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Monday, Jan 18, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

Over the past 20 years, dream-pop/spoken-word artist Ingrid Chavez has quietly and powerfully carved a unique path and place for herself in the world of music. Many music fans first encountered Chavez as the angelic character “Aura” in Prince’s 1990 film Graffiti Bridge. Pop and dance fans may remember her as the author of the words to Madonna’s erotic mega-hit “Justify My Love”, and R&B fans likely recall her groundbreaking 1991 Paisley Park release, May 19, 1992, which was packed with dancey grooves featuring both spoken poetry and spirited, sung vocals. Sonic adventurers of all stripes may also know her as a guest vocalist on recordings by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and maverick recording artist David Sylvian. After taking some time off to raise her daughters and limiting her music output to a few sporadic guest spots, Chavez is now back with a highly anticipated new album, A Flutter and Some Words, which effectively coheres her diverse background and particular set of influences into an enchantingly fresh sound.


A Flutter and Some Words is a collaboration with a duo of super-talented Italian maestros, Lorenzo Scopelliti (co-writer, multi-instrumentalist) and Alessandro Mazzitelli (recording and mixing engineer). Recorded mostly in Italy (save for some production work on the title track by longtime friend/collaborator Richard Werbowenko) the 14-song collection is a treasure trove of sonic delights: an earthy mix of lovely organic textures, otherworldly soundscapes, found-sound percussion and traditional string and wind instruments, with Chavez’s exquisite voice and words holding it all together.


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Monday, Jan 11, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

“On a good day
In the morning light
All the wreckage
Is out of sight
And I know it’s gonna be all right….
And I’ll get some sleep tonight”

—Jude Johnstone, “On a Good Day”


“On a Good Day”, the title track to Jude Johnstone’s 2005 gentle gem of an album, is a quietly powerful little tune. It’s the kind of song that gets you happily moving and swaying… just before it breaks your heart. In that way, the song is an apt embodiment of this particular songwriter’s impressively rich gifts, which include a knack for lovely and singable melodies, a deeply felt and touchingly expressed melancholic bent, and a unique, earnest and heartfelt vocal delivery.


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Monday, Dec 14, 2009
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

“The scene was littered with glass and band equipment, so we went to work salvaging our gear as the paramedics arrived. That’s when I had one of those life-defining moments. I found my vocal microphone out in the middle of the freeway, and I knew right then that music was what I was supposed to be doing. The mic still works; I sing on it every show.”


This is how Damon Castillo, songwriter and vocalist for the San Luis Obispo, California-based Damon Castillo Band, describes the revelation that visited him after a freeway accident in which his band’s van flipped over a number of times. The group later memorialized the moment for their fans by including an image of the wrecked vehicle on a t-shirt: a celebration of a serious and life-changing event… with a sly grin.


This kind of interplay between the deadly serious and the humorous, and the steely perseverance required to keep-on in spite of it all, is something Damon Castillo does with deceptive ease. His gorgeous voice, which can alternately caress a melody with a tender jazz feel, seduce a crowd with slow-jam sizzle, or spit rhymes with rhythmic yet characteristically laid-back precision, is a real-life wonder; one of my personal favorite discoveries of the past decade. His lyrics run the gamut from the whimsical (“Annie Hall”) to the quietly philosophical (“Revolving Door”) to the confrontational (“Claim to Fame”), while his ridiculously tight band cooks like a living, breathing, road-tested, California-pop-soul organism.


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Monday, Dec 7, 2009
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

In the press materials accompanying her debut release Bible Belt (S-Curve Records), singer/songwriter/pianist Diane Birch says this about the album’s title:


“The idea of Bible Belt has a layered kind of meaning for me. Because my dad was a preacher, the very religious upbringing I had made a huge impact on my life, in a very restraining and constricting way. I’m constantly talking about heaven, angels, and forgiveness. I’m hugely inspired by church hymns—their chord structures, their colors. It was a form of constraint for me as a child, but now I see that it has fueled my creative fire.”


Thus, the clever reclamation of a term commonly used to describe an area of the United States with a large evangelical Christian population becomes both a symbol of the ties that bind (literally and figuratively), as well as an acknowledgment of roots that run too deep to deny. It’s a finely calibrated balance of soul and craft, that title, a delicate dance of substance and showmanship which can also be felt in the music and aesthetic on the record itself.


The songs on Bible Belt were all written by Birch and feature an earthy, keyboard-driven pop-soul sound that has critics everywhere name-checking songwriting heavyweights like Carole King, Laura Nyro and Carly Simon. The detailed production (which sonically telegraphs some of the comparisons mentioned above), was handled by Steve Greenberg, soul legend Betty Wright, and Michael Mangini. With a savvy, proven hit-maker like Greenberg (Hanson, Jonas Brothers) and a boatload of session ringers in her camp, it would be easy for lazy cynics to only locate the powerful industry push at work here, and that would be a shame. Even a cursory listen to the record, and a reading of recent interviews, reveals a talented young artist with an interesting mix of influences and a thoughtful way of articulating her ideas.


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Monday, Nov 30, 2009
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

“Nobody can be you but you.”
—Steve Arrington


It’s almost inaccurate to call drummer/songwriter/producer Steve Arrington as plain a term as “singer”, as he doesn’t so much sing lyrics as much as he throws his whole being into them, disarming listeners with the pure physicality of swooping acrobatic highs, dramatic growls, and unexpected melodic turns. The former vocalist/frontman for funk legends Slave, as well as his own group, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, Steve Arrington, along with fellow Ohio natives Sugarfoot and Roger Troutman, has long been considered by funkateers to be one of the most distinctive funk vocalists of all time.


With all due respect to the aforementioned vocalists, as well as Larry Blackmon and other groundbreaking funk vocalists, I would actually go one step further and say Arrington is the most unique vocalist in funk, ever. While it is fairly common for funk vocalists to function as the lead rhythm instrument within an interlocking hyper-syncopated ensemble, Arrington, in my opinion, was the only one to use his voice in the same way other funk bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s used squealing, gurgling synths: as an undulating, unpredictable, but still pleasing-to-hear futuristic “sound effect” of sorts. Troutman, whose work I love dearly, of course also deftly and skillfully did things in this vein, but he had the help of his talkbox. Arrington’s vocal flights of fancy are organic, and his drumming background gives each of his texturized vocal performances a rhythmic precision that is funky-to-the-core. And to this day, no one sounds like Steve Arrington but Steve Arrington—nobody can be him but him.


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