Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Capsize 7 - Horsefly
Blag'ard - Mach II

Pig Zen Space

This duo of releases features guitarist Joe Taylor, formerly of Capsize 7 and now with the duet Blag'ard. Capsize 7 was a Chapel Hill-based quartet in the early 90s who was briefly signed with Caroline Records. They recorded an album in 1996, Horsefly, which was never released by Caroline, and has now finally resurfaced and found new life. The group had a flirtation with indie-rock fame, sharing the stage with likes of Archers Of Loaf and Superdrag, before their disappointing drop off the radar in the mid-to-late 90s. The music here has that distinctive mid-90s indie edge, reactionary to the rise and fall of grunge rock which had been dominating the scene up until then. It's a smart sound that is wound around tight, noisy dual-guitar lines, driving beats, and unassuming vocals. Good stuff, and a shame that it had to sit idle for so long.

Fast forward to 2010 and Taylor's new group Blag'ard, where the aforementioned indie rock group sound is stripped down to the primer. It's just guitar, vocals, and drums, but don't try to make any comparisons to the likes of the White Stripes et al, because this is certainly a different ball of wax. Taylor and drummer Adam Brinson both sing, sharing the vocal load while trading off harmony lines, filling in the gaps left by a lack of bass and other instrumentation. The setup is basic and simple, but the rhythms and melody lines are progressively complex and weaving. When you add the dueling vocal patterns to the mix, the sum is much greater than the parts. There's a lot going on here, and it's hard to believe there's only two guys with two instruments making all this ruckus.

MISH MASH Mandate: Time Warp
Pig Zen Space Website

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Cossacks
By Leo Tolstoy
Read by Jonathan Oliver
6 CD Audio Book

And now for something completely different. When you think of Tolstoy, you most likely think of his epic novels, like Anna Karenina or War and Peace. You probably don't think of his shorter pieces like The Cossacks, a shorter novella that is considered to be the author's autobiography. The book centers around an unhappy Muscovite nobleman named Dmitri Olénin
who joins the army in search of adventure and purpose in his life. He winds up in the Caucasus and is intrigued by the geography and the simple people who live there. Along the way, he discovers himself and falls in love for the first time, and in turn discovers the pain love can bring. We meet a cast of characters that includes the manly Cossack soldier Lukashka, the beautiful Cossack girl Maryanka, and the larger-than-life grandfather figure, Uncle Yeroshka, each of who play an important role in the life education of Olénin.

Since this has always been one of my favorite books, I was curious to see how it translated into the audiobook format. The voice work is done by Jonathan Oliver, an English actor who has over a decade of experience reading audiobooks for the blind. At first, I was a little thrown by his English accent, as I know many Russians personally, and I always lent a Russian accent to The Cossacks characters in my mind. But as the story progressed, I got used to Oliver's accent and it became very natural sounding, as he took on the life of the characters. He also did a wonderful job of changing out his vocal style as each different character spoke, making it easy to tell who was speaking as the conversations took place. I especially liked his portrayal of Uncle Yeroshka, the colorful old man of the Cossack village who takes
Olénin under his wing. Oliver's voice bellows and rings out with intensity, bringing the character to life in incredible fashion. Oliver is obviously very familiar with the story as well as Tolstoy in general, and he adds touches here and there to make the story even more special. For example, he reads the descriptive sections with the same enthusiasm as the speaking roles, painting a perfect picture of the Cossack village and the activities of its inhabitants as they go about daily life. He also sings their songs with a convincing air, staying in character the whole time.

As far as classic literature goes, this one is an easy listen. It is not too long, and the story moves quickly, filled with adventure and a touch of innocent romance. Plus, it is a great introduction to Tolstoy without getting lost in the epic length of some of his other works. Highly recommended.

MISH MASH Mandate: Cossack Commentary
The Cossacks @ Naxos Website

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Colin Giles
Colin Giles
4 song Free Download

There's not a better way to begin the spring than with a little blue-eyed soul, and Colin Giles delivers up a fresh batch with this fantastic little four song EP. It caught my attention right away when I learned that it features Money Mark (of Beastie Boys fame) on the keyboard. How can you go wrong with that?

All four tracks settle in with a nice groove, provided by Mark's keys and a smooth beat from the drums, setting the background for Giles to lay down his soulful vocal stride. It's got old school flavor, but it doesn't go out of the way to be retro, so it's not merely a throwback. You can tell Giles has studied the greats of the past and has worked on getting his own special sound, and it pays off. Best of all for you, all four cuts are available as a free download, so go ahead and jump right into spring.

MISH MASH Mandate: Spring Soul Stew
Colin Giles Website

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gastonia Gallop
Cotton Mill Songs & Hillbilly Blues
Piedmont Textile Workers On Record
Gaston County, North Carolina 1927-1931
Old Hat Records
24 song CD w/24 page booklet

In the early 20th Century, the South was slowly becoming more and more industrialized, with urbanization creeping into formerly rural areas. The factories were springing up and providing steady jobs for the people who were concentrating in the towns, growing them ever larger and larger. This happened in Gaston County, North Carolina in the 20s and 30s, and it dramatically changed the culture, especially the country music that came out of the Appalachian hills and into the city. Old Hat's Gastonia Gallop captures this moment in time with this collection of tunes recorded by Gaston County artists between 1927-1931.

The compilation brings together a number of musicians and styles that range from hillbilly blues to vaudeville, displaying the variety that came together in the closer quarters of the town. The accompanying booklet delves into the history of the town and its textile industry, showing how steady pay and idle time made the perfect spot for musical creativity to blossom and quickly evolve. We also meet some of the more colorful artists from Gaston County, like the Three 'Baccer Tags, whose novelty songs were delivered with a wink and a nod, and the harmonica virtuoso Gwin Stanley Foster.

More of the history involves labor strikes and protests, and the violence that erupted around them. The musicians were also the workers, and this was certainly reflected in their music. One of the songwriters and outspoken labor activists, Ella May Wiggins, became a martyr for the cause after being assassinated in 1929. Her songs went on to inspire the protest songs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

Standout tracks on the disc include the Carolina Twins' Gal Of Mine Took My Licker From Me, a simple and laid-back country ditty that laments a girlfriend that took away the singer's bottle of homebrew. David McCarn complains about the hard job of working in the mills on Poor Man, Rich Man, while the aforementioned Three 'Baccer Tags have some ribald fun with Ain't Gonna Do It No More. Once again, Old Hat has put together a stunning collection of music that has been pulled out of obscurity, along with the history that puts it all into perspective.

MISH MASH Mandate: Galloping Grooves
Old Hat Records Website

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Viola Recital: Soviet Russian Viola Music
Kryukov, Vasilenko, Frid, Krein and Bogdanov-Berezovsky
11 Track CD

Much of the music of Soviet Russia is a mystery to the West, especially the viola works included here by
composers Kryukov, Vasilenko, Frid, Krein and Bogdanov-Berezovsky. Naxos has gathered five rarely recorded and formerly unrecorded pieces into a recital format, showcasing these lost gems for lovers of the viola.

Violist Igor Fedotov is joined by pianists Gary Hammond and Leonid Vechkhazyer as he brings the mid-20th Century works to life. The pieces are romantic and hopeful, steeped in a Russian sensibility that speaks directly to the modernization ushered in by the Soviet era. The compositions seemed trapped in that limbo world where the Soviets had left behind much of traditional Russian culture, all the while trying to stay ahead of the West in the Cold War. There are acknowledgments of the past, all the while attempting to stay contemporary. My favorite track is Vasilkeno's Sonata for Viola and Piano, a nontraditional and fragmented 18-minute piece in one movement that twists and turns through a number of themes before resolving beautifully at the end.

MISH MASH Mandate: Veritable Viola
Soviet Russian Viola Music @ Naxos Website

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The William and Edward Frontage EP
Triumphant Walrus & K Sur Records
4 song 7" Vinyl

Quirky is the name of the game with this duo of Evan Inman-Butts and Chris Rusk of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's like an unholy union between Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and They Might Be Giants, with these two guys throwing everything against the wall just to see what will stick.

Even though it's odd-for-the-sake-of-being-odd, their music has an appeal that goes beyond the weirdness. Perhaps it's the sweetly innocent pop foundation, or the fact that you can't take any of it seriously, so you just sit their with a goofy smirk on your face while the record is spinning. How else can you appreciate obtuse lyrics like "I guess it's a bad idea to fall in love with a body of water"? The whole setup kind of reminds me of Atlanta's Big Fish Ensemble, who took a similar approach back in the early 90s, with multiple instruments and out of this world subject matter, wrapped up in a beautiful pop shell.

MISH MASH Mandate: Pop Pranksters
Wighead MySpace

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Toy Instruments
Design Nostalgia Music

by Eric Schneider
Mark Batty Publisher
192 pages

Toy musical instruments have always been popular with kids, and in the electronic age, they have become so commonplace that we sometimes forget they're there. Author and collector Eric Schneider has put together a showcase of his collection of 20th Century electronic toy instruments, as a tribute to their artistic design and playful musical legacy.

The collection runs from the familiar and popular (such as the 1986 Nasta Hit Stix, electronic drum sticks wired to a small potable speaker), to the ultra strange and obscure (like the 1972 Tomy Voice Corder, a Japanese toy that allowed kids to cut their own vinyl records). Each toy is displayed with emphasis on its design and packaging, which is sometimes more interesting than the toy itself. The focus is almost purely visual, compelling you to consider not just the design, but also the way the design influences the functionality of the toy. There are also short informational blurbs at the bottom of each page, giving more insight on the toy and its use and/or particular sound.

My only suggestion would be to have some way of listening to the sounds these toys make, either by including a CD with the book or providing files online. It would add another dimension to an already incredible display.

MISH MASH Mandate: Toy Story
Toy Instruments at Mark Batty Publisher Website

Monday, March 08, 2010

The T.A.M.I. Show: Collector's Edition
Shout! Factory

This is the stuff legends are made of. Available for the first time in more than 45 years, the 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show is a godsend to fans of rock-n-roll and r&b. The film helped establish rock music as the generation defining cultural movement of the 60s, and it has attained mythological status since it disappeared from public viewing after its initial release.
The best anyone could ever hope for was an inferior and incomplete bootleg. For years, it has been caught in a quagmire of legal issues that has prevented its official release until now.

Does this new release live up to the hype? Simply put, yes. The concert is an amazing slice of rock music of the early 60s, just as it was beginning to transform into the counterculture. Yet, it still maintains the innocence of the time, evidenced by Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys and their golly-gee surf music, Lesley Gore and her pajama-party pop, and the fact that almost all the acts took deep bows after their performances. The beauty of it is that in this film, you can pinpoint the exact moment that rock music turned the corner and became a force to be reckoned with.

This paradigm shift comes with the stellar performance of James Brown, as he utterly destroys everything that came before him. When he puts his heart and soul into Please, Please, Please, sweating profusely and stooping down on the floor like a man in unbearable pain, you can feel the earth move. Everything changes. Mick Jagger knew it when the Stones had to follow Brown. Mick looks unsure of himself and tries to pump up their performance, knowing that from that point on, it was never going to be the same.

History was captured in a brief shining moment, and it is great that we can finally watch it happen in all its glory.

MISH MASH Mandate: Take It To The Bridge
The T.A.M.I. Show @ Shout! Factory

Friday, March 05, 2010

Finjarn - Jensen
Finjarn - Jensen
Shadoks Music
7 song CD/LP Reissue

OK, chalk this one up to not judging an album by its cover. I admit, I was a little wary of this one when I got a look at the low-budget Norwegian cut-n-paste cover, complete with bad 70s haircut and even badder glasses. How could the music be any good? Let me just say, I'm glad I took a chance on it, because this is a perfect example of an undiscovered gem.

Part psychedelic, part British Invasion, and part power-pop, Finjarn - Jensen is a potent composite of rock music from the late-60s/early 70s era. Think Cream, The Beatles, The Move, Traffic, with a heaping helping of King Crimson, and you get a good idea of what we're talking about here. One More Day is power trio blues rock at its finest, Blue and Peaceful starts off with a Beatlesque Sun King-styled intro and melds into an ultra groovy rock shuffle, and Grey Skies takes off into a drug-induced haze of progressive heaven, accented with a meandering drum solo. It's just sad that we had to wait 40 years to hear it in the US.

MISH MASH Mandate: Norwegian Cover Up
Finjarn - Jensen @ Shadoks Music
Finjarn - Jensen @ Forced Exposure (US)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Classic Appalachian Blues
Smithsonian Folkways
21 song CD
40 page booklet

While the Delta blues gets all the glory, the Appalachian blues seems to generally get the short shrift. Well, not any more. Smithsonian Folkways has put together a fantastic collection in a compact package: a 21 song salute to Appalachian blues artists, along with a 40 page booklet.

The songs range from classic twelve-bar blues to more country-flavored blues, pulled together from throughout the 20th century, from the 40's up until the 90's. Some of the names are quite familiar to blues lovers, with artists like Doc Watson, Josh White, and Sticks McGhee included on the CD. Part of the disc comes from live recordings of the Smithsonian's Festival Of American Folklife, which ran from 1971-1982.

The booklet features a 12 page essay on the Appalachian blues by Barry Lee Pearson, and he gives a succinct overview of the story of blues in the area. Most of the booklet is dedicated to giving a breakdown on each song, with a little history on the song's background and the artist that performed it. It's a wealth of information that is sure to please fans of the blues and American music.

Standout tracks include Sticks McGhee's Wine Blues (Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Oh-Dee), John Jackson's Railroad Bill, and Pink Anderson's You Don't Know My Mind. You can also download a free mp3 of Baby Tate's See What You Done Done for a sample of the compilation.

MISH MASH Mandate: Blue Ridge Blues
Appalachian Blues @ Smithsonian Folkways

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Walk The Nile
Rune Grammofon
6 song CD/Vinyl LP

How do you rock out without a guitar? All you need is a Hammond organ in overdrive, turned up to 11. Norway's Elephant9 is a power jazz-rock trio that defies convention by turning the aforementioned Hammond into a driving force to be reckoned with.

This is progressive rock with a jazzy twist, reminiscent of early 70s prog enhanced with a thoroughly modern style that borrows from multiple generations of music. The Hammond provides a massive wall of sound that moves from subtle drones to manic solo runs, obliterating everything in its path. Simply stunning, and a must-have for fans of jazz/rock/fusion.

MISH MASH Mandate: Organic Hammond
Elephant9 page @ Rune Grammofon
Elephant9 page @ Forced Exposure (US)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
Siciliene / Elegie / Pavane / Papillon
14 song CD

Let it be known that I have a soft spot in my heart for Gabriel Fauré, especially for his pieces for cello. I think this is the third album of the cello/piano works that I've snapped up in the past decade, the last one being just two years ago on the Naxos label. This one differs from the previous Naxos offering by adding an arrangement of Pavane.

Cellist Ina-Esther Joost Ben-Sasson and pianist Allan Sternfield are set to the task of tackling Fauré's unique post-Romanticism, and they do a fine job. In case you are not familiar with him, Fauré's style is sometimes described as Impressionism, as he was active during this artistic period in France, and is sometimes associated with the work of Debussy or Ravel. While this term doesn't fully describe his complete output, it certainly could be used when talking about his cello and piano works, especially the shorter pieces like Sicilienne or Romance.

Ben-Sasson and Sternfield take a no-nonsense approach and pretty much play these pieces by the book, whereas the previous release with Maria Kliegel and Nina Tichman had a slightly more adventurous flare. In this latest release, Ben-Sasson's cello is reserved and subdued, while Sternfield mainly plays the support role. It's not quite academic, yet it gives the whole album a more serious feel overall. This is not a bad thing, quite the contrary, because it complements the previous album and its relative looseness. For me personally, having the two different performances to compare shows the depth of interpretations that can be made.

That having been said, this particular album would be a great introduction to Fauré because of this steady, hands-on approach. It captures the essence of the music without straying too far, allowing the listener to branch out from there. Add to the fact that this is a complete rendering of his output for cello, and you have a fantastic starter for the rest of his chamber music.

MISH MASH Mandate: Faure Foundation
Faure Cello Sonatas @ Naxos