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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: JD Eicher & The Goodnights - The Shape Of Things

JD Eicher & The Goodnights - The Shape Of Things
2009, JD Eicher Music

Hailing from Pittsburgh, PA and northeastern Ohio, JD Eicher & The Goodnights carry a rust belt Pop sensibility and a melodic touch that smacks of U2 or Coldplay. Together since 2006, JD Eicher & The Goodnights play like a band that's been together for decades, and the catalyst is 20-year old singer/songwriter JD Eicher, who writes and performs with an aplomb that far outstrips his scant two decades. The Shape Of Things, JD Eicher & The Goodnights' debut album, captures both the ingrained maturity and youthful energy of a band too good to be so young and too young to know better.

The Shape Of Things opens with the title track, subtitled Intro; a guitar and violin led romp that is bound to garner some Dave Matthews comparisons from those who aren't listening fully. The song is about perseverance and faith and not giving up on your dreams. Acoustic guitar and violin team to provide the vital rhythm of the song in contrast to Eicher's affectedly lyric vocal line. This Is Something could be the rebirth of an individual following a breakup. It's a hopeful song full of a blooming strength. There's anger and pain here but they fade even as the song progresses. Broken Wave brings delicious funk to a song where the narrator stands up for himself in a relationship that isn't balanced. It's a powerful song, evoking not so much anger as a new-found strength.

Not A Love Song is sweet and sentimental, driven by a gorgeous counter-melody from the violin. The song so thoroughly evades cliche that it nearly comes full circle in one of the more emotionally honest songs I've heard in the new year. Wanderer points out how the wisdom can sometimes overcome the hive mind in a touching tribute to individuality not in and of itself, but in pursuit of true freedom. Catching Stone is unusual; an apology for the over-reactions and hyper-sensitivities that sometimes arise in relationships. It's a powerful song with a tremendous chorus that will get stuck in your grill. Level Out is a personal favorite, utilizing a mildly percussive guitar as a plaintive counterpart to a soaring melody about hope. Eicher does a tremendous job of story-telling here in vignettes, and vocally it's the high point of the album as well. Wooden Shelves shows a similar propensity for story-telling and is nearly as good.

You Are is a delightfully upbeat song about doubt and wonder. Eicher is seeking answers and understanding from a world he's only begun to comprehend. The chorus is highly memorable; one that stays with you. Rain fits in with the general theme of finding your place and role in the world, using raindrops and their intentions as an initial parallel. The message, essentially, is that everyone has questions, but don't sit around wondering, get out and find out by doing and trying things. It's a vibrant bit of folk rock that's highly enjoyable. Calm represents a hopeful offer that is forsaken and leads to the closing track, Stopping Grounds. Stopping Grounds is all about making a stand for yourself; finding a place of strength to stand up to the world and say "no more". It is a song of quiet strength and really is a trip full circle from where Eicher started out, like a metaphorical trip of self discovery that winds up right where you started, but knowing that that, in fact, is the answer.

The Shape Of Things is one of the most gloriously subtle Pop albums of the past year, combining strong melodies full of beauty with story telling peppered with insight and a sort of awkward grace. JD Eicher And The Goodnights deserve every bit of attention they get for The Shape Of Things, and much more that won't come in a fractured and factionalized music business. The hints of awkwardness make this album distinctly human and wholly personal, like a late night phone call from an old friend full of the insecurities and vulnerabilities you only whisper to someone who knows your heart. JD Eicher treats all who will listen like his closest friend, and he connects. The Shape Of Things is unique and timeless; a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars
(Out of 5)

You can learn more about JD Eicher And The Goodnights at You can purchase The Shape Of Things on CD from JD Eicher And The Goodnights' Web Store, or you can download the album from iTunes.

Review: Jag Star - Static Bliss

Jag Star - Static Bliss
2009, Lewpis Music

In today's music world, a decent Pop single is hard to come by. There are so many label-clone artists out there because commercial radio only plays fifteen songs at any one given time and they all sound more-or-less alike. A true single-worthy track is a big deal and can shake up playlists; having two tracks that are truly radio worthy is a rarer feat than it was twenty years ago. Artists who can capture three or more slices of pop perfection on one album are rare indeed. What a revelation it is, then, to discover Knoxville, Tennessee's Jag Star. I'm not follower of MTV "programming", and so had missed Jag Star's coronation on The Hills, Laguna Beach, The Real World and Newport Harbor. Not that Jag Star is a flash in the pan; with the release of Static Bliss, their fifth full length album over the past decade, Jag Star continues their tradition of capturing perfect sides of Pop music and offering them up in tight Pop/Rock arrangements wrapped around the gorgeous voice of singer/songwriter Sarah Lewis.

Sarah Lewis is an award winning songwriter several times over, winning the USA Songwriting Competition, iTunes Next Big Hit and London's WE ARE LISTENING songwriting award, while placing in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and landing a Top 10 in Dick Clark's New Music Award. Not one to put all of her eggs in one basket, Lewis is also a cover girl; she's the Face of Wet N Wild Cosmetic in national print campaigns. But singing and writing songs seems to be Lewis' greatest gift, and the rest of Jag Star build winning Pop/Rock arrangements around her on Static Bliss under the steady hand of producer Travis Wyrick (P.O.D., Pillar, Disciple, 10 Years).

Jag Star opens with Talk To Me, a delicious Pop nugget that's intelligent enough to garner fans who think about music but catchy enough to have a serious half-life on the Pop charts. Lewis' voice has a light Pop feel, but there's enough Gwen Stefani-style tough girl in that voice to captivate listeners. Pressure is a bit derivative, perhaps paying (unwitting) homage to Billy Joel's song of the same name with a derivative keyboard riff. The song is incredibly catchy, particularly the bouncing chorus. Jag Star is 2-for-2 so far on songs with real Commercial Pop punch. Can't Make You Happy is a strong tune as well; the chorus doesn't really capture but then Jag Star pulls one of those choruses that thoroughly haunts your brain, making it an indispensable part of the album (although a long shot as a single).

Sofie is a song that could only be written from a mother to a daughter. There's not a mother out there who won't identify with this song. As always, Lewis creates a memorable melody and infuses it with real life. The arrangement is solid, and the musicianship is tight. Rewind is an interesting tune; my least favorite on the album, and yet it might be the song with the strong Pop radio potential. From a sonic perspective the song is striking and memorable. From a writing perspective it's not Lewis' best but it's solid. Shine is pure Pop/Stadium anthem. This is the sort of tune that an entire audience gets on its feet for and sings along to the chorus. It's a hard one to resist. Don't Go Away and Why Do I Miss You are decent enough, but both seem a bit less than the material they're surrounded with (or follow). Jag Star closes out with At The End, an Electro Pop offering that does them no justice.

Static Bliss is superb over the first seven tracks, offering up no less than four solid potential hits. The songwriting of Sarah Lewis is a factor, as is her voice; but the musicianship of the rest of the band is an integral in creating the musical web that surrounds Lewis. Jag Star is quite obviously here to stay. It would be easy to pronounce Jag Star the next big thing, but this album ends up feeling a bit rushed at the end (like perhaps the last three tracks were thrown on just to complete the album rather than waiting to write material that fits in with the album as a whole. Nevertheless, Static Bliss is not an album to pass by. If Pop/Rock is your mien; if you always wanted a band with the Pop power of The Go-Go's and the toughness of No Doubt, then listening to Static Bliss will feel like coming home.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out Of 5)

You can learn more about Jagstar at or Static Bliss is available on CD through Downloads can be acquired from and iTunes.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review: Kim Jennings - My Own True North

Kim Jennings - My Own True North
2009, Birch Beer Records

Kim Jennings is a Boston-based singer/songwriter who immersed herself in the Boston Folk scene a couple of years ago while writing material for her debut album. Jennings has not only been accepted but lauded, with comparisons to Antje Duvekot and Dar Williams. Jennings' debut album, My Own True North was released on December 1, 2009 on the label she started with singer/songwriter Dan Cloutier, Birch Beer Records.

Jennings opens with One More Time, a song about yearning for one last taste of happiness before it’s pulled away. In The Shadows is a lovely tune, piano driven and sounding like a classic singer/songwriter love song. Something odd is occurring with Jennings' voice here; I'd noticed it earlier but it's most readily apparent on In The Shadows. Some sort of computer-based affect sounds as if it’s been applied to the vocal line. Whether its pitch correction or simply a bad reverb effect I don't know, but it detracts from a sweet voice and a sweeter melody. Even on a straight-forward album such as My Own True North over-production can occur. This is a prime example. Often times it’s the imperfections in a voice that make it memorable; when a voice becomes memorable for sounding computerized that's not the best impression to make.

Come Home, a duet, should be a plea full of yearning but lacks real emotional weight. Neither singer sounds invested and the song falls somewhat flat. Leave With Me suffers a similar fate; it's a pretty tune but there's a two-dimensional feel to the song emotionally. Jennings definitely is feeling something, and the sweetness of her voice suggests vulnerability, but it feels false. Jennings is a passive participant in her own creations, which makes it hard as a listener to invest. The Music Box feels more authentic, and sounds like something J.S. Bach might have written. Jennings puts her heart into this one, and you can hear the difference. Jumper And Inside slide back into an almost apathetic feel, and those electronic sounding vocal twinges are again apparent on the latter.

Can Hardly Wait (To See You Again) is heartfelt and full of vulnerability; sung without artifice or false sentimentality. The best songwriting on the album can be found in a track called Hideaway; Jennings mixes subtlety and brave choices with deeply moving lyrics and her sweet, anachronistic voice. The result is a timeless tune that will very likely get picked up and covered by others. Save Me has a gorgeous melody, dressed in sweet vocal harmonies. It's a needful song full of a frail beauty that will make you stop and listen closely. Jennings takes the tiller and heads for home with True North, a Shawn Colvin style guitar ballad about finding your way home.

Kim Jennings reminds me of a young Jewel for her songwriting style and occasionally awkward but sweet tunes. My Own True North has definite highs and lows, but on balance is a solid album that will keep you coming back as a listener. Jennings tends to be a bit too tentative or complacent on the vocal lines at times, but the melodies are often pretty enough that you won't care (as much).

Rating: 3 Stars (Out Of 5)

You can learn more about Kim Jennings at or, where you can purchase My Own True North as either a CD or Download.

Review: Vienne – Vienne [EP]

Vienne – Vienne [EP]
2009, urmom publishing

Vienne is the musical alter-ego of southern California’s Jonathan Korszyk, a singer-songwriter who caught the bug at a young age. Vienne’s big break came in 2008, landing songs on the NBC show Chuck. 2009 brought the recording and release of Vienne’s self-titled EP.

Vienne opens with Tales, a bit of angular synth/piano Pop that sounds like you should be hearing it on a 1980's radio station. Vienne's voice soars here, creating a tandem sound with the instrumentation that sounds like he was born to sing Tales. Weight Of The World is a down-tempo bit of Pop melancholia that sounds pretty. Lie Awake raises the energy a bit and takes on a slightly darker tone. From a Pop perspective it’s a highly marketable tune and likely to be picked up for TV. Be Alright is structured in such a way that it plays like a run-on sentence and therefore gains an air of monotony. The slow pace of the ballad combined with a low-energy vocal performance cements this aural image. This low-energy feel continues on She Breaks, a difficult listen that threatens to collapse on itself in a fit of melancholy. Vienne picks up the pace (but not necessarily the energy) on First To Know. The song is decent, but it's hard to get into because Vienne seems to be going through the motions rather than singing like he's invested in the song. Vienne closes with Baby Blue Skies, a mellow acoustic ballad. There's definitely a different feel here, with Vienne more keyed into the song, but the energy is still on the flat side.

Vienne writes decent enough material, but doesn't seem to have significant investment in performing his own songs here. Even when the energy rises up a bit it never gets anywhere above lukewarm intensity. While I'm certainly open to subliminal and mellow Pop, Vienne doesn't peg the meter even high enough to register in those categories. There's a decent melodic sense running through Vienne's music, but no real life to make it interesting.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Vienne at Vienne is available on CD through

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: Lars Bygden - Family Feelings

Lars Bygden - Family Feelings
2009, Massproduktion

Sweden's Lars Bygden has known his fair share of success already. As lead singer of The Thousand Dollar Playboys, Bygden was a crucial part of two critically acclaimed albums from one of the seminal bands in Sweden's Alt-Country movement. His debut solo album, Trading Happiness For Songs, won him a 2006 Swedish Independent Grammy as Best Singer/Songwriter. Personal tragedy in the form of a loved one's bout with cancer informed Bygden's writing for his sophomore effort, Family Feelings. Bygden wrote this album for himself, more as a means to process and overcome his own fears and anxieties from watching someone he loves go through so much. The end result, however, is a concept album about darkness that is so personal it's universal, transcending the individual pains and fears of the writer to become a comment on human suffering and perseverance.

Bygden opens with the title track, a desolate, dirge-like meditation dressed in Country/Americana overtones. Into The Twilight recreates the slide into chaos our internal life can take when the rug is pulled out from under us. Bygden's clear, honest voice is refreshing, and his style of delivery is easy on the ears. Don't Make A Sound finds Bygden drowning his sorrow. The Daughter reflects a less-than-perfect parent-daughter relationship with a child grown to adulthood. The songwriting here is excellent, from lyrical content to composition and sound. Bygden's Americana stylings are sure to grab him some attention. Today & Every Day is a devotional written from the depths of sorrow; clinging to the one thing that's important - the person who could be taken away. There's a tragic beauty in the musical simplicity and emotional complexities wrapped up in this song that's stunning.

CT-Scan finds Bygden on the precipice of knowledge, still fearful of the outcome but finally at a point where a course can be charted. The song reflects intense vulnerability and fear alongside a love that overcomes both of those liabilities. The melody is a thing of beauty and the song is touching, particularly so for anyone whose ever gone through something similar. Good Times finds Bygden longing for a simpler time when bad things didn't happen to people. It's a surprisingly upbeat, "glory days" tune that will get listeners moving around a bit and serves as a positive counterpoint to the darkness that runs throughout Family Feelings. Therapy skirts the pounding surf of darkness that rests inside, drawing on all of the elements that create dysfunction in a human being years on. Surrounded by acoustic guitar and a haunting, gypsy-style violin, the song twists and turns just like the labor moans of a psyche in pain. Family Feelings closes with the eponymous Outro, a call to recapture all that's been lost and place a priority on the things that are important.

Family Feelings is a well of emotional riches in song, from the depths of despair to the jubilation of overcoming and even the hope of making tomorrow better than yesterday. Lars Bygden has crafted a sensitive song cycle full of engaging melodies and subtle, comfortable arrangements to wrap around a tragic and ultimately triumphant story. Just a warning, if you or someone you love has fought cancer, the weight of this album may be a lot to bear, but it's a worthwhile experience.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Lars Bygden at or Family Feelings is available digitally through both and iTunes. CDs are available through the Buy link of Bygden’s web site.

Review: Tim Williams - Careful Love

Tim Williams - Careful Love
2009, Dovecoat Records

Tim Williams appeared on the Brooklyn music scene in 2007 as a coffeehouse troubadour, as documented on his debut album, When Work Is Done. Williams felt on top of the world, but things took a darker turn in 2008, when Williams underwent open-heart surgery. Ever one to persevere, Williams reinvented himself in 2009, going to Los Angeles for the first time, falling in love, and discovering within himself a more eclectic/electric sound. On top of this, Williams had significant real life experience to write about, and channeled all of these disparate energies into his sophomore album, Careful Love.

Williams opens with I Hit Another Wall, a testament to his survival over the adversity of the past year and a hopeful look to the future. The upbeat tune has a slightly messy feel, unvarnished and honest in its simplicity. Williams' muse is a bit darker on Ozone Street, a moody and nervous paean to breaking out of hopelessness. It's all wishful thinking in this case, as the escape isn't, but the song is intriguing. Oceans returns to a much more positive feel, with cascading guitars working a rip-tide to pull the listener along. Oceans is a love song, of sorts, drenched in layered sounds that create an inspiring musical canvas for a simple but memorable melody.

All In is a heartfelt and touching love song that is serious Mix Tape material. Williams captures a sense of need that isn't desperate but content and declares himself without a safety net in one of the best pure love songs I've heard. Love Hate gets to the heart of ambiguity with a certainty that's almost ironic. Murderous Air takes an almost uncertain vocal delivery and wraps it up in a layered, full-sounding arrangement. The result is a pretty but fragile down-beat Pop song that's almost ethereal at times. 8x10 is great songwriting. Williams' voice warbles and wavers through an emotionally vulnerable vocal line while his band smoothes the path. The backing/co-vocalist is a great addition. What a great Pop tune. Williams closes with I Want To Die In California, a macabre waltz that's surprisingly full of an adoration and respect you wouldn't gather from the title.

Careful Love is intriguing. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a huge fan of Tim Williams' voice, yet it seems to work for him very well. Williams doesn't try to do too much vocally, sticking to somewhat limited (but often memorable) melody lines while building enough layering into the recording to shepherd his vocal flaws. As a songwriting, Tim Williams is very talented, and I honestly hope we hear more from him down the road. Williams is a bit off the beaten path, but it's an interesting trail to follow.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Tim Williams at or Careful Love may be purchase as a download from either iTunes or Amazon. Hard copy versions on CD exist but may be difficult to find.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: Scattergun - Life At Fantasy Lounge

Scattergun - Life At Fantasy Lounge
2010, Mile Long Records

It really has all been done. History and art repeat because humanity has reached a nadir of expression, and everyone else that come along is destined to sound like somebody who came before. That's how a band from Chicago can come along, eschew any pretense of sounding like anyone else, write and play songs solely based on what they like and end up sounding so much like another band it's a little disturbing at times. The band in question is Scattergun, an original (and seemingly therefore thoroughly derivate) Americana/Rock band with its feet firmly on the ground and a sound that should fare them well. Fans of Blue Rodeo pay attention, because if you ever chance across Scattergun your first reaction will be to wonder what Blue Rodeo album that song was on. Upon closer listen, Scattergun and Blue Rodeo won't really sound that much alike, but stylistically they are soul mates. This is increasingly evident on Scattergun's debut album, Life At Fantasy Lounge, due January 29, 2010 on Mile Long Records.

Life At Fantasy Lounge begins, fittingly, with The Lie, a roiling Country/Rocker about falling in love with an idea that proves to be more desirable than reality. Vocalist Jeff Falk has an earthy, every-man sound that's comforting in songs about real life and real emotions, with Doug Jensen pacing the song nicely on bass. Duluth is full of the angst of breaking up with someone and moving on, draped in mournful guitar with Falk's plaintive vocals driving the action. Morning Star is an upbeat song about the necessity of ending a bad relationship that was done without edits. Morning Star tracks the impending end of a relationship that never ends, and how the conflict of affection can interfere with doing what we know needs be done.

On Pieces Of You, Scattergun offers up an aural painting of hitting bottom, where hopelessness trumps hope and light is scattered illusion. The song takes on a warped energy that's highly appealing with the dark subtext and passively angry guitar. Killing The Cure is an edgy rocker that allows Falk to stretch his vocal chords a bit. Killing The Cure is very catchy in its slightly repressed Americana arrangement and might serve as a viable single. Tom Waits Boots was inspired by the cover of the Rain Dogs album, and parallels the boots Waits wears on the cover to the singer's own emotional state in the shadow of a relationship that's been much less than perfect.

Battery Acid Debutante is buoyed by a strong arrangement but is essentially scraps of lyrics thrown together to form a not-cohesive non-narrative. Hotel Pillow revives a theme that seems to sit loosely on the shoulder of Scattergun on Life At Fantasy Lounge. It's all about doing something you think you like only to find out it isn't worth doing but having to follow through and tough it out. Matchstick Renoir is another "scraps" song and suffers from a similar lack of cohesion as found in Battery Acid Debutante. Runway 4-22 reflects another level of songwriting that Mike and Jeff seem able to reach for, stripping away any pretense at all for emotional honesty combined with a sympathetic poetry that borders on magical. Runway 4-22 describes the attraction of New York City and how it can feel like home right away, but also recognizes for many visitors a need to go home. Michael Paeth offers a perhaps unwitting justification to his son for this dichotomy, "as long as you know you're my finest hour, then it's alright". Scattergun closes with Dimestore Judas, an allegorical song about being alone that uses a Biblical reference for non-religious purposes. The song is utterly brilliant, highlighting an indifference that leads to greater loneliness in real world terms.

Scattergun really has something special brewing, although I personally find the inability to let even a scrap of interesting lyric go unused a bit frustrating at times. These "mash-ups" are generally the weakest songs on the album. That being said, the rest of the album is no less than brilliant. Scattergun, as a collective, can write and they play their hearts out. The comparison to Blue Rodeo (and to a lesser degree Wilco) is unavoidable, but Scattergun arrives at the sound honestly as their own. Life At Fantasy Lounge is an engaging debut album that's deserving of high praise. Make sure you check it out.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Scattergun at or Life At Fantasy Lounge drops on January 29, 2010. You can order a copy on CD from the band through from Mile Long Records. Downloads are available through iTunes, Amazon and other retailers.

Review: Ne'er Do Well - Mistakes Were Made

Ne'er Do Well - Mistakes Were Made
2009, Ne'er Do Well

Cincinnati's Ne'er Do Well might claim prophetic or even healing abilities for their music once in a while, but they won't put in print or cop to the quote, so we'll have to stick to the music itself for inspiration. Ne'er Do Well's debut album even smacks of political damage control with a title like Mistakes Were Made.

Mistakes Were Made opens with the gentle, generic rock of Lucky Day. The song lives on a strong melody, but is just a little too soft around the edges to have significant impact. Think Gin Blossoms light. Everything's Chicago is a meandering tune that really doesn't go anywhere; it's more of a neutral-to-pleasant diversion. Never Can Tell is the catchiest songwriting on the disc, and is followed by the intriguing Half. Half is mildly catchy with a self-diminishing theme and an unusual vocal mix. These two songs are the collective highlight of the album. Ne'er Do Well seems to have a hard time finding their way for much of the rest of Mistakes Were Made, culminating in the gimmicky Homeless Romantic, which nearly qualifies for novelty status. Ne'er Can Tell rebounds a bit on the final track, the upbeat rocker Feverfew, but many listeners might not make it this far.

Ne'er Do Well starts off slow peaking early on two really well-written and well played tracks and then struggles to get back there for the remainder of Mistakes Were Made. This is a band with some real potential as songwriters, as shown on Never Can Tell and Half, but something gets in the way for much of the album. I'd recommending checking out streams of this one before committing to buy. I suspect many buyers may simply opt for inexpensive download of tracks rather than the whole album.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ne'er Do Well at You can purchase Mistakes Were Made on CD or as a download from, or download the album or individual songs from iTunes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: Capital Sons - Dirty Neon

Capital Sons - Dirty Neon
2009, Capital Sons

Minneapolis quartet Capital Sons have been opening ears with their honest blend of heartland rock and Grunge. Karl Obermeyer (vox/guitar); Jesse Thomas (drums); Cy Dodson (guitar/keys) and Keefe Russell (bass/vocals) get into a heavier sound without the pretenses and pre-conditions that seem to follow Modern Rock. Capital Sons’ debut album, Dirty Neon, is refreshingly light on pose and heavy on performance.

Dirty Neon opens with the edgy guitar rocker Noose, kicking off the album in fine style with a Pop/Alt/Grunge style that's instantly accessible. Vocalist Karl Obermeyer has a great front-man sound but seems willing to let the songs speak for themselves rather than creating a spectacle around the songs. About A Girl is a strong, upbeat rock song that's charming and allows Obermeyer to open up his voice and belt. High-Heeled Boots finds Obermeyer channeling David Coverdale in a song about shopping at the Friday Night Meat Market. The song is worthwhile for both the energy and performance.

A Pop sensibility emerges on Oblivious that's neither expected nor surprising, while Capital Sons stridently refuse to give up the Grunge Rock feel they bring to Dirty Neon. Strong harmony vocals and a hook filled chorus combine with Obermeyer's voice to create a radio-ready rocker with some kick. Capital Sons strum their big guitars and start a party on Waiting For You, an irrepressible rocker with a chorus that just won't quit. It's Tom Petty meets Pearl Jam while jamming with Blues Traveler and everyone's feeling good. Capital Sons bid adieu with the pensive Hotel Room, an examination of a failing (or failed) relationship. The sense of melancholy contained therein dovetails with the maudlin Americana arrangement. Obermeyer ends the song on a powerful run that takes the song from pleasant to dynamic.

Capital Sons offer up an intriguing set on Dirty Neon, bringing grunge and Americana together in a way that's delightful. Dirty Neon is one of those debuts that leaves you waiting impatiently for whatever Capital Sons releases next. Make sure you check out Capital Sons if they come to your town, and make some time for Dirty Neon. It might not be this album that's the catalyst, but I have no doubt that within a few years Capital Sons will be a well-known commodity.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Capital Sons at or You can purchase Dirty Neon as either a CD or Download from

Review: A.Z. - Sweating Bullets

A.Z. - Sweating Bullets
2006, A.Z.

Arab, Alabama’s A.Z. brings a bit of machismo back to heavy rock, creating melt-your face hard rock/metal on their latest album, Sweating Bullets. Led by vocalist/guitarist Clark Walker, A.Z. has made quite a name for themselves touring in the southeast United States, garnering airplay and building their fan base. While Sweating Bullets is nearly four years old, it is an apropos representation of A.Z.’s sound and energy.

Sweating Bullets opens with The Light, a dark and angry mid-tempo rocker built around heavy guitars and a vibrant bass line. Vocalist Clark Walker is believable in his passive anger, alternating between an almost speak/sing style and bouts of screaming. No Help is a song about helplessness sandwiched between heavy, violent guitar work and a nearly lyric chorus with prolific vocal harmonies. This is a great listen in general, although there a couple of spots throughout the song where things become a tad unhinged. Number 2 is wonderfully dark and heavy, whereas Ragged takes on an almost Pop/Metal feel with rap-style lyrics. This is the song most likely to impact at Modern Rock Radio based on current mores. Underrated takes a harder turn, although it does retain an almost Pop feel to the melody/vocal line. A.Z. closes with Kill Regi, recalling Black Album era Metallica crossed with a bit of Alice In Chains.

A.Z. has the heavy part of hard n heavy down pat. Sweating Bullets features vivacious hard rock and inspired energy. The songwriting varies from average to above average. Stage presence is hard to gather from a two-dimensional recording, but A.Z. carries some serious energy into the studio and it comes across on Sweating Bullets. In effect, A.Z. plays hard enough to please the metal fans and lyrically enough to grab the more Pop/Rock oriented folks. Sweating Bullets is a solid introduction to A.Z.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about A.Z. at You can purchase Sweating Bullets as either a CD or Download from

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea

Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea
2010, Capitol Records

In 2006, Corinne Bailey Rae proved the old adage about years of work turning into an overnight success. Her self-titled debut album debuted at #1 in the UK and crashed the Top-20 in the US, selling four million copies in the process. Today she returns with The Sea. You might expect that Corinne Bailey Rae would follow the standard pop star path, working with big producers to craft a successful follow-up record. If you think that’s Bailey Rae’s path you haven’t been listening to her thus far. Bailey Rae entered The Sea on the same down home basis, working with friends to craft a highly personal song cycle of love and loss.

The Sea opens with Are You Here, a sultry, reserved love song. Bailey Rae has a compelling voice, but we knew that already. She doesn’t overpower you, but draws you in and makes you never want to leave. Are You Here is a great start. I’d Do It Again is a sweet love song commemorating the premature loss of her husband Jason Rae in 2008. It’s a complicated love song and fetchingly honest. Feels Like The First Time gets a retro 1970s feel; moderately upbeat and mildly funky. On The Blackest Lily, Bailey Rae again hits a great retro feel. The melody is the cornerstone here, a powerful and moving progression with great movement. Bailey Rae is incredibly convincing.

Closer comes down a step, going for more of an easy radio vibe. It’s a little too tame and too stereotypical compared to the rest of The Sea, but Bailey Rae bounces back nicely on Love’s On It’s Way. It’s a contemplative tune, ala Norah Jones; sweet, mellow and vulnerable but with a palpably powerful core. The power here is hope or something very much like it. I Would Like To Call It Beauty has an old school jazzy feel to it. Bailey Rae’s voice is at its most idiosyncratically beautiful here. Paris Nights/New York Mornings is strong, but Paper Dolls is absolutely exquisite. Paper Dolls is a song of empowerment that manages to avoid being preachy. This is all done to a melody that will have you singing/humming long after the CD stops playing. Driving For Hearts is decent, but not quite at the level of the rest of album. Bailey Rae closes strong with the title track. The Sea is melancholy; the finest songwriting on the disc. Bailey Rae shines like the sun on a quiet, vulnerable performance that plays like a force majeure.

Corinne Bailey Rae caught lightning in a bottle with her debut album four years ago. It would be easy to assume The Sea might suffer the usual sophomore jinx, but just listen to the album once and you’ll know that’s not true. If anything, Bailey Rae has grown as both a performer and songwriter in the last four years, seasoned by both the joy and pain; love and loss. It’s impossible to predict what the commercial response will be to The Sea, but artistically, Corinne Bailey Rae’s star just got a few shades brighter than it’s ever shone before. The Sea is amazing; a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Corinne Bailey Rae at or You can purchase The Sea on CD from or in stores everywhere. Expect wide digital distribution, including iTunes and

Review: Gioia - Flawless

Gioia - Flawless (preview demo)
2010, Gioia

Gioia became convinced he was destined to be a rock star at a KISS show in his teens, falling in love with the music and the spectacle of it all. Time and circumstance stole away that drive, but a tragic accident that nearly took his life instead restored his joy and drive to make music. Gioia’s latest effort, Flawless, recycles a fair amount of material from his 2008 album, Create It Together, packaging it all as low end dance Pop. Gioia sent us a preview disc for Flawless to check out. Flawless is due out sometime in the Winter of 2010.

The Flawless preview disc opens with Angel On My Shoulder, a mild Electro-Soul number that's tuneful but lacks any real punch or energy. A similar feel is found on Angel Child, although the energy bumps up a little. The heavy electronic accent, including computer alteration of the singing voices means it’s impossible to assess what of the vocals are human and what are enhanced. Real goes for a heavier dance feel, mimicking a heavier drum n bass feel underneath boy band harmonies wrapped around an unobtrusive melody. Free opens with an attempt at atmospherics and is decent enough, but doesn't really distinguish itself in a crowded market of Electro-Pop songs. Turn You Out heads for mid-tempo Pop with a mild dance beat. The vocal harmonies here are impressive, but once again it's difficult to discern what's all human and what's Borg. Gioia closes with Flawless, the catchiest tune on the set. If there's a potential single here, Flawless is it. The tune is set in a dark, angry arrangement that's compelling, set to an infectious dance beat.

Flawless strikes me as being fairly typical in the Dance/Pop world. It's essentially a slightly-above mediocre project built around one really good Pop tune (the title track). There's nothing bad or awful here, but other than the one song, Gioia doesn't really offer up much else that is likely to make you remember him long term. I could easily see Gioia having a moderate hit with the Flawless, but longer term success is going to depend on what else he has up his sleeve.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Gioia at or Keep checking Gioia’s website for release date and availability.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review: The Midnight Kites - The Color Of Light

The Midnight Kites - The Color Of Light
2010, The Midnight Kites

The family that plays together stays together. If that old maxim is true, then Bruce (guitar) and Jill McDougall (vox) should have a nice long life together. The fact that they play together so well as the core of Denver's The Midnight Kites is a bonus. Add in Connor DeFehr (bass and brother of Jill McDougall) and Dave Farmer on drums, and you have a glorious crossroads where Rock, Pop, Country and Folk meet. Jill McDougall's sweet alto voice and mellow demeanor will recall for listeners Margo Timmins (Cowboy Junkies) or even Natalie Merchant in her early days with 10,000 Maniacs. The Midnight Kites greeted 2010 with their debut album, The Color Of Light, released on New Year's Day.

The Color Of Light opens with Green Eyes, an ethereally swarthy Pop tune full of contented longing. Set in a sparse arrangement peppered with just the right filler, The Midnight Kites seem equally comfortable with sound and silence. Proving that sometimes less is more, Jill McDougall gives an enthralling performance on Falling Is Healing, coloring the melancholy musical reflection with love and longing seen through the complications of day-to-day life. My One Wish intrigues with its mellow feel with an angst-filled energy lying just beneath the surface. The song is driven by an energy that could have come from an early Police tune, with DeFehr channeling Stewart Copeland throughout.

Caution To The Wind is a thing of beauty, between Jill McDougall's plaintive alto and a haunting cello solo, all set against a simple arrangement that's as fetching as it is sparse. The Midnight Kites take an intriguing turn with a highly unusual cover of Landslide consisting of Jill McDougal's vocals supported by nothing other than percussion. The concept may seem overly simply, but the execution is brilliant, with Farmer paralleling the harshness of life in a way you wouldn't imagine as a counter to the heartbreak and resignation in the vocal line. The Midnight Kites take us for a wonderful ride through the Americana sounds of Storybook and Coyote on the way to the haunting Sungate. I'm not quite sure what the reference of the song is, but there is an incompleteness implied in the lyrics suggesting a trial that is still occurring. The song is a beauty even it its meaning is hard to decipher. The Color Of Light closes with the most Pop-oriented song yet. Swimming Naked has real potential for the licensing world; I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this song picked for TV or even a movie soundtrack. It's a song about living without inhibitions or fear, written around a brilliant hook with subtle, intelligent lyrics and a melody that won't quit.

Husband/wife duos have a mixed track record at times, in part because such a group often relies on harmony between the two, while great songwriting often relies on a certain amount of conflict when more than one writer is involved. That being said, whatever The Midnight Kites are doing works. Bruce McDougall's minimalist approach on guitar dovetails beautifully with Jill McDougall's haunting voice, and both are held in counterpoint to the sharp and energetic rhythm section of Connor DeFehr and Dave Farmer. The Color Of Light presents a consistent sound full of energy and life, and a sound driven as much by the spaces between notes as the notes themselves. This is a thrilling debut. I, for one, can not wait to hear what comes next.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Midnight Kites at or, where you can purchase The Color Of Light as a CD, Download or combo package directly from the band.

Review: Rebel Inc. - Sold Sold Sold

Rebel Inc. - Rebel Inc.
2009, Rebel Inc.

Rebel Inc. is a four-piece Punk rock outfit from Baltimore, Maryland who haven't forgotten the Rock in Rock N Roll. Their debut EP, Rebel Inc., features the crunchy feel of a Linkin Park with the musical economy of Black Flag.

Rebel Inc. opens with March, a simplistic and repetitive diatribe against mindless nationalism and military expansionism. Rebel Inc. paraphrases the tendency of governments to use fear of the outsider to rally the people and push them into policies that are otherwise objectionable. The repetitiveness her is representative of a sheep mentality, and the song is actually a fairly intelligent bit of social commentary. Let It Go follows in the same vein, lamenting the loss individualism in a culture that's increasing homogenized. Let It Go is a serious rocker with potential for Modern Rock and Punk outlets. Everything That You Hate is a classic bit of Punk rebellion with a slightly darker, almost revolutionary tone. It's a call out, of sorts, to the establishment as seen by the songwriter, whether that's governments, social structures or individuals.

Rebel Inc. rages against the machine some more on Shake 'Em Up; a decent tune that gets caught up in a few too many repetitions. 909 Revolution is built around a wonderfully dark guitar riff. The song itself doesn't work as well as those that came before, losing some of the coherence that Rebel Inc. is capable of. Rebel Inc. closes out with Broken Man, a song about the sort of desperation that leads people to revolt at some times and to simply give up at others. Rebel Inc. captures the feel of protest music in Punk, sometimes with great precision and sometimes in clumsy terms. Rebel Inc. displays a band that knows how to rock, and songs such as March and Let It Go reveal a subtlety you might not expect from a Punk outfit, but other material here is of the more mundane variety. Rebel Inc. is certainly worth checking out, and is a decent start. If Rebel Inc. can be more consistent in combining their intellectual and head-banging pursuits they'll write their own ticket.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Rebel Inc. at or You can purchase Rebel Inc. from

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: Sara Lynn - Don't Call Me Angel

Sara Lynn - Don't Call Me Angel
2009, Steeljack Music Group

Vancouver, British Columbia's Sara Lynn is full of surprises. The Canadian chanteuse surprised with her debut album Things For You by placing two singles on Nasvhille's Music Row Country Breakout chart. Many artists would have pigeonholed based on that success and released a follow-up album heavy in Country flavor, but Sara Lynn had other ideas. Working with songwriters Jason Nickel, Richard Dolamt and Juno winner Tim Hearsey, Lynn crafted an album of material than ranges from Country and Americana to Rock, Pop, R&B and even Country. Lynn's sophomore album, Don't Call Me Angel, drops on January 26, 2010, and is a huge step forward artistically.

Don't Call Me Angel opens with the dark surf guitar stylings of Won't You Walk Me Home, a come-on song full of sensuous desire. The Hammond organ work here is a joy to hear, and Lynn gives her all on the somewhat reserved vocal line. Shadows originally appeared on Things For You, but is offered here in a dance/trance remix that juxtaposes a rock song feel with ethereal synth work over the top. On Don't Call Me Angel, Lynn takes what is essentially a country song and spices it up with gentle rock guitars and an Americana ambience. It's a decent tune but the energy here isn't what it could be. How Long follows a similar path, with Sara Lynn providing a solid if uninspiring vocal.

Sara Lynn turns a corner with Gorgeous Imperfection, a song of self-empowerment, placing personal beauty over the standards of the world at large. This is done in an almost Industrial-Trance arrangement that's intriguing. In Gorgeous Imperfection Sara Lynn has a legitimate Pop/Dance single with real potential for commercial radio. The Shape I'm In plays heavily in Americana waters with a subtle walking bass line and a sultry vocal line that all play quite nicely together. The energy drops significantly for Carried Away and A Love Like This, the latter showing some signs of life, but Lynn is back on her game for the closing track, I Love This Ride. I Love This Ride is a great Country/Rock tune with a melody that will get stuck in your brain.

Sara Lynn puts in a solid performance on Don't Call Me Angel, offering a post-genre mix of styles and sounds with definite commercial appeal. Lynn's earthy alto is laced with a bit of steel, invoking sensuality or gravity as she wishes, and the songs are well-written. When Lynn is on her game she's outstanding, but she does suffer from lapses of energy at points throughout Don't Call Me Angel. Sara Lynn is definitely worth spending a little time to get to know.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sara Lynn at or http://www.saralynnmusic/, where you can purchase a copy of Don’t Call Me Angel.

Review: John Swanson - We Can't Party Like We Used To

John Swanson - We Can't Party Like We Used To
2009, Acoustic SwaneeLand

Aurora, Colorado's John Swanson takes the sounds of Dixieland, Swing and Las Vegas and swirls them around into a hip New-Jack swing with Blues ancestry while referencing folks such as Al Capone and Charles Buchowski on his sophomore album, We Can't Party Like We Used To. Swanson's music is original jazz with an old school feel but a modern edge, channeling the hip, tough-guy feel of Sinatra and the abrupt musicality of a John Pizzarelli.

Swanson opens with I Guess There Are Worse Places To Be, hip bit of Swing done in minimalist arrangement. Swanson has a rough, anachronistic vocal side sound would seem to speak of the city streets and shady deals. New Route 66 seems a bit forced lyrically, but when Swanson speaks with his guitar anyone within reach out to be listening. Nice As A Day Can Be has a quiet, classic feel. Swanson does pretty well in general with the vocal line by keeping it simple, but when he tries flourishes or getting out of his strict talk/singing style vocal flaws become readily apparent. It borders on distracting in Nice As A Day Can Be, but the song itself is enjoyable enough to overlook it.

The Cougar That Got Away is a slinky dose of Jazz that plays on the currently Pop-centricity of the cougar concept. The song comes across as a bit gimmicky, but then Swanson returns to the chorus, voiced by two mischievous saxophones and all is forgotten. We Can't Party Like We Used To might be re-titled The Generation X Blues; it laments responsibility's way of sneaking up on you when you aren't looking. It's a well-written song featuring some serious guitar work and tasty horn arrangements and is one of the better compositions on the album. That's My Story (And I'm Sticking To It) yields an almost atonal melody line as sung by Swanson; the entire song seems a bit out of phase, with tenuous relationships between instruments with regard to melody and harmony. Swanson closes with We're Even Now, returning to the Swing that he started out with.

We Can't Party Like We Used To may almost be prophetic. It's a decent album, but there's an awkwardness herein that suggests a discomfort with the Jazz style that drives much of the album. John Swanson is a capable writer, and as a guitarist and saxophonist he is accomplished, but as a singer he can be a difficult listen if he doesn't stay within his fairly narrow range. We Can't Party Like We Used To has some good qualities, and I wanted badly to like it more than I did, but in the end it was too uneven to truly connect with. There's some good material here, but you'll have to weed your way through the chaff to get there.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about John Swanson at You can purchase We Can’t Party Like We Used To as either a CD or Download from

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review: Silk Tongue Gamblers - We're In Business [EP]

Silk Tongue Gamblers - We're In Business [EP]
2010, Silk Tongue Gamblers (UK)

London's Silk Tongue Gamblers are ripping up the Indie scene across the pond, and it won't be long before their fresh sound carries them to America's shores. Silk Tongue Gamblers have developed quickly, experiencing that preternatural "click" that sometimes happens when a group comes together. Formed in 2009, they've already built a significant local following and garnered high praise from the likes of Producer Ron Nevison (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who) and Rachael Williams (Up All Night Music). Talent aside, what drives Silk Tongue Gamblers is the creative tensions. Vocalist Varun Atrey is heavily influenced by folks such as Nine Inch Nails, Tool and Alice In Chains, whereas Felipe Neves (guitars) is more drawn to Hendrix, Tom Waits and The Rolling Stones. Add in the chops of drummer Ollie Hipkin and bassist Equival Junior and you have an incredibly dynamic creative force. Silk Tongue Gamblers released their debut EP before turning a year old. We're In Business will serves as a more-than-adequate introduction.

We're In Business gets started with Is This The Time?, an upbeat, guitar-driven rocker with some Blues in its lineage. There's an edgy pop sensibility here that might do well in non-traditional Rock radio formats. Everyday Forever is either a daydream set to music or an accounting of the change in perspective brought on by new love. It's a decent song, although the blunt repetition in the chorus can become a bit nerve wracking. Nothing Left To Say trolls slightly heavier waters, with guitar and bass building a big, dark rock sound steeped in the Blues. Felipe Neves chips in with excellent guitar chops, and vocalist Varun Atrey is likeable enough, if a bit reserved. We're In Business wraps up with Run Away, a funky Blues-Rock gem that may be the most commercially viable track on the EP. A great, memorable chorus and a bass line that brings the song to life make this a keeper.

A four track EP such as We're In Business is what you might call a small sample. It's difficult to judge the overall sound of a band in just four songs, but you can start to get a real picture. Silk Tongue Gamblers have an edgy Rock sound with serious Blues roots that is bound to gain them some real attention. If commercial radio were a bit more willing to take risks, Silk Tongue Gamblers would be a perfect ad. Based on the EP, Silk Tongue Gamblers are a break or two from the big stage, as their sound and approach are a music marketer or Music Director's dream. Give the Silk Tongue Gamblers a bit of your time and see what they might talk you into.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Silk Tongue Gamblers at or You can purchase a copy of We’re In Business through

Review: Race You There - Acts Of Treason

Race You There - Acts Of Treason
2009, Race You There

Tucson, Arizona is the home of Race You There, a band born on Craigslist and built on honest poetry and the failure of the band to cement themselves to one way of musical thinking. Race You There leaves all options on the table with regard to instrumentation, musical choices and sounds. These traits are eminently identifiable on Race You There’s second album, Acts Of Treason.

Acts Of Treason opens with Eastern Shore, a contemplative, melodic Pop tune that's gently infectious. Jacob Acosta impresses with his range and presence on lead vocals, and the musicianship is solid. Why Are You Distracting? is a tough listener. Race You There doesn't seem to know where they're going with this tune; falling prey to droning bi-tonal runs. Starcrossed isn't all that different, although at least the resolutions seem to step out of the rat race with the imprimatur of creativity. Race You There heads for dark waters on Walking Dead; a mournful melody supported by a minimalist arrangement. Walking Dead is intriguing, but ultimately overstays its welcome at nearly six-and-a-half minutes (it should be noted, however, that Clarissa DuBose is stunning on backing/co-vocals).

Race You There stays with the gentle Rock sound with Scrapbook before breaking out something a bit more dangerous in Street Preacher. Street Preacher stretches as artistic and geographic boundaries in a highly enjoyable tune. Race You There says goodnight with Finger Like A Knife, a disjointed yet intriguing number. Dubose returns on vocals with another stunning performance. As an added bonus, Race You There follows up with an acoustic mix of Eastern Shore that's even better than the studio version.

Race You There strikes me as a band in search of their sound. Acosta's voice stands out, but isn't always best fitted to some of the material here. At their most ethereal, Race You There has a sort of graceful beauty to their sound, but some of their musical sidebars seems awkward by comparison. Acts Of Treason in an intriguing album, for what it sometimes is as well as for what it sometimes fails to be. Race You There bears watching (and listening) to see where they go next.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Race You There at or Acts Of Treason was released on iTunes in December of 2009. Hard copy will be released on January 29, 2010. Keep checking the band’s web pages for availability.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Bill Bachmann - Big World Out There

Bill Bachmann - Big World Out There
2009, Flight Of The BumBillB Records

Then along came Bill, just an ordinary guy... might be the perfect epitaph for Bill Bachmann when the time comes. The quiet, unassuming singer/songwriter originally from Buffalo, NY is an affable everyman until he straps on a six-string, when he becomes a magician. The ironic part is that guitar might be Bachmann's second talent, as there are few in the Folk world or out of it who can tell a story with quite the same zest, wit and intelligence without compromising the inherent musicality of a song. Bachmann's recordings have been preserved by the Smithsonian, and he has been covered by folks such as Christine Lavin, Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky. Bachmann graduated from opening for acts such as Dave Van Ronk and Steve Goodman to being an active member of New York City's Greenwich Village folk scene, playing with artists such as Paul Siebel, David Massengill and George Gerdes and His All-Male Vegetarian Orchestra. Bachmann's latest effort, Big World Out There, is a master class in marrying storytelling to song craft.

Bachmann opens Big World Out There with the title track, a devotional to his calling that could easily be heard as a simile metaphor for humanity. Bachman discusses music with grace, injecting a touch of humor "Some (notes) have volume as their forte" here and there. Bachmann shows off some serious slide-guitar work on Just Shoot Me I Hate My Life I Wish I'd Never Been Born Blues. Dark humor and serious Blues chops mix here to create a virtuosic performance. If puns make you laugh (or at least groan in mild discomfort), Closet Closet will be a fun adventure. On Upstate Towns, Bachmann offers up a view of small town/suburban life that isn't really complimentary on its surface, but serves more a descriptive than defamatory purpose. The arrangement is dark and vaguely disturbing, like a painting that's slightly out-of-focus. This Band Was Your Band takes Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land and turns it into a Beatles tribute. There's a certain corniness here that will cause listeners to either immediately love or hate the song without a lot of middle ground. Bachmann fills the song with historical facts and viewpoints about the Beatles, sewn together with his trademark turns of phrase and puns.

Bachmann pays tribute to Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds on Reds That Cincinnati Came To see. The song is based on the melody from Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave To Me and is quite entertaining, although it may fall a bit flat with folks who aren't baseball fans. Bachmann continues to impress with his guitar work. Vacation is something of an instant classic; a trip through the alphabet in song that has been preserved for the Smithsonian's Folk Archives. Vacation is inventive and fun, done in a talk-sing style complete with kazoo solo. A More Perfect Union was written on the night President Barack Obama was elected and is a tribute to that fact. The song is a paean to hopes and dreams realized and has a sweet melody

Fans of venues Towne Crier (Pawling, Massachusetts) or Caffe Lena (Saratoga Springs, New York) will have both a historical and musical interest in The Ballad Of Townes Van Crier and Pasqualina. Van Crier started was a patron of the arts, and Pasqualina Nagri, better known as Lena Spencer, ran Caffe Lena until her death in 1989. The song includes not-so-obscure references to the Kingston Trio and Don McLean, but is really something of an off-the-cuff tragedy told in humorous terms (ala Shakespeare).

Bachmann ratchets up the humor on Giant Can Of Paint, an entertaining Bluegrass romp that might be irresistible even if you're not much of a Bluegrass fan. It Won't Be Long takes on end of the world prophecies such as Armageddon and the Aztec end-of-world predictions for 2012. The song is written from the brink of the end of the world, referencing the Biblical prophecy of the drying up of the Euphrates river as a precursor to the final battle between God and Satan (Geopolitical concerns combined with drought have had the net effect of essentially drying up much of the Euphrates). The song is serious and slightly uncomfortable, abandoning Bachmann's sense of humor for a sobering moment. Bachmann is back to his usual high-jinx on This Song Is Called This Song Is Called, a Bluegrass barnburner that's a vicious tongue twister to boot. Bachmann winds down with One Great Date, a quirky love song that looks back over years together through the use of clever word play and probably an inside joke or two. It's a sweet love song that might be a bit too obscure (or specific if you're in the know) to be a Mix Tape pick, but certainly qualifies as one of the more romantic silly love songs I've heard in a while.

Bill Bachmann is a throwback, of sorts, mixing the storytelling and musicality of Woody and the mischievous nature of Arlo. There's a reason the Boston Phoenix once opined that Bachmann was "grossly under-recorded". Listen to Big World Out There and you'll understand the sentiment. Bachmann isn't a flashy performer, but he can hold a crowd in thrall with his down-home folksy wit and intelligence; not to mention a musical touch that's almost magical. Big World Out There got to us a bit late to be considered amongst our top albums of 2009, but don't be surprised if it inhabits a number of critic’s lists for last year.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Bill Bachmann at You can purchase Big World Out There as either a CD or Download from

Review: Robert Valente - Alive

Robert Valente - Alive
2008, Robert Valente

Robert Valente chooses not to dwell on biography, letting his music speak for him. We'll follow his lead. Valente's latest, Alive opens with Gospel Man, a rocking Country tune that's irresistibly catchy. Gospel Man is fast-paced and full of sound, hiding, for one song, the anomalies in Valente's voice. They come fully into the light on True Again, where Valente sounds like Neil Young singing at pianissimo. You Don't Know gets more of an Early Rock feel (think Bill Haley), while bringing out more of the thinly veiled evangelical content of the songs on Alive. Valente co-opts elements of Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind on The Answer, walking a fine line between being derivative and outright borrowing. Love Has A Way is a nice rebound; a decent song with a pleasant melody. It does tend to be a bit too repetitive both in lyrics and arrangement, but at base is a pleasant listen.

Country Singer is a pure example of what is called "testifying". Valente acquaints listeners with his life before he was a Christian, how he became a Christian and how it has changed his life since that time. The song is presented in an old blend of Country and Easy Listening. The arrangement is bland and innocuous but will have emotional impact for those who enjoy this sort of testimonial. The title track, Alive, struggles to be celebratory but sounds a bit disjointed in the process. This Old World plods on over four minutes that seems interminable. Valente stumbles through In Your Mind and Candy on the way to the closing number, Take My Heart, a heartfelt if mildly clumsy love song (of sorts).

Valente starts slow on Alive, finding his groove as a songwriter in the middle but then fades at the end. The musicianship on Alive is solid throughout with a mixed bag of songwriting. The music is heartfelt enough, with Valente singing what he knows and believes rather than affecting a pose or style. When everything clicks, Valente is anachronistically charming. At worst, Alive is too innocuous to be abrasive, but can be difficult nonetheless. Valente likely falls into a gap between Popular Music and CCM that qualifies as a true niche. That means the demographic for this album is likely a small one, but they're likely to be highly devoted fans.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Robert Valente at, where you can purchase Alive on CD. Alive is also available as either a CD or digital download from

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Will Weckel - Be Like You

Will Weckel - Be Like You
2006, Will Weckel

If you read through Will Weckel’s bio, you’ll understand quickly that he’s an artist with a lot of baggage, and he wears it on his sleeve. The San Diego-based singer/songwriter/surfer recounts an entire history of dashed expectations in word-bytes without ever actually telling you much about himself. We can divine that Weckel is a big Beatles fan, both from his songs and his statements. We know he’s originally from the Midwest and that he lost his mom at the age of five. Beyond that, facts are scarce. Weckel’s debut album, Be Like You, speaks to loneliness in documenting the end of a relationship. Weckel turns the corner towards living again at the end, but it makes you wonder at times along the way.

Weckel opens with More Than Anything, a straightforward Rock ballad with Oasis-does-the-Beatles charm. The arrangement and instrumentation are fairly simple, blending an Americana-Rock style that's derivative but borders on original. To My Heart comes off a bit whiny but has a solid melody and decent arrangement beneath it. Open Your Eyes is a tough listen, whereas Change is decent but a bit on the bland side. One Mans Dream is truly a decent tune. You'll note as you listen to Be Like You that Weckel finds moments where he channels Paul McCartney/Noel Gallagher vocally. One Mans Dream is one of those moments, and the energy in the song is subtle but believable.
Alyssa is heartfelt but fumbling in an awkward, lovelorn sort of fashion. Listeners will find this either charming or annoying based on their own predilections; I found it leaning slightly toward the latter but not awfully so. Weckel has another fine turn on You And I, a truly Beatles-esque tune with a garage feel and a catchy chorus. Some Other Guy is another shining moment; perhaps the best songwriting on the disc. There is a true Beatles vibe here that's irrepressible. I would suggest you might slip this tune into rotation on an oldies station and the song would fit in without a hitch. Be Like You closes out with the appropriately named It's Over Now, a melancholy tune that lets go of old grievances and tries to move on. The vocal harmonies here highlight the song perfectly. This is a great tune to sing; not overly catchy and not overly morose, but a real emotive moment with a strong melody that will hold listeners' attentions.

Be Like You is an interesting study, following a relationship essentially from beginning to end, including the painful letting go. It's hit or miss, with some very well written songs and some that just don't quite qualify for that designation. Weckel sounds like he might be coming somewhat into his own as a songwriter, crafting melodies and arrangements that are simple but lasting. There is a strong Beatles/Oasis influence here, from songwriting style to occasional flashes in Weckel's voice, but overall the album is highly enjoyable. Will Weckel is young and has some definite growing to do as a writer and performer, but he has a solid base to start from. It will be fun to see the process unfold.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Will Weckel at Be Like You is available as either a CD or download from

Review: Paulina Logan - If You Try

Paulina Logan - If You Try
2009, Paulina Logan

Three years after releasing her debut album, Wallflower, Paulina Logan continues to dance on the edge of boiling. Her music has been featured on an international compilation (Bad Girls Don't Cry), in a web series (Hillers) and even in a motion picture (Rotkappchen: The Blood Of Red Riding Hood). She has an endorsement from Daisy Rock Guitars and has been covered in both digital and print media. Logan has placed herself in a position from which breakouts can happen. Her latest effort, If You Try, seems to reflect the careful optimism such a position might bring.

If You Try kicks off with Shut The Door, a busy rocker that starts out as a slow pace but kicks up through the gears as the song progresses. Musically interesting with solid guitar work, the song suffers from mediocre lyrics and a disturbingly repetitive chorus that is likely to turn off listeners. Logan has an interesting voice that's capable of big heavy sounds but occasionally gets bogged down in its own weight. LA is a lively song about doing your time in a less than ideal place in order to get where you want to be. In case, Logan wants to be in LA, but not necessarily living in the way she is. She abides her small apartment with a dream of someday having a lot more. Write You A Song is a song of mixed messages full of amorous and sensual intent. While there is a certain pointedness to the song, the energy is almost ambivalent. Forever languishes in the warmth and comfort of love and happiness. It's a peppy little song with just a hint of Country feel; a highly enjoyable listen that makes the best use of Logan's voice. Everything works for Logan on Forever, just as everything seems to fall apart on Lovely. The heaviness in Logan's voice comes out here to poor effect. The song, one of love and hope, seems to contain the energy of neither as it languishes in its own lazily rolling inertia. The melody is pretty, but it's not enough to turn a tough listen into an enjoyable one. Logan closes out If You Try with a dance remix of Lovely that's ill-advised at best.

If You Try has some bright moments and some lessons. Not to parrot American Idol, but song selection is key. As an artist it pays to know your voice and choose or write songs that fit your voice, rather than trying to make your voice sing things its not comfortable with. Paulina Logan experiences various degrees of success or failure in this area on If You Try. At her best (Forever), Logan is charming and a sweet sound. At her worst, Logan's voice is unnecessarily heavy and without energy, creating a difficult listening experience. The whole range can be heard on If You Try. I'll be curious to see where Logan goes from here.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Paulina Logan at or You can purchase If You Try as either a CD or Download from

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Mona Sterling - Lay Down Your Weapons

Mona Sterling - Lay Down Your Weapons
2009, Sterling Creative Enterprises

Seattle's Mona Sterling is known for her arresting voice and percussive guitar style. Comparisons to Melissa Etheridge, Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde) and even Ani DiFranco are unsurprising, and Sterling writes with an emotional honesty that is refreshing. A songwriter from the age of five, Sterling has been influenced by everything from Carmen to Led Zeppelin, and allows everything she's taken in to flow back out in her music. Sterling's debut album, Lay Down Your Weapons, illuminates the talent of a singer-songwriter who shines even amidst the glow of the Emerald City.

Lay Down Your Weapons opens with the contemplative rocker Something Sweet, a love song that's more about how being in love makes you feel. Sterling's voice reminds vaguely of Grace Slick at times; hers is a sharp, powerful voice with a warm tone that's exceedingly pleasant to listen to. The lady can belt when she wants to as well, as you'll quickly hear on Lay Down Your Weapons, an Americana/Rocker full of wondrous sounds that mimic a pedal steel at times. Rhythm Of Heart looks back on a long-standing love, still in wonderment at how easy it's been. It's a love song that fails to fall into the ooey-gooey cliché of Pop radio love songs and is driven by a wonderfully rhythmic riff on acoustic guitar.

Room To Change is an angry kiss off song delivered in measured tones. Sterling again building wonderful movement into the arrangement, which in this case seems to stoke the fire in the vocal line. Room To Change shows Sterling to be an incredibly nuanced songwriter who retains the ability to surprise listeners with the occasional brutal blunt force of honesty. Little Under takes another blind turn, exploring the effects of a relationship between non-equals. Sterling gently frames the anxiety and insecurity that wreaks havoc on a relationship where one partner is always in control and neither can win. Sterling turns vitriolic again with Wreck You, another kiss-off song that's wonderfully dark and full of long-hidden anger. Sterling's voice is perfect for this song, channeling an angry strength that gains force as the song progresses. Lay Down Your Weapons closes with Dan's Song, a communication to an ex to give up waiting for a reprise. It becomes clear quickly that the antagonist here borders on stalker-like behavior. Somewhat dark subject matter is covered in a jaunty, upbeat arrangement that's either ironic or downright farcical.

Lay Down Your Weapons reveals Mona Sterling to be a splendid story-teller in song, sprinkling real life relationship stories with intelligence, wit and the sort of personal perspective that comes from having lived through them (or close enough). Add to this Sterling's unforgettable voice, and Lay Down Your Weapons goes down as a highly memorable listening experience. Sterling plays all parts here, ranging from sweet to sassy; loving to spiteful and vulnerable to resolute in the course of nine splendid songs. The full range of human emotions play themselves out on Lay Down Your Weapons, and Sterling gives the sort of performance that causes first time listeners to seek out other recordings, opportunities to see her live, etc.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mona Sterling at or You can purchase Lay Down Your Weapons as either a CD or Download from

Review: The Killbirds - The Killbirds (demo)

The Killbirds - The Killbirds
2009, The Killbirds

The Killbirds have the Australia-Los Angeles connection down. Singer/guitarist Sebalius Belle has been jumping back and forth between the two for a couple of years since he moved west from Brooklyn. With songs fueled by views of US (and particularly LA) culture from the perspective of an "outsider", The Killbirds have a somewhat unique sound (or mix of sounds). The first forays of The Killbirds into public performance were under the name The Unfiltered Nasty and received strong responses. The Killbirds began recording songs for a demo, and the resulting self-titled EP surprised even them.

The Killbirds opens with Lala, a mid-to-up temp bit of whiny, maudlin Rock N Roll with a melody that wants to be a happy one but plays like a teen uncomfortable with him/herself in public. Wave is a tough listen and definitely not a favorite on the album, whereas Scuba and Sit come across as bland Post-Modern Alternative Rock. Cindy Song is a droning instrumental that uses changes in pitch more as a rhythmic tool than an attempt to convey melody or storyline for the first two-and-a-half minutes. It's a tough go, but when the vocals finally kick in around 2:45 you'll find yourself pining for the instrumental portion of the song again. Stoned To Pieces plays with vocoded voice as an instrument but is fairly unoriginal beyond that decision.

Some folks out there who dig shoegaze psychedelia will like The Killbirds, but it’s likely to be a small fan club judging by the band's self-titled debut. There's just not much here for listeners to dig into.

Rating: 1 Star (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Killbirds at or

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: DownTown Mystic - Read The Signs

DownTown Mystic - Read The Signs
2007, Sha-La Music

What turned out as amusing side project for Sha-La Records president Robert Allen has turned into a serious venture. DownTown Mystic produced a demo that wound up with two different songs getting airplay on KROQ. Ensuing national airplay convinced Allen it was time turn the demo into a full-length album. The result, Rock N Roll 4 The Soul, was a strong debut featuring co-songwriting by Bruce Engler and the rhythm section of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Downtown Mystic returns now with their latest album, Read The Signs. featuring a new rhythm section and some serious songwriting.

Read The Signs opens with 1960's Folk/Rock of I Can't Let Go, a catchy quasi-love song that shows shades of Crosby, Stills & Nash in the harmonies. Go Back features some nice, lively guitar work but runs a bit long at five-and-half-minutes. DownTown Mystic is a decent listen; a bit on the bland side but sonically pretty. From the lyric perspective the song is a bit awkward, a trait that carries over a bit into One Step Closer. This is a song that has potential hit written over the music. The highlight of the album is Read The Signs, which sounds a bit like a Bob Seger tune. Read The Signs has a strong clear hook and is very catchy.

A close second is Think A Little Louder, which features one of those choruses that gets stuck in your head and won't leave of its own volition. DownTown Mystic brings the same feel good, infectious Rock sound to Test Of Time, a jubilant love song about marriage and the power of love. Tomorrow's Clown finds DownTown Mystic entering the California Country territory trod by The Eagles with much success, before breaking into infectious Roots Rock on A Way To Know. The last track on the disc, an untitled song that comes up as "Unknown" if your system displays title information moves back to the Poppy-Classic Rock sound that seems to the be the middle ground for DownTown Mystic. It's perhaps the most generic of the tracks on the album; pleasant but not overly impressive.

Read The Signs has its ups and downs, but when they're at their best, DownTown Mystic is an eminently listenable band. This is feel good music for folks who miss 1980's Guitar Rock and Adult Contemporary formats (ala radio's The River). Robert Allen has an exceedingly pleasant voice, and in general the songs are quite strong in the writing department. Take some time to Read The Signs.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about DownTown Mystic at or Read The Signs is available as either a CD or Download from

Review: Rob Nicholas - Rob Nicholas

Rob Nicholas - Rob Nicholas
2009, Rob Nicholas Music

Chicago's Rob Nicholas may be familiar to some as the front man of Rob Nicholas And A Moments Notice. That venture fell apart after the release of their debut album, Secrets To Be Told. Stepping out of that mold allowed Nicholas to reconnect with his Alt-Rock roots. Rob Nicholas returned in 2009, deep in the Alt-Rock vibe (with doses of Pop) for his self-titled EP. Rob Nicholas was produced by Nicholas and Matthew Nischan (Kris Meyers of Umphree's McGee, Fred Anderson).

Nicholas opens with Dare We Go, a mid-tempo Power Pop nugget that is pleasant enough but sounds too much like too many other things on the radio to really stand out. Searching brings the same cookie-cutter feel to a Rock/Soul mix on Searching. Nicholas shows a bit more life on Duke, a funky Pop tune that plays with elements of Jazz and even Latin sounds. Nicholas is in his best voice here as well. In Hopes To Comprehend keeps the same sort of Jazz/Pop sensibility and expends on it with some very interesting piano work along the way. Nicholas closes out with Lost Yourself, a pleasant but ultimately bland track that brings the EP full circle in five songs.

Rob Nicholas has a pleasant voice and a way of pulling together his thoughts and ideas in unusually rhythmic and melodic ways. Rob Nicholas offers a couple of real treats, sandwiched by decent if not overly memorable songs. It's a good start. We'll look forward to hearing more from Rob Nicholas down the line.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Rob Nicholas at You can purchase Rob Nicholas digitally from Keep checking Nicholas’ MySpace page for availability on CD.