All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Review: Rachel Allyn - Late Nights And Early Mornings

Rachel Allyn - Late Nights And Early Mornings
2009, Rachel Allyn Music

Rachel Allyn is a little lady with a big voice reminiscent of some of the old-time country greats. But she's not just a country girl; she's a little bit Rock N Roll too. Allyn has put in her time in New York and California and even in the Tennessee 'Tonks, perfecting her sound and performing style and getting ready for this moment. Her debut EP, Late Nights And Early Mornings, is a 100% DIY affair, and provides an exciting musical picture of an emerging talent that isn't about to be contained. She's performed with Bobby Bare, and had impromptu performances with Shania Twain and Gretchen Wilson, but the time may be coming when up-and-coming vocalists brag about singing with her.

Late Nights And Early Mornings opens with Stand Still, a very appealing bit of Country/Rock. Allyn sounds like a classic country vocalist here, not just giving her best vocally but with her personality shining through the song in spades. Allyn sounds like she's enjoying every moment, and that energy, along with the essentially catchiness of the song makes it a great listen. The fact that Stand Still make great mix-tape material just ads to the package. On Bury Myself In Your Arms Tonight, Allyn gives a classic performance with a modern feel that has significant potential to break wide open. This is the sort of love song Country Music Radio has been starving for, and the licensing potential here is huge.

Allyn pulls off the perfect populist anthem on Gettin' By. Anyone who has ever trudged through the day-to-day realizing that their dreams are getting further and further away but never given up will see a bit of themselves here. Again, the commercial potential here is huge, particularly in troubled times. Allyn changes speeds with When The Young Ones Go, an ode to all of those who have given up their lives in wartime and for those left behind. It's a gorgeous and heartfelt tune that is poignant and pointed without getting messy with politics. For all that's come before, however, Allyn saves the best for last. You Drive Me Crazy has the potential to be the sort of monster hit that Nashville just doesn't produce anymore. Country, R&B and Rock blend to create a seriously danceable tune that should be all over the airwaves. Allyn's sweet and sultry voice gives this an extra lift and proves there's hope for country music after all.

Rachel Allyn deserves to be the next big thing in country music. Strong songs, strong performances and a personality that is likeable beyond measure and shines through the songs add up to what might just be the perfect package. If you check out one new country artist in 2009, it should be Rachel Allyn. Late Nights And Early Mornings is a wonderful surprise and a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Get it.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Rachel Allyn at or You can purchase Late Nights And Early Mornings as either a CD or download from

Review: A New Vice - A New Vice

A New Vice - A New Vice
2009, Band-Aid On A Bullet Records

Hollywood, California has long been a good place to pick up a new vice. Perhaps that's the inspiration for A New Vice, a band that's been blowing them away at The Knitting Factory and The House Of Blues. With a reputation for amazing live shows, A New Vice channels that live energy into the self-titled debut album. Managed by Ron Welty (Offspring), A New Vice slots in well amidst bands such as Foo Fighters, 30 Seconds To Mars, Three Days Grace and Nickelback, but carries with them a sense of authenticity and unpretentiousness that is refreshing in the world of Modern Rock.

A New Vice opens with Lights Turning Green, a wonderfully guitar-driven active rock tune with real spirit. Big riffs and hooks are the raison d’ĂȘtre here, and if you listen to the opening the song practically sings its name to you. A New Vice relies on a sing/speak vocal style in the verses that's not exactly rap but isn't too far removed, with more traditional rock choruses added on. Faithfully is a heavy ballad for modern times with great presence and a dynamic vocal line, and is perhaps the most radio-ready track on the disc. The next song, Fake, could almost be an inside joke for the band. Following a song entitled Faithfully, Fake has a cadence in the chorus that sound suspiciously like it was drawn from the Journey song of the same name. The song is instantly memorable with highly emotional vocals and a faux-happy chorus.
Wait For Me expands on the big A New Vice's momentum blending and Emo feel with an almost 1980's Whitesnake style of Rock N Roll. The result is highly entertaining and a great listen. As You Fade finds A New Vice trending more toward the melodramatic side with a highly emotional Rock N Roll song that's enjoyable but begins to show the limitations of the band as well. In essence, vocalist Sash Kuzma is overwrought much of the time he is singing, rarely varying sound, style or approach through the first half of the album. After a while it creates an impression that the songs on A New Vice all sound the same or similar. A New Vice does change things up a bit later on, but the impression is pretty firmly planted by that time. Let Me Go is the first sign of variation, changing approach and intensity a bit. It's a decent song but doesn't manage to shake the overall impression. Thinking About You may be the saving grace of the band in this regard, a true power ballad in which Kuzma shows shades of Freddie Mercury in his most dynamic and engaging performance on the disc. A New Vice closes out with Promises, a vitriolic song that's more style than substance and somewhat reinforces the impression that Kuzma sings essentially at one level only.

A New Vice has real potential, but would be well-served by expanding the horizons just a tad and showing a bit more depth stylistically. Otherwise they are likely to get pigeonholed into the "all their songs sound alike" genre where bands go to whither slowly away. That would be unfortunate, because there is something special about this off-beat quintet. Listening to A New Vice, there's enough here to imagine these guys taking to the biggest stages somewhere down the line. I just think they have a bit more growing to do as a band before they get there.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about A New Vice at or A New Vice’s website seems to suggest the self-titled debut was released in September, 2009, but no on-line outlets are noted. Keep checking the band’s website for details.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: Sharif - Kisses And Lies

Sharif - Kisses And Lies
2008, Cursing Furniture Publishing

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Sharif certainly has significant presence in the music industry. Rave reviews for both his recording and live performances are an indication, but for the real story just take a look at the sort of people pitching in on Sharif’s latest album, Kisses And Lies. His backing band includes Tim Bradshaw (John Mayer, David Gray), Jon Graboff (Ryan Adams), Mark Goldenberg (Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr), Stewart Miles (Jason Mraz, Lifehouse, Shawn Colvin) and Brian Jones (Mandy Moore, Liz Phair). Additionally, appearances by Rhett Miller (The Old 97’s) and Robb MacLean (Limbeck) bring added interest. Kisses And Lies is self-produced and should serve to open a lot of eyes and ears to the talent of Sharif.

Kisses And Lies opens with Far From You, a vibrant and catchy tune about moving on after a relationship. Sharif has a pleasant voice that soars in this setting. Rhett Miller (The Old 97's) sits in on Dark Side Of The Dawn, a great bit of easy Americana about one way to cope with loss. This one will definitely get your toes tapping, and finds Sharif sounding a bit like Jason Plumb playing with Blue Rodeo. Another Wasted Rose is a brilliant bit of songwriting; it's not your typical country song of heartbreak. Very well written, Another Wasted Rose is full of strong imagery and an absolutely unforgettable chorus. There's nothing flashy here, just amazing songwriting. Worth The Fall represents the realization that even a relationship that ended badly was worth the time he had. The song is melancholy and a bit lost in a mix of sorrow and reverie.

By Your Side casts a mid-tempo devotion of expression; it's the classic "I'll Be There For You" statement in song and leads into Oceans Of Trouble. Oceans Of Trouble finds Sharif still mired in his loss; it's all he can think/write/sing about at this point in the album. Sharif goes off the beaten path a bit with The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, a vaguely off but highly enjoyable song. Sharif celebrates the joy of love on Deeper In Her Arms. The upbeat Americana arrangement has a great sound, border on early Rock N Roll with an R&B backbeat. Sharif seems to struggle a bit for much of the rest of the album, which songs such as Memories Like A Melody, The Price You Pay, Do I Want You Enough and Moment Of Trust having a marginal impression on the public at large. Sharif recovers in time for the last track, however. I Won't Need Your Kisses Anymore is a great closer. The energy that was lost for much of the second half of the album returns in a Blues-flavored, old school Country tune you won't soon forget.

Sharif turns in both great songwriting and performance efforts on Kisses And Liars. The first half of the album is absolutely brilliant while the second half gets mired in itself. It's as if all of the strongest material was placed on the album first and then weaker tracks were added later on. Don't get me wrong, the weaker tracks here don't necessarily equate to a problem, they just don't stand up well against the superior quality songwriting evident on the first half of the album. Either way, Kisses And Liars is worth checking out.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sharif at or You can purchase Kisses And Lies as either a CD or download from

Review: Voice Of Addiction – Re-Evolution

Voice Of Addiction – Re-Evolution
2009, Voice Of Addiction

Chicago’s Voice Of Addiction follows the old Punk ethos of anarchy, calling for revolution to dismantle the wheels of progress. Whether this is posture or pride is always up for debate, but they certainly make their points in convincing fashion. Voice Of Addiction’s debut album, Re-Evolution shows rough edges but a level of enthusiasm and drive that may just wear those edges down to a smooth, sleep surface in time.

Voice Of Addiction kicks off with the title track, a catchy Punk/Pop tune with some surf guitar thrown in for good measure. The song is very enjoyable with great energy and excitement from the band. Got Your Number is a decent track, if a little on the bland side. The Walls seems to capture Voice Of Addiction right where they live and me be the most accurate snapshot available of the band. The Walls has great energy and is highly inventive. It’s also a bit messy in the process, but the band’s pure joy at creative music shines through every note. Right! Now! I honestly didn’t care much for, but Grease The Wheel more than made up for it. Grease The Wheel is a highly catchy and radio-friendly ska-flavored tune. The only complaint here is that the vocal line occasionally gets washed out by a mix of production decisions and less-than-ideal enunciation from lead vocalist Ian Tomele. Voice Of Addiction says goodnight with Martyr, a catchy Ska-verse that launches into a thrilling guitar-driven chorus.

Voice Of Addiction doesn’t come across as the most polished act in the Indie music scene, but their energy and enthusiasm more than make up for any casual rough edges. Re-evolution is an affable introduction to the band, and the title seems apropos for their messy-but-lovable musical persona. Voice Of Addiction is a band to watch, friends. I am not sure where they’re headed, but the trip ought to be gratifying.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Voice Of Addiction at or You can purchase a copy of Re-Evolution from

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: The Nadas - Almanac

The Nadas - Almanac
2009, Authentic Records

The Nadas are coming back with new material in 2009, an album entitled Almanac that might just be their best work yet. Almanac is being recorded as a year-long project with one new song available through the band’s website on the last day of each month. Coming off 2008's transitional The Ghosts Inside These Walls, The Nadas are in top form on the nine songs completed thus far for Almanac. We here at Wildy's World recently had a chance to check them out.

The Nadas open Almanac with a radio-ready hit in Bitter Love. The melody is highly memorable and the production is solid. Mike Butterworth shines on vocals. Dodged A Bullet is a glass half empty about a relationship that's going someplace. There's real pop sensibility here and the string arrangement makes the song. Wrecking Ball is catchy and perhaps even danceable. Butterworth's vocals stand out as a highlight. Call Me could be a big song for The Nadas. It's a theme for anyone who's been dumped and is looking for a second chance. You'll find yourself singing and nodding along, as the chorus has a universal feel to it that suggests the universality of the lyrics.

Last To Know is a mid-tempo number about being in a relationship with someone you simply cannot read. The tune is mildly catchy and is very well-written. Hear That Sound gives The Nadas a third song with real commercial pop; a Wallflowers-esque number that could do well both with radio and in the licensing realm. Crystal Clear is an understated-yet-powerful little Rock song. The emotional content here is high; with real tension and deep-seated anxiety wrapped in a carefully adventurous spirit. The Nadas close out with All I Want, a great piece of Rock N Roll. The melody here is memorable and the vocal harmonies are gorgeous.

The Nadas take a big step forward on Almanac, their seventh studio album. While not complete, we were able to review 9 songs of an expected 12 or so. They could stop now and have a hit album. The Nadas have come a long way in a year, and Almanac promises to be brilliant.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Nadas at or The Nadas have several packages available for the purchase of Almanac. Check them out here!

Review: Wild Light - Adult Nights

Wild Light - Adult Nights
2009, Star Time International/Columbia Records

New Hampshire's own Wild Light seems to be on a major upward trajectory the past two years. From rave reviews by the LA Times and features in Rolling Stone, SPIN and Paste to a knockout performance at this year's SXSW festival, Wild Light seems to have the world on their platter. Their debut album, Adult Nights, looks to continue the run, supported by a tour with Irish rockers Bell X1.

Adult Nights amounts to two really good songs sandwiching ten mediocre songs. California On My Mind is a strong Pop/Americana tune that's very listenable. Unfortunately the song has little chance of strong commercial radio exposure. By the time the censors finish with the chorus there's little lyrical content to hear. The language is excessive and probably done more for shock value than anything else. This is unfortunate as it's actually a decent song. The closing number, Red House, is the best song on the disc. It's too bad it's saved for the final track as most listeners will never get this far. In between there's a lot of music with little energy. Exceptions are Call Me Home, which raises the energy level to a healthy deep breath, and My Father Was A Horse, where a little bit of effort and some cheesy Pop make for a decent listen. The rest is listenable, but bland and lifeless to the point of somnolence.

Wild Light essentially sleepwalks through Adult Nights, leaving a less-than-shining impression on a first time listener. The songwriting is bland with an energy level that competes for minimalist standing. Two decent tracks and two marginal tracks are the highlight of the experience. Adult Nights proves one concept: If this is what it's like to be an adult, who wants to grow up?

Rating: 1.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Wild Light at You can purchase a copy of Adult Nights from, or a download from iTunes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review: The Nadas - Ghosts Inside These Halls

The Nadas - Ghosts Inside These Halls
2008, Authentic Records

Des Moines, Iowa road warriors The Nadas have been bringing their music to the Midwest masses for fifteen years now, touring, most recently, in Meatloaf's old tour bus (which they've affectionately dubbed "Meatloaf"). A modern success story, The Nadas live in relative anonymity in spite of independently selling more than 75,000 CDs through their own label, Authentic Records. The Ghosts Inside These Walls, their sixth album, finds The Nadas striking out on their own, bringing production duties in-house (their two previous albums were produced by Todd and Toby Pipes of Deep Blue Something). The results are sort of a musical mid-life crisis for the band, trying to blend their traditional sound with a maturing maturity in song-writing focus. As crises go, Ghosts Inside These Walls turns out pretty well. But don't let that sense of maturity frighten you; this is still the same band that finished in the final four in Bon Jovi's Have A Nice Day band competition.

Ghosts Inside These Halls opens with Loser; a down-tempo track provides album with its name in the opening line. Loser sounds like a classic teenage underdog song that would fit perfectly in that sort of movie, and it's an intriguing opening. Blue Lights might be the best musical "parking" reference this side of Paradise By The Dashboard Light. While nowhere near as enigmatic as the Meatloaf song, Blue Lights is very well written and tuneful. There's more of a Wallflowers aesthetic than bombast here. Pieces On The Ground is a great piece of Pop/Americana. Strong songwriting, good hooks and poetic lyrics drive this up-tempo number.

Something's Burning is a highly pensive song about self-sabotage in relationships. It's a reminder that all we build can be torn down by passive anger and decay. The story is well-told in song and the arrangement is great! Alaska is my favorite song on the disc; an upbeat country tune about returning to where you come from or where you belong. My favorite performance, on the other hand, is Hammer Down, a big Southern Rock/Country anthem with vibrant guitar work and a real edge. The album closes out with a hidden track that sounds like the band is messing around and vamping in Spanish. The highlight of this exercise is the inclusion of a classic Steve Martin line.

There are a couple of bland moments on Ghosts Inside These Halls, but they are the exceptions rather than the rules. The Nadas present as a young band new to their found sound; at home but still getting comfortable with their surroundings. Ghosts Inside These Halls is a promising start.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Nadas at or You can purchase Ghosts Inside These Halls as either a CD or download from Authentic Records.

Review: Drive-In Saturday - Drive-In Saturday

Drive-In Saturday - Drive-In Saturday
2009, Drive-In Saturday

Drive In Saturday has been making the rounds on the East Coast of the US for about fourteen months now, building a small by loyal following thus far. Lead singer/bassist/guitarist Michael Shanahan stands center stage, supported by former Vector Red guitarist Brian Moureau and drummer Jeff Mitler. Drive In Saturday surprises and pleases with slightly off-kilter Pop/Rock songs that will surprise you and keep you engaged. Drive In Saturday recently sent us their self-titled EP (I'm not sure if it's going to be an official release or just a demo).

Drive In Saturday sounds a bit like Toad The Wet Sprocket with some muscle. Vocalist Mike Shanahan doesn't sound much like Glen Phillips, but the musical style and sound presented on the EP is very similar. Drive In Saturday opens with The Better Part, a tune so familiar I found myself checking the lyrics on the internet to see who else had recorded it. Suffice it to say I could find no matches, but this is the sort of tune that gets your attention quickly. Highly catchy, it would be a surefire hit if it could get traction at commercial radio. Dreaming is a decent Rock tune; a bit on the bland side but very listenable. Mushy is probably aptly titled and is the weakest track on the disc, but Drive In Saturday rebounds nicely with Douse Me Out, a big, powerful Rock song with real Pop sensibility and big hooks. It's a great bar/party tune that might play well to radio as well.

Drive In Saturday offers up an intriguing morsel in the form of their self-titled EP. Two great songs and two okay songs is a pretty strong ratio, and leave us looking forward to what Drive In Saturday might do next. I would definitely take the time to acquaint myself with Drive In Saturday if I were you. Great things could be afoot.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Drive-In Saturday at Drive-In Saturday appears to be a demo recording, as there are no purchase points online nor any mention of the CD on the band’s MySpace page. Nevertheless, if you reach out to the band there, they might be willing to sell you a copy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Jeff Litman - Postscript

Jeff Litman - Postscript
2009, Born Enormous Music

New York City singer/songwriter Jeff Litman was born in Minneapolis, and was devouring hard rock and metal songbooks by the age of ten. Litman went from Bon Jovi and Motley Crue to Metallica, Guns N Roses and Nirvana before becoming ensnared in the melodic Pop of acts such as Elvis Costello, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Litman's next step was into classical music, entering a doctoral program before realizing that his true love lay in Rock and Pop. Litman began writing almost immediately for his debut album. The result, Postscript, promises Indie-Pop with big hooks, infectious melodies and a classic sense that universal themes of love and heartbreak always bring. Postscript is a breakup album, and Litman's refreshing honesty places the listener not so much in the role of observer but directly into reverie.

Postscript is a story within an album, following the rise and fall of a relationship, including the aftermath. It is written at a distance from the events that perhaps allow more perspective, but the raw emotional content is very real, if tempered by time. Postscript opens with Anna, a catchy song about unrequited love that will definitely get your toes tapping. A Beatles influence is very clear here and the backing vocals are superb. This is a complete song; a classic. Complicate digs into the emotional consequences of a breakup. It's a sunny tune full of regret and melancholy. Wife is a song that could put Litman on the Popular Music map; a marriage proposal in song. The gorgeous arrangement, including strings centers on acoustic guitar and Litman's voice. Don't be surprised if Wife gets licensed and recorded by other artists down the line. Either way the song is destined to become a wedding song of choice and is also likely to be co-opted for individual proposals over time.

From that emotional high Litman dips down to the emotional low of Everything You're Not; an upbeat, Beatles-inspired song of hopeful spite. Litman then shifts gears into full-on Rock N Roll in Detroit Layover. If you've ever been stuck someplace out of your control and just wanted to get home then this song will speak to you. It's very upbeat and danceable and has a classic sound that will appeal across genre lines. Postscript is one of those albums where it becomes difficult to pick a favorite song, but one of the contenders has to be Maine. Litman sings a duet with Kelly Jones on another song about going home. This is one of those songs that simply sounds perfect in presentation, and Jones has an amazing voice that complements Litman's perfectly.

Knock Me Down will get you up and moving. This active-rock song is presented in a brilliant arrangement with amazing vocal harmonies and a melody that won't quit on you. Postscript is another candidate for favorite song; it's a theatrical tune about the end and aftermath of a relationship. Postscript is stark and melancholy without being whiny, and is one of the better Pop songs written/released in 2009. Open Arms represents the bargaining phase of grief. He's willing to take her back temporarily for the joy of it even it means she'll rip his world apart all over again. Litman never begs during Open Arms but that's only a semantic justification. Open Arms shows a tremendous balance of lyrics, melody and arrangement in a wonderful pop tune that isn't far behind Postscript. Let You Go chronicles the Acceptance phase of loss with a song that sounds like it was heavily influenced by Elvis Costello. Litman closes out with It Wasn't Me. This epilogue is stark and honest and unfettered by sorrow. Litman sees everything from the distance and perspective of time with his healing mostly done; it's a fitting close.

There are albums you see coming from a mile away; the artist reputation, the cover art, the buzz all combine to create an understanding of what you're getting into. But every once in a while an album takes you by surprise. Jeff Litman's Postscript is in this latter category. Postscript is a brilliant display of songwriting and performance. The songs are subtle, nuanced and intelligently written and the album is an absolute pleasure from beginning to end. There isn't a poor song on the album, and Litman delivers each with an aplomb that grows from the intersection of artfulness and grace. Postscript is brilliant; a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Make the time.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jeff Litman at or You can purchase Postscript as either a CD or download from

Review: Schocholautte - Oodles Of Charm

Schocholautte - Oodles Of Charm
2009, Chocolate Brontosaurus Records

Brooklyn trio Schocholautte came together because of a Craigslist ad in 2007. Michael P. Sincavage (vox/guitar); Kris Randazzo (drums) and Artie Tan (bass) combine a high-energy performing style with sensitivity and an avid Pop sensibility that's a rare combination. Their debut EP, Oodles Of Charm is just the appetizer their fans need while they work on their full length debut CD and madly tour the Northeast US. With the help of producer Dean Baltulonis (Bouncing Souls, The Holdsteady), Schocholautte has created one of the more intriguing debut EPs of 2009.

Oodles Of Charm opens with vibrant Rock N Roll with a punk ethic in the form of Mercedez Benz. It's clear right from the get go that Schocholautte loves to plat around and have fun with the music, although they seem to lose track of where they started from time to time. Spin The Bottle is a vibrant bit of Rock N Roll that's a bit messy about the seams. The songwriting and vocals aren't top notch, but Schocholautte more than makes up for any deficits with exuberant, high energy performances. Haley, Please is something of a mess; starting well but falling into a repetitive trap akin to the emotional circles a pining teenager may go through. Gone is a rough song of loss where once again, exuberance makes up for a lack of songwriting finesse. Swimming Out is catchy but obtuse. Schocholautte shows real pop sensibility but gets a bit lost in their own lyrical constructs. It's an enjoyable, danceable listen but a bit difficult to make real sense out of. Schocholautte closes out with Water On The Coast, the most inventive, original and far-reaching composition on the disc.

Schocholautte is charming in their lack of polish. A Lo-Fi aesthetic mixed with young writing skills and bucket loads of exuberance make for a fun if sometimes exasperating listen. These guys have a finger on strong Pop songwriting, but lyrically leave something to be desired. Oodles Of Charm is a great listen as long as you don't try to make too much out of the words.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Shocholautte at or You can download Oodles Of Charm from iTunes. Physical copies exist, but no on-line outlet was noted.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Mason Daring - Mason Daring

Mason Daring - Mason Daring
2009, Daring Records

Mason Daring has held a significant place in the music world since his entry in the 1970's. From his early performances at Boston's Bull & Finch (later Cheers) to touring with Jeanie Stahl to having his songs recorded by artists such as Rita Moreno and Ruth Brown, Daring has seen all sides of writing and performing. His score work for the films of John Sayles have gained him additional acclaim, and his Daring/Rounder Records has been a significant contributor as well. After so much success, Mason Daring returns to his roots with his self-titled album, revisiting many of his songs that have been made famous by others and offering up his own interpretations.

Mason Daring opens with perhaps Daring's best known composition. Travelin' Man was made famous by Ricky Nelson and still gets regular airplay on Oldies stations. Daring's voice isn't as pretty as Nelson's, but there's an awkward authenticity here that works well. The song itself is a classic, of course, showing a distinctive ability for both lyrics and melody. Too Much is a love song that's a bit off the beaten track; sounding like a classic. Baby Blue and Funny are both outstanding and presented in Daring's off-center yet intriguing voice. Daring saves his best for last on the album, however, with the final five tracks representing some of his best work.

Dixie Taps is set in a strong Americana arrangement. The soaring theme is theatrical in nature and reverberates in your brain. Only For You was my personal favorite. Written in Dixieland style, it's almost as if Daring transports the listener back in time for this musical experience. People Are Talking, likewise, is an incredible piece of songwriting. The melody here sings itself into your consciousness; the lyrics are intelligent and moving. I Be Blue follows the progress from impotent rage to sadness in a great story song that's something of a surprise stylistically but works as well as any other song on the album. Daring closes out with Soldier's Lullaby, a poignant and touching close to the album that's as apropos for today as when it was written.

Mason Daring is a brilliant composer, and it's interesting to hear him offer his own interpretations of his songs here. Mason Daring is a treat for the ears. While Daring's voice might sound like most anyone on the street, the life he breathes into these songs can only come from a creator.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mason Daring at or You can download Mason Daring through Daring’s website using the Nimbit application or from

Review: Asia featuring John Payne - Military Man EP

Asia featuring John Payne - Military Man EP
2009, Voiceprint Records

Asia has had more than one formulation over the years, although the sound has never changed all that radically. John Payne stood at the mic from 1992 to 2006 until the original Asia lineup reformed. Being good guys all around, the original Asia lineup agreed to allow Payne to continue to record and tour under the name "Asia featuring John Payne". Asia featuring John Payne released an EP in the UK earlier this year entitled Military Man; that EP will be released in the US on October 27, 2009. No new material is featured, but new recordings of older Asia tracks are included.

Asia was born of the Prog-goes-Pop movement of the 1980's, and debuted with a sound that wasn't entirely like anyone else. Asia was originally a very original and progressive rock band, but the sound stagnated somewhat over the years and by the early 1990's the original lineup began slowly to move on. Payne carries on with a new band, but instead of taking the opportunity to make a sound more his own, Payne has chosen to copy the sound of the original Asia without bringing the energy or originality that fed that sound. Military Man 2009 opens sounding a bit like Europe's The Final Countdown before falling into a mellow musical doppelganger of the original lineup. Payne is decent on vocals and the song certainly has a martial air but no real life. Long Way From Home 2009 has nice harmonies & construction but no read edge. The sound is complacent and comfortable. Neurosaur is a mild Prog synth-based instrumental that has interesting moments but doesn't stick with the listener. Radio edits of Military Man and Long Way Home close out the set.

The Military Man EP just ends up sounding too canned for its own good. It's as if Asia featuring John Payne is simply trying to recapture the sounds of 1982; but they aren't the same band, literally or figuratively. Perhaps Payne would have better luck with original material. Military Man is disappointing not because it's bad (it's listenable), but because it could have been so much more.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Asia Featuring John Payne at or Military Man will be released in the US on October 27, 2009.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: The Andrew Heringer Band – The Paradise Sessions

The Andrew Heringer Band – The Paradise Sessions
2008, Dawson Records

Sacramento California’s Andrew Heringer is a singer-songwriter who has tied his fortunes to a Rock N Soul Jam Band. Heringer has shown a natural pre-disposition for the stage from his early teens, and his Dave Matthews/Jason Mraz style songwriting has helped him build a steady fan base on the West Coast. The Andrew Heringer Band is currently working on a new album, due out in late 2009 or early 2010, but for today we’ll be checking out their debut, 2008’s The Paradise Sessions.

Heringer opens with Sit & Stare, a song all about the cat & mouse games that come with getting to know someone. It's a great tune with some light jazz flavoring. Heringer's voice is pleasant to listen to with a slightly rough texture. Molly opens with a free-form sax solo that slowly segues into the song called Intro #1. Molly is a loving ode that manages to be catchy; sounding a bit like Rob Thomas meets Dave Matthews. Heringer hits all the right notes on A Thousand Years, a sweet love song set in an acoustic/electric arrangement. The highlight of the album is Release The Funk a delicious Rock instrumental laced with funk and some serious piano chops. The piano and sax combo is reminiscent of the days when Richie Canata played with Billy Joel.

Intro #2, a decent instrumental guitar segue opens up Love To See You Smile. This is a slow love song that tries to be a bit more typical in the ballad category but just never captures the energy you might expect. Heringer goes for epic composition on Goodnight. Lengthy at 6:01, Goodnight goes from straight forward songwriting to Progressive breakdowns before settling back into its base theme. The songwriting is very strong, although the tune does get a bit unfocused at times. Summer Roof gets similar marks, falling so heavily into a jam mentality that the melody gets lost.

The Paradise Sessions speak of many things. Andrew Heringer and his band have a great deal of talent. They write and play well, and they like to jam. They just seem to have a difficulty marrying the songwriter aspect with the jam musician aspect of themselves. The great jam bands can take you on nearly endless detours and suddenly settle into the theme and make you feel like the whole thing was planned. The Andrew Heringer band gives the impression, even on their album, that sometimes the fact that they get back to where they started is almost more luck than planning. This is fine for an Improv band, and there's nothing wrong with flying by the seat of your pants once in a while, but The Paradise Sessions dances right off the tracks at times, making those transitions seem more jarring than at-ease. There's a lot of good here, but the process, perhaps, could use a bit of refining.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Andrew Heringer Band at or You can purchase a copy of The Paradise Sessions from Big Cartel.

Review: Alexandra Celano - I'm Overcome

Alexandra Celano - I'm Overcome
2009, Grace 3313 Publishing

The OC's Alexandra Celano is making her own dreams come true, with a long deferred recording and performance career starting to take off. Celano's debut CD, I'm Overcome features a mix of Pop and Country song with spiritual themes revolving around family, love and faith. With an avid internet following and burgeoning radio play at Christian Internet radio stations as well as internet based Country stations, Celano is on the verge of something big. I'm Overcome expresses her wonder at all while keeping a focus on the spiritual side of life.

Celano takes Praise music back to the roots of Country and Gospel with the bluegrass flavored title track on I'm Overcome. Celano's pleasant alto and country twang are nearly up-staged by the outstanding instrumental play that shows a nearly-classical respect for melody and structure. Celano confirms that twang-ridden alto on I Will Go, but surprises by effortlessly reaching for notes in her upper register and singing just as sweetly as down low. In This Place is contemplative old school Southern Gospel done up in gorgeous vocal harmonies and strings.

Celano mixes things up nicely on Let The River Flow using a rhythmic base and a gospel style small vocal ensemble to fill out the sound. The song itself sticks with the highly polished and gentle feel that pervades I'm Overcome, but it works in this context. You is a prayer of thanks and praise that's sweet and well done but could use just a touch more energy from a performance standpoint. Celano does a character sketch in Grandpa that will hit home for anyone who's ever lost a beloved grandparent or parent. Celano drops a sweet love song in You're Good For Me that's destined to be a mix-tape and perhaps even a wedding song. More Than A Man is an ode to Jesus based on the Christian belief in Salvation through the Crucifixion. Celano moves on to the sweet Dancing Angel before launching into the closing number, A Child Is Born.

Alexandra Celano fills up her songs with faith and a quiet grace that's missing from most modern praise music. This is definitely "Easy Listening" Contemporary Christian Music, lacking any real edge or modern touch but sounding a lot like the classic Country/Gospel albums of the 1970's from folks like Christy Lane and Anne Murray. I suspect I'm Overcome will be most popular with folks who still remember such artists fondly, but the album is well done.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Alexandra Celano at or You can purchase I'm Overcome as either a CD or download from

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: Kristina Morland - Pidgin Music

Kristina Morland - Pidgin Music
2008 Kristina Morland/Kun

Kristina Morland lives the live of the expectant future rock star. She writes incessantly, plays even more, waits tables, and drives from gig to gig in a car two hubcaps short of a full set. Bitten by the music bug early on, writing and recording on a 2-track recorder as early as Elementary School. Formal singing began in Jr. High. Shortly thereafter Morland picked up a guitar and taught herself to play with the help of chord books and pure grit. This Weatherford, Texas native found her way to Fort Worth and got her start playing venues such as The Wreck Room, The Red Star Lounge and The Black Dog. Her debut album, Pidgin Music, was recorded on a shoestring in a friend's closet using 18-bit digital recording.

Pidgin Music opens with acoustic guitar, a child's xylophone and the distinctive voice of Kristina Morland on Razor Wire, a song about emotional baggage and the precarious footing relationships can bring. Morland's voice is distinctive, and there's a sort of distant charm exuded here. That's not to say Morland's voice isn't warm; as you'll see on Birds, her voice is effusively warm and full of rough and soft patches that are both mildly abrasive and comforting, but it becomes clear that Morland is the emotional outside in her songwriting, and that warmth comes with an inner distance; Morland is telling you about herself but at arm's length. Morland does an about face on Taboo, a song of hopeful and playful desire told as a story. Day Dream is a song of indescribable, nearly indecipherable for pragmatic meaning and yet speaking in shadows of great truths.

Morland has a sort of Tori Amos-meets-Edie Brickell aesthetic about her songwriting. Part of it is her distinctive voice and vocal style, but there is deep meaning here wrapped up in poetic muse, usually wrapped in enigma of deep imagery. Such is the case with Calculated Reckoning, a searching song about the meaning of life in terms of Heaven and the afterlife. The song is highly speculative, as need be, in both philosophical and pragmatic terms. The dirge-like quality ads to the supernatural epistemology of the song. The song plays like a scene from a movie; the premise might be the death of a family patriarch who was stern and stubborn but ultimately loving. Mixed emotions fly in what is more a musical vignette than anything else. The presence and power of Morland's songwriting here is unbelievable, and the presentation is spot on.

Circles continues the search for deeper meaning, putting life choices in perspective against the backdrop of the cycle of life. This pragmatic tune on acoustic guitar and strings plays like olde-time wisdom condensed into a song. The result is beautiful and powerful without sounding preachy or condescending. Morland is the master story-teller here, spinning her yarn as easily as a spider spins silk. Morland closes out with Silence, more of a song segment than a full composition itself. The song sounds promising.

Kristina Morland is a great find. Her approach and style will draw listeners in and convert them almost instantly, and her ability to tell believable stories in song is hard to match. With so much at her heels so young, it's to imagine a future where Kristina Morland is not successful with her music. Pidgin Music has depth and maturity in the songwriting, a keen sense for melody and a delivery that's measured yet full of energy. There's no doubt about this one.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kristina Morland at You can purchase a copy of Pidgin Music through, or you can download the album from iTunes.

Review: Iolite - Iolite EP

Iolite - Iolite EP
2009, Iolite

Cincinnati, Ohio's Iolite creates music that runs across the boundaries of Jazz, Blues, Soul, Reggae and R&B. Arianne Benick and Julia Johanan are the prime movers behind Iolite, and strive to write conscientious songs full of wisdom and light. Benick spends here non-music time sewing children's pressure garment for burn victims as Shriner's Hospitals for Children, adding a deeper perspective to her writing and singing. Julia Johannon is a Conservatory trained pianist and composter who plays keys for Iolite and shares in the songwriting duties. The band is rounded out by Shimon Israel on bass; Dan Barger on sax, flute and percussion and revolving committee of drummers made up of friends and associates of the band. Iolite recently released their debut CD, the Iolite EP. It becomes clear quickly that Iolite is headed somewhere.

Iolite is an album fraught with problems but also has some very strong moments. Vocalist Benick has a wonderful sound, warm and rich in vocal tone that lights up her deep, resonant alto. Instrumentally the band is top-notch, seemingly able to tackle almost anything. The difficulties arise not on the technical aspect of the vocal line but the execution. While Benick has a gorgeous voice, there doesn't seem to be much conviction on Iolite. Night opens in a torch style that should be sultry but sounds uninspired. The passion and energy the vocal line calls for just aren't here. Be Wise runs into similar difficulties; Benick has a wonderful voice but the full commitment just isn't here. The question becomes whether Benick is holding back or simply doesn't have the emotional oomph to truly convey what she's thinking. Good + Bad is very similar although the instrumentation continues to be out of this world. Rooms finds Iolite spreading out into 1970's Jazz/R&B. The attempt is a bit bland but shows hope for future growth and development. Iolite closes out with Taking It Slow. Once again the instrumental aspect is wonderful and the vocalist is decent but just doesn't commit.

Iolite [EP] shows a band trying to work out their issues. The instrumental side is fairly well set and the vocalist has great sound but just doesn't convey the heart this music calls for. Iolite is a decent effort with room for a fair amount of achievable improvement.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Iolite at The Iolite EP will be available soon. Keep checking their MySpace page for more information.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Caroline Herring - Golden Apples Of The Sun

Caroline Herring - Golden Apples Of The Sun
2009, Signature Sounds

Caroline Herring has built a strong reputation as a songwriter and storyteller. Her most recent album, Lantana was named one of the "Top Ten Best Folk Albums" of 2008 by National Public Radio, and she has been lauded by publications and critics both large and small. Herring returns on October 27, 2009 with her fourth album, Golden Apples Of The Sun. A mix of originals and covers, Herring performs primarily with just her guitar and voice, recorded live in studio by David "Goody" Goodrich. With comparisons to artists such as Kate Wolf and Joan Baez, Herring has managed to find a touchstone aspect to her sound and style while remaining wholly herself.

Herring opens with a song that's as much an aural painting than anything else. Tales Of The Islander paints a picture of time and place that's palpable. Herring reminds us that occasionally a time and place we've been will burn its way into our consciousness; the world drops away and nothing else matters for a short time. Herring takes on Cyndi Lauper's True Colors and ends up sounding like she's trying to rush through the song. The tempo is rushed and the rendering is very grave for a song that's full of hope and love. Herring's cover of Long Black Veil is more on-target Herring's voice has a Rosanne Cash meets RJ Cowdery and Joni Mitchell quality that works well with her gentle arrangements.

See See Rider finds Herring sticking with the spirit of the original while morphing it into a gentle folk song with Country accents. This is the best vocal performance on the disc. Perhaps the best song on the disc is the cover of Joni Mitchell’s Cactus Tree, the story of a woman so intent on being free that she winds up empty and alone. The song is compelling and well-told. Herring has an Indigo Girls feel on A Little Bit Of Mercy, exploring the necessities of forgiveness and forgetfulness in love. Herring adapts a poem from William B. Yeats on Song Of The Wandering Aengus. My favorite song on the disc is up next: The Great Unknown. A song of soul searching, The Great Unknown doesn't challenge beliefs, but seems to ask what happens if we invest all of our energy into a belief and it turns out to be wrong. Herring's last number, The Wild Rose could be either a love song or a prayer. I'm leaning toward the latter but it's never explicitly clear. The melody is among the loveliest on the disc, and the song is played with pure heart.

Caroline Herring has a warm and earthy presence that just oozes off of Golden Apples Of The Sun. Her songwriting is top notch and her vocal performances are warm and right and draw the listener out of his/her shell. Golden Apples Of The Sun is definitely worth spending some time on; Caroline Herring has another solid effort on her hands!

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Caroline Herring at or You can buy a copy of Golden Apples Of The Sun as either a CD or download from

Review: The Greening - (She's So) Electric EP

The Greening - (She's So) Electric EP
2009, Zairecords

San Francisco's The Greening strives to create a new form of pop music with each successive album. With their feet grounded in the Art Rock of the 1970's, The Greening use a distinctive Pop sensibility to build songs with big hooks and a formalist attention to detail. The Greening's latest release, (She's So) Electric [EP] follows that parabolic pursuit for post-modernist Pop perfection ever close to its logical conclusion.

(She's So) Electric captures a 1960's/1970's sound and feel; it's a fun listen and a highly marketable tune. Sunny Afternoon is in a similar vein; a highly catchy mid-tempo rock tune with strong harmonies. Belong With Me finds The Greening digging into an early 1960's Pop sound with flashes of Beach Boys style harmonies. The closing track, Today, Tomorrow is decent enough but not up to the quality of the first three songs.

The Greening compares well to bands like Woodward and Tally Hall; the focus here is a bit more solidly in the 1960's than with the other two, and I imagine The Greening will play particularly well with Baby Boomers. (She's So) Electric is catchy enough to have commercial legs, particularly in the licensing area. (She's So) Electric [EP] is an enticing appetizer. It'll be interesting to see what comes next.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Greening at You can get a free copy of the (She’s So) Electric EP through The Greening’s MySpace via a “try an offer from one of our sponsor” campaigns.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Sarah Bettens - Never Say Goodbye

Sarah Bettens - Never Say Goodbye
2008, Cocoon Music, LLC

Former K’s Choice vocalist Sarah Bettens returns with her fourth solo album, Never Say Goodbye. For Bettens, it’s the first release on her own imprint, Cocoon Music. A 2006 winner of the European Border Breakers Award for Best New Artist, Bettens has enjoyed chart success in Europe as well as placing/writing music for American television. As a member of K’s Choice, Bettens is responsible for several gold and platinum records in Europe. Never Say Goodbye is being marketed exclusively to fans on her current concert tour and through her website.

Bettens has a gorgeous, deep alto voice tempered by a dog-eared rasp that comes from years singing Rock N Roll, both individually and with the band K's Choice. This gruff but warm sound makes for particularly sultry listening on the more jazz-oriented material on Never Say Goodbye. Bettens gets things started with the Torch style of I Can Do Better Than You. It's a very enjoyable listen and just unexpected enough to hook you for the ride. Slow You Down shows a wonderful maturity in songwriting about a relationship where one partner does everything except leave for good. It's an amazing tune. Arthur Hamilton's Cry Me A River is up next. Originally written for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in the movie Pete Kelly's Blues, Fitzgerald never recorded the song until six years later because it was dropped from the movie. The popularized version was recorded by Julie London, and Bettens does her proud. It's just Bettens and piano, and Sarah Bettens is in her best voice.

Bettens hits mix-tape gold with Win Me Over. It's too bad the Pop Radio market is what it is these days. Win Me Over is chart gold, and I guarantee you that some artist down the road will release a version of this song and have a major hit with it. Whoever it is, I doubt they'll end up sounding as good as Bettens does here. Bettens tackles a Mike Reid/Allen Shamblin tune popularized by Bonnie Raitt next. I Can't Make You Love Me is a modern classic; Bettens treats it with reverence, injecting it with her own warmth and vulnerability in an unforgettable performance. One of my personal favorite songs on the disc is Scream; it's a piano-based tune about making with most of what you have. The song is poignant and a real treat. Bettens highlights the dangers of keeping a gun at home where small children live. Her viewpoint is obvious without sounding preachy and the melody is wonderful. Follow Me is an invitation to love and adventure; a musical fairy tell if you will. Romance is the highest goal here. Bettens closes out with a K's Choice tune, Not An Addict. It's an enjoyable version of the song, although not a favorite personally.

Sarah Bettens is probably more of a draw in Europe than the US these days, but audiences on the West side of the Atlantic really ought to be paying her more attention. Bettens has a wonderfully listenable voice and a knack for crafting intelligent and tuneful Pop/Rock songs that stick with you better than a bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning. Never Say Goodbye doesn't break significant new ground, but for pure listening enjoyment it's very much worth your time.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sarah Bettens at or You can purchase Never Say Goodbye through Bettens’ web store.

Review: Michael Bellar/The As-Is Ensemble - Turned On Turned Up

Michael Bellar/The As-Is Ensemble - Turned On Turned Up
2009, Left Three Lanes Music

Michael Bellar and The As-Is Ensemble were, at one time, the house band at New York City's Blue Note jazz club. They have played Lincoln Center (NYC), The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.) and the JVC and Bell Atlantic Jazz Festivals. Their latest album, Turned On, Turned Up, displays the band's penchant for high-energy jazz and sense of mischief, as if anything might happen at any time. Featured performers on Turned On, Turned Up include bassist Rob Jost (Imogen Heap, Bjork); drummer Brand Wentworth (Aretha Franklin) and percussionist Robert Di Pietro (Norah Jones, Jessie Harris). Michael Bellar himself has toured/recorded with Art Garfunkel, Amos Lee, Howie Day, Wheatus, Jump Little Children and Giorgia

Turned On Turned Up opens with Squashing Pollyanas; serious Funk with an incredibly infectious bass line and high quality organ work over the top. This highly creative and danceable instrumental gets The As-Is Ensemble off on the right foot. The choice of Ben Folds' Fred Jones Part 2 as a cover is interesting. The instrumental version offered up here reminds us that Folds isn't just bombast and keys but a pretty mean songwriter as well. Bellar plays around the edges a bit but leaves the melody line essentially intact while burying it in reverb on the synth. All Things Rabbit is a high-energy jazz/rock instrumental featuring keyboard work vaguely reminiscent of The Who.

The As-Is Ensemble turns expectations on their heads with Fur Turban, carrying a Middle Eastern Flavor and Latin Rhythms. The song is highly energetic in presentation and is very entertaining. The Damage Done captures a European sound that verges on melancholy before busting out into a bass-driven, accordion-led chorus. Unravel is an introspective rainy-day peace, with a melancholy-yet-hopeful feel that's more intriguing with each listen. The As-Is Ensemble takes on Led Zeppelin with their instrumental version of Misty Mountain Hop, which turns out to be a big treat. Turned On Turned Up closes out with Yoga For Prison Girls, a questionable selection as the arrangement is mellow and frankly, it's likely the weakest track on the disc.

Michael Bellar/The As Is Ensemble are a highly original and intriguing bunch. Turned On Turned Up a bit uneven at times, but overall is a very strong release.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Michael Bellar/The As-Is Ensemble at You can purchase Turned On Turned Up as either a CD or download from You can also download the album from iTunes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Review: Esthema - The Hereness And Nowness Of Things

Esthema - The Hereness And Nowness Of Things
2009, Esthema

Boston’s Esthema may be one of the most original acts we’ve come across. A World Fusion band that takes that label to heart, Esthema blends Eastern European, Middle Eastern, South American and Far Eastern Sounds with Progressive Rock and Classical elements to create magic. Esthema released their debut album, Apart From The Rest in 2007, receiving significant positive press. They follow up on November 3, 2009 with their sophomore effort, The Hereness And Nowness Of Things.

Esthema leads off with Change Of Season, mixing Western, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern sounds in a dynamic musical composition that sounds like it should the opening score element of a major motion picture. The piece has a highly distinctive sound and style and is very enjoyable. The cultural genre-bending continues on Eastern Dance. Highly energetic and danceable, Eastern Dance varies significantly from the sort of popularized dance music currently in vogue, relying on pulsing and morphing organic rhythms that travel from percussion to strings and back again. The focus changes slightly on the Mediterranean flavored A Place To Rest before Esthema returns to a grand cinematic feel for Arrhythmia. Nuanced and vibrant, A Place To Rest co-mingles Middle Eastern and old world Spanish styles and sounds in pleasurable ways.

Four Colors features a vibrant, almost frantic energy in an explosively energetic dance number before Esthema rolls into Illusion Of Truth. Illusion Of Truth has a cloudy feel to it, with a theme that's roiled and punctuated by turbulence. It's as if "facts" and "truth" collide atmospherically in a cycle that never ends, winding and unwinding throughout the composition sparking sometimes storms and sometimes unsettled skies. Esthema closes our with the "Pop-iest" selection on the disc. On & On has a serene feel that's neither ethereal nor ambient but lends to a sense of transcendence. You can almost hear an arrangement of this forthcoming from Keith Lockhart.

We noted that Esthema's Apart From The Rest was a magical musical experience. On The Hereness And Nowness Of Things, Esthema leaves behind the magical world for the gritty, earthy charm of The Mediterranean, where culture upon culture washes upon the shore with sometimes unpredictable outcomes. The Hereness And Nowness Of Things is a musical breadbasket where loaves and fishes mix in fantastical ways and there's always enough to fulfill you as a listener, no matter how many times you return.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Esthema at or The Hereness And Nowness Of Things drops on November 3, 2009. Keep checking Esthema’s website for availability.

Review: Kristina Train - Spilt Milk

Kristina Train - Spilt Milk
2009, Blue Note Records

Kristina Train was destined to wind up where she is. Yesterday, Blue Note Records released Train’s debut album, Spilt Milk. Blue Note has pursued Train for several years, but at her mother’s assistance she went to college before pursuing her dream. In the process, Kristina Train learned more about the world, but she also learned more about herself. More confident and self-assured than she was at nineteen years of age, Train approached Spilt Milk with a clear idea of what she wanted to accomplish. Recorded and produced by Jimmy Hogarth (Corinne Bailey Rae, Duffy, James Blunt, Spilt Milk makes Train’s influences abundantly clear without sounding like anyone other than Kristina Train. Shades of Aretha Franklin, Raelette Mable and Karen Dalton can be heard, but the voice that emerges can be no one than the Savannah Georgia native with the wonderfully textured voice.

Train opens with the title track, sounding like a sultrier, worldlier version of Norah Jones. Train mixes the modern silk of Jones with the classic Rhythm N Blues sound of artists like Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner and newcomer Melinda Doolittle. Spilt Milk plays like a classic tune with a theatrical feel to it. No Man's Land keeps that classic R&B/Soul feel in a diva-like performance from Train. The melody is one that will get stuck in your brain, and you'll find yourself swaying along. Don't Remember and Don't Beg For Love have similar styles, leading into the Turner-esque It's Over Now, a song steeped in the history of R&B but which could very well chart today.
Train has a true Diva moment on You're Still Going To Lose, showing the presence and dramatic sense to command attention with the right material. This is the biggest highlight of the album. Moon Rivers And Such is more in the Norah Jones realm, but the gentle rasp and power in Train's voice set her apart. Train is able to capture a classic sound while coming across young and hip here and throughout the disc, an unusual quality that should do well for her. Call In The Maker is one of the more intriguing songs on the disc; mixing elements of Gospel, Soul and The Blues in a dynamic performance that sounds like it might have come right out of Muscle Shoals. Half Light is all about regrets that stem from entering (or re-entering) a relationship you shouldn't be involved in. The writing here is nuanced, but Train is chomping at the bit here to break out and the song never quite allows that opportunity. Train closes out with Far From The Country, a classic love song with a Motown feel to it.

Kristina Train has an amazing voice, and she gets to display it amply on Spilt Milk. The down-tempo nature of the album might restrict here a tad here and there; the moments when she's allowed to truly soar are tempered by slower material that's not conducive to the big impressive belt she's capable of, although they do happen. Along with folks like KT Tunstall, Melinda Doolittle and Joss Stone, Kristina Train looks to bring some old school magic to modern music. Look for Spilt Milk to garner Train a lot of critical praise and expect her to be around for a good long while.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kristina Train at or You can purchase Spilt Milk as either a CD or download from You can also download Spilt Milk through iTunes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Simone White - Yakiimo

Simone White - Yakiimo
2009, Honest Jon Records

Simone White was practically born into performing. Her mother a folksinger, her father a sculptor and her grandmother a burlesque performer, the limelight is in White’s genes. White was writing songs a Capella in her head for some time before she taught herself to play guitar. In 2000, White moved from London to New York City and found the stage to begin performing her songs. In 2004 she went to Nashville to record with Mark Nevers (Calexico, Lambchop, Will Oldham) and walked away with a record deal with the UK’s Honest Jon Records. She’s gone on to play major stages all over the world, and even had one tune, The Beep Beep Song, featured in a commercial for Audi. Her latest album, Yakiimo is already out in the UK, and sees a US release date of November 10, 2009.

Simone White is eclectic. Her voice is so soft and pure you'd she's become lost in the wash of instrumentation, but White's sound is so distinctive that she stands out. There's a razor's edge that lies beneath the surface of that soft voice that's full of wit and intelligence and not a little pluck. All of these qualities come dancing through on Yakiimo's opening track, Bunny In A Bunny Suit. The song is all about someone who has trying to change herself for others for so long she doesn't even know who she is anymore. Bunny In A Bunny Suit is compelling, stripped down as it is into bare instrumentation. The honest and vulnerability that emanates from White are made all the more believable by her uncharacteristic vocal sound. On Candy Bar Killer, White tells the tale of a free spirit with a dark side. It's a mellow and serene song with a melody that dances for you. Baby Lie Down With Me is a mellow yet enthusiastically happy love song. Intelligent and sweet, White displays just how good of a songwriter she is right here.

Yakiimo are roasted sweet potatoes sold by street vendors in cities in Japan and elsewhere. The song is a lament of their effect as harbingers of winter. Simone White has an uncanny ability to unnerve listeners at times, using her sweet and out-of-the-ordinary voice to deliver messages with the impact of left hooks at times. A Girl You Never Met shows this ability grandly. It's a mellow yet starkly worded breakup song. The narrator takes on all the responsibility and then turns and tells him/her how happy she was before (s)he came along. The most entertaining song on the CD is Train Song, a fun listen you won't be able to get out of your head. Your Stop sounds like a song of reverie over a lost love, or it might have a darker side in light of the next track, Olivia. Olivia is a vaguely creepy song of obsession. The tone and tenor here and gentle, but the narrator has been following/studying the object of her affection for some time. The story is well told in song with a great melody and arrangement. Let The Cold Wind Blow is another free spirit song, written about a soul who's perfect in her imperfection. White closes out with a cover of St. Louis Blues, a stark tale of adultery done in a wonderful acoustic blues setting. White's voice is the perfect foil for the guitar in this song.

Simone White gets your attention quickly with a sound that's a bit unlike most anyone else in Pop/Rock/Folk music. Yakiimo continues to garner White attention, a trend likely to grow with the November 10, 2009 release of the album in the US. This is one release not to skip out on. It's always possible you won't like it, but it's more likely that you'll be kicking yourself later on for not checking out Simone White.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Simone White at or Yakiimo drops in the US on November 10, 2009. Expect wide availability.

Review: Silverbird – Silverbird

Silverbird – Silverbird
2009, Heritage Recordings

Silverbird is the Atlanta, Georgia duo of David Leinweber and Bob McMillan. Career musicians, Leinweber and McMillan play covers that range from easy listening to rock but are most at home playing their own original material. Silverbird plays almost everything but are primarily influenced by the music of the 1960’s. Their debut album, Silverbird, was released earlier in 2009.

Silverbird slips gently into Boomer Rock mode on their self-titled debut, following in the footsteps of bands like The Band, Crosby Stills & Nash and the like. Thursday Ride bespeaks of a time when cruising was the thing to do. Heart Of A Song sticks with reverie, but this time about the music that inspires us. Musician's Prayer is a bit kitschy but cute. A prayer with a sense of humor, Musician's Prayer will be entertaining for most. Daphne is presented in both studio and live versions, and was written about the character of the same name from the old Dark Shadows TV program. Played by Charlie's Angel Kate Jackson, Daphne is the reason for a bit of inspired story telling here. I, for once, actually preferred the studio version to the live versions. Sweet Delilah is a song I viewed with some skepticism when I saw it on the track list as the subject has been covered as long as songs have been written, but Silverbird surprises with the best songwriting and performance on the CD. A great hook, great melody and unforgettable chorus make this a must-have disc, much less song. The power of music is revealed in Mitch Ryder Revisited, which recounts the ability of the music of our youth to pick us up all throughout our lives. Silverbird closes out with Some Like It Hot, a decent Blues tune with some fiery guitar play.

Silverbird is a decent enough debut, with some great moments and a few where things get a little lost. The balance sheet points to good things here, however. The songwriting is nuanced and mature, the musicianship is great, and vocalist David Leinweber has a highly pleasant voice to listen to. Silverbird is definitely a bit more oriented to the Baby Boomer market, but fans of great music of all ages will find something here to like.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Silverbird at or No online outlet was noted to purchase Silverbird, but if you contact the band through their MySpace page I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you out.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Kathryn Caine - Down Home Girl

Kathryn Caine - Down Home Girl
2009, Kathryn Caine

Kathryn Caine is a North Carolina girl transplanted to Virginia who’s been performing regionally and on the Nashville scene for a dozen years now. With High Lonesome streaking through her voice, Caine has been a demo and backup singer as well as performing with her own band. With three albums under her belt, Caine will release her fourth, Down Home Girl, on October 31, 2009.

Caine gets things rolling with a song about the draw some people feel to the road. Wheels is upbeat, accessible and danceable without sacrificing a thing. Far Away is a song of unrequited love. The guitar work here is incredible and worth trying to figure out if you're so inclined. Caine is in fine voice, which is vaguely reminiscent of Dolly Parton's but in a lower register. Settlin' Down might just be the next big anthem of the small-town country girl. The bluegrass arrangement seems to say how things will go in a relationship; the song is an instant classic. The Fall makes for compelling listening; it's a song for cynical people on the verge of love. The Fall is well-written and intelligent with a melody that will stick around well after the CD/download ceases to play.

For You is an adulterous love song where the protagonist is plotting continue her affair while hiding it from her husband. The song plays like something from a Country-flavored Broadway Musical. Honeyhill crosses over into Rock N Roll country for an ode to the narrator's favorite place on earth. A strong melody combined with knockout vocal harmonies make this a big winner. My personal favorite song on the disc is Working Man, a well-written piece of Country/Pop, setting the stage for the closing number, The Dream. This tune is a heartbreaker about a little brother who passed away young and how he continues to make his presence felt. The song is beautifully written and if you don't have a tear in your eye by the end you probably weren't listening.

Kathryn Caine dazzles on Down Home Girl. Based in Country but dabbling with Folk and Rock N Roll, Caine's dynamic Country debut is among the elite debuts in 2009. Her voice has a classic country sound, and Caine always sounds like she's giving her heart on every song and enjoying it completely. Make sure you spend some time with Kathryn Caine and Down Home Girl!

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kathryn Caine at or Down Home Girl is due for release on October 31, 2009. Keep checking Caine's website for where/how to purchase copies/downloads.

Review: Johnny Neel And The Criminal Element - Volume 2

Johnny Neel And The Criminal Element - Volume 2
2009, Silverwolf Records

Johnny Neel has it all, really. A top-level session player in Nashville, Neel has a Grammy nomination under his belt and has written songs recorded by The Allman Brothers, John Mayall, Joe Louis Walker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Marie Osmond and Travis Tritt. Neel is also well-respected as a performer, with a small but significant following mostly on the East Coast of the US. Neel’s sixth solo album, Johnny Neel And The Criminal Element Volume 2, was released earlier this year; A mix of Rock and Blues pervades the disc.

Volume 2 opens with Go, a great mid-tempo Blues/Rock hybrid with some intriguing minor-key vocal harmonies in the chorus. The song is strong overall, but the chorus adds that "gotcha" that draws listeners in and convinces them to stay for a while. Pass Out is a funky Rock jam that turns psychedelic before slamming back into the funk. Thing P-Funk meets Pink Floyd. Thunder is an impressive track, combining a pure Classic/Southern Rock sound with elements of Jazz, Funk and Soul. You'll want to get moving when this song is one. Smackin' Pepper goes for the ten-minute instrumental jam thing and ends up sounding a bit like album filler, although the Moog work in particular is impressive. Hot Beer Emergency mixes Styx-style keyboards with Southern Rock guitar for the most intriguing composition on the disc. Here Right Now is a fun and catchy Classic Rock paean that turns into an extended jam. Neel closes out with Playin' On The Tracks, a decent tune but probably not the best choice as a closer to the album.

Johnny Neel rips it up with his guitar, playing some of the hottest Rock and Blues guitar out there. The songwriting and composition here ranges from above average to excellent, although the extended jams do end up sounding like filler at times. Neel's band is as sharp as a tack, and no matter your inclination you'll find something here to enjoy. Johnny Neel And The Criminal Element, Volume 2 is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 3 Stats (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Johnny Neel And The Criminal Element at,, or You can purchase a copy of Johnny Neel And The Criminal Element Vol. 2 in Neel’s online CD Shop. You can download Volume 2 from iTunes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review: Lee Alexander & Co. - Mayhaw Vaudeville

Lee Alexander & Co. - Mayhaw Vaudeville
2009, Lee Alexander & Co.

Houston, Texas’ Lee Alexander writes from the heart of Texas in his heart. Using the same wit, intelligence and rustic flavor as folks such as Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett, Alexander has a reputation for crafting masterful musical stories. With a 2007 Independent Music Award for his debut album, Out Of Place, Alexander follows up with his sophomore effort, Mayhaw Vaudeville.

After the brief prologue of Ballnese Room (Overture), Alexander gets things rolling with Miles Between; a Folk/Pop gem with a big, pretty chorus. Reminiscent of later Great Big Sea and Pat McGee Band, Miles Between deals with the dissatisfaction of being in a relationship with someone who just doesn't not live up to expectations. Mayhaw Wine mixes early Rock N Roll and R&B elements in an acoustic Folk setting. The song has a definite sway and plays like an instant classic. These Days has one of the best melody lines on the disc, sounding a bit like Blue Rodeo meets The Cash Brothers in a highly enjoyable turn. My favorite song on the disc is Wheel; a paean to the pursuit of dreams and ambitions that recognizes that life is a gamble. The roulette wheel is used to illustrate the point here in poetic, intelligent and melodic bit of acoustic Blues and Folk.

Okemah Moon sounds about as classic country as you can get. It's a story about forbidden love and the almost certain conclusion it will come to. Somewhere, the spirit of George Jones smiles down on this song. Alexander lets us eavesdrop on one side of a conversation about escaping small town life in Carol Ann, a poignant tune full of ugly truths. The song needs a companion piece, however, as this is a sliver of a very good story that could stand telling. Alexander proceeds to cover the traditional Liverpool, England anthem Maggie Mae (not the Rod Stewart song). A favorite of sailors for better than a century, Maggie Mae tells the story of a prostitute and was long the unofficial theme song of Liverpool. Alexander's version is compelling and reserved; very well done. Union Street heads right for the Mix-Tape Magic pile in a touching performance where Alexander is in his absolute best and most velvety voice. Alexander sounds a bit like the Beatles on Mr. Walker's Epilogue, creating a near-perfect Pop tune with great vocal harmonies and a sound that could only be inspired by The Fab 4. Green Room Mirror (Curtain Call) is a great example of melodic and melancholy Pop. The story-line is benign compared to the beauty of the melody. Alexander closes out with an untitled track of a Tin Pan Alley jazz tune that might be called Paradise For Me. It's a brief epilogue but done perfectly to era and very entertaining.

Lee Alexander & Company display serious musical chops on Mayhaw Vaudeville. There's intense love for the sounds of bygone eras evident here, but also a fresh energy that enervates both the songs and the listener. Alexander has one of those voices you simply don't want to stop, and the arrangements are both pleasurable and challenging. Make sure you spend some time with Lee Alexander & Co. and Mayhaw Vaudeville. It's a bit off the beaten track but worth every step.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Lee Alexander & Co. or Mayhaw Vaudeville is available through Noisetrade on a pay-what-you-wish arrangement for download, or you can get the download for free by providing the email address of five friends! CD copies are available at shows, but if you contact the band through their MySpace page I'm sure they'll be happy to help you out.

Review: Truckers Tracks Vol. 2: Hard Times

Truckers Tracks Vol. 2: Hard Times
2009, Straight Up Sound

Straight Up Sound returns with their second compilation dedicated to the Kings and Queens of the road. Truckers Tracks Vol. 2: Hard Times picks up where Vol. 1 left off, moving more heavily into Blues/Rock territory. Johnny Neel returns for the second collection, along with artists Russell Gulley, Joe Tackett, Adam Jones, Chris Anderson and The Levees, among others.

Hard Times opens with The Levees on Hard Times, a grinding Southern Rock number with roots in The Blues. Its ZZ Top meets Stevie Ray Vaughan in three-and-a-half minutes of danceable rock you're sure to enjoy. Johnny Neel brings his backwoods bombast on Long Haul, a gritty truck-driving anthem that sounds like Joe Walsh is sitting in on guitar. Russell Gulley kicks in an inspired performance on Greenwood Mississippi, stripping things down to himself, an acoustic guitar and harmonica. There's real poetry in this song, and the rustic arrangement is a perfect fit. Joe Tackett goes Honky-Tonk on Lucky In Kentucky, a gentle warning about the dangers of canoodling in the Bluegrass State.

Johnny Neel returns on the soulful Love To Burn, sounding a bit like RL Burnside with a gospel choir and a Blues flavored jam you won't forget. Doodle is pure Rhythm N Blues and my personal favorite on the disc. Adam Jones has himself a winner in this track certain to be a concert favorite. Chris Anderson shows off some wonderful blues guitar chops on Driving Out Of The Blues, although the song itself wasn't particularly memorable. Russell Gulley re-appears with Peace Of Good Earth, another acoustic and sparsely arranged song that is pure old South. Hard Times closes with Darius Radd on the bland Angels Coming Home. It's a decent enough song but not really a fitting coda for what's come before.

Truckers Tracks Vol. 2: Hard Times stays well with the intent of the Truckers Tracks compilations without sounding derivative. In fact, there's heavier blues-flavored material here than on Volume 1. Highlights are Russell Gulley (in general) and Joe Tackett's Lucky In Kentucky. Johnny Neel delivers strong performances as expected and Adam Jones shines bright. The sudden switch in flavor for the last track doesn't kill the album, but certainly isn't a great way to close off what is, up until then, a highly dynamic and energetic album. Overall it's a positive experience.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

To learn more about the Truckers Tracks compilations and the artists involved, visit You can also check out our review of Trucker Tracks (Vol. 1) here. You can order Truckers Tracks Vol. 2: Hard Times as either a CD or download through