The Groucho Marx - MikadoThe Groucho Marx
Album Title: Mikado
By Gregory Harutyunyan
Posted: Apr 2018
Label: Video Artists International Inc.
(1591) Page Views
Everyone knows who Julius “Groucho” Marx is. Sarcasm and mayhem are often attached to his name, whether with his brothers, through the “You Bet Your Life” television show, movies, or books. The little man, hunched over with the mustache and cigar are iconic. Period. Everyone has a favorite “Groucho” line. Mine coincides with the Beatles 1964 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, at a plush dinner party, a “meet and greet” for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills with the trending phenomena of the moment. Television interviewers collared attendees, as they went into the gated grounds when along comes “Groucho.” They gush on and on about how excited he must be to get close to the Four Moptops, and how it will impact his life forever. “No. I came for the food,” he said.
Some of the more interesting stories come from his later years, as related by raconteurs, Dick Cavett and Paul Krassner. It seemed that anyone visiting his home would be subjected to endless recorded playbacks of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas, whichever one happened to catch his ear for the moment. Marx loved anything with a high literary content, witnessed by his own verbal barrages and writings, and the musicals offered brilliant wordplay that meshed with his own fascination of the English language.
What makes this so interesting was that Marx got to fulfill a lifelong dream in playing Ko-Ko, opposite Helen Traubel, in a 1960 Bell Telephone Hour color adaptation. In the 1950s-60s, the Bell System sponsored a now-legendary series of musical programs on NBC, among which was this condensed version of The Mikado, directed and adapted by Martyn Green.The production, long considered a lost television relic, took on a life of its own over the decades. It was held in the clutches of certain collectors and circulated in poor quality videotape transfers, with holes in the signal creating a snowy effect from poor tracking. It was rumored that the New York Museum of Modern Art held a copy in their own holdings but it was never confirmed. The poor quality versions were equally as hard to find, until VAI stepped into the picture, so to speak. They had been working with Marx Estate, found legal entanglements to sort though, and yet, kept plodding along.
The result was a 2012 release of the 60-minute television production in black and white (the color broadcast has yet to be found) with nearly 46 minutes of extra supplements. Marx’s performance was fairly straight-forward, due to the comic nature of the character, but he still tosses in asides that are pure “Groucho,” such as when he is interrupted in his thoughts by another character, “What’s the matter? Can’t you see I’m busy soliloquizing?” Watching this production, nearly 50 years after it first aired, almost makes you question the sanity of your parents and broadcasters concerning entertainment. In 1885, when it was first performed, sensibilities were a little different. Marx is the main draw here, and the restoration of the original source materials is stunning for what it is…a beautiful transfer.
And for the story itself? A quick synopsis:Nanki-Poo, the son of the royal mikado, arrives in Titipu disguised as a peasant and looking for Yum-Yum. Without telling the truth about who he is, Nanki-Poo explains that several months earlier he had fallen in love with Yum-Yum; however she was already betrothed to Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, and he saw that his suit was hopeless. However, he has since learned that Ko-Ko has been condemned to death for flirting; and he has come to find Yum-Yum, his true love.
Nanki-Poo’s high hopes are dashed once more when Pish-Tush, a noble lord, informs him that Ko-Ko was reprieved and raised to the rank of lord high executioner. Pooh-Bah, first lord of the treasury, lord chief justice, commander-in-chief, etc., enters next, and he also holds out no hope for Nanki-Poo. Then Ko-Ko himself enters, ready to execute “plenty of people whose loss will be a distinct gain to society at large.”
Next enters Yum-Yum, who reluctantly allows Ko-Ko to kiss her, even though she doesn’t love him; however, she catches sight of Nanki-Poo and rushes over to him. Nanki-Poo, expecting an angry reaction from Ko-Ko, blurts out that he loves Yum-Yum. “Anger!” responds Ko-Ko. “Not a bit, my boy. Why, I love her myself.”
The crowd departs, and Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo are left alone. He confides to her that he is really the son of the mikado, but, ordered by his father to marry Katisha, an elderly lady of the court, he has fled. However, they realize the hopelessness of their situation—and, sadly, they part.
Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah, and Pish-Tush enter, bearing a letter from the mikado which complains that no executions have taken place in Titipu for a year and, unless somebody is beheaded within the month, Titipu will be reduced to a mere village.
Nanki-Poo decides that his only option is to commit suicide, but Ko-Ko persuades Nanki Poo to let him behead him instead. To clinch the deal, Ko-Ko even agrees to let Nanki-Poo marry Yum-Yum, providing he agrees to be executed in one month.
As wedding preparations progress, Ko-Ko arrives with bad news: he has learned that the law dictates that when a man is beheaded, his wife must be buried alive. Yum-Yum, while not wishing to appear selfish, points out that this revelation does change things. In despair, Nanki-Poo pulls out a dagger and threatens to kill himself if Ko-Ko doesn’t agree to behead him now. However, Ko-Ko can’t; he can’t kill anything, not even a fly. Then, just before the mikado arrives, they come up with a solution: Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum will be married and will go into hiding, while everyone pretends that the execution has taken place.
When the mikado and Katisha arrive, he is pleased that an execution has taken place, but admits that his real purpose in visiting is to find his son. Katisha spots the name on the execution certificate—Nanki-Poo!—and the mikado, while agreeing that a mistake has certainly been made, says that killing the royal heir involves a horrible death. Nanki-Poo surreptitiously suggests that Ko-Ko marry Katisha; that way Nanki-Poo can come back to life, no one will be killed, and Katisha will be off his back. Ko-Ko, while unenthusiastic, agrees. All are happy, except the mikado, who says that now no one has been executed. Ko-Ko comes up with the explanation: “When your majesty says, ‘let a thing be done,’ it’s as good as done—practically is done—because your majesty’s word is law.” The mikado is satisfied, and everyone happily sings the finale.
There, and don’t say we didn’t tell you.
To order directly from VAI, go to: http://www.vaimusic.com/product/4554.html
Half Waif - LavenderHalf Waif
Album Title: Lavender
By John Noyd
Posted: Mar 2018
(1251) Page Views
Elegant emancipation weighs heavy hearts against longing options as Half Waif’s labyrinth memories search for dream-harvested meaning and perch on disillusioned truths. Seducing through fluid theatrical-pop grooves, uncoupled couplets lay over celestial synth-beds decorated in ethereal hand-picked hybrids from baroque to goth to funk to prog. Silken willfulness nurturing guarded facades hide struggling grudges in gilded lilies, balancing rallying happiness and bewitching insistence with lusty percussion, swooning vocals and diamond-dusted keyboards. Sumptuously slippery, “Lavender,” swims in deep self-reflecting waters combating shadowy current-pulling impermanence with quicksand questions connecting restless life-lessons, rising through swirling anthem-ramped rapture where twisted fates induce conscience-haunted moods fallen from rakish grace. The brainchild of Brooklyn’s Nandi Rose Plunkett, Half Waif plays Madison’s The Frequency May 4th along with introspective indie-rock hypnotists Hovvdy.
The Heavy Set - The Highway And The MoonThe Heavy Set
Album Title: The Highway And The Moon
By Sal Serio
Posted: Feb 2018
Label: The Heavy Set
(2269) Page Views
If I only had one sentence to write this review with, I would make it a question: “What kind of world would make Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) a household name, when Jake Ilika isn’t?”
I mean, honestly. The emotion, depth, diversity, ethereal production quality, and uncannily excellent songwriting on this CD is beyond noteworthy. It MOVES me. It sits in my CD deck for repeated spins and new flavors bubble to the surface with each new listen. This may be the release of the year, and we’re not even two months in to 2018 yet. Seriously.
What’s the music like? The Heavy Set says: what’dya want? Upbeat boogie, sincere heartland-tugging-at-the-heartstrings rock, jangley funk, dreamy pop, crunchy classic rock, tear-stained ballads… borderline-electronic-meets-stripped-down-folk, even! The kettle boils over with unique combinations of genres. Some bands try this and it comes out confusing and ill-defined. The Heavy Set employs this ambitious technique to great effect, and hits the bullseye every. single. time. It’s truly an amazing feat. Considering the proximity of Eau Claire to Minneapolis (the Bon Iver-to-Heavy Set connection again) all I can say is I hope Mr. Vernon is taking notice and decides to take these guys out on tour. Jake Ilika’s song craft is in a class all it’s own.
Recommended tracks: “Everything You Told Me”, “Sink Or Swim”, “Always My Son”, “The Highway And The Moon”, and, well… all of them, really.
Jane Lee Hooker - SpiritusJane Lee Hooker
Album Title: Spiritus
By Sal Serio
Posted: Feb 2018
Label: Ruf Records
(1577) Page Views
The 5 ladies of NYC heavy blues are back with their 2nd album, titled ‘Spiritus’. Whereas the 2016 release ‘No B’ showed more of a Zeppelin-type hard-rock-meets-whiskey-blues swagger, this new collection of songs showcases more originality and individualism. A more defined personal identity, if you will. And more emphasis on blues than the rock, with lead singer Dana Athens leading the pack with a forceful Melissa Etheridge or Beth Hart sort of demanding persona. Forceful, but still sensitive when the song calls for it. In fact, the group “serves the song” quite well on this release, with guitarists Tracy Hightop and Tina Gorin stepping forward with the goods at all the right times, but more importantly, laying back when the song needs to breathe with more space.
‘Spiritus’ is comprised of 8 excellent Jane Lee Hooker originals, and two covers, one being a revved up take on Big Mama Thornton’s “Black Rat”. The other cover, “Turn On Your Love Light” is the sole misfire of the album, mainly because it doesn’t compliment the attitude of the band very well. This is probably a personal bias on my part, since I’ve heard that song played to death by so many sub-par jam bands and haphazard Grateful Dead permutations. In the long run though, it’s a forgivable foul ball considering the otherwise solid home runs present here.
The Racing Pulses - The Racing Pulses vibrant new release Nothing To Write Home AboutThe Racing Pulses
Album Title: The Racing Pulses vibrant new release Nothing To Write Home About
By Tommy Rage
Posted: Dec 2017
(2045) Page Views
Lose weight, quit smoking, save more money or put out a great album. These New Year’s resolutions may sound familiar to some of us, fail as we may at most. The Racing Pulses, however, have kicked off 2018 by accomplishing their New Year’s resolution, releasing 10 brilliant tracks on their debut album Nothing To Write Home About.
While out on tour over the last two years, The Racing Pulses have taken their time in perfecting their first full-length release. Singer-guitarist Kristian Iliev propels the new release with strong vocals, which has gained rave reviews and radio play in several markets. With a Wisconsin and New York & East Coast tour under their belt, the up-and-comers have showcased their finely tuned skills on Nothing To Write Home About. Steering the opening track, “King or Pawn?”, bassist Brian Blanchette lays down a smooth road for drummer Mike Newby to accelerate on. The infectious indie rock vibe keeps cruising along with “Intricate”, while Megatone Studio Producer Paul Schluter tuned-up “Mrs. Supernova” from the bands 2014 EP, which highlights the trio’s talents. With early jazz and blues influences while growing up, “Bookends” fuses a perfect blend between blues and a Modern rock sound. An additional hold over from their 2014 EP, “Mermaid” tells a humorous tale while sharing the road with all 3 musicians who merge a tight-rhythmic blend with whimsical lyrics. Since 2012, The Racing Pulses have been honing their skills on every track of this masterpiece. A live show would certainly highlight the last track, “Falling Through The Floor”, with perfect space for up-beat bluesy jams buckled in with an alt-rock feel.
All ten tracks of The Racing Pulses first release Nothing To Write Home About yields to no one. With such fine detail to songwriting, insightful compositions and a premium blend of jams and lyrics, this is in fact SOMETHING to write home about (or at least text/IM your friends to tell them about this great album). Check out The Racing Pulses release Nothing To Write Home About on iTunes, Spotify, Facebook and at www.theracingpulses.com.
Kyle Rightley - Making HomeKyle Rightley
Album Title: Making Home
By John Noyd
Posted: Nov 2017
(2099) Page Views
Accompanied by a few well-chosen guitars and a talent for spinning honest tales from clear-eyed lyrics, Rightley’s solo album gathers strumming drumless love-songs washed in pithy hitchhiker’s pickin’ addressing open roads and underdogs with glowing folk-poet anecdotes. Add a dash of racetrack boogie, dreamy jangle-pop and crushed-velvet jazz and, “Home,” casually conjures rolling, green pastures and lonely, late-night interstates with warm, friendly memories and kindly, tempered perspective. Bright, chiming solos and cozy melodies pique ears and hearts alike as twang, sizzle and fuzz tumble over six-string rhythms with woeful steel and howling electric raising spirits in reinforced chords and gun-slinger licks. Celebrating the album’s release, Kyle and members of his other musical projects join together for a free show December 13th at Madison’s Mason Lounge.
Lespecial - CheenLespecial
Album Title: Cheen
By Sal Serio
Posted: Nov 2017
Label: Techne Records
(2103) Page Views
Lespecial is a genre-busting trio from Boston/New York City that continuously pulls sharp left turns on their musical influences. One minute they’re sparse techno, then Buckethead-type weirdo shredding, then alt-funk in a Primus/Chili Peppers vein, with Talking Heads “Speaking In Tongues” era synth keyboard flourishes, to middle eastern flavored hip-hop and psychedelic reggae dub. Yet they somehow manage to retain a consistency and logical flow.
For the listener that likes to be challenged, and prefers a widely eclectic musical palette in which to paint their imaginary soundscapes with. Recommended tracks: “Jackwise”, “Sounds That We Do”, “Skull Kid”, and “American Apocalypse”.
Lespecial performs in Madison with a concert at The Frequency, on Thursday, February 1, 2018.
Vixen's Janet Gardner - Vixen’s Janet GardnerVixen's Janet Gardner
Album Title: Vixen’s Janet Gardner
By Tommy Rage
Posted: Oct 2017
Label: Pavement Entertainment
(2635) Page Views
What does a dental hygienist and 80’s rock icon do in her spare time?
Janet Gardner, the former lead singer and rhythm guitarist from the 80’s rock band Vixen, may have settled down, but she did not go away by any means.
Married to fellow guitarist Justin James, who has worked with members of Stained and Collective Soul, the two share a new venture which highlights both of their talents. After taking time away from the spotlight to go back to college and focus on a career in dentistry, the former glam-metal maven has compiled four decades of solo material on her 10-track self-titled album (). Reminiscent of Vixen’s 1988 hit singles “Edge Of A Broken Heart” and “Cryin’” Janet Gardner leads the first track “Rat Hole” with powerful vocals and clever lyrics, accompanied by a modern mix. Mandatory guitar riffs tucked halfway through “Hippycrite” shine from guitarist and producer Justin James. “Candle” showcases Janet’s strong vocals with a Halestorm-type grind, sharp grooves, and modern flare.
As the leader of an 80’s glitter band which previously opened for Ozzy Osbourne and Bon Jovi, no release would be complete without a power ballad. “Best Friend” brings a nostalgic tear of joy for MTV videos and acoustic guitars. The ‘ripped-jeans/bandana’ song closes out this revival release. “The Good Or The Bye”, will make you wonder how many times you can rewind your Walkman cassette player to hear it again & again.
You would assume that after stepping away from the limelight, that Janet Gardner might miss a beat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having helped pave the way for current female-fronted rock bands such as In This Moment and The Pretty Reckless, Janet Gardner continues to shine with her solo project and remind us that there was time when female rock bands weren’t just a poster in your locker, but are now a permanent fixture on your iPod. This is one of those albums.
Check out Janet Gardner’s self-titled album on youtube: https://youtu.be/HCCZeUSODNA
Vixen's Janet Gardner Online
Dan Kolesari - Since You’ve Been AroundDan Kolesari
Album Title: Since You’ve Been Around
By Donny Stopiak
Posted: Oct 2017
Label: Self Released
(1813) Page Views
Becoming a parent for the first time changes one in insurmountable ways. For Milwaukee-based singer songwriter Dan Kolesari, he candidly put that experience to tune and verse with the creation of his sophomore release, aptly titled Since You’ve Been Around. The album, featuring ten stellar tracks of original lyrics and music, takes the listener on a journey following the poignant experience of his twins being born and the subsequent ways his life has been enriched for the better. A worthy follow-up to his 2015 release, Waiting for You, this September 2017 release masterfully showcases Dan’s piano playing chops, passionate vocals, and innate songwriting ability. A dynamic and impassioned performer, Dan will host an album release show at Biloba Brewing Company in Brookfield on Saturday, October 21st from 5-7pm.
Tori Amos - Native InvaderTori Amos
Album Title: Native Invader
By John Noyd
Posted: Sep 2017
(1702) Page Views
Gracefully relaying the enchanted mantra, “get you back to you,” the opening track, “Reindeer King,” is a fitting beginning to Amos’ fifteenth album. Suspended between butterfly sighs and orchestrated roars, the entire album seeks a mentoring center, casting nature’s self-correcting resilience as spirit guide to a world caught between psychological extremes and ecological upheaval. Bravely rattling sabers, Amos carves marvelous labyrinths fusing classical piano talent with rich, contemporary sounds, livening divine rhymes with funky tribal grooves and churning flurries of edgy arpeggios into choreographed seductions. From conjuring heart-breaking dawns to nurturing twilight-guided musings, “Native,” paints glamorous panoramas through globe-trotting rhythms and operatic melodies; illuminating modern follies through gorgeous metaphorical choruses anointed in heavenly chemistry. A mesmerizing entertainer, Ms Amos plays Madison’s Orpheum Theater October 26th
Casket Robbery - The AscensionCasket Robbery
Album Title: The Ascension
By Sal Serio
Posted: Aug 2017
Label: Casket Robbery
(1937) Page Views
Monroe, Wisconsin’s, horror metal outfit Casket Robbery is back with a relentless new 3-song E.P. and an all-new line-up of Megan Orvold on vocals, Troy Powell and Cory Scheider on guitars, Derek Silloway on bass, and drummer Derek Bonn.
‘The Ascension’ E.P. showcases a more classic death metal feel than before; as pulsating, pounding rhythms mesh with throbbing tempos, shrouded with tortured vocals and sheets of ethereal Hellspawn orchestral choir sounds, which accentuate the intense mood, and made me sneak a glance over my shoulder on more than a few occasions while absorbed in the listening experience. This cadaverous cacophony keeps with the Casket Robbery tradition of being the perfect movie soundtrack music for creepy slasher movies with a very sick sense of humor. Which, of course, is why I like this so much!
In a curious turn of events, Casket Robbery lists their influences as “The Evil Dead”, COLDCOCK Whiskey, Billy Squier, and Pro Wrestling, which make both perfect sense and no sense at all. Don’t think about it too much, just turn down the lights and turn up the stereo… and don’t be overly shocked or surprised if this music commences to raise the dead (although it’s all in your head).
The official CD Release Party for Casket Robbery’s ‘The Ascension’ E.P. is Saturday, September 16, at Hijynx in Fort Atkinson, for a free show with live music performed by VIA, Three Left, and Lever.
Metz - Strange PeaceMetz
Album Title: Strange Peace
By John Noyd
Posted: Aug 2017
Label: Sub Pop
(1717) Page Views
A deluge of bruising refusals seeking sanity inside anarchy, “Peace,” releases stark, cathartic coercions through fuel-injected conjecture. Gunning in blunt industrial rumbles riddled in prickly street-savvy literacy, METZ’s rogue Morse code mojo hammers out cast-iron sounds from a collective wreckage connected to fitful pit-bulls pitching willful punk thrills as breakneck metal-blues regrouped into locked-jaw cannonball fodder splatters spring-loaded foreboding over smoothly executed explosions. Giddy with irrefutable conclusions while plagued by unconquerable questions, the Toronto-based three-piece squeezes profound urban guerrilla bounce from slippery rhythmic triggers, winding timely existential potential around sizzling demolition to construct hum-buckling crunches from spit-fire ire, coating hard-core semaphore with ballistic conniptions sliced in decisive righteousness and roasted over social corrosion. Witness the band’s powerful prowess firsthand, September 23rd at Madison’s Majestic Theater.
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