Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified

This is a single with a near anthemic quality, but Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite never chooses to go all the way in that direction. “Electrified” is the first single release from their soon to be released debut studio album Canyon Diablo and, if we should consider it representative of the future release in anyway, Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite are poised to jolt an increasingly moribund scene with a song mixing traditional merits of rock/popular song craft with polished and thoroughly modern production. The sonic architecture is helmed by renowned production team the Grand Brothers and the project, as a whole, represents their second collaboration with the song’s vocalist Dee. Dee has release two solo albums, the second produced by the aforementioned brothers, and enjoys a vast YouTube following as well as landing his song “Miles and Miles (Living on the Edge)” with a Super Bowl Ford automotive commercial. The sort of exposure that brings is inestimable.

There’s some female backing vocals scatting along with the arrangement and a smidgen of post production effects applied to the lead vocal, but Dee’s voice and performing presence is definitely enough to sustain the song alone. He handles the verses and refrains alike with equal confidence, but yet seems to have an unerring sense of what the music and lyrics alike require from his talents. The message behind the song is, essentially, a simple one, but that doesn’t stop Dee from delivering it with every ounce of the oomph “Electrified” deserves. Despite the song title, however, Dee notably never goes overboard with his delivery and his voice crackles with just enough emotion to make this a compelling ride for listeners. He latches onto the wide swing achieved by the song’s rhythm section and really makes it come particularly alive during the song’s refrain urging listeners to keep moving on.

There’s plenty of electronic pyrotechnics flashing across the surface of the song’s rhythm section, but the basis of everything for this track is the meaty bottom end attack that gives both Dee and the backing vocalists such a rich foundation to work on top of. As mentioned earlier, the song achieves a real swing and swagger without ever over-exaggerating its qualities and the Grand Brothers’ production keeps everything vivid, but balanced. It’s a tightrope act they pull off with exceptional skill. They have strong instincts, as well, for how the song should be structured and the composition never runs on too long with needless instrumental touches or too much lyrical content. Everything is cut to a focused edge that never relents for the entirety of the song. Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite’s “Electrified” is one of the most impressive singles from 2018, any genre, and definitely makes a case for Canyon Diablo potentially ending up on a lot of year’s best lists when December rolls around. It’s that good and promises more even better to come.

David Beals

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Monsieur Job - Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow

Monsieur Job - Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow

Monsieur Jobs’ single “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” is a powerful release from a quartet joined by guest singer Martin Cintron of the band No Mercy. This release from Basswalk Latino is the end result of a project initially conceived by label head Jose Fernando Holguin and brought to reality by the songwriting talents of Stan Kolev and Toby Holguin, but Kolev and Holguin are not alone.  

The experience and skill Leo Jaramillo and Charlie Illera bring to the recording is unquestionably crucial and their combined studio and live pedigree fuses to form one of the more fiery outings in modern pop and EDM I’ve heard in quite some time. This doesn’t settle merely for pandering to listeners with perfunctory beats and shopworn rhythms. Instead, Monsieur Jobs’ “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” rings out with inspired energy and creativity to burn.    
Few tracks in this style will sound as complete as this. Newcomers to the genre will find their preconceptions smashed and longtime devotees of the style will be thrilled to hear an outfit that challenges formulas while still hitting all of the fundamental marks. Citron’s vocals are a perfect fit for the radio edit and the variety of ways Kolev and Holguin’s songwriting presents him for listeners is one of the critical reasons this single proves to be such a success. The length is perfect for the performance and well balanced between Citron’s singing and the music. It is true, however, that the arrangement is primarily focused around the drumming, but Monsieur Job possess a wide vision for what percussion means in their music and it becomes the lead instrument, in some ways, providing the foundation upon which everything else exists.  

It’s a powerful reminder of what re-envisioning a style, even a little, can accomplish for an act rambunctious and ambitious enough to pull that off. Stan Kolev’s accompanying remix of the tune is a radical reinvention of the song that, nevertheless, maintains a clear connection to the aforementioned version.  

Kolev recasts “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” as a much harder, ferociously inclined EDM take on the song with the vocals laid scattershot over the track in a way that transforms Citron’s singing into another powerful instrument for the unit. There’s much less outright musicality here than what we hear in the radio edit, but that doesn’t make it lesser. Instead, “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” packs quite a wallop in both forms, albeit manifested in distinctly different ways. Monsieur Job certainly has unusual origins and a different background than most projects in this vein, but that individualistic lineage produces something unique in a genre where uniformity is too often rewarded. Both versions of “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” are sure to entertain audiences and linger in the memory long after the final notes conclude.  

Larry Robertson

Monday, February 5, 2018

Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death

Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death

birth, love, hate, death from Universal Dice marks the band’s fourth studio release and definitely their highest reaching effort yet. Lead singer and chief songwriter Gerry Dantone has aspirations going far beyond your typical retro minded rock release. Dantone certainly draws from a recognizable array of influences to make this release fly, longtime rock fans will surely be comforted by his mastery of the style, but the sixteen songs on Universal Dice’s fourth album are definitely modern confections with vibrant and warm sound that doesn’t recall times of yore. There’s a great mix of songwriting and instrumental prowess making this release go and it reaches some truly impressive high points along the way.  

Gerry Dantone’s vocals are traditionally beautiful or musical, but he has an astonishingly engaging emotive sound that’s turned to excellent use on a number of cuts. birth, love, hate, death might initially seem overlong at sixteen songs, but it never really flags and keeps you listening throughout.  
It starts off with a pleasing amount of energy and urgency. “Welcome to the World” brings listeners right into Universal Dice’s imaginative world on the steady shoulders of breezy, confident drumming and well aimed guitars. There’s a much more emotive side brought out with the album’s first ballad styled number, “I Wish I Could Tell You This”, thanks to the lead guitar and a patient, slowly unfolding musical arrangement that nevertheless makes no added demands on listener’s patience. “Your Son” shows off another appealing side of the band’s musical personality with its mix of acoustic and electrified instruments in such a way that they make use of great dynamics and create significant “drama”.  

Dantone’s vocals are strong on every cut and he shows a penchant early on for varying his delivery as the song demands while still promoting himself with a recognizable style. He never feels like the focus, but he’s likewise never far from the heart of each song. That changes some on tunes like “The Prophet” where instrumental excellence is much more pronounced. The drumming on birth, love, hate, death is uniformly awesome, but “The Prophet” is one of those high points on the album where it really stands out from the pack. “Danielle” and the later “I Know What I’m Doin’” is a case study in contrast.  The former tune is an effervescent musical ride, relaxing yet containing some serious undercurrent, while “I Know What I’m Doin’” communicates low key menace in a way nothing else on birth, love, hate, death matches. “I’m No Good for You” is another especially hard hitting rock number, but Universal Dice leavens its effects some with acoustic guitar. The final two tracks “One Day at a Time” and “Forever” ends the album on an acoustic, salutatory note without ever slipping into hamminess and pretension.

This is one of the more impressive, clearly thought out releases from 2017 and it’s difficult to imagine much in this new year vying for the same mantle in the same style.  

Daniel Boyer

Friday, December 22, 2017

Kelly McGrath - O Holy Night

Kelly McGrath - O Holy Night 

Kelly McGrath’s voyage through the world of popular music has thus far established her as one of the pre-eminent singers working today and a fine songwriting talent as well. Her gift for interpretation, however, will now have to be respected thanks to her newest single, a cover of the longtime Christmas standard “O Holy Night”.

This performance will likely rank, for many years to come, as one of the more artful holiday releases you’ll hear. McGrath’s accessible yet technically appealing and emotive voice expands the scope of its interpretative powers with this track as the structure of the performance makes it so that her voice is the focal point for listeners. The sparse musical arrangement supporting her is quite by intent – McGrath’s take off point for the song is Jeff Buckley’s famous version of “Hallelujah” and McGrath achieves a similar feel without ever sounding remotely imitative. The performance is, as well, tailored to an ideal length and manages to uplift listeners while, also, affording her audience a glimpse into her heart.  
The reverb driven guitar work makes for a great counterpoint to McGrath’s voice. It’s played with the same patience and taste characterizing McGrath’s vocal and has a slightly rough air of gravitas that doubles down on the seriousness of the song’s moment. There’s a little light keyboard color hovering over the track that’s an effective addition. McGrath includes a bit of bass to shore up the absence of a drummer and it’s a shrewd move – it’s easy to admire the skeletal elegance of the arrangement, but it’s a performance likely to waft a little too much if she opted to forgo any sort of rhythm section accompaniment. The truly beautiful thing about the song’s musical arrangement is how McGrath achieves a nearly painterly control over the song’s cumulative effects. It works its magic slowly, inexorably, and you soon find yourself transported elsewhere. 
Much of the credit for that transportation, ultimately, resides with McGrath’s vocal performance. She inhabits every line of “O Holy Night” as if the tune were an original and there isn’t a hint of any unproductive levels of respect in how she presents the song. McGrath clearly entered the studio with a clear vision of how she wanted this song to come out because it is underlined in each minute of the track and her singing constitutes a vivid exclamation point on the cut. Kelly McGrath can move in multiple worlds; she’s quite able to entertain a wide cross section of the music listening public with emotive and relatable performances while still maintaining a fierce artistic spirit that illuminates her craft with a vivid radiating light.  

This is much more than just an entertaining Christmas cut – this is, also, an essential addition to McGrath’s discography.

Alonzo Evans

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Gina Clowes - True Colors

Gina Clowes - True Colors 


Gina Clowes has this music in her DNA. Her siblings Victor and Malia Furtado join her on the first solo release of her musical career, True Colors, and there’s a sense of community pervading this album that’s inescapable. This is close-knit music, heedless of fashion, and speaks from an intensely personal space both lyrically and musically. It adheres to traditional bluegrass at various points, but it’s also unafraid of deviating from its course and exploring different possibilities within a familiar context. She makes use of a variety of approaches without ever adhering too strongly to one particular line of musical thought.  

True Colors shows that Clowes’ true colors contain a multitude of shades and never settle for one look when the music’s possibilities are so vivid. There are a couple of guest singers on the album and some instrumentals, even one cover, but this is unquestionably Gina Clowes’ album when it’s all said and done.   
True Colors begins with “Puppet Show”. It’s the first of Clowes’ bluegrass tunes with a more modern sensibility and joins other songs like “True Colors”, “The Wayward Kite”, “I’ll Stay Home” and the penultimate instrumental “La Puerta Del Diablo” as the marquee cuts on True Colors cutting against traditionally minded fare. “Puppet Show” is chiefly distinguished by one of the album’s finest lyrics and an equally excellent Clowes vocal while “True Colors” expertly mixes the past and present with a surprisingly strong pop music appeal. The energy she pours into her vocal really puts it over the top. “I’ll Stay Home” is the closest thing on True Colors to purely singer/songwriter material and dispenses with the mandolin, banjo, and fiddle in favor of a straight forward acoustic guitar attack. “The Wayward Kite” and “La Puerta Del Diablo” shows a more experimental side of her musical nature that refuses to be pigeonholed as a bluegrass artist. Instead, the former flirts with classical elements while the last manages to mix Latin influences into her natural Americana roots. 
The more traditional songs on True Colors that stand out are “Saylor’s Creek”, “Looking for Sunshine”, and “Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak”. The latter tune is an excellent example of the blues lesson that sometimes you shrug your shoulders and make a joke of your pain to keep from crying. The mood isn’t overdone and it never descends into farce. Guest vocalist Scott Brannon and his harmony partner Chris Henry have the skill to pull this off and never put a foot wrong throughout. “Saylor’s Creek” is a condensed cinematic marvel that accomplishes much with an artfully minimal amount of effort and “Looking for Sunshine” has such unassuming, unfettered grace that it makes its desire filling the lyrics all the more effective.  

True Colors would be an impressive debut from anyone, but the levels she reaches on these dozen songs are so impressive that you can’t help but wonder how much further she can go. Based on the evidence in these songs, there may be no limit.  

Edward Price

Donna Ulisse - Breakin’ Easy

Donna Ulisse - Breakin’ Easy 


Quite simply, the latest This album from Donna Ulisse will pick up your spirits if you’re having a bad day. Breakin’ Easy is Donna’s 10th album, but her first on the Mountain Home label. It hits all the right notes throughout its twelve song duration and brims over with a light, freely moving spirit that wants to entertain and relate to its intended audience. The songs are fortunate to have such a supremely gifted interpreter … but then, having written all but two of the tracks, Uliise is the perfest storyteller.   

Donna is known for vocals that are capable of evocative atmospherics, seamlessly blending with others in harmony, and scaling thrilling emotional heights, often times within the same performance. The album has an inner consistency and logic reflected in how its track listing unfolds and there’s an intimate, but gloriously live, quality to the musical and vocal performance alike that makes listeners feel like this album is happening mere feet away and not a recording of any sort. The spirit of this album will linger with you long after it’s over, surely a credit to Ulisse’s collaboration with the brilliant Doyle Lawson as producer.  
“Without Trouble Please” starts the album off nicely with its mix of bluegrass, blues, and country music sounds percolating through the arrangement. Ulisse sings the lyrics with a tremendous amount of gusto and there isn’t a single note that short changes listeners. Everyone, surely, will be able to relate to this song about having enough of the bad times and just wanting things to get better, but the song manifests an all important belief that things can get better rather than reveling in pain. “Drive This Cold Out of Me” mixes some bluesier strains into the songwriting and it further flavors this strong ballad into something majestic and deeply felt. Ulisse really showcases her singing skills on a number of the album’s slower cuts, but never with the same powerful effect that she does here. The fiddle playing on “A Little Past Lonely” makes sure the song keeps one foot, at least, in the bluegrass world, but this is largely a five star country ballad that anyone familiar with the genre’s golden years and classic material will recognize. Ulisse and Lawson opt for a contemporary production style allowing the song to play as something much more organic and believable, yet with a sense of tradition. 
“We Are Strong”, like the aforementioned number, mixes bluegrass in with country, but the star here is unquestionably another fantastic Ulisse vocals vocal and the album’s best lyric. The attention paid to nailing the words distinguishes it from the other fine material on Breakin’ Easy and really pops with significant specific details. “Whatever Winter Brings” is the last of the album’s slower and personal ballads and it ranks right behind “A Little Past Lonely” as the best examples of the form on this release. Another of the fine cuts coming near the end of Breakin’ Easy is “Where My Mind Can Find Some Rest” and the powerful longing burning in the heart of this stately and often times stunningly beautiful tune will leave no one unaffected. Donna Ulisse’s Breakin’ Easy is a fantastic album from a seasoned pro, further solidifying her position as one of the genre’s pre-eminent talents.  

Charles Hatton

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Commotions - Volume II

The Commotions - Volume II 

Volume II, the dozen song release from Canada’s eleven piece R&B and soul act The Commotions, explores a variety of styles under that musical umbrella with a confidence level and steadiness that we often associate with older players and long standing musical units. Sax player Brian Asselin, vocalist Rebecca Noelle, and guitarist David Gaw handle the band’s songwriting on this second release and the trio of songwriters achieve an unity of sound and approach that’s surprising considering they bring three distinct strands of influence into play here. The Commotions’ Volume II uses a horn section to fantastic effect and relegates the guitar to a secondary role and features strong production that emphasizes a chunky bottom end for the band’s sound. This is one of the best releases you’ll hear in 2017 regardless of genre and Volume II is such a high quality it seems to promise even more formidable releases to come. 
“Good Enough” propels this album towards the sky without a hint of hesitation. Rebecca Noelle’s vocals figure in a number of the songs on Volume II and her effect on the tracks is uniformly transformative. This specific song comes off as a near perfect example of how musicians and singers can seemingly feed off one another and make a song’s natural build all the more dramatic. The horns take up a big portion of the song’s sound but The Commotions show they are capable of shifting gears with the next song. “Bad Girl” lets guitarist David Gaw roam a little more freely and his contributions emphasize the bluesy influences in the song. The blues influence in the band’s music doesn’t announce itself in any overt way, but any serious music fan will realize that it forms the essential bedrock of everything The Commotions do on Volume II. 
“Let Me Kiss You, Baby” will win over anyone still listening by this point and not entirely convinced. Noelle is absolutely on fire as a singer for this one and, much like the opener, the audience can allow themselves to be carried away by the sound of musicians responding to a once in a lifetime moment, Second singer Jeff Rogers gives a coolly confident performance on the song “Say Yes to Me Tonight” and the optimistic sweep powering the track comes at a great place in the album’s running order. Rogers is a little wilder and less formal with his singing on the album “Right Kind of Wicked” and the pumping soul energy of this tune is cut with a dash of funk to make it work even better. It concludes the album’s, arguably, most potent run beginning with the song “Let Me Kiss You, Baby”. The energy here is off the charts. 
Jeff Asselin’s drumming on “Last Look” is quite impressive considering how busy it is and how it never misses. Noelle shows another side of her vocal talent on the song by combining her liveliness with a looseness that other tracks don’t exhibit. Volume II ends on a bluesier note than some might expect with “Come Clean” and the smoky qualities of Rebecca Noelle’s singing are deliciously theatrical without ever sounding overwrought. The Commotions are a wonderful outfit that manage a massive sound that never sounds too cluttered or asks too much of the listener and Volume II seems to show them realizing their vision of music with brilliant results.  

Montey Zike