Monday, June 27, 2016

Ingvild Koksvik's Og sangen kom fra havet--Review in Positive Feedback

My review of Ingvild Koksvik's Og sangen kom fra havet on LP is now online at Positive Feedback Online. Ingvild's album is simply astonishing for its sheer beauty and its amazing recording quality, not to mention another pristine Fyrlyd LP pressing. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Love and a .38's Nomads on CD

Nobody rocks anymore.

When I was young, you either rocked or you didn't. If you rocked, you were pissed off the first time you heard Rod Stewart sing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" If you rocked, you realized a song wasn't a song without a blistering electric guitar solo that lasted at least ninety seconds. Rocking, along with its close relative rawking, was just something that happened. You either jumped in or you ran away.

But at some point rock, as we knew it, kinda vanished into thin air--probably around the time "We Built This City" hit the Top 40 and we all lost a little bit of our swagger. Maybe before. There are still people out there who play rock and roll, the kind of rock and roll that upholds visceral impact as Priority #1. But more often than not, this modern strain of rock and roll likes to wink at its fans a know, we're rocking ironically.

Love and a .38 rocks, and in a real and genuine way. I'll give you an idea of how much their new album Nomad rocks. Right before I listened to this CD for the fifth or sixth time, I listened to one of my favorite rockfests from my youth--Aerosmith's aptly-named Rocks. "Back in the Saddle" has always been a guilty pleasure for me, even when I went punk in college, because there's a point toward the last third of the song where you realize that five mere humans are in such an intense state of being that they're close to spontaneous combustion. It's almost delirium. Shit, it is delirium. These guys were playing with their eyeballs rolled way back in their skulls, and it wasn't just the drugs.

That moment of sheer raw energy and fever was perfectly preserved when I transitioned into this album, made forty years later. It all starts with Ryan Hudson's husky holler that comes straight out of the thick of the seventies, the kind of voice that makes Chris Cornell hide under his bed. Clark Skelton is one of those long-limbed drummers who hovers over his kit and strikes at will. Justin Emord sounds like he clubbed Tom Hamilton over the head with his own bass and yelled, "This is how you do it!" And the guitarist is named Domo Domaracki, which kind of says it all. He's everywhere, all at once, and army of steel strings.

To the casual listener this might sound like a very heavy and loud bar band. Listen closely, and you'll hear something much more fluid, a band that plays together as if they just jumped into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and gave each other fist-bumps all the way to the bottom. They're fluid, they're a machine, they rock.

Just for fun I listened to Nomads on a system featuring a pair of Dynaco A25s Colleen found at a thrift store. These Dynacos play loud since they are fairly easy to drive, and they have that slight '70s patina of Schlitz and Benson & Hedges that's perfect for rock. Real, genuine rock. The kind of rock you lose your virginity to in the back of an AMC Gremlin with Levi's seats. TMI, I know, but this music will make you remember such things. Well done, guys.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Stephen Douglas Wolfe's We'll Live on 45rpm 7" Single

This record sounds way too good for a guy who's playing at the chicken-and-waffles joint around the corner. Wait, there's more to the story than that.

First, let's go back to LRS Records here in Syracuse. We hooked up with Mark Turley and Nicholas Oliver a few weeks back for the Taste of Syracuse event--I was at the Newport Show at the time, but I was there in spirit. I wound up talking about LRS Records in my last Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever, and they hooked me up with some tasty vinyl from local Syracuse bands.

A couple of weeks later, I received a visit from more strangers bearing gifts of vinyl--Jen Bort from bettyElm Records (awesome name for a label if you're a David Lynch fan) and Ulf Oesterle from Aux Records. I bored them with tales of my vinyl dedication and expertise and they quickly dropped off armloads of vinyl and backed away cautiously. It's taken me a few weeks to begin my assault on the pile, although I did give everything a quick run-through after Jen and Ulm left. While I really dig most of it, one thing stood out--a 45rpm single from a singer-songwriter named Stephen Douglas Wolfe.

Wolfe has an easy-going, earnest style that occupies that middle ground between folk and Americana--perhaps it's more connected with California country-rock from the '70s. It's mellow yet filled with longing, with catchy melodies and tight musical performances. On these two songs, "We'll Live" and "Wake Up," Wolfe sounds like someone who has been playing stuff like this for years. That doesn't mean over-rehearsed or bland, obviously, it means this guy really inhabits these two songs with every ounce of his being and he's deeply familiar with every note. These songs obviously mean something to him, and that adds another layer of depth. This ain't your daddy's old Seals and Croft albums.

Previously, Wolfe played in two bands--Getaway Driver and Cavaliers. This single is part of a series he's releasing through his pretty nifty website. He's charging $10 for this 7" single, but it's beautifully packaged and it sounds fantastic. It's easily worth it.

As for the comment about the chicken-and-waffles joint? I'm talking about Funk N' Waffles, of course, a true destination in the city of Syracuse. Not only do they serve amazing waffles in both sweet and savory versions, but they're also one of the most popular venues for local Syracuse performers. LRS Records has been promoting a series of shows there every Wednesday in June, and once or twice I've seen Stephen Douglas Wolfe's name on the bill. So I'm thinking about getting some waffles--I like the whole grain ones covered in fresh blueberries--and watching a very intriguing local musician in action.

Now to start digging around deeper in this pile o' music...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Random Photos from Down Under Audio at the Newport Show

Once again I'm trying to keep this blog infused with new content, and life again gets in the way. Down Under Audio at the Newport Show was a success--it was easily the best show ever for Colleen Cardas Imports both business-wise and sound-wise. Now I'm just incredibly busy dealing with the aftermath. Colleen Cardas Imports is now representing three of the Down Under Audio brands--Brigadiers Audio, Les Davis Audio and The Wand. The first two were no surprise to anyone, since I've been promoting the development of these brands over the last year. The third brand was a surprise since Simon Brown, designer of The Wand tonearm, seemed very happy with selling direct in the US. But everyone involved with this show became family, and Colleen Cardas Imports is finally distributing some amazing analog products--and that now includes The Wand.

The photo above was taken by David Robinson, publisher of Positive Feedback Online. I look tired in that photo because I was tired, but also happy I was to pull off this event. Two rooms, seven manufacturers and countless emails later...we did it.

First, the Axis/REDGUM room was a model of simplicity and ease. Ian Robinson and Lindy Gerber of REDGUM had the whole room set up and running in about two hours, and the sound was superb. (John Reilly of Axis had to cancel a week before the show since he was under the weather, but he's feeling much better now.) Room 1011 was an oasis for me--while the room was always full of attendees, Ian and Lindy always keep things organized and running smoothly. They've done a few audio shows before, and it showed.

The photo above was taken by Dave Clark at Positive Feedback Online. A running theme throughout this report will be that I was far too busy to take my own damned photos.

This is also from Dave Clark. It's the best photo I've seen of the entire system in Room 1012: Brigadiers Audio BA2 speakers, PureAudio Control preamplifier, PureAudio Duo 2 power amplifier, PureAudio Vinyl phono pre, MSB digital stack, Audio Union Helix 1 Turntable, two The Wand tonearms with a Hana cartridge on one and my Transfiguration Axia cartridge on the other, Furutech cabling and power management, Quadraspire racks and Rogoz speaker stands.

Close-up of Brad Serhan's Brigadiers Audio BA2 loudspeakers in New Guinea rosewood. Absolutely breathtaking in both sight and sound. I love these speakers. They did so well at the show.

I almost destroyed this beast. Evidently you're not supposed to pick it up once it's been set. I did exactly that because a) they set it on a really flimsy stand that would not hold it up throughout the show and b) I did not read the email that said don't pick it up once it's been set. I dodged a bullet, however, and didn't damage it. And I have to say it's a spectacular turntable that produced some of the most solid and realistic sound I've heard from analog.

Ian Robinson and Lindy Gerber. In Facebook I wrote:

"Thank you so much to Ian Robinson and Lindy Gerber of REDGUM Audio for being so wonderfully self-sufficient and professional throughout the show. They were a true pleasure to work with and constantly amusing me with their quirky and humorous music selections. Just absolutely incredible people and we're proud to represent them."

"Say hello to Simon Brown, the newest member of our family. He makes the modestly priced The Wand tonearm which is so brilliantly designed that it's right at home on a $40,000 turntable. He's the kind of fun, quiet man who makes me want to jump on a plane and fly to New Zealand because it must be an amazing place if he lives there."

"What can I say about Les Davis, a guy from halfway around the world who has so much in common with me musically? He came up with this simple little device that makes music so much more enjoyable and doesn't cost crazy audiophile prices. I'm very glad he burst through Brad's front door with a sheet of his material and a pair of scissors."

"Meeting Gary Morrison in person was a true pleasure, especially after four years of Skyping. Great sense of humor, nice and wry, and utterly approachable even though he is a genius. PureAudio equipment is the stuff of dreams, and it's so gratifying to hang out with the guy with all the talent."

"Brad Serhan, my brother, who is supremely talented and is far too humble to know it, with Morris Swift, the man who believes in him and keeps him focused and also has such an impressive range of knowledge about the industry. Thank you Brigadiers for fighting this battle with me. Also David Allen who's holding down the fort in Sydney."

I also wrote the following for John Reilly: "Thanks also to John Reilly of Axis VoiceBox, who was under the weather and could not travel to Newport. But in many ways he had the best show because dealers took all our pairs away! See you soon, mate...get well so we can eat more Malaysian food!"

And for my friends at Furutech: "Finally, much love to everyone at Furutech. Cables and power management often get lost behind the scenes, but Furutech has supported our hi-fi shows for years and we owe a big chunk of our success to their extraordinary products. Thanks to Graeme and Frank in Japan and Scot Markwell herein the US."

Les Davis Audio, now open for business!

Brad, Morris, Gary and I in the hallway outside the room, catching our breath.

Doing my part with the social marketing.

Colleen and I stayed up late one night and designed this. It turned out better than we expected!

Once the show was over, I took everyone on a tour of my homeland. Simon, Les, Gary and Brad hanging out with me on the Huntington Beach pier.

We were all coffee-deprived during the show. GOOD coffee, that is. That's Gary, Brad, Lindy and Ian enjoying some nice gourmet coffee made from a French press in some hoity-toity south county strip mall.

Brad and I after dumping off the show gear at Blackbird Audio. That's why I'm all sweaty.

Dan Muzquiz and Brad. Dan was a huge part of our success at Down Under Audio. He's the guy who stored and organized all the gear for us. That was vital to our plan since we moved to New York and I could no longer just stick everything in a truck and head on down.

This is how we left Dan's showroom. Sorry, Dan! We love ya buddy!

After the show, we took everyone to Riverside to visit Leif Swanson and Damon Von Schweikert of Von Schweikert/Endeavor Audio. Leif and Damon have actually been important allies for us in the high-end audio industry--we've shared a room with Leif in the past and he loves the sound of PureAudio amplification with Endeavor Audio loudspeakers. I'll return the favor by saying that the Von Schweikert/Constellation room at the Newport Show was absolutely incredible. Mind-blowing sound. Killer realism. Sound so good I may have wet my pants a little.

Damon (at far left) and Leif (behind the lens) were generous hosts and took us for a tour of their factory and then out to lunch. Having everyone get together like this underlines one thing--many of us in the industry actually support each other even though we may be competitors. We know we're all in this together, and that's how we make this industry grow.

Anyway, I may post some more photos in the coming weeks. Even after two weeks I'm still a bit exhausted. But Down Under Audio was definitely worth a year of my life. In fact, we're already talking about doing it again next year!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

Todd Hunter Trio's Eat, Drink, Play Review at Positive Feedback Onilne

Positive Feedback Online has just published my latest music review on the Todd Hunter Trio's Eat, Drink, Play. Great timing, because I just packed the CD into my suitcase to play at the Newport Show next week!

You can read the review here.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bill Berry's Awkward Stage

I went to the same high school as Steve Martin, graduating a mere 18 years after he did. My years at Garden Grove High School coincided with the height of his stand-up career, so almost everyone on campus was absolutely thrilled with his sudden and overwhelming success. As the editor-in-chief of the high school paper, the Argolog, I was charged with the task of writing ol' Steve a letter asking him to come visit his old stomping grounds. A few weeks later we received a handwritten response from Steve which graciously stated that he would love to visit his fellow Argonauts but he was just too busy and too important. (I was relieved of being in charge of the note, by the way, by a vice-principal who placed it in a trophy case in the school office. Bastard.)

Since I had failed at getting Steve Martin to show up, I schemed with the Argolog staff to come up with Plan B, which required faking an after-school visit from Steve using a life-sized cardboard display of him borrowed from the local Licorice Pizza. This, of course, was for the April 1 edition of the Argolog, but that didn't stop the students from going absolutely batshit at the idea of idea that Steve came to GGHS and no one was told about it until weeks later.

I'm reminded of this story while listening to songwriter Bill Berry and his new CD, Awkward Stage. Bill has somehow channeled 1979 Steve Martin into the modern world with broadly funny songs that sparkle with old-fashioned showmanship as well as a healthy dose of intelligence and songwriting skill. While listening to songs like "The Piano Tuner with the Lazy Eye," "3 Girls in a 2nd Story Window" and "Crabs" (which features the immortal lines "Two days later they were back/Having a picnic on my sac/That's a fact"), it occurred to me more than once that Martin himself might be singing songs like these if he had never branched out they way he did.

That brings us to a song called "The Day We Stole Steve Martin (featuring Steve Martin)," which is about Bill's plan, with a buddy, to steal that very same cardboard cut-out of Steve Martin. (Mr. Martin says a couple of lines, plays his banjo for a few bars and then presumably collects a giant paycheck from Bill.*) I started wondering if I knew this Bill Berry character, and if he ever wrote for his high school newspaper. Looking through his bio it's obvious he's a Southern California kind of guy just like me, but he's had a lot more success in show biz as a comedian, songwriter and even host of a show called Transit TV. There's even a point where he refers to himself as "just a guy from Burbank." I feel like we've crossed paths once or twice.

Whether you enjoy this CD as much as I did may depend on a few things. Did you grow up in LA during the '70s, when Steve Martin was HUGE? Do you prefer a risque, more vaudevillian type of humor to the more common, blue variety? Can you stop laughing at Bill's goofy, self-deprecating humor long enough to notice he's surrounded by some very top-notch musicians? I don't know if the kids are going to get this one, but for aging boomers like me it's a blast from the past, a happy and almost poignant anachronism.

*(That was all a filthy lie...please see Bill Berry's admonishment in the comments section!)