Album Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – Truth is the Talisman

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Album Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: Truth is the Talisman

You know how we feel about Jimmy Lee Morris here at the Blog. He’s a singer-songwriter with an identifiable sound, a voice that can range from smooth and soft to that of an edgy rocker, and an ability to write in a variety of styles and voices, melding influences ranging from the obvious folk to multiple subgenres of rock ‘n roll and at times a touch of the blues.

His Truth is the Talisman release is a collection of 20 songs, spanning 40 years of songwriting, recorded by Jimmy during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Album-opener “Moon Over Cairo” had its roots in 1980, while the title track is all 2020. The album itself was released in January 2021, so I’m a bit behind on sharing it with you, but please take a listen and enjoy. It’s an interesting trip, spanning a variety of times and influences, covering the many faces/voices of Jimmy Lee Morris.

Though I’ll skip around a bit and share thoughts on several of my favorite songs, there are no weak links on this album; you can depend on the quality of every track, with each of them potentially being one of your favorites.

Jimmy Lee Morris – Truth is the Talisman

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

Of course, the very first song, the aforementioned “Moon Over Cairo,” is one that’s particularly worth mentioning. It’s got an eerie, “Wicked Game”-ish opening, a compelling rhythm, and a delivery that pulls the listener in, as if revealing an important secret. With prominent pianowork augmenting – and occasional guitar noodling supporting – the relentless rhythm, this is a slower-tempoed rock song, recalling for me something you might hear from Peter Gabriel or Sting.

The title track, next, is more dead-center the sort of sonically-rich storyteller I’ve grown to expect from Jimmy. “Truth is the Talisman” is well-crafted, lyrically insightful, and thoughtfully delivered with a warm earnestness. As always, Jimmy sets a high bar for himself.

“Get Away” follows, a bit of a “travellin’ song,” lightly voiced, with a little faster tempo than the song before it but still motoring along at just a modest tempo, tossing in some neat little playful hooks and just a hint of psychedelic feedback.

Both musically and lyrically, “You’ll See It in Her Eyes” sounds like it could have been the lead song on the soundtrack of a ’70s movie about starcrossed lovers. The pianowork, guitar accents, and Jimmy’s voice all stoke the melancholy.

Jimmy Lee Morris

photo courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

“Atlantic Highway” has a light, Wilderness Wood-like classic Jimmy Lee Morris vibe, as best embodied on that disc by its title track and “Campervan Song.” “Atlantic Highway” is a cheerful number that’ll lift your spirits with lyrics like “Mr. Harrison said if you don’t know where you’re going, any road you chose to take will take you there. So let yourself go where the wind is blowing, and you will always find yourself somewhere.” In all, the song is laid back, with the purpose of having the listener grin along.

The rest of the disc falls within the parameters of the songs above, all centering around Jimmy’s trademark, central sound while continually exploring his various influences.

“Hold Me Close,” for example, is a sweet, soft, almost lullaby-tempo love song.

I’m also particularly fond of the broad, bright openness of “Giving It All Away,” a song that occasionally brings to mind a dash of John Mellencamp, both early on and in some of the in-song transitions, though the places it travels elsewhere in-between are more uniquely Jimmy Lee Morris.

“I’ve Been Sinking Down” is a versatile number that’s delivered with a bit of an off-balance vibe throughout and that, with some restructuring, I’d think could be performed in a variety of styles, befitting band formats ranging from a jug band to a blues outfit to anything in-between. In the case of Jimmy’s “original” version, it’s a toe-tappin’ strummer atop a low-level but solidly rich music bed. In its present form, it serves as a solid lead-in to “Someone Like You,” a mid-tempo guitar-rocker that leans on just a little distortion and a ’50s/’60s rock-inspired arrangement to augment its energy level.

Another favorite, “Tomorrow Is Too Late,” which follows “Someone Like You,” is similarly styled and keeps its predecessor’s energy going.

Also noteworthy is “Love Will Come Your Way,” a rich, warm, mid-tempo number whose smooth delivery makes it feel like you’re lying contentedly on a sunny patch of grass, despite the actual weather outside on any particular day.

The album’s penultimate track, “I Never Thought,” is a slower number, primarily with a rich, orchestral feel but with a few bluesy chords scattered throughout to provide its uniquely original character. Think slow-dance song at a big country-leaning dancehall.

Jimmy closes the disc with the raucous, rock ‘n roll “Hey Hey.” As if directly from a Happy Days sock hop or the Back to the Future “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, if you didn’t know this was a Jimmy Lee Morris original, you could be convinced it’s a timeless rock ‘n roll classic. It’s a satisfying way to end the album.

And that’s it. I almost feel bad about skipping over some of the other songs on the disc, as they’ve become like old friends of mine during the last few months of listening, but they’re all along the lines of the songs I’ve written about above, with just enough variety to maintain interest, causing Truth is the Talisman to pass much quicker than you’d expect from a 20-song opus. It’s a solid disc, worthy of many. many listens, something that never surprises me from a Jimmy Lee Morris collection.

More From Jimmy Lee Morris

Jimmy has been busy since releasing Truth is the Talisman in January. In May, he released a four-song single featuring three additional tracks alongside “In the Diamond Rain”; and in August, he made available a nine-song LP entitled Homespun, which he notes on his Facebook page was recorded in 2007/08 with his late musical collaborator Andy Coote playing drums. As if that hasn’t kept him busy enough, he has branched out into some children’s book writing, as well.

Looking Ahead

There haven’t been any recent performances mentioned, but if and when Jimmy Lee Morris plays live, you can find those dates on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page.

Album Review: Space Cadet – Lion on a Leash

Space Cadet

photo courtesy of Earshot Media

Album Review of Space Cadet: Lion on a Leash (Wiretap Records)

The songs on Space Cadet‘s Lion on a Leash (available digitally and on vinyl) recall the jangly, energetic radio-friendly rock of Harvey Danger and Semisonic. Vocalist Matt Hock and guitarist David Walsh were two-fifths of punk rock outfit The Explosion, and a bit of that frantic punk energy can be found powering Space Cadet’s songs, as well. Within my personal music collection, the band whose sound most closely matches Space Cadet’s is Thought Beneath Film, whose 2014 release Cartographers preceded the launch of Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog by just enough time that I never reviewed the album.

Space Cadet – Lion on a Leash

image courtesy of Earshot Media

Lion on a Leash kicks things off energetically with “Forever For a While.” Its vibe is laid-back despite its uptempo beat and bouts of “la la la la la la” lyrical whimsy that’ll engender an easy smile and a bit of desk-chair dancing.

Perhaps the catchiest track on the album – though there are many, so it’s open for debate – is “Start Running Away,” which features a powerful rhythm, a prominent repetitive hook, and a guitar solo by Brian Baker (Bad Religion/Minor Threat) that adds that extra touch of texture to turn the song’s journey into something truly special. To put it in terms American Bandstand fans might understand: I’d give in an 85. It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

“If Only” is next, with a lush, grainy rock ‘n roll music bed atop an enticing, drum-led rhythm, while “No Accident” follows, guided by a more purposeful beat, a mainstream ’60s rock guitar buzz – with the music opening a bit for the beginning of the chorus – and a neat little bit of meandering guitar for a closing.

The tempo picks up again on “Scream for You,” sporting a catchy guitar hook and a bit of “hey, hey” lyric to grab the listener’s ear. This is a dancefloor-filler or, alternately, in a concert setting, the sort of song that’ll get the audience jumping up and down and encourage even those who’re hearing the song for the first time to join in on the aforementioned “hey hey” and the fun, singalong-worthy “the enemy’s on the inside” lyrics. I very much dig this tune.

There’s a bit of a sharper edge on “Bad Luck.” I could hear anyone from The Romantics to the J. Giels Band performing a version of this song.

“Safe and Sound” follows with one of the biggest jangly hooks on the record, a bit of a distorted, even-tempoed, storytelling suburban anthem.

“Lose Control” picks the energy back and’ll get the concert crowd moving once again. It’s followed by album-closer “Slö,” a mostly-instrumental track with some nice instrumentation mixed behind a heavy, lush wall of power-alt-rock sound. It’s hard to think of a better way to close this catchy, updated-throwback-’90s rock record.

Tl;dr

Dig the catchy, jangly, punk-inspired, updated ’90s pop-rock Space Cadet delivers on Lion on a Leash. Pick hits would be “Forever For a While,” “Scream for You,” and “Safe and Sound,” plus “Start Running Away,” which is notable also for its guitar solo by Brian Baker (Bad Religion/Minor Threat), who appears on the track. It’s strong beginning to end, though, so you may find your own favorites.

Album Review: Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat

Popa Chubby

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

Album Review of Popa Chubby: Tinfoil Hat

A couple years ago I shared the awesomeness that is a Popa Chubby live performance. Well, there ain’t nothin’ like one of his records, too. Popa Chubby is a one-of-a-kind blues cat, and to those who like their blues guitar-driven and rockin’, he’s one of the elite.

This newest album, Tinfoil Hat, is an ode to that weird year that was 2020, including those bits that have continued in 2021. It’s a folk-in-the-style-of-blues protest album. As Popa Chubby states in the album-ending number, “1968 Again,” “It’s 1968 all over again.” In the context of that song, he’s drawing comparisons between this past year of civil rights marches, protests, and loony politicians and the events of that sizzling, raw ’60s summer of change. In that vein, this album, Tinfoil Hat, is mostly one long, groovin’, bluesy protest album.

To kick things off, if you’re in-line with his pro-vax, pro-mask, pro-civil rights, anti-Trump viewpoint, you’ll find this album a rollicking, rousing musical protest romp. On the other hand, if you differ with Popa Chubby on one of those issues, you’ll have to choose your songs carefully. And if you differ on all of them, well, there are still three or four songs you’ll totally dig, but you’ll want to skip the rest.

I’ll actually kick off with those tracks (so you can skip the rest of the review if it’s likely to rile you up).

Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

“Embees Song” is a bluesy crooning love song. Sweet, soulful, and rough around the edges. “I want to know that you want me, baby. Every morning you drive me crazy when you make my coffee and you shake it for me.” There’s a reason bluesy-growled love songs are the best. You can feel the heart in every gruff, emotionally-wailed lyric.

The instrumental “Boogie for Tony,” of course, with its lack of lyrics, falls into this everyone’ll-love-it grouping. The energetic number is reminiscent of the sorts of tuneful, melodic, high-octane instrumentals you’ll often find on Bob Malone’s rockin’ blues albums except, of course, that Bob’s are piano-driven while Popa Chubby’s instrumentals are guitar-powered. Doesn’t matter that it’s an instrumental, though; it’s so catchy you’ll soon find yourself “singing along.”

“Someday Soon (A Change is Gonna Come)” has an implied message in the context of the album, but as a standalone song, you can just rock to it, with its guitar runs and the occasional variance from its even-keel vocal sitting atop a churning, steady blues rhythm.

And, again if taken outside the context of the album, “Can I Call You My Friends” is an anthemic number that you can also just rock to. (Of course, the accompanying music video will quickly disabuse you of that notion.) The militarily rhythmic tempo builds as the lyrics intensify, and there’s some very cool guitar noodling in the bridges. This is one of the songs on Tinfoil Hat most likely to get stuck in your head.

Several of the songs are about COVID-19, particularly complaining about those who refuse the vaccine and/or who refuse to wear masks. Kicking things off is a song for anyone who doesn’t traffic in conspiracy theories – for those who cringe when they hear the term “do your own research.” The disc-opening title track, “Tinfoil Hat,” is a current events-driven blues-rocker mockin’ the crazies.

“Baby Put on Your Mask” gets the pro-masking point across with lyrics that, for example, rhyme “don’t make me spank that ass” with “baby, put on your mask.” Not exactly Robert Frost or, for a more recent reference, Amanda Gorman, but clever and effective.

“Another Day in Hell” is a heavy, slow-paced guitar rocker that could pass for a song solely about those who make our lives miserable at any time, if not for the opening reference to mask-refusing COVID deniers, though a deeper dig suggests it is, at its core, a reference to the monotony of remaining isolated during the height of the pandemic.

The reggae-infused “Cognitive Dissonance” is a very cool musical change of pace, one that, among other things, highlights the disparity of impact upon different segments of the population during the pandemic and the deference to the economy at the expense of human lives, including lyrics like “humans expendable, testing undependable” and “you say ‘my body, my choice,’ but a mask has no voice.”

Civil rights, which for most of the past year-plus has primarily revolved around addressing the disproportionately violent police response to minorities in the U.S., forms the basis of “No Justice No Peace,” reflecting the famous rallying cry. The song is driven by a heavy wall of sound and a plodding, undeniably forward-moving pace. Lyrically, the song can be summed up by its own lyrics, “You can’t turn the guns on your citizens and expect them to comply. It’s America, and the people say, ‘No more black men die.'” There’s also a long, shredding, wailing guitar solo that runs through the song’s midpoint that encompasses the full spectrum of anguish better than any vocal could. For this particular topic, “No Justice No Peace” is an exceptionally suitable, compelling, well-constructed, angry protest song.

“You Ain’t Said Shit” is a bluesy protest number with a catchy recurring guitar hook, and it’s quite obviously about a certain recent ex-president. And if you don’t catch on from early lyrics like, “Why don’t you just shut your mouth. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You got the best words, but you know that you ain’t said shit,” it becomes increasingly obvious as the song goes on with references to “stable genius” and, at the very end, “covfefe.”

I know I’ve taken the songs out of order. The disc-ender is actually “1968 Again,” which is an astute choice for tying together this collection of songs. Tinfoil Hat is the sort of top-shelf rockin’ blues you’d expect from Popa Chubby. It strays a bit farther from blues than usual in spots, with homages to the folky protest songs from a half-century ago and topical references to the last year – year and a half, actually, by the time I’ve finally written this review. Your enjoyment of this disc will depend upon whether or not you agree with Popa Chubby’s politics, but his position is very clear, as is (as always) his musical and songwriting talent.

Looking Ahead

You can catch Popa Chubby live at a variety of dates and locations. He has shows in the northeast U.S. (NY, NJ, PA, MA, RI, MD) in November December, and on January 1st. He’ll be in Brussels on FJanuary 19th and then will tour around France for the rest of the month. In February 2022, you can catch a few Florida dates. And in May 2022, he has a tour of Germany scheduled, with an opening date in Rubigen, Switzerland. Find additional details about these tour dates (and others, as they’re announced) on the “Tour” page of his website.

Album Review: Allan Holdsworth – Leverkusen 2010

Allan Holdsworth

photo by Rainer Leigraf; photo courtesy of Manifesto Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Allan Holdsworth: Leverkusen 2010 (Manifesto Records)

This is the fifth and latest release in a continuing series of posthumous classic live recordings by British guitar master Allan Holdsworth. This CD/DVD package features the legendary jazz-fusion guitarist in a 2010 performance at the Leverkusen Jazztage Festival in Germany. Along with Chad Wackerman on drums and Ernest Tibbs on electric bass, the Holdsworth trio captivated and mesmerized throngs of loyal jazz and progressive music fans.

The totally original 10 song set consisted of all instrumental material that encompassed the guitar maestro’s vast career from the ‘70s to the present. The opener “Leave Them On” greeted the attentive audience, with a mid-tempo and ethereal lilt. The rhythm section provided a smooth pocket that was taut, but open. There was great interaction from the trio, with Holdsworth unleashing out-of-the-box soloing.

Allan Holdsworth – Leverkusen 2010

image courtesy of Manifesto Records

A band mainstay and nugget from Holdsworth’s days with the New Tony Williams Lifetime, “Fred,” followed in brisk fashion. This tune really swings and displays a modern bop feel that takes your breath away. Wackerman and Tibbs do a brilliant job holding down the fort, but on the original ‘70s recording of this tune electric pianist Alan Pasqua added an essential sparkle and harmonic nuance to the piece. The absence of keyboards is sorely missed here. But this is only a minor criticism.

“Water on the Brain” follows and is filled with tricky and choppy accents and meters. Intricate melodies, riffs and cross-referenced harmonies abound. In particular, Tibbs really stands out, with a stellar and fluid bass solo.

The medley of “Madame Vintage,” “Above and Beyond” and “The Things You Do (When You Haven’t Got Your Gun)” is a big sweeping cavalcade of sound. This material really spotlights the strength and versatility of this band as the music goes from ambient and oddly harmonic to cinematic, with interspersed legato shredding. They are at the peak of their powers—dynamically, systematically and empathetically.

Allan Holdsworth

photo by Rainer Leigraf; photo courtesy of Manifesto Records

“Material Real” is another tune that keeps that vibe going and leads into the Wackerman composition “The Fifth.” This is an open swinging affair that features swift drum accents, lucid bass solos and some of Holdsworth’s most beautiful chord accompaniment.

A concert staple from the British guitarist’s early ‘80s period is a cut called “Letters of Marque.” It’s a very animated, technically astute and rhythmically complex piece. Meters would shift seemingly at will and provided plenty of space for inspired and impassioned solos from Holdsworth and Tibbs. Wackerman locked in the groove as the soloists took each other to greater heights.

The set concluded with another gem from the guitarist’s days with drummer Tony Williams called “Proto-Cosmos.” The encore piece featured a vibrant, angular melodic head that swung in jagged and asymmetric phrases. Holdsworth blows over rapid-fire changes as modern bop and rock ‘n roll meet head on.

This is an exciting package featuring candid live photos, exceptional liner notes and an audio CD of the concert as well as a DVD of the same, with additional current interviews where Wackerman and Tibbs reflect on Leverkusen and working with the Holdsworth band.

EP Review: Caisy Falzone – All That I Know

Caisy Falzone

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

EP Review of Caisy Falzone: All That I Know

I first discovered Caisy Falzone‘s music when she performed upstairs at Pianos in 2017. Later that year, I reviewed her four-song EP, Your Time. I was drawn by the personal nature of her well-written, stripped-down singer-songwriter fare.

Caisy’s new five-song EP, All That I Know, retains the intimate appeal of her songwriting but quite interestingly presents it with a slightly different arrangement, a bit more dreamy and floaty that my live experience or that on her Your Time EP.

Caisy Falzone – All That I Know

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

The first song, “Drift,” is one of two tracks in this collection that appeared previously on Your Time. Here on All That I Know, it has been reimagined into a dreamy, almost shoegaze, echoingly ethereal pop number, yet Caisy’s vocals pierce the musical veil a bit more than is typical of dream pop, ably highlighting the identifiable features of her vocal that help listeners recognize it quickly as a Caisy Falzone tune.

“Stay” follows, with a much slower tempo that matches the wistfully melancholy lyrics, Caisy’s upward vocal lilt at the end of the word “stay” subtly punctuating the emotion, convincingly compelling the listener to “just stay with me for tonight.”

“Into You/Into This” follows with a upbeat, cheery pop rhythm that matches Caisy’s peppy, thoughtful vocals. Probably my favorite of the three new songs on this EP, I enjoy bouncing along to the song’s tempo, its well-placed stop-starts, and its indie-rock mini guitar run. If I were an independent filmmaker producing a relationship-focused film, I’d probably place this in the soundtrack in support of a relationship-building montage and/or as a closing credits number.

Caisy Falzone

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

“Hold Me Down” is the second of the two holdovers from Your Time. It retains the persistence of Caisy’s prior recording but is produced with more of a soft echo-chamber ambience, delivering a vibe that’s even a bit more introspective, both as a standalone and definitely as part of this collection. As was true a few years ago, I still really dig the way the song slow-builds through its length, ending more powerfully than it began.

“Anything, Anyway” closes the EP with a guitar-picking melancholy, again true to the EP’s production value but a bit more stripped-down and vulnerable than the preceding tracks. Caisy’s slowly stylized guitar picking and hoarsely melancholy delivery, with the occasional pause adding emphasis to an already slow tempo, provide the perfect fade-to-black for this EP.

All That I Know is a stylized slow burn, a package of introspective deep thought that presents Caisy Falzone’s songwriting style in an echoey, softly thoughtful package. It’s coolly interesting at first listen, and it continues to grow on you from there. While remaining true to Caisy’s past, this EP also highlights that her journey as an artist continues, leaving me excited for her future releases, while I enjoy the intriguing music she’s creating today.

Caisy Falzone

photo courtesy of Caisy Falzone

Looking Ahead

You can find Caisy live performance schedule on her Facebook page or from Bandsintown, either via the “live shows” tab of her Facebook page or directly on the Bandsintown website. Both pages are empty. Caisy may also mention upcoming shows, when they happen, on Twitter.

Album Review: Strawbs – Settlement

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Strawbs: Settlement (Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Records)

The Strawbs are one of those bands where the term “rock royalty” might easily apply. They began in 1964 as The Strawberry Hill Boys, named for a region in their native England where they originated and frequently played. In 1969 they shortened their title to Strawbs and released a debut album that same year. The abbreviated moniker seemed to follow their musical shift from a strictly bluegrass and folk-oriented trio to a quintet that integrated more rock and progressive sounds. The current lineup of the band features founder David Cousins (guitars/vocals) and long-time members Dave Lambert (guitars/vocals), Dave Bainbridge (keyboards), Chas Cronk (bass/vocals), and Tony Fernandez (drums and percussion). Guests include former Strawbs regular Blue Weaver on keyboards, mastering and production, with another long-time associate John Ford on guitar and vocals, Irish singer Cathryn Craig and South African bassist Schalk Joubert.

Strawbs – Settlement

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Strawbs have traditionally blended many musical styles, with always provocative and socially relevant lyrics. Conceived during the early pandemic months of 2020, Settlement is a full-length collection of well-crafted songs that rank with some of their best. Cousins’ reedy tenor envelopes the very topical and driving sentiments of the kick-off title track “Settlement.” He sings like a man possessed, “There comes a time when every settlement is due. No compromise, no other point of view.” Cousins is letting you know from the get-go there is some urgency to his message and he means business. And then he expresses thoughts born out of quarantine and a sense of a bigger picture, “Strapped down in a cold town, dying to pay the rent, what the masterminds are selling you is Heaven sent, ring around the rules, we’re nobody’s fools.” The weight of robust acoustic guitars mixed with mellotron, slide guitar and organ bring things to a fever pitch.

“Strange Times” follows and is another Cousins track that shifts, in mood and style, to more poignant and reflective. Again, the songwriting is totally on point as Cousins makes observations on occurrences in the present day, “Times of glory, times of pride, times for conflict set aside, times of danger, times of grief, such are these strange times.”

“Judgment Day” has a percolating, funky underbelly to it. Again, it’s a blend of acoustic and ambient sounds where Cousins is able to sing with pause and purpose. The song is a commentary on what social distancing has done to humanity on an emotional level. “Walk down the street, people I meet, step away as I pass by, know how I feel, down at heel, been known to break down and cry.” But the tune is not without a bright side, “Try to forgive, learn how to live, know in my heart where I’m going, hope and pray, on judgment day, they reap all the seeds they are sowing.”

John Ford collaborates with Cousins on the track “Each Manner of Man.” It is spiritual and observational, with a classic sound and a haunting quality. It’s a song that seems to address the humanity that connects us all. Ford and Cousins sing, “If ever the doubt shall still remain, the days gather pace like a mighty express, reminding us all to reflect on our ways, nothing more, nothing more, nothing less.”

Lambert’s “The Visit” sounds like a traditional Celtic folk song. It’s a story tune featuring shimmering mandolin and acoustic guitar, with a catchy chorus. This leads into his brief instrumental “Flying Free” that expands on an indigenous U.K. vibe.

“Quicksilver Days” is a vivid and somewhat somber ballad. It has a Gothic quality that stands with classic highlights like their own “Hero and Heroine.” Its fluid and surreal imagery is made even more relevant by the timeless Beatle-esque/King Crimson-like flute mellotron passages throughout.

Cronk’s “We Are Everyone” features splendid harmonies by himself, Cousins and guest vocalist Craig. It’s got a slow burning build that addresses the universality of the human race. The lyrics are simple and undeniably direct as they sing, “All bear witness, we are not lost, come together, join together, we are everyone.” It’s a goose bump-inducing piece that’s followed by Cronk’s dramatic and austere instrumental “Chorale.” It’s got a rousing Bach/Mozart pomposity that really makes a statement and brings the vinyl portion of the album to a satisfying close.

The CD version of Settlement contains three bonus songs under the heading “Off the Beaten Tracks.” They are the mini-epic boxer scenario “Champion Jack,” the seemingly auto-biographical “Better Days (Life Is Not a Game)” and the hopeful “Liberty.”

With multiple songwriters and vocalists in the band this is surely a true collective effort. It’s an amazing achievement considering it was created, in large part, through virtual means. Bravo!

Album Review: Sumo Cyco – Initiation

Sumo Cyco

photo by Francesca Ludikar; photo courtesy of Napalm Records

Album Review of Sumo Cyco: Initiation (Napalm Records)

Sumo Cyco has moved in and out of my awareness over the years, always attention-grabbing while clearly honing its sound with each successive release. Sumo Cyco is a heavy rock band with a raw metal edge and a punk attitude. Sonically, the band has the aggression and speed of many bands in its musical neighborhood with a world-class lead singer (Skye “Sever” Sweetnam) capable of bringing a level of tunefulness and softness to the mix, exploiting the ability to provide greater contrast to her raw, roaring metal vocals. In other words, range. The ability to achieve that range provides interesting contrasts within individual cuts but also the capacity to deliver a broader range of songs within an identifiable Sumo Cyco heavy rock style, satisfying core heavy rock fans while appealing to perhaps a broader demographic, particularly on individual tracks. Of course, “Sever” isn’t achieve that range of musical styles all by herself. Serious props to the rest of this band: Matt “MD13” Drake (lead guitar), Matt “Trozzi” (drums), and Oscar Aneset (bass). You all know by now how much I love versatile bands like this, and upon sampling a couple of songs on the new album, Initiation, I knew Sumo Cyco had delivered a musical collection I needed to write about.

Sumo Cyco – Initiation

image courtesy of Napalm Records

Like any good heavy rock band, Sumo Cyco kicks the album off with a couple of its most aggressive songs, appropriately greeting listeners to Cyco City with “Love You Wrong”. This track begins with a crash and rawly shouted vocals, and throughout the song the tempo and vocal aggression suggest mosh pits and a frantic, fear-filled confused rampage, but the lesser-instrumented verses and monster hooky chorus more welcomingly reel the listener in. Yes, the chorus is primarily “Not gonna love you, not gonna love you wrong” repeated several times, but damn, it’s an earworm. With each successive listen, this increasingly becomes a favorite. Then again, that’s true of so many of the tunes on this disc.

Perhaps the next-most-rough-edged song on the disc, “Bystander” aggressively urges actively taking part in your life, as if you couldn’t guess from the title. Worth noting is the rhythmic drum-driven bridge that accompanies the lyrics “We are uninvited, watching from afar. We are all misguided, divided, falling apart.” The most infectious part of “Bystander,” though, is its unrelenting, insistent pace.

Next up, “Vertigo” shows shades of Lady Gaga-meets-Gwen Stefani through the lens of a ’90s pop-punk-influenced mainstream heavy rock band. It’s all beat and rhythm atop grinding guitar and a wall of staticky background vocals. Very effective… and sound effect-ive.

Sumo Cyco

photo by Francesca Ludikar; photo courtesy of Napalm Records

The end of “Vertigo” flows sonically directly into “Bad News,” with rhythmic vocal verses ultimately combining with another one of those monster hook choruses. Actually, something you might find at a dance club in a vampire movie, an intense, energetic rock track with a sort of underlying club mix vibe.

Next, “No Surrender” thrashes tunefully, before “M.I.A.” follows with a rhythmic spoken-song effort that, of all the songs on Initiation, most closely resembles one Gwen Stefani would perform. But, of course, Sumo Cyco-style. Lyrically, you’ll find yourself hooked on “Do you remember? ‘Cause I forget.”

The back half of this album begins with “Cyclone.” The speed-guitar runs and aggressively, sneakily melodic verse are among this track’s standout features, though the softly sung “I can’t help myself I’m falling, in a downward spiral I’m falling…” will also pleasantly catch you off guard.

There’s a reggae-esque opening to “Run With the Giants”… up until the ripping guitars and sirens. But you can hear and enjoy the meshing of reggae and hard rock throughout – an enjoyably, intentionally harsh transition between the styles at times, smoother at others. The driving chorus is supported by a full, distorted heavy rock sound while implanting in your brain the memorably repeated “Gotta run with it, gotta run with it, yeah we’ll run with the giants!” You’ll be singing along by song.

“Overdrive,” next, has a serious funky rhythm and dancefloor vibe that almost overrides (overdrives?) its rockin’ guitar line, while “Power & Control” has just a hint of a soul-rock vibe, especially where Skye/Sever lets her voice soar a bit… with, you know, a much thrashier music bed.

One of the most memorable songs on the album, though, is “This Dance is Doomed.” You’ll frantically sing along with “doom da da da doom da da da day,” sometimes hours or days after you actually last heard the song.

The album closes with bonus track “Awakened,” which you’ll not find on every release. This song opens catchily with a tuneful “My heart’s been awakened…” It then flows into a classic-cool heavy rock vibe, yet still a bit sidewinding, befitting Sumo Cyco’s trademark style. It’s a fun, energetic way to end an album, though the prior song, if that’s the last on your version of Initiation, also provides a great final sendoff. They both encourage another listen. Immediately. Over and over.

In the end, Sumo Cyco is a unique band. One of a kind. The kind of band whose music deserves a spot in a well-rounded playlist. If you love it loud, you’re gonna love this heavy rock masterwork, Initiation – some songs immediately while others will grow on you like a fungus. But you won’t have anything else quite like Sumo Cyco’s music in your collection, and once you’ve heard it, you’ll occasionally crave it.

I’m hoping to get a chance to catch Sumo Cyco live one of these days. They do a great job of transferring their energy into their recordings, but I can only imagine how much they must rock to room live. For those of you in the UK, there are some dates listed on the “events” tab of the band’s Facebook page – a late October/early November tour with Wednesday 13. As always during a pandemic, double-check event status before leaving the house.

Post-Publication Addendum: It looks like the Sumo Cyco/Wednesday 13 UK tour has been postponed until 2022, per this Facebook post. COVID-19 strikes again. Yep, always a good idea to double-check (ahead of time and even day of show) before traveling any distance to a concert during a pandemic. -GW

Album Review: Laura Meade – The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Laura Meade – The Most Dangerous Woman in America

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Laura Meade: The Most Dangerous Woman in America (Doone Records)

Laura Meade is a vocalist with the modern New York-based progressive rock band IZZ. Coming off her 2018 solo release Remedium, Meade returns with a powerful statement tailor made for the #MeToo movement. The astute and perceptive singer-songwriter summarizes her latest release this way: “There have been so many people throughout history – many of them women – who stand up for themselves, stand up for what they believe in, and experience great pain and suffering for doing so; their memories lost along the way to gossip and rumor. I hope that this album, in some small way, honors and gives voice to the forgotten.”

What began as a concept album exploring one singular female icon’s struggles and challenges in life became a series of songs that address the body politic of women, at large. Meade is joined on the album by fellow IZZ counterparts John Galgano on guitars, bass and keyboards, Tom Galgano on keyboards, and Brian Coralian on drums and percussion. Following a brief sound byte “On the Shores of the Seine,” the track “Leaving” addresses the price of fame and sticking up for oneself and one’s convictions. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition for the subject in this song as Meade sings, “Back against the wall, kind of had no choice, I knew it would be right, I knew it would be wrong.”

“Burned at the Stake” suggests reference to Joan of Arc in this song, as the protagonist feels the pressure of being under the public and media microscope. “Watching you, watching me shouting out so critically,” states Meade. “Scared like rabbits on the screen hiding out, embarrassing. I took the risk, I took the dive, iconoclast I have arrived, cut my hair, designed my taste, I can’t come out I’m such a waste.”

“Iconoclast” follows and seems a continuation of the storyline and emotions established in the previous track. Again, this addresses the dark side of fame. Meade sings, “Now that I’ve made it, every single glance is a perfect glance, and the way you walk isn’t left to chance. Destroyer of convention, a lover never mentioned. Forty times around the sun and no one paid attention.”

“End of the Road in Hollywood” is the diary of a generic movie star, or anyone that tries to buck the system and not sell out. Interesting sound design and rhythms frame the stark words and images in a very cinematic and self-reflective manner.

“Doesn’t Change a Thing” is all about picking up one’s personal spirits and carrying on in life. The chorus says it all: “Every day is another day to choose, every day is another day I win or lose, every day is another day to see, every day is another day I learn to be.”

The title track “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” is deadly serious, yet somewhat tongue in cheek as well. If being dangerous is synonymous with being resourceful and learning how to survive then that correlation makes sense. There is a sense of desperation and bravado in Meade’s voice as she sings: “There’s no way out of this alive, a glimpse of the ghost of me that survived… They say that I’m not tame, using my weapon for fame, It’s your obsession to blame, I control the game!” The music matches the tension in the lyrics, with a rapid up tempo keyboard pattern reminiscent of neo-noir cinema meets ‘80s synth-pop.

“The Shape of Shock” further explores a woman standing tall in the face of adversity, with the declarative chorus “I’m Still There!” The bank of keyboards and fullness of sound recalls early Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Genesis mixed with an enveloping wash of electronica. Meade embodies the character of the song when she sings: “The shape of shock is worthy of a face, just the type you’d like to see erased.”

“Forgive Me” is, perhaps, the most overtly prog-oriented track, with driving piano-fueled grooves, orchestral textures and oscillating synthesizers. Again, the protagonist here is trying to make a stand and represent her place in the world. Meade sings: “This is getting out of control. I wish I was younger, I wish I was older. No one here can love or comprehend me…Boisterous winds and Neptune’s waves have tossed me to and fro, and far below.”

“Tell Me Love” builds to a dramatic coda that shifts from solemn to revelatory. Meade concludes with cool observation and sage advice: “Don’t believe my biography, it’s just gossip, a ghost of me. It saves time, prevents us from thinking.” And later in the song she asks: “What should I do? Give in or stand fast? Live a long life or die young, burned at the stake? Tell me, love!”

Laura Meade has created an insightful and very personal piece of work here. Like all great music and literature its intentions and message will make their impression and resonate with the listener for a long time to come.

Looking Ahead

Though no live dates are currently listed, you can find future performances, when they’re scheduled, listed on the “Shows” page of Laura Meade’s website or the “IZZ Live” page of the IZZ website.

Album Review: District 97 – Screenplay

District 97

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of District 97: Screenplay (MindScan/Cherry Red Records)

District 97 is a progressive rock band from Chicago that has been on the international scene since 2006. They started out as an instrumental group but really began to flourish as a more melodic entity after they brought singer-songwriter and American Idol semi-finalist Leslie Hunt into the fold. The current lineup of the band also features guitarist/vocalist Jim Tashjian, bassist Tim Seisser, keyboardist Andrew Lawrence, and drummer Jonathan Schang. The group has released a series of studio and live albums since 2010. Their last studio recording Screens dropped in 2019. The current one here is a double disc that serves as a curious document of various live performances – both original and cover songs – dating back to 2011, with Disc One a live track by track rundown of their Screens album performed at a venue in The Netherlands in 2019.

Disc One opens with the track “Forest Fire.” It is a multi-layered piece blending dense vocal harmonies, fluctuating tempos and Tashjian’s experimental noisy guitar riffs. The result is an exciting balance of dissonant and consonant sounds.

“Sheep” is a Sessier/Hunt composition that seems to address portions of society that tend to follow more than lead. The somewhat obtuse and fanciful lyrics perhaps make a comment on media consumption and compliance: “You’re living your best life. The blue glowing light redeems you, feeds you, numbs you… The blue glowing light has changed you, claimed you, drained you. It’s counting you as sheep.” Hunt rides a smooth vocal wave here as Tashjian and Sessier offer tasty guitar and bass breakdowns, respectively.

District 97 – Screenplay

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Sea I Provide” is somewhat of a straight-ahead rocker, with prominent cascading key passages from Lawrence. Metal-tinged guitar provides a thick wall of crunch that gives way to jazzy chords in the bridge. “Bread & Yarn” features sophisticated vocalizing between Hunt and Tashjian. It’s kind of a song cycle, with several thematic sections that drift from sedate to thunderous. The band deftly stacks a bunch of ideas in very compartmentalized fashion. It’s a real spotlight for the whole band.

“Trigger” keeps you on the edge of your seat, with its catchy harmonies, ear candy melodies and intrepid unison legato guitar and keyboard lines. The bass instrumental “After Orbit Mission” is a brief Jaco-esque vignette that leads into the aptly named “Shapeshifter.” With its many evolving musical detours and mind-bending lyrics the song indeed takes on a myriad of forms. In it, Hunt sings: “Blend with paper walls, I’ll change into something more comfortable to ignore. While you’re waiting for the form you’re expecting, but haven’t prepared for blow your lover has stored. Fully formed, you’re not who you were before.”

“Blueprint” starts out as a mellow and jazzy type of tune. Hunt sings surreal and dark lyrics through a barrage of altered changes, chords, and layers of sound. This one is not so much about blazing solos as stitching a number of vocal parts and thematic dynamics together smoothly.

The sides longest and final track is an ominous one called “Ghost Girl.” The 13-plus minute piece plays out as a short supernatural and suspenseful horror story. Hunt sings “How’s a girl to sleep at night with demons all around? They encircle me and then my bed lifts off the ground. They suffocate me, lacerate me across my naked flesh.” But then the supernatural sensibility hits home in, perhaps, a very real double-edged commentary on child abuse: “Mother, oh mother; I’m starting to see who was behind what happened to me. What was a little girl meant to do, when mother the only demon was you.”

Disc Two is a mix of live dates, from the U.S. and Europe, featuring early original songs from the band and an extensive covers set. In particular, District 97’s choices of artists and songs span an interesting and historically reflective gamut. The set list, assembled from several performances over the last decade or so, comprises a laundry list of key progressive and classic rock gems from the ‘70s and ‘80s. And the list is not without a few surprises. Jim Tashjian sings a very convincing solo version of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” The band also covers a brilliant take on U.K.’s “Presto Vivace.” There are a couple back-to-back Bill Bruford songs that make the cut.

A real showstopper is a 2013 performance featuring District 97 backing the  legendary John Wetton singing lead on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” But the absolute curveball in this whole package has to be an unlisted bonus rendition of that ‘80s perennial “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. It’s a faithful studio cut they tack on at the end of Disc Two that legitimately rocks! Who says prog bands can’t cut loose from the norm every once in a while? Highly recommended!

Looking Ahead

District 97 has a few upcoming concerts listed on the “Shows” tab of the band’s website. On October 28th, you’ll find them at the Brass Mug in Tampa, FL. On October 30th, they’re scheduled to perform as part of Progoween on the Ranch at the Crimson Sky Ranch in Masaryktown, FL. They’ll be back at their home base in Chicago, IL, on November 19th, at Reggie’s. And District 97 is scheduled on the Cruise to the Edge May 2nd-7th, 2022, departing from Port Canaveral, FL. For additional details and new dates as they’re added, keep an eye on the District 97 website and its Facebook page. (The Facebook page, for example, lists a November 1st gig at the Sweetwater Bar and Grille in Duluth, GA.) As always – and especially during a pandemic, when calendars and policies are constantly changing – double-check with a reliable source before heading out to a concert.

Album Review: Carl Verheyen – Sundial

Carl Verheyen – Sundial

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Carl Verheyen: Sundial

There was a time when more rock ‘n roll albums blended catchy melodies and progressive guitarwork, energetic hook-driven tunefulness and meandering noodling, rock ‘n roll with both a soft touch and a musical passion. Carl Verheyen‘s Sundial harkens back to those ’70s and early ’80s albums on which rock music wasn’t as stylistically compartmentalized, especially when featuring a lead axeman capable of such guitar wizardry as Verheyen.

Carl kicks things off with the fun title track. “Sundial” recalls a Stranger-era Billy Joel tune, but with progressive rock-style guitar occupying the solo and bridge slots, constrained within the package of a broad-appeal pop-rock song. It’s a very cool, groovy, cheerful tune with a great big sound.

The cheerfulness carries on into the following song, the bright, happy, energetic guitar instrumental “Kaningie,” a song with a catchy beat and plenty of character. Something about the energy of this track reminds me of the sorts of energetic instrumentals Bob Malone sneaks onto his albums, daring you to notice – rarely on the first listen – that there weren’t, in fact, any lyrics.

You can hear the funk meet the blues in “Clawhammer Man,” a true ’70s-styled funk-rock attitude-filled gem.

Carl Verheyen

photo by Rainer Hosch; photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Never Again” seems like a song you might have heard from Styx. A forceful musical beginning opens into a softer, lush, musically smooth chorus. If it were a Styx tune, I’d expect a faster tempo, while “Never Again” has a more blues-based, takin’-its-own-sweet-time vibe, but the blend of guitar and organ mix and verse-to-chorus transition “well, never again” recall something one might expect from the aforementioned Second City rock heroes.

“Garfunkel (It Was All Too Real)” maintains that same laid-back tempo, but it returns to a style in the neighborhood of late ’70s radio-friendly soft rock, recalling those nostalgic numbers that seemed to be telling a story in black and white. This track features plenty of keyboard but also leaves ample room for Verheyen’s guitarwork to dance through the melody, as well it should.

Verheyen cranks up the energy again on his cover of the Rascals’ “People Got to Be Free.” Mixing a ska rhythm, a faster-than-the-original tempo, and overriding rock guitar lines and vocal wails, this fun reimagination comes across as a completely different song than the original.

Next up, “Sprial Glide” is a tightly-structured, well-composed, mellow, progressive soft rocker, a 7-minute epic with recurring note-bending guitar and keyboard hooks holding it together before and after the mid-song guitar solo. “Sprial Glide” is the sort of musician-based masterwork you think of when you hear the phrase “album-oriented rock.”

“Michelle’s Song” is more of a crossover pop/soft rock number, the sort that used to dot pop-rock radio playlists, a song where folk-structured lyrics meet pop songwriting sensibilities and rock ‘n roll musicianship.

“No Time for a Kiss” is the last full-length song on the album, a progressive rock-flavored not-quite-ballad designed to showcase a melancholy wailing guitar line that complements the similarly-pained vocals.

The last track on the album is the minute-and-a-half “Sundial Slight Return,” tying the album together with the instrumental melody of the opening track, putting a bow on the release as you’d expect from a thoughtfully assembled album. Also, coincidentally, it offers an opportunity for prepare you mind to return to song number one, particularly helpful if you’re playing Sundial on repeat. And why wouldn’t you?

Looking Ahead

Carl has a lot of gigs scheduled this summer and fall, beginning in Westlake, CA on August 29th, followed by September 4th and 5th gigs in Seattle, a couple more California shows, and then a European tour. You can find details about upcoming dates on the “Tour Dates” page of Carl’s website or on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page.