Music Review: Indie Round-Up – Pete Levin, Bloody Hollies, Stepanian

Pete Levin, Deacon Blues

The new CD by Pete Levin, the venerable New York synthesizer and Hammond organ specialist (and brother of bass and Chapman stick legend Tony Levin), is a set of pleasant, energetic Adult Contemporary jazz with occasional bursts of fusion energy. It’s all very classy, but clean and unthreatening, which isn’t how I generally like my jazz. Some situations do call for this kind of music, though, and there’s certainly plenty of talent on display here.

Levin’s solid, tasty touch on the Hammond organ is the constant, but longtime collaborator Danny Gottleib’s pastel-colorful drumming – listen to his inspired, in-time solo on “Icarus” – anchors the group on most tracks. Tony Levin’s rubbery bass leads the Jimmy Giuffre mood ballad “Sad Truth,” which also features a deep, delicate organ solo by Pete.

“Eclipse,” composed by the feathery-fingered guitarist Mike DeMicco, is probably my favorite track – it goes just a bit further out, and is the more satisfying for it. “Dragonfly” (another Giuffre tune) brings the fusion, with even a little touch of prog-rock. There’s a selection of classic songs too, adroitly given the smooth-jazz treatment. The Steely Dan hit “Deacon Blues” and the Beach Boys’ beautiful “Sail On Sailor” both come out well, as does the standard “Mean To Me.” I could have lived without the overdone Satie piece – jazzing that one up only makes it even more overplayed than it already is. But on the whole, if you’re in the mood for this kind of music, this CD could be just the thing to soothe your spirit without putting your mind to sleep.

The Bloody Hollies, Who to Trust Who to Kill Who to Love

I’m not going to dredge up any comparisons for the Bloody Hollies. The trio’s hybrid of punk rock and hard blues really, really works. High-energy rock with good songs is pretty rare these days. With stratospheric vocals, take-no-prisoners guitar work and a rhythm section that won’t quit, this crunchingly produced CD is one of the best hard rock albums I’ve heard in a while. Also they have an awesome name. Bloody Hollies – get it? Works on so many levels. Bloody… Effin’… Hollies. Kick-ass.

You can hear some full tracks at their Myspace page. Then buy the CD and listen to it loud in your car. Don’t have a car? Rent one and then listen to the Bloody Hollies loud in it. The Power of Rock commands you.

Stepanian, Wait Out the Rain

Then, when you need a break from the harder stuff, Stepanian’s smooth pop-rock could be the ticket. Easygoing vocals and bright saxophone lines couch some fairly pessimistic lyrics, but cheery arrangements and solid, if not spectacular, songwriting give the first four songs of the EP an upbeat feel. Only the closer, “Caroline,” feels truly sad, but it has a strong hook and is in fact one of the highlights. My other favorite is “Falling.” Starting off in a soft, innocuous bed of eighth notes, it subtly builds pop momentum, supported by a sharp, loping guitar riff over the choruses.

“Everything” jumps between funky, sparse verses and strong, power-pop choruses with a little heartland harmonica added. “Beautiful,” the opener, is sweet but a little too clichéd for my taste.

Agreeable and unthreatening without being boring, Stepanian is a band you could take home to your mother.

Available with extended clips at CD Baby.