Single Review: Amy Kakoura & Simon Scardanelli – “Only With the Heart”

Amy Kakoura & Simon Scardanelli - Only With the Heart

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Single Review of Amy Kakoura & Simon Scardanelli: “Only With the Heart”

Amy Kakoura‘s rich, warm vocals are both powerful and delicate. Hers is the voice around which this duet revolves. She’s joined by Simon Scardanelli, whose classic, unique, quirky pop rock vocal delivery adds character to the tune. Simon’s voice is instantly identifiable, off-kilter but comfortably familiar in pop and rock realms, while Amy’s is more room-filling and theatrical. As a duo, Amy and Simon produce a memorable combination on “Only With the Heart.”

The song’s softness is driven home by the strings, while its power rises and falls like an ocean’s waves. Finally, it employs one of my favorite song tricks, seeming to end then returning for another powerful minute before finally fading away. “Only With the Heart” is an uplifting song well-conceived to play that role on a soft-touch playlist, likely also suited to a self-encouragement song collection.

Looking Ahead (and Back): Simon Scardanelli

You’ve seen us review Simon repeatedly herein – initially my review of his Dr Scardo release Dog Dark Days on Day Two of the Blog‘s existance as item number three of my “Road Back to Music Journalism” series; most recently RST’s review last summer of his single “It Really Is a Pity.” Before RST’s review, back in April 2020, Simon released “God Gave You Such a Winning Smile,” an edgy, jangling, thoughtful rock anthem I had intended to review, time-permitting, though my backlog was long and growing at the time. Definitely worth a listen, too.

You may occasionally find Simon performing live by checking the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. And, proving that lockdown time isn’t always wasted time, when I checked Simon’s page I noticed a link to this trailer for The Little Prince – A Musical, a new musical adaptation by Sam Chittenden and Simon Scardanelli. Simon’s always creating; always worth keeping an eye on.

Looking Ahead: Amy Kakoura

Though the calendar is empty now, check the “Dates” tab of Amy’s website to find out about future performances. You can also keep up with her on Twitter. And you’ll find a short clip of Amy singing on the Little Prince trailer mentioned in the last paragraph above.

Album Review: Ecorse Creek Orchestra – Tales From the Water Shed

Ecorse Creek Orchestra - Tales From the Water Shed

image courtesy of Ecorse Creek Orchestra

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Ecorse Creek Orchestra: Tales From the Water Shed

Ecorse Creek Orchestra is the pseudonym for Detroit-based singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Dean Carls. This is the second release for ECO, following the debut EP Get Your Voodoo On. This is a diverse album rooted in quirky folk tales, amusing personal observations and avant garde tunes.

“March of the Pandemic Shut-In” emerges on the scene as a semi-classical piano-based overture. The introduction of background TV and radio static and news reports reveal Carls’ wry sense of humor and commentary on what many humans have assuredly felt being inundated by all forms of media during quarantine and lockdown.

“Run Runaway” contains a Tom Waits-type growl fueled by a punchy horn chart. The story line seems to address the life of someone named Jackie who is trying to get one over on the mob. It’s got a very noir-like feel, with a moral that simply states “crime doesn’t pay!“

“I Spy, You Spy” is ripped right from today’s headlines. In these precarious times of Russian election interference and online hacking, Carls lays out a message that’s pretty straightforward, “These days it’s all too easy… I can get what I want through technology. I’m intruding on your privacy… I’ll watch you through your laptop, I’ll watch you through your phone, I’ll know when you’re at work and I’ll know when you’re at home.”

Carls dives into little-known history for a story about famed magician Harry Houdini in the song “Rosabelle Believe.” In it, the singer/composer details a tale of the magician and his wife Bess. Apparently he promised her that when he died he would try to communicate with her from the afterlife. And if he did contact her he would utter the title of a song that was the couple’s favorite known as “Rosabelle.” It’s got this gothic atmosphere, delivered by Carls, that gives it a slightly chilling effect.

“Let’s Go Let’s Go” shifts gears completely, with a track that has an upbeat early rock ‘n roll vibe. It’s got a repetitive chorus that indelibly hooks your ear. But then it throws a curve in the mid-section, with an odd time signature and tempo shift.

Hang on, because the song “Jolly Old Man” will hit you with something out of left field, yet again. Carls’ humor comes from all angles, and his ability to change his vocal sound and demeanor makes him a clever and formidable melodic chameleon. Here he takes the persona of some character right out of U.K. central casting, with the lines, “I’m just a Jolly Old Man, living in a manufactured can… I eat my din out of a tin… My body’s 90% sodium.” And the chorus hook will lull you into a trance, “But I like you and you like me and I like you and you like me and you.” Fans of Kevin Ayers, Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band and Abbey Road-era Beatles might get a kick out of this one.

“Party in the Backyard” follows and continues that deep cheeky humor that Carls cleverly places throughout. Again, he shifts his voice into a lower register to mimic a pretty convincing Jim Morrison-like cadence. The lyrics depict all aspects of a major house party in progress, complete with background crowd noise and some killer guitarwork. Pay attention, because in the middle of this tune Carls does a hilarious take-off on a Cheech and Chong-type bit that, when the cops are called for civil disturbance, the boys in blue get bamboozled by some fast talk. It’s a crazy track!

And then, from the ridiculous to the sublime, the album concludes with a somber tune dedicated to one of the most heinous race-related murders in history, “Emmett Till.” Till was a young black kid from Chicago who traveled through the southern U.S. to visit his uncle. He was murdered by a group of racists in 1955. Carls is joined by Australian Pink Floyd vocalist Emily Lynn who adds considerable melodic weight and drama to this heavy and sobering message. Carls sings, “They say he whistled at a white woman, but that ain’t no excuse… For taking a 14 year old boy’s life… His killers deserved the noose.” And the chorus chants “Crosses in Mississippi were burning, yet the world keeps turning… A country stood aside ignoring… But Emmett Till we won’t forget you.”

“I wanted to be true to the album title and make each song a tale of its own,” says Carls. “Some of the inspiration I drew from Johnny Cash’s songwriting because when you’re done listening to a Johnny Cash song, you know what the story of the song was about.”

Single Review: Natalie Joly – “Will You Ever Stop”

Natalie Joly - Will You Ever Stop

image courtesy of Nina Pickell, LLC

Backstory

It would have been a few years ago – 2018, maybe even 2017 – that I almost reviewed a Natalie Joly live gig, so this write-up is long overdue. I had planned to head up to Chopps American Bar & Grille in Burlington, MA after work, but work ran late that night, so I missed the chance. Natalie has been rising in the Boston area music scene for nearly a decade now, since she was 14, creating buzz and winning awards along the way, so I’ve been looking since nearly day one of the Blog for a chance to share her music on these pages. Scheduling hasn’t yet worked out to catch a live performance, but I am pleased to get a chance to review Natalie’s new single.

Single Review of Natalie Joly: “Will You Ever Stop”

Natalie Joly

photo courtesy of Nina Pickell, LLC

There’s a rich trademark tone to Natalie Joly’s vocals on this “Will You Ever Stop,” reminiscent of old-school edgy pop-rockers like KT Tunstall – and I hear a bit of Paramore’s Hayley Williams in Natalie raucous pop rock vocal ending – but right from the opening guitar riff this song in particular suggests a country-pop/rock vibe that would place Natalie on the radio alongside the Taylor Swifts of the world, borrowing heavily from the guitar-pop styles of the ’80s and ’90s but with updated vocal phrasing and tempo.

Throwing attitude through the verses and rounding it out with an expressive voice that hit some tonally wicked-cool notes, “Will You Ever Stop” confirms that Natalie Joly is radio-ready and poised to level up in her music career.

“Will You Ever Stop” drops today, January 29th, with the accompanying video scheduled for a February 5th release. This song is a follow-up to Natalie’s November 2020 release of catchy, syncopated, mid-tempo pop-rocker “Running Circles.”

Looking Ahead

There’s a full-length album in the works. And when Natalie has live gigs (or other events), you can find them on the “Events” tab of her Facebook page.

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.