Tag Archives: studio albums

The Congress, “The Game” Album Review

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The Congress, “The Game” Album Review

Published in the September 2016 Issue of Appalachian Jamwich

The Congress is a soulful, southern blues-rock band now based in Richmond, VA, after their move home from Colorado. The relocation, now nearly a year past, makes the lead track all the more significant- “Home Again” is a poignant, stripped down melody that showcases the vocal prowess of the band before anything else. Throughout the rest of the album, there are noticeable differences between Jonathan Meadows’ and Scott Lane’s signing, but on this track they are flawlessly one. “New Amsterdam” follows and is the first introduction to what the band can really do. They bust into a danceable verse almost instantly, but, quick not to give away too much, dial it back for stellar balance. The high-energy chorus is impossible not to move to, and the drum driven bridge takes listeners almost to another world. The third track takes a far more honky-tonk approach than when played live; “When I’ve Got The Time” features a slide guitar, broken-down music, slower and simpler than their rock ‘n’ roll take, and lead vocals that crackle and scoop like country singers are so known to do. “The Poison and the Antidote” is the newest (to this writer) song on the album; an epic ballad on love and loss, this song is most reflective of their lyrical ability to reach right into the soul of their listeners. The album’s title track is sixth, a staple of their live performance and perfect summary of who the band is; fun-loving southern boys just trying to make music that people will love. Besides Meadows and Lane, The Congress also features Chris Speasmaker on keys and Raph Katchinoff on drums (however the album was recorded with former drummer Mark Levy). Three other equally as quintessential “Congress” songs close the record, reinforcing their technical skill, outstanding talent, and classic song writing. The Congress will be touring the west coast before a run in Spain in November. Check their website for other upcoming dates near you.

Primus, Green Naugahyde Review

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The 80’s and 90’s produced some of our times’ most interesting music, but nothing is as quirky and fascinating as Primus. The power trio is currently made up of Larry LaLonde, a student of guitar guru Joe Satriani, Jay Lane, and leader of the project, Les Claypool. Their most recent release, Green Naugahyde, is the first with this line-up and while Claypool has had a hard time keeping members in the band, it could be his incredibly advanced way of thinking about music that causes them to leave. Lane’s prowess, as one of the most talented drummers playing right now, combined with LaLonde’s technical ability and Claypool’s wildy creative and exciting style makes Primus one of the most accessible and remarkable live acts touring right now. Primus will be playing this album in its entirety during the second set of shows on this tour.

In a most creepy opening stunt, the first track of Primus’ new album, “Prelude to a Crawler,” is without the man himself, just LaLonde’s eerie, wandering, reverbed-out melody, but on the drop of the next track, “Hennepin Crawler,” we finally hear from Claypool. Pumping a bass that could shatter your rib cage, you almost miss his wild lyrics that serve more as a rhythm section than anything.

The third selection brings us the lighter side of Primus, which is certainly not light by any definition of the word. “Last Salmon Man” chronicles the life of a young farmer and brings us the first great guitar solo of the album. LaLonde also takes back-up vocals on this track, supporting Claypools quirky sound with his own somewhat melodic voice. And finally, we get to joke-y but dead ass serious Primus. The lyrics give the best picture of the feel of this song: “I like it, I really really like it, I think I’m gonna buy it, cuz I really really like it. Eternal consumption engine, here in the USA, eternal consumption engine, we really do like to spend our pay, eternal consumption engine… slingin’ down the slices of American Pie, eternal consumption engine, every time I get a little bit bored, eternal consumption engine, head to the wally-mart store.” Haunting, daunting, and true, with the repeated chorus “Everything’s made in China,” this song is probably the most lyrically stimulating while being musically fascinating at the same time.

Green Naugahyde Album Cover

“Tragedy’s a Comin’” (stream here) was the selected single off the album, and for obvious reasons. It’s radio friendly, not too overwhelmingly heavy, with classic Claypool riffs and enough guitar to make any arena go crazy. The lyrics also make some sense, but they don’t make so much of a statement that they could eliminate listeners.

Taking tempo down a notch, “Eyes of the Squirrel” sounds like a typical Primus song, making a small statement lyrically about American culture and reality TV. They fade into a gargly, drawn out ending that blends with the next track’s synthesized introduction, which builds to a cliff before dropping into LaLonde’s spiky guitar pit and being swallowed by Jay Lane’s erratic, but totally controlled drumming. “Jilly’s on Smack” is the first track that we don’t hear Claypool’s distinct vocals, and rather the focus is on his stand-up bass sound that smoothly undertones the wildness of the drums, until the bridge, when they start what sounds like jamming.

“Lee Van Cleef” delivers the classic dirty bass we all crave when listening to Primus and has the first and only mention of the album title. Similarly, “Moron TV” also best serves as a chance for Les to get muddy on his bass, and for him to attack (again) the lazy and lush American culture, especially with regards to watching TV.

“Green Ranger” is a wild and ghostly little jaunty asking, “Who wants to ride with the Green Ranger,” and again bringing back Claypools powerfully deep stand-up techniques. “HOINFODAMAN” is a skipable track, another critique on culture- this time, advertising, but together these two make a quirky interlude before the explosive closing number, appropriately titled “Extinction Burst.” Dense with sound, technically exciting and exploratory, this second-to-last track is creepy-crawly-funk-rock-metal song that you crave from Les Claypool and Primus.

Why You Should Try Studio Phish

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Someone in a recent issue of Surrender to the Flow was recalling his favorite version of “You Enjoy Myself” and said that he never laughed out loud to music before hearing that second track on 1988’s Junta. It occurred to me then that I had never listened to Junta, never mind a studio version of “YEM.” I hadn’t really listened to any studio Phish. ‘Why would I,’ I thought, ‘when live Phish is so much better?’ ‘But how would you know?’ said a little voice. So I went and listened to the only studio recordings I had on my iPod at the time- “Light,” and two tracks off an old Valentine’s Day mix, “Waste” and “If I Could,” the latter which had been played maybe once. After listening through these selections, I decided to indulge in some studio Phish, even if I wasn’t “supposed” to like it.

Naysayers, I hear your concerns loud and clear. Studio versions of our favorite songs can be very weird and discomforting. Take “Chalk Dust Torture,” where they decided to lower the tone on Trey’s vocals, making the whole vibe of the song kind of creepy. The production effects on songs can often times be questionable, and the band has admitted to putting less effort into their studio sessions than their live shows. But for many studio versions, we get an elaborated, perfected, and fantastic example of Phish songs. We get horns and back-up vocals, choirs even! We’re treated to amazing featured artists, harmonies you can’t possibly hear at shows, and parts of songs completely forgotten. Let me just ask you this: how do you know how good the jam is if you don’t know where it’s coming from? Most of the studio versions provide a jumping board for these songs to take off from, to grow and develop as they noodle through the sound-space continuum that is Phish.

Give that classic first album a thought. Some of Phish’s most highly anticipated songs come from that project: “Fee,” “YEM,” “Foam,” “Dinner and a Movie,” “David Bowie,” and “Fluffhead,” to name a few. And the writer from some issues ago is absolutely right; each funky turn in YEM can make you laugh out loud. The first four tracks of Lawn Boy, which came out in 1990, pack a hard punch with a “Squirming Coil> Reba> My Sweet One> Split Open and Melt” opener. “Reba” sounds clear, the words flow out clutter-free and precise, and it’s slowed down a bit so you can really appreciate the story in the music. “Split” becomes this kind of demonic, weirdly powerful, twisted little journey that I usually don’t experience during a live hearing. The horns add a level of unknowing to the coarse, deep vocals (which work here as opposed to “CDT”), and the sultry chorus singers remind you of some burlesque carnival fun house.

A Picture of Nectar will always be one of my favorite albums because each song brings something to the table I haven’t heard in a live version. The boys slipped “Manteca” in there, thinking no one would notice (ha!). This 1992 release gifted us with “Llama,” “Stash,” “Guelah Papayrus,” “Glide,” and “Tweezer,” not to mention the other gems. It’s enough to say that this album brought us classics, but it also revisited the character side of Phish. “Eliza,” “Cavern,” and “The Mango Song” are all amazingly driven by character and plot, and bring us back to the days of TMWSIY. 1993’s Rift includes rarities like “Lengthwise,” “The Wedge,” and “Weigh,” and without listening to the album, you may never hear these songs.

Hoist is the album that features the most incredible talent the boys bring in the studio. Horns and collaboration are some of my favorite Phish specialties and this album has both. Julius featured the soulful Rickey Grundy Chorale (with Rose Stone & Jean McClain) and the Tower of Power Horns. The spacey-watery-wonderworld of “Down with Disease” is something not easily replicable, while the familiar, but new “Axilla II” is another album treasure, with the quirkiest ending I’ve known Phish to produce. We already know that “If I Could,” featuring Allison Kraus, is the studio version that got me going studio-ways in the first place, and “Scent of a Mule” is crisp, clean, and delightfully bouncy, something that doesn’t always translate to the stage.

In my opinion, the albums that came after this are less to write home about. 1996’s Billy Breathes and 1998’s The Story of the Ghost did bring in some more classics that we’ve fallen in love with, and it’s definitely worth it to give those versions a listen. Farmhouse was pretty much a flop (if you ask any phan, though the mainstream media seemed to like it). Round Room and Undermind were, well… somewhat undermined and have kind of been swept under the rug. Give them both a chance and see if the lighter, more poetic tunes don’t show you a different side of Phish. As far as Joy/Party Time, I would buy them both. It’s their first album back (again) and now that most of the tracks are pretty integrated into rotation, it will be interesting to see how they grow.

Just as the writer of a past STTF encouraged me, I hope this article opens your mind up some of the perfected powers our boys can stir up. It’s just as amazing what they can do on stage as what they can do in a studio.