Chris Newman

Flying Heart Records


There are only a handful of veterans on the Portland scene today, who were around at the beginning of it. The most influential among them is without doubt Chris Newman. His dual bands Napalm Beach and SnoBud have delighted Portland audiences for more than ten years.

But it was just recently that I remarked to Chris that I missed some of his poppier material from the early, pre-Napalm days of the Untouchables. Chris did not reply, but smiled that greened-out grin. What he knew and I didn’t, was that Volunteer  would soon be released.

Fans of Napalm or SnoBud might be surprised at what they get from this solo (with drummer Lance Paden) effort. For, more than anything else he’s released since,Volunteer  hearkens to the metalized pop instincts that Chris Newman first displayed with the Untouchables. Which is not to say that the more familiar elements of Chris’ style aren’t evident. They are. They always were. But there’s a lighter feel here all the same.

Check out the jangly surf of the title track. Or the Eastern inflected “Silver Rain” and the Bowiesque barrelhouse of “Mr. Gus.” These are different facets from what we’ve come to expect from the father of local grunge.

Bubbling, psychedelic wah-wah guitar surrounds the hypnotically beautiful “Onward” and resurfaces on the rockier “Unclean.” But it’s the jittery vibrato guitar of the surfy “Angels Ride” that hit’s home hard. It’s a doomy nightmare of a 50’s b-movie about rampaging biker gangs. A fiery lightning bolt solo burns dirt upon re-entry, scorching the surrounding sonic terrain.

The snakey swamp of “Down in New Orleans” and the tortured, scorching bluster of “Big Black Car” provide a bluesy departure to the proceedings, as does the country tinged vibratoballad “The First Time.”

“Dr. J” and “Run With The Pack” turn on familiar 60’s riffs without sounding  imitative. On the contrary, they sound quite authentic. Chris breathes new life into what would be cliché in lesser hands, alchemically recombining the baser materials into gold.

The final cut “Why Do Parties Have To End” will probably most gratify those looking for something a little heavier. Chris unleashes a stream of chortling guitar solos over a characteristically plodding, dinosaur chord progression. What this cut goes to prove is that the previous eleven tracks were intended to sound the way they do– that is: not what you’d expect.

But what you can expect fromVolunteer  is Chris Newman in a playful mood, demonstrating why he is one of the most talented musicians in town. He gives every song a touch that makes it special. That is the mark of true musical talent.

While some current fans may look down their noses at the subdued nature of this outing, it is more likely that Chris Newman will widen further his fan base, acquiring new followers into the fold, with this third extension of his complex musical personality.



Vortex Records

Portland is currently being blessed by the gifts of several very talented, young women singer/songwriters–among them, Kaitlyn ni Donovan, Cheralee Dillon and McKinley come most readily to mind as stylistically divergent standouts. While venues in which these musicians might perform are extremely limited in number, each woman has attracted a well deserved following of her own. With the release of McKinley, this young woman promises to widen the sphere of her audience multifold.

Ms. McKinley leads into this six-song presentation with a stark a cappella  rendering of “Hallucinations,” a tune which calls to mind Tori Amos’ work. McKinley has a pliant reed of a voice, that cracks upon the edges, as if slightly weathered– brittle from a hard winter. Her sumptuous ballad “Dorothy” eloquently measures out disillusionment and anomie over a wistful melody that could easily be that of early Joni Mitchell. A subtle arrangement, with charming harmonies, a mournful violin line, and an evocative delivery practically guarantee for it KINK type airplay.

“One Bare Nail” is given a quirky jazzish arrangement; a vocal approach comprised of equal parts Billie Holliday, Ricky Lee Jones and Edie Brickell. Unusual, sensual and moody. Flute and sax are added to the arrangement, enhancing the dark jazz setting That laid-back atmosphere is continued on the next cut, “Bottom Of The Sea.” Though bluesier in composition the song sounds like the second movement of an extended piece of desolation and disillusion .Here strings and the sax act with producer Steve Hale’s guitar etchings

An exotic, slightly Irish folk sensibility invades the winsome call of “Could Be Cruel.” Windy string charts intermingle with McKinley’s breezy, detached vocals; swirling around Hale’s willowbranch guitar figures.

“Cocktail Party” sounds like an outtake from Ladies Of The Canyon, in which McKinley wrestles with T.S. Elliot’s ghost over cruelest month status. “I say the year end is the meanest/ When the holidays show their teeth and stumble in these spirits/ Maybe they think I’ll send a prayer to save their lazy souls/ But I’d need a bouquet of rosaries just to get started on my own.”

McKinley and Steve Hale have assembled a smart ensemble of versatile sidemen to accompany this oddly anachronistic chanteuse  and her unusual songs. While far too mellow to appeal to everyone, McKinley’s intelligent and thoughtful approach is sure to win her many new fans.


Satan’s Pilgrims

Satan’s Pilgrims


Hey kids. Surf’s up! Yes that peppy surf sound that comes back around every seven years or so, is back again now and it’s better than ever. Receiving some serious credibility through the re-emergence of surf guitar god Dick Dale, this batch of upstart surfers seem intent on recreating the authentic sound. Among local purveyors of neo-surf instrumentals, Satan’s Pilgrims reign supreme.

As the initial salvo, the “Plymouth Rock,” will clearly demonstrate, these boys have done their homework–drawing extensively from classic 60’s surf sounds: from the Ventures to Dick Dale and the Deltones, from the MarKays to the Trashmen. Their sound is simple, straight-forward and loaded with reverb and whammy bars. “Spanish Head” combines Ventures-like guitar runs with a James Bondish riff and some Duane Eddyish pyrotechnics in the middle Savory.

“Super8” veers nearer to the psychedelic sound  of the Northwest’s Sonics of the mid 60’s, while maintaining the Pilgrims’ religious dedication to the strictures of the surf format. Very cool. “Hamilton Beach” is closer still to the  Duane Eddy twang thang of the 50’s, though the tune undergoes several modest metamorphoses in its brief existence.

“Small Craft Advisory” tinkers around with about fifty familiar surf tunes without ever actually copping anything from any of them. Perhaps that what makes the Pilgrims so enjoyable. They’re campy as all get out. But they’re not a cover band by any means. They have assimilated every 50’s and 60’s guitar record ever made, recombining the licks into curiously refreshing new permutations. Even their take on Santo & Johnny’s 50’s chestnut, “Sleepwalk,” is a little different than most, partly because it’s a little faster and they use a pedal steel guitar, like the original. But guest player Myron Pilgrim injects a country feel to his stellar leads, moving its focus slightly, wonderfully.

Satan’s Pilgrims obviously have their tongues placed firmly in cheeks with this delightfully nifty recording, but their love for the music is equally obvious. It’s a cult thing that will seek the light for a short time before returning to hibernation for another seven years or so. While the sun is shining, the Pilgrims will be sure to make hay.


Terry Lee Hale

Frontier Model
Glitterhouse Records


Terry Lee Hale is a seasoned journeyman. He’s spent the past ten years honing his hybrid brand of folk in any club that would have him, from Seattle to San Francisco, developing a reputation along the way as an evocative and innovative acoustic guitarist and a singer of  introspectively perceptive lyrics, reminiscent of John Hiatt maybe. A successful recent tour of Europe with Cheralee Dillon (no relation) and this release on Glitterhouse speak well for Terry’s current fortunes.

And this is a fitting showcase from the charging drone of “Ride Hard” to the corn pone hippy folk of “Sad Flower;” from the sad cafe of a ballad in “Useless”  and the straight ahead folk blues of “Slow Train” to the rather experimental “Who’s Fooling Who?.”

It’s a tribute to Terry’s versatility, that no song arrangement sounds anything like any other on this recording. Producer Chris Eckman (of the Walkabouts) colors each tune individually, highlighting a wide array of sparse instrumentation throughout the project. While the approach is artistic as all get out, Joe Average Record Buyer might have a bit of a problem figuring out a “Terry Lee Sound” For better or worse.

But out of the eleven cuts  offered here, several stand out as sharing a stylistic viewpoint that gives the recording a deeper cohesiveness. “Ride Hard” is  a dark, outlaw song that voices desolation and disillusionment in articulate words that everyone can understand. “Control” twists on a gnarling minor-key guitar figure, supported by a plaintive violin. This nearly sounds like some bizarro Peter Gabriel track, as does the idiosyncratic, Spike Jonesish “Who’s Fooling Who?.”

The odd, wistful ballad of the love of two 15 year olds gone wrong, “Backroads,” speaks to important issues, though it stands as the logical successor to J. Frank Wilsons “Last Kiss” and B.J. Thomas’ “Billy and Sue.”  The final cut, “Land of Plenty,” features Terry’s strength: a weary vocal over a deceptively subtle acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Terry Lee Hale deserves any and all attention he garners from Frontier Model.  He has slugged it out in the trenches, riding the roller-coaster for a long time. This recording serves as an unique introduction to an artist of grace and power.



Halo(Plus Five)
Satellite Records

Here’s a band that shows immense instrumental prowess and promise. Guitarist/vocalist Storm Snell exhibits several notable propensities as a musician. A lyricist he is not.

“Fell Asleep” serves a s a case in point, where Snell can be heard desperately attempting to squeeze bathos from the lemon line “A-B-C, 1-2-3/ Doesn’t matter much to me.” Well, that much seems obvious there Storm. As a guitarist he is much more precise and inventive. Though redolent of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan–Snell uncorks heartfelt metallic guitar moans and cries over Billy Burlett’s linear basslines and Robert Duncan Jr.s choice drum work.

The elements are similar, but “Jade Collection” rocks a little harder and faster, “Out Past Sight” begins with a radio signal-like guitar figure that turns into a snarling monster riff. The basic song is essentially a platform from which Snell launches a couple of solo rockets on guitar, What he does, he does well.

The exhilarating “Hero” is marred by Snell’s tunelessly lame Greg Dulli vocal imitations. Instrumentally, this cut kicks serious butt. Vocally/lyrically, it sucks same. Too bad. A song wasted. “Manta Ray” ups the instrumental ante, turning on a wide sweeping guitar hook. Snell’s vocal restraint converts to tolerability here–calling to mind Julian Cope, sort of. But the riffage is so infectious, it’s a small detail. This cut works better than the rest.

It seems that Dimbulb are a band that can take one of two roads. They can take the long way around, which would be to wait for Storm Snell to mature as a vocalist and songwriter (which may take a while). Or they can take the freeway and find a singer with something to say, whose chops match those of Snell and the band.

As it stands now, Dimbulb are a band comprised of glaring weaknesses and sterling possibilities. Their destiny seems theirs alone to choose.



Iceberg Slim

A Lotta Smoke

A stripped down rockabilly three-piece of some fire, Iceberg Slim fall into Rev. Horton Heat/ Flapjacks territory, but they add enough stylistic curves to keep the mix interesting.

Check out “Trashy Woman” 0r “Like A Dog.” Bassist Peter Genest plays electric bass, setting him apart from the antique stand-up models. And vocalist Todd Seely plays a reved -up distorted guitar that has more in common with George Thorogood than it does Brian Setzer. But the two-beat rhythm and walking basslines, and Seely’s characteristic fills in the turnarounds mark these tracks as innovative rockabilly. An oxymoron if I ever heard one.

And as if to dispel all the aforementioned notions, “Repossessing The Fury” isn’t rockabilly at all, but sort of a grungey, updated version of “Gloria” and a couple of Buddy Holly songs. The instrumental, “Burning” stands as the bands stab at surf which suffers when reviewed the same month as Satan’s Pilgrims– though Seely’s wigged out wah-wah solos yield maximum lift.

“Eager Beaver” moves towards a roots rockabilly sound that Carl Perkins would readily recognize. “Cruel Wind” is a bit of a departure: an overt rewrite of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” At least for a time. The chorus moves away from the comparison before reverting to the familiar constraints of the verses. “Dino’s Babe” could be the Jam doing an Everly Brothers tune. How weird to consider!

Iceberg Slim have a certain charm and originality in what they do. They are not purists. They’re arborists, grafting together branches from various musical trees. With time, this might turn into a very interesting hybrid strain.


The Shaven

Poison Wax EP
Empty Records


Three thick slabs of the Shaven’s brand of sludgepop– the best representation yet of what the band can do. And that’s a lot. Two of the songs, “Poison Wax” and “I’m Your Man,” speak directly to the bands love of music and records, and perhaps illicit drugs– with references about needles in both. You be the judge.

“Poison Wax” is a high-octane, rave-up screamer, that good naturedly vents spleen toward narrow minded thinking and repressive ideas. Guitarist Robert McAnulty’s robustly jagged chord progressions propel the tune over John Cox’ spartan basslines and Steve Kenitz’ stripped down drums. “Tranny” roars and smokes with fervor, bolstered by McAnulty’s droning guitar chimes and Cox’ tight support on bass.

“I’m Your Man” is a hit from the first four bars. McAnulty’s addictive guitar confection and Kenitz’ hard driving drums push the song into a memorable chorus and a couple of well-turned solos.

The Shaven show  perceptible growth with this record. They are locking into the features which make them unique. They are accessible without being wimpy. They are whimsically sentimental without being totally dorky– in that way sort of like They Might Be Giants.

If the band continues to congeal with the tensility demonstrated here, who knows how far their ball might bounce?


Naked Violence/ Dickfinger

Naked Violence/ Dickfinger Split EP
Rainforest Records

If unrelenting hardcore thrash is your cup of meat, you’re not likely to be disappointed by this split EP which features two culturally very different bands.

Naked Violence’s three cuts “Coward,” “James Bondage.” and “Recycled Lies,” administer three lethal doses of audio nerve gas. Shredding in the Primus/Anthrax tradition, the boys, aided by co-producer Thee Slayer Hippy, wreak a mayhemic onslaught of surly fury. There is little to differentiate one track from the next. But that is truly secondary to the punishing blows they deliver along the way.

Dickfinger’s English approach is smarter, tamer in some ways, but funny in a sociopathic kind of way. Think of Johnny Rotten fronting Motorhead on the cynical “Save A Tree?” and “Laugh At You.” “Blow Pig” comes nearer to the hardcore stylings of Dickfinger’s American counterparts. Still, somewhat mild in the comparison.

The pairing of these two bands is a smart move. Each are capable of a specialty brand of thrash. The bands compliment one another without being too similar. For fans of the style, this excellently recorded EP would be a propitious acquisition to consider.

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