All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review: Lisa Germano - Magic Neighbor

Lisa Germano - Magic Neighbor
2009, Young God Records

Lisa Germano’s tale is a love story about the whims of Rock N Roll. A highly talented violinist and songwriter, Germano was “stuck” in Nashville when she was discovered by John Mellencamp, who promptly asked her to join his band. The rest, as they say, is history. Germano has gone on to have a storied career with Mellencamp’s band, as an in-demand session/tour player (U2, Sheryl Crow, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Indigo Girls) and as a solo artist. To say that Lisa Germano walks to the beat of her own drummer might be trite, but it's never been more true than on her latest album, Magic Neighbor.

Germano opens with the dream-like piano instrumental Marypan, Germano sets a tone that's both hushed and vibrant. To The Mighty One has the unstructured feel of emotions that have run amok. Germano juxtaposes an almost too deliberate vocal line with an arrangement that seems to flow like water. Simple finds Germano pushing at boundaries with a song that ranges from urgent angst to ethereal fantasy (write down to the calliope). Germano takes us on another instrumental sojourn with Kitty Train, a rather fetching short composition that features violins occasionally playing in a different key than the piano.

The Prince Of Plati is a pure escapist fantasy, written as if from the eyes of a child. The occasional missteps in the piano or distinct dissonance in the strings seem to suggest imperfection and a darkening on the edges of the fantasy that suggest the beginning of reality breaking through. The protagonist is never treated to the reality here, but you're left wondering how long that will hold. On A Million Times, Germano paints a recurring scene from a relationship never reaches equilibrium. There's an incessant nature to the tune that suggests both comfort and annoyance with the relationship as is. The arrangement, in spite of its inherent conflicts, is beautiful.

Magic Neighbor would seem to be about the intrigue of things we don't understand and the idea that intrigue itself can be both dangerous and beneficial. In this case danger appears to be the word in one of the more unusual story songs of the year thus far. Perhaps the most beautiful moments on the album come in the uncertain ballad, Snow, a halting ode bathed in orchestration and Germano's voice at its most elemental. The song gets repetitive, but the emotional urgency within is so compelling you'll forgive such small things. Germano closes with the incessantly cycling Cocoon. A lovely piece, Cocoon expresses a desire to change; to fly free from whatever binds Germano. It may be a sign of things to come.

Magic Neighbor is stark in presentation, with Germano flying with her heart on her sleeve. Magic Neighbor is fairly dark in tone, as if written from the perspective of someone who's gone through great pain, but with enough perspective to see hope for the future. Lisa Germano spins her yarns in intricate patterns with symbolism buried deep within her own psyche. Germano plays with sound and contrast to bring out great emotional viability in her music, but may be prone to overdue this effect at times. Nevertheless, Magic Neighbor is a real pleasure.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Lisa Germano at or You can purchase Magic Neighbor as either a CD or Download from

Review: Living Proof - Feel Good Music

Living Proof - Feel Good Music
2009, Living Proof Music

Lving Proof is one of the most popular bands in Indianapolis, Indiana, having perfected their craft over the past eight years. Whether it's R&B, Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop or Pop, Living Proof serves up a little bit of what you're after. Having played with bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, The Time & Morris Day, Living Proof have the stamina to offer three and four hour sets full of good time music you can dance to. Initially one of the top cover bands in Indy, Living Proof has added original compositions to their catalogue over the last several years. The band's sophomore CD, Feel Good Music, has generated so much buzz that Living Proof actually peaked on the CMJ Hip-Hop charts at #22 (alongside artists such as Jay-Z, Big Pun, K-Os, Swollen Members and Del The Funky Homosapien). Living Proof continues to grow in popularity, and co-lead vocalists Jessica and Leonard Patterson are a big reason why. Of course, when you have a backing band of Larry Beiswenger (trumpet/percussion); Jeff Libby (keys/vox); Marc Latney (bass/vox); Gary McCreary (drums) and Teddy Patterson (sax/vox), the singer's job is easy.

Feel Good Music opens with the title track, a funky mix of Rock, Soul, R&B and Jazz. Feel Good Music is a party all its own, with both Jessica and Leonard Patterson chipping in on vocals. Sway is a light Hip-Hop tune that is well written and well played. Jessica Patterson has a voice that could succeed in most any era or style, while Leonard Patterson has a strong sound but is perhaps not quite as versatile. 2 West is built on a killer bass riff, with jazz guitar and horns filling out the sound. This highly entertaining instrumental highlights the instrumental talent of the band, particularly keymaster Jeff Libby, who is nothing short of brilliant here.

Right Place (Right Time) is a frenetically paced tune fill with social conscience. The song highlights Living Proof's mission, of sorts, of making the world a better place. The song is highly repetitive and with little substance. The rest of the album is decent enough, but not up to the energy or standards of the first half of the disc. Dance With Me is a highlight simple on the basis of Jessica Patterson’s voice. The song is a bit on the bland side, but Patterson will make you forget.

Living Proof have the reputation of a big time concert band in their home market. That may be, but on the whole the material on Feel Good Music just doesn’t add up to the reputation. Feel Good Music is a solid effort, but just doesn’t live up to the hype that surrounds Living Proof.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Living Proof at or You can download Feel Good Music from As an aside, from a business perspective, indie bands could learn a lot from Living Proof and how they structure their press kit materials. It's the most professional and easy-to-peruse I've seen.

Wildy's World - Sunday Singles - February 28, 2010

Katia - Girl Like Me
2010, Katia

Katia's first single, Girl Like Me is generic pop with a capital G. The song is a pleasant listen, consisting of a solid light dance beat and an affable melody, but the vocal line is a mess of computerized effects, from reverb so heavy at times it’s dizzying to electronic effects that might be corrective in nature. The mix of heavy vocal production and moderate production values may speak volumes either about Katia or about the producer. Either way, it's a pleasantly innocuous track that doesn’t make a strong impression.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Darlingside - Surround
2010, Darlingside

Surround plays a little bit to formula in a world where Radiohead and Coldplay influence a lot of artists. LV has a very pleasing tenor voice, and the strings offer interesting accents to the song. The melody is a bit predictable but not one you're likely to find yourself singing along to. The song is decent enough, particularly as part of a larger project, but doesn't have the chutzpah to be an attention-getting single.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Craymo - Passion For Fashion (PFF)/Happy Birthday (remix)
2010, Craymo

Craymo's Passion For Fashion (PFF) is a catchy dance tune. On a personal level I didn't enjoy it, but I can see how it might catch on in the club scene, particularly with the right remix. Happy Birthday is hokey and fun as well as danceable. This one sounds great for a kid's birthday party.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: The Upset Victory - Between The Walls And The Worlds That Sleep

The Upset Victory - Between The Walls And The Worlds That Sleep
2008, Take Over Digital Records

Cincinatti rockers The Upset Victory know exactly what they’re doing. Since their inception in 2006 the band has been featured on the Vans Warped Tour and in AMP magazine, producing 2 well-received EPs and touring with a host of national acts. With the release of Between The Walls And The Worlds That Sleep, The Upset Victory proved they were ready to play with the big boys. The Upset Victory are working on a full length album due in summer of 2010.

After the odd sound collage of A Galaxy Untamed, The Upset Victory kicks things off with The Genius Of Water. Featuring heavy, clockwork style guitar play overlaid with big melodic riffs and heavy rhythms, The Genius Of Water is a treat for Progressive and Hard Rock fans. Both Frank Hammonds (lead) and Frank Harrison Jr. (harmony) fare well on shared vocals, and this carries over into The Small Space Between You And The Sun. If it wasn't apparent in The Genius Of Water, The Small Space Between You And The Sun will give you an appreciation of the level of intricacy in The Upset Victory's guitar work (someone listened to a lot of Iron Maiden growing up). Signals is more of a big rock anthem, fit for the stadium nearest you. For a change of pace you might hear elements of Steve Howe's work with Asia in the guitar line of Signals, and the big harmonies are a definite throwback. The Upset Victory closes out with The Will, growing from synth and quickly crescendoing into a full onslaught of guitar-driven melodic metal. The Will relates to the resilience of the human spirit, which seems to multiply at times in the face of additional barricades.

The Upset Victory are a highly pleasant surprise, taking a Progressive Metal sound and making it lyric and melodic. Frank Hammonds serves the vocal material well, and guitarists Hammond and Stephen Campbell remember that it was like when Rock Guitar reigned supreme. Between The Walls And The Worlds That Sleep is certain to intrigue fans old and new.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Upset Victory at or You can order Between The Walls And The Worlds That Sleep on CD from

Review: The Plimsouls – Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal

The Plimsouls – Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal
2010, Alive Naturalsound Records

The Plimsouls grew up in the vibrant Rock N Roll scene of Los Angeles in the late 1970’s. Led by singer/songwriter Peter Case, The Plimsouls managed moderate commercial success based on strong airplay in L.A. before landing the song A Million Miles Away on the Valley Girl soundtrack in 1983. The Plimsouls broke up in 1986, seemingly for good, but have reunited from time to time over the years. In February of 2010, The Plimsouls released Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal, an audio document of one of the band’s seminal live shows.

Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal contains the sort of no-frills, straight ahead Rock N Roll that made the Beatles media darlings on both sides of the Atlantic. The Plimsouls practice their highly melodic Rock N Roll on a Los Angeles crowd on Halloween 1981, with Peter Case at the top of his vocal game and the band hitting on all eight cylinders. The influence of 1960's Brit rockers is stamped all over Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal. Highlights include the energetic roots rock of Hush Hush, the driven, excitable garage Rock of Sorry and the raucous Women. There really aren’t any slow moments here, as the Plimsouls rocked with abandon and provided a truly high-energy, entertaining set. Other songs of note include the Beatles-influenced Shaky City, A Million Miles Away (later covered by the Goo Goo Dolls) and Zero Hour.

The Plimsouls knew how to rock back in the day. Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal captures a dynamic band at the height of their powers. Unlike many live CDs, this one will leave you wishing you were there.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Plimsouls at or You can purchase Live! Beg, Borrow And Steal as either a CD or Download from

Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Arj Barker – LYAO

Arj Barker – LYAO
2010, Warner Bros./Degenerate

Arj Barker (aka Arjan Singh) is an Indian-American Comedian who's been touring for much of the last decade and has been leaving crowds laughing until they cry all over the world. Barker has appeared on Last Comic Standing, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Glass House, Premium Blend and Comedy Central Presents. He's also appeared off-Broadway in New York City in The Marijuana-Logues, a spoof he penned with Doug Benson and Tony Camin. Barker has also been active in sitcoms, appearing as Dave in HBO's Flight of the Conchords. In January, Barker released his second comedy album, LYAO.

Barker deftly combines observational and absurdist humor on LYAO, picking up on strings from the real world, carrying them for a while and then blind-siding you with something from left field. Whether it's implying that blaming humans for global warming is like blaming toast for getting burned or accusing water of being a monster because it's been present for every boating accident in history, Barker takes the benign and turns it on its head for your entertainment. While Barker does pepper his monologues with adult language, it's done more to accent or amplify points rather than as a crutch.

Barker covers the gamut from religion to politics to bath supplies and the shallow nature of folks living in Los Angeles. His greatest moments on LYAO result from his ability to re-direct a crowd at a moment's notice. Barker sets up the listen deftly time and time again, pulling the rug out from beneath you each time. It gets to the point where you know it's going to happen, but Barker surprises you by doing it again and again. LYAO won't keep you from breathing between laughs; the set-ups are a bit longer as befitting Barker's story-based style, but the payoffs are worth it.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Arj Barker at or You can purchase LYAO as a CD (with bonus DVD) from Digital copies are available from Amazon MP3.

Review: Kevin Second & Jonah Matranga - Split EP

Kevin Second & Jonah Matranga - Split EP
2009, Blacktop Records

Kevin Seconds (7Seconds) and Jonah Matranga released a highly limited vinyl-only Split EP on Canada's Blacktop Records in December, 2009. Seconds has been involved in various Split EP projects in the past, and previously released on of Matranga's cassettes on his Pop Rockit Records. The Split EP by Kevin Seconds and Jonah Matranga is available on 7" vinyl and is limited to 1000 copies.

The Split EP opens with Jonah Matranga on I've Always Wanted To Write A Song Commanding People To Dance, a pure electronic dance track that finds Matranga passing even his voice through a vocoder. The result is catchy but unfulfilling; the musical equivalent of junk food; a song you might find tasty from time to time but not one that will make a long-lasting impression. Daylight is the apotheosis of the opening track, a heartfelt song written from the well of insecurity that can engulf someone in the darkest hours of the night. Kevin Seconds takes over for the balance on Grip On Ur Own, an up-tempo Folk/Rocker about just trying to stay in control as life carries you along. It's a vibrant tune that could easily be a Rock hit in a heavier arrangement. Seconds wraps things up with Life Unknown, another song growing out of the day-to-day difficulties gussied up with a mid-tempo arrangement. Based on this small sample, Seconds would appear to be a real talent as a songwriter, and projects an easy-feel as a singer/performer that can only lead to good things.

The Jonah Matranga/Kevin Seconds Split EP is a 50/50 affair in more ways than one. Jonah Matranga shows some potential, particularly with Daylight, but it's hard to get a bead on the artist from the material presented here. Kevin Seconds is more consistent across the two tracks, adopting a solid singer/songwriter style that carries well stylistically and with his personality as a performer. The Jonah Matranga/Kevin Seconds EP is worth checking out.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Kevin Seconds at Learn more about Jonah Matranga at You can purchase the Split EP at

Review: Kevin Barker - You & Me

Kevin Barker - You & Me
2009, Gnomosong

Kevin Barker may be new to many, but he's been deep in the Indie music scene for some time now. A guitarist with the band Vetiver, Barker has also played/toured with Joanna Newsom, Devendra Barnhart, Antony And The Johnsons, The Espers and Vashti Bunyan. The Washington, D.C. native has been immersed in the Indie scene since his teens, and has covered all aspects of the music business (from playing to promotions to owning his own record label). Barker is also a filmmaker educated at Columbia University in New York City. Barker broke out on his own in January of 2010 with his debut solo album, You & Me. On his own, but not alone, Barker called on some of his close friends to make You & Me happen. Contributors include Pat Sansone (Wilco); Joanna Newsom, Jonathan Wilson (Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis); Eric Johnson (Shins, Fruit Bats) and Otto Hauser (Vetiver, Espers).

Barker opens with Little Picture Of You, an eccentric little Pop tune with a down-home feel that's relaxing for a change. You could almost picture Barker playing this sitting around on the back porch with some friends on a Saturday night. The guitar play does seem a little out of synch at times but it seems this is stylistic rather than inconsistent. Barker adopts a classic singer/songwriter style for You & Me, and the approach fares him moderately well. The song comes across bland, and Barker's energy level does little to break out of that shell. Mountain & Bear suffers from similar issues. Barker picks things up just a tad for Amber, getting more of a classic Americana/Country feel to the song. The energy level is still just a few notches above torpor, but Barker's voice and tuneful melodies will inspire you to keep listening and see if he can break through.

Listeners are at least partially rewarded on Walking Along. Barker shows a bit more commitment to this song, and the arrangement itself is charged with a bit more energy than the tracks that came before. Barker reminds me of Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn because of the quirky nature of his songwriting, although Hearn, even at his quietest moments is always a ball of energy musically. My Lady finds Barker truly rounding into his own. The energy here is real, running through ever line and note of the song. It's also among the best songwriting on the album, as Barker's heartfelt lyrics ring true. Barker closes quickly on Bless You On Your Way, a gorgeously constructed and orchestrated tune full of symbolism and nuance.

You & Me is a solid effort, with Kevin Barker comporting himself very well. The album has its ups and downs, but Bless You On Your Way would make almost anything worth listening to. Barker has a sublime sense of melody and a quirky, not-according-to-Hoyle songwriting style that catches your attention, but at times the energy level that comes through on You & Me kills the individual songs before they even get started. When Barker is on his game, the results are wonderful. As it is, You & Me is solid, off-the-beaten path singer/songwriter fare that will at least have some nuggets worth checking out for most listeners.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kevin Barker at You can purchase You & Me as either a CD or Download from

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: The Twilight Hours - Stereo Night

The Twilight Hours - Stereo Night
2010, Triumphalops Music

Minneapolis, Minnesota's Matt Wilson and John Munson continue their on-again, off-again musical relationship under the moniker The Twilight Hours, releasing Stereo Night, their debut album (as The Twilight Hours) on an unsuspecting world. Starting out together in the 1980's in Trip Shakespeare, Wilson and Munson have also teamed up in Semisonic and The Flops over the years. This time out it's lush harmonies, strong lyrics and amazing musicianship that reign supreme. Wilson and Munson have always had a talent for creating vibrant and original music, but they've raised the bar with Stereo Night.

Stereo Night opens with Dreams, a mildly catchy Pop confection full of angst and hope. John Munson's voice is an intriguing one, imbuing a solid pop song with a sense of urgency that can't be easily explained but is palpable in the performance. Dreams is offered up in a wonderfully smooth arrangement that goes down easy without giving up any vibrancy. Yes keeps that same sense, making you want to hum/sing along and dance just a little bit. A strong melody and melodic arrangement mix perfectly in a song you'll be hitting repeat on over and over. The Twilight Hours slow things down a bit for Alone, a highly tuneful and emotionally dense tune that may either appeal or annoy depending upon your disposition to the song. The song does drag a bit on tempo, but it so sonically pretty you might overlook it.

My Return sticks to the same melodic sensibility that's driven Stereo Night thus far, but wraps it in a package that makes My Return the most likely single on the album. My Return isn't the sort of tune that is likely to become a major chart star, but more likely to hang around the lower end of the Top-40 long enough to become a regular contributor at Adult Contemporary radio. Winter Queen Of Tomorrow carries a hip-hop beat and talk/sing style reminiscent of Sublime; the song is highly danceable but retains the mellow vibe The Twilight Hours have so carefully crafted throughout Stereo Night. Goodbye Good Life is the highlight of the album, with a melody that simply won't leave you alone. Vocalist John Munson tries the upper limits of his range with ease, creating a simultaneously Poppy and haunting feel that's as enjoyable as it is disturbing. Stereo Night winds down with Never Mine To Lose, sticking with the same mellow, melodic sensibility that's carried them thus far and adding some near-Beach Boys style harmonies in the process.

The Twilight Hours is a band you're either going to get or not. There won't be many middle-of-the-road listeners here. The melodic sensibility of the band and their ability to marry gorgeous melodies to full, rich arrangements will appeal to many. And in spite of the mellow feel of the music, The Twilight Hours does not lack for energy or passion on Stereo Night. This may not be the album that breaks The Twilight Hours into the big time, but they're definitely on to something. Stereo Night is a sonic treat worth savoring.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Twilight Hours at or You can purchase Stereo Night as either a CD or Download from

Review: Marbin - Marbin

Marbin - Marbin
2009, Marbin

Chicago-based experimental jazz duo Marbin create out-of-the-box compositions using traditional forms and sounds that are anything bit. Closer to Pink Floyd than John Coltrane, Dani Rabin (guitar) and Danny Markovich (saxophone) defy branding with songs that range across genres. Forming in Israel, the duo was active there in parts of 2007 and 2008, before relocating. Since coming to Chicago, Marbin have worked with multiple Grammy winner Paul Wertico and appear on his album Impressions Of A City. Marbin released their self-titled debut EP in 2009.

Marbin opens with Abadaba, a mystic nouveau jazz offering big on ambience. Abadaba sounds more like a pensive rumination than an attempt at structured thought, evoking images of a gritty landscape and a sense of fractured peace underlying it all. Markovich takes the lead here in a style reminiscent of some of Sting's early forays into Jazz. Voice and guitar lead the way through Yodo, a lovely sidebar on the way to Mei. Mei is steeped in a dark beauty that conceals an uneasy edge just below the surface. The saxophone has a field day on Mei, driving through runs that would exasperate Miles Davis against the same sort of post-apocalyptic urban musical landscape.

Rabin takes center stage on Miyazaka, a brief but aesthetically pleasing composition that lilts its way into the more somber Crystal Bells. Crystal Bells plays out like a slow-growing, five-minute crescendo full of ambient synth, clockwork guitar and percussion and a melody that meanders pointedly above it all. Cuba finds Marbin blending Latin Jazz with a post-Modern pop sensibility, weaving adeptly amidst the surreal nature of the union. Darker contemplation returns on Rust, with distorted guitar playing out Jazz/Rock riffs over a straight Rock beat. The guitar work treads on some of the same territorial grounds as Eric Johnson here, but with a bit more chutzpah. Marbin closes with the bereft lullaby, Sleep Now, which carries an almost morose sense of peace.

Marbin is a challenging listen and a challenge to review. Marbin paints in musical oils, capturing the dark and half-light moments in music that is both thought provoking and uplifting at times. The instrumental work on Marbin is exquisite, and while the tone of Marbin isn't one to inspire huge Pop success, it's hard to imagine anyone not finding at least something to like here. That being said, Marbin is not the most accessible recording. Jazz and instrumental fans will stick around long enough to get into the good stuff, but pure pop fans with digital attention spans may not connect with Marbin.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Marbin at or

Review: Anshelle - Betty's Garden

Anshelle - Betty's Garden
2009, Muve Recordings

Anshelle isn't so much a band in transition as a band who continues to grow with each project they involve themselves in. Since breaking on the European scene in 2006, the Berne, Switzerland quintet has built a quiet yet impressive following, garnering significant airplay and chart success, even earning a JPF Award nomination in 2009. Anshelle's third album, Betty's Garden finds the band growing into a more organic sound without abandoning the quirky pop musicality that has drawn them such a following thus far. If Anshelle has lost their musical innocence on Betty's Garden, they certainly haven't lost their inherent sense of optimism. Betty's Garden finds the band navigating the murkier waters of adulthood without abandoning the youthful search for truth and beauty; all done against the backdrop of irresistible melodies and delicate Pop phrasing.

Anshelle opens with After The Fall, a hopeful tune that sprouts from a heavily layered Pop/Rock arrangement full of melodic overtones. After The Fall is a solid opener and likely single though not a chart burner. Crossroads maintains the full sound introduced on After The Fall in an otherwise innocuous tune. Vocalist Michele Bachmann has a Natalie Merchant thing going on; a full-voiced style that fits with the heavy pop Anshelle puts forth thus far. Turn On is filled with a positive message about not giving up on yourself or the world. It's a touching attempt, with a piano-driven chorus that is moderately catchy. Slightly Underdressed is an edgy rocker that captures the sort of social insecurity that runs prevalent through a society where rank ordering is based on social acceptance and style is a leading indicator. The song is very well written, capturing the angst of the moment perfectly.

Tree is a song about a confidante of stalwart nature. We all have a special place growing up, and returning home, and specifically to that place, brings a wealth of memories and often, comfort. Tree is a song about just such a place, where a tree is more than shade, but an old friend. It's a touching tribute. Building on the theme is Secret Garden; in which the narrator finds a refuge but this time to share. It's a decent Pop arrangement; melodic and fairly well-suited for light listening. Anshelle closes with Should Have Left Before, a belated eulogy for a relationship that's long outlived its purpose. The piano-driven ballad is full of heart-felt emotion but is a tough way to end of an album that's high in intentions and strong musically but lacking in enthusiasm.

Michele Bachmann has a unique and enjoyable voice that's instantly recognizable once you've heard it, and she and Anshelle deliver in an on-again, off-again fashion throughout Betty's Garden. At their best, Anshelle is an affable band, but as often as not they fail to connect with the listener on Betty's Garden. The delivery comes off as distant at times, but the real culprits are songs written from personal knowledge that doesn’t give listeners a leg up to understand and become part of the experience. This issue becomes less prevalent as the album progresses, suggesting that somewhere along the line something in the writing process clicked. Look for the next effort to be even better.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Anshelle at or You can purchase Betty's Garden on CD from Downloads are available through iTunes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Gills And Wings - Gills And Wings [EP]

Gills And Wings - Gills And Wings [EP]
2009, Gills And Wings

Gills And Wings was born in Miami Beach, Florida, from the songwriting partnership of Danny Reyes and Santiago de la Fuente. The pair moved to Virginia Beach to work with guitarist Alex McCallum (Jason Mraz) and added bassist Matt Hulcher and drummer Andrew Hackett in the process. Together, the quintet has gone to create music with the ethereal air of Radiohead or Coldplay and the glam of Bowie or Queen. Gills And Wings, the band's debut EP, serves as a throwing down of the gauntlet to the next generation of rock stars. Gills And Wings have arrived.

Breaking out of the gate with the sort of melodic glam Queen was known for, Gills And Wings breaks the glass with Rebirth Of A Nation. Guitarist Alex McCallum even captures some of Brian May's signature guitar sound, and vocalist Danny Reyes is a fair approximation for the vocal style of Freddie Mercury without being a sound-alike. Rebirth Of A Nation is about changes in the US and is delivered in sarcastic overtones, contending, perhaps, that the "rebirth" in this case may not be for the better. Catastrophe falls into the category of "mellow glam"; Reyes' voice drives this angst-filled number about letting your mouth get you into trouble. Solitude carries the same sort of heavy Baroque feel, but is perhaps a bit less accessible than the rest of the EP. On The Dealer, Gills And Wings offer up the viewpoint of a flawed man doing his best to show broken people love of a sort. The vocal performance is chilling, and the song is compelling for both its humanization of a social archetype and willingness to step outside of the politically charged conventional view. The song is amazing, showing a rare gift for capturing a person, place or moment in song. Gills And Wings closes with Circus, an infectious Pop/Glam number that will get stuck in your brain and stay there for days.

Gills And Wings have a sound with enough Prog and Glam in it to be considered Retro but are fresh enough to fly fans of Modern Rock and Pop. You'll hear Freddie Mercury comparisons regarding MLV, and they aren't unfounded, but Reyes lays himself out in his voice in a way that is highly personal and rarely found in a vocalist who is simply mimicking another. Gills And Wings have a very bright future. The self-titled EP is a great start.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Gills And Wings at or Gills And Wings [EP] can be downloaded from or iTunes.

Review: Sticklips - It Is Like A Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes.

Sticklips - It Is Like A Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes.
2009, Proliferate Music

Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) is the birthplace of Electro-folk trio Sticklips, one of the more interesting and unusual hybrid bands to cross my desk thus far. Based on the sweet melodies and cogent lyrics of songwriter/crooner Johanna Warren, Sticklips creates an inventive blend of electro and acoustic sounds that has been likened to a bunny with cyborg implants. The electric side of the equation comes from guitarist Jonathan Nocera and drummer/producer Jim Bertini, who run like children at play through the gently picked melodies that Warren pens on Sticklips' debut album, It Is Like A Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes.

Stickips opens with Bedding Wells, an incessant and droning folk tune with electronic ornamentation that lasts over five minutes on essentially two chord changes. Johanna Warren has a very pleasant voice, but Bedding Wells weighs on the listener before it's even halfway through. Know Your Blows finds the narrator trying to figure out her place in the world. The arrangement, though simplistic, is quite lovely, and the melody is catchy. Cattleships & Bruisers pads the hallways of unguarded consciousness for over six months, making little sense along the way. On We'll Have The Hags Flung Out, Sticklips gets a bit expeimental, playing with unusual rhythms, but the plodding nature of the song fits in with the album as whole.

This is the main problem with It Is Like A Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes: Sticklips' tendency to get stuck in musical ruts. Warren has a voice that's highly enjoyable, but the material is too flat and too much alike to hold a listener's attention for too long. Entropy rears its ugly head once in a while, where Sticklips overwrites a song with other sounds just for the sake of doing so. Composition and creativity are lost at the hands of something like innovation. It Is Like A Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes tries to mix things up at times, but gets bogged down in Warren's Hope Sandoval-type voice. Stickips recovers sufficiently but never really escapes from the incessant melancholy that pervades their debut album. It would be great to hear what Johanna Warren can do in a different setting

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sticklips at or You can download It Is Like A Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes from

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Jon Troast - Living Room

Jon Troast - Living Room
2010, Jon Troast Music

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin singer/songwriter Jon Troast writes engaging music while challenging the conventions of the music industry. For the first six months of 2010, Troast is touring the United States for free, relying only on sales of CDs and downloads for support. It's about the music for Troast, but he's also trying to make the point that buying music supports artists. In 2009, Troast engaged in a 100 concerts in 100 days tour, playing 100 house concerts in as many days. Inspirations from that tour resulted in Troast's fourth album, Living Room, released in January of 2010.

Great songwriting, a great voice and charisma are all qualities that Jon Troast displays amply on Living Room, but there's a fourth quality here that's often overlooked. Troast has put together an album that flows like these songs were always meant to be played together. This style of cohesive writing is quickly disappearing in the age of digital singles. Living Room opens with One Little Corner, a wonderfully catchy tune about finding a happy place. Troast has a John Mayer pre-Interview sound and appeal and the song is built around a melody and flow that are unstoppable. If you've ever wondered what house concert tours are like from the artist's perspective then you'll want to listen to Living Room Tour. Virulently catchy, Living Room Tour blends Folk, Rock, Americana and even hints of Zydeco in a wonderful listening experience. Troast's personality comes through here in waves, as he shows an ability to sell a song that's on a par with Sinatra.

Troast rings up more magic on the Orchestra Folk/Pop number When Beauty Speaks. We've all had moments in our lives where a person, place or moment strikes us with such force we lose our ability to speak. Whether it's attraction, awe or importance, the ability for emotion to short-circuit thought is one of the most maddening, and identifiable aspects of being human. Troast captures it perfectly in song. Just Enough hits on the essential components of love and how they can sustain a couple through rough times. Both the songwriting and performance are top notch. Troast offers up a Bluesy ode to the center of family life on They Call Her Mama. It's an un-romanticized tribute to Mom's who give their all every day for their family; a great song to dedicate to Mom for Mother's Day or on any day. Another Mile is a love song written from the road; rock with a blues undertow. It's a bit amazing the quality of the songs Troast boasts on Living Room; and his ability to comport them in nonpareil.

Perhaps the best of the best is Favorites; a song about the simple joy of being with the one you love, no matter where that is. A gorgeous melody wrapped in a simple, sweet arrangement and heartfelt, poetic limits creates a true Wow moment for the listener. What Will You Hold Onto is heartfelt and poignant with striking instrumentation. Stark and challenging but in a gentle fashion, What Will You Hold Onto will tug at your subconscious for days after you've heard it. Troast closes with Somewhere Down The Road, a parting song for anyone who lives on or makes their living on the road. Somewhere Down The Road is archetypal in them, and you could hear it being selected as either an opening or closing track for a motion picture. The lyrics might also inspire its selection for a farewell song at funerals.

Jon Troast comes across as easy-going in his music, but that presentation has an electric quality to it that lights up the stage; even the listeners in his presence. Living Room is brilliant, an absolute gem of an album that you will still be gaining enjoyment from years down the road. It's the sort of album that turns an unknown singer/songwriter into a household name with the right breaks. Whether those breaks come or not, you do yourself a disservice to not be acquainted with the music of Jon Troast. Living Room is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jon Troast at or
You can purchase physical copies of Living Room from Jon Troast's webstore. Digital copies are available from

Review: Chasing Kings - The Current State Of Our Future

Chasing Kings - The Current State Of Our Future
2009, Chasing Kings/BMI

Malibu, California's Chasing Kings have their origins in a friendship that started in sixth grade. Matt Schwartz (vocals/keys/guitar) and Drew Beck (guitar/vocals) began writing together in their early teens and moved to Malibu in 2006, where they added Nick Sandler (drums) and Mike Goldman (bass/vocals). All still in their teens, Chasing Kings bring their brand of remarkably mature and polished Pop/Rock to their debut EP, The Current State Of Our Future.

Chasing Kings open with a tremendous piece of dark, brooding Pop music in Empathy. The melody here is certain to keep you interested and make you want to dance. The Current State Of Our Future is a song written loosely about the future from the perspective of someone who has little idea how they might fit into it. The song shows both the naivete and cynicism of youth, certain about what's wrong but not really having a clue about what might be right. It's an intriguing tune with a light airy chorus masking a dark well of melancholy and uncertainty underneath. An Empty Handshake is a diatribe against the social habits of society, particularly in a celebrity-based business such as music. Falsehood is called out in an arrangement the recalls Radiohead. This Town was somehow both driven and bland at the same time, but Chasing Kings recovers nicely with Dark Sunglasses. Dark Sunglasses opens with delicious interplay between guitar and keyboards and has a lurking pop sensibility that will make you nearly want to dance. Chasing Kings closes with All My Life, an adequate closer that seems a bit anti-climactic in light of some of the other material presented here.

Chasing Kings shows a real aptitude for writing peppy yet emotionally-loaded rock songs with stirring melodies and a Radiohead/Coldplay ambience. The Current State Of Our Future is a bit uneven at times, but an intriguing introduction to a band with a bright future.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Chasing Kings at or, where you can purchase a copy of The Current State Of Our Future on CD. Digital versions are available from iTunes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Technical glitches, and viruses, oh my...

Hello folks. We've been having some technical issues this weekend that are slowing us down a bit. Consequently there will be no reviews today, but we'll be back bright-eyed and bushy tailed tomorrow morning. Have a wonderful Monday!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Sass Jordan - From Dusk Til Dawn

Sass Jordan - From Dusk Til Dawn
2010, RBE Music/Kindling Music/Fontana

Sass Jordan never goes away. The owner of twelve Top-40 singles in Canada (including two in the Top-10, keeps finding ways to express herself in the arts. The star of the off-Broadway hit Love Janis also served as a judge for six years on Canadian Idol. Her music has been featured on numerous television shows and soundtracks (including an iconic duet with Joe Cocker on The Bodyguard soundtrack. Jordan's toured with Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Carlos Santana and Cocker, but always returns to her own solo performing as the root of her creativity. On March 16, 2010, Jordan releases her eighth album, From Dusk Til Dawn. Rather than coasting comfortably at a point her career when the Juno-Award winning songwriter might, Jordan sparks with the vibrancy that turned heads even back in her days with Montreal’s The Pinups.

From Dusk 'Til Dawn opens with the delicious Blues/Rock of What I Need. Jordan steeps herself in the roots of old school Rhythm & Blues with the sort of strong rock vocal performance she's become known for. It's a knock out track that could be a big winner over the radios and at the award shows. Fell In Love Again goes with a classic Motown feel. You could almost here Mary Wells digging into this one, and Jordan does a great job with it. Awake is a gorgeous ballad full of regret; a song about getting ready to move on. For a rocker with something of a rough edge to her voice, Jordan is surprisingly polished and nuanced on the ballads on From Dusk 'Til Dawn. Jordan's everywoman act continues on Why Did You?, where she slips in Americana shoes amidst a big hook and catchy arrangement.

Lonely blends Country, Blues and Rock, ala Bonnie Raitt. This is another tune that could conceivably be a big hit over the airwaves. Jordan goes for an almost Appalchian feel on Matter Of Time, using very basic song structure and minimalist arrangement accented by great vocal harmonies. The song is well written and expertly performed. Jordan aces her cover of Tom Waits' Ol' 55, going for a highly fluid and smooth rendition, which works wonderfully well with and in contrast to Jordan's rock diva rasp. Stronger is great Pop songwriting; perhaps not as elemental as the other songs presented here, but certainly a decent offering. Jordan closes with the folky Home Again, a solid closer that sees Jordan adding to her versatility as a performer.

I remember the days of Racine and Rats, when Jordan was challenging Lee Aaron for the title of Miss Thing on the Canadian rock charts. Jordan hasn't lost the edge that made her a hit in Canada back then, but as an artist she's matured; adding nuance and class to a dynamic voice and an ear for melody that goes well with her ability to blow the roof off a room. From Dusk 'Til Dawn isn't so much a mellowing of Jordan's style or sound as it is a broadening of horizons. It would appear several years of judging the performances of others has made Jordan even more astute in making her own musical choices. On From Dusk 'Til Dawn she executes nearly flawlessly without giving up an iota of the energy or passion that always gave Jordan her Sass.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sass Jordan at or From Dusk Til Dawn sees its US release on March 16, 2010. Expect wide availability, if you simply can’t wait, the album was released in the Fall of 2009 in Canada, and is available through numerous resources on the web, including

Review: Kimerley Rew/Katrina & The Waves re-releases

Kimberly Rew/Katrina & The Waves - The Bible Of Bop/Shock Horror!/ Katrina And The Waves/KATW II
2010, Tummy Touch Music Group

The name Kimberley Rew probably won't mean a lot to most readers at first; it's not necessarily a name you'd catch in the popular press even at the height of his popularity. Kimberley Rew has written songs for The Bangles and Celine Dion, but a majority of his work was recorded by his own bands, Katrina And The Waves/The Waves. Rew started as part of the burnishing Cambridge, England scene in the 1970's. Rew was a member of The Soft Boys with Robyn Hitchcock, releasing two albums with the band before they split in 1981. The same year, Rew released his first album The Bible Of Bop. The Bible Of Bop was recorded in four different sessions with The dB's, The Soft Boys (with Robyn Hitchcock on guitar) and The Waves (with Katrina Leskanich and Vince De La Cruz). The album was followed by The Waves' Shock Horror! in 1982, and by Katrina And The Waves and Katrina And The Waves II in 1983 and 1984 respectively. The UK band couldn't find a label to release them until Canada's Attic Records (who had released albums from The Soft Boys) picked them up in 1983. It wasn't under a year or so later when The Bangles had a hit with a cover of Going Down To Liverpool that the majors took notice. Walking On Sunshine ended up becoming a big pop hit worldwide in another example of a band toiling for years to become an overnight success. This spring, Tummy Touch Music Group will release all four albums in special limited edtions, each with bonus tracks.

Rew's first album, The Bible Of Bop is an interesting mix of New Wave, Punk, and Beatles-influenced Pop music. Rew shows flashes of the songwriting talent he grew into, including the Knack-like My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long, Animal Song, The Nightmare and the Beatles-inspired Fishing. Rew covers all of the ground in between on an album with real spark but a lack of cohesion. The Bible Of Bop is like listening to a kid with a world of talent and raw skill who hasn't quite honed it yet.

The Waves' Shock Horror opens with the song that ended up putting Kimberly Rew and Katrina & The Waves in the spotlight, Going Down To Liverpool. It wasn't until the Bangles released it two years later that the song got noticed, but it led to the "discovery" of Katrina And The Waves. The version offered up here tighter than the Bangles' version and very much worth hearing. Rew's songwriting begins to eschew his Punk/New Wave roots on Shock Horror, moving more toward 1960's Rock and even R&B. I Caught The Milktrain, Strolling On Air, You Can't Stand Next To Judie and Saturday Week are highlights. Shock Horror includes as a bonus 4 previously unreleased tracks from 1976 recording sessions that show Rew's earliest development as a songwriter.

Katrina & The Waves (I) and Katrina & The Waves II will generally more familiar to fans of 1980's Pop. The former includes the original version of Walking On Sunshine, which varies a little from the version that ruled the airwaves in the mid-1980's, but its close enough. Each disc includes bonus unreleased or alternate versions of tracks, giving fans a chance to see behind the curtain of Rew's creativity.

As someone who grew up glued to the radio in the early-to-mid 1980's, I remember bopping along to several Katrina & The Waves songs. Rew's songwriting is at its most polished for the two most Katrina & The Waves albums (not to mention that Katrina Leskanich was a 1980's dream girl as a front woman). The four re-releases trace the development of Rew as a songwriter, from uneven but talented scribe in the 1970's to polished songwriter by the mid-1980's. It's about time these albums saw the light of day again.


The Bible Of Bop 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Shock Horror! 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Katrina & The Waves 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Katrina & The Waves II 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kimberley Rew at or The Kimberley Rew re-releases will be available in April of 2010 through Tummy Touch Music Group. Keep checking their website as well as Rew’s for details.

Review: The Coal Porters - Durango

The Coal Porters - Durango (April 17 - April 30)
2010, Prima Records

London's The Coal Porters have an ace up their sleeve in Kentuckian (and former Long Ryder) Sid Griffin, but their brand of alt-Bluegrass and Folk has made them fan favorites both east and West of the Atlantic Ocean. With the release of their fourth album, Durango (April 17 - April 30), The Coal Porters look to build on the critical and commercial success of 2007's Turn The Water On, Boy! The Coal Porters are coming up on their 20th anniversary as a band, and just seem to be getting better with time. Durango was born of pure inspiration following two killer shows near Durango, Colorado. The album was produced by Ed Strasium (Mick Jagger, Phil Spector, Belinda Carlisle, Jeff Healey).

Durango opens with Let's Say Goodbye (Like We Said Hello); a delicious bit of bluegrass picking around a sadly humorous tune about ending a relationship with the same smiles it started with. The lyrics here are particularly sharp: "I feel like a beer and she's craving vermouth" isn't about drink preference. Moonlight Midnight featuring Peter Rowan on guitar, and Carly Frye’s sultry alto on lead vocal. I'm Not Going Away is reminiscent of Blue Rodeo, with Sid Griffin sounding a bit like Jim Cuddy. The banjo work here is dizzying and the vocal harmonies top notch. The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Oil is a funny and funny tune that will make you want to dance.

Like A Hurricane is structured in gorgeous melancholy; a song about not being able to stand your ground in a relationship because the other won't stand still. Permanent Twilight may be the best writing on the song; the valedictory from a veteran who's paid the cost of war and would do so again if he were able. The song serves as a reminder that regardless of politics or belief, there are people in the world who sacrifice themselves every day for our ability to think and speak freely. The Coal Porters show off their immense instrumental skills on Roadkill Breakdown with Tim O'Brien sitting in on guitar. Two violins play off of the banjo here, delivering some killer riffs and delightful interplay. Carly Frye returns for the closing track, Sail Away, Ladies! It's a strong, entertaining tune and the instrumental work is simply over the top.

The Coal Porters offer up a solid brand of Newgrass Americana on Durango. Instrumentally the band has few peers, and both Griffin and Frey have their upside as vocalists. The songwriting on Durango is solid but generally not exciting. Humor and intelligence are woven through the songs on Durango, but the special spark that turns solid material into great material either isn't here or isn't utilized. Almost as if in the process of writing The Coal Porters make a lot of safe choices. It's a solid, enjoyable listen, but you can't but wonder if it couldn't be more.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Coal Porters at You can purchase Durango (April 17 - April 30) as either a CD or Download from

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: The Burning Hotels - Novels

The Burning Hotels - Novels
2010, Miss Press Records

Fort Worth, Texas quartet The Burning Hotels bring a delightful mix of melodic Post-Punk New Wave rock on their first full-length album, Novels, due in April of 2010. Shades of U2 can be heard at times rising out of the rich musical tapestry constructed by The Burning Hotels with the help of mixer Mark Needham (The Killers, Bloc Party).

Novels opens with the dense, compact Rock N Roll of Austin's Birthday. Tight musicianship and strong production values produce a British New Wave feel. It's an intriguing open to an album that both excites and disappoints in equal measure. Boy Or A Girl keeps the same vibe with a quirky sensibility added in, but by the time The River arrived I'd already begun to suspect that the sound and dynamic of Novels was a bit too static. On Time, The Burning Hotels pulled out of the rut, firing up a sound reminiscent of U2. The energy level rises noticeably on this song as does the tune's virulence, although lyrically The Burning Hotels don't seem ready to play on the same fields as U2.

Silhouette is pure melancholic Pop Noir; a highly enjoyable venture that doesn't so much reflect a change in approach for the band but better framing of their strengths. The Burning Hotels find a niche here where their low-key approach works well. Tempo and construction vary widely on Silhouette, and the band appears willing to take a few more risks. To Whom It May Concern lives on the strength of a strong chorus. The dynamic is still a bit too narrow here, but The Burning Hotels at least appear to be trying to stretch the boundaries a bit. Where's My Girl is pure New Wave Pop with a bit of commercial edge to it; the sort of tune that will play well live. The Burning Hotels close with their most vibrant track, One To Five. One To Five is very catchy; a great ending that will entice listeners back with a great last impression.

The Burning Hotels exploit a heavily layered wall-of-sound feel on what is essentially retro New Wave rock on Novels. The effect is wonderful when it works (and when The Burning Hotels decide to take chances), but can also be stifling when the band allows themselves to get stuck in a rut. This is more an issue for production than for the band themselves, as it is often difficult to hear these sorts of critical points from inside the creation process. It's the producer's responsibility to shape the overall recording to avoid both the appearance and reality of complacency of a band. The Burning Hotels manage to shake things up periodically on Novels, but not before becoming a bit too settled in established rolls. Novels shows some real potential; if The Burning Hotels keep pushing they're going to break through some walls and create some really vibrant music.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Burning Hotels at Novels drops sometime in April, 2010, but you can check out the first single, Austin’s Birthday, available as either a CD or Download from

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: Anna Coogan - The Nocturnal Among Us

Anna Coogan - The Nocturnal Among Us
2010, Anna Coogan

Seattle’s Anna Coogan has one of those voices that haunt you. There's a lonesome quality there that is entirely compelling, and Coogan know how to place her voice to fullest effect in arrangements that both frame and feature it in the best light. The Seattle singer/songwriter has been delighting audiences since she first started writing in 2002, and has released two albums to date that have won critical praise. On March 2, 2010, Coogan steps fourth with her third album, The Nocturnal Among Us. Written in the depths of two Seattle winters, Coogan waxes poetic on the sort of growing up we start to do once we think we've grown up. Getting married, becoming a responsible adult and the perspective of mortality all come into play. Produced by JD Foster (Calexico, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Griffin, Laura Cantrell), The Nocturnal Among Us is Coogan's best work yet, and will serve to cement her reputation as both a songwriter and performer.

Coogan starts off on the right foot with Back To The World, wrapped in a simplistic arrangement that allow the melody and ambience of the song to pour out in buckets. On Dreaming My Life Away, Coogan sounds like a classic Country crooner working a rock song steeped in melancholy. The vocal harmonies around Coogan are amazing, helping her to commemorate the sort of existential crisis that's a trademark of the human condition.

Coogan documents the cycle of a relationship from happiness to heartache on Crooked Sea, a dreamer's tale of love gone wrong told from the worldly perspective of one who thought it might come out like this all along. It's an amazing piece of songwriting and performed right to the cusp of perfection. Escapism reigns on Take The Sky And Run, a possible epilogue to Crooked Sea that's sharp but perhaps one of the weaker songs on the album. Love Again is a song of renewal; finding the will to get past the pain and live again. It's tuneful and well-written and Coogan wears it like a glove.

The highlight of the album is Holy Ghosts Of Texas. I'm not even going to go to great lengths to describe the song, as I suspect it's more a matter of how the song touches you than anything else, but it's powerful songwriting and Coogan is at her vocal best here. The song itself is an instant classic; the sort that other artists are likely to find and cover over time. So Long Summertime finds Coogan entering the Folk/Pop mélange of Natalie Merchant. It's a great listen that's easy on the ears and will recall Merchant's early days with 10,000 Maniacs. Coins On Your Eyes is something of a morality tale about figuring out what's important in life before it's too late. The song is delivered in a loving tone to someone whom Coogan knows will likely never change, and has a dark beauty that's full of love, a need to do something and the knowledge that nothing will ever be enough. Coogan says goodnight with The Nocturnal Among Us, a sad, pretty closer that serves as a musical mood desert for what's come before.

Coogan floored me from the opening notes of The Nocturnal Among Us. Her voice is truly something special, and Coogan has a talent for phrasing that's somewhat rare in Pop music. Coogan also is able to write and perform music that sounds 100% authentic, honest and from the heart. If she chooses, Coogan's going to be making music the rest of her life. Talent like this screams to be used.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Anna Coogan at The Nocturnal Among Us drops March 2, 2010.

Review: Ted Garber - American Rail

Ted Garber - American Rail
2010, Ted Garber

Ted Garber cut his teeth on the street corners of New Orleans, busking while a student at Tulane University, but performing has always been in his blood. Garber's father was a long-time regular on the Washington D.C. folk scene, and Garber grew up with a desire to be on stage. Garber's mix of Folk, Blues and New Orleans style R&B captivates audiences with both its refreshing honesty and musicality, drawing collaborators from bands such as Eddie From Ohio, Junkyard Saints and Last Train Home. Garber's latest album, American Rail displays the everyman grit of early Springsteen and a musical creativity that is both intriguing and surprising.

American Rail opens with It's About Time, a raucous mix of Blues, Soul and Rock N Roll that's highly danceable. Garber has an eccentric baritone voice that is engaging and pleasant to listen to. Break Me Down is an energetically mellow tune about losing yourself in another while setting boundaries to keep that from happening. Garber hits on a vibrant samba beat with virtuosic Latin guitar riffs on Montevideo, sounding like he's having a ball with the song. I should note that the entire band behind Garber sounds engaged at a high level; this is one tight unit that enjoys playing together.

Strike It Up is a solid blend of Rock N Roll and Soul, complete with Stax-style horns and a chorus that you can't help but sing along to. Strike It Up is the sort of song that gets a crowd moving, and Garber sounds at his very best here. Giving Tree comes back to a mix of Funk, Soul, Blues and Jazz that you could only be from New Orleans. Garber and band mix it up here with delicious results, guaranteeing dancing feet in any crowd. Waste Some Time is another highly catchy Rocker with Soul and Blues in its lineage. Garber seems to have a talent for these catchy tunes you just can't get out of your head. Live shows have to be absolutely insane.

March Of The Working Class Hero is in much the same vein: Great rhythm, catchy arrangement, high speed lyrical flow (ala Jason Mraz) and an insane need to dance/sing along. A Lot Like Me is a song about looking back at the follies of our own youth; with the realization that things work out alright in the end. It's an incredibly tuneful and catchy tune and will resonate with anyone who's old enough to share its perspective. Garber closes with Another Monday, an energetic Rock N Soul tune about getting through the weekend.

If you could splice the DNA of Dave Matthews with that of Rob Thomas, adding in a dose of Taylor Hicks and Jack Johnson, you'd end up with an artist not entirely unlike Ted Garber. Smart, tuneful songwriting combined with a memorable voice and a band as tight as the gates at Fort Knox make for highly enjoyable listening on American Rail. This is music you can listen to with friends, and it might just turn into a party.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ted Garber at You can purchase American Rail as either a CD or Download via

Review: Tireless Sedans - Score One For The Underdog

Tireless Sedans - Score One For The Underdog
2010, Superbob Records

On February 9, 2010, Moncton, New Brunswick’s The Tireless Sedans returned with their sophomore effort, Score On For The Underdog. The follow up to 2008's Parts & Labour EP is a dynamic step forward, maintaining the rootsy magic and distinctive musical style the Tireless Sedans have become known for while maturing both the sound and the outlook of the band. Moncton, New Brunswick's favorite sons might just bust out of their Province and go national in Canada with an album that's certain to be an early favorite in 2010.

Tireless Sedans come into Score One For The Underdog with a very different energy and approach than on Parts + Labour; a more melancholy and introspective feel exists here. The Lattice is a rumination on interconnectedness and it's strengths in a world where we are ever driven apart even as we are brought closer together by technology. Vocalist Dave Rahmer assumes the role of disaffected observer here. Sonically the song is interesting but the energy is a bit flat. Underdog follows a similar path; I don't mind the more introspective approach or the lower key approach musically, but the energy that Tireless Sedans exuded in the past seems to have taken a breather here. Half As Great finds the blood rushing back to Tireless Sedan's extremities in a song, ironically, about the impending death of a beloved pet.

Tireless Sedans mix things up a bit on Planning My Escape, a near-six minute guitar-driven opus that effectively mixes Prog and Pop in the process. Let You Down is a fine example of how to approach the more mellow sound Tireless Sedans seem to be playing with while maintaining the bright energy that has suffused their past work; it's one of the better overall songs on the album. Whose Leg was a split decision for me. I didn't get a lot out of the lyrics or melody, but I thought the instrumental work on the song was phenomenal, particularly the guitar. Things get interesting on Nightly News, alternating between an almost pensive plodding vibe and an aggressively classic rock feel in a guitar-led instrumental that's a real treat. Score One For The Underdog closes with Another Song No One Will Hear, a song that strips the act of making music down to what's truly important: the act of creation and release for the artist. The song seems to imply that the Tireless Sedans would be making music even if no one was listening.

Clearly, the heart of Tireless Sedans is in the right place. Score One For The Underdog gets off to a slow start but finishes nicely. Tireless Sedans perhaps entertained the idea of changing things up a bit on Score One For The Underdog, but their personality as a band, that slightly-unkempt brand of good-natured garage rock with a ken for pop melodies, reasserts itself and reigns supreme. Score One For The Underdog winds up being aptly named.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the Tireless Sedans at You can purchase Score One For The Underdog as either a CD or Download via

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Fozzy - Chasing The Grail

Fozzy - Chasing The Grail
2010, Riot! Entertainment

Fozzy has a long and inglorious history. Started as an Ozzy Osbourne cover band (Fozzy Osbourne) by members of Stuck Mojo, the band had a fateful meeting with WWE star Chris Jericho after a wrestling event in 1999. Jericho sat in with the band for a few shows but thought nothing serious of the collaboration. An ankle injury in 2000 that sidelined Jericho from wrestling brought him back to the band on a permanent basis. In the early days, Jericho performed as Mongoose McQueen, and Fozzy worked with a back story of having worked for twenty years in Japan under a music craft. Returning to the US, Fozzy found that a number of their songs had been "stolen" by major acts. Consequently, Fozzy's first two albums included covers of major rock and metal acts of songs supposedly written by Fozzy. In recent years Fozzy has moved to original material, gaining significant critical acclaim from the Rock media establishment that's lead to significant album sales and world tours. In January of 2010, Fozzy released their fifth album, Chasing The Grail. It's their best yet.

Fozzy opens with Under Blackened Skies, sounding like a cross between Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne. Under Blackened Skies is both tremendously aggressive and musical at the same time; high powered heavy metal with enough polish to reign on the Modern Rock charts as well. Martyr No More, chosen as a WWE theme for Wrestlemania, is built on a delicious riff. The song has great energy and a chorus that's pure, classic Rock N Roll. Grail features some delicious guitar work that can only be described as aggressively melodic. Grail is a powerful tune with something of a morality tale woven in.

Broken Soul is the sort of Pop-Inflected metal anthem that tops charts, launches sold-out tour and otherwise saturates airwaves until you can't even stand to hear the opening three notes of the song. Its tremendous songwriting with big harmonies a sing-along chorus; a certain Top-10 hit (at least). On Let The Madness Begin, Fozzy heads back to the abyss with a heavy melodic rocker loosely about temptation, spiritual warfare and giving in to our darker selves. The song is very catchy memorable and rocks like nobody's business. Pray For Blood is a big radio-oriented rocker that borders on mess but never really disintegrates. The song is strong from the perspective of sound and fury but lacks the cohesion that Fozzy displays on most of Chasing The Grail.

New Day's Dawn turns out to be a tough transition, with Jericho singing in a falsetto voice in an arrangement that's thoroughly out of character with the rest of the album. Rather than playing as a respite or illustrative diversion the song serves as a jarring slam on the breaks on a runaway train no one wants to stop. Fozzy gets a measured start forward with God Pounds His Nails, a powerful but trite song about the inevitability of life and consequence before sliding through the formulaic and bland Watch Me Shine.

Fozzy returns in full force on Paraskavedekatriaphobia (Friday The 13th), with flailing guitars, Metallica-style drum beats and a vocal line that explodes like a cannon-ball. Revival slows things down a tad for a heavy ballad that comes from the Ronnie James Dio/Sabbath school of Rock N Roll. Revival is full of hope; a jettisoning of the bad karma of Let The Madness Begin. Rich Ward's guitar work is creative and intricate, and the rhythm section of Frank Fontsere and Sean Delson fills the song with a driving menace. Fozzy closes in revelatory fashion with Wormwood, a nearly-fourteen minute mini-opera about the end of times written from the perspective of one who witnesses the spiritual wars accompanying the tribulation. The song is powerful and disturbing, transcending its genre to an uncomfortable art form. It's actually quite a wonderfully unsettling creation that adheres to the events detailed in the Book of Revelation and sets them against a dark and creative Progressive Metal arrangement.

It's often the projects that start out as an outlet that turn into something big. Fozzy started as a knock-off cover band for established musicians from Stuck Mojo; a play-thing to create a sense of musical balance that was fun and a step away from their day jobs. A decade later, you could argue that Fozzy is one of the more innovative (and commercially successful) metal bands stomping the floorboards of stages the world over. Chasing The Grail is the definitive work from a band whose arc is still rising. It's easy to imagine Fozzy one day taking their rightful places in Cleveland. The scary part is they just keep getting better.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Fozzy at or You can purchase Chasing The Grail as either a CD or Download from

Review: David Williams & The Wildgrass Band featuring Kristina Murray - The Crazy Kind

David Williams & The Wildgrass Band featuring Kristina Murray - The Crazy Kind
2009, Trapdoor Media/ASC

Wait a minute, I need to get the phone. Hello?
Yes... I just listened to it.
Yeah, she's amazing.
No, I don't know her phone number.
Sorry man, I don't have it. Try the band's MySpace.
Right. Bye.

Sorry, that was Nashville. They were wondering where Kristina Murray has been all of their life.
Don't let me short-sell you David Williams & The Wildgrass Band. Williams as a songwriter and instrumentalist is amazing, and the band is top notch. Williams is even a solid vocalist, but Kristina Murray cuts a vocal line that recalls folks like Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline. All of this becomes quickly clear on the band's latest offering, The Crazy Kind.

The Crazy Kind opens Annie Oakley; stepping right out the heyday of Country music with an ode to the original cowgirl. The writing and playing here are incredible, and Murray is a revelation. Crazy Kind feature a duet of Williams and Murray that could be about the life of a musician (or another other artist/performer). Going Home is done in a strong bluegrass arrangement, and while sounds and styles shift like sand throughout the album, you'll note quickly that the quality throughout doesn't change. Why Do Angels Get Wings? is a thrilling bit of hard-boiled Bluegrass. Murray sounds here like a hard woman who’s had a hard life, but reflects a rough-hewn beauty in the vocal line and the hope inherent in it.

Cheyenne has a real old-time feel and a melody that's absolutely gorgeous. The dueling violin sound gives Cheyenne a stark feel (particularly in the bridge), and the picking on both guitar and banjo are well worth listening in for. Ukrainian Girl feels a bit out of place here, but the story is well told and interesting enough that you'll forgive the indiscretion. Colorado finds Williams and Murray together again in a gorgeously melancholy song of remembrance before barreling into Half Bad. Half Bad is a tongue-in-cheek tune about the virtues of falling in love and the effects it can have on you. The band pays tributes to some of the greats of Country music in the process. Williams sets the metronome high on Paul's Song, ripping off rapid-fire lyrics about pinching pennies to get through hard times and adding in some of the most challenging pick work on the album.

Kitchen Table is a wonderful tune about the central dais of family life in another age. The kitchen table at one time was the place for visiting, family meetings, working out problems, negotiations, preparing for war and anything else you could image. It was the central meeting place. Kitchen Table pays tribute to this central role from the perspective of the memories that table holds in wonderfully subtle and nuanced terms and a pretty melody. Heavenly Road finds Williams on lead again, reminding me of a slightly older and more weather-worn Paul Gross vocally. Instrumentally there may be few better, and the low-key performance offered here is exquisite. Redheaded Singer has a muddy Bluegrass feel and celebrates the animal attraction a singer can inspire. Musically, it's a WOW moment right down to its dark, stark arrangement. David Williams & The Wildgrass Band close out with Floodwater, drawing on a tradition of finding light in darkness. The flood here is scene as a means of rising up to heaven. This song could have walked right out of an old Bluegrass songbook, and is deftly performed here.

David Williams & The Wildgrass Band featuring Kristina Murray is a musical force to be reckoned with. Folk, Country and Bluegrass outlets are likely to welcome them with open arms. Don't be surprised if they become something of a big thing either now or in the future. The group is good enough to headline in Nashville, but don't be surprised if a few slick record producers line up and try to pry Kristina Murray away. Her voice is one that would fit right in at the Grand Ol' Opry, and the band is good enough to play right alongside her there. The Crazy Kind works because the blend of all these elements (songwriting, musicianship, vocals) blend in all the right ways on the album. Even with a couple of slow moments, the quality never wavers. It's an album you'll come back to again and again.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about David Williams & The Wildgrass Band featuring Kristina Murray at You can purchase The Crazy Kind as either a CD or Download from

Review: Static Of The Gods - Knowledge Machine

Static Of The Gods - Knowledge Machine
2010, DelVerano Records

Boston trio Static Of The Gods is back with their third album, Knowledge Machine, on March 23, 2010. Recorded at a secluded farmhouse in Vermont, Knowledge Machine mixes natural inspiration and modern technology for Static Of The Gods' most intimate work to date. Building off their previous work with producer Matthew Ellard (Radiohead, Weezer), Static Of The Gods layered sounds and effects in an effort to bring out deep nuance in each song.

Knowledge Machine turned out to be a confounding experience as a reviewer. If you listen closely to Static Of The Gods, there is real talent here. Vocalist Jen Johnson doesn't have a perfect voice, but when she stays within the workable portion of her range she has a good, strong, clear sound that works for her. Guitarist Ben Voskeritichian is very talented and ready to bust out and show off at most anytime; unfortunately those opportunities don't often come on Knowledge Machine. What we get instead is a monochromatic set of songs that never vary much in dynamics or approach. Rest Your Head, the opening track, is the highlight of the album and is only mildly intriguing at that. Rest Your Head is ethereal, passive art-rock, and would stand out on a more varied album, but loses out in light of the sonic continuity of Static Of The Gods.

The more I listen to Knowledge Machine, the more I suspect the sound of the band is tailored to fit the vocal limitations of Jen Johnson, a constraint most bands face to one extent or another, but one might argue that the limits placed here aren't really fit to her voice at all. Johnsonis very competent within her comfortable range, but loses both pitch and tone in her upper register (Talk You Down, Mean Streak). On the other hand, White Flag is a high point for Johnson, although the sound is too static. And that's the big complaint about Knowledge Machine, the sound and dynamics on the album are just too constricted. As a listener this is a real turn off, lending to the impression that all of the songs sound the same. Some of the tunes (Talk You Down, Fire-Eater) want to rock but aren't allowed to, and much of the album falls into a bland somnolence that is catching.

Static Of The Gods has some real potential and real liabilities. Every band does, but I'd argue that neither are managed effectively on Knowledge Machine. Shoe gaze rock thrives on the disconnect from the outside world, but even the most avid shoe gazer has a heart beat and reacts to external stimuli they claim to ignore. This sense of vitality is missing from Knowledge Machine. My one wish for Static Of The Gods is that they get back in touch with their own beating hearts the next time around; the talent level here is sufficient to do some surprising things if this band ever plugs in.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Static Of The Gods at Knowledge Machine is due for release March 23, 2010. Keep checking the band’s MySpace page for availability.

Photo by: Alicia J. Rose

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Molly Thomason - Through The Static

Molly Thomason - Through The Static
2009, Molly Thomason

Molly Thomason carries with her the sort of polish and maturity of an established artist whose been writing and performing professionally for a number of years. She’s been writing for seven years by now, but the fact that she’s all of fifteen years old will come as something of a surprise if you hear her before you see her. The Antigonish, Nova Scotia resident who was born in Kent, England into an artist family was singing practically before she was talking; if there’s ever been someone born to make music its Molly Thomason. Thomason makes a big impression with her debut album, Through The Static, showing poise beyond her years.

Through The Static opens with Untitled #2 (Kiss Me), a solid Pop tune in an acoustic arrangement with a killer chorus. Thomason establishes herself early as a center-of-the-road mix of Ingrid Michaelson and Lisa Loeb; sweet with just a bit of edge to her. Textbook Cute is a tough read. After several listens I am still not sure I'm with the text, but the arrangement is great. The song seems to be about involvement with someone who is dysfunctional and up-front about it; either the dysfunction is catching or the narrator realizes that she, too, is given to the same sort of dysfunction. Streetfight didn't catch me hard the first few listens, but the more I hear it the more weight it has. It's a song about the tension and anxiety of growing up and enmeshing your life with another. Thomason plays around the edges of sharing space and establishing boundaries in very artful, musical terms.

Break My Heart is a dash of Urban Folk-core, ala Ani DiFranco, but with a slightly harder edge. The song is catchy and memorable, and among Thomason's better offerings. Summer Rain is another highlight, capturing that moment in a relationship where things come to the brink of falling apart before the wounds heal. All relationships go through these moments; even the ones that work out. Thomason shows a deft lyrical touch here. All That I Would Like To Say is a heartfelt ballad that leaves nothing unspoken. The abject honesty could be either refreshing or too much depending on the listener's perspective. Thomason returns to Urban Folk-core for Sister Sarah. Again, I didn't quite stay with Thomason on this one, but the song has a great sound.

Thomason shows a lot of vulnerability on Through The Static, touching on the realization in a relationship that her partner would be okay without her. It's a crisis of confidence borne of insecurity, asking the key question: Do you love me? One Anthem Girl confronts a behavior that can and likely will tear apart the relationship (in this case drugs). The song seemed a little flat, nowhere near as emotionally intense as you might expect given the emotional range shown elsewhere on Through The Static. Thomason saves her best for last. Little Bones features Thomason at her most poetic; crafting a delightful Folk arrangement with Jazz accents and instrumentation that bring the song to life.

Molly Thomason's Through The Static is a very solid effort, providing consistent quality songwriting and performance throughout. Just when you think Thomason will soldier out as she came in, she throws you a wink and a curve with the final track; an invitation to come along and see what else she has up her sleeve. Thomason isn't about you to blow you away, but she has a very affable voice, a knack for telling stories and guiding them through compact Folk/Rock arrangements, and the ability to pull the rug out from under you when you least expect it. Through The Static is a solid listen you'll come back to. You might even find yourself sticking around to find what comes next.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Molly Thomason at You can purchase Through The Static as either a CD or Download from