Jon Butcher / Jon Butcher Axis

Stiff Little Breeze

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A Stiff Little Breeze is a superb album from the Jon Butcher Axis, getting straight As in pacing, performance, and material. Jon Butcher personally essays, the tales behind each tune found in the eight-page booklet brimming with photos and rich in band history. As the music crosses decades, Butcher cleverly splashes some of his favorite phrasings throughout the melodies and production, making it very, very appealing. "The Tiger in the Tall Grass" borrows heavily from early Rod Stewart/Faces, Beatles backing vocals, and, most notably, Paul McCartney's "That Would Be Something" from his first solo album. "Wicked Woman" (the title of a Janis Joplin bootleg, a fact that couldn't have escaped Butcher's notice) adds some culture shock from what precedes it -- the kind of polished '80s rock that Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" provided, only this Jon plays it so cool, slipping in a bit of "Purple Haze" into the mix. And speaking of such things, "Red House" is a standout. This artist has certainly come up with enough diverse sounds to separate him from his major influence -- but when he dives into Hendrix territory, it is with true understanding and wild abandon. Jimi's friend Buzzy Linhart heard this version of "Red House" and noted that the tune has become the "Stormy Monday Blues" of the new millennium, Linhart most impressed with what Butcher did with this often overworked cover. "A Light Texas Rain," like the title track that begins the set, is short, sweet, and gloriously simple. Many Butcher albums have seeds of greatness, but A Stiff Little Breeze is no mere collection of B-sides and outtakes; it is an impressive blend of this important artist's thoughts, emotions, and performances. "Money" is like some catchy response to Cyndi Lauper's hit "Money Changes Everything," with a clever aside from Butcher in the liner notes. "Beal St." is Robert Johnson/Mick Taylor slide guitar blues, the final of 14 tracks that make up this favorite of all of Jon Butcher's releases. The excellent cover art features the state of Massachusetts on a map that looks like parchment an archaeologist would read from to find hidden treasure. Most appropriate.

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