HEY, HEY RISE UP Pink Floyd (Sony) *****
This past Friday, Pink Floyd released its first new music in 28 years and no, 2014’s The Endless River doesn’t count as it was made largely of keyboard parts left by Rick Wright, before passing away in 2008 after a battle with cancer. Hey, Hey features the singer from the Ukrainian band Boombox, Andriy Khylvnyuk. David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason are here of course, with former Floyd touring bassist Guy Pratt and keyboards by Nitin Sawhny. The band released a statement on Friday when the song came out, indicating that all proceeds will go to Ukrainian humanitarian relief.
As befits the purpose and occasion, Hey, Hey Rise Up is a slow, bluesy number, almost a dirge. It’s short at just 3:26 and, aside from Andriy’s vocal, is dominated by typically gorgeous and expressive David Gilmour guitar solos. It’s nice to see Dave and Nick get back together for such a worthy cause- my only complaint is that the song is so short, but I can live with that.
According to CNN Entertainment, Gilmour has a Ukrainian daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Boombox used audio of Andriy singing in central Kyiv where, the guitarist says, “he performed a rousing Ukrainian protest song written during the first world war.” Gilmour felt moved by Khylvnyuk’s performance “in a square in Kyiv with this beautiful gold domed church… in the silence of a city with no traffic or background noise because of the war. It was a powerful moment that made me want to put it to music” he said. Pink Floyd said that the singer, who left his band to join the army, is currently in hospital after being hit by shrapnel.
It’s a good song for a good cause- you should buy it. If you want to see the lyrics translated into English, try this link.
NO ANESTHESIA Speedfossil (Red On Red Records) *** ½
Some sweet power pop out of Boston. No Anesthesia is Speedfossil’s 3rd album and it’s a real toe tapper. Fans and critics describe them as “a return to great pop song writing in the vein of The Replacements, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Smithereens and The Ventures”, which is a pretty good fit. This is an energetic, upbeat good time.
The band is the creation of singer/ songwriter Garret Vandermolen, who spent time previously in the music biz in virtually every corner; a songwriter,, producer, promoter, engineer, A&R executive, label owner and member of a touring band. Burned out, he threw in the towel in 2001 to start a family. Persistent friends, fans and family coaxed him back into action, resulting in Speedfossil’s 2014 debut Light Of Day. You’re So Next followed in 2017, and here we are in 2022 with No Anesthesia.
No Anesthesia is a no frills record; I’m not hearing a pile of overdubs, just what feels like live, straight up performances. Most of the tracks on the disc are either first or unedited takes, and Garret’s previous experience as a producer and engineer proves priceless in getting the right sound for this band and these songs. In the age of streaming and downloads, these songs are intended to be listened to uninterrupted as a complete body of work- while some might find that notion quaint or old fashioned, I find it refreshing. The songs take us on a sonic and lyrical journey through relationships, observations and challenges that we all face in this life, things we can all grasp.
The best way to describe No Anesthesia, I think, is 80’s New Wave meets garage rock. Vandermolen is no rock star vocalist, more like early Joe Jackson which fits the ,material like a glove. From the poppy synths duelling with jangly guitars in the opening track Luckiest Man In The World to the raunchy guitar sound of Pieces Of Eight, the album is like a time travel trip in the grooviest of ways. A nods must be given to his band mates too, for making this disc what it is; with Garret on vocals, guitars and keys we also have Michael Scotti on bass, Dan Jordan on guitar and Hector St. Hilaire on drums. This marriage of primitive rock instincts with pop song craft should take them a good long way. I’ve been digging this for about a month, now it’s your turn. www.speedfossil.com
HOT TRACKS: Count Me Out, Luckiest Man In The World, Disconnected
MADELEINE Mississippi Heat (Van der Linden Recordings) **** ½
This is blues as thick, rich and deep as the delta mud after the great Mississippi flood of 1927. Madeleine is Mississippi Heat’s 13th album and it’s full of soul, groove and playing that is nigh on impossible to beat. This, kids, is the real deal.
Madeleine is 12 original songs mostly written by band leader/ harmonic player Pierre LaCocque, co-produced by Pierre and Grammy and Blues Award winning producer/ engineer Michael Freeman. Despite the name of the band this album has an almost Louisiana-like spirit, swing and sheer joy to it- not that I mind. I wonder if that has anything to do with any of the special guests listed on the cover; Lurrie Bell, Carl Weathersby, Inetta Visor or Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith. Regardless, with a ton of special guests this album plays like a great party- no wonder a Grammy winning recording/ mastering engineer calls this “a thrilling album!” He’s not wrong.
Madeleine gets much of its rollicking energy from smartly written horn charts that punctuate the tunes, along with the groove of bassist Brian Quinn and the barrelhouse piano of Chris “Hambone” Cameron and Johnny Iguana. One of the things I look for, especially in a blues album, is a sense that the musicians involved are all having a good time playing the music, and that is definitely the case here with this particular slice of Chicago blues. I do have one tiny quibble, though; I know the sound of overdriven harp through a cheap mic and amp is essential for that bedrock blues feel, but to my ears Pierre’s harmonica is a little too distorted and should have been pulled back just a smidge. Still, that’s a tiny thing against the embarrassment of riches found here.
Using a variety of singers on Madeleine, both male and female, serves the music well. Recorded and mixed at Chicago’s legendary V.S.O.P. Studios and mastered by Paul Blakemore, you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic blues listening experience than this. I can’t wait to share some of these tunes on my internet radio show! www.mississippiheat.net
HOT TRACKS: Empty Nest Blues, Truth Like Rain, Uninvited Guest
THE ELEPHANTS OF MARS Joe Satriani (Ear Music) ****
Whether you’re a fan of hot rod guitar instrumental music or not, chances are you’re at least familiar with Joe Satriani by name. If you’re a fan- he does have a niche yet sizeable fan base- you’ll be happy to know that he’s just released his best album since… well, I gotta go back to 1998’s Crystal Planet. More different textures and feels than any in recent memory, that’s for sure. It usually takes me a couple of spins to get into his albums, but this one makes friends quite quickly.
While the pandemic was devastating for performers deprived of their livelihood (as were many of us non-artsy types), Satch is the latest example of the forced time off being a good thing creatively. Joe and his band of merry men worked remotely, from California and Australia respectively, taking advantage of the shut down to ponder, create, and ponder some more. In an interview with Guitar World, Joe says “This story started to develop in my head. It’s in the future, Mars has been terraformed and Earth’s corporations are raping the planet for raw materials. What they don’t know is that there’s a life form there, which is these 30 foot elephants. And they’re gonna fight, so Mars can retain its natural beauty.”
The Elephants Of Mars contains some of Joe’s most creative and expressive work, even as his 19th record. “This album” he says, “was all about removing barriers from my creative impulses”, and that’s what makes it such a great listen for an instrumental record. He no longer feels that he has to be the fastest player in town. “A year ago” he says in the same interview, “I thought ‘okay, I’m finished with that.’ I’m not trying to sell myself as a guitar technician. I’m not 16 years old anymore. I don’t have to go on Instagram and say I can play faster than I did yesterday.” I can’t remember who said it first- might have been David Gilmour- but the space between the notes is at least as important as the notes you DO play”, a concept which Satch is developing a firm understanding of.
One of the coolest things about Elephants is that Joe tries different sounds and approaches throughout, without really straying too far from home. You’ll hear some Eastern motifs, then there’s the full on prog of Tension And Release as well as some southern fried funk on Blue Foot Groovy but traditionalists need not despair, Satch can still shred when the mood calls for it.
The Elephants Of Mars is Joe Satriani’s most diverse album in quite some time, and I’m sure looking forward to spending quality time with it to discover its charms more fully. www.satriani.com
HOT TRACKS: Sahara, Blue Foot Groovy, Pumpin’
HAND IN THE FIRE Gunn Blues Band (independent) *** ½
Thanks to Debra Power for turning me on to this Calgary group. Gunn Blues Band is a well oiled, well seasoned bunch of musicians passionately devoted to the blues, and Hand In The Fire bristles with roadhouse energy. These cats can really get down.
Their story starts as teens in 1971; like minded, ambitious, driven, building a following on the road, record company interest, and a heartbreaking breakup. In 2010 Hammond B3 maestro Brock Gillis joins forces with talented guitarist Greg Gunhold and Gunn is born. Jump to 2021 and they get the old band back together; older and wiser with creativity intact and joy in their hearts. The result? Hand In The Fire.
This album was written and recorded over 2020/21 as the band was coming back together and taking shape, pandemic downtime giving them the time necessary to work on the songs and get them to where they want them to be. The quick way to describe these songs is lowdown blues with jazz chops. The rhythm section of drummer Gary Weiss and bassist Jim Irwin is light on its feet while Brock Gillis brings the soul and color on his Hammond and Greg Gunhold brings the fire with his tasty licks and pretty damn excellent guitar solos. Blues this may be, but there are times when the interplay between Gunhold and Gillis recall Blackmore and Lord in the glory days of Deep Purple; a mighty rock band yes, but a blues powered one when you consider their best stuff.
Singer Jill Brydges is the icing on an already impressive cake with a crystal clear voice that brings a certain pop je ne sais quoi with her sultry delivery, particularly on a track like Crawlin’ Back To You. Greg Gunhold is also credited as writer, producer and engineer, so the music starts with him then becomes what it was meant to be once the other band members strap up and play.
The press material says that “Hand In The Fire captures the essence of the live band”, but I’d be very interested in catching them on stage and see where they take these songs from an already solid starting point and stretch and shape them some more. Good stuff. www.gunnbluesband.com
HOT TRACKS: I Just Wanna Know, Crawlin’ Back To You, I’m A Real Woman
ENVY OF NONE Envy Of None (Snapper Music) ***
This is the self titled debut album from guitarist Alex Lifeson’s post-Rush group. If you’re expecting Alex’s usual 6-string pyrotechnics, you’re in for a shock. Come into this with an open mind and the groove is not hard to find.
Envy Of None is Lifeson, along with Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran, producer Alfio Annabalini and singer Maiah Wynne. This isn’t Alex with a bunch of people tagging along for the ride it’s a group effort, a true collaboration. I’ll admit being taken aback at first by the electronic textures and the dreamy alt-rock vibe that dominates the album, and while I can’t imagine this ever being one of my favorite records, I’m vibing on the creative daring needed for a guitarist of Alex Lifeson’s renown (and bassist Curran for that matter) to step so far outside of what we the public expect of them.
“I was in Rush for 45 years but I have a lot of other musical ideas” Alex told Apple Music. “Working with a different set of people who are great musicians and songwriters was a rewarding experience. I was able to create the type of soundscapes and characters in the guitar that was very non-guitar-like.” In an interview with The Toronto Star, Lifeson said “Diving into this project, I’m just different but the same person, and I’m much more rewarded by things that I do in the background than things I do in the forefront. Rush being a three piece with three very strong players was all about that. Envy Of None is all about the service of the song, and creating beautiful things and really cool things to listen to.”
Having been a Rush fan since their first album, what Envy Of None is expressing on their debut is certainly not what I expected from Rush’s guitar player… but then again I’m secretly delighted that this is the case. While I’ve never been a big fan of electronic music, my affection for Alex’s old band dictates that I give Envy Of None more than the couple of cursory spins its received so far. Thanks to this being an I Tunes download, I am unable to play Spy House. Bastards. NOTE TO SELF: might be time to give his 1996 solo record Victor another spin too. www.envyofone.com
HOT TRACKS: Dog’s Life, Kabul Blues, Look Inside
LIVE AT 3RD AND LINDSLEY Hurricane Ruth (Hurricane Ruth Records) ****
This is as energetic a live record as you’ll ever hear. Hurricane Ruth is the real deal, old school and raw. Along with her band she tears Nashville a new one on Live At 3rd and Lindsley, a disc that takes no prisoners and shows no mercy. She kicks the doors down with Roll Little Sister and just keeps going.
Cut from the same cloth as Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, Hurricane Ruth is a force of nature. So named after the well known Nashville club of the same name, Live At 3rd and Lindsley is spectacularly well recorded. Produced by the ubiquitous Tom Hambridge who also provides a driving backbeat on the drums, the band also includes Scott Holt and Nick Nguyen on guitars, Calvin Johnson on bass and Lewis Stephens on keys, with special guest Jimmy Hall on As Years Go Passing By. About a 3rd of the way through the set Ruth announces a new song she wrote with Hambridge that she hasn’t recorded yet, and with that she and the band drop down into a slow and sexy blues groove for Faith In Me. It shows another side of Ruth as a singer, and you can hear the crowd voicing their appreciation in all the right places.
I first heard Hurricane Ruth on 2020’s Good Life and dug her right away. From a rock howl to a sultry purr and everything in between, she really has it all, and 3rd & Lindsley is our chance to hear her in her natural habitat. Studio records are one thing, and the aforementioned Good Life only hinted at the real power in her voice. As powerful as the rockin’ stuff here is, it’s the slower stuff like Faith In Me and Cry Like A Rainy Day where she gets a chance to wrap herself around a lyric that she truly impresses. With the full range of emotion at her command as opposed to just going flat out (as much fun as that can be), it becomes readily apparent what a great singer she really is and that comparisons to the likes of Joplin are justified.
Good songs, a first rate band and one of the best blues/rock belters around make Live At 3rd and Lindsley an experience you shouldn’t miss. www.hurricaneruth.com
HOT TRACKS: Roll Little Sister, Faith In Me, Cry Like A Rainy Day, Make Love To Me