Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Cathy Hutch – Free Wheelin’

Cathy Hutch – Free Wheelin’

It’s only her second album and with it comes a wide range of ability and strong artistry. Free Wheelin, the newest album from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canadian singer/songwriter Cathy Hutch is a carefree, enjoyable journey of country music and blues-rock. There are hints of Christian music and a whole lotta love. Simply put – she’s entertaining.

Of the 11 tracks on Free Wheelin, the majority are solid showcases for a strong female singer. Hutch’s voice is at times pop-flavored. Other times she’s angelic and folksy. And, she changes things up shifting nicely into a rock realm a la Pat Benatar. Her official biography compares her to Pat Benatar meets Melissa Etheridge meets Tanya Tucker. She’s full of spunk when she needs to be, and Cathy Hutch holds the listener’s attention with every note, spark, and strutting guitar.

“Know It All” is one of the standout songs on Free Wheelin. I also really enjoyed the title track. Both seem to have an edgier vibe and Hutch comes across playful and spirit. As she sings about her “story to tell” in “Know It All,” Hutch is a distinctly different vocalist than in the previous tracks “Carry You Along” and “Good Friends Like You.” While the two differences might sound at odds, Hutch carries the listener through it all in a positive and loving way. Perhaps that’s the most rock and roll thing to do – her voice certainly has the range.

She mixes things up again with the slow moving “Reflections” and “In My Life.” Hutch’s voice holds such hope, and love. It’s a beautiful presentation when she’s locked in with the country guitar – it’s not too twangy, but just enough to frame your mind into sounds of yesteryear like Patsy Cline or even Joni Mitchell. When she gets back into the heavier groove with “Sweet Dave” you’re ready to crank up the tune and spend the night out on the patio. “Sweet Dave” just embodies the sound of summer and under a blanket of stars.

The piano work in “To Say Goodbye” is gorgeous. This song feels very classic country to me, and there’s a hint of steel guitar. It’s very faint, but it’s there.

It’s evident from her words and her talents that Cathy Hutch supports non-profits and champions those on the Autism spectrum. Her music has a simple message, yet, a profound joy. She sets a fine example and it will be a pleasure to continue to follow her career. While she might keep listeners guessing on the genre, listeners will be certain that they are getting all the love and passion from this Canadian songstress.

Anthony Yazzie

Monday, June 4, 2018

Conor Gains – Compass

Conor Gains – Compass

Like a portraitist behind an easel, Conor Gains masterfully paints us a picture of anticipation, innocence and divine orchestration on his new album, Compass, available now everywhere independent music is sold. Carefully navigating through churning somber reflections and breakaway purgative chorales, Gains uses the majesty of his voice to create a cushion of warm harmonies for the listener to find solace in.

A lot of people take for granted listening to new music in a modern age that has traded in the physical format for the instantaneousness of digital downloads. It used to be that when an artist dropped a new album, there were months of anticipation and waiting for the release date to come before we could even get a taste of what we were paying for. Obviously we’re living in a different time now, but good music nevertheless still sounds better when there’s a hint of tension involved. Therefore, when spinning Compass for the first time, I suggest you shut down your computer, turn off your television and find a nice block of time to really sit and appreciate just what Conor Gains has put together for us here. Unlike some of the trite LPs that have been gracing the Billboard charts this past year, Compass is a dexterous, fascinatingly colorful full length that will demand your focus more and more as it progresses through its ten songs.

The record opens with the stellar “I Know,” which melds jazz and smoky vintage beats to create an instantly catchy piece. There’s a sense of fearlessness that drives “I Know,” lyrically referencing a dare to be different attitude and reaffirming our intuition as the true God guiding all of us side by side. “Walking Alone” follows it up in no short measure, adding a dash of Stevie Ray Vaughn-style blues and confident swagger to the mix. This evolved style wouldn’t have been possible for earlier generations, not because of any sort of inaccessibility, but simply because the ingredients weren’t on the table yet; Gains, in all actuality, is expanding on a lot of the sonic themes laid out by Hendrix on Electric Ladyland, but which have mostly sat dormant in the almost five decades that followed. There’s so much to be excited about with Compass that it’s almost limiting to try and describe its sound without comparing it to such high ranking classics.

For fans who aren’t familiar with Conor Gains’ already well-accomplished songbook and approach to the studio, Compass is a great jumping off point. For if you find yourself not able to relate to its epic melodies and explore its complex arrangements with intense enthusiasm, you just might not be able to appreciate good music, as there truly is something for everyone’s taste on this record. Check out more music from Conor Gains on his official YouTube channel, which includes the video for Compass’ first single, “I Know,” and visit his website to receive updates on upcoming releases, live performances and more from this burgeoning poet and songwriter.

Kim Muncie

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite - Electrified

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite - Electrified

Some releases you know are going to hit based on their opening single and Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite is one of them. Their first single “Electrified” is a full on minor pop masterpiece with solid musical fundamentals and retro touches peppering the arrangement and comes complete with an accompanying music video that’s striking along with a vocal performance from the Grand Brothers’ collaborator Dee that’s worth the price of purchase alone. The single comes from the project’s first full length album release, soon to drop, Canyon Diablo and this single alone makes it abundantly clear the threesome are intent on carrying off something completely different with the modern pop song and its possibilities. It’s nothing less than a rush to hear such talented performers clearly capable of doing more with a song than merely hitting its marks and giving audiences exactly what they expect and nothing more.

There’s a real powerful and stomping quality to the song from the outset, but it’s never mindlessly bashing away. The Grand Brothers employ a production style that gives “Electrified” a nearly cinematic flair without ever overemphasizing the qualities intended to draw listeners into its web. “Electrified” has a steady pace and never rushes itself, but it keeps pressure on the listener for much of the tune and refuses to let go of your attention once it seizes it early on. The synthesizers, keyboards, and other instruments work rather well together and the vocals are incorporated into the arrangement in such a way that they seem part of the song rather than superimposed over the backing track. It’s impressive how such technologically current music can, nonetheless, create such a live feeling for listeners, wholly organic, and radiating warmth in every area. Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite never sounds like a plotted out, meticulously structured endeavor. Instead, the project sounds like a natural fit for all of those involved and natural throughout.

Dee’s vocal performance won’t strike anyone as being the typical singing performance some might prefer, but the unusual qualities of his voice are tempered by a touch of effects applied in post production and there’s just enough backing vocals from a sweeter, more traditional female voice that balances out nicely against his own tone. He handles the lyrics quite nicely – there’s a lot of confidence coming through and, despite his relatively untraditional voice, Dee brings ample musicality to what he does. The lyrics tell listeners, essentially, to push onward with life and never let go of your moment – it’s a positive message that gets through without any sentimentality or extra glossiness. Instead, “Electrified” is a winning tune for both young and old, hardcore and casual music fan alike – Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite have really hit upon a winning formula with this song that they are certain to be duplicating many times over on the project’s debut Canyon Diablo. Hopefully it’s the start of something long term for this collaboration because they bring the goods like few other pop projects today.

Craig Bowles

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jiggley Jones - Not Your Typical Day Out

Jiggley Jones releases LP

Although his name might give you the idea that he is a flimsy character, don’t let Jiggley Jones’ handle mislead you. JJ is in fact a rock solid singer/songwriter, and his new record Not Your Typical Day Out is likely the preeminent anti-typical folk album of the latter 2010s. After 11 years of cautious creative development, Jones unleashes all he’s got on Day Out, and it really is quite the ten song collection to behold. If you’re looking for your standard pop/rock record, this is definitely not what you’re looking for.

Opening with a quaint set of strings and softly interwoven lyrics, “Danger Island,” the first song on the record, invites us inside the isolated solitude of the band. Smokey basslines cut through the verses alongside their electric and acoustic guitar brethren. There’s a remarkable flow here, as the next song “Wide Awake” seems to start out of nowhere, with a skipping beat and swirling harmonies that have us surrounded before we know it. Jones serenades us with his aching desires, insisting that the object of his affection doesn’t just make him weak at the knees, she’s downright intoxicating to everyone she meets. “Now my senses are wild and free,” he proclaims, as his love has brought him out of the darkness and into the light. The playful “Vibrant” follows with a melancholic sway before breaking out into a celebratory anthem that captures the beautiful innocence of youth as seen through the eyes of a parent. Anyone who has experienced the gifts that children have to share with the world will find themselves overwhelmed by the magical mood Jones creates in the track. There’s a carefree vibe that joins us throughout the whole of Not Your Typical Day Out, not unlike Tom Petty, but there’s much more restraint and optimism in Jones’ lyrical structures that makes the songs sound less like rock music and more like contemporary folk. The compressed vocals on “Gray” relates a multitude of pain in its cold disconnection, while the countrified “Restless” gazes out over the emptiness with a confidence that is as cathartic as it is bittersweet. The latter song could be the biggest gem on Day Out, mostly because of its perfectly timed placement at track nine on this record, acting as a sort of refreshment after the contemplation of the previous songs. From beginning to end, Jiggley Jones gives us a consistently enjoyable LP that touches on as many themes that an independent pop record can.

Not Your Typical Day Out is unsurprisingly generating a lot of attention on music streaming websites and Americana radio, and having already conquered his cult following’s hearts, Jiggley Jones seems absolutely poised to break into the mainstream with this new record. Willfully different than anything else you’ve heard in this decade, it’s easy to see why Jones won the coveted 2013 International Music and Entertainment Awards’ “Songwriter of the Year” prize, and that a couple of Grammys could easily be in his near future. For more information on Not Your Typical Day Out, give it a stream on Spotify or download it now on iTunes & Napster.

Rory Richardson

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Monsieur Job - Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow

Monsieur Job - Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow 

“Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” is a revelatory single from Latin and urban pop masters in the making Monsieur Job, a four piece unit fronted for this effort by the vocal talents of No Mercy lead singer Martin Citron. This union of talents has produced one of the most notable cross-genre blends in recent years and Monsieur Job has paired the single with a “B-side” remix that will appeal to many as well. They’ve definitely captured a thoroughly modern sound while never betraying the fundamentals that make songs great in any genre – in this case, the performance never forsakes a live aesthetic that, despite the electronic nature of the music, suggests anything can happen in this song and unexpected twists will come. It definitely isn’t a paint by numbers EDM track in either incarnation – instead, songwriters Toby Holguin and Stan Kolev have crafted a winning formula for Monsieur Jobs’ music that’s full of color, physicality, and imagination. 
Kolev’s remix is a blistering, punchy EDM track with Citron’s vocal chopped up in a very staccato, percussive way. It’s much more streamlined and to the point than the quite direct radio edit and works like a clenched fist compared to the more expansive, relaxed attitude of the radio edit. It’s ideally suited for a club setting. The radio edit, on the other hand, falls into more traditional territory despite its glaring modernity. It opens with varied percussion that the song adds to as it progresses deeper into the track and the prominent bass and other instrumentation key themselves around the song’s drumming. There’s an impressive mix of sounds surrounding the percussion. Some of it is quite conclusively pre-programmed in origin while other drumming sounds strike me as much more natural, if not entirely live. It speaks to the backgrounds of the band members – to a man, Monsieur Job is well versed in both electronic and live, traditional music performance and their ability to unite those two aesthetics in “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” is one of their more notable achievements.
Martin Citron’s vocal in the radio edit is Spanish language from first word to last, but exclusively English speakers will pick up on the emotion and spirit he infuses into the lyric and enjoy it despite not quite understanding the content. They will, likewise, respond to the confidence he conveys with his performance and appreciate his efforts to tailor the vocal to the musical needs of the song. The coupling of Toby Holguin and Stan Kolev’s songwriting with his experienced singing are the primary ingredients making “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” one of the more memorable singles from the Latino and EDM genres in quite some time. Monsieur Job are poised to be one of the powerhouses in this scene for years to come and we may soon point back to this track as the moment their musical journey first traveled into the stratosphere of public notice.

Raymond Burris

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sule - Love Me

Sule - Love Me 

You don’t hear songs like “Love Me” much anymore. There’s no unnecessary bells and whistles with this tune masquerading its lack of melody or merit, no hip language designed to capitalize on the zeitgeist of the moment. Instead, Sule’s “Love Me” gets over with its intended audience for all the classic reasons – there’s immense attention paid to melody, accessible yet well worded lyrics, vocal excellence, and superb production virtues defining the song, but the heart of it all is driven by a sincere and deeply felt performance from Sule. To put it bluntly, he means every word. It comes across without any pretense or apparent strain and further benefits from being cut to an ideal length. “Love Me” is this Canadian performer’s finest performance to date and poises him for a brighter future than ever before.  
The swing aspect of the songwriting definitely sets the performance apart from typical fare in this mold. Sule and his supporting musicians never over-emphasize this element to the exclusion of others and there’s an overall coherence to the piece that brings all of those components together in a highly complementary manner. If Sule or the musicians have any self-consciousness about pursuing a long-forgotten style for popular music, it never shows. Instead, there’s an easy going nature surrounding this tune that comes across from the first and never feels forced. Moreover, the recording has a level of intimacy that sounds like the tune is specifically recorded for you alone and Sule’s cool, finessed yet emotive vocal underscores that closeness even more. This song is an ideal example of the possible results when musical artists work closely together to produce an unified work of art and it will likely win you over from the first hearing as it did me. 
Make no mistake, however, that Sule’s singing is the showcase moment of this performance. His voice has a wideness and vividness thanks to his talent for incorporating a number of moods into its sound. It’s satisfying on every level. There’s real sweetness, a little melancholy, and even some soft pedaled sensuality that comes through in his performance and it all springs from a blues/jazz foundation that’s a perfect fit for the Americana tendencies of the songwriting. His upbringing in a very different nation doesn’t have any detrimental effect on the piece – if anything, this outsider point of view brings a fresh interpretation to this style that few of his contemporaries can readily match. It’s obviously one of the more inviting and personable singles to come down the pike in recent history and has a strong performance at its center that promises to open a new chapter for Sule’s career and life. “Love Me” will satisfy both longtime music fans, those who already admire Sule’s considerable talents, and any newcomers willing to take a chance on this fantastic track.  

Laura Dodero

Monday, February 5, 2018

Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death

Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death

Written and produced by Gerry Dantone, Universal Dice is an ambitious rock project and their latest release birth, love, hate, death is being billed as a flat out rock opera that throws back to the great work of everyone from Queen to The Who.  With 16 songs and none of them sounding very much alike, even though certain muscular musical ideas and serious lyrical themes that tackle life, death, love, loss, triumph and failure tie the entirety of this record into a cohesive whole.  Simply put, these songs belong with one another and anybody that’s got a hankering for some forward thinking yet oddly classic, blues-nuanced rock n’ roll is going to go buck wild for this release.   
Songwriter/singer/bandleader Dantone is joined by a host of rock-solid musicians including lead guitarist Bob Barcus, bassist Eddie Canova and keyboardists Walt Sargent and Vincent Crici that make for a very full, very powerful sound with a big, bold backbone that hits hard more than it goes for the soft stuff (although the band is adept at ANY mood).  The album wanders between full on rock n’ roll bangers to slithering blues guitar deviations to poppy-inflected numbers that even bring home a few honest to goodness ballads along the way.  

The album starts off with pure abandon as the full-on rocker, “Welcome to the World’s” road ready, hard rock riffs go for broke only to simmer down to a slow boil for “I Wish I Could Tell You This” late 70s, knife-edge power blues complete with wah-soaked guitar licks and baroque organ playing.  It’s a sonic one-two, opening punch that kicks and sticks to the memory and practically cements the record as an instant classic.  Of course they still need to maintain momentum beyond the intro couplet but these guys know their stuff and maintain momentum they do.  There are some hints of Seger and other crunchy singer/songwriter legends on the crawly “Your Son” which furthers those big, brutish blues-inflections, the overcast lifting once again to provide some no-frills, riff-ready hard yet pop-leaned rock on “The Prophet’s” mix of KISS and The Who.  “My Hands Are Tied” follows a similar strutting attack pattern but goes for broke on the chorus harmony vocals, where a cosmic melody really twists the tune into a slick sing-a-long number.  I think Dantone himself does all of the percussion programming for his group, but only if you listen on close can you tell that the drumming is electronic and not manually performed and it too enhances the record in this quirky, cool way that perfectly works for the album’s epic intentions.  
“Take Me Home” is a real crunchy, crisp-riffed composition with some of the guitar-fury and rhythmic heft lifting on the heavily piano enhanced, positively gorgeous vocal musing and melodies of “Danielle.”  Again, these cats have far more sides and moods than the duo of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…  It seems that the record never loses its peak moments and continually keeps cresting as it goes from strength to strength.  Whether pulling off some keyboard/vocal tenderness with “Honestly” and soulful closer “Forever,” or coming straight from the rock n’ roll gut on “I Love It When They Hate It” and “Better Man,” Universal Dice can do absolutely nothing wrong on this record.  If you long for the days when musical giants walked and ruled the Earth, then birth, love, death, hate will be exactly the kind of sonic reminder you’ve been hoping to hear for ages.  What an album, what a band; highly recommended!    
David Shouse

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ashley J – Satisfied

Ashley J – Satisfied 


The kinetic energy and passion generated by Ashley J’s latest single “Satisfied” seems powerful enough to light up a city block or more. It’s the latest in a string of strong singles that have seen her venture forth from her Orlando, Florida upbringing, experience a brief foray in Nashville, and now finds her in California working with some of the best high profile behind the scenes talents in the music world today. Those creative partnerships have transformed Ashley J from a work in progress into an increasingly realized artist who has the rare skill for entertaining and illuminating her listeners alike in a full on pop music vein. “Satisfied” definitely contains strong components of EDM, but Ashley J is far more than just some pretty face and body tacked on as window dressing for a shallow musical vehicle. Instead, she’s the beating heart of this song and consumes it whole like true artists always do.    

“Satisfied” has an impressive groove that most songs, surprisingly considering the track’s EDM origins, memorably lack. There’s a lot of bells and whistles added to dance/electronically oriented tracks today that rob them of their potential for connecting with listeners and this decision is fortunately one Ashley J avoids. Her focus is, instead, on presenting a well rounded package of her voice and the arrangement. They work superbly together. The synthesizer dominated backing has a streamlined quality that keeps its layered effects from ever becoming too cluttered and overwhelming the listener while the rhythm section has great warmth and a fat sound. It gives her singing the compelling platform it deserves so it can make maximum impact on listeners.  

The impact is real. Her voice absolutely rivets your attention from first line to last and shows more emotional variety than three singers of her ilk can typically muster combined. She’s truly a prodigious singing talent likely capable of tackling any sort of song, but she has truly found her fit in this mold because it doesn’t restrict her in anyway and she possesses the talent to change its formulas as she sees fit. The lyrical content gives her more to work with here than most of her contemporaries enjoy and she makes the most of it. There’s some particularly excellent transitions in her range and the way she attacks the chorus shows great aggressiveness, but just the right amount of restraint as well. It’s an all around wining performance that makes this single fly and it leaves her excellent earlier work in the dust. We’re witnessing the maturation of a great singer with this release and there’s little question that Ashley J deserves to write her own ticket from this moment forward. “Satisfied” will likely linger in your mind long after the first few hearings and merits repeated listening. You’ll be hooked for the more that’s sure to come soon.  

Pamela Bellmore

Monday, January 1, 2018

Theo Czuk - The Black Bottom

Theo Czuk - The Black Bottom 

Theo Czuk’s multi-pronged artistic life encompasses prose, poetry, songwriting, and musicianship with such all consuming energy you’ll be forgiven if you wonder when he finds time to breathe, let alone sleep. You can hear the unfettered joy of creation come across in each of the dozen songs on his newest release The Black Bottom, a collection subtitled Cultivating Jazz: The Full Measure, and the full measure he alludes to is the mighty task of surveying an entire genre within the course of twelve relatively brief songs. The level of musicianship behind these performances is extraordinarily high and never tests the listener’s patience. Much of that can be attributed to his seemingly endless wellspring of melodies at his disposal and the chemistry between Czuk and the musicians he’s enlisted to help make this album a reality. The Black Bottom is a powerful release, but it doesn’t beat on its chest with false bluster. Instead, it makes its case through inspiration and a commanding mastery of fundamentals.  
“The Black Bottom” starts the album off impressively thanks to its bass line and wildly inventive keyboard playing. It’s also an early illustration of how these musicians never get carried away with themselves as the organ work could clearly overstep at any given moment but never does. His personality and charisma really comes across with the song “Cold Corridor” and he does a miraculously effective job of dramatizing the lyrical material. His writing doesn’t intend to remake the wheel, but it is nonetheless extremely sharp and it’s impossible to not be impressed by his talent for selecting memorable details. His charisma comes through again as a singer with the song “Let It Swing” and, for pure entertainment value, it’s arguably one of the finest moments on The Black Bottom. Another entertaining track comes with the songs “Nika Nightingale (Is It Real?)” and “Wooden Nickels” and they are particularly distinguished by Czuk’s undeniably funny but truly unique sense of humor, punchy choruses in each song, and a solid approach to the vocals. Sandwiched between these two songs, rather improbably, is his musical adaptation of Kenneth Patchen’s poem “Lunch Wagon on Highway 57” and it captures every bit of that Beat poetry married to music feel that Czuk is obviously seeking.  
“Good Night’s Sleep” is a romping jazz number with a memorable mix of the serious and comical that is as polished as someone could hope for while the track “Pi to the Nth Degree” has great ambiance recalling the earlier “Cold Corridor” but with a distinctly upbeat slant. It sounds wide-eyed and enchanted with great melodies and changes carrying the day. “Catalina Eddy” is another loose, yet expertly delivered number with a warm spirit and even tosses in some play instrumental nods that will bring a smile to listener’s faces. The Black Bottom wraps up with a final instrumental, “Closing Time”, which plays to some popular tropes in the style but proves to be convincing closer in every respect. Theo Czuk’s bold experiment has paid off handsomely and it’s sure to bring tremendous enjoyment to anyone willing to give it a chance.

Pamela Bellmore