Don Doane, Leila Percy, and the Super Senior Sextet: It’s Magic

With 16 songs and more than 64 minutes of music, It’s Magic is a sprawling epic of big-band jazz. If anything, however, the length may affect the overall quality of the album. Taken by itself, each song here is a masterpiece of orchestration and instrumentation, but, as many of them are subdued slow-dance tunes, some numbers that might otherwise be standouts begin to blend together by the end of the disc [this originally ran in July of 2000].

Percy’s voice is certainly a highlight, sultry and deep without sacrificing range. On the opener, an infectious version of Macio Brown and Arthur Freed’s “All I Do Is Dream of You,” you can hear the smile in her voice. While on Tom Adair and Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens to Me,” her ironic tone highlights the wit in the lyrics. Clearly, her background in cabarets and revues has made her as much entertainer as vocalist, and her voice blends with Doane’s trombone as though they were instruments molded by the same craftsman.

As for Doane and the tenor saxmen Ralph Norris and Joe LaFlamme, their symbiotic relationship becomes quickly apparent on McHugh and Fields’s “Don’t Blame Me,” and continues throughout. Consistently, their wisps of background and precise solos provide the perfect counterpoint for Percy’s vocals. And on the instrumental numbers, particularly Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” it’s possible they’re singing, but you can’t quite make out the words.

The highlights of the disc, Ferreira and Antonio’s “Recado” and Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” also expose some flaws. For instance, Gerry Wright’s piano is so infectious on the Latin-flavored “Recado,” you wonder why they don’t pick up the beat more often. While “Song for My Father” almost smacks you in the face with grimy, down and dirty jazz reminiscent of Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Why not a little more variety?

Particular note should be paid to relative newcomer Paul Jensen on the drums. His high hat is rock solid, capable of the subtle nuance as well as the driving beat. On Gordon and Monaco’s “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” his brush work does nothing less than evoke wisps of smoke curling up around an imagined sequin-clad Percy. Al Doane’s bass, while silky smooth, doesn’t seem to get enough attention, only truly noticeable on Lester Young’s “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid.”

Twisted Roots: Volume 1

Pump up the Volume

A Twisted Roots retrospective (with five new songs)

Nowadays, it’s hard to remember that Twisted Roots ever broke up in the first place. Or that they’d been playing for a decade before the break-up even happened. With 2004’s self-released The Seed, last year’s Rat Pak record 12 Skies, Fire and the Black, and a steady stream of shows throughout the state, TFR (the “F” stands for “fucking,” but you knew that) have reestablished themselves at the head of Maine’s heavy music scene [this originally ran in fall of 2008].

You know, the scene that seems to produce more show attendees and record buyers than any other in the state?

But it bears remembering that just about now Twisted Roots are celebrating 20 years as a band, and their label commemorate the fact with Volume 1, a collection of 16 songs that are variously from their two Cherrydisc albums, Turn to Stone and Communication, and their last disc before the break-up, Body in the Trunk, Brick on the Gas, plus an unreleased live take, two brand-new songs recorded with Jon Wyman, some remixes, and three unreleased recordings from the somewhat distant past.

Don’t overthink it. Unless you’re a serious local-music collector, you have basically none of this material. Body in the Trunk is widely held, yes, so maybe you’ve got five of these songs, but both Communication and Stone have been out of print for more than a decade, and were available for sale before even an old man like me was out of college.

So, experience it all again for the first time. The mastering is such that you’d never know the difference from a tune recorded in 1992 and 2008, and the material holds up remarkably well. Twisted Roots’ brand of melodic heavy rock has never really lost its fanbase, moving from the grunge era to alternative rock radio to the sort of metal we hear today played by Dead Season, Loki, Civil Disturbance, and any number of other bands that combine driving, distorted guitars; an active, down-tuned bass; floor-tom- and cymbal-heavy drums; and soaring melodic vocals.

A note from Twisted Roots’ Adam Powers: “When Twisted Roots formed in 1989 there was only one venue in town that would play all-original hard rock or punk rock music: Geno’s … It took us over a year to convince Kris Clark to give us a show at Zootz on a Wednesday night. There was the Tree playing mostly early alt-country and national underground music, but pretty much everywhere else was covers.” [Editor’s note: This ran as part of the “Sibilance” notes column I used to write to accompany full reviews. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.]

“Tracks” is one of the tunes that got the band noticed, with what became a trademarked vocal-oriented open, with just an acoustic-guitar backing: “She wept/ And the sound of seven guns drummed in her head.” Back when Stone came out, Neil Collins was playing bass, before he went on to play with Lincolnville and Eldemur Krimm. His playing drives this track, pushing forward what is a great radio-friendly singalong.

The brand-new “Counter on the Hill”—with the current line-up of frontman Pete Giordano, lead guitarist Adam Powers, drummer Sonny Robinson, and bassist Mark Lennon—is a two-minute “Tracks” homage. The opening vocals are a little more naked, and there’s a nod to a lower-fi aesthetic, but “I heard about the gun you held.”

But it doesn’t really matter which songs were recorded when, since much of the band’s new audience didn’t even have access to Twisted Roots when the songs were first released. As in: The Internet and the MP3 wasn’t invented yet (that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point). Nowadays, the appetite for American heavy rock in Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, etc., can’t be overstated. And Internet radio stations are happy to sate their appetites with heavy riffage from the Roots. 

The manic, huge sound of Trunk’s “Voices,” with a thunderous pounding following the first chorus, is every bit as attractive as the heart-racing drum push that drives 2008’s “Hollow Earth.” And the rock-ballad style of 1996’s “Seven Days,” with its pretty little guitar opening and its moody organ, never goes out of style.

Of course, local archivists will be pleased with a couple of gems here, too. “Waking Up,” a furious live recording with a cycling breakdown after the first chorus that leads into an epic guitar solo, seems to be an unreleased bit from the same State Theatre (it hurts just to type that) show that produced 1994’s live album, Bad Blood/Blown Motor. “Blackbirds” offers a relatively rare extended acoustic piece, with a spacey effect to accompany some psychedelic lyrics: “Apple pie filled with black birds/ What do they symbolize?”

What do they symbolize? I’m going to go with: The festering and continuing decay of the American dream. See, I told you some things never go out of style.