monoblogue music: “The Wild” (single) by Paul Maged

Back in 2014, the first year I did monoblogue music, you may recall that Paul Maged’s release “Diamonds & Demons” was my pick for the best album I reviewed during that year. When I did the review I noted, “(T)his is perhaps the best example of straight-ahead rock and roll I’ve come across.”

So when I got word that Maged had put out a new single last week, I was pleased to get the opportunity to take a listen. In “Diamonds & Demons” Paul had a nice share of songs that were somewhat harder and edgier, and this is the path he’s chosen on “The Wild.” As Maged writes, it’s a single that “bridges his last album and his forthcoming album.” Assuming this is so, we may not have to wait a very long time for the new music: according to a Tweet Maged put out on February 20, he is working on the eighth song for the album, a tune he described as “quite Beatlesque.”

So what did I think of “The Wild”? Yes, it’s very edgy and it does rock out. I think some may quibble that he oversings it just a little bit, but bear in mind that he describes the song as one “in which he dives in head first to explore the mind and the brain at the exact moment we lose control; the state of anger and despair we reach when we lose command of reasonable thought.” In that context, being a little frenetic is good and I’m sure he will tone it down for the ballads and pop-rockers he will surely feature on his forthcoming release, whenever it comes out.

Because Paul put out a music video simultaneous with the release of the single you don’t have to take my word for it but you can listen for yourself.

So I’ll have to keep an eye out for the next Maged album to see how it stacks up. While I don’t consider singles for my top 5 end-of-year list, if this single is any indication of how the album will be my take would be so far, so very good.

monoblogue music: “New American Century” by Midwest Soul Xchange

When I saw the name Midwest Soul Xchange, somehow it made me think of Motown and those ubiquitous hits from nearly a half-century ago. But this band of two players with Midwestern roots but distant addresses (Ryan Summers lives in Wisconsin while Nate Cherrier recorded his parts in Arizona) instead draws on a wide number of influences to create an album which sounds surprisingly tight given the manner in which it was put together.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the effort is the song they selected as the sampler single, Roots. This somewhat ponderous track would not have been my first choice to introduce the band. Because I had a reviewer’s access, I first heard the lead song to the album called Set A Course For Common Worlds, a bouncier but midtempo song that to me is more representative of the overall sound. Another similar choice would have been Occupy The Piper, which features some nice harmonies within.

Nor was I completely sold on the tracks which served as the ballads, the closing song Four Score And Seven To Go and She Flies, which slides into a short rework of the chorus called The Return. These don’t seem to have quite the staying power as Kings Among Kings, which I enjoyed for the storytelling and wistful tone of remembering days gone by. It steps a little into Bruce Springsteen Glory Days territory with its concept but fortunately realizes that and runs away quickly.

I did find the pair had a sense of humor with the brassy, quirky song Has Anybody Seen Bob? As far as I know, they are still looking for the son-of-a-gun and that’s important because $63.05 is still a nice chunk of change. (You have to listen to get the reference.)

There are eleven songs on this debut album, which came out just before Thanksgiving. Although I’m not a Pink Floyd fan by nature, you could hear their influence in a couple of the songs I enjoyed most. Sun Dried has an exotic open that becomes a slow but heavy rocker with atmospheric keyboard and wailing guitars. Similarly, Truth Attention takes about a minute to kick in but has a good payoff in the end.

The album’s highlight, though, is the song immediately afterward. With its sinister-sounding keyboards providing a haunting melody to complement its pounding rhythm, Revolt Of The Guards seems to send the message of the band’s vision of the new American century. When the guitar outro comes in, it’s a song that gets your attention.

So while “New American Century” has a few weaker links, I still think it’s a well-crafted album. There is certainly enough potential there to anticipate more from these two in the future because the marriage of keyboards and guitar and its unique sound has been too long ignored in the music business. These guys have been billed as folk meets prog rock, but I think they lean a long way in the latter direction and that’s a sound we could stand to hear more of.

By the way – it’s sort of a cheat, but if you go the MSX website and sign up for updates you can download all 11 tracks so you don’t have to take my word for it – just listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: 2015’s top 5

After last year’s successful run of music reviews that culminated in a top 5 list at the end of last year, I have a full year’s worth of material to sift through. I decided to stay with a top 5 list as I did in 2014, but there will be a couple honorable mentions this year. It was tough to determine the best five out of a core group of seven so I added that extra little feature.

While my roots are in hard rock and metal, I’ve found that good music comes in a lot of different genres. It’s a diversity reflected in my list.

I want to begin with my two honorable mentions, which were both intriguing efforts from musical veterans: the self-titled “Delta Deep” that I reviewed June 27 and the final release I reviewed this year back on November 21, “Family Matters” by Billy Crain. I liked them both a lot because they proved older rockers can still put out good music while straying a little bit out of their comfort zone.

Both were good, and it was tough to exclude them from this group. Yet after going back through all the reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here is your top 5 for this year.

5. “Big Man” by Idiot Grins

Original review: October 31.

This album presented something very unique as it combined the classic soul and rhythm and blues sound of the 1960s paired up with classic country. Neither are generally my cup of tea, but this was presented in such a way that I appreciated the musicianship and songwriting ability of this Oakland-based group. There are so many directions they can go with this sound, but here’s hoping the hipsters get to appreciate music as it used to be written and performed.

They enlisted the help of several big-name Bay Area players on the album, and with their assistance they put out a record that sets the bar high for future releases.

4. “This Book Belongs To” by The Liquorsmiths

Original review: August 8.

Staying out in California, this album by an already-signed group seemed to me something that would translate well to a live show. Since I did the review in August, The Liquorsmiths did a short fall tour stretching from Oklahoma to the length of the West Coast so they’re beginning to see some success based on this album, which highlighted their intersection of folk and country music. There’s also the inevitable Dylan comparisons based on the vocals.

It wouldn’t shock me to see a full-length release from the band in 2016 as they begin to work their way up the alternative music ladder. As I noted in the review, the singer did five other songs as part of the deluxe edition so they have that base to begin from.

3. “You Said” by Tumbler

Original review: September 19.

This album had one of the best backstories attached, as it was the outgrowth of family time spent by a middle-aged onetime touring musician who settled down, started a family, and turned his talents to playing in the family kitchen. Years later, with the assistance of one of his sons, we got this album.

The tales told in these songs range from the sweetly sentimental to the humorous, but it’s an album that appeals more to the adults among us who know what it’s like to raise kids and hope they maintain the values they were taught at home. Among those graces was a nice thank-you note from Richard Grace (the father) himself. (No pun intended.) I already knew the album had a shot at my top five but it was nice to let you readers know that, at least in this case, the artists read the reviews as carefully as I write them.

2. “Smokin’ Voyages” by Space Apaches

Original review: September 5.

This is what happens when session musicians decide to have some fun. This album has a combination of crankable rockers and covers of songs you may have heard once upon a time but aren’t foremost in mind.

From start to finish, there were enough twists and turns that the album kept my interest. It was described to me as a psychedelic version of the Eagles but there was so much more to enjoy.

After all, with a cover like this the guys don’t take themselves too seriously. They don’t tour all that often but if you’re in that area and they have a show it is likely worth the time.

1. “Inky Ovine” by Jas Patrick

Original review: October 24.

At the time I reviewed this, my computer situation was such that I had to put the tracks on my Dropbox to review this. They are still there, so if you couldn’t tell I’m still digging on this two months later.

Since I wrote the original review, and knowing how much I liked this album, I took some time to listen to his two earlier releases. Let me tell you that Patrick has hit his stride on this album. While his second release was a little better than the first, “Inky Ovine” was leaps and bounds better so I hope Jas can make the next one something that is a commercial success. And I hope his touring schedule brings him to Salisbury, Maryland sometime in the next year. (That’s my lobbying. Headquarters Live, make it happen.)

That, folks, is what I called the cream of the crop when I did this last year. I think that, for various reasons, I’ll end up with about the same number of reviews next year so hopefully good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise I’ll have a new top 5 next year and a tough time making those decisions.

monoblogue music: “Family Matters” by Billy Crain

There is a story behind every song, and oftentimes the best songs are the ones that tell the best stories. As a musical veteran, Billy Crain has a lot of stories to tell and the album “Family Metters” is his latest rendition. When someone claims in their bio, “I’ve received royalty checks for as little as 15 cents and as much as $80,000,” you expect the tales to be good – and these are.

The nice thing is that Crain doesn’t have to reach far outside his family or faith to do so.

It’s interesting, though, that the guitar licks Billy made his living with aren’t the dominant feature of this album. Most of the songs are keyboard-driven, which could be explained by the fact this is truly a DIY effort: with the exception of the song Lucky Penny, the album is written, produced, mixed, and engineered by Crain, who did all the programming and instrumentation. (Lucky Penny, which is a song inspired by the Sandy Hook massacre, was co-written by Crain and his wife Sandy.) So perhaps the fact Crain and his wife have fostered and adopted two children after theirs grew up and moved away would explain the opening to the first song Dark House, which sounds like it was inspired by the children’s song This Old Man. We learn a little more about that renewed parenting in the title track later in the album.

Whether it’s the True Beauty of his wife, the brotherhood of his first band he describes in Road Warriors, or the mixed emotions of watching his friend take every day of his fight against cancer as a blessing in Glory (Jim’s Story), we get a backstage pass into Crain’s life. Everyone knows a mom like Hurricane Helen or someone like Crain describes in Wilder Things.

But some of the best inspiration comes at the end, when Crain praises the Christian life of Joe Parker and reveals what he learned from a black man. Being from Tennessee, that was a sore subject of Crain’s youth but we are all overcoming it. Finally, he deals with the stigma of unwed birth in 1928, back in the era such things were taboo. It’s not for us to be judgmental.

Another neat thing about Crain’s efforts is that he uses much of his gain for bettering others. “Family Matters” is Crain’s fourth solo effort, and he’s used what he’s made from some of the others to assist an orphanage in Haiti or babies with fetal alcohol syndrome in Tennessee. Some of the proceeds from this album helped to send a mission group from his church to Colombia. If royalty checks like those he described are still coming in, there’s no doubt he can use his talent to bless others.

On the whole, this album is full of good stories and upbeat music, but as always I invite you to listen for yourself. As we start to think about family and faith in this Saturday before Thanksgiving, I suspect you’ll be glad you did.

monoblogue music: “Walls” by Ban Hatton

In an off-putting sort of way, this is a good, well-crafted album. This despite the fact that it’s a collection of “not quites” – not quite country, not quite folk, and not quite acoustic. Poor Hatton seems to sing a lot about not quite having relationships as well, as this is a collection filled with poetic odes to lost loves. In some curious manner, though, he makes it all work for ten solid, reflective songs.

“Walls” kicks off with the brief, country-tinged Backed By The River before switching gears into the lively, harmonica-flavored Brothers and upbeat Going Home. Along with the snappy drum line of Plastic Dreams, these are some of the less somber songs on the album.

It was also about that point I began to notice Hatton employs an interesting technique of building his songs, adding instruments at times you wouldn’t expect. In the case of my pick for best song on the album, She’s Gone, Hatton starts with acoustic, brings in bass early on, adds harmonica at the first bridge, and drums at the second so that it’s a rocker by the end. This is something other artists employ, of course, but Hatton’s approach is more unique than most. He’s credited with playing everything but the drums, so it was likely the tracks were laid separately and added after the basic acoustic guitar.

Whether it’s a brief full-band bridge on Oncoming Lights (for Casey), the harmonica midstream on I Feel Fine (Everything’s Alright), the drumbeat on Roanoke, or the brief full-band with electric guitar on Coast To Coast, Hatton builds the songs with the acoustic then adds the other instruments as fluorishes, generally at the bridge between stanzas. Only Wish I Had The Sense, the last song, stays almost exclusively acoustic, with just a bit of maybe a mandolin featured. Naturally this style lends itself to playing solo in small venues, which is where the lyrics can shine.

Ban Hatton isn’t a household name in the music business, and I don’t quite think this compilation will quite make him one. But like many of his songs, I think this is the first step in a progression which may lead him to more regional exposure – frankly, being from Virginia I’d be surprised if he hasn’t played someplace around here before. If not, this may be the time to road-test these stories of heartbreak.

So listen for yourself, and if you like it give the poor guy something to write a happy song about.

monoblogue music: “The Nature Of Us” by Joel Ansett

If you were to check out the lead single to this forthcoming release (it’s set to drop November 23) you would think Joel Ansett is putting out a fun, adult-contemporary album. Already In Love has that sort of groove, a radio-friendly song (of course) with a bit of a jazzy touch. Paired up with the initial song on the release, Kingdom Come, which opens up in acapella fashion before the snapping fingers, horns, and funky upbeat come in, and you would imagine this as an album that under a more known and marketed artist would likely sell by the truckload.

Yet when the slow, somewhat ponderous third song Turn to Gold begins in acoustic fashion, it’s a signal that the mood turns like the autumn leaves the song refers to. (Just as an aside, the references in several songs lead me to believe a lot was written this time last year, as many begin to transition out of the colorful fall into early winter.) Following that line of thinking, My Heart Is Set serves as the Indian summer with its bouncy keyboards carrying the tune.

Don’t go thinking I hated the rest of the set, though. Once you get past the little bit of a bait-and-switch, you’ll find some nice numbers – just not quite what I expected. Covered Up is a good, downtempo song with just a touch of harmony, while In the Eye picks things back up a little bit with good lyrics.  My only complaint on that song is that if you use the spoken sort of call-and-respond we hear on many modern songs, make it so they can be heard and understood. Another good uptempo song is The Cycle, which even gets a touch of more old-school rapping toward the end.

The latter half of the set is ruled by the more acoustic side of Ansett, though. Tragedy Is Not The End is, as you would expect, a ballad where Ansett sings hopefully, “I don’t think it’s an accident/That tears are shaped like seeds.” Never thought of it that way. Give Our Hearts Some Weight is also a slow one, while New York is a nicely done tribute to the city where Ansett asks God to “save New York first.” (Interesting since Ansett is now based in the Denver area, although he’s lived in several other places.)

This acoustic side is best highlighted, though, with the last two songs: Wonderfully Made, which is indeed with the great inclusion of some female harmony toward the end, and Kings & Queens, which swells to its climax before fading out to close the set.

If you like a wide variance of tracks in one package, this could have a song for you. While the choice and order of tracks may be one of my quibbles (for example, I would have probably switched the placement of Turn to Gold with Wonderfully Made) the music itself is very well-produced and crafted. (In that respect having a Kickstarter campaign that raised $25,000 in a month helped.) The single may not completely represent the whole, but on balance this one still can be a winner.

monoblogue music: “Big Man” by Idiot Grins

The name of the band alone should be worth something.

But the record itself takes a tack that may be one of the most intriguing of any collection I’ve heard in a long time. It starts out as a throwback to those old stacks of wax your parents may have accumulated – those big, brassy mixtures of soul and R&B that regularly found the top of the charts before disco took a sledgehammer to that scene and rap then came along to douse it with gasoline and watch that m.f. burn.

Now the one thing I can quibble over as a matter of personal preference is that the song titles often have no reference to the lyrics. But whether it’s the harmonies of How To Get To (Baltimore), the peppiness of Stack This, or some nice slow-dancers in Big Man, All Alone, or One Reason, the initial eight songs are a refreshing homage to that bygone era. If it were just an eight-song EP and you liked that retro brand of music, you would be pleased with the result.

But then comes Paso Robles, Ovaltang, and Sour Man. After you figure out these guys have the chops to do that old-fashioned soul music, they throw in the curveball on those last three tracks of borrowing liberally from the country music of that era. As I listened, it was an amazing transformation as they slowly worked the R&B elements back in. To turn a phrase, I was sitting there with an idiot grin on my face trying to figure out for the life of me how that combo came up and how they pulled it off.

I also must say that the lyrics were thoughtful at times. Two good examples were the questioning of God, asking for “one reason you put me here” (from One Reason) or the lament of “you made a sour old man/from a boy once sweet” from Sour Man. Overall, there are some challenging topics brought into the music, although when I saw the first song referred to Baltimore I was expecting something other than what I got – and that’s good. No sense getting the reviewer mad on track 1.

So let me revise and extend my earlier remarks based on the last two paragraphs. If you like something that’s rather unique and varied, you’ll probably like this album. It certainly surprised me. As for the combination, Idiot Grins guitarist and album producer Randy Strauss explained, “Soul and country come from the same place – the heart.”

I can’t give you the whole thing to listen to, but I can give you the single Poppy Piss. (Don’t ask me on the name.) It may be just one, but surely you can hunt them down on social media and beg for more.

monoblogue music: “Go By Myself” by Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders

I guess I’m becoming an old hand at this because I’m now doing subsequent releases from artists I’ve previously reviewed. Last year I took a look at Australian country-rocker Billy Roberts and his band, and was impressed enough that “The Last of the Originals” made it into my top five for the year.

However, I cautioned in that review that Roberts needed to work on his vocal range because he sings in a monotone fashion, and this album only has a few points of modest improvement. Perhaps the best examples of writing to suit his voice come on Who Do You Think You Are and the title track, where he moans about going by himself “from a world gone wrong/from a love gone bad.”

Yet if you listen strictly to the music, it could be argued that Roberts is stepping back a bit from the country side of country-rock and going in an edgier direction. Menacing guitar has always made me enjoy a song more, and that is used to good effect on the opening song Beat Down and Broken. While you may hear quite a bit about the subject in that genre, Driving doesn’t come across as a country song, either. From The Ashes is the best example of a country rocker.

If there is one aspect where Roberts stays within his classic country influences, though, it’s in the heartbreak and desolation he writes about. Be warned: this isn’t an upbeat album. The resignation of Forget About Me, lamenting about missing Kayla, singing about Hard Times, the snarly mood of Seen It All Before – it all comes to a somber climax on Goodbye Old Friend, which closes the set.

One song that got me, though, was Gone To The Dogs, because it’s about Detroit – and to a large extent he’s right. I could make a political case why, but that’s for other posts. (If you’re one of those who come here strictly for music reviews, understand that most of my other content is political and I grew up an hour south of Motown, so that song had a particular appeal.)

There are artists who have scored big even without vocals that could win “The Voice,” and it’s because they write songs catering to their strengths. There are also those who lead the band and don’t sing, hiring a vocalist and concentrating on writing great music. Knowing this was a second effort, I was a little disappointed that the move forward was so modest because the vocals actually regressed a bit in my mind. I liked “The Last Of the Originals” a lot in 2014, but this latest release is a step or two back.

As always, I invite you to judge for yourself. Maybe this album won’t make my top five this year, but musically I like the direction Billy Roberts is taking – here’s hoping next time he puts it all together.

Weekend of local rock volume 66

(As opposed to Order 6-D6, a long-defunct local group I really liked.)

I’m not going to stretch the definition of local too much with this much more brief look back at the Autumn Wine Festival, but it will do a lot of bending to the rock part. Here’s the six-band lineup over the two days.

We  got things underway with alex&shiloh, who perhaps were the most conventional acoustic group there insofar as style and playlist. I think they have done the bar stage at the Good Beer Festival, which is a handy measuring stick for that sort of thing. You’ll have to deal with the sun-splashed photos – the stage faces more or less northwest so the sun is behind it most of the day.

They yielded to the familiar local strains of Randy Lee Ashcraft. He’s been around long enough to become a legend around these parts by being not quite country but not so much rock, either. Just good listening, I guess.

Last up on a pleasant Saturday was Front Page News, which cranked out a number of familiar tunes.

They had the biggest crowd of the weekend.

Sunday started with its perennial opening act, the Backfin Banjo Band. They always start out with standards and take requests.

Instead of playing the middle on Saturday as they did last year, Such Fools played their unique style on Sunday.

We wrapped things up with the danceable On The Edge, and we needed something to dance to just to stay warm as the temperature struggled to get above 50 and we endured a couple brief showers while they were up.

Originally I thought the Sunday lineup was exactly the same as last year, but upon further review I found Such Fools switched days. Still, out of six bands three were holdovers from 2014. In fact, it seems like the turnover for the event is shrinking, and the last non-local act they took a chance with was Tim Reynolds and TR3 two years ago. Certainly I’m the first to support local music, but variety is the spice of life and the AWF used to bring in some interesting acts – onetime Bad Company touring bassist Paul Cullen played here a few years back, as I recall.

By design the Autumn Wine Festival features many of the same Maryland-based vineyards year after year. But does it have to keep the same bands, too?

monoblogue music: “Inky Ovine” by Jas Patrick

I have no idea who or what “Inky Ovine” is, but whatever its inspiration was to musician Jas Patrick I want to see more of it.

There are only six songs on this EP, which is sort of a shame. But the first three are 15 minutes and 29 seconds of a musical ride that takes you from the sassy blues mashed up with a heaping helping of Southern rock that is Harpy to the more melodic power pop of Party Line (Classified) before letting you off with the reggae-flavored title track – yes, there is a song called Inky Ovine.

But take about five minutes and tell me Harpy doesn’t go down smooth like fine whiskey. The video, by the way, is also Patrick’s creation. (It’s more than a little strange, though.)

On the homeward side of the EP you have the sweet ballad Little Bug before the collection takes another musical turn into the effects-driven Didn’t Ask – a rare rock song where a pedal steel guitar feels in place. The cool thing about the song is the changeover in its second half, which reminded me of the technique often used on the early albums of prog-rockers Yes.

Perhaps the song with the broadest appeal, though, may be the closing track Snow Day. It’s the finale of the 6-song collection, but the good news is that Patrick is working out eight more for an LP release at an unspecified time.

As the story is told, Patrick was so disappointed in his last EP (“Tributaries,” released in 2012) due to the lack of studio time he could afford that he scrimped, saved, and finally outfitted his own home studio before turning to the actual music-making. Patrick plays everything on this EP except the bass and pedal steel guitar, which makes me curious about what he does for a band while touring.

And speaking of touring, Patrick is on the road quite often in the Midwest and South. In looking up his schedule, I noticed he has an upcoming show in Eaton, Ohio. While it’s been 30 years since I’ve been to the seat of Preble County – it was usually the last town I went through on my way to college down U.S. 127, and seemed to be a respectable little place – I have to say that if this guy can play in Eaton he can definitely play in Salisbury and I would look forward to it.

Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself and enjoy.

Weekend of local rock volume 65

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, and what once was a monthly (or sometimes weekly) feature is down to two or three a year. As a guy I know would say, that’s a shame.

I also know it’s unusual to have WLR on a weekday, but this weekend I’m going to take a break from politics and do an all-music weekend – WLR today and Sunday sandwiching a music review tomorrow. Next week you may get the treat of two because I have a backlog of music to review. Besides a somewhat humdrum municipal election, it’s a quiet political time right now.

I’m starting with an event that’s become somewhat of a musical dynamo thanks to its two-stage setup, the Good Beer Festival. It featured twelve acts, with the bar stage primarily hosting acoustic acts while the main stage had full bands.

Bear in mind I also work the event so I don’t get to hear every song. Some of these are more detailed than others, but I always like to lead with the schedule to help keep track.

So I begin with the acoustic stylings of Phil Portier, who opened up on the bar stage. I will say I knew the Joe Jackson song he opened with so I could insert the “where?” at the proper place.

On the other end as Phil wrapped up was Paper To Planes, an acoustic duo hailing all the way from Kansas City.

I believe Don Adler was playing the GBF for the second or third time. But I didn’t get to see him play the unusual instrument at his feet.

Sam Birchfield was the first group where I noticed the merch table.

The Coteries at the bar stage also had merch. The New Jersey-based trio was disappointed they didn’t get to enjoy more of the event because of New Jersey traffic. They have several shows set up, which you’ll see if you look closely.

Wrapping up things on Saturday were local favorites Uprizing.

Having a local group to close in the prime slot was a little unusual. Previously they had reserved it for an up-and-coming band touring the region. I’m not sure if this will be a trend, but I liked the old approach better.

Whiskeybelly got Sunday started with an acoustic/electric combo – and a couple broken strings, which they laughed about.

On the other side, the GBF went country with the local group Haleytown – population 5. (The sign is a neat touch.)

Chris Diller set CDs and stickers at each table, and hoped people would fill the guitar case.

It always intrigues me how a guy can play so many instruments at once – needless to say, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

On the main stage was the group I thought stole the show, Sub-Radio Standard. It was the group I would have expected to close out Saturday.

Ken Wenzel was the headliner, if you will, of the bar stage. He played songs off the CD.

The Will Overman Band did their country best to wrap things up. I wish I had slipped around backstage to get a photo of “Big Red” – a 1970 Chevy Suburban they tour in.

So I was a little loose with the definition of “rock” in this one. Next year may be the year to just put the rock bands on Saturday and the country stuff on Sunday, since it seems to be getting about equal billing now.

On Sunday I look at the music from the Autumn Wine Festival.

monoblogue music: “The Minstrel” by Nemo James

If I were to simply judge this record on the storytelling quality of its lyrics, this would be a winner. Nemo James weaves a number of pleasant tales as a good minstrel would in a 17-song epic which runs over an hour.

Alas, I have to judge on the package as a whole and musically this effort falls somewhat short. I suppose if you’re looking for pleasant, innocuous background music for listening to the stories Nemo weaves it’s a fair enough composition, but after a run of reviewing several good albums in a row this one didn’t seem to have what it takes. Every so often you would get a little bit of brass or some strings within a track but it seemed like they were added for effect rather than integrated into the whole. At this point it’s worth pointing out that James’s album notes only credit him as guitarist and drummer Chuck Sabo, with remaining instruments credited to James and “software.” That perhaps explains the very flat texture.

That description seems to be missing a little bit, though. Pride works reasonably well as a duet between James and a female vocalist, while I Wonder has a nice bluesy feel to it. I also liked the more upbeat feeling of Little Tin Box with its witty lyrics about the age-old problem of having more month than money.

But those highlights aren’t enough to save an album which has more than its share of annoyances. For example, I couldn’t tell whether the drummer or the production was at fault for the little clicking noises that plagued some of the songs.

At the end of Forbidden Fruit, James sings, “This song has no ending/It just goes on and on.” I hate to say it, considering Nemo did “The Minstrel” after an extended break from the music business, but somewhere around track 10 I was beginning to feel the same way. Aside from the lyrics, these songs don’t challenge the listener to find nuances or stray far from a comfort zone. Simple arrangements are one thing, but they still demand a good performance – how many groups have made it big on just a few chords?

I think James would have been better suited to release the strongest five of these as an EP to whet the appetite and work on providing more beef to the other twelve. In this era of .mp3 the old ideal of a 2 1/2 hour magnum opus like Guns n’ Roses did with “Use Your Illusion” (taking an example from my own CD collection) is outmoded like the Commodore 64. A lot of those songs are great, but out of 30 songs G ‘n R did there are a handful that shouldn’t have made the cut – so the case is here. But your thoughts may differ, so I encourage you to listen for yourself.