Record Label
and Music Spotlight









APE - Signed to the Andy Partridge owned Ape imprint, Irish rockers Pugwash—featuring singer-songwriter Thomas Walsh and friends—are represented on a cool cross-section CD of earlier tracks entitled Giddy. There’s some cool Sgt. Pepper era rock flourishes while the ‘60s mellotron effects conjure up a modern Odessey And Oracle type Zombies sound. Funny how the group’s MySpace site numbers influences like The Idle Race, The Grays and The’s telling. Plenty of neatly produced Badfinger inspired / McCartney-esque pop with ample does of heady ‘60s pop paraphernalia, Pugwash fit in well with the Partridge / XTC type pop sound and pop fans are well advised to give this 13 cut best of Pugwash a close listen.

BLOMLJUD RECORDS - Scandinavia has a pretty impeccable record when it comes to progressive rock and pop as it was a key country during the genesis of prog-rock back on the continent back in the early ‘70s. Now in 2010, 30 years after the end of the ‘70s now, prog continues to grow in Sweden with a whole new generation of musicians, over the past ten or fifteen years. One band carrying on the tradition of the ‘70s with a vital infusion of post-prog rock in 2010 is Moon Safari. In the spirit of Swedish guitarist Roine Stolt and The Flower Kings, and looking back from great European bands of the ‘70s like Dutch prog-rockers Kayak, the second Moon Safari album, a double CD set entitled Blomljud is just the ticket to take the band’s sound far and wide. Prog mavens at The Laser’s Edge in New Jersey rightly described the Moon Safari sound as a cross between recent Swedish proggers like The Flower Kings with a touch of late ‘90s Yes and a penchant for Brian Wilson’s wall of sound vocal harmonies. The first Moon Safari album, A Doorway To Summer was recorded in wake of the band’s formation in 2003 but their 2009 double CD set, Blomljud is really something to behold. With all the music written by the group, the group’s four part harmony sound truly sets them apart from many other prog-rock groups and in the spirit of prog icon Jon Anderson of Yes, the Moon Safari sound is really upbeat. With long extended tracks, with some that run over twenty minutes, much of the Moon Safari music is written by the group’s lead vocalists Simon Åkesson (keyboards) and Petter Sandström yet there’s plenty of key contributions from Anthon Johansson (guitars), Johan Westerlund (bass) and Tobias Lungdren (drums). Clearly a growing band with much talent, Moon Safari continues to hone in on their song writing skills and let’s hope they develop even stronger melodies for their big breakthrough release.

BLUE DUCHESS RECORDS - In 2009, guitarist Duke Robillard released Stomp The Blues Tonight! on the Stony Plain label, based up in Canada. In 2010 Stony is once again set to release a new CD of contemporary original blues from Duke but in between times, Robillard fans can enjoy a freshly minted 2010 CD from Duke and singer Sunny Crownover—with acoustic bass ace Marty Ballou and others including percussionist Mark Teixeira—called Tales From The Tiki Lounge. Released on the Blue Duchess label, the 17 cut CD is a super, jazzy guitar/vocal tribute to guitarist Les Paul and the great Mary Ford. After living 94 years, in 2009 Les decided that's all folks, and God took him home to heaven. The truly tough start to Capricorn's reign for the next 15 years, 2009 witnessed so many great American heroes passing away. With Duke’s guitar sound approaching the greatness that Les brought to the pop and jazz world, the Tales CD is filled with fresh covers of pop standards from the ‘40s and ‘50s. And speaking of the genius that is Les Paul, Sunny’s vocals here are greatly influenced by the great Mary Ford—the singer who partnered with Les on so many great albums from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Commenting on recording the Les Paul inspired Tales From The Tiki Lounge, Duke adds, ‘With the recent passing of Les it is all the more reason to make this CD a tribute to the man who single-handedly changed the sound of the guitar, popular music and recording techniques forever. I have been influenced greatly by Les’ style.’ Duke’s sparkling original guitar style and innovative approach in the recording studio, coupled with Sunny’s splendid Mary Ford vocal sound makes Tales From The Tiki Lounge—not only the first great apres-Les influenced tribute, but a timeless musical statement in it’s own right. Decked out in superb '50 exotica cover art, the CD’s detailed booklet is filled with fresh insights from Duke and Sunny on the making of this CD, +plus loads of guitar info while working in some fitting words of tribute about the much missed Les Paul.

- An illustrious name in the jazz world, Blue Note Records has gained much acclaim this past decade for their multifarious pop product including wildly successful releases from Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Norah Jones as well as Blue Note’s releases from the always brilliant Bird & The Bee. Right up that street is the acclaimed first CD from PA. bred and L.A. based singer Priscilla Ahn, who released her CD debut all the way back in 2008. Falling somewhere between lounge jazz sound of Norah and the more pop based, groovy ‘60s appeal of the Bird & Bee sound, the eleven cut CD, A Good Day has all the attributes you’d hope for in an auspicious pop debut; memorable songs, a smooth as silk voice and top production and players, respectively in this case the production of drummer / producer Joey Waronker and multi-instrumentalist Gus Seyffert (who co-wrote the CD centerpiece called “Astronaut”) as well as significant contributions from keyboardist / and Bird & The Bee founder Greg Kurstin, guitarist / film composer Mike Andrews and much more, even though the real key to A Good Day is Ms. Ahn’s sweetly seductive vocal characteristics.

- To my amazement I found out there’s a rock group called Donovan’s Brain living and recording in the far flung regions of Montana. For a kid who grew up on Long Island, Montana was always this high prairie land way up in the northern hinterlands and for the record, there’s five times more people in Brooklyn alone than in the whole state of Montana! So anyway, these guys, Donovan’s Brain actually have a new CD, which is named after no less than one of my favorite Procol Harum songs from their 1973 Grand Hotel album. When queried about the title Fires Which Burn Brightly and this met a physical coincidence, group cofounder Ron Sanchez claims, ‘The album title just popped into my head. It suited what we were doing. I know the Procol song, but I wasn't thinking about it at the time. I figured some people would connect those dots and that's fine by me. Just after we started work on the record, my old dad died. “Wooden Horse” is about my dad. He built an insane working model carousal, and just managed to finish it before he left us. If you've gone to the Donovan's Brain site, there is a vid I did for the songs. It'll explain a lot. The idea of burning bright and lighting the way for me was probably how I saw it. Then I realized a few songs were about good (and bad) things that shined brightly and then have been lost... “High Street Hit Man” is about the end of record shops as we knew them, and as it was something I was deeply involved in. Colter and Bob Sutliff also did time behind the counter. It just seemed to all tie together under that title. You gotta call it something.’ Clearly Ron and company have their collective ‘Brain in the right place although. I love that song and I’m starting down the road towards loving this CD! That said, there's a definite link in prog lingo between both Procol’s and the ‘Brains’ groundbreaking approach. Sanchez excels on guitar and is joined by his long time Donovan’s Brain accomplices including long time cohort Colter Langan and Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek. Bobby Sutliff of The Windbreakers is here, as is Flaming Groovies leader Roy Loney, who cameos. The music is simply amazing and through the miracle of the net you can hear some great samples and read all about the band’s back catalog and their fascinating group history. Okay now what about that Donovan Leitch connection? Donovan would love this CD I’m sure. Ron puts it this way adding, ‘The Donovan connection is only coincidental, but that's fine by me. Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow were two very important albums in my life.’ Donovan will no doubt be flattered (seriously) that someone makes music that is not only inspired by his music, but also his brain! Now...okay, (uh) I swear I will get my lazy New York ass to Montana one day. Montana?! Yeah right! Ron, please explain this to a jaded, native New Yorker: ‘Montana is mighty nice. I think it was good for me in a lot of ways. I was pretty burned out when I left California. It took a while for me to slow down and really enjoy where I live. We were just out at the Buffalo Jump, where the natives use to chase buffs off a cliff for efficient harvesting. As we were getting ready to head back down, we had a bald eagle fly about ten feet above us, just hovering on the wind. That is something that can truly be called awesome. I just laugh sometimes when I realize this is a place most people have to make an effort to visit, maybe just once. I think we were in Yellowstone at least five times last year. The last time was for a big bicycle ride through the park. The ride today was just stunning.’

- The gold standard in country and western pop for 25+ years, John Anderson keeps it real on his 2009 album Bigger Hands. Using an A-list group of backing musicians, Anderson’s real life country sound may be really up close and personal yet with layered in the studio with some fine playing, it also rocks. Commenting on having put together such a tight lineup of players with Bigger Hands producer James Stroud, Anderson adds, ‘All of these guys basically are old friends, so that just makes it extra good. I give an awful lot of the credit to the musicians, and it's one of the highlights of my life to go into the studio with guys that play on that level.’ There’s some excellent guitar work on the CD—from Brent Mason (electric), Biff Watson, Chip Martin (acoustic) and Paul Franklin, Scotty Sanders (steel guitars)—but Anderson’s deep baritone vocals and heartfelt, ‘send ‘em home smiling’ country rockers keeps him in command throughout. A good example of Anderson’s countrified rock edge can be heard on “Shorty’s Long Gone”, a rave up rocker co-written by none other than Grand Funk Railroad founder, guitarist / singer Mark Farner.

/ INTACT RECORDS - Eagle continues on in style—not only with their archive DVD series—but also with a select bunch of new album releases. High on the list of late 2009 CDs of new music from Eagle is Less Is More from U.K. prog-rockers Marillion. Although best known in the past for their huge rock productions, Less Is More is described as an acoustic, in the studio, re-creation of eleven classic tracks from their past catalog. In addition to the eleven studio tracks, the CD also features a pair of CD closing live cuts. Featuring lead singer Steve Hogarth since 1988, the band also still features Steve Rothery (guitars), Mark Kelly (keys), Pete Trewavas (bass) and Ian Mosley (drums), Marillion may still be an acquired taste yet there’s not denying the band’s huge following that still considers them ‘an enduring and undervalued treasure.’ The CD is very nicely packaged with loads of b&w pics and complete lyrics. In addition to releasing Less Is More at the end of 2009, Eagle also has a new CD set for release in January 2010 from Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery’s side project, called Wishing Tree.

- The 2009 CD release of Is And Always Was is a way cool project pairing the music and vocals of singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston and pop pundit, turned pop record producer Jason Falkner. Kind of picking up from Fear era John Cale and even ‘60s pioneers like Monkees' guitarist / songwriter Mike Nesmith, Johnson has penned some great upbeat cuts and is in rare form on his latest album release on his Yip Eye Tunes label. Enhanced by that wild and crazy CD cover art, Johnston sounds like a man possessed by a rare pop spirit. In the spirit of Paul McCartney’s masterful ability to A&R records and extract sound and vision out of a number of gifted artists, Falkner has truly progressed to the cutting edge underground sound of pop in the 21st century. From a production standpoint, Jason's ability to get the right rock mood and beat out of a pop cult hero like Daniel Johnston is well represented with the release of Is And Always Was. When told Jason how cool the CD was he replied via e-mail (and I quote:) “It was a blast making that record and I'm thrilled by the positive reaction it's received!”

- I guess I’m too jaded to care much about Christmas albums. Being Jewish didn’t help but whenever I kvetch about my being born a Brooklyn-ite, I always remember that the song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin, a true hall of fame jew! Anyway if I had to pick one CD of Christmas related music to write about, it would be Have A Twilley Christmas by American pop treasurer Dwight Twilley. Sure, the Have A Twilley Christmas EP came out a few years back in 2006 or so? Anyway, Dwight has revamped that Xmas EP with a bunch of extra tracks and remixes. Presented here in three different mixes is Dwight’s brilliant “Christmas With The Martians” including the original mix, a remix and extended version. Of course, true to form the CD is brilliant, mixing equal parts Twilley, Beatles and Phil Spector. If anything, Have A Twilley Christmas is a stunning follow up to Dwight’s 2005 47 Moons album. Dwight’s band—including long time guitarist Bill Pitcock IV—is with him all the way on these glistening, secular fun loving pop tracks that evoke the care free Christmas spirit better than any religious proselytizing could ever do. Speaking of Dwight, his Beatles covers album series continues on with two new CD collections. Although they’re both called Dwight Twilley - The Beatles, the one subtitled 'Deluxe Edition' features additional Twilley covers of White Album era Beatles such as “Yer Blues,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Dear Prudence” and more. Apparently, Dwight has improved his recording sound on the newly recorded cuts. Cool cover art with the standard 14 track CD features a spoof of the Magical Mystery Tour cover art while the 19 cut Deluxe CD spoofs the White Album art including that poster art insert. For those keeping score, Twilley is up to his seventh installment of his Dwight Twilley Rarities series. Gigatone founder Mitch Koulouris penned liner notes for this seventh edition of unreleased rarities from Twilley’s vast pop archive vault.

- The world's going crazy and nobody gives a damn anymore. Those words were actually written by Kinks mainman Ray Davies on the Sleepwalker album back in 1977. I guess, 30+ years later, not much has changed in a world still ruled by fear, war and greed. Perhaps that’s why the healing vibe of New Age music is on track for a major comeback in 2010. One new artist taking the bull by the horns so to speak is U.K. bred, Washington state based Henta. I usually have little faith in the “Grammy” awards given out each year but I was pretty surprised to find out that among the usual suspects, Henta’s 2009 CD, Laserium For The Soul was actually nominated for a grammy, taking place as usual in early 2010. Put simply, Henta’s new CD is a splendid way to relax for an hour or so. Compared to most of the New Age music released today, Henta’s CD features her wondrous singing meshed with her own light electronica accompaniment. Even though that concept isn’t new, perhaps it’s the way Henta has structured her sound that really elevates it and makes the whole thing click. Henta’s 2008 CD, Daisy Dancing was well received but if people get to hear the new Laserium CD, I think it could be a big success. A description of Henta’s sound might be a kind of 21st century Enya—a stellar merging of pop, rock and even some hip beats all fueled by a trance and dance kind of New Age meditation vibe that instills serenity in the listener at every turn. Henta’s You Tube videos are really cool. The CD artwork for the Laserium CD is excellent. Inside, in the liner notes you, can read about healing light and gentle journeys of relaxation and meditation and balancing your energy chakra's. If you’re stressed out and/or bummed out the way this 00 decade of war and recession has turned out, dim the lights, get comfortable and let Henta’s magical music take your weary mind away.

- More and more formerly major label artists are getting into the music business for themselves these days, including pop songstress Carly Simon with her affiliate Iris Records. Carly Simon’s ‘09 CD Never Been Gone features contributions from a number of her Iris Records cohorts including son Benjamin Taylor, who has a fine album out under his own name entitled The Legend Of Kung Folk Part 1 (The Killing Bite). The younger Taylor’s third solo album on Iris, the ten track 33 minute CD encompasses soft rock but further listening reveals a number of well honed sonic moments of joy. It’s amazing just how much Ben sounds like his dad James Taylor in places, vocally and as a songwriter. Just take a listen to track, “Wilderness,” a cut that really echoes back to the breezy rock spirit of the innocence of the ‘70s! Upbeat, steady pop tracks like the brilliant “It’s Only Love” (a Taylor original that shares the same title as the Fab 4 original) pick things up from the more subdued singer-songwriter sound. Quite a few players assist including guitarists Peter Calo and David Saw with fine drumming from Rick Marotta and Larry Ciancia. In addition to the smooth jazzy sound, Taylor adds in some tasty Reggae / dub rhythms (check out “Dangerous Girl”) to his eclectic pop brew on an album that comes on slowly but catches you in the end. Also making waves on Iris Records in 2009 is The Lovely Years featuring singer-songwriter Kathy Fisher who appears here with her band Fisher. More in the spirit of singer-songwriters like Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, than say Ben Taylor or Carly, Fisher is best when she hits an uptempo rocking kind of pop groove. Essentially consisting of Ms. Fisher on vocals, the group sound is bolstered by Ron Wasserman, who—in addition to playing guitar and adding wild keyboard sounds like mellotron—composed much of the music here. Also lending a hand are Iris Records label mates Ben Taylor vocals along with Larry Ciancia adding in his outstanding drum work. Behind much of the Tori Amos singer-songwriter vibes, there’s evidence of some dynamic progressive rock and pop sounds that take the best moments here into the stratosphere. All in all an amazing first album from Fisher.

- Attention pop singers: If you can’t go for the jugular, go for the jangular! That’s exactly what singer-songwriter Scott Warren does on his 2009 CD Quick Fix Bandage. The Missouri born, L.A. based singer songwriter really brings it all back home on his eleven cut CD. Warren’s been compared, in varying degrees, to modern day pop wonders like Wilco and Fountains Of Wayne yet he stakes out some interesting terrain of his own here. Commenting on his manifold influences, Warren states, ‘I’m influenced by songwriters like Bob Dylan and Ray Davies, but at the same time I’m inspired by things happening here and now.’ Featuring Warren on all manners of guitars as well as his singing and songs—with co-production by Warren and Kevin Houlihan—the CD is rounded out by a number of players including a pair of rocking drummers and guitarists Sean Caffey (pedal steel) and Magic Kramer (electric guitar). There’s some way cool dynamics throughout the CD and Warren keeps the sound evenly balanced between style and content. One of many highlights here, track three “Along For The Ride” has some great rock dynamics, searing guitar work and an excellent bridge. Fans of Neil Young should also give Warren a listen as there’s a definite, twangy pedal steel flavored countrified folk-rock vibe situated within Warren’s pure rock framework. A further indication of Warren’s musical sentiments can be heard on his CD closing cover of the America group classic “Sister Golden Hair”, which it’s rumored America founder Gerry Beckley digs!

- Pop maven Jeremy Morris is best known among pop aficionados at just Jeremy and in 2009 he makes his long time fans very happy with the 13 cut Journey To The Center Of The Heart. Backed up by a bunch of solid pop proficient players, Jeremy gets right to the heart of the sunrise here on a fresh batch of toe-tapping pop rockers, with a groovy sound that linger on after the big beat stops. Never a pop hero to disappoint, as usual Jeremy gives it everything he’s got and in addition to the memorable music on hand, the CD booklet and packaging is also first rate, complete with splendid artwork and full lyrics and credits. Journey To The Center Of The Heart takes it’s place in the repertoire of Jeremy’s many acclaimed pop CD releases. In addition to his recording career, Jeremy is also a record label proprietor and his Jam Recordings label is chock full of pop titles that music fans music must give a listen to. High on the list of recording titles available on Jeremy’s pop web site is the 2009 CD from The Tangerines entitled (what else but) In Season. Hailing from the highly musical land of Sweden, Los Tangerines excel at making timeless pop that will sweetly rock you in any season you like. Proof that Sweden is currently one of the the sweed-est places on Earth for pop music, In Season finds Tangerines founders Håkan Eriksson and Per Tolgraven singing up a storm while playing guitars, keyboards and in general, all sorts of studio wizardry. Fittingly, the Tangerines’ website features them praising influences like ELO, The Hollies, 10cc, ABBA and more and they more then live up to their idol dreaming with this grade A pop CD masterpiece. /

- Engineers reinvent the cosmic wheel again with their 2009 CD Three Fact Fader. With their futuristic, computer dominated brutal onslaught of rock, clearly Engineers bring rock alive and well into 2010. Produced by Ken Thomas, the CD spotlights the lineup of Simon Phipps (vocals), Dan Macbean (guitars), Mark Peters (bass) and Sweeny (drums). These guys might not even have been born when early ‘70s bands like Roxy Music and Kraftwerk started out, yet the reincarnation of the genres continues in the DNA of the Engineers. Right from the first beat, the CD is guaranteed to impress over 50 types who dug Bowie circa Low and the kids who were digging the early ethereal ‘shoe gaze’ rock sound of My Bloody Valentine back in 1991. With a wall of studio sound and brilliant packaging and CD artwork, Three Fact Fader turned out to be really typical of the high quality of wide ranging modern rock releases on K Scope.

LEON RUSSELL RECORDS - One among a select group of iconic American musical legends, Leon Russell is also the proprietor of Leon Russell Records. Released in early 2010 on Leon’s label is the debut CD from Leon's daughter Sugaree, entitled The American Dream. Sort of a more trip hop version of Amy Winehouse, Sugaree clearly has her stuff together. Playing all the instruments, writing all the songs and performing all the vocals, Sugaree has appeared in recent years as a member of Leon’s band and and she’s clearly inherited some great skills from her illustrious dad. The recording quality is pretty good as well but the cover art and multi-panel digi-pak artwork and packaging is truly outrageous! Speaking of Leon himself, well I’m sad to say I heard in early January that he was in the hospital. Fans may want to revisit his recent solo work with the 2009 CD release of Leon Russell - The Best Of Hank Wilson. Culled from a series of volumes Leon released under the name Hank Wilson back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and double 00’s, the 22 track CD features Leon covering his favorite songwriters including Lester Flatt, Don Gibson, Sam C. Phillips, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Merle Travis and many more. Really a country singer at heart, Leon sounds at home on this covers tribute as Hank Wilson. Also included on the retrospective are bonus recordings including Leon's very cool CD closing cover of the great, though rarely covered Bevery Hillbillies' theme song “Ballad Of Jed Clampett.”

- More than ever artists and band are turning to MySpace as their web site of choice. One such label, Mad Dragon released a fine pop album from The Swimmers, their second CD called People Are Soft. Lead singer/songwriter Steve Yutzy-Burkey gets fine backing from a bunch of players but all told, the songs are the real stars here. Sounding inspired by legends like the always upbeat B-52’s, and dark geniuses like Syd Barrett and for creative musicianship The Doors, the eleven cut CD features great and pays tribute to the time honored pop tradition with a fresh batch of tracks that move the pop song down the line somewhat. Have fun with The Swimmers.

- Out in L.A., the Meroke Sky label has been releasing a bunch of interesting releases and high on the list is the 2009 CD from R&B / pop great Barry Goldberg entitled Barry Goldberg’s Soul Riot! More a music fest than a soul riot, the emphasis is on pop R&B stylings but a few tracks stand out as future classics including a classic pop-rock barnstormer called “Cold Blank Stare” that is quite reminiscent of Goldberg’s work on Gerry Goffin’s great mid ‘90s comeback. Produced by Mike Giangreco, the Soul Riot! CD features Goldberg’s keyboards backed up by contributions from a wide range of players including guitarists Jack Sherman and Greg Leisz along with drummer Gary Malabar, singer Melanie Herrold who comes across like a modern day Janis Joplin disciple. With the first six cuts recorded in the studio, the second side so to speak features tracks recorded at L.A.’s Cabana Club and I guess that’s where the riot part kicks in. Also live here is a new cover of “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,” written by childhood hero Goffin and Goldberg way back when. With his past credits including work with Dylan, Hendrix, Janis, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and more, Goldberg continues to live up to his credo—born and raised in Chicago, born and raised to play the blues.

- One of the strangest CD releases of 2009 has got to be the latest CD from Madame Pamita’s Wax Works. Featuring the music of singer-songwriter Pam Utterback—bassist with the Neptunas group and the founder of the all-girl Cheap Trick tribute band Cheap Chick—her 13 track CD as Madame Pamita is a veritable throwback to the early wax cylinder recordings of Bessie Smith or any number of vintage blues artists from the 1920’s who specialized in rural blues, old time jug-band and proto-jazz music. As well as performing her music on vintage instruments such as a 115 year old banjo and early 20th century ukulele, Madame Pamita actually recorded these songs onto a wax cylinder using equipment from the 1800’s! Funny thing is, it all works. Give Madame Pamita a listen—you won’t know what century it is after a while! Extra bonus points here for excellent antique packaging—even for a CD—along with assorted surprises and souvenirs packaged with the CD.

In Sweden the word paraply means umbrella. Paraplyet means the umbrella. Just a little Swedish trivia back in the old country! Anyway smart-ass critics aside, the fantastic and gifted Swedes strike more Engelsk (Swedish for English) pop-rock gold with the 2009 CD from Citizen K entitled Meet Citizen K.Subtitled, Somewhere Up North, the sixteen track CD features Citizen K himself, Klas Qvist performing on a number instruments—from guitars through vintage keyboards—while backed up a fine drummer called Kim Gunneriusson and there’s even a trumpet player to add in some impressive Beatle style textures. Qvist is a fine guitarist and his keyboard arsenal—including some ethereal mellotron textures—would impress Beatles protege’s like Jason Falkner. A modern pop masterpiece, the recording is excellent and a true joy to behold from start to finish. Meet Citizen K is further enhanced by brilliant production by Qvist and Mats-Ola Tranella sound that no doubt takes a cue from Brian Wilson’s immaculate work on Smile and Pet Sounds. Fittingly, Klas is also a big fan of recent albums from Brian Wilson and The Wondermints. Isn’t it amazing how guys who were taught to say the words: prata du svenska? (do you speak Swedish?) and tack så mycket (thanks so much) could sing so well in English! Track two, “Same Old Sun” will impress fans of the Fab Four and their Apple label signings Badfinger, a band possibly inspiring the essence of track 2, also called "Badfinger." Pete Ham would have no doubt loved Klas' amazing pop work. Another Qvist influence, Jackson Browne is noticeable not only in the music (kind of, but painlessly!) but also (strangely) on the CD cover art, which basically reinvents Browne’s Saturate Before Using album art with a cool Citizen K twist that takes this CD somewhere up north indeed! Is Meet Citizen K the most perfect pop album since Odessey And Oracle? Buy the great "black vinyl CD edition" and find out!

- The French band Nouvelle Vague is making waves in the US with their 2010 CD called 3. A mix of sixties flavored pop, bossa nova and jazz, the CD is spearheaded by producer / arrangers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux. A revolving cast of female singers adds appeal to the album and a number of guest superstar musicians appear including Ian McCulloch and Terry Hall. There’s an ‘80s tinged Euro flavored pop beat in play and the tunes are pretty infectious with just a trace of upbeat dance groove beats similar to groups like St. Etienne. Sung in English, Nouvelle Vague makes pop music fun again for a new generation of music fans. There’s even a cover of the famous French pop hit “Ca Plane Pour Moi” originally a hit way back in 1977 for Plastic Bertrand.

/ WIENERWORLD / MVD - Handled Stateside by the good folks at MVD, guitarist Jay Tamkin strikes blues-rock gold with the 2009 release of his album Sorted from Jay Tamkin Band. The CD really rocks with a definite blues edge and I’ll be darned if the lead off track “Get In Your Way” doesn’t sound like a younger Peter Frampton. A young blues prodigy at 22, Tamkin espouses that same effervescent approach in both his singing and his guitar work. In his song writing, which is derivative of eclectic inspirations from Frampton to Alvin Lee and Hendrix, Tamkin also cities Walter Trout as an inspiration. There's even a neat Django-style instumental here that sort of indciates Tamkin's jazzier leanings as a guitarist. Tamkin mixes his retro pop approach with a solid blues-rock influence and just in the past two years Tamkin has opened for rock legends like Pat Travers, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack and Spooky Tooth. There’s plenty of Sorted fun here for fans of vintage ‘60s U.K. rock as well as modern blues rock. A bright light for the future, Tamkin is a young guitarist and singer on the upswing.

- On his fifth solo album, and first for the venerable Rounder Records imprint, singer-songwriter and guitarist Sondre Lerche has made an album that’s sure to garner wide spread acclaim among fans in the know and newcomers still learning to pronounce his name. A summation of Lerche’s arrival on the scene at the start of this past decade, the 2009 CD release of Heartbeat Radio is described by Lerche as a ‘generous’ album while he further explains, ‘My last few records were recorded with my backing band, Faces Down, almost live off the floor. And those were a reaction to my first records, which were more studio affairs. On this album, I wanted both; I wanted the physical force and excitement from the live setting and the patience and the endless possibilities of the studio setting.’ So how to describe Sondre’s music? Think a mix of ‘50s and ‘60 cabaret style jazz, McCartney / Brian Wilson style pop-rock, Brazilian bossa-delic all the way to the MTV ‘80s pop icons like Prefab Sprout and others. Another sign post in Lerche’s music is orchestral pop wonders High LLamas and true to form, Heartbeat Radio features a number of swirling strings from High Llamas main man Sean O’Hagan. Backing up Lerche on guitar and vocals and Kato Ådland on bass, guitars and keyboards are a number of talented players, backing singers, strings and more. The 12 track CD was recorded and produced by Lerche and co-producer Kato Ådland in Lerche’s hometown of Bergen, Norway and his newly adopted home in Brooklyn, NYC. Heartbeat Radio is the best album yet from a singer-songwriter who, signed to a record deal at age 16, a decade later fulfills the prophesy of his early believers.

- Drawing on a wealth of pop tracks from what film buffs call B-movie (bad movie?) soundtracks, singer-songwriter Josie Cotton released her CD Invasion Of The B-Girls in late 2007 but, in late 2009 she re-launched the album with new distribution.Back in the ‘60s and early ‘70s (and ‘80s too?) there was no shortage of B-movies (or C-movies in some cases!) with the obligatory soundtrack and even, where possible, a single or two. Paying tribute to her fave cult hero movie directors, Josie has put together a colorful, albeit kitschy, 10 track collection of pop tracks from these sometimes shunned, often racy movies including “Run Pussy Cat” (from Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!) and the title track from “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.” A must hear tribute album for fans of cinematic music history, Invasion Of The B -Girls features Ms. Cotton on vocals backed up by top players like guitarist Geza X, drummer Dave Kendrick and fine co-production by Bill Rhea. Also worth noting here is the great CD packaging which really captures the cinematic spirit of the ‘60s. And what Sci-fi flick fan would want to miss Josie’s cover of “Goodbye Godzilla” from the 1984 film The Return Of Godzilla, to which Ms. Cotton adds, ‘We laughed all the way through the making of this record. Our muse-in-residence was this plastic Godzilla with a microphone taped to his paw so he looked like this lounge singer. It was hard to take ourselves too seriously.’ Pop fans will get a jolt off of Josie’s dedicated cult film / pop music fest while movie buffs will surely admire her authentic unearthing of music that not too many pop fans even knew existed. A throwback to the lounge music / exotica craze of the mid ‘90s? Perhaps, however few singers would be able to put together such a wide-ranging, esoteric pop film-trax, sin-ema collection as well as Josie Cotton.

- The very cool Second Motion Records has some impressive releases—a bunch from The Church and assorted Church goers—as well as the latest release from Canadian pop singer / actress Emm Gryner entitled Goddess. And that she is with this finely tuned collection of thinking-woman’s pop that takes its cue more from Kate Bush or Tori Amos than Blondie per se. Emm's scintillating pop vocals have impressed David Bowie. Clearly Emm can do it all—she plays guitar and piano and sings up a storm. And her voice can take you away. Tori Amos started off as a pretty sensational rock singer before she got all pensive piano and singer-songwriter-y, which might have shocked some of her original fans. Ms. Gryner's more low-key tracks are cool but when she’s joined by a backing band on the more uptempo, catchy, poppy/proggy tracks—such as ”Young As The Night” and the title track—Emm really does approach goddess stature. One thing hard to believe is that most of her first six or seven albums are out of print, so surely there's enough to warrant some kind of compilation or retrospective on Emm.

/ ODDBODY MUSIC - Guitar great Phil Keaggy reigns and he pours it on with three quality yet completely different CD releases in the second half of 2009. Keaggy’s instrumental masterpiece with keyboardist Jeff Johnson (released on Ark Records) is called Frio Suite and the CD has already garnered acclaim as one of the key New Age guitar/electronica albums of the entire decade. Another unexpected yet welcome CD from Keaggy in 2009 is Mystery Highway, recorded with Randy Stonehill and released on the Oddbody label. Compared to the Frio Suite album, Mystery Highway sounds like what would have happened if The Monkees reunited for a comeback in the 21st century.Even Paul McCartney knows how crafty Phil Keaggy is with a pop hook and that hook heavy, Beatles pop side of Phil comes out in spades on Mystery Highway. I would tell Paul to give a listen to a couple very Phil-esque tracks here called “Sunday’s Child” and “Love Is Not The Only Thing” (actually written by Mark Heard) for a sonic Beatles transfusion. The sessions were so productive that Phil is threatening to release an album of extras and out takes. Stonehill’s funky Jerry Garcia inspired tracks merge well with Phil’s poppier elements and sometimes the duo offers up their best imitations of each other! “Mystery Highway” indeed. If Frio Suite is Phil’s more experimental side and Mystery Highway is another solid Keaggy pop classic then the 2009 CD release of Welcome Inn - A Phil Keaggy Christmas brings out Phil’s mellow and reflective as well as his religious and spiritual side with a predominantly vocal mix of vintage seasonal Xmas favorites. One of two kuletide instrumentals among the vocals here, “Shades Of Red And Green” is a crafty instrumental medley of Phil’s favorite Yuletide melodies arranged with his nimble fretboard work in mind. Featuring Keaggy’s outstanding guitar work along with a number of great musicians, all three of these 2009 releases not only sound great but are really very well packaged with colorful graphics and complete credits. /

/ EASY ACTION - For so many rock fans, Jim McCarty is something of a childhood hero. The original drummer with The Yardbirds, Jim came on the scene just as Beatlemania crested and the second wave of British rock pioneers were landing on American shores. Of course, the drummer in a group co-piloted by the late great rock genius Keith Relf and featuring guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, McCarty has time and again proven himself not only as a drummer—that’s a given—but following a course of charting post Yardbirds bands like Renaissance and the short lived Shoot, McCarty has settled nicely into the role of rock music statesman. Arguably, McCarty should be credited as one of the true innovators of the entire concept of rock music and he actually more than lives up to that esteemed stature with his 2009 CD entitled Sitting On The Top Of Time. Sure, McCarty led the Yardbirds through their comeback on Favored Nations with two CDs in the double OO’s, but this new CD, mostly recorded in Toronto, is truly a masterpiece in the solid McCarty tradition. Track 3, “Living From The Inside Out” is the best song Keith Relf never got to sing on, but McCarty, who has always channeled Relf’s sound through his own singing, really makes this song one of his best. Don’t forget, Jim is the guy who co-wrote “Shapes Of Things,” truly one of the great pop-rock songs back in early 1966. Just ask guitarist Steve Hackett about the significance of The Yardbirds. And take a listen to Steve’s brilliant guitar solo on “Living From The Inside Out” too. Commenting on working with Jim on the new album, Steve Hackett adds, ‘Jim has always been a hero of mine too. It was great to work with him. He's a lovely guy and a man that's at the heart of the Yardbirds' sound.’ Featuring Jim’s steady vocals and drumming, Sitting On The Top Of Time features a number of players, like Steve Hackett on guitar, the CD’s co-producer Ron Korb (flutes) with more including some majestic John Hawken inspired piano from Donald Quan. Lyrics, pics and new liner notes from Jim brings to light the story behind the making of album. Interestingly, Keith Relf’s son, Jason Relf assisted in helping McCarty build his new recording studio in France. With the CD release of Sitting On The Top Of Time, Yardbirds pioneer Jim McCarty redefines the state of rock music in 2010.


- I’ve always loved the sound of the twelve string guitar ever since the days of Roger McGuinn’s nimble picking on the early Byrds recordings. Even George Harrison of The Beatles used his Rickenbacker 12 string while newer bands like Israel’s Rockfour find imaginative ways to feature the 12 string electric in a rock format. However, there’s something to be said for the woody 12 string acoustic. One acoustic guitarist making the most of the 12 string format is Ohio based Neil Jacobs, who released the simply titled 12-String Guitar in 2009. Filled with imaginative originals penned by Jacobs, the fifteen cut CD also features some well chosen covers including “Peter’s Theme”—based on the theme from Peter And The Wolf and “Ghostrider Medley” (subtitled “Russian Cowboy Medley”) which combines “Ghostriders In The Sky” with Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” to great effect. On his fifth solo CD, Jacobs proves once again that he’s clearly a master of the 12 string guitar, which in his hands often sounds like a cross between an acoustic guitar and a harpsichord. As he states in the CD booklet, all tracks were performed on five different 12 string guitars without the aid of recording overdubs or special effects. Track by track liner notes from Jacobs sheds further light on his fondness of the 12 string guitar, as well as his extensive musical imagination and crafty fretboard expertise. 12 String Guitar is one of the finest solo 12 string guitar albums ever caught on disc.

- I’ve always been more a fan of CD and studio recordings rather than live concert DVD and videos, but I knew this set was going to be a winner straight up when I heard Johnny A. playing his instrumental cover of “The Night Before”—a Lennon/McCartney song made famous on the Beatles Help! album. Actually Johnny does a great instrumental version of the McCartney dominated song with a refreshing version, combining a Chet Atkins jaunty, syncopated rhythm that mixes in some George Harrison guitar riffing along the way. After years of sessions and production work, Johnny made guitar fans quite happy way back in ‘02 with his breakthrough CD Sometime Tuesday Morning and has since been at the forefront of modern guitar instrumental music. In the live up close and personal jazz club setting of One November Night, Johnny eclipses himself with a 2009 performance and live recording that is quite groundbreaking in some respects. While the concept of pairing a live DVD + CD of a concert is nothing new, perhaps what is amazing here, especially on the CD, is a well recorded, dynamic performance enhanced by some fine live engineering and filming. Filmed live before an appreciative crowd, the CD and DVD mostly feature the same tracks from the show while the CD only features Johnny’s fab cover of “The Night Before” and the DVD only features Johnny’s instrumental of “Walk Away Renee,” the ‘60s pop hit by The Left Banke. Commenting on the release Johnny add, ‘Fans had been asking me for a live album for some time now. I finally decided it was probably the “right time” to release it. This is an honest “no frills” presentation of one night in the life of what I do.’ Complete with CD + DVD, Johnny makes something that is very hard to get perfect sonically look very effortless and natural. An impeccable and skillful producer and arranger as well, Johnny compliments his role of producer with his legendary guitar skills which are suitably backed up here in a trio setting with Jesse Bastos (bass) and Chris Farr (drums). Jazzers, instro guitar heads and rockers can all agree on Johnny A.

- Chicago area based Blue Bella Records is a first class operation. Primarily a blues and rock label, Blue Bella have been known to pull out all the stops on their fantastic releases and one new CD in 2010 that will be raising eyebrows is Medford & Main by guitarist Matthew Stubbs. On first listen, this album just blows you away with some hard-hitting bluesy rock grooves and it’s all instrumental so you can really focus on Matthew’s emotional guitar tracks. For inspiration listen no further than the lead off “Medford & Main” title track. What a powerhouse song. It’s so great you have a hard time getting to track 2! Who said there’s nothing new under the sun regarding instro guitar sounds from America? So who can you compare the Stubbs effect to? Well my first comparison is America’s greatest soul-rock guitarist, Steve Cropper, the soul-man mastermind whose guitar sound graced so many classic Stax R&B chestnuts—from Otis to Booker T & The MGs—during the ‘60s. A guitar maven himself, Cropper will flip for Stubbs’ new one. Others have compared Matthew to greats like Lonnie Mack while others cite Matthew’s work with the classic bluesy vibe of the Charlie Musselwhite band but there’s some smokin’ new stuff here indeed. Recorded during 2009 up in Matthew’s Boston area, Medford & Main features some great players backing up the Stubbs guitar sound including Chris Rivelli (drums), Marc Hickox (bass) and more including a rockin’ horn section too. Do you miss the classic Cropper guitar sound from the Booker T. days? Pick up on Matthew’s Medford & Main. You won’t be disappointed.

- Australian guitarist Martin Cilia is a genius of the stringy surf guitar sound and in addition to his legacy as the recent guitarist in The Atlantics, he’s developed his own solo career in recent years. Following up his 2007 solo CD, Revenge Of The Surf Guitars, Martin returns with a new 13 track CD in 2009 entitled The Odd One Out. All instrumental, with the exception of a harder rocking guitar-based vocal called “Old Guitars” featuring singer Steve Brookes, The Odd One Out features new instrumentals that echo Cilia’s guitar work in the Atlantics as well as all things influenced by Hank Marvin and classics like The Ventures. It’s funny but all the great guitarists today are fully implementing home studio sounding recordings, which is all right to an extent, but I miss the big studio sound rooms such as the studios at Abbey Road, and genius studio innovators like Norman Smith and Norrie Paramour more than ever these days. I suppose I should be grateful that guitar legends such Hank Marvin and top tier instro guys like Martin Cilia still make interesting rock guitar instrumental albums, I just wish they were recorded at Abbey Road! I know what you’re thinking. Persnickety critics! However, one listen to the album’s coolest track, “West Of Bondi” and all is forgiven. Rock on instro-man.

- As bass player in the San Francisco based group Maximum Indifference, Gustaf Fjelstrom broke new ground in the area of instrumental art-rock. Having released two CDs in the double 00’s with that group, Fjelstrom returns in 2009 with a very out there collection of electronically treated ambient cello loops that overall makes for a very hypnotic instrumental experience. Bass cello is a very resonant acoustic instrument, the jewell among the classical strings and Fjelstrom gets some amazing tones and moods out of these wild cello treatments that are clearly very Eno-esque. As far away from rock as you can go, Gustaf’s latest certainly qualifies as a new kind of 21st century meditative music for airports type sonic backdrop. /

- As good a reason as any to praise the beauty and sonic woody wonder of the nylon string acoustic guitar, the rise of the Nuevo Flamenco guitar sound of the past decade shows no sign of abating as we approach decade two in 2010. From Nuevo Flamenco (with its Spanish / Classical roots) to the sound of Gypsy jazz (played more in the spirit of Django) are worlds apart yet are both connected by a determined mastery of the genre by the guitarist. A protégé of the great Chet Atkins and a well respected guitarist in her own right, Muriel Anderson is a featured performer on the 2009 CD release of New World Flamenco, released by Tierra Negra & Muriel Anderson. A true joint effort featuring the music and guitar playing from Muriel paired by the formidable guitarist / composing duo of Leon Henrichs and Raughi Ebert, New World Flamenco is a guitar lover’s dream come true. The CD steps out of the Rumba Flamenco groove on tracks like Tierra Negra’s impressionistic New Age vibe of “En El Bosque De Cristol.” Back in their native Deutchland, Tierra Negra have eight albums to their credit and perhaps this wildly successful Flamenco coop with Muriel Anderson is just the thing to bring these German guitarists wider attention in the U.S. /

- Like much of northern Europe, Finland is often wrongly or rightly perceived to be a stark and dark place—that place where old world Europe collides with the legendary, meticulous and often futuristic Finnish approach to architecture. That includes sonic architecture as well because musically speaking, Finland is still one of the most sophisticated, yet least understood places on Earth. A whole new generation of Finnish musicians have emerged since the heady ‘70s days of the late, great classical rock pioneer Pekka Pohjola, trans Europe rockers Wigwam and World Beat pioneers Piirpauke—three of Finland’s greatest musical exports going back to the early ‘70s, now nearly 40 years ago. One superb release of Finnish music to hit the airwaves in 2009 is the latest CD from The Gentleman Losers entitled Dustland. The brainchild of two brothers—Sami Kuukka (keyboards) and Ville Kuukka (guitars), The Gentleman Losers make instrumental music that sounds more inspired by German counterparts Tangerine Dream and guitar synthesist Michael Rother than with their illustrious fellow countrymen from Finland. Not surprisingly, The Gentleman Losers are currently residing in Germany, the capital of teutonic electronica. Sure T. Dream, Fripp & Eno—and even Bowie on the Low and Heroes albums—were each pioneering this Euro-inspired electronic soundtrack type music back in the ‘70, and well into the ‘80s yet The Gentleman Losers truly reinvigorate the genre with their sparse, albeit depressing, yet thoroughly captivating approach to modern electronica. And some of the songs even have a slight hip-hop beat that further brings their sound into the millennium. Guitar aficionados will find much to applaud here especially as Ville’s guitar arsenal includes his expert work on electric, acoustic and classical, as well as e-bow, ukulele, bass and lap (not lapland!) steel. The Kuukka brother’s intriguing musical brew is greatly enhanced not only by a great studio sound but also by the excellent CD artwork, topped off by a beautifully designed booklet filled with some depressing, yet stunningly appropriate color artwork of what looks like more of that old world Europe.

- It’s a rare event that a CD of instrumental music covers so much ground, but that’s exactly the case with the 2009 release of the latest CD from Stratagem. A crossover project featuring guitarist / producer Chris Bocast and percussionist MJ Catalin, Stratagem is a masterpiece of futuristic sounding instrumental New Age and electronic based rock music. Of course, those words offer just a description so it’s best to hear things for yourself. In this amazing world of creating music online, it's stunning that these tracks were traded and created over the web with music emailed back and forth between Colorado, where Bocast lives and Bucharest, Romania, where Catalin lives. Combining Bocast’s spacy and spatial electric guitar, e-bow guitar, piano, moog and bass work with Catalin’s Euro-beat style drums, programming and synth work, Stratagem may have it’s roots in ‘70s European progressive electronic rock music but the duo’s modern approach really makes the CD one of the most compelling examples of electro / avant gard rock music of the 21st century. Also appearing on guitar is guest star Dave Shul, guitarist for Michael Franti and Spearhead. Instrumental rock fans with a taste for adventurous yet accessible, electronica and avant gard rock should pick up on the Stratagem CD. The CD sounds great and the packaging, artwork and design by artist John Hundt is first rate too.

- Guitarist Sumner McKane has a pretty interesting track record when it comes to quasi New Age kinds of guitar recordings. Actually, McKane is considered by some astute music lovers as the Eno of the modern instrumental New Age guitar sound. Calling McKane’s music ambient would be an an understatement. McKane’s easy beat guitar sound is more like watercolors come to life. While Eno’s works with Dan Lanois are also echoed here, McKane kicks in a very Hendrix-lite kind of touch that, while not rock based at all, contains the same guitar vision I could see Jimi relaxing to after a hard day’s night. McKane has some cool sounds for open minded rockers who thrill to the wide eyed Hendrix touch but still need some airy fairy stuff to chill out with after hours.

- Guitarist Pete Weiss is a real maven for surf-rock instrumentals as well as ‘60s rock and roll in general. Case in point is the 2009 CD from The Weisstronauts entitled instro-tainment. Kicking off with a killer rock instro called “Fisticuffs,” the 14 cut CD—and the Weisstronauts fourth full length album—goes on to dazzle listeners will all manners of cool instrumental rock and roll. Besides the usual instro-taining rockers, Pete is not afraid to lend his tasteful guitar work to a number of other genres like jazzy flavored sounds on the very lounge music flavored “Caixa dos Moluscos,” which almost dabbles in instro meets bossa nova style sounds. Pete and his Weisstronauts buddies are totally in sync on what may be the band'd greatest album yet and, amazing to say that former Velvet Underground legend, Doug Yule appears here on bass and fiddle on a few tunes so that in itself it pretty historic. Commenting on working with Pete and the ‘Nauts, Yule says, ‘Wish I could play with you guys more often than once in a lifetime. Definitely the most fun I’ve ever had in a band.’ Pop-rocker, the great Mitch Easter is also a Weisstronauts fan. Even with this much greatness going on, a highlight here for this writer at least is a great Weisstronauts instro cover of the Gerry Goffin classic “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a song that Gerry wrote for the Monkees back in 1967! The CD is superbly packaged with track by track personnel info and excellent artwork. Whether your favorite guitarist is Chet Atkins, Bob Bogle, Hank Marvin or former Monkees session guitarist Louie Shelton for that matter—and if you love guitar instrumentals, pick up on Pete Weiss and his very instro-taining new release from the Weisstronauts. You can’t go wrong here! This just in: Pete and his Weisstronauts have also recently released a 4 song EP entitled Weisstronauts In Memphis—a limited edition CD recorded at the esteemed Ardent Studios in (where else?) Memphis, TN, complete with a instro cover of “Ode To Billy Joe.” /

- Flamenco is a guitar artform that is constantly reinventing itself. Although started in Spain well over a hundred years ago, flamenco—and all it’s various modern day guitar offspring influences—is still currently in vogue. As far as modern day exponents of the flamenco guitar sound, you need look no farther than Johannes Linstead, who in 2009 released his new CD Mistico. A number of skillful Global Beat musicians assist Linstead’s flamenco guitar vision. Complimented by some colorful drum and percussion sound, Linstead keeps the beat in play as his time honored flamenco technique mixes well with today’s modern studio wizardry. The CD sound is great and the packaging is first rate too. In the spirit of top players like Armik and Jesse Cook, Linstead is up there with the best nuevo flamenco guitar players on the scene today.

- With the release of his 2009 CD, Scambot 1, guitarist Mike Keneally sets the stage for his ambitious three part Scambot trilogy and, at least on this first part, the results sound great and are often stunning. According to Mike, ‘We devoted intense energy to every second of the album. There’s a plot, and a bunch of characters.’ Two thirds instrumental, the album conjures up an intricate mix of classic progressive rock and pop layered with great vocal harmonies and wildly orchestrated and digitally manipulated neo classical art rock, slightly reminiscent of some of Trevor Rabin’s late period Yes sound track record. Widely acclaimed as a guitar innovator and musical trendsetter in his own right, Keneally has over the years been mentioned in the same breath as the late, great Frank Zappa and more recently with wide screen sci-fi guitarist and Favored Nations honcho Steve Vai, and for good reason. The CD booklet offers extensive information and lyrics that appear as a screenplay libretto for Keneally’s in depth Scambot rock opus.

- Although he sadly died just as Pluto entered the stoic, reality based astrological sign of Capricorn on November 27, 2008, Pekka Pohjola was a musical genius and he’s badly missed one year later. Amazingly, now in early December 2009, just about a year after I heard that Pekka had died, I opened up a new CD, entitled Clockwork from Australian guitarist Glenn Cannon. So it goes like clockwork—you’re born, you die and in between life is all about clockwork! So I put on Glenn’s CD and lo and behold, with a dose of Holdsworth-ian style fretboard pyrotechnics, Clockwork is just the kind of album Pekka would have enjoyed and in fact it’s a little in the vein of Pekka’s final work—playing with guitarist Tuppu Orrennma on his 2008 Make My Day CD. Backed up by a host of great players, including drummer Danny Farrugia, a full band and a bunch of string players that rarely get in the way, Cannon’s Clockwork is a veritable instrumental jazz-rock classic for the new millennium. There’s enough daredevil fretboard moves to make it of interest to jazz-rock fusion buffs but the whole CD is so well recorded that it could clearly cross over to rock fans with an open ear to instrumental rock and to those CD buffs interested in bringing the sound of jazz fusion into their collection.

- One of the preeminent acoustic guitarists in America today, Lawson Rollins released his CD debut Infinita back in 2007 and he follows up in 2010 with the CD release of Espirito. In the spirit of Infinita, Lawson’s latest CD is a full-fledged production featuring a number of gifted players including violinist Charlie Bisharat, whose excellent work graced Infinita too. When it comes to nylon string neoclassical flamenco work, few can touch Rollins and that practice continues moving forward with Espirito. The CD features key contributions from Randy Tico (bass), Dave Bryant (percussion) as well as further guitar performance from the album’s co-producer Shahin Shahida (electric guitar) and Joseph Ehtesham-zadeh (on slide guitar). Also like Infinita, famed Brazilian musicians Airto Moreira and Flora Purim make some impressive appearances here. Commenting on incorporating such a wide range of colorful World Beat influences into his mix, Rollins adds, ‘I love the hybrid quality of World Music and how it allows for cross-cultural communication and exchange. Centuries ago, travel, trade, and migration created new forms of musical expression. The Spanish guitar is a true manifestation of the commingling of cultures with it's ties to the Arabic oud, the Persian tar, even the Indian sitar, so drawing on those connections seems natural to me.' Also in the spirit of Infinita, the colorful multi-panel CD packaging and artwork of Espirito is outstanding and enhances a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so of instrumental music magic.

- Over in the U.K. Just Music continues breaking down the borders between folk, jazz, rock and new age with a bunch of 2009 releases. High on list of Just Music releases is a 2009 CD from well rounded guitar ace Leo Abrahams, entitled The Grape And The Grain. Interesting title but the CD is truly brilliant, encapsulating all of Leo’s multifaceted guitar ideas and techniques. With it’s wide ranging guitar based instrumental sounds, The Grape And The Grain falls into the New Age kind of instrumental genre, yet adventurous instro rock fans and jazz fusion buffs will get a buzz here too. Leo has worked with legends like Brian Eno and Roxy Music to name a few. Leo’s 2008 CD, The Unrest Cure had some instrumentals but was primarily a superstar heavy, vocal rock affair, but his third ambient guitar based instrumental album for Just Music, The Grape And The Grain sounds like his best yet. Somewhere between the earthiness of Bill Frisell and the Euro flavored melodic textures of Jan Akkerman, The Grape And The Grain makes for a well balanced, worth-revisiting collection of ambient guitar sounds. The CD sound is very good and the packaging is also very well done. Handling all the electric and acoustic guitars, piano, hurdy-gurdy, guitaret, accordion and more, Leo receives ambient back up support from Martyn Barker (drums), Tim Harries (double bass) and Andy Rice (cello).

- Guitarist David T. Chastain and his Leviathan Records imprint have been singularly responsible for the some of the most kick ass instrumental and vocal rock music even to come of out Georgia. Armed with his group Southern Gentlemen, Chastain and company serve up a beefy brew of hard rock sans vocals on their 2009 CD Instrumentalized. Chastain’s neo-prog metal guitar sound has been featured on a number of TV networks and even in movies and that sonic edge of Chastain’s guitar thought comes into focus on Instrumentalized. Five albums in, their latest finds Chastain focusing on their instrumentals only sound. Commenting on the album, Chastain adds, ‘We decided to put together an entire CD’s worth of material as we thought the tracks rocked instrumentally and stood on their own. Southern Gentlemen is having a great time playing classic music with a modern slant.’ With an accent on rock and the blues and even heavy metal guitar, Southern Gentlemen have been compared to Robin Trower, ZZ Top and Hendrix. With the hard rock fusion instrumentals on Instrumentalized as the strict focus, Chastain and company really stretch out on a stellar, wide ranging hard rock guitar journey.

- In the spirit of both Eno and Art Of Noise, U.K. composer Bob Holroyd has a number of solo albums to his credit and he puts his career to date in to some context with a trio of CD releases under the name RE. The three re CDs released by Holroyd in 2009 include RE : (a comp of Holroyd’s first four albums, ‘93 to 2003.) The second one RE: act and the third so far RE: lax offer a number of uptempo and down tempo remix tracks that re: explore Holroyd's repertoire of music. There’s a definite Art Of Noise vibe in Holroyd’s music which ranges from a minimalist ambient to a more far out and sometimes frightening World Beat / Indian music kind of groove with haunting tribal chanting and weird voices permeating the mix. A real unique kind of ambient music explorer for the millennium, Holroyd is definitely on the cutting edge of England’s current avant rock fusion music scene. /

- In the right hands, the acoustic guitar is an instrument that can sound like a full band or even an orchestra. Near the top of the list of guitar legends still forging new ground for the guitar is Toulouse Engelhardt. Back in 2006, the Lost Grove Arts and their label, Lost Grove Records, released a fantastic album from Toulouse entitled Martian Lust. With it’s astonishing CD cover art, the even cooler music inside featured Toulouse performing surf instrumentals accurately described as the sound of ‘Leo Kottke jamming with The Ventures.’ For a guitarist that grew up listening to The Ventures and Dick Dale, Engelhardt eventually wound up as one of the Takoma Seven, in the same echelon as both Kottke and the late John Fahey. For his 2009 CD, Perpendicular Worlds, Toulouse is back with a solo acoustic guitar that is truly amazing. One part Jimmy Page and one part John Fahey, Perpendicular Worlds may use the 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar as a focal point yet, like Page and Fahey, the music made transcends genres and is quite often dazzling with it’s prismatic range of complex fretboard moves and emotions. Toulouse is described as a guitarist with fifteen fingers, yet when woven together these thirteen guitar vignettes truly breath new life into the concept of acoustic guitar instrumental music. Not bad for a guitarist who took early lessons from Wes Montgomery and went on to be label mates with Kottke and Fahey during those heady Takoma daze. For the record, Perpendicular Worlds is structured into two parts—Inner Space and Outer Space—with all the tracks herein being Toulouse originals with the exception of new covers of “Anji” (written by Davy Graham), “Blue Star” (written by Victor Young) and a new Engelhardt cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Third Stone From The Sun”. A stellar merger of acoustic folk instrumentals, classical, jazz and even rock instrumental, Perpendicular Worlds is a fascinating journey into acoustic guitar land.

- Crazy name for a record company, but the music n5MD release isn’t crazy at all. In fact it’s positively brainy! We’re talking about the 2009 CD from Denmark’s electronic impressionists Aerosol and their new Airborne CD. Sure Fripp and Eno were pioneering this sound back in the late ‘70s, but there’s a certain reinvigorating vibe on Aerosol’s latest CD that could reintroduce this sound to a new world of music fans. Based around the musical concepts of multi-instrumentalist Rasmus Rasmussen, the Aerosol Airborne CD is oozing with a post modern psychedelic electronica that displays heavily processed electric guitars intertwining with layers of heady Eno-esque synths and electronics. If this is the face of future electronica, then all I can say is bring it on! Fans of Eno and Fripp and U.K. guitar instrumentalists like Durutti Column will fall in love with this easy on the ears, sonically rewarding CD of classy instrumental electronica.

- Are you into head-banging hard rock guitar sounds in the spirit of Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, George Lynch, Michael Schenker? If so, then don’t miss the 2009 CD from Vancouver, WA. based Nick Layton. Backed up by a rock solid bass/drum rhythm section, Layton simple smokes his guitar on his self-produced ten track Storming The Castle. Described in the press release as a merger of epic metal song writing and virtuoso guitar playing, Storming The Castle is a thinking man’s metal guitar instrumental experience and the depth and breadth of Layton’s approach to a sonic wall of sound heavy metal instrumental music is a great intense way to hear state of the art hard rock at it’s best. In addition to his new CD, Layton is also gaining a reputation for his teaching the art of rock lead guitar phrasing (check out his work at as well as co-authoring a new e-book for guitarists who want to learn to play better, faster and more efficiently entitled The Next Step: Serious Improvement For The Developing Guitarist. /

- Another winning CD from the New Age masters at U.K. based Paradise Music, Spirits Of The Forest features the music of the Celtic harpist France Ellul and the group known as Govannen. With swirling harp sounds filtered through magical electronic keyboards, light percussion, acoustic guitars, bamboo flutes, ethereal, wordless female voices and more, Spirits Of The Forest is a truly captivating sonic journey. Supporting the Celtic Harp of Ellul are some great players such as album producer Chris Conway (keyboards, theremin, sound effects and percussion), Dan Britton (acoustic guitar, frame drum) and many others. While this music is definitely not rock, the very unique nature of this blend of heavenly instrumental Celtic flavored music from England should hold infinite fascination to fans of groups like Jethro Tull and guitar instrumentalist Mike Oldfield as well. Also the sound is somewhat reminiscent of that great soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Barry Lyndon movie. It’s just that good! As is standard with all the CD releases on Paradise Music, the sound and packaging of Spirits Of The Forest is first rate and will have you reaching for that replay button more than once.

- There’s something about the sound of an accordion that just lightens the musical mood and gets you real happy. That’s the vibe that comes into play on the 2009 CD from The Nice Guy Trio, entitled Here Comes The Nice Guy Trio, released by Porto Franco Records. Featuring the core trio of Darren Johnston (trumpet), Rob Reich (accordion) and Daniel Fabricant (bass), the eleven cut, all instrumental Here Comes... CD draws on a wealth of laid back, happy go lucky musical styles that tastefully merges Klezmer, blues, funk, calypso, country, Balkan and Hindustani music. Commenting on the group’s M.O., founding member Darren Johnston adds, ‘We all have really broad tastes and come from different musical backgrounds. The trio is about finding common ground.’ Backing up that claim, the CD also features contributions from Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Sameer Gupta (tabla), David Phillips (pedal steel guitar), Dina Maccabee (violin) and others. While the CD features a mix of originals and jazz classics from the pen of giants like Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman, there’s a solid spark of originality to Here Comes The Nice Guy Trio that really gives the group a unique sound all their own.

- Instrumental jazz guitar based albums are nothing new. You can go back to a number of classic jazz albums recorded in the early and mid ‘60s from Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell and point proven. That said, a whole new generation of jazz guitarists are staking out new and fertile ground in the world of instrumental music including NYC based guitarist Perry Smith. Featuring Smith backed up by Matt Politano (piano), Sam Minaie (bass) and producer / drummer Dan Schnelle, the 50 minute instrumental Stars & Cars CD features a thoroughly impressive mix of jazz and rock to create a bona fide fusion of modern jazz guitar styles. Funny how Smith says the title track, “Stars And Cars” reflects his time spent in L.A. where it truly is all about stars and cars! Having studied guitar with the masterful SoCal guitar great Joe Diorio, Smith has also performed and worked with legends like Dave Brubeck, Pat Metheny, singers Nancy Wilson and Harry Belafonte, horn great Kenny Wheeler and many more. Filled with eight well thought out instrumentals, the 2009 CD release of Stars & Cars will establish Smith’s impressive guitar credentials with a whole new generation of jazz guitar fans.

- A Grammy nominated producer and composer who has worked with Buddy Rich, Jean Pierre-Rampal, Willie Nelson and Aerosmith, Paul Avgerinos is a first rate bass player who was also a key member of guitarist Eric Roberts' group that recorded Eric’s My Brazilian Heart CD in 2009. Also in 2009, Paul released his latest New Age music classic entitled LOVE. For electronic music lovers, Love is truly all you need as there’s plenty of blissed out meditative vibes in play on Love. With Avgerinos performing cello, bass violin, 12 string acoustic guitar, electric swell and echo slide guitars, vocal choirs, synths and various sound design work, LOVE features key contributions by Kevin Braheny Fortune who performs electronic wind instruments, alto flute, soprano sax and clarinet. In the CD liner notes, Avgerinos gives ample credit to Kevin’s contributions while more than complimenting his ‘brilliant poetic lyricism and melodic improvisations.’ LOVE is really unabashed New Age romanticism at its finest. It’s just amazing how emotive and transformational this kind of music can be if you let it reach you. There’s also a feeling of karma running throughout the CD, even down to the intertwining painting artwork and fittingly, Avgerinos dedicated the Love CD to his dear mother and father, now resting in peace. Even in a jaded world of struggle and strife there’s still room music music this beautiful. Take a sonic siesta and tune in to the blissful sound of Paul Avgerinos.

- Guitarist Todd Woolsey rocks up a storm on his self-titled 2009 CD, simply called Todd Woolsey. Woolsey cites a number of players such as Larry Carlton, Eric Johnson, Albert Lee, Robben Ford and Stevie Ray Vaughan among his biggest influences. As a hired gun, Woolsey has also worked with country music artists including Tanya Tucker and Tracy Lawrence to name a few. Even though he’s big on the C&W session circuit, Woolsey is quick to point out that he’s really most into rock and blues. Being an all instrumental jazz-rock set, Woolsey’s 13 cut CD should easily find a home among fans of those guitar giants. Backed up by a hot band, including drummer Wes Little, Woolsey comes through with flying colors on this rocking, rootsy instrumental jazz rock fusion classic.

- Finland is a mind blowing musical place. I swear, wizardry occurs on a daily basis in that mystical place. Speaking of mystical, the 2010 CD from Finnish guitarist Timo Kämäräinen, entitled Pulpae is a real trip. Bordering on fusion and rock as well as an indescribable kind of third rail, a form of Zappa-esque excitement, Pulpae is at once thrilling and challenging. Slightly hallucinogenic in nature, the mostly instrumental album spins on a fantastic axis of musical styles. Back in 2007, reviewed Timo’s first solo album Unea and we're happy to say, this 2010 release is even better and more imaginative. Like on Unea, a number of players help Timo deliver the goods—including legendary Wigwam keyboardist Esa Kotilainen and fellow guitarist Teemu Viinikainen. (try and say that 3 times fast!) Guitar fans will applaud Timo’s eclectic guitar nature, while daring rock fans will dig it as well as jazz-rockers with an inclination towards the strange and imaginative. Pulpae is pressed on a black vinyl CD and features truly unique cover and artwork.

- Based in Maryland, Tonar Music is doing a great job representing the recordings, videos and sheet music publications of Cuban-American classical guitar icon Manuel Barrueco. In addition to stocking a number of Manuel's classic CDs, Tonar’s first CD release in their “Manuel Barrueco Collection,” Solo Piazzolla featured Barrueco performing a collection of works by tango master Astor Piazzolla. Following up in 2009, Tonar released Virtuoso Guitar Duos—pairing Barrueco performing a range of classical flavored guitar fare from Spain and South America—including classic works from Isaac Albeniz, Fernando Sor, Joaquin Rodrigo and Piazzolla—with his Italian protégé Franco Platino. Certainly bound to perk up the ears of classical guitarists and guitar fans worldwide, Tonar’s 2009 CD release of Maracaipe introduces the music of the Beijing Guitar Duo. Featuring the twin guitar team of Meng Su and Yameng Wang, Beijing Guitar Duo was produced by Tonar label proprietor Asgerdur Sigurdardottir with executive production by Manuel Barrueco. Recorded in April 2009, the 14 track Maracaipe CD features these fantastically gifted guitarists performing guitar duos and solos from the pen of Sergio Assad and Radamés Gnattali. Assad’s compositions are truly ingenious—especially on the emotionally charged and super melodic “Jobinina”—and all are well served here. As this state of the art sounding CD points out, these two young ladies have fingers that fly and minds that can clearly keep up with the lightening precision needed to execute these challenging classical guitar compositions. Like all the Tonar releases, the artwork and packaging of the Beijing Guitar Duo’s CD is excellent while bio material and in depth liner notes about the recording from Sergio Assad fills in the history of these two gifted Chinese classical guitarists. /

- U.K. based B.J. Cole is one of the finest pedal steel guitarists on either side of the Atlantic.Coming up with the goods again in 2009, Cole joins forces with Roger Beaujolais (vibraphone), Simon Thorpe (double bass) and Al Cherry (rhythm guitar) for the ‘09 CD release of Lush Life on the Untied Artists. Untied in the best sense of the word indeed, the all instrumental jazzy fare on Lush Life puts the focus solidly on B.J.’s great steel guitar sensibilities. Rated with steel greats like Long Island based Johnny Farina and currently huge steelers like Greg Leize, Cole is really in his element here. The core trio of Cole, Beaujolais and Thorpe masterfully work their way through a number of original tracks along with solid covers of the aforementioned Johnny Farina (a very nice cover of “Sleepwalk”), Johnny Smith (a steel flecked “Walk Don’t Run”) Kenny Burrell (“Chitlins Con Carne”) and much more. Fans of Nashville style country twang as well as light classical and steel-based pop instrumentals will thoroughly love this CD. You name the genre, these guys have it covered here! Excellent CD packaging and superb production and mixing by B.J. seals the deal on one of the coolest and certainly the most pleasurable steel guitar based instrumental releases of the decade.

- In his long 40 year history as a recording artist, legend of the New Age music world, cellist David Darling has recorded with a number of great guitarists including Terje Rypdal and more recently Eric Roberts. Also famous for his numerous recordings on the pioneering jazz label, ECM Records, Darling released his album Prayer For Compassion in early 2009 and the album is also up for a Grammy award for best New Age album in 2010. Produced by Darling and his long time producer Mickey Houlihan, the album is ten years in the making and benefits from a range of high tech recording technologies. Just like his sublime sounding instrumental music albums with both Terje Rypdal and guitarist Roberts, Prayer For Compassion is a very deep and introspective album. With Darling accompanying himself on both cello and acoustic piano along with sundry sonic electronica effects, Prayer For Compassion is a instrumental musical journey reflecting Darling’s hopes and fears of life on earth today. In his heartfelt CD liner notes Darling maps out his spiritual wish list for a better tomorrow.


BAZILLION POINTS - Not only were John Lennon and Mike Pinder good friends and the leaders of the two greatest bands in England's progressive rock history but, they were also innovators in pioneering the use of the mellotron in what, by early 1967, became known as rock music. Rock was music that didn’t need to roll. Heads would roll instead. In fact, I would go as far out there to say that without Lennon and Pinder, (or more like Pinder and Lennon) the mellotron would have probably just kept on going for what it was originally designed for—as a vanity parlor keyboard instrument for musicians who enjoyed the interesting keyboard skating rink, carnival music sounds that emanated from it. But by the end of 1966, you take one part mellotron, add then add in two parts marijuana and one part LSD and there you go! Bob’s yer uncle jack and yer flying man! Actually, years before the winter of February ‘67, that heroic moment when John and Mike perfected their brilliant pioneering musical notions thus bestowing the ‘Tron upon the worldwide stage of rock music, a truly brilliant American named Harry Chamberlin invented the early version of the mellotron which he called (what else?) the Chamberlin in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Harry Chamberlin’s pioneering vision and the incredibly innovative sound of his tape keyboard instrument truly takes it place alongside key inventions by other American heroes like Les Paul. May they rest in peace, where would we be without them both?! Well the whole story of Harry’s contribution to rock history can be found on the 2009 DVD release of Mellodrama - The Mellotron Movie, readied for release in early 2010 by the Brooklyn based Bazillion Points. Mellodrama director, Dianna Dilworth covers most of the ground surrounding the story of the Chamberlin and it’s sequel, the Mellotron in a most entertaining way—not only by focusing on the story of the Chamberlin and how it in turn became known in the U.K. as the Mellotron, but also on the genius musicians who used it during the pioneering inception of progressive rock in 1967. Of course, John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 so he’s not here to speak about it, but thankfully the most important pioneer of the mellotron in rock music, and the guy who turned Lennon and the Fab Four on to it, Mike Pinder is and he says a lot about it—in addition to penning fine liners in the DVD packaging. Also on hand echoing Pinder and Harry Chamberlin’s son are guys you might know, like Ian McDonald, Rod Argent, Pat Moraz, Tony Banks and (wait for it...Brian Wilson!) as well as Rick Nielsen, Tommy Iommi, the space cases from Italian horror show proggers Goblin as well deserving pop icons like producer Mitchell Froom, pop mavens Matthew Sweet and Michael Penn along with space cadet ‘Tron exponents from groups like Opeth, Maroon 5 and Anglagard. A few of the key ‘Tronners are lost in space, like where’s Wakeman, Bob Fripp, Blue Weaver and Andy Davis for that matter? But, all told, at the end of the day and for the most part Ms. Dilworth did a great job. So to sum up kids, let’s try to remember of course it was Mike Pinder who introduced Lennon and the other Fabs to the Mellotron, then the Fabs cut “Strawberry Fields” and then the Sgt. Pepper sessions just as Mike and the late, great Tony Clarke cut Days Of Future Passed with the other Moodies and everything else just fell into place. By jove, that’s the way God planned it. All told Mellodrama does a quite commendable job in explaining how a straight laced American genius named Harry Chamberlin would spur genius innovators like Pinder and Lennon to change the music world forever. Long live Mike Pinder and god bless John Lennon, Harry Chamberlin and the whole crew here. Attention rock librarians, file Mellodrama under essential rock music history 101. /

BGO RECORDS - Formed way back in the late ‘80s, BGO Records is a veritable institution among CD collectors who jumped on the silver disc CD band wagon soon as the medium came into fashion nearly 25 years ago in 1984. Although known for their classic rock CD reissues, BGO have stretched out in recent years and case in point is a 2009 CD reissue from the late, great jazz guitar icon Joe Pass, who is fondly remembered on a pair of early instrumental albums reissued by BGO as a two albums on one CD remaster—12 String Guitar (Great Motion Picture Themes) paired here with The Stones Jazz. Interestingly, for the 1963 12 String Guitar album—produced by Richard Bock and recorded for the World Pacific Records at World Pacific Jazz studios in L.A. in 1963—Pass offers his instro takes on some of the great movie music themes of that incredible 1962-63 era, including “Charade,” “Manha De Carnival,” “How The West Was Won” and many more on the twelve cut album. Interestingly, Joe’s movie music set found him playing the 12 string acoustic guitar backed up by great players like fellow guitarist John Pisano, bass legend Charlie Haden and drummer Larry Bunker. These are songs that were among the true classics of the early ‘60s and Pass and company offer up some fine instrumental versions that combine both jazz, pop and soundtrack sensibilities, but make no mistake about it, this is Joe Pass on guitar. The 12 String Guitar album is backed up on this CD by a way cool Joe Pass instrumental jazz tribute to the music of The Rolling Stones, entitled what else but The Stones Jazz. These early Stones’ rock classics are given a great jazz treatment by Pass, who is backed up here by a number of great jazz legends including fellow guitarist Dennis Budimir, drummer Frank Capp and vibes master Victor Feldman. Recorded in L.A. on July 20, 1966, the eleven cut album features groovy, upbeat, jazzy instrumental covers of Stones’ faves like “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Paint It, Black,” “I Am Waiting,” “As Tears Go By” and more all topped off by an album closing Pass original / tribute to the Stones entitled “Stones Jazz.” One of the great Stones’ tribute albums from the ‘60s, the Stones Jazz album sounds a little Wes Montgomery flavored in place while jazz purists will no doubt marvel at the guitar driven Pass vibe throughout. Joe’s ‘66 Stones tribute was also produced by Richard Bock and features great engineering from future Doors producer Bruce Botnick. In addition this essential 2009 Joe Pass reissue features original liner notes and new liner notes that accompany this BGO CD classic.

- God bless BGO Records. The U.K. conglomerate just continues to reissue classic rock from England and America. Case in point is a 2009 2 albums on 1 CD remaster of Windmills / She Is A Song from country rock superstar Rick Roberts. Best remembered for his replacing the late Gram Parsons in The Flying Burrito Brothers—as well as his stint in the group Firefall—Roberts also recorded two pretty cool country rock albums for A&M, and that’s the subject of BGO’s 2009 remaster. A good example of Rick’s work in the Burrito Brothers can be heard on their famous self-titled Flying Burrito Brothers album which also features Byrds' founders Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke, along with Bernie Leadon and Sneaky Pete on steel guitar. Anyway, when Hillman left the fold to join Manassas in 1971, Roberts went on to record Windmills with producer David Anderle, along with various members of The Byrds, The Eagles, Burritos as well as Jackson Browne and steel guitarist Al Perkins. Following Windmills, Roberts rejoined Chris Hillman, who assumed production chores for his 1972 follow-up She Is A Song. Backing up Roberts on She Is A Song are various members of Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm group as well as members of Poco. By 1973 Roberts formed Firefall with guitarist Jock Bartley, Spirit bassist Mark Andes and Byrds' drummer Mike Clarke, and achieved widespread acclaim. BGO packs their 19 cut CD from Rick Roberts with detailed liner notes from John Einarson, along with full credits of all the players on hand as well as a 1977 interview featuring both Roberts and Hillman. Fans of the Burrito Brothers and later period Byrds and The Eagles are advised to track down this essential reissue CD by Rick Roberts.

One of the greatest record company signings ever by Mitch Miller's Columbia Records was Paul Revere & The Raiders. Back around 1965 or so, one of the great joys of my childhood was coming home from school day after day, flipping on the b&w TV and seeing the Raiders on Channel 7’s “Where The Action Is.” Although they started out as rootsy rock and rollers, Paul Revere and singer Mark Lindsay—along with musical geniuses Phil “Fang” Volk and guitarist Drake Levin—when on to stardom thanks to a great record company image as well as some classic Top 40 fare. Much like they did, over the past few years, with multi-disc singles collections from Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Jay & The Americans, Collector’s Choice pulls out the stops for Paul Revere & The Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay - The Complete Columbia Singles. And of course, the hit singles are presented together here in their original mono mixes. Decked out in the traditional Raiders red, white and blue American revolutionary war decor, the 3 CD set also features a key 24 page booklet with up to date, 2009 liner notes, featuring numerous combined interviews by Ed Osborne as well as rare photos and a section called miscellany which sadly notes that key Raiders members and producers are now to be filed under late, great status including Raiders and Lee Michaels guitar genius Drake Levin, who sadly passed away on the 4th of July 2009. Even 45 years after the Raiders’ first huge hit “Just Like Me” was recorded on October 21st, 1965, these songs sound as cool as the day they were made. / /

- Under the auspices of Gordon Anderson, America’s favorite reissue label Collector’s Choice Music continues on as real innovators in the record world. One of their key 2009 reissues is I’ve Never Seen A Straight Banana from Tin Pan Alley song man Tiny Tim. Interesting to note that the album was originally produced in 1976 by then 16 year old Richard Barone, and mostly featured Tiny solo on uke, performing a range of early 20th century classics that he clearly loved and, having memorized to a tee, did so well. According to his biographer Justin A. Martell, Tiny Tim was ‘A walking encyclopedia of popular songs spanning from the early 1800’s to the year of his passing in 1996.’ Martell also claims that Barone, ‘A completely unknown 16-year old boy from Tampa, Florida saw what others could not: a serious artist.’ Commenting on the album‘s title track Barone adds, “As fun a song as ‘I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana’ is, it has an underlying meaning that escaped me as a teenager but is now clear: The search—not only for the unattainable but the virtually unfindable. In a way, that was Tiny’s lifelong quest: The search for perfect beauty. For the perfect showbiz stunt. The perfect song. It was perhaps this eternal search that made him one of the most unique and intriguing popular artists of the 20th century.” Tiny Tim's legend lives on, his reptuation in tact as one of America's most knowledgable and fearless pop stars in modern music history.

/ MVD - PA.-based Music Video Distributors continue with their Stateside distribution of the UK based Chrome Dreams label, that recently released George Harrison - Beautiful Stranger. A bunch of juicy tid-bit filled Beatles related B&W footage retells the history of The Beatles while focusing on George's part specifically. There’s some key contributions from Paul McCartney, Beatles producer George Martin and Ravi Shankar. You can really get a feeling for the craziness George endured for much of the ‘60s, while excellent color footage of George and Ravi from the ‘90s retells the mystical one’s fascination of the sounds of the sitar and the peace he sought through Ravi’s multifold Indian cultural influences. Peppered with circa 2000 interviews footage featuring George's Liverpool mates and some intriguing cohorts of manager Brian Epstein, the 75+ minute DVD brings the tale up more up to date with color news footage from the ‘90s that retells some of the sad trials and attacks poor George endured at the turn of the century. Harmonious Beatles inspired soundtrack sounds by a mystery band of Beatles disciples injects further emotion into the story.

- The leaders on the world wide DVD stage, Eagle Rock truly pioneered the DVD art form during the first ten years of the millennium and clearly they’re ready to take the lead again at the start of the second decade of the 21st century. A few DVD’s missed over the last few months of 2009 include Eagle’s multi disc DVD releases from the late great singer John Denver, who died tragically at age 53 in 1997.Eagle celebrates Denver’s musical genius with the single DVD Rocky Mountain High: Live In Japan and the 5 DVD set called Around The World Live. While the 5 DVD set features live performances from 1977 till 1990, the single disc Live In Japan captures one of Denver’s seven shows from his 1981 Japanese tour. Backed up by his band, Denver runs through a number of his huge pop hits, while the DVD also features a colorful DVD booklet including liner notes by Denver expert Lowell Norman. Speaking of live in concert DVD’s featuring musicians no longer with us today, Eagle also released an acclaimed DVD from rock legends Little Feat entitled Skin It Back. Filmed in Germany in 1977 for the famous Rockpalast TV concert series, the 97 minute DVD features the classic lineup of Little Feat with the band’s late great singer-songwriter and guitarist Lowell George, guitarist / singer Paul Barrere and company in primo form performing eleven live tracks in addition to seven more tracks culled from thirty minutes of rehearsal. Rockpalast is renowned for their excellent video quality and extensive liner notes and an abundance of photos from the ‘77 performance makes Skin It Back a must for fans of Lowell George and Little Feat. Another Rockpalast live concert DVD event on Eagle, Thin Lizzy: Are You Ready? features the late, great bass playing vocalist Phil Lynott backed up by the twin guitar team of long time Thin Lizzy ax great Scott Gorham and U.K. guitar icon Snowy White. Caught live in Germany in 1981, Are You Ready? features Lynott and company rocking out with a number of Lizzy favorites including their all time big hit “Jailbreak,” featuring Lynott in peak form. Again the DVD video is expertly filmed and you’d be hard pressed to find another Thin Lizzy DVD this great.While Eagle are well known for their many fine DVD releases from Jethro Tull, including Tull’s Montreux live DVD/CD and the band’s fabled Isle Of Wight DVD / CD, audio buffs wanting to experience some great live Tull showstoppers will want to hear the Eagle Records CD release of Jethro Tull - Living With The Past. Long available as a DVD release, Eagle's CD release of Living With The Past—with an alternative track history from the DVD—includes a near complete live show from London (November 25, 2001), as well as live tracks from October 1999, 3 cuts live in Switzerland from October 1989 and a couple tracks from the Class of ‘68 reunion, from January 2002.The twelve page CD booklet presents some well designed artwork and photography and, of course a heaping helping of typically tongue-in-cheek Ian Anderson liner notes. Comic genius Tracey Ullman, one of the funniest ladies to ever to emigrate to the U.S. from England, is the subject of a great 3 DVD set on Eagle called Tracey Takes On... Containing three DVD’s, Tracey Takes On features a wealth of her late ‘90s comedy shows filmed for HBO. Clocking at 381 minutes, the three DVD set boasts over six hours of what Tracey does best, comic skits showcasing her unique ability to crack of audiences with her great acting in a comic setting. The comic skits feature Ullman in peak form in the company of some great actors including Cheech & Chong’s Cheech Marin and many more. Ullman’s comic gift was featured on Eagle’s DVD release of Tracey Ullman’s State Of The Union in 2008, but even with these shows in edited form, while including over an hour of never before seen footage, Tracey Takes On... is one of Eagle’s most hilarious DVD releases yet.

- A subsidiary of Collector’s Choice Records, Micro Werks is shaping up to be a pretty cool source of vintage CD remasters / compilations. Micro is starting off 2010 with a bang with their retrospective of Was (Not Was) entitled Pick Of The Litter (1980-2010). Has it really been 30 years since Don Was and David Was unveiled their wild and crazy mix of rock, disco, beat poetry, sociopolitical commentary and jazz sound? Undreappreciated at the time no doubt! A whole host of musicians / celebrity guests appear on multiple album era cuts including Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, Al Kooper, The Knack’s Doug Fieger, The Roches, long time Was, Not Was singers “Sweet Pea” Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens, Wayne Kramer of MC5, Ozzy Osbourne, Mel Tormé, Mitch Ryder, Booker T. Jones, Kim Basinger, Kris Kristofferson and many more players. Not really brothers, Don (Fagenson) and David (Weiss) were born seven weeks apart in 1952 although clearly—with so much shared love of the same music—they were really brothers under the skin so to speak. Although the bulk of the single disc set covers Was, Not Was highlights from 1980-1990, the disc also includes music from their 2008 comeback CD, Boo! The 19 cut CD features an excellent 15 page CD booklet filled with excellent historic liner notes from Brian J. Bowe and is further highlighted by rare photos and extensive discography info. Commenting on this Micro Werks set, David Was adds, ‘Those were the good old days. Relive them now with the magnesium sound of Was (Not Was), which Eddie Money once called ‘Was (To Was),’ a name which I frankly prefer, and which describes the small world Don and I always lived in. If it made us smile, laugh or cringe, we thought we were on to something. All aboard the last train to Wasville!’ Although Don Was was/is probably best known for his illustrious production work—including Brian Wilson’s 1994 comeback movie—as this CD proves, his time recording with David Was as an artist in Was, Not Was is worth the trip down memory lane and will bring to light their manifold musical creations.

- U.K. composer and musical multi-instrumentalist Llewellyn is one of the main movers and shakers on the world wide New Age music scene. Llewellyn’s record label Paradise Music—with offices in both the U.K. and the U.S. is one of the top New Age, music as therapy labels in the world. One look at the latest color catalog from Paradise is well almost heavenly. Who knew there were that many CD releases all geared for spiritual rejuvenation. reviewed the 2009 CD release of Moon Chants, from singer Marie Bruce and while that vocal release is sure to please New Age fans, not enough can be said about the many fine instrumental music releases from Llewellyn. First up is a 2009 CD reissue of of Llewellyn’s 1999 Ghosts CD. Apparently we have ghosts among us and the U.K. in particular is a really happening place for those ghosts. Anyway, a bunch of fascinating ghost related tales are given the instrumental treatment and get put to music on Llewellyn’s Ghost album, including one or two involving him. In his own words Llewellyn claims, ‘From my own collection of books and clippings, I have embarked on my most ambitious project ever, to produce an album based on several of my favorite true Ghost stories.’ You can really feel the spirit of the ages taking hold in Llewellyn’s music. Fans of the greatest New Age composers—from Vangelis to Mike Oldfield—as well as fans of the metaphysical songs of Enya, must give Llewellyn as listen. Complete with new remastering and the inclusion of a bonus cut, Ghosts is one of Llewellyn’s greatest music accomplishments. While we’re on the subject of all things Llewellyn, New Agers may want to give a listen to one of his most recent creations, the 2009 CD release of Tantric Love. Designed to be sensually inspiring and relaxing in an effort to create the perfect environment for lovemaking, Tantric Love is yet another splendid Llewellyn CD filled with his patented, hypnotic and meditative instrumental approach to New Age instrumental music. You certainly don’t have to believe in ghosts or be inclined to improve your sexuality in order to appreciate Llewellyn’s lush, harmonius music. Even though his music is mostly instrumental or heard sometimes to be accompanied by occasional wordless vocals, Llewellyn’s beautiful music is designed to speak volumes all by itself.

- Started up by NYC bred August Darnell back in 1980, the story of Kid Creole And The Coconuts is recounted on Anthology Vols 1 & 2. The double CD touches on 20 tracks of the Kid’s colorful ska-rock approach, a sound that its stated was originally inspired by Cab Calloway and the Hollywood films of the the '30s and '40s. Discovered early on by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, Kid Creole always surrounded himself with the best players and the hottest female singers, those lovely bunch of Coconuts who often lyrically taunt the Kid on stage. As a payback to Blackwell, Kid Creole also covers the first Island hit, "My Boy Lollipop," featured here, while the Kid also states in the liner notes, ‘Without Chris Blackwell’s genuine love of Creolism, I could never have conquered Europe the way I did in the ‘80s.’ I didn’t realize it but esteemed Jamaican guitarist Eugene Grey plays on a number of these cuts in Kid’s band. Included in the 20 tracks here are four previously unreleased tracks
all new recordings that are among some of Kid's favorite songs such as his hit with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, "Cherchez La Femme" and a new take of his '80s song "There But For The Grace Of God, Go I." Liner notes from Kid Creole collaborator A. Scott Galloway brings this comp into the end zone. / /

RISING SON RECORDS - 40 years ago in 1969, Woody Guthrie’s son Arlo Guthrie released what some might say was his greatest album ever. Produced by Van Dyke Parks, the Running Down The Road album from ‘69 was probably most famous for the pro-pot song “Coming In To Los Angeles” although the whole album was a sheer joy to listen to from start to finish. Interestingly with so many great musicians on hand, including guitar icon James Burton, Running Down The Road was also Arlo’s most rocked out album ever too. Although released on CD by Koch back in the ‘90s, Running Down The Road was also reissued by Arlo’s Rising Son imprint back in 2004. Rising Son has a load of Arlo’s music—new and vintage—and high on the list of 2009 Rising Son releases is a tasty little package entitled what else but Tales Of ‘69. Starting off with a 20+ minute “The Unbelievable Motorcycle Tale” (the “I Don’t Want A Pickle” song) followed by a humorous rant called “What A Gas,” the 9 track live in concert solo acoustic set rips into a very done done “Coming In To Los Angeles” and proceeds to move through a live set featuring the wide variety of music Arlo does so well. Even the CD packaging will take you back to the psychedelic imagery of 1969! A must for Arlo fans and good intro to the wonder of Arlo at his zenith, Tales Of ‘69 offers a fine balance between the funny Arlo and the serious Arlo that could take apart your soul and put it back together again in the space of a song.

RPM RETRO DISC - Singer-songwriter Dave Berry was another one of those great U.K. singers who never really got credit for his musical vision. I had known of Berry and his famous song “The Crying Game” but, in the last of the pre-CD years of the 1980’s, say circa early ‘84-ish, Dave went into the studio and came out with a brilliant underrated / overlooked album called Hostage To The Beat. There was another version as I recall on Lp from the U.K. but the album was first released on CD by Butt Records, distributed by the incipient German Line Records, and like a flashing meteor it remains one of the brilliant comeback albums of the ‘80s. Anyway, in a flash back even earlier, 20 years before Hostage, RPM Records in England has a great 2009 CD compilation compiling the best of Dave’s early recordings on Decca in England, entitled This Strange Effect - The Decca Sessions 1963-1966. With the first CD of this two disc set covering early hits and assorted rock and roll covers that Berry so excels in, its disc 2, detailing that crucial ‘66 period, that sort of gives a good indication of what would be coming from Berry 18 years later in 1984! Thinking man's pop with a penchant for pop covers and the "song", Dave Berry may be an acquired taste, yet 45 years after “The Crying Game” to quote a phrase, Berry is still on top. One would have hoped that a pop genius the likes of Dave Berry would have recorded more (maybe he did, we just don’t know too much back here in the Colonies!) but anyway, Hostage is well worth hunting down, an even at this later stage in the game. I think you can find the CD on Ebay for 65 bucks. In the mean time, complete with excellent cover art and packaging by England’s wizardly pop reissue masters at RPM, The Strange Effect is a noble effort bound to stir interest in one of England’s ‘60s pop icons.

Picking up the jam band pieces from bands like the Grateful Dead, the band known as String Cheese Incident was one of the highlights of the almost history dubya double O’s. Even before the decade from hell brought U.S. the terror of Bush II, SCI were rocking right on in style. Although String Cheese recorded one of the great studio albums, Untying The Knot, during the dubya owes O’s, the band was always thought of as a live act that would and could do anything in concert. In fact, SCI would always thrill fans with their yearly Halloween / Hulaween shows, the best of which is captured on a double CD set entitled The String Cheese Incident - Trick Or Treat, released on October 27, 2009 as both a double CD set as well as a massive nine CD set for diehards, complete with rare posters autographed by the members of the band. Every member of String Cheese Incident is a great player and vocalist with their own write—from guitarists Michael Kang and Billy Nershi through to drummer Michael Travis, Keith Moseley (bass) and Kyle Hollingworth (keyboards). Like many bands, SCI were never able to exactly (or maybe they just didn’t want to) translate their albums to the stage so maybe that’s why the Trick Or Treat releases are chock full of the in concert cover songs that SCI always excelled in. What a hoot it is to hear these proggy jammers rocking out on covers of “Come Together”, Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” “Peace Train,” Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and there’s even a cover of the Sgt. Pepper classic “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite.” Doors fans will love the featured SCI cover of “L.A. Woman” filled with wild instrumental improvs linking the song parts. These songs melt like butter in the hands of SCI who bring a sense of liveliness and relief to the classic cover syndrome that plagues many bands. The myriad of shows sampled on the double Trick Or Treat comp span 1998 and ‘99 and follow up all the way to a Madison, Wisconsin show in October ‘04, which was just before the shit would hit the fan for a second time this decade, sadly so for so many Americans. Even though, SCI are temporarily off the road and out of the recording studio, both Billy Nershi and Kyle Hollingworth both have newly recorded 2009 solo albums.

SUMMERFOLD RECORDS - One of the leading multi-percussionists, and an expert on the tabla, janjira and bongos, Pete Lockett toured with drummer Bill Bruford way back in 1999. In the aftermath, Bruford joined Pete Lockett’s Network Of Sparks which yielded a ‘culture-busting’ album entitled One. Out of print for years, Bruford’s Summerfold label has wisely reissued the album on CD in 2010. Brimming with some truly exotic sounding drums and percussion instruments, this CD almost sounds like it would make a great instrumental music soundtrack for an African safari documentary! With the always musically savvy Bill Bruford helping steer the ship, I’m sure these artists are well aware of their own cinematic intentions! As with just about every album featuring Bruford’s legendary drumming expertise, the rhythms on One are crosscutting and menacing and, with several tracks featuring Bruford on drum set, the sound is sonically intoxicating, especially if you turn it up. Lockett’s percussive sensitivities resonate well with Bruford’s fusion-rock experience and the result is an experimental percussion album that, bereft of all melodic intent, stalks it’s prey to the rhythm of life.

SUNBEAM RECORDS - The English have turned into meticulous curators of vintage rock and pop, and not only music from their own mother England but from just about any and every country you can think of. Thanks to the work of a number of English CD reissue labels, rare sonic antiquities have seen the light of day on CD, many for the first time ever. With a batch of rare, fully realized CD remasters, the Sunbeam label is one of the best U.K. collectors labels. One oddity released on Sunbeam in 2009 is a double CD set from Jade, entitled Fly On Strangewings. The double CD set features the original 1970 album with a second CD of bonus cuts. The core Jade lineup of singer-songwriter Marian Segal, Dave Waite (vocals, guitar) and Rod Edwards (vocals, keyboards) are backed up by top sessioneers of the time including future King Crimson member John Wetton, Pete Sears (bass), James Litherland (guitars), Clem Cattini (drums) and many more, especially on the second bonus disc. Way back when, Jade was compared to groups like Pentangle and Ms. Segal to singers like Sandy Denny. Overall the double CD retrospective offers a very appealing cross section of British folk-rock. 2009 liner notes from Ms. Segal brings the Jade story up into focus with rare insights and up to date information of her current activities. / /

UNICORN DIGITAL - Over the past decade, Unicorn Digital has established it’s name as one of the top progressive rock labels in North America. The Unicorn name was made golden thanks to the hard work of guitarist Michel St-Pere, who in addition to his A&R word with Unicorn, is also the guitar sound of his group Mystery—which also features the vocals of current YES vocalist Benoit David. Mystery’s 2008 CD, Beneath The Veil Of Winter’s Face gave way to a fresh remix of the first Mystery CD, Destiny?, which was remastered and reissued in 2009 with the name Destiny? - 10th Anniversary Edition. Progressive rock fans seeking some fresh insight into the early Mystery sound, before Benoit David joined the band, should give a listen to this newly overhauled anniversary edition of the first Mystery album. Looking foward at new recordings on Unicorn, Michel St-Pere received lots of critical acclaim for Unicorn's 2009 CD releases of the first Flood album—a sonically rewarding New Age instrumental masterpiece called Tales From The Four Seasons—and likewise St. Pere and Unicorn did a great job on the 2009 album from Roger Powell, entitled Blue Note Ridge. While Powell earned his stellar reputation as the legendary keyboardist with Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, on Blue Note Ridge he further establishes his credentials with a stunning sounding CD of newly crafted solo piano improvisations. Powell’s piano is clean and crisply recorded and—even without a shred of electronica—he gets his musical points across. Powell is still in the rock sphere thanks to his work with his retro-futuristic, groove oriented band, The Fossil Poets, but his solo piano sound on Blue Note Ridge makes for a thoroughly engaging album of instrumental acoustic piano genius. Also out on Unicorn during the late Fall of 2009 is The Second Sight Of Mind from guitarist Agah Bahari. Co-produced by fusion keyboard genius Derek Sherinian, the CD is described as a one of a kind adventurous instrumental progressive metal collaboration between Agah, Derek, Virgil Donati and Ric Fierabracci. Those who like their instrumental rock hard and fast with traces of rock metal and guitar fusion should hear this powerhouse release on Unicorn. Also in the prog mold from Unicorn is This Mortal Coil from the prog-rock group Celestial Oeuvre. Dedicated to the memory of Jose Damien, whose keyboards grace this CD, Celestial Oeuvre features key contributions from singer-songwriter Joe Acaba (who composed a good part of the music and most of the lyrics here) as well as Long Island guitar hero Joe Nardulli and drummer Hector Lopez. Recorded in NYC, the music is very much in the prog-rock mold with echoes of rock stalwarts like Rush and even Deep Purple. Like usual, Unicorn packs their Celestial Oeuvre CD with complete lyrics and truly celestial artwork and packaging. Commenting on work with Jose Damien and Joe Acaba, guitarist Joe Nardulli spoke to adding, ‘Yes, Celestial Oeuvre - I had a great time recording with that band. Really talented musicians and great, great early prog stylings. Sadly, the musical force behind the project, Jose Damien passed away just after he completed all the rhythm guitar, keyboard, bass tracks and editing. A tremendous talent Jose was, and very inspiring to work with. I just went in a laid down solo guitar stuff with Jose "directing" me for what he wanted to hear. Singer Joe Acaba did a beautiful job with lyrics and melodies...his harmony work and vocal "vision" is stunning. I did both CDs with the band. After the first release, Second Chance, they were picked up by Unicorn Records and did This Mortal Coil. I played on both Celestial Oeuvre CDs. Second Chance was the first, released by the band themselves and This Mortal Coil is on Unicorn.’ /

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