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Around Hear: April 2013

| April 1, 2013

Helen Money

While clearly gifted with an unique melodic sense and instrumental dexterity, Dave Shanaberger’s (aka Alberta) greatest asset on It’s A Viral Darling is his voice. Shanaberger possesses a haunting, soulful tone, touched with fever and angst; it’s the perfect foil for the shimmering guitar in “American Splendor” and clangs loudly against the crooked melody and halting country twang in “Lake Affect.” Lazy, curled organ and sauntering drums swirl in the background against his sweet, syrupy singing in “Hesitations.” It’s a quirky, quixotic album that rewards curiosity. (
– Patrick Conlan

As two-piece rock bands run amok and boast how much racket they can make, post-grunge metal trio Amicus remind us that we can always go one louder. The Pathways EP shows a new band at their brooding, methodical heaviest, perhaps a little willing to conform to type (though fist-raising sad-anthems never really accommodate innovation). Their blog is loaded with information on their gear, a fixation that you can hear in the meticulously laid tracks. (
– Steve Forstneger

Guitar virtuoso Pete Calacci‘s album Other Side showcases his consummate instrumental skills and rootsy rock songwriting. “Honest Man” and “Fear” feature a layer of acoustic guitar, striking a tonal contrast with the brilliant, fuzz of Calacci’s high-gain electric noodling. There’s the proper mix of driving rockers (“Secret,” “Headed For The Stars”), balladry (“Through You”), and bluesy, soulful numbers (“Other Side,” “Want Me Too”), and Calacci plays them all beautifully. (
– Patrick Conlan

Emerging from the University of Illinois campus, Decadents delivers straight-ahead rock on its eponymous debut. The electric power chords that rule each track deftly maneuver from shades of Nickelback to Jet to Wolfmother to White Stripes, while Michael Carpenter foregoes the aggressive rock growl in favor of smooth, heartfelt vocals that are simultaneously bluesy and alt-pop. The young band shows a surprising maturity, managing to produce 12 strong songs that avoid being repetitive or filler. (
– Carter Moss

Songs From Church Street features Rozanne Gewaar‘s vocal melodies and simple acoustic guitar. Her crystalline voice is a touch shrill when she really strains during the chorus of “We Could Theorise,” but is a comfortable companion otherwise. There’s an easy imagery in her armchair poetics, a sparseness that’s perfectly paired with her music – neither overwrought nor verbose. The album was recorded live at Gallery Cabaret BobDog Studios, and the room’s acoustics impart an immediacy and starkness to the album. (
– Patrick Conlan

On five out of six original songs (plus the 60-second instrumental, “Got A Minute?” – get it?), multi-tracked instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Grant June‘s energetic, hook-filled power pop keeps the evangelical mission of his lyrics on the light side. But the one cut where he calms down and takes a more didactic turn becomes a musical turn-off, whether one’s a believer or not. Like Ned Flanders (and Monty Python) he’s best looking at the bright side of life. (
– David C. Eldredge

Rob Valdez can flat-out belt it. While he and The Hotones (Hot Ones? Hot Tones? Ho Tones?) get by on a boilerplate brand of stoner/party metal, Valdez possesses a Maynard James Keenan-esque ability to somehow ghost rage while the rest of his voice is soaring. That said, it’s hard to know if he could replicate it in different environs. Should the Hot Tonys play to their clear strength, or wait for lightning? (
– Steve Forstneger

Singer/guitarist Jesse W. Johnson’s brash and talkative vocal style sounds a bit forced during the few slow tracks on Jet W. Lee‘s latest release, Western Nightmare. Fortunately, everything else is highly energetic, which is where Johnson is at his best. “The King’s Nightmare” would fit in well on a Cracker album, while “Hate To Hold Hands” has an appealing Americana arrangement. Other tracks, like “World Of Blur” and “Gas On The Grave,” are brief, but make a strong impression. (
– Terrence Flamm

Whatever Suits You is the latest effort from singer-songwriter Gerry O’Keefe, adding 10 tracks of his simple melodies and thoughtful songwriting to his growing repertoire. While O’Keefe’s songwriting continues to mature and his folk-centric sound tightens, he falls short in developing memorable hooks, and some folkies will prefer something gutsy over his softer vocal style. (
– Carter Moss

The Luck Of Eden Hall takes you on a ’60s psychedelic journey with a modern pop flavor on its newest release, Alligators Eat Gumdrops. The album’s 11 tracks combine dream-like Beatles melodies with David Bowie Ziggy Stardust-era. Sitars dominate “Green Faery” and “Bangalore” while the floating Mellotron of opener “High Heeled Flippers” sounds like a lost gem from the Fab Four’s Magical Mystery Tour. The horn section on “Ten Meters Over The Ground” is a nice touch, as are the orchestral arrangements on “A Carney’s Delirium” and “Amoreena Had Enough Yesterday.” Listening to AEG is a trip down memory lane.  (
– Kelley Simms

Jake Mack & The Last Stand‘s debut, The Heavy Chevy EP, gives its charismatic frontman plenty of room to showcase his guitar playing. He also impresses as a vocalist – ranging from the blues rock bravado of “Crooked Smile” to a sensual, Prince-like delivery on the funky “Always In My Head.” The title track offers hard rock fun, and “Nobody Understands” has an extended coda reminiscent of Robin Trower’s “Too Rolling Stoned.” (
– Terrence Flamm

Helen Money‘s latest collection of beguiling instrumentals, collectively titled Arriving Angels, further demonstrates songwriter Alison Chesley’s virtuosity on the cello. Played with a hard-rock soul and amped by production assistance from Steve Albini, the inventive range of sounds, rhythms, and textures she achieves from one instrument carries each track. Percussion adds a groovy depth, similar to a band like Pelican, on “Beautiful Friends.” Drums pick up the pace on “Radio Recorders,” propelling waves of distorted cello chords. “Midwestern Nights Dream” features a soothing plucking technique for a more minimalist approach. (
– Jason Scales

With his leftist lyrical bent, crisp acoustic folk, and punchy rock attitude, Simeon Peebler traces a clear lineage to protest music of the ’60s. “I Will Not Leave” is the earnest outcry of the Occupy movement, with Peebler’s voice and acoustic guitar ringing with determination. “Stack The Gold” is an indictment of the greed of the last decade, but “Birthday Home” is a peppy rock number with bluesy electric guitar that proves he’s not just a dour malcontent. Such contrasts salvage Missing Anchor from being one-dimensional. (
– Patrick Conlan

There’s a clever juxtaposition in the title of Rob Reid‘s Prairie Shanties Of The Landlocked Mariner, but many of his songs do have the feel of traditional folk music. “Some Birds” uses the winged creatures as a metaphor for humans, with lines like, “Some birds never seem to mind life inside a cage.” Julie Jurgens and Steve Dawson join Reid on harmonies for a few tracks, including “Me And Johnny Mac,” which evokes Paul Simon with its infectious rhythms. (
– Terrence Flamm

Former Mercury Rev frontman David Baker returns with Central Flow, an analog, synth-fueled set that’s terrifically trippy. Performing with Will MacLean under the nom de tune Variety Lights, the pair present 11 intriguing tracks, most notably the intoxicating “Invisible Forest.” It’s like listening to mid-’80s, late-night college radio, delivering 50 minutes of intoxicating idiosyncrasy brimming with evocative effects, meandering melodies, and captivating unconventionality. (
– Jeff Berkwits

A hazy stew of influences like Fu Manchu, Bardo Pond, and Monster Magnet colors We Killed The Lion‘s self-titled album with its thick cavernous drums, fuzz-bomb guitars, and earth-splitting bass. “To The Sky” is a sludgy, acid-inflected psych-rock stomper; “Starship” gradually gains intensity, distortion, and tempo while cycling through a mesmerizing lyrical mantra. After starting out as an indifferent sludge rocker, “Blackhole” casually, almost imperceptibly, morphs into a lo-fi cruiser. Despite the basic stoner-rock blueprint, there’s enough variety and different shading here to reward repeated listens. (
– Patrick Conlan

The cover art and photo of Larry Wimmer‘s recently submitted Short & Sweet might lead one to expect yet another white, acoustic guitar-wielding troubadour when the first cut bursts out with mellifluously soulful R&B laced with equally honey-twanged vocals that echo releases from Memphis/New Orleans studios in the ’60s. Mind blown. Sweetly produced and with excellent session backers, Wimmer displays excellent precision on guitars and drums throughout. Truly admirable in every way and an equally great way to kick off a new year spotlighting local artists! (
– David C. Eldredge

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Category: Around Hear, Columns, Monthly

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  1. Thanks to Patrick Conlan for the positive review of Rozanne Gewaar’s “Songs From Church Street” CD! However, the recording quality Patrick liked so much was achieved live at BobDog Studios, not at The Gallery Cabaret.

    Thanks again,
    Bill Kavanagh
    BobDog Studios
    Oak Park IL

  2. Bill,

    Thanks for alerting us to this. We’ve made the correction in the copy above.