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article by: Michael Canter

31 August 2009

CD Review - Polly PUt The Kettle On

Polly PUt The Kettle On - One Man Screamed

Year: August, 2008

Genre: Rock/Funk/Grunge

SonicJive:  http://www.sonicjive.com/PPTKO

Format:  CD

Total Time:47:50

Reviewed: 31-August-2009



Track Listing:

01. Complicated Mess 4:32

02. Angst 4:20

03. Walk With You 2:23

04. Burned Appendages 3:57

05. Power 4:22

06. My Crime 5:41

07. Angel 4:10

08. Same Mistakes 4:40

09. Crystal Ball 6:04

10. Rescued 3:42

11. Better Than I Am 3:59

Review:

J.C. Simonsen is the man behind Polly PUt The Kettle On, literally.  J.C. handles all songwriting, production and arrangements as well as providing vocals and instrumentation, hence the name of the CD One Man Screaming.  This CD is a hybrid collection of carefully-crafted rock, funk and grunge that plays well.  The most important pieces of the making of a successful indie act are in place, not the least of which is immeasurable talent.  Simonsen handles all aspects of the production of this effort very well, and at times he is way above the norm.  "One Man Screaming" is a slow-burning under-the-radar grower that gets better and better with each play.

From the offset this is a very heavy yet understated rock record - somewhat maudlin and contemplative, a man alone with his thoughts and observations. Simonsen meticulously sculpts a reverberant lo-fi soundscape, it's repressed emotion bubbling beneath the surface.   Complicated Mess, Power, My Crime, and Better Than I Am take the sound that is Polly PUt The Kettle On into epic, forward-thinking territory.  Indeed, Complicated Mess is the finest track on the CD, combining elements of rock and grunge with a hipster, shoegaze sound.  It carries the downtrodden, acoustic singer/songwriter appeal that is a personal favorite of mine and Simonsen owns it and works it in effortless fashion. I am not sure how to explain it, but there is a hazy, hungover feeling to Complicated Mess that is it's strength here.

Angel is another gem on this disc.  It is musically more uptempo than the other songs but Simonsen does well to keep it constrained enough so as not to disrupt the dark and brooding mood of the entire disc. This is fully accomplished through his lyrics "you're like an angel fallen down from the sky/I see the fire burn in your eyes/A child of heaven with an arrow in your side/so now you've come to die".  The arrangement on this song is heightened through rhythm and voice, evolving into an almost progressive improvisation. Simonsen stands out vocally, showing more range than on any of the other songs. 

On Same Mistakes, Simonsen adds a modern twist to guitar work that is a reminder of Neil Young's electric work with Crazy Horse.  At various moments there is an almost electric-folk feel to the song, but again, the inhibited angst finds its way to the forefront, giving a foreboding presence that segues well into the following number, Crystal Ball.

Brilliantly, Crystal Ball
starts as a dark and brooding stunner that casts an affront on hiding the truth and ascends in tone and demeanor as truth is revealed and the vague subtleties between the two are exposed.  The reversal in mood here works well and again Simonsen gives the song a somewhat progressive feel.

We've all had the dream where we are trying to scream but nothing comes out.  Indeed, the loudest scream is often the one we never hear.  Like the dream, Simonsen has mimicked that feeling of restrained emotion looking for an amplified outlet by going somewhat beyond limited genre labels. Very much solitary music, One Man Screaming is the kind of record that plays well at times of emotional apathy.  If you are feeling like you've had enough and just a little road-weary, put this on and try not to be impressed as that wry smile that says "Yeah, I relate" purses your lips.  J.C. Simonsen, aka Polly PUt The Kettle On, is on to something here.

-- Michael Canter (www.sonicjive.com

30 August 2009

CD Review - Blue Far Down

Blue Far Down - Self Titled EP

Year: July, 2009

Genre: Hard Rock/Grunge

SonicJive:http://www.sonicjive.com/bluefardown

Format:  MP3

Total Time: 8:02

Reviewed: 30-August-2009



Track Listing:

01. Tonight 2:38

02. Problem 2:20

03. Wonder Why 3:44

Review:

Hard rock as a genre is difficult to define because of the numerous sub-genres that proliferate the landscape of what is simply straight-ahead, hard-core rock and roll. The basis of every sub-genre is the simple foundation of harsh, amplified sound and thundering, electric guitars (sometimes distorted), a kick-ass back line and pulsating bass.  The difference makers are the bands that are lyrically proficient and vocally outstanding.  No matter what you define as your sub-genre, without great lyrical and vocal content, you are just making noise (instrumental songs aside). In reverence to hard rock bands and artists that have succeeded in this manner, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell to name a few, Blue Far Down succeeds using a similar formula.  This is smarter-than-average hard rock, but admittedly, it may be easy to miss the more subtle aspects of Blue Far Down against the thrashing din of their sledgehammer instrumental attack.

On their latest release, the self-titled Blue Far Down E.P. - Daryl, Jason, Bob and Clem have taken that step toward becoming the next, great hard rock band.  The bass work on this EP is simply outstanding and the remarkable instrumentation and vocals are much more advanced than on their previous release.  But where the band really has matured is in the studio production and the arrangements of the three songs that comprise this disc.

Wonder Why is a darkly gorgeous song that evokes pathos as well as anger.  This is Blue Far Down at its collective best; they excel at misery and suffering because they exercise superb consistency in evoking that blues/grunge/hard rock despair.  The demonstrative opening bass line will stop your heart and the song builds to a crescendo of fire and fury with a vocal texture eerily reminiscent of some of Kurt Cobain's more hard core stuff. This is the best song on the E.P.

When you listen to Tonight you will understand what I mean by smarter-than-average hard rock;  a well-placed riff here, intentional distortion there, a muffled scream, and thrashing instrumentation that is specifically arranged to hurtle toward you like a speeding freight train.  There is an uncontrolled control to this song and therein the maturity lies.  Because each band member plays a significant part in this song, the temptation is there for the song to be pulled in four different directions.  Fortunately Blue Far Down resists this temptation and the result is a great rock and roll song that is simply a great lick and a great hook, but with oh so much more behind-the-scenes. With each listen something new yet subtle jumps to the forefront. 

The problem with Problem is that the guitar solo and the bass really stand out here.  Don't get me wrong, the song is good on its own merit and those two elements make it very good.  To me, the song seems to have ended perhaps prematurely and feels like it needs some continuation and culmination.  Maybe in live performances the band extends the lead and bass solos.  Maybe I am jaded because on a three-song EP I would like the songs to be just a little longer from a listener's perspective. Regardless,  I think Problem could stand head and shoulders with the other two songs had it just been a little longer. 

Back in the day, bands used the E.P. as a promotional device to get heard and it makes sense.  One, as a band you get to provide the listener with your best stuff without any filler.  Also, it's easier to catch the ear of a station manager or AOR rep with a smaller listening sample.  Blue Far Down takes full advantage of this format to launch an all-out assault that is their best work to date.  I imagine they walked into the recording studio saying "We're gonna kill it".  Mission accomplished.

(MP3's available at Amazon.com by clicking the cover art)

-- Michael Canter (www.sonicjive.com)

 

CD Review - Ana Popovic

Ana Popovic - Blind For Love

Year: July 15,  2009

Genre: Blues/Funk/Rock/Jazz Hybrid

SonicJive: http://www.sonicjive.com/anapopovicmusic

Format:  CD

Total Time: 44:37

Reviewed: 30-August-2009



Track Listing:

01. Nothing Personal 3:35

02. Wrong Woman 3:43

03. Steal Me Away 3:30

04. Blind For Love 3:13

05. More Real 3:35

06. Putting Out The APB 3:47

07. Get Back Home To You 3:32

08. The Only Reason 3:52

09. Part Of Me (Lullaby For Luuk) 3:14

10. Lives That Don't Exist 3:53

11. Need Your Love 3:20

12. Blues For M 5:23

Review:

The world is a better place thanks to the union of Ana Popovic and producer Mark Dearnley (AC/DC, PAUL McCARTNEY, TOM PETTY and many more) on Ana's latest release Blind For Love.  Recalling great purveyors of unabashedly blistering female blues rock and soul, such as Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, Blind For Love is both a sublime and full-bodied release. Popovic is indeed a heavy presence on this effort; she wrote and arranged all of the tracks, and co-produced the CD as well as providing lead guitar and vocals. This is an outstanding and very polished release that is at often times magnificent.  The music herein will simply sweep you away. 

The energizing Nothing Personal kicks off the disc, a straight-ahead blues and rock number that is the first single release from the CD. Unveiling her backing band, the song features a number of highlights in addition to Popovic's guitar work.  The backing vocals are strong and add a gospel-like feel, and the interplay between Ana and keyboardist Mike Finnigan is a strength here.   Nothing Personal segues perfectly into the second track, Wrong Woman.

Have you ever heard a song with a defining moment that was so good upon first listen that you have actually muttered "Are you kidding me....." to yourself (in, of course, the most complimentary and reverent sense of the phrase)?  Some examples include the church organ on the Beatles "Let It Be", the opening riff of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy" and Keith Richards' feedback on "Gimme Shelter".  Add Ana's guitar solo at the end of Wrong Woman to the list.  At precisely 2:46 into the song Popovic takes an anthemic and very good, yet formulaic rock number and launches it into stratospheric territory with a fervently passionate guitar solo that will literally melt your speakers. 

By not leaning completely on the tried and true, sometimes too-precious roots of blues music, Popovic adds elements of funk and rhythm for a strikingly new authenticity and the result is a pleasing and crafty vignette.  With a blistering arrangement reminiscent of Prince (yes, Prince) and James Brown, Lives That Don't Exist is an incredibly funky example, an eclectic traverse of blues, rock and funk that melds perfectly.  Popovic provides a white-hot guitar solo to the stellar work of bassist Ronald Jonker to create an infectious groove replete with drop-dead trumpet and sax accompaniment from Darrel Leonard and Joe Sublett that is a full-tilt boogie. 


Popovic demonstrates a more soulful and jazzy side as well as her range and musical diversity on the title song Blind For Love.  Vocally, Ana is strong here, reaching the upper level of her range smoothly and with little effort. She also accentuates great jazz guitar with the use of a slide, and the song is a welcome break in the flow of the disc.  Popovic is equally strong on More Real which is again a downtempo, jazzy number, but with a more classic feel to her guitar work in the mold of Mark Knopfler. More Real and The Only Reason are the best of the downtempo numbers on the disc. 

As far as flat out blues numbers, on Blues For M Popovic goes all out here and succeeds, and likely draws comparisons to Janis Joplin.  This is classic blues, down and dirty, vocally aching and accentuated by her tremendous guitar solo.  The fretwork is astounding, picking up the pace when necessary to evoke Popovic's true feelings here.  If one were to make the comparison to Joplin, then make no mistake, vocally her range far exceeds Ms. Joplin and the passion is right on par, so there is that validity.

Other highlights include Putting Out The APB and Get Back Home To You.

Some of the previous reviews for this CD have labeled Blind For Love as a blues CD,  but that is too limiting and somewhat incorrect.  This is a genuine blues, rock, funk and soul hybrid that showcases Ana Popovic's stunning guitar work as well as her vocal abilities and musical diversity in a number of genre-bending tracks.  The arrangements and production are top notch, and Popovic's abilities as a musician and songwriter are unquestionably first-rate.  This a CD you will want to add to your collection and keep in heavy rotation on your personal playlist.

-- Michael Canter (www.sonicjive.com)

 

11 August 2009

CD Review - String Bone

String Bone - Nadir

Year: May 21,  2009

Genre: Roots/Americana/Traditional

SonicJive: http://www.sonicjive.com/stringbone

Format:  CD

Total Time: 46:12

Reviewed: 11-August-2009

Track Listing:

01. Nietzsche Finds A Bullfight 1:47
02. Wash Away Our Sins 5:14
03. Midnight Train 4:40
04. Killing Town 4:42
05. Queen Of The Lillies 3:37
06. Southern Ontario Chill 5:26
07. If I Had A Dream 4:56
08. And We Laughed 3:24
09. Too Young For Romance 2:49
10. Portland, Maine 4:45
11. Honfleur 4:52

Review:

Nadir is the latest release from String Bone, the project name for Barry James Payne from Kitchener, Ontario.  Nadir is an exhilarating compilation of Blues, Country and Roots Americana with a rich slate of quality tracks.  Coloring the milieu with atmospheric instrumentation and evocative lyrics that traditionalists will love, Payne carves a brooding persona steeped in roots of Dylan's 'Blood On The Tracks', Springsteen's 'Nebraska', Wilco's elliptical Americana, Son Volt's balladry and assorted, harder-to-pinpoint roots, country, folk and blues idioms.  Payne's songs rarely cater to the literal, instead navigating allegory and revelation pressed against a recessed southern Ontario landscape.

The highlights of the disc are many;

"Wash Away Our Sins" is an explosive assessment, a bone-rattling and pulsating  blues rocker that embodies the 'Blood On The Tracks' side of Payne's influences. With implications reverberating into personal and spiritual realms, Payne laments life's ephemeral side and the basic human need for forgiveness and redemption.

"And We Laughed"  is a repine and reflection of a lost loved one and features Payne's most tender vocal turn built on a foundation of pithy imagery.  He uses a minimalist arrangement that hinges on his vocal ability and acoustic guitar. Elaboration presents itself lyrically through texture and nuance and musically through the adjunct of forlorn banjo and violin.

Fans of Wilco, Son Volt or Uncle Tupelo will love "Portland, Maine" which features a wicked performance by Bob Egan (formerly of Wilco) on pedal steel guitar.  Reminiscent of Jay Farrar from Son Volt singing 'Windfall' and with an aching chorus -  (I drove 3 million miles and my cell is on the blink / I've got whiskey in the trunk, the good Lord knows I need a drink / I ain't no sinner and I'm certainly no saint / I just came to see your name on the marquee lights on the outskirts of Portland, Maine) -  this song feels like 5 am and driving home, but taking the long way because you don't want to stop listening. For added enjoyment you can hear Bob Egan's exceptional steel guitar throughout the disc on the songs "Midnight Train", "Queen Of The Lillies", "Southern Ontario Chill", and "If I Had A Dream".

"Killing Town" is the bread and butter here - a stark homage to turn-of-the-century American Roots that is all too human and replete with an edgy veneer.  Professional sentimentalists will love the way he nails this ballad - it would sit perfectly in an episode of the HBO series Deadwood or a documentary of the Civil War.  Payne combines an ascetic bassline, scorching electric guitar and seismic violin solos to fashion a grim and lonely universe of impeccable world-weary logic that despite the title preaches a message of anti-violence.

Payne offers a slight variation of his own eclecticism on "Honfleur".   Respite with a wonderful accordion accompaniment from Paul Shilton that accentuates it's bluesy ambiance and provides a folksy feel, Payne adds a deft touch once again through well-written lyrics and a down-tempo arrangement that gives wonderful closure to the CD.

All in all, Nadir is a richly decorated composition.  Payne scores big as a lyrical talent because of his depth and a focused, refined approach that isn't over-produced and this effort heralds the arrival of a major songwriter.  The violin/pedal steel interplay throughout the disc stands out on many of the tracks and as a vocalist, Payne is efficient and works well within his range.  Nadir is a spirited effort and being the second release by String Bone, we can expect a bright future for Payne and his band. 

-- Michael Canter 

SonicJive.com/Jivewired.com