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  • Disc Reviews

    by Max Ink Staff Writers


    The Drain - End Of The Drive

    The Drain - End Of The Drive

    The Drain

    Album title: End Of The Drive
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Dec 2015
    Label: The Drain
    (2462) Page Views

    Uh-oh. The Drain. Here we go again! They still have that same late 70s/early 80s “Cure-meets-Buzzcocks-meets-Devo on the scruffy dance floor of a sweaty English pub” kind of attitude. Which is kind of rare in this day and age. I feel like I should be Dave Kendall or Kurt Loder writing this review! And, I want my mullet-mohawk back. Dammit.

    Okay, sort of kidding, but sort of not. Considering how much fun we had pogoing and skanking around to the music of that era, I’m right bloody happy to hear it resurface in a shiny oxycleaned fresh-faced way. “Yes Mom, those ARE my friends, and I’m going out with them tonight, and there’s NOTHING you can do about it !!”

    Remember the SNL where Richard Nixon (Dan Aykroyd) came up with his comeback slogan, “The New Dick – it’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s what everyone wants to see”!? Well, that’s this new Drain CD! Seriously! It’s the new dick. It’s short (8 songs, 29:07 TT), it’s sweet (every song a winner, and a lush wonderland of audio awesomeness thanks to Mark Whitcomb & DNA Music Labs), and I am here to tell you… to educate you, if you will… that this most assuredly is what everybody wants to see (and hear). C’mon! Let’s do “The Drain”, it’s the dance sensation that’s draining the nation!

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    Leslie West - Soundcheck

    Leslie West - Soundcheck

    Leslie West

    Album title: Soundcheck
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Dec 2015
    Label: Provogue
    (2352) Page Views

    Leslie West is a true survivor. He’s carried on throughout health woes, addiction, and decades of fluctuation in a fickle and often unforgiving music business. If his growling vocals and white hot power chords on the new ‘Soundcheck’ (his 16th solo album) sound like a man on a mission, I believe he is – a mission to get up in everybody’s face! To say, “I’m still here and I’m ready to kick some ass”, which is accomplished immediately upon pressing play.

    While the rockers simply level buildings like a hurricane (“Here For The Party”, “Empty Promises/Nothing Sacred”), it’s some of the more subtle tracks where West’s signature guitar tone and vibrato shine the brightest. The blues take on Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” sends that song spiraling back through the decades, both reminiscent of something Robert Johnson would have written, and encapsulating the vibe of a composition that would not have been out of place on Leslie’s first album from 1969. The soft and somewhat mournful rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” is hauntingly beautiful, notable for West’s soulful vocal and slide work, complimented by Peter Frampton on guitar.

    There are two songs that are commanding attention on this release, and it’s no wonder. West is joined by Queen guitarist Brian May, and vocalist Bonnie Bramlett, on a ruckus barn-burning run through the Don Nix (Freddie King) classic “Going Down”. The final chapter of this excellent ‘Soundcheck’ is a tribute to West’s former band mate, the late, great, Jack Bruce. This live version of “Spoonful” was recorded in 1988 but only just released now. You’ll swear you’re listening to Cream. Bruce’s vocal and Leslie’s howling leads will make your neck hairs stand up… and salute!

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    The Heavy Set - Everybody’s Got A Mountain

    The Heavy Set - Everybody’s Got A Mountain

    The Heavy Set

    Album title: Everybody’s Got A Mountain
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Dec 2015
    Label: The Heavy Set
    (2862) Page Views

    The irony of the Minneapolis group The Heavy Set is their name, insinuating something heavy, or possibly very funky. However, this is homespun music from the heart, often with an airy, lilting quality. Gentle yet commanding one’s undivided attention. Ample nods to the Allman Brothers/Widespread Panic style will keep the listening audience grooving along.

    All songs written by vocalist/guitarist Jake Ilika provide an overall singer-songwriter feel, except with full backing band. Also present is a distinct “swing” to Zac Barbieur’s drumming, keeping perfect time but in an understated manner. Holding back a little so the open spaces in the music communicate as much as the parts played on.

    “Getting’ Tired” finds instrumentation building to a climax, finishing with soaring slide guitar work. “Circling The Drain” and “Start Over” are in that airy realm, almost with a Lanois or early Mazzy Star type of expansive intuition. Closing my eyes, these moments transport my thoughts to the mountainous prairies of the American west where one can turn full circle and just see miles of untarnished natural beauty. Tasty blues saxophone care of Max Felsheim colors the song “Good Times”, and “Use These Blues” rolls in to Southern rock territory with a boogie rhythm, rollicking guitar runs, and a vocal chorus with a hint of gospel-blues influence.

    The Heavy Set performs with the People Brothers Band and Frogleg, Friday, December 11, at the High Noon Saloon in Madison.

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    Kicksville - The Singles Season 6

    Kicksville - The Singles Season 6

    Kicksville

    Album title: The Singles Season 6
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Dec 2015
    Label: Dept. Of Records
    (2420) Page Views

    Kicksville: Madison’s very own avant-prog-weirdo-almost-too-smart-for-their-own-good musical collective. I personally appreciate the unabashed esoterica, but accept that it’s an acquired taste. Thankfully, this time the twisted tunes are balanced by selections nearly approaching accessibility. Nearly!

    Immediately following “press play”, Beefheart-type vocalizations mix with suspense-movie-theme-soundtrack stylings. The following cut, “Nameless Jack”, features Andy Ewen’s singing filtered through a warbling effect, over a more bluesy-pop composition complimented by organ and harmonica. But then, on “Bread Knife Bill”, the Beefheart-isms return, tastefully intertwined with Randal Harrison’s violin. I had to wrestle with the impulse to call out, “The blimp! It’s the blimp, Frank, the blimp!”

    Since Kicksville are purveyors of multi-media stage presentations, I also felt the desire to experience this CD in other ways besides hearing it. Not that I recommend covering the disc with warming oils and rubbing it all over your body or anything, but visuals were certainly present in this writer’s mind’s eye. Unusual visions, of course, although not altogether unpleasant.  Incidentally, on Kicksville’s bandcamp page you may enjoy artwork created especially for each track on this CD.

    One moment that caught me off guard was a fairly straightforward version of the Toots Hibbert classic “Monkey Man”, although it was still “Kicksvilled-up” with a crazed Frisell-type guitar solo and ample liberties taken with the lyrics.

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    Deerhunter - Fading Frontier

    Deerhunter - Fading Frontier

    Deerhunter

    Album title: Fading Frontier
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Nov 2015
    Label: 4AD
    (2073) Page Views

    Groggy crawls down sandpapered bogs, sniper-frightened runways and red-velvet nightmares, “Frontier,” smears scrawny gone-daddy yawns from late-night catcalls with deliberate mischief bewitched by coy scene-stealing chameleons. Secreting seedy graffiti from dauntingly exhaustive minds, the indie-pop stalkers’ seventh album scrawls motley topics on defrocked chalkboards as gruff clubs host ravaged cabaret in subterranean mania. Downing a woozy snoot of hotel-lobby blues with a twist of eclectic intellect, long-lost glam-rock astronauts, Deerhunter ride timid Minotaurs through imaginative labyrinths hosting low-rent rodeos where gritty sins wring fresh texts and novel options from trippy rhythms flipping romantic stanzas; cap-sized dreamboats afloat in frozen hopes and washed in cosmic curiosity. A case of devilish double-features, Deerhunter plays Madison’s Majestic Theater December 15th with Deerhunter’s Brandon Cox’s side-project Atlas Sound opening.

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    Joanna Newsom - Divers

    Joanna Newsom - Divers

    Joanna Newsom

    Album title: Divers
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Nov 2015
    Label: Drag City
    (1744) Page Views

    An orchestral painter of thoughts, ideas and visions, Newsom’s harp-fueled allusions, Chaucer charm and roots-strewn chutzpah spin pixilated poetry over sea-side symphonies. Presenting chamber-folk ensembles inside harbor-town dives while medieval vaudevillians march across rainbow-combed heather, “Divers,” wisely migrates from historical pastorals to metaphorical fantasies conjuring fleeting suites inside sly two-sided lullabies. Five years since her last undertaking, the composer collaborated with several distinct arrangers for a fourth album graced with inquisitive richness and intricate consistency whose puzzle-box pleasantries rouse and rejoice; dainty, saintly cadence stirring tall tales from mythic elixirs bottled in deep thoughts and swimming in exquisite symmetries buried in quizzical bliss. A renaissance sorceress and shape-shifting traditionalist, Ms Newsom plays Madison’s Orpheum Theater December 18th with tentative sensualists Alela Diane and Ryan Francesconi.

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    John Mayall - Find A Way To Care

    John Mayall - Find A Way To Care

    John Mayall

    Album title: Find A Way To Care
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Nov 2015
    Label: Forty Below Records
    (1762) Page Views

    John Mayall has backed up some of the legendary originators of blues music, and had some of rock’s greatest guitarists back him up. Now, at just shy of 82 years of age, Mayall’s voice still sounds rich and emotive on ‘Find A Way To Care’, the blues man’s recent release, and third album by his current band of Greg Rzab, Rocky Athas, and Jay Davenport.

    Each track on this new CD is labeled with the key it’s in, to facilitate jamming along with the band, which seems a reasonable expectation given the feel-good, lets-just-get-in-to-it nature of these twelve songs. The most sincere messages of the blues pour out of this music’s soulful essence… lost love, regret, poverty, unfulfilled desire… all delivered with uncompromised conviction and directed point blank straight in to the heart of the listener.

    The current trio working with Mayall shine brightly, such as veteran Texas guitarist Rocky Athas’ scorching lead guitar breaks on “I Want All My Money Back” and “War We Wage”, tastefully complimented by the bandleader’s Hammond organ. Often, Mayall’s piano rhythms showcase a healthy dose of boogie-woogie and perhaps even a bit of Tex-Mex or Cajun flavor. Which, comes as no surprise, given his penchant for Native American and Southwestern culture, design, and fashion. In fact, John Mayall himself has begun to assume the character of the elder shaman of the blues. One who has the wisdom, mojo, magic, and keen vision in to the future of this most American of all musical art forms, the blues. Which is pretty wild for an Englishman!

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    Various Artists - Jeffology - A Guitar Chronicle

    Various Artists - Jeffology - A Guitar Chronicle

    Various Artists

    Album title: Jeffology - A Guitar Chronicle
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Nov 2015
    Label: Cleopatra Records
    (1580) Page Views

    Just out on the eclectic Cleopatra label is this diverse and inspirational tribute to guitar legend Jeff Beck. Appropriately enough, the players come from a wide cross-section of musical genres: pop, metal, reggae, blues, and funk; and the chosen selections are culled from a broad perspective of Beck’s long career. From as far back as The Yardbirds and Jeff Beck Group, through his inventive jazz fusion years, and on in to his current groundbreaking work.

    There are several highlights that jump out here, but among my favorites are Def Leppard’s Phil Collen playing a tight and heartfelt rendition of the emotive instrumental “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”. Collen’s band mate Vivian Campbell also dips in to the ‘Blow By Blow/Wired’ era catalog, with extended frenetic soloing on the stomp and romp of “Led Boots”.

    The later-day Yardbirds single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, performed by Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars, is perhaps the heaviest track on this collection, with it’s feedbacky and sustained psychedelic guitar fuzz. Another exceptional Yardbirds cover is “Shapes Of Things” as interpreted by funky Native American guitarist Stevie Salas, featuring chunky wah-wah improvisation as a driving force to contend with.

    Since Jeff Beck is such an innovative and unique artist, it is only fitting that this tribute runs the gamut as well. There’s a lot to learn in this lesson of “Jeffology”!

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    Nik Turner - Space Fusion Odyssey

    Nik Turner - Space Fusion Odyssey

    Nik Turner

    Album title: Space Fusion Odyssey
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Nov 2015
    Label: Cleopatra Records
    (1757) Page Views

    I just got a hold of the new all-instrumental record by ex-Hawkwind front-man Nik Turner, which is quite the space rock/jam/jazzy excursion into the outer realms, with the help of legendary musicians such as iconic drummer Billy Cobham, Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger, Steve Hillage of Gong, and Soft Machine’s John Etheridge. Not quite finding the right words, yet still knowing how this music makes me “feel”, I consulted the Dictionary.

    “Levitation [lev-i-tey-shuhn] noun. 1. The raising or rising of a body in air by supernatural means.” Yep, that definitely applies here.

    “Ethereal [ih-theer-ee-uhl] adjective. 1. Light, airy, or tenuous: an ethereal world created through the poetic imagination. 2. Extremely delicate or refined: ethereal beauty. 3. Heavenly or celestial. 4. Of or relating to the upper regions of space.” For Pete’s sake, ‘ethereal’ ought to be Nik Turner’s middle name!

    “Trippy [tripi] adjective 1. (informal) suggestive of or resembling the effect produced by a hallucinogenic drug.” By all means, this music is unquestionably ‘trippy’!

    Last, but certainly not least. “Genius [jeen-yuhs] noun 1. An exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc. 2. Natural ability or capacity; strong inclination. 3. Either of two mutually opposed spirits, one good and the other evil, supposed to attend a person throughout life.”

    Nik Turner plays Shank Hall in Milwaukee, Wednesday, November 18.

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    Various Artists - Mesmerized In Madison

    Various Artists - Mesmerized In Madison

    Various Artists

    Album title: Mesmerized In Madison
    By Sal Serio
    Posted: Nov 2015
    Label: Bright As Night
    (2117) Page Views

    Bright As Night Records have taken on a hell of an undertaking with this quite varied various artists compilation featuring some of the more “fringe” artists in the sprawling Madison, Wisconsin, music scene. This project resulted in a limited run of 100 CDs and 400 vinyl pressings. Since there’s just so much wild stuff on here, much of which almost totally defies conventional description, I decided to go track by track, giving a spontaneous one-to-two sentence spiel of what I felt listening to these compositions.

    Side A: SAMANTHA GLASS – “A Traveler’s Price” – percolating transponder beams sent me to the dark side of Tuxedomoon. VANISHING KIDS – “Eyes Of Secrets” – intense film noir-type edgy swamp cabaret… contact David Lynch now! SARDONYX – “Mystic Sister” – a human sacrifice performed inside of a fire hydrant with the aid of a massive effects rack. ZEBRAS – “Books Of Gold” – angry and relentless tortured emotion within a riff-heavy context of brutality and lack of remorse. KLEPTIX – “Electrolysis 2” – like being shaved from head to toe by a living Swiss Army vibrator. THOSE POOR BASTARDS – “Getting Old” – nightmarish carnival themes meet polkaholic bed spins.

    Side B: DIATI – “Mourning Dove” – cavernous sci-fi rock odyssey that blasts Tony Iommi’s cryogenically preserved human shell in to the 23rd century. PANTHER – “Diamond Bitch” – staccato machine gun spitfire tiger shark speed metal with a UK DIY punk attitude. DB PEDERSON – “Natural Poppa” – lounge crooning spun backwards while recovering from a near-fatal valium/bourbon overdose. AUSCULTATION – “Leaving” – soundtrack to a cross-country pursuit including dangling from a polar skyway car. RED MUSEUM – “Spellmask” – ‘Blade Runner’ credits slowly rolling by while an ever-increasing close-up pan of Sean Young’s eyes fill the screen. EMERALD DOUGLAS – “Hermes Returns From Egypt” – naked sorcerer dances around his castle turret enclave while ectoplasmic faces rise like vapors from his magik cauldron.

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    Keep Shelly in Athens - Now, I’m Ready

    Keep Shelly in Athens - Now, I’m Ready

    Keep Shelly in Athens

    Album title: Now, I’m Ready
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Oct 2015
    Label: Friends of Friends
    (1701) Page Views

    Synth-pop snake-charmers’ subtly cuddly power anthems, “Ready,” plays a cat and mouse game between flaming impatience and icy anticipation, blowing soul-sister bubbles which float, skim and pop in glistening glitches, sultry flutter and subsonic rumble before transforming buoyant mermaid ballads swathed in crisp electric textures into peacock-rock for phosphorescent ballrooms. Anonymously accommodating, openly dangerous and playfully cool, KSiA’s heady bedroom funk jumps from black widow love-letters into heavenly orchestrated arias, the brazen bait of dubstep traps and chillwave raves; radio-active sci-fi disco wooing beautiful alien dancers with the glossy promise of endless nights filled with exotic thrills pouring heartache from champagne magnums as sensual temptations bob in silver goblets. The Greek duo play Madison’s The Frequency December 2nd with special guest Chicago electro-architect Different Sleep.

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    Albert Hammond Jr. - Momentary Masters

    Albert Hammond Jr. - Momentary Masters

    Albert Hammond Jr.

    Album title: Momentary Masters
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Oct 2015
    Label: Vagrant Records
    (1731) Page Views

    Gritty, fidgety, spooked-out New Wave drizzled in Afropop toppings, shell-shocked indie-rock and fearless lyrics, “Masters,” crashes fashionable passions with tailored dares and debonair savoir faire. Furnished in burnished nervousness, Hammond’s third solo full-length cements suave cosmopolitan carnage, piecing breezy malfeasance to desperate concessions for a lean, focused work whose kinky syncopation lends propulsive muscle to defiant timing. As sharp, startled guitars dart between smarmy harmonies barking nimble incriminations for thrilling rush-hour mania; the compact album stays grounded in agile hooks, sizzling solos and hammered beats. Repurposing curt smirks from catwalk stalkers inside jittery clubhouse juries, the Strokes guitarist marshals edgy pledges from glib fibs, wrenching petulant redemption from ghoulish grooves. Hammond lands in Madison’s High Noon Saloon November 4th with the energetic rock-ensemble Walking Shapes

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