All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: The Bigger Lights - Fiction Fever

The Bigger Lights - Fiction Fever
2008, Doghouse America

Fairfax, Virginia's The Bigger Lights have a big sound that culls the best from 1980's Pop, Arena Rock and Modern Rock. Highly infectious melodies and a driving energy are the key ingredients on the band's second EP, Fiction Fever, due April 7, 2009. Closer (Time Stops Breathing) sounds like an instant hit, featuring the dynamic voice of Topher Talley and an energy that just won't quit. Revved And Ready keeps up the energy without sacrificing the melodic aura or pop sensibility The Bigger Lights established on the opening track. Apocalypse! trades in the urgent rock vibe for a frenetic pop/rock energy that is perhaps even more infectious. It's like taking a supremely melodic pop group and girding them with a Punk Rock stage energy, and that's just on CD. I'd love to see what this band can do live.

Romance In A Slow Dance plays with harmonic structure in some almost uncomfortable ways but always manages to resolve at the right time. Goldmine Valentine is the song that will hook you on The Bigger Lights. You'll have this one on continuous replay. While there is no such thing as the perfect pop song, we occasionally come across an entry that approaches that vaunted status. Goldmine Valentine is in the conversation. If The Bigger Lights have any more songs of this quality in their collective songwriting well then we'll still be talking about them in twenty years. As it is, this is the sort of song that can turn an unknown band from zero to hero overnight. Fiction Fever closes out with When Did We Lose Ourselves, a memorable pop/rock anthem that might be the best song on the album of many bands, but takes secondary status here.

The Bigger Lights have something special. Don't be surprised if these guys stick around for the long haul. There is real songwriting talent here, and a distinct and charismatic energy that will sell albums, downloads and concert tickets. Fiction Fever is a dynamic and outstanding effort, worthy of significant attention and praise.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Bigger Lights at Fiction Fever hits shelves on April 7, 2009. You can pre-order the CD from, or you can get the downloads now through AmazonMP3.

Review: Lori Lieberman - Gun Metal Sky

Lori Lieberman - Gun Metal Sky
2009, Drive On Records

Lori Lieberman has seen the highs and lows of the musical industry. Her debut album, Lori Lieberman, was released on Capitol Records in 1972. It featured a song developed from a poem Lieberman wrote about Don McLean that was moderately successful for Lieberman, but which would become a major hit for Roberta Flack a few years later. Killing Me Softly (With His Song) still gets regular play on Adult Contemporary stations throughout North America. Lieberman release five albums in the 1970’s (three for Capitol), then took a break to have a family in the 1980s. Making her way back into the music scene as an independent artist in the mid-1990’s, Lieberman has gone on to record 6 additional albums with Pope Music and now Drive On Records. Her latest, Gun Metal Sky, may be her finest to date.

Gun Metal Sky opens with Early Wednesday Morning, a vibrant and poignant bit of musical autobiography that will stick with you. A great country-tinged folk arrangement is accompanied by powerful lyrics and a memorable melody line. Lori Lieberman has a wonderfully textured voice that is straight to the point with intriguing layers in the middle. Another Galaxy is an allegory for the concept that sometimes cowardice is the bravest step. Gun Metal Sky is put forth here in a wonderfully textured semi-orchestral arrangement that will definitely grab your ears attention. The highlight of the album, perhaps even a bit of a diva moment is When You Were Mine. Lieberman's cover of The Beatles Bus Stop also stands out. Lieberman has an enjoyable visit, but in song after song its the arrangement and musicianship that really stands out on Gun Metal Sky. Other highlights include the Tori Amos-ish More Than This, Killing Me Softly and Takes Courage.

Lori Lieberman puts forth powerful interpretations and distinctive arrangements on Gun Metal Sky. With a voice that will draw attention without being over the top, Lieberman draws listeners in slowly. It took a couple of listens to really get into this CD, but the effort was well worth it.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Lori Lieberman at You can purchase a copy of Gun Metal Sky at

Review: Alesa Lajana - Celtic Gypsy

Alesa Lajana - Celtic Gypsy
2008, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Alesa Lajana is a native of Southern Queensland, Australia; a musician with poise and maturity well beyond her years, Lajana has played alongside folks such as Scottish guitar wizard Tony McManus, Jeff Lang and Lucky Orleans. Lajana blends styles from Ireland, Scotland and Eastern Europe into her own musical patois that has garnered praise at both Australian and international folk festivals. The performer with the soaring voice makes the brave choice of going instrumental on her CD, Celtic Gyspy, a collection of primarily Irish and Scottish-influenced guitar pieces that display just how truly talented a musician Lajana is.

Celtic Gypsy is a musical experience for Celtic fans. Lajana strips down some amazing jigs and reels and illuminates them on classical guitar. Opening with a medley of Ceol Si, Banish Misfortune and The Twins, Lajana does more guitar gymnastics than you can shake a shillelagh at, turning in a virtuosic performance. Work Song features some pretty mean slide guitar work in a dark and roiling arrangement. Lajana goes for a more straightforward classical feel on Prelude From Cello Suite No. 1 in one of the highlights on the album, but my personal favorite is Autumn Child, one of the darker and more intriguing songs presented here. Make sure you listen all the way to the end of Breizh/The Seagull as well, as Lajana does some truly inspired guitar work here.

Alesa Lajana hits all the right notes on Celtic Gypsy. Economic arrangements, unusual musical choices and virtuosic play make this a real keeper. Be prepared to give Celtic Gypsy your full attention. It demands it.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Alesa Lajana at You can purchase a copy of Celtic Gypsy through

Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Modest Midget - Partial Exposure

Modest Midget – Partial Exposure
2008, Modest Midget

Based in The Netherlands, Modest Midget is the musical extension of Lionel Ziblat’s psyche into the world. A prolific composer, Ziblat writes Rock N Roll, Jazz and Classical style compositions for ensembles, film and his own projects. Born in Israel and raised in South America, Ziblat has a multitude of musical influences that run across national, cultural and ethnic lines. Add to this a melodic sense that would make Paul McCartney weep with joy and you have an extremely intriguing debut EP from Modest Midget entitled Partial Exposure.

Partial Exposure opens with Troubles In Heaven, carrying a minor key melody so infectious you won’t be able to shake it. Influences here range from the classic rock style guitar to the new wave keyboard flourishes, the almost Klezmer style violin fills and the quasi-classical orchestra transitions. This is a highly interesting song that will keep you interested from start to finish. Baby plays like a dark lullaby or night time soliloquy. Again, you won’t be able to shake the melody, presented here in a smooth and lush arrangement reminiscent of another era without surrendering its modern edge. Home I Seek employs a layered vocal harmony sound reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s compositions in a lushly layered, almost orchestral pop arrangement. Evolution closes out the EP and is my personal favorite here. Opening with a strongly Klezmer-flavored violin riff over a rhythm with vague South American roots, Modest Midget plows through a wonderfully melodic Progressive Rock arrangement. This is the most musically dynamic and brave choice on the EP and is worth the price of admission on its own.

Modest Midget, to judge from the four songs presented here, has the potential to be a musical dynamo. Casual fans will enjoy the contrast of mellow lush arrangements and high energy. Musicians will love the choices Ziblat makes in his writing, and his ability to brings styles and sounds together you might not have imagined. Partial Exposure is aptly named, but its more than enough to intrigue a whole lot of listeners and leave them asking for more. Well done.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Modest Midget at You can purchase Partial Exposure as a download through iTunes, Napster or

Review: The Loudhorns - One For Maynard

The Loudhorns – One For Maynard
2009, Loud Conversation Pieces

The Loudhorns are a collective of some of the best studio brass players Nashville has to offer. Various members have worked with folks such as Garth Brooks, Elton John, Paul Simon, Maynard Ferguson, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Randy Brecker and Larry Carlton. The Loudhorns offer electrifying live performances and a mix of jazz classic, pop covers and original songs. The forthcoming release from The Loudhorns, One For Maynard, is a tribute to the great Maynard Ferguson. Featuring six Ferguson covers and three pop covers (in the spirit of Ferguson); One For Maynard is a dynamic collection that is certain to please.

The Loudhorns mean business. Right from the opening notes of Give It One, The Loudhorns literally blow the listener away with an aggressive and musical style that is compelling. The Loudhorns don't just play jazz, they hunger for it. That drive and devotion to the art is in every note and every phrase. Even on the more laid back tracks (La Fiesta, Left Bank Express, Fly Away Home) The Loudhorns play with an energy and vivacity that escapes many modern jazz musicians. It hearkens back t a time when musicians played music because it was all they had. It's so refreshing to hear that energy and desire in a form that's been so thoroughly explored as jazz.

Highlights abound. Birdland is a musical master piece, and Superbone Meets The Badman has a spunk to it that's absolutely infectious. The cover of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is well meant, but doesn't play as well on brass as I might have expected (particularly the quieter passages). A personal favorite is the funky and flavorful Foreign Correspondent; guaranteed to get your feet moving.

The Loudhorns are very much in demand both individually and collectively as session musicians and it's easy to see why. One For Maynard is classic jazz with a modern touch. Don't pass this one by.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Loudhorns at You can purchase a copy of One For Maynard at

Review: KeyDragon - Dragon Mythos

KeyDragon – Dragon Mythos
2008, KeyDragon Studios

Heavy metal, programming and dragons are the three pillars of KeyDragon, the California band led by singer/screamer/synth player/programmer Ron Langford. Dealing exclusively in songs about Dragons, KeyDragon thrives in a gothic metal style with elements of Thrash, Darkwave and Prog. Langford is joined by Tamara Venus Star on vocals, Bobby “Bob-O” Blackmon on electric and bass guitars, Dan Marshall (DJ/Programmer), Holly Rains (drums) and Andrew Grant (guitar/bass). KeyDragon’s latest, Dragon Mythos, continues down the path of musical dragon lore.

For those of you not familiar with KeyDragon, the California band writes and performs only songs dealing with dragons. Some songs focus on folklore surrounding dragons while others take on original story lines based loosely on dragon myths and stories. The music is a subdued Darkwave Metal sound that is instantly recognizable particularly if you were ever a fan of bands like King Diamond, Type O Negative or mid-to-late Metallica. This is, of course, a niche record, playing to a very limited market of fans. That being said, it’s a decent album. Tamara Venus Star is always pleasant to listen to, and the juxtaposition of her voice with that of lead screamer Ron Langford is entertaining. The primary problem with Dragon Mythos is the uniformity of sound. The songs don’t sound all the same, but there is little enough sonic variation to bog down less than dedicated listeners.

Heart Of A Dragon is the high point of the album, and the midnight undertones of Jawzhar are sure to please metal fans. The Promise is the one true break in style here, slowing things down a bit in a sonic rest before the stretch run. In the end, there’s not enough here to hold the attention of anyone aside from diehard Dragon Metal fans. But those folks will be very happy.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about KeyDragon at or You can purchase a copy of Dragon Mythos at

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: The Indiana Jones Scores by John Williams

John Williams – The Indiana Jones Expanded Scores
2009, Concord Records

In the aftermath of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Concord Records has released expanded editions of the original scores of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. Originally available as part of a very limited edition box set, the three individual scores have all been significantly expanded from the original commercial releases. Fans will recognize this as some of the most memorable work from the legendary John Williams (The Star Wars films, The Poseidon Adventure, Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T., Born On The Fourth Of July, Jurassic Park, the first 3 Harry Potter films and many others). Williams has an unheard of 45 Academy Award nominations and 5 Oscars on his shelf, but this is the first time you can get essentially the full, uncut scores of the first three Indy films.

There is nothing I can write about Williams or his work that hasn’t been written already. Across the three scores you’ll get an almost an hour of new music. If you’re a fan of pops classical music then you’ll love any of the three (although I would suggest that Raiders Of The Lost Ark is the best of the three). Williams has always had at least one foot planted in the classical world when composing, allowing a certain gravitas to creep into his music that finds critical acclaim coming from quarters who normally stay dourly silent about movie scores. Don’t miss this chance to own a bit of music history.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark 5 Stars
(Out of 5)
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the Indiana Jones films at or You can learn more about the inestimable John Williams at You can purchase any of the soundtracks through using the links below. You can also find these soundtracks in any major music retailers (Borders, Barnes And Noble, Best Buy, etc.)

Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Eilen Jewell - Sea Of Tears

Eilen Jewell - Sea Of Tears
2009, Signature Sounds

Eilen Jewell gets right to the heart of the matter in each and every song on Sea Of Tears, her third album, due April 21, 2009. With a powerful yet melancholy voice that demands to be heard, Jewell goes right for the roots of Rock and Country music in a performance that is likely to be lauded in critical circles. Rain Roll In takes on mortality and acceptance in a moderately optimistic sounding song reminiscent of Blue Rodeo. Sweet Rose is a beautifully maudlin frame in which Jewell's voice shines like the morning sun. Shakin' All Over gets in a good dose of early Rock N Roll with that same powerfully reserved vocal approach that makes Jewell so distinctive. It takes a lot of talent to sing in such a reserved fashion so well. Jewell manages it without every sounding flat of lifeless; a feat in itself. Sea Of Tears edges into more of a 1960's Brit Rock sound, ala The Kinks.

The highlight of the album may well be I'm Gonna Dress In Black. The dirge-like sway of the song is matched by the forlorn quality of Jewell's vocal line. One Of These Days seems to shake off the hopeless chic that pervades Sea Of Tears in a mildly optimistic venture based on hidden opportunities. As the song unfolds we learn that even with the upbeat approach there's still danger in the air. The Darkest Day has the most upbeat music on the album, funny that. Jewell gives her best vocal performance of the album here, sounding like a classic 1950's country singer. Other highlights include Everywhere I Go, Sea Of Tears and Final Hour.
Eilen Jewell is a distinctive artist with a voice that sinks into your head and just won't leave. Some folks won't like the melancholy sorrow that pervades Sea Of Tears, but Jewell wears it like a second skin, making it seem more like a palpable human picture than an artistic affectation. Her backing band is as good as they come. Don't be surprised if Sea Of Tears ends up on year-end "Best Of" lists. It's that good.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Eilen Jewell at or Sea Of Tears goes on sale April 21, 2009. You can pre-order it from

Review: Cedar Hill Refugees - Pale Imperfect Diamond

Cedar Hill Refugees - Pale Imperfect Diamond
2009, Effigy Records

Its East meets West, Uzbek style. American-Uzbek jam band, Jadoo joins forces with heavyweights of American Roots music to release Pale Imperfect Diamond on May 19, 2009. Co-producer Jack Clift founded Jadoo while living in Uzbekistan, and approached John Carter Cash about an album that mingled traditional American folk music with Uzbek instrumentation. Clifton And John Carter Cash were joined by The Peasall Sisters, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Marty Stuart and John Cowan to become Cedar Hill Refugees. Drawing on the strong similarities between traditional Uzbek music and Appalachian folk, Cedar Hill Refugees gets much closer to the traditional roots of American folk than many American artists. Their debut album, Pale Imperfect Diamond truly is a gem.

There's a lot of attention given to the Celtic roots of Appalachian music that grew into American Folk, Country and Bluegrass styles. Whitehouse Blues is an interesting construct, focusing on a previous period of economic uncertainty in the United States. History buffs will get a kick out of this one as it focuses on Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. Keys To The Kingdom dwells upon the power of faith in dark times with strong imagery and a gorgeous vocal line. The title track is an original tune written in a traditional vein that is both ancient and modern at the same time. Stormalong is vibrant and reverent and Green Grows The Laurel is inspired, but Wildwood Flower is the star of the album. Angelic vocals by The Peasall Sisters and flawless instrumental execution will have you returning to this track again and again. Other highlights include Sailaway Ladies, Candle and Oh, Bury Me Not.

Cedar Hill Refugees marries traditional American Roots music and Uzbek instrumentation so perfectly you might not have noticed if I didn't tell you. The stylistic and sonic similarities on our roots speaks a great deal about the universality of human experience and expression. Pale Imperfect Diamond is as much an allegory for the cultures of both countries and their people as anything else. The music here is both reflective and instructive of our shared paths and our divergences. Pale Imperfect Diamond is bound to be one of the highlights of 2009.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Cedar Hill Refugees at Pale Imperfect Diamond will hit shelves May 19, 2009.

Review: The Rye - The Rye

The Rye – The Rye
2006, The Rye

Galway, Ireland is home to one of the more impressive and energetic Celtic acts you’re likely to come across. The Rye take the energy (and to a degree, the sound) of The Pogues and combine it with the lyrical acuity of Tom Waits. Add in some of the tightest, most impressive ensemble play on the West Coast of Ireland and you have not just a band but a musical experience. The Rye’s debut EP, The Rye, was released in 2006, but unless you’re a denizen of the pubs of Ireland you’ve likely not heard of The Rye. It’s too bad, but it’s not too late. Trust me; you want to add The Rye to your library.

The Rye opens with Banana Song, with lead vocalist Kevin Melly sounding like Shane McGowan, complete with nearly indecipherable lyrics. It’s a great tune, and lively; I just wish I could make out much of what he’s singing here. Square Peig is a wonderfully complex reel that will have you up and dancing. Lonely Mary is a sad but sweet love song full of loss and the fear of loss. Polcat Blues is a great acoustic Blues/Rock hybrid that will get your toes tapping and that you’ll be humming for days. The Rye closes out with the memorable instrumental Katie Lie Over.

Melly is a memorable and distinctive vocalist, and fans of The Pogues really will do a double take when they hear him. Anna Falkenau plays the meanest Irish fiddle since Ashley Mac Isaac’s quart-a-show days. The rest of the band, Alan Walsh (guitar, banjo, vox); Barry Wallace (bass, banjo) and Dessie Harrington (drums) are top notch. I finished up listening to The Rye wishing for more, and also that they’d be playing a date here in Buffalo very soon. The CD is great listening, but this is a band with the potential to own an audience. They just need the opportunity.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Rye at You can purchase a copy of The Rye at

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Anarbor - Free Your Mind

Anarbor - Free Your Mind
2009, Hopeless Records

When Anarbor set out to craft a new EP last year in Los Angeles they did so with a goal in mind: to save the music scene from itself. Fresh out of high school, Slade Echevarria (vox/bass), Adam Juwing (guitar), Mike Kitlas (guitar) and Greg Garrity (drums) set out to create a pop album that isn't a slave to the current trends of dance pop. Produced by Mike Green (Paramore, Good Charlotte), Free Your Mind blends Pop and Rock in a way that will get your feet moving but won't fade from your mind with the last note. Anarbor eschews electronic effects and instrumentation for the organic sounds the quartet can reproduce live. The result is a classic pop/rock album that is likely to make a big splash.

Free Your Mind opens with Let The Games Begin, a frantic rocker about voyeurism and manipulation with roots in the classic rock sound of the 1980's. The Brightest Green has a delicious rock n roll sound that is perfect for big auditoriums. This is an incredibly commercial tune even today, although the sound is a bit of a throwback. Echevarria is an incredibly nimble and provocative vocalist who is more than capable of matching the frantic tendencies of the rest of the band. Where The Wild Things Are (Monsters) is a bit more straight forward, but features a memorable melody and a chorus you'll be singing along to in no time. Halfway Sober hints at tendrils of an Americana sound in the opening but opens up into a wonderful pop/rock arrangement that is golden. You And I is three minutes of pop perfection that is bound to garner significant attention for the band. This is one of those songs that could become a summer anthem if marketed correctly. Passion For Publication sounds like it might take a different track at opening, but explodes into a signature rock song that is likely to be a concert favorite.

Anarbor should be impossible to ignore. Varied and rhythmic songs featuring catchy melodies, strong harmonies and an innate pop sense that can't be taught make Anarbor a band to watch. Free Your Mind should generate a lot of excitement.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Anarbor at or You can purchase a copy of Free Your Mind at, or you can download the album through Amazon MP3.

Review: Tireless Sedans - Parts + Labour EP

Tireless Sedans - Parts + Labour EP
2009, Superbob Records/SOCAN

I've always felt a sort of vague enmity flowing out of Moncton, New Brunswick. It all goes back to my childhood days as a fan of the (then) Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League. Games against the Moncton Hawks always seemed to go badly, with lots of fights and Majors, Match Majors and Game Misconducts always coming in the way of victory. The Wings left Glens Falls, NY many years ago, but that vague sense of unease has remained. I am happy to say that the Tireless Sedans have given me something positive to think of when I ponder Moncton. Their debut, Parts + Labour EP, is a pleasurable alt-country/rock mix with some quirky personality traits.

The musicality of Wilco is there, with the depth and jangle of Sloan, and a bit of unusual song construction ala Ed Robertson. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Rahmer is supported by a strong cast of fellow musicians. Mark McGinnis keeps it lively and thriving on skins and whatever else falls into his hands while Chad Lifford helps to nail down the rhythmic heart of the band. Jenna Gallant brings a vintage guitar sound to the band while kicking in some great background vocals. The EP opens with Old Home Town Pain, a song about returning home with the figurative tail between your legs, and finding out it perhaps wasn't as bad as you'd always thought, yet not what you'd hope. Alberta is a quirky whine set to a killer guitar riff about a relationship gone bad.

Stretch is aptly named. Thus far on Parts + Labour Tireless Sedans have shown strong musicianship and songwriting, but on Stretch Rahmer shows an ability to craft lyrics that are not only intelligent and clear but also subtle and profound. The chorus is perhaps a bit predictable, but the verses show some real creative spark as a word smith. Even The Sheep is a wonderfully quirky guitar oriented bit of Americana/Rock with an early Chicago-Style horn section thrown in. This is the most sonically interesting piece on the CD, playing around with progressive song construction and some interesting guitar fill work playing tag with the vocal line. Foreword serves as an instrumental introduction to Can't Move Forward, which has the energy and melody to be a Lo-Fi pop/country single.

Parts + Labour EP is a strong introduction to Tireless Sedans. Rahmer and crew show real promise as a band, crafting alt-country nuggets that will have you hitting re-play many times over. Between the strong musical lines and intelligent lyrics lay a spark of magic that is neither describable nor forgettable. They're not flashy, but Tireless Sedans will get inside your head.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Tireless Sedans at or Parts + Labour does not appear to be currently available on line, so keep checking their Tireless Sedans’ MySpace page.

Review: Sam "Shake" Anderson - Stories From Sammie Lewis

Sam “Shake” Anderson – Stories From Sammy Louis
2008, Sam “Shake” Anderson

If you’re ready for some classic mid-western R&B and Soul, then check out Sam “Shake” Anderson’s Stories From Sammie Lewis. Marching to a beat somewhere between Marvin Gaye and Al Green, Sam “Shake” Anderson lays down twelve classic sounding tracks on the CD The cover of Set It Off is sublime, and Anderson will lull you into reverie with songs like Don’t Come Roun’ Here No Mo’, Sold Me Down The River and The Only Game In Town. Anderson possesses a sugar-smooth voice, but finds the Rock N Soul sound when called for. Be sure to check out Shine On, That Won’t Mean and We May Never Get Out Of Here, but there really isn’t a weak track on the disc.

Sam “Shake” Anderson plays and sings like he built the old school. There are a lot of pretenders out there, but Stories From Sammy Louis proves that Sam “Shake” Anderson is a champ.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sam “Shake” Anderson at or, where you can purchase a copy of Stories From Sammy Louis

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Kerri Powers - Faith In The Shadows

Kerri Powers – Faith In The Shadows
2009, Gritty Dirty

Kerri Powers’ career is a study in promise and shadow. One of the more distinctive voices in Americana/Alt-Country (think Bonnie Raitt crossed with Tina Turner). Powers’ rise was nearly derailed a few years back by a dishonorable record distributor. Taking some time off to focus on her family, Powers made her way back to writing and performing in 2005. Teaming up with producer and friend Crit Harmon (Martin Sexton, Mary Gauthier, Lori McKenna), Powers found her voice again amid a set of musical short stories she co-wrote with Harmon. The seeds of Powers latest CD, Faith In The Shadows were planted.

Faith In The Shadows opens with Do You Hear My Footsteps?, a wonderfully dark yet catchy tune. Powers’ voice is a substantial quality in her music, hitting you with a physical force and demanding to be heard. Powers has a smoky, rough edge to her sound that is distinctive and yet has a lyric, melodic quality that is darkly beautiful. On Trying To Make My Way To You, Powers edges into a 1960’s film noir style of story-song, complete with wailing guitars Nobody Minds My Drinking is a modern country classic in the making. Powers and Harmon have managed to capture in five minutes a perfect portrait of one person in their pain and need that is more powerful than any photo you could produce. Powers digs into a real bluesy sound on Low Down Low. On this song in particular she reminds me significantly of Joan Osborne in her pre-Relish days. My favorite track on the CD is Tallulah Send A Car For Me, a delicious acoustic blues vignette that had me hitting repeat time and time again. Other highlights include Magdalene and Fireworks And Cheap Repairs.

Kerri Powers has emerged from darker days and lights up her corner of the music world with Faith In The Shadows. She may have come into the light of day, but Powers hasn’t forgotten the shadows that inform and enhance the performances here so perfectly. Kerri Powers is a first-class talent, and Faith In The Shadows is an essential listen.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kerri Powers at Songs from Faith In Shadows will be featured on FX’s Rescue Me. You can purchase Faith In The Shadows at

Review: Gregory Douglass - Battler

Gregory Douglass – Battler
2009, Emote Records

Look up Indie Musician in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Gregory Douglass. Douglass has released seven albums on his own imprint, Emote Records, touring all over the US and winning accolades at almost every turn along the way. Compared favorably with artists such as Tori Amos, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley and Fiona Apple, Douglass has a unique sound and vocal style that you’ll be able to identify immediately once you’ve heard it. His latest CD, Battler, was inspired by serious soul searching and a Vermont winter shuttered in watching HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Douglass writes gloriously melodic and dark story-songs that give categorization a wide birth. Opening with Broken Through, Douglass builds on a minor-key piano riff into a dynamic and shadowy story. Day Of The Battler bring uniquely stilted rhythms into the mix, like something Kurt Weill might have written if he grew up in today’s musical environment. No Apology strips nearly all of the instrumentation away in a haunting vocal harmony peace you need to hear. Madeline is a lush harmonic rock song that sounds like it could have been co-written by Tori Amos and Lou Gramm. This Is My Life might be a signature song for Douglass as it perfectly captures the dark undercarriage that seems to be his unique musical cornerstone. Other highlights include Sadly (with Anais Mitchell), Ordinary Man (with the talented Grace Potter) and Harlequin.

Gregory Douglass walks, marches and sings to his own drummer. Listening to him sing and play is like hearing one half of his communication with another world. The results are dark, exciting and lovely, even when you know there’s a whole other part of the conversation you can’t hear. Douglass is a unique talent, and the music glimpses he’s offered to us here could be considered gifts. Battler is not a recording to pass up.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Gregory Douglass at or You can purchase a copy of Battler at

Review: Raul Malo - Lucky One

Raul Malo - Lucky One
2009, Fantasy

One might guess Raul Malo was raised on the classic music of Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves and other greats of the golden eras of Rock and Country. On his latest CD, Lucky One, Malo pays vocal and stylistic tribute to that bygone era, moving through the sounds of that time like a musical chameleon. On the first three tracks alone Malo channels Tom Jones (Lucky One), Elvis Presley (Moonlight Kiss) and Roy Orbison (Something Tells Me). Crying For You is perhaps the biggest moment here, sounding like something Sun Studios and the country side of Nashville might have gone to war over at one time. Malo has a classic sound that would have fit in easily anywhere from the late 1940's to the 1960's heydays of Las Vegas. While looking decidedly modern, Malo has captured a sound and style here that becomes stale in the hands of many artists of this generation. Few have the charisma and showmanship to bring this type of music the way Elvis or Tom Jones did, much less in the fashion of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. or other contemporaries of The Rat Pack.

It's a little too early to tell, but Raul Malo might just find his name mentioned in those circles one day. He has the voice and the presence to be there. If you're a fan of great vocal music in general, or of 1950's and 1960's pop vocal music in particular then you need to check out Lucky One. You won't regret it.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Raul Malo at or You can purchase a copy of Lucky One at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Cara Luft - The Light Fantastic

Cara Luft - The Light Fantastic
2007, Black Hen Music

Winnipeg’s Cara Luft is a musical tour-de-force that you might never have heard of if you live outside of Canada. An integral part of folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys, Luft chose to follow her own path in 2005 after three years, two albums and one Juno Award for Best Roots album. Nicknamed “Jenny Van Halen” for her raucous guitar style, Luft is as accomplished with an axe as she is behind the microphone. Her album, The Light Fantastic, is a wonderful mix of the spiritual and the mundane, the certain and the in-between. Produced by Neil Osborne (54-40), The Light Fantastic features multi-instrumentalist Hugh McMillan (Spirit Of The West, James Keelaghan), Richard Moody (The Bills) and Christian Dugas. It a rare gem in popular music; a spending musical experience with outstanding storytelling.

Cara Luft shows an ability to capture moments and people in song that is uncanny. Whether her subjects are real or imagined, or even herself, Luft opens a window in each song on a person, place or time that is so believable you can almost touch them. Her voice is perfectly suited to this style of country/Americana; a warm alto with a bit of small-town country sass. The Light Fantastic opens with There's A Train, a song about escaping a relationship that's an emotional tempest, even if it means leaving home. Luft has a subtle power in his voice and is deft at using it to accentuate the emotions the protagonist feels here. This leads into No Friend Of Mine; with a lyrical economy that packs a punch, Luft tells someone who's no good for her to get lost. Turning the tables, Talk For A While is inspired by a bit of non-committal vulnerability; it's an incredibly human emotion in song, caught perfectly like a photograph set to music.

From a pure musical standpoint, Black Water Side is one of the more memorable moments on the album, with a wonderful arrangement that captures motion and movement within the notes and rhythms of the song. Luft's version of Lord Roslyn's Daughter may have officially transplanted the Great Big Sea rendition as my favorite version of this traditional tune. Luft delivers a stirring vocal performance, blending with unforgettable harmony vocals that are full of urgency you can almost reach out and grab. For all of this, however, Give It Up is by far my favorite song on the disc. It's a statement of self-worth from a woman who knows who she is and what she wants. It's probably one of the best takes on this subject since R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

No Strength takes a deep angst, partners it with a wonderful hook and some amazing rhythmic guitar playing and turns into a highly memorable song. Wilcox explores the utter surprise and wonderment of a person taken out of their normal element and caught on the Canadian Prairies for a time, while Jerusalem addresses the need for an inner spiritual or philosophical life. It's an interesting tune that uses Jerusalem as an allegory for this spiritual destination, and comes off sounding like a classic Indigo Girls tune. Settle For Grey is a subject most artists touch on at some point in their career, the loss of clear black and white in choices that seems to occur over a lifetime. It's a moralist message that's decidedly amoral, and an intriguing epilogue for Luft.

Luft is an extremely talented songwriter, encapsulating person, time and place with the skill and temerity of Randy Newman. Vocally she's up there with the best, and the musical arrangements here are anything but typical. Luft sounds like she's still challenging herself on each song, and enjoying it in the process. The Light Fantastic is a terrific listen. Luft is a master songwriter and performer. You don't want to be without this disc.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Cara Luft at or You can purchase a copy of The Light Fantastic at

Review: Loretta McNair - Intimate Portrait

Loretta McNair - Intimate Portrait
2008, Loretta McNair

Call her Rosemary Clooney for the 21st century. Los Angeles-based Loretta McNair writes and performs everything from standards style to blues to jazz to country to classic singer/songwriter material. Her latest album, Intimate Portrait is part Clooney, part Billie Holliday and part Doris Day. McNair sings a mellow torch style tempered by a contemporary spirit.

The music on Intimate Portrait is first class, from the songwriting to the execution; enthusiasts of American Standards will love the list of potential new standards on Intimate Portrait. McNair thrills on Someone Who'll Stay and That's What I'm Here For. Don't be surprised if That's What I'm Here For becomes a heavily covered song in the next generation or so. Talk, Talk, Talk is also a treat. McNair is a throwback; she would have fit in perfectly in the 1940's and early 1950's. Today, of course, the demand for the music of that era is diminished in the pop realm but still has a significant draw for the boomers and WWII generations, as well as significant pockets of fan across different regions and demographics. There's little weakness shown on Intimate Portrait, McNair delivers these songs in spot on fashion. And while she sounds a bit like Clooney or Holliday, don't expect the same level of dynamics. McNair is good, but not quite of that legendary ilk. Nevertheless, she's definitely worth spending some time listening to. Intimate Portrait is a solid outing.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Loretta McNair at or You can purchase a copy of Intimate Portrait at

Review: Derek Jordan - Identify

Derek Jordan – Identify
2009, Derek Jordan

Derek Jordan comes to Los Angeles from Pittsburgh by way of Chicago. His debut CD, Identify, is entirely self-produced and self-funded. Starting out with a classic rock background and a modern rock education, Jordan exudes the confidence of a rock n roll star while writing about the ins and outs of the human psyche.

Identify starts out on a promising but familiar note. The hook underlying Goodbye Jupiter is practically the same rockabilly hook that runs throughout Stray Cat Strut. To open with something so blatantly familiar either calls for a formula that resides in offering familiar sounds and then taking them new places or just totally blowing the lid off the album. Jordan does neither, settling for a comfortable, vaguely angry white male blend of rock n roll. Jordan's voice is good but isn't particularly discernable from a host of other rock vocalists. His guitar playing is technically proficient but doesn't seem emotionally driven or profound. The songwriting is fairly standard issue rock material with one exception. Hold On Tight could be a moderate hit in the right market, but more importantly is very accessible and listenable with something like a pop sensibility to it. Otherwise, songs like Vaccine, War With Your Love and Living For Two all sound too much like stuff that comes and goes on the radio all the time.

Jordan shows flashes of brilliance with the guitar, but just doesn't seem to find the inspiration on Identify to really sell himself or the material. He's a strong performer with good skills, but just doesn't display the dynamic catalyst to make you seek him out.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Derek Jordan at or, where you can purchase a copy of Identify. You can also download the album from iTunes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Hiram Ring - Breathe Deep

Hiram Ring – Breathe Deep
2009, Ring Records

Hiram Ring is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania based singer/songwriter with a strong Contemporary Christian bent and a sound that’s been likened to Ray LaMontagne and Jack Johnson. Growing up in far-flung places such as Ghana and Afghanistan, Ring has viewed various cultures from both inside and out, giving him an unusually universal sense of the world. This comes across on Breathe Deep, his solo debut on his own imprint, Ring Records. Breathe Deep is built upon Ring’s Acoustic Folk sound and his love of African Rhythms; melding two distinct sounds into one you won’t forget.

Breathe Deep opens with Go From Here, a great Folk/Americana arrangement. Ring’s bright and airy vocals are a pleasure, making each song go down like sugar water. Go From Here uses great visual imagery to tell a story about navigating the waters of life. What runs deep through Ring’s music is a Christian faith that Ring fails to beat listeners over the head with. It’s not so much like Ring is proselytizing through his music; he’s telling you stories about his life, and that faith happens to be a part of who he is. This may open up Ring’s music to folks who won’t usually go within several yards of a Contemporary Christian CD. And well it should, because even if you don’t agree with Ring’s beliefs you’re going to appreciate his ability as a songwriter and word smith. Plays Switch is rhythmic with cogent lyrics delivered in that easy vocal style that Ring possesses. Chasing Shadows is highly enjoyable; setting a seedy tone from the opening notes that is perfect for the song, which is vaguely bluesy. This is wonderful writing.

Living Water is an overt statement of faith that is stated intelligently without forcing Ring’s ideas on the listener. Consider it like a diary entry set to music. Ring shines here by appealing to thought rather than the shallow emotion that much popular Praise music hooks into. Voices is an amazing song about conscience that is one of the stars of Breathe Deep. Another is One Girl For Me, a sweet love song set to a jazz arrangement. Ring is in perfect voice here. Breathe Deep stays with the jazz flavor in a true crooner moment. Ring saves his best for Eternity, a call to walk together into forever. This could be a song from a creator to the created of from one person to another (as a love song), depending on how you hear it. Either way you hear it the song is inspirational and powerful. Those hearing it as a love song with have it on mix tapes, and those hearing it as a call will be substantially moved. I Am Not A Thief is another powerful entry that extends far beyond its religious connotations. The song is artfully delivered in a folk/rock arrangement you won’t soon forget. Ring closes out Breathe Deep as he started, in a Folk/Americana style on I’m On A Journey. It’s a classic folk song with religious or philosophical implications that is worth contemplating regardless of your perspective.

Readers of this blog have probably picked up on the fact that I can be a little cynical of Contemporary Christian artists, and also that I am not afraid to offer kind words when one overcomes that cynicism. Hiram Ring overcomes it by leaps and bounds. Ring writes and sings music about what he knows, believes, feels and sees. The music is allowed to become what it’s meant to be, artistically mature and intelligent songs that happen to have Christian themes, rather than music slapped together around a forced message. Hiram Ring could easily excel in either CCM or secular markets because the music is honest. Breathe Deep is an incredible listen. It’s a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc, and it’s worth checking out.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Hiram Ring at or, where you can purchase a copy of Breathe Deep. You can also download Breathe Deep through and iTunes.

Review: Mar Harmon - Mr. Froggy's Friends' ABCs

Mar Harmon - Mr. Froggy's Friends' ABCs
2007, Music With Mar

Maryann “Mar.” Harmon is the creator of Music With Mar.; a nationally known music education program for children. Harmon has produced music for over twenty-five recordings, winning two Children’s Web Awards and one Silver Parents’ Choice Award. Harmon holds a Bachelors in Music and a Masters in Education (Early Childhood Education), and manages to balance education and musical enjoyment for her fans/students. Harmon’s latest CD, Mr. Froggy’s Friends’ ABCs continues in the same vein Harmon has followed since her debut in 1993.

Mr. Froggy's Friends' ABCs opens with the title track, capitalizing on the mascot of Music With Mar's shows, Mr. Froggy. Mar explores the alphabet using children’s' names and mnemonic devices to help your young one remember their ABC's. Up next is Green, Yellow, Red, a cute song that helps teach the meaning of the light colors in a traffic light. From having seen it live I can say this is a particular favorite of Mar's fans. Brush Your Teeth is a tutorial set to a catchy rock arrangement that will be fun for both parents and little ones. The song provides a fun teaching moment from parent to child that has both educational and social value.

Mar. puts her own spin on Old McDonald, injecting a little more action and her trademark sense of humor into the mix for a fun listen/play along song. Five Hip Hoppy Frogs is a counting song that was a big hit with the kids when we saw her live. Set to a mild hip-hop beat, Five Hip Hoppy Frogs is a fresh approach that the kids will love. Tell Me The Word is a teaching song about objects in the sky that seems to play well with the kiddos, and Colors helps to learn primary and secondary colors in a fun music setting. Five Monkeys Swinging In A Tree was one of the real crowd favorites when we saw her live show. The song features a message on how to act that is as apt for adults as for their children, and also features Mar's monkey squeal, which you really have to hear to believe. Mar closes out with Watch The Monkey That Moves, a funky action song that will get your kids moving around (and you too!).

Mar Harmon has been doing Music With Mar shows since her debut album in 1993. There are a number of local classes in various parts of the country these days (particularly in Western New York). If you get a chance to check out one of the classes with your little one(s), they're a treat. But the CDs are great listening for the kids and provide a great opportunity for interactive learning between parent and child or for playgroups. In a market glutted with children's albums, Mar Harmon rises with the cream on Mr. Froggy's Friends' ABCs. Check it out.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mar Harmon at You can purchase Mr. Froggy’s Friends’ ABCs in her store.

Review: Melting Point - Get On The Bus

Melting Point - Get On The Bus
2009, Banana Man Records

Berkeley, California has been the home bass and hiding place of Melting Point since 2005. While in relative seclusion the band has been cooking up a mix of classic sounds and downtown rounds to try to add something new to the rock n roll stew. The result is their debut CD, Get On The Bus, a mix of Garage and Noise with a Seattle poise and a lot of testosterone thrown in.

Melting Point gets right to the cusp on Get On The Bus but never quite gets gaseous. A steady mix of Garage, Noize and Psychedelia is punctuated with the occasional Reggae jam or Grunge outpouring as a means to purvey the testosterone-laden lyrics Melting Point thrives on. More American Pie than American Idol, the quartet runs through thirteen decent to good tracks with no real, "Hey, who is THAT?" moment. The closest thing on the disc is Rainbow Tincan, which sounds a bit like heavier Jethro Tull. It's the most coherent and directional songwriting on the album and you could actually here this one getting played on the radio. The other material is interesting, from the Pearl Jam/Soundgarden hybrid Ishmael to the pure teenage male chutzpah of Core and Get On The Bus. Melting Point is great party music, particularly if its a frat party, but Get On The Bus is too steeped in its influences to really get original. There’s a definite demographic for Get On The Bus, but its not a large slice of the commercial pie.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Melting Point at or, where you can purchase a copy of Get On The Bus.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: Mammoth Life - Kaleidoscopic Art Pop

Mammoth Life - Kaleidoscopic Art Pop
2009, Mammoth Life

Chamber Pop Quintet (and occasionally sextet) Mammoth Life hails from Lawrence, Kansas, where among the cornfields, under the hot Kansas sun they've been distilling a brand of alt-pop sweeter than corn bread and more powerful than ethanol. Kaleidoscopic Art Pop is the name of their debut album, and an apt description for the mellifluous music creates as easily as they breathe. Producer and bandleader founded Mammoth Life in 2004 with keyboardist/vocalist Elizabeth Mead. The band is rounded out with lead vocalist Bobby Sauder, Melicent King (violin, synths) and Rachel Mulford (drums).

Mammoth Life works because of strong songwriting and a sense of joy that comes across in their music. Its not that the songs are particularly happy or bouncy, but there's a real sense that Mammoth Life is having a ball doing what they're doing, and it rubs off on the listener. Bicycle Rider is frenetic, chaotic and tuneful with great harmonies and an almost classical song structure highlighted with quirky Folk/Pop instrumentation. Convoluted I starts out as a Gypsy/Klezmer hybrid led by the violin before resolving into a quirky pop confection. These are the sort of contradictions you'll encounter when listening to Mammoth Life, although they sound less like contradictions than happily coexisting musical improbabilities. At Once is a prime example. After several listens the only honest description I can come up with is that it’s bizarre, yet strangely catchy. You'll have to form your own opinion on this one, but the intrigue factor is enough on its own to keep you coming back.

Word Salad plays like a pop symphony masquerading as an alternative folk song, which serves as a warm-up for First Semester Of College. This may be the most inventive song on the album, opening as a Baroque harpsichord composition that devolves into what I can only describe as highly rhythmic toddler punk. Unburden Your Heart To Me is also highly unique, playing like a Medieval musical play. The instrumentation is a bit surreal but the song is highly entertaining. The biggest surprise on Kaleidoscopic Art Pop is Our Prayer, a classic mixolydian secular hymn played on what sounds like Organ and Sanctus Bells. Our Prayer is a beautiful piece of musical expression.

Mammoth Life looks like they might have just stepped out of the late 1960's. The creativity and ability to look at musical creation from outside the box is refreshing and enervating. Not everyone is going to get this music. It's definitely not the status quo, but it might just be the most original sound you're going to find this year. Kaleidoscopic Art Pop contains a couple of songs that just don't gel, but on the whole it’s an outstanding effort.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mammoth Life at or You can purchase a copy of Kaleidoscopic Art Pop at

Review: Mouse Kills Tiger - Music Is The Weapon Of The Children

Mouse Kills Tiger - Music Is The Weapon Of The Children
2008, Mouse Kills Tiger

Mouse Kills Tiger is a Los Angeles based dramatic alt/goth rock ensemble with a decided proclivity for depressive, or at the very least, repressive musical melodrama. Their debut EP, Music Is The Weapon Of The Children, follows a path that Robert Smith would pay tribute to. With recording help from Barak Shpiez of Beware Fashionable Women, Mouse Kills Tiger has released their musical wares upon the world.

Music Is The Weapon Of Children opens with She's Hungry, a highly repetitive piece that builds in intensity but never reaches a climax before it sort of fades away. I See Mephistopheles is a surreal, sonic overload. Minor keys bend into other minor keys, leaving the listener without any real sense of aural resolution. Chasing Foxes didn't leave much of a distinct impression either way, whereas Racer Ready was a long, drawn out musical exposition that again, never seemed to reach a plateau or a sense of sonic completion. Music Is The Weapon Of The Children had a more compositional sense to it but still fails to really connect with the listener.

Music Is The Weapon Of The Children is the sort of vaguely disturbing, depressive rock music that The Cure or The Smiths would have made had they not had their inherent pop sensibilities. It is somewhat impressive as a musical exercise in tenacity, but doesn't reward the listener for traveling through such dark musical lands with even one bit of sonic resolution. Mouse Kills Tiger will find a demographic that enjoys this music, but its not highly marketable. For my own part I found it a difficult listen but not without artistic merit.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mouse Kills Tiger at You can download Music Is The Weapon Of The Children for free here.

Review: Teressa Edwards - Days Ahead

Teressa Edwards – Days Ahead
2009, Teressa Edwards

Teressa Edwards cut her musical teeth singing in gospel choirs. By the age of 16 she was singing in a professional choir and traveling all over the Caribbean. The sudden, tragic death of her mother put a stop to the non-stop touring, but music remained as a source of comfort and a means of creative catharsis. Edwards’ energies were put into writing and recording her debut album, Days Ahead.

Teressa Edwards has an interesting and entertaining voice; there’s a rough edge built into the center of her sound that keeps her voice from being pretty, per se, but its memorable and unique enough to catch and hold your attention. Such a sound builds an expectation in the listener that the material that follows might follow a similarly atypical path, but it is not to be on Days Ahead. Edwards sticks to pretty standard R&B/Hip-Hop formulae, but fails to really distinguish herself from the vast pool of other singers/performers in that pool. Cookie-cutter dance songs are the order of the day (How You Want It, Honey Trap, Hypnotised, Crazy Baby), with some Hip-Hop (Don’t Be A Fool) and even Latin-flavored Hip-Hop (Dance With Me) thrown in. What is absent is even a single song that lets Edwards really open up her voice and show you’re the powerful, gorgeous sound she is capable of. The closest Edwards comes is I Love You, a decent R&B ballad that is unfortunately introduced as if its being played on the radio.

Edwards is flat out better than the material on Days Ahead. The music itself is average and is, quite frankly, carried by Edwards’ voice. Days Ahead is worth hearing for flashes of what Edwards possesses vocally, but even that is giving short shrift to Teressa Edwards. She’s better than what you’ll hear here.

Rating: 1.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Teressa Edwards at or You can purchase Days Ahead as a download through either or iTunes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: Jim Allchin - Enigma

Jim Allchin - Enigma
2009, Sandy Key Music

If it weren't for a serious illness you might never have heard of Jim Allchin unless you were a true techno-geek. Allchin helped run the Platforms & Services Division of Microsoft until retiring in 2007. Allchin was recognized by none other than Bill Gates as "a brilliant technologist, visionary and a strong leader". Staring mortality in the eye, Allchin didn't flinch. Like so many great achievers facing adversity he simply re-prioritized his life and moved forward. A trip to Montenegro and Croatia turned Allchin on to the pop music of that region, and the passion for music he'd experienced the first time he listened to Jimi Hendrix as a youth, and soon he was playing and writing up a storm. Recording almost exclusively on his own, Allchin went on to create Enigma, his 12-song debut album that was just released on March 17th.

Jim Allchin kicks off Enigma with Enigma Machine, a stylistic and driven guitar instrumental that is a musical throwing down of the gauntlets to the listener. You are hereby noted that this isn't just a vanity project, but a serious effort at musical creation that is going to challenge you. Allchin doesn't have the greatest singing voice, but he uses its best effect on Enigma. Take A Chance On Love is an easy-feeling pop song that's a great prologue for I'm About To Fall. I'm About To Fall is a sleepy and succinct tune about the inevitability of love. Let's Play is a true highlight. Allchin makes the most of a song that could be a true pop hit in the right hands.
Allchin takes us to the islands on She's In Love With Me, a peppy and danceable pop song with real legs to it. I was particularly impressed with I'm Your Man. Allchin serves up some deliciously lyric guitar work here, embellished with vocal harmonies built in classic rock triads. I'm Your Man is a sonic treat. The true standout of Enigma is the Roadhouse Rock N Blues of Rockin' Chair. Allchin stays with the Blues on the Stevie Ray Vaughan styled Killer Shuffle. The album closes out back in the roadhouse with Kick It, an agressive Southern Rock/Blues hybrid that allows Allchin to show off stylistically on his way out the door.

Alright, I'll admit it, I was a bit cynical when this one first came across my desk. Celebrities, politicians, athletes and captains of industry all want to be musicians, and most have the resources to do it even if no one's listening. There are some out there with real talent, but these are few and far between. Jim Allchin is already an accomplished guitarist and performer, and a better than average songwriter. I am also convinced that if you listen to this disc and find flaw, when you hear the next one those flaws will be greatly diminished. Allchin is not the sort of man to stand still. He's always reaching and stretching and perfecting whatever he applies to himself. Enigma is a great start, and if his past is any indication, whatever comes next will be even better by leaps and bounds.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jim Allchin at You can purchase a copy of Enigma at

Review: David Grissom - 10,000 Feet

David Grissom - 10,000 Feet
2009, Wide Lode Records

David Grissom is something of a legend within the music industry, but the casual music fan won't know his name in spite of hearing him play many times over. As a session and touring guitarist, Grissom has worked with the likes of The Dixie Chicks, John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, Buddy Guy, Storyville and The Allman Brothers. His songs have been recorded by Tricia Yearwood, John Mayall, Montgomery Gentry, Webb Wilder and more. We reviewed Grissom's debut album, Loud Music last year. Now he's back with 10,000 Feet, mixing Stevie Ray Vaughan style blues and AOR rock with good old fashioned Texas songwriting for one of the most accomplished classic rock albums of the year, thus far.

10,000 Feet opens with Keep A-Rollin' On, with Grissom channeling Gary Richrath on guitar in an energetic guitar rocker. 10,000 Feet is a classic song; strong vocals highlight this highly melodic song. Take Me Back To Texas is a love song for that state, and Butterbean Friday is a tribute to the sort of Blues Stevie Ray Vaughan made famous. Good Day For The Blues is bound to be a concert favorite, complete with Bic or iPhone lighting scheme. Three songs in particular stand out from the rest as exceptional. True Love Don't Work That Way is the strongest entry, a driving blues/rock hybrid that you won't be able to get out of your head. Jet Trails In The Sky may be the deepest track here; an allegory for unrequited love that is poetic and reverential. My other favorite is Sqwawk. Built on Blues riffs, Sqwawk is set against a 1970's anti-punk arrangement that is intriguing. This is what it might sound like if Kim Mitchell ever jammed with Eric Clapton.

Grissom is a more than capable vocalist, but his guitar playing is the true standout on 10,000 Feet. This is a highly enjoyable album that just doesn't quit. Grissom hits you with great song after great song without sounding formulaic or tired. 10,000 Feet is a must-hear CD.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about David Grissom at You can purchase a copy of 10,000 Feet at

Brother Dan Palmer - The Nashville Sessions
2009, Brother Dan Palmer

Carson City, Nevada crooner Brother Dan Palmer is back with an EP of songs he re-recorded in Nashville. All the songs presented here were on Brother Dan's previous release, Nothin’ Better Than This, but are given full life on The Nashville Sessions, set for release on May 22, 2009.

The songs are originally recorded by Brother Dan were great, but what he has done on The Nashville Sessions is fill out the sounds and bring new life to fan favorites. Natural Love is funkier than the original and full of energy. Meant For You is probably the most improved version, in a funk/rock arrangement that will have you movin' and groovin'. Time Keeps Tickin' Away has a much fuller sound than the original version and frames Brother Dan's voice better. All I Ever Wanted is captured in a fantastic Americana arrangement. The EP closes out with Where You Are. This is a great love song, wrapped up here in a Country/Americana arrangement you won't forget.

Fans of Brother Dan Palmer will eat this up. The original album is an excellent recording and document of where Brother Dan was at the time musically. The Nashville Sessions represents an artist who has grown, and provides measurable proof by revisiting song that were good as they were and enhancing them in ways that improve their marketability without sacrificing the quality of the music. The Nashville Sessions is definitely a worthwhile venture.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Brother Dan Palmer at or The Nashville Sessions will be released on May 22, 2009.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review: Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Revolution Orchestra

Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Revolution Orchestra - Self-Titled
2009, Righteous Enough Records

Today we get to hear the words of the secular gospel of Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Revolution Orchestra, an 11-piece band from New York City who sounds like they just stepped off the steamer from New Orleans. Ray Charles Soul and R&B, southern Gospel and New Orleans Jazz all get thrown into the mix to create one of the most dynamic and enjoyable recordings to come out of the New York City scene in quite some time. Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Orchestra was released in February of 2009 and has already made a splash in New York, but something this good can't be contained even in a city the size of New York. Brother Joscephus brings his message of universal love, harmony and peace wrapped up in some of the warmest feel good music you can find.

The CD opens with A Child Shall Lead, done in classic southern gospel style. It's an amazing listen and poignant regardless of your belief system. Like many of the songs on Brother Joscephus, A Child Shall Lead is written from the perspective of the downtrodden; the folks who know they can't live up to the standard of perfection but continue to try to be good and hope for one to come along to lead them all into the path of righteousness. The same ideal has transcended philosophical and religious thought in culture after culture, and there is a strong history of this resigned persistence in jazz in particular. Brother Joscephus captures this heavy dynamic perfectly in a song that is deep yet entertaining. Bon Temps Roulez is a New Orleans expression in French Creole meaning Let The Good Times Roll. The song is written in a jazz fueled style reminiscent of some of Randy Newman's best work and is a definite highlight.

Brother Joscephus channels the late, great Ray Charles on Can't Help Myself, getting the same sort of gritty soul and pop mix that Charles practically invented. O Moses and More Than I Need fit into the secular gospel model that Joscephus brings to this CD and to his live shows, whereas Bury Me In New Orleans hits the perfect blend of Rock, R&B and Jazz. It's hard to pick one or two highlights here, as everything on the disc is a great listen.

Brother Joscephus is a showman in the most classic sense. It would be easy to imagine seeing Brother Joscephus on the same stages as greats such as Louis Prima and Bobby Darin. Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Revolution Orchestra is a must-listen, must own CD. While the style isn't original, there are so few people doing this sort of music these days that it will sound new and original, much like Brian Setzer reintroducing the world to Louis Prima and swing a decade ago. You don't want to miss this Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Revolution Orchestra at or You can purchase a copy of Brother Joscephus And The Love Revival Revolution Orchestra at

Review: The Rippys - Lost And Found

The Rippys – Lost And Found
2009, Afterever

Ron and Leticia Rippy form two partnerships. The husband and wife duo are also known as The Rippys, the Los Angeles based music duo that throws out distinctions between religious and secular music and writes from a diverse well of influences. From artists such as Chicago, James Taylor, Wilson Phillips, Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman, The Rippys gather influence and inspiration to write about subjects ranging from relationships to God. Their debut CD, Lost And Found, seeks what all people seek: meaning, purpose, fulfillment and love.

Lost And Found opens with You And Me, a great pop arrangement with lots of energy. Is It Me moves to a big classic rock guitar sound with soulful vocals. Is It Me is a bit lyrically awkward, but highly listenable. Can You Hear Me (L) is funky with lots of soul. Maker is musically pleasing, but lyrically simplistic and repetitive to the point of distraction. Move Me is a reggae Praise song that works more for its quirkiness than anything else. Other songs of interest are Cries Out, where the Rippys manage to sound a bit like later Yes and My Whole Heart.

The Rippys remind me a great deal of Sixpence None The Richer, a band that is primarily Christian in content but occasionally delves into secular subject matter. There’s real talent here but also a tendency perhaps to force their desired subject matter into song rather than letting the songs be what they want and then finding words to fit. The music here is quite enjoyable, but the lyrical constructs can be awkward at times. Nevertheless Lost And Found is an interesting listen.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Rippys at or You can purchase a copy of Lost And Found at

Review: Melissa Axel - Transition [EP]

Melissa Axel – Transition
2009, Melissa Axel

Denver’s Melissa Axel is a woman with a piano. Following in the footsteps of Tori Amos, Axel uses the piano as more than just an instrument, it is the narrow focus through which she delineates the world using her personal perspective. The Berklee College of Music grad is working on a full length album at the moment, but in the mean time sent along her first EP, Transition, for review.

Axel has an interesting and pleasant voice that is deep and full, with a lot of implied strength. There’s no breathy pop maven quality here, but a sound reminiscent of earth and nature. Consequently Axel puts the listener instantly at easy (la Carly Simon or Joan Baez). The music is quite enjoyable as well, but Axel does run into some issues with the wordiness of her songs. Axel comes across as well spoken in her songs, but is wordy to the point of losing the listener at times. Fall This Hard opens the set with a wonderful piano and violin-sourced Pop ballad. This song is lovely and a joy to listen to and Axel manages to stay somewhat lyrically succinct. On Transition (No More Fairytales), Axel delivers what sounds like a Broadway soliloquy in song. The word count rises here and borders on distraction, but the song is so good it doesn’t quite intrude on the listening experience. By the time we get to Transparency and Madness the verbosity has become too much to bear. This is unfortunate as its somewhere in here that many listeners may choose to turn off the disc; the best song is yet to come. Transition closes out with Out Of Nowhere. Axel has reined herself in here, delivering a gorgeous piano/pop ballad with incredible harmonies.

Melissa Axel has a voice you’ll love listening to, and when she stays in control of the lyrics her songs are a pleasure. Axel appears to have a tendency toward extreme verbosity in her lyrics that detracts from the essential beauty of the music she writes. When Axel controls this tendency the results are sublime. Transition is a pleasure when she does and a difficult listen when she does not.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Melissa Axel at or You can purchase a copy of Transition at

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: Last Charge Of The Light Horse - Fractures

Last Charge Of The Light Horse - Fractures
2008, Curlock & Jalaise Records

Last Charge Of The Light Horse is no stranger to praise. The New York trio's debut CD, 2005's Getaway Car was named Independent Album of the Year for 2005 by The Daily Vault. Their song The Second Time Around was even featured on the PBS show Roadtrip Nation. Not afraid of the sophomore slump, Last Charge Of The Light Horse barreled into 2008 with Fractures, a Folk/Americana celebration of life's trials and tribulations. Vocalist/guitarist Jean-Paul Vest, Bassist AJ Riegger and drummer Jimmy Romanelli have captured lightning in a bottle the second time around.

Vest is a true wordsmith, creating aural oil paintings in music and lyric. The depth and movement of the music is surprising given that we're talking about a bare-bones trio. Fractures opens with The New Year, a wonderfully dark celebration of the turning of time with highly melodic and ethereal effects. This song is very catchy but in a quiet way that will surprise you. Face To Face has a Dire Straits feel to it. Vest has a similar vocal sound to Knopfler at times, and his guitar style goes there at times, although he never quite captures the level of subtlety Knopfler is capable of (who does?). Something Out Of Nothing is a poignant vignette that sounds like it might have been born of jam session between Dire Straits and Toad The Wet Sprocket.

One of my favorite tracks here, sprinkled with wry humor, is A New Expression. This is a song about being in the doghouse that will hit home for those in the know. Even if you're not it's a great song. The Switch Is On is a great rhythmic rock song, expressing change both in the lyrics and in the movement evident in the musical arrangement. Time is a great Americana/Rock song. Fans of The Cash Brothers or Skydiggers will love this tune. The last three songs on the CD are perhaps the best songwriting of the bunch. These aren't flashy songs in any fashion, just good, solid songwriting with a touch of magic. A Song Like Yours couldn't be any plainer but in its ordinariness finds a subtle beauty that shines out of its plaintive arrangement. Spring Ahead is aural painting, perfectly framed; a vignette on a relationship forever captured in song. 100,001 is story song about the day-to-day details of life that can bog people down, but turns the tables to find magic in the mundane.

Last Charge Of The Light Horse keeps it simple, and in simplicity finds magic and a complexity that is amazing. Fractures is a thing of beauty, a musical aesthetic that is destined to be under appreciated in a music business with an attention span shorter than that of Tom from 50 First Dates. The overall dynamic here will be too mellow for some, but there is an incredibly vibrant energy that runs through even the coolest of moments on Fractures, but it’s a disc that really requires your full attention. You'll get out of it what you put into it. Fractures is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc; A classic.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Last Charge Of The Light Horse at You can purchase a copy of Fractures at