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 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.

Album Review: Tosha Owens – Wrong Side of Right

Tosha Owens - Wrong Side of Right

image courtesy of Tosha Owens

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Tosha Owens: Wrong Side of Right

Multiple award-winning singer-songwriter Tosha Owens hits it out of the park with this latest blues and soul drenched venture. Owens has been a consistent fixture on the Detroit music scene since the ‘80s, and this album proves she is not one to rest on her laurels. She and guitarist/producer/co-writer Brett Lucas are a great team that has crafted a dynamic set of songs that are sure to resonate.

Tosha Owens

photo courtesy of Tosha Owens

“You Ain’t Right” opens the album with a minor mid-tempo blues burner about a one-sided relationship. From the get-go, you know Owens is gonna give it to you straight. The title track “Wrong Side of Right” follows and picks up the pace, with some light funk as the singer talks about choices and those gray areas in between. “I’ll Just Say It” is a great ballad in the vein of Al Green. This features a smooth jazz touch from John Douglas on flugelhorn. Somewhat of a surprise is a deep cut from the Janis Joplin songbook called “Half Moon.” There are some great horns here along with Lucas’ funky guitar and a standout performance from Owens. Another highlight is the first-person account of one’s need to “pay it forward” in helping those less fortunate, with the very soulful “Cold in Detroit Tonight.” Pianist Evan Mercer kills on the Ray Charles ballad “Ain’t That Love.” It’s a fitting and sweet way to put a beautiful bow on this stellar dozen of superb modern and classic soul and blues-rock gems.

Live Performances

The “Shows” page of Tosha’s website lists her 2018 shows. Keep an eye on that page as she adds 2019 performances.

Album Review: Persona – Metamorphosis

Persona

photo courtesy of Persona

Album Review of Persona: Metamorphosis

Persona - Metamorphosis

image courtesy of Persona

This is another extraordinary effort from heavy progressive metal band Persona. Comprised of Melik Melek Khelifa (lead guitar), Jelena Dobric (singer/piano), Yosri Ouada (rhythm guitar), Youssef Aouadi (drums), Walid Bessadok (keyboard), and Nesrine Mahbouli (bass), this Tunis-based outfit has produced a worthy follow-up to Elusive Reflections, which I reviewed here a couple years ago.

Jelena Dobric

Jelena Dobric; photo courtesy of Persona

From the start, you know Persona means business, as they kick off album-opener “Prologue – The Initiation” with a serious metal growl, proving the band’s progressive rock musicianship is matched by its metal attitude. “The Omen of Downfall” and “Esuriance Guilefulness Omnipotence” continue in that strain, with nearly angelic soaring vocals interrupted by growls as the tunes enter into heavier territory from time to time, supported by a menacing musical backdrop.

Melik Melek Khelifa

Melik Melek Khelifa; photo courtesy of Persona

The amped-up energy in “Esuriance Guilefulness Omnipotence” is carried over into “Armour of Thorns” via a less dense, energetic driving rhythm. I very much dig its rollicking tempo and baseline vocal melody, while musical explorations in the back half of the song add variety that keeps things interesting.

Still heavy and with some meaty, chunky guitarwork driving it forward in parts, the softer-touch “Netherlight” fits in nicely mid-album, though the opening growls of “Bete Noire” let the listener know the intensity is about to crank back up.

Nesrine Mahbouli and Youssef Aouadi

Nesrine Mahbouli and Youssef Aouadi; photos courtesy of Persona

I’m running out of adjectives, but “Invidia” and “Hellgrind” keep the energy level up, with “Hellgrind,” naturally, the darker of the two.

The energy level sustains for the rest of the disc, with “The Seeress of Triumph” a back-end favorite, with its insistent rhythmic energy, driving the album toward its closing “Epilogue – The Final Deliverance,” a pleasantly low-key release of pent-up energy that carries Metamorphosis to its conclusion.

Walid Bessadok and Yosri Ouada

Walid Bessadok and Yosri Ouada; photos courtesy of Persona

I’ve now reviewed two Persona albums, and it’s clear they’ve earned a place at the heavy progressive rock table (and concert/festival circuit), likely to appeal to a broad cross-section of fans spanning several rock/metal sub-genres. Truly inventive, progressive axework. Sweetly powerful and soaring vocals punctuated with rough-edged metal chops, replete with the requisite growls. And the songwriting skills to add variety to the song mix. I’m not sure which album is my favorite, Elusive Reflections or Metamorphosis, but I’d urge heavy prog-rock/metal fans to pick up one, play it awhile, and then grab a copy of the other.

Persona

photo courtesy of Persona

Looking Ahead

Keep an eye on Persona’s concert schedule. There’s nothing listed on their Facebook events calendar at the moment, but watch for future shows. And maybe also sign up for the band’s newsletter via the bottom of their webpage to make sure you don’t miss out. If they make it to Boston one of these days, you bet I’ll be there. (As Europe has a better festival circuit, I imagine you’ll have better luck catching them live there, if you live outside the band’s native Tunisia.) Indeed, if you get a chance, Persona’s music is the sort of power rock assault you just don’t want to miss.

Album Review: Justin Piper – Transcend

Justin Piper

photo courtesy of Justin Piper

Album Review of Justin Piper: Transcend

You first read about Justin Piper here at the Blog in the spring of 2017, when he was one of the songwriters “in the round” featured during Off the Stage Music’s first Behind the Songs event. Today, I’ll take you through a spin of Justin’s latest release.

As you listen to Justin’s album Transcend, you’ll quickly discover instrumental guitar stylings that are unique and intricate; his music is memorable, with song structure and progressions forming tight single units, all cohesive within the album as a whole, tied together intentionally by writing and ordering the songs to connect to those before and after. And, of course, Justin does have an identifiable guitar style, intricate though it is, tying his songs together, as well. The style, if it must be categorized, is perhaps cool, nature-themed jazz, but very adult contemporary singer-songwriter structured (sans the singer part), forming its own little corner of the easy listening genre, as it sure is easy to listen to. In fact, it’s a form of music that stands up to dozens of listens a month for months on end – I know that from experience – without fading in enjoyment.

Justin Piper - Transcend

image courtesy of Justin Piper

Most of the songs on the disc evoke outdoor imagery. In cases like album-opener “Lakeside,” for example, you can almost hear raindrops falling on the lake, and also at times the lake washing against the shore.

“Through Composed” makes me picture an intellectual journey. There’s a meandering nature to the versus, with a faster pace to the chorus, which brings forth thoughts of an accelerated periods of understanding something, interspersed within prolonged periods of seeking and questioning. If I make an effort to picture physical events, I can, as well. That’s the cool thing about Justin’s compositions. They go somewhere, and they’re open to interpretation, even if/when he had something specific (and different) in mind. Of course, a lot of our favorite songs are that way.

Speaking of favorite songs, one of my preferred cuts on this disc, “Camels,” is next. It sports a recurring energetic series of notes that seem to exist in a few spots on this album, with soaring bridges in between. Very hip, cool, and jazzy in nature, this is one of the standout tracks on Transcend.

Justin Piper

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The soft finger-picking on “Rondo” forms a welcome, familiar, comforting North Star each time through the disc. Relaxing and calming. Recalling elements of many of the other tracks but with a light sense all its own, at times seeming to cheerfully indicate beams of sunlight shining through gaps in the pine forest before giving way to slightly different but sonically similar “Lenny Three.”

On “Falling Through the Dark,” Justin takes a little more exotic musical turn, with heavy strumming and a somewhat otherworldly twang driving the music. It flows nicely into “Mahavishnu’s Lullaby,” which softens the hard edges a bit and replaces them with some winding musical twists and turns.

“Peace Three” picks up the pace, perhaps one of the truly jazziest numbers on the album, with lightly dancing runs returning to a frenetic base rhythm. Followed by the memorable rhythm of “Fayetteville Honey,” this pair of songs is a welcome guidepost along the album’s musical journey that sparks a joyful smile of recognition each time through.

Justin Piper

photo courtesy of Justin Piper

From there, “Nearly Arriving” softly sets the stage for another of my absolute favorites on this disc, the pleasant “Snow Shower,” a song whose musical sprinkles land softly and joyfully with a light, upbeat energy. Brings forth images of frolicking in the snow and, during the slower segments, perhaps catching a flake or two on your tongue.

After “Bugs” zips by quickly, with an odd little sound at the end – a bug crawling or flying quickly and then getting zapped? – Justin showcases an odd, halfway off-kilter sound on “The Line.” It brings to mind, for me, an image of a snake-charmer getting a cobra to rise, though that’s only a 90% correct image, as there are a few notes that don’t quite fit. With these two tunes, though, Justin has added a bit of tension to the listening experience.

So he winds the album down with a couple songs that unwind the tension. First, “Stutter Steps,” which is a little stop-and-start – stutter step-like, I suppose – before washing the album out to sea with “Bobbing,” a number that (you guessed it) rises and falls pleasantly before twittering away to an end.

By the end of the first listen, you’ll realize Justin Piper’s dynamic, original talent, combining his songwriting skill with a unique guitar-playing style that’s soft but substantial. And the resulting Transcend is an album that’s enjoyable across repeated listens.

Where to Catch a Live Performance

At the moment, Justin’s performance calendar only lists his recurring Monday night gig at the Bell In Hand Tavern in Boston. Get out to see him some Monday night, and check back for more performances as he adds them.

Album Review: Shawn Butzin – Northern Trails

Shawn Butzin

photo courtesy of Shawn Butzin

Album Review of Shawn Butzin: Northern Trails

This review is long overdue, as Shawn Butzin has already released another EP, Adventures, since, but Northern Trails is such a great album I need to tell you about it. Shawn’s music sounds comfortable and familiar, like a favorite old shoe. I suppose it’s best described as Americana or, perhaps, folk-influenced country. At one time, I might have labeled this California country-rock due to its Eagles-ish rock edge with folky overtones, though Shawn lands on the country side of that equilibrium while I’d place the Eagles on the rock side. But you know by now I rarely have a favorite album that fits neatly into a category. Shawn emotive and not-quite-gravelly vocal combines with energetic strumming and, most importantly, imaginative and catchy songwriting that keeps the album moving forward, never settling into a rut, always turning out new wrinkles into a cohesive set of songs.

I have several favorites on this album, and disc-opener “Carefree to Carolina” is the first. A travelin’ song with twang and a feeling of wide open spaces, it’s driven by a hooky recurring guitar bit and a wisftul, edgy vocal, always persistently pushing forward without abandoning its laid-back posture.

Shawn Butzin - Northern Trails

image courtesy of Shawn Butzin

It’s followed by full-on contemplative moodiness in “What Did I Mean to You,” a plaintive ditty with a purposefully plodding rhythm, all serving the lyrics well. And, as with so many of his songs, Shawn’s lyrical skill shines on this song, with his words precisely chosen, suiting the song’s distinct flavor. In this case, descriptive but not showy.

The jangly, fun “Homemade Jesus” is a toetapper of the first order, its homespun twang delivering a vocal line full of emotion, while a more straightforward harmony vocal line adds stability. The song is over before it really settles in, a quick ditty (and “ditty” is descriptive in this case) that’s sure to be an audience favorite.

“Leaving Colorado” and “Hometown Blues” return the album to its wistful, melancholy lane. In this respect, Northern Trails‘ song order is one of the things that makes it such an interesting listen, a cohesive whole that never bores. Even though each song has its own distinctive sound, I can envision a grouping that wouldn’t accentuate the songs’ individuality as much.

Shawn follows those two songs with a very cool cover of “Blue Bayou.” His vocal waver adds a distinctive Butzin flavor to the well-worn favorite, and he even pulls out an insistive vocal edginess while hitting the high notes that’s not widely used in the rest of the collection. I wouldn’t necessarily have expected this cover based on Shawn’s other songs, but it fits quite nicely among Northern Trails‘ other entries.

Shawn Butzin

photo courtesy of Shawn Butzin

I’d place “You and I” at the alt-country edge of the disc, if only due to the sort of Talking Heads-reminiscent music bed. (I didn’t catch that comparison until after a few dozen listens, but now I can’t unhear it.)

“Back Together Someday” is more pure folky Americana twanger, a notably hopeful number that utilizes brief but abrupt vocal pauses to great emotional advantage.

Shawn plays with the tempo a bit in “I’m Your Loving Man” before slowing things down on album-ender “Your Sweet Love,” a drawn-out-sounding ballad that seems like what you might hear during a slow dance at an old-school country music/’50s pop-rock dance hall; there are a couple spots where I almost expect Shawn to break into “Please Mister Postman.” (I checked, and that was a 1961 release, but yeah, the early ’60s still had that ’50s vibe.) Picture a mirror ball and a sea of couples slowly swaying to the rhythm, and you’ll get the vibe of “Your Sweet Love.”

As a whole, Northern Trails is a collection that stands the test of time. I should know – it’s been on my playlist for more than a year, and I still dig it every time through. So, yes, even though there’s a more recently released EP in Shawn’s repertoire now, this is still the last full-length release, and I heartily endorse checking it out.

Shawn Butzin Live

The “events” tab of Shawn’s Facebook page lists a couple of upcoming gigs. On Saturday, December 15th, he’ll be at the Acoustic Tap Room in Traverse City, Michigan. And on Saturday, January 12th, he’ll be at Rocky’s Bar and Grill in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Shawn’s bandsintown page lists a lot more upcoming gigs, including January 4th at the Snowbelt Brewing Co. in Gaylord, Michigan; January 24th at the Traverse City Whiskey Co. in Traverse City; and several more shows across Michigan (plus a March 15th date at Uncommon Ground in Chicago) through the rest of the winter.

Album Review: Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke – Everybody Has a Purpose

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke: Everybody Has a Purpose

Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke are a contemporary folk-rock duo that features stellar harmonies matched with skilled songwriting and heartfelt themes. In the five-plus years they’ve been together they’ve performed all around the United States, Mexico, and Canada spreading a message of peace, love and harmony.

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke - Everybody Has a Purpose

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

Fans of classic acoustic and folk artists like Peter, Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Arlo Guthrie, and others will certainly appreciate this duo. But their music has a timeless and limitless quality that is sure to satisfy any age or era.

The title track “Everybody Has a Purpose” lays the foundation for their music, with a message of being an individual and finding one’s place in the world. Echoes of Jessie Colin Young, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell certainly come to mind.

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

Another strong song represented here is Burke’s ode to a serviceman “Veteran’s Song (My Brother).” She has the voice of an angel and her depiction of a soldier who seems to be dealing with PTSD is powerful.

“Shadow At the End of the Road” stands out as well for its haunting melody and mood. It has a Byrds meets Buffalo Springfield kind of feel matched with marvelous vocals and a contemplative resonance.

The struggles of the working man are reflected in the Pete Seeger-like “Grandpa Was a Coal Miner.” Tunes like that and, basically, all their material is directed toward the common man, woman, and human experience.

Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

photo courtesy of Joe Kidd & Sheila Burke

There is a primary element to Joe Kidd and Sheila Burke’s music that is, at once, relatable and down to earth, yet spiritual and transcendent. The songs “Will Do” and “They Call it Romantic” are all that and are lighthearted and fun too.

Keep an eye out for this duo on the concert circuit as they keep a steady performance schedule throughout the year. Check their website for a list of upcoming performances, beginning with a Saturday, December 1st Rock For Tots benefit show at Freddy’s Bar & Grill in Clinton Township, MI.