Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #214

Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #214. I apologize for the gap last week, the gap being "no column" but things have been busy so I had to make sure things were done and taken care of. Now that they are (for now), it's time to start.

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Image Hosted by There's a hate I have for starting the first paragraph in a review with the word "I", so I decided to come up with some gibberish before using it for the second paragraph. Here we are.

I have known of tREBLEFREE for a few years after communicating with him on an online music board, enjoying the few tracks I heard and always getting into decent conversations, usually about music. I've known about the album he had been putting together for the last few years, but it kept on being delayed and pushed back (sounds like a familiar story). Out of nowhere, he tells me that his album is done and he wants me to take a listen. I'm open.

The Return Of The Dirty Cymbals (mitc.) is a project six years in the making, with tREBLEFREE handling everything on the production side and letting his friends drop some fine lyrics. The people on this album include Ilwil, DVS, Plee and Donwill and these guys sound perfect on these tracks, which is a combination of the boom bap plus samples that are arranged incredibly well. My favorite part is the introduction in "313 To 310/510", the numbers of which represent where he lived for awhile (California) and the place he calls home (Detroit), where you hear various scratches over a beat, a sped up "Californiaaaaaa" sample and the inclusion of a familiar "one, two, AAAAAAH" and for me that's brilliant. Scorpeze drops a cool first like the old school trooper he is, sounding a bit like Lyrics Born meets Nice & Smooth. The album then goes into gear as DVS and Malakh El deliver their stories on how to be hard as fuck in "Tight Fit", and tREBLEFREE's chopped bass and guitar lines and drum loops fit perfectly. In fact, most of his productions are quite good because he knows his music and knows how to share that love of the records through careful digital manipulation.

If you read the last sentence carefully, some of you might be questioning the "most of his productions are quite good" part. Do I have a gripe? Only a small one, there's a sample in "313 To 310/510" that is done dry without a bassline and as the album's first proper song I thought the entire album would sound like that. I would have preferred to hear a bass within the song's last 30 seconds, but it might have been done that way to welcome people in to the funk that's to come. Producer, beat, and sample junkies will enjoy the work tREBLEFREE put into this, especially in tracks like "Innuendo", "I'm Writing", and my personal favorite, "Limelight" (I would have liked the intro beat stretched out for the entire song, but it's a nice tease to keep people listening), and as DJ Life scratches the wheels of fury in "Pardon My Favor" it helps give the album a nice mix tape vibe to it, a bridge between the first and second halves of the album (or a virtual Side 1 and Side 2).

Like Dilla, there's a soulfulness in tREBLEFREE's samples and beat production, so something is definitely in the water up there. Like Madlib, he can also become incredibly obscure with his style of production, where it isn't just simple beats and loops, it's a nice balance between familiarity and the unknown. Both drive each other to create an album that could easily measure up to anything on Stones Throw or Rhymesayers, and the guy better watch out or he'll be scooped up by a lot of MC's and singers there.

If you read the last sentence carefully, soem of you might be questioning the reference to "singers". It's that soulfulness in his productions that could open him up to being a producer for today's soul and R&B artists, and yet that lo-fi Madlib-type approach still keeps his foot in hip-hop, which is eternal. The title is perhaps an appropriate one, as it's a call to a return to the dirty qualities of late 80's/early 90's production with the openness of today. Maybe it's not a return, but more of a continuation of what's good. The 313 will forever be proud.

The cover art by Cristian Rios should also be highlighted. It looks like a developed pencil sketch of a man about to walk up a hill or mountain, while another man sits down cross legged in the distance. I'm not sure if Rios was in anyway influence by Burt Shonberg's artwork on Love's Out Here album, since it almost feels like Rios is answering back by saying "now it's time to create movement". The guy sitting down happens to be blue, like the Out Here guy. It probably has nothing to do with it, but I always enjoy seeing illustrations on hip-hop albums, as it takes away from a possible photograph and allows the listener to figure out how the painting refers to the music or album title. Either way, it works.

(The Return Of The Dirty Cymbals is available from

Image Hosted by MakeUpBreakUp are a synth, techno-pop friendly duo who sound like someone made a mix tape of music by The Cure, Tears For Fears, Icicle Works, and New Order. It's not sure whether it wants to be new wave, electronic pop, or a collage of everything that's poppy and boppy. We Prefer Not To... (S.A.F.) is a short but decent 6-song EP that shows the power of the material and the strength in what a good collaboration can create. "Blame Game" and "Fall Into Her Love Trap" are my favorites, while they could easily play with people's emotions in "She's Always X Rated", where they talk about finding a woman who isn't herself until she's behind a camera, and are afraid to grasp the reality of the situation. (Perhaps a female reply could be performed to get a completely unexpected perspective).

It's good pop with a diverse wardrobe, and it seems these guys like to dress-up a lot, musically. Good thing.

(We Prefer Not To... is available directly from S.A.F. Records.)

Image Hosted by Music For Art Exhibits could be a misleading title if you allow it to be, but for Soundscapegoat it might be about playing with the idea of what this music could be. The album is a unique exploration of synthesizers and electronics, and in an abstract sense they may be fitting at an art exhibit. If you are to take the concept on the surface, each song represents a different area of the exhibit with different textures and tones, each one sounding very different from the one that came before. Some of the pieces come off a bit repetitive at first, but allow the music to settle in and one will be able to find each section of the song unfolding and revealing new elements within the audio meditation. In fact, I would call this "music for a distracted meditation", in that one could easily chill and zone out but one might also get lost in some of the groups that could have easily be taken from a few German electronic music galleries.

Soundscapegoat is the one-man production of Peter Bartlein, whose work under the name Marys Brother I reviewed earlier this year in The Run-Off Groove #188. While the grooves are still here, you'll have to take it all in as a whole rather than a few bursts here in there. Even though each track sounds different and unique, there is something in them that unites it all as one piece. It reminds me some of the work by The ORB where each layer of sound turns into something that may be the start of hallucinatory visions.

(Music For Art Exhibits is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Sausalito Summer (Jazz Vista) by Court Mast begins like a long lost ECM or CTI album, and it sounds like an introduction to one hell of an incredible album. It then leads into the second track, the title track, and sadly it's the start of a bumpy ride I wasn't ready to take when I started this journey.

Court Mast plays the trumpet and cornet, and at first the atmosphere he creates in "Gold Coast" is almost too good to be true, although perhaps I was expecting a bit more activity like that song. Instead it becomes a set of well played songs that border on pop standards and carefully crafted arrangements. "Marling Song" would sound perfect on a Dave Brubeck or Ramsey Lewis Trio album as Sam Grobe-Heintz's playing is superb, accented by a moving flute solo from Tim Wallace. At times it feels more like a group album than something that is meant to focus on Mast, or Mast almost comes off as a mere accompanist. The guy can play, but the other musicians get themselves in the door a bit more than the one who invited them in, and it works in that regard.

(Sausalito Summer is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Mellow Red Rider rock your thing, then the Tom Fuller Band may be your ching. Abstract Man (Redcap/Mesa/Blue Moon/Fontana) is good ol' radio-friendly rock'n'roll that has a bit of punch to it but without being threatening.

Fuller and band would fit in along the likes of Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Jellyfish, and Flaming Lips, and if that list sounds a bit confusing, things become quite clear when you hear songs like "Lollipop Guild", "Midnight Pass", "All I Ever Wanted", and their cover of "Air That I Breathe", and you know you want to show support for their brand of pop-friendly rock.

Not bad at all.

(Abstract Man is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Salme Dalhstrom is an artist along the lines of Princess Superstar, Kelis, and M.I.A. but mixed in with the acid-tinged pulses of Stereo MC's, Chemical Brothers, and the electronic pulses that dominated the 90's. What she does is bring that feeling back and dress it up with some new clothes, and the end result is The Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade, an album that satisfies the itchy dance fiends who never want to return home even when the clubs are closed.

Her music sounds like the best vocal tracks on albums created by artists known for their instrumentals, in other words she makes her voice and lyrics and emphasis and in the end becomes someone willing to test pop fans with her digital prowess and sensuality. It's fun and you can't help but be satisfied by the party atmosphere she creates with walls of synths and well chosen breaks and loops. Many of these songs deserve to be released as singles and if they're not, I hope club DJ's will put them into heavy rotation.

(The Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Dylan Champagne is known to some as being one part of the math rock band One Step Shift. For a moment he is stepping out on his own to create something a bit more humble, and he's hoping his older fans will understand his ventures into acoustic folk pop. Or if anything, he knows they will understand the title of his album: New Equation (Broke In Oakland).

It sounds like the kind of music that can be played at any beach near a bonfire, when all that is required is an acoustic guitar, a tambourine, and the heart to sing out loud, or at least that's what "From Here To There" sounds like. "Junk Parts" sounds like Reaching Quiet singing over some 3/4 time signature as the pace of the song drives the lyrics home:
molecules whisper and memory fades
simple equations facilitate change
27 years just plotting escape
but i still can't scratch my way out of this maze

Every now and then the listener is able to get caught up in a collage of sound that seems out of place but help decorate the sound in its strange beauty. New Equation is as beautiful as it is strange, and after an initial listen I couldn't help but listen to it more and more.

(New Equation will be formally released on September 9th, and can be ordered from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by The relationship between vocal jazz and I has been a battle. I love jazz, but I approach vocal jazz apprehensively because sometimes it makes my morals bleed. In other words, I enjoy great singers but when a singer is below my personal standard, I cringe and wished "dentist jazz" didn't exist. Then there's Denise Donatelli.

Jazz vocalists can and will get lost in the crowd because everyone wants to celebrate in song, and very few are standouts in my opinion. But Donatelli is someone whom I could listen to all day and night. What Lies Within (Savant) is the perfect title, for she can lure you with a seductive cover photo but it's what lies within (nice one) that will make you want to know her and her voice. Imagine Diane Krall without the manly husky tones and you have someone who could easily become one of this generation's finest singers. She is smooth, sensual, and has a resilience that is almost hypnotic. I know, probably sounds like big journalistic words that are used to motivate people to buy CD's, but that's the point, I'm using these words to sey that this is a singer who needs to be heard because she can sing her ass off. Can I be any more blunt, Donatelli SINGS HER ASS OFF!

Now that I've offended two of you, let me talk to you about her music. The album has her recording a number of standards, finding herself as comfortable in balladry as she is in Brasilia., and with "Crystal Silence" she could easily find herself doing a bit of soulful electronica, as she has that vibe to her that shows she isn't just a "jazz singer". One of the albums best moments is in "Sails (Velas Icadas)" where she sings the last word in a verse and takes off in one direction while her band move into another in a different key. I love when artists do that, it gives off the effect of each of them moving in a different direction and after the solos they meet again in perfect harmony. Donatelli doesn't overuse her vibrato, it reminds me sometimes of the approach Miles Davis had with his trumpet. His trumpet was his voice, and he often spoke in a manner only his intended recipient is supposed to know. Donatelli's voice is that musical, she uses it as a fine instrument and it makes you want to cuddle with it.

Her versions of "I Love It When You Dance That Way", "This Lament", and "Beloved (Daahoud)" are most welcome. The musicians on here include Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums), Hamilton Price (bass), Bob Sheppard (soprano, alto & tenor saxes, flute and alto flute), Carl Saunders (trumpet, flugelhorn), Geoffrey Keezer (piano, marimba, vibraphone, percussion), Giovanna Clayton (cello), Alex Acuña (percussion), Carlos del Rosario (organ, tuned Viennese gong), and Peter Sprague (guitar), and together they have the right chemistry that sounds like some of the best jazz combos you can come up with. The musicians flirt musically Donatelli and she does the same in such a way that you can't help but laugh and enjoy the moment, maybe have a sip of wine in the afterglow. In truth, she has a gift that is not unlike Janis Siegel or Karin Plato, and I hope she continues her dedication to that gift for years to come.

(What Lies Within is available from
CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by Good jazz is a personal jazz, good sounding jazz gets me going. Michael Antonelli records an album with bassist Peter Nobile, drummer Tim Herrmann, and guitarist Kevin Golden, and as Michael's Jazz Quartet they offer one of those albums that makes you wish more people were this attentive to their music, regardless of genre. Woody-N-Me (self-released) is well played and well recorded, coming from a bunch of guys who have a true love for the music and how to play it. Antonelli is a saxophonist who is brilliant on his instrument, playing powerful melodies and improvising in a fashion that makes you want to stand up in front of your speakers and cheer, whether it's in "Waltz For Lefty", "Three Halves", or the brilliant opening track "Golden Opportunity". Guitarist Golden is a musician who stands out as a fine player and has that hand strumming style (think Wes Montgomery) that is gentle when it can be and brutally powerful at the most unexpected moments. Nobile and Herrmann are the perfect rhythm section, concentrating on their surroundings while at times almost playing their own game, as a duo and as individuals and it's fun to listen to. They maintain a solid platform during the ballads but when it's time to jam and go all out, it's almost as if they have their own agenda. That's often a trademark for me in many jazz rhythm section, and they are no exception.

The sound they were able to achieve with Woody-N-Me (engineered, mixed, and mastered by Tom Venable and produced by Antonelli himself) is also a standout, and it may come as a surprise that this was recorded at Antonelli's home, without effects or overdubs. If you know how Rudy Van Gelder worked at his home studio and what he was able to achieve with his knowledge of room dynamics, then perhaps it's not a surprise that Woody-N-Me sounds that good. Yes, I'm comparing this to an RVG recording, and in combination with the musicianship and songs chosen, this is an album that any jazz fan would be foolish to ignore. Seriously, buy five copies, keep one for yourself and let everyone know about your brand new musical discovery. You can thank me later.

(Woody-N-Me is available from CD Universe and CDBaby.)

  • On a self promotional note, I'd like for you to check out my weekly podcast, Book's Music. I'm now at #82 in the series, please take a listen.

  • On another self-promotional note, I would like to focus attention on FudgeFM, a website I'm now a part of. It's all about music, videos, news, and exclusive articles and interviews you're not going to find anywhere else. I just started what I hope will be a series of retrospective articles called Dust It Off, as I take a look back at some classic albums of interest. I will be bringing my Thrift Store Adventures to the website very soon, hopefully in video form. Please take a visit and join the new community, you'll be glad you did.

  • If you liked the reviews in this week's column, you'll want to check out the recent review I did for Mutlu's Livin' It over at Okayplayer. Go check.

  • On a music related note, I'm a fan of food blogs, and even have my own called Book's Foodie (updated whenever). I discovered that Dap-Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss has been blogging his food adventures while on the road. Homer's Food Blog has him eating a lot of quality eats, including the kind of stuff you find at state fairs:
    Image Hosted by

    I don't know how I would act if I found the Dap-Kings playing at any of the local/regional fairs (it is fair season, after all), nor would I know how people attending the Umatilla County Fair (formerly known as the Hermiston Dairy & Hog Show according to their website) or the Pendleton Round-Up would react, but anything is better than the Stop, Drop & Roll guys, although like them, the Dap-Tones are educational too.
    Anyway, check Steinweiss's blog and see where he plans on eating next.

  • Brothers and titas, that's it for this week. More on the way, so come back next week, when I will have reviews of new music by Wee, Creed Chameleon, The Stryker/Slagle Band, Kelly Rossum, Ralph Lalama Quartet, Bob Mover, and more.

  • If you have music that you'd like for me to review, contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information.

  • School is starting throughout the United States, so please watch the roads if you go through any school zones, it pays to slow down as they are the future. Labor Day Weekend is also around the corner, so I hope you'll all pay attention to Jerry Lewis and the telethon, it has been my own personal traditional every September and as cheesy as it can be (it's camp at its very best), it's a lot better than half of the crap that's on TV, plus you can make a donation to help find a cure to Muscular Distrophy (MD). If you do drive past a donation center, even a dollar will help.

    Mahalo nui.
  • Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #213

  • It's an area code to a place I was born, but that was years ago. Today, I bring you #213 of a column known as The Run-Off Groove, far from the place I call home but currently living with a roof over my head somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Lots of music this week, so whether your name is Haj or Raj or perhaps both, sit back and read on.

    Download 25 FREE songs at!

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Seattle will one day take the hip-hop community by storm, or at least that's what Common Market are hoping to do with their Tobacco Road (MassLine/Hyena) album. RA Scion has been doing his thing in and out of Seattle for the last few years. Sabzi will no doubt be familiar to fans of Blue Scholars. Considering how busy the Scholars have been in the last two years, it's amazing how Sabzi found time to do this with RA Scion but this was something they wanted to get out to the people, especially after the initial buzz they created with their first album a few years ago.

    RA Scion speaks from a personal point of view, a thought that might sound silly but this is a bit easier to consume than someone who speaks from the mind of a fictitious character. He speaks from the heart and does so with wisdom and passion, and at times with a spiritual touch that does not make him holier than thou, but rather someone who comes off as approachable and perhaps less automaton and more human. He could easily sit in on an album by Eastern Sunz and feel at home without a grudge. "Weather Vane", "40 Acres", "Back Home (The Return)", and "Nothin At All" aren't done with a need to impress, RA Scion knows the capabilities of his skills and this is just a display of what he has to offer. Musically, Sabzi moves more into the kind of soulful territory 9th Wonder fans are familiar with, with the kind of grooves that could easily appeal to fans of Mos Def and Common. If anything, Sabzi is making more room for himself as a top producer in the making, meaning he will be someone who will be in demand not only for his beats, but for his musicianship. He's much more than a master of the Sears-default button.

    Like the old song of yesteryear, "Tobacco Road" is a positive track about the struggles of everyone in the world community, while "Slow Cure" is about the need for everyone to slow down in life and get to know and speak to each other, in order to get rid of the division he feels exists amongst all of us. Older heads will not feel guilty about listening to Common Market, while younger fans may be the ones to help spread the word about a group whose time may be here.

    (Tobacco Road will be released on September 9th on both vinyl and the trendy compact disc and can be pre-ordered directly from Hyena.)

    Image Hosted by Their last album was a personal favorite, and now The Primeridian are back with Da Mornin' Afta (All Natural). This time around they collaborate with Imani, Iomos Marad, Naledge (Kidz In The Hall) and Nicolay and as a whole the group show a lot of growth from last time. They were good before, with a philosophy that combined serious lyrics and production with a spirited vibe (of the green leafy substance kind) that is passed around without shame. "High Noon Stank" could easily be an Andre 3000 outtake while Naledge's contributions in "Bucktown (City Of Wind)" make the song sound like Madlib blessed them with a fat baggie.

    The album is hard, it's soulful, definitely funky, and filled with the kind of imagery that comes from creating visual music that is meant to be consumed in a proper fashion. Great productions that become "music from the soul aspires to take you higher" through well written lyrics that will appeal to those who wish for their music to be scholarly and at times other worldly. Or perhaps it's a group that is open in expanding their minds to discover that the next level in anything is already within their reach. Da Mornin' Afta is the revelation that there's more in our lives than the party, but perhaps through careful maneuvering one is able to make it in this world in one piece without losing one's mind. Yes, they take it there, and perhaps we should all follow.

    (Da Mornin' Afta will be released on October 7th and will be available directly from (All Natural.)

    Image Hosted by You don't hear too much jazz music coming out of Jamaica these days, despite the fact that reggae was rooted from American jazz via ska. There have been a small handful of musicians to surface, most people are probably aware of someone like Monty Alexander. If you're not familiar with Tony Greene, you are able to now with the release of Midnight Blue (VP). Greene plays relaxing jazz, but not all the way smooth, by playing respectfully on an album full of covers, a mixture of well known pop songs and reggae classics. Hearing him play The Four Seasons' "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" shows how versatile he is on the saxophone, while his version of Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves" will definitely turn some heads.

    Greene's playing is not outrageous or avant garde, it's very tasteful and is ready made for smooth jazz radio airplay. He doesn't hold himself to just smooth jazz, his catalog shows a lot of adventure but for a bit of relaxation, look no further than Midnight Blue. Surprisingly, no version of "Midnight Blue" on here, Melissa Manchester's song would have been perfect by Greene. Maybe next time.

    (Midnight Blue will be released on August 26th and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by When it comes to soca, you can only think of one man, the king of soca, Byron Lee. If my grandfather found roots in Jamaica after World War II, he could have been the king as well, but we have Lee to save the say with his brand of music and yes, the man has yet another album in the form of Soca Royal.

    Some will argue that this is nothing more than "tourist reggae", but it's still a fun music that will make you dance and get loose at the right moment. Along with The Dragonaires, Lee performs songs that aren't going to cause any riots, instead you might think about flowers, tea, and cheese with his mellow versions of The Maytals's "Sweet And Dandy", and Brenda Lee's "Always On My Mind". The album is supposed to have what I assume was a cover of Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling" but it seems to have been replaced by Inner Circle's "Sweat", and while it is a respectable version, it would have been cool to know what they could've done with the Berry classic.

    (Soca Royal is available directly from VP Records.)

    Image Hosted by They've been showing fans how serious they are with their brand of hip-hop, but Apoc and Rel, known as The Ritz, are taking their skills and music to higher levels with the release of The Night Of Day (>Lab-Oratory).

    In terms of beats and sample selection, Rel is going beyond what he may be known for and creating cinematic and thematic tracks. Not that he wasn't able to do it, I think anyone who has ever heard him before knew he had it in him, but the album shows he's capable of creating true anthems while making songs that are funky enough for the dance floor so that the wallflowers will stop nodding and start stirring it up like cock daisies.

    As for Apoc, this guy is just furious when it comes to rhyming, and that comes from making an effort to be the best he can be. He's not complex in that he's not trying to drop difficult words or obscure references left and right, but it's what he writes and how he expresses himself that makes him a standout rapper. If he wants to drop something over some ATL crunk, he could (he comes close with his double-time flow in "The Getaway"), or he wanted to get hardcore NYC style, he makes a bid at it in "Chiaroscuro". Being indie, he and Rel have the freedom to speak and make music that goes anywhere and everywhere, but they also hold on to a few limits and show that they are more than capable of making potential hits and radio friendly material. What does work for them is the edginess that they hold on to, one that hopefully will not be watered down by any success they may come across from this point on. "The Point Of No return" could easily become the song that breaks them through, with a retrospective vibe (and Mountain-like percussive stabs) and sped up vocal harmonies (shades of Kanye West perhaps?) mixed in with stories about going for what you know, regardless of what anyone else. Apoc sounds like a cross between Son Doobie and Aesop Rock, which in turn helps him bob and weave to find his own voice.

    Cameos from Racecar, Psalm One, Brendan B, Moodswangz and the great Elfamail help make The Night Of Day one of the sleeper indie hip-hop albums of 2008. Wake up and inject the java, lahns.

    (The Night Of Day is available from Lab-Oratory Records.)

    Image Hosted by The Dark Romantics are the kind of project deluxe pop fans have been craving, and they will build up their caloric intake with the release of the fantastic Heartbreaker (Lujo), which is anything but. It begins with the lush robotics of "Heartbreaker Pt. 3" before band mastermind Eric Collins delivers his dedicated ill vocals with "Love & Pain", sounding like the great singers of the 80's and 90's who tore it up with emotional lyrics and harmonies that brought you to the nth of everything.

    As much as I like the term "indie rock", which for me suggests it's something that's out of the normal rock template, I would hate for it to limit the idea of what this band can be. They sound like they would have been perfect in the early 90's and probably could have been the true competition for Radiohead (not the lightweights that are Coldplay). This is very much music of the now era. I like now.

    (Heartbreaker is available directly from Lujo Records.)

    Image Hosted by The New Up have been called "trippy new wave", but I found their Broken Machine EP (self-released) to be a few shades away from sounding like Yeah Yeah Yeah's, but without the attitude.

    To be honest, I shouldn't make that comparison but maybe out of laziness I did that. Let's try again. Vocalist ES Pitcher has the kind of vocals that display her influences on her sleeve, be it Siouxsie Sioux, Miki Berenyi, or even a hint of Dido, but... now see, I did it again. Lazy comparisons. I'll try again.

    The New Up are a decent indie rock band with a knack to be pop friendly, not unlike The Pixies or to be more accurate, The Breeders.

    Okay, can I stop from making another comparison? It may not be right but it's a way to let readers know that what I hear is familiar to what I've heard before, but it is a bit refreshing to hear them in this manner. What I do like in the title track is the alternating ways of Pitcher and guitarist Noah Reid, and when they sing together during the chorus, it reminds me of the nice blends one can commonly hear in country music (where there always seems to be a need to have a male presence during a female vocal). The jangly guitars makes their sound ethereal at times, piercing in others, where one simply wants to swirl around in their orgiastic pleasures, made evident in "Just Because". While sounding nothing like Gwen Stefani, Pitcher carries a similar energy throughout that makes you want to hear her more, but hopefully not to a point where she has to change her output in order to bring in that extra cash. Then again, maybe hearing her in front of different backdrops would make people listen to her and her music in a better light. That's not to say that The New Up are nothing more than a vehicle for Pitcher to take the spotlight on her own, but we all know the inevitability of that. Maybe they can beat the odds.

    (Broken Machine will be available directly from the band themselves.)

    Image Hosted by Three Houses Down are a reggae band from New Zealand who, like Katchafire, are showing that the music of Jamaica can be played by anyone if you are true to the music and its spirit.. Dreadtown (Ohana) aren't just a group copying the roots reggae vibe, but show they can also go further by doing a bit of ska, as they do in the album's opening track, "Dandyman". This 11-man force, complete with a horn section, sound like The Wailers if they were backed by The Skatalites, with hints of The Specials.

    Like many reggae bands with a love of that rootsy song, Three Houses Down sing about a wide range of topics, speaking about the struggles of the world but will also not hesitate to speak about dancing and skanking to the beat. There's a hint of politics in their lyrics but it doesn't overshadow their music to the point where one might feel a need to not listen. The repetitiveness of "Anthem" could have easily been reduced with a bit of self-editing (although the chant they offer in the song will work in a live setting), while "Ghettoworld (Move Your Feet)" is about soothing yourself in the warmth of something that will give you joy in therms of repetition. Outside of a brilliant horn section, what will make people listen to these guys is the musicianship and the great vocal harmonies, definitely true of many groups throughout Polynesia. They carry the traditions of reggae and also show their love of mellow soul, offering an audio warmth that can't be denied. "Island Lullaby" is a duet between vocalist Charlie Pome'e and guest vocalist Mary Terepo, and thsi will no doubt become a prom staple for years to come, trust me (one hopes that this will lead to Terepo recording a full length project). The band represent big time with a cover of a well known Tongan folk song, "Toi Paongo", and if anyone wants to know if these guys are true to their culture, one can only imagine how crowds will react to this song.

    For my fellow kama'aina, if you're unfamiliar with Three Houses Down, let's just say if Sean Na'auao decided to devote himself full time to playing roots reggae, he would create the kind of music this band are creating right now, with a vibe that will bring people together. I hope they will be able to fine-tune a few things with their next album, and try out a few things that might be considered daring, since the guys are definitely kicking it in cruise control. I know they have it in them, and when that happens, they are sure to blow up worldwide.

    Image Hosted by Thom Keith is a member of Equal Time, and he had come in contact with Larry Gelberg through the internet. A meeting happened, and their common love of music and jazz lead to them collaborating on a number of projects. This album is a document of one of those events.

    Fans of Equal Time will find Discussions: Live At Lotus Moon (Avant Coast) to be of interest, for it features not only Keith but bassist Tim Webb, along with drummer Jared Steer. Together they play jazz that is very free form, those who desire complete structure and solid form can move to the next review. Each of the three songs on this CD is improvised, beginning with Keith and Gelberg opening the proceedings with their saxophone work before the rest of the band kick in, and the adventures begin. It feels a bit like hearing Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders play together, complete with the biting of the reed thing that I often enjoy when I hear free jazz. The album opens with a 21 minute rendition of John Coltrane's brilliant "Olé" (one of my favorite Trane pieces) and it's almost unrecognizable until you hear the melody in the theme. The communication between the two saxophonists is great, and when the sounds flirt it's quite remarkable (notable around the 7:00 mark). Mal Waldron is honored with a rendition of "The Seagulls Of Kristiansund", which allows the group to slow down and simmer for a brief moment, but their performance is anything but stagnant. They close with Keith's own "The Agitator", and like the title indicates, they start off with a jump and the energy doesn't let go. Imagine someone sprinkling some angel dust after hours at a sacred jazz club, with everyone out of their mind and egging each other on to take things one step further, and you have a slight hint of what Keith, Gelberg, Webb, and Steer are able to do. It is with this song that you can hear them work in unison even if it seems that they're working independently. They'll all play together as if they're about to walk down a dead end street, but they find a path way, signal it in, and the song moves comfortably into a solo. At the album's comclusion they leave you hanging, and yet you're hopeful that they'll return for a combo. Regardless of the combination these musicians work with, they are definitely a collective who will continue to expand the potential of what jazz is and can be.

    (Discussions: Live at Lotus Moon is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by There was a grittiness in rap music from New York/New Jersey in the mid-1990's that arguably sparked an argument for a need to redefine the golden era, but it was a sound that still holds up to this day, both musically and lyrically. Karniege and MarQ Spekt together are known as Invizzibl Men, and anyone who ever wanted to know what Play (of Kid 'N...) and Funkmaster Flex might have sounded like had they dropped hardcore rhymes will have to listen to The Unveiling (Backwoodz Studioz).

    The group are definitely grimy, and in terms of abstract rhymes these guys are more than able to carve their own niche and offer it at a premium price. A part of it may have to do with Karniege doing some work with Def Jux in the past, but this is him on his own terms offering the kind of rhymes that deserve praise and recognition. The two both have very distinctive flows and at times it sounds like they're going in for the kill, especially in "T-Rex", which features C-Rayz Walz. These guys don't just offer tight songs, but are able to put together a full album without filler, which these days seems to be a rarity. It will please those who prefer their music in iPodian doses, while those who prefer it in one or two sittings will be able to overdose in the album's sickness. I know it's a cliche to call a new album (especially one that hasn't been released as of this writing) "classic", but we called albums "classic" not for the now, but for the future. This will be one of those albums that will stand the test of time.

    (The Unveiling will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered through

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The name Vordul Mega should not be new to most heads, as he is one half of Cannibal Ox. Vordul has been making a name for himself with tons of appearances and live performances that have kept him on the top of many a list, and fans who have been waiting patiently for new album will be happy to hear Megagraphitti (Backwoodz Studioz), as he talks about spitting grenades, swinging blades, and serenading the inferior with something far more superior (as he does in the Opto-produced "AK-47".

    This is not something that's in your face like M.O.P., nor is this an album full of superstar myths and dreams, instead it's an album with a running theme of sorts about the struggles of the street, doing what needs to be done to survive and... yeah, it may sound like "every other album out there" but it definitely isn't, especially when he tells people to never betray the ways we was brought up/from the sun to nightfall, teleport through nightcrawls or to kiss the girls, let the beats bang/necklace and pearls, ain't she the sweetest thang?/but I wouldn't melt on them thighs. Anyone who has ever wanted to hear an album where the momentum never lets up will have to hear this, as Vordul condemns all that are frauds and builds up anyone who is down for his cause, as he, Invizzibl Men, and Hi-Coup display in the super-sharp "Broken Halo".

    Menacing? This is the kind of album you want to play loud and you don't mind if a police officer arrests you for breaking the city's noise ordinance.

    (Megagraffiti will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered through

    Image Hosted by DJ Green Lantern has been doing his thing for years, DJ and turntablism fans know the deal, and he's been fortunate to put together a compilation of music from the Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City Invasion video game, but produce and remix everything to his liking.

    Yeah, Liberty City Explosion came out right before the Oaktown Hyphy Punch in the Spring. I remember I used to listen to a lot of different mixes and promo compilations like this, but the bridge in "Informer" by Wyclef Jean, Uncle Murda and Mavado seemed a bit more doodoo-ish to me. You couldn't tell me Jim Jones & Juelz Santana didn't surpass themselves on "Bustin' Shots" when this album came out. Once I heard the fade, I was convinced.

    More specifically, "Alone" by Joel Ortiz & Dante Hawkins came more the niche of Pine-Sol. The mix was quite nice for the most part (better to me than the original),and there was a significant amount of counter-melody in the tones. I could've SWORE they mixed it in 1997 on an obscure Bounty Killer dub plate, but it was ACTUALLY a loaf of bread. I actually found a limited edition flexi-disc online from this kid in Maine, and paid $7 for it, because this B-side had an extra 40 second fade and that had an EXTRAORDINARY verse from Buckshot that he never did before, but repeats her in the track with Heltah Skeltah, "Can't Trust 'Em".

    Now that MANHOODLUM has created the unofficial John Book review template, let me tell you what I really think about this comp. I haven't played the game nor know how the songs apply to the game in general, but most of the 17 tracks on here hold up very well on their own without the benefit of imagery. Some of these collaborations, including Fabolous & Fat Joe and Clipse featuring Re-Up Gang, are great and may have been overlooked if they were just mere album tracks. Maybe they were meant as album tracks but the artists involved said "I'm in it to milk it, and I want to be heard". The only let down was Busta Rhymes' "Where's My Money", who speaks about how the removal of his dreads has not removed his sense of massiveness and bravado, but I didn't think he was doing anything EXTRAORDINARY. In fact, maybe it was the fact that it was "extra ordinary" that made it somewhat lightweight compared to not only his own work, but the rest of the songs on this comp. What you'll want this for is to hear DJ Green Lantern's productions and mixes. BTW, 38 Special on this CD is the rapper, not the Southern rock band.

  • On a self-promotional note, I do a weekly podcast called Book's Music, and this week features podcast #80. Head to where you are able to stream and listen from the site, or download to your player of choice. I have recent podcasts archived as well, so if you missed any episodes, now is your chance to catch up. I'm always looking for people to create podcast ID's for me, so if you're able to do so, let me know.

  • I also want to shift your attention to a website I'm a part of called FudgeFM, featuring the best in hip-hop, soul, funk, electronica, and more. Forums, videos, forthcoming television and radio stations, and even exclusives you will not find elsewhere. Head to FudgeFM and become a part of the community. I will be blogging there on a regular basis, so bookmark the schultz.

  • For the curious, I also have two non-music blogs that may be of interest:
    Book's Foodie
    Momona Velo

    The first is dedicated to new and interesting food discoveries, while the second is a blog that will lead to me buying a bicycle that I will use towards losing weight and becoming healthier. One might think that talking about food on one page and maintaining one's health on another is a contradiction, but hey, one can eat in moderation and still do well. I've never eating 10,000 in one sitting like U.S. gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps but if it leads to something better than yesterday, I'll do it. Basically, if you enjoy reading my reviews, perhaps you like to read something that is fun and personal at the same time, away from the superhype of music.

  • That is it for this week's Run-Off Groove. In the very near future I'll have reviews of new music by tREBLEFREE, Tassho Pearce, The Stryker/Slagle Band, Michael's Jazz Quartet, Court Mast, Wee, Bob Mover, and MakeUpBreakUp, and no doubt more. If you have any music (vinyl and CD's preferred), DVD's, or books you'd like for me to review, contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact info.
  • Thursday, August 7, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #212

    Aloha and welcome to the 212th edition of The Run-Off Groove. I am here for a reason, and I hope you are too. Are you? ARE YOU? Lots of music to review this week, so let's begin.

    Download 25 FREE songs at!

    Image Hosted by Rap music comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors, we... let me rewind for a brief moment... most of us know this. To the non hip-hop listening public, the music is everything that is evil about the world. If people went out of their way to take the time to truly listen to the MC's, DJ's, and producers out there, they would realize that it's not as one-dimensional as they assume it is. Even if you are a longtime fan and or supporter, you're probably jaded and wonder if there's ever going to be something that will make you feel proud of the music again. If you are aware of the group Dumhi, you know that they are strong as a unit, and equally moving when handling their own projects and collaborations. Haj is a component of the Dumhi way of life, and his new project is an example of how to extend yourself to the old and the new while making it clear that you are into this music.

    Yoga At Home, Volume 1 (Dumhi Productions) is an EP (8 vocalized tracks plus its instrumental counterpoints) compiled from the crates of Haj, complete with a meditation record used as the guide for the path he creates. It opens up with one of the most passionate hip-hop songs I've heard in quite a while, a collaboration with Sadat X that happens to be "The Yoga At Home Theme Song". I saw the name and I figured that he's going to drop some serious knowledge, as he always does. He does this, but instead it comes off like a diary entry no one is ever to post to know, it's so personal and revealing that it's hard to believe one would admit something to close to them in a public song. Sadat X talks about who he is not only as a rapper, but as a man of the world. His passage about how he was introduced to smoking weed from his dad is something you rarely, if ever, hear in any song, and one can almost visualize the passage of time and the passing of the torch from father to son, it's very moving and to have Haj bless the track in this manner is amazing.

    Haj will hopefully move forward and continue to work with many MC's both old and new, but on this EP he gets a chance to work with Doap Nixon, Von Pea, Jermiside, Reef The Lost Cauze, Che Grand, Soulbrotha, Trek Life, Random and Kay of The Foundation. Each of them present themselves on the uphill slope in their game, they haven't reached the peak but what they're doing to get there will leave you wanting to get deep into their individual catalogs. They get serious, but it's still fun, and they all hold true to a party vibe that has become a part of the Dumhi philosophy. One can hear that Haj has the utmost respect for each of these rappers, and the rappers are showing respect for a producer who is gaining a following for his hard work and determination. The spoken meditation samples link the album together, and by taking in the breathing exercises, one will be able to reach hip-hop nirvana. Well, maybe there is no approachable peak but Haj too is on the uphill direction towards it and it's his commitment to the music that makes Yoga At Home a statement that all producers should take hints from.

    (Yoga At Home, Volume 1 can be purchased directly from Haj via MySpace.)

    Image Hosted by The opening track, "Seconds Out", begins with a Latin vibe that might have paved the way for what to expect on Mosaic's Unsaid, Undone (Snack) but instead it's a brief taste of what one can find in their musical trick bag. This quintet (Mark Merella on drums, David Font on percussion, Larry Melton on bass, Matt Belzer on winds, and Ned Judy on keyboards) pay thrilling jazz that takes on the intensity of bebop, the best qualities of smoothed out jazz from the 70's, and other derivatives of jazz and turn it into something that is very much their moniker.

    Their love of worldly sounds can be heard in each of the songs, and it's nice to hear them pushing each other with and within each song, the drive is there throughout. "Knew One", "Hikaru's Dance", and "Under The Sun" are each a display of fine musicianship, and even something as laid back as "Knew One" can be a thrill to listen to as it goes on. The reason why this music sounds almost perfect is due to the countless artists each musician has played with and/or backed up over the years, there is a sense of clarity and purpose. Yet with that clarity and purpose they open the door of opportunity and let things come as they may. Don't think of something as watered down as the Yellowjackets, think more along the lines of McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, or the late Michael Brecker. Their version of Wayne Shorter's "Sightseeing" does the song justice and even as it clocks in at close to ten minutes, it's still not enough. Everyone in Mosaic is so caught up with the song and with each other that it's obvious they were having an incredible time in the studio.

    (Unsaid, Undone is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by D-Sisive is far from being a newbie, even though some hip-hop fans may not be familiar with him or his music. Hailing from Toronto, he has been doing his thing for over ten years and has gained a respectable buzz for his brand of hip-hop. If it's a genuine sense of artistry that you seek, you're going to find it on his new EP The Book (Urbnet). The guy has a keen sense of writing and knows how to get it across by putting it across over tight knit instrumentals. He speaks to his spiritual guide ("Up"), geniuses ("Brian Wilson"), and isn't afraid to poke fun at himself and others who still view hip-hop by caucasians as one-dimensional ("ThisIsWhatItSoundsLikeWhenWhiteboysListenToHipHop"). He packs a lot of emotional punch in his songs but he's not what one would call an emo-rapper (whatever that means), instead you have someone who has mastered his craft of storytelling to get him to the level he's at now. If pushed to a corner, he'll make it out and represent himself and the music with the kind of respect fake MC's dream of having.

    As an EP, it's a mini-dose of the goodness that D-Sisive is capable of supplying. A number of artists on the indie side have been flriting with the EP format with great results (Coolzey is a perfect example), and he is able to pull out as much as possible while making listeners want and demand more. They'll get more... next time.

    (The Book is available from URBNET Records.)

    Image Hosted by Can pop music be anymore "crafty"? I tend to use that word a lot when I hear something that sounds clever, enough to where I feel the artist is trying to do something that is different from everyone else trying to satisfy their pop music needs. What exactly does "clever" mean in terms of music? To me it means smart, something done with thought and intelligence, it's not just the passing of a template. Crafty and clever are words I can use for The Campbell Apartment, a trio who have the best elements of Weezer and Foo Fighters (and maybe a bit of Built To Spill) and purposely bring fans into their world to enjoy. Insomniac's Almanac (Blacktop) is an album full of short but wonderful stories about friends who are in our systems ("DNA"), enough to where our eyes are red and sore ("Addicted To MySpace"), and feeling that perhaps love needs to be a bit more intimate ("Long Distance Relationship (Is A Four Letter Word)").

    "St. Louis" is the kind of love song whose references are probably obscure to a lot of people, but the sentiment and slight cliches are fitting and it helps establish Ari Vais (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Dan Haag (bass, vocals), and Dave Harman (drums, vocals) as musicians who know how to reach peaks and valleys with their music. When it comes to good pop and rock'n'roll, eventually it leads to a mention of The Beatles but in their case they seem to capture more of Paul McCartney's spirit of the 1970's than anything the fab four made. What I also liked is how songs that were less than two minutes aren't mere interludes, but are brief songs that are a part of the album's full program and are meant to be consumed as such.

    By calling The Campbell Apartment crafty and clever, does that mean they're too smart to receive radio airplay? Not at all, in fact have you listened to the radio lately? It needs more original bands like The Campbell Apartment, whose album could be this decade's Rumours if they wanted it to be. Instead I think they're happy with it being this generation's Insomniac's Almanac and are willing to take it as far as they can (and I hope they do).

    (Insomniac's Almanac is available through CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by Restiform Bodies are a part of the Anticon collective, and as with anything they've released over the years, the music is unpredictable, as it should be. You may know Bomarr Monk and Telephone Jim Jesus and in fact you may very well know Restiform Bodies, but even if you memorized everything they've done, it still doesn't begin to describe the sheer power of TV Loves You Back (Anticon).

    In this case, their mixture of hip-hop, pop, rock, soul, and electronic music, along with a fearless need to take things to unknown regions makes the album a mandatory listen. While they sound nothing like them, the variety they bring into their music is not unlike cLOUDDEAD or Reaching Quiet. It would be easy to say "hip-hop is their core" but when you listen to "Consumer Culture Wave" it's the furthest thing from hip-hop. Or perhaps it's more hip-hop than you think. The swagger is very much there, but it's like someone injecting viruses and cures in one's pores, resulting in mean ticks and twitches, each one different from the previous one. To the outsider, their music may sound like twisted puzzles that need a bit of deciphering to figure out, but the abstract qualities that may bring the listener in will result in something that has more style than something that proclaims it has style. "Bobby Trendy Addendum" has the same kind of flavor one would normally expect from a Lil' Wayne or Clipse track, and yet whether you call it a need to not mock or a passion to present themselves as funky music loving geeks, you're hearing something that you're either going to get or scratch your head wondering "what's the deal?" It's random sounds and influences coming in from all directions, creating the kind of music they love. It's Restiform Bodies, and it's probably better than what you listened to on your way to work.

    (TV Loves You Back will be released on September 30th and will be available directly from

    Image Hosted by Oldmanwinter is a decent name for a band, funny even, but that's the only thing I found decent about their album An Artic Circle (Headphone Treats.)

    They are an indie rock band with good songs, but they didn't do anything for me that would make me want to listen to their interpretations many times over.

    They do their sing, move into the chorus, sing la-di da-di da over and over, and that was it.

    That's not to say that it's all bad, but again I could not find myself wanting to enjoy this for long durations.

    In fact, as you can tell I am trying to make this review longer by turning each sentence into separate paragraphs.

    Even that is not working for me.

    (An Artic Circle is available through CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by Open up the Sunday newspaper and you might believe that Avril Lavigne is actually a punk princess. Even she knows she isn't, so fuck her and the doughnut box she brought in. If you want some decent punk rock, seek out Balls (Chicken Ranch), the new album by a band who are proud to be named Yuppie Pricks.

    The group take a bit of the Dead Kennedy's prowess with slivers of The Dehumanizers to offer a ruthless collection of I-don't-really-give-a-fuck songs. On the surface, it seems that while a lot of bands are trying to take the best of what the 80's may have offered, Yuppie Pricks poke fun at the excess of the decade and go back and discover why punk bands were doing the kind of music they were doing in the first place.

    Some punk purists may not like their melodic sense, because "Fraternity Days" could easily become an anthem in the next Seth Rogen movie, but even Rogen would probably want to salute songs like "Fuck You, I'm Rich", "Donkey SHow", and "PRICK4LIFE". The band hold up and deliver those riffs with strength, and they do it while not taking themselves too seriously. Makes one wish Avril Lavigne was this good. Then again on second thought...

    (Balls is available directly from Chicken Ranch Records.)

    Image Hosted by I've been amazed at what the Labeless Illtelligence crew have done in the last few years, be it Cas Uno, Ams Uno, The If?, or Vocab. They represent themselves in a manner that demands to be heard, absorbed, and appreciated, and they have found someone who takes that type of commitment.

    He goes by the name of Esh The Monolith, and he wants to fuck up the notion of what an MC should or needs to be. The guy has lyrics for days, has the kind of flow that is neither annoying or boring, he knows how to battle your wit and win each and every time, and make you feel drained even if all you did was listen to his words. In "Stimulate" he tells people that he is not someone who is in this merely to copy the next man, it's about being original and defining your own career as an artist. In other tracks he explains the song in a very articulate manner, then blows up words, lines, and verses in front of you without caring for the damage caused. If you want someone as eccentric as the title of the album indicates, listen to "Anti Cymbal Monkey Movement" and hear him speaking about getting out of the basement, traveling to outer space and keeping you in a crazed daze of amazement (that's some strange shit). Esh doesn't float in the air all the time, most of it is very grounded but if you're not paying attention you'll find yourself starting the song again. The reason you'll want to listen to him closely is that he comes off with so many different references and sly jokes that you might think he's saying shit for the sake of saying shit. Once you figure out the method to his madness, you realize that he's less eccentric and more about being an original artist with a lot of ideas to share. He's funny when he wants to be, displays the smart ass role when he needs to, but Esh is truly someone who wasn't afraid to get to the other level of the game and find a home.

    (The Of An E.ccentric S.uper H.ero is available directly from Labeless Illtelligence.)

    Image Hosted by Dig deep into the reasons why a lot of today's music (arguably) sucks and it often leads to one factor: people aren't playing instruments anymore. One argument goes on to say that the only way you'll see and hear people playing instruments is at church, where the musicians of tomorrow are thrilling places of prayer. It comes as a surprise that the great people at Daptone Records are getting in touch with their gospel side. Any of us who are active record collectors know that there is a funky side to black gospel, especially on some of those obscure 45's we cherish so much. Perhaps it's not really a surprise, but then one listen to Como Now: The Voices Of Panola Co., Mississippi (Daptone) may make you move a few steps back for one big reason: it's fairly low-key compared to what they've released over the years.

    Como Now takes the listener to Mt. Mariah Church for a spiritual (re)awakening, where gospel music has never left their minds and hearts. Even if you are not a religious person, you can't help but admire their devotion upon hearing tracks like "Jesus Builds A Fence Around Me" (as performed by Della Daniels and Ester Mae Smith), "I Cant' Afford To Let My Saviour Down" (Rev. Robert Walker), "Somebody Here Needs You Lord" (Mary Moore). These songs are immediate, it doesn't hide any emotion whatsoever, you are hearing the voices, the joy and pain from those who simply want to live peacefully in a world that can often feel like a haven of confusion. With all of these songs recorded in a church, it still feels like those independent 45's and LP's one can find at any thrift store in any town or city, complete with the feel of analog. Regardless of the recording techniques, it's an album that shows perhaps what is truly missing in a lot of today's music. It's not just the spiritual side, but there's a certain sense of power in the music that seems to be fading away (at least in a mainstream sense) and it takes a small church in a small town in Mississippi to prove that you don't have to be affected in order to make effective music.

    (Como Now will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered directly from Daptone Records.)

    Image Hosted by Singer/songwriters are in dire need these days, or at least the ones that should be heard aren't. Aviary Ghost are a duo who create the kind of masterful pop that makes you wish Coldplay were not doing as well as they are. Memory Is A Hallway is a somewhat genteel piece of work that you immediately want to take on and share with everyone (in a legitimate sense). Imagine a low-key Tears For Fears with a bit of toad the wet sprocket and you have a hint of the great melange that you hear on this album. "The Hollow" is one of my favorite songs on here, beginning with a mid-tempo pace before switching immediately into a different vibe and carrying itself as if you were supposed to know that. There are a lot of unexpected and pleasant turns on this album, and I found myself caught in their amazing labryinth of fun. Wow!

    (Memory Is A Hallway is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by For whatever reason I thought of The Police and Jane's Addiction when I first heard System and Station, but when one considers their Idaho roots (they're now based in Portland) it's understandable. Indie rock comes in a lot of varieties, and one wants to expect music that rips you in your face without an apology. A Nation Of Actors (Latest Flame) has the right kind of velocity to kick you right in the schnitts while taking their cues from some of the great rock, punk, and indie bands of the past.

    It seems these guys have been moving themselves into more of a melodic vibe, although there is an obvious abrasiveness that will keep people there throughout the duration of the album. It was also recorded very well by none other than Larry Crane at Jackpot! Studios in Portland, some of you studioheads will know him as the founder of the great Tape Op magazine. He was able to get a great sound from the band and on the recording, anyone who is a bit familiar with Crane but wasn't sure where to start, begin here. Great songwriting, very good musicianship, and tight songs that you'll want to remember, that's what A Nation of Actors is all about. I dare you to find something just as good.

    (A Nation Of Actors will be released on CD on August 19th, and on vinyl on September 30th. For more information, head over to Latest Flame Records.)

    Image Hosted by With a name like Funky Mustard I guess I expected something to be funky, on the one, with uncontrolled groove. With a title like Jazza Mostaza (Moosepie) I expected something jazzy, maybe something with a CTI-vibe circa 1974 or 1975. Instead what I got is a laid back instrumental band playing the kind of music one would expect to hear at a jam band festival, and that's not a bad thing at all.

    They call themselves "alternative jazz" and I guess it depends on what perspective of "alternative" you take when listening to Funky Mustard. It's a bit more contemporary and rock/pop formatted than something typically jazz, but what would be considered "typical jazz" in 2008? Exactly. If Chicago (as in the band) were a young band making the rounds today and they didn't bother with singing, they probably would come up with the kind of music one hears here. The horn section is tight, the synthesizers are not too dominant (in fact I would say they are quite tasteful), and the organization/arrangements offer a chance for people to hear how in-tune they are with the music and with each other as musicians. "Technicolored" could easily be used as the background in a surfing or sailing movie, but this isn't Yacht Rock, nor is this free jazz or something too far from the norm. It's accessible, and yet you can quite pinpoint what it is that you like about them, but you do. I hope these guys will continue exploring as they are now. Fans of The Necks, The Strato Ensemble, and Supersilent will apppreciate their prowess.

    (Jazza Mostaza is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by Bring in as many influences as you can but try not to make it sloppy or have it reach a level of dreck. Bark Hide and Horn aren't about the dreck, as they prove in National Road (Boy Hardy). This Portland, Oregon band seems to have done their share of thrifting and digging, for it feels like the kind of music one would create after absorbing a lot of different sounds (in this case from indie rock to blues and a bit of pop complete with celestial bells) and wanting to make it sound good. One might be taken aback at first with "This Abdomen Has Flown", with a bunch of white guys singing about being free from slavery, but as the song goes on you realize they're trying to touch on the corruption of slavery with various ethnic sounds thrown in the mix for good measure. "Treasure Of The Everglades" sounds like Jeff Tweedy if he had hung out with Harry Nilsson during the "Cats In The Cradle" sessions. The album goes all over the place and yet it's still cohesive, very well orchestrated and produced.

    One source called the band folk rock, which I don't think is correct. They do play acoustic instruments but that doesn't necessarily make them folk. Instead what the band have done is to create a musical soundtrack for a travelogue of someone who wants to observe the world in his own unique way. Because of this, Bark Hide and Horn end up doing the same with their own music, and it may move audiences to travel along with them, not just for this album but for all future projects.

    (National Road is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by John Keawe, like a lot of musicians born and/or raised during the dawn of rock'n'roll, was someone who had rock'n'roll dreams. As a kid living on the Big Island, he eventually fell in love with the guitar and made a commitment to play the instrument. Life experiences lead him to want to learn the guitar style of his home, which is of course ki ho'alu, or slack key guitar. In time he would learn from the best and eventually develop a sound that would take him around the world and give him recognition. The release of Hawai'i Island... Is My Home (Homestead Productions) shows his love of ki ho'alu while showing that knack to try out unique arrangements in his instrumentals that are generally found on the more adventurous rock albums.

    Five of the 13 tracks are vocalized by Keawe himself, with "Ku'u Hoa'aloha" talking about a special friend of his, while the title track is an endearing piece about the place he knows and love. On many slack key albums you often hear the guitarist go into a number of unique directions. Sometimes they'll play Hawaiian standards, other times they will play cover versions which reveal a bit about the kind of music that was a part of their upbringing. On this album, the instrumentals are Keawe originals and you get a sense that he not only knows how to play well, but also has a deep respect for the stories he is trying to express in the music, such as the anthemic "Faces Of Pele" or the innocence of "Keiki Time", which one can imagine hearing at any Hawaiian park on a Saturday afternoon at 4:30, where kids will play as hard as they can knowing that they only have about an hour or so left before mom calls you in for dinner. Or in this case, not even caring about time. "Safe Passage" could easily be for the worker hoping to get home on the freeway in one piece, or for the navigators of Polynesia who trusted the stars in the sky to get them from point A to point B. Or perhaps an instrumental guide for all of us, hoping we'll make it through in one piece. The beautiful "Pahinui" is in honor of the late and great Gabby Pahinui and for those who continue to remember his music and spirit, it's a song that will give you instant chicken skin with the right amount of sweet playing Pops and his sons are known for.

    As with anything Hawaiian, these songs are much more than songs, but are a dialogue and a chart of our history, to mark down what has happened, what's happening, and what's to come. Sometimes the stories are hopeful, while others are subtle signs of things changing. The hope is that one will be able to carry these stories on to the next generation and the one after that, and help continue the passing of the torch. The album represents Keawe's home and roots, but for any of us who are kama'aina, it represents us as a whole and the roots we continue to hold on to even as times change and life goes on. Home indeed.

    (Hawai'i Island...Is My Home is available directly from

  • In a means of self-promotion, please take a listen to the latest edition of my podcast known as Book's Music:

    If you can't access the player, go here.

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any music, DVD's, or books you'd like for me to review, contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information.
  • Sunday, August 3, 2008

    SOME STUFFS: Mekalek releases new mix CD

    Mekalek of Time Machine has released a new digital mix tape called Mekalek Party Mixx, and you can download it for free by clicking here:
    DJ Mekalek presents Mekalek Party Mixx

    Friday, August 1, 2008