CUT FLOWERS Rhindress (bandcamp) *** ½
This is the first album for this husband and wife duo from Kelowna, BC. Cut Flowers shows Jim (guitar, vocals) and Kim (keys, bass, melodeon) harmonizing beautifully over mainly acoustic backdrops as they sing about life and love with a wink and a smile.
I first became aware of Rhindress when the title track from this album was brought to my attention, and I liked it enough to share on one of my radio shows and check out the rest on bandcamp. This feels like a meeting of Great Big Sea and Barenaked Ladies; musically sharp, lyrically engaging and easy company, maybe a bit of East Coast soul with the song Cut Flowers playing out like “cinematic country” according to Kim. The arrangements tend to be sparse here, which makes it easier to get into the lyrics. For every song with the humor of the opening track Everybody’s Normal (Til You Get to Know Them) there’s one that takes you down deep like Here’s To You, Here’s To Me about a guy missing his father. That one had me thinking about my own dad, taken by cancer in 1987.
Cut Flowers features Jim and Kim alternating lead vocals, one harmonizing while the other leads. Jim Rhindress is a solid guitar player and Kim is likewise on keys as they bounce well off of each other. Percussion sounds like a drum machine program unless I’m mistaken and that’s a bummer, but I understand the economics of it. I do like where they’re coming from, though… on their bandcamp page they say “our songs are a reflection of our real life experiences and the people and stories we have gleaned from our travels across Canada and the world.”
Cut Flowers is rowdy at times, and introspective too- a pretty nice balance that gives this set of songs legs, as they say in the show business. If you’re in the Kelowna area next month you’ll be able to catch them live at the Gonzo Music Awards- in the meantime this is an album you’ll want to get to know. I’m looking forward to sharing more of these songs on my internet radio show.
HOT TRACKS: Cut Flowers, Everybody’s Normal, Finally, Here’s To You Here’s To Me
KEEP MOVING ON Deuce ‘n A Quarter (independent) *****
If you’re a blues fan this is one of those discs you need to have. Keep Moving On, the latest from this quintet, is a swingin’, living, breathing blues trip. The songs were written during trying times, particularly for front man Brian Peters, and musically the breadth of expression here is remarkable. This rocks, rolls and strolls as it gets under your skin in the best way.
Deuce ‘N A Quarter went to the 2023 International Blues Challenge finals, and front man Brian Peters won the coveted Best Harmonic Player Award, so these guys aren’t just dicking around- they’re the real deal. A great band all around to be sure, but it’s the muscular playing of guitarist Keith Colbert that will make you sit up and take notice, particularly on Same Old Blues. The band website describes his playing as “an evolution of modern blues with a firm foundation inspired by the blues from Texas, Chicago and The Delta.” The other guys in the band; Peters, (vocals & harmonica), drummer Andre R. Scott, bassist Martin O. Brown and keyboard player Tim Dvorkin aren’t just along for the ride either… everybody here pulls their own weight.
Keep Moving On is also collection of songs about life; the title track is a reminder to never give up no matter how tough life gets and, speaking of tough Why which finishes off the disc, is about the tragic loss of Brian Peters’ daughter that captures the emotion of a difficult period with sorrow and yet hope. This is an album that speaks to the human experience of the modern day, and Deuce ‘n A Quarter have the same feel as bands like Powder Blues and Downchild at the top of their respective games; energetic and swingin’, yet able to get down and dirty when the occasion calls for it; contemporary rhythm ‘n’ blues.
From the blistering Same Old Blues down to the casual Mississippi drawl of Sun Kissed Wheat and the emotional wallop of Why, Keep Moving On was recorded with blues legend Kenny Neal at his Baton Rouge studio. When it comes to showing how music can provide comfort and strength in hard times, this disc should be exhibit “A”. It’s the sound of life- great stuff.
HOT TRACKS: Same Old Blues, Sun Kissed Wheat, Why
HEAVY ROCK N’ ROLL Deadwolff (Golden Robot Records) ** ½
Before we dive in take a good look at the album cover; now look again. How that looks is how this disc feels. Heavy Rock N’ Roll is exactly as advertised, throwback metal that combines Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden with similar period Motorhead, a blend of hard rock, punk and metal that the denim ‘n’ leather crowd will dig.
The press material describes H RNR, Deadwolff’s full length debut, as “a revival of foot-tapping, beer-drinking head banging tunes”, and that pretty much sums this puppy up. They recommend this for fans of Judas Priest, Motorhead and Wasp, and I can see how their primal energy would attract that crowd. Some good riffs here, played with speed and a punk recklessness that can be a little too abrasive but then that’s part of Deadwolff’s appeal. In the early Motorhead tradition this Toronto based outfit is a trio; Tommy Wolffe on bass and vocals, Bobby Deuce on guitar and Angus Pike on drums.
Heavy Rock N’ Roll hits me as more punk than anything else with its hell bent for leather attitude and simple arrangements. Nothing intricate or artsy happening here, it’s all pretty direct and in your face as the guys are givin’ ‘er track after track… the production is pretty basic too, no doubt a part of their collective rock & roll attitude. With the technology available today this could have sounded so much better sonically, but that basement tape sound quality is part of the charm.
I’ll bet these guys are a blast to see on stage, and they’ve got a U.S. tour lined up to support the record. Love the energy and the attitude, but Heavy Rock N’ Roll feels kind of flat; it needs something more to really stand out from the crowd.
HOT TRACKS: Homeward Bound, Locked And Loaded, Gang Wracks
HUNT THE FLAME Magnus Karlsson’s Freefall (Frontiers) ***+
This is the 4th installment for the Swedish guitar maestro’s Freefall project. As with the previous three, Hunt The Flame includes a cast of killer lead singers to help bring Karlsson’s sonic vision to life. Dense, thick, heavy, multi-layered symphonic rock… or is that progressive rock? Either or, this impresses.
Hunt The Flame includes the vocal talents of 11 different singers, most of whom I’ve never heard of before, but a couple of names did jump out; James Durbin, and Girish Pradham from one of my new favorite hard bands, Girish & The Chronicles. Other than these guys there are really only 2 other musicians on the record; Anders Kollerfors on drums and Magnus Karlsson handling all other instruments. While that may seem egotistical who else would know exactly how MK wants the songs to sound? And if that takes him playing everything, why not?
If the Deadwolff album just reviewed is at one end of the rock & roll spectrum, then Hunt The Flame is at the opposite end. Other than being an exquisitely talented musician Karlsson is also well known as the mastermind behind several productions associated with Frontiers Music. The drumming of Kollerfors is a powerful engine for these songs, giving Magnus and the singers he has assembled the energy and drive this kind of stuff needs to really work.
While Magnus Karlsson has been associated with many productions for Frontiers and has played with German metal icons Primal Fear since 2008, Hunt The Flame and the 3 albums that preceded it give the Swedish guitar maestro an avenue to present his own musical vision as he sees fit, and that’s no small thing. This disc is Karlsson as he wants us to hear him and with music this thick, juicy and ambitious, it takes a while to get inside. Getting past the pompous grandiosity may take some doing, but with a musician this gifted it’s worth the extra effort.
HOT TRACKS: Nightbird (with Michael Eriksen), Holy Ground (with Girish Pradham), Thunder Calls (with James Durbin)
SAVOY Taj Mahal (Stony Plain) *****+
This is a sublime love letter to an era gone by and it’s one everybody should read. With a voice as distinctive as Louis Armstrong Taj, along with producer John Simon, pared an initial list of jazz and swing classics down to the 14 that appear on Savoy. It’s a sweet stroll down memory lane not to be missed.
These songs by the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan and George Gershwin are what Taj Mahal grew up on. “I heard (them) as a kid when all of those people who made them were alive and speaking to us through the records” Taj says. “Those weren’t just records to collect. Those were like listening to your relatives, your uncles, your cousins, your grandparents speaking to you through the medium of music. The music was good then, it’s going to be good now.” Part of the magic of Savoy is his affection for the material; you feel it in every note he sings and in the performance of the musicians too.
Savoy may seem to some to be out of time yet that’s what makes it vital. Taj Mahal makes no attempt to radically alter these songs to ‘make them his own’, he stays faithful to the arrangements which, in turn, reminds us what gorgeous melodies they are. The spirit of this reminds me of Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive record from the early 80’s where he covered the songs of his dad’s generation. Something else both albums have in common; Joe and Taj each cover Louis Jordan’s Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby, and they both knock it out of the park.
Taj Mahal is pushing the boundaries of roots music as he always has, resulting in 14 Grammy nominations and 3 wins. Collaborator John Simon, who has produced classic records by Leonard Cohen, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Band and Gordon Lightfoot, is the perfect foil. They’ve discussed collaborating for decades now, with Savoy finally being realized last August. All of the musicians involved are swingin’ big time, and when Taj scats throughout he reminds you of Louis Armstrong. As co-executive producer Holger Petersen remarks in the liner notes, “this is a Taj album like no other and a deep part of his long history.”
Savoy is a gorgeous piece of work and one I will listen to often. This is irrefutable proof that time travel is possible through music. I LOVE this.
HOT TRACKS: Stompin’ At The Savoy, Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby, Baby It’s Cold Outside (with Maria Muldaur)
CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW
TECHNICAL ECSTASY Black Sabbath (Warner Bros.) RELEASED: Sept.25th, 1976
This is the 7th of the 8 studio albums recorded by Black Sabbath’s original lineup. It gets dumped on by fans and critics alike but they can get stuffed; I love this record and always have.
At this time in their career Sabbath had just come through horrific legal troubles with former manager Patrick Meehan and were handling business themselves. The strain had a significant impact on their creativity, starting with Sabotage (which includes the lengthy diatribe The Writ about their legal woes) and ended with Never Say Die. Sandwiched in the middle was Technical Ecstasy, a record that gets unfairly criticized and overlooked.
Produced by guitarist Tony Iommi, T.E. is a marked departure from Sabbath’s trademark heavy doom and gloom sound as they attempt to update their sound. Iommi’s guitar is razor sharp, Geezer Butler’s bass is melodic and adventurous, and bringing in keyboard player Gerald “Jezz” Woodroffe is an added texture. In a 1992 issue of Guitar World, Iommi said “Black Sabbath fans don’t generally like much of Technical Ecstasy. It was really a no-win situation for us. If we had stayed the same people would have said we were doing the same old stuff. So we tried to get a little more technical and it just didn’t work out very well.”
I get that but remember being thrilled that Technical Ecstasy was something other than more of the same. The sound may be brittle compared to previous records but the songwriting and arrangements are inventive, and songs like You Won’t Change Me contain some of Iommi’s fiercest guitar playing to date. Rockers like Dirty Women hold up very well but it’s the more unusual material that makes this record exceptional. She’s Gone is a heartbreaking acoustic ballad that’s even sadder than Changes from Vol.4, and All Moving Parts (Stand Still) is an unexpectedly funky number about a transsexual politician who becomes president of the US. Bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler says the lyrics was inspired by Margaret Thatcher.
I really- and I mean really– like Technical Ecstasy. I have it on CD, vinyl copies on the Warner and Vertigo labels, and on Record Store Day I picked up the deluxe 5 disc vinyl box set with oodles of goodies. Sabbath were attempting to carve a new path and while few seemed to care at the time- the album only got to #51 in the U.S. and #38 here in Canada- I applauded the effort then, and my appreciation for this record has only deepened over time. Their best work? Hardly… but far, far from their worst.
HOT TRACKS: You Won’t Change Me, She’s Gone, Dirty Women