Monday, May 22, 2017

Swaylex - Raging Rapids

 
Swaylex - Raging Rapids 


“Raging Rapids” is the hardest hitting of the three recent compositions Swaylex has uploaded to YouTube. It has consider Sturm und Drang derived from a series of crushing guitar riffs that veer from the melodically direct to fiery lead work seemingly intent on grabbing listeners by the throat and keeping their attention. There’s a lot of confidence coming off this two minute track as well – it is rather impressive that he can make such a memorable impression within such a short amount of time, but the focus he brings to bear on the song enables him to do so. Another crucial factor in its success is the song’s construction. Obviously, due to the composition’s length, there isn’t an assortment of changes during these two minutes, but the segues from one section to the next are flawlessly handled.  It is quite obviously a rock track – but he never relies on the standard genre tropes to capture the audience’s attention.  
There’s a bit of fanfare in the way he introduces the song with some screaming lead guitar notes reinforced by patient rhythm guitar running underneath. When he launches into the song properly, the riffing has a leaden tempo and the lead guitar continues accompanying things, but never in too obtrusive of a fashion. The drumming spikes the tempo some with some well timed rolls and fills, but otherwise Swaylex keeps things as straight forward as ever and never clutters up the composition with too many unnecessary notes. It’s quite impressive to hear the confidence he has rolling through these changes, despite how short the song is, and he should have little trouble keeping a listener’s attention for the duration. 
Often times, you will listen to an instrumental and the lack of a vocal, especially in the realm of popular song like rock, will seem glaring. There’s none of that here. Instead, Swaylex specializes in a strong theatricality on this song that’s quite intense will retining enough melody to keep the audience’s attention. His guitar work is fluid throughout and the live quality imparted by the video helps increase its physicality and brings listeners even closer to the experience. There’s a palpable confidence in the performance, as well, that sets it apart from typical forays in this area. He sounds surefooted throughout and certain of where he;s going from the first note on. Some may dislike the relatively leaden tempo, but he wrings every bit of possible drama from the tempo and the running time is ideal for such a pace. Perhaps if this song ran, let’s say, four to five minutes with little deviation, we might hear it as something entirely different. That doesn’t happen here. Instead, it flows quite nicely from one passage to the another and the individual parts lock up in such a way that the song never fails to make sense or sounds disjointed. Swaylex’s “Raging Rapids” is a reminder that great talents aren’t always signed to major labels or performing for capacity houses. Sometimes they are just a few keystrokes and a click away. 


Lydia Hillenburg

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Chameleon Project - Funk n Space

 
The Chameleon Project - Funk n Space 


The power and undeniable energy that The Chameleon Project brings to the ten songs on Funk n Space isn’t something we’ve heard much of in recent years. The Toronto four piece burn with rare ambition bringing together an array of musical styles into a signature approach that doesn’t seem like it would work, but nonetheless sparks with genuine and artful creativity. Led by guitarist and vocalist Josh Laing, the quartet tackles the songs with a wild and wooly willingness to try anything once and the gambler mentality driving these compositions and performances make Funk n Space a truly revelatory experience. This fiery blend of funk, EDM, disco, jazz, dub, and rock is absolutely irresistible. They show some obvious influences from bands like The Disco Biscuits, John Scofield, and Bonobo, but there’s little question before half of the album has concluded that The Chameleon Project play by their own rules and make it work on the basis of talent alone.  

Despite the influences cited above, The Chameleon Project has their own identity and it’s clear from the outset. “Milky Way” takes a number of musical elements onto its back and makes it all work. The keyboards and drumming are particularly effective here and the incidental human voices rising out of the mix are further adornments that set the performance apart here and elsewhere on the album. It’s a relatively bold move to open your album with the second longest song on the release, coming in at a little over six minutes in length, but “Milky Way” never feels that long and there doesn’t seem to be even a sliver of wasted motion in the track. “Steppin’” shares a similar economy despite its length and shows off the band’s penchant for pouring old wine into new bottles with ingenious revamping of standard reggae tropes. It mixes the electronic textures that are one of the band’s hallmarks with the usual approach to this form. This primarily instrumental album continues to impress with the art rock style distinguishing “Kraken”, though it is a little disheartening to hear such an obviously intelligent band opt for ambient aquatic songs in a song about a water beast. It makes sense for them to do so and they never succumb to overkill, but it just seems a little too obvious.  

“Reactor” is the first outright foray into EDM territory, but The Chameleon Project mixes up the punches with some stunning guitar work that achieves unexpected lyrical heights thanks to its phrasing. It makes utter sense to pair this track with the follow up “Bigfoot” – The Chameleon Project opts to go even more sharply in a rock music direction with its forceful drumming, but they keep things surprising with an approach to the guitar playing quite distinct from what we would hear mainstream rock acts ever dare. The final song on Funk n Space, “Wako”, shows a little bit of playfulness, but it’s largely a kind of final musical statement summarizing everything the band’s covered to this point. It can stand on its own, however, as a monumental fusion of the band’s tendencies rather than merely elaborating on what has come before.  Funk n Space has the sort of keen-eared take on genre hopping that such experiments deserve, but they’ve also managed to craft an album with the potential to appeal across a wide spectrum.  


Scott Wigley

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shelter Dreams - Dreamin'


Shelter Dreams – Dremin’ 


Shelter Dreams have been around since 2007. Songs by Shelter Dreams were played about 190000 times on Number One Music - Radio in USA and reached No 1 in the Charts for Germany - Classic Rock. In January 2017, they released the eight song CD, Dreamin, to the world on CD Baby. They are from Dusseldorf and consist of founder, singer/songwriter Jay Dee, and guitarist Met Jörg Morbitzer. And although there isn’t much to know about them, the music can speak for what can’t be found concerning that. It always helps to start somewhere, but Shelter Dreams are no rookie musicians just because Dreamin is their only release they have out to talk about.

They get started on the CD with the title track “Dreamin” and it’s a groovy number but perhaps misplaced among these eight songs. As I could just as easily take this at the end of the disc. It gets carried mostly by some decent guitars, topped off by a simple vocal that doesn’t wind up its strongest suit. But it gets things underway for “Not Enough” which impresses a lot more in the vocal sector, but it’s still one of the weaker tracks. The guitar of Mobitzer tends to remind of players like Duane Allman, which is never a bad archetype to be reminded of. But he also cuts his own style and it charms the songs with quality playing. And these songs are cut one hundred percent live on purpose.

The opening chords of “Going Down” are nothing much to write home about, but they speak before Jay Dee gets a chance to sing again. And this is a better crack at singing what is obviously not his first language, but German accents always sound great in hard rock and he does better with every track. And “Mean Baby” starts off with proof of that with a sharp twanging of the strings that leads into a nice little blues tinged number. It’s very laid back and I like the way he sings “Oh baby” as the repeated top line. It just cruises right along with a minimum of variation and stays in the pocket the whole time. So far, it’s the tastiest track but the guitar mix could be a lot higher.

This continues, in almost exactly the same way, but with bigger power chords to open “Every Second” and for once there is a hint of that familiar heavy German accent like Klaus Meine of the Scorpions, which can’t helped be thought of when it comes to German hard rock. But Jay Dee makes his own marks. But here is another mid-range track but with a few bells and whistles. It’s probably the best track on offer, but they’re all very consistently even. But for me there is still something missing on “No No” Jay Dee makes a clear effort to deliver a passionate vocal. It has a story that isn’t as easy to follow as other vocal patterns but musically loses nothing with some flashy guitar work.

Track seven is entitled “Maybe Over The Border” and it’s the angriest track on the CD with tales of lowlife experiences, drugs, etc. But even though it’s a dark song, the music is uplifting to its credit on such a doomsday cut. So, it blends together pretty well for what it is, but as a live recorded studio album you can’t always be perfect. It’s not the idea. This track also sports more great guitar tone from Morbitzer that almost has a cockiness worth taking a step further. It could take you over the border, or maybe not. It has a lovely fade-away that is one of the more pleasant moments. And it ends with the bonus track “Sunwave” which goes out on a mellow but tasty instrumental with some smoking guitar and bass. Not a bad way to record for what it is, but Dreamin can benefit from a more polished follow-up release.
 


Larry Toering

City In The Clouds - The Contents Of Box 212

 
City In The Clouds - The Contents Of Box 212
Whenever an artist or band takes the likes to the rap, hip hop, genre it could work in their favor or it could not work out if at all. For Clouds In The City with their album "The Contents Of Box 212", consisting of 12-tracks, it takes two of those tracks with guest appearances by artists RJ Paige on "Shower Thoughts", and Mak Twain on "Out To Lunch". Each of these tracks on their own by themselves sound alright for what they are but they are just not right for this release. If these guest appearances and these genres choices for these two song selections was removed the album would live up to its namesake more so without these tracks needing to sound the way they do. It just throws the album off as it were really.
The rest of the album and its assorted tracks like "Singin", "Down To Earth", "Shine", and "To The Sky", are what make this release stand out the most. Like "To The Sky", really embraces the other genres this band picked out like alternative, indie, punk, and rock, this song picks up pieces from those genres to make the track work so well. While the other tracks mentioned like "Shine", bring out this tone to the album that is just pure entertainment. It portrays this essence of music that makes it sound like there is pure magic in the mists. It has that melody of trace that makes it drive the music more so really giving the listener an experience of sorts. While the other tracks "Singin", and "Down To Earth", keep the pace a float by going different and unique. Like you know interesting to say the least, it has the music being creative for itself. Allowing for the vocal chords and instrumentals to come out of their shells exposing themselves more so, that the music becomes more alluring to the ears in question.
As far as the band goes that is City In The Clouds, they give off this early essence of the likes of Hoobastank meets perhaps Interpol. That is the vibe that they give off the most with their music genre interests and style choice with music creation. As for the album "The Contents of Box 212", it is a release that has a hit or miss aspect going for it. While those two tracks of the rap, hip hop genres do not tend to cut it, the others come in just fine, sounding daring yet decent.
Overall though, it's just another one of those bands with an album to their name. It is a nice release with a decent amount of effort and tunes worthy of a listen at least once through. If their material is not to your liking then this may not be the right band for you. If you find yourselves questioning as to why you cannot get into this particular band, then you may just be over thinking it more than it needs to be thought about.
Heather Savage

Round Eye – Monstervision

 
Round Eye – Monstervision 

Round Eye come to the world from Shanghai, China, with their second release, the full-length Monstervision. They’ve played numerous festivals around the world and honed their unconventional blend of 50s R&B, Free Jazz and Punk. They go even harder on this album, incorporating even more styles to get their message across to the world, which took some time re-developing in the underground. But it comes to the surface where it will boil into another, but without Steve Mackay on sax. So, they’re growing and this is a big sign of their impressive work ethic and progress.

On Sudden Death Records in Vancouver, BC, they have a beast to unleash. This is a band that have been compared to The Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Dr. Feelgood and The Fall. But there is no use seeing them as anything but their own brand of sax-fused punk, leaving the past behind them but keeping one foot in its best memories. That is where influences like the 50s come into their style, also where it crosses with traditional R&B factors. These aren’t always punk friendly but there have been major exceptions to the rule, TRHCP being a strong example. If Round Eye cross those wider barriers for the better, so be it.  You get all they’re putting out there with no punches pulled, but a big sound to most of it, recorded by Li Wei Yu & PK 14’s Yang Haisong. This isn’t something you ponder in the post-punk scene. You either want a glossy sound or you don’t, and there are a couple of rough aspects but it’s necessary on those tracks. This isn’t an attempt to call any over production, it’s worth mentioning that the recording is of the same integrity as the music, both of which are high standard. They brought along US comedian John Bloom to play the part of Joe Bob Briggs to narrate the album like a weekend radio program. This adds to the proceedings without interfering with the songs.

Having never heard anything like that on a punk album before, it gets a plus for its shiny object value. He gets the program going with some introduction and they open with “Commie Blues” which although it is appropriate for Round Eye’s aim, it falls more in the least compelling of songs they came up with. It gets more creative as it gets more aggressive though, and the rest forgives what could’ve been a better choice to lead off with. But Round Eye have something to say on every track, so, don’t let anything you read stop them. On “Hey Dudes” and “Pink House” they hit some adult contemporary notes that put them in their own punk class. These are some magnificent studio performance moments, surrounded by some less clinical but more on point songs that Joe Bob Briggs barely gets his often-funny words in edge-wise.  But it’s not that serious in theory when you’re just rocking and rolling in your own way, without making ten minute songs and breaking all the punk rock rules. There isn’t an abundance of aesthetics about Round Eye, they’re more gut-level but perhaps they’re a cut above on Monstervision. Just check out tracks like “Richie” “Curami” and “Sifter” for all of the combined elements on this burning full-length LP. They may have a long way to go, but they don’t come untraveled.

9/10 
 


Mike Tabor

Johnathan Cavier – Blue Room

 
Johnathan Cavier – Blue Room 


Johnathan Cavier has been making atmospheric pop tunes for long enough to arrive at Blue Room, his latest album of ten songs to add to his catalog of ten releases. It’s an extended amount of time to be recording and still going strong above or beneath the pop radars. The older you get the more odds are there to toy with the idea of creating technically driven ideas to keep up with the times, or throw caution to the wind and just be old fashioned. Blue Room achieves both without shame, as it keeps one foot in the modern and one in the retro-active clichés that keep pop around, rather than run it off to find its wide demographic harder and harder to find. That’s good and bad, as it is everything it sounds, but doesn’t leave this CD hurting any in the songwriting and playing departments. And that is no luck of the draw for an artist who’s been around the block more than a few times. It is a matter of pure skill and the willpower to keep it focused. As most of the tracks on Blue Room keep that focus as long as you’re in the mood for each one, but it doesn’t mean they vary a lot. They don’t start off with much excitement but that changes as it begins to build and go out on a high note. It goes from strength to strength that way. A walk through this ball park is in order as it comes on softly with the opener “Blue Room” itself being the way to come out swinging.

This esoteric number isn’t any better or worse than anything else on the album, but it might be a slow way to kick off any album, nevertheless. It’s ok, because it only gets more interesting and a lot better with “When You Come Around” which washes a great melody through your ears and makes you get right into it and an album seems to be born as he perks right up and show his ultimate pop prowess. What a contrast but it doesn’t mean the opening cut isn’t of as much value. It just took hearing the subsequent result to get going. It is a wonderful follow-up with a melancholy vocal delivery and a classy string arrangement. “Hollywood” follows a whole different vibe but it is a good one, that much is evident. You start rocking back and forth very soon and might even be reminded of everyone from Roxy Music to ABC on this. It’s a cool throwback to the nightclubs of decade’s past, and the glamor And glitz of Tinsel Town. You can tell these are some of Cavier’s influences, without question. But he marches to his own beat, never copying, always keeping inflections of pop and dance music with romantic themes. Your mileage might vary, but this is one of the more well written and recorded tracks and there is still a lot more to go.

With “Phoenix” rising above most of them on one of the speedier moments on the disc. It manages to complement everything before and after it with that excellence to be expected from this artist. Also with “Far Away” “I Believe” and “Somebody Like You” all making their differences for the better in the Blue Room full of illustrious pop mashed with eighties romantic, Bowie influenced music. “Right Place” also holds its own along with “Someday” being worthy of noting for its killer guitar work before the closing musicality cooks up and burns away. It’s not the way you’d expect the album to end but it’s never predictable, even though Johnathon Cavier can deceive on paper. Listening to it in full is the only way to find out just how good he is.
8/10 

Randy Jones  

Friday, May 12, 2017

David Starr – The Head and Heart

 
David Starr – The Head and Heart 


Starr has shared the stage with such artists as John Oates (Hall & Oates), Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco), Kenny Edwards (Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff), John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and numerous others. He has opened for Survivor, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Restless Heart, The Marshall Tucker Band and The Guess Who. With Arkansas roots and Colorado wings, David Starr has been making music since the age of 10. He has a new six-song EP entitled The Head And Heart produced and arranged by John Oates.

Having played with so many, it’s no surprise to hear that John Oates would go from playing on his last album to producing this one. But it doesn’t mean it happens every day. You just have to let that be and fall on the ears where it may or may not, depending on whether or not you know their sound and where it comes together. But this is not about the producer, it’s just that if you’ve been around long enough you cannot deny his involvement. It helps the profile as well, but it’s really all David Starr on this EP, as much as featuring such a producer’s sound, which does come out excellent.

There is no time wasted as the beautiful “Edge Of The World” finds itself at your feet with a blissful drawl from his seasoned voice. A vocal that pretty much rules this EP, but doesn’t come without some choice music behind it. The acoustic guitar playing on these tunes is very subtle, but perfectly placed where you can’t forget it. Melodies that produce instant memory. This is a tale about female growth And believing in its magic and how it makes life better to be around if you give her the chance. If it doesn’t sink in, repeat will always do. As this one is as good as the other five tracks.

There isn’t a lot to be criticized about David Starr in general, nor to be found anymore on the title track “The Head and Heart,” than any of the others. It will take you away with its hypnotic lyrics and Starr’s gentle way of conveying relative aspects of life and interacting around them. Burning houses have nothing left to do but fall, and that is what he gets across to me. But a good song can be sliced numerous ways, and none of these tracks forget that. And that makes way for a re-make of “California Dreaming.” And this isn’t something you re-arrange without a lot of guts, and it’s not the best moment on the record for me, but worth anyone’s time to hear this way.

I’d rather hear a straight-forward cover, but I also don’t see how anyone could call this a bad projection or anything. It’s just not what you’d expect, with tracks as good as “Waiting In The Dark” to immediately engulf it. With its positive mindedness cutting through a negative subject at the end of the day. It’s a cool track to contrast the downsides of playing a cover, albeit a fine one. This has some great guitar playing as well. It’s a great way to come back in the middle of the EP. Or, maybe it just works that well for me at a critical point. But it’s just one opinion about it. An original would have been just as good of a choice though.

But he keeps going strong with the adventurous “I’ve Come For You” and the appropriately titled closing track “Dancing With My Pride.”  And these two don’t exactly go together but evenly deliver along the same quality level as the rest, with no debating their importance. They also help beg the question where has David Starr been, and answer it in one fell swoop. As well as it must satisfy any longtime fans, of which I am not but will be delving back, as this turns me onto a legacy that I was not previously aware of. So, it is also a great entry level point to Davis Starr, although he’s been around all this time.

FACEBOOK:
https://www.facebook.com/DavidStarrMusic/ 

9/10 

Randy Jones

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

That One Eyed Kid - Crash and Burn


That One Eyed Kid - Crash and Burn 


The East Coast seems to produce a lot of acts like That One Eyed Kid. Living in the nation’s major metropolitian centers seems to embolden some with blindness towards the way things are usually done and spurs them to think outside the box in big and small ways. Josh Friedman’s band project That One Eyed Kid deserves the aforementioned description. The ambitions of the music on Crash and Burn, That One Eyed Kid’s third EP, don’t announce themselves with trumpets and clarion calls heard across the world. Friedman, instead, makes the improbable reality by bringing some seemingly foreign musical styles together in a highly individualistic mix marked by powerful melodies and lyrics seemingly torn from his autobiography. The effect is highly entertaining and moving all at once. It is rare, during any past golden age or today, to discover music so good that it engages its audience on both the mental and physical level. That One Eyed Kid does this with tremendous flair.  

“Bright Big Red” has ample style and easy going sophistication to burn. This might be the EP’s peak for some listeners and it isn’t hard to blame them. Friedman’s performance and recording make this comparatively simple song sound like a perfectly proportioned style piece with not a single not or word out of place. The quasi guitar rave ups that punctuate the verses and bridges add a bit of spice to the mix and Friedman’s voice effortlessly shifts gears throughout. Some of that sophistication is sacrificed on the EP’s second song “Burn Out Right” in favor of much punchier approach, but Friedman can’t resist sprinkling colorful fills throughout both the musical arrangement and his vocal. This is a songwriter and performer who understands how to orchestrate his material for ideal effect and those results bear fruit on Crash and Burn time and again.  

He turns a little with the song “Native Advertising” and dispenses with the more minimalist approach displayed during the first two tracks in favor of a more forceful, even aggressive, musical attack. It is never abrasive however and retains the same aforementioned welcoming qualities. It’s interesting to note with this song how artfully Friedman makes his influences felt in the music, yet their discernible behind all the modern window dressing. “No Touching”, however, is pure unvarnished soul and funk in a largely electronic setting. Friedman proves he’s up to the emotive challenge and also shows a vocal range that the previous songs only discreetly hint at. The EP’s final cut “Rewind” has the unique distinction of bringing together all of Crash and Burn’s strengths in one track. It may not stick with listeners as readily as the opener, for instance, but it’s a track that demands repeated listening. This five song collection makes an impressively hefty artistic statement without ever beating its own chest about it and this quality, if nothing else, makes That One Eyed Kid’s Crash and Burn essential listening for 2017. 


Charles Hatton 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bradford Loomis - Bravery & the Bell


Bradford Loomis - Bravery & the Bell 
 
Bradford Loomis’s third solo release Bravery & the Bell shows more artistry at this point in his relatively young career than many writers and performers muster over the course of decades. Some might hear this music and feel like it is a little too studied to pass the smell test, substituting poses and cheap effects for the grit and gravel of real traditional music, but these are purists who disbelieve any modern performer can rival the depths of traditional music icons. Loomis puts such naysayers to bed because there’s a clear mix of technique and deep passion in what he does and you can tell, from the first line, which impulse is stronger. The seven songs on Bravery and the Bell reverberate with the sounds of a man pushing himself into new territory with each release. It may not reinvent the wheel musically, but he zeroes in on challenging subjects and themes through each of Bravery & the Bell’s seven songs coming up with, each time, some individualistic insight well worth hearing.
 
“Wind & Woe” serves notice of an unique point of view. It is clear from the beginning that Loomis’ emotional investment in this material is high and the album’s inspiration, the recent diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s his father received, is undoubtedly the reason. There is an extra charge to these songs missing from Loomis’ earlier albums and this is revealed by small and, admittedly, purely subjective choices – the placement of organ fills, their duration, the slide guitar snarl and when it comes in the arrangement, are a few. It retains a upbeat pace throughout but “Chasing Ghosts” is a different story. This song has a much stronger melancholy tone, but it’s a song that doesn’t show its hand immediately. The arrangement reaches its goal through a process rather than hinging everything on a few key moments. The lyrics are just as good as “Woe & Wind”, but there’s an increased vulnerability here missing from the opener. The vulnerability continues with the album’s fourth song “In the Time of the Great Remembrance”. Bradford Loomis dispenses with the electrified rootsy approach heard in the first two songs in favor of acoustic playing. This doesn’t translate into a dilution of his songwriting’s impact, however. There’s nothing in the song’s construction that won’t be pleasingly familiar to any fan of quality rock music and Loomis brings the song disparate sections together It ends with suitable climatic muscle as the instruments reach a fever pitch, never running off the rails, and Loomis gives a gutsy vocal to match its focus.  
 
“Drive You Home” is a surprising move towards R&B featuring restrained, stylish verses that expand into enormous choruses. Loomis’ vocal has remarkable versatility – he occupies a variety of levels with an ease and emotiveness that other performers, young and old, would surely envy. This sounds like first take vocals and sparkles with the spontaneity of a performer invigorated by material they love. Loomis has raised the stakes another notch with this album. It isn’t enough to call it Americana – this is personal music utilizing an idiom familiar to many, but these arrangements are just reference points of sorts for the album’s heart – Bradford Loomis’ voice, exploring his heart.  
 
Shannon Cowden

Friday, May 5, 2017

Threefifty - Gently Among the Coals


 
Threefifty - Gently Among the Coals 


Threefifty has already, in a brief amount of time, established themselves as one of the most intelligent modern units today. The eight piece collective is anchored by its two founding members, Geremy Schulick and Brett Parnell, and their exploratory spirit is embodied by the restless creativity driving each of the band’s releases. They’ve done a nearly unparalleled job of evolving from their early classical inclinations into something more accessible, in some ways, but possessing an unique sound quite unlike anything you’ll hear in the modern marketplace. There’s no question that Threefifty have made a concerted effort to broach new territory with this release and the twelve songs that have resulted from their hard work testifies to their success. Gently Among the Coals has musical, literary, and vocal beauty galore.  

The breadth of color in their music is simply astonishing. Threefifty, for all intents and purposes, should be foremost considered as a collective with the aforementioned founding members, along with Jennifer Stock, as the collective’s artistic and spiritual center. They never fail to play as a cohesive, fully realized band. “Crossing State Lines” is an audacious beginning to the album and fully of metaphorical possibilities. It certainly does conjure visions of wide open American vistas in the middle of nowhere, but there’s an unlikely pastoral beauty to the piece as well. It is a quality that listeners will find recurrent on Gently Among the Coals. One of the album’s indisputable high points comes with the poignant and poetic number “Allegiance”. Vicki Kennelly Stock, mother of band member Jennifer Stock, wrote the lyrics and the musical adaptation of her text never dilutes the power of her words or seems arbitrary. Instead, one informs the other and it makes for one of the album’s most powerful artistic statements. “Andromeda” is another of the album’s finest moments. The construction of the song, undoubtedly, will attract much notice as it has rousing orchestration dialing up the intensity from the first, but doing so with such steely patience that the wait for the tune to fully realize itself begets its own sort of delicious tension.  

“Until Our Hearts Give Out” is accurately described as a love song. There’s an upward swing to everything the instrumentation does and its tasteful electronic underpinning allows the string instruments to flesh out the top line melody with an extraordinary depth of color. There’s a meditative quality to certain passages, as well, that resolve themselves with a number of gripping mini-crescendos. There’s a thin air of foreboding coming from “The Door” thanks to the slightly downcast air taken by the acoustic guitars, but additional instrumentation brightens it into a more reflective hue. It’s the album’s second Vicki Kennelly Stock lyric and has a much more elliptical quality than the more specific “Allegiance”. The vocals and occasional harmonies exude an ethereal quality quite in keeping with the song’s subject. They adopt a wide variety of melodic approaches in this song and all of them are successful. Gently Among the Coals dispenses with guitar entirely on its finale “Freedmen”. This is a haunted, but utterly beautiful, piece relying a lot on nearly ambient instrumentation. A song, gradually, emerges – tenuous, but reverential. It might seem an unlikely curtain for Threefifty’s latest release, but it’s in keeping with the album’s adventurous soul.  

9/10 Stars


Lydia Hillenburg

Cause for Paws – Rescue Me

 
Cause for Paws – Rescue Me  


Some of acoustic music’s most respected and gifted artists have come together with Blue Night Records for the creation of Rescue Me! It is truly a “cause for paws.” From its inception, the project has had one driving purpose: to support the furry creatures who so enhance our lives with love and loyalty. Now, at last, that purpose has materialized with energy and joy as a 12-track compilation album of tender tunes that honor our four-legged friends. Rescue Me! is a heartfelt collection of Americana music featuring songs that are thought-provoking, uplifting, engaging, and downright funny.

This is a welcome surprise for any cat and dog pet lovers to enjoy and kick down for the “cause for paws.” But if you’re not, you can still relate to most of the cuts by way of the music because these are all seasoned artists, rather than amateur musicians trying to support a charity. Many of these can be filled with them, but these are pros. It has twelve tracks that go both familiar and strange places. The CD opens with “Barn Cat” and the artist is Mary Ann Kennedy. Most albums start off with their stronger tracks, but compilations aren’t always traditional that way. But in the case of this one, as it is one of the more mainstream efforts with a tasty phased guitar solo. Joni Mitchell comes to mind here.

“Possum And Pearl” is by bluegrass artist Kathy Chiavola, and it mentions “too prolific,” which stands out after hearing it a few times, as being just that in its own right. And a good thing about this CD is that the songs can be found on the releases of the artists as well. So, when you stack it up it is all pre-recorded but sounds exactly like it was all done together. Not the case, as it is inadvertently attached to so much more music. One can find a lot in the artists, after hearing them play on this. I find the first two tracks to nearly dominate the rest in the arrangement department, but every single track has its place in the compilation.

You can kick back to it or cruise in the car to it, either way it’s good for reasons than not. “Get A Dog” and “My Old Cat” are examples of how risky it can get when putting so many tracks about essentially the same thing, pets, as they can run together but read awkwardly. But that is only a general criticism of the running order of the tracks. If there is anything else to suggest, it wouldn’t be on the artists or the songs. These things can just be hard or easy to select and arrange that way. It’s nothing to do with the content. “My Old Cat” and “My Best Friend” read kind of the same, but rest assured they’re nothing alike, just like cats and dogs.

“Why, Why, Why” is by Aidan Quinn and Christine Stay, and features both male and female vocals, with some electric guitar thrown in. This is a slow country number with all the bells and whistles. It deals with why pets resemble their owners and vice versa. You find humor in most of these stories, which is one of the stronger aspects of the release. And another worth mentioning is the following track, “Catitude” which is by Effron White. It centers around a break up and how it gives him a real Catitude in the process. You just have to appreciate the overall humor. It’s comical in places, and fun loving stuff. 

There are no fillers on this, except for perhaps one of anyone’s choice, if that. You’ll like everything from “Our Cats” by Cindy Mangsen from “Songs Of The Feline Persuasion” to “I Miss The Dog” by Jamie Anderson from her CD “Listen.” They go wherever cats and dogs go, but this time we’re on the leash. You will also like ‘The Best Dog” from Amy White, and “The Kitty Ditty” which is by Joel Mabus, which can also be found on the “Fortunes” CD. Even if you don’t find pets irresistible, there is still some compelling music to grace your ears with. It’s a winning ticket if you ask any pet and music lover, but it’s all up to the supporter, once it’s in your hands.
 
 

M. Martin
 

9/10

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pat Simmons Jr - This Mountain


Pat Simmons Jr - This Mountain 


Pat Simmons Jr. hails from the big island of Maui and his lifetime growing up and living surrounded by its environs has a profound influence on his first recording. The six song debut This Mountain boasts a number of traditional music influences working well alongside modern strains that will be immediately recognizable to anyone listening. Simmons Jr makes excellent use of longstanding forms, but he reinvents them just enough to leave a distinctive mark quite unlike anyone else performing in this style. He brings the colors and sounds from Hawaiian life to life without ever allowing this to become some sort of sonic travelogue. This is a small collection, but each track is aimed at pleasing an extensive swath of possible listeners. Simmons Jr. has the sort of self-assurance that you can’t teach – each of these performances make it clear that he has ample songwriting and performing skills and his security with this enables him to relax and get the material over with apparently minimal effort.  

It begins with a sharp uplift thanks to the song “Up and Out by Five”. There’s a strong sense of self filling Simmons’ songs and this track testifies to the urgency in his heart, an urgency translating nicely into this musical and lyrical invention. There’s a great buoyancy in this performance that never gets carried away with itself and he knows how to imbue it with just the right amount of energy. The much moodier “Rust”, nonetheless, sparkles with fantastic beauty and the melodic strengths of the song are centered primarily on Simmons’ singing. The introduction of slide guitar, along with other occasional musical additions on the release, is one of the key factors in making these otherwise direct and straight ahead songs something much different. The restrained feel of a song like this is a marked contrast with some of the more outwardly hopeful songs dominating the EP. “Mauna Mele” doesn’t take an uptempo approach, but it exudes every bit as much of the same pastoral spirit inhabiting the opener and other songs. The additional instruments take on a deliciously languid air that further fits the performance. “Touch the Ground” is an excellent mix of brief, fiery electric guitar bursts and another impressively written acoustic track. There’s some interesting shifts in the song that give it a different spin than most of this material.

“All the Way” glows with a pale blue light but it has such a tastefully underplayed sway that it gets under your skin within seconds. Simmons puts a good exclamation point on his singing over the course of this release with another knowing and warm vocal. This Mountain has the sort of timeless material that sneaks into your consciousness without knowing it while still providing an impressive entertainment experience for the casual fan. Patrick Simmons Junior has gotten his recording career off to a great start with this release and it bodes well for his future. 

9 out of 10 stars 


William Elgin

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tow’rs - Grey Fidelity


Tow’rs - Grey Fidelity  


The latest album from Tow’rs, Grey Fidelity, builds on the exceptional qualities established on 2015’s The Great Minimum while expanding this Flagstaff outfit’s musical and literary reach. This isn’t to say that the lyrics on Grey Fidelity are mired in preciousness – instead, Kyle Miller’s writing talents find an accessible balance between eloquence and conversational that few acts, modern or otherwise, can match. The album’s primary theme revolves around the abiding value of hope in a world seemingly intent on obscuring or crushing every vestige of it in our everyday lives. Sometimes we just have to continue onward with the hope of a better tomorrow until we are strong enough to actually realize that better tomorrow. Grey Fidelity is far from a downer release. Instead, this collection of eleven songs approaches eternal questions in a bracing, artful fashion. It sets this five piece up as one of the best working today and opens their futures up further than ever before. 

The band is never one for pushing on their audience too hard. The first song, “Girl in Calico”, draws you in slowly and through suggestion rather than sonically overwhelming you. The arrangement has an ill-defined ambiance that’s only given firm shape by the vocals and some clean guitar cutting through the atmospherics. “Alright” is a real heartbreaker for anyone who has faced difficult passages of personal growth. Kyle Miller’s songwriting presents the subject in the starkest possible terms with a flash of poetry thanks to his weathered, deeply emotive voice and the song’s vocal harmonies further sweeten things. The gentle lilt of acoustic guitar driving “Gold Parade” makes this one of the album’s more memorable moments and the prominence of the vocal harmonies gives it some added panache. The words are among the album’s best. 

Understated percussion and circular, almost hypnotically effective acoustic guitars make “Liminal” a luminous listening experience. The vocals do an excellent job of syncing up well with the emotions embodied by the players – Tow’rs, as a rule, writes very intimate material, but this ranks high as one of the album’s most naked and vulnerable moments. The dollops of keyboards and suggestion of strings in “Consolations” makes for an excellent dual counterpoint to the guitar and drums. The latter are particularly effective for keeping the song on the move; there’s a surprising vibe to this song recalling the early 1970’s work from Fleetwood Mac, but it isn’t a sustained mood. They pull back the reins on the penultimate track “Going” and the vocal couldn’t possibly be any more different than on the preceding song. The stripped back verses contrast well with the chorus and pre-chorus. There’s a sort of quasi-classical feel driving the opening of “Holy Water” before it segues into a more ambling body and the lightly strummed electric guitar sets a nice tone. The finale “I Can’t Help Myself” recalls old blues songs with its title and the lonesome harmonica wail coloring the song seems to solidify that connection. It’s an appropriately moody ending to an album that acknowledges life’s hard bitten realities while never entirely succumbing to them.  

9 out of 10 stars 


Alonzo Evans

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Gift – Altar


The Gift – Altar 


The sixth album from The Gift is a ten song offering produced and co-written by the legendary Brian Eno and, by any measure, scores as a resounding success. The band’s ten song effort embraces all of the promise and musicality exhibited on their earlier efforts while showing that the quartet is far from a finished product – six albums in and The Gift sounds just as involved in the creative process as ever. There’s no soft pedaling their development – instead, they are just as immersed in pushing themselves as they were with their first album and the bracing amount of inspiration they bring to their performances and writing alike goes far beyond what typical acts are doing at this point in their careers. Altar challenges and entertains in a way few albums or bands ever attempt. The physical and intellectual engagement they bring to their work will prove quite enjoyable to many.  

The balance of emotion and intelligence comes through from the beginning. The immaculately arranged and gracefully woven “I Loved It All” communicates clearly through its lyrics as well – a, perhaps, underrated part of the band’s presentation. “Clinic Hope” and its follow up “Big Fish” show how well they’ve handled bringing together an inexhuastably imaginative musical presentation. The synthesizer and keyboard sounds in each song are strained with vivid color and relentless energy that never abates. There’s a more artful turn coming with the song “Love without Violins” and the influence Eno and Flood bring to the project are probably more present here than anywhere else. These are not artistic conduits who come into projects and soon dominate the final sound with their own personalities. Instead, these artists enhance what the performers can provide and judiciously bring themselves deeper into the process only when it is called for. The song “Vitral” has a strongly introspective, even melancholy, sound and a glittering melody that vocalist Sonia Tavares further strengthens with her own performance. The band often makes their beauty sound effortless and this is one of the best examples of that. 

“You Will Be Queen” shows off an excellent illustration of the effects possible when Tavares and keyboardist/songwriter Nuno Goncalves bring their voices together. It has a mid-tempo, quasi march that never rushes itself and some echo laden guitar to add color. The second to last song, “Hymn to Her”, is quite unlike anything else on the release and surely stands as Tavares’ single best vocal. She really crawls beneath the skin of this track and, despite its comparative musical brevity, provides all the dramatic fireworks listeners will ever require. It couldn’t be more different than the final song. “Hymn to Her”, however, sets “What If…” up beautifully as audiences will find themselves uplifted by the stirring melodic and almost orchestral turn the final two cuts take in their own respective fashion. This is a momentous release for a long-serving band that deserves worldwide exposure. The endorsement of luminaries like Eno and Flood is quite telling – both men are far past the point of doing it for the money – and Altar glows with all the devotion to fine music that its title implies.  

9 out of 10 stars 


William Cline

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