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Introducing The Band: RAY MASON

08/25/05 Holyoke Mason- Musican Ray Mason sits with his guitar in between sets at Herrell's Mill Cafe in the Open Square building in Holyoke on Thursday. CUTLINE: 3/6/08 - "It certainly can hurt financially when a gig you were counting on gets cancelled, but at the same time, your need to appreciate the fine art of getting snowed in," said Ray Mason of the Lonesome Brothers. CUTLINE: 3/20/08 - Ray Mason will lead the Lonesome Brothers as they perform at Liston's Bar and Grill in Worthington Friday night.

      There’s a hidden treasure in Haydenville, Massachusetts… and his name is Ray Mason. He’s been an active musician on the scene for more years than many of us have been alive, releasing solo albums as well as serving time as one-half of Americana duo Lonesome Brothers. Ray plays no-nonsense Rock ‘n’ Roll the way it should be played: fresh, exciting and littered with musical references from practically every genre you can think of. When throwing on a Ray Mason album for the first time, don’t be surprised if you hear a sad and sorrowful Country crier followed by a prickly rocker with a Punk edge to it. His music references everyone from Robert Johnson to The Beatles. His early influences can be found on records released by labels like Motown and Stax but don’t be surprised to find some inspiration from the Stiff and Chiswick archives as well. The best way to describe Ray’s sound is this: imagine Neil Young colliding with Nick Lowe while fronting NRBQ and performing songs telepathically channeled from David Lindley’s sideburns. If you are thoroughly confused, have no fear. Describing Ray’s charm is difficult. However, enjoying this unpretentious, humble and extremely talented man’s music is a much easier.
With over 20 albums to his name (including eight or so with Lonesome Brothers), digging into Ray’s back catalog is hugely satisfying. Normally recording with a few longtime friends as the Ray Mason Band, Ray does occasionally record albums with just his trusty Silvertone guitar. His latest plate-spinner, THE SHY REQUESTER, is one of those albums. Imagine walking into a bar, grabbing a beer, and then relaxing as you enjoy the night’s entertainment: a down-to-earth singer/songwriter plying his trade with songs that seem to reflect how you – a normal person – relate to this world. THAT is what listening to THE SHY REQUESTER is like. It is funny, sad and completely from the heart. It is also raw and loose, as you’d probably expect from an album with just voice and a Silvertone electric guitar with varying degrees of reverb. It may not shimmer and sparkle like what you hear on Top 40 radio, but Ray’s music has much more depth and honesty – even when he strips it down to its core.

And now, I’d like to introduce you to Ray… in his own words!

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FIREWIND/Immortals EPK!

Firewind, the band formed by Greek guitarist Gus G (also known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne), has just released their finest album yet: IMMORTALS. The album features the return of vocalist Henning Basse. The album marks the first time Firewind used an outside co-producer, working with Dennis Ward (Unisonic, Pink Cream 69), who not only engineered, mixed and mastered the album, but also co-wrote it together with Gus G.

Get to know the band, their music and the IMMORTALS album by viewing this EPK!

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MADNESS/Can’t Touch Us Now: New album reviewed!

MADNESS

CAN’T TOUCH US NOW

Available NOW

We all grow up. Some of us try to live in the past while others are happier living in the here-and-now.  Our favorite artists have it far more difficult, though. They grow older and move forward, maturing like the rest of us, yet they have fans that prefer them to stay exactly the same as they were when they first started having hits. British sextet Madness has certainly had their fair share of dealings with these types of expectations from their audience.  The young adults that recorded their first two albums in ’79 and ’80 – ONE STEP BEYOND and ABSOLUTELY – began to mature by the mid-‘80s and as soon as that happened, the band’s sound evolved. Their 7 and RISE AND FALL albums signaled their new-found confidence and each of them contained some big hits (most notably, “Our House”), but their audience wanted the band to remain the Ska-influenced nutty boys of old while the band just wanted to experiment and expand upon their sound. They were still selling a lot of records six years into their career but nobody seemed to really accept that the band that recorded “Yesterday’s Men” (a fab single in 1985) was the same gang that gave them “House Of Fun,” “Baggy Trousers,” and “One Step Beyond” just a handful of years before. By 1986, Madness called it quits.  Each member had personally outgrown the ‘image’ that people had of the band and they needed to shake those shackles before people could take them seriously… Thankfully, they reunited for live shows in the early ‘90s and have remained together ever since (although there have been solo and side projects released since they’ve been back). Not as prolific as they once were, a studio album from Madness is definitely cause for celebration.

Incredibly, the same six man line-up that recorded ONE STEP BEYOND in 1979 is the same line-up on their latest album, CAN’T TOUCH US NOW. That, in itself, is pretty damn impressive. This is only their fourth all-original album since WONDERFUL – their first studio ‘reunion’ album in 1999 – and their second since the critically acclaimed THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE (2009). Like RISE & FALL and  NORTON FOLGATECAN’T TOUCH US NOW finds the band taking off their rose-colored glasses and revealing the shady underbelly of London (and British life in general). From religion and politics to lost souls in turmoil, CTUN is a trip through the darker side of jaunty. This is a raw look at the real world by middle aged men who still know how to easily craft Pop gems that ‘feel’ like classic Madness songs but reveal different layers with each listen.  Lee “El Thommo” Thompson’s sax still blurts and swings; Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman’s guitar still twangs and stings; Mike “Monsieur Barso” Barson’s keyboard work is so highly under-rated; Daniel “Woody” Woodgate and Mark “Bedders” Bedford are still one of the most creative rhythm sections in Pop/Rock; and Graham “Suggs” McPherson remains the ultimate front-man – you’ll always get an equal mix of tongue-in-cheek and heart-on-sleeve.

“Mr. Apples” is a worthy first single but the real meat in CTUN reveals itself over repeated spins. “Good Times,” “(Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying,” “You Are My Everything,” and the title track are the ones that hit you first, slowly giving way to a host of other gems like “Pam The Hawk,” “Blackbird,” and “Soul Denying”. While a slow-burning album may not be welcome in a digital-on-demand world where everyone feels like they are entitled to their instant gratification right now, CTUN ultimately pays off big time for Madness fans and those who love thoughtful, well-crafted albums. If you’re looking for “Our House,” “It Must Be Love,” etc., go buy the old albums.  This is an album created by six guys who gratefully acknowledge their past but prefer to move forward.  For the record, I kept getting a feeling that this might be the band’s studio swan song… but I hope not!

NOTE: While I haven’t mentioned it above, I did want to address one issue: Although not an “official” member of Madness on their debut album, Cathal ‘Chas Smash’ Smyth became an integral piece of the Madness puzzle from 1980 onwards. Sadly, he has chosen to take a break from Madness and his presence is most certainly missed on this album – much like when bassist Bedford and guitarist Foreman took separate brief sabbaticals from the band in the past.

Also, read Part One of my MADNESS overview, which takes a look at a very British band from an American teenager’s point of view.  You can find it HERE!

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TIFT MERRITT/Stitch Of The World: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A!

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: STITCH OF THE WORLD is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the journey you took to make it?
TIFT MERRITT: I’m feeling really proud of this writing, these performances. I feel really, really lucky to have worked with this cast of characters. Marc Ribot is my favorite musician and one of my favorite human beings. He’s plugged into the sun. And I am forever grateful to Sam Beam for his input and generosity. To be in conversation with him about songwriting gave me a new eye on lyrics, on what to look for in third verses, on countermelody. But honestly, I don’t know that I ever truly have perspective on my work. I just have the sense of having had a creative experience that hopefully opened me more and will inform my next creative experience. I think that is what it is all about.

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2016: SPAZ picks his favorite releases of the year!

Making year-end lists is always difficult for me. Since I purposely don’t stream music, I’m limited to listening to the titles I purchase or promos I receive here in the office. Because of this, there are so many releases that I never get a chance to hear. Over the last few weeks, I have read many year-end lists and, again, I realize that I am not in sync with many of my friends and other music journalists. This means that I am either terminally unhip or wholly unique. I’d like to think the latter, but I’m afraid that most people consider me the former.

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GOLDEN EARRING – Complete Studio Recordings (29 CD Box)

From their debut Just Ear-rings from 1965 till the tribute to their hometown The Hague from 2015 – all 26 studio albums by Holland’s most legendary rock band are collected in a monumental box Complete Studio Recordings, augmented with no less than three CDs full of non-album tracks.

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CROWDED HOUSE: The DELUXE EDITIONS review!

I interviewed Neil Finn a few years back and told him – off the record – that he and his brother Tim were ‘ordinary men with extraordinary talents.’ He replied with a chuckle, “I’ll take that!” While listening to the Deluxe 2CD Editions of all seven of Crowded House’s studio albums, I’m reminded about just how accurate my description of the Finns was… and is. While Tim and Neil are both exceptional at making music, their paths as artists have pulled them in slightly different directions. Tim has remained the more serious of the two while Neil still retains a playful energy that has been apparent since his days with Split Enz.  Tim has always been the one ‘in charge’ (i.e. the big brother) while Neil has played the role of the more sensitive and unpredictable little brother. In a sense, he always seemed to be in awe of his older brother but not fully aware that he is every bit his equal. Regardless of commercial success, the Finn Brothers remain enormously talented and inspiring artists.  However, I’ll focus on Neil’s Crowded House output for now (which includes a few significant appearances from Tim)…

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COLIN HAY/Fierce Money: Available March 3, 2017!

December 15th, 2016 – Nashville, TN  — FIERCE MERCY is an epic, cinematic step forward from singer-songwriter Colin Hay, most beloved for his intimate, confessional live shows but most widely known for being an influential and celebrated frontman. The range of artists who have chosen to cite him as a muse or who have found themselves on stage with him in the past year spans the genre landscape from heavy metal, to Americana, to Cuban rhythms and beyond. His inclusion as a playlist favorite from the likes of Metallica to The Lumineers reflects his continuing relevance and broad appeal.

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THE BEAT featuring RANKING ROGER return with BOUNCE, their first album in 34 years!

So…. what do we have here?

A brand-skankin’-new album from The Beat?  No, not Paul Collins and Co. – they are officially known as Paul Collins’ Beat.  And no, not Dave Wakeling and Co. – we call them The English Beat over here. This album is actually by Wakeling’s former partner in crime Ranking Roger and his UK-based version of The Beat/English Beat.  If you want to get technical about it, this album is by The Beat featuring Ranking Roger.

Are you thoroughly confused already? Sorry ‘bout that…

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