Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Rush have the distinction of being one of those bands that draw extreme reactions at the mere mention of their name. Plenty of love has been directed their way by musicians, which is no surprise as all three group members are virtuosos on their respective instruments. Others wince upon hearing Geddy Lee’s vocals and have little time for musical complexity, perfectly content with 4/4 time and love me/love my dog lyrical subject matter.
Even for those who do enjoy the output of this venerated trio, opinions differ over the ambitious creative avenues that they have traveled during a recording career that is (as of 2013) closing in on 40 years. 1984 would be prove to be transitional.
When Geddy, Alex and Neil set to work on what would become Grace Under Pressure, one member of the team would not be joining them: Terry Brown. As it is with many partnerships, each side had vastly different ideas about what they wanted to achieve going forward. Brown openly disliked some of the material on Signals and the group was generally unhappy with the sonic results of that disc.
So they sat down and had "the talk", parting ways after a decade long association.
Enter Steve Lillywhite.
Exit Steve Lilliywhite.
Unceremoniously ditched by the "new guy" that they had chosen to direct these sessions, the band hit Le Studio and took up production duties on their own with assistance from Peter Henderson.
Their rhythmic "bromance" with The Police continues here. First evidence came with the reggae stumble that they dropped into the middle of "The Spirit of the Radio" back in 1980. Sting, Stewart and Andy would show up frequently in the mix from here on in ("Vital Signs", "New World Man") though this admiration comes to full stylistic fruition on Grace Under Pressure. More about that later.
Why should I care/If I have to cut my hair?/I have to move with the fashion or be outcast
Submitting to the double-edged shears of early eighties coiffure, the lads were now sporting fashionable new lids. Hell, Neil's moustache used to take over the drum solo for him in the 70s when he needed a break. That was now part of the past, along with multi-part, long form pieces. Short hair, shorter songs.
And what of the new material?
Peart's lyrics range from being topical ("Distant Early Warning") to touching ("Afterimage"), harrowing ("Red Sector A") funny/paranoid ("Red Lenses") with a dollop of grim futuristic vision thrown in ("The Body Electric"). Arrangements are sharp, though the synthesizer noises are redolent of the time period. Rescue from Roland comes with exquisite playing that underpins every cut. Despite the frosting, this is still fucking Rush. Tight grooves with fine melodies are favored over extended flights of fancy. Muscular ska powers "The Enemy Within", which is where we pick up that conversational marker involving Police influences. Interesting parallels can be drawn between the two. Both trios feature a bassist/lead singer who sang in a distinctive upper range. Each boasted a flashy rhythm section whose skills slightly overshadowed the guitarist. As stage acts, both were unbeatable. Rush paid close attention to the Police model in editing their material, with "Between the Wheels" flying the synth sounds in from "Spirits in the Material World" and the deployment of heavy chorus effect on the guitar in the style of Andy Summers.
They do retain their identity while incorporating these aspects into the writing.
Pure excitement happens in the exploding chorus of "Distant Early Warning" where everyone gets to put their chops on display as they break free from the straight jacketed verses. Lifeson's solo is a model of taste and restraint, which renders endless six string wanking obsolete in one brilliant passage. You could frame those notes! Similar fun happens in the mid-section of "The Body Electric" as those ones and zeros coalesce into pure human passion. Neil and Geddy effortlessly shift gears into a funky time signature, leaving Alex to his own devices. His leads are much more prominent than they were on Signals, stealing back some of the space taken up by the synths. Tightly edited, well written-this disc is quite likeable.
How did you take in this set for the first time?
Thank you for asking, italicized text. You (and the depth of your slightly-leaning-to-the-right questions) never let me down. Spring of 1984: Loaned my cassette copy of Judas Priest's Defenders of the Faith to a buddy in exchange for Grace Under Pressure. That weekend, I was left at home alone with the cutlery, smoked hash and listened to the new stuff intently. Fell asleep with this album in headphones on consecutive nights. Loved what I heard then and still do.
This is your brain on Rush
Ultimately, the new sounds met with their share of detractors. Some fans simply didn't get it. Without blinking, these guys realized, early on, that survival meant changing the game plan. After their debut, Zeppelinisms were discarded as it could neither sustain them creatively nor provide listeners with anything unique. Instead of going the safe route, Rush reached a bit higher. Would they occasionally trip in doing so? For sure, though they would have been playing "In the Mood" in bars forever had they not taken the opportunity to broaden their horizons. Grace Under Pressure was yet another bold move forward.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Taking a cue from the New Romantic movement of the early 80s, The Rose Phantom has released an incredibly well produced set of strong, melodic songs. Understanding that synthetic backdrops can only succeed if the listener has a hook to hang their proverbial hats on, each selection is carefully arranged for maximum sonic impact. Mining ground similar to that of early Gary Numan, Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode, technology is nicely bevelled with raw human emotion. It must be stressed that only the positive characteristics of the aforementioned artists are present, with themes and lyrical subject matter belonging solely to the artist.
Epic soundscapes underpin every cut on Abandon. Great care is taken to ensure that individual instruments have a definitive presence in the mix, with every note placed perfectly. The vocals are not buried in pitch correction software, but instead are allowed to breathe, which is a plus for a contemporary recording. It is an expressive voice that is on display here, lending power to every track. Highlights abound: "Here it Is", "New Dreams" and the brilliant opener, "All I Want", which is built on a foundation of ominous, well deployed keys and a haunting chorus. Gripping listening, though don't let that stop you from enjoying the rest. There is an added bonus of subliminal layers of sound throughout the disc. Whispered words and interesting instrumental passages designed to catch your attention on the first pass only to send your brain back to spin the songs again. Guaranteed that you will, as there is quite a bit to take in.
Equating this record with a color or mood, I would point to the shade of a sky at dusk as nocturnal urges slowly lead the senses down a new path, destination to be determined. There are definite rewards in staying the course.
Commitment to uniformity in style and execution is commendable, without detours into a musical version of multiple personality disorder. The Rose Phantom owns their vision, delivering a consistent and satisfying song cycle.
Overall the production is immaculate, perfectly complementing the writing which is bolstered by strong performances on all counts. For those of you out there who still like good melodies, as opposed to "noises" haphazardly dropped on top of "beats", you will really enjoy Abandon. All of the pop sensibilities that drove the best electronic music of a bygone era married to modern technology. Produced and engineered by "Danegerous" Dane Morrow and The Rose Phantom, the disc was mastered by Aidan Foley at Masterlabs (U2, Foo Fighters, Dead Can Dance).
You can purchase a copy of Abandon and find out more about The Rose Phantom right here
Monday, April 29, 2013
Ottawa Bluesfest is ranked by Billboard Magazine as one of the top 10 most successful outdoor music festivals in the world!
From July 4th to 14th, the nation's capital will play host to an array of top acts including Rush, blues legend B.B. King, The Black Keys, Alice in Chains, Weezer and The Tragically Hip.
Cold beverages pair well with great live music from multiple stages.
For full details check out their site
Bluesfest 2013 is guaranteed to be hotter than July...
Thursday, April 25, 2013
METAL MACHINE MUSIC
James Joyce created the ultimate black hole of English prose with "Finnegan's Wake".
Lou was kind enough to favor us with the aural equivalent. Released in 1975, this double LP of looped guitar feedback clocked in at 64 minutes (2 minutes would have been enough). If you need to clear a room, this is your soundtrack. Pretty bold move from Mr. Reed, though.
Here's side 1, for your listening pleasure. Dare you to listen all the way through. Enter at your own risk!
Sunday, April 21, 2013
It has been roughly fifteen years since a good friend of mine said "Listen to this" and proceeded to play "Waitin' For you Mama". In just over three minutes, I was floored. Floating over precise, crisp acoustic guitar (and tapping foot) was one of the most unique, soulful voices that I had ever heard.
We both were well into "a few drinks", so the timing of this surprise track couldn't have been better.
"Who was that?" was all that I managed.
Almost Overnight contains a treasure trove of songs from his early career (plus a cover), captured live in the studio. Acoustic guitar fanatics will take note of the impeccable playing. Rich wordplay, excellent melodies and his sure touch with a tune are all an integral part of his distinctive song writing voice.
"Right After My Heart" "Thistles and "Kid Full of Dreams" are standouts, though don't let that stop you from enjoying the rest.
Stunning originality is tough to come by in these times, yet that's exactly what the prospective listener finds in this music. Why he isn't much more well known continues to mystify, though if you play this for friends, they'll repeatedly thank you for it.
Find out more here
Here's Roy playing a tune called "You Can't Catch Me" which he originally recorded on his debut LP (Kid Full of Dreams) in 1975 under his nickname, BIM.
Sunday, April 07, 2013
Producer/engineer Andy Johns, who worked on such classic albums as Led Zeppelin IV and the Stones' Exile On Main Street, has passed away.
Very sad news for his family, friends and music fans across the globe. Johns was an incredibly gifted individual.
Before his nineteenth birthday, he was working as Eddie Kramer's second engineer on recordings by Jimi Hendrix and
was a key figure in the sessions for countless classic records. Here is a sampler of his impressive credits (taken from Wikipedia)
Ahead Rings Out - Blodwyn Pig (1969)
As Safe As Yesterday Is - Humble Pie (1969)
Town and Country - Humble Pie (1969)
Highway - Free (1970)
Free Live! - Free (1971)
Heartbreaker - Free (1972)
Bobby Whitlock - Bobby Whitlock (1972)
Why Dontcha - West, Bruce and Laing (1972)
Marquee Moon - Television (1977)
It's a Circus World - Axis (1978)
1234 - Ron Wood (1981)
Hughes/Thrall - Hughes/Thrall (1982)
Stone Fury - Burns Like a Star (1983)
Idéal - Trust (1983)
Night Songs - Cinderella (1986)
Perfect Timing - McAuley Schenker Group (1987)
Loud and Clear - Autograph (1987)
Long Cold Winter - Cinderella (1988)
Four Winds - Tangier (1989)
Sahara - House of Lords (1990)
Dirty Weapons - Killer Dwarfs (1990)
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge - Van Halen (1991)
Under the Influenc - Wildside (1992)
The Extremist - Joe Satriani (1992)
Powers of Ten (second release, two tracks) - Shawn Lane (1993)
Time Machine - Joe Satriani (1993)
Good Guys Don't Always Wear White - Bon Jovi (soundtrack for The Cowboy Way) (1994)
Waking the Dead - L.A. Guns (2002)
22nd Century Lifestyle - pre)Thing (2004)
Rips the Covers Off - L.A. Guns (2004)
Stone in the Sand - Euphoraphonic (2005)
Tales from the Strip - L.A. Guns (2005)
The Undercover Sessions - Ill Niño (2006)
Radio Romeo - Radio Romeo (2007)
Chickenfoot - Chickenfoot (2009) 
Bingo! - Steve Miller Band (2010)
Up Close - Eric Johnson (2010)
Double Four Time - The Swayback (2012)
The Andy Johns Demo's - Sabyrtooth (2012)
Hollywood Forever - L.A. Guns (2012)
Disposable - The Deviants (1968)
Spooky Two - Spooky Tooth (1969)
The Clouds Scrapbook - Clouds (1969)
Up Above our Heads - Clouds (1969)
Blind Faith - Blind Faith (1969)
Led Zeppelin II - Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin III - Led Zeppelin (1970)
Highway - Free (1970)
Sky - Sky (1970)
Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin (1971)
Sticky Fingers - Rolling Stones (1971)
Brain Capers - Mott the Hoople (1971)
Sailor's Delight - Sky (1971)
Exile on Main St. - Rolling Stones (1972)
Goats Head Soup - Rolling Stones (1973)
Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin (1973)
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll - The Rolling Stones (1974)
Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin (1975)
Shadows and Light - Joni Mitchell (1980)
Coda - Led Zeppelin (1982)
Trouble At Home (Silver Condor) - Joe Cerisano (1983)
Raw - Ra (2006)
IV - Godsmack (2006)
Radio Romeo - Radio Romeo (2007)
Crossroads - Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton - Eric Clapton
Ladies and Gentleman The Rolling Stones Movie - The Rolling Stones
Double Four Time - The Swayback (2012)
Switchblade Glory - Switchblade Glory (2011)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Jellyfish put together a sophomore disc that was smart, catchy and expertly performed. It is nothing less than a mind-fuck of epic proportions, marrying Brian Wilson's most earnest wet dreams with Queen at the apex of their mid 70s, multi-tracked glory. The work that went into this project could easily generate enough power to light ten major cities for a decade.
Timing is everything...
Aptly titled, the band may have unwittingly foreseen the futility in releasing a record that celebrated the stylistic charms of rock's "psychedelic" past in the era of back to basics grunge. Who's crying over Spilt Milk? Not me! I feel fortunate to have been recently steered toward this remarkable recording. (Thanks Andy!)
Better late to the party than never.
Wait just a moment. You there, casually reading this... Come closer!
C'mon! I don't bite...(hard)...
OK, if you tend to get a little uncomfortable with the Jeff Lynne approach to production that shaped ELO's output in the seventies, then some elements of Spilt Milk may not be to your taste. If you crave an overall sonic experience that equates to a long bomb pass resulting in an incredible 80 yard touchdown, then this was designed for you. Another great bonus: Spilt Milk will forcefully pick you up by the lapels, shaking loose any musical lethargy that you've been experiencing.
Blending mastery in vocal arrangement with lush instrumentation, "Hush" is a seductive opener, boasting enough charm to lure birds from the treetops. Setting the mood perfectly, this beautiful soundscape fades as the ground suddenly drops out from beneath your feet. Four pop-rock gems are lined up, fired off in rapid succession, leaving the listener breathless. Swept away in a tide of fist pumping anthems, you could easily miss the clever wordplay that goes by at lightning speed. Ambitious, yet easy to assimilate, this run of tracks follows a concept and is nothing short of compelling. You hear the influences that shape "Joining a Fan Club" or "The Ghost at Number One" but there is a visceral energy in their execution that brings something entirely fresh to these songs. So much so that it silences the inner voice of the record store snob and simply begs to be heard on its own terms.
Closing out this spectacular set is "Brighter Day" which ties up every loose end in brilliant fashion.
You are left wanting more...
Core band members Andy Sturmer and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. held the creative cards, deploying many of the weapons that made 60s/70s pop so durable. They also managed to toughen their work with just enough edge to keep things sounding contemporary. Differences of opinion led to the ultimate crime of a group breakup before they could capitalize on the strength of what they had done and start to build a larger following around it.
Spilt Milk ended up consigned to the realm of forgotten music as its very essence was fighting against the tide of what was popular in 1993.
Trends come and go...this one is timeless.