Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Formed in 1970 by former Move members Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) were one of the biggest selling groups of the 70s and 80s.

The record label (Frontiers) and Jeff Lynne will try to get consumers to believe that Mr. Blue Sky The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, featuring newly recorded versions of ELO's decades-old hits, is a powerful new testament to ELO's enduring legacy, reflecting Lynne's singular desire to get things right once and for all.

The sordid truth is probably that, like many other artists of decades past, he re-did these songs, probably to garner some royalties from them when used in commercials and movies.

Lynne, always the driving force behind ELO, has artfully revisited and re-recorded their greatest hits and actually improved on some of them, a kind of showdown (song title reference not accidental) between the Jeff Lynne of today and his extremely illustrious past.

Even with improved technology and recording artistry, I do not know that there is enough "new" here to warrant the average fan buying another compilation if they already own one of the several greatest hits albums that feature the original band line-up. Die hards will want this for "Point Of No Return," the lone new song.

Is it misleading to call this an ELO album? Is Jeff Lynne ELO? I think you'll find fans on both sides of the argument. I don't know the answer-obviously I bought the album and do not regret it, although I am far more interested in Lynne's forthcoming solo album featuring all-new material.


Saturday, October 27, 2012


‘New music’ quartet ETHEL teams with musician Todd Rundgren

The music of the 1970s wasn’t just about the Bee Gees and disco dancing, or David Bowie and glam rock.

There were also rock musicians such as Todd Rundgren, who composed hits that included “Hello It’s Me” and “Bang the Drum All Day,” as well as experimenting with synthesizers.

Meanwhile, some classically trained composers were writing minimalist pieces in the 1970s being played today by new-music groups like the string quartet ETHEL.

Based in New York, ETHEL is teaming with Rundgren for a tour that includes a visit on Sunday, Oct. 28, to College Park, with a performance called Tell Me Something Good, celebrating music of the 1970s.

The musicians will be performing in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the University of Maryland campus. ETHEL will perform first, followed by Rundgren singing some of his music self-accompanied on piano, guitar and a ukulele. (He currently lives in Hawaii.)

ETHEL and Rundgren will then perform together at the end of the concert. “[It’s about] a pop singer and how he interacts with a string quartet,” says Rundgren about the unusual and interesting mix of styles.

Founded in 1998, ETHEL currently includes two of the founders, Ralph Farris (viola) and Dorothy Lawson (cello), and two new members, Kip Jones (violin) and Tema Watstein (violin). ETHEL and Rundgren worked together in 2004 when they met through a mutual friend, the British composer, singer and musician Joe Jackson.

Jackson and Rundgren, who were getting ready for a performance at the Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park, needed an opening group. Jackson was aware of ETHEL because its violinist and one of its founders, Mary Rowell, had played on some of Jackson’s albums.

“Joe already knew us, and Todd trusted Joe,” says Lawson about the resulting joint performance that led to a tour of the U.S. and Europe with Rundgren and Jackson in 2005. “It was generated by his and Joe’s reputations,” she says about the tour. “They were so hip and strong, and we were this funny, funky string quartet.”

The like-minded musicians also performed George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 2005.

When ETHEL began thinking about a tour celebrating music from the 1970s, members thought of Rundgren, who by now was an “old friend and somebody that we wanted to work with,” Lawson says. “He’s a brilliant man, and his music works well with a string quartet,” Lawson says.

For the Clarice Smith concert, ETHEL plans to perform an opening set that will include the first movement of American composer Lou Harrison’s 1972 “Quartet Set.” Harrison, who died in 2003, was known for using microtones and for incorporating non-Western music into his work. “The whole piece is an exploration of other times and places,” Lawson says. “He was exploring music from the Asian world. He was a very heartfelt composer. People really love his music.”

ETHEL also plans to play its adaptation of “Spiegel im Spiegel,” a short minimalist piece written by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in 1978. In addition, the quartet will play a piece it commissioned from New York composer Judd Greenstein called “Octet 1979.” “He’s very bright, deeply rational and enthusiastic,” says Lawson about Greenstein, who writes for ensembles, solo performers, orchestras and multimedia productions. “Octet 1979,” which refers to the year Greenstein was born,  incorporates synthesizers from the 1970s that interact with ETHEL’s cello, viola and two violins.

“It’s a double quartet, with the four strings of ETHEL and with that track of four period synthesizers,” says Lawson. “It’s a very identifiable, nostalgic type of sound,” she says. “The music is bubbly, fun and smart ... with its instruments and colors. It’s a piece we’re very proud of.”

Rundgren, meanwhile, says he won’t decide until the night of the concert at the Clarice Smith Center what he will perform from his 45 years of work. “I don’t go on to the stage with a set list in mind,” says Rundgren, who says he likes to get a feel for the audience and a sense of his own mood before deciding what to sing.

Rundgren started with rock in the late 1960s, becoming well known songs like “I Saw the Light” and “Black Maria” from his 1972 double album “Something/Anything?” that he wrote, produced and performed himself.

Later he would produce the work of other artists, including Meat Loaf and Grand Funk Railroad, while continuing to evolve in innovative ways.

He formed a progressive rock band called Utopia and continued to release more albums, including a 1993 album called No World Order, which one fan called a mix of “hip-hop beats” and “techno pulses.”

“Once your oeuvre gets to be a certain size, the greatest danger is repeating yourself,” says Rundgren, who recently toured with Ringo Starr and also sang with the Metropole orchestra in the Netherlands, which performed arrangements of his work.

“Of course it’s thrilling,” he says about the Amsterdam concert. “Many musicians never have the opportunity to experience [that].”

He also recently developed a cabaret-style performance of entirely improvised music called “An Unpredictable Evening with Todd Rundgren.”

Rundgren says he is working improvisation into a new album he expects to release in the spring, which has a working title of “State.”

“I’m trying to create an environment that allows me to incorporate a degree of improvisation in the creation of the music, so that when I perform it, that possibility is built into the music,” he says.
“I’m trying to leave myself a lot of room to work with,” says Rundgren.

Read the original article at http://www.gazette.net/article/20121025/ENTERTAINMENT/710259939/1154/a-contemporary-take-on-classical-music&template=gazette

Tuesday, October 23, 2012



Legendary singer-songwriter John Hiatt follows-up his critically acclaimed Dirty Jeans & Mudslide Hymns with a new effort that is sure to please (the link will take you to my review of that album).
Mystic Pinball sees Hiatt picking up where he left off, although the album rocks a little harder and the material a little bluesier than the prior album.
The production is excellent, as the Shirley/Hiatt partnership continues to flourish-solid songwriting compositions combined with a backdrop of mature musicianship and supern in-studio execution makes for a powerful recipe.
Hiatt's ability to tell stories within his songs is virtually unparallelled. Songs  about love and relationships abound, with the usual cast of ornery characters who make reference to just how tough love and relationships can be, especially those that endure the passage of time.
Hiatt's gruff, sandpaper-tinged voice is a little more subdued here than on past releases, but his lyrical word-play and wit are evident, making this album easy to play from start to finish.
Overall, John Hiatt usually does not disappoint and this new CD is no exception to the rule.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


It's hard to believe that it has been 35 years since one of rock's best-known tragedies occured. On October 20, 1977, a chartered plane carrying the band Lynyrd Skynyrd--in the midst of a headlining tour and fresh off the release of their sixth album--crashed in a Gillsburg, Mississippi swamp.

The toll was dire: Three band members perished; the others were all severely injured. The drummer--who was one of the few able to walk--staggered out for help, and was allegedly shot at by an alarmed farmer.

The band's record label scrambled to replace the new album's cover, which eerily forecasted the accident by portraying the members engulfed in flames.

Trouble began for the hard-partying band a year before the plane crash, when guitarist Gary Rossington plowed his brand-new car into a tree along a Jacksonville, Florida road. He survived the incident and admitted he was under the influence at the time, prompting bandmates Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins to write "That Smell"--an ominous tune warning "Say you'll be all right come tomorrow, but tomorrow may not be here for you." (Ironically, the 60-year-old Rossington is the sole member of the original lineup still performing in the band.)

After the plane crash, the remaining members of Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded to recover from their extensive injuries.  The remaining band members continued to make music through the '80s under various configurations, most notably the Rossington-Collins band--which was cooked up by Rossington and guitarist Allen Collins, who took special pains to distance the new outfit from a "reborn" Skynyrd tag by recruiting a female lead singer, Dale Krantz.

Shortly before the Rossington-Collins band was slated to go on its debut tour in 1980, Collins's wife Kathy died unexpectedly from a miscarriage-related hemorrhage. The tragedy effectively splintered the band by 1982 and threw the grieving Collins himself into a spiral of substance abuse. Collins made another attempt by starting the Allen Collins band, which released one album in 1983 to lukewarm response. Three years later, an intoxicated Collins crashed his car in Jacksonville, killing his girlfriend and rendering him paralyzed from the waist down and with limited use of his upper body.

Talk of a Skynyrd-proper reconfiguration had been in the works for some time. By 1987 it seemed solidified: The late Van Zant was replaced by brother Johnny; while crash survivors Rossington, Pyle, Billy Powell, and Leon Wilkeson resumed their former duties.

Collins was felled by pneumonia in 1989, and died shortly after in 1990.

The reunited Skynyrd's lineup has seen time catch up with them over the last two decades, with Wilkeson found dead a hotel room in 2001 at age 49 and keyboardist Billy Powell, who was only 56, found dead at home in 2009. T

Despite the long history of misfortune, the band does one shining strength--its undeniable and enduring longevity. Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Although only one original member remains, Skynyrd continues to have a significant presence in both the rock and country worlds, recently releasing the album Last Of A Dyin' Breed.

And true to their legacy, the band is still embroiled in controversy-over whether or not to continue their long-held tradition of waving the Confederate flag on stage.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I've been aware of them since they broke, Green Day roped me in with their "concept" albums, the two musical sagas that were American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.
It seems natural that after two long concept pieces, Green Day would come back with a bite-sized offering that harkens back to their Warning and Nimrod days, and in fact, part of me wonders if some of these tracks were culled from sessions for the scrapped Cigarettes and Valentines album.
¡UNO! is the first in a series of three releases coming out between now and early 2013, and seventies influences (Cheap Trick, The Kinks, and The Clash) are plentiful. Musically, I like this albumn a lot, but, sadly, the lyrics are somewhat banal and laced with enough F-bombs to convince you that the band has Tourette's.
The guitar riffs have a garage-rock style that falls somewhere near the intersection of heavy guitar pop and punk, and musically this is a very lisetenable effort.
I'd be more interested to see where this trilogy goes if the lyrics had matured a little with the band.

Friday, October 12, 2012



Based in Atlanta, GA, this country/southern rock band have performed throughout the United States as headliner and as supporting act for artists such as ZZ Top & Lynyrd Skynyrd, and their most recent album was released on Zac Brown's Southern Ground label.

2012's The Whippoorwill is the best album yet from Blackberry Smoke, the best southern rock band out there today. I can hear influences of The Band throughout this album, and the band echoes the glory days of Skynyrd, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet with a pinch of outlaw country (which I would not be able to identify without the persistence of one Stephen T. McCarthy).

On The Whippoorwill, Blackberry Smoke deftly bridges the gap between the southerns style rock of today and that of the late sixties and early seventies. Southern rock fans have been waiting for a band like this to come along for a long time.

This album has it all - from rock to to jam band and most everything in between. When they lean country, it is not so far that you feel like selling a pickup truck because your girl left you, and when they wear their influences on their musical sleeve, the album is brilliant-there is not one tune I skipped on my first several listens.
Top to bottom this is one of the best albums I have purchased this year. The lyrics show depth and reflect real life experience, and the music is written with soul and passion and performed with stellar musicianship. 
Simply put-this album sounds more like Skynyrd than Skynyrd's new album!

Monday, October 8, 2012



Having sold over three million tickets in concerts that have taken place in 35 countries, The Australian Pink Floyd Show is rightfully hailed as one of the most in demand touring entities currently operating, The Times described them as “The Gold Standard” and they have been labeled the best tribute band in the world.

Formed in Australia (go figure) in 1988, TAPFS, or Aussie Floyd as they are known by their fans, have been doing Pink Floyd for far longer than Pink Floyd did Pink Floyd.

In 1996, they played for David Gilmour at his birthday party, and drummer Nick Mason said on BBC 5 Live that TAPFS is "very good, probably better than we are."

After years of trying to convince me, my friend Michael finally got me to agree to see these guys and they are pretty friggin excellent! Recently, I went to my fourth show by the band and picked up this CD at their merchandise table.

I am not going to do a critique of the songs, as I assume everyone knows them.

While this album is probably best suited as a souvenir of the live performance, it does hold up well when listening to it. TAPFS has, after all, been practicing these songs for more than two decades.

And as the Scotland papers said, "If you closed your eyes, you would believe you were listening to the real thing."

Worth a listen, but if you want to the truth, you're better off trying to see the band live on their current tour across the US.




Saturday, October 6, 2012



At 73 Ian Hunter continues to write, record and sing songs better than many people half his age. Hunter has been producing albums for more than forty years, first as leader of 70s British rock legends Mott the Hoople and then as a hugely influential solo artist. Ian Hunter is widely revered as one of rock n roll s most compelling performers and one of its most articulate songwriters.

When I'm President is Hunter's twentieth album and finds him in top form. In fact, this may be Hunter's most consistent offering since the classic You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic.

Hunter has always been (for me) one of those artists who will have an album with one or two songs that are pure genius and then another seven or eight that are pure filler. For example, the best song on 1983's All Of The Good Ones Are Taken was the title track.

The second best song? An alternate take of the title track.

On the current release, Hunter originals are infectious, personally charged numbers with themes that range from swaggering, to wry to socially conscious to gently introspective.

Bittersweet ballads and chugging rockers showcase Hunter's one-of-a-kind voice and the punchy authority of his longstanding all-star backup combo the Rant Band.

The thing is, Ian Hunter simply has written an album's full of great songs. It seems that some artists lose their inspiration as they age, but Hunter is an exception to that rule.

His last four albums have been solid, aptly demonstrating that Hunter remains a vital, interesting talent with something to say. When I'm President seems to capture Hunter's seven decades of experiencing life on this rock....and it rocks! 

How appropriate that the CD ends with a song entitled  "Life."

An essential album for Hunter fans, and highly recommended for fans of classic rock.



(not on the new CD but a great song that many of you probably never heard)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012



Benoit David is back where he started, and as fans of the progressive band Mystery might say, back  where he belongs.

After a four-year stint as a front man for progressive legends Yes, he was dumped as unceremoniously as Jon Anderson was, and for a similar reason-he was ill and needed to postpone a tour for a few months.

Mystery was orinally formed as a studio project in 1986 by Michel St-Pere. Several lineup changes ensued, and David joined the band after being seen by St. Pere fronting a Yes tribute band.

No, really-I could not make that one up! From Yes tribute band to Yes! Only in Canada!

The World Is A Game is the third album with David on vocals, and he continues to deliver.

This is an interesting album and while I do not like it as much as 2010's great One Among The Living album, it does manage to capture the quality of Mystery with perhaps a little more refinement, but lacking some of the melodic strength of its predecessor.

Of course, one cannot expect every album any group produces to be progressively better than the last one (no pun intended), and it is an excellent album. Benoit David shines with his great vocals and Michel St Pere's musical ability is in clear evidence, the album tying together nicely. Mystery are a superb group and St Pere is a genuinely humble and decent fellow who can write a mean tune and I look forward to many more great albums in future years.For fans of the last two albums, a must. If you are new to the band, I would recommend One Among The Living as a starting point. I would also encourage fans to check out the Yes album Fly From Here featuring Benoit David on vocals. PRIDE