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Around Hear: January 2010

| December 31, 2009 | 0 Comments

Local Band Reviews
January 2010

There’s a lot to like in the mostly straightforward, rockin’ R&B-esque boogie a la Aerosmith/Bad Company on Blue Moon Revue‘s self-titled, eight-song CD. But when opener “Hot Flavor” launches into a totally unexpected banjo solo you really take notice and understand why BMR has become the local, opening-band-of-choice for much bigger visiting acts. (www.myspace.com/bluemoonrevue)
— David C. Eldredge

Listening to Blane Fonda‘s debut EP, Master Of Stars And Broken Arms, is like being at a party where you’re scared of the host. Vocalist Mark Weasel yelps on some tracks and croons on others while his bandmates play adventurous dance rock. “Fess Up, Fess Down” is a melodic techno song but on “In Search Of The Giant Squid,” Blane Fonda mixes disco, rap, and Frank Zappa in a blender without a lid. It’s a mess, but fun. (www.blanefonda.com)
— Terrence Flamm

On A Higher Vibration, Chicago-based producer/singer Chenault melds feel-good vocals with future-leaning house music. For the majority of these eight tracks, he shoots for an escapist vibe with thumping, jazz-tinged numbers like “Feel The Music.” Helping listeners let go might be his goal, but Chenault doesn’t hide his socially minded side, which is particularly prevalent on the anti-racist declaration “War.” (www.myspace.com/chenault1965)
— Max Herman

Surprise, surprise: Another power-pop band has released a record in Chicago, though in the case of Go Time‘s Speak, it’s also doused with some alt-country underpinnings. The resulting 14 tracks are loaded with crunchy guitars and hummable melodies; too bad sparse, low-quality production and a singer who struggles to stay on key plague the otherwise well-intentioned effort. (www.myspace.com/gotimeband1)
— Andy Argyrakis

The 12-track Walking With Angels represents an impressive exhibition in easy-listening Americana by singer/songwriter Ernie Hendrickson, originally from Rockford. With the help of numerous guest musicians, Hendrickson’s compositions ooze warmth, optimism, and good-natured Midwestern values, thanks to his vocals that at times eerily resemble Tom Petty’s, especially on opening track “Hold On To Hope” and the crisply paced “Let Me See You Smile.” (www.erniehendrickson.com)
— Jason Scales

Hard rock with a message is what Left Setter delivers on Irene. Keeping this LP confined to nine, highly focused tracks, the Chicago-based quartet doesn’t leave room for filler. Left Setter’s hooks and subject matter are not always groundbreaking (see “Good Mourning America”), but the group’s socially alert stance is genuine. Coupled with a rolling range of rock vibes — including ’70s-leaning laidback grooves (“Thief Without A Conscience”) and pure metal (“Bobby DeNiro”) — this album is complete enough to never lag. (www.leftsetter.com)
— Max Herman

Despite carrying an all-too-common band name, Lucas thankfully doesn’t offer pedestrian material on its debut, Jet Set Ready Go. Singer and lead instrumentalist “L” largely shapes the direction of these love-themed indie-rock tunes with airy vocals marked by a certain nostalgic type of joy; the mellow keys and fuzzy guitars help paint the daydream-esque, lo-fi sonics that are so prevalent. (www.myspace.com/thatbandlucas)
— Max Herman

Solo pianist Jeff Manuel‘s ambitious Winterspring comes with a booklet of poems you’re instructed to read while listening to the melodic instrumentals. The poetry, written by Carrie Brecke and Manuel, reflects on how the seasons affect relationships, and the 12 original compositions range from the classically inclined title track to spirited jazz on “Right At The Moon.” The CD doesn’t come with a glass of wine, but you could supply your own to augment this engaging experiment. (www.jeffmanuelpianist.com)
— Terrence Flamm

James McCandless peddles his Western-themed stories on the 12-track Calamity James in the tradition of Johnny Cash — but decidedly more Western folk. Although a little verbose at times, highlights include the first-person perspective on “Black Bart,” the well-placed crack of the whip at the end of “Lash LaRue,” and the two melancholy horse stories in “Wild Horses” and “My Beautiful Red Roan.” A number of Irish-tinged instrumentals are mixed in with the acoustically rendered yarns. (www.waterbug.com)
— Jason Scales

The Mike Michalak Band displays crafty songwriting wit with its mild-mannered, adult-oriented rock on Big Plan. Composed with energetic arrangements and performed with slick, tight musicianship, Big Plan has deft lyrical dexterity and plenty of memorable hooks. The goofy and self-deprecating “Turtleneck” and happy-go-lucky “Wall” feature the kind of jaunty melodies and progressive jams that Blues Traveler and Widespread Panic perfected, and the piano-driven punch of “The Wave” packs a sweet wallop. (www.myspace.com/mikemichalakband)

— Patrick Conlan

Mr. Russia relies on its double bass, synth, and no-guitar gimmick fairly well on the six-song Training For The Gameshow Host. Fairly mindless and repetitive lyrics (“Come on, come on, come on, don’t stop” and “Paint it like a picture/pictures never fade”) are driven home in arena-rock fashion, with the sleazy “Fireball” — a Marilyn Manson-inspired striptease. The cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem,” featuring a sick bass line, is alone worth this free, EP download. (www.mrrussia.net)
— Jason Scales

974 plays straight-up hard rock reminiscent of Heart on its debut CD, Dreamcatcher, with vocalist Jennifer Jane and guitarist Rob Olson leading the way. Most of the songs deal with the perils of romantic entanglements, and 974 is particularly impressive when it combines firepower with a strong melody on tracks like “Strange” and “Devil.” (www.myspace/974cambridge)
— Terrence Flamm

Owen (a.k.a. Mike Kinsella) has always made deeply personal albums. Less overtly sentimental than previous efforts, New Leaves (Polyvinyl) is an intimate collection of gentle pop songs imbued with a new sense of maturity. Though derived from Kinsella’s freshly honed experiences as husband and father, thankfully his subtle ear for sweet, melancholy pop magic is still clearly evident in “A Trenchant Critique” and “Too Scared To Move.” (www.polyvinylrecords.com)
— Patrick Conlan

With only two cuts on its sampler CD, ’tis hard to pass firm judgment on The Part Five, outside of noting the first cut’s earnest, frenetic guitar overlay of a Booker T. & The MGs-ish beat, the frumious chordings washing over the rolling drums of the slightly more plaintive second cut, and finally wondering if they really say “liverwurst” in the first. (www.thepartv.com)
— David C. Eldredge

With So Be It, prolific rhymer Qwel reunites with a fellow Chicago underground hip-hop fixture: sample-digging producer Maker. The 14 tracks don’t sound that different from either’s past work yet Qwel’s weighty lyricism has become more lucid while Maker’s diverse, dusty loops and mid-to-down-tempo drum programming hits a little harder. Despite the developments, these songs about faulty friends, government propaganda, and youth are still best suited for the careful and not the causal listener. (www.myspace.com/qwelg4)
— Max Herman

Scythian‘s Live Vol. 1 offers 15 crowd-pleasing live performances from around the country, including a March gig at House Of Blues. The quartet is most notable for its harmony vocals and the “dueling fiddles” of Alexander Fedoryka and Josef Crosby. They meet the challenge of covering Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down To Georgia,” but the real fun comes on Scythian’s barn-burning renditions of traditional ethnic pieces like “Kesh Jigs” and “Chava Nagila.” (www.scythianmusic.com)
— Terrence Flamm

610 is the brainchild of 630-based singer/songwriter Anthony (the only name given) and on its latest release, Changing Vibrations, the group lays down strummy guitar pop of varying flavors. Through it all, the band sounds great, but Anthony’s vocals are pitchy and dissonant and they kind of spoil the party. It sounds, at times, like he is going for a Dylan-type sound without quite getting there, as the songs here are not quite up to such a level. (www.610themusic.com)
— Mike O’Cull

Inspired by an intriguing concept, Matt Ulery has composed a soundtrack intended as film music — only as of now, there’s no film. Themes And Scenes‘ arrangements hint at intimate character studies, as delicate, feathery strings and gently throbbing bass burnish “The Farm,” as well as a widescreen, epic ambience with shimmery brass and sweeping strings unfolding in bold, dramatic gestures in “October.” (www.mattulery.com)
— Patrick Conlan

Via Tania‘s Moon Sweet Moon is a gorgeous collection of hushed, intimate lullabies of dreamy, soft-focus pop that evokes watery dreamscapes and shimmering mist. The trembling heartache in the simple repetition of the opening line of “How Come” is worth a thousand anguished emo screams, and Tania’s plush, fuzz-on-the-needle vocals jolt the soul and rattle dusty memories in “Lost In It” and the hypnotic album closer, “Home.” (www.myspace.com/viatania)
— Patrick Conlan

As its title suggests, Boxcar Man — the latest from The Wandering Endorphin (aka guitarist/mouth harpist Jim Green) — is a railroad-themed, mostly acoustic, eight-song cycle guitar-playing showcase. While the train emulations may at times veer dangerously toward the sonic cliché, Green’s unique finger-pick guitar style — a la Fahey/Kottke, but much more percussive — impresses throughout. (www.wanderingendorphin.com)
— David C. Eldredge

Category: Around Hear, Columns, Monthly

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