Sunday, June 15, 2014

Soundgarden – ‘Superunknown’ DTS 11.1 Sound/App Review

Soundgarden – ‘Superunknown’ DTS 11.1 Sound/App 
Review By Anthony Kuzminski 

What can you say about Soundgarden’s fourth album Superunknown? It debuted at number one in 1994, birthed five singles, sold over five-million copies in the US alone and is widely regarded as one of the milestone albums of the grunge movement. The irony of the band being labeled as a grunge entity is they won two Grammy awards in 1995; “Best Hard Rock Performance” for “Black Hole Sun” and “Best Metal Performance” for “Spoonman”. Few acts can fit into so many pockets comfortably without receiving their fair share of backlash, but Soundgarden carried a clout with them before Nirvana and Pearl Jam took off (they were nominated for “Best Metal Performance” in 1990 for their debut album Ultramega OK) and few acts could push musical boundaries the way they did. While their time at the very top was short lived (they broke up in 1997), few albums in the 1990s carried more mystical dourness than Superunknown.

When Soundgarden broke up in 1997, for reasons I can’t quite explain, they drifted from my consciousness. I’d occasionally pull out their albums, but for the better part of a dozen years, I forgot about them. The 2010 reunion and compilation Telephantasm reignited my interest in the band. I mention this only because in a day and age where our senses are inundated by countless forms of entertainment all veering for our attention, I lost track of a great album and a great band. It was only when they took control of their past and began putting time, effort and energy in reintroducing the world to their small but heady catalog. Some artists view looking back to the past as nothing more than nostalgia, but they’re wrong. With the right care and timing, it can open the music to a new generation of fans, it can remind old fans why they fell in love with it in the first place and it can sway to non-believers to rethink their original stance. For the twentieth anniversary of Superunknown Soundgarden are clearing the decks with an impressive five-disc box set that houses a remastered album, outtakes, B-sides, rehearsals, demos and even a DVD with the album in 5.1 sound. However, one bonus feature many may be unaware of is a staggering tour de force sound invention; the complete Superunknown album in 11.1 sound.

In recent years, Blu-ray discs have evolved to 7.1 sound from what was the standard 5.1, so when I was told Superunknown was the first rock album ever to be mixed in 11.1 sound and it was available as an app on your phone, I just couldn’t imagine how the listening experience would be overpowering. Part of the glory of Blu-ray films is the size of your television, the enhanced sound with speakers carefully placed throughout the room for maximum impact? Could the same experience be felt via headphones over an app? I am happy to say that the 11.1 mix for Superunknown is a revelatory listening experience not just for music lovers, but it has the potential to make you feel like you are hearing this record for the first time ever. While I can’t imagine ever record being benefitting from this treatment, it is a major step forward for the music industry. After years of degrading sound via MP3, YouTube and streaming services, the DTS 11.1 sound reveals hues and colors you’ve never hear before. It overcomes you and lets you truly lose yourself in the music. The idea behind the DTS Headphone: X format is to let you listen as if you are in the producer’s chair in a state-of-the-art recording studio.

What makes the app remarkable is they thought out how people listen to music from numerous ear phone options: “In Ear”, “On Ear” and “Over Ear” (along with an unprocessed stereo version). I have Beats headphones and the “On Ear” sounded most impressive, while if you opt to switch to “In Ear”, you should switch your earphones to ear buds. The app includes an introduction video from Kim Thayil, a demo test and “Spoonman”. If you are a cynic like I was, run the demo and it will showcase the 11 channels in your earphones that will make you want all your favorite albums be mixed in this format.

Album opener “Let Me Drown” circles and encompasses you with Cornell’s fluid vocals gripping you the way as if you are watching an IMAX film for the first time. Kim Thayil’s guitars grind you to the ground. Album closer “Like Suicide” puts you in a realm between heaven and Earth where you float between the two worlds. It’s heartbreaking, haunting and downright bracing to take in. Impending doom looms over "Fell On Black Days" in a way that’s never been so heightened before. Cornell’s vocals can be felt rather than heard while drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd are rock-hard and reserved but before the chorus, they pound their instruments for a brief moment (“How would I know?). The entire seventy-minute album has been reborn in this format. It reminded me of how ambitious and adventurous rock music once was and how it can be again. Listening to Superunknown in 11.1 sound isn’t an activity or a marketing ploy, it’s a breathtaking and refreshing way to experience music.

The only downside is the entire album is only available in 11.1 sound when you buy the deluxe five-disc Superunknown box set which is currently $94 on Amazon. However, considering the breadth of unreleased material and multiple versions of the album in different formats (remastered CD, Blu-ray 5.1, DTS 11.1 app) and a 80-page book of new and old artwork makes this a box set that isn’t simply for die-hard Soundgarden fans, but music fans overall.

The app can be downloaded from the iTunes HERE

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Monday, December 23, 2013

Album & Concert Review- Butch Walker's 'Peachtree Battle'

Best of 2013: Butch Walker
‘Peachtree Battle’ EP/Album Review
Concert Review 11/5/2013
House of Blues- Chicago, IL

By Anthony Kuzminski

It took me a while to make sure this one was done right. Whenever I review something by Butch Walker it's more than a standard review or assignment. He's out there creating some of the best music of the last decade that covers a wide variety of genres making his music hard to place in one genre. That being said, it's also what makes it so good. 

First up, I take a look at his brilliant EP, Peachtree Battle, written in the shadows of his father's declining health. I also discuss the need for him to tour at this time and why his Chicago show was more than an enlivening one, but an enlightening experience no one will soon forget. 

Here's a small piece from the review:
One song on the EP that stands out is the aching “Coming Home”. The light of the song comes from its delivery. I thought about my father's wail as the opening piano chords of “Coming Home” echoed out of the speakers. I also heard the sound of his encouragement, his sage advice, and his frustration with me as a teen but above all else, I heard the sound of his undying love that I will take with me wherever I go for the rest of my life. I now watch that same love shared with my four-year-old daughter for whom he is a caretaker a few days a week. Their relationship is like no other and yet, he turned seventy this past July and he has entered the same decade that both his father and Butch’s father passed and yet I am not in a stage where I can think about losing him. One Saturday we came home from running errands to find my father pulling an cutting every weed from our garden, something we didn’t ask him to do but he did because he knew how pressed we were from time. When I bring my daughter home from his house, her coat is filled with sticks of gum and lollypops. When I ask her who gave her them, she lights up the world with a smile and simply says “Pa”. One day I will lay my father to rest knowing I can never repay him for the support and life lessons he provided. I do not want to think about how my daughter will react because the loss will be vast but I know I will play her “Coming Home” and tell her we will one day see him again. 

Read the rest of the review HERE. As always special thanks to Keavin at antiMUSIC for giving me free reign to write these introspective pieces. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Replacements Reunite for Riot Fest 2013 in Chicago, Toronto & Denver

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2013

Full Line-ups Revealed for Toronto August 24-25 and Denver Sept. 21-22 including Iggy & the Stooges, Blink 182, Rancid, Public Enemy, AFI, Flag, Rocket from the Crypt, The Dismemberment Plan, Best Coast and more
Riot Fest Chicago September 13-15

Seminal Minneapolis punk band The Replacements have reunited to play Riot Fest after a 22-year absence from the stage. It all began last fall, when the band got together to pay tribute to and help out former guitarist Slim Dunlap, who suffered a stroke in February of 2012. The great connection in the studio led to the band deciding to return to the stage and have some fun.

According to founding bassist Tommy Stinson, the band never actually broke up. He’s often said that they simply walked off the stage near the end of their now-legendary last show in Grant Park in Chicago on July 4, 1991 and hadn’t gone back yet.

The Replacements join the Chicago line-up featuring Fall Out Boy, Blink 182, Violent Femmes, Motorhead, Rancid, Blondie, Public Enemy, Rocket from the Crypt and a slew of other bands.

On a mission to create a punk rock state fair, this amazing 3-day festival takes place in historic Humboldt Park in Chicago, where a Ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, fire eaters, Lucha Libre and other attractions nestle in a gorgeous setting. Lagoons, shade trees and lovely fields yield to a stunning view of the Chicago skyline.


Riot Fest returns to Toronto for it's second year, with an incredible line-up featuring The Replacements, Iggy & the Stooges, A Day To Remember, Pierce the Veil, Every Time I Die, Rocket from the Crypt, Dinosaur Jr, Best Coast, Mayday Parade, Grade, The Ghost Inside, Structures, Real Friends, The Flatliners and Single Mothers at Fort York in Toronto, located at 100 Garrison Road, M5V 3K9, 416/392-6907.

Canada's Exclaim Magazine praised the inaugeral Riot Fest in 2012, saying "There is no question Riot Fest delivered a day of great punk music...Each band got the spotlight they deserved, giving fans a great show..."
Saturday, August 24th Tickets
Sunday, August 25th Tickets
Weekend (2-Day Ticket)


Riot Fest arrives in Denver for two days at May Farms in Byers, Colorado, a beautiful working farm that includes space for camping. The line-up is stellar: The Replacements, Blink 182, Iggy and The Stooges, Rancid, AFI, Public Enemy, Brand New, Airborne Toxic Event, AWOLNATION, Guided by Voices, FLAG, Rocket From The Crypt, Bad Religion, Matt & Kim, The Dismemberment Plan, Alkaline Trio, Superchunk, Yo La Tengo, AgainstMe!, Best Coast, Minus the Bear, Naked Raygun, The Stranglers, Stars, Capital Cities, Breathe Carolina, The Dear Hunter, Bosnian Rainbows, This Will Destroy You, Wovenhand, Lydia, Peelander-Z, Touche Amore, Off With Their Heads, Single Mothers, Kitten, Kongos, New Beat Fund and more to be announced. May Farms is located at 64001 US Highway 36, Byers, CO, 80103. The phone is 303/822-5800, visit their website at Tickets:

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Orion Music + More: More Than a Festival, but a Family

Orion Music + More: More Than a Festival, but a Family
Day One – Saturday June 8th
Belle Isle – Detroit , MI
By Anthony Kuzminski
[Published in Partnership with the antiMUSIC Network]
Photo Credit

When the artist line-up for Orion Music + More was announced a few months back, those who were closely dissecting the wide and vast array of artists noticed a band called “dehaan”. No one could find anything out about the band, but the band revealed little tiny clues over the weeks leading up to the festival so at 4:30 on a perfect summer afternoon, the crowd around the Vans Damage Inc stage was full of fans anticipating a potential surprise from Metallica. The banner of “dehaan” was crossed over and replaced with “Metal Up Your Ass”, an infamous Metallica t-shirt and what was originally supposed to be the title of their debut 1983 LP which eventually became Kill 'Em All.

Shortly after 4:30, fans excitement went up a notch with the appearance of Ray Burton to the right side of the stage. His appearance elicited a chant of “Cliff-Cliff-Cliff”, honoring the late Metallica bass player who helped take Metallica to another level musically. Ray went to a microphone and told the crowd to have a great time before James Hetfield appeared telling the crowd that “dehaan” was a mystery band from Baltimore before a shot of distortion paired with Lars Ulrich’s crashing symbols initiated “Hit the Lights”, the lead cut from Kill 'Em All. In honor of its 30th anniversary, the band decided it would be a good time to tear through the speed metal masterpiece in full. What followed over the next fifty-five minutes was a blistering joy ride of not just nostalgia, but peak into a world that most of the attendees could only imagine in their dreams. Something Metallica has done better than any other band (possibly aside from Iron Maiden) over the last decade if shifting between the present and the past. They are an ever evolving band who continues to reinvent themselves but are acutely aware of the fervent fan following they have and with every opportunity they get, they give the fans what they want. In 2006 when they toured Europe, they played Master of Puppets nightly in its entirety. At last year’s Orion festival they performed Ride the Lightning in full the first night and Metallica aka The Black Album the following night. This is not because they have lost their creative mojo, but because it is what the fans want. Due to the speed with which these songs were written and recorded, they may not fit into the mold of an arena show, but at Orion, the songs were a reminder that Metallica was and still is the very best at what they do. When Hetfield told the crowd “This is like a festival, but a club as well”, everyone understood completely what he meant. There was a communal and familial atmosphere to their set, with several life long fans holding their children on their shoulders from a distance so they can see, grasp and understand what this band means to so many people.

No sooner did Metallica launch into their set than a spirited and intense mosh pit open up. This was clearly Christmas for many as no one had envisioned Metallica ever performing Kill 'Em All top-to-bottom just for what it would take physically to make it a reality, but they didn’t disappoint. Guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet was aligned as their guitars slashed and swayed the crowd into further hysteria on the metal roar of "The Four Horsemen", the ruthless swing of "Jump in the Fire" and astonishingly ferocious “Phantom Lord”. Lars Ulrich delivered unconventional power behind the drum kit from the machine gun drum opening of “Motorbreath” and the quick-footed precision of “Whiplash” which required breakneck force that rippled throughout the crowd. Bassist Robert Trujillo was on another plane with his performing during the set. Of the four members, he has the toughest job as he has to live in the shadow of a ghost, the late Cliff Burton. Despite this, Trujillo captured Burton’s spirit and on the bass solo "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" he managed to deliver an emotional wallop to the crowd as his bass provided an emotional wallop to the crowd’s heart. His fingers glided across the neck of his bass he was merciless and meticulously underpinning the band as they rallied around him taking the shred fest into a spiritual space. Metallica is a band who locks in on their musical mission every time they lift their instruments. Few bands can replicate this bond even if they tried. Closing out the set "Seek & Destroy" and "Metal Militia", not a single fan was disappointed. The band made their way off the stage but not before Lars Ulrich stepped behind a microphone with a wry smile telling the crowd “Next up…ReLoad”. I’ve always believe the key to life is humor and as much grief Metallica received post-1991, I think they have carried themselves and respected their fans better than any touring band on the planet over the last decade.

The Orion Festival Experience
New music festivals are appearing everywhere ad with every passing year, it is becoming more and more difficult to choose which ones you should attend. While the acts that perform at these shows play a huge part in the decision-making, there is also Lollapalooza and Coachella which sell-out based solely on the experience and name recognition. Is Orion Music + More worth your time, energy and money? After one day, my answer would be a resounding “yes”. Despite some minor hiccups at will call (which can be resolved easily with more windows next year), I felt the festival provided a top tier experience for the fans. Throughout day one, never did I feel famished, exhausted or disheveled and it was mostly due to the amenities provided throughout. You are allowed to bring in an empty water bottle and can receive all the free water you want at select watering stations. Bathrooms were plentiful and for the most part clean. However, what was most impressive was the actual grounds the festival took place on. When Metallica announced the second Orion Music + More, they switched the location from Atlantic City to Belle Isle, a wonderful 982-acre park situated between downtown Detroit and Canada. Belle Isle is spacious enough to hold the festival, but unlike many other festivals, I found it cozier and easier to navigate. Shuttle (in the form of yellow school buses) were provided for all attendees of the festival and were organized with military-like precision and execution. The stages were all close together and it only took minutes to navigate between them. At other festivals, it sometimes takes upwards of fifteen or twenty minutes to get from one stage to another. At Orion, I never had to sacrifice a set for fear of missing the beginning of another.

The food was surprisingly superb with a wide variety of choices from standard fare as pizza and hot dogs to more custom offerings of Polish pierogi served up in a variety of ways. The best part is that there were seven unique stations offering food, only three items were over ten dollars, and several were in the five-dollar range. Merchandise was available from the bands, for the festival and several local vendors got in on the action as well. Once again, the prices felt appropriate. A new feature I hope other festivals embrace is the option of lockers, which fans can store their backpacks in, or their exclusively signed merchandise from bands that appeared at the F.Y.E autograph tent. They had a superb selection of cd’s and vinyl available.
Metallica also brought a museum with them featuring instruments, stage props and memorabilia from their entire career. The most viewed item was the last bass Cliff Burton ever played. Instruments used to record their first few records, Justice tour props, the white suits from the Garage Inc. photo shoot and a amplifier from James Hetfield which had the infamous “Kill Bon Jovi” sticker on it (with an “ed” added to the end of kill”). James Hetfield stopped by the Custom Car + Motorcycle show that was open to all ticketholders. Besides being a hobby for Hetfield, cars are an integral part of the history of Detroit, so to see all of these custom automotives at one place was something the crowd ate up. I will cover the Hit the Lights film tent and Kirk’s Crypt in my day-two reporting.

The Music of Orion
While seeing Metallica was and always will be the main attraction of Orion, the festival really stands apart from all others in its diversity, which is another item that makes Orion stand apart from its counterparts. While there was a healthy dose of fist-pumping riffs, the collective whole of Orion covers more genres than any other music festival on North American soil. Metal music fans are a loyal and devoutly intense bunch, so to see the Sanitarium stage dedicated to DJ’s and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) was not something I had imagined could ever work, but it did and based on feedback from people, it was the aspect of the festival they did not expect to enjoy but did. I was able to catch portions of sets by Dillon Francis and Bassnectar and the rejoinder from the crowd was elated euphoria. Just like punk, metal and alternative music before, EDM is riding a wave of popularity that only appears to be increasing and sprinkling over into the mainstream. The covered stage was full for both sets with fans taking part in the festivities with hula-hoops, fuzzy dance boots, feather boas and more costumes than I could shake a stick at. I applaud Metallica for acknowledging and embracing other genres of music. I have always believed that it is a big world out there and the more you try, the richer your life will be. It does not mean you have to love everything you see or experience but you can appreciate and through these experiences have a better understand of what makes us all tick.

For the rock-minded attendees of the festival, day one featured several artists who took their respective stages by storm. The Dropkick Murphys opened their feisty set with “For Boston” and “The Boys Are Back”, providing an emotional wallop right from the start. They sprinted through their hour set with the same ravaged passion they are known for. I sadly missed the second half of the set due to the “dehaan” set.
The Chicago punk band Rise Against delivered an impassioned hour-long set full of punk zeal underlined with intrinsic melodies that differentiate them from other acts at Orion. Vocalist Tim McIlrath showed no inhibition as he gripped the crowd right from the start of “Chamber the Cartridge” to the set closer “Savior”. If anything, they were warming up when they had to leave the stage. Guitarist Zach Blair wore a Metallica shirt and put forward haunting riffs that matched the emotive power of McIlrath’s vocals.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers (who share management with Metallica) have been the de facto festival headliner as of late with them appearing at nearly every major festival over the last two years including Lollapalooza and Coachella. Their closing set on Saturday was spot-on and determined but many of the crowd viewed it as spectators rather than full participants. It may have been because of the disappointment of Metallica not headlining both nights (although those who saw the afternoon set would trade a two-hour set for all of Kill ‘Em All) and it may simply have been that any festival is a long day and by this stage, people were tired. Despite not being the crowd they may be used to, the four members of the Peppers were swinging for the fences with a greatest hits set full of crowd pleasing moments. Despite the more laid-back crowd, there was not a soul within shouting distance of the stage who was not singing along to “Under the Bridge”, which lead singer Anthony Kiedis did not even need to sing. “Higher Ground” found a mini mosh take place, “Snow ((Hey Oh))” found arms waving and “Can’t Stop” found them teasing a bit of “Enter Sandmen”.

One of the highlights of the 2013 edition or Orion was the reunion of Infectious Grooves, a super group of sorts who can be described as the bastard children of Black Sabbath and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They had equal amounts of funk and metal in their sound. The reason for the reunion is because Robert Trujillo was the original bass player. While Infectious Grooves is still a band that has toured and recorded in the last decade, this incarnation of the band has not performed in more than two decades. Original guitarist Adam Siegel was unable to make it and in a pleasant surprise, ex-Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin filled in for him. Infectious Grooves grew out of Suicidal Tendencies with singer Mike Muir being able to let his guard down a bit more than the brand of thrash metal they helped create. They performed an energetic hour set at Orion. It is also a testament to the talents of Robert Trujillo who earlier in the day had to channel the spirit of Cliff Burton was able to flex his other wide-ranging talents as a musician during this set. He did not just lay the foundation for the other band to build on, but was the key groove master and contributor this time around. The band focused on songs from their 1991 album The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move...It's the Infectious Grooves. Singer Mike Muir took to the stage in his trademark headband and gave the performance his all with a winking vitality. There was always a lighter feel to Infectious Grooves but none of that mattered at Orion; what mattered most was how easily these musicians gelled once they took the stage, it was as if the two decades had not occurred. When they started this band, I cannot imagine they ever envisioned radio airplay and this is why the show was so pure and persuasive. This music was created out of five immense talents who unleashed their inner artistry. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers were getting ready to take the stage on the other side of the park, Infectious Grooves gave them a run for their money in funkiness.

"You Lie...And Yo Breath Stank" and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” saw the walls between punk, funk and metal dissipate with Janes Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins hitting every groove with ease, the set went into overdrive. “Therapy” (which originally featured Ozzy Osborne) was a showcase for Jim Martin, who was not even part of the band but took part for Orion. With his facial hair groomed and graying, once his guitar pick hit those chords, it was as if you were back in 1991. While an integral piece of Faith No More history, Martin has sat on the sidelines for the last several years and to see him onstage was not just a pleasure but possibly the day’s second biggest highlight after Metallica’s surprise appearance. Martin dazzled and as the band went into "Infectious Grooves", Martin once again found a perfect balance of shred and funk as the audience watched on in awe. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet sat on the side of the stage and looked on with enormous smiles on their faces like proud parents watching their children exceed in ways unimaginable. How can someone this good, this in shape and this capable not be playing more? I hope this performance has wetted Martin’s appetite because I will sign up for anything he chooses to lend his name to going forward.

Towards the end of the set, Mike Muir, went to the side of the stage and pulled the children of band members on stage before the final note wrung out. Before they left the stage, Trujillo thanked the crowd for coming out and talked about how the Orion festival was “all about unity”. The children who watched the five musicians of Infectious Grooves may not have realized it, but as Muir delicately and metaphorically pointed out, they are all family. This is what makes the creation of bands so magical in the eyes of fans. We each have two sets of families; those we are born into and those we choose. As we wander in the world, we look to find our place and through the help of others, we often find ourselves. These five musicians had not performed in more than two decades but there was a history there and as those children looked on in wonder, they may not have realized it, but they will each be connected for life, not by blood but by the music. If there is any reason Orion exists, it is not for profit or furthering the name and image of Metallica, but to unite these different genres of music where it is more than a festival, but a family.

Please return to antiMUSIC later this week where we will report extensively on day two of Orion.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Happy Birthday to Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump Tony K's Album of the Year Pick: Patrick Stump - Soul Punk

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

So...about 'The Karate Kid' Remake...

There are dozens of reasons why the remake of The Karate Kid was abysmal. (Note: being a celebrity doesn't mean you get to buy your kids franchises for Christmas) but let's be honest...the main reason it sucked is because it didn't include a this ass-kicking song in any of the fight sequences, if it had, I would have maybe given the film 2.5 stars...

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Every time I read the news/ I'm always more confused"

Whenever I question our existence or a tragedy befalls us, I turn to the music of Michael Franti. Not only does he sing and perform with a persuasive nature, but his music comforts you like a parent. He has an intrinsic ability to heal. On days like today, we need everything we can to make sense of the world.

With that...I leave you with a few versions of the fourth most played song on my iPod; "I Know I'm Not Alone".

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"We must try to contribute joy to the world" - Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert – ‘Life Itself’ 
Book Review Five-Stars (*****) 
Review By Anthony Kuzminski 
[Published in conuncton with the antiMUSIC Network]

  “I will write this book only once and might as well not make it fiction.”

Roger Ebert is a man who relishes the art of film. His reviews are like no other and he’s largely viewed as the pre-eminent writer of film criticism of the not just the last century but this one as well. Despite losing his voice, he’s anything but silent. He’s taken to the web to transform not just his writing, but film criticism as well. In a day and age where lengthy reviews have been overlooked for sound-bytes and hundred-word reviews, Ebert is writing not just more than ever before, but better than anyone could have imagined. With his absence from television, those who still value his opinion must see out his writing which has blossomed in ways no one ever could have imagined and the fruit of these labors are in his autobiography, Life Itself, one of the best modern biographies to ever be written.

Writing about music means a slew of rock God biographies are continually sent my way and while they’re enthralling historical documents and often give the reader a certain perspective, we also are given a glimpse into their egocentric minds. A rock star acts like a child for a few decades before they settle down, make amends for their past and finish their book with a new look on life. Roger Ebert’s book opens with a untainted view of the world and as he takes us down the corridors of his life, he shares dreams, desires and darkness but above all, he shows us a road map for making the most out of life. Ebert is an acute narrator fully aware of not just the intricacies of existence, but the gloom and glory that go hand-in-hand with it. Roger Ebert’s Life Itself is one of the greatest biographies to ever be written because it is devoid of ego. Stepping into the past is a dangerous and treacherous road for many who write autobiographies. They wallow in it without regard for the reader. Not everyone’s childhood warrants to be documented. That being said, what differentiates Ebert from most film and music stars is that he’s a professional writer…one of the greatest of the last forty years.

Ebert outlines his journey, never hiding his feelings or falsifying the past in order to credit himself. When he was selfish, stupid and just wrong, he flat out admits it. His tales from Champaign, Illinois aren't selfish, but stoic and from there no stone goes unturned. He talks about the pain of losing his father while still a teen, the bottomless pit he felt when his trusty dog had died, the rush from writing sports articles for the local press, the high school crushes, a professor he let down once by criticizing his work, being overweight, his first job in Chicago, to his overseas studies, to a woman who had lied to him about being pregnant, to his long walks throughout London his extreme love for his wife Chaz and the friendships that painted his journey and give the narrative philosophical color. The tales of friendships are among the most profound. You've never heard of many of these people but you wish you could have dinner with them.The embarrassments, the humiliations and the accomplishments are so real, you half forget you are reading someone else’s story. This is Ebert’s brilliance, he peppers his stories with enough nuances to make him his own, but they’re easily relate-able to anyone who has ever left a breath escape from their lips. Most people famous enough to write their own biography have this barrier between them and their audience. This is only natural after years in the limelight and having press agents and assistants doing the heavy lifting allowing the star to always keep their distance. Ebert’s famous enough to be recognized by anyone who ever went to see a film between 1980 and 2000 and yet, he’s still a humble and kind man. The film directors and stars who invaded his mind and heart get proper due here as well. He speaks in awe of the late movie greats like Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin, whereas when he writes about directors Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog, there is a brotherly bond there. Most biographies find the subject pointing fingers at those who had done them wrong and made them suffer. Ebert’s book doesn't waste time on these people, instead it is about those who have enlightened his life.

There is a wonderful chapter on his relationship with Gene Siskel where he breaks down the differences between the two of them and a desire to always one-up the other. However, despite this fierce competition and the on-screen combating, deep down, there was more than respect, there was love. I spend a good amount of time hearing pitches from press agents and publishers about biographies they want me to write about. They’re usually about a star who lived in excess, is stabbing a former friend in the back or wallowing about their misfortune. These stories make for good reads, but how many can you remember months later? How many stick with you? How many permeate your senses with a tale of hope and redemption? Do any provide a road map for the future? I have now read Life Itself three times. Each and every chapter of Life Itself is infused with a silver lining. He spends a good amount of the book reminiscing about the good old day of journalism, aged movie theaters, little European hotels and Chicago greasy spoons that have gone out of business. But in each one, while lined with nostalgia, the reader picks up on the zest he has for life which comes to a head in the book’s final chapter.

There is a passage so insightful in the book’s final pages, I feel it is my duty to reprint it here in full because it is simply one of dozens of passages that give the reader lenses to view the world in a brighter light.

“’Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this and I am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Most art finds a way of bringing your dreams to life whereas Life Itself paints a picture of one’s existence that is better than a dream. It’s one thing to allow your imagination to take you away to a place where you view life through different lenses, but it’s another entirely to find such euphoric wonder in the banalities of life. The rare few who can do this…Springsteen, Scorsese and Roger Ebert-they’re the artists we learn the most from. They don’t make us reach higher and father so much as make us realize the fortunes that have befallen us and that our dreams are living and breathing in the here and now. When you close the book upon reading the final words, you will feel whole in ways you've never felt before. He doesn't review life as an burden, instead he believes there is transcendence to be found in every facet of life, which if we bring closer for a deeper inspection, it will free our minds. I honestly believe with all my heart that Life Itself is more than a defining biography but one of the most life affirming books you will ever read.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Monday, December 03, 2012

...and the best rock biography of 2012 is...

...Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart. I know, I am as floored as you. When I was invited by Mike Stark to discuss the best biographies on the market for the LA Radio Sessions podcast last month, I didn't even mention this book because I had not gotten to it yet. There was no way it could have been better than Heart, Springsteen, Jagger or Townshend's biographies...right? Not only is Stewart's a pleasurable read, it's incredibly entertaining and the best written of the bunch.

My in-depth review of the book is running now at antiMUSIC. Here's an excerpt from my review:

 Rod made me fall back in love with not just his underrated catalog, but with the man himself in a surprising, charming, cheeky and humorous look into his entire life. He doesn't feel like an elusive rock star out of touch with reality (even though he is just a bit) but by infusing the narrative with great humor, capricious prose and a beating heart, he's written not just one of the best rock n' roll autobiographies of the last ten years, but possibly the most entertaining one as well. There are artists with more admiration and critical acclaim with books out at this time that may overshadow Stewart's but none are as well written or evoke a tremor of glee the way Rod does. A must read for all music fans. 

Read the rest HERE
Buy the book HERE
Listen to my interview on the LA Radio Sessions HERE

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Peter Gabriel – ‘So’ 25th Anniversary Immersion Box Set Review

Peter Gabriel – ‘So’ 25th Anniversary Immersion Box Set Review
4 ½ Stars (****1/2)
By Anthony Kuzminski

When Peter Gabriel unleashed So on the public in May of 1986, it became a touchstone record listeners and peers studied and stood in awe of. The rich and textured layers proved to be ear candy for musicologists as they sat in disbelief wondering how he constructed such splendor. It is still a record people marvel over; So was built from the ground up with alluring hums and tremors from not just world music, but from soul, r&b and pop as well. What’s most fascinating to me is that Peter Gabriel was closer to forty than thirty at the album’s release and yet after hanging on the fringes of the mainstream music industry, he didn’t just break through with So, the wind with which he arrived tore the hinges off the door. So how did the former prog-rock front man of Genesis create a critical and commercial smash? You can now find out in an anniversary edition of the album featuring six discs, two LP’s and a sixty-page book. Like most multi-disc sets, it has its fans and foes and I will address it all here. So is the Pet Sounds of the MTV generation; a record filled with pop majesty and yet it plunges into the deep end of the ocean psychologically and consolidates not just Gabriel’s influences but his appreciation for world music into an indescribable color of sound. Not only are we listening to it today, but we still sit in awe at the depth of the arrangements and at the ethereal radiance of Gabriel’s vocals and lyrics.

The 2012 Remastered Album
I am happy to report that the remastered CD housed within the large box is the definitive statement of the album. Back in 2002 when Gabriel’s catalog received a much overdue remaster treatment, they brought the record into the 21st Century. A common thread in most remasters post-1995 was increasing treble levels and making the albums louder so they would jump out of the speakers at the listener. The cymbals were sharper, vocals pierced the listener’s senses and guitars took off like Top Gun fight planes. The 2002 edition of So was a significant upgrade from the existing CD so it was with great hesitation that I listened to the anniversary remaster. However, I am happy to report that the 2012 edition is probably a more understated yet vivid representation of what was intended. Listening to both versions back to back, I can say there are faint differences with more bottom end present (i.e. deeper bass, drums are thunderous rather than clashing). The 2002 remaster was done by Tony Cousins, however, for the anniversary edition, Gabriel re-engaged Ian Cooper who originally mastered the album at the Townhouse Studio in 1986. Gabriel and Cooper listened carefully to the original half-inch master tapes and were surprised at how it has held up over time. In a fortunate turn of events, Cooper had kept his original notes from 1986 and despite advances in the technology during that time; they did not change much with the new prism converters but offered a clearer definition at the top end. So what does that mean? It means the album has been given a modern day treatment and cleanup without sacrificing the sound for MP3 players. Listening to “Red Rain” it is immediately evident. The cymbals and drums snapped at a higher pitch on the 2002 remaster, whereas the percussion now feels as if it is in the room with you. The changes are inconspicuous but perfect. When the Beatles remastered their albums in 2009, it had a positive effect on the touching up of other classic albums. It no longer became about making the records louder, but by tightening the sound so that it captures the heart of the record when it was initially recorded. If you have not upgraded your copy since the original 1986 release, So is a rare wonder of a record where simply the remastered sound makes it worth a second purchase.

Live in Athens 1987 DVD and 2CD
If you opt out of the big deluxe box set, the streamlined 3cd set is still a worthy purchase. It contains the new remaster of So along with the first official live album from the tour recorded in Athens, Greece in October of 1987. Considering Peter Gabriel has made a point of having a live release to compliment, every tour except this one is peculiar. My gut tells me that he simply was so busy with projects like Passion (the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ) and recruiting artists for the 1988 Amnesty International tour that the idea of a live album fell by the wayside. This sin is remedied with a glorious two-disc set that captures the time and place and more importantly houses some of the definitive versions of these songs. Gabriel just finished his Back to Front world tour which we covered but what I wasn’t fully aware of was the 1986-87 concerts were performed solely by five musicians. Gabriel took to the stage with four backing musicians; Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitar, Manu Katché on drums and David Sancious on keyboards. Considering the complexity and layered sonic splendor of So one would imagine the band had a hard time recreating these songs onstage or that the live versions lacked the warmth of the record. Amazingly, each song sounds every bit as entrancing and several classic Gabriel songs are fleshed out. The recording was reconstructed and the entire show is here in spectacular sound. Often many acts go back to grab a live recording and the sound is deficient or wasn’t properly recorded so the end product often doesn’t reach its full potential, but this one does. The accompanying DVD is available exclusively on the box set and it may be worth purchasing for the disc alone. Despite the fact that some of this footage has appeared on VHS releases, this is the full time the entire show has been available in any form. It was directed by Michael Chapman, a longtime associate of Martin Scorsese’s (who executive produced the film) and whose work as a cinematographer on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are mouth gapingly great. Chapman knows how to use a camera and he uses his talents to bring out the best in the picture. What makes its inclusion surprising is that it had to be restored and reconstructed. When they began this process a few years ago, they were not sure, if the footage would be suitable or even if the whole concert was intact. Over 150 reels of original 35mm negatives were painstakingly assembled, cleaned up and remixed in 5.1 sound. The result is beautiful with little wear being shown. It was filmed in 1987 and does not have the technical advances of the last decade behind it, but the camera work is spacious capturing the performances and crowd. The performances of “Family Snapshot”, “Intruder”, “Biko” and “In Your Eyes” are definitive. The footage of “In Your Eyes” from this performance was used as the promotional video in 1989 when the song was given new life through the film ...Say Anything. As discussed elsewhere in the box, “In Your Eyes” became the concert tour’s penultimate song stretching past the ten-minute mark. Youssou N'Dour is on hand to lend his vocals and the breakdown of the song before a rising finale is one of the greatest live performances of any song ever. “Solsbury Hill” is blissful, “Games Without Frontiers” is mystifying, “No Self Control” evokes noir, “Intruder” is thundering, “Family Snapshot” is spirited, “Shock the Monkey” is playful and the arms-to-the-air chant of “Biko” will shake you to your core. You can only tour behind a new record once. When you do, you take the enthusiasm, the energy and the freshness of the new songs with you, which are why acts should document every tour. Live in Athens 1987 is more than merely a document of a tour but a comforting, enlivening and spiritual live experience; an essential live album and DVD on all accounts.

The most intriguing element of the box is the So DNA disc. One of the standard features of these more elaborate special editions is digging to the past for demos and early versions of songs. When the Who released Quadrophenia last year, the deluxe box set had two full discs of Townshend’s original demos with his vocals. Listening to those original demos, I was awestruck at the intensity within. They were good enough to have been the final album and the nuances and inflictions in Townshend’s voice took us into his tortured psyche. Since most of Gabriel’s completed songs going through an evolution that sometimes take years, he could not simply just release partial demo versions. Instead, he decided to let the listener witness the birth and progression of all nine songs. This is a tricky predicament because often only the most fanatical would be willing to listen to boom box demos and partially constructed songs. In my years of collecting bootlegs, one of the ones I was most excited about trading for was an eighteen disc collection of Let it Be outtakes by the Beatles. Considering the dozens of songs written, recorded and rehearsed on these tapes was, suppose to be a revelation, instead, it proved a tireless effort just to make it all the way to disc eighteen. I listened to it once and have never gone back to it. Fully aware of the tedious nature early recordings can give, Gabriel unearthed all of his tapes, demos and unmixed records for So and magically has created a disc that may be the most educational look into the making of an album ever released.

Carefully mixing bare bones cassette tapes with demos eventually coalescing into more fully realized versions of the songs could not have been an easy feat. That being said, Gabriel and his team masterfully has constructed something that is unparalleled in the music business; a snapshot of the evolution of an entire album. "Sledgehammer" opens with its riff performed on a piano with a drum machine in the background as Gabriel makes up melodies with incomplete words. It morphs into a demo with heavy keyboards then to a more fully realized take with still unformed lyrics and then converges into a different take of the song featuring the closing of the song. It is interesting to hear Gabriel in such command of the music and melody, but to struggle with the lyrics (as documented in the Classic Albums DVD). The early music to “Don’t Give Up” has a downcast tribal rhythm that I had never noticed in my hundreds of listens to the song and “In Your Eyes” (which had over ninety completed and mixed takes) lasts over ten minutes as he takes us through the diverse shuffles and rhythms as they found their way around the song. Never before has an artist taken the listener into the genesis of an album like this. It is a wonder to behold and is something that will be played more than once. It is only available on the deluxe box set and this along with the live DVD are probably enough to warrant the purchase.

The sixty-five page book housed within the box is full of pictures from the So era from the recording studio to the concert stage. The book houses the four CD’s and the two DVD’s as well. I am a sucker for these as they are often from personal collections and am not overly glossy pictures from an A-grade photographer. However, looking at them and reading the words, you can smell the studio and the farmhouse Gabriel converted for the record. The story interwoven throughout the book contains overlap with the Classic Albums DVD, but there are other stories revealed here as well. Even if you only pick it up a handful of times, it was put together with great care and is worth your time to go through it. It is more encompassing that a tour program and serves as a wonderful companion piece to the Classic Albums DVD.

Classic Albums DVD
The Classic Albums DVD series is one of the great home video blessings to the world of music. The series has only improved in the last decade. The So release make be the series’ crowning achievement. The format is the same for all of them with interviews, footage and pictures of the past and the artists, engineers and producers playing back different mixes and isolated tracks. In short, it is about the music! Even when the series discussed Hysteria by Def Leppard, they focused more of the musical challenges than drummer Rick Allen losing his arm, something Behind the Music would never dream of. The aspect I found most enthralling about the So DVD is how quickly they put this album together. No one interviewed would dare say this was an album that was made quickly, but considering Gabriel took nearly six-years to release a follow-up and another ten before his next studio disc, you can say the one year writing and recording So was a walk in the park. As they listen back to certain mixes and isolated tracks, you are taken into the studio walls where decisions were made to help craft the song. More importantly, you are taken through a journey from the beginnings to the writing and recording to the videos, success and tour that followed. Each DVD is less than an hour in length for television reasons, but the bonus material is crucial as it adds on an additional hour of interviews and footage that is every bit as vital to the album’s story.

It is important to note, that Gabriel was a fringe artist who was catapulted into the mainstream with the success of So and in many ways became one of the more socially conscious leaders of the music world. There is a significant piece in the bonus section about the Conspiracy of Hope tour from 1986, which coincided with the release of So and it shows Gabriel performing to the largest crowds of his career along with U2, the Police and Bryan Adams. In many ways, it was the culmination of his career as a solo artist. When he wrote “Biko” several years earlier, he understood the power of music and took a chance to challenge his listeners as well. The song was not a success when originally released, but over time, it is one of his crucial compositions and to see the video footage of him performing it takes us back to a place and time where musicians truly wanted to make a difference…more importantly, we felt like they stood the chance of making a difference. Interviewees include longtime bassist Tony Levin, Larry Klein who played bass on the Conspiracy of Hope tour, producer Daniel Lanois who is always an affable interview, engineers, the video team behind “Sledgehammer” and Gabriel’s personal assistant at the time all recall the sessions with great clarity and enthusiasm. Above all else, the focus is on the craft of creating one of the greatest records of the last quarter century. The box includes a DVD of Classic Albums while a BluRay is available for separate purchase. There is no extra footage on the BluRay, so if you choose to buy the box, I personally feel the sound and look of the DVD is top tier so a double dip purchase is not required.

Vinyl / Downloads
There are two twelve-inch vinyl discs with the box in blue and red sleeves. The first is an 180grm So LP mastered at half speed. The reason for this is to give the optimal track listing for the record. As discussed earlier, Gabriel had intended for “In Your Eyes” to close the record, but due to the grooves and timing, it became the lead track on side two rather than its closer. “This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)” was excised from all vinyl copies. This is the first time the album has been presented in full on vinyl. The second 12’’ record is a double A-side single; containing two previously unreleased tracks “Courage” and “Sagrada” and a stunning alternative version piano and bvox mix of “Don’t Give Up”. I do not know if this version of “Don’t Give Up” was created explicitly for this box or has its origins from 1986.”Courage” is a five-minute cur and a showcase for bassist Tony Levin. The cut is still rough around the edges but houses some truly rhythmic grooves. “Sagrada” clocks in at less than four minutes and is the more experimental of the two tracks. Neither is fully realized but Gabriel included them here and for good reason, as they are examples of the avid experimentation he thrives upon to create his greatest works. Besides being available on vinyl, all three songs are available as digital downloads via an exclusive code found on the box set. The entire So record can also be downloaded in a studio quality 24 bit digital FLAC files.

There was some controversy when this deluxe set was announced a few months back and it was led by a website Focusing on review and details of reissues and elaborate box sets, the site had many concerns about the So contents and wrote an open letter to Gabriel, which surprisingly, Gabriel responded to on his website a few weeks later. At the crux of the issue were four key items: the lack of a BluRay option, the missing b-sides and hard-to-find remixes (released on singles back in the 1980s), the absence of So in 5.1 sound and lastly…price. In Gabriel’s response, his goal when building this box set was the give the listener the ultimate So experience. In my opinion, he succeeded wildly in creating a box that immerses one entirely into So. Now, in Gabriel’s retort, he concedes potentially making one mistake and that was the lack of giving buyers a BluRay choice. While I love my BluRay player and do prefer buying select titles in high definition when possible, I am not sure if either video presentation would have seen a huge upgrade with the option of a BluRay. It should be noted, that much to chagrin of high-def enthusiasts, the standard for these deluxe box sets is mostly DVD across the board. U2 and Paul Simon’s recent sets made the BluRay available only as a standalone purchase. Infuriating? Without question, however, in watching the live concert from Athens, I feel it looks better on DVD than the just released remaster of Secret World Live does on BluRay (still worth an upgrade due to the cleaned up film negatives). Granted, they were filmed under different circumstances and with different lighting, but the picture looks crystal-clear here and in my opinion, there is very little to complain about.

The one item I do wish was included on the box are the hard-to-find b-sides and remixes. I must confess, in U2’s Achtung Baby box set, the remixes are the one CD I have only listened to once. While it is nice to have, it is not essential to my ears. However, there are a few sought after remixes of “Sledgehammer” and “In Your Eyes” that have never made their way to the digital realm or to CD, they’re exclusively on vinyl. While their inclusion would have been nice, Gabriel can still remedy the situation on a potential b-side/remix album. While Peter Gabriel only has seven studio records to his name, he has one of the biggest bodies of soundtrack songs and alternate mixes ever released. Most astounding about these songs is that to this day they remain uncollected. I hope that one of the items he will tackle in the very near future will be the gathering of these rare songs and remixes into a collected multi-disc set.

Back when downloading exploded at the turn of the century, a few artists and companies felt there was value in releasing albums in 5.1 surround sound. While it was a valiant effort, most were released in a SACD format, which required a specific player to play the discs. When Gabriel’s catalog was remastered in 2002, they issued SACD copies of So and Us on standard non-hybrid discs. Sadly, SACD never took off so the few discs that were manufactured now go for well over $100 on eBay. The issues appears to have had with Gabriel was he did not include a 5.1 mix is So but he included two vinyl records. In keeping the price below $100 USD, the addition of a 5.1 sound may have pushed the set above $100 and not everyone would find the time to relish the nuances of a 5.1 mix as it is not compatible with cars and MP3 players. Further, Gabriel’s essential video collection Play from 2004 has most of So in 5.1 sound. A good way to get consumers to potentially purchase Play on a BluRay upgrade would be to possibly include the full 5.1 mixes of So and Us along with the entire video collection.

I personally do not have any use for vinyl, but it is a slippery slope to go down. Vinyl aficionados would without question prefer vinyl whereas high-def nuts would love to have had a DVD/BluRay of the album in the highest quality possible. I understand the argument and personally would prefer a 5.1 disc, alas; the vinyl resurgence of the last few years makes me feel Gabriel made the correct choice here. Finally yet importantly, there were some qualms about the $99 price tag (in the US on Amazon). It is slightly higher in other markets, including the UK and Canada, but I still find the box to be a bargain. To me, I have always felt the price barometer should not exceed $15 a disc. Considering it has six discs, two records, a book and exclusive downloads, that equals ten items, at approximately $10 each. I think it is a steal and a bargain to walk away with this much music. It may not be as comprehensive as Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town box set from two years back but it still houses more new material than U2’s ten-disc set for Achtung Baby

The Verdict
Peter Gabriel’s So box set may not be as complete as some would like, but he has included more unearthed treats than most box sets do. Many simply provide a DVD of videos, a live fm broadcast and rough demos that may only be listened to once or twice. While the inclusion of b-sides, remixes and 5.1 sound would have enhanced the set, it is hard to complain with what it contains. We have a in-depth documentary, a one-of-a-kind audio journey through the album’s creation, a live album/DVD at Gabriel’s commercial peak and above all else, a spectacular remaster of one of the greatest and most significant records of the last thirty years. If you buy only one deluxe edition this holiday season Peter Gabriel’s So 25th Anniversary Immersion box is the one to choose.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Album Review: Richie Sambora - 'Aftermath of the Lowdown' [4-Stars]

Richie Sambora-‘Aftermath of the Lowdown’ 
Album Review 
Four-Stars (****) 
By Anthony Kuzminski
[Published in conjunction with the antiMUSIC Network]

Buy the album HERE

Life at its most distressing can take an unanticipated tragic turn forever altering our given path. In these moments of tribulation, there is always the chance that we will forever lose a piece of ourselves. Some find a way to endure and others fall into an infinite pit of despondency, never being able to view life in the same tint again. Finding a passageway to what once was is not an option and what seems like an endless untraveled road is all that is in front of us. The loss of a job, divorce, death of a parent or child and the incapacity to tame personal demons forever alters lives. It is easier to fade away than to find your way home without a map, but those who make the journey will not just survive the next obstacle, but thrive under future duress. Listening to Aftermath of the Lowdown, the third solo record from Richie Sambora, it is evident that life took him down unanticipated roads over the last decade. Sambora’s world has changed considerably- his daughter is now a teenager, his marriage is no more, his father passed away and there have been widely documented personal struggles that I don’t need to mention, because Sambora tackles these demons head-on on Aftermath of the Lowdown. Those who view Sambora solely as Jon Bon Jovi’s co-conspirator are in for a revelation on Lowdown where the guitarist takes his audience to a wounded and fragile place rarely found on Bon Jovi records. The eleven songs that encompass Aftermath of the Lowdown look the listener straight in the eye creating an intimacy that hasn’t been heard from the Bon Jovi camp since the last set of solo outings in 1997 and 1998 on Jon’s Destination Anywhere and Sambora’s Undiscovered Soul. The band and their music have taken on simpler dimensions over the ensuing decade with thick-punching riffs fueled by universal lyrics of resolve. While the pop-metal-country flavors are ready-made for radio dials and shaking stadiums, Sambora has cast a smaller net with a prominence on personal reflection in an outspoken spiritual workout.

Over three solo ventures, Richie Sambora has taken his audience into his psyche at different turning points in his life. His 1991 debut, Stranger in this Town was the culmination of a life work. It was a money shot of personal expression. He held nothing back on that record and with thirty-million in record sales in less than five years, he did not have to follow typical record company creed, he earned his artistic freedom. The ten songs that encompass Stranger have blues, hymnals, pining love songs and off-the-wall lusting soundscapes. Containing songs written from when he was nineteen (“The Answer”) through the age of thirty-one (“Ballad of Youth”). The record did not sell like previous Bon Jovi records, but the fans often view it as a magnum opus with a wall full of colorful sounds and more importantly a declaration of tenacity. Sambora took his audience into his world and as you sat in the dark with a candle lit, when the final note rang from “The Answer” you felt as if you had taken on a life’s journey through dark passages and roads of hope. His next solo disc appeared seven years later, Undiscovered Soul and Sambora constructed another eclectic set of songs digging into his classic rock influences. A lot had changed between his first and second solo records; he married Heather Locklear, went through his richest spell of creativity with Bon Jovi and became a father. The optimistic mood infected Undiscovered Soul and tinted it with rays of light not on Stranger. However, the album came out without promotion- it was as if it never existed. However, the title cut, “Fallen From Graceland” and the jagged guitar lullaby for his daughter “You’re Not Alone” brewed with expressive vigor. Shortly thereafter, Richie and Jon Bon Jovi began writing in earnest for their 2000 release Crush, which contained “It’s My Life”, the song that took the band to new commercial and sales heights. Since then, the Bon Jovi machine has barely taken a breath and as of this writing, they have a new record ready for release in early 2013. Another solo record was always an option, but Sambora handled its creation delicately. After the lack of interest from his label on Undiscovered Soul Sambora managed to negotiate a release from Universal for Lowdown which being released by Dangerbird Records, home of the Silversun Pickups and Butch Walker.

Sambora’s previous efforts were co-produced by men with rich classic rock roots. Neil Dorfsman had made his name working with Paul McCartney and Sting while Don Was is responsible for Bonnie Raitt’s comeback and everything the Rolling Stones have recorded going back to Voodoo Lounge. For Lowdown Sambora returned to a familiar face, Luke Ebbin, who was an unknown a little more than a decade back when he was unexpectedly brought onboard to produce Crush. Ebbin has never received his due for taking the Bon Jovi sound into the 21st century. His work on Crush gave Bon Jovi a fresh modern sound and more importantly, it validated that Bon Jovi still had rock n’ roll flowing through their veins. Ebbin was on board for the follow-up, Bounce in 2002, which is widely considered the band’s weakest effort. I do not blame the production on that record, but rather the song choices, overriding themes and sequencing. To his credit, the band shines luminously on two cuts, the rev-up rocker “Hook Me Up” and the best modern day ballad the band has recorded, “The Distance” where Sambora’s guitars fluctuate like a skipping heartbeat. On Lowdown Ebbin helped bring out the quiet menace living within Sambora’s heart and mind. The sound of the record is exhilarating ear candy from the get-in-the-ring assault of “Burn That Candle Down” to the solemn prayer “World” that closes the record.

“Burn That Candle Down” opens the record in a tsunami of musical explosion as Sambora steers his band towards into a torrential musical breakdown where Prince takes on Jack White. His vocals are mixed in with the serrated performance giving the listener a mono feel as they experience one gargantuan and unrefined jam. Sequencing this cut at the front of the album was deliberate. Bon Jovi is a band whose sound as a live band has always surpassed their records, and this is the best document of what they're capable as musicians from the Bon Jovi camp since 1995’s These Days. Much can be said about the backing band that Sambora assembled for the album. Aaron Sterling brings an energetic liveliness to the drums, Matt Rollings colors the songs with his organ and piano, Curt Schneider holds the line on bass, Rusty Anderson (best known for touring with Paul McCartney for over a decade) compliments Sambora with additional guitar while Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. embellishes the songs with his lovely keyboards. They never overshadow the songs, but vigorously threw themselves into the performances giving each song a well assembled sound that feel more like a band in a bar than an overproduced pop record.
The music housed within Lowdown distills decades worth of influences and largely defies categorization. Sambora knows his way around a song and here on Aftermath his songwriting talent flourishes in ways few could have imagined while the minimalist approach to the instrumentation helps bring the emotional pacing to a hopeful climax. The album is a rhapsodic blend of his musical personalities from the blues to rock to soul to pop but one continual influence I hear is Paul McCartney. The rehearsal room jams checks McCartney's first two solo records (McCartney and Ram) while sentimental and simple cuts such as "World" and "I’ll Always Walk Beside You" tread tricky waters. The messages in these two songs are far and wide and could easily be dismissed but Sambora sings each song with such earthy earnestness, you cannot help but be seduced. The production on these two particular songs brings out their best without driving them off a cliff into pop hell. This is notable, because they could have easily been overproduced. A prayer to our planet (“World”) is not the type of thing a rocker should do and it could be mocked, but it works because the message is not as heavy handed with his voice and a few guitars. "I’ll Always Walk Beside You" is a valiant proclamation of love from a musician who grasps and comprehends the substantial experiences of our lives. Sometimes all we need is someone to place a hand on our shoulder reminding us that tomorrow will be better. Even a song like “Weathering the Storm” which may have a few clunky lyrics is redeemed by a searing guitar solo and Sambora’s ambition and need for expression.

My favorite records are ones where the artist draws back the curtain to let me into their world. When you listen to Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan the doubt and confusion of a relationship that is ending is felt. Peter Gabriel’s 1992 Us takes the listener on a heart rendering journey through jigsaw puzzle of musical styles where through poetry and world music he deconstructs the failing relationships around him from his broken communication with his daughter (“Come Talk To Me”) to a relationship doomed due to a shared inability to converse and understand (“Secret World”). It is one thing to convey ache and another to outline the moment of awakening where you realize you have the key to your cell. As the world watched Sambora trouble in dealing with his pain in a very public manner, we all wondered when he had that moment of realization where his troubles caught up with him. The answer is clearer than ever on “You Can Only Get So High”, a spellbinding confessional unpinned by melancholy piano keys. Deeply personal and haunting, you hear years of tumult come into focus as it hangs out there like a never ending breeze that reminding you of the trappings of not just success but life. He does not hold back from delivering a few punches to himself in a song full of forthright and sincere observations. He may have more money than I could earn in ten lifetimes, but by letting us inside, the ache is irrefutable. “Seven Years Gone” is an inner confrontation where toughness is balanced with tenderness yielding another masterful moment of awakening. On the volcanic "Learnin' How to Fly with a Broken Wing" Sambora and his unhinged band erupt into a poignant purge as the rubber burns on an open road where despite being battered, there is perpetual optimism. The finale of “Seven Years Gone” and “Broken Wing” showcases his rip-roaring six-string traits better than any song he's performed on since "Next 100 Years" from Crush.On the album's first single, "Every Road Leads To You", the piano keys underpins Sambora's evocative vocal. It is overflowing with sincerity, vulnerability and self-awareness. The song relies on Sambora's flair for observation and experience where he pulls it all together at the end fades out as he plays the melody solo on an acoustic bringing the intimacy to a head. The song's production has a cinematic feel, capturing a star struck lover trying to come to terms with the regrets from the past and the battles of the present.

People often talk about “characters” that embody art, but these songs are not character sketches of the disenchanted, they are private confessionals from Sambora himself. Never once do you feel that Sambora is talking down to his audience from a podium, but rather he’s in the thick of the pit with us, lifting his shirt to show us his battle scars. On the album’s eleven songs he unleashes a beast and pairs them with swift, razor-edged arrangements that do more than preach optimism, but force the listener to not just get in the car, but to be acutely aware of the rearview mirror, because no matter how far and wide we may drive, the past is always there. It is this intellectual realization where Sambora acknowledges and tackles his struggles that makes Lowdown such a engaging and endearing album. I would not have wanted to endure his tests in recent years and yet, hearing his woes and survival tactics makes me feel less alone, less afraid and more determined to tackle all tragedies that have and will befall me. He takes us to a fragile place where there is no community to sustain us and a clear and informed resolution must be made in order to carry on. Aftermath of the Lowdown is a celebrated artistic declaration capturing the ecstasies and agonies of Sambora’s life and it more than a consequential tale of endurance but represents explicitly how our bewilderment can be turned into an avowal of tenacity. Richie Sambora’s reward is the clear conscience he carries knowing that his hard fought battles were not in vain and the listener's reward is an album full of hard fought truths and lessons for us to behold.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Richie Sambora - 'Afftermath of the Lowdown' album review now on antiMUSIC

It took me a while, but you can now read my bit in-depth review of Richie Sambora's Aftermath of the Lowdown over at antiMUSIC at THIS LINK  . It will appear here in full in a few days.

Here's a sample:

On the album's eleven songs he unleashes a beast and pairs them with swift, razor-edged arrangements that do more than preach optimism, but force the listener to not just get in the car, but to be acutely aware of the rearview mirror, because no matter how far and wide we may drive, the past is always there. It is this intellectual realization where Sambora acknowledges and tackles his struggles that makes Lowdown such a engaging and endearing album. I would not have wanted to endure his tests in recent years and yet, hearing his woes and survival tactics makes me feel less alone, less afraid and more determined to tackle all tragedies that have and will befall me. He takes us to a fragile place where there is no community to sustain us and a clear and informed resolution must be made in order to carry on. Aftermath of the Lowdownis a celebrated artistic declaration capturing the ecstasies and agonies of Sambora's life and it more than a consequential tale of endurance but represents explicitly how our bewilderment can be turned into an avowal of tenacity. Richie Sambora's reward is the clear conscience he carries knowing that his hard fought battles were not in vain and the listener's reward is an album full of hard fought truths and lessons for us to behold.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Concert Review: Peter Gabriel - Chicago 9/27/2012 'So' Anniversary Tour

Peter Gabriel
Concert Review: Chicago, IL- United Center 
September 27, 2012
By Anthony Kuzminski

[Published in conjunction with the antiMUSIC Network]

[Buy the deluxe edition of So HERE]

Six songs into Peter Gabriel’s concert at the United Center in Chicago, the drum loop of “Secret World” built dramatic tension usually reserved for a cinematic thriller. In the two decades since “Secret World” appeared on Us in 1992, it’s a song that hasn’t lit up radio dials, but anyone who has witnessed Peter Gabriel in concert knows it’s a defining moment of any show. As Gabriel whispered “shhh” into his microphone, the few remaining in their seats stood up because they were intrinsically aware something magical was about to happen. Gabriel’s longtime guitarist David Rhodes tickled his guitar strings and took the song into a muscular musical terrain that matched the concentration of Gabriel’s lyrics and themes. On his 1992 blistering first person narrative Us Gabriel took us beneath the surface of beauty into a confused and bleeding soul yearning for compassion and understanding. He has always matched these deeply personal declarations with some of the most bracing arrangements imaginable. Throughout his twenty-one song set on the Back To Front tour, Gabriel revisited these themes time and time again and the striking lyric imagery was only matched by the steely musical arrangements. No other living musician has a body of work that provides a more absorbing emotional pull. I always try to find something in an artist’s work I can wrap not just my mind around, but more importantly, my heart. Every time Peter Gabriel stands behind a microphone, he goes deeper than anyone dares. He digs up memories from the past, makes us acknowledge the battle scars and encourages us to find a way to heal. Despite the fact that his current tour is behind a record more than a quarter of a century old, Peter Gabriel concerts are places we go in the hopes that when we leave, we walk away a better person with a tighter grasp on the mysteries that often keep us from attaining greatness.

When Peter Gabriel took to the United Center stage, it was inconspicuous as he simply walked up to the microphone to talk to the audience with the house lights still on. He explained the show would take place over three segments- an acoustic one, a full band electric performance and then his seminal 1986 album So in its entirety. He then welcomed longtime bass player Tony Levin and the two of them debuted a new and unfinished song “OBUT” which is most likely in its early stages of development. As Gabriel finished singing behind a big baby grand piano, he welcomed the other five musicians who would join them on the stage. What differentiates this backing band from previous tours is the core band consists of the same five individuals who toured behind So in 1986 and 1987 along with Jennie Abrahamson and Linnea Olsson on backing vocals. With the band onstage, they delivered a pair of acoustic songs reverberated throughout the arena – “Come Talk To Me” and “Shock the Monkey” the latter of which brought the entire arena to their feet and clapped along. His first US Top-40 hit enlivens regardless of the presentation. The sweeping “Family Snapshot” began with Gabriel behind the piano and as the band fully synthesized chemistry came to fruition and kicked in full force, the arena went dark to great effect and the electric portion of the set took off. The subconscious metallic “Digging in the Dirt” flourished under the direction of the tight band, the jaunty and joyous “Solsbury Hill” received a enormous endorsement from the crowd but it was the somber “Washing of the Water” which probably provided the crowd the evening’s most startling look in the mirror. Listening to “Washing of the Water” makes you want to crawl back into the womb as his vocals exude such wisdom and warmth. The lyrics are poetic and paired with the solemn musical arrangements that make you mourn and celebrate all the same. As he crooned, “Bring me something, to take this pain away” at the songs conclusion, it took great strength to hold back to emotions within. Who has not felt alone and despondent? Yet because we know others feel alike, there is a sense of reassurance knowing we are not alone.
One of the reasons Peter Gabriel tours are events are not just because they are infrequent, but because of the vision he brings to the stage. Despite fewer theatrics this time out, five crane-operated lights provided a sprawling design of shadows and light throughout the entire show. “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” found the crew manning the lights in a circular fashion giving the screens on opposite ends of the stage a arresting visual most appreciated by the crowd in the upper rafters. If the performances were not enough, Gabriel gave the crowd the impression of being inside its own music video. The circular prop at the top of the lighting rig encapsulated Gabriel during the encore performance of the Ovo track “The Tower That Ate People” and as imposing as all these tricks were, it never once took away from the music. Peter Gabriel has always been a visually remarkable audience going back to his days with Genesis, but what makes his non-musical achievements so grand is they always matched the music and his current stage design is no different.

Peter Gabriel has always been a peculiar artist, never following trends or concerning himself with what other people think. Virtually no one would have their greatest commercial success and wait six years to follow it up as he did. Further, no one would wait another ten for the next one. Everything he dedicates himself to will not see the light of day until he feels it is ready. There is no science to his artistry and while this can be maddening for fans like me, I understand it. He carries not just his career in the balance, but the breadth of his work as well. There is a reason his work is an emotional tour de force traveling straight into your heart and psyche like no one else would dare. After writing, producing, recording and touring his records he most likely is physically and emotionally depleted. Yet every release is the embodiment of several years work from his studio work, side projects, soundtrack work to his upcoming six-disc mammoth box set celebrating the 25th anniversary of So. For a man who rarely looks to the past, this is a unusual choice and touring behind it is even more curious, especially when the tour consists of sixteen total dates with no further ones planned. It does not really matter why he is touring now, all I can tell you are that it is highly likely it will not return, so see it while you can.

So is one of the most vital records not just of the 1980s but also from the last thirty years. It’s every bit of a cultural touchstone as Paul Simon’s Graceland and more than a quarter of a century later, every last note sounds timeless. So how did it hold up in concert? Spectacularly well. Gabriel assembled the same five-piece core band who toured with him from the start of the So tour in 1986-87. Guitarist David Rhodes and bassist/ stickman Tony Levin predated the So tour and have been next to Gabriel ever since. Drummer Manu Katché adds slight touches to the rhythm matching the undercurrent of Tony Levin’s imposing bass. Keyboardist David Sancious brought many of the songs to life with broad-brush strokes of his keys while Jennie Abrahamson and Linnea Olsson flawlessly accentuated each song with their lilting vocals helping Gabriel’s own soar without ever overpowering them. You can only take a new batch of songs on the road once and see them flourish under the dark of night with transporting the audience. So is the album and tour that defined Gabriel and seeing him back onstage with the same musicians is something to not take lightly. The seven musicians on the stage are a force to be reckoned with. The performance of So was an unearthly experience. While Gabriel is not the first artist to perform an album top-to-bottom, few have done it better. So remains beautiful and timeless and the performance was spellbinding as Gabriel went into the inner child of each audience member and the band replicated the exotic music to pinpoint perfection. Manu Katché’s drums busted to life on “Big Time” and delivered knock-outs on “Sledgehammer” and “That Voice Again” while Sancious found the perfect hue for “Red Rain”, “Mercy Street”, “This is the Picture” and of course “In Your Eyes” for which there are no words. It is more than a song, but a cultural touchstone for most of the audience and will most likely be the song Peter Gabriel is remembered for decades from now. The band stridently did this material justice in ways they have never done before which is a feat all unto itself.

Beneath the extraordinary musicianship, the hits, the cinéma vérité lighting and videos there was a crowd who for at least one night was reawaken to the intricate matters of our minds. I speak of this ad nauseum in my reviews not because I believe art is essentially a mirror to our fears and desires. By going over it with a fine toothcomb there is something philosophical and weighty not just to be found but experienced. During the evening’s final song, “Biko”, Gabriel and his band did not just overpower the audience, but were the soundtrack to a world that is ever changing. Manu Katché’s drums kept the beat, as the band and audience became one with their “oh-oh-ohhh” chants, which continued as each musician left the stage one-by-one until only Katché was left with the big beat. When that final note was struck, he left the stage and in the darkness, the “oh-oh-ohhh” chants continued. This was not a mere call-and-response, but a call to arms in hopes the chant will last long after the house lights go on. The power of art has always had the potential to make us greater than who we think we can be. Listening to Peter Gabriel is as if we have been blessed with a guide from above who will help us make sense of the chaos and injustice in this world, but within as well. He has shown us the way, given us the tools and now it is up to us to make the change. The 2012 Back To Front tour is a celebration not just of the So record but a deep invigorating evening full of soul searching tales brought to life by a buoyant band who is every bit as good as they were twenty-five years ago.

Peter Gabriel will be on tour through October 14. It is unlikely there will be further dates added before 2014, so this is a must-see ticket. The six-disc anniversary edition of So will arrive in stores on October 23.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter