Friday, December 26, 2008

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou
Vol 1. - The Vodoun Effect:
Funk & Sato From Benin's Obscure Labels 1972-75
Analog Africa
14 song CD

The traditional African "Vodun" (voodoo) rhythms of Sato and Sakpata clash with the Western sounds of funk, soul, and rock in this brilliant collection of music from Benin's Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. This first volume of tracks covers the years 1972-1975, when the OPRdC was recorded on a simple Nagra reel-to-reel in Benin by a sound engineer with two mics.

The music is an indescribable mix of African and Western soul music, featuring funky basslines merging with hypnotizing beats in a sonic polyglot that defy categorization, at times reminding me of jazz and Latin music in spirit. The irony here is that African music helped define music in the Americas, specifically jazz, blues, and Latin music. Here we see it come full circle, where influences of the West returned to influence the sounds of its ancestry. And somewhat sadly, this 30+ years old music is being heard here for the first time, as most of it had limited printing/distribution and it was never officially released outside Benin.

So to most of us, this is all brand new and exciting to hear as if it is happening in the here and now. Another testament to the timeless nature of music and its power to thrive and grow.

MISH MASH Mandate: Timeless Funk
Analog Africa Website

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stan Getz
The Bossa Nova Albums

5 CD Box Set

Bossa nova was all the rage in the US for a brief time in the early 60s, thanks in large part to Stan Getz, who imported this beautiful music from Brazil, introduced us all to Antonio Carlos Jobim, and breathed new life into the world of jazz. This collection from Verve brings together five of Getz's must-have Verve albums from this period, including Jazz Samba, Jazz Samba Encore!, Big Band Bossa Nova, Getz/Gilberto, and Stan Getz With Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida. The albums have been remastered and are presented here in their original album formats with original liner notes.

I will skip the traditional album reviews (most of these albums should at least be somewhat familiar to most jazz fans) and get down to a few of my nit-picky complaints. While I must say that this is a brilliant collection, and a great introduction to the catalog of Getz, it does have its faults. The first glaring omissions are two other Getz albums which could be included, namely Getz Au Go Go (a live album with Astrud Gilberto) and Getz/Gilberto #2 (another live album, this time with João Gilberto). I especially wish Getz Au Go Go was included, because it is a wonderful album on par with the best of this box set. Also, there are no bonus/previously unreleased tracks at all, only the albums in their original form. Blame it on the fact that I'm a completist, but this makes the exclusion of the other albums even more questionable, as these five albums are not long at all and could have fit easily on two or three discs total. Another issue I have is the lack of an insert booklet, which would give the listener a better historical perspective on these recordings. Instead we are left with nothing other than the original liner notes, which only give us part of the story. Verve has unfortunately missed an opportunity to make this excellent box set an absolutely essential box set.

With that having been said, it is still good to see that Verve recognizes the importance of Getz and his contribution to jazz. As these five albums are surely staples for any serious jazz connoisseur, it's a great way to round out your collection, as far as Getz is concerned.

MISH MASH Mandate: Blame It On The Bossa Nova
Verve Music Group Website

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Sprague Brothers
4 New Smashing Songs!

Wichita Falls Records
4 song CD

The Sprague Brothers (Frank and Chris) are back, this time with a cookin' little original four song EP that accentuates their retroactive rock-n-roll skills. The boys lead it off with two surf cuts, Batmobile and Dragula, putting a cheeky stamp on all that is kitschy and cool about the 60s. Golden Sahara is laid back and quiet with a focus on shimmering vocals, a Brian Wilson/Pet Sounds inspired song that is simply mesmerizing. The EP is rounded off with the twangy guitars of Return Of The Munsters, where the Spragues lay it all out. The only way this could be better is if it were available on vinyl, because that is what this music was made for.

MISH MASH Mandate: 60s Smash!
Sprague Brothers Website

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hank Williams
The Unreleased Recordings

Time Life
3 CD Box Set
54 songs

This is the holy grail for Hank Williams fans, an official release of recordings from the Mother's Best Flour Company radio show in 1951. Apparently, this CD collection is the first installment in a series over the next three years, with 54 of the total 143 songs presented here.

Legend has it that these recordings were originally saved from a trash bin by a WSM radio station employee, only to remain officially unreleased because of ongoing legal issues for the past 50 years. Poor quality bootlegs have popped up over the years, but this is the first time that properly mastered tracks have been presented to the public. One of the criticisms I've seen about this set is that it edits down the original shows and features only the songs, not the chatter and commercials in between. My answer to that would be that presenting the entire shows would be quite an undertaking that would be priced out of the average music buyer's range. This condensed packaging is sure to bring this wonderful lost music to more people in the long run.

The sound quality is suprisingly good, on par with studio recordings from this era. Hank and his band play the hits, along with many songs that were never recorded for the label --- this fact makes this collection even more worthwhile. The live setting also makes the music more personable, removed from the confines of the a recording studio.

Fans of Hank Williams and classic country have been given a treasure that is timeless and priceless, and thankfully just in time for the holidays.

MISH MASH Mandate: Trash To Treasure
Hank Williams - Time Life Website

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hilde Marie Kjersem
A Killer For That Ache

Rune Grammofon
11 song CD

Perhaps the best way to describe this one is fascinatingly unpredictable. The flowing, rustic strums of the autoharp ring in the lead off track, Sleepyhead.. Her quiet and gentle vocals ease in gracefully yet poignantly on this song, reminiscent of classic American country & western --- although she is, in fact, Norwegian. Kjersem continues this theme in the traditional sounds of Mary Full Of Grace, where her voice stands starkly amidst the barest of instrumentation.

Yet, on the next song, Fantasy, we are taken in an altogether different direction, a psychedelic pop rock song that twists and turns with dynamic abandon. From there we move into the melodrama of Marie Antoinette, where marching drums mingle with a dramatic cry of "Off with her head!" The title track is acapella, featuring a choir of voices that drift underneath Kjersem's singing. Midwest Country has a more definitive and deliberate western feel, while London Bridge incorporates industrial sound effects as the rhythm section, and Working Girl revolves around a lonely and hollow banjo.

The closest comparison I could probably make here is with Daniel Lanois, as Kjersem takes a similar post-traditionalist approach with plenty of pop experimentation. There's a timeless quality about her songwriting, yet she has a modern edge that gives it a 21st Century feel. It's the perfect mix of past and present, with a nod to the future.

MISH MASH Mandate: Norwegian Wood
Hilde Marie Kjersem Website

Friday, November 14, 2008

Almighty Low

18 song CD

It's all about the atmosphere. Pre brings his instrumental beats with a subtle intensity, choosing to creep along with laid-back grooves instead of getting in your face with aggressive speed or volume. Simplicity is the key, with uncluttered rhythms and sounds intermingling without trying to do too much. The music is allowed to breathe, giving the listener time to digest and decipher each sound and rhythm at an easy pace. It's like acid jazz filtered through hip hop.

At the same time, none of the songs have time to wear out their welcome, as Pre keeps them fairly short and sweet. Before you know it, you've grooved your way through a dozen and a half tracks without even realizing it.

MISH MASH Mandate: Alrighty Almighty
Pre Website

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dutch Uncles
Face In

Tapete Records
10 song CD

If the Dutch Uncles sound like they're young and happy, it's because they are. This youthful quartet bounces along with a carefree spirit, led by singer Duncan Paton, whose gentle and rounded vocals sounds like a middle school boy who just happened to fall into the grips of a rocking garage band.

There's not much in the way of teen angst or aggression, yet the band brings in the edginess in a meddling of dissonance and herky-jerky rhythms. Big shimmering guitars and drums make just the right juxtaposition for the unassuming vocals, and it's a perfect fit. The band truly shines in the track Steadycam, where the blending of catchy pop, off kilter beats and Paton's distinctive crooning all comes together in a blissful and wistful state of grace.

MISH MASH Mandate: Ready, Steady, Go
Dutch Uncles at Tapete Records Website

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oscar Peterson
Live in '63,'64 & '65

Jazz Icons
16 song DVD

I hate to admit this to you dear readers, but when I discovered that the third live set on this disc included trumpeter Clark Terry with the original trio, I immediately skipped over the first two sets to watch the last one. You see, this was the classic lineup that was featured on the landmark 1964 album, Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One, one of my all-time favorite jazz albums, period. This DVD contains live versions of three of those tunes, plus another one with Terry. So, you'll have to forgive my impatience, as I could not wait through the other two sets with the remote being so close by and near my trigger finger. After witnessing that set twice (ahem), I moved back to the first two, overjoyed from end to begining and back to the end.

As mentioned above, there are three live sets presented on the DVD, the first being in Sweden in 1963, then Denmark in 1964, and finally, Finland in 1965. All three shows are wonderfully produced, with excellent video and audio quality. It's easy to see that Europeans took their jazz seriously in the 60s, and these high-quality, multi-camera recordings are proof positive of that fact. The famous trio of Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen simply smoke their way through each track, showing their knack as one of the tightest jazz trios that ever existed.

In Sweden, trumpeter Roy Eldridge joins them for a smooth, muted take on But Not For Me, and in Denmark the trio slowly shuffles its way through an amazing rendition of Bags' Groove. But, it's the Finland tracks that steal the show, as Terry walks on after the opener Yours Is My Heart Alone to join the trio in their version of Mack The Knife. From there, Terry wah-wahs his way through Blues For Smedley and drifts dreamily in Misty. The real short-but-sweet treat here is the closer, Mumbles, where Clark Terry does his famous bluesy scat-singing as his alter-ego "Mumbles". Even though the song only lasts a couple of minutes, it makes owning this disc more than worthwhile by itself.

MISH MASH Mandate: Tripleplusgood
Oscar Peterson @ Jazz Icons Website

Friday, October 10, 2008

Alva Noto

26 track CD

German audio artist Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai) twists and turns electronic music into an interesting and exciting direction, taking the underlying noise of the information age and transforming it into rhythmic beats. The way I understand it is that Nicolai/Noto mathematically mixes his electronic audio units into a 120 bpm grid.
It's a barrage of wonderful noise, wound together in beat packets that rip through the speakers unrelentingly. To enhance this in a most peculiar way, poet Anne-James Chaton then adds a spoken word vocal over a few of these tracks, providing a jarring human element thrown into this decidedly unhuman mix.

The second part of the album, however, takes the digital noise factor to its most base extreme. Noto converts non-audio computer program files into digital audio files, resulting in a wall of unbearable sound. Want to know what the programs Word, Excel, and Powerpoint sound like? Well, maybe you don't. It's hard to sit through a one minute and forty second track of pure digital chaos (Word), even out of morbid curiosity.

MISH MASH Mandate: Bring The Noize
Alva Noto Website
Alva Noto (US distribution)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Live in '63 & '67

Jazz Icons
14 song DVD

While the lineup of other Jazz Icons titles sounds like the standard rundown of Who's Who in jazz (and it's a list that would make you drool), thankfully the series also digs a little deeper to cover a few artists who may have been slighted by the passage of time. Rahsaan Roland Kirk is one of those artists. Sometimes dismissed as a novelty jazz act, this disc proves that his talent of playing more than one horn at once was more than a mere gimmick and an integral part of his unique playing style.

The DVD showcases three separate European live sets, two in Belgium and Holland in 1963, and a performance in Norway from 1967. The beauty of having the archival film is that we get to see Kirk in action. Hearing him play two or three horns at once is one thing, but seeing it is another. On an audio recording, three horns sounds like three horns no matter how many people are playing, but on video, the full effect is felt as we see Kirk fingering and blowing his horns like a man possessed by the music. Having only heard his recordings over the years, I personally had never seen Kirk in action before, so it was a pleasant treat to put his technique into perspective.

The culmination of his distinct talent is evident in the track Three For The Festival, which is presented here twice, from each of the 1963 concerts. Kirk plays three sax parts simultaneously in this tune, along with a separate flute solo. When he plays the three horns at once, he sounds like an entire horn section ripping out. His sound is not weakened by the extra load, instead it expands and explodes with fervor. It's an amazing amount of music from one person, and seeing it does not make it any easier to believe.

MISH MASH Mandate: Three Is A Magic Number
Rahsaan Roland Kirk Page @ Jazz Icons

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hanne Orvad
Choral Works (Corona)

Dacapo Open Space
7 song CD

The cover art of Hanne Orvad's Corona is a fantastic introduction to the works held within. It depicts an abstract space-scape, splashed with hazy gradient colors that reach out into the void. Orvad's music does much the same thing, only with a cappella vocal choirs that paint pictures in the ethereal darkness of aural space.

Corona is a collection of Orvad's works from 1991 to 2003, as performed by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Chamber Choir, and Danish National Girls' Choir. Orvad uses their choral voices in place of instruments (with the exception of Threna, which includes instrumentation), building her interpretive orchestrations around Danish poetic verse, giving them life beyond mere words on the page. She also stretches the words away from their contextual meaning, mainly concentrating on the sounds of the words as they're being sung. This is even more apparent for someone who does not understand Danish (or Latin, in the case of Vega), as the words come across as something approaching pure tones, as the listener is not distracted by the meaning of the words.

The overall effect is atmospheric and expansive like the openess of space, voices rising and drifting into the openess with a light and airy dissipation. There's also an almost spiritualness involved, as you can picture a choir performing inside a great cathedral, with voices filling up and echoing across an enormous physical space.

MISH MASH Mandate: Voices Carry
Dacapo Records
Hanne Orvad Page @ Naxos

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Vital Might
Red Planet

Magma Music
10 song CD

The Vital Might is a modern rock amalgam, showcasing all that is good and worthy in the current state of progressive modern rock. Their approach is dynamic, moments of easiness surrounded by sheer loudness, a towering haze of condensed sound layers that shift throughout. Think The Mars Volta meets the Doves, with a dash of early Radiohead thrown in for good measure.

The album begins with Phantom Spaceman, a track that stops and stutters around a staccato guitar riff. From there we find a more classic indie/alternative pop sound in The Truth, which gives way to the unusually-observant-yet-gripping City, a song that repeatedly asks "Why is this city here?" Trouble rips along like a Rush tune played at double time, borrowing a bit of early 90s grunginess to make its final point understood.

The band is adventurous and quick to avoid the pigeonhole, eagerly supplying the listener eclectic musical visions with each new track. While the blueprint is somewhat scattered in theory, it never fails to deliver results.

MISH MASH Mandate: Red Rover
The Vital Might Website

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Various Artists
In The Pines
Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes
Old Time Music Of North Carolina 1926-1936

Old Hat Records
24 song CD with booklet

North Carolina has always had a rich tradition of "hillbilly" music, and this latest release from Old Hat Records documents the era of major label activity in the Tar Heel State from 1926-1936. It seems that the influx of industry and disposable income into the state early in the 20th Century convinced the labels that there was an audience for recordings of native musicians, so a wealth of tradtional North Carolina music was recorded at that time, ending with the failing economy of the Great Depression. In effect, we're given a unique snapshot of that decade of recording activity, along with literal, rare photographic snapshots in the 22 page booklet. As an added bonus, most of the tracks have never been released on CD before now.

The disc begins with the track that started it all, "Dock" Walsh's In The Pines, recorded in 1926 by Columbia in Atlanta. It's a simple and stark folk song featuring only Walsh's solo vocals and banjo, reminiscent of a blues song with its repetitive lines and percussive picking. Old time gospel surfaces in Dixon Brothers' & Mutt Evans' Are You Sure?, where they pointedly ask, "shall I meet you in the land beyond the sky?"

Perhaps the most interesting track is the original version of Tom Dooley, as performed by writer/fiddler G.B. Grayson & guitarist Henry Whitter, which of course was made famous decades later by The Kingston Trio. The original has a decidedly upbeat bluegrass feel, told in a winding storytelling fashion, differing from the later version. In the booklet, we get the background story of Tom Dula (aka Dooley), who was hanged for murder in 1868 at Statesville.

As with all Old Hat releases, In The Pines is flawless in both execution and presentation, as attention to detail and quality is impeccable. This disc has a wonderful selection of hard-to-find music, along with even harder-to-find information and documentation rounding it out. Simply put, this is more than a history lesson --- it's a chance to meet the musical past face-to-face.

MISH MASH Mandate: Doodlebuggin'
Old Hat Records Website

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Didactic Dichotomy

8 song CD

Crawling from the same Southern Gothic mid-section of Georgia that spawned R.E.M., WILX stirs up an edgy, country-fried rock album that is sure to shake things up down in Athens. While they also worked with R.E.M. producer John Keane, the band's original roots are in Mississippi, which explains why the comparisons to Stipe & Co. are short and sweet. There's an underlying grittiness that escapes the high-falutin' musical panache of the traditional Athens music scene.

WILX keeps it simple, relying on big guitar riffs and anthemic choruses, not trying to get flashy or heady. Their forumla works without being formulaic, freshly riding the wave of classic rock without sounding derivative or simply retro. For me, this all comes together in the absolute driving rock of To You And Yours, where a fuzzy bass rides gleefully beneath one of the catchiest rock hooks I've heard in a long, long time.

This is the kind of album where you can imagine that the band really does best in a live setting, as every song sounds like its been finely honed in front of an eager audience. My advice would be to catch the album, and while you're at it, catch them live if you get the chance.

MISH MASH Mandate: Southern Soul Stew
Wilx Website

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Bloodsugars
Purpose Was Again

Video Single
Engineroom Recordings

It's not often that I get all revved up about a video, especially in a day and age where the idea of a music video has become passe, other than a way to pass the time on YouTube. The Bloodsugars have somehow rediscovered the magic that made us fall in love with music videos a quarter century ago (and yes, it has been that long).

The group revives the spirit of the early 80s with their song Purpose Was Again, a positive and upbeat pop tune that lends itself to the goofy animated imagery in the accompanying video. The band plays with cartoon instruments and flies weightless in outer space, while cartoon rocketships cruise by. It doesn't make sense, but it's not supposed to, and that's the beauty of it all. A great effort, and one that perfectly embraces the essence of music video. Now if we could only talk MTV into playing them again...

MISH MASH Mandate: MTV Killed The Video Star
Engine Room Recordings Website

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Johnny Foreigner
Waited Up Til It Was Light

Nettwerk Music
13 song CD

Johnny Foreigner's critically acclaimed UK debut will soon be unleashed on the US, and believe me when I say that you have something to look forward to. Their music is pure pop mayhem, a crazed and frantic adventure that never lets up. It's beautifully noisy and loud, reveling in anarchy while loosely holding on to just enough pop hookery to keep from going completely off the rails.

In other words, it's edgy but still listenable, chaotic without falling into pretentious avant garde wankery. The dual male/female vocal team becomes a unique platform to launch lyrical projectiles, their voices singing, shouting, and screaming through the veritable traffic jam of musical noise.

MISH MASH Mandate: New Noise
Johnny Foreigner Website

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sick Of Sarah
Sick Of Sarah

Adamant Records
10 Song CD

The all-female ensemble Sick Of Sarah revives the spirit of early 90s Riot Grrrl mentality and adds their own special twist. Not quite as angry as their fore-mothers, they nevertheless ride through the album with an undercurrent of anxiety and angst. It's combined with a solid indie mentality that brims with attitude and feminine strength.

Musically, the group dabbles in catchy, jangly pop that revolves around a pair of guitars and the voice of lead singer Abisha Uhl. Uhl sings with a passionate plea, wrapped in a youthful and energetic innocence that draws you right in. On the track Bittersweet, all these elements come together in perfect coordination as a prime example of their work.

MISH MASH Mandate: Sweet Sickness
Adamant Records Website

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Radio Radio
Alarm 1 Alarm 2

4 song CD

Roll up every post-punk new wave band you ever loved from the late 70s/early 80s and you'll have something similar to Radio Radio. They have perfected their sticky sweet power pop, topping it off with a smart and smooth 80s plastic sheen.

With only four songs, the EP passes by so fast and furious that there's not enough time to get weary or bored --- all killer, no filler. It's like four hit singles in a row, from the synth-rock driving title song to the funky Kraftwerk-inspired electronic dance rhythms of I, Computer. I couldn't think of a better way to ride out the dog days of summer.

MISH MASH Mandate: Ride The Wave
Radio Radio Website

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mike Musick

Union St Records
10 song CD

While his name might be a little on the questionable side of rich and cheesy goodness, Mike Musick (which I've just been informed is actually his real name - Ed.) makes up for it with one of the best indie pop albums I've heard in a long, long time. Catchy and singable from beginning to end, Musick lets his skillful pop creativity come blazing through on every track.

At times he reminds me of David Gray, or maybe Joe Jackson, quite possibly because of his laid back and understated approach. Most of the time his songs revolve around a memorable hook and simple beat, letting the pop grow and flower into full bloom without any unnecessary flourishes. This simplicity is key, and it makes this an album you'll want to hear over and over again.

MISH MASH Mandate: Steppin' Out
Mike Musick Website

Friday, July 11, 2008

Imperial China

4 song CD

Worlds collide within the progressive music of Imperial China, as influences such as Rage Against The Machine intersect with Fugazi, creating an edgy and aggressive sound that defies simplistic categorization. It's angst-filled and loud, yet smartly executed, using disjointed guitar noise set against off-kilter beats to provide a wall of dissonance that envelops the listener.

While there are only four tracks, the songs themselves are a little longer than the usual rock song (around 6 minutes on average), plus they are layered thick with weaving progressions, key changes, and about-face rhythms. It all adds up to a complete and fulfilling experience, one that that rarely comes with a short EP.

MISH MASH Mandate: Imperial Attack
Imperial China Website

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Sound Unbound
Sampling Digital Music And Culture
Edited by Paul D. Miller
aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid
MIT Press
Softcover, 416 pages
With 45 Track Audio CD

Much like the unwieldy subject matter it covers, Sound Unbound is a mashup of music-related essays dealing with the artistic distractions of our digital age. The book (and the accompanying CD) is a smörgåsbord sampling that runs in and out of context while trying to describe the complex and twisted nature of sampling, plagiarism, appropriation, creativity, and the ties that bind music to culture.

Miller does his best to approach this unsurmountable goal with decidedly abstract tactics, and more often than not it works. Whether it's an examination of the traditional polyrhythmic underpinnings in modern music or Brian Eno's history of bells, each essay brings the reader another intriguing piece of the puzzle. Through this thread, Miller not only asks what limitations artists should have in this sampling age, but if there should be limitations at all. And above that, what is true art, and what is a true artist? It's a heady examination, but one that needs our full attention in the 21st Century.

MISH MASH Mandate: Sampler Platter
Sound Unbound @ MIT Press

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Flyin' Ryan Brothers

Ryanetics Music
13 song CD

When it comes down to it, The Flyin' Ryan Brothers are all about guitars --- two to be exact. Brothers Johnny and Jimmy compose and execute their instrumental music with dual lead guitars being the prime focus. The influences range from progressive rock to world music to jazz, all combined into a magnificent melange. Throw in a motley mix of instrumentation, such as lap steel, glockenspiel, and theremin, and you have an album that is as entertaining as it is challenging.

The brothers Ryan approach their music with an earnestness that boats of a highly capable, all-pro backing band, and a high production quality that gives the music the perfect timbre and feel for what they are trying to accomplish. Their guitar playing is impeccable, the two guitars merging as one in perfect harmony. In all respects, the album lives up to its name.

MISH MASH Mandate: Totally Awesome
The Flyin' Ryan Brothers Website

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tony Palmer's Film About Callas
30th Anniversary Edition

Directed By Tony Palmer
Tony Palmer Films

30 years after its initial release, Tony Palmer has re-released his documentary biopic about the legendary Maria Callas, who died of a heart attack in 1977. Whether or not you love opera, the tragic story of Callas is captivating and heartbreaking. The documentary follows her rise to stardom, and the subsequent downward spiral of her personal life that resulted in her early death at 53 years.

Callas was a volatile and controversial figure much like the characters she played, with the drama on stage being almost a mirror of her real life. The film does not pass judgment, but instead presents Callas as somewhat misunderstood and in need of sympathy, at least in terms of historical perspective. She is shown as the tortured artist who gave her all to her audience, perhaps even using her troubled life as a catalyst for her unique artistry. As the film proceeds, we see a constant back-and-forth switch from personal life stories to her performances on stage, and by the end they've wrapped into one. Callas becomes tragedy personified, creating a moving and touching true life story, one that Hollywood could only hope to create.

MISH MASH Mandate: Original Diva
Callas DVD @ Naxos

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Various Artists
Compilation #3
The Almighty Father

VUF Records
Free Download

The third time is the charm, as VUF is back once again with another brilliant (and free) compilation download. This one is just as gripping as the first two, featuring a wealth of Euro electronica tracks from the likes of Astrid Engberg, Bokal, and Eloquent.

One of the more danceable upbeat cuts is Pof Pof by ElectroJuice, a track that is pumping and full of energy, while Juxx rips it up with the bouncing beats of Solo. In contrast, Engberg's Awake (Nabo Remix) runs with a gentle-yet-quirky groove that never settles down, while Mockin' Bird's Effort drones away with untiring intensity.

MISH MASH Mandate: Block Rockin' Beats
VUF Records Website

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

500 Lost Gems Of The Sixties
by Kingsley Abbott

Ovolo Publishing
208 pages
Softcover or limited edition hardcover

500 Lost Gems Of The Sixties is an ode to relatively obscure UK 45s from the 60s, lovingly and painstakingly documented by Kingsley Abbott. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book lies in the presentation, a full-color tour de force that wraps info snippets within an overwhelming amount of photographs. Record labels and band photos grace every single page, giving the subject matter an almost tangible feel, as if you could reach out and touch each one as you read about them.

Abbott has done his homework, taking us on an incredible off-the-beaten-path tour of 60s pop music, chronologically documenting each year with a stack of recordings that would make any collector drool with envious desire. Of course, the only obvious drawback here is the lack of an actual running soundtrack, which in any practical sense would be downright impossible given the vast number of singles covered in the book. In that case, it is left up to you, dear reader, to start tracking them down. This must-have addition to your summer reading list will immediately become the guide to your summertime scavenger hunt.

MISH MASH Mandate: World Record
500 Lost Gems Page @ Ovolo Website

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
Maria Kliegel, Cello
Nina Tichman, Piano
13 song CD

I've always felt that among classical composers, Fauré has been one of the more underrated and under-appreciated. Outside of his more well-known Requiem, many of his other works seem to get short shrift.
As part of the Impressionist movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century, Fauré created wonderfully simple themes that were romantic and poignant, and remain stunning to this day. His chamber music works, along with his music for piano (including the wonderful Barcarolles) are among his best, and many releases are sadly hard to find at times. I have a few LP sets that have been long out of print, and they hold a special place in my collection.

One of my favorite Fauré recordings is the 1995 RCA CD release Complete Works For Cello by Steven Isserlis and Pascal Devoyon, so I was excited to see this new Naxos disc featuring Maria Kliegel and Nina Tichman covering much of the same ground. Both releases feature the two cello sonatas, along with a number of other short pieces by Fauré. As the RCA disc was done by two males, I thought it would be interesting to hear the interpretation of many of the same songs by two females. Kliegel and Tichman approach these works with an emotional passion that fits perfectly with the romantic style of the composer, playing off of each other beautifully throughout each tune.

The strongest tracks on the album are their takes on Romance and Sicilienne, two short
Fauré compositions that allow the cello to open up in most dynamic fashion. Here, Romance is deep and overflowing with passion, and Kliegel's cello hits the climactic low notes with fervor. The duo plays Sicilienne a little quicker and happier than I'm used to hearing it, making it almost playful and light to the touch. Perfectly done, and it certainly lives up to the passionate legacy of Fauré.

MISH MASH Mandate: Passion Punch
Fauré Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 at Naxos Website

Friday, June 13, 2008

1000 Music Graphics
A Compilation Of Packaging, Posters, And Other Sound Solutions
By Stoltze Design
Rockport Publishers
Flexi-bind, 320 Pages

While you may already be quite familiar with album and poster art from the classic eras of rock and jazz, you may have overlooked some of the more recent works in the world of modern music graphic design. This incredible new book from Rockport Publishers and Stoltze Design compiles some of the best music graphic offerings from a number of current designers from the past few years.

While not spelling it out in literal words, the book does a great job of visually showing off the independent spirit of today's music and the art that packages and promotes it. It's a stark reminder that the Internet and modern software have leveled the playing field for the musician and the artist, taking the creative task of making music and graphic design out of the hands of corporations and into those of individuals. Much of the book focuses on independent music, and the art reflects that attitude with intensity. 1000 Graphics presents page after page of album/CD covers, posters, logos, and paraphernalia by various design teams, representing a number of musical artists in various genres. It's a visual feast for art and music lovers, and it's the perfect accompaniment for your music listening this summer.

MISH MASH Mandate: Artful Dodger
Rockport Publishers Website

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jumbling Towers
Classy Entertainment EP

6 Song Free Download

Jumbling Towers comes across as a quirky lo-fi indie band that has its musical roots buried loosely in the soil of post-punk and early 80s New Wave. Their synth-based songs on this are poppy in nature, yet self-consciously performed with a pout and a preen, almost glam in initial approach.

The music has a healthy dose of early Bowie thrown in for good measure, ending up with a neo-classic sound that doesn't depend on pure retro for retro's sake. The focus is instead on attitude, revolving around a dramatic lead singer that draws complete attention from first listen.

MISH MASH Mandate: Quirky Oddity
Jumbling Towers Website

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Helicopter String Quartet

Directed by Frank Scheffer
Medici Arts DVD

There is experimental music, and then there is music that goes to the next level into something more extreme. Back in 1995, Karlheinz Stockhausen went to such extremes with his Helicopter String Quartet, a piece of music that was created specifically to be performed live by a string quartet while flying in four separate helicopters.

Stockhausen's quartet was written to mimic the sounds of flight, built around frantic strings that shift up and down like birds screeching or insects buzzing, and constructed to blend in perfectly with the throbbing sounds of the helicopter rotors. Scheffer's documentary follows the
preparation and production of this fascinating work, from rehearsal to public performance. The production was intensive and complicated, as it included video and audio being transmitted live from the helicopters while in full flight, all synchronized by Stockhausen from his mixing position in the performance hall, surrounded by television monitors and speakers in front of a live audience.

The documentary doesn't just cover the performance itself, but it also examines Stockhausen's motivation behind it, delving into the thought processes and imagination that brought it into being. Scheffer also gains insight from the players of the and their contributions to the piece, following them from initial practice sessions through their performance flights. Instead of showing us only the end product as a whole, Sheffer builds intensity by building upon each step along the way, taking all the elements of rehearsal, pre-production and final production as a whole, climaxing with the final moments of the peformance as the helicopters land and the strings go quiet. The last few minutes are intense and captivating, seeing all the efforts by the Stockhausen and his players pay off in the end.

MISH MASH Mandate: Flight Plan
Helicopter String Quartet DVD @ Naxos

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Paul Weller
22 Dreams

21 song CD/LP

I suppose we can consider this Paul Weller's stab at a White Album to call his own. This two disc set is a sprawling epic and a glorious mess, and much like the Fab Four's classic, this album is filled with hits and misses, along with moments of strange curiosity.

Ranging back to the days of his confusing switcheroo from the mod punk of The Jam to the flamboyant New Wave of the Style Council, Weller has always managed to throw audiences (and critics) for a loop just when they think they have him all figured out. 22 Dreams is way out there, a psychedelic adventure that visits every nook and cranny of pop music from the past half-century, warping and melding various sounds into little song nuggets that are a departure from the more straightforward rock of his more recent efforts. In fact, this album seems to have purposefully included all the outtakes and one-offs that seem to usually end up on his b-sides and bootlegs, making a patchwork quilt of music that lacks a coherent theme, yet somehow making it all work with sheer audacity.

This is definitely a bold move by Weller, and the good thing is that he's at a point in his career when taking chances is more of a sure bet than it was 25 years ago. Here's to an older and bolder Weller; it's good to see he still has some rebellious fire in his soul.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rebel Rebel
Paul Weller Website

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Grand Opening
Beyond The Brightness

Tapete Records
9 song CD

John Roger Olsson, aka The Grand Opening, approaches his music with a melancholy mindset, much like Joe Pernice at his most woeful. The songs on Beyond The Brightness (it even sounds like a Pernice title, doesn't it?) are beautifully somber and slow, quietly drifting along while Olsson sings in a gentle half-whisper.

The standout track here is Secrets Revealed, where a bluesy guitar meanders through a lazy drumbeat while Olsson sings at his depressing best. It's poppy and catchy, yet able to drill a hole into your subconscious with its dark edginess.

MISH MASH Mandate: Melancholy Meandering
Tapete Records Website

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Emily Asen
Proof LP

Violet Maiden
11 song CD

Emily Asen's folksy cover art for her Proof LP has an otherworldly and abstract feel, almost like an ocean scene as viewed through a hazy window. At the same time, it has highly defined, post-modern lettering mixed right in, complete with faux paint stains, a touch that reminds me of early R.E.M. album covers. It's a fitting way to package the music within, as Asen presents her hazy, folk-tinged pop with an indie rock sensibility.

Asen sings in a quiet mid-range tone, always unassuming and never overpowering, using a subtle approach throughout. The instrumentation is simple and straightforward, and she lets her voice to flow along with the instruments. It's in this simplicity where Asen finds her strength, allowing her songwriting to take center stage.

MISH MASH Mandate: Impressionist Folk
Emily Asen Website

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Superficial World

14 song CD

GE5 plays their power pop the old fashioned way, with plenty of big guitars and fist-pumping arena-rock choruses. Take a trip back to the late 70s and early 80s where a rock band was a real rock band, and not afraid to turn up the stack as loud as it would go.

I'm thinking Cheap Trick-meets-The Smithereens, an all out American band without apologies or regrets. The group is at their best when they just let it loose, like on the opening track You May Be Right (no, not the Billy Joel tune), where the band blends cool harmonies with catchy riffs and killer hooks.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rock Of Ages
GE5 Website

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hour Of The Shipwreck
The Hour Is Upon Us

7 song CD

The world of Hour Of The Shipwreck is dark and misty, reminiscent of a hazy waking dream. Part gothic and part fantasy, with a touch of Radiohead-meets-Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure, the band drifts and meanders through these seven songs like a minstrel vagabond wandering through a literary countryside.

Although the group incorporates a number of instruments, perhaps the most intriguing element is a full vocal choir providing background sounds. This gives the album an unearthly, spiritual feel that moves the disc beyond a mere rock record into something special. Atmospheric and wrapped in darkness, the album is haunting and beautiful at the same time.

MISH MASH Mandate: Witching Hour
Hour Of The Shipwreck Website

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Various Artists
The In-Kraut Vol. 3

Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany 1967-1974
Marina Records
20 song CD

Here's another one of those magical compilations that seem to appear out of nowhere, filled from beginning to end with oddities from obscure (at least to us in the US) European bands. This one touches on psychedelic soul-inspired go-go grooves from Germany in the late 60s/early 70s. Cheesy? Oh heck yes, but it's the kind of schmaltz that hipster music lovers can't wait to get their hands on.

Let me just say here and now that the main reason you should seek this one out is for the whacked-out cover of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love by Dieter Zimmermann, where our dear Dieter uses a funky horn section instead of a vocal track. Also interesting is Katja Ebstein's enticingly sedated version of The Beatle's A Hard Day's Night that has a tripped-out sleepy feel, in direct contrast to the original.

MISH MASH Mandate: Shake Your Moneymaker
Marina Records Website (Germany)
Marina Records (US)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Santa Fe Stalker

11 song CD

Get ready for hi-octane power pop with the slightest touch of 80s-era indie angst. The music of Vancouver-based Dawntreader comes at you unexpectedly, with an effortless force that overcomes you without overwhelming you with excess. It's streamlined rock-and-roll that keeps just enough in the dark shadows of mystery to keep it interesting.

The band relies on jangly, reverberated guitars and a dynamic vocal presence in the form of vocalist/guitarist Matthew Thomas, who sings with a laid-back and understated style that blends well with the lightness of the music. Overall, the tunes are catchy and poppy without being overdone, having that perfect amount of edginess that you might find in The Cure or The Smiths. The standout track for me is Neon Country, where dueling guitar riffs create a cool urgency in the main verse.

MISH MASH Mandate: Neon Pop
Dawntreader Website

Friday, May 16, 2008

Little Lucid Moments

Rune Grammofon
4 song CD
Double vinyl LP

Not being very familiar with the band, and seeing four incredibly long songs with the shortest being 11 minutes long, I steeled myself in expectation of excessively plodding and morose progressive rock. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Motorpsycho lives up to their namesake, pulling out all the stops and laying down some fierce hard rock that seems much more streamline and sleek than the epic song lengths would suggest. There's just a tinge of pop structure to keep it catchy, and the band wraps it up nicely in an expansive progressive rock package that never lets sedation set in.

The album opens up with the title track, a 21 minute long four part suite that rips along with feverish abandon, somehow oddly reminding me of Rush and Black Sabbath at the same time. From there, we move on to Year Zero (A Damage Report), where the band begins with a quiet and meditative stillness, building into a slow-burning wall of sound. This gives way to the most powerful track on the album, She Left On The Sun Ship, where the band rages from one killer guitar riff into the next with crazed dissonance and lots of wonderful noise, only to lead us into a droning psychedelic landscape filled with atmospheric synths. The band wraps it up with The Alchemyst, which revolves around a cool ascending-then-descending guitar line and cool vocal harmonies.

Adventurous would be an understatement, and while it is certainly challenging in some respects, there's enough accessibility here for the average classic rock fan to get into and fully appreciate without feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the project. I have a feeling that once it's cranked up loud, you'll enjoy every epic minute of it.

MISH MASH Mandate: Master Suite
Motorpsycho Website
Rune Grammofon (Norway)
Motorpsycho (Forced Exposure USA)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Victoria White
The Upside

Kalimba Music
11 song CD

Victoria White's voice has a classic, old-school R&B feel to it, one that reminds me of the soul singers of the 60s, while her music has a distinct vibe pulled from the early 80s. White doesn't go overboard on the vocal histrionics and overpowering dance beats of most modern day soul music. Instead, she relies on sweet melodies and smooth electronic drum beats.

That's certainly not to say that she's totally retro or even a throwback, as her music has a timeless quality that doesn't place it in any one time or space. She's managed to make this sound her own, and it has her own unique stamp on it. Perhaps the strongest example of this on the album is Can't Buy Love, a track with a dreamy and supremely catchy groove that could easily be a Top 10 hit from anytime in the past 30 years. Great stuff, and an essential disc for your poolside adventures this summer.

MISH MASH Mandate: Style Council
Kalimba Music Website
Victoria White Website

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Full Measure

Silverado Records
11 song CD

Musical worlds collide in this inspired release from Silveroot, a trio that mixes folk, blues, bluegrass, and rock into a sound that defies the usual categorization. While the three piece relies on a folksy approach with the violin, guitar, and banjo as the main instrumentation, they weave various styles in and out with each instrument complimenting the other.

My favorite tracks happen to be the instrumentals, such as the rolling and driving Perpetual Motion, where they let the music do the talking with all their skills in tow. The album is strong from beginning to end, and it's obvious that they enjoy playing together and creating a sound that is all their own.

MISH MASH Mandate: Dream Weavers
Silverado Records Website

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Billie Holiday
Rare Live Recordings 1934-1959

ESP Disk
5 CD set

In this epic five CD set from ESP-Disk, we get a unique and rare opportunity to follow the live performance career of Billie Holiday from beginning to end, spanning over 125+ tracks. While her personal life was tumultuous and controversial, her musical legacy has stood the test of time, and has put her in the ranks as one of jazz's finest singers almost 50 years after she passed away.

The set is mixed collection of tracks from a wide assortment of sources, and the varying sound quality reflects this. It is good to keep in mind that completion is more important than quality in this set, and many tracks have noise or general lo-fi quality that is inherent in the original sources. In other words, this is the kind of box set custom-built for the fan who wants it warts and all.

Even so, the performances are stunning, even with the hodge-podge of production. The set is a stark reminder of Holiday's talent, and the all-encompassing theme of the collection puts an indelible stamp on this fact.

MISH MASH Mandate: The Whole Holiday
ESP Disk

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Jim Stubblefield
Guitarra Exotica

Natural Elements Records
10 song CD

Jim Stubblefield takes the listener around the world with his Guitarra Exotica, mixing and melding a wide variety of international music styles with an assuredly Latin-flavored rhythmic foundation. With the guitar as his centerpiece, Stubblefield examines the rhumba, the bulerias, the tango, and flamenco, among others, interchanging fluidly from traditional to more modern sounds. His sound is passionate and expressive, always gripping and intricate.

Stubblefield also backs himself with talented musicians, especially the brilliant viola of Novi Novog, which serves as the perfect complimentary instrument for much of the disc. The result is an album that sounds like a true group effort instead of a solo project, adding a depth and breadth that makes for a truly classic piece of work. My favorite tracks include the nouveau-flamenco of Gitana Mora and the epic, driving sounds of Eye Of The Sun, Parts I & II.

MISH MASH Mandate: Sun King
Jim Stubblefield Website

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Decursus Media
11 song CD

Composer/musician Antherius takes a classic approach to his brand of electronica, harkening back to the days of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and Jan Hammer. While Antherius' music is progressive in nature, he retains a pop sensibility that keeps his work accessible to the average listener.

He refers to his music as "Progressive New Age", and that's probably as accurate a label as you can put on it, although it does not fully do it justice. There is definitely a pop and rock undercurrent that gives everything a certain structure, and it is certainly an important part. Antherius doesn't overload his tunes with extraneous beats and instrumentation, opting for a more simple and sparse texture that has a very open feeling, relying more on melody than a wall of sound.

MISH MASH Mandate: Axel F
Antherius Website

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jet Black Crayon
In The Interim

Function 8 Records
CD & DVD set

Jet Black Crayon's In The Interim mixes the aural with the visual in this inspired dual-format release. Seven of the nine songs on the CD are represented by short films on the accompanying DVD, as produced by various independent filmmakers.

The band's instrumental music is minimalist and somewhat impressionistic, giving the listener just enough to get an emotional vibe. Nothing about it reaches out and grabs you, instead it drifts in and lingers in an atmospheric fashion, slowly creeping into your subconscious. The short films take advantage of this abstraction, with most of them avoiding a coherent narrative and depending instead on random imagery. The notable exception is the well-produced film by Dan Wolfe that is set to the song Lost In The Fog, where a repeatedly stolen bicycle is passed from thief to thief on city streets.

Taken as a whole, the album provides a multi-faceted view of Jet Black Crayon that reaches beyond the traditional approach and gives fans a complete musical experience that is rare and truly unique.

MISH MASH Mandate: The Bicycle Thieves
Function 8 Website

Friday, April 25, 2008


Rune Grammofon
11 song CD

Skyphone's Avellaneda quietly deconstructs and re-purposes various musical ideas before pasting them back together in a strange and wonderful sound collage. It's a subtle and unassuming folksy style that uses quirky rhythmic beats that cruise gently beneath light and atmospheric melodies to create a sound that is completely their own.

It's a sound that is wide open and airy, yet at the same time produces a pointed uneasiness that never quite lets you get comfortable while listening. It's challenging instead of relaxing, even though it rarely raises above a whisper. Truly a thought-provoking and completely abstract way of looking at music, all the while remaining accessible to the listener.

MISH MASH Mandate: Undertow
Skyphone Website
Avellaneda Order Page (US)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Louis Armstrong
Live In Australia 1964

Medici Arts/EuroArts
12 song DVD

Live In Australia captures a unique moment in the long and storied career of Louis Armstrong. In 1964, at the time of this recording, Armstrong was about to make a huge resurgence with his hit, Hello, Dolly!, a song that would challenge the Beatles for the top of the charts. But in this live concert in Australia, we get to see a pre-comeback Armstrong focusing on earlier tunes that were hit-makers a decade before.

In this filmed performance, Armstrong was in his element, playing songs and having fun in the process. It is obvious that his playing live was a labor of love, and at this point in his life he had fully embraced his position as one of the forefathers of jazz. At the same time, he accepted this honor with an air of humility, as he graciously shared the stage with his All Star band mates. Shining examples of this can be found in the piano solo performance of Perdido by Billy Kyle, along with the extended bass solo How High The Moon, by bassist Arvell Shaw. It's impressive to see a band leader of Armstrong's caliber allow a backing player to simply take over and have their own showcase right in the middle of a concert.

Highlights of the DVD include the aforementioned solos, a terrific take on High Society, along with the sultry swing of Did You Hear About Jerry, with the excellent and underrated Jewel Brown on vocals. This is a must-have addition to any Armstrong collection.

MISH MASH Mandate: Now You Has Jazz
Louis Armstrong Live In Australia 1964 @ Naxos

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Warner Brothers
11 song CD

I really hate to get negative on R.E.M. After all, they're one of the few bands I have consistently kept an eye on for the past 25 years. As the elder statesmen of indie rock, they've always been one of my favorites, throughout the thick and thin of their long career.

So what's the matter here? The whole idea behind Accelerate is that R.E.M. wanted to make a rock record. It's a bold and noble attempt, and the album is probably their best effort in the past decade. But, the main problem for me is that R.E.M. seems to be trying too hard to sound like a young and angry band, and they just barely get there. They're obviously not young anymore, and apparently that kind of teen angst is hard to come by for middle-aged rock stars. They actually come very close on the last two songs of the record, Horse To Water and I'm Gonna DJ, where the band finds the right amount of vinegar and piss to make a couple of down-and-dirty, gritty rock songs. If the whole album had this vibe, then I'd be singing a different tune. With that having been said, there are other good moments in the album, just not stunningly great ones. It's frustrating, because I would love to love this album. Perhaps I'm not being fair with my high expectations. Who knows?

If anything, there's promise and potential of a true classic album in the vein of Automatic For The People, but it just falls out of reach. All the ingredients are there, except for the youth and the angst. And wouldn't we all like to be young and angry again.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rapid Eye Movement
R.E.M. Website