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Around Hear: December 2012

The self-titled debut from The Ex Senators is more mainstream than its name and the CD’s superhero cover art would suggest. The quintet offers a well-crafted, big rock sound built on guitars, keyboards, and singer/rhythm guitarist Dmac’s full-bodied vocals. Things get more confrontational on the politically charged tracks, “United Corporations Of America” and “Start A Fight,” which is where the concept of veteran musicians joining forces to fight injustice works best. (theexsenators.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Arion, a band that developed a loyal following playing hard rock covers and originals around the U.S. from 1982 through 1992, makes the most of its return to the recording studio. A New Dawn Rising reunites original members, singer Peter Merkle, guitarist/singer Larry Roppolo, and bassist/singer Steve Roppolo, while veteran frontman, Kevin Chalfant helps out on background vocals. The songs range from the progressive pomp of “Here’s Looking At You Kid” to the straight-ahead rock of “All Night Long.”  (ariontheband.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Anthony And The Tramp‘s 12-track debut, Nina’s Dream is a slumberland romp you want to be recurrent. Wonderfully orchestrated and crisply produced, this roots rock for the 21st Century sounds almost too good to be true. The songwriting is elemental in its appeal and mesmerizingly executed, as on the ballad-like “The Thorn (Cry Baby)” and the eight-minute “Elephant Painting.” The band gets soulful often, even with woodwinds on “Young Love” and “The Warrior,” which builds jamband-style to extended guitar soloing. (antonyablan.com)
– Jason Scales

On The Brink Of Bliss is a compilation of material spanning several years that aptly demonstrates Kevin Branigan‘s smooth, melodic rock sensibility. ’60s pop is an obvious influence in tracks like “Big Mistake” and “Happy Soul,” but Branigan injects enough personal touch with his vocal style and crisp guitar work to avoid sounding boringly derivative. Elsewhere, “Just One More Day” and “Too Much Is Never Enough” have a pronounced early-’90s alternative rock vibe. (kbranigan@hotmail.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Befitting the album title, You’re My Secret Called Fire is stuffed with swollen orchestration, peaking crescendos, and tense, swirling theatrics. The obvious touchstone is Arcade Fire, but The Damn Choir employs more subtly and less overt bombast in “Stars On A String” and “Spit” than the Montreal-based collective typically conjures. Gordon Robertson’s desperate, clawing vocals cut against the strings and rolling percussion in the achingly pretty “Virginia,” and his gritty croon adds wonderful depth and contrast throughout. (thedamnchoir.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Fans of Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, and Rachael Yamagata are likely to gravitate towards Andrea Dawn‘s full-length debut, Theories Of How We Can Be Friends, which comes on the heels of performing regionally for the past five years. Aside from ethereal vocals, quirky piano pop stylings, and lush orchestrations, her cultured and often times emotive songwriting slant is nothing short of enchanting. (andreadawnmusic.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Now and again a band bites off more than it can chew, which seems to be the case with The Employees, whose concept album, Unemployed, addresses the country’s current economic and political crises. The quartet’s alt-rock melodies are engaging, but the 10 tunes, with titles such as “Don’t Rescue Me” and “Winter Round Here,” fail to coalesce into a coherent tale. The group’s heart is in the right place; its compositional skills simply aren’t up to the task. (theemployeesband.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

There was a time when singing about death – either corporeal or metaphorical – was divergent territory for singer-songwriters, but in the wake of its saturation, John Engelmann‘s downcast Someone Like Me needs to show more. Engelmann finds his voice on the cutting, post-incarceration tale of “Taking My Life” and topical “Down In The Dirt,” but at some point, he falls in love with the overtly grave, southwestern overtones he has engaged and mistakes seriousness for something to say. (johnengelmann.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Eclectic piano rock ensemble Fischer’s Flicker is the brainchild of Chicago native Scott Fischer. He wrote, produced, and engineered Katmandon’t, his debut album on which he also performed all the lead vocals, piano, and guitar work. The nine original compositions employ big melodies with blues, folk, jazz, and piano rock influences in the vein of early Genesis, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, and Billy Joel with a slight touch of ’70s synth-prog. The songs get stronger and better as the album progresses. However, every song seems to share the same tempo and could stand to be more varied. The reflective lyrics are easily to follow and quite uplifting; the music is emotional with a familiar, nostalgic vibe while still remaining fresh. (fischersflicker.com)
– Kelley Simms

Six-piece band Glendenning includes a full-time female violinist and a mandolin player. The 11 tracks on its self-titled debut are a unique amalgamation of indie, folk, punk rock, and mainstream rock. The band interweaves innovative mandolin licks with nontraditional melodies. The classically trained musicians draw on their diverse influences and create an energetic and surprisingly unique aural attack. Simple song structures are layered with upbeat rhythms, quick drum fills, and melodic vocal harmonies. The lead vocals may be an acquired taste, as they are slightly askew at moments, but the music is loaded with an interesting and eclectic flavor. (glendenningmusic.com)
– Kelley Simms

Gunnelpumpers continue to pursue improvisational music on its third release, Tritonium. Each of the three long-form instrumental tracks burst into life spontaneously before a live audience at the Elbo Room. Percussionists Randy Farr and Bob Garrett lay the foundation while bassists Douglas Johnson, Michael Hovnanian, and Tom Mendel, along with guitarist John Meyer, explore different rhythms and textures. There isn’t a great deal of variation on Tritonium, but fans of avant-garde jazz should find it an intriguing adventure. (gunnelpumpers@gmail.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Cary Kanno is a versatile folk-pop artist and multi-instrumentalist covering a wide range of styles through inventive songwriting and deft musicianship on Changes. The seemingly simple “You Can’t Stop Time” features layers of guitars and effervescent vocals bundled into hypnotic repetition. The distinctive peel of pedal steel highlights the road-weary travels in “Night Sky” – Neil Halstead fans will love this track. There’s even an R&B-inflected number with a soulful pounce and shimmering horns (“If You Can’t Feel The Wind”). (carykanno.com)
– Patrick Conlan

With relative ease, Rock Island’s Konrad sculpts an indie-pop tapestry that combines Folk Implosion, Beck, and Head Of Femur with Stephin Merritt’s laconic detachment. On consecutive Shadow Boxing tracks, he expertly pinpoints a connection between wild Bollywood soundtracking and glitchy drum and bass. Yet, to his consternation, Konrad remains at sea on one issue: “Getting over you has been difficult.” His scientific approach to melodic pop is delightfully at odds with his inability to untangle his emotions, even after a momentary side trip cover of The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping.” (konradmusic.net)
– Steve Forstneger

Irrepressible jazzman Jason Adasiewicz returns with yet another project, this time taking an unreleased Sun Ra rehearsal tape and turning it into the seven-song New Myth/Old Science. Building original compositions from ancient fragments, his nine-member ensemble, Living By Lanterns, provide fresh, sonically fascinating moments on tracks like “Think Tank” and “Old Science.” Though at times challenging, the platter ultimately pays off for free-jazz aficionados. (cuneiformrecords.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

Landing somewhere between folk, jazz, funk, and blues may give Anthony Moser‘s Transhuman Blues plenty of variety, but it comes at the expense of sounding scattered at times. Out of his many shades, the singer-songwriter/guitarist is best when simply belting out the blues, especially on the title track, “Morning Song,” and “Back And Forth,” all of which were cut during a recording session at Buddy Guy’s Legends. (mosermusic.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Claimed as its fourth album, the aptly named Getting Rich, Staying Poor from Villa Park’s Shy Technology is a ten-track collection of everyman/plainsong originals of everyday realities such as wanting a job, debts, cheap rent, and life’s compromises in general. Or as the band sums it up in the final cut, “Life is fucked, but in a beautiful way/It’s going to be a beautiful day.” As tersely delivered by vocals sounding like a cross between Stan Ridgway and Neil Young, the songs are deceptively charming despite their seeming simplicity.  (shytechnology.bandcamp.com)
– David C. Eldredge

It’s tough to categorize At The Speed Of Ten Machines, the latest release from Voice Box. “Great Stone Forest” has a classic Canterbury flair, while the instrumental “Asa Nisi Masa” – inspired by Federico Fellini’s film 8 1/2 – borders on experimental electronica. What’s easy to confirm is that, regardless of style, all 12 compositions are intrepid, intricate, and consistently intriguing. (voiceboxchicago.bandcamp.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

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  1. [...] “Anthony And The Tramp’s 12-track debut, Nina’s Dream is a slumberland romp you want to be recurrent. Wonderfully orchestrated and crisply produced, this roots rock for the 21st Century sounds almost too good to be true. The songwriting is elemental in its appeal and mesmerizingly executed, as on the ballad-like “The Thorn (Cry Baby)”. –Jason Scales, Illinois Entertainer [...]

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