Posts Tagged ‘Andy Tillotson’


1. That’s a Malört (3:17)
2. Relapse (3:40)
3. Forty Flights (3:33)
4. Bardog  (4:03)
5. Trials of Cromulence (4:03)
6. The Camels Make the Rules (4:15)
7.  La Hojarasca (4:05)
8.  Crab Recess (2:37)
9.  Medea’s Dance of Vengeance (3:10)
10. Sarabande (5:18)
11. For Ellie (2:57)
12. Songs from the Wood (4:40)

Aaron Geller – acoustic guitar
Andy Tillotson – acoustic guitar
Tim McCaskey – acoustic guitar
Luis Nasser – acoustic bass

Brian Harris – keyboards (10)

With their distinctive name that celebrates the joys of possibility, all-acoustic outfit Might Could started out as a duo formed by Andy Tillotson and Tim McCaskey when they were in graduate school at the University of Maryland. They expanded to a trio with the arrival of Aaron Geller in 2003, and finally became a quartet when Luis “Gordo” Nasser, who was at college with both founders, joined on acoustic bass. They released two albums, All Intertwined and Wood Knot,  in 2005 and 2007 respectively, before going on hiatus for a few years. Nasser, Tillotson and McCaskey are also members of Sonus Umbra, and Might Could’s third effort, Relics from the Wasteland, was released at the end of August 2013, at the same time as Sonus Umbra’s Winter Soulstice.

For all their high technical quotient, acoustic guitar albums can fail to impress some progressive rock fans, who may not fully appreciate the subtlety of music that dispenses with the conventional trappings of rock – without realizing that a band such as Might Could  can produce as much complexity as the average prog band with their lush keyboard textures and  intricate arrangements. Additionally, as exciting an instrument as the electric guitar can be, it can occasionally come across as ham-fisted if compared to the versatility of its acoustic counterpart – which can be in some ways compared to that of the human voice. Even if acoustic guitar albums can be perceived by some as one-dimensional, Relics from the Wasteland proves this common misconception quite wrong, displaying as many layers of complexity and as wide a range of influences as any “real” prog album.  In fact, the presence of Luis Nasser’s acoustic bass adds a depth that compensates for the lack of a conventional rock rhythm section, and the riveting interplay between the three guitars possesses a natural elegance all too often disguised by an electric instrumentation.

Relics from the Wasteland’s 12 tracks – none longer than 5 minutes – were all written by Geller, Nasser and Tillotson, with the sole exception of the band’s first two covers: an intense rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Dance of Vengeance”, with its spiraling lead guitar, and a version of Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood”. The entertaining liner notes relate the story of some of the titles, mixing family life (the delightful “Crab Recess” and “For Ellie”) with good-natured debauchery (“That’s a Malört” and “Bardog”), and creating a connection between musicians and listeners that accentuates the intimate nature of music such as this – made of a palette of subtle nuances rather than bold brushstrokes.

As acoustic guitar music is often associated with the Spanish and Latin tradition, it is not surprising to find a definite Latin flavour right in opener “That’s a Malört”, as well as the sprightly “La Hojarasca”. The lovely, pensive “Relapse”, with its circular structure, and the lilting “Crab Recess” emphasize the band’s more subdued side, while in “Forty Flights” and “Bardog” pace and mood shift nimbly, juxtaposing moments of bouncy energy with pauses of melodic reflection. “Trials of Cromulence” and “The Camels Make the Rules” explore more complex territory, the former introducing some frantic riffs and dynamic percussive patterns in an almost counterpointal structure, the latter unfolding like a conversation between the three guitars, with the bass in a solid supporting role. “For Ellie”, after a very low-key start, turns into a lively homage to Django Reinhardt’s “gypsy jazz” style, while the swaying dance movement of “Sarabande” is fleshed out by organ (courtesy of Sonus Umbra’s keyboardist Brian Harris). An amazingly faithful cover of “Songs from the Wood” wraps up the album, the guitars recreating the vocal interplay of the original, while the bass comes into its own in the second half of the song, with some great percussive effects.

Relics from the Wasteland is highly recommended to lovers of acoustic, progressive-oriented instrumental music such as California Guitar Trio, Béla Fleck or Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett’s side project Fernwood. This is the kind of music that shines in a live setting, highlighting ensemble playing as well as each musician’s individual style. The cover artwork by New England artist Elizabeth Moss, striking in its stark, almost primitive style, rounds out a classy package that will appeal to all fans of sophisticated music, especially those keen to explore the intriguing soundscapes created by acoustic string instruments..




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1. Last Train To Kimball (1:10)
2. Insomniac Blue (5:35)
3. Palestinian Black (6:55)
4. Wounded Animal (10:26)
5. Let It Rain (4:45)
6. Silence Kills (8:45)
7. It’s Only Fear (6:18)
8. Bar at the End of the World (1:25)
9. Haunted (9:49)
10.Rebuke the Sea (9:03)
11. Adrift (7:30)

Luis Nasser – bass, miscellaneous debris
Brian Harris – keyboards
Rich Poston – electric guitar
Roey Ben-Yoseph – lead vocals
Tim McCaskey – acoustic guitar
Steve Royce – flute, vocals
Andy Tillotson – drums, acoustic guitar, vocals

David Keller – cello
Brittany Moffitt – vocals

After an eight-year hiatus, Chicago-based outfit Sonus Umbra are back with only bassist/mainman Luis Nasser and drummer Andy Tillotson left of the band that released Digging for Zeroes in 2005. Founded in the early Nineties by Nasser and his friend Ricardo Gómez while the pair were still living in Mexico, they started out as Radio Silence, and disbanded when Nasser and Gómez relocated to the US – only to get back together with on their current name (meaning “Sound of Shadow”) at the very beginning of the new century,  releasing three albums between 2000 and 2005.

The chequered history of Sonus Umbra is outlined with almost poetic flair by Nasser – a professor of physics at Columbia University, as well as a gifted musician and lyricist – in the stylish booklet that accompanies Winter Soulstice, the band’s fourth release. Though Nasser is credited as the main songwriter, in his introduction he makes it abundantly clear that Sonus Umbra is not a one-man show recorded with a bunch of hired hands, but a true band – and a seven-piece at that, boasting of a lush instrumentation that lends variety and complexity to the compositions.

Being a newcomer to the band’s music, my curiosity was whetted by the CD’s striking cover artwork and photography, which suggest a modern rather than a retro direction. Indeed, while listening to Winter Soulstice, I was reminded of the eclectic approach to progressive rock of Man On Fire and Little Atlas (whose mainman Steve Katsikas gets a mention in the liner notes), two modern US bands whose albums I have covered in the past couple of years. Like them, Sonus Umbra straddle past and present with ease, placing a strong emphasis on songs and balancing the vocal and the instrumental component with a skilled touch.

Even if not overtly stated, Winter Soulstice is a concept album of sorts, making use of recurring musical themes that help to create cohesion and reinforce the message of the long, articulate lyrics, which tell a tale of loneliness and loss to which many of us can relate. Albeit somewhat sprawling, the album as a whole will only occasionally elicit reminiscences of other bands or artists. The expressive interplay between Steve Royce’s flute and Rich Poston’s electric guitar in the likes of the instrumental “Palestinian Black” and the autumnal, cello-driven “Rebuke the Sea” evokes Jethro Tull, but as a whole Sonus Umbra sound remarkably original.

Introduced by the ambient noises of “Last Train to Kimball”, “Insomniac Blue” features that mix of catchy, melodic vocals and complex, multilayered instrumental parts, with Nasser’s twangy bass and Tillotson’s versatile drumming pushed to the fore, while Tim McCluskey’s lovely acoustic guitar and Brian Harris’ rippling piano increase the melodic quotient. In the middle of “Wounded Animal”, powerful organ runs intensify the effect of the vocals and guitar riffs, while the frantically pounding drums veer into metal territory – like Deep Purple on steroids. On the other hand, the lyrically and musically connected “Haunted” blends the drama of a solemn, march-like pace with the haunting beauty of the closing a cappella vocal section.

Soothing, folksy notes hold sway in the mostly acoustic, flute-laden ballad “Let It Rain” and soften the intensity of the eclectic, subtly ominous “Silence Kills” – where the role of piano and synth seems to embody the acoustic and the electric component of the album; while the following “It’s Only Fear” – the most straightforward number on the disc, with a recognizable conventional song structure – spotlights  Poston’s discreet yet expressive lead guitar in the bridge. The lovely, somber “Adrift” – an acoustic instrumental piece built upon a hauntingly repetitive theme – provides a fitting conclusion, summing up the mood of the album without any need for words.

Clocking in at over 70 minutes, Winter Soulstice inevitably contains some filler, and may occasionally sound a bit samey. Roey Ben-Yoseph’s voice may also turn out to be an acquired taste for some, especially when he reaches for the high notes. However, the album is impeccably performed, very cohesive in terms of writing, and features outstanding instrumental textures with a keen ear for melody. Highly recommended to prog fans who like a good balance of melody and complexity, Winter Soulstice is a more than satisfactory comeback release from a band that has managed to forge its own individual sound – respecting the genre’s glorious past without lingering too much in its shadow.


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