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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review: Justin Trawick - Starting Over

Justin Trawick - Starting Over
2009, Justin Trawick

Washington DC based singer-songwriter Justin Trawick gets point for making lemonade. Trawick used the loss of his 9-5 job as impetus to pursue music full time. His brand of Rock/Folk/Americana has seen him gain a lot of attention on his local music scene and even garner high praise from such sources as The Washington Post and NPR's All Things Considered. Trawick's debut EP, Starting Over features 5 songs focused on transitions and the twists and turns that life sometimes throws our way. Trawick has already opened shows for groups such as Cowboy Mouth, Bob Schneider, Edwin McCain, The Gourds, Jill Sobule and Pat McGee; it's only a matter of time before he's headlining the same stages.

Starting Over gets going with Snow Angels, an Americana tune about a breakup that illuminates the pain against the happiness of past events. The song has great rhythm and movement; it sticks with you. French Fries And Gravy is a conversation; a search for new paths and a desire for familiar landmarks. I really like this song; it's a palpable story that makes sense without deeper thought, but there's also a lesson in here about the contrasting aspects of human nature that want the greener grass but also the comforts of home. The arrangement is perfect, almost lilting, and Trawick handles the vocal masterfully. Untitled details a relationship where the protagonist is not on equal romantic footing with his partner; the doomed relationship comes to the expected end while he still pines for a second chance. Moving On is my personal favorite track on the disc, a wild, barely staying on the rails bit of Folk and Rhythm And Blues about people's tendency to talk first and think later. The arrangement is well done with the same sense of reckless abandon implied by the subject. Trawick closes with Starting Over, which was written just days after Trawick lost his job. Trawick speaks candidly in the song about the twists and turns of life and his desire to get back on a path.

Justin Trawick is above all else a songwriter. He spins yarns in comfortable Folk/Americana arrangements that smooth the listener's path into the deeper meanings that lay behind his songs. Trawick's biggest influence is Bob Schneider, and it shows a bit in his songwriting style, but Trawick maintains his own voice throughout Starting Over. I expect big things to come from, and for, Justin Trawick.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Justin Trawick at You can purchase Starting Over as either a CD or MP3 at

Review: Soul Tree - One Part Lonely, One Part Fire

Soul Tree - One Part Lonely, One Part Fire
2009, Soul Tree LLC

When Minneapolis power trio Soul Tree swings into gear you'd swear there has to be at least five guys on stage. From the high energy presence that is Lead vocalist and guitarist Brady Lillie to the huge wall of sound they create, Soul Tree rips off the roof every time they take the stage. Gigging almost exclusively in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Soul Tree has managed to catch hold at over 130 radio stations nationwide with a sound steep in music tradition but as fresh as anyone in Rock N Roll. Soul Tree's debut EP, One Part Lonely, One Part Fire presents the little band with a big sound, a bigger attitude and the chops to back it all up.

Soul Tree kicks off with The Level, a fun rocker that's very danceable. This song is likely a kick live, with the sound growing to mammoth proportions. Suzanne Summers is a heavy Rhythm & Blues rocker about bad choices. The rhythm section of Anthony Schulz on his 1967 Gibson EB-3 and Brad Zampich on drums is as tight as they come, allowing Lillie free reign on guitar and vocals, both of which are outstanding. Born Out Of Flames sounds like a 1980's Glam Rocker with some vicious guitar work thrown in. The beat is irresistible and you just might find yourself dancing. Concrete Walls features one of the best all-around vocal performances on the CD thrown against a classic Blues/Rock guitar part in a mid-tempo rocker that gets a bit repetitive but is otherwise a great listen. Soul Tree signs off with Big Boots, a R&B/Rock tune with country in its lineage. Big Boots is all about the charms of small town girls and their boots.

Soul Tree mixes a hefty dose of testosterone with a classic guitar rock sound to create highly charged, danceable Rock N Roll on One Part Lonely, One Part Fire. It's a legitimate classic rock sound with hints of Americana and Blues thrown in for good measure. It's easy to see what Soul Tree dazzles the folks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and it's easy to understand how they could be dazzling folks all over before long. One Part Lonely, One Part Fire is a bit uneven, but Soul Tree rocks mightily throughout.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Soul Tree at or One Part Lonely, One Part Fire can be purchase at Soul Tree shows on CD, or you can purchase a download through iTunes. If you need a CD copy, message Soul Tree through their MySpace page. I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you out.

Review: MFMB - MFMB

2009, La Bulle Sonore Records

Hailing from Bollnas, Sweden, MFMB mixes acoustic and electronic elements to create a sound that runs somewhere between Daft Punk, Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine and The Cure. Their debut EP, MFMB culls elements of each and crafts them into a dynamic if somewhat wandering musical experience.

MFMB opens with Anthill Man; a lyrically confuddling but ultimately danceable bit of electro-rock that sounds a bit like something that Dieter might dance to on the old Saturday Night Live sketch Sprockets. It's a pleasant tune; just don't expect a lot of sense on the lyrical side. Control gets a bit more electric guitar involved in the mix, blending hard rock and house styles quite well, actually. The song does get repetitive in both structure and lyrics, but is very listenable and highly danceable. The Fine Detail I had a hard time getting into, but MFMB stormed right back with Tune On, a jaunty bit of EuroPop dance music that will likely have some real legs on the club scene. I Would Give It To Anyone is a languorous pop tune that is certain to inspire somnolence in listeners, but MFMB rebounds once again on the closing track, Heat Like This, with a Pop/Dance tune that seems inspired by the work of The Cure.

MFMB strikes me as a band whose output is generally aimed at the Club scene. The sound is probably more generally marketable in Europe than in Middle America, but MFMB should be able to make big inroads in places like New York and L.A. There's a distinct melancholia that hangs over MFMB, creating a bit of cognitive dissonance with the trend of moderate tempo dance tunes, but MFMB generally makes it work. Not a bad start.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about MFMB at or, where you can purchase a copy of MFMB directly from the band.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review: Mission Hill - Mission Hill

Mission Hill - Mission Hill
2009, Toucan Cove Entertainment

Boston quartet Mission Hill has built up a significant fan base gigging relentlessly on the East Coast over the past few years. Shows with Candlebox, The White Tie Affair and Secondhand Serenade have served to widen their fan base, but it's the music that wins over fans' hearts and minds. Introspective and self-conscious by nature, Mission Hill speaks from the heart on their debut EP, Mission Hill. Mission Hill was recently ranked number one on Alternative Addiction's "Top Ten Unsigned Bands" list, and lead vocalist Adam Jensen won an LA Music Award for Indie Male Vocalist Of The Year. I suspect that such accolades are only the tip of the iceberg.

Mission Hill opens with This Town, reflecting on a relationship gone wrong and the difficulty of moving on. The narrator is on the verge of wanting reject all he knows to get away from all things familiar and escape the pain of losing her. While Jensen sounds nothing like Michael Stipe (more like a deeper voiced Rob Thomas), there's a definite REM connection here. Forever Anyway is an autobiographical tune about Jensen's love for his hometown that takes on an almost Americana flavoring. The vocal harmonies here are phenomenal, and the melody is one that will get stuck in your brain. Long Time Comin' is a goodbye song. The narrator has finally had enough and is saying goodbye. The song is incredibly well written and could have potential as a Country tune as well as the Rock/Americana arrangement it's presently in. Don't be surprised to see this song licensed for a soundtrack somewhere down the line. The best songwriting on the disc is still to come, however. Jen (When I Grow Up) is one of the most mature and introspective love songs you're likely to come across. This is a definite mix-tape song, though with limited application. If we did a song of the year category here at Wildy's World this would have to be in the discussion. Ending with Down With Young Love, Mission Hill rocks out for all they're worth; an impressively high-energy tune that I suspect is a big time favorite in the live show.

Mission Hill seems destined to transcend their regional status and become a band with national recognition. The quality of the songwriting and musicianship combined with the front-man presence of Adam Jensen would make them a sure thing in a perfect world. Regardless, Mission Hill is very much worthy of your rapt attention. This is great stuff!

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mission Hill at or You can purchase Mission Hill EP digitally from iTunes. Physical CDs do exist, but I could find no outlet online. Message Mission Hill at their MySpace page for more information if interested.

Review: D-Railed - The Fallen

D-Railed - The Fallen
2009, Code 55 Records

D-Railed is an Alternative Metal band from St. Louis, Missouri that's creating quite the buzz far beyond their local market. Deals with Code 5 Records and MTV Studios, as well as endorsements from Washburn Guitars, Spector Basses and Hartke Amps mark D-Railed as a band on the rise. D-Railed's most recent project is the three song single, Fallen.

The Fallen opens with the title track, a stark modern rocker fueled by a vicious bass and the splendid voice of Tim. The composition here is outstanding, from the bass calisthenics to the vocal harmonies and guitar work. Frontline looks after the effects on individuals of being in battle in vivid terms. The song calls out those in power for putting soldiers in situations that may alter them for the rest of their lives. Gone is a decent tune full of a lot of tension and some serious screaming that runs counter to Tim's lead vocals, but dynamically just doesn't quite stand up to the first two songs on the single.

D-Railed can rock, based on the short sample of songs we heard on The Fallen. Their sound blends Hard Rock and Metal with some of the more Emo tendencies that run through a lot of new "core" genres, establishing D-Railed as sort of a generational bridge between old and new styles. We'd like to hear more to see where D-Railed is headed, but this is a great start.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about D-Railed at No purchase information for The Fallen could be located on the web. You can stream songs about D-Railed’s MySpace page. Message them there for information on how to acquire the album if you’re interested.

Review: Martin Rivas - Sea Of Clouds

Martin Rivas - Sea Of Clouds
2009, BTA Recordings

New York City based singer/songwriter Martin Rivas might be familiar to readers in New York City as the lead guitarist and vocalist of Serious Pilgrim, but he’s been in a number of bands over the years. Over time, Rivas has recorded with Yoko Ono and has played with Jeff Tweedy. Rivas’ latest effort, Sea Of Clouds.

Sea Of Clouds kicks off with Sleeping In The Shed, a catchy bit of Pop/Rock that you'll find yourself tapping your toes and humming along with. A New Word is a pleasant mellow rock tune that's a decent listen but doesn't really stand out. Heckuva Day, on the other hand, has a classic sound that draws on deep Motown roots. Rivas manages a feat of tremendous songwriting here in a song that has distinct commercial possibilities for both Adult Contemporary formats as well as for licensing. Rivas goes to the same Soul/R&B well for Get Yourself Together, singing wholly in falsetto in a song that could have some radio impact with the right push. Rivas hits a few other high notes along the way, whether in the heartfelt simplicity of Turtle or the soul-bearing solace of Hide In Me. Rivas closes out with Sorry To See You Go, a heart-on-the-sleeve missive that's long on emotion and short on verbosity.

Martin Rivas has a pleasant singing voice and an ability to craft gentle, pretty adult pop songs, but suffers from an interesting combination of lyrical extremities (sometimes too much, sometimes too little) on Sea Of Clouds. The album gets strong nods for composition and sound, but can be difficult to chew if your focus is the lyrics. It was an enjoyable listening experience, but working in conjunction with another lyricist would likely serve to smooth out the wrinkles effectively. A great effort musically that's just not met in the words.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Martin Rivas at or You can purchase Sea Of Clouds via CDBaby.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: The Spies - Televolution

The Spies - Televolution
2009, The Spies

Los Angeles quartet started out as a collaboration between long-time friends Leo Francis (guitar/vox) and Mark Matkevich (piano/keys/guitar/vox). With the additions of Adrian Barrio (bass) and Dylan Giagno (drums), The Spies have come into their own. Their sophomore album, Televolution, finds the band with a new rhythmic stability that was at times lack on Old Ghosts (debut).

Televolution opens with the tasty Pop/Rock nugget Bang, Bang; a highly danceable tune with a beat that's irresistible. This is the perfect way to kick off the album before moving into the slightly darker Televolution, which talks about the revolution being televised and out there before the world. While it lends the album its title, Televolution is probably one of the weaker tracks on the disc. National Pastime, on the other hand is probably one of the strongest. It's very well written with a catchy beat and a hook that's worth its weight in gold. You Got Some Nerve takes a little side trip in a slinky rock arrangement with an almost creepy keyboard part. This is a song that's likely destined to be licensed for a movie to television soundtrack; it's too good and too situational to be ignored.

Paper Trail is an ode to all those who have to "sweat it out", or work for a living. This sort of song generally only comes from a band with working class roots; it's well done Rock with an Americana touch and is likely to be a big concert favorite. Modern Oceans is a catchy bit of Folk/Pop tune that sounds like something Barenaked Ladies might have done for Maybe You Should Drive. The song itself is about folks who leave their worlds behind to help the less fortunate (i.e. missionaries, be they secular or otherwise) and the difficult tasks they face. The song is a little vague on details but is a pleasant listen. The Spies slow things down for Lavender, taking on a sleepy, melancholy feel in a song that gets a bit bogged down in its own quietude but ultimately breaks free in a brilliant bridge. Televolution does anything but fade to black with It Comes In Waves, the final track. The Spies go out like they went in; roaring and making you want to dance. It Comes In Waves seems to recall a relationship lost, but the music is so jubilant you can't be sad.

The Spies made a very strong first impression with Televolution. They range from ultimate Pop/Rock dynamos to melancholy wordsmiths and back during the course of the album, ending with an occasionally uneven but ultimately satisfying disc. There's some real songwriting talent here, and a knack for the big hook. To top it off, Leo Francis has a voice that's vaguely reminiscent of Elvis Costello in his heyday. That's not a bad trio of traits to have going for a band.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Spies at You can download MP3’s of Televolution through the band’s MySpace Page. CD’s are available, but no online outlet was noted at the time of this review. Try messaging The Spies through their MySpace page for CD copies.

Review: Dreaming In Stereo - Dreaming In Stereo

Dreaming In Stereo - Dreaming In Stereo
2009, Dying Van Gogh

Miami Beach, Florida’s Dreaming In Stereo is the brainchild of neo-Guitar God Fernando Perdomo. Perdomo is a highly-in-demand session player as well as the lead guitarist for Transcendence. On Dreaming In Stereo he gets to show off his songwriting and vocal chops to good effect. Together with drummer Eddie Zyne (Hall & Oates) and joined by bass man Giuseppe Rodriguez on stage, Dreaming In Stereo plays with verve, wit and intelligence. Dreaming In Stereo’s self-titled debut album was released in July of 2009 and has already wracked up a fair amount of positive press for the band. Let’s check it out!

Dreaming In Stereo opens with the piano-based instrumental Sea Dreams, which sounds like scene setting music from a musical or a movie. It's a short piece, and pretty. Misery Loves Companies details our cultural fascination with drugs and their ability blunt psychic pain. It's a catchy tune; a bit awkward lyrically and a bit out of synch on the harmony vocals at times but a decent effort. Steal This Song is an altruistic musician's anthem that underlines an interesting dichotomy that occurs in the music business. Very often it's the musicians who have already made more money than they need who decry peer-to-peer sharing, while the hungry artists trying to make their way often welcome it because it opens up potential new fans. This is a great tune and makes a great point with a dash of wit.

Smile is a positive, simple song with a great string arrangement in accompaniment. I'm Not Gonna Move To L.A. is an amusing song about having the strength to be who you are, where you are, regardless of the consequences. The song is intelligently written with an element of dry humor, although the chorus does get repeated a few too many times. Let Me Love You and The Will To Love pair well as melancholy love songs that sounds like they'd be more comfortable in Country/Americana arrangements. Dreaming In Stereo closes out with Amicable, a six minute shot of meandering musical ambience full of melancholy and regret. The arrangement is quite pleasing, although the song does drag on a bit longer than might be optimal.

Dreaming In Stereo takes a wide-ranging musical course on their self-titled debut, from straight up rock arrangements to Moody Blues-style ambient/orchestral rock. The vocal talent is a bit mixed here, and pitch issues do present in the mastered recording at times both in the lead and harmony vocals. The songwriting is uneven but with some very strong moments (Steal This Song, I'm Not Gonna Move To L.A.). Dreaming In Stereo isn't a comedy band by any stretch, but they do seem to shine the most when they let their inherent wit inhabit their songs. Dreaming In Stereo is a decent debut that shows strong potential for growth, a distinct musicality and a creative spark that should serve them well.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Dreaming In Stereo at or You can purchase Dreaming In Stereo through as either as CD or download.

Review: Camp Out - Closer

Camp Out - Closer
2009, Camp Out

San Francisco Alt-Folk/Pop duo Camp Out met while sleeping though classes at UC Berkeley. Maddy Hanks (Vox, guitar, programming) and Jackie Law (drums, drum machine, synth, backing vox) recorded their first project, Camp Out EP, in Law’s garage with substandard equipment. After playing shows locally and building a following on the net, the two went to work with producer Shaw Waters to craft a full length album. The result is Closer, which has a quirky pop sensibility that surfs their Lo-Fi aesthetic.

Camp Out lets loose with Car Crash, a song about how good people stay in bad relationships. It's nerdy, Lo-Fi Rockergirl material that will play well on College Radio with the potential to cross over. Camp Out has captured a highly infectious hook here in a pleasing arrangement, and Maddy Hanks' clear, unadorned voice makes it all click. The album, Closer, in general, is all about the relationship process: Meeting, getting to know someone, falling in love (or something like it), when to take the next step, wanting out and recovering. This is all written from the perspective of someone who seems to imply she's not good at the relationship thing.

Camp Out is the most commercial track here, followed closely by Bones, which is very catchy and details the insecurities that come on once a relationship gets serious and someone starts feeling a little hemmed in. Small Steps is the best song on the disc; the first sign of maturity and vulnerability in the entire process. Realize that Camp Out has an anti-poet aesthetic going, so much of the material here is written in every day language, and occasionally veers into the wholly mundane lyrically. The album, in general is uneven, with some very strong songs and some that just really don't work all that well. Camp Out also gets points for one of the most unusual analogies in Pop Music in the song Swordfish. I'll leave it to you to go find out.

Camp Out has a decent start with Closer, a solid album that fits in somewhere between The Breeders and Belly sonically. There's a distinct Lo-Fi Pop sensibility that rears its head here and there on Closer. It's not a drop dead amazing album, but a solid listen that will find its way to your ears from time to time.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Camp Out at You can download Closer through Camp Out's MySpace page. No other online outlets noted.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cosmo Jarvis - Cosmo Jarvis (Hum As You Hitch / Son Of A B!tch)

Cosmo Jarvis - Cosmo Jarvis (Hum As You Hitch / Son Of A B!tch)
2009, Cosmo Jarvis

Harrison Cosmo Krikoryan Jarvis was born in New Jersey to an American/Armenian mom and a British dad. Jarvis has found his way back to his father's homeland (Newton Ferrers), where he has written over 250 songs at the tender age of nineteen. With over 100 songs recorded (and self-produced), Jarvis' recording studio is his bedroom. Jarvis even went so far as to displace his bed to the hall in order to fit all of the recording equipment in his room. Jarvis also makes, directs and stars in short films (over 40!). This prodigious level of production apparently does signify over-extension as an artist, at least to judge by the music on Jarvis self-titled album, alternately titled Hum As You Hitch/Son Of A B!tch, due out on November 3, 2009 in the UK. Cosmo Jarvis is revelatory.

Opening with Crazy Screwed Up Lady, Jarvis displays a musicality and presence that is beyond his years. His voice is somewhat anachronistic, but works perfectly amidst inspired Folk/Pop arrangements driven with hints of punk energy. Wild Humans is a humorous ditty that takes accessory pricing to a whole new level. The song is highly entertaining and active. Jessica Alba's Number is an entertaining fan-boy song and tribute all rolled into one. Featured dream girls include Alba, Jessica Simpson, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Beyonce Knowles, Kate Nash, Jennifer Lopez and The Pussycat Dolls. The Royal F**k Up is a humorous but angry written from the perspective of an every day person who resents the views that the rich and powerful have of everyone else; in this particular case the target appears to be the British Monarchy, but the theme is a universal one. The song is tongue-in-cheek but full of the hyperbolic, repressed rage that fuels eventual social change. Sort Yourself Out is mix-tape material of another sort. Everyone knows someone they'd love to dedicate this tune to; an angry and pointed calling out and dressing down of someone who tends to have no regard for others. Jarvis closes with Mummy’s Been Drinking; another deeply angry song done as a rap that calls out a mother for hiding from responsibility/reality. The song is entertaining with a bit of the car crash mentality in there for good measure.

Cosmo Jarvis is an absolute breath of fresh air, blowing up the conceptions of traditional pop music with flair and a distinct sense for good musical decisions. Jarvis is an all-around entertainer who can write very well and hits on some real musical magic on Cosmo Jarvis (Hum As You Hitch / Son Of A B!tch). Jarvis' wit is prodigious on his debut album, but there's no air of novelty to the songs. This is a serious collection dished out with healthy doses of humor, impatience, anger, vitriol and ultimately a maturity that's beyond his years. Cosmo Jarvis is very much worth getting to know!

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Cosmo Jarvis at or Cosmo Jarvis (Hum As You Hitch / Son Of A B!tch) drops on November 3, 2009. You can pre-order the album through as a pricey import, or you can pick it up a bit cheaper by going to and simply paying the exchange rate here in the US. If you’re buying from the UK it’s much cheaper.

Haakon's Fault - Pilgrimage

Haakon's Fault - Pilgrimage
2009, Haakon's Fault

New York City nouveau hipsters Haakon's Fault bring a wealth of musical visions and styles to the table. Pouring Rock, Metal, Jazz and Funk into a musically progressive blend, Haakon's Fault might be making some of the most exciting music on the New York City scene. Their debut EP, Pilgrimage, finds Haakon's Fault mining the musical world for gems and sewing it all together with the mastery of an old-time jazz master, all set against the ruddy, soulful voice of Harry McNamara.

Pilgrimage opens with the title track, a song about finding spiritual meaning in a physical world. The construction and arrangement of this track is brilliant. Star Gazing leads with guitar work inspired by early Yes and opens into a delicious bit of 1970's style Funk/Jazz. This performance is flawless, from the instrumentation to lead vocal to harmonies. Even the Rick Wakeman-esque synth that kicks in half way through the song is wracked with perfection. Siren is perhaps the most aggressively progressive track on Pilgrimage; it's interesting musically but I didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of the CD. Eulogic mixes mellow Rock, Soul, Funk and Jazz in delicious song about the legacies we leave behind. Guitarist Mike Serman gets to show off a bit as well, laying down some serious fretwork throughout the song. Pilgrimage returns home with Glory, a song about the draw that life on the road has for some. There's serious jazz construction involved in the composition of Glory, easily the most complex and thrilling song on the disc.

Haakon's Fault spins Progressive Rock back towards its roots in Jazz on Pilgrimage, putting together five songs that are far and away superior to the material being generated currently in neo-prog, mathcore and other loosely related genres. I suspect the live shows are where Haakon's Fault is at their best, but as musical introductions go its hard to beat Pilgrimage.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Haakon's Fault at You can download Pilgrimage from Bandcamp. No word on physical copies of the CD to date, although if you message the band through MySpace they may help you out!

Review: Jeffree Star - Beauty Killer

Jeffree Star - Beauty Killer
2009, Popsicle Records

Jeffree Star started out as a model and makeup artist with an obsessive love of music. His early attempts at songwriting were more of an offhand experimentation than a serious attempt at song craft, but Star has a certain flair for the dramatic that comes through in his music. Working with various Los Angeles producers, including Lester Mendez (Shakira, Jessica Simpson, Nelly Furtado) and Luke Walker (Alkaline Trio, Elliott Yamin); Jeffree Star has created Beauty Killer; a collection of twelve highly danceable songs full of pathos and promise.

Beauty Killer opens with Get Away With Murder, a musical promise or threat from a narrator who is imbalanced and pathologically unable to maintain relationships. Set to a killer dance beat, I suspect this tune will be huge on the club scene. The first single, Prisoner, received upwards of 500,000 streams its first weekend on MySpace and seems certain to propel the initial sales of Beauty Killer to stratospheric heights. It's heavy Rock/Electronica that's certain to make an impact on the dance charts and in the clubs. Louis Vuitton Body Bag features Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba helping out on vocals, and stands out as perhaps the best dance track on the album in spite of the dark content. Electric Sugar Pop slows the tempo down a bit but not the infectious nature of the song. This is bubblegum pop for the electronic music age, but it's very good by both accounts and may have the biggest potential as a Pop single of anything on the disc.

B!tch, Please is one of those songs where fame or infamy is the ultimate question (and ultimately, are they different?). Pat Robertson had a tremor when this song was first written and had no idea why. Lollipop Luxury (with Nicki Manaj) and Get Physical stay on pretty much the same course, whereas Fame & Riches, Rehab B!tches brings a little bit of emo/hardcore scream into the dance realm and features Breathe Carolina. Star closes out Beauty Killer with a pair of add-on tracks, Fresh Meat and Queen Of The Club Scene. Both have the feel of filler as they lack the intensity of much of the album.

Jeffree Star's Beauty Killer will be a big winner on the club scene; likely to be more popular in Europe than in the US. The material is somewhat one dimensional like a lot of pure Dance/Pop, but will score points for shock value on some songs for folks who prize that sort of thing in their music. I thought it was a decent listen; not something I'd feel compelled to spin again personally, but I can see the draw for the clubbers.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jeffree Star at You can purchase Beauty Killer at Star’s web store, or you can download it through iTunes. If you purchase the CD, you’ll get a signed poster from Star while supplies last.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: Foreigner - Can't Slow Down

Foreigner - Can't Slow Down
2009, Rhino/Atlantic

During the 1980's, few bands were as prevalent on both Pop and Classic Rock radio as Foreigner. Hits such as Cold As Ice, I Want To Know What Love Is, Feels Like The First Time, Urgent and Hot Blooded were as familiar to music fans as a song can be. When then-vocalist Lou Gramm departed the band I lost track of Foreigner and was frankly surprised to see that they had a new album coming out in 2009. Can't Slow Down hits shelves on September 29, 2009 as a three-disc (2 CDs/1 DVD) collection available exclusively at Walmart stores. For any surprise I may have had the fact of the release, it was an even bigger surprise, and pleasure, to discover that Can't Slow Down is a surprisingly vibrant and relevant Pop/Rock album.

Disc One of Can't Slow Down consists of thirteen new tracks; a mix of rockers and ballads that have the same sort of hungry energy that Foreigner had when they first broke into the music business. The title track is a brilliant bit of Rock N Roll and a tribute to NASCAR inspired by Foreigner's performance at the 2009 Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Can't Slow Down will get a lot of play from NASCAR and their fans, and might just be the best driving song since Sammy Hagar's I Can't Drive 55. In Pieces depicts a relationship at a crossroads. Things have fallen apart, but the narrator is asking where to from here? This isn't a kiss off song, but one full of love and acceptance of the present that still holds some hope for the future. When It Comes To Love is much more melancholy, looking back on a relationship past and what might have been, having realized that what he had is what he wants; the perfect song for the lovelorn.

Longtime fans of Foreigner will be more than pleased with Give Me A Sign, which sounds like it could have been lifted right off one of their early albums, and I'll Be Home Tonight also has their signature sound in a ballad that has serious chart potential. My favorite track on the disc, however, is a number called Too Late. This too has the classic Foreigner sound, and a vivacity that is striking. The chorus will get stuck in your head and stay there all day long. If I had to pick one song to release as a single from the album it would be As Long As I Live, a classic ballad that's certain mix-tape magic. Adult-Contemporary and even Pop radio could make this a huge hit. Rockers Living In A Dream, Ready and Angel Tonight also will be certain crowd pleasers, as is the ballad I Can't Give Up. Can't Slow Down closes out the new material with Fool For You Anyway, a soul-flavored Rock ballad that might have even more potential than As Long As I Live.

Disc Two consists of remixes of some of Foreigner's most famous songs, done by Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Buckcherry, Guitar Hero) and Anthony Focx (Guitar Hero). Hits such as Feels Like The First Time, Cold As Ice, Hot Blooded, Head Games, I Want To Know What Love Is and Jukebox Hero get retooled to clean up the sound of the sometimes thirty-year old master recordings. The DVD included in the package features live performances of some of Foreigner's biggest hits, including performances from their most recent European tour. Also included is a documentary about the making of Can't Slow Down and footage of the Walmart shareholders meeting where the deal was made to release this album exclusively.

Aside from a clip on the DVD that panders a bit too much to the Walmart shareholders' egos, Can't Slow Down is perhaps the most exciting release from Foreigner since the late 1980's. You never know what you're going to get when one of these long acts releases new material, but Foreigner is as vital and relevant today as they were twenty-five years ago. The re-tooling of the classic material simply improves on the sound quality and definition of the recordings, a treatment they should have received some time ago. Foreigner has proved that they Can't Slow Down; let's hope that never changes.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Foreigner at or Can’t Slow Down drops on September 29, 2009. You can pre-order your copy at

Review: TyLean - Between 10 And 2

TyLean - Between 10 And 2
07, Bast Records

On TyLean's sophomore album, Between 10 And 2, you will encounter madness in its most integral form. TyLean mines personal experience and a childhood that could be a movie of the week to skate the edges of madness before the ice cracks and the white insanity consumes her completely. Imagine Tori Amos in a schizophrenic fugue and you might have an idea of what awaits you. TyLean broke onto the music scene in 2005 with her EP, When All Else Fails, and is currently wrapping (The Unforgivable, The Unforgettable) an album that recalls her tortured childhood in rural Pennsylvania in vivid detail. These days the singer/songwriter/composer is living in London, where she continues to score soundtracks for short films and documentaries while preparing for an Australian tour.

Between 10 And 2 opens with The Last One Awake, a recording of the signoff message used by television stations in the US in the 1980's. This is a mark of sanity (or the end of it), as night takes over and hallucinations break through in Corner Of My Eye. The comparisons to Tori Amos are notable here, although TyLean travels further off the chart of madness than Tori's faeries ever took her. There's a frightening beauty here, ensconced in a mix of horror and madness that's as compelling and needful as a bad auto accident. Rosalyn is a horror movie in song, complete with a squalling cello and a story-line that would be edited in newspapers to avoid horrifying the populace. Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind opens with a gorgeous Baroque-style piano and features an un-tortured vocal that reveals more of the beauty of Tylene's voice. There's also something hard in that voice; something that tells you things could go from beautiful to violent in a flash.

Distractions finds the narrator questioning why she has hallucinations. The arrangement is stark and compelling; not beautiful exactly but aesthetically correct; gothic in almost classical terms. Spiders could be either a hallucination or an allegory for the runaway thoughts that tend to accompany illnesses like schizophrenia. The lines between rational and irrational is blurred to non-existence in this stark musical monologue. TyLean even uses the music to help you hear the splits that happen where the narrator's mind dissociates from reality. Caught In The Web is a dark, minor-key instrumental played solely on pipe organ. It's not entirely clear what story element or mechanism this represents, although it's not uncommon for religion and fantastical thinking to mix in unusual ways in dissociative disorders. This leads into Misery, the closing track, a brief monologue from the mouth of madness that's steeped in allegory so deep it might take years of therapy to unwrap. The arrangement features what sounds like glockenspiel, bass and percussion, with a breakdown (both figurative and literal) coming at the end. The disc ends abruptly, leaving no answers, just questions.

TyLean's aural picture of madness offered up on Between 10 And 2 is as complete as our understanding of how the human mind works; that is, not very. We follow TyLean on a descent into madness, with no happy ending offered up to soothe the listener's psyche. This sort of highly provocative, discomfiting art generally has a limited demographic of consumers, but TyLean benefits from being a vivid and imaginative lyricist who can grab and hold your attention even while detailing the darkest aspects of the human condition. I was uncomfortable with Between 10 And 2, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't suspect it's something I will listen to very often, but I will never forget it.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about TyLean at or You can purchase Between 10 And 2 as either a CD or download through

Review: You Are Home - Phoneyhome

You Are Home - Phoneyhome
2009, Sleep On The Floor

You Are Home is a studio project and one man band. Ames, Iowa's Matthew Dake started the project with drummer Breighton Engeman in 2003. Engeman has since moved on, and Dake took on the challenge of writing and performing all songs on his own, staying with the original formula of drums and bass with other instruments as they seems appropriate. You Are Home's debut EP, Phoneyhome, features the manic energy of one man trapped alone in a studio and playing for his life.

Phoneyhome opens with the title track, a psychedelic and energetic instrumental that careens along the edges of madness just for fun. The highly rhythmic nature of the song sets the tone for the listener, setting off on a jazz rhythm with a simple bass line and an urgent feel. She Has The Fakest Loudest Laugh shifts into Heavy Rock gear in a song that begs for a vocal line and some serious electric guitar. Damascus (slow) follows a similar path, although with atypical compositional structure that would not serve a vocal line well. Damascus descends into noise as percussive chords are played repeatedly in nonets (sets of nine) separated by ultimately brief reprieves. You Are Home slows things down on Are You There God? It's me, Matthew Dake. Sound and atmosphere take precedence here over anything like structure of melody, a sort of ambient-organic Drum N Bass composition. Phoneyhome concludes with Bodyhome (For Merrill), an early Rock/Rhythm N Blues riff on bass and drums that gets pulled into variations and sidebars as if in an impromptu jam session. It's a pleasant listen, but ultimately repetitive.

Phoneyhome is essentially a collection of five rhythm tracks with experimental and shoegaze tendencies. These are interesting for what they are, but don't really seem to have any lasting significance unless you are a bass player or drummer. The songs tend toward the highly repetitive, focusing on the sound rather than melody or development as musical ideas. There is a market for this sort of thing, but it's likely a very small demographic. What's done here is done flawlessly; it's just not something that will hold the attention of most listeners.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about You Are Home at You can purchase Phoneyhome as a digital download via iTunes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Review: Ten Year Vamp - Don't Act Like You Know Me

Ten Year Vamp - Don't Act Like You Know Me
2009, Ten Year Vamp, LLC.

Albany, New York doesn't get the respect is deserves as a music scene (or for much else, for that matter). Most of the great acts that start there end up moving on to either Boston or New York where they become known, but Ten Year Vamp is poised to Albany back in the limelight in a big way. What can you say about a band that pumps out high-octane Rock N Roll while changing the way the music business is run? When Ten Year Vamp set out to make their latest record they decided to make it a communal process. Seeking funding from their fans, the band accepted 60 contributions from fans ranging from $25 to $2,000, then put 80 songs up on their website to let those same fans select which twelve would end up on the album. Fans even had a say in the album artwork, and all contributors will receive a share of the album sales. The resulting album, Don't Act Like You Know Me, shapes up to be one of the most dynamic rock albums of the year.

Ten Year Vamp opens with Never Know, an intensive and active Rock song that's perfect for Modern Rock Radio as well as Pop/Rock/hybrid formats. Never Know has serious commercial punch, and a hook that sinks into listener's brains and won't let go. Add in the gorgeous and powerful voice of Debbie Gabrione and suddenly you're talking about the sort of song that can't miss with the right push. Stay is an invitation not to be turned down wrapped up in a sexy, playful rock tune that's hungrier than it might sound at first listen. Say You Made Love To Me continues the trend of female-dominant sexuality in song. This isn't the sort of wanton sexuality that's generally marketed to the masses, but a healthy, choice-based female sexuality that's about satisfying needs than subjecting oneself to another's fantasies to fit in. Gabrione calls things as she sees them and isn't afraid to say what she wants. All of this celebration of feminine sexuality culminates in Pleasures (That I Call Mine); one of the most outspoken and healthy musical expressions I've heard in a long time. The fact that these songs rock like nobody's business just adds to the pulse-pounding drama and intrigue that Ten Year Vamp and Debbie Gabrione in particular, are bound to incur.

Faked It is a "When Harry Met Sally" moment set to pounding guitars in a powerful, fast-paced rock arrangement that's unforgettable. I Don't Need goes on to look at the relationship traps that women fall into, with the protagonist trying to find her own voice or power in a relationship. This song is more powerful in message, perhaps, than many of the songs here, but musically lags a bit behind the more dynamic material that came before it. One Night Ticket incorporates some New Wave/Electronic instrumentation into the rock setting while exploring the eternal question, "What if..." about the one that got away. Ten Year Vamp rocks prodigiously through Another Try and Oh So Nice And Slowly on the way to Call It, the closest thing to a pure love song on the album. This is certain mix tape material in a true power ballad that's pragmatic rather than syrupy and cliché. Rockstar reflects the realization that many who find stardom quickly come to; that the simple fact of being a star isn't all it's cracked up to be. It reflects a mature worldview that should fare the band well as they make the transition to rock stars themselves. Ten Year Vamp goes anything but quietly, signing off with Goodbye, perhaps one of the most empowering kiss off songs in the history of Rock N Roll.

It's really no wonder that Albany's Metroland Magazine's reader’s poll has named Ten Year Vamp best local rock band for five years running. With exposure on CNBC, Forbes, Yahoo!, and AOL Finance for their business model, and an incredibly dynamic new album, it's hard to see how Ten Year Vamp fails to explode on the national scene. Debbie Gabrione is the sort of front woman they make movies about, and the rest of the band (Mark Rose - guitar; Tim Keenan - bass; Andrew Foster - lead guitar; Gregory Nash - drums, and Bill Ketzer - keys, percussion) is incredibly tight. With a sound already refined and highly marketable, Ten Year Vamp just needs that one big break to fall in place. It will happen sooner or letter; music this good just doesn't stay hidden. Don't Act Like You Know Me is brilliant; a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Don't miss it.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ten Year Vamp at or You can purchase Don’t Act Like You Know Me as either a CD or download through You may also download the album from iTunes.

Review: Car Stereo Wars - For Your Comfort And Safety

Car Stereo Wars - For Your Comfort And Safety
2008, Greg Records

Car Stereo Wars started out as a college trio in their native Australia, playing primarily Chillout/Pop, even landing songs one two different Ministry Of Sound compilations. Over time Car Stereo Wars sought a broader creative palette from which to create, mixing Trip-Hop and Electronica into their tasty Folk/Rock hybrid. It's done well for them thus far, with songs placed in commercials for Dell Computers and Tic Tac Chill. Their latest creative effort, For Your Comfort And Safety contains eleven songs of down-tempo, celestial rock featuring the entrancing vocals of Alyssa Doe and the occasionally Americana-colored guitar work of Matt Gilman.

Car Stereo Wars kicks things off with Smooth, a lush, layered, hypnotic pop song that brings to mind some of Sarah McLachlan's arrangements circa Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Alyssa Doe's voice is velvety smooth with an earthy timber, not so much soaring above the music as becoming an integral part of it. Broken runs like a commentary; like personal thoughts about the day’s events from a vantage point perhaps no one has. The song is pleasantly fantastical, almost as if sung by a benevolent peeping Tom. Come To Nothing gets a little more heavily into gilded Electronica. Doe manages to keep some dynamic range in spite of the increasingly claustrophobic arrangement. Alone is a lush lover's dream, casting off the world to revel in the magic of love. The arrangement is pleasing without making a lasting impression.

My personal favorite track on the disc is Low Rise, a down-tempo yet catchy Electronic Pop tune. The chorus in particular will stick in your mind well after the song is done. Down is presented in a lush and variable arrangement that rests heavily on Trip-Hop and Jazz. It's one of the more intriguing compositions on the disc and one that would be most enjoyable to hear stripped down to simple acoustic instrumentation. Little Alarm is a brief interlude down in the style of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and leads into the closing track, For Your Comfort And Safety. This is a song that sounds like it wants to be a country tune but doesn't have the heart to commit. The arrangement is more organic than anything else on the album, relying primarily on acoustic guitar and voice. The setting fits Doe's voice very well, and sonically this is the most pleasing song on the disc.

Car Stereo Wars play in a slightly different genre, but have the same laid back aesthetic of The Cowboy Junkies. For Your Comfort And Safety is aptly titled; it's a very pleasant listen with some strong moments, but never really takes any risks along the way. Nevertheless, the songwriting and musicianship are good enough to escape mediocrity, and Alyssa Doe is a joy to listen to. In the end, it's a bit more repressed than I'd hoped for, but still a strong effort.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Car Stereo Wars at or, where you can purchase a copy of For Your Comfort And Safety using PayPal. You can also purchase the album digitally through iTunes.

Review: Michel Ackermann - Kite

Michel Ackermann - Kite
2008, Michael Ackermann

Michel Ackermann was a professional pianist who had never really considered singing and songwriting. He had studied with no less than Virginia Zimberlin and had played with trombonist Jiggs Wigham, as well as many other ensembles and groups in and around his native Berlin. One night Ackermann had a dream that he was performing (with singing) songs in front of a large concert crowd in Cologne, and used that as motivation to begin writing and singing. With influences ranging from Randy Newman and David Gray to Van Morrison and Joe Henry, Ackermann has a quirky songwriting style than can be both frustrating and refreshing, depending on the song. Ackermann's debut EP, Kite, was released in 2008.

Kite opens with the title track, a pensive piece of down-tempo Piano/Synth Pop. Kite is a pleasant listen that harkens back to 1970's Adult Contemporary AM Radio material. Back On The Road takes on a little more life, working in a funky beat and some jazz colorings particularly in the piano part. I'd Rather Be With You, a highly cyclic and mildly soulful love song that has a strong foundation in the writing but relies too heavily on a one line chorus that repeats way too many times for listening comfort. Ackermann leaves listeners with Our Love, the funkiest and most lively track on the CD.

Michel Ackerman scores big with Our Love, but the rest of the EP falls a little bit flat in energy and songwriting. Ackerman is obviously quite an accomplished pianist; as a lyricist he's decent but seems to run into awkward moments he can't seem to overcome. The instrumental breakdowns tend to be the highlights of the songs. Based on what I heard on Kite, I'll be curious to see where Ackermann goes next musically.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Michel Ackermann at You can purchase a copy of Kite through

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: Corinne West - The Promise

Corinne West - The Promise
2009, Make Records

Corinne West left home at the age of fifteen, guitar in hand, to travel and live with a group of traveling artists and activists. The restless spirit that drove her to that decision continues to motivate West today. As an established singer/songwriter whose won critical acclaim, you still get the impression that West gets a bit antsy if she's in one place for too long. That rambling spirit runs all through her third album, The Promise, coming November 2, 2009 on Make Records. Produced by West and Canadian musician Doug Cox, West sings from the heart with a voice that's both road-weary and jubilant at the wonder of life.

West opens with The Promise, a soft and wonderfully nuanced song about perseverance. West's voice is of earth and sky, as elemental as the heart that beats inside of her, and fills the listener with a sense of time and place that is hauntingly familiar and yet as alien as the horizon of another world. Pollen is a song buried deep in allegory. There is a love gone wrong here; the classic tale of an interloper (told in the first person) who regrets what she's done only after the consequences are abundantly clear. West tells the story in such personal terms it's as if she's living it. Having been a road warrior for some time, West knows what it's like to walk into a strange small town and look thoroughly out of place. The Stranger is a monologue on this very subject. With a haunting melody and poetic lyrics, West takes you inside of those you might see passing through your town. Lily Ann is a love song written in classic country style, even pulling in some bluegrass style backing vocals. The arrangement is nothing short of gorgeous.

The River's Fool is homespun wisdom from someone who has spent time traveling on it. It's another wonderfully nuanced and intelligent song with a gorgeous melody. West lets her warm, expressive alto wrap around Harry Nilsson's Everybody's Talkin' in an unforgettable performance that's likely to generate a lot of buzz. And if you think Everybody's Talkin' is splendid, wait until you get to Whiskey Poet. This is a pure masterpiece of songwriting. Expect Whiskey Poet to be covered ad nauseum by other artists in the near and distant future; it's a classic. Lady Luck is an ode to its namesake, done in a powerful Americana arrangement that is not easily forgotten. West then closes out The Promise with Turn The Wheel, a song about the cyclical nature of time. Turn The Wheel is an amazing bit of songwriting, full of wisdom, nuance and maturity that seems beyond West's years (but is obviously not).

Corinne West is special. There are a number of great songwriters in the Folk world, but West has a gift for making the moments and people in her songs come alive. She writes wonderfully; her arrangements are gorgeous, and her voice draws you in, wraps it's arms around you and doesn't let go. The Promise is destined to be one of the top Folk albums of 2009.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Corinne West at or, where you can purchase a copy of The Promise.

Review: Brant Christopher - Climb

Brant Christopher - Climb
2009, Brant Christopher

Brant Christopher is known to many as the front man for Koch Records' Fort Pastor. Fort Pastor is currently on hiatus, and Christopher has become involved, professionally and musically, with an organization called the Not For Sale Campaign, which seeks to end slavery around the world. Christopher is the Not For Sale Campaign's Artist-in-Residence, and has dedicated all proceeds from his latest solo album, Climb, to that program. A resident of Rockledge, Florida and native of Manchester, New Hampshire, Christopher has long sought to marry his music to social activism, and saw the opportunity with the Not For Sale Campaign.

Christopher gets into the gear with the title track, a song about not giving up when times get difficult and striving for what's right. It's a soulful tune with a hard edge that's a surprisingly pleasant listen. Criminal sounds like it's written from the perspective of Jesus, an accusatory song that might be aimed at Judas. This is confusing because it seems out of character, and I am guessing there is another explanation for the song. Either way, Criminal is steeped in Funk and Soul and will make you want to dance. Didn't Know seems to speak about those who are in bondage or whose economic and societal circumstances leave them without any say in their own lives. It's a heartfelt song that is told more as a story than a testimonial and likely has more power for that fact. The songwriting here is very strong.

Grace is a song of praise and thanks to God for his love and forgiveness in spite of (or because of) the narrator's shortcomings. It's not your typical praise song, written as something of a country ballad. It's a great tune with real commercial potential (to give you an idea, if written as a secular love song this would be a big hit on Country radio). Not For Sale is a beautiful ballad steeped in the Christian belief that all people are saved through the Crucifixion and Rising of Jesus; ("Love is not for sale, the debts already paid, the trade already made. Love is not for sale, to the least of these it's free, and the least of these is me.") It's a great song, sure to be under-appreciated outside of Christian circles because of the content. Shoes For Margaret is an incredibly touching song about the sort of sudden total loss most of us luckily never encounter. It's a stark reminder of the fact that there are many places around the world where people don't enjoy the social and economic advantages we have here in the West. Christopher closes out with What Do I Know, a decent mellow pop tune about trying to forget someone who's taken themselves out of your life that's reminiscent of some of the adult contemporary singer-songwriters of the 1970's and 1980's (Dan Hill, Dan Fogelberg, etc.).

Brant Christopher has a slightly gravelly-yet-lyric voice that's a pleasure to listen to, and songwriting acumen that is its peer. There's strong Judeo-Christian content on Climb, whether simply inspiring songs to actual prayer/praise in song. Eschewing the trends of Praise music, however, Christopher chooses to tell stories and weave webs that inspire and may even change hearts. If you're anti-Contemporary Christian Music there's nothing I can say to convince you, but Climb is a wonderfully written and performed album. Brant Christopher is good enough to make it in the world of mainstream Pop, but chooses to live where he's most comfortable; where faith, music and social activism blend into one. He's onto something.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Brant Christopher at You can learn more about the Not For Sale Campaign at You can order Climb as either a CD or a download from

Review: The Primary - People Going Places

The Primary - People Going Places
2008, The Primary

The Primary is a Dallas, Texas based quartet that’s been together since 2007. Active on the local club circuit, The Primary has experimented with numerous style and sounds (Pop/Rock/Jazz/Electronica/Classical) in their time together, mixing and matching sounds over time. That process of experimentation continues on their debut album, People Going Places.

People Going Places kicks off with Getting Strange, an oddly disjoined song that sounds like a mix of styles. There's a Police-inspired rhythm section including guitar, a vocalist who sounds like he's from the school of depressed New Wave Brit-Pop singers and a guitar player playing a counter-intuitive parallel to the vocal line. It honestly sounds like lines from two or three songs thrown together in a mix that doesn't entirely run afoul of the individual parts but never really gels. Exit follows a similar path, suggesting an Avant-Garde leaning in the band. Call Off Your Dogs I frankly didn't enjoy, although the song is built around a blistering guitar line that offers hope. The Primary mellows out a bit on For You, a dreamy pop tune that works well with Joshua Vasquez's voice.

You'll have to wade through A Life and Dear Old Friend to get to Heart Of Darkness, featuring a slightly heavier sound played in metronomic fashion. This is the best composition on the disc even as it ranges through experimental and psychedelic temperaments. The Primary closes out with The Last Breath, which returns more toward the morbid, droning side of the spectrum.

The Primary has an interesting sound that's quite unrefined and a bit too shoe-gaze without having any real driving force behind the songs. There's also a tendency toward over-filling the musical space that results in periods of sonic mess or sonic discomfort on People Going Places. It will be interesting to see how The Primary's sound develops over time. There's potential here, but they're still searching for their sound.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Primary at or People Going Places appears to be at the demo stage, with final mastering still to come, but watch for availability on The Primary’s website and/or MySpace page.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review: Blackberry Smoke - Little Piece Of Dixie

Blackberry Smoke - Little Piece Of Dixie
2009, BamaJam Records

It's now the end of September, 2009, and I have been waiting all year for a truly kick-a$$ rock album to cross my desk. We've had some decent efforts; albums with strong songs but nothing that really melts your face from the opening chord to the last faded rhythm. Until now. Atlanta's Blackberry Smoke releases their sophomore album on September 29, 2009. Little Piece Of Dixie rocks hard with country and blues riffs and a southern fervor that hasn't been seen on the rock scene in close to twenty years. This is outlaw country, Rock N Roll style, and if you get in their way you'll be swept up in the musical powerhouse that is Blackberry Smoke.

Little Piece Of Dixie opens with Good One Comin' On, the ultimate Rock N Roll weekend party song. If you pine away all week for that first beer on Friday night then this one is for you. Charlie Starr's voice fits perfectly into the band's sound, and the energy never wavers. Like I Am is a classic theme with a twist. Can you love me like I am? It's very well written with Country and Blues informing the heavy rock sound. Bottom Of This is dark and virulently catchy; a guy's tune, to be sure, but it might just help rekindle a lost genre, Hard Country. Up In Smoke sounds like a song you just need to hear live. It's incredibly catchy with thrilling guitar work, and very danceable.

Who Invented The Wheel is a classic. The narrator here is looking for anyone to blame for the downfall of his relationship. Anyone but himself, that is. This one will play well to commercial radio because we've all been there at one time or another; the theme is universal and the arrangement is flawless. I'd Be Lyin' takes Like I Am a few steps further in a highly entertaining bit of Outlaw Country-Rock. Here the narrator tells you not only what he's like, but also things that he's done, thought or said. Blackberry Smoke has a great populist theme for troubled times in Prayer For The Little Man. The sound here is toned down more to the country side, and would likely play well on Country radio. Never ones to rest, Blackberry Smoke jump right back into the heavy rock sound with Restless. This is a tune about a guy whose appetites are out of control, and is well captured in song. Shake Your Magnolia is a catchy Country-Rock tune that could cross over genres and would be a strong commercial candidate for Country Radio. Blackberry Jam closes out with Freedom Song, a fun extended jam with a little bit of Grateful Dead (on steroids) in its ancestry.

Blackberry Smoke knows how to rock. What's more, producer Dan Huff (Megadeth, Bon Jovi, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts) has managed to capture the raw energy that fills Blackberry Smoke's live shows on Little Piece Of Dixie. This might just be the best pure Rock N Roll album of the year, and it should be in the conversation on the country side. Expect Blackberry Smoke to be all over the radio this fall.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Blackberry Smoke at or Little Piece Of Dixie drops September 29, 2009. You can pre-order the CD through Expect wide availability in both digital and traditional formats.

Review: Chris Smither - Time Stands Still

Chris Smither - Time Stands Still
2009, Signature Sounds/Mighty Albert

Chris Smither has been playing his mixture of Blues and Folk music for audience for four decades now, dealing with primal emotions and human frailty in honest, illuminating songs that celebrate the shortcomings of mankind rather than become bogged down in them. On September 29, Smither releases his eleventh album, Time Stands Still. The mix of original tunes and covers on Time Stands Still was recorded in just three days, with the songs stripped down to their most elemental forms. Producer/guitarist David "Goody" Goodrich and drummer Zak Trojano are the only other personnel on the album.

Smither opens with the Acoustic Blues & Folk of Don't Call Me Stranger. The song, or at leas he narrator, is depraved, decadent and highly entertaining. The guitar work here is exquisite. In the course of our lives, there are certain moments that are burned into our consciousness forever. Smither documents just such a moment in Time Stands Still. Smither's voice is gravelly and falls somewhere between a Mississippi drawl and a Nawlins Cajun flavored palette. It's not a pretty voice, but it sure is captivating. Surprise, Surprise is a definite highlight; highly catchy Acoustic Blues. The star song on the CD is I Don't Know. Written as a tongue-in-cheek observation and objectification of parenting, I Don't Know is both funny and wise, with an arrangement that wraps around it like a comfortable sweater. The wisdom and wit boil over into Call Yourself, which has one of the more memorable melodies on the disc.

I Told You So features some of the finest guitar work on the disc (and that's saying a great deal). Folk, Rock and Blues all find their way into this exquisite arrangement. Bob Dylan gets a little face time with Smither's cover of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry; a song about heartache and loss. The cover is well done, although I didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of the disc (to be fair, it's not one of my favorite Dylan songs). Miner's Blues, on the other hand, features some wonderful fingerpick Blues guitar. The Frank Hutchison classic gets top shelf treatment. Time Stands Still closes out with a cover of Mark Knopfler's Madame Geneva's, with Smither peeling back the layers on a great modern tune and revealing, in his own fashion, what a truly wonderful song it is.

In spite of being around for a long time, Chris Smither is an artist I'd managed not to be familiar with in advance of the review. Smither doesn't have a pretty voice, but it's one that compels you to listen, and is boiled down from the voices of the great Bluesmen of the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. His guitar work is breathtaking and you really couldn't ask more of him as a songwriter. The performances on Time Stands Still make me want to go out and find copies of his other albums. If your tastes run to Folk or Blues then you need to spend some time getting to know Chris Smither. Time Stands Still is essential.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Chris Smither at or Time Stands Still drops on September 29, 2009. You can pre-order the CD at Expect wide availability in both digital and traditional formats.

Review: Twin Atlantic - Vivarium

Twin Atlantic - Vivarium
2009, Red Bull Records

Scottish rockers Twin Atlantic exploded onto the American Scene this month with the release of Vivarium. With great press in the UK, a UK tour supporting Taking Back Sunday and performances with Smashing Pumpkins, Circa Survive and The Subways, Twin Atlantic have already proved they can play with the big boys. Vivarium marks Twin Atlantic's first foray across the Atlantic and the band will be touring the United States this fall.

Twin Atlantic opens Vivarium with Lightspeed, a distortion-filled rocker that's perfect for Modern Rock Radio. This has hit written all over it, with an anthem-like feel. It's just too bad this album didn't arrive running up to the summer as this would be a perfect summer song. Old Grey Face (And The Way Of The Magenta) retains a distinctive pop sensibility while rocking out in perfect radio fashion. Sam McTrusty's voice is a strong rock voice, made that much more interesting for US audiences by the distinctive Scottish bur. Old Grey Face devolves into guitar chaos in the breakdown, suddenly right itself and returning to form before abruptly transitioning into You're Turning Into John Wayne. Twin Atlantic explores the dichotomy of Europe's fascination/hatred of America. On one hand, some in Europe decry American Culture while adopting American music, culture and styles and even purchasing many products from here. The narrator here wants to find out what it means to be American to learn what's true. It's a well-written, intelligent song that also rocks.

Caribbean War Syndrome seems to take relationships and war overlay one on the other in terms of the tactics, advances and retreats of the relationship. The song is well written and takes on some progressive tendencies in the instrumentation. What Is Light? Where Is After? has a big crunchy guitar sound that may tend to fare it well on commercial radio. It's not my favorite song on the disc but I can see how it may have some real commercial punch. Audience And Audio is very catchy and shows tendencies to work down a progressive path, launching into extended instrumental interludes full of guitar, distortion and atypical elements for modern rock. Twin Atlantic closes with Better Weather, an introspective, wider-ranging rock tune that shows some of the grandiosity of U2.

Vivarium is a strong if somewhat mixed introduction to Twin Atlantic. Most of it played very well. The band ranges from pure Modern Rock to an almost Rush-like progressive sense with the pop grandeur of U2 thrown in on occasion. Not everything here works, but enough of it does to turn Vivarium into a potential big seller this fall. Either way, I suspect this won't be Twin Atlantic's last tour on this side of the Atlantic.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Twin Atlantic at or Vivarium is available for download via iTunes. Official US release date is September 29, 2009, although no online outlets are not as of publication. You can always buy the UK import from if you can’t wait.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Joséphine Ancelle - The I Love You's

Joséphine Ancelle - The I Love You's
2009, Joséphine Ancelle

Joséphine Ancelle left home in Paris at the tender age of 17, moving to Montreal in pursuit of her dream, a career in music. Her two years there found her joining The People's Gospel Choir Of Montreal and winning a Vibe Award with that group. All the while she was biding her time for the jump to New York City, the center of the music world in her eyes. Ancelle threw herself into the city's music scene. She wrote and recorded her debut album, Unfinished Life (2007), which received rave reviews from around the world (including here at Wildy's World), and continued to grow as both an artist and a person. Two years later that growth is exceedingly evident on her follow-up EP, The I Love You's.

Ancelle has one of those voices where you just hope she never stops singing, and that hasn't changed, but the quality of her songwriting has matured significantly in the two years that have passed since Unfinished Life was released. Ancelle's ability to project herself honestly into her songs is both breathtaking and refreshing. She doesn't waste a moment, opening with Les "Je T'aime" (The I Love You's); a brilliant bit of folk pop done primarily in English but with some French as well. It's a childlike yet mature perspective on love and has serious commercial potential. Si C'Etait La is a gorgeous francophone ballad. My 20+ year old high school French can't keep up with Ancelle, but her voice soars like that of an angel. The arrangement is wonderfully lush and the melody is subtle but unforgettable.

Half Of Me reminds me seriously of Lisa Loeb. Ancelle has that same nerdy/sexy emotional un-sureness that Loeb personified in the mid-1990's. This is a love song that's highly personal, highly vulnerable, and very highly licensable. I Think Of You is a lovely English/French song of longing. There is something incredibly pure and heartfelt about Ancelle's singing style here, and the arrangement is amazing. Ancelle ends on a high note: I'm Happy captures the amazement and "floating" feeling of new love perfectly in song. There are no filters here; no attempt to make things sound like a storybook. It's just pure emotion, honest written and transfer from heart to voice and heart to guitar. The song is brilliant.

If I have one complaint about The I Love You's, it's that the CD is only five songs long. The EP is an amazing leap forward from a highly talented artist whose limits are likely as high or low as she sets them herself. In our review of Ancelle's debut album and in this review we have noted similarities or resemblances to other artists, but I have a feeling it won't be too long before we and other folks in the music media are comparing new and up-coming artists to Joséphine Ancelle. The I Love You's is brilliant, a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Make sure you check it out.

Review: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Joséphine Ancelle on MySpace or Facebook, and you can follow here on Twitter! The I Love You’s will be released on or about the first week in October here in the US, and will debut at a show on September 28, 2009 in Paris, France. Keep checking her MySpace page for availability.

Review: Rosanne Cash - The List

Rosanne Cash - The List
2009, EMI/Manhattan Records

The List is something of a legend. When it became clear Rosanne Cash wanted to follow in her father's footsteps as a performer, Johnny Cash gave her a list of 100 songs to learn as her musical education. The list contained some of the greatest songs of the twentieth century from across all genres (Country, Jazz Blues, Folk, Bluegrass and even Pop). Rosanne Cash has considered doing a covers album for a few years now, and ultimately decided to go back to her musical roots as laid out by her Dad. The List, coming October 6, 2009, contains twelve songs from that venerable document, and is one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2009.

Cash opens with Bill Halley's Miss The Mississippi And You done in a luscious jazz arrangement. Cash shows elements of her Dad in her voice amid some subtle and thrilling guitar work. Motherless Children (Gary Davis) gets a Country/Blues treatment that's extremely well done. Cash is in her best and most affecting voice here. Bruce Springsteen makes a cameo on Don Gibson's Sea Of Heartbreak; a classic song of loneliness. Springsteen is the biggest surprise here, offering up an unusually reserved vocal performance that is a brilliant counterpoint to Cash's voice.

You know that no such List would forget Hank Williams. His Take These Chains From My Heart gets covered here in magical fashion. Rosanne Cash is on her game; and Ol Hank and Johnny would both be very proud of this rendition. Cash plays I'm Movin' On (Hank Snow) as a wonderfully slinky blues tune that is absolutely addicting. I remember hearing the refrain of this song repeatedly as a child on television commercials for Time-Life collections back when they were only available on LP. The song is an enduring one, and Cash keeps the spirit of the original firmly alive while giving it new life. Heartaches By The Number (Ray Price) features Elvis Costello on backing vocals in a tried-and-true rendition that stays very close to the original.

Perhaps the highlight of the disc is Long Black Veil. Mistaken identity, murder and an illicit love affair don't add up quite the way you'd expect in this classic tune that offers observations from beyond the veil. Cash is reverential in her reader of the Danny Dill/Marijohn Wilkin classic made famous by Lefty Frizzell. Wilco's Jeff Tweedy sits in. Up next is a Hank Cochran tune made famous by Patsy Cline; She's Got You has been covered by some many people over the years that the names blend into relative anonymity. Cash brings a fresh sense to this classic in a lush, weaving arrangement you won't soon forget. Bob Dylan's Girl From The North Country is up next in an arrangement that isn't too far removed from the one used by Dylan and dad Johnny back in 1969. If you're not familiar with this tune, you'll note some of the similarities between this song and Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair. Dylan borrowed a line from Scarborough Fair after learning a lot of British Folk music while staying in London. Cash covers Merle Haggard with the help of Rufus Wainwright on Silver Wings. It's a mellow pop/country arrangement; not my favorite version of the song but not bad. Cash says goodnight with Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow as if she were born to sing the Carter Family classic. It's a brilliant way to close out the disc.

The List is bound to be a popular release this year, and helps explain a lot about Rosanne Cash's musical choices over the years. With eighty-eight more songs that were passed down from father to daughter, don't be entirely surprised if a volume II follows down the road. For now, The List is an estimable collection of classic songs that should be a balm for the soul of fans of classic country music.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Rosanne Cash at The List drops on October 6, 2009. You can pre-order your copy through Expect wide availability both on the net and at bricks and mortar, as well as via download. Cash will debut the material from The List on WNYC's Soundcheck on September 23, 2009 at 2:00 PM EDT. You can watch the live webcast here.

Review: Oktayne – Self Explanations

Oktayne – Self Explanations
2008, Chozen Swag Entertainment

Rodeo, California’s Oktayne has a plan. Not one for simply thriving on a dance beat, Oktayne raps and rhymes about whatever is on his mind, whether it’s dreams of being a rap star, social issues, having fun and partying or even bringing a little Barry White smooth to his rhymes. Born in 1987, Oktayne has deep respect for the history of hip-hop, with influences including Ice-T, 2PAC, Jay-Z and Nas. Oktayne’s debut album, Self-Explanations, was released in 2008, and continues a slow-but-steady build in internet buzz.

Self-Explanations opens with What I Am, a declaration of self in song that's fairly stereotypical for Hip-Hop/Rap. The rhymes here are strong but Oktayne doesn't really offer much that's new or interesting. Hat Game is a bit perplexing. I had a hard time figuring out whether Oktayne is praising the trend of wearing/collecting different team hats or making fun of it. On one hand there's a fair amount of sports knowledge and love expressed by the song, but there's also a tendency in the song to change teams like the wind depending on whose winning. I Am Tayne is a much better intro song that the opening track. Oktayne gives you a look at who he is and why. Unlike a lot of popular rap artists who might decry the world for their own betterment, Oktayne gives the impression that he lives for the music itself.

Oktayne takes some time to praise the fairer sex on I Wanna Be High. Barry White smiles benevolently on this song as someone finally figures out how to bring the slow jam vibe to a rap song and does it right. Oktayne is a student of Hip-Hop as well as a performer, and pays tribute to its Soul and Funk roots on California Soul. Oktayne distinguishes himself in the Rap world with Neva; a gooey love song that says all the right things about love, commitment and family. It's a positive image that is often left aside in popular rap. Sexademic, however, could have been written by Luke Campbell himself. Fans of old 2 Live Crew material will love it.

Juicii shares mic time on Till The Sun Up; an entertaining if highly charged song about sex. I guess it's no good being a rap star if you can't brag about your prowess a little. Sosa The Champ sits in on Hold It Down, a great danceable song with real commercial possibilities. Sex appeal and dancing come together on Fast To The Ground, where it's all about the booty. This should score big for Oktayne on the club scene. There's real potential here. The dance-oriented material continues on Leaving With Me, although this tune is a bit more bland. Oktayne gives listeners a tour inside his mind with The Dreamer, a song about striving for what you want; growing up and taking responsibility for your own destiny. It's a hungry song; a positive message from someone who perhaps hasn't gotten where he wants to be yet but is certainly on the right path.

Oktayne scores major points on See You Again, a touching tribute to his aunt and uncle. See You Again is extremely well written, having a strong narrative that illuminates his loved ones quite well; it's very apparent how strongly he feels and yet done without sounding cliché. Oktayne closes out Self-Explanations by calling his own generation out for their lack of direction and seriousness on Focus. He reaffirms his own drive to succeed and calls on others to take their lives in their hands. This is one of the more energetic performances Oktayne gives on the CD and is my personal favorite.

Oktayne scores big with Self-Explanations. I thought the dance/club material was the weakest on the disc and yet still scores decent marks for quality while providing some of the most marketable songs on the disc. Oktayne is profane at times, but poetically say; he's got a lot to say. While the delivery might not always sit well with all listeners, there's always a dash of good humor in Oktayne's voice that makes even the most difficult of messages go down easier. Self-Explanations has flashes of the poetry of 2PAC, a pop sensibility that Kanye would be proud of, an occasional killer lyrical instinct in the vein of Ice-T and a whole lot of Will Smith's good guy machismo all wrapped up together. Oktayne has a great start here, and he's only going to get better.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Oktayne at or You can purchase Self-Explanations digitally via iTunes.