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Sofeya and the Puffins CD Release Show

Please come join us in the joy of celebration as we birth of our songs to the world.

Sofeya and the Puffins are an original blend of folk, rock, bluegrass, world beat, mystical rock and rhyme!

The New Deal Cafe, in the lovely community of Greenbelt, MD is not only known for having fabulous live music almost nightly, but also for their delicious Lebanese food.

For more information:
Facebook event page

Come and see us at Sofeya's Summer House Concert Series, opening for some awesome people...

We'll be playing in Linglestown PA, starting at 7pm on the following dates:

Friday July 18th, opening for Ginger Doss & Lynda Millard

Saturday August 9th, opening for Sharon Knight & Winter JP Sichelschmidt

Friday August 29th, opening for Wendy Rule
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An Ancient Muse by Loreena McKennett

I think we finally have a worthy successor to The Mask and Mirror. For some reason, I never felt The Book of Secrets lived up to its predecessor, no matter how I wanted it to. Any preferential treatment I show Mask over Muse, though, is only through the sheer familiarity of time. That, and, quite possibly, the guitar lines on The Bonny Swan.

Right from the opening Incantation, it grabs me with the spirt - and instrumentation. All those vocal drones and the viola just sound right. That continues with the next tune - with all manner of bouzouki, oud, and other plucked string instrument goodness.

I suppose that's most of what I'm looking for and listening to - the arrangements of the tunes and of the instrumentation. I particularly like to hear the way she uses instruments that are not hers in a role more prominent than - or equal with - her primary instruments of voice and harp. Although I love her voice, I find my ears drawn more to the band and what it's doing. When I start thinking "That's the kind of ensemble I'd like to put together" and when I start wishing that was my tune, then I'm happy. That happened with several tunes on Mask (most notably the aforementioned Swans), absolutely nothing on Secrets, and all over the place with this album. For the record, the "ownership urge" doesn't happen with every song I admire, and doesn't happen even with most of my favorites - it's a more particular feeling than that.

As a writer, I often recall the key phrase from Eddie and the Cruisers - "words and music, words and music" - and as with the music, I feel the lyrics here have once again drawn me in. I'm still not completely clear as to why the ones on Secrets don't do it for me - even when they're on topics I'm exceedingly interested in.

I know I'm dwelling far too much on this Mask vs. Secrets vs. Muse thing, but it's something I've been dwelling on since I first listened to Secrets. At that point, I didn't have the Muse to bookend the oddity, and, some three quarters of a year after I first heard Muse, I really don't have any deeper explanation as to why; what, exactly, the difference is; and, I have to admit, that's delayed this alleged review long enough.

So if you haven't already heard this, go give it a listen. This is musical excellence.
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Juliana Finch - How to Take the Fall

In order to avoid someone calling foul, I'll state right now that [livejournal.com profile] julianafinch, as a once-and-future Housemate, is a friend, and that my generous financial contribution helped finance this album. (Yeah, I pre-ordered my copy... =)

Actually, that should make me somewhat differently biased - as with almost all my reviews, I had to shell out some clams to pay for them. I can't be bought! Well, I suppose I wouldn't complain if someone went down my wish list. Anyway, all that really has nothing to do with this album.

It would be good under any circumstances. There's no reason this can't fit in anywhere all your world famous singer-songwriters pop up. The only thing that might be considered a drawback to some folks is that it doesn't stick with one style and beat it to death. Some tunes show a countryish flair, appealing to those who like both kinds of music - traditional and contemporary country. Other tunes show more sensibilities in the Sarah McLachlan or Norah Jones vein... adult alternative, I suppose, if the singer-songwriter label isn't enough to carry you through. In addition to a beautiful voice, Juliana and the other musicians that appear on the album provide a high level of musical talent, thus additional interest for us musician-types who sometimes like to peek under the hoods of the songs, so to speak.

I'm not going to do a song-by-song - best to leave some for you to discover as well - but I will mention a few. To be fair, there's not a weak track amongst them which is a Good Thing. RattleSnake - if I had to pick just one favorite, this would be it - has a great muted trumpet line played by Jordan Katz that slinks through this tune, building a mood that really makes this stand out. The lyrics are incredible - some great turns of phrase in this tune that, well, I wish I wrote. It's followed by one of my favorite Irish tunes - The Wind that Shakes the Barley - and yeah, I prefer this version to Dead Can Dance's rendition. Ironically, this is the one tune that failed the Ted Test - I let the guy one cube over at work give the disc a listen and he liked all the stuff Juliana wrote, but didn't care for this one. He tends to listen to a lot of female vocalists but doesn't like Celtic stuff in any flavor. Although he listens to the Spice Girls, so I'm not sure how seriously he should be taken.

Another lyric masterpiece comes up next - just a bit of "song by song" I guess - with Burning Down. Some great guitar in the opening, and then a really nice piano part comes into prominence. If this one isn't on radio nationwide, there really isn't any excuse that'll get them off the hook, and it would certainly prove that the program directors have been replaced by zombies. Actually, I could see this fitting into a soundtrack - movie or television - and setting the mood for a scene.

Just to prove I'm not going to go song by song, I'll skip the next song - another of my favorites, and probably the most country-flavored on the disc - and move directly to the last song, the title track. This one makes good use of some loops, but, for the most part is dominated by a simple, beautiful guitar part. As with all the tunes I mentioned and those I didn't, this one has some great lyrics. Another one that would be great for an appearance in a soundtrack.

As I received this disc in the mail the day before Musical Day, it featured prominently on the soundtrack for that gathering - although live music happened on the front porch and the back deck, the inside was two fifths Juliana and, I think some Michael Hedges and maybe Jeffrey Gaines? She fit in well with that company, as well as with those who milled about the food or sat back on the couch and listened.
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Michael Hedges - Breakfast in the Field

It's funny, but I find this happening with other guitarists - a phenomenon that seems, perhaps peculiar to the instrument. Or, more particularly, to the musician generally considered brilliant on said instrument blithely ignoring all good sense and, instead of sticking with what they've done before, they... open their mouth.

With Michael, the talk often discusses his earlier instrumental work versus his later vocal work. After his early death in a car-VW bus accident, a collection of already released material came out - Beyond Boundaries - which consists solely of "guitar solos", by which they mean "instrumentals", as if flute or bass don't count...

See, what I find most humorous about this division of Michael's work into pre-vox and post-vox periods is that it really is a rather simple matter.

This disc, Michael's first, is the only thing he released under his name in his lifetime without a single vocal track.

A pretty easy split, that.

So all guitarists who complain at his vocals - often done in harmony with such small-time background singers like David Crosby and one or two other guys (I actually can't remember if Stephen Stills or Graham Nash - or both - were on there as well...) - can rest assured that this is a Safe album. Not even a wordless vocal line amongst the bunch, just some Funky Avocados and amazingly brilliant fingerstyle guitar work, with tapping and harmonics. Michael Manring plays bass here and there, and George Winston jumps in on the piano once or twice, but other than that, it's all acoustic guitar all the time.

You should give this a shot even if you enjoy his vocal work, which I do - expect reviews of the nearly-entirely-vocalizified Watching My Life Go By and Road to Return to show up some day!
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Bill Miller - Raven in the Snow

I stumbled across Bill Miller while trying to find out more about Robert Mirabel's other recordings. This happened at a very fortuitous time, with my interest in what I want to play shifting formats from a 13 piece symphonic metal orchestra to an acoustic guitar, quite possibly with vocals, but more or less solo. Now, I don't really want to give the impression that this album consists of Bill and a guitar - it's got that, but usually along with a band. It does, however, have a folksy feel to it, and most of the tunes *could* be performed by a guy with a guitar.

Of course, some of the pieces I like best feature the Native American flute and little to no guitar. Go figure.

The songs vary in style - sometimes evoking more of a Texas blues thing, with distorted guitars, sometimes a bit of a Dylanesque style of writing. It needs to be said that the latter includes absolutely no shade of Dylan's vocal ability, or lack thereof.

Really hard to come up with favorite cuts - I like Brave Heart, Listen to Me, After the Storm and the title track for their lyrics. There are a number of instrumentals, including three parts of In Every Corner of the Forest scattered amongst the other tracks. Although the lyrics might - or should - reveal Bill's heritage, these instrumentals dig deeper into the mix of traditional Native American musical elements.

I suppose if I had to pick one favorite, I'd pick two tracks that are back to back and quite dissimilar. The Final Word, which might be something Hendrix would record, if Jimi had made occasional use of loops of a horn section and other effects, as he sang about a people who stole the land and will pay for their evil ways. The other, Eagle Must Fly Free has an olde-tyme bluesy feel, with bottleneck slide guitar, harmonica, and a banjo-mando in prominence. If you really twisted my arm, this 12-bar blues tune would take the top spot. If I ever felt I could handle the vocals (as in: not scare people away; as a blues piece, they're not especially vocally challenging, but they just work perfectly), I would do this song. Well, if I could find someone to play harp on it. Could do with or without the piano, snare, or even the banjo-mandolin, and you could fake it decently (if you had to) with one guitar instead of two, but without the harmonica it just wouldn't sing the same.
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Bursting Out: Jethro Tull Live

And yet another live album from the guy who allegedly doesn't like live albums. I had this on tape, and pretty much wore it out. In fact, I think that tape was the first Tull recording that I owned. The mixture of both broad musical textures - rock at one moment, folk at the next - and instruments - distorted rock guitar and glockenspiel, amongst many others - really came to help shape what I believe a band should be capable of doing. At the time I was first listening to this - and for years after - I considered a five piece band ideal: two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. Although the need for more meaningful lyrics and more dynamics were a core concept, it would take many years before it sunk into my head that what I really wanted as far as musicians was more along the line of the multi-instrumentalist, if not the all out small orchestra.

Anyway, listening to this on disc the other night, lying back on my bed, brought back memories of listening to the tape, something I did, for the most part, while lying on my bed. There are a number of favorite Tull tunes on here, both those that get radio airplay and others which I was introduced to with this recording. Jack in the Green is probably my favorite Tull tune of all time (although two tunes not on this album - Cold Wind to Valhalla and Dun Ringill - often battle for that first place). Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day probably single-tunedly (like handedly, except musically so) took care of the aforementioned lesson learned, as it has the entire band picking up other instruments.

My reviews generally tend to be overly positive - even when I don't like something, I try to get some good out of it, and these reviews do come out of my own collection - but I will say there is something I do not like about the spiffy new remastered edition: there's a couple of words in the stage banter that are bleeped out. I find this exceedingly annoying. You can tell what the f*cking words are, so what the h3ll benefit do you get from disrupting the d@mn thing with bleeptones? Other than that, the sound is noticeably better than I remember it being on tape. Just seems a shame to have the censorship on an album like this. Fine, if you do a Teletubbies live album and Tinky Winky starts cussing, than bleep it out - that is marketed to kids, after all. This is intended for adults. Besides, I don't even think they bleep out "bastard" and whatever else Ian said on television anymore.
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Instead, I managed to learn Ye Mariners All aka A Jug of This. One of my favorite sea shanties. The tune evokes New Bedford and the whaling trade whenever I listen to it.

After learning that tune, and playing it (on guitar,) I moved on to Scarborough Fair. I played around a bit with The Old Dun Cow and barely got past the first line. It's a fast little thing, and I haven't been playing much, so I was losing it in the sixteenth notes.

The intonation on the acoustic is shot to hell, so it sounds in tune on the open strings and the first handful and a half of frets. Blah.

Found the first part of my transcription of Mozart's Requiem k.626, so I played that through a few times. I can read along slowly enough with it that it starts to evoke the real thing, but it's got quite a lot of twists and turns (as one would expect when trying to fit parts for several different sections of an orchestra on one instrument!) so it's not as easy to pick up as a traditional tune.

After playing them for Justin and Rachel, Justin showed an interest in learning them - also expressed that he hadn't really listened to much Mozart. I grabbed some Neville Mariner and the Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields discs and played him the opening of the Requiem as well as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (which he did recognize.) Gave him a disc with that serenade, a divertimento, and A Musical Joke on it for listening tonight.

After that, Justin came in to read through Scarborough Fair and then went off to play it on the keyboard. I played the melody in stages until he had picked it up. Very cool stuff.

In the less than happy category, Deb went down the street to join in with a bunch of the other neighbors for a prayer circle for Mara, who has inoperable brain cancer - she had been doing good with chemo back in October, and I'm not sure how long things were going on before that, but she's basically on her final notice. Later this week, people will be dropping off food for them, because their family and friends will be over.
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Angels Castles Covers by Vance Gilbert

I believe that, shortly after seeing him live at Musikfest, I mentioned before that I preferred Vance Gilbert's rendition of Castles Made of Sand more than the Hendrix original, which is fairly high praise.

As the last word of the title indicates, this is a collection of predominantly R&B cover tunes, each with little notes on why Vance selected the song.

As the middle word of the title implies, Vance's arrangement of Castles Made of Sand is on here, which is why I selected this.

Most of the arrangements are fairly simple, some down to the way he performs live: just a guitar and his voice.
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Other People's Stories by Kari Rueslatten

It isn't easy to track down Kari's stuff - most of it is imported from Norway, so at the least you experience a delay while it's ordered. This title is actually a bit easier to locate, mostly due to a more recent release date. Definitely worth hunting down this - and her other solo releases, as well as her earlier work with doom metal band The 3rd and the Mortal (Sorrow and Tears Laid in Earth) and the Norwegian folk music via death metal side-project Storm.

As a musician I tend not to notice the music on her discs - it's generally synth based, and really doesn't seem to get in the way. The music is a vehicle for her voice, and it does its job and stays out of trouble.

This disc should fit nicely into collections of those who like Tori Amos or Sarah Brightman in particular, and a beautiful soprano voice in general.
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I had an excellent lunch today...

First off, a very satisfying Ripper Burger cooked medium, with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions and topped with some A-1; fries with Guldon's Spicy Brown Mustard to dip into; a pickle on the side *and* a diet Coke - all for about half of what Monday's meal was, even though I left a 30% tip today. Of course, this was also including waitress service, air conditioning, with entertainment provided by the local classic rock station and CNN - so not quite so Musikfest-y.

But, see, here is the brilliant part of the plan: I went to lunch early. And we're taking two hour lunches this week, with one and a quarter hours counted as team meetings. Much more productive than usual.

So I walked over to the fish and chips-less Leiderplatz to watch and listen to Vance Gilbert.

Michael Hedges came to mind, sort of. Better vocals actually, although I've never heard anyone come close to Michael on the guitar. Vance was excellent - without a doubt the best guitar player I've seen at Musikfest over the past decade or so.

His cover of Castles Made of Sand was better, IMO, than Jimi's original - and that's one of my favorite Hendrix tunes. The music was mixed in with a bit of fun at the expense of Godfrey Daniels and WDIY (the folks who paid him,) folk music, politics, the lady in the bus who idled behind the stage for a while so he couldn't hear anything, and a number of other things. I had tears in my eyes through most of it, and I can definitely see him doing well opening for George Carlin. Which, coincidentally, is what he's doing.

He ended with a song performed "Acapulco" - which means he dropped his guitar on the stage, made a comment about getting plenty of free Martin Guitars because they're nearby, and walked out into the audience. He stood in front, pointing out several friends after pointing out how embarrassed they'd get if he did that, and proceeded to sing, without a mic, a song to them for putting him up when he's in town.

Now, I'm as much a fan of George Carlin as anyone, particularly all those e-mail circulated quotes that aren't actually his, the edgy stuff he's done in his role as the "Conductor" in the Thomas the Tank Engine program, and even the one book of his that I read, but, after seeing this performance, I'd be more inclined to shell out the big bucks to see Vance than George. (In all seriousness, he actually was the best Conductor, and if I have to be subjected to those videos/episodes/etcetera, all I can do is hope they're ones he was on... =)

Oh, and we'll find out at the end of the day, or maybe tomorrow, if I own a custom Martin with a Godfrey Daniels inlay on the fretboard. I only entered once, but one can hope...
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Kari Rueslatten: Spindelsinn
Kari: Pilot

This, I have been looking for many a year. I first heard an advance copy of Spindlesinn several years before it was officially released in 1997, when it was still just a simplistic demo with Kari and some synths. Erica, then-wife of a then-co-worker, then a vocalist for Autumn Tears, now vocalist for the Austin-based Ignitor, loaned me her copy, and was trying to get another, but we moved, they moved, and we lost touch.

With all the focus recently on skalds and other things Viking, I was inspired to go after a bunch of different Norwegian pieces, and I discovered three from Kari were available through Amazon.com and added them to my wish list. Now, thanks to some unknown person, I'm listening to this at last - and not the demo, but the finished product.

Beautiful voice, beautiful music. I'll have to do some translation on the Norwegian lyrics, but if I remember, these are all fairy tales - can't recall if they're strictly retellings, or if many liberties were taken. The title track is, I believe, Sleeping Beauty - or the bit about the spindle, anyway. Think of Loreena McKennit, focusing a much more on the voice, and playing piano instead of harp. And, of course, singing in Norwegian. And, in my opinion, possessing a better voice.

Right before listening to Spindlesinn, I played Kari's 2002 release Pilot, which is more electronica - there's still some of the folk elements in some of the melodies, but the music evokes more of a Tori Amos or Fiona Apple feel than that of a traditional Norwegian folk tune. That, and the lyrics are in English. The thing it shows the most, however, is the versatility of the voice.
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I'm writing a handful of these reviews in reverse-order, so I've got two under my belt which will appear at some point after this one shows up, and each one is just another attempt to prove what a lousy critic I am.

Then again, I never claim to be a critic. I tend to listen/watch/read stuff I like, so I'm biased from the start. Even if I didn't like something, I'd probably still give it a decent review, because even in total crap, there's always something good. Takes a while sometimes, but it's there if you want to find it.

Of course, I'm also a terrible reviewer because nothing so far has anything to do with the music allegedly under discussion.

So, anyway - Aion. This just may knock Into the Labyrinth out of the top slot in my unfortunately small collection of DCD material (Toward the Within and Spiritchaser complete the rather incomplete list.)

I'm pretty convinced this shouldn't have been filed under rock - it would probably get a wider audience under World Music or somesuch. Can't see the rock crowd experimenting with it. No matter where it gets filed, this spans a whole world of influences - Celtic, Arabic, a variety of folk, and Gregorian chants. All of them are well done, with a depth of musicianship and passion that few other ensembles can match.


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December 2018

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