Review by: Matt Crosslin
“Who or what is Aradhna?” you might be asking yourself. Aradhna is a Hindi word that means worship. The band that uses that word for their name is a group that writes Christian worship songs in a mixture of Western and Eastern styles. The catch is – the core of Aradhna is two non-Indian guys (Chris Hale and Pete Hicks). Don’t fear – this is not a lame attempt at ‘world music’ where some white guy lays some really western sounding beats on an ethnic drum and then brags about how cultural they are. These guys grew up on the Indian subcontinent and have an immense respect for their adopted culture. And adopt that culture they have – this album oozes cultural authenticity to its core. The statement on the front of their website says it all: “the group captures the beauty and dignity of India’s bhajan devotional melodies with music that blends east and west.” It also doesn’t hurt that Chris can speak Nepali and Hindi fluently.
The trick to making their albums great is that Chris and Pete record much of their albums in India with Indian musicians. Amrit Vani is the latest of three studio albums and one live album (and don’t forget the two CDs by Chris’s former fusion band Olio). While “Jaago Logo” from Marga Darshan is still my favorite Aradhna track (check it out in the samples section of their site), Amrit Vani is now my favorite album. I love the joy and beauty of all tracks. I even find myself singing along at times… even though I don’t know Hindi (English translations are included, for those that want to know what they are singing). “Jaya Dev” kicks off with a nice acoustic mood and some authentic tabla drumming, leading in to the sitar enhanced sound of “Yeshu Raja.” I love sitar music. There is also a good groove underlying several songs – one of my favorites is in “Man Mera”… even though it is very subtle. This album is full of subtle hints at different musical ideas – layers of sounds sit on top of each other in ways that allows you to really dig in to what you are listening.
Most of the songs on this album fall in to the acoustic category, even those there is a definite energy to many of them that surpasses the acoustic tag. My only complaint about this album is that the electric guitars of songs like “Jaago Logo” are not present on this album. Songs like that tended to sway the balance of east vs. west to the west side a slight bit on the previous albums. With that element gone, the pendulum swings slightly to the east side of the fusion mix… but that is still fine by me. I love world music and this is album is agreat addition to any world music lover’s catalog.
HOLY GHOST BUILDING
2008 Lo-Fidelity Records
Review by: Steve Ruff
The 77’s are a cornerstone in the music that has defined my generation. They have a catalogue that is as varied as it is long. My introduction to them was way back in 1990 with the alternative offering “Sticks and Stones. This newest album “Holy Ghost Building” is the 14th album to be released since “Sticks and Stones”, and is to date, probably my favorite album.
This album is return to fine form with the guys in the band bringing not only an amazing collection of new cover songs, but a new sound as well. While rock and blues have been a staple of their sound for some time, this album brings in a couple of other distinct flavors such as folk, slide guitar and according to their website some “Byrds-era jangle electric 12 string”. This album was recorded much in the same way as the pioneers like Elvis, Cash and those guys did their early albums. According to lead singer Michael Roe, “ Those guys would choose a song, play through it to get the feel and arrangement, and while it was all fresh they would just roll the tape.” “That’s how you ended up with records like the ones I loved as a kid, and this one’s got that sound and feeling”.
The process works well on this album. It is a new direction musically for the band, but the sound fits perfectly with the songs that were chosen. Older blues, bluegrass and gospel songs were picked for this album. There are a total of eleven tracks here, all done just the way only this band could. My favorite tracks would be, “Stranger Won’t You Change Your Sinful Ways”, “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul”, and “I’m Gonna Run To The City Of Refuge”.
My tastes in music seem to change a bit as I change, I’m not sure if that’s just that I’m getting older or if I am just beginning to realize the styles of music that everything flows from. I’m not sure what it is, but I know this album is fantastic and one that you need to hear if you haven’t already. Check out : http://www.77s.com or http://www.lo-fidelity.com/store.html for ordering options.
2007 Lo-Fidelity Records
Review by: Steve Ruff
This is the latest ‘live’ release by the 77’s. Recorded at Brian Quincy-Newcomb’s Christ Church back in 1999, this album was an answer to their highly acclaimed ‘live’ album “88” from ten years prior. This is a great compliment to the 77’s catalog. This band has always been great to see live, they have the skills that compliment the personas and always please the crowd.
This record is the enduring line up of Mike Roe, Bruce Spencer, Mark Harmon and they added Scott Reams for some additional help on guitar, keyboards and percussion. “99” has eight tracks coming in somewhere around 45 minutes, which is short for a 77’s show, but I guess they pulled the best tracks from this concert and put them to disc. Drawing different songs from their catalog, tracks here include favorites from the ’Tom Tom Blues’, ’Drowning With Land In Sight’ and their ’EP’ albums, as well as Roe’s second solo offering ’The Boat Ashore’.
“99” is the full band, fully plugged in and doing what they do best with the blues/rock vibe that they have become known for. If you don’t have this album, you should get it. If you do have it already, buy another one and give it away. The 77’s are one band that is known for allowing fans to tape and record their shows, and this album was on the trading circuits before it was ever packaged and released, so but an extra as a way of supporting this band and saying thanks.
LOWER CASE MINI EP
Review by: Steve Ruff
This mini E.P. is just what it says, mini… but this disc packs a serious punch and is one of the best things to come down the music slide this year. The three songs that grace this disc, available as a download only from billmallonee.net, are “Sober Up”, “String Of Pearls” and “Sad Parade”. This is Bill at his best, backed by a full band and his wife Muriah on piano and vocals.
All three of these songs were previously only available on BillTunes, his monthly subscription service that comes out at a furious pace of 5 new songs every month. The cool thing is that with the subscription you get these songs in a more ‘demo’ form, and with Lower Case you get to hear them upon completion with the band. Everything is here in abundance, the multi-layering guitars and string arrangements are top notch. Muriah’s vocals are beautiful and lend a very heartfelt, almost haunting, quality that blend well with the songs that are what I love most about Bill’s music… introspective, intuitive and sometimes heart-breaking.
Bill’s ability to write lyrics that rival Dylan are here as well. Check out these lyrics to “Sad Parade” which was his tip of the hat to Robyn Hitchcock:
“Yeah, and I am sitting in this room, On every hill there is a fool
And my conscience, it’s the lurking shadow, Of a hangman that I haven’t met
A lovely uniformed cadet, Those killing fields never lying fallow”
Bill’s music is one of the most overlooked works of art for the past twenty years. Always a ‘critic’s darling’ band with Vigilantes of Love, and now solo for the last several years, commercial success has been elusive and unkind. Bill writes, in my opinion, the best Americana music that is out there. This is the real deal, so get online and check out billmallonee.net where you can follow the link in the upper right corner to the digital downloads page where Lower Case can be found at a reasonable price.
THE ROVER’S THREE
A KIND O’ IRISH BAND
2007 Independent CD-R
Review by: Steve Ruff
The Rovers Three are exactly what the name implies, ‘A Kind’ a Irish Band’. This is one of Michael Knott’s ever expanding side projects, if it can be called a side project. This is a fun, eclectic mix of traditional Irish songs, as well as some originals. The members are Michael, his Dad Howie, and their friend Chuck.
My experience with Irish music, which I love, has always been in the vein of The Pogues or the revved up sounds of Dropkick Murphy’s. So, this record was a new experience for me. It is definitely a fun album, one you can imagine playing in the backyard while you hang out with your friends. You could dance a jig barefoot in the sand, or dance on the table with a pint in your hand. It sounds like the guys are having fun playing these tunes. Michael switches between the mandolin and guitar, Howie handles the harmonica, tin whistle and the bodhran (an Irish drum), and Chuck handles the primary guitar playing. The sounds are infectious and the tunes are really cool. The thing that stands out the most is the mandolin, which is an instrument that is not heard often these days, but it has such an eclectic sound and marries well with the guitar and vocals. The one thing that I have always loved about Irish music are the traditional songs, which are found here as well. There are a total of twelve songs on this record, five of which are original, and the rest are covers.
The liner notes say, “ Mike, Chuck and Howie put their band together for the fun and entertainment of all who would listen. Encouraged by the reception they received, they have made this CD.” It’s good to hear Michael and his dad playing together again, the last L.S.U. record ‘Dogfish Jones’ had Howie on it, as well as the song ‘The Boyos’ which is also found here on this record.
Then, when you have absorbed all The Rovers Three goodness you can stand, pop in their second record “Go Irish.” This is another album that is musically in line with the first. ‘Go Irish’ has a whopping twenty one songs on it, including six of the songs from the first album. They do have many new traditional songs here as well as my favorite “The Black Velvet Band.”
Both of these CD’s are available through the website http://theroversthree.com/index.html If you don’t own them, grab one for you and a friend.
STRUCK LAST MAY
2007 Hill deg Maria Records
Review by: Steve Ruff
Struck Last May’s offering 16 Flowers was released in 2007 and is the latest brainchild of Michael Knott. Rick McDonough is the second half of the band here, and Michael and Rick play all the instruments with Michael carrying the majority of the vocals and McDonough backing him up. This was a fully packaged release that can only be labeled as experimental.
This was another concept album that Knott has become known for. A quote from the liner notes says, “The record, 16 Flowers, is a journey loosely based upon a fictional couple who encounter emotional peaks and valleys as they experience each other, as well as the world around them”. It is a concept that is not always apparent as each song on the album could actually stand on its own. However, one can loosely follow the story as it goes along. My favorite track on the album would probably be #14 which has the same name as the album. Michael’s voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the crisp clean sounds of the strings are something that I have always enjoyed.
If I had to classify this release I would definitely call it alternative. The genre and the term has been somewhat lost through the last 20 years, but this album is an alternative to anything that you have probably heard. It cannot really be pigeonholed safely into any other category. Mike and Rick’s voices on here can be called instruments as well as you can hear Michael whimpering like a dog and playing guitar with his voice on “Fraidy Cat”, buzzing like a bee on “Pollen”, and all the background noises, shouting and whispering heard throughout the album. The abundant keyboards and distorted sounds cannot be defined and labeled, there’s an amazing variety of sounds that come out of this album. The best description came from Michael himself when he said, “It’s like Sesame Street meets One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
All in all, this was a great new sonic experience. The rumor is there is another Struck Last May project coming soon and I can’t wait. If you don’t have this one you can purchase it through Michael’s website found at http://michaelknott.com
WRIT ON WATER
A WINGLESS KING
2008 Cyrus Shade Recordings
Review by: Matt Crosslin
Writ on Water makes their second comeback, re-releasing all of their old albums and finally releasing a fully realized second full-length album. Of course, some great material has been released since 1992’s Sylph, but those were demo collections and EPs.
So the big question is – do they actually sound good, or like a bunch of has-beens trying to capitalize on nostalgia? Take Sylph and think about what that band would sound like today if they had about 10 albums out, releasing one about every 2-3 years after Sylph. That is exactly what A Wingless King sound like. Even though they went on hiatus a couple of times, you can’t tell that at all.
Or, of course, you could just go to their MySpace page and listen to some tunes. Like Jeff MacKey said in the interview, Sylph was an album that had an arc to. Some of the songs worked great on the CD, but not individually. A Wingless King is more song-driven. There are still several ambient numbers like Sylph had, but also several songs that can sound great as stand alone tracks. I can say, without a doubt, that I like A Wingless King more than Sylph.
From the first track, you can tell that this is music made for a journey, created so that you can just sit back and let the notes envelope you. Ambience, distortion, echoes, hooks, nostalgia, and mystery all mix together to create a sonic refuge – perfect for relaxing after a long day (or maybe even setting a good mood for a new day). “Ancestor” has a plodding rhythm section surrounded by music that is at the same time aggressive, dreamy, intense, and nostalgic. This song is followed by “The Laughter Ceases,” a track built around some fancy bass guitar work and minimalist vocals. This is one of those albums that just oozes coolness because you can tell everyone involved didn’t care about trendiness, but making an artistic statement. Non-modern Western-pop music influences also abound on this album, a definite plus in my book (see “Rain Over Unmapped Sea” for some almost Eastern-sounding vocal inflections).
This music is a little different than most of what is out there – so check out the tracks on their MySpace page. If you like those, you will like the whole album. Don’t forget to pick up their back catalogue while you are at it.
2005 Blonde Vinyl Recordings
Review by: Steve Ruff
This album dropped sometime in 2004 and I didn’t actually get it until 2005… I wish I had heard it sooner. This is probably my favorite Knott solo album. Actually, Michael is backed up here by a bunch of guys that are really talented. Andrew Prickett plays guitar, as does Shawn Tubbs, Frank Lenz is on drums and percussion, as well as several others that play on the album as well. If memory serves me correct, Shawn Tubbs was in the original Violet Burning line up… anyway, back to Mike Knott.
This album is full, coming in at thirteen tracks. The music here is solid and the lyrical content is some of my favorite. The themes are diverse, but the lonesome and heavy hearted tracks are abundant. The music ranges from what I would call ‘rock n roll dirges’ (Comatose soul, The Down, Pale) to more pop oriented tracks (Pusher, Lollipops & Daises, Finding Angel) and some acoustic influenced stuff as well (Boxcar, Frequency). The song Gold sounds like it has a pretty heavy Beatles influence and Cruz ‘n Ride sounds like it could have come from the Aunt Bettys era.
Again, the lyrics on this album really stuck with me. Knott sounds very introspective on this release, but you can never really be sure who he’s singing about. Michael has always had the uncanny ability to write poignant songs about the everyday events that we see, and that most would probably not even notice. Check out the lyric from the title track:
“If I could reach through these eyes, and hold the very part of her that the world has broken…
I wish I had hands
I wish I had hands to heal this life
And I wish I had strings
I wish I had strings to tie high
This comatose soul”
This record was my favorite purchase of the year when I got it. If you don’t have it you can still scoop it up from Michael’s website (http://michaelknott.com). Buy it, plug it in, take a deep breath and enjoy…