Join Pop Songstress Alexa Friedman on a Steampunk Treasure Hunt in New Video

Are you ready for the dance battle to end all dance battles? In Alexa Friedman‘s new video for “Enraptured,” a pop-palooza with a nod to Latin rhythms and female powerhouses of the ’90s, she loses custody of a mysterious treasure chest, but holds onto the key. Later, she and her posse show up to claim what’s rightfully theirs and much moves ensue. Who wins? You’ll have to watch the video below to find out.

As for Alexa, the fiery 14-year-old (!!) has been making the pipes since she was a wee lass, working the LA circuit and appearing in productions like School of Rock and The Middle. Her skills are clearly that of someone with a few more years of experience under her belt. Her advanced musical prowess combines with director Spencer D. Evans’ vision to paint a lifelike dystopian landscape in “Enraptured.” Fans of Mad Max will feel right at home here.

Obviously, there’s much more to be seen from Alexa Friedman, but to get a taste of her pop sensibilities and an idea of what’s to come in the future, take a peek at this beautifully shot video.

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll #7: Get Happy!


(Archive.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Here we are, folks — the dream we all dream of. Man versus butterflies. Prince is dead, and I’m not feeling so well myself. It’s showtime.

There’s a phrase that’s been running through my head in the weeks leading up to this gig — a two-set “Happy Hour” at Rochester’s renowned dive the Bug Jar — and that phrase is: proof of concept.

It’s a term borrowed from engineering, defined as evidence derived from an experiment or pilot project showing that a concept or design element has practical potential. It’s my way of managing expectations for the show, I suppose. “Proof of concept” means that the show doesn’t have to be great, or even necessarily good. It just has to demonstrate that this incarnation of Roscoe’s Basement is a viable group. A band plays shows. Some will be better than others, but they will all fulfill the requirements for a rock show: a list of songs that all the performers know, performed competently to completion, with talking in between, and an audience of some kind who must be entertained — or at least not actively hostile.

If you can make it through a show — even a mediocre one — then you can, with hard work and experience, ramp up to a good one. You may not be there yet, but you’re on the right track. If you can’t make it through the first gig, though, there will be no second gig. So there’s our goal. Proof of concept. Demonstrate potential.

Potential energy becomes kinetic energy. Photo by Janice Hanson.

Engineers typically construct proof-of-concept experiments as small, low-stakes scenarios. And this gig is certainly that. The Bug Jar is — and I say this after careful consideration — a pestilential shambles, a rinky-dink corner bar of the type that They Just Don’t Make ‘Em Like Anymore, presumably because They belatedly suffered a sudden and life-changing attack of good sense.

There are two rooms. In the back, there’s a stage — small, but quite high up — plus a sound booth, lights, and full PA. Four or five nights a week, there’s music back there. Occasionally you’ll get a DJ set, but usually it’s live bands, both local and touring acts, all original music. It’s a great bargain — three or four bands for just $10 — and that draws the college kids and the scenesters.

The front room is for the serious drinkers. The afternoon sun cuts in slantwise through the glass front. There’s no stage as such; the room is sort of a split level, with a raised area for a couple of booths and a pool table. The walls are a gaudy red and green, hung with bric-a-brac and work by local artists. Rococo as hell. Lurid sculpted houseflies adorn the two blades of a ceiling fan spinning slowly over the bar. Everything is grimy and faintly sticky. This is where we will play, soundtracking discounted well drinks and free pizza for two hours in the early evening, 5:00 to 7:00 PM on a Friday, two hours of (mostly) covers for tips for a homeward-bound post-work crowd; then we’ll pack up our shit and clear out before the real bands get there for a 9:00 quadruple bill in the back.

The stakes could not be lower. So I’m free to worry about stupid stuff, like my hat.

See, I’m a big guy — thick in the middle, thin on top — and I sweat something fierce when I exert myself. I almost always wear a hat, just to keep the sweat out of my eyes. A ballcap is fine for everyday, but it looks dumb onstage; it’s too hot for my tweed scally; a pirate-style bandanna only works if you commit to the whole biker look, and it’s far too late in the game for me to be getting tattooed. So I slap on my Cuban-style straw fedora with a button-up shirt — short sleeves, but dressy — and head out, still with very little idea of what kind of frontman I want to be.

Mike digs in and makes it greasy. Photo by Janice Hanson.

I remember one time — I was in college, I think — a stranger told me I could never be a rock star because I smile too much. And it’s true. You look at pictures of most rock ‘n’ roll dudes onstage, and they’re all so intense. I have fun onstage; I can’t do a scary glower to save my life. But a good frontman needs a commanding presence. I don’t think in terms of a persona — I have no interest in playing make-believe or doing a “character” — but whereas a solo performer can pitch himself to a human scale because he and his solo guitar are making only a small-scaled noise, a man in front of a roaring five-piece band must perforce himself be larger than life to compensate.

So I’m sweating this stuff as we set up; and then it’s go time, and Tom lays into the backbeat of our opener, “10 AM Automatic,” and it’s just me and the drums. And I open my mouth and say something like:

Good evening, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors; the name of this organization is Roscoe’s Basement — we are the rock ‘n’ roll band that practices underneath a dog. And we are here tonight for your dining and dancing pleasure, playing the songs you know and love, the closet classics from deep in the underground, and all your favorite songs you’ve never heard. So get comfortable, buy me a drink, and make yourself ready to rock — steady — because we’re about to kick it off.

Fellas, uh, don’t leave me standin’ up here all by myself — I feel like I’m sellin’ something…

It all tumbles out of me in a singsong drawl, this stream of doubletalk and catchphrases, with a cadence somewhere between that of a soap box preacher and of a boardwalk pitchman who’s been huffing ether.

And then Mike comes in with those shattering opening chords, and we’re off to the races.

We head into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” like a house afire, tambourine jangling like my nerves. I’m singing hard. Not too hard, not yet. The sound of “Surrender,” and that long triumphant ending spiraling upwards, actually draws a random pedestrian in from the street. (“I had no idea anybody covered Cheap Trick these days,” he marvels to me later.) And on. The Who, the Ramones, the Pixies. I hit it too hard; I’m short of breath on the Beatles tune, and the notes get away from me. Suck it up.

We’re up on the little rise, set up right in front of the can. Guys are literally walking between me and Mike to get the men’s room. I don’t care. Chuck plays a hot solo on “Summertime Blues,” and I fan myself theatrically with my fedora. Danielle stops in, though she can’t stay long; I wave from the stage. I do a long freestyle on “Roadhouse Blues,” introducing the band one by one. The carnival-barker flimflam rolls easily: this is me now, the Jack o’ Diamonds, emcee and ringmaster of this rock ‘n’ roll circus. And then we’re into “Friction,” and at some point a voice from the back of the room screams, “Who even DOES that?!?

Things get rocky as we wind down the first set, though. “Starry Eyes” starts off at a crawling tempo; I windmill my fist and glare daggers at Tom, but the pace never picks up to a satisfactory degree, and the song — and the set — limp to a close. Hit the head, down some water — my shirt is soaked already — get buttonholed by the Cheap Trick guy (who is REALLY into Cheap Trick, and would happily spend all night telling me so), say goodbye to Danielle. Then it’s back in the ring to take another swing.

We make a strong start, but things start going south mid-set. I flub a bunch of words; the false ending of “Destroyer” gets away from us, abruptly turning into a real ending; the mix slowly becomes unbalanced as various parties turn up incrementally. We close with “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?”, played at a breakneck clip. Too fast. Everything’s a blur. I don’t handle it well. I let my exasperation show.

And then it’s over. We have proof of concept.

We start the teardown. Tom apologizes profusely for various little fuck-ups. I shrug it off — what’s done is done. That’s the way my temper operates: a swift flare-up of annoyance, an outburst, and then I’m fine, all forgiven as far as I’m concerned.

But it’s not forgiven. Deanna takes me aside and tactfully tells me I acted like a dick up there. And, y’know, I did. The looks I was giving Tom — Jesus Christ, he must’ve thought I wanted to kill him. I am blowing this, blowing it.

I go back to Tom and apologize for, basically, calling him out in front the crowd. It was stupid and cruel and pointless. It didn’t help matters; it only made them worse. I promise — not aloud — that I will do better in future gigs. Because there will be future gigs; after all, we have proof of concept.

Craig’s wife calls us outside so she can get a group photo. I’m bent slightly forward, as if about to double over with laughter, although I forget the joke. I look nothing at all like a rock star; I am smiling far, far too much.

The classic brick wall shot. L–R: Mike Mann, the author, Chuck Romano, Craig Hanson, Tom Finn, Deanna Finn. Photo by Janice Hanson. Special thanks to Deanna for Photoshopping the worst of the sweat stains out of my shirt.

Next month: The Woodshed

ALBUM REVIEW: RICHARD X. HEYMAN, “Incognito”

Richard X. Heyman is unquestionably a legend.  He was one of the first “one man band” recording artists, in the grand tradition of Paul McCartney, Emitt Rhodes and Todd Rundgren. Critical praise began with the release of his first album Living Room, which Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed “an undiscovered treasure.” All Music Guide called him “perhaps America’s greatest unsung hero of power pop, a songwriter of uncommon talent and intelligence and a one-man rock band without peer”.  And he’s been cranking out great records for as long as I can remember – I bought his first single, “Vacation”, when I saw it on the wall of Golden Disc (Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, that is) in 1980 or early 1981.  So should it be any surprise that his latest – his 12th album – Incognito is filled with those pop gems, filled with color and melody?  None whatsoever.  It should be listened to and absorbed immediately.

Just listen to the shimmering opening of the title cut, which begins this 14-track collection.  His voice is as fine and strong as ever; the production is crisp and works perfectly in giving this song life – that cascading guitar is, in a word, magnificent and chill-inducing.  The uptempo, reverb-wash of “And Then” is a perfect melding of what we’ve come to love about The Feelies and R.E.M.; the harmonies are glorious and the guitar nuances are just right; the acoustic-driven stomper “Gleam” could easily be played on any radio station (love the backing vocals) and the keyboard-based, gospel-tinged “In Our Best Interest” packs an emotional punch that can’t be understated (think “Ballad Of El Goodo”).  “Her Garden Path” is “clasic Heyman” – that 12-string Ric chime with a heaviness that rocks the pop – Heyman at his best, frankly; the heartbreak and drama in the feel of “These Troubled Times” makes this one track to focus on – a serious message that should make you think and the Byrds-yness of “Miss Shenandoah Martin” is simply another showcase piece not to be overlooked.

Every Richard X. Heyman album is, for all intents and purposes, a treat.  His last album, X, was a favorite of mine in 2013; this album takes the beauty of that record one step further.  Whether its with the equally-legendary Doughboys or as a self-contained recording unit, Richard X. Heyman makes the kind of music you should want to make yourself.  And if you can’t, he’s here to do it for us all.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Incognito is currently available

http://www.richardxheyman.com/index.php

 

Adaline’s Radio-Ready Pop Modernizes ‘Nostalgia’

Not gonna lie, I’m pretty sure Adaline chose to call her song “Nostalgia” as an homage to my most-of-the-time writing persona (covering legacy acts, ’60s music, and retro goodness). No? Okay, moving on.

Although its title indicates a wistful, maybe whimsical, tune, there’s nothing but modernity here from this Toronto-based pop goddess. Since hearing it for the first time, it’s since been added to my “New Music That’s Actually Good” playlist. (Yes, that exists, and it’s super difficult to earn a coveted spot.) It seamlessly blends with any number of songstresses on Top 40 today, including Ellie Goulding, Florence Welch, and even heatseekers like Echosmith, but

It seamlessly blends with any number of songstresses on Top 40 today, including Ellie Goulding, Florence Welch, and even heatseekers like Echosmith, but its dark, shifty, moody edge makes it distinctly Adaline. After one listen, you’ll need to cancel your plans for the next hour or so, because you’ll be playing this track on repeat — it’s that catchy.

Her new video, which features Grey’s Anatomy star Giacomo Gianniotti, perfectly illustrates the longing for the early days of new love, when everything is fresh and exciting. Complementing Adaline’s hook-filled vocals and pulsing backbeat, its black-and-white aesthetic ups the intensity. Truly, it’s a perfect visual for a near-perfect pop song.

Check out the video for Adaline’s “Nostalgia” below!

ALBUM REVIEW: THE DUSTBOWL REVIVAL, s/t

 

 

 

This 6th release from Los Angeles’ The Dustbowl Revival finds this band evolving in new directions; shaping and refining their music.  Self-titled, the band that’s gained a reputation for a good-time vibe has expanded its sound to include a soulful, funky groove that exudes deeper emotion and thus taps a more now/modern vibe.  This band has been known for their heady stew of quasi-Beale Street brassiness, mixed with some groove and roots music and yet again, they’ve raised their own bar higher.

“Call Me Now” kicks off the proceedings with a raucous, down-home, groove (yep, right there) filled with on-the-one harmonies, rousing horn charts and a get-down vibe; “If You Could See Me Now” has a sinister soundtrack feel – kind of a spy vibe mixed in with the clever melodic construction – and once again, those horns take center stage, punctuating the verses and lifting up the space between the choruses.  “The Story” has a slightly ’70’s funk feel, although the tempo moves in a 4/4 Motown time – it’s a stomper that’s a definite centerpiece; “Debtors’ Prison” goes in a completely different direction as it’s got a country feel; acoustic based and slower – and another high point and “Gonna Fix You” immediately reminds me of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Let’s Make This Precious”, with its breezy soul feel and uptempo motor.  “Got Over” is another “quieter” piece; acoustic guitar and mandolin surround sweet harmonies and mournful horn interludes and “Leaving Time” is slick, in a New Orleans way – sly and no messing about.

All in all, a fine and solid effort from this ensemble.  I could rhapsodize about the philosophy behind The Dustbowl Revival’s sound and style but this is one of those cases where I don’t need to explain.  Put this album on and let the music do the talking.  I think it’s evident that what I hear in their music, you will too.  Which is more than enough reason to give this a spin.

RECOMMENDED

The Dustbowl Revival’s self-titled album is currently available

http://www.dustbowlrevival.com/

Album Review: All 4 1, “The World’s Best Hope”

Every music genre has cliches attached to it that either identify or characterize it. It’s unavoidable. A barometer for success usually means either how well an artist avoids the cliches, subverts the cliches, or uses them as a tool to help with audience identification. I am pretty tough on artists who do not succeed in any of these three exceptions, and as much as I hate to do it, The World’s Best Hope from All 4 1 indeed falls down on these tasks.

This is not, by the way, All-4-One, the ’90s R&B-pop vocal group that brought you the song “I Swear.” This is a supergroup formed by Frontiers Music head Alessandro Del Vecchio, featuring Terry Brock (Giant), Robert Berry (Three, with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer), Gary Pihl (Boston), and Matt Starr. The construct is not dissimilar to another Del Vecchio production, Revolution Saints featuring Jack Blades, Deen Castronovo, and Doug Aldrich. When I first read of All 4 1’s formation, I was hopeful. There’s a lot of talent in the band, much of which has been under-utilized through the years. To me, this sounded like a promising opportunity to strike out on their own and do something interesting.

Unfortunately, goodwill only gets you so far, and sadly All 4 1 buckles beneath the weight of a lot of bad choices. The main bad choice is that the sound of the music is trying so hard to reach verisimilitude with ’80s AOR/Melodic Rock that it never seems to attain an identity of its own. These are regularly heard in predictable melodies and lyrics that trade in the gray hairs of “standing for what you believe in,” and “never surrendering,” and “never giving up,” and “fighting to the end, no matter the cost.” In other words, the lyrics never rise from those of a theme from an ’80s Sylvester Stallone movie.

Harder to cope with is what I will call “Final Countdown Syndrome.” I remember back in the ’80s, a friend of mine was infatuated with the Europe song, “The Final Countdown,” and bought the CD. To his disappointment, every song opened with a variation of the lead singer saying, “yeah,” or “whoa-oh,” or “ungh!” or some other unnecessary interjection. That’s precisely what you get with the majority of The World’s Best Hope, and it contributes severely to that uncomfortable sense of audio deja vu.

It’s really a shame too, because the pieces are there for something a lot more interesting than what we get. In specific, I always felt like Berry had greater capabilities than he was allowed to show through the years. The Emerson Lake and Palmer fans never warmed to his presence in Three (or 3) and the sole Geffen Records release was destined to reside in cut-out bins across the nation. He contributed to some other prog-based tributes and such, but never had a platform to show off what he was capable of. The same is true of Pihl who had better fortunes working with Sammy Hagar than the famously dictatorial Tom Scholz of Boston.

I will give credit where it is due: Del Vecchio knows how to plate his productions with chrome and light it up with neon. The World’s Best Hope is slick and shiny, and the musicianship involved is not subpar, but it winds up feeling lackluster, buried by those previously stated bad choices. Had there been an aggressive figure in the mix to say “this song needs another pass, it’s not there yet,” or “cut all the opening adlibs immediately,” while Del Vecchio concentrated strictly on the sound production, this enterprise would really have been something to be excited about.

But as it stands at the moment, All 4 1’s The World’s Best Hope is a promise the album simply does not keep.

Calling All Film Noir Fans: Ben Lorentzen’s Music Video ‘Suite’ is Right Up Your Alley

There are a few indicators when you’re watching a music video that make you say, “Oh, this is going to be good.” One of those is a cold open, free of the song the video accompanies. Generally speaking (and utilizing my own opinion as a connoisseur of these things, natch), an introduction that sets up the plot of the video means that there’s something deeper there than simply some action with a song.

Rock singer/songwriter Ben Lorentzen gets it. He uses these cinematic sensibilities to craft not one, but two videos for “Dead Man in the Closet” and “Crows on the Wire,” both from his latest album, Pains and Pleasures. The Norway-born artist — whose voice is dense and dark, scruffy in all the right places — draws inspiration from his homeland, a place above the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t rise for months at a time. That distinct chill is felt throughout these two clips.

He and director Johan Anderson create a black-and-white world in which strange mysteries lurk around every corner. Both videos (along with others from the album) are tied together with a common storyline featuring a certain character. I’m not going to spoil the plot for you — where’s the fun in that? — but if you’re intrigued by the thought of watching a Bergman-esque short set to bit of toned-down modern rock, you’re in for a real treat.

Check out both videos below!

 

ALBUM REVIEW: THE THIN CHERRIES, s/t

It must be something in the water of Chicago.  For the last few years, the city has grown a plethora of bands from all different genres worth checking out.  And here again is another, The Thin Cherries.  A product of Mark Lofgren and Steve Delisi’s talents and vision, this band mixes the best elements of straightforward rock, slight psychedelic overtones and the early ’80’s (think the melodic space feel of bands like Lush without the noise factor or The Sound and The Comsat Angels with their density).

“Uncountry” has all the aforementioned influences rolled into one highly intense and enjoyable track; hypnotic and enticing, it’s the perfect way to start this album and keep you interested.  “Twonty” has the extra added ingredient of a quasi-country twang in its psychedelic manner (listen to that swirling keyboard riff); “I And Julia” is wonderfully reminiscent of The Chameleons; the vocals are soft with on-point harmonies and the middle-eight of the song builds but doesn’t distract from the song’s framework – it works in a cyclical manner and the guitar solo is just right.  “Dorian Gray” is the obvious “single” or focus track and the elements are just right – a chugging acoustic guitar, an offsetting guitar upstroke and warmly chiming melody; “Not My Love” is another acoustic-driven piece and on this, the vocals sound very Marc Bolan-esque in a sweeter fashion than the late T. Rex frontman; “Oven Mitt” is a hazy, dreamy track and “Star Lounge” closes out the collection with a late-period Rain Parade feel – guitars galore; again, slightly psychedelic and full of life with its structure.

This is, indeed, a very fine bow in a year of so-so debut offerings.  And as I’m often wont to do, I’d love to hear where The Thin Cherries go from here.  Certainly, they can’t head anyplace but up.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Thin Cherries’ self-titled debut album is currently available

https://www.facebook.com/thethincherries/

 

Dizzy Heights #21: In the Snow We All Look Cold

Assembled in roughly 24 hours after a lengthy and fantastic vacation. Said to the wife, “I’m not sure what to play this week.” Minutes later, lots of (incongruous) ideas, including:

– A Gary Numan cover block
– The Other Single (songs that received airplay – just not as much as the big hit)
– Guest vocals by A First Wave superstar

And, of course, more mellow gold, but with a twist.

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Minus the Bear’s Visionary Video for New Single ‘Last Kiss’ Dazzles

When making a music video, the ultimate outcome is often a mixture of the director’s vision and the artist’s music. It may seem obvious that the best videos result from a collaboration where both parties are on the same wavelength. As we’ve all seen, however, that’s not often the case.

Luckily for Minus the Bear, director Dan Huiting immediately envisioned a divine video concept for their song “Last Kiss.” “I instantly saw the band performing in a new, digital world that would be beautifully surreal and also very geometrically pattern inspired,” says Huiting.

They were able to pull it off in a way that reflects both Huiting’s taste and Minus the Bear’s signature rock/experimental sound. With vignette reminiscent of those silhouetted Apple commercials and mysterious shadows, it drapes the band in allure and complements the song, which extolls the very real emotions that go along with complicated relationships.

“I think we ended up with a video that represents the band very well,” says Huiting. “They look and sound great, and we were able to come up with some super rad effects and a piece as a whole that everyone involved is proud of.”

Check out the video for Minus the Bear’s “Last Kiss” below!