Category Archives: BlackStratBlues

Engraved Invitation-LUCID RECESS-2010


My first clue was the fact that you had to “LIKE” the band on their Facebook page before you could download the songs. No integrity. Minus a million points. The album cover reminds me of Seether’s Karma and Effect for some reason. Minus ten points. Then I saw the self-description of the kind of music they play. “Metal/Alternative”. Alarm Bells. I also noticed that this album was recommended by those poseurs, Rolling Stone and RSJ Online.

Finally I came to the music. Oh my gawd, the music. First thing I noticed was that its not metal. Not an iota. It is not metal in this or any other universe. Power chord riffing, the occasional chugga-chugga does not metal make. Minus 100 points for misrepresentation. Then I heard the vocals. It sounds as if he is singing karaoke with the song playing on Youtube in the background. The guy tries the power metal range in the first song, realizes that he can’t do it and stops. Bad, bad. Minus another 100. Somewhere in the album he tries to do the metal shriek at the end of a line, doesnt make it. The whole album is bunch of generic mid-90′s alternative rock chords (think Candlebox, Love Battery, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots..no wait, STP had some good songs.) The guitar playing is competent and everything, but that doesn’t mean that this stands a chance of sounding right. Not a chance in hell. Minus another 1000 points. Oh, and they had the friggin audacity to call themselves METAL of all things? This standard, mundane post-grunge affair? Minus another 100. I could point out a million other things that I despise about this record, but wth, my point has been made.

But at least they had the good sense to give this away for free. Plus 10. Anybody keeping score?

-Baba T   

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Nights in Shining Karma-BLACKSTRATBLUES-2007


As was mentioned by my colleague already sometime ago, Blackstratblues is Warren Mendonsa, former axeman for the pioneers of Indian Alternative Rock, Zero, who remain to this day a staple for most rock bands at small concerts around the country (I say small because rock concerts are always almost small in India). I was at this gig in college a month ago, and the band (a local Hyderabad outfit) played “Not My Kind of Girl” and the crowd went absolutely berserk. Not that many people knew the song or band. They just did for some reason. Zero made that kind of songs.

Coming back to the subject at hand (and apologies for the meandering) Warren Mendonsa went off to New Zealand, and because he couldn’t stay still (which turns out to be a very good thing as you will hear), he came up with this, the first Blackstratblues solo album. It is basically Warren on the lead guitar as the main starring attraction, ably supported by the backing tracks, the album being purely instrumental, and no vocals. The album is up for free download too, so you can jump there directly and get the whole thing, after you are done with this. I might as well spoil the suspense and tell you straightaway that this sounds right.

This was my first exposure to Blackstratblues (i.e. solo Warren) and on hearing the intro (Incense) my first thought was that he had decided to go all Joe Satriani and Steve Vai-ish on us. The timbre of the guitar was what gave me such thoughts. Indeed “Soar the Sky” reminds me strongly of “Always with me, always with you”, what with the soft backing track and slow, strongly melodious, calculated and virtuoso lead tracks on the top of it. Oh, and it is a lovely track too, more importantly. The only way to listen to this music is to have a strong single malt whisky like Glenlivet or Black Label (no, no Jack Daniels, no bourbon) on the rocks in one hand near the sea beach and to be sitting in a rocking chair peacefully. If the sea beach is not possible, we can all at least try for the other two things. If the single malt is not available try Old Monk rum, which is as good, but don’t try more than a quart in a single sitting.

Coming back to the subject (apologies again for the diversion), its not purely a Satch-Vai guitar wank-fest, far from it. The Indian music sensibilities rear their orgasmic head on “Anuva’s Sky”. The aptly titled “Blues for Gary” starts off at a very bluesy pace, and I start enjoying the diversity on an album which, I would like to remind you, consists solely of a guy on a guitar, with a history of pelting hard rock solos on numbers like “PSP 12”. Warren was still not satisfied with the number of genres he had mixed and assimilated within the space of 20 minutes or so, therefore we end up with “A Weekend with you” a soft jazz guitar track, at which point I feel sweet drowsiness taking over me, what with the whisky and breeze and the smell of rain outside my room. Talk about romantic. As soon as I get off my lazy ass and make a girlfriend I am gonna make love to this one. My favorite track is still to come though, not before the album’s pace picks up with “The Cat and The Fiddle” a fun track which I largely ignore, since the mood change is too abrupt and not to my liking. “Bombay Rain” starts off with one the smoothest guitar parts I have ever heard, its trance-y and ambient-y and all sort of other things which I can’t describe, would rather not put in words. Highly recommended. Flawless album.

Recommended Songs: – All of ‘em.

-Baba T

 


The New Album – BLACKSTRATBLUES – 2009


Blackstratblues is the solo project of Zero guitar wizard Warren Mendonsa, where he was famous for lead guitar kickassery. But this, it seems, is a whole different many-headed animal. Here, he seems to have gone all ballady and folksy and Derek Truck-y and Mark Knopfler-y on us. With great success.

This is beautiful music that is, frankly quite unique in today’s landscape. There is the staple bluesy stuff, of course, but its the Indian inflections in the playing that add a dash of zest and tang. A bit like Derek Trucks on “Sahib Teri Bandi”, but without a slide. This could become a signature sound, you know. This style of playing is especially welcome on “Lullabyebye” and “Cowboys and Indians”, which the former seems to segue into. I’m probably not the first one to say this, but Mendonsa has considerable technical facility on the guitar, but deploys it with a judiciousness and taste that most guitar players in India would do well with. The solos serve the songs, not the other way around. Props!

Mendonsa has gone ballady and folksy and Derek Truck-y and Mark Knopfler-y on us.

Good use of...umm...paintbrush

By the time “Newness” came along though, I was wondering where the heavy shit I was expecting was. It didn’t come. Not that the album is bad as it stands. It’s great, but I do wish there was a little more rock n’ roll a la Zero. Even so, Warren has given us a proper fix of ballady rock on the beautiful “Another Sun”. What’s remarkable is the maturity shown here. The song could easily have broken out into an earth shaking guitar solo, but Mendonsa chooses to release the pent up energy on the slow, sexy “Ode to a Rainy Day”. The highlight of the album is undoubtedly “Older, Wiser & Grey”, which happens to have some really nice lyrics to complement the ephemerally light guitar riff. And the solo is painfully short but seriously lovely Knopflery fare.

I’ll tell you what; this is certainly an extremely mature and feelsome recording, but I wouldn’t mind a few guitar hero antics and a few uptempo rockers, just for some variety. I don’t mind slightly lo-fi production (in fact I think under-produced garage rock is often magical). Either ways, Mendonsa has all the signs of a rising star of solo guitar. He has the chops, and he has the feel. At the same time, he is as authentically Indian as the Ambassador car, which can only be a good thing. This sounds right.

-El Bajista

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