MUSIC REVIEWS: Spiritual Jazz Compilation, Strange Boys, Bell X1, The Vines
I hate to admit it but I must: I’m not a fan of jazz. Sure, I appreciate the music and the musicians who play it and there are certain tunes that stand out for me (I do have a thing for Vince Guaraldi) still I don’t know all that much about this truly American art form. Spiritual Jazz-Esoteric, Modal & Deep Jazz From The Underground 1968-77 is a perfect CD for a guy like me, in fact, it will probably be an eye-opener for even the most ardent jazz fan.
Opening with the urban clarinet drive of the James Tatum Trio Plus’ “Introduction” all the way to the scat mayhem of the Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble, this is a rich CD indeed. Lloyd Miller’s “Gol-E Gandom” with its frightening beautiful santur intro and later lead (the santur is a 72-string Iranian instrument), The Morris Wilson Beau Bailey Quintent “Paul’s Ark” with its perfect horns and unbelievable drumming of Tony Moreno and ‘be bob’ of the The Frank Derrick Total Experience’s “No Jive”-one of my favorites here-really fleshes out a CD of all different types of tunes.
As this CD’s booklet attests, “Existing completely under the critical radar and largely ignored or unknown by jazz fans and critics alike, most of the musicians featured in this album won’t be familiar to even the most seasoned jazz aficionado.”
This may be true, still, Spiritual Jazz-Esoteric, Modal & Deep Jazz From The Underground 1968-77 is one CD that needs to be heard.
First, this isn’t an album. This is four friends sitting around in their garage and jamming, and in this case that’s not a good thing. Ryan Sambol (guitar and vocals), Matt Hammer (drums), Philip Sambol (bass), and Greg Enlow (guitar) form the Strange Boys, an odd little throwback to the garage lo fi rock of the 60’s. If we had to move forward under the assumption that the Strange Boys are in fact a valid band, I suppose we could look at The Strange Boys and Girls Club as 16 variations on Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm.” Except, Ryan Sambol’s strangled vocals somehow manage to make Dylan look like Susan Boyle.
I wanted to like this album. I like a lot of 60’s classic rock, but this just doesn’t work. Music evolved for a reason and nothing on this album is stirring enough to make it worth the time trip. You’re better off actually putting on some old Dylan, Kinks, or Birds. The only thing that the album has going for it is some irony in mixing the classic 60’s rock sound, usually associated with peaceful and harmless lyrics, and putting out some darker stuff such as “They’re Buliding Death Camps,” “Heard you Want to Beat Me,” and “They Should Have Shot Paul.” (If this is a Beatle’s reference, it’s in horrible taste, not funny, and inaccurate: clearly they should’ve shot Ringo.) Sadly these boys might be too strange for me.
After really liking the song “Rocky Took A Lover” from their previous album Flock, I was excited to hear Bell X1’s new album. Blue Lights on the Runway is Irish rock band Bell X1’s fourth release. The album already features the band’s most popular single, “The Great Defector,” which peaked at number 3 on the Irish singles chart. The band began as Juniper and initially featured Damien Rice., then changing its name to Bell X1, named after the first plane to break the sound barrier. After Brian Crosby left following their third album, the band now features Paul Noonan, David Geraghty, and Dominic Philips. Paste Magazine has even called Bell XI one of Ireland’s greatest bands.
I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I just don’t like this album much – there are several pretty ballads like “Light Catches Your Face” and “Amelia” while “The Great Defector” is catchy, and many songs incorporate piano and a horn section. But the album as a whole just feels like absolutely nothing new with a mostly adult contemporary boring sound. Any edginess that was present on their last album is gone. If you do happen to be a fan, the band is currently on its European Tour, with US Tour dates planned but nothing announced.
Hearing about The Vines new album, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to hear what the band that gave us “Reptilian” had next. Then I realized that was The Strokes. But I was not deterred! Surely this was the band responsible for “Tick Tick Boom,” a favorite of mine- alas The Hives wrote that one. So just who the hell are The Vines? I wasn’t far off: comprised of Craig Nicholls singing, Ryan Griffiths playing guitar and keyboards, Brad Herald laying down some solid bass lines, and Hamish Rosser on drums, The Vines got lumped in with those other bands for their garage rock style and deadpan vocals. They have since fallen from grace after a strong 2001 debut.
Listening to Melodia, it’s easy to see why. While it’s not terrible, it’s perhaps too straightforward and simple. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: most of the songs come in at about two minutes long, so they don’t drag on. Unfortunately, they’re also forgettable. The first half of Melodia‘s heavier cuts such as “Get Out,””Manger” (Ok, the line about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus is hysterical…), and “He’s a Rocker” are generic blasts of guitars bogged down by Craig Nicholls’ underwhelming vocals. He cannot keep up with the heavier barrage of guitar and percussion from the rest of the band. The album’s other weakness does come to his aid though: it has an identity crisis. While half of it is grunge style rock, the other half consists of better, slower ballads, more suited to Nicholls’ vocals. These songs are almost Beatleseque in their melodic bass lines and dreaminess. “A.S. III,” “Orange Amber,” and “True as Night” are heart-achingly beautiful. “True as Night” in particular has some beautiful guitar work, and at three times the length of any other song on the album it shows the band is capable of breaking out into other directions.
Basically, we have an album that would work better as two separate albums-one of forgettable straightforward rockers, and another filled with beautiful ballads about lost love. It also wouldn’t hurt them to get a new lead singer. This gets 12.5 out of 25 stars.