Review by Peter Karoly

I am a sucker for samplers.  Those of us old enough remember The Big Ball, Burbank, and the Whole Music Catalog, inexpensive platters that featured well-known and not so well-known artists on the Warner Brothers Label (Warner Brothers, the shiny black chips you eat with your ears!).  Samplers were always a great way to get a lot of music for very little money.  If it doesn’t cost much, then we don’t mind not liking everything on it and appreciate the stuff we do like even more.

The people at Phoenix Productions ( have put together a modern sampler that provides us with the best of both these worlds, you might say, namely a 14-cut CD called Almost Free Music.  It will only put you out $5 for the CD, plus $2 for shipping, and has two tracks from seven different bands. The kicker is that all of these bands are local.

The purpose of a sampler is to acquaint the listening (and buying) public with music from groups you would not normally hear or be inclined to purchase. That's what’s so great about this.  It doesn’t cost much and, personally, because I didn't spend much cash I’ll at least spend more time listening to it.  As with any sampler I’ve ever had, there is stuff I really like and some I'm not as fond of but listen to because I now have it. The funny thing is that, with repeated listening, I kind of enjoy all of this or at least don’t switch to another cut right away.  Some of this might be directed to a younger audience than me but I do enjoy it all.

The sampler includes two cuts each from the bands Banana Convention, After The Dust, This Level Is Clouds!, Annadelle, Engine! Engine!, Sean Stout, and Fail. I semi-forced my daughter to listen to this and, when she told me what she liked on it, I was amazed to find we liked some of the same things. Does this mean she is finally becoming more like me or I am beginning to think like her? I hope so, hope not!

What I found interesting about the selections is that, while each band has two songs, the producers have chosen two that are not necessarily in the same style.  Banana Convention has one song that is punkish while the other has acoustic guitar with a distorted electric lead.  After The Dust opens by sounding like a Status Quo boogie band and follows with a low-key and pleasant "Heartsick Lullaby."  This Level Is Clouds! harmonizes with non-harmonic singing that is strangely appealing while Fail includes two live cuts from a high-energy band and an equally enthusiastic audience.

Empire! Empire! features two melodic tunes with nice vocals, while Sean Stout opens with a quirky song that features frenetic playing and low-key vocals. The second selection is more conventional in a Kevin Ayers style.  Annadelle gets the nod for my favorite cut, "Get Away,” but that is because it sounds like an 80’s power pop effort (you can never have enough loud chords!). Their next effort, however, is titled “Dissonance” and, compared with the first is more, well, dissonant.  Nothing wrong with that, though.

Remembering the function of a sampler, I think this is a very successful effort. It gets the music to the public for little money and, to be perfectly honest, I will now do a second take if I come across any of these names in stores.  Better yet, I will be much more inclined to pay the full price for a full sampling from any of these bands. My hat is off to everyone connected with this release.

If I had a soapbox with me, I would get on top of it and say it louder so everyone could hear:  Please support local music; support live music.  Play it if you can and, if you're like me and can't, then play the CDs.  I suggest you could start with this one.

© Peter Karoly, 2010