Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Handcuffs, Electroluv

"The Handcuffs embody the spirit of rock music's uninhibited, sexy and overbearing appeal. A perfect blend of style and energy. They do not sound like anyone else, but at the same time they seem very familiar."

Their online bio puts it just about right. I have been doing this on ReviewPoint since '06, and with a widely varied interest and result I might add, I actually got death threats and a lawsuit threatened after my take on Morning 40, great fan base guys, but I digress. Every once in a great while...I actually add the CD to my personal collection, this is one of those times.

I didn't even have these guys on the radar, and it is a very big radar!!! I went to the website to do some research, surfed over to the Facebook and MySpace sites, listened to some old stuff mixed with the new...3 hours later! She has a very hot voice, Chloe that is. Chloe F. Orwell, drummer Brad Elvis, with the addition of newcomers, bassist Emily Tagni and the multi-talented instrumentalist Ellis Clark, make up this sassy surprise.

This being their "sophomore record", leads me to believe my radar just might get dialed into them very, very soon! Right from the very start, Electroluv, the title track, showcases Chloe's use of a velvet hammer followed by crystal chandeliers, stunning style range to be subtle about it. Brad's pounding beat to begin the third track, I just Wanna Be Free, Man , highlight a hint of The B-52's or Blondie on steroids, very powerful beat, very nice bass line, as well as a little psychedelics...

Turn It Up, not even one of the disc's so-called "focus tracks", is an excellent break from the sometimes repetitive sounds of a few other songs, and really shows a different side of Chloe's range. Fake Friends begins with an almost Beatles sound on the side, Chloe slides in some very nice tones along with a great piano sound from Ellis, I presume, I really could see this song as one to reflect on, it gave me a feel of the late '70s with a refinement of the millennium...hey this would be a great James Bond movie theme song!! (remember me if you get the nod guys?)

God Is Sure One Funny Girl has to be my favorite on this disc, "pussy on a leash about, five foot long", wow!! I love that line, what an imagination, brilliant! A trashy but sexy tune, it is a very fun addition to this great collection of juxtapositions. Wonderful Life, no not the movie, track 9 is another wonderful innocent sound from Chloe, yet another turn of the corner from a voice that is very elusive to capture or define.

Hell, all this typing is keeping me from enjoying my latest addition to my somewhat over sized collection, move over Blondie, Chloe and the guys are moving in. Enjoy this CD from OOFL Records, check out the links to their MySpace and Facebook sites, buy the CD and see how good it really is, I would be glad to loan you mine, but...not so much. I'm outta here.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Danny Green's Debut CD, "With You In Mind"

Award winning pianist, Danny Green, has definitely hit green with his new album With You In Mind from the very first song Doctor Pasta, Danny shows his signature multi-cultural flavorings. The Brazilian/Island flare dances well with a typical taste of mainstream jazz.

Panic Nap soon follows with a sexy, guttural bass beat backing the familiar sound of his Melodica. a native of SoCal, Danny's love of world music rhythms transcend the usual West Coast feel. As I sat there and listened, I could feel a rush of enjoyment at the diversity of sounds.

"Danny Green is an emerging young jazz artist who has a pulse on keeping the tradition of jazz piano alive while stepping boldly into the future through the use of cultural sounds and world music rhythms. His musical sound comes across to listeners as a pianistic mixture of Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Danilo Perez, and Ravel with original compositions emerging from the sincerity of his soul."

Balao Pra Voce has an almost Scott Joplin gone South twist, one of my favorites on the disc, it really showcases his classical and traditional training as well as his interpretive skills of Brazilian style and substance he learned at the CA Brazil Camp in 2006.

Songs like Off The Streets, and the title track With You In Mind, are grounded in that very sensual, sultry, speakeasy jazz sound that has had me listening and loving this genre for years. I can almost picture a perfect piano duet and vocal cameo with Diana Krall, wow...what a thought!

Since beginning his studies at age five, Danny has obviously bloomed under the influences and training of such masters as Rick Helzer, Kamau Kenyatta, Otmara Ruiz, Marcos Silva and Jovino Santos-Neto. Classical studies with the likes of John Mark Harris and Luciane Cardassi are more than evident, and greatly appreciated in Lullaby For A Poet.

Gigi, The Last Minute, and Suite For The Americas are the wonderful toe tapping real thing that makes a sound like jazz transcend into so many different musical sounds across the board, overall...not a bad track in sight on this disc. Danny's sound is still in the making, yet this debut album from this brilliant young artist is yet a tease of what is sure to come in the future. A definite hit on the new 'Jazz Parade', enjoy this one folks, I am.

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Brown Shoe, "Jackalope"

Review of Brown Shoe's new album, Jackalope
by Dennis Brotz

When I first found out about Brown Shoe sounding like R.E.M., I prepared. And on Christmas night, 2008, I pulled a lead-singer of R.E.M., Michael Stipe, and stayed-up all night listening to Brown Shoe's new album, Jackalope, as Stipe did, listening to Patti Smith's Horses way back when. I didn't eat a bowl of cherries til I got sick, like Michael did, but I did have a few chocolate-covered cherries and was more than pleasantly shocked at the effect this Folsom, California foursome's new effort had on me.

CMJ Magazine ranked R.E.M. The Most Influential Band Of The Last 25 Years. So I was ready to be disappointed by Brown Shoe. Au contrare! Is it possible to be more subtle than R.E.M.? Well, Brown Shoe - to me - may have pulled it off. Each and every instrumental beginning from these multi-instrumentalists - with a plethora of sound makers listed in the credits - was simple, yet gorgeous, and really hooked me in. By the 5th track, Uh Oh, the goosebumps were beginning and by the 13th track, Rivals, they were constant. The ringing church bell guitars and swirling piano surprises were filled with - how to put it? - Santa's Magic Dust! There's big sweeping melodies, tight bass lines, and - yes! - Heavenly Atmospheres! This contrasting sublimely with the somber Ryan Baggaley's vocals.

No wonder this band is known as Cali's best-kept alt-rock secret. Each song is just a God-Breath away from a potential mainstream classic hit. Anthemic. Deadly yet disarmingly honest. The lyricist brings personal experience to romantic love's spiritually innocent devastation. I completely agree with the critics who say Brown Shoe's sound is an intriguing mix of the good components of bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Shins, Coldplay, Sigur Ros, Animal Collective, My Morning Jacket, and Death Cab for Cutie. I even heard hints of The Kinks. And others I can't yet put a finger on. Who said genius knows how to steal? This album exemplifies how high art does this with originality and strengthening the results.

Plenty of touches of Divine Revelation Genius throughout the album, including some fascinatingly deliberately off-grammar lyrics, which caused a shift in consciousness to a higher level for me. In a rare departure for me, I prefer not to get too specific in this review about this, and just let listeners be more than happily surprised in their own ways. I'll give just one example from "Aquarium", where Ryan is singing "We'll swim to the bottom." Without a lyric sheet, I may have had a problem making out what he was articulating. Not unlike R.E.M.'s Rorshach Inkblot Lyrics where, in "The One I Love," I would've swore that under Stipe's howling "Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire!", Mike Mills was intoning: "God daaaaaaaaaaaaaamn it all!" or - completely to the contrary - "I AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM!" -God's Name. Actually, he's singing: "Coming down on the earth," about Stipe's "Fire!" My own marriage was horrifically breaking-up in 1987, when "The One I Love" began to make R.E.M world famous. I was obviously projecting pain I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy into the lyrics - not to mention a spiritual hunger my hardcore atheism at the time couldn't begin to admit. But it probably helped me not to commit suicide. In "Aquarium," and the other songs, I think something even deeper is going on.

Such is the miracle of Brown Shoe's entire album Jackalope, the word meaning an imaginary animal that's half jackrabbit, half antelope. And more than stimulate the imagination this album does. It sounds better every time I listen to it. And after just one listen - by bringing a strong light to the darkness of broken relationships in ambiguous, sincere, healing detail - it -among things I'm probably still not aware of - completely reversed for me any vestiges I still had of that spiritually bankrupt philosophy: "Hell is other people". An aging flower child's - or any human being's - dream come true!!!

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saltman Knowles, Return of the Composer, review by Dennis Brotz, guest author

The legendary author of Slaughterhouse Five, and many other books, Kurt Vonnegut, used to be fond of saying
"The United States of America has come up with only two good new things: Alcoholics Anonymous and jazz."
The first, with it's 12-Step Program now adapted to over 200 different addictions and problems, spiritually awakens even atheists to taste Heaven - and sometimes Beyond - Now. Great art similarly can take even absolute misery and make us experience it as sublime. Or Better. Such is the jazz CD Return of the Composer by Saltman Knowles.

Jazz is quite sophisticated music. So much so that it's usually beyond me. But then I'm lucky if I like one or two new songs a year from any genre. And for me melody is the key. If the melody's not immediately compelling, forget it, I can't pay attention. Occasionally a song can grow on me beyond how it originally strikes me. For example, a first listen to Jewel's Pieces of You album bounced off me almost completely, as did Losing my Religion by R.E.M. and Imagine by John Lennon. Now I more than love them. Songs like Time of the Season by the Zombies and Let's Live for Today by the Grass Roots bowled me over immediately. Now you get my range...

Saltman Knowles members seem to be among some of the most highly credentialed in their genre. Reading their bios is the only way to fully appreciate this. Of relevance to me is the fact that one of Mark Saltman's most striking major influences was Dr. Yusef Lateef, the great American multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator whom Mark met while attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Discussions, according to Mark, would involve
"all kinds of things, including music, religion, and politics. He is Muslim and I am Jewish, so we really went into the whole religious thing. It was totally respectful and totally enlightening."
And - more than coincidentally? - at the heart of the Middle East conflict and terrorism today. Lateef also encouraged Mark to find his "own sound within." Wherein the Divine resides. Or, as Christ put it to the Pharisees, who didn't believe in him, "The Kingdom of God comes not with observation. You can't say, 'Look! There it is!' Or, 'Behold! It is there!' For the Kingdom of God is within you." Or, as the old saying goes: "We don't see the world as it is, but as we are." The Greeks claimed the influence of the goddess Muses. Their art then helping us tap into our own Divine Spark within!

Mark is also an educator in the Washington, D.C. schools and likes exploring the relationship between sound and color in the study of Synaesthesia. Cutting-edge stuff at a time when it's being demonstrated that we humans actually have at least 53 senses, and not just the 5 Aristotle named a long long time ago. He also said that a fly had eight legs. And almost no one bothered to check otherwise - to discover they only had 6 - until centuries later... And then, natch, there's the possibility we have a 6th or 7th Sense or Senses. Further information about all this can be found at ecopsych.com, describing Project NatureConnect, whose founder Dr. Cohen, claims it's the Grand Unified Field Theory most science claims is as yet undiscovered. William Knowles and the soulful vocalist Lori Williams-Chisholm's qualifications also bear deeper investigation and are very relevant, but the main point I'm getting at here is that - whatever the credentials - very little impresses me musically.

Great melody being an absolute requirement to open my Inner Door. And - with the help of other very skilled musicians - that very requirement seems the central bond of the two core members of Saltman Knowles in their
"mutual hunger for melodic content woven within a tapestry of harmonic emotional patterns. It all starts with a singable melody, because without that there is no glue. Then we like to do something that sounds harmonically unique...to write things that evoke very strong feelings."
Residing in a lively, culturally rich area of Washington D.C., their last release, It's About the Melody received excellent reviews and won the Best International Jazz song from Toronto Exclusive Magazine in 2007.

Some of the melodies on this album were - how to put it? - Beyond Infinitely Sweet! Far more significant was that within days of just listening to the album once, I experienced a feeling of love or Love in a Divine - or Beyond? - Sense, stronger than any I've felt in my 55 years. Coincidence? The themes on this possible masterpiece very much cut to the very spiritual heart of not only the new millennium, but the timeless. Homeland, for example, is about a longing for a place to call your own where you feel like you belong and can feel comfortable. The concept is more of a spiritual home than a physical one.

The composition Shalom and Salaam, comes from the word "peace" in Hebrew and Arabic. It uses elements from both cultures and almost all of our wishes to find a peaceful settlement to the seemingly unsolvable and extremely dangerous Middle East Conflict. Seeds and Deeds is about the deeds we do today being the seeds for things tomorrow. The Nichiren Buddhist chant "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" means "Devotion to the mystic law of instantaneous simultaneous cause and effect through sound vibration" wherein Awakening and Enlightenment can occur as the Experience of The Heaven Beyond Heaven. Here. Now. In this lifetime. Instant karma gonna get you!

A Pillar of Saltman was written for Mark's dad, Kopi Saltman, who passed away, and while very quiet, always tried to hold firm to his ethics and beliefs. A State of Being wherein - as described by Bill Wilson, entails very special almost immediate Rewards: "When I follow the dictates of a Higher Power, I presently live in a new and wonderful world - that gets increasingly wonderful as time goes on - no matter what my present circumstances". Pain Management is a song for the broken hearted. She ran off with another man. Saltman Knowles renders this so the listener gets a sublime experience, though not necessarily immediately. The smiles of almost outrageous joy on the CD cover reflect a genuine condition of being that the music inside actually creates or elicits in the listener. Sometimes with a delayed-effect.

As our spiritual, emotional, psychological, artistic, and political landscapes unfold and develop - with always some initial growing pain - very painful in many circumstances - into a potential New Golden Age such as humanity has never seen before, perhaps even ushering in a New Heaven and a new Earth, God knows we can use all the Help we can get. Enlightening some of our suffering. And in that sort of suffering, the Buddha informs us, the sufferer leaves. Saltman Knowles' "Return of the Composer" gives Precisely That State of Being - and in this humble listener's opinion - beyond sublimely more, just opens New Eden's door. Nothing more is a chore.

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