CD Review – Gary Allan “Set You Free”

Posted February 5, 2013 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Uncategorized

For his ninth studio album, Gary Allan enlisted an expanded group of songwriters. The result is a record, Set You Free, with many personalities, some more likable than others. The first single, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” mines familiar territory – breaking up and moving on – and reached the top of the country charts.

There’s enough good country pop to follow, like “Pieces,” an upbeat live and learn beauty, and “One More Time” a touching looking-down-from heaven ballad. “Good As New” also hits all the buttons – there’s no doubt that Allan knows his wheelhouse quite well.

But it’s the changeups that make Set You Free interesting.

Record Cover

Record Cover

The reggae flavored “No Worries” is a bouncy romp, and “Sand In My Soul” serves the beach theme by adding a few rough edges. “I hate to say you broke my heart … but I love the way this tiki bar is somehow never closed,” muses the song’s post-breakup narrator.

The spurned, drunk, homicidal “Bones” takes the dark side a little too far, and the stalking ex-lover at the center of  “Me Without You” is a bit creepy. But those are exceptions in an otherwise good-natured effort.

Standout tracks include “Hungover Heart,” which is metaphorically odd enough to work –  “don’t get too high on love or addicted to her touch/don’t get hung up on forever ‘cuz there ain’t no such.”

“Drop” comes out of left field to be the album’s best track. Originally by Nashville songwriter Joel Shewmake, it’s a sexy, sultry blues shuffle. In Allan’s hands, the track has a loose, final take of the session feel. It gets better with every play.

Final score: 4 out of 5

Best tracks: “Drop,” “Hungover Heart” and “Pieces”

This week’s Hippo – Denny Laine comes to Concord, Tom Dixon leaves for Music City

Posted January 16, 2013 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Uncategorized

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Denny Laine

Denny Laine sang lead on the Moody Blues first hit, back when they were a Brummy R&B band. In my Hippo story, he talks about finding “Go Now” in a suitcase full of 45s brought to the Moodies by an American DJ, being Paul McCartney’s BFF during his Beatle days – a prelude to joining Wings, Sir Paul’s first post-Beatles band. Laine hung out at Abbey Road while the Fab Four made Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band; while in the studio, he and Paul listened to the EMI audition of … Pink Floyd. Ah, rock history.

Tom Dixon hopes to make some history of his own, uprooting his very successful operation in Manchester to take a stab at Nashville. The Tom Dixon Band will play a slew of shows before he packs up and heads out at the end of February. My Hippo story has the schedule and a profile of Dixon.

This week’s Hippo – Kool Keith and Comedy

Posted January 16, 2013 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Uncategorized

Kool Keith

Kool Keith

Kool Keith is a complicated character, but there’s no denying he’s a seminal figure in hip-hop, one who has a legitimate claim to the history books. Read my story here

Also, a story on Steven Bjork, a very funny guy.

Leaving Eden’s Rock and Roll Weekend

Posted February 3, 2011 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Uncategorized

Hard rock fans can count on plenty of action this weekend, thanks to two big shows in Nashua, and the return of live music to a Manchester venue.  A local quartet preparing for a big push in support of a new album will feature prominently, and a new band with a lead singer who is familiar to local music fans will also perform.

On Thursday, February 3, Death Angel, a group with roots in the Northern California metal scene that spawned Metallica and Testament, headlines a five-band show at Nashua’s Amber Room.  Two days later, the biggest rock music event in years not held at the Verizon Wireless Arena happens as Hinder, Saving Abel and My Darkest Days top an all-day show with at least five other bands at the Armory Ballroom in Manchester.  The venue, located in the Radisson Hotel complex, hasn’t hosted a show of this caliber since the mid-1990s.

The rock and roll weekend closes Sunday, February 6, as Taproot tops another multi-band bill at the Amber Room, including New York noir rockers Me Talk Pretty and Leaving Eden and others to be announced.

Leaving Eden is also appearing at the Armory show; the quartet recently completed work on a record that represents a major step for the 8-year old band, according to guitarist and principal songwriter Eric Gynan.  “We’re excited, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” he said as the band gathered around the phone for a recent interview from their Haverhill practice space.  “We’ve done a lot of recording, but never formally released anything. Technically, we’ve probably made eight CDs.”

The new disc, Tied & Bound, features forceful melodic hard rock, which relies heavily on the vocal interplay between Eric and his wife, lead singer Carole Gynan.  The two met when Carole auditioned for their previous band, Redhouse, around 10 years ago.  “No, we didn’t start dating right away,” says Carole with a laugh.

The band honed their sound by booking as many shows as possible. “The biggest thing is playing concerts,” says Eric.  “That’s why we play anywhere, anyhow; it doesn’t matter – we’ll play.  If you’re sitting in the basement, that’s where you’re going to stay.  People think they can do a bunch of stuff online and make a buzz, to me it’s not real, it’s virtual. You can only do so much there.”

Former RA drummer Andy Ryan, who joined the band late last year, provides more than rhythm to the album. He came on board quickly and assimilated immediately, playing live and heading into sessions in short order. “It was a day to learn the songs, a day for a show, and then a day for the studio,” says Ryan.

“I feel like Andy and I played in a past life,” says Eric.

“There’s something going on,” agrees Ryan.  “In my transition from band to band, drummers can be like the Spinal Tap thing, but this was something instantaneous, and the music has been completely different for me since I joined.”

On the album, Ryan’s drum fills are often used as a lead instrument.  “I complement the song as much as I can, but just the way the band works, things that I do off the top of my head seem to work.”

That’s no accident, says Eric, “All these songs had that element already to showcase the drums. I’m a drummer as well – that’s my favorite instrument as far as listening to a song.”

Following the New England shows, Leaving Eden will head to California for a series of shows and “A-List parties” at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino. A spring and summer run through Europe is also planned, including a stop in the UK for the Bulldog Bash biker rally, held in William Shakespeare’s hometown at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Also appearing at the Manchester Armory show is Gone For Days, a new hard rock band fronted by Chris Taylor, who recently left Vegas Temper to focus on making original music.  The band includes Nashville music veteran Jesse Wayne Hatch on guitar. Taylor said in a recent email that the two met “through a mutual long distance management relationship, and soon started writing songs and recording demos over the Internet.”

The online collaboration proved fruitful enough that Hatch soon made plans to relocate to New England and start a band with Taylor. Rounding out the band’s lineup are former Dogfight members Tony LaScoya on drums and Mike Querci playing bass.

“The music and sound came together extraordinarily fast,” says Taylor. The Armory gig will be the group’s first live show.

The promoter of all three shows, New England Concerts, hopes to continue producing events at the newly revived Manchester venue.  “I do have a lot of plans for the Armory Ballroom,” says NEC President Bernie Goulet.

This story appears in the February 3, 2011 issue of Hippo Press

Today’s Hippo

Posted December 9, 2010 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Hippo Press

This week, check out my big story on how a group of local musicians contributed to Godsmack front man Sully Erna’s solo album. There’s also an interview with Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann where he talks about his new band 7 Walker. Click on the cover picture on the home page to read a story about roots songwriter Brendan Hogan, who performs at Boynton’s Taproom on December 17, the regular Nite Roundup feature, and Angel Roy’s story catching up with 90’s one hit wonders Crash Test Dummies.

Sully and Mama

Today’s Hippo – Rezidudes punk the covers

Posted November 11, 2010 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Hippo Press, Local Rhythms, Music

The Rezidudes don’t want to change music, just rearrange it. A cover band, but not the kind typically hired for weddings, they like to give familiar songs “a swift kick in the ass,” says the band’s rhythm guitarist, Kevin Cornish.

“If you’re 25 to 30 and on up, you inherently know all the words — we just do them Rezidudes style,” Cornish says.

The band is putting the finishing touches on A Beat Off, their second album. Among the songs receiving the double-timed drums and hyper-caffeinated guitar treatment are “Hotel California,” “My Favorite Things” and The Beatles’ “All My Loving.” Easy, fun targets all, but the album also includes selections that every rocker loves — “Fortunate Son,” “American Girl” — done straight up, albeit with the pedal pushed to the floor.


Today’s Hippo

Posted November 4, 2010 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Hippo Press, Local Rhythms, Music

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s eternal story

Trans-Siberian Orchestra built a career from turning it up to eleven; this winter’s tour is no exception. “It’s God-like — bigger, with more toys,” said band creator recently Paul O’Neill during a break in rehearsals. The tour stops in Manchester for two shows on Sunday, Nov. 7.

Michael Franti showers sunshine

Listening to the cheery music of Michael Franti and Spearhead, it’s hard to fathom that he once brought a hard edge and angry attitude to just about every word he spoke or sang. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Franti fronted the proto-punk/funk Beatnigs and the politically charged Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

And Nite Roundup


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