Spark – Alain Johannes Solo Debut

July 23, 2010

Alain Johannes

Dangerbird Records/Rekords Rekords, 2010

Experimental rock/ Alternative

4 out of 5 stars

The solo debut by Alain Johannes (founder of Eleven, who has also played with Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age) starts as a dynamic, original album filled with musical variety, then settles into a peaceful studio drone. With a strong start, imagine if Anthony Kiedis became the lead singer of Rusted Root. That’s the opening track, “Endless Eyes.” But it’s more complex then the fusion of a soulful funk/grunge singer and an avant-garde arrangement of guitar melodies and snappy percussion. This is a layered, multi-dimensional effort.

As if trying to keep us guessing, the album’s second track “Return to You” is a Black Crowes roots tune whose intermittent female background vocals singing a happy ba-buh-ba makes it sound like a catchy Target commercial. But don’t fret, this feeling will quickly pass.

“Make God Jealous” starts out like Led Zeppelin III. The strumming and finger-picking is right out of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” but with a progression that is more Adrian Legg than Jimmy Page. And the deep and dreary vocals sound as if Soundgarden went unplugged.

By the time we get to “Spider,” “The Bleeding Whole” and “Gentle Ghosts” the album begins to settle into a subdued and personal monotone, heavily overdubbed with a Middle Eastern influence. “Ghosts” hints at an alternative universe where Our Lady Peace is an Irish pub band. Listen to it – tell me the song doesn’t sound exactly like that!

With vocals that are as engaging as the instrumentals, especially the guitar playing, Spark is a heartfelt and deeply personal solo debut. The overall feeling is, appropriately, one of loneliness (the album is a tribute to Johannes’ deceased wife and musical partner). But there are drawbacks to recording as a multi-instrumentalist one-man band. The music doesn’t feel spontaneous, but rehearsed and engineered. Not like the work of a band, but of a single man in a studio, paying tribute to the one he loves.

The bottom line: will I listen to Spark again? I won’t delete it from my iPod playlist. It’s good background music, great for a long drive or if you’re just hanging around but not something that will get you excited to wake up. Spark will make some appearances on iPod’s Shuffle setting, and it will always be welcomed.

Spark will be release August 31, 2010 on Dangerbird Records/Rekords Rekords. Visit the artist’s website.

Here’s Alain rocking the strings on YouTube.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2010

Mark McGinty discusses The Cigar Maker on The Author’s Show

July 19, 2010

I will be discussing The Cigar Maker on The Author’s Show with Don McCauley today (July 20)…the show runs for 24 hours. Just click the link below and the show will start! (sorry about the cheesy music)

Mark McGinty on The Author’s Show

5 Star Review from Midwest Book Review

July 9, 2010

It’s nice to get these, even when they’re short. Usually I provide a link to the reviews for The Cigar Maker but in this case I can post the whole thing…

***** A fine read, highly recommended

From one tumultuous home to another. “The Cigar Maker” tells the story of Salvador Ortiz as he leaves Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century to find a better life in America. But he finds that the streets of Tampa are just as shady as the streets of Cuba, and finds that keeping his family together and strong will be a struggle no matter where he is, as he faces off with the clashes of culture and history surrounding him. “The Cigar Maker” is a fine read, highly recommended.

Aside from that nice little nugget, here are my upcoming events…

July 12 – Interview on DogWatch Cigar Radio @ 6:00pm CST…this will be a podcast so you’ll be able to check it out after the 12th.

July 20 – Interview on The Author’s Show.

July 31 – Book signing and chat and Mayday Books in Minneapolis, MN, 3:00pm. Sponsored by the Minnesota Cuba Committee, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the bookstore, which is a non-profit organization.

If you are in the Tampa area check out the July 2nd issue of La Gaceta and Cigar City Magazine (also available online), where excerpts of The Cigar Maker have been recently published!

In addition to the above, you can hear recent interviews on Blog Talk Radio and The Cigar Authority.

There is also a Cigar Maker giveaway on GoodReads, where you can enter to win a free copy!

A small plot of American soil…owned by the Cuban government?

July 1, 2010

It’s the only piece of “free Cuban soil” in the world…and it’s locked behind bars.

Martí statue in the Friends of José Martí Park, Tampa

Over a hundred years ago, Jose Martí, the Apostle of Cuban Liberty, visited Tampa, Florida to raise awareness and collect money for Cuba Libre, the effort to rid Cuba of Spanish rule and establish Cuba as an independent country. When in town, Martí stayed at the home of Afro-Cuban patriot Paulina Pedroso, who operated a small boarding house on 8th Avenue. The Pedrosos eventually moved back to Cuba and the property passed though several hands until it was eventually donated to the Cuban government as a tribute to their national hero.

In 1956 the Republic of Cuba took possession of the deed and the American consul in Havana approved the transaction.

Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator eventually toppled by Fidel Castro’s forces (and the guy who makes the toast in Godfather II, right before Michael Corleone gives Fredo the kiss of death), donated the money to raze the old Pedroso house and establish a park. But when Castro came to power, and Cuba became a communist country, the city of Tampa found itself with a dilemma. City officials still maintain the park’s lights and irrigation but have left everything else to the Cuban-American community in Tampa.

And things have been messy ever since. You can read more about it here. On one side of the debate, pro-Castro speech is not permitted in the park and anti-embargo Cubans have been locked out. On the other hand, in the only plot of free Cuban land, free speech is squelched and national hero Jose Martí is locked behind bars.

I won’t go into this debate, I’ll leave that to you. I’m just bringing you another little known slice of American history.

The park is fairly small, centered around a statue of Jose Martí, with six rocks decorated with the Cuban flag. There are six tree planters in the park, each containing dirt that has been mixed with soil from Cuba’s six provinces. You can visit it during daytime hours but need special permission to have the gates unlocked on weekends.

Here are some more photos of the park…click here for a map of its location.

Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker.

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