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Steve Tallis - The First Degree: A Review of his latest release

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  • Steve Tallis - The First Degree: A Review of his latest release

    Steve Tallis is one of Australia's Premier Blues Artists!

    From time to time an album is released that demands to be reviewed, particularly when it is from an Australian artist and that artist is Steve Tallis.

    His latest work, released only a matter of weeks ago, is a twelve track album called The First Degree.

    I have to admit, that that I wasn't aware of the music and talent of Steve Tallis until many years ago when I bought and listened to an album by another great Australian Blues guitarist/singer, Dave Hole.

    It was Hole's 1992 album - "The Plumber" and the track was, "You Don't Have To Be Pretty To Sing The Blues". In it Hole listed the who's who of blues players in part, singing -
    "Albert Collins sings the Blues
    Eric Clapton sings the Blues
    Steve Tallis sings the Blues
    B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King"


    At that time I thought, who was this Steve Tallis? The name rang a bell but I had to dig deeper only to discover he was a compatriot of Dave Hole's and was somewhere in WA. I searched but couldn't find at that time, any music just some references to him.

    Being very heavily involved in my own music I failed to dig deeper, which was my loss. Then, along came Facebook and lo and behold I immediately rediscovered Steve, visited his web site, down loaded tracks and had my socks knocked off.

    No wonder Dave Hole rated him so highly!

    Since then I have joined the "Steve Tallis Appreciation Group" - No Veronica, there is no such group, but Steve does maintain an active Facebook presence and responds very positively to genuine, no bullshit approaches . He enjoys discussing music and works hard at sharing and acknowledging the wealth of music that has had an impact upon him, but more on that later.

    So what is the story of this man? Tallis has a well developed and functioning web site with access to music, pictures stories and a bio lovingly titled, "flashbacks'.


    Steve circa 1974

    On it Steve writes: "I was born and raised in Central Avenue – down Maylands way that is. I knew a long time ago what I was gonna do. It was 1964 I was 12 years old. I went up to my Mum and said Mum I know what Im going to do with my life. Well she looked at me real strange and said Boy you crazy! Think about a real career.

    You gotta stop hangin around places like Wot The Hek, Dorrinas, Northside Lounge, Stables, Beach House, Snakepit, St Pats, Capitol Theatre, Club 7 Teen, Embassy Ballroom, Gaslight Club, Canterbury Court, Benjamins, Firecracker, Trendsetter, Colosseum, Zanzibar, Whisky A GoGo, Riki Tik, Latin Quarter, Hole In The Wall, Troupador Club, Top Hat, Stoned Crow, Sandgroper, Maggies Farm, Wizbah, Loaded Dog, Mojos, Hernandos Hideaway, Fly By Night, Alberts Tavern, Gerdes Folk City, Port Fairy, Muddy Waters Blues Lounge, East Coast Blues Festival, Freedom Jam Festival – Bangalore India, Sail and Anchor, Blues At Bridgetown and so on.

    How was I to know I was gonna be in New York City 1982 (and 1998) singing my kind of blues – blues from the Maylands delta. No matter what you say, do, think or feel. There's things floating through my mind. People and places in my memory – whats left of it
    !"

    His web site goes on to say that he started playing music in 1962 and that music is his calling. From birth he was surrounded by the music of his Macedonian ancestors and the ethnic music of Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey.

    Listening to live music at picnics and dances as a small child opened his mind and spirit to trance like rhythms, improvisation and chanting. He started listening to the sounds of the radio Bob Dylan, Them, Animals, Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, Jimi Hendrix, Yardbirds, Kinks, Loved Ones, Spectrum etc. He searched back further to the roots of the music he loved – and then back to the source – Africa.

    Steve is an Australian Griot, a Blues Shaman. He has lived and performed in the USA, Europe,Mexico and Asia – supporting some of the biggest names in music. Influences include Leadbelly, John Coltrane, Tim Buckley, Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Tony Williams Lifetime, Van Morrison, Howling Wolf, Tom Waits, Jack Bruce, Kip Hanrahan and Bob Dylan. African, Indian, Haitian and Islamic music have all had a spiritual and rhythmic influence on his own work.


    Circa 1976

    His love of blues, gospel and a Capella field hollers presents both in his live shows and recordings. Two lifelong ambitions came true when he toured India in 1997 and Pakistan in 2003. Explorations into Vodou, Tantra, Buddhism, Sufism, The Bible, Hinduism, Taoism and Native American Indians have affected him deeply.

    His other music groups or as Steve puts it, his other incarnations prior to the current lineup - number 51 and are listed on his web site and cover from his first group consisting of himself and a drummer and called Brunos Double (1962 - 1963) through to Steve Tallis and the Suicide Ghosts (1997 - 2001).

    From 2003 until the present, he has fronted Steve Tallis and The Holy Ghosts, which has had forty six different musicians in the groups various stages, both in Australia and in France, where Steve was settled and working for many years. In fact it has only been around a year since Steve returned to Australia - France's loss was our gain.

    That brings us back to this album which features Steve, Evan Jenkins and Skip McDonald:
    Steve Tallis - Vocals & Guitar
    Skip McDonald - Bass & Guitar, Organ, Tubular Bells & Vocals (tracks 5 & 11)
    Evan Jenkins - Drums, Tamborine, Shakers/Maracas & Bullfrog Guiro


    Skip McDonald

    Steve Tallis

    Evan Jenkins

    The album is released on Tallis' own label - Zombie Music and its code is ZOMBICD7.

    It's presented in a gate-fold Cd cover, and a small thing, but I believe to Steve an important thing, is that the inner sides of the gate-fold are not filled with stories about the prowess and experiences of him, but on the left side is an acknowledgement and recognition of all the artists that have impacted upon him and, what a list it is. Nice touch!



    The other side features a picture of Steve, and it's very much a picture that could almost be classified as introspective, if not humble in its imagery. Below it are a list of all the people who contributed to the financing the production through the POZIBLE Project. It's one thing to acknowledge the project and the funding source, but how many artists would then list the contributes, the "you and me's", whose money for the Cd up front, helped cover the costs?

    Not many! This is the essence of Steve Tallis. He is a man who is gifted musically, and his music supports this contention for he is a very much a "take no prisoners" type man when it comes to dealing with fools, as I have witnessed on Facebook. But at the same time he acknowledges and values the opinions and support of those who take the time to approach him on a human to human level and engage their brain before their mouth.

    These basic traits are reflected in his music. I can only imagine that he listens carefully to the ideas and words of those around him in the studio, but he is also a passionate man whose abilities and skills give him the confidence to back his own judgements which results in his ability to play and provide us, the audience, with a quality product.



    Track Listing:
    1. The First Degree *
    2. Athena BooBoo *
    3. Like Mercury (In My Blood)
    4. Speak Of The Devil (Secets of The 24 Moons)
    5. A Promise Is A Cloud
    6. Silence In The House Of God *
    7. Be The Echo Of My Cry
    8. To Live Again
    9. Breathless *
    10. Living In Hell
    11. Panic Will Be On *
    12. You Kill Me

    * Samples of these tracks are used in this review, but not in their entirety in order to foil illegal downloading

    I have chosen to start with track number 1 - The First Degree (Ezulie). Now if you are curious, as I am, the first thing you might want to know is who or what is Ezulie. In fact Ezulie is a Haitian goddess whose roots go back to African lore, and she is the goddess of love and passion.

    The track kicks off with a firm but somewhat gentle drums, bass and organ backing, that is punctuated with Steve fingering a simple but effect chord pattern that cuts through the support instruments in a very masculine way. Interesting because Steve launches into his story, and I must say that I think the lyrics tell a fascinating story, but it seems we have the story of his relationship with Ezulie and the words and backing music very much give it a passionate loving - almost feminine feeling. But I come back to the chorded guitar playing, which really provides a fabulous counterpoint both melodically and "sexually".

    A very nice piece of production with some subtle audio effects applied at just at the right places.

    I wanna fly to the moon and make love x 2
    Reach for the stars I will catch you if you fall
    Erzuli, The First Degree
    Erzulie, The Atlantic Sea…..

    When we kiss my heart explodes
    When we make love my spirit implodes
    Erzulie The First Degree
    Erzulie, The Atlantic Sea



    The First Degree (Ezulie) [First 2:08]

    Track number 2 was a great surprise. Having been almost seduced by track number 1, I wasn't sure what to expect by a track with the title Athena BooBoo. What a great surprise indeed! Kicking off with a nicely stroked gong and then with a guiro kicking in and supported by a very classy bass line, we are swept up in a style of playing that would not have been out of place if the great Dr John had composed and played it.

    Yet once again Steve has inculcated this piece of Ju-Ju (a West African/French term that can broadly describe luck, but specifically means objects, such as amulets, and spells used superstitiously as part of witchcraft in West Africa) into a very evocative track. It is in part very much what Steve Tallis is about, musical alchemy, invocation of the spirits, taking us all on a journey of the mind and spirit via a musical odyssey of magic and imagination.

    "Athena BooBoo, give me some Ju-Ju . . . when I hold you in my arm, you can feel feel my inner charm, jelly roll baking I will cook your bread, somethings are best unsaid....." By now we are totally engrossed in the lyrics and the music. This is one of my favorite tracks on an album full of music treats. Yet again the production by "Skip" McDonald can be summed up in one word - Superb! No wonder, I mean this man is a brilliant musician and producer in his own right and his work with Steve Tallis both supplements Steve's own skills and talents, as well as beautifully complimenting them.

    In some ways I would say he is an "old-school" producer who is on the cutting edge of where it is at! He obviously listens to what is being played, something many producers today seem incapable of, and unlike many of his modern contemporaries, he doesn't 'flood" the production, he seems to effortlessly reduce it and then caress and form what remains into a listening delight!


    Athena BooBoo [Final 2:21]

    Tracks 3, 4 and tracks 5 provide the listener with a selection of excellent guitar based pieces and styles, and I must say I have a particular like for the delivery style in Like Mercury, while Speak Of the Devil I think is a kick-arse dance track. I can see the audiences when this is played live swaying and dancing and really zoning out. A Promise Is A Cloud is quite lay back compared to previous tracks and is nicely placed , giving us a moment to settle back and almost "chill out", as Steve weaves his word magic.

    Then we come to track number six - Silence In The House Of God! Wow! Silence thy true name be Steve Tallis and his guitar!

    Opening with a tubular bell, totally unlike how we remember a tubular bell as was played by Mike Oldfield back in 1973, this one has an element of warning, dare I say, "dire" warning. Then the magic of the drum and bass combination of Evan Jenkins and Skip McDonald, kick in to set the scene - oh yes, we are in for a journey into . . . into the unknown. Gently at first, but increasing in intensity as Steve comes in with his guitar.

    A well placed bass line, very well constructed, simple but powerful - punches through the Steve's playing, while the drum patterns of Evan Jenkins supports, breaks out, and supports again. The magic is in the moment, and the moment keeps changing, mutating and evolving. The lyrics are strong and supportive, but the emotion is through the instrumentation as these three combine to loose themselves in the moment and in doing so, create a pallet of sound that transports us in the House of God, but it sure ain't the way the Catholic Church portrayed it!

    5 minutes and 18 seconds of Silence In The House Of God, is 5:18 of anything but silence - I want more, and more I got.

    1. Silence in the house of God it seems
    They get away with anything
    Hypocrites, rapists, paedophiles
    Over and over and over again

    2. The closer to God the more dangerous they are
    Cowardly crimes, desperation and pain
    Terrifying children with the image of hell
    Deaf to the cries of the helpless ones

    3. Greedy lawyers so easy to find / buy
    Silence the children as they stoke the fire
    All they do is attack the child
    Then brag about silencing their cries

    4. Repeat 1

    5. This has been going on for far too long
    Protect the children make them strong
    Voiceless victims, tortured souls
    Jail the bishops, throw away the keys

    6. Child abuse casts a shadow
    The length of a lifetime
    The facts cannot be disputed
    Or denied any longer

    7.Repeat 1



    Silence In The House of God [First 2:23]

    We move through track number 7 - Be The Echo Of My Cry, a wonderfully developed classic blues piece and then, onto track number 8 which is, To Live Again. A very tight electric blues track with a nice bass, drum combo supplemented by organ, with Steve punctuating the track with his guitar. Steve's singing really stands out, but, he can really make his guitar sing as well.

    Breathless, which is track 9, features a nice drop in tempo and in a world where the Indie release had equal chance of air play with the "pap" of the commercial a tired music companies of the world, we would find this track featuring on high rotation.

    It is nicely crafted track which screams for commercial appreciation, without a tad of compromise. Of course Steve is maybe happy to have it not in the hands of commercial radio, but I say to him, don't take having a track identified as having a commercial sound any in way, but as a compliment of the highest caliber. This track would reach out to a broad range of listeners.

    According to the liner notes Skip McDonald also plays guitar on this track and his playing is a nice counter-point to the playing of Steve. Steve plays his trademark chord chops, while Skip adds some very nice lines, all with a delicate touch of wha-wha pedal. The man plays a nice tasteful set of lead lines, delicate, no superfluous notes, and the tonality is all class.

    I haven't made much mention of the drumming of Evan Jenkins, and that is a shame. The man is not a showy drummer, he finds the groove and sits in it so comfortably, yet when necessary pushes nicely. On this track his playing is tight in terms of the beat, yet he leaves the right spaces and really, it's a mark of a great drummer who can sit in tight, yet make it sound effortless.


    Breathless [First 2:36]

    Track number 10 - Living In Hell is a track featuring Steve and Skip with tasteful dueling guitars, creating a very strong piece of music. We all know how we can easily slip into Hell when you aren't with the one you love. When that separation is due to lies and deceit from your partner, then we have a recipe for a sobbing heart-broken ballad. That's just not going to happen with Steve, and what we have is the power of lost love being translated into a "power blues track".

    The penultimate track on this Cd is track number 11 - The Panic Will Be On. Another "power blues" track, this is significantly different to the style Steve developed out in the previous track. He ups the tempo and create a lot more urgency and in Steve's words, "The media is too scared to tell the truth, they got too much too loose, if we don't do something soon - Panic Will Be On".

    One of the great features of Steve Tallis' compositions is, they are complete. There is no compromise on the structure and quality of the music, but at the same time the lyrics are not there to fill a gap or because they are expected. He has some strong beliefs, beliefs that have resulted from his observations of the world around him, from his experiences of forces arrayed against the everyday person, and he is not going to hold back in sharing his concerns.

    This was once the role of music even back in the Medieval days - the song told the story of events and happenings, it informed, it warned, it praised, and, it still entertained. This is certainly the essence of this track, and indeed, it could be rightly argued the whole album. I really enjoyed the vocal harmony provided by Skip James and as I worked my way carefully through this album I could understand why Steve gave him mentioned billing on the sleeve.


    The Panic Will be On [Final 2:04]

    The final track is You Kill Me. This is another carefully crafted track that will appeal to a wide range of listeners. It is that sort of track that you can lay back and enjoy with headphones on, play at a home function where you want an uplifting, uptempo beat to entertain and bring a bright feeling to your gathering, or best of still, in a club - preferably with Steve playing live. It is an excellently paced dance track.

    This is not just a satisfying album from a listeners point of view, it is an album that is filled with emotion and style yet underpinned by a genuine relationship with the roots of the blues. It is filled with references to magic and often swims in mystery. Yet it is grounded, it tells of real events and real feelings and in some ways it demands that the listener pay attention, for to fail to do so will mean the listener will fail to fully be touched by its power.

    A review of any piece of work is often said to be correct if it is dispassionate to a degree, that the reviewer remove him or herself from any knowledge of the artist so that they can hear and review with an ear that is not compromised.

    I can't do that, in fact I feel genuinely correct in directing a remark straight to the artist.

    I say to Steve Tallis, I can after fifty years of playing, listening, producing and commenting on music become as jaded as the next person. However with The First Degree I am really knocked out! What a powerful, powerful album you have created, and Skip and Evan were inspired choices of musical comrades.



    Steve has an incredible back catalogue of releases, with seven albums currently for sale including this one, so you may choose to have a look through and add other albums to your basket. However I'm betting that this is his best work, and if it's not then I'm no judge of music!

    Steve was also inducted into Western Australia Music Industry's Hall of Fame and is featured in the books – Whos Who of Australian Rock and Blues, Working Musicians and Further Down the Road. Awards include Songwriter Of The Year, Most Original Work, and Album Of The Year.

    At this stage while no dates have been set, Steve is considering a tour of the East Coast of Australia, and if it were to eventuate it would be a show certainly worthy seeing.



    In a time when there is so much rubbish being passed off as music, it is refreshing and somewhat a relief to find an album that is really worth buying, and one that is worth playing right through. This is an album that should sit proudly in any music collection.

    The First Degree by Steve Tallis & Skip McDonald is most certainly a recommended buy. It is $25.00(Au) plus freight and it can be purchased on-line by going to "Steve's Bazaar" - just click on the album cover below, then you can choose this album and any other from Steve's back catalog. The items appear in the top right hand side of your screen and you can then go to the checkout where freight will be added and payment can be made.



    Copies are also available from Rio Records (Fremantle) and Basement Discs in Melbourne.


    Steve Tallis
    Zombi Music
    PO Box 8327
    PBC 6849
    Western Australia


    Steve.Tallis@gmail.com

    http://www.stevetallis.com

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=steve+tallis

    http://vimeo.com/stevetallisbluesshaman

    https://vimeo.com/groups/stevetallisgroup

    http://vimeo.com/channels/stevetallischannel

    http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Tallis/100000315069295

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/STEVE-TALLIS-Fan-page/190180687689995






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