Sometimes a Reviewer’s Just Lucky
Three Very Different Albums Connected Only by Their Excellence
By Brian Arsenault
If the River Was Whiskey (Rufus Records)
If you’re a ‘90’s kid, chances are you can still remember the words to Spin Doctors’ “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” and that favorite guy anthem to the hated former girl friend/bitch, “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” I mean was there ever a nastier tune on hit radio and was a band bigger than Spin Doctors in the era?
So 25 years down the road, what is a listener to expect? Maybe not expected, but one sizzling blues album is what you get.
Hey, you can’t be a teen band forever, but these guys can do this till they’ve been around a half century.
“If the River Was Whiskey, (you’d) have no trouble drowning me.” Hell of a lyric, hell of a song.
Chris Barron’s voice is deeper than in the early days. Whiskey? Cigs? Or just the passage of time. It works.
And Eric Schenkman’s guitar can flash it like he’s playing for Billy Boy Arnold, or do the slow hand. The rhythm section of Aaron Comess on drums and Mark White on bass are tight as can be.
The whole band is.
There’s some Howlin’ Wolf (title song) here and some Allman Brothers feel (“Scotch and Water Blues”) as well. Yet the Spin Doctors are their own self.
On tunes like “What My Love?” it’s real hard to sit still. “Scotch and Water Blues” just builds and builds and “About a Train” has a nice Delta flavor suitable for roadhouses.
The album makes you ache a bit for smoky bars smelling of beer and less savory stuff. But the playing is real clean.
Broken Glass and Railroad Tracks (Rock Ridge Music, digital only)
So here comes Bracher Brown who makes you think that if the Beatles had been born in America under 20 years ago, this is what they might have sounded like. Intelligent lyrics about the start of love, the end of love, the desire for love. Rhythms that we used to call infectious. Seductive guitar licks.
“Singing songs about what life was supposed to be.”
Young but not untested in the furnace of life.
“Haven’t slept in days but I’m all right.”
Even acquainted with absence that may be death —
“living with your ghost.”
And a love song — “Loving You” — that rings true; a song about what he knows about life at 18 that’s not to be patronized. After all, we may never know more, we may just shut down and call it experience.
He’s not shut down at all. Thank goodness.
Poppzzical (Quattro Sound)
Ok, so you know there are four of them on Poppzzical. Mixed gender (two of each), mixed ethnicity, mixed musical backgrounds. So, of course, all American in all our splendid, confusing mishmash of cultures that often produces remarkable music.
There’s a violin, often gypsy-like (Lisa Dondlinger). She can play for Pavarotti or Dancing with the Stars.
There’s a cello, also an amazing Latin influenced voice (Giovanna Moraga Clayton). Uh, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, New West Symphony).
Are you starting to get the picture? They can match the exuberance of their own crafted “Good Day” — “try to bring me down will be time wasted” — with some Vivaldi done as classical sound with jazz shifts.
There’s a guitar which can lead and support, strum and sing (Kay-Ta Matsuno) who can play for Baby Face or Natalie Cole and a whole bunch of other folks too numerous to name here.
Finally there’s percussion work born in Tijuana, Mexico (Jorge Villanueva) who’s played on movie scores, in Latino bands and co-owns a film and TV scoring company.
So, as you can imagine, there’s a lot going on in this album they’ve made.
“Silky” is happy and melancholy at the same time. There’s a guitar solo that resembles a violin piece. Or is that a violin with cello as bass. Or both. Ha, I don’t care. It’s music that’s unique. I can’t think of any assemblage that sounds like Quattro.
Their Spanish language soul and Latino dance music. If I could samba I would have on “Mi Conguero.“ That may even be the wrong dance but it’s the right feeling.
The album closes with “Hana Bi” and the guitar and violin take flight together. The cello soars after them.
And maybe that’s it: flying, soaring, breaking free of forms while paying homage to them. In a musical world of too much sameness, the individuality and creativity of this young group is not to be missed.
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