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September 2003 Reviews by

 Advanced Calculus (VA)
Avenged Sevenfold
The Bevis Frond*
The Bronx
Johnny Cash

Cave Catt Sammy
Comment Piece
Dashboard Confessional
Dilute / Hella
The Dirtbombs*
Scotty Emerick
Every Word

Fortress Madonna
Marvin Gaye

Ghosts & Vodka
The Hidden Hand*
Bob Hope

David Hopkins*
April March*

Murder Beach
Kings of Leon*

The Pearlfishers
The Ramblin' Ambassadors
The Ramones***
The Revolution Smile

Street Dogs

Steve Tilston
Robin Williams

*Top Picks


September 2003 Comment Piece: Avoiding Everyone

There was a point in time...many years ago...when we thought we could make a difference. Our naive belief was based on a foolish youthful desire...and nothing more. Nowadays we no longer have delusions about our ability to change the world. We know the world is shitty and we know that the world will always be shitty. And if there is one thing we have no desire to do...it is to try and change the world. Our society is so screwed up...so ugly and contorted...and there are so many obnoxious assholes on the planet...that these days all we want to do is AVOID THEM ALL. Our whole life now is virtually spent trying to STAY AWAY FROM other people. Our brain continually flashes in cycles pondering such critical dilemmas as: "When can we drive when there will be as LITTLE traffic as possible?"..."When can we go to the grocery store when there will be NO ONE else there?"..."When can we go to the Post Office so that we will NOT SEE anyone?"..."How can we avoid leaving the safety and security of our beautiful office suite...no matter WHAT the outside world might have to offer?"...and "Don't these idiots realize that no matter how many times they call we will never EVER pick up the goddamn telephone?" If you think we suffer from social anxiety...you are absolutely CORRECT. Everything about people and cities makes us extremely irritable and angry. We despise humanity. People are so goddamn ugly, screwed up, and annoying. Every single goddamn person...from the ugly little babies...to the wrinkled old senior citizens...to the pathetic white yuppies...to the boring black and blue collar workers...to the obnoxious heterosexual and bisexual and homosexual retards...to the whining physically handicapped...and even the average middle class generic nobodies just like ourselves. No matter what type of person they are...we hate 'em all. Everyone is worthless, retarded, and CRUMMY. Our goal in life has never been to offend people...mainly because we don't give a goddamn what anyone thinks of us...or if anyone likes us or not. Our goal in life is to present TRUTH. As far as we are concerned, every single person in the entire goddamn world should go commit suicide. Then...and only then...the world might be a better place. To hell with you, your spouse, your friends, your workmates, and your family. Though you may not be aware of it yet...you are nothing more than a great big fat ol' trashy pile of WURFLISS NUFFIN. [Nyah, we don't mean it...we really LOVE you!] [No we don't...we mean EVERY word.] [That's not true, we're not that cruel and mean. We're really nice people deep down if you get to know us...which is, of course, impossible.] [Oh no we are not nice AT ALL...we really DO hate the world.] [Ignore that voice you keep hearing in your head...you know that you really DO mean the WORLD to us...even though we don't even KNOW you, goddamn it...]

Advanced Calculus - A Compilation of Music Recorded Live at WRCT 88.3 FM Pittsburgh (Double CD, Various artists)
This impressive double CD set was obviously a labor of love. This set consists of one cut each culled from 28 different bands' appearance on WRCT 88.3's live concert series. What is most interesting is that all of these bands are from the Pittsburgh area. Accordingly, this set presents a wonderful snapshot of a thriving and impressive underground music scene that has, thus far, received little attention from the mainstream media. Whereas there are a lot of bands on major labels masquerading as alternative bands...the bands on this compilation are the real thing. There is, in fact, so much to digest here that the listener would need to spin these discs several dozen times before beginning to get a grasp of the material. It would require too much time and space here to go into every band and track...but some of the highlights are Blunderbuss, Creta Bourzia, Pay Toilets, Weird Paul, Zombs, (The) Alpha Control Group (C), Modey Lemon, Human Brains, and Beam. The sound quality is amazingly consistent here...and the packaging is top notch. If you have doubts about various artists compilations...this one will prove you wrong. (Rating: 5)

Avenged Sevenfold - Waking the Fallen (CD, Hopeless, Progressive rock)
Avenged Sevenfold is a great hard rock band with one annoying problem. Like so many other modern hard rock bands, they feel the need to occasionally interject their music with loud blaring jolts of screaming noise. And that is a pity, because the band writes tunes that are so strong that they certainly don't need to resort to this sort of atonal thrashing in order to get their point across. That said, Waking the Fallen is an album full of some great hard rock arena compositions. The guitar work is wonderful...very reminiscent early Queen (?!?). While these guys are obviously coming from the darker side of the universe, their strongest songs are the ones that concentrate more on melodic integrity than generic thrashing. If Avenged Sevenfold can drop the unnecessary trendy "screamer" element...they have the potential to become truly great. This is a frustrating album...yet it contains many tracks that are absolutely wonderful. Twelve cuts including "Chapter Four," "Eternal Rest," "Radiant Eclipse," and "Clairvoyant Disease." (Rating: 4+)

The Bevis Frond - New River Head (Double CD, Rubric, Rock/pop)
CD reissue of the 1990 album of the same name...released in its entirety. New River Head was originally slated to be a double vinyl album but was edited down to fit on a single disc. This double CD set also includes nine additional bonus tracks. Many Nick Saloman fans consider this to be his crowning achievement. We are inclined to agree. While they were all entertaining in their own unique way, early Bevis Frond albums suffered somewhat from problems with sound quality to uneven material. But on New River Head, Saloman overcame all obstacles and released his most spectacular album up to that point. The material ranges from pop to psychedelia to 1960s acid rock to experimental. Ultimately the songs are what make these discs so appealing. The sound quality is exceptional...Saloman's voice sounds even better than normal...and the arrangements are right on target. This super-satisfying set includes no less than 30 cuts...including "White Sun," "Undertaker," "Motherdust," and "High In A Flat." Smart, inventive, catchy, and thoroughly thought provoking. Rubric's decision to reissue all of the original Bevis Frond albums benefits music fans worldwide. An exceptional release. (Rating: 5+++)

The Bronx - The Bronx (CD, White Drugs, Hard rock)
Co-produced by Gilby Clarke and the band members in The Bronx...this self-titled album is a badass hard-hitting furious ball of mean rock energy. The problem with most hard rock bands is that they do nothing more than turn up way too loud and spew out meaningless noise. The men in The Bronx are much smarter than that. Though they play super hard with frightening venom...these guys seem to place a great emphasis on songwriting. The band's material is extraordinarily strong. Hard rockers like "Heart Attack American" and "Cobra Lucha" charge out of the gates with so much genuine adrenaline...that you can't help but fall for the band. In an age where virtually everything has been done before, intent is everything...and that is possibly The Bronx's strongest selling point. Their intent is as genuine as a blinding white light. They are dedicated to their cause...delivering their music in a totally believable way with intensely mesmerizing determination. A great rock album by anyone's standards... (Rating: 5++)

Johnny Cash

Cave Catt Sammy - Whiskey and the Devil (CD, Rubric, Rockabilly/pop)
The fourth full-length from San Antonio's Cave Catt Sammy. These guys have built a reputation on playing good, solid, simple rockabilly that is direct and inspirational. Whiskey and the Devil, the band's second album on the Rubric label, marks the addition of tenor saxophone player Ruben Lara. This album presents a nice mix of original tunes and covers...all played with style and conviction. One of the reasons these guys stand out from the crowd is that there are so many average rockabilly bands. If everyone played with the pizzazz and skill of Cave Catt Sammy...we'd probably see (yet another) rockabilly revival within months. Totally upbeat and genuine...this is a lovable album from a band that just keeps getting better. Includes "I Hate You Gin," "Knocked Out," "April's Fools," and "Cast Iron Arm." (Rating: 5)

Dashboard Confessional - A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar (CD/DVD Combo, Vagrant, Rock/pop)
Chris Carrabba just might be the Curt Cobain of the twenty-first century. His band Dashboard Confessional has soared to impressive heights over the past few years...and Carrabba just happens to be the focal point. (So much so that he is the only person featured in the band's latest publicity photo.) Like Cobain, Carrabba seems to have a firm grasp on the pulse of the alienated youth of the world. But where Cobain was something of a lost hippie...Chris is a very smart...and very ambitious man in terms of songwriting. While his physical appearance might resemble many who play thrash and death metal (his arms are completely covered in tattoos)...his music is anything but. A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar is a smart album full of inventive tunes with creative arrangements and startlingly precise lyrics. There is an urgency present that draws in listeners...as well as plenty of strangely addictive hooks. Lots of cool progressive tunes here...including "Hands Down," "Ghost of a Good Thing," "Morning Calls" (a real standout cut), and "Several Ways To Die Trying." Moving and articulate, this is an album for the thinking listener. Cool and creative. Also includes a bonus DVD. (Rating: 5)

Dilute / Hella - Live (Double CD EP set, Sickroom, Rock)
Another gem in the continuing series of live CDs from Sickroom. This label's choice of bands is helping to dispel myths about underground bands in the United States. As this double live CD by the bands Dilute and Hella suggests, there are some incredibly talented people playing in underground rock bands...many of whom are much more competent than many well-known musical artists. San Francisco's Dilute plays a mind-bending variety of modern progressive (mostly) instrumental rock music that is incredibly heady and complex. It is truly amazing that they can pull of such complicated music live. The rhythms are fast and furious...and the instruments are intertwined in such a way as to create a single music force that is both credible and incredible. This is some nice and meaty stuff. Sacramento's Hella present five tracks of their appropriately categorized "spazz-core." As is the case with Dilute, Hella's music is wildly complex...requiring severe dexterity and skill. The drummer is unbelievable. Hella tunes are jerky, spastic, unpredictable...and way beyond the scope of the average listener. Sickroom continues to present credible...yet virtually unknown bands. Oddly intoxicating. (Rating: 5)

The Dirtbombs - Dangerous Magical Noise (CD, In The Red, Rock)
If you like treble-charged rock and roll...The Dirtbombs are certain to set your heart on fire. What initially distinguishes these guys from other bands is that...not only do they have two drummers...but they have two bass players as well. If you think that this would blur their sound or make things confusing...think again. Slamming into gear with the screaming noise of "Start the Party," the band immediately straps their leather gears on and makes their mission obvious. This is what garage rock ought to sound like. These tunes are fast, intense, powerful, and over the edge in virtually all respects. The band sounds something like a cross between The Ramones, The Vibrators, and Steppenwolf...but with an updated sound and approach that is more modern. Rather than allowing themselves to be pigeonholed into a specific category, however, the band throws curves at the listener to prove how diverse they really are ("Earthquake Heart" and "Motor City Baby" are good examples). The Dirtbombs infuse their music with a magical intensity that is absorbing and totally credible. A great album that gets better with repeated spins. (Rating: 5+++)

Dufus - 1:3:1 (CD, ROIR, Rock/pop)
New York's Dufus truly is an unusual rock band. Fronted by a man named Seth Quankmeyer Faergolzia, the band's tunes are unpredictable, obtuse, mentally intrusive, and extraordinarily creative. Describing 1:3:1 is a difficult task indeed...because there are few reference points. Suffice to say...the songs on this album sound something like a modern rock band that has twisted and mutated their tunes into an acidic haze. One of the main trademarks of the band's sound is Faergolzia's peculiar vocal style. His voice goes all over the place...from subtle and dreamy...to strangely choked and fueled by squirrel power. In addition to fronting this band, Faergolzia is also in the process of starting a religion, designing clothing, starting a new art movement, and composing rock operas. The only problem this band may face is that their music may be above the heads of most listeners. For those who enjoy being challenged, 1:3:1 will do just that. This is a strange album that gets better with repeated listenings. (Rating: 5)

Scott Emerick - The Coast is Clear (CD, Dreamworks Nashville, Country/pop)
Super slick, super soothing, and super effective modern country pop. Scott Emerick is probably best known up to this point as the co-writer of some of Toby Keith's tunes (most notably the classic "I Can't Take You Anywhere" which Emerick has included here). The Coast is Clear was, appropriately, co-produced by Keith and James Stroud. The overall sound and tone of this album is, not surprisingly, quite similar to what Toby does. Emerick writes about everyday things that the average listener can relate to...and his voice is S-M-O-O-T-H. He's got virtually everything except... The only obstacle to this man's success at this point may be his image. Scott is in need of a makeover in order to make it big. After all...look what a difference changing their physical appearance made for Toby Keith and Tim McGraw (!). Both started out looking pretty sad and trashy...but now they're two of the most handsome critters on the planet. The same could very well happen for Emerick. He's already got the songs and the voice. With the right clothes and haircut...this guy could end up being the next big country star. The Coast is Clear is a good solid album worthy of many repeated spins. (Rating: 4+++)

Every Word - A Tribute To Let's Active (CD, Laughing Outlaw, Various artists)
This tribute album will hopefully shed some long overdue light on one of the best bands of the 1980s...Let's Active. With the exception of the mini-hit "Every Word Means No," Mitch Easter's music was largely ignored by the general public while other (less substantial) artists that he produced went on to achieve much greater success than his own band ever did. Every Word contains a whopping twenty tunes by twenty different artists...each delivering their own take of the Let's Active experience. Easter's peculiar vocal style was the main focal point in his band's sound. Accordingly, hearing his material recorded by others, it does seem to be missing that most integral and essential element. That said, there are some entertaining gems on this album. Standout cuts include Tommy Womack's "Make Up With Me," The Saving Graces' "Talking To Myself," The Trolleyvox's "Crows On a Phone Line," and Soap Star Joe's "I Feel Funny." Know what would be really, really, really cool? If Mitch himself would record and release a new album. Now that would be something (!). (Rating: 4++)

Fortress Madonna - One Hundred Beacons (CD, Laughing Outlaw, Pop/rock)
Fortress Madonna features a star-studded cast of underground celebrities. The band includes Alex Serikov, Mick Murphy and Bob Collins (from The Dentists), Nick Morwood (from The Impossible Shake), and Brian Sullivan (from The Brian Sullivan Experiment). The band's diverse personnel may help to explain their strangely chameleon-like sound. Unlike most bands that have one sound and overall idea...these folks' music presents a sweeping range of influences. Russian-born Serikov, the band's leading force, once represented his home country in the Olympics...and he was later recruited by the KGB...and now he's fronting a rock band (?!?). One Hundred Beacons is an instantly likable and quite hummable collection of pop tunes. Serikov's vocals sound amazingly American...as do many of his tunes. The recordings, appropriately, lack the overly glossy production that hampers so many modern recordings...instead utilizing only the essential elements necessary in order to get the point across. This is a direct album that gets better with repeated spins. Includes cool hummable rockers like "Speedo Chill," "Volga," "Hit the Ground," and "Glass of Mine." (Rating: 4+++)

Marvin Gaye - I Want You (Deluxe Edition) (Double CD, Motown / Universal, Soul/pop)
This is a beautifully packaged double CD package featuring Marvin Gaye's I Want You album complete with single mixes, alternate mixes, alternate vocals, and various other outtakes. The discs are housed in a beautiful quadruple foldout digipak...and the package includes an informative booklet full of photos and information about the creation of the album. The packaging is cool indeed...but not nearly as cool as the music itself. Gaye is a man who built his reputation through good honest hard work...and by composing some wonderfully smooth and addictive soul music. Modern soul artists could learn a great deal by delving into this man's early recordings. Gaye had a knack for writing great tunes...but he also had the good sense to use exactly the right ingredients in terms of arrangements. Simply said, I Want You is one of the best soul albums from the 1970s. The music is soulful, sexy, and effective. The extra material is intriguing...but only in terms of the fact that it helps support the main album itself. For anyone who ever appreciated Marvin Gaye's work...this is a "must have." (Rating: 5+++)

Ghosts & Vodka - Addicts and Drunks (CD, Sixgunlover, Instrumental/rock)
Intricate and unconventional guitar instrumentals. The guys in Ghosts & Vodka have a seemingly checkered past...but one would never know it from hearing them play. They've made some major impressions with reviewers in their relatively short lifespan (their first single was released in 1998). Addicts and Drunks features sixteen thought provoking tunes fueled by propulsive rhythms...and same goddamn stellar guitar playing. Nicely satisfying compositions like "Andrea Loves Horses" and "Good Luck With Your Multiple Personalities" make this album ultimately satisfying spin after spin after spin. Some really nice material here. (Rating: 4+++)

Gnappy - ...Is This a Machine? (CD, Bean Pie, Funky jazz/instrumental)
After impressing many with their 2001 debut, Gnappy return with another dazzling collection of modern funky jazz compositions. The band's tunes sound something like a more normal yet funkier version of The Grassy Knoll...minus the thick electronics. Just as was the case with the band's debut, this album is chock full of tunes that are a pure feelgood experience for the listener. The bass is thumpy and heavy...the rhythms right on target...and the guitars and keyboards fill the inner voids with plenty of experimental psychedelics. To the band's credit, they accomplish all of their goals without the use of vocals. ...Is This a Machine? is a well produced album that is highly entertaining...and instantly infectious. Dance inducing tracks like "Best Not Funk Around," "Rice Funk," and "Real Deal Holyfield" make this album a real keeper. (Rating: 5)

The Hidden Hand - Divine Propaganda (CD, MeteorCity, Rock)
Great loud stoner rock. The Hidden Hand is the latest project spearheaded by legendary guitarist Scott "Wino" Weinrich, formerly of the band Spirit Caravan. For this venture, Wino has enlisted the skills of bass player Bruce Falkinburg and drummer Dave Hennessy. For those who may have been dismayed with the breakup of Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand will most likely fill the void utterly and completely. While many don't live up to their hype...Wino most certainly does. The way this man wields his axe is astounding and completely incredible. His guitar playing is astounding throughout Divine Propaganda...but Falkinburg and Hennessy manage to hold their own with their heavy, driving rhythms. The songs and basic style of playing here remind us very much of the first Black Sabbath album (almost certainly a major influence). This is a hard and heavy album created with the genuine style of ultimate integrity. Few bands can match these guys in terms of skill and overall intent. A hard rock masterpiece. (Rating: 5+++)

Bob Hope (He was supposed to be a comedian kind of thing but...)
Bob Hope is dead...and we don't give a damn. According to most folks he was a very nice fellow. This may have been true. But we always had one MAJOR PROBLEM with Bob Hope and that was the fact that...HE WAS NOT FUNNY. In all honesty, not being funny isn't such a big deal in the big scheme of things...but when your occupation is that of a comedian...well, then it is a VERY BIG DEAL. The reason he was probably such a big success with so many folks is that his jokes were mediocre. And that is, of course, what the average person wants. Mediocre everything. That is why the most average of the average become so hugely successful. Consider the careers of Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley...the list goes on and on and on... And so Mr. Hope is now nothing more than a decaying blob buried in the earth. Hey, who CARES? He wasn't any good when he was alive ANYWAY. (Rating: 1)

David Hopkins - Here Comes the Bright Light (CD, Modest, Soft pop)
Amazingly effective pensive soft pop from Ireland's David Hopkins. Although he would be appropriately suited for the category of singer/songwriter...Hopkins hates the label because it "brings to mind wispy folksy troubadours and incense and hippies and stuff." The tunes on Here Comes the Bright Light are definitely not hippy music. Hopkins is a songwriter of the highest caliber...writing and creative music that comes from his heart...and then presenting it with precise skill and style. The first song to really catch our attention here is the brief yet utterly enchanting "Look At Me Mr. R." The tune features a beautifully absorbing melody, fantastic piano lines...and really shines a light on just how good Hopkins' voice is. Other standout cuts include "Why Are You Leaving Me Behind" (a beautiful piece centered around acoustic guitar), the Dumptruck-like "Don't Say Don't Stay," and the seemingly Donovan-inspired "The Spelling Song." In the world of soft pop music...David Hopkins is simply...one of the best. Excellent stuff. (Rating: 5++)

April March - Triggers (CD, Pias America, French/American pop)
Most music fanatics are familiar with French pop and American pop. Brooklyn's April March effectively combines the two into one easily digestible nutrient that is both soothing and natural. Triggers is a beautiful album. Produced by Bertrand Burgalat (also a recording artist), the album features wonderfully airy and melodic tunes that have as much in common with 1960s bubblegum as they do with modern technopop. Appropriately, the lyrics in these compositions effortlessly switch back and forth from English to French. March has a voice that is similar to...and rivals...Dominique Durand (of Ivy). While Burgalat's grooves float by...April's voice seems to soar quietly into the sky with her strangely addictive presence. The wealth of choice nuggets here includes "Nuit Est La," "The Life of the Party," "There Is Always Madness," and "Que Le Soleil Soit Maudit." Interestingly, March's past accomplishments have included being a principal animator and writer for Ren and Stimpy and Pee Wee's Playhouse. Whether you delight in French or American pop...Triggers is an exceptional album that will delight and entertain for many years go come. (Rating: 5+++)

Motochrist - Greetings From the Bonneville Salt Flats (CD, Heat Slick, Rock)
Straight ahead goddamn driving rock and roll music played with hairy ballpower...just like there's no tomorrow. The guys in Motochrist play in the grand tradition of bands like Aerosmith and Alice Cooper (when they were in their prime). But what makes Greetings From the Bonneville Salt Flats really cook are the tunes. These guys write excellent and direct songs that possess all the fury and intensity of a Harley-Davidson. All the elements are there. The guitars are fuzzy and focused...the rhythms tight and nasty...and the vocals have just the right does of attitude and punch. The band even delivers a credible cover of The Ramones' "Something To Do" (!). Great rockers like "Hang 'Em High," "Holiday," "Out of Control," and "Three Sheets to the Wind" prove that these guys are in it for all the right reasons. Excellent. (Rating: 5++)

Murder Beach - How Big This Is (CD, Bumblebear, Pop)
Really good boy/girl pop in the vein of The New Pornographers...except not as highly produced. On How Big This Is, this Athens band comes up with twenty melodic numbers that are a pure feelgood experience. In some ways, the music on this disc is reminiscent of early Apples In Stereo. The tunes feature sometimes complicated arrangements but the overall sound is low fidelity...which works in the band's favor. Produced by Chris Bishop, these compositions are sure to provide plenty of good toe-tapping entertainment. Includes "The Cool One," "Game Show," "She's a Disguise," and "The Pincher." (Rating: 4+++)

Kings of Leon - Youth and Young Manhood (CD, RCA, Rock)
Good simple direct Southern rock and roll played by long-haired fellows from Nashville (three are brothers, the other is a cousin). Kings of Leon's debut EP had people talking...but Youth and Young Manhood is the disc that'll cause the fans to crowd around. This band's music sounds something like a southern version of The Strokes...which is interesting, because the man who signed the band to RCA also signed The Strokes to the label (?!?). Since the release of their initial EP, the band has already toured Europe and Japan. With their career on a sudden and determined upsurge...we just hope that these guys can keep their heads above water. After all, fame has ruined many great bands...especially when they become huge so early in their career. This is a great upbeat rock album. The band's honest and pure approach is evident on tunes such as "Red Morning Light," "Trani," "Molly's Chambers," and "Holy Roller Novacaine." Great guitars, gutsy vocals, and masculine rhythms abound. (Rating: 5++)

Nebula - Atomic Ritual (CD, Liquor and Poker Music, Rock)
Mmmmmm-mmmm...Nebula is the REAL thing. These guys blow the lids off other bands playing similar styles of music. Their sheer focus and command of their instruments makes their tunes soar into the clouds and beyond. For those who love guitars...it just doesn't get much better than this. During the recording of this album the band's original bassist Mark Abshire left...being replaced by the more-than-adequate throbbings of Simon Moon. Although many may label Nebula as a stoner rock band...their music is actually more adventurous than that. Instead of sounding like laidback potheads...these guys seem as if they're stoked on speed. The music is hard, heavy, and intense. Great rockers like "Atomic Ritual," "More," "Out of Your Head," and "Strange Human" make this album a great big ol' charged up ball of fun. These guys always seem to hit home runs. Great stuff. (Rating: 5+)

The Pearlfishers - Sky Meadows (German import CD, Marina, Pop)
Dreamy classic pop. The Pearlfishers is a band that is recommended for anyone who ever loved the Beach Boys or the more articulate and intelligent progressive pop bands of the 1960s and 1970s. David Scott, the mainman in this band, has it all. He writes instantly memorable and soaring melodies...he's got a great voice...and his arranging skills would be difficult to match by anyone's standards. Sky Meadows is the band's fourth full-length release on Germany's Marina label...and it will, undoubtedly, be on many "best of" lists for 2003. This album was obviously a labor of love. Each composition is embellished with well chosen overdubs...making tunes that were already strong seem larger than life. There is a timeless quality to this music that is enchanting and engaging. As cool and pleasing as a cool breeze on a summer afternoon...Sky Meadows is, indeed, a beautiful body of work. Standout tracks include "Flora Belle," "My Dad the Weatherfan," "Pantohorse," "Saddle Sore," and "Say Goodbye to the Fairground." Excellent. (Rating: 5++)

The Ramblin' Ambassadors - Avanti (CD, Mint, Guitar instrumentals)
Fans of 1990's asskickers Huevos Rancheros will be pleased to learn that Brent J. Cooper, the band's axeman, has returned with another blazing outfit called The Ramblin' Ambassadors. Cut from the same general fabric as the Rancheros...Cooper and bandmates Scott Nickless and Tyler Pickering deliver the goods. Avanti is a totally refreshing and upbeat album full of oughta-be classics like "Sixty Seconds to What?," "Dead Man's Flats," and "The Hairless Cat." Cooper and associates blend elements of surf music and spaghetti western with modern rock to create a sound that is intoxicatingly friendly. Heavily melodic, the band's compositions display the same sort of enthusiasm that was the trademark of Cooper's previous band. The guitar work is, of course, outstanding to say the least. Great modern instrumentals. This one's a keeper. (Rating: 5)

The Ramones - NYC 1978 (CD, King Biscuit Flower Hour, Rock)
The ultimate punksters captured live at the peak of their career. Recorded just after the band had returned from Britain (which resulted in the phenomenal It's Alive album), The Ramones returned to New York to whip the home crowd into a frenzy. This concert was recorded on January 7, 1978 and features the original and best lineup (with Tommy on drums). Though we weren't at this particular concert...we saw the Ramones on their Rocket To Russia tour when they slammed through the Southeast. It was their shining moment in the spotlight although, amazingly, they were still an underground phenomenon at the time. It would be years and years before their true influence would be known. Even though the semi-hit "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" had just come out and was creating a buzz...The Ramones' music was just too raw and peculiar for the generic public to latch onto. The band was simply too far ahead of their time. Although It's Alive still remains the ultimate live documentation of an early Ramones concert...NYC 1978 is easily the second best recording ever released. The band is in fine form...jolting out 27 classic tunes in a mere 52 minutes. All of these tunes (from the band's debut album, Leave Home, and Rocket To Russia) have now been covered by countless bands paying homage to their heroes. But ulimately no band ever could...or ever will...play like The Ramones. This is a MUST HAVE. Hats off to the fine folks at King Biscuit Flower Hour for making this available. INCREDIBLE STUFF. (Rating: 6+)

The Revolution Smile - Above the Noise (CD, Flawless / Geffen, Rock/pop)
The Revolution Smile is a band that is badly in need of unique material. Above the Noise is, basically, a good album. And yet...after it is over...one has difficulty remembering any specific track on the album. There is a reason for this. This quartet plays music that sounds far too similar to thousands of other bands on the horizon. The idea is to turn up loud...and then churn out generic music. There are few hooks...few things to grab the listeners' attention...and few things to leave a lasting impression. The band plays well...they are more than competent on their instruments and the singer has a great voice. But without material that is more original and unique...their career will most likely be somewhat stunted. There are a few standout tracks...most notably the soft and spacey "Gun." Good hard rock...but far from great. (Rating: 3)

Smashmouth - Get the Picture? (CD, Interscope, Rock/pop)
In the world of modern rock music, the band Smashmouth is a true rarity. The band is very popular and well-known...yet they write great songs (!?!). That fact alone sets them apart from 99.9% of the career bands out there. For better or for worse, these days popularity is usually closely aligned with stuff that is totally and completely S-H-I-T-T-Y. It is refreshing, therefore, that the guys in Smashmouth are indeed not shitty at all. They are, in fact, quite unshitty. True, the "single" on this album ("You Are My Number One") is not the strongest song in the world...but there are plenty more where that came from. Actually...and as a matter of fact...the rest of Get the Picture? is rather wonderful. Smashmouth tunes are simple and somewhat bubblegummy in nature...but with just enough of a rocking edge to attack all those little kids who want to rock. And the lead singer is truly lovable. Super tracks include "Hang On," "Space Man," "105," "Fun," and "New Planet." These guys deserve credit for making it on their own terms. By giving the public something that is genuinely good and easy to comprehend...Smashmouth succeeds on all levels. (Rating: 5)

Street Dogs - Savin Hill (CD, Crosscheck, Hard rock)
Featuring Mike McColgan and Jeff Erna (the original vocalist and drummer in Dropkick Murphys), Street Dogs are a hard-hitting meaty rock band. Recorded at Boston's Q Division, this album contains all the urgency and excitement of a live performance. The band is in fine form here...delivering melodic hard rockers like "Savin Hill," "When It Ends," and "Last Call." The compositions on this album are, for the most part, delivered straight from the hip without unnecessary embellishments. Although he took a break from the music scene for a few years...McColgan sounds as great as ever. His masculine urgent vocals really drive these tunes home. While Savin Hill is an intense album...it is first and foremost an impressive collection of well-written tunes. Plenty of loud anthemic punk-inspired rockers here. Good stuff. (Rating: 4+++)

Surrounded - Safety In Numbers (CD, Deep Elm, Dreamy pop)
Beautiful swirling dreamy pop music. Surrounded hail from Sweden...but they don't have that Swedish pop sound that has become so increasingly familiar over the years. Instead, the band's hazy pop sound layered with guitars and airy keyboards is more reminiscent of bands like Sparklehorse and early Starflyer 59...with a hint of Leonard Cohen thrown in for good measure. Safety In Numbers would already be an impressive album...but it is even more so because this is the band's debut. (For many bands, it would take years to reach a plateau like this.) The band's progressive pop features intriguing arrangements and super soft vocals that give the music a strangely shaky sound (like the previously mentioned Sparklehorse)...that is strangely calming. And yet underneath it all there is a strange undercurrent that is difficult to define. The band consists of Marten Rydell (vocals, guitar), Marcus Knutsson (guitar), Emil Petersson (keyboards, sampling), Fredrik Solfors (drums), and Jesper Petersson (bass). Safety In Numbers is an ultimately satisfying platter featuring such gems as "Linear Elevator," "Diesel Palace," "Blood Orange Wheels," and "Neglectarine" (great song title, that one...). Superb. (Rating: 5+)

Steve Tilston - Such & Such (CD, Market Square, Folk/pop)
Proceeding from the same general territory as artists such as Donovan and Bert Jansch, Steve Tilston provides folk music infused with just the right amount of pop. His vocals sound a bit like the softer side of John Cale. Tilston has been making music since the 1970s. His tunes have been covered by some notable and credible artists along the way. Such & Such is a highly rewarding collection of tunes based around acoustic guitar...and featuring Steve's deep, sexy voice. Twelve tracks are originals and one is a cover of a traditional tune ("The Constant Lover"). Tilston's tunes are subtle and come from the heart. His understated style of singing and playing is refreshingly down to earth. The album opens with "Rare Thing," which really casts a spotlight on this man's singing and playing abilities. Other standout tracks include "Totterdown," "Mirror Dance," "Rolling Down This Roman Road," and "Sweet Such & Such." Although Steve Tilston remains an underground favorite...his music could very well be appreciated by a much larger audience if they were given the chance to experience his art. Very nicely done. (Rating: 4+++)

Robin Williams (He was supposed to be a comedian kind of thing but...)
Robin Williams is dead...and we don't give a damn. According to most folks he was a very nice fellow. This may have been true. But we always had one MAJOR PROBLEM with Robin Williams and that was the fact that...HE WAS NOT FUNNY. In all honesty, not being funny isn't such a big deal in the big scheme of things...but when your occupation is that of a comedian...well, then it is a VERY BIG DEAL. The reason he was probably such a big success with so many folks is that his jokes were mediocre. And that is, of course, what the average person wants. Mediocre everything. That is why the most average of the average become so hugely successful. Consider the careers of Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley...the list goes on and on and on... And so Mr. Williams is now nothing more than a decaying blob buried in the earth. Hey, who CARES? He wasn't any good when he was alive ANYWAY. (Rating: 1)

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