Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 18

When we’re on these musical trips, we never truly know where they’re going to lead.  On Album Review Saturdays 2024, we do not pre-listen.  It is strictly a choice.  Sometimes completely deaf (you know what we mean – unheard, uncertain), and sometimes we know of the band.  This Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 18, we definitely knew of our first band, but it’s been a while since their pop, rock and adult alternative music has been put to an album.  The next band up is nowhere near a household name in our region, but has been steadily meshing together some interesting indie rock from groove and hipper music spaces.  But, they took a sixteen year hiatus?!  Finally, we lend some exposure to an interesting progressive instrumental, noise-rock, garage band (I know that seems very odd) from Detroit, Michigan that we had never heard of.  So, we never know exactly what we’re going to hear, how it’s going to go down, and often how it’s going to relate to the Beyond Your Radio music multiverse listeners, but that’s how we roll!  Roll with it, baby!  To quote the great Steve Winwood.

 

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

 

 

Better Than EzraSuper Magick

It’s been ten years since the adult alternative band from Baton Rouge had put out an album.  I don’t think anyone in the 90s will have forgotten, ‘Good’ from there major label debut, Deluxe, but it is very interesting that a band that has gotten ripping reviews like “low impact cheesy pop” has manager to maintain a career longer and somewhat stronger than those have had millions of copies sold, major tours, and consideration for some of the best albums of all time (insert all kinds of bands here).  What got me hooked on the band more was the single from The X-Files Soundtrack, ‘One More Murder’ that caught my ear, and made me ear-alize that they have a breath of delivery that sets them apart.  With, Super Magick, the trio remains tied to that breath, and they use it extremely well, which should continue to rejuvenate the fan base and potential reach a Coldplay and Keane.

When that rather crass reviewer stated “low impact” it is not fairly stated.  I believe the statement to actually be somewhat true, especially when you consider the ballads and delivery of Kevin Griffin, and it is there with songs like ‘This Time’ (well written and timely, and probably pretty decent radio ear candy for those soft-hearted listeners).  However, the low impact does sort of continue into places where you could hear or feel coming — something bigger, louder in harmony or production (a la Mutt Lang chorus raising)‘Grateful’ has this potential, like it was building to an Imagine Dragon kind of sound, but it holds in the lesser impact.  And, the groovier, ‘Sensation’ also could have been served by a more INXS chorus.  That lesser impact (hang on) — is really the unique edge that Better Than Ezra truly holds, if you really listen and appreciate.  It works for the harmonies, it works for the band, the overall flow of the record, and it exposes the lyrics more.  But, I will admit, I wonder what would happen if they played up one song and pushed it.

Let’s talk though about the creative song to song sounds on the this album.  We got the ballad, here and a little there, but then we’ve got a rock-twanger, a groovy pop-rocker, as well as my favorite on the album, the bluesy-Beck ‘Bad Communication’ which rides in on percussive tempo and bass line, and a lovely change of vocal pace!  Oh, and then they drop in the saxophone to push that slap that impact bitch around some!  Cool!  Yeah, that’s why they’re past their 35th year together and still enjoying the making and performing of their sound.  They have enough magic on Super Magick to make the right impact to anyone’s musical ear!  Better Than Ezra is ‘Killing It’ here 34 years from their actual debut, and 32 years since Deluxe, so I can’t even imagine them stopping now.

The Band

  • Tom Drummond – bass
  • Kevin Griffin – lead vocals (all tracks), acoustic and electric guitars, background vocals
  • James Arthur Payne Jr. – keyboards, synthesizer, piano and electric guitar
  • Michael Jerome – drums

Super Magick  Tracklisting

  1. Mystified
  2. Live A Little
  3. Show Em Up
  4. Super Magick
  5. This Time
  6. Contact High
  7. Grateful
  8. Sensation
  9. Bad Communication
  10. Fuzzy
  11. Omens
  12. Killing It

 

 

The ZutonsThe Big Decider

The band from Liverpool certainly had that combination of club-pop, clap and groove from the moment their debut hit the streets.  It got here in the States, and thanks to my usual used bin prowling I got my hands on it relatively cheap.  I assume that’s because the reach of music like this from across the pond usually has a much harder time landing in the overall scope of radio play.  It’s unfortunate because it shares some similarities to sounds like a modern day indie Earth Wind & Fire and Sly and the Family Stone.  There’s also a lot of quality music playing coming in and out of the songs, as well as the instruments being utilized throughout.  The Big Decider cover doesn’t really give this a fair representation visually, but if the maze means anything about the maze of variety and inter-crossing sounds, then I’ll let it slide it.

Now, let me tell you that I was diggin’ the record to start.  Not exactly blown away, but you have to realize it’s been several years since I put on that debut, Who Killed the Zutons?!  So, got it get back into it, as the taste has to be acquired a hint (I believe).  But, by the time I get to ‘Disappear’ I’m definitely remembering and grooving.  The way that track flows fast and then back into a different groove is definitely the signature style that defines them for me, anyway.  Let that sax soar, and then drop the bass line, nail down some production and then…oh yeah, get that smooth talk with the big, big universal question…

Why?  Why should you listen to The Zutons?  The flow, function of the instruments, and the subtle to wavy grooves lend to well to the softer and funkier.  They are refreshing against the polarized structures hindering some music formats today, and they use the saxophone in a variety of tones and deliveries that it’s almost as if it’s vocalizing.  The Big Decider, whoever that is according to the band or the record (I’m assuming it’s the very same person who knows the answer to the question ‘Why?’), has made some very good decisions on pressing an interesting sound into the indie-rock environment, again.  It’s is nice to know that The Zutons have been saved from extinction, the sum of their parts (themselves), which is a groove-unison formula that gets the best — out of them — for us!

The Band

  • Dave McCabe – lead vocals and guitar
  • Abi Harding – saxophone and vocals
  • Sean Payne – drums and vocals

The Big Decider Tracklisting

  1. Creeping on the Dancefloor
  2. Pauline
  3. Water
  4. In Your Arms
  5. Disappear
  6. Company
  7. The Big Decider
  8. Rise
  9. Best of Me

 

The Infinite River – Tabula Rasa

Let’s go to Motor City of Detroit, and check in on an interesting instrumental garage rock band progressing their way into noise-tempered proggy soundscape that could catch you on and off guard.  Tabula Rasa begins with a guitar lovers dream scenario, all kinds of levels of guitar playing, flinching feedback, and progressive tendencies that sell the sizzle and no the steak — yet!  Congratulations, The Infinite River, for one of the more unique, interesting, and beguiling beginnings for albums in 2024 (so far).  I wasn’t sure what would be coming next, as there was even levels of Middle Eastern twang in there, too!

Where did we go from there?  To an edgy, beautiful, subtle and moody progressive ‘Stars Above.’  And from there, we get taken up a notch to different guitar pitch, a completely different drum pattern against a definitive progressive environment and sound that reminds you of slightly early Genesis and maybe even Hawkwind (although I have more experience in the Genesis).  The trio has no problem expressing their cohesiveness while it appears to us, the listeners, that they are challenging themselves.  Hell, when we transferred from ‘Astro Cat 9’ to ‘Be the Cyclone That I Need,’ the punk-action guitar and then the soloing got Gretchen and Joey all caught up.  A great part of the record there for sure!

While we’re all familiar, maybe way to familiar with ‘My Favorite Things,’ I do feel this was a slightly off-putting placement, breaking the originality and clever sound waring that was going on.  It’s a good instrumental interpretation, but within the scope and flow of the record it seems enough out of place to be distracting.  I might have placed that at the end of the record, or maybe even had it deeper within the last song as a hidden track, especially since the lead into it song was the moodiest of them all.  And, I was surprised again, when there was actually a little harmonized singing on the track after it, ‘Space Signal,’ amidst the noise-rock feedback guitaring going on.  That worked, and we’re back into the next track which reminds us again of the moodiness with a little Radiohead like feel, and that signature guitar sound that has been beautifully flowing through certain tracks that is carefully delivered and placed throughout, including the ending track.  But, it is very good and cool that the band does appreciate a good off-the-rails progressive improv moment that rests in between the ending tracks called ‘Buzzer’ that leads off as march of some kind, but then slips off into noise rock and progressive, intentful improvisation.

At times you feel there’s a late seventies movie vibe.  Like maybe that song might have been from a Charles Bronson movie.  Okay, so that’s the old Detroit kind of thing, right? (Come on work with me, here).  Then you are transported into a noisy progressive rock garage appreciating the sonic tapestry and improv-confusion swirling around, and then you’re at pace and peace with a contemporary guitar.  There’s nothing born empty about this band or their sound, and they are definitely worthy of instrumentalist appreciators to be given a listen to, as well as those that like a little something different in their prog.  The Infinite River has a lot of great things going for them, and the sky’s the limit!

The Band

  • Joey Mazzola – guitar, bass, acoustic guitar
  • Gretchen Gonzales – guitar, vocals
  • Warren Defever – bass synthesizer, Mellotron

Special Guests

  • Steve Nistor – drums, percussion
  • Jordan Schug – double bass (Breathless, Blue Photons)
  • Salem Daly – vocals (Space Signal)

Tabula Rasa Tracklisting

  1. Sky Diamonds Raga
  2. Stars Above
  3. Astro Cat #9
  4. Be The Cyclone That I Need
  5. Machine
  6. My Favorite Things
  7. Space Signal
  8. Blessed Unrest
  9. Buzzer
  10. Blue Photons
  11. Breathless
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