Thursday, January 21, 2016


Les Claypool and Sean Lennon have formed a mutual admiration society, which began with some acoustic jamming while their bands shared the bill on tour last year. These explorations flowered into something more substantial, with the results being this very interesting collaboration. I took this track, Cricket and the Genie for a couple of spins and it is a decidedly pleasant surprise. Claypool plays bass, Lennon handles everything else including vocals on this tune. Deliberately strange, with shifting sand time signatures, full marks are given for ingenuity and some honestly crafty playing.

Underground sounds of 1973 shaking hands with 2016 and no apologies. If you are roundly bored with the homogenized sludge that is passing for music right now, then dig this. Very excited to hear more.

Monday, January 11, 2016


There is an endless river of ideas, sounds and pictures quietly flowing just a few feet above the heads of humanity. Those that are fortunate enough to be woken from a dead sleep and invited to dip their hand in this wondrous pool can retrieve invaluable gifts. It is how you assemble the information for presentation to others that counts. Imagine having the ability to glide along the surface in perpetuity, fishing out these treasures with ease.

"All the pictures I see are smiling at me, but today I'm somebody new"

True talent always finds a way to tap into this stream, penetrate the public consciousness with what they have found and remain there by consistently working on their craft. David Crosby has built a very successful career by raising his voice in song, harmonic brilliance and opinions that carry great insight, if you care to listen. Dividing his time amongst several very successful musical aggregations over the years (The Byrds, CSN, CSNY, C&N, CPR), has meant that the energies reserved for his own projects were often sublimated in favour of collaborative efforts. When listeners do get a record from him, it has always been quality over quantity.

His most recent solo release, Croz, is one of his very best.

Shamefully late to the table in picking up on this disc, it has quickly worked its way into my regular rotation. He is in quite good voice, per usual, though it is his facility with words here that bears repeated examination. Arrangements are sharp, featuring some spectacular detours from the main melodic theme, supported by a cast of impeccable players. Figuring prominently in this mix is his son, James Raymond. His composition, "What's Broken", leads off the set in style. Rhythmically active with slippery bass lines, a very clever turnaround into the chorus and the decorative guitar work of guest contributor Mark Knopfler, this is an strong opener. Floating over this soundscape is a perfectly executed vocal with those trademark harmonies providing the sweetener.

What's broken? Not a thing...

Keeping the pulse as this stunning track dissolves is the percussive intro to "Time I Have".

Life in the city is so densely packed, fear of each other is an accepted fact

Exploring an esoteric lyric that balances positive self-talk to counter what the writer observes in the often depressing actions of the entities that attempt to us hold back with fear mongering. Peace doesn't always win the day, though the melody is enough to coax even the most cynical individual toward that path. As it goes with the best of art, the true meaning is left open ended. Spend the time that you have wisely.

Highlights are plentiful on Croz, though "Holding on to Nothing" occupies top position in that department. Gentle acoustic guitar in an exotic tuning frames this jazzy piece, which is graced with a beautiful trumpet solo from one of the masters, Wynton Marsalis. There is a downbeat atmosphere created which is only slightly dispersed by the expressive horn, which evokes a similar mood to that with which Chet Baker cast over Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding". The words convey a subtle sadness, saying much with great economy.

Sunny days can fool you/they can look wet with rain/even words from a friend/can bring back the pain

Another absolute stunner is the second James Raymond offering, "The Clearing". If you were hard pressed to find a musical equivalent of "ethereal". look no further. Personally, listening to this one provided the same familiar chills felt when I first heard Jeff Buckley's Grace. Crosby channels the emotion effortlessly. Lulled into a sense of where this might be going, the surprise comes in the outro as the soundscape shifts to prog in an instant with some deft guitar work underpinned by inventive, bass-heavy synth lines. Given a moment to establish a motif, the scene breaks back to a tapestry of shimmering acoustics. Listen for yourself.

There is strength in every note brought forth here ("Radio" has an uplifting chorus, while "Set That Baggage Down" is a confident reminder to keep looking forward, despite any wreckage that you may have caused or endured), though one more selection has to be called out for special mention, as it features the artist without a net. "If She Called" is delicately rendered, bewitchingly arranged for solo voice and guitar. A distant cousin of "Guinevere" (in feel only and without a harmony vocal line), the inspiration for this song apparently came from a group of prostitutes that he saw near his hotel in Belgium. This should have been placed as the last track, as it floors everything that follows it. Stellar in every sense of the word, as with everything you'll encounter here.

Deserving of every superlative, the overall result is the fruit of intensive and inspired labor. The hard and dirty work that goes into song craft is often dismissed by those who have never turned their own hand to it. In a contemporary musical culture that has produced "artists" who are unable to flip on a light switch in a studio, let alone define what key signature their latest hit falls into, it is very welcome to listen to a cohesive collection that genuinely has something to say. This is an album that anyone would be proud to sign their name to.

Support the artist and grab yourself a copy right here or from his website, where you will also find details on his upcoming west coast solo tour.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

1984 AT 32

As an apple-cheeked, chemically altered 15 year old, it was my duty to buy this cassette in the week it was released because CIRCUS magazine had been talking it up.

Remember CIRCUS? Remember talking?

Long before the iPhone surgically removed the need for personality from humanity, the sixth Van Halen album was released to an unsuspecting public on this date, 32 years ago. Listening to Ed's technically dazzling fretwork is always a sonic treat, though this gift overshadows his fine sense of melody. This element was sadly lacking in most all of VH's imitators, poodles balanced on their heads, filling every space with "oodily-oodily-oodily" solos that were woefully unsupported by any evidence of a tune. David Lee Roth in mid-air, Alex Van Halen with 1000 arms flailing and Michael Anthony's harmonies were all key ingredients in making this band something special, though they remembered to mix hooks with instrumental chops.

With a running time of just thirty-three minutes, the material on this disc claims your attention by virtue of its brevity and variance in approach. Ponder that for a moment. Heralded by futuristic strains squeezed from an Oberheim OB-X, run through a Marshall stack, the icy instrumental "1984" showcased the most recognized guitar slinger on the planet at that time...on keyboards! This theme ends before it begins, setting up the intro to the monster-number one hit single, "Jump". Curiously, this would be their only trip to the top of the pops. Emerging with a grin from behind the synths, Eddie treats the faithful to the first of many perfectly executed solos midway through exhortations to attempt an escape from gravity. His salvos are a keen reminder that this is still VH. "Panama" steers the record back into more familiar territory, with a highly caffinated Roth tearing up his vocal alongside very innovative riffing. Just as the party is taken down a few notches to allow Dave to ease the seat back. there is a full climb up the scale as the players build to a crescendo and go out blazing on the chorus. The two tracks that close out the first half of 1984 veer in yet another direction. "Top Jimmy" arrives in water-droplet harmonics, with trademark squeals in the background, only to morph into Dire Straits territory, kicking in on steroids. The whole affair is capped by Mike and Dave in harmony throughout. It is radically different from everything else on this stunning set. "Drop Dead Legs" features an embarrassment of riches in terms of guitar figures with Alex keeping everything in the pocket. Saving the best licks for last, EVH wanders into frenetic free form jazz as he peels off a sequence of devastating runs, creeping well away from all boundaries, hypnotically into the fade.

"Hot For Teacher" begins the back nine with a wall of drums and could very well be classed as quintessential Van Halen. Humor, hammer-on hysterics and nerve all dressed up in a gut-bucket blues shuffle taken at an insane tempo. This remains a staple on rock radio, with an energy that is still felt three decades on. The synth returns from the closet for "I'll Wait", which also provides a much softer landing pad after the roller coaster ride that precedes it. Sporting a chorus made for heavy rotation, it leans more toward pop than the others, keeping things fresh from a stylistic perspective.

My personal favourite is "Girl Gone Bad" which takes you on a jaw-dropping slalom course of bass runs, if you're able to listen past the full fledged assault created by Alex and Ed. Hold one of your tinnitus-damaged ears close to the speakers and you'll hear sheer finesse alongside the urgency, with a minor key hint of sadness in the breakdown. Atypical of Roth, this only lasts a moment, though the atmosphere is perfectly framed by a dynamic arrangement. There is a remarkable amount of control on display from everyone in the room, reading the mood of the piece perfectly. One of their best compositions. "House of Pain" dated back to the demos that they did in advance of their first album, though it was retooled for inclusion here. Shifting gears and time signatures, it keeps the pulse of the proceedings high right to the end.

All this in a half hour? All you can do is play it again. I wore out my copy doing just that back in the winter of '84.

"1984" was Roth's last full length album with his cohorts until A Different Kind of Truth in 2012, bringing the Diamond Dave with Van Hef-lin in the 80s era to a close.

Van Halen fans missed him, too, because he brought a truckload of personality and humour to the table.

Does it hold up in 2015?

You bet! All killer, zero filler.

This is a creative and commercial watermark for the group. Exuding confidence on all levels, it is consistent and remains very listenable well outside of the time in which it was conceived.