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Around Hear: March 2014

| March 2, 2014

PreserbyKevin Presbrey

Blessed with a rich voice that at times recalls present-day Elton John singing
Tumbleweed Connection – bred country pop, Kevin Presbrey has a readymade second job as a tribute act. Luckily, his own Dust Unto Dust turns out to be worth the effort, a wide-shouldered, weathered-skin, warmhearted reflection on what lies before and ahead. Presbrey’s choice to go with a more professional-sounding mix than faux-authenticism pays off, polishing his voice to stand as the centerpiece it is. (
— Steve Forstneger

Singer-songwriter Jon Conover‘s gift for compassionate lyrics is particularly evident on “Woman Or The Wind,” a tale of someone whose beauty masks her inner loneliness. Conover’s soulful vocals resonate throughout his latest release, Make It November, but too many of these 11 tracks have the same easy listening, lite jazz arrangement. Things improve when Conover breaks free for a rousing cover of Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long,” and adds a hint of Country & Western to “I’m Coming Home.” (
– Terrence Flamm

When Country & Western singer-guitarist Jeff Givens picked Bourbon Cowboy as the title of his debut CD, he wasn’t just going for a pun on the John Travolta flick, Urban Cowboy. The 10 songs, co-written by Givens and guitarist Jason Botka, are wellcrafted tales of heavy drinkers, illicit lovers, and dysfunctional relationships. The hard-driving “Slow Train” features sexy lyrics and twangy guitars, while on
the acoustic “Waiting In Chicago,” a man desperately needs a woman to help overcome his inner demons. (
– TF

Fort Wayne, Indiana’s two-man Left Lane Cruiser play whiskey-soaked blues/rock with a Southern-fried boogiewoogie groove on its sixth studio album, Rock Them Back To Hell. Joe Evans (guitars/ bass/vocals) and Brenn Beck (drums, harmonica) conjure up a bevy of harmonica- laced foot-stompers with slithering slide guitar solos, distorted, raunchy guitar riffs and fuzzy vocals accompanied by an arsenal of percussion instruments ranging from trash cans and paint trays to hubcaps. The energetic duo romp and stomp at a powerful pace on the ten tracks that grace the disc while exuding a relentless electricity that makes it easy to forget the “band” is really just two guys blasting away. Rock Them Back To Hell really puts the meat on the table. (
– Kelley Simms

While Todd Petersen has labeled his new LP Autoddomy as “alternative,” it should actually be filed under “comedy” instead, because there’s nothing here to show that Petersen takes his music seriously. The 14 tracks contain little more than spoken word, futile attempts at rapping, simple guitar plucking, and someone experimenting with keyboard effects. And if you’re not convinced of this by the end, the closer “Tourrettes” will seal the deal – literally someone yelling out cuss words over strange sonic effects. (
– Carter Moss

With titles like “Wired As A Weapon” and “Dance At Your Own Risk,” the members of Face Time Police clearly want to throw a rhythmic party throughout Don’t Believe In The Moon. Fans of Green Day’s pop/punk or Linkin Park’s electronically fused alternative rock are likely to latch on, even if the production is bare bones basic at best. (
– Andy Argyrakis

Veilside‘s radio-friendly melodic rock qualities follow the path of modern rockers such as Static-X, Nickelback and Shinedown with a subtle yolking of ’80s hair metal and thick, ’90s groove-rock on its third EP, Meanwhile… The Godsmacky opening track, “Sick of Me,” is decorated with a slinky baseline, blustery vocals and huge harmonies. Singer Tony Engel delivers a satisfying raspy and soulful range throughout Meanwhile…, while guitarists Mo Ismail and Russ Odean assemble a battery of dynamic solos. The bluesy, Southern-fried groove and anthemic chorus of “Standing Alone” gets the blood pumping. The band throttles the mood and tempo on the powerful ballad, “My Last Lie (I Promise).” A local musical force since 2006, Veilside delivers a strong EP full of muscle and might. (
– KS

Chicago’s Coma Boys combine the raw pub rock of Joe Strummer’s 101ers and the sweaty swagger of indie millennials The Strokes on their self-titled EP. Vocalist and songwriter Trent Stevenson prefers a growl over a croon on “FM,” a Yardbirds styled rave-up that’s the ‘Boys’ finest moment – peppered with Brandon Reed’s staccato guitar, Patrick O’Keefe’s bludgeoning bass and Stevenson’s dynamic harmonica riffs. Drummer Mike Szymanski shows his chops on “Simple Frustration,” proving he’s got more range than the average punk drummer. From their Facebook posts, the Coma Boys are back in the studio, we’d love to see a few more hooks and melodies on their next record; they seem to have it in ’em – it’s just waiting to come out. (
– John Vernon

A daunting collection of three discs, Coup de Ta-Ta’s compiles some two decades’-plus musical jeremiads from Flabby Hoffman, who somewhat oxymoronically paints his broadside warnings of the perversion of humanity by the sociopolitical greed of popular culture with a rock’n’roll brush. Clearly he’s assembled quite a capable army of players to support his crusade over the years, and at times the music and accompanying satiric wit is spot on. Less jokey than the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band nor as accomplished as Zappa, Flabby’s closest musical antecedent is arguably The Tubes. But in the end the sheer volume of material overwhelms – judicious editing down to, say, a single disc might drive the musical message home much more memorably. (
– Dave Eldredge

Growth Ltd.’s self-titled debut opens and closes with middle-of-the-road rock tunes that are highly polished but not particularly noteworthy. The CD catches fire in the middle though, with the high energy “Sending Her Love To No-One” and the Rolling Stones-oriented “Good-bye Champion.” The way Growth Ltd. successfully mixes twanging guitars, horns, and backup female vocalists on “It’s Alright” makes you wish these guys would always be so adventurous. (
– Terrence Flamm

For its third release, Chicago rockers Jackpot Donnie enlisted the help of former Filter drummer Steve Gillis as producer – and the move paid off. On Mayday!, the band gives listeners a taste of each of its musical styles: from the catchy rock of “Juju” to the funk-laden “What on Earth” to the blues-tinged “Hindsight” and “Step Back.” Closer “The Art of Mixing Colors” wraps up this five-track EP on a mellow note, and completes the musical buffet that is Jackpot Donnie. And this time, it’s a real tasty one. (
— Carter Moss

Perhaps following in the footsteps of the Chicago-based hard rocking brothers of Chevelle, Kingery enters the scene with plenty of crunchy guitars and aggressive vocals on its debut What Lies Beneath. Vocalist John Kush brings the passion over top of the Jenke brothers’ forceful riffs. The hooks and melodies aren’t quite as memorable as what Chevelle was able to produce, although the band’s depth and hard rock beauty shine through especially on the two slightly slower tracks, “Color Blind” and “The Road Song.” Overall it’s a strong debut for a new young band, and it definitely proves the guys possess the maturity and passion to get the job done. (
— Carter Moss

The authentically rendered Southern rock and blues on Safe Haven‘s debut Sermon For No One is credited to 10 musicians, led by songwriter Patrick Lyons. There’s an appealing mix of fiddles, guitars, pedal steel, and harmonica across the nine tracks. The romantic “Colorado Moon” has a homespun feel, while the shuffling honkytonk of “Leave Me Where I Want To Be” evokes Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime.” Safe Haven also impresses with the traditional “Going To Germany” and cuts loose behind the spiritual imagery of “Eternal Farm. (www.safehavenchicago. com)
– Terrence Flamm

There’s little background information readily available about Vissuda, but for those who simply get introduced with On The Verge, they’ll find a blend of ambient electronics crossed with ethereal indie rock. While nothing stands out as being utterly remarkable, there’s bound to at least be some attraction for Brian Eno fans on the more spacey sounding tracks, with subtle nods to the ’90s Chicago alternative scene during its more aggressive moments. (
– Andy Argyrakis

Since 2009, Lakesigns dropped two EPs and two LPs, the latest being the full length indie rocker Husk. Though the lo-fi and fairly raw collection sounds like it came straight out of the basement, the foursome still excels with contagious craftsmanship and uses the saxophone as its secret weapon to make melancholy subject matter sound a little bit sweeter. (
– Andy Argyrakis

AyOh, a band comprised of Chicago music scene veterans/world travelers singer-guitarist Avi Dell, singer-drummer John Paul Arrotti, and bassist Lin Takrudtong, get solid support from guest musicians on its Take It To The People EP. The guitar-driven and high energy “Ay-Oh (Out Alive)” and “Never” are the most impressive, but Dell and Arrotti’s full-bodied vocals give all four tracks strong commercial appeal. (
– Terrence Flamm

If you’re a believer that aliens made a wrong left turn and landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, then Crashland will supply the soundtrack to your investigations with Novus Initium. With Zappa-esque theatrics, prog-rock sensibility and jam band awareness, Crashland members use ’50s Sci-Fi names like Major Aluminumm, Jordac, and Celestia to contribute to a mission delivering their alien rock opera. With all of the theatrics, Crashland sounds best sticking to melodic country-rockers like “Old Mountain Road” and its tribal abduction theme, “Niburu.” (
– David Gedge

It’s been more than 15 years since Dean Goldstein’s last effort, during which time he’s gotten sober, built a log cabin, and become an expert woodworker. Recently resurfacing as leader of Dean III & The Wagers, it was a hiatus well spent. Dirty Souls is a gritty, blues-saturated, roots-rock blast, with “West Virginia” and “Bye Buy Girl” clear standouts among the 13 cuts. A solid and skillfully performed set, the recording was definitely worth the wait. (
– Jeff Berkwits

The Gunnelpumpers are a collection of musicians whose two-day studio brainstorm was captured on the 19-track album Montana Fix. “Progressive” and “improvisational” are the most apt adjectives to characterize the 80-minute morass of various percussive instruments, acoustic basses, electric guitars and other noise-makers. So are the phrases “mixed bag” and “self-indulgent.” Those who appreciate interesting musical textures with bass and congas (as on “Puzzle Dust”) and attempts to replicate the Earth Resonance Frequency (as on “Earthing”) will enjoy this creative trip of music for art’s sake.
– Jason Scales

Go Time! continues to bridge the gap between hard rock and power pop on its third release, Tight Like Wood. Lead vocalist-guitarist Scott Niekelski still employs his distinctive, talky vocal style, and the band is crafting more complex and melodic arrangements. “The Life We Once Knew” adroitly mixes acoustic and electric guitars, while “The Lines Were Blurred” is more straightforward hard rock. The guitar-driven “In A Certain Mood” calls to mind The circa ’70s Rolling Stones.
– Terrence Flamm

Armed with a slew of vintage instruments on Wish We Had Our Time Again, Marty Hays bridges the best of bluegrass, old time country and southern gospel. While it’s definitely a traditional album that hearkens back to a bygone era, there’s loads of impressive finger picking and earthy harmonies that could easily appeal to the O Brother Where Art Thou audience. (
– Andy Argyrakis

With the indie folk/acoustic alternative revival in full swing, Dan Hubbard could quite feasibly find himself alongside The Civil Wars or The Head And The Heart on a personal playlist. “Maybe Someday” is the runaway highlight throughout Livin’ In The Heartland as the singer/songwriter pleads for a wider artistic platform, and while he’ll certainly have a lot of competition amongst other unknowns, his raw talent more than speaks for itself. (
–Andy Argyrakis

Turkish-born/Chicago transplant partners in life/music Demir Demirkan and Sertab Erener comprise Painted On Water, whose five-song EP serves up a pleasant enough polyglot DIY electro/pop/rock mix showcasing Sertab’s vocals and Demir’s studio savvy. It all gets a tad more interesting in third cut “Hating You Loving You” when Demir breaks the formula by bringing his guitar solo to the forefront. But a certain sameness to the material – most of the songs cast Sertab as desperately/overlooked in love – and clunker lines such as “It could’ve been all that life could’ve been” and “Two cups of coffee before work/And the usual discomfort” tend to undermine otherwise very good intentions. (
– David C. Eldredge


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