Monday, June 27, 2022

Hughie Mac “Sings Some Great Songs” (Part 4)

Hughie Mac’s ongoing series chronicling the history of 20th century American songwriting, Sings Some Great Songs, has hit its fourth volume with no signs of slowing down. Mac doesn’t limit his selections but, it must be said, has a definite preference for mid-20th century pop, pre-rock and roll, such as theatrical show tunes and Sinatra, among others. Any collection where Ol’ Blue Eyes can co-exist alongside Jimmy Buffett is unusual fare and Hughie Mac’ Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Vol. 4 is familiar, yet indelible.

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/hughiemacmusic?lang=en

 

Much of this is attributable to Mac’s voice. He doesn’t have the typical pyrotechnic marvel, a voice capable of blowing listeners out of their seats with its power, but it grabs your attention. It’s apparent from the first. His interpretation of “Almost Like Being in Love” doesn’t grab you by your figurative lapels and dominate the space but, instead, Mac’s voice approximates that giddy sensation invoked by the song with a smile and a wink. The perfectly placed musical backing supports him well.

 

He excels just as much with more recent material. His version of “Changes in Latitudes” never allows itself to get too exuberant, but nonetheless modulates the song’s energy with a steady hand and satisfies those familiar and new to the track. “Two Pina Coladas” receives similar treatment. Mac captures the song’s boozy gregariousness without ever lapsing into parody and times his performance well against the arrangement. It finds its mark from its first note through the last.

 

The next three tracks are among the most well-known selections from the mid-20th century American songbook. “My Way”, the seminal Sinatra tune that likely closed every show for the better part of three decades, gets respectful but lively treatment from Mac. He isn’t content trying to ape the original, who could, but hews close enough to the classic version in both vocal and musical spirit that any Sinatra fan will approve. His phrasing is spot on throughout.


APPLE MUSIC: https://music.apple.com/us/album/sings-some-great-songs-pt-4/1489067898

 

Another aspect of Mac’s performance many will enjoy is his steadfast refusal to ham the material up. You hear this, particularly during songs such as “Come Fly with Me” which naturally lends itself to the singer making a great fuss over its lyrics, but Mac doesn’t go for that. He sings the song with zest and confidence, but he lets these great songs stand on their own. It creates an all the more pleasing contrast when set against this track’s horns.

 

We continue with the theme of flight. The classic “Fly Me to the Moon” gets played straight as well, incorporating excellent percussion, woodwind, and upright bass contributions. Mac’s level of comfort with this material is clear. It’s part of what makes hearing the Sings Some Great Songs series so enjoyable and, really, there’s no need for it to end here. Mac has a tight grip on picking the right material for his voice and he’s far from exhausted the possibilities of this concept. His latest entry, Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Vol. 4, is his best yet. 

 

Brent Musgrave

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Voula

 

Layering tracks together in an epic mix isn’t a new idea in rock music, but when Vuola does it in his new record Alouv, it feels like a bit of a revolution inside of five unique songs. Alouv is complicated and eccentric at times, bringing together esoteric themes with broad rock conceptualism, like in the songs “Laugh Vivid Often Adore Unity” or the more brutish “Vapaa Uljas Onnen Lapsi Aaamun,” and without its intricately mixed sound, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate just how profound a quake Vuola can issue when he’s in top studio form. 

Everything begins and ends with the guitar parts in Alouv, and this is true of “Under Above Orion Venus Loves” as much as it is the more conventional “Astra Lucia Omnia Ultra Verum,” but I hesitate to call this a work of virtuosity. There aren't a lot of technical ecstasies to get lost in here, but at the same time, Vuola is using the tonality of the strings and the overdrive to create a backdrop that piano keys, winds, or any other instrumental componentry could have accounted for. In that sense, this is a guitar aficionado piece, but not one in love with its own shadow.

BANDCAMP: https://vuola.bandcamp.com/track/laugh-vivid-often-adore-unity

I think Vuola is going deliberately soft on the mic when he is singing in songs like “Laugh Vivid Often Adore Unity” as a means of highlighting the harmony more than his own words, but this does not reduce the value of the verses in this record at all. I would actually say it makes us pay a little more attention to their subtext, their greater contribution to the bigger narrative in this record, and even what they lend to our singer when he’s tunefully finding his center amidst all of the destruction in Alouv.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this record from beginning to end, it did leave me with more questions than I’ve got answers relating to Vuola. There’s still so much he can do with this sound, so many different passageways in the walls of this tracklist that could be explored and exploited more than they were in this setting, and if I had my way, his next project would be one that essentially serves as a sequel to this debut. Alouv is full of mysteries, but the greatest one just might be how to get some of its most haunting moments out of your head when it’s over.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Elizabeth Sombart Releases Singing the Nocturnes


As we step into the cold, removed melody of “Nocturnes, Op. 9 No. 1 in B-Flat Minor” with only the piano play of one Elizabeth Sombart to guide us through this familiar excerpt from the Nocturnes, there’s a sense of angst hanging in the air that no amount of pristine play can dispel. Wandering through this six-and-a-half-minute opus, we soon find ourselves on the other side of the track in “Op. 9 No. 2 in E-Flat Major,” by no means evading the dark melancholy that has spilled over from the previous movement. It isn’t until we’re in the guts of the allegretto, “Op 9 No. 8 in B Major,” that we’re truly basking in a feeling of certainty, but I get the impression this was the concept Sombart was going for all along.  

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_sombart/?hl=en 

The three parts of “Nocturnes, Op. 15;” “No. 1-4 in F Major,” “No. 2-5 in F-Sharp Major,” and the lento “No. 3-6 in G Minor,” comprise the most sophisticated sounds you’re to hear on Singing the Nocturnes, but the technical prowess that Elizabeth Sombart so eagerly dispenses in these tracks doesn’t remain isolated to “Op. 15.” On the contrary, it’s a mere sneak preview of the tension that will soon fill our speakers to the brim in “Nocturnes, Op. 27 No. 1-7 in C-Sharp Minor,” one of the most hauntingly raw performances I’ve ever heard this artist give inside of a recording studio. She’s really on her game here, and those who have been following her career are going to agree.  

“Nocturnes, Op. 32” is a four-part venture that contributes a bit of buoyancy than “Op. 48” and “Op. 55” just aren’t able to divvy out, and although it feels a little longer than it should comparative to the other movements in this record, it doesn’t drag on past the point of relevancy - nothing in Singing the Nocturnes does. Elizabeth Sombart has gone to such painstaking lengths of giving us the meatiest - and moodiest - that the Nocturnes have to offer here, and although there’s a case to be made that nothing is quite as cutting as what we hear in the latter half of “Nocturnes, Op. 62 No. 2-18,” I can’t imagine listening to fragments of this album rather than the entire piece as one cohesive work of art.  

PANDORA: https://www.pandora.com/station/play/miR517149 

Elizabeth Sombart wraps up Singing the Nocturnes with the likes of “Nocturnes, posth. No. 20 in C-Sharp Minor” and the posthumous follow up “No, 21 in C Minor,” but by now one is likely to be so bewitched by what they’ve just heard that listening to the record over again feels more appropriate than simply letting these tracks grind to a solid stop. As a lifelong classical lover, this is one of those LPs that’s particularly hard to set aside once given that all-important first spin, and relative to the other Chopin tributes I’ve heard in 2022 and 2021 the same, this stands out as a required listen, and perhaps the best we’ve heard from its creator in a while.  

Winston Hennessey III

Monday, April 5, 2021

"Rising Up” LP by Alex Lopez

“Light It Up” begins Alex Lopez and the Xpress’ new release Rising Up on just the right note. Lopez’s stock and trade, since his first studio recording in 2013, has always been the time-tested fusion of blues and rock motifs, but he never limits himself. Like previous recordings, Rising Up features some stylistic detours, but the release nevertheless centers itself around his guitar and, to a lesser extent, his singing. The highlights of the first song for me are the percussion and, of course, guitar, but Lopez isn’t a vocal slouch as well. 

You may find yourself wishing for a little more grit in his voice, but he never fails hitting listeners square between the eyes with first rate phrasing. It’s an invigorating opening number and promises much from this collection.

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/alexlopez_music/?hl=en

“Paradise” is a track I loved on the first listen. It’s very straightforward, you won’t hear any pretentiousness here or the other tracks for that matter, and the effortless way his vocals and, especially, his six string work commands your attention will likely have you listening to this track a few times before moving on to the remainder of the album. It introduces Hammond organ to the album’s sound and it’s an excellent addition, though you may find yourself hoping it will become a little less shrill as the song progresses. It counterpoints his guitar well, there’s several gripping exchanges, but it would have soared even higher with a meatier sound.

The best song on the album, for me, is the title track. Only one other song comes close. This is Lopez at his finest, resolute, unstoppable, and apparently capable of pulling riveting guitar playing out of some bottomless magic hat. The sheer variety of his creativity is impressive. It’s stamped, as well, with his personality and possesses unmistakable spirit. “Not This Time” is a contender for best song too. This pure blues tune begins like so many before it and even more to come, but Lopez has developed his own twist on these time-honored styles that sets it apart from other similar tracks. The relaxed, deliberate pace he takes on is, of course, perfectly suited for this performance.

HEAR NOW: https://alexlopez.hearnow.com/rising-up

“I’m Always Wrong” is clever in the way it contrasts the pessimistic lyrical content with the its irrepressible musical agility. The drumming and bass are stand outs here. Having said that, however, the change of pace Lopez’s jazz influenced guitar playing exerts over the album is a welcome respite from the opening four tracks. “Mountain Rain” is another break from the expected. He ventures into acoustic territory with this track producing something not far removed from his wheelhouse but, nonetheless, more folk than quasi-Albert King. His vocal sensitivity is notable as well. There’s a slight ballad-like feel to the final track “Smile” and I am gratified he chose to end the release with such a positive, life-affirming moment. Alex Lopez’s Rising Up is a worthy addition to his growing discography and opens the door to an even brighter future than he’s known so far. 

Joshua Beach

Friday, January 15, 2021

HEWAS

Hewas has had what some might consider to be a charmed start to his career. Being discovered by 98 Degrees in 2019, he subsequently hooked up with the producer, Blazar. Now he has released a song with Cannabis Connoisseur, Afroman. The secret to Hewas’ initial success, might just simply be his legitimate talent and quality of material.”Wholething,” though bound to be a bit polarizing, is another step in the right direction for Hewas.  

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/iamhewas/

Though it wouldn’t sound completely out of place in another decade, there’s something quite modern about “Wholething.” Hewas brings a certain sensitivity, but also a developing masculinity. Vocally, he could be compared to Justin Timberlake, but his presence carries a bit more mystique. The song is a quick ride, and is over before you really feel fully satisfied. That’s not to say you won’t be left without a favorable impression, as musically speaking, it should appeal to a broad demographic. 

Having said that, “Wholething” is going to branded with either the dreaded or heralded, depending on who you ask, parental advisory label. Not always ideal for promotional purposes, in an age of streaming/downloading, the sardonic vulgarity might not be a factor, whatsoever. The song deals with themes of casual hookups, and the aftermath. More specifically, a man that wants to ward off his conquests intrusions, that far exceed the access he intended her to have. That doesn’t read back as having a great deal of taste, but the seasoning does a good job of compensating for it. 

In a bit of irony, Hewas’ vocal style seems more suited for tender and affectionate fare. He hardly sounds like the self-centered playboy, who narrates in “Wholething.” That’s not to say that Hewas’ performance lacks any sort of authenticity, as his voice glides, seductively. Hewas emits a boyish charm at times, with the faintest hint of vulnerability. His unique phrasing and subtle, yet quick shifts in tonality, will succeed in making a strong impression of his range. 

Generally speaking, there isn’t a great deal known about Hewas. It makes the collaboration between he and Afroman all the more remarkable. On paper, it would seem like a bit of a clash of styles, but it somehow manages to exceed expectations. Afroman, marks his territory at the 57 second mark, with an R Rated verse. I had to block you/out my life/cause you lost your mind/and inboxed my wife. 

APPLE MUSIC: https://music.apple.com/uy/artist/afroman/id88434

“Wholething” seems to achieve what it sets out to. It furthers the momentum of Hewas, and makes good use of its famous guest star. I’m not so sure it’s going to be the breakout single for Hewas. That might have already occurred with “Lemon,” with this serving as a novel and solid follow up. Hewas is cruising at a comfortable speed at the moment, and this song certainly won’t ruin the whole thing.

Mark Ryan, posted by Joshua Beach

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Gravity by Paul Mark and the Van Dorens

Gravity by Paul Mark and the Van Dorens is a strong collection of songs that pay attention to the songwriting just for the sake of song to deliver such a thing of wonder. This is a brilliant album, the 11th release which happened to be in-the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. The album was produced by Paul Mark and mastered by Bruce Barielle, New Orleans LA. Arranged, recorded and mixed by P. Mark in NYC, with Christian Howes, Eli Bishop, Greg Byer on strings Tess Primack, Connie Laws on background vocals P. Mark - Vocals, piano, bass, guitar, organ, xylophone, drums, accordion.

PAUL MARK: https://paulmarkthevandorens.bandcamp.com/album/gravity

The songs on Gravity tend to speak for themselves, including the Yardbirds cover toward the end of the disc, and it stands up to former releases dating all the way back to the Go Big OR Go Home CD. The disc kicks off with what might as well be the title track, “Gravity Is Failing,” and it sets the tone with a narrative approach in the lyrics. But there’s a lot of things to be said about the musical arrangement as well, as it plays like a variety of everything from ragtime piano to folk music. This is a very swash buckling sort of song with an esoteric feel that combines piano and violin. 

“Forever” is the next track and once it starts you know this is a concept album with some storyline holding it together, almost as if it were written with current affairs in mind but I also sense that is a coinciding thing that Paul Mark is not alone in doing. This is a fantastic ballad, and although I have not delved much into his back catalog, I have heard enough to call this on par with what his fans expect him to deliver on. 

“I Spin When You Grin” is a more enthusiastic song with a lot of Leon Russell flair to it, in fact I am most reminded of him and Doctor John on this album, and they’re two artists anyone wouldn’t mind being compared to. In fact, it’s hard to know what is-a cover and what isn’t when something sounds very familiar like this but leave it to Paul Mark because he’s a great songwriter. And this is just as evident on every self- penned track as it continues with “The Next Fight,” which is a bit slower but just as entertaining as anything on this fine album.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Gravity-Paul-Mark-Van-Dorens/dp/B086V4TDVN

By this time you’re drawn into what’s going on and the rest is gravy, starting with the very Baroque sounding “Coronation” instrumental to set up the next track “Con Man VIP” which clearly references the political climate of late. The organ work throughout this album is a highlight and no exception to this track. But the next track is a more sobering piece with a very soothing on outcome, “Friend Gone Astray” and it is another excellently played and sung tune. Also, worth noting are “You Can’t Take It With You” and a respectable version of the classic “Heart Full Of Soul” by the aforementioned Yardbirds. 

Joshua Beach

Monday, August 3, 2020

308 Ghost Train


Soft but strong enough to draw together a harmony seemingly out of thin air, the keys that we find in the new single “Bleed Over Me” from 308 Ghost Train are pivotal to the creation of a mood in this latest release from the rising rock group. 308 Ghost Train put a lot of stock into the power of melodic ribbonry here, but while “Bleed Over Me” is perhaps their most pop-friendly effort to see widespread release thus far, it’s hardly a step away from the rock n’ roll lexicon that they’ve been building their name within lately. In this single, we’re introduced to a band that doesn’t care much what you think about retro pop/rock magic - they’re playing to the fundamentals of this genre (and sounding pretty incredible in doing so).  

SOUND-CLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/user-153508539

The melodies here are supremely rich from an instrumental standpoint, but nothing feels particularly overdone at all - on the contrary, I would even say that this is a rather lean and mean composition when taking into account its being stylized as a power ballad. 308 Ghost Train are careful to stay away from the overindulgences that have brought down many of their contemporaries, and influences for that matter, in “Bleed Over Me,” but at the same time they aren’t shy about putting as much oomph into the mechanics of their performance as can be mustered from within the four walls of a recording studio. They’ve got a good handle on their depth for a group that is as fresh on the scene as they are, and I doubt I’m going to be the only critic that notes as much this summer. 

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/308ghosttrain?lang=en

These string parts have a great tonality to their harmonies that really balances out the vocal parts wonderfully. Had each of the different components in “Bleed Over Me” not been given as much of the spotlight as they ultimately were afforded in this instance, I can’t be sure whether or not the single would feel as chill-inducing as it does - even after numerous listens. There’s still a lot that we need to discover within the artistry of 308 Ghost Train, but if there’s anything we can collectively take away from this most recent dispatch, it’s that they’re all about the details (no matter how seemingly small or insignificant).  

APPLE MUSIC: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/308-ghost-train/1464782600?ign-gact=3&ls=1

If this is just a preview of what 308 Ghost Train are going to be bringing to the table on a regular basis in 2020 and beyond, then you can absolutely count me in for more of their work in the future. They’ve got a unique sound that is reminiscent of some serious heavyweights in the history of classic rock, but while the comparisons to the old guard will be inevitable, there’s nothing archaic about the way they’re doing business in “Bleed Over Me.” This is a modern, very mature look for their brand, and if it’s any sort of representation of who they are at their most emotional, it won’t be the last heavy-rocking ballad they deliver to critical acclaim.  

Joshua Beach