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  • Disc Reviews

    by Max Ink Staff Writers


    Stimuli - They Are We

    Stimuli - They Are We

    Stimuli

    Album title: They Are We
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Aug 2018
    Label: Stimuli Music
    (10134) Page Views

    Stimuli is an appropriate name for these new Bay-area hard rockers, because this music covers so many emotions, textures, and cultural styles. These are compelling sounds, it inspires and it rocks, and also offers pause for contemplation.

    ‘They Are We’ is the debut release by this trio, and if you hear a Native American influence, it is no accident. Band leaders Jimmy Tomahawk and Tai Hake spice up their heavy electrified sound with traditional Native American flute and acoustic guitar, along with less traditional Theremin, synthesizers, and sitar. The end result is a pulsating intense groove not unlike the best of the more intelligent 90s-era hard rock bands, if they were also infused with a significant indigenous cultural connection.

    At the end of the day it’s Tomahawk’s voice and guitar that really drives these songs, and without question there is some radio friendly material here. I only hope these guys keep their chins up,  stick out the rigors of the road, and keep plugging away at self promotion. If they can secure the right support and backing Stimuli could eventually be the next big thing.

    Recommended tracks: “The New Dream”, “Sandstorm”, “Fire In Disguise”, and “Pill For The Pill”.

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    Brittany Shane - Brittany Shane

    Brittany Shane - Brittany Shane

    Brittany Shane

    Album title: Brittany Shane
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Aug 2018
    Label: Painted Lady Records
    (10434) Page Views

    Supported by an able-bodied posse of seasoned players, steady, centered Baraboo native and Austin transplant Brittany Shane keeps a level-head, if just this side of a second wind, on her crackling new mini-album. A pleasant collection upon first listen and a rewarding restorative after many more, Brittany’s brave-face grace and double-down directness connects the half-dozen tracks into a rich song-cycle orbiting love’s push and pull. A singer-songwriter, dancer and Mom; all parts of Shane’s personality come together in this self-titled work with poise, discipline and affection apparent in every line. A beacon projecting calm resolve and soft-spoken strength, Shane’s patience reins in the crashing guitars, restless rhythms and runaway twang to make her sixth album a testament to taming wild hearts and reaping life’s treasures.

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    Martin Turner - The Beauty Of Chaos: Live At The Citadel

    Martin Turner - The Beauty Of Chaos: Live At The Citadel

    Martin Turner

    Album title: The Beauty Of Chaos: Live At The Citadel
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Jun 2018
    Label: Cherry Red / Dirty Dog Discs
    (9530) Page Views

    Classic rock fans undoubtedly know the name Martin Turner as a founding member of Wishbone Ash, and Turner certainly doesn’t deny his role in that band’s seminal 1970s catalog. In fact, Turner’s current release, the 2-CD / DVD live set ‘The Beauty Of Chaos’ is a brilliant document of Turner’s band performing their most recent studio album ‘Written In The Stars’ in it’s entirety, along with a heap of supplemental material, all culled from the Wishbone Ash initial decade, 1970-1980 (which Turner joking refers to as “old hippie music”).

    It should not be understated how excellent the vocal harmonies are in this live concert, with Turner’s lead being supplemented by guitarist Danny Willson (ex-Showaddywaddy) and drummer Tim Brown. This quartet is extremely competent, especially evident in the sinewy guitar interplay between Willson and Misha Nikolic. The tone of the guitars is like fine crystal, pure and pristine, with Turner’s melodic bass parts acting at times like a third guitar in the extended instrumental passages. Historians may be interested that Turner’s white Gibson Thunderbird bass guitar was purchased from the late musician Pete Overend Watts of Mott The Hoople fame.

    The featured new material is quite enjoyable contemporary-sounding hard rock, however the rubber really hits the road when the performance travels in to Wishbone Ash territory, as the quiet intro portion of “The Pilgrim” segues in to polyrhythmic prog rock of the highest degree. The DVD, which includes the entire concert as well as band interview, is highlighted by inventive multi-camera videography and spectacular surround sound audio.

    Recommended tracks: “The Beauty Of Chaos”, “Written In The Stars”, “The Pilgrim”, “The King Will Come”, “Sometime World”, “F.U.B.B.”, “You See Red”, and “Doctor”.

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    Chaos Revolution Theory - Chaos Revolution Theory

    Chaos Revolution Theory - Chaos Revolution Theory

    Chaos Revolution Theory

    Album title: Chaos Revolution Theory
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Jun 2018
    Label: Chaos Revolution Theory
    (7330) Page Views

    Madison-based original rock band Chaos Revolution Theory are busy guys. This latest CD, their 6th release overall, is a double disc 14 song offering that even has two different versions of the cover artwork! CRT actually has their next album already in the can, having recently recorded it in Austin, TX. This current self-titled double album was recorded split between Austin, and Madison’s Acme Studios, engineered here by Tim Consequence. The recording and mixing is crystalline, bringing these performances to life.

    Guitarist and vocalist Nick Stanecki writes CRT’s songs. The lyrical content is like everyman’s ruminations. Thoughts filled with wanderlust and acknowledgment of the day-to-day things many might not take the time to appreciate: topics such as travel, food, nature, and relationships. Musically, it’s a stripped-down hard rock approach with touches of blues, country, reggae, and Latin music, accentuated by pulsating drum / percussion crescendos and explosive lead guitar solos. Musical cameos are provided by Bryan Moll of Subatomic (guitar), and Adam Ziertan of Mojo Radio (harmonica).

    My constructive criticism for CRT is in the vocal department. I’d encourage the guys to consider adding a vocalist, although I “get it” when the songwriter wants to sing his own compositions. However, Stanecki’s vocal range is limited, which gives the songs a “samey” sort of feel. A dedicated singer could potentially offer the songs a distinct personality and take this music in to more memorable territory. Still, a fine release, overall.

    Recommended tracks: “Trip I’m On”, “Hub City”, “La Hacienda”, and “Aztec”.

    The “Chaos Revolution Theory” CD release party is Friday, July 6 at Mr. Roberts Bar in Madison, with special guest The Rotten Tommys.

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    Gentle Brontosaurus - Bees of the Invisible

    Gentle Brontosaurus - Bees of the Invisible

    Gentle Brontosaurus

    Album title: Bees of the Invisible
    By John Noyd
    Posted: May 2018
    Label: self-release
    (6592) Page Views

    Cheeky geek-chic carnivals bounce around melodic lynch-pin symmetry as sprightly study-hall party-dolls packing wistful epiphanies dance through modern problems with modest jigsaw bop topped in college philosophy and soft-spoken anecdotes flashing dazzling indie-rock panache. Populated in good-natured sages frolicking with cunning wit, rosy prose and deadpan incantations, the happy-go-lucky, “Bees,” breezes through all-night sock-hops in feng shui love-shacks filling in the shadows with coy, sideway glances and wise, wide-eyed ironies. Variety spikes the politely subversive album as sweet, folk-pop doo-wop rigged in nifty guitar licks erupt between caroling harmonies; pithy shifts thick with shuffling percussion, roller-rink synths and throat-grabbing brass.  Find Gentle Brontosaurus closing out the Cottonwood Stage at the Marquette Waterfront Festival June 10th and playing one of the last Frequency shows June 20th.

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    The Rotten Tommys - Shake It!

    The Rotten Tommys - Shake It!

    The Rotten Tommys

    Album title: Shake It!
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: May 2018
    Label: To The Core Records
    (5997) Page Views

    Madison’s The Rotten Tommys are back with their new CD, ‘Shake It!’, as they attack the specter of the sophomore slump with both barrels burning. This new CD hosts louder guitars, better crafted songwriting, and much improved sound engineering. Plus, MORE is always better, right? The first Tommys release was 10 songs and 26 minutes, and now we have 13 songs in 39 minutes. Bonus!

    Right off the bat, you’ve got to love a song about a Mad Rollin’ Doll, especially when it opens with chords reminiscent of the Sex Pistols. “Devil’s Night” is unique, with a spoken word, almost film noir Private Dick narrative feel to it. Well, maybe if Wayne Kramer was a private detective! “Shake It” has a 60’s style mod-surf styled riff, with classic Phil Spector “Wall Of Sound” styled background vocals. Also, “Shevil” features a similar retro sound, with evil laughter sprinkled in for good measure, reminding me of Poison Ivy from The Cramps, who holds a near and dear place in my heart.

    In the Constructive Criticism category: the faux vinyl noises on “Shevil” are a tad annoying…. if you want crackles, just press vinyl! Also, sometimes the swears seem just to be for the sake of saying a swear word. Don’t try so hard, take the high road… and it’s classier to not use songs to bash ex-lovers, or other members of the opposite sex in general.

    Better efforts: “Casualty” has more open-ended societal themed lyrics that could be applicable to a wider populous. The mid-song tempo-shift and slide guitar solo is pretty cool. “Wolfman” is up-tempo fun rock song with mass appeal. Almost has a hot rod challenge grudge match feel… like the soundtrack to a scene in a Russ Meyer or Roger Corman film.

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    Josh Rouse - Love In The Modern Age

    Josh Rouse - Love In The Modern Age

    Josh Rouse

    Album title: Love In The Modern Age
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Apr 2018
    Label: Yep Roc
    (3055) Page Views

    Ray-Ban suntans frolic in soft-rock cakewalks while country-club dreamers stalk satin-sheet streets heading towards an afternoon at the beach as light, bubbly synths swim in sleek, sophisticated lounge-songs detailing deceptively effortless pleasures behind subtle tropical bop. Songwriter, expatriate, voyeur, Rouse’s playful purrs coax vacuum-sealed feelings from zip-locked pop topped in carefree dares and cavalier lyrics. Cozy, sax-filled jazz slathered in break-through-the-clouds chords play against mellow morning-after melodies and beach-ball bass for a sublime, refined album. Hovering between impeccable replicas of golden moments and respectful revisions of dependable dilemmas, “Love,” captures signature originality under multiple traditions fusing infallible nostalgia and unapologetic novelty to timeless tunes packed in memorable tempos. Hear Rouse up close and personal, when he performs May 20th at Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee’s Back Room. 

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    Paul Draper - Spooky Action

    Paul Draper - Spooky Action

    Paul Draper

    Album title: Spooky Action
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Apr 2018
    Label: Kscope
    (2851) Page Views

    Creamy chaos greets cinematic passion and sultry cosmic rumbles as high-voltage glam-rock meets sky-rocketing British blues-soul in the luminous, “Spooky.” Gorgeous orchestrated mayhem simmers at the ready as Draper’s cat-like stream of consciousness purrs in curious psychoanalytical diversions while submerging in flirtatious, vexing espionage. Slinging honeyed cunning for transcendent repentance and luscious bluster for martyred catharsis, the cumulative effect is staggering. Front-man for nineties alt-rock icons Mansun, Draper finishes his limited American tour at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater May 3rd opening up for the King of Prog-Rock, Steve Wilson. Rare as is Paul’s stateside appearance, rarer still is his presenting Mansun classics and his new album scaled down to just him and a sideman. Surely, a night of sonic pyrotechnics from both parties on the bill.

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    The Groucho Marx - Mikado

    The Groucho Marx - Mikado

    The Groucho Marx

    Album title: Mikado
    By Gregory Harutyunyan
    Posted: Apr 2018
    Label: Video Artists International Inc.
    (1958) 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

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    Half Waif - Lavender

    Half Waif - Lavender

    Half Waif

    Album title: Lavender
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Mar 2018
    Label: Cascine
    (1577) 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.

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    The Heavy Set - The Highway And The Moon

    The Heavy Set - The Highway And The Moon

    The Heavy Set

    Album title: The Highway And The Moon
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Feb 2018
    Label: The Heavy Set
    (2620) 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.

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    Jane Lee Hooker - Spiritus

    Jane Lee Hooker - Spiritus

    Jane Lee Hooker

    Album title: Spiritus
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Feb 2018
    Label: Ruf Records
    (1944) 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.

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