June 22, 2018

Special Edition . . .

Greetings – just a quick note to remind visitors to this site that I am retiring from the Ontonagon Area Schools as of June 30, 2018 – it is hard to believe that I have had the honor of working here for 43 years!  The laws of our fair state demand that I have a 30 day bonafide break in service (or as I call it, my exile) so I will not be allowed to enter the building, discuss working for the school in any capacity, or even volunteer my services for anything until August!  Please do not ask me to explain how this works because I don’t understand it myself.  In the mean time, should you want to contact me, my personal e-mail during July will be .

It is looking like the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival will be doing away with the Singing Hills Stage that I have been lucky to act as emcee for in the past 10 or 12 years . . . the move they are making to use the ski chalet building more and maintain one outdoor stage will make the festival better.  I will still be there as I have been asked to work as one of the stage managers for the outdoor stage, so stop by and visit – I will be there with bells on!

Lastly, our friend Gary Tanin at Milwaukee’s Daystorm Records sent me an advanced screening of Sam Llanas’s newest record which he did the mastering work on (plus assorted other tasks).  It is called The Return of the Goya – Part 1 but I do not have a release date yet, so I can’t play it.  I can, however, share the quickie review I drafted for Gary’s Facebook page.

Have a great summer – keep in touch – maybe we will bump heads again in August!  Best Regards!!  K. Raisanen, Manager


Is Sam Llanas going through a country phase or has he always had a bit of country heart in him?  The first track of his new album Return of the Goya – Part 1, (Follow Your Heart) replete with steel guitar and chugga chugga drumming certainly fits the country label.  Come to think of it, his voice has always carried a bit of the ‘country cry’, but it wasn’t as up front as it is here. Recipe follows in a similar vein adding a bit of harmonica to round out the Nashville feel.  The chorus is more than a little catchy. Supplant Llana’s voice with Gram Parson’s and these two tracks would fit in the Sweetheart of the Rodeo/Nudie suit era very nicely.

    All Day leans in a more or less pop direction with an interesting horn like quality to the background instrumentation.  Again, the chugging drums propel the verses which are punctuated with double guitar strums. Heroes acoustic strum and lyric slow things down a bit.  The drums here are supplanted by finger snaps and more lap steel guitar and trombone that sounds more like a viola than guitar and horn.  By track five (Little Song), the blend of country strum,  interesting full bass and drum patterns move things along nicely in a very John Mellencamp like arrangement (if Mellencamp had recorded in Music City).  Little Song II turns the country feel up to turbo.  Another catchy chorus with versus that Johnny Cash could have done in his sleep if for no other reason than is smacks more than a little of the Folsom Prison Blues.  

    All Alone Again opens with lap steel twang and a shuffling drum beat.  The swooping steel guitar supports the vocal and the tribal tom drumming on the middle eight adds a full rich texture.

I take back my earlier question about Sam Llanas going through a country phase:  this isn’t just a phase, this is an album that speaks from the heart and country soul of someone who isn’t just trying to make a country album.  Having said this, I finally broke down and read the press kit bio (something I try to not do before making the initial run through of a new album).  Llanas credits this album to his long time love of the country music he heard in his early years. He was also inspired by laying hands on a rebuilt model of his beloved Goya guitar that was stolen many years ago.  The prominent use of steel guitar is easily explained by the albums producer,  lap steel & electric guitarist Sean Williamson.   Others credited in the bio include many prominent Milwaukee musicians Llanas has worked with over recent years along with new faces.  The listing mentions bassist Matt Turner, drummer Kevin Dunphy, drummer Ryan Schiedermayer,  trombonist John Simons and mastering of the album by Gary Tanin form Daystorm Records.

     The four X four shuffle of Rio splits the tempo dead between the faster and slower tunes without diluting the country feel of the track. After Rio’s mid-tempo shuffle, Llanas drops it into third gear for Long Way Home.  Not exactly a homage to the CB/Trucker period of C and W, but it evokes the feel.  The steel guitar throughout the album is great but it really stands out on Long Way Home.  The bass and drums work well together across all of the tracks and this solid bed is one of the reasons the steel parts work so well,  The album closes with Down The Line.  Somewhat introspective and confessional, it starts with a deep guitar strum and more great lap steel weaving in and around the vocal.  The bonus track has a mellow, back porch feel, whistling and all.

    I was not sure what compelled Sam Llanas to make this particular album on the first run through (probably why I decided to crack open the press kit).  His previous body of work has always been somewhat eclectic in that he has never just made the same record over and over again. Many artists who write and sing the way he has over the years would hesitate to make an album like this.  My hat is off to Llanas for adding several dozen more colors to his musical palette. Return of the Goya – Part 1 is an album of well constructed songs and a full, rich mix of instruments.   


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