All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review: Stuart McNair - Growing A Garden

Stuart McNair - Growing A Garden
2008, Stuart McNair

Birmingham, Alabama based Stuart McNair explores traditional Country music themes and values as well as Earth-friendly topics on his debut CD, Growing A Garden. Recorded live, in-studio with just McNair, his guitar and harmonica, listening to Growing A Garden is like having McNair over for a house concert. The organic feel of the album and the honest, down-home songwriting and performance lend a certain charm to the 18 songs presented here.

Growing A Garden opens with The Birds Were Like A Symphony, a song of appreciation for the beauty of nature, and the way that the Earth around us every day can surprise us when we simply take the time to notice. McNair's voice is strong and clear and has a rugged beauty to it. Man On A Mission has an autobiographical element to it, explaining perhaps, why McNair makes music. There's a great classic folk sound here and McNair reminds me heavily of David Matheson on this song. Somewhere In The Middle is a personal favorite, probably the best "opposites attract" song I've heard. I guarantee you there will be couples out there that claim this song as their own. It's not a humorous song, per se, but you can't help but chuckle at some of the truths unveiled here.

Don't Worry is a highly positive message set to music; a song about change and being yourself and letting the big things settle themselves out. It's not an invitation to disengage from life, rather one to engage and let the tides come and go ("One day I decided to be free/One day I decided to be me/One day I finally took my place/not ashamed to wear a smile on my face/and you'll be smiling a lot when you get the word / God loves every dog, cat, fish and bird/He walks right beside you and you've never been apart/so don't worry, worry, worry too much with your pretty little heart.") Hearts Don't Lie speaks to the inner voice that we sometimes call our heart and how it never lets people down even when they fail to listen.

You Need To Be Danced With is destined for mix-tapes everywhere. Don't be surprised if this song gets licensed for Television or Movies, as it is probably one of the most romantic love songs I've heard. As is it could be a hit on country radio and quite possibly cross over to pop radio as well. Grow The Garden is all about tending the future through the actions of today, and could be applicable to personal growth, societal growth or even growth in a relationship. It's a beautiful song and well delivered. Didn't Know You Then is a powerful song about forgiveness and accepting people for who they are and not necessarily for who they once were. Walking With Jesus has the feel of a modern folk hymn; more of a story song than what passes for contemporary Praise music. The most interesting aspect of McNair's music may be the role that faith plays in his songs. It's obvious that faith is a large part of McNair's mindset, and he sings about it as he feels moved in his songwriting in much the same way that James Taylor sings about love; it just happens to be what's on his mind. Be sure also to check out You Make Me Smile, I'll Be Back, Eating Me and How YOU Do It.

Stuart McNair is an honest songwriter who writes what he knows. There's no attempt to put forth a persona here, McNair is what he is, take it or leave it. The image that comes across is a singer/songwriter who is happy with his lot in life; happy with who he is, and happy to share his stories with any who will listen. McNair touches on elements of life, love, faith and our communion with nature. How McNair isn't highlighting major folk festivals across North America I don't know, but I suspect the time will come. In simple, straight-forward fashion, McNair has created an album that should establish him as one of the best young talents in folk music, bar none. Growing A Garden is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, and highly recommended to anyone who will listen.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Stuart McNair at You can purchase a copy of Growing A Garden at

Review: Summer Mencher - Stranger To Stronger [EP]

Summer Mencher - Stranger To Stronger [EP]
2009, Summer Mencher

Summer Mencher is a groundbreaking Progressive Folk artist who bends the boundaries between genres as easily as breathing. Folk, Rock, Rap, Arena-Rock harmonies and the occasional flirtation with Middle Eastern scales all work together to create a sound that is familiar on the surface and mind-bending in the musical waters than run beneath. Mencher released her Stranger To Stronger EP in January, 2009 as a prelude to her full length release, Break The Mold, due in May, 2009. Mencher won first place in the 2008 Evolve Singer/Songwriter Competition. Mencher holds a degree in Music Therapy from Berklee College of Music in Boston, and performs regularly in orphanages, schools and hospitals.

The EP opens with the title track, Stranger To Stronger, inspired by a music program for troubled youth Mencher worked on during her Music Therapy education. A typo in a search engine reminded Mencher how small actions can affect major changes (Stronger becomes Stranger). The song features Spoken/Word rap verses mixed with a sung chorus and is remarkably fresh sounding. Wish Me Luck is an open faced song about the experience of falling in love. Mencher's voice has a velvety tone that is a pleasure to listen to, although it's not your typical pop/rock voice. Waves parallels the ebb and flow of human emotion with the rise and fall of the ocean. The song weaves its way from still waters to stormy seas and all the fluctuations in between, just like the human heart. More of a sonic painting than anything, Waves is a musical work of art. Hang On is a musical salve that falls halfway between Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan; piano and strings work together to soothe while Mencher's words act like a tonic to those who have fallen. For all of that there's not a bit of cliché in the song, which surprised me by being better than I thought it might from the artist's description. Cold Wars speaks to the inner struggles that all people endure in the course of day-to-day life and how the tension from these struggles feeds our spirit's sense of play. Cold Wars features some of the most stunning harmonies on the disc (along with Waves) and is a sonic pleasure. Beyond Repair is more of a driven folk/rocker, ala Ani DiFranco, dealing with the human ability to overcome by accepting the past, accepting our part and moving on. The tension and resolution in this song is achieved in unusual ways, with the sonic highs and lows at times running in counterpoint to the lyrical and vocal heights. The song is a very intriguing listen.

Summer Mencher has an interesting take on songwriting. Working from the standpoint of a therapist she sees the world around her in almost clinical terms, yet finds the personal angle needed to truly understand the twists and turns about which she writes. Stranger To Stronger is surprisingly vibrant compared to much of the music that comes out of the Music Therapy field (which tends predominantly toward New-Age fluctuations in pitch and tone that eschew song structure much less personality). Stranger To Stronger gets high recommendations, and gives us cause to look forward eagerly to Mencher's full-length release, Break The Mold.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Summer Mencher at or You can purchase downloads of the tracks on Stranger To Stronger on Mencher’s MySpace page using the SnoCap application. No information on availability of physical CDs is available at this time.

Review: Kotadama - Demo EP

Kotadama - Demo EP
2009, Kotadama

Kotadama is comprised of brothers Chris and Evan Brown. Legend has it that Chris taught himself to play guitar and keyboards in 2006, and then encouraged his brother to learn the drums. Kotadama (meaning spirit of words) was born. Chris and Evan Brown were born and raised on the central coast of New South Wales in Australia and have traveled the country extensively. In the latter part of 2008 and early part of 2009 they have created significant buzz in both the US and Europe, gaining airplay and exposure from numerous sources. Their debut album, What Does It Mean? is forthcoming.

The Demo EP opens with Three Simple Words, a plaintive paean to love with a distinctive melody and an interestingly orchestrated arrangement. The song is highly commercial and radio ready, although I was admittedly disappointed to hear the heavy effects on the vocal line. Golden Child displays a strong social conscience, calling out world leaders for knowing the sort of problems our societies face but choosing to wait for miracles to solve the problems rather than taking the steps necessary to ensure long term prosperity. See You Tonight is a sweet ballad that’s destined for mix tapes wherever it’s heard. Earth Vs. Man has an almost U2 air about it, exploring the ultimate clash between societies and the natural forces of the Earth. Land Of Dreams goes a more ethereal route, using harmonics and reverb to build a "dream" sound for the song to inhabit. Calm Before The Storm has a similar vibe, built around the earth and social conscience of Kotadama.

The songwriting here is excellent. Kotadama displays a distinct ability to craft songs that are socially apt and intelligent and commercially viable. The arrangements are lush and full of orchestral passages and structure. I was very concerned to hear what sounds like correcting software used on the vocal lines, as I can not be confident that what I hear in the vocals is the band as opposed to the software. For me, at least, this blanches the experience of what is otherwise a fine start for Kotadama.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kotadama at or What Does It Mean will be released sometime in Spring or Early Summer of 2009. For now you can catch their music on the radio in certain markets in the US, Canada and Europe, or you can stream songs on their MySpace page.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Jeannine Hebb - Too Late To Change Me

Jeannine Hebb - Too Late To Change Me
2007, Jeannine Hebb

Jeannine Hebb is a highly decorated singer/songwriter, graduating with high honors from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and winning practically every award she was eligible for while there. Comparisons that have been made include Fiona Apple, Laura Nyro, Carole King and Norah Jones, but there's really no one to compare Hebb to. Her Pop/Rock sound borrows influences from Jazz, Blues, R&B and Soul and transcends them all into a sound that is just a little bit more than anything you've heard before. Hebb has played with Jazz musicians such as Ben Monder, James Genus, Tim Ries and Clarence Penn, and has graced well-known stages throughout the Northeast US. Jeannine Hebb's debut EP, Too Late To Change Me, is a musical revelation for those tired of the usual tricks of the Pop trade.

Too Late To Change Me opens with Only Ones, a song about the side of ourselves we show only to ourselves or to the ones we love. There's a strong theatrical feel to this song, like it might have just walked off a Broadway stage somewhere. Elements of Jazz and 1970's singer/songwriter pastiche abound in an unusually intelligent and quasi-analytical yet affecting song about the power of love. Things Haven't Been So Bad Lately captures the lost and alone feelings that can overcome someone living in the anonymity of a large city, as well as about the human capacity to adapt to such a harsh environment. Ultimately, the answer is to find others or even one other, but the protagonist is declaring a standoff with loneliness, even if only for the benefit of the listener. All The Way Down is a song about growing up, juxtaposing maturity with falling from a place where our heads are "full of clouds". Once again there is a strong theatrical quality to the song, and Hebb uses blues-style slide guitar to counterpoint the plaintive piano that drives the song.

Too Late To Change Me is more of a straight up Pop/Rock tune, and a declaration of self like one might make in a relationship. The song is unapologetic but sad and self-knowing, and beautifully human in concept and delivery. Just Enough For Me has an almost Bill Withers vibe, mixing the boundaries between Soul, Jazz and Pop. It's a love song from a cynical perspective, with the protagonist layering certainty over fear in a declaration that's as much about loneliness as it is about love. Whatever You Want closes out the set and is easily the most beautiful and simple composition on the EP. Hebb displays vulnerability through certainty, giving in to another's wishes in an ambivalent fashion that speaks words about how unhappy she really is. It's hard to escape the story-like quality with which Hebb writes songs. Whatever You Want sounds like the keynote song for a major character in a musical, but it’s the conviction with which she inhabits these songs as a vocalist that's most impressive. The only comparison I can come up with for this quality is Randy Newman.

Jeanine Hebb's voice is quite possibly one of the most striking in popular music, able to belt with the best of them one moment and break your heart with a soft passage the next. Too Late To Change Me is one of the finest debuts I've had the opportunity to review. It's a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, for certain. Make sure you acquire Too Late To Change Me, and make every effort to see Jeannine Hebb if she plays in your neck of the woods. The time will come when you won't get anywhere near a show without paying Live Nation prices.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jeannine Hebb at or You can purchase a copy of Too Late To Change Me at

Review: Filter - The Very Best Things (1995 - 2008)

Filter - The Very Best Things (1995 – 2008)
2009, Rhino Records

I remember working part time in a record store back in the mid-1990's and seeing Filter's debut album come first come into the store. I was intrigued by the plain yet stylish cover, when the manager walked by and quipped, "Don't bother, those guys suck." Nearly fifteen years later and an awful lot of people disagree, but until this week I'd never heard a single one of Filter's songs (or so I thought). The Very Best Things (1995 – 2008) is my first musical introduction to the band, and I went through the full range, from pure enjoyment to reaching for the skip button. On the whole, however, it's an impressive collection.

The set opens with one of Filter's biggest hits, Hey Man Nice Shot, featuring the heavy guitar and industrial rhythms you might expect out of Nine Inch Nails. (Can't You) Trip Like I Do plays heavily on Filter's heavy rock pedigree and marries it with the heavy dance beats of Crystal Method in a surprisingly pop-oriented heavy rock anthem. It's when I get to the radio edit of Take A Picture that I realize, "Hey! I've heard this before". This song is very stripped down from the heavier sounds that preceded it and has a great pop sensibility woven into the music. Fans will be pleased with the musical selection in general, although the dedicated fans will already have all of these songs. Other highlights include. Where Do We Go From Here, I'm Not The Only One, The Best Things and Thanks Bro.

Filter is an accomplished Modern Rock band with veins of Metal, Alternative and Industrial running through their music. The Very Best Things is a solid compilation album that may sell well to ne fans, but established fans already have what's here. Based on the material alone it’s a solid collection, although there’s little to make it appealing to folks who already have the discography.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Filter at or You can order a copy of The Very Best Things at, as a download through iTunes, or in music stores everywhere.

Review: Simavi - Memories Of You

Simavi - Memories Of You
2008, Original Cast Records

New York City crooner Simavi spent several years putting together the 23 tracks on Memories Of You, released in 2008 on Original Cast Records. Back by a 50-pieces orchestra, Simavi tackles classics from the American Standard songbook as well as some lesser known gems. Arrangers for this disc include the likes of Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. The disc also includes video footage of a live performance from New York's Lincoln Center.

Simavi has a pleasant voice that is period-perfect for the material he's singing, but its not the best voice on the market. Similar to Frank Sinatra or Johnny Mercer, Simavi relies on his ability to sell a song to overcome those vocal flaws, but Simavi lacks the charisma of Sinatra or the panache of Mercer. The vocals are very straight forward renditions of the classics and near-classic Simavi's chosen for Memories Of You. The orchestration is incredible. The orchestra employed by Simavi creates an amazing musical canvas on which to work. Highlights include The Girl From Ipanema, I Get A Kick Out Of You, Love Looks So Well On You and Fly Me To The Moon.

Sinatra had an ability to electrify a song with his conviction. Johnny Mercer spent most of his time writing for others, but had a knowing warmth and a wink that made you feel like you were in on the joke. Simavi may be able to bring some of those qualities out in front of an audience, but they are absent here. The vocals are clean and technically proficient, but lack the heart and soul to make these songs soar.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Simavi at or You can purchase a copy of Memories of You at or download the album from iTunes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: Cary Judd - Goodnight Human

Cary Judd – Goodnight Human
2009, Cary D Judd

Cary Judd is a native of Thousand Oaks, California who has found a home on the Wyoming/Idaho border in the shadow of the Teton Mountain Range. Judd uses this lifeline to nature as impetus and inspiration in his songwriting, drawing moments from his life into song. Judd’s third album, Goodnight Human, presents some of these moments in snapshot style, drawn in non-traditional pop instrumentation yet with a distinct pop sensibility.

Judd marches to the beat of his own drummer, and I can’t say I was able to follow the beat at every point on Goodnight Human, but the album has moments that are absolutely inspiring. Judd’s instrumentation and arrangement style could best be described as Americana/Pop. Goodnight Human has a distinctive sound that borders on Country, yet the pop hooks and infectious melodies will make you want to get up and dance. The opening song, Andromeda, will make you wonder just what you got yourself into, but then Judd launches into The Apocalyptic Love Song, a tongue-in-cheek declaration of true love forever (seriously). Angel With A Cigarette is highly catchy pop music that’s a bit bizarre but highly listenable.

My favorite song on the album is Valentine, a well-written Pop/Americana song. This is definite mix-tape material; it’s a bit quirky and has real commercial potential. Flicker is perhaps the biggest potential hit on Goodnight Human with lush harmonies, a great arrangement and a highly danceable nature. Stars is another song with a memorable melody and harmonies and a powerful pop arrangement. Other songs of note are Huang Shan (The Ah-Ha Song), Sarah, Kiss Comes To Shove and A Time To Lie.

Cary Judd carves out a musical niche that’s not well populated on Goodnight Human. Since the emergence of Americana as its own genre artists have been toying with it and stretching the boundaries, and many have taken it to the pop side, but perhaps no one has done it as well as Cary Judd. Goodnight Human is a mixed bag: just about half the tracks here are average, and there’s nothing here that will turn listeners away, but there are six tracks on this album that are golden. Flicker and Valentine could put Judd on the map; both songs could do well on commercial radio or licensed into TV or Films. The sound that Judd has crafted is, if not unique, rare. Cary Judd will turn heads and hearts with his music.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Cary Judd at You can purchase a copy of Goodnight Human at

Review: The People Now - Demonstrative Romance (demo)

The People Now - Demonstrative Romance (demo)
2008, The People Now

The People Now is a five piece outfit from Seattle that mixes Rock, Metal, Pop, Jazz, Contemporary Christian and even Classical elements into their writing. The result is a highly melodic and Progressive sound with deep lyrics and a strong philosophical leaning. The People Now's second demo CD, Demonstrative Romance, displays a distinctive sound that is edgy enough for Modern Rock, hooky enough to gain some share of the Pop audience, and melodic enough to play well across the spectrum.

The EP opens with Demonstrative Romance (title track) and a chorus constructed from piano, harmonies, hard rhythms and a wall of guitar sound. Vocalist Tahjin displays a great Rock N Roll voice, and the harmonies around him recall the best of the arena rock days. Have You Forgotten? is an admonition set to song, carrying a strong social message and complementary musical punch. The third track, listed as "untitled", is perhaps the best song on the demo, taking a harder, yet still highly melodic, path than the first two songs. This is the perfect marriage of Progressive Rock and Modern Rock, and perhaps helps to define the sound of The People Now as much as anything else they might play.

The People Now are an incredibly dynamic and melodic rock act you should pay attention to. These guys are on their way to somewhere, and even if you don't dig what they're doing right now it’s worth keeping your ears on them just to see where they might end up. I highly recommend The People Now as a band of interest. The time will come when they won't need recommendation, or introduction. Everyone will know who they are.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The People Now at, or

Review: Randy Stern - Give

Randy Stern - Give
2009, Heyday Records

Randy Stern’s resume is full of Indie Cred and even some big names. As the former singer/songwriter/guitarist of Brooklyn’s The Nerve, Stern gained significant respect and admiration in the New York City scene. He ultimately was invited to play in Bumblefoot’s (Guns N Roses) touring band for a 2005 jaunt through Europe. In 2006, The Nerve disbanded, and Stern began to pursue solo writing and performance. Putting aside the punk sound, Stern has striven for a more mature, subtle songwriting style. With the help of producer Hugh Pool (Patty Smith, Rufus Wainwright, Hubert Sumlin, The National), Stern has firmly established himself as a competent solo artist with his debut album, Give.

Give opens with Deeper And Deeper, a pop-oriented Americana tune with real potential. Better Days is a solid, Southern Rock tune that's steeped in the blues and Rock N Roll. Stern has a very pleasant sounding voice that works very well with the blend of Rock, Americana & Pop he purveys. The Night is a highly catchy and commercial sounding track that could garner some attention on the radio. My favorite track on the album is the R&B/early Rock gem The Only Woman; complete with walking bass line. Into Your Heart is the pre-requisite mix-tape offering, although this isn't your typical love ballad. Stern gets highly personal here, eschewing cliche in favor of honest emotion. The song is very touching and might even make a good wedding song for the right couple. Other highlights include Home, In The Midnight and Ain't Dead Yet.

Stern has a home grown style to his playing and singing that is refreshing. You'll hear shades of Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan and even Ryan Adams running through his song, but in the end Randy Stern isn't really like any of them. His is an original voice in a crowded field. Give isn't flashy, there are no big lights or whistles here, just good, honest music. Make sure you check out Randy Stern.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Randy Stern at or You can purchase a copy of Give at

Review: Tonye Christopher - I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star/Under Covers With John Mayer

Tonye Christopher - I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star/Under Covers With John Mayer
2009, Tonye Christopher

Rochester, NY native Chris Korokeyi is a computer engineer by day and aspiring pop star Tonye Christopher by night (and a few days, too). Blending R&B, Pop and Rock into a unique and interesting fusion, Christopher writes urban oriented songs with soaring guitar and a hardy vocal style more common in rock music. April, 2009 saw the release of two digital albums from Tonye Christopher, I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star, and a cover album, Under Covers With John Mayer. Distributed together, the two projects give a full accounting of the divergent influences and styles that make up Tonye Christopher's repertoire.

I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star opens with the title track, a paean to stardom and an expression of anxiety about the emptiness that might be found at the top. The song is quite interesting, although I noted that Christopher's voice has been electronically enhanced, both here and throughout the rest of the album. Dear Ms. Anniston (I Need You) is a love song/stalker anthem to the former Friends star, and fits in with Christopher's apparent obsession with pop culture. Kanye Komplex finds Christopher declaring himself the best thing in pop music, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Likewise, Scarlet Fever is an ode to Scarlet Johansen. One of the more interesting songs on the album is One Night At The Hilton; exploring the guilt that follows a one night stand. Love Actually (To Me Your Are Perfect) is inspired by the film of the same name, and is a positive message to the women of the world ("You're perfect just the way you are / You're too pretty to dye your hair Hollywood blonde.") The pop references continue on Girls Like Halle Berry, one of the most musical compositions on the album. Ditto You Look Like Jessica Alba.

Under Covers With John Mayer opens with Waiting On The World To Change, a fair cover of the song with an urban bent. It’s on the Mayer material where Christopher appears weakest. It's impossible to tell what Christopher's true voice is like because it sounds like his voice has been altered throughout, but Christopher's tendency toward to slight pitch issues and wavering tone suggest that a fair amount of cleanup has been done. On his own material these issues aren't as readily apparent as Christopher is writing for himself, but vocal lines written for others expose these issues clearly. There are highlights here however; I liked the minimalist arrangement on Gravity. Christopher builds a musical bed here that suggests an almost hymn-like feel that works perfectly. Christopher also scores with his cover of Daughters. Stylistically this song is similar enough to be familiar and different enough to garner some attention, although the mix on the recording isn't very good. The album also includes covers of Your Body Is A Wonderland, Dreaming With A Broken Heart, Say and I Don't Trust Myself With Loving You, among others.

Tonye Christopher has definite talent as a producer, but the production values, particularly on Under Covers With John Mayer, are a bit sloppy. Some of the mixes presented here (particularly Daughters) sound incomplete or poorly mixed. Christopher's voice comes off as pleasant on both albums, although it’s very apparent that at the very least it’s been given strong electronic support, if not outright alteration. Most of the arrangements on I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star are pretty strong, with a distinctive style that mixes Rock, R&B, & Hip-Hop. Under Covers With John Mayer gets a much more canned sound, as if he didn't approach the cover album with the same conviction he did his own material. Tonye Christopher offers up some pleasant light listening on I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star. Under Covers With John Mayer is probably only going to appeal to diehard John Mayer fans.

I Dreamt I Was A Rock Star - 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Under Covers With John Mayer - 1.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Tonye Christopher at You can purchase a CD of I Dreamt I Was A Rockstar/Under Covers With John Mayer at Café, or you can get them as a download through iTunes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: Pete Herzog - Homestyle

Pete Herzog - Homestyle
2008, Hartkop Productions

Pete Herzog is an old-school, back porch picker, blending folk and blues in a fashion not common since the 1960's urban folk movement was co-opted by the major labels. Using open tunings, ala Bruce Cockburn, and a self-developed flat picking style, Herzog is a treat for the ears, offering up a mix of Mississippi Delta Blues and Appalachian Folk that is, if not wholly originally, indeed rarely found. Herzog's latest CD, Homestyle, contains 18 tracks (15 originals) that were recorded in one take, without overdubbing using an old Gibson guitar and a 1930's Kay arch guitar for slide work. Listening to Homestyle you'll swear there is more than one guitarist involved, but it's all Herzog, all the time.

Homestyle opens with Woman That I Love, a happy and hopeful blues tune featuring some very intricate guitar work and Herzog's strong, clear voice. Herzog is so authentic and organic in sound you can close your eyes and picture him playing some club back in the 1930s or 1940s without any reservations. Coqui Blues features very strong guitar work and is a very memorable tune. Big Island Woman is the sort of Blues that inspired bands like Led Zeppelin; Herzog has an easy delivery that works perfectly here. Pretty Mama Take Me Home is a touching song that is the sort you build mix tapes around and Herzog sounds particularly emotionally connected to this one. Other highlights include Jump On Blues; Whole Hog; My Baby, Um Huh; Murphy's Cabin and Herzog's cover of House Of The Rising Sun.

Pete Herzog mixes Blues and Folk styles like they were born together. Homestyle is as down home as it gets. Folk and Blues fans will sing the praises of Pete Herzog.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Pete Herzog at You can purchase a copy of Homestyle at

Review: John Scofield - Piety Street

John Scofield - Piety Street
2009, EmArcy/Decca Records

John Scofield has a long standing reputation as one of the top jazz guitarists of his generation, and to some the decision to tackle an album of southern gospel songs may seem out of character, but Jazz and Gospel have common ancestors. Scofield underscores this connection on Piety Street, his latest release on EmArcy/Decca Records. Thirteen tracks of gospel fused with jazz is what Scofield serves up on Piety Street, perhaps one of the most electric and energetic albums from Scofield in a while.

Piety Street opens with That's Enough, staying close to the Gospel roots of the song. This paves the way for Motherless Child, which gets sidetracked into a serious jam on guitar. It's A Big Army is a lively tune that will have them falling down in the aisles; Scofield invokes a little of Chet Atkins guitar style on this one, and the choir that accompanies him is top notch. His Eye Is On The Sparrow is written into a strong jazz arrangement that allows Scofield to show off his axe skills a bit without straying too far from the original melody. Scofield mixes in a little R&B vocal group styling on Something's Got A Hold On Me, one of the better arrangements on the disc.

Just A Little While To Stay Here showcases Scofield at his very best; displaying a subtlety and feel for the music that is uncanny, Scofield makes magic at low speed for what is perhaps the most sonically pleasing song offered here. Never Turn Back breaks out from a rock beat and some funky guitar turns to update a gospel classic. Other highlights include Walk With Me, But I Like The Message and I'll Fly Away.

Fans of John Scofield don't need to be told, but this man has some of the touch of Chet Atkins, and the subtle nature of Mark Knopfler. He can play anything, but Jazz is the field on which he plays. Piety Street is an inspired work, updating a set of gospel classics in a reverent but forward-thinking fashion. This disc will be on some year-end favorites, and don't be entirely surprised if it gets some dark horse consideration come Grammy time.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can purchase a copy of Piety Street through, or download the album through Amazon MP3 or iTunes.

Review: Foxfire - Early Rising

Foxfire - Early Rising
2008, Sludgehammer Records

Marietta, Georgia's Foxfire is a classic power trio born from the early 1970's Garage Metal movement. If the Runaways got into an alley fight with Courtney Love and Hole and put together a band from whoever was standing at the end then you might have something a bit like Foxfire. Big guitar sound and structure are the key elements here; melody and composition are almost secondary on Early Rising, the band's debut CD. Vocalist Rachel Collins has a decent Rock/Metal voice, engaging the same rasp that made Janis Joplin a household name but without the same tone or color.

I've listened through this album several times now, and I struggle to find even one track that really stands out from the rest. That's not an indication that the album is bad, it's solid and fairly uniform throughout. The sound has a definite Lo-Fi flavor, sounding like it may have been recorded in one or two takes in a concrete room with minimal production gloss. The sound is true to the nature of the band, who are probably better appreciated in a live setting. In a bar, with the amps turned way up, Foxfire can create a wall of sound through sheer force. On CD, it just doesn't carry quite as well, with the music sounding a bit thin and a bit too much like so much that's gone before.

Early Rising isn't a bad album, but there also isn't anything specific about it that elevates it to memorable status. Early Rising represents solid work from a solid band.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Foxfire at You can pick up a copy of Early Rising at

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review: Davie Gayle - Amber In The Clay

Davie Gayle - Amber In The Clay
2009, Claydirt Music/Remba Records

Los Angeles-based Davie Gayle grew up on country music in New Jersey, where her father was a guitarist in a country band. Her entire family was musical, and Gayle eventually formed a duo with her brother (The Gayles). After moving to LA, Michael began his own label and went into production while Davie threw herself into songwriting and performing. Davie Gayle’s debut solo album, Amber In The Clay, is a distinct and poignant collection of songs drawn from her own life experiences. Comparisons to Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless and Lucinda Williams are understandable, but Gayle’s point of view as a songwriter is practically unique.

Amber In The Clay opens with the title track, a story song paralleling a scientist who finds the building blocks of life stored in the earth and a person of significance who helps a broken or lost person rebuild their life. The song has a classic country tragic sound while moving toward a positive message. Get Me is a great roadhouse country tune that sounds like it should be a hit on the country charts. If Shania or someone of that ilk recorded this song you'd hear it everywhere, and Gayle is a much better vocalist. 3:09 finds Gayle giving a classic country performance in a voice that mixes her sweet tone and just the right dose of bittersweet sorrow. Channel To You takes more to the pop side of the scale with some R&B and Gospel influence in one of the more daring tracks on the disc.

Roundabout is one of the best story songs I've heard in some time, culminating in a positive message that parallels Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. Gayle's sweet, honest voice is the perfect instrument to deliver this song, and she deserves real attention for this one. You Don't Say is a country flavored blues rocker ala Bonnie Raitt with an innate pop sensibility that will turn a lot of heads. Doghouse Flowers lets Gayle rip it up a little; this one will be a particular favorite of the ladies. Rockabilly Bug will have you reaching for your dancing shoes and cowboy hats.

Amber In The Clay is a pleasant surprise, hitting the high points of country music without succumbing to the Top-20 Country milieu that pervades commercial radio. Davie Gayle has a tremendous voice mixing sweetness with just a hint of mischief, and the arrangements here are out of sight. Amber In The Clay is music you need to hear; a potential breakout disc.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Davie Gayle at or You can purchase a copy of Amber In The Clay at

Review: Fireworks - All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion

Fireworks - All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion
2009, Triple Crown Records

Brains and brawn go hand in hand on All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion, the debut CD by Detroit’s Fireworks on Triple Crown Records. With a lead vocalist (David Mackinder) who sounds disturbingly like Anthony Rapp (Rent) and a muscular guitar-based sound, Fireworks wend their way through eleven intelligent and well-crafted songs. This disc is a nice surprise, based in Modern Rock but more complex and well-crafted than a lot of the stuff you'll hear on Modern Rock stations.

The disc opens with Geography, Vonnegut And Me, an energetic Pop/Punk anthem that is radio-ready and just off beat enough to get noticed. 2923 Monroe Street has a wonderful dark pop sense to it. This is what hits are made of, strong melodic lines, great vocals, accessible lyrics and an arrangement that kicks tail without abandoning that strong sensibility that seems to be at Fireworks' fingertips throughout the CD. You've Lost Your Charm is another example of the Punk/Pop sound that Fireworks brings to the table. This is one of the most purely radio-ready debuts I've heard thus far in 2009. Detroit represents two sides of Rock City, with a chorus reminiscent of classic KISS and verses that echo the thriving punk scene. Other highlights include Holiday, Again And Again and When We Stand On Each Other We Block Out The Sun.

Fireworks has a strongly commercial sound built on a marriage of Pop and Punk and lots of guitar. All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion is one of those albums that with the right push could be a monster hit. Ten years ago they would have been an MTV Buzz Band for sure. Make sure you check out All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion, and if Fireworks comes to town, line up for the show. You won't regret it.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Fireworks at You can purchase a copy of All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion from, or download the album through iTunes. You can catch Fireworks on Tour with New Found Glory through May 10, 2009.

Review: Brad Hammonds - Through It All

Brad Hammonds - Through It All
2009, Brad Hammonds

New York City's Brad Hammonds is familiar to many for his work with Brazz Tree. He is a regular at city hot spots such as The Blue Note, The Living Room Joe's Pub and Rockwood Music Hall. He possesses a highly percussive guitar style, falling somewhere between Richard Thompson and Ani DiFranco, and brings the same sort of laid back spirit to his music that has made Dave Matthews a fan favorite. 2009 sees the release of Hammonds' debut solo album, Through It All, a musical experience you don't want to deny yourself.

Through It All opens with the title track, sounding like a Paul Simon/Dave Matthews hybrid. This is a dark and meaty acoustic tune with some edgy harmonies and a bass line that walks the song along. The Story Of A Man That Lost Everything is a great instrumental arrangement, although I wasn't impressed with the vocal line on this one. Medicine finds Hammonds digging into the signature rhythmic guitar style of his. This is a driven song that will stick with you when its done playing. The Judge sounds a bit like personal favorite Michael Kroll. I enjoyed the song, but the vocal line was a bit low in the production settings and was difficult to follow in the chorus. You'll want to check out Fade Away, particularly if you play guitar; Hammonds dazzles with an intricate and fluid performance here. Other highlights include Losing Control, Weightless and Indignation.

Brad Hammonds has a distinctive and complex compositional style fueled by his high-energy, rhythmic guitar style. His voice is decent, but doesn't quite keep up with his guitar play on a few of the tracks presented on Through It All. This is more of a production issue than anything, as often the loss comes because the vocal line is too low for Hammonds to generate significant volume, or the production settings for the vocal line are too close to the instrumentation to hear them properly. On the whole, Through It All is a strong effort. The songwriting is solid and Hammonds is a wizard with the guitar. I suspect he'd be uber-impressive live.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Brad Hammonds at or You can purchase a copy of Through It All at

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Doug Folkins - Another Last Call

Doug Folkins - Another Last Call
2009, Fenwick Music

British Columbia, Canada's Doug Folkins opens his fifth album, Another Last Call with Calico Girl, sounding like a cross between Blue Rodeo and early Crash Test Dummies. Folkins has a strong and clear voice that works very well with the material presented here. The arrangements are pleasant; perhaps a little loose in presentation but not uncharacteristically so. Pour Me Another is an acoustic Celtic Rock tune that features some hot fiddle playing. Promise Me sounds a bit more like commercial country music, but without the high gloss sheen that tends to rob popular country music of its flavor. The harmonies here are notable, and Folkins' band has pulled together as taut as a wire.

Streets Of Rome is a Celtic flavored song about Italy; one of the more anachronistic tunes I've heard this year, but extremely well written. The sound here actually reminds me a bit of The McKrells in their heyday. Park The Car is a humorous take on the Irish Drinking Song that might not sit well with members of MADD but fits very well into the musical tradition. One of my favorite tunes here is King Henry's Good Times. The pace here is frenetic, and Folkins' voice rises to the occasion perfectly. See You Smile is an upbeat, wistful love song that will strike home to those who have "been there", and would work just as well in a more rock-oriented arrangement as it does here. Folkins closes out with three classic Celtic tunes, two from the Maritime songbook, Paddy Murphy, Mari Mac and Black Velvet Band. If you've not heard these songs before, pay particular attention to Mari Mac, which turns into a devilish tongue twister that likely doubles as a drinking game in some places. This isn't my favorite arrangement of the song, but I've heard many people mangle this song and Folkins presents the song better than most (although he doesn't push the speedometer the way bands like Great Big Sea have). Black Velvet Band is a bit more traditional and very well presented here.

Doug Folkins reminds me more and more of Kevin McKrell as I listen to him. There is a definite tendency to mix other musical styles with Celtic sounds on Another Last Call, and for the most part the results are positive. The play, singing and writing/arrangement on Another Last Call are all very much above average. I hesitate to call it a great album, as there just wasn't a "whoa" moment here, but it's very, very, very good.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Doug Folkins at You can purchase a copy of Another Last Call at

Review: Jamie Lynn Hart - Jamie Lynn Hart [EP]

Jamie Lynn Hart - Jamie Lynn Hart
2008 Jamie Lynn Hart

Jamie Lynn Hart is one of the bright new stars in the Boston music scene, captivating crowds with her honey-hued voice. Hart has significant classical vocal training under her belt, but sings with an R&B/soul style that is unmistakably her own. In 2008, Hart released her debut EP, Jamie Lynn Hart, including five of her most popular songs. The Masters candidate in Music will embark on her first national tour in the spring of 2009 upon graduation.

Okay, get it out of your system.... Wow. Hart has an amazing voice. Its dark and heavy with more vibrato than you might be used to in pop music, but Hart will blow you away with her voice. The EP opens with Sassy, a funk-laden R&B tune that will invoke comparisons to Mary J. Blige. This song could be a hit on the radio right now without any changes. From the brash presentation of Sassy we step to a more introspective Hart on Illuminate. Hart's voice still has that heavy/dark quality on the slower material, meaning that ballads may not be her strong point. Hart's best sound is in the belting range. Summoned To Succumb is a ballad with a fine guitar/cello arrangement that allows Hart to let loose a little of the sweetness in her voice. Beautiful Minds has a Cowboy Junkies feel to it, and Hart manages to let go of the heaviness of her voice a bit more here until the chorus when all of that vibrato comes back. Hart closes out the EP with Brittle Nails, a country/pop hybrid that is pleasant but for which Hart's voice is just flat out too heavy for.

I love Jamie Lynn Hart's voice, and it works on some of the songs on her debut EP, but it’s just too much for others. The almost Wagnerian vibrato in her voice is intriguing and different in the pop world but inevitably becomes too much. When trained in classical singing styles it can be very difficult to transition from that sound to a rock voice. Hart writes intelligent and interesting songs and is an amazing performer, but the sound is going to ware thin for some listeners. Luckily, if you check her out on YouTube, it appears that heavy quality doesn’t come across in a live setting. So chock this one up to production, folks. Jamie Lynn Hart is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jamie Lynn Hart at You can purchase Jamie Lynn Hart on CD through, or you can download a copy from iTunes.

Review: Weapons Of Pleasre - Weapons Of Pleasure

Weapons Of Pleasure - Weapons Of Pleasure
2009, Warehouse Records/Weapons Of Pleasure

Weapons Of Pleasure makes its home in the San Francisco Bay Area, but members come from as far away as New Orleans. The band has built quite a buzz touring on the west coast; now comes their debut EP, Weapons Of Pleasure. Weapons Of Pleasure is Vanessa (vox, bass); Reno (guitars/vox), A.J. (lead guitar) and Jeff (drums).

Weapons Of Pleasure opens with Hail!, an upbeat guitar rocker that will get your feet moving and sounds a bit like 1980's New Wave Pop. Bring Your Love kicks off on a fuzzy bass line and a frenetic, post-punk arrangement. Daredevil finds vocalist Vanessa sounding a bit like Courtney Love in her Hole days. Daredevil has a real Lo-Fi sound and the attitude to match. Now You See it pulls in more of a 1970's guitar rock aesthetic, complete with hand claps, but transitions into pure New Wave on the bridge. The EP closes out with big guitar rocker Burn, kicking up a rock conflagration on the way out the door.

Weapons Of Pleasure have their feet in several sub-genres or Rock N Roll, including classic rock, Punk and Grunge. Their debut EP, Weapons Of Pleasure is a mix and uneven collection of five songs that show the tendrils of sound the band is working their way through. There's real potential here, and I'd bet that Weapons Of Pleasure take no prisoners on stage. Give them a little more time playing and recording together and I suspect a more cohesive sound will emerge. For right now they are raw Rock N Roll in several of its most seminal forms.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Weapons Of Pleasure at or You can purchase a copy of Weapons Of Pleasure at

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: TAT - Soho Lights

TAT – Soho Lights
2008, Red Wagon

London, England’s TAT is a power trio led by the incomparable Tatiana DeMaria on vocals and guitars. With a distinctive rock voice that can smash-and-grab you or and melt butter on successive lines, DeMaria might be one of the best new female rock vocalists of the last few years. Add in Nick Kent on bass/vocals and Jake Reed on drums/vocals and you have a powerful power trio that mixes Classic, Punk and Melodic Rock sounds and strong harmonies. TAT’s debut album, Soho Lights was good enough to land them a spot on The 2009 Vans Warped Tour. They’ll be coming soon to an amphitheater near you. Be ready.

DeMaria has a penchant for lyrically dense, vocally dynamic songs that sound like they should be impossible to sing; DeMaria makes them look/sound easy. As a vocalist she has it all: Great tone, tremendous breath control and an ineffable front-woman quality that you see in big name artists such as Gwen Steffani and Chrissie Hynde. DeMaria could front most any band or go solo and make it big. In TAT she has an incredibly tight and talented rhythm section and backup vocalists who fill out the sound in dynamic and impressive fashion. Soho Lights opens with Road To Paradise, a lyrically dense Punk/Mod anthem that you won’t be able to get out of your head. Sympathetic Lies has an almost wall-of-sound quality in what I can only describe as a melodic Punk tune.

Pessimist may be one of the more amusingly pathologic songs on the album (“I’ll sit on your face and say I love you and leave you the next day for someone reminds me of you”). The energy here is off the charts. I Don’t Want To (Love You) is DeMaria at her most amazing, running off several phrases in a row, seemingly without a breath, without ever losing her sound or tone. A-maz-ing. Here’s To You is a pitch-perfect representation of ambivalence that features one of the best bass lines you’re likely to hear. Sandra D is an interesting bit of self-affirmation in song, while Take You Home pays tribute to Nirvana in sound. The album closes out with Live For Rock, which deserves to be the anthem for the next generation of rock/punk musicians. This is what Rock N Roll has always been about.

Wow. TAT will seriously blow you away. Soho Lights isn’t perfect, but even on the few more average songs the energy level is anything but. If you’re going to the Vans Warped Tour this year, make sure you check out TAT’s set. TAT alone might be worth the price of admission. In the mean time, be sure to check out Soho Lights. Rock is back, and its name is TAT.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about TAT at or You can purchase a copy of Soho Lights at, or you can purchase the download through iTunes. You can catch TAT live as part of the 2009 Vans Warped Tour between June 26, 2009 and August 23, 2009.

Review: David Sinclair Trio - Threewheeling

David Sinclair Trio - Threewheeling
2008, Nova Tunes/Critical Discs

West London’s David Sinclair is a journalist, author, singer and guitarist. He continues his double life with his new disc with the David Sinclair Trio, Threewheeling. Due for a spring, 2009 release, Threewheeling brings a live, lo-fi sound to complement solid Rock songwriting.

Threewheeling opens with London Dust, a catchy and memorable rock tune with shades of Americana in its lineage. Your World Mystifies Me has a feel like REM on steroids, aggressively and plaintively melodic all at once. The David Sinclair Trio appears to have gone for a live, in-studio sound that borders on garage throughout Threewheeling. It makes for a great listen because this is essentially the sound you might get at a show, and it works for DST. Eight Rounds Later is a rockabilly tune about a night out on the town. Think Georgia Satellites on this one. Feedback wants to be a combination of Rock and Americana but has an almost punk sensibility to it. Clicks is a little more mainstream sounding, like something that might have been played on the radio in the final days before Grunge roared out of Seattle. Other songs of note are Share My Cab, Just Struck Gold and Was I Strong Enough.

David Sinclair Trio is a bit rough around the edges but finds a very cohesive and enjoyable sound on Threewheeling. The intersection of Rock, Americana , Grunge and Garage is where David Sinclair Trio meets, and if they don't hit on every single song then they do on most of them. David Sinclair Trio has a bright future.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about David Sinclair Trio at,, or You can download Threewheeling at

Review: Dan Holt - New End Of The World Blues

Dan Holt - New End Of The World Blues
2008, Screaming Ray Recordings

Euclid, Ohio’s Dan Holt has been making music for nearly 30 years now. He’s familiar to fans in the Midwest US as a former member of blues outfits Five Believers and Vertigo Men. Holt’s latest solo release, New End Of The World Blues was released in 2008.

I have to admit that I didn't really connect with this album. New End Of The World Blues is an acoustic blues album that is essentially just Holt on guitar and vocals. Holt is amazing with the guitar in his hand. Some of the things he does on the album are jaw-dropping with regard to intricate arrangements and guitar work. As a vocalist he has a good voice, but the energy level and charisma that comes through on his guitar just isn't matched by his voice. As much as I enjoy the acoustic blues style, Holt is an artist who would benefit from creating and recording with an ensemble. Nevertheless there are a few highlights here that I'd like to mention. What Do You Want From Me is my personal favorite, in a Hank Williams Sr. meets Muddy Waters moment. Chronic Depression is an amusing patois of Country and Blues. Get In My Car is a prime example of the impressive guitar work Holt is capable of. For much of the rest album I simply listened to the guitar work. From that perspective it’s a great album, but the vocals did grate on me a bit and the uniformity of dynamic and sound made it difficult for me to really get into this CD.

I am not knocking Dan Holt. He has a decent enough voice, but every once in a while as a listener you come across a voice that just doesn't sit with you, and that was my experience here. Don't let that stop you from checking him out, because you're likely to have a different reaction than me, but if you're looking for some amazing acoustic blues guitar work, then New End Of The World Blues is definitely worth your time.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Dan Holt at You can download New End Of The World Blues at Amazon MP3 or iTunes. If you want a hard copy, you’ll have to attend one of Dan Holt’s shows, but if you contact him through his website perhaps he’ll hook you up.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Lindsay Katt - Picking Out Boxes

Lindsay Katt - Picking Out Boxes
2009, Lindsay Catalanello

Lindsay Katt is a New York City based singer/songwriter with a reputation for honest and intelligent lyrics and an ability to highlight beauty in the mundane. Her debut CD, Picking Out Boxes, is a stark and ultimately welcome reminder that truth and beauty can coexist in art and music.
Lindsay Katt opens with My Happy, a jaunty pop/rock tune with orchestration that is introspective and energetic and ultimately listenable. The chorus is particularly memorable and Katt gets particularly creative on the bridge. Katt makes the case for pop realism while staying clearly in a very commercial sound. Out & About is about love and taking leaps of faith. The universal theme of taking risks for gain is portrayed perfectly in a highly intelligent pop song with distinct commercial punch. Wretched Unbelievers is a catchy tune that sounds a bit like Sarah McLachlan with instrumentation similar to what McLachlan used on her earlier albums and the same sort of ethereal vocal structure.

Fairly is a wonderfully lilting pop tune that you won't be able to get out of your head, showing off Katt's voice to great effect. Heart Place finds Katt sounding a great deal like Feist in what may be the most commercial sounding track on the disc. The interesting thing about Katt's music is that her commercialism seems to be almost by accident. The songs on Picking Out Boxes are incredibly intelligent lyrically and almost aesthetically melodic. The energy that Katt injects both in the music and through her voice turns even the most mundane musical line into gold. Add into this what be one of the more sultry and sweet voices in pop music and you border on not just a performance but a musical experience.

Andie Ann is presented in a vibrant and dark musical arrangement with full orchestration that is as beautiful as it is unsettling. The layered vocals and orchestra work together to create a song that soars in the shadowy dark chords the song is written in. Pretty In A Paper Bag opens as a plaintive piano tune and turns into a swaying pop song that eschews the term love while defining it. This may be the best writing on the album and deserves to be heard far and wide. Two Little Birds opens out into a straight up pop/rock song that is perfect for pop radio. The imagery here is distinct and unusual and represents the unsettled nature of ambiguous relationships perfectly. The album closes out with Promises and Yellow Tail, but highly introspective and worth checking out.

Lindsay Katt has something special going on. Her raw talent and the sporadic cultural isolation growing up in the mountains of Montana have conspired to create a distinctive and original voice, both literally and figuratively. Picking Out Boxes is powerful and lovely debut from an artist we hope we'll be hearing much more from in the future. Lindsay Katt is the real deal.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Lindsay Kat at or You can purchase a copy of Picking Out Boxes at, or you can download a copy from iTunes.

Review: Just Like Heaven - A Tribute To The Cure (Various Artists)

Various Artists – Just Like Heaven: A Tribute To The Cure
2009, American Laundromat Records

American Laundromat Records presents a paean to one of the most influential British bands on the 1980s and 1990s, The Cure, entitled Just Like Heaven: A Tribute To The Cure. Featuring some very well known names in Indie Music, Just Like Heaven covers the best of The Cure. Like most tribute albums it’s a mix of brilliant covers and reinterpretations with some unfortunate matches of song and artist, but on the whole it is very well done.

Joy Zipper opens things up with Just Like Heaven in a reverential version that doesn’t stray far from the original. Tanya Donelly & Dylan In The Movies pair up for The Lovecats. Donelly is in fine vocal form here and Dylan In The Movies vocalist Brian Sullivan has one of the more distinctive voices in Rock N Roll, falling somewhere between Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies) and Tom Waits. L.A.’s Kitty Carlyle provides a sharp rendition of In Between Days with stellar lead vocals. Dean & Britta’s cover of Friday I’m In Love sounds like an unfortunate match. The song ends up sounding a bit like elevator music, giving up all of the joy that ran through the original. The vocalists here are competent, but just don’t have the range for this particular arrangement.

One of my two favorite songs on the disc is Luff’s cover of Jumping Someone Else’s Train. It’s a dark and moody interpretation full of sonic dissonance (particularly in the guitar). The Submarines falter on Boys Don’t Cry, offering a sonically okay but relatively lifeless reading. My other favorite is Elizabeth Harper & The Matinee’s rendition of Picture Of You. It starts with Harper’s voice which is absolutely gorgeous, but the vibrancy of this recording is undeniable. It might even be better than the original. Cassettes Won’t Listen chip in with a very peppy version of Let’s Go To Bed that’s a fun listen and makes me want to run out and see what else they’ve recorded. The album also includes covers by The Brunettes, Devics, Julie Peel, The Poems, Grand Duchy and The Wedding Present (High, at warp speed).

Just Like Heaven: A Tribute To The Cure is a strong set of covers that run the range from incredible to forgettable. Elizabeth Harper & The Matinee and Luff are particular finds, and Tanya Donelly, Joy Zipper and The Wedding Present can always be counted on for great performances. Cure fans will love this.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the compilation Just Like Heaven: A Tribute To The Cure at or, where you can purchase a copy of Just Like Heaven. You can also pick it up at or as a download through iTunes.

Review: Paulina Logan - Wallflower

Paulina Logan – Wallflower
2007, Paulina Logan

Ukiah, California’s Paulina Logan is blazing a trail of original thought in music, following in the footsteps of artists such as Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan and India.Arie. Logan mixes deep lyrics and a musical patois of Country, Americana and Rock for an intriguing but vaguely unsettled sound. Wallflower, her first full-length album (third release) runs the gamut between Pop to Country and even a bit of Celtic thrown in.

Wallflower is a very unusual album in that it never really settles into a sound. It’s hard to tell from just one album whether Logan is still casting around for a sound or whether she simply chooses not to be bound by a genre. The result is an uneven yet entertaining collection of songs. Wallflower (the title track) is dark and confrontational, coming off as very cold with all of the electronic instrumentation and light-industrial influences. Sorry is a decent pop song with Americana undertones. Letter breaks into the Celtic/Country realm in a surprising and pleasant turn. Logan’s Too Far Gone has a Country/Folk vibe and an almost Reggae-like rhythm that made me chuckle at first until I realized it worked. The second half of the album was pleasant but unremarkable, although Scared expanded Logan’s stylistic repertoire a bit further by including a rap.

My first guess is that Logan is still searching for her sound, although I wouldn’t entirely rule out the stylistic choice argument. Wallflower has its highs and lows; there are some great songs here and some I would probably skip over on future listens, but it’s clear that Logan is talented with an authorial voice that is likely to produce more good material over time. Wallflower is a positive introduction to Paulina Logan for those of you haven’t heard of her before. Check it out.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Paulina Logan at or You can purchase a copy of Wallflower at, or you can download it through iTunes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Robert Joseph Manning, Jr. - Catnip Dynamite

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. – Catnip Dynamite
2009, Oglio Records

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. has quite the Rock N Roll resume: Keyboard player for Beatnik Beatch, Jellyfish and Imperial Drag, and highly involved in The Moog Cookbook. Manning has also done session/tour work with Beck and French group Air. These days Manning does session work and composes soundtrack (Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation) as well as writing commercials for VH1, Comedy Central and the like. Somewhere in there he also found time to write and record a new solo album entitled Catnip Dynamite. True to its title, the album is intoxicatingly good.

Catnip Dynamite is retro-rock with a modern edge. The harmonies here evoke thoughts of The Beach Boys, Queen and Styx. Manning is a highly accomplished songwriter, presenting intricate and interesting song construction, lyrical content and melodic flow throughout the album. The other interesting facet of the album is the recurrence of philosophical/religious imagery and themes throughout the album. I don’t get the feel that this is a religious album, but some of these deeper concepts certainly appear to be weighing on Manning at this point in his life; at times in serious terms and perhaps at times with ironic intent. The album opens with The Quickening, where Manning sounds more than a little bit like Prince vocally. The harmonies transform from a Brian Wilson-era Beach Boys sound to Freddie Mercury led Queen. This is a great pop rock song that would fly on commercial radio in almost any era. Down In Front is a retro-mod rock tune similar to bands such as Woodward or Tally Hall. My Girl has a strong bubblegum pop feel without being frivolous.

One of my personal favorites here is Imaginary Friend. The song is an amusing listen but the sound is like what you might get if The Doors sat down and jammed with They Might Be Giants. Perhaps the piece-de-resistance here is Haunted Henry, an amazing tale of a veteran ravaged by the ghosts of his experiences. This is an extremely melodic piece with Brian Wilson harmonies that doesn’t come across as overtly anti-war but certainly makes strong points about the cost of war for those who come back home. Haunted Henry is sonically gorgeous. Tinsel Town is a fun song that berates celebrity culture and our fascination with it. You should also be certain to check out The Turnstile At Heaven’s Gate. Reflecting on the concept of reincarnation and the judgments of an afterlife, Manning has crafted a melodic/harmonic mix that sounds like The Beatles meets Queen.

Survival Machine opens with faux harpsichord in a piece vaguely reminiscent of Suite Madame Blue, but that’s just a warm up for Living In The End Times; possibly the greatest apocalypse song ever written. Here Manning mixes tremendous harmonies with a tongue-in-cheek glam rock swagger. The album closes out with four live tracks. Drive Thru Girl is a campy ode complete with kazoo orchestra that you just have to hear. You Were Right sounds like something that might have come out of a Supertramp session, and Manning’s live take on Elton John’s Love Lies Bleeding sounds a bit like Billy Joel covering Elton John.

Catnip Dynamite is so good it’s exhausting. You can listen to this album casually but you won’t get everything out of it that you might. Manning has always had a taste for classic rock and interesting compositions, but Catnip Dynamite represents a plateau in his career. Having been familiar with much of his work prior to this, I think it is safe to say that Catnip Dynamite may be the best he’s written/recorded to date. Don’t miss Catnip Dynamite, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc!

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. at or You can purchase a copy of Catnip Dynamite on, or you download the album through iTunes.

Review: No - Paris-Chicago

No - Paris-Chicago
2009, Olivier Nataf

French singer-songwriter Olivier Nataf recently moved from France to Chicago, Illinois, celebrating with the release of Paris-Chicago. A mix of singer-songwriter pastiche, good old Chicago-style blues, soul, funk and Rock N Roll, Paris-Chicago is very familiar and very new all at once.

Grooving on a hot electric blues vibe, No creates a highly listenable and occasionally danceable album in Paris-Chicago. Opening with Laisser-Moi Passez, No kicks in a funky backbeat and a catchy melody to draw the listener's attention from the opening notes of the album. Nataf has a very pleasant voice and sounds more like a folk singer than a blues vocalist, but he makes the songs work very well. Paris-Chicago has a hot-n-cool feel to it, channeling a bit of B.B. King in the process. Plus En Enfant opens with a complex acoustic part and sticks with the acoustic gig throughout. Je Mais Que Tu Alors... Just Me sounds very familiar from the outset, borrowing the same chord progression and nearly the same style of Stray Cat Strut. My favorite song on the album is Les Vendeuses De Charme, with its classical guitar opening and reggae rhythms. Respect is a sweet sounding ballad and a great balance to the more upbeat material on Paris-Chicago for the first minute, before breaking into an upbeat rock tune. No closes out with two covers, a blues cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground, which I liked, and a highly intriguing blues rendition of The Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams. This was the highlight of the album; a wholly unexpected and eye-opening interpretation that practically redefines the song.

No took a few listens. Paris-Chicago was one of those albums I didn't like much upon first listen, but it grew on me. My French isn't anywhere near as good as it once was as I just haven't used it in many years, so I can't really comment on the lyrical comment, but Paris-Chicago is a highly enjoyable listen. Be sure to say yes to No.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about No at or Currently, Paris-Chicago is available as a download only through No’s store, but will soon be available through other outlets and as a physical CD.

Review: Hudson Rail Company - Hudson Rail Company

Hudson Rail Company - Hudson Rail Company
2008, HRC Inc.

Hudson Rail Company is a neo-Classic Rock Quartet based in Jersey City, New Jersey. Raised on bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, Hudson Rail Company marches to a similar beat to these bands and modern classicists Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Their self-titled EP, released in 2008, is a solid collection of classic rock influenced songs sure to satisfy both Classic Rock and Modern Rock fans.

Hudson Rail Company opens with City By The Ocean, a straight up classic rock song with a groovin' bass line. You'll find yourself dancing and singing along to this highly commercial offering. Take Their Toll sounds a bit like a stripped down Live, with LV Leigh Wilson sounding a lot like Ed Kowalczyk Mystery Madonna finds Hudson Rail Company in a similar mold, although the guitar work here reminds me a bit of Lowest Of The Low (but still with Ed Kowalczyk on vocals. Wisdom sounds very radio ready, with some great guitar work by Arun Viswnathan. Superstar Tonight brings a bit of the rock star glam feel to a modern rock arrangement in a song that seems like it should be a concert favorite. Hudson Rail Company saves the best for last on Friend Or Lover.

Hudson Rail Company brings a classic rock feel into the modern era with songs built on steady, classic rhythms and lots of guitar. Hudson Rail Company is a solid Rock N Roll EP, definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Hudson Rail Company at or You can purchase a copy of Hudson Rail Company at Hudson Rail Company was recently chosen to open for Kevin Costner & Modern West on Friday, May 8, 2009 at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey. We have one pair of tickets to give away. Please email with a subject line of Hudson Rail Company contest. Entries will be accepted through April 30, 2009. One winner will be chosen at random.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Jesse Dee - Bittersweet Batch

Jesse Dee – Bittersweet Batch
2008, 7not Records

Boston native and Burlington, Vermont resident Jesse Dee has a love for classic soul music that shines through everything he sings. Notably an artist and graphic designer, Jesse Dee made the decision to make a career of music. He’s already open for R&B Legend Al Green, and credits influences such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Etta James and the old Chess vocal groups as influences. Jesse Dee is a former member of college favorites Decifunk, and also has done time with The Dirty Whites and Sea Monsters. Jesse Dee’s solo debut album, Bittersweet Batch, hit shelves in September of 2008. If it’s any indication you’ll be hearing a great deal more of Dee in the future.

Jesse Dee is the real deal. You won’t hear the sort of aural airbrushing on Bittersweet Batch that is some common these days. Dee’s voice is highly emotive and textured, with the sort of vocal flaws that made the classic R&B and Soul singers so distinctive and interesting to listen to. The album opens with Alright. Dee’s rough-velvet voice is right up there with Melinda Doolittle for bringing classic soul back into the spotlight. Slow Down is one of my favorites in the album, with a highly positive message and a great arrangement. This song will stay with you. Over & Over Again sounds like classic Motown, complete with Stax horns. Dee brings the funk on Reap What You Sow, a must-listen song. My Two Feet brings in the sounds of New Orleans on a great classic pop song. Dee revisits New Orleans on New Blades Of Grass; a song about Hurricane Katrina and about the will of New Orleans residents to rebuild and survive that tragedy. Be sure to check out Alive & Kickin’ as well; the biggest soul/rock/gospel/roadhouse sound on the album.

Jesse Dee kicks it old school on what may be the most traditional Soul/R&B release of the year for 2008. If you are a fan of these genres then Bittersweet Batch is a must-have disc.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jesse Dee at, where you can purchase a digital download of Bittersweet Batch.

Review: Steven Finn - Houdini's Blues

Steven Finn – Houdini’s Blues
2008, Steven Finn/Herding Cats

Steven Finn was inspired to make music by Bob Dylan’s Hey Mr. Tambourine Man. Influenced heavily by Sonny Boy Williamson and Sonny Terry, Finn gets a lot of blues mixed in with a distinctive singer/songwriter style. The Manchester, England native and London dweller released his solo debut in 2008. Houdini’s Blues will make listeners sit up and take notice.

Steven Finn might be one of the best young acoustic blues guitar players on two legs. His guitar play is inspired by some of the greats, and he does them proud. Finn’s singer/songwriter style is very clean and fresh and well worth listening to. In general I enjoyed Houdini’s Blues but I did have one issue. When it comes to the blues material Finn’s peers are a who’s who of blues guitarists, but on the vocal side Finn just doesn’t seem credible. He has a very pleasant voice, one that is highly enjoyable to listen to, but it’s just not a blues voice. This is perhaps a bit short-sighted on the reviewer’s part, but it made the blues offerings here sound a bit out of synch.

The album opens with Houdini’s Blues (title track) in a plaintive, passive acoustic blues arrangement. The guitar work and composition are top notch, but Finn’s lyric voice just doesn’t sound like that of a blues singer. Finn runs into this same trap on songs such as Dream Song #1 and Talktown, although the latter gets an extra kick of life from some hot harmonica play (also by Finn). The singer/songwriter material works perfectly here. Heroes & Movie Stars is a great example of a song that connects Finn to the listener in classic story teller fashion. Strong Storm Rising is my personal favorite in a song that I could picture getting covered repeatedly in the Folk world. All Come To Reap The Goldrush is right there with Strong Storm Rising for quality of songwriting and performance.

Steven Finn has a great voice, great songwriting skills and performance/presentation style that puts the listener at ease. As an acoustic blues guitar player he would appear to be right there with the best of the class. There is a bit of a believability issue when it comes to the vocals on his more blues oriented material. Finn’s lyric voice is still great but sounds a little out of place on the blues tunes. Either way, Houdini’s Blues is a strong, strong showing. We look forward to hearing more from Finn in the future.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Steven Finn at You can purchase a copy of Houdini’s Blues at