Album Review: Simon Scardanelli – The Rock, the Sea and the Rising Tide

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Simon Scardanelli: The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide

Simon Scardanelli has a new album release on September 6th. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide is a mature and contemplative listen. Simon takes on the mantle of the balladeer, a storytelling troubadour, regaling us with intriguing tales of high seas and adventure, darkness and human frailty, global catastrophe and personal doubt.

This is a carefully considered body of work. Acoustically styled, guitar picked songs with a sparse balance of additional instruments. The occasional use of violin, cello, recorders, and cumbus, round out each song perfectly.

There is a dark theme of human fragility through the album; it’s like a bleak but majestic windswept moor, or like standing on a wild cliff edge gazing over a brooding misty sea. You listen with suspense, transported by the haunting stories within each song. The narrative of his songs is something Simon has always taken great care with, and the poetry, imagination, and imagery that shines through this album shows how much enjoyment he had in writing them.

The album opens with “The Ballad of Jago Trelawney,” the story of a Cornish tin miner summoned into navy service for his country, which ends in a tragic sea battle. Based around a fictional character, the events it describes are from an actual battle that took place in 1793 between the ships English Nymph and the French Cleopatra. It’s from the chorus of this song that the album takes its name.

The album is full of imagined and real-life experiences that Simon has woven into an intriguing and rewarding musical landscape. The perils and mysteries of the ocean continue in the unfolding tales “The Cold Green Sea” and “Pearly Diving Sea,” leading to the only instrumental in this collection. “Becalmed” provides a moment to reflect before the wind once again whips us on to the lightly picked and beautifully haunting “Different.”

The next track is the most personal and introspective song on the album. “Patience” steps away, for a moment, from the more enigmatic storytelling and provides a more direct insight into the writer’s own creative world and, dare I say, insecurities.

Next up is “Human Nature – the Cry.” “Human Nature” was the first single from the album and is a clear warning of the climate change disaster that threatens the planet we live on and the arrogant disregard a particular world leader pays to the threat. It’s a spartan and compelling listen. Complexity disguised with chameleon simplicity with a depth of thought behind every carefully chosen word and guitar phrase.

More human vulnerability and oracular observation are brought forth in “A Simple Case of Time” and “Star City,” which has quirkier feel but remains moodily within the album’s sense of positive desolation.

Before we reach the album’s conclusion, Simon sings touchingly and illustratively on “Requiem for the City of New York,” which is a reflective backward glance at a city he once lived in.

Finally, there is an alternate version of “Human Nature – the Lament.” It is less strident and angry than the single version. It’s sadder and more resigned, and this presents the song in a very different light, which provides a fitting end to this thought-provoking album.

Once again Simon has produced an album uncompromisingly his own. Different from all that has come before and no doubt from what he will do next. This is no fashion-following attempt to please anyone but himself. As he sings in the song “Patience,” “Jumping on a bandwagon seems to be the next big thing.” Never so for Simon Scardanelli, and in following his heart, he has made an album of bleak majesty which pulls its listener deep under crashing waves to the ethereal realm that lies beneath their cacophony. A place of quiet solemnity, where you have space to ponder and unravel these modern folk chronicles as they are spun out before you in sparse but richly delivered song.

You can read more of what Simon had to say about his new album in a recent interview I did with him here.

Keep up-to-date with his news and live shows through his website www.scardanelli.com or on social media: Twitter: @scardo; Facebook: @SimonScardanelliMusic.

Interview with Simon Scardanelli

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

An insightful interview with the highly creative and much undervalued singer and songwriter Simon Scardanelli

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Singer and guitarist Simon Scardanelli has released many creatively successful albums, singles, and EPs since his initial chart success in the late ’80s with the duo Big Bam Boo. Following the U.S. top 40 hit “Shooting From My Heart” in 1989, Simon relocated from London to New York where he lived, worked and recorded for a few years in the underbelly of New York’s Lower East Side. His darkly challenging album Death Row Tales in 1994 bears testament to that dark and dangerous lifestyle. Since then he released 4 albums and 3 EPs, all embracing different aspects and genres of his musical passion.

Now spending most of his time living in France, he has spent the past few months busily making a new album, his first in three years. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide will be released in September, and I tracked him down to his bespoke studio tucked away in beautiful Brittany in France where he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about it.

Q. Your last album, Make Us Happy, was released three years ago in 2016. Have you spent that time writing new material with the goal of making an album, or do you sit down and write the album once you have decided to make one?

Simon: The plan was to record and release a follow-up much sooner, but building the studio here in Brittany took much longer than expected. It was quite frustrating to be in this beautifully inspiring area but have no way to record, until I’d got my hands really dirty and finished the studio. I was writing all this time – I do tend to be always writing, or at least sketching and laying down ideas on my iPad or phone, but I was itching to get into the studio and record them. The studio was completed in October 2018, and I started work on the album I guess around November.

Q. How many songs would you typically write whilst making a new album and do you find yourself being very critical of what you write, to the extent that maybe there are songs you recorded that you have left off?

Simon: What tends to happen is I have a lot (tens, probably more) of basic sketches, some more complete than others. Then a few will start to emerge as definite contenders. Around these I’ll start to form an idea for the overall shape of an album. The album started out with the title Wood Amongst the Trees, but I’d already sketched the title The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide as a possible song title in a separate thread of my sketches, intending that for a different album. Then as the songs started to emerge I realised the themes were pushing me towards The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide, so I shelved the Wood album ideas and started to look for the rest of the songs for this album. Yes, I’m super-critical of what I write! Much gets thrown away – or at least stored in folders called “song ideas” by year, such that I have countless possibilities to go back over, which I do from time to time. Occasionally I’ll dig into these archives and pull something out that I complete. My last single, “Human Nature,” was one of these that had been sitting on file for at least a year or more – not lyrically, just the guitar shapes and song melody. As to leaving off songs that are completed: not often really, as I find the process of completing the song in the first place pretty well determines whether it’s going to make the album. So if a song is not coming up to scratch, it doesn’t get finished. At that point I should throw it away… but it ends up in an “ideas” folder anyway. There was one complete song that didn’t make this album, though it was intended to be included – when I came to sequence the songs, I simply couldn’t fit this in. Thematically it was wrong. It’s a song called “Mary’s Home,” about a woman I met when I was in my 20s who’d spent most of her adult life in an asylum, and was child-like at 45, working as a cleaner in a cafe I worked in briefly. When all the songs were completed this one really didn’t fit. Not sure if I’ll release it or put it on another album. We’ll see. Also the single “Without You,” from the end of 2018, was originally meant to be on this album, but that was from the Wood Amongst the Trees mindset, and again, I didn’t really feel it belonged on this album. I’ve been playing it a lot live and actually want to re-record it as there’s a tiny error in the middle 8 lyric that bugs me, and I think it’s benefited (as most songs do) from being performed a lot. So it may end up on an album called Wood Amongst the Trees, or I may scrap that concept altogether and include this on a different album. There’s also the possibility that I re-record it with musicians in a different style; I never know…

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Q. After recording the songs how much do you have to listen and live with the tracks until you’re finally happy to release them, and do you ever listen back to your old albums and enjoy them, or do you hear all the things you wish, in hindsight, you had done to them?

Simon: Oh blimey that’s a can of worms! For this album I was trying to keep everything very live and spontaneous. I didn’t want a big production – Make Us Happy wasn’t a “big” production, but it had different forces and was definitely a project that took some serious mixing and editing, arranging etc. Most of that album had percussionist Javier Forero playing cajón, so I recorded that first with a guide, sometimes final, acoustic guitar part, then built everything around that. So violins, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, etc. were all added one by one, and that meant I could do several takes of each instrument, then compile the best takes. It also meant that I could really take time getting the vocal takes I wanted. The new album, however, I recorded mostly in one takes – vocal and guitar together. And this ended up giving me a completely different set of problems, ones that ended up being every bit as challenging as the multi-track approach. So my original idea, to quickly lay down an acoustic one-take album, went out of the window very quickly! I had to make some serious compromises. Firstly, I was playing every song finger style, something I’d been drawn back to these past couple of years – I studied classical guitar in the ’80s but hadn’t used finger style much in the intervening years. Now playing finger style and singing at the same time is – for me, at least – not as comfortable as plectrum playing. Or, at least, I had to re-learn how to do this. So as I was writing I was also exploring techniques – “Human Nature – the Cry,” for example, is an arpeggio (p.i.m.a. for those who play classical; I’ve written the score and it is available!) played throughout the entire song, and a couple of the shapes are a bit tricky to manage – and my engineering and producer head shouted at me whenever I misplayed or crashed a finger on a string, or let the wrong string ring, etc., etc. So I had ongoing battles between perfection and performance at every take. On top of that, when you’re doing loads of takes to try and get the playing exactly right and perfectly in time – can’t click-track this kind of thing – there’s often an engineering problem; you move a few inches to the left and go off mic, or the guitar develops a buzz (this happened to my lovely Furch, un-beknown to me the under-floor heating that I thought was so clever to install in the control room dried out the Furch sitting on a floor stand…) Add to that the necessity to get a great vocal at the same time and – well, it was to say the least a very frustrating process. In fact “Human Nature – the Cry” led to bleeding fingers on my right hand as I played the arpeggio over and over for three days to get it right… ah, so that’s why classical guitars have nylon strings!

So listen and live with the tracks? Yes, and try not to be so OCD about sound quality or timing issues or mis-fingerings, etc. The song “Different” caused me real heartache! So the original almost-demo version I laid down was in my view the best I’d ever sung it. The falsetto voice in the choruses had exactly the fragility I wanted. But some of the verses weren’t great. For a couple of weeks I’d record another version and then leave it a day or two to compare. Always came back to the very flawed first take. But I knew I simply couldn’t get away with it. So eventually managed to re-record a version I was happy with – performance-wise – only to find that the final chorus was really distorted on the guitar mic. The guitar part throughout is very delicate, and I’d obviously set the input level to suit that. But with no possibility to adjust it when I got to the end (the perils of working solo), there was a very limited amount of headroom to play with, and I crashed through that. In the end I had to live with it.

I don’t tend to listen to old albums, though when I do hear tracks I’m usually just about OK with the result from that distance, with the exception of the Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days; I hate the sound of that album. I was working in a leased studio (before I built my studio in the back garden) that had the worst control room ever, and I tried to compensate for so much, ended up over-compressing and distorting much of the album. I keep saying I’ll re-mix and master it, but it’s such a big job I probably won’t; I tend to want to move forward always and not dwell on past recordings.

Q. You write, record, and produce your music in your own custom studio. Do you like the autonomy of working this way, or would you like to work with a producer who would take some of the creative decisions for you? I think I am right to say that the last time you were produced by someone else was back in your Big Bam Boo days (for the uninitiated, check out the 1989 album Fun Faith and Fairplay),although you did have others working with you on the recording, mix and mastering of your acoustic album Hobohemia in 2005.

Simon: Well, I’d absolutely love to have a producer or an engineer work with me! But the reality of being an independent self-releasing artist is that there is simply no money for that. In the “old days,” signed to a label, a well-rehearsed band could put an album together in weeks with the right team. And certainly sharing some of the creative decision-making would take the album in different ways and could be rewarding. However, I do like the autonomy, of course. I’m not trying to either “get a deal” – or compete with anyone with my artistic output. So I’ve no “sound” to mimic or achieve in order to satisfy some vague industry trend or standard. In fact, I think music has become so commodified and coded that as an independent artist I feel an obligation to do exactly what I want, even to the point of it not appealing to mass media. I’ve learned to make records (let’s call them that – they are a record, a document of artistic statement of a particular time, not a product to be foisted upon a gullible public!) that satisfy, or at least attempt to satisfy, my artistic development. The popular song format has been around a very long time, and my duty as an artist is to try and stretch it, build upon the format, just a little. Not revolutionary, just evolutionary. Trying to dig into the genre and dig into my inner musician to see if I can add something to the cannon.

Hobohemia was interesting in the making in that I hadn’t recorded for many, many years. In fact, I was rather out of voice at the time and had only just started playing live again. So whilst I had an engineer at the studio, it was pretty well straight takes. I called in my friend Richard Mainwaring (producer of the first Big Bam Boo album, with a very fine set of ears!) to help me master it in my then-damp, dark studio basement, and that was really helpful. However, going back to your earlier question, I cannot listen to that album at all! For me the voice is strained and restricted. I was an emotional wreck at the time, going through divorce, becoming a single parent, etc., and it shows. When asked at gigs which album they should buy, I tend to steer people away from that one, even though my attic has plenty of stock that I should be shifting! I always feel that they may be disappointed by it, having seen me live currently. But then again, plenty who do buy it tell me they love it so… what does the artist know? Nothing!

Q. Your new album is an acoustic, solo affair. This is only the second time you have made a whole album like that. As I mentioned, Hobohemia was your previous acoustic album, and it includes one of your most popular songs “Fish Out Of Water.” Did that have any influence on your decision to make the new album, or is there a particular story and theme behind the new album that made you think it should be recorded in an acoustic style? I believe you recorded the songs in live takes. Did that present you with any particular difficulties?

Simon: Well, yes, difficulties I’ve already spoken about, and in future if I record this way I probably will take the songs out live for a time first to really know them and break them in. I think there may have been a small influence of the Hobohemia legacy that made me want to do a totally acoustic album, but mainly it was that here in France, where I’ve lived for a couple of years now, my audiences are mostly real listening audiences. It’s the reception I get here that encouraged me to write songs that were less “in your face” than before. So songs like “Patience” or “Requiem,” from the new album, go down really well here, even though not everyone understands the lyrics to any real extent, but they do seem to get the overall emotional story. And that is an interesting situation for me, as I began my songwriting career as a 16 year old trying to write interesting, lyrical, and not very commercial songs in my various bedsits and hippy camps! Some time around the ’80s I must have decided that I needed a “record deal,” and that’s when the art took second place, I think. So, in a way, being here is a return to an artistic sensibility not based on any commercial considerations. I’m pretty sure I can say that I wouldn’t have written most of this album had I still been in the UK and trying to gig there.

Q. Do you think in the future you may return to a full band sound like you had on Make Us Happy, or would you even consider working collaboratively with musicians in a band as you did in 2013 on your Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days? What are the pros and cons of working these ways and in the end do you actually prefer working alone?

Simon: Definitely planning a follow up to Make Us Happy; I’ve wanted to for a while. It may be called Makes Us Mad, as the political situation worldwide continues to deteriorate and distress me. I have started collecting musicians I feel would work for this next ensemble piece. I want to see if I could get a near-full Breton musician line-up. So that’s probably my next move. There are sketches in a folder, and of course the studio is ready. Biggest problem here is everyone lives 50 kilometres away from anything. So getting disparate forces together the way I could in Brighton in the UK is a far harder task. But, fortunately, most of the musicians I’ve met are keen to be involved in anything challenging and new, so that’ll happen eventually.

I’ve also just this week had a visit from an old friend from my Berlin and New York days, who has been living back in Australia these past 5 years. I last saw him in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was living, designing sets for the Kirov Ballet. We did a couple of great shows there with his band. He’s putting a really exciting audio-visual project together, and it looks as if I’ll get involved. It’ll be a live show over three days in a theatre in Edinburgh next year, not available as a recording, but as a video eventually. Something big and noisy and completely uncompromisingly art-rock! As to a rock outfit like Dr. Scardo, probably not, but I did recently meet a piano player and rhythm section at a “boef” (a jam session) in Dinan, and we promised we’d try and get together and do something. I’m keen to try a sort of piano trio with guitar outfit in a cabaret type of setting, sort of louche and slightly decadent. Funny enough a few of my songs will work as they are with a piano backing. We’ll see!

Q. After over 30 years of writing songs do you feel more creatively equipped and inspired now than in the past, and do you continue to strive to find words and music to illustrate your songs that stand out from the ordinary and contrived songwriting, that could be said to be widespread these days? Is it possible that this laudable attribute in making your songs as interesting and challenging as you can could somehow mean people find it hard to pigeon hole your style? This is probably a good thing anyway, isn’t it? I mean, after all, great songs are exactly that, whatever their style or genre, and who wants to ruled by what people expect you to do or sound like? Has it held you back, or are you past caring?

Simon: More equipped, definitely. Inspired, too, but it is always hard work, my cliché-o-meter works overtime. Certainly that means I’m not pigeonholed, but it makes following my own path harder, and whilst musicians now have the means of production, the sheer volume of noise out there makes it very difficult to be heard. As to being held back or whatever, I really don’t know. I’m not good at self-promotion. I used to be way back in London in the ’80s when I was flogging my various bands, but now I really don’t know how to do all that stuff, so I’m not past caring, but I am really more interested in spending my time creating works of beauty.

Q. Once the album is released in September, what do you plan to do next?

Simon: I’m already planning the next projects as I’ve said, Breton musicians, cabaret quartet, and Edinburgh project – no doubt something else will come up, too, that may distract me from all or any of these projects. The important thing is to be always creating, always writing. I intend to also spend my time booking shows here in France, build up my network of musicians for my own projects, and possibly get involved in others.

So after a thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and enlightening conversation with Simon in his lovely French countryside studio I thanked him kindly and wished him well before heading off to listen to my copy of his new album which I shall enjoy reviewing for you next month.

Live Review: Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Nathans & Ronstadt

Upton House Concerts, Upton, MA

April 6, 2019

It has been about a year since I last attended an Upton House Concerts gig. As advertised, it’s a cozy event, like a gathering of friends in a living room. And the series has plenty of regular attendees, so in a way it is. And since this host of the series is a songwriter himself, the one thing I know about any artist invited to perform as part of the series is that he or she will be outstanding songwriters. Or, as in this case, they. Aaron Nathans and Michael Ronstadt.

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Guitarist Nathans and cellist Ronstadt perform a unique style of song-driven folk music. Unique, yes, because all people are unique in their own ways. But that’s not what I mean, of course. Unique because you don’t often hear a guitar and cello duo.

Early in the first set, the duo performed a wistful song about “Old Film,” a tune that lyrically paints a vivid picture, while the cello adds a rich warmth. Also noteworthy early on were the energetic day-in-the-life song “Doing the Best I Can” and “Take My Words,” a song whose cello part can best be described as blues cello. (Really.)

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

After a crowdpleasing cover of “Englishman in New York,” Nathans & Ronstadt rolled out the rich, warm, energetic, Americana-esque toe-tapper “Corners.”

Next up was perhaps the angriest, darkest song I’ve ever heard about a peanut allergy, “Turncoat Peanut.” I can only assume Tom Lehrer was channeled during the writing of this song.

And yet there was no letdown as the first set closed with “I Go Low” and “Conshohocken Curve,” the latter a song about breaking up while stuck on the often backed-up Philadelphia-area freeway segment.

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ronstadt switched to mandolin to kick off the first couple of tracks of set two, bringing a new sound to the duo for “Ghost Writer” and “If I Had an Axe.”

After a power and intense mid-section of the set (during which I was paying such attention I didn’t even think to take detailed notes), the second set continued with “Range Anxiety,” a story-song built around electric car battery life (range anxiety), a great tension-building tune with verses reminiscent stylistically of the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.”

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up was a nostalgic tune about confiding in your barber, “Old Joe’s Chair.” And the evening closed with a powerfully rockin’, heavy prog-folk reimagining of “All Along the Watchtower.”

In all, it was a fun evening with a pair of engaging characters, a couple great songwriters both lyrically and musically, and a duo of talented musicians. Those six people were, of course, just two. Aaron Nathans and Michael Ronstadt. Absolutely a pair of people worth spending an evening with musically.

Looking Ahead

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Upton House Concerts have completed this season. Watch their Facebook page again later this year for next season’s schedule.

Nathans & Ronstadt have several gigs listed for the rest of this year on the gigs page of their website, though the only two shows currently listed before the end of the summer are June 8th in Phoenixville, PA, at the Black Walnut Winery Tasting Room & Wine Bar and July 19th in Lansdowne, PA, at Jamey’s House of Music. Obviously, check back to see if they add additional shows to their schedule.

Also check the individual, solo websites for Aaron Nathans and Michael G. Ronstadt to learn about some of their other musical endeavors.

Live Review: Ari Hest House Concert

Ari Hest

House concert in Shrewsbury, MA

March 30, 2019

Sometimes I simply trust the concert promoter. In this case, this concert series is hosted by Monica Mansfield, producer of Mostly Rock ‘n Roll – here’s a link to a 2017 episode featuring Ari Hest – so I reserved my spot at this show without even listening to any of Ari Hest’s music beforehand. I also didn’t look into Ari’s background before attending the show, discovering on-site that he was nominated for a Best Folk Album Grammy in 2017 for his collaboration with Judy Collins, Silver Skies Blue.

As is so often the case in this particular concert series, tonight’s concert once again featured a memorable vocalist. Ari has a booming, rich voice with a little gravelly rasp and a sort of nasal echo that adds relatability, emotion, and poignance to his songs. I often found myself thinking of Ari’s sound as a modern, updated version of some of the full-voice, warm feeling-inducing maintstream, crossover folk singers of the seventies, people like Jim Croce, though there’s no historical exact match to Ari’s original sound.

Ari opened his first set with a couple personal songs among his initial trio – “Good to Be Back,” about family, and “Sato,” about his dog George Harrison.

Next up, “Willing to Try” was a ’70s-style, singer-songwriter pop song that rides a bit of a groove. “Still Crazy After All These Years” was a fitting cover. And I really liked the way “One Two” built to power, with its catchy, energetic vibe.

“Set in Stone” was a melancholy, emotional number with a kind of “traveling song” rhythm. And “Balcony” – a song from Bluebirds of Paradise, the duo in which Ari performs with his talented wife Chrissi Poland – was slow, mellow, and soulful. And it had some Brazilian guitar influence, which Ari pointed out and I, you know, then heard and was able to identify so specifically because he told us what we were listening to.

Ari then stepped up the tempo with “I’ll Be There,” a cheerful little ditty about an ex; the key lyric herein is “I’ll be there to make you miserable.” And he closed the first set with the uplifting “Bona Fide,” a song about his neice.

Ari opened his second set with an audience Q&A. Early in the set I heard a bit of a jangly Dirty Guv’nahs-esque vibe. Second-set standouts included a haunted, rolling number called “The Weight”; “All Because,” with its build to very insistent vocals and prominent use of gravelly lyrics; Bluebirds of Paradise song “Forever More,” with its cool, jazzy vibe; and rich, cheerful mid-tempo ditty “Cranberry Lake.”

Ari closed the evening with “Make It Up,” a tune with a bit of a funky rhythm, and the softly emotional and powerful “Concrete Sky.”

Though I allowed the evening to be a surprise, the result wasn’t really much of a surprise. It was a great evening featuring an exceptionally talented artist with a very special voice. And now I know to look forward to the next time I get to hear Ari perform.

Looking Ahead

Per the “Tour” page of Ari Hest’s website, he’ll be performing at Davidson College in Davidson, NC on May 4th. He also has May and June dates scheduled that will take him to New York, Maine, Michigan, and Virginia, plus more dates in North Carolina and Massachusetts. If you’re in any of those states, you should click through to see if you can catch him in your area.

And this house concert series continues on May 4th, with a concert by Pushing Chain.

Interview with Carmine Appice and Album Review: Camine Appice – Guitar Zeus

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Interview with Carmine Appice interspersed with Album Review of Carmine Appice: Guitar Zeus

Carmine Appice is a true living rock and roll legend. His credentials are practically unparalleled when it comes to accomplishments in modern music. He’s a drummer, vocalist, songwriter, author, educator, storyteller and, overall, raconteur who has done it all. Beginning his professional career in the ‘60s with Vanilla Fudge, Appice created the template for contemporary rock as we know it. Predating and paving the way for Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and a number of guitar and theatrically-based bands, Appice almost single-handedly forged the genre known as “stoner rock.” The drummer-vocalist was also a founding member of the bands Cactus and worked with Jeff Beck and VF bassist Tim Bogert in Beck, Bogert & Appice. Perhaps one of Appice’s most commercially significant musical stints was as a member of Rod Stewart’s band. It was there that he also wrote one of Rod’s biggest hits to date, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and the follow up “Young Turks.” During the ‘80s, Appice worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, Edgar Winter and led his own groups King Kobra and Blue Murder.

image courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

Currently, Appice is on the promotion trail discussing the re-release of a major recording project he began in the mid-‘90s called Guitar Zeus. In it, the drummer/producer brought together some of the finest guitarists of all time to collaborate on a multiple original song project that brought various genres of hard rock to the forefront.

“Actually, this idea started in ’95 and ’97 when I was working in a band called Mother’s Army with Joe Lynn Turner and Bob Daisley,” explains Appice. “I was doing searches for band names because it had been ten years since I did a solo album and I wanted to do something new.”

It took Appice a couple years to get a record deal for his new project, but, as fate would have it, he did a clinic at a music store with guitarist Brian May. At that time Appice came up with the concept of guest guitarists from various genres appearing on his solo album, so May ended up being the first artist he asked. Ted Nugent was also invited as well as the members of Kings X and many other artists.

“I finally got this deal out of Japan and I recorded it,” says Appice. “I did two records, and it cost me $100,000. I paid everyone who played on it the going rate and Guitar Zeus was released in Europe and Asia. It sold over 150,000 records worldwide. It was finally released in the U.S. in 2005 with a European label that eventually went out of business. I decided I wanted to re-release these albums because everybody that’s on it is big again.”

And there is a virtual who’s who of rock guitar on Guitar Zeus. The list will surely make any serious music and guitar fan salivate profusely. On-board are Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Richie Sambora, Steve Morse, Brian May, Ted Nugent, Slash, Neal Schon, Yngwie Malmsteen, dUg Pinnick, Pat Travers, Vivian Campbell, Jennifer Batten, Warren DeMartini, Elliot Easton, Bruce Kulick, Dweezil Zappa, Paul Gilbert, Leslie West, and many others.

“Of course, Brian May is huge now with all the movie stuff as well as Neal Schon with Journey,” says Appice. “But back in the ‘90s, grunge was big, and we were all dinosaurs. I spent most of the ‘90s working in Japan because a lot of folks didn’t wanna hear from guys of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and even ‘80s. I also had a bunch of tracks that never really made it to the American version of this project.”

Brian May and Carmine Appice; photo courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

Guitar Zeus features over 30 original tracks all digitally re-mastered by Stephen DeAcutis and executive produced by Carmine Appice himself. The core band on each track consists of all stars Tony Franklin on bass; Kelly Keeling on vocals, keys, and rhythm guitar; and, of course, Appice on drums. Highlights of some of the tunes include Brian May’s wah-wah guitarwork on “Nobody Knew,” Steve Morse’s dark proggy Jeff Beck-like licks on “4 Miles High,” Ted Nugent’s inspired feedback-drenched fretwork on “Days Are Nights,” Pat Travers’ re-make of “Do You Think I’m Sexy,” and many other performances too numerous to mention. It’s a very special digital release that will be available on all platforms along with special vinyl and CD editions.

“A lot of people will finally get to hear this that never heard it before,” says Appice. “There is a Soundgarden meets Blue Murder kind of vibe with the tunes that has a lot of guitar playing and jamming like the ‘70s. Each song has its own tuning and is unique. And there is a lot of ear candy on here where the mix moves the music around the speakers like in the days of The Beatles’ Revolver or Sgt. Pepper where sounds would move from left to right in your head.”

For all the information on Guitar Zeus and Carmine Appice, just go to www.guitarzeus.net and www.carmineappice.net.

This Weekend

On Saturday, March 30th, Appice will be teaching a Drum Master Class at the Trilogy Lounge in Seymour, CT. On June 29th, he’ll be performing as a member of Vanilla Fudge at the Boulton Center in Bay Shore, NY. Watch Carmine Appice’s website for additional dates, and be sure the double-check with the venue to confirm.

Single Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – “What It Is”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: “What It Is” (Producer: Adam Hanington)

Jimmy Lee Morris - What It Is

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

The latest release from British singer-songwriter extraordinaire Jimmy Lee Morris comes in the form of a tight, nifty single entitled “What It Is.” Morris has previously released fine independent acoustic-based folk and pop that has always put the emphasis on wordsmithing and strong melody. This latest single adds an infectious beat to his resume that recalls everything from the Beatles and the Kinks to Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. The song is a pure collaboration of Morris’ ever present acoustic guitar as an anchor, with the addition of Hanington’s production gloss of synthesized keyboards and bouncy rhythms. The result is a tune that is extremely catchy and fun, with a nod to the ‘60s as filtered through a mid-‘80s lens. If you don’t start tapping your feet and gyrating in some form or fashion upon the song’s first downbeat, then you better check your pulse!

Looking Ahead

The “live” page of Jimmy Lee Morris’ website shows several dates coming up in 2019, including three in March: Friday, 1st March at Napoleon Inn, Boscastle, Cornwall (9:00 pm); Saturday, 23rd March at Crowhurst Park, Battle, East Sussex (8.30 pm); and Saturday, 30th March at The Jolly Sailor Inn, West Looe, Cornwall (8:00 pm). For dates April and beyond – and to check for additional gigs to be added – be sure to check the website.

Single Review: Chris Ruediger – “Country at Heart”

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Chris Ruediger: “Country at Heart”

If you are blessed with the talent to write and sing music, it often helps if what you do fits snugly into a musical genre. If you are going to choose a genre to perform in (if indeed you have the choice, it may just be in your blood), then country music is certainly a massive scene to be part of. It’s hard to be groundbreaking in such an established and competitive market but there is a level of quality to aim for, a high water mark of achievement. Not everyone can be that lucky, but it just may be that Chris Ruediger has the talent to reach that goal.

Chris Ruediger - Country at Heart

photo courtesy of Off the Stage Music

I would certainly say that Chris Ruediger’s latest single “Country at Heart” has the potential to be right up there with the country music mainstream. He seems to have a natural and easygoing ability to put a song across, and the song itself has a classic but contemporary feel, a pleasant memorable melody, and I expect for many country music fans, a lyric that they can relate to. Like he says in the song, “I’ve always had this in me from the start, I’m country at heart.” His rich voice belies his 19 years of age, and having listened to his previous singles, I would say this latest one is his strongest to date. There is an increasing maturity to his writing, and this song is a tour de force of classic country pop. A coming together of all the right musical ingredients to make it easily his best yet.

It was recorded at the legendary Sound Emporium in Nashville, written by Chris Ruediger and produced by Off the Stage Music‘s Nina Pickell. It was recorded in the room where “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and countless other hits have been recorded over the years.

Chris Ruediger

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Chris would appear to be something of a rising star having been nominated for the 2018 New England Music Awards in the Male Performer of the Year and Country Act of the Year categories as well as a nomination for Country Act of the Year 2018 by the Boston Music Awards. Things look like they are heading in a positive direction for Chris Ruediger, and it is exciting to hear that he is working on a bigger project to be released in 2019.

You can catch Chris live in Nashville on Thursday 7th February from 8.30 pm at Frisky Frogs or at Belcourt Taps on Thursday 14th February from 6 pm.

Keep up to date with his music and live shows through his social media and website, chrisruediger.com, or on Facebook and Instagram.

Looking Back

For more about Chris Ruediger, you can also read publisher Geoff Wilbur’s review of Chris’ 2017 EP, Secrets.