Doris Daze

Rainforest Records


Doris Daze. That’s the name. You better get used to it. You’re going to be hearing it a lot in ’95. For, of all the bands already signed in the current corporate feeding frenzy on local acts, Doris Daze exhibit more chops and firepower than any of them.  And you haven’t even heard them yet! Well, hear them now or see them on David Letterman later. That’s my motto.

And what’s more, they’re really good. Fronted vocally by lead guitarist and songwriter Maria Callahan, who is both powerful and emotive– DD are blessed by the presence of rhythm guitarist Erin Moreland, a singer nearly equal to Maria. And this may come as a blow to Lane Sheliga’s world, but both of these women are great musicians. Their execution and technique are flawless, their taste superb.

But, primarily, Doris Daze’s strength are their songs. There are no lemons among the nine presented here. “Barstool” is a sprightly tune that weaves around Maria’s guitar interplay with bassist Erik Merrill, backed by Scott Crabtree’s nimble drumwork and Moreland’s jangly acoustic guitar. A memorable chorus, maybe faintly reminiscent of Kristen Hersh and Throwing Muses, locks this cut in as a potential college radio monster.

And if that doesn’t do it, the gentle beauty of “Concussion Queen” will. Crabtree kicks into a nifty chugging train beat, as Maria and Erin contribute a chiming wall of electric guitars to the mix. Maria intones the vocal in a way that calls to mind the tune and texture of Tracey Thorne from Everything But The Girl or Chrissie Hynde– without sounding the least bit imitative; but merely controlled and assured. Once again, a scintillating chorus jettisons this cut to the status of memorable. And hey Laine, check out Maria’s  solo in the middle: tidy, compact and complete. Bingo!

“Wall Down” is a lazy riverboat, paddled along by Moreland’s banjo and guest Patti Whelen’s violin. Fans of 4 Non- Blondes’ Linda Perry would most definitely take a shine to Maria’s soulful vocal. A Lush-like quality surrounds the guitar sound of “Rosemary 112093.” resolving around a major 7th chord while Merrill’s elastic bass struts along beneath.

Nice rounds of three-part harmony decorate “Wallup,” a crystal figurine of a song. “Hot Chocolate” revolves a bass riff that seems culled from Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” but the arrangement soon slides into a dreamy layer of guitars that steer away from such easy comparisons. Actually, maybe like Johnette Napolitano fronting Lush? Well sorta…

The arrangement on “What The Hell” recalls Don Dixon’s work with Marti Jones in the late 80’s, although beefed up somewhat. A cool reverse echo cymbal sucks the listener into “Styrofoam Wigface.” Strange, unearthly vocals sirencall above simple staccato guitar strokes, as tension builds, thus making the release of the pretty chorus that much more sweet. Dense washes of guitar follow through an extended middle section, arriving at the chorus again. Maria’s and Erin’s voices are such a fine blend, they seem too good to be coming from Portland. Like they should be from someplace more important.

“Susan” features more tight harmonies over a straight-ahead rock arrangement; although the addition of Maria’s mandolin near the end changes the texture of the song to some degree.

That’s one of the things Doris Daze do extremely well: integrate textural instruments into a basic guitar format. Check out Crabtree’s exotic marimba/vibe thing on “What The Hell,” the violins on “Wall Down,” “Wallup” and “Hot Chocolate.” Erin’s piano and banjo. All the glorious textures and timbres of the voices.

And it’s a world class recording job from Portland’s KAOS Studios. The sound is faithful, clean and pristine. Well recorded. Well mixed. Capturing the various subtle nuances of DD’s presentation– specifically, the warm honey of Maria’s fabulous voice.

No, this can’t last long. Doris Daze are already playing to packed houses of informed fans.  The esoteric aspect of the band’s notoriety was endangered with last years Foom.  And the release of Uncle  will only doom the band to the rigors of critical acclaim and public visibility. And I, for one, feel sorry for them.


Cheralee Dillon

“Little Yellow Lemon”/ “Swallow”
Rainforest Records

In a field of strong local women performers, Cheralee is one of the strongest. Her songs are generally tightly wound bundles of naked candor and introspection, that glow like a streetlamp on a darkened street. Her voice, while a little girlish, contains a certain prescient articulation (not unlike Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega or Laurie Anderson– in a way) that provides distinct sexual tension to her lilting soprano.

The two songs on this single give rise to the impression that Cheralee has grown as a poet and composer since the release of last year’s well-received effort Pool.  For, while she sounds a little like Lisa Loeb doing Victoria Williams, Cheralee’s honesty and depth of perception elevate the level of awareness she displays.

“Little Yellow Lemon” is something of a departure for Cheralee. The inclusion of Tim Renner’s bass and Mark Orton’s drums notwithstanding,

she herself confesses that “this is the very first happy song that I ever wrote.” And though you wouldn’t necessarily catch that from the lyric, there’s a certain jaunty bounce to the rhythm of the song that certainly seems cheery enough.

With “Swallow,” Cheralee ventures a little farther afield, stylistically. A pretty, sort of bluesy song is given an atmospheric touch by the somewhat discordant interludes she employs in the turnarounds. Nonetheless, the song serves as a showcase for Cheralee’s marvelous vocal ability; her impressive dynamic control. Unique and distinctively special.

Cheralee Dillon is another performer who could very easily become a national commodity in what now seems like the typical “overnight” fashion. But she is a young woman who has worked hard to perfect her craft as a songwriter and performer. Her perseverance and diligence (Dillongence?) are obviously paying off. For with the release of this recording she has made strides toward arriving at a sound that will one day soon separate her work as singularly unique from that of those to whom she is often compared.


Hatful of Rain

40,000 Moments
JTL Music


John Lowery is a persistent cat, who obviously believes in himself. And after several years at it, he seems to be making some real head way. After kicking around town for a time with a version of Hatful of Rain that was more laid-back and Dead-like in construction, Lowery completely over-hauled the band about a year ago. In doing so, he recruited his friend Mark Englert– who had lately run aground as songwriter and guitarist with Dramarama.

The pairing of Lowery’s gruff, monotonal vocals and rhythm guitar with Englert’s highly stylized lead guitar work quickly melded to produce last Summer’s four-song EP Shantytown. This full length effort showcases the strong songwriting of both Lowery and Englert– adding six new songs to four culled from earlier sessions.

The version of “Why Hide Away” is at least the third arrangement I have heard, and definitely the best. Sort of a combination of its’ predecessors, this version rocks harder– although Andrea Figueroa does a nice job covering Julie Nunez’ original backing vocal part. Englert’s guitar sound is so readily recognizable that any one familiar with Dramarama would instantly detect his presence here. “F.U.L.S.” is another vehicle for Englert’s full-bodied wah power chords and flea-flicker solos. Drummer David Mackinnon provides some distracting fills that seem to lag behind the beat rather drastically, but they all seem to be having a good time, so what the hey.

“Part Of The Difference” is a new song that reflects a coalescence in the bands’ style. An hypnotic wash of electric and acoustic guitar layers creates a deep pool of sound, out of which Lowery emerges with one of the most mature songs the band has yet created, Gina Noel’s sumptuous back up vocals are a gorgeous enhancement in the winsomely pretty chorus. Do I hear Airplay for this cut? Oh I think so.

“Christmas” swirls around Englert’s Pagey riffage and extended solo intro, before giving way to a song that doesn’t quite live up to the build up. But it’s a pensively pleasing number all the same, into which Englert interjects some truly inspired solo guitar. The guy is a god.

“Reckless Heart” is a strong, straight-ahead rocker with a memorable chorus and more of Mackinnon’s own reckless brand of Keith Moon inspired mayhem on the drums. Anyone familiar with the early Hatfuls (and there can’t be that many) wouldn’t recognize this hopped version of “Another Silent Sunday” anyhow.

And anyone who would like a primer as to Mark Englert’s prowess on the highly effected electric guitar, need only dial up his anguished solos on “Lies;” solos that rival several of Clapton’s finest psychedelic efforts from the Cream days. “White Room” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” come readily to mind. Masterful. And a fairly riveting song to boot.

While Hatful of Rain seem not to have fully reached cohesion at this point, there are certainly enough high points to heartily recommend this effort– if only for the opportunity to hear a great rock guitarist at work.


Tree Frogs

Tree Frogs Live!
Rainforest Records

Hailed by local pundits as the chief purveyors of Portland’s vaunted and elusive “Eastside Sound,” the friendly Tree Frogs do embody certain aspects of the acoustic renaissance which is finding the most significant response in the neighborhood pubs of the Eastside. And, doubtless, they are one of the most popular among their kindred folk.

Recorded live, these tunes were culled from four different gigs at the Musicians Local 99 Union hall and offer a fair representation of the music the Tree Frogs render.

“4 Letter Word” kicks off the set with an extended Deadish jam.  spearheaded by lead guitarist Fred Stephenson. Rhythm guitarist John Henry Bourke takes the vocal lead here, delicately cooing a melody distantly reminiscent of the Beatles’ “No Reply.” Stephenson’s “Brighter Side” reflects an Early Santana /Doobie Brothers blues feel, augmented by Rob Matthews’ subtle sax and Jeff Haigerty’s harmonica. Keyboardist Bill Leeds contributes “New Beginning” a bouncy reggae tune that recalls the good times feel of Jimmy Buffet. Bourke returns with the infectious “Shine A Light,” which turns on a catchy chord progression and a memorable chorus.

The bands’ funkier side is given some space on the jam “Tuning 060494.” where Matthews is allowed to stretch out on sax and Sean Nowland lays out some badass bottom on bass. Stephenson’s “Picture” features nice three-part vocal harmonies and an honorable sentiment. Leeds’ “Toxic Apple”  rides the powerful interplay between drummer Jeff Duffy and Nowland’s bass, covering a lot of musical turf from a heavy intro to a kind of spacy interlude in the middle. Bourke’s “Growing” and “Independence” finish the record on a happy note.

The jams run on a little long here, which is excusable given the live setting. But without the original party to keep the atmosphere buoyant, the casual listener might find the solos to be excessive. With three strong songwriters in the band, the Treefrogs do not lack for versatility.

Mostly there is a certain musical aimlessness, which seems to hold the material back from where it wants to go. If the band were to lay back more frequently, make every note of every solo really mean something integral to the big musical picture and concentrate on ensemble timing–this problem could be corrected.

Other than that, this is a pleasing collection of songs from a talented band, which will charm fans and newcomers alike.


Carve My Name

Young Turks
Ripe & Ready Records


I know I’m  confused. Uh let’s see, there’s this guy Billy Snow, a talented guitarist singer-songwriter. And he’s had a band in Portland called Young Turks who toiled the dusty musical coil in town for three or four years. When lo! Word comes down the information dirt road that there’s another Young Turks who have achieved a higher level of success with the name than Billy has. Ergo, cease and desist. So now Billy’s band is called Carve My Name and the recording is called Young Turks. I suppose he can’t get sued for that. Can he?

First and foremost, Billy Snow is a great poet, a fact that is everywhere evident across all ten tracks on this recording. Check out the sterling lyric of “Guns & Fashion.”  a straight ahead scorcher, driven by Billy’s tough guitar and Dee Morris’ rumbling bass. A killer chorus surrounds thoughtful verses. “Yr the injured son of an angry man/ but you won’t get love with a gun in your hand.”

The cover, “Walkin W/The Beast” comes out at a gallop and is highlighted by Billy’s idiosyncratic solo in the middle. “Thrive” hangs on Billy’s whirring riff and drummer Doug Naish’s smart attack. “Voodoo Christianity” certainly gives Jim Morrison and Patti Smith a run for their money in the scary blank-verse department, a brilliant, twisted poem– that is oxymoronically dovetailed with a snappy unnamed number that really rocks. How odd!

Stellar little solos lift the strange ballad “Late-Nite Death On The Hi-Way;” a tortured love song of the highest twisted order. Bravo! I can hear Billy Kennedy covering this song. It seems right up his musical alley. “I Forget” revolves around a wound-up riff, though the vocal melody seems to go nowhere in particular.

Billy’s ghostly falsetto is the hook on “War Embrace,” sweetly intoning lines such as “You kiss like a peasant with the brain of a doll/ I don’t mean it’s unpleasant. I don’t mean anything at all.” And strange is the only word to describe “Dying To Get Wet,” an intricately obscure soliloquy comprised of equal parts romantic poesy and New Age mumbo-jumbo and solid spiritual aims. Face it, the guy’s complex.

The music that Carve My Name deliver on Young Turks  is highly original, esoterically appealing and the antithesis of mainstream. With those co-ordinates locked into the transporter, they can beam you to places where no one has ever gone before. If you really wanna go there.


Pagan Jug Band

Pagan Jug Band
Self Produced

Another band making the most of this Eastside Sound thing are the Pagan Jug Band, a goodtime organization of five who offer authentic bluegrass jug music at very high definition. These guys are tight and they can play.

Pat Buckley and Mick Chegwidden write the songs. Buckley plays rhythm guitar. Chegwidden plays lead and some fiery mandolin. They are backed by Leah Hodgson on fiddle, Bob Bailey on washboard and jug, and Chris Misko on bass and banjo. Solid vocal harmonies. They’re fun.

Check out Buckley’s rapid fire lyrics on “Dirty Annie.” Chegwidden provides the blistering mandolin solo, Misko the stuttering banjo entry, and we’re outta here. “Fishin’ Pole” is a gospel inflected shaker that bears a striking resemblance to James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam.”

“Jack Of Hearts” could be a cut from the Old And In The Way catalogue. but it’s a PJB original. And it jams along at a sprint. A change of pace arrives with the folk-rock of “Ain’t Bound For Glory,” with an emphasis on a soft, muted electric guitar in place of all the bluegrass frenzy.

The frenzy returns with “Turn Away,” riding in Chegwidden’s skilled mandolin extrapolations: like a ’53 pick-up with the brakes gone out, hurtling down Cougar Mountain. Hand me that bottle. “More And More” is a faithful rewrite of the Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band,” enhanced by Hodgson’s deft upper harmonies and a clean presentation. Misko’s banjo is the main thrust on the similar “I Don’t Miss You.” Although Bailey’s washboard is in higher relief here.

The happy “Nude Twister” is a take on the old “La Bamba” approach, to good success. Vocalist Buckley sounds exactly like the Waterboys’ Mike Scott here.

They don’t break any new ground, but the old ground that the Pagan Jug Band do break is energetically and enthusiastically dug. And if you’re in the mood for bluegrass, they do it as well as anyone in town. This recording proves that.


Portland Robins/Bazza

Bobbin Shop Recordings

While we’re on the subject of local poet musicians, none reigns more arcanely supreme than Bazza. Traditionally, Bazza has developed his creations with little or no help from the outside world. Here he has enlisted the aid of heavyweights such as Billy Kennedy, Dan Haley, Carlton Jackson, Jake Kot and Bob Wadle.

And magical performances all around. What develops is a very cool jazz-tinged, rock thing on “Idol Meat.” As Jackson and Kot cook along underneath, Haley and Wadle lay down a foundation of prancing rhythm guitar riffs, over which Billy K. squeezes out fat-toned guitar filagrees. Bazza enters, asking the musical question: what if Rod McEuen were doing the Hannibal Lechter songbook? The resultant ambiance is as if Captain Beefheart had formed a martini lounge band. It’s that cool!

“Zero” comes in on an intricate little ska-polka wagon, allowing Bazza to affect his country crooner guise– one which he has mastered. Moving to a country-swing feel with “Owl Babies,” Billy K. contributes delicious, steel-flavored, slide solos– so Texas, they drawl; while Bazza croons about ecological matters surrounding owls. Billy holds to the slide guitar, while the band shifts into a writhing rock groove on “Baked Alaska,” whereupon the Baz man elaborates on some sordid affair he had in the 49th state. Well there you go.

The ska thing returns on the clever “Billy Beer Belly Billy.” Bazza kinda sounds like Johnny Cash doing Roy Orbison, I don’t know how else to explain it. Anyway, this cut works nicely– with a sharp chorus and hip lyrics: “O.J. Simpson didn’t off his wife/ And, oh sure, a man never walked on the moon./The world’s as flat as an I-Hop jack, flappin’ like a UFO.”

“Ghost” is a moody, reggae-tinged piece, wherein Kot and Jackson get a chance to show their stuff: notably, Jackson throws out some superlative drum fills in the clinches. Bazza weaves a macabre tale of hard lives and mercy killings.

But if you want strange country music from some other time zone (Jupiter?), then by all means check out “Liberace’s Suit.”  Bazza’s haunting baritone inspects the generational distances in our society– a topic he covers on several tracks. But here it turns into a cosmic love song: “I’ll be seeing you once again real soon/ When the comets shoot around a copper colored moon./ and darling I’ll be seeing you and it won’t be long/ In the candles of the night, I’ll be seeing you.”

It’s weird country music that Bazza’s doing now. Country music so weird that no country fan could bear to listen. So who’s going to listen? Well, fans of any of the aforementioned musicians will be pleased that this is a shining project for all of them. The musicianship is at all times simply marvelous. What Bazza provides is the personae, and ten songs that mine the same topical veins as regular country songs. But, without a doubt, Bazza’s in another country. Another country altogether.

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