Monday, March 31, 2014

CD Review – The Next Stage, by Louis Colaiannia

Composer/keyboardist Louis Colaiannia not only brings his A game here, but he also definitely takes it to the next level with a strong jazz/rock fusion entry that would be perfectly at home on mainstream smooth jazz radio.

While the smart, snappy compositions are based primarily around Colaiannia's piano and synthesizers, the music is also heavy on the horns and the rhythm section. Colaiannia's band includes Eduardo “Bijoux” Barbosa and Melvin “Torch” Morford on bass, Bob Glassman and Burt Shur on drums, Joey Glassman on percussion and vibraphone, Bill Kerr and Danny Masters on guitar, Evelyn Rutenberg on flute, and Rex Spease and Greg Vail on saxophone.

The result is a full band sound that gives the music on the album enough weight to fulfill its lofty aspirations in a satisfyingly rich and well-rounded package.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, March 27, 2014

CD (Fan) Review – Circus Hero, by Circa Zero

Where was this Andy Summers 27 years earlier? This is organic, living, breathing rock music. The Andy Summers of 1987 and the Andy Summers of 2014 sound like two completely different musicians.

On the debut album from his new rock group, the 71-year-old Summers shows the young’uns how it’s done – and how it should have been done for the last couple of decades, since the guitar master was busy doing things that most rock musicians couldn’t dream or hope of doing.

This time, Summers lays it on really thick with his guitars and wisely leaves the singing to his new songwriting partner Rob Giles, a singer and multi-instrumentalist in the indie rock band The Rescues. Not only does Giles provide dynamite, powerhouse vocals, but he also does a standout job on bass and drums, sometimes sounding like Sting and Stewart Copeland on those instruments on certain songs. Dan Epand also handles the sticks masterfully on three tracks.

The resulting sound is an exhilarating mix of musical styles (The Police, Yes, U2, ‘80s rock, modern rock, even Eric Johnson) that make up a compelling package, and Summers has the chords, licks, and riffs and Giles has the voice to really sell it, especially on numbers such as "Levitation," "Gamma Ray," "Summer Lies," "No Highway," "Light the Fuse & Run," and "Whenever You Hear the Rain."

There’s no telling how long Summers can keep going (based on now, he can seemingly go on forever). Hopefully, he can get at least three to five records out of this deal.

As for Giles, based on this album, he deserves a long-lasting and successful high-profile career.

Although I had considered The Police to be my favorite rock band since 1983, I find that Circa Zero's debut album is tighter, more focused, more consistent, and ultimately more satisfying than any one of The Police's albums and that's not at all a knock on The Police. In fact, this is what The Police might have sounded like if they had continued in the hard rock vein of Outlandos d'Amour, but with the elements of sophistication of their later repertoire.

In his discovery of and chemistry with Giles, Summers has managed the rare feat of capturing lightning in a bottle for the second time, with this lightning strike making a direct impact.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 23, 2014

CD Review – Twilight Serenade: Music for Dreaming, by Peter Sterling

Harp music is not something I normally gravitate towards. But when Peter Sterling is involved, I know I'm going to be in for something far more different than your standard harp music.

The Sedona, Arizona-based artist creates yet another captivating collection of celestial sounds and ethereal textures based around the dreamy tones of his electric harp, which here makes the case for being a lead instrument as compelling as the electric guitar or the piano.

In addition to his electric harp, Sterling embellishes his spacey and introspective original compositions with voice, keyboards, and percussion. Helping Sterling create his unique sonic signature are the talents of Dov on electric violin, Richard Hardy on silver and bamboo flutes, Fritz-Hugh Jenkins on electric and acoustic guitars, and Crystal Bliss on Alchemy crystal bowls.

Sterling couldn't have a better last name as it's an apt description of his music.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, March 17, 2014

CD Review – Dreaming of Now, by Shambhu

While Shambhu generated a tranquil new age vibe on his debut album four years ago, this time the guitarist opts for a thicker fusion sound on his sophomore effort.

This heavier jazz-rock approach is evidenced by the greater presence of electric guitar in addition to acoustic guitar, as well as more defined melodies and chord progressions.

The sound is fuller and richer, thanks especially to an abundance of horns. Shambhu also gets solid support from a stellar lineup of musicians: George Brooks on saxophone, Eugene Friesen on cello, Premik Russell Tubbs on wind instruments, Jeff Haynes on percussion, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Frank Martin on keyboards, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, and Celso Alberti on drums.

His two releases so far show Shambhu to be a varied and diverse composer and, of course, a thoughtful, creative, and fluid guitarist.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Music – Michael Nesmith Spring 2014 Tour

To mark the Spring 2014 leg of Michael Nesmith's Movies of the Mind tour, which kicks off this weekend at the Monkees convention at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, I am reposting my review of Nesmith's performance at bergenPAC on November 12, 2013, as well as the subsequent live CD.

Concert (Fan) Review – Michael Nesmith Live at bergenPAC, November 12, 2013
For the longest time, I had considered George Harrison to be my favorite singer-songwriter-guitarist. I have since revised that estimation. To be sure, he remains my favorite singer-songwriter-musician out of all of The Beatles. He is definitely in my top three list of favorite singer-songwriter-guitarists, which I narrowed down especially in the last year to include Electric Light Orchestra frontman and Harrison cohort Jeff Lynne and Monkee member Michael Nesmith. I had recently been leaning heavily toward Nesmith as my all-time favorite, and he sealed the deal with an amazing, energetic performance at bergenPAC in Englewood, New Jersey, on Tuesday night, November 12, 2013, midway through his Movies of the Mind tour.

Like most people, I became familiar with Nesmith through The Monkees, a made-for-TV rock group that epitomized bubblegum pop music in the 1960s and gave The Beatles and The Rolling Stones a run for their money in terms of record sales. A nostalgic resurgence of Monkeemania in the 1980s led to reruns – which enabled me to get hip to The Monkees as a child – as well as a new album and tour, although without Nesmith, who was busy doing his own thing. When I heard Nesmith sing “What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?” in one episode, I was immediately hooked by his country-style Texan vocals and sought out his solo endeavors.

After the Monkees TV show ended, Nesmith – whose mother invented correction fluid – pioneered a fusion of country, folk, pop, and rock music. He also furthered the development of music video, inspired the creation of MTV, and won the first Grammy Award for a home video release for his 1982 musical variety program Elephant Parts, which later led to his short-lived summer 1985 NBC series Television Parts.

Nesmith also provides the best fan experience out of all of my favorite artists, and not just in terms of live performance. He sells all of his work on his Web site, When I bought several CDs to replace my cassette versions, he personally autographed all of them. For a justifiably slightly higher price, you can also order CDs customized for you and/or whomever you wish with tracks and sequencing of your choosing and personally autographed by Nesmith.

Having been a fan of Nesmith for nearly a quarter of a century now, I never thought I would get the chance to see him perform live, especially given the rarity of his appearances (his last tour was in the early 1990s). That all changed on the night of Tuesday, November 12, 2013, when he stopped by bergenPAC in Englewood, New Jersey, halfway through his Movies of the Mind tour. Fresh off a late 2012 Monkees tour in the wake of band member and British heartthrob Davy Jones's death, as well as brief solo tours in the United Kingdom and America, Nesmith is on a roll.

I took my folks to the show (Center Orchestra Row N Seats 101-103), and they both enjoyed it immensely. They are both in Nesmith's age range (Nesmith is four months older than my dad). My mom is familiar with The Monkees from way back, having arrived in America the same year the TV show debuted. For some reason, my dad keeps mixing The Monkees up with The Little Rascals, who were not even a musical group. But my dad did watch the Monkees reruns along with the rest of us in the 1980s, so at least he's heard of The Monkees.

Nesmith was in top form and rocked much harder at age 70 (going on 71) than he did at age 49 on his last tour, based on the double CD I have of that tour as well as footage I've seen on the Internet. He played all of the familiar fan favorites, from “Joanne” from the early 1970s to “Rays” from his 2006 album of the same name, in between providing a nice range of country, folk, pop, and rock music. Nesmith played his signature twelve-string acoustic guitar, with long-time band mate Joe Chemay on bass, Boh Cooper on keyboards, and long-time band mate Paul Leim on drums. The band also featured Chris Scruggs, the grandson of bluegrass banjo legend Earl Scruggs, on pedal steel guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, and mandolin. Scruggs was the musical prodigy of the night, sometimes playing two or more instruments in the same song. All the musicians were excellent and did a standout job bringing Nesmith's songs to glorious and exuberant life.

Nesmith also introduced each song or group of related/similar songs with narratives that set the scene for each musical tale, hence the tour moniker Movies of the Mind. This feature of the performance fostered intimate camaraderie between Nesmith and the audience and made it more of a personal experience, like hearing campfire tales from an old friend.

One thing that struck me about Nesmith is how, unlike the rest of The Monkees and other artists of his generation, he looks so little like his former, younger self. My mom said he looks like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In recent years, Davy Jones said he looked like a German banker. At the same time, it is refreshing and comforting that Nesmith has not gone to extra lengths to “preserve” his youth. Instead, he has chosen to age and mature like a fine wine. Every now and then, though, I saw a semblance of the old, young Nesmith surface. But whenever he opened his mouth to speak and sing, he was unmistakably and undeniably Michael Nesmith through and through.

If you like Michael Nesmith or just want to see a living legend in the prime of his twilight, make it a priority to see him live. If you can't make it to a show, definitely get the live CD of this tour, which is available for reserve order at

--Raj Manoharan

CD (Fan) Review – Movies of the Mind 2013 Live, by Michael Nesmith
Three months after wrapping up his 2013 Movies of the Mind tour, legendary singer-songwriter and pop culture icon Michael Nesmith presents his live recording of that successful sojourn, and it's almost as good as having seen the tour in person.

I attended Nesmith's performance at bergenPAC in mid-November, and the album cements the memory in my mind like it was yesterday. In addition to his songs, the CD features Nesmith's introductory “movies of the mind” setup for each song or group of songs.

The album is a very good representation of the live show. The band members – Nesmith on 12-string acoustic guitar and vocals; Chris Scruggs on electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel guitar, and mandolin; Joe Chemay on bass and backing vocals; Boh Cooper on keyboards and backing vocals; and Paul Leim on drums – sound just as great on record as they did live.

As for the songs themselves, they are all 100% classic Michael Nesmith originals, spanning five decades of Nesmith's career, from the 1960s to the 2000s. Although Nesmith is 70 years old on this recording, his voice is as vibrant and energetic as ever, with his endearing Texas drawl and country twang blending beautifully with the urbane sophistication and wit of his music and lyrics.

If you saw Nesmith on this tour, this is a wonderful souvenir and reminder of that experience. If you didn't make it to the show, this is an equally wondrous revelation of musical “movies of the mind” magic.

--Raj Manoharan


Thursday, March 6, 2014

CD Review – Scotland: Grace of the Wild, by Bill Leslie

Whenever I see Bill Leslie's name on the sender's address label, I know I'm in for a musical treat.

His latest release, deservedly nominated for Album of the Year, Best World Album, and Best Contemporary Album by Zone Music Reporter, confirms to me that he is simply one of the best acoustic guitarists in the business.

Inspired by a recent family vacation to Leslie's ancestral home of Scotland, the album features a rich mix of original and traditional songs, all brought to vibrant life by Leslie's guitars, whistles, and keyboards, as well as piano, accordion, oboe, flute, cello, violin, and percussion by a host of exceptional musicians. On many of the tracks, the other instruments are as prominent as the guitar, proving Leslie to be a generous and supportive bandleader.

The sound quality is so crisp and clear that you can hear every nuance of Leslie's picking and strumming. This further enhances the inherent beauty and serenity of Leslie's compositions and covers, which blend American country and folk with Celtic influences for a hearty, wholesome fusion that is deeply satisfying.

As both an acoustic guitarist and a composer/arranger, Leslie has a measured, confident fluidity that is neither frenzied nor vapid, making him a welcome breath of fresh air among his contemporaries.

You can't go wrong with Bill Leslie.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 2, 2014

CD Review – Mzansi, by Wouter Kellerman

South African flutist Wouter Kellerman leads a wonderful assortment of fellow native musicians in this vibrant and engaging album.

The collection features an infectious mix of vocal songs and instrumental tracks, brought to rhythmic life by amazing singers and players. Kellerman's unique flute melodies are embellished and fleshed out with guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums and percussion.

My limited experience with African music (Stewart Copeland's The Rhythmatist, Paul Simon's Graceland, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo) has always been joyous and uplifting, and the work of Kellerman and his musical mates is no different.

If you like the aforementioned albums and artists, or have had some taste of African music, you will really enjoy this CD.

Wouter Kellerman is definitely an artist worthy of the world's stage.

--Raj Manoharan