Archive for the 'CD Reviews and blurbs' Category

Band on the Rise:Escher Bach

Eascherbach, a band that is definitly doing some preacticing.

Progressive rock enthusiasts need look no further than rising stars Escherbach to know that the genre is alive and well. With regular gigs in the area and a recently released CD entitled “Cycles”, the local power trio is starting to make a name for them selves while carving out a unique sonic identity. This radically well-rehearsed group takes classic hard rock energy without the angsty clichés of modern corporate rock and blends it with a unique ADD approach to instrumental composition. Their music hot-wires melodic textures, driving power chords, lightning fast tempo changes, wild dynamics, and accomplished musicianship for a sonic joy ride to riffville.

The band is composed of Neil Carmichael(guitar), Sean Norris(drums), and Minkis(Bass). All three members of the band shine in their own way and like any good power trio there is no real weak link here. They have a very cohesive chemistry that allows for improvised psychedelic tangents, jarring changes, and exploding musical motifs to all turn on a dime. Like most prog rock bands they occasionally get bogged down in overly indulgent not quite clever musical tricks and gimmicks that leave the listener asking why. Still the truly epic moments and songs when they catch on fire are something to behold. Their recent gig at McCormick’s rocked in a thunderously tight way with a real creative intensity I have not seen around here in an original band since the early days of Umphrey’s McGee.

While Escherbach is clearly a band to keep an eye on, they still have a way to go to live up to their potential. Many of their songs have a tight and cohesive feel, yet others feel more slapped together. Their somewhat unrefined first CD was already eclipsed by the mojo they displayed at the recent live gig. With so much talent it will be interesting to watch as this band’s compositional approach develops. Hopefully they will glean those eternal musical truths that less is more and that musicianship should serve songs, as opposed to songs serving musicianship. If they can integrate these concepts into what is already more than entertaining music, Escherbach may just be the next big band from Michiana.

30db: One Man Show

A new super group with local connections has emerged in the jam band world. Under the name 30 db, guitarist Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee has released “One Man Show” with long time friend, fellow Chicago native, and mandolinist extraordinaire Jeff Austin. After years of seeing each other on the jam band circuit, the two struck up a friendship based on shared musical interests and the Chicago Cubs. Subsequent touring and writing sessions built momentum. When both went through painful song birthing break ups at the same time the connection deepened. The resulting tunes needed a home and didn’t quite fit into their existing projects and so 30db was born. They added a roster of talent that included drummer Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi All Stars, guitarist Nick Forster from Hot Rize, and Open Road bassist Eric Thorin. The all stars ignited, creating what sounds like a band meant to be.

One Man Show is a great debut. It is an easy listen, with a wide range of musically evolved content. The songs don’t seem shlocked together but often seem better developed than some of Umphrey’s work. It’s a dynamic, tight album that somehow effortlessly blends elements of jam, southern rock, pop, folk, bluegrass, country, and soul-searching break up songs into a cohesive and natural sounding whole. It’s melodic and tuneful, rocking and wild, yet laid-back and fun all at the same time. This is an album of musical mood swings in a very good way. There are low-key acoustic moments juxtaposed with stratospheric tunes and interstellar jammed out crescendos. It all seems to work well together and shows just how much exceptional musicianship is present here.

While being impressive, One Man Show does have its limits. The ear friendly catchiness occasionally borders on being overly pop sounding. The vocals work well for the most part, but are less impressive than the other musical elements. That’s not surprising in the jam band world where instrumental musicianship seems to have a higher priority than the development of the vocal instrument does. The vocals harmonize well and provide narrative in typical jam band fashion, but not much more. Maybe one day we will hear a jam band with soul-stirring vocals but this isn’t it. That being said we still have an impressive debut from an exciting new group that seems to have opened up vast possibilities. If you like freewheeling jammed out tunefulness with varied vibes, 30 db has a unique sound worth checking out.

“Single File” by Half Pint Jones

Local homies Half Pint Jones.

Half-Pint Jones is one of the more promising original groups to come out of Michiana in recent years has. Hot on the Heels of their infectious debut CD “Trilogy of Patches and Olaf”, these funky jammers have released their follow up CD entitled “Single File”. A marked departure from the spirited first album, this CD features shorter radio friendly tracks that have a bit more polish and compositional edge to them. The album does succeed in evolving their eclectic sound and moving their songwriting style forward but leaves some of the free wheeling funkiness behind in the process. Form outweighs feeling here, which is in direct contrast to their previous release. The fun and laid back approach to music they nailed on “Trilogy” gets distracted by more structured efforts that don’t always justify the trade off. Still the album works on the whole and shows the band has some new tricks up their sleeve.

Some of the tunes here grow on you and really shine. The songwriting and sound are growing up big but are clearly still maturing. This band has a unique musical style all their own. Great horn arrangements, soulful vocals, tight musicianship, and an eclectic groove palette are setting them apart form the crowd. It is their live chemistry though they need to keep kindled as they move into future recording efforts. On “Single File” the band’s jammy mojo is kept in the background sneaking around like a skilled ninja who infiltrated the wrong party. While still a party, the ninja has neither reason nor time to kick butt.

Half-Pint Jones deserves credit for trying something new with this album. It is nice too to see they did not try to remake the first album and are indeed evolving artistically. On their new CD they have taken another solid step towards fulfilling their vast musical potential. So many musical styles fluidly fuse into a tight batch of crafted songs here. At the same time though, they have taken a step away from some of what makes this group so magical. This CD is kind of a musical switchback in a different direction in order to get higher up the musical hill. It is a transitional album that leaves me wondering what musical mountains they will climb tomorrow. It’s a solid yet imperfect effort that left me wanting more in both good ways and bad.

“The Steps to Home” by Sean Hoffman and Nolan Ladewski with JoHn Kennedy

“The Steps to Home” is a spirited collection of Irish influenced jigs, reels, and airs from talented local musicians Nolan Ladewski, Sean Hoffman, and JoHn Kennedy. It is a side project from members of two of Michiana’s roots music powerhouses. Nolan Ladewski plays Irish music with his uncle JoHn Kennedy in Kennedy’s Kitchen and Sean Hoffman is a member of the more bluegrass oriented Goldmine Pickers. On this effort the players explore a wide range of moods and forms while paying homage to the Irish folk music tradition. This is done with original compositions and a few traditional songs thrown in for good measure.

The music here is skillfully played and well written while staying fairly grounded in traditional Irish musical forms.  Think tin whistle, fiddle, and guitar with a little bohdran drum thrown in. Fans of the style and said instruments will no doubt find lots to like about this disc and the emotive music contained therein. At the same time I know this disc is not for everyone. I myself sometimes wonder if my relatives did not leave Ireland to escape the repetitive high frequency sonic persecution of fiddle and whistle music. That being said though, the smartly composed music here does grow on you and has a lot more soul than a lot of things pervading the musical atmosphere.

The reverence and sincere love for the Irish musical tradition this group displays should not be overlooked or under valued. While not as original, innovative or adventurous as more forward thinking Irish influenced groups like Afro Celt Sound System, musical puritans like these play a valuable role in society. In a world where people forget musical history and culture as fast as major labels can clog our airwave arteries with soullessly calculated “product”, sonic purist’s efforts like this tend to the lost garden of roots music culture. You get the sense from listening to this disc that a live set from the group might just water the garden to a full flowering.

Fans of Irish or Celtic music are likely to enjoy this disc as it delivers the goods with a lot of heart and soul. Unfamiliar listeners wanting to explore the style could do a lot worse than to start here. However, if Irish music is not your cup of tea, you may want to move on to musical pastures that are not so vibrantly green.


ART of S.U.N. by S.U.N.

       Step into the light yall. The Art of S.U.N. is a defiant ray of soulshine burning off the clueless fog of commodified rap. This is Hip Hop that matters. With a rough yet refined flow, elegantly tough production, brutal honesty, social conscience, and strong willed love, this is a definite milestone in keeping Hip Hop positively vital.

       SUN’s rhythmic flow is tighter than Al Sharpton and his Bible. Verbal gymnastics team up with deadly knowledge for a loud ass knock on the closed doors of the sleeping mind. SUN’s street polished style brings to mind MC’s like Guru that know revolution is a state of being. On “Let it all out” SUN raps “feedom is simple, you find it in the mental, we all got potential but you gotta know your temple”. A colonized mind/body can’t change shit, and throwing off those shackles is the first step towards freedom. SUN has a tight grip on this fact and this album proves it. The tracks here reveal a wisdom that could only come from someone unafraid to face the painful realities of Life and rise above it all.

       Not content to ride trends, S.U.N. is an uncompromising artist whose throwin’ down a gauntlet of knowledge. Too many hack MC’s can’t find a needle of a clue in the haystack of their ego. They tread the safe predictable grounds of the empty boast and a hostile pose. SUN on the other hand blazes trails in directions few others dare to tread. Again and again the listener is asked to see things from a new angle. On Black economics the vital question”where you spend yo money at?” is powerfully directed at anyone who has not been thinking about it. The cut “Give me understanding” is a powerful meditation on the suffering of materialism and the riches of the spirit. With “lyrics like a shamen” it is clear this man is out to do a lot more than merely entertain. SUN understands well that music can be a weapon and medicine roled into one. Not much is spared from the bombs of knowledge dropped on this album as ignorant assumptions, economic injustice, government corruption, and the chumped up motives of sucka MC’s all get some wicked S.U.N. burn. The Art of S.U.N. gracefully tackles a range of topics wider than Fat Albert. This brotha has some open eyes and the music here is on some straight up view master shit. If Chuck D was right that Hip Hop is the Black CNN, then SUN is straight gunnin’ for the top anchor position.

       The production on the Art of S.U.N. is the perfect complement to his dead set delivery. Its is simultaneously stripped down and dressed up, raw and refined. Sparse thumpin’ beats are layered with creative instrumentation and thought provoking samples. Strings, female vocals, piano, and a cast of cohorts add to the fullness of the sound. The production style is solid though not revolutionary. While the music works perfectly as a framework for SUN’s lyrical gifts, it is definitly not upbeat party music. This is a serious album for serious times. The dark tone and down tempo flow reflect the stark realities of Urban America. That being said it is still one of the most empowering and uplifting Hip Hop albums in a long while. You can tell SUN has worked long and hard to to put Love and positivity into his craft.

       The experience and Soul of a Real Hip Hop artist shines through the force of their voice. You can hear if they’re speaking from their own heart or thinking someone else’s pre-programmed thoughts. It takes a lot of Soul searching to be able to drop wisdom like this. This is liberated music from a liberated mind. Like his chosen name, SUN is a powerful source of light in the darkness of modern America. He is not some fluffy entertainer or half baked punk MC. SUN has a message and a mission. Like a modern day Griot, he is keeping the Tribe in the know. This is a man on the move and he’s not gonna’ stop. If you have yet to see the SUN, it might be a good time to go and catch some rays.

“Hell On High Heels” by Venitia Sekema


On her 2nd CD “Hell On High Heels”, talented singer-songwriter Venitia Sekema delivers a solid batch of well-crafted tunes that cover a wide range of moods and emotions. Her style melds elements of folk and blues with a straightforward approach to songwriting that serves her well. Venitia has a mature voice that effortlessly floats atop simple and deceptively stripped down song arrangements. A variety of talented guest artists appear adding to the depth and richness of the music without cluttering it. Indeed the emphasis on this CD is right where it should be-on the refined voice, solid guitar playing, and eclectic songwriting of Venitia.

“Hell on High Heels” covers a wide range of lyrical subjects. “Now is the time” explores the need to live more compassionately, while “Seems like Monday morning all the time” covers the hectic pace of modern life. While there are a few lighthearted songs here that lacked emotional impact, Venitia makes up for it when wrestling with affairs of the heart. “The Same” is a powerful and stark tale of a failed relationship while “Oregon” outlines the sense of peaceful possibility one can find from serious post relationship soul searching. “Circle” is another such success that explores the strange gravitational pull exerted in especially soulful relationships. Venitia has a lot to talk about and her range as a songwriter is obvious on this disc. Like the artist who created it, This CD is

A subtly complex album with a diverse range of emotional layers that becomes more apparent and enjoyable with each listening.

“Hell On High Heels” is a very listenable CD from a rapidly evolving singer- songwriter. While it is not especially adventurous or creatively conceived music, it is an honest and successful effort to artfully explore the emotional roads we all walk. If you enjoy the sound of a good guitar accompanying a beautiful voice with a lot to talk about, you will probably enjoy the music of Venitia Sekema.


“Somersaults Inside Ourselves” by Squirm


Seldom is music so lifelike as in this long awaited release from local sound alchemists Squirm. More an organic ecosystem of sound than a familiarized format of music, this is creatively produced music for adventurous listeners. Squirm’s music transcends the confines of predictable genres and traditional ambient music and blooms into a unique catalyst of musical consciousness. This is music as interpretive art, at once both thought provokingly innovative and sonically meditative. Somersaults Inside Ourselves succeeds in the difficult musical task of leaving the listener feeling both grounded and liberated at the same time.

There is a child like sense of freedom and curiosity that pervades this music. Squirm’s playful approach to music is enhanced by the group’s exceptional chemistry and talented musicianship. Core members Kahlil Smylie, Brandon Nelson, Brett Padgett, Thomas Klepach, and Elizabeth Biddlecome are musicians who listen to each other with a symbiotic ear.  They lovingly build subtle events into epic dimensions, creating a gently swirling vortex of sonic textures that includes everything from chimes, flute, melodica, cello, bells, tuba, melodic bass and the beautiful sounds of nature itself. Deftly syncopated rhythms punctuate these clouds of sound as expansive musical themes hint at places never seen. There is no wonder that this group has been chosen to perform live soundtracks for films at the Vickers Theater in Three Oaks.

Comparing such strikingly original music to existing works is tricky. Imagine Michael Brook jamming with a Gamelan orchestra and an angelic junkyard band being conducted by Salvador Dali. If Brian Eno was producing, Teo Macero editing, and King Tubby mixing it might sound vaguely similar to this. While such innovative and unique music may not be enjoyed by those with a colonized ear, open minded listeners who allow music to speak for itself are likely to find a whole new sonic Universe waiting for them on this masterful album.

“Lonesome Gone” by the Goldmine Pickers


On their latest CD “Lonesome Gone”, Goldmine pickers deliver an excellent collection of acoustic roots music that effortlessly intertwines bluegrass, folk, and Irish music traditions into a fun and tight sound that is uniquely their own. Playful mandolin, freewheeling fiddle, earthy upright bass, driving guitar, and beautiful banjo picking all shine on this disc. Topping off the rich musical blend are polished harmonies and soulful lead vocals that are balanced just right with the music. The music and vocals never step on each other’s toes, but instead elevate and add dimension to each other. There is a wide and dynamic range of tunes on this disc and the band can shift musical gears effortlessly. Songs like “the Split” show off their remarkably tight musicianship while tracks like “Mud” showcase their catchy songwriting. There is everything from laid back instrumentals like “Sean’s Favorite” to up tempo barn burners like “Don’t leave me here tonight” here. All the tunes grow on you with repeated listening and overall these are remarkably cohesive and well crafted songs.

Goldmine Pickers have shared the stage with contemporaries such as Hot Buttered Rum, Yonder Mountain String Band, and the David Grisman Quintet and like these peers they are forging a new trail in roots music that both honors the spirit of old time music while bringing fresh and innovative ideas to the genre. This is a perfect CD for a drive in the country, a Sunday afternoon, a midsummer barn dance, or a backwoods fishing trip. If you liked the popular “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack you will probably like this CD. In a world with so much half-baked music, it is nice to hear this gourmet recipe made of choice ingredients, lovingly prepared, and simmered just right. This is real music made by incredibly tight musicians whose approach to music is timeless. They write good songs, play them with incredible musicianship, and put lots of heart and soul into their craft.