Monday, December 14, 2015

Music Review - The Choir - Chase the Kangaroo

Somewhere I read that when it came time for The Choir to record their fourth album, and for Adam Again to record their second (Ten Songs By Adam Again) that they went to the record executives with a deal*. Instead of paying some studio ten grand each in studio time, why not give these two bands the twenty grand and they’d build their own studio. After all, Derri had official engineering experience, and probably the same for Gene. Amazingly the studio went for it. What a bargain! Gene went on to start The Green Room and upped the ante on the quality of Christian music while Derri and company hunkered down for six months to self-produce their first masterpiece, Chase the Kangaroo.

Even before you hear a note the album cover tells you that something is different. Christians are “supposed” to be clear and have exact, understandable answers based on thoroughly systematized theology. Instead we get a dark, blurry photo full of indistinct shapes, a perfect representation of the music within. Speaking of, let’s dig in, shall we?

The opening track, “Consider”, was written last because the record company wanted something radio friendly. I can’t imagine this song being played on an of the all-vanilla-praise stations in my town… how far have we fallen? This song has a deep, spongey bass tone, thick sheets of shimmering guitars and an intense, eager drum beat. Even though this was a tip of the hat to “the man” the song is packed with energy, a wonderful blend of shoegazer and melodic rock. In “Children of Time” each piece of the band (drum, bass, guitar and vocals) fit together like a puzzle, stringing together unsettling lines like “The cosmonauts were first in space / To look for God and find no trace” before ending with a brief, wild sax solo. “Clouds” opens with ominous low synth strings and an inventively panned repeated drum part that forms a hypnotic spell before Derri sings “The blood remains as red / That colors our spirits white.” This here is a classic Choir song, an experience and a journey as much as a song, following the darkness of the tone with the unlikely dark lyrics of “Clouds are round about you / Shadows veil your eyes.” Remember, kids, we’re supposed to be the light in a dark world and have all the answers. Umm… yeah. Around the three minute mark the song melts into a froth of reverb, leaving only shadows of the original signals in a glorious artistic display of studio experimentation. Before leaving this song I’d like to comment on the bass line. It’s simple but perfect, like a constant heartbeat holding together the complex interchange of instruments and reverb.

Written in response to a miscarriage, “Sad Face”** is packed with gorgeous chiming guitars, stuttering low guitars and a lovely round drum pattern in the verse that sounds like its being played on a dark and cloudless night on the thin hope that some ray of relief will shine through. There are lots of misty instrumental passages where Derri bounces cascades of guitars off each other to create a most intoxicating listen and then around the five minute mark the song transitions to a passage containing light strings over a reverse vocal section of “Clouds” and someone it works. The guitars on “Cain” sound urgent***, almost dangerous while lyrics like “Love raised a white flag” add complexity to the mix, although the abundance of piano makes me think this song would have fit in well on Diamonds and Rain.

Side two starts with The Choir getting even more experimental with “The Rifleman” where a sparse guitar part plays while whoever walked into the studio speaks lines concerning an old television show, often overlapping, before drums and a fretless bass make their appearance. The chorus is sung, forming a foundation and amazingly the song comes together splendidly before fading into the chorus of “Render Love” from Diamonds and Rain. There’s so much to love about “Look Out (For Your Own)”. There’s the drum part in the verse that switches around the beat, the unusual instrumental mid-section with echoing saxamaphone, and the crazily inventive bass part which is minimalist and so unlike anything I’d heard before. A final capper is Gene Eugene singing background vocals in the chorus… it’s always great to hear his golden voice. RIP, Gene. “So Far Away” is a stark love song about missing those you love while being on the road with artful glimpses of domestic life such as “I saw your note about the pilot light / Didn’t I fix that thing before?” and “I won’t be there to dry your eyes / So please don’t cry /When I’m so far away.” “Everybody in the Band” is a nice little ditty but it’s not fleshed out and never was meant to be. It’s kind of like a demo you get for no extra charge. The album closes with the title track, a song inspired by the fact that Steve had to get a construction job**** in order to make ends meet. Starting with a chuffing beat and eerie backward-like vocals, the song is classic Choir in that it takes mundane events and explodes them into a spiritual analogy, in this case digging deep for truth. Two thirds of the way through they open up the throttle and the song really takes off. And keeps going upward, building in intensity through the chorus and closing with a final melodic instrumental exploration.

In Chase the Kangaroo it seems like that the band knew that were at a turning point in their career where the odds were that they would likely to be sent home packing. So instead they doubled down and gave it everything they had, and then some, and as a result recorded a pivotal album that has inspired bands such as Switchfoot, Sixpence None the Richer and Jars of Clay to make their own musically and spiritually rich music. Their first of several classic albums!

* Per Tim Chandler, while some of the money for the album may have gone into Derri’s studio this whole story has no basis in reality. I have no clue where it originally came from although I wouldn’t put it past my brain to have made it up.

** An embarrassing aside… I recall being at home with in college and singing this song to a female friend (nothing more) over the phone. A cappella. It makes me cringe on many levels just thinking about it.

*** As well they should as the song deals with the hurt of personal betrayal.

**** Which to me seems a bit comical in itself because Steve’s build is not big ‘n’ burley.

Hard Root Beer Review - McGillicuddy Liquor

Upon cracking the cap of Dr. McGillicuddy's Root Beer Liqueur my first thought was "It's Barq's!" which isn't necessarily a bad thing as I've always viewed Barq's as having the most complex flavor of all the big-bottler root beers. Granted there isn't much nuance but at least there's a little.

As for taste, well, it's no Blackmaker but it's also not syrupy sweet. It also lacks any of the weird after-tastes that beer root beers seem to have, which makes sense in that you're just adding flavoring to a neutral spirit. The flavor itself was good but lacked much in the way of depth, kind of like a root beer barrel candy but a good root beer barrel candy, perhaps something made in small batches and sold with pride at farmers markets. But now I'm just making things up.

This stuff is 21% octane and about $12 a bottle so it won't break the ol' bank. It's good enough to drink by itself (with some ice, of course) although apparently most people mix it with something else to make fancy mixed drinks with itty bitty umbrellas.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Music Review - Soen - Tellurian

I decided that for 2015 I should get back into the game and write more CD reviews, shooting for one a month and hoping that this would lead to the discovery of some great new music. The first album I reviewed was this one and it didn't cost me a dime 'cause I just listened to the full album on YouTube a few times. My how the times have changed.

The debut album by Soen sounded more like Tool than Tool sounded like Tool on their last few albums. Since Tool’s music doesn’t wind my gears, neither did Soen’s debut album. Their second album, Tellurian, is a different story. Sure, the Tool influence is there but it’s mixed with mid-90s Opeth. I’m a finicky lad so to my ears Opeth’s first few albums were too raw and their albums after Ghost Reveries seemed to be lacking oomph so I’m left with a small handful to enjoy. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the drummer for the Opeth albums that I like (and not the drummer for the albums I didn’t like) is Martin Lopez, also the drummer for Soen. I never would have imagined that a drummer could exert so much influence over the style and sound of a band but perhaps I’m just ignernt.

What does such a Tool/Opeth love-child sound like? At times it’s light and airy and others it gets downright heavy, progressive but never overly complicated (like some King Crimson), often melancholy and atmospheric but not downright dark. And vocalist Joel Eklöf, to his credit, never goes Cookie Monster on us, even though there are times when I feel that a little vocal gravel would have been appropriate. So while at times the music will burst into a frenzy of distortion and tumbling rhythms, the vocalist remains as tranquil and smooth as his cue-ball head. Some songs, like “The Words,” hypnotize you with soothing melodies, only occasionally bringing in the distortion as a kind of background noise, while other songs like the angular “Ennui” kick off with a bang and only let up long enough to make sure the next punch lands in the right spot. None of the songs are going to rip your head off, though there are quite a few times when your pulse should quicken. Rather, the music is almost artful and, dare I say, delicate, but in a masculine kind of way (he says scratching himself in a manly manner). Going back to Opeth, the album is mostly sedate like Damnation, never coming even close to the frenzy found in parts of Blackwater Park, and yet there are times when the songs pulse with the energy that only distorted guitars can provide.

Now about that cover. Look at that, will ya? It’s an anthropomorphic rhino eating little humans. Unsual, yet artfully presented. Tellurian is a bit like that: a little bit artsy, a little bit monstrous, and a little bit human.

Hard Root Beer Review - Sprecher

Next up is Sprecher's Hard Root Beer, an "adult" version of their regular root beer.

The first word that came to my mind upon the first taste is "weird." It's not quite a root beer flavor but it's not quite NOT a root beer flavor. It's definitely not a beer flavor. There's lots of foam when you pour it into a glass but there's no carbonation in the actual drink, which makes for a disconcerting mouthfeel where the flavor makes you believe you should have some tingle but there's no tingle. Unlike Father's this one isn't overly sweet, which is a mark in its favor. But it isn't overly good either. A quick check of the label shows that they pretty much just took malt liquor and added their normal flavoring (with natural and artificial flavors, which can mean just about anything except it's made with 100% roots and berries).

And so another one bites the dust. I won't be purchasing any more Sprecher's Hard Root Beer, although I'm curious now to try their regular root beer to see if it's as bizarre tasting as their hard version, or if it's actually good. I figure it must be or else how would it have lasted this long on the grocery shelves?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hard Root Beer Review - Blackmaker

There I was, in my local Belmonts Beverage, looking to pick up a bottle of something my wife needed for a recipe: Grand Marnier.

On cell phone: "Hey, this stuff is like thirty bucks for a bottle. How much do you need for the recipe? Two tablespoons? How 'bout we use some triplesec instead?"

On the way out I saw a display of these nice rounded bottles filled with a black liquid. Blackmaker Rootbeer Liqueur, or so it claimed to be. Seventy proof, ten bucks for a 750 ML bottle and its made with real spices. I'm a sucker for trying out new liquids (hence my tendency to pick up cans of unknown origin at Big Lots), plus I didn't want to leave without buying something and have the employees think I was shoplifting, so I took a bottle home. After paying for it, of course.

WHAMMO! While most of the stuff sold as "root beer" is meant for mixing so as to cover up a flavor born in a laboratory, this stuff is the real deal! Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, sweet birch, anise and wintergreen all combine to make a drink of depth and complexity such that all you need is a little ice and water ('cause it's bloomin' seventy proof!) to enjoy. It has no carbonation 'cause it doesn't need any. It's so good I would drink the stuff sans alcohol.

Blackmaker is the real deal. It's the root beer beverage by which all others will be judged, although unfortunately it is no longer available at Belmonts. From what folklore I can gather, Belmonts picked up a bunch of cases of this stuff as it was being discontinued at the distillery and sold it for ten bucks instead of it's usual $25 or $30. 'Tis a shame but I was able to snag another bottle before it disappeared from this world forever.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Music Review - The Choir - Diamonds and Rain

Choir – Diamonds and Rain – 1986 I picked up on The Choir with Wide-Eyed Wonder so I didn’t get to hear the band as they developed their sound. This meant that by the time I heard Diamonds and Rain I had also heard Chase the Kangaroo and other classics, putting this 1986 album at a disadvantage. It doesn’t help that the album contains two songs that are among the worst that the band has released. Maybe that’s why for decades I felt that the entire album was unlistenable, blaming the cause for this at the feet of producer Charlie Peacock.

I was wrong. Aside from the two songs, and the bass being way too low in the mix, the album has some very fine examples of songcraft. The album opener, “Fear Only You”, is a fantastic and energetic worship song, made before it became obligatory that worship songs be bland, repetitive and mindless*. Another solid praise song is “All That Is You”, especially if you like slinky bass lines, ringing clean guitars, saxamaphone and cool breakdown sections in addition to your honest and reflective lyrics. “Render Love” is a poetic song full of open space and the kind of inventive yet simple bass lines that makes we want to pull my Carvin 5-string out of its case and plug into my amp. This song was also referenced in Chase the Kangaroo, which I always find enjoyable and amusing.

Speaking of the Kangaroo, “Black Cloud” would fit right in there with its edgy guitars, dark, murky sound and potentially fretless bass sliding all over the place (a classic Chandler sound honed from his days of playing slide trombone). And lots of echo and reverb. Whereas in 1986 a Christian song with the title of “Black Cloud” would have an obligatory final verse where the listener is cheerfully reminded that Jesus will take away all of your black clouds this song takes the Psalm 88 approach and gives no such reassurances. Such is life. Also outside of the (1986) norm is “Listen to Her Eyes,” an excellent and mature love song that makes no attempt to force the lyrics into also being about God. By not trying to stretch an analogy the band is able to write a beautiful song of “If your love is more than words / Listen to her eyes / Read her tears like pages / Hold her when she cries.” “Love Falls Down” is the final strong song on the album with creative instrumentation, a catchy melody, and an energetic bridge that quickens the pulse.

Perhaps the reason Diamonds and Rain retained such a low opinion in my brain are the quartet of mediocre or worse songs. “I Painted Mercy” is the best of the lot, followed by “When The Morning Comes”, a song which seems to want to be a big, dramatic closer but just doesn’t come together. From there we come to “Kingston Road”, a Peacock song with an irritatingly cheap sounding synth clarinet and a trite, sing-songly melody that makes one glad it’s 1986 and your CD player has a skip button. But don’t push it too many times or else you’ll land on “Triangle.” It’s a song about addiction that probably should have been recorded by Petra or Degarmo and Key.

Again, I will admit that Diamonds and Rain is immensely better than I previously gave it credit for, containing far more solid songs packed with character and poetic insight than most other Christian bands of that day. Plus the band decided that since they were pushing thirty they should probably drop the “Youth” from their name, a wise move in pre-internet days although now it’s kind of like naming your band “3” and wondering why people can’t find you on their favorite search engine. And yes, I realize that I’m all about ‘dat bass here but hey, I’m a bassman. So allow me to point out that Steve Hindalong plays on the entire album and comes up with some very creative and catchy drum parts and Derri Daugherty continues to come into his own by combining his love of fuzzy shoe-gazer guitar with true melodies and U2 (most Christian guitarists did) to come up with his own sound.

* 99.5% of ‘em, anyway.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Music Review - Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - Goliath

It's almost a year since I wrote this review and I'm still jamming to this one. This is one amazing album. At first blush it seems like simple heavy roots rock but there's so much beneath the surface. Which is to say that it's simple enough for the average radio listener and complex enough for the die-hard headphone-wearing audiophile. A pefect ten... maybe an 11.

Way back in 1987 Steve Taylor wrote and directed a video for nearly every song on his I Predict 1990 album. It was obvious that filmmaking was in his blood so it was no surprise in 1993 when he announced that he would no longer be making albums but would instead focus on videos for other bands and making a feature film. That film ended up being Blue Like Jazz and it came out in 2012. That’s a big project. So what to do after completing a massive long-term goal? Why not grab some music veteran pals and make an album? And why not tap into your enthusiastic fan base via Kickstarter and exceed your goal three times over? But first you have to stop by the DMV (Department of Music Veterans) and renew your license to rock (search “Steve Taylor DMV” on YouTube for one of the most clever and humorous videos I’ve seen in a long time.)

Could any album be worth a wait of over two decades? Probably not. Chinese Democracy certainly wasn’t. Fortunately I am relieved and pleased to announce that this new album, Goliath, is crazy good from start to finish, easily one of the best I’ve heard this year. The first few listens, though, left me lukewarm. The songs seemed overly simple and none of Taylor’s usually satirical lyrics caught my ear. But then it happened. The song was “Moonshot”, which starts airy and modest, just vocals and clean guitar, when all of a sudden a big furry bass dive bombs in and turns the entire song into a funky retro swagger (think Spoon). It was then that I started to realize how incredibly well recorded everything was, albeit somewhat dry which only lends to its aggressiveness, and I started to hear all kinds of nuances supporting but never distracting from what I first thought were simple songs. For instance, the guitar which opens “In Layers” is sublimely ratty with the (likely vintage, not modeled) amplifier on the verge of falling apart. This killer song sports its own heavy, dirty groove, helped along by judicious use of horns, redefining the term “blistering.” I was firmly in the grip of the Tom Petty-esque “Double Negative” when I realized who I was dealing with. Guitarist Jimmy Abegg has “played the big rooms” since before I learned how to type and drummer Peter Furler is known in some circles as “OHMYGOSH-ITSPETERFURLER!”, drummer, lead singer, songwriter and founder of Christian music’s Newsboys. And then there’s John Mark Painter. Don’t be fooled because this man is “just” playing the bass. This is the guy behind the orchestrations of early Ben Folds Five albums. Oh yeah, he’s also a multi-instrumentalist (those horns don’t play themselves), composer and studio guru, to name just a few of his accomplishments. How can an album sound simultaneously trashy and crystal clear? Only Mr. Painter knows…

Aside from the three mentioned above, it’s difficult to pick out favorites on this album. The album rips to life with “Only A Ride”, each song hitting hard in their self-described “rock, but in an indie-alternative kind of way”, slipping in shards of humor and often marinating in a funky groove reminiscent of 70s-era Rolling Stones, not letting up until track ten, the contemplative “A Life Preserved”. But look at me, prattling on and on about the music and leaving the crafty lyrics in the cold. Well how about “The saints came marching in this morning / And they marched right out the door / Wholly offended / No pun intended.” This is from “Comedian”, a song which hipsters might say has much in common with The National but to me it sounds like a perfect Steve Taylor closing song, opening quietly with piano, a touch of cello and timpani, and blazing to life halfway through with a wall of distorted guitars and hissing cymbals.

It’s a shame that Goliath came out in November because it’s raucous, raw songs are perfect for blasting from a car with the windows rolled down. Fortunately it’s good enough that I’m certain this high-energy album will still be on my MP3 player in spring.

Music Review - Devin Townsend Project - Ziltoid 2

It's been about a year and I'm not reaching for this album any more. 'Tis a pity 'cause I'm part of the galactic choir or whatever he called it. Anyway, my overall impression is that these two albums are decent but won't be looked back on as a highlight of his career.

As a rule I don’t care for operas. To me it seems like the music takes a backseat so some fancy-pants singer won’t be upstaged. That’s how I initially felt about Dark Matters, the follow up to the amazingly fun Ziltoid the Omniscient. You know, the Devin Townsend metal rock opera about a coffee bean thieving alien who is actually a hand puppet? Now I’m not saying that Mr. Townsend wears fancy pants but Dark Matters has so much dialogue and narration in its attempt to tell a story that I couldn’t fully hear the music underneath.

Fortunately I purchased the deluxe set which includes a CD of Dark Matters sans dialogue and my mind has been changed. Like much of Mr. Townsends music it is an odd mixture. At times Dark Matters is heavy, flooding your ears with triple kick drums and complicated non-traditional time signatures, such as the opening track “Z2” which stands alongside his most punishing pieces on Deconstruction. Still heavy, but not as prog-thrash, is the engaging “March of the Poozers”, though I won’t spoil the album by telling you what a Poozer is and the party they play in saving the Earth. “Ziltoid Goes Home” is a speedy little number packed with distorted guitars and… ya know what? Most of the songs on this album are heavy and fast, though true to his brain all are just a bit weird. The only consistently slow (but still heavy) track is the finale, “Through The Wormhole” where Devin is joined by a choir of over two thousand fans (this dorky author included) who recorded themselves singing along to a Devin-provided guide track. It’s the largest choir ever to appear on a metal album, or so says the sticker on the album which makes me wonder if there have been larger choirs on, for instance, a reggae album.

Because Devin’s record company didn’t want just another complicated heavy album and because Devin apparently writes three songs every time he uses the facilities, Sky Blue was born. Twelve songs (four bathroom trips, if you’re keeping score) in the gossamer power pop style of Epicloud. Yes, a second fully produced and executed album as in “not demos.” Like the Ziltoid album, and despite its seemingly more simplistic songs, Sky Blue took a number of listens before it sank it. Loud volumes helped as well. While the songs span loud and quiet, fast and slow, heavy and ethereal, the overall impression is of a joyous secular church revival service with the songs drenched in Devin’s trademark wall of soft reverb plus an occasional appearance by the massive fan choir.

Mr. Townsend is one happy man, now that he’s freed from all of his addictions, and his exuberance for life shows forth on both Blue Sky and Dark Matters so much that it’s practically addicting to the listener. Whether its maniacal hand puppets bent of universal domination or positive heavy pop-rock songs pumping with energy, Devin’s world is a blast for those souls curious or demented enough to enter the celebration.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Music Review - Flying Colors - Second Nature

A good album but I'm still going back to their first for my "melodic pop-prog" fix rather than this one.

The idea was to assemble a band of seasoned veterans and have it fronted by a younger pop vocalist. Hey, it worked for Garbage and it worked for Flying Colors, so much so that I kicked myself for “discovering” their album too late to write a review (it’s a music dork kind of thing). Do you remember hearing “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes or “Heat of the Moment” / “Only Time Will Tell” by Asia, both in MTVs early days? The pop hooks grabbed me instantly and though I wasn’t brushed up on my music theory, I could tell that something very interesting was going on under the hood. Such was the music on the first Flying Colors album where gossamer melodies fought each other for time inside your head while some seriously fantastic music played underneath.

While I’ve found myself humming a few of its melodies Second Nature does not reach the same dizzying heights of perfection as its predecessor. One of its biggest problems are the lyrics. They’re kinda cheesy, especially for a rock album made by veterans who should know better. Non-imaginative song titles include “The Fury of My Love”, “A Place In Your World” and “Lost Without You”, a nice shorthand for the lyrics they contain. Also instead of creating explosive blasts of intelligent pop music the band returns more to the trough of 70s era prog rock, evoking thoughts of Kansas (“Bombs Away”) and Styx (“A Place In Your World”).

But it’s not all bad. The first track, “Open Up Your Eyes”, is a traditional Neal Morse progressive rocker with four minutes of instrumental bliss before lyrics encroach, eventually filling out twelve and a half minutes with catchy melodies, interesting musical twists and non-offensive spiritual lyrics. Channeling Muse is “Mask Machine”, their single that starts with Dave LaRue sporting a fuzzy and delicious bass tone, similar to that applied to vocalist Casey McPherson. Overall the song is a bit simplistic, especially at six minutes long, and repeats “Woo-oo-oo” much too frequently (as in every few lines) but the song does rock. Watch the video to hear for yourself and to see proof that there is no way to make rock keyboardists look cool. Sorry Neal, but you know it’s true. Drummer Mike Portnoy, on the other hand, would look cool baking a quiche. “Peaceful Harbor” is a nice slow build, growing from acoustic guitar to power ballad complete with some very tasteful guitar solos via Steve Morse. My only beef with the song is the inclusion of a gospel choir at the end, a very tired way of “ending big.” Fortunately the band shows how to “end big” the right way on the last song, the twelve minute “Cosmic Symphony” (they are humble, no?). Constructed of three equally captivating musical ideas, nicely fleshed out and held together by more astounding Steve Morse guitar solos, the song “ends big” by ending quietly and introspectively, reflecting the profound and intelligent lyrics contained within.

Now don’t get the idea that Second Nature is a bad album. It’s good but just seems to be missing something, like the band is too nice to each other and will accept “good” instead of pushing each other for “better.” “Better” was their first album but if they keep at it I’m sure one day they will release “Best.” I can hardly wait.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hard Root Beer Review - Not Your Father's Root Beer

I had been overhearing co-workers talk about "Not Your Father's Rootbeer"* for some time so when I saw a single bottle at Trader Joe's I decided to give it a whirl. Because I'm all about the quirky and unusual drinks out there I decided to write about it, and make a new series. It's not uncommon for me to pick up some unknown can of unknown substance and unknown origin at Big Lots and give it a swig. In this way I'm uniquely suited for the job of trying and writing about this recent surge of root beer flavored adult beverages and I'm not one to back away from a task for which I'm uniquely suited.

The ABV of this beverage is 5.9%, about on par with a dark beer. It smells very much like root beer but doesn't have a lot of carbonation. My first impression was that it was very sweet and then that the mouthfeel was wrong. It just seemed thin, more like water than pop** or beer. Even Lite beer. And then the aftertaste hit. Aftertaste in an ale? Unfortunately so. The only way I can describe it is "kinda oily." Weird. This didn't go away with subsequent tastes. Super-sweet, off-setting thinness, twang of oiliness. Repeat. Notice that I didn't include "enjoy root beer flavor" in that list as it was lacking any kind of depth. It was like someone poured cheap rootbeer flavoring*** into an average ale and added a couple of drops of 3-in-1 oil.

Once again I'm on the outs with the general population. The popularity of this brew is seemingly creating a market for other kinds of hard root beers, or at least it seems to from suddenly seeing this and others at the supermarket where before there were none. Go on, John Q Public, and buy your Not Your Fathers by the case... I have no need to put this into my mouth again.

* I work in one of those dreaded cube-farms so you hear every conversation going on within twenty feet of you without trying.

** "Pop" is my regional expression for carbonated sugary drinks. Deal with it.

*** We're talking store brand, as in Sav-A-Lot.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review - Youth Choir - Shades of Grey

NOW I get to write a review of Shades of Gray, a five song EP from 1986 the band recorded in a hurry so they would have something more to sell while on a prestigious twenty city tour with the prestigious Steve Taylor. The urgency of the recording process translated into a very energetic feel to these early songs despite being 80% drum machine. Yes, drum machine again but at least it was programmed by someone who knew their way around a kit because they are very convincing rhythms. Let’s dig in, shall we?

“Fade Into You” opens with a crisp piano, played by Derri. Bass and drums enter, propelling the song into the verse where Tim playfully colors outside the lines. Funny how I just noticed how Tim plays a few notes off the root, adding some wonderful tension. Also extra-deluxe is the middle passage which is 100% keyboard but sounds amazingly orchestral due to the counterpoint arrangement and decent synth-string sound. The song sports amazing lyrics, yearning for a closer relationship with God, that are the kind of fresh and earnest worship that I wish were more en vogue today.

“15 Doors” lyrically foreshadows a Hindalong specialty in telling a story from a brief episode and expanding it to broader implications. This story is that their tour van broke down and they had to knock on fifteen doors before someone let them in. Imagine from the band’s side: They are late twenties and harmless Christian believers. Imagine from the home owners side: It’s late, it’s dark, and these spikey-haired punks are knocking on your door. However as Steve artfully puts it “I saw somebody in the window / A light on in the hall / Could I step inside for one moment / And give my wife a telephone call? / So sorry to alarm you / I’m not gonna harm you / Don’t call the night patrol.” There’s a tremendous amount of energy in this song perfectly encapsulated in the U2-ish guitar riff.

“More Than Words” is another early indication of their sound, utilizing Dan’s echoy lyricon to make a whispy, gauzy puff of a song with amazing lyrics told from our Redeemer’s viewpoint. While only 2:36 it seems just the right length for this shoe-gazing experiment.

You know it’s the eighties because “Tears Don’t Fall” has a sax solo. It’s a good one but still, it’s there. While more in line with their debut the production is better. So is the bass (which is up from in the mix and sounds thick a meaty) and the extra musical flourishes that keep your interest. “All Night Long” prefigures yet another Choir pattern, that of the moody and dark yet melodic and hopeful perfect pop song.

Shades of Grey is a foreshadowing of all that The Choir will become with strong pop-based melodies and a sense of experimentation and adventure, but not so much as to scare off youth pastors raised on Petra.

* Um, what are they looking at on the cover?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Review - Youth Choir - Voices In The Shadows

There I was, all keyed up to review Shades of Grey when my pre-writing research rudely reminded me that this was not the recording debut of The Choir. Yes, I forgot an entire album, which is a pretty good indication of the impression Voices in the Shadows made on me.

Recorded under the name of Youth Choir, Voices in the Shadows was produced by some guy named Thom Roy (or Roy Thom) who has since disappeared into his own shadows. In addition to the name difference, drummer Steve Hindalong was on the fence between joining this band and continuing with another band named “Lucky Stiffs” (which included future Choir bassist Tim Chandler) so he didn’t play on the album, although he is credited as having done so. Instead drum duties were handled by a drum machine. I’m sure it made sense back in 1985 but the lack of a drummer’s sensibilities and finesse and inventive chops definitely gives the rhythm section a kind of generic blandness*. And speaking of generic, there’s bassist Mike Saurbrey who appears now and then on Choir albums when Tim Chandler is stuck in the potty with roadside food illnesses. I have nothing against Mr. Saurbrey or his playing (except that he reminds me painfully of myself in the following description) but consider this: Mike: capable but unremarkable bass lines, looks like just some guy up on stage. Tim: crazily inventive melodic monster bass lines that add tension and depth to the songs, amazing stage presence. No contest! And then there’s the lyrics. Future albums had Steve Hindalong writing most of the lyrics and the man has a poetic way with words that brought acclaim to this band. This time out guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Derri Daughterty wrote the lyrics. As far as they go, they are decent but nothing spectacular, focusing on hopeful optimism not tainted by doubt and “who will help the children”, a subject that was quite en vogue at the time.

So what’s good about this platter? In listening to the album again for the first time in a decade I’m impressed with the quality of the songwriting and the vocal melodies. Sonically it’s a pretty good engineering job so kudos, Thom (or Roy)! However the standout feature of this debut album is Derri’s guitar playing. While not yet fully developed, one can hear the influence of British bands that will be explored more fully on later albums and on “Another Heart” one gets to hear the chiming, floating, ethereal playing style that will later become a huge part of the signature Choir sound. But at this point only one of the four players is in place so it really is a different beast than the band that will become THE CHOIR. Overall, it’s much better than I remembered (or didn’t remember). If the unvarying programmed drums were replaced with a real drummer this album would improve dramatically, possibly becoming a great example of upbeat 80s Brit-rock. Another standout is the pure eighties keyboard sounds! For the most part, keyboards were dropped from the bands later albums, except for when played through the lyricon of Dan Michaels. Oddly, no one is credited at playing these magnificently vintage tones.

* And now, the rest of the story: From a discussion on Facebook with Steve, he says "That's all nonsense. I was in the band (Youth Choir) since '83. First album came out in '85. Derri had written all the songs and the producer wanted to use a drum machine but barely knew how to program it. Anyway, we evolved."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review - Atomic Opera - For Madmen Only

Encouraged by my pal's postive review of Atomic Opera's For Madmen Only I harkened back to the days of my youth, remembering how the album was decent but not great, and decided to give the album a refresher spin to see if my opinion had changed. In referring to my handy-dandy-uber-dorky database to find which backup DVD contained the album, I noticed that I had given it a seven, while giving their two subsequent albums (Gospel Cola and Penguin Dust) only fives. Hmmm...

The first two songs make the album. "Joyride" and "Justice" are two very hooky metal-pop songs that managed to creep into my brain now and then over the years. I had forgotten how the guitars are especially beefy, chunky and thick, like a good salsa. This is good stuff, Chester! But as the album wore on the guitar tones didn't change and there were very few melodic hooks, which is why I couldn't remember any songs other than the first two*. About halfway through I started to check to see how much of the album was left... never a good sign. And nothing personal but the vocalist has a generic voice that is nearly bereft of any kind of distinguishing characteristic, which also doesn't vary. I feel bad saying that because I'm sure he's a nice guy and all. It's actually a very good, strong voice but just not very textured. It was also about halfway through that I started to develop ear fatigue from the compressed production. Crunchy walls of guitars are great but ya gotta let them breath!

I'm not saying that the only redeeming quality of For Madmen Only are the first two songs. There are many strong points but not enough or of the right kind to make the album with me. For instance, the start of War Drums makes me think of the Spinal Tap song "Big Bottoms," which is neither a good or a bad thing. Some of the songs vary from the typical 4/4 meter, which is usually good, but doesn't develop this change into anything memorable. The lyrics are intelligent throughout and of a Christian inclination, without being overt. A favorite is from the song "Blackness" where he sings "We all wanna change the world / We don't wanna change our minds." I'm sure I turned this towards "the unsaved" back in 1994 but I've since seen that the church is equally blind and sheeplike, no longer looking once they've found what they're looking for. The album ends on a strong note with the nearly ten minute epic "New Dreams", a trick which producer Sam Taylor was fond of making King's X do on their earlier albums. In fact, "New Dreams" sounds a bit like King's X guitar tones, though with a bit less character, and having enough variation within itself and from the preceeding songs that it was quite enjoyable. Oh, did I fail to mention that Sam Taylor produced this album? It's probably why I even picked it up in the first place. It might also have been the last time I picked up an album based on this guy's name.

I think I'll stand by my rating of seven, though I'm tempted to drop it to six. 2.5 songs does not an album make.

* Two extremely good songs and the rest just kinda meh, somewhat like Jet Circus from the same era. STEP ON IT!

Friday, January 23, 2015

mPerks - How to Game The System

Gather ‘round children and Old Man Hoffman will tell you how to save big money using Meijer’s mPerks program! But first some back story ‘cause I’m just as narcissistic as the next guy.

My wife and I started shopping at Meijers in earnest when the neighborhood grocery store (Scotts, which has been bought out by Kroger) was closed due to structural problems. Before that we were just casual friends. The nearest Kroger was twelve minutes away but Meijer, which was less expensive, had more organic items, and had an entire store of non-grocery items as well, was just a few minutes further.

And so began once-a-week (instead of multiple times when we realized that we needed something) grocery shopping. We saw signs about Meijers mPerks program but figured it was similar to Kroger’s e-coupon program, which we didn’t find very useful. A few times Melynda would have a checker tell her “You could save a lot of money if you used the mPerks” while scanning yet another $200+ grocery cart but we foolishly didn’t look into it.

Until that fateful day (yeah, so I’m being overly dramatic… sue me!)

I logged in and signed up with my cell phone. What in tarnation? Save ten bucks after spending $100?!?!? Save $5 after buying $25 of produce? And we have four weeks to do it? We buy at least that much produce in a single trip! It didn’t take long to set up a second account under my wife’s cell phone number with the same “coupons.” Then we started kicking ourselves for all the hundreds of dollars we had thrown away over the years for not taking advantage of these amazing deals. It turns out we were a bit premature in our kicking.

If you go and spend $200 and your “coupon” is for $10 back for $100 spent you don’t get $20. You get $10 and the credit for the other hundred bucks vaporizes into the internets.

TIP #1: Have more than one mPerk account. This way you can ring up multiple purchases on different accounts and get credit for them. In the above example you put $100 on each of two mPerks accounts for double the rebate. Yes, it makes things more complicated and you end up segregating your grocery cart (“Let’s see, I have $15 left to spend on Frozen Foods on mPerks account A to get the credit but I’ve already used that “coupon” on mPerks account B so I need to make sure everything frozen gets put under account A”). Trying to mentally juggle two accounts while shopping with small children is, in video game lingo, Expert Level difficulty.

Another thing to note is that unless it’s a special deal (see below), you don’t get credit for your purchases until twenty-four hours later so I can’t earn $10 on my card, log onto the site with a smart phone to sign up for another “coupon” and walk back into the store to buy more stuff with it. Nope… you have to come back the next day. Or in our case the next week. That is the genius of multiple accounts.

The funny thing, though, is that when we logged in after our initial trip we saw that the coupons had changed. Instead of get $10 back after spending $100 now it was get $7 back after spending $150. Hmmm. I knew it was too good to be true. Still, that’s nothing to sneeze about and $7 is $7 we would have spent before. The next time it was $10 for $225. It kept going up. As you would expect these rewards are customized to each account by some computer algorhythm. Most of the grocery shopping goes on my wife’s mPerks account so at this point in time, she has an offer for $10 off $400 of purchases made in four weeks while my account is for $10 off $275. What can I say? The computer likes me. Offers for money off produce (which we buy anyway) have been gone for many moons and instead we have offers for toys or footwear (which we don’t usually buy) or $7 back for buying $90 of frozen foods. That’s a lot of Smiley Fries, kids, and in the rare instance where we hit the frozen goal it’s because something (or somethings) were on sale and we stocked up. At this point mPerks is still worthwhile but since we don’t spend $800 a month in groceries (thankfully) we usually only get money back on one account, usually about $15 per month. It’s free money without doing the whole extreme coupon thing. I don’t know if the amounts will eventually settle to our monthly spending or if they will continue to increase to the point where they are insanely unreachable ($10 for spending $1000!) Is it possible that the amounts will decrease if we don’t use the card? I smell an experiment!

I realize that I forgot to mention how you get the money back. No, it t’aint a check like Mendards does but rather it’s a credit on your mPerks that expires in about one month. The next time you shop it will ask if you want to use this credit, which adds another level of complexity. If your month is almost up and you’re going to be close to your goal do you want to risk not hitting that goal by cashing out your rewards? It’s just a complicated numbers game, I tell ya! For a logic dork like myself it’s a nice mental problem to figure out. My wife has enough on her plate so it’s a headache to her. One thing which Meijers appears to use strategically is a coupon printer at the checkout. Back before we used mPerks and we spent over $250 we would get about a dozen useful coupons. Now we can go months without getting a single coupon. I may be paranoid but I think they also track my credit card because I would get coupons on Trip C for things that I purchased on Trip A. How did it know?

Tip #2: Have even MORE mPerk accounts. You can set up an mPerk account without a cell phone though I don’t know if they check to make sure you don’t have any other accounts. An easy thing to do is to purchase a $20 Tracfone at Dollar General (or wherever fine Fones are sold) and set up a new mPerk account. Yes, it could get complicated having three accounts but based on our earlier experience, you would earn that $20 back in less than a month. It would then take a few months of regular shopping to have the mPerks account start offering you crazy deals ($7 for $400) and perhaps by then your first card will be making more reasonable deals (if they do such a thing… see experiment above).

Other deals are their Baby and Pharmacy programs. For the Baby one, you earn $10 for the first $100 of baby things (diapers, etc). For the next ten bucks, though, you have to spend $200. Then $300. And on and on it goes. There isn’t a four week time limit on these, which is mighty gracious of them Meijer’s folk.

In addition to the usual e-coupons are the occasional mPerks special deals. These are listed with the coupons and you have to clip them and log onto the web site often to grab them when they are offered. The most recent offer was $5 back on a single $75 shopping trip made during a three day window. The nice thing is that the offers stack. For example, if you had an offer for $10 off $200 spent overall, an offer for $7 off $50 in frozen foods and one of the special $5 back on a single $75 shopping trip, every dollar you spent on frozen foods would apply to all three! Every dollar you spent on non-frozen foods would apply to the $200 overall and the $75 single-trip. In this case I split our usual weekly trip into two mPerks accounts so we got the $5 off a single trip on both for a grand total of $10 saved.

Uh, so that’s about it, I guess. Have multiple accounts and do lots of mental financial juggling.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Music Review - Willy Wonka Soundtrack

Long before DVD, camcorders and VCRs, my brothers and I would impatiently wait for the networks to show Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And when that magical night would finally arrive, my dad would pop lots of popcorn and the entire family would converge in front of the TV for a healthy dose of magic and childhood wonder. I own the video now but without the weeks of anticipation, it's just not the same to pop in the cassette on a whim.

Now I can pop in the CD on a whim as well and I am reminded how my brothers and I would listen to records of Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and even The Rescuers, using our imaginations to fill in the things our eyes couldn't see. Listening to this CD takes me back to those days in a way the video can't, crowded around the TV, screaming for justice that Pete was in my way or that Chris was hogging the popcorn bowl. All the songs are here, from the opening musical number where the candy would flow across the screen like a river to The Candy Man (who my brothers and I would emulate by climbing up on the counter and toss down candy to the others). There is even the song by Charlie's mom, Cheer Up, Charlie, the only part of the movie that bored us kids (to this day, we fast forward through this song). There is the wondrous Pure Imagination song, the bizarre poem recitation while on the boat, and Veruca Salt belting her way through I Want It Now. And we can't forget the Oompa Loompas, can we? Every song by the these pointed-panted fellows is fully represented (four in all), guaranteed to tumble around your brain for days after hearing them. At the beginning of many of the tracks are snippets of dialogue or sound effects from the movie that work quite well into drawing you in to this magical fantasy land where you can eat dishes, float through the air (and then burp gleefully), or swim in a chocolate pond. With this CD, I found my golden ticket to hours of imagination, memories, and fun!

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, June 1999.

Music Review - Danielson Famile - A Prayer For Every Hour

I recently listened to "Ugly Tree" with my six year old daughter nearby. I laughed so hard at it's absurd vocals that she asked if it could be put on her MP3 player. Here's praying that I haven't warped her for life.

I'm currently suffering from lack of sleep, balloon-head compliments of cold medication, and the kind of artificial buzz one gets from downing a quick can of Mountain Dew. It is from this unique combination of mental vertigo and alacrity that I am finally able to fully appreciate A Prayer for Every Hour, the first album from New Jersey's Danielson Famile, originally released in 1995.

Started as a Rutgers BFA thesis project, Danielson Famile is an actual family with Daniel, the oldest child, serving as the chaotic bandleader. Daniel writes the songs, sings (sort of), plays guitar, and leads his siblings in performing the twenty-four songs on this album. The concept of the album is that one should listen to one song at the beginning of each hour for maximum effect.

Their sound is wholly unique and will either drag you in or send you screaming for aspirin. Succinctly, it's the gospel muppets on crack. Daniel sings in a squeaky falsetto voice that demands your attention, piercing the misty haze of your mental doldrums. Musically there's the angular changes of the Pixies with elements of Heavy Vegetable, Chris Knox, and Pere Ubu, all played with approximate rhythms and "whatever is on hand" instrumentation. Some songs, such a "Nice of Me" and "In The Malls Not Of Them" have a Violent Femmes Hallowed Ground-era feel, being dark, sparse, edgy and almost creepy. "What To Wear" begins with a cappella "Row Your Boat" before jumping into pan flutes, distorted guitar, and doubled squeaky vocals. Very few follow accepted songwriting formats and all rhythms are approximate, leaving the listener constantly unsettled.

The other unique aspect of this band is their odd combination of such avant-garde music with a Christian worldview. "Like A Vacuum" opens with "If I were a tree/ My branches would be broken / But my roots would be so deep / I'd be sucking water like a vacuum" and later changes to "I may be silly but I laugh more than you", ending with deranged laughter (and he laughs as strangely as he sings). In "1,000 Push-ups" he squeals "I spoke to God and told Him I screwed up again / He said, "Dan, give me ten push-ups." All of the lyrics follow in this heartfelt, innocent, off-kilter vein, which is why I'm fairly certain you won't be singing these songs in church anytime soon.

As if the music wasn't deranged enough, this re-release contains a second CD containing four videos. Sweet mother of God, are these videos whacked! Sporting the same low-fi, DIY ethic as the music is a roughly animated tutorial on how to use the first CD, narrated by a piece-mail horse that screams as he's dismembered and reassembled into a clock. Priceless. There are also two videos of their first live performance and a concept video for "Heads in Da Cloudz" that is so low budget that it can't even afford an analogy. The music of Danielson Famile is fun, whacked, original, and real. It's home schooling gone very, very wrong.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 2002.

Music Review - Tonio K - Rodent Weekend

Oh, Mr. Tonio K... how I want to like your music. You fall into a group of musicians whose music I like and they all seem to speak highly of you, but your music just doesn't make my heart resonate. It's nothing personal.

Tonio K is one of those artists I had heard a lot about but had never actually heard his music. Thus it was with great anticipation that I listened to his latest release, Rodent Weekend, a collection of odds and ends that never made it onto his earlier albums from the past twenty years. Overall, I can say I was disappointed, though the songs do tend to grow on me with each listen.

Considered one of the music industry's most successful songwriters, Tonio K penning the most played song of 1993 ("Love Is," recorded by Vanessa Williams) and has placed songs with Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, and Al Green. His predominant style is Stones-influenced, bluesy rock (my tastes run more Beatles, which may account a bit why this CD did not click with me). The earlier songs on the CD especially sound like J. Geils Band rip-offs, with "I'll Wait Here" sporting the main riff from Geils' "Love Stinks", albeit modified...slightly. Most of the songs are lyrically humorous and caustic. The opening song, "The Funky Western Civilization, Phase II" is replete with such lines as "Let us continue to exploit and abuse one another" and "Mars Needs Women" intones "you should apply." "Fools Talk", "New Dark Ages", and "Los Gringos" form a nice trilogy, having almost the exact same sound and feel, although "Los Gringos" is sung entirely in Spanish and is about the luxury of having indoor plumbing. Perhaps the best cut is the sarcastic "I'm Supposed to Have Sex With You" where Tonio K is backed by the band Daniel Amos with David Raven's solid wall of drums. Originally recorded for the 1987 Carl Reiner film Summer School, the song received major airplay in New York and L.A. but by the time the record company released the single, the buzz had passed. Numerous listens to this album find the songs to be well written but there is something lacking in the presentation, something off in his voice or the sound of the guitars. If only he could find and correct that "something" he'd make millions for sure!

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, October 1999.

Music Review - Bluberry Hurricane - Cheap

More of the same Harrison-like goodness. I might have to dig this one out again.

A mysterious wah guitar and light drums introduces Cheap, the second release from local artist Kevin Hambrick who records under the name “Blueberry Hurricane.” As on his 2001 self-titled debut album, Hambrick plays every guitar and every bass, sings every vocal part, and hits every drum (although he does allow fellow Big Red & Rojo member Kyle Stevenson to record and mix the collective tracks). Once again Hambrick weaves a tasty tapestry of songs that borrow elements from the 60s and 70s while adding in a flurry of experimental sonic textures, all coagulating into inventive retro-ish rock/pop songs.

The aforementioned first track, “Knockin’ On The Door (Again),” pits a relaxed Lennonesque melody against a driving bridge, all with some nice vocal harmonies. Like a moody ode to “Savoy Truffle,” “Marigold” is hijacked by a really cool fuzz bass that rumbles through the song like a deranged grandmother (sans teeth). To continue the George Harrison feel is “Feel Me Try,” with vocals that sound as if they came right from the great dead one’s mouth and some great guitar work. Changing gears is “Potion,” which consists of acoustic guitars, Crosby, Stills and Nash vocal harmonies, a catchy, folksy melody and nothing else — clean, simple and memorable. The intentionally lo-fi vocals on “Epidemic” give this jaunty song of love lost a nice 40s feel while the chiming guitars and two-part vocal harmonies of “Much Too Long” remind the listener of the classic songwriting of Jim Croce.

The acoustic stand-up bass and fuzzy guitars on “Evening Of Delight” are yet another sound in the tool belt of this creative artist. The album ends with the lighthearted “Go To Bed,” a short acoustic song sure to bring a smile to your face.

Unlike the last project, which was recorded at Soundmill, this one was definitely done on the cheap. While the artwork is exquisite (as is his website at, it’s obviously a computer printout over a CD-R. Sound-wise you can also hear the limitations of whatever equipment was available at their home studio, but it’s not such that one is distracted from the content of these wonderful songs. These nine arty songs are available at the artist’s web site and at Wooden Nickel stores at a nice, Cheap price.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, August 2002.

Music Review - Blueberry Hurricane - Blueberry Hurricane

No picture, kids. This is a local CD from so long ago that, well, my original review has disappeared off the interwebs. But in searching for an album cover pic I discovered that Blueberry Hurricane is "especially good marijuana." Hmmmm.... Good music, though.

Call it a hunch but I'm willing to bet that Kevin Hambrick, the lone creative force behind Blueberry Hurricane, has more than the national average of lava lamps around his comfy abode. From the moment the first note hits your ears until the last nuance of sound finishes vibrating your eardrum, you'll be immersed in a wash of retro late sixties sound. Hambrick's Lennonish voice only adds to this mystique, as does the vintage instruments and excellent period recording sound captured so perfectly by Soundmill Recordings. The opening song is a glorious train wreck of psychedelic Doors-induced vibe with lots of wailing, bluesy guitars. "Crying in my Sleep" was an early favorite with a George Harrison feel, double-tracked vocals, excellent fuzzy 60s guitar, and some dead-on songwriting. In "So Exhausting Being Me", Hambrick layers an effected vocal over a freaky reversed guitar track. There's a lot going on in this two-minute song with dueling vocals, keyboards, and heaps of lean guitars. "I'm Not My Music" finds Hambrick back in full Lennon-mode with such twisting lines as "I'm not my music/ The music is me/ And sometimes it's all that I have" sung with a very intriguing melody and some ballsy, blues guitar riffing. With it's irregular meter, adventurous use of rhythm, and intentionally rough edges, "Venice" reminded of the two early Zappa-era Alice Cooper albums, which is to say that I liked it a lot. "Goin Down" gets even stranger with a sparse mix of vocals, warbly guitars, and a backward something keeping beat. Good stuff, Maynerd!

My only beef with this album is the length. These ten pop gems add up to less than thirty minutes. Yes, they are thirty wonderful minutes, full of the same easy, experimental feel that was characteristic of some of the best music from the late sixties, but the album ends with you wanting more. I guess this is better than the other extreme and since he played every instrument on the album (my guess is that each two-minute song took many multi-tracked hours to record) such brevity is excusable. The songs are exceptionally well-written, full of catchy hooks and startling changes. Hats must also go off to Soundmill Recordings for so effectively capturing the authentic 60s guitar and vocal tones. For fans of psychedelia and good pop rock, this album is definitely worth the drive to a nearby Wooden Nickel Records!

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, May 2001.

Music Review - The Choir - O How the Mighty Have Fallen

The last few albums by The Choir have been tepid but it's albums like this that keep me coming back for when they are good, they are incredibly good.

I suppose I should open this review with a disclaimer: I’ve been a fan and champion of The Choir for about 17 years and recently drove down to Nashville with my dazzling wife to attend the CD release party for their latest album, O How The Mighty Have Fallen But I’m not above being objective, and when an album of theirs is irregular, as was their last album five years ago, I’m not afraid to state my opinion to the six people in my zip code who know about this band (all of whom coincidentally live at my address).

“So cut to the chase, dude! How is this album from a band we neither know nor care about?” Well, dear reader, the verdict is that it’s pretty durn solid! While the last one went from acoustic ballads to extremes of swirling studio noise, Mighty takes the middle road and sports a fairly consistent sound, that being a distinctly proprietary blend of dark and fuzzy space art rock topped with lyrics that are insightful, painfully human and mature.

The title track, a dirge for the fallen, opens the album with a bleak landscape of shimmering guitars cascading against spacey sounds, heralding in “new” member Marc Byrd who has been a Choir disciple for over two decades. “Nobody Gets A Smooth Ride” dramatically switches gears with the first of two more rock-focused songs, this one with bassist Tim Chandler’s loping, whimsical style fully evident. Summarizing the rest of the album, this song explores life’s gritty reality with lines such as “Every child will learn / How the asphalt burns / When he takes a sharp turn too wide,” which becomes the brighter chorus of “I’m really sorry the way things are going these days / Try to be careful, that’s all I can say.” The other “rocker” is the rousing “Fine Fun Time,” which revels in the joy of their lasting friendship amid jovial jabs, a foot stomping beat and Dan Michaels laying a brief but effective sax solo.

“Terrible Mystery” is a poignant relationship-ending song of simple strummed guitar enveloped in an aura of artful feedback. Buzzing guitars break through for an all-too-brief musical interlude in this song about the guitarist Derri Daugherty’s divorce that exhibits such lyrics as “And I don’t cry anymore / Only once in awhile / When I am alone” and “How I searched for the key / To unlock your guarded heart / And set your love free.” Immediately following is a contrasting love song from drummer Steve Hindalong to his wife, proving once again that The Choir write some of the best, most honest, love songs. “We Give We Take” is whimsical, sad, and sweet without being sappy, mixing snapshots of daily life into a larger tapestry. To wit: “Chicago might be cold / How nice the way you folded / Everything so neatly,” that becomes the bridge of “We give, we take / We build, we break / We stare at the moon and we sigh.” Chugging guitars lay bare the monotony of life, while sliding guitar adds whimsy, and sporadic vocal harmonies add the sparkle of love that occurs too rarely in married love.

The album concludes with two of the darkest songs, followed by a ray of hope. “How I Wish I Knew” is about the helplessness a parent feels when their child suffers from depression (“When I see you falling / When I hear you crying / When I feel you fading away / How I wish I knew what to say/ How I wish I knew what to pray”) while “Mercy Will Prevail” is a throbbing, pounding examination of the age-old question of how a loving God allows pain and suffering to exist (“I want to swear it’s true / But it’s hard to defend it. / I know it comes from You / And I don’t comprehend it”). Despite its low-key, resigned outward demeanor, this song has a passionate undercurrent that drives the song with the irresistible force of gravity. “To Rescue Me” is the peaceful, reassuring epilogue to the proceeding storm of doubt and gritty reality, showing that while not everything is peaches and roses, there are shafts of light that break through the dark clouds.

Quite a set up, eh? Can this album really be this satisfying or is the reviewer just a rabid fanboy? You can hear the entire album (and purchase it as well) from and hear why The Choir has been so influential to so many bands.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Music Review - Daniel Amos - Doppleganger Reissue

I remember it as if it were yesterday. The little experience I had with Christian music involved Russ Taff, Michael W. Smith and Whiteheart. Then came a wacky satirical band called The Swirling Eddies whose music had depth beyond typical novelty albums. I joined their fan club (got me a tube of Swirling Eddies toothpaste!) and found that they used to be a band named Daniel Amos and so ordered a cassette entitled Doppelgänger. My first clue that I had strayed far from the path of safe, youth pastor approved Christian music was the opening track, “Hollow Man”, which found lead singer Terry Taylor singing and speaking cryptic words over a song being played backwards, the forward words sometimes mixing with the backwards words to add further discomfort to the listener. Very weird yet very intriguing… and is that a T.S. Elliot reference? The next song, “Mall All Over The World” starts with bassist Tim Chandler attacking his instrument in a frenzy of slapped, popped and punched notes. New wave stabs of keyboards joined by razor guitars soon enter as the song progresses to a disjointed rock song and the lyrics take jabs at a consumer culture, drawing an analogy between indoor malls and a warped view of heaven. The twitchy “Real Girls” laments how people have degraded to one-dimensional images while the hyped up 50s rock of “New Car!” takes a swipe at the Prosperity Gospel by setting the song in a game show. The aggressive “Youth With a Machine” is a personal favorite with a killer off-balanced yet melodic bass line that undergirds lyrics that are typical of the album, words that require intentional dissection to understand (“Wild grid of noise chants "Life is negation" / He's drowning in echo / Amid the stained glass towers / Dead the innocent? / Gone the hour? / He needs you now, now more than ever”). “The Double” is another rocker, built upon a ratty guitar riff and wide melodic leaps that musically illustrate lyrics concerning the bifurcation of physical body and spirit. Side two seems aimed more at the church. The frenzied, ballsy “Memory Lane” is packed with zany guitar fills and convicting lyrics of “It’s another flat testimony / Inflated with emotional gas/ The truth never changes / But shouldn’t you?” “Angels Tuck You In” looks at the near worship of angels and “Little Crosses” turns its gaze at the trend of wearing crosses as jewelry but having no effect upon the wearer. “Autographs For The Sick” falls under the category of “What were they thinking?” If I had to make a list of the top ten most confusing songs I’ve ever heard, this one would certainly be on it. “I Didn’t Build It For Me” is a bouncy, energetic song that tumbles over itself in its eager glee to reveal itself, again with an amazingly fun bass line. “Here I Am” is a meta-song which concerns the disconnection that occurs in what is supposed to be a very relational faith, connecting with fans “By way of stereo / Making minimal contact” and “Attending Sunday service (it’s crowded so I watch it on the TV in the foyer)”. As with the other songs, the lyrics are thought provoking, perhaps a bit heady, but always couched in humor. At a time when Christian music consisted of Amy Grant, Sandi Patti and The Gaithers, Doppelgänger by Daniel Amos was a subversive shot across the bow. “Dark” and “edgy” are overused terms these days but they were new back in 1982 and certainly were not ever associated with Christian music. One look at the creepy cover, though, and you knew Doppelgänger was going to be breaking a few rules. Out of print for over a decade, the band has finally reissued this landmark album and did a right good job. You get a remastered version of the album, a second CD of live tracks and remixes plus a 24-page full color booklet with period photos, extensive notes and lyrics. As with many albums, the low-fi version is available on a popular video web site. Be brave and take a listen but be prepared to part with your money after you join the fan club.

Music Review - Daniel Amos - Dig Here Said The Angel

I just happened to listen to this album earlier today, plus it's still on my MP3 player. It doesn't get much play but when it does I surely dig those amazing bass lines!

It’s been over 10 years since the last Daniel Amos album. Not that lead songwriter Terry Taylor has been sitting on his duff – what with his alt-Americana band (Lost Dogs), his quirky rock band (Swirling Eddies), various solo albums and composing music for TV and video games (Neverhood and Catscratch, to name a few) – he just hasn’t had the time. But when a Kickstarter campaign tripled the goal amount, his schedule magically cleared up.

The result of “getting the band back together” is Dig Here Said the Angel , a brilliant and joyous exploration of the theme of his own death. Oh, he’s a wily one, that Uncle Terry! “Forward in Reverse” opens with Mellotron flutes that are soon joined by military snare drums and shimmering guitars; from there, it morphs into a plucky parade of horns that become ensnared in a flanged swirl of orchestral strings. Keyboardist Rob Watson pulls out all the stops, adding realistic strings, timpani, harps, pianos, horns and all manner of tasty touches to make each song a wonder of surprises, no extra charge.BR>

The upbeat rocker “Jesus Wept” has one of my favorite lines on the album, “I found my masterpiece in a discount bin,” and also features an oddly disconcerting wobbly guitar sound – or is it an organic keyboard? Not bad for a song about how many of your friends have passed on. The title track is an epic with crusty low bass that bubbles up like a tar pit, reflecting upon its oily surface the light guitar figures that glitter like stars in the heavens. Bassist Tim Chandler cuts loose on this album, and his imaginative, unorthodox style, which can turn a simple folk song into a tension-filled bar brawl, revels in fuzz and a dominant place in the mix.BR>

Offsetting the lush orchestral rock of the first “side” is the stripped-down punk rocker “Now That I’ve Died,” with lyrics from the perfected afterlife like “I’m never cynical (but still a little sarcastic).” A personal favorite is the Jerry Chamberlain-penned power- pop gem “Waking Up Under Water,” a dark song full of gigantic guitar hooks that give way to timpani, strings and horns for a modern “Kashmir” feel before adding in a bizarre Middle Easter guitar sound, compliments of Greg Flesch, whose wildly inventive, yet melodic guitar figures will give me months of enjoyment unwinding and understanding. Of course, I have to mention drummer Ed McTaggart who manages to bring freshness and vigor to the aging art form known as rock n’ roll drumming, nowhere more so than on the Lennonesque closer “The Sun Shines on Everywhere” where Taylor unveils yet another lush anthem graced with a stunningly gorgeous and melodic guitar solo. One last extra touch to mention is the brief appearance of “Penny Lane” horns in the final seconds of the album, a sly wink and a final ray of hope against a normally dark theme that permeates the album.BR>

In a recent interview Taylor said that this band is basically “accessible 60s pop ... but eccentric.” But it’s so much more. It has humor, lyrical paradox and intelligence and is very human. Plus it’s just danged good. Dig Here Said the Angel is an album that has quick appeal but a depth both lyrically and musically that will certainly be calling me back well into 2014.

Music Review - The Winery Dogs

This band played their final show of their tour here in Fort Wayne and I hear it was incredible.

“Elevate,” the first song from the self-titled debut album of “supergroup” The Winery Dogs transported me instantly back to Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen. Singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen’s smoky voice is strong and commanding, leading to a powerful, bright radio-friendly chorus that has background vocals that, well, if they aren’t intentionally trying to emulate Van Halen they must have been in the bands subconscious. The mid-song bass solo, however, is a dead giveaway that this isn’t some cheap knock-off band. No sir, that’s the genuine Billy Sheehan making the kind of ruckus that only he can. And who is that keeping up with this proficient duo without breaking a sweat? It can only be ex-Dream Theater member Mike Portnoy, probably only using his left hand. Fortunately this killer song isn’t the only winner in a sea of dogs. Sorry… couldn’t resist. “Desire” showcases an intense groove, a guitar and bass passage that would be at home on any Steve Vai album, and impassioned soulful vocals. Listen to this song and you’ll be reminded of the power trio helmed by Hendrix. THE Hendrix. Not his cousin Melvin. Another strong offering is “Not Hopeless” which mixes Grand Funk Railroad with high-octane Mr. Big, throwing in a bit of technical wizardry to keep your interest but not to the point of distraction. In fact, like classic Van Halen, this album is about the music first and foremost, though the occasional head-turning shows of testosterone are not frowned upon. Neither are power ballads (“I’m No Angel” and “You Saved Me”) and apparently neither are songs populated primarily by Hammond organs and piano (“Regret”).

What could have been just another throw-away side-project album is instead a pleasing find sporting songs that appeal to technical musicians and casual listeners alike. While Sheehan’s involvement is obvious (dizzying bass parts take a bow in nearly every song) the album is primarily the work of Kotzen, both in the bluesy classic rock songwriting, the vintage yet energetic guitar rhythms, and the expressive vocals. These fellows squeeze the power trio format for all it’s worth, truly combining to form something greater than the sum of its parts. I’d ask when the next Winery Dogs album comes out but that would be whining.

Music Review - Pinnick Gales Pridgen

One of the best concerts I ever attended was King’s X with The Eric Gales Band opening. With the release of Pinnick Gales Pridgen it’s like I’ve stepped into an alternate universe and was able to view both acts at the same time… without pharmaceuticals!

As the name might suggest, this power trio is comprised of Dug Pinnick of King’s X, Eric Gales of, well, his own band and Lauryn Hill and last, but not least, Thomas Pridgen, ex-Mars Volta. Sometimes these constructed side projects come across as a bit uninspired but in this case these three gentlemen absolutely click, forming a molten blend of “old school” bluesy rock with plenty of soul that nods at the vintage without sounding like a throwback. Smokin! I’ve not heard Pridgen before but plan to hear more from him soon. The man completely attacks the drums with a powerful intensity I haven’t heard in a long time, like he’s exorcising some inner demon, the stellar “Hang On, Big Brother” being a prime example. I’ve written before about Dug and his thunderous bass and commanding vocals and this album does not deviate. A lesser guitarist would shudder in his presence but Eric Gales is no ordinary guitarist. If you’ve not heard the man, and consider yourself a lover the six strings, you owe it to yourself to check out his chops, both in riffs and as a soloist. Comparisons to Lenny Kravitz, Hendrix, and Slash are not out of place. I was impressed by his first album, cut when he was barely sixteen, and he’s only improved in the interim. Sure, there are more technical players out there but few are as passionate. For proof you need listen no further than their cover of “Sunshine of Your Love” or the jam sections of “Been So High” and you’ve become a believer. And speaking of jam sections, this album contains a rarity these days: mistakes. Yes, there are a few instances where you’ll catch one of the members being less than perfect but the passion is so spot-on that fixing it with an overdub does the song an injustice. It’s that kind of music.

The producer, the legendary Mike Varney, had an apprentice who tried to bring an auto-tune module into the studio while they were recording and it melted on the spot, ruining the carpet. No lie. Every time I listen to this album I hear something else to like and I’m not normally a fan of Dug’s solo projects. Highly recommended for those of us old enough to remember how real music is made.

Music Review - Freak Kitchen - Cooking With Pagans

Not nearly as good as Land of the Freaks, which I listened to for almost a year, still it's not too bad. Except for the potty mouth language. Naughty noo-noo!

There satirist has always played an important role in society, making us realize that the water around us frogs has become dangerously close to boiling. Often this is done by exaggerating observations about the world to ridiculous heights. But what does one do when the world is so messed up that yesterday’s exaggerations are todays reality? You write a song titled “(Saving Up For An) Anal Bleach”, of course.

Yes, only Freak Kitchen, a Swedish band with a penchant for singable pop melodies and violent guitar-based rhythms could have written such a song. The lead guitar riff is head-banging good but with a few progressive metal turns to keep you unbalanced while Mattias “IA” Eklundh, the mastermind behind the band, sings of modern maladies such as “Tweet tweet all day long / Desperate to belong / I’m not sure I even do exist / If it ain’t on Instagram”. The topic of the desperate celebrity is given the treatment in “Freak of the Week” with lyrics packed with so many buzzwords (“Wiki-leak”,”1040p”, etc.) that in a few years college professors could use it to study the era. That is if the music wasn’t so aggressively good with insane stunt lead guitar noodling and manic riffs. Generally college professors don’t go for insane noodling. “Ranks of the Terrified” is another frantic flurry of notes, filling its three and a half minutes with thousands of hand-tapped notes. However the music of Freak Kitchen, while technical at times, always places the melody first. That’s what I like about ‘em. That and their wicked sense of humor.

I must admit that I also like their penchant for thick walls of groovy guitar riffs. “Professional Help” totally crushes with a low riff designed to turn concrete buildings instantly to dust as does “Come Back to Comeback” which concerns your favorite (constantly retiring) band. Yes, “nostalgia was so much better before.” The single, “Sloppy,” is also heavy on the riff department, though this time they add in a bit of blues and stuttering vocals. Concerning the current trend of giving up our rights “for the greater good” of protection from the bad guys, the band concludes “The truth of the matter is that everyone / Is getting seriously corn holed.” This band pulls no punches and seems to relish singing “Coooooorn holed.” Watch the video. It’s catchy and repetitive. You can hate me later when it gets stuck in your head.

Regardless of the state of the world sometimes it’s nice to indulge in the standards, such as when Freak Kitchen covers Benny Goodman’s “Goody Goody.” Yes, it’s as cracked and unorthodox as you might think. It also has just one of many fine examples of Eklundh’s whackily inventive solo style found on the album, Steve Vai with a wicked sense of humor perhaps. A final favorite is “Once Upon A Time In Scandinavistan”, a mid-tempo ditty with a dark, threatening atmosphere filled with Indian hand percussion. The song is based on the novel of the same name, not that I knew such a beast existed before this album, where Sweden is colonized by India. A moody song, that’s certain, but what I really enjoy is near the end where he sings “Wear a helmet / Head is not replaceable / Only one head per lifetime.” Stuff like this just makes me grin like the goober that I am.

Freak Kitchen is just what they sound like: freaky. The songs on Cooking With Pagans take ingredients from a broad array of cookbooks, most notably pop, progressive metal, doom, and world music. It’s not for the weak of heart or those with faint taste buds but it’s a feast for someone bored with burgers and fries.

Music Review - The Swans - Public Castration Is A Good Thing

With a title like this you're not gonna get bubblegum pop! While you might be thinking punk it's actually experimental metal. Right now I'm listening to sound samples on Amazon and hearing much that is unusual. I traded my two Swans CDs, which I received free to review, for a few bottles of small-batch pop bearing a skeleton on the front. They were supposed to make your urine change colors but didn't. Yet another of life's little disappointments.

Imagine slowly being crushed to death in the cogs of a relentless, overwhelming machine where the noise of your own tortured demise mingles with the grind of the gears into the oily blackness until darkness and annihilation overcome you. Such is the music of The Swans. Released for the first time on compact disc, this two disc set contains music from their most brutal and violent era, encompassing the albums Cop, Young God, Greed, and Holy Money into two and a half hours of minimalistic, slow, grinding rhythms and loveless lyrics that could only have been written by a psychopath at the bottom of a wet, lifeless, black pit. Just one example from the song "Job": "Cut off the arms/Cut off the legs/Get rid of the body/Pus, poison, sh*t/Get rid of the body". While such gothic anarchy is not my usual brew (in fact, a full listen to both CDs left me depressed and with a ball of angst in the pit of my being), the production is well done and the music has many interesting facets. These mid-eighties excretions were easily the precursor to the music of Nine Inch Nails and The Melvins. I asked "once-a-punk" friend Troy Johnson to listen to these discs as well (which resulted in equal depression and tummy ache) and he found similarities in Ministry and the later music of Black Flag. He also found the slow, drudging death march style similar to defunct Fort Wayne band Culture War. This music is dark, hateful and impossibly intense. Your kids will love it... it makes Nirvana look as upbeat as Hanson.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, April 1999.

Music Review - The Swans - Cop: Young God Greed: Holy Money

There's something about this music that haunts my memory. I don't care to listen to it again, but it was certainly unique. There are shades of The Swans in verses of the most excellent "Sleep Is Wrong" by the more excellent Sleepytime Gorilla Theater, but they did it up in style.

Imagine slowly being crushed to death in the cogs of a relentless, overwhelming machine where the noise of your own tortured demise mingles with the grind of the gears into the oily blackness until darkness and annihilation overcome you. Such is the music of The Swans. Released for the first time on compact disc, this two disc set contains music from their most brutal and violent era, encompassing the albums Cop, Young God, Greed, and Holy Money into two and a half hours of minimalistic, slow, grinding rhythms and loveless lyrics that could only have been written by a psychopath at the bottom of a wet, lifeless, black pit. Just one example from the song "Job": "Cut off the arms/Cut off the legs/Get rid of the body/Pus, poison, sh*t/Get rid of the body". While such gothic anarchy is not my usual brew (in fact, a full listen to both CDs left me depressed and with a ball of angst in the pit of my being), the production is well done and the music has many interesting facets. These mid-eighties excretions were easily the precursor to the music of Nine Inch Nails and The Melvins. I asked "once-a-punk" friend Troy Johnson to listen to these discs as well (which resulted in equal depression and tummy ache) and he found similarities in Ministry and the later music of Black Flag. He also found the slow, drudging death march style similar to defunct Fort Wayne band Culture War. This music is dark, hateful and impossibly intense. Your kids will love it... it makes Nirvana look as upbeat as Hanson.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, April 1999.

Music Review - Paul McCartney - Standing Stone

I still can't bring myself to waste an hour listening to this again... I just remember it as one big mess. I was being overly polite in my review, an early one at that, and I didn't want to slam Sir Paul too badly. Now I don't care.

"Standing Stone", Paul McCartney's second large-scale classical work, is a symphonic poem of epic proportions based on a Celtic legend written by McCartney himself. McCartney freely admits that he cannot read or write music and has never had any schooling in the "rules" of classical music. In order to give form to this piece, he decided to create his Celtic story of the origins of mankind and the mystery of human existence upon which to drape this symphonic work. For those wanting to read this legend, be assured that it is included in what is perhaps the thickest set of liner notes I have ever seen with a compact disc, including the composers thoughts on the piece as well as a brief history of the first performance and a few sketches Paul made while writing his poem. To get the music in his head into musical notation, he played or sang each part into a computer which would recognize the note and then create the written musical notation. And the result? As a long-time Beatles fan, I really wanted to fall in love with this piece. However, the lack of a strong central theme in a piece this long (over 74 minutes) and the hodge-podge of influences and styles ranging from Holst to Ives to gypsy themes to minimalism left a lot to be desired. The huddled masses, however, feel otherwise as this piece has been #1 on the Classical charts all winter. I am not trying to say that the piece is completely devoid of substance. Much the opposite, as trademark McCartney melodies are skillfully woven into the fabric at many key points. The more I listen to the piece, the more nuances I uncover, and the more I like it.

The symphonic poem opens with a dissonant crash of randomness, a primitive rainstorm signifying the creation of form out of chaos. One doesn't have to wait long to hear the first of many beautiful melodies, this one played by a solo horn portraying the beginning of life. Continually layered over the piece is a full chorus, though except for a short section near the end, this chorus provides mood and texture but does not sing words. Overall, the first third of the piece is energetic and exciting as it depicts fire and the beginning of life. The tempo is mostly upbeat and it is easy to hear McCartney being excited about the creation of a new orchestral piece, bringing his Celtic legend to life. The second third drags along with only a few good melodies and a double helping of still, near-silent expanses, almost as if the composer was unsure of how to bridge the gap between the beginning of his story and his clearly perceived conclusion. However, the final section is back in mood with the first, portraying a rustic celebration and dance complete with peasant tunes and jigs, filled with an abundance of memorable melodies that could only have written by Paul McCartney. Overall, an impressive and massive (albeit inconsistent) undertaking for someone who has never studied composition and a worthwhile addition to the musical library of any Beatles fan.

This article first appeared in WhatzUp, March 1998.

Music Review - Wolf Hoffmann - Classical

Many of us have heard it, some heavy metal band tromping through a classical piece like Ride of the Valkyries or Hall of the Mountain King with about as much finesse as a drunken elephant at a pottery fair. Then along comes Wolf Hoffmann, guitarist of the former 80s metal band Accept, with an entire CD of popular classical pieces arranged for electric guitar. Disaster in the making? From the very first spin of this CD, I have to admit that I was impressed, not only with his technical skill but with his obvious understanding and respect of this music as well. Instead of attempting to play the pieces exactly as written, Hoffmann has arranged each piece into a new creation, keeping the melody intact but often rearranging the underlying chords and/or feel of the piece. In fact, the album could have been called "Variations on a Theme By..." For instance, in Hoffmann's capable hands, Beethoven's Fur Elise becomes a smoky blues number complete with Hammond B3. Habanera from Bizet's Carmen Suite No. 2 (just one of three Bizet pieces covered) is filled with a number of scorching melodic guitar solos backed by the impulsive Bizet melody. And yes, he does a version of Hall of the Mountain King, though not without some initial reservation. Hoffmann's concept of this metal standard is to take it into an R&B mode, more rock than metal with Grieg's theme dueling with a sizzling rock guitar. Other pieces include Pomp & Circumstance, Arabian Dance from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, and an abridged version of Smetana's The Moldau. Again, I must state how impressed I was with how tastefully these pieces were arranged and carried out. The guitar playing is immaculately clean, many times more like a classical guitar in style but on an electric. Distortion is used judiciously to color, not to cover up flawed technique. In addition to electric guitar, Hoffmann adds bass, piano, drums, and orchestral percussion, in various combinations. By rearranging these pieces instead of just doing "cover" versions, Hoffmann has made one of the best bridges between "serious classical" and "popular" music that I've heard in years. Adventurous classical music fans and guitarists would do well to add this to their collection!

Get this CD directly from the artist at

This article first appeared in WhatzUp, April 2000.