Quick Hits 01/06

Belhome, Bootigrabbers Delight, Ted Czuk, DJ Deweese, Drums & Tuba, Fēnix TX, Glow, The Gossip, Lady Sovereign, Lil Ace, Modern Red, Naked and Shameless, Patrick Phelen, Toshi Reago, The Red Note, Reverend Glasseye, Sac Lunch, Tarantula A.D., Team Tomato, X Ray OK



Belhome: A View Of The Woods (Self-Released)
Achingly familiar, the Americana sounds of Belhome make their biggest marks with the emo-ish harmonizing of vocalist/guitarist John Spae and violinist/vocalist Andrea Couch. The pairing intermingles well with the southern folksy notes of the band’s Austin home. Belhome’s debut, A View of the Woods, is a game stab at covering some of the ground bands like Wilco and the Shins graze, and while this record won’t be bringing Belhome out from patrolling the minor-league fields, its numbers are refreshing enough to draw a little scouting attention. While there are standouts like the jaunty “Before We Drown” and the dawdling “Into the Room,” the album as a whole rides Couch‘s violin and its heartland homage to a consistently agreeable effect, leaving some promise amongst twang. | Shandy Casteel

Bootigrabbers Delight: Bootigrabbers Delight (self-released)
None of us were alive when W.C. Handy “fathered” the blues a century ago, and thus none of us heard blues guitar in its original form. Most likely, we grew up knowing the blues as that which comes from the guitars of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughn, maybe even B.B. King. But back in Handy’s day, electric guitars and wa-wa pedals did not exist. The concept of a lead guitarist letting out a “wicked” solo in front of millions of screaming fans was most definitely not part of the blues idiom. Instead, the blues was a raw, unaltered expression of its creators’ tortured souls. Bootigrabbers Delight captures the raw essence that the blues originally possessed.

Listening to this six-track disc made me want to sit on a porch somewhere shooting the shit with an 80-year-old man while chewing on a piece of straw. And I mean that as a compliment. With only acoustic guitars and soulful vocals, songs like “Nothin’ but Ramblin’” and “Thingy in D” come alive without being tweaked and altered and squandered by studio production. This is music in its purest form, and these tunes are sure to get stuck in your head. | Michelle Blumsack

Ted Czuk: The Gamut (self-released)
The title of the new disc by Ted Czuk was well chosen. He definitely runs the gamut in both the instruments he plays and the styles of music emulated in his writing. Czuk’s liner notes clearly lay out his intentions of this project as a reaction to the music industry’s need to limit its scope of artistic ventures to narrowly defined genres that present the greatest financial return. This self-produced volume of work allows him to have an eclectic collection of songs styles back to back. There are a lot of talented guest artists on these recordings and some very fine vocal performances. | Derek Lauer

DJ Deweese: The Red Room (Quantum Leap Records)
This is great sounding disc with a creative element seldom heard in acoustic rock. DJ Deweese has a very strong vocal ability and a wide range of inflections and tone. The writing on the album moves from intimate to intense, but always with a feel of honesty. The disc has a very open and natural flow and the hooks make you want to hear it over again. The production is also of high quality and has some very good acoustic guitar sounds. Definitely a great disc to pick up if you like singer/songwriters. | Derek Lauer

Drums & Tuba | Battle Ole (Righteous Babe)
While Battle Ole, the ninth album from indie trio Drums & Tuba, is an interesting listen; it’s also a difficult one. The interesting part comes from the sounds the band can conjure up from percussion, a tuba (along with other bass instruments), and guitar. The tuba often takes the place of the bass, and the guitar often provides background, as there are no guitar solos on the album. There is little singing on Battle Ole; then again, this is the first D&T record to have any singing at all.

The difficult part comes in the nomadic nature of these songs. Using electronic effects over elements of punk, jazz, and jam band, tracks such as “Two Dollars,” “Magnum Opie,” and “The Parting Surface” tend to meander about without ever finding any sort of musical footing. Songs are dominated by fits and bursts of horns, rough guitars, and uneven vocals without ever finding any direction. Sounds that start interesting quickly fade into the mundane. | Mike Wachsnicht

Fēnix TX: Purple Reign in Blood: Live (Adrenaline Music Group)
Before recording a live album, a band is expected to have a handful of records under its belt. Fēnix TX’s Purple Reign in Blood proves that assumption incorrect. Personally, I feel a live record after only two proper studio LPs is a rather hubristic endeavor. However, in this instance it makes perfect sense for a re-uniting punk group. Purple Reign documents the band’s first gig since their initial breakup in 2002. While the album title and cover art is a little too cutesy clever, the music on the disc is surprisingly good. Taking nods from Face to Face and early Get-Up Kids, this 13-song set is rather enjoyable. Throughout, Fēnix TX is full of energy, enthusiasm, and a healthy dose of F-bombs. Punk rock is of the few genres out there where the “live” record really succeeds, and Purple Reign is no exception. It will be rather interesting, however, to see how Fēnix TX’s three-year break will affect any future studio releases. One hopes that they stick with the formula that permeates this release and not regress into the shit and mud of Good Charlotte–ville. | David Lichius

Glow: The Years (self-released)

When some people think of Glow, they are reminded of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the classic 1980s TV show. But St. Louis’ Glow is actually a local synth-pop band that has just released a new CD called The Years. Once a three-piece, the band has now been trimmed down to two members, lead vocalist Brooke Edwards and keyboardist Brian Beracha; guitarist Steve Hostetter played on a few tracks but is no longer in the band.

Though the lineup may have changed a bit, the music is still quite good. Edwards’ voice sounds better than ever on all ten tracks. This is a somewhat mellower disc than past efforts, but the laid-back sound makes for even more appealing vocal performances. Beracha plays all sorts of great melodies, providing a strong atmospheric sound. “End of Me” and “Alive” are great synth-pop songs that demand to be heard over and over again. Glow certainly shines on the recording, making The Years a great addition to their expanding catalog of work. | John Kujawski

The Gossip: Standing In The Way Of Control (Kill Rock Stars)
The percussive rat-tat-tat-tat gunfire that permeates the title track of the Gossip’s latest release, Standing in the Way of Control, is resistance rock at its most communicable—disco rhythms tattooed with punk ink—a sound the band has been progressively cultivating on their first two albums. Now the Gossip explodes with brighter jagged grooves, more bluesy drive, and cracking unruly beats. New drummer Hannah Blilie (Shoplifting, ex-Chromatics) has obviously been a good fit, as was tapping Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto to produce the record as Beth Ditto and Brace Paine prance with more sure-footedness than their previous releases. Standing in the Way of Control is fueled by its nuances, from the Motown bass lines of “Listen Up!” right down to the mournful “Coal to Diamonds,” which is why the Gossip is not just a bunch of idle chitchat. | Shandy Casteel

Lady Sovereign: Vertically Challenged (Chocolate Ind.)
At the age of 19 and the height of five foot one, hip-hop artist Lady Sovereign (née Louise Harman) has been enjoying a great deal of ink as a Lilliputian Brit capable of Brobdingnagian lip. Unfortunately, her Vertically Challenged—a Chocolate Industries EP heralding a much-ballyhooed full-length from Island Def Jam—suggests her current profile may owe less to musical merit than to marketing. (Can we please declare a moratorium on the adjective cheeky in paeans to the “Ess-Oh-Vee”?) She spits her rhymes engagingly enough, but multiple spins of this eight-track disc land it on the thin side of phat, especially inasmuch as three of those tracks constitute remixes. In one place on Vertically Challenged, the self-styled “white midget” slams J-Lo—not exactly a tough target—and in another, she ridicules a landlady trying only to fix her water heater. (With luck, the little bint showered cold for quite some time.) Otherwise, the girls-versus-boys tedium of “The Battle,” at 7:47 the EP’s longest track, alas, sounds so Disneyesque that Hilary Duff’s handlers probably optioned it months ago. “A London Lass With a Mouthful of Sass”—one can already foresee the tagline for Lady Sovereign’s inevitable cable TV show. No. | Bryan A. Hollerbach

Lil Ace: Lil Ace (Federal Reserve Music)
The mastermind behind this self-titled album calls his style “street pop,” but street slop is more like it. Rather than carve out his own niche, Lil Ace seems content to ride out the current club crunk-obsessed state of hip-hop and claim it’s St. Louis. Floss, bling, chill, repeat. With his radio-happy beats and lyrics like “This year I’m hot, this year you’re not,” Lil Ace is perfect for a stripper’s routine or a ninth grader’s birthday bash. Anyone else will have a hard time bumping the base while keeping a straight face. | Brian Jarvis

Modern Red: A Wonderful Beautiful Angle (self-released)
As much fun as it is to make fun of bad CDs, it’s nicer to get a hold of a good one. This local three-piece has evolved musically over the last couple of years going, from a raw, distorted guitar sound to become a more melodic and sophisticated modern rock group. The energy is still there, especially on tracks like “Naked Eyes” and “Over You,” but what makes the recording such a rewarding listen is the fact that the melodies are so strong. It’s impossible to resist such songs as “Charlotte’s Stars” and “Stealing Me,” which have excellent guitar parts and a nice rhythm section. Lead vocalist/guitarist Matto sings well throughout the whole disc, and Devon Allman’s production is professional and solid. This one is a real treat for modern rock fans. | John Kujawski

Naked and Shameless: Hot Dawg! (Atomic Mouse)

With eight tired skits and a foldout stick ’em of a pork chop included in the CD, this ode to trailer park hedonism is more novelty than anything else. As for the actual music, call it a cheeky, X-rated version of Primus where range consists of the deep artistic variances between “Weiner Song #3!” and “No More Hot Dogs!” The cover art alone is enough to scare off most potential buyers, but Beavis and Butthead would have thought they were cool. | Brian Jarvis

Patrick Phelen: Cost (Jagjaguwar)

There’s an obvious thread of influences running through singer-songwriter Patrick Phelan’s newest album that makes much of it sound vaguely familiar. Starting with a cascading instrumental reminiscent of both Brian Eno and Mercury Rev, Cost goes on to cover territory already staked by the likes of Radiohead, Elliott Smith, and Jeff Buckley (not to mention their countless imitators). That’s not to say this album is without merit—Phelan knows a thing or two about texture, and his whispery, lovelorn vocals, acoustic guitars, and shimmery keyboards meld nicely in parts, lending atmosphere and nuance to his fairly straightforward songs. Unfortunately, tasteful and low-key records don’t necessarily make for original or exceptional ones, and Cost rarely rises above the blandness of the material. |Adam Roberts

Toshi Reago: Have You Heard (Righteous Babe)
Have you heard a voice like this? Not raspy, not butter-smooth either—there’s just enough friction in it. It’s like cinnamon sugar.

It must be fun to watch Toshi Reagon sing and play her guitar in concert. She draws from both instruments stabs of syncopation, wobbly bent notes, and rolling trains of rhythm. Even in the darkest songs you can feel the joy she takes in performing them, and the joy she must have felt digging deep into tradition to give them a solid foundation.

The eeriest moods are conjured by “Building Blues” and “Down to the Water.” Reagon is unafraid to let strange chords haunt her melody lines. You don’t expect this approach to work, but the confidence of her delivery, and the trust of her band, help her pull it off. It also helps that her mother is Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock fame—an a cappella group famous for crazy-quilt harmonies. Toshi Reagon has been learning that no soundscape is truly impossible for a good long time, and here she teaches us. | Angela Pancella

The Red Note: Weatherman (Hypothetical)
There are a lot of good bands in the Seattle area that play music which has nothing to do with grunge. Though weather reports in Seattle usually point toward rain and gloom, the Red Note plays fairly lively, upbeat music, fitting into the city’s acoustic/ska niche. Weatherman offers nice acoustic guitar parts and a strong horn section. Singer/guitarist Shane Chapman has a distinct, appealing voice, highlighted on tracks such as “It’s True” and “Weatherman.” It’s nice to hear a band that uses a trombone, clarinet, and trumpet in the mix; the Red Note certainly doesn’t come up flat. | John Kujawski

Reverend Glasseye: Our Lady Of The Broken Spine (Music For Cats)

Though he’s allegedly from the Boston area, I’m convinced that Reverend Glasseye is actually a time-traveling medieval-man-of-the-cloth who’s come to document the travails of his flock. As the spiritual leader of this motley crew of non–able-bodied misfits, the good reverend doesn’t stand a chance. Heavy on rhythm with chanting vocals, Our Lady of the Broken Spine is surprisingly engaging. Though those prone to depression should stay away, the rest of us may be cheered by how trivial our own problems seem in comparison. | Al Kunz

Sac Lunch: The LP (self-released)
If you took a suburban rap trio like the Beastie Boys and asked them to do their best impression of the Roots, the result would sound something like Sac Lunch. That may not seem like a compliment, but it is. Their unpredictable hybrid of jazzy hip-hop accompanied by horns and guitars makes it impossible not to nod your head. Even the white boy flow may prove an asset for a band looking to go mainstream. One suggestion, though: Change the band name so it doesn’t sound like the punchline to a crude joke. | Brian Jarvis


Tarantula A.D.: Book Of Sand (Kemado)
This is an incredibly rich and textured collection of compositions. The disc is a powerful and artistic blend of classical and modern music using cello, violin, classical guitar, and piano alongside electric guitar, bass, and full drums and percussion. It could almost be a soundtrack for an epic tale of gallantry and chivalry, but set in some scary place in the future. The musicianship level of the whole project is amazing, especially that of the drummer, Gregory Rogove. With Book of Sand, Tarantula A.D. have twisted and turned time and tone into a sculpture of music as modern art. | Derek Lauer

Team Tomato: Lie Down With Dogs (self-released)
The St. Louis–based Team Tomato has been making a splash in the last year or so, and they seem poised for even greater exposure with their second studio release Lie Down With Dogs. The CD is a mix of sounds reminiscent of Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Green Day, R.E.M., and Guided by Voices, yet retains its originality. Guitarists and vocalists Eric Clay and Brian Weigert have the power-pop harmonies and hooky guitar riffs of a lot of “alternative” bands these days, but they manage to sound fresh and not regurgitated. The band is tight and concise, and the melodies don’t get lost in the discord of the noise. It’s nothing special, but it’s not too shabby, either. | Tyson Blanquart

X Ray OK: Like Life (self-released)

X Ray OK, a four-piece from Arizona, is far better than OK. They have taken a new-wave sound made popular in the early ’80s and done a great job of updating it for 2005. The keyboard sound in particular, when mixed with the guitars, is really distinct, providing an approach to modern pop they can really call their own. Singer/guitarist T.J. Hill sounds great throughout the six-track CD and sings with plenty of heart and confidence. While all of the songs are enjoyable, “The Luster” clearly stands out. It’s impossible not to be drawn into the song’s great melody and danceable beats; the track is perfect for the late-night Goth clubs that like to crank out good synth bands through their speakers. www.xrayok.com | John Kujawski

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