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January 25, 2006

STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE 3 -- ...tick...tick...tick

Varied, passionate and among Wynn's best works

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Rare is the mention of Steve Wynn that does not include a corresponding nod to the Dream Syndicate, the acclaimed post-punk group he led up until its demise in the late 1980s. While that band would make an admirable anchor for just about anyone's indie-rock resume, the "former Dream Syndicate frontman" tag does not begin to do Wynn justice -- not after the solid solo career he has carved out, and especially not when the music he is making with his current backing musicians is so vital and vibrant.

Which brings us to ...tick...tick...tick (Down There Records), the umpteenth album from Wynn (an official tally proves tricky, due to some European releases floating around) and his third with The Miracle 3. It not only exceeds the high standards established on their previous efforts -- 2001's Here Come the Miracles and 2003's Static Transmission-- but has the makings of a classic on a par with The Dream Syndicate's revered debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, or any other critical high point of Wynn's career.

It is a varied, passionately performed set of tracks that showcases not only Wynn's reliably sharp writing and convincing, often-vulnerable delivery, but the cohesiveness he and the Miracle 3 (fiery guitarist Jason Victor and the mighty rhythm section of bassist Dave DeCastro and drummer Linda Pitmon) have developed over several years of heavy touring.

Proof of it is all over ...tick...tick...tick's 11 tracks, most, if not all, of which were road-tested months before the disc was recorded. Wynn offers up an impressive mix of hard-charging rockers, contemplative ballads, folk-pop musings and more, and his bandmates lend the right treatment throughout.

The manic disc opener "Wired" -- with distortion thrown onto Wynn's vocals for good measure -- and the raucous "Killing Me" exude the amped-up intensity of the band's live shows. The unrequited love at the heart of "Cindy, It Was Always You" is accentuated by the chaotic combination of faint harmonica over Victor's typically wicked licks.

Elsewhere, a pedal steel adds to the haunting "The Deep End"; piercing organ notes bring a dash of psychedelia to "Freak Star"; and "No Tomorrow" closes things with a grand poetic, melodic flourish ("And if the world must end, there's no need to pretend/I want to love you like there's no tomorrow").

Raw and roaring in parts and refined in others, ...tick...tick...tick is a confidently crafted work born of consummate musicianship. It is resounding enough to be the album that finally could redefine Steve Wynn, once again the leader of a great band.

-- By George Henn

January 23, 2006


Harvard student Catherine Tuttle releases second album

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It's not uncommon for athletes to drop out of college for a pro career and leave their pursuit of a degree in the dust.

Plenty of musicians have done the same thing, too, but singer/songwriter/pianist Catherine Tuttle, a 19-year-old freshman at Harvard University, doesn't plan to add her name to the list.

Tuttle, whose latest album is What They Will Find, (Zone 7/Candid Records), gives higher education the edge over music.

"I have these two priorities, and right now I really need to focus on school," she says. "I think everything that I'm learning here and going through is going to help me with music once I get out. Definitely, that's the career path I'm heading toward. Getting a good education can't hurt."

Should What They Will Find reach a large audience, Tuttle would be open to changing her plans.

"I think in that case, the most important thing would be to get out there and tour," says Tuttle. "Harvard is very understanding in terms of taking a year off and things like that, so I would certainly consider something like that. I'm determined to finish my studies, so I wouldn't necessarily drop out. I'd put it on hold and switch focuses for a second."

What They Will Find, released in November, is Tuttle's second album. Peel, her first, was released independently in 2003 around her hometown Philadelphia area. Tuttle's relationship with Candid Records began when Alan Fajardo, an executive at the company's Philippines subsidiary, came across Peel while surfing the Internet. Fajardo turned things over to the U.K. office, and in July 2004, she signed with Candid.

For What They Will Find, Tuttle re-recorded seven songs from her debut disc.

"They were brought up to date and sort of freshened up," she says. "I kind of figured 'Waste not, want not' . . . I still had an emotional attachment to them, and I just really wanted to get them out there to a wider audience."

What They Will Find includes a slow, sultry cover of the Fontella Bass hit "Rescue Me."

"Once you really listen to the words, the emotion is so strong and so raw," Tuttle says. "Even though the original arrangement is a lot of fun, it was just worth it to bring out the sentimentality of the lyrics."

Tuttle, who is of French-Canadian heritage, ends her latest disc with "Ange Tombe," which also concludes her first album.

"It didn't feel quite complete to have an album without something in French," she explains. "It's part of my writing and part of who I am, too."

When it comes to performances, it's no surprise to hear Tuttle say that her school schedule plays a big part in when she can play gigs. Look for a "full-blown tour" in the summer along the east coast, she says.

-- By Chris M. Junior

January 18, 2006


Shaking Up the Airwaves:
Early on, David Lee Roth shows potential as a radio host

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There is no easy way to take over for a legitimate icon. Constant comparisons, skepticism and the public's reluctance for change ultimately are too much pressure for mere mortals to handle.

Now imagine that the icon in question is Howard Stern and the challenge is taking over his 6-10 a.m. national radio throne. Most successors would have borrowed liberally from Stern's "shock jock" formula, but following Stern's departure for Sirius Satellite Radio, David Lee Roth, the new sheriff in town (his words), is looking to change the face of terrestrial radio in the morning.

With roughly two weeks as an on-air personality under his belt, the former Van Halen singer has been trying to and set himself apart from other hosts, and the result so far is clearly a different kind of talk radio.

When word came down that Roth was tapped to be one of Stern's successors (the show is syndicated in such major markets as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas), the obvious thought was that the Diamond Dave character would be set free and that Roth would be a fountain of carnal knowledge and raunch. The truth is that Roth is well-read and a smart guy after all -- at least, so far, that's what he wants listeners to believe. Does he have stories about debauchery? Sure he does, but he's also a licensed emergency medical technician and an experienced helicopter pilot who can share those experiences, too.

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Roth's show comes off like a cross between a "morning zoo" and an NPR program. He introduces a topic for discussion, shines it up with his opinions and stories and then sets the phone lines free so that callers may interact. Some of these discussions take off and are really interesting, such as the recent topic of plastic surgery that continued through a few commercial breaks and featured some great back-and-forth banter between Roth and his audience.

On the flip side, Roth's discussion of porn addiction led to several listeners merely calling in to share ordinary stories about their viewing habits instead of juicy tales about how porn grossed out their wives and impacted their marriages, which is what Roth was shooting for. But that's the way a new show can be, and not every topic is a slam-dunk.

Weak supporting cast, poor guests

One thing that has hampered the show in its early stages is a lack of good supporting talent. Roth's on-air cohorts are bland hangers-on who chime in on his topics and never seem to disagree with him, and it's clear that none of
these people have worked in this type of radio environment before. Roth is the only one who moves the discussions forward or ends them with one of his signature catchphrases or punch lines, among them "No metaphysics before happy hour."

If the rest of his crew started some rants of their own, it might take the pressure off the host, and there may be a personality behind one of these folks that people can look forward to hearing from each day. Right now, they're filler -- and poor filler at that.

Another drawback of the show is bad guests. Roth's first day started with his uncle Manny Roth, a former New York City club owner who operated some of the city's biggest jazz and folk clubs in the '60s. Uncle Manny had a few good stories about the music business at that time, but Roth let the segment run entirely too long (roughly an hour).

On top of that, Roth didn't take calls during the segment. He just kept peppering Uncle Manny for his first impressions of famous people he knew and/or worked with, and he only had kind words. Roth didn't fair better with a recent guest who had visited 1,000 bars in a year. This guy brought nothing to the table. He was never thrown out of a bar, didn't seem to get too drunk and claimed to never get hangovers. Roth tried his best with this guest, who just came off as a regular guy, and that's why regular guys are members of the audience, not the guests.

Good with callers

Roth does mix it up a bit with the callers, though. Some of them have come on the air just to rip him for being terrible; Roth lets them get it all out and fires back in a spirited way. He also has let loose on a few fellow celebrities. His
early targets have included Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen (no surprises there). He's taken a swing or two at Steven Spielberg for being too overprotective of young actress Dakota Fanning and Spielberg's strong comments against comics who have been making jokes about her. Roth defended any public figure's right to say what they want about another celebrity because they are seeking the spotlight and should deal with the consequences. He even punctuated his rant with the appropriate line "You've got to roll with the punches to get to what's real," a lyric from the Van Halen hit "Jump."

Time will tell if Roth can capture an audience for this type of morning show. He's shown a willingness to buck conventional formats and take an approach that's unlike Stern's. He should be commended for that, but he needs to
work out a few kinks before he can make the true connection that turns listeners into fans.

-- By Mike Madden

Sounding Off, a music opinion column, appears regularly on www.medleyville.us

January 16, 2006


The Nebraska Project
Jan. 14, 2006
World Financial Center's Winter Garden, Manhattan

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This year's New York Guitar Festival opened with The Nebraska Project, a free concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album. Michelle Shocked, pictured above performing the title track, was among the participants.

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Jesse Harris performing "Atlantic City"

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Chocolate Genius Inc. performing "Johnny 99"

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Vernon Reid and Dan Zanes performing "State Trooper"

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Laura Cantrell performing "Used Cars"

-- All photos by Chris M. Junior

January 11, 2006


Dion revisits his roots during hometown gig

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Joe's Pub/New York
Jan. 9, 2006

Neil Diamond isn’t the only New York-bred veteran rocker who's put the acoustic guitar at the forefront of his latest album.

So has Dion, who performed material from his CD Bronx in Blue (Dimensional Music Recordings) on the eve of its official release during a solo show at Joe's Pub in Manhattan.

Dressed entirely in black (right down to his socks), the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was personable from the moment he hit the stage. He also wasted no time throwing out one-liners, generating laughs when he reacted to the enthusiastic crowd by saying with a smile, "If I didn't know me, I'd be impressed."

Impressive -- and perhaps a bit surprising to some in the audience -- were Dion's guitar skills. The singer of such early rock hits as "The Wanderer" and "Runaround Sue" grew up listening to the blues, and the classic material he covers on Bronx in Blue requires more than merely shuffling through a basic I-IV-V pattern to be effective. Just like on the album, Dion peppered such tunes as "You're the One," "I Let My Baby Do That" and "Built for Comfort" with slick fills, all the while maintaining a steady rhythm and singing with grace and precision.

Dion also worked in some of his older material, both famous and obscure. His rendition of the 1968 hit "Abraham, Martin and John" was well received, and "Truth Will Set You Free," a song from 1980's Inside Job that he set up with a funny story from his youth, was among the best of the night.

Among the celebrities soaking up the sounds at Joe's Pub were Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba (who warmly greeted friends outside like an eager-to-please politician) and 1960s star Tommy James (who rudely cut the line with his entourage once the club began letting patrons inside).

-- By Chris M. Junior

January 06, 2006



One musician was on the rise, the other at the peak of his popularity. And one night in the mid-1980s, their worlds collided, as Dan Zanes, leader of the up-and-coming band The Del Fuegos, shared the stage with superstar Bruce Springsteen.

Dan Zanes: "It was right after our first record [1984's The Longest Day] came out. We were down in North Carolina playing at the Rhinoceros club, and [Springsteen] was playing the'‘enormo dome' The next night. It was his Born in the U.S.A. tour, and he was the biggest rock star in the world at that point.

"As we were getting ready for our set, we saw [E Street Band guitarist] Nils Lofgren milling around the club, and we asked him if he wanted to play a tune with us. He said yeah, so we went back to the dressing room and stood in a circle going over 'Hang on Sloopy' so we all had the same version in our brain.

"Then the Boss walked in, and he said, 'Hey, you guys are great. I really love your album.' We couldn’t believe that he had listened to the record, and he mentioned the song that he liked. It was outrageous.

"So we asked him if he wanted to do a tune, and he said yes. We went over 'Stand by Me' and 'Hang on Sloopy.'

"[Springsteen] watched the set, and it was the only time in my life I had ever seen the audience on a horizontal plane rather than a vertical plane. It was a very small club, and people were climbing on top of each other to watch him play ['Hang on Sloopy'] with us, so all we could see were faces from the floor to the ceiling.

"He was just as generous as he could be, and he gave us all a hug at the end of the night. I can't remember that I ever hugged a guy before.

"Then we got in the car at the end of the night, and they were talking about it on the radio. We called all our friends in Boston and said, 'You're not going to believe what happened to us.'

"It was a great night, and also it was something that people talked about for a long time. And in a way, for a lot of people, it was kind of an endorsement from the Boss."

* Dan Zanes will be among the performers Jan. 14 during The Nebraska Project, a concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album taking place at Manhattan's World Financial Center. The show will mark the opening of this year's New York Guitar Festival, which runs through Feb. 8.

Zanes' new album, Catch That Train!, featuring Natalie Merchant, among others, is due April 4. His official site is www.danzanes.com.

-- By Chris M. Junior