bruford-esque comparison, on Shepherd’s Stories, Asaf’s guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos sounds very much inspired by one time Bruford guitar hand Allan Holdsworth. Shepherd’s Stories takes its place among Asaf’s growing repertoire of highly charged and well recorded jazz-rock fusion albums.

Finland has such an illustrious musical history dating back to the Kalevela and the days of classical music maestro Jean Sibelius. In the first rock era of the 1970's, the late great Pekka Pohjola and Wigwam put Finland on the map big time and in the 21st century a whole new generation of musicians are making a concerted effort to bring progressive Finnish rock music forward. The 2013 CD from the group called Paidarion, their second album entitled Behind The Curtains, is filled with soaring musical soloing and virtuosity. Produced by group drummer Kimmo Pörsti and the rest of the group, the sound of Paidarion borrows from the worlds of progressive rock, jazz and instrumental fusion. The 9 minute, CD closing instrumental “The Final Show” is magnificent and very Pohjola-esque in dynamics and scope, proving that clearly, these musicians can take on any form of music and make it work. Singing the poetry and words of group lyricist Pirkko Salhi, the female vocals of Elina Hautakoski adds a jazzy touch while the guitars of Jaan Jaanson, the 4, 5, and 6 string bass work of Jan-Olof Strandberg and the keyboards of Kimmo Tapanainen adds further detailed sonics to the mix. Like the greatest Finnish prog-rock bands of the past, Paidarion sings in English in a smart move to broaden their international appeal. The production of Behind The Curtains is first rate and the CD packaging and booklet is filled with an abundance of color pictures of the group and complete lyrics.

SEACREST RECORDS - Jan-Olof Strandberg is one of the top bass players in Finland and he steps into the sonic spotlight with the 2012 CD/DVD by his group Strandberg Project entitled Made In Finland. Strandberg gets some rare sonic moods going on the CD which features fellow bass player Michael Manring along with a range of players, including Strandberg’s band mate in Paidarion, drummer and album-co-producer Kimmo Pörstri and a range of other fine musicians. Manring’s contributions on bass merge with Jan-Olof works to make the CD a veritable instrumental jazz fest. In the spirit of jazz greats such as Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report, the sounds of The Strandberg Project is a great chill-out album of instrumental / bass heavy jazz. The DVD half of the 2 disc set features a short (3 tracks) but effective in the studio, instrumental session with Jan-Olaf backed by a fine band including Wigwam cofounder Jukka Gustavson. The chemistry between Jan-Olaf and Gustavson is true sonic revelation for long time fans of Finnish rock. The second half of the DVD features Jan-Olaf with bass ace / Strandberg collaborator Paul Jackson, on stage together backed up by a band and in several interview segments. An all-around winner, Made In Finland covers the many sides of Jan-Olof Strandberg.

SHEER SOUND / 2 FEET / RISA - One of the most popular acoustic finger style guitarists in South Africa, Guy Buttery puts his talent to the test on his first live CD. Entitled Live In KwaZulu, the eleven cut CD is very much in the Michael Hedges school of acoustic guitar wizardy, complete with tapping and percussive rhythms all rendering highly charged atmospheric guitar conditions. Overcoming stage fright and the apprehension of feeling there’s ‘no way to get it just right’, Guy succeeds in swaying the audience his way during a live concert of his one man guitar orchestra act. Guy further adds, ‘When you make music in front of an audience, there’s an energy, certain dynamics, a feel, a collective experience. This isn’t the studio, it’s real.’ Guy has released a number of acclaimed studio albums on CD prior to Live In KwaZulu, yet on Live In KwaZulu, Guy Buttery puts forth a number of reasons why his music should be taken seriously by world wide guitar listeners.

SHOWCASE MUSIC PRODUCTIONS - Back in the early 1980’s guitar pioneer Les Paul began his residency at Fat Tuesday’s jazz club in Manhattan. That tradition moved forward in later years with Les doing his famous Monday nights at the uptown night spot Iridium. On any given Monday, at both Fat Tuesdays and the Iridium, Les and his trio, featuring guitar great Lou Pallo, bassist Nicki Parrott and John Colianni on grand piano, would host and jam with international music superstars while entertaining throngs of devoted fans coming to pay homage to the guitar hero. Les, the great night bird finally flew the coupe and left the world stage for the last time in 2009, but now nearly four years after his passing, Lou Pallo as released a CD/DVD set entitled Thank You Les: A Tribute To Les Paul featuring The Les Paul Trio along with big names like Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, Arlen Roth and daughter Lexie Roth, Jon Paris, Eddie Brigati Jr. (of The Young Rascals) backed up by guitar hero Bucky Pizzarelli, Slash, Jose Feliciano, guitar hero Nokie Edwards of The Ventures, jazz guitar hero Frank Vignola, former Beach Boys singer Blondie Chaplin covering his not so distant relative’s, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and of course Steve Miller, who’s very close relationship to Les is well documented. Of course Miller puts text to internet and has written some good liner notes for the package. In the spirit of the great 2007 DVD release of Les Paul Chasing Sound!, the DVD half of Thank You Les is also filled with classic performances and new interviews with all the above artists as well as Les himself, son Russ Paul and Les Paul insider Tom Doyle. Just watching these great artists remembering Les and offering up fresh performances of classic songs Les has long been associated with just makes you miss Les all the more. The 21 track Thank You Les CD itself is great with its mix of both vocal and instrumental tracks that really offers insights into just how much of an influence Les Paul was, is and will be for decades and the centuries to come. /

SPEC RECORDS - A mainstay on the American East coast, instrumental jazz-rock fusion scene for the better part of the past 15 years, the group known as 4Front don’t release albums very often but when they do it’s worth hearing. Case in point is their long awaited 2013 CD comeback entitled Malice In Wonderland. At the core of 4Front are three excellent musicians—drumming master Joe Bergamini, guitarist / keyboardist Zak Rizvi and bassist Frank LaPlaca. The combination and chemistry of these three players is extraordinary. Having worked together on several 4Front releases over the past 15 years, the chemistry of these three musicians is quite incredible. One of the most underrated and unknown among the finest fusion guitarists on the world stage, Rizvi composed the bulk of the tracks here but Bergamini’s sonic drumming continues to drive the powerhouse sound of 4Front. Since 1993, Bergamini has also played drums in the Rush tribute band known as Power Windows as well as playing in the reformed version of progressive rockers Happy The Man and he continues to bring that same sense of professionalism into 4Front. It’s no wonder Bergamini cites 1970’s bands such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Happy The Man, Rush and Return To Forever with Al DiMeola as big influences. If you enjoy those jazz-rock fusion bands and other world renowned instrumental jazz-rock bands with soaring electric guitars and powerhouse drums you’ll completely enjoy 4Front. Malice In Wonderland is 21st century jazz-rock played to perfection. /

STAX RECORDS - Back in the 1960s, the label name Stax Records meant music gold. Associated with Atlantic Records, Stax put R&B on the charts and one band strongly identified with the label is and was Booker T. & The M.G.’s At the core was the Hammond B3 based groove of Booker T. himself. Together with guitar god Steve Cropper and the late great rhythm section of Duck Dunn and Al Jackson, Booker T. & The M.G.’s literally invented R&B soul pop instrumental music. Kids today have little idea how the powerful Stax sound was ingrained into American youth back then. Following two instrumental albums, one with Neil Young, Booker T. serves up another classic with the 2013 CD release Sound The Alarm. Booker T’s long awaited return to Stax Records, the album features several soulful R&B flavored instrumentals in the realm of his famous band while there’s also a more mainstream pop approach thanks to a group of young lead vocalists, who are probably unknown to Booker’s core of loyalists. Backed by a fine band including guitarist Raphael Saadiq and percussionist / drummer Iz, along with a host of guest artists, including guitarists Gary Clark, Jr. and Booker’s son Ted Jones, Sound The Alarm is a great album that serves as career spanning overview. Back just five years after the CD was first invented, in 1990, Booker T. actually cut an instrumental progressive New Age type album for MCA. The diverse, yet ultimately satisfying Sound The Alarm really shows how far Booker T. has come back in 23 years to reinvent a new form of 21st century R&B.

SUNDAZED MUSIC - Among the coolest and certainly among the earliest of the CD reissue labels to emerge in the mid to late 1980s, Sundazed was founded by musicologist Bob Irwin. In 2013, Sundazed is still going strong (check out the latest Sundazed CD reviews in the reissue section of and Bob continues to evolve, not only as a label honcho but as a musician too. Case in point is a fantastic, 2013 instrumental music CD, on Sundazed, featuring his groups The Pluto Walkers and his other band El Futuro Sonidos, each of which features the same players. Decked out in cool CD (and vinyl) cover art, The Throwaway Age looks (and sounds) like an original motion picture soundtrack (perhaps to the story of our lives!) and features Bob’s inspired electric guitar work backed up by his Pluto Walkers / El Futuro Sonidos band mates, including Chris Fisher (drums), Michael Dunn (organ, moog) and Ed Wasilewski (drums). Over the past 20+ years, Bob and Sundazed have worked with many of the best American guitar greats, including (but not limited to) The Ventures, Davie Allan and Dick Dale, and you can count those same icons as being among the chief influences on The Throwaway Age. Check out The Throwaway Age for the cool cover art that evokes those classic 1960s soundtracks, but get it for the cool sonic guitar grooves in play throughout this essential 13 track instrumental guitar classic.

SUN SEA SKY PRODUCTIONS - In 2013, Illinois based Sun Sea Sky have a great new chill out electronica album entitled Ascent And Exploration by synthesis Northcape. The brainchild of U.K. based Alastair Brown, the 11 track CD is very much rooted in Eno inspired electronica but it is nevertheless fine in its own right. The shoes of Eno are hard to fill but that doesn’t stop experimentalists like Brown and Northcape from furrowing deeper into the crevices of the astral plane. There’s a slight DIY element here, but Sun Sea Sky have done a fine job on the CD. The entire CD is the work of Brown but there are some dialed in twinklings from a host of global buddies from Colorado, Japan and Germany.

ULTIMAE - There’s plenty of dreamy, chill-out atmospherics in play on the 2013 CD from Greek synthesist, Mihalis Aikaterinis, who goes by name Miktek. Released by the premier electronica music label in France, Ultimae Records, the Miktek CD, entitled Elsewhere is filled with the patented, pastoral, down tempo beats fueled instrumental music we've come to expect from Ultimae. Miktek has appeared on several Ultimae compilations but his first full length, high profile album on Ultimae, Elsewhere enables the enterprising electronics wizard to flex his musical muscles and the results are quite beguiling. Hypnotic, atmospheric, ambient, entrancing and other adjectives used to describe Ultimae’s other releases can be equally applied to Miktek. In the spirit of that other great Greek electronic hero, Vangelis, Miktek, with his Elsewhere CD, is poised to make his own mark in the world of atmospheric chill-out electronics.

UNSUNG RECORDS - Over in Deutschland, the group known as ZweiTon are rattling speakers and nerves with their on the edge approach to instrumental progressive rock. In the spirit of major progressive influences such as Markus Reuter, Steve Reich, Zweiton guitarist Alexander Dowerk receives percussive backing from Alexis Paulus on drums and percussion. Dowerk’s brand of “Touch Guitar" sounds influenced by King Crimson stick man Trey Gunn while the musical chemistry the band gets on the CD is truly harrowing stuff. Although the CD was recorded in 2009, it was finally released in 2012 after the music was rearranged by Dowerk in 2010. A fine mix of ambient / experimental, progressive jazz / rock and even some neoclassical, ZweiTon makes a statement all their own on Unsung.

UPSHOT RECORDS - One of the finest acoustic instrumental albums of 2013, Heyday Maker is a most promising first CD from the group Sleeping Bee. Comprised of veteran music makers Andy Goessling (guitars, mandolin, dobro, bouzouki) and Lindsey Horner (acoustic bass, whistles), Sleeping Bee comprises a wealth of musical knowledge, encompassing styles that skillfully draw on folk, Bluegrass, jazz, celtic, soundtracks and more. The seven track Sleeping Bee Heyday Maker CD features a number of memorable originals along with an intriguing cover of a Keith Jarrett composition entitled "Spirits", as well as a haunting, countrified jazzy instrumental cover of the Bob Dylan Nashville Skyline classic “I Threw It All Away”. Also on hand backing Goessling and Horner on the Sleeping Bee CD is percussionist Randy Crafton, while in his February 2013 liner notes for Heyday Maker, Horner cites bass player Jim Gilheany as being an all around force for good that helped get the album recording underway. Commenting on recording the album with Andy Goessling in the CD liner notes, Lindsey Horner adds, ‘We had talked for years about somehow doing something together, pooling our talents and ideas and musical experiences.’ An engaging spin from start to finish, Sleeping Bee’s Heyday Maker is a fascinating acoustic instrumental album that succeeds by crafting a fusion of a number of instrumental music genres into a solid, cohesive whole musical experience.

V-8 RECORDS - Perhaps the beauty of Bob Dylan is that his music could be played so many ways—from the early 1960’s folk sound of Peter Paul & Mary having a hit single with "Blowin' In The Wind", to the Beatle beat of The Byrds scoring a number one in 1965 with "Mr. Tambourine Man" to the jazzy guitar sounds in play on the 2012 album by Denny Freeman. One of the most eclectic electric guitarists in the U.S. today, Freeman tackles the best of Bob Dylan on Diggin’ On Dylan Denny Freeman Plays Songs Of Bob Dylan. On the 16 track CD Denny serves up instrumental versions of classic Dylan, including “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”, “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and many more. The sound is both jazzy and bluesy with a definite respect for Dylan’s folk-rock roots. The instrumental nature of the album gives these Bob Dylan classics a fresh spin around the block and the results are both surprising and musically revealing at the same time. Stripped of the sharp-tongued vocals and esoteric lyrics, Dylan’s music was always more melodic than he was given credit for. On Diggin’ On Dylan, guitar master Denny Freeman sheds fresh light on Bob Dylan—the melodic genius. One of the coolest Dylan tribute albums ever, Denny Freeman's Diggin' On Dylan is essential listening for guitar fans and Bob Dylan fans.

VITAL GESTURE RECORDS - Angst-fueled, hard driving surf meets punk instrumental sounds fill up the grooves on the 2013 CD from The Black Widows. With its mix of 1960s West Coast surf-rock and rich multihued tapestry drawing on a range of instrumental rock, the 19 track CD, entitled Revenge Of The Black Widows is kind of reminiscent of the original look and sound Los Straitjackets brought to the instro scene a decade ago. The Black Widows have a similar look, this time with some evil looking black masks over their faces. But make no mistake about it, these guys may like to have fun, but their playing is deadly serious. With Count Funkula and Dr. Vibe calling the guitar shots, they’re backed up by The Executioner and Pharoah Malo on drums and bass, The Black Widows are truly all instrumental, all original and all evil. For those who can’t get enough of their progressive instrumental surf-punk sounds, The Black Widows also have a 17 track, 38 minute CD entitled Live On KXLU, featuring the band playing live on the air for a live radio broadcast.

WHALING CITY SOUND - A legend of the international jazz scene, saxophone great Dave Liebman has played alongside jazz giants such as Miles Davis and Chick Corea. After years of acclaimed solo albums, Dave is back, this time on Whaling City Sound with a CD of new recordings entitled Lineage: Rock And Pop Classics Revisited. Released by Dave Liebman and drummer Michael Stephans, the ten track, all instrumental CD, also features key performances from jazz favorites, such as long time Liebman fretboard man guitarist Vic Juris, appearing here on both electric and acoustic guitars. The CD features covers of pop songs redone as jazz workouts including Beatles favorites, “Here There And Everywhere” and “Eleanor Rigby”, as well as “Woodstock”, “Wipe Out”, “Walk, Don’t Run” and a whole lot more. According the Liebman, ‘This recording is a look back, but cast in the sound of today.’ Performed with a sense of reverence, while also taking musical liberties and breaking new sonic ground for jazz, Lineage is a fine and fun brew of pop meets jazz and is a most appealing disc for long time Liebman devotees.


AUDIO FIDELITY - The concept of mastering an album or recording for CD is becoming a lost art form as people accept lower standards of audio excellence. Perhaps it’s that listening to mp3 files on computer speakers is considered efficient by today’s youth. Maybe it’s that Sony, the company that basically invented the CD, hasn’t improved on their CD players since their early 1990s ES series of players and besides, who has one thousand dollars to spend on a CD player alone these days? When reminiscing about the sonic wizardry of that final decade of the 20th century, the names Herb Belkin and Marshall Blonstein come to mind. The sadly departed Belkin and his Mobile Fidelity perfected CD sound. A most worthy competitor of Belkin, Marshall Blonstein kept his company DCC alive and well, releasing critically acclaimed gold CDs for much of the decade before changing the DCC name to Audio Fidelity during the first decade of the 21st century. Using the talents of America's finest CD mastering engineers including Steve Hoffman, Blonstein and Audio Fidelity continues releasing CD remasters of rock classics on both 24k gold disc and SACD. Audio Fidelity’s 2013 SACD of the 1977 YES favorite Going For The One is sonically beyond reproach. When played on Sony’s ES69 series CD player from 1992 you can really hear some wondrous sounds indeed. Like a timeless sonic painting, Going For The One continues on in fine form on this excellent sounding Audio Fidelity SACD remaster. Folk-rock pioneers The Byrds are also paid a fine sonic salute by Audio Fidelity on a 24k Gold CD showcasing a mono mix of their early 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday. Audio Fidelity’s mono mix version of the original 11 track Younger Than Yesterday is clearly the best way to hear this early folk-rock music classic. Liner notes and track by track notes from the 1996 CD release on Columbia Legacy are reproduced along with colorful images of The Byrds from that eventful late 1967 period.

- Beat Goes On Records, also known as BGO Records continues to prime the music vaults for classic remasters and after several successes with 1970s prog-rock trendsetters Gentle Giant, they put the icing on the cake with a double CD pairing of the band’s two best albums. Back in early 1972, Three Friends was the album that introduced Giant to American ears. Amazing that Polydor’s U.K. label, Vertigo Records couldn't do anything with Gentle Giant and only when Columbia started promoting Three Friends did they take off in America. Three Friends (early 1972) and the follow up, Octopus (late 1972) cemented their reputation as prog-rock innovators. Both albums feature an instrumental track that really shows how versatile Gentle Giant was back in 1972. From Three Friends, the instrumental “Prologue” set the tone for what was to come and for its time was as adventurous as anything recorded by Tull or YES for that matter. BGO’s remaster of both albums as a double CD set is topped off with 2013 liner notes by Neil Daniels, while also featuring complete lyrics and original album art. BGO also steps out with their first ever CD release from 1960s pop stars Tommy James And The Shondells. BGO’s 2013 double CD set from Tommy James pairs the first ever album from the group, Hanky Panky (from 1966) with It’s Only Love (from 1967) with the second CD featuring the entire 12 track album from 1968 I Think We’re Alone Now. “Hanky Panky”, the song was written by the team of Barry / Greenwich back in 1963, yet Tommy James And The Shondells struck gold and took that song to number one back in the summer of 1966, thus beginning their long streak of top ten hits. This 2013 BGO reissues features the stereo mixes of all three albums and the sound is clear and crisp. Scottish folk hippies, The Incredible String Band are remembered with a 2013 BGO remaster of their 1974 album Hard Rope & Silken Twine. Featuring founding members Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, the album was their last for Island records and is capped off by the 20 minute long final track “Ithkos” which features some scathing electric guitar licks and pastoral strings. 2012 liner notes written by John O’Regan takes you back to 1974. California psychedelic rockers turned country rockers, Mad River are recalled on a 2 albums on 1 CD reissue on BGO, pairing the self-titled Mad River with Paradise Bar And Grill—their two albums released on Capitol Records in 1968 and 1969. Country rockers Clover are also remembered on a double CD set, pairing two late 1970s albums—Unavailable (1977) and Love On The Wire (1978)—originally released on Vertigo Records. A kind of 10cc meets The Doobie Brothers effect established Clover with a legion of fans. BGO continues on with more reissue albums by American country rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, including a 2013, 23 track CD release of The Return Of Rock (1965) with Soul My Way (1968). Like each and every BGO release, all of these albums features original album artwork, plus historic liner notes.

- After his groundbreaking collaboration with Pekka Pohjola in 1976, and just following touring the world with Pekka featured in his band, on the Exposed tour of 1979, Oldfield turned his attention to catchy, shorter pop based tracks that manifested in his all time masterwork QE2 in early 1981. That post-Beatles era of the early 1980s yielded some major hits for Mike and some of those tracks are dusted off on a 2013 CD entitled Tubular Beats. Released by Eagle, through German label Edel, the CD tries to cash in on Oldfield’s earlier works, which are given snazzy, trendy ear candy beats and disco rhythms. The songs are so good that it, dare I say it, works, just about. One new song is here, entitled “Never Too Far”, is a vocal track featuring Finnish singer Tarja Turunen. Oldfield has done a fairly credible job remixing these tracks with German producer Torsten “York” Stenzel, but one would hope a label of Eagle’s stature would consider a new album from Mike and not merely fall back on Teutonic remixes of early Oldfield classics. I hope younger listeners who hear this album don’t get the wrong idea about Oldfield. Between 1976 and 1983 Mike was at his artistic peak, unstoppable, as both guitarist and composer, and that is not the music on this disco remix CD.

/ MPL - After ending the war in Vietnam and finally clearing up his immigration problems, as a result of years of persecution from the Nixon administration, John Lennon by the Fall of 1975 was finally taking a well deserved rest to reunite with his wife and raise his family. Not so for Paul McCartney, who during 1975 and 1976 had single-handedly brought the sounds of The Beatles, in the guise of Wings, to sports arenas and stadiums across the planet. That wasn’t Paul’s original idea of Wings as a grassroots band turning up at college student centers, offering nearly free concerts for the kids of England. The results of Paul’s incredibly hard work between 1974 and 1975 can finally be seen on the first ever DVD release of Rockshow, a concert movie featuring Paul McCartney & Wings. Dedicated to Paul’s late, great wife, Linda McCartney and Wings guitarist, the late, great Jimmy McCulloch, the 139 minute Rockshow DVD is a most impressive movie of sorts featuring a Wings concert, mostly filmed at the 67,000 strong Kingdome in Seattle Washington. Of course, the Wings Over America triple LP set was released back in 1976, but the movie / companion of the album, Rockshow is something else altogether. If anything, Rockshow more than vindicates and basically legitimizes the then looked at excesses of the triple LP set, WOA. McCartney’s band, with Linda and Jimmy, and also including Moody Blues co-founder Denny Laine and drummer Joe English was really cooking that night in Washington. 37 years later, Rockshow is being released in a number of formats with a variety of bells and whistles, all of which should be of interest to Wings fans, depending on the amount you want to invest, but for all intents and purposes, the single DVD edition of Rockshow should more than suffice. There is however, an edition of the DVD with a second DVD featuring the TV special entitled Wings Over The World. Expertly restored from the original 35 mm film and now with restored and remastered sound, including a 5.1 mix, the 2013 Eagle Vision / MPL Rockshow DVD is a solid investment for McCartney, Wings and Beatles fans.

- One of the great U.K. reissue CD labels in 2013, Esoteric finally got around to reissuing the very first solo album by the late great John "Speedy" Keen. The 1973 album might not have scaled the heights of his previous work as the drummer, songwriter and singer with Thunderclap Newman, yet featuring guitar genius, the late great Wings guitarist, Jimmy McCulloch and other great players, Previous Convictions is right up there with the best of 1973. Introduced to rock fans by Pete Townshend of The Who, Speedy Keen died tragically in March of 2002, just two months before John Entwistle in June 2002. Talk about coincidence, Speedy and The Ox gone within days of each other, although Speedy's death was kept a secret for the most part and hardly mentioned in any Who related news. Funny that in the excellent liner notes of Previous Convictions, written by Sid Smith, Speedy was actually working on his third solo album when he passed. Forty years after its original release on black vinyl by Track Records, Previous Convictions is well worth the time to hear by anyone who ever enjoyed Speedy’s great mega-hit from the summer of 1969, “Something In The Air”. As in the case of Previous Convictions, Speedy’s second and final solo album from 1976, entitled Y’Know What I Mean was an equally rocked-out affair. As indicated in the liner notes by Sid Smith, Y’Know What I Mean was supposed to be a double album but the harsh realities of the musical world proved too much for the brilliant yet esoteric Keen. Y’Know What I Mean also features the complete lyrics, missing in the booklet for Previous Convictions, yet the sound of both Esoteric remasters is excellent and adds a unique chapter to the label’s ongoing restoration of amazing English rock legends.

- Coming to the attention of many music listeners for the first time in the late 1970s, U.K. guitarist Allan Holdsworth joined YES founder Bill Bruford back then for the short lived yet highly influential Bruford band. Always ready to test the limits of sonically applied electric guitar theories, Holdsworth has released a number of solo albums before, during and after Bruford’s band, including an often overlooked solo effort from 2001 called FLATTire (correct spelling). Subtitled Music From A Non-Existent Movie, the FLATTire album was sort of an atmospheric guitar-esque soundtrack type affair featuring Holdsworth alone and unaccompanied in the studio performing his famous SynthAxe instrument. Full of daredevil, Holdsworth-ian guitar runs, sonic chord swells, bass lines and triggered drum patches, the CD FLATTire might have been overlooked back in 2001, but listeners who missed it before will be able to enjoy it again thanks to Moonjune’s 2013 CD remaster of FLATTire, complete with new remastering and revealing liner notes written by Guitar Player magazine’s Barry Cleveland. In the CD liner notes, Holdsworth claims, ‘I might even record a sequel down the road using really cool synths and call it something like FLATTire II, Scenes From More Non-Existent Movies.’ While Holdsworth promises to finish up his new album first, guitar fans are recommended to give another listen to Allan Holdsworth’s overlooked gem FLATTire.

/ HEAR MUSIC / CONCORD LABEL GROUP - Beatles and Wings fans can predict great things coming out of Concord’s ongoing Paul McCartney and Wings reissue / remaster series, which looks like it’s becoming chronologically based (so then where's Wild Life already?). So that means they’ll get to Press To Play in a few years! Timed to coincide with Eagle Vision’s DVD remaster of Rockshow comes the Summer 2013 double CD reissue of Wings Over America released by MPL / Concord. The title Rockshow of course is named for the lead off song from the 1975 Wings album Venus And Mars, which is covered prominently with live versions on Wings Over America. So if you enjoyed Venus And Mars, and its follow up, Wings At The Speed Of Sound then Wings Over America (basically the album soundtrack for Rockshow) is for you as those two albums are central to Wings Over America. No fancy packaging on the basic Wings Over America two CD version which consists of the original album art (no poster though), inserts and a cool sticker with the track lineups, which adheres nicely to the back of the CD packaging. The sound of the original 1976 WOA 3Lp set (and late 1980s EMI CD reissue) is cleaned up for this 2013 CD. McCartney’s band back then, more or less taken for granted at the time, was a veritable supergroup featurng wife Linda McCartney, Moody Blues singer / lyricist Denny Laine and late great Thunderclap Newman guitarist Jimmy McCulloch with (where is he now?) drummer Joe English. The 2013 MPL/Concord remaster of Wings Over America is the perfect setup for what’s coming next: A presumably late 2013 reissue of both Venus And Mars and Wings At The Speed Of Sound.

/ METAL MIND - Back during the heyday of mid to late 1970s progressive rock (a/k/a “Eurock”) one group from Poland stood out from the pack. That band, simply known as SBB featured a wealth of musical ideas in their mix and it didn’t even matter that the group sung their lyrics in Polish and sometimes English. The group’s spearhead and lead singer Józef Skrzek has remained an SBB mainstay and thanks to Music Video Distributors bringing their music Stateside, SBB are making new inroads with some recent remasters of their earlier albums. Released on Poland’s Metal Mind Records, and now distributed by MVD, the double CD release of Iron Curtain / Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem captures Skrzek and company in rare form. Wildly inventive instrumental passages mix nicely with vocals, mostly sung in Polish. Iron Curtain is relatively recent, from 2009, while Memento was released in 1980, the last album SBB would make for 20 years. Also out on MVD by SBB is a double CD release pairing Nastroje / Ze Slowem Biegne Do Ciebie. Nastroje was released in 2002 and also features Pat Metheny drummer Paul Wertico while Ze Slowem, their studio album was released in 1977. SBB combines a rare mix of prog-rock and jazzy psychedelia making their music a must for fans of European style progressive music. Also out on MVD / Metal Mind are two double CD sets from Polish prog-rockers Satellite including a double CD set pairing Evening Games (2004) with Nostalgia (2009) and a double CD set pairing A Street Between Sunrise And Sunset (2005) with Into The Night (2003). The Polish fascination with prog-rock continues with the MVD / Metal Mind reissue of albums from the group Collage, including a double CD remaster of Changes (1995) and Moonshine (1994) and another double CD pairing Basnie (from 1990) with Safe (from 1996). Even though they sing in Polish (interchanging English vocals at times), like the wildly adventurous SBB, both Satellite and Collage are nevertheless recommended to fans of Marillion and King Crimson. All the above titles are well packaged and come with detailed liner notes (in Polish and English) and excellent artwork and photos. These Metal Mind remasters proves that progressive rock (no matter in what language) remains an international phenomenon.

/ GONZO MULTIMEDIA - Jan Akkerman was one of the great guitarists to come out of Europe in the early 1970s. With his group Focus, Akkerman blazed new trails for a new genre of art rock fusion coming out of Holland at the time. The CD / DVD two disc set, entitled A Touch Of Class was reissued, pairing the DVD with a live CD of selected tracks from the DVD. The DVD features a couple of live shows with Akkerman and his band from London in December 1983 and Holland in 1984. Thirty years later, these performances portray Akkerman as a visionary guitarist always breaking down walls for the electric guitar. There are also several great vintage Focus clips with Akkerman playing his big hits, “Sylvia” and “Hocus Pocus”, which is interspersed with the live band as well as other interview clips of Akkerman discussing (in English) his love of English lute music with added lute performance clips. The CD features 40+ minutes from the DVD. Clocking in at 140 minutes, this CD/DVD set is a solid investment for Akkerman fans.

- Released in the Spring of 2013, the CD/DVD release of Conspiracy Live takes a look at the 2003 Conspiracy era. Featuring both producer / guitarist Billy Sherwood together with founding YES bassist Chris Squire, Conspiracy was a short lived yet highly memorable period from 2000 to 2003 when their only two albums were released. Thankfully, just after the second Conspiracy CD, The Unknown, was released in 2003 by Inside Out, Sherwood was able to document live performances from March 2004 with tracks from the two Conspiracy albums and Squire’s Fish Out Of Water, that are again featured on a newly repackaged DVD paired with a CD soundtrack of the DVD on this Purple Pyramid 2 disc set. In addition to featuring Billy and Chris, this Conspiracy Live retrospective is a close up, live in the studio performance by the classic Conspiracy lineup with Chris and Billy, Billy’s brother Michael Sherwood and Scott Walton who round out the sound stage with some excellent keyboards, while Jay Schellen’s drumming as usual has a crisp Alan White inspired feel. The nature of the CD half of the DVD is that it has a bright feel, yet very much live so the performance remains first rate throughout. Cool cover art and fleeting, tenth anniversary liner notes add some visual zing to this newly designed pairing of a CD of music with the original 2004 DVD documentary.

- Going back to his roots, even before Buffalo Springfield, Carry On features 4 CDs covering 5 hours of music by Stephen Stills. The Springfield, CSN, CSN&Y, Stephen Stills & Jimi Hendrix are all featured. The track made with Jimi, entitled “No-Name Jam” is great and for completists maybe worth the cost of the box alone. Interestingly, the box set was produced by Graham Nash, and also comes with a 113 page booklet. Spanning the years when he was 17 and living in Costa Rica, all the way through 2012 when CSN closed their tour out with a live “Girl From The North Country”, performed live at the Beacon Theater, Carry On features all things Stephen Stills and much more. Also on Rhino is a three CD set of the 1975 Fleetwood Mac classic entitled Rumours. Of course Bill Clinton made that album even more money thanks to “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” which you can now hear again on the 2013 expanded version of Rumours. Filling in the spaces is a CD of the original 1977 album, a second CD of live recordings from their 1977 tour and a third CD featuring 16 unreleased out takes from the recordings. For the completist there’s a 4 disc version pairing the CD titles with a DVD documentary of the band during their 1977 tour entitled The Rosebud Tour. All in all a good example of the sheer money making power of corporate rock, yet Rhino does a fine job on these latter day rock artifacts.

- High on the list of 2013 CD reissues is Along Comes Tandyn by the now late great songwriter Tandyn Almer. Most famous for his composition “Along Comes Mary”, made into a top 10 hit by The Association in 1966, Tandyn was a fixture on the L.A. pop scene during its heyday, 1966 to 1972. Along the way, he wrote a recorded a demo album of various tracks, 15 of which are compiled on this Sundazed CD and Lp. Much of Along Comes Tandyn (featuring Almer’s songs and vocals together with a backing group) sounds derivative of the great music that was coming out of L.A. during the mid 1960s to early 1970s, yet there’s enough here to fully investigate the Almer sound that turned the pop world on its head with “Along Comes Mary”. “Sunset Strip Soliloquy” indeed. At the same time that Sundazed reissue their Tandyn Almer CD/Lp, they also have an excellent compilation from then L.A. based singer-songwriter Michael Fennelly. The 24 track CD, entitled Love Can Change Everything: Demos 1967 - 1972 features a number of tracks from Fennelly’s private archive. The first half of the CD is a compositional revelation that looks back at the period when Fennelly was a member of The Millennium while the second half of the 24 track CD features demo recordings of Fennelly’s work, some of which were later perfected by Fennelly’s most acclaimed band Crabby Appleton, a band that became a staple on FM radio for a brief period circa 1970. For fans of that adventurous / artistic late 1960s pop scene in and around the L.A. area, both of these album look backs with Tandyn Almer and Michael Fennelly are essential listening.

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