Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gwyneth Moreland – Cider


Gwyneth Moreland – Cider 


California based and born singer/songwriter Gwyneth Moreland’s ten song release Cider represents the early peak of what is sure to be a long and illustrious contribution to the music world. Her songwriting may be firmly ensconced in the folk tradition, but Moreland frequently brings other elements into play as evidenced by guest shots by important musicians such as pedal steel guitar master Gene Parsons and drummer Ralph Humprey – among others. In some ways, this songwriting is a natural outgrowth of her journey to this point – she pursued a career as a veterinarian technician for a number of years and the deeply emotive nature of her musical talents hints at the depths driving one to follow such a path. Gwyneth Moreland’s album Cider is a reminder of the folk song’s tireless power but, likewise, stirring evidence of its eternal flexibility. This is a can’t miss effort for fans of the genre.  

“Movin’ On” is an entertaining number from the beginning and never sets an undue pace for itself. Moreland does an awesome job of mixing traditional folk and country-ish elements with bluesy flourishes like the song’s lonesome streaks of harmonica. Harmony vocals make frequent appearances through Cider and add some more vocal color, but Moreland’s voice is more than enough to make these songs stand out – everything else is just gravy. “Broken Road” shows how she’s able to turn those skills to a more meditative musical presentation without sacrificing any of her talents for phrasing and melody. Her songwriting and singing alike create an evocative atmosphere without ever over-emphasizing the song’s theatrics. The songwriting takes another turn with the track “Farmhouse” and the chugging chords lay down an impressive foundation for one of the album’s better and deceptively simple songs.  

“Eloise” is certainly the most outwardly sad moment on the album and there’s very little here to temper the gloom beyond the redemptive power of Moreland’s voice. It’s another of those moments on Cider when her artistry references the past in a completely personal context. A similar occasion comes with the performance of “The California Zephyr”. Gene Parsons’ banjo skills bring a lot to the song, but its presence is never so enormously that it threatens to throw the entire track off balance. “Your Smile” is a much more straight ahead folk song and eschews added touches like banjo, pedal steel, or harmonica while its harmony vocals carry the song further skyward. “Danny Parker”, however, is firmly rooted in the singer/songwriter tradition while still magically invoking the timelessness of the form. The title song shifts emotional gears some and has a much more overtly poetic feel than the aforementioned tune while simultaneously obscuring its traditional roots a little more cleverly than most songs on the album. It makes for a great prelude to the last cut “Summer Song”. Some of the melancholy pervading earlier tracks breaks completely here and listeners find themselves ending Cider on a much different note than they perhaps expected. This is one of Moreland’s most attractive qualities – she finds a way to take risks without this stereotypically narrow form and it proves she’s one of the folk world’s biggest talents working today. 

9 out of 10 stars 


Montey Zike

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rhett May - Creatures of the Night


 
Rhett May - Creatures of the Night 
The exotic and wholly improbable journey Rhett May has made since his birth in the far flung locale of Calcutta, India is the stuff that makes great movies. The influence of western music made its way to the far flung east by the mid-60’s and Rhett May, in response, formed his first band at the tender age of fifteen. The Wooly Bullys soon morphed into The Flint Stones and attracted national attention as India’s most popular musical act of the era. Their hit song “Be Mine (Happy by My Side)” was released by the HMV/EMI label and May and his young band mates parlayed that success into interest from iconic Beatles guitarist George Harrison and concert appearances in the UK. May emigrated from India in 1969 and ended up in Australia where he formed another band that went through a number of name changes before settling on the name Lucifer. Lucifer experienced significant success in the region and frequently opened for major touring acts like Queen and Ray Charles. Changing fashions knocked May’s musical career out of the box and, by the late seventies, May would find himself exiled from popular music for three decades. Four years after his return with the 2013 EP Insatiable, Rhett May’s latest full length album Creatures of the Night proves that passion never dies. 
The album kicks off in a memorable way with the track “Somebody’s Watching You”. May’s talent for building tracks, following time-tested rock music dynamics, is obvious early on and makes this track a real punchy opener. There’s a brash boisterousness about this that separates Rhett May from his peers and his vocals are rough-hewn, in some ways, but energetic and intensely melodic. “Back Seat of My Chevy” has a bit of a different tenor and an obvious more personal slant while the album’s title track provides listeners with May’s first stunning stylistic shift in the collection. It’s a dark, somewhat foreboding number that finds May conjuring tremendous atmosphere without ever risking self-indulgence. “Latex Lady”, one of the album’s highlighted cuts, is a character study in essence, but it also finds May returning to familiar rock and roll ground and the mix of instruments is sure to garner a lot of attention. 
“Kiss Your Mama with That Mouth” is one of the most creative cuts on Creatures of the Night. There’s an impressive sensitivity in the song that the title belies, but there’s an equal amount of attitude fueling the performance. The album’s longest track, “Elixir of the Gods”, recalls May’s upbringing in India, but the exotic textures he incorporates are never laid on too thick and there’s enough of a suggestion to make this stand out even more than the other high quality cuts surrounding this one. “Sing for Me” has some of the same personal air we’ve heard on earlier tracks, but this never strikes one as a purely confessional number. Instead, May’s songwriting serves himself and the audience alike thanks to his skills for making the personal universal. Creatures of the Night is a fantastic release and will win May countless new adherents.  
9 out of 10 stars 
Michael Saulman

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Brielle Von Hugel – “Stronger” FT B.o.B, (Exodus and Sweet & Sour Remix)


Brielle Von Hugel – “Stronger” FT B.o.B, (Exodus and Sweet & Sour Remix) 


Passion and talent rewards performers, but the discipline to overcome and continue pursuing your dreams is even more important. Brielle Von Hugel understands this quite well and her latest single “Stronger” is a testament to her continuing appetite for meeting life head on and depicting the results in her songwriting. Substantive pop like this is, unfortunately, rare. This Season 11 American Idol semi-finalist has the sort of voice posterity loves – equal parts charisma, range, power, and emotive skill. Von Hugel sounds comfortable with any material she turns her attention to – she inhabits this song just as completely as her work alongside Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, the score of YouTube covers she’s uploaded that’s earned her an enormous following, and brings a generous amount of her own personality to everything she touches. She, likewise, isn’t afraid to share some of her spotlight and knows that talented collaborators like rapper B.o.B., featured during the song’s second half, further enrich her presentation. “Stronger” will hit you like the proverbial ton of bricks.  

Much of this is thanks to its physical and powerful musical arrangement. The production courtesy of New York based sonic architect Exodus gives the track a sleek, muscular shape that’s likewise full of immense musicality. The mix from House DJ’s Sweet & Sour artfully weaves the song’s various elements into this aforementioned brew and imbues the song with tremendous potency. The construction is flawless and shows a real ear for two crucial factors – it fashions a compelling pop framework for “Stronger” to succeed commercially while still surrounded Von Hugel and guest rapper B.o.B. with tangible musical strengths that go far beyond trying to appeal to the casual music fan. It’s an astounding combination that’s assured to knock out anyone who comes into contact with this performance. Hugel and her creative partners, furthermore, understand the necessity of not overtaxing the song with an extended running time and thankfully never waste even a single note in pursuit of their artistic and entertainment goals.  

The lyrics never overwork the theme and use just the right amount of language to depict Von Hugel’s personal journey and reflections. B.o.B’s contributions have the same qualities and find similar expression. These are two artists who have the technique and convictions working together to give the subject matter note perfect treatment. Their respective vocals seal the deal. Hugel’s pipes have the sort of power and passion that even seasoned singers long to be able to manifest, but her phrasing shows finesse that sends it over the top. B.o.B.’s delivery has a cool confidence and head-held-high pride that complements her singing quite well. These two vocalists are as good of a match for one another, within this context, that you’ll h

ear in 2017. “Stronger” is thrill packed from its first second onward and shows immense artistry engineered by its talented creators. This is a team effort, surely, but Brielle Von Hugel leads the way from the start and stamps her presence on the song in a memorable way. 


Scott Wigley

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band - Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home


Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band - Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home 
 


The merits of this release are obvious on first listen. It’s a relatively safe bet even listeners who aren’t fans of the genre will find something to like in this material. It combines some stalwart cuts from Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally’s shared songbook of Americana, but there are some original tracks here that match up well with the traditional offerings. Robinson’s Deep South roots gives her something special in her DNA for this sort of music and her presence on Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home’s five songs makes an enormous difference in carrying them from merely fine to something much grander and more remarkable. It isn’t common that first albums are all that remarkable, but Robinson, Nunally, and the all-star cast of collaborators surrounding them turns in quite a memorable moment with this release. 

The familiarity of the singer with the band is evident on the first cut. They achieve an easy, relaxed musical balance on the album’s first song and title number. The implication of hijinks ensuing between the man and woman in the song is handled with the required amount of class and the musical touches are outstanding. Robinson and Nunally have a natural chemistry as singers that shines through. “I Hear a Southwind” has a much more pronounced lyrical quality and this is underscored by the increased presence of Pete Grant’s pedal steel playing. Grant, a veteran with experience playing alongside The Grateful Dead and Guy Clark among many others, is one of the abiding musical strengths of Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, but few songs put his talents in sharper focus than this one. The fleet fingered guitar playing opening Nunally handles the bulk of the vocal duties on the song “Hillbilly Boy” and the track’s effortless uplift comes from the brightly-hued interplay between the guitar and pedal steel. The guitar work, in particularly, tackles its passages with sparkling runs that never stumble. 

“Pardon Me” finds Robinson returning as the primary vocalist and this immensely likeable song gets a fine treatment here. It’s one of the album’s two covers, but Robinson and the band handle it just as adeptly as they would if the track were an original. “I’m Brilliant” is a melancholy, forlorn number with some shattering emotional touches in both the lyric and arrangement. Much of the arrangement’s burden is carried by deceptively simple, layered guitar and gives Robinson a great platform for her lyrics and vocal. “Shackled and Chained” is the album’s bluesy concession, but Robinson and Nunally’s take on the form eschews any of the Sturm and Drang that so many confuse the blues with. This is tasteful, instead, and employs all the right gravitas. The album’s final song “Mirror” is, arguably, the most personal track on the release for Robinson and she delivers a beautifully vulnerable vocal befitting its subject matter. Baby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is truly representative of the live performing experience these two musical powerhouses have enjoyed while working with each other. It’s an entertaining release in every manner. 

9 out of 10 stars  


Lance Wright

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Susan Calloway - Time for This


Susan Calloway - Time for This 


One should be forgiven for wondering why Susan Calloway isn’t commanding packed houses in major venues already. Her songwriting talents merge with performing and vocal skills to serve up one of year’s most substantial pop efforts. “Time for This” is a piano ballad, of sorts, but there’s never a second when Calloway’s talents do anything less than make emotional and moving demands of the listener. This is far from pandering with some commercial pap but, instead, plays like it is ripped from the pages of her personal life. The sense of high stakes in this performance cannot be underestimated. Her previous success with singles like “Answers”, her musical contribution to the Final Fantasy video game franchise, gave notice she is a major new talent, but “Time for This” proves she’s no shooting star with limited upside. The sky is the proverbial limit for what this formidable artist can accomplish.

Her producer/co-writer Gerard Smerek has worked with Calloway in the past and has a clear vision for how to present her voice alongside ideal musical settings. It doesn’t get much more ideal than the arrangement for “Time for This”. The warm and flowing piano lines create numerous melodic high points and there’s only a near ambient smattering of synth color swelling from the background. The addition has a string-like quality that lends some extra weight to the competition without ever becoming too obtrusive. The running time is ideal and never overreaches – instead, this is a compressed little gem that, nevertheless, always provides ample space for both the vocals and glittering piano runs room to breathe and roam. The beginning and ending are both particularly evocative and show just the right amount of musical imagination without ever coming off too obvious. The production balance between the vocals and piano work is perfect – they work together perfectly and the individual parts come together for form a greater whole.  

Calloway’s voice milks every possible drop of theatricality from the lyrics, but the writing is never presented in such a way that it would afford singers an opportunity to be overwrought or melodramatic. This is an infinitely sensible song that never goes in for cheap dramatics and speaks about the song’s particular experience with plain-spoken language. Her phrasing has a nicely artistic touch without ever cheapening the emotional tenor of the songwriting. She builds her vocal step for step with the accompanying piano and the rough gravitas she’s capable of bringing to particular moments makes this an even more impactful performance. This is one of the year’s pop masterpieces in miniature and Susan Calloway’s performance propels this robust song even higher into the stratosphere. “Time for This” seizes upon emotions we’ve all experienced and reaches out for the audience with unabashed honesty that will stir any heart. It’s another rousing artistic success for this great performer and deservedly elevates her professional profile to a place it hasn’t yet occupied.  


Scott Wigley

The Magnifiers - For the People


The Magnifiers - For the People 


The Dombrowskis are an unusual family. Their band, The Magnifiers, includes four siblings varying in ages from seventeen to ten years old. Some might mistake them for a novelty act, but the band’s 2014 debut Report Card and this powerful follow up For the People attest to their penchant for ear catching, energy-packed punk rock numbers that have immense musical credibility while also demonstrating a playfulness that seems quite befitting of their age while never seeming sophomoric or straining for effect. For the People is musically solid, but its entertainment value can’t be underestimated and each of the EP’s four songs burns bright with their willingness to give themselves over to the moment in an effort to thrill and bring smiles to listener’s faces. Punk rock music, in virtually any form, is typically viewed as music of the moment, but The Magnifiers are writing very durable songs at a young age showing they are powerful budding songwriters as well as obviously gifted musicians.  

Their songwriting chops are on full display with the first song. “Mostly Harmless” has a sly, mischievous sense of humor, but the band never relies too heavily on lyrical hilarity to win over potential fans. Instead, they evidence a broad based, well rounded approach that incorporates fantastic musicality, great song construction, and on point lyrics into an overarching package. The Magnifiers never overstress their comedic qualities – they just don’t take themselves half as seriously as many punk rock acts do, their screaming angst has much more to do with youthful brashness than genuine rage, and they keep their touch light. This changes somewhat on the EP’s second track “TV Hat”. There are glimmers of a growing disdain for the world’s flaws, however, creeping through in the lyric, vocal, and Elliot Dombrowski’s sizzling lead guitar, but there’s a smattering of the same humor distinguishing the first track. Much like “Mostly Harmless”, “TV Hat” is crafted for maximum effect and doesn’t waste listener’s attention with histrionics and pale imitation. It is vibrant and has its own distinct personality. 

For the People hits its peak with the song “Anarchy Sucks”. This is pure punk music, expertly executed, and full of energetic humor. It’s quite clever to write a punk song decrying one of the genre’s central tropes, but The Magnifiers never back down and make it work with great aplomb. Vocalist Eden Dombrowski proves her mettle again with a convincing singing performance that never strains credibility – it will be quite interesting to hear how she develops over the course of future releases. The EP’s last song, “Transfiguration”, is a powerful acoustic tune that, despite the track’s low fi nature, reflects the same irrepressible spirit dominating the electric tracks. Their ability to seamlessly shift gears without ever betraying inconsistency in both sound and approach is a hallmark of a great band and The Magnifiers show such talent in a variety of areas that it’s impossible to imagine future releases won’t further improve on this impressive EP release.  


Joshua Stryde

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cost of Attrition - There You Go


Cost of Attrition - There You Go 
 
There You Go is the three song initial studio release from Indianapolis’ Cost of Attrition. The band is a two-man outfit that pursue a broad-based sound incorporating pop, rock/pop, electronica, and metal with convincing authority. This sort of authority in sound and intent is rare from such a young act, but Cost of Attrition stand out against whatever scale they’re measured by. Wheeler Castaneda’s vocals are quite unlike anyone else working in a hard rock/metal vein while still retaining the necessary attributes to score as a pop singer. The band’s second member, Joshua Grow, is an eye-popping multi-instrumentalist who sounds equally comfortable unleash torrid lead guitar lines as he does laying down sternum rattling drum patterns. Power and feel isn’t the only story here though. Cost of Attrition may only include three songs with their debut, but these are three outstandingly arrangement and intelligent songs with a clear mandate that they easily fulfill.  
 
It’s a mandate being fulfilled from the first seconds of the EP. “Not Your Psycho” begins with a snippet of flash lead guitar but quickly settles into a hard-hitting groove Joshua Grow punctuates with some coherent and undeniably melodic lead guitar. He never goes overboard after that opening and each instrumental break has the sort of measured tastefulness longtime listeners might readily assume with this sort of music. Wheeler Castaneda’s singing is a huge attraction as well. He combines power and feel together in a memorable package and there’s a surprising flood of emotion coming through in every line that makes Cost of Attrition’s songs an entirely different experience than what we are used to with countless young bands. This duo understands how to get these songs under a listener’s skin and aren’t shy about doing so.  
 
The second track “Oh Yeah” has a much more clearly defined commercial slant, but it also has a better defined groove and moves in slinky, melodically unpredictable ways. It has much of the same muscular power we hear in the opener, but the power is applied differently. Castaneda’s singing sounds much more at home with this song than the first one and the way he plays off the rhythm section is particularly pleasing. There’s far less lead guitar playing in this song, but Grow still makes the six string’s impact felt at critical points.  
 
The title song has the same laser focus that makes the first two songs so memorable and enjoyable, but Cost of Attrition spikes the pace some and switches out the electric guitars for acoustic. The results find their mark. Castaneda excels here as he did in the preceding number, perhaps even more so, and he takes full advantage of the song’s melodic opportunities to help fully realize the track’s potential. Cost of Attrition might hail from a superficially unlikely location for this music, but there’s something of the traditional blue collar Midwestern rock ethos in their treatment. There You Go isn’t a put on. Instead, it’s straight-forward from the first and wins over audiences with its earnest approach. 
 
9 out of 10 stars '
 
Dale Butcher