Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Friday, October 21, 2016
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
9 out of 10 stars.
Much more of the heavy-lidded menace heard in “Animal” finds its way into the later song “Burn”. Skyward are talented enough as songwriters that they can invoke mood with only a few notes and this track is, arguably, one of the album’s premier expressions of that skill. Anna Breeding’s contributions as a second, largely backing, vocalist are critical for the balance they provide. The musical intensity continues to climb with the album’s seventh track “Now”, a wide-eyed passionate workout that never really relents from the first note on. There is much of the light and shade dynamic heard in earlier rock cuts, but Skyward can never quite resist the temptation to pepper the track with a number of subtleties contributing to the overall whole. “Crows and Wolves” utilizes a smattering of natural imagery previously unheard on the album to darken another much more meditative outing for the band. This isn’t an outfit who needs to overwhelm listeners sonically in order to establish mood. Instead, “Crows and Wolves” achieves its effects through the marriage of music alongside Huang and Breeding’s different, yet equally magnificent, voices. This is a debut album of many different colors, sounds, and emotions. Skyward takes listeners on a highly imaginative and often deeply personal journey that helps the release stand out as one of the year’s finest efforts.
9 out of 10 stars.
The first release from solo artist Alex Di Leo, So We Go, marks his first recorded work since the breakup of South Florida band Wyld Fly in 2014 and sets the stage for a memorable career on his own. Di Leo’s wide ranging songwriting talents are based from a complete command and grasps of the basics – each of the six compositions on this EP has a solid skeleton that allows Di Leo a chance to further flesh it out with an assortment of contributions. Electronic instruments play an important role in the artistic success of So We Go, but his vocals and the production are far and away the most critical sonic elements driving the musical train here. Di Leo’s voice has range that might surprise some and certainly an emotive capability that adds much to the performances. He is clearly an attentive singer as well and carefully tailors his vocal to the song’s needs. The production might strike some as a tad affected, but beauty is proverbially in the eye of the beholder. Many more will note the distanced recording style, the prevalence of echo, and enjoy the ambiance it creates for these songs.
There are eighties influences creeping through the music. The title song sounds like the best music of the era re-envisioned and filtered through a much more refined musical sensibility. Di Leo invokes the bounciest pop elements of this sort of material while avoiding all of the standard pratfalls and moments of tastelessness. His voice steers the song with strength and confidence, but never overplays itself as the song’s center. “Making It Easier” packs a tremendous amount of musical punch and accumulates much of its power along the way thanks to a snaking arrangement that never allows listeners to get too comfortable. It springs with ebullient, brightly-colored glee and Di Leo’s vocal easily matches the mood and impresses listeners again with his substance and charisma. The songwriting effect is much more restrained on “Reason”. This is perhaps the most mature bit of songwriting found on So We Go and, at very least, makes sharper use of dynamic contrast than the other material. Di Leo’s skill for composing memorable choruses is an across the board strength on So We Go and this song has one of the EP’s best.
“When We First Met” might take a very familiar trope for its subject matter, but the song and its sonics are thoroughly modern sounding and the track highlights probably the best use of vocal harmonies on the release. Dynamics drive “I’ve Been Waiting” and the shifting musical moods give the song surprising dramatic power. Di Leo wisely doesn’t try matching the musical firepower harnessed here and, instead, underplays his vocal in comparison, focusing on phrasing and nuance instead of presence. The closing tune “Waking Up” could have worked just as ideally in the opening slot and shows the sort of flexibility much of Di Leo’s material has. It’s a sweeping, beautifully arranged ending to the EP. Di Leo has scored big with this initial release and, recognizing full well the quality of these first solo songs, we can only be stoked for future music to come.
9 out of 10 stars
Monday, October 17, 2016
John Hickman is an indie as it gets. Self-financed thanks to his previous career as an aerospace engineer, Hickman isn’t beholden to a record company or any other sort of tastemaker for his first full length release Remnants. It shows. This is a far-reaching collection that exceeds anyone’s reasonable expectations for a debut because of how hard it goes after different approaches and succeeds each time. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who has literally spent years refining and reworking his craft in anticipation for this moment, Remnants doesn’t sport any filler at all. Instead, each of the album’s dozen songs are exquisitely tailored in such a way that they will connect, at least at some point, with virtually every listener over the age of thirty and many younger. This isn’t music for a teenager, but there’s little question that Hickman writes, sings and plays with the gusto of a young man setting out to conquer the world for the first time.
Drums like those opening the first track “Cascade” certainly sound like a call to arms. The heavily rhythmic percussion and accompanying synthesizer lines usher listeners into the track with great drama and the energy only keeps rising from there. Hickman’s vocal brims over with confidence and he sounds like he’s with every line. “Escape” has a much different tone, closer to uncompromising hard rock, but Hickman is wise enough to alternate it with different passages where he pulls back some on the six string assault. His voice never sounds out of place in this environment. Another stylistic about face comes with the striding, confident “Hello Hello” and Hickman’s accompanying vocal full of inspiration and light. The mood shifts again with the vibrant acoustic colors and textures invoked in the understated and gorgeous “Passing Thru”. Even when Hickman revisits long standing clichés in song, he hits them with such panache that they assume the veneer of the new and sound remarkably refreshed by his treatment.
The cinematic grandeur of “Remains of the Human Race” takes a seemingly bare bones structure and builds a monumental effort from it dependent, primarily, on Hickman’s strong storytelling aspects and the remarkably detailed science fiction vision the song pushes on listeners. He reverts back to a much more down to earth approach on the next song “Soiled Dove”. It’s another strong example of Hickman taking familiar tropes in popular entertainment and song, the fallen woman, and investing it with something entirely different than most of us have heard before. His empathy for the character comes through in his vocal and never sounds patronizing. “What Have You Done?”, the first of three huge ballads near the album’s end, soars thanks to Hickman’s wide-eyed willingness to explore his vocal range to the fullest extent. The lyrics, as well, rank among the albums finest and Hickman does a brilliant job conveying their message. The album’s final cut, “While Everyone Was Sleeping”, is a return to Hickman’s rockier roots and he acquits himself on guitar quite well for a final time. Remnants is an invigorating listen from first song to last and anyone who encounters this album will likely find themselves wondering aloud when he’ll release another.
9 out of 10 stars
Friday, October 14, 2016
After a recent history of playing two hundred plus live shows in the New Orleans area, The Good for Nothin’ Band has their act honed to perfection. Their first studio release entitled Maniac World features ten songs that are a cross-section of American music, relying primarily on the jazz and blues idioms, but they have a freewheeling fluency that reaches far beyond some stupefying imitation without spark or personality. The band is a five piece with a trombonist and trumpet player and every instrument in this band is charged with the business of accentuating melody and listening to the surrounding players. The Good for Nothin’ Band is a group of exceptional musicians, but they work together as one unit and never fail serving the song.
It begins beautifully with “Fishin’ for Stars”. The lyrical imagery is evocative without drawing too much attention to itself and the word choice is acutely tuned to the percussive needs of the track. The slightly languid, mid-tempo sway benefit greatly from Brendan Bull’s drumming. Vocalist Jon Roniger shines brightly on the album’s second song “DNA” which rides a spot-on metaphor for everything its worth and draws out a nearly raucous vocal from Roniger. The smart humor heard through the first two songs comes out in a much bigger way on the album’s third song “Falling from Trees”, but even here, the band never lays on the laughs with a dragline. This songwriting hits all of the right musical notes, overplays, and finds it lyrical measure in observing the peccadilloes of lives and human characters. The lyrics throughout Maniac World have a particular shine for character, but they capture an unique narrative voice that helps the outfit stand out.
Blues comes into play on the album’s title song. There are plenty of hints on the album’s first quarter that the band would excel if they turned to this form and their inevitable first effort in that vein doesn’t disappoint. “It Is What It Is” packs an energetic buzz and really makes an impact with its stripped down shuffle tempo and the horns practically scat sing throughout the track. It’s difficult to adequately sum up just how much the trombone and trumpet bring to the band’s sound, but this song is a perfect illustration of its impact in full effect. The Good for Nothin’ Band gets a small chance to shine instrumentally on the song “Romeo in Rags”. It’s a much cleaner blues than before, more mournful, and the acoustic framework has a slow moving grace that’s handled quite tastefully. “Snowing in New Orleans” is a showcase of sorts for drummer Brendan Bull and the multiple percussion voices he makes use of keep this track popping from the first bar onward. The energy dissipates on the album’s final song. “One Last Call” is the best of all possible endings for this release and Roniger throws himself wholeheartedly into the album’s last smiling, but slightly woozy vocal.
Maniac World could have contented itself with hitting some customary marks at an acceptable professional level and the band would have a viable product to peddle at their live shows. Instead, the five pieces show themselves to be serious musical artists with surprisingly broad literary skills and an absolute command over the fundamentals of their musical genre.
9 out of 10 stars
William Elgin III
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Primary URL: http://claymeltonband.com/
This is not a country band by any means, it’s just a Texas thing. What they are is a hard rock band with alternative, classic and southern influences of the last five decades. That’s a pretty bold combo and they do it with ease and grace. I am liking everything about this, as I’m already hooked on every track, which is only four on this one. But four powerfully laid down tracks. The well-produced EP begins and ends on a high note, as “Tonight” starts the show off. The percussion carries this to far-away places while Clay Melton establishes his multi-faceted musical prowess. It’s a grand slam this one, on what is not a perfect but still second to none effort. And that is on a whole concerning that. This is always the best way to start.
And then there is always the follow-up to such a grand opening salvo, and “Home” is exactly where it’s at. The acoustic guitar lines set up another killer number. This swirls in and out with loud and quiet parts that interact seamlessly with some mild piano to top it off. The diversity displayed on this track alone speaks volumes along with the ultra-production. Vocal harmonies to die for are what this is all about with nothing contained within that loses the listener on any level. This is essentially the alternative rock cut of the bunch, with both hard and soft rock qualities. It almost rings of bands like 10cc. You can easily get wrapped up in the jubilant performance of it all. It takes you away with a remarkable effort to absorb your time.
“Remember” has more of a pedestrian vibe and probably not the best these tracks, but it’s still lots of fun and the guitar just makes it along with some chanting in the background, as the vocals either also save it for you or they don’t. This would have to be the one place where that can happen or not, because not only is Clay Melton a superior guitarist, he is just as good of a vocalist, as all vocals included on every number. It’s just that this one tends to distract from the overall seriousness of the band, and takes them into less polished territory. It’s not a complaint, just an observation because I still like it. There is something for every rock fan here, but until you listen you will have to take one person’s word for it.
The EP comes to an end with “Stop And Listen” as they get back to the standard in which they started. This is probably where most of their influences can be detected but also where they go out in style. Everything is on point here with a huge guitar sound that goes from chunky to absolutely incendiary, covering the vernacular of rocks vast spectrum of good clichés. Your attention is demanded from beginning to end and you’re left wanting more, as this one could use another minute or even two. It reminds me that in the last five years or so I hear a lot of bands placing some of their best tracks at the end of the track order. Hopefully this is a trend that lasts.
Every single track is packed full of what it takes to rock my world, and it takes a lot to do that. I’m usually not giving younger bands enough shots but this is a chance I’m glad I took. Don’t get me wrong it’s not life or death but I am grateful to know there is still kids out there who can put the right stuff into every minute of their sound. It goes the distance where others can’t travel, and knocks them out of the way so all you’re hearing is the cream of the crop. Clay Melton Band has that quality and more. It’s packed with the values that are hard to come by anymore, and to think he has his whole life ahead of him, as well as his band mates. It has me asking why we can’t have more of this from bands, whether trios or full ensembles recording albums or EP’s.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Robert Miller heeded his icon’s musical lessons well. There is a dizzying array of musical moves on auditory display for listeners with Project Grand Slam’s latest release The Queen’s Carnival. A masterful bassist and composer, Miller certainly leads the way at many points during the album, but he’s equally content and continually focused on providing the eleven song collection with a solid backbone. The surrounding players are equally fluent practitioners of their art and invest the songs with equal parts command of the material and the necessary invention to put a distinctive stamp on the songs. Project Grand Slam, despite their extensive musical pedigrees, never fails at writing and performing accessible music. This might have an outstanding skill level outstripping the talents of many contemporaries, but it never goes anyone’s head.
Melody is a big reason for that. Even on their audacious cover of the classic Kinks rocker “You Really Got Me”, Project Grand Slam has clearly chosen a song with those virtues in abundance and underscores them with daring and imagination. Only signature parts of the track bear any meaningful similarity to The Kinks original, but when those moments come, Project Grand Slam captures every ounce of the rambunctious spirit powering the original. Lucy Woodward’s vocal never overreaches and dramatically complements the arrangement. The album’s title song is a robust Latin-spiced offering with an energetic tempo and fully bodied, diverse performance from the band. Though the band typically shuns vocalists in favor of instrumental material, Project Grand Slam aren’t some nebulously minded jam band, but instead construct tightly integrated material meant to be executed with one part precision, another part passion.
The same dynamic informs the fusion influenced rock poses rolled out in the song “Gorilla”. Giving lie to its heavy handed title, Project Grand Slam balances light and shade with extraordinary ease and ends up with one of the album’s best all-around songs. The streak continues with the large-screen musical treatment they give to “New Folk Song”, a self-conscious but never pretentious attempt to fulfill the promise of its title. There are a number of climatic moments scattered through the arrangements and everything hangs together with a sharply organic feel. Project Grand Slam toys with much more expansive textures on “It’s the Beat”, eschewing their typically tight focus on melody in favor of a more painterly approach towards composition. This is a song that, ultimately, is much more the sum of its parts than earlier efforts. The instruments pile on effects until a larger sonic picture emerges and, as always with this artistic unit, it is a rich and rewarding musical tapestry.
The finale “Lullaby for Julesy” is a gently lilting melody that brings a relatively raucous album to a peaceful close. It has a distinctly affectionate and warm edge while never overstaying its welcome. The preceding sentence is an excellent way to describe the band’s work here as a whole. They often come on with rough and tumble attitude, but it’s never enough to overly coarsen an affectionate and warm presentation. The Queen’s Carnival is one of the year’s best efforts.
9 out of 10 stars.
Primary URL: http://www.seth.com/
Seth Swirsky is a man of many hats. Since selling his first commercial jingle in 1980 at the age of 20, Swirsky has enjoyed considerable artistic and commercial success as a songwriter. He’s an author, activist, and visual artist with a respected across the board following. He’s brought his music to the listening public through a variety of projects over the years, band-oriented efforts, but his latest release Circles and Squares marks the third time Swirsky has released a collection under his own name. It is overdue. Circles and Squares is a sustained burst of creativity with few parallels in the music industry of diminished expectations presently enjoying sway. There are sixteen songs packed on this colossus, but not a single song is a miss. Some, naturally, stand out from the pack, but the many years spent honing his craft as a writer and musician has paid off enormously for Swirsky. The release of this album marks a moment when it pays off for listeners in a big way.
An album like this needs an ideal, pitch perfect opener and none could be better than “Shine”. Many listeners will draw the obvious connections between Swirsky’s musical style and the Beatles, but such comparisons only tell a scant part of the story. The strong touch of the personal Swirsky brings to his songwriting, namely in terms of specificity and style of imagery, makes him come off much differently. Some Beatlesque influence persists on the title song, but once again, Swirsky never allows his Fab Four admiration to entirely color the song. Instead, influences such as this and the other iconic acts of the era effortlessly blend with Swirsky’s own well defined pop sensibility to deliver something different. “Old Letter” breaks the orchestral pop spell with some tempered, but ragged rock spirit creeping into the mix. Swirsky’s vocals are well suited for this sort of middle-ground rock – it doesn’t demand the histrionics of its more dramatic, hamfisted counterparts while still carrying some very assertive swagger.
Circles and Squares come back to the top shelf pop that begins the release with “Far Away”. This profoundly cinematic ballad has lush textures and subtle musical depths that Swirsky tops off with a stirring vocal. “Let’s Get Married” mixes the gentle with wisps of fiery guitar in the introduction and instrumental break, but it’s a brief confection leading listeners into a much grander song to follow. “Trying to Keep It Simple” is one of the album’s best songs for its artful understatement alone, but the sheer beauty of the melody and its measured tempo takes its audience for an entertaining ride. Much like “Let’s Get Married”, “I Loved Last Night” illustrates Swirsky’s skill for crafting diamond hard pop gems. The multi-tracked harmony vocals work particularly well here.
The intensely rhythmic drumming and dollop of brass opening “Sonic Ferris Wheel” sets a tone Swirsky soon counterpoints with a jangling acoustic guitar attack. Melodies seem to roll out of these songs wholesale, unbidden, and this is no different. It isn’t difficult to hear the influence of the seminal American folk rockers The Byrds on the opening guitar fanfare for “Table”, but it soon shifts into something much more signature. The album’s closing curtain, “I Think of Her”, begins with a brief bit of ambient noise – a sample of surf crashing into shore. It’s perhaps one of the album’s most delicate tracks with a fond, yet melancholy touch. It’s a perfect quiet closer to an album full of color and ends things with a satisfying note of intimacy.