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Local CD Reviews

| March 30, 2006

Still looking for a fresh female voice who didn’t get her start on “American Idol”? Chicago-bred Meg Allison may have your answer. Her debut disc, Missing Piece, is full of exactly the sort of low-key, heartfelt, story-telling tracks you’d expect from an inspired singer-songwriter who waits tables by day and plays her heart out in small bars by night. Allison is less power pop than Kelly Clarkson and less country than Carrie Underwood, settling comfortably somewhere between. Maybe her only missing piece is a breakout single. (
– Carter Moss

Anomaly goes the hallowed vinyl 45 route for a two-sided preview of his full-length CD, The Long Road. The A side, “Chill” lives up to its name with a mix of acoustic guitar, keyboards, and drums, while “Dust” on Side B is more orchestral, with piano and horns. Both instrumentals start off a bit disjointed, but then establish a smooth, adventurous ride. (
– Terrence Flamm

Murky waters nestle around Arks‘ five track EP, Or Else It’s Not There, and it’s no wonder because Joy Division seems to be a key influence. But unlike that iconic organization, this trio entrance themselves way too much with depressing beats and droned vocals while lacking the dance in their step. “Sea And City” is soggy with drowsy chants, and misery abounds in the death march “Harpoon,” leaving an uncomfortable aftertaste. (
– Andy Argyrakis

Leave it to Victory Records to release yet another post hardcore/emo band with nothing new to offer. For its debut, Controversy Loves Company, The Audition uses the tired template already exhausted by bands like Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, etc., etc. These five young punkers never write more than what is expected or what will probably sell. (
– Joseph Simek

B.C.‘s one-man prog rock band approach on his debut, Map Of The Muddled Mind, is particularly noteworthy because he doesn’t use any synthesizers. It’s a well-crafted concept album with melodic hard rock tunes like “Magic Tranquility” and subtle tracks like “In Time.” B.C. (Brian Calhoun) is also an impressive singer, especially when he layers his vocals a la Crosby, Stills & Nash on the acappella finale, “The Voices.” (
– Terrence Flamm

Backed by a talented combo, Rachel Charson‘s aptly named full-length debut, Jazz Vocals, smartly mines classic songs from the (mostly) American jazz songbook, by turns tackling blues, ballads, and swing standards with her pleasantly accomplished vocal instrument. That said, her phrasing and intonation remains fairly constant throughout all 11 songs, such that the borderline raunch of “Long John Blues” and the wistful “Someone To Watch Over Me” both sound equally measured and subdued in her even- handed delivery. (
– David C. Eldredge

Carrying the torch for Afrobeat genre founder Fela Kuti, Chicago Afrobeat Project fuse jazz with African tribal music. Primarily instrumental, this nine-member group are best known for blowing people’s minds with their live show. Along with the ensemble and solo works of drums, keys, horns, and guitars you’ll hear traditional African instruments such as the kora. The group is donating part of the proceeds from the sale of this seven-song CD to JAAIDS (Journalists Against AIDS Nigeria), which is just as cool as their music. (
– Penelope Biver

A perfect blend of punk rock and pop, Bloomington trio Constant Velocity combine equal parts Violent Femmes and Minutemen to craft four irresistibly winning and rambunctious songs on their self-titled EP. “Dewy Biker,” especially, is something special, sort of a punk rock lullaby, as A. Smith’s gravely, yet slightly high-pitched vocals are complemented perfectly by C. Weber’s endearing keyboards. (
– Dean Ramos

A nine-track, self-titled CD from Edens Lie contains a well-rounded sampling of metal styles. “The Last Nail” and “The Blurred Line Of Sanity” represent thrash, with frequent tempo changes and shredding guitar solos. Piano and the harmonizing, multi-tracked vocals of singer-songwriter Michael Anthony Putignano make “Of Obsession And Pain” a true ballad. “Silhouette In Black” mixes the two styles with other tracks following suit. Overall production of the CD lacks clarity; nevertheless, Putignano proves a capable one-man metal band, also providing bass, drums, and guitar tracking with two guest musicians pitching in. (
– Jason Scales

Three songs are all this west suburban five-piece act feel it will take to give the listener a true snapshot of their alt-rock sound. Gentleman Junkie layers soaring melodies over throwback riffs that sound like they’re straight out of an early Screaming Trees or Bush record. This is still a young band, not likely to bring on a full retro-grunge revolution, but hopefully able to rock a few houses along the way. (
– Carter Moss

On his 12-track debut, Think of Me, pianist Bryan Grant establishes himself as a very able – if not compulsive – composer of easy-listening, pop jazz instrumentals. The careful arrangement of “In My Dreams” features layers of harmonizing piano and synthesizer tracks subtly driven by drum machine percussion. Chord progressions and crystal-clear instrumental flourishes strive to induce reflective moods on “I’ll Be There” and “Just One Look.” (
– Jason Scales

Sadly, the new demo from Hibrid Reality can be summed up via the one word that’s also the title of the disc’s second cut: “Pointless.” Despite a few magic moments, such as the powerful guitar introduction of “421,” all six of the EP’s aggressive melodies are droning and directionless. The angry sentiments seem heartfelt, but between the unsophisticated songwriting and second-rate production values, the furious riffs are simply futile. (
– Jeff Berkwits

Bruce Holmes shows he’s a better singer than a songwriter on Life’s An Intelligence Test. The title track is a not particularly funny look at human foibles, while the intended pathos of “Long Vegas Night” is just plain awkward. The romantic “I Do” and rousing “Stand” are better vehicles for Holmes’ rich vocals and artful strumming. (
– Terrence Flamm

Instrumental trio The Infrasonics approach the manic fun of Man Or Astro-man? or the alluring chic of Air on their espionage-themed Bad Guy Music, but the CD suffers from a reliance on dated synthesizer effects. The Infrasonics need more tracks like the guitar-driven “Passport” and “The Chase” or the jazz-flavored “The Casing.” (
– Terrence Flamm

The Jai-Alai Savant (pronounced hy-ly sa-vont) falls right in line with the better indie rock coming out of Chicago. The trio’s EP, Thunderstatement, is a quirky five-song effort that leans heavily on dub reggae beats and layered vocal patterns. Punk rock in the same way as The Police or late-era The Clash, The Jai-Ala Savant is challenging and fun in the same breath. (
– Joseph Simek

During the early 2000s, Flat Mean Tires prowled the local alt-country circuit, though after calling it a day a few members formed The Javelinas. On its Kentland Records disc Dirtbath, the group picks up where its precursors left off and continues to revive that insurgent spirit, spiked with doses of punk-powered rockabilly. Tracks like “Stop, Drop And Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “Voodoo Train” and “Imperial Highway Fishtail” are barnburners that excel with fierce riffs. (
– Andy Argyrakis

In the hands of Knife Of Simpson, local heavy metal hasn’t sounded this vital in more than a decade. Track after track, KOS remind us what metal was before the blah ’90s when we were inundated with bands that weren’t worthy of being roadies for Stryper, let alone AC/DC. With heart-pumping guitars, balls-to-the-wall beats, and a vocalist who sounds like he smoked a carton of cigarettes a day before breaking out of prison, KOS is metal at its finest. (
– Dean Ramos

The Mauds‘ first recorded output in nearly 35 years is an inspired effort that shows how vocalist Jimy Rogers conquered the local music charts and influenced dozens of local bands, including Chicago and The Buckinghams, in the late ’60s. The new Mauds are more sophisticated than their previous ’60s incarnation, and Soul Attitude packs a horn-heavy, in-your-face, joyous, Stax-style R&B punch. What’s puzzling is the inclusion of overdone soul covers (“Mustang Sally” – arrgh!) that may pigeonhole them as a casino-revival act. Fortunately, the spiritually soaring and sultry “New Day” shows what The Mauds can do when they put their minds to it. (
– David Gedge

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Category: Around Hear, Monthly

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  1. Bruce Holmes says:

    For Terrence Flamm
    I’m commenting on your review of my CD. I rather expected your reaction. It’s identical to how you felt about a preliminary version that you reviewed a couple of years ago by accident. Odd, I’ve always thought my songwriting was my strong point and my singing my weakness. You’ve reversed it? I don’t think “Life’s An Intelligence Test” is a great song. But I do think it’s well crafted and fun. And my fan base rated it as their favorite. They rated the other song you don’t like (Long Vegas Night) 4th. The two songs you seemed to like better they rated 9th (I Do) and 10th (Stand). I’m just curious, did something in “Life’s An Intelligence Test” strike a nerve? I’m just puzzled by how much you don’t like it. You might learn something by letting someone else (who’s opinion you respect) give a listen to the CD and then compare notes. While I was disappointed by your review, I am glad that you’re willing to review unknown acts. And you certainly can’t be blamed for not liking something.