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Critic's Corner

Jim's Music offers great local CDs for purchase, and you'll find reviews of them here!  If you're a local artist that has a CD for sale, stop by your nearest Jim's Music and we'll let you know how we can help sell your music!

Crank Shaft- Feed the Fire

Crank Shaft – Feed the Fire

crank_shaft_cover_1I like to think of this band as a modern day Black Sabbath straight outta Ishpeming. Steward Harsila is the singer and songwriter here, and he starts things off with the one/two punch to the liver rocker “Too Much Whiskey, Too Much Gin”, which includes the great line: “When I was born they didn’t know whether to buy a crib or a cage”. The riffing by Kurtis Niemi is simple and raunchy. The duo is joined by Jim Bellmore on production and also on drums, bass and guitar (Bellmore makes this disk really shine with his production at Da Yoopers Studio where many fine CDs are recorded). Danzo McCracken rocks a few leads as well.

Steward’s voice and songs are the high points of this disk though. It would be easy to write the tunes off as joke-rock, but the delivery is too convincing. The sound is straight ahead hard rock (in fact the CD cover says “Upper Michigan Hard Rock” as explanation) with touches of AC/DC, Sabbath and G & R, but there are some punk elements and even a touch of country on one ballady number. One listen and you’ll be walking around singing “Lost in the Cage”. You won’t even have to call for more cowbell—it’s in the song “Trick or Treat”. Crank Shaft is an awesome U.P. original. Pick this fine CD up at Jim’s Music and you won’t be let down. If you are let down, talk to Jeff and he’ll tell you why you’re wrong.

The Terminal Orchestra - The Seasons

The Terminal Orchestra -  The Seasons


This fine local cd is the brainchild of Jesse DeCaire (Sah, the Chanteymen, amongst other Marquette indie acts), who is composer and conductor/arranger.  This ambitious work is a meditation on the four seasons, and the orchestra consists mostly of various guitars, bowed doublebass, violin and drums.  The piece is divided into eight segments: one movement for each season with an introduction or interlude before each season song.  The interludes consist of relatively short nature recordings (crows, walking through leaves, rainfall) with sparse musical (guitar, bells) accompaniment, and serve as a nice break between the songs, and thematic setup for the next following piece.

Kirsten Gustafson & Dave Ziegner: So Many Stars

so_many_starsWow!  I’ve been hearing of this pending release for awhile now, and
now that it’s out, I can’t get enough of it.  Kirsten and Dave have
been entertaining audiences as a duo now for quite some time, and
they’re a magical pair.  What I love most about this disc is it’s
seductive simplicity—it’s nearly all guitar and vocal (oddly, the best
bassist around doesn’t play bass on this recording!).  Recorded in
sublime fashion by Jerry Kippola at North Star Studio in Marquette,
there only a sprinkle of nice percussion via Aaron Kippola and Alex
Brooks to compliment the duo’s take on timeless jazz and latin
classics.  The package is wrapped up in cool retro artwork and graphic
design by Chad McKinney.

Let’s talk a bit about our two focal points: voice and guitar.
Kirsten sounds at the top of her game here—her gorgeous phrasings
sound effortless, whether she’s tackling the bitter sounding Esquinas
(So You Say), or the playful Bye Bye Blackbird.  There’s a great
longing to her voice in many of the tracks.  Dave sounds equally
effortless in his intricate guitar backing and soloing, adding the
perfect chord pallete to Kirsten’s voice.  Dave also shines in several
solos on the disc—some of my favorites are when he takes a solo with
no net of backing tracks under, now that takes some finesse to excel

It’s worth noting that though Kirsten and Dave can be seen often at
intimate local gigs, they’ve both had their share of playing to
appreciative audiences far and wide.  We’re lucky to have such fine
talent in the UP.  Please check out this duo in a live setting
sometime soon, and by all means pick up this excellent cd at Jim’s

Chasin' Steel: Fresh Runs and Tight Lines

Chasin Steele

Marquette’s Chasin’ Steel has been the area’s leading bluegrass band now for quite some time—and they’re CD is the top seller for just as long here at Jim’s Music. 

There’s good reason too—this is good-time music, catchy as all getout, well-written original tunes mixed with some great classics, and it’s all a winning combo.  “Fresh Runs and Tight Lines” has a great sound due to the production and studio of Jerry Kippola, and here we’re catching Steel at their finest.  From the barnburning original opener, “Lonesome and Blue”, to the two signature bonus tracks, this is nonstop UP bluegrass bliss served up hot. 

Their original “Drink My Dinner” even receives some national airplay—it’s one that’ll have you singing (and drinking) along.  Strong vocals and mandolin chops come via Adam Carpenter, who also writes the bulk of the originals here.  The Kuhlman brothers provide excellent backup vocals and banjo, guitar and bass—Jonah Kuhlman even plays the hammer dulcimer on this CD and at the live shows.

Here at Jim’s Music in Marquette, we’re pleased to have Chasin’ Steel’s expert banjo picker Jacob Kuhlman as a part of our sales and teaching staff.  Stop by any of our locations today to pick up a copy of this great CD.

Vanilla Thunder: Body Heat Activated

Vanilla ThunderCan't get enough funk? Look no further than Jim's Music, where this album is exclusively available. The sessions on this album took place between March and July of 1999. This is a nine-piece band that was short-lived and produced an absolute masterpiece that blends funk and blues. The bass lines are completely "in the pocket" from start to finish. Add the wailing guitar leads and funky rhythms that often utilize envelope filter  and wah effects, and we have the basic ingredients of a killer funk/blues band. Incorporate the saxophone, trumpet, trombone and Rhodes piano and we now have a bad-ass funk/blues band on our hands. It's not just the instrumentation that does it. The vocals are blended perfectly to fit the various styles of play.  Each member has an important part at all times, just the same as the rest of the band, or else this simply would not work. Vanilla Thunder was, at one time, a very beautiful thing. It's a shame when a band puts something like this together and we never here from them again. At least that brief period in time was captured on the album, for us all to enjoy for a lifetime.


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