Album Review: Dan Israel – Social Distance Anxiety Disorder

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

Album Review of Dan Israel: Social Distance Anxiety Disorder

Minnesota’s favorite son, singer-songwriter Dan Israel, kept busy during spring quarantine by unveiling a new album, Social Distance Anxiety Disorder, released just 8 months after his 2019 release, Social Media Anxiety Disorder, which was reviewed here by Blog contributor James Morris.

Dan Israel - Social Distance Anxiety Disorder album cover

image courtesy of Dan Israel

In the past I’ve noted that Dan is a singer-songwriter with a folk-meets-rock delivery, while his wide variety of influences is evident to varying degrees on different albums. Social Distance Anxiety Disorder showcases many of Dan’s influences, and most of the disc would be best described as a singer-songwriter rock ‘n roll album. The opening track, “Wit’s End,” is markedly more pop than folk, with a peppy, word-thick delivery blending harmony and hooks. “Bewildered,” though, cranks things up a bit, as it’s more of a strumming ’70s rock-era protest song that complains densely in the verses before opening things up more in the choruses. And “Bustin’ Out” has a hint of Beatles influence, with a crunchy guitar opening, a rich music bed, and several opportunities to sing along with the “ahhhhh” in the background.

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

“Don’t Think They’ll Say” comes across as Dylan meets a travelin’ road song. It flows neatly into the smooth “Trying for a Long Time,” a strummer with a calming, mellow vibe.

Some nifty plucking opens “Guess It’s Time/Everyone” before the song’s chunky, steady-paced beat kicks in. Seemingly a simple melody at first, additional instruments and rhythms join, and the song evolves into an attention-grabber.

“Little Bit of Your Love” follows energetically, as thumping drums and a past-midpoint guitar solo drive home a rock ‘n roll vibe to deliver a tune you might hear on some Tom Petty or John Mellencamp records, complete with an off-balance, Petty-esque rock vocal vibe. Dan cranks it up a little more, even, on “Something for the Pain,” a bluesy, gritty, and kind of psychedelic rock number equally befitting a concert stage and a seedy dive bar.

“Vision in My Dreams” settles things down a little, closing the disc with a thoughtful vocal line and a broad, open, expansive sound.

The breadth of this disc causes it to be one of my favorite Dan Israel albums, as I can play it easily on repeat due to the variety of tempos, moods, and influences showcased throughout. Dan is one of the handful of great, regionally-renowned American troubadours – a singer-songwriter whose music is peppered with influences that enable him to appeal to multiple fan bases. It’s always a pleasure to review one of his well-crafted, engaging releases, like Social Distance Anxiety Disorder.

Dan Israel

photo courtesy of Dan Israel

Looking Ahead

Dan isn’t performing live at the moment, but when he does, you’ll find his gigs on the “Shows” page of his website or the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. He does seem to regularly livestream on the “Videos” tab of his Facebook page; you can find some old livestreams on there now.

Album Review: Stick Men – Owari

Stick Men

photo courtesy of Moonjune Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Stick Men: Owari (Moonjune Records)

The credentials of the members of Stick Men are a jaw-dropping resume of epic musical proportions. The collective of bassist/Chapman Stick player and vocalist Tony Levin, drummer/percussionist Pat Mastelotto, guitarist Markus Reuter and guest keyboardist Gary Husband is a creative force to be reckoned with. Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Mister Mister, The Rembrandts, Jack Bruce, Paul Simon, John Lennon, John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth, among others, have all benefited from the contributions of key members in this ensemble.

This album was recorded live in Nagoya, Japan at the Blue Note Club on February 28th, 2020. At this time, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic was emerging throughout Asia, and the band soon realized their sold out tour was about to come to a grinding halt. But, as they say, the show must go on, and they fulfilled their last date on the abbreviated tour, with this stellar document before a modest crowd.

“Hajime (Peace)” opens the album with some taped spoken word by Deborah Carter Mastelotto reciting frequent King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield’s poem “Peace.” It’s kind of an overture or ambient piece featuring feedback guitars, odd sounds, and orchestral washes.

“Hide the Trees” slowly builds into some wild intrepid guitar passages that blend with softer melodic lines and odd time signatures. Dense and complex soundscapes underpin heavily syncopated rhythms and Gary Husband’s keyboards.

Stick Men - Owari album cover

image courtesy of Moonjune Records

A constant pedal figure by Tony Levin anchors the controlled chaos and interwoven melodies of “Cusp.” Various themes waft indiscriminately through the dense musical blend, with effective drum accents by Pat Mastelotto.

The King Crimson classic “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” is an interesting transition, with its ever changing rhythm structures and key modulations. The song gradually builds in sonic power and emotion. There is a raw metallic energy that is offset by Husband’s jazzy dissonance on piano.

The cleverly titled “Schattenhaft” maintains a strong funky groove. It’s kind of an improvisational free-for-all, with a real sense of urgency typified again by intriguing keyboard comps from Husband.

“Crack in the Sky” changes the mood slightly where Levin recites vocals with poetic élan. It’s a dreamy, cinematic track that also puts the spotlight on Markus Reuter’s virtuoso legato guitar lines.

The title track “Owari” translates to “The End” in Japanese. And, in many ways, it signifies the state of being the band was in when faced with having to cancel the rest of their tour. It’s kind of a spacey, open-ended piece that musically bridges the gap between dreams and nightmares.

“Prog Noir” in effect translates to “dark prog.” And that’s exactly what this is. It’s a lurking behemoth-like monster of a tune, with its ominous vibe and feel. Levin’s smooth lead vocals and odd phrasing give this an otherworldly quality.

“Swimming in T” offers more experimentation and a swirling collage of sound and vision. “Level 5” is reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s asymmetrical rhythms and rocky sound. It’s a real showcase for all the improvisational strengths of the band.

The bonus track, appropriately titled, “The End of The Tour” is one huge soundscape that builds to a monumental crescendo. Husband steps out prominently on piano and synthesizer and rises above the ensemble’s well constructed tension.

For a live album, the engineering by Robert Frazza is amazing. It’s so quiet and clean as if it was recorded in a studio. You don’t hear any audience chatter or noise. I don’t know if that says something about the politeness of Japanese audiences or it’s more about the editing skills of Frazza, but it sounds phenomenal. Highly recommended!

Album Review: Bonnie Whitmore – Last Will and Testament

Bonnie Whitmore

photo by Eryn Brooke; photo courtesy of Conqueroo

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Bonnie Whitmore: Last Will and Testament

Bonnie Whitmore is an accomplished vocalist, bassist, guitarist, and cellist from Austin, Texas. She has been a side woman to such notables as Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock, among others. She’s spent a number of years supporting other artists and has recorded some solo work in the past. But with Last Will and Testament, Whitmore is front and center with her strongest musical statement to date.

Bonnie Whitmore - Last Will & Testament

photo by Eryn Brooke; image courtesy of Conqueroo

She’s got a full cadre of some of the Austin scene’s finest, including her sister Martha on backing vocals and sister Eleanor who plays violin and provided some of the string arrangements on two of the tracks. Beginning with the title track, there is a lush Phil Spector-like wall of sound that emanates from your speakers. It’s a gothic feel, with some ‘60s flourishes and an incredible sonic landscape.

“None of My Business” follows and is soulful and slow. There is a tender R&B nature to this wrapped up in Jeff Lynne-like production. Whitmore’s got a big voice and blends really well with her backup accompaniment. “Right/Wrong” asks the question “How will you be remembered?” Amid a smooth samba-like structure with a nice horn arrangement, she explores making the right choices and reminds that “words can get lost in the haze of what really matters.”

Bonnie Whitmore

photo by Eryn Brooke; photo courtesy of Conqueroo

“Fine” features catchy hooks, a skilled use of dynamics and, perhaps, a Stevie Nicks influence in a country rocker about the cycles of a relationship.

Whitmore picks up the pace and infuses the song “Asked For It” with a punkish energy. Never afraid to speak her mind, the dynamic songstress tackles the subject of rape culture where in the bridge she sings “so go on and blame the victim, why should violence have consequence? And each time you silence them, recreates the same event.” It’s certainly material that makes one take pause and think.

“Time to Shoot” focuses on another aspect of human nature dealing with inner perception and knowing oneself. With an almost operatic feel Whitmore delivers the words “Time to shoot, take the shot, show the world what you’ve got. When it’s done, when you’re gone, were you right, were you wrong?” This dynamic artist always gets right to the heart of the matter.

Bonnie Whitmore

photo by Eryn Brooke; photo courtesy of Conqueroo

“Love Worth Remembering” lightens the mood a bit, with some good bluesy old school rock. It addresses unconditional love that will stay the course. The sentiment is sweet and honest and, again, talks about things most folks can relate to. “Imaginary” tends to stray from the norm here, with a waltz-type rhythm and cadence. It’s a quirky fantasy-filled piece supported, in a large part, by Betty Soo’s accordion drone.

“Flashes and Cables” was written by backing vocalist Will Johnson and is the only song on the album not written by Whitmore. It features a dramatic chorus and an interesting mix of guitar dissonance, vivid storytelling, and well-measured dynamics.

“George’s Lullaby” wraps the album, with a dedication to Whitmore’s late bassist friend and mentor George Reiff. It is certainly a tearjerker, with its somber, jazzy baroque-type feel.

Bonnie Whitmore displays that she is totally adept at carrying a whole album herself, in addition to being a support and utility player. She has an interesting and diverse point of view and cuts right to the chase, with her perceptive songs and stories of the human condition.

Album Review: Rachel Brooke – The Loneliness in Me

Rachel Brooke

photo by Jess Varda; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Rachel Brooke: The Loneliness in Me (Mal Records)

From the wilds of northern Michigan (Traverse City, to be exact!), that classic Nashville vibe has been uncannily recreated by vocalist Rachel Brooke and her studio compadres. The Loneliness in Me is the latest in a long line of solo and collaborative recorded works by this vibrant artist. All of the dozen songs here were written by Brooke, with many co-written by her husband and fellow vocalist Brooks Robbins.  It’s a tight and satisfying collection filled with humor, love, heartbreak , irony and honest emotion.

Rachel Brooke – The Loneliness in Me album cover

image courtesy of Hello Wendy

The album begins with the slow and moody “It Ain’t Over Till You’re Crying.” Right away, Brooke hooks you with her angelic vocal twang as she spins a tale of love on the rocks. It’s got a lilting bluegrass feel that sets the tone she means business. “Great Mistake” is a nice mid-tempo ballad that is a mix of sweetness and melancholy. In it, she sings “I was always chasing rainbows… to be that never did grow old. While I was chasing some new heaven, someone stole my pot of gold.” Next up is a surreal and dreamy track called “The Hard Way.” This features some strong backing vocals and an interesting production quality on Brooke’s voice. When she elicits “The hard way is still a hard way to learn,” she seems to draw from personal experience.

The title track “The Loneliness in Me” is a certified single, with all the rowdiness and spirit of Loretta Lynn. Liz Sloan’s agile fiddle work really smokes and supports what sounds like an autobiographical account of Brooke’s experiences in the music biz. Her words are filled with dry humor and wit as she bellows, “I ain’t got time to worry about reality. I’m busy dreaming up tragic potentialities. I’m always prepared for any trouble unseen thanks to the loneliness in me.” It’s very tongue-in-cheek and has a good dance floor feel.

Rachel Brooke

photo by Jess Varda; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

“Picture on the Wall” has a smooth and easy swing rhythm, with Jarrod Champion’s elegant Floyd Cramer-like piano. “It Won’t Be Long” is another slow to mid-tempo track, with stellar guitar and banjo accompaniment.

“The Ghost of You” further blends an ironic lyrical twist with a chilling sentiment as Brooke sings, “The ghost of you is always on my mind, the ghost of you still haunts me from time to time, the ghost of you still loves me, or so I’d like to think, the ghost of you comes back to me… but only when I drink.” And then she follows that up with a nod to Johnny Cash, with “’Cause every time I hit the streets I go out and walk the line. The ghost of you comes with me, the ghost of you is still mine.” Kudos to Dave Feeny who provides a warm and flowing pedal steel solo here.

“The Lovells Stockade Blues” adds some bluegrass flames to this collection, with a bawdy and shuffling beat. “Lucky and Alone” shifts gears, with what sounds like a relationship on the rails. It’s one of those loving and losing kind of songs where the blond songstress sings, “Lucky and alone, you’ll wake up and I’ll be gone. What good fortune to be in my company. I kept you around, but I wore the king’s crown. Your misery is clover to me, lucky and alone.”

Rachel Brooke

photo by Jess Varda; photo courtesy of Hello Wendy

That tongue is firmly planted in cheek again for “The Awful Parts of Me.” The hook here is delivered with a knowing grin and a pseudo femme fatale indifference: “You can have it all – revenge and apathy. You only love the awful parts of me.”

“Undecided Love” features a beautiful melody and a heartfelt lyric, with “Take all the time to decide, I’ll be here when she leaves you behind. Undecided love, call heads or tails I could be the one. In the balance I reside… my fate you decide, my love’s the undecided kind.” The album concludes with a somber and somewhat moody “I Miss It Like It’s Gone.” The song casts a gothic and surreal finale to the record and offers a nice contemplative resolve.

Rachel Brooke is an artist who comes from a musical family and embraces her country and bluegrass roots with love and appreciation. That sincerity comes through loud and clear in her songs, stories, and personality.

Looking Ahead

You can find Rachel’s upcoming shows on the “News and Shows” page of her website. She currently has shows scheduled on Friday, February 5th and Friday, March 5th at the American Legion Lounge in Grayling, MI. (Event announcements of the gigs, with additional details if you click on them, also appear on the American Legion’s Facebook page.)

Album Review: Blurred Vision – Redemption

Blurred Vision

photo by Eric Duvet; photo courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

Album Review of Blurred Vision: Redemption

How does a band follow up a debut album the caliber of Organized Insanity? In the case of Blurred Vision, quite nicely, thank you. The gents don’t miss a beat on their second studio album, Redemption.

When I reviewed Blurred Vision’s London showcase, I leaned into the band’s obvious Pink Floyd influence. Then, later, when I reviewed Organized Insanity, I noted the broader classic rock influences, in addition to Floyd, that fleshed out the group’s sound. But the songs on Redemption package the band’s progressive and classic rock influences into an increasingly original Blurred Vision rock ‘n roll persona. Oh, sure, you can still pick out Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, and other influences, but Redemption is mostly just different flavors of Blurred Vision, variations on a theme. Whether it’s the band maturing or simply my increased familiarity coming into play – Sepp Osley’s voice is unmistakable – it’s easy to identify the trademark Blurred Vision sound after just a few notes.

Blurred Vision

image courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

The opening distorted electronic rhythmic beat of very first track, “One Day,” kicks things off strong, drawing the listener into the song and disc as the music builds into a somewhat haunting, rhythmic mid-speed soft-rocker.

“What Have I Become” follows, led by more aggressive drumming – not loud, but somewhat war dance-inspired – before the song rounds a corner into a singalong-styled openness. And perhaps the “I’m feeling numb” line is what suggests a “Comfortably Numb” comparison to me, not so much in the music itself as in its tempo and mood.

“Redemption” is similarly flavored, though features like the attention grabbing “I want to know” spoken mid-song and the enticing “waiting for the world to rise” lyric give “Redemption” an enticing uniqueness.

“Clever Dawn” ratchets things up a bit, with crunchy guitar and soaring bridges. The increased energy level serves as a nice transition to prepare the listener for the storm to come.

Blurred Vision

photo courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

That “storm to come” is the first of the two energetic songs that most frequently get stuck in my head, “Magdalena.” It and “P.O.W.” are the songs I find myself singing to myself for days after playing Redemption. “Magdalena” is very nearly a clap-along number that always inspires involuntary dancing – in or out of your chair – and singalongs with “Whoo-hooo! Whoo-hooo! Whoo-hooo!” and “I wanna hear you sing it!” “P.O.W.” has a moderately tempoed, anthemic, high-energy, protest-song vibe. It’s not a singalong song; it’s a shout-along number! I imagine if it were ever released as a single, the natural short-version ending would be around the five-minute mark, but album rock fans will love the minute-plus creepy music interlude before a repeating siren-like guitar line begins the tune’s slowly building rocket-ride back to rockin’ awesomeness until “P.O.W.” clocks out at 8:36. I know Blurred Vision is a progressive classic rock band, but the three minute long instrumental sequence late in this song is probably the proggiest thing I’ve heard from these guys.

Sandwiched between those two tracks, you can hear the Beatles influence in “Mystic Garden,” though with a bit more ethereal, open, airy quality.

“Companion” and “Inside Out – Collision Course” close things out. Slow but steady tempoed “Companion” significantly reduces the temperature in the room after “P.O.W.” There’s an almost dreamlike sheen to its musicality, and it features some nifty, subtle dance-through guitarwork. “Inside Out – Collision Course” follows along the same sonic lines, then transitions via a drum run to a more energetic vibe – the transition between the “Inside Out” and “Collision Course” segments of this disc-closing number.

Blurred Vision, with its consistently high-quality songs and performances, has become one of my favorite bands over the last few years. And its position in a necessary but sparsely-traveled lane of the rock and roll highway, at least among currently active bands – the “peace, love, and rock ‘n roll,” classic, album-oriented rock lane, if you will – makes this band and album an absolute necessity, not just for fans of classic rock but also for people who appreciate great songwriting.

Looking Ahead

Whenever there are again tour dates in the future, you’ll be able to find them on the “Tour Dates” page of the Blurred Vision website.

The band has also hosted two annual John Lennon tribute concerts on Lennon’s birthday, October 9th, in support of the War Child UK charity, featuring Blurred Vision’s song for Lennon, “Dear John,” which appeared on Organized Insanity.

Album Review: Fuzztones – NYC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Fuzztones: NYC (Cleopatra Records)

Since 1980, lead vocalist-guitarist Rudi Protrudi has been at the helm of New York garage rockers Fuzztones. They have been named revivalists by some, but they actually are one of the architects of that classic proto-punk/alternative rock sound. However, in celebration of their 40 year anniversary, Protrudi and company decided to pay homage to those fellow New York City bands and songwriters that have influenced what they do. And it’s an impressive list of songs that could be ripped right from the playlist of Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius Radio.

Fuzztones - NYC album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Joining founder Protrudi on this collection of eclectic musical nuggets are Lana Loveland on keyboards and vocals, Eric Geevers on bass and vocals and Marco Rivagli on drums and vocals. This is a tight and efficient unit that really knows how to effectively interpret their heroes, yet still retain a semblance of their own sound. Much in the spirit of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his infamous take on Sinatra’s “My Way,” Fuzztones cover another classic by Ol’ Blue Eyes, appropriately, “New York, New York.” The band gives it a rocking spin that walks that line between irreverence and respect. Gender bending Jayne/Wayne County is represented here with a psychedelic take on their track “Flip Your Wig.” It’s very Seeds meets Question Mark and the Mysterians, with cool organ comps from Loveland and Protrudi’s buzz saw fuzz guitar work. The Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick” features a primal beat and screaming guitars. Greta harmonies frame a hazy, aural drug-like trip. The very lyrical and ‘60s-sounding “53rd & 3rd” is a Ramones cover. It’s reflective of life on the streets, with strong backup vocals and a catchy pop sensibility. Other highlights on this 15 track album are the urgency of the Dead Boys’ “High Tension Wire,” Blue Oyster Cult’s ultra-hip “Transmaniacom MC,” the lush production of Richard Hell’s “You Gotta Lose” and the fantasy feel of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot.”

The Fuzztones relocated to Los Angeles shortly after the release of their first album Lysergic Emanations in the early ‘80s, but have always remained close to their musical roots. “New York has always been at the core of the Fuzztones entity,” says Protrudi. “So, what better way to celebrate 40 years of fuzz than a tribute to the music that drew us there?”

Album Review: Marina V – In V Minor

Marina V

photo by Arsen Memetov; photo courtesy of Marina V

Album Review of Marina V: In V Minor

Long-time readers know Marina V is a Blog favorite. Her expressive, soaring, sweetly clear yet powerful vocals combine well with her frequently-flowing songwriting. And, while she can and does show versatility and range when she stretches herself to faster-tempo and stylistically different songs seemingly effortlessly, Marina does have a musical sweet spot. It’s a designated lane on the soaring pop ballad musical highway that’s reserved for Marina and no one else, and it’s where her legion of fans expect a majority of her music to reside. In V Minor spends most of its time in this lane, perhaps more than her recent albums do, but it’s really hard to complain, especially as she swerves around within the lane quite a bit. And it’s fun to hear Marina release an album of new material mostly within her “greatest hits” zone sometimes. Plus, there are those aforementioned cool twists she puts on her subgenre, too. With depth and darkness, most of the time, you’re not likely to expect; she always does that. She’s Marina V.

Marina V - In V Minor album cover

image courtesy of Marina V

The first song in the collection is the beautifully, hauntingly drawn-out “Cold Cold Winter.” Marina’s piano skills combine with the guitarwork of special guest Jim “Kimo” West and the most beautiful edge of Marina’s voice to deliver a memorable ballad.

It’s followed by the sole cover on the album, a Marina V-tempoed rendition of “We Belong,” the Pat Benatar hit that was penned by the songwriting team of Lowen and Navarro. Marina blows the lid off of this track, and it features a truly special guest, as she sings it as a duet with the song’s cowriter Dan Navarro.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

Next up is another treat, a fan favorite, a rare (well, infrequent) Marina-penned full-on love song, “143.” It’s sort of the warm side of “Cold Cold Winter,” suitably placed with “We Belong” serving as a transition between the two tracks that are simultaneously similar and polar opposites. (Polar… winter… get it? Yeah, maybe not.)

“Rain My Love” opens with a semi-haunting piano, vocal, and string arrangement, a broad-sounding, soaringly-building sound that hints a bit at Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” hinting at that sort of power but reining it in and polishing it with a softer edge. (Marina does a powerful rendition of “Wind of Change,” by the way, but it’s not on this album; it’s on Marina’s extended 2017 release of Inner Superhero.)

The power doesn’t dissipate on “Talk to You Sometimes,” it’s just redirected. Another song about strength and emotion – something Marina excels at writing and performing – this song will undoubtedly put a lump in your throat lyrically, and then it contains the best three-syllable delivery of the word “steel” I can recall, which helps release the tension. It’s all about the details.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

The third weather-titled song of the first six, “Love is Like Snow,” is a bit lighter, more playful, and hopeful. Still a slow song, but one you could move around a dancefloor to if you’d like, and the occasional twirl wouldn’t be at all out of place.

Next up is one of my favorite songs on the disc, “LKD.” And fortunately, like most of us, I’m not out in public much these days, or you might be concerned when you hear me singing the lyrics under my breath, “Live. Kill. Die.” “LKD” sounds like is was specifically written for a James Bond movie, with a breathy, cold, calculated delivery. Or perhaps it was created as an entry into a competition seeking a new theme song for the KGB. I actually researched the answer to this. After noting the Bond-esque edge to the song, I checked Marina’s song notes to see what inspired this track, and indeed, as an assignment in a songwriting group, “LKD” was written to sound like an end-credit song for a James Bond movie. I’m not sure how I feel, now, knowing that it was contrived bloodlust – not the actual thing – driving this song, but I’m pretty sure the word I’m looking for is “relieved.”

Marina V

photo by Justin Higuchi; photo courtesy of Marina V

Next up is another tune I often find stuck in my head, the encouraging “Back to Sunshine.” In addition to its hooks, the tune has Easter eggs for hardcore Marina V fans, as she slips old album and song titles into the lyrics of this song. It’s an neat trick, accomplishing that while writing a memorable, hopeful tune that’s engaging and catchy even without the insider information.

Marina returns to the dark side next with “Sick Sick Love.” The song cleverly builds tension and suspense musically, vocally, and lyrically, proving interestingly compelling, with just enough enthusiasm to suggest the song’s protagonist may not actually be interested in leaving this sick, sick love behind. Given the subject matter, this song is much more fun than it probably should be; I may be wrong, but I envision a mischievous glint in Marina’s eye while she recorded it.

Marina V

photo by Arsen Memetov; photo courtesy of Marina V

“No Time to Say Goodbye” returns to a semi-haunting tone. It’s actually the theme song for Bill Adler Jr.’s novella of the same name, and its sad desperation rather well matches the emotion you’d expect from the book’s plot summary. (No, I haven’t read the book, but I’m intrigued.)

Finally, the album closes with two lullabies. First, “My Love Lullaby,” a sweetly encouraging song about unconditional love. And then the Russian-language “Лунная Колыбельная (Russian Moonlight Lullaby).” No, I don’t understand the song, but thanks to the translation, it’s also quite sweet, and very much a sing-to-your baby song.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

That’s it. Over too soon? In V Minor is yet another dependably strong Marina V disc, as she has perfected the ability to release only top-notch material. This one, again, resides mostly within her sweet spot when it comes to tempo and taking advantage of her soaring voice and piano skills. The tone and mood ranges from very, very dark to light – to be fair, its touch is mostly soft and generally hopeful, but the breadth of emotion makes the album complex and enjoyable, like an interesting friend. Definitely a pleasure to have this disc as a listening companion during a pandemic.

Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Marina has long been a Blog favorite. For more Blog coverage of Marina V, see my 2018 review of her album Born to the Stars. Before that, in 2015, as article #5 of my Blog-launching “Road Back to Music Journalism” series, I reviewed Marina’s Inner Superhero album and a 2014 house concert.

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

Looking Ahead

Marina does twice-weekly livestreams – “The Marina V Show”on Twitch. Started during her pregnancy, Marina perfected the format well before the pandemic hit, interacting with fans via chat and playing old and new favorites. Husband/guitarist/cowriter Nick and “Baby V” make appearances, as well.

If/when live shows return, you’ll be able to find information on the “Tour” page of Marina’s website. Currently, you’ll find dates and times of the twice-weekly “Marina V Show” livestreams. Generally, Sundays at 12:30 PM PST (3:30 PM EST) and Thursdays at 7:00 PM PST (10:00 PM EST).

Marina has also been on Patreon for several years. Her “2 Songs a Month Club” gives patrons two new songs (one original and one cover) each month for as little as $1 per song ($2 per month). Of course, higher tiers offer additional membership perks.

Album Review: James Williamson & Deniz Tek – Two to One

James Williamson & Deniz Tek

photo by Anne Tek; photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of James Williamson & Deniz Tek: Two to One (Cleopatra Records)

With the pairing of guitarist James Williamson and guitarist-vocalist Deniz Tek you’ve got some proto-punk/alternative rock royalty right here. Williamson, of course, played on Iggy and the StoogesRaw Power and Kill City records. And Tek carved his legacy in the alternative rock world decades previous in the Australian-based band Radio Birdman. But, interestingly, they both have ties to Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that Motor City rock ‘n roll sound jumps out of the speakers loud and clear. As Williamson puts it, “This is a no-frills, good old-fashioned guitar album.”

This 11 track album kicks off energetically, with “Jet Pack Nightmare.” The guitars are full and really mix melodically well. Tek sings in a low register monotone that grabs you from the get-go.

“Progress” follows and further solidifies that blend of Detroit-fueled power pop and Southern California panache. “Take a Look Around” features an earnest Tek vocal laced, with a socially-conscious sentiment. Williamson’s taut and focused solos really support the overall mood. The backup vocalists Petra Haden and Andrea Wasse further perpetuate a cool pop vibe.

James Williamson & Deniz Tek - Two to One album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Good as Gone” mimics latter day Iggy Pop in a loving way. There is an immediate and urgent groove as Tek unceremoniously sings “We had a few good times, the rest was just a crime.” In addition, Williamson throws in some tasty minor-ish Spanish-type motifs ala Dick Dale.

“Stable” is a strong single that borrows slightly from the feel of The Stooges’ “No Fun.” Tek sings a pretty tough and honest lyric, with “Can’t you see that I’m less stable, trying everything to see what works. You say you got me, but I’m falling. What makes you think it doesn’t hurt.”

“Climate Change” is about as topical and current as they come. Tek bellows “Sun beats down on the city streets. They got nothing to believe in but the heat. It’s dry as dust and the old folks calling for rain. All the kids talking about climate change.” The mid-section features a Beach Boys-like vocal backing that gives the song an ironic surf’s up kind of twist.

“Birthday Present” is a break-neck rocker. The rhythm section of bassist Michael Scanland and drummer Michael Urbano offer a really smooth and brisk tempo. The solo parts recall early Amboy Dukes mixed with classic Beck-era Yardbirds.

“Small Change” is a song about the power of personal evolution. Tek sings “It only takes a little bit of change and a great big heart.” Truer words were never spoken. The song has a somewhat blues and folky-type veneer and Tek plays some appropriate harmonica to top it off.

“Liar” is a driving power pop masterpiece. Tek suffers no fools and takes no prisoners as he belts “I’m standing in the rain but looking for the sun. She’s a liar, can’t survive her.”

“No Dreams” is poetic and somewhat dark, with tasteful and dense solos and rhythms. Tek talks and sings his way through this one. The bonus track is a song about a coquettish femme fatale known as “Melissa Blue.” It’s a smooth mix of acoustic and electric textures. It’s also a nice way to conclude this diverse, yet thoroughly rocking album.

Two to One is a powerful statement, with great songs and brilliant guitar work. Overall, it’s a mix of lyrical honesty and technical prowess that is sure to connect with fans and six-string aficionados alike.

 

Album Review: Patsy Thompson – Fabulous Day

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Patsy Thompson: Fabulous Day

Released in 2020, this album from singer-songwriter Patsy Thompson was 12 years in the making. Essentially, that’s because family obligations came calling as the Canadian-born artist took care of her ailing mother. With not much support from family, she felt broken and burned out. But in the nick of time her long-time friend and co-writer/producer/guitarist Chris Rolin stepped in to offer her a chance to complete this album and get her back on a career track.

Fabulous Day is a record that is very personal for Thompson. She co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs here, and they all are taken from various aspects of her life and experience.

Patsy Thompson - Fabulous Day album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

The title track opens the album with a tale of hope and new beginnings. The mood is ebullient as she sings with incredible range and conviction. It features a strong chorus and lyrical hook. That sets the stage for an enticing musical ride.

“Neon Lights” is a classic song of love and longing. It spotlights Thompson’s stellar vocals and her knack for storytelling. “Picking You Up” is an obvious single that should register mighty strong at country radio. It’s an uptempo honky-tonkin’ party tune. This focuses on throwing all your cares to the wind and stepping out with that significant other for a night on the town. Thompson sings with an aggressive growl that grabs your attention.

“Dreamin’” sounds like a cross between k.d. lang and Patsy Cline. It has a very ethereal vibe and a timeless country feel. Again, this shows another side to this stellar female crooner. “I Can’t Be in Love With You Tonight” contains a sentiment many folks can relate to. It’s a song for anyone that’s ever had any conflict over giving their heart to someone. Thompson talks about love feeling so wrong, yet feeling so right. Yeah, you’ve probably heard that used as a narrative many times before, but this is genuine and from her soul.

Patsy Thompson

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Misery and Gin” is the sole cover here, and it’s a good choice. Again, this contains familiar ground that really mines the human condition. She sings “Looking at my life through the bottom of a glass, all I see is a gal who’s fading fast.” There is a strong sense of melancholy here performed in the style of Tanya Tucker or Tammy Wynette. There’s a nice guitar break that supports a subtle jazzy/blues tavern-like atmosphere.

“Passion” is another Thompson original that is a bit different from some of the other fare here. This would be an appropriate song to dance the tango by. She sings a sweet romantic lyric atop accordion, acoustic bass and a pervasive gypsy feel.

“Someone to Blame” addresses the chaos an old flame can create when the former lover can’t leave well enough alone. Select fiddle work from Mike Sanyshyn and a rocking blues feel push Thompson as she sings “Bad news is coming down like rain as you’re looking for someone to blame.”

“Joy Ride” is a straight forward and simply stated country barn burner. It’s got a spry up tempo kick similar to “Picking You Up.”

Thompson closes the album with a Grand Ole Opry-influenced Christmas tune called “I Think About You.” It’s the kind of song that makes you feel good all over. Here she sings about all the things that remind her of the one she loves, like standing under the Mistletoe, the smell of pumpkin pie wafting from the kitchen, and all that sort of thing. This has all the makings of a modern perennial classic. There’s some nice guitar and fiddle work too.

Patsy Thompson is a terrific songwriter, as well as vocalist, that has opened for some of the biggest names in country music like Willie Nelson, Clint Black and Rusty Weir. She’s also appeared at SXSW and has recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios. This is a momentous release that’s sure to please, and filled with a treasure trove of memorable hits.

Single Review: Home Cookin’ Band – “Working for a Good Tip”

Home Cookin' Band

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Home Cookin’ Band: “Working for a Good Tip”

Home Cookin’ Band is a talented blues-rock troupe from Chicago. The band consists of Anastasiya Protasevych on lead vocals and guitar, Kevin Lahvic on bass, Michael Costelloe on lead guitar and Jeff Gilbert on drums. Protasevych, originally from Western Ukraine, relocated to the Chicago area in 2017. Her unique vocal style reflects notes of such disparate artists as Chrissie Hynde, Nico and Annette Peacock. It’s a sexy, come hither approach that is hauntingly memorable and smooth as silk. Costelloe simply smokes on leads and delivers a real meat and potatoes rock ‘n roll tone. Lahvic and Gilbert spent many years in the popular Chicago act Matthew Morgan and The Lost Brigade.

Home Cookin' Band - Working for a Good Tip album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

The single “Working for a Good Tip” makes for a strong debut. Protasevych and Costelloe penned the tune and it’s a straight up depiction of life as a waitress. They certainly know of where they speak, having both plied their trade amongst wait staff in the many clubs they have played. The band lays down a classic mid-tempo Stones-like groove that should really connect with folks on the dance floor. Home Cookin’ are air-tight and really know how to succinctly present a hit. They seamlessly walk that line between blues and pop. This track has a lot of personality and soul. It’s also got some great hooks and clever turnarounds that prompt this reviewer to want to hear more.

Looking Ahead

Obviously there aren’t any live gigs at the moment, but when there are, you will be able to find them on the “Upcoming Shows” page of the band’s website or on the “Events” tab of the band’s Facebook page.