Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #197

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The Run-Off Groove, in conjunction with Shanachie Records, is giving you have a chance to win a copy of Spirits In The Material World: A Reggae Tribute To The Police, featuring new interpretations of classic Police songs by Horace Andy, Inner Circle, Junior Reid, Toots & The Maytals, The Wailing Souls, and even Joan Osborne. I reviewed the album in Run-Off Groove #190, and I think the album is worthy of many listens. Click the following link and enter right now:

Aloha, and welcome to what will become the 197th edition of The Run-Off Groove, with your host, John Book. I'm already late, and yet I don't feel tardy.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us When the guys in Dumhi get together, it seems they are in it for the music and to have an eternal party vibe, but it's very much about work for each of them, committing to projects and executing them to completion. Haj and MicheleQJ had started this project four years ago but for whatever reason it was not completed at the time, placed on the side as both of them moved on with other projects. The songs were heard and they realized that it needed to come out, and Demystification (Pickled Beats) was born.

If you know of Haj's work with Dumhi, then you know the guy is about enhancing existing sounds to create new gems, and also adding his own instrumentation to show that he isn't completely reliant on obscure samples. MicheleQJ rhymes with a carefree style that shows his love of lyrics and wordplay, but he isn't afraid of being direct if need be. Demystification seems to be an album (actually an EP if we are to get super technical, but it's a 10-song EP so let's just call this a "short album") about the different perspectives and perceptions of live, whether it's the struggle of surviving in one's surroundings ("Come Away With Me") or supporting the struggle of the world through unity ("Desperate Measures"). They do this with hints of jazz, soul, and a number of Brazilian sounds, and by doing this they are indirectly looking at their potential audience and saying "we understand". MicheleQJ can sometimes rap with a Common-type elegance that makes you want to listen, but if you're listening for what he sounds like and not what he's saying, you might miss out on some words of importance. One of my favorite songs is "Lose", a down tempo track where the discussion leads into talks of beyond limitations, concentrated on my past, and if you pay attention to what he's saying, you can imagine him thinking back about various aspects of his life. You feel as deep into the song as Rakim looked into deep space in "Follow The Leader", MicheleQJ's detailed lyrics takes you into a world unknown but you're guided in knowing you'll be safe at the end of the trip.

The soulfulness of the album reminds me a bit of Bilal with a bit of Voodoo-era D'Angelo thrown in, while on the hip-hop side the songs come and go at a fast pace not unlike Howard Lloyd's The Quickie EP. I mention the comparison because while there are individual songs on the CD, you can take them in as such but somehow it feels as if they are separate pieces of a bigger puzzle, so you consume it in one setting. Demystification doesn't really have a unified concept or theme, but there's a thread of musicality that shows their confidence in creating "higher level" hip-hop, and I'm not speaking in an egotistical manner or one that represents status. What I also like is, while one can sense a few of their influences, it doesn't sound like an album that's planted too much in the past or an album that wants to make an attempt to sound hip and now. It's not an album that tries to cash in on the latest trend, nor is it one that wants to spark something new. These spirits exist in honor of a time when individuality mattered, not something that was an artifact of days gone by. It's quality hip-hop done exceptionally well, and I hope it will not take another four years for a follow-up.

(You can download a free MP3 of "Yea Yeah", featuring Von Pea & Donwill, by clicking here. If you wish to download the full album, head over to Amazon.com, or for the CD, contact them through MySpace.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic I know this album has received some positive reviews, at least what I've seen in terms of grades. I don't like to read other reviews before I do my own, so I'm not sure what other people are hearing, but this is what I hear. E-Dot and Darpmalone are based in Toronto, and together they are uniting under the name Hero. Their self-titled debut album (Thirsty Music) begins with a song that sounds more new wave and alternative rather than hip-hop, and immediately I'm thinking that either these guys feel the Gnarls Barkley formula works or they're trying to do something that not too many people have done on a hip-hop album. I wondered if the rest of the album sounded like this, and fortunately it doesn't.

I say "fortunately" because while I felt the song is pretty good, I thought it was an odd choice for an album opener. It would have made a better track 3. The second song on the album, "Be Aware", would have been a lot better, with flows that are a bit like Gift Of Gab and Soup of Jurassic 5 and a musical backdrop that sounds like they'd fit well on Stones Throw. "What We Gonna Do" has a nice groove to it with a hint of soul that would help cross it over to R&B audiences without being watered down, while "They Don't Care" has the kind of style and genius that might make people think this was a Little Brother track, with D'Angelo sitting in on vocals. Darpmalone's production is great, utilizing real instrumentation and keyboards with digital manipulation, and by doing so creates auras that sound as bright or as dark as he intends these songs to do. In other words, he's about creating moods and by doing that he helps E-Dot in the process, and in turn E-Dot helps give the music added depth (although they work as instrumentals too).

The new wave stuff, I'm not sure what they were thinking when they decided to put it on the album, or at least as the opening track. First tracks should be bangers, hearing "Mogadishu" made me almost not want to hear the rest. Lay off the bullshit and get to the point, and people will come to you in droves. Hero aren't ready for worship just yet, but if they can sift through things they will have fans bowing.

(Hero's album is available directly from Thirsty Music.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Coolzey is back once again, this time doing a full EP with DJ Przm. What I've liked about Coolzey as of late is his willingness to experiment and try new things, and this one is a mixture of today's swagger with that of the old. The five song EP is called Coolzey vs. DJ Przm (Public School) and even by limiting himself to just five songs he manages to go in more places than some artists attempt to do with their entire discography (or fileography, as the case may be).

This Iowa MC has a lot going for him, he can easily fit in with a number of other top notch MC's, white or otherwise, but I think what he wants to do is secure himself in that "otherwise". It's not different, but it's his own turf, his own terrain, and he's welcoming anyone who is willing to give him a shot. What I found interesting is the use of various "ethnic" samples, not sure if it's Italian, Green, or Russian, as the string instrument in "This Is Fun" sounds like a balalaika. The chorus sounds like something from the Mad Flava or House Of Pain archives, but here Coolzey raps about finding MC's who attempt to walk within his vicinity, and when that happens he's ready for the verbal attack and the party to celebrate the death of their careers. "Old Souls" has an accordion played over a curious funky beat while Coolzey and guests The Rhombus speak about representing the music and craft of rhyming over a mixture of real instrumentation and samples. Count Bass D opens "Punk/Punk/Punk" with a spoken introduction about people who have died for hip-hop before Coolzey talks about not wanting to play games but is willing to test you. Count Bass D then raps about doing shows in parking lots, not making investments, but still doing this music because it's life.

DJ Przm's beats are dusty and dirty, he definitely comes from the school of good shit and he and Coolzey make a good team. While Coolzey has proven himself to be a renaissance by not only writing and rhyming, but producing and DJ'ing his own work, it's nice to hear him express himself over other people's beats. Unfortunately, Przm died before the completion of the EP due to health problems, so he was not able to hear the final version nor get a chance to know what people felt about his work. If you are a Coolzey fan, you should already have this CD in your collection. If you are a fan and become a fan of Przm in the process, go back and listen to what he had done before this, said to be one of the last projects he worked on before his passing.

(Coolzey vs. DJ Przm is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Duffy is Welsh, and perhaps for Americans that makes people think she's exotic, authentic, more true, more real, I don't know, come up with your own thing. The one thing people have been mentioning when Duffy is being discussed is that she's the next Amy Winehouse, which must mean that people hear a few things in common. What are they?

I listened to Rockferry (Mercury), an album that actually came out in the UK last year but released in the U.S. in early March. Upon first listen to the album, I immediately here a love for early to mid-60's pop, something that Winehouse shares along with the girl group sound and Northern Soul, along with a love for ska and hip-hop. The title track sounds like it was pulled straight out of the Dusty Springfield catalog, if not Bobbie Gentry. The way she sings does not sound like anything that's out now, which to me means that she hears a lot more conviction in the older records and doesn't feel a need to try to top everyone. It's pop, almost drenched in that Phil Spector Wall Of Sound sauce, and it lead me to think if people liked Duffy not only for a slightly retro sound, but perhaps because it's safer than Winehouse. I don't know, and of course it's really difficult to measure what "safe" means when it comes to sound. So let's get away from that.

The title track has her singing about moving to a new place after she was forced leave my shadow to fall behind, and the way she sings about missing someone or something moves you to want to hear more. With the string section that accents the somewhat sluggish pace, it immediately brings visions of a journey, the long road ahead towards uncertainty, almost like some of the pop-flavored country ballads that came out in the late 60's/early 70's. I make the comparison to country music because of the honesty in the lyric and how she tells a proper story, something that is sorely lacking in other popular genres as of late. The longing she offers in her voice makes the listener want to be the recipient of her sorrow, and therefore wants to listen to the entire album.

"Warwick Avenue" is another ballad that would have been perfect for Nelly Furtado had she not sacrificed her integrity for the almighty loon. Here, Duffy sings of love long gone, perhaps thinking and hoping for something optimistic but knowing the reality of the situation (I wished for better but I didn't want the train to come). The song is well written and arranged, making it possible for other artists to cover these songs in the future, which in turn will move the spotlight her way. The syrupy strings make a return in "Serious", which is a bit more upbeat, but if someone is actually looking for some kind of Duffy/Winehouse battle, take a listen to "Stepping Stone", which has that girl group sound that both singers appreciate. In this case, Duffy's voice is a bit higher and silkier in tone, and the lack of ballsiness doesn't necessarily mean that Duffy lacks attitude, but rather she reveals the sensitive side that comes from someone with a different level of experience. I'll put it bluntly, Duffy is the kind of singer Madonna wishes she was, and I make this comparison because when I first heard Madonna back in 1982 with "Holiday", I thought it was Deniece Williams. Duffy's voice is at times similar to Williams', but without being a complete emulation.

Things kind of get futless when "Mercy", which doesn't know if it wants to sound like a Ben E. King song, a Tina Turner anthem, or something as bubbly as Lily Allen. It's very different from the previous six tracks, if not out of place, I would have preferred it later in the album (or as a B-side). "Distant Dreamer", however, goes back to the strength and openness of the other songs on the album, and when she reaches the chorus it might bring a tear to the eye. I know part of the appeal of the girl group sound is that it sounds like that of a teenage girl looking for her dream man, which is partly why that formula works among Disney artists and a lot of today's R&B. I hate using words like "pretty" because it might make someone think that its use is more about her looks than her music, but I'll use it here: Duffy has a pretty voice that isn't too grown or worn, and again, it's the longing in her voice that becomes a reflection of what the listener has experienced in their own lives. She's the kind of singer where you want to say "thank you, someone feels what I feel", and in the end that's what good music is all about.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us It wasn't until after I played this album for the fifth time did I know that Bess Rogers had a rich background in music and had played with a number of artists in the past. It made sense after the fact, but I went into Decisions Based On Information without any information but the music that was in my hands. Pop in the CD, and the music begins. I see an attractive lady on the cover (the lady being Miss Rogers) and I'm wanting to take it all in.

I had seen a promo photo of Rogers carrying what I thought was an 'ukulele, so at first I'm assuming it would be something a bit retro and maybe eclectic, if not quirky (I later found out that the instrument was a custom-made banjolele, which is played on the album by producer/engineer Dan Romer). "Modern Man" has a light feel to it, with that banjolele, a stand-up bass, and the kind of spirit that brings to mind those great pop albums of the 1970's where there are no cares in the world. "You And Me" starts out sounding like some bluegrass or Americana from Nashville, or as if Tanya Donnelly became less angelic sounded and wanted to switch genres. It's a bit Wilco-ish, and for me I'm thinking great, this is going to be something rootsy, something earthy, especially with the jangly guitars and a nice fiddle solo. All of it is interrupted by a weird synth sound at the 1:55 mark, which immediately sets it apart from artists that I might want to compare her too. It makes me readjust in order to take in any other surprises she might throw my way.

"I Would Never" (free MP3) begins with the filtered sound of what sounds like a guitar tuned with piano strings, I'm not sure what it is exactly but it being filtered (it sounds dry or as if it's being played through a Dairy Queen speaker) helps limit its sound so that it doesn't go overboard and overshadows her voice and lyrics. One of the more effective moments of the album (and there are many) is the second chorus when she sings I would never call you back/I would never hurt you...that bad/I would never, I would never, I would never even think about that, and it leads to a synthesized solo that sounds like a mariachi horn section, and it works so well that I wished she was able to find real musicians to take it over the edge. It works alongside the guitar and bass work and helps drive the song to its conclusion. It's a song I think would be appreciated by someone such as Dave Grohl, and he'd be the kind of guy who would bring Rogers with him in the studio and hire a mariachi horn section.

"Undone" is a bit more funky, as it begins with something that sounds like discarded Mellotron tape, so immediately it has a slightly trippy/psychedelic feel. Over hints of violin, cello, French horn, choir-type vocal chops and a synth that sounds like a Moog or ARP, she sings seductively on If I could change the world around me, then I wouldn't be so down/Baby can't you see that I'm the kind of girl that could easily come...undone/now what else can I do? The song is done so well, that I wish I could call every station in the U.S. to play it so she could have a big massive hit single. However, I'd be broke if I did that, but it's that kind of song that can fit well with something as addicting as Sara Bareilles "Love Song" and sit alongside something as corny as Colbie Caillat "Bubbly" but still carry on with its edginess that most people in the Top 100 do not have right now. Just before it gets too safe, she goes in for the kill with a razor blade in "Sunday", which sounds anything like a day of rest with her ripping out guitar riffs, as if she was saying "forget the Lilith Fair, I want to headline Bonnaroo". What does sound appropriate is "Earthquake", which features someone pounding a piano while a slide guitar glides over each beat with some strings before she stirs herself up vocally as the music builds, only for it to prove anti-climactic, but letting the listener know she's going to do it this way again, and again, and again. It works well, especially when she sings well I don't love me, and I don't love you/now I've been telling all these lies my whole life/it's never gonna stop/so tell me why I don't wanna go/tell me why, I don't wanna go down with you, which then leads to a break in the song where the string section adds their melancholy and solidifies what Rogers is trying to convey.

It's an album that moves like that in the right places at the right time, but just when one thinks the song will begin, end, or head towards familiar territory, she takes it by the hair and says "come here". Decisions Based On Information is an album that will be recognized as one by a talent who deserves all of the praise that comes her way. Her songwriting is revealing and yet you still want to hear her stories, for life is about discovering those stories untold and perhaps finding someone who has faith in sharing them. The arrangements by Romer compliment Rogers beautifully. Rogers has a voice that is very comforting, one that has room to explore other musical territory if she feels the need to explore, and after hearing the ten songs on this album (actually eleven, there's an uncredited 11th track) it seems Rogers has her backpack and guitar case ready for the journey that lies ahead. This is easy my nomination for one of the best albums of 2008.

(Decisions Based On Information will be released on April 8th and is available from CDBaby.)

FREE Bess Rogers MP3's:
See Me? See You

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Sam Yahel is a pianist/keyboardist who has appeared on albums by Ben Perowsky, Norah Jones, and Lizz Wright, and is called because the man can play. He also releases music on his own, and last year's Truth And Beauty (Criss Cross) received some positive reviews from the press. While the spotlight should be on him and his music, his new project is focused on doing a tribute for another album. Not just any album, and it's not a jazz one either, although it does have jazzy overtones.

Jazz Side Of The Moon: The Music Of Pink Floyd (Chesky) is a hybrid SACD (which means it plays on SACD and standard CD players) that honors an album that has been on the charts longer than any other, and along with Yahel it features Mike Moreno (guitar), Ari Hoenig (drums), and Seamu Blake (saxophone). The album may be somewhat difficult to find because it's credited as a Various Artists disc, and not by Yahel or any of the other musicians (but as always, I offer a link below). If you are a Pink Floyd or jazz fan, you will find this tribute to be very interesting.

The album begins with "Breathe", and as the opening notes came in I wondered if this would be just a lame, smooth jazz treatment where I could fall asleep, wake up and still know where I was. The song is not like that. It begins at a slower pace compared to the original, and Blake begins playing the lyrics of the song through his playing while Yahel plays along and around him. Moreno slowly glides in, and it's cool to hear it done in this way because everyone is fully aware of how the original song was played, with Moreno doing a few things that sound similar to David Gilmour's slide guitar work and Yahel understanding what Richard Wright did (including the small bit of Ray Charles) but then moving forward once the song hits the two minute mark. All of a sudden, everyone branches off and one might not realize they're still performing a Pink Floyd song. Moving into a 7/4 time signature briefly is a very nice touch. What's also nice is hearing these songs performed without lyrics, most people who call Dark Side Of The Moon a personal favorite should know this album inside and out, so it allows the listener to take the meaning of the album and each individual song a bit deeper (or at least one becomes more conscious about the actual lyrics when you're hearing them in your head and not in front of you). Their take of "On The Run" is unexpected, as Yahel and Blake play the melody of the VCS3. Rather than take you on a trip through an airport as someone runs, they move in and out of the melody while almost becoming tempo-less. (The song is revived at the end with a "Part 2", where they keep to the songs original tempo and everyone enhances the song by playing towards the song's destination). The rest of the album falls along the same lines of "expect the unexpected", so even if you hold yearly rituals for group singalongs for "Brain Damage", you're still going to want to hear this.

Since much of Dark Side Of The Moon was jazzy to begin with, (Jazz Side Of The Moon is not too much of a stretch compared to what The Dub All-Stars did with Dub Side Of The Moon, but it is just as adventurous. The sound quality on this is amazing to, perhaps this is why Chesky decided to release this as a multichannel SACD. Yahel, Moreno, Blake, and Hoenig are incredible together, and while it would be great for all of them to continue making music as a quartet, it's the kind of album that makes you want to follow each musician on their own musical paths. Excellent album, job well done.

(Jazz Side Of The Moon: The Music Of Pink Floyd is available from CD Universe, Amazon.com, or Elusive Disc.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Shoegaze, space rock, you probably heard tons of names in reference to New York's Soundpool, and Dichotomies & Dreamland (Aloft) is meant to be an entry into the group's dreamy soundscapes, which is what it is. It is as lush as the sounds of Lush, but also do this with their share of electronics and rely a bit on well-tested loops. "Pleasure & Pain" comes off like a revision of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", complete with a similar drum pattern and backwards guitar solo. "The Divides Of March" is very ambient sounding, imagine My Bloody Valentine mixed in with Shaun Cassidy. "Lush (What Becomes You)" sounds nothing like Lush, in fact it's a dub-flavored track with a Mellotron-ish backdrop that helps out the song's exploration of love.

It's psychedelic pop with a mid-90's feel, and while their sound could be further examined and compared to those before them, it's nice to know there are young musicians who find pleasure in this style of music and want to share it with people around the world, as well as the universe. Shine on, lads and lasses.

(Dichotomies & Dreamland is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Freddie Stevenson has a lot of ambition going into All My Strange Companions (Juicy Musical Creation), but I'm not feeling any of it.

Stevenson begins the album with some kind of odd proto-punk thing in the vein of Billy Childish with a bit of Green Day, but head into "Alibi Song" and it becomes one of those long-drives-on-the-highway type songs. Any of you who have read my work in the last few years know that I am actually a fan of those types of songs, but I would prefer it if Stevenson didn't do the singing. I just found his music a bit lackluster and just flat out weak.

What I did like was the production from Horace Calhoun, and the entire album was engineered by David Z. (yes, THAT David Z.), and it definitely has that trademark Nashville sound that I really like, I wish more albums sounded like this. The music is not for me, but the recording is extraordinary.

(All My Strange Companions is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Upon first listen, Kid Dakota sound like a power pop band, with great riffs and atmospherics due to them being guitar driven, complimented with great vocals from guitarist/keyboardist/bassist Darren Jackson. Along with drummist Ian Prince, they make up Kid Dakota, and while they can play everything on their own, they're not afraid to bring in guests to help them out.

With A Winner's Shadow (Speakerphone/Graveface), they are not afraid to talk about the cynical side of life, as they do in "Chutes & Ladders", where Jackson says start the trial, throw us over/see if we will sink or swim/if the jury finds us guilty/make certain they end it swiftly/tie us to a raft that's burning/and return our bodies to the sea, all in front of a blitz of guitars, great vocal harmonies, and a bass that just hangs to be punched. It reminds me a bit of a more pop-friendly Queens Of The Stone Age, with hints of Josh Homme, and occasionally a bit of Thom Yorke and first album-era Weezer. What I also like about the lyrics is Jackson's tendency to get a bit abstract, at least on the surface until you move back and realize he's very much in focus.

Kid Dakota have what it takes to become a mainstream band, but I'd hate to see that edge disappear. But even if they became more mainstream, I'm sure they'd find a way to keep two feet in the good door.

(A Winner's Shadow is avaialble from CD Universe

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us A journey of real instrumental music. Jazzy with a funky groove and a touch of rock.

Jazz guitarist Bill Hart has been doing his thing for a few years, traveling around the world and playing with the kind of fervor and passion that comes from someone who loves his music and his instrument of choice. Subject To Change (self-released) is an album by someone who shows a love not only for jazz, but for mid to late 70's funk, and because of that also plays music that is very much in the lines of fusion.

Hart is the one in charge throughout the album, playing with the kind of power and precision heard in the playing of Al Di Meola, Robert Fripp, and Steve Hackett. He's mindblowing on the electric guitar, but he also eases up and plays acoustically, showing a level of musicianship that makes him someone everyone should get a chance to listen to, especially in songs like "Sara's Song", "Anna Banana", and "Inside Out". The laid back acoustic material works well with the more uptempo songs. If there's a problem with this album, it's that I felt some of the music played by his band almost sounds like it came out of a box, as if anyone could have bought it, played over it and said "here, this is my album". This is evident when they get into funk mode, and while I'm a diehard funk fan, the other musicians played it as if they were being controlled by Sir Nose. If you're going to offer funk, I want to smell it. Fortunately Hart saves it by not only getting into the existing groove but coloring the strokes that aren't there.

Subject To Change is for guitar junkies who enjoy riffs offered by the pound, this guy is equipped with the ammo and has reserves when you think his fretboard gymnastics has run its course. It would be interesting to hear him collaborate with other musicians.

(Subject To Change is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Minnesota jazz guitarist Paul Renz plays some moving laid back jazz in the vein of Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery, and with his quintet he offers ReBop (Gabwalk), showing what kind of class this musician wants to deliver to his listeners.

The quintet (Nathan Fryett on drums; Anders Bostrom on flutes, Brian Ziemniak on Hammond B-3 and piano, and Eric Graham on bass) are incredible musicians, and this is what I found interesting about the album. When the leader of the band is on the cover, you tend to place an emphasis on his playing. Or you listen and hear how the group compliments him, or listen to how the music sounds as a whole. The music definitely works as a whole, but Renz's musicianship pales in comparison to what Bostrom and Ziemniak are doing throughout this album, to the point where they should have called it The Quintet featuring Paul Renz. Their version of Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" is great as Renz and Bostrom play together, carrying the melody forward as Ziemniak can be heard subtly in the background but definitely making his presence known. There are moments when Ziemniak's playing sounds a bit like Earth, Wind & Fire's "Zanzibar", almost as if they brought in Larry Dunn and asked for him to sit in. Bostrom's solo in this one is wicked, on level with some of the best jazz flautists and if he too was at Newport, he'd get a standing ovation as well.

If there's an instance where the band totally outshine its leader, it's on this album. However, if each member of this quintet are involved in four different sessions and they were released as individual albums, it would be just as powerful as ReBop. Perhaps if Renz removed a few people out of the equation the emphasis would be placed on him.

(ReBop is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us In terms of how to be a subtle player while still showing how good you are or can be, put faith in the hands of guitarist Dave Stryker, who along with his quartet offer of Strike Up The Band (Steeplechase).

This is a guy whose handpicking style gives him a bit of finesse and flow, and whether it's in his own songs like "Saints And Sinners" and "Blues Strut" (one of my favorites on the album, songs from his bandmates (bassist Andy McKee offers "Peace Song" while pianist Xavier Davis shares "The Message"), or covering songs from jazz's rich past (Sonny Rollins' "Airegin", or the George Gershwin-penned title track, which allows everyone in the band to take the song into new places), he's the kind of guitarist you could hear all day and never get bored. It's laid back but not sleep inducing, and the tone he gets with the guitar is satisfying, that would be a good way of putting it. Add to this mix the drumming of Billy Hart and, c'mon, it's Billy Hart we're talking about. It's an album where everyone works as an equal, but when you hear Davis play the piano, it's his time. When McKee seems to play out of the song only to come back at the right moment, it's his time while trying to get a bit of shine for himself. Yet you still have a sense that this is Stryker and his vision of his music, and it's quite nice to listen to, like coming home after a long day at work.

(Strike Up The Band is available from CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Going back and forth between a trio and quartet lineups, guitarist Greg Chako has returned once again with a great album called Everybody's Got A Name (self-released). What I liked about him before was his sense of character, giving each song a voice (or a metaphorical "face") and having it become the reason you want to hear the entire song.

With musicians who are honored on the cover with Blue Note mock-ups (Mark Derose on drums, Yasuhiro Hasegawa on bass, and Hiroshi Tanaka on piano), Chako finds himself in good company as he plays his heart and soul out with material that benefits his style of playing, especially in songs like "Bop-N-Swing Thing", "Blues For Redd", "Yamanashi Snow" and the Latin-flavored title track, which doesn't let go of its energy during the song's 10 minute duration. It begins on a gentle note, with Tanaka helping steer things together, but once it clocks in with the beat, these four to not let go. Chazo plays low-key for awhile, even letting Hasegawa shine for a moment, but once Chazo finds some room to move in, he gradually walks in and let's everyone know that he'll be speaking with you for awhile in the language of the six-string.

The music feels good, you listen to it and can't help but smile throughout, and it seems that these guys may have been doing it the same way in the studio. These are musicians that Chako has played with in Japan for years, and the liner notes indicate that while he had played in a trio setting, it's the first time he recorded his music as a quartet. It works, and I think whether it's four people or forty, this guy is going to and will continue to record music that people will find hard to resist.

(Everybody's Got A Name is available directly from the official Greg Chako website. His other albums are available through CDBaby.)


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  • April 19, 2008 is Record Store Day. The website states On this day, all of these stores will simultaneously link and act as one with the purpose of celebrating the culture and unique place that they occupy both in their local communities and nationally. As all of you know, I am a lifelong vinyl junkie, with some of my first musical memories coming from records that my family had, and the ritual of going to a record store or record department and taking it all in.

    On April 19th, hundreds of record stores across the United States will celebrate the integrity of the second best way to listen to music, and that is the record. The first, of course, is seeing and hearing it in person, and on this day a number of stores will have in-store or parking lot performances by a wide range of artists, including San Quinn, King Britt, Kill The Hippies, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (yes, the one of "Paralyzed" fame), Black Rebel Motorcycle, The New Pornographers, and a new band on the rise called Metallica. While a record store seems dated by some, especially those of the iPod generation, for many of us it's part of the habit. It's more than just buying records and CD's, it's meeting people, hearing a story being told by the clerk behind the counter and saying "hey, I know about that and it sucks". It's very much about community spirit, knowing the tastes of the locals but also how to sell good music to those who seek more than the norm.

    I hope you will participate in something that will be an annual event, and in turn you can buy some new music. If you do attend a local event, take some pictures and I'll run them in a future column and/or link to them. If you capture some video, pass me a link and I'll share it with my faithful readers.


    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Braille is about to drop a new album very soon, called The IV Edition. I got my copy, and in a recent newsletter he said that while he knows that his music is available online for free, he hopes that if you like his work and what he's about, that you will go out and buy the new one when it is formally released. I've been a fan of his work for a few years, and if the new album is as good as what he has done before, it will definitely be worth your time. You can find out more about the Braille way of life at Braille Hip Hop or HipHopIsMusic.com.

  • On a non-musical note, if you are looking for a unique gift idea for a friend, significant other, or family member, one site that always has some interesting goodies is BuyOlympia.com, based out of the city of Olympia, Washington. They have everything from cook books to calendars, biodegradable coffee mugs to T-shirts with such sayings as "I Heart Public Transportation", "What Would Devo Do?" and my personal favorite:

    There's enough nerd, geek, and quirkiness to keep you going through their website for awhile, so if you're looking for handmade goods or custom soaps, they have it. Unfortunately they also stock a Refillable Record Book, made out of actual records:

    This would be the ultimate sin for me, but hey, something needs to be done with Goodwill's overflowing supply of Merrill Womach albums, right?

  • That's it for this week's installment of The Run-Off Groove. There's a lot of music I didn't get into this week or was not able to review and listen in time for this week, but next week should be jam packed with the goods, so come back.

    If you have any music, books, or audio equipment you'd like for me to review, you can contact me through my MySpace page.

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