CD Reviews – March 2008

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Devotchka
A Mad & Faithful Telling
Anti-
4 out of 5
DeVotchKa is in an enviable position, to say the least. The band, it seems, can do no wrong, so it’s no surprise that their newest album, A Mad & Faithful Telling, is a gold mine.
The album, which drops on March 18 on the Anti- label, is the band’s first album of all new material since 2004’s How It Ends.
Since then, the band has won over an enormous national and international fan base, due in large part to their Grammy nominated score for the hit movie Little Miss Sunshine.

Unfortunately, the only thing keeping this album from being a five-star gem is its lead-off track, “Basso Profundo.” The band says that the song’s unpredictable tempo changes “foreshadow the adventure to come.” The truth is that its almost schizophrenic delivery may turn off some new would-be DeVotchKa fans. That’s not to say it’s a bad song in any way, but to hear it first crack out of the gate may be alarming to some.
Following that first song, the band settles into a much more palatable rhythm that is soft and romantic, but edgy enough (at the right times) to keep it interesting and entertaining.
For those who have been living under a rock, DeVotchKa started a decade ago in Denver. While the jam scene was blowing up all around them, the members of DeVotchKa answered back with a sound that was anything but jammy.
That sound is worldly beyond description. The band fused together a wealth of genres and styles that has been described as a “pioneering sound that renders geographic borders and time meaningless.” Using everything from theramins and sousaphones to bouzoukis, mariachi horns and violin, DeVotchKa invented a sound that melds indie rock with Eastern European and Mexican folk influences, but somehow comes out with a poppy, easily digestible vibe and this release could very well stand as their best work to date.
The song “Transliterator” is clearly the stand-out track on the album. Not only does it showcase lead singer Nick Urata’s incredible tenor vocal prowess, but the music itself is warm and familiar, with a chorus that is anarchistic, powerful and catchy.
DeVotchKa is going to win a slew of new fans with this release and they’re going to keep the folks who have been in the know for some time quite happy indeed.

 

— By Brian F. Johnson

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Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Cipher
Alternative Tentacles
4 out of 5
Boulder native Jello Biafra, the former Dead Kennedys lead singer, said that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world. Biafra would know. He owns the label Alternative Tentacles, which this month releases the Auto Club’s newest album, Cipher.
Cipher is a milestone release for the Denver-based band, which hasn’t put out a new album since their live release in 2005, which prompted both Spin magazine and No Depression to call them “the best live band in America.”
To those unfamiliar with the band, their sound conjures visions of the hillbillies from Deliverance infiltrating an evangelical revival tent on major hallucinogens, and this new release caught them on the day they had the spirit within.
A theme album of sorts, Cipher weaves a tale about braces — legs, arms, teeth and particularly faith, and will keep listeners dancing out of their pews throughout.

 

— By Brian F. Johnson

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Cas Haley
Cas Haley
Cartel Records
4 out of 5
The name may ring a bell, as Cas Haley was featured on the 2007 installment of the hit NBC series “America’s Got Talent,” but don’t hold that against him. He took home runner-up honors and if his debut album is any indication, America did a pretty good job of gauging his talent. With a sound that is one part Brett Dennen and two parts Bob Marley, Haley and his band Woodbelly use well placed horn lines and fine guitar work to accentuate the island beats that these Texas natives have mastered.
The album kicks off with a “bonus” acoustic cover of The Police’s “Walking On the Moon,” before diving into the more characteristic sound of the album with the Haley original, “Survive.” The track is bouncy and horn driven while lyrically reminding the listener that we haven’t really come that far from our primate roots.
Though the full band version of “Walking On The Moon” is the album’s first single, radio fans can expect to hear the strains of Haley’s “I Wish That I” saturating the airwaves before the summer is over. With a mellow pace, soothing background vocals and upbeat feel, the song is the perfect compliment to a lazy afternoon in the sun.
While this remarkably consistent album is ripe with standout tracks, Haley’s arrangement of The Commodores’ “Easy” sounds as fresh as anything that UB40 covered in their heyday. Be on the lookout for much more from this talented American as he matures as a musician and as an individual.

 

— Timothy Dwenger

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Secret Lives of the Freemasons
Weekend Warriors
Victory Records
3.5 out of 5 stars
Anyone who knows anything about Asheville, N.C., knows that it doesn’t produce rock bands. If you want bluegrass and jam, look to Asheville, but not for rock and roll — that is, until now.
Secret Lives of the Freemasons sounds like a History Channel program (in fact, I think it is), but these guys bill themselves as party rock and their Victory Records release Weekend Warriors lives up to that, and then some.
Short, punchy, pop-induced rock and roll is what this band lays down from the opening rif of “Chung and Leave” to the distorted ending of “Life Begins at 40 Oz.,” 12 tracks and 45 minutes later. You probably won’t learn anything that will help you earn a degree from the college-town boys, but they’ll certainly school you in kicking back and having fun.

 

—    Brian F. Johnson

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Oakhurst
Jump In The Get Down
Big Bender Records
3 out of 5
Denver’s Oakhurst has had a damn good year already in 2008. Having been picked up by the company Sixthman, the band has played a number of Caribbean Cruise dates, hopping from one boat to another for more than a month. Now, they’re dropping their latest batch of “porch music,” Jump In the Get Down.
While much of their repertoire is made up of rockin bluegrass numbers, where this band (and for that matter, songwriter A.P. Hill) really shine are their ballads. “Close Your Eyes,” “Crazy” and “Heart String” are the slow-tempoed gems on this release.

 

— Brian F. Johnson

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Pyroglyph
The Up RisingThe Up Rising
Independent
2.5 out of 5 stars
Denver metalheads Pyroglyph dropped a 12-song disc full of hard hitting riffs, shredding guitar work and catchy choruses with their new release The Up Rising.
It’s a timely album that features tracks dedicated to American soldiers, and it’s a heartfelt message that shines through the angst-ridden delivery. But when Pyroglyph really gets the chance to melt people’s faces, they kind of just singe them and fail to deliver the final blows that could make this release a knockout.

 

— Brian F. Johnson
:: Pyroglyph ::
:: Palladium Denver :: March 4 ::
:: Supporting W.A.S.P. ::

Quick Spins by DJ Hippie
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Dead to Fail
Are You Serious?
Victory Records
There is aggressive metal and then there is Dead to Fail’s latest release. You’ll feel like you’ve been kicked around by the album’s end, and you’ll want more. Long live the double kick drum!
3.5 out of 5 stars

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Donita Sparks
Transmiticate
Sparks Fly Records
A healthy slab of feminist tinged hard rock is what Donita Sparks + The Stellar Moments highlight on Transmiticate. It’s not as heavy as her former band, L7, but it’s rib jarring just the same.
3 out of 5 stars

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Iron Maiden
Live After Death
Columbia DVD
The classic concert film, originally recorded during the band’s ’84 -’85 World Slavery Tour, has finally been released on DVD. Iron Maiden proves why they remain atop the metal heap.
4 out of 5 stars

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