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  • Disc Reviews

    by Max Ink Staff Writers


    The Showdown - Back Breaker

    The Showdown - Back Breaker

    The Showdown

    Album title: Back Breaker
    By Chris Fox
    Posted: Dec 2008
    Label: Solid State Records
    (5241) Page Views

    Heavy. From drumming that hits on the off beats to grinding guitar and lots of squealing harmonics, THE SHOWDOWN is just heavy with their release of “Back Breaker.” These Tennessee natives stay true to their southern metal roots and supply lots of chunk that is reminiscent of bands like DEMON HUNTER with a few added tidbits. Using unique backing vocals with the grinding guitar leading the way and a thumping double kick carrying the load, these guys manage to rip your face off and hand it back to you in pieces. The epic nature of the album is only enhanced by the subtitles of each song such as “(Achilles) The Disillusionaire” and “(Infernus) You Will Move.” The legendary names support this incredibly heavy yet understandable album. That is correct, it is heavy, but you can still understand what the singer says, creating an in-your-face sound that coincides with the epic artwork on the CD.

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    The Lonely Hearts - Disaster Footage at Night

    The Lonely Hearts - Disaster Footage at Night

    The Lonely Hearts

    Album title: Disaster Footage at Night
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Dec 2008
    Label: Three Ring Records
    (1616) Page Views

    “Disaster Footage at Night” is the second album by San Francisco folk rock duo THE LONELY HEARTS, consisting of Andre Perry and John Lindenbaum. Described as “American folk meets bedroom rock,” there is great variety on this well-produced album from the mellow to the more aggressive. Accompanied by three backing musicians, all these songs are hooky with lyrics that range from the introspective to the more storyline narrative. The track to sample before you buy is “Overpass,” which sounds like it has Neil Young singing lead vocals, and Crazy Horse-style Young is a major influence here. If you like Grandaddy or the Mountain Goats, definitely check out this album.

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    Jeff Foxx - Jeff Foxx

    Jeff Foxx - Jeff Foxx

    Jeff Foxx

    Album title: Jeff Foxx
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Dec 2008
    Label: Self Released
    (2238) Page Views

    The self-titled debut album from NYC radio host and R&B bassist JEFF FOXX (session player for CHAKA KHAN, AL JARREAU, ISAAC HAYES, and ROY AYERS) offers a pleasant and soulful musical ride. It’s a funky, smooth, creamy and delicious, take-her-home-after-the-date-for-pillow-talk album. It was produced and co-written with Bernard Belle (MICHAEL JACKSON, BOBBY BROWN). “With the exception of my family, music has been my greatest joy,” Foxx said. “There are few feelings that surpass the elation that comes with providing people with a good, musical feeling.” It’s definitely an emotive album. The melodies aren’t especially hooky, but they are juicy. Song to sample before you buy: “If You Look in Your Heart” (Track 2, chill bass solo).

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    The Nuclear Children - Paint it Red

    The Nuclear Children - Paint it Red

    The Nuclear Children

    Album title: Paint it Red
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Dec 2008
    Label: Champion of the Arts Records
    (2144) Page Views

    THE NUCLEAR CHILDREN’s single “Paint it Red” preambles the band’s soon-to-be-released full length studio album, “Ten Sordid Tales of Schaden and Freude” (Champion of the Arts Records) due out in early 2009.  Energetic, intense, and sarcastic, the band’s sound has been compared to Modest Mouse, The Pixies, and Social Distortion. These bands are all clearly influential in “Paint it Red” as well as the B-side track “Hey Wendy.” They hail from Columbus, OH, an underrated modern-Mecca of urban retro rock. Check them out on MySpace, where you can hear the singles.

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    The Ringers - Headlocks and Highkicks

    The Ringers - Headlocks and Highkicks

    The Ringers

    Album title: Headlocks and Highkicks
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Dec 2008
    Label: Fort Mason Entertainment
    (2235) Page Views

    “Headlocks and Highkicks,” the second album from LA indie rockers THE RINGERS, is aptly named for its aggressive, high-energy pomp rock sound assault. Dynamic changes and bold song-writing, I give this one 4 stars and a place on my prestigious CD rack. The recording production is crisp as well. This is exactly what I look for when I seek out indie garage rock. Scope their videos on their web site…tons of fun and theatrics. I will definitely catch their show next time they pass through the Midwest.

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    John Statz - An Evening With John Statz

    John Statz - An Evening With John Statz

    John Statz

    Album title: An Evening With John Statz
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Nov 2008
    Label: Self Released
    (4022) Page Views

    “An Evening with John Statz” is the third self-produced release by Madison folk musician John Statz. It was recorded live at Uncommon Ground coffee shop in Chicago, IL, on April 22, 2008.

    “I had put out two studio albums and just wanted to get a live cut of some of those songs and a few new ones,” Statz said, “I was playing Uncommon Ground on the spring tour and they always give you a live recording of what you play. So I figured it would be an easy way to get a good quality live recording.”
    The live recording was mastered by Nate Edwards who recorded Statz’s first album, “Dusk Came Slow.”

    “An Evening with John Statz” was recorded on the first stop of Statz’s spring 2008 tour, which speaks to the artist’s innate talent and preparation for live performances. The musicianship and sound quality are nearly flawless, with dynamic and rich equalization of the guitar and vocals, the only instruments on the recording.

    “It isn’t easy to describe [Uncommon Ground] to people,” Statz said, “It is a really intimate, small room that you play in. It is just the size of a medium-sized living room. There is no stage or anything. You just kind of stand in the middle and people really have to come into the room to hear the music. It’s my favorite place to play in Chicago because it is just so intimate. It’s a live album, but you won’t hear a roaring audience or anything, because there are maybe 20 people in the room. That gives it kind of a house concert feel.”

    The closeness and intimacy comes through on the recording, allowing the listener to feel the spatial relationship to the artist in both the music and the close applause of the small audience.

    “I think some people, on first listen, may try to compare this with a lot of live albums with tons of clapping,” Statz said, “This gives a different perspective.”
    If there is anything to be critical of here, it is only that the clarity of the recording hides nothing (as when Statz gulps water near the microphone on the recording). Occasionally Statz’s voice noticeably, albeit mildly, pushes the upper limits of his range. But when he keeps to comfortable vocal territory, the intonation is dead on.

    The songs are heavily folk music influenced with a lyrical story-telling maturity. The title track from Statz’s second studio album, “Our Love Was Made for Canada,” appears on the new live album in solo acoustic format. Two songs, “Nobody Can Say We Aren’t Loyal Now” and “Best Girl of ‘16” are previously unreleased. They are themed on World War I, a period of history in which Statz has a deep intellectual interest. Also new to this album is the lighter “Ballad for V and B in 5,” a song Statz was hired to write for a wedding. The first track on the album, “A Letter from Southeast Asia,” focuses on the more recent Vietnam War and brings to mind the anti-war sentiments found in folk music of the 1960s. All of the songs on the album were written by Statz except for “Chelsea Hotel #2,” a Leonard Cohen composition.

    Statz’s spring 2008 tour ended in early May, with dates in New Orleans, LA and Greenwood, MS. The track “Every Other Time” pays tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the injustices revealed during its aftermath.

    The new CD is available at most Madison record stores. Statz hosts a monthly Thursday showcase at the Brink Lounge (www.thebrinklounge.com) in Madison, WI.

    “It’s a monthly songwriter’s showcase I am starting,” Statz said of the gig, “I play every month and I get to book in two other acts. So it will be me, an out-of-towner, and another local.”

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    Steve Grimm - Keep Your Dreams Alive

    Steve Grimm - Keep Your Dreams Alive

    Steve Grimm

    Album title: Keep Your Dreams Alive
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Nov 2008
    Label: Self Released
    (2219) Page Views

    STEVE GRIMM is probably best known as the front man and drummer of the infamous Milwaukee rock band BAD BOY. But he has a formidable solo career too, recently releasing eight solid rock songs on an album called “Keep Your Dreams Alive.” If you like 80s and 90s classic rock, check out this record. It’s potent.

    Touring with Bad Boy, Steve had the envious privilege of sharing the stage with some of the greatest classic rock bands, including AC/DC, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Ted Nugent, and Alice Cooper. These influences are apparent in “Keep Your Dreams Alive.” A current-sounding production, this album still bleeds pure 80s rock-n-roll and will appeal to lovers of that genre. “Soilder [sic] (for Your Love)” is the song to preview before you buy (cdbaby.com/cd/stevegrimm) as it covers characteristic sonic territory.

    Released in October 2008, the album’s title clearly reflects Steve’s continued passion for songwriting and performing. A graduate of Berklee College of Music and the University of Wisconsin, Steve has shared his veteran music wisdom teaching music in the Milwaukee Public School system for the past 12 years.  He is an active member of Sleighriders, a charity made up of performers who donate their talents and time to providing instruction and musical instruments to young music students.

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    Sound And Fury - Sound And Fury

    Sound And Fury - Sound And Fury

    Sound And Fury

    Album title: Sound And Fury
    By Chris Fox
    Posted: Nov 2008
    Label: Rebel Youth Records
    (1842) Page Views

    The album artwork alone makes this album worth purchasing. A very dark, yet refined, punk rock album. Eighties hair metal rings out in the solos and vocals as well as just a touch of southern rock. Songs like “Teenage Rampage” and “Bad Touch” will make you want to call your parents and start a political argument just to reminisce.

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    System And Station - A Nation Of Actors

    System And Station - A Nation Of Actors

    System And Station

    Album title: A Nation Of Actors
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Nov 2008
    Label: Latest Flame Records
    (2222) Page Views

    “A Nation of Actors” is the fourth full-length album by SYSTEM AND STATION. The August 2008 release is poppier than its predecessor, “Here is Now.” It has a guitar heavy and rhythmically progressive sound that forms the foundation for gentle and sometimes plaintive melodies and lyrics.

    “The earlier System and Station stuff is pretty ‘prog rock’ with a lot of changes and six or seven minute songs,” said RFK Heise, principle songwriter in the band. “On this record we really tried to focus in on cutting out the unnecessary and get to the heart of the songs. I think doing that it really defined an identity for what we have been trying to do for a lot of years now.”

    The music isn’t especially hooky, but I found myself drawn to the overall sound quality of the record. So perhaps “cerebral” is a good descriptor, although that suggests mellow music, which this isn’t. The song structures, instrumentation, and dynamics are reminiscent of early JANE’S ADDICTION, an influence in Heise’s songwriting.

    “‘Ritual [de lo Habitual]’-era JANE’S ADDICTION definitely…and I’m a big classic rock fan,” Heise said. “Everything from LED ZEPPELIN, BUILT TO SPILL, and THE POLICE. I am super into YES. The idea before was to write epic rock songs, but it started to get to be too much. So now we are trying to be a little more accessible.”

    SYSTEM AND STATION formed in Boise, ID in 1998 and have called both Madison, WI (1998-2001) and Portland, OR home since (they currently reside in the latter city). SYSTEM AND STATION has performed with the likes of MARKY RAMONE, SHINER, BUILT TO SPILL, BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB, and THE MEAT PUPPETS. They completed their 19th national tour in September.

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    Fragile Utopia - Fragile Utopia

    Fragile Utopia - Fragile Utopia

    Fragile Utopia

    Album title: Fragile Utopia
    By Chris Fox
    Posted: Nov 2008
    Label: Self Released
    (3272) Page Views

    Thrash metal guitar without all the screams. This Madison local group does a great job bringing a unique mix to the painfully categorized metal scene. “Stillframe,” the album’s third track, provides insight to what the group is all about: a mixture of clean and distorted leads, heavy bass lines, and smooth vocals. “Machine” brings back the thrash metal feel, and proves the cyclical abilities of this group.

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    Land Of Talk - Some Are Lakes

    Land Of Talk - Some Are Lakes

    Land Of Talk

    Album title: Some Are Lakes
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Oct 2008
    Label: Saddle Creek
    (2155) Page Views

    Streamlined and road-tested, the ten tantalizing tracks of Montreal’s Land of Talk full-length debut are the result of several years touring that had the group shuffling members until the current trio emerged as the perfect foil for singer, songwriter and guitarist Elizabeth Powell’s sharp narratives. Recorded in a converted church near their home town except for one track originating from Justin Vernon’s parent’s house in Eau Claire, there is a refreshing compactness to the tunes that leaves plenty of room for well-controlled gusto. A balancing act of agitated riffs and hustling bluster, “Lakes,” smash and shimmer as it reflects restless perspectives of timeless entanglements. Opening for Broken Social Scene Oct 11th at Madison’s UW Union Theater, LoT offer complicated conversations instead of idle chit chat.

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    Lucas Cates Band - All The Pieces

    Lucas Cates Band - All The Pieces

    Lucas Cates Band

    Album title: All The Pieces
    By Cactus Joe
    Posted: Oct 2008
    Label: Self Released
    (3168) Page Views

    “All the Pieces,” the second album from Madison WI natives The Lucas Cates Band, is a thoroughly danceable, musically tight and well produced piece of pop rock work. Released in 2008, “All the Pieces” is a 100% self-produced follow-up to the band’s 2005 debut “Contradictory” (released on Madison’s PopBomb label).

    “This record was done completely independently,” Cates said. “I produced the record with the guys and our investor. Everything is independent now and I like it that way. The music is what we want it to be.”

    These are well-constructed, dynamic original songs, all written by Lucas Cates himself and arranged by the band. While the lyrics are both touching and emotive, the first impulse I had on listening to this record was simply an urge to get up and dance. This is music I would enjoy at an outdoor summer music festival rather than in the car or on my MP3 player. The grooves are great, the musicianship solid. This is rock’n’roll best served “live.”

    The lyrics on this album, which I read on the CD jacket, have a universal mass appeal. The songs cover topics everyone can relate to, like love lost (“Love Broke Her Heart”), current events (“Numb,” about global warming), and injustice (“1492”). The title track “All the Pieces” is about the ups and downs in life, and looking on the bright side.

    “We have progressed a lot as a band in the last year and a half, and after this year we’ll have had six major national tours,” Cates said. “I have met a lot of great people who are working as hard as I am and believe in the project. “All the Pieces” is about everything coming together and all these wonderful people whose paths have collided to put us where we are now.”

    That said, this is music I just want to blindly shake my booty to with a cute girl on a summer day, not contemplate the depth and meaning of the lyrics. If I had to criticize anything about this album it might be just that the music is too damn upbeat in contrast to the more serious lyrical ideas presented.

    There is a decent variety of musical styles on this album, with songs ranging from the more solo singer/songwriter stuff to the full-band rock out jams. Lucas plays rhythm guitar and sings with a voice that is tonally rich and bold, on par with contemporaries in this genre like Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz.

    “John Mayer, Dave Matthews, and Jack Johnson were all people I listened to growing up,” Cates said. “I hesitate to say that we sound like these bands. I have the utmost respect for John Maier as a musician, a singer and a songwriter. He’s probably my biggest influence, but I appreciate all good musicianship. Dave Matthews was a main influence when I started playing guitar in college. I like Jack Johnson and Willie Porter for their songwriting.”

    “All the Pieces” was released in August 2008. The band has been touring since early September to promote the record and they will host a CD release party for the album on Saturday October 18th, 2008, at the Brink Lounge in Madison, WI (www.thebrinklounge.com).  There will be an “all ages” show from 9:00 to 10:30 followed by an “over 21 only” show from 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

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