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(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/12/2011)
As someone who been observing the music scene for a very long time, I am frequently amused, and more than occasionally amazed by the number of artists now in second decade of the 21st Century who are finding their inspiration in the Woodstock era, now in the fifth decade before. It's a time when not only were the contemporary musicians not yet born, but even their parents might have come along a little later that period. And the remarkable thing is how really good some of these younger artists are. Many are far better musically than the original groups back in the day, when people were just trying to find their way. I have noted some of these artists and bands in this review series from time to time, and this week we have another excellent example. The group call themselves Rogue Valley, and their new second CD is called The Bookseller's House.
Rogue Valley is based in Minneapolis, and is led by Chris Koza, who previously released a couple of recordings under his own name that had the beginnings of this group's sound. The aspect of the 1960s era that Rogue Valley evokes is the mellow pop in the tradition of some of the Beatles songs, and groups like Badfinger, the Hollies and others that relied on tuneful melodies, high airy vocals and interesting sonic touches. Koza and company get it right, and in many ways surpass some of the originals in terms of quality of writing, musicianship and production.
Interestingly, Rogue Valley set out on an ambitious task, to create four full albums within a year, one for each season. Their first has a spring theme, called Crater Lake. The Bookseller's House was meant as the summer album. A fall release is supposed to be out soon. In the meantime, the band has been touring between the recording dates. In addition to guitarist, composer and vocalist Koza, the group includes guitarist Peter Sieve, bassist and vocalist Linnea Mohn, drummer Luke Anderson and supporting player Joey Kantor.
Chris Koza grew up in Portland, Oregon, and many of the songs on this CD take place in that area, evoking images of summer, in this case. The CD's title refers to a bookstore called Powell's Books in Portland.
This is a group that has all the right ingredients to make this kind of sound work, while not going overboard for overbearing or excessively sweet harmonies, or using cliches or stolen riffs from hit songs from the 1960s, as many other revival groups have been guilty of doing. Instead, Rogue Valley uses the general philosophy of the music, the hummable tunes, the first-rate high lead vocals, the often folky textures, the period instrumentation, and the kind of lyrical poetic obliqueness that came out of the psychedelic era.
A good example is the opening piece Rose Festival one of those scenes from Koza's earlier days in Portland. It paints very nice musical picture. <<>>
A bit more ethereal in sound is Color Wheel, which also sets a kind of a scene lyrically, while the music borders on old-fashioned progressive rock. <<>>
With a tad more of a rock edge, including bits of more contemporary alternative rock influences is Encierro, whose lyrics describe some kind of event involving the running of a bull. <<>>
The title track The Bookseller's House nicely conjures art-rock in both its instrumental sound with its elaborate arrangements, and its elliptical lyrical approach. <<>>
Also evoking the progressive rock era is Racecar Driver, another of the CD's highlights. <<>>
Lighter and more atmospheric in sound is The Summer Moon, on which bassist Linnea Mohn is featured prominently in a vocal duet with Chris Koza. The band gets perhaps a bit too spacey on this one. <<>>
Also sans drums but with a folkier sound is The Blackberry Moon a good example of Chris Koza's great sense of melodic songwriting. <<>>
The CD ends with Rockaway, also apparently based on Chris Koza's summer memories growing up. It's a got perhaps the most in common with the contemporary alternative rock scene as any track on this otherwise retro album. But while it rocks, there's still an attractive tune and vocals. <<>>
The Bookseller's House the new CD by Rogue Valley is the second of a planned quartet of recordings by this Minneapolis-based group. Led by Chris Koza Rogue Valley is another great example of a young band doing a terrific job of evoking the sound and feeling of music that was unfolding long before any of these musicians were born. They combine very good writing with excellent vocals and tasteful playing to conjure some of the psychedelic era without being slavishly imitative. It all makes for attractive, intelligent music that will leave you humming some of the tunes.
We'll give the CD about a B-minus for sound quality. The vocal clarity falls short some, and excessive compression robs the music of dynamics. The old recordings from 40-or-so years ago were not that great, but that's no reason to imitate with intentionally degraded sound.
Rogue Valley have a lot going for them as they work their way through their planned four album year-long project. On The Bookseller's House, the group shows themselves to be another of the bright lights on the retro-revival scene.
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