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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Great American Robber Barons

Reno Nevada & Other Songs Of Gambling Vice & Betrayal

Review by Gary Hill

This is an intriguing album. It has some pretty magical moments and then some others that don’t work quite as well. The vocal arrangements here are the oddest part. For the most part when there are male vocals (and that’s not every song) they are spoken or half sung. The female vocals are pretty awesome, though. This is quite a mix of folk music, jazz, theatrical music and much more. It’s quirky, but it’s almost (for the most part) quite entertaining.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
At the Hands of the Robber Barons

Bass leads out here. Then we’re taken into a cool retro rocking sound. It’s got a lot of folk rock in the mix. This has a great female vocal line and overall is just a really strong classic rocking tune. There are some male vocals on this tune, as backing ones. There is also quite a tasty guitar solo later in the piece.

Reno Nevada
The sound on this is even more retro. It’s got a real surf rockabilly sound to it. The female vocals serve as a duplicate for spoken male vocals. It’s an intriguing blend of sounds that’s a little strange, but also quite effective.
I Know You Just Don't Want Me Anymore
In a definite change piano starts this song. The female vocals come in, painting this as a classic piano and vocal ballad. There’s a definite gospel vibe to it. While there is more than one layer of voice here, the only instrumental accompaniment remains the piano throughout the piece.
Where Were You When I Needed You
Acoustic guitar serves as the instrumentation here. The main vocals are the male spoken ones, but there are female backing vocals. This is another that’s got a strange charm to it.
Nowhere Left To Go
This instrumental is based around acoustic guitar, but features other instrumentation. It seems to live somewhere between folk music, classic rock and progressive rock.
It Was All My Fault for Ever Trusting You
A bluesy, soulful tune, this is a fun one with a great retro texture.
Shut Up and Deal
An old time jazz sound creates the mood here. The male vocals are spoken, but there are some great torch type female vocals, too. There are also some sections where the male vocals are sort of in-between spoken and sung.
Hoo Hoo Man
A playful tune with a lot of start and stops, this is sort of like a combination of the sounds we’ve heard thus far with some B-52s. Mind you, there is also a bit of psychedelia in the mix later.      
Somebody's Other Woman
Somewhat theatric in nature, this is sort of a singer/songwriter meets folk music song. The male vocals are essentially spoken, but they are often paired with sung female counterparts. At times the female voice soars by itself, too.  
Nobody Saw It Coming
I love some of the soulful female vocals on this. They almost bring a Pink Floyd vibe to the table at times. This is quite a jazzy number with spoken male vocals delivering the main story. It’s one of the coolest cuts here.
Last Tango in Ponsonby
On the one hand some of the vocals on this seem to fail to my ears. However, the song itself is among the most interesting and complex of the set. That makes this a good tune despite the vocal problems. It’s got a lot of variety, but overall fits into an artistic rock genre (more or less).
Cemetery
The energetic acoustic guitar based musical motif here calls to mind modern alternative rock. The vocal concept is the one that’s pretty familiar here (male vocals mostly spoken with female singing). This is not a bad song, but the formula is wearing a little thin, by this point and this tune just isn’t special enough to really stand up.
I Promise I'll Never Blow It Again
More like a powered up folk song, this is more effective than the previous cut. That’s mostly because of a catchy vocal hook and superior vocal arrangement.
Too Big for Your Boots
There’s not enough change here and this song suffers from that lack of variety, really.
What Were They Thinking
The left of center vibe here works much better. It’s musical theater meets post punk weirdness and alternative rock. There are some great moments here and this one has a lot of charm.
At the Hands of the Robber Barons (Accapella)
The set is closed with an accapella version of the opening track. That number is one of the strongest on the disc, so this is a great tune, too. It’s all female vocals and many layers at that.
 
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