Bob Petrocelli melts hearts, makes feet tap with original blues

Written by Sabrina Tinsay

Bob Petrocelli has it all. It is true that at first glance his twangy, subtle blues style makes a pair of feet tap to the beat and a heart melt with his lyrics. Bob Petrocelli has sheer honesty embedded in his songs. Shanghai Shuffle shows Petrocelli’s experience with blues music. Although “Gulf Coast Blues” may be one of his bluesy songs, Petrocelli brings you back to the roots in “Road Kill.” His musical experiences are apparent in his songs with different styles: In “Shellena’s Rose Tattoo” and “Hey Shellena,” one can differentiate his music style from roots to blues. Petrocelli’s current album takes one into a journey of past companionships,
forgotten memories, and new ways of living.

Sabrina Tinsay: You have chosen Shanghai Shuffle as your album title. How did you come up with this conclusion?

Bob Petrocelli: The title was up in the air until pretty late in the process.  Since there is so much traditional influence in this collection I ultimately decided to try to bring that out.  The title track is done in the style of a lot of blues/R&B/rock instrumental records from the late ’50s/early ’60s period.  I [was] thinking of things like Bill Doggett, Bill Black’s Combo, and a lot of others – just basic shuffle rhythms on a 12-bar progression.

Tinsay: In “Get a Grip (Part 1),” we can feel a sense of rawness to your music; what propelled you to believe you will be making a Part 2 with the same guitar riff?

Petrocelli: We recorded that as one long groove in the studio. I think it came out to about 11 minutes and the rhythm section just played the same pattern but kind of evolved it over the time it was played.  The lead lines, solos, and vocals were overdubbed later on.  Again I went back to the ’50s/’60s for inspiration.  In those days a lot of 45 RPM singles were released with a part 1 and then with part 2 on the flip side.  Also, Tower of Power did something similar on the Back to Oakland album.  They put segments of a piece called “The Oakland Stroke” as the first and last tracks on that album.  I’m glad you pointed out the rawness on the song.  I think a lot of the credit for that goes to Larry Steiner who played clavinet and Dave Clive on drums.  What they played kind of swirled around the constant riff I was playing throughout. 

Tinsay: I like that you are honest in your songs, but one stands out to me the most is “Threw My Love Away.” Who reminds you of that track?

Petrocelli: “Threw My Love Away” is probably the most personal song on the CD.  It’s written about my failed marriage of over 20 years and my feelings of anger towards my ex-wife, who has passed away since the song was written.  A lot of issues were left unresolved and this was my way of purging the anger I had been holding onto for a long time.

Tinsay: How would you define yourself as an artist?

Petrocelli: How would I define myself is a very good question which I really haven’t thought about until now.  I call myself a singer/songwriter/guitarist but I think that’s just the functional description.  I’d like to think of myself as someone who can entertain people and somehow also bring them something of value, a new insight or whatever.  At least that’s the goal.

Tinsay: When did you first start writing your own songs?

Petrocelli: I’ve been writing on and off for many years dating back to the late 60’s but really got serious about two years ago while working on the Three Leg Dogs and Old Skool Cats CD with singer Robert Charels.  I submitted a number of songs for the CD and only “Hey Shellena” made the cut.  I decided I wanted to have my music heard and developed the discipline to write on a regular basis.  That resulted in the Shanghai Shuffle project and that’s where we are today.  I’m currently working on material for the next CD while promoting this one.

Published in: on September 26, 2008 at 4:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dianna Cristaldi’s voice is ‘sometimes husky, haunting, sensitive’ on new CD

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Dianna Cristaldi/Dianna Cristaldi

You won’t find that many modern country albums with the kind of compellingly personal songwriting and evocative, beautifully crafted music that is on Dianna Cristaldi’s self-titled latest effort. Cristaldi unites folk, roots rock, and the blues into seamless slices of life. Her voice – sometimes husky, haunting, sensitive – doesn’t stay in one gear; it shifts with the varying tones of the song, the up and down emotions of the lyrics. On “I’ve Got Nothing Left,” Cristaldi sounds as if she’s been through the most serious heartache possible and is as drained as the tune admits. “From the hollow, I look up in pain/I am not strong enough/There’s nothing left to gain,” she sings with moving passion.

Many of the tracks here are slow and take repeated spins to grow on you; however, the finest LPs are the ones that reward with multiple spins. “Bye and Bye” is a heartbreaking meditation on dying and acceptance with Cristaldi trading verses with Bethany Cristaldi Wurster. Part Gospel, part country duet, it is the highlight of the whole CD, and like the rest of the record, it will stick with you long after you’ve stopped playing it.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Compelling storylines illuminate Chad Kichula’s new EP

Reviewed by Carson James

Chad Kichula/World Shaker

Chad Kichula arrives from Canada with a major fixation on Bruce Springsteen, at least on the title song of this three-cut EP. With a voice as heavy and deep as the Boss himself, Kichula narrates a tale of outlaw adventure and individual freedom taken from the Paul Newman classic Cool Hand Luke. Kichula’s bluesy singing gives the track an even more compelling storyline, one that can be appreciated even without the context of the film.

“Gotta Hold on Me” is probably less personal but it is still a catchy B-side even though its lyrics aren’t as substantial as the single’s. “Another Love” is laid back and lush, Suzanne Parovsky’s strings illuminating the hushed atmosphere of Kichula’s romantic longing. Having not heard Kichula’s work before, I don’t know if this EP is a creative evolution from his earlier material or simply a continuation of it. One thing is clear: I will definitely survey his future.

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Molly’s Revenge transcend Celtic label with unspeakably beautiful folk music

Written by Carson James

There is something decidedly different about Molly’s Revenge and their take on Celtic music. Having only heard their album The Western Shore, my observation may not be accurate in summarizing the group’s approach, but there is an unspeakable beauty in their performances that is not often heard within the genre. Many Celtic acts, especially those based in the U.S., are content to simply be as authentic to their roots as possible. Molly’s Revenge push it a step further, leaving listeners in awe with wind-swept, evocative landscapes. For example, as soon as you hear David Brewer’s title cut, you’re already transported to the vast, open fields of Scotland. Pete Howarth (bouzouki, vocals) and Stuart Mason (guitar, mandola, vocals) spoke to Twang Town about their band.

Carson James: Celtic music has always been on the fringes of American pop culture although it has a cult following that continues to grow every year, especially with the massive success of Flogging Molly, which combined a punk aesthetic with the genre. Why do you think the U.S. hasn’t fully embraced Celtic sounds?

Pete Haworth: The first reason that pops into my head is that when most people think of traditional Celtic music, they think of old guys sitting around in a pub, reminiscing over the old days and playing scracthy fiddles.  That type of Celtic music does exist and in fact it’s an important part of the tradition, but it doesn’t project a very cool image for the pop culture. But Celtic music has evolved from that stage into several other sub-genres. Flogging Molly, as you say is the latest example of a punk band playing Celtic melodies, although the Pogues were probably the first ones to make it big in that style. Then there’s the whole Riverdance and Celtic Woman phenomenons which turned Celtic music into theatrical extravaganzas and and made it wildly successful. So while what you might call pure Celtic music hasn’t made it mainstream yet, variations of it definitely have. We fit into a niche of Celtic music that is influenced by the style of music we each grew up with and we’ve all carried some of those influences over to the arrangements and thoughts behind the music we play. I grew up in the ’60s in England, listening to the Beatles and their contemporaries, and that influence affects the way I think about chord sequences, and arrangements.  The other band members all bring their own influences to the table when we arrange our music.  That’s actually one of the great things about the age differences between the band members: we each had a different generation of pop music that influenced our early musical thought, and we each build that into the band’s music.  Hopefully, that combination of pure traditional and more modern influences will help get Celitc music more noticed.

Stuart Mason: For one, the U.S. isn’t fully Celtic, if you look at the demographics. Folk music in general (of which Celtic music is a subset here) is sort of a fringe genre, when compared to pop and rock. But other folk musics are bigger here: bluegrass and delta blues, for example, because they are homegrown sounds. Celtic music is an import that has been given a big boost by the advent of the Internet, which allows for niche sounds to reach their peeps. One might argue that Celtic music is big here, but no longer recognizable: about 100-150 years ago, we morphed it into mountain music and from there into bluegrass and country.

James: Is there a story behind the name Molly’s Revenge?

Haworth: Well, originally no, at least not a very interesting one.  The band formed at short notice for a St. Patrick’s Day gig and we had to come up with a name pretty quickly.  I think it was me that came up with the name. The Molly part came about because one of the other members of the band was in another band with that name it, and I have no idea why I came up with the Revenge part of it! When Stu joined the band, he wrote a song in traditional folk tale style about the story behind the name, and we recorded.  Stu’s a great artist and illustrated the story in comic-book style.  There’s a link on our web site to the comic-book version of the song.  We’ve been asked that question a lot over the years and now we have something interesting to say about it, thanks to Stu!

Mason: I wasn’t in the band when it was named, but I heard tell that the first gig was a St. Pat’s deal that was thrown together on the spur of the moment. At the time there was another band in town with “Molly” 
in the name and hence the reference. Molly gets around, especially in Irish circles. Later I wrote a song that tells the legend of how the spirit of the wind appears to a budding young piper and tries to physically tempt him, but he turns her down, and she takes revenge.  The result is that irish musicians are forever more doomed to play  all night if they sit down at a session. That part is certainly true,  wherever irish music is found… some call it “traddiction.”

James: Is Moira Smiley now a member of the group? How did you meet her?

Haworth: Moira joins us for gigs whenever she’s able.  She’s an amazing performer of many different styles of music and has many eclectic musical interests. Like all highly talented people, she’s much in demand so her time with us is limited.  We wish we could get more of it!  Moira has added a totally new dimension to the band with her great singing and has softened some of our rough edges, so to speak!  She’s an excellent musician and has added a lot of ideas to our arrangements as well as gracing us with her beautiful singing.
Our piper, David, first met Moira when she and David were involved with a touring Celtic Christmas show three or four years ago.  Then we met up with her at a booking conferences that we attended, and she was at with her band VOCO.  One thing led to another, and we ended performing together in our own series of Christmas shows in December 2007. After those shows were over, we decided we had such a great time working with her that we should ask her if she would like to work with us more often.  I still remember the phone call I made to ask her about that – the response was a giggle followed by an immediate yes!  We were all very happy she accepted! We were just about to start our second studio session for The Western Shore CD when that happened.  It caused a mad scramble for us to work out a time when the band, Moira and our producer, John Doyle, could all be available because we really wanted to have her sing a couple of songs for the CD.  I remember picking up John and Moira from separate flights and driving them back over to my house the day before we were due in the studio.  We all sat around at my house that night throwing out song ideas, mostly proposed by Moira.  We finally came up with a couple that we all liked and that John Doyle felt we could work with.  The two songs were “Weave My Love A Garland” and “Youth Inclined To Ramble.”  We’re very happy with the results!

Mason: She’s a part-time member, whenever her busy schedule allows. Right now she’s averaging about half of our gigs. David knew her first, from a Christmas tour, but I met her at a music convention where we 
jammed some tunes with her on accordion. She’s a gentle spirit with the voice of an angel and the hair of a blazing sunset.

James: When and how did Molly’s Revenge form?

Haworth: A local pub, Henflings Tavern, was looking for a band to play on St. Patrick’s Day 2000 and invited a local band to play.  Unfortunately, a couple of members of that band were out of town, but one of the other members, Mark, was a regular attendee at an Irish music session in Santa Cruz that the rest of the original band members attended.  So he suggested that he, David, myself, and the original fourth band member, George, get together and play the gig.  I think we had a week to get together a couple of hours of material.  Fortunately, we all knew a lot of the same tunes and songs from the session so managed to pull it together in time.  I still have a tape of that first gig and regularly threaten the original band members with blackmail! We didn’t really have any thoughts of turning that one gig into an ongoing project and didn’t do any more gigs for a couple of months, but then we all realised we’d had a lot of fun doing that gig and maybe we should try to get more, and Molly’s Revenge was born.Two of the original members left the band along the way but we’re still great friends with them and in fact we had a reunion concert in Santa Cruz last year with them and a couple of other ex band members – it was a lot of fun!

Mason: I wasn’t in the band way back then, but it was in 2000, I think. I’ve been in the band for about five years. They needed a guitarist for tours in Hawaii and China… how could I refuse? The rest is history.

James: Molly’s Revenge have released several records already. How has the band evolved throughout those CDs?

Haworth: Yes, I believe we’ve recorded seven CDs in total although not all of them are still available.  The very first one was pretty much a home recording project done on a four-track tape recorder at my house since we didn’t have any money for studio time.  Contrast that with The Western Shore, the first time we have worked with a producer, and the difference is amazing. I think we’ve always tried to steer clear of the really well-known Irish and Scottish tunes and songs. You won’t hear us playing “Scotland The Brave” or “The Irish Washerwoman” on our CDs!  I think each CD has had its own part in the band’s development, both in terms of musical skills and arrangements, and whatever preferences the band members at the time had.  But the key for us has always been to find great melodies and songs that aren’t quite as well known and there are literally thousands of them in the tradition if you look hard enough.  Some of the band members have also written great songs and tunes over the years and we have started incorporating more of those into our repertoire.  They’re still written very much in the Celtic style but have that modern edge to them.
For The Western Shore, working with John Doyle provided an amazing lift in quality.  Some of us knew John on a casual basis before we went in the studio with him and knew he was an amazing musician but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the whirlwind that hit us that first day in the studio!  We’d sent John mp3 versions of the tunes and arrangements over the previous several months and he had made suggestions back to us by email.  But there’s only so much you can do like that.  In the studio, John would get us to play whatever set of tunes we were about to record  and then immediately come up with amazing improvements to them, some simple, some complicated, but all of them made huge differences to the way the sets turned out. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his influence.  There was one arrangement I can vividly remember John coming up with.  We were looking for an ending for the “3’s A Crowd” set, and John came up with this totally astounding sequence of chord changes to back a melody phrase that essentially repeated 14 or 15 times.  The combination was out of this world and when we play it live now it’s just a magnificent, dramatic ending to our concerts.

Mason: When I joined, they already had two studio records out and one live set. Since then, I think our repertoire has moved away from the tried-and-true “chestnuts” and into the realm of obscure pieces (old and new) and original material. We always take that into consideration when choosing material. If it’s a common tune, we try to put our own stamp on it. Having John Doyle producing the new record was a real 
shot in the arm in terms of our arrangements and quality control. He’s nothing less than a musical genius. On every piece, he seemed to  know exactly what was needed. Our regular fans have told us, having 
him on the team really raised the bar on The Western Shore.

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Side F/X spices pop/rock grooves with helpings from the blues, country, and funk

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Side F/X/Contradictions

Major-label tastemakers would probably have a headache of a time trying to pigeonhole Side F/X. Here we have a fairly straightforward pop/rock group that spices their grooves with helpings from the blues, country, funk, jazz, reggae, and even New Wave. A decade ago, when musicians were still expected to find a single unifying sound and stick to it, Side F/X would’ve gotten the same three-letter grade and question mark: WTF? However, times have changed, and the creation of the iPod is making the record industry, whether they like it or not, realize that most people do not restrict themselves to one form of music.

Side F/X take the plunge, liberating themselves from any stylistic shackles, even in the same track. On “My Hero,” Side F/X stitch together light funk, reggae, and ’70s Adult Contemporary; in “Her Escape,” Side F/X marry jazz and blues, letting sweaty sax glide across sizzling Robert Cray licks; the slow, emotionally evocative “Come a Little Closer” contrasts AOR riffs with moving piano. On paper, it reads like a car crash, but when you listen to it all, it is smooth sailing. There isn’t a wasted moment here; the nine cuts that populate Contradictions express real feeling with ambitious musicianship, blending together with ease and excitement.

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 4:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Singer/songwriter Jimmy Hasser out-Dylans Bob Dylan on ‘The Big Picture’

Reviewed by Jack Richter

Jimmy Hasser/The Big Picture

Bob Dylan is dead.

At least, that’s the headline I keep expecting to read after listening to Jimmy Hasser’s The Big Picture.  I realize that sounds morose, but I mean it in the best way possible. It’s not that Hasser butchers Dylan, but instead the opposite. He plays the part so well, that he must have invoked Dylan’s spirit then recorded the album during the séance.  You read it here first: Bob Dylan is certainly dead.

From the onset of The Big Picture, the similarities to Dylan are obvious.  The trademarks are there in spades: bright harmonicas, meaningful lyrics, and story-telling vocals. Boasting a track listing of 19 songs, The Big Picture could almost be nicknamed Brunette on Blonde — almost.  There’s the occasional song which brakes the mold, but keeps the spirit of classic rock and folk music alive nonetheless.  “How You Know It’s Love,” for example, touches more on Rod Stewart than it does Dylan.  All in all, this record is highly recommended for people longing for the freewheelin’ tunes of the ’60s.

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Paul Marturano graduates from ‘American Idol’ with Billy Joel-esque CD

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Paul Marturano/Bucks County

He may have gotten the most recognition by appearing on American Idol, especially with his “Stalker” song for Paula Abdul, but if Paul Marturano wants r-e-s-p-e-c-t, he’ll need an album such as Bucks County to earn it. Released a year before the American Idol madness, Marturano is no short-lived novelty act on Bucks County. In fact, aside from the lusty “Checking Out the Goods,” this is a fairly depressing, low-key affair. Perhaps Marturano was just getting out of a relationship at the time. “The part of you I fell for/Is nowhere to be found,” Marturano laments on the lovelorn “Strings Attached.” Ouch. Nevertheless, Marturano moves us, finding the hurt that exists within us from past or present experiences.

Deft piano playing that recalls Billy Joel’s soulful shadings and Bruce Hornsby’s incandescent atmospherics lifts each track, even when Marturano is in despair like on “If You Believed in Me.” He tries to be hopeful on “Maybe Tomorrow” but clearly this is a man who has reached the end of his rope. Jazzy bass and percussion add spice to “Someday” and sizzling electric guitars inject “Hello Again” with life and energy. Laughs can be found on “Checking Out the Goods” but clearly Marturano is a real artist and not some American Idol gag.

Published in: on September 9, 2008 at 8:39 am  Comments (2)  
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Folky Filipina singer/songwriter Frances Ancheta driven by modest ambitions

Written by Kit Burns

Singer/songwriter Frances Ancheta isn’t aiming for global stardom. The young Filipina acoustic-pop artist is instead simply wanting her gently rolling unplugged narratives to be appreciated, to find homes in the ears of listeners. Given that so many musicians today enter the field with MTV fantasies in their imagination, Ancheta’s modest ambitions are touching and reflected in their down-to-Earth pleasures of her debut album Now We’re Here.

Kit Burns: Your music is acoustic but the influence of ’80s English alternative rock, especially Morrissey, is evident in your voice. Are these stripped-down arrangements really what you’re aiming for or do you dream of a full electric band?

Frances Ancheta: The stripped-down acoustic sound is actually what I was aiming for, interestingly enough. Although I listened to all kinds of music, including alternative-rock bands, I was always drawn to their unplugged acoustic songs. For some reason I was fascinated by the fact that many of my favorite musicians started off writing classic songs with their simple instrument, their voice, and either a tape recorder or a pen and pad of paper. I always admired this ability to create something profound by doing something so simple. As far as a full electric band, I wouldn’t mind any collaboration in the future, but for now I feel like I can continue my development in acoustic arrangements.

Burns: Growing up, what artists did you listen to the most that inspired you to write and sing songs?

Ancheta: I listened to and enjoyed all kinds of music including old-school R&B, jazz/old standards, classical, reggae, flamenco, Hawaiian, folk, and above all the alternative/modern rock of the ’80s and ’90s – too many groups to mention! I loved the Smiths, the partnership of Morrissey and Johnny Marr was the ultimate songwriting combination of original lyrics and music that captured beauty, irony, and sadness all at the same time. I also enjoyed the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, R.E.M. I appreciated the songwriting talents of Neil Finn of Crowded House, who I admire for his skill and resourcefulness. As I got older I really was moved by Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Ben Harper. I also enjoy Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and Norah Jones.  

Burns: Are you involved with the Filipino-American music scene in San Francisco?

Ancheta: Yes, to a certain extent. I was born and raised in San Francisco so I’ve been able to witness the beginnings of a few Filipino organizations supporting Filipino American arts; for example, The Yerba Buena Pistahan Philippine American Arts Exposition, which I performed at last year, and Bindlestiff Studios. I know people who were performers, vendors, or organizers of the event. I try to be as supportive as I can with Filipino American events. However, I sometimes wish that these events would showcase more culture, history, and life for Filipino-Americans today. They try, but I’ve been seeing more often lately business/corporate-related booths such as the cell phone/cable company or a bank that happens to have Filipino staff representing the organization for that event. I still currently network with a few Filipino-American musicians I met during the open mike scene, including Olga Salamanca and Kapakahi, and I am happy for their success. In terms of trying to perform at various Filipino-run venues, my results have been mixed. I don’t think they quite know what to make of my sound at times, and they’re not sure how serious I really am. But for the most part my encounters with my fellow Filipinos have been positive.

Burns: What are your goals with this CD?

Ancheta: My goals were simple: To create a quality CD reflecting the crafts of good songwriting, artistic expression, and musicianship; to create a CD worthy of respect from appreciators of good music, something that I can be proud of.

Burns: What influences your songwriting? 

Ancheta: Many things influence my songwriting. Personal experience is such a big factor; many of my older songs helped me to deal with past relationships as well as to sort out my direction in life. I’m a pretty introspective person, and for better or for worse I tend to ruminate on things a lot. Songwriting helps me process my introspection at times and let things go. It helps me turn my negative feelings into something positive. In addition, my desire to understand other perspectives and points of view also influences my songwriting. In fact, some of the songs on the CD were based on imaginary situations and my interpretations of how certain people might be thinking or feeling. There were actually a few songs that I wrote for a friend’s unreleased movie, where I based the songs on characters in the screenplay. Most of all, a big influence is my desire and hope for the best to come; my belief that life will work things out in spite of all the ups and downs.