Album Review: Blurred Vision – Redemption

Blurred Vision

photo by Eric Duvet; photo courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

Album Review of Blurred Vision: Redemption

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

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

Blurred Vision

image courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

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

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

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

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

Blurred Vision

photo courtesy of Judy Totton Publicity

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

Album Review: Fuzztones – NYC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Fuzztones: NYC (Cleopatra Records)

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

Fuzztones - NYC album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

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

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

Album Review: Marina V – In V Minor

Marina V

photo by Arsen Memetov; photo courtesy of Marina V

Album Review of Marina V: In V Minor

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

Marina V - In V Minor album cover

image courtesy of Marina V

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

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

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

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

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

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

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

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

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

Marina V

photo by Justin Higuchi; photo courtesy of Marina V

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

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

Marina V

photo by Arsen Memetov; photo courtesy of Marina V

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

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

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

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

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

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

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

James Williamson & Deniz Tek

photo by Anne Tek; photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

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

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

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

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

James Williamson & Deniz Tek - Two to One album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Album Review: Patsy Thompson – Fabulous Day

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Patsy Thompson: Fabulous Day

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

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

Patsy Thompson - Fabulous Day album cover

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

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

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

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

Patsy Thompson

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

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

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

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

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

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

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