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Positive Feedback ISSUE 29
january/february 2007

Dr. Sardonicus Listens…

A new Venture from the Good Doctor

There was a time when I held the all-time record for the most new music reviews in a single edition of any music magazine, print or internet (67)…  (sigh, and yet Guinness did not call) and at that time I was buying new music, basically by "hoovering" the new release wall of anything that looked interesting.

I was an insatiable omnivore and not on a budget.

I have not written a music review since that time.

But I have not really changed. By nature, I still am that ravening beast, but since I am no longer rich I have to content myself with a dribble of new works, and digging deeper into the significant vaults of my own existing collection. See, for many years I actually bought more music than I could ever critically listen to… and now I have the time (and the need) to wander back through those misty corridors, and re-familiarize myself with my "stacks of wax." There are forgotten delights aplenty.

When I resumed writing for PFO, I made the decision not to follow any format or convention other than my own and the English language (nominally). I decided to write as closely as I could to my true nature. As long as David Robinson would print it, I would write as I wished.

So now… rather than doing "new release" music reviews, which is the prevailing custom, and doing one album at a time, I have decided to resume writing about music from the most organic standpoint of all; what I am freely, and actually listening to as I go about my life.

I don't care when it was released and in what recording or distribution format, although I will provide that information, when it is available.

These are not some self-indulgent lists of favorites… (I may even write about music I don't like) but rather whatever is in rotation in my room that I determine is deserving of attention.

Disclaimer: If audiophile recordings appear, it is by coincidence only.

Since I am an omnivor… pick through the listings… your preferred genre will surely appear, if not in this issue, in the next. Or, do something adventurous. Read about music in other genres than those you typically frequent. You may develop curiosity, and of course, we all know that curiosity is the bane of the well-ordered mind.

And so we begin… in no particular order…


B. B. King, Live in Cook County Jail: Date of release - 1971. Recording format: Analog. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. MCA Records: NCAD-31080. {Genre - Blues}

Over his long and groundbreaking career, Mr. King has managed to transcend his roots-genre origins and become a nearly universally known artist. Live In Cook County Jail was done before he achieved that sort of recognition. It is a raw, vibrant… live performance, and of course, it is situated in blues central (the infamous Cook Country Jail). All of the ingredients are here for a memorable listening experience.

From, "Every day I have the Blues," to his arguably most well known tune, "The Thrill is Gone," this is B. B., unadorned, unaffected and not so smooth and polished as he became over the years, when at times his performances seemed almost "phoned in."

Recording quality is precisely what it should be for an analog remote in a county jail, but very listenable.

I put this disc on for background one unaccountably sunny Oregon December Sunday morning, when I had lots to do. Mistake. The raw energy of a mature, but still electric B. B. crooning and crying, the band playing so tight you could not drive a nail between them… B. B.'s classic stage patter… and the music, ah yes the music… the music just kept drawing me back into the room and pulling me down on the couch to listen.

The best music does this to me… pulls at me until I shed the irons of distraction, draws me over the sea-washed decks, and onto th rocks of indolence. There I sit… transfixed. The siren song, I love you so.

This is a remarkable work, by a national icon… taken at the peak of his abilities. This is the real blues, executed with wit, taste and faultless musicianship.

To understand what I mean by "real blues," go listen to one of Eric Clapton's pallid recent attempts, and then listen to this. If you can't tell the difference you should sell your music collection and go play pachinko. Don't get me wrong, "Crossroads" was a high-water mark in rock music, and "Lay Down Sally" is charming, but as much as Eric loves the blues, he should let them be. That ship sailed for him after the turmoil and torture that surrounded Layla and Other Love Songs.

If by some mischance you don't already have this classic B.B. King work in your collection …stop reading this and go on the net and find it (I am assuming you will have a choice of CD and vinyl, if you poke around). You will thank me.

Two Women - Two Generations - Sisters of Different Mothers - Blossom Dearie and Stacy Kent

I can think of few pleasures more reliable, more sublime than Stacy Kent, or Blossom Dearie, with their gentle little girl voices, softly singing an old jazz chestnut, while I sip something warm and spicy, hopefully in the company of something warm and spicy. This music is about sophistication, subtlety and nuance… and lots and lots of sex. I can play these two for anyone of any age, and there is always a surprised smile of appreciation. It is unabashedly pretty stuff, as easy to quaff as a late harvest Riesling.

Stacey Kent - Dreamsville: Date of release - 2000. Recording format: PCM digital. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Candid Records: CCD 79775. {Genre - Jazz}

Oh, please… when this lovely young woman gently insinuates she has a crush on you …well, you should be so lucky. This album is just yummy, from "Under a Blanket of Blue," to Bob Hope's, hopelessly overplayed, "Thanks for the Memory." It all neatly walks the delicate balance between romantic sweetness and treacle, and never missteps. Every time I play this disc I am vaguely disappointed when it ends. The only cure? More Stacy Kent. Sonics are first rate. (More on Stacey in just a bit)


Blossom Dearie - Once Upon a Summertime: Date of release - 1958. Recording format: Analog. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Verve Records: 314 517 223-2. {Genre - Jazz}

Thirty-eight years before Stacy released Dreamsville, we have her sister (artistically speaking) Blossom Dearie at the absolute top of her form in this quietly surprising recording. In this acid world we all currently inhabit, we are used to shouting and explosions and ponderous THX calibrated music to punctuate even the most banal of things. Here, as with Stacy, we move into the jasmine scented world of Coco Channel dresses, vodka tonics, and wistful understatements. Backed by a perfectly composed small combo, this is not to be missed.

How talented do you have to be to pull off, "Tea for Two," and "Surrey with the Fringe on Top?" (The first two cuts on the album) without a trace of condescension, or even a wink? "Teach me Tonight" is frankly sexual, and "It Amazes Me" is so sweetly innocent, it is completely believable and absolutely seductive.

I have listened to this disc a gerzillion times, and I still smile when she sings the "Doodlin' Song."

Almost as highly regarded for her piano skills as her dulcet, Windex-clear voice, Blossom is a national treasure and never more evident on this virtually perfect outing.

I suspect you will play hell finding this on vinyl, but the CD sounds very good indeed.


Chris Rea - The Road to Hell: Date of release - 1989. Recording format: PCM Digital. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Geffen: 9 24276-2. {Genre - Pop}

25 years, over twenty albums, and yet pretty much unknown in the states, this British artist manages to consistently pull off one of the most difficult poses in all of entertainment: pretension. Good humored, grandiose productions that always have his luscious baritone voice perfectly poised and centered, he is at once over the top, and completely accessible.

Like Dr. Frazier Crane (Kelsey Grammar), Rea manages this feat while being charming and entertaining at the same time; and, for the same reasons I suspect—intelligence and talent.

This is my favorite of his discs (I have several). It starts with a couple of minutes of ethereal noise and voices that slowly solidify into a rumble and then that voice of his comes out of the background …

"Stood still on a highway, I saw a woman, by the side of the road. With a face that I knew like my own. Reflected in my window. Well she walked up to my quarter light. And she bent down real slow. A fearful pressure, paralyzed me in my shadow."

And so begins the album's title cut, "The Road to Hell."

Pretentious? You betcha, and yet he pulls it off so well you can only reach the pretentious place in retrospect. When he's doing it, it just pretty much works. From the evils of network news, to child abuse, just about anyone else would descend into mawkish pandering. He never does.

As cloying as "Tell Me There's a Heaven" initially seems to be, the point of the song is not that suffering is justified and always has a purpose; quite the contrary, the POINT is that pointless suffering makes questioning heaven fair game.

Ironically, one of my favorite songs about American is on this disc, "Texas." This broad, happy paean extols the virtues of "big steaks, big girls, no trouble there," so convincingly, one has to remember he's a Brit.

Sonics are surprisingly good for CD of this vintage.


The Beatles - Love: Date of release - 2006. Recording format: Analog to PCM digital. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Capitol {B000JK8OYU}. {Genre - Pop-Rock}


Twenty five tracks of perfection. My heart soars to know those tapes are still intact and this masterful mix makes them sound as fresh as the day they were made.


Joan Osborne - Relish: Date of release - 1995. Recording format: PCM digital. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Blue Gorilla {Murcury}: 314 526 699-2. {Genre - Rock-Pop}

This album is full of ironies, not the least of which is the song everyone bought the album for ("One of Us") has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the rest of the album, or with Joan in general. The unabashedly pop hooky, "One of Us," demonstrates nothing of the fact this young woman has more in common with Janis Joplin than some slick pop singer, catching the one hit train (a la, Natalie Imbruglia).

I remember cueing this disc up with some mild curiosity about what kind of an album could be constructed around the single… and got slammed into the seat by visceral, raw and absolutely stunningly done, raw-bone bluesy rock. It's all about sex, "Right Hand Man," "Let's Just get Naked," drugs, "St. Teresa," and rock and roll (everything on the album BUT "One of Us."

Then she disappeared. No more albums.

I managed to catch her in concert shortly after her second (and sadly spotty) album Righteous Love, finally was released in 2000. As she talked about it, you could easily tell she was as ambivalent about it as most of the listeners were going to be… saying something to the effect of, "Oh well, I can always make another one."

How was she in concert?

Well, the concert was fatally flawed by this arrogant ass of a mixing engineer. Despite pleas from the audience and even from Joan, he steadfastly made the bass guitar the star. After fifteen minutes, I wanted to wrest the Colt .45 away from the security guard and pop a cap in his ass. NO ONE at that concert would have testified against me.

On stage Joan was achingly similar to Janis (right down to the high heel shoes) in her diminutive, fragile persona, and in her willingness to give everything she had (even her insecurity) to the audience. Tiny, very sexy girl on platform shoes, she was always the supplicant, never the diva.

When she finally gave up on the sound and just sang, man… again, echoes of Janis.

Like Tracy Chapman, whose first album Fast Car has to rank as one of the best pop albums ever made, Relish is nearly perfect, and stands in front of the pale of her second outing.

But these are still relatively young women and I continue to hope for something truly substantial again from both of them.

(Note, my coverage of Joan will continue with two releases, subsequent to Righteous Love… stay tuned)

For now… if she never did anything ever again, Relish is a classic and not to be missed. To have had one album of this quality is something her peers should pray for.


Christine Ohlman {and Rebel Montez - backup band} - The Hard Way: Date of release - 1995. Recording format: PCM digital. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Deluge - DEL D 3001 {Genre - Blues - Rock}

A lifetime ago… wandering the stifling streets of a famous southern city, seeking… something. Music wafts from a dozen doorways… this is another world complete. Sweat gathers at each joint and I don't care. There is bougainvillea and marijuana in the air.

Then the steely hand of an over-driven Gibson reaches out from a dark hole and grabs me. I wander in. Tranced. I am struck with the smell of cigarettes, beer and hot tubes. On stage this blowsy, big haired blonde is gyrating and snarling and singing her ass off. The kind of music you feel right behind the belt buckle.

I bought her CD.

This is one of those performers where you just shake your head; unable to understand why she is not better known. Beautiful, sexy, great performer… the whole enchilada. She even did a short tour with SNL singing with bandleader, G. E. Smith. If you think back you will probably remember her, platinum hair, big boobs and singing like there was no tomorrow.

In her own words ..."I give it to an audience straight, which is the way I like it myself. Yes, I like to shout, and I like to croon, and I love to wail. I just need to get in the groove and rock—not think too much about it—tear it up or soothe it over. I've loved rock n' roll since I was a little girl, and I'll love it forever. It's my greatest kick and my greatest privilege to be able to get up on a stage and rip it apart. That's rock n' roll to me. I'm here to set your soul on fire."


She holds the distinction for doing one of the five top sexy songs I have ever heard, "Sugar Melts."

"There was sugar on the window, sugar on the floor, everywhere was sugar. My mind was slippin', honey was drippin', and lawd have mercy on me!"

Whew! Enough said.


The Thievery Corporation - Cosmic Game: Date of release - 2005. Recording format: PCM digital. Playback format: Standard Compact Disc. Eighteenth Street - B0006ZXJ3E {Genre - Alternative - Pop - Rock}

Among the many ironies of my life are the many odd places from which I encounter new music. Of course I listen to alternative radio in the car (when I force myself to listen to radio at all), but if I do hear something interesting, it is always in the middle of a play list of twelve, and I never hear who the artist might be. So I am always deeply grateful for the "care packages" I get from my girlfriend's adult daughter, Emily, who while still shy of twenty, loves vinyl and Frank Sinatra. Every so often, perhaps in appreciation of my cooking, she introduces me to new music of merit. Bless her heart.

Cosmic Game is alternative music even old farts can love. Much more canted towards the trippy, mellow psychedelic than hard-edged rock, this Rob Garza-Eric Hilton project band features a host of contributors from David Byrne of Talking Heads to Gunjan and Perry Farrell of Flaming Lips. The sixteen cuts fuse world-music; dub rhythms and even reggae into a surprisingly tasty whole. Not at all challenging, even for danceless old white men, it will definitely alter your state of mind. Tasty!