Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Ripple Road Trip

With the busy, hectic lives we lead, I've learned to totally appreciate traffic. Yep, that may sound crazy, but with all my dashing around from place to place, all the Ripple business in the works, all the rushing, traffic offers me an opportunity (forced opportunity) to slow down, take my foot off the gas (literally) and just chill. Turns out that time in my car is also my best time for listening to music. With the world shut out and my cellphone comfortably out of reach, I can insulate myself in my mobile man cave and spin discs to my heart's content.

So with that introduction, let's see what eclectic mix is spinning on the Ripple convertible Ghia's player today.

Jason Ricci and New Blood - Done with the Devil

Holy crap! Where'd the heck this come from? To be honest, I'd never heard of Jason Ricci before. I'd noticed that our good buddy The Nightwatcher had made this disc his album of the month but still, I wasn't prepared for the fire that erupted from my speakers the second I popped this baby in. Lulled in by a false moment of calm, "Done with the Devil," just burst across the sky like some flaming supernova. Big guitar, massive drums and some of the most electrifying harmonica playing I've ever heard. I'm going to expose my blues ignorance here. . . I have no idea what a Diatonic Harmonica is, but damn, can Jason play it. And the tone it produces is mind-boggling, not sounding like any harmonica I've heard before. It resonates against it's own notes, sound remarkably full and fluid, wailing like some wildly distorted guitar. It's a fantastic sound and a great introduction to one of the best blues albums I've heard all year.

Jason's voice is just as strong, deep and mournful, troubled and emotive. This is the voice of a man that has been through it, lived it, breathed it. A big voice that seems to be totally at home with itself, yet a total contradiction to the relatively baby-faced blond from which it comes. The band behind Jason is just as strong. Shawn Starski is a guitar player of note, his playing filled with nuance and passion, and Todd Edmunds and Ed Michaels keep that all important rhythm fully locked in. "Done with the Devil," simply rocks, tearing it up in all it's blues swagger. It's a song I'd play for anyone who ever claims they don't like the blues. Guess what? They will now.

The album doesn't stop there. As the name implies "Sweet Loving," is a gentler tune with some gorgeous harp playing and some nice harp/guitar harmony passages, while "Holler for Craig Loller," drops down into some neo-jazz fusion territory, with huge, looping guitar/harp dual playing. Jason's voice shines again as does the bass breakdown mid-way through. And I suppose no review of the disc could finish without the mention of the struggles that befell Jason as he came out as the first openly gay man in the overly-macho world of blues music. Not that his sexual identity matters one whit in describing his musical performance, but that it's a topic he handles with stunning effect on the penetrating "Broken Toy." As mournful a blues number as you're likely to hear, Jason's harp almost seems to cry through the intro. Jason's voice digs down into his most sensitive singing as he lays down his burden. "I'm an outsider, I'm a misfit/not a girl nor a boy/I feel like a broken toy." His pain is real. His performance beautiful. His voice way too old for his age, weary from the tribulation. His diatonic harp wailing with tears.

Don't miss it.

The Omens - Send Black Flowers

Pure, unadulterated raging slabs of fuzzed out, organ drenched, guitar-mad, R&B soaked old school garage rock and roll. We've been bragging the merits of the Omens for months now to every person we chance across at every bar, school, and street corner. If walls of maximally-fuzzed garage guitars charging through a raving chorus, big swooping melodies, Little Richard yelping vocals and harmonies like they just don't record em anymore appeals to your musical palette, you gotta check these guys out. They studied the masters of the past and took their lessons well. Wild R&B from the Sonics, psychedelic flourishes from the Seeds, short punky riffs from the Standells, it's all here. And the Ripple has deemed it's all good.

We first learned of these way-cool cats when they popped their 7" single "Won't be Ashamed b/w Make it Last," into the Ripple mailbox. Both of those tracks are here, sounding just as urgent now as they did way back then, but it's a testament to the strength of the disc that those standout singles are hardly the only good material here. "Pray for You," is just a fricking adrenaline, pre-punk workout. "Look Away," has huge sixties-inspired melodies, sprinting guitars and perfect harmony backing vocals. "I Need Your Love," "It's Down On You," "You Don't Know Me At All," are all resurrected blasts of garage/surfy fury. "Make it Last," sounds particularly delectable in this context. Just a perfect groovy-cool burst of garage madness. With most tracks clocking in at around the 2:30 mark, this is a fierce blow out of some great psych punk. But before you go thinking The Omens are a one-trick pony, the boys mix it up with the extended neo-prog in a beach party garage-fest that is "You Can't Come Back," with it's prolonged, muted bass intro, jazzy pacing and gentle guitars. That is until the garage collapses in again with some bitchin' screaming and strumming. Great stuff, surely to satisfy.

Oscape - The Growing Ground

Sometimes it's hard to listen to an artist's music without taking into context the environment where he lives. Oscape is like that for me. Coming from Tuscon, there's something dark and haunting about Oscape's music, something vast and open, like the Sonora desert at nighttime. Sounds seem to echo. Space feels heavy and oppressive around me, danger lurks just outta sight. This isn't a happy day-trip to go see some cacti sort of desert, this is a walk through a minefield, blindfolded, and oh yeah, nevermind the rattlers. Recorded as a one-man effort before becoming a full band, Scott Heller infuses this debut with atmosphere. Acoustic guitars shimmer and echo with a hint of Spanish flavor or a deep resonance. Empty spaces abound, bass tones are muted and resonant. Think Alice In Chains exploring their more acoustic moments, dropped in the desert with Kyuss, and, oh yeah . . . they're pissed. Oscape isn't a stoner band, they're not content to load up a bongload and disassociate from society. They're a band with a message, a heavy tone of doom, a rallying cry against the absurdity of war and government.

"The March," brings us into their desert warzone gently, carried along by some beautifully sparse, flamenco-styled guitar played over a deeply resonant bass. Soldiers march in the background while voices order them to become sacrificial lambs heading off to the slaughter. Then "Doing Business," drops the bomb. A big, muted Sabbath riff explodes like a grenade dropped into a bunker. Fuzzed guitar screeches across the smoke and fire. Scott's voice ranges through lower Layne Staley verses and more tonal emotive choruses. A nice guitar break adds to the menace about 3 minutes in, but what really sticks is the haunting melody, something that burrows inside my head like a scorpion lying in wait, searching for a kill. That statement holds true for the heavily Alice in Chains-like "The Inside Joke." Big strumming acoustics sound like some that would've been written by Jerry Cantrell. The craft is strong here, the strummed verse leading right into the deeper fuzzed tones of the chorus. Again a melody that I found myself singing days later lift this song to the memorable. "The Growing Ground," is another stand-out track, a heavier vibe layered over the AIC structure. Heller layers screaming electric guitar over the intro riff like rockets soaring over a battlefield. The song drops down into a spartan, haunting verse, Heller's voice sounding ghostly over the emptiness of the acoustic strumming. But it doesn't stay that way for long. Suddenly the riff comes back, deep and troubling for the bridging verse. Nicely done.

In truth, The Growing Ground, is more of an introduction to a band than a final statement. As a D.I.Y effort, I'd love to hear the songs with a more professional production, deepening the heaviness, filling out the atmospherics. And not all the songs work well, "The Bullying Ground," leaves me wanting, but still, the disc left an impression on me. It's rare that a D.I.Y effort mines such a unified sound, one that is so desolate and haunting, so undeniably laden with atmosphere. Melodies are strong and the acoustic Alice in Chains-vibe is very nicely done. Check this out if you want to hear a band on the ground floor, cause I expect we'll be hearing more from these cats in the future.

1 comment:

Woody said...

Dude! You should move to NYC. You could listen to TONS of music in traffic here.

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