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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 

#1

Larry Vuckovich - Somethin' Special
(Tetrachord Music 686)

From the sheer number of jazz albums I receive here you could be mistaken for thinking that the music genre was slipping deeper into the mainstream. It is certainly being incorporated into other musical genres' mix on a wholesale basis. However, this new album from jazz pianist Larry Vuckovich is an excellent reminder that jazz doesn't need the mainstream, it stands up well against the competition as a good jazz album in its own right. With the added incentive of Scott Hamilton on tenor sax, this is the sound of a classic quintet playing a selection from the 'Great American Jazz Songbook', along with a couple of originals by Larry Vuckovich. The musicianship is high and the interplay between piano and the two sax players involving. The rest of the quintet are: Noel Jewkes - tenor/soprano sax, Paul Keller - bass, Chuck McPherson - drums. The style is bebop with a dash of swing, the sound is beefy and muscular yet along with the inventiveness the origins of each tune remain intact. The composers featured on the album include Horace Silver, Sonny Clark, Tadd Dameron, Thelonius Monk and Dextor Gordon. The track titles are: Somethin' Special, Enchantment, What Will I Tell My Heart, Comin' Home Baby, Soultrane, How Insensitive, Pannonica, Cheese Cake, Loving Linda, Zeljko's Blues, Star Dust. Somethin' Special is exactly that, it retains the best of jazz but is also easy enough on the ear for the non jazz aficionado to find a way in and enjoy it. Recommended

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.larryvuckovich.com

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Janice Faber - Carried Away

The piano is a very versatile instrument, used in almost every genre of music as a lead instrument. But in the so called 'New Age' genre it tends to be layered with an assortment of electronic keyboards, if not replaced by them. So an album of piano is something to relish. This is pianist/composer Janice Faber's debut album and it contains sixteen tracks of restful and chilled out piano miniatures that border on being light classical. They have a pastoral feel, with a strong spiritual backbone. The track titles are: Looking Forward, Gift Of Joy, Morning Prayer, Imagining, Carried Away, Nocturne, Steadfast, Passing Through, Gracious Gift, Peace Be Still, Hero, Tomorrow's Hope, Gentle Soul, Neverending, Strand Of Three Chords, Night Music. I am assuming that Ms Faber is playing an acoustic grand piano, but with contemporary electronic keyboards being as good as they are it could be a facsimile. Assuming that it is a 'proper' piano the tone of it is lovely, and Ms Faber's fingers have the gift of conjuring up magic on each track. To be honest, the music is perhaps a little too sweet for my tastes, I prefer something with a little more latin or jazzy pizzazz myself, but that is personal taste. If you are looking for an album of restful and soothing piano music to help ease stress or depression away than Carried Away could well be the album for you, and I suggest you check out the website listed below to explore sample tracks.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.janicefaberpiano.com

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The Reggie Pittman/ Loren Daniels Quartet - Point A to Point A
(IvoryHornz 4001)

Well, this is an energetic and upbeat album, the Reggie Pittman/Loren Daniels Quartet play an enthusiastic hard bop that is both playful and thrusting. The musicians are: Reggie Pittman - trumpet and flugelhorn, Loren Daniels - piano and vocals, Bill Moring - bass and Tim Horner - drums and percussion. Of the ten tracks, nine are written by the band leaders, with the final track being a Charlie Parker classic, Ornithology. The remaining tracks are: On the BT, Clarion Call, Fall, Shaw is Woody, Reflection, Point A to Point A, Waterwind, Prose and Consequence, and It's All Thelonius. I'm not sure where Point A is exactly, but these musicians spend a lot of time and musical energy getting there. Speed, on many of the ten tracks is of the essence, but I rather liked the late night sleepy feel of Fall, a slow bluesy number that makes you listen more closely to every note. The style may be hard bop but there is a strong sense of swing throughout the album, and playful good humour. Point A to Point A certainly isn't a mournful album and more likely to cheer the listener up with its vibrant performances. I think this is the Reggie Pittman/Loren Daniels Quartet's debut recording but it doesn't show it - this album brims with confidence and I hope it points them toward success and more albums.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.reggiepittman.com & www.lorendaniels.com

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Mary-Kathryn - Dreams & Visions
(Rhythm House RHD-7190)

Mary-Kathryn - Dreams & Visions

Mary-Kathryn is a new name to me, but apparently she has been creating music for the sacred/spiritual vocal market for some time. Dreams & Visions is her fourth album and continues her message of world humanity and harmony amongst all the peoples and religions of the world. This is a tall order, of course, but this album should certainly help if it can reach as many listeners as possible. I was expecting the usual vapid new age-style efforts I've heard so often before, but in reality this is quite a muscular sounding [in places] soft-rock album allied to world music rhythms and instrumentation and topped by the lovely voice of Mary-Kathryn. Many of the tracks are uptempo and with her voice gliding on top are reminiscent of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac and even the Gaelic dream music of Clannad and Enya. Opening tracks Incense Of Praise and You Are There should win over any doubters that this is an album and artist to enjoy. Production values are very high - the clear recording of the excellent band and backing choir enhance the album immensely and take it to a different level to most of these types of albums. If you have a good audio set-up then buy this to impress the visitors!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.rhythmhouse.com and www.mary-kathryn.com

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3ology With Ron Miles
(Tapestry 76011)

3ology [the album] was recorded in one take, the music totally improvised during the recording. I guess that's a pretty brave thing to do, as you never really know if the results will be good enough for release. Obviously in this case the musicians thought they were. 3ology is Doug Carmichael on sax, Tim Carmichael on bass, Jon Powers on drums and guest Ron Miles on cornet. It is fair to say that the music here is avant-garde, experimental and yes, perhaps just plain mental. The roots of this music lay in late period Miles Davis and John Coltrane, though I can't see U2 or Rush in any of this music, as the release notes suggest. The nine tracks are definitely 'out there', a bit beyond what my own tastes in jazz are, but one has to applaud the commitment and the integrity of the musicians making it. There are times when the music reaches a 'groove' and strikes some funky rhythms, but I just can't hear the tunes that the musicians obviously do. Track titles exhibit a dark humour: Nightmares Of My Youth, Jimmyin' The Bakin' Shack, Flight Of The Neo-Cerebral Peace Iguana. While this album didn't really appeal to me I applaud the musicians for exploring musical pathways beyond the commercial and I hope it will find an audience. If you enjoy experimental jazz I suggest you visit the band's MySpace web page and listen to any sample tracks there - if you like what you hear think about buying the album and supporting these musical explorers.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.myspace.com/threeology

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Fabian Zone Trio - Keys In Ascension
(CAP1017)

The core of this jazz album, The Keys In Ascension, is the trio format, in this case the bassist Christian Fabian, the drums of Willard Dyson and the piano of Don Friedman, augmented with a variety of horn players. The style is mainstream jazz, commercial but still pushing the boundaries outwards. Obviously Miles Davis is one template, Dizzy Gillespie another. The thirteen tracks represent a showcase for all the musicians involved, so along with a number of tracks composed by Mr Fabian and assorted band members, plus cover versions of Miles Davis' Jean Pierre, Antonio Carlos Jobim's Wave, Charlie Parker's KC Blues, and Cole Porter's What Is This Thing Called Love? I was thinking that this albums sounds very sharp and on reading the press notes I see that these are all first or second takes, with minimal overdubs, and all the musicians in the studio playing together. I think you can hear that cohesiveness throughout the thirteen tracks, where the musicians are relishing playing as a band. Not being a musician myself I can't really say how good Christian Fabian is as a bassist, it isn't often used as the band leaders instrument, but it is a muscular sound keeping the rhythms going and the anchor for the rest of the musicians. Keys In Ascension is a very listenable album - it may be a small group of musicians but they make a very punchy sound and that should please jazz fans.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.christianfabian.com

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Fantasyy Factoryy - Tales To Tell
(Ohrwaschl Records OWR09)

Fantasyy Factoryy

Fantasyy Factoryy hail from Germany and are a trio format group playing a winning form of prog/space rock that should please anyone who likes Hawkwind, Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Traffic and other groups of that ilk. The album starts with a barnstorming instrumental, Eerie Woman, with guitarist Alan Tepper having a great time with the old flame-fingered shtick of power-chording for all he's worth. Season Of Sorcery is a more pastoral, hippie type thing, with Tull-like flute playing from Rainer Opiela added to the mix. Out Of The Maze cranks it up again, with some stratospheric lead guitar from Alan Tepper. The longest track, New Dawn, at fifteen minutes, is a symphony of echoplex, delay and treated voices, bringing together all the elements into found scattered across the other tracks. Final track, Chasin' Rainbows is a glorious acoustic guitar number that brings you gently down from the previous high. The rhythm section of Karl 'the Fox' Watson on bass and Dr Cosmo Spheren on drums provide a solid base for Tepper's guitar, voice and writing. Tales To Tell should be available at your local import dealer or try contacting Acme Mail Order Service, PO Box 248, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 6WT for pricing details.

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Uriah Heep - Sonic Origami
(Eagle EAGCD043)

When I was doing my last year of school the Heep, along with Wishbone Ash and Yes, were the epitome of prog-rock, spewing out concept albums like there was no tomorrow. Thirty years on and here they are again with most of the original line-up. From the opening track, Between Two Worlds, this is bare-chested, muscle-flexing stuff, designed to roll off the walls of sports stadia and concert halls of a certain [huge] size. Subtlety doesn't really come into it here - this album is designed for an American audience wanting to pa-a-arty and wave a flaming cigarette lighter in the air. And if that's your style then this is most certainly for you, the songs are mostly upbeat, lots of riffing guitars, pounding drums and anthemic songs to air guitar to: Perfect Little Heart, I Hear Voices and Only The Young. It would be so easy to tear the Heep apart as being past their sell-by date and passé in a world of Blur, the Verve and Radiohead. Yet this album is so full of life, listener-friendly and yes, I'll say it, commercial that it deserves to find a wider audience than just the Heep's core fanbase.

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Bill Chrastil - Bill Chrastil
(Midland, CD, BC1001)

There are many styles of country music, the most popular (and derided) is the 'Nashville' Sound, and thankfully while this debut album by country singer/songwriter Bill Chrastil has elements of that sound, he also knows how to rock and swing as well. The opener, The World's Biggest Fool, is a country rocker that should get anyone's foot tapping furiously, while Lady Turn The Light Out is a gentle ballad very much in the Roy Orbison vein, and indeed, Chrastil's voice actually reminded me of a young Orbison at times during this song. Recorded in Hendersonville, Tennessee, rather than Nashville itself, the band backing Chrastil are superb - tight, rocking on the uptempo tracks and supporting his impressive voice on the ballads. The ten song thirty minute playing time is all too quickly over on this album, though I think that it will be played a lot here over the next few months.

Not sure about UK availability, though I guess the usual import specialists might be worth trying - Midlands Records can be contacted at PO Box 2303, Hendersonville, TN 37075, USA. Email: RRice2303@aol.com

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Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream
(Snapper SMACD813)

Porcupine Tree are new to me, though I gather from the press release that they've been around for some time and released several albums. Their music seems to be modern progressive, featuring elements from many types of rock music, though Pink Floyd and Marillion seem to be the bedrock (no pun intended) of their sound. Stupid Dream is a rich, extremely lush-sounding album, as typified by the opening tracks, Even Less and Piano Lessons. For a four piece band Porcupine Tree have a big sound, though it is restrained enough not to veer towards pomp-rock, and certainly more suitable for performance in theatres and clubs rather than sports stadia, where their intricate music would be lost in the echo. I rather like this and shall seek out more of the Tree in the future

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Love Sculpture - Forms & Feelings
(EMI 499 7682)

This was the second album that guitarist Dave Edmund's Love Sculpture recorded before splitting in 1970. As such it's something of a collector's delight, containing as it does not just his hyper fast version of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance (the only hit single Love Sculpture enjoyed), but another classical workout on Bizet's Farandole, plus the psychedelic classic In The Land of the Few. A skid mark version of Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me hints at Edmunds' later rockabilly leanings. This new digital remastering comes in a digipak case which apes the original sleeve but offers no documentation. Love Sculpture were a trio, but it has to be said that only Edmunds' superior guitar and vocal skills really stand out. It was his later work as a solo artist and with Rockpile and his production work that really made his reputation. For fans like myself, this is a fascinating glimpse into a rock hero's growing pains.

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Falkner Evans - Arc (CAP 1008)

This is the second Falkner Evans albums that I have received for review here and as with the previous album Arc starts with a swinging opening track, Regatta, which sets the tone for what follows. Falkner Evans is a very versatile pianist, mixing elements of swing and melody and creating a very distinct sound indeed. The improvisation is always melodic but splashes of colourful experimentalism keep the mind alert and invigorates the listener as much as it did for the performers during the recording sessions. This is helped greatly by the in-synch support from bassist Belden Bullock and drummer Matt Wilson. Arc consists of a mix of self-penned numbers and a selection from the Great American Songbook: Come Rain, Come Shine, Lost In The Stars, plus John Coltrane's Central Park West and Wayne Shorter's Fee-Fo-Fi-Fum. This is one of many jazz albums I receive here and it is encouraging to see a musical genre thriving against the odds, considering so many jazz writers have proclaimed its death over the last few years. Arc is a fine album and should please both the fans of the trio format and classic jazz piano.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.falknerevans.com 

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Huey Lewis & The News - Huey Lewis & The News/ Picture This
(BGO BGOCD417)

Back in the 1980's Huey Lewis & The News were big, very big indeed, playing a brand of adult pop-rock that sounded good in bars, jukeboxes, film soundtracks and cd. This cd contains their first two albums from 1980 and 1982, bringing them up to the point where they were about to breakthrough big time. And it is interesting to hear how well defined their sound was even then. If there was one thing that defined the Huey Lewis sound it was confidence - they might not swagger but boy did they strut their stuff with all the streetwise chutzpah you could imagine. So, this cd contains twenty tracks of good-time rock and roll, with a few early hits for good measure: Workin' For A Livin', Do You Believe In Love and Trouble In Paradise. Hats off to BGO as well for including a set of illustrated sleeve notes on the inlay that offer a concise history of the group and are actually worth reading. It seems that Huey Lewis has had his day (I don't think he even has a recording contract any more), which is a shame, but this cd should be snapped up by his fans still playing their now rather aged vinyl lps.

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Gary Tu - Look East
[Triple S Jazz 1740]

Guitarist Gary Tu is a new name to me here, not surprising as the musician hails from Taipei and works mostly in the USA. However, his new album, Look East, manages to fuse east and west into a melodic whole with his mellifluous guitar playing. Look East encapsulates the joys of small band music - just Tu on guitar and guitar synth along with Kurt Schweitz on bass and Andre Beasley on drums. It may be a trio but the sound is big and muscular on occasion and intimate and introspective at other times. Playing a mixture of self composed tracks and compositions by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Frank Foster, Gary Tu plays in a style that mixes the ethereal technique of Pat Metheny and the more muscular stylings of Wes Montgomery. Throughout the album there is a strong rhythmic push vying with the melodic themes, and a strong love of the guitar. This is an album for guitar fans - of any genre - and it has been a frequent visitor to my cd deck over the last few weeks.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.garytu.com

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Drottnar - Spiritual Battle
(Plankton records PCDN 155)

Drottnar - Spiritual Battle

When it comes to the variations of heavy metal rock I grow confused because it usually all sounds the same [to me] but to the cogniscenti it breaks down to several sub-genres. As far as I can tell Drottnar come from Norway and they seem to be playing christian death thrash metal - though surely that is a contradiction in terms. It's all pounding drums and guitars and gutteral vocals that are indecipherable even when sung in English. Having said that, the instrumental side of things is very impressive, with a considerable amount of musical skill on show - but I just can't take the vocals seriously, it sounds like a wookie in pain! Or on heat - I'm not sure which... I'm certainly grateful for the lyric sheet which shows that this album is actually a concept one depicting the apocalyptic Judgement Day battle between the forces of good and evil. The vocals aside, though the partial English lyrics help in understanding what is going on, Drottnar can certainly rock, and if you are a metalhead then this may interest you.

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Spaccanapoli - Lost Soul [Aneme Perze]
(Real World CDRW 89)

Spaccanapoli come from the Italian city of Naples and the industrial region that surrounds it, and they perform a type of folk/ethnic music specific to that region. They mix traditional instruments and tunes with new lyrics, arrangements, and, of course the odd rock instrument too. Imagine a Chumbawumba and Oyster Band hybrid and you are partly there. The music tends to be a hybrid taking elements from the differing ethnic music from around the Mediteranean basin: Italian, Turkish, Greek, Arabic, gipsy. As for the album, well, it is a vibrant masterpiece, full of colour, life, vocal gymnastics, percussive fireworks and most importantly bloody fantastic music. Highlights include O Mare, A'Ferreira, Aneme Perze, Moezzo A Festa and many more. Neapolitan music doesn't just consist of Pavarotti doing O Sole Mio, Naples has a vital and energetic music scene and this cd captures some of that.

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Mr Love & Justice - Homeground
(Vanity Records VRCD004)

This album came out of the blue, so no idea who Mr Love & Justice are or how long they have been together. No bad thing as it leaves the ears and mind unfettered with pre-conceptions... The opening track Welcome To Our Garden takes me back to those heady days of the 60s when acoustic twelve strings guitars and Rickenbacker electrics vied for the tie-died t-shirts. Very folky sound, reminds me of the Byrds, Loving Spoonful, perhaps even Jefferson Aeroplane... I guess those much younger than me will have their own set of references, but the sound on this album certainly takes me back to the semi-acoustic west coast sound of the mid-to-late 60s when folk was making daring steps towards rock music.

Mr Love & Justice seem to be a loose grouping of musicians based around multi-instrumentalist Steve Cox, Chris Anniss on drums, bassist Andy Jones, Stewart Palmer on guitar, and with help from Rob Beckinsale [a name familiar to those with an esoteric knowledge of my MusicWatch web pages].

I can't say that any of the songs stand out from the others, but this is a very listenable album, and I like the sound and style of this band. It is melodic, flows well and is the sort of pleasant rock music that sounds good in a car on a summers' day drive with the roof open.

Russ Hewitt - Alma Vieja

Russ Hewitt - Alma ViejaBack in 2009 I wrote a fulsome and enthusiastic review for guitarist Russ Hewitt's debut album Bajo El Sol, and here we are in 2011 with its sequel, Alma Vieja. I have to admit that I waxed so eloquently on the first album that all my comments for that equally apply here. Now that would be a cop out to leave it at that so I have to try and find something new to write. Well, let's see - Alma Vieja is a more forthright album, the sound is fuller with the electric bass and sax finding more prominence in the mix. The new album seems to be a lot funkier and dare one say dirtier sounding, as if Mr Hewitt has been listening to some old Stax and Atlantic soul and r'n'b artists. The latin and flamenco sound is still there at the heart of things, but as I say, the overall feel of the music is rootsier, and it sounds more like a band album. I love it. Talking of the band, it seems larger to me, which explains the fuller sound. The band are: Alfredo Caceres - rhythm and harmony guitar, Walfredo Reyes Jr - drums, Rafael Padilla - percussion, Bob Parr - bass, Michael Lington - sax, Charlie Bisharat - violin, and of course Russ Hewitt on solo and rhythm guitar. Of the eleven tracks Russ Hewitt wrote nine of them, and they are all as good as those on the previous album - this is a summer album par excellence and should be played on beaches everywhere. The track titles are: Pelourinho, ¡Samba Samba!, Pacific Sunrise, Dhanyavad, Gabriela Mi Corazon, Miss Mimi, Moonlake Drive, Las Cruces, Gypsy, Tango For Ahn, Soldade. Alma Vieja is a wonderful album, that is a given and I'll brook no arguments, the sound is rich and bursting with superb musicianship [and the tunes ain't too shabby either!]. Bajo El Sol was one of my albums of 2009 and Alma Vieja is no different, it's sown up the 2011 accolade too! Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.russhewittmusic.com www.facebook.com/russhewittmusic, www.myspace.com/russhewittmusic

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2002 - Damayanti
(Galactic Playground Music)

2002 - Damayanti I have always had a love and fascination for tigers, so the cover illo for Damayanti pretty much had me from the moment I took the CD out of its jiffy bag. Yes, there is a gorgeous painting of a tiger relaxing alongside a beautiful young women. OK, that's the cover, so then I pop the CD onto the player and this gorgeous orchestral music comes rolling out of the speakers - neo-classical in style, until a variety of ethnic instruments enter, and then you realise you are listening to the magic of 2002. For a duo they make huge and expansive music, full of world music influences and yet rooted to the backbone of an orchestral sound. 2002 are Randy and Pamela Copus who, I think, play all the ethnic instruments [harp, flute, guitars, percussion] alongside the synthesised orchestra. The theme of the album is a love story between Damayanti and Prince Nala, and is an Indian-style fairy tale. So you could see the album as the soundtrack to a fantasy story, but the music goes beyond that. It is very filmic, has a definite Celtic feel [especially Enya, but a bit of The Chieftains and Horselips etc.] mixed alongside other ethnic influences from India, the Far East. It is a very rich and lush sound, extravagant in its romance and widescreen production. The ten track titles are: Forever My Love, Flight Of The Swan, Beauty And Grace, Challenge From Heaven, A Choice From The Heart, Cycle Of Time, A Divine Encounter, Destinies, Enduring Love, Time Stands Still. Damayanti is, of course, a new age album but one that could also be classed as prog-rock [I am thinking Camel's classic Snow Goose here], or soundtrack [there is something of John Barry in the orchestrations] - I also think it would appeal to the neo-classical or light classical listener. This album has a grandeur pulsing throughout its length, add the ravishing melodies and rich sound and you have a very highly recommended album.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.2002music.com

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Lisa Maxwell - Return To Jazz Standards

Lisa maxwell - Return To Jazz StandardsOne of the continuing surprises, and a pleasant one at that, is discovering the seemingly unending number of 'new' vocalists who appear from the ether fully formed. Lisa Maxwell is the latest jazz diva to appear, though not quite overnight as she has had to endure prolonged surgery on her vocal chords to repair damage. And yet, here she is with a wonderful album of eleven tracks of jazz standards and sounding gorgeous. Supported by her husband, producer and pianist George Newall, Return To Jazz Standards is a very lush sounding album indeed, with Mr Newall providing almost a full orchestra via his keyboards. And for once this digital approximation actually sounds as good as the real thing. Obviously this is a highly romantic album and ideal for soundtracking a late night supper or a cosy night in front of the fire this winter. The template is a cross between the Ella songbooks and the albums of Julie London, which is no bad thing in my book. The songs include: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, Meditation, I Hadn't Anyone Till You, Call Me, The Shadow of Your Smile, Isn't It A Pity, My Romance. Ms Maxwell has a voice to die for and makes a mockery of so many of the current crop of women 'pop' singers - it has a caressing velvet feel to it, downright sexy in an understated way, and you can hear every syllable she sings. In under forty minutes she makes the above songs hers and anyone with an ounce or three of romanticism should buy this album to help their pulling power! Quite simply the easiest of easy listening and jazz-pop at its very best. Just buy this!

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.lisamaxwellsingsjazz.com

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Michael William Gilbert - I Can
See From Here

(Gibex Recordings)

Here we have an album that is out and out electronica but with a dash of experimental mixed throughout. Apart from a guitarist on track thirteen, all the sounds and performances on this album are by Michael William Gilbert, and this is a journey through many of the various types of electronic music. I Can See From Here contains fourteen tracks and is something of a journey across the world of electronica. Using synths, loops, samples and drum machines, this is quite a propulsive album, with opening track Dark Horizon bubbling away with percussive loops and sounding a little like an 80s Eno album. Track 3, Eyeless in Gaza, includes treated voice samples in an ethnic rather than a choral manner. Some of the tracks are short interludes between longer pieces, and everything seems to flow onwards. There does seem to be a 'journey' aspect to the album and whether it is through life, the world or sound is up to your ears and brain. The music seems to flow and ebb, with some sections more jazzy or experimental. I've mentioned Brian Eno before and the nature of the music is more in keeping with his 80's/90s style than say the influences of Jarre, Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. I get a strong sense of the composer/musician being playful with the nature of sound and stretching the musicality as far as it can go at times. But that not to say this isn't a listenable album - far from it, there are some great melodies to be found in the vignettes and in the longer pieces. I haven't come across Michael William Gilbert before but he seems to be a musician and composer to put on the 'watch' list, because I Can See From Here is an impressive album and I would definitely like to hear more of this musician. Highly Recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.mwgilbert.com

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Leslie Lewis with the Gerard Hagen Trio - Keeper of the Flame
(Surf Cove Jazz)

This is the second album by jazz vocalist Leslie Lewis received here at The Borderland, and once again she and her fellow musicians have created an album of classic vocal jazz. The emphasis on Keeper of the Flame is Latin rhythms and Brazilian music in particular, with several standards in the same style. Ms Lewis has a voice of the same quality as the great jazz divas [Ella, Sarah, and Dinah, and perhaps even a little Peggy on the more romantic songs], and she is ably supported by Gerard Hagen on piano, Domenic Genova on bass and Jerry Kalaf on drums, with Gary Foster guesting on flutes and sax. So the sound is very tight, but still swinging with a Latin beat. Of the ten tracks on this new CD, most of the Brazilian songs are by Antonio Carlos Jobim [A Felicidade, Fotographia, Chega De Saudade], and the standards include Spring Is Here, Day By Day, Caravan, You Don't Know What Love Is, The Island, Keeper of the Flame, and Speak Low. The musicians fit around Ms Lewis's voice like a snug glove, and this is late night jazz of a high quality which just improves with repeated playing. Ms Lewis's has an earthy directness and is sexy enough to make any honest-to-God male heart skip several beats. I don't think I've heard a melodic jazz album to beat this during this year, and I can't commend Leslie Lewis high enough for creating such a lovely album of gently uplifting jazz.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.surfcovejazz.com

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Jazz Folk - Jazz in the Stone Age
(1 Hr Music 014)

Jazz Folk are a trio of musicians: Peter Scherr - bass, Simon Barker - drums, and Matt McMahon - piano. You won't need me to tell you that this trio play jazz - it's in the band name and the album title. But it is a slightly different type of jazz than I usually hear - it sounds like lounge jazz but with added bop and Latin, and it is very easy on the ear. There's nothing aggressive with this music, Peter Scherr's sleevenotes describe the trio's music as having an ambient vibe to it and I agree. There is definitely a 'chill out' feel to most of these tracks, each one tends to proceed at a leisurely pace, allowing the listener to enjoy each musician's superb contribution. The music isn't cosmic in the 'outer space' sense of the term but there is a shrewd timelessness about it - check out Tropicalian Shadows to hear what I mean. Jazz in the Stone Age was recorded quickly and spontaneously in hours rather than days, each of the eight tracks taking no more than a couple of takes to pin it down. Rather adventurously the tracks are taken from the rock and pop book, rather than the more usual great American Songbook. The songs are by Taj Mahal [Corinna], Joni Mitchell [That Song About the Midway], Beck Hansen [Nobody's Fault But My Own, Tropicalian Shadows, Cold Brains], Lou Reed [All Tomorrow's Parties, Pale Blue Eyes], and Jerry Garcia [To Lay Me Down]. Jazz in the Stone Age is a slow burner of an album - its charms creep up on you as you listen to the CD, and I think Jazz Folk are possibly the best classic jazz format trio I have ever heard. Highly Recommended!

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.creativemusicinchina.com

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Fernandez&Wright - Unsung
(New Market Music NEW3265-2)

Fernandez&Wright are a duo, a partnership between vocalist and writer Vanessa Fernandez and guitarist and writer Steve Write. Together they have written ten songs that straddle the pop, soul, r'n'b and jazz genres. I think it's fair to say that there is also a strong blues and latin feel to many of the songs. So Unsung is something of a global mix of styles, reinforced by Ms Fernandez's soulful and very attractive voice, while Steve Wright's understated mastery of acoustic and electric guitars wraps around her. The band supporting them is also worthy of note for, again, its amicable backing - the musicians are: Sam Keevers - piano, Ben Robertson - double bass, Dave Beck - drums, Alex Pertout - percussion, and Chang Lim - hammond organ. The ten self-composed songs are: I've Been There Too, Fairy Dust, Thinkn It Lately, If Only, Ain't Love Cruel, Seasons, New Knack, Leave With Me, Why Is It Always, New Years Day. There is a late night feel to many of the songs, and something of the torch song too - love, in all its aspects, is the focus. Of course, soulful female vocalists aren't that rare, but I think that Vanessa Fernandez should appeal to the buyers of Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Adele albums. In some ways I think Ms Fernandez is actually a more soulful singer, and while she may not testify in the stratospheric style of Aretha, she gets the message over in a much more dignified manner. For a debut album this is damned impressive stuff and highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.fernandezandwright.com.au

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Gerry Gibbs & The Electric Thrasher Orchestra - Play The Music Of Miles Davis 1967 - 1975
(Whaling City Sound WCS 047)

Gerry Gibbs & The Electric Thrasher Orchestra - Play The Music Of Miles Davis 1967 - 1975This is quite an impressive package from the get go: two CDs in a triple fold digipack, a sixteen page booklet full of information on the recording and some startling artwork and graphic design. The title of the album completely sums up the musical contents - a selection of trumpeter/composer/musical innovator Miles Davis' music from one of his many musically rich periods when he redefined jazz into new areas that appealed to followers of rock, prog-rock, funk and, of course, jazz-fusion, and left his fans from the Blue Note label days reeling. Drummer Gerry Gibbs and his expanded Electric Thrasher Orchestra spent quality time in the studio picking through sixteen Miles Davis albums and recorded twenty-six tracks of what they considered the best music, along with a few tribute tracks of their own in the style of Davis. The music here comes from the time when Davis plugged his trumpet into the electricity - as did his musicians - and many musical legends were born here whose careers started with playing in the legendary Miles Davis bands. These include Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter [both to find fame in Weather Report], and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin amongst many more. One certainly can't fault the enthusiasm of the musicians or the power of the music on these two CDs, but to my ears there are times when it is a cacophony and others when it gets downright funky as on In Concert (Part III). I have never been a big fan of Miles Davis, my jazz tastes veer towards big band, swing and latin, his striving for the stratosphere tended to leave me behind - I want melody and a tune you can hum. However, while I can't in all honesty say that I enjoyed or understood much of the music on this album, there were some tracks that worked for me, perhaps the more funky ones which have a recognisable rhythm to them - the music on CD2 seemed to connect with me more, I think. But I have to say that I admire the muscular musicianship on show on this album - the performances are sincere and honour the memory of Miles Davis in the best way possible. If you are a fan of Davis I can't recommend Gerry Gibbs and his band highly enough - this is a tribute that works on all artistic levels and you should seek out this double CD set and add it to your collections ASAP.

For more information about this artist and album and availability contact: www.myspace.com/gerrythrashergibbs

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Whaling City Sound Spring/Summer Releases

The American label Whaling City Sound are a relatively new arrival at the Borderland, but their previously-received albums have always impressed in terms of quality - both music and production. And the three new albums here all share in the same high production values as before - and they are all beautifully packaged in digi-cases.

First off is John Stein - Concerto Internacional de Jazz [WCS 031], an album guitarist John Stein recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a band made up of top local jazz musicians. So, essentially an album of latin jazz instrumentals with some added spice thanks to New Orleans rhythms and whatever else could be added to the 'stew'. However, if you are expecting the usual sort of samba-coloured jazz of, say, Sergio Mendes, then expect to be disappointed - this is a harder edged version, more Miles Davis-hued music. Thanks to the wider pallet of instrumental sounds here - flute and trombone - this album never outstays its welcome, and of the three albums reviewed here is the one I'm most likely to return to for pleasure.

Second album is Ramona Borthwick - A New Leaf [WCS030], another jazz-based album with pianist Borthwick leading a small combo that adds a trumpet to the usual bass, drums and guitar scenario. It is a mostly instrumental line up of tracks but a few tracks have vocals or vocal embellishments, which add to the rich sound mix. This is Ramona Borthwick's debut album as a band leader but you wouldn't really know it from the assured performances here. Some of the tracks are a little too stark for my tastes, a solo trumpet always sounds lonely to me, but if you like your jazz to be challenging then you might like to give this album a try.

Finally, the Marcus Monteiro Quartet - MM4 [WCS032], an album I have to admit that I enjoyed the least. The jazz on show here is of the fast and furious kind, based on a template that Miles Davis carved into stone tablets with his mid seventies fusion albums, led by alto sax playing bandleader Monteiro. It just doesn't appeal to me, my personal tastes in jazz are for the older swing and big band styles - I'm sure the musicianship on show across the nine tracks is excellent, but my heart and mind just can't get into it. But that doesn't mean I think this is a rubbish album, I'm sure that there is a huge and eager audience for modern jazz who will enjoy this album and the strong and vibrant interplay between the musicians.

For details on these albums and artists visit www.whalingcitysound.com, and if there are sample tracks available do sample them before buying.

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Joe Beck, Santi W. Debriano & Thierry Arpino - Tri07
[Whaling City Sound WCS 037]

The name Beck has a long and illustrious lineage in popular music, especially if your first name is Jeff, but the Beck whose name adorns this new album is Joe Beck, a jazz guitarist of not inconsiderable skills himself. This is a trio recording with Santi W. Debriano on bass and Thierry Arpino on drums and was recorded over a two day period in a studio at Joe Beck’s Connecticut home. The three musicians mesh together wonderfully, bringing forth some warm and intimate performances of old and new songs such as Laura, Cry Me A River, I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With you and You And The Night And The Music. Several of the tracks evolve into lengthy explorations of the lyrical themes, but they never outstay their welcome by falling into mindless soloing. Every note is relevant and the mellow but focused mood is consistent throughout the album. This is a goodie, and wouldn’t it be interesting to hear music by both Becks?

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.joebeckmusic.com

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Matthew Zachary - Scribblings (Intimations M5Z2G974),
...Every Step Of The Way
(M5Z2G974B)

Matthew Zachary - Scribblings & ... Every Step Of The WayMatthew Zachary is a young American pianist and composer who has fought a battle with cancer and recovered his musical skills to the point where has recorded these two albums of inspirational music to help others face and fight their medical battles.

Musically speaking, these albums fall somewhere within the spheres of classical, new age and jazz - a heady amalgam of all three genres. More essentially, the music veers away from being the sort of bland muzak that passes for much inspirational music these days. For some reason while listening to these CDs I am reminded of a Harry Connick Junior instrumental album that I have which is also "jazz-lite", and I'm also minded of the superlative piano playing of the late Dudley Moore.

These two albums work on several levels, of course - as proof that one can fight and survive cancer, that one can be productive after a death-threatening illness, and finally that music can be an aid in recovering from the above. Zachary has certainly put his musical skills to good use since he recovered.

The CDs have ten and eleven tracks respectively, and I am not going to select individual tracks to comment on as it seems redundant to do so on albums which work as a whole. Beside, these old ears of mine are used to more rock orientated music and the melodies on each album tend to run together over the duration of a listening session. What I can tell you is that these two CDs will help you relax and yes, inspire you to believe that there can be a future after a serious illness.

I'm not sure about UK availability so check out www.intimations.com and www.matthewzachary.com for ordering details

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Various Artists - The Kings & Queens of Bollywood
(Nascente NSCD 090)

Various Artists - The Kings & Queens of BollywoodIndian movies are gradually becoming more widely known outside their ethnic catchment areas here in the UK and thanks to video/DVD releases anyone who's interested in non-Hollywood entertainment can now sample the exotic delights of Bollywood. One area of a Bollywood movie that has travelled better than most is the music soundtrack, and this is highlighted exceptionally well on The Kings & Queens of Bollywood. This superb compilation takes recordings from the cream of the playback singers back in the 1960's - a golden era of Bollywood musicals. The names I'm going to list might not mean much to a western audience but to Indian and Pakistani immigrants all over the world their vocal performances in the movies were a little bit of home in an alien environment.

Performers on this album include the legendary Asha Bhosle, plus Mahendra Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Mohamed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, and many others. The other element of the soundtrack that is now attracting much interest in West is the music itself - the Indian composers in Bombay [India's Hollywood] acted like sponges, soaking in all the popular music explosions coarsing through the Western hemisphere and absorbing and mutating them into something uniquely Indian. Tracks on this CD begin with traditional Indian instruments, then morph into rock and roll, big band jazz, even psycho-surfabilly guitar all in the span of five minutes. Meanwhile, over this melange of styles the playback singers soared, their vocals a mixture of local dialects and cod-english, all drenched in a warped echo. In many ways one has to hear this album to believe it, it's both weird and wildly entertaining and imaginative all at the same time. Recommended, if you're brave enough.

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Maddy Prior - Ravenchild
(Park PRKCD49)

Maddy Prior - RavenchildI think this is Maddy Prior's first solo album since she retired from Steeleye Span a year or so ago. Ravenchild is a tour-de-force of all that's great about Prior's voice and folk heritage - a melding of traditional vocal stylings with a fusion of traditional (uilleann pipes, tin whistle, citern) and modern (electric guitar, electronic keyboards, ambient backings). The album contains 13 tracks, some standalone like the effervescent Twankydillo, and the pertinent Rigs Of The Time, but the jewels of the album are two lengthy song-cycles: With Napoleon In Russia and In The Company Of Ravens. These songs, based on traditional music but with modern lyrics written by Prior are hauntingly beautiful - the former set dealing with the futility of war and an apt warning (considering the current NATO vs. Yugoslavia conflict) that no one 'wins' a war; while the Ravens song cycle is about nature, the conflict for survival, the trickster personality of the raven - but mostly about Man encroaching on what belongs to the animals. These are heavy concepts and it would be easy to make a mockery of them but Prior and her band are more than up to the task. Ravenchild is one of the most luminous albums you are likely to hear this year.

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Kevin Leonard - Automatrix
(Space Monster Optional Entertainment CD-0995-3)

AutomatrixThis is one of those 'one-man-band' albums where the musician has composed, performed and produced the whole thing, and in this case not fallen into the usual vat of self-indulgence. This instrumental album is a cracker, fast-moving electronic keyboards piling up more and more intricate layers of music on top of each other. The opener Math Monk sets the pace, proving that Kevin Leonard has both extremely nimble fingers and a deviously fiendish mind to keep all the weird time signatures on the go. My ears were relieved that there was some respite from the speed keyboards, notably in the gentle, almost pastoral, In The Mist. This album should appeal to fans of Robert Fripp/King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and other purveyors of electro jazz/rock fusion music. Not sure about availability in the UK, so write to PO Box 43, Glen Mills, PA 19342, USA.

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King Chango
(Luaka Bop 72438-49041-2-8)

King ChangoNow what have we here? Infectious latin, ska and reggae rhythms, a big brass section and lashings of latino punk brashness. It's King Chango, an eight piece band that rock, sway and shimmy like shit. Anyone whose opening track on their debut album is called Don't Drop Your Pants is okay with me, I can tell you. This is really great stuff, imagine the best of the British Ska revival - Madness, Bad Manners, Selector, The Specials - all put through the blender and mixed with the finest latin american ingredients and you'll have some idea of how good this is. It's hi-energy, a real band vibe and no drum machines. I'm not going to single out individual tracks for comment, there's no need to, the whole album is a party happening in real time. Put this on the cd deck, open the tortillas and pass the tequilla!

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Joi - One & One Is One
(Real World CDRW74)

Joi - One & One is OneIf it's on Real World then you know we're going to be listening to ethnic music - this time Asian traditional music fused to western dance beats. Imagine the Orb or Grid going for an Indian and you may have some idea of what I mean. I'm a little unsure exactly who Joi are, but most of the tracks are credited to F and H Shamsher, but there are a few others involved as well. The opening track, Fingers and track 3: Asian Vibes tend to set out Joi's stall: shuffling breakbeats, Indian percussion and a haunting wail by an Indian woman. Mind you, this isn't that original, the late Pakistani Qwawali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was mixing it with the western beat boys years ago. Having said that, Joi have a very commercial sound and I like it, though a little more Indian instrumentation and a little less drum machine would have made the album more varied and interesting.

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Yes - The Ladder
(Eagle Records EAGCD088)

Yes - The LadderI've never been a dedicated Yes fan, I've dipped into the odd album now and then but I always found their music to be more technique over content. And it has to be said that the multiple disbandings, regroupings, reunions grew very tiresome and meaningless. However, The Ladder, I must admit, has been getting serious airplay on my CD deck ever since it arrived. Instead of the usual lengthy song cycles, the group have come up with 9 reasonably shortish tracks of snappy, upbeat prog-rock and 2 nine minute epics. The title track Homeworld (The Ladder) sets out the group's wares: slow and gentle opening sequence with Jon Anderson's voice soaring over an ambient synth line, then Steve Howe and Chris Squire's guitar and bass lift it up a level until a funky chorus kick in. And the rest of the album is like this, almost every track is upbeat, mixing in dance loops, ethnic instruments, even a brass section, but at the heart of every track is a revitalised, lean and ultra fit Yes. I can't think of another Yes album where the songs actually have hooks and choruses that pull you in and sing along. There's even a superb ballad in If Only You Knew, and a track, Lightning Strikes, which swings like a latino stud. Who'd a thunkit? SingalongaYes! Oh yeah, something for PC users - the CD has an 'Enhanced' section containing a demo of a sci-fi game called HomeWorld, based on the music on this CD. There's movie clips, interviews with the group, screensavers and a fully interactive guide to the game. I'm sure others will disagree but this is the best Yes album I've heard in a long time, and its fun.

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Pierre Moerlen's Gong - Full Circle Live 1988
(Outer Music OM-1006)

Gong - Full Circle LiveFirst of all, a warning to all ageing T-Potheads - this isn't the Daevid Allen/Steve Hillage version of Gong, but the later vibes-led jazz-rock-fusion group. I never heard the former version of Gong but I can tell you that this live 1988 recording shows a group of excellent musicians creating some extremely vibrant instrumental music. Led by drummer and percussionist Pierre Moerlen, and with a line-up featuring two vibes players, guitarist and bass, this sounds very different to the usual rock soundscape. One only has to hear the opening track Second Wind to realise that. The sound of twin vibes taking the lead parts is quite distinctive and there are some exhilarating 'duels' between the vibes (Benoit Moerlen, Stefan Traub) and electric guitar (Ake Zieden) on this album. A lot of fusion music isn't that good but Full Circle Live 1988 is the exception to the rule.

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Steeleye Span - The Journey
(Park Records PRKCD52)

Steeleye Span - The JourneyIn these days of one hit wonders, anonymous dance music created by faceless djs, and manufactured girl/boy 'bands' it is reassuring that quality will out and that so many of the great groups of the 60's and 70's are still working. And in many cases working to a high level of creativity. Steeleye Span have been around for nearly 30 years now, and The Journey is a double CD containing a record of the 25th anniversary gig where all the various group line-ups joined together in celebration. The 'classic' line-up of Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Bob Johnson, Rick Kemp, Peter Knight and Nigel Pegrum are joined by Gay Woods, Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and Ashley Hutchings in a collection of 24 Steeleye classics: Blacksmith, Dark-eyed Sailor, All Around My Hat, Thomas the Rhymer and Rave On being the best known. Packaged in a card slipcase and including a 40 page booklet packed with photos and reminiscences, this is an excellent souvenir for those who went to the gig, and an important archive for those who didn't. One question for Park Records - why has it taken almost 5 years to release this?

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Fairport Convention - Live at Broughton Castle
(Talking Elephant TECD052)

Fairport Convention - Live at Broughton CastleThe Fairports have had more upheaval in their lengthy career than most groups, and yet they survive and grow better all the time. This live album features what many would consider to be just about THE classic line-up: Dave Swarbrick, Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks and Bruce Rowland, along with guests Judy Dyble and Ralph McTell - it just needed the late Sandy Denny to make it perfection. But that is pretty immaterial as this album captures the reformed Fairports in top flight on a set of their timeless classics: Walk Away, Rosie, [a blistering] Matty Groves, The Brilliancy Medley and Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman, plus Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now and the Jerry Lee Lewis standard High School Confidential.

It's such a shame that this CD reissue hasn't been expanded from the original vinyl set of forty-one minutes - with the band in such great form this would have been a suitable time to expand it back to the full set and give us many more great moments to savour. But that doesn't take detract from the fact that this is an excellent live document of one of this country's greatest folk-rock groups kicking the dust off their heritage. To paraphrase someone in a movie: I'll have what they're having... 

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Ashley Hutchings - The Guv'nor's Big Birthday Bash
(Talking Elephant TECD 033)

If there's one thing the British folk music movement love it's a birthday party, and this CD documents Ashley Hutchings' fiftieth birthday celebrations, recorded at The Mill, Banbury, in March 1995. Needless to say virtually everyone who is anyone in folk music was there: members of Fairport Convention, the assorted Albion Band line-ups, morris dancers, singers, musicians and basically anyone who liked a pint of Olde Peculiar and a singsong. Essentially there's little point being critical about an album such as this, it is a record of a party where everyone was paying their respects to a man who just about single-handedly took English traditional music and shook it about a bit. If you've no idea who Ashley Hutchings is you probably wouldn't be interested in buying this CD, but if you do know who Ashley Hutchings is then you'll know that this CD will contain a selection of fine songs, jigs and dance tunes performed by various stellar line-ups - all with the man himself at their heart, playing bass guitar and kicking things along with his usual flair. It sounded like a great party and I wish I had been there.

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Kees Aerts - Slices Of Time
(Groove Unlimited GR-001)

Hailing from Holland, Kees Aerts music goes for slower beats and a more ambient, dreamy feel to the music. Most of the tracks on Slices Of Time tend to sequence into the next one, so the album is more like a symphonic poem in several sections. Balance is one of the best tracks, its beats gently insistent as it propels the hummable melody along. Friends, the only track where Aerts is joined by other musicians is one of those slow burners that build in intensity as it flows along. This is gentle stuff, an album for winding down after a stressful day, rather than gearing up for clubbing.

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Jeffrey Fisher - Triumph of the Spirit
(Two Birds Flying TBF CD2006)

Jeffrey Fisher writes orchestral music for the modern electronic keyboard, and depending on your interpretation of the music it is either new age or contemporary classical. His new album, Triumph of the Spirit, is based on the paintings of New Mexico-based painter Charles Collins. As each sketch evolved into the completed painting Jeffrey Fisher composed his music for each piece of art and these were combined as a collaborative show. Unfortunately, the CD inlay only shows one painting as the cover artwork, so it is impossible for the listener to judge how well the music fits the paintings. In terms of musical style there is a distinctive baroque style to many of the tracks, and with titles such as The Beginning of Wisdom, Emperor of the Soul, Rituals of Paradox, Eternal Champions and, of course, the title track there is much here for the listeners' imagination to tackle. The album is certainly full of interesting melodies, but the keyboards' sonic representation of an orchestra lacks the dynamic presence that a full symphonic orchestra would have brought to the music. In other words the music lacks the sonic oomph it really deserves.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.healingmusicofthesouthwest.com

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Star Period Star
(Super 800, SPR 8006)

Now I have to admit that loud discordant music isn't really my forte, so while this album by Illinois noise merchants Star Period Star isn't to my personal taste I'm sure it will appeal to those who enjoy industrial and grunge music. Having said that, the music on this CD is diverse, with several quiet songs punctuating the cacophony. Comparisons are always odious, but sometimes necessary when trying to describe the sound of a new group, and Star Period Star certainly have moments which remind me of Devo. Misery Index, with its funky trombone is my favourite, though there is a hidden instrumental track at the end of the CD which is pretty good as well. It appears that this album took some time to record as the group's line-up has changed considerably over the course of the tracks, with only multi-instrumentalist Dan Sweigert having stayed the course. That aside, the production values are high and despite the various permutations of group members the band are tight.

(UK address: Music & Elsewhere, 6 Farm Court, Farm Rd, Frimley, Surrey, GU16 5TJ. Price £6.57, cheques payable to SJ Taylor)

 

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