John's Local Music Reviews
Posted April 15, 2012
Ricky Turner - The Significance of Being Nothing
Provocative songs and acoustic guitar playing tastefully interspersed with percussion, organ, electric guitar & backing vocals. That is a simple analysis of Ricky Turner's new album, 'The Significance of Being Nothing.' But it is much more than that.
His songwriting is wise beyond his years. The opening track, "Oh God, Where Do You Hide," is an entertaining piece on the attempt to discover the existence of a higher being. Another song, "Lemonade Stand Blues," takes the listener on the narrator's journey by the addition of passing traffic as part of the backing instrumentation. Subtle, yet ingenious.
His vocals imbue world weariness; a sadness that mourns for happier times yet, evokes a smile to the listener's face, in spite of it. He writes in a style that makes one think. They're not just songs; they're lessons to be studied, learned and to remain with you as you encounter life's imbalances.
My personal favorite track is "Chemical Imbalance." It is a full band effort that reminds me, in sound and structure, of the indie band, Jim's Big Ego.
These ten tracks on 'The Significance of Being Nothing' are anything BUT about being nothing. It is a wonderful new outlook on God, philosophy, life, and personal relationships through the fresh eyes of Ricky Turner. If this album is any indication of the direction his songwriting is heading, Ricky Turner may soon be looking at major label success.
Mark Zane - Walk It Off
'Walk It Off' is Mark Zane's second CD release. A sociology professor at Onondaga Community College, Mark brings his class lessons to song structure. Songs about racial indifference, economic struggle, & even adultery are given fine musical treatment, putting a new light on subjects we may not want to think about. But Mark makes us ponder these issues with powerful whimsy.
"Me and the Devil" and "Utica" both address economic issues in pursuit of financial easement. While "Hambone" is a humorous tale about a wandering husband and his wife's 'cure' for his philandering.
Mark has a great sense for developing a story and maintaining interest by the use of humor and/or spinning a surprising twist in the end, much like the catalogs of John Prine or David Bromberg. "The Ballad of Moses Brown," though not entirely PC, is an amazing tale about racial injustice where the protagonist takes an interesting sidestep.
It is in his fabulous personal songs where Mark gets a real chance to provide the listener a tickled funny bone. "I Got A Woman," I Don't Care Anymore" and the title track all give a wry glimpse into Mark Zane's twisted psyche. One of my favorite songs is "Banjo In Your House" where the singer gets inspired at the most inopportune times.
Backed by great hand-picked musicians, Mark Zane's "Walk It Off" is a delightful CD to put in the car player and grin on down the road.
February 5, 2012
Review of New Local CD Releases
Donna Mucks - Faith and Service
Donna Mucks sophomore CD, Faith and Service is not only inspirational, but also inspiring. Her spiritual outlook on humanity and nature is mesmerizing. Take a song like "Faith In The Sky," for instance. Outwardly, it's about a chance encounter on a plane, Donna reels you in with sincerity and grace and springs an interesting twist on Faith in the end.
Her voice is relaxing, like a gentle breeze, and encourages a rally for mankind. In a song like "Officer Down," she couples a traditional Celtic tune with a poignant tale of despair and tragedy, that hits you in the heart, evoking vast emotions.
Ably accompanied by the extremely talented Nick Piccininni, Donna's songs flow seamlessly from one to another. The strong melodies play a significant part in this album, so much so, that all the songs are repeated as instrumentals, climaxing the album in a caressing tone.
If you are looking for an album of music to lift your spirits or just to contemplate the day, Faith and Service will be your soundtrack.
Roger Smith - blues
Roger Smith's debut album, 'blues,' wouldn't seem out of place on a shelf with the Early Delta blues artists, i.e. Son House or Robert Johnson. A solitary 6-string and a soulful, plaintive voice colors these songs in a lively kind of loneliness, injected with a wry sense of humor. Love songs, anti-love songs and personal songs blend to make this album a sweet listenable experience.
Roger's fluidity and flexibility on the guitar drives songs like Ewwweee Baby Blues and I Stepped Too Close. One of the highlights of this album is Mariposa Garden, a beautiful, wistful tune of love past. It is unlike the majority of this album of blues, a wonderful departure, to be sure. As is, Sailors Love The Wind, a song that could lend itself to heavier instrumentation, but is striking in its stripped down arrangement.
A man, his voice and guitar - that is what Roger Smith's 'blues' is all about. This album gives the listener an unobscured peek into the heart and soul of Roger Smith.
Pamme Swan - Year of Firsts
Pamme Swan has been a mainstay on CNY stages for some time. Her music is beautiful and her voice, lilting. This none more clearer than on her latest CD offering, 'Year of Firsts.'
The album opens with a sweet instrumental, Damselfly, that leads to the title track, a stunning tune blending guitar and mandolin. Actually, the mandolin plays a driving force throughout this album, that is reminiscent of Lucinda Williams crossed with early Bonnie Raitt.
The humorous Truth of the Matter and the story song Woodchuck and Crow are standout tracks on an album filled with standout tracks. A personal favorite is Balm For Sorrow, a trancelike guitar following an old-timey lyric about a lost soul seeking happiness.
Year of Firsts' songs are interspersed with pleasant instrumentals that bring a refreshing experience to the ears. Pamme's guitar flows like a country river, slow, deliberate, and with purpose. Her lyrics elicit delightful images. Drop this disc into your CD player and let your troubles drift away.
Johnson & Co. - Funky Guitar Man
On initial inspection of Johnson & Company's debut CD, 'Funky Guitar Man,' it could appear to be another 3 chord blues "extravaganza.' But, it's not. It's a well-crafted, tight, danceable, good flowing album. All the instruments come through clean & full. Everyone is IN it. From the opening riffs of the title track, Johnson & Co. establish themselves a step aside from the norm. Blues, rock and funk blend to develop a truly different sound to these ears.
Each proceeding song on the 9 track album, builds upon this difference. Tracks like "Don't Lose The Blues," "Funky Blues," and "Cuttin' Loose Tonight," continue to keep your feet in motion. Drummer Pat Morreale & bassist John Jarvis add to Terry Johnson's guitar prowess. Their musical & vocal contributions add fullness & depth to the recordings. The song "Blues Train," makes great use of Terry's son and daughter on acoustic guitar & keyboards, respectively, while Ted Toscano's harp playing is well featured and well accepted. My personal favorite is "You're Hot," a subtle change on the oft-written beautiful girl song.
All songs were composed by the group's leader & guitarist, Terry Johnson, so, 'Funky Guitar Man' is also a personal tale. It traces the guitarist's beginnings, on what hooked him on playing, to his band's formation & musical friends, to some personal choices that had been made. That adds to the true feelings of the heart and soul in this record.
Johnson & Company's 'Funky Guitar Man' is a grand welcome to any blues and/or rock collection. It is a great driving album, as well as a good sit back, grab a cool one & relax kind of listen. And remember - "Don't Lose The Blues!"
I understand that Elvis was a big influence in your music. What was it specifically that attracted you to his music?
The first time I saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show. I knew that I wanted to make people feel with my music the way I felt when I watched him perform. He was so natural. He felt every note he sang. So natural, yet naive! Just like many aspiring performers, I spent many hours in front of the mirror. It had to be perfect!
Where were you when you heard of Elvis' death?
When I first heard the news that Elvis died, I guess I was in shock. I was visiting my mom in the hospital when the news came on. " Elvis has Passed away!' the announcer said. I heard it, but it just couldn't sink in. It can't be true, but it was! Suddenly there was a big void inside. I felt like I lost my brother, or best friend. Helpless, but there was nothing I could I do!
What did you think about some of the tribute songs (Ronnie McDowell/The King Is Gone, John Fogerty/Big Train from Memphis, etc.) that arose in the time following his death?
I was pleased with some of the tribute songs that were recorded in his memory, if they were from the heart and not for some financial gain.
How did your song "Lisa" come about?
It is all very strange how our the song came about. My wife of 48 years, Mimi, who I would not have traded for any music career, wrote it for me. She was not comfortable with me pursuing a career in show business; she was most content with our nice little country home and soon, our large family with 6 children. She knew how helpless I was feeling about Elvis' passing. While I was away on business, she wrote "Lisa" for me. Here is where it gets strange. She said "I sat down to write it, and if was as if someone was telling me what to say!" It took her about 25 minutes to write. Finally, I could help to fill the void. I could now do something for Elvis that he could no longer do himself. The message to his daughter, Lisa, is just what we feel Elvis would say if he could.
Where was it recorded?
Bob Yaeger's UCA Studio on Lenox Ave Utica. It was recorded 2/25/78.
Among the musicians on the recording were Carmen Caramanica & Rick Montalbano. How did they get involved in the project?
I did not know Carmen Caramanica. I had heard of him, but we never met. When we did meet, he was exactly what I was looking for.When he listened to the cassette I had recorded, he replied, "Man, that's a heavy tune. I don't know if I can do anything with it." I responded "Why is that?" He said "The cat is dead; if we are going to do it, it must be done in reverence!" That is exactly what I needed to hear. Carm took control, brought in some of his key people, Rick Montabano, Sam Maggio, Pat Basile, and Cos Cosamonto, and into the studio we went.
The B-side was an Elvis number. Why did you choose that song?
I recorded "I Was the One" on the B-side as I felt this was how things were between Elvis and Pricilla. She was so young when they met, and he was deeply hurt when he lost her.
There are 2 pressings of the single - a blue label & a gold label plus a picture sleeve. Why 2 versions?
The original master went to Nashville (Gold Label), this is by far the best quality. The second pressing came about as we wanted to have additional copies available when we went to Memphis. The same master was used on both.
Tell us the story about trying to promote the single. I believe you went down South to push it. right?
We decided to take a trip to Memphis because we were receiving many inquiries, which was the result of airplay, especially from local radio personality, Hank Brown, who is the best! While in Memphis, we, Mimi and I, were interviewed by the BBC who was on location shooting a film, "Elvis Lived." We are proud to say that "Lisa" was used in the production of that film. I actually received some fan mail from England Fan Clubs.We also met with a record producer. He was very impressed. He said, "If you had this song available immediately after his passing, you would have had a Gold Record." His rationale was, all we needed was national air play. The DJs were playing all the Elvis tribute songs and most of them were terrible. He said, "You have something special there!" But, timing is everything!
Are there still copies of "Lisa" available?
I do have copies available. There may be some at Off-Center Records in Utica.
Have you recorded anything else?
As far as other recordings, I could never produce anything to top "Lisa"! For me that says it all. The lyrics, arrangement and production are as good as it gets from me. I have recorded 4 CDs, mainly covers from Morrison to Mraz, just for personal friends and family, not to release.
Do you still perform?
Now that I am retired and have the time to devote to my music, so much has changed. If I had dedicated musicians with the same desire as I have, I would definitely be out there performing now. Fortunately, I do have some great memories of some of the shows I did do during the late 70s and 80s. Trinkaus Manor Dinner Shows, Hanna Park, Utica / Rome Speed Way, Trade Wind, plus many Special Corporate performances in various hotels in the Syracuse area. Even a few field days.
What do you do now?
I do not actively pursue performing, however, I will upon request. My sons are also musicians; we have done some shows together, but not on a regular basis. I still love show business and still ask Jesus to take the desire away and give it to someone else that can use it. Unless he still has something in mind for me, the feeling is still there!
Your sons are also musicians. What words of wisdom or philosophies have you instilled in them towards the field of music?
My advice to my sons and other aspiring musicians is as follows:
1. Put yourself into the lyrics, feel them!
2.Make every performance better than your last.
3.Always leave them wanting more.
4.Love what you are doing.
5.Never lose the butterflies,just get them to fly in formation.
6. Never give up on your dream.
Doug, thank you for talking with us about your wonderful contribution to our local music scene. Is there anything you would like to add?
I honestly feel that if Elvis could have heard "Lisa", it would have made him happy. There will never be another Elvis! He changed our lives and the world!
January 8, 2012
January is the birth of a new year. It also marks the anniversary of Elvis' birthday on January 8th. The King of Rock and Roll gave the world tremendous love and music. August 16th 1977, Elvis died. His passing affected a great many lives. In the wake of his death, dozens of Tribute songs were released by all ranks of artists.
In 1978, a local musician recorded one of the finest Elvis Tribute songs, "Lisa." Sung from the viewpoint of Elvis singing to his daughter, from Heaven, it is very heartfelt and tender & with a memorable melody. This was the only recording by Doug DeMarche' Sr., but it is a great contribution to local music and to Elvis' memory. I recently spoke with Doug about his career and "Lisa."
Are you originally from Central NY?
I was born in Utica and have lived in this area all of my life.
What are your musical beginnings?
As a youngster, I sang country music, as that's all that was available, except the big bands, Glenn Miller etc. Then, Elvis came along.
Did you perform regularly in the area?
With raising a family, it was impossible to pursue a career in show business which was my dream. It still is. I would pray "Jesus, if I can't do this, then please take away the desire, give it to someone else that can use it. But he never made it go away!
"Lisa," an Elvis tribute song by Doug DeMarche, Sr.
Note: There are a few copies of Doug DeMarche's single "Lisa" available at Off-Center Records on Bleecker Street in Utica.