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Around Hear: August 2011

Local Band Reviews

Lyrical, if edgy note-phrasing binds the originals and covers on blues-rocker Joe Becker‘s Hot As Love. The instrumental, stripped-band recording vacilates from open-nerve rawness (“Nightshift”) to a demo quality that could stand some polish (“Who Do You Think You Are?”), which poses a lot of questions about the intention of this release. If it’s simply to showcase Becker’s fretwork, the job is done. He never shows off yet reaches out of his comfort zone, and still finds he has room to grow. (www.joebeckermusic.com)
– Steve Forstneger

In timbre/tempo, one might liken John Bartl‘s vocals on his 12-song DIY CD Finally to Gordon Lightfoot; alas, there is no way anyone would confuse his original compositions with those of the Canadian master, as the lackluster lyrics are a direct reflection of the mundane subject matter. While Bartl clearly has admirable song structure/production aspirations and seems adept with a number of instruments (or their digital equivalents), it all gets a little too samey (indeed on first listen the 12th cut sounded like a reprise of the first) and at times too emo to distance itself from the pack. (myspace.com/johnbartl)
– David C. Eldredge

After fronting underground bands like Southern Exposure, The Blue Zombies, and The Duncan Fish Speakers, singer/songwriter Judson Brown goes solo for Day By Day. With an acoustic guitar in hand and country/blues-infused backing band, he blends straight up rock ‘n’ roll with some Southern charm, though the disc as a whole sounds like a watered-down version of Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Jonny Lang. (www.judsonbrown.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Crawpuppies aim high on their second CD, World’s Much Bigger, with 14 songs that cover topical issues as well as romantic relationships. Lead vocalist/guitarist Chad Clifford has a classic voice that evokes Ian Hunter, and his well-crafted lyrics consistently hit the mark. His only misstep comes on the over-dramatic “So Mundane.” The musicianship is also top notch, whether it’s the power pop of “Owe It All To You,” the hard rock of the title track, or the acoustic and touching “My Wife.” (www.crawpuppies.com)
– Terrence Flamm

If The Diemakers were hoping to attract some attention with the CD title Assault All Your Senses, they succeeded, though even more alluring than the moniker is the music contained therein. Crossing classic rockers like Cream and The Who with bluesy indie favorites Kings Of Leon and Spoon results in a compellingly gritty collection, wrapped around the whipsmart production of Jim Diamond (The White Stripes, The Sights). (www.thediemakers.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Mixtapes from unestablished artists have less leeway for fooling around, so Edbrooke‘s free offering, Release The Kraken, suitably omits a lot of filler. It still manages to scatter bullets in a number of directions, from the recession-fueled uncertainty of “Break It Down” to the club-rat whoring in “Peanut Butter Fresh!” He doesn’t mask his scrappy flow with Auto-Tune or too much double-tracking, which helps make the biographical nature of his lyrics sound more honest. There are still some kinks to work on for individuality, but not a bad start.
(www.reverbnation.com/edbrookedagee)
– Kevin Keegan

Hard to believe it’s been two years since jazz trumpeter Brad Goode‘s last “AH”-submitted CD knocked us out, but we recognized his sound immediately as he did it to us once again with his latest, Tight Like This. Only this time he offers up more of his own originals in addition to some impeccable jazz classic “re-inventions.” In short, Goode’s playing eschews the clichés and is well-matched by his hand-picked “dream” trio, which never takes the easy route when the risky one makes the ensemble/song sound better. (www.bradgoode.com)
– David C. Eldredge

Somebody didn’t take their happy pills. Formed on Halloween (of course!) five years ago, Chicago-born Illusions Fate is everything you’d expect a goth/death-metal act to be. There’s the creepy CD cover, the dark song titles (“The Dying Anthem,” “Blood Greed,” and “Angels Of Slaves” just to name a few), and the blood-curdling screams inter-mixed with the brooding growls on every track. The band does show a few bright spots instrumentally and does prove it learned a little something from ’80s metal, but if you’re going to listen to The Ghost Of Maya, make sure the wife and kids aren’t anywhere nearby. (myspace.com/illusionsfatemusic)
– Carter Moss

Though they never get in the way of the melodies, Mumble don’t quite need the labrynthine overdubs populating Happy Living. A breezy power-pop album at heart, chiming acoustic guitars, spectral background vocals, and twinkling piano melodies all vie for air in an increasingly claustrophobic mix. A clear tendency toward guitar solos says a leaner vision drives the band, but Mumble attempt to indulge all their whims in this classic rock/chamber pop tug of war. (myspace.com/mumblemusic)
– Steve Forstneger

Sam McAllister and Megan Frestedt of the duo Project Film meander into their debut Chicago, which sort of chronicles their move from Minneapolis to our town. The music becomes more focused as the CD progresses, with McAllister playing all the instruments and crafting easy-going duets with vocalist Fresdtedt. “Sound Sleepers” and “Sun” have a delicate beauty while McAllister’s electric guitar gives “Art School” a harder edge. Overall, Project Film succeeds as a more indie-sounding version of She & Him. (myspace.com/projectfilmmusic)
– Terrence Flamm

A singer/songwriter who plays guitar and fiddle, Jessica Rae also has an appealing voice that evokes Sheryl Crow or Laura Nyro. The title track is the strongest of the five songs on Ruby Red, as she combines Wizard Of Oz imagery with a playful country & western arrangement. The beginning of “Hello Chicago,” which features Rae singing and strumming an acoustic guitar, showcases her talent better than when her music becomes more cluttered with various instruments. (jessicaraemusic.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Through the raspy snarl of Arctic Monkeys, Seafarer don’t hide their discontent on Hiding Places. There’s a minimum of instrumental fussing, so vocalist Patrick Grzelewski theoretically has all the space he needs to vent against oceans and such. He’s more fond, however, to use his pipes to croon, which he does with a heavy vibratto on “The Yeti” and “Functional.” Elsewhere, the band evoke Spoon, Arcwelder, and even – on the strangely opulent “Watch It Flood” – Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone.” (seafarer.bandcamp.com)
– Kevin Keegan

Unlike the S.S. Minnow crew, veteran power poppers Three Hour Tour run a tight ship on Looking For Tomorrow. Darren Cooper’s voice would be choice for a Matthew Sweet impression, though a taut, chugging cover of The Who’s “Heaven & Hell” suggests heavier, more classic aims. Cooper (ex-Big Hello) and his cast of conspirators (Brad Elvis, Adam Schmitt, Paul Chastain) are careful not to mar their professionalism with overbearing perfectionism, but aren’t afraid to let their melodies throw a punch. Champaign-Urbana ain’t off the map, yet. (martianrecordingcorp.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Motorhead seems to be the muse for Thunder Driver on the band’s 11-song Atomic Rock, especially evident on “The Bronski” with its gruff vocals and high-octane tempo. Hard-charging, guitar-driven rock circa the late 1970s abounds. “Night Of The Gypsy” and “Devil Went Down To Alsip” are what AC/DC would’ve sounded like if they hailed from the mean streets of the south suburbs. (myspace.com/thunderdriver)
– Jason Scales

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