Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 10

The intent is never to make a “concept” blog post out of these Album Review Saturdays.  It should be impossible, considering how we pick them — at nearly random (for the most part).  Hell, if I had a staff of writers that were interested in adding more reviews, it would be even more impossible.  But somehow, this time, three albums completely different, uniquely distinct in very different genres, have somehow (by design, or just how it came together), have given us some form of concept record this week.  The first is a progressive bluegrass unit seeking refuge, on the lamb, or in limbo over what we believe are the seven deadly somethings (and it ain’t Kung Fu fighters).  The second lands in the wonderful, technical rock-jazz instrumental landscape, delivered with such commitment and delivery that we can forgive the title in spite of the story (but read on to know how I really feel).  Then, the one we went out on a limb for…  What we didn’t know was the dark, soul-filled surprise within, harkening back to songwriting where the entire album is the Americana – piece — of all kinds of difficult puzzles solved only by living, persevering, and leaving the story to tell (in the music).  The concept to conceptualize is always one of debate and discussion, so without furthering our conceptuality, let’s give these three albums our Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 10 attention.

 

LINK TO OUR YOUTUBE VERSION
[Mark Kuligowski & Panelist DAHM discuss these (3) albums + adds three (3) more reviews!]

 

Kitchen DwellersSeven Devils

When you first see the tremendous, foreboding landscape on the cover of the Kitchen Dwellers’ newest album, if you didn’t know them (like i didn’t), you would immediately believe you were in for either a dark metal, doom excursion looking for hope like an amateur golfer looks for their ball in dense forest surrounding slivering fairways on courses they shouldn’t be playing.  You’d be wrong.  I was wrong.  Welcome in the bluegrass banjo and fiddling with Pacific country storytelling, toe tapping, and yes, avant-garde progressive instrumental additions that will stun you beyond what pickers and fiddles are usually sworn to.

Seven Devils wastes no time in braising their strings and reaching into elongated progressive bag of tricks, while maintaining a very catchy bluegrass rhythm along with engaging lyrics, fitting vocals, and deliberate harmonies.  I don’t know if the Seven Devils scare me as much against the guitar and fiddle playing, but it does make for an interesting start to a very well put together, and conceptualized album.  Let’s realize the mountain and the travel required, as that is the hardship concept and the reward.  The Seven Devils mountain range, located in western Idaho along the Snake River is more than likely the heart of the cover (although, if it looks that Lord of the Rings like, hopefully they can shoot the next Tolkien in Idaho to save some coin!  This travel-log, the forks in the road, opportunities lost, and the life chosen are so well felt from fiddle to mandolin, from vocal to harmony.  It’s not as dark as you might think.  ‘Pendulum’ should have been when you saw the title on the back cover, and it had a Roman numeral, too!  But, it’s fiddle, claps, and just well put together lyrics and timing.  This is nearly 90% of the record.

Let the current of this record carry you down the river.  Let the lyrics take you down roads travelled, whether they’re heading toward morning light — or into the night toward a great mountain.  Enjoy the musical tricks and escapades along the way, especially the wonderful acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin mastering that flows, rages, and flips your ear on end.  Oh, and don’t forget those little production tricks that give this that slight progressive attention.  They are truly the diamonds in the rough, the truffles in the forest, and the mirrored hope at the top of…Seven Devils.

The Band

  • Joe Funk – Bass/Vocals
  • Torrin Daniels – Banjo/Vocals
  • Max Davies – Acoustic Guitar/Vocals
  • Shawn Swain – Mandolin

Seven Devils Tracklisting

  1. Prelude
  2. Seven Devils (Limbo)
  3. The Crow and The Raven (III)
  4. Pendulum (V)
  5. Cabin Pressure (IV)
  6. Drop Tine
  7. Here We Go (VI)
  8. Meagher’s Reel (I)
  9. Waterford Son (II)
  10. Wind Bitten (VII)
  11. Unwind (Paradiso)
  12. Seven Devils (Full Version)

 

The AristocratsDuck

What don’t you get from an Aristocrats record?!  Good question.  On Duck, you get all the seasons of the rockier side of the instrumental fusion band.  Duck leans heavy on the rock (like they had a sudden possession by the great Jeff Beck), and apparently even heavier is the feet that wear the webbing.  Not following me?  That’s okay, I get it!  But, I want to make my point here before carrying on with this very well performed, magnificently recorded instrumental album.  You were not following my webbed feet comment (if you were than you cheated and looked this record up).  I really enjoyed this album from start to finish.  Every corner, every guitar intro, outtro, lick, spasm, bass punch, drum manifesto, and willingness to outdo the next track.  Amazing!  But, if you thought I was going to follow this as a concept record about some Arctic duck fleeing a Penguin dressed/acting like a Policeman, you are giving me way too much credit (thank you in advance).  How these three music makers somehow felt a connection to such a storyline while delivering this Steely Dan, meets Stevie Vai and Jeff Beck is nothing short of divine intervention!  I don’t think they sat down collectively and said, “There’s this duck, and he’s fleeing his home for something better (guitar virtuosity here)He’s being pursued by a mean police penguin (he sounds like one of the licks from Bill & Ted’s).”  What I do know, is, it wouldn’t matter if it was about a concept album about a microcosm living in my plugged corner gutter.  This album sound exceptional, and it flows in musical fashion that makes it all kinds of fun and attention getting for all the right reasons.  None of which matter to the exact, cartoon like concept that is apparently the truth behind the sound.

The Aristocrats are amazing.  I heard all kinds of influential pieces.  I fell completely in love with the flow of the record from start to finish, finding it easy to feel the starts and tempos of the journey the music is undergoing (a la the Duck and the pursuers), but I also heard a lot of attention to instrumental greatness that had come before them.  The likes of Mahavishnu, Steely Dan, Jeff Beck, and The Who.  You could put this on in the background and indulge your rocker side while grooving within the jazzy spaces provided.  That’s the real ducky concept here!  The clever arrangement shifts and guitar explorations puts them on the list of albums so far that could potentially be in the Top 24 Albums of 2024.  Take the power trio’s concept journey!  It’s worth every solitary musical minute and mayhem.  Even if it finishes on the song, ‘This Is Not Scrotum’ (and you don’t know why), but you love it anyway!

The Band

  • Guthrie Govan – Guitar
  • Bryan Beller – Bass
  • Marco Minnemann – Drums
  • Rusanda Panfili (Guest) – World Class Violinist, ‘This Is Not Scrotum’

Duck Tracklisting

  1. Hey, Where’s MY Drink Package?
  2. AristoclubSgt. Rockhopper
  3. Sittin’ with a Duck on a Bay
  4. Here Come the Builders
  5. Muddle Through
  6. Slideshow
  7. And then there Were Just Us/Duck’s End
  8. This is Not Scrotum

 

 

 

Shane Smith & the SaintsNorther

This is the kind of album you want to be surprised by.  This is the kind of vocal that can entrance you into a concept record, whether it is one (or it isn’t).  This is the kind of music that Country was made to be; thought provoking, struggling with reason, accountability and everything it is to be human and live, and somehow respect everything and everyone living in it with you.  Claiming your importance, figuring out your soul and the soul of those around you, and fighting for what you believe to be right with sacrifices you are prepared to make.  At least that is my perception of Shane Smith & the Saints great album, Norther.

I don’t know how that Norther wind blows in Texas, but I have a feeling it’s a powerful, stand-up-and-take-notice kind of time.  And, the Johnny Cash meets Bob Seger vocalisms of Shane Smith brings this inanimate object to life in every lyrical lick, whether it’s the wind of war, or the wind of change.  “It’s a rich man’s war, but it’s a poor man’s fight,” is the lyrical line in the first song that sets the stage for this emotive, alternative country rock album.  The rock guitars and country fiddle and fang, and microphone tricks are added weight as the epic album unfurls like the landscape, the world in front of you, and the past in your mind or in the rearview.  Whether you seek guidance, and uplifting moment, or complete salvation, the Saints and Mr. Shane Smith have a sound here to bring you to your knees, cleans you in Colorado River, or be the beacon of reality in a hurricane of life, pursuit and passion.

The album is everything that they’ve got and more, and I do not think I’ve fallen for an alternative country rock album as fast as I have for this one.  An unusual feet in the music multiverse, but this is an unusual circumstance and time.  The Austin Texan band is a very complete sounding, true to themselves, and expressive force in the music multiverse this year.  Perhaps the hiatus of five years, their performance in Yellowstone for Kevin Costner’s fictional maorial victory (they also did it for real for Governor Greg Abbott), or the very Norther that swept our world in 2019-2020 brought them to this beautiful point for us to appreciate and revel in?!

The Band

  • Shane Smith – Singer-Songwriter
  • Bennett Brown – Fiddle
  • Dustin Schaefer – Guitar
  • Chase Satterwhite – Bass
  • Zach Stover – Drums

Norther Tracklisting

  1. Book of Joe
  2. Fire in the Sky
  3. Adeline
  4. The Greys Between
  5. Navajo Norther
  6. Field of Heather
  7. Wheels
  8. All the Way
  9. Hummingbird
  10. 1,000 Wild Horses
  11. It’s Been a While
  12. Everything and More
  13. Fire in the Ocean
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