Record Label
and Music Spotlight









- Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in England, This Is Where We Meet is a most welcome album from the U.K. folk-rock band known as Urusen. A lot of it is catchy, toe tapping stuff that fans of The Eagles or Brian Wilson might like and they’ve also been compared to more modern Americana folk-rock bands like The National. One of the best tracks here, “Step Off The Train” starts off slow, yet nicely picks up with a catchy chorus and turns into a fired up country rocker. Peter Beatty takes on the lion’s share of the vocals but there’s welcoming harmony work from the entire band which includes drummer Kieran Houston and others. The CD is tastefully packaged, while fine production from Steve Osborne tops off Urusen’s finely wrought musical masterpiece.

- A progressive rock heavyweight since the late 1970s, Crack The Sky has kept singer-songwriter John Palumbo as a central core of the sound. With the 2012 CD release of Ostrich Crack The Sky have recorded an album that stays true to the band’s dedicated progressive rock roots. Writing the music and taking the lead vocals, Palumbo gets solid support from his CTS band mates and the Crack Pack Horns. The CD cover art is a hoot and lyrics, that are actually readable, and various Crack The Sky discography information makes Ostrich a worthy 21st century pop-rock prize. /

- As a founding member of Mott The Hoople, keyboardist Verden Allen played on those great early Mott albums including their classic first self-titled album with Mick Ralphs and Ian Hunter. He left right after Mottmania and “All The Young Dues” and while he hasn’t been particularly prolific as a solo artist, it’s worth noting Verden’s new for 2013 comeback CD on Angel Air. Ian Hunter was reluctant to let Allen’s steal the limelight but clearly Mott fans will enjoy Verden’s 2013 release on Angel Air, Love You & Leave You. Credited to Verden Allen’s Soft Ground, the 13 track CD features all Allen originals recorded in the studio with Allen’s swirling organ sound and vocals backed up by a in-sync band that sounds quite Mott inspired at varying points. Several of the tracks border on Allen’s famous associations with both glam and early progressive rock as well as anthemic pop in the Mott and Procol spirit. Renowned for their in depth CD remaster series of Mott The Hoople and all the great musicians from their tree, Angel Air comes through again with this solid CD comeback from Mott founding keyboardist Verden Allen.

- Where else but Brooklyn could you have a record label with a name like Ba Da Bing, w hich incidentally sounds like something Ralph Kramden would say. Well just the opposite is true with the 2012 CD release of Harmony Springs by the band Snow Goose. Presumably named after the Peter Bardens side long track in the prog-rock group Camel, the Harmony Springs album is very suitable for Camel fans and with the tasteful vocals of Anna Sheard, there’s also an element of Annie Haslam, or Jane Relf, in the original Renaissance. One may also cite Pentangle and Fairport Convention, yet there’s something also kind of postmodern here. It’s all well performed and recorded though I would never guess this was from 2012.

- Somewhere between Ray Davies and mid 1980s David Bowie, singer-songwriter Pete Williams is in the running for one of the best pop albums of 2012 with the 11 track See. Having worked as one of the singers in Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Williams infuses his catchy sound with kind of a pop suaveness that would impress Alex Harvey and his biggest influence David Bowie. See is filled with that infectious kind of groove that Dexy’s was world renowned for. What Williams lacks in solo recordings is made up for here. First off, that CD cover is just brilliant, with the greyhound blending into the breathtaking canyon views. Williams gets solid support from his band with cameos from U.K. guitar hero Richard Hawley. See is Williams at his most iconic to date.

/ ACE RECORDS - Great news for music fans is that there’s a new for 2012, 13 track studio album from 1960’s folk-rock legend Bob Lind. The folk-rock icon who rose to fame as the writer and performer of the 1966 prog-folk classic “Elusive Butterfly”, Bob Lind is in stellar form on the 2012 CD release of Finding You Again. Despite 41 years of not making studio albums, Lind sounds like he never left music on Finding You Again. It’s a real tribute to Finding You Again album producer Jamie Hoover and the good folks at Big Beat and ACE Records in London that this album even came out. Over the past decade I have never failed to be amazed at the ceaseless devotion and pride the English record labels have shown in their painstakingly restoring classic albums on CD by near forgotten American music legends but this newly recorded Bob Lind album is something else again. It’s one thing to reissue a classic album full of reminiscent liner notes, bonus cuts and historic anecdotes but another thing completely to revive these same artists, who, in the the case of Bob Lind is still full of great music. In the fly by night world of 21st century music, it’s great to know that music legends like Bob Lind are finally getting some long overdue attention with their new music that truly deserves to be heard. And extra thanks to Jamie Hoover, the rock guitarist / multi-instrumentalist / producer hero, for helping put Bob Lind’s new music on the map again. /

- Signed to Elektra Records back in the late 1970’s and early ‘80s, Shoes are something of a legend in the power pop and American indy pop genres. Eighteen years after their Propeller album, the Zion, Illinois based group is back and pundits are calling the 2012 release of Ignition their finest pop album to date. With one catchy upbeat, danceable track after the next, the Ignition sound harks back to early Shoes. The immediacy is still there and the 15 track 2012 CD release of Ignition is going to please Shoes fans no end. In a vital, spark-filled return to form, singer-songwriter / guitar playing founders Jeff Murphy and John Murphy once again forge with Gary Klebe. On drums is long time group drummer John Richardson. The in between times since the last official Shoes release was followed by various releases including a live CD, reissues, rarities compilations, a two-CD set of early demos, a film soundtrack and various Shoes tribute albums, all followed by Jeff Murphy’s 2007 solo album Cantilever. I’d say by now Shoes fans are more than ready for Ignition. Shoes fans, check, Ignition and lift-off.

BLUE NOTE RECORDS - 43 years after setting the music world on its ear with Moondance, and nearly 50 years after arriving to American shores at the tale end of the British invasion with Them, the Belfast gypsy himself Van Morrison is back big time with a new album on a new label. The Blue Note label is no stranger to Morrison, having released Van’s What’s Wrong With This Picture back in 2003. Four years after Van's 2008 Keep It Simple CD, for his Blue Note comeback, the ten track Born To Sing: No Plan B is pure vintage Morrison brought up to date in a veritable sonic time capsule of his greatness. Listening to the music while reading the cryptic song lyrics to Born To Sing: No Plan B is kind of like a spiritual summation of where the world has been for the past four years. The entire album is just as embraceable as Moondance was 43 years ago while the pristine vintage retro recording sound is so timeless you might think the album was cut in the late 1950s. Van Morrison is still Van The Man and Born To Sing: No Plan B sounds very much like the return of seasoned music legend. The CD packaging is excellent while three writers contribute new and unique liner notes while examining the legacy of Morrison. The CD liner notes by Alan Light features illuminating interview segments with Morrison discussing the story behind Born To Sing: No Plan B.

- It’s interesting to note that one of the best jazz-rock instrumental albums of 2012 was made by prog-rock hero Billy Sherwood. Sherwood, no stranger to complex musical art forms, sounds right at home on an album filled with studio performances from jazz fusion greats Billy Cobham, Rick Wakeman, Jerry Goodman, Steve Morse, Tony Kaye, John Etheridge, Steve Hillage, David Sancious and a whole lot more. The subject matter here is instrumental fusion, and as far as a band leader and producer, and multi-instrumentalist utility man second to none, Sherwood proves to be a worthy master of ceremonies. Full of high flying, free flowing prog jams, The Fusion Syndicate hangs together thanks to the mastery of these music icons taking part. The prog-rock side of Sherwoods’s muse take full flight on the companion CD to the Fusion Syndicate. The rock companion to Sherwood’s instro fusion foray, The Prog Collective features some of the same players while adding in cameos from key names such as Chris Squire, Annie Haslam, John Wetton, Geoff Downes and more big names from the prog-rock world performing Sherwood’s 2012 tracks. For instance, track three, “The Technical Divide” features Alan Parsons (vocals), Chris Squire (bass), David Sancious (keyboards) and Gary Green (guitars), all on one track, while track four, “Social Circles” features performances by Annie Haslam (vocals) and Peter Banks (guitars). Both of these 2012 CD releases offer solid proof of Sherwood’s uncanny abilities as producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer and perhaps most tellingly, as prog-fusion taste maker.

- With her impeccable credentials, having toured with Annie Lennox as well as having worked with Dave Stewart and Brian Eno, singer-songwriter Carina Round released Tigermending in 2012. The 11 cut CD is superbly recorded and features some cool cover art. Think alternative rock but with some truly beguiling etchings, Tigermending features a wealth of prog-pop rock based sounds enhanced by some exotic enhancements on mellotron, baritone guitars all played by Carina and her excellent band. Some of Tigermending sounds like The Eurhythmics yet with a 21st century type of attitude. Originally from England and based in L.A., Carina Round makes a truly definitive 21st century pop-rock statement with the superbly recorded Tigermending.

- Alaskan born / L.A. based singer songwriter Kate Earl strikes a blow for pop originality with the 2012 CD release of Stronger. The CD has got that classic SoCal pop sound down to a tee and there’s a number of top notch musicians and producers to make things happen, including Brett Dennen, Blake Mills. As Ms. Earl points out on her web site, the Stronger Cd was recorded at the legendary Village Recorders, home of classic recordings from Fleetwood Mac and the Stones. Fans of 1980’s pop legends such as The Bangles, Marti Jones and even Stevie Nicks will find much to like about Kate Earl’s captivating pop sound and vision.

- Acknowledged as the premier electric lap steel guitar player in the world, Jerry Douglas is joined by some amazing, gifted players on the 2012 CD release of Traveler. On Traveler, Jerry’s heavy hitting friends include Alison Krauss, Dr. John, Béla Fleck, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Keb ‘Mo, Marc Cohn, drumming ace Omar Hakim, Sam Bush and a whole lot more. The title of Traveler no doubt comes from the fact that the 11 cut CD was recorded all over the map in New Orleans, New York City, Banbury, England, Nashville and Montreal, Canada. Even with so many music legends appearing and singing on what is Jerry’s most diverse, blues-rock, vocal based album yet, the coolest track here is a scorching instrumental called “So Here We Are”, that serves as a fine showcase for the world renowned Jerry Douglas electric electric lap steel guitar sound. In addition, the CD was expertly produced by the legendary Russ Titelman. James Taylor is quoted as saying that Jerry Douglas is “the Muhammad Ali of the dobro” and you can hear what James is talking about on the wide-ranging sounds in play on Traveler.

- Think about all the great songwriters Who founder Pete Townshend has been associated with, those he's fostered and egged on over the past 40+ years, and it boggles the mind. Even so, it's more than rewarding for Who fans to discover a new for 2012 CD from Pete's young brother Simon Townshend. With six solo albums into his career, the 11 track Looking Out Looking In finds Simon going head on into the land of Who inspired pop/rock. Some of this album sounds inspired by his brother while some of the rockier tracks echo John Entwistle. Other karmic signposts include influences from long time Townshend cohort Billy Nicholls. With that definitive Townshend style, Simon's vocals are spot on accurate while, fleshing out the songs, there's some blistering guitar work from Tony Lowe and solid drumming from Simon's son Ben Townshend. Being that Simon is 14 years younger than his brother Pete, (Simon actually appeared adding vocals to the 1969 Tommy album), you can rest assured the Townshend stamp of pop excellence remains in good hands moving forward.

- When you think about rock legends, dead or alive, think Eagle Records. Eagle Rock of course started out capitalizing on the DVD and CD boom of the ‘90s and they rose to fame releasing numerous live DVD titles and studio albums from legends like Procol Harum, Mike Oldfield and The Shadows. Of course another Eagle legend, the late great guitarist Gary Moore is the subject of numerous CD and DVD titles and Eagle do the right thing with their latest posthumous CD/DVD release from Gary entitled Blues For Jimi. If one guitarist captured the essence of the blues in rock it was Gary Moore. A friend of George Harrison and an all around super nice guy, Moore lived and breathed hard and fast yet, pity for us, he died way too soon, at 58 in 2011. Captured live after the debut UK screening of Jimi At Monterey (released on CD/DVD on October 25th, 2007) Blues For Jimi finds Gary delving with profound glee and triumph into the songbook of Jimi and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Throughout the CD and DVD, Gary is ably assisted by his band, Dave Bronze (bass) and Darren Mooney (drums) while a good portion of the DVD and CD also features Gary performing classic Hendrix in the company of two of Jimi’s favorite band members Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Billy Cox (bass). Gary is gone, as are of course Mitch but as Blues For Jimi so aptly points out, Jimi Hendrix, the man, the musician and the legend, will never be forgotten. No extras on the DVD but there’s excellent liner notes, superb film work and sound throughout the DVD and the separately released, yet thoroughly essential, companion CD. Another rock legend given the royal treatment by Eagle Rock is Peter Frampton with the 2012 double DVD, Blu-Ray and triple CD release of Best Of FCA! 35 Tour: An Evening With Peter Frampton. The FCA! here is the famous Frampton Comes Alive album that put Peter Frampton on the map in the biggest possible way back in 1976. Of course, even before the original Frampton Comes Alive double Lp came out, Peter was already a rock star, having recorded now historic albums as a founding member of Humble Pie. That said, FCA! 35 will further enhance Frampton’s already stellar reputation as one of the founding principles of U.K. rock. Commenting on Eagle’s 35th anniversary of FCA!, the guitarist adds, ‘I have tried to find the best musical performances from as many different countries and cities as possible.’

- Although he rose to fame as the lead singer in 1960’s British invasion superstars, The Zombies, U.K. pop hero Colin Blunstone has, over the years, built an impeccable reputation as a solo artist. Following his critically acclaimed album, The Ghost Of You, Colin released On The Air Tonight in 2012. The results are surely another great Colin Blunstone album. Colin’s 11th solo album, On The Air features new music from Colin as well as classic music revisited from the pens of top notch songwriters like Peter Bardens (Colin’s band mate in the 1984 Keats lineup) and more. Colin’s band on this tasteful album is also first rate. Pop fans who thrilled to Colin’s work with The Zombies as well as his many solo albums will find On The Air Tonight one of the best comeback efforts from a major U.K. hero in 2012.

- That whole early Apple Records “Come And Get It” era had a major impact on pop music starting in 1968. Groups of yesterday and today play Badfinger as if it was the bible of rock. One new pop group that uses McCartney and his vision of Apple as a future historical reference and sonic template comes from the country of Italy and who are called Cirrone. In fact the three Cirrone brothers form the axis of the band. Pounding out the big pop beat on the 2012 CD release of Uplands Park Road, Cirrone deliver the goods on an album that looks as good as it sounds.

- From a label that has never made an outright commercial album comes a, well not so commercial album from English pop icon Scott Walker. The 9 track Bish Bosch features one of Scott’s most effective post Walker Brothers bands with U.K. guitar great Hughie Burns and guitarist James Stevenson. Scott also implements the talents of pedal steeler B.J. Cole, who had previously worked on three of Scott’s mid 1970’s albums. Once described as a mix between between David Bowie (someone even said Andy Williams, lol) and shocking German avant gard composer Stockhausen, Walker is at his most glaring and daring on Bish Bosch. A veritable smorgasbord of gloom and doom, rock style, with an enclosed libretto to help you make some sense of it all, Bish Bosch has Walker spitting directly into the eye of satan and raising all manners of hell on earth. Even going back to the mid 1960s and Walker’s reign with pop super heroes The Walker Brothers he was well known for his deep baritone croon and at least vocally, his 21st century sound is as strong as ever. Fans of Lou Reed and John Cale will love this but Walker’s vocal abilities are truly one of a kind. On Bish Bosch, Walker eschews the pop format as a song structure, instead going for a solid avant gard approach. Walker’s stark, raving sound is as bleak and harrowing as it gets in 21st century pop. Scott Walker takes no prisoners on Bish Bosch.

- There’s no shortage of gifted female singer-songwriters in the pop world, yet even amid all the pop godesses in the world today, you can add Ireland’s Gemma Hayes to the top artists making new music in 2013. On Gemma’s 2012 CD Let It Break she combines a wide range of sonic art forms including pop, rock, folk and electronica and the results make for an often captivating foray of sounds and visions. Gemma’s fourth album, recorded in France and Dublin Ireland with long time producer David Odlum, the 13 track Let It Break features Gemma backed up by a number of musicians and, like a drive down an open road with the top down, the album just flies by. Although she has done a range of soundtrack work, as well as having duetted with Julian Lennon, as an artist in her own right, Gemma Hayes remains a unique figure in the world of 21st century pop music. There’s plenty of down to earth pop goodness in her music and Let It Break goes the distance to help Gemma Hayes stand out from the pop pack.

- Cheek Mountain Thief is inventive modern pop from Mike Lindsay from the group Tunng. Weird things are happening over in the European continent as an English pop maven moves and settles in Iceland. There's a definite Van Dyke Parks effect here making it sound almost like 21st century chamber pop. Lindsay plays a number of instruments including guitars, bass, DX7, Tape Echo, xylophone and he gets near symphonic backing from a number of Icelandic musicians and backing vocalists. Fans of Bjork may be enchanted by Cheek Mountain Thief and some of this sounds inspired by Roger Waters and Atom Heart Mother era Pink Floyd. The CD is well packaged with some very impressionistic Icelandic inspired artwork.

- Germany based Glitterhouse has been releasing some fine titles of late—Josh Haden’s Spain CD and later in 2012 Glitterhouse released a cool little pop album called Carrington Street from Adele & Glenn. Coming from Australia, the duo embrace the great history of catchy pop-rock from the land down under. One could say Split Enz as a reference (even though SE are from New Zealand) and, while Adele & Glenn are somewhat more folksy in places they also enjoy a good rockin’ rave-up as the CD displays. Having an impressive pedigree of their own, the band's lineage includes ties to the groups The Go-Betweens and The Brisbanites. Adele & Glenn’s blending of their male and female voices works to great effect on the tracks where they join forces while other tracks usually spotlight one or the other. With ten tracks that clock in at just over 31 minutes, Carrington Street is one bouncy and infectious pop masterpiece.

GLOBAL JOURNEY MEDIA - Having recorded and performed with New Age pianist / chanteuse Fiona Joy Hawkins, Australia based singer-songwriter Trysette Loosemore steps out in style on her 2012 CD entitled Here On In. Much like the upbeat musical vibe on her 2011 album, Le Cafe Ancien, the 2012 release of Here On In further establishes Trysette as a real contender in the 21st century pop world. Backed by a tight band, Trysette comes across as a kind of modern day Carole King, rocking and rolling along while also sounding inspired by Aussie / Kiwi bands such as Crowded House. Produced and mixed by bass player Mick Malouf, the studio sound is first rate and both of these Trysette albums are, in fact, highly recommended for discerning pop-rock fans.

- It’s a musical jungle out there so you better consult Green Monkey to see where 21st century music is headed. After hearing the 2012 CD release of Jim Of Seattle I’m more confused then ever. The gentleman behind this, a guy named Jim, who is also from Seattle Washington proves capable of crafting Wakeman-esque prog symphonies, moving into hip-hop and Lou Reed style Velvet Underground sonics and more. Featuring Jim in the studio with a range of support players, We Are All Famous features 19 tracks that cover a boat load of ground. The music has been described as being a mix of Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson, the Mormon Tabernacle Chore and Dr. Seuss. It’s just the way out there and if you’re sage enough to pick up the CD edition, the cover art will prep you for the wild ride inside. Also new on Green Monkey are 2012 titles by Green Monkey’s multitasking honcho Tom Dyer, with a rootsy, bluesy and odd CD with a slight ZZ Top edge humorously called I Ain’t Blue Any More and a sonically soaring semi-psychedelic / Beatles-inspired CD called Death By Misadventure by The Green Pajamas.

- They may have been undervalued in the 1980s and ‘90s but the music of CSN&Y, together and solo and in other bands has been picked up by a whole new generation. And who better to put this all together then Peter Holmstedt, creator of the Hemifrån label (Music From Home) from Sweden. A wide range of artists and bands take part in the double CD set Music Is Love - A Singer Songwriters’ Tribute To the music of CSN&Y. Of course for the title track and album title, “Music Is Love” was the first track of the first David Crosby solo album from 1971. There’s a number of tracks written by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young going back to the Steve Stills track “For What It’s Worth”, covered here by Ron LaSalle from the first Buffalo Springfield album from 1966 while there’s a wide range of artists tribute covers here of Neil Young and Graham Nash too. Producer Peter Holmstedt, coming from Sweden, is more knowledgeable about American pop culture than many Americans. There’s plenty of classy covers here including a fine cover of the Steve Stills Manassas era “It Doesn’t Matter” by Cindy Lee Berryhill, Sugarcane Jane doing “Bluebird” and Judy Collins with “Helplessly Hoping” but it doesn’t get better then the disc two closing title track to Music Is Love, Crosby’s classic elegantly recorded in Liverpool England by pop singer Ian McNabb. A fine tribute album by 21st century pop artists praising one of the great artist institutions of the 20th century, the 27 track, 2 CD Music Is Love is tastefully packaged with unique artwork and in depth CD booklet filled with prolific liner notes by Dave Zimmer plus information on CSN&Y and all the artists taking part.

- There’s plenty of great music on the H album by the group Huski. Featuring the vocals of Melanie Garside and music from Pike Galloway, the H album was recorded in London. Ms. Garside goes by the name of Maple Bee on the CD and to their credit, Huski have three albums with a number of other CD titles from Ms. Garside. Filled with swirling electronica and hip-hop beats, the H album is simply irresistible Madonna style dance pop. Described by some as candy-coated synth-pop, the album is actually filled with some quite daring electronics and it seems to work best under the spell of repeat listens. When she’s not singing with Huski, Ms. Garside is actually a music therapist adding, ‘Music is part of what I do, it’s life food to me. I feel like a non-person without it.’ Extra mention must go to the sublime CD packaging for the H album. In the spirit of The Art Of Noise and Goldfrapp, Huski take their place among the smart 21st century English sonic experimentalists.

- Back in 1972, the prog-rock world had blossomed into something only dreamed about during the heyday of Sgt. Pepper’s, just 5 short years before. Christ, even John Lennon was forced to admit that "Yes is the answer" by 1973, especially as YES had made off with his drummer! Following the Beatles and Moody Blues, it seemed like YES in fact was the answer but another band Genesis had stolen some of their thunder, and for good reason. At the core of the Genesis sound was guitarist Steve Hackett. A legend of the progressive rock world, Hackett revisits his favorite Genesis music on the double CD release of Genesis Revisited II. More than perhaps any of the original members, Hackett best exemplifies the Genesis spirit here and he heads down memory lane backed up by a wide range of progressive rock superstars. Produced by Steve and Roger King, the sound is great and overall is somewhat sonically reminiscent of the 2012 Squackett album that Steve made with Chris Squire, in the sense of the lushly recorded vocal harmonies, here and there, echoing YES and CSNY. The global warming inspired covert art is haunting and likewise the 20 page booklet is filled with wondrous art, lyrics and Steve's 2012 liner notes.

- U.K. based trio band / orchestra Johnny Parry Chamber Orchestra released their 2012 CD Fields And Birds And Things on the Lost Toy label earlier in the year. Johnny Parry sings and plays keyboards and guitars and he’s backed up by a wide range of up to classical musicians performing on all manners of strings, winds and brass. There’s also several soprano and mezzo soprano singers on hand. It may be a bit much for rock fans to absorb but those music lovers who keep an open mind (and ear) for these kind of experimental sounds will be rewarded simply by the great care and tasteful blending of instruments on this CD. Parry himself sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and John Cale. Occasionally, say on the album’s stand out track, “More Fields & Birds & Things” features a soaring kind of rock energy and here’s hoping Parry picks up on that thread on future albums. Music fans who might have enjoyed John Cale’s more classical based experimental albums will find much to enjoy on Fields And Birds And Things. /

- On her 2012 CD Changeling, singer Camille O’Sullivan serves up a richly hued cover of David Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul” and that pretty much sums up the spirit of the 13 track CD. Other signposts or influences include Marianne Faithful, Amy Winehouse and even Edith Piaf, while the CD also features Camille covers of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Radiohead. Assisted by a wide range of musicians and especially multi-instrumentalists and co-producers Feargal Murray and Eanna Hickey, Camille sounds more stately and sinister than rock but there’s a cutting edge energy on Changeling that just might find across the board support with a range of listeners.

- From England, Ed Laurie sounds like a 21st century composite of some major discernible influences on the 2012 10 track CD release of Cathedral. Perhaps sometimes the influences might be more attributable to the listener than on the artist themselves but one can hear strains of Bryan Ferry, John Cale and some of the more bluesy numbers, dare I say (the late great) the sometimes shrieking pipes of Kevin Coyne. Ed cites albums like Astral Weeks and the desert noir movie and soundtrack Paris Texas as big influences. Not bad for the British rocker romanticizing about Americana. Even so, Ed’s influences pay off with dividends on an album that invites you in and then invites you back again.

- Many music company executives are sometimes frustrated musicians (the same could be said about music “critics”) but some get to live out their true mission in life. Case in point is Passion Of A Lonely Heart, the 2012 CD from Motéma Music founder Jana Herzen—a duo project with bass ace Charnett Moffett. Motéma has a pretty impressive track record building the label over the past ten years and they now have close to 100 CD releases by 40 artists. Commenting on working with Ms. Herzen, Moffett adds, ‘Jana’s a fabulous songwriter who has great compositions with interesting structures.’ Many of the tracks here are originals yet on a vocal cover, with lyrics, of the Chick Corea classic “Spain”, Ms. Herzen breaks new ground for the modern jazz sound. In addition to her sultry and swinging vocals, Ms. Herzen also adds in some fine acoustic guitar work that blends perfectly with her voice. With its stirring range of singer-songwriter based jazzy blues and World Beat influences, Ms. Herzen’s music would fit in perfectly, either on the beaches of San Paolo or uptown Manhattan from where she runs Motéma. Commenting on her solo venture, Ms. Herzen adds, ‘I first set out to do a full band project, but as I was rehearsing one day with Moffett I noticed a certain magic to the sound of my voice, with just bass and guitar and I thought why not just record that way? So we did.’ In addition to the stylish CD packaging and album design, the CD booklet for Passion Of A Lonely Heart features track by track liner notes by Ms. Herzen and further notes by Charnett Moffett, while the entire project is fittingly dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, as well as Ms. Herzen’s grandmother Minnie. Also on Motéma, the 2012 CD release of A Little Sugar is the latest CD from singer-songwriter Roberta Donnay And The Prohibition Mob Band. The San Francisco based singer portrays this album as kind of a tribute to her mentors Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Her choice of music is equally revealing with covers of Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Fats Waller and more. Her cover of “(Tropical) Heatwave” by Irving Berlin tastefully brings the song into the 21st century while retaining the groove. Featuring Ms. Donnay’s self-assured, jazzy vocals backed up by a number of jazzy swing era inspired players, including bass player and co-producer Sam Bevan, A Little Sugar sounds like it could have been recorded in the prohibition era or early 1930’s but lucky for us it was made in 2012!

/ AIR MAIL RECORDINGS - It’s nearly scandalous that despite founding and forming both The Move and Electric Light Orchestra, the name Roy Wood is still hardly known outside of ol’ Blighty. Just one of the blokes, Roy was roundly heralded by his disciples including American rock band Cheap Trick. A new American band name you can now add to the coterie of the I am a fan of Royston Wood band, The Flashcubes released a fitting tribute to the genius of Roy Wood with their 12 track Sportin’ Life: Flashcubes Play The Songs Of Roy Wood. Of course it’s really the Flash Cubes play the music that Roy Wood wrote, composed and arranged for The Move and his first post Move band Wizzard but that’s the concept of a whole new CD. A rock-pop quartet featuring the group’s producer and drummer Tommy Allen and guitarists Arty Lenin, Paul Armstrong and Gary Frenay, the Flash Cubes also feature some cameo roles from various guest artists (including Ringo producer Mark Hudson) while all together offering a most credible covers album of Roy’s various songs. Of course it would take a three, 79 minute CD sets to make a dent in Roy’s huge catalog but Flash Cubes pick some ultra catchy Wood compositions and the results offer a durable, up to date and newly recorded retrospective of songs written by what some say is the greatest artist of his time for a whole new generation of music listeners to enjoy again. Worth hunting down this Japan only pressing of a band from upstate N.Y.

- Sometimes musicians take themselves too seriously and sometimes not enough, so tell me what is hip? How about Frank Sinatra singing the Beatles’ classic “Something” backed up by Count Basie Orchestra. Well that ain’t gonna happen is it? So you might as well give a listen to a 2012 CD that would make Frank and Count proud and that record is Jetsetter Jazz by the group known as Nutty. Nutty, kookie, crazy are all words that I imagine Frank Sinatra would say every day and Nutty even has a singer who sounds like a dead ringer for Frank in one Sonny Moon (real name Joel Hile). Driven by a big, boisterous brass section, the eight piece Nutty sound as powerful as the horn laden group Chicago. These guys aren’t afraid to mix any kind of music case in point being the 12 mash ups that make up the entire album including the mood setting leadoff track—a mash up of the Hendrix song “Purple Haze” with the “Pink Panther Theme”—called “Purple Panther.” A Frank Sinatra / Vic Damone sound alike singing Jimi Hendrix, and more tracks mashing up The Monkees, Jethro Tull, Neil Young The Moody Blues, Edgar Winter and more? Hear it all for yourself, get Nutty and have a big laugh as well.

- One listen to the 2012 Margo Rey CD Habit is all the proof you need to know pop music is alive and well in 2012. Released by the L.A. based Organica Music Group, Margo’s 13 track CD is filled with catchy pop anthems that are fueled by a driving dance music beat. The playing from her band is so all around excellent, the time will slip away and you’ll never know why you’re having such a good time. Helping out are some trusty hands including Hall & Oates legend John Oates, who appears on track two, “Let It Rain,” which is also the single from the CD. Commenting on the track Ms. Rey adds, ‘I have found that the challenging times are the times when I have grown and learned the most about myself and others. The ‘rain’ is a metaphor for letting these times wash over me and sanctify me and allow me to be in the moment. I am honored that John Oates and I were able to collaborate on this song over pie and coffee in his lovely home and begin a new friendship.’ Covering a wealth of infectious pop, rock, dance music and even smooth jazz all rolled into one, with an extra shout out to a CD closing, lucky 13 cover of the Zombies’ 1965 classic “She’s Not There”, Margo Rey has it down to a musical science on the rewarding sonic grooves of Habit.

- Here’s a sound you don’t hear everyday. Five string baritone guitarist Mattias Welin joined forces with the operatic soprano vocals of Cecilia Alrikson for the 2012 CD release of How Laura Smiles Today by their group, air De COUr (correct spelling - at least on the CD cover!) A little research shows the Air de cour was a type of secular vocal music popular in Europe drum 1570 till 1650. There’s an element of both the Baroque and madrigal type singing on the 13 track air De cOUr CD which blends Welin’s nicely recorded guitar backing up Ms. Alrikson on a CD filled with freshly recorded versions of classical music from the pens of legends like John Dowland and Henry Purcell. Among the interesting guitarists in Sweden today, Welin’s guitars are quite complimentary here and the overall effect is a bit more like a classical version of the Swingle Singers sound of the mid 1960s. All in all, How Laura Smiles Today is quite relaxing neoclassical fare performed by a pair of 21st century artists.

- Singer-songwriter Paul Menel was the lead singer in the U.K. prog-rock band IQ back in the mid 1980's and after along absence he's back in 2012 with his new solo album entitled Into Insignificance I Will Pale. Kind of progressive with a slight Chris Squire approach to easy prog, the songs border on pop with more than a nod to progressive rock. The tracks click in a row and there's plenty of good listening to go back to. Menel's songs, vocals and occasional guitar and keyboards are enhanced by some excellent musicians including Menel song-writing partner, keyboardist Ian Diment. Also noticeable is the fine guitar work of Steve Harris and much more. Menel knows the power of the hook but he's also on the mark with his solid arrangements and recording chops. Although this is late 2012 album by Menel, he also has another fine power-prog pop album by his side group Paul Menel And The Great Out Doors. Excellent pop-prog, though maybe not as great as IIIWP, the 10 track CD features another excellent backing band and the CD cover art is just amazing. Paul Menel is breaking new ground for the pop and prog-rock world and these albums offer solid proof of that fact.

- Back in 2004, at the height of the Iraq war, blues-rock guitar great Robert Cray brought a shred of sanity to the music world singing about the horrors of sending young kids to fight unjust and unpopular wars on the aptly titled Twenty. On the 2012 CD release of Nothin’ But Love Robert turns his attention to other timely matters including fallout from the still lingering economic downturn of late 2008 and the always timely topic of lost love in hard times. Times must be somewhat better now because there’s also a glimmer of hope in Cray’s new music that won’t fail to bring a smile to the faces of his long time fans. Spotlighting a solid batch of new Cray tunes, Nothin But Love was recorded in Southern California and features excellent production by long time Joe Bonamassa producer Kevin Shirley. Coming across like a mix between B.B. King and Eric Clapton, the Nothin But Love CD just jumps right out of the speakers and the sound shines. Released by the Provogue / Mascot Records label group, the limited edition deluxe edition of Nothin But Love is also well packaged in cool modern retro flavored art work complete with in depth liner notes and track by track quotes by Robert. Cray’s band is also first rate including Jim Pugh (keyboards), Tony Braunagle (drums) and Richard Cousins (bass). Few can mix the immediacy of ‘60s soulful R&B music with the hard driving rock based energy of the blues as well as Robert Cray. Robert Cray brings the scorching power of blues-rock up a notch with the smoke and sizzle in play on Nothin But Love.

- With a voice that sings like an angel, Kate Rusby made a lot of listeners happy with her 20 CD released at the end of 2012. A double CD set with 21 songs, 20 celebrates Kate’s two decades year in the music world. Ostensibly folk music, 20 features Kate recreating some of the memorable moments from her career in the studio with some well renowned friends including Eddi Reader, Jerry Douglas, Paul Weller, Richard Thompson, Mary Chapin Carpenter and many more. The overall effect of 20 is one of sublime relaxation. No knees-up ravings here, just stately folk-pop musings by one of the finest voices in the U.K. folk music world of 2013. With the release of 20, you can be sure you’ll hear more from this fantastic songstress in the future.

- Founder of Spock’s Beard and a prog-rock superstar in his own right, Neal Morse should keep his many fans happy with the 2012 CD release of Momentum. Featuring Neal performing pretty much everything, the album also contributions from Randy George (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums) along with guest artists including guitarists Paul Gilbert and Adson Sodré. He was unstoppable in Spock’s Beard and as a solo artist Morse continues to add to his repertoire with memorable, well produced releases. Just in the past decade, Morse released a number of critically acclaimed albums and the six track, sixty minute Momentum takes its place among the major progressive rock album of the past year. Morse fans can also look for Live Momentum—a five CD / DVD set covering the recent live Momentum tour.

Released on the upstate-N.Y. based Righteous Babe label, Mutatis Mutandis signals the welcome return of soul-rock songstress Nona Hendryx. Fueled with thought provoking lyrics courtesy of the polarizing American election of 2012, Mutatis Mutandis features tracks with names like “Tea Party” and “The Ballad Of Rush Limbaugh” but make no mistake about it, Mutatis Mutandis rocks up a storm. The topics may be politically charged but the album just sizzles with a universal, electrifying soul-rock vibe. One can almost imagine Jimi Hendrix cutting loose on a soaring guitar solo on a track or two here. The groove based funk sound kind of harkens back to Nona’s fabled work as a member of Labelle but there’s so much cutting edge music here, Mutatis Mutandis just has to be 2012. Performing guitars, keys and bass, Ms. Hendryx gets plenty of fine musical support here including electric guitar from Ronnie Drayton and solid drums from Trevor Gale while Bowie band member Gail Anne Dorsey is noted with co-writing song credits on a track here. The Mutatis Mutandis CD booklet and packaging is first rate and features colorful art scheme and revealing liner notes by Ms. Hendryx. Solid soul-dance pop, driven on by a timeless mix of funk, soul, pop and fusion, complete with thought provoking lyrics, Mutatis Mutandis is a most welcome return from the legendary Nona Hendryx.

- The post-rock boom of classic female singers in England really blossomed over the past decade. With the passing of Amy Winehouse, a logical favorite in the wake of the aftermath could be Mim Grey. Mim’s robust brand of dance pop will make strong inroads among fans of Ms. Winehouse, Madonna and the 1950s style roots rock / retro rock of Amanda May. Produced by Pete Billingham and featuring the rock steady drumming of Steve Vintner, the CD was hewn together by the crafty song writing team of Mim Grey and Cori Josias. Fans of the late great Ms. Winehouse and Adele, should give a listen to Mim Grey.

- 43 years ago already, Sweden was never off the map as far as progressive rock went but these past few years, a whole new generation of music makers has taken the reigns in a valiant attempt to carry the torch forward into uncharted waters. With their first album entitled I, the Stockholm based band known as Under The Psycamore break new ground for 21st century prog-rock. Tuned in by music makers, including King Crimson stick man Trey Gunn, the duo of Jonathan Greiff (drums bass) and Carl Blomqvist (vocals, guitars), the group’s first album will appeal to prog-rock fans who like an added twist of hard rock and metal to the mix. United by a shared affinity for Steven Wilson’s band Porcupine Tree, Greiff and Blomqvist have been described as Tool meets Radiohead meets YES and while that is quite accurate, Under The Psycamore are definitely more Radiohead than Yes. As it stands, there’s enough meat on their debut album’s bones to qualify Under The Psycamore in the category of worth seeing what happens on the next album.

- America is so huge that cool musical things happen in a thousand places. From Milwaukee WI, the dairy state, comes Trapper Schoepp & The Shades and their 2012 CD Run Engine Run. Generations of rockers and country rockers have passed the baton on and down the line and with one killer track after the next, the new Trapper Schoepp CD possesses a rare quality of sound. Even more amazing is that at 22, Trapper leads his 5 piece band through an album of well produced pop-rock that belies his age. Excellent guitar work all around, and also including Tanner Schoepp on bass, on an album that could be described as vintage sounding country rock, think The Eagles meets Bad Company, brought up to date with a new spark and shine in 2012.

- Ten years into her career, Caroline Herring strikes alternative country-rock gold with her 2012 CD, Camilla. Six albums in, Ms. Herring pulls out all the stops on Camilla, which is being heralded as a career-defining album. Coming out of the American south, there’s a real strong folk-based Americana edge to this album. Commenting on the CD, Herring adds, ‘To me Camilla is about grief and injustice. Deep love and hope. Perseverance. Heroes.’ Some of Camilla is reminiscent of great North American singer-songwriters of rock’s past, including Neil Young and Roger McGuinn and from a folk perspective, Joan Baez. With its sumptuous, lush studio sound, Camilla was tastefully produced by Erick Jaskowiak, who has previously worked with Alison Krauss and Irish legends The Chieftains. There’s also some excellent musicians backing up Ms. Herring including Fats Kaplin (pedal steel), Bryan Owings (drums) along with backing vocals from Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Jackie Oates to name a couple. Skillfully produced and recorded and adorned with truly memorable cover artwork, Camilla is modern Americana in the finest sense of the word. With their impressive catalog of folk, Americana, roots-rock and more, Signature Sounds is among the more interesting American labels of the 21st century. Other CD titles released on Signature Sounds in 2012 include Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular by The Sweetback Sisters, Old Gold by Zoe Muth And The Lost High Rollers, Hundred Dollar Valentine by Chris Smither, Sweet Talk by Miss Tess and Fun Machine by Lake Street Drive. /

- Back in 1985 I had the honor of hearing a new Lp by British invasion superstar Dave Berry called Hostage To The Beat. Turned out that a number of that now historic album’s tracks were written and produced for Dave by UK pop music historian and musicologist Alan Clayson. So here we are nearly thirty years later and Alan Clayson returns with a 2012 CD of his own called One Dover Soul. Very much in the Dave Berry Hostage-era spirit, One Dover Soul captures that raw beat group spirit ala John Cale era Velvet Underground with a dash of pre-Ziggy Bowie. As a singer-songwriter and keyboardist in his own right, Clayson is one of the originals and as this album points out, one of the survivors. The 13 track CD was tastefully produced by multi-instrumentalist Wreckless Eric and features guest spots by Amy Rigby (keyboards, backing vocals) and others. Between Eric and Alan, a whole range of instruments are performed, including rare vintage instruments like the mellotron, philacorda and string synths. Despite the long time frame since Hostage To The Beat, One Dover Soul is most welcome sonic treat and a solid return to form by Alan Clayson. Serious listeners will slip those headphones on and pretend it’s 1985 again.

SPARK & SHINE RECORDS - Way back in the 1980s, pop artist Ken Stringfellow earned a near impeccable reputation thanks to his work in The Posies. Work with Big Star and R.E.M. followed and mellowing out like fine wine over the years Ken returns big time in 2013 with his fourth solo album, the humorously titled Danzig In The Moonlight. Recorded in Europe and mixed in Los Angeles, the 14 track CD covers about as much ground as can be possible within the entire pop spectrum. From L.A. type ‘60s pop ala The Association to disco era BeeGees inspired cuts, there’s something for just about every type of pop fan on Ken Stringfellow's 2012 pop masterpiece. Interestingly, Ken is off and running on a huge international tour to promote the album. Danzig is right up there among the essential pop albums to study in early 2013. spoke with Ken about the album and when pressed for some further info on the inside story he told us, ‘I think of the album as a very complete universe, populated with characters, gods, weather, cities, history...and the artwork was to reflect a complete and believable world. Of course it's a play on “Dancing In The Moonlight”. Danzig, the city, now called Gdansk, enjoyed a unique status as an independent, stateless city between the wars comprised of many cultures (German, Polish, Russian, Jewish) but belonging to no nation much like me, much like my music, so the Free City of Danzig is a metaphor for my own independent status as an artist. 'In The Moonlight' is the contents of the subconscious, usually dark and obscure, illuminated.’ Commenting on the amazing CD and LP packaging for Danzig In The Moonlight Ken adds, ‘The illustration on the cover was done by Moker Ontwerp, an Amsterdam based illustration team and the package was art directed by Sonja van Hamel, who also plays and sings on my album. And I produced her album as well, which is very good. It is (also) an LP, double vinyl. The buildings in the cityscape are all actual buildings in Gdansk, aka Danzig.’

- Modern pop savants The World Record strike pop gold with their 2012 CD entitled Freeway Special. Formed in 2003, the four member group, led by singer-songwriter Andy Creighton, cites bands like The dB’s, Blue Öyster Cult and Big Star as influences, yet on the 18 track Freeway Special, The World Record truly find their own musical voice. There’s plenty of Beatle-esque harmonies and etchings, upbeat, groovy lyrics and bouncy West Coast / Americana pop in play. At time, the band’s alt-pop side is offset by a more earthy country rock vibe that sounds inspired by American Beauty era Grateful Dead mixed in with Beach Boys style harmonies that simply must be heard to be appreciated. On Freeway Special, The World Record deftly merge thinking man’s pop and rootsy Americana rock to great effect.

- What a stellar year guitarist Phil Keaggy had in 2012. Mid year Phil and Jeff Johnson released WaterSky—a New Age based instrumental music classic in the vein of their critically acclaimed 2009 Frio Suite CD. During late summer Phil released two new solo albums—The Cover Of Love and Live From Kegworth Studio. While Live From captures Phil performing semi-acoustically live in his home studio, The Cover Of Love is a more fully formed studio album that follows in the spirit of his great 2006 Dream Again CD. In contrast to Keaggy the guitar hero recording soaring jazz-rock, The Cover Of Love is quite Beatles influenced, especially on the two McCartney covers here. There’s also a fine cover of Phil doing Justin Hayward’s 1968 Moody Blues classic “Voices In The Sky” and a soaring multi-tracked version of “Good Vibrations” that would make Brian Wilson smile. The CD closes out with a John Lennon influenced track called “Where The Morning Dawns” complete with very Ringo style drums. Phil’s many electric and acoustic guitar parts are impeccably recorded and, like Paul McCartney, Phil Keaggy continues to please pop-rock fans well into the 21st century.
Speaking of Phil Keaggy and another great release on his Strobie Records label, guitar fans will definitely want to give a good listen to Cosmic Rumpus by The Jack Giering Trio With Phil Keaggy & John Sferra. Saying these guys share a musical ESP would be an understatement. With Keaggy handling the guitars, both Jack Giering and John Sferra add in numerous instruments and the result is an album of freewheeling instrumental jams that sound improvised yet blend with a definitive, cohesive sonic force. Compared to the New Age elements at work on Phil’s 2012 album WaterSky made with keyboardist Jeff Johnson, the 2012 CD release of Cosmic Rumpus is like a jazz-rock fusion extravaganza. Clearly one of the finest instrumental fusion albums of 2012, Cosmic Rumpus makes a solid addition to WaterSky and Phil’s two other 2012 albums—the pop based The Cover Of Love and Live From Kegworth Studio.

- Although he recently played drums on a 2010 CD by English pop surrealist Dirk Speksnijder, musical renaissance man Tim Bragg is actually a gifted singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in his own right. With a number of solo albums to his credit, both pop vocal and instrumental releases, Tim follows the 2011 CD release of Revamped 1 with the 2012 CD release of Revamped Too. A mix of pop and rock, featuring Tim’s vocals, guitars, drums and much more, both albums capture Bragg in rare form, mixing a roots rock approach and a post New Wave kind of pop punch. Commenting on his position as drummer turned pop singer-songwriter Tim adds, ‘My main instrument is the drums and I still think of myself as a drummer first and foremost. I like it when drummers compose music and play other’s very healthy. I am happy with both my playing and sound of the drums on these albums.’ The drum sound is first rate throughout but clearly Tim's electric guitar playing is also quite impressive. While Revamped 1 was mostly Tim multi-tracking in the studio, the 2012 Revamped Too features Tim recording with a number of musicians. Although the sound is sometimes low key, or rather not over-produced in places, there is a fertile Do-It-Yourself pop approach in play on Revamped Too. Bragg cites Van Morrison as a big influence, and you can also add to that list the late great Phil Lynott, who Tim covers on Revamped Too with a version of “King’s Call”, from Lynott’s first solo album. Also, check out Tim's cover of "The Boys Are Back In Town" on Revamped 1. A most welcome addition to the pop world of 2012, Revamped Too is a very approachable, user-friendly CD of breezy, electric pop-rock.

THE WHITEHAUS FAMILY RECORD - Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rick Berlin steps into the light with his 2012 CD Always On Insane credited to Rick Berlin w/ The Nickel & Dime Band. An eclectic mix of pop flavored rock, the 14 track CD features a fine studio sound with Berlin receiving excellent support from his band. Berlin’s voice and keyboards are somewhat reminiscent of harder rocking tracks from Robbie Robertson and The Band and other tracks sound a bit like Roxy Music and Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse, yet there’s a lot of free falling musical imagination in play on Always On Insane to make Berlin a serious contender in his own right. Rootsy Americana style rock, with hard rock edges, Always On Insane is a solid CD from the rising, rockin’ sound of Rick Berlin with The Nickel & Dime Band. /

VIBROPHONIC - Although it starts in a rave-up of Yardbirds shaking maracas, Gifted, the 2012 album from The Jigsaw Seen, their third in two years, soon settles in and the results are to be appreciated on one of the most lush sounding pop albums of 2012. Featuring the music, keyboards and vocals of Dennis Davison, The Jigsaw Seen sound is balanced out by fine musicianship from guitarist Jonathan Lea and the rhythm section of Teddy Fresse (drums) and Tom Currier (bass). You could almost forgive their wild amalgamation of retro pop, with notable signs being The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Left Banke, and the list of mellotron inspired baroque rockers from ages past. As a result of their uncanny ability for creating a viable 21st century strain of psychedelic power pop, The Jigsaw Seen are nearly unbeatable on the ten track Gifted. Wrapped up some truly inventive CD packaging, (par for the course with this excellent group) featuring a real CD encased in a origami like ornamental CD casing, Gifted arrives less than a year after the 2011 Winterland album. Commenting on Gifted, TJS guitarist Jonathan Lea adds, 'If Winterland were a movie, Gifted could be its soundtrack.' Highlights include a more rock based version of the 1967 David Bowie chestnut "Sell Me A Coat" that owes more to Mick Ronson than Anthony Newley, and a weird but pleasantly surprising Eno-esque instrumental called "Couples Skate", yet even with those sonic distractions, with one finely wrought pop original after the next, Gifted is a timely time of the season gift for pop fans. /

WOODSTOCK RECORDS - Having released a number of acclaimed albums by Professor Louie and New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Woodstock Records zeroes in on another American legend, Commander Cody with the 2013 CD release of Live From The Island. No, not that island! I had no idea the Commander (ak/a George Frayne) was actually from Long Island, and the setting here is a special concert recorded live in his home town, good old Bayshore, a working class section of Long Island’s south shore in Suffolk county. Back in the early 1970s it was Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen, who have been replaced by The Modern Day Airmen. One thing about Commander’s music, it’s anything but modern. Boogie Woogie flavored blues rock and roll played to a tee, the sound of Live From The Island is excellent. The band clicks and among the players here is original Lost Planet Airman, guitarist Bill Kirchen who aides long time guitarist Mark Emerick. Professor Louie himself adds in some tasty keyboards and B3 organ. All the original hits are here (“Hard Top Lincoln”) and the Commander’s vocals are tops while the whole band rocks hard and boogies fast on a set sure to please long time Commander Cody fans.


AGITATED RECORDS - New Age instrumental music takes an agitated turn at the crossroads on the 2012 CD release of Photos Of Photos by the group known as Carlton Melton. Some of the Carlton Melton sound goes way back to the ‘70s and Krautrock bands like Faust (for example). With the wall of guitars instrumental sound blasting out at top volume you might want to take cover while listening as this is clearly not for the faint of heart. Imagine John Cale or Lou Reed producing Faust or Can or, Jerry Garcia... well you get the picture. Described as live, loud, improvised, experimental and psychedelic, Carlton Melton are bold, brash, controversial yet never boring. Their music will rivet you to your seat. A sonically powered electric guitar trio featuring two drummers, synths and bass including Andy Duvall, Clint Golden and Rich Millman Carlton Melton will blow you away.

- The 12/21/12 CD release of Burnt Belief is a fantastic studio collaboration between Porcupine Tree bass player Colin Edwin and Cloud Guitar extrapolator Jon Durant. The results combine for an instrumental rock album that takes the listener on a deep and meditative sonic journey. One of the cutting edge electric guitar technicians at the dawn of 21st century rock , Durant does sound influenced by late period Robert Fripp style guitarscapes yet, over the course of nearly ten albums, Jon has developed a unique sound and musical vision in his own right. While Steven Wilson is busy remixing Jethro Tull and King Crimson albums with excellent results, Colin Edwin takes a break from Porcupine Tree for the 2012 Edwin / Durant album and the results will surely open progressive ears to the influence each of these artists has made on a cross-section of progressive music listeners. On Burnt Belief Durant sounds like Fripp and Eno rolled into one and the added magic of Edwin’s dreamy, pulsating bass layers makes Burnt Belief one of the most intriguing guitar-based ambient electronica CD titles of 2013.

- When it comes to Northern Europe, nothing is off the table when it comes to instrumental rock guitar music. The whole purpose of instrumental music originally was so that you could play your music in other countries without words from different languages not being understood. Of course Hank Marvin and The Shadows understood this and became the preeminent instrumental pop band throughout Europe throughout the early 1960s. The legacy of Hank and The Shadows refuses to die, and in fact ever since mid 1981, when the whole Shadows scene kind of exploded again in the wake of the death of John Lennon and The Beatles, and the Shadows reemerged even stronger with an incredible new sound that combined both nostalgia and a fresh vision. Countries throughout the world have Hank “wannabee” bands, some great and some just okay, but taking a trip the beautiful country of The Netherlands you will find a wonderful new instro rock band called Bevel Emboss. A quartet, featuring Jac Bico on lead guitar, Louis de Wit (second guitar and producer), Paul van Rijswijk (drums) and Bart de Ruiter (bass), the group's sound is gripping throughout the 2012 CD release of Celluloid. Spotlighting 15 tracks that sound like a instro guitar cross between Hank and West Coast biker guitar kingpin Davie Allan, Celluloid is a solid snapshot of Bevel Emboss doing what they clearly do best.

BURNING SHED - Taking a cue from the late ‘70s neoclassical / New Age instrumental works from Brian Eno and his Discreet Music era, music conceptualist Marvin Ayres steps out in style with the 2012 CD release of Harmogram Suite. A six movement sound collage composition for cello, string orchestra and choir, the CD blends classical and ambient music to great effect, drawing the listener in with its complex web of sonic intrigue. A multilayered instrumental masterpiece, the six part work features 140 layers of sound. Beautifully packaged and well recorded, the CD is accompanied by a DVD featuring 5.1 surround sound. With the release of Harmogram Suite, Marvin Ayres establishes his name among the top avant gard neoclassical composers of the early 21st century.

CANDYRAT - From the record label with that wild and crazy name (lol) comes a fabulous new 2012 CD from U.K. guitarist Gareth Pearson. Gareth's latest album, Urban Echoes Vol.2 clocks in at just under 30 minutes but the ten tracks sound like an ongoing journey and the CD holds up well with repeat listens. Co-produced by Sebastian Cloutier, Urban Echoes Vol.2 is solo acoustic guitar at its finest, although, supporting Gareth here, there is some spare yet useful backing by a number of musicians on percussion, strings, bass and more. In addition to his now two Urban Echoes CD releases on Candyrat, Gareth also has a number of guitar tabs in standard notation and guitar tab format of his various compositions. Also recent on Candyrat, Upright & Locked Position is the 14th solo album from acoustic guitar legend Don Ross. Back in the 1990’s Ross was recording his brand of New Age acoustic guitar for the Narada label and as a result he started becoming compared to the late great Michael Hedges. Candyrat has a number of Don Ross titles in their growing catalog and Upright & Locked Position is certain to interest guitar fans world wide. Also out on Candyrat is The Lamaj Movement by Canadian guitarist Maneli Jamal. With roots in Iran, the U.S. and Canada, Maneli’s music is described as a homage to his family’s nomadic journey around the world. Also on Candyrat in 2012 is Vol.2 by solo acoustic guitarist Kelly Valleau. On his eleven track Candyrat CD, Kelly merges his original guitar pieces with covers of Beethoven and even Metallica gets the guitar treatment. With these latest titles and much more on the way, Candyrat continues onwards as one of the top American music labels dedicated to the timeless art of acoustic guitar excellence.

CRITICAL HEIGHTS - The group known as Dead Rat Orchestra specializes in experimental music and they describe themselves as free folk adventurers. DRO put pedal to the mettle with the 2012 CD release of The Guga Hunters Of Ness. The new DRO album is actually a nine track 34 minute instrumental film soundtrack about the hunting of birds on the northern tip of the The Isle Of Lewis all the way up in the Western Isles of Scotland. The CD is beautifully packaged and musically, the sound is somewhat similar to some of the late ‘70s sounds of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The instrumental soundtrack sounds in play on The Guga Hunters Of Ness are quite evocative. There’s no rock energy here per se but the haunting sounds are nicely composed and performed by the members of the DRO. The CD booklet goes on in great details about the movie regarding this unusual ritual known as “Guga Hunting.” If you like Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Brian Eno’s more ambient works ala the string laden Discreet Music, you’ll enjoy Dead Rat Orchestra.

DEEP EDDY RECORDS - Featuring the hard hitting twin guitar team of Matt “The Kat” Lentz and Tom “One Small Step” Armstrong, the Arizona-based instro group known as The Coconauts strike a blow for surf-rock greatness with their 13 track 2012 CD entitled Get Coco-Naughty. Released on the Austin-based Deep Eddy label, the all instrumental CD (including several hilarious spoken word intros) smokes and sizzles its way to surf-rock nirvana. With a mix of originals and cover tracks, (including a surf-rock cover of “Over The Rainbow”) there’s plenty of instro rock influences like Dick Dale and The Ventures to keep the CD interesting but the Arizona-based group makes some impressive inroads in their own right. With the dynamic guitar duo of Lentz and Armstrong getting solid support from the rhythm section of Dave “Countdown” DeStefano (bass) and Kurt “Cooter” Nederbrock (drums), The Coconauts rock out in both a naughty and nice way on the sonically impressive sounds in play on Get Coco-Naughtly!

DHARMAPALA RECORDS - Somewhere between New Age, World Beat, electronica and hip-hop instrumental, Primordial Sonics is a fine showcase for the music of L.A. based David Vito Gregoli. Although his background ranges from rock to classical, Gregoli’s move into instrumental New Age / World Beat instrumental sounds like a great move. The 7 track, 60 minute CD is filled with the sounds of exotic instruments including sitars, tabla, santoor, mostly performed by Gregoli over trance inducing hip-hop beats. I don’t know if Ravi Shankar had this in mind when he introduced the sitar to western audiences but the end result is both trance-inducing and entertaining at the same time. Produced by Gregoli, the CD also features guest appearances from several fine musicians including New Age chanteuse Donna De Lori, flautist Suzanne Teng among others. Filled with a range of meditative instrumental music, Primordial Sonics makes for a fascinating musical listening experience.

DOUBLE CROWN RECORDS - Despite what the CD cover art looks like, inside and out, there's some sublime instrumental guitar sounds in play on the 2012 CD by The Concussions, entitled Fall In Love With The Concussions. Today's younger bands (60 is the new 40) still live in awe of the recorded legacy of groups such as The Ventures and The Shadows and the Concussions sound darn near reverential in places on Fall In Love With. Guitarist Dick Chiclet gets solid backup from his fellow Concussions and the results are eight scintillating instrumental guitar tracks that look back in a solidly nostalgic manner while taking the guitar instrumental genre one step beyond. Fans of Chiclet's excellent work in The Concussions might very well want to give a listen to his garage rock alter ego group called The Fuzzrites. The core of the Fuzzrites sound is Chiclet and hit musical brother Matt Mason. Released on the Spinout label, the 2011 CD release of Baby Cakes establishes the Fuzzrites as purveyors of audacious garage rock filled with the occasional quirky injection of unexpected hooks. Commenting on this offshoot, Chiclet adds, 'I wanted to do vocals again after years of playing instrumentals. The band has always been my brother Matt Mason and I. You can't underestimate the power of sibling vocals.' Garage rock fans will like The Fuzzrites but instrumental guitar fans should clearly give a listen to The Concussions CD.

EARTHSCAPE MEDIA - Toronto native, New Age flamenco guitar master Johannes Linstead continues to dazzle the guitar world and he steps into the spotlight again with his 2012 CD entitled Tales Of A Gypsy. The 11 track Tales Of A Gypsy CD features an all original, all instrumental album of Linstead originals that sound centered around the timeless, legendary guitar music of the gypsies in Spain and as such features a solid mix of Spanish, flamenco and Latin music motifs. After releasing seven best selling albums under his own name, Linstead’s 2012 CD release of Tales Of A Gypsy sounds like his best yet. A number of players assist, including the legendary Nicholas Gunn (pan flutes) and Ukrainian violinist Vasyl Popadiouk, and the overall CD sound is quite sumptuous and strikingly well recorded. Commenting on being one of the most well situated and among the most technically eloquent of the finest New Age instrumental guitarists recording today, Linstead says, ‘My music is inspired by my spirituality, by cultures from all over the world and by people’s everyday triumphs over hardships. I have become interested in what music can do to help create universal connectiveness.’ As music fans will note, there are dozens of top drawer nuevo flamenco guitarists recording today and, with the release of Tales Of A Gypsy you can count Johannes Linnstead among the finest 21st century guitar masters.

EL TORO RECORDS - That fascination with West Coast Cool ala guitar kingpins Davie Allen, Dick Dale and The Ventures lives on in full force on 2012’s Wet Side Stories from Italy’s latest guitar group Jaguar & The Savanas. The eight track CD clocks in just under a half hour but there’s a spirit of revived time honored, well worn out grooves that crank volume on sonic display here. Wet Side Stories also sounds influenced by 21st century guitar groups like Los Straitjackets and all in all it fits together really nice for retro surf-guitar fans. Also noteworthy is the cool retro-sleek, slim line Lp jacket style artwork.

FAVORED NATIONS - On his critically acclaimed 2012 CD, The Story Of Light, N.Y. native and world renowned guitar super hero Steve Vai hits yet another new high in his star studded career. Instrumental hard rock guitar fans will love it, yet there’s hardly one guitar genre that Steve doesn’t work into the mix, including the album’s three vocal tracks—a scathing Hank3 inspired Hellbilly cover of “John The Revelator” featuring Beverly McClellan, a duet with ‘Til Tuesday legend Aimee Mann called “No More Amsterdams” and a very ‘90s era YES inspired cut with a Vai vocal called “The Moon And I”. The packaging again, is excellent while Steve goes to great lengths in the CD booklet regarding the stories behind these tracks which span a wealth of instrumental guitar moods. Some soar, some sizzle and some shimmer, yet The Story Of Light all hangs together with a unique sound and style only a seasoned vet like Vai could realize. The CD features Vai’s patented guitar skills throughout and he gets very solid support from his band including second guitarist Dave Weiner, Jeremy Colson (drums), Philip Bynoe (bass) and Deborah Hensen (harp, vocals, keyboards). In addition, a deluxe version of The Story Of Light features the entire 12 track studio album with a bonus DVD featuring video clips and a new Steve interview.

FUTURISM RECORDS - The last three albums by L.A. session guitar ace Grant Geissman on his Futurism Records label have been well received by the jazz community and with the 2012 CD release of Bop! Bang! Boom! Grant hits another sweet spot. Ostensibly instrumental bop guitar jazz with a twist of funk and soul grooves, the 12 track CD features Grant’s guitar-centric instrumental jazz aided and abetted by his group as well as big name guests, including Van Dyke Parks, guitar gods Albert Lee and Larry Carlton, Tom Scott, Leland Sklar and a whole lot more. Geissman was a member of Chuck Mangione’s band during his 1978 “Feels So Good” period so jazz fans who thrilled to Chuck and Grant back then will surely dig Bop! Bang! Boom! As has been par for the course regarding Grant’s other recent album releases, the CD packaging is stellar, while track by track liner notes by jazz scribe Bill Milkowski are more then readable and takes the listener through a succinct story regarding this album and Grant’s more than formidable guitar history.

HUBRO MUSIC - One of the most adventurous instrumental music labels in Scandinavia, Norway’s Hubro released their 1982+BJ Cole album in 2012. Having worked with everyone from Elton John to Eno, England’s BJ Cole is a legend of the pedal steel guitar and his work with Norwegian folk group 1982 will appeal to long time fans interested in Cole’s latest forays in the music world. Commenting on BJ working with 1982, 1982 drummer / producer Øyvind Skarbø states, ‘We thought this was a good and, not least, unusual choice. Mainly, we improvised freely for a few hours.’ Merging BJ’s steel guitar and Øyvind’s drums with the harmonium of Sigbjørn Apeland and fiddle / violin of Nils Økland, 1982 + BJ Cole is an experimental yet somehow familiar sounding CD of Scandinavian style folk music creating an unusual and near experimental mix of sonic delights. One would hope this first pairing of 1982 + BJ Cole will not be the last.

INNOVA - Minnesota based Innova Records is a bastion of great American talent that, in a hear today, forget tomorrow world, might otherwise have been passed over. As they have done since their inception in 1982, Innova takes a long, deep breath and keeps releasing music that, while not sounding trendy to the untrained ear, yet keeps you riveted to your seat. Case in point is the 2012 CD from multi-instrumentalist Ken Field called Sensorium. Back in the 1980’s Ken broke musical borders with his recordings as a member of American avant-rock pioneers Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic. That group’s many fine instrumental albums are still treasured by progressive music lovers. Those very same fans, who witnessed the great Birdsongs live and on disc, won’t be disappointed by Ken’s 2012 CD Sensorium, which in an ironic twist of fate is both inspired by and dedicated to his now late wife Karen Aqua, with whom Ken also worked on various film soundtracks. Ken’s performance on an assortment of horn-friendly instruments, alto / soprano sax especially, is offset by his additional sonic sculpting / looping as well as contributions from a number of players including Birdsongs guitarist Michael Bierylo and a range of players. Ken’s liner notes adds much insight behind the making of this amazing piece of sonic architecture. File Sensorium under neo-gothic, progressive instrumental jazz and modern neoclassical music. Speaking of out there instrumental albums released by Innova in 2012, Brouhaha, from composer Yvonne Troxler features ten tracks of Philip Glass inspired music by Ms. Troxler and composed for her Glass Farm Ensemble. Written and recorded over the past six years, the 42 minute Brouhada is mind expanding music that will appeal to listeners who enjoy the adventurous and avant gard. Other recent titles on Innova include Secrets Of Antikythera, a CD of experimental and electronic new classical music by London based composer Andrew McPherson, One, an album of modern chamber music by San Francisco composer / violinist Kurt Rohde and Confluence, an album described as fluid chamber jazz by multi-instrumentalist Dave Phillips and his group Freedance. 21st century avant gard instrumental music never sounded as good as it does on these 2012 CD titles from the always adventurous Innova.

ISABELLE RECORDS - In 2010 Boston-based guitarist Tony Savarino released a critically acclaimed CD of instrumental rock-based guitar music called Guitaring. Now in 2013 comes Tony’s latest album, recorded in 2012, entitled Guitaresque. As there’s no shortage of great music to adapt for instrumental electric guitar, Tony digs deep into the great American guitar songbook while putting a fresh spin on classics made famous by a wide range of American and British songwriters. Several tracks here—including covers of “Walk, Don’t Run”, “Baia”, “The Third Man Theme” and “A Summer Place” are offset by lesser known instrumental versions of The Beatles “”And I Love Her” and The Kinks “Sunny Afternoon”. Savarino’s jazzy and surfy instrumental cover of the Kinks’ 1966 classic “Sunny Afternoon” gives it a new perspective as a ragtime inspired raver. Several Savarino originals also appear lending support to Tony’s growing reputation as a versatile all around guitar ace, case in point being an ambient Eno-esque instrumental featuring guitars, mellotron and therimin called “By Way Of Amarillo” that just seems to fit in fine here. With so much diversity here, fans of The Ventures and other surf-rock legends will no doubt get on board Savarino’s wide ranging guitar extravaganza. Throughout the 11 track CD, Savarino is ably assisted by a number of top flight musicians—including drummer Steve Levesque and Duke Levine, the latter making an appearance as second guitarist on a Guitaresque cover of the James Burton / Ralph Mooney track “Moonshine”. Overall, Guitaresque is a splendid choice for fretboard aficionados, no matter what your guitar taste may be—be it vintage guitar sounds of giants like Les Paul and Chet Atkins or the more straight ahead surf-rock greats like The Ventures and Duane Eddy. Putting a new spin on vintage classics and adding in a fresh guitar vision of his own, Tony Savarino has all manners of guitar wizardry covered on the dynamic and imaginative sounds of Guitaresque.

Jazz duo albums can sometimes be a hit and miss affair yet one that completely hits the bullseye is What’s Next? by jazz pianist Randy Klein. For the 12 track, hour long What’s Next? Randy teams with guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick and bassist Boris Kozlov and the results are a delicate yet sonically durable outing that puts Klein’s sumptuous grand piano skills in a very favorable light. Both Skolnick and Kozlov are fine players to compliment Klein’s sensitive sounding, jazzy piano tracks. What’s Next? is actually the second CD of Randy Klein’s Two Duos album series from the pianist, the first one being 2010’s Sunday Morning, featuring Klein with trombonist Chris Washburne and saxophonist Oleg Kireyev. Guitar fans will note Skolnick’s tasteful fretboard work on What’s Next, and indeed Skolnick’s deft touch sounds quite well suited to Klein’s jazzy piano. Commenting on working with Skolnick and Kozlov on What’s Next? Klein adds, ‘These are top notch players! And when you play with players who are on this level, it really becomes a dream come true.’ Jazz fans who appreciate sensitive, varied, acoustic piano-based albums are truly well served by this album, while music fans should keep their ears open for more releases from the soon to be acclaimed series of CD releases from Randy Klein’s Two Duos on Jazzheads—the record label started by Klein back in 1992.

KAMIKAZE - The Germans are always looking to build the next big thing, and they come mighty close with the 2012 CD release of Ready To Take Off!, the 2012 CD from The Space Rangers. With such a penchant for the West Coast surf-rock of the early 1960s, these guys clearly have their heads and hearts in the right place. The CD cover art is really great too. Guitarist Muck Mende leads the band through the paces like a real pro. If you enjoy the sounds of The Ventures, Dick Dale and Link Wray, give a shout out to The Space Rangers on what surely will go down as one of the top instro surf-rock albums of 2012.

- New from the Marble label is Passion, the 2012 CD from the group known as Para One. The brainchild of Jean-Baptiste de Laubier, Pare One is best described as “electronica” music but dig deeper and there’s all sort of sounds here—from soundtrack style hip-hop beats to dance music and synth driven soul music. A good portion of the album is instrumental but vocals from one Teki Latex peppers the proceedings and makes for an album that you can d ance to or chill out with. It’s just that diverse. Commenting on the critics looking to genre-ize Para One, Jean-Baptiste adds, ‘I’m okay with that “Electronica” term coming back, I actually dug a lot into my IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) influences during the process of making Passion.” Intelligent dance music is a pretty good way to describe Para One, but either way, if you liked Art Of Noise and even some of Madonna’s William Orbit influenced projects, you’ll find yourself more than enjoying the turned on sinful sounds of Para One.

Back in 2010 Merhan burst on the progressive guitar scene with his quasi New Age meets World Beat meets prog-rock instrumental album entitled Angels Of Persepolis. In 2012 Mehran follows the critical acclaim of that sensational CD debut with an even stronger album called Subterranea. All instrumental, while covering a wealth of musical genres, the nine track Subterranea CD has a definite Pink Floyd type feel to it however, Mehran’s flamenco and electric guitar is still the center of the sonic storm here. On his latest CD masterpiece, Mehran's Pink Floyd meets Segovia in Chicago via the Middle East creates the perfect instrumental sound storm. On Subterranea, Mehran really fleshes out and develops his sound this time around with the help of a full band including Carl Kennedy (keyboards), Sam Werk (drums) and Krushanu Joseph (bass). Maybe it has something to do with Mehran’s exotic Iranian roots but his guitar-centric music is even more fascinating here and Subterranea makes for an indelible sonic experience. In addition to the music, the Subterranea CD graphics, perfectly evoking the progressive content of the music within, sets a new 21st century standard for album artwork.

MOONJUNE - NYC based Moonjune continues to amaze with a wide range of avant garde progressive instrumental rock releases and one of Moonjune’s best releases of 2012 is Mercy Pity Peace & Love by the group known as Doubt. Here’s Doubt, but there’s no doubt that this is a great CD of high powered instrumental jazz-rock that features great musicianship from Alex Maguire (keyboards), Michel Delville (guitars) and Tony Bianco (drums). Maguire’s acoustic piano work sounds inspired by Mike Garson, while there no shortage of wild electronics that each member contributes. Some of the sounds here, like Soft Machine on steroids, would make jazz purists a bit squeamish but half the fun is just wondering just what is going to happen next. With Mercy Pity Peace & Love, Belgium’s Doubt have recorded a 21st century fusion classic that takes progressive jazz-rock well into the future.

- After the success of his 2010 CD Ulydium, Norweigian guiar hero Stenar Karlsen strikes back hard and fast with the 2013 CD release of Hanens Død. Translated roughly from Norweigian to English as “The Rooster Is Dead”, the CD is a major step forward for the art of instrumental rock and surf-rock guitar. One could cite greats like America’s Dick Dale, Sweden’s Kenny Håkansson and others from around the world, yet the music is so original and authentic you have to give Steinar credit in his own right. Steinar’s own guitar prowess does right by those greats, yet he also taps into the guitar noir genre and some of Hanens Død sounds like it was lifted from some Scandinvian police / spy-fi series. Despite the frightening (lol) cover art, Hanens Død is serious instro rock business and with a fine studio sound, Hanens Død is surely shpaing up as one of the top guitar instrumental albums of 2012-2013. In addition to the CD and download Hanens Død is also available on 180gram vinyl. Buy it for the incredible cover art yet listen to the ultra cool sonic groove in play on Hanens Død.

PMB MUSIC - Canada has a rich guitar history and among the best of the current players, Paul Blissett is keeping the flame burning. Case in point is his 2012 CD entitled Luna. Not only a showcase for his chops, Luna serves to underline Blissett’s many guitar influences—from Duane Eddy and The Ventures to Howard Roberts and James Burton, all the way to modern stars like Clapton and Knopfler. Most of these tracks are faithful covers brought to life again with Blissett’s deft touch on twangy, countrified guitars. Backing him up are some notable players who remain faithful to the original masters. Liner notes by Blissett sheds further light on his latest instrumental guitar mission. Surf-rock fans and instrumental style country music will want to hear this one. Also from Blissett is a 7 track 2012 instrumental guitar Christmas CDEP entitled Guitar Christmas.

RAVCO - He’s known to some surf-rock aficionados as The Man From RavCon, but by day Mike Brown is actually a mild mannered guitarist. In his Man From Ravcon guise, Brown turns the instrumental surf-rock scene on its head with the 2012 CD release of The Traveler. Six albums in, The Man From Ravcon offers living proof that prog-rock and surf-rock can coexist, even in the same song. Brown’s use of the mellotron and other instrumental music motifs helps to pepper the surf sound in play here. One other thing work noting is the excellent sound Brown gets from his drum sound here. Is Brown playing everything? Who is the Man From Ravcon and when can we go back and hear some more? The Traveler, from The Man From Ravcon is one of the most inventive and well rounded instrumental guitar albums of 2012.

RB - With all the de-evolution, terrorism, wars and fiscal cliffs to fall over, it’s easy to complain about the way the world has turned out over the past twelve years (soon to be 13) or so, but how many people can actually do something about, or at least make it known and at least expose it? Well a 21st century electronica group of wiz-kids known as Raygun Ballet have done something about it with their 2012 CD entitled World That Wasn’t. Encased in truly revolutionary packaging and some stunning “Flash Gordon” style graphic imagery, the eight track Raygun Ballet CD starts off with a truly weird track called “Figment” and it just gets weirder, yet even more pleasant after that. The closest thing I can think of to describe this, is what would happen if Wendy Carlos had joined The Art Of Noise back in 1991 and you might approach the utterly experimental electronica in play on the Raygun Ballet CD. The brainchild of L.A. based music conceptualist John-Mark Austin, Raygun Ballet makes truly adventurous music of the future with very much a here and now kind of attitude. Or as Raygun Ballet says, “The future is the child of the past.” So we don’t have flying cars and 700 year life spans yet, big deal, (right?) at least we have Raygun Ballet.

- Started by New Age music enthusiast Terence Yallop back in the 1980’s, Real Music keeps on releasing excellent and elegant sounding instrumental music albums that espouse the musical healing lifestyle. One 2012 CD release on Real Music gaining acclaim is Stillness: A Collection. Those unfamiliar with the Real Music music is meditation mantra are advised to start with Stillness, a 10 track, 60 minute. The superbly compiled collection features a cross section of the finest Real Music artists including New Age music legend Chuck Wild and his Liquid Mind group, along with other Real Music artist favorites such as Peter Kater, Karunesh, Frank Steiner Jr., Kenio Fuke, Hilary Stagg and Rajendra Teredesai. With all the stress and tension in the world today, you’ll know when it’s time to kick back, concentrate on your breathing and add a little Stillness to your world.

- Some of the finest 20th century Scandinavian electric instrumental jazz-rock fusion artists began their major musical breakthroughs 35 years ago in Sweden and now at the end of 2012 a rising wave of Swedish musicians are finally making themselves heard. Having worked earlier in bands Agents Of Mercy and Karmakanic, keyboardist Lalle Larsson is improving his stature as a solo artist with his 2012 CD Nightscapes, which features Lalle joined together with his band called Weaveworld. A lot of music has come and gone, some sadly forever over the past 2008-2012 period. One of the greatest names from the first era of 20th century progressive European jazz-rock fusion, (although a name not entirely familiar to many of the new generation of Eurock fans), from neighboring Finland, Pekka Pohjola died just over four years ago on November 27th 2008. For those music fans, young and old, seeking renewed inspiration, one listen to Nightscapes makes it clear that this current breed of innovative artists are moving fearlessly forward into the brave new world of 21st century music. Interestingly, Lalle’s music on Nightscapes sounds to these ears to be as thematically inspired, and as sonically heavy, as Pekka’s late period albums such as Pewit, from 1997. Performing one intense, eclectic instrumental fusion track after the next, Lalle’s band is certainly up to the task, and the Nightscapes album features stellar support from Jonas Reingold (bass), Richard Hallebeek (guitars), Stefan Rosqvist (guitars) and Walle Wahlgren (drums). Recently, Lalle also worked with U.K. guitar ace Phi Yaan-Zek and if you enjoyed Lalle’s work with Phi, especially on the 2012 CD release of Phi’s latest solo album, Deeper With The Anima, you'll thoroughly enjoy the similarly adventurous soundscapes of Nightscapes. Perhaps Lalle’s vision of tomorrow’s music today sounds just as much influenced by 21st century prog-rock as it is does to first wavers, going back to Pekka Pohjola and Mike Oldfield in 1976, yet listened to as a whole album experience, Nightscapes is the perfect soundtrack to a thrilling sonic experience.

- The great progressive jazz-rock fusion boom of the 1970s yielded some mighty impressive results, so much so that the echoes are still being felt nearly 40 years later. Those reverberating, timeless effects can be clearly heard on the 2012 CD from Dutch guitarist Richard Hallebeek. The 2012 CD release of Pain In The Jazz by Hallebeek’s band RHPII features Richard in sizzling jazz-rock fusion mode on an all instrumental CD that features him backed up by top players such as keyboardist Lalle Larsson, bass ace Frans Vollink and highly rated jazzers including Greg Howe, Eric Gales, Andy Timmons, Randy Brecker and much more. In the spirit of jazz-rock guitar kings such as Allan Holdsworth, on Pain In The Jazz Richard Hallebeek opens up a new musical chapter for fusion guitar enthusiasts, young and old.

- Releasing consistently well received albums since the early 1980s, Rockadillo had several fine new releases to speak of in the second half 2012. Jazz-fusion legends Piirpauke have been recording since the mid 1970s. Coming from Finland, Piirpauke make music that transcends language and pulls on the heartstrings with a mix of rock fusion, jazz, World Beat and much more. On the group’s 20th album, Ilo, recorded during the summer of 2012, Piirpauke founder and mainstay Sakari Kukko works magic album with a crack lineup of solid players including Nicolas Rehn (guitars) and Rami Eskelinen (drums) and others. Sarkari himself is one of the great modern multi-instrumentalists of Finnish music history and has steadfastly remained so through the numerous Piirpauke group lineups of the past 40 years. With the 2012 CD release of Ilo, group founder Sakari Kukko keeps the Piirpauke sound vibrant and intriguing at the same time. Like usual with a Piirpauke album, the cover art is wild and colorful. Rockadillo was the partner label for the wonderful series of albums released between 1982 and 2001 by the late great Finnish art-rock composer Pekka Pohjola, creator of Pohjola Records, and Pekka was also the subject of a series of historic CD remasters in 2010. One of the very few bands signed to Pohjola Records was Finnish modern fusioneers XL, featuring the guitars of Jarmo Saari. Interesting to note that Jarmo Saari never got to record in the various Pohjola group lineups that cut sides between 1972 and 2008 yet, right they started in the mid 1990s XL become renowned among Finnish music fans for their sometimes Pohjola-esque approach to jazz rock. New in 2012 on Rockadillo, Cinematic Fantasies - The Best Of XL features a mix of studio and live recordings from the original lineup with Jarmo, keyboardist Arttu Takalo with special guest artists Michael Brecker (tenor sax) and Pekka Pohjola who adds bass on on a live track here. Cinematic Fantasies draws on fourteen of the best XL recordings taken from six different albums released between 1995 and 2003. As usual, the CD packaging is excellent while detailed booklet brings the XL story up to date in 2012 on a CD that is fittingly dedicated to Pekka Pohjola in memoriam. XL keyboardist Arttu Takalo returns in 2012 on a new studio album that could also be described as being Pohjola-esque in places. Although Pekka’s stately, symphonic rock approach was thoroughly original and one of a kind, his influence among a somewhat younger generation of musicians has paid dividends and some fans will understand that just after one listen to Arttu’s 2012 album, the appropriately titled Songs For Sad People. The CD is more a product of Arttu's inventive Finnish musical mind and his approach to late 20th century and early 21st century instrumental music, as opposed to being merely sad. There’s still plenty of thought-provoking sounds on Songs For Sad People that will please Pekka Pohjola’s fans as well as fans of XL and the many fine albums released over the years by XL and Arttu and Jarmo as solo artists. Composed between 2004 and 2011 and recorded between 2008 and 2012, Songs For Sad People features strings galore and plenty of keys, programming, midi-vibes and more from Arttu, along with vital assistance from Speedy Saarinen (samples), Marzi Nyman (guitars), Harri Rantanen (bass) and Anssi Nykänen (drums).

- There’s been some great instrumental surf-rock style guitar instrumental CDs in 2012 and near the top you’d have to include, the self-titled CD from the group known as Rondo Hatton. Based down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the four piece features some solid guitar work from Bruce Lamb, who sometimes sounds like John Blakeley back during the memorable early days of John’s early band The Sandals. Lamb gets solid back up from the three other players here including Johnny Rosetti (guitars), Les LeBlanc (bass) and Joe Miceli. I close my eyes and it’s 1961 all over again, though there are plenty of other signposts on this CD to suggest the instrumental guitar sound and style will never get old. Commenting on the unique chemistry of these great musicians, Lamb adds, 'We’ve known each other for years and years. Plus, we were all friends even when we were not playing together so the chemistry is very special.' You might want to pick up the CD just for that amazing cover art, but overall Rondo Hatton is time well spent for guitar enthusiasts.

- The younger surf-rock instrumental bands of 2012 have a new genre to patrol: Thrash Metal Surf. The genre of near hard rock surf is pioneered successfully on Multivision—the 2012 CD by Holland’s newest instro band Spaceguards. With just 9 tracks clocking in at around 20 minutes, Multivision introduces The Spaceguards as one of the preeminent instrumental bands in Europe today. They have even supported Dick Dale in concert. Dale is the ultimate guitar monster for this genre of music and Spacegaurds do right by Dick and Link Wray's legacy with the very sonically explosive instro rock sounds of Multivision. Give a listen to Spaceguards in this early part of their career and you can say, I told you so.

ST2 MUSIC - The world wide influence of blues, jazz and soul music is truly massive and case in point is Brazilian keyboard maestro Ari Borger, who strikes boogie-woogie gold with his 2012 CD entitled Back To The Blues by The Ari Borger Quartet. Ari’s piano, B3 organ and Fender Rhodes get strong support from his quartet, including some blistering Clapton-inspired blues rock guitar from Celso Salim. The AB4 as they’re known have played a number of of blues and jazz festivals with legends like B.B. King and in 2011 Borger played the most important piano blues festival in the USA, the ‘Cincy Blues Fest.’ Ari’s Back To The Blues album is mostly instrumental, which could increase its appeal among jazz fans and instrumental rock fans but overall, the well recorded and packaged, nine track CD is a solid composite of instrumental blues with a soulful, boogie-woogie inspired ragtime type of feel.

THE INFRANGIBLE SYNDICATE - Best known as the guitar player for Steely Dan back in the 1990s and later with Donald Fagen, session guitar ace Drew Zingg cuts loose on his self-titled debut CD. With a mix of electrifying blues-rock guitar riffing and jazz-fusion drive, Drew’s guitar playing is smoking hot and the mostly instrumental album will be fine choice for fans of electric guitar greats such as Jeff Beck, Robben Ford and John Scofield’s more acid-jazz based efforts. Track four here, “The Black Dog” sounds like Robin Trower going rock instrumental on an all out sonic assault. Jimi Hendrix fans will love this track and at least appreciate much of the rest. Drew’s band reads like a wish list for studio / session watchers including Beck drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, while the CD was superbly produced by George Walker. Amid the instrumental fare, there’s also a couple of vocal tracks featuring Michael McDonald while Boz Scaggs takes the other vocal on this jewel of a guitar based rock instrumental album.

TONE CENTER RECORDS - Jazz fusion bass ace Jeff Berlin played on the first solo album by YES keyboardist Pat Moraz but it really was as a member of Bill Bruford’s late ‘70s band, especially his historic contribution to Bruford’s 1977 solo debut, Feels Good To Me, that put Berlin on the map. Playing bass with Bruford as the drumming wizard changed the course of 1970s prog-fusion music was historic and so it’s quite rewarding to find Berlin in fine form 35 years later on a 2012 trio album with guitarist Scott Henderson and fusion thumper Dennis Chambers. Released on the well respected jazz-rock Tone Center / Shrapnel imprint, the nine track HBC CD is instrumental jazz-rock fusion at its best. Although not mainly orchestrated per se, the thing here in the groove. The energy and improvisation skills of these players is legendary and the HBC CD gives them all the head room required to take off into the stratosphere. Sounding inspired by fusion through the ages, HBC hits a new high in 21st century jazz-rock.

TONE WOOD MUSIC - There’s hardly a guitar genre that Tim Sparks isn’t a master of. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of his 1992 album The Nutcracker Suite, the CD has been reissued on Tim’s Tone Wood label, including Tim’s rendition of The Blues On Bartok Street. Recorded in Minnesota, Tim’s version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite is a flawless solo guitar rendition of a classical music favorite that has stood the ages. Although Tim’s guitar background covers a wealth of genres—including jazz, bebop, ragtime and world music—Tchaikovsky’s classical masterpiece melts like butter under Tim’s nimble fingers and acute musical mind. In addition to the remastered CD sound, Tim’s CD reissue of The Nutcracker Suite is neatly packaged with colorful artwork and new liner notes. Classical guitar fans, fans of Tchaikovsky and fans of Tim’s multifaceted guitar career will find much to like about this immensely listenable reissue CD.

TTR RECORDS - Back in 2009, guitarist Joe Pinnavaia released the first CD from his group Test Tube Rhino. That album, InVitro is now followed up in 2012 with a 4 track CDEP called Fragile X. Pinnavaia’s music may be fragile, in a musical way, but it’s also quite durable and versatile. What if Robert Fripp produced an instrumental album for Steve Vai? Well you might have something like Fragile X. On Fragile X, there’s a thinking man’s approach to progressive instrumental rock and, even though the Fragile X CD clocks in just over 25 minutes, Pinnavaia appears to be a modern master when it comes to coaxing out a wide range of sounds and effects from his guitar arsenal. For a one man band, Pinnavaia has produced another album of sizable “guitar-centric” scope with the 2012 CD release of Fragile X. To his credit, Pinnavaia has a solid knack for covering a wide range of musical genres and styles, even in the space of a single song. That proto-punk, World Beat hip hop groove hasn’t really been worked into guitar fusion as much as you think and on Fragile X, Pinnavaia takes advantage of that, by adding a wide range of techno-friendly grooves into his dynamic guitar soundscapes. Those guitar fans that like to take their electric sound way out there on the edge, will appreciate Pinnavaia’s Test Tube Rhino guitar experiments.

A half century since its heyday, guitar-based instrumental music, a/k/a instro surf-rock, is still catching fire throughout Europe. Of course instrumental means no heady words to get in the way of what guitar freaks call gut level and pure music. A Dutch treat by way of the drag strips and beaches of Southern California circa 1962, The Surfaders hit hard and fast on their 13 track CD entitled Dragstrip Murder Mystery. Self-released, though a professionally recorded and pressed CD project, the album features the guitar chops of Jonas Morberg, who gets some fine help from his band mates along with several guests. The electrifying instrumental “surf-noir” music of The Surfaders echoes the sounds of early ‘60s guitar heroes like Dick Dale and Davie Allan with a wink and a nod to 21st century guitar bands such as The Bambi Molesters and The Madeira. Taking the Surfaders’ debut album around the block for a couple of spins it’s more than satisfying to see today’s bands from Holland continuing the sights and sounds of vintage ‘60s instro music.

ULTIMAE - Few electronica labels in Europe do 21st century instrumental electronica better than Lyon, France based Ultimae. Everything about the Ultimae label speaks quality—from the first rate packaging right down the sonic soundscapes in play on each Ultimae CD. CDs are available—and even though Ultimae are promoting their downloads as being universally available—audiophiles are recommended to check out their CD titles. Another great example of the Ultimae approach to sonic art is the 2013 CD release of the latest album from AES Dana entitled Pollen. From start to finish, the ten track Pollen CD follows the sound and vision of the 2011 AES Dana album Perimeters, which was also sonically groundbreaking and overall Pollen is another welcome release from Ultimae. Led by the vision of the multitalented Vincent Villuis, AES Dana continues to amaze with their unique brand of chill-out, down tempo electronica.

ULTIMAE RECORDS - Based in France, Ultimae Records is the last and best word when it comes to state of the art European electronic music in 2012. For the past five years, Ultimae has released one classic electronic music CD after the next and they close out 2012 with {9980} the first CD from the group known as Connect. Ohm. Featuring the combined talents of Hidetoshi Koizumi (of the group Hybrid Leisureland) and Alexandre Scheffer (of the group Cell), the sound of Connect. Ohm is experimental yet highly listenable. Like a soundtrack to an outer space voyage, the sound of 9980 is trippy chill-out electronica yet nothing bombastic and hard hitting that would disqualify it from being classified as very New Age. The closest thing I can think of to their sound here in the U.S. is New Age master John Serrie, so if you liked Serrie's extraterrestrial space music, you'll find much to like on the Connect. Ohm CD. As usual, the CD packaging and enclosed booklet is first rate. Clearly, Ultimae should win some kind of music award for their impeccable CD releases and overall image as a forerunner in the electronica / New Age movement.

- The country of Finland may be sparsely populated, but per square inch they turn out a vast number of gifted musicians. With his 2012 solo album, you can add guitarist Jussi Reijonen to those numbers of rising Finnish artists stepping onto the world stage. Jussi’s 6 track, 60 minute solo album, UN, is filled with a wide array of diverging musical genres that touches on American and Scandinavian jazz as well as Middle Eastern, Turkish and Indian music vibes. Jussi (pronounced you see) honed his craft at top notch music schools like the Berklee school up in Boston and he puts his vast experience to good effect on UN. Amid the Finnish and other World Music influences, Jussi’s album also features what is being described as an “other-worldly” interpretation of the John Coltrane jazz classic “Naima”. With such a broad scope to the album, Jussi’s guitar is almost camouflaged in places, yet even with a wide array of contributions from a number of players here, Jussi’s guitar sound does comes shining through. Jussi’s CD should be filed under World Beat guitar-based jazz yet Finnophiles and Scandinavian music enthusiasts will each find something to appreciate on the humorously titled UN.

- From the home label of smooth jazz guitar ace Paul Brown comes an excellent smooth as silk instrumental album from sax man Elan Trotman. Featuring Barbados native Trotman backed up in the studio by some of the coolest names in the smooth jazz world, the sound of Tropicality is just that. I can picture myself now on a cruise to Barbados watching the palm trees in the foreground as the sound of Elan Trotman just wafts across the sunset. The 12 track Tropicality CD features Elan’s instrumental soundscapes enhanced by excellent performances from a number of guitarists including Paul Brown and Nick Colionne, a number of drummers including Terri Lyne Carrington, percussionist Lenny Castro and a whole lot more including a bang-up job by producer and smooth jazz guitar legend Peter White. Tropicality kicks off with a rousing version of the Stevie Wonder classic “Masterblaster” and ends with a stirring instro of the Jobim classic “Wave” while in between are some moving and stirring jazzy tropical sounds that will keep you grooving right along.


ANGEL AIR - Angel Air close out 2012 with a round of classic CD reissues and top of the line is The Booze Brothers by the group known as Brewers Droop. The 14 track CD kind of answers the question, what was Mark Knopfler doing before Dire Straits. Joining Brewers Droop back in 1973, Knopfler plugged in his red Gibson guitar and the results are some solid rootsy pop rock that is all over the place. Musically, Brewers Droop featured some great songs and singing and guitar work from one Alimony Slim, who in addition to featuring some great backing from his band, also benefits from some solid production and added guitar work by U.K. guitar great Dave Edmunds. In addition to the roots rock vibe in play, there’s also kind of a progressive element that only adds to the musical fun. Liner notes and fine album art adds to the overall enjoyment of this diverse but highly listenable collection. Another vintage classic brought to life by Angel Air in 2012, that collectible Sam Apple Pie from 1969 has been revived by Angel Air on CD. In an era of great U.K. blues rock, from Fleetwood Mac to Taste and Free, Sam Apple Pie could clearly hold their own. A great lead singer in Sam Sampson, great Kossoff like guitar from Mick “Tinkerbell” Smith and a solid band all around makes Sam Apple Pie a worthy rediscovery. The album was very well recorded for its time and Angel Air’s CD features fine remastering and full booklet with 2012 liner notes by John Tucker. Angel Air keep Saxon fans alive with the 1974 pre-Saxon group called Son Of A Bitch. Featuring guitarist Graham Oliver and bassist Steve Dawson, the group reunited in 1996, after the Saxon years and recorded the Victim You album reissued on CD in 2012 by Angel Air complete with bonus track and 2012 notes. Another wild 2012 rediscovery on Angel Air is the 1969 album by Clark-Hutchinson entitled A=MH2. An instrumental raga rock / blues rock outing the CD was first released on the Decca Nova label in the U.K. and it’s back on Angel Air with a whole bunch of bonus cuts that reveal the band's bluesy, rocking vocal side. Another band who mixed instrumental and vocal rock, Wishbone Ash have a 2012 CD on Angel Air. Live In Geneva 1995 features guitarists Andy Powell with Roger Filgate on second guitar, and company in 1995, tearing through and 11 track set of classic Wishbone Ash, topped off by cool cover art. Also on Angle Air at the close of 2012 is Radio Sessions 1971-1973. Featuring the early lineup of Stackridge with Andy "Creswell" Davis, Mutter Slater and James Warren, this latest Stackridge archival release contains a 34 minute, 6 track CD highlighting several BBC radio sessions rarities from 1971 and 1973, including a 15 minute version of their early favorite “Slark” (1971) and a mellotron laden BBC sessions version of their George Martin produced “God Speed The Plough” (from 1973). As usual, excellent CD packaging and remastered sound from Angel Air, topped off with September 2012 liner notes by Stackridge insider Ade Macrow.

- It really wouldn’t be until their early 1972 album Three Friends that Gentle Giant would be a household term (at least around my house!) Before that they were produced by Tony Visconti and released two albums on the pioneering Vertigo label. Those first two Gentle Giant albums—1970’s Gentle Giant and from 1971, Acquiring The Taste—both of which are combined on a 2012 double CD reissue on BGO. With Visconti influencing the studio proceedings, Gentle Giant really came to life on these early recordings. Their first self-titled album really set the tone and image of what was to come, while Acquiring The Taste is still noteworthy for achieving an unbelievable studio sound. To their credit, BGO really captures the vision of their intended sound on an expertly mastered sound. In addition, the double CD set features Visconti’s original 1970 liner notes for the first album, the original notes and full credits for Acquiring The Taste, lyrics and photos from both albums and revealing 2012 liner notes from David Wells. Speaking of double CD reissues, BGO combines 52 tracks from 4 albums on a 2 CD set by British invasion superstars, Peter And Gordon. Peter Asher would go on to become the head of a&r at Apple Records but on these early albums, they were kind of the alternate Chad And Jeremy and albeit they never made the kind of psychedelic Gary Usher produced albums as Chad & Jeremy, their early stuff remains quite entertaining. Presented in pure stereo sound, the package collects their first self-titled album from 1964, In Touch With Peter And Gordon (from 1964), Hurtin’ ‘n’ Lovin’ (from 1965) and their 1966 album, also self-titled Peter And Gordon. Their Paul McCartney penned hits are here as are all original liner notes from all the albums and newly penned August 2012 liner notes by John O’Regan. Also from BGO in mid 2012 is a double CD set featuring three albums from late ‘60s horn-rock sensation Blood, Sweat & TearsNew Blood (1972), No Sweat (1973) and More Than Ever (1976). Although formed by American rock pioneer Al Kooper in 1968, BS&T went on to become a super slick commercial hit machine, produced by Bobby Colomby, who in addition to being their drummer was also acting as producer on these three albums. Of course, Al Kooper was long gone, and on New Blood and No Sweat a new vocalist appeared with the early voice of BS&T, David Clayton Thomas finally returning for their ‘76 album. The music is pure BS&T, those hot horn lines blasting out the big beat. Early fans who missed these later ‘70s albums might enjoy catching up with them. Jazz guitar legend Eric Gale is remembered on a pair of albums, originally released on Columbia Records and reissued as a 2 albums on 1 CD release. Combined on one CD are Part Of You from 1979 and Touch Of Silk from 1980. Of course back in the 1970s Gale was part of the group Stuff and went on to work his guitar magic on over 500 albums. He tragically passed away in 1994 but his legacy lives on this essential BGO remaster. Released in 2012 on BGO is a double CD set from country flavored folk-rock superstar Steve Goodman who died way to young at age 36 in 1984. Newly connected on a double CD set with deluxe slipcase and in depth liner notes, the self-titled Steve Goodman and Somebody Else’s Trouble were released in 1972 and 1973, respectively, on the famous Buddah Records.

- Earlier in 2012, Ian Anderson released his retro-tinged vision of Thick As A Brick 2 and as 2012 closes out, Ian and Jethro Tull have a 40th anniversary 2 disc version of Tull's historic, groundbreaking music masterpiece from 1972 the original Thick As Brick. The original Thick As A Brick was a history making album on so many levels when it came out on Lp 40 years ago in 1972. Just as EMI / Chrysalis did with Aqualung in 2010, they do for Thick As A Brick, remixing the original album to create a nearly new sounding version of the original. The point man on this sonic refinement is Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson, who clearly has good things in mind with this Thick As A Brick overhaul. Through the wizardry of studio technology in 2012, Wilson has taken the original Thick As A Brick tapes and has given the remixed instrumentation a new definition that fans of the original album won't fail to notice. Of course if you're gear is vintage audiophile, you'll appreciate the remixed, stereo Thick As A Brick on CD 1 while techies with surround sound will get a charge from the 5.1 DTS / Dolby Digital featured on the DVD disc 2 half, the same DVD of which also includes the remixed stereo version for DVD audio and the original mix on DVD. While the audiophile world waits for the listeners to catch up on the latest DVD surround sound gear to keep up with all this, clearly the CD half of this will do fine as an ear-opening event for Tull fans. As if to cement the deal, EMI pack their double disc Thick As A Brick box set with a 100 page book filled with original album artwork and new and vintage interviews with key players involved in the making of the 1972 Thick As A Brick. In 100 years, this double 40th anniversary Thick As A Brick will be required music history listening (and reading) in college curriculum worldwide.

/ EMI - In 2012 Capitol Records—long time home to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys started an anniversary CD series designed in celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary. The end result was 50 Big Ones—a double CD box set touching on all the group’s classic albums and musical moments—from “Surfin’ USA” from the Summer of ‘63 through till their 50th anniversary comeback album That’s Why God Made The Radio, released during the eventful summer of 2012. Little was really heralded though about Capitol Records remastering and reissuing many of the band’s classic Capitol years albums as 2 albums on 1 CD remasters pairing the original mono and the original stereo mixes. On the surface of things, unlike the critically acclaimed 2009 Beatles In Mono box set, which was brilliant, sound wise and from a reissue perspective, Capitol’s mono / stereo remasters of The Beach Boys is somewhat disappointing. As some rock music historians are pointing out, the best thing about these reissues is the sound quality, which features most of these reissues benefitting from new sonic remastering by long time Beach Boys / Brian Wilson studio wizard Mark Linnett, who could hardly be faulted for his serious devotion to Wilson’s sonic visions. Also noticeably missing from this 2012 series are mono / stereo remasters of classic Beach Boys albums 20/20, Wild Honey and Friends—each lynch pin albums that segued the band from the Capitol years to the Brother / Reprise albums that began with 1970’s Sunflower and 1971’s Surf’s Up, both of which are included in the 2012 series. The original Beach Boys studio albums that are included in the 2012 mono / stereo remasters include Surfin’ USA (1963) Surfer Girl (1963), Little Deuce Coupe (1963) Shut Down Volume 2 (1964), All Summer Long (1964), The Beach Boys Today! (1965) Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (1965), Beach Boys Party! (1965), Pet Sounds (1966), Smiley Smile (1967), Sunflower (1970) and Surf’s Up (1971). While both the aforementioned Surf’s Up and Sunflower are presented in their original stereo only mixes, each of the other mono / stereo mixes combined on one CD offer long time fans to hear and compare just how great these albums sounded back in the 1960’s. There’s no liner notes or bonus cuts here but many of these 2012 CD releases are getting rave reviews for their various and varying mono and stereo mixes. A new stereo remix of Smiley Smile is quite well done. The packaging of these 2012 Beach Boys remasters isn’t that great either, but for sound purists and long time fans, as well as newcomers or those who are new to the Beach Boys’ saga, the sound quality alone of these 2012 remasters provides essential listening.

- Singer-songwriter and guitarist Anthony Moore turned the music world on its ear back in 1975. Merging his band, Slapp Happy into avant-prog rockers Henry Cow, together they recorded the now classic In Praise Of Learning. Had Moore stayed with Henry Cow they might have turned into one of the great prog-rock bands in history but Fred Frith and company had other things on their collective minds including being as uncommericial as possible. Leaving the fold Moore continued on with his solo career which hit a new high with his 1979 / 1980 era solo album Flying Doesn’t Help. For some long time Henry Cow / Slapp Happy fans lucky enough to hear it, the album became an underground favorite leading us into that fateful summer of 1980. Armed with one classic track after then next, and a killer backing band, on Flying Doesn’t Help Moore’s rare blend of rock music manages to borrow from both Henry Cow-esque prog and some kind of twisted bubble gum music and 33 years later, the album maintains its timeless cool. This 2012 double CD reissue of Flying Doesn’t Help on the U.K. based Floating World label also contains a separate CD of Moore’s 1982 album World Service, an album that might not have made as bigger splash as Flying Doesn’t Help yet is also worth hearing again. This excellent sounding double CD Floating World remaster by Anthony Moore features original album artwork and fine liner notes surrounding these albums and the heady eventful times from which they came out of.

FUEL 2000
/ VARÈSE SARABANDE - Two of the best record labels in L.A. have joined forces on a 20 track retrospective of instrumental tracks CD from funk guitar master Dennis Coffey. His legacy as a member of the Motown Funk Brothers wrecking crew is legendary, yet Dennis also cut a number of soulful, funk-based instrumental tracks as a solo artist and 20 of the best cut for the Sussex record label form the core of the 2011 CD release of Absolutely The Best Of Dennis Coffey. In his revealing liner notes for his Best Of CD, Coffey reminisces about his early 1950s recordings following his stint in the U.S. Army. In fact, the liner notes by Bill Dahl sheds illuminating light on Coffey’s colorful career as both a session guitar hero and a recording artist in his own right. For instance, I didn't know Dennis played guitar on Del Shannon’s legendary hit “Little Town Flirt.” Even with his esteemed background as a session guitarist, these 20 instrumental tracks, (described by a fan as the greatest funk CD of all time) superbly remastered and collected together on this vital remaster, provides an essential snapshot of Dennis Coffey’s soulful, funky guitar expertise in action.

- Memphis Recording Service continues plumbing the vaults for rare and unheard music from Elvis Presley. In 2011, the England based label released an expanded alternate album version of the Elvis 1961 album Blue Hawaii, complete 40 page book and MRS finish up with 2012 with 24 track CD of live Elvis rarities entitled Greatest Live Hits Of the 50’s. Several previously unreleased tracks appear but for the most part, these are tried and true Elvis classics, mostly recorded deep in the heart of Dixie during 1954, 1955 and 1956, in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. The earliest track here, a stirring cover of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, recorded at the Louisiana Hayride on October 16, 1954, is one of the best sounding tracks here. There’s a reason why the crowds loved Elvis back at the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll and 25 good reasons are to be found on this CD. The CD sound on some of the Louisiana Hayride tracks may be rough and ready but the excitement and energy levels are still truly something to behold. Topped off by typically excellent MRS artwork, Greatest Hits Of the 50’s is a fine choice for the Elvis completist.

MVDB2B - Music Video Distributors are the current kings of the indy DVD distribution world. Over the past five years, they have moved more into actually releasing classic DVD titles on their own MVDvisual imprint, case in point being a 2012 DVD reissue of the 1971 Harry Nilsson movie classic The Point. A brilliantly produced animation movie, directed and animated by Fred Wolf, The Point was right up there with Yellow Submarine. Filled with the timeless music of Nilsson and the superb narration of the inimitable Ringo Starr, The Point was a critically acclaimed Nilsson album and later CD, while the general unavailability of the movie has made it somewhat of a collectors item over the years. Thanks to the marvels of movie restoration, The Point: The Definitive Collectors Edition looks great as a DVD and the original movie is further enhanced by the inclusion of 25 minutes of bonus features surrounding the legacy of both Nilsson and The Point.

RHINO / ELEKTRA RECORDS - With 20 tracks clocking in at over 70 minutes, Live At The Bowl ‘68 captures all the fireworks of a July 5th, 1968 concert by The Doors. In addition to the film of the fabled Hollywood Bowl concert, restored from the original camera negatives, the audio portion has been remixed and mastered from the original multitrack tapes by the Doors’ original sound man Bruce Botnick and simultaneously released on CD by the original record label of The Doors, the fabled Elektra Records. To say the Doors were the greatest American rock group back in 1968 would be sort of an understatement. The Doors were simply breaking new ground and while many of today’s music fans might not understand, back in 1968 The Doors were taking music fans into uncharted rock music territory. Kicking off with “When The Music’s Over”, Live At The Bowl ‘68 just bowls you over with one killer Doors tack after the next, at least up to and including the 1968 release of Waiting For The Sun, although there is a pre-album version here of “The WASP”, which would finally appear on 1971’s L.A. Woman. Commenting on this first ever presentation of the entire 1968 show, Doors cofounder Ray Manzarek says, ‘You can hear it as if you were at the Hollywood Bowl, on stage with us.’ Included in the CD packaging and booklet are a number of classic stills from the show along with 2012 liner notes by Bruce Botnick.

/ ATLANTIC RECORDS - When the history books are written about the rise of rock music in the 20th century, the name Led Zeppelin will factor considerably as will the names Keith Relf and Ahmet Ertegun. For music fans who weren’t even born before 1970, the year 1969 was the defining turning point in music history. Just 2 years before, guitarist Jimmy Page left his old boss Keith Relf in the Yardbirds. One of the most articulate geniuses in British rock history, Keith Relf would sadly be dead within five years of Led Zeppelin I, yet he would live long enough to see his former session man turned band member, Jimmy Page become the world wide guitar super hero he always wanted to be. Without Relf’s genius in The Yardbirds, the names Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page might never have been heard, but that’s another story, perhaps for another writer in another century. The year was 1969 and the company was Atlantic Records—a big time R&B label that was instrumental in bringing jazz legends like John Coltrane into the recorded mainstream. 1969 was also the year that Atlantic, under the auspices of Ertegun and A&R genius Frank Fenter, became the predominant company behind the explosion of U.K. progressive music—releasing debut albums in 1969 from King Crimson, YES and Led Zeppelin the same year. While King Crimson and later on, YES, would soon set the bar for progressive rock music, as they still do, Led Zeppelin took off like a sonic meteor bound for a star fiery ocean. While King Crimson and YES brought the music world a historic, progressive mix of rock, jazz and neoclassical sounds, by the end of 1969 Led Zeppelin’s carnal glam-blues music became the most dominant force in music history since The Beatles exploded on the American scene in 1964. This disconcerting factor among certain brainy prog-rock fans played no role in Zeppelin’s massive popularity and by the time YES started having number one albums in 1972, Zeppelin had already sold a hundred million and it’s a credit to Jimmy Page and company that they still do, year after year, nearly 45 years later. Although it’s been decades since Led Zeppelin made any kind of coherent musical band statement, in honor of the late Ahmet Ertegun, on December 10, 2007, one year after Ahmet’s passing, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jason Bonham (son of the late great Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) reconvened the Zeppelin dynasty for a one night only homage to their massive, and still growing legacy and the results are seen (and heard) to be believed on the 2012 CD/DVD release of Celebration Day. Released on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and audiophile vinyl, the movie and music enclosed shows, perhaps in hindsight, just how powerful and influential Led Zeppelin were back in the early ‘70s. True, in 1969 there was a polarizing shift in music, between the brainy and progressive sounds of YES and King Crimson and the soulful, bluesy hard rock of Zeppelin, but listening again, Led Zeppelin’s incredible mix of blues and rock doesn’t seem (now) as far-fetched as it seemed back in 1972. Zeppelin may have been a polarizing, almost hedonistic factor that divided groups of music fans back in 1969 but there’s a reason why Led Zeppelin were so huge and popular and the results of the band’s still simmering legacy can be appreciated once again in 2013 with the sure to be hugely popular Celebration Day.

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