Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mister Tucker Reviews: Giulia Millanta - Moonbeam Parade

The following music review comes courtesy of friend and writer Marc S. Tucker, carried over from his newsletter VERITAS VAMPIRUS and is NOT of my doing despite being featured on my blog - please keep this fact firmly in mind for future reference.

GIULIA MILLANTA - Moonbeam Parade
Ugly Cat Music
Review written by Marc Tucker - 08/30/2016

Giulia Millanta’s one of those singers who should also be an actress in Fellini or von Trier movies, a cabaretically inclined vocalist dragging rock and roll over to a side alley not too many, unfortunately, have essayed. Those who have, though, have succeeded very nicely - David Bowie, Rupert Wates, Tom Waits, Marianne Faithful, John Cale, etc. - and Millanta can confidently place herself among them, as well as alongside Marlene Deitrich, Edith Piaf, Jane Oliver, Dory Previn, and a few others.

Moonbeam Parade is a 13-act play ranged on an appropriately spare and scattered stage focusing down on the emotional raggedness of our times and wonts. Track titles such as Shaky Legs”, “4th & Vodka”, “Play with Fire give more than a few clues what to expect, with Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide” putting the knife in. Millanta’s tone is alternatingly dreary, cynical, sympathetic, and exasperated. As with all such artists: in the end a Humanist sentiment informs everything but not before a great deal of tough love, doubt, anxiety, and frustration pervade the panoply. In 2016, with world economies collapsing, interpersonal relationships disintegrating, disaster capitalism more vicious than ever, and two lunatics running for the presidency of the most powerful country in world history, that is: a fulsome catalogue of human madness trotting by our eyes, what on Earth should we expect? The arts reflect the times.

A native of Florence, Italy, now resident in Austin, Texas, and a multi-lingualist (she speaks four tongues), as well as a guitarist and…ukelele-ist (what the hell’s the proper term for that, anyway? ukelelian? ukelovian?), Giulia appears to be more than a little the restless and discontent soul, which is all to the good of course, making for a more acute witness to the baboon circus we call life. At the ringing down of the curtain, though, there’s always hope and the locating of signal acts fitfully promising better days. Ironic, then, that the cranky, dissatisfied, and moodily mannerist musical compositions are usually the most resolutely realpolitik, no?

Charlie Sexton (solo, Dylan), Hunt Sales (Paris, Tin Machine, etc.), and Gabriel Rhodes (Willie Nelson) appear as sessioneers along with others, so there’s no steady base unit save for Millanta herself, the chameleonic rosters making for interesting shifts in emphasis, everything sewed together nicely by Millanta’s lyrical, compositional, and arranging hand. This is her fifth release, and the artist’s growing fan base exponentializes each time out, listeners hungering for work well beyond the hideous mainstream corporate machine, here sated…temporarily, until turning into a hunger for the next collection.

One criticism, though. Millanta's working against herself in the art department. Her 2014 Funambulist carried the only liner cover giving the consumer a strong indication and taunt of what might lie within (yes, ‘taunt’, as good marketing either hits you in the face and dazes or teases and seduces), a marvelous piece of atmospheric German Expressionism depicting a phantasmic tightrope walker in greymist. The photo for Dropping Down wasn't bad, a pic of her plummeting thru a dark space, but Dust and Desire featured an amateurishly executed Steadmanesque doodle and this disc, Moonbeam, touts puzzling junior high pencil drawings by the esteemed Rhodes athwart a Laurie Andersony pixie punkette photo of the chanteuse leaning against a wall.

What we’re supposed to get out of that, I haven't a clue nor would anyone browsing CD racks…which is my whole point. Music this good should not go underrepresented any jot or tittle. One of these days, I'm going to publish a pamphlet to help musos who don't understand the graphic arts, the better to get their deserving musics more readily in consumer hands. There's more to that craft than people realize, and it's a good deal more easily accomplished than licensing images from Salvador Dali or Richard Avedon, but, until then, I think I'm going to have to satisfy myself with being exasperated with poor illustrative choices for music warranting much much more, which is my way of prolixly saying: don’t let Moonbeam Parade’s cover fool you. It whispers “amateur” but is waaaaaay past that.


Giulia Millanta’s Official Web-Site

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mister Tucker Reviews: Holon – The Time is Always Now

The following music review comes courtesy of friend and writer Marc S. Tucker, carried over from his newsletter VERITAS VAMPIRUS and is NOT of my doing despite being featured on my blog - please keep this fact firmly in mind for future reference.

HOLON – The Time is Always Now
2016 / Autumnsongs
Review written by Marc Tucker - 08/25/2016

Jesus, Joseph, Mary, all the djinns, and all the dakinis…this one starts off with everything!!! But wait, let me begin with a history backcheck:

Many among we proghedz have been anxiously concerned about the progressive rock mode as an eternally too-evanescent style now perhaps in its terminal phase. That’s kinda appropriate: the old guard fen are composed mainly of a buncha dinosaur Boomers in our last years, hopefully two more decades of ‘em, heading for the tar pits but wistfully rich in nostalgia, having been witness firsthand to one of the most magnificent bloomings of musical intelligence in history: progrock. Though I personally plan to live to 238, having way too much hell to stir up, far more than a mere 8 or 100 or 150 years could accommodate, what, me and the greybeards wonder, will happen after we’re gone? It’s a quandary.

After all, as I never cease to brag, I’ve seen Hendrix, the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Focus, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, the Strawbs, Mountain, Uriah Heep, Iron Butterfly, Blue Oyster Cult (hey, those first 3 LPs are metal prog, goddammit!), Gypsy, Pink Floyd, Alan Holdsworth’s I.O.U., Renaissance, Camel, and more progsembles, semi-progsembles, and fusion groups than I can possibly remember - drugs may be delightful, but, Gawd almighty, do they ever fuck with long-term memory! - and many of them multiple times. After that, I can brag of sitting enthralled as a shitload of big-time progressive others in rock, jazz, and neoclassical went to town: Led Zep, Deep Purple, Philip Glass, Towner & Abercrombie, Oregon, Weather Report [w/Jaco], Al DiMeola, etc., etc. etc., ad infinitum, so many that I literally could fill an entire page with names. So I and compeers know from whence we speak, weeping bitter Cassandran crocodile tears as we mumble and wail.

In the meanwhile, ‘twixt the 70s acid daze and now, a number of dynamite groups have risen and fallen, always too few in number and a little too often a bit too wanting (as in the whole “neoprog” gig, ugh!) and thus a tad unnerving, saved only by the fact that there actually is FAR more great music overall now than ever before, and succeeding generations have been extraordinary in their hybridizations. The Net and all the alt distribution gigs (meaning: anyone and everyone) are now a wonderland of highly intriguing work, more than enough for several lifetimes to absorb in all genres…but… but…a granite-solid Old School prog band is still a very rare thing, especially when it comes to hapless overachievers receiving any shard of decent exposure and the hopeful viability that connotes.

Porcupine Tree’s one, Fish made any number of semi-stabs at post-Marillion re-evocations but settled for melodic hard rock (bitchin’ stuff, too, so hoist a stein in his honor), Saga’s been weaving back and forth (ya gotta love everything they do, but…), and so on. Exasperating! Worrying! Ah, but now comes a major new heavy hitter: Holon, a Norwegian juggernaut that not only revives the 70s but finds new back alleys and carves out fresh porticos in hallowed territories.

“Overture: The Belly of Being” commences in Between’s Carnatic wont, then crafts Gong’s Time is the Key era ostinati evolving Schroeder/Schonwalder cum Paul Brett serialities just as waves of Crimson thunder erupt within what increasingly becomes apparent is an elongated Oldfieldian exploration. A Subtonicky electronic chaos suddenly rises, the wave crests, and everything collapses into an A.J. Charron/Anthony Phillips acoustic interlude with Tull flute floating above.

But don’t relax just yet, ‘cause the song again courses into a melodic pounder, Ronny Pederson’s guitar ripping through the environment as the group chants “Who are we? Where are we?...What are we? Why are we?...Are we playing an untold story?” gently but plaintively, and so existentially jarring that I had to check the liner notes to assure myself the members hadn’t been involved in some dark voodoo shenanigans resurrecting Sartre.

As things continue to wend their way, a definite Flower Kings vibe sets in. Pederson’s leads again slice the clouds, Rhys Marsh’s basswork (democratically shared with Pederson) is a constant throb and his keyboards are atmospheric and generative (lotsa mellotron thru the disc, y’all!) as Geir Johansen’s drums clatter everywhere. Chaos and order ride side by side, competing for the post position and gold ring, the listener frequently white-knuckling while rhapsodic.

Aphrodite’s Child’s vocal work and epic nature (recall the wondrous 666) comes through clearly in “Dancer in the Sky” as backing vocalist Kari Harneshaug shares the foreground with Marsh, who tackles just about all lead vocals during the disc’s entire…70 minutes!, soon replaced by Silje Leirvik in a beautiful set of encantments on “Falling”, Marsh dueting once more. They both drop out, the band ramps up, and we’re back into magisterial refrains, mellotron rising and rising. Harneshaug returns, sounding like Annie Haslam in the throes of deep besetting awarenesses and barrier-crashing, and the tune ends. Whew!

I’ve only covered the first 3-1/2 songs, believe it or not, and, as said, Always Now (a very zen/tao ideation) is well over an hour long, gloriously exhilarating, and so intense so many times that if you’re exhausted by the termination of the concept cycle, then: congratulations! You got it! All the way down to the marrow.

Up until I got this and the cooler-than-cool genius madcap Ear Snacks by Andrew & Polly, I was not going to compose a Best Of 2016 list now that FAME’s gone (those things really are a friggin’ chore, and I hate all the stuff I have to leave out, even with 30 selections), but, beyond those two releases, I’ve been receiving waaaaay too many mind-blowing CDs not to. ‘Sides, my gig at Perfect Sound Forever also favors that kinda thing. So let me reveal well beforehand that this CD will be on it. Sipo knocked my brains out in 2009 (Christ, has it been THAT damn long?) with his Year of the Rose,  for me reminiscent of Aragon’s Don’t Bring the Rain for pure, unbridled, shattering passion. Now Holon has done the same, not in the perennially frenzied degree as Sipo – I don’t know how the guy survived those studio sessions – but in more a crazed academic / philosophical listen-think-decorticate fashion, synapses and neurons flowing out your ears and onto the floor.

I think that alone is enough of a recommendation. I mean, hell, you weren’t doing anything with your grey matter, were you? Of course not! Not with The Quadrennnial Lunatic Derby, America’s mad kingship race, this time a kabuki ‘twixt Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, two sides of the same bent psychotic coin, going on; no, you certainly weren’t. Best, then, that you give yourself over here and now to every scrap of art you can find and hope we survive it all…which, by the way, though not quite stated as I’ve done, is the entire point of Always Now, carrying a very hopeful poetic forecast alongside all the beautifully doomy threnodic realpolitik of much of the instrumental element.


Holon's Official Website

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mister Tucker Reviews: Ally Venable Band – No Glass Shoes

The following music review comes courtesy of friend and writer Marc S. Tucker, carried over from his newsletter VERITAS VAMPIRUS and is NOT of my doing despite being featured on my blog - please keep this fact firmly in mind for future reference.

2016 / Connor Ray Music
Review written by Marc Tucker - 08/01/2016

Okay, so Europe’s got Ana Popovic – and Sweet Lord God Jesus Joseph and Mary, can that woman PLAY! – but we here in the good ol’ USA now have a very surprising wrinkle in Ally Venable, all of 17 years old and fronting a hard blues band that thunders and struts right off the starting blocks. Popovic’s a singer/player formidable to the Nth degree (when you can get 3-1/2 million YouTube views for a 3-1/2 minute song, you’re definitely doing something way right), but Venable just might start putting a sweat on her in this, her debut, ‘cause Ally’s a dynamically solid singer and a shockingly discerning lead axeslinger. By way of pipes, she reminds me of a Maggie Bell (Stone the Crows, solo) or Marge Raymond (Flame) who outdid themselves. At just under 18 winters, Ms. Venable sounds like a road vet of decades of dusty, roiling, hard scrabble experience.

Then there are the atmospherics of Bobby Wallace and his gutsy organ backing up the thundering Elijah Owens (drums) and blood-thick Zach Terry (bass). Popovic looks like a model off the runway (or, um, outta Penthouse magazine) where Venable could’ve been in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the two step outside their physiognomies to forward the work of both the great black blues singers (Etta, Alberta Hunter, etc.) and the pan-racial players in post-Chicago bluesrock. Ana may be more seasoned, but Ally definitely has an unquenchable fire in her belly flanking the sort of brash devil-may-care heedlessness the young greatly benefit by, a attitude saying “Fuck it, I don’t, care, I’m going for it, and good luck to anyone who gets in my damn way!”. She then reaches for the sky…and gets there.

I mean, how else do you account for such a hard-won sound, not only in her but in the professionality of the ensemble in whole as well? AVB’s timbre is solid 70s, and the band could easily have shared stages with Savoy Brown, Chickenshack, Ten Years After, Smith (Gayle MacCormick’s old gig), appearing at the Fillmores, the old Whiskey A Go Go, and etc. The cover photo to his CD’s a bit Cinderella goofy (my guess? no money for good art direction) and doesn’t convey the powerful work beneath it, so if, on that basis, you might think this band’s just another of the billion extent, think again.

Ms. Venable bears close attention ‘cause, given No Glass Shoes, she’s going to be THE woman to make Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and the rest of the gender get serious, the one players like Leni Stern and Mimi Fox will be regarding admiringly through the years as a contender to the throne. From the opening riff of “Trainwreck” to the take on the classic “Messin’ with the Kid”, one of Rory Gllagher’s all-time fave ditties, to the slo-burn and heat of “Love Me like a Man”, you’ll know you’ve been down to the crossroads once this collection of eight cuts winds down. Hopefully, before you’re able to catch your breath, another album will be following hard on its heels.


Ally Venable Band's Official Website

Ally Venable Band'S Official YouTube

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mister Tucker Reviews: Jeremiah Johnson Band - Blues Heart Attack

The following music review comes courtesy of friend and writer Marc S. Tucker, carried over from his newsletter VERITAS VAMPIRUS and is NOT of my doing despite being featured on my blog - please keep this fact firmly in mind for future reference.

2016 / Connor Ray Music
Review written by Marc Tucker - 08/01/2016

Whoa! Waitaminnit! “Jeremiah Johnson?!?!”, you ask, and, yep, his parents named him for the Clint Eastwood movie. Then lad took to St. Louis bluesrock at the tender age of 6, digging the hell out of Clapton, Hank Williams Jr., and one of my all-time faves: Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee (birthname, and I didn’t know this ‘til recently: Graham Anthony Jones). Catch “Flat Line”, “Get It in the Middle”, and others for great examples of Big Al’s influence – Stonedhenge, y’all! So it’s hardly surprising when Blues Heart Attack, Johnson’s fourth release, starts off heavy with “Mind Reader” and pretty much stays that way; not metal, mind ya, but weighty and solid, sincere, driving…and when it’s not, it’s jazzy jump blues a la the early-years TYA.

We all know the late, great, red-haired, pant-tassled Lee was a speed demon, at the time of Woodstock the guy to match, arguably the prime precursor to the latterday shred culture, but those of us who listened to the whole catalogue of the whizbang understand he loved, perhaps even more than the burn-em-up frantic-frets gigs, good full-bodied blues boogie too, tracks with well-chosen chords and much simpler but oh-so-satisfying leads, and Johnson dives straight into the same righteous groove all through his CD, a player favoring taste and lyricism over blurs of chops. No Yngwie Malmsteening going on here!

But the backstory doesn’t end there: catch the Dickey Betts flavors in “Skip that Stone”, and there’s a good deal of Johnny Winter in Johnson’s shout-singin’ (“Summertime”, ”Room of Fools”, “Sun Shine Through”), among other discernable ingredients, not to mention a very Michael Stanley-ish blue collar approach from start to finish…though the Elvin Bishopy “Everybody Party” tosses in grins and good times as the frosting on the blues-berry cake. The band’s a trio (Jeff Girardier – bass, b. vox.; Benet Schaeffer – drums) with a couple session cats in various places plus Tom Papa Ray playing harp on “Skip that Stone”, so the rockin’ ‘n bluesin’ is always straight ahead, gritty, and full bodied. Oh, and Johnson may be a Missouri boy head to foot, born and raised, but that dark indigo cover pic of his tattooed scruffy self under a leather cowboy hat is visual warning there’s a quite decent modicum of Texas Tornado in him as well. The Big Mo is only a stone’s throw from Tejas, and I have a sneaking suspicion he was crossing state lines more than a few times.


Jeremiah Johnson Band - Official Website

Jeremiah Johnson Band's Official YouTube

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mister Tucker Reviews: George Crumb - Voice of the Whale

The following music review comes courtesy of friend and writer Marc S. Tucker, carried over from his newsletter VERITAS VAMPIRUS and is NOT of my doing despite being featured on my blog - please keep this fact firmly in mind for future reference.

GEORGE CRUMB: Voice of the Whale,
A Robert Mugge Film / DVD
2016, MVD Visual
Review written by Marc S. Tucker - 07/29/2016

This is a re-release of film-maker Robert Mugge’s first venture (1976), and what better way could one have chosen to set into motion a debut and career than through the venerable Nonesuch label avant-gardist George Crumb? Voice of the Whale, or Vox Balanae as it’s more formally known, is as important a work as any of Crumb’s earlier masterpieces. I was turned on to the guy through Ancient Voices of Children (1970) and Makrokosmos (1972) after first being brain-whomped by Eric Salzman’s Nude Paper Sermon (1969) (, which ignited my ever-burning aestheticus acquisitivus lunaticus to search out every Nonesuch LP I could find. From that, tracking down Iannis Xenakis’ work and kindred psycho-active sonics was the logical next step - this was, after all, the 70s - among which Crumb’s LPs still stand out like confident beacons, siren songs in a field of scintillating illuminations…albeit sirens from Mars, Procyon, and dimensions yet undiscovered.

This DVD opens straight into one of a set of ongoing slices in a complete performance of Voice/Vox by the Penn Contemporary Players, commencing with an exotic flute solo bearing florid scents of gagaku, Jon Hassell (long before he was brought through the vale by Eno), Pacific Rim essences, whale song emulations, and, of course, pure imagination. The piano steps in Cage-ily, and, though the piece is of terran pensivities, we’re off for the Magellanic Cluster in spacily eerie atmospherics not dissimilar to the deeps of this planet’s oceans. Don’t ask me why, but the performers are masked; perfectly okay with me: we don’t question Harry Partch as to his eccentricities, and so we leave Crumb to his (‘sides, it makes for a great element of dark cabaret).

Then the composer is serially interviewed by Richard Wernick, and the exercise proves to be one of contrasts: the utter mundanity of the composer’s daily self enveloping a core of revelatory insights reaching well beyond his time (and we still haven’t caught up, y’all). George looks just like another of his surname, the famous cartoonist Robert Crumb, while sounding like a non-nasally, non-whiny, non-pretentious, non-asshole William F. Buckley; in George’s case: quiet, conservative in tone, not at all full of himself, a very pleasant contrast to today’s over-the-top rock-n-rolling interviews wherein everything in sight and earshot is predicated upon branding, merchandising, and upsell rather than art. My, how radically things have changed in just a few decades.

Mugge completely eschews MTV consciousness, not branding a damn thing, thank God, and is, in more than one sense, the Errol Morris of music films, not in Morris’ work as a journalistic filmographer per se but rather as a documentarian in exposures of different but similar nature: first of portraits of those working outside the mainstream and then of ongoing prolific preservations of sonic Americana, the side of the sphere that doesn’t get the sun it should. In the former, among those obscurer creatives you’ll find documentations of Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, and of course George Crumb before veering into the trad-cats ‘n kitties with Ruben Blades, Elvin Bishop, Robert Johnson, and Rosie Ledet amid a treasure trove of blues, reggae, zydeco, N’awleans, bluegrass, and other modes celebrated in concerts, modern histories, and tributes.

This DVD of Mr. Crumb is among the more crucial of Mugge's works, as visual imprints of a-v musics being performed are rare and invaluable…‘n, man o man, I’d love to see the score sheets the pianist is playing from!: they look bizarre as hell, something Wernick correctly cites as “calligraphy”. More, Voice of the Whale is an illuminating peek into Crumb’s personal life, which was as plain and Levittown as any blue collar workaday despite that famed psychedelic oeuvre: we see him playing Frisbee, in duet with cellist/pianist son David, his wife taking time away from the laundry and lunch preparations to speak about her husband, and so on. Mr. Mugge captured a moment that existed, my friends, in a much different time. Would that more had followed his example, we'd be much richer for the move.


George Crumb's Official Website

Robert Mugge's Webpage For The DVD