All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review: Triptaka - Second War

Triptaka - Second War
2007, Triptaka

Triptaka is from Seattle but has it's roots in Ontario, Canada. Graeme Cornies, Dave Kelly and James Chapple have spent significant time writing music for corporate America, but find their greatest challenge and satisfaction creating their own brand of industrial alternative rock music as Triptaka. Their debut album, Second War, is a theme album about humanity fighting to keep it's better instincts intact. The theme runs through both humanist and religious philosophies, with descriptions as stark as "spiritual war" or as benign as "selling out". Triptaka certainly doesn't sell out on Second War, a surprisingly supple (for Industrial music) album full of a positive message bigger than itself.

Triptaka sounds like an odd conjugation of the Dave Matthews Band and Nine Inch Nails. Lead vocalist Graeme Cornies sounds quite a bit like Dave Matthews on the opening track, Suspended, but there's a definite harder edge that runs throughout Second War. The title track is in the style of early Metallica, whereas Tamed takes a much more pop/dance flavor into the heavy drum and bass mix. Mother is a more organic, acoustic based sound that is pleasant to the ears but retains a lot of the repressed energy that runs throughout the album. The Source heads for more ambient musical currents, sounding more like the bizarre dream born of a meditation gone haywire. Falling Down returns to the heavy metal pretense with a song that rocks harder than most of the hard edge bands on the market these days. Second War closes with Don't You Think It's Time You Let Go?; a melancholy ambient number that has licensing written all over it.

Triptaka takes risks on Second War. Some work and some don't. What comes across more than anything is the courage to create in any direction that takes Triptaka's fantasy, regardless of the market at hand. This is why I think in the long run Triptaka will succeed in the music business. The courage and ability to create for and from one's own muse in the face of commercial pressures marks the sort of character and lasting confidence that tends to carry a mediocre band to success, and a good band like Triptaka to maybe be a great one. Only time will tell, but Second War is a good start.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Triptaka at or You can purchase a copy of Second War at

Review: The Reel Banditos - Indochina

The Reel Banditos - Indochina
2008, The Reel Banditos

Hamburg's The Reel Banditos have meshed together trip-hop, funk with theatrical themes and an organic sound as social commentary on a war that's been over for three-and-a-half decades. The War in Vietnam still inspires raw wounds two generations later, and Ernesto Diablo and Butch Loco do their best to capture the facts and feelings of that conflict on Indochina. The album is in your face and provocative without being preachy, letting your imagination fill in the visuals while it carries the listener along a story line most of us are familiar with.

Instrumental rock albums are among the hardest to review, and some of the most highly subjective out there. Music with vocals allows the composer/performer to shape your perceptions and ideas through lyrical content. Songwriting is a highly filtered process when lyrics are involved, as the lyrics set what are essentially parameters for the music (or vice versa). Instrumental composers are extremely courageous, hardy folks who allow you into their mind unfiltered. You get the totality of their creation as they perceived it, without words or inflicted images to define or obscure original intent.

The Reel Banditos' Indochina marks that part of history in no uncertain terms; painting musical collages that speak to the heart of the listener rather than the mind. The creation and shaping belong to The Reel Banditos, the images inspired by the music belong to the listener alone. The ultimate measure of success is whether the listener is inspired by the music to begin to see the story as it unfolded, or is suggested by the subtle manipulation of sounds and silence to construct each movement or song.

If the purpose here was to build understanding/appreciation for the Vietnam era, then The Reel Banditos have overreached. If, as with many art forms, the purpose is to spark "something" in the listener, then I would say Indochina is a moderate success. The music is very modern. The occasional sound effects suggesting a phone or a helicopter are simply sonic garnish. The music is unique and original and worth listening to. My personal favorite track is Huey, which has a funky guitar working in tandem with electronic instrumentation. Also be sure to check out Poisoned Sky.

The Reel Banditos show an ability to mix rock and electronic music in a way that's more vibrant than many attempts I've heard. Ultimately I don't think it matters whether the themes or ideas you take from Indochina are the ones The Reel Banditos intended. The fact that you, the listener, take something from the experience is a palpable plus, and reflective of the talent, time and quality here. Indochina is a unique and interesting listen with real life to it. It’s a fine offering.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Reel Banditos at You can purchase a copy of Indochina at

Review: Peter And The Wolves - Love/Hate Thing

Peter And The Wolves - Love/Hate Thing
2008, Peter Foret

Peter And The Wolves have been rocking Ottawa and the outer environs since 1985. Band leader Peter Foret writes and plays music in a vast array of styles across several different bands. Peter And The Wolves’ latest release, Love/Hate Thing came out in 2008. It’s worth a listen.

Love/Hate Thing opens sounding like a 1970's jazz/pop/soul record. You could easily hear someone like Al Jarreau singing the opening track, Gravity. Love/Hate Thing (The title track) has a funky core with dancing synth and a great horn section. Peter Foret has a pleasant voice: not earth shattering but an easy listen. His mellow vocal style fits perfectly to the arrangements here. I Found A Love sounds like something out of the James Taylor catalog from the 1970's. Trail Of Tears is one of my personal favorites, an upbeat pop/funk piece that would have been right at home in about 1978.

The Chill steps forward into 1980's gritty funk, with some nasty guitar work on the edges. The best performance on Love/Hate Thing is the reggae driven Kiss Me You Fool. Foret's vocals get a little odd here. More specifically he seems to lose his ability to enunciate at points during the song. This is a minor point but it does draw attention away from the performance which is excellent. I Do will end up on mix tapes for those who are lucky enough to hear this CD. Color Me Gone is an upbeat outro, followed up by Carry Me Back, which plods into the finish line as perhaps the only true weak link on the CD.

Peter And The Wolves play a sugary blend of jazz and pop that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. It's not terribly challenging music but is fun to listen to. Foret shows flashes of brilliance as a songwriter, but spends most of Love/Hate Thing just being very good, which is more than good enough. This CD is definitely worth spending some time on.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Peter And The Wolves at You can pick up a copy of Love/Hate Thing at

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Review: Dare Dukes - Prettiest Transmitter Of All

Dare Dukes - Prettiest Transmitter Of All
2008, Starland Records

The best performers have at least some musical talent, a voice that is pleasant or interesting to listen to, great material and the ability to inhabit a song, soliloquy or role that transcends the stage or theater and calls us back to life through the performer/character's eyes. Many performers can do one or two of these things, but the transcendence of time and place is a magical talent that can not be taught or learned. Some people have it and the rest spend their lives struggling to figure it out. Meet Dare Dukes, a singer/songwriter based in Savannah, GA who plays and sings with the best of them, writes incredible songs, and brings characters, time and place to life so thoroughly through his songs you might forget even for a few minutes that it's a performance. The only other musician I've ever heard who could capture the brutal beauty of humanity in song in such precise tones is Randy Newman. Dukes' album, Prettiest Transmitter Of All is a series of aural portraits and soliloquys that capture restless souls, lost and misguided moments and the innate beauty and renewal of day to day life. It's stunning.

Prettiest Transmitter Of All opens with the Ballad Of Darius McCollum, a biography of the legendary New York City resident. McCollum, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, has been arrested numerous times over the years for attempting to steal trains or gain access off-limits portions of the New York City Subway system by posing as an employee or contract. The song depicts a man who loves trains, pure and simple. McCollum had memorized the system by the age of five and has posed as a NYCTA employee on numerous occasions (Interestingly enough the public's experience with McCollum posing as an employee has resulted in a much higher level of rider satisfaction than in dealing with actual NYCTA employees). Dukes has created a daring and apt musical picture that is part ode and part biograph.

Kick + Holler is a gorgeous composition built around acoustic guitar and strings. Lyrically Kick + Holler is a highly intelligent look at the human capacity to react badly to adverse situations. The melody is memorable and the song becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. Sam's Cathedral escaped me somewhat in that I apparently don't enough of the back story to get the context, but the composition here is ingenious. Dukes strips it down to just him and acoustic guitar until about halfway through. The rhythms he creates with just the guitar carry the song.

Lucas Goes To The Demolition Derby is a melancholy composition that is beautifully orchestrated. The title is a bitterly ironic as a metaphor for the inexperience and ineptness of young drivers. Dukes speaks on different levels to different listeners, depending on how deeply you listen. The ability to do just that through any medium is a profound gift, and Dukes uses it to full effect here. Bakersfield has a vaguely Michael Stipe feel to it, although it's not really Dukes' style to sound like anyone other than himself. Bakersfield highlights the human willingness at times to put ourselves into bad situations to recover something we've lost. From A Plane is a pretty little pop confection dressed up in acoustic and electric guitars, flutes and Dukes' enigmatic voice. The album closes with The Equipment Is Fine, a twisted look at people coping day-to-day with the darker aspects of humanity.

Dare Dukes is an abstract painter of human experience using the media of guitar and voice. He's found a voice in which he can frame various aspects of the human condition for others to view/hear. Dukes' viewpoint is perhaps not unique, but unusual enough to captivate the imagination. His ability to couch big ideas in small phrases and metaphors makes for a highly entertaining and thoughtful listen. His musical compositions are complex and unique and entirely fitting to the subject matter at hand. Prettiest Transmitter Of All is the output of a true American Primitive artist. His genius isn't so much in technique or in history but in the ability to tell you stories you already know from a perspective you've never considered. The fact that he does it so well is a bonus. Prettiest Transmitter Of All is a Certified Wildy's World Desert Island Disc. This is a unique and unusual gem folks. Don't pass it by.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Dare Dukes at or You can pick up a copy of Prettiest Transmitter Of All at, or you can download it from iTunes.

Review: Goddess Alchemy Project - Frequencies Of The Motherland

Goddess Alchemy Project - Frequencies Of The Motherland
2008, Goddess Alchemy Project

Goddess Alchemy Project is a West Coast artist collective that dabbles in music, dance, poetry, clothing design, multimedia and visual art. Their mix of stirring, haunting melody, artful lyrical content and genre-bending tendencies brings about an unusual and memorable listening experience. Their latest release, Frequencies Of The Motherland was financed by sales from their clothing line, al.KEM.y designs, and lives fully in the spirit of self-made, self-actualized magic.

Frequencies Of The Motherland opens with Genisis, a Delirium-esque meditation on the Metaphysics of the Goddess Alchemy Project. The presentation is not so much being versus becoming as it is transcendence, mixing spoken word, singing and effects over an ambient track with rhythms that simulate a single heartbeat growing into a sparse electronic loop. It's pagan rave at its finest. Secrets starts out in the same place but moves into a mild hip-hop patois. The transition to hip-hop continues on Groundbreak Kin. Goddess Alchemy Project thoroughly abandons ambient for hard core rap styles for much of Frequencies Of The Motherland. In the end Goddess Alchemy Project ends up much more like an urban Wilson Phillips or an earthy En Vogue than anything else.

Make sure to check out L.O.V.E., one of the more musical compositions on Frequencies Of The Motherland. L.O.V.E. has a catchy melody and great minor key harmonies. Other highlights are Diasporie Footprints and Transcendent Realms. The rest of the album left me a little lost. Goddess Alchemy Project is something of an artists collective, but Frequencies Of The Motherland comes across as a highly commercial attempt at musical ideology rather than art. There is some novelty here, but it doesn't carry the album, and despite some bright spots, the album just doesn't live up to expectations.

Goddess Alchemy Project is an interesting ensemble with some real potential. The vocalists here are above average and harmonize very well together. The reliance on repetitive music tracks and limited melodic reach make this recording sound somewhat canned, or at the very least produced to reach for radio exposure. All this manipulation seems to hide (and quite possibly impede) what may otherwise be a very vibrant project. Goddess Alchemy Project seems to find more musical footing on the ambient side of their musical heritage than on the hip-hop side. Frequencies Of The Motherland will find ears among hip-hop fans, ambient/electro fans or some followers of pagan philosophies/religions. I don't see this disc having a wide reach however.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Goddess Alchemy Project or buy copies of Frequencies Of The Motherland at

Review: Doug Cash - Alisa Chronicles

Doug Cash - Alisa Chronicles2008, Doug Cash

Sacramento’s Doug Cash is enigmatic in presentation. He displays what appears to be a talent or touch for great pop tunes (Snowed) and a unique sound that mixes pop, reggae, Latin and folk styles. Lyrically Cash is a bit of a challenge for the listener. The lyrical content on Alisa Chronicles is simplistic and repetitive, the sort of bubblegum one might expect on a dance record. Songs such as Boy Crazy become cloying, and Manuel is cute in a novelty record sense. To Be Average has some good harmony work to it and start out well, but collapses under the weight of its own self-aggrandizing tone. Occupational Hazard is a bright spot here, written in an almost old-time Gospel style.

Alisa 2 has some of the best guitar work on the album, including some complicated runs and harmonics. It may also be the best written song on the album. Highfall is a clever acoustic bundle that shows off Cash's voice to full effect. Cash's voice is worthy of note, an extremely pleasant tenor that stands out more and more as the instrumentation strips away. The album closes out with Loneliest With You. The song is a bit awkward at times but poignantly talks about a past relationship that was both the most exciting and least fulfilling.

Doug Cash has real potential as a songwriter. There are moments on Alisa Chronicles where he approaches his potential, only to get sidetracked by what be a tendency to play around with things a little too much. My impression is that Cash is a writer who is constantly tweaking his compositions to get the perfect sound, and while this can have merits it can also be overdone. Alisa Chronicles is bright and airy and will definitely find some fans in the coffeehouse set, but probably isn't quite ready from prime time.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Doug Cash at You can purchase a copy of Alisa Chronicles at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Jack Conte - Sleep In Color

Jack Conte - Sleep In Color
2008, Shadow Tree

San Francisco’s Jack Conte is either on the edge of the next wave of popular music or an eclectic, one of a kind phenomenon. Conte is one of the pioneers of VideoSongs, a mash up of live performance and music video that has become something of a tour-de-force on sites such as YouTube. Conte has two VideoSongs on YouTube that have combined for 1.3 million views. One is a mashup of Radiohead and Chopin, the other a mashup of Aphex Twin and Bright Eyes. There's no lip-synching or pretending to play over tracks. The sound is live and verifiable, the format unique to ever developing capabilities of the World Wide Web, and Conte is at the forefront. Building on this wave of excitement, Conte will release a new EP in January of 2009 entitled Sleep In Color. Sleep In Color is built from a marriage of classic instruments with modern sounds. Electronic/organic creations utilized synthesizers in addition to a World War II era accordion, an upright piano from the gold rush days, a glockenspiel, a '72 Wurlitzer Organ, a '74 Hammond Organ, drums and analog guitar effects. You have to hear this to believe it.

Conte appears to be taking pop songwriting and working it to the point of sonic/cognitive dissonance. Hollywood Endings starts out as a down-tempo pop piece with a strangely drawing melody built in minor keys. Conte’s voice is enigmatic and strange and very interesting to listen to, but all of the production and effects built around what is essentially a solid pop/rock composition become messy and hard to listen through. Likewise Like A Match. The song is a competent one, but gets lost in all of the layers here. The biggest saving grace here is the U2-like chorus. The Greatest Hoax moves more towards a pure electronica composition but still overdoes itself with effects, beats and layers. Now That’s Sacred is perhaps the most stripped down of the songs on Sleep In Color. The same general tendency to overdo is here, but has been scaled back some to allow what is a really pleasant melody shine through. Sleep In Color closes out with Carousel Waltz, which ends up sounding like a carousel in a scary funhouse. The perspective is warped just enough to make something comfortable and safe into something you’re not sure of.

Jack Conte appears to be a talented composer/musician. My sense is that there is a tendency for Conte to want to do too much to the songs he envisions. This creates finished products that are overdone or become harder to hear for all of the embellishments. Sleep In Color has a couple of bright moments, and shows real promise as a writer. You can’t be faulted for trying too hard.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jack Conte at You can check out Jack Conte's videosongs at You can purchase a copy of Sleep In Color at

Review: Andrea Hamilton - Deciding What To Keep

Andrea Hamilton - Deciding What To Keep
2008, Andrea Hamilton Music

Kansas City native Andrea Hamilton moved herself to Los Angeles at the ripe old age of 18 to study music and pursue a musical career. Bringing with her an emotionally honest and positive songwriting style, she has never looked back In the time since she has recorded two studio albums and one live release, done half a dozen tours in the Western US, a handful of international dates, and has recently had one of her songs selected to appear in a documentary. Hamilton’s sophomore release, Deciding What To Keep, is a shot in the arm to a listing music industry.

Andrea Hamilton is like a bright, shiny penny you find in the street. She appears out of nowhere and is such a pleasant surprise you pick her up and take her home with you. Without pretense or affectation she offers up honest, open pop songs that will charm, touch and otherwise entertain you. Deciding What To Keep opens with Tonight It's Ours, a sweet song about the important things that people share. Busy is an anthem for Live Simply movement (See I've got a date with the ocean waves / I need to run through the park and play / Make up a dance and start dreaming / wake up believing that what life is really for / So I don't have time to be busy anymore). The tune is driven by quirky little piano hook and Hamilton's straightforward vocal style.

I'll Be Alright is a lovely ballad about loss and the strength to carry on. Lemonade sounds like something you might hear in a French Cabaret, and continues the positive outlook that Hamilton shows throughout Deciding What To Keep. With all of this positive, well-written pop material it can be hard to pick a standout track, but Only Love jumps ahead of the rest. Only Love is lyrically deep, melodically sweet and builds in tension and emotion like a love affair. Hamilton has the ability to build these little moments of pop perfection, and Only Love is the piece de resistance here.

Drop Everything And Run is one of several vaguely country flavored tracks on the album and again shows Hamilton's ability to craft highly memorable melodies couched in well-wrung arrangements. Incisive lyrics and a gift with the occasional turn of phrase make this a gem. Other highlights include Let It Go, the 1980's top-40 sounding How Do I Get To You, Truth Get Your Boots On and the exquisitely beautiful Don't Let Go.

Andrea Hamilton isn't so much an Americana artist as one who hasn't fully committed to pop or country. Let's hope she stays as ambiguous in the future. Hamilton displays an ability to craft beautiful, highly positive songs that embrace life and living. It's refreshing to hear the open, clear voice of a newcomer in a pop world grown cynical by success. Hamilton doesn't overreach or try to do too much in her songs. She just manages to capture perfect moments almost perfectly. What more can you ask for? Deciding What To Keep is an absolute GEM; a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, and hopefully the first of many more recordings Andrea Hamilton graces us with in the years to come.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Andrea Hamilton at or You can pick up a copy of Deciding What To Keep at

Review: National Ghost - National Ghost

National Ghost - National Ghost
2008, National Ghost

National Ghost is the product of several former Detroit-area bands. Formed in 2006, the original idea was just to get a bunch of guys into a room and see what happened. Well something clicked. Building from the soul/funk base that Detroit is known for, National Ghost branches out into a modern rock sound that is fueled by a love of the 1970’s and a desire for the now. On December 6, 2008, National Ghost will release their eponymous debut CD. Get in line, this one is worth waiting for.

National Ghost has a very earthy sound that's part Americana and part melodic rock. Lead vocalist Graham Strachan has one of those voices that is eminently familiar yet you can never quite pin down who it is he sounds like. On occasion you almost think you hear Jim Morrison, but then it's gone. National Ghost has an eclectic writing style that is very mellow and memorable. King Of The Thrill has a very laid back feel and a killer melody. The chorus here thrums and sways like nobody's business. Break You is a quiet missive that’s part admonishment and part admiration. Leavin' stretches back through time to the decade of sequin suits and long, slow guitar solos that last a week. Leavin' has some of the best guitar work on National Ghost and is full of funk. Be sure to check out The Distance Between Us, a consummate songwriter's song. Other highlights include Eye To The I, Show, Ring and The Gist (by far the funkiest song on the album).

National Ghost is a very talented group that has a real ardor for the sort of funk, soul and rock and roll that characterized the 1970's. This love pours itself forth into National Ghosts' songwriting. National Ghost is a very enjoyable listen and runs across several musical boundaries. There's something here for most everyone!

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about National Ghost at You can pick up a copy of National Ghost at

Review: Merle Haggard - Legendary Performances (DVD)

Merle Haggard – Legendary Performances
2008, Shout! Factory

Merle Haggard is a legend. Not your garden variety legend. Regardless of how brutally honest he’s been about his own life over the years, there’s a mythology that follows him like mist after breath on a cold morning. Haggard was in and out of detention centers/prison in his teens and early 20’s. He was at several of Johnny Cash’s San Quentin concerts as a mandatory guest due to a robbery gone bad. Cash’s inspiration plus exposure to inmates who would later be executed convinced Haggard to straighten his life out, and within a couple of years of his release Haggard was ascending the country music charts in the United States. Haggard remains revered even today for an outlaw streak that helped to revolutionize country music. The Bakersfield (California) sound, which Haggard helped introduce (along with artists such as Buck Owens) was alt-country’s answer to the over-produced honky-tonk then in vogue in Nashville.

Haggard was on to something. Between 1966 and 1987 Haggard racked 38 #1 hits, 4 Grammy Awards, 15 Academy Of Country Music Awards, and 6 Country Music Awards. Haggard was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1977 and to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1994. There will always be artists who try emulate Haggard’s style or his sound or his outlaw stature, but there will never be another Merle Haggard. Shout! Factory offers up a collection of 15 of Haggard’s most riveting performances from the heart of his career (1968 – 1983) entitled Legendary Performances.

Legendary Performances includes offerings from Country Music Holiday; Billy Walker’s Country Carnival; the Porter Wagoner Show; Pop! Goes The Country; the CMA Awards and an iconic performance of San Antonio Rose from Johnny Cash’s 1983 Christmas Special. Highlights include Mama Tried; The Fightin’ Side Of Me, Okie From Muskogee; Workin’ Man Blues and That’s The Way Love Goes. Truth to tell, there’s not a throwaway pick on the DVD. Haggard fans old and new will love this, and it’s refreshing to see an all-around performer in action. Many of the current denizens of Nashville stand to learn a lot from a guy like Haggard.

Rounding out what is already a musically gratifying experience are two superb extras. The first is an interview with Merle Haggard from 1981 that fans will love, and the second is his 1994 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Shout! Factory did this one right. Hardcore fans will of course complain about their favorite song that was omitted from the collection (38 #1 hits plus an amazing deep catalog exist here), but for a basic best of collection that features some iconic performances, it doesn’t get much better short of doing a whole box set. Legendary Performances is aptly named!

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Merle Haggard at You can purchase Legendary Performances at or wherever music/music videos are sold.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Corey Crowder - Gold And The Sand

Corey Crowder - Gold And The Sand
2008, Tooth & Nail Records

Corey Crowder gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly. Not one for guilded metaphors or shadowed imagery, Crowder breaks down the truth and beauty of small details in no uncertain terms, supported by melodies that make the ideas soar into you like light into the ground at the end of a rainbow. His latest CD, Gold And The Sand, is a raw, emotional affair that may shock listeners with it's unconstrained voice, but listeners will ultimately be glad they made the effort to listen.

Crowder sets the tone from the first notes of Southern Way with his big soulful voice. The song is a blues/rock/country hybrid with serious commercial potential and perhaps even that crossover chic that could place it both in modern rock and country circles. Love is a big anthem that’s part Edwin McCain and part Garth Brooks. Crowder seems to be able to center in on themes and sounds that have been done many times before; yet makes them his own rather than falling into cliché. Higher Ground is a dark bluegrass tune that is a first cousin to the blues and will rivet you.

Be sure to check out Leaving You, the sort of melancholy love song that has made Nashville what it is today. Likewise Helpless Heart, which is a big country/pop tune pull of good old fashioned pedal steel and some very modern layering to create a big, big sound. The song is full of soul and passion and is a must-listen. Crowder moves back into the blues/rock realm with Innocence, which has an almost 1970’s soul air to it. Other highlights include Changes, the honky-tonk Devils, I’ve Become Something and Lonesome Road.

Corey Crowder has this great, dynamic mix of sounds and styles that he’s interwoven into his own signature sound. The mix of soul, blues, country and rock creates the sort of giant cross-over potential that should have music marketers salivating into their giblets. Aside from being labeled as a product by the industry, Crowder can write and sing. Expect to hear a lot more of Crowder over the next decade or three. If there’s justice in the music business then this guy is really on his way to somewhere. Gold And The Sand is the sort of album that could launch him into the music world’s stratosphere.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Corey Crowder at You can pick up a copy of Gold And The Sand at or wherever music is sold!

Review: Rod Stewart - The Definitive Collection

Rod Stewart - The Definitive Collection
2008, Warner Brothers

Rod Stewart. There aren't many names bigger in rock and roll. From his early days with The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces to his long-standing solo career, most everything Stewart has touched has turned to Gold (sometimes Platinum). Rod Stewart is a two-time Hall of Famer, inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994 and the UK Music Hall Of Fame in 2006. With sixty-two (62) hit singles, including twenty-four (24) in the top ten and six (6) number ones, Stewart has spent a good part of his life on the pop charts. Stewart was also recognized by the World Music Awards in 2001 with its Diamond Award, indicating over 100 million records sold. It's not surprise that any greatest hits package would need multiple discs to properly represent Stewart's career. The Definitive Collection boasts two (2) CDs and thirty-one (31) of Stewarts biggest hits. It's a bargain but will leave hard core fans wanting.

Don't get me wrong. All of the hits are here. The Definitive Collection chronicles Stewart's career from the perspective of a life-long radio listener might know it. This is for fans, casual fans and newcomers who might like to get to know Rod Stewart a little. If you have all of Stewart's albums you won't find anything new here, but the sonic treatment provided to (especially) the older tracks might make it worthwhile anyway.

The set opens with Maggie May, perhaps the most iconic of Stewart's hits. Also included are such classics as You Wear It Well, Sailing, You're In My Heart, Young Turks, Tonight's The Night, Some Guys Have All The Luck, Forever Young, Downtown Train and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy. Throw in unplugged/live versions of Have I Told You Lately (That I Love You) and Reason To Believe and the previously unreleased Two Shades Of Blue and you have an incredible collection that will please fans old and new.

Rod Stewart's The Definitive Collection isn't really definitive. There is so much more great material in his catalog that could have been included in such a title. Nevertheless, this is probably one of the best balances of content and value you'll find anywhere this year. Stewart's legion of fans still goes crazy when he takes the stage. Years of performing have added an extra rasp to his voice and he's not as wild on stage as he once was, but he still has charisma to sell a song that is almost unrivaled in popular music. This is a great way to get to know Stewart's material, or a great reminiscence for a longtime fan!

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Rod Stewart at You can purchase a copy of The Definitive Collection at or wherever music is sold.

Review: MC Envy - Do Not Approach These People

MC Envy - Do Not Approach These People
2009, NVP Records

London's MC Envy is breaking down barriers in hip-hop and R&B. The classically trained pianist includes live piano in his recordings and live shows as a foil to reliance on R&B beats and hip-hop/rap themes. MC Envy is a 22-year old up-and-comer riding the wave of popularity of home-grown hip-hop in the UK. MC Envy has been featured on the main stage at London Pride in Trafalgar Square as well as other Pride events in England. He's also begun producing for rapper Bigg Nugg and vocalist Kelly Mantle (Hollywood, CA). MC Envy's debut album, Do Not Approach These People was released in August of 2008 on his own NVP Records label.

The marriage of classical piano and hip hop was bound to make an appearance sooner or later, as sooner or later every genre-to-genre mix will be attempted, lauded, argued over, disparaged and eventually deposited in the $1.99 bin after a longer or shorter period of haut-couture preference. MC Envy uses his classical piano skills to illuminate his own brand of hip-hop/rap/soul music on Do Not Approach These People. The album opens with Please Don't Cry, built around a handful of piano arpeggios stitched together in something like a hook. MC Envy is capable with a rhyme and pleasant as a vocalist. I Am What I Am sounds almost baroque at its opening before devolving into a straightforward hip-hop tune.

I highly recommend Man In The Mirror, which is built around a somewhat more intricate piano part than heard thus far on Do Not Approach These People. The song itself is lyrically powerful and definitely worth some attention. Don't Wanna Mess continues with the genre-bending tendencies, opening with what sounds like an electric violin. One Life is the potential major dance hit here and would likely make major headway on the club scene. Also notable are Coming Out and Dance With Me.

MC Envy is riding the wave of popularity that hip-hop currently enjoys in the United Kingdom. His music is highly commercial in sound, intelligent in rhyme and bound to get (and keep) your feet moving. Do Not Approach These People is a serious attempt at fun. You'll dig it.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about MC Envy at or, where you can purchase a copy of Do Not Approach These People.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kind Of Girl - Lonely In A Modern Way
2008, Cargo Records

Copenhagen’s Kind Of Girl is the latest female-fronted pop band to come out of Denmark. Led by effervescent lead vocalist Sissel (not THAT Sissel); Kind Of Girl comes off as The Cardigans meets Garbage. On their debut album, Lonely In A Modern Way, Kind Of Girl brings bubblegum to electro rock in a deliriously monochromatic fashion.

Lonely In A Modern Way is an avid conglomeration of eletro-pop tunes that have the potential to appeal across musical boundaries. Slave To Your Charms opens the set as a peppy piece of Brit-pop with some mildly grungy overtones. Meet You is a conflicted pop tune with dark undertones; a love song based in an almost manic longing that appears headed for a desperate end. Watch In Wonder has a very-1980's pop feel to it even while incorporating modern electronic sounds. Also notable are the darkly brooding The More and Poetry Boy.

Kind Of Girl sounds like the ultimate in pop branding for the aught-eight crowd. Tuneful with real melodies and strong construction, but reliant on electro-pop arrangements to convey lushly melodic pop tunes that don't quite fit in a specific pigeonhole. Vocalist Sissel is very listenable, with a pleasant sound, but doesn't quite grab hold of the listener the way you might hope on the CD. Kind Of Girl is an affable band with pleasant songs, but doesn't quite separate themselves from the pop pack with Lonely In A Modern Way. It's pleasant but not remarkable.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kind Of Girl at or, where you can purchase a copy of Lonely In A Modern Way.

Review: Genesis - 1970-1975

Genesis - 1970 - 1975
2008, Atlantic/Rhino Records


There are few bands in rock and roll that can create the sort of excitement Genesis can. Even 40 years after their founding, with multiple personnel changes and layoffs in between, Genesis tours and tickets evaporate into thin air. With over 150 million records sold worldwide, Genesis is one of the top thirty all time selling bands. Their material is as diverse and eccentric as you could imagine. Atlantic/Rhino has released a collection of five original studio albums under the title 1970-1975 containing 7 CDs and 6 DVDs, along with a bonus disc of unreleased material. It's a large scale re-packaging with includes remastering/remixing of the original stereo recordings on CD and then 5.1 Surround remixes on DVD. Also included is a disc of rarities not available elsewhere.

The albums involved are Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. These albums mark the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis. Fans will argue about whether they prefer Gabriel or Phil Collins (with the occasional Ray Wilson sympathy vote), but no one denies that Gabriel was at the helm during Genesis' more experimental Progressive Rock years. Genesis was sometimes derided, particularly in Britain for musical elitism, purveying progressive art rock in the era when Punk Rock came alive. The stealing away of music from the working class was a common theme amongst critics, most of whom are long forgotten.

1970-1975 is your basic repackage. A few unreleased/live tracks are thrown in to make it worthwhile for hardcore fans, but that's your audience. The big price tag ($139.98) won't appeal to anyone else, particular in an economic environment like the one we are in now. While all of the albums here are great, start with something like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Selling England By The Pound and then work your way backwards. If you're a die-hard and you have the extra cash this holiday season, then you'll be happy with 1970-1975. The set looks great and the sound is fantastic.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Genesis at You can purchase 1970-1975 at or most major music retailers.

Review: Chris Huff - Death And Texas

Chris Huff - Death And Texas
2008, Help Us Find Food Records

Chris Huff speaks/plays a musical patois that is unique in popular culture. He's played/sung classical piano, jazz bass, folk and rock guitar, a cappella, opera, gospel, bluegrass... you name it; he's done it. And it's all here. Death And Texas is the ultimate "gumbo", where styles blend and fold into one another until the differentiated ingredients give up their respective identities to some new musical identify that has yet to acquire a name.

Listening to the opening track, Hey Now Now, I couldn’t get the vocal similarities between Chris Huff and Peter Gabriel out of my head. Huff could be mistaken for Gabriel on the virtue of his voice. Granted Gabriel has never been known to play Matthew Wilder style pop-reggae, but it could happen. Huff sets us straight on Oceans Never Freeze, taking us on tour of his eclectic musical mind. The song veers from big Max Webster style alt-punk to classic rock opus with some Beach Boys harmonies and New Music dissonance thrown in for good measure. Ghosts Of The Past and Lost In The Mausoleum continue the disintegration into post-modern sound. Each song starts with clear melody and slowly devolves to the point of sounds overlaying one another at random.

My personal favorite here is For The Trees, a dark and dirty blues/reggae hybrid. While For The Trees generally avoids the sonic cavalcade of sounds that become some of its countrymen, the Lo-Fi sound here is a perfect complement to the song itself. Neighborhood (Ain’t It Time) harkens back to the 1960’s as a strong period song. Then We’re Dead is fun little punker where Huff sounds vaguely like Ian Anderson on vocals. The album closes out with The Cause, which may be the most well-written song on the CD.

Chris Huff has some interesting divergences on his way to becoming a good songwriter. He has a strong sense of melody and song construction but is also enamored with musical deconstructionism a bit. Death And Texas is a fun listen; at times confounding, but ultimately worth the trip.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Chris Huff at, where you can purchase a copy of Death And Texas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: Julie - An Act Of Communication

Julie - An Act Of Communication
2008, Baby Bird Records

Los Angeles based Indie-Rock band Julie makes music so fresh and authentic you'll do a double take. Julie is the long term culmination of a friendship between front man Ethan Blumenfeld-James and guitarist Dustin Bath that dates back to their high school days. Originally a drummer, Blumenfeld-James stepped out in front with the addition of Mark Milan, Jon Spence and Adam Alessi. The band has never looked back as they have discovered a chemistry that borders on musical alchemy. Their debut CD, An Act Of Communication, commits to the permanent record a sound that has wowed crowds in LA and promises to take Julie far beyond the confines of The City Of Angels.

An Act Of Communication opens with LA Kids, a vaguely Prog sounding anthem that is very catchy and very radio ready. Do Si Do is post-punk pop/prog mix that sounds like a Spacehog cover. You won't be able to sit still while this song is playing. Lead vocalist Blumenfield-James doesn't sound like Freddie Mercury, per se, but he has some of the same vocal personality. Julie slows things down a bit with Through Your Mind's Eye, a big Progressive sounding ballad that is more romantic nature than about romance.

One of my favorite songs on An Act Of Communication is Learn To Crawl. It has some funky instrumentation, intelligent lyrics, and a big stadium aura to it. Foggin' Up A Clear View continues down the path of quasi-symphonic Progressive rock yet manages to sound very modern. Be sure also to check out Lonely Streets, which has a very strong pop/rock element to it. I Couldn't Imagine takes an interesting turn for Julie, coming off as a big time Country/rock tune with some R&B roots. The song sways its way right into your head and won't leave. Other highlights include Un-Tongue-Tied; The Queen-like Long Way Down; Sippin' On Moonbeams and the eerily dead on cover of The Beatles Blackbird. My favorite tune on An Act Of Communication is Restless Hearts. This returns Julie to the territory as bands such as Spacehog, but has a strong pop sensibility and a highly memorable melody.

Julie is one of the more enigmatic bands I've come across this year. They march very much to their own drummer; big Prog song construction mixing elements of jazz, ska and country at times into a sound that is difficult to classify and even harder to put down. An Act Of Communication is the sort of album that will hook some new fans, and put a few potential fans off. It's eclectic and off the beaten path, but has enough touchstones there to have a real shot at big things. And the losses will be far outweighed by the new fans. An Act Of Communication is an incredibly brave, daring, outrageous and glorious album. A Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc for certain. Get your copy sooner rather than later.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Julie at You can purchase a copy of An Act Of Communication at

Review: Randy Travis - Christmas On The Pecos (DVD)

Randy Travis – Christmas On The Pecos
2008, Image Entertainment

Randy Travis needs no introduction. He has been a household name in country music for as long as I can remember. 2008 sees the release of his first Christmas special on DVD. Christmas On The Pecos was actually recorded a couple of years back at (and in) the Carlsbad Caverns, but is just finding its way to the marketplace for Christmas 2008. Christmas On The Pecos includes a featurette on Christmas in Carlsband, New Mexico, focusing on the local traditions here. Another feature, Storytelling, shows Travis’ personable side, telling stories and joking with his audience.

The real attraction of course is the music, and Travis doesn’t disappoint. Christmas classics such as Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town; Winter Wonderland and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen join Travis’ biggest hit: Forever and Ever Amen. Santa and his elves make an appearance, and then Travis pulls the biggest showstopper of all. He moves the show inside the Caverns themselves, for a knockout performance of Silent Night and Rock Of Ages. Add in a full choir and you get an amazing acoustic performance that will send chills up your spine.

Randy Travis is all class. I’d expect nothing less from a live performance, but Christmas On The Pecos has something special. Call it Christmas Magic if you will, but this is a definite keeper of a holiday show. Check it out.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Randy Travis at You can purchase a copy of Christmas On The Pecos at

Review: Tom Bolton - When I Cross The River

Tom Bolton - When I Cross The River
2007, Tom Bolton

Melbourne, Australia’s Tom Bolton is something of a throwback in folk music. Bolton recalls to mind a time when folk music was about the song and the story within the song, rather than adapting a purely pop songwriting style to acoustic instruments. Bolton grew up in a family where music was always around, exposed to everything from Cat Stevens and Jefferson Airplane to R.E.M., David Sylvian and Nick Drake. Bolton’s third release, When I Cross The River is a celebration of original folk music in its purest sense. Together with double-bass master Richard Grace, Bolton weaves 12 witty and intelligent musical monologues for your listening delight.

When I Cross The River opens with the title track, a hauntingly beautiful bit of musical prose that seems evoke love, thankfulness and regret all at once. Three Hearts has a musical melancholy that stands in contrast to the happily regretful lyrics. Whose Army has a blues vibe to it that is both energizing and fun. The highlight of the album is the folk/country All I Can Do. It's a pure ballad with a simple, memorable melody, gorgeous harmonies and lyrics that touch the listener. Bolton seems to have a talent for wrapping mixed emotions into his songs. The sense of melancholy juxtaposed with a thankful spirit is a common theme on When I Cross The River. This could become trying, but for the most part Bolton avoids getting bogged down in the sediment of sentiment. Other highlights include the Celtic flavored Where You Wanna Go, the Americana themed Hold The Sun, or Sweet Days, a gorgeous acoustic guitar instrumental.

Tom Bolton has a talent for beautiful and interesting music with a melancholic flair wrapped around lyrics and ideas that often run counter to the music in their emotional weight. Bolton's lyrics are intelligent, his melodies instantly memorable, and his performances are spot on. When I Cross The River is a strong entry in the Folk Music market and should do very well for him. It's definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Tom Bolton at You can purchase a copy of When I Cross The River at

Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: O.L.D. - I Live In A World

O.L.D. - I Live In A World
2008, Fake Record Label Records

Craig Elkins is known to fans as the former front man of Huffamoose, and has long had a reputation for honest, expansive lyrics that border on catharsis. Along with Larry Chaye De Gasperin he formed O.L.D. as an outlet for his more recent writing, much of which coincided with or was inspired by moving to L.A. a few years back. I Live In A World is a series of musical soliloquies developed from a time of upheaval and new opportunities in a life defined by family and music.

Everybody's Bitch describes the frustration felt by Elkins at being tied to the needs and requirements of others in order to support a family and develop himself. It's an anthem that most any working person with a family can identify with as it examines how difficult and yet seamless the transition from narcissistic individual to productive member of a family/society can be. The song itself is great alt-rock stuff: highly memorable and infectious. You'll be humming it for days, and singing it in your head every time your boss drops something new on your desk. The Cookie Song is a hilarious look at self-denial for your own good. It's full of a tense energy that is part desire for change and part longing for the comfort of old ways. It's a bit of fuzzy pop genius.

When The Gloves Come Off is built around a great guitar hook. By the time you get through When The Gloves Come Off you'll be convinced that Elkins has distinctive gift for catchy pop songs in a fuzzy/dirty jacket. There's an almost Beatles-like sense for melody lines that will stick in your head like good oatmeal on the ribs. The sound is a little bit messy, like a live a recording; reflecting the almost haphazard genius that seems to define Elkins' compositions. The title track, I Live In A World, reflects upon the sad state of modern society where being friendly to the wrong stranger can have bad consequences. This is particularly reflective of life in a major city such as L.A. or New York.

Truth to tell, there isn't a weak song on I Live In A World. Hey, Where Ya Goin'? sounds at first like an intervention with a family or friend until you realize Erlich is chastising himself. Lost Soul is a quiet moment against the fast pace thus far. Full of a lyric melancholy that is sad but distinctly beautiful, Lost Soul is one of the true highlights of I Live In A World. It's All Good Baby takes on a distinctly Americana flavor and serves as a reminder of what's important in the middle of the day to day maelstrom of life. The album closes out with I'm Always On The Wrong Side Of The Road; Let's Ride It and 3000, all strong songs.

O.L.D.'s I Live In A World is a surprising album. It took me a few listens to get into this one, but the effort was definitely worth it. It went from an album I wasn't particularly excited about to a personal favorite in the course of about ten spins. Craig Elkins is a distinctive voice, both as a singer and songwriter, documenting the slice of life he's been dealt in unusually honest and unrestrained terms. I Live In A World is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, something I never would have imagined at first listen. Let O.L.D. surprise you too.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about O.L.D. at You can purchase a copy of I Live In A World at or via download on iTunes.

Review: Joel Dobbins - Unreal

Joel Dobbins - Unreal
2008, Joel Dobbins

Joel Dobbins is a unique young voice, mixing wit and gravity in a manner not generally seen in an artist his age. Joel Dobbins’ 2008 release Unreal (his third) is an exciting and unique look at a young artist as he develops. This might be the sort of album you hang onto.

Unreal opens with At The Door, an upbeat musical plea to a lover on the edge full of both hope and angst. It's a highly radio-ready song that might play well to college radio. Half Past Noon is a Matchbox 20 type anthem with smooth, highly produced instrumentation and the mellow yet clear vocals of Dobbins on top. Break The Locks is my second favorite song here, and probably the track with the most commercial potential without sounding blatantly commercial. It's a great melancholy pop song. Midnight Conversation has the potential to be a gorgeous piano ballad but gets caught up in the programmed drums and effects that surround it. The Song I Have To Sing calls to mind 1980's Brit-pop bands as Dobbins blows the roof off with a great pop tune.

My favorite track on Unreal is Hypocrite, a tongue-in-cheek admission of imperfection. Dobbins finds the perfect mix of pop sensibility, alternative edge and rock and roll rebellion in this gem. Also notable are the obscurely beautiful Here In The Dark and So Happy.

Joel Dobbins has obvious song-writing talent, and a distinct sense of melancholy pop. Unreal gets a little too mired in the melancholy at times, but on the whole is a strong listen. Dobbins has a highly pleasant voice and we look forward to hearing his future projects. In the mean time, give this disc a spin.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Joel Dobbins at Unreal was just released on November 5, 2008. As of the publication date of this review I could find no outlets online selling it. For the time being you can stream some of the songs off of Joel Dobbins’ MySpace page (Link above). You might try writing to Dobbins through his MySpace page.

Review: Everett Fox Band - Everett Fox Band

Everett Fox Band – Everett Fox Band
2008, Everett Fox

The Everett Fox Band is Everett Fox on vox/keys and Dave Salce on percussion. The New York City duo draws from classical, rock and folk for inspiration. The band’s eponymous release (their 2nd) arrived in 2008 meeting with much anticipation.

Opening with Beautiful World, the Everett Fox Band makes an untidy yet somewhat fun mess of U2’s brand of pop/electronica. The song is campy and undisciplined yet an enjoyable listen. Next up is Here I’m Walking, a song that is just way too formulaic for its own good. Conditional is an unusual tune with some unique harmonies and chord progressions. Much of Everett Fox Band was not dramatically distinguishable from a lot of organic/electronic music in the marketplace. The energy level here is way too low at times, and it’s a rough crowd.

The Everett Fox Band is a young band that’s still a little too inward focused to really interact successfully in the music marketplace. They’ll find an audience, perhaps even a highly dedicated following, but EFB would seriously benefit from additional personnel to up the creative tension and energy. There are flashes of what EFB does really well, but at this point they are merely flashes.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the Everett Fox Band at You can purchase a copy of Everett Fox Band at

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Desmond Pringle - Be Still

Desmond Pringle - Be Still
2006, Magnum Opus Entertainment

Desmond Pringle’s reputation as a Gospel balladeer precedes him. Pringle is something of a “rock star” in the Gospel world. The ordained minister and former record executive gives live performances that leave audiences stunned, whether with rousing Gospel choir style barn burners or soulful, passionate ballads. Pringle’s latest release, Be Still, is a dynamic gospel and religious experience.

Be Still encompasses the worlds of Pop, R&B, Funk and Gospel in a CD of Praise music with strong commercial leanings. Pringle has an affable voice that is warm, welcoming and strong. His delivery is pure televangelism, relying as much on the sort of pop-psychology, feel good worship style that fills pews at Pentecostal churches everywhere as on musicianship. This is worship music you can dance to, or dance music you can worship with if you want. It's all a matter of perspective.

Pringle brings a real pop sensibility to Be Still, along with a top notch band. His reputation as a balladeer is not lost on this reviewer either. He turns in primo performances on Everything To Me and the title track. His is a voice that would sell CDs and downloads in the millions in the pop world. In the long run this CD is destined to be strongly pigeonholed in the Contemporary Christian Music category in an R&B/Soul subset, severely limited the commercial potential for Be Still. It's certainly not for a lack of talent, spirit or dedication on the part of Pringle. I personally feel that Pringle is at his best as a singer on the ballads and slower songs. What little he loses on the get up and dance worship songs he more than makes up for in charisma and showmanship.

Desmond Pringle is the sort of a performer who can touch an audience and bring them along for a musical adventure. Be Still is a dynamic worship disc that should cross all sorts of denominational barriers, but is so blatantly worship oriented that it likely won't spread much beyond religious communities.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Desmond Pringle at You can purchase a copy of Be Still at

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: Dali Rocket - Incessant Love Tribunal

Dali Rocket - Incessant Love Tribunal
2008, Dali Rocket

Incessant Love Tribunal opens with The Death Of Dali, an acoustic guitar based piece with some of the most gorgeously ethereal vocal harmonies you'll hear in 2008. The song meanders through the first three minutes before breaking into a bass-led polarization reminiscent of the Barenaked Ladies The Great Provider. The vocalist sounds a fair amount like Jian Ghomeshi of Moxy Fruvous, and the overall mood is mellow drama with an insurgent energy just beneath the surface. Palm Full Of Stars opens with a series of synth overlays and effects that resolve into Michael Hedges style acoustic guitar work. Impositions is a snappy little quasi-acoustic pop song with a funky spirit and unforgettable chorus.

Veil Vale Vail is full of a relentless inner life that displays itself in contrapuntal rhythms and some generally dazzling acoustic guitar work. Walking Meditation carries on in a spirited manner, and is my favorite song on Incessant Love Tribunal. It's one of the happiest breakup songs you'll ever hear, and may be one of the best pure pop songs of the year. Other highlights include the Rush styled Quest For Quintessence, Michigan Morning II and the title track (which is my second favorite song on the disc).

Dali Rocket is highly unusual. This is a band of primo of musicians. The lead vocalist has a gorgeous, clear tenor voice that rises out of the period melancholy or meandering musings like a beacon. The harmonies are stunning as well. Dali Rocket does occasionally get bogged down on Incessant Love Tribunal, but on the whole its a great listening experience. Dali Rocket is a band with significant potential for both commercial success and a significant musical legacy.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn a little more about Dali Rocket at You can purchase a copy of Incessant Love Tribunal at

Review: Shayna Zaid - Au Fait EP

Shayna Zaid - Au Fait EP
2008, Shayna Zaid

Shayna Zaid has quite the back story. Born to an American mom and Malaysia dad, Zaid grew up in Malaysia, leaving only when it became time to go to college. Zaid is something of a real celebrity in Malaysia, where she was nominated in that country’s 2007 ERA Awards for Best New Artist, Best Female Vocals and Best Pop Song. Shayna Zaid is also a television personality in Malaysia as one of the stars of the talk/variety show Speak Up. Upon arriving in the US Zaid began studies at Berklee, but quickly moved on to New York City to work on writing and recording. Her second release, Au Fait, arrives in 2008 with a sound you’ll be hard pressed to forget.

Au Fait opens with Just Because, a jaunty cabaret love song with a come hither attitude and a Cheshire grin. The arrangement is just slightly messy and wonderfully real in the cabaret style. Closer has a slightly more polished sound in a pop ballad that really features Zaid's esoteric vocal presence. Closer is the sort of ballad that sticks out in your mind after hearing it, and would have real commercial potential. It's You sounds like the sort of love song Sarah McLachlan might write. Zaid contrasts this with a voice that is closer to a throaty Norah Jones. I Remember is an almost upbeat acoustic ballad with great instrumentation woven around the melody. Take Your Time returns to the slightly muddy sound of the opening track.

It is in these muddy waters that Shayna Zaid shines brightest. Zaid has an earthy sound that is best practiced close to the ground in an organic or live sound. Zaid has a strong ability to emote and project her personality into songs, and the tracks on Au Fait live through her personality. Au Fait EP is an incredibly rich, brief introduction to Shayna Zaid, leaving the listener always wanting more. Shayna Zaid is one to watch.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Shayna Zaid at You can purchase the Au Fait EP as a download through or iTunes. No word yet on a CD release. Also, several of Zaid’s songs from her previous release, Beyond Borders were featured on The Young And The Restless. These songs are also available as downloads from

Review: Brian Kelly - Afterplay

Brian Kelly - Afterplay
2008, Skylight Music

Brian Kelly is a pianist and composer who trips lightly through the worlds of jazz, neo-classical and new age music. His early influences ranged from the likes of Beethoven to the Beatles, and these early influences continue to effect his compositional decisions even today. Kelly’s second CD, Afterplay, resides firmly in the contemporary jazz category. Supported by musicians such as Eric Crystal (Boz Scaggs, Omar Sosa); David Rokeach (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles); Viviana Guzman and James Robinson, among others, Kelly has crafted a fine collection of contemporary popular jazz compositions.

Afterplay opens with River Rush, a modern piece that's almost more pop than jazz. The urgent melody line eats this song up somewhat in a downpour of themes. Smiling South is a Caribbean flavored piano tune full of big, catchy, ear-candy themes. New Vision is a light pop tune that incorporates Spanish Guitar, Latin rhythms and a funky bass line over a mellow piano bed. Snowflakes rising may be the highlight of the album, using what sounds like a dulcimer and piano mix in the opening to create an almost visual rhythm that's reminiscent of raindrops more than snow. Other highlights include the funky Flavor Seven; the title track Afterplay; Celtic Fire and Sunchaser.

Brian Kelly is a talented instrumentalist and composer. His brand of new age pop is catchy and comfortable without being cliché. This isn't elevator music but more the sort of upbeat mellow music that makes an environment or event more enjoyable and memorable. Brian Kelly has something to say, whispered just below hearing around the staves and measures he writes. Check out Afterplay, and listen.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Brian Kelly at, where you can purchase Afterplay as either a hard copy CD or a download.

Review: Amber Ojeda - Amber Ojeda (Demo)

Amber Ojeda - Amber Ojeda (Demo)
2008, Amber Ojeda

Amber Ojeda is a singer and actress from San Diego, CA with a penchant for combining old school jazz styles with hip-hop and urban grooves. Her music has been featured on the TV show Dress My Nest, and on feature films All That I Need and Prayer Before Murder. Ojeda has a recurring role on Veronica Mars and has also had face time on Dress My Nest and promos for Starz TV. Ojeda submitted her self-titled demo for review.

The demo opens with So Lovely, a bare-bones urban groove designed to display Ojeda's dusky alto voice. The verses here are monochromatic and somewhat forgettable. Ojeda has a pleasant sound but plays very much to style here, almost constricting her voice to fit a certain mold rather than letting it range free. The listener gets the impression there is more there to be heard. Don't Rush continues in the slow jam vein, moving more into straightforward modern R&B with some neat jazz style piano underneath. Hype Love works the jazz base into a hip-hop arrangement that really is nothing more than something to sing over. The difficulty here is that the music is so generic that you could sing almost anything over it, as if these tracks could have been purchased from a producer who had nothing to do with the project. It's not so much song craft as karaoke. Very good karaoke, but karaoke nonetheless. Hype Love is something of a woo-girl song. It doesn't mean a lot to those who aren't on the inside of it, but would probably do well in the club scene.

Get To Know Me slows things down a bit and allows Ojeda to stretch somewhat. Here we get to see Ojeda at her most stripped down vocally. At its most basic presentation Ojeda's voice isn't perfect, but is full of sufficient color and texture to be enjoyable to listen to. Get To Know Me suffers from a lack of energy that shows up at times throughout the demo and never really establishes a memorable melody or hook. Love From The Band has a pop/R&B feel that approaches Sade type material and is the best track on Amber Ojeda. Here I Am plays with more tension than any of the other songs here, capturing some of the energy of the jazz foundation. Some unfortunate effects are used that provide a Chipmunk-like peripheral vocal are present here and detract somewhat from what is a capable melody and a strong performance from Ojeda. The closing track, Approaching You is the most commercial track on the demo, and might make some small waves on urban stations if push as a single.

All in all, Amber Ojeda has a good start. She has a pleasant, dusky R&B vocal style that should serve her well, although there are a lot of folks in the market in the same style that are more dynamic and more likely to get noticed first. The blending of pop/R&B with jazz is nice, but is more like placing puzzle pieces together than truly blending styles to create something unique. The arrangements here are very generic. Ideal for a producer's workload but not ideal for an artist trying to differentiate herself in the market. Amber Ojeda has potential. Her demo has some high points that are worth hearing but otherwise is too formulaic to really stand out.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Amber Ojeda at If you ask really nicely maybe she’ll sell you a copy of her demo!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Alvin & The Chipmunks - Undeniable

Alvin & The Chipmunks - Undeniable
2008, Chipmunk Records

It's hard to know what Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. would think of the continued evolution of his Chipmunks. Since the re-emergence of The Chipmunks on television in 1983, the brand (and sound) has been continually updated to match the musical mood of the moment. Whether it was Urban Chipmunk (country); Club Chipmunk (dance mixes); the soundtrack to the 2007 motion picture or their latest release Undeniable, the Chipmunks have stayed almost-current with current musical trends.

One of the charms of the original Chipmunk recordings was the way in which they were created. Bagdasarian did all of the vocals himself, of his unaltered voice, and then replayed the recordings at differing speeds to create the Chipmunks' voices. Despite the manipulation there has always been something vaguely organic about the voices, allowing for at least partial suspension of disbelief. Somewhere in the last decade or so the process has gone entirely digital, using computers and vocal effects to try to recreate the original magic. As vinyl LP fans will attest, new technology isn't always an improvement. Such it is with The Chipmunks.

Undeniable definitely hits the flavor of the moment musically, but the Chipmunks voices sound like they've been digitally altered with electronic effects. For longtime listers/fans of The Chipmunks this may wreck the experience of Undeniable. I know I personally had a hard time squaring this recording with the past recordings of The Chipmunks. The album opens with the DeeTown remix of the theme song from the 1983 television series, including raps. This may go over well with new fans, but probably won't appeal as much to older fans. Shake Your Groove Thing highlights the electronic voice effect sound that I mentioned earlier. Additionally, the Chipmunks are singing background here. Generally if you're buying a Chipmunks album you're not doing so to hear someone else sing.

Livin' On A Prayer is actually an interesting vocal arrangement, but again suffers from the ultra-modernization of a classic sound. Thank You is a hip-hop/R&B radio anthem that again sounds like a computer is singing lead (and background) vocals. All The Small Things suffers from the same fate. The first song to really capture the original spirit of The Chipmunks is Ho Ho Ho. The Chipmunks (and David Seville) are now voiced by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., and the repartee between the characters returns here somewhat, although Seville is more darkly grumpy than in the old days. The original version of We're The Chipmunks is more familiar, but still suffers from the vocal manipulation that abounds through the rest of the album. I will admit I was charmed by the cover of Time Warp, but would have preferred to hear this recording done before the era of computer based recording.

In the end, Undeniable is a decent effort that falls short of its potential on the basis of over-production and technology. While its certainly more time consuming, I have to think that a better overall product could be had by returning to the old way of recording the Chipmunks albums. Perhaps it lowers the profit margin a bit based on the time put in, but perhaps a better, more believable recording outsells the current version. As someone who grew up with the Chipmunks, I find myself disappointed.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Alvin & The Chipmunks at You can purchase a copy of Undeniable at or wherever music is sold.

Review: Adam Balbo - 6 Outta 9 w/ Beats

Adam Balbo – 6 Outta 9 w/ Beats
2006, Adam Balbo

San Francisco’s Adam Balbo is a post-folk Dylan style songwriter with a hint of punk attitude and a skewed perspective on the world fueled by a declining culture and THC. There are no filters on his music – he says what he thinks in the way that he thinks it. His music is based in the folk tradition (guitar, harmonica) with the addition of the scion of 1980’s suburban teenage music, the Casio Keyboard. Balbo’s 2006 album, 6 Outta 9 w/ Beats, shows an artist with rough edges that have just begun to be smoothed by the practice of his craft and the subtlety of wisdom.

6 Outta 9 w/ Beats veers wildly between youthful extremism (Talkin’ Bush) to ironic depth (Let’s Feel Terrible Together). The opening track, Samba Blues, perhaps displays the heart of Balbo’s transition between boorish brandisher of a guitar and subtle, humorous incisor of social strata. (“I’m gonna hope against all hope that I’ve got a lot of liquor and plenty of dope to help me cope with this thing called the Samba Blues”). Also be sure to check out Rock Ballad, a tongue-in-cheek attempt at high irony. Other highlights include Noise In My Head; Long, Quick Tango and Let’s Make A Porno.

Adam Balbo is different. He’s unique. On 6 Outta 9 w/ Beats he’s probably not for everyone, but if you get it you’ll love it. 6 Outta 9 w/ Beats is anti-pop in it’s truest form: Completely unvarnished and unpretentious. As you listen along you never quite know where Balbo is going to go, but it’s a fun ride.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Adam Balbo at You purchase a copy of 6 Outta 9 w/ Beats at

Review: Boz Scaggs - Speak Low

Boz Scaggs - Speak Low
2008, Decca/Grey Cat Records

Boz Scaggs was one of the most successful American pop recording artists of the 1970’s. Playing with the likes of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, Duane Allman and Toto, Scaggs helped shape Pop music in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s he dropped out of sight, essentially abandoning the music business altogether. Twenty years later Scaggs returned as a musical curator of the Great American Songbook, releasing But Beautiful, Standards Vol. I. In 2008 he returns with Speak Low, a swanky, ultra-cool collection of standards.

Speak Low opens with Invitation, a dark and lonely soliloquy that fits perfectly with Scaggs' voice. The instrumentation here top notch and it sets the mood for this CD perfectly. Scaggs moves on to She Was Too Good To Me. Scaggs puts on his best crooner hat for this one and accomplishes a nice turn. I Wish I Knew is a gorgeous song no matter who sings it, and Scaggs basically couldn't fail on this one if he tried. Other great renditions here include Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me; Save Your Love For Me; Dindi and This Time The Dream's On Me. Also a notable and brave choice is Skylark. This is a somewhat difficult song to sing well, and Scaggs makes a game performance of it. It's great to hear an artist reach like this. While not perfect, it's better than many singers in the popular realm would manage.

Boz Scaggs is the consumate professional performer on Speak Low. This is bound to be a great choice as a holiday gift for older relatives who perhaps remember Scaggs from his younger days or still revel in some of the great American Jazz standards.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Boz Scaggs at You can purchase a copy of Speak Low at or wherever music is sold.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: Adam Balbo - Big Kid Now

Adam Balbo – Big Kid Now
2008, Adam Balbo

Adam Balbo made his way to San Francisco from Indiana via Beijing. You’ll have to ask him. Along the way he learned a lot about frying cheese, placing grand inductions and observations about life into his lyrics, and writing very cool modern folk-rock songs that are as reminiscent of Bob Dylan as anyone else I can think of. Balbo’s latest EP, Big Kid Now, is six songs of tongue-in-cheek post-pop culture reflections and winking hints at truth. Weaving his reflections and intuitions into his music like Warhol on canvas, Adam Balbo writes songs from his ID to yours starring acoustic guitar, the occasional Casio keyboard and Balbo’s eclectic voice.

Big Kid Now opens with the title track, a seemingly tongue-in-cheek of skills that seem to mark adulthood in our current culture and how empty many of them are. The song drips with an understated irony that is palpable and yet subtle enough to deliver its message without offense. The Snakeman is a brief treatise on I know not what, but it was highly entertaining. Monkey Goes To Breakfast opens with a keyboard part that sounds like it may be funeral music, and seems to be about the barriers that exist in human communication.

16-Bar Blues Love Song sounds like the sort of rant that might coincide with a good case of the munchies. The lyrics don’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but again are highly entertaining. Note To Self is perhaps the most interesting tune here. Even with Balbo’s brand of off-kilter lyricism, this is the closest thing to a (slow, melancholic) pop song on Big Kid Now. There is a deranged sensibility here (and Teddy Ruxpin reference) but the melody is actually quite lovely. It’s almost Pink Floyd like in its obtuse beauty. The EP closes out with Stain On My Shirt, what appears to be a musical metaphor for the sort of small social stigma that people use to feel superior in their day-to-day lives, and how little this all means. Perhaps I am reading too much into this one, but it’s a bit of genius.

Adam Balbo surprised me. I really didn’t like this CD on first listen, but it grew on me. I have a feeling that this disc has highly addictive properties that may need to be regulated in the long run. Big Kid Now is the sort of CD you almost laugh off until you find it has quietly overtaken your CD player and you’re listening to it relentlessly. I mentioned earlier that Balbo has a lot in common with Bob Dylan. Dylan was counterculture, but Adam Balbo travels at right angles to reality. He touches on reality once in a while on his way to the glorious madness he documents in his songs. The madness is us.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Adam Balbo at You purchase a copy of Big Kid Now at