Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Record Review - Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Published in the September issue of Rhythms.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The Magic Door

From the same sessions that yielded CRB’s debut LP, Big Moon Ritual (reviewed in last month’s issue by Marty Jones), comes the companion piece, The Magic Door, a big pot of psych sludge that bubbles with a slow, menacing intensity, belching up steaming clouds of ‘70s country/rock, continuing along the same ‘big, booming soundscape’ tangent its predecessor mastered with consummate ease.

A bit shorter and sharper than Big Moon Ritual however (aside from the 14 minute ‘Vibration And Light Suite’), The Magic Door eases back into the late ‘60s a tad more – you’ve got slightly slower Creedence-esque numbers (opener, ‘Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go’ for example); moog-drenched tunes in which Robinson channels the Lizard King himself (you can feel the sweat flying from his brow, he’s probably naked as he sings), soaring guitars which cut and burn as they lumber along like a herd of wooly mammoths running in slow motion.

Elsewhere, the aforementioned ‘Vibration And Light Suite’ almost touches upon disco with it’s understated funky guitar riffage, whereas ‘Appaloosa’ pulls it back and the band settle in to the country-ish mode they obviously feel more than comfortable in.  And then there’s the band’s version of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’.  Ingredients: a band with instruments, a packet of Rizzlas, a bag of the mellowest bud you can lay your hands on.  Method: roll bud in Rizzlas and smoke, play an Elvis cover.  Feeds: everyone.  Awesome.

Jimmy Reed’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ finishes proceedings, a luxurious mix of stoner blues and Doors’ ‘Riders On The Storm’ piano lethargy, a sugar-sweet end to a record which sees a band eschewing the New and the Now and getting high on sounds which epitomised the analogue, the warm, the real and the earthiness of a time and place we here at Rhythms wish was still prevalent today.  Epic is one word to describe this release, but it’s a word that doesn’t carry nearly enough strength.

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 27 August 2012

Feature - Tim Rogers

Published in the September issue of Rhythms.  Excerpt below.

Interpreting the music of American songwriter Shel Rogerstein, is where we find the perennial doer of things, Tim Rogers.
The question one should ask whenever rock ‘n’ roll raconteur Tim Rogers arises in conversation, is, ‘What, exactly, is this man up to now?’  And a valid question that would be, for if there’s anyone on our scene as chameleonic as Mr. Rogers, I’ve yet to come across them, and if I took the time to search, by the time I found anyone, our Tim would have gone off and done three other things.  Such is his penchant for creating, messing around, causing trouble and generally oozing his way further and further into our collective musical psyche.

Over the course of his long and colourful career, Rogers has fronted seminal Australian group You Am I, led The Temperance Union all over the place, jumped in bed (literally, actually, I was there to see it) with Tex Perkins, headed out alone, written songs for movie scores, collaborated with all and sundry, and most recently, dabbled in film and theatre.  There’s little Rogers has not done, and you can bet by the time you finish reading this, he’ll at least have thought about doing some of those things.  Probably all of them.

Where we find the man now, is immersed in a project inspired by a friendship which has endured for years.  We also find him immersed in creating off his own bat, for his own means, for the first time in a while.  The friendship is between him and American songwriter, Shel Rogerstein.  The project is a little gem of a record called Rogers Sings Rogerstein.  And the self-creation comes because this is the first record Rogers has released since The Luxury Of Hysteria in 2007 (solo), and You Am I in 2010, with, naturally, You Am I.

This being Tim Rogers of course, you can bet there’s a back story, and a long, rambly one at that.  “Shel and I have actually known each other for longer than I can remember,” Rogers relates on his friendship with a man he admires ardently, but who few others have actually heard of.  “He’s kinda like the smarter, more considered version of me.  We’ve got a lot of similar things going on… but he’s more interested in crafting songs.  I’ve got a little bit of interest in that, but I’ve got no attention.

“So I’ve dropped in on him in Cleveland in the past year, and we hang out and watch baseball and go tango dancing and things, and then we correspond, we write letters… it’s an intriguing relationship.  And it’s very cute, with the names, and I’m aware that people think I’m bullshitting, but half the time my response is, ‘You want truth from a guy who sings in a rock band?’, come on.  But it’s a really important relationship to me.

“Hanging out with the Lil’ Band O’ Gold guys last month, and Cold Chisel last year, there’s something about being in the company of men your age or a little older, they still have a real spirit, they want to work, they’re not just doing it to pay off the mortgage, they’re just buzzing.  And Shel’s a bit like that – I mean, he lives an extremely quiet life, but you know, when the drums start, something happens, like some sort of… werewolf.”

There’s very little information floating around the electronic ether on Shel Rogerstein.  If you’re to believe Rogers, the pair met on a train in France, bonding over mutual loves of cheese and baseball, amongst other things, but as Rogers himself has said, why would you believe someone who fronts a rock ‘n’ roll band?  Regardless, the 'pair' have co-written a slew of tunes, and these, along with an obvious respect for one another as artists thinking outside the box, are what fill Rogers Sings Rogerstein.

Samuel J. Fell

Feature - Joe Bonamassa

Published in the September issue of Rhythms.  Excerpt below.

After overdosing on rock ‘n’ roll, Joe Bonamassa is going back to basics.

Recently, I’ve been listening a lot to Joe Bonamassa’s new cut, Driving Towards The Daylight.  Ever since it landed on my desk a month or so ago, it’s become one of those ‘go to’ records for me, something I’ll throw on whilst trawling through emails, doing my accounts or any number of other tasks that require musical accompaniment (which to be honest, is almost anything).  It’s a record which grabs me just right, and it’s one that has become my favourite from the already expansive Bonamassa canon.

And this is for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it’s a lot more bluesy than the man’s past few records have been.  I love his seamless integration of blues and rock ‘n’ roll, but I love more his blues nous – he seems to feel very comfortable with (almost) nothing but 12 bars, and it shows in the playing.  Secondly, it’s possibly one of the most mature records Bonamassa has released in his 12 years as a solo artist (this new one is his 13th studio record).  His earlier work, and he’ll be the first to admit this, saw him with everything to prove to everyone and as a result, his music wasn’t much more than exorbitant guitar antics; all style, very little substance.  This new one then, is more refined – there’s flash, of course, but it’s in the right place at the right time, and it makes for compelling listening.

The record begins with the track ‘Dislocated Boy’, one of four Bonamassa originals contained within.  This is something he’s begun to do on a regular basis – write.  He’s always been one to lay down stone-cold killer cover versions, as he does elsewhere on this album, but over the course of perhaps his past four or five records, he’s started to try his hand as a songwriter.  He’s not setting the world alight with his writing skills (something else I’m sure he’d admit to), but they’re songs from deep within and as such, they resonate, whether you give him kudos for his word play or not.

It’s all this combined then, that makes Driving Towards The Daylight such a good record, in my own humble opinion, and it’s certainly one of Bonamassa’s favourites, as he tells me when we catch up once more.  It’s the best one they’ve done in a few records, he says, helped in no small part by the fact that it is an actual blues record, something that was, he hints, well past due.

“A lot of it had to do with the tour for Black Country Communion,” he states, regarding why now was the time to lay down a blues record, referencing the super group he’s a part of, along with Jason Bonham, Glenn Hughes and Derek Sherinian.  “I just ran from rock ‘n’ roll, I said I don’t wanna deal with it, I don’t wanna hear it, I don’t wanna fuckin’ tune my guitar down to D, I don’t want anything to do with it – I wanna play British blues, I’m taking my bat and ball and building my own sandbox, that was basically my conversation.”

This album then, is touted as a “back to basics blues record”.  As I mentioned in my review of Driving Towards The Daylight last month in Rhythms, back to basics for Joe Bonamassa is a tall order for the rest of us mere mortals – even when he’s playing 12 bar, it’s out of this world.  However, it’s not a back to basics record in terms of technique, but more in terms of the music contained within, moving away, as it is, from the scorching blues/rock he’s become known for, and towards the British blues invasion sound, albeit warped for the now.

“We got a little worldly there for a while,” Bonamassa smiles. “We did Black Rock (2010) which had bouzoukis and all kinds of Greek instruments on it.  Dust Bowl (2011) started as kind of an extension of that but finished off as something else, like a country record, with John Hiatt and Vince Gill.  So [those records] took on this whole worldly / Americana thing, which I think is great.

“But this one here is a little rawer, a little more stripped back, and it’s a little more live feeling, that’s my favourite kind of record.  And back to basics for me isn’t going to be this [he obviously does his interviews with a guitar on his knee, so he plays a simple blues lick down the phone line], but it is more the British blues thing, pretty much straight up.”

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 20 August 2012

Q&A - Mia Dyson

Published in the Five Notes section of the September issue of Rolling Stone (Aust).

Mia Dyson

Location, Location, Location
Three years ago, Mia Dyson upped stumps and headed to the Land of the Free. “I grew up listening to American music and so I just wanted to come here and experience it for myself,” she muses.  “It’s been a really tumultuous time, but… I don’t regret it and I love how I’ve grown.”

Back To Square One
Relocating to a new country though, you’ve gotta start at the bottom again.  “Yeah, I did,” Dyson laughs.  “But I had the experience, and I had the three records… it was really humbling and really scary, but I also really enjoyed performing [again] to people who’d not heard me before.”

High Water Mark
Despite the fact Dyson had some ‘downs’ whilst in the US, there have been plenty of ‘ups’ too.  “I guess opening for Stevie Nicks,” Dyson smiles.  “I loved that, she was a sweetheart.  I got to hang out with her and jump up on stage [with them] as part of the show as well.”

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This
While Dyson’s manager, Dave Stewart (Eurhythmics), wanted her to change her image to that of an androgynous artist named Boy.  “Yes [he did],” she says.  “I sat with it for a while, and actually made myself sick… he had some big ideas, exciting things… but I’d built my career grassroots style in Australia, and that’s what I wanted to do here.”

The Moment
Dyson is just about to release her fourth LP The Moment, a record which sees her in career-best form.  “I think it’s my best work yet,” she affirms cautiously.  “It’s influenced by the difficult time I had moving over here, trying to find my feet… I’m really proud and confident about this record.”

Samuel J. Fell

Record Review - Zac Brown Band

Published in the September issue of Rolling Stone (Aust).

Zac Brown Band
Atlantic / Warner

Firmly entrenched on the pop side of the country spectrum, the Zac Brown Band’s fifth studio long-player, Uncaged, sees this multi-Grammy winning six-piece, looking to extend their sonic scope.  Lashings of reggae and rock permeate the polished, high-sheen country antics they’ve won numerous awards for in the US, which to be honest muddies the waters somewhat – it’s like the record, despite the instrumental virtuosity of the players, doesn’t really know what it wants.

However, if pop/country is your bag, you’ll delight in some of the finest playing (particularly from fiddle player Jimmy de Martini) around, especially on decent country workout ‘The Wind’ – solid record, just a bit confused.

Samuel J. Fell

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Comment: On Digital News

On Digital News.

On the World Wide Web, no one can hear you scream.  Perhaps you think everyone can, but they can’t and they won’t and no one cares.  Too much information, too much misinformation, too much pap and filler and you don’t know which way to turn anymore.  The information super highway is a parking lot – virtual radiators boiling over, communication breakdowns and search engines which have seized, become overloaded and so are of no use to anyone.

With the state of the print news media as it is – perhaps in a state of flux, rather than on its deathbed, as many are proclaiming – the internet is, to many others, the Way Of The Future.  This is where The News will be reported, they cry, where it already is being reported, where it will call home in only a matter of years.  Newspapers are dead and dying, they say, thumping their fists on barroom tables, no one reads them and it’s only a matter of Time.

Time.  It’s always about Time.  In this day and age, people lust after information.  They need Instant Gratification.  And so they sit at their personal computers and scroll away, surfing perhaps, just going where the virtual wind (the one which whips across this faux landscape at a rate of chilling knots) blows them.  Hitting dusty recesses of a Network run amok on a regular basis, keeping informed, as they see it.  They have no Time, and so the internet is where they spend it all.

But whom can we trust?  The recent Fairfax and News Ltd shakeups have seen wholly digital publishing crop up as a viable option for the SMH and The Age, amongst others, and so perhaps we’ll see these two veritable publications cease to exist in print form, calling the internet their only home.  Maybe this will happen, maybe it won’t…

The internet... apparently
The internet is, in theory, a viable place to read the news, a place where the same style of reporting, the same news, can be seen and read, all without leaving the comfort of your home, your office, even your bed – but again, whom can we trust?

Until then, until we Know, we’re surfing dangerous waters.  For who knows what lurks, just below the surface, on a medium largely unpoliced, unmonitored, uncensored.  Pornographers and scammers, those who set their own agendas based on their own fetid values, passing off their brand of information as The Truth and The Way, and we don’t know any better.  How can the internet be viewed as a credible source then, for news, when so many are able to dictate?

Yes, there are sites which have the credibility.  The SMH and Age sites are credible, as are the sites of other newspapers, along with the likes of independently published sites such as New Matilda and Crikey.  But these are but a few in a vacuous void, the likes of which we have yet to scratch the surface of.  There is, no doubt, more to come on this…

Samuel J. Fell

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Record Review - Flap!

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, August 3.

A Great Day For The Race

With a sultry swing ‘n’ swagger, Melbourne five-piece Flap! introduce their second long-player, opening track ‘The Boogieman’ the sign of what’s to come; a shuffling beat overlaid with the trumpet antics of 2010 National Jazz Award winner Eamon McNelis and the distinctly Australian vocal of Jess Guille.

Twenties jazz / gypsy bands are a dime-a-dozen these days, but where Flap! differ is in their ability to pen as catchy a pop hook as you’ll hear all year, not to mention the inherent honesty that comes through in their playing – nothing flashy for flash’s sake, just rumbling Hammond B3, a distinctly New Orleans melding of horns, music for the sake of music as is evidenced on every track, without exception, on A Great Day For The Race.  A finger-snapping triumph of a record.

Samuel J. Fell

A Great Day For The Race is available now through Vitamin Records.