Pittsburgh rockers White Like Fire have a new album, Wait The Night Out, dropping on April 21, 2015. The first single from the album, "You Gave Up On Me", is an impressive introduction to the band that has the potential to launch them into a higher musical orbit. Check out the video today, a great morsel to start off the week.
Learn more at www.whitelikefire.com.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Music is a generous suitor. There’s always something new and interesting to catch your ear. The concept of falling in love is a fair parallel for finding new music that moves you. “Love” can mean so many things of course. You can fall madly in love someone, or love them like a brother or sister; or love them in a new age/agape sense that many claim but few understand. Our attractions to music can be very similar in their disparate sensibilities and styles. Sometimes you need something to rock you; others you need something to soothe you. Sometimes you just want to think or feel; and sometimes you want none of these. The common element is that you find something that touches you on one level or another. It might be a tryst, or it might become a lifelong love; but music rarely leaves you unscathed.
Just like any relationship, the connection between artist and fan must be maintained. The artist keeps up their side through new material, but also through their social and personal connections with their fan base. Some relationships start strong and fade over time; some start slow but grow over time. I am perhaps talking in circles here, but these concepts apply to two albums I want to talk about today.
The first is from The Grace Stumberg Band, a Buffalo-based act fronted by the indomitable Grace Stumberg. Stumberg is a diminutive singer with a huge voice, in the vein of Grace Potter. Over her first two albums, 2011’s To Whom It May Concern, and 2012’s Affect, Stumberg has shown off a powerful voice and a strong songwriting sensibility. She has an ability to light up a room with that voice. I was understandable excited upon hearing that Stumberg would be releasing a live album in 2015. Live At The Studio Café (Popadelic Records) is a fair representation of Stumberg’s live set a fact that is both encouraging and disappointing at times. The album is encouraging because it gives an accurate representation of her impressive sound, and the material here is among her best. At the same time, the energy level on the album perhaps leaves something to be desired. Stumberg is very much engaged with her audience, and the band backs her 100%, but the album doesn’t do her live presence justice.
At the same time, another Buffalo-based band, Bryan Johnson and Family is coming into their own. The band released a self-titled demo back in 2011 to positive reviews. The songwriting showed promise and the sound was dynamic, but the production wasn’t quite where the band wanted it to be. Bryan Johnson and Family return in 2015 with Cool Your Jets (Admirable Trait Records), a delicious five song EP full of a rock and roll ethic and a wonderfully danceable sound. The sound is much more polished this time around, and Johnson’s lead vocals and guitar work lead a tight and dynamic quartet with serious chops. There’s a garage/surf/rock ethic here that’s primitive in nature, but this is overlaid with a polished musical veneer that is impossible to ignore. Highlights include the title track, “Cerulean Eyes” and “Dead Fox”.
Both bands are great representatives of the Buffalo original music scene, and both have the potential to rise above it. Stumberg’s sound might be a little too comfortable to break big, but the talent is there. Bryan Johnson and Family are still honing and developing their sound, but the pop sensibility and DIY/alternative sound they are cultivating speak of big things down the road.
Stumberg’s Live at the Studio Café is a solid 3 stars out of 5. You can learn more about Stumberg at www.gracestumberg.com. In the mean time, check out this live rendition of "Root Beer Fairy".
Bryan Johnson and Family’s Cool Your Jets clocks in at 3.5 stars out of 5, but it has some definite 4 star moments. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/bjandfam.
Monday, March 2, 2015
For those of you who have never been here before, let me tell you a bit about the Buffalo area. To begin with, Buffalo stands at the gates to the rust belt. It was a major manufacturing and port town for the Great Lakes at one time, standing at the Eastern Edge of Lake Erie and at the Southwestern corner of Lake Ontario. The terminus of the Erie Canal can be found here, although no one seems to be quite sure where as various communities each lay their own claims. It is a tremendous city for music and art, although these things are often well hidden from the national eye. What we are most known for, perhaps, are copious amounts of lake effect snow and chicken wings (also known as Buffalo wings).
The snow is a given, but that isn’t the whole story. If you live in Buffalo or the towns north of it, snow isn’t a huge problem. Our exposure isn’t much different, in general than anyone else living in New York State during winter. It’s the towns and suburbs south of Buffalo that get walloped repeatedly in winter, at least until Lake Erie freezes over.
What perhaps gets lost in all of this is that the people of Buffalo are good people. It’s a friendly place, and people here band together in times of adversity. That’s not to say we’re perfect. Buffalo has one of the lowest per-capita incomes in New York State, and has the distinction of being one of the most segregated cities in America. What we haven’t seen here is the sort of flat-out racial strife and division that has been on display elsewhere.
Buffalo creates an environment for its citizens that are full of personal opportunity. Music, arts, politics, professional sports and some wonderful regional food choices all come together to make Buffalo a unique place to live and grow. For a long time, the youth of Buffalo mostly left to seek their fortunes elsewhere, but now the tide is turning. Young people are beginning to flock here because of renewed efforts to revitalize the region. Tomorrow appears to be set to be much brighter than today.
Speaking of Buffalo area youth who left the area to find their fortunes, today’s artist is a Buffalo native who has gone on to bigger and better things in New York City. Jeneen Terrana is a singer/songwriter based in Queens with a golden voice and a heart to match. I had the pleasure of catching her live show a few summers back at a Relay for Life event in Geneva, NY. It was a light crowd in a small town, but Terrana held sway on stage. Her rendition of “O Sole Mio” was so stunning that the other artists who had played that night all came out from behind the stage to watch and listen. It was a moment.
Terrana has been busy the last several years, releasing several albums as well as hosting a cooking show, but something special has been going on with her music of late. Terrana’s talent as a songwriter has been blossoming, and has become as formidable as her vocal talents. Her latest EP, Fallin’ is a brief but substantial gem, a cornerstone in her development as an artist. The EP opens with “Calling My Bluff”, a brilliant little vignette written from the precipice of love. The song shows off Terrana’s vocal quality and color, as well as distinctive pop sensibility and polish. This is an intelligent pop ballad with a mid-tempo gush you simply cannot ignore. “Fallin’” is a heartfelt ballad that’s sweet but not saccharine. There’s a distinctive poetry here that manages to be artistic yet honest, and Terrana brings it all from the heart.
“No One Can Hurt You” is solid, a song of succor written with an attention to emotional detail that is stunning. The maturity that shows through here is compelling. “Fast Lane (On Your Way)” doubles down on this oeuvre, while proving Terrana’s penchant for catching melodies and vibrant pop songwriting. Fallin’ closes out with a live version of Terrana’s “Bloody Valentine” recorded at The Palladium. This is ear candy/filler for close fans, but it’s a solid close that gives you a sense of how Terrana’s sound carries in a live environment.
Fallin’ is too brief, but gives forth brilliant musical light while it shines. I’ve been aware of Jeneen Terrana for a number of years now and always had great respect for her work, but Fallin’ definitively highlights an artist who has taken her game to another level. Give it 5 stars.
Learn more at www.jeneenterrana.com. In the mean time, wet your whistle with a listen to "Fallin'" live.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
It’s a scary world; A world full of people who are willing to castigate you for what you believe, or worse. It doesn’t really matter what side of the political, religious or philosophical spectrum you’re on. We in the United States live in a country started on the basis of freedom. Puritans left Holland/England seeking freedom to believe in and worship God in the fashion they wished rather than in the manner prescribed by King James. The founders of the United States wrote the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights to specifically codify U.S. objections to rule by kings, tyrants and despots.
Now we live in a nation where our leaders act counter to the interests of the people. Special interests and corporations write our laws. If you speak out against the way things are; against the government, you need to be concerned about who will start going through your email. If you have religious beliefs, you need to be concerned about who might want to kill you. It’s a scary world.
So reminiscence and memory become an escape, and music is one of the keenest reminders. It’s one of the reasons that cover bands are so popular on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s the comfort of music you know from a band that delivers it in relatively faithful versions. The next step beyond that is a band that writes original music that is wholly from another era. That brings us today’s band, Dirty Smile.
Dirty Smile is a Buffalo, NY band comprised of Megan Brown, Erik Eimiller, Jesse Raderman, Mike Suda and Gus Walters. The band is as tight as a wire and plays a delicious blend of pop, rock and soul. Elements of Fleetwood Mac and the early, Led Zeppelin-like sound of Rush abound on the band’s debut EP, Love Songs for the Damned: Volume I. Megan Brown is an absolute revelation on the mic, belting out vocals reminiscent of Grace Slick and occasionally even Geddy Lee. Her voice is beautiful and electric with a rough edge and smooth side: the complete package. The rest of the band matches her step for step with a dynamic sound with deep 1970s and 1980s roots.
“Don’t Lie To Me” is the lead track, and could fit in on the regular play list of any AOR station in the country. The song also has a freshness that makes it ear candy for today, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear this on pop radio or on a movie soundtrack somewhere. The other big standout track here is “Mona Lisa”, which is really performed in two parts. The backside of “The Vow” is an acapella take by Brown on the Nat King Cole classic, and becomes a transition into Dirty Smile’s original song of the same name. Brown shines on both, showing a supple, classic vocal style on the former, while diving into a soulful pop/rock sound on the latter. Other songs of note include “Siren” and “Insanely Ever After”.
Love Songs for the Damned: Volume I was mixed and mastered by Canadian Indie legend Ron Hawkins (Lowest of the Low, Do Good Assassins), and the finished product is edgy, but ultimately as smooth as a baby’s bottom. It’s a terrific introduction for a rust belt band with dreams and aspirations, as well as a sound that should carry them far beyond their great lakes home.
Learn more at www.dirtysmileband.com.
Check out the official video for the band's song "Siren" below!
Thursday, February 26, 2015
I haven’t seen you around here in a while. In truth, there hasn’t been much going on of late. Have a seat. The table’s a bit dusty, but we’re cleaning up.
I started this blog seven years ago almost on a lark. I was deeply involved in music from a young age, as a singer and performer; and as a fan. This blog at first was a means to expand my exposure to music while giving back to the musicians who made it. It became something of a mission and a joy; and then a burden. At one time I was publishing up to three reviews in a day, and spending literally all of my free time doing so. I built Wildy’s World up to the point where 500 visitors were passing through each day. I was proud of that, but there was a price. After a while it became something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. Then it became something I resented but still loved to do.
The culmination of all of this came in the last year. In October I lost my mom after a brief illness. It was a difficult process that involved making the sort of decisions that no one ever wants to have to make. It threw me for a loop, and the desire to write about, or even listen to new music, came to a shattering halt. That wasn’t the only effect, of course, but it’s the one that’s most relevant to this space.
So for a time, music became a burden. I continued to communicate with musicians and accept submissions, all with the best of intentions. But when it came time to write, I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t fun; the words just wouldn’t come.
Today I turn the page, and as I do the view changes. I will continue to write my thoughts about music, but the formulaic reviews are mostly a thing of the past. This space will truly be Wildy’s World from now. In it I will talk about the world; whatever’s on my mind, really. That will include music, including great new music from Indie artists. I will continue to take submissions and spread the word about things that interest me. I don’t promise to be here every single day, but if you’re interested, this is a place you can come regularly and find something new.
Today is the first day of my 45th year. I suspect it will be an adventure. Please feel free to join me.
In celebrating transition and change, I’d like to tell you a bit about Ron Hawkins. As regular readers here will know I think Hawkins is the proverbial bee’s knees. He’s somewhere between the Canadian version of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. His lyrical talent is prodigiously sublime; sometimes deep and occasionally profane but always entertaining. Hawkins began his career as the co-lead of rockers Lowest of the Low. It was a good start, as the band was inducted into the Canadian Indie Rock hall of fame. The band has broken up or gone on hiatus several times, and Hawkins has always managed to remake himself, whether as a solo artist or with bands such as The Leisure Demons and The Rusty Nails, Hawkins has left an indelible mark on the Canadian Indie Music scene.
The most recent iteration of Hawkins’ muse comes in the form of The Do Good Assassins, a quintet consisting of Hawkins (vocals/guitar); Jesse Capon (drums); Alex McMaster (cello/keys/trumpet); Derrick Brady (bass); and Steve Singh (guitar). Their latest effort is entitled Garden Songs, a collection of ten of Hawkins more thoughtful songs written over the years. The album was recorded over the course of one week, and highlights Hawkins’ brilliance as a songwriter and lyricist. It also shows off The Do Good Assassins’ ability to bring those songs to life. Longtime fans of Hawkins will be familiar with tracks such as “Peace And Quiet”, “Small Victories”, “D.F.W.” , “Propellers” and “Rome”. There are also some hidden gems here. “Kingdom Of The Sun” is memorable, and “Saskia Begins”, an ode to a newborn child, is among Hawkins’ best songwriting. The recasting of “D.F.W.” and “Small Victories” particular stand out here, and listeners newly introduced to Hawkins will be stunned by what they hear. Garden Songs is a must have album. I’ll give it 5 stars, without reservation.
Learn more about Ron Hawkins at www.ronhawkins.com. You can pick up the album from Ron’s online store at www.victimlesscapitalism.com. Please be patient, because the initial demand for the album caused the first run to sell out. They’ll have more soon! To hold you over, and pique your interest, check out this live performance of "Peace and Quiet", the lead single from Garden Songs.
Our discussion of The Do Good Assassins fit in with the reintroduction of the blog today. They also kick off a week (or so) of discussion of bands related to my adopted hometown of Buffalo, NY. While The Do Good Assassins call Toronto home, the band (as well Hawkins over the years) have spent a lot of time haunting the clubs and stages of Buffalo over the years. As a result they get honorary status. In the coming days we'll also be talking about Buffalo native Jeneen Terrana, and current Buffalo bands Dirty Smile, Grace Stumberg and Bryan Johnson And Family. After that we'll move on to new or recent releases by Rachael Sage, Seth Glier, Laura Joy and others.
Until next time.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Live Hart – Honesty
2014, Goin’ Native Records
2014, Goin’ Native Records
New Jersey-born singer/songwriter Live Hart cut her musical teeth as a member of pop group Urbanesque, but her primary focus has always been that of a singer/songwriter. This aesthetic is wholly evident on Live Hart’s debut solo album, Honesty. Hart weaves intricate tales and soundscapes throughout the ten songs on the album, with a dulcet voice and an intensely melodic musicality. A soulful R&B influence in inherent in Hart’s sound, but her muse comes first, and listeners are the one to benefit.
Honesty opens with a touch of Latin soul and pop in the form of “I’m Gone”. The groove here is tremendous, and Hart’s voice is delicious ear candy. It’s a brilliant open with significant chart possibilities. Hart changes gears for “New Day”, utilizing cascading vocal layers to beautiful effect. In spite of the difference in sound, the net effect is the same, a brilliant pop turn you won’t be able to get out of your head. Hart digs into a stripped down sound on “Take Me” that grows into a vibrant folk/rock gem. The chorus here is perfect pop radio, full of honest life and intensity and a tasty pop hook.
“Please Don’t Say It’s Over” is a quietly pleading pop number that’s infectious in its rhythm and sound. The most integral component here is Live Hart’s honey-tinged voice, dulcet and warm in tone and timbre. She manages to navigate the corridors of pop music with a grace and class that allows her rise above the pack. On “We Can Change the World” Live Hart takes a more generic path to a politically correct, socially activist message. This is a popular and thoroughly overdone message in pop culture. As a result, efforts in this direction need to be wildly original or extremely well done to stand out. Neither is the case here.
Hart turns the corner on “Lala”, a quietly brilliant love song written from the perspective of gratefulness and grace. The melody here is a thing of beauty, as live shares a moment of true intimacy with listeners. “This Is Me” seems to grow out of “Lala”, but musically and generationally. The same pop sensibility is there, but there is a slow growth in intensity and energy between the two. Hart returns to a stripped down, guitar-driven arrangement for “What Is Love”, a musical-slow boat that grows into a low-key R&B gem. Once again, it’s Hart’s voice that is the key driver here, but the entire piece is full of an esoteric beauty that is impossible to ignore. “Summer Love” steps into a keener pop/rock sound and borrows its opening line (lyrically and musically) from John Waite. Hart’s mix of pop sensibility and singer/songwriter aesthetic serves her well once again. Honesty closes with “Release”, playing on the edges of popular hip-hop styles and essentially surrendering the unique high ground Live Hart spent the first nine songs of the album carving out. This is a solid piece of writing, but it is by far the weakest track on the album.
Live Hart flashes brilliance on Honesty, with the sort of voice you just close your eyes and let wash over you. Her songwriting has depth, and she blends that with a brilliant folk/pop sensibility that gets inside your head. Honesty isn’t just a title but a mantra, and Hart lives it to the fullest. This album should establish Live Hart as a songwriting and performing force to be reckoned with.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at www.livehartonline.com.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Tom Levin - Them Feet
2014, Cut The Mustard
Tom Levin just keeps rolling. After an accidental fall into a musical career that involves a shower concert and an exchange student program, Levin has led something of a charmed life. His first band, Tennis, scored a top-10 single in his native Sweden in 1996 with “Shyway”. Levin was just getting started however. In the intervening years he has dropped six solo albums, showing steady growth as a songwriter and performer while continuing to refine his stage presence and his craft. Levin’s latest effort, Them Buffalo is something of a companion album to his January, 2014 release, Them Feet. Steeped in stripped down rock and Americana styling, Levin reveals himself to be a master story teller with a deep understanding of melodic nuance and rhyme.
Them Buffalo opens with “Thunder On”, something of a musical bridge from Them Feet. The opener is a sharp and catchy rock and roll song with country flavor. Levin’s voice is not a purist’s voice. It’s full of rough edges and color and has an almost talk-sing sway to it at times, but he wields his voice like a finely tuned instrument, injecting personality and presence like a grand showman where the lines thin. The result is a captivating sound that leaves fans and critics alike captivated and willing to listen long into the night. “Mind’s Eye” opens in the style of an aboriginal tribal chant, and becomes a Utopian paean that’s catchy and well-written. Wrapped up in the song’s core is an element of faith; a theme that recurs often through Them Buffalo in different forms. “Everyday” is about finding your way by paying attention to the little things. Questions of right and wrong swirl around the edges of this song; not in a judgmental way, but in the form of diving next steps. The song has an earthy and urgent feel that is brilliantly understated and full of a primitive beauty.
“History, Beliefs and Bearded Men” takes on the concept of right and wrong between religious cultures from a very personal perspective. The ancient argument between absolutism and relative truths wage quietly here, with Levin opting for an informed conscious to make out the difference in all of us. In truth, there is a fatalism here that is appealing. Levin doesn’t seem to be eschewing any side of the argument, in the end. Opting for the sense that nobody really knows, so let’s all do the best we can. This is a pensive number that’s prayerful in attitude and hopeful in heart. It sets the stage well for “Different Drum”, a paean to being you no matter what. The swaying rock anthem is typically understated but somehow more powerful for it.
When it comes to love songs, the genre is thoroughly overdone. Some overdo, some try to almost make fun of the genre. Levin bypasses it entirely in recreating it for a new age. In “More Than A Song”, Levin uses the ancient art form to decry its insufficiencies while delivering a message of deep love and intellect all at once. It’s a thing of beauty that bypasses syrup but sticks to you nonetheless. Levin engages in affectionately humorous misdirection on “Girl From Nova Scotia”, a tribute to Canadian songstress Mo Kenney. If you’re not listening carefully (I honestly wasn’t the first time it played) you’ll think Levin’s engaging in vitriol, but there’s a deep admiration in the line “I hate you in a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful way.” The underlying theme here is the mix of admiration and jealousy an artist might feel in hearing another artist create beauty. It’s real and honest and powerfully alive.
Levin heads for home with “Schizo”, “Summered” and “Margaret’s House”. The first delves into the push and pull of different parts of a personality. There’s a bit of Randy Newman-style self-parody here, alongside Tom Wait’s biting poetry. “Summered” is probably my least favorite track on the album; That is to say it’s really well-written, but perhaps just a bit out of place with this cycle of songs. Levin bows with “Margaret’s House”, with the help of vocalist Aimee Bobruk, whose dulcet voice is a perfect blend to Levin’s understated drama. This pensive duet is full of a quiet reverie, and is the perfect annotation for an album steeped in thought, wisdom and the slow wearing of time on memory.
Tom Levin continues to grow into his prodigious talent as a songwriter and performer. It’s hard to say if he’s approaching a zenith or continuing a long slow build to something even more renowned, but the fact that he has hit new heights is inescapable. In spite of several releases from artists I absolutely love in 2014, it is not stretching the point to say that Tom Levin’s Them Buffalo is the finest album I have heard in 2014. You will be hard pressed to disagree.
Learn more at www.tomlevin.com.