Roundup: New discs all over the map

Once again, time for the local music roundup. This month I had the pleasure of receiving numerous review-worthy albums. Unfortunately, time and space permit me to review just a few.

Red Eye Seamus, a trio led by super-bassist Ricky Reed who are on their own musical plane, are newcomers on the scene. I was happy to be one of the first to hear their album.

Secondly, local mainstay Greg Howard has released another disc of Chapman Stick music. The instrument alone is interesting enough (there are not that many Stick players out there), and from what I understand, Howard is one of the best. Having such an accomplished player of such a novelty instrument right under our noses here in Charlottesville is a real treat.

Lastly, Richmond-based indie folk/rock boys The Great White Jenkins are blending the rhythmic, soulful, and melancholy into something fresh with their new baby, Where Is Thy Sting?


 Red Eye Seamus

Album: Passages

 What it is: Progressive fusion offering from bass guitar vituoso

The Good: We're dealing with one sick (and I mean that in a good way) bass player here. Ricky Reed has the kind of chops that embarrass other "average" or "good" players. Reed's partners in crime, Ben Waring (percussion) and Tim Black (guitar), round out this trio of phenoms. Although the music is instrumental, there are plenty of changes within songs and ample mood swings throughout the course of the album to keep Passages from becoming stale. Glimpses of Victor Wooten and contemporary Stanley Clark flash through the arrangements. Those who find pleasure in that sort of cerebral fusion music will have a field-day here.

The Bad: The problem with virtuosos is that they are virtuosos. The average (and even above average) listener could really do without showboating most of the time. Just give us something we can take home– you know, a melody to hum. Save the wowing for precise moments; they become more effective then. I believe that the emotion in this music has been traded for a bit of showing off. By the end of the disk, I was left with not much to latch onto. The songs are intelligent, but they lack any deep feeling.

Notable songs: Dream, Frequilibrium


Greg Howard

Album: Ether Ore: live sonic expeditions on the Chapman Stick

What it is: Live compilation of solo Stick improvisation

The Good: Greg Howard really holds his own as a soloist. Ether Ore never gets boring. Thematically, it shifts from snoozeable ambient chords thick with delay and reverb to mellow melodies, to flawless distorted runs. Howard shows his skill on the Chapman Stick here without being overly flashy or self-indulgent. As a matter of fact, the patience with which he constructs these improv odysseys (one of which is 25 minutes long) shows a mastery of his craft far beyond any hyper-complex super riffing. There are times where Howard does flex his chops. Those moments are most appropriate, and you're ready after having been taken to space with the more ambient stuff.

The Bad: Unfortunately, with most concept albums like this, you have to be in the mood to listen. I found myself drifting in my own thoughts for much of the record. I envision Ether Ore as soundtrack music or background sounds for a classy lounge environment. This isn't for everybody, but those who get down with this type of music will find it very appealing.

Notable songs: "Tim Was Here" "Neptune's Wake"

The Great White Jenkins

Album: Where Is Thy Sting?

 What it is: Folk/jazz/soul/rock fusion

The Good: The Great White Jenkins are a refreshing organic sound. Complete with Rhodes, double bass, and horn section, they seem to teeter somewhere between a soulful Sunday in 1970, a Friday night acoustic guitar circle c. 1968, and early '90s acoustic rock. Yeah, the music has a nostalgic vibe, but because it's so schizophrenic, it could have come only from children of the x and y generations. Regardless, Where Is Thy Sting? does wonders for my opinion of regional indie rock acts. Andy Jenkins on vocals writes great songs on obscure and commonplace subject matter. Either way, he's seldom boring or trite.

The Bad: The Great White Jenkins have a unique sound, but aside from a few songs that are a bit out there, the album runs together. Of the seven tracks here, five are very similar. The songs usually have an interesting hook, intro, or chorus, but instrumentation underneath many of the verses becomes predictable.

Notable songs: "One Day," "Clean Your Shirts!" "The Proper Words"