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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, and Roll



Dynamos - Shake, Rattle, and Roll

URL: http://www.dynamosmusic.com/

The new single release “Shake, Rattle, & Roll” from Los Angeles headquartered five piece Dynamos places the young band among the forefront of modern rock acts and hints at rich ground they have only begun to harvest. There’s a wry form of homage to their influences laced through this song, never loudly announced, and the production and arrangement alike are geared in such a way that they highlight the track’s abundant strengths without ever sounding gimmicky. Lead singer Nadia Elmistikawy is, obviously, put out front as the band’s ascendant star, but the band are equally talented in their own way and the seamlessness of the presentation makes for a powerful package. Dynamos capture listeners’ attention with a wallop of attitude and a dollop of blues to make this even more convincing. “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” will blow away anyone who hasn’t yet heard this band with their conviction and kick in the doors attitude and remind any existing fans that this is the sort of rock act we need going into the future. 

Elmistikawy’s upbringing in New Jersey included opera training as a young girl and later musical education that’s helped shape her technique into something expressive and technically accomplished. There’s definitely a strong blues sound that comes from her voice, but its blues in the best sense that all rock singers embody and she takes over the song with a strong attitude to go along with her considerable chops. Her voice seems to focus on the rhythm section as a reference point, but there’s nothing she does that fails to match the song’s guitar driven intensity and complement the six string heroics. A shallow listen to the song might mean you lose the nuance of Elmistikawy’s phrasing, but she’s undoubtedly a dramatic interpreter of the band’s material who never passes up a chance to elevate the lyrics through her attention to vocal detail.

The musicians involved in this release have, presumably, not been playing together for that long, but nevertheless demonstrates the sort of fiery chemistry we more often associate with bands that have been playing together for quite some time. They opt for the customary two guitar approach, one lead and the other rhythm, common to most rock bands and it gives Dynamos a full, rich sound further deepened by outstanding rhythm section play and a mix that underlines the physicality of the song’s musicianship. They have hit a grand slam with the song “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” that goes far beyond what we commonly hear from modern rock acts and it’s clear that Dynamos have a clear creative vision for what makes them who they are and where they want to take their music. There’s confidence coming out of every passage in this song and the assurance they project stands as a harbinger for even brighter greatness to come.  
 
SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/dynamosmusic
 
Mike Yoder

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Stranger Friends

 
Stranger Friends 


Jamie Floyd grew up as the daughter of performing musicians in West Palm Beach, Florida, and landed her first record deal at 11 years old. While working as a waitress, she co-wrote the exquisite title track to Ashley Monroe’s Grammy-nominated album, The Blade. A native of Stillwater, Oklahoma, John Martin played football for Baylor University while continuing to write songs. He received his first cut in Nashville with one of his musical heroes, Garth Brooks. With a musical style that combines the harmony of the Everly Brothers with the grit of Tom Petty. Stranger Friends - is their self-titled EP, releasing this October.

“Country Song” opens the EP with flying colors, because it nails all perspective for them to establish exactly what they are. And that is a country act with some essential rocking aspects to keep them on the strong side of country in a modern world full of fakery. They’re the real thing in a sea of what is not what it used to be in any music genre, but that’s part of today’s land of musical opportunity.

They just happen to get up and deliver all they can to achieve it and this opening track is a testament to that, when they could’ve done everything to achieve the opposite. They came out smoking all the way on it.

They do all they can to come from another place and find themselves right in the middle of-the road on “Sacred Garden” which plays like a waltz through the trees with acoustic instruments. It’s an organic piece of music with lovely lyrics and vocals led by Jamie Floyd and well-accompanied by John Martin. You get all the la, la, la’s and everything with this sweet track, especially if you like songs about togetherness and the adventures it can take you on. It seems to hold its own with the rest of these cuts but it doesn’t stand out over and above any of them. It still belongs to the EP though.   

 
The second song on the EP worth all raving about is the deep, dark and illustrious musing of “I Ain’t Dead” with its narrative feel and bombastic breaks. This is a track that instantly sweeps you away or turns you completely off. There is no dimmer switch when it comes to the classic country essence going on here, you’ll either want to hear it over again or give it a pass, with the latter not being recommended. I was blown away by this song the first time I heard it. There is only one thing left to do and that’s play it again, as they break all boundaries with a standard they can ultimately be very proud of. You will be moved or you will not.
 
The same can’t be said for “November & June” but it’s not something you want to skip either, or the entire EP won’t bode as well. It’s not always about the big tracks, it can often be just as much about the lighter-hearted stuff. This track harks back to the second track on the EP, where it fits in best, but you can’t place five tracks together as well as you can four tracks, so one or two can get misplaced in the arrangement, and this is the lesser of those two for me.

They bring everything back around on the awesome “Don’t Get Back Up,” so, not all is lost in the mix, and they take it out with her lovely voice featured.

Terry Smith

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Altre di B - Miranda


Altre di B - Miranda! 


Miranda! is the third album from Italian four piece indie rockers Altre di B and their likely peak at this point. There’s a marvelous amount of diversity spread out over the album’s ten songs and there’s never a moment when you’ll feel like they are over-indulging their mandate with the audience. Instead, these are songs with rich tapestries of sound but never wasting a second of the listener’s time is a watchword for each of the ten songs. There’s a mix of instruments that bring these songs off primarily dominated by the trio of synths, guitar, and drums. The drumming, in particular, is produced in such a way that it occupies a significant portion of the mix, but there’s enough of a balance maintained throughout the course of Miranda! that there’s no listeners who’ll feel like there’s some lopsided performances included on the album.
 
“Pungi” has enjoyed some success as the album’s first single and it’s easy, in one sense, to see why the track rated as a choice for that spot. The opener is, arguably, the straightest rock track on Miranda! and one certain to connect with both indie rock fans and probably older alternative rock fans as well. The band’s talent with hitting on a memorable chorus is exhibited here and their ability to create powerful dynamics within their songwriting and playing is hinted at as well. “Salgado” has a harder edged guitar attack than the opener, but it shares much more space with synthesizers and keyboards in the mix. The result, however, is quite successful. The added grit and gravitas imbued in this song is a near perfect way to follow the opener. The drumming hooks into an irresistible swing with the song “Polilao” and the guitars and keyboards dancing around that beat have a bright, inspired air. It’s one of the most upbeat numbers on Miranda!, musically, and the vocal serves it well.
 
“Erevan” is another gem. This is a more muted number that makes great use of space and timing in the arrangement, but it also comes with a vulnerability that will draw listeners closer. It’s amazing how, despite their style and band configuration, the band achieves such a live, intimate sound, but Miranda! engages listeners viscerally and leaves you often feeling like the band is performing mere inches away from you. The mix has that much immediacy and punch. “Tapis Roulant”, however, strips away that intimacy for an abrasive and raucous post punk guitar workout that pushes the vocals to their limit without ever once revealing any cracks or strain in the presentation. “Taxi”, the album’s penultimate number, has a restless quality in its playing that perfectly embodies the subject matter of the song. It’s an album well worth hearing and giving repeated plays to because, frankly, you won’t catch all the nuances on the first go-around. The band’s willingness to work hard and grow as songwriters has paid off quite handsomely with Miranda and the next phase in their musical journey is one we all should pay close attention to.  


Shannon Cowden

Matt Hammon - Silver Suitcase

 
Matt Hammon - Silver Suitcase


When different outlets start compiling their lists of 2017’s best indie releases, Matt Hammon’s Silver Suitcase will make the grade with many. This outstanding ten song set is played, mixed, and arranged by Hammon alone, but the strain of such a heavy load never shows on the performances or writing. There’s a crackling baseline of energy Hammon maintains from the first song through the last and he’s obviously been able to draw from the best material he’s written in his years playing a supporting role to artists like Bob Mould and as part of bands like Mineral, Verbow, and The Rebecca West. It results in a fistful of barn burners, anthemic style guitar rock with some unusual textures and instrumental additions that spin it in an individualistic way. Stylists are often some of the most well regarded musicians and songwriters working in popular music and, despite the influences on Silver Suitcase, you’ll finish it convinced that no one else really writes a Matt Hammon song. There’s a distinctiveness to how he pulls things off that’s subject to influence but, ultimately, under no one’s spell.
 
“Pictures” introduces listeners to Hammon’s writing style, among its other qualities. His songwriting has a natural penchant for seizing on imagery that lodges itself listener’s memories rather than strictly trading in generalities and clich├ęs. The musical template for much of Silver Suitcases is set with this song as well, though don’t mistake Hammon as a songwriter afraid to mix up his approach. “The Table” has less of a focus on his vocals and lyrics, but the music more than makes up for it as Hammon grabs onto a full on post punk rock guitar assault, but Hammon never deserves style entirely in favor of pure energy and attitude. “Never Say So” is one of the album’s more naturally commercial numbers thanks to the vocal melody and the way he orchestrates the guitar work in a balanced and appealing way. His vocals are, once again, one of the best qualities of the performance. “Silver Suitcase”, the album’s title number, shows Hammon’s ambition stretching some, at least in terms of the lyric, and his grasp proves to be the equal of his reach as it all holds together in a vivid and accessible way.  
 
“Colorful Regret” is one of the album’s quirkier musical numbers and twists his influences in a highly individual way that recalls the collection’s base sound without mindlessly repeating it. The thoughtful sequencing that went into making this album a reality peaks with the choice of its final two songs – “Sleeper’s Town” is one of the album’s most interesting lyrics and an acoustic driven performance while the finale, “Name Game”, is a departing blast of guitar and sports another biting lyric from Hammon’s pen. The artfulness involved in this release is real, but Matt Hammon is a musical performer and writer who burns with passion that shapes any technique in a powerful new direction. The sense of anything goes here is palpable and makes Silver Suitcase all the more memorable.  


Joshua Stryde

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Dizzy Box Nine - Electric Illusion

 
Dizzy Box Nine - Electric Illusion 


Electric Illusion is the new album by Dizzy Box Nine, an indie-pop band from Sothern California lead by guitarist-singer Randy Ludwig. It’s an appealing album with twelve well-written pop tracks influenced by a broad range of genres from Blink 182 and MXPX to the Cars, the Gin Blossoms, and Tom Petty. And, Dizzy Box Nine somehow hangs in there with all of them very well, and they even show off their own style in the process—the way it’s supposed to be. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a debut record from an independent pop-rock band this well put together. If it were slacking in any way I’d start by saying otherwise, but it’s-actually something to behold.

You can start wherever you want and be just as happy, but it kicks off with “Open Up To Me” and, it’s all fireworks from there. But there’s just one problem with that song—it’s good, but it’s just not as good as track #2—“Oh Yeah!”. The second time I listened to this record, it was hard for me not to want to skip track #1 and get right into track #2, which is my favorite song on the CD. I absolutely love this track! It’s melodic, it’s catchy, it’s intriguing, and it’s just pleasing to the ear. “If I was in your picture, would you think it’s fair? I’m falling into heaven, I thought that you were there”. You have no choice but to get that song stuck in your head. It’s just what you’d hope for from an indie-pop band from sunny Southern California.  It’s nice to see some life breathed back into pop-rock music again. 

 
“Good” is also another mention-worthy track.  This seems like a ripe hit for radio, or for your next playlist. The clarity of Randy’s vocals shines through, and, as with all their songs, they seem to remind us of all the good that’s still the world. This is refreshing. The guitars are strong in this song, and it is lyrically clever, which is something I have started to get used to from this band. 
If you want it a little lighter track, but just as strong, “When I look At You” will sooth your ears with the warm little arpeggios Randy pulls off on the guitar, which nearly everyone can appreciate. It’s just another cool factor about this album, the songs and band themselves. You don’t hear that guitar and dismiss it, you can’t help but get off on it. It’s the same no matter what song it is, but some of them go to different place lyrically, that’s all. For instance, “Fantasy” is nothing like any of the tracks before it, but it’s still just as good. This is something that follows suit on “Rosie” as well, which has really nice feel to it. I almost can’t put my finger on exactly why that song feels so good to listen to.  But, when that chorus begins, it just takes you places.   
 
Dizzy Box Nine aren’t just the mere sum of their influences, they come with their own brand of pop and that’s what they’re riding on. They don’t sound like a clone of any other band. Instead, Dizzy Box Nine is a rather a new entity, which somehow finds a way to pay homage to its 80s and 90s pop influences in they way they craft their own unique songs. Some other tracks worth mentioning are “Adeline” for its guitar work, “Tell” which it a bit of a tell all song. And the finale “Samantha”, which closes the record in style, is one of the best songs on the record. In fact, it’s strong enough to have been the opener to this album. 

If you like straightforward pop that seems to create a melodic and positive soundtrack to your life, give Dizzy Box Nine’s new album Electric Illusion a try. 

Ashley J - Unbreakable

 
Ashley J - Unbreakable


Review: “Unbreakable” is Ashley J’s latest single and has much to commend it. Admittedly, there is a whole lot of subtle variety to these arrangements and performances.

First: Ashley’s impressive band delivers rock solid playing like a well-oiled machine. This is testament to hundreds of hours of rehearsal time no doubt. Second: Ashley herself possesses a voice and an impassioned writing style that hits the mark remarkably well within the electronica, pop music arena. She has the attributes required of an effective singer/songwriter. Third: her sound and amazing songwriting touch are as good as it gets in modern pop. All songs are a skillful combination of modern pop that reminded me of Katy Perry and Selena Gomez. Ashley has the creativity and songwriting prowess to be extremely dangerous. What am I trying to say – well let me start by saying there is nothing fake and superficial about Ashey J and her music. It’s nice to know some artists take their soul into the studio these days rather than leave it at the door. Not every square inch is filled with musical ambience delivered under duress – but musical space this allows the music to breathe on its own with passion that cannot be faked. Equally as impressive is how marketable this catalogue truly is. It covers so much ground and despite this it manages to not spread itself to thin across to many lines – nice touch. I’ve always said if you can play it at a party, then it’s marketable. The music is extremely marketable - with a fresh sound that is passionately uplifted very much like Ashley J herself.  
 
Conclusion: Let me go on record by saying Ashley J has no weaknesses that I can see and hear. She has everything and this latest string of songs are and endearing staple limited by nothing. I would imagine in time we will hear more from this artist as the years unfold. Time will tell but I can honestly say this is one artist that is set up for marketable success down the road with her musical personality and fresh music style that gives today’s music a well needed wake up call.  


Jennifer Wallace  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

John Brownlow - The Summertime

 
John Brownlow - The Summertime 


It’s funny how music can change. It’s so malleable; you could hear it in one setting and hate it, vowing to never again let such filth invade your eardrums again. I’m referring to sonic pop by the way. Then, you could hear it at a different time, in a different situation, a different artist and see something in it that you never considered. It’s not just to down to peer pressure, either. You could be listening to a song on repeat in the morning that by night time you can’t stand. Basically, music isn’t just a meal in itself, to really enjoy it you need to be in the right frame of mind, as well as a situation where you can enjoy it.  
 
When I turned on The Summertime by Ontario (Canada) based singer-songwriter John Brownlow I actually did not expect what I heard. I probably wasn’t giving him the best chance for success as I must be honest. Some artists are a bit over the top about their songwriting. It’s just feels as if they are selling something under a false pretence lacking a real and genuine sense of musical inspiration. I mean give me something I can feel! Today it feels like many artists out there are going through the motions and how appropriate none of it provides real inspiration. Where am I going with his? None of the above applies to John Brownlow and his music. I was sold on him during the first few seconds of “The Summertime.” I might add as I drifted in and out of uncomfortable sleep, hazy static and sporadic bursts of music punctuated my dreams I realized this man believes and feels every stroke, every note, every song he played. I played most of the songs on this CD probably 4 times and despite the brutal sludgy of the Brooklyn traffic there was something on many of this 29 track collection that soothed my inner skepticism. On the second listen, slightly more conscious this time, I began to pick out the sounds somewhere between Elton John, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel and Squeeze. Bending elements of catchy 70s Powerpop, Britpop and powerful singer-songwriter one can’t help but fall madly in love with songs like (Live Forever) and (Shalala Says I Love You) and (Kingdom Come). This is the perfect CD, it relax and drift in and out of sleep with. This is a compliment as John Brownlow manages to transcends space and time. No matter what state of mind your in all these tracks will make a lasting impression on you. This CD will not go in my “reviewed pile” rather it will go on my I-POD indefinitely.  
 
The mix works and the somewhat dreamy precision and concentrated themes meshed with Brownlow’s clairvoyance makes for some top quality music. Like I mentioned I was sold on during the first few seconds of “The Summertime” and I kept waiting for a blemish or disappointing song to emerge – which never happened through to the end. John Brownlow is for real. It’s these types of artists that make it all the way to the top of our hearts.  


Rebekah Neil

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time

 
Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time
 

The ten songs on Barbara Jo Kammer’s debut solo release One Song at a Time are definitely lived in. They are never oppressive in their conveyance of life’s experience but, rather, never draw back from facing the reality of the situations they depict. They are accompanied by rich musical arrangements and on target performances that complement the lyric nicely without ever going overboard. The production is quite obviously top notch despite this being a decidedly indie affair or labor of love and it further frames the material on One Song at a Time in the best possible light. The center of it all, however, is certainly Kammer’s voice. Her day job as a music therapist positions her to make a success of this release in a way few other singers could – she truly makes the most of this cathartic moment and delivers one spine-tingling performance after another to make this a must have release.  
 
“I Can See Clearly” is one of the most recognizable tunes on One Song at a Time, but Kammer isn’t interested in a straight cover. She adepts the tune for her particular stylistic purposes and dispatches it with the sort of fluidity that the original performers and covers that followed never dreamed of. It’s to her credit that she’s never interested in simply duplicating someone else’s artistic glories but, instead, shows such interest in claiming a bit of the song as her own alone. A similar experience informs her performance of “Choices”. First popularized by country legend George Jones, this fearlessly blunt appraisal of a life wasted drinking elicits one of Kammer’s most impassioned vocals. She’s careful, however, to never go too far over the top with it and allows the excellent lyric do its poetic best and conveying the despair that only alcoholics and drug addicts, or those affected by such behaviors, can truly experience. “So Good” lightens the mood considerably with its breezy bluegrass pace and the positivity that seems to flow from the lyric. Sandwiching “Choices” between these two tunes gives the first quarter of the album an unique feel that she continues to build on as the album progresses.  
 
“In a Cabin on the Mountain by the Pine” is pure, 100 proof bluegrass with no chaser and she imbues the song with all the pastoral grace that listeners will expect by this point. Songs like this live and die by the singer, but Kammer has an uncanny talent for making the reality of these musical worlds come alive in a vivid way. “The Winning Side” underscores that aforementioned talent in its invocation of the day to day gratitude she now experiences after freeing herself from the damaging effects of substance abuse. This is a song about healing, in some ways, and should prove to be an inspiring listen for many. The album, as a whole, is an inspiring musical ride that never fails to connect. There’s no filler on One Song at a Time and she explores its wide range of emotions like a performer who has made countless albums rather than someone embarking on a solo singing career at the improbable age of sixty two. In the end, age really is just a number.  


David Shouse

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Sighs - Wait On Another Day


URL: http://www.thesighsmusic.com/ 

(Western Massachusetts) The Sighs (Tom Borawski, Matt Cullen, Robert LaRoche, Tommy Pluta) are no stranger to musical movement. In fact, though their name may not ring a bell on you, the band has been around for almost three decades now.
 
Having cut their teeth with multiple releases to their credit they have also has enjoyed a healthy dose of tinkering around several studios, no doubt The Sighs benefits from four group of musicians who share a passion for classic and arena rock, but have a variety of tastes in contemporary music and production. These 4 piece band create original power pop music. I honestly can’t think of a better time than now to unleash the kind of classic retrostyle of rock music to the world. Having listened to the radio today - most would agree it’s time for something different. This latest 11 song LP called “Wait On Another Day” is outfitted with a distinctly familiar 60s/90’s style rock feel with a Alternative edge that takes no prisoners. The TS sound, personality just  gives the music credible bulk and authenticity.
 
"Wait On Another Day" is a collaborative project. All musicians participated in the writing of every song on the record. LaRoche vocal skills and Matt Cullen's grungy guitar landscape backed by fast-paced Bass and drum lines gives perfect dimension to the opener, “It's Real”. It’s a tune that takes no time to build and it's always in a continuous peak that transport to days past, and a welcome one at that. The tone starts to change as we follow “Words Of Love”, a single build up on catchy melodies, rather harmonious vocals that feels less like Tonic and more like Gin Blossoms. Keeping the beats down and rather playful, the title track is filled with hooks in all the right places and could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Wallflowers, Ben Folds Five and Better Than Ezra. The rest of the tracks on this record keeps coming full circle with influence from the past and modern day musical mentality, these beauties inspire that eyes squeezed tightly shut drifting off feeling brought about by the likes of The Beach Boys & Van Halen . Much of this record is more like in a thrumming of the heart, as a perfectly wrought rock song should be able to do.
 
It also obvious that The Sighs' dream team has not taken their experience in their lengthy  career lightly, nor is this latest effort a heavy-handed grasp at recapturing glory days. For those in the immediate area who are able to catch these guys live this is a great way to hear some great throwback music by some talented people, and for those in any other city this is a great band to try to model after. If you want to start a band go this direction. In a world where corporate is king and cheezy music gets product top dollar product it’s nice to see a real good band play over my speakers for a change. With a well-trained ear for what brought them to my ears in the first place The Sighs have given us 11 hot new tracks to chew on and offered the world a cutting edge glimpse of this amazing style of music that inspires. We can only hope that there is much more where this came from. 


Charles Phillips

Bunny Sigler – Angel Eyes

 
Bunny Sigler – Angel Eyes 


In 1976, Bunny Sigler set up an album deal for Instant Funk with Gamble and Huff's TSOP label. And if you know that album you know you soul music. Creating several hits over the span of his career (many of which are still being sampled today), Bunny continues to write, produce and record new material. He cut tracks for artists on Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label, including Mayfield himself ("Trippin' Out"), and created a duet album with Barbara Mason. He got a chance to work with a number of acts as a writer and/or producer, including the Whispers, Ecstacy, Passion And Pain, Patti Labelle. His forthcoming album is entitled Young At Heart, and the second single on this project is Ella Fitzgerald’s “Angel Eyes” and it’s great. The entire arrangement itself is a high-quality thing to hear. It shouldn’t fall on deaf ears, and it won’t. This isn’t a young artist although Young At Heart takes him into some mature territory that he still aces like he’s 19 years old or something. The spirit has that ambiance anyway, and it’s just me hoping the rest comes on this strongly. It’s a statement nonetheless already, so it begs for more of the same. An album’s full of this quality is worth anyone’s dollar and time.  
It’s easy to glow all over something if you like it the first time, but it doesn’t quit, time after time you hear this sweet tune. The way he does it makes his own song out of it without stealing Ella’s thunder in the process. Frank Sinatra sang it too, but I have-to say this well outclasses him in the vocal department, and that’s nothing against Sinatra but this is not a one-dimension singer. That’s probably why they call Bunny “Mr. Emotion.” That’s certainly nothing Frank would be referred to as. Let’s just say a lot was put into this to bring out the best in Bunny Sigler and the song itself. And if you like videos, take-a look at the promo clip.  
 
He is the co-writer of the song “The Ruler's Back” which was an opening song for Jay Z's album, Blueprint. At the age of 70 he’s still at it with a modern edge and that is just another reason to anticipate this album, and the single should get your ears in gear for just that. He’s a long way from playing the churches of Philadelphia, but he hasn’t lost a step where the hunger lies. It’s important to retain that and the only way to keep proving it is with more work. There is nothing better than going till the day the oil runs out, rather than wasting it away. He’s done his time off over the years, it’s time to keep shining.

The Philly soul sound is important as well, and the heritage of it is something Bunny Sigler holds a piece of, and it doesn’t matter if you’re digging up the late 60s, mid-70s or following him all along, he’s always brought the goods on records and stages. While everyone is dying off it thins out the genres as well, so it’s a use it or lose it thing, and as-long as the heart and soul meet the spirit of music, something takes over and you can’t turn it off. The light switch of this artist is still on and this single proves it as much as the first one. Hopefully the album Young At Heart will too, because this helps light the way for it.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Weatherboy

 
Weatherboy 


The ten songs on Weatherboy’s first album are a reminder that vibrant work in a pop vein can still emerge and make a substantive artistic statement. There’s no question about the bright commercial sheen surrounding these tracks, but there’s equally little question that this is a duo with ambition to burn. There are recurring lyrical themes running through the songwriting and a definite design to the running order, but Weatherboy’s debut never comes off as forced – their range comes naturally and the music moves with a natural, airy sense of purpose that keeps their melodies, vocal and otherwise, engaging. The production invests everything with a forceful sonic punch and it helps further highlight contributions from the duo’s musical partners like legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy. This unheralded giant, formerly of the band Grass Harp, contributes mightily to this collection without ever once overstating his distinctive presence.
 
There is a deliberate shape to the release. Weatherboy opens with two straight ahead, horn powered pop numbers “Got a Good Thing” and “Great Great Life” and there’s a commonality between the songs suggesting they are designed for their specific track list positions. The brass sound rings out in a very authentic way and makes for an excellent, if unintended, counterpoint with the powerful lead vocals. “Riding on the Wind” shows off another side of the duo as they perform a much more moody, hard-nosed musical ride. The vocals respond in kind with an appropriately darker tone and it results in one of the album’s more memorable moments. Acoustic guitar plays an important role in the songwriting on the album and “Eva”, one of the album’s more than likely underrated numbers, has qualities one might associate more with a folk song than hailing from this project. “Bennett” comes off as something practically confessional in its lyrical content and the musical arrangement is one of the album’s more inventive moments. Rosinkranz, especially, comes out of this album sounding like a true virtuoso capable of doing anything he wants to – the sheer variety of melody and texture that makes this album go will please many.
 
“A Bright Flame” returns the duo to more standard pop territory but the edge of your seat vocal melodies and pyrotechnics will exert an aching effect on listeners. This is reminiscent of “Bennett” in the way that the lyrics come off as very personal, but the song is delivered in such a way that the experience runs no danger of being closed off to listeners. “All Your Fault” has a lot of musical and lyrical bite, but there’s a slight sense of the duo trying to take on too much within the song’s somewhat short running time. “Full Bloom” brings the album to an end with a surprising piano ballad guided by the lyrical keys work and the bone-deep emotion coming through in every line of the vocal. It’s, arguably, one of the album’s better lyrical moments and makes for a conclusive ending to this release. It is easy to discern a progression of sorts through this release and “Full Bloom” brings it to wide-open life. 


Raymond Burris 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sam Baker – Land of Doubt

 
Sam Baker – Land of Doubt 


Following a European tour behind his new album, Land Of Doubt, Sam Baker is turning his attention to creative projects in 2017: Opening his first-ever exhibition as a visual artist, staging an original play and filming a documentary. As you may know, Sam has limited hearing after being on a bus that exploded during a 1986 terrorist attack in Peru, but he’s from Texas, now living in Austin. The play he’s working on is entitled Broken Fingers, and the art show Dream of the Snow Geese. And the album Land Of Doubt is a meditation album centering around everyday reflection of the uncertainties in life. It’s a home hitter in that area especially, but it’s also folk music with a lot of heart and soul with a general singer/songwriter approach, with some southern jazzy textures. “Summer Wind” starts out with not much but some cool guitar bits to keep it interesting, and interesting the guitar is, appearing nowhere else on the album like that.

“Some Kind Of Blue” is a track for the masses to soak up, should they ever get wind of such a monster war tune. It tells the typical Viet Nam story and you feel him all the way, from his flashes of humor to flashes of sympathy, as well as his blunt portray of it. He takes you through most of the aspects that meet the usual standard in war songs, but you get the feeling it’s more personal whether you know or not. It’s a lot to take in but once you do there’s almost a sigh of relief, and then it’s all over after the marching beat. Nothing left to do but carry onto the next song with another instrumental, this one a haunting little piano solo. It makes its way into the next track without hardly any notice.

“Margaret” is a melancholy little tune about someone who sounds like anyone would want to be around. He displays a certain swagger in this which can’t be found anywhere else on the album, and it’s appropriately placed but doesn’t seem intentional, and some of the effortlessness of that comes off very well on this song which also has some decent piano behind it too. It’s a point where the mention of production by Neilson Hubbard, using the jazz trumpet of Don Mitchell and the sustained guitar textures of Will Kimbrough, producer/guitarist for Rodney Crowell and Todd Snider, to frame the lyrics. So, it’s not all Sam Baker to credit but all his table to sit at.

“The Feast Of Saint Valentines” is cool, and so is “Moses In The Reeds” especially with the latter’s funny parts if you can catch them. And another highlight for me is “Say The Right Words” which gets the heart of matters and comes with some awesome trumpet playing to polish it off nicely. “The Sunken City Rises” is a string pieces with some cello and violin that start to mesmerize as it falls too short, but “Peace Out” extends the mood nicely. The lyrics tend to lose me but it’s the guitar that makes up for it. “When Fallen Angels Dwell” is the second most interesting instrumental and the album closes with a band on “Land Of Doubt” as it walks away with the ultimate effort of the album. 
 


Alan Foster