It's Not Blues
Music Reviews - Not Blues but Good Stuff

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Rodrigo Y Gabriela - 9 Dead Alive

What do you do when you’re arguably the best in the business? Do more of it, only better than ever, and that’s just what the duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela has managed with their latest effort: 9 Dead Alive. There may not be anything truly novel or different with this collection of songs, but there’s no question that it’s some of the most excellent and technically flawless music of its kind. This duo has been amazing the the music world with their style and flair for awhile now, and this is an effort that doesn’t disappoint. Rodrigo’s playing is fluid and dynamic, at times soft and silky and other times powerful and driving; Gabriela’s percussive style of finger-play technique is nothing short of incredible, as it has been for years.

The opening Soundmaker is a briskly moving piece that sets the mood for the listener. Torito is a moving and energetic number dedicated to animals and nature and comes off as vibrant as the African Veldt, teeming with life. Sunday Neurosis, dedicated to Viktor Frankl, turns into a soft, soothing “background” with voices over-dubbed in the middle, ending with the sound of a jet taking off to end the melody, not the standard fare of most songs. Fram, dedicated to the man who first crossed the frozen interior of Greenland, is a powerful, relentless song, while Megalopolis is soft and soothing, like a Sunday afternoon cup of tea, dedicated to Chilean poet, feminist and Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral.

Dedicated to and inspired by some of the people who have passed through their lives or touched them in some way, ranging from the father of the Spanish guitar, Antonio de Torres Jurado, to Harriet Tubman (Misty Moses) to Dostoyevky (The Russian Messenger), there’s no question that this collection is an eclectic celebration of diversity and a nod to the human spirit.  Somnium starts out as a sweet and soft, yet upbeat tune that somehow manages to be both relaxing and invigorating, often at the same time, before turning into a powerful almost “dream within a dream” sequence of notes and percussive tapping. The closing La Salle Des Pas Perdus goes out to Eleanor of Aquitaine. 9 Dead Alive is s powerful testament to the abilities of the artisans. There are many excellent artists who play music similar to Rodrigo y Gabriela: Andy McKee and Preston Reed both come to mind, along with more established artists such as Tomatito and Paco de Lucia, but for now, at least, there’s nobody more diverse and talented in the business.

O.A.R. - The Rockville LP

The Rockville LP, the highly anticipated new release from O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) can be classified only as infectious, delicious music. Call it pop rock, call it Adult Top 40, call it anything you want, but you WILL call it fun and listenable. From the opener Two Hands Up to the closing sounds of I Will Find You, it’s clear that Marc Roberge and friends have done it again, this time with an issue that will appeal to both established fans and first-time listeners. The entire CD is filled with “radio friendly” ear catching tunes that will have you dancing in your seat as you drive, or tapping your toe as you listen at home or at work, and there’s really not a bad song on the entire CD.

Produced by CMA and Grammy award-winning Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift’s Fearless), The Rockville LP is as smooth and technically flawless as it gets, and half the songs were co-written by Chapman, an accomplished writer and session musician in his own right. The first thing one notices when looking at the track list is that the songs are arranged in order of ascending length, with the first five tracks all clocking in at under four minutes, and the two longest songs at the end. There’s a bigger reason behind this, as the entire CD is about 45 minutes in length, what one would expect from a vinyl record, and indeed the rumor mill has it that The Rockville LP will indeed be a part of the “vinyl renaissance.”

Musically, the group changes beats and sounds from a few slower tunes like the advance hit Peace to the almost anthem-like closer. Roberge is as adept as a story-teller as he is as lead singer, and there were more than a couple of occasions that Jerry DePizzo’s saxophone was reminiscent of something from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The Architect was a deliciously jazzy tune about hope, and Caroline The Wrecking Ball was a fun-filled romp down a back country road, top-down wind in your hair fun even while knowing you’re going to run out of gas at some point along the way. Yes, Caroline leaves in the end, but you knew it would happen all along and you still didn’t care, because you were having way too much fun in the meantime.

O.A.R. went back to the basics for this effort, and while it’s not Earth-shattering with new styles, it’s definitely a showcase for the band doing what they do best: having fun and playing one catchy tune after another. If you’re a fan of the band, or simply a fan of something you can pop into the CD player and forget about everything else til it’s over, this is the CD for you. Songs about love, songs about hope and songs about simply feeling good. Available on Vanguard Records, O.A.R. has done what fans have hoped for: a new collection of music that will brighten your day and keep you in a good mood for a long, long time.

Tauk - Collisions

As a reviewer, it’s always fun to discover new bands and new music, and so it was with Collisions, the new CD from Tauk. Four supremely talented and innovative young men, most of whom have been playing together since their school days. Collision is a magical, mystical, musical tour de force, going places only the mind can travel, and done without the help of a lead singer. Indeed, if you’re looking for lyrics, forget it: there are none. Instead the listener is gifted with soaring musical compositions from a band of gifted players.

Starting off with Friction, my first thought was jazz, but that quickly changed to a blend of new age progressive rock, very reminiscent of YES, with a little of Gary Moore-sounding guitar mixed in for good measure. Sweet Revenge was often soaring, with a a note of melancholy added for depth. Tauk is adept at creating a full, rich sound with both guitar and electronic keyboard.

The band is “tight” and these guys can change moods and beats as adeptly as anyone. Dusty Jacket was an airy, jazzy offering with incredible and rich layers of sounds, tempo changes and a fun interplay between guitar and keyboard. The closing song, Collateral, had an almost “heavy metal” feel at times, and completely “new age electronica pop” at other times … a blend that perhaps only Tauk could pull off successfully.

There’s no question that this is an extremely talented band of musicians, and their classical training and background shows in everything they do. If you’re looking for something fresh and innovative, Collisions from Tauk fits the bill and then some. It’s a close your eyes and listen experience that’s not to be missed.

Hot Rize - When I'm Free

Winners of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s very first Entertainers of the Year award, Colorado’s Hot Rize has been creating delicious music for over 35 years. Formed in 1978, the 4-piece survived until 1990, but recently re-grouped and celebrated with a new CD: When I’m Free, and it’s a dandy. Now, 24 years later, original members Tim O’Brien and Pete Wernick, along with longtime Hot Rizer Nick Forster and newcomer Bryan Sutton combine to once again keep the sound of pure, simple and classic bluegrass music alive and well.

O’Brien’s lead vocals are smooth and clear, but these guys can harmonize as well as anyone. Never letting ego get in the way of the music, When I’m Free can take the listener to open spaces like the Rocky Mountain landscape art that graces the CD. Wernick’s banjo and O’Brien’s mandolin or fiddle, with Sutton’s fluid and easy guitar mesh seamlessly throughout the work. The opener, Western Skies, is a toe-tapping, upbeat song of hope and freedom. Blue Is Fallin’ is an easy-going, mellow number with a tinge of melancholy. The southwestern-tinged opening notes of Come Away, a plea to refresh and renew a stale relationship, is filled with as much hope as desperation. Sky Rider is a pure fun instrumental the features everyone in the band, and Wernick earns his reputation as Dr Banjo, but in true Flatt and Scruggs fashion, Sutton more than holds his own. Doggone is a fun and bouncy homage to being a free spirit, and the knowledge than change has to come from within. I Never Met A One Like You is a breath of fresh air on meeting a kindred spirit along the road that we all travel in life. O’Brien’s fiddle starts the classic bluegrass style instrumental of Glory In The Meeting House, with Sutton, Wernick and Forster adding their sounds on top, one at a time, layer upon layer in the most delicate manner.

Hot Rize delivers the same sound now that made them famous so many years ago, and perhaps even better. The production is clean and simple from beginning to end. When I’m Free is a testament to the roots and depths of American music. If you like old-time “country” music, folk or even more, traditional bluegrass, then When I’m Free should be on your list of must-get CD’s. Like the Martha White brand of flour (with active yeast called “Hot-Rize”) that the band named itself for in 1978, the band rises with new material that lift the spirits and renew the senses.

Andy Sydow - Trailhead

Taylor Scott - Lonelier With You

The Symbols - Smile

The Trainwreckers - For The Record

Rob Drabkin - Little Steps