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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Liz Larin

Wake Up Start Dreaming

Review by Steve Alspach

I'm thinking of starting a movement called GLOOM - Get Liz Out Of Michigan. I don't have anything against Michigan (except when the Michigan-Ohio State game comes around - I'm from Columbus, and I have my obligations), but Liz Larin is a talent that surely deserves recognition outside of her home base of Detroit. On Wake Up Start Dreaming, Liz' third album, she has a collection of 12 top-notch rockers that should find a home on your local AOR station. And at 48 minutes, Wake Up Start Dreaming exemplifies the all-too-often adage that less is more.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Photograph
This raise-your-fist-and-punch-the-air opener is catchy from the get-go. After an opening squeak-and-pop synthesizer, the band kicks in and lays down an infectious groove. Liz' lyrics look at the dichotomy of the ideal and the not-so-fulfilling reality, though in the end Liz looks for the beautiful.
Frequency
A latter-day-Rush-like stop-and-start 6/8 riff builds the basis for this tune. The lyrics sound semi-spoken. A sparse use of keyboards in the chorus to add simple, staccato lines as counterpoint is done quite cleverly.
We Are Not Strangers Anymore
A portrait of a woman who is all business in the bedroom (you fear-of-commitment guys better hit the "skip" button on this one), Liz' vocals lay low during the verses. Dave Taylor's drumming carries the drive on this with his adept backbeat and nimble ride cymbal. The guitars during the bridge have a haunting legato to them.
Alive (Conversation With an Angel)
Liz goes a more delicate route here. She starts with an acoustic guitar, and drummer Dave Taylor smartly uses brushes to a sharp effect. The electric guitars are pretty much muted until the end. The lyrics here, like "Photograph," show a common motif - that of being in this world but looking for something beyond. If anyone has questioned their place in life and what else there is, while still being in the moment, this song (and many of Liz' numbers) will strike a resonant chord with the listener.
Thin Blue Line
Another sign of Liz' music is the "hip-rock" - the good ol' Midwestern punch, but with that pinch of hip-hop that puts some meat in the song. (For that, kudos to Liz and her band, guitarists Robert Tye and Roscoe, bassists James Simonson and John Dunn, and drummers Dave Taylor and Todd Glass)
Going to California
It takes cojones, or the female equivalent, to cover anything from Led Zeppelin's fourth album, but Liz acquits herself quite well on this. Rather than the gentle guitar-mandolin arrangement of the original, Liz puts a traditional rock approach to this one. In the end she stays true to the original song while still putting her own stamp on it.
Taste of Fate
The guitarists stick to short, clean riffing during the verses before cutting loose on the chorus. The percussion, programmed and Dave Taylor riding the hi-hat, keeps the verses busy and away from dragging. Liz' vocals during the descending guitar lines in the chorus keep a tense edge to the cut.
Furthest Orbiting Distant Satellite
Perhaps the, um, spaciest track on the CD, this is the sparsest arrangement. Liz tones the guitars down on the arrangement for this, which is a welcome respite from the album.
My Luck Has Changed
I think Neil Young may be asking where his two-chord riff for "Cowgirl in the Sand" went, but fortunately Liz doesn't hang her hat entirely on that riff (no copyright problems here!), and this entire song is tied up in 3:27, perhaps shorter than one of the solos from Neil's classic. The chorus ("Hey hey hey hey hey, I think my luck has changed") lends itself to a crowd-sing-along when performed live.
Breathe
There's almost a neo-Celtic flavor to "Breathe" with its 6/4 pattern and the simple melody. But there are no bagpipes, tin whistles, or anything like that here, probably for the better. The vocals are perhaps the purest on the album as Liz shelves the rasp for a more honest sentiment.
You Mistook Me For A Boy
Liz delves into a '70's funk riff at the start, complete with the scratchy record sound and James Brown ninth-chord riffing, before shifting into a hip-rock mode. This one was played on her Chicago tour to promote "The Story of O Miz" so it's good to see this song make the final cut on Wake Up Start Dreaming.
Our Silence Will Not Save Us Now
I don't know what you call this riff, a mix of crunch with some syncopated "strut" reminiscent of '80's arena rock, but sometimes clichés work for the right reasons. But I have a bit of a beef with this song. For an album closer, it's grievously understated at 3:00. Just when the guitar solo (of which there are delightfully few, if any, on this album - the focus is strictly on song construction) kicks in, the song fades out. This one could stand another two or three minutes, perhaps with a strong coda, to close the album.
 
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