The Road Back #3: Dr Scardo

The Road Back to Music Journalism #3: Dr Scardo’s Dark Dog Days Album

Discovering a New Album Through Twitter

Summer 2013

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

The Backstory

You may recall Simon Scardanelli as part of the 1980s pop group Big Bam Boo. The group had hits that charted in the UK and Canada back in 1989. While publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, in the mid-nineties I reviewed the album Death Row Tales by Simon’s band The Eye Camera. He and I remained in contact through the years. And in the summer of 2013, I spotted a tweet from Simon saying that he was offering a copy of his latest album, Dr Scardo’s Dark Dog Days, as a free download for a week so his fans could check it out. Intrigued, I downloaded it and dove in.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

This album was the first music I had decided to download based on a tweet. Indeed, I hadn’t been using any online source to find new music. And even though this album was downloaded on a whim, it finally sparked in me a desire to seek out new music online. Partly because it was unlike any of the music I heard on the radio, I suppose, it refreshed my desire to listen to music I couldn’t otherwise easily find. And even though I had known Simon previously, the new music I began to seek out after this was by other artists who I hadn’t previously known about. In fact the rest of my “Road Back” series will be about these other artists, all of whom I’ve discovered since the day in 2013 I donwloaded Dark Dog Days on a whim. At this point on the “road,” I didn’t have even the slightest hint that I would want to write about music again, but the ball was certainly rolling downhill.

Dr Scardo

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

The Album Review of Dr Scardo: Dark Dog Days

Dark Dog Days is a powerful statement about the state of the world. It’s a very issue-driven album. It’s dark. It’s often angry, sometimes brooding, other times melancholy, but mostly insistent, as if an album with an opinion, demanding to be heard. Musically, it’s modern, darkly moody rock with a nod to a synch-pop/rock past.

The dark-pop disc-opener, “Leave Us Alone,” is more than just a disaffected youth anthem; it channels the anger of all people marginalized by society. It’s followed by “Wall Street Hustle,” mixing a catchy recurring rhythm and hook into a lyrical soup attacking Wall Street and politicians for their damage to the working population with a tone that screams anger but also carries a hint of resignation about the way the world works.

Also worth noting: “End of the World” takes a look at civil disobedience and the resistance of the power establishment to protesters’ interests. “Dark Horse Damned” takes a shot at the overmedication of kids. “Resolution Oil” is a 7-minute, exceptionally engaging epic reproach of the oil industry and its impact on the world’s population. Even “If You Could See Me Now,” a 1989 Big Bam Boo song, is given a new, updated, fully modern dark rock treatment, emerging as a sort of slow, insistent, pleading ballad.

And finally, the title track takes aim at the way consumer commercialism has overwhelmed people’s lives so much that its importance in people’s lives has blinded them to what’s being done in the world right before their eyes. It’s amazing a nine-plus minute song can seem to go by so quickly, but like everything on the album, it’s well-crafted and features exceptional musicianship.

Whether or not you agree with its social commentary, Dark Dog Days, as an album, is an artistic masterpiece.

The Road Back #2: Van Ghost

The Road Back to Music Journalism #2: Van Ghost at the Newburyport Riverfront Music Festival

Discovering a New Band at a Festival

Summer 2012

Van Ghost

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Backstory

In the summer of 2012, my wife and I ventured to Newburyport, Massachusetts to check out the Newburyport Riverfront Music Festival. The large park in the middle of Newburyport was filled with attendees, and we found a spot to relax and check out the music. I hadn’t been to many live shows in the years since I quit publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, but this seemed like a great setting to enjoy a day in the sun and hear some music.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

Other than Milenita’s CD, I still hadn’t been inspired to seek out new music. As a result, I hadn’t discovered a new band from a live show in probably a decade. Well, Van Ghost‘s set was so impressive, I sought out their music online. The band was sharing its The Effect EP as a free download. So I downloaded it and enjoyed it for months. This EP included 5 of the 10 songs on the band’s The Domino Effect album. Listening to The Effect EP did spark my interest in discovering new music again. It didn’t exactly spark a surge in my pursuit of new bands, exactly, but I did begin to update my collection with recent CDs from my old favorites.  (And, by the way, Night Ranger’s Somewhere in California and Foreigner’s Can’t Slow Down are amazing CDs, every bit as good as the albums those bands produced in their heydays.) Again, a small step on my road back to music journalism. Eventually, I did purchase the full CD version of The Domino Effect.

The Concert and CD Review of Van Ghost: The Domino Effect

The concert itself was so long ago, I remember very little of it, but I do recall we had bad seats — we could barely see the bands. And I had checked out some of the music in advance. I expected a different band to be more impressive. However, from the opening song of Van Ghost’s set, I knew I was hearing something special. The powerful, straightforward, soft-to-mid-tempo arena-caliber rock ‘n roll, with soaring male and female vocals, soft but insistent guitarwork, and tight musicianship were apparent live and are what makes The Domino Effect such a special album. Several of the memorable songs were included on the EP, as well.

The album opens with the title track, “Domino Effect,” in which soaring vocals are tied together with nimble guitar lines. That’s your introduction to a winning formula. And if that song wasn’t convincing enough, it’s followed by “Cage,” a song that again showcases Michael Berg’s amazing, identifiable, old-school-rock vocals. “Easy on Me” is next, showcasing the interplay between Berg’s vocals and Jennifer Hartswick’s on a powerful mid-tempo number that deftly utilizes what sounds like a rock organ. Dude, this is modern-day, old-school, screaming-crowd-inducing, classic arena rock. Indeed, track four, “Drowning,” is the sort of power ballad that would cause lighters to be held aloft. “Modern Day Love Affair,” another favorite, is more musically playful. “Burden” is classic soft rock radio material. “Telling Stories” is a ballad with a little twang, while earlier tracks “Decisions” and “White Lies” are more straightforward catchy ballads. And the soaring, potentially arena-pleasing album-closer “Return to Innocence” hints at the bands ample funky rock chops.

The Domino Effect, in its entirely, is the complete package. It’s a rock and roll album that harkens back to the days of great albums, the sort that ebbs and flows while still producing great individual songs. If you’re looking for a blend of soft rock, arena rock, and progressive rock with strong musicianship and blow-you-away vocals, this CD belongs in your collection.

The Road Back #1: Milenita

The Road Back to Music Journalism #1: Milenita’s Gato CD

Discovering a New Artist By Picking a CD Out of a Store Rack

Fall 2011

Milenita

photo courtesy of Milenita

The Backstory

About four years ago, I was in the Sofia airport waiting for my plane to leave. I realized it had been more than a decade since I last purchased a Bulgarian-language music CD, so I perused the airport shops’ CD racks. I was looking for something that appeared professional, interesting, and unique. It was reminiscent of my days as a teenager, searching for new music in the used record store just from the information on the album covers. As you can see from the CD cover, I guessed this would probably be jazz-inspired. I liked the mix of English-language songs because they gave me a better feel for the disc’s musical style, as well.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

This was really the first time in the years since I stopped publishing that I had actively sought out new music. I had just started ripping my old CDs, but I hadn’t yet tried to expand my collection. And the fact that I discovered such a gem of a CD, one that I still spin regularly four years later, was the initial spark that restored my interest in new music. The fire to return to writing wasn’t strong yet. It would be almost another year until step #2 on the “road back,” but this was definitely the start.

Milenita

image courtesy of Milenita

The CD Review of Milenita: Gato

A jazz-infused, crooner-flavored, sometimes quirky, occasionally poppy blend of torch songs and playful melodies, Milenita’s Gato is a cohesive yet intriguing blend of styles, a little funky at times, jazzy at others, and engaging throughout. Some of the English language, particularly jazzy songs – notably “You Don’t Mind” and “Love Is Not Easy” – suggest a lounge singer in a James Bond film. (And with Milenita’s acting credits, she could fill such an on-screen role, too. Perhaps the next movie in the series after Spectre will require such a role?) Just a touch more playful but in a similar vein is the more playful “Sitting on the Fence” (which is accompanied with a fun video, by the way). The most similar Spanish-language song on the disc is “La Escalera,” while “Niama” fills that role among the Bulgarian-language songs. Tempo-changing tunes like the quirky, horn-driven “Gato Jmunderiño” and more insistent “Doktor Bashar” also highlight an album that leaves the listener wondering what’s next and begging for more even after 14 tracks.

My favorite song on the CD, however, remains “Cherni Kotaraci,” a catchy, energetic, playful (yes, there’s that word again, but this time in spades!) vocal romp that defies categorization though it still is clearly, undeniably a Milenita tune. Indeed, Milenita does a great job of mixing a variety of styles and tempos together into a cohesive CD that could still be described roughly as a mix of pop and vocal jazz.

Milenita

photo courtesy of Milenita

More Recently

Gato was a 2010 release. The following year, Milenita began a well-regarded stint acting in TV and film in Bulgaria. She continues to perform live, as well. Since Gato, Milenita has released some additional songs on YouTube. Indeed, I’d encourage you to join me as a subscriber to her YouTube channel. It’s been a while since her last YouTube video, though… and I can’t wait to hear what she has in store for us next!

Welcome to Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog

Welcome

Welcome to Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog. I’ll do my best to introduce myself and my blog in this, my first post.

For more than 13 years, from 1989-2003, I was a widely published music journalist. The last 9 ½ of those years, I was the publisher of Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter. Please see the “About the Publisher” page of this blog or read about my writing/publishing background here, on my personal website).

My primary career began to get in the way, and I’ve spent more than 12 years as a “civilian,” outside the music industry. But a little more than four years ago the first event occurred that began my journey back to music journalism, and in the summer of 2013 things really began to accelerate as I started aggressively seeking out great new music (in the couple of hours a month I could devote to it). The first several articles, in fact, will chronicle the sequence of events that brought me back to the fold, complete with reviews of recordings and performances by the great artists involved.

After that, the blog will settle into a mix of reviews and interviews, as well as, perhaps, some other music-related articles. I’ve received requests from some of my old Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter writers, as well as others in the industry (either as musicians or on the business side) about writing for the blog. Indeed, I’ll write but also serve as publisher/editor, with regular contributing bloggers (and maybe the occasional guest blogger). In that respect, this will be like any other publication. The difference is that most of us have other “day job” obligations, so there will be no deadlines. This first week, as I roll out my “road back to music journalism” series, I will post one or two posts a day. But the blog doesn’t have any subscribers yet, so I don’t yet worry about overfilling anyone’s mailbox. At the conclusion of the “road back” series, I plan no more than one blog post per day (quite possibly zero on most days), so feel free to subscribe without worrying about being inundated with e-mails.

Since this will be an after-hours and weekend project for those of us involved, and because it won’t be a money-making venture (at least, unless you, my readers, make it a wild success and force my hand), there won’t be much promotion of Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog. Therefore, I’m not sure how large our readership will be. But after more than a decade away from music journalism, I’ll be banking on the reputation I have with the music industry and music scene veterans familiar with my writing career and with the many years I published Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter. I’ll hold Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog to the same level of integrity. Therefore, I figure even if I don’t get a lot of hits, the reviews and interviews will at least be something from a respected source the bands we cover can link to, even if they’re nothing more than that. But I promise those of you who subscribe to or read this blog will be treated to coverage of some outstanding music. And like I said, hopefully a much larger following will discover this blog and turn to it as a resource for discovering great music.

For Bands and Publicists

For those of you looking for coverage in this blog, I suggest you reach out to me and my writers, but be patient. Since we all have other “day jobs,” we don’t have as much time to discover new music as we’d like. So please, suggest a song or two we can find online, and we’ll try to find time to listen and get in touch with you if we’d like a full collection of your songs to review. At that point, you can send a larger collection to us via e-mail (or send a dropbox link to our e-mail) or, if you prefer, you can send physical product – you can discuss that with the particular writer – and unless we’re surprised that we aren’t impressed, we’ll probably review you. Unlike Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter back in the day, which strove to review every physical recording we received in a descriptive manner (allowing readers to decide if they wanted to further check out the music), we’ll probably just write about our favorites on the blog. I’ll leave up to each writer, of course, the level to which something must rise in their opinions before they review it. Even so, our goal will be to describe the music so you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to further check it out.

And if I or any of my writers fail to get back to you when you reach out to us, please cut us some slack. I’ve been unable to keep up with the musicians who’ve started following me on twitter when I was just a former music journalist; I can only imagine I’ll fall even farther behind now that I’m writing again. So if you don’t hear from us, give us a month and try again. And be kind. We’re just people with other day jobs and outside lives doing this because we love it, even though we really don’t have enough time.

Do We Cover Your Style of Music? Yes, We Probably Do

We plan to cover every style of music. In my years as a music journalist, I covered all styles of music and learned to enjoy the very best of just about every style in the process. My other writers may have broader or narrower focuses. We’ll assemble a page with writer bios that will attempt to address this. Or you can just look for writers whose reviews you’ve enjoyed in their prior Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog entries.

As an aside to bands, this is also the reason we request you include band/artist bios and clippings (or links to them) when you send us material for review. Often, if a journalist is having trouble getting started on a review, he or she will turn to that material to jump-start the thought process. Sometimes the journalist will agree with what’s written and begin to hear those elements; other times it will spark a thought process about how he or she hears something different from what is suggested in the press material. In either case, it’s a helpful tool. Please do include that with your submissions.

For Industry Executives and Music Fans

Our goal is share some great music with you. Some of it will be unsigned and independent. (A majority of what I’ve discovered lately has been.) Some of it will be performers with record deals. We hope industry execs read our blog to discover great undiscovered music. We hope fans will read our blog to discover great music, period. As was the case with my publication many, many years ago, the goal will be to describe the music and allow you to decide. We’ll include links to help you sample the music online. And we hope you’ll enjoy reading the blog as much as we’ll enjoy writing it.

Conclusion

During the last decade-plus, I had set aside music journalism because of other obligations. This, however, seems like a way I will reasonably be able to resume that journey. I look forward to it.

So welcome to Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog. Of course, a lot of the material in this introductory post will be duplicated and/or adapted for some of the informational pages elsewhere on this website. Don’t be surprised if you notice. And…

Rock on, everyone!

Geoff Wilbur, Your Intrepid Blog Publisher