Rockenfield Speer: Hells Canyon (CD, 45:34) Rainstorm RS1233, 2000 Rainstorm Records P.O. Box 70127 Bellevue, WA 98005 CYBERHOME: http://www.paulspeer.com Multi-instrumentalists Scott Rockenfield and Paul Speer have teamed up to release Hells Canyon, a CD of tracks inspired by the mystique surrounding its namesake – the deepest gorge in North America. Speer and Rockenfield’s attempts at capturing the enigma of Hells Canyon and translating it into music are successful at times, but for the most part the tracks on the CD aren’t anywhere near as deep as the gorge itself. Hells Canyon is comprised mainly of instrumental guitar-driven tracks, with Speer’s “Symphony of Voices” samples adding some depth and eeriness to the tracks. The musicianship (especially the guitar playing) is excellent throughout, and songs such as the techno-tinged “Coyote” and the airy “China’s Last Stand” are great compositions that capture the feel and essence of the Hells Canyon region. The CD insert contains some stories that go along with the tracks (a nice addition), and reading these passages will help the listener determine whether or not the story is being properly represented musically. In my opinion, Rockenfield Speer’s success was mixed in this endeavor – sometimes, (as in the two aforementioned tracks), they create music that can truly transport your mind, while other tracks such as the somewhat repetitive “Seven Devils” and the blues-inspired “Buffalo Eddy” fall a little short. The most glaring problem with this release is in its overall “sameness”. I understand that the tracks on Hells Canyon are supposed to have a similar feel to one another, but I feel that they were a bit too similar. This can mostly be attributed to guitar riffs that are repeated a bit too often (“River of No Return” is a prime example), and the almost overbearing use of the “Symphony of Voices” effects. Songs such as “Red Torrent,” with its excellent drum passages and interesting guitar work show what this band is capable of, but too often on Hells Canyon they fail to maximize their potential. So, while Hells Canyon is by no means a BAD release, it can be a frustrating one at times given the obvious talent that this band possesses. I hope that on their next release, Rockenfield Speer try to diversify musically by exploring other sounds and holding back on the gimmicky “Symphony of Voices” keyboards. I’m sure that these musicians can be successful with more varied styles of music, and I look forward to their next release. More information on Rockenfield Speer can be found at http://www.paulspeer.com - Michael Askounes (firstname.lastname@example.org) CREDITS: Scott Rockenfield: Drums, percussion, keyboards Paul Speer: guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, “Symphony of Voices” TRACKLIST: 1. Descent (0:33) 2. Seven Devils (3:41) 3. Chant of the Fathers (3:09) 4. Snake Dance (4:37) 5. Crossing to Freedom (3:15) 6. Coyote (6:04) 7. Red Torrent (4:06) 8. River of No Return (4:55) 9. China’s Last Stand (4:44) 10. Buffalo Eddy (4:14) 11. Carved in Stone (6:13)
Televoid, Original Soundtrack (CD, 43:11); Miramar 09006-23097-2, 1998 Miramar Recordings 200 Second Avenue West Seattle, Washington 98119 Phone: 206-284-4700 E-mail: email@example.com Cyberhome: http://www.miramarupx.com I don't have a DVD player, so I haven't seen the computer animation video called Televoid, but this soundtrack by Scott Rockenfield and Paul Speer makes me want to see it. According to an online description at http://www.simitar.com/video/7320.htm, "The brilliant animation in this science-fiction fantasy mocks the violence and negative fixation so prevalent in modern television." One of the disc's highlights, "Mind Suck," features lyrics written and performed by rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot, who gave us the raunchy "Baby Got Back" a few years ago. His delivery is humorous as always, disturbing though his message may be: "and I can sway your opinion/ with a little white lie and corporate spendin'. . . So trust me I got the juice now/ and you're a slave to the unreal/ technology's here for the kill." There are a couple of low points: The corny vocal of "Chasing Blue Sky" and the equally corny voiceover that begins "Witch Hunt." But most of the music on this disc is great. Paul Speer's guitar playing is hottest on "Babies and Bones." His sound is heavily overdriven and metallish, yet the music never lacks subtlety. Techno drum grooves and keyboard bass dominate - and crunchy guitar often sounds lame against such a backdrop. Not here. Check out "Murder or Self Defense," "Hi Strung," and especially the opening of "TeleSpy," as well as the understated percussion on "Voodoo Tango," "Pyramid Passage," and "Star Seed." Rockenfield and Speer not only wrote some really good stuff, they also produced the heck out of it. ~ David R. Adler
Paul Speer, Collection 991 Cyberhome: http://www.paulspeer.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Paul Speer is an electric guitarist very much in the new age camp, although he has a noticeable hard rock influence in his playing and composition. Not surprisingly, the music is mostly instrumental and very well produced and well-played. Speer uses a wide variety of guest musicians, in addition to playing electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and synthesizer parts. The main recurring ones are Neal Speer, (related?), on drums, Steve Reid on percussion, Michael Stearns on synths, Steven Ray Allen on bass, and new age superstar David Lanz on piano. Compositionally, this album ranges from good to mediocre. The opening piece, "Allegretto in E," makes good use of a hard rock-style riff shifting back and forth from duple to triple time, but after 8 minutes and nothing new really happens, the riff starts to get a little old. Harmonica soloist Dick Powell seems woefully out of place on this tune, as well. Next is "Andantino," which is a big improvement, adding foreign-language (or perhaps nonsense) vocals from Kari Sandvick and a more world beat type sound, with its nicely subdued percussive groove, which eventually speeds up and turns into a wild guitar solo-led rock-out. Cool and intense. "Allegro Con Brio" also has a world-beat type feel, and adds a Hammond B-3 organ courtesy of Janet Foos. Unfortunately, much of her bluesy riffing seems a bit out of place amidst the rest of the song. Speer's hard-rock inspired electric leads are much more fitting, and generally do the most to propel the piece into its intense groove and climax. "Adagio Dolente" marks a significant turning point in the album with the appearance of David Lanz's characteristically subdued piano, first solo and then with the ensemble. Lanz's playing is beautiful although very much in the new age type sound that many call bland. Here, strangely, it is Speer's improvised guitar leads that sound a bit out of place. The next piece is "Moderato Indigo," which has a strong disco influence and doesn't really come off well, especially in the context of the album. The less said about it, the better. "Larghetto Con Forza" is next, and is a more appropriate follow-up to "Adagio Dolente," again showcasing Lanz's lovely piano playing. It also features the trumpet of Brad Allison, who seems to be getting a little too close to playing elevator muzak for my tastes. The tune also seems to go on a little too long. "Acoustic Reprise/Allegretto" is a reprise of the opening track with an acoustic guitar. Lanz's unfamiliarity with this type of music and Powell's harmonica make this venture close muzak-land again. Additionally, the production on this album is fabulous, and the packaging is great, too. Included in the booklet are Speer's paintings corresponding to each piece, which are quite beautiful. Bottom Line: If you're a progger with a soft spot for new age music, this album might do the trick. Yes, it's very uneven, but the good stuff is still worth having. ~ at your service, ~Jon~ Dharma
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