Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CD Review: “Celtic Christmas” by Putumayo Presents


Celtic Christmas

'Nollaig Shona Duit' (Happy Christmas) is the traditional Celtic greeting at Christmas time and this CD celebrates the season with wonderfully folksy Irish and Scottish voices and Celtic instrumental arrangements on traditional carols. In doing so, it makes for a welcome change of the usual “mall music’ too often heard this time of year.

Music may just be one of the first signs that Christmas is approaching, and one of the oldest. Wherever people gather, there is bound to be music, whether played by great orchestra’s, or good friends and neighbors. A fiddle, a mandolin, a lone piper, guitar, flute or just a few friends harmonizing around the hearth. It is a season when we can all join in and sings songs that warm our hearts and share in the true spirit of the season.

That is the beauty to be found in this collection. It opens with “Here We Come A-Wassailing” by The Albion Christmas Band, with Kellie While, Simon Care, Ashley Hutchings & Simon Nichol present this favorite in a simple arrangement that embraces that spirit; acoustic guitar and bass guitar, melodeon, keyboards, drum, morris dancing and tambourine with sweet, folksy voices. Next up is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in an instrumental version by Charles T. Cozens the noted Canadian conductor/arranger. Here he ‘orchestrates’ this classic on traditional Celtic instruments to beautiful effect.

The Gothard Sisters update the classic “Little Drummer Girl” . The Irish Step dancers and classically trained violinists from the Pacific Northwest render this carol in a traditional style, with fiddle and guitar, that will have you lifting a cup of hot cider.

“The Little Drummer Girl” The Gothard Sisters

The DruidStones contribute the French carol “Noel Nouvelet”. DruidStone was a side project of the renown Irish harpist Áine Minogue, who also gives us another tune on the album. With a group of top Celtic musicians she presents this song to represent the Celtic heritage in France, Brittany being one of the six Celtic nations.

The Nashville based composer, pianist, songwriter and arranger, David Huntsinger, staying with the French theme gives us “Angels We Have Heard On High'” whose lyrics are derived from the traditional French carol, “Les Anges dans nos Campagnes”. Then, Charles T. Cozens is back with a flute rendition of “Good King Wenceslas”.

Next we have Lasirfhiona Ni Chonaola’s original  Gaelic recording of “Nollaig Bhan (White Christmas)”. Lasairfhíona (pronounced Lah-sah-reena) is an Irish singer/songwriter. She is deeply rooted in the sean-nós singing style of her home on Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands. You don’t have to speak Gaelic to hear the beauty of this traditional tune recorded especially for this collection.

Steve Schuch & The Night Heron Consort give us a song based on the 86th Psalm, and music based on a Handel melody; “Joy To The World”. This is followed by the other Áine Minogue offering, “Manx Jezebel Carol”, a song from The Isle Of Man, also one of the six Celtic Nations along with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. The “Manx Jezebel Carol” is a lively, syncopated melodoy, probably meant for dancing and most probably derives from pre-Christian solstice ceremonies.

Next comes a familiar carol whose opening line, and title, remind those gathered to celebrate the season, and may have celebrated with too much eggnog, of the true significance of the season. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is performed by one of the most famous ‘New Age’ musicians, David Arkenstone.

Closing this wonderful Celtic celebration of Christmas is popular Scottish singer/songwriter, Dougie MacLean on Robert Burns “Auld Lang Syne”. Tho’ the song is world famous, and sang by many revelers the world over, you may not know that the bittersweet melody translates from the Scot's as ‘Old Long Since’ meaning long, long ago. The song first gained prominence in celebrations of Hogmanay, the Scots word for the last day of the year.

Put a candle in the window on Christmas eve to light the way for weary travellers (Joseph and Mary), and remember the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name 'Mary'. Set the ‘Laden Table’ - After evening meal on Christmas eve the kitchen table was again set and on it were placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, could avail of the welcome. And greet your friends, neighbors, loved ones and strangers with 'Nollaig Shona Duit' which is pronounced as 'null-ig hun-a dit', one and all.

Celtic Christmas brings to you the spirit of the simple way the season is celebrated in the Celtic lands. Give this one a listen.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 29, 2011






Acclaimed Icelandic musician, composer, and producer Jóhann Jóhannsson is making landfall in North America for three exciting and unique performances. The first stop is New York City. Jóhannsson will perform, in its entirety, his most recent release, the haunting soundtrack to Bill Morrison’s film The Miners’ Hymns. This performance features a 22-piece brass and string ensemble and will be accompanied by a screening of the documentary. The event will take place at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden on January 31st as part of WNYC’s Wordless Music Series, hosted by John Schaefer.

From “Thee Miners Hymns”

The next stop is Winnipeg, Manitoba, where, on February 3rd, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere of Jóhannsson’s “A Prayer to the Dynamo,” a piece specifically commissioned by the WSO for Winnipeg New Music Festival.

Finally, Jóhann will traverse west to Los Angeles, where he’ll be joined by the Formalist Quartet for a retrospective concert at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on February 8th. This will follow a performance on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” which airs on Tuesday, Feb. 7th at 11:15 PST. JJ-outside-2-edit_th


Friday, January 31st - New York, NY @ World Financial Center’s Winter Garden - 7PM, FREE

WNYC Wordless Music Series, hosted by John Schaefer

Jóhann Jóhannsson performs the live score to Bill Morrison’s film The Miners’ Hymns

Friday, February 3rd - Winnipeg, Manitoba @ Centennial Concert Hall - 8PM

World Premiere of “A Prayer to the Dynamo,” commissioned and performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Wednesday, February 8th - Los Angeles, CA @ The Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery - 8PM, $25

Jóhann Jóhannsson performs music spanning his entire career with the Formalist Quartet


“Staggering depth, blast-furnace heat, and unending blackness—these are the sensations evoked by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s somber and bombastic score for The Miners’ Hymns.” – Utne Reader

“The album's final track...feels like an epiphany, a generous flooding of light that casts a backward glow on all the gloom and pallor that preceded it…It's a quietly exhilarating ‘hallelujah’” - Pitchfork

“While nowhere near as immediate as Jóhannsson’s string-based albums…The Miners’ Hymns is far more complex in its use of dynamics while succeeding totally in its evocation of time, place and message.” – BBC

“Playing with long near-silences, sweeping interludes and very subtle electronic manipulation create breaks to then restore the prevailing quiet. It's incredibly affecting, showing a restraint and deftness…” – Exclaim!

The Dirty Lowdown

Monday, November 28, 2011

CD Review: “A Winters Gathering” Shauna Burns


A Winter Gathering

With Thanksgiving past, I am now officially lifting my boycott of all things Christmas, and it’s hard to beat this album for holiday music.

It’s ethereal, possesses a quite beauty, and warms the heart. It evokes snow falling while you set in front of a fire with a cup of tea or maybe you have wandered into a pub during a snow storm and found a local angel playing winter soundscapes on an old upright piano. The songs are peaceful, relaxing and instantly warm you as you grab a pint from the bar and gather with the other shelter-seekers in front of the fire. They are delivered more as memories, warm and welcome, than as a set list.

The music is Celtic in flavor served on dishes of folk balladry. Some songs will be familiar, others are new compositions and updates what a Christmas song ought to be. There are even non Christmas songs, but they feel right at home in this atmosphere.

Shauna Burns not only delivers these dozen Christmas songs in a voice both peaceful, deep and rangy but performs them on the piano with grace. Her husband, James Clark (who also co-produces) is on drums and guest performers Caroline Kemper (Celtic harp), Rick Kemper (Uilleann pipes & pennywhistle), Lindsey Springer (cello), Ryan Whyte Maloney (guitar,backing vocals) and a five piece vocal choir help to set the atmosphere of a Celtic Christmas.

One of the rising stars on the Indie music scene, Burns music is spiritual in nature as well as exploratory, and has garnered her a few number one hits in the Triple AAA radio format.

Here’s a taste of Burns, this is from the album The Moon and The Fire Circle.

“Bloom” Shauna Burns

The songs and songscapes included here begin with “Winter Star” which the artist describes as the star in the East that the shepherds see in "The First Noel". Burns sings Gaelic words that speak about this bright new presence in the world and that feeling of wonder travels through the other songs. "Carol of the Bells," “White Christmas”, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” before the next songscape, “Luma”, which is loosely based on  "Ave Maria". This is where this album succeeds so well. It is more the sound of a friend playing winter melodies by ear and by feel, than a production and, for me, it adds a warmth and a sense of personal joy.

“Silent Night" follows this tone poem and could be thought of as the main theme of the album and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" fits as the anchor of the emotion drawn forth.

"The Gathering," the third songscape, "gathers" the songs, family and friends near and leads the listener into "What a Wonderful World,", not your typical holiday song, but it certainly is welcome in this setting and makes the listener ask why they have never thought of this song as a celebration of the season.

The album ends with two instrumental reprise; “Carol Of The Bells” and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" rendered brilliantly with this very Celtic group of instrumentalists.

Burns ethereal vocal delivery and perfect blend of the piano in sweeping movements seguing into quiet passages both inspire warmth and wonder. With tasteful percussion and drums, in addition to the other instruments that set the ‘feel’ of a welcome refuge from the storm, make this a fresh, yet old fashioned Christmas album. Give it a listen. A Winter Gathering with friends, family and neighbors is what the season should be all about.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: “Stirred” by J.A. Konrath & Blake Crouch


Stirred (Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels Mysteries)

It’s been six or seven years since I picked up Whiskey Sour , the first Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels novel. That book introduced Jack, a tough female homicide lieutenant on the trail of a serial killer. Jack was different than your average detective, or even female detective from the start. Yet, she shared a lot with other protagonist of the genre; she was over caffeinated, obsessed with catching the bad guy. She bucked her bosses, the Feds sent into help but who were more obsessed with protecting their territory and media presence. She had an over weight partner, Herb. But she was also a shop-aholic, dwelled on her sex life or lack there of, and made Imelda Marcos look a piker when it came to shoes and fashion.

The great thing about the Jack Daniel stories is they seemed to update the hardboiled genre, introducing dating websites, the internet, cell phone cameras, as well as other social trends that even the most up to date hardboiled noir seemed to want to ignore, or at least deal with superficially.

The books were always a bit over the top; the bad guys were super villains, with body counts that tobacco industry execs would have been proud of. But Konrath’s writing, his plot, dialog, and character development were so good, you’d get hung up in the story, and soon forget that. Mix in some rye humor, timely one-liners and an ability to maintain the action and tension for Olympic Record’s of page counts, and they were a winner.

Stirred (Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels Mysteries), comes as what we are told is the last installment of the Jack Daniel series. Here it is six or seven years later (twenty plus years in Jackie time) and Jack is now retired and expecting a baby with her likeable criminal boyfriend, Phineas (Phin) Troutt and even contemplating marriage.

Entering the picture is Blake Crouch’s evilest killer, Luther Kite. Seems Luther has always been disappointed in his victims. Even the most heroic, the strongest of the strong break too easily. He needs a challenge and settle’s on Jack and her friends. The killings start in hideous fashion. A women is kidnapped and hung from a derelict railroad bridge while she was still alive. She was also gutted, and her entrails left to hang from her body as she slowly died. Jack is supposed to be retired, and at eight and a half months pregnant and suffering from eclampsia, and supposed to be taking it easy.

Soon another killing happens and it has clues going back to the first. Then a pattern emerges and Jack has it all figured out. It appears that the killer is Luther Kite or Andrew Z. Thomas, a renegade author who also may just be a serial killer who also has ties to Luther. Just when Jack and her friends think they have trapped the killer, it turns out that the trap was set for them and that Luther Kite has planned this all along in order to break Jack in his own version of Dante’s Inferno.

Luther has acquired a derelict Michigan town/neighborhood that stands as it’s own monument to failed industry. He has transformed it into a kind of labyrinth along the lines of the backdrop in video games such as Quake and peopled it with kidnap victims who must act out Dante’s 9 circles of hell as they imitate serial killers that Jack has met and conquered throughout her career.

The bait that Luther uses to make Jack run this gauntlet is her loved ones, Phin, Herb – her old partner, and Harry McGlade – the wise cracking ex partner and now a PI and of course, her unborn daughter and the other innocent victims Luther is using as pawns in his own private hell.

But, as the story plays out Luther finds out that even in her delicate condition, Jack Daniels is a worthy adversary, and her” boys” are not beyond resourcefulness of their own.

Again, the plot is over the top and asks the reader to suspend the realm of reality in order to believe it. But the writing is so good, and the story unfolds with such rapid fire action that this is easily accepted. Violence is in abundance, but somehow the inherent evil of Luther Kite is even more abhorrent leaving the reader with a sense that there are worse things than senseless violence in life.  What’s more, the humorous passages will have you laughing out loud. Most readers will be familiar with Joe Konrath’s place as an advocate of self publishing, the eBook industry, and even a taunter of Traditional  Publishing. At one point, a character is writing a blog entry, a ‘know it all’ literary agent and she writes,” No one makes money self publishing,…there a re a few loudmouth know-it-all writers who blog about their success, but they are no doubt liars. The only legitimate way to publish is through  a respected Publishing House.” Obviously, Konrath is once again thumbing his nose to the naysayers.

All in all, one helluva ride of a read. Konrath and Crouch know how to write memorial characters, and tell seat of the pants stories.

But, perhaps just as interesting is that, even though the story is written to where it can be read as a stand alone, something all writers of serials attempt, In the eBook version, there are hyperlinks to a sort of glossary of the characters and even story elements that might reference events and people that appeared in previous books and stories by both authors. This was a very nifty, and state of the art feature. I can see this being a huge reason to get hooked on eBooks as I have always been a reader that would stop and look up events, say historical happenings of real people that might appear in a book. Of course, this can break the atmosphere of a story so having the ability to instantly reference these things from inside the book was fascinating to say the least.

I for one will be sad to see Jack Daniels go into retirement, she has been one fun and interesting character, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of J.A. Konrath or Blake Crouch, and thank the fates for that.

The Dirty Lowdown

Article first published as Book Review: Stirred by J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch on Blogcritics.

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CD Review: “Age Of Rebellion” by Diamante



Diamante Bovelli is touted as the next big star of the rock/pop world, and with good reason.

At 15 years old, she brings a big, rangy voice that reaches all those hard places to reach vocally. From that sassy place in blues, to the rock n roll highs. And let us not forget that punk-sneer mixed with angst.

Add that to a stage presence that belies her years, an ear for, and influences by, some of the most important female rock/pop singers to grace our ears for the past 20-30 years, and she is starting from a good place.

Fresh off a summer vacation that saw her headlining “The NoBully Tour 2011”, and running the asphalt all over the east coast from New York to Florida, she took a deep breathe and managed to put her new single, “Impossible” on the top of the spin list of Indie rock DJs from coast to coast.

“Impossible’ by Diamante

This EP, allows Diamante to show off her range of vocal talent on five songs, four she had a hand in writing, and Stevie Nicks iconic anthem, “Edge Of Seventeen”. Although her voice is undisciplined in places, her innate feel for the spirit of the music, and her stage presence makes her a lucky vocalist, just waiting for the right guiding hand, and the experience of delivering to an audience.DIAMANTE Official Album Cover

The EP opens with “Just For One Day”, an anthemic ballad, a self penned tune of coming of age and finding love. The song suffers a bit from over production, but she delivers it with authority. On “Edge Of Seventeen” you can hear her respect for one of the iconic female voices of our time, Stevie Nicks, Though she is a bit ambitious in covering ‘The Welsh Witch’ on this tune, I simply loved her version. Any of the YouTube offerings are not a good indication of what Diamante can do with this tune; the EP version is great and makes you realize we are possibly hearing a future superstar.

She forces the lyric at times, perhaps not quite catching the nuances of the song, but again, giving a first class cover. The EP version gives no musical credits and I can only trust my ear to hear a lot of ProTools, but what that does tell us is that with the right musicians, and a musical director, this tune is custom made for her.Folder

“Spinnin’ Around” is another self penned tune that displays her maturity, and pop music ear as a song writer, and “Theatre Ghost” a wonderful haunting tune does the same.

The album ends, of course, with the title tune, “Age Of Rebellion” . Another Diamante song.

It’s a show stopper, and maybe most because it seems so personal to her. She is at the age of rebellion, perhaps artistically, perhaps just because she has the talent to eventually rebel and triumph over the stereotypes. In more ways that one, that decision lays in her hands, and in her voice and song writing talent. Either way, this is a young lady to watch and listen for.

“Age Of Rebellion” Diamante Bovelli

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

CD Review: Danny Click “Life Is A Good Place”


Life Is A Good Place

Danny Click on Life Is A Good Place delivers a dose of regrets, loss and a dash of hope in this album of “Americana” that bends towards the country side of the genre. Call it ‘alt-country’ or roots music, or whatever you please. With influence running the gambit from country and western to blues, R&B, southern rock traditions and folk music, “Americana” or alt-country is a reaction by the industry to the listeners that eschewed the “polished and over produced” mainstream county of the ‘90s. In other words, it wants to put the heart back in the songs and Danny Click achieves that very nicely.

Life Is A Good Placeshowcases Danny Click in top form, surrounded by stellar musicians including Mark Goldenberg (Jackson Browne) on Hammond B3; Kevin McCormick (Jackson Browne) on bass; Mario Calire (OzoMatli, Wallflowers) on drums; Greg Leisz (Emmylou Harris, Bill Frisell) on lap steel and pedal steel; and Julieann Banks, Annie Burns and Tracy Grammer on vocal harmonies. Mixed by Brian Scheuble (Sheryl Crow, John Mayer) and mastered by Joe Gastwirt (Tom Petty, Grateful Dead, Patti Griffin), this record is ear candy for the heart.

With three previous Internationally released albums to his credit, the fourth, 'Life Is A Good Place', will resonate with all who value amazing song writing along side the resulting maturity of years on the road. 'Life Is A Good Place' places Click squarely in the upper echelon musically and lyrically.

The album runs the gambit of emotions from struggle and redemption, a deep sense of loss and a wonder of the transformations wrought by life.

Some of the highlights here are the John Prine like, “If I Was God”, a tune that fits very nicely into the social and political changes that America has experienced recently, after many years of yearning and striving.

“If I Was God” by Danny Click

”Grey To Blue” is a blue grass tinged, tale of how life can just beat you down, and that sometimes those roads we want to follow in the name of experience are dead end roads. I really like this tune and it promptly got uploaded to the MP3 player.

“Warhorse” is a tune with its heart in country, with some talking blues sprinkled on for good measure. The title tune, is folk music for a personal facade. But, when you cut through the advertising, Life Is A Good Place.

The most pleasing part of Danny Click, and this album especially, is that it doesn’t make music to make hits, it doesn’t pretend to want to fit into that Wal-Mart of the music world. It makes music, because it feels it. It can’t help it. And after you’ve lived a few years past the rhinestones and glitter, you actually start to think, feel, and realize the truth in that.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Georgia Davis Trilogy: Toxicity, Easy Innocence & Doubleback by Libby Fischer Hellmann


Toxicity Box

        Holiday Sale

The Georgia Davis PI Series: Boxed Set of Three (The Georgia Davis Series)

Now available as a collection for only $5.99.

Crime fiction author Libby Fischer Hellmann claims she's "writing her way around the genre." With nine novels and twenty short stories published, she has written thrillers, suspense mysteries, historicals, PI novels, amateur sleuth, police procedurals, and even a cozy. At the core of all her stories, however, is always a crime or the possibility of one.

Her PI Georgia Davis burst on the scene in Libby Fischer Hellmann's Easy Innocence (2008). That was followed in 2009 by Doubleback, which reunited Georgia with Ellie Foreman. Toxicity, the prequel to the series was released in 2011. Now all three are together in one volume. Enjoy this highly acclaimed crime fiction thriller series.

You’ll be able to read the review of Toxicity here ate The Dirty Lowdown in about a week. I first was introduced to this great crime writer in the Michael Connelly edited 2005 short story collection, Murder in Vegas: New Crime Tales of Gambling and Desperation in which her short story, "House Rules" was one of the stand outs. Always a first rate and finely crafted read, Libby has won and been nominated for just about every award a writer could hope for, her Set the Night on Fire was Shortlisted for Foreword Magazine's Best Suspense Novel, 2010. The Georgia Davis series may just be my favorites.Set The Night

In 1978, Hellmann moved to Chicago (which would later be the backdrop of her novels) in order to work at Burson-Marsteller, the large public relations firm, staying until 1985 when she founded Fischer Hellmann Communications. Currently, when not writing, she conducts speaker training programs in platform speaking, presentation skills, media training, and crisis communications. Additionally, Libby also writes and produces videos.

About her fifth novel, the Chicago Tribune said, "There's a new no-nonsense detective in town... Tough and smart enough to give even the legendary V.I. Warshawski a run for her money." They were referring to Georgia Davis, Libby Hellmann's PI protagonist. The Georgia Davis PI Series: Boxed Set of Three (The Georgia Davis Series) is a must have for crime fiction fans, and would make a great gift.

L_Hellmann_CJasonCrepsTake a look at the other great stories at Libby’s website. And be sure to look at her blog, Say The Word, where she talks about books, where the stories come from, the ‘business’ and pretty much everything else.

There you go, the first shopping tip of the season.


The Dirty Lowdown

CD Review: Daniel Bennett Group “Peace And Stability Among Bears”

Peace & Stability Among Bears

Daniel Bennett


Too often jazz is presented to the public in one of two extremes. It is either so homogenized and strives for a pop audience that it become elevator music, or it is presented with such excess and experimentation that it becomes accessible only to other musicians. Daniel Bennett avoids these extremes by drawing inspiration from folk music and then presenting it in a minimalist ensemble that, despite the avoidance of excess, still manages to explore complex musical ideas and themes. The result is a marvelously hypnotic musical trip that will speak to the jazz enthusiast as well as the casual listener.  

Peace & Stability Among Bears is the third and final chapter in his “musical fables” of bears. Bennett, who plays alto sax, flute and clarinet is joined by his band, including Chris Hersch on guitar, Jason Davis on bass and Rick Landwher on drums. Together they present an airy, melodic musically subtle and hypnotic folk-jazz collection. The album is notable in that Bennett has a knack for writing irresistible hooks on the alto, flute or clarinet, which are also daring musically in the use of polyphony and complex drum rhythms and interplay with the other pieces,  which aren’t necessarily the average jazz staple, nor folk staple.

Daniel Bennett Group “Peace And Stability Among Bears”

Add to this the interaction of the musicians; the way Bennett and Hersch’s guitar play off of and around each other, in circular form, the joyful over all feeling and dream like quality, the subtle changes from light and airy jazz, to folk, to country music sounds and touching on early jazz influences – almost New Orleans, almost 1920s flapper.

This is established on the first track, “The Local Sherriff” and continues on through “The Lost Treasure Of Lunta”, a particularly airy track with a minimal, but theme setting drum tack with some percussive surprises. “Arizona” has the cool flavor of a nearly ‘western” theme. You can almost picture the cattle slowly moving through a desert and then being moved slightly faster as they near their destination.

The “Ghost” is a trance like ballad and the subtle guitar is just perfect as it explores the melody. “Andrews Variation” is an odd, almost stutter step tune with the sax laying down basically the same theme played from different points in the scale against some interesting, tantalizing drum. The guitar holds the same circular base before coming front stage towards the end, to make the tune both feel slightly unstable and satisfying all at the same time.

One of the darker songs on the album is “The Village’ which opens with some dissonance from the percussion and odd sound effects that grow in intensity as it layers on and overcomes an increasingly frantic sax.

“Bears In Covered Wagons”

The closing tune is “Bears In Covered Wagons” which makes use of a satisfying funk-fusion presentation with a simple guitar line, and Bennett’s interplay.  This is a fun album, both musically interesting, yet easy for a casual and airy listen. The use of circular patterns throughout lend a hypnotic trance like feel to the folk-jazz realm where Bennett has taken up residence. It’ll pull you in to the world of metaphorical bears, but it won’t overwhelm you with displays of drama and excess.


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Music Review: “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile


The Goat Rodeo Sessions

A goat rodeo, according to Urban Dictionary, "is about the most polite
term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to
describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once
if you intend to walk away from it."

The above description is apt for this album. Not only is the album a mix of diverse styles, indeed diverse universes musically, and all the players bonifide superstars in their perspective musical genre with schedules that would wear out a workaholic.

These four musicians are also friends, and admire each others capabilities but to bring them together as a unified ensemble on a most remarkable and organic cross-genre project based on that friendship and respect was also a near miracle.

Scheduling heroics aside. Yo-Yo Ma sums it up: "In the end, what we're trying to do is simply make music that transcends whatever roots or categories or backgrounds that
it starts from--that just exists as something that we're trying to express, through our community of values, as a moment in time creating very special music."

"Edgar made a good point that the four of us are here because each of
us enjoys hearing the other three do what they do best," Thile says,
"and these are the people that we want to hear! And the music was
composed with that in mind - maintaining what's special about the
individual voices and trying to find something new as a group, within
that context."


"We want the freedom to not have the music immediately defined by a
couple of words," explains Meyer. "But at its root, Yo-Yo's going for
the same thing that Stuart's going for, that Chris is going for--which
is to completely internalize the music, and to play it without any
kind of exterior references or even knowing what it is we're going
for, but with an easy agreement among the four of us in knowing when
we get there."

The album succeeds on all fronts, uniquely showcasing multi Grammy Winner and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, classical, bluegrass, newgrass, and jazz bassist Edgar Meyer, country-folk vocalist and mandolinist Chris Thile from acoustic band Nickel Creek and bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan.

The end result is music that is indefinable, exciting and eclectic. At times you’ll want to get up and dance a hoedown, and a few seconds later check the fit of your cumber bun and adjust the bow tie on your tux. It’s almost surreal as you find yourself caught up in what feels like classical chamber music and then you realize that’s a blue grass fiddle, or you are drifting along on an instrumental folk tune and Yo-yo’s cello takes you to a concert stage with increasingly complicated dynamic changes and time signatures such as on “Attaboy”.

“Attaboy” The Goat Rodeo Sessions

And to make this album that much more surprising, considering the vastly different backgrounds of the musicians and styles and genre, which in and of itself is a Goat Rodeo ,the album  listened to in its entirety, has a certain consistency that just shouldn’t be there. Yo-yo Ma is classically trained and doesn’t improvise, but plays as if he does, the others, who composed and wrote parts for the songs, played off of hand written notes. Collectively, instead of sitting in isolation booths, they all sat in a circle in the same room and fed off each other. Thile played everything from memory, by ear.

There’s also two vocal tracks featuring Thile and guest artist Aoife O'Donovan, the lead vocalist and writer for progressive bluegrass group Crooked Still. "No One But You" and "Here And Heaven”  “Here and Heaven” is  breathtaking in the instrumental flexibility of Duncan's switch from fretless banjo to fiddle, Thile's trade-off from gamba (a Renaissance stringed instrument) to mandolin and Meyer's exchange of
gamba for bass. Additionally the vocal itself is marvelously beautiful melody delivered in a surreal folksy style.

These four masters, these four friends have managed to create order out of the Goat Rodeo chaos. To create, if only for this one album, a new identity and a new genre that at once sounds different, yet familiar, indefinable yet accessible. Mostly it just sounds beautiful, enjoyable and habit forming.

The Goat Rodeo Sessions Available October 24, 2011 on Sony Masterworks


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Review: “Fly By Night” by Ward Larsen


Fly by Night


Jammer” Davis is to detectives what bulls are to china closets. As he explains it, “I am more of a nuisance than a detective. But I get results.” And that he does. Hidden inside this techno thriller is a mystery novel, and it succeeds as both.

The CIA has lost one of it’s top secret, latest generation drones, Blackstar, somewhere in the vicinity of the Horn Of Africa. It is assumed destroyed upon crashing, and it may have even gone down in the Red Sea, so no worries…until a “source” in Sudan gets word out that it may just be hidden inside a secretive hanger on the edge of a desert airport operated by an upstart third world air cargo company, Franklin, Bates and Noble; FBN. FBN is indeed a Fly By Night aviation company, hiding behind an international consortium of owners and named after a law firm that has a bad reputation for representing dubious clients, many of Arab descent.

Neither the airport, or FBN existed until a few months ago, so for a company flying ancient DC-3s as cargo aircraft around Africa and supplying arms to rebels and dictators alike to to maintain a secret hanger is a bit suspicious. To cement that suspicion, the airline is headed up by an Islamic cleric named Rafiq Khoury. In what sounds too convenient,  FBN recently reported one of their DC-3s crashed, and as part of an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) crash investigation, the CIA has manipulated the job to get an NTSB investigator sent in to investigate the cause of the crash.

This ‘deus ex machina’ could have been a flaw in the writers craft, but Larsen handles it the way he handled fighter jets in real life. Khoury called for an investigation in fear that someone may have actually seen the DC-3 go down, and he expected Sudan’s own Air Safety investigators to handle the investigation and pencil whip it. He didn’t expect that it would get kicked upstairs to the world body, ICAO, and certainly not that they would have the temerity to assign the job to the hated American’s and the  NTSB.

This is where Jammer comes in. A maverick ex-fighter jock, who flew numerous missions in Desert Storm, and was a better pilot than Airman – no respect for bullshit from his superiors, he recently worked for the NTSB as a chief air crash investigator. Better yet, he has a reputation of charging ahead and getting the job done. The CIA asks Davis’ old Air Force buddy to recruit Davis to go to Sudan and under the guise of investigating the crash of a 70 year old DC-3, and determine clandestinely whether Blackstar has been recovered by this cleric. But Davis’s thinks Clandestine is something you light in  church, he’s about as secretive and covert as a tarantula on an angel food cake.

Davis is officially retired from both the Air Force and the NTSB, and is dealing with the recent death of his wife in a car crash, as well as a teenage daughter who has grown distant from him following the loss of her mother, and is currently attending school in Europe. Davis takes the job.

As soon as he lands in Khartoum, the action begins when he is way laid by some Sudanese highway robbers who end up biting off more than they can chew in the 6’4” 230 plus pound Davis. And when he arrives at the airport run by FBN, he is greeted by their chief pilot, Bob Schmidt, an ex fighter jock himself whose irresponsibility led him to a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force, brought about by Davis’ condemning report. Needless to say, no love loss between Schmidt-head and Jammer.

What follows is a top notch mystery, cloaked in a techno thriller, as immediately Davis discovers that, as suspected FBN flies arms, drugs, and black market diamonds as well as UN Humanitarian supplies to NGOs. After all, this is the horn of Africa where there is no effective governments but there are plenty of buyers for all of the above.

Davis is there investigating the DC-3 crash only as a cover for finding out what happens in the closely guarded hanger, and whether or not some extremist faction, or dubious private army has recovered the high tech and stealthy Blackstar. But Davis can’t leave the DC-3 crash alone. Things don’t add up. For instance, why did FBN even report the crash in the first place, and further, why did they apparently report one plane crashed, that Davis discovers is actually still being used, but in disguise of another DC-3. To add to the masterfully wrought tension of the story, Davis develops a yen for an Italian aid doctor and his sparring match with Schmidt is nonstop. His side trips to avenge the beating of the Italian doctor and one of her African aids, gets him on the wrong side of the Sudanese army as well.

Davis follows the clues, like a bull following a red cape, from the top of the worlds highest pyramid (which he nearly wipes out) to the depths of the Red Sea, the whole time thoroughly pissing off everybody that gets in his way.

The book is very story driven through the use of the mystery wrapped in the thriller, and fans of Clancy and Coonts will love it, as Larsen writes tighter prose than Clancy and doesn’t befuddle the reader with technology like Coonts. The characters are well developed, if a bit predictable and light-weight at first glance. But in the end they turn out to, not quite, live up to the expected stereotypes, and consequently leave the reader very satisfied and hoping to read more of the in future adventures. The plot is excellently conceived, and includes very pertinent subject matter, including a peripheral reference and ‘setup’ to the recent events of the Arab Spring revolts.

The sense of place, the  lawless horn of Africa, is almost a cliché, but he avoids cliché and goes deeper to explore the heart and soul and motivations of the real people, not the view point the reader would have by only listening to the popular press.

It all adds up to a very good read, and one the reader is likely going to want to revisit time and time again. If Ward Larsen isn’t already considered in the top tier of thriller writers today, he is grabbing shirt tails, a la Jammer Davis, and throwing others off the ladder as he reaches the top.


Fly by Night by Ward Larsen

Oceanview Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-933515-86-1NetGalleylogo

Review copy provided by Oceanview Publishing through NetGalley


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 18, 2011

Music Review: “Fine Arts Avenue” by Andrea Balestra


Fine Arts Avenue

Art should never be predictable. But an album should. While Andrea Balestra is a fine guitar player, and Fine Arts Avenue certainly showcases his chops. It nonetheless felt like a collection of vignettes designed to  display a multitude of musical ideas, not to mention fret board mastery, and all the effects that money can buy.

Still, there are some memorable tunes here, one of my favorites is the slightly acid-jazz “Elephants”, a particularly funky tune featuring organ god, Deacon Jones – Founding member of Chicago and work with Greg Allman, Elvin Bishop, Lester Chambers, Albert Collins, Freddie King and Buddy Miles to mention a few.

Then there is the barn burner, and Hendrix – like “Burn” in which heavy metal monster George Lynch of Dokken fame steps in to lend an ax. Turn this one up to eleven and a half. Lots of fuzz, over drive and six string wizardry here.

The shred lesson of “Burn” drops off into another nice guitar tune, “Ocean” which in places reminded me of Santana, sans harmonics and it may be the tune that really show cases Blaestra’s Telecaster skills.

Besides these two vastly different rockers, I find myself going back to two songs and trying to pin point their allure. Track 2, “Poratraits of Isabelle” which does remind me a bit of Peter Green and the last track “Memories of a Castaway”, a poignant  number with an acoustic opening that turns into an alluring melodic tune picked out on the electric.

Balestra1Scattered around the rest of the disk are songs that I can only call vehicles to show off Balestra’s chops. Most are rather slow, pastoral in feeling employing a lot of effects,  and progressive/experimental/improv feeling and an obviously wide range of influences. There is one vocal on the album, the next to last track, the folksy, “Via Delle Belle Arti” featuring Meno Mereu on vocals. Don’t misunderstand, other than a few places where the sound of the guitar got muddy inside the effects, this is not an audition tape. Far from it. Taken separately, most are fine compositions and passively conceived. But from a player of his obvious talent, I would have preferred something a little more on point as far as concept goes.

After moving to the United States from his native Sicily to pursue his dream of being a musician, Balestra toured across the country and performed and recorded in a variety of styles. A Berklee College of Music graduate, he had the honor to be chosen to perform at his college’s annual “Rock Guitar Night Showcase” in 2007. He has now made his home in the L.A. area where he can be heard at numerous clubs on a somewhat regular basis; The Baked Potato, Whiskey A Go Go and Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn. he should be announcing soon his schedule around the south land to celebrate the release of the CD.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Music Review: “Breaking News” by The New World Jazz Composers Octet


Breaking News

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about ‘large groups’ is that there is no room for the average player. Especially when that group is tasked with playing the work of major composers. In a ‘band’, four or five pieces, you usually have one or two outstanding musicians and a solid list of other contributors. In an Orchestra there is room for the proficient, but not super star musician. But when you get to a ‘group’ like an octet, especially a jazz octet, where the individual composers are really writing orchestra music, each individual must be a master of his instrument. Additionally they must be able to play a wide variety of music and be flexible in ‘genre’ – Latin, bop, post bop, etc…NWJCO

The New World Jazz Composers Octet knew this going in, and fulfilled that requirement very nicely. The players bring not only the ability to play diverse styles – from ballads to minor blues to funky hip-hop – but possess some seriously dangerous chops.

Ken Cervenka and Walter Platt on trumpet and flugelhorn can play soft or loud, sweetly slow to four on the floor, and they do it as if they were clones of each other. Tim Ray plays some pristine piano, at times evoking Horace Silver, other time Bud Powell, but mostly Tim Ray. When he gets to tickling, you forget everybody else and enjoy Tim. Keala Kaumeheiawa has the most letters of the alphabet, but the fewest strings. He is laying the foundation on acoustic bass. Keala is one of those acoustic players that makes me want to give up the electric. On drums is first call drummer, Mark Walker who is always outstanding and translate the score to the skins tastefully and spot on. Ernesto Diaz more than covers the other percussion needs. Filling out the lineup card is Daniel Ian Smith on sax.


Smith founded the ‘group’ in 2000 in the spirit of the Mingus Jazz Workshop with the idea that in a city full of the greatest players and composers, and not enough places to feature them, he wanted to create an outlet.

This is the third CD release by the ensemble following up 2010s Transitions . It’s also the third collaboration between Smith and Ted Pease, the Professor of Jazz Composition at Berklee College Of Music. The two met in ‘95 and quickly discovered they admired each others work. Pease is also the author of the acclaimed book, Jazz Composition: Theory and Practice published by Berklee Press.

Breaking News features nine compositions by Matthew Nicholl, Pease, Walter Platt, Richard Lowell and Felipe Salles and a prose piece by Paul Haines, famous for his collaboration with Carla Bley, set to music by Jeff Friedman. In total it is a primer on ‘group’ performance with beautiful execution and solo work, moving and diverse pieces and a unity of purpose. NWJCO1 

The album opens with two Nicholl’s compositions, “Poco Picasso” an up tempo swing tune featuring the trumpet work of Platt and some impressive piano work featuring Tim Ray and Mark Walker keeping the beat. “Wishful Thinking” is batting second, a marvelous ballad that evokes closing time early in the morning. The piano work again shines and the sweet, slow trumpet and flugelhorn dance together before the sax leads then to the parking lot.

The title track, composed by Platt, is a nice minor blues that takes you back to the hay day  of bop in the ‘50s and ‘60s and makes you want to check the liner note to see when Horace Silver played this tune. Platt goes high on the staff bringing back memories of Dizzy Gillespie before moving into a smokin’ display of virtuosity on the baritone sax by Smith. Is dancin’ the jitterbug back in style?

Next is the tone-poem by Felipe Salles, “Children’s Waltz”. Ray’s solo work  and Salles jaw dropping tenor is what it’s all about as it takes you through the sojourn of youth. NWJCO2

“Warp 7, Now!” as the title implies, is a high gear cruise to the stars. A chromatic excursion to “explore other galaxies” musically. It shows off the incredible way these guys work together; an intense trumpet solo by Cervenka, a photon torpedo battle of tenors between Salles and Smith, a piano solo that leaves tracers and a shuttle craft race between Diaz and Walker. This one will leave you needing a trans-galactic gargle blaster just to cool down, “Waiter! drinks all around.”

But you can sit back and catch your breath to Paul Haines poem, “Song Sung Long” set to music by Jeff Friedman. It’s a surreal poem recited by Smiths young daughter. Nicely done.

the album closes with a tip of the hat to three of Pease’ favorite composers: “Thad’s Pad” for Thad Jones, “Strays” for Billy Strayhorn and “Willis” for Bill Holman. this trilogy really shows off the ensemble working together as well as their ability to play in diverse styles. the orchestration is daring and the rhythmic changes go from ballad to modal barn burner. You have to look once again to make sure your not hearing a much larger band.

The New World Jazz Composers Octet puts on an artful, but still accessible, display of what can happen when some of the most exciting section players and soloists in jazz meet some of the most original and important composers today. the album is a great success, and I for one hope to hear more from them in the near future.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved