Record Label
and Music Spotlight








CYMBALICK MUSIC - Renowned among progressive rock fans for Yes Stories, his acclaimed 1996 book about music legends YES, author and singer-songwriter Tim Morse gets back to his music roots with the 2018 CD release of III. The Northern California based composer has long been on the prog music scene and in 2015 he released the self-titled album by his band The Mangoes. That CD featured a number of other musicians including Mangoes' Bret Bingham, who also appear here on several tracks. Morse cites his work with the Mangoes as well other music influences like the band Field Music and the late great rock artist Kevin Gilbert. Speaking about the creation of III, Tim adds, The challenge of playing all the instruments appealed to me, especially having to perform the drums. I’m not a drummer and so I had to do some wood-shedding to get it down. But I discovered in the demo process that I missed the input of others, so I decided to bring in some of my favorite musicians for cameo appearances. I did want to get to the emotional core of the songs, where the lyric and melody were very clear." With Tim’s keyboards and guitars receiving solid backing from a number of players including Bret Bingham, the songs themselves, and splendid keyboard-based arrangements are the real stars of the album. Perhaps the credits tell part of the story as well, with Tim mentioning his biggest influences including the late great rock legends Chris Squire and Keith Emerson along with the many fine musos who back him up throughout the seven track, 46 minute album. Progressive rock fans who enjoy catchy pop melodies and complex, uptempo arrangements will find much to like about Tim Morse III.

CLOUTIER MUSIC - Fans of 21st century blues-rock sounds must check out the albums of the well-regarded Upstate New York based guitarist Mark Cloutier. Back in 2011, helped spread the word about Wings Of Fire, which was a CD compilation of assorted instrumental blues and rock tracks first brought to light on Mark’s various self-produced album releases. Time flies as they say and now in 2018 Mark returns to the music world with Thunder ‘N’ Lighting, an album of all new material written and recorded with Mark his brother, singer and lyricist Myke Cloutier. The resulting ten track album by their band Cloutier, the ten track Thunder 'N' Lightning rocks up quite a storm and will quickly find a home among fans of finest rockin' blues being recorded today. Commenting on this first ever album release from Cloutier, Mark tells, “This is our first release together and I owe it to brother Myke for instigating this project by simply saying let’s do some jamming and see what happens. I’m very proud of this album.” Mark Cloutier’s previous albums, including Deep Down Blues and Attitude With Gratitude, were clearly inspired by the rock, blues and instrumental guitar music of guitar giants like Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddy King and Jimi Hendrix and after a few spins it’s quite clear that Thunder ‘N’ Lighting keeps the timeless blues-rock genre going strong. As Mark notes in the following 2018 interview with, in addition to his new album with brother Myke in Cloutier, he’s also still quite busy with his Syracuse, N.Y. based band, The Double Barrel Blues Band, and fans of his work with DBBB will equally enjoy this first Cloutier album. And, considering the sonic diversity that Mark brings to the blues and rock guitar world, there’s always the chance in the future for a follow-up album to his groundbreaking instrumental guitar album Wings Of Fire. There's plenty of trailblazing, rockin’ big-beat electric guitar sounds on this first Cloutier album, and with one killer track after the next, Thunder ‘N’ Lighting is a stunning mix of solid blues-rock at its finest.

ERYN MUSIC – There’s plenty of white hot, smokin’ R&B flavored pop and rock on the 2018 CD release of Lady E by the singer who goes by the name of Eryn. In the spirit of blue-eyed soul masters like Hall & Oates, Eryn’s new single off the seven track CD EP is called “Hallelujah You’re Gone”, which comes across as a bittersweet bluesy track featuring long gone wrong lyrics that cuts to the quick. Eyrn’s band features some great musicians, some of whom contribute to the song writing while backing vocalists add more fuel to the album’s musical fires. Produced and mixed by bassist Jack Daley, the album also features song writing by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan. Eryn has been compared to U.K. blues belter, the late great Amy Winehouse, yet with its mix of blues, soul, jazzy pop, rock and even country, Lady E combines R&B with a modern pop approach that is greatly enhanced by a potent live music feel. With its appealing cover art and tasteful album packaging, Eryn’s music is a welcome addition to the 21st century music scene.

GONZO MULTIMEDIA – Multi-instrumentalist and sonic visionary Don Marino Falcone is the brain-trust that produced the 2018 CD release of An Alien Heat by Spirits Burning And Michael Moorcock. With most of the lyrics penned by Michael Moorcock, the album features music written by Don and a range of writers, including backing vocalist Albert Bouchard and a litany of other writers. The vocals are handled by a number of singers and, in fact almost each of the 16 tracks here features a different lead vocalist. With over 30 musicians taking part, the music is quite eclectic and the content almost dizzying. One look at the Spirits Burning web site will attest to the band’s enduring legacy, and of course Falcone’s alliance with electronic music legend Cyrille Verdeaux is the stuff of legend and, in fact, Cyrille also appears on the Spirits Burning album. Albert Bouchard is another fine multi-instrumentalist here although the album does feature a number of lead guitarists, along with a mix of drummers, bass players and more. Album mastering by electronic music icon Robert Rich adds further uniqueness to the whole thing. Interesting to note that an essential edition of the album also comes with a second bonus CD—a bonus all-instrumental album, featuring the same album and songs, sans vocals, that serves as a kind of companion piece to the main album with the vocals and lyrics. Although the main focus is on the vocal album version, there’s no denying the coolness of the instrumental version—especially when considering Don’s long time alliance with the legendary Cyrille Verdeaux. Either way, An Alien Heat is strong, heady stuff with a definite link to 21st century progressive rock music.

MUSEA RECORDS - Signed to the legendary French Musea label, Finland native Toni Jokinen returns in 2018 with, Views, Fears & Stories, his latest album as the leader of the band Riveryman. Toni is in fact Riveryman, with his songs, guitars, keyboards and vocals backed up by the late, great drummer Mika “Pikkis” Korkeamäki, who sadly died after these sessions were completed. Toni first came to the attention of with his 2009 first Riveryman album Magic World and although it’s been nine years, the release of Views, Fears & Stories is worth the wait. If anything, the Riveryman sound has evolved and improved and the combined effort features a range of progressive rock vocals and instrumental tracks that serves to establish him as a bona fied contender in the industrious progressive rock world. Some older music fans have compared Toni to both Finnish progressive rock legends Pekka Pohjola and Jukka Gustavson, both early members of Finland’s most acclaimed progressive rock band Wigwam. As Toni expresses in the following interview, Pekka Pohjola is a clear influence, you can hear it in the way the guitars are recorded, although with Riveryman’s emphasis on long, winding lyrical and vocal ideas, Gustavson’s influence can’t be understated. In fact, Toni’s voice even sounds like Jukka Gustavson too. Commenting on the title of the new Riveryman album, Toni tells “I came up that title because these three words set kind of the right scene when you think about the big picture of this Riveryman album. Views is how you can read the lyrics from different perspectives and how these lyrics are talking to you. Fears are more like the fear of knowledge, fear of the unknown, and fear of the afterlife, which are also things the lyrics are speaking of. Stories describes the whole story of this album, that it is telling. These three words are kind of subjects that the album lyrics/songs are offering.” With Toni’s guitar work and keyboard arrangements floating on top of his intricate lyrics, it's certain that music fans who were lucky enough to hear the 2009 Riveryman album will equally enjoy the sounds in play on the deep musical grooves of Views, Fears & Stories.

PARAPLY RECORDS – The Swedish record company Paraply Records struck pop-rock gold in 2018 with their III album by Citizen K and later the same year, group founder Klas Qvist is paid another honor by his fellow countrymen on the 2018 CD release of I Huvet På Varann by Swedish pop-rock artist Mikael Ramel. With a number of albums out under his own name, Ramel is something of pop-culture icon in Sweden and the eleven cut I Huvet På Varann features Swedish language versions of music from Citizen K’s second album, Second Thoughts, that featured a double album’s worth of music that was originally written by Citizen K with English lyrics. Of course, this music is so great that they could have done instrumental versions, and maybe one day that will happen, as the songs contain a number of indelible melodies. Klas plays on the I Huvet På Varann album too, along with a range of Swedish music legends including guitar legend Kenny Håkansson with appearances from a number of other top-tier musicians. Co-production by Peter Holmstedt puts the seal of approval on the album. Commenting on his music being translated into Swedish language for the first time, Klas tells, “It was Peter Holmstedt who sent Mikael a copy of Second Thoughts shortly after its release in 2017. I had no idea of it until I got an email from Mr. Ramel himself which really made me pinch myself in the arm a couple of times.” Having released a number of fine albums, Ramel himself should be applauded for doing a fine job, reintroducing Citizen K’s music to any Swedes who don’t instantly get his English lyrics to which Klas further adds, “Ramel told me during our following correspondence that he'd already began translation work on some songs and that he wanted to record them. He suggested I do the lead vocals to which I was reluctant. I told him I had just done the album, and that I was less than interested in doing them again. I was on the next train with III and all that. But if he wanted to sing, I'd help him, act like a backup musician, provide him with the already existing backing tracks and put harmonies to it.” So are lyrics in English a deal-breaker in Citizen K’s own land? Klas further informs us adding, “I don't think English lyrics is a career block here in Sweden. Very few singers record their material in Swedish these days, which is a bit of a drag. I find it hard to make my Swedish attempts sound relevant, though. Mikael on the other hand, did a great job. I still haven't understood the event. I actually don't know what to do with it. Confusion is my middle name.” Sung with English or Swedish lyrics, these songs from the highly underrated Second Thoughts album still sound great and besides, anything to further praise Sweden’s greatest pop-rock artist of the 21st century is quite all right by me.

Near the end of 2009, I had the rare chance to discover a brilliant album by an artist called Citizen K—essentially the work and vision of singer-songwriter, guitarist and general multi-instrumentalist Klas Qvist. And so once again making a strong musical connection courtesy the country of Sweden, that first Citizen K album that signalled the end of the decade, Somewhere Up North made a big impact on my musical and personal identity at that time. When one thinks of Sweden, I personally look back and remember the first of the original progressive rock bands of the 1970s like Bo Hansson with guitarist Kenny Håkannson, Zamla and Peter Bryngelsson’s band Ragnarök to name some of the originals. Although huge in Sweden, pop music sung in English has always taken a back seat in a world dominated by American and British pop giants, the rare exception being ABBA of course. Yet, in coming up with that 2009 breakthru album, Somewhere Up North set Citizen K out on a most unique musical journey, a journey that was, after years of waiting, finally brought to fruition with the long awaited follow up that in 2017 of a double CD called Second Thoughts. Less than a year later, now in early 2018 Citizen K has released a third album, simply called III (as in the Roman numeral 3). As the album credits indicate, Klas performs all the guitars, keys, bass, percussion, lead and backing vocals with key assistance from III co-producer Andreas Holmstedt, who adds in programming and drums on a track along with some effective sound effects on a range of tracks here. Also on hand is Citizen K drumming ace Kim Gunneriusson, Gudmundur Bragason (orchestral arrangements), along with several other contributors. The photography and a&r work of Peter Holmstedt (founder of Swedish music information website Hemifrån) is always excellent as is the album cover painting by his gifted wife Petra Holmstedt. Even if you discount the fact that Klas was born blind and is blind still, and even more you consider that he has turned out to be among the most informed pop statesmen in Sweden today and, then that his electric guitar work is on par with some of the best players in rock today; consider still that as a collection of indelible pop melodies and timeless rock arrangements, III is a breathtaking music classic of the highest magnitude.

PROVOGUE / MASCOT RECORDS – Provogue and Mascot Records moves on up to even further musical greatness with Shades, the 2018 CD by guitarist / composer Doyle Bramhall II. The 12 track CD is truly spellbinding in scope and features Doyle’s music which includes a stunning mix of stellar blues, grunge rock, psychedelia and even soulful pop ballads on an album that never fails to amaze. Assisting Doyle are some top names like Eric Clapton, Norah Jones along with Austin band The Greyhounds and The Tedeschi Trucks Band. Doyle’s core band also features excellent musicians including Adam Minkoff (keys, guitars), Tchad Blake (percussion), Carla Azar and Abe Rounds (drums) and much more including guitarist Chris Bruce. Clearly, the songs Doyle has composed are the main stars of the album and many of the tracks are co-writes by Doyle with various band members although the CD closes out with a Bob Dylan cover of “Going, Going, Gone”, produced by Doyle and guitarist Derek Trucks. Doyle explains, “As an artist, writer and producer, I'm in a good place, and I think I can allow this flow of music to come out and form a real body of work that my fans can appreciate. I'm thrilled to have them go on this journey with me." Clapton’s influence, as both songwriter and guitarist, is quite clear although Doyle’s own vocals and electric guitar work are excellent throughout, with track 10, “Parvanah” a standout psychedelic tour-de-force. Recorded in Brooklyn, Jacksonville, Austin and L.A., Doyle Bramhall’s Shades album sounds great and is clearly one of the finest pop-rock albums of 2018.

PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS – It’s been light ages since Jethro Tull released an album as great as their 1968-78 heyday, but within and without Tull, the band's fabled guitar legend, Martin Barre carries his legacy forward with the 2018 CD release of Roads Less Travelled. Rock fans who grew up with Tull back in the late 1960s and most of the ‘70s were quite fortunate to witness the birth and culmination of a rock legacy. Featuring Martin’s guitar skills still operating at an extremely high velocity, Roads Less Travelled carries his guitar legend onward as a solo artist. Although not as essential as early Tull, the album does have its moments and of course the electric guitar sound is great. With Martin’s guitar as the central focus, Roads Less Travelled features some competent vocalists who share the spotlight. Martin’s other solo albums were much more geared to the instrumental crowd but speaking about his latest foray into vocal rock, he adds, “I’ve concentrated on improving my song writing over the last few years and as a result, I am really pleased with this new CD. Roads Less Travelled reflects my belief in taking music somewhere new.” Track ten, “Trinity” harks back to Martin’s instrumental based sound while the other tracks are all vocal rock. Starting with Stand Up in 1969, it was clear that Martin Barre was the perfect guitarist for Tull’s burgeoning progressive rock sound. He was the band's guiding guitar light for decades. With a fresh batch of bluesy, straight ahead hard rock tracks, Martin’s legion of guitar disciples will find much to appreciate on Roads Less Travelled.

PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS – Many YES fans have certain memories of the late, great Chris Squire. One of my favorites is from the summer of 1999, around the time when Chris and Billy Sherwood finally put out the first Conspiracy album. As we stand of the doorstep of 2019, the shattered, ultra dreams of twenty years ago are nowhere near as memorable as that golden summer itself. And now with Chris existing only in the afterlife, Billy has finally taken it on himself to release what is, to my knowledge the only Chris Squire tribute album to gain prominence. For the 12-track, 2018 CD release of A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute, Billy has assembled a wide range of great pop and rock musicians including Todd Rundgren singing “Roundabout” no less, keyboardist Brian Auger, YES founding keyboardist Tony Kaye and a host of other timeless rock legends. The current bass anchor in the 2018 YES, Billy does a great job on “South Side Of The Sky”, while current YES singer Jon Davison takes lead vocals for “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom”, backed up by Patrick Moraz. Jazz legend David Sancious adds in some amazing piano work and synth legend Larry Fast is also in attendance, along with so many others! True, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White are not on this superb CD, but Chris Squire is—yes incorporeal yet also basking in a timeless state of his indestructible sonic majesty.

ROCKVILLE MUSIC – For fans who grew up during the era of the great progressive rock band Procol Harum, the song writing team of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid will forever live in the music hall of fame. After writing song lyrics for Gary Brooker’s Procol Harum classics for decades, Keith stretches out in 2018 with the second album from his offshoot band The Keith Reid Project. The ten track In My Head is a fine singer-songwriter showcase for Keith and his current group of pop-rock co-writers including a number of known and lesser known, though quite gifted songwriters and vocalists, including John Waite, Maya Saxell, Chris Merola and others. More low-key in sound and style than what music fans might have expected, In My Head is still a worthy follow up to the 2009 release of the first KRP album The Common Thread, also released on the Germany-based Rockville label. You won’t be able to ignore this wonderful little CD thanks in part to the humorous cover art, which kind of parodies Procol Harum’s 1969 classic A Salty Dog. Backed by a range of co-writers and top-rated musicians, In My Head is a notable album from one of rock’s most illustrious songwriter / lyricists Keith Reid.

RPM MUSIC - Australian singer-songwriter / guitarist Gus McKay continues making a lot of blues-rock fans very happy with his 2017 CD called Talisman. With a guitar-centric sound that is kind of similar in scope to J.J. Cale, mixed in with some Peter Green meets ZZ Top inspired vocals, Talisman is a fascinating spin start to finish. In some ways, the lead off track “Art Of Living” perfectly captures Gus’ sound. In his February 2018 interview, Gus says the track is about “Getting closer to the ideal, of getting through this life with purpose and dignity and still be inspired”. Songs about purpose and dignity are at the core of Talisman, which also has a deep connection to rural life in Australia. A sense of sparseness permeates Talisman and the album is a very graphic sonic postcard from Australia, which Gus describes in songs like “Murchison Sequel” and GinGin Morning”. Gus has perfectly tailored the sound and vision of Talisman very much around his own ideas of life and his lyrics are totally underscored by the excellent sound that Gus receives from his band, which includes Ronan Charles (drums, keyboards, and tenor sax) and Phil Waldron (bass, double bass, bozouki, fiddle, trumpet, cello, banjo, pedal steel and tin whistle). The album also features some intriguing album art to which Gus adds, “I found a particular design that caught my eye and created it from wood and old tin, for the inside sleeve of the CD.” Such attention to detail is rare and doesn’t go unnoticed, although the first thing that grabs you about Talisman is the sonic depth of these songs, which take some time to get into fully, but it’s very much worth it. Guitar fans will be amazed at the sound that Gus coaxes from his many fine instruments, which includes Teles and Strats—as well as a 1940’s Dobro and an Australian “Galvo” tricone resonator made from 100 year old galvanized roof tin/iron. Fans of Peter Green, J.J. Cale, Billy Gibbons, as well as other influences from blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, will totally dig where Gus McKay is coming from on Talisman. The art of modern, electric blues is alive and in fine form on Gus McKay’s Talisman.

RUSH MUSIC - I found out about Alan Clayson back in the 1980s. I had formed a record company called Breakthru’ Records back in the early ‘80s and licensed an Lp vinyl album called Traffic by Swedish guitarist Janne Schaffer. Unbeknownst to me, a label in the U.K. called Shanghai Records had also licensed a vinyl album for Traffic from Janne, at the same time for the same release for the U.K. Of course it was Breakthru’ that released the first ever CD by Janne Schaffer of that same album, a year later. Anyway, through all of this karmic revival I became friendly with the owner of the label, a well-respected music exec called Brian Leafe, and he sent me an Lp of an album he released (and now considered a very important album of its time) called Hostage To The Beat by British invasion superstar called Dave Berry. As I found out around early 1986, key to that album was songwriter Alan Clayson, who befriended Dave and was a key factor in the creation of his brilliant comeback album. I found Alan several years ago and we became kindred spirits. In 2012 reviewed Alan's solo album One Dover Soul and now five years after Alan released a great rock album called This Cannot Go On by his band Alan Clayson And The Argonauts. The free form rock album is very much in the Dave Berry spirit circa 1985 and the album was tastefully released in effective digi-pak album art. His band, with Pete Cox on guitars and John Harries (on sax) is quite effective. As Alan writes in his credits, John Otway is credited too (he also adds in theremin too) and fans of Otway’s Syd-Barrett inspired pop music will find a home on Clayson’s new one. Very Bowie-inspired, and since his work with Dave Berry in the mid ‘80s, Clayson has remained as a hero of the underground U.K. pop-rock scene, and being a musicologist, writer and producer, Alan Clayson's new album This Cannot Go On is among the top esoteric rock CDs of 2018.

- The best progressive rock bands have proven time and again to be masters at a range of genres. Those prog fans looking for a band with unbelievable chops and musical vision should give a listen to ScienceNV. The four-piece Northern California band turned heads around earlier in 2018 with The Quest For Prester John Volume 1 and late in 2018 they fulfill the Prester John tale with The Quest For Prester John Volume 2. The second CD picks up from where Volume 1 leaves off with a fresh range of mythological tales of Prester John put to music. Actually, the tale of Prester John dates back 500 years ago so Science NV really stretches the listener’s musical imagination with their Prester John saga put to music. ScienceNV puts the tale to bed for the most part with “Roderick’s Tale” and following that 25 minute opus they complete volume 2 with a fresh set of mostly instrumental music that mixes jazz-rock with progressive rock and beyond. Where “Roderick’s Tale” features several guest vocalists and truly out-there lyrics, the remaining tracks are truly mind-blowing in their scope. Prog fans may relate this album to, believe it or not, the fabled Henry Cow album from 1975, In Praise Of Learning, which combines antiwar lyrics with some truly avant gard instrumental rock. As on The Quest For Prester John Volume 1, the band lineup remains the same, including Jim Henriques (guitars, vocals, keys), Larry Davis (guitars), David Graves (keys, vocals) and Rich Kallet (drums). The lead off piece on Volume 2, a multipart progressive rock epic called “Roderick’s Tale”, features some of the most impressive antiwar lyrics and imagery ever put into a rock-based concept album and as the band's scathing lyrics proves, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Speaking about the complexities of putting the famous mythology of Prester John into the concept of a rock track, the group's guitarist Jim Henriques tells, “I think we’re done with Prester John. It was an exhausting effort, and we will likely try something with less pressure next. Phew!” That sense of sonic completion, of a musical mission fulfilled, secures a place for The Quest For Prester John Volume 1 & 2 among the most impressive sounding and the most unique sounding rock albums of the 21st century.

- New Jersey’s finest singer-songwriter, Michal Towber returned in 2018 with yet another groundbreaking album of memorable compositions entitled No Resolution. Hard to believe it’s been 19 years since Michal’s big breakthrough on Columbia Records, back when she was a teenager. Raising a family and balancing a rock star career in more recent years ain’t easy, yet Michal rises to the occasion on a superbly packaged CD that tastefully blends rock, pop, singer-songwriter style sounds to great effect. Several semi-acoustic, piano-based, unplugged tracks near the end of the album changes the vibe of the 14 track album yet, for most of its 45 minute, with tracks 1-10 rock sound, No Resolution really hits home with Michal’s soaring vocals and manic presence and kinetic vibe. One new surprise here is that No Resolution marks the first collaboration with gifted guitarist / saxophonist and songwriter AR. Co-production by Kazim Zaidi is further enhanced by his crisp sounding drumming, guitars and bass guitar skills. With 14 memorable pop-rock tracks, No Resolution is an excellent follow up to Michal’s 2012 album One Immortal Day, and the album goes the distance to further her already impressive repertoire of recorded music.

TWANKY RECORDS – To be filed under the 21st century jazz/pop and Americana sound, Rediscovered is a great way to check out the music of L.A. based singer-songwriter Judith Owen. On her 2018 album, Judith hands the creative reigns over to the music gods on an album that takes on the form of a tribute album to Judith’s biggest songwriter influences. Backed up by some great musicians including bass legend Leland Sklar, Pedro Segundo (percussion) and Spinal Tap / SNL icon Harry Shearer, Rediscovered features a few surprises, including covers of “Smoke On The Water”, “Play That Funky Music White Boy”, “Black Hole Sun”, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, a pair of Joni Mitchell covers, a Beatles cover of “Blackbird” and many other fine tracks. The key here is that it’s all done with the utmost taste and in a kind of low-key, late night jazz club kind of way—without pretense and production overkill. In Judith Owens' hands, less is more so only the great music and melodies come shining through on an album that will seduce you in the finest, musical kind of way. Produced by Ms. Owen and recorded in L.A., and featuring excellent album art and track-by-track notes, Rediscovered is a great late night spin and serves as a fabulous introduction to the sound and style of singer, pianist and arranger Judith Owen.



ALBA RECORDS – Finland’s world renowned classical guitarist Otto Tolonen continues releasing excellent albums in his native country and in 2018 he issued a CD entitled Retratos. Recorded in Finland between August and October 2017, the 58 minute, 15 track Retratos finds Otto performing original music by composing legends such as Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, who Otto covers astutely with a Sérgio Assad arrangement of Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons” (“Las Estaciones Porteñas”). Other composers put into the spotlight by Otto include Giulio Regondi, who composed “Nocturne” (“Reverie") way back in 1864. 20th century composers covered here, including Alvaro Company, Nuccio D’Angelo and Ariel Ramirez, are more recent composers brought to light under Otto’s magical guitar sound. Like the finest albums by top classical artists, the Retratos CD booklet, printed in both Finnish and English, is exemplary and is packed with information about the guitarist complete with a concise, detailed history of all the composers featured here. A gifted performer, recording artist, music instructor and a guitarist / musicologist, Finland’s great classical guitar icon Otto Tolonen brings his recording career to new levels of sonic perfection with the critically acclaimed Retratos.

BASILICA MUSIC - Instrumental music composer and keyboardist Paul Kirkpatrickrecording as a solo artist under his stage name Paul Khas released three critically acclaimed solo albums in England during the past 5 years, starting with his first solo album, Soul Connection in 2015, followed by Omertà in 2017. During this time Paul also released the 2016 debut album by his rock band with singer Rachel Harvey, in the band, Glitch_Code. Now in the Fall of 2018, Paul K has released his third solo album, a powerful concept album called The Fermi Paradox. The anticipated follow-up album to Paul's critically-acclaimed 2017 album Omertà, The Fermi Paradox is a progressive music opus that merges 21st century instrumental rock with an avant-garde neoclassical edge. A tribute album with a twist, Paul K's album, The Fermi Paradox pays an instrumental prog-rock homage to Italian scientist / physicist Enrico Fermi and his famous 1950 quote “So, where is everybody?” also known as "Where Are They?" – a question that sparked a pop culture revolution in the middle of the 20th century. The Fermi Paradox literally renewed a quest to search for life beyond Earth. As written about in greater detail in The Fermi Paradox CD booklet liner notes, Enrico Fermi’s question was, quite subliminally, first introduced to the pop culture masses in 1968, by way of Stanley Kurbrick’s acclaimed masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.For more background, Kubrick is interviewed here at the grand opening of the movie in New York in 1968—half a century ago. As more astute listeners and critics will note, Paul K’s 2018 concept album, The Fermi Paradox is among the most unique sounding and unparalleled instrumental albums released thus far in the 21st century. Paul K explains, “This album is about the vastness of the universe and if we are alone or not and about the evolution of life.” Paul K also implements spoken word tracks on several songs here that serves, from a historical viewpoint, to underscore a cosmic connection to the expansive scientific concepts of The Fermi Paradox. The track “The Great Silence”, features cellist / vocalist Rachel Dawson reading a poem by the late holocaust poet Abraham Sutzkever. The Fermi Paradox also features spoken word tracks of rare recordings, from the Oxford University Fine Tuning Workshop videos, featuring esteemed Oxford professors Joe Silk and Mario Livio as they deliberate upon the Fermi Paradox and Enrico Fermi’s famous 1950 quote “So, where is everybody?” Musicians performing on The Fermi Paradox include: Paul K: Piano, Synths, Theremin, Percussion, Mellotron, Programming - Julian Todd: 4, 5, 6 String and Fretless Bass - Gordon Foley: Guitar, Ebow - David Williamson-Smith: Drums - Rachel Dawson: Cello, Narration and Backing Vocals - Corinna Jane: Backing Vocals. In addition to his core band with keys, drums, guitars, cello, bass and spoken word vocals, The Fermi Paradox also features diverse instrumentation such as electric violin, theremin, pipes and more, giving the album an ancient yet futuristic feel. The most ambitious album so far by music maestro Paul Kirkpatrick, The Fermi Paradox propels progressive music forward into a deep and dark sonic future.

BOMBORA RECORDS – Australia’s surf-rock guitar hero Martin Cilia returns in 2018 with a solid CD of splendid instro guitar magic called Espresso Martino. With pictures of coffee beans lurking around the cover art, the music is equally stimulating and even legendary. Several originals dot the musical terrain although the covers here are totally spot on, including new takes on classics by The Shadows, Santo & Johnny, Joe Meek, Fleetwood Mac and more. The backing tracks are very good although from the layout of the CD art, it’s unclear as to who is playing drums but it could very well be Martin himself! Although Martin earned a solid reputation as a relatively new member of Australia’s famous surf-rock legends The Atlantics, his impressive output as a solo artist is greatly enhanced with the 2018 CD release of Espresso Martino. Instro rockers will lap up the frenetic, wild space action of Martin Cilia’s latest guitar masterpiece.

BORDERLINE MUSIC / DISCMEDI BLAU – Based in Madrid Spain, pianist / composer Paz del Castillo is making sound waves on the New Age scene with her 2018 CD called Tres. Essentially a thirteen track best of, the music contains tracks from her various albums along with several newer tracks. Essentially a well-recorded solo piano album, it’s quite unique with its New Age meditative tone with a kind of jazz-tinged Vince Guaraldi style of impressionistic minimalism. Although Paz has performed a variety of classical musical concerts in Europe with her duo or trio lineup, Tres is very much a piano centric recording from an obviously gifted composer and pianist. Commenting on her new CD, Paz adds, “My album, Tres: The Best of Paz del Castillo is a summary of my life, a self-portrait like brushstrokes on a white canvas which completes a painting that portrays Paz del Castillo.”

GONZO MULTIMEDIA – Multi-instrumentalist and sonic visionary Don Marino Falcone is the brain-trust that produced the 2018 CD release of An Alien Heat by Spirits Burning And Michael Moorcock. With most of the lyrics penned by Michael Moorcock, the album features music written by Don and a range of writers, including backing vocalist Albert Bouchard and a litany of other writers. The vocals are handled by a number of singers and, in fact almost each of the 16 tracks here features a different lead vocalist. With over 30 musicians taking part, the music is quite eclectic and the content almost dizzying. One look at the Spirits Burning web site will attest to the band’s enduring legacy, and of course Falcone’s alliance with electronic music legend Cyrille Verdeaux is the stuff of legend and, in fact, Cyrille also appears on the Spirits Burning album. Albert Bouchard is another fine multi-instrumentalist here although the album does feature a number of lead guitarists, along with a mix of drummers, bass players and more. Album mastering by electronic music icon Robert Rich adds further uniqueness to the whole thing. Interesting to note that an essential edition of the album also comes with a second bonus CD—a bonus all-instrumental album, featuring the same album and songs, sans vocals, that serves as a kind of companion piece to the main album with the vocals and lyrics. Although the main focus is on the vocal album version, there’s no denying the coolness of the instrumental version—especially when considering Don’s long time alliance with the legendary Cyrille Verdeaux. Either, way An Alien Heat is strong, heady stuff with a definite link to 21st century progressive rock music.

GREENLEAF MUSIC – With a stellar mix of instrumental jazz, folk music, Americana, European classical and more, Flatbed Buggy makes for a stunning intro to the music of drummer / composer Rudy Royston. Backed up by some excellent players, including Gary Versace (accordion), Hank Roberts (cello), Joe Martin (bass) and John Ellis (clarinet, sax), Rudy paves a new sonic road with his unique take on 21st century jazz. The all-acoustic groove gives the album a kind of timelessness and the all-original set of tracks is filled with a kind of splendid originality. As a drummer, Rudy brings a unique sense of timing and as such, the music has a very steady beat and rhythm throughout, even despite the near avant-garde nature of the music. Versed with a solid background in jazz, rock, gospel and classical music, Rudy Royston makes the most of his offbeat approach to recording with the genre-defying groove of Flatbed Buggy.

GREYDISC – Guitarist / music conceptualist and guitar innovator Kevin Kastning sure had a busy year in 2018. The follow-up solo album to his 17/66 album from early ’18, the December 2018 CD release of 30/66 was recorded at the same sessions and features further explorations on his 36-string Double Contraguitar and his 30-string Contra-Alto guitar. Kastning considers both albums to form a kind of giant 66 string instrument and the sounds he gets on this latest album continues his unique multifaceted approach to his recorded repertoire. Asked about why he preferred the sound of those two guitars, Kevin explains, "The 30- and 36-string instruments were used on this record because the compositions on this album were planned for those two instruments. "30/36" is an extension or continuation of "17/66" in that it furthers the harmonic blocks concept into compositions for 30- and 36-string instruments. And I had not done a solo project wherein I used only the 30 and 36, so these pieces were ideal for that direction." At times the sound evokes the experimental guitar style of masters like John Fahey and Leo Kottke, and other times the sound is so far-out that it defies mere description. Once again working with music producer Sandor Szabo, Kastning keeps the listener on the edge of their seat with the haunting, avant garde scope of 30/66. For the untrained ear of the casual listener, the sound might appear to be otherworldly or even disconcerting yet, for long time followers of Kevin Kastning’s unique guitar-centric approach, 30/66 provides yet another puzzle piece in the unique sonic vision that is Kevin Kastning.

JAZZ HANG RECORDS – Utah-based Jazz Hang Records is on the ball with the 2018 CD release of Sonic Paragon from drummer / composer Jay Lawrence. Somewhat of a jazz superstar jam, the twelve track CD features top musicians backing up Jay’s drums and compositions, including John Patitucci (bass), Renee Rosnes (piano), guitarists Romero Lubambo, Yotam Silberstein and Anthony Wilson, along with other fine musicians including horn man Harry Allen. The album has a very straight-ahead, post-bop jazz tinge to it but it’s never at a loss for expressive sounding melodic arrangements that spotlight Jay’s deep approach to his art form. Mostly Lawrence originals, the eleven cut album also features several eclectic covers written by Irving Berlin (“What’ll I Do”), Leonard Bernstein (“Maria”) and Jimi Hendrix (“Crosstown Traffic”). Co-production by Michael Gibbons is excellent. Recorded in Brooklyn, NY and mixed and mastered by Barry Gibbons in Utah, Jay Lawrence and his Sonic Paragon moves contemporary jazz into the future with renewed style and finesse.

RYAN JUDD MUSIC – It is true that much of the New Age music being recorded and released today is directly related to musical therapy. One artist breaking through the borders of New Age and musical therapy is finger-style guitarist / composer Ryan Judd. Ryan’s company called The Rhythm Tree specializes in that aspect of using peaceful music to teach young kids social skills, which focuses on music therapy and psychology. Kids could learn a lot from Ryan’s approach, which creates musical experiences while focusing on speech, physical, behavioral goals and more. On top of all his work, Ryan Judd also has a new solo CD out called An Open Sky. Fitting in with his musical therapy approach, the ten track CD features an all-original approach to music and he receives excellent support from cellist Kristen Miller. Much more New Age and peaceful than say some of the other acoustic guitarists recording today, on An Open Sky the approach is deep and meaningful, less absorbed with technique and more dedicated to a more deeply understand type of sonic science that is channeled through the acoustic steel string guitar. Very slow, stately and deeply felt music, Ryan Judd’s An Open Sky is a trip into the peaceful regions of your musical soul.

KERANI MUSIC PRODUCTION Holland-based keyboardist and composer Kerani is a true renaissance artist of the early 21st century instrumental music world. Having released five critically acclaimed albums since 2011, Kerani returns in 2018 with her sixth release, Small Treasures. There’s plenty of New Age instrumental music that tastefully blends in a European inspired musical style in the spirit of the iconic composers of centuries past, and played and recorded with sonic precision and wonderful intention. Free from electronic keyboards and synth backing, Small Treasures is mostly a fine showcase for Kerani’s exquisite grand piano skills. Small Treasures begins with a track called “Temple Of Roses”, a song that features a rare vocal performance from Chanele McGuinness, who also is featured adding spoken word poetry on the track “Celtic Mystery”. With elegant sound contributions from Arno Op den Camp, Small Treasures also features a number of guest artists, including flute maestro Ron Korb and Carla Maffioletti (guitar), along with several other musicians, with a high point being a full-bodied string quartet. Enhancing the musical majesty on Small Treasures are Kerani’s wonderful paintings, which are reproduced in the CD booklet along with excerpts from her favorite poetry. Commenting on the album in her memorable CD booklet liner notes, Kerani notes, “This time, I have chosen to write music that is closer to myself; music which describes memories and feelings that left an imprint on my heart forever.” An impressive follow-up to her 2017 album Stardust, 2018’s Small Treasures is overflowing with wondrous and majestic instrumental music that will impart an instant sense of sonic relief to the most seasoned 21st century New Age / Neoclassical music lover.

LOUD FOLK RECORDS – Hipped to by Minnesota’s esteemed musicologist and record company maven Ken Onstad, the Loud Folk label unveiled a new for 2018 album, entitled Revel & Ritual by multi-instrumentalist and composer Greg Herriges. Back in 2015, Greg released his Artifacts album and, subtitled Holiday Music For The World, the nine track Revel & Ritual features Greg’s band, Stella Roma, which features Greg on guitars, bouzouki, guitalele, hoses and even a vocal track, backed up by his band mates including Michael Bissonnette (drums), Rundio (chapman stick, atmospherics) and more including vocalist Pooja Goswami Pavan, an Indian vocalist who appears on a pair of Indian music flavored tracks. As he’s so fond of doing, on his latest release, Greg take the listeners on a worldwide musical trek, offering new arrangements of traditional music from a range of cultures and putting a hip kind of World Music groove to the whole thing. Hindu flavored sounds merge with Chinese and Japanese music as well as Hebrew, Muslim and even Ukrainian style music. What ever your musical bag is, Greg’s guitar and bouzouki sounds lead the Stella Roma sound into some truly inventive global grooves. Mostly instrumental music with a couple of vocal tracks to enhance the vibes, Revel & Ritual is a fascinating sonic peek into the musical imagination of Greg Herriges. /

ORIGIN RECORDS – Origin continues onward as one of America’s finest jazz and jazz-fusion labels. Origin’s 2018 CD release of Petite Fleur: The Music Of Sidney Bechet is an excellent duo album by Dave Liebman and John Stowell. The combination of Dave’s soprano sax, wood flute and piano with John’s various guitars is pure magic. What’s new in the jazz world is that Sidney Bechet’s music is getting some fresh coverage. New Orleans native Bechet was born in 1897 and he was often referred to, especially in Europe, as a jazz version of J.S. Bach. The third album on Origin featuring these two excellent players, Petite Fleur starts off with the famous Bechet 1952 original that serves as the album title track here and that is featured in three different versions. The music on this CD are all Bechet originals, save for a nearly seven minute cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. The music is quite low-key in scope yet between both Liebman and Stowell, there’s quite a stellar sounding jazz focus in play. Produced by Stowell, and recorded in Pennsylvania in 2017, Petite Fleur also features fresh liner notes by both Dave Liebman and John Stowell. Commenting on the album from his liner notes, Dave surmises, “This recording with John is about Sidney as a composer, an area that I did not really know about until I researched material for this project. His compositions are extremely lyrical, quite straightforward and of course, as a New Orleans native, tinged with the blues.” Jazz fans need to experience the magic of Sidney Bechet’s music in 2018 as performed by seasoned jazz hands of Dave Liebman and John Stowell. / /

ORIGIN RECORDS – Origin Records keeps dazzling jazz fans and guitar fans will especially savor Decade: Memoirs, the 2018 CD by Chicago-based guitarist / composer John Moulder. Backed by a range of stellar players, including Steve Rodby (acoustic bass), Paul Wertico (drums), Gwilym Simcock (piano), Tim Garland (sax, clarinet) and Ernie Adams (percussion), this album swings with some intense playing and memorable compositions. With so many excellent musicians on hand, John’s guitar is sometimes subdued but when he cuts loose, he all but steals the show. Recorded in 2009, 2017 and 2014, the nine cut CD is reflective of meaningful events and cherished individuals in the guitarist’s life. Decade: Memoir is a memorable and intensive album of all original music by one of the most committed guitar virtuosos on the current worldwide jazz-fusion scene. /

JOHN PETRUCELLI MUSIC – Blurring the borders between jazz, classical and electronic music, sax master / composer John Petrucelli strikes jazz fusion gold with his 2018 double CD called Presence. Echoes of Coltrane combine with more hybrid-sounding jazz-fusion forces on a fabulous double live album that features a range of jazz players and classical style string musicians. Leading a fine band of like-minded musicians, Petrucelli’s sax wails and Coltrane’s influence is noted and there’s plenty of white hot musical sounds courtesy of Peter Park (electric guitars), Paul Thompson (bass), Gusten Rudolph (drums) and of course, guest sax player Melvin Butler (on a track here) plus, the addition of a very effective four piece string section. Currently the director of jazz at Northeastern State University, and with now, four wonderful albums to his credit, jazz composer John Petrucelli adds to his rock solid jazz reputation with a range of wonderfully diverse instrumental sounds on the brilliantly executed sounds of Presence.

ROPEADOPE RECORDS – The distillation of 21st century instrumental music proceeds onwards with the 2018 CD release of Persistent Fancy by horn man and composer Kyle Nasser. Ostensibly a modern, post-bop cool jazz album, the fourteen track CD not only features a new hybrid jazz sound but also incorporates elements of fusion and even touches of baroque rock fusion. Some tracks, perhaps subliminally, feature a kind of influence by the late, great Pekka Pohjola—the influential Finnish composer who was the master at combining jazz, rock and classical music for much of the 1970s and ‘80s. Key to the sound of Persistent Fancy CD are the great musicians Kyle has tapped to explore his sound, including Jeff Miles (electric guitars), Allan Mednard (drums), Dov Manski (keys) and other fine players. As a tenor / soprano sax player and composer, Kyle Nasser is a 21st century recording artist to watch and his musical career takes off into the sonic stratosphere with Persistent Fancy.

– Featuring a range of musicians—including Jason Everett (fretless / acoustic bass), V. Selvaganesh (drums), Trey Gunn (guitars), Radhika Iyer (violin) and many others—the ensemble known as Deep Energy Orchestra released Playing With Fire in 2018. A free-form kind of progressive, World Music groove permeates the sound of the superb sounding and looking CD and the group even take on a cover of the John McLaughlin / Mahavishnu Orchestra fusion classic “Lotus Feet”. Created and composed by group mastermind Jason Everett, who also goes by the name Mister E, Playing With Fire was recorded live at the Jack Straw Cultural Center in October 2017. It’s hard to tell it’s live in a venue as there’s hardly an audience sound. With several Indian musicians on hand, the music has a kind of far-out exotic, World Beat kind of feel yet with so much musical joy in the air, the album holds up quite well, spin after spin. With King Crimson’s Trey Gunn appearing on his patented Warr Guitar, there’s also a clear progressive rock edge even though the all instrumental album is quite far from traditional prog. The tracks are quite involved and lengthy with one three part track closing in on twenty minute in length. Like much Indian music, there’s plenty of improv and back and forth dialog among the musicians. Playing With Fire by Deep Energy Orchestra is a brilliant and quite refreshing sounding album you could spin all day or night and constantly find something new to appreciate.

RICK SPARKS MUSIC - With a timely dose of sonic brain relief, Rick Sparks channels the music gods on his 2018 CD, Half Moon Bay. A fine follow up to Rick’s 2017 CD Nightfall London, the ten track Half Moon Bay features a wealth of new original music along with a decidedly Southern California influence, especially when you consider there’s several Brian Wilson classics, redone here in Rick’s New Age / contemporary instrumental music style. Fascinating to note here is the album title track, “Half Moon Bay”, itself a cover of a Brian Wilson instrumental from 2015’s No Pier Pressure, Rick adds, “How natural that Brian titled his song “Half Moon Bay” after a little surfing community on the California coast. That song was the perfect choice to be the title cut on my new album.” Rick cites his strong religious beliefs as the foundation for his spiritual approach to music to which he adds, "I can’t imagine not having the inner peace and assurance that comes from my Christian faith. It’s so natural that whatever is in the heart of an artist will be evident in his or her music. In a world that is increasingly dark and worrisome to all of us, producing music that helps the hearer experience peace and beauty is such a privilege for me… it’s basically an outgrowth of the peace that comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. He created the universe, He gave us the priceless gift of music, and He proved His love for us a long time ago on an old rugged cross." A gifted musician who grew up in the heartland of the American south, Rick Sparks transcends musical borders on the brilliant and soothing instrumental sound of Half Moon Bay, an album that, as Rick appropriately states, “feeds the soul, inspires and uplifts.”

SPHERE MUSIC / NEW VISION PROMOTION – Brought to the attention of by New Age recording artist Kevin Wood, The Accomplished View is a fine introduction to the music of keyboardist and composer Forrest Smithson. The ten track CD is superbly packaged and sounds great. Forrest’s soaring synth keyboards leaves little doubt as to the nature of this sublime sounding and supremely relaxing musical experience. Little was known previously about Forrest and his music, but a look at his online presence shows that he has a number of albums already released under his own name and The Accomplished View is being heralded as his finest and most accessible yet. Comparisons to Kevin Wood’s music, as well as other artists working in the same sonic arena may ring true, but more to the point, Forrest’s album is very much dedicated to his peaceful, New Age, multi-textured and atmospheric ambient instrumental sound. Spending some quality time listening to The Accomplished View is a good way to lower your blood pressure while adopting a kinder, gentler outlook on life.

SPHERIC MUSIC – The Spheric label keeps Teutonic electronica alive and well with a 2018 CD release entitled Seashore by the artist known as Axess. Very accessible in sound, the music on this 7 track, 70+ minute CD is composed by Axel Stupplich and features an array of sublime electronic instrumental music that combines modern New Age vibes done in a vintage sounding Berlin-school style. Axess actually has several album releases on Spheric and for fans of electronic music, Axess makes for a very rewarding listening experience. As Axel states in his liner notes, the album has a very gentle ebb and flow that is reminiscent of the way the ocean waves break on the seashore. Low key in a very pleasant way, Seashore makes for a sublime, meditative listening experience. With this latest release from Axess as well as their 2018 reissue, Harmonic Decadence by Robert Schroeder, Spheric Music stays on the cutting edge of mainstream German instrumental electronic music.

SPOTTED PECCARY MUSIC – When it comes to progressive New Age and ambient electronica, few labels do it better than Spotted Peccary Music. A good example of where the label is at in 2018 is The Truth Of Being from Austin, Texas based Madhavi Devi. Released by the artist known as Cheryl Gallagher, the six cut CD blends all kind of synths along with grand piano, electric harps, ambient guitar and more. The album breathes naturally as they say and also mixes in what is being described as ethnic and ceremonial undertones along with sounds of nature. As a musician, harpist and meditative sound painter, Ms. Gallagher’s intent all along is to promote inner growth and development through her intimate and celestial music. Also featuring contributions from label head Howard Givens (ambient guitar, synths) and Stephanie Britten Phillips (viola), The Truth Of Being is the first Madhavi Devi album on Spotted Peccary, which also features excellent album art and booklet with paintings by Ms. Gallagher. /

STINGRAY SOUNDS – There’s plenty of surf-rock action on the Stay Gold, 2018 CD by Canada’s best instro band The 427’s. Guitarists Chris van Keir and Rob Day have penned 14 instro originals and the results combine 1960s beach culture, West Coast jazz, B-movie soundtracks, tropical tiki sounds, pop art within the without the tried and trusted surf-rock sound started by The Ventures back in the late 1950s. The two guitarists get great backup by Eve Hell (bass) and Wayne Ramone (drums). The band is great sounding and there’s excellent co-production by Pat Palardy and fine CD mastering by Don Grossinger. Fans of the genre will flip for the fab CD cover artwork and packaging, which covers all the bases. Close your eyes and think about the vintage year of 1961, and let the timeless instrumental surf rock sounds of the 427’s fill your senses.

STONE TONE RECORDS The instrumental R&B / blues band known as Big Apple Blues keeps the feel good energy flying high with their 2018 album called Manhattan Alley. By day, a well respected doctor based in the NY/NJ area, Admir Hadzic doubles both as bass player and co-producer of the five piece Big Apple Blues, which also features a great lineup of musicians including Zach Zunis (electric guitars), Barry Harrison (drums), Jim Alfredson (keys) and Anthony Kane (harmonica). Back in 2015, reviewed the band's CD Energy, and the 2018 CD release of Manhattan Alley keeps their high-flying, soul-funk, instrumental sound moving right along. The soulful Big Apple Blues approach to funky, groove-based instrumental music should find a home among a diverse group of music fans, including but not limited to fans of organ-based soul / funk / jazz but Manhattan Alley is clearly not a jazz album, per se. Speaking to about the band's unique approach to the blues and instrumental rock, and a comparison to the best 1960s instrumental R&B groups on the fabled Stax label, keyboardist Jim Alfredson explains, "I consider Big Apple Blues akin to Booker T. & the MG’s for sure. All of us have worked as sidemen backing up singers across genres like jazz, blues, R&B, etc. just like the MG’s and the Bar-kays did back in the '60s. Once you remove the singer from the equation, the result is something different, something special. We play a lot of numbers with vocals in our live shows, but on our albums the instruments themselves are the vocalists. That makes us distinctly different from many other blues bands." Perhaps the coolest thing about Big Apple Blues is the rock-solid chemistry between the band members who seem to revel in their unique approach to loud, funky, guitar-centric blues. Instrumental rock music fans with open ears will embrace the diversity of Big Apple Blues and their feel-good NYC vibes. The city that never sleeps, New York City has a trademark band with a sound to match, and they’re called Big Apple Blues.

TWANGSVILLE PRODUCTIONS – Finland continues onward as a main hub for 21st century instrumental rock with two new notable releases. First off is a 2018 CD by the group called Pekka Tiilikainen & Beatmakers called Live In Holland. Recorded live at the Cliff & The Shadows fan meeting in Holland on October 28th, 2017, the 15 track CD features rousing live versions of song classics that are mostly well done cover versions penned by guitar rock legends like Martin Cilia of The Atlantics, Danny Amis of Los Straightjackets and more including a fine instro rendition of “Let It Be Me”, first heard as a pop vocal by The Shadows back in early 1965. Also here are several instrumentals of rock classics by Finnish composers, including Finland’s great rock band The Hurriganes, highlighted by the CD closing “Bourban Street” from 1980, done here unexpectedly as a cool instrumental. The sound quality of Live In Holland makes it one of the best live albums in recent memory. Guitarists Pekka Tiilikainen and Juha Heinonen, group bass player and album producer Jori Venemies and drummer Mikko Lund are in fine form throughout Live In Holland. Another fine new rock instro album on Twangsville comes by way of Soldiers Of Fun And Joy! by the Finnish band The Cheemoes. Featuring a dozen instrumentals, the album is a fine showcase for the four piece band, that features the excellent guitar work of Kimmo Kalaja and Jaako Kiikeri, who are backed up by the rhythm section of Kai Haikonen (drums) and Timo Korhonen (bass). There are several oldies vocals that seem to fit in with the overall retro spirit of the album. Both of these excellent rock instrumental CDs sound great, are both superbly packaged and are a welcome addition to the prolific catalog of the excellent Twangsville label.

TWO FACES MUSIC CO. – Guitarist/musicologist Mike Vernon is best known among music fans as Burnin’ Mike Vernon, the leader of the instro rock band 3 Balls Of Fire and his work annotating the work of guitar pioneer Jerry Cole. On his 2018 solo album Guitars After Dark, Mike delves into a quieter, gentler type of guitar album, patterned kind of in a primarily acoustic-based surf-style album, albeit with some tasty Chet Atkins style electric guitar sounds as well as some well-honed classical guitar pieces, executed to perfection. The perfect after hours spin for guitar fans, the 15-cut album features a range of Vernon originals alongside covers of The Shadows, Antonio Carlos Jobim and classical guitar masters such as Fredrico Torroba and Manuel Ponce. L.A. pop maestro Nelson Bragg appears on percussion but the show is primarily Mike and his after-hours guitar magic. Liner notes by Mike shines a light on this excellent instrumental guitar CD.



ASTRAL RECORDS – The music of Argentine musician Guillermo Carlos Cazenave was introduced to more ears in a bigger way thanks to his recordings with Michigan-based pop / instrumental composer Jeremy Morris, on his Jam Records label. Both guitarists and musical conceptualists, Cazenave is one of those artists that can do it all—from sonic guitar-based instrumentals to New Age and even pop. With a wide diversity of music to draw on, music fans should check out a reissue of Cazenave’s mid 1990s double disc set called The Meadows Of Englewood, features Cazenave with legendary guitarist / keyboardist Anthony Phillips. The double disc features a CD and a DVD featuring classical inspired instrumental and vocal music recorded by the duo over the summer of 1995. With some pastoral sounding vocals featured, the best parts are the very progressive, spacy guitar / keyboard instrumentals that are quite deep and meditative. The double disc set features in depth liner notes and vintage and new photos of the pair recording together. Music fans that enjoyed Phillips in Genesis will find much to like about this set. Also related is another Cazenave / Phillips CD called Live Radio Sessions, with music recorded live in Spain, the U.S. and U.K. by the pair in the mid 1990s. Like The Meadows Of Englewood, this live radio features both instrumental and vocal music. Checking out Cazenave’s prolific back catalog, it’s also worth exploring other albums he released including the pop-friendly Pack, recorded in 1998. Although he’s very much steeped in progressive instrumental and New Age sounds, Cazenave is also a devout pop enthusiast who released a tribute to his musical hero Syd Barrett, called El Es Syd, featuring seven Cazenave versions of Syd Barrett classics, sang and recorded by Cazenave. Another intriguing Cazenave album, Aqui was recorded in the later 1990s and features some soaring New Age style prog-rock and pretty much the same thing can be said for Cazenave’s live album Tower, which is another mind–boggling mix of prog instrumental and vocal music. Visiting Cazenave’s web site provides a virtual musical education about his history as it’s filled with all his many intriguing music releases, in depth musical biography, discography, social network contacts, you tube links, his blog, including his ongoing work as a 21st century New Age music therapist and much more insight into this lesser known, yet quite deserving to be heard musician and composer.

BGO RECORDS – If you’re old enough to remember The Young Rascals and their ground shaking mid 1960s hits, you might also remember when they matured a bit and changed to just The Rascals and you also might remember lesser known Rascals’ albums like See (1969) and also Search And Nearness (1971). Although both albums didn’t produce big AM radio hits, clearly the music scene had changed and The Rascals didn’t exactly fit in anymore. Looking back on that obscure period, BGO Records reissued a 2018 double CD set featuring both albums. Produced by the band in association with the late great Arif Mardin, the albums have a kind of FM radio vibe yet without the hits the albums didn’t stand a chance back then. Still, new liner notes by musicologist Charles Waring puts a new spin on both See and Search And Nearness and long time fans of late ‘60s and early ‘70s rock may still catch a buzz. With songs written by group founding members Felix Cavaliere, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish, (Eddie Brigati left after See), this package strikes a vintage rock vein that is both haunting and revelatory. Cavaliere’s composition on See, called “Death’s Reply” is a definite highlight.

BGO RECORDS – BGO continues delving into the CTI Records catalog with a 2018 double CD set by the late great jazz guitar maestro Jim Hall. Hall’s 1975 album Concierto was titled after his jazz remake of the fabled “Concierto de Aranjuez”, here reviving the famous “second movement of the classical favorite. As musicologist Charles Waring points out in his astute liner notes, much of the classical / jazz connection was made by album producer Creed Taylor. With disc 1 of the 2 CD set featuring the entire Concierto album, disc 2 features Big Blues, a 1978 duo album between Jim Hall and flugelhorn master Art Farmer, with the second half of disc two featuring the entire Studio Trieste album with Hall, trumpet / flugelhorn master Chet Baker and flute legend Hubert Laws. All three albums also feature some of the biggest names in jazz as sidemen. The classical themes are reprised on disc two with several jazzy versions of classical favorites from Maurice Ravel and Peter Tchaikovsky. That said there’s plenty of classic jazz and covers of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn, Thad Jones, John Lewis, Miles Davis and more. Disc 1, with Concierto album features a number of bonus tracks and alternate takes. BGO’s double Jim Hall collection features liner notes by Charles Waring along with original album notes by Leonard Feather (1975) and Ira Gitler (1978) and detailed discography info on all three of these jazz classics. Although he passed away in 2013 at 83, Jim Hall’s legacy of guitar greatness lives on this classic jazz CD reissue on BGO. /

BGO RECORDS – One of the great modern jazz meets bossa nova albums of all time, the 1970s album release of Tide by Antonio Carlos Jobim is paid a fine reissue honor by the legendary reissue label BGO. As the great English musicologist Charles Waring points out in his detailed liner notes, Jobim actually released two albums that year of 1970, including Stone Flower which fits nicely following Tide on a 78 minute album that features 18 great songs Jobim released that year. Back then, Tide was released on the A&M label and for contractual reasons, Stone Flower was release on the CTI imprint of Creed Taylor. Recorded in the tri-state NY / NJ area under the auspices of Creed Taylor and engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the album also features some of the best session musicians of the era, all of whom went on to create their own careers as CTI recording artists. Arranger Claus Ogerman was a key factor in the success of Jobim’s 1967 classic Wave but as the minimalist bossa nova beat of this music has really never gone out of style and both albums are rightfully considered classics of the genre. Although Tide was possibly Jobim’s zenith as a serious high point of bossa nova jazz, just the title track of Stone Flower is well worth the price of admission alone.

EAGLE VISION – Although he’s still loved and missed as the key, founder and master hit-maker of The Beatles, in his short 39 complete years on Earth, John Lennon will also be remembered best, by those who lived through it, as a peace activist who was a key cultural icon and component in ending the Vietnam War. John Lennon’s first solo studio album, the now historic 1970 album with “Mother” and “God” was a raw, scaled back affair with Ringo that depicted John as both a musical avatar and generational figurehead but it was the 1971 Lp release of Imagine that cemented his legacy as a peace activist and social media pioneer. Most of today’s youth take Imagine, especially the song and its dramatic baggage, for granted now or they misconstrue it and tie it in with whatever war or oppressed people in any country or any counter culture argument they can find. Ironically, today’s youth, both in the U.S. and all over the planet, have no idea how the Vietnam War era with its forced drafting of college entry kids was changing American and worldwide culture, all the while rampantly killing tens of thousands of young American soldiers and many more Vietnamese. As early as the fall of 1968, Lennon clearly saw ending The Vietnam War as his call to arms, and with sound of “Revolution” still blasting “Hey Jude” off the map, he three years later took his God-given mission to its clear-headed conclusion with the Imagine album. Key to Imagine was Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, whose influence on The Beatles goes back to the post-Brian Epstein death era and less then a year to the White Album days. Even though the Plastic Ono Band was celebrated on the Live Peace In Toronto concert from the summer of 1969, there was hardly even a video or film from the first Lennon solo album. Instead, starting with "Give Peace A Chance" in the summer of '69, John's breakthrough solo hits, "Instant Karma" and "Power To The People" became global happenings and in the case of "Instant Karma" was an actual filmed event. That was to be modified with the Imagine album, which produced two films starring John & Yoko, including the “Imagine” film and the “Gimme Some Truth” movie—both of which are revisited and restored on an excellent 2018 DVD release from Eagle Vision entitled Imagine By John & Yoko and Gimme Some Truth: The Making Of The Imagine Album. Beatles fans will want this DVD as it features truly rare live footage of John Lennon in the recording studio accompanied by George Harrison and rock legends Nicky Hopkins, Alan White, Klaus Voorman, producer legend Phil Spector and more. Harrison’s guitar work is magnified intensely on the DVD and watching Lennon scream his way through “Gimme Some Truth”—coaxed on by Phil Spector—is a completely haunting revelation. In fact, both movies are incredible to watch and for those lucky enough to have lived through that harrowing and incredible era, the feeling of Deja-Vu is almost paralyzing. There are other incredible segments that feature Lennon at work in the studio and even more avant garde videos chronicling his historic love affair with Yoko Ono. As the producer and creative director of this two and a half hour DVD, Yoko Ono has done a spectacular job, even adding in the well-designed booklet, all the credits of all the brilliant musicians who took part in the creation the original Imagine album—including Moody Blues founder Mike Pinder, Stackridge founder Andy Davis, Buddy Holly sax player King Curtis, session legend Jim Keltner and many others. Early 1973 saw the release of Mind Games followed by John’s short separation from Yoko Ono, which in turn led to the Walls & Bridges era, and as I found out, the rest of John’s too short-lived, and soon to end tale. The spirit of Imagine was to be short-lived and will be viewed in the next century a key catalyst that helped inspire a generation of high school and college age kids to end the Vietnam War, while also providing a cogent, cultural argument pretext for the impeachment of President Nixon, and so on... So the album turned out to be a good omen until the Iran hostage crises tipped the scales to CIA mastermind Bush and the movie star Reagan, which now too surprisingly with 20/20 hindsight led to John's murder. Ironically, by the end of the 1970s, Vietnam was all but forgotten, yet for a fleeting moment in the early 1970s, Imagine gave birth to a key anthem of hope during the turning point of war and peace.

ELEKTRA RECORDS – 1968 was truly a year to remember. Having made their big breakthrough in 1967, and with the Vietnam War raging harder then ever, Jim Morrison and The Doors made an album that truly captured the moment. With the teenybopper anthem “Hello I Love You” blasting from every radio in the country, and the war in ‘Nam killing hundreds of young American boys every week, Waiting For The Sun came forth like a torrential rain after a drought. As bad as 1967 was for the antiwar counterculture, 1968 was much worse with more political assassinations during a political campaign and The Doors really took the lead with their most iconic song “The Unknown Soldier”. Destined to wake the teenyboppers up to the horrors of Vietnam War, the song helped to spur on the entire antiwar movement, which was being fueled by the massive killing of young Americans every day at the time. So here we are 50 years, a whole half century after Waiting For The Sun. Jim Morrison is long gone and sadly Ray Manzarek too making Robby Krieger and John Densmore the sole survivors of the band. No doubt Robby and John are applauding the 50th Anniversary Edition CD edition of Waiting For The Sun, presented here on the Elektra imprint in an undeniably superb sounding stereo mix. When it first came out on Lp, some fans preferred side 1 of the Lp, at the time, featuring the leadoff “Hello I Love You” and ending in “The Unknown Soldier.” Side 2 is more impressionistic with exotic songs and the harrowing specter of “Five To One.” Rhino’s excellent 2018 50th anniversary also features a excellent sounding though rarely heard mix of the album that are labeled as “rough mixes” yet make no mistake, these are more like an alternate mix with somewhat less studio polish attached. Plus there’s a pretty cool mono bootleg mix of The Doors performing “Hello I Love You” and “The Unknown Soldier” and several other tracks recorded live in Copenhagen on September 17, 1968. For those ancient audio purists looking for a time-capsule experience, there’s also a third disc—an actual vinyl 33 1/3 pressing and the two CDs and vinyl are packaged in a huge box set with a full reproduction of the original album art encasing the discs. For some, the icing on the cake will be in depth liner notes by rock scribe David Fricke and even more mind-blowing first hand info from the Doors’ long time engineer Bruce Botnick, who kept the tapes and other artifacts well intact. Los Angeles in 1968 was a key center of recording innovation and presenting a complete picture of a key American pop culture moment, the whole picture of this box set version of Waiting For The Sun smacks of cultural posterity at its finest. 50 years after they set the music world on fire with Waiting For The Sun, the Doors are open again.

EXPERIENCE HENDRIX / LEGACY RECORDINGS – Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 on September 27, 1970 yet his legacy continues burning brightly with the 2018 CD release of Both Sides Of The Sky. Experience Hendrix was started by Jimi’s sister Janie Hendrix back in 1997 and they’ve been going like gangbusters ever since. Both Sides Of The Sky is considered the third in a series of unreleased archive recordings and follows Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell And Angels (2013). Most of the tracks feature Jimi along with Billy Cox (bass) and Buddy Miles (drums) although there’s plenty of surprises, including Experience band legends Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. Also appearing are Stephen Stills and Johnny Winter along with cameos from drummer Dallas Taylor and sax player Lonnie Youngblood from Jimi’s days with Curtis Knight & The Squires. Recorded between 1968 and 1970, Both Sides Of The Sky features loads of rare pictures along with in depth liner notes from Hendrix musicologist John McDermott and engineering by the legendary Eddie Kramer is just as sonically revealing now as it was way back then. Both Sides Of The Sky proves that, even in the afterlife, Jimi Hendrix remains the consummate rock guitar innovator and trendsetter.

MANFESTO RECORDS – In 2017 Manifesto released their historic Lee Michaels CD box set and in 2018 they follow up with two stand alone titles by Lee released during his hardly noticed Columbia Records tenure. Nowhere near as important as his fabled A&M albums, the as of yet never before reissued Nice Day For Something (1973) and Tailface (1974) nevertheless receive the classic reissue treatment from Manifesto. No booklets or detailed info history but the packaging is excellent the CD sound is first rate. With the exception of Lee’s 1982 album Absolute Lee, released on his own Squish label, these two early ‘70s albums mark the tragic end of his all too brief recording career. Fans who thrilled to Lee’s first two albums Carnival Of Life and Recital might have overlooked these two Columbia albums yet considering the dearth of anything new from Lee Michaels, it’s clear these two reissues are like long lost postcards from an old friend. Lee gets solid backup from his long time drumming buddy Frosty (on Tailface), while on Nice Day For Something, Keith Knudsen gets behind the kit. The bass on Tailface is played by Frank Smith, aka Rank Frank. In addition to his legendary keyboards, the albums also feature Lee’s guitar work. Even though he’s still walking the planet, losing Lee Michaels as an American pop music hero was a hard pill to swallow, especially for early fans who thrilled to Recital, yet Manifesto puts the history of rock into further focus with, not only their Lee Michaels box set but these two last gasps from the musical genius of Lee Michaels.

SPHERIC MUSIC – With a long legacy of synth-dominated instrumental music, the Germans invented electronic music. Tangerine Dream springs to mind yet other artists, such as Klaus Schulze and Michael Rother also had major roles in 20th century German electronic music history. Another artist that comes into focus is Robert Schroeder, an artist that worked with Klaus Schulze and his esteemed IC Records label. In 1979, Schulze and IC released Schroeder’s album Harmonic Ascendant. Although presumed lost to the ages, tapes of Schroeder’s Harmonic Decadence was found and in 2018 has found the light of day as a CD remaster on Germany’s Spheric Music label with the prefix title D.MO Vol 4. Much of what made Schroeder’s music so appealing on his Harmonic Ascendant album can be heard on this 2 part 50 minute, 2018 Spheric Music CD reissue. Broken into two 25 minute parts, D. MO Vol. 4 Harmonic Decadence features brief 2018 liner notes by Schroeder along with state of the art digital mastering.


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