CirdecSongs Rapid-Fire Record Reviews

MIKE KENEALLY, The Thing That Knowledge Can’t Eat (Exowax). Years of ardent fandom can make it difficult to point out an album’s shortcomings. Fortunately, there’s absolutely NO need to worry about that here. Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally made the most of his time in lockdown, creating a virtual masterpiece in The Thing That Knowledge Can’t Eat. Those unfamiliar with his work will be able to experience most aspects of this musical chameleon’s colors, whether it be quirky, snark-laden pop, thoughtful retro-rock, laid back acoustic grooves, or touches of semi-metal guitar wizardry. Fans will have no problem recognizing the styles, as previous works like Dancing, Sluggo, Scambot, and Wooden Smoke all rear their lovely heads within the confines of these compositions. The Thing … is one of those albums worthy of repeat listens, because listeners are bound to find another golden nugget every time they hit “play.”

DAN TRUDELL, Fishin’ Again: A Tribute to Clyde Stubblefield & Dr. Lonnie Smith (OA2 Records). If this album doesn’t make you move, check your pulse. Keyboardist Dan Trudell has assembled a set of jams heavy on groove and “vocal” exposition. There’s never any doubt that Trudell has captured the spirit of organ legend Lonnie Smith with his use of soulful single-note runs and Leslie-driven chords. But he also fires off killer dissonant chords in conjunction with synthesizers, giving the album a very modern sound. The horn section is more than up to the frequent “call and response” of their keyboardist when they’re not firing off brilliant solos of their own, to say nothing of Mike Standal’s tangy guitar work. And then there’s drummer Dana Hall, whose backbeat beautifully emulates the grooves created by the legendary Clyde Stubblefield, best known for his work with James Brown. This band clearly did its homework. Each tune seems to come off as a well-controlled jam, where the band knows where they’re going, even if they take a side street to get there. Ain’t it funky now!

SIGUR ROS, ( ) — 20th Anniversary Remaster (Krunk). How interesting it is that one of the seminal works in post-rock came into the world with no discernible album title or song names to assist with identification. Sigur Ros felt the music — and each listeners personal interpretation of it — was more important than any label they could have given it. They’re not wrong. From beginning to end, the music of ( ) is never anything less than stunning, with a final track destined to leave listeners in a puddle of tears, even if you never fully understand a word Jonsi is singing. (That’s intentional, too.) As a personal bias, I tend to prefer remixes to remasters, as they tend (to me) to bring out more hidden detail. With that being said, this remaster (the work of the legendary Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound) is gorgeous, with a high degree of richness brought to every audio frequency. It’s not merely louder, like many remasters. It’s smoother and perhaps cleaner, allowing yet another level of emotion to sprint forth. The set also contains a bonus disc featuring a ninth untitled song in three parts, plus studio sessions from tracks 6, 7, and 8. If you’ve never heard this masterpiece before, now is the perfect time.

METROPOLITAN JAZZ OCTET, FEATURING PAUL MARINARO, The Bowie Project (Origin Records). If you’re gonna take on a legend, tread lightly. Particularly when you put forth genre-changing arrangements to classic songs. While David Bowie did use a jazz band led by Donny McCaslin to record Blackstar, the Metropolitan Jazz Octet take on 11 Bowie classics in full jazz form, and do so successfully. Vocalist Paul Marinaro soars passionately over each song, without coming even close to trying to imitate Bowie. That freedom of expression is a big part of what makes the album as good as it is. The setlist also helps, as the band doesn’t go for the obvious, even as they take on a few is the greatest hits. Including “Space Oddity” might seem obvious, but the more recent “I Would Be Your Slave” is a surprising and welcome addition. This is tribute done with love, respect, and unique expression. A quality listen.

FRANK ZAPPA, Waka/Wazoo (UMG). The Frank Zappa Box sets are coming fast and furious, almost to the point of overload. It’s almost essential to spend a great deal of time going through each set, given the sheer density of information being offered with every additional disc. Still, nothing induces “FOMO” quite like a Zappa box, since most of his fans were pretty detail-oriented in the first place. This set is centered around two of Zappa’s brilliant early 70’s works, Waka Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, humorous titles that belie the compositional brilliance contained in each album. Many refer to these as Zappa’s “jazz” albums. This is a partial truth, yes. But it doesn’t take much of a glance under the hood to see there is much more present than such a simplistic description. Take a moment (several of them, actually) to watch this artwork come to life right before your ears.

OCEANS OF SLUMBER, Starlight and Ash (Century Media Records). Oceans of Slumber is band that would have fit nicely in the 90’s Alternative landscape with its heavy grooves, deeply deliberate drums and crunchy, driving guitars. The music smolders nicely under the vocals of Cammie Gilbert until it has no choice but to spring forth for a few measures. The vocals themselves are angelic whether alone or layered nicely over themselves. “The Lighthouse” subtly plays around with Country licks that are cleverly hidden in mild to moderate distortion. The music moves at a slow, deliberate pace, making every riff count. In a single word, this album is haunting. In a good way.

SHABAKA, Afrikan Culture (Verve Records). Known best for his hard-charging, electronic-backed new-jazz work with The Comet is Coming and Sons of Kemet, Shabaka Hutchings puts those sounds aside for this collection of lush soundscapes (some of which are electronic) that might remind of past New Age music, executed primarily on flute and clarinet. The overall tone is minimalist at its most active, choosing to feed the mind and spirit instead of the hips. Great for meditation or as background to something like reading.

MIMI FOX ORGAN TRIO, One for Wes (Origin Records). It’s interesting that Mimi Fox is the band’s guitarist, yet she declares the album an organ trio. Particularly since the album is dedicated to the efforts of jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery. Then again, Wes was known for making classic albums with organist Jimmy Smith. Hence, we arrive at the album’s primary focus. With Brian Ho handling the organ duties and Lorca Hart’s drums, One for Wes is smooth, jazzy, and cool as the other side of the pillow. Their sound invokes images of the smoky nightclubs of the 60’s, where the band would hit the stage at 10 p.m. and play three or four sets until 3 in the morning. They’re locked in from the jump, making you ready to sit back and groove while enjoying the cocktail of your choice once you’ve settled into your booth and loosened your tie. Chill out and let the band do its thing.

SECURITY PROJECT, Slowburn Tour Edition (Security Project). The Security Project is far more than a Peter Gabriel tribute project. On this live album, the band does what it does best: dig deep into the PG catalog and make the songs recognizable as they rearrange things just enough to make them their own. “Mother of Violence,” “Humdrum,” and “The Family and the Fishing Net” haven’t been played by Gabriel onstage for quite sometime, making much easier for this band to subvert expectations from the audience, allowing those listeners to focus on what is in front of them rather than what they heard in the past. It’s also helpful that the vocals adhere to the music’s spirit, but not its timbre. The band even sneaks in a couple of Genesis classics. This album gives veteran fans a chance to hear classic songs from a different angle, or rookie fans a chance to establish the curiosity that will take them back to the original recordings. Win, win.

KING’S X, Three Sides of One (Inside Out). Heavy, bluesy, and guitar driven … it’s pretty much everything one might expect from a Kings X album. Things hit pure sincerity on “Nothing But the Truth,” an arena-blues tune that also works in intimate club settings. No new ground feels broken, but that’s okay. That isn’t always necessary. When it comes to Kings X, what you see is what you get. There’s something to be said for consistency.

O.R.k., Screamnasium (Kscope). A healthy dose of straightforward heavy rock, skillfully and tastefully played. The experience and talent level of O.R.k. is never in doubt, starting with the fantastic vocal work by Lef, and the low-key (but still highly impressive) guitar pyrotechnics of Carmelo Pipitone. The rhythm section of bassist Colin Edward and drummer Pat Mastelotto provide a steady groove, even when said groove shifts away from the standard 4/4. It’s clear this band has something to say, and they have no problem letting everyone hear it.

REUTER MOTZER GROHOWSKI, Bleed (MoonJune Records). Producer Leonardo Pavkovic has a formula: find at least three-world class musicians, put them in a room, have them start playing, and see what comes forth. In this case it’s Markus Reuter (Touch Guitars AU8), Tim Motzer (guitars), and Kenny Grohowski (drums), who step boldly into the darkness throughout the course of Bleed, a highly energetic — if ominous — album of intense improvisation. The songs are appropriately named. The title track is the sound of an open wound, freshly cut, with pain sensors fully aware. “Monolith” would fit nicely into the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Reuter and Motzer play raw and aggressive lead lines over ethereal soundscapes, while Grohowski’s drums sound like they’re literally on top of his bandmates, pounding his drums into submission. This is a trip worth taking, but it’s not for the faint of heart. That’s what makes it so much fun!

JANIECE JAFFE & MONIKA HERZIG, Both Sides of Joni (Acme Records). As our heroes get older (and are starting to leave us), more and more artists are producing tribute albums that pay homage to their influences. Such is the case with vocalist Janice Jaffe and pianist Monica Herzig, who pay their respects to legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. Both Sides of Joni is wonderfully produced and performed, with Jaffe’s voice capturing Joni’s spirit without becoming a pale imitation. Herzig’s keyboard work is delicate and tasteful, helping to drive a most talented band forward through nine of Joni’s masterworks. Sadly, this album is tinged in tragedy, as Jaffe passed away before the album’s completion. Luckily, she was able to put her stamp of approval on the songs before she flew away. This is a most appropriate legacy, now on multiple levels.


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  1. What a splendid collection of tunes. The Bowie Project didn’t work for me and I struggle to appreciate the near-metal bands, but the others are great. And you are on fine form with the reviews, here, too. I chuckled when I read “cool as the other side of the pillow”.

    Liked by 1 person

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