Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Before we get there, I just want to take a minute to thank everyone who put themselves out there to submit material to Wildy's World for review in 2008. Whether you are a new artist trying to find a foothold in the business or an established name, it can be nerve wracking to put the finished product of months or years of your life's work in the hands of a stranger for their honest opinion. Even a place like Wildy's World where we strive to find the positive qualities of a recording and won't write a review if we don't feel we have anything nice to say can ruin someone's day/week/month with the wrong turn of phrase, choice of words, or just a good honest opinion.
Performers are incredibly brave, incredibly strong and ultimately incredibly fragile people. They live and die with the applause. A great reaction is manna for the artist. Silence is starvation. Everything in between carries mixed emotions. The people on this Top-40 list are getting great reactions, but they aren't the only ones from this year who deserve them. There is a long list of albums who maybe didn't make the Top-40 but represented quality work from artists in 2008 that are documented in this blog. The reviews and lists here ultimately reflect my opinions, and they can change, but the Top-40 albums here are the ones that have really stuck with me throughout the year. Things I continue to listen to and enjoy and suspect I will for some time. So we'll strive to do the same thing in 2009, giving all of those brave enough to put themselves out there a platform and someone who's not a publicist to shout about you into the virtual world. Our growing readership indicates that people are listening.
On to #1...
#1 Marian Call - Vanilla
It was a big year for Alaska. Alaska's national profile has been semi-permanently bolstered by the political ascendance of Governor/VP Candidate Sarah Palin. She has perhaps topped Jewel as the biggest thing to come out of Alaska. Don't be surprised if in the long run both names are eclipsed by one Marian Call. The fiery redhead from Anchorage is Indie Music's pure heart. Her acoustic guitar-driven missals weave heartfelt and personal stories with irony and perhaps just a touch of mischief. Call creates magic whenever she picks up her guitar or opens her mouth to sing. Not much known away from Alaska before last year, Marian Call has started to play dates on the West Coast and is beginning to build a buzz. We were lucky enough to be one of the first to review Vanilla and we realized right away what a hidden gem we'd found. Aside from her overt talent, Marian Call has done a great deal to encourage a bustling local music scene in Anchorage, and creates music at a rate that is almost super-human. She publishes one song a month on her web-site, has put out two albums in the last 18 months or so and is working on a third.
I highly recommend you get to know Marian Call now. She's on the way up, and there's no telling how high this rocket will go. Marian Call is the real deal, and she epitomizes the heart and soul of what all the artists who have submitted material to us in the past year are striving to do. Create. Play. Excel. Live.
Congratulations to Marian Call for having the #1 CD on The Wildy's World Top-40 of 2008. It's well deserved. And congratulations to everyone who was listed here, and to all those who, thought they may not know it, didn't miss by all that much. You are all the lifeblood of the music industry. You keep the great music flowing. You keep making it, and we'll keep telling the world about it. Thanks for a great 2008!
2008, Spark A Fire Records
Blue Island Tribe have been together for most of this decade, originating in their university days U of Northern Iowa. Mixing Rock and Reggae with an infectious pop aura is what Blue Island Tribe is all about. For all of the positive response their four previous releases have received, Blue Island Tribe truly comes alive in front of a crowd, be it a monster crowd or an intimate house party. Blue Island Tribe's fifth release, The 5 Hits Of Ecstasy (EP), finds The Tribe continuing down their chosen artistic path with a little more maturity and a little more finesse than in the past. The spirit still burns white hot, but the delivery has been refined just a tad.
Down opens with a classic Reggae sound turning into a sound that is a slightly more pop-oriented version of Sublime. The tune is extremely catchy and has potential commercial impact written all over it. Drop Out is a bit edgier, surfing the waters of a broken relationship. The upbeat, catchy vibe of the song stands in stark counterpoint to the subject matter here. Jump And Shout is the most familiar sounding song here, with a definite Red Hot Chili Peppers thing going on. The class of the album is the fourth song, March On. It's a tribute to US troops that was born out of a house party the band gave on a military base in Korea. Apparently the band had written the music previously but didn't have words. The lyrical inspiration came mid-performance in a blur of creative magic. The song does not celebrate the military as a war machine, but celebrates the people who dedicate their lives to maintaining peace through their presence and sacrifice. The album closes out with Ecstasy, which is probably the most pop-oriented. If you remember the commercial and appealing mix of reggae and pop that Eddy Grant achieved in the early 1980's then you have an idea of the sound here. Very smooth and slick, Blue Island Tribe may have found their first true hit here.
Blue Island Tribe continues to spread their musical moments of joy through 200 shows a year, but somewhere along the way they've grown from raw musical creationist to songwriters and artists. The 5 Hits Of Ecstasy shows The Tribe stretching their creative wings and attaining a higher level of musicianship and song craft. A very strong and enjoyable recording that's much too short, but otherwise without complaints.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Blue Island Tribe at http://www.blueislandtribe.com/ or www.myspace.com/blueislandtribe. The 5 Hits Of Ecstasy is currently only available as a download through iTunes. A hard copy was originally scheduled for November of 2008 but has been pushed back until March of 2009.
2008, Elan Records Canada
Babe Gurr. What a name. The folk/rock singer-songwriter from Vancouver Island, British Columbia has been turning heads for years with her blend of roots/blues/pop. Shaped by intelligent, sometimes funny lyrics, memorable melodies and strong arrangements, Gurr lights up her songs with an engaging presence and a sandy and sultry voice you won't forget. Gurr's latest release, Chocolate Lilly, continues in the vein of her earlier works. It's a stunningly beautiful and poignant musical experience.
Gurr starts with great songs and one of the tightest backing bands south of the arctic circle. Chocolate Lilly opens with Hard To Get Over Me, a soulful warning that's part Lucinda Williams and part Bonnie Raitt. If you ever want to court Gurr or a woman like her, listen closely to Love Is Tough. It's a statement of terms for a relationship, and probably one of the most commercial songs on the album. I Give Myself To You is destined for weddings, mix-tapes and scenes involving young men with box radios below the windows of ladies they adore. This is one of those classic love songs that with the right bit of commercial exposure would become the wedding theme of a generation. It avoids cliché while making an honest and forthright statement of devotion. The melody is memorable and won't leave you anytime soon. Gurr also pulls back a little back here vocally, sounding more like Shawn Colvin than Bonnie Raitt.
Babe Gurr is absolutely inspired on her cover of Ray Charles' Unchain My Heart. The song drips with soul and desire driven by Gurr's sultry voice. Larger Than Life frames a philosophy centered on taking life by the horns and having no regrets. It's a great Americana arrangement with real pop hooks. Make sure also to check out Understanding, a poignant look at inequality and the ultimate remedy. Other highlights include the title track, Chocolate Lilly, Now You're Gone and Break Thru.
Babe Gurr is the sort of talent who doesn't come along all that often, and her star is on the rise. Her music has already been tapped for the US television show Higher Ground, as well as being a guest on Canadian shows Canada AM and The Jim Byrnes Show. It's only a matter of time before Gurr's star rises above the Canadian Content Rule and she truly becomes an International artist. Chocolate Lilly is the clearest sign that she is ready, taking everything Gurr has done so well to this point in her career and raising her game another notch. It's an inspired performance.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Babe Gurr at http://www.babegurr.com/. You can purchase a copy of Chocolate Lilly at www.cdbaby.com/cd/babegurr3.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
#2 - Jason Plumb & The Willing - Beauty In This World
Beauty In This World is one of the first CDs we reviewed and remains one of our favorites. Jason Plumb has always had a penchant for writing these gorgeous songs, often with upbeat or sweet melodies and melancholy to depressing lyrics. Plumb raised his game on Beauty In This World from star quality to genius. This is the most sonically pleasing album of the year. This is the first album Plumb produced entirely on his own, and his DNA is in every note. It's been a long trip from his days with The Waltons, but Plumb has gotten better and better, just like fine wine. I don't believe he tours extensivelly anymore, and you're not likely to find a show outside of his native Canada, so his albums and the live clips on Youtube are probably your best bet to get to know Jason Plumb. Don't deny yourself the opportunity.
2008, Desmond Drive
Desmond Drive is an Atlanta band with a big sound. Practicing the fine art of melody-driven rock in the vein of The Beatles or XTC, Desmond Drive literally turns heads when they start to play. Vocalist/keyboardist Bill Shaouy was raised on great melodic pop and managed to internalize that sensibility. It comes through in droves on Desmond Drive’s debut album, I Called I. With the help of Chuck Kelly (drums, percussion); Steve Platnick (Bass), and Rob Gal (guitarist and Producer), Shaouy offers up some of the sweetest pop confections you’re likely to hear.
Desmond Drive travels the highways and byways of big melodies and strong pop themes. The fact that these are applied to a distinct Americana style makes for a highly listenable and universal album that eludes distinct classification while constantly breaking new ground. I Called I opens with Two-Headed Beast, classic Americana in the image of Canadian trailblazers Blue Rodeo. Vocalist Bill Shaouy has a heavenly voice that's as smooth as anything and twice as pleasant. Desmond Drive nearly reinvents themselves on Poker Face, with a strong Roy Orbison thing going on. This is pure 1960's pop music; a love song with a slight country twang and big harmonies. Desmond Drive changes gears again on Isn't It A Wonder, a Beatles-esque pop ditty that's bizarrely beautiful in the most esoteric sense.
If you've ever spent much time on the folk scene in Upstate New York you may have come across a band called The Foothills Trio. I mention them because Desmond Drive's next song, Goodbye, sounds like The Foothills Trio sat down to jam with the Traveling Wilburies. The song carries tremendous harmonies and outstanding guitar work. Your Name is a sweet pop song that will popular for mix-tapes but is somewhat complacent, missing some of the energy encountered thus far on I Called I.
Simple Things, however, is probably the highlight of the album. Shaouy sounds inspired on this gem, which is as varied and complex as pop music gets. Simple Things has an almost Shakespearean quality about it; it's snappy with great hooks and a tremendous sense of movement. Leader finds Desmond Drive in the midst of 180-degree turn. It's an introspective and almost brutally honest self-assessment. It's a beautiful song with something of a John Lennon feel to it. My Will is the most straight forward pop/rock song on the album. It stands out the more so for seeming slightly out of place here. The song runs like a nervous child through the verse but finds purpose in the well-crafted and melodic chorus.
Happy Tollbooth Guy sounds like something that might show up in an Off-Broadway show. It's a bit campy and upbeat and showcases a vaguely theatrical style that runs just below the surface of much of Desmond Drive's music. Stylistically it sounds like Billy Joel and William Finn sat down at the same piano together. My Tribe is a great upbeat pop tune that could cross over as a dance hit, ala Fatboy Slim. My Tribe is the track with the greatest commercial potential, and honestly could be a dance hit with a remix by the right DJ. I Called I closes on a theatrical note, with the spiritually heavy One Night. Desmond Drive really gets down to their roots on these dramatic piano-driven tunes.
Desmond Drive is all over the musical map on I Called I. While this is not a key to commercial success in this day and age, it has always been a formula for classic, memorable, sometimes even iconic albums. I don't know if I'm willing to quite call I Called I iconic, but it's in the ballpark. The melodic sense here is stunning, and the composition style is unique and varied enough to make a distinct statement. Desmond Drive is lyrically competent and unafraid to take musical chances. Fans of folks like The Beatles, The Moody Blues and Dennis DeYoung-era Styx will love this. Fans of melodic pop rock and musicians in general will also find I Called I very gratifying. I Called I is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, and definitely something you want on your to-do list.
Angela Predhomme - Angela Predhomme
2008, Angela Predhomme
Angela Predhomme isn’t your usual singer-songwriter on the rise. Predhomme has been in love with music all her life, but got a later start on writing and performing than many artists. The Detroit native has been a regular on Mackinac Island for the past three years, where the movie Somewhere In Time was shot. Her producer, Scott Christopher, is her old guitar teacher. Reading through her bio you get the impression not so much of a pop star but of, perhaps the girl next door. One listen to her debut CD, Angela Predhomme, and you’ll know that impression is the right one.
Angela Predhomme opens with Passing The Days, a sweet, bluesy country tune. Predhomme is in fine vocal form here, with tremendous tone and color in a voice that is at once surprising and comforting. Everything Is Alright is a memorable tune that you'll carry with you long after the CD stops spinning. Georgia is a bit of a change-up from Predhomme. A great story song, but Angela Predhomme is just a bit too sweet here to pull it off entirely. This song requires just a bit more grit than Predhomme projects, but is still a strong recording.
Too Much Time is a song of self-reliance than is both endearing and powerful. This may be the most well-written and performed song on the album. Just Like Magic has a vaguely wanton quality to it that is surprising. Predhomme shows a darker side that you might not suspect. She's back to her sweet, introspective self on If I Could Love Like My Dog, a song that's so pure it's almost kitschy. Other highlights include Transparent Eyes, Nemesis and Little Girl. Little Girl is a special song with a very positive message. It's carried by a strong melody and leaves you better at the end of Angela Predhomme than when you started out.
Angela Predhomme has real talent for writing and performing songs. She comes across as sweet and innocent and real, kind of like the classic girl next door. She surprises with mild shadows and light at times, but never truly crosses over into the darker side of human nature with the songs on her self-titled debut. She's the sort of recording artist you'd be proud to have your teenage daughter (or son) listening to as a role model. Currently residing in an almost adult-contemporary style, Predhomme shows flashes of real pop sensibility on her debut. As she develops this sense, you may find her songwriting open up and display more layers of her self and her sense of the world, but this is a great start.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Angela Predhomme at www.myspace.com/angelapredhomme or http://www.angelapredhomme.com/. You can pick up a copy of Angela Predhomme at www.cdbaby.com/apredhomme.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Today we have an anomaly. The #3 album of the year is by the only artist to place two albums in our Top-40 for 2008. I won't keep you in suspense.
#3 Jessie Kilguss - Nocturnal Drifter
Most artists would be more than happy enough to place one album in the Top-40. Not Jessie Kilguss. Late to the music game after starting out her career as an actress, Kilguss has opened a Pandora's box of great songwriting shaped and teased by the gorgeous layers of Kilguss' voice. Together with producer Super Buddha, Kilguss has created one of the most lush and musically aesthetic albums of the year. Kilguss showed such growth and personal extension in just the eighteen months or so between albums that it's a bit a scary to think where she might go next. Nocturnal Drifter was one of three songs in the final mix for the top spot. The fact that it comes in at #3 isn't a mark against Drifter or Kilguss, but an indication of how strong the talent has been here this year. This might be Kilguss' first Top-10 placement on a list of this sort, but it surely will not be her last.
In an interesting coincidence, we have three recordings in the countdown originating from the same Massachussets hometown. Jessie Kilguss and Wensday reportedly attended the same high school. Must be something in the water up there. You can check out the original review of Nocturnal Drifter by clicking on the hyperlink above.
2008, Adolfo Lazo
San Francisco-based Adolfo Lazo has spent the last 20 years drumming for Celtic Rock band Tempest. Along the way he started to come up with his own songs that didn’t fit within the Celtic Rock mode. Lazo’s solo material lends itself more to a mix of Latin pop and Folk Music. His latest solo release, On Tape, blends the two styles so completely he almost becomes his own genre. Lazo reports that he started drumming around the house as a little tyke hoping to find the secret formula for invisibility. Lazo hasn’t totally given up on this dream, but the side effect of gorgeous pop tunes is a much more compelling story.
On Tape opens with Morgan, a tongue-in-cheek song that sounds like it may have been written about a disaffected teenager. The lyrics are entertaining and the basic rock arrangement here is a suitable frame. Lazo has a voice that is pleasant to listen to without being overly pretty or flashy. Two Minute Love has a distinctively shredded guitar style that is part psychedelic. The instrumental doesn’t live up to its name at 1:46, but is still entertaining. Cual Es Tu Carrera is a snappy song with a Latin rhythm that might be the best composition on the album.
Red And Yellow is very catchy. The song will stick with you. 365 is an enjoyable listen, and very poignant. Other highlights include Rice Rockets, the rockabilly Outta Vegas, and Borracho. The live version of Time To Go is a great listen as a closing track.
Adolfo Lazo is a talented songwriter and performer. He has a very guy-next-door style, and his music is very accessible. It’s the musical version of comfort food, and who doesn’t like that? On Tape plays like a favorite record of songs you haven’t heard before. It’s not exciting or flashy, but comfortable and familiar. A great effort.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Adolfo Lazo at www.myspace.com/adolfolazomusic. You can purchase a copy of On Tape at www.cdbaby.com/cd/adolfolazo2.
Canadian rock stars Nickelback played to a raucous crowd of 40,000 attendees of the Sturgis Motorcyle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota in 2006. Nickelback were at the height of their multi-platinum success going into this show and did not disappoint their fans there. Live At Sturgis features 12 songs from that show, and more than a little adult fare. This disc is great for fans, but parents might want to think twice about buying this for their teens or pre-teens.
Nickelback love putting on old-style rock shows, complete with pyrotechnics, lasers and effects. It’s all here, and the Sturgis rally-goers, high on a week of motorcycles and whatever else, eat it all up. Nickelback doesn’t disappoint with songs such as Photograph, Never Again, How You Remind Me and Too Bad. They even slip in an interesting Side Of A Bullet in tribute to Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell. Other performances come up flat, however, with Animals leading the way (both as the first song on the DVD and the worst).
The energy is here through most of the set, but Nickelback does have a reputation for being uneven. One great performance can be followed by an absolute dud, and vice versa. Parents be warned, as indicated before this show was played before the denizens of a bike rally. There are lots of naked breasts floating around, and a lot of language you may not want little fans to hear. Just use your best judgment.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Nickelback at http://www.nickelback.com/. You can pre-order Live At Sturgis, available January 3, 2009, at Amazon.com.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
#4 Carlos Bertonatti - Times Are Good
At the point when we received Carlos Bertonatti's CD Times Are Good, it was months away from being commercially available. What we had was a rough mix burnt to a CD by his publicist trying to drum up some early interest. We had no idea what a gem we had come across until we actually sat down to listen to it the first time. Carlos Bertonatti writes some of the most sublime pop songs out there. The songs on Times Are Good are acoustic, and so are pop without all of the noise and effects that tend to accompany pop music. With Latin and Soul having their influence on his sound, Bertonatti is a marketer's dream. The fact that the songwriting is incredible is a bonus in the business, but for here we're all about the songwriting and performing. Carlos Bertonatti is an electric personality. Check out his fan base and you'll see the sort of near-manic devotion that super stardom is made of. His songs are first class, and his voice and looks will be sure to make the ladies swoon. All of that aside, it's probably the best pop album of 2008.
I'm not qualified to make a clinical diagnosis, but Trey Green is nuts. Bonkers. Stark-raving mad. Let me be clear about this. Trey Green is indubitably, wonderfully insane. His bio references accomplishments such as being hospitalized with several fish lodged in his nasal passage and being arrested on three occasions for failing to move at a green light. Musically, Green is an enigmatic figure, playing whatever he pleases from moment to moment. Stylistic consistency goes out the window in favor of whatever pleases him. This probably explains why Green connects so well with audiences. There is no planning, no pre-packaged musical experience. Trey Green is what he is, like it or not. His debut album, Trey Green was made after the same fashion. No matter who you are, you'll find something you like here.
Trey Green opens with Smooth Breakdancin' Guy, a tongue-in-cheek exploration of a guy who thinks he can dance. We all know someone like this, or are that someone. The dancing is probably more legendary in the mind of the dancer than in the viewing public. My Girlfriend is an extreme example of excusing the shortcomings of those we love. Green puts aside the novelty material for Won't Last Forever, a poignant look at goodbyes. Green hits the height of hilarity on My Fantastic Ass. I don't think I need to say any more.
Part of the mystique of Trey Green is his voice. It's not perfect. It's not pretty. It's slightly jarring and top heavy, but it's perfect for the material he sings. Anachronistic in a way that is memorable and distinct. Once you know his voice you'll always recognize it right away. This quality is often times more desirable than "pretty". Just ask Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies). You'll want to check out Mad Crush and Go Away. Other highlights include The Forever And Ever Song and Tavarua.
Trey Green mixes observations inane and insane with poignant moment and memorable arrangements on his self-titled debut CD. The end result is a journey through madness with the occasional foothold on sanity; creating a highly entertaining if off-kilter musical experience. Trey Green isn't afraid to just be who he is on CD and let you judge him on the merits. The end result is glorious insanity, the kind you run into every single day in the real world, but with a touch of humor and panache. A joyous romp through Green's Id without safety nets. A must-hear.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Trey Green at http://www.treygreen.net/. You can purchase a copy of Trey Green at www.cdbaby.com/cd/treygreen, or on iTunes.
2007, Packway Handle Band
Packway Handle Band emerged from the same Athens, Georgia music scene as REM, the B-52's and Widespread Panic. Born in 2001, they won several local awards, and by 2006 were touring the country to great acclaim. Performing in the old "gather round the mic" style, Packway Handle Band seems to make friends and fans wherever they go with their classic style of play and honest-to-goodness sense of humor. Their fourth release, the self-titled Packway Handle Band, was released in 2007 to much acclaim, resulting in the band being profiled in Bluegrass Now Magazine in April 2008 as a Bluegrass Band To Watch.
You'll want to check out the guitar/banjo picking on Tossin' The Beefcake. Earl The Duck is a bizarre love song to a pet that will make fans of The Brother Creeggan smile. The harmonies here are very well done, even if the song is a bit surreal. Other highlights include The Story (which could make it as a rock tune), the jazzy Downpour, River Delta and Can't Win For Trying. The album closes out with a cute novelty-ish tune called Satan's In Space. Don't let the occasional kitsch fool you hear, this is one first-class folk/bluegrass outfit.
Packway Handle Band makes serious music with a sense of humor. Their fourth release, Packway Handle Band is very much worth a listen or six. Fans of country, bluegrass or Americana will eat this up. There are humorous elements throughout the songs that may remind folks of Barenaked Ladies early stuff or Moxy Fruvous. If you're into the sort of music we've mentioned here then Packway Handle Band is for you. If you're looking to broaden your musical horizons with some first class music, this may be a good place to start.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Remember that you can see the original review of the album by clicking on the artist name and title highlighted below. The review will include links to the artist page as well as purchase information.
Top we look at the fifth ranked album of the year.
#5 Rebecca Katz - Spendin' On Today
Rebecca Katz just got in under the wire for inclusion in the Top-40, and oh was her timing great. This Boston-based folk singer is one of the true gems of 2008. The Louisville, Kentucky native and Brandeis University grad makes her home base in Boston, but has wowed audiences up and down the Eastern Seaboard with her warmth, intelligence, sparkling wit and gorgeous voice. In the finest folk tradition, Katz weaves her own songs while reinterpreting some of the finest songs of the folk tradition. Katz isn't afraid to explore other musical styles, but her own creations are all acoustic and of her own hands (and voice). You may not find a more honest and charming performer on the folk circuit or anywhere out there. Spendin' On Today, at six songs, is short, but is powerful for both the quality and the veritable honesty that flows out of those songs. Spendin' On Today is far and away the best Folk Album we heard in 2008.
2004, Stephen Roach
From the woods of North Carolina comes Songs Of Water, a 6-piece experimental folk band that is based half in impressionism and half in realism. Mining sounds and structures not often heard in the popular music realm, Songs Of Water carve a niche for themselves like a river burrowing into a wall of sandstone. Their debut CD, Songs Of Water, is a shimmering musical experience with all the depth and power of an ocean-bound stream.
Songs Of Water may be one of the most sonically entrancing instrumental albums of the year. Opening with hammered dulcimer and violin on Long Journey Home, Songs Of Water sets the table for a collection of twelve gorgeous instrumental vignettes. Long Journey Home is aptly named for the images it conjures, and I can easily see this song in a travel sequence of a motion picture. While Long Journey Home dances on the age of Celtic and Folk, Come To The Well is clearly in the Celtic tradition. The simple and straight forward arrangement is stark and fitting as a complement to some of the acoustic guitar work it entails.
Up From The Depths is wonderfully moody and dark, muted in shadows and neon. The song has a palpable personality that broods in its silent heart. You'll definitely want to check out Tempest, perhaps the loveliest song on the album. The sonic imagery here is too rich to be explained in a sentence or two, you'll just have to listen. Other highlights include sorrowful Travail, To Leave The Ground Behind and Reverence.
Songs Of Water's musical impressionism is as gorgeous as it is detailed. The juxtaposition of musical light and shadow informs the larger compositions here while drawing clearly from folk and Celtic traditions. Songs Of Water is an album that you will cherish for relaxation, meditation or active listening. You musicians out there will love the texture and layers built by Songs Of Water. Definitely a keeper.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Songs Of Water at http://www.songsofwater.com/ or www.myspace.com/songsofwater. You can purchase a copy of Songs Of Water at www.cdbaby,com/cd/sroach2.
2008, Transit Music
Alpha Transit was born in the fall of 2003 as a trio, interested in combining rock, jazz, funk, blues and electronica in a jam format. Adam Berzowski (keys), Geoff Howard (bass) and Tim Rush (drums) labored as a trio for two full years before adding guitarist Kirk Tatnall to complete their sound. Together and individually the members of Alpha Transit are responsible for nineteen recordings, most or all of which play into Alpha Transit's catalog in one fashion or another. Relying on structured improvisation and a bit of inspiration, Alpha Transit make music that hearkens back to the days of progressive rock, where riffing was an art form and not just a way to extend a meager set list into a 90 minute show. Alpha Transit took the stage of the Milwaukee Ale House in the summer of 2008 to record a show, packaged for you as Transit Comes Alive! (Along with the companion CD Made In Milwaukee). If you're into progressive rock or jazz then this is going to appeal to your taste buds.
Transit Comes Alive! opens with Tapping Chaos, a smart, funky jazz jam. The song works, although there is one keyboard solo in the middle that sounds like the tractor beam from the old Galaga arcade game. Next up is Leap, a lively eleven-and-a-half minute jam comprised of Spyro Gyra style fusion and electronic elements that give it a spacey sound. Second Chances moves into the progressive rock realm. It starts out strong but gets bogged down in repetition toward the end.
Simply Put starts out sounding like a country rock tune, morphing into classic rock and even jazz at times throughout the song. This is probably the most well-rounded and pleasant listen on Transit Comes Alive! Cuff mixes elements of jazz and rock, sounding vaguely like an Eric Johnson composition at times. Star is fairly standard fair with lots of improvised runs. The keyboard work here is particularly impressive, sounding like an old Hammond B3. Yeah, No! closes out the set at 17 minutes of frenetic music activity.
Alpha Transit delivers a series of musically satisfying jams and improvisations on Transit Comes Alive! This album will generally appeal to aficionados of modern jazz and experimental rock. Outside of that realm it may not spark a lot of interest. It's a solid album, just not terribly commercial and therefore is likely to be a niche recording. A good listen though.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Alpha Transit at www.myspace.com/alphatransit. You can pick up a copy of Transit Comes Alive at www.cdbaby.com/cd/alphatransit2.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Each album gets a little more face time here, and as always, if you click on the Artist Name/Title you'll be taken to the original Wildy's World Review. The original reviews have a full synopsis of the album as well as links to artist web pages and outlets that sell the album. So what are we waiting for?!?!?!?
#12 Margot Blanche - Pages In My Diary
Pages In My Diary offers up a blending of Jazz with Hip-Hop the likes of which you've likely never heard. Part Madonna, part Billie Holliday and part Suicide Girl, Blanche grabs your attention with a striking voice and commanding presence. Her tendency toward a burlesque style stage show may be a mere distraction to music fans, but you'll forget all about it when she starts to sing. One of the most original attempts at musical fusion we've heard in some time.
Julie McKee's debut album is one of the finest collections of Jazz-imbued pop music of the year. She's part Annie Lennon, part Fiona Apple and part Jane Siberry. 2008 saw McKee gain significant attention for What A Woman Shouldn't Do, and even broke down international barriers by performing her first shows in New York City and Chicago (both well reviewed, by the way). Intelligent and witty lyrics make this one of the smartest albums of the year. An absolute must have for music fans.
Crooked Still is as about as old-school country as one can get. Still Crooked is steeped in the Celtic and Folk traditions from which country music originally grew. Aoife O'Donovan sings this music like its her life's blood, and the rest of Crooked Still don't so much back her up as organically weave themselves around her voice. Out and out the top Country/Americana album of the year.
Some of you may remember Mike Ford as 1/4 of the Toronto quartet Moxy Fruvous. Rather than fading into obscurity, Ford has become of Canada's best songwriters, concentrating his efforts on songs with educational value. Canada Needs You Volume Two focuses on persons, places and events in 20th Century Canadian history. No subject or musical style is off-limits as Ford uses intelligent and nuanced story-telling, humor and divergent musical styles to paint a series of musical profiles. This disc isn't likely getting a lot of mention on end of year lists, in large part because Ford doesn't do the whole self-promotion thing on a level with many of the other artists here, but it should be. The CD is absolutely unforgettable. And hey, just for kicks, check out this interview we did with Ford. It's a worthwhile read.
Woodward's debut is the quintessential Rock N Roll album, mixing elements of modern rock and classic rock into a blend that is familiar yet new. As music fans, this was probably the most exciting Rock Album to cross our desk in 2008. Because of the mix of sounds the target audience for this CD is any rock fan from 10 to 60. Woodward may or may not make the long haul stardom, but don't be surprised if this album someday stands out as one of the finest and most enduring albums of the Indie Rock era.
We last saw Melinda Doolittle in Season six of American Idol, bounced from the show by fans who value youth and gimmicks to talent and an ability to perform. Rather than run right to market to capitalize on her exposure with a collection of pre-packaged hits that wouldn't do her justice as an artist, Doolittle has chosen to take her time and put together a recording that befits her talent. The result, coming on February 3, 2009, is Coming Back To You. Most American Idol alumni have managed to disappoint, leaving behind the sounds they developed on the show for slick, pop-oriented sounds that are more production value than talent. Doolittle has stayed true to herself, delivering 13 songs steeped in classic R&B and Soul.
Opening with Fundamental Things, Melinda Doolittle sends the message that she is invested in old school sounds. Doolittle shines in a market of vocalists who have traded singing for coloratura runs and performance for posing. It's Your Love sounds like something that might have come out back when Ike and Tina were still together. Moving out in front has done wonderful things for Doolittle, and her voice on Coming Back To You appears to have grown in stature and soul since her Idol days. Coming Back To You is a classic R&B ballad, and likely a single, but may not be the strongest song on the CD.
Declaration Of Love, on the other hand, is the highlight of the disc. Doolittle opens up like a flower on this one and belts her way to musical glory. Melinda Doolittle has that rare double of being able to sing a song to life as well as being able to sell it on personality alone. When the two aspects of her personality and talent come together Doolittle lights up a stage like a bonfire, and this song is likely to be a concert favorite for years to come. Wonderful has a great soul groove to it. Doolittle finds the pop heart of this song without selling it out; giving a nuanced and personal performance that will touch listeners.
Dust My Broom has that touch of theatrical wonder that only a seasoned performer can master. Melinda Doolittle has the ability to reach out through the speakers and connect with listeners in a way that some artists struggle to do even in a live environment. Her voice here is at its absolutely best. The music industry just hasn't heard this kind of explosive voice in a while. Aretha and Tina are still around of course, but Melinda Doolittle might be ready to take up their respective crowns. Other highlights include I'll Never Stop Loving You, If I'm Not In Love, Walkin' Blues and We Will Find A Way.
It's been clear from her very first appearance on American Idol that Melinda Doolittle was a special talent. Idol alumni have been a mixed bag in the sales department, and even more suspect in the quality department. Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood have all had great success towing the pop line while giving up some of the character and personality that made them stars on the show. Kelly Clarkson has broken out somewhat from that mold only to see her sales plummet. Taylor Hicks built up the biggest persona on the show, but gave up his personality to the production team on his eponymous major label debut. The same goes for Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino, both of whom were disappointing in spite of winning their respective years. Melinda Doolittle has stayed true to what made her a star on Idol, and has created, by far, the best album to come out of an Idol alumni to date (I've yet to hear David Cook's debut, but its hard to imagine him topping Coming Back To You). Melinda Doolittle's sound isn't as commercial as many of those who have come before her, but I'll bet this album outsells all of her predecessors. Coming Back To You is pure gold, a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Its a must for Doolittle fans; fans of classic R&B and soul, and anyone looking for good, quality music sung with a lion's heart.
2008, Duane Large
Duane Large is one of the more enigmatic performers in popular music: Influenced by everything from Croce to Dylan; The Decemberists to The Beatles; George Gershwin to Franz Schubert. Large has played with many groups over time, including The Philadelphia Orchestra. His debut CD, Stories In The Last Year, runs the gamut from rock to folk to Tin Pan Alley without losing direction. It's one of the most musically involved pop/rock albums of 2008.
Duane Large has a straight forward Folk/Americana delivery that is without pretension. His songs are written in a crisp, clean, economical style that is both refreshing and fun. Stories In The Last Year opens with Jillian. Jillian bears a strong stylistic resemblance to Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo). Your House is a classic singer/songwriter folk song. Large's sweet and mellow voice rings clear throughout and his guitar work in exquisite. Abide is my favorite song on Stories In The Last Year, a love song that doesn't stick to the usual formats or cliche, Abide is a powerful and appealing song that probably has major licensing potential.
Ligeia (Poe) has a European sound to it and a gorgeous melody that you won't be able to get out of your head. The Road Less Traveled uses a classic 1960's guitar emulating a doo-wop chorus to back up a classic sound. Large is very convincing here. Other highlights include Tucked In The Seams, the Celtic The Ballad Of Nelly Holland, and All You Are. All You Are is a classic folk song right out of the gate. This is the sort of song that other artists pick up on and record or perform live.
Stories In The Last Year is aptly named. If Duane Large continues on the path he's on he may well end up as one of the more prolific and talented songwriters of the new century. Every song is crisp and clean with well-defined melodies and intelligent, expressive lyrics. Large is likely to find a big audience with the right break.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
And the tensions builds as today we are covering #'s 13-19. #1 is on the horizon...
#19 Gena Perala - This Ain't Pretty
Gena Perala combines the lyrical oomph of a Bruce Coburn or Springsteen with the post-Ani DiFranco sense of pop/folk/punk songwriting style. This Ain't Pretty is gritty and tough and distinctly beautiful (without being pretty).
#18 Mindwalk BLVD - Paint The Seconds
A progressive rock power trio whose oldest member is a green 16 goes on to nearly win a spot opening for Yes on their 40th Anniversary Tour. If the tour hadn't been cancelled due to Jon Anderson's health problems you'd already be hearing these kids everywhere. As it is it's just a matter of time.
Barenaked Ladies style kitsch. Beach Boys Harmonies. Dick Dale style guitar and an edginess reminiscent of The Clash. This is the gloriously improbable package offered up by Beware Fashionable Women. One of the most pleasant surprises of 2008.
Dukes is a musical story-teller, nay, a troubadour who finds the most unusual angles. Pulling the humor from life rather than poking fun, Dukes can make you laugh about a story while feeling the underlying angst all in the same song. A songwriter's songwriter.
MacLean is a sublime story teller with a near-perfect pop sense. His ability to connect to the listener is insane, and the list of contributors for this album will show you how much respect he already has in the music world.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, whatever traditions you keep, or however you see the face of God, may blessing be upon you all. You, our readers, have made this a successful year for Wildy's World, with over 25,000 visits in our first year (from about 40 per week in January of 2008).
We've reviewed over 600 recordings in 2008, with many more to come in 2009. We'll also be rolling out some new features and services in 2009 to assist independent artists along their path, so keep an eye out for some big announcements in the coming weeks!
Until then, enjoy the holidays in your own fashion. Keep reading Wildy's World (of course) to follow the growing sense of anticipation to see who will be enshrined with the #1 album of 2008.
Be well. Be happy. Live.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Today we are covering #'s 20-26. We're creeping our way towards #1...
#26 - Autumn - Velvet Sky
The Texas singer-songwriter's second album is full of quiet grace and fortitude. A songwriter's songwriter, Autumn paints velvet sky like the master artist that she is.
#25 Stephanie - Stephanie
Contemporary Christian Pop music that's good enough to break out into popular radio. If you want to see what the future of Christian Pop looks like, take a listen to Stephanie.
#24 Blue Rabbit - Separate
Delightful Baroque Rock from San Francisco! Cello, drums and Celtic Harp supporting the angelic harmonies of Heather Anderson, Arami Reyes and Sarah Rocklin make this a sparkling listen.
Great pop/rock songs that are intelligent in lyric and catchy enough to warrant serious attention. Taglieri is a rare combination in today's music world.
Former Huffamoose front man Craig Elkins is back with this eclectic and tasty set of pop/rock gems. It'll take a few listens to get this one, but you won't regret the effort.
Theatrical Rock N Roll at it's finest. Big guitars, soaring harmonies and inerrant pop sensibility land this Philadelphia DIY band at #20.
Alphabet Rockers - Alphabet Rockers
2007, School Time Music LLC
San Francisco's Alphabet Rockers offers up educational hip-hop for kids in the kindegarten to 2nd grade. Along the way they have created fun, feel-good educational music that will keep the whole family rockin' and swingin'. Drawing from influences including 1980's hip-hop, funk, soul and Rock N Roll, Kaitlin McGaw (The Simple Things) and Dawn Richardson (4-Non Blondes) get down like no one's business. The fourteen songs on their debut CD, Alphabet Rockers, were written with teachers from around the country to ensure the material was usable in an educational sitting, but the music is to the usual high standards of McGaw and Richardson. Kids and parents alike will love this.
If you're familiar with Kaitlin McGaw from The Simple Things then you're in for a particular surprise. The purveyor of lustrous songs of introspective angst does a one-eighty and dives whole-heartedly into the world of 1980's hip-hop for children. If this seems like an improbable or impossible switch then you need to listen to the album, because it works. Alphabet Rockers works because it deals with subjects that will appeal to the younger set without ever once talking down. Similar to folksters Trout Fishing In America, McGaw & Richardson have found a voice that speaks the language of wide-eyed wonder without pandering or condescending.
Highlights include The Seven Days Of The Week (Reggae), The Money Song (funk), The Rainbow Song (hip-hop/R&B) and It's Time For Something. McGaw weaves her golden voice when she's not laying down rhymes, and Richardson creates a tapestry of unusual and varied beats that propels the music. And just for a treat Alphabet Rockers throws in 100th Day Of School; more of an alt-country rocker than anything else.
Alphabet Rockers is a Parent's Choice Award Winner and a National Parenting Publications Award Winner for a reason. The music here plays equally well with kids and their parents. McGaw and Richardson speak to their audience eye-to-eye. While the joy of creation is still important here, it is great to see two distinct musical talents, one well established and the other who will be, using their talents to give back to the next generation of musicians, artists and parents. Alphabet Rockers is a dream come true as a children's album. Smart, funny, full of joy and always on the mark with the intended audience. A must recording for the kid in everyone.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Alphabet Rockers at http://www.alphabetrockers.com/. You can purchase a copy of Alphabet Rockers at www.cdbaby.com/cd/alphabetrockers. Alphabet Rockers are available for school and community performances. You can get additional information on shows and other services by emailing email@example.com.
2007, Basia Lyjak
Toronto’s Basia Lyjak is on the rise. Starting out as a member of the short-lived pop band Aphrodisia, Lyjak quickly broke out on her own. Not fitting into the pop princess mold, Lyjak sings from the heart and from the gut. On CD you hear just Basia Lyjak, without computer enhancement or pitch correction. Her second EP, Writings On The Wall, sets the tone for a long career with songs full of passion and chutzpah. There’s no holding back.
Lyjak opens with the wonderful frenetic Stuttering. A strong punk rock sensibility turns into a big rock chorus that's part Lita Ford and part Debbie Harry. Lyjak has that slightly pouty rocker girl sound that was popular amongst the queens of 1980's rock/metal. Her voice is quite a pleasant listen, in fact, with just enough edge to make her believable as a rocker. Bye Bye is a low key modern rock song with a big chorus that allows Lyjak to spread her wings somewhat. This is a highly commercial tune that should do very well on radio and in licensing. Plastic lets Lyjal open up her pipes and let us know what she's really made of. The results are tremendous, as Lyjak at full volume is a real treat to listen to. There's an almost Idina Menzel quality to her.
Torn is a pleasant rock song, but a little too much like most of the other modern rock you might hear on the radio to stand out. The EP closes out with Lies, a slowed down rocker that doesn't really pick up the sort of energy displayed on the first three songs until the chorus. The song is full of angst but doesn't seem to every quite get out of its own way with regard to energy level.
Basia Lyjak is quite a talent. Her big, strong voice can blow you away but is supple enough to handle soft passages without any difficulty. Writings On The Wall is a smash for the first three songs, and just okay for the last two. Not a bad ratio, in fact. I recommend Writings On The Wall to my listeners as a great starting point for an artist, and a good to great listen.
You can learn more about Basia Lyjak at http://www.basialyjak.com/, where you can purchase a copy of Writings On The Wall.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Each listing will give a very brief statement about the album, and the artist name/title will serve as a hyperlink to the original Wildy's World review, where you can also find links to the artists' website and links to purchase their CDs.
Today we are covering #'s 27 -33. And awaaaaay we go...
#33 Jessie Kilguss - Exotic Bird
Jessie Kilguss' debut album is full of stark, exotic and lush tunes. A stunning album, and the second best she's done in the past two years.
#32 Kristoffer Rangstam - Wrong Side Of The Room
Take someone who may be one of the best songwriters of his generation and send him on the road with a rock legend like Debbie Harry. The results are an esoteric and aurally striking album that will keep you up nights.
The little band that could from Albany, NY. Sirsy is the epitome of DIY Rock N Roll. Vocalist Melanie Krahmer is at her out-of-this-world best on Sirsy's latest.
Shaheen is a classically trained pianist, powerhouse vocalist, and dances across genres like Baryshnikov on stage. Love Is... is a dynamic pop/rock release with something for everyone.
Amy Regan has Norah Jones' sweet soulful sound and the pouncing instincts of Fiona Apple. This young lady is out of left field and you'd better listen, because she is an unusual talent. And Then There's This makes the list despite the short EP format. If it were a full album it might be 20 spots higher.
Artists, musicians, jugglers & newleyweds, Nate & Kate hit a home run with Fame By Frame. Their harmonies are other-worldly, and the songwriting will blow you away.
An unusual mix of Celtic and Classic/Modern rock comprises Secrets Of The Day. It's so good that traditional Celtic fans like it in spite of the modern sound.
2008, Chrissy Coughlin
Chrissy Coughlin calls wherever she happens to be her hometown. Having moved around a great deal as a child, Coughlin became adept at meeting new people and finding how situations work for her. This ease in transition comes across on her 2nd album, Look Ahead. Coughlin presents a musical traveling soul, with sounds/influences ranging from Sheryl Crow to Natalie Merchant to Lucinda Williams to Sarah McLachlan.
Look Ahead opens with Back To You, a delightful country rock tune built on a strong guitar hook and a snappy melody. From there Coughlin slides into Watch Your Step, a rootsy song born in dark tones that resolves into an airy melody and bright message. This one sounds like something Tom Petty and Sarah McLachlan might have written together if they were so inclined. Look Ahead is the mix-tape song on the disc, although it does get a little bogged down in itself. Big Log is a real treat, featuring Robert Cray style guitar playing and soulful vocals from Coughlin. Coughlin sounds very at home here, and her voice opens up with more color and nuance than we've heard to this point on the album.
Perfect Time may be the most commercial song on the album in spite of itself. It's a very straight forward rock tune with a clean melody line that sticks in your head. Wait For You is probably the most well-written song on Look Ahead. The juxtaposition of guitar, piano and voice here is quite striking, their mutual tension creates something greater than the sum of the parts. Coughlin is very courageous to take on Carlos Antonio Jobim's Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars (Corcovado). Not only courageous but successful. The tune is stylistically out of place here, but nonetheless a brilliant rendition, and makes you wonder if Coughlin might have a history (or future) singing jazz. The album closes out with Honestly, a pop confection that marks another divergence for Coughlin. It's a pleasant song that highlights the durability and reach of Chrissy Coughlin more than anything else.
Chrissy Coughlin brings a mixed and varied pallet of singing styles and vocal textures on Look Ahead. She appears to be able to sing most anything (well), and also displays a great sense of melody in her songwriting. A couple of songs on Look Ahead get a little bogged down in themselves, but on the whole it is a very solid album. It's a great rainy afternoon, snuggling on the couch music. It will fit well into your ears whether you like adult contemporary, country, light pop or rock. A strong effort.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Chrissy Coughlin at http://www.chrissymusic.com/. You can purchase a copy of Look Ahead at www.cdbaby.com/cd/chrissycoughlin2.
2009, Universal Republic
Roseland, New Jersey’s Cash Cash is on the verge of something big. Brothers Jean Paul and Alex Maklhouf, Samuel Frisch and Anthony Villacari come on with a fresh sound steeped in 1980’s power pop and accented by modern electronic instrumentation. Round it out with big harmonies and a bit of that infectious bubblegum pop spirit and you have a tasty pop confection. The band’s full length debut, Take It To The Floor, is available today, December 23, 2008, as a download, and will be released on CD on January 20, 2009.
Take It To The Floor opens with Breakout, a peppy pop/rock tune with big harmonies in the chorus, a strong melody and an unbelievably catchy beat. Cash Cash has perfectly captured the spirit of classic pop music. Take away the electronic embellishments and you have a song that would have fit perfectly in the early days of MTV. Sugar Rush is aptly named, and almost too sweet for consumption. This is bubblegum pop at its most notorious, and will get countless spins at pop radio. You'll love it up until the point you start to hate it from overexposure. Concerta is a big electro-rock offering that's catchy with a great guitar hook. The big arena-rock harmonies here make the song as the verses themselves fall a little flat.
Cash Cash has a strong sense of crisp melodies and pop arrangements that go down like cold water on a hot day. Take It To The Floor has some great pop/rock moments as well as a few songs that don't quite make it. A strong pop debut that is sure to bring Cash Cash significant commercial success. Right now Cash Cash has a lot of inertia based in newness and infectious song writing, but it will be interesting to see how they grow over a few albums, because there is real talent here.