Music reviews 8/16/06

CD reviews
by Kent Manthie

Michele Shipp: “Arm’s Length” (self-released)
DIY AOR – ‘nuff said. Michele Shipp has put together a passionate and pretty record of guitar-strummin’ mojo waxin’ singer-songwriter jams, that’s what “Arm’s Length” is about 48 minutes of soulful white girl charms, a pretty voice, a talented musician as well, not to mention a seasoned songwriter, who has also surrounded herself with some fine session musicians. Michele Shipp is surely not just another in a long line of vacuous, hollow, pretty faces. Lovely, still, she is much more. Self-determined, self-reliant I think she will be able to stand on her own two feet for some time to come.
I like the mellow pop hooks, the sweet crooning angelic voice that hovers above a sizzling guitar lick. The (http://www.micheleshipp.com) -KM

David Gilmour: “On an Island” (Columbia Records)
Well, it’s about time to ditch that Pink Floyd brand and stick to the modern day, the present. I think David Gilmour has created a brilliant work here, a masterpiece. It has the lush, space-bluesy guitar riffs that have always been unmistakably Pink Floyd, incomparably crafted by Gilmour, Syd Barrett’s replacement in Floyd.
“On an Island” is Gilmour’s third solo album, the first since the ersatz Pink Floyd (sans Roger Waters) released “The Division Bell”. It starts out with an instrumental overture, “Castellorizon” a warm, sunny day herald that warms one up for the breathtaking ethereal beauty to come.
It’s like a pleasant twilight walk through a forest on a late summer’s afternoon and by the end, you’re back home, entering through your backyard coming in to your home just as the moon starts to rise in the sky. The last cut is like a celebration of the end of a perfect day with the one you love (“Where We Start”). Everywhere in between these two songs are some grown-up mellow jams for Floyd Fans who’re now in their 30s and 40s; maybe 50s too. (http://www.davidgilmour.com) -KM

Wise in Time: “The Ballad of Den the Men” (Crammed Discs)
Born in Wales, residing in London, Ian Simmonds is a man of renaissance. He is a DJ, sometime pop star and jazzbo. As a DJ he’s known as Juryman; was the brainchild of legendary UK acid-jazz combo, The Sandals. Now Simmonds is back in the new guise of Wise in Time, an ethereal pop outfit with a mellow jazz sound, helped out by some German cats, jazzy session musicians that give it all a quiet meanness to it. Anyone who is familiar with Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, etc. knows that there is a history of jazz in postwar Germany, I guess it’s part of the larger phenomenon of the huge popularity of jazz in Europe as a whole. Well, “The Ballad of Den the Men” is, bar none, a great record. The quiet, low-key singing is a nice complement to a lush and exotic soundscape that evokes hot sweaty nights, seductive adventures and a whole lot of loooovve. Every song on “…Den the Men” is a good song, there are no duds here, it was superbly produced, written and executed and will keep on pleasing, long after many of its contemporaries are forgotten and in the dust bin. (http://www.crammed.be) –KM

Fucking Buckaroos: “When Cops Rode Bulls” (self-released)
What the hell is this, anyway? Punkabilly? DIY Country-punk? There are banjos, acoustic guitars, probably a washboard in there somewhere and some good ol’, down-home, knee-slappin’ music that will suffice as a soundtrack to the local Friday night barn-dance in the center of town. Yodel-ay-hee-hoo. The best way I can describe Fucking Buckaroos is that they are kind of like an American version of the Pogues, that is, a whiskey-soaked band of ruffians churning out some punkified old-style, regional folksy singin with rarefied abandon. “When Cops Rode Bulls” is a quick, no frills, seven-song EP that will pick up any lagging party or hoedown. It is a nice change from growling, surly death metal.

Castles in Spain: “Again” (Rat Attack Music)
I was taken immediately by the brilliant voice of Biachi, the Voice of CIS. In fact, she is really everything to do with CIS: songwriter, producer, singer, plus she plays guitar and percussion too. Along side Biachi are Joe, Bill and Derek, on bass, drums and guitar, respectively. The CD cover has a gothic feel to it, I half-expected it to be either death metal or slow, dirge-like drills. But, instead I was happily surprised to get a Grace Slick-like voice over some gothic-esque r&r. It has a well-produced sound, not a hack-job recorded in their basement. There are articulate acoustic guitars, the aforementioned Voice, a dark vibe, but not nihilistic. It is a sexy kind of dark exotic vibe that oozes sensuousness. (“You’re only pretty as you feel…”)
Anyway, “Again” is a sensual, vivid, nocturnal animal that has teeth. It is a swaying, slowed-down mellow album that works out a great meditation soundtrack; it puts you in that high-above state of mind. You can close your eyes and lose yourself in lush, sexy darkness; watery stillness, crooning you into some kind of state of mind where you’ve cleared out all the chatter, the clutter and racing, non-stop rattling on and on.
It gave me flashbacks to Ultra Vivid Scene, with a similar laid-back, dark savoir faire. I will remember that Voice, though. Ms. Biachi has finally reached my ears. I suppose it was inevitable that we collide, my senses and this CD, with Biachi singing her heart out, singing her own beautiful melodies. Play on, sister. (http://www.castlesinspain.com) -KM

The Rippingtons: “The Rippingtons’s 20th Anniversary” (Peak Records)
Well, it’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty whole years, but yes, indeed, time does fly – whether you’re having fun or not.
Russ Freeman, Rippingtons main man & founder of both The Rippingtons as well as co-founder of Peak Records, with Andi Howard, has been credited as the father of “smooth jazz”. Now, detractors, critics, may say that “smooth jazz” is nothing more than dressed up Muzak, that jazz is not at all what it’s about. It’s too controlled, too limited in scope, et cetera; there’s no soul to it, no “bop”. So, what’s all the fuss about the Rippingtons?
The Rippingtons have been a kind of proving ground for the careers of many in the “smooth jazz” pantheon and many of them have returned here, on “…20th Anniversary”, to help out, including, Dave Koz, Jeffrey Osborne, Brian McKnight and Patti Austin. I guess there’s something that is original about The Rippingtons, something that has spawned many copycats, thin, ersatz, bad copies of the original, that’s what sets these guys apart. The music does have a certain spark, a sedate quality that can lower your blood pressure, keep you in good spirits, I guess that’s why so many offices have the local smooth jazz radio station playing in the background, it keeps the workers non-agitated. (http://www.peak-records.com) –KM.

Suckdog: “Drugs Are Nice” (Nut Music)
Drugs are nice, indeed. For instance, they cured many bacteriological infections after the discovery and development of penicillin. A miracle drug if there ever was one. Who knows how many countless throngs have been spared the agonizing end of a life of syphilis? OUCH! What about the countless times terrible pain has been ameliorated due to derivatives of papaver somniferum? Cancer drugs, fertility drugs, synthetic insulin for diabetics? Anyway, Suckdog has given the public a very weird album, here, a cacophony of positively feral proportions. I had the yuckiest reaction, initially, upon hearing it, but after a few dozen listens I finally had it figured out what they were trying to do. If you are an artsy, noise-rock punker who’s given to dancing sometimes, you will appreciate what’s going on here. It’s sort of a “rococo punk”, starting with raw, jagged hardcore and add ornaments of noise, trippy effects, jingle/jangle goofball-induced mumbling and “Drugs Are Nice” is the end result. (http://www.nutmusic.com) -KM

Towers of London: “Blood, Sweat & Towers” (TVT Records)
Britain, being the home of Glam Rock (remember T Rex? Slade? Sweet?) Well, Towers of London, bringing back from the dead this creative genre of rock and roll that was much maligned in the punk era, but nevertheless contains some original, experimental and virtuosic and fantastic melodies and compositions – is the zombifying rock & roll juggernaut. “Kill the Pop Scene” is one of my personal favorites, but there are a few other highlights on this awesome, exciting CD of British rock ‘n’ roll that is a street-fighting anthem. To tell the truth, after I’d reviewed a couple of their singles, I’d written them off as another generic Brit-pop hair, with big-hair. But, now that I’ve got the full-length “Blood Sweat & Towers” I am a little more impressed, which just goes to show that the record label geniuses who pick out a song to promote as a single are idiots in disguise who really can end up making the band better off not ever meeting a damn publicist in the first place. I liked the mellowed-out, acoustic “Fuck it Up”, a countrified little ditty that takes a left turn from the other pop bombast. Also, “Beaujolais” and “King” were also rockers that I didn’t think would exist on this record, I thought, rightly or wrongly, it would be more in the tradition of Big Hair rock & roll, only British Style. Really, though, Towers of London grew on me after a while. It isn’t a deep concept album, but a light, party record that rocks. Hey, man, gotta dance! (http://www.thetowersoflondonus.com or http://www.tvtrecords.com) –KM.

Tefflon: “The Morning Way” (self-released)
Tefflon (spelled with an extra ‘f’ so they don’t get sued by DuPont) is a San Diego-based, DIY/AOR band that is an easygoing, very mellow, acoustic-guitar laden musical combo. It took a couple listens to get to where I appreciated the down-home, laid-back feel of “The Morning Way”, a self-produced, self-released labor of love; full of earnest, heartfelt ballads that evoke an autumn evening in some rural abode. Is this a ‘demo? Are Tefflon in search of a label contract? That certainly is possible, since this was released with no label support. They are a talented bunch of musicians, including a viola/violin player, electric bass guitar, stand-up bass (that is, a bass violin or fiddle) plus more. The tracks that stood out for me were the last few, “Kodak Moment”; “Santa Barbara”; “Lighten Up”, which had a rare pick-me-up vibe to it and the Hammond organ-featured “The Olympics”. (http://www.tefflon.com) – KM.

Battalion: “Winter Campaign” (Shiver Records)
Grrr!!! When you hear that chug-a, chug-a chug-a chug-a of the guitars, the thumping bass and the machine-gun double bass drums, you think only one thing: “DEATH METAL”; then the growling and/or screaming starts and you know it, the hell cowboys have started jamming. Well, that is the modus operandi of the latest from Battalion, called, “Winter Campaign”, a sonic barrage of death-metal artillery –bang! Bang! Bang! Each cut is about four minutes, if you average them out, each one sounds about the same as the last one, so, if you’re a big death-metal fanatic and you really dig one cut on “Winter Campaign”, chances are pretty good that you’ll love every song on this CD. So, bang your heads, rockers and enjoy this growlfest with noisemakers. (http://www.shiver-records.com) –KM

Kim Kline (self-released)
For a while, Kim Kline has been performing on the Sunset Strip, crooning with that strong, sultry, sexy voice of hers to adoring crowds in West Hollywood. With this four-song EP Kim is trying to get beyond the strip. The music, sadly, is not my cup of tea; saccharine pop fluff that is a bane to real tunesmiths and aficionados; but, with a voice that good, she has the potential to reach for the sky. I think that if one is intelligent enough to write one’s own songs and play them too why would they not go beyond the crappy norms of pop music and instead do something far more creative and original? What the world needs now are more “Sophisticated Ladies” and far fewer, if any, “Hollaback Girl(s)”. (http://www.kimklinemusic.com) -KM

White Mike: “Famous” (Sav’d Out Records)
Hey, Mikey, Eminem called, he wants his gimmick back. But seriously, White Mike is a hip-hop playa, groovin’, jammin’ and throwing down flavaful rhymes. The Pleasanton native has a few issues with being a born and bred loaf of Wonder Bread, hence the stance that says “watch out bitch, I’m comin’ through!”
But seriously, White Mike represents the hip-hop sounds of the Bay Area, which is different from So-Cal gangsta rap or NYC whack.
At first I didn’t expect very much, I mean, how many more rappers, white or black, do we need, to just rehash the same old beats, nuances and ideas? In other words, there’s not too much here that you haven’t heard somewhere else in one form or another. It’s not crap, though; I did appreciate the slick beats, the samples and the lyrics: at least White Mike does have a way with words. Props to WM for originality and a way with articulating his ideas, regardless of their merits; maybe he’ll work a little harder next time and blow our minds next time out. (http://www.whitemike.com) -KM

Zero to Ballistic: “Idiom” (self-released)/Apeyga: new songs @ Apeyga.com
There are a lot of intense emotions getting bandied about lately. It seems more and more people all over the world are no longer holding back their bottled up frustrations, fears and anger. That is a good thing for the artistic world; this means that less and less confusion should reign. But there is a problem: the powers that be don’t want less confusion, they want more; lots more!
Ali Sugerman is an interesting young man that is currently working under the title Zero to Ballistic, a musical phenomenon. His latest is his debut CD called “Idiom”, a 9-song EP, showcasing a new sort of direction for those lemmings in the record industry to look towards.
I can tell the sort of musical direction Sugerman is heading, but I am less sure about where it is exactly he’s going, lyrically; in other words, what does he mean? Is he some kind of religious nut? Some sort of introverted mystic? What is this dude all about? Reading through some of the lyrics of various songs on “Idiom”, I think, wow, this guy has some interesting ideas swimming through his head. No wonder he had to write them down and adapt the music that was swirling about his mind also and put them together for this opus to be released and for the world at large to understand one man’s thoughts. For example, check out these interesting lyrics from the song “Indomitable”: “This is for the invertebrates who suddenly in numbers grow a spine/And the pseudo-righteous clothing self-indulgent motives as divine/Browbeat the weak for you can’t win a fair fight if might makes right…”
Musically, ZTB remind me of Justin Peloian’s outfit, Apeyga, a So-Cal based instrumental band that has a unique combination of rock and jazz; more rock than jazz, really, but their instrumental jams have a blissfully loose feel; arpeggio filled crescendos that coast then build into a euphoric high, letting loose with this free-form, wicked guitar virtuosity, seemingly improvised riffing here and there. ZTB have a similar kind of groove, with a guitar that wanders about with a frenetic syncopation. The fact that a man with the intense political views as Sugerman can marry such rigid, harsh lyrics with a looser, stylish jam of a soundtrack shows that there is hope yet for you aficionados out there who are starved for some good new music. Speaking of Apeyga, to check out a few brand new cuts by them, go to their website, http://www.apeyga.com,, the track “Traveler” is awesome; a frenetic jam that made me get up & dance, “151” is a bumpin’, mad jam that really kicks ass; it has a bitchin’ guitar solo in it, in fact there are layers of Justin’s guitar tweaking that texturize it, making it sound bigger. These new songs show Apeyga have been working at it and that they’ve evolved since the eponymous release they put out about a year ago, one that I reviewed last year. I’ve been sitting here, at my computer, as I write this, listening to the new tracks on the Apeyga website, over & over again, the undulating, fluid instrumental jams just seamlessly flow into one another and it is a blissful sensation. As far as Zero To Ballistic, check out myspace.com/zerotoballistic, bandspace.com/zerotoballistic or http://www.garageband.com/artist/zerotoballistic -KM.