Monday, November 29, 2004

Umphrey's McGee

Anchor Drops
SCI Fidelity

Okay, let get some items out of the way. First, within the next two weeks, I will publish a multi-post interview with Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey's McGee. Check back in to learn more about this intriguing unit from Chicago, IL.

Next, one of the questions I plan to ask is "If Merriam-Webster were to come to you and ask you to write the dictionary definition of 'jam music,' how would it read?" My reason for asking is quite simple: Umphrey's McGee refers to themselves, among other genres, as a jam band. Yet, they don't seem to fit the mold of a jam band. There is so much happening in this music, I found it rather difficult to pigeonhole this group into one category.

This brings me to my thoughts on their most recent release Anchor Drops. There appears to be more influences here than Imelda Marcos, the former Phillipino First Lady, owned shoes. The band slickly slips into jam mood on one cut, then jazz, southern rock, progressive, only to go twangy on the next. But here's the good part: IT WORKS! It works because the six musicians that make up Umphrey's McGee (Joel Cummins: keyboards, vocals; Brendan Bayliss: guitar, vocals; Ryan Stasik: bass; Andy Farag: percussion; Jake Cinninger: guitar, Moog, synthesizers, vocals; and Kris Myers: drums, vocals) are all accomplished musicians. Furthermore, how can one not appreciate a band how titled their FIRST release, Greatest Hits Volume III.

The Washington Post wrote "Umphrey's McGee scrambles your brain but never quite toasts it." One listen to Anchor Drops reveals manic time changes, piercing guitar work, and a rhythm section that truly "anchors" this group. Ryan Stasik and Kris Myers are as prolific as rhythm section as any that exists in music - period. As intricate as their music gets, these two never touch.

Lyrically, I found Umphrey's McGee to be closer to poets than lyricists. As with their musical arrangements, and much akin to poetry, the lyrics keep the listener thinking. Little is done in a straight forward manner that allows the listener to hone in on the message. Instead, one is given the freedom to decipher meaning for themselves, as with many great poets.

Umphrey's McGee have taken the genre of "jam music," chopped it up with their patented Ginsu knives, added some fresh, organic ingredients, placed it into a pot and cooked it up. What emerges, especially on Anchor Drops, is a gourmet feast fit for even the most finicky of musical taste buds. Grab a bottle of wine (preferably Merlot [I wonder if you can figure out why!]), or a six-pack of beer, and serve yourself this delectable treat.

On TGB rating scale, this album lands between Mercury and the Sun.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Sounds From The Superhighway 2

Volume 2

Audra Kubat - This Detroit native has earned tremendous accolades from her hometown. Her most recent release, "Million Year Old Sand," has garnered comparison to Joni Mitchell. The two singles, "Tomorrow Never Comes" and "Georgia," available for downloading through Times Beach Records, gave this writer a chill up and down my spine. "Tomorrow Never Comes" is a hauntingly masterful song with well-crafted guitar sounds. "Georgia" is more of a toe-tapper that also evokes images of Suzanne Vega. Check out the singles.

Throttelrod - This South Carolina three-piece have recently released "Starve The Dead," a five-song, mini-LP that highlights the bands' intense and thick chops. You can download "Borrowed Chair" from the release. This song showcases good writing skills and decent vocals. They definitely have a harder edge, heavy metal type of sound, although nowhere in their bio do they refer to themselves a metal. I enjoyed it and recommend it.

The Comas - First, if you do a Google search on The Comas, you may come across a traditional Irish music band. While the Irish version of The Comas was intreguing, make no mistake that this band kicks ass. The Comas have garnered some fantastic press for their most recent release, Conductor. It is all well worth it. "Science of Yer Mind" and "The Last Transmission" are two shoacase cuts that are well worth checking online. Crisp, post alt-country sounds with just the right amount of hard edge is the best way to describe these two photos. highly, very highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Sounds From The Superhighway 1

Volume 1

Consider the internet a virtual jukebox. It is stocked with sounds destined to keep patrons in the groove for extended periods of time. My uncle owned a pizzeria in Brooklyn, NY in the 70's. His jukebox played scintillating sounds that quite possibly started my journey down the music road. The first 45 RPM I could remember the "jukebox man" giving me was Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" I still have the record to this day although I can't remember what "B" side. Still, it brought hours of joy and a "PlaySchool" 45 RPM record player.

Today, we have the internet. Instead of hitting a letter with a corresponding number button, we type in a website. No mechanical arms to grab the 45, slip it onto the spindle, and no arm to place itself onto the record with a stratching sound that reminds me of fingernail on a chalkboard. Just click, go the site, click on a tune, sit and listen.

Here is some of what I've discovered lately:

Reigning Sound - "Time Bomb High School" & "I Don't Believe" - At the time of these recordings, this was a four-piece band that has condensed into three pieces. Both of these tracks were taken from "Time Bomb High School," released in 2002. The band has since released a record this past April. Haven't heard anything from those, but these two gave my ears some pleasantries. Both tracks are powerful garage tunes that invoked the likes of Big Star, but yet melodic enough to remind me of early Springsteen. Throw some twinges of Steve Earle in his early days and you have the Reigning Sound.

Chuck Prophet - From his days with Green on Red to his current solo career, Chuck Prophet has progressed with every release. His most recent release, "Age of Miracles," shows a tremendous maturity. Prophet gets a bit political on "West Memphis Moon," a song about the infamous West Memphis Three who were convicted (some might say wrongly) of murder in 1993. This dark track shows Prophet continuing to evolve both musically and lyrically.

Mercy Creek - I discovered this band while scanning Paste Magazine. An ad towards the back of the magazine revealed a twosome consisting of one male (Jim Ball) and one female (Cynthia Nystrom). The duo refers to their music "aggressive folk." With three releases under their belts and a fourth one aproaching, Mercy Creek has cut their teeth and are ready to take their chunk of the pie. The band has several MP3's that can be downloaded from the website. All are highly charged folk pieces that match anything you might hear on commercial radio. Nystrom's vocals are scintillating, organic and breath of fresh air. Worth checking out.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

News From The Great Beyond


While Keith Richards isn't normally TGB material, this new item caught my eye. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Keith Richards has joined the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Treasures of the Lost Abyss. Upon further investigation, the same news was found on the Killer Movies website. Yet, browsing through Keith Richards' website, no items were found announcing his addition to the cast. The movie's star, Johnny Depp, has reportedly claimed that his character, Captain Jack Sparrow, was based on Keith. I'm sure this is one will hear more about before filming begins in February, 2005.

P.S.: After checking the Jerry Bruckheimer site, nothing has been reported on this cast addition. Yahoo Movies is reporting that there are rumors circulating in the British press that Richards has been added to the cast of Pirates 2, but added that these should only be considered "rumors."

Monday, November 08, 2004

My Ratings System

I've been attempting to device a system for rating music that would play along with interplanetary theme of the title of this blog, "The Great Beyond." I've tried several, but believe that I have come up with something that will work.

There are nine planets in the solar system plus the sun. Beginning with the sun as a perfect "10," and finishing with Pluto as a "1," albums will be given a planet rating. Here is how it will work.

10 Sun - Super hot stuff.
9 Mercury - As with the formation of the Caloris Basin, this CD will probably cause a very large impact.
8 Venus - Bright. You gotta love this one.
7 Earth - This CD might be better, but, somehow, there is the George W. Bush factor.
6 Mars - The god of war loses a battle or two, but stays afloat.
5 Jupiter - This planet is known as "The Wandering Star." That would best describe this CD.
4 Saturn - The root of the word "Saturday," which is how this CD should be treated.
3 Uranus - Scientists don't seem able to figure out which pole is north. Quite the conundrum.
2 Neptune - The god of the sea, and this CD is definitely drowning!!!
1 Pluto - This planet is smaller than several moons. Sounds insignificant.

There you have it. The rating system that will be used for all future reviews. Your comments, suggestions and criticisms would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Tony Rio y Voodoo Chile

iBlues Straight Outta Barelas!

by Bill Nevins

Blues out of Barelas? Barelas is well-known as the heart of old Alburquerque, the barrio which embodies the living soul of hard-working, life-living Hispanic and Chicano people who demonstrate daily their surviving strong faith, strong love and strong pride in family, tradition and heritage.

But the Blues? Musically, more likely associated with Barelas are the rancheras and other fine Latin sounds heard over KNME and other area radio stations, and in the lively clubs and restaurants of Barelas and the South Valley. Or even more contemporary hip-hop sounds, which you are likely to hear booming from car decks throughout the South Valley.

But think about it a minute, ok? Hard work, faith, love, pride, tradition. Those are earmarks of The Blues, que no? And as Muddy Waters always said, "The Blues got soul!" And where in New Mexico is there more soul than in the South Valley and in Barelas? Barelas is actually a very fitting home to the blues. iEs verdad!

So, it really is not such a surprise that some great blues players have sprung from the corazon of the South Valley and Barelas. Among them are harp-master "Mexican" Jerry Muniz (Albuquerque Blues Connection), guitar-slinger Francisco Troncosa II (Full Moon) and, certainly not least among worthy peers, guitar wizard/singer Tony Rio of the long-running, highly respected New Mexico blues phenom band, Voodoo Chili.

Tony Rio is a Barelas native and a veteran of the note-always-easy way of coming up in the often-friendly but sometimes hard-edged barrio streets. "We were a poor family, financially, but with lots of love. It's a tough way to grow up, but you learn fast and you learn a lot. Somehow, I think I talk about it all in my music. It's a feeling, you know," says Tony. Also playing in the current Voodoo Chili lineup are Jon Edwards on drums and bassplayer Sean Cannon, originally from Austin, Texas. Edwards and bassman Jeff Sipe played on Voodoo Chili's latest cd, ilove the blues!. Tony brims with praise for Jeff, Jon and new Voodoo Chili Sean. "I couldn't do it without these guys--they are all such great, great musicians," he says.

As the name of his band, and its symbol, a bold chile roja, suggest, Tony Rio offers a warm, spiced musical feast in every live show and on each eagerly-anticipated cd. His latest cd, ilove the blues!, is Tony's hottest, and warmest, recording to date. An instant classic, ilove the blues! should put the Barelas Bluesman on the national musical radar screen in no short order.
Not that Tony Rio and Voodoo Child have gone unnoticed both inside and outside New Mexico! Check their website at to find the many upcoming gigs: May 9 and June 6 at Burt's Tiki Lounge, May 23 and June 21 at Club R&B, June 13 and 14 at the Stone Face Tavern, and more. And prestigious gigs outta state, too! And bookings with Bo Diddley, AC Read, Long John Hunter, Jimmy Rodgers, and so many other stars of the real Blues. These guys WORK for their money, for their music, and for their fans. And they have a damn good time doin' it, too.

Tony Rio's personal joy in his work, in his music, and in the happiness he brings to his listeners, is obvious the first time you meet the man. I sat down at the bar at the classy Club R&B a few weeks back and listened to Tony wail on lead guitar while sipping a long cool one. You best believe that was a fine evening. There is just something about Tony Rio and Voodoo Chili's music that makes a New Mexico night a very special night indeed. Good things just seem to start happenin' when Tony strikes up the band!

Tony chatted with me over a brew between sets, and shared his deep love of the music, particularly the sweet, fiery blues recorded by the Texas Cannonball, the late, great Freddy King, who melded Southwest grit and soul with Southside Chicago blues energy to produce a body of work that is surely a highpoint in the history of all blues. Freddy King, (who was no relation to the other famed Kings in the blues, and who died much too young in the late 1970s), was famed for his aggressive picking style and for his wicked vibrato, as well as for his gentle voice which created a beautiful counterpoint to his driving instrumental attack.

The Freddy King influence is very up front in Tony Rio's music with Voodoo Chili, and Tony is not shy to admit it. "If I had to go into exile on a desert island with just two albums, they would be Freddy King's Hideaway and The Beatles White Album. With those two cds, I could be happy for quite a while. Even if I was a little lonely," laughs Tony. "I really owe so much to the music of Freddy King," he adds.

Tony Rio's music has that burning tension that Freddy King's had: powerful blues lines and gentler vocals linked to strong original songwriting. It is the kind of sound that grabs you right off, then pulls you back in for another listen and another after that. Then, just one more for the road. It really is hard to get away from Tony Rio and Voodoo Chili's music once you've had that first taste. It is easy to see why the band packs 'em in to clubs every time they play.

So, what are you waiting for, music lovers? Go get a Tony Rio and Voodoo Chili cd or get down to one of their live shows, and check out ! You're gonna wish you did it sooner!

The Wailin' Jennys Bring It Together

40 Days
(Red House Records

by Bill Nevins

The Wailin' Jennys move in threes, bringing three fine voices, three strong guitars and three original songwriting souls (Cara Luft, Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody) to bear in their fresh, engaging take on neo-traditional folk music. Recently playing both an outdoor BioPark picnic gig and a sold-out AMP house concert in Albuquerque, this Canada-based trio charmed Southwest listeners on their first official US tour. Their just released debut cd, Forty Days, (Red House Records, ), also charms. A blend of Steeleye Span style saucy sailor songs, a fine feminine cover of Neil Young's "Old Man" and very striking views from their own individual perspectives on life, troubles and the dawn of every new day.

The troubles include the sadness they express at the war-face being shown to the world by the U.S. government. "Canada's not a real flag-waving place and the army is more into helping people with floods and such, " comments Cara, with nods from the other Jennys.

And the Wailin' Jennys are just plain fun. A magic sort of fun, the way they take old songs and make them bright and shining. Beyond that there is the skill of their three part harmonies and seamless collective songwriting. They have a lovely song about just that--harmony.

The Wailin' Jennys have their act together, and they bring people together whenever and wherever they play. Check out their fine cd, 40 Days, and check out the Jennys when they play near you. Fine people, fine music.

R.L. Burnside - Hit Hard But Still Alive

A Bothered Mind
(Fat Possum Records

Bluesman R.L. Burnside has beaten death and the devil many a time. Heart attack. Houses burned down. Fights gone wrong. A little money, a little fame late in life after so much hard, hard work. Way too much whiskey, too much road. "That lazy *&^%# stole my check!," he howls on A Bothered Mind, "I want it back!".


But he's still here, still alive in his late 70s on his Mississippi land, still feeling the summer heat, the winter chill and the too real, too harsh, too deep pain of life that can make a strong man drink, fight, growl the blues.

R.L. doesn't play much these days. Really, he can't. His adopted son Kenny Brown played most of the guitar on his last studio album, Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (Fat Possum), though R.L. delivered some killer vocals. Now Brown and, R.L.'s grandson, Cedric Burnside carry on the family performing tradition as Burns and Burnside.

Yet the old man's tough spirit is still there. And it shines through on R.L. Burnside's latest album, A Bothered Mind. Even his dark humor survives, snaking through the snarls and mean guitar lines.

This album includes a collection of unreleased R.L. Burnside live and studio cuts featuring both his band--great stuff from both Kenny Brown and Cedric Burnside--and R.L. solo from as far back as 1968. This is a treasure trove of true blues. Also built into A Bothered Mind are hip-hop/blues cuts by Tino Gross, Kid Rock's mixmaster, from recorded RLB vocals and featuring both Kid Rock himself and rapper Lyrics Born on additional vocals. These are interesting mixes and follow-up well on R.L.'s tradition of expanding his music's reach to new and younger listeners, as he did in his collaborations with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion some years back.

At age 78, R.L. Burnside goes way back, and it's been a hard road for him, moments of glory flashing out from long stretches of suffering. Ain't that the blues defined, really? R.L. Burnside always has had what the blues is. He offers a good taste of that strong medicine on A Bothered Mind. Do yourself a favor and get some.

Review written and contributed by Bill Nevins

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Grey DeLisle - The Students Critique

The Graceful Ghost
Sugar Hill Records

One of the reasons I decided to start this blog was to involve my students in the process and have them writing. Our first attempt was Grey DeLisle's "The Graceful Ghost." First, a quick explanation. These students are fans of hip hop and extremely music, so getting them to listen to this album was not the easiest thing to do. We talked about what makes a good vs bad review. We then had a listen to the disc and the kids wrote as we went through it.

Here's a sample of what they wrote:
  • "She is very expressive in her singing and her lyrics." ST, 8th grade
  • "She's HOT!" MW, 7th grade
  • "The songs make you relax and sleepy and feel like there is no worries. I felt calm listening to them." RR, 7th grade
  • "Grey seems to write what is in her heart. Her voice is not the greatest, but she writes nice lyrics." BS, 8th grade

As a whole, the group was divided 50/50 on this disc. Still, for kids who do not usually listen to anything beyond hip hop and guitar laced extreme music, our first attempt went quite well.

Look for more reviews coming from students soon.

DJ Me, DJ You

Can You See The Music
Eenie Meenie Records

Okay, okay! I know this disc is two-years-old, but the blog is new and I'm a bit behind the times. Neverthless, when this CD came across my desk, I was intrigued. I had heard several tracks off the eenie meenie website, and thought this was worth looking into further. I was not disappointed.

Consider first that Ross Harris and Craig Borrell once partnered with Beck in a collaborative known as Sukia and you might begin to suspect their musical leanings. "CYSTM" throws together computers with a party atmosphere to turn out a luscious disc of sample-based dance music.

One of the first tracks I laid my ears on was "Fresh Technology," a celebration of computers and music. "Fresh" is the right word for this track. Harris & Borrell put together a sound and nurture it, much like building a computer program.

The rest of disc doesn't relax here. From the zany "Zodiac Ape" to the pulsating "New You," DJ Me, DJ You deliver a disc that will have your happy feet moving like a cartoon character dancing at 78RPM. I actually used this music as part of my workout and it keep me moving and motivated.

* * * *

Monday, November 01, 2004


Having been a member of a college radio station back in the day, I know first-hand the joys of discovery. It was in college that I was introduced to every form of music invented by man and machine. Many of them became embedded in my heart and soul. They have stayed with me to this day. Alas, some have also disappeared, i.e. thrash metal.

Through it all, college radio remains one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To this day, I maintain many of the friendships that I forged, although we are spread far and wide.

Recently, I came across WMSE on the internet. WMSE is located at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). It provides an eclectic mix of genres such as Jazz, Alternative Rock, World and more. I was extremely impressed with the variety of music, the professionalism of the DJs, and the clear streaming I received off the internet.

Check this station out and provide us with feedback.