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

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

“Habibi” by Ilyah



Chic and cosmopolitan in the surreal “The Only One,” cutting and full of a brooding emotionality in “Miscommunication,” it’s impossible to ignore the warm vocal of Ilyah no matter which of his songs is playing. In the last couple of years, this pop singer/songwriter has been steadily gaining steam in the international underground on the strength of his vocal prowess, and having been introduced to his music a little while ago, I can understand why he’s getting another wave of buzz this spring. On the heels of his latest release, the single/video combo “Habibi,” Ilyah has been attracting some renewed interest from the indie press, and based on the growth he’s displayed over the course of the last few years, he’s more than worthy of the hype for sure.  

While Ilyah’s music videos have always been sparkling with polish, his most recent visual dispatch in “Habibi” is perhaps his slickest piece of material to see widespread release thus far. Where “Girls Like You” and “Miscommunication” sampled from the same indulgent influences that this release does, there’s more of an attention to the relationship between shots and songcraft here than I was initially expecting to find. He’s got so much he’s trying to get off of his chest via the harmonies in the master mix, but beside them, we’ve got a smorgasbord of stimulating frames that keep our attention glued to the screen as much as it is the speakers. It’s very well-rounded material, and a great look for its creator.   

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

I absolutely love the use of melodic contrast in the tracks “The Only One,” “Girls Like You” and this latest cut “Habibi.” Borrowing some elements from avant-gardism but avoiding the pitfalls that come with sounding overly experimental, Ilyah strike an interesting balance between alternative aesthetics and pop simplicity (which is no easy feat for any artist to tackle). He’s got quite the gift for amalgamating texture and tonality together, and if there were any critics not lauding his skillset in this department prior to now, I think they will be in the next year. 2020 is already off to a tremendous start for this player, and with a little more airplay on the college radio format through the summer, he’ll be ready to enter the autumn season as one of the underground’s premier voices.   

You don’t have to be a pop fanatic to dig the direction that Ilyah is taking his music in at the moment, but for those of us who carefully follow the genre’s every movement, this is definitely an artist that you need to be paying special attention to moving forward. Ilyah doesn’t have a particularly theatrical presence in his studio recordings – he’s raw, real and, frankly, never hesitant about putting his emotions out there through both his melodic attack and the words it’s designed to convey unto us. He’s come a long way in an incredibly short amount of time, and if he keeps his nose to the grindstone through 2020, he’ll see even more success in this decade than he did the latter half of the last.   

Joshua Beach 

Friday, May 29, 2020

“Head in the Clouds” by Reverse Mechanic


In his new single, “Head in the Clouds,” the musician known simply as Reverse Mechanic explores string-born harmonies with more of a rambunctious moxie than he’s ever displayed in-studio before. Whether we’re listening to the song by itself or taking in its fun-loving music video, its core hip-hop aesthetic comes to us flanked with a pop/rock melodicism that I can’t recall hearing in the genre before. It would be untrue to suggest that other rappers haven’t tried to fuse elements of rock or pop into their work prior to now, but among those who have experienced any degree of success, Reverse Mechanic’s effort is definitely among the more interesting.

Official Website: https://reversemechanic.com/

The concept behind this track comes almost entirely from the idea of preserving the melodic relationship between vocal and verse. Whether he’s rapping or harmonizing with the guitar parts here, Reverse Mechanic sounds very relaxed and unflustered, doing everything in his power to maintain a fluidity in the hook that wouldn’t be possible with a more rigid performance. Even the verses he spits out with a furious intensity later on tin the song have a tonal warmth I haven’t come across in a long time, let alone in material out of the American hip-hop underground.

I really love the guitar element to “Head in the Clouds,” and I think that, in more ways than just the obvious, it accents the beat here better than anything else would have. There isn’t any sort of bassline indulgence for us to sift through in this song; in fact, I actually think it’s a little thin on the low-end of the spectrum. That said, there hasn’t been a single quite this crisp to bear a hip-hop categorization label in all of 2020, and that alone makes it a rather interesting listen for those of us who follow the scene.



Reverse Mechanic was smart to go with a streamlined mix over anything super bombastic here for a couple of reasons. First off, it helps for us to retain focus on his vocal virtuosity, which is on display from beginning to end in “Head in the Clouds” for all to hear and appreciate. Second of all, by avoiding the surreal glow that so many of his peers have been trying to capture in their own work lately, he not only distinguishes himself as an anti-establishment rebel, but more importantly, as a player who wants to make his own brand of musicality in 2020.

If this is on par with what Reverse Mechanic is going to be doing throughout the next chapter of his career, I doubt “Head in the Clouds” will be the last time he winds up in the headlines with his work. There is certainly a lot to get excited about in modern hip-hop; the genre has reached an apex of sorts that is resulting in a diversification unlike anything many critics would have predicted just a decade earlier. Artists like Reverse Mechanic are ushering in this next era marvelously and, mostly, because of the indie ethos they adhere to so well.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, May 28, 2020

“Greyhound Bus” by Jefferson Thomas

For the last few years, singer/songwriter Jefferson Thomas has been building up quite the following on the underground side of his scene. In his new single, “Greyhound Bus,” and its eclectic music video, Thomas swings for the fence with a robustly rhythmic rock tune and ends up scoring as big as he could have hoped to. “Greyhound Bus” has all the makings of a classic heartland rock song, but its contemporary edge and lack of political lyricism give it a unique quality few tracks of its kind possess. This is a good time to be following indie music, and right now, this is one of the month’s best new releases. 

Official Website: https://www.jeffersonthomas.com/

I really love the clean-cut stylization of the master mix here. Both the music video and the single feature a lot of instrumental detail that feels textured and highly contributive to the overall narrative in the lyrics. There’s never an instance where it’s difficult for us to discern one element from another, and for the most part, Thomas’ vocal harmonies dominate every angle in the arrangement. He’s got such a charming energy about him in “Greyhound Bus,” and between his words of wisdom and the melodies that accompany his every utterance, he’s sounding like a seasoned pro at this medium. 

Part of me does wonder if “Greyhound Bus” would sound ever better in a live setting than it does in this studio recording. There’s a jam energy to Jefferson Thomas’ recently released material that sounds inspired by freeform sessions spent alone with his own thoughts, and on stage, I think we could potentially get just as powerful a performance from him. He has all the cards on the table with us in this single, and whether meaning to or not, I do believe he has raised the bar for both his own future output and that of his scene in general.

 

You don’t have to be a big heartland rock fan to appreciate what Jefferson Thomas is piling on our plates in “Greyhound Bus,” but those who are will probably regard this as one of the sweetest new songs of 2020. With the immense division the nightly news discusses on a daily basis, it’s always nice to find some untainted Americana that reminds all of us of what really matters most in the American identity. This is a fantastic new single and music video, and more than enough to bring me back to Thomas’ work in the future.

Joshua Beach