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Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Rick Shea - Shelter Valley Blues

Rick Shea - Shelter Valley Blues
2009, Tres Pescadores

Rick Shea might just be the current King of the California Country sound. With five highly acclaimed albums under his belt and a resume that includes work with folks such as Dave Alvin, Katy Moffatt and R.E.M., Shea certainly has the respect of his peers. Highly independent, Shea follows his own path in writing highly personal and honest songs in the tradition of Merle Haggard. Shea's latest release, Shelter Valley Blues, touches on the tough situations we find ourselves in over the course of our lives and how we end up there.

Shelter Valley Blues opens with Back Home To The Blues, a classic bit of Country melancholy perfect for crying in your beer. No Good Time For Leavin' recalls another era of Country music when the story was the thing. Steady Drivin' Man is a fun song that incorporates a bit of New Orleans sound and tops it off with some pretty cool yodeling. Shelter Valley Blues stays on the low-key side with another great story-song. The arrangement here is perfectly done: not too light and not too heavy. Ty Robby is built on an interesting mix of Celtic and Tex-Mex musical traditions and is one of the more enjoyable songs on the disc (Moira Smiley's harmony vocals are a special treat - what a voice!)

Nelly Bly has a real Rhythm N Blues feel to it, shaking up the album's sound just a tad in a highly entertaining tune. Shea keeps up the momentum on the Zydeco-flavored Sweet Little Pocha; you'll be two steppin' from the opening bars of this number. Shinbone Alley is a musical still life of a town that's seen better days, delivered in a gentle bit of highly melodic blues. Fisherman's Blues takes the Waterboys classic and updates it with a Southwest sound in the best cover of the tune I've heard to date. Shea closes out with The Haleiwa Shuffle, a Hawaiian-flavored instrumental that's highly enjoyable.

Rich Shea delivers on Shelter Valley Blues, performing eleven entertaining and energetic songs for your listening pleasure. She is a bit too subdued at times, but the performances here are great. Rick Shea is a throwback to another era in country music, with compositions Chet Atkins would approve of. The songwriting is strong and the instrumental work is obscenely good. Make sure you check out Rick Shea.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Rick Shea at or You can order a signed copy of Shelter Valley Blues from Paniolo Productions.

Review: Sebastian Lorefice - Short Stories, Infinite Corridors

Sebastian Lorefice - Short Stories, Infinite Corridors
2009, Sebastian Lorefice

Australia's Sebastian Lorefice is a respected musician, composer and educator. Lorefice has been active as a performer since the early 1980's, forsaking the band life in 1997 to focus on education and composing. Lorefice's compositions dwell largely in the jazz realm, although elements of Rock, Lounge and even Space-Age electronic musical forms show themselves from time to time. Lorefice's most recent release, Short Stories, Infinite Corridors covers all the bases stylistically.

Short Stories, Infinite Corridors opens with Soldier, the most generic piece on the record, mixing jazz and a soaring rock guitar that sound great but don't really excite the listener. Street Gangs and Water Slide head for the late-70's/early-80's Lite Jazz/R&B sound that grew up as a counter-reformation to the Disco thing. The vibraphone play in Street Gangs is stellar, and there's a lot going on underneath. This is one of those tunes you can listen to many times over and keep discovering new things buried in the instrumentation. Your Inviting Eyes offers up dinner music that refuses to sit in the background but asserts itself as exciting guest that incites conversation.

Lorefice refuses to stand still, going experimental on Espionage, which uses mostly organic instrumentation to remind practitioners of ambient and experimental Electronica that their style isn't original after all. Shaolin Temples is a composition for the academics in the audience, engaging in a brand of intentional musical cognitive dissonance that's more of an effect than compositional tool. Lugosi's Lullaby, on the other hand, is brilliant. Lorefice plays the role of a slightly twisted James Horner with a composition that is cinematic in scope and sound. He manages to pull these lovely snatches of melody out of a dark and foreboding musical landscape like the Northern Lights spark out of the inky blackness of night. Lorefice gets his Space-Age hat on for UFO File and Hostile Planet with similar results. UFO File gets pretty messy in the middle, with instruments rushing to fill the sound but stepping all over one another in the process. Hostile Planet simply sounded unimaginative; a sewn together set of mini-themes could be dissected, scrambled and reassembled and not suffer compositionally.

Short Stories, Infinite Corridors runs the gamut from bland to brilliance, depending on the song. Lorefice displays obvious talent with pen and stave, creating a few magical moments (Lugosi's Lullaby, Street Gangs, Your Inviting Eyes), but writes mostly in academic and esoteric forms that may not be accessible to the casual listener. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, but it does serve to minimize the sphere of the music. In balance, the positive definitely outweighs the negative, and Sebastian Lorefice creates some highly memorable moments for those who do tune in.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sebastian Lorefice at You can purchase Short Stories, Infinite Corridors on CD or as a download at

Review: Steve McLeod - Human Uniform

Steve McLeod - Human Uniform
2009, Civil Service Entertainment

Steve McLeod grew up in a musical family with instruments lying around just asking to be learned and played. His studies started early with formal classical piano training. McLeod taught himself to play bass by watching tapes of Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson) frame by frame. Picking up the guitar a bit later on, McLeod was bit hard after discovering Jimi Hendrix. After playing for a number of years around his native Melbourne, Australia, McLeod recorded an instrumental album, but at some point in the mixing process became convinced that instrumentals were too limiting. The end result is McLeod's debut album, Human Uniform, due for an August, 2009 release.

Human Uniform is something of a musical mish-mash, mixing classic rock with R&B in unusual arrangements. Push The Pedal opens the album sounding like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson with a bit of Prince and Lenny Kravitz thrown in. The song is musically creative but lyrically bland. Winter Love, along with Oblivious, fill the bill for generic radio pop/rock. Both are accessible and pleasant without making any significant, lasting impression. McLeod crests on Unknown Afternoon, a song with real potential held back by McLeod's tendency to try and squeeze too much instrumentation into the song. A less is more philosophy would work well here as it’s actually a pretty decent bit of songwriting. Everyone's Searching For The Beautiful Life is just a mess. McLeod tries out some interesting ideas musically here, delving into Prog territory with unusual progressions and atypical compositional structures. Ultimately the song turns into a stew of musical chaos; a binding together of musical shards rather than a coherent attempt to craft a tune. You'll also want to check out Skeleton In Human Form, a brief but valiant attempt to get back on track.

Steve McLeod wrote, sang and played everything on Human Uniform. He also self-produced. Songs like Unknown Afternoon suggest that McLeod can write, but I tend to think he was too involved in this project to hear it clearly. There's a tendency to try and do too much that runs throughout the album. McLeod is really quite good with the guitar, but often there's so much going on in the instrumentation you can't really appreciate that fact. Working with other musicians for recording and having an impartial ear at the board may help McLeod by building some creative tension into the writing and recording process and allowing more of his innate talent to shine through.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Steve McLeod at or Currently the only on-line outlet I could locate is iTunes, and they only have McLeod’s single, Push The Pedal. Contact Steve McLeod through his MySpace page for more info.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: John Batdorf - Old Man Dreamin'

John Batdorf - Old Man Dreamin'
2009, BatMat Music

John Batdorf has been pleasing audiences since his early days with Batdorf & Rodney in the 1970's. Over the years Batdorf has refused to stand still musically. He's been a top-flight session singer in L.A., a composer for TV shows such as Touched By An Angel and Promised Land, and continued to write and record songs both as a solo performer and with folks such as Mark Rodney and Michael McLean. Batdorf has always had a touch for acoustic pop/rock songwriting but in recent years seems to have developed a deeper love of melody and harmonies and a penchant for story-driven songwriting. These qualities are omnipresent on Batdorf's latest CD, Old Man Dreamin'.

John Batdorf sounds like a cross between The Eagles and Shaw/Blades on much of Old Man Dreamin'. His voice is golden, and the vocal harmonies border on angelic at times. The CD opens with What D'Ya Got, a musical treatise on what love really means to each of us, particularly in tough times. If Batdorf had written this song thirty years ago he'd own half of California by now. Love: All I really Know About It sticks with a similar theme. The harmonies are amazing and the song is intelligently written without getting mushy or cliché. That Don't Seem Right To Me is an anthem for the days we are living in. Batdorf starts with the fact that the current fiscal crisis finds the banks and bankers who caused it getting rescued by the folks it most affects (all of us), while we struggle to make ends meet with disappearing jobs, falling wages and high prices; he goes on to detail a number of things about modern life that just don't fit together. The song is wonderfully written in a strong and steady pop style that could gain it some real attention.

Will I Love You Forever is an honest song about love and what it should be. Old Man Dreamin' is bluesy classic rock gone acoustic. The arrangement on this one is amazing, and the sound highly reminiscent of Shaw/Blades. I Thought I'd Try A Love Song is a cute tune that takes a darkly ironic turn in the closing moments. Ain't No Way turns out to be my personal favorite, with a vibrant bass line to the instrumental magic created by the violin and acoustic guitar. The vocals and harmonies here are gorgeous. Don't Tell Me Goodbye has a classic country heartbreaker sense to it as a plea from a man on the verge of losing all he wants. Sixteen changes pace and gears significantly in a disturbing but well-told bit social commentary. I don't know the specific premise behind the song but a few would apply quite well. I Will Rise closes out Old Man Dreamin' in a musical version of Jack Nicholson's line from As Good As It Gets, "You make me wanna be a better man". This is pure mix-tape material for the more mature crowd; a wonderfully well-written tune.

John Batdorf has always had a distinctive talent for songwriting and a golden voice to deliver those songs, but over time he's really grown into his songwriting in a fashion that borders on transcendental. Old Man Dreamin' is an incredibly vibrant set of songs based in honest thought, word- and song craft and some of the prettiest melodies you're likely to find in Folk or Pop music. Make sure you take some time to spend with John Batdorf's Old Man Dreamin'; it's quite an album.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about John Batdorf at or Old Man Dreamin’ is available for purchase through, or available for download through Amazon MP3.

Review: Clara Berry - Wave

Clara Berry - Wave
2008, Clara Berry

Portland, Maine's Clara Berry is an enigmatic singer/songwriter with a sound and style that's nearly born of another era. The pianist writes with a flourish that recalls early Tori Amos, an intensity reminiscent of Fiona Apple and a dark searching quality that's almost Baroque. In 2008 Berry released her debut album, Wave, earning recognition from The Portland Press Herald as one of "10 Maine Bands To Watch". With songs recorded in essentially one take each with minimal over-dubbing, Wave presents a performance that's practically live. This means you do get the occasional oops, but it's possible that you'll be so intrigued you many not even notice.

Clara Berry has a distinctively dark alto imbued with waves of melancholy wisdom, as if she were an old musical soul trapped in the midst of youth. Wave opens with The Widow's Watch, an intriguing and dark composition that ebbs and flows like the early throes of high tide. Nightwalker is a dark waltz that plays like subtle horror movie in song; Berry's vocals are dark and lonely in a song about the sea taking her toll on those who live near. The Iron Gate continues in this direction, using a lyrical style that's more prose than poetry. The Iron Gate is a sea tragedy like the best of those that come out of the Celtic and Folk music traditions but is offered here as gothic piano pop aria.

Motherless Child is a classic spiritual, and I've heard many renditions over the years, but I've never heard one that sounded sensual to me. Berry manages this trick with a vocal line that's sultry and dark without ever giving up on the spirit of the song. Old Man River makes interesting use of the theme of the classic song as its inspiration. The song inspire deep ambivalence in me as a listener, bring moments where I could lean equally toward liking and disliking the song without ever really finding a resolution after numerous listens. Either the way it's an intriguing composition. The absolute highlight of the disc, however, is Crossroads; there's a Broadway musical behind this song somewhere. It's an amazing piece of writing. There's a certain quality to Berry when she's performing at the top of her game; it's something I haven't been quite able to put my finger on, but it's fully in display here. She's quirky, but that's not it exactly. She's unusual; weird in a darkly wonderful fashion. While there are several folks who may have had influence on her sound over time, Berry is very much her own performer with her own style.

As a listener, I found myself wishing Berry had stopped with Crossroads. It's far and away the best songwriting on the disc and the sort of song that could gain her some real exposure down the road. The songs that come afterward (Doubt, Lizzie Borden, On This Boat and The Doll) are all intriguing but don't quite hit the same heights as the first half or so of Wave. This is truly a first recording and a bit rough compared to what Berry's likely to be doing in the next few years. The material that works shows flashes of brilliance (particularly on Crossroads where the flash runs about 3m 17s. On the last few songs Berry gets a bit stuck in a rut, perhaps, but that latter material just isn't as inspired as the first half of Wave. Ultimately, it's a great introduction to Berry, who's currently attending college to study music and continue to grow in her craft. Artistically, she's already got something special, and those flashes of songwriting brilliance are a strong indication that more will come. Make sure you get to know Clara Berry now, as the time may come when she's become too big to get to know.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Clara Berry at You can download a copy of Wave from iTunes.

Review: Kindred Souls - Social Ninja

Kindred Souls - Social Ninja
2009, Kindred Souls

Kindred Souls is a six-piece band hailing from the Jersey Shore that has begun to make some serious noise on the New York City scene. Mixing Rock, Pop, Jazz, R&B and Soul, Kindred Souls try to create music that doesn't so much cross boundaries as transcend them. Lead vocalist Jeff Rafferty sounds like a pop band leader, and with the band he creates fresh and peppy musical scenarios against which he can apply his vocal wiles. Kindred Souls' latest recording, Social Ninja, is a four-track EP that displays some of what makes them so popular a live band, and some of the distance they still need to go in bringing that energy and panache onto recorded medium.

Social Ninja opens with Whatchagonnado, a catchy, if repetitive slice of dance rock that is bound to get some popular attention for Kindred Souls. Losing You is a gothic bit of 1980's Pop/Rock, with the same sort of soaring hooks that decade is know for presented here in darker aspect. Awhile shows shades of Darius Rucker and Neil Sedaka in a gentle Pop/Rock Arrangement. The chorus gets a bit repetitive but is decent for all of that. High Wire I didn't enjoy quite as much as the rest of the EP; it seemed to lack the inspiration and energy Kindred Souls brought to the first three songs.

Kindred Souls has real potential as a band. There's a certain Pop spark in the music presented on Social Ninja, but it can be fleeting at times. I suspect this is just the case of a young band learning to funnel the energy and commitment they put into a live show into a studio. The ability to get up for a sound booth they way you do for a crowd can be learned, but it takes some time and effort. Kindred Souls show flashes, and an ability to craft decent Pop songs with a bit of flair. I have no doubt that the next trip into the studio will produce even greater things.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kindred Souls at You can purchase a download of Social Ninja from iTunes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: Eat Sugar - It's Not Our Responsibility

Eat Sugar - It's Not Our Responsibility
2009, Eat Sugar

Cincinatti, Ohio's Eat Sugar comes back with their frenetic mix of Punk and Electronic Rock for their Sophomore EP, It's Not Our Responsibility, available September 1, 2009. The seven song EP was recorded and produced by Enon's John Schmersal, and captures the rapidly evolving sound of a band still finding its direction. The title was taken from the utterance of a promoter on a 2008 tour of the UK, and reflects the somewhat scattershot yet charming collection of tunes within.

It's Not Our Responsibility opens with Seeing Red, a Synth-heavy post-punk/New Wave hybrid that's highly danceable in spite of turning out to be something of a sonic mess. Distortions Of The Heart drags Psychedelia kicking and screaming into the electronic age in a musical rant intertwining multiple effects into what might be loosely considered a melody. Pop Singer is something of a musical still life, a reflection that's more about sound than structured progression. Suddenly Eat Sugar takes a turn; having shown off their more experimental and progressive musical ideas, the band heads back for the Pop side of the spectrum with It Will All End In Tears. I didn't say it was radio Pop, mind you; more like Fatboy Slim ala Tim Burton, but the creepy arrangement makes this an interesting listen. So Into You carries decent pop intent and construction and might just have some commercial punch when all is said and done. The EP closes out with Falling Out. Falling Out has a Noise aesthetic wrapped up in a 1980's New Wave Sound. It's a daring combination that works.

Even at a relatively short seven songs, It's Not Our Responsibility shows two clear and distinct sides of the band. The first four tracks reflect an experimental outfit based heavily in electronic creation that is probably fun for those involved and for the small demographic that get hopped up over Noise. The last three tracks reflect more of an "out of left field" pop aesthetic wrapped up in electronic and electric instrumentation that's just normal enough to get considered in the popular realm and just unusual enough to get noticed. I suspect Eat Sugar will continue to develop their sound, which might just be one of the most original ones I've come across in the past year and a half. I can't say I liked everything presented on It's Not Our Responsibility, but I was challenged by what I didn't like. The lyrical content wasn't anything spectacular, but the music is interesting.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Eat Sugar at or It’s Not Out Responsibility will go on sale September 1, 2009. Except availability through, CD Baby and iTunes.

Review: Jared McCloud - Romance Of The Atlantic

Jared McCloud - Romance Of The Atlantic
2009, Sling Slang Records

Jared McCloud spent several years playing in bands on the hard rock/metal scene in southern New England before making a go of it on his own. The Winchester, Connecticut singer/songwriter has made rapid progress in building a fan base, graduating to larger and larger stages in quite quickly. 2009 sees the release of McCloud’s solo debut CD, Romance Of The Atlantic. McCloud displays unusual talent in the crafting songs, and most readers are likely to be at least a little intrigued upon hearing him sing.

Romance Of The Atlantic is a confounding record. I really like Jared McCloud's songwriting style. He shows a lyrical and musical ethic not dissimilar to that of a young Springsteen, yet wallows in love songs ad nauseum (particularly on the second half of the disc). I like the bare-bones aesthetic of the album, yet hear numerous places where the creative tension of writing with others would flesh out his songs in wonderful ways. Finally, as much as I try to like it, I have a hard time with the nasal quality of McCloud's voice. Consequently I find myself very conflicted about Romance Of The Atlantic.

McCloud is a strong lyricist and a tremendous guitar player (check out the guitar work in songs like Colors and Under Midnight Star to see what I mean). He has a talent for capturing moods (NYC Song) and people (St. Catherine's Anthem) in song while holding nothing back. He even writes compelling and interesting ballads (Only A Reminder, Starlight & Fireflies), but gets bogged down in the overly emotional mess he weaves at times (Here, At The Edge Of The World). Starlight & Fireflies is my favorite song here, although its one of the tracks that needs some tension in the creative process to really reach its potential. St. Catherine's Anthem shows McCloud at the height of his lyrical and story-teller prowess, while NYC Song creates a moment so real you can feel it.

Jared McCloud is a mass of contradictions on Romance Of The Atlantic. He sounds to me like a nasal version of Liam Gallagher, and I had a hard time getting by the voice (which in itself wasn't bad, I just couldn't get past that nasal quality). The songs are a mix that runs from great to average but grating. I think it’s safe to say that while McCloud has essentially found a sound he may still be refining the process a bit. When everything clicks, Romance Of The Atlantic has moments of brilliance. Most of the disc consists of smaller peaks and troughs amid the highs and lows. I think listeners will find a lot to like on Romance Of The Atlantic, and whatever comes next is likely to be even better.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jared McCloud at or You can purchase a copy of Romance Of The Atlantic from Sling Slang Records, or digital copies from Amazon MP3 or iTunes.

Review: Janyse - Dreamers/This Day Is Mine

Janyse - Dreamers/This Day Is Mine
2009, Magical Voice Productions

Canadian pop singer and voiceover artist Janyse lives a life of inspiration. Injuries from a car accident once had doctors telling her she might end up in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Hard work, perseverance and faith have kept her from that chair, but also driven her to become one of the top voiceover artists in the world. Janyse has voiced characters in projects such as Hulk Vs. Thor, Hulk Vs. Wolverine, Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, Batman: Black & White, My Little Pony, and Ed, Edd n Eddy. She is also an acclaimed Pop singer/songwriter in her native Canada. Taking cues from artists such as ABBA, Diane Warren, Peggy Lee and The Bee Gees, Janyse infuses light Pop dance beats with a positive outlook and a strong positive message. Her two most recent singles are prime examples.

Dreamers is feel good dance pop at its finest. The song encourages listeners to not give up on their dreams, irrespective of what life throws at you and of what other people might think. As dance music goes it's relatively light 1980's Dance/Pop; probably not a threat to the dance charts of today but a pleasant listen. This Day Is Mine keeps up the positive attitude with a proclamation about working hard toward your goals and celebrating each and every day for what it is. Again, light Dance/Pop with a 1980's bent. Janyse can pull this material off because she's lived it; it's hard to be this positive in the popular realm unless it's very clear you genuinely own the message, and that comes through in Janyse's delivery. Dreamers and This Day Is Mine are songs for folks who long for a sweeter age of Popular music.


Dreamers 3 Stars
(Out of 5)
This Day Is Mine 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Janyse at, where you can purchase downloads of both Dreamers and This Day Is Mine. Dreamers is also available through iTunes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Ron Hawkins - 10 Kinds Of Lonely

Ron Hawkins - 10 Kinds Of Lonely
2009, Ron Hawkins

Ron Hawkins has been a part of the Toronto music scene for nearly eighteen years now, both with The Lowest Of The Low and as a solo artist. The Lowest Of The Low remains one of the most influential Canadian bands of the 1990's, with their debut album Shakespeare, My Butt named as one of the ten greatest Canadian albums of all time. As a solo artist, Hawkins has maintained a somewhat lower profile, with a small but highly devoted following primarily in Southern Ontario and Western New York. This is surprising as Hawkins may just be one of the finest lyricists of his generation, drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and poet Charles Bukowski. After many years performing his alt-Rock compositions, Hawkins decided it was time to take his brand of world-weary and intelligent song-writing and dress it up in a Country/Americana shell. The result is 10 Kinds Of Lonely, due for release in August of 2009.

10 Kinds Of Lonely opens with The Devil Went Down, a tales of post-modern decay told in a minimalist Americana arrangement. Hawkins alternates the decay of a small town with the ebbing fortunes of one of its residents as they dance down parallel spiral staircases. Deadman finds Hawkins canting about unrequited love. His Blues-inspired musical spirit drives the song. The song features the sort of lyrical magic that is Hawkins' signature: "A dead man talkin' about love is like a soldier talkin' about peace / You keep talkin' about love but that name ain't familiar to me). Sticking with the general theme, Don't Be Long is a musical ultimatum that lacks the courage of its convictions; a snapshot of a dysfunctional relationship where love overpowers common sense on conditional terms.

Ron Hawkins has always had an ability to paint people in his songs in ways that seem more alive than any photograph might. Genevieve is one such song; once again playing on the theme of unrequited love, Hawkins speaks with respect to someone who might not ever love herself enough to be loved. Hawkins dwells in the underside of human emotion but always with a deft touch ("All those neighborhood boys just wanna get in your corduroys / Can't blame 'em but they miss the point with a girl like you"). Telltale Heart is a real treat, with Hawkins reaching for a bit of the High Lonesome sound of Bill Monroe. The song never quite becomes a bluegrass tune, but you can hear the theoretical arrangement practically coalesce around a song that actualizes as a maudlin waltz. The vocal harmonies provide sonic layers to an otherwise sparse arrangement. Lyrically Telltale Heart is one of the more purely poetic songs on the disc and is a personal favorite. The Prodigal Sun plays on the biblical concept but also suggests a feeling of turning a page on the past, as if the young man has sowed his oats and is finally coming home to take up the mantle of his life.

D.F.W. finds Ron Hawkins in classic troubadour form. Here he paints a picture of a relationship and a person that breathes before your ears as it falls apart in cinematic scope. The arrangement is reserved and quiet; nearly reverent. The song also features one Hawkins' finest lyrical turns yet: "Woke Up Sunday Morning with a freight train on my chest / evangelically alone; just me and that old infinite jest / Words can feel like stones, words can be a noose / God speed, D.F.W.”. The song is a heartbreaking thing of beauty; a masterpiece, and may perhaps be his finest composition overall. The Rain's The Thing features a melancholy spirit mixed with hope and a dash of wisdom in a moment that is typically Ron Hawkins even in a vaguely Country setting. 10 Kinds Of Lonely closes out the set; something of a children's counting book set to music with a more mature theme. The song seems to confirm the sense that 10 Kinds Of Lonely is something of a musical/personal corner for Hawkins.

Ron Hawkins is a rare talent who is under-appreciated in his own time and place. The fact that he never really caught on in the US is a shame, because there is a distinct hunger for his brand of honesty (musical and literal). I will make the proper disclaimer and tell you I am personally a fan of his (have been since about 1993 or so), but I was blown away by 10 Kinds Of Lonely. His last couple of projects (solo and with The Lowest Of The Low) have been outstanding but not necessarily a big stretch. 10 Kinds Of Lonely is a stretch; a risky one and Hawkins nailed it. 10 Kinds Of Lonely can be nothing short of a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc; it's a treasure.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ron Hawkins at 10 Kinds Of Lonely will be officially released on or about August 6, 2009. You’ll be able to pick up a copy at

Review: Two High String Band - Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito

Two High String Band - Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito
2009, Two High String Band

Two High String Band might be the highest profile bluegrass band to come out of the small but burgeoning Austin, Texas Bluegrass scene. After a dozen years touring and making music inspired by Bluegrass, the band decided to jump in with both hands and feet and get to the heart of the form that inspired them. Longtime members Billy Bright (mandolin, vox); Brian Smith (guitar, vox) and Geoff Union (guitar, vocals) enlisted the assistance of banjo legend Alan Munde (Flying Burrito Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Country Gazette), Mark Rubin (Bad Livers) and Mark Rubin. The resulting CD, Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito, is a treat.

Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito opens with Hello City Limits and its outrageous banjo work. The song has an old-time bluegrass feel to it and correlates leaving home with leaving your troubles behind. It's a song full of the vigor and narrow vision of youth. High On The Ohio is a fun tune for the campfire at Folk and Bluegrass festivals, and raises the profile and potential uses for Kentucky Bluegrass as an open question. Ferris Wheel is a gem of a song that harkens back to a day when the fair was THE event of the summer. Many big city dreams were born at the fair; Ferris Wheel tells one such tale. Jerusalem Cafe is an outstanding instrumental piece blending middle eastern themes with Bluegrass in an unusual and welcome treat. Lazy Bird takes a different tack, blending jazz and Easy Listening styles with bluegrass in an instrumental tune you'll want to revisit several times over. E. Compton Blues opens with what might be described as a Surf Banjo style; evolving into one of the most interesting and sonically exciting banjo/violin duos I've ever heard. I've Just Seen The Rock Of Ages is an amazing traditional styled gospel tune full of gorgeous harmonies and instrumentation as tight and perfect as creation on the seventh day The album closes out with Over And Out, a devilishly good finger-picking tune for guitar with banjo, violin and bass holding down the fort. Be sure to also check out Many Paths Along The Way, Spirit Of '94 and Waltz Into Morning.

With many bows of "We're Not Worthy", I give all due respect to Two High String Band. Instrumentally, I'd put them up against any outfit going in Bluegrass music. The willingness to experiment with the blending of other genres may not appeal to the traditionalist bent in the Bluegrass community, but these guys are world-class musicians. There are one or two tunes here that don't spark the applause-o-meter much either way, but even then you have to respect the musicianship, which never falters from start to finish. Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito is essential listening whether you're a fan of Bluegrass or not. Two High String Band offer a master class not only in how to play, but how to play together and become more than the sum of your parts. Make sure you check out Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito. It's an experience.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Two High String Band at or You can purchase a copy of Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito at

Review: Textile Orchestra – For The Boss

Textile Orchestra – For The Boss
2009, Beta-lactam Ring Records

Textile Orchestra features Volcano The Bear’s Aaron Moore. Their latest release on Beta-lactam Ring Records looks to turn the amplifiers up to eleven with the biggest cacophony of sound released in 2009. For The Boss hits hard, heavy and early.

For The Boss features two untitled tracks, combining for approximately 45 minutes of delicious and delirious noise. This kind of music can't truly be explained except by allegory. If you've ever scene Kingdom Of The Spiders then stay with me for a moment. If you can imagine a version of the movie filmed from the Spiders' perspective with a soundtrack in Spiderish then you'll have an idea what the first track sounds like. Percussion in many forms chitters like an alien arachnid gone mad, while violin and other effects provide the incidentals. This is a pure experiment in the (vaguely) controlled chaos of noise. Track two furthers the image: imagine if the Kingdom of Spiders, having killed off all the humans, then went to war with the baboons of the earth in a deep and dark jungle setting. A torrential rain of coconuts befalls the spider army and yet they keep coming. Several battles could be covered by this track in brutal and epochal sonic detail.

For The Boss is a unique experience, going miles and miles beyond the experimentation of Pink Floyd and other such groups. This is seriously an acquired taste, resembling music only in vague allegorical constructs of sonic development. I recommend you close your eyes and let the sounds suggest whatever images your mind may put forth. We here at Wildy's World are not responsible for the contents of your psyche.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Aaron Moore at You can purchase a copy of For The Boss at the Beta-Lactam Ring Records website.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Funny People

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Funny People
2009, Concord Records

On July 28, 2009, Concord Records releases the soundtrack to the newest Judd Apatow flick, Funny People. The film, starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan And Leslie Mann, is Apatow’s third (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up), and is all about his days rooming with Adam Sandler when they were struggling comedians. The soundtrack features a selection of deep cuts and first takes from big name artists primarily from the 1970’s, with exclusive live cuts from James Taylor and Wilco.

Funny People opens with Paul McCartney on Great Day, a bluesy acoustic piece built from guitar, hand rhythms and voice. McCartney digs into the gorgeous melody line with everything he has for a highly enjoyable experience. Robert Plant's turn on All The King's Horses is thrilling; you almost wouldn't know this was the former Led Zeppelin front man. Two songs from Warren Zevon make the cut; Keep Me In Your Heart and Numb As A Statue, showing some of the range of his songwriting talent. Neil Diamond's We is presented here in an early form and may just be better than the recorded work most are familiar with. The star of the disc is John Lennon on an acoustic version of Watching The Wheels. The coffee-house feel to this cut just adds to the charm of a vastly under-appreciated song. James Taylor runs a close second with a live version of Carolina In My Mind.

Adam Sandler gets in two performances of his own, but these probably would have been left to the movie and omitted from the soundtrack. His cover of John Lennon's Real Love finds Sandler overmatched vocally and in the production booth. Already week vocals are overpowered at the end of the verse. George Simmons Soon Will Be Gone is a performance piece from the movie that disappoints on several levels. This is closer to the Sandler you might have heard during his SNL days, but humor is pushed aside in favor of jocularity and shock value. For a movie entitled Funny Men, it seemed to miss the point.

As soundtracks go this one is fairly typical. There are some brilliant performances (McCartney, Lennon, Neil Diamond), some so-so ones (Wilco and Andrew Bird, Ringo Starr) and some truly puzzling ones (Adam Sandler, Coconut Records). The inclusion of McCartney and Lennon will ensure some decent sales of this disc (or at least downloads of those songs), but one is left with the impression that some of the song selections were settled by a randy game of Rock, Scissors, Paper, Lizard, Spock.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Funny People at You can purchase the Funny People soundtrack at or as a download through Amazon MP3.

Review: Benjamin R - The Other Side Of Nowhere

Benjamin R - The Other Side Of Nowhere
2009, Benjamin R

Robert Selvaggio plies his musical trade under the name Benjamin R, these days. The Florida native is a singer/songwriter who took a professional detour into the production booth after an Indie release he boarded got significant praise for its sound. One thing led to another and before he knew what was happening Selvaggio was producing projects for the likes of Jewel, Eagle Eye Cherry and Puddle Of Mudd. After seven years in production, Benjamin R decided to take a step back, build his own studio and work on his own material. Aside from an ill-fated snow boarding trip that ended in a broken wrist, Benjamin R worked tirelessly to produce The Other Side Of Nowhere, a collection of 11 of the many songs he's written over the years.

Benjamin R reminds me of an extremely mellow version of The Cars' Ric Ocasek crossed with late-career Tom Petty, in a mish-mash of slick geek pop crossed with grizzly Pop/Americana. The Other Side Of Nowhere makes a very slow start, not really hitting stride until the fifth song. Not Gonna Let You Go grabs the listener with a catchy Americana arrangement with distinctive Pop hooks. Benjamin R keeps it up with Fool Myself and its vaguely urgent emotional qualities. Time Is Running Out brings to mind some of George Harrison's more Pop-oriented Folk/Rock. Benjamin R hits the heights on I Don't Need This Anymore and This Time (I Hope You're Happy). The two songs could track the same relationship at different stages, with Benjamin R realizing he just can't stay in this relationship anymore in the former, and recapturing that realizing after falling off the relationship wagon some time later in This Time. Letter has a couple of awkward moments lyrically, but has a distinctive Celtic/British feel that will draw you in.

Benjamin R spent a lot of time producing music for others, knowing that an outsider can often find the hidden gems in music that the folks who write it and live with it can't always see. Like many producers he may not feel this applies to him, leading him to produce his own album. While Benjamin R is well-renowned behind the boards, a doctor should never treat himself and a producer should never self-produce his own solo-effort. There are some strong songs here (particularly the second half of the album), but the lack of creative tension leaves some of that potential in the studio instead of bring it out on The Other Side Of Nowhere. It's a decent album in its own right; I was just left with an impression that it could have been much more.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Benjamin R at You can purchase The Other Side Of Nowhere as either a CD or a download at

Review: Oscape - The Growing Ground

Oscape - The Growing Ground
2009, Bear Canyon

Tucson, Arizona’s Oscape has been part of the local music scene since 1991, playing all styles of music both solo and in ensembles. With influences ranging from Queensryche to Pink Floyd with a hint of Alice In Chains thrown in, your best guess about what comes next from this artist is as good as anyone’s. Oscape released The Growing Ground earlier in 2009 and has received a wide variety of feedback thus far. Let’s check it out.

The Growing Ground opens with The March, a sort of musical prologue that would seem to set a mood for the album, but seems somewhat incoherent in light of what comes afterward. Doing Business is a slow and heavy guitar rocker that doesn't leave a great impression. The lyrical content seems a bit limited; the melodic makeup of the song is relatively flat and the vocals are pitchy. The Inside Joke is a big plodding rocker that's more about sound than melodic progression although the guitar work is worth checking out. The Bully Theory is a politically motivated song taking issue with the Bush Administration and the wars they prosecuted. The lyrics here are artfully constructed and convey the intended message, but the arrangement is more of a wraparound series of chords that frame the vocal line without speaking much of themselves. Or Else is lyrically brief with three voiceovers expressing the usual Pentecostal view of humanity in the eyes of God, and then turns this view on its ear by suggesting that the true darkness is the form of self-righteous zealotry responsible for that view. The Growing Ground closes out with the title track. Growing Ground is the best song on the disc from a heavy rock perspective. Dueling vocalists (so called because they never really sing together in spite of singing essentially the same line throughout) are a distraction. The arrangement is a bit more imaginative than much of the EP; a step in the right direction, but is still quite limited in its scope and vision.

Oscape sticks to their dark and compact vision of hard/heavy rock throughout The Growing Ground. Musically they make no mistakes, but take no chances either. The Growing Ground doesn't make a significant impression for its lyrical content, and overall makes a decent showing without ever really having a standout moment. On the whole, it's just a little too homogeneous to garner a significant following, although there are certainly folks out there who appreciate this style of compact, narrowly constructed Hard Rock. Oscape will find fans there.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Oscape at You can purchase a copy of The Growing Ground at

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: Kowtow Popof - Exalted Headband

Kowtow Popof - Exalted Headband
2009, Wampus Multimedia

Kowtow Popof is a Washington, DC area singer-songwriter who'd developed a distinctive taste for instrumentals that mix organic and electronic instrumentation. This form of Organica has developed a bit over time, finding fruition in Kowtow Popof's latest CD, Exalted Headband. Inspired by cinematic composers such as Bernard Herrmann and John Barry as well as electronic pioneers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Bill Nelson, Kowtow Popof wrote Exalted Headband with a cinematic scope in mind, using recurring thematic elements to construct an integrated series of compositions that work as a stand alone modern Organica symphony.

Exalted Headband is extremely intricate and nuanced in both composition and performance, opening with the Acoustic/Electric hybrid of Swimming Downhill, which sounds a bid like Windham Hill updated for the digital age. Enigma Of The Spokes continues in this vein, but has a more European sound, mixing acoustic guitar with electronically-generated strings for lovely soaring passages you'll want to play again and again before branching into piano/synth duets that are as pretty but perhaps not quite as imaginative. Kairos '77 is an intriguing composition, struggling with its own identity crisis between a theme of hope or despair. This is a piece I'd love to hear broken down for live instruments, and I think there is a lot of beauty in the depths that electronic instrumentation can seek but not quite find. Kung Fu Sunset sounds like what might have happened if Vince Guaraldi had fallen in love with space-age Electronica rather than Jazz.

Run To Daylight features one of three primary themes from Exalted Headband quite prominently. The Daylight Theme is nearly a stand-alone melody here, sounding like something out of 1970's Jazz-Pop set to a dance beat. Exalted Headband (Funkspiel Fringe) sounds like a theme to a 1970's detective show, right down to the Chicago-style horns. Theme From Lucky Guy sounds like the theme to a show you might find on ESPN in part A with a creepy transition or bridge. My favorite track on the CD is Balloon Bazooka; a surreal waltz that devolves into a computer-generated electronic composition that will invade your brain and stay there with a thematic element that intrigues. Rebreather is a fun listen, using a synth voice-generated melody as a foil to its thematic expression. Other highlights include Chronis, Children Of The Teeth and Floaters.

Kowtow Popof is an unusually placid voice in electronic music, searching for thematic order where chaos reigns supreme. His use of musical elements from across various cultures and schools of musical thought suggests significant classical/theory training, and opens doors for Popof that many musicians might not even know are there. Exalted Headband works on so many levels because of Kowtow Popof's willingness to try anything. Exalted Headband is hopefully a herald of things to come.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kowtow Popof at or You can purchase a copy of Exalted Headband as either a CD or download at

Review: Verismo - Greed EP

Verismo - Greed
2009, Verismo

Brooklyn thrash metal scions Verismo are at it again, releasing a four-song EP entitled Greed in advance of their yet-to-be-named full length album due in the Winter of 2009. Together for six years, Verismo has taken the New York City thrash scene by storm. Unusual time signatures, punk energy and a heavy thrash musical core make Verismo one of the most dynamic and original trash bands on the East Coast. Stephan Laboccetta is one of the most enigmatic front men in the scene, and Tamas Vajda and Vincent Cruz create a steady, heavy backdrop that allows him free reign.

Greed opens with the title track, a highly rhythmic piece of Metal/Rock with flashes of pop insouciance. The song is very catchy and a fun listen in spite of the dark tenor it carries. Give It Back is a steady metal anthem that blows heavy and hard without every quite blowing out the equalizers. Houseboy is my personal favorite on the EP; the hardest play and some nice Randy Rhoads inspired guitar work back up an over-the-top vocal. Failure is perhaps the most intriguing composition, playing with time signatures and rhythm variations but perhaps not reaching its full potential.

Verismo certainly has a unique take on thrash metal, treating almost as an art form rather than just an outlet. The musical ability of the band is obvious from the four tracks offered on Greed, and you sense at times they want to let go a little further and branch out into the realms of more progressive metal. Whichever way they go, Verismo is a pleasure to listen to. Obviously if you're not into thrash then these guys aren't for you; but they're worth checking out.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Verismo at or You can get the Greed EP absolutely FREE by signing up for Verismo’s mailing list at either their web page or MySpace page.

Review: Chocolate Thunder - Ear Candy

Chocolate Thunder - Ear Candy
2009, Chocolate Thunder

Linda Rodney has done the acting thing. She's done the modeling thing; but music has always been her first love. Singing in church as a youngster, Rodney quickly stood out from the other kids with a big, powerful voice that you simply could not ignore. She was also exposed to many of the greats of R&B and Blues as a child, from Muddy Waters to Shirley Cesar to the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin herself. After training with internationally known opera singer Sarah Reece, Linda began performing and touring, sharing stages over time with the likes of Elmore James, Jr., Main Street Blues Band, Little Pink Anderson and B.B. King. Performing under the name of Chocolate Thunder, Rodney's popularity began to grow. Due to popular demand from fans, Chocolate Thunder released her debut album in 2007. In 2009, she returns with Ear Candy, a collection that ranges from Blues to Soul to classic R&B.

Ear Candy opens with Love Thang, a classic 1970's Soul/Funk song. It's not the best on the album but a fair stylistic opening. Love Thang gives a clear picture of Chocolate Thunder's voice: It's big; it's powerful and it can move a crowd. There is an occasionally tendency toward to flat out in runs and transitions, most notable on the opening track, but Rodney's personality is so very much a part of the song that you might not even notice. Power Of A Lady gets into a 1970's Motown feel that's comfortable but doesn't really reach Chocolate Thunder's potential. Rodney hits full speed on Other Side Of Memphis, a classic Motown-style tune that would have been the rage of radio forty years ago. The brass section here is a great touch, but Rodney sells this song like she's lived it. It's All Good blends elements of Gospel and Jazz with a Caribbean touch and is my personal favorite on the disc.

Rodney wrote My Georgia Pine for her husband, and her conviction on the song is compelling, even if the lyrics come across as a bit "hokey love song" at times. Bring It On is presented in a fairly standard modern R&B arrangement but has the feel of a classic that's been updated. I like the song as presented but hear great potential in the song perhaps in other stylistic arrangements. Just Gotta Tell Ya hints at 1950's and early 60's girl groups; this is a great song that's right up there with It's All Good. Chocolate Thunder closes out with 555-Help, a classic mix of Rock, Gospel and R&B.

Chocolate Thunder is a compelling performer for a reputation for grabbing listeners by the ears and not letting go until the performance is over. Her voice isn't quite up there with idols like Aretha Franklin or Etta James, but it's quite good. Combine that voice with a dynamic personality and a compelling ability to sell a song and I'd have to say Chocolate Thunder has the potential to go a long way in this business. Ear Candy is a strong album with a couple of stand out tracks and a couple of duds, but is generally a strong mix of Rock, R&B, Soul and Gospel. Ear Candy has broad appeal.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Chocolate Thunder at or You can purchase Ear Candy as either a CD or download from

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Francesca Reggio And Blue Shift - State Of Motion

Francesca Reggio And Blue Shift - State Of Motion
2009, Bluekay Music

Francesca Reggio looks sweet and innocent. Even once she opens her mouth and starts to sing she has an All-American girl sound about her. Once you start getting into the lyrics, however, you find that Reggio will never be confused with Ms. Congeniality. Writing from a deep emotional well, Reggio uses her pen and voice to make strong, sometimes brutally honest statements about whatever is on her mind, sometimes with self-deprecating wit and others with cutting vigor. This is all done against the backdrop of pleasing Pop/Rock arrangements that often belie the intense nature of Reggio's thoughts. Backed up by Blue Shift (Benjamin Ricci - guitar; Lou Paniccia - drums; Pam Gouveia (keys) and a bass platoon of Andreas Farmakalidis and Tony Gouveia), Reggio is a formidable performer. Francesca Reggio and Blue Shift's debut EP, State Of Motion has received a lot of popular attention in New England thus far, and may take the band farther and wider than they ever imagined.

State Of Motion opens with When You See Me Again, a song about how friendships can go awry when the boundaries are tested; particularly when one friend pretends nothing ever happened. In My Place is a kinder, gentler take on the elements of Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know. Well, gentler, anyway. Reggio is, in fact, fairly cutting in her commentary about her replacement. Father's Day exposes a great deal of pent up anger toward a once-absentee dad who has re-asserted his place, at least in word. The anger here runs deep, and the flares exposed are scathing and full of barbs. State Of Motion is a decent rock arrangement, but comes across as a bit shrill with its deep seated anger and fear of commitment. It is an honest look at a relationship from someone who doesn't know how to stand still and doesn't know how to be loved. Victim gets a bit more shrill, as Reggio uses the music as a bit of cathartic therapy. This can work, but in this case she goes to that well one time too many on a short EP. Conversely, You Never Happened is brilliance personified; a dark and beautifully textured song about wanting to erased the past. The melody is absolutely gorgeous, and Reggio controls her anger and pain and funnels it into the tune rather than letting it rage.

State Of Motion is cathartic in nature; an angry record mostly hidden in strong Pop/Rock arrangements. That anger gets out of control, particularly on Victim, where it borders on detracting from the songs rather than fueling them, but there's no doubt Reggio can write. You Never Happened is one of the finest songs I've heard this year, and proof that as Reggio continues to learn to funnel her emotions into her art rather than letting them use her she is going to turn out some amazing material. For the time being, consider Francesca Reggio and Blue Shift a young, and extremely talented, group. I have a feeling hers is a name you'll all be very familiar with down the line.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Francesca Reggio And Blue Shift at or State Of Motion is available for download through Amazon MP3 or iTunes. CDs are currently available only at live shows, although the band is working on making them available through their website. In the meantime, if you contact Francesca Reggio & Blue Shift through their MySpace I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you out.

Review: Casey Desmond - Chilly Alston

Casey Desmond - Chilly Alston
2007, Casey Desmond

Casey Desmond is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist destined to be a household name. More than twenty-five songwriting awards and nominations fill her resume, and she's written and recorded with folks such as Tony Levin, William Ackerman (Windham Hill) and producer Anthony J Resta (Duran Duran, Collective Soul, Shawn Mullins). Desmond's latest EP, Chilly Alston is only four songs deep but runs the gamut of popular music.

Desmond opens with Chilly Alston, an upbeat bit of light dance pop that seems a likely commercial radio favorite but is probably the least memorable song offered here. Preacher Man is an intriguing and powerful song about an unexpected attraction to a man of the cloth. The narrator her decides she must have him, and he stands his ground saying, essentially, "only with a ring". Desmond descends into a fury of desire and lust in a gorgeous and sultry vocal performance that's perfectly balanced by the bluesy arrangement. The song is presented in a mix of electric and electronic instrumentation, but I would love to hear how it converts to a traditional Motown/R&B arrangement. Heavy Heavy Heart is a nuanced and mature song about poor self image/self worth. Desmond delivers a knockout vocal performance here flush with the reticent emotions the lyrics imply. Chilly Alston closes out with Any Wonder, a slow rock tune with baroque undertones. Desmond sounds like a cross between Tori Amos and Fiona Apple here and performs some absolutely chilling harmonies in the process.

With a voice like this, it's hard to understand how Casey Desmond isn't a household name already. Add in songwriting acumen beyond her years and you have a recipe for mass success, should the fates allow it. Either way, Chilly Allston is a stunning introduction to an artist I suspect we'll be hearing a lot from in the future. Make sure to spend some time with Casey Desmond, you'll be happy you did.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Casey Desmond at or You can purchase a download of Chilly Alston from iTunes. You may still be able to pick up a used copy of the CD on eBay or, but I believe its out of print.

Review: Blacklight Poster Children - Blacklight Poster Children EP

Blacklight Poster Children - Blacklight Poster Children EP
2009, Blacklight Poster Children

So you think you know the guys from Bangkok Five? Heh. Singer Nik Frost and drummer Ray Blanco turn all of your Rock N Roll conceptions on their inner ear with the release of Blacklight Poster Children's self-titled EP. No worries, rock fans, Bangkok Five is still kickin' and screamin' in SoCal; Blacklight Poster Children is just a little side project with forays into Funk, Hip-Hop, Soul and Rap. Blacklight Poster Children is filled out by the Nymphs' Jet Freedom and Struggles. This is perhaps the best urban album from a rocker since Don't Talk Dance (Barenaked Ladies/Big Sugar/Bourbon Tabernacle Choir side-project).

Blacklight Poster Children opens with the Blacklight Poster Children Theme Song. Sadly, the introduction is the least enjoyable song on the disc, sounding more like a sonic mess.. Backlight Poster Children mostly make up for it the rest of the way, starting with Cool Lil' Devil. This is a funky, 1980's style rap; very enjoyable and highly danceable. Pop Lock Body Rock, besides having a title that's flat out fun to say, is a catchy dance number you won't be able to resist. The verse is a bit stoic, but the refrain will stick to your brain. Love Relations is an example of good intentions gone wrong; the message is great, but the vocal here is less than stellar and the arrangement unimaginative. Leaders Of The New School, on the other hand, find Blacklight Poster Children channeling a bit of Rock James. This is a great pop song with Rock N Roll elements and is my personal favorite from the disc.

Blacklight Poster Children want you to dance, and you will. Blacklight Poster Children is a bit uneven, but is generally a very fine collection of party music displaying fine musicianship and a real sense of joy in the songs. Make sure you check out Blacklight Poster Children and invite them to your next party. They'll be real popular guests.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Blacklight Poster Children at their Authentik Artists page or at You can purchase downloads of Blacklight Poster Children at Amazon MP3 or iTunes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Ariel - Sure Thing, You Bet!

Ariel - Sure Thing, You Bet!
2007, Jenpet Records

San Francisco rockers Ariel’s third CD, Sure Thing, You Bet! is a collection of familiar-surrounding classic rock originals. Released in 2007, Ariel has been gigging on the strength of this CD ever since. The mix of styles and sounds on Sure Thing, You Bet! can be a tad dizzying, both for the listener and seemingly, for the band.

Sure Thing, You Bet! opens with Are You Ready To Rock?; a tasty bit of old school Rock N Roll. It's a bit hokey but all in good fun, and the guitar work is pretty impressive. Wrequiem integrates pipe organ into a Rock arrangement in a moment that will recall Styx' early Prog forays. Bordertown opens with Spanish Guitar and reminds me a bit of Trout Fishing In America if they went a more Rock N Roll route. Climbing sounds a bit like early Chicago with a slightly harder edge. The lyrics are a bit mundane but the music is great. Ariel gets a bit into the socio-political-religious realm on The Message Song and The Fine Art of Proselytizing; the latter of which takes to task those who would push their beliefs on others. The ultimate irony is that the song appears to be full of the same sort of self-righteous sense it derides.

Much of Sure Thing, You Bet! is a bit disorganized; not so much like a coherent album structure but just a bunch of songs that Ariel had sitting around and threw together to fill out an album. Most of the songs are at least decent; there's just a lack of flow to the album that can become a bit distracting. Ariel ranges from Dr. Demento style novelty tunes (Church Of The Cosmic Cookie, They Won't Play Us In L.A.) to catchy, smart tunes with pop sensibility (Halfway To Harris, Crank Up The Victrola). The Pop sensibility here is sometimes two or three decades old, but hooks don't change regardless of how much distortion or effects you put them through.

My first impression of Ariel is that they are an aging cover band who have accumulated a fair amount of original material over time and finally decided to do something formal with it. It would explain the scattershot stylistic changes throughout the album that cover Styx, Chicago, The Ramones, Motown and novelty tunes. Cover band is considered by some to be a dirty word, but most bands or musicians get started that way, and from an instrumental perspective as a singer you couldn't complain about having Ariel behind you. The vocals are a bit hit or miss but are mostly spot on. In general, Sure Thing, You Bet! is a fun and entertaining listen that will appeal primarily to Baby Boomers and fans of the lighter side of 1960's and 1970's Rock N Roll/R&B. If that's your thing, then Ariel is for you.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ariel at You can purchase a copy of Sure Thing, You Bet! at, or you can download the album from iTunes.

Review: The Medullary Paralysis - We Don't Drink, We Don't Take Drugs, We Don't Have Sex, We Feel Compassion

The Medullary Paralysis - We Don't Drink, We Don't Take Drugs, We Don't Have Sex, We Feel Compassion
2009, The Medullary Paralysis

Italy’s The Medullary Paralysis is here with their debut EP, We Don’t Drink, We Don’t Take Drugs, We Don’t Have Sex, We Feel Compassion. We Don't Drink… opens with Compassion On The Dance Floor, a heavy techno/electrohouse number with ambient and pop elements. The song is absolutely mind-numbing at the right volume; the sort of music where you can get lost in the layers (with the right help). Fashion Slave takes a bit of Nine Inch Nails industrial and expounds on it, variation style. The heavy rock feel means this song would have a chance to cross over from club land to some free-thinking metal fans as well. The EP closes out with Heaven Forbid; Frenetic, rapid-fire rhythms on an industrial base with synth infusing a hint of ambience over the top. Heaven Forbid is the most cogent recording on the disc, but still gets mired in a wall of sound resulting from an attempt to do too much.

Herein lies the weakness of The Medullary Paralysis. There seems to be a need to fill every space, every second with sound, preferably with melt-your-face intensity. They are quite good at what they do, but there is a lack of contrast or dynamic that starts to become apparent on a three-song EP and would likely become a glaring concern on a full-length release. Even the occasional brush with minimalist conceptualization would maximize the potential of what The Medullary Paralysis is trying to do here. We Don't Drink... is a fine opening salvo, but I want to see what else they've got.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Medullary Paralysis at or Copies of We Don’t Drink... are available for download on Bandcamp on a pay-what-you-want scheme.

Review: Earl Musick - Duck & Cover

Earl Musick - Duck & Cover
2007, Reload Record Company

The first thing that will strike you about Fort Worth, Texas’ Earl Musick is what an amazing story teller he is. In his gruff and somewhat limited (but wonderfully textured and interesting) voice, Musick brings people and places to life in song. On his fifth album, Duck & Cover, Musick finds a musical aesthetic that encompasses Classic/Southern Rock Blues and Americana. Duck & Cover opens with the Southern Rock/Rhythm & Blues mix of Had Enough. The song is very danceable with distinctive hooks. Our Own Way combines a low-key vocal delivery with a great working class Americana arrangement. Here that we begin to see Musick's yarn-spinning gift in its truest form; almost as if watching a movie in song. All Wrapped Up is an ode to a hard working father using powerful imagery for death and life. This is perhaps the most deft lyric work on the album and is very well written overall.

Musick steps back to the honky-tonk for Razz-a-ma-tazz. This has an old-time variety show feel to it and is the lightest moment on the album. Burrough's Blues starts with the premise that the grass is always greener and shows how much worse they can really get; it's a great story-song set in a Blues/Rock arrangement you'll have on replay. Earl Musick marches us through a few more story songs (Molly and Beadreaux; I Got You; She Loved The Devil Out Of Me) on the way to Darlina. Darlina is the perfect closer for Duck & Cover, a high energy mix of Country and Rhythm & Blues with some of the best honky-tonk piano you'll find in or out of Nashville.

Duck & Cover is ultimately entertaining, painted in hues both stark and subtle. Earl Musick has a real gift for not just telling a story but imprinting it on the listener. You'll walk away from the album feeling like these songs aren't just an hour's entertainment but have somehow become a part of your consciousness. The classic mixes of Country, Rock, Blues and 1960's R&B complete the musical picture. Earl Musick is too good and too varied to get significant attention from the Country radio establishment, and is just a bit too down-home for Rock radio. The internet and satellite Americana stations may come calling, but with dwindling numbers it seems like that Earl Musick is destined to be under-represented in the marketplace. That's a shame, because talent like this doesn't come along all that often.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Earl Musick at You can purchase a copy of Duck & Cover as either a CD or MP3 at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review: Orion Walsh - Freedom Lost, Freedom Found

Orion Walsh - Freedom Lost, Freedom Found
2009, Orion Walsh

Lincoln, Nebraska based songwriter Orion Walsh comes back in August of 2009 with his sophomore solo release, an EP entitled Freedom Lost, Freedom Found. Readers may remember Walsh’s Tornado Lullabies, a highly personal and distinctive musical memoir we reviewed last year. Walsh continues in the same vein, albeit with a bit more of the polish of time on Freedom Lost, Freedom Found.

Freedom Lost, Freedom Found opens with Freedom Lost And Freedom Found, a high energy Americana/Folk/Rocker destined for the replay button many times over. Walsh's voice wends its way along the melody line in flawless fashion, although there's one note that's repeated a number of times that likely pushes the bounds of his range. Starkweather gives musical life to spree killer Charles Starkweather in engaging fashion. The form here is classic folk music and sounds like it could have easily come out of the 1960's. Football Town is all about growing up in a small town but having big dreams that can (perhaps) only be fulfilled elsewhere. The high energy of the arrangement juxtaposes against the melancholy feel of the lyrics. Run For The Hills finds Walsh slowing things down a bit with a polished rocker reminiscent of classic Neil Young. The theme here is global warming, and is based loosely on the sort of dire predictions that have become a calling card of that conversation. Walsh closes out with Journey To The Sea; a gorgeous song about two people in a relationship who want two different things: she wants more of him and he wants to figure out who he is. The arrangement here is a gem, and Walsh's vocals make the song.

Orion Walsh continues to write and record great music a little bit at a time. I have no doubt that over time he'll develop an impressive body of intelligent, well-written songs. Walsh is the sort of performer that other performers and songwriters respect, and Freedom Lost, Freedom Found will only enhance the reputation he's already earned.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Orion Walsh at or Freedom Lost, Freedom Found is due for an August, 2009 release.

Review: Shaky Foot - Down On The Rain

Shaky Foot - Down On The Rain
2009, Shaky Foot

Everyone's been in a relationship that seemed like it should be right but the timing was all wrong. That's the story of Shaky Foot in a nutshell. Formed by Jason Scolnick (Lead vox, guitar) and Bob Gobron (bass, vocals) in the early 1990's, Shaky Foot fell apart after showing real promise. Reforming in 2006, Shaky Foot found a new drummer in Charlie Silva, and has gone on to become one of the most sought-after bands in the Boston Music Scene. Shaky Foot's newest disc, Down On The Rain features thirteen (13) tracks of blues-based rock that will be appreciated by fans of bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to say the least.

Down On The Rain opens with Goodbye Mrs. Rose, featuring some excellent vocal harmonies and a dirty, driven blues feel you simply can't ignore. Bust It Out High is a bit more mundane than the title might lead you to believe but is still a good track. Down On The Rain is a deep and powerful song about seeing rays of hope even in your darkest moments. In this case the protagonist is a drug addict who has a moment of clarity and sees that things will be alright. The guitar work here is fabulous. Shaky Foot trod down a path frequented by The Beatles on In The Middle, blending in the occasional Jazz garish. This might have been the most enjoyable song on the disc if it weren't for the mixing which turns it into a messy but still listenable tune.

She's My Lady is a great listen perfect for last calls. The Blues/Rock arrangement here has perfect pop sensibilities, leading into the Led Zeppelin influenced Beat You To The Punch. Preacher Man is probably the best-written track on the CD, done in a slow build to an over-the-top climax that's probably even better live. Wake Up features the most interesting guitar work on the disc, particularly the opening riffs. You'll also want to make some time for Worried Mind, Young Jack and Zoom Baba Loom.

Listening to Shaky Foot makes me want to find a gig of theirs in a dark bar on a Saturday night with a few friends. The music here is pretty dynamic and enjoyable; Down On The Rain should really be experienced live. What sounds fun on CD would be a joyous cacophony of musical noise in a live environment. Shaky Foot is worth spending a little time with.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Shaky Foot at or You can purchase a copy of Down On The Rain on CD or as a download at

Review: The Comforts - Come On In!

The Comforts - Come On In!
2009, The Comforts

Cincinnati, Ohio’s The Comforts don’t play the typical Rock N Roll game; it’s not sex, drugs, and party-party-party for this quintet, but good, old fashioned Rock music with broad appeal that saves the day. You can find them anywhere from a biker bar to church festivals, with smiles from both crowds. The Comforts’ debut album, Come On In!, reflects this aesthetic, with influences ranging from 1950’s pop to 1970’s Rock/Metal bands like Rush.

Come On In! opens with Better Reasons, a relatively straight forward Pop/Rocker with it's lineage in 1960's girl groups and pop idols like Brenda Lee. The mix on this song is a bit muddy, with the vocals sounding very restricted in the presented mix. Never Look Back runs on a guitar riff that might have been inspired by Alex Liefson. The song itself is a pleasant listen and a call for community. The vocals are shared here between Paul Lake and Frances Lynn Merke; both are competent in their parts but don’t set the world on fire. Love Around You takes on folks who have real-world responsibilities but continue to act like they are young and unfettered. The arrangement here is messy, particularly around the vocal harmonies; a case where the message is great but the delivery is unfortunately less than spectacular. Small Town Girl hearkens back to the early days of Rock N Roll and is my personal favorite from the EP. Circles Never End has an urgent, even pushy feel to it that's just a might infectious. The arrangement will get stuck in your head, although the melody line is a bit non-descript. Come On In! closes out with You're That Girl, a messy but fun romp

The Comforts stick to the sound they know best on Come On In! The EP didn't blow me away, but had a couple of good moments. I don't know what the long term prospects are for The Comforts, but it will be interesting to see where they go next.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Comforts at You can purchase a copy of Come On In! on CD or as a download at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: If You Will - Above The Earth

If You Will - Above The Earth
2009, If You Will

Mahtomedi, Minnesota's If You Will is back with Above The Earth, a five-song EP that serves as a follow-up to 2007's Flight Plan. Seth Lienard (bass, vox), Aaron Rosell (drums, piano, vocals) and Stefan Swanson (guitars, vox) bring five highly personal and emotional rockers on Above The Earth, showing significant growth both musically and lyrically over their debut album. For a band where all members are currently either nineteen or twenty years old, If You Will is maturing quickly into the sort of band that not only has a lot to say but can (and play) it well. Writing primarily from both Christian and Secular perspectives, If You Will manages to create music that is magical and refuses to be pigeonholed into one genre or type.

Above The Earth opens with Satellite, a song about the divisions that carve up humanity and their real source. The song has a vaguely spiritual way but deals with war and peace and reality of the space that exists between peoples and cultures. Ragnarok finds If You Will speculating on the end times in a heavy, guitar driven tune that finds a sense of peace within its own story line. Chloroform & Games is written from the perspective of an abused child. Message-wise it's a powerful song, although the musical development of the song may have been checked a bit by an urge to get the message right, as there are a few awkward moments in the song. If You Will breaks out some serious Blues licks for Time, exhorting listeners to stop worrying about things that do not matter and live their lives. Time finds If You Will hitting on all eight cylinders with four minutes of near-perfection. Above The Earth closes out with Saboteur, a relationship song about being with someone who so completely takes over a relationship they destroy what they love. It's a powerful song; extremely well-written and lyrically dense. If You Will chose the perfect closer here; a song that could easily be a Rock hit and has elements of 1970's classic rock mixed hand-in-hand with Funk and Modern Rock.

If You Will is a special outfit. It's unusual to hear a trio these days create such a full and textured sound as these guys, and the song-writing is generally outstanding. Perhaps what is most significant is that even when If You Will misses with a song it still tends to be highly listenable (just not up to their usual standard). If I were a betting man I'd say If You Will is destined for great things. Their relatively young ages, displayed development and baseline ability speak of a long career full of significant success. For now, If You Will continues to build on a regional following that is not inconsequential while writing great songs that wend their way through a maze of secular and spiritual issues. Oh yeah, and did I mention they rock, too? Make sure you check out Above The Earth. You'll be glad you did.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about If You Will at or You can purchase Above The Earth as either a CD or download at