Friday, February 26, 2010

Slumgullion #4

Picture of Ellis Clark taken from his Facebook page.

Another buffet of entertainment snippets for a Friday.

The Ellis Clark SuperGroup at Viaduct Theatre March 6th I first met vocalist Ellis Clark back in the late 1980s when I did a Streetwalkin’ profile on his band Social Act for the Illinois Entertainer. Clark played a melodic brand of hard rock in that group, but he also founded the power pop/punk outfit Epicycle, which still performs from time to time, and he’s done a lot of producing for other artists. These days, Clark is probably most active as the keyboards player-guitarist-back up vocalist for The Handcuffs. On March 6th, at 10PM, he has something special going on at The Viaduct Theatre in Chicago. That’s when The Ellis Clark SuperGroup hits the stage, as part of a Chicago Acoustic Underground sponsored triple bill. Clark has put together an impressive line-up that includes drummer Brad Elvis of The Handcuffs; bassist Jon Brant, who played with Cheap Trick, as well as d’thumbs; sax player Mars Williams, who has worked with the Psychedelic Furs and several other bands; power pop veteran Phil Angotti; The Chamber Strings piano player Carol Engelmann; and percussionist Jim Hines. Special guests include guitarist Alfonso Ponticelli and The Handcuffs vocalist Chloe F. Orwell. It will be interesting to what these guys come up with. Clark has created a promo film, which can be viewed on YouTube. Also on the Chicago Acoustic Underground bill that night are Goodbyehome, a folk rock ensemble Clark has been known to collaborate with, and acoustic pop/folk artist Dawn Xiana Moon.

Possible Twigs Reunion? One of my very first Broken Hearted Toy posts last August concerned singer-songwriter Linda Good. She moved to Los Angeles 10 years earlier to pursue a solo career, and was visiting her old home town for a show at the Uncommon Ground on Chicago’s north side. At one point during that performance, Good called her sister up to the stage. It was a sort of reunion of The Twigs, the popular band Linda and Laura had founded years earlier. The Twigs had recorded two full CDs; the promising Bring Me The Head Of Eternity and the more polished The Universe Tonight, which found them successfully covering a variety of styles, from the sunny pop of “It’s Alright” to the hip hop of “Lucky.” Now, about six months later, Linda Good is reporting on Facebook that she and Laura are recording a new Twigs single together. Or as she dubbed it, a Twingle. Hopefully, she’ll keep fans posted as to its release date.

M.A.S.S. Appeal at Angel Island As its current production of Andrew Case’s emotionally charged cop drama Rant clearly illustrates, the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company has established a reputation for cutting edge work. Now the group’s Angel Island space at the corner of Broadway and Sheridan Road in Chicago is also a great place to discover new musical artists. With M.A.S.S. (Mary-Arrchie Sound Series,) the group will present live electro, rock, and hip hop music. Acts who have already performed include Ol’Boy, an indie rock band that claims The Temptations and Tom Waits among its influences; Americana/punk singer-guitarist Garrett Santora; indie rock duo LionLimb; and cutting edge singer-keyboards player Natalie Grace Alford. Artist-In-Residence Ol’Boy will be a frequent M.A.S.S. participant, with shows on March 10th with The Ours, and The El is a Sound of Joy; with Merryweather and Teenage Rage on March 22nd; with Granny Frost and The Dirty Diamonds on April 12th; and with Audio and a special guest on April 19th. M.A.S.S. is also hoping to snag touring bands who might want to use the space for after-show or acoustic gigs. Portions of the proceeds from these shows will help fund the Mary-Arrchie, which is a non-profit theatre company. Acts looking to be part of M.A.S.S. can contact Carlo at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

CD Review: Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Hailing from a small college town in Norway, Ida (pronounced Ee-dah) Maria gives emotionally-charged performances throughout her U.S. debut, Fortress Round My Heart. Her talky, broken-glass vocals feature screams, laughter, and an occasional dash of theatrical flair as she spins musical tales of drinking binges, one-night stands, and not being able to pay the rent. She’s backed by a trio playing sparse but revved-up arrangements that add to the punk intensity of these songs.

The catchy first track “Oh My God” opens with Ida Maria chanting “Find a cure for my life” while the less manic “Drive Away My Heart” and “Keep Me Warm” describe the pitfalls and joys of love, respectively. On “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” (already a hit in the U.K.) Ida Maria manages to sound both incredibly sexy and totally desperate as a singles bar patron determined not to go home alone. Later, she depicts the disappointment that comes on the morning with the wise and funny “Morning Light.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Under The Influence

On previous posts, I’ve addressed the issue of whether the soon-to-be-inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Hollies were more than just a hit singles band by describing some of the better tracks on their albums. Another reason The Hollies are worthy of this honor is the amount of influence they’ve had on artists who have followed after them. To this day, it’s common for rock critics to compare the effervescent melodies or three-part harmonies of a new act to those of The Hollies. In 1995, several current artists came together to honor The Hollies on the compilation Sing Hollies In Reverse. Here are just a few of the highlights from that CD.

When The Posies first came out of Seattle in the 1987, several critics noted that they sounded like the Hollies. One even declared, “The Posies don’t just sound like The Hollies, they are The Hollies.” Amazingly, Posies founders Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow weren’t even familiar with the British Invasion band at the time they recorded their first album. Luckily, that didn’t keep them from participating on Sing Hollies In Reverse. Their rendition of “King Midas In Reverse” was pretty faithful to the original arrangement, but with a bigger sound and lots more guitar feedback. Which is basically my definition of power pop; a more muscular version of 1960s sensibilities. Back to 2010 for a moment; The Posies will release Every Kind Of Light, their first CD in 10 years, this Spring.

Tommy Keene has been a critically acclaimed power pop artist for several years, and like The Posies, he took a heavier though otherwise faithful approach on his rendition of one of The Hollies’ hit singles. Among other innovations, he replaced the steel drum part of “Carrie Anne” with a guitar solo.

The Loud Family, the band vocalist-guitarist Scott Miller formed after Game Theory, combined guitars and synthesizers on their psychedelic version of “Look Through Any Window.” The song starts out slowly and about midway through, shifts to a much faster tempo. Miller once described his own voice as a miserable whine, but devoted fans of Game Theory and The Loud Family know better.

Mitch Easter is well known as a producer, but he also fronted a highly enjoyable band called Let’s Active in the early 1980s. I saw them open for R.E.M. at the Park West in Chicago, and was immediately hooked. The amazing thing about Easter’s high energy vision of “Pay You Back With Interest” is that he played all the instruments himself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another Bangles Day

Photo taken from Bangles website.

It was exactly 23 years ago when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared February 23rd Official Bangles Day in his city. I only know this because the anniversary is mentioned on the band’s website. The Bangles probably aren’t being handed the keys to many cities these days, but original members Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, and Vicki Peterson still tour and are actively working on a new CD. It will be a belated follow up to 2003’s Doll Revolution, and their first without bassist Michael Steele, who left the band a few years back.

Doll Revolution was one of those rare reunion albums that found a band sounding just as strong as ever. A rousing rendition of Elvis Costello’s “Tear Off Your Own Head” led the way, and there were also highly energetic songs like “Ride The Ride,” “Here Right Now,” and “Between The Two.” True, the techno-oriented “Something That You Said” was an obvious attempt at a hit single, but the most noticeable thing about Doll Revolution was that The Bangles were following their own instincts rather bowing to any corporate mandate. That sense of freedom is still evident in the band’s live performances, and bodes well for the new recordings.

The Bangles website offers a firsthand perspective from drummer-vocalist Debbi Peterson on how things have gone on the nine tacks the band has worked on so far. “It's really been a joy to put this album together without anyone breathing down our necks,” Peterson noted. “Just taking our time to do it exactly the way we want to - it feels great, and I think it shows in the music.”

Guitarist-vocalist Vicki Peterson has also sounded optimistic on a series of Tweets under the name VickiBangle. Some of the recording was done at Matthew Sweet’s house, and he’s posted some positive things on Facebook about working with The Bangles.

The Bangles will be promoting the new release this Spring with dates in Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. Since their long-time Australian mates, The Hoodoo Gurus, are also releasing a new CD, it would be great to see these two power pop bands on a double bill like they did back in the 1980s.

Monday, February 22, 2010

45 RPM Memories

A semi-regular feature about some of my favorite single records from the past.

A post I did a while back on “Leave Me” by The Hollies got me thinking about how some songs are able to fully convey the anger and bitterness of breaking up without resorting to violent imagery. On his syndicated radio show Underground Garage, Little Steven Van Zandt is in the midst of a Valentine’s Day Trilogy that covers the many facets of romantic relationships. Part Three, which airs next Sunday on WXRT here in Chicago, will celebrate the joy of finding true love. Part Two dealt with the less heart-warming subject of revenge, and included the predatory songs “Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights” and “Hey Joe.” Both are considered classic rock ‘n’ roll, or blues/rock in the case of “Boom Boom,” but as much as I respect Van Zandt, I’m still uncomfortable with these songs, especially considering the eternal epidemic of violence toward women in society.

One of the nonviolent break-up songs that came to mind was “Strike 3,” the B-side of a 45 record from the early 1980s by the Chicago band, Scraps. A male rock critic at the time blasted “Strike 3” as sexist, but I disagree. A man has the right to leave a relationship if he’s being played for a fool, and that’s what’s going on in this guitar-driven punk rock tune. The protagonist, as voiced by lead singer Pat Deane, even gives his girlfriend a trio of warnings that if she doesn’t stop messing around with other guys, he’s leaving. “Strike two, what the hell you trying to do? If you swing like that, baby, we’ll be through.” The girlfriend’s decision to go right on cheating brings a justified call of “Strike three, you blew your one last chance.” In the end, as Deane laments, “I lose you and you lose me,” no one has won, but at least no one wound up in the morgue.

The record’s A-side, “Gossip,” was a clever satire that still holds true in today’s celebrity obsessed culture. Guitarists Glenn Miller and Joe Minor help propel the song as Deane sings, “When you tell me a secret, it’s no secret any more.” Scraps also released the impressive 12” single “Hits/Temporary Love.” They were big on the Chicago club scene in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and those of us who lived on the southwest side were particularly proud of them because they got their start at Haywires, one of the few clubs in our placid neck of the woods where you could actually see punk and new wave bands. Deane had even gone to the same grammar school as me.

I was writing for a paper called Metro Calendar at the height of Scraps’ popularity, and my publisher Larry McManus claimed that Deane once told him that he remembered me as being a snot in our school days. I chose not to believe McManus since he was a perpetual wiseguy who also claimed that the lead guitarist for another local band smashed a Twinkie in his ear.

So, even if their lead vocalist did call me a snot, here’s a big thank you to Scraps for all the enjoyment they gave us.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

CD Review: The Bradburys - Don’t Pump The Swingset

The Bradburys’ recently released Don’t Pump The Swingset was actually recorded some time ago, having been one of the last projects produced by Jeff Murphy of Shoes at Short Order Recorder before the facility closed down. The E.P.’s five songs and three bonus tracks typify a power pop band that has been fascinated with unrequited love ever since some of its members performed in an earlier group called The Steppingstones. Clever lyrics bring these believable romantic tales to life, and having all four band members sing results in some sophisticated harmonies and vocal arrangements.

The flighty title character of the energetic “Mary Goes Around” is so busy bouncing from one boyfriend to another she might as well be a galaxy away from the guy who believes he’s the one for her. Closer to home, the appealing 1960s style pop of “She’s From Liverpool” deals with a fashion-conscious young lady who listens to E.L.O. and seems destined to be become a superstar. On the punchier “Perfume Counter Girl,” The Bradburys blend garage and psychedelic rock while describing an enticing retail employee who attracts more admirers than customers.

The high-speed “Shout It!” presents the unbridled joy of a guy who actually finds a true relationship. When the back-up vocalists ask, “Is she the real thing?” the lead singer responds, “Yes, I’m sure she is,” and declares he’ll go out of his mind if he doesn’t kiss her. “My Big Hello” is another power pop gem that celebrates the thrill of a new romance.

The bonus tracks on Don’t Pump The Swingset offer additional dimensions to The Bradburys’ approach. Bassist-vocalist Jake Blake’s previously unreleased light rock song “Killing Time” is a complete departure from the power pop genre, while “Go-Go,” taken from the Introducing The Bradburys LP, suggests that sometimes physical attraction isn’t so innocent. “I Love It When It Snows” was one of several first-rate original songs on Hi-Fi Christmas, a various artists compilation put together by rhythm guitarist-vocalist Dan Pavelich in 2002 to help fund research for a cure for Willibrand’s Disease.

Now that Don’t Pump The Swingset has been sprung from the vault, The Bradburys are busy working on a full-length CD they hope to release in the near future.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Slumgullion #3

Hoodoo Gurus photo from the band's Facebook page.

Another assortment of items for a Friday.

The Hoodoo Gurus, the crazed Aussies who have been mixing power pop with deliriously fun lyrics for over two decades, just announced on their Facebook page that their new sixteen-song CD, Purity Of Essence, will be out in a few weeks. Front man Dave Faulkner describes Purity Of Essence as “one hour of exciting new Hoodoo Gurus music” and goes on to mention a six-part “mockumentary” called Must Travel On Wheels that will be available starting next week from the Australian Internet provider Bigpond. U.S. fans will soon be able to buy the webisodes on iTunes. A Must Travel On Wheels trailer can be viewed on YouTube. Hmmm, with The Hoodoo Gurus and The Bangles both coming out with new CDs this year, maybe there’s a chance the two bands will tour as a power pop double bill, like they did back in the 1980s.

Braam is a veteran Chicago-based indie rock band that features 12 guys with the last name of Braam among its members. Well, three guys, anyway. The group has just released a very nicely done video for “Burlington Northern,” a melodic tune with ringing guitars that will be included on Braam’s soon to be released fifth CD, Living Room. The video can be seen on YouTube.

The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo is coming to McCormick Place in Chicago on the weekend of April 16th -18. The multi-media event, also known as C2E2, bills itself as a showcase of comics, movies, television, toys, anime, manga, and video games. There will be autograph sessions, sneak previews of upcoming movies and TV shows; hundreds of exhibitors; and famous as well as new artists on hand. Kids five and under can get in free on Friday and Saturday, and kids under 12 can get in free on Sunday.

Today is Cliff Johnson’s birthday, and the power pop vocalist, best known for his work with the Chicago band Off Broadway, is looking forward to tomorrow. In fact, “Look To Tomorrow” is one of the catchy tunes on his new Little Crimes CD, which recently became available for digital download on The actual CD will be released in a few weeks. The songs, co-written with musician Jim Timbers, sport infectious melodies and chiming guitars, while Johnson sings in that classic rock and roll voice that evokes Lennon, Bowie, and the newer Elvis. The long-awaited solo debut follows on the heels of Johnson’s last performance with Off Broadway, at Fitzgerald’s in December, 2009.

As we welcome Little Crimes, it’s worth reflecting on all of the fun Johnson gave us in the past, via recordings and live performances. The first time I saw him was in the seventies, at a suburban rock club, back when he was with Pezband. I was immediately struck by the power of his vocals. Johnson soon left to form Off Broadway, whose live shows became must-see events on the Chicago club scene. He frequently wandered from the stage, either to get beers for his bandmates or to engage in some sort of tomfoolery with the crowd. For a while, his thing was splashing cologne on audience members. Once, at a show at the Mother’s club on Division Street, a fan grabbed the bottle of cologne and took a drink. Johnson looked shocked, but only for a moment. He grabbed the bottle back and pretended to chug it.

By the time Off Broadway released On in 1979, Chicago fans were primed to snap it up. Songs like “Bully Bully,” “Hang On For Love,” “Stay In Time,” and “Full Moon Turn Your Head Around” remain classics of the power pop genre to this day. Quick Turns, released a year later, wasn’t as overwhelming, but still had some great material. Unfortunately, Off Broadway never achieved the national success it deserved, although the band continued to perform on a regular basis up to 2009. Hopefully, Cliff Johnson will be touring in support of Little Crimes, and his live shows will include a few Off Broadway gems.

Happy birthday, Cliff, and keep rocking!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Now Is No Time To Say Good Night

Various media sources, including Paste Magazine, WXRT radio in Chicago, and the TwentyFourBit website are reporting that the financially strapped EMI record label is looking to sell its famous Abbey Road recording studio in London. Ironically, on the same day those posts appeared on Facebook, the French garage rock band The Plastiscines posted a video for “Another Kiss,” showing the four gals on a romp through London that includes posing at the same intersection John, Paul, George, and Ringo walked across on the cover of the Abbey Road album.

All of which brought back memories of when my wife Pam and I stopped by Abbey Road as part of our European Trip Of A Lifetime back in 2006. I had been under the impression I’d be able to visit the same rooms where The Beatles and countless other rock bands recorded their music, but was heartbroken to discover the closest I could get was standing outside the iron gates. We took pictures of the Abbey Road building and the outer white walls where fans had posted hand-written tributes to The Beatles. I wanted to pose in the intersection but was leery of the busy traffic. So unlike The Plastiscines, I cowered by the curb like a first-grader waiting for a crossing guard. Pam snapped the above shot of me, glancing at my watch while standing by the gate. The joke was that I was waiting for The Hollies to show up for a recording session.

I still have a cassette recording I made in 1987 of the syndicated Rock Over London radio show where the announcer reflects on the days in the early 1960s when Abbey Road technicians wore white coats, “and when they had tea, they certainly did it in style. Tea was served by a lady who brought it in on a tray with china cups and saucers.” His observations were based on drummer Bobby Elliott’s liner notes for The Hollies’ compilation, All The Hits & More.

One obvious solution to EMI’s woes would be to open Abbey Road to the public, charge admission, and make sure none of the tourists fiddle with the knobs. TwentyFourBit suggests that Paul McCartney or some other rich musician who recorded at Abbey Road buy it. But whether it’s privately owned or transformed into a museum devoted to Beatlemaniacs, there’s no doubt Abbey Road should be preserved as one the most important sites in rock and roll history.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kiss The Girls

Promo poster from Slutter’s Facebook page.

Forget that Kiss/Mini Kiss Dr. Pepper commercial on Super Bowl Sunday. In fact, forget all the Super Bowl ads. There’s a new Kiss in town, or rather a Kiss Tribute band. It goes by the name of Slutter, which is just part of the wordplay this group uses to convey that all of its members are female. Gina Knapik performs as Doll Stanley, Jennifer San Juan is Peterless Criss, Susie Winn is Ace SHEley, and Chloe F. Orwell is Tiny Gene Simmons. Slutter made its debut a few months back at a charity event and is returning for a show at Liar’s Club in Chicago on March 4th.

Orwell is the only one of these musicians I’m familiar with, although a Google search showed Knapik as the vocalist-guitarist for The Venom Lords, a local act that lists Kiss as well as The Runaways among its influences. Orwell currently fronts The Handcuffs, the indie rock band she formed with husband/drummer Brad Elvis, following their stint with Big Hello. On the surface, it would seem more of a challenge for Orwell to channel a member of Kiss than Knapik, but anyone familiar with Orwell knows she’s no shrinking violet.

Kiss may not have made in into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year, but at least a quartet of women in the Windy City are carrying on its hard rocking legacy. The March 4th gig apparently coincides with Peterless's birthday, and the band promises to spring some fun surprises on the audience. Black Angus, an AC/DC tribute band is also on the bill that night. I’m assuming they’re all guys. Liar’s Club is located at 1665 W. Fullerton Avenue.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Is For Lovers

If there was such a thing as a Power Pop Hall Of Fame, The dB’s would be one of the first acts to be inducted. We’re still waiting for that new CD that was promised to us by the winter of 2009, but in the meantime, here’s a look back at an earlier album and a song that’s particularly appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

The dB’s 1983 release Like This was pretty close to a power pop masterpiece, despite the absence of founding member Chris Stamey. Vocalist-rhythm guitarist Peter Holsapple is the star here, penning several great songs. (Stamey would later return to the fold, and 2009 saw the release of the Holsapple/Stamey CD, Here And Now.)

Set to an irresistible melody, Holsapple’s “Love Is For Lovers” comes across as a jubilant tale of a guy who finds himself in a relationship for the first time. “Do you believe that real love is right now?” Holsapple asks. “Could we be having the time of our lives now?” He wonders, “Can you conceive of anything better?” and concludes, “Now every day’s like summer vacation.” But my favorite couplet is, “Do you believe that love is a sure thing?/You say hello and I hit the ceiling.” A clever, and actually, pretty accurate account of the thrill of romance.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all who drop by this blog. And a special Valentine’s Day wish to my wife Pam who is not only loving and caring, but helps out in so many of my creative endeavors. Can you think of anything better?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Slumgullion - #2

Photo of The Handcuffs taken from their website.

Time for another mixed stew of entertainment events coming up in the near future.

Drummer Brad Elvis will be as busy as Cupid this Valentine’s weekend, performing with The Handcuffs, the band he formed with wife Chloe F. Orwell, in Chicago on Friday night, and then with The Romantics at the Pala Casino Resort & Spa in Pala, California on Sunday night. The Handcuffs, who are part of a triple bill at The Empty Bottle, will be previewing some new songs from their upcoming third CD. In related news, The Romantics’ lead vocalist - guitarist Wally Palmar, best known for singing “What I Like About You,” has joined the ranks of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band 2010 Tour.

Over The Rhine will be returning to Illinois for a performance at Space in Evanston on April 28 and 29th. The Ohio-based band, led by vocalist-guitarist-piano player Karin Bergquist and guitarist-bassist-back-up vocalist Linford Detweiler, is currently selling the Live From Nowhere Volume Four CD on its website. The two-disc set features Over The Rhine’s engaging blend of Country & Western and alternative rock recorded at The Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, and includes a 20-page booklet.

Bass player-harmony vocalist Herb Eimerman is our man in Lake Villa, Illinois for The Britanicas, which is a sort of United Nations of power pop. Well, three nations. Joining Eimerman, who has released his share of solo albums, is guitarist-vocalist Magnus Karlsson of Sweden, and drummer- vocalist Joe Algeri of Australia. Judging from the tracks available to download on their MySpace page, The Britanicas didn’t stumble upon their moniker by accident. “Don’t Go Back,” “Blue Sky Grey,” and “One Of These Nights” offer British Invasion style guitars, melodies and harmonies. The trio is hoping for a mid 2010 release for its debut CD.

Dolly Varden vocalist-guitarist Steve Dawson’s second solo effort, I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums is now available on Amazon and iTunes. Dawson will support the new CD with several upcoming gigs, including March 12th at Martyrs in Chicago; April 25th at Space in Evanston, and at the Old Town School of Folk Music on May 16th. Meanwhile, Dawson has posted a video for his thought-provoking tune “Mastodons” on YouTube. The clip features some intriguing animation by his wife and Dolly Varden co-founder, Diane Christiansen. The animation will also be part of the Notes To Nonself multi-media art exhibit that runs from February 11th to May 2nd at the Hyde Park Art Center on Cornel Street in Chicago.

Veteran guitarist and Sopro recording artist Joe Jammer will be performing with his band Flying Tigers from 9PM to midnight at The End Zone on south Western Avenue in Chicago this Saturday, February 13th. For further information, call 773-238-7969.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Demo-Listen Derby # 2

Photo taken from Dan Hubbard And The Humadors Facebook page.

Here are some more of the interesting local acts I came across in 2009. Note: These reviews originally appeared in the Around Hear column of the Illinois Entertainer.

Dan Hubbard And The Humadors exude a workingman’s sensibility on a self-titled CD filled with easy-going rock songs about finding love and a purpose in life. Hubbard’s expressive vocals are appealing, and having three back-up vocalists results in some impressive harmonies. “You’re All I Need” provides some Buddy Holly type fun and “Run For Our Lives” has a melodic Country & Western arrangement.

The energetic funk rock on The Short Attention Span’s Pay Attention CD is propelled by Mike Stankiewicz and Paul Parello Jr., both of whom fill the guitarist/vocalist role. Their rapid fire playing on “Apple Tree” recalls Red Hot Chili Peppers, while “Me Me Me” is more hard rock. Bassist RJ Neumann and drummer Jorge Tobias also impress, especially when Neumann takes center stage on the instrumental, “Extended Faith.”

Marc Kelly Smith, organizer and superstar of Poetry Slams at the Green Mill Lounge, loads his latest CD, Love And Politics with rapid-fire spoken word pieces set to jazz and hip-hop created by his son Adam Kelly Smith. It’s a potent combination, particularly the urban romance of “Street Musician” and satiric “Radio Dope.” Marc’s rough-edged voice and arresting imagery will resonate with fans of Tom Waits or Dennis Leary, as well as anyone else who’s willing to listen.

Listening to Blane Fonda’s debut E.P. Master Of Stars And Broken Arms is like being at a party where you’re scared of the host. Vocalist Mark Weasel yelps on some tracks and croons on others while his bandmates play adventurous dance rock. “Fess Up, Fess Down” is a melodic techno song but on “In Search Of The Giant Squid,” Blane Fonda mixes disco, rap, and Frank Zappa in a blender without a lid. It’s a mess, but fun.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Todd Wright: Halfway There And “Happy”

Photo from Todd Wright’s Facebook page. Photo by R. David Original Photography (

I’ve been using the Elevated Observations column on this blog to track power pop singer-songwriter Todd Wright’s progress as he works his way through an ambitious 40x40 Project to help find a cure for Juvenile Diabetes. But since Elevated Observations is not included on the RSS Feeds that some people use to follow blogs, I thought it was time to mention him in a regular post.

On September 30th of 2009, Wright, who was a member of the group GetawayCar and has toured with the Pat McGee Band, embarked on a quest to release a free track download every Wednesday for 40 straight weeks, to coincide with his 40th birthday. He’s hoping that when people come to to download the songs, they’ll also consider making a donation of $10, $25, $50, or $100 to the American Diabetes Association. The songs are also available for $5.99 as a digital download with a bonus track and PDFs of the CD art, and for $11.99 as an actual CD with a bonus track and PDFs of the CD art. Buyers will be entered to win an iPod loaded with all of Wright’s 40x40 project songs.

As of today, Wright has reached the 40X40 halfway point with his 20th song, “Happy.” This is an amazing feat and I want to wish Wright success in completing the journey, as well as suggest that people make a contribution. I will continue to provide updates under Elevated Observations.

Todd Wright, who has written songs for Lucy Woodward and Toby Lightman, will be part of an extensive line-up of musicians taking part in A Tribute To Neil Finn/Crowded House at The Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia on February 13th.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hollies Album Tracks - The Defense Rocks Part 3

That stuff is almost hidden from view, people don’t know it exists. It almost makes me cry when I say to people, never mind the singles, have you listened to the albums? Because there’s some magic stuff on there.” - Hollies bass player Bernie Calvert

“What Went Wrong” The fatal flaw of the Orchestral Hollies compilation, which was released in 2000, is that it almost entirely ignored the band’s mid-1960s experimental work in favor of much later, much safer material. Graham Nash’s delicately beautiful “Butterfly” was the only song chosen from his tenure with the band, other than a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.” One of the several glaring omissions on Orchestral Hollies was “What Went Wrong,” a rollicking number with accompaniment directed by Mike Vickers, that appeared on the 1966 Stop Stop Stop (For Certain Because - - - in the UK) album. I stated in my last round of Hollies album tracks that Stop Stop Stop might have been The Hollies’ finest moment, and “What Went Wrong” provides additional evidence. The song kicks off with thundering kettle drums and a blast of horns, before Allan Clarke sings, “If you could look my way, you’d know that I exist” in his signature vocal style. He remains impressive throughout the song, particularly on the highly melodic lines, “You be the only reason that I’m leaving town/You be the only reason I’d come back for one more day, I’d come back and maybe stay, if I could find out what to say to you.” The arrangement, anchored by Bobby Elliott’s steady drumming, is reminiscent of the Tom Jones hit, “It’s Not Unusual.” “What Went Wrong” is pure 1960s, but it stands the test of time.

“Leave Me” In the U.S., “Leave Me” appeared on the Dear Eloise/King Midas In Reverse album, and its position directly after the orchestrated fairy tale “Butterfly” indicates just how adventurous The Hollies were in those days. Of all the songs in the band’s catalog, this is the one that would probably fit best on a Nuggets compilation, since it’s a hard-hitting bit of garage rock. Furthermore, “Leave Me,” with its energetic guitar and organ arrangement, is a great example of how to create a nonviolent break-up song. There’s a long-standing, though thoroughly inexcusable school of thought in rock ‘n’ roll that if a woman breaks a man’s heart, he has the right to murder her (“Hey Joe,” “Delilah,” “Run For Your Life.”). Other songs, like The Rascals’ “I Aint Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” or Shoes’ “I Don’t Miss You,” offer a more sensible solution: Kill the relationship, not the partner. For all its anger, “Leave Me” falls in the latter category. “Pack all your things and get out of my sight,” Clarke tells the lover who’s cheated on him. “Your love was made of sand, I’ve had all I can stand, leave me.”

“Promised Land” I haven’t been able to track down the source of a quote I distinctly remember reading that said The Hollies would never sing about the war in Viet Nam. The writer’s point (made sometime around the late 1960s or early 1970s) was that The Hollies just concentrated on making good music and didn’t worry about such things. By the time Distant Light was released in 1972, The Hollies were dabbling in rougher material, and on the song, “Promised Land.” they sounded pretty concerned about the war. Borrowing a page from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, guitarist-vocalist Tony Hicks and his non-band member writing partner Kenny Lynch unleashed a hard rock protest song. Opening with some Beach Boys style harmonizing, “Promised Land” shifts into a more serious mode as vocalist Clarke begins his search for the title location. “It can’t be found in Viet Nam/It can’t be where the Israelites planned it/If we want peace for every man/We’ve got to make the world demand it.” The lyrics go on to state, “We must bring back the soldier boys, we mustn’t let them die for nothing.” The song ends with Clarke, Hicks, and guitarist-vocalist Terry Sylvester singing, “Bring them all back home” while Hicks cuts loose with some of the fiercest guitar licks of his career.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Bangles photo from the band’s website.

When I was a kid, we often had a meal my mother called “slumgullion” on Friday nights. I think the word actually refers to a sort of stew, but she used it to mean a variety of different foods. And so, on this Friday, we have the very first Broken Hearted Toy Slumgullion.

In addition to working on a new CD, The Bangles will be performing throughout the Midwest this Spring. The band will be at the Fine Line Cafe in Minneapolis on April 29th, the Northern Lights Theater in Milwaukee on April 30th, and The Pageant in St. Louis on May 2nd. May 1st will find The Bangles headlining The AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s 25th Anniversary Gala, Not Just Song & Dance at the Hilton Chicago. Tickets for this fundraising event are $500. For more information, call Chris Matthews (not the Hardball host) at 312-334-0917. In other Bangles news, fans can now follow guitarist-vocalist Vicki Peterson (as VickiBangle) on Twitter.

James Moeller and Carla Hayden are consistently inventive artists, whether they’re acting in the Black Forest theatre group, or fronting their band as guitarist-vocalist and vocalist, respectively. The avant garde, alt-rock WhiteWolfSonicPrincess will be showing off some new members and instrumentation on February 18th at the Goose Island Brew Pub on Clark Street in Chicago. I’ve been following the revamped WWSP’s progress on Moeller’s blog, and his enthusiasm for the new energy and chemistry he’s feeling is contagious.

The Fest For Beatles Fans has just added former Wings and Moody Blues member Denny Laine to an already noteworthy line-up for its 36th Annual Beatles Celebration on March 26 -28 at the NJ Crowne Plaza Meadowlands Hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey. Denny Seiwell, another musician who logged time in Paul McCartney’s second most famous band, will also appear, along with Spencer Davis, Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham, Billy J. Kramer, and Chris Montez. The Fest For Beatles Fans comes to Chicago on the weekend of August 13 -15, but the guests have not been announced yet. I was hoping the list would feature a former or current member of The Hollies, considering they’ve just been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and Terry Sylvester did so well at The Fest a few years back.

Vocalist-guitarist Diane Christiansen of the alt-rock/Country & Western group Dolly Varden is joining forces with artist Shoshanna Utchenik to present Notes to Nonself. Described as a “participatory art installation on the nature of self and mind, connection and distraction,” the exhibit runs from February 11th to May 2nd at the Hyde Park Art Center on Cornel Street in Chicago.

Locksley is coming to Schuba’s in Chicago on March 25th, about nine days after its latest CD, Be In Love hits the stores. The Wisconsin based garage rock band will also have its “Darling It’s True” released as a 7” single on Underground Garage honcho Little Steven VanZandt’s Wicked Cool label. A video for the song can be seen at

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