[ ISSUE 7 CONTENTS ]
[ GOOD CITIZEN HOME | BIG HEAVY WORLD HOME ]
Ani DiFranco, James Kochalka Superstar, Belizbeha, Breakaway, Chucklehead , Construction Joe, Cranial Perch, Best of the Green Mountain Blues Volume Two, Rachel Brown, Mistle Thrush, Rik Palieri, The Push Kings, ViperHouse
Little Plastic Castle
Righteous Babe Records
By Andrew Smith
There's something about Ani Difranco. Something I can't quite put my finger on...some intangible something that really hits me in the gut. Ever since the day that I ran into Anne Rothwell at Nectars and she said "Andrew, come upstairs and see this woman sing."
I went up to Metronome and sat next to the stage, immediately awestruck. There, alone on the stage, was this short little punk rocker with an acoustic guitar, a voice that could rip your heart out and the words to stomp the very life out of it. I became a forever fan of Ani Difranco. And I did something I have never done before: I went to her merchandise table after the show and bought all four of the CDs she had for sale, and I even paid full retail! I have never regretted the purchase for even a second.
Since that night when I first encountered Ani, she has grown into sell-out tours of the United States and Canada and if I want to see her in Burlington, I have to do it at the Flynn Theatre instead of the intimate confines of Metronome. And as she has grown, her albums have become bigger and better distributed and every release seems like it might be the big one that pushes her over the edge into super stardom. Her new release, the twelve song Little Plastic Castle, is the biggest, glossiest Ani album to date. The full color cover pulls out for about a mile and via the magic of computer art, Ani appears swimming in a fish tank as a goldfish. I have friends who were shocked and taken aback when they first saw the cover and I knew what they feared: was this the album that would finally take Ani away from us and feed her to the masses?
Fear not, my friends, Ani Difranco is completely and totally in charge of her career. And Little Plastic Castle is yet another in a long line of wonderful Ani Difranco albums and contains some of her finest songs to date. The first single "Little Plastic Castle" is a little scary the first time you hear the horns kick in, but it grows on you quickly. When Ani breaks out laughing on the second song "Fuel" she leaves little doubt that she hasn't changed and she still doesn't take herself as seriously as the rest of us might. "Two Little Girls" is a heart-wrenching tale of two friends whose lives go very separate ways and is vintage Difranco. "Gravel" has become my favorite song on the disc (featuring the always fluid Sara Lee on bass guitar) perhaps because it is the closest to solo Ani and seems uncluttered by the presence of a big band. And when Ani ends a line with a quiet "I adore you," well, who doesn't wish she was talking to them?
Andrew Smith only allows himself to get all mushy about one album per issue, and this is it for #7.
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James Kochalka Superstar
Monkey Vs. Robot
By Michael Allen
Comic artist James Kochalka Superstar's Monkey Vs. Robot is practically a greatest hits collection already, with songs like "Bad Astronaut," "President Kochalka," "Keg Party" and "Ballbuster" having made appearances on local compilations throughout the last year. Kochalka is usually a highlight on various artists discs, and in two minute doses his modern-rock novelty songs are welcome alternatives to the angst-ridden majority. Over the course of a thirty song album, however, one might get a little tired of such sophomoric, occasionally moronic humor.
Luckily, this disc is long on track numbers and not quite as long on actual time...clocking in at just over forty minutes, the album ends before it becomes old and features enough musical variety to break things up along the way.
College radio has been eating Kochalka up, and for good reason. Songs like "Hockey Monkey" and "I Am Rock" are damned funny and catchy as hell, too.
Michael Allen is a student at the University of Vermont and has been around long enough to know that "Ballbuster" was recorded for the Burlington Does Burlingon album and that the Pulse was a radio station that played local music because they wanted to.
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By Chris Parizo
Finally something new!!! I think that it is a prerequisite to own Belizbeha's first album Charlie's Dream in order to get into UVM, but we've all been waiting for new Belizbeha for a long time.
If the new, long-awaited full length Belizbeha CD is sex... consider this to be the foreplay. It is a good preview of what is to be expected. Three different versions of the first single "Inhibitions" are found on the new CD; the radio edit, an instrumental track and a DJ Choko remix. For those of you who are thinking "Hey! I got Pulse Cuts Vol. II, which has "Inhibitions" already on it! I don't need to buy this! I got it for free last summer! HA HA HA!!! SUCKERS!!!" Guess again. Because this recording is slicker and is far better than the early version of Inhibitions that appears on Pulse Cuts.
When it comes down to it, the members of Bluesbaha (ugh...sorry...Belizbeha) are talented musicians who are fully capable of holding their own. Shauna and Kadi's vocals are sharp and have more soul than any previous Belizelala (damn... Belizbeha) recordings. But, I have to single one member out: Mark Robohm is the motor behind the band. His drumming style holds the band together and the drum tracks do not get hidden within the mix like in most recordings. He is intense.
If you want to have some fun, put on the instrumental track, grab a shampoo bottle and hold it like a microphone. Now, sing the lyrics at the top of your lungs and put on your very own Velidzblhaha (damn it... BELIZBEHA) show for your cats!!! You can pretend that you are Shauna or Kadi or FATTIE!!! Uh...it's not like I did it or anything...that would be too dorky.
C to the H to the R to the I to the S to the SPACE to the P to the A to the R to the A to the...wait a minute...erase the last A...Okay?...to the I to the Z to the O wishes he had more soul.
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By Timothy Malloy
Being a guitar player myself, I have always gone from genre to genre to try to glean from the different kinds of music something for myself to learn as well incorporate into my own style of playing. In the world of bluegrass, guys like Dave Grisman, Dan Crary, Tony Rice and Ricky Scaggs have struck my fancy the most: these guys can play-I mean P-L-A-Y! There is one more band that I feel should be added to this list: Breakaway.
Breakaway took shape in the area ten years ago and began by playing weekly gigs at Sneakers and with hard work and excellent music they have become one of the most prominent bands in this country's bluegrass world. I believe one of the reasons Breakaway has attained such prominence is due to the fact that the music is neither too molasses-thick bluegrass nor too progressive-jazz grass. It would seem the aforementioned makes this CD both accessible and enjoyable to one that does not normally listen to bluegrass.
The recording itself, most of which was done at Chas Eller's studio in Charlotte, Vermont, is sonically well balanced. When you are recording with an all acoustic ensemble, a good recording comes down to the following: how and where you place the mics-it's not easy. I would have to say the Grammy nominated producer, Tim Austin, placed the mics just fine. The personality is clearly articulated, enhancing the overall sound of the band. The arrangements and harmonies work so well together they transcend style, ultimately reinforcing Watershed's universal appeal.
My favorite track on Watershed is the melancholic ballad "Last Train Redeemer," written by Andy Greene, a South Burlington native, who, in my opinion, is one of the best guitar players the state of Vermont has ever put out. The harmonies and tempo of this ballad exemplify the control and artistry the musicians possess. Technical expertise aside, I feel this particular track brings out the collective soul of what these guys are all about.
In conclusion, if you like any genre of music with an acoustic element, listen up, Breakaway may very well be for you.
Tim Malloy is a long-time Burlington area guitarist. This is his first review for Good Citizen but we're sure it won't be his last.
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By Alex Mayer
According to their press release, Chucklehead are "Boston's undisputed kings of funk." However, now that I've listened to their new CD Belly Up, I highly doubt that they're the kings of anything.
Chucklehead is a band on Wonderdrug Records, but don't expect the usual hardcore offering that you might get from a typical Wonderdrug band like Non Compos Mentis.
Chucklehead combines styles that I like: funk, hip hop, and the smallest amount of something that could be confused for hardcore, and creates a sound that comes across sounding like lounge/elevator music. I get no feeling at all, and the whole album seems to be lacking any real energy. "God Damn" and "Phat Marshmallow" have their good points, and "Mission Control" is kinda cool.
Overall, the songs are really slow and not very well crafted; "It's Allright" is on the verge of easy listening and I don't dig it. Their influences come across in "Freak the Funk." I think that they really want to be Parliament-Funkadelic. In my opinion, the "kings of funk" should be impeached and dethroned.
Alex Mayer is a 17 year old senior at Middlebury Union High School. He is a local musician in two bands and plays saxophone, piano and guitar. Turn-ons are long, moonlit walks on the beach and sushi. Turn-offs include smokers, high talkers and country music. Alex also hits the pits.
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Sonic Dirt Music
By Kevin Murrihy
If 1997 was the year of electronic music, dubbed electronica by the slogan-hungry media, 1998 is already becoming the year of Americana. What does this new buzz-word churning out of the music industry mean? The most inclusive definition I can find is a blend of folk, rock and country with a noticeable edge. If you think this sound could only come from the hills of North Carolina, you're wrong. Cry Uncle, the new release by Burlington foursome Construction Joe, is Americana at its finest.
The disc begins with "Catastrophic Lens," written and sung by Nelson Caldwell, the band's cellist. Caldwell joined the band shortly after they recorded their self-titled debut release. Caldwell's cello and vocal adds a tightness and power not found on the first release. In listening to this foursome, it's difficult to imagine Construction Joe with one less member.
The heavy blending of the band's musical chemistry is apparent throughout Cry Uncle. The sophisticated guitar and lap steel playing of David Kamm takes the spotlight throughout much of the disc. The rhythm section, comprised of Nicole Valcour on bass and Trevor Crist on drums, makes for a strong backbone for the disc, but never overpowers the lead instruments.
The comfort level Construction Joe has reached is obvious: three of the four members sing and all members contributed to the writing of the songs. Each member seems to contribute a personal touch to each of his or her parts whether musically or lyrically. From the sarcastic look into the future of Gereration X entitled "2062," written and sung by Caldwell, to the lonely solo vocals of Valcour on the beginning of "Chair" and "Cousin James," each song is crafted with personal care.
The most noticeable and ear-pleasing aspect of Construction Joe is Valcour and Kamm's harmonizing vocals, best found on "Reason" and "Clouds." Though both tracks differ greatly in speed, their ability to unify their vocals is remarkable. Construction Joe has the impressive talent to write sensitive ballads like "Chair" and "Cousin James," while also penning dancer-friendly rockers like "Big Beat" and "Graveyard."
If you're partial to acoustic roots rock and haven't had the chance to hear Construction Joe, I highly recommend that you make it a priority. Cry Uncle is one of the most beautiful local albums released in quite some time and you need to hear this band.
Kevin Murrihy is a student at St. Michaels College in Colchester, Vermont and he's the host of WWPV's local music show Burlington and Beyond, every Friday night from 10 to midnight. WWPV is 88.7 fm in the Burlington area.
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by Andrew Smith
Whoa. Cranial Perch makes music that is what performance artist Laurie Anderson once called "difficult listening." Difficult could mean that it is complicated and it could mean that it is painful, and in the case of Cranial Perch, it is sometimes both. Cranial Perch challenges the listener and the rewards are great for those who prove themselves up to it. Trust me.
Bass player Dave Jarvis leads off Fringe Benefits with "Lois," one of his beautiful, melodic pop songs. It is a simple and somewhat mis-leading start and the second track "Artemis" is really where the Cranial Perch sound shows up: the droning sax of Peter Danforth, the running bass lines of Dave Jarvis, the heavily effected guitars of Jamie Williamson, the spoken words of Anne-Marie Costa-Mangina and the non-stop drum rolls of Jamie Schefer. Slow build, big climax and then ease into the next song. Rinse and repeat.
I've compared this band to the late-sixties San Francisco unit called It's A Beautiful Day, and I'll do it again. But where It's A Beautiful Day concentrated on the flow of their music, Cranial Perch delight in creating the flow, bringing you into the music, and then jumping you from behind with taunting noise-fests like "Marginal Man." There are certainly listeners who will not appreciate the more in-your-face aspects of the album Fringe Benefits, but there are probably a lot of people out there who, like myself, enjoy a challenge now and then. C'mon, feel the noise. If you dare.
Andrew Smith tried not to write too many reviews for Good Citizen but sometimes he just has to. Get over it. Or just write letters to Vox about him.
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Best of the Green Mountain Blues Volume Two
By Charlie Messing
Well, cancer is a sad thing, and it's great that here in Vermont we have a camp for kids with cancer (Camp Ta-Kum-Ta). I'm glad we musicians can help - the camp receives the profits from sales of this benefit double disk. It's about two hours of stuff, and I hope it sells plenty. It should make a lot of people happy.
As far as reviewing this disk: first of all, I've studied the blues. A lot. I was influenced by many old blues records, have seen some of the greats, and was in a blues band long ago. I'm able to judge many styles in relation to the people, places and scenes from which they originated. On the other hand: I've already heard most of the blues that will ever touch me, and I rarely play blues anymore. I'm a blues burnout. So as far as this thirty-eight song set, I was really listening for something special - I can't just rave in general just because it's blues. Eleven of them stood out.
When the Unknown Blues Band kicks in on track 3, you can tell you're in good hands. Nice song - it's like they're from a whole blues planet somewhere. Bloozotomy, on track 4, is novel and sparky. Nice cheap recording, too. Phil Abair, track 7 - Kip Meaker plays some outstanding leads. Christine Adler, track 9 - lovely voice, really good soul song - nice arrangement! Mark Galbo, track 10 - a nice moody piece. [I am definitely using the word "nice" too much.] Galbo's got a good grasp of country blues - the only country blues on either disk. Derrick Semler, track 14, is smooth - he's got real feeling. The Disciples, track 18, just doesn't seem like a blues tune, it's so pretty and majestic. It's an instrumental. Why's it called "Bob's Truck?"
The second disk starts with three songs by the late Zoot Wilson (and the whole project is dedicated to him). I like the one on track 3 - it's not really a blues, but what the heck. Steph Pappas' song about the highway, on track 7, has a relentlessly experimental approach, odd transitions, weird choked rhythms. It's wild.
(sic), on track 8, does what sounds to me like a conceptual piece with sorta deliberately unpretty vocals. James O'Halloran and Plan B, track 14, play a (nice) jazz blues. Awfully sweet harmonies from the Austin sisters (now in the band Zola Turn). A standout in every way.
Those were my favorites out of the 38 tracks. I made lots of notes about which tracks I didn't like but I figure who cares. At least the objects of my disaffection don't know who they are. It's not really a contest, right?
Good mastering job on this disk. Everybody have a ball, now, okay?
Charlie Messing is a guitarist-singer with the band Be That Way.
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Spirit Won't Fall Down
By Marti Backus
If you are fond of moody, evocative and intensely variable music shot through with often disturbing themes, delivered via sometimes sweet and sometimes piercing vocals, then Rachel Brown's Spirit Won't Fall Down is a CD you will want to hear. If the previous statement sounds enigmatic, so is this album.
Veering erratically between modern hip-hop sounds and quiet acoustic moments, the six song EP produced by David Davinchi and Joey Somerville features a veritable Vermont all-star team of musicians: drummers Jon Fishman (of Phish) and Gary Williams (of Five Seconds Expired) anchor the muscular guitar of Bill Mullins (ex-Chin Ho!, now Barbacoa) throughout the disc. Rhonda Smith (who plays bass for the Artist Formerly Known As Whatever His Name Is Now) guests on one track, and familiar names like Gordon Stone, Ted Jahn, Max Horbar, Jeff Howlett (Non Compos Mentis) and Dan Archer (Pork Tornado, Dude of Life) make appearances.
At times the unpredictable nature of the music is inventive, engaging, intelligent and comes off as rather endearing. At other times it renders the disc somewhat inaccessible to the naive listener. You won't find yourself able to easily hum along with the majority of these tunes on first listen.
There is the cynical "Sweet (Daddy's Little Girl)." It is followed by the lyrical "Tokens of the Dead," ("She's dancin' with the devil inside her own head, with visions of grandeur and tokens of the dead"), which is reminiscent of early Heart. "The Prozac Moment" is a rather dark offering to the demons of the human psyche. It is a spacey and haunting song that suffers from a few spoken lines that are less poetic than one might expect.
The title track "Spirit Won't Fall Down" is my favorite cut from this album. It is a song that is touching enough to inspire gooseflesh in all but the most jaded of listeners, and is performed in a more traditional folk style. I think it is unfortunate that the statement "I screwed up, but..." is included at the end of the song, distracting from an otherwise reverent moment. Happily, Rachael Brown's voice is showcased in this simple tune.
It is the voice of Rachel Brown that is the one constant and strong point of this album. She reminds me at times of Kate Bush, Nancy Wilson, and (more regionally) Nerissa Nield of The Nields. Alternately breathy and piercingly focused, her vocals are powerful and offer impressive range. Her style is quirky and appealing.
It is this writer's sense that Rachel Brown is a writer of music that is introspective, hypnotic, and beautifully simple. However, I find this recording somewhat over-produced. The Nield's album 'Bob on the Ceiling' fell prey to the same mistake. A wise person once taught me the musical truism that "less is more" and I would offer it as advice to Rachel Brown for future recordings.
Marti Backus is a singer/songwriter and all 'round groovy chick who sometimes masquerades as an organizational & behavioral consultant.
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By Carrie Anne Logwood
Okay...this CD is fantastic. Heavily effected moody guitars with a solid bass and drum backing, and a near perfect vocal. The music reminds me of a little more poppy Garbage, a happier Night-blooms or a less dancy Heart Throbs. I'm reminded a lot of the late-lamented band Tribe.
Valerie Forgione knows how to use her deep and airy voice to express a wide range of emotions, expresssing sorrow, love and joy throughout the album. She makes me imagine an American Delores O'Riordan.
All the songs on this CD are enjoyable, I definately will keep this album in my collection. I think that you should buy it, too.
Carrie Anne Logwood is a camera operator for a local news team. When she is not busy singing for the St. Michael's Choir, she enjoys camping with her family or playing the piano.
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Panning for Gold
Azalea City Recordings
By Patricia Braine
Panning For Gold, the new twenty track compact disc from folk-singer Rik Palieri, drips with sunshine next to a stream of life experiences that he has decided to share generously with us. It seems that Rik already found the gold, and it is shining in his heart.
This is my favorite Palieri project to date; blessed with wonderful musicianship from guests like Gordon Stone (on dobro) and Rachel Bissex (on vocals) not to mention the deep, rich, rolling tones of Palieri's own mellow, warm voice.
My favorite songs are the title track, "Plant a Tree," "Child of the '60's" and "Edek's Rooster."
By the way, Rik, there are no rattle snakes in Vermont! Thank God!
The art work on the cover, a three fold design, is reminisant of album covers on old vinyl records. Cool project - from the cover photo by Marianna Holzer to the liner notes by Utah Phillips to the cartoon illustrations by Rik's brother David "Fish" Palieri, this little masterpiece recorded at Little Castle Studio in Starksboro and Ad Adstra Recording in Williston is something Woody Guthrie fans will appreciate.
Those of the folk music world are no doubt giving this CD major airplay. And be sure to check out the bonus track.
Patricia Braine helped found Good Citizen in 1994 and she now lives in Hollywood, California, where she harasses celebrities about Vermont music and forces them to listen to Chin Ho! albums whenever possible.
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The Push Kings
By Chris Parizo
It's pop, of course. Candy pop. Pop rock. Pop Rocks popping on your tongue. Snapping and crackling...feels good, don't it? Of course it does, and so do The Push Kings.
Paul McCartney influence? Yep. It's light, nothing heavy. It's happy, not too sad. Happy pop. It will make you feel good.
They are from Boston. Bean town. Home of the Red Sox. Cheers. It wasn't filmed there, but it took place there. I liked Kirstie Alley better than Shelly Long, and I like the Push Kings.
Chris Parizo doesn't think Sporty Spice is very Sporty anymore. If anything, he thinks that she is slowly becoming Posh Spice. He thinks that the world doesn't need two Posh Spices.
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By Michael Allen
Let's just get this right out of the way: ViperHouse's third compact disc, the ten track Shed, is without a doubt one of finest albums ever released in Vermont. Heady praise, to be sure, but this beautifully recorded collection is clear and precise and yet still relaxed and funky, with a confidence and grace seldom heard anywhere, let alone in our midst. ViperHouse is the shit.
ViperHouse is a ten piece big band for the nineties and beyond. Created by Vermont sax-legend Michael Chorney (Baby's Nickel Bag, Mister Dooley, So Called Jazz Sextet) to perform the musical pieces he wrote for the dance department at Middlebury College, the band has gradually become a democratic process as the members gain confidence and grow in their abilities. Kicking off with Duke Ellington's "Virgin Jungle" and winding its way through seven originals and songs written by Neil Young and Charles Mingus (!), Shed covers a lot of ground yet still maintains a very cohesive whole: slick, slinky and slightly slithery jazz for hipsters of all ages.
"Give It Up" is one highlight worth pointing out: the string work of Karen Quinn on violin and guest Jenny Quinn on viola is absolutely stirring and absolutely beautiful. Heloise Williams' breathy vocals are totally suited for this groovy version of acid-jazz and although she is under-used on this recording, when given the room to move, she makes the most of her moments and "Give It Up" is one of her finest.
Every member of ViperHouse deserves high praise for this album. And this Shed deserves a place in your house, so go out and buy it. Now.
Michael Allen digs ViperHouse. They're good. Go find out for yourself.
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