Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Review : “Sins Of The Father – A Derek Stillwater Novel” by Mark Terry

sins of the father

The Sins of the Father (Derek Stillwater Thrillers)

There may be no more exciting, compelling or believable series character in the techno-thriller genre today than author Mark Terry’s Dr. Derek Stillwater. Stillwater is a troubleshooter for The Department Of Homeland Security. He’s also a tough, no nonsense guy, a bit of a loner, and has little patients for red tape or procedure. Derek doesn’t stand on protocol, he crushes its neck under his foot. Especially when it gets in the way of his goal, which is usually tracking down terrorists and foiling their destructive aims. But, he’s no superman, and has plenty of human traits that make him as vulnerable as the man next door. But he is relentless and not the guy that terrorists want on their tale.

Because of Derek’s relentlessness, he has often broken the rules in pursuit of the bad guys and he is not one to follow strict procedures or protocol. This gets him on the bad side of some of the inevitable political and power hungry overseers , associates and subordinates from time to time and throughout the series (The Sins of the Father is book six and there are some short stories too.) but his results over rule those who would stand on decorum. And, speaking of decorum, Derek blurs that line, like a batter erasing the back line of the batters box. On one such occasion, he crossed that line with Russian agent Irina Khournikova.

In Sins of the Father, that indiscretion has come back to haunt him. He travels to Russia to check into the death of Irina, who he finds out he fathered a son with. Naturally, just as he often runs into inter-agency rivalries in the U.S., he runs into resistance from Irina’s employer, the Russian FSB (their intelligence service). The FSB doesn’t want him meddling in  an active investigation, both for fear he’ll embarrass them professionally, and that he may expose truths that could prove politically inconvenient if shown to the world. But Derek has never been one to spare the oppositions feelings, or indeed the feelings of agency heads and field agents in his own country.

But before he can even begin to investigate Irina’s death and cut through the red tape of Russian bureaucracy he finds himself in the middle of a terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy. To further complicate matters, as a favor to the Secretary Of State, he is agrees to investigate the apparent suicide of a U.S. weapons inspector. Along the way he meets the son he never knew he fathered with Irina. But before he can get to know his son, he is kidnapped by a Russian Gang/Terrorist group calling themselves The Red Hands. The Red Hands want Derek to end his investigation into the suicide.

If Derek abhors anything more than bureaucratic red tape and politically minded law enforcement and intelligence operatives, it is blackmail. Especially when he is on the receiving end of such threats. Teamed up with FSB Agent Konstantin Nikitinov, he sets out to retrieve his child, and he won’t let anything stand in his way. Especially the kidnappers of his child, who have it in mind to over throw the Russian government.

Derek Stillwater took the old adage, “fight fire with fire” to heart. He and Nikitinov start their own reign of terror on the Red Hands giving them way more than they bargained for. As the story barrels towards the climax, like an M1 tank over a sand dune, Derek and Konstantin run rough-shod over criminals and officials on both sides. 

One thing the reader can be sure of when he cracks open a Mark Terry Book is that it will be solidly crafted, well researched, topical and there will be plenty of relentless action. Once Derek Stillwater is on the trail, the plot will move as fast as a Formula One racer. Terry’s books and stories exhibit the cream of the crop of the writers craft. There are no holes in the plot. The characters are extremely real and he makes them leap off the page. They each will develop a separate voice in the readers mind. His sense of place is conveyed as if written by the best travel writer. And, almost presciently, he has a knack for picking stories that end up being topical and in the news when the book reaches print. It almost seems as if his stories could be subtitled The Story Behind The Story on a nightly news broadcast. And after six novels one is a  a novella to be clear), and numerous short stories it becomes apparent that this is no accident or stroke of good luck. The man just seems to have his fingers on the pulse of world events. Either that or he has some inside source. mark-thumb2

Terry is a fulltime writer, editor and ghostwriter, and the author of six Derek Stillwater novels, The Devil's Pitchfork , The Serpent's Kiss , The Fallen, The Valley of Shadows , and Dire Straits (A Derek Stillwater Novella) . He is also the author of several standalone thrillers and also the “writers book” Freelance Writing For A Living. When not writing, Mark studies sanchin-ryu karate, lifts weights, bikes, runs, plays guitar and kayaks. A native of Michigan, he is an active member of International Thriller Writers, Mark Terry regularly contributes to the ITW's monthly newsletter and, in 2008, served as a judge for the Thriller Award. He is also a member of Mystery Writers of America.

Article first published as Book Review : Sins Of The Father: A Derek Stillwater Novel by Mark Terry on Blogcritics.


Title: The Sins of the Father (Derek Stillwater Thrillers) Publisher: OROX Books; 1 edition (June 8, 2012)

Print Length: 300 pages  File Size: 458 KB  Text-to-Speech: Enabled  Lending: Enabled ASIN: B008DYXZ0M


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review:”All He Saw Was The Girl” by Peter Leonard


All He Saw Was The Girl

Rule 10: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

That rule is from Elmore Leonard’s New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”. His son, Peter certainly had memorized that rule, along with the rest, in writing this marvelous novel. The prose are terse, hard-bitten and to the point. When a story opens with the protagonist in jail, well, it’s got to be dark and hardboiled. And true to the Leonard name, its slapstick-caper-with-great-dialogue in vintage.

When American college buddies, the rich and arrogant Chip Tallenger and William McCabe, the son of a working class Detroit family, end up in an Italian jail after a night of drunken revelry that ends in Chip stealing a taxi they are on a collision course with disaster.

In jail, the pair meet an Italian street thug with delusions of grandeur. Roberto Mazara tries to strong arm Chip who looks like an easy mark in his $400 Cole Haan boots, but McCabe steps up and puts Mazara in his place and on his butt.

When Chip and McCabe are “bought” out of jail by Chip’s wealthy U.S. Senator father Chip puts the blame for the taxi fiasco on McCabe, even though he was responsible for the shenanigans.  McCabe doesn’t correct him and takes the heat from Charles Tallenger II. The story makes the local papers - U.S. Senators Son is Acquitted of Stealing Taxi - but the names were switched under the photos. When Mazara breaks out he hatches a plot for revenge for the loss of face. Italians are nothing if not bubbling over with machismo. He is going to kidnap McCabe, mistaking him for the son of the senator and he uses his beautiful girlfriend to insure that All He Saw Was The Girl. The senator ransoms McCabe, thinking it’s Chip the gangsters have and because Chip is off to the beach no one is the wiser.

But McCabe decides to turn the tables on Mazara and get back the ransom money. He kidnaps Mazara’s girlfriend, Angela who just happens to be the godfather of all mafia godfathers, Don Gennaro’s only child.


Switching scenes to Detroit, Joey Palermo, another spoiled rich kid, the son of a local mafia lieutenant meets Sharon, an older bored wife of a too often out of town U.S. Secret Service agent. A one night stand is one thing, but when Joey falls for her and wants to marry her, it’s crossing the line as the mafia doesn’t need this kind of heat. When Sharon’s husband, Ray, melts down on the job and walks away from his career, he returns to Detroit in the hopes of patching up his marriage. But, when he finds Sharon is gone he sets out to find her, which of course leads him to Joey.

But Joey has been spirited out of the country until things cool down and is now in Italy with his uncle Don Gennaro.

It’s not hard to shine in a field where your father is the master. None of the Hemingway’s, though they could write competently, could live up to the standards of Papa. Bob Dylan’s son is a fine musician, but not on a level with Bob, same with John Lennon’s offspring. But Peter Leonard is proving the exception in his books. In All He Saw Was The Girl - his third-he tells a darkly humorous tale with great dialog and narrative. Lean, mean and as tightly wrapped as the characters that inhabit it.

He resists the urge to wax poetic in his descriptions of Rome and the Italian countryside, perhaps remembering Rule 9 in his fathers essay : “Don't go into great detail describing places and things.” Nevertheless, letting those details come forth in dialog and thoughts of the characters and the natural flow of the story. He conveys a sense of place while avoiding a travelogue style which works wonderfully. The characters, too, jump memorably from the page full of life and foibles.


The story is based on an incident from the authors life while he was a student in Italy in the ‘70s and that experience allows him to paint a masterpiece of fiction that can only be called Leonard-esque now that it is in its second generation of bearing fruit. The plot motors along like a sports car cruising down the Italian coast and never misses a twist or a turn. But there’s bound to be a collection when this many egos get involved and the reader will enjoy the ride and the crash. Peter Leonard is in full stride with this, his third book and the future shines with a noirish light. This is “don’t miss” crime fiction at its very best.


Title : All He Saw Was The Girl - Publisher : The Story Plant - Pub Date : June 05, 2012 – ISBN : 978161188042

Article first published as Book Review: All He Saw Was The Girl by Peter Leonard on Blogcritics.


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

CD Review : Rodriguez “ Searching For Sugar Man”

Searching For Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

In 1968 two producers went to a downtown Detroit bar to see an unknown recording artist – a charismatic
Mexican-American singer/songwriter named Rodriguez, who had attracted a local following with his mysterious presence, soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They were immediately bewitched by the singer, and thought they had found a musical folk hero in the purest sense – an artist who reminded them of a Chicano Bob Dylan, perhaps even greater. They had worked with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, but they believed the album they subsequently produced with Rodriguez – Cold Fact – was the masterpiece of their producing careers.

“Sugar Man” Rodriguez

Despite good reviews, Cold Fact was a commercial disaster and marked the end of Rodriguez’s recording career before it had even started. Rodriguez sank back into obscurity. All that trailed him were stories of his escalating depression, and eventually he fell so far off the music industry’s radar that when it was rumored he had committed suicide, there was no conclusive report of exactly how and why. Of all the stories that circulated about his death, the most sensational – and the most widely accepted – was that Rodriguez had set himself ablaze on stage 4 having delivered these final lyrics: “But thanks for your time, then you can thank me for mine and after that’s said, forget it.” The album’s sales never revived, the label folded and Rodriguez’s music seemed destined for oblivion.

“Hate Street Dialogue” Rodriguez
This was not the end of Rodriguez's story. A bootleg recording of Cold Fact somehow found its way to South Africa in the early 1970s, a time when South Africa was becoming increasingly isolated as the Apartheid regime tightened its grip. Rodriguez's anti-establishment lyrics and observations as an outsider in urban America felt particularly resonant for a whole generation of disaffected Afrikaners. The album quickly developed an avid following through word-of-mouth among the white liberal youth, with local pressings made. In typical response, the reactionary government banned the record, ensuring no radio play, which only served to further fuel its cult status.

The mystery surrounding the artist's death helped secure Rodriguez's place in rock legend and Cold Fact quickly became the anthem of the white resistance in Apartheid-era South Africa. Over the next two decades Rodriguez became a household name in the country and Cold Fact went platinum.

“Inner City Blues” Rodriguez

A story like this is even more interesting urban rock legend than Brian Wilsons Smile or “Paul Is Dead”. What’s more, the music was amazing. The lyrics invoke the feeling a generation had felt upon first hearing Dylan in 1961. But for whatever reason, it didn’t catch on. There are a million stories of great musicians who were either too far ahead of the times or too far behind the times who just never struck stardom in popular culture and in many ways that is the story of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez. He was a charismatic and mysterious artist. As those two producers, Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore dubbed him and his music, “it was hippie soul”. But by 1970 when Cold Fact was released the hippie movement was fading and Dylan had gone electric. Pop music was embracing the sing-songwriter whose tunes weren’t about struggle or social messages. They were about falling in love or pretty mountains and nature. The album was an enigma. A fusion of gritty, soulful, street wise psychedelia. It was politically challenging the establishment and holding a mirror up to social ills. It also had a druggy, off handed delivery of these messages. One publication dubbed it “Lysergic Gutter Poetry”. The world wasn’t ready for it. Not the pop world anyhow.

“Crucify Your Mind” Rodriguez

But, if you take the time to listen, Rodriguez was writing lyrics that stood up to the best folk music of the century. When you hear “Crucify Your Mind”, it sounds like the best that Dylan ever wrote. “Sugar Man” is a tale of life in the real inner city. Music like this, and a tale like this won’t die.

Even though there was a second album, Coming from Reality Rodriguez faded from the scene but, as stated above, the album found it’s way around the world and became a rallying point in another social struggle against injustice.

When this story, both the Detroit side and the Apartheid era, pre-Mandela reached Stockholm based film maker Malik Bendjelloul he couldn’t leave it alone. His subjects had included Kraftwerk, Bjork, Sting, Elton John, Madonna and many other super stars. Some of his short film documentaries were turned into full link feature films such a Men Who Stare At Goats (George Clooney) and The Terminal (Tom Hanks). eventually, he found financing, production and filming for the movie. That evolution was nearly as fascinating as Rodriguez himself, who is very much still alive, Stage 4 self-emollition legends aside.

“Searching For Sugar Man” Official Sony Legacy Trailer

The Soundtrack contains 14 songs from both albums and the movie itself debuted at the Tribeca film Festival on April 24. It’ll open in New York and Los Angles on July 27th and hit other markets in August. For a complete listing of show venues check the films website.

Additionally, Rodriguez himself is touring through the month of November. Venues and tickets can be found here: 

In retrospect, it is an amazing story and very topical. here is a Mexican American folk singer from inner city Detroit where Motown started. And his music fueled a socio-political movement in South Africa. On that basis alone, he should be declared a UN Ambassador at large. “I describe myself as ‘musico-politico’, Rodriguez aid recently. “I was born and bred in Detroit, four blocks from the city center. back then, I was inf;luenced by urban sounds that were going on around me all the time. Music is art and art is a cultural force. As far as my work from Detroit comparing to South African Apartheid, the similarities echo. The placards of the 1970s in the United States read things like: We Want Jobs and Stop The War – I was looking at music from a working class perspective that was relevant, as it turns out, to the kids in South Africa.”

Get the sound track or either of the two original albums which were reissued in 2008. And check out the show times for the movie. It is of historical note and maybe as relevant today with social challenges the world faces with immigration, joblessness and political clashes that Rodriguez music seems still to confront.

“Rich Folks Hoax” Sixto Rodrigues


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 22, 2012

EP Review: “The Grey Area” by Friend Slash Lover


The Grey Area

Having honed their chops at Los Angeles clubs such as The Roxy Theater, The Viper Room, Bootleg Theatre and Skinny's Lounge, FSL continues to grow as a cohesive unit which is very apparent on this, their second offering following 2010s As American As Ones and Zeros.

The indie rockers deliver here an emotional take on life experiences that cover such subjects as the jaded people in the scene which is Los Angles on the opener, “As Seen On TV”. The track has a punk rock atheistic and is riff heavy as front man Josh Mintz, delivers the tune with smooth vocals laid down over the infectious hook. On the title track Mintz showcases his rangy vocal chops through a thought provoking take on relationships. The tune build to an epic climax as the narrator grow more and more bemused that his lover seems to grow detached.

“Where Have I Been All My Life”
The one cover tune here is  XTCs “Dear God” a controversial track in its original state. Mintz does it justice as the band delivers a tight, head banging performance.

The band hasn’t released any videos for this EP as of yet, but to give you a taste of what it’s all about, take a look at “Where Have I Been All My Life” from the 2010 album.

Josh Mintz vocals and songwriting have a very indie rock feeling to them while still being pop worthy. He’s found a worthy partner in bassist Frank Day and they have teamed up with lead player Greg Pajer and Jake Hayden to bang the drums. Mintz has talent as a songwriter and that may just be the vehicle that drives these guys to success.

It’s a heavy sound, but shows a certain maturity and purpose. FSLThe introspective and sometimes cynical wonder that the lyrics display act as sort of a road map through the glitz and the glam.

The influences here seem to cover a wide swath of genre’s, from Pink Floyd to Green Day all with the fingerprint of ethereal rock that is a welcome relief from the usual generic pop sound found too many places today. As it delves in to an edgier hard rock sound it also avoids a total retreat to mosh pits and heavy metal. This is what indie rock is all about.

It’s be interesting to watch these guys grow. Pick up the EP in all the usual places and you can now stream them Spotify as well as Pandora.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 21, 2012

CD Review: “Samba Jazz–Jazz Samba” by the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet

Samba Jazz - jazz samba

Samba Jazz: Jazz Samba

Perhaps the best Brazilian trap drummer of his generation, Duduka Da Fonseca plays with an uncommon mix of finesse and high speed drive. Though we usually find Samba albums in the jazz bin at the record store, they are actually two disparate forms. But since Fonseca lit in  New York City in 1975 he’s  has been actively exploring the perfect marriage of the forms.  The result is pure ear candy; a rich and glorious experience. A veteran of stage and studio with the giants of both worlds from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto to Joe Henderson and Kenny Barron. With his quintet featuring Duduka on drums, Anat Cohen on tenor sax and clarinet, Helio Alves tickling the ivories, Guilherme Monteiro on guitar,  and Leonardo Cioglia holding down the bottom end on bass  he most convincingly demonstrates that "near perfect balance" between samba and jazz.

For this date, the follow up to the group's critically acclaimed Samba Jazz In Black & White, Da Fonseca draws upon not only the instrumental prowess of its players, but the compositional abilities of the many friends he has performed with during his auspicious career. The opening "Depois Da Chuva", penned by pianist Dom Salvador, was a staple of his quartet with Dick Oatts, Dennis Irwin and Da Fonseca. "Sabor Carioca", by saxophonist Raul Mascarenhas, hails back to the early seventies group Mandengo that he and the drummer were part of. Jobim's "Rancho Das Nuvens" is a beautiful tune, Anat Cohen makes slow languorous love to one of the great maestro's more obscure gems. Cohen's soulful arrangement of jazz master Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation" epitomizes the spirit of samba jazz, while pianist Haroldo Mauro's "Obstinado" demonstrates the genre's wide-ranging possibilities.

duduka Da Fonseca Quintet

Duduka first heard "The Peacocks", played by its composer Jimmy Rowles at Bradley's, where NYC's jazz musicians congregated.  "Dona Olimpia" is from the songbook of Toninho Horta, part of the leader's extended family. Da Fonseca's "Flying Over Rio" is his moving tribute to the beauty of his native land. "O Guarana" comes from one his oldest friends, pianist Alfredo Cardim, whom he calls "one of Brazil's great neglected writers." Duduka first played the concluding "Melancia", by Rique Pantoja, another unsung Brazilian pianist/composer, with the famed percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, godfather to the drummer's daughter Alana.

Flowing from his heart, his head and his hands, these two rich and exciting musical forms come together as one in the music of the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet - uniting North and South (Americas) in a manner which politicians can only dream of.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

CD Review: “belezas” by Carol Saboya



It’s so delightful to find an artist that plays Brazilian music that is not bossa nova. And as much as I love him, it’s great when other fine Brazilian composers are presented to the world at large and their name is not Antonio Carlos Jobim. Especially when that artist possesses a voice that wafts over you like a soft summer breeze the way that Carol Saboya’s voice does.

Recording sessions of CD “Belezas” by Carol Saboya

This is Carol Saboya’s North American solo debut album and she has chosen to sing the songs of great Brazilian composers that may be familiar to American audiences, though not necessarily as jazz composers primarily. Ivan Lins is probably thought of first for his pop music smash hit, "Love Dance" performed by Simone (Simone Bittencourt de Oliveira) which numbers as one of the most re-recorded songs in musical history. the other Brazilian composer is none other than Milton Nascimento who is most known as a founder of  the Clube da Esquina ("corner club") movement, a kind of Brazilian Fusion music, to put it in terms an American might identify with.

Already established as a premier recording artist in her native Brazil and in Japan, with eight albums to her credit, this one hit the streets here in the U.S. on July 10 and she features guest appearances by saxophonist Dave Liebman and harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens (who we reviewed back in May), and was produced and arranged by renowned pianist (and Saboya's father) Antonio Adolfo.

On Belezas Saboya gives us songs both in Portuguese and English, including a new translation of Lins's "Estrela Guia" -- a paean to Nascimento -- by the New York Voices' Kim Nazarian that was commissioned by the composer especially for this project. Perhaps my favorite tune from the album is “Tarde”, Nascimento’s beautiful ballad. Liebman’s tenor just weaves the melody into gold and the tune makes you want to spend a lazy sunny day in the sun. Also, "Bola de Meia, Bola de Gude" (Sock Ball and Marbles), a lively baião/maracatu  is also of note.

“Tarde’ by Carol Saboya from the album “Belezas” July 2012

The entire album is delightful in the way Saboya’s father, Antonio Adolfo arranged the songs in order to “build a bridge” between the two great composers, Milton and Ivan. "I brought some of Ivan's harmony style to Milton and vice-versa, those intervals of fourths pioneered by McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. And in one of Ivan's songs I use phrases from the first song that Milton presented at a festival in 1967. They have much in common. They came to the scene at the same moment, when there was a very strong musical movement." says Adolfo.

Adolfo anchors the star studded quartet on piano with bassist Jorge Helder (often heard with Chico Buarque and Maria Bethânia); drummer Rafael Barata (Edu Lobo, Rosa Passos, Mônica Salmaso); and guitarist Claudio Spiewak, who's recorded with a wide range of Latin music stars from Nestor Torres to Elba Ramalho.

But it is Saboya’s voice that leads the ensemble with her subtle and energetic delivery and whose dynamics tie the free flow of the interpretations together into a special gift. It acts as a fifth instrument, and softly leads the way through this twelve song mini summer vacation for the ears. Get on board and let her seduce you with Brazilian music which is neither canned nor a parody of the genre but a masterful presentation and melding of two giants of composition, her fathers arrangements and her wonderful musical skills.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 20, 2012

CD Review: “Black Cat Oil” by Delta Moon

Black Cat Oil

Black Cat Oil

Take Mississippi delta blues meets the gritty backwoods country twang. Add a rock steady beat, and give it a lo fi feeling with vintage gear and recording techniques and you have Delta Moon, the Atlanta, GA. group consisting of founders Tom Gray and Mark Johnson, the dual slide guitars players with Tom handling lead vocal duties. Throw in Franher Joseph on bass and backing vocals, and Marlon Patton on drums and you have the raw, honest gut bucket roots music with a CCR, swamp rock feel.

“Black Cat Oil” 5/2012 by Delta Moon

Initially a chance meeting in an Atlanta, GA music store brought the two founders together. Tom tried to sell Mark a Dobro out of the back of his van. Tom remembers the girl with Mark whispering, “Let’s get out of here.” Mark didn’t buy the guitar, but the two exchanged phone numbers and soon were playing together regularly in coffee shops and barbecue joints around Atlanta. Mark came up with the name Delta Moon after a pilgrimage to Muddy Waters’ cabin near Clarksdale, Mississippi.

“The album’s title came from looking at the graphics of old hoodoo medicine labels, which I find fascinating,” Tom Gray explains. “We’re not the first musicians to draw inspiration there.The original Fleetwood Mac used ‘Hot Foot Powder’ (a Robert Johnson song) for an album title, and they used an old hoodoo label as their album art.

Throw in a story like that, mix it with wonderful song writing – Tom was named  2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year and  his songs have been recorded by Cyndi Lauper (including the hit “Money Changes Everything”), Manfred Mann, Carlene Carter, Bonnie Bramlett and many others and it all makes for a great, kicked back sound where the music washes over you like a warm dip in a slow moving river after a days work.

“Blues In A Bottle” by Delta Moon from the 2012 album “Black Cat Oil”

Mark Johnson grew up  up in a trailer park in Ravenna, Ohio. His uncle owned a record store, and there was always music in the Johnson home. Mark played guitar in bands all through high school. In the early 1990s he moved to Atlanta, where he formed a band called the Rude Northerners. About that time he abandoned standard tuning and became obsessed with bottleneck slide.

Together they lead a band who’s music goes down as smooth as old whiskey and gets heads to boppin’ and feet a tappin’.

Gray’s voice sounds like it has been marinated in barbeque sauce and smoked over hickory wood. It’s a sensuous sound that weaves around the spooky sound of the lap steel and seems to snake through the strings on the upright bass. The tunes are distinctive, yet cohesive, cut from the same broadcloth bolt of inspiration. "Down and Dirty" is a blues shuffle telling a tale of hope amid despair. Tom is a recent cancer survivor, and you can’t help wondering how much of that battle went into this tune. In contrast, "Jukin'," is an ode to the pure joy of making music, and “Neon Jesus” tells you, these guys get to town on sometimes on a Saturday night, and can laugh about it. the only cover tune here is Mississippi Fred McDowells “Write Me A Few Of Your Lines” which is a faithful cover but dipped in the bands own special blend of musical flavorings. Pick this one up, and check their website for tour dates.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

CD Review: “Blood Red Blues” Cee Cee James


Blood Red Blues

You have to suffer to sing the blues this way. You gotta have your heart not just broken, but kicked around and left in a gutter at 3 a.m. next to a crumpled up cigarette package– mugged, spit on, hung over, cut up with a switch blade knife and left for dead. Janis – you know which Janis, so shut up and listen – had this heart and there is her ghost running around in Cee Cee James vocal chords. This is rubbed raw, soaked in whiskey, drug out in the smoky blue moon blues. She shouts it, she wrings it out, she bleeds for it, she sweats for it she crawls across the floor for it.

I know you have heard that story about Lincoln and Kennedy had VPs named Johnson and those other eerie similarities. Well Janis Joplin had a guitar player named Sam Andrews, Cee Cee James has a guitar player named Rob Andrews. When Cee Cee shouts “I’ve taken all my lessons” you’ll hear Janis, and not just a little bit. When she lets that gritty shout go quiet and low you’ll hear her too. When she sings, “Walk On, walk on…” it’s there, baby. It’s Blood Red Blues.

“Blood Red Blues” Cee Cee James July 2012

This is her fourth CD  and after trying her hand at pop/funk with Spiritually Wet, her first release, which was really a success winning the Los Angles Independent Artist Of The Year Award as well as the John Lennon Songwriting Competition. Lotta people would have considered that a triumph. But it wasn’t home for this St. Louis based singer. Nope, she went searching and found that place that allowed her to feel at home. She immersed her self in the blues which led to her second CD, 2008s, Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl.

She hasn’t looked back (except to see if the devil was gaining) since. She’s won awards that led to foreign tours, led to number one records on blues charts. She was dubbed The Vocal Volcano by one critic. Had her 2010 live album pronounced the best live performance on the century. The Washington Blues Society gave her the Best Blues Songwriter Award and nominated her for Best Blues Vocalist last year.

“Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl” Cee Cee James 2008

But none of that is important here. What’s important is the way that she tears out her soul to tell her story. What’s important here is raw, blood drenched power. What’s important is the fearless surrender to the songs, to the emotion – eleven original blues and roots tunes written by husband Rob ‘Slideboy’ Andrews.

Don’t expect pretty, slick visuals. This ain’t MTV. Don’t expect heart-on-the-sleeve delivery, she tears her heart out on stage and cuts it up into little bitty pieces. When Janis said, “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!” Cee Cee James thought it was stage direction. Don’t expect flashing lights and voice overs or auto tune. Don’t expect anything but the blood red blues.


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: “The Innocent” by David Baldacci


The Innocent

America has enemies, some foreign some domestic and Will Robie will see them all dead - except the innocent.

Having established himself as the premiere writer of  “conspiracy in high places” thrillers in 1996 with his first novel, Absolute Power which was made into a hit movie starring Clint Eastwood, Baldacci has now written over twenty novels and remains the master of that subgenre. In The Innocent, Baldacci remains at the top of his game. Baldacci’s success lies in an ability to build plots and characters that in lesser hands would seem like the fringe conspiracy theorists best bad dream. But Baldacci makes the story and the characters seem all too plausible and, seemingly, with some kind of prescience, topical and ripped from the headlines.

Will Robie is a case in point. He is a veteran assassin for a shady, unnamed U.S. Government agency and he roams the world at his masters bidding eliminating targets as ordered with deadly efficiency. A character and plot that would require the mainstream reader to suspend belief and accept them as entertainment, but with the recent dearth of assassinations of Al-Qaida leaders, Iranian nuclear scientists, etcetera,  they become realistic. Baldacci is a master at this kind of story.

“The Innocent” by David Baldacci

Fresh from two assignments to eliminate, presumably, just such enemies of America abroad, Will Robie is now on a mission closer to home in and around the nations capital. Armed with a dossier of the intended enemies photo, address, and biography of daily movements and habits he has developed a plan approved by his handler and supported by backup personnel who make sure the needed weapons, information and support services are readily to hand.

He doesn’t need to know the sins of the person, great or small, he leaves passing judgment to his superiors. He is only the executioner. Cold blooded and unemotional. He has operated this way for over a decade, and though oft times the condemned is an enemy of notorious reputation, just as often they are unknown to the world at large as a threat. Robie just dispatches them as efficiently as a lethal injection and as dethatched and dispassionate as a high-powered bullet fired on a battlefield.

Until now. With the voice of his handler guiding his every step and watching, from a distance, his back, he gains entry to the apartment building with the ease of a cat burglar. He makes child's play of the locks to the apartment. He sneaks undetected to the victims bedroom, he IDs the target and then, silenced pistol at hand and aimed, he hesitates. He’s not quite sure why he hesitates in the completion of this execution. Is it because the condemned is a woman? But he has had to execute women before. Did he suddenly develop a conscious? But he believes in his mission, however distasteful and non-P.C. it may play out to the media. Is it the unusual anxiety of his handler? But he has been on tense assignments before where his was the only cool hand on site.

Perhaps it is the unlikely location of the enemy in a quiet Washington D.C. suburb that wouldn’t seem the hideout of a public enemy. Perhaps it is the child, obviously the woman’s son, in bed with the target. But he still could have soundlessly dispatched her to oblivion and the child is young enough to where he would soon forget and heal from the trauma. But, nonetheless, for the first time ever, he hesitates. His handler frantically calling for him to complete the assignment, urging him on in a near-panicked voice but still Robie hesitates and then the child awakens and the intended victim stirs. Robie does the unthinkable, if hesitating is unthinkable, then this action is doubly so. He attempts to save the condemned, but her reprieve is short lived as a sniper’s bullet pierces the window killing her and the child with one high velocity round.

Robie knows that the killing is not finished in this room on this night. Having hesitated, having failed in the mission, his value to his handler and his employer is as worthless as his actions a few minutes earlier. But, Robie has the advantage of knowing what comes next. He knows where his handler and the support team will set up in order to eliminate the liability he has become to them. So, he out guesses them, being far superior to them in tactics of escaping the scene of an assassination. Then he once again does the unthinkable. He rescues the victim’s other child, a baby still in diapers, from  the apartment and leaves the child in a carrier at the door of another resident. Then, he evades his now would be killers and executes his escape plan, which is not even known to his handlers.

As he makes his way to a second rate bus station to flea the city for New York, and then out of the country, he watches everything and everyone since he knows his hunters are deadly and efficient. As he boards a midnight bus with tickets bought anonymously as an exodus and a hedge against just such a failure of plans, he is vigilant as he must be to survive. As a man enters the bus just as it pulls out of the station, Robie identifies him as a man just like himself; a stone killer, a professional executioner. But amazingly, the killer doesn’t come for him. The killer starts to act against a young teenage girl a few rows in front of Robie and for the third time this evening, inside this hour, Robie once again displays, incongruously, his humanity. He saves the girl by killing the killer and then escapes the bus. But as the unlikely pair make their escape, the bus explodes.

Robie is convinced that his employer and handler could not have known his escape plan or anticipated his route, therefore the girl, Julie, must be the target. Now, tasked with running for his life, and with Julie as a hindrance to that task he finds himself in the unfamiliar spot of being a protector. He is doubly tasked with saving his life and Julie’s as he sets out to investigate why his intended victim was marked for assassination and why Julie is on the run from a hit squad that seems just as determined as his former employers. As the bodies stack up, both from Julie’s pursuers and his own and as he quickly learns that he can’t trust anyone, either from his government or the criminal world where Julie’s parents lived, he slowly uncovers sins and subterfuge at every turn and rising to the top of the government.DavidBaldacci-776308

Baldacci has crafted a clever plot that takes the usual twists and turns with expected red herrings and dead ends but in his hands aren’t simply plot devices but the tools for exposing the dangers confronting 21st century warriors of terrorism and law enforcement agencies in a world where the criminals can afford to not just “buy a cop” but buy an agency. Baldacci makes both the good guys and the bad guys living breathing people and the hurdles they all strive to overcome as up to date as tomorrows headlines. His dialog is succinct, direct, and hard edged. His sense of place as complete as a tour guides, the tension is a taut and beautifully maintained as a tightrope walkers and the narration is top drawer. Baldacci is and continues to be one of the top hitters in the thriller genre working today.

The Innocent by David Baldacci, Grand Central Publishing, 422 pages, $27.99, ISBN:

9780446572996 Review copy provided by Grand Central Publishing through


Article first published as Book Review: The Innocent by David Baldacci on Blogcritics.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved



Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: “Bite Me” by Mike Faricy


Bite Me

Dev Haskell, that dysfunctional, bumbling, crazy babe magnet, of a PI is back on the case in yet another whacky yet suspenseful tale filled with quirky characters that are frighteningly too close to real life to be wholly fictional. Dev is to detectives and solving cases what rabbits feet are to good luck. The outcome may be desirable but the rabbit comes out with a limp.

Bite Me opens with Dev trying to escape a night of good lovin’ that ends in dawns early light with a violent and insane babe wielding a knife. Dev barely escapes with most of his clothes but he has lost his equilibrium, his car keys and his pride. But, all is not lost. The oddball lover, Kiki helps him land a dream job. Providing security for a couple of  whacked out ‘patriot’ radio station operators that don’t need it. They have zero listeners and no callers, let alone threatening wanna be assassins driven to mayhem by listening to their 15 minute, four times a day broadcast of right wing whooey diatribes. But when a few days into the job, the nut cases decide to hold a press conference attended by practically nobody and a drive by shooting goes down, Dev starts to wonder.

Dev decides to investigate the shooting, but when no shell casings can be found, nor a single slug recovered, Dev starts to think something is fishy in radio land. Lulled into a false since of security by the crazy, if voluptuous Kiki, he finds himself once again in a surreal dawns early light. This time tied to the bed and Kiki with a black eye…and he has no memory of the night before after the second drink. Could this be date rape in reverse? Kiki releases him from his kinky bindings and he hits the shower, perplexed about the black eye. But he doesn’t get much time to examine his night of violent love when he is arrested for raping and beating Kiki. Before long, murder will get added to the equation and send Dev on his stumbling way where with a lot of luck and no small amount of detective skills he unravels the case. Along the way he will discover drug running plots and money laundering schemes as well as a list of crimes from bigamy to murder all the while falling into shady bars and the beds of a bevy of beauties, not all of them absolutely crazy, but fatal in their own special way. Oh, and he paints a few walls as well.

Dev Haskell is one of the looniest and most enjoyable characters inhabiting the world of fictional PIs out there, today. Mike Faricy has managed to not only maintain the level of quirky and humorous entertainment to be found from novel to novel, but to add a level of edginess that lends a seriousness to the laughs in a way that masters like Carl Hiaasen and James W. Hall have previously occupied by themselves. Wry, cynical humor and a noirish flavor that just gets better from book to book are Faricy’s stock in trade and will make the reader go looking for the next installment from the Minnesota native who splits his years between St. Paul and Dublin, Ireland. When not writing, researching and plotting Dev’s next misadventure (and one can easily imagine, spending a few hours at The Spot Bar) he is a reporter and columnist for local publications and also plays bagpipes in the Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band. That last fact may just be the impetuous for his writing. No one ever claimed that a bag piper didn’t need any other source of income to replenish his beer money.

Article first published as Book Review: Bite Me by Mike Faricy on Blogcritics.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 2, 2012

Music Review: Asia “XXX”



Somebody told me back in the mid ‘80s that Asia was the band where progressive rockers went to die. I thought that was pretty funny, but loved their music all the same, no matter how many personnel changes they went through, the music was always solid. The individual instrumentalist some of the best in rock, and the songs were always good and very often great.

Asia began in early 1981 with the apparent demise of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, two of the flagship bands of British progressive rock. But the concept for the band started as far back as 1974 with the break-up of King Crimson. Various plans for a super group revolving around bassist John Wetton had been talked about for some time, including the abortive British Bulldog project with Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman in 1976. Wakeman left this project at the urging of management, according to Bill Bruford.  Wetton, a very fine bass player, song writer and vocalist had paid his dues as a side man in King Crimson, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Uriah Heep, UK, Jack-Knife, and Wishbone Ash. So, in a manner of speaking, it was his turn to lead a band and to let his various talent shine through.

In 1977 Bruford and Wetton were reunited in U.K., augmented by guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson. Their eponymous debut was released in 1978. By January 1980, U.K. had folded after one lineup change and three recordings. Wetton's Caught in the Crossfire solo album (1980) did not fare very well in England. In early 1981, Wetton and former Yes guitar wizard Steve Howe were brought together by John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start writing material for a new album. By this point, many progressive rock bands, such as Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, had folded, so many qualified musicians were available for this proposed group. They were eventually joined by drummer Carl Palmer , and finally by Howe's recent Yes cohort, keyboardist Geoff Downes.

Asia “Heat Of The Moment”

The bands early recordings were panned by the critics as disappointing for so much talent, and they didn’t think the band was “true” to the prog rock movement and found them more suited to radio friendly AOR (Album Orientated Rock). But, Asia clicked with fans of popular arena acts such as Journey, Boston and Styx and with the instrumental mastery of the individuals, they certainly had no problem ruling the arenas. The debut self titled album, Asia, released in March 1982, enjoyed considerable commercial success, spending nine weeks at number one in the U.S. album chart and selling over 4 million copies in the U.S. alone. The album sold over 10 million worldwide. The singles "Only Time Will Tell" (#17) and "Heat of the Moment" (#4) became huge Top 40 hits.

In the U.S., the band did extremely well, selling out every date on their debut tour. Asia would go on to receive a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist of the Year. MTV also played Asia videos on heavy rotation — as many as 5 times a day. Billboard named the Asia debut as album of the year. Though Asia, with many personnel changes along the way, would continue to pack arenas and chart highly, they didn’t repeat the critical nor sales success of the debut. The revolving door of players would begin with the second album, Alpha, where Wetton was forced out of the group mid tour and replaced by Gregg Lake of ELP on bass. But Wetton was back in ‘84 for the next album, then Howe left the band to be replaced by  Krokus guitarist Mandy Meyer. this is where the revolving door of great musicians, especially from progressive rock bands, began. Before the decade was done the band would sport musicians such as guitarist Scott Gorham ( Thin Lizzy) and drummer Michael Sturgis (ex-a-ha) , John Young (Steeleye Span and Bon Jovi), and Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. The band wasn’t so much a place for musicians to come to die as it was a vacation spot. A place where accomplished musicians came to relax in a creative atmosphere.

Through the ‘90s the band saw the likes of  John Payne (vocals/bass), guitarist Al Pitrelli ( Danger Danger, Megadeth and Alice Cooper) Ex-Simply Red guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, Elliott Randall (ex-Steely Dan, and Randy Crawford), Dave Kilminster, guitarist Guthrie Govan and ex-Manfred Mann's Earth Band/The Firm/Uriah Heep/Gary Numan/AC/DC drummer Chris Slade. Though these various incarnations made fine music and left an indelible mark on the groups history and discography, none of them could quite recreate the magic of the original line-up of Downes, Wetton, Palmer and Howe.

XXX is the third album by the original lineup, and celebrates the 30th anniversary  of the band which reformed in 2006. XXX  to my ear is the best album since the early days, and may be on a par with the first album. Howe is as electric and as astounding as he ever was in any band, Wetton’s bass work is rock solid and his vocals still rangy and expressive. Carl Palmer is still showing why he is one of the most respected rock drummers of all time and Downes is still amazing on the keys.

“Face On The Bridge” by Asia from the album “XXX”

They’ll also be releasing a deluxe box set of the debut as well as 2 DVD releases and a world tour in support of XXX.  The album is a new collection of what is sure to be Asia classics and contains many songs which will no doubt be concert favorites for the future.

The album is available tomorrow, July 3 at all the usual places, but you can click on any of the links (conveniently disguised as the title in orange above) and be sure to check their website for venues because you’ll want to get your tickets reserved early as they are already selling out.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved