Rock Doc Reviews for Friday, Nov.29th

PAINTING ON SILENCE Andrea Balestra (Spleen Records) ***I listened to this at the end of a rather frantic work week last Friday, and it successfully brought me back down to earth.  An all instrumental solo album from the North Hollywood-based guitarist, its charms are as sublime as they are many.I’m not usually big on jazz- like most, I shy away from things that make me feel dumb- but this, with some rock and funk mixed in too, is pretty cool.  They look to be mostly original compositions, with a re-make of The Beatles’ Come Together that just takes the song somewhere else- if he could, I’m sure John Lennon would groove on it.Painting In Silence has a nice, relaxing vibe that reached me on the first pass.  “This record was cut almost entirely live, in the arc of four sessions by musicians sharing the same room at a home studio, with no click track, with minimal editing and overdubs” says Andrea about the sessions.  “I believe it was the right method to render the concept of this album, to better serve the music on it and respect the listener.”Guests on this disc, if you’re familiar with the jazz world, include Scott Henderson, Dave Hill, Carl Verheyen, Julien Kasper, John Pisano and Steve Trovato.  There’s such a natural ebb and flow to these songs, within each number and the album itself as an overall piece- that it’s hard not to get swept away in the moment.  Do yourself a favor and let it happen.  You can find Painting On Silence on CDBaby and iTunes, as well as thru other outlets.COOL CUTS:  Come Together, California Blue, BulldozerMISSED TRAIN BLUES Joe Filisko & Eric Noden (Roots Duo)  ****Kim Field praises this duo as “Two marvelous musicians who have captured not only the sounds but also the emotional spirit of some of the richest bloodlines of American music.”  Think blues, think bluegrass, think country, think mountain soul- that’s where these two guys are coming from.Joe and Eric are experts in harmonica and guitar styles that defined the blues in its earliest days but are now all too rarely heard, which explains how this record sounds historic and contemporary at the same time.  Filisko is a master of all the classic blues harmonica styles (is that a little Sonny Boy riff I hear on Waterfall?) and Noden’s guitar playing is deeply rooted in the music of 20’s and 30’s blues pioneers, and his singing voice definitely sounds lived in, in the best possible way. Not unlike The Highbar Gang, reviewed last week, you’ll feel an inescapable O Brother vibe here too.No drums, no huge band arrangements, just a couple of guys making really old soul music that seems to come from the mountain areas of the deep south.  It almost feels like the sort of thing you could run across on an old train platform, and you’d consider yourself lucky for having done so.  Musically, Missed Train Blues feels like it came from somewhere in the 20’s, there’s a deep spirit at work in and around these dozen songs, and both of these men are mesmerizing performers.  Missed Train Blues is a fine album in the best sense of the word, an acoustic treasure that I can’t wait to share on my radio show.COOL CUTS:  If You Call Out, Missed Train Blues, Love Gone BadTHE MAP OF ABOVE THE MAP OF BELOW Gregory Hoskins & Gary Craig (Independent) *****I can’t say that I’m familiar with anything previous by either of these gentlemen and so had no idea what to expect when this went into the CD player.  Raw, uncluttered, evocative and provocative… if I was still writing “Best Of The Year” lists, Map would place at, or very near, the top of the heap in a year that’s been filled with good music.Gregory Hoskins’ career spans 22 years, 8 albums, and recording contracts in countries all over the globe.  Gary Craig has recorded with a who’s who of Canadian music including Bruce Cockburn, Jann Arden and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings.  No huge backing band here it’s just guitar, voice and percussion, an intimate sound that draws you into articulate conversations, a raw sound that takes no time to get used to.In the years that I’ve been writing reviews, attempting to articulate how I feel about any given piece of music, my highest compliment on any record is to say that it’s “good company”, and that sums up Map.  Nick Krewen of The Toronto Star praises this as being “…another can’t miss effort for fans of sublime, observant songwriting”, noting that it’s “tinged with hope and melancholy”.  The disc also includes appearances by Hawksley Workman, Colin Linden and The Beggar’s Virtual Choir; a 30-voice choir constructed from fans singing into their phones and uploading their files- certainly an inspired and very original idea.The Map Of Above The Map Of Below is a deep pleasure that bears many repeat visits.  If you dig intimate singer/songwriter stuff (Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon) you’ll be impressed with what Hoskins & Craig have created.COOL CUTS:  Providence Line, Mama’s Boy, I Will Find A Way to Let You DownLIFE, LOVE & HOPE  Boston (Frontiers) ** Here is Boston’s first album in  11 years, not that anybody’s been counting. If you understand the way Tom Sholz works, that seems about right- but after such a long wait, Faith, Hope & Love is, at best, stunningly average.I wanted to love this album, especially after 2002’s ghastly Corporate America, but this disc and I are destined to be just friends.  I naively hoped for at least a dusting of the greatness that flavored Boston’s self titled debut, even Don’t Look Back or Third Stage, but after several listens it just ain’t happening.Sholz plays all of the instruments on LLH, which is part of the problem.  He also spends so much time refining and second-guessing each track that I think he loses focus, although he’d likely disagree with that.  Crappy drum sound, just like the last album too- whether it’s programmed drums or Tom doing the playing, the result is the same- thin and uninspiring, completely lacking in spirit and groove.Where Sholz succeeds here is in that unmistakable Boston guitar sound- one note and you know exactly who you’re listening to.  Lead vocals are a community affair with several voices taking turns at the mic- hell, even Tom takes the lead on one song- but the most notable thing here is the inclusion of the late Brad Delp, the band’s original singer… regardless of how I feel about the album overall, it’s a thrill to hear his voice on new music 6 years (give or take) after his suicide.Not sure about this album lyrically as I haven’t yet studied the words, but Tom says that all the songs are about life, hope and love.  I can’t get past the tepid sound of the album- how the band would fare with a producer like Bob Ezrin or Bob Rock cracking the whip?  Even money says we’ll never find out.  I found a link on facebook to a recent interview with Tom Sholz where he says, in effect, that he hasn’t listened to current music since the seventies because he doesn’t want to be influenced in any way.  That’s the same attitude Ray Davies of The Kinks has, and nobody cares about his records either.I’ve loved this band since the first album so I don’t say these things lightly. LLH bears little resemblance to the inspiring music that overworked car stereos in the late 70’s, when every Firebird that drove by (including mine) was blasting More Than A Feeling, Smokin’ or Party.  As I said at the top, this is, at best, average. If Tom ever makes another album and expects people to give a shit, he should bring in an outside producer and turn on his fuckin’ radio once in awhile.COOL CUTS:  Someone, Sail Away, Last Day Of School BACK TO BROOKLYN Barbra Streisand (Columbia) *****Since mom took to the see Funny Girl in the late 60’s, I’ve been a fan and, as a singer, Barbra gets better with age.  A famously shy live performer, you’d never know it from this live disc.  A homecoming of sorts for this Brooklyn chick to open the Barclays Center Luxury Arena, a good time was clearly had by all.Back to Brooklyn is both a celebration of Streisand’s career and of her well-known love for her hometown.  “I’m proud of where I come from” she states in the liner notes, “Brooklyn people are down to earth.  When we meet there’s an instant bond. I could be in Shanghai and if I bumped into someone from Brooklyn, we could speak in a shorthand that is completely unique.”  The audience sits in rapt attention, listening to that spectacular instrument- her voice- surrounded by lush arrangements, reacting enthusiastically at the end of each number, applauding with recognition when a song they know (pretty much all of them) starts, and laughing at Babs’ casual, corny jokes.Many of these songs are standards, some spectacular pop hits from early on in her singing career, with more than a little Broadway flavor to the songs and the evening itself.  The patter in between songs is casual and friendly and I must say this is one of her more relaxed performances.  There are a couple of duets with Chris Botti, but the real surprise is the duet with her son Jason Gould on How Deep Is The Ocean.  I’ve seen Jason act (Prince Of Tides is one of my favorites), but I had no idea he had such a fine voice.I don’t suppose there’s anything here that will change your mind if you don’t like Streisand’s music- but if you do, this will be a warm, pleasurable experience.  I consider myself a ‘rock guy’, but I’ve always been a sucker for a good melody and even though I’m neither gay nor Jewish, Barbra’s voice has always gone from my ears and straight to my heart.  I suppose it stirs up memories of my mother, who passed away 29 years ago next month, but this music also recalls a simpler, perhaps more innocent time when songwriting was considered a craft.  I love this album and that’s all that matters to me.COOL CUTS:  How Deep Is The Ocean (with Jason Gould), Evergreen (with Chris Botti), The Way We Were/ Through The Eyes Of Love.DARK WINGS OF STEEL Rhapsody of Fire (AFM Records) ***This is relatively new territory for me- Italian symphonic power metal.  As grandiose and over the top as that makes it seem, this is a glorious aural adventure.If you’re not familiar with this band or style, it’s very cinematic in an unabashedly epic sort of way.  Last year co-founder Luca Turilli left to form his own band, leaving Alex Staropoli to soldier on.  Once again the band is working with a real orchestra, not synthesized strings, and a real choir as well.  This disc, and the ones that have come before, are where classical and heavy metal music collide.  If you haven’t that combination, they have far more in common than you might think.Originally formed as ‘Rhapsody’ in the 90’s, releasing their debut in ’97 (Legendary Tales), the band was forced by legal issues I’m not clear to revise their name to ‘Rhapsody Of  Fire’ in ’03, and they have continued to grow and evolve throughout the years.  Though a progressive style, this certainly isn’t as “weedly-weedly” as, say, Dream Theatre… it’s more like a cross between Iron Maiden and Queensryche, with perhaps a touch of early Styx.  Tempos and grooves tend to be regimented, almost martial, and that’s where much of this music’s power comes from- these guys mean business.Records like Dark Wings Of Steel, with its almost operatic delivery, are huge over in Europe and not so much on this side of the pond- and that’s just wrong.  This disc is big, bold, and occasionally thrilling.  It’s going to take me awhile to decode this properly and break it down so I can truly understand it- but that’s a skirmish I’m willing to engage.COOL CUTS:  Tears Of Pain, My Sacrifice, Custode Di Pace (sung in Italian)GATHERED IN THEIR MASSES Black Sabbath (Vertigo/ Universal)  ****The DVD/CD combo, recorded early on in the Sab’s triumphant tour to support 13, their first new album with Ozzy on vocals since 1978’s ill-fated Never Say Die.  At the risk of stating the obvious, this is essential viewing and listening for fans.It was interesting to watch this DVD, having seen the band in Vancouver back in August, noticing how the set list had changed and how the graphics on the backstage screens had evolved.  I’ve only seen about half of the DVD, having just purchased it last night, but for early on in the tour the guys were in pretty good form.  Bassist Geezer Butler doesn’t move around much on stage anymore, but he still plays like a mad bastard- the only bass player I’ve seen with a faster right hand is Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris.  Tony Iommi has been my favorite guitarist for well over 3 decades so watching him is always a pleasure.  He’s not one of those shape-throwing, head shaking guitar-face making guys.  He usually stays planted when he solos, and strolls casually around his area of stage while reeling off devastating riffs with ease.Even Ozzy was in good form on the night- off key in a fe spots and a shade ahead of the beat on the song Black Sabbath, but otherwise fine.  His constant shouts of “I can’t fucking hear you”, “let me see your hands” and leading the crowd in shouting “hey, hey, hey!” and “Oy! Oy! Oy!” frankly got on my nerves real fast, makes him seem like a chimp with Tourette’s.  Oz seems at a loss as to what to do with himself during long instrumental passages… maybe he should consider just rockin’ out, or maybe dashing off stage for some water- just an idea.Performance-wise, the band is right on the money.  Tommy Clufetos is a muscular drummer, doing the songs themselves and Bill Ward’s legacy justice with room to spare. Songs from the new album 13 (there are 4 here) actually sound better than the studio versions and sit well amongst hoary old classics like Iron Man and Children Of The Grave.  I’m disappointed but not surprised that they didn’t play anything off of Never Say Die, as most of the band hate that record.  Something off of Technical Ecstasy would’ve been cool (to be fair, though, they added Dirty Women to the set list by the time they hit North America), and something more than the opening riff to Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath (used as an intro for Paranoid at the end of the show) would’ve been nice.The Reunion album, from the 90’s is far more representative of their career in the 70’s but still, Gathered In Their Masses will do quite nicely.  Black Sabbath will return to Canada this spring (got my tickets and hotel room for Saskatoon already) for one more go around- what happens after that is anybody’s guess.  Another album and tour would be nice, but Iommi has been waffling in the press of late on that idea, and Ozzy still owes 3 more records on his solo deal.  So if this is their swan song I’d have to say thank you, gentlemen, for a job well done.  I have a new Sabbath concert to watch, and a live CD (with 5 less songs than the DVD) to blast in the car, already more than I dared hope for.COOL CUTS:  Loner, Methademic, Fairies Wear Boots (all appear in the DVD & CD)


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