Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Friday, October 6, 2017

Argus - From Fields of Fire (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

The long wait for the fourth full length album from Pennsylvania’s Argus, From Fields of Fire, hasn’t diluted or lessened its eventual impact. From Fields of Fire’s nine songs bristle with life and inventiveness, never feeling too belabored or studied as if the band’s new lineup is straining to maintain any creative direction. Argus, instead, sounds confident and comfortable but, more importantly, hungry and ambitious to push their music into new areas while consolidating their traditional strengths. There isn’t a single disappointing release in the band’s discography and, if anything, the fourth album continues an upward tick in quality that’s defined their development from the first.

The album opens with a brief acoustic instrumental “Into the Fields of Fire”. There’s a hint of the gypsy in the almost flamenco-ish swish of the melody, but there’s an underlying minor key quality present as well. “Devils of Your Time” has a nicely exhortative chorus that makes the song seem ideally suited for live performance and tasteful lead fills pepper the guitars’ otherwise straight-forward staccato power chord charge. There’s a seemingly a little echo added to Brian “Butch” Balich’s vocal, but Balich never needs even a hint of bells or whistles as he still possesses the emotive edge and lights out, lung-busting vocal muscle that’s always been a key part of his presentation. Balich comes at listeners again with another bruising vocal on “As a Thousand Thieves” and fiery lead guitar punctuates his powerhouse singing. “You Are The Curse”, the album’s first single, has some of the strongest melodic elements on the album and a near ideal example of Balich’s talent for putting down a tight, intelligent lyric serving the music first and foremost.

“Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors”, clocking in at just over eleven minutes, definitely embodies the zenith of their ambition with this new release. The disparate sections of the song, often wildly varying in both mood and tempo, nonetheless blend seamlessly together and maintain coherence throughout. Bands often times sound out of their element when they trying stretching out like this, but this song comes across as a wholly organic affair rather than an unit attempting to will an epic into being. The blinding guitar attack of Jason Mucio and Dave Watson is set to stun throughout the release and few songs are loaded with more gut wrenching firepower than “Hour of Longing”. Balich serves up one of his stronger vocals to make this one of the album’s harder-hitting numbers. “No Right to Grieve” is cut from similar cloth as “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors” in its insistence on invoking mood and atmosphere rather than simply bulldozing listeners with further guitar workouts. Balich’s imaginative touch as a lyricist remains an important component in the band’s songwriting, but the songs on From Fields of Fire are rife with an increased willingness to personalize the writing as never before. It pays off enormously in the hands of such a memorable vocalist. They bookend the album with a final acoustic track entitled “From the Fields of Fire” that comes off as a more muted, wearier take on the opening instrumental. Argus has emerged from a turbulent period in their history stronger than ever before and taking their craft to new heights.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Gregg Stewart - Twenty Sixteen (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

There’s a generosity in this album that’s difficult to ignore. The fourteen songs comprising Gregg Stewart’s Twenty Sixteen are an unexpected musical bounty in terms of the sheer quantity of first rate music he’s bringing to the listening public. The fact that these are covers doesn’t matter. He’s made his selections from artists who died during 2016 and the choices range from the well known to lesser known deep cuts from an artist’s career. Stewart, a talented singer/songwriter in his own right, sounds wholly comfortable tackling other artist’s material and puts as much of himself into the arrangements and lyrics alike he can muster. It’s unified by a guitar centered sound and an ease with melody unmatched by all but a few of his contemporaries. Despite its status as indie rock, Gregg Stewart projects immense confidence with this collection and the production never sounds anything less than top shelf from the beginning.

The mid eighties smash for Dead or Alive and singer Pete Burns, “You Spin Me Round”, opens Twenty Sixteen on a mildly idiosyncratic note. Anyone expecting Stewart to attempt an approximation of the band and Burns’ style is in for a fortuitous disappointment.  It’s fortuitous because Stewart’s cover of the famous song is far more interesting than any straight ahead regurgitation could have ever been. Rather than pursuing a relentless and nearly claustrophobic pop sound, Stewart takes an acoustic slant on this classic and gives it an understated mania that’s quite a contrast with the original. This isn’t the first cover of “Raspberry Beret” that I can recall, Warren Zevon and REM sans Michael Stipe had a minor hit with it in 1990 as the Hindu Love Gods, but Stewart brings his own carefree, joyful verve to the song that no one else can claim. The artists with staying power are those with a recognizable style and that shines through on this album despite him tackling other’s songs.

His cover of a later Merle Haggard song, “If I Could Only Fly”, comes off as a minor masterpiece of exquisite sensitivity and expertly arranged. He mines Jefferson Airplane’s embryonic days, pre Grace Slick, with the track “High Flying Bird” as an acknowledged of rhythm guitarist.songwriter/vocalist Paul Kantner’s death and the passing of original female vocalist for the same Singe Anderson. This performance does a memorable job of capturing the sense of discovery common to classic Airplane and the sheer exuberance of playing. He looks to Texan songsmith Guy Clark for a powerful rendition of his “Out in the Parking Lot”. Stewart’s phrasing is key here as its similarities and differences alike reveal how elastic this classic is and makes something new out of a song many serious music fans are intimately familiar with. He concludes, as one might expect, with a Bowie cover, but the song choice is a bit individualistic. Rather than opting for the obvious, Stewart chooses “Starman”. It isn’t an enviable task attempting to re-interpret a master stylist, but Stewart wisely doesn’t and merely uses Bowie’s original as a template for his own. Twenty Sixteen is far more than some reverential ode to fallen musical idols – it’s an argument successfully concluded that these performers, among some of the most talented in the past century, have amassed legacies worth posterity’s look and that we’ve taken more than a passing glance into the heart of Gregg Stewart’s musical DNA. It’s a rewarding view.  .