All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Darrelle London - Wildy's World Artist Of The Month, June 2009

Darrelle London is one of the biggest surprises of 2009 for us at Wildy’s World, and we just couldn’t resist making her Wildy’s World’s Artist Of The Month for June, 2009. London is one of those artists who will continuously surprise you. With a voice that recommends an innocent sweetness she can hit you with an acerbic lyrical rush that will leave you breathless; all done with the impish smile of a child. London could be ultra-subtle younger musical cousin of Nellie McKay. Both artists have expansive musical and songwriting talent; employ wit in their songs and can deliver knockout blows with a smile, but where McKay is in your face London is subtle and refined.

With classical training in both piano and voice, Darrelle London quickly began to write her own material. Conquering the restaurant circuit in southern Ontario, London quickly became a force on the Toronto Indie scene. She has since gained significant airplay on college radio in Canada, and has made appearances at WinterFolk, International Pop Overthrow and IndieWeek Canada. London draws audiences in with her cute demeanor and blows them away with a distinct pop musicality and thoughtful and incisive lyrics that keep listeners on their toes. There is no such thing as a boring performance when it comes to Darrelle London; she enjoys performing and writing and it shines through on every note of every song.

Darrelle London gave up law school to pursue a career in music. It won’t be too long before that decision is officially vindicated. It’s rare for a talent of this magnitude to come along, encompassing songwriting, performance, personality, charisma and a pop sensibility that may just rival that 60’s quartet from Liverpool. Check out Darrelle London’s debut CD, Edible Word Parade, and you’ll see what I mean. Darrelle London currently has a handful of shows scheduled for Toronto and London, Ontario throughout the summer. Keep checking her website for more dates. We’ll be talking more about Darrelle London as the month progresses, so make sure you take the time to check her out. Learn more at or You can also check out videos for her songs Understand and Two Roads on YouTube.

Review: Angi West - Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling

Angi West - Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling
2009, Angi West

Familiar to readers of Wildy's World from her background vocal work on Jar-E's Chicas Malas, Angi West is as distinctive in appearance as in sound. West looks like a large child or a doll on first glance, although her eyes reveal a depth and maturity that her features can't convey. It's when West opens up her mouth and sings that you realize that you're dealing with a distinctive voice; an artist. West's latest CD, Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling, displays West as she is, an eclectic and quirky artist with a sound you won't soon forget.

West's songwriting and performing style falls somewhere between Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Liz Story. West has operatic training and writes in a semi-Baroque style that includes aria-style runs and resolutions. Genres don't really exist as hard boundaries for West; they're more like a palette where the colors have all mixed to create something you've not quite seen before. West can be lyric and sweet or jarring and quick and has a frenetic, almost stream-of-conscious tendency in her lyrics. The album opens with Your Hands. While this song is difficult to read, it sounds like someone in an abusive relationship who finds solace in the striving to save her partner from himself. It's a jarring narrative sung in West's occasionally sweet, occasionally troubled voice. Same Speed is about bonding with people like yourself. In this case two school mates who aren't as physically gifted as their peers find solace in one another. The song is written almost in the voice of a child, working up to a sort of fumbling, clumsy affection.

Lucy And Linnea is a modern folk opera with a discordant, ambient underscore. The song presents a powerful voice for moving forward in the wake of mistakes. ("So we leave the wrong and take the right / and the darkness to the night."). No One is a rebelliously optimistic love song built on sparse instrumentation and a strong if unusual melody. Let Them Sleep incorporates a bit of an Appalachian feel that refers to a grand love that calls to us all, although some sleep through the call. Instead of proselytizing others, West admonishes those in the know to let the sleepers slumber. One Hand is a straight-up Rock/Pop song with Tori Amos style piano construction that is instantly recognizable.

West has a little vocal fun on Brand New Face, a delightful round with some wonderful harmonic intricacies woven around an incessant but vaguely muted rhythm. Coming out of this West springs to the theatrical side, offering up Carter's Song. This grand love song matches the complication of the emotions it carries with an intricacy of composition that's appropriate to back up a highly poetic set of lyrics. I'll Wait goes for deep devotion in a love song strongly reminiscent of Kate Bush. For all that's come before, Angi West saved the best for the last full song on the album, Home In Heaven. This highly intriguing tune sound Celtic in origin, and West finds male voices to recreate the hum of a bagpipe underneath. The song is aurally stunning as an essentially A Cappella piece. West has a bit of fun with listeners with a hidden track that gives the album it's name, Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling. It's West and a bunch of (presumably) friends singing together at a party; a kitchen party song where the chorus is easy and everyone chimes in a verse, for better or for ill. Innuendo and wit vie with "really good attempts" for an experience that's fun to listen to (and probably even more fun to participate in).

Angi West is a ferocious songwriter, honest and forthright to her core as an artist, singer and songwriter. Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling is unique in sound and approach and driven wholly by the personality and charisma of west. Her voice is distinctive and memorable and a pleasure to listen to. The original song construction fed by Opera, Appalachian Folk, Americana and whatever bits of musical stew West can find is unlike most anything you've likely heard. Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling will grab your attention and hold it though many listens. Bravo.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Angi West at,, or You can purchase a copy of Love Is A Special Way Of Feeling at

Review: The Source - Prickly Pear

The Source - Prickly Pear
2009, Under The Sun Records

The Source is a Los Angeles based Progressive Rock band that could have just walked out of the 1970s. With the expansive creative edge of Yes, the experimental tendencies of King Crimson, and the willingness to mix things up in unusual fashion, The Source might just be one of the best things to happen to Prog in twenty years. The Source’s sophomore album, Prickly Pear was released earlier this year and continues to build on the sterling reputation The Source has developed.

Prickly Pear opens with Promised Land, a highly intricate Progressive Rock piece reminiscent of early Yes but with a bit of a lean toward Jazz flavoring. Star Dreamer plays within the Prog sphere with elements of Queen's sound. Until Morning Time continues the sonic experimentation with an eleven minute opus that sounds like early Styx and Yes jamming together. The song is very mellow and lyric in the vocal passages but turns downright medieval in the instrumental breaks. This is a complete rock symphony with multiple movements but retains a sense of continuity throughout. Thin Air sticks a little more to traditional Art Rock structure, but even at five minutes finds time for some musical exploration. Prickly Pear closes out with Castles In The Air, a fifteen minute magnum opus that ranges from ambient, melodic Rock to serious Prog. There is a clear Yes (read, Steve Howe) influence here, particularly in the guitar work.

The Source is one serious Prog band in the tradition of Yes and King Crimson. Prog is making a comeback in general, particularly in the thrash/punk realm where bands like Iwrestledabearonce and The Devil Wears Prada have incorporated the symphonic structures to devastating effect. The Source are highly traditional and very creative as practitioners of Prog. Longtime fans of the genre will love The Source, and Prickly Pear is a great introduction.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Source at You can purchase a copy of Prickly Pear at

Review: Frank Sinatra - Classic Sinatra II

Frank Sinatra – Classic Sinatra II
2009, Capitol Records

It seems that the traditional music industry survives these days by re-packaging music fans already have and throwing in one or two tidbits they don’t. The latest example is Frank Sinatra’s Classic Sinatra II, due June 2, 2009 on Capitol Records. The album is drawn from Sinatra’s concept albums recorded for Capitol between 1954 and 1961 plus a handful singles, and of course, one previously unreleased track. So for a list price of $18.98 you can get twenty songs you may already have and one you don’t. If you’re into renting your music (digital downloads), this presents no problem, you can simply download the new song. If, like me, you prefer to own your copy, you’ll have to lay down the cash for the CD if you want the new track.

All of that being said, Capitol has put together a pretty nice collection in Classic Sinatra II. The set features some big hits from that era, including Love And Marriage; High Hopes and (Love Is) The Tender Trap. Also included are standards such as Pennies From Heaven, Moonlight In Vermont, All Of Me, Love Is Here To Stay and Just One Of Those Things. Of course, if you’re a big-time Sinatra fan then you’ll buy the album just to have This Can’t Be Love, which has not been previously released. The song only clocks in at 1:40 and is over pretty much before you know it, but reflects Sinatra singing with a big band and in perfect form.

If you’re a Sinatra fanatic, you’re going to go buy this CD no matter what anyone says. If you don’t really know a lot about Sinatra and want to be introduced to his music, Classic Sinatra II is a great place to start (and I would suggest supplementing it with Classic Sinatra (1953-1960), the 2000 release also on Capitol Records. It’s a great collection, but it really depends on how much of this material you already have and whether you have to have that new song…

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Frank Sinatra at Classic Sinatra II is due for release on June 2, 2009. You can purchase a copy of Classic Sinatra II at, or you can download it through Amazon MP3.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Review: Margot Malia - Lava Moon

Margot Malia - Lava Moon
1999, Margot Malia

Margot Malia Lynch is a native of Greenfield Center, NY (just over the hill from Saratoga Springs) who spent much of her life playing the music of others as a classically trained pianist and violinist. It wasn't until her late 20's that Malia picked up a guitar and started writing songs as a catharsis from a failed long-term relationship. Malia recorded her debut EP, Lava Moon, in Boston in 1999. Lava Moon has never before been reviewed and has only been available at local shows in Upstate New York over the last ten years. Malia is finally contemplating the writing and recording of a new project and thought it might be time to dust off Lava Moon for a wider audience.

Lava Moon is a picture of the artist as an early work in progress. The album features just Malia and her guitar, and Malia's guitar skills at the time didn't extend beyond chord changes and strumming, but show a definite ear for melody and progression in songwriting. Malia's voice is warm and sensuous throughout, alternately taking on the earthy quality of a Grace Slick or the flighty quality of Tori Amos. Lava Moon itself is a treatise in Feminist and Naturalist ideology (treating them as intertwined rather than as distinct). Lava Moon is about the empowerment of women; the finding of value in self rather than in the projections of society and a connection to the natural world. The album opens with Be A Light Unto Yourself. This is a great start that will earn comparisons to some of the more rambling material from Jefferson Airplane. The song itself is limited by the sparse instrumentation and would be interesting to hear how Malia might re-interpret it ten years on.

Power is a song of thanks to the divine feminine aspect, focusing on lava as a source of power or almost a life's blood for the earth. Multi-dimensional opens as a feminist treatise but becomes more of an encouragement for self-empowerment. The song is written for female listeners and beseeches listeners to see themselves as more than objects of society's fancy. I would guess this might have been one of Malia's early attempts at songwriting as it's clear she was more focused on message than musicality here, but the song has real potential. Tyger is in the same boat as Be A Light Unto Yourself; a promising song limited by the instrumentation here. Pele might be the most intriguing song on the CD. Pele (volcano/goddess) is representative of the power of women, the planet and all of nature. Lava is the planet's lifeblood (a theme also in Power, and the volcano's core is compared to a womb. This mostly spoken-word piece is dynamic and engaging, and gives you an idea of how Ani DiFranco might have sounded if she grew up 20 years earlier.

Lava Moon is an early rough sketch of an American Primitive musician. Malia was still very much learning her craft at the time Lava Moon was made, and yet she showed very strong potential as a songwriter and performer. Lava Moon is the sort of introduction that leaves us here at Wildy's World very curious about the future of Margot Malia. I don't know if significant popular reach is likely (although it's impossible to tell what's transpired artistically in ten years without hearing new material), but Malia is a distinctive, artistic voice as a songwriter, and her voice is definitely a draw. Lava Moon is worth investing a little bit of time in, although it's probably more for the ladies (if you're a member of the He-Man Woman Haters Club you definitely won't like it). Here's hoping Margot Malia treats us to new material soon.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Margot Malia at or Lava Moon is available directly from Margot Malia. Contact her through her MySpace page for additional information.

Review: Iwrestledabearonce - It's All Happening

Iwrestledabearonce - It's All Happening
2009, Century Media

Iwrestledabearonce is part of the new movement in Punk/Thrash/Hardcore Rock toward the compositional elements of Progressive Rock. The Louisiana quintet is perhaps the most original and unique punk act to come along in the new millennium. Iwrestledabearonce is distinctive on so many levels its hard to know where to start. You'll hear comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada, but Iwrestledabearonce is bigger, faster, harder and more creative. Iwrestledabearonce's debut album, It's All Happening, will be released on June 2, 2009. Are you ready?

Iwrestledabearonce is a thrash metal band unafraid of incorporating electronic music into their sound and also has some serious Prog tendencies. I personally am not big on the screaming thing, but Krysta Cameron is a very sound vocalist when singing. You'll need a lyric book to follow along, and the songwriting can be downright chaotic, changing from stave to stave and even measure to measure between lyric, melodic rock and Thrash/Prog. You Ain't No Family establishes the base sound, but it's the second track, White Water In The Morning that truly throws down the gauntlet for listeners. The song is completely over the top, with Krysta Cameron really getting her scream on (particularly in the second half of the song). Danger In The Manger is manic and maniacal; have fun trying to keep up. Tastes Like Kevin Bacon is all over the map and would appear to incorporate a distinct sense of humor but remains undecipherable in at least some portions of the song. Other highlights include Pazuzu For The Win, Eli Cash Vs. the Godless Savages and See You In Shell.

Iwrestledabearonce is going to be huge. Sitting at the forefront of a new movement in hardcore music, this Prog/Thrash behemoth is just a little bit faster and a little bit better than anyone currently on the scene. That's not to say other bands won't catch up, but the chaotic nature of the songwriting is bound to make bands like Yes and King Crimson applaud in appreciation. It's All Happening is a pretty heavy record and won't be appreciated by everyone, but the Artpunk crowd should elevate Iwrestledabearonce to icon status.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Iwrestledabearonce at or You can order copies of It’s All Happening at, or download the album through iTunes.

Review: Vanessa Williams - The Real Thing

Vanessa Williams - The Real Thing
2009, Concord Records

Vanessa Williams has had it all at one time or another. Miss America, Movies, Broadway (Kiss Of The Spiderwoman), a recording career, Television (Ugly Betty). Her voice has always been among the best in the business. Back in 2009 with an album of standards and should-be-standards, The Real Thing, Vanessa Williams proves for any who hadn't figured it out thus far that she might just be one of the most versatile and pre-eminent talents in entertainment.

The Real Thing is produced by Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, and allows Williams to shine like the sun. Unlike many of the R&B/Pop artists of today, Williams doesn't need to impress you with meaningless runs and coloratura gloss. Digging in to a mix of Pop, Jazz and R&B, Williams' voice is more than enough in its natural state. The Real Thing opens with Breathless, a great, old school Pop/R&B ballad that finds Williams in perfect voice. Hello Like Before is a classic ballad in the vocal standard school of singing. You could picture Williams singing this one in a 1940's nightclub as easily as in the present day. I'd actually never heard this song before and was very impressed with the songwriting, so I was thoroughly unsurprised to find it was penned by Bill Withers.

Loving You finds Williams opening up her voice just a bit. The rendition here is a little bit raw and sounds amazing. The Real Thing could as easily be a jazz standard as a Broadway tune with its swanky attitude and sensuous nature. Close To You finds Vanessa Williams skating as close to vocal perfection as it’s possible to get. Make sure to check out October Sky, Williams' duet with Javier Colon, and Come On Strong. Come On Strong is the sort of song that could easily be dropped into any one of a dozen classic Hollywood romantic films and would seem perfectly at home.

Vanessa Williams is a consummate performer, and The Real Thing reflects that fact. Vocally flawless with near-perfect instrumental backing, Williams shines under the steady hand of Babyface Edmonds. I felt there were two or three songs on the album that, while nice tunes, weren't necessarily chosen well. Even on these Williams is able to make the mundane memorable. If you aren't familiar with Vanessa Williams as a singer, this is the perfect chance to get to know her.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Vanessa Williams at You can purchase a copy of The Real Thing at or download it through Amazon MP3.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Kat Edmonson - Take To The Sky

Kat Edmonson - Take To The Sky
2009, Convivium Records

Austin, Texas-based Jazz siren Kat Edmonson makes an exciting debut with Take To The Sky, an album of 9 reinterpretations of jazz standards and pop hits. Released digitally earlier this year, the album is available on CD for the first time on June 2, 2009. Mixed by super Engineer Al Schmitt (19 Grammy’s), Edmonson has an extremely talented band to back her up. Drummer J.J. Johnson (John Mayer, Charlie Sexton); bassist Eric Revis (Branford Marsalis Quartet) and pianist Kevin Lovejoy (Spoon, John Mayer) are joined by guests John Ellis (Charlie Hunter) and Ron Westray (Wynton Marsalis) in providing a tight and original tapestry in support of Edmonson's stunning vocals. Engineer Schmitt, who's worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Sam Cooke, describes Edmonson as "the best new jazz singer I have heard in years".

Kat Edmonson is a once-in-a-generation voice. With a sound reminiscent of the great female jazz vocalists of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Edmonson is a treat for traditionalists, yet has just enough quirky pop sensibility to traverse the generations in between. Take To The Sky opens with Gershwin’s Summertime. The arrangement here is unusually dark, allowing Edmonson to be the only light you hear for the first two minutes of the song; she shines in a gritty and nuanced performance. The Cure’s Just Like Heaven gets a jazz/samba treatment here. I have to admit it took a few listens for me to really get this song, but it’s probably one of the finest covers I’ve heard. Edmonson is seraphic on Cole Porter’s Night And Day and turns in an incredible performance on Henry Mancini’s Charade.

Edmonson plays chameleon on the Cardigans’ Love Fool, sounding so much like Nina Persson that even fans of the band may be fooled. Edmonson projects a steely vulnerability on this song that is engaging. Angel Eyes (Brent/Dennis) is a popular selection that’s been covered by the likes of Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles and even Sting. Edmonson gives it all she’s got and comes up with a terrific reading of the song. My personal favorite song on the disc is Cole Porter’s Just One Of Those Things. If Porter were able, he would give Edmonson a standing ovation for a modern reading that never loses sight of the spirit of the original. Carole King’s One Fine Day becomes a slinky, taunting song much more fitting to the song’s intent than the bouncy Chiffons version. The album closes out with John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over. Edmonson has recreated the song as a contemplative love song; a true jazz standard. It’s so good you’ll wonder how you ever heard it differently.

Kat Edmonson has a passion for Jazz, and the sort of vocal talent that would rise to the top of most any set of contemporaries of any era since Jazz music was born. The ironically quirky nature of her sound also practically guarantees that if Edmonson ever crosses over to the Rock and Pop worlds she’ll have success as well. The pure creativity and vision on Take To The Sky is stunning; its one thing to be able to cover songs well without sounding like a karaoke performer, but it’s something else again to be able to recreate well known songs in a way that makes them your own without losing connection to the spirit of the original. Kat Edmonson is a vital talent, and Take To The Sky is a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kat Edmonson at or You can purchase a copy of Take To The Sky at Waterloo Records or as a download on iTunes.

Review: Aaron Barnhart - Missing Pieces

Aaron Barnhart - Missing Pieces
2009, Bonded Records/Fontana Records/Universal Music Group

Aaron Barnhart is on a track for big things. His debut album, Missing Pieces, came out in May on “Indie” label Bonded Records. Indie is in quotes because Bonded is owned by UMG, but that’s an article for another day. Barnhart is being put out there as the next teen dream, and he may well be. With production by Stuart Brawley (Michael Jackson, Don Henley, Celine Dion, Josh Groban), it’s clear that the folks at Universal Music are betting heavily on Barnhart’s success.

Missing Pieces opens with Day In Day Out, featuring a hook-filled, alt-pop melody that will stay with you. Barnhart has a voice you want to listen to and has a very radio-friendly writing style based in piano-fueled Rock and ballads. Missing Pieces is a song of angst; a passive generational missive on all that isn't happening. Barnhart sounds a bit like John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting here. Painkiller is a non-traditional love song written in a Southern Rock style that you won't soon forget. One More Second Chance is fairly typical as a ballad except that it sounds like it might have been originally written as a country tune.

The Water's Edge is my favorite song on Missing Pieces, an impassioned tune that longs for redemption in the revival of a failed relationship. The Water's Edge is a beautiful piano-based ballad that misses the syrup boat and may gain a lot of attention for Barnhart. Another Day is a close second for favorite song; a 1970's style rock tune with orchestral aspirations where Queen meets Chicago. The vocals here show Barnhart as his most dynamic.

Aaron Barnhart has an ability to connect with the listener even though a medium as cold and distant as a CD. His voice, at his best, is highly memorable, particularly as he moves into his upper range. Missing Pieces is aptly titled. When songs work they're amazing, but there are a few songs here that just don't. Barnhart's sound has distinct commercial potential, and his continued development as an artist will give him great opportunities to realize that potential. Missing Pieces is a strong start.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Aaron Barnhart at or You can purchase Missing Pieces at, or download the album through iTunes.

Review: Monica Attell - You're Popular [EP]

Monica Attell - You're Popular [EP]
2009, Monica Attell

As lead singer, keyboardist and sometime flute player for NYC stalwarts Beta Zane, Monica Attell was a fierce musical vortex on stage. These days, the Stamford, Connecticut singer/songwriter has more appreciation for the subtlety and artistry of her creations. The kid-sister of Comedy Central's Dave Attell released her third solo-project, You're Popular earlier this year. You're Popular continues Attell's transformation from Rock Goddess (Beta Zane) to geek-pop princess (2006’s Band Geek) to mature singer/songwriter. While we're not quite willing to call Attell a 21st Century Sandra Dee, the comparison isn't too far off the mark.

You’re Popular opens with Honestly, a 1950’s throwback reminiscent of Sandra Dee or any one of a number of the fair-circuit pop stars of the era. Side-Steppin’ breaks into the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with a combination of classic R&B sound and some serious funk riding underneath. Attell’s clear, sweet and every-so-slightly nasal vocal sound is reminiscent of the early days of Rock N Roll, and gives her a distinctive sound. Sunny Day Fantasy is a great 1960’s style girl-pop song and would fit right into the radio playlists of that era. Waiting is more of a traditional pop/rock love song that is sweet but doesn’t have the same nervous energy to it that is apparent on the first three tracks. You’re Popular is more in line with Attell’s two previous projects, the aforementioned Band Geek and last year’s My Bully EP, having a comedic bent to it like a cross between Meryn Cadell and early Barenaked Ladies.

After hearing Attell’s last three projects, and being loosely familiar with her stint in Beta Zane, I’d draw the conclusion that she’s still searching for something musically. Attell has a distinctive sound and style as a vocalist and is highly talented both on keys and the flute. Her ability to capture catchy melodies and memorable hooks in song is well documented across three CDs and countless live shows in the greater New York Metropolitan region, but a cohesive style or direction remains elusive. You’re Popular spends three songs exploring styles and eras that are highly appealing to the ear, and Attell provides some great material, but is drawn back to the witty, quasi-novelty pop realm before she’s done. Whatever you might make of it, it’s very clear Monica Attell is a very talented writer and performer. You’re Popular, while not her best work, is a very strong offering and an experiment at branching out and becoming a more complete and stylistically diverse songwriter; a transitional project that should lead to great things down the road.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Monica Attell at You’re Popular is available at electronic outlets such as iTunes. No word on traditional CD copies at this time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review; Big Bob Young - Hard Way To Make A Dollar

Big Bob Young - Hard Way To Make A Dollar
2009, A Man Around The House Records

Big Bob Young is a blue collar songwriter who never became a professional musician until the age of 27. Now 53 with his children grown, Young is making time for his first love, music. On his way to today Young has been an airman, a soldier, a farrier, a student, a clown, a telegram singer, a father and husband, a jazzman and a country band leader, and the tough-nosed songwriter with the well-worn voice has a lot to say. Young's backing band includes Michael Webb (Gary Allan) on anything with keys, Rick Lonow (Poco) on drums, Carlton Moody (Burrito Deluxe) on acoustic guitar/mandolin and Colin Linden (Bruce Cockburn) on guitar, slide and Dobro. 2009 sees the release of Big Bob Young's debut album, Hard Way To Make A Dollar.

Hard Way To Make A Dollar is a working man’s album; there’s no pretense or glitz, just no-nonsense story telling and a delicious blend of Country, Blues and Rock N Roll. With a sound more akin to Austin, Texas than Tullahoma, Tennessee, it’s easy to see that Big Bob Young’s style could have broad appeal. Hard Way To Make A Dollar opens with Ship Of Fools, a smooth Blues/Country mix featuring strong guitar play and a highly memorable melody. Best Of A Bad Situation is built on a blend of Country, Blues and early Rock N Roll sounds that would feel right at home in any old-school honky-tonk. Somewhere Tonight is one of those songs that will resonate with a lot of people. It’s about the power of faith or prayer. Young tells a moral in song without making it an issue of one particular religion; yet displays how faith-in-action has the power to change lives.

Hard Way To Make A Dollar is a great honky-tonk style tune about a waitress working hard to make ends meet. The song has a gritty realism without losing the heart of the protagonist and is touching while asking no sympathy. Mississippi Nights is a classic could love/tragedy song that regrets the one who got away. Young even gets in a bit of Swamp Country on Green County Stomp. Perhaps the most intriguing tune on the CD is I Call It Love, which ends up sounding like classic Van Morrison. I Call It Love is profound and sweet without becoming syrupy or cliché; A ballad not so much about a person or particular instance but the many faces of love. The most entertaining song on the disc is Can I Take You Home; a bit of New Orleans seeps into this witty and intelligent come-on song. The album closes out with Stand Up, a gospel tune straight out of the old south.

Throughout Hard Way To Make A Dollar, Big Bob Young is a gruff-but-friendly story teller with an easy approach and an insightful eye. The songs presented here are rooted firmly in country music, but make free use of Rock, Blues and even Gospel as each song warrants. As a story-teller, Young is on a par with Springsteen. Musically, the selection here is dynamic enough to keep even the most jaded listener interested. Hard Way To Make A Dollar is a must-hear CD, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. Make sure you take a little time to check out Big Bob Young.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Big Bob Young at You can purchase a copy of Hard Way To Make A Dollar at CDBaby.

Review: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - Lonely Street

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - Lonely Street
2009, Rounder Records

In an era when no one artist stays dominant in any musical category for more than an album or two, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's longevity and persistence is astounding. Inspired early on by the legendary Bill Monroe, Lawson has built a 30-year recording career with Quicksilver, and to say it's a highly decorated career is an understatement. Between the years of 2001 and 2007, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver is the only group to take home the Independent Bluegrass Musician Association's award as Vocal Group Of The Year, racking up a total of 14 IBMA awards in the past 13 years. Lawson himself has been a fixture in the bluegrass world for 45 years, receiving multiple GRAMMY nominations and a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor affords by that organization to traditional folk artists. 2009 sees the release of Lawson's latest release with Quicksilver, Lonely Street. The awards will come, but for Dawson it's always been about one thing: the music.

Even 45 years into a storied career, Doyle Lawson has a classic Country voice that’s as clear and true as ever. Lonely Street opens with what can only be described as a prologue in Monroe’s Mandolin. An open tribute to Bill Monroe and the foundation he laid for bluegrass pickers everywhere, Lawson gives a master class in the high lonesome sound that was Monroe’s trademark. It’s a fitting tribute, and the instrumentation and harmonies here are gorgeous. Sound aside; Lawson knows a thing or three about story telling in song. Best example might be Johnny & Sally, which follows a classic formula for the style and yet manages to be sweet in an old-fashioned sense. It’s a witty tune about forbidden love and the good things that come out of it sometimes. The Human Race is a philosophical tune that reminds us what’s important while also reminding us how short-sighted people can be at times. (“Are we losing the human race / Do we ever really learn from our mistakes / Who’s ahead, who’s behind, will there ever be a finish line / are we losing the human race?”).

Lawson & Quicksilver brings us through Old-time country (Yesterday’s Songs), Gospel (When The Last Of Our Days Shall Come) and a good old back porch, flat-picking instrumental (Down Around Bear Cove). An added treat are the two covers presented here. Porter Wagoner’s Big Wind goes back to Country’s early roots for a classic rendition of a great song. Marty Robbins’ Call Me Up And I’ll Come Callin’ On You might quietly be one of the best songs in the Country Music Canon. Lawson puts his own imprint on the song without losing its spirit.

The respect Lawson receives in the industry and the awards that he’s received are a testament to the quality of the music he makes. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver are legends. As Lawson moves into the latter half of his fifth decade in music, he shows no signs of slowing down. Lonely Street shows a performer and band at the top of their game.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver at You can purchase a copy of Lonely Street at

Review: Irene And Her Latin Jazz Band - A Song Of You

Irene And Her Latin Jazz Band - A Song Of You
2009, Irene And Her Latin Jazz Band

Irene Nachreiner is a multiple-threat artist; vocalist, pianist, songwriter, dancer, screenwriter, actor, and Improv comedy all find homes on her curriculum vitae. She started singing jazz several years ago after meeting acoustic guitarist Marco Tulio (Pat Metheny, Thalia) and drummer/percussionist Cristano Novelli (Milton Nascimento, Diego Torres). Irene And Her Latin Jazz Band's sophomore CD, A Song Of You, features a mix of originals and covers and the exquisite play of her backing band. Aside from Tulio and Novelli, sitting in for this album is pianist and Berklee grad Rique Pantoja (Chet Baker, Milton Nascimento, Steps Ahead, Ricardo Silveira, Carlos Santana).

A Song Of You starts off with the seeds for success, decent original material, some classic covers and a group of A-List backing musicians. Irene Nachreiner gives each song here a technically perfect reading, yet never seems to capture the vim and vigor of her band. Nachreiner’s voice is decent but doesn’t project the sort of charisma needed to pull off songs like S’Wonderful (George & Ira Gershwin); Triste (Jobim); It’s Too Darn Hot (Cole Porter) or Bin Bom (Joao Gilberto). There are a few nice moments here; the title track is a pleasant listen and South Seas Samba has a certain charm to it. Even La Foule is interesting, although perhaps more for the courage it takes to cover such a song.

Nachreiner misses the boat on Fragillidad, the Spanish version of Sting’s Fragile. The original version is an urgent and reverent plea; here it is presented as a hip Latin/Vegas hybrid that’s almost campy. It comes across as technically perfect without the heart or sense of purpose that’s embedded in every note of the song. Likewise Change The World, the song made famous by Eric Clapton comes across like a version you might hear on one of those CDs they sell at Party Warehouse where unnamed performers sing pop hits.

Through it all the backing band is nothing short of inspired. Nachreiner is a solid vocalist with a decent voice, but just doesn’t project the performance style on CD that sells listeners on a song. A Song Of You is a pleasant listen, more appropriate for the dinner hour than serious listening. If you’re more into the instrumental side of things then there is a lot hear to dig into. Irene & Her Latin Jazz Band have created a CD that’s pleasant to listen to but just doesn’t hold the listener.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Irene And Her Latin Jazz Band at You can purchase a copy of A Song Of You at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane

Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
2009, Hear Now

Elvis Costello is a pretty nuanced songwriter and performer for someone who started out his career as a punk rocker. Costello was never truly punk, and quickly became one of the pioneers of the style called “New Wave”. From the perspective of thirty or so years later, it’s very clear that there is no single, viable classification for Costello (nee Declan Patrick MacManus). Costello is a musician first and foremost, and in the same vein as artists such as Sting and Billy Joel, has continued to create himself (and his own musical cannon) with each successive album. Costello’s newest album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, returns to the acoustic roots of a genre known as Americana. Mixing country, bluegrass and folk, and working with super-producer T-Bone Burnett, Costello has managed to create an instant classic.

Secret, Profane & Sugarcane opens with Down Among The Wine and Spirits, with Costello sounding like he was born of a union of folk and country styles. Complicated Shadows is presented here in much the same fashion, but sounds like classic Costello with a string-band arrangement. The snappy hooks, muted anger and mild rock swagger are all here. I Felt The Chill is a bit more traditional in sound, and marks Costello’s second recorded collaboration with Country legend Loretta Lynn. My All Time Doll sounds a bit like something you’d expect from Kurt Weill if bluegrass and country were his genre. It’s an especially dark song of obsession. Costello offers up a special treat with Hidden Shame, a song Costello originally wrote for Johnny Cash (released on Boom Chicka Boom).

Her Handed Me a Mirror is from the project “The Secret Songs”, songs Costello has written about Hans Christian Andersen for the Royal Danish Opera’s bicentennial celebrations in 2005. This particular song is about Andersen’s fascination with singer Jenny Lind. How Deep Is the Red stays with this topic in a song of deep longing that is touching. Lind rears her head again on She Was No Good, a musical look at the reality behind her somewhat beatific reputation.

Costello wrote two songs with producer Burnett for the album. The first, Sculpture To Sugarcane sounds like the theme song on an old-school southern politician and fits in well with the sort of material Randy Newman has been writing for years. The other Burnett collaboration, The Crooked Line, is a song about fidelity that lacks Costello’s usual vitriol or ironic slant on the subject. Costello closes out with an interesting selection, a Larry Coleman and Joe Darien waltz entitled Changing Partners that Costello first heard performed by Bing Crosby many years before. It’s done as a classic country tune here and is better for the treatment.

As a music fan I caught on to Elvis Costello quite late. In his 1980’s heyday I had my head stuck firmly in the clouds of arena rock, but the man is a consummate performer and musician. If you just look at the list of people he’s written songs for and with you’ll understand the sort of esteem Costello has from his contemporaries. Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is the sort of album that no established artist has to make. It’s brave; a risk. It fits perfectly with the profile and persona Costello has built/cultivated over the course of his career, and it’s a smashing success. Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is a smash; a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc, and yet another reason for artists of this generation and the next few to follow to cite Costello as an influence.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Elvis Costello at Secret, Profane & Sugarcane will be released on June 2, 2009. You can purchase Secret, Profane & Sugarcane at any Starbucks store, at, or download it through iTunes.

Review: Karate High School - Invaders

Karate High School - Invaders
2009, Eyeball Records

Hailing from the Northern California's Bay Area, Karate High School are fans of many disparate types of music. These interests and influences work into their music and combine in unusual and delightful ways on their third album, Invaders. The album was recorded in front man Paul McGuire's childhood bedroom without high tech equipment or even much of a budget. The result is a pop hook driven album that will play well with modern rock fans. Focusing more on process than outcome, Karate High School may have accidentally created one of the big breakout rock albums of the year.

Invaders opens with the quirky Zombies Everywhere, a horror movie compressed into a four minute pop/rock song. Big harmonies, big guitars and hooks that are as lethal as the song subject make this a can't miss. One Trip Around The Sun sticks with the same musical formula (minus the undead protagonists) for a highly commercial sounding side. Aside from the addictive choruses and hooks, Karate High School has McGuire's strong, clear voice going for them. Punk Rock Uniform is highly melodic pop number that maintains the momentum and energy seen thus far on Invaders.

Fell In Love With A Robot is a tongue-in-cheek look at robot-human relations featuring Barenaked Ladies style wit and some nifty electronic accents. That wit turns self-deprecating on You're Not Fooling Anyone (Except Me), with a mid-tempo verse and high-energy chorus and impressive harmonies. Failure Is Officially An Option is a wide-ranging and unusual piece that goes a bit beyond the pop/rock mold and shows some almost progressive tendencies. Invaders closes out with Dear You, It's Me; a song written to a former flame after lives and people have long moved on. Other highlights include Under The Microscope, The Horror Show and Under The Microscope.

Karate High School is a name you're likely to hear a lot over the next few years. There's enough populist sound here to get them the attention of radio, and enough variation from that sound to draw in folks who have forsaken commercial radio and their 25 song formula. Invaders is a thrilling album full of distinct pop sensibility and a songwriting talent beyond the years of the band. Big things are ahead for Karate High School.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Karate High School at You can purchase a copy of Invaders through or download it through Amazon MP3.

Review: Spring Creek - Way Up On A Mountain

Spring Creek - Way Up On A Mountain
2009, Rebel Records

Something special happens when Appalachian bluegrass hits Rocky Mountain air, how else can you explain the burgeoning neo-traditional bluegrass scene out west? It's hard to think of a band that better personifies that scene than Spring Creek. Based in Lyons, Colorado, Spring Creek is the only band to ever win the band competition at both the Telluride and RockyGrass Festivals in the same year. 2009 sees the release of their label debut, Way Up On A Mountain, featuring 8 original songs and covers of Bill Monroe and Ricky Nelson.

Spring Creek establishes the framework early with My Love Is Way Up On A Mountain, going traditional hard and early. The musicianship here is top notch, and the harmony structures are impeccable. Fingerpickers will be highly impressed by both the technical and expressive qualities of the guitar and banjo work. Another Lonesome Night, featuring Jessica Smith on lead vocals, sounds like something you might have heard on the Grand Ol' Opry. Smith's voice has a distinctive edge to it that makes her instantly memorable, but there isn't a voice here you couldn't spend hours listening to. My favorite song on the disc is Tangled In The Pines, with its wonderfully dark shading and traditional sound.

Spring Creek takes a trip down instrumental lane with a touch of Jazz on Cuba Vera Swing before blasting off into Try And Catch The Wind, perhaps the highest energy song on the disc. Lonesome Town is a sweet and sentimental song with a 1930's vocal group touch. The instruments are mostly background as the full quartet shows off their impressive pipes and ability to harmonize. Slow Down is a up-tempo waltz about taking things slow. The song is very intelligently written and hits a less-is-more vibe on instrumentation that is delightful. Be sure to check out the rip-roaring dueling violins on In Despair, 'Til You Come Back To Me and Drivin' Me Crazy.

There has been something of a Renaissance in Bluegrass music the past few years, and a lot of bands are rediscovering the joys of back porch picking styles, but few have done so with the energy, talent and pure joy of Spring Creek. Way Up On A Mountain is not only a great introduction to Spring Creek but to Bluegrass itself. This one's going to end up on a lot of year-end lists, and might even have an award or two in its future.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Spring Creek at You can purchase a copy of Way Up On A Mountain through, or download it through Amazon MP3.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review: Honor By August - Found

Honor By August - Found
2009, Honor By August

Based out of Washington, D.C., Honor By August has culled a reputation as one of the last bastions of mainstream Rock N Roll. In a day and age when most bands are looking to enhance their genre hyphenation by incorporating disparate sounds into songs, Honor By August offers a refreshingly classic pop/rock sound based on melody, harmony and great hooks. These efforts have already garnered Honor By August significant attention, winning the Billboard World Song Contest, gaining exposure on ESPN and sharing the stage with artists such as Bon Jovi, Hootie & The Blowfish, Edwin McCain, Peter Frampton and Third Eye Blind. Honor By August's sophomore album, Found hits the streets today. Honor By August might really be the next big thing.

There's a certain knack to songwriting in an ensemble; some groups never have it, some develop it over time, and some just click. Honor By August seems to have a magical connection wrapped up in their creative process that turns hooks into phrases, phrases into songs and songs into gold. Similar to bands like Matchbox 20, Semisonic, Hootie & The Blowfish and Third Eye Blind, there is a distinct pop sense that runs through everything they touch. Listen to the soaring choruses, bright melodies, gorgeous harmonies, intelligent and heartfelt lyrics, or any other quality you want to choose and there's a bit of magic there. Opening with the title track, Found is pure pop rock right from the start. Even amid the high quality songwriting and performances on Found there are distinct high points. Johnny (Pass Me Another) explores barstool camaraderie in an intelligent and emotional story song that is miles above the usual pop fodder. There You Were is the sort of love song that melts hearts. It's not a sappy ballad, but a mid-tempo Pop/Rock tune with a soaring chorus that is bound to be on most every mix tape made in 2009.

Say That It's Over is a catchy plea to put an end to war, complete with a chorus reminiscent of Toad The Wet Sprocket on steroids. Hometown Heroes takes the pop sensibility to a new level on a song that will be new to listeners but is instantly recognizable nonetheless. It details one of the dreams of any performer: coming home a star. Awake & Alive, the closer, is a poignant and quiet moment of reflection on origins and identity before Honor By August says goodnight. Other highlights include Half A Day Away, See This Through and Love Lies Awake.

Honor By August has a distinct polish to them that belies their Indy status. Found is the sort of album that makes major labels come calling. With the right exposure and a lucky break or two Honor By August could be one of the most popular bands of 2009. Found leaves me very excited for the future of Honor By August, and wanting to track down their first release. Don't pass this one by.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Honor By August at or You can purchase Found at

Review: Larry McDonald - Drumquestra

Larry McDonald - Drumquestra
2009, MCPR Music

Larry McDonald is a near-legendary figure in Reggae music, with a career spanning four decades and professional associations with the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Gil Scott-Heron and many others. On June 2, 2009, McDonald releases his first solo album, Drumquestra. With Drumquestra ull of primal rhythms, Reggae and dance tracks, McDonald is like a professor illustrating the connection between our musical origins and the music of today. With McDonald's 20-piece drum orchestra and guest appearances from Dollarman, Toots Hibbert (Toots And The Maytalls), Ras Tesfa, Shaza and Mutabaruka, McDonald gets back to the roots of Reggae while highlighting its role in current popular music.

Drumquestra opens with Head Over Heels, a mid-tempo dance oriented tune featuring Dollarman on vocals. This is one of the more rhythmically straight forward songs on the album and has the earmarks of a single. Brother Man is a hopeful rhythmic rap with a positive message of peace, love and harmony. This is a potential hit as it is, and with the right mix could have serious legs on the club scene. Shaza And Terri Lion add their talents to this one. World Party seems like to do well on the dance scene, while Drums Say traces the branches of rhythm back to their very roots. Toots Hibbert lends a hand on Set The Children Free in a classic-sounding disco tune.

The highlight of the album is the title track, Drumquestra (Dawn Always Comes). Recorded in the Green Grotto Caves at Jamaica's Runaway Bay, Drumquestra plays more like an interpretation of the rhythms of the natural world than a man-made creation. Be sure to also check out Backyard Business; Got Jazz?; Mento In 3 and No More.

Larry McDonald has created an album full of the spark of life in Drumquestra. Whether hitting on a dance groove or natural rhythms, Drumquestra is an absolute pleasure. Consider this one highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Larry McDonald at You can download Drumquestra at or through iTunes. Larry McDonald is also founder of New York City based bands The Rocksteady 7 and Dub Is A Weapon.

Review: Future Future - Future Future EP

Future Future - Future Future EP
2009, Future Future

Brothers Jordan (vox, guitar, keys, bass) and Jamie (drums, percussion) Lawlor have become. Growing out of the Jersey punk scene, the teen duo has managed to craft a sound reminiscent of classic British New Wave while keeping their feet firmly planted in their punk roots. Experimental to the core, Future Future has crafted a sound wholly from their own environment, right down to the broken Rhodes Piano and Theramin-in-plastic-baby-head combination. Their debut EP, Future Future will startle you awake with its fresh mix of old and new sounds; just enough edge to get a basement party going, just enough electronic rhythm to hit the clubs, and just enough pop sensibility to give this project real commercial oomph.

Future Future opens with Television Glow, sounding like a U2 rock anthem done in New Wave style. Television Glow has real potential for radio as presented here. Teeth finds Future Future dwelling in the fuzzy land of electronic rock. My Machine stays with that buzzy chic but restores some of the pop sensibility from the first track for an incredibly balanced and listenable song. This one has radio written all over it. Dr. Albert is a paean to the Albert Hofmann, the creator of LSD, and is written in surreal and blocky chord changes with psychedelic flourishes. Hard To Exist takes the fuzzy/noise aesthetic and mixes it with a Smiths-esque depressive style and strong harmonies to create an experience that is as disjointed as it is melodic. The final track (Alone) sounds like a demo recording, featuring Jordan Lawler solo on acoustic guitar and voice. From a raw songwriting perspective this is the best tune on the album; hopefully Future Future will flesh this one out and feature it in the future.

Future Future has the chemistry of family and a tendency toward soaring pop songs gussied up in fuzzy/electronic effects. The Future Future EP is a bit uneven but shows great promise, and when they're on, they're definitely on. Make sure you check these guys out!

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Future Future at, where you can purchase a copy of the Future Future EP.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: Hyperpotamus - Largo Bailon

Hyperpotamus – Largo Bailon
2009, Hyperpotamus

Hyperpotamus is Madrid’s own Jorge Ramirez-Escudero, a one-man vocal band who eschewed rock bands for the subways of Madrid. Within six months of that decision Hyperpotamus was playing to crowds in excess of 1,000 people, and now tours all over Europe and the United States. His debut album, Largo Bailon, documents the distinctive sound and vocal style of Hyperpotamus. The only instrument found on the entire album is Ramirez-Escudero’s voice.

Largo Bailon opens with A Melancholy Hyppo, which sounds like what might happen if you out the Beach Boys in a room with Bobby McFerrin and a large amount of hallucinogenic comestibles. Dinamo Domino takes on a dance beat and some funky chord work to create an unusual and joyous arrangement. Throughout Largo Bailon, Hyperpotamus creates a vocally powered landscape that draws from Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B and Jazz, even creating some unusual and almost whimsical transitions such as in The Early Bird Catches A Cold. The Unhappy Hedonist has an almost robotic sound contrasted with wonderfully odd harmonies over the top. What starts out as a relatively simple rhythmic chant ends up as the most beautiful textured and complicated piece on the album. Ramirez-Escudero has quite a vocal range to sing all of the parts presented here, and it’s clear that short of hiring other singers to work in ensemble the sounds found here could never be re-created on stage, but Largo Bailon is an experience worth having. Other highlights include the deliriously weird Peloto, the frenetic Beach Boys meets Ladysmith Black Mambazo sound of Toy Soldier's Day Off, the lyric Wreck Divine and Vista Desde El Bachibato.

While Hyperpotamus could never recreate the sounds on Largo Bailon onstage without expanding into a full ensemble, Largo Bailon might be one of the most pleasant musical surprises of the year. A Capella projects are often relegated to the ranks of college choirs covering popular tunes or whatever Bobby McFerrin is working on these days, but Largo Bailon is original, pleasing to the ear, unique and just plain good. Hyperpotamus, with the right exposure, could be a sensation!

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Hyperpotamus at You can catch streaming video at Copies of Largo Bailon may be purchased at

Review: Creative Belfast Presents: Sounds Of The City

Creative Belfast Presents: Sounds Of The City
2009, Creative Belfast

Belfast has something of a history for providing distinct musical talent to the world, with the most notable alumni of that city being the one and only Van Morrison and film composer David Holmes. Creative Belfast is a city-wide initiative to help promote the next generation of Belfast artists to the world. Their latest compilation, Sounds Of The City, collects fifteen of the most popular and/or most inspiring bands currently active on the Belfast scene onto one CD. Everything from country to Rock to Electronic/Dance music is represented here.

If the purpose of Sounds Of The City is give a stage to the wide array of talent in Belfast then it is a strong success. If the intent was to put the best foot forward of every band then the results are somewhat mixed. There's not a dud on the compilation, but some bands definitely made the most of their placement while others offered up decent but not highly memorable songs. The biggest find on the CD is Eilidh Petterson, with a sweet, pure voice and a lyrical acumen for capturing people, places and moments in song. Her original tune, Still Learning is particularly touching. Ben Glover has some name recognition outside of Ireland and gives the expected subtle and nuanced performance on Mercury Is Falling. Anthony Toner, like Eilidh Patterson, gives a performance that makes you want to go find his CD. Sailortown is a great story song and highlights his highly enjoyable voice perfectly.

Escape Act adds a highly listenable entry in the form of Cabin Fever. The song has a distinct pop sensibility that gets stuck in your head. Rock instrumental fans will want to check out ...And So I Watch You's Set Guitars To Kill for a little song with big Prog dream and a touch of Zappa spirit. Other highlights include Ken Haddock's Your Sonnet, Bap Kennedy's America, The Beat Poets' Staring Stars Down and General Fiasco's Rebel Get By.

It's very evident that Belfast has a thriving music scene. There are three artists on this CD (Eilidh Patterson, Ben Glover and Anthony Toner) who are clearly ready for the big time. Several other artists here show distinct promise. Of course the City of Belfast would love it if you came and stayed awhile to check out the local music scene, but most of us can't just do that. Instead, make sure to check out some of the folks immortalized on this collection. Sounds Of The City is a worthwhile venture, and sure to do collateral damage to your CD/download buying budget.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Be sure to check out the individual artists featured on Sounds Of The City on the World Wide Web. Or if you’re in Belfast, check them out in person.

Eilidh Patterson
Ben Glover
Anthony Toner
Escape Act
And So I Watch You
Ken Haddock
Bap Kennedy
The Beat Poets
General Fiasco

Review: Puppetbox - Puppetbox

Puppetbox – Puppetbox
2007, Puppetbox Records

Puppetbox is the sort of band that makes you sit up and pay attention. Whether it’s the mix of electronic and organic (though still electric) instrumentation, the kazoos or the threat of total domination of the masses, there’s something special about this Brooklyn quartet. Ultimately it might be the fact that rather than writing for a market or niche, Puppetbox makes music that they would love to listen to. On their debut album, Puppetbox, Katie Johnston (vocals, accordion, guitar, kazoo); John Payne (guitar, vocals); Chris Tempas (synth, programming, vocals) and Mark Annotto (drums), let loose a storm of electronic/pop/rock/geek/buzzy sounds that will make you want to dance, swing, sway and otherwise have a good old time.

Puppetbox opens with Done By Numbers, a fairly straight-forward rock song with new-wave accents. Things get a little more interesting on the angry and intense Wifey. The chorus is highly memorable and has real commercial potential. Things get downright lethal on Kill You Dead, a highly commercial rocker with a serious new wave edge. Blue Or Black is a left turn from Puppetbox, introducing Katie Johnston as a lead vocalist and going for a more melancholy, quiet sound. Fire In My Loins is a mid-tempo rocker that doesn’t carry the energy the title might imply. Kimberly is another mid-tempo rocker with better results, although the energy level is still a bit flat here. The live track, Green Means Go, gives the distinct impression that as a live band Puppetbox comes across as a dynamic punk/new wave hybrid that plays well together.

Puppetbox seems to have good chemistry live, and it carries over onto the album at times, but there are also stretches that are flat. Puppetbox is a 50/50 affair, with about half of the material sounding like it had real energy invested in it and living up to the dynamic promise of the band, with the other half sounding like it might have been recorded in a low energy phase for the band. I suspect the energy level will be higher live, but it would be nice to hear more of those dynamics poured into the CD.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Puppetbox at You can purchase a copy of Puppetbox at

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: Herm - Monsters

Herm – Monsters
2009, Catchy Go Go Records

Irish singer/songwriter Herm (aka Kevin Connolly) is as enigmatic as they come. Busting genres as easily as Frankenstein breaking through walls, Herm defies categorization with wonderfully melodic and unusual songwriting. Because of his originality and talent, Herm also tends to attract high quality musicians who thrive on and contribute to the creative milieu, creating an artistic snowball effect that is only to the listeners benefit. The net effect is immediately apparent on Herm’s full length debut CD, Monsters, release in 2009 on Catchy Go Go Records. Herm began writing songs at the age of eight (a tune about alcohol addiction) and has never looked back.

Monsters opens with the dark, Americana of The Way, sounding like the Skydiggers/Cash Brothers in minor keys. Kevin Connolly has one of those voices that isn't pretty, per se, but is very enjoyable to listen to due to all of the character and nuance it expresses. The rhythmic, urgent and slightly creepy nature of the opening track is a great start, putting the listener on notice that the expected can't be found here. Year Of The Horse finds Herm in an exquisite duet with Nina Haynes. There's almost a baroque feel to the sound as violin and cello accent acoustic guitar, piano and percussion. Monsters is an amusing, well-crafted song about prejudice and fear. The song title was adopted for the album title because the songs presented here all took on a life of their own and became at times unrecognizable from their original forms.

Rosemary is something of an alternative love song focusing on obsession and unhealthy relationships. The song has a swaying, good time quality that belies the uncomfortable subject matter. The Long Way Down has a demented, slightly creepy sound to it and is one of the more compelling listens on Monsters. Be sure to check out Cellar Door, which continues the creep factor in Hitchcockian fashion. My favorite song on the disc is The Best Bit, a wonderful diatribe on relationships built on a lyrically dense and urgent vocal line that sounds like a cross between The Beastie Boys and Beck. The guitar and bass here are full of funk, making for a highly danceable, highly entertaining track.

Herm is an artist who is hard to pigeonhole. There is no specific marketing niche that he fits into, yet I suspect that with the right exposure he'll develop broad appeal. The music is sufficiently dark to appeal to fans of Goth styles, with enough wit to draw a lighter crowd, and just off the wall enough to shock listeners out of their pre-conceived notions about what rock music should be. Monsters is an outstanding debut.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Herm at or You can purchase a copy of Monsters at

Review: The Owle Bird - The Absence Of

The Owle Bird – The Absence Of
2008, Muddled Shoe Records

The Owle Bird’s biography simply states “The Owle Bird is a strange machine…” The Toronto quintet brings one of the more unusual sounds as they delve experimentally into incorporeal soundscapes and poetry. Comprised of Lisa Conway (vox, piano); Dan Stadnicki (drums); Cory Latkovich (cello); Tony Wallace (violin) and Jordan Howard (guitar), The Owle Bird finds musical solace on the far periphery of musical pop culture. The Owle Bird’s debut album, The Absence Of, was released in 2008 and is truly something to behold.

The Owle Bird lives in a world of structured chaos. Dissonance and conflict are equal partners with harmony on The Absence Of. The album opens with When You Became Ill/Old Man The Gravedigger, a meandering nine minute composition that plays like a dramatic funeral dirge that turns into a somehow hopeful yet demented musical monologue. Lisa Conway surfs the subdued cacophony of sounds with an amazing voice that mixes elements of Fiona Apple, Briana Corrigan and Margo Timmons. Machines is a similar construct, with the arrangement representing a rather messy, perhaps real-life picture and Conway providing the melodic seam that holds it all together.

Because of the bleak soundscapes, there is a strongly depressive or at least melancholic feel to The Absence Of. Oh How I Miss The City is a prime example, sounding like a soliloquy from a Broadway show in purgatory. The song stays away from some of the heavy dissonance of previous compositions on the album, but maintains a dark and foreboding sound that occasional gives way to passages of hopeful yet cynical light. Jewelled Beasts stays with this more lyric sound but retains the dark underbelly that seems to run through all of the songs The Owle Bird presents here.

The highlight of the album is Monsters, a musical bloodletting of childhood fears in a disturbing orchestral arrangement that grows from a pizzicato base (perhaps meant to indicate the creeping of the villains of the song). Lisa Conway particularly shines on Crows, opening in a trio of her voice, cello and violin that gradually extends to the full instrumentation of the band. The Last Hurrah is interesting. The song starts out as a quiet beauty, but there is a rhythmic under-life here that tells a different story. The drums tell a story that’s almost savage, perhaps from distant memory. This is The Owle Bird at their most prolific and melodic; having taken the near-chaos that pervades their music and pushing it down to a highly subtle and more compelling level.

The Owle Bird isn’t for everyone. Fans of New Classical dissonant styles will get a real kick out of this Chamber Folk/Rock hybrid. The band is incredibly tight and disciplined, particularly when creating sounds that may be unpleasant but lend to the overall atmosphere of a song. The tie that binds it all of course is Lisa Conway’s voice, an angelic overseer that brings sense and order to even the most disturbed and roiling passages. The Absence Of is compelling and original and highly recommended.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Owle Bird at or, where you can purchase a copy of The Absence Of.

Review: Sound Liberation - Open Up Your Ears And Get Some

Sound Liberation – Open Up Your Ears And Get Some
2008, col legno Beteiligun

New York City’s own Sound Liberation isn’t just the name of a band, but a musical philosophy that runs all through their second album, Open Up Your Ears And Get Some. Classical, Jazz, Rock, Rap, Folk and anything else you can find in the musical cupboard might just show up in one of the thirteen tracks presented here. Sound Liberation has been together since 1996, playing such venerable NYC clubs as Joe’s Pub, The Cutting Room, The Knitting Factory and The Blue Note. They’ve also played some prestigious gigs around the globe, including the Blaine Jazz Festival (Blaine, Washington); the Etna Music Festival (Catania, Sicily); The Outreach Festival (Schwaz, Austria) and the Peekaboo Festival of New Music and Theater.

You just can't put a name or definition on what Sound Liberation does on Open Up Your Ears And Get Some. Listeners who don't know the score will come away thinking Sound Liberation is the most unfocused band they've ever heard. I picture the members of Sound Liberation sitting around in a musical writer's circle playing musical truth or dare, because no genre boundary is respected or detected here. Violin and cello intermix with electric guitar, flute, drums, bass and a host of other instrumental touches to create a recording as alive as creation itself. The album opens with Prelude 21st Century, a funk laden Baroque Rock instrumental that sounds like it might have been culled from an old silent film and married to its more modern elements. Which Of The Days is a hard-core rap tune done in organic instrumentation including Jethro Tull style flute riffs. Ashes' early moments revolve around a bass/cello duet that sounds like the product of a Steve Howe/Yo-Yo Ma collaboration.

Sound Liberation gets to rock out a tad with Oh Come To The Window, complete with lyric Italian vocal line. Like I said, no boundaries respected or detected. Be to check out Mozart and 21st Century Klezmer, one of the oddest and most amusing pieces I've heard since starting this blog over a year ago. Other highlights include the impressionist flavor of Infinity, the faux Flamenco of Unutterable and the Techno flavored Let Go Of My Soul.

Sound Liberation creates a widely variable and original tableau on Open Up Your Ears And Get Some. You can't help but be intrigued by such an ambitious and original cycle of songs. Even if you end up not liking the album, you won't feel cheated. Sound Liberation always keeps things new and interesting.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sound Liberation at or You can purchase a copy of Sound Liberation from

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review: Strange Habits - Strange Habits

Strange Habits – Strange Habits
2009, Strange Habits

Strange Habits is a Detroit-area Rock trio with Funk and Reggae on the brain. Playing the Motown seen for the past seven years and have started to receive some regional and international recognition. Particularly known for an on-stage stunt called “the one man band”, where their drummer plays drums, guitar and bass all at once, Strange Habits strives to put on a great show to complement great music. Eric McGuire (bass, vocals); Eric McCauley (guitar, vocals) and Sheel Doshi (drums, vocals, keys) look not just to entertain you, but to immerse you in their own distinct musical culture. Their self-titled album, released in 2009, has much to offer.

Strange Habits opens with Sunshine Wrecking Ball, a Reggae inspired rocker with a vibrant bass line and an almost mellow-Sublime vibe. Silence Of Stone is a big guitar rocker reminiscent of early Pearl Jam. The highlight of the disc is Butter Noodles, with its grunge feel, pop hooks and vibrant rhymes. Butter Noodles is bound to be a concert favorite and may have real commercial potential. Nature opens with a ska-feel before turning into a churning rock guitar bridge. Strange Habits finds a grungy-punk sound for Bullets In My Pocket, a song about a disturbed individual with a mission of revenge, before closing out with the acoustic Take Over My World, a pleasant and lively listen.

Strange Habits has a very home-grown feel to their music, inspired by Reggae, Grunge, Folk and a bit of Punk. Their self-titled debut album is a pleasant listen that refuses to sit still or fall into one category. Strange Habits is definitely worth spending some time with.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Strange Habits at I was unable to find an on-line outlet for the CD Strange Habits, but if you contact the band their MySpace page I’m sure they’ll be happy to hook you up.

Review: Sideways Reign - A Stand For All Stages

Sideways Reign - A Stand For All Stages
2008, Sideways Reign

Union, Washington’s Sideways Reign dropped their second album, A Stand For All Stages in 2008. Led by cousins Justin Stang (lead acoustic guitar) and Casey Dehe (vocals and electric guitar/bass), Sideways Reign has a family feel. With roots in both Washington and New York states, Sideways Reign has multi-regional appeal and an electric (so to speak) live sound.

A Stand For All Stages is one of those rare albums that I find to be a pleasant listen but can't really come up with much to say about after the fact. Vocalist Justin Stang is good but doesn't really stand out. The same can be said for the songs themselves. Similar to a film underscore that plays in the background but doesn't really draw attention to itself, Sideways Reign fills in the sonic gaps in the background without ever really stepping forward to claim the spotlight. The album consists of eleven acoustic-electric turns that manage to set you at your listening ease without making a distinct impression or impact. I even had a hard time picking a stand-out song, although Rebels Rise edges up on the basis of a slightly different style, incorporating a slice of reggae into the mix. Settle On mixes a hint of funk in, and Love Song Suicide gets points for sounding more like a pub tune than the lyrics would justify, but in the end Sideways Reign just doesn't manage to stand out.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sideways Reign at or You can purchase a copy of A Stand For All Stages at

Review: Elton John - The Red Piano

Elton John - The Red Piano
2009, Island/Mercury

You might not have been able to make the trip to Las Vegas to see Elton John's standing show, but no matter. Island/Mercury brings the show home to you on The Red Piano, released on DVD and BlueRay this month. John's Vegas show (also entitled The Red Piano) saw a run of over 200 sold out shows, breaking attendance records on the strip and raising the bar for the next generation of house performers there. It's easy to see why, John has had a long and storied career full of gold and platinum records and continues to outsell acts less than half his age in a dramatically changed music marketplace.

The DVD features fourteen tracks; some of the biggest hits of Elton John's career, including Bennie And The Jets, Daniel, Rocket Man, Candle In The Wind, B!tch Is Back, Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting and Your Song. Sadly, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road isn't included here. For the enhanced experience, pick up the BlueRay version, featuring a 50 minute documentary The Life And Legacy of Elton John, as well as original stage projections created for the show by David LaChappelle. While there are some definite gaps in the material offered in this performance, it is highly representative of Elton John and his status as one of the elder statesmen of Rock N Roll.

Elton John has 1Tony, 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe and 5 Grammys to his name. The Red Piano is a testament to the talent and showmanship that got him there. While not as over-the-top on stage as in his 1970's heyday, Elton John still gives a great show. The Red Piano is a must for fans, and a great introduction if you somehow don't know much about the artist. The Red Piano is highly recommended.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Elton John at You can purchase The Red Piano at or anywhere DVDs are sold.