Music Reviews


The Raleigh Ringers Passages (2-CD) self-release, 2014

The Raleigh Ringers are a semi-professional handbell choir, formed nearly three decades ago and based in Raleigh, North Carolina. A single handbell ‘instrument’ is actually a collection of separate bells, each tuned to a specific note on the (Western) chromatic scale. The bells are played by a group of musicians, each of whom holds (usually) one in each hand. Playing even simple handbell melodies requires several musicians to ring separate bells in precise, coordinated succession.

Handbells were first developed in England in the early 18th Century. They’re made of cast bronze with semi-flexible, usually leather, handles. A handbell’s clapper has a hinge which allows it to swing only in a straight line. The clapper also has a spring which holds it away from the outer portion of the bell after each strike, so that the bell can ring freely. Additionally, the clapper is rigid, allowing the bell to be held with its mouth facing upward.

Handbell designs vary, and different designs are constructed to produce different sets of overtones. The Raleigh Ringers use an expansive set of equipment including multiple handbell sets, as well as some unusual implements resembling large tuning forks (which are played by being struck with mallets). By selecting and combining their instruments the Ringers can produce a fairly wide palette of tone colors and a range of over seven octaves, all from the family of tuned metallic percussion.

The group’s membership has fluctuated, but tends to comprise around 15 to 20 ringers. They’ve been led by the same musical director, David M. Harris, since 1990.

Handbell choirs have their roots in Christian church settings, and many North American churches have formed amateur handbell choirs in recent decades. The Raleigh Ringers incorporate a few ‘sacred’ pieces into their repertoire, but for the most part perform secular music.

The tunes on these discs fall into several categories: There are pieces from the canon of Western classical music by the likes of Mozart, Brahms, Bach and Beethoven. There are transcriptions of well-known pop tunes. There are a smattering of Christian hymns, as noted above. There are some new classical pieces by modern-day composers which have been commissioned specifically by and for the group.

And then there are some adaptations of hits from 1970s and 80s ‘classic rock’. These are grouped at the end of each CD and are credited to The Rockin’ Raleigh Ringers. To call most of these selections corny or kitschy would be an understatement! Nonetheless, some of them work better in the handbell context than others. The ‘progressive’ rock entries which have a more complex compositional framework fare much better than the 3-chord blues-rock songs. In other words handbell versions of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are much more satisfying than those of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”. Air with care, Wizards.

That said, and acknowledging the group’s general bent toward presenting melodious, crowd-pleasing material as opposed to dissonant and avant-garde works, The Raleigh Ringers make fabulous, celestial-sounding music with excellent technique. It’s a type of music little-heard outside of certain churches and a few concert halls, and barely if at all represented in the WZRD collection – let alone on most other radio stations. If you’re not familiar with handbell music, and even if you are, check some of this stuff out. You might just be delighted.

Valen is a Chicago based musical act that is often heavy enough to suppurate sludge from skin and decrease mental capability a considerable amount while listening, flogging their listeners’ ears in a slow-motion abuse of instrumentation and electronics. Rumors abound about Valen and will continue for many years, but little is known about them at this point. Check out their 2013 release Zorse Recoat on Soundcloud or keep your ear to the
ground for the developing news.



Cansei de Ser Sexy – CSS is a Brazilian rock band from Sao Paulo. The band was labeled as part of the explosion of the new rave scene. Their songs are in both English and Portuguse. Cansei de Ser Sexi literally translates as “ I got tired of being sexy”. CSS formed in September 2003, consisting of a group of friends. Their name was taken from a reported quote by Beyonce, who allegedly declared that she was “tired of being sexy”. CSS has sold as many as 60,000 copies in Europe and the United States.



Wesley Willis was a Chicago icon who rapidly achieved cult status. He began his career singing in the street, accompanied by his Technics KN 2000 keyboard. In 1989, Wesley was diagnosed as schizophrenic; he explains that writing, performing, and recording helped quiet the voices in his head. His songs are simultaneously disturbing, hilarious, blunt and intoxicating; most of which feature the same “built-in” keyboard beats. By the time of his death at the age of 40 in 2003, Wesley had recorded more than 50 albums and had drawn and sold an untold number of pen and marker drawings to people all over the world.

Key Tracks: “Rock and roll McDonald’s”;
“I’m sorry I got fat”
This one goes out to CHI



Erkin Koray is widely acclaimed to be the first person to ever play rock and roll in Turkey in 1957. Since then he pioneered psychedelic in the Instanbul music scence with his first single Anma Arkadas in 1967. Being a controversial figure, he was once being assaulted in the streets for having long hair. Koray, with his power trio released a fantastic discography of melodic, Turkish influenced, psychedelic music ranging from beautifully haunting ballands to heavy fuzz psych-outs. Think: Jimi Hendrix of Turkey. Listen to him on the Wizard, and dive into psychedelic history of Turkey!

Key Track: Istemem
Key Album: Elektronik Turkuler

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