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Michael Van & The Movers' "A Little More Country"

One of the toughest things you can do in life is admit and own up to your prejudices and bigotries. One prejudice of mine that I've had for decades (besides Asians can't drive) and that I actually resent being given, for our prejudices are taught to us, is the believe that Country Music represents racist, uneducated, uncouth, ill-mannered, alcoholic, ill-tempered, even violent, rural white people (i.e., Trump voters). This is, of course, wrong both factually as well as morally but even when you know, intellectually, something is wrong it still makes you feel a certain way. And if you accept that you are wrong in your believe and attitude it still doesn't prevent you from feeling those bigoted feelings, it just adds guilt and shame on top of them.

When I was a kid I actually used to like Country Music. "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1964),The Hank Williams biopic starring George Hamilton (Crispy Col. Sanders) turned me on to the original Country star, Hank Williams, and on late weekend nights I'd watch "Cal's Corral", a live Country Music show hosted by local used car dealer Cal Worthington. The Beatles played Country songs on their early albums and "Beatles For Sale" is considered the Beatles' Country record with "No Reply", "I'm A Loser", "Baby's In Black", "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby", "Honey Don't" and "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party" being very Country oriented. But over the years, especially in the 60s, the divide between the "cowboys and the Indians (Straights vs Freaks) became wider and wider and Country music came to represent the "other side's" music of choice. I found having to take sides this way sad but it was hard to not reject Country music when songs like Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" drew the line. Up till then John Cash had been a staple on AM Top Forty Radio alongside The British Invasion and Motown. To make matters worse, "New Country" sounded more like Rock & Roll than Rock & Roll ever sounded like Country and there was a lot about Country Music I really liked such as;

1. The Instrumentation. I'm a guitar player and Country Music is predominately a guitar driven sound. Unlike some rock and pop styles that will go unnamed (Punk), musicianship has always been of very high importance in Country. I also like most string instruments and Country also utilizes banjo, mandolin and sometimes in lieu of the string sections found in Pop and sometimes Rock, Country uses pedal steel guitar.

2. The Clothes. I'm a westerner and what red blooded American boy doesn't love Cowboys? I love Cowboy hats, bluejeans, boots, vests and other western clothes. Unfortunately largely because of the lyrics of a lot of Country songs, unless you actually work on a ranch, dressing like a cowboy makes you look like a huge tool.

3. The Women. I'm a Rocker but I have to admit that for my taste Rock & Roll women can't hold a candle to Country women. I'm not talking about the fans, necessarily, but the performers. There are more, MUCH MORE, strikingly beautiful woman performing Country Music than there are in Rock & Roll. Have you seen Britney Spears' Country video? OMG! I just love that style, on women... but not in music.

So now let us take a listen at the newest of New Country, Michael Van & The Movers' new full length CD, "A Little More Country".

Michael Van & The Movers' "A Little More Country" video.

As you can see by the video "A Little More Country", Michael Van is pretty traditional Country with a predominately acoustic sound, the soulful steel guitar backing and, this being a ballad, sad lyrics coming from a simple man. Certainly nothing offense here but with the mandatory "southern" accent from an act from the San Francisco Bay Area (even a guy from New Hampshire like Garth Brooks sings like he's from Texas), hearing this style of singing just makes me think a night out where this is playing isn't going to end well (i.e., bar fight, DUI, cross burning, etc.).

Okay, I apologize. Let me say I'm just kidding. But really, I'm not someone qualified to review a record like this. I simply don't like Country Music. Again, it's not for the music itself and this CD has first rate production, great (which is standard for most Country I hear) performances and songs I would probably like if done in a different style.
Michael Van & The Movers are Michael Van on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Pete Ahonen on electric guitar, banjo and vocals, Alan Bond on mandolin, fiddle and vocals, Larry Lawson on bass, Bob Skye on drums and harmonica and special guests Mark Bernard Stevenson on pedal steel and Noah Duvernell and Paul Ohnemus on drums. The production, arrangements, mixing and mastering is credited to Michael Van and his band at Flying Monkey Studio.

This is one of those cases where I have to apologize to the band, they're a good band and made a fine record, but it's not what I do here at Rock & Roll Rehab (ROCK & ROLL Rehab). Please check them out for yourself if you like what they refer to themselves as,"Alt-Country". I don't know what makes this "Alt", it seems pretty trad to me although admittedly I didn't listen (because of technical reasons I don't understand) to all their tracks. Check them out here at Soundcloud. If you can't hear anything you had the same problem I did. I think my Flash must be outdated or something,. I don't know (what a pro!). 

The Blue Poets

Before this recent presidential election I said that if the country elects a President Trump it will be a huge indicator of having crossed over into a parallel dimension, one of the infinite worlds that look like ours but have sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, signs that we're not in Kansas anymore. These times are always a changin' but occasionally we make the jump between worlds in the multi-verse and times get absolutely bizarre.

Some of these signposts in the past may have been the JFK assassination, the John Lennon murder, the deaths of John Kennedy Jr. and Princess Diana and the marriage of Michael Jackson to Lisa Marie Presley. Not all the signs are ones of death. President Trump is certainly one. One way to tell if an event is a sign that you've crossed worlds is if the event was something that the National Enquirer should have predicted, but didn't.

Recognizing that the election symbolized my entering into a new reality I was optimistic that this new world would offer me personal opportunities the previous ones seemed to deny me. In a world where there is a President Donald J. Trump, I could be a rich and famous celebrity. Really, why not? ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE NOW.

One of the more subtler signs is that the new music I've been hearing lately seems to be a return to "my style". That is, guitar driven blues-prog-rock and the latest and among the greatest example of this return to Seventies Blues Rock ala Clapton, Gary Moore and Jimi Hendrix is the German band The Blue Poets. Once again (see previous review posts) good old American Rock & Roll is being imported from overseas. They've just released their first full length CD, 'The Blue Poets' on Triple Coil Music.

Led by blues-rock guitar master Marcus Deml, formerly of Errorhead and winner of American Guitar Player Magazine's Guitar Hero award, this quartet is fronted by lead singer Gordon Grey. Grey being Australian, is a native English speaker who sings with an authentic sounding American accent (a requirement for a truly Blues sounding band) while drummer Felix Dehmel and bass player Phil Steen I assume are German like Deml.

Marcus Deml has played with drummer Carmine Appice who I once asked to join my band not realizing his bona fides, Kingdom Come, which I believed included German singer Lenny Wolf who was in the band Stone Fury with my old friend Bruce Gowdy on guitar and Bruce's Grant High School classmates Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather's bandmate from TOTO, singer Bobby Kimball. Small world.

Some online examples of The Blue Poets' music are 'WithYour Eyes', a slow blues with Hendrix ‘Little Wing’ style guitar flourishes and a bluesy, white boy lead vocal that is the extended intro into a full band instrumental hard blues/rock jam and 'Goodbye', another great example of The Blue Poets’ stab at being the successors to the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Deml has contributed to 300 studio productions and is the producer of The Blue Poets' first full length album where he wrote all the tracks except the cover of the Cream classic Sunshine Of Your Love.

Marcus Deml and The Blue Poets are endorsed by: Fender Guitars, Kloppmann pickups, D’Addario, Klotz cables, Glockenklang, Deeflexx High-end sound-deflection system, Rheingold, Stetson, Ruokangas and Harvest Fine Leather.

Saint Blasphemer & Simon Templar

Saint Blasphemer is the name of an Alternative Metal band from Santa Ana, CA. Cool name. Simon Templar, if memory serves, was the name of the character played by Roger Moore on the TV series, The Saint, before he became James Bond. It is also the title of Saint Blasphemer's new CD.

In their press kit they state; "The first songs were written and the band formed as a reaction to a heroin epidemic sweeping Orange County." I'm a little farther north in L.A. County and I can attest to the heroin epidemic that hit my community hard and way too close to home. A close family member managed to pull through it and actually found a career as a certified addiction counselor but a kid I used to drive to school with my sons was not so lucky and is no longer with us. 

Saint Blasphemer's video for 'Nullify'.

The first song on Saint Blasphemer's five song EP, 'Nullify' is a Stone Temple Pilots style Grunge Metal with somewhat Geddy Lee sounding vocals and was directly about the drug problem as was the last song on the EP, 'Breaking Just to Bend'. The songs between them include
'Simon Templar', the title track which I would call Ozzy style. It’s nice to hear a good, screaming wah wah pedal lead solo once in a while. Next 'Scarecrow' is a bit more Thrash Metal than the previous tunes and this may be where the comparisons to Tool and Jane’s addiction come into play. 'A Perfect Rose' is more of the same including the wah wah solo. Cool.

Saint Blasphemer consists of Thomas Monroe on lead vocals, John Castellon on guitar, Steve Shell on bass and Steve Ybarra on drums. 'Simon Templar' was recorded and engineered by Elliot Koenig at Hear No Evil Studio in Orange, CA. They've been playing shows since February 2016 and their local community has praised Saint Blasphemer for the power of their live performance and the lyrical writing of Thomas Monroe, head of the Orange County Poetry Club.
Saint Blasphemer's Simon Templar EP is yet another example of new music by young bands which makes me think music is coming back around to my kind of taste (that's not an insult). Lately I've been hearing some pretty knarley lead guitar solos which have been all but extinct. Metal has always been around although not on the radio but underground and I don't know if there is a new breed of Hard Rock / Heavy Metal clubs in Southern California anymore. I suppose the Troubadour and the Whiskey are still open although they may still be Pay To Play which sucks so much it actually kills new music scenes. If there are new local clubs and if anyone ever reads my reviews I would hope I would have been sent some comps to shows to it but it may just be my invisibility that intensifies as I get older. I suppose the new 'underground' is now in Cyberspace and that's where these new bands can be found; Youtube and their various websites are the new rock clubs. Clubs used to be where we would go to meet girls but it seems online is where young guys meet girls now too so I guess getting sent these press releases and song downloads to review is like getting free comps to clubs. I'm hip after all!

Phil Gammage From The Honkey Tonks Of New York City

 Phil Gammage is a singer, harmonica player and guitarist and although he currently hails from New York, he seems a bit too rural for the Big City. Although in a similar vein as Tom Waits, his voice seems to come from a throat less wracked with alcohol and cigarettes but with a soulful and somewhat angry (or perhaps spiteful) baritone fueled more by the booze down deeper, in his belly. A more marinaded and less shellacked texture. Perhaps this is because he is originally from Houston, Texas. This is definitely 'right to carry' music. Kevin Tooley on drums, Frank DiNunzio on bass and backing vocals, Johnny Young on keyboards and Michele Butler on backing vocals are his band on this outing and their styles fit perfectly with his vocals as does the production by Kevin Tooley.

Phil Gammage - Arms Of A Kind Woman VIDEO.
The ten song CD 'Used Man For Sale' follows eight solo CDs and songs featured in TV shows and commercials so we know Phil's been around a while. And it shows in his world weary stories of a life lived hard and mean. Predominantly a white man's barroom blues record for listening to while you're crying in your beer and right before you decide to get your gun and go settle the score. If you're not in jail or dead the next day it won't be because the songs on this CD talked you out of doing something stupid. It will be in spite of it. This is the kind of sound that if you're a stranger in town and this is playing over the jukebox when you walk into the gin joint you'd be wise to turn around and walk back out. Trouble's ahead for sure.

A sampling of the tunes on 'Used Man For Sale' include;

Arms Of A Kind Woman - A slow, bluesy, boozy lament with sad, soulful harmonica and tinkling keys barroom piano.

Maybe Tomorrow - Floyd Cramer country piano and Hank Williams style tune with crooner vocals over a relaxed (boozy again) tempo and lyrics about making "the good times last". If this is what his good times sound like I'd hate to hear his down side.

I Beg Of You - Stand up bass into a "love and lost" ballad with a down and out Elvis sounding vocal. 

Used Man For Sale - A rousing "life is hard but it's my life" style up tempo still fighting song along the lines of Sinatra's 'That's Life'. 

Ride With Railroad Bill - Slow blues about the man who stole his wife, drinking hard and fantasies of shooting 'everyone's who ever done me harm'. A swampy tune with a bit of a 'Poke Salad Annie' vibe.

Although 'Americana' through and through, Phil isn't a bumpkin who's never been beyond the city limits. He toured Europe last spring (2016), had his previous album, 'Adventures In Bluesland' make the 'Best Of 2014' list at Rock NYC and NBT Music (Germany). He's performed live at the CBGB Music Festival in 2013 and 2014, opened up for Mississippi Blues great Robert Kimbrough SR., Little Joe Ayers and Leo "Bud" Welch in 2015 and 2016, and was interviewed in Blues Magazine (UK). Even intercontinental, he released two acclaimed solo albums, Night Train and Kneel To The Rising Sun in the 90s on France's New Rose Records. His commercial soundtrack work has been for A&E, MTV, Biography, Women's Entertainment, Centric and others.

Kivanc Kilicer's Devil's Thought

I woke up this morning, watched the new video to Kivanc Kilicer's 'Devil's Thought', and thought I was still asleep and dreaming. Specifically, I felt I was dreaming that I was back in the Eighties. "Ouch", you say, "that's harsh". No, I meant it as a compliment. 'Devil's Thought' (from the EP 'Dew On Roses') is thoroughly Heavy Metal and I don't mean Pop Metal like Bon Jovi or Bubblegum Hair Spray Metal like Twisted Sister and the other Metal acts that spring to mind when the Eighties are mentioned, but the kind of Metal that was poised to become 'The Next Big Thing', right before Grunge blew it out of the water and off the charts.
 Remember all the videos in the 80s had fire and/or water?

Bands like Metallica and even Def Leopard that ranged from danceable to head banging, that had a big drum sound, big guitar solos and 'Wall Of Sound' production along with aggressive but still listenable lead vocals and most of all a very dark, almost approaching evil (if I was the religious type) vibe.
 Burning down the house, literally.

Back when this type of Metal was at its peak in America 'Devil's Thought' would have been a hit. It's right up along side Dio, Sabbath, Deep Purple, Slayer, Queensryche and the aforementioned Def Leopard and just south of Anthrax, Mega Death and some of the more hard core metal acts. Oddly enough, it's not from America as Kivanc Kilicer is from Turkey (the country not the TV dinner). Once again I'm getting turned on to good old fashion ('80s) American Rock & Roll that's not American or old. This new music is originating in a foreign land yet it seems so familiar (in a good way). 

Is this Element or does Kivanc have a live band?

I always thought that if we (America) wanted to conquer another country we didn't have to use weapons, just send in sugar (Coca Cola), Levi's jeans and Rock records. Our parents were right; Rock & Roll is a disease that spreads and once caught changes its victim forever. Rock and Roll fever and the Boogie Woogie flu indeed. Getting back to Kivanc who claims he's Turkish but nothing in his press kit would indicate that he's actually in Turkey. He might be as American as apple pie but was born in Turkey because there's nothing in his sound that sounds remotely exotic, unless English Metal can be considered exotic. He claims his main interest has always been a blend of progressive rock and symphony and I can hear it in his level of musicianship but not in the style of music he's chosen to play which he claims was influenced by his record label. In other words I guess he was told to put out a Metal album. I prefer Prog myself so I would have liked to hear what he would have done if left to his own devices but he certainly did a great job on a very dark Metal record. 

According to his press kit he started as the frontman of the band Element in 2007 but it doesn't say if that was in Turkey or elsewhere. If he fronted a Heavy Metal band in Turkey he's got some balls. He recorded two studio albums with the band but in 2010 he built himself a home recording studio (again, in Turkey or in the San Fernando Valley? I don't know) and recorded his solo project titled 'Gravity'. Although he claims all the production duties for himself he doesn't list any other musicians so I have to assume there is no live band around to go out and play this stuff. That's a pity.

A lot of the backing tracks on 'Devil's Thought' brings to mind Evanescence (a fav of mine) and the pulsating bass line reminds me of 'Smooth Criminal' but you can hear the song on the video and make up your own mind. What I'm saying is that this record isn't anything really new, but as Retro goes, it should satisfy and is yet another example of the triumphant return of the heavy lead guitar solo. Yea!

You can check out 'Dew On Roses', 'Devil's Thought' and Element on his website HERE.

Rahm 'Between The Lines'

I received some music from an Israeli artist who goes by the name of Rahm and except for the name of the producer of his five song EP titled 'Between The Lines', Ofer Yair, the fact he's also a professional computer programmer, is married and has a son, I know nothing about him. There is no mention in his press materials of who plays the instruments or even who the female vocalist is who shares some lead vocals with him on a couple of duets (unless it's actually him using a falsetto voice. These days you never know, do you?).

He says, "This album has progressive and psychedelic roots, with influences that reminds you of the 90's and ambitions which climb towards iconic creators such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Genesis."

No, it doesn't.

Two of my all time favorite music genres are Psychedelic and Prog Rock and 'Between The Lines' has none of those elements. What it is, and I firmly believe any radio promotion man would agree with me, is Easy Listening. That's not a put down, there's nothing wrong with Easy Listening, it's a very successful radio format. Rahm's songs (except for the title tune which is more aggressive and dramatic), are gentle, lyrical, and arranged with acoustic guitars, grand pianos, flutes, french horns, string sections and Jazz flavored sax and electric guitar solos.

 His singing is a very soft, breathy style that is reminiscent of Herb Alpert's vocals in the 60s and with a hint of what I assume is an Israeli accent. His subject matter includes his family life on tunes like 'Coming Home', complete with a sound effect intro of feet walking down a gravel road with birds singing, and 'Always On The Run', a sweet ode to his son, which is also about being home since that's where family is.

 'You Are Not Alone' is a pretty acoustic guitar song with an electric guitar solo and with a duet with the unnamed female singer who also joins him on the track, 'Fool For You'.

There are no extended solos if you're looking for Prog and no backwards guitar if you're looking for Psychedelic but if you're looking for well produced, well arranged, very mellow Easy Listening pop with some Jazz touches than Rahm might fill the bill.

He Is Me, And We Be Altogether

There is a songwriter in Portland, Oregon who is also a musician and music producer and a singer-songwriter in Calgary, Canada and together they are 'He Is Me'. Now keep in mind that Oregon is one of the few states where marijuana is legal so if all this seems confusing that may be why

To clarify; Casey, who in 1999 started his solo music project “Textile Arcade" while an audio engineer for an advertising agency and which featured guests vocalists from the U.S. and Canada, asked Steve, the singer, to sing on one of Casey's new songs. That led to the two of them forming a duo they decided to call 'He Is Me'. Previously they had collaborated on a track called 'Silencer' back in 2001 so it's been 15 years since they first worked together. I wonder how long the commute is from Oregon to Calgary? To make this international musical partnership even more difficult is the fact that now you have to have a passport to enter Canada, or Mexico. That sure would have been a drag when I was a college student at San Diego State. Tijuana was always a fun weekend trip.

He Is Me Drowning Man / Ocean Man video.

Back to He Is Me, Casey Braunger started playing bass at the age of 13 and eventually became a multi-instrumentalist. He’s played in various punk, metal, blues, industrial and electronic bands but he and Steve Moore who performed with prog rock/industrial metal duo The Unravelling, hardcore metal group Inner Surge and electronic project Post Death Soundtracks formed 'He Is Me' to create vast soundscapes with crushing atmosphere and gripping emotional lyrical content. Metal Injection Magazine calls them "one of the most exciting projects to come out of Canada in recent years."
 He Is Me's new single Drowning Man/ Ocean Man. Photo by Ryan Donnel

He Is Me's (that sounds funny) first single was entitled 'Let It Drip'. The track showcases an ambient, free flowing, non verse-chorus-verse approach and is meant as a mantra of sorts. Their new single 'Drowning Man/ Ocean Man' is two separate tracks meant to be heard as a single piece. Although this description (their's not mine) may sound like it could be somewhat "New Age" it is not. It sounds to me much more like Bowie / Eno / Tin Machine Industrial Metal (my description). Sonically layered, dense, atmospheric in a dark Sci Fi, Post Apocalyptic sort of way but with clear (non screaming hard core metal ) emotionally projected vocals. The duo is currently working on a full-length album.

I suppose we're living in the age of "the Producer" as oppose to the bygone era of bands as self contained units. An act like 'He Is Me' could conceivable tour as the live singer and pre-recorded backing tracks and since stadium shows and arenas are financially unfeasible these days anyway, an act like this could do nicely touring clubs and small theaters. With the tracks already programmed (is midi still a thing?) they could even play in sync with their videos projected live (like The Rock & Roll Rehab Show!). What I'm getting at is with their decidedly "trippy" sound and visuals and they just happen to live in Oregon (at least one of them), cannabis clubs and hempfests might be a great venue for this act. 

Glenn Meling's Brother Jonathan From Minnesota

I got a new single from Glenn Meling's new CD entitled "Minnesota". The single is called "Brother Jonathan". According to his press release: "The album is about migration to America in the 19th century, when Brother Jonathan was a term used by immigrants to refer to the USA. Brother Jonathan, which predates the more widely known phrase Uncle Sam, personifies the spirit of the new nation in the eyes of the Europeans who left their homelands behind for a fresh start across the Atlantic."
Brother Jonathan, the logo.

I do like concept albums (see my post: but if 'Minnesota' is about the 19th century it certainly isn't reflected in the sound which is highly electronic and very modern sounding. No banjos or acoustic twelve string guitars or mountain dulcimers and no singing with an Appalachian twang although Maling's vocals are very clear, strong and very white. He does employ a chorus of back up singers that give him a soulful veneer but his vocals are of today with no hint of the time period the songs are suppose to represent. Nothing wrong with that in itself. I just didn't expect a synth, drum machine infused track to lyrically be about America's rural past. I suppose I sound like someone complaining that Star Wars is actually a Western in space. So what if the production is well done (it is), the vocals are professional (they are thanks to producer Steve Honest ) and the lyrics are interesting and really applicable to any time and place (they are) if the subject matter is a bit anachronistic (it is)?
 Minnesota, the CD.

Glenn Meling's 'Minnesota' is what I would term an "Easy Listening" album with a very sophisticated and a (what term can I use for "city" other than "Urban" since that has a black connotation?) "downtown loft"(?) vibe to it. In other words this CD does NOT conjure up images of Minnesota, either a hundred years ago or even right now. Again, that's not a slam on a very good, well produced CD but maybe on it's marketing concept.

Glenn Meling probably somewhere in Minnesota.

Maybe Glenn's modern American sound comes from the fact that he's actually from Oslo, Norway. What?! He's another Norwegian that sounds just like an American (see Naveblues)?! I know English is becoming the universal language but are accents all disappearing? He has lived in Australia, United Kingdom and Norway and while living in London studying and performing solo  gigs, he met sound engineer Steve Honest. Together they made the album ‘Sometimes a Bigger Heart’ (2009). He had previously made the album ‘Melingrad’ (2007) in a Norwegian boathouse in one of the fjords near Bergen. ‘Minnesota’ is his third album. Glenn became interested in the journeys of his countrymen after travelling extensively in the States where the influence of the Norwegian settlers continues to this day.  In the 1800s the American midwest became a popular destination for the settlers and today you’ll find collages like St. Olaf in Minnesota which is an       institution that studies Norwegian heritage and immigration. Also, the famous Joel and Ethan Cohen film 'Fargo' has been inspirational and something that sparked his interest in the subject which must make the folks of Fargo especially proud.