All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Rob Morsberger - The Chronicle Of A Literal Man

Rob Morsberger - The Chronicle Of A Literal Man
2010, Hieroglyph Records

Rob Morsberger is a classically trained pianist and composer based in New York City who not only scores television shows (NOVAscienceNOW) and session work with artists such as Marshall Crenshaw, Crash Test Dummies, Jules Shear and Loudon Wainwright III, but he also has three distinctive albums to his name. Writing from a musical depth that is rare in pop music, Morsberger crafts highly intellectual and occasionally twisted stories in song that are never dumbed down and always challenge the listener to think beyond their usual day-to-day considerations. Having found this style of writing works, Morsberger saw no need to change on his upcoming release, The Chronicle Of A Literal Man, due out May 11, 2010.

The Chronicle Of A Literal Man is based ostensibly on the life of Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted from Hollywood due to their political beliefs in the days of Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare. The album opens with the title track, the unrepentant declaration of someone whose been beaten down, pushed around and generally chastised yet perseveres and perhaps even thrives in spite of it all. It’s a great rock tune with an energetic guitar solo and a solid kick-off for the album. “Stroke Of Insight” will call to mind thoughts of a Tom Petty/Bob Dylan hybrid. The song is highly literate and smart, with an unforgettable melody and solid arrangement to wrap it up tight. “Independent Movie” finds Morsberger stripping down the sound to acoustic guitar, percussion and voice. The musicianship here is top notch. “Modestino” has a pensive, perhaps even rueful feel; a classic 1970’s singer/songwriter vehicle. “When Everything Ended” is one of the more artful breakup songs you’ll come across. This retrospective on a romance gone bad has a gorgeous melody, and Morsberger crafts the story with a gentle but compelling touch. “Nebraska In Winter” could be an epilogue; marking how sometimes the escape we seek becomes the loneliness we run from. The story is told in a Springsteen-esque ballad (think The River) that will hold your attention. Morsberger closes out with the solid Americana arrangement of “You Don’t Get It”, a safe closer that moves back to the sonic middle of the road.

Rob Morsberger displays a keen but subtle wit on The Chronicle Of A Literal Man; not a humorist per se, but a fine story teller who sprinkles his stories with wit, charm and the occasional deep artistic reference that pretty much only Dennis Miller gets without reading the liner notes or press materials. Morsberger is an outstanding and in-demand side man, and his score work is impressive, but it’s in his singer/songwriter mode where Rob Morsberger shines brightest. The Chronicle Of A Literal Man is very much worth spending some time on.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Rob Morsberger at or The Chronicle Of A Literal Man drops on May 11, 2010. Keep checking Morsberger's web page for availability.

Review: Lisa Hugo - It's Time

Lisa Hugo - It's Time
2009, Lisa Hugo/GEMA

Melbourne, Australia native Lisa Hugo has pretty much done it all as an entertainer. Singer, pianist, songwriter and TV star, Hugo has performed to thousands of fans in Australia, throughout Europe, on cruise ships and in hotels all over the world, and these days in her home base of Dubai, U.A.E. On top of all of this, Hugo is a top-shelf vocal coach with a range that covers three octaves and a big sound that counters her diminutive stature. Hugo's latest album, It's Time, features Belgian musicians Dirk van der Linden (guitar/Hammond organ); Janos Bruneel (double bass) and Pieter Vandergooten (drums) across eight original tunes and three covers.

It's Time opens with "With You I Can Be Me", showcasing Hugo's wonderfully sultry alto voice perfectly. Presented in a nifty jazz/pop arrangement, the bright and airy tune contrasts well with Hugo's amber vocal hues. "Blame It On The Sun" (Stevie Wonder) is sentimental and rueful; pretty but not overly memorable. "Lovin' You" falls into the sappy end of the boat again; which would be forgivable were the energy or camp there to offset/support it. Hugo's voice is pretty here, but the energy level is flat. "Oh, My Baby" seems fit to Adult-Contemporary radio standards; a song you'd most likely here on a syndicated show like Delilah or on a mix-tape somewhere. "The Letter" (Wayne Carson Thompson, made famous by The Box Tops) is an interesting interpretation; much slower and darker than the original. This one may take you by surprise as it is initially quite alien to your pre-conception of the song, but the cover is surprisingly good and works in spite of the long history of the song. "Time Is A Healer" (Eva Cassidy) is the final cover on the album, an average take that perhaps only the hard-core Cassidy fans will have a strong opinion about one way or the other. "Please Try To Understand" features Hugo at her vocal best on a song that just isn't up to the level of the singer. Hugo closes positively with "Strong At Heart", a solid message delivered in a solitary and lovely arrangement that makes the album more memorable.

Lisa Hugo has a great voice, but the song selection and arrangements on It's Time don't always serve her well. The songwriting in general is average to slightly above; leaving Hugo to carry the songs with her voice; a feat she pulls off more often than not. Even the covers seem like they've perhaps been chosen more on the basis of personal preference rather than what fits Hugo's voice, with the exception of "The Letter", which turns out to be one of the bright spots of the experience. It's Time is a decent listen, but perhaps doesn't shine the best light on Hugo, whose voice deserves more attention than this album will garner her.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Lisa Hugo at or It's Time is available from as a CD or Download.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Michal Towber - Lifesblood

Michal Towber - Lifesblood
2009, Michal Towber

Michal Towber made her national debut in 2000 on Columbia/SONY records with Sky With Stars, an under-appreciated and under-promoted album that wasn't as accomplished as the music Towber creates today, but was certainly indicative of the talent that Towber possesses. The Ashkelon, Israel-born and New York City raised singer/songwriter/lawyer has had her highlights over the past decade, including performing at the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, having songs featured in movies and television and playing with the likes of Soul Asylum and Patti Rothberg. Towber has been nominated for six Emmy Awards for her television score work and won one, but it's as a singer/songwriter that Towber continues to find the closest expression of herself. This has never been more apparent than on her most recent album, Lifesblood.

Lifesblood kicks off with "Get A Life" a kiss-off song for the 21st century. The sonic mood here is definitely low-fi with a gritty feel, and is contrasted with a melody that is virally catchy. "Break Up Song" builds on the theme with a more adult kiss-off song. Where "Get A Life" seems off the cuff, "Break Up Song" is emotional and powerful. "Here We Go" has a resigned feel to it that pervades the song; a quality that nearly turns on Towber and the listener. Towber draws on the theme of the Great Flood (i.e. Noah's Ark) in "Weather The Storm", using it as a fable to outline the abiding power of love. The songwriting here borders on awkward, but it's the awkwardness of a songwriter stretching herself beyond her comfort zone. It's an exciting step forward as a songwriter and performer.

Towber goes a bit bubblegum with a hard edge on "You Slay Me"; this isn't likely to be a fan favorite but may work well in a remix as a dance club tune. "Nothing Makes Sense" is an emotional whirlwind of unrequited love and obsession. Stark and emotionally profound with a deep sense of yearning, the confusion that rains on "Nothing Makes Sense" is something we've all experienced either ourselves or through the eyes of another. The melody here is beautiful, and the entire arrangement has a theatrical feel. "Oceans Of Wine" finds Towber changing the pace with a bluesy, piano-based song with an almost classical air. Towber pulls the song through its paces as it morphs into a refined rocker with some great dirty guitar work. This is Towber's best vocal performance on the album, and "Oceans Of Wine" is very competitive for best songwriting.

The other candidate in the songwriting category is "The One", a speculative love song that is stark and lonely in its inclinations. The narrator here speaks of beautifully of love but is tortured by a question that's never posed but lies at the heart of the song. There's a definite theatrical feel here; the song itself has stage presence, and you could imagine it being central to a show. Nola you just have to listen to if you want to begin to understand. Towber weaves the sounds of New Orleans around a dark tale that references Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire as well as Sting's musical paean, "Moon Over Bourbon Street". Lifesblood closes with "Not Dead Yet", a song about not letting up in the face of the world's opposition to you being who you are. "Not Dead Yet" is well intended, but simply doesn't work as well as much of the rest of the album. It's certainly an awkward close to an otherwise strong effort.

Michal Towber has taken her lumps in the music industry, but always finds a way to succeed and continue doing what she loves. A dynamic performer who combines a model's aura and sophistication with a girl-next-door awkwardness that is endearing, Towber lives through her songs, displaying heart, emotions and persona through her songs that just can't be created, but is borne of real experience and honest songwriting. If this means a few awkward moments here and there then so be it. Lifesblood is aptly named. It's not a perfect experience, but it's one that will suck you in and keep you coming back.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Michal Towber at or Lifesblood is digital only, and available through iTunes.

Review: Everything Is Made In China - Automatic Movements

Everything Is Made In China - Automatic Movements
2009, EIMIC

Everything Is Made In China is an English-singing band from Moscow that has used the internet and constant gigging in Eastern Europe to gain wider attention for themselves. Everything Is Made In China has a highly ambient feel constructed around lyric vocals and a repetitive mien ala modern Electronica played on manual instruments. The band's third recording, Automatic Movements, blends the sounds of Dream Academy, The Moody Blues, The Midway State and Howard Jones into an eclectic and subtle package.

Automatic Movements opens with "Moving Fragments", a wonderfully smooth and ethereal bit of pop songwriting. Full of layered sounds, "Moving Fragments" features a pretty melody that is understated yet encompassing. "The City Of Airship One" is a bit more urgent, using sound effects to support an arching theme. "Blindfold" is pretty but bland; more engaged in sonic mood-setting than thought, like a painter who does great backgrounds with ineffective objects. "Sleepwalking" finds Everything Is Made In China dancing with 1980's New Wave pop while maintaining an ethereal and detached air. The song is pretty and perturbing at the same time. The rest of the album is an exercise of more of the same, with the penultimate track, "Gentle Silence" offering up essentially a rundown of the album stylistically.

The music of Everything Is Made In China is quite pretty, and Automatic Movements is a pleasant sojourn, but there's really very little contrast or conflict throughout. The result is a pleasant listen that loses traction as you repeat the experience. No one will doubt Everything Is Made In China's ability to construct pretty, esoteric pop songs. The trick will be to add in an emotional aspect that urges listeners to buy in once the initial aesthetics have been appreciated. That quality is not often evident on Automatic Movements. If Everything Is Made In China can combine these qualities they have a bright future in front of them.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Everything Is Made In China at or Automatic Movements is available as either a CD or Download via

Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: The Roans - Ebb [EP]

The Roans - Ebb [EP]
2010, The Roans

Singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Nate Gullickson moved from his home in Montana to Seattle in 2007 to find a music community more attuned his musical style. Gullickson's brand of ethereal and psychedelic folk/pop made Gullickson a lot friends in the music scene; friends who encouraged Gullickson to marry his instrumental creations to lyrics. Gullickson concentrated his efforts, and the resulting songs gave birth to The Roans. On April 15, 2010, The Roans will release their debut EP, Ebb, featuring four original compositions and a lot of ambient ear candy for listeners with the patience and appreciation for a different sound.

Ebb opens with "Fireside", a mellow musical hors d'oeuvre with a mellow, psychedelic feel. Gullickson has a pleasant voice that occasionally loses its footing on Mt. Pitch but conveys a bright and care free approach even as it circles lyrical dark waters. "You Tried (I Tried)" is full of mournful complacency. Gullickson explores the ending of a relationship in terms of acceptance that seems nearly listless. The authentic nature of the lyrics gains points, but there's little artistry in the story line, where everything is black and white and nothing's left to ponder. "Soft Forest" has a dreamy quality created by the blending of guitar and reverb. The Roans will remind those familiar with Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies keyboardist both vocally and in compositional style. The Roans really hit their stride here with a blending of ambient and psychedelic styles that overlays significant internal energy and struggle with an ethereal musical frosting that never really sits still. Ebb slinks back into the night with "Winter Sleep", blending lyric passages with a rhythmic intensity you might expect out of a twin bill of Dave Matthews and Rusted Root. "Winter Sleep" is a compelling listen; somnolence is overcome by the vibrant energy of life, which wells and sways until borders on controlled violence and ultimately chaos. Gullickson's voice doesn't always hold up well on the slower passages, but remains sonically pleasing even when he missteps.

Ebb is both a cornerstone and a jumping off point. Nate Gullickson explores the shallow mountain pools near the peak that beget streams, quickly moving into vibrant waters that appear placid on the surface but run deep and wide. "Winter Sleep" suggests that even as Gullickson was finding the sound on Ebb he was already beginning to envision something more; something listeners will be certain to hear when The Roans venture forth with their next project, whatever that may be. For now, Ebb is a tricky introduction that is both more and less than it seems. The Roans rely heavily on ambience and rhythm to drive compositions that are atypical in scope but sonically satisfying. The energy and angst you hear bubbling beneath the surface is an artist Becoming.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Roans at Ebb [EP] is due for release on April 15, 2010. Keep checking The Roans MySpace page for availability.

Review: HB3 – Studies For Traps & Piccolo

HB3 – Studies For Traps & Piccolo
2010, Zegnotropic Records

HB3 is back with his third album in the past twelve months. HB3 started this odyssey with The Veldt, one of the most wholly original recordings of 2009. HB3 Plays The Piccolo Bass found HB3 exploring the seams of his muse a bit, focusing more on musical minutae in an esoteric collection that allows for the development of diverse styles and sounds. Now, with the April, 2010 release of Studies For Traps & Piccolo, HB3 strips his writing down to its most basic level. Using generous effects (including the legendary Super Fuzz pedal); HB3 manages to create one of the most distinctive and original recordings for the year thus far.

HB3 gets things moving with “Rocket Science”, revolving around one big riff that’s reminiscent of early KISS. HB3 gets a big, fuzzy/buzzy sound going early in an entertaining but over-too-quickly opener. “The Machineries Of Joy” is a cyclic, buoyant song that alternates uplifting, energetic passages and movements with serene times full more of ambience than anything else. “Leroy Of The Ancient World” is a crunchy, distortion-filled jam with big percussion. “Leroy” is at least in part a vehicle to show off effects. HB3 goes a bit generic on “Fire Fisher”, a pleasant but essentially harmless tune that sounds like incidental music from a film score. If you’ve ever wondered what might have happened had Stockhausen and Namlook been contemporaries, give a listen to “Brutal Bed”, where the spirits of their muse fight it out for supremacy. The battle is a well-fought draw as HB3 lays out what sounds like a sonic ode to the concept of creation. “Tyrannosaurus Rex” is a powerful rocker that sounds like an ideal template for a neu-metal anthem. “The Abyss” takes you on a lonely, explorative journey that’s nearly subsonic at times. The song has an intriguing new-agey feel without giving up its essential edge. HB3 closes with “The One Who Waits”, a stodgy marriage of drum and bass that sees the two co-exist but never really connect. They play together well at first, but the illusion of conformity is shattered incrementally like a slow-motion replay.

HB3 has had quite the busy year. Studies for Traps & Piccolo certainly shows dedication, but from a commercial perspective HB3 likely went to the well one too many times for this one. Studies For Traps & Piccolo is musically solid, and the musicianship that HB3 presents never seems to waiver. Hard core fans are more likely to appreciate Studies For Traps And Piccolo than anyone else, but there’s much good here to behold. This isn’t HB3’s best or most exciting work; it’s actually somewhat pedestrian compared to his last two albums, yet would still make most any artist proud. Studies For Traps & Piccolo is worth checking out.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about HB3 at Studies For Traps & Piccolo is available as a CD or Download from Amazon, or as a download from iTunes.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Review: Barefoot Truth - Threads

Barefoot Truth – Threads
2010, Barefoot Truth, LLC

Mystic, Connecticut quintet Barefoot Truth are examples of the power of new media to make or break a band. In an era where the myopia of major radio has grown to epic proportions, services like Pandora have unprecedented power to help a band explore their fan base. That happened last year for Barefoot Truth, when Pandora Radio picked up their song “Roll If Ya Fall” and put it in rotation alongside artists such as Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band. Almost overnight Barefoot Truth went from a local band to a band in demand all along the east coast of the US. Looking to build on that momentum, Barefoot Truth returns with Threads in 2010.

Threads opens with “OK”, a delicious pop arrangement full of great hooks that is absolutely radio ready. Lead vocalist Will Evans sounds more than a little like Rob Thomas here, although that sound doesn’t necessarily hold throughout the album. “All Good Reasons” is highly enjoyable, a light and airy arrangement, mostly acoustic, blending elements of Americana and Pop. “From The Earth” is a call to arms for all of mankind to band together on the basis of the one thing we all share; coming forth from the Earth. The song casts aside ideology and demands that fate not be accepted. The arrangement is wonderfully executed, but the message perhaps doesn’t carry the power intended. Barefooth Truth sticks with the heavy environmental message on “Damage Done”, taking to task the power brokers and captains of industry for the deluge to come. The song is well-written, but lacks the veracity it might have had even six months ago before the climate-gate scandal.

“Roots Of Stone” finds Evans using a rapid-fire lyrical style ala Jason Mraz. The song is a bit on the dark and heavy side and sonically is the class of the album. “Curtain Call” is the sleeper single on Threads; danceable and dynamic pop full of funk that you’ll find yourself listening to again and again. Barefoot Truth raises their musicianship a notch for “Without A Fight”, a sort of pragmatic tune about not giving up on yourself. The piano work in this tune is worth checking out. Threads closes out with “Day I Die”, offering up an intriguing bit of fatalism in light of the call to cast fatalism aside in “From The Earth”. The musicianship and composition here are superior. Barefooth Truth show how young and fluid their perspectives are on “Day I Die”, but also firmly establish their ability to write an “It” song. This can only lead to good things down the road.

Barefoot Truth have something special cooking up in Mystic. Perhaps it’s the salty air or the pizza. Whatever it is, Barefoot Truth have broken through the regional cap and gained national recognition. Barefoot Truth shows the ability to craft and deliver songs with wide appeal without kowtowing to the bastardized pop that haunts commercial radio. The band doesn’t succeed with every song on Threads, but the band gives a solid effort on every song, raising their game at times on the album and showing flashes of what they might become. Threads is a great follow-up.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Barefoot Truth at or You can purchase Threads as either a CD or Download from

Review: The Active Set - The Active Set

The Active Set – The Active Set
2008, Canard Sauvage Music

Los Angeles post-punk rockers The Active Set have managed to generate quite a buzz in Southern California. The quartet, comprised of Matthew Stolarz, Francis Ramsden, Wayne Russell and Michael Castro, released their debut CD, The Active Set, in 2008, and have been gigging in support ever since.

The Active Set opens with “Escape Act”, a jangly rocker reminiscent of The Figgs. Vocalist Stolarz seems to have an uneasy relationship with the melody line, varying pitch almost as a matter of whim. “Mindless” is entertaining rock n roll; a catchy song about being your own worst enemy, and offering up a less-than-ideal fix for the condition. “Rnrg” is an urgent rocker that’s highly danceable and full of angst all at the same time. “I’m Not Coming” is a stretch for the band; this one requires a bit more sonic refinement than The Active Set seems comfortable with at this point in time. It’s a solid song, but just doesn’t work as well as it might. The Active Set closes with “Better Brigade”, a sonically rough by catchy and enjoyable tune.

The final song, “Better Brigade” places a good spotlight on the forte of The Active Set. The band seems to have a knack for aptly combining punk sound with a pop sensibility. The combination isn’t new to music by any means, but the bands who can marry the two well are few and far between. The Active Set haven’t shown that they can do it consistently yet, but they have shown they can do it. There’s a lot of potential here.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Active Set at or You can purchase The Active Set as either a CD or Download from

Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Meklit Hadero - On A Day Like This

Meklit Hadero - On A Day Like This
2010, Porto Franco Records

San Francisco singer/songwriter Meklit Hadero chose the vibrant arts center as home like a moth chooses the light. She could have gone nowhere else. Born in Ethiopia and raised in the US, Hadero brings a wealth of cultural influences to her writing and recording, a plethora that is only enhanced by the multi-cultural stew that is San Francisco. Hadero began performing publicly in 2005, and quickly threw herself into writing while working as co-director of San Francisco's The Art House. Hadero's writing comes to full fruition on her upcoming debut album, On A Day Like This, due out April 20, 2010 on Porto Franco Records. Featuring some of the pillars of the San Francisco music community in supporting roles, On A Day Like This establishes Hadero as the Left Coast's answer to Norah Jones.

Hadero brings a warm, inviting voice to On A Day Like This, opening with “Walk Up”. Dappled with strings, “Walk Up” is a watercolor in music where Hadero paints the elements of her song with a poetic mastery that’s awe-inspiring. Hadero’s approach is low-key ala Norah Jones, but there’s significantly more sonic experimentation in the margins. The song is unique and intriguing and sets the stage well for the rest of the album. “Float And Fall” is a catchy little jazz number that will be rumbling around in your noggin for days. “Leaving Soon” finds Hadero experimenting with the sound of her voice against the background of a solid tune; the effect is enthralling and will have you hitting repeat to hear it again and again.

Hadero offers up a sociolinguistics lesson on “You And The Rain”, reminding us that many cultures do not define such a complex phenomena as rain with a single word. The instrumentation of “You Are The Rain” carries a quirky gentleness that’s highly entertaining and enjoyable. “Feeling Good” blends from African into Western style with a highly simplistic lyrical base, but Hadero’s voice is at its most striking here. "Soleil Soleil" keeps simplicity as its focus, but the dance tune has some interesting sounds going on in the arrangement that will intrigue the musicians in the crowd. “Walls” is the best all-around song on the disc. It’s also the one you’re most likely to dislike on the first listen through On A Day Like This. Hadero’s voice as it’s most enigmatic here; this may not sit well on first listen, but the more you hear the song it will grow on you. Meklit Hadero’s voice carries a fascinating beauty through the vocal line, but it’s a beauty you may need to shift your perspective to hear fully. On A Day Like This closes out with the ambient jazz study of “Under”. It’s a decent enough tune but a bit anti-climactic as a closer.

Meklit Hadero is distinctive, with a voice that lulls, intrigues and occasionally even makes you step back and figure out what she’s doing. Some of it is in the blending of cultural styles, and some of it is simply having an unusual tonal mix ala Sarah McLachlan. On A Day Like This offers a true blending of styles and cultures, taking risks that aren’t really risks at all, and opening up the spectrum of pop music to sounds that aren’t often heard on Western stages outside small communities in large cities. Hadero is distinctive enough and talented enough to become more than a regional act. On A Day Like This is good enough to establish Hadero as a national act, assuming the right break comes along. Takes some time to get to know Meklit Hadero; one down the road you can lord it over your friends that you were in on the secret before everybody else.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Meklit Hadero at or On A Day Like This drops on April 20, 2010. You can pre-order the album as either a CD or Download from

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Andrei Matorin - Opus

Andrei Matorin - Opus
2009, Armored Records

Andrei Matorin appears to have been born (or at least raised) to be a jazz musician. Studying in such vaunted institutions as the Boston Center for the Arts, the Conservatoire de Geneve and the Berklee College Of Music, its likely Matorin has never experienced the starving artist phenomenon first hand, but his passion for jazz shines through every note and run on his debut album, Opus. The Brazilian-born Matorin was exposed to jazz at a young age by bassist and friend Josef Deas, who introduced Matorin to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Ray Brown, among others. Matorin has never slowed down since, completing a dual program at Berklee in jazz composition and jazz performance as well as continuing to study and perfect his classical technique.

Opus opens with “Smile”, a friendly discussion between violin, piano, bass and percussion that grows into a near duet between the violin and piano; similar to two Broadway divas taking over the stage from lesser players in a finale. Offered in a wide-open arrangement with tremendous highs and lows; these peaks and valleys are measured more in intensity than volume. “Smile” is highly lyric in both the violin and piano, with Dan Pugach’s polyrhythmic drum part punctuating their conversation like a color commentator while Luques Curtis glues together with a vital-yet-unassuming bass line. “Then And Now” finds Matorin’s violin taking on a slightly darker tone. Melodically reminiscent of some of Sting’s more esoteric forays into Jazz (or at least his band’s), there is a great deal of conflict and loss woven between the lines of the song; a current than runs deep beneath the surface but touches every note even if you never quite see it.

“Coming Home” is full of reverie; joyous moments are recalled in a musical line where echoes of times past weep from Matorin’s bow like a melancholy catharsis. Brighter thoughts ensue and interweave as the listener is turned to and fro by the juxtaposition of past and present in the song. Matorin and his band introduce a slinky, sneaky feel on “Silver Blue”, sounding like a score element from an old mystery film. This is great music for skulking by a pulp-fiction private eye; not dark or ominous but almost with a comic air at times. “Trancoso” is a vibrant dance with Matorin’s violin as the main voice, but Takeshi Ohbayashi steals the show in a supporting role on piano. Chaotic subtexts feed into a classic parlor jazz feel throughout the song. Matorin underscores the chaos in the final moments of "Trancoso" before ascending to sublime ending that marks release.

“One Last Song” is a wonderful change of pace; a daydream in song that inspires images of summer days with lots of sunlight and high fluffy clouds where you can simply drift and let your mind wander where it will. Matorin is the prime mover here, waxing and waning like the breeze, but always present. The only offering on Opus that seems out of place is “Hymn No. 1”. Little about the song would suggest the contemplative or reverent nature of a hymn, and the composition fails any sort of coherency test. The focus here is on numbers: speed and how many notes Matorin can fit into a measure or line. Compared to everything else on Opus, “Hymn No. 1” sounds messy and incoherent. Matorin rights the ship however with the moody violin/bass duet “Sunday Blues”. “Sunday Blues” sounds like pure creation; it wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn that this recording was a one-off live improve between Matorin and Curtis. Curtis’ bass solo in the middle is pure chaos; something of a “huh?” moment but resolves back into the structure of the duet to close out.

Andrei Matorin is well-schooled in the art of Jazz, and his schooling shows throughout Opus, but there’s a quality that shines through here that simply cannot be taught. Matorin has a love of the music he plays that’s unparalleled, and displays flashes of genius born of love and intensity with the violin in his hand. Opus is highly creative, sticking primarily to a classic sense of jazz improvisation, digressing only when Matorin deems appropriate. Opus is an album that fans of modern jazz will be happy with, and even the stodgiest of jazz purists will gladly offer a space in their collection to.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Andrei Matorin at or You can purchase Opus as a CD or Download from

Review: Galya - If Only

Galya - If Only
2009, Vocation Records

Galya discovered the piano as a 6-year old school girl in her native Ukraine and quickly immersed herself in the works of Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Ravel. Over time Galya developed a taste for the work of David Lanz, Yanni and Keiko Matsui as well as a host of popular artists, but Galya’s piano style lives and breathes in a world of new age music rooted in the classics. These influences bear out on the now Parisian Galya’s debut album, If Only.

If Only opens with the title track, a pretty song full of melancholy and regret. Galya builds palpable emotion into the piano line. "Breath" is cyclical in nature and very full of emotion, ranging in scope from cinematic to over-bearing. "Aquarelle" is a thing of beauty; dark and moody for a time before it takes off and soars. There's an undertone of anger or pain that never abandons the melody line even in its skyward moments. "Riverland" features some of the best emotive work on the album, with Galya using exquisite phrasing and resolutions to bring out the beauty of the composition. "Silence" is full of angst and irony, a contemplative piece full of a refined and distant beauty that Galya shows you glimpses of but is never close enough to grasp. "So Me" is the light moment on If Only, an effervescent tune that plays like bubbles floating on a summer breeze. Galya closes out with "Angel Dust", a solid composition that is an adequate closer but is perhaps not as strong as the several songs that came before it.

Galya's greatest strength is in her phrasing and emotive style, gifts she uses to full effect only intermittently on If Only. At her best, Galya is an absolute pleasure to hear. When not fully engaged, Galya is sufficient for background listening. If Only is about 50/50, enough to make it worth checking out.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Galya at If Only is available as a download through

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Jonny Lang - Live At The Ryman

Jonny Lang - Live At The Ryman
2010, Concord Records

Jonny Lang was a phenom when he broke onto the national scene in the mid-1990's, displaying blues guitar chops and a voice that rivaled artists many years his senior. Now an established artist with half a dozen albums under his belt, Lang is one of the guitarists that young up-and-coming axe men hope to be compared to. In spite of all the success Lang has had over the years, the consensus has always been that his greatest moments are on stage. Concord Records attempts to catch the magic of a live show with the release of Live At The Ryman on April 20, 2010.

Live At The Ryman opens with “One Person At A Time”, a great blues/rock tune that sounds fantastic in a live setting; danceable rock and roll featuring outstanding axe work. “Bump In The Road” is a strong tune that is buoyed by the vocalists around Lang. Lang sounds great on his own, but his backing vocalists fill out the sound in almost magical ways on this rocker with a disco vibe. Gospel, rock and blues blend into a waltz for the positive vibe of “Turn Around”, a song so anachronistic stylistically that it works better than you might guess. Lang covers Tinsley Ellis’ “A Quitter Never Wins” in fine fashion, although his guitar work sounds more like Stevie Ray Vaughan than anyone else on this tune.

Lang revs it up on the funky “Don’t Stop (For Anything)”, plowing through big testosterone-laden guitar licks in an early 1970’s style and adding some highly soulful vocals into the mix. The gospel influence returns on “Thankful”, mixing with funk and soul on an entertaining but highly repetitive tune. The best performance on the disc might just be the wide-open funk and soul of “I Am”; you might find yourself losing a few minutes as you sink into this one. Lang ends up the show and album with his first hit and signature song, “Lie To Me”, in a five-and-a-half minute version that features the most expansive guitar work on the album.

Jonny Lang and his band show tremendous chemistry on Live At The Ryman, running through eleven complex and entertaining songs and making it sound like the easiest thing in the world. Lang has blossomed into a consummate performer with a distinctive voice and a guitar style that incorporates subtlety and power in equal and complementary measure. Live At The Ryman captures Lang’s stage presence well, owing to an outstanding performance to capture as well as talented production, engineering and recording staff. If Jonny Lang is new to you, then Live At The Ryman is an essential starting point. If you’ve seen Lang play live, then Live At The Ryman is everything you’d expect or hope it to be.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jonny Lang at or Live At The Ryman drops on April 20, 2010. Pre-orders are available through, but expect wide availability in multiple formats.

Review: Steve Baskin - Naked

Steve Baskin - Naked
2009, Vanelle's Songs

Atlanta singer/songwriter Steve Baskin cut his teeth with bands such as Hugo A Gogo and The Hippycrickets as well as with Cindy Wilson (B52s). Along the way, Baskin has shared the stage with such greats as The Beach Boys, Percy Sledge, Don McLean, June Carter Cash, Edwin McCain and Mike Mills (REM). Baskin's sophomore solo effort, Naked, features nine original tunes and a cover of the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" that should gain him some attention from pop radio.

Naked opens with "Catch Me If You Can", a catchy rocker with a candy-coated chorus you won't soon get out of your head. "Please Don't Leave" plays in much the same vein, a classic rock roll love song with a chorus that sticks with you. "Naked" and "A Day In My Shoes" shows Baskin's weaker side, musically. Both verge on sounding whiny and a bit out of focus. Baskin recovers nicely with "Float On Down", an energetic country rocker that's quirky in style and features some excellent guitar work. "Something Smells Fishy" is likely to be a fan favorite, particularly live; an upbeat yet dark blues tune that will have you hitting repeat. "I Think I Love You" is pure bubblegum, and doesn't seem to change much no matter who covers it. It might just be the perfect pop song and is therefore very hard to make a mess out of. Baskin gets it right with a solid rendition. "Worse Comes To Worst" is a decent enough tune about runaways and how good girls can end up on the wrong side of the tracks. The tune sounds a bit preachy but is otherwise a solid listen. Naked closes with "Lie", a seeming afterthought may have been better left for a b-side.

Naked is an uneven experience; At his best Steve Baskin is a solid songwriter and highly entertaining. Baskin is very capable of descending into a whiny, over-emotive sound vocally, and when he does things just don't work out well. Generally, Naked stays on the plus side of Baskins' voice, and the album is generally a solid effort throughout. The songs offered here suggest to the listener that they may fare better in a live setting, but if you've never heard of Baskin before, Naked is a decent introduction.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Steve Baskin at or You can purchase Naked as either a CD or Download from or from

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Mark Knopfler - Get Lucky/US Tour

Mark Knopfler - Get Lucky
2009, Reprise Records

The first time I really became acquainted with Mark Knopfler as a guitar player was listening to his album of duets with Chet Atkins, Neck And Neck. I was certainly familiar with Knopfler’s work with Dire Straits, including the all-world effort Brothers In Arms, but Neck and Neck opened my eyes to Knopfler’s ability to play ridiculously difficult passages on guitar and make them look and sound like the easiest thing in the world. Knopfler, if possible, raises his game another notch on his latest album, Get Lucky; by eschewing any sort of market thinking and writing straight from the heart. The eleven songs on Get Lucky are a series of short stories and vignettes about people, places and times that may or may not be from Knopfler’s own personal history, but sound thoroughly authentic as if Knopfler is writing about people and places he’s known intimately. Knopfler will be touring the US between April 8, 2010 and May 9, 2010 in support of Get Lucky

Get Lucky opens with “Border Reiver”, a sonically gorgeous Scot/Celtic tune that holds within it a surprisingly driven tune. The reference to the land-based pirates of the Scotch/English border is an interesting one that will give you much to ponder if you’re so motivated. “Hard Shoulder” is a song of heartbreak delivered in truck driving terms. The poetry here is surprisingly subtle and is accompanied by a melancholy melody and a hopeful outlook; a truly amazing piece of songwriting. “You Can’t Beat The House” is an instant classic; a live-in-studio take that just serves to remind how amazing well-rounded and talented Knopfler is with a guitar in his hands. The musicianship of Knopfler’s entire band is off the charts here. “Before Gas And TV” returns to the Celtic themes of “Border Reiver”; mournful, reminiscent and darkly beautiful.

Knopfler pays tribute to guitar maker John Monteleone on “Monteleone”; a tune so beautiful you can’t but calling it a love ballad. Knopfler’s folk aria about a man who pours the love of his craft into every instrument he makes is a thing of beauty; the song not just an ode but a testament. “Cleaning My Gun” shows the instincts of a survivor, a veteran who has seen the wars and still feels most comfortable with a gun around. The song puts a very human face on gun owners and their motivations, miles apart from the archetypical assault rifle owner wanna-be. Knopfler brings the character in “Cleaning My Gun” fully alive without overstatement or caricature. Knopfler pays tribute to independent race car driver Bobby Brown (or at the very least his car) on “The Car Was The One”, an amazing story song that will leave you shaking your head. Knopfler’s creation has a cinematic feel, like the theme from a biopic.

On “Remembrance Day”, Knopfler looks back on the days of youth, remembering all the people who meant the world back then and the things they did together. The song opens over a game of cricket, but it could as easily be baseball here in the US. “Remembrance Day” is ripe for triteness and yet manages to miss it all together. Gorgeously arranged, Knopfler manages to be sentimental without over-playing his hand. “Get Lucky” is written from the pragmatic perspective of a blue collar worker who gives it his all every single day and keeps his eyes open for the small victories that make it seem worthwhile. The perspective is a generational one that seem to fade a bit more with each passing year, but those of you with depression or WWII era parents may recognize it in some of your older relatives. Knopfler’s character is wonderfully drawn in song. “So Far From The Clyde” is about the death of a ship and what happens to it after the fact, but is really a commentary on the fragility of life and how quickly the world moves on. Knopfler’s story-telling takes on deep undertones here and is wrapped in an amazing one-man arrangement. The song isn’t so much angst-filled as matter of fact, but it is a stark take on mortality written from the perspective of one who stares it in the face. The epilogue of the album is “Piper To The End”, which returns to the Celtic roots of the album while preparing for the final journey in life. Knopfler’s main character looks beyond this world to the next, and lays down his own terms (“When I leave this world behind me/to another I will go/If there are no pipes in heaven/I’ll be goin’ down below”). It’s a deeply personal account of one person’s reckoning about their final days upon the earth, a goose-bump inducing thing of beauty that ranks among Knopfler’s finest compositions.

To put it in simple terms, Get Lucky is brilliant. If this were the last thing Mark Knopfler ever wrote or released it would be acknowledged that he went out at the height of his powers, but it’s clear that Knopfler, like a fine wine, keeps getting better with age. Get Lucky is pleasing from the perspective of songwriting and musicianship, but it’s the subtlety and grace of Knopfler’s story-telling that raise this from being just another good Mark Knopfler album to a crown jewel in a storied career that finds Knopfler continuing to grow and perfect his craft at an age when many recording artists are mailing it in with their umpteenth reunion tour. Get Lucky can be nothing short of a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. Knopfler will be touring the US in support of Get Lucky between April 8th and May 9th of 2010 before returning for dates in Europe. Don’t miss this opportunity see a master craftsman at work.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mark Knopfler at Get Lucky is available as either a CD or Download from Check Knopfler's tour page to see if he's coming to a town near you. The tickets are a bit pricey at most venues, but it's worth it to see a master craftsman at the height of his art.

Review: Correatown – Correatown

Correatown – Correatown
2009, Correatown

Angela Correa is one of the more distinctive indie voices in Southern California. Growing up with music as a central part of her life, the Northern California native was destined to make her own music all along. Correa makes a big impression wherever she goes with her mix of gentle folk and pop sounds, strong honest songwriting and a golden voice. Correa’s band, Correatown, wowed them at SXSW this past week, and you’ll see why on their debut EP, Correatown.

Correatown opens with “Shine Right Through”, a gorgeous folk/pop tune with an easy feel and ethereal airs. Correa’s voice is pure silk, and “Shine Right Through” plays like an angel’s lullaby. The song reflect a desire to see the beauty in the world and be that beauty; not from a sense of vanity but in the vein of magnifying the beauty of the world for all to see. This is covered in the context of a relationship. “Everything, All At Once” is gorgeously lush minimalist pop in the vein of Mazzy Star without Hope Sandoval’s brand of somnolent melancholy. “Play” is a romantic daydream in song. It’s among the prettiest tunes on Correatown and finds Angela Correa waxing about what she might be looking for in a relationship. “Valparaiso” is a bit of reverie about a trip that took place in younger days; a memorial for a time, place and friends gone by that is specific to Correa’s life but is so universal in theme you’ll find your own memories buried within. Correatown closes with “Sunset And Echo”, a sweet and mellow song of love. Memories and connections get bound up in angst about the future like leaves upon the tide in this gentle closer.

Correatown really doesn’t sound much like Sarah McLachlan, yet that same gentle, ethereal nature inhabits the songs and voice of Angela Correa. There is an elegance that runs throughout Correatown that is nearly elemental in nature, and it’s easy to imagine Angela Correa being an artist that young artists hopefully listing themselves as sounding like ten years from now. For all of its polish, Correatown is still a bit rough around the edges, as the sound is still developing somewhat, but Correatown might just be the harbinger of even greater things.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Angela Correa and Correatown at or The Correatown EP is a compilation of songs and singles from Angela Correa/Correatown's catalog. Check them out on iTunes.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: The Whispering Tree - Go Call The Captain

The Whispering Tree - Go Call The Captain
2010, Modern Vintage Recordings

New York City-based duo The Whispering Tree have been turning heads for six years now. Classically trained vocalist Eleanor Kleiner and French bassist Elie Brangbour met in 2004 at the London Center for Contemporary Music. The Whispering Tree has gigged all over the world, including a long-standing gig in China on their way to settling in Astoria, Queens. On April 6, 2010, The Whispering Tree releases their full-length debut album, Go Call The Captain, featuring their distinctively flavored original blend of folk and rock.

Go Call The Captain opens with “By The Side Of The Road”, a solid folk/rock tune that seems like a likely first single from the album. “So Many Things” is a great taken on commercialism and consumerism. The song is vibrant and very well written, but the highlight of the song and the disc really, is Kleiner’s voice. Eleanor Kleiner has a voice full of warmth, with tremendous tone and an almost angelic beauty. That voice carries “Song To Silence The World” in spite of a distinct lack of energy. “Go Call The Captain” is a SongDoor songwriting competition winner, and takes on the corporate world in obsequious and sometimes awkward terms. The best song on the CD is “Slide”, a funky pop tune with acoustic instrumentation and a light hip-hop beat. Brangbour is the life of this tune, offering a vibrant bass line that enlivens the song as an equal partner to Kleiner’s gorgeous voice. This is a potential hit. “Soon” and “Washed Ashore” close out the album on a quiet note, neither able to live up to the level of “Slide”.

Go Call The Captain is a solid introduction to The Whispering Tree. Eleanor Kleiner has a voice you could listen to all day, and Elie Brangbour helps to build a vital base for Kleiner, at times supporting her and at times offering a vital contemporary voice to the songs. Go Call The Captain is a bit uneven on the songwriting side, but there’s a definite chemistry between Kleiner and Brangbour that serves them well and should continue to do so many albums into the future.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Whispering Tree at or Go Call The Captain drops on April 6, 2010. Keep checking the band's website for availability.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: The Lions Rampant - It's Fun To Do Bad Things

The Lions Rampant - It's Fun To Do Bad Things
2010, Deep Elm Records

Burlington, Kentucky’s The Lions Rampant go for a deep old school vibe with blues-based party time rock n roll on their debut album It’s Fun To Do Bad Things, due out April 6, 2010 on Deep Elm Records. Recently nominated for Best Rock Band and Best Live Act in the Cincinnati region; The Lions Rampant put on an electric live show of highly melodic garage rock. Stuart Mackenzie (vocals/guitar); Nick Vogelpohl (bass/vocals) and Nate Wagner (drums) are joined by a cast of friends on It’s Fun To Do Bad Things, capturing at least some of the energy the band exudes live.

It’s Fun To Do Bad Things opens with “Give Me”, with garage rock and punk blending in loud and unrefined tones. The song is highly repetitive on the lyric side but a fun listen. “I Need (Your Love)” is catchy, danceable rock n roll with a messy age, 1960’s style. “Kara” has an almost Van Morrison feel to it with a big, buoyant melody line. It’s a nice, simple love song that sounds both sincere and innocent. The Lions rampant gets back to the danceable rock n roll on “Shake It Out”, a party waiting to happen. “It’s Fun To Do Bad Things” sounds like a great song for a bar or party. The organ and horns over guitar, bass and drums works well in this messy-but-catchy tune, but doesn’t carry the sort of energy or vitality one might expect in a live setting. “Leave Me Alone” is sonically entertaining but much too repetitive. “All Night RNR” is the best track on the disc, a bouncy tune best served as an encore in a club. It’s Fun To Do Bad Things closes with “Cigs & Gins”, an interesting bit of bounce and slam that lacks substance.

It’s Fun To Do Bad Things is an uneven but mostly pleasing rock ‘n roll experience. The Lions Rampant may not garner a reputation for musical complexity, but they know how to turn out good time rock music. From a lyrics perspective, the songs on It’s Fun To Do Bad Things are a bit short on substance. Repetition gets used to mask a lack of complexity or extended thought on a few too many occasions, but the sort of garage/melodic punk music The Lions Rampant is intended to be more of a visceral than an intellectual experience anyway. This is good music for a Saturday night.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Lions Rampant at or It's Fun To Do Bad Things drops April 6, 2010, but is already available as a download via

Review: Shady Cats - Love Callin’

Shady Cats - Love Callin’
2006, Grady Crumpler

Raleigh, North Carolina’s Shady Cats has been a long time in the making. Singer/songwriter Grady Crumpler started playing a regular gig near his home back in 1995. After being invited to play a private party, he hooked up with drummer Bill Eagen, who provides the rhythmic core for Crumpler’s songwriting. Together with a revolving committee of musicians, they became known as Grady Crumpler & Last Call, and eventually Shady Cats. Shady Cats began recording songs and demos nearly a decade ago. This piecemeal approach led to a focus on the songs rather than a specific sound for the band. Crumpler shopped songs to various producers. Consequently Shady Cats’ debut album, Love Callin’, has three producers of note involved. John Plymale (The Pressure Boys, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Superchunk, Meat Puppets); Dick Hodgin (Hootie & The Blowfish) and John Custer (Corrosion Of Conformity, Cry Of Love) all bring their masterful hands to bear on Shady Cats’ work. The result is an uneven but promising album that makes up in creativity what it sometimes sacrifices in continuity.

Love Callin’ opens with the uber-catchy title track. Vocalist Grady Crumpler has an enigmatic and enjoyable voice that's occasionally reminiscent of Elvis Costello. "Love Callin’" is a great start; if this song had been released circa-1986 the members of Shady Cats could have bought mansions with the proceeds. "Lost Myself" marches the line of demarcation between 1970's classic rock and 1980's pop; a territory that Shady Cats tread throughout much of Love Callin’. "Lost Myself" has one of those melodies that stay with you and recur at the oddest moments. Crumpler shows a deft lyrical touch on "She Kisses Me With Her Eyes". The song is virulent, catchy enough to knock "Lost Myself" out of the catbird seat in your brain, and the imagery is just off the beaten path enough to catch your attention.

Shady Cats have a special guest on "In The Moment", with legendary producer and performer Don Dixon (REM, Guadalcanal Diary, Hootie & The Blowfish, Moxy Fruvous) sitting in on vocals. Dixon's vocals are top notch, but the song gets a bit too wrapped up in its soul-searching feel. "You Got A Way" finds Shady Cats back in the early 1970's sonically, featuring big guitar riffs and barre chords as rock and jazz mix in uneasy but pleasing measures. On "Lines", Shady Cats head for a solid rock arrangement with country accents (primarily in the guitar line). "Lines" is a highly enjoyable song that stands out in spite of not being ostentatious. Shady Cats show serious chutzpah on "I Want Independence", with Crumpler laying down the most serious guitar solo on the album. Shady Cats find pop magic on "Take Me", a high-speed rocker with R&B roots that could be a hit in any decade in the rock era. If "Love Callin’" would have enabled the members of Shady Cats to buy mansions back in the 1980's, "Take Me" would have bought the entire town.

Shady Cats dig in with a positive message on "All The Way", but message falls a bit flat in a lounge arrangement that sounds contrived and very much out of context with the rest of Love Callin’. "Till The Rain Comes" sticks with the positive thinking, pointing out that sometimes even the rain is a good thing. The sound here is a cross between Elvis Costello and Fleetwood Mac (particularly in the harmony vocals); a retro sound that sounds amazingly relevant for the music scene of today. Shady Cats wind down with the theatrical rock aria "Desperation", among the most enjoyable tracks on the disc. The Cats taken listeners on an interesting turn at the albums close, dangling another side of the band as they walk out the door that is likely to bring listeners back the next time around.

Shady Cats put their best foot forward on Love Callin’, blending 1970's classic rock and 1980's pop and in the process serving up a highly palatable brand of rock 'n roll that's highly palatable for today. Grady Crumpler is a solid lead on vocals, and accents the songs on Love Callin’ with mildly adventurous guitar work that will please the ears of casual listeners while seeming a bit too tame of fans of classic rock. Love Callin’ is a safe album, but some of the songs here are so catchy they might need to be quarantined.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about Shady Cats at You can purchase Love Callin' as either a CD or Download from

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: Misty Boyce - Misty Boyce

Misty Boyce - Misty Boyce
2010, Modern Vintage Recordings

New Mexico native and New York City-based Misty Boyce got her feet wet as a professional musician playing keyboard for The Naked Brothers Band. Don’t let her tween-pop roots fool you, however; Boyce is a serious songwriter in her own right, with a drop-dead voice and a style that compares well against folks like Regina Sarah Slean, Regina Spektor and Tori Amos. Boyce’s debut album, Misty Boyce, is due out on March 30, 2010 on Modern Vintage Recordings

Boyce opens with “Razors”, a jaunty, angry tune very much in the style of Sarah Slean. Boyce admonishes an old love to go away, although methinks she doth protest too much. It’s a great composition, and the layered vocal harmonies are a great accent. “Trouble” is a highly stylistic ballad; a sad soliloquy from a broker person who’s taken satisfaction in being broken but is now turning away someone who would be good for her for fear she’ll ruin him. It’s a case of tragic redemption through self-sacrifice. Boyce surrounds this story with gorgeous instrumentation and a near-perfect arrangement. Boyce gets a bit more pop-oriented on “Be A Man”. Written from the perspective of a child acting out because of a divorce in the family and a new woman in dad’s life, “Trouble” is an amazingly stark and potent bit of songwriting. Don’t be surprised if this one gets licensed for movies and television

“How Long” is a delicious mix of intense emotions in a stark arrangement and a distinctive pop sensibility. “Regrets” seems more rueful than anything else, mixing regret and a positive outlook in a viable power-pop arrangement that works well for Boyce. The best pop songwriting on the album comes in the form of “Love You Down”, a song that might win the title as “ultimate come-on song”. Do not be surprised if “Love You Down” becomes a mix-tape favorite. Boyce wears her heart on her sleeve on “Slow Burn”, a nearly mournful tune of devotion. The arrangement Boyce crafted for “Slow Burn” is a gorgeous mix of dark and light; hope and pain. “Dutch Girls” is stark and needful; a song about loneliness in a digital age where we are drawn closer and closer to each other even as we grow more confined within our digital walls. There is an over-arching sense of loss that runs throughout Misty Boyce, which turns out to be something of a post-breakup album. Boyce doesn’t leave you mired in the emotional ruins however, ending up in the self-awareness and hope of “Snowed In”. “Snowed In” finds Boyce forced to stop for a day and see her life as it is; and realizing that things are okay. It’s not healing, per se, but certainly a sign that all will be well.

Misty Boyce announces Boyce to be a musical force to be reckoned with. Comparisons to Regina Spektor, Sarah Slean and Tori Amos are all well-founded, but Boyce is her own songwriter, and one senses that over time her sound might become even more distinctive. As a freshman effort, Misty Boyce approaches brilliance.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Misty Boyce at or Misty Boyce drops on March 30, 2010. You can pre-order the album as either a CD or Download from

Review: Becky Schlegel - Dandelion

Becky Schlegel - Dandelion
2010, Lilly Ray Records

When we reviewed Becky Schlegel’s fifth album, For All The World To See two years ago it was a revelatory experience. Schlegel showed the poise and talent of an old-school country performer. On April 6, 2010, Schlegel returns with her sixth effort, Dandelion. The expectations are high considering Schlegel’s last effort and the level of talent she displayed. While Dandelion does have some nice moments, it doesn’t live up to For All The World To See.

Dandelion opens with “Anna”, a sorrowful view of grief from the third person perspective. Schlegel the narrator tells us about someone who still talks to her deceased husband in the dark of night; a solid story song that tells us love survives even death. The title track, “Dandelion” is a mildly plodding affair with interesting minor key vocal harmonies, but Schlegel actually manages to sound whiny on the lead vocal. “Colorado Line” is all about looking back on a great love of our youth and longing for yesterday. Schlegel sounds a lot like Dolly Parton here in one of the better songs on the album. Schlegel’s energy runs flat across “Nowhere Bound”, “I Never Loved You Cowboy” and “I Never Needed You”, where she seems to lack the courage of her convictions.

“So Embarrassing” is one of the high points of the album, with the narrator having left home for a time because her man has been cheating. She’s cleared her head and returned home for one more try to find him with someone else. “So Embarrassing” is all about the moment of indecision as she stands on the front porch trying to decide what to so. The songwriting is brilliant, although Schlegel’s resigned performance lacks the emotional investment the song implies. “When It Rains” is a nice piece of songwriting about being in love with someone whose life is on the road. It’s a “stolen moments” concept that plays well with Schlegel’s voice. “Reunion” plays like an Epilogue to “Colorado Line”; a decent love song that perhaps strays a bit too far into the realm of syrupy cliché. Schlegel closes with “If I Were A Poet”, the best songwriting on the album. There’s nothing contrived here, just Schlegel working to be herself, and the result is the most authentic recording Schlegel has to offer to date.

Becky Schlegel presented in 2008 as one of the bright new lights in Nashville. While Dandelion would seem to be a step backward, it seems more likely to be a case of slump than an indication that For All The World To See was lightning in a bottle. Schlegel still has a darling of a voice, although it’s not always put to best use on the songs selected for Dandelion. Schlegel’s path to Nashville stardom lies in being herself, not in being the projection of some producer’s idea of what she should sound like. Dandelion is decent enough on its own, but pales in light of Schlegel’s earlier work.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Becky Schlegel at or Dandelion drops on April 6, 2010, but you can buy it now through Schlegel's web store!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: 100 Monkeys – Grape!

100 Monkeys – Grape!
2009, 100 Monkeys

In a world where Twilight is the biggest thing since Harry Potter on sliced bread, a band featuring a character from the film is bound to draw some attention. L.A. concoction 100 Monkeys has the distinction of calling Jackson Rathbone a member, which if nothing else doesn’t hurt their press opportunities. In 2009, 100 Monkeys released their third digital album, Grape! It’s an odd collection of tunes ranging from wonderfully crafted anti-pop folk rock to maudlin dirge-like compositions

Grape! opens with the wonderfully hap-hazard and Lo-Fi “Clippity Clop”. Tight musicianship reigns despite the messy appearance of the song, and the catchy nature will suck you in from the opening notes. “The Monkey Song” is a deranged folk rocker incorporating elements of hip-hop. The song is a tongue-in-cheek fun romp, but don’t be entirely surprised if some sensitive soul raises issues about the social responsibility of the content of the song, as the images used have classically held racial undertones. “Arizona” is a derivate rocker that makes open use of parts of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising”. It’s a funky folk-rocker that’s highly listenable.

100 Monkeys goes from accessible to re-dressable on “Sweet Face”, a forgettable bout of melancholy in song about a potential suicide. “Orson Brawl” is a quirky 1980’s rock tale ala The Talking Heads; intriguing for the sound the first few times you hear it but fading from notice soon thereafter. “Looker” is most memorable for the vocal caricature of Elvis Presley done throughout the song. It’s an entertaining song full of sophomoric humor that will appeal to some and turn others off. 100 Monkeys sleep-walk through “Junkie” and “Sleeping Giant” before stumbling into the gritty rocker “Reaper”, whose blues influences and oddly accented arrangement will make it stand out in your mind once the album is done.

“.38 Special” explores the perceptions of a disturbed mind on the path of a breakdown. This dark path is documented in the context of a jaunty tune mixed with moments of blurring dissonance that reflect the deterioration between what’s real and what is not. The song is almost Beatles-esque in its clearer moments, with a melody that lights up a room. “Poison Oak” is a classic “you reap what you sow” parable in song laced with dark musical undertones. An intriguing listen, “Poison Oak” is relentless in both meaning and timbre and is among the finest work 100 Monkeys offers on Grape! Dark humor reins on “Wings On Fire”, an energetic funk-rocker that takes on the subject of dying on a plane that you’ll consider highly entertaining unless you happen to be listening to it on a flight. For all of this great work, 100 Monkeys made the puzzling decision to close with "Grocery Store No More", among the least accessible and least enjoyable songs on the disc.

So in spite of having a young Hollywood actor involved (often the musical kiss of death for a band); 100 Monkeys actually has something going for them in the music department. With dark and insanely interesting musical arrangements, and a resolutely non-PC and vaguely adolescent but still funny lyrical style, 100 Monkeys might be on to something that could catch on in a big way. The bulk of the band’s material is a little too left of center for commercial radio, but there are one or two songs on Grape! that are catchy enough and quirky enough to make some real noise. The album a whole is a solid effort with a few weak spots that most listeners will overlook on balance.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about 100 Monkeys from or Grape! is available for download on both and iTunes (iTunes also has a Seedless, or non-explicit version of the album for download for all of you parents monitoring what your children are listening to).

Review: Morre - Out There

Morre - Out There
2010, Morre

Toronto rock quartet Morre bring back the glam of the 1970’s and 1980’s in a stripped down and compact sound that’s perfect for today. The band has garnered significant attention in the Metro Toronto scene since their inception in 2008, earning comparisons to such wide-ranging bands as Gogol Bordello and Pink Floyd. What’s very clear from the opening notes of Morre’s debut album, Out There, is that the band knows how to perform, and is so confident in their ability to do so that they don’t need to hide behind distortion or effects. While musically superior, Morre does lapse into lyrical obsequies often throughout Out There, making their intent difficult to follow at times.

Out There opens with “The Moment”, a radio-friendly melodic hard-rock tune with wonderfully dark vocal harmonies. This song will get a lot of attention from radio on its uniqueness of sound alone. “Brand New Tide” is a mostly-acoustic rocker with a vibrant sound and distinctive harmonies. It’s a song of questing for what the world has to offer full of the vigor and bright-eyed hope of youth. Morre offers up some tremendously danceable rock ‘n roll on “Playing With Fire”. The lyrics are a bit awkward but the song more than makes up for any such considerations. “In My Vein” is sonically interesting but highly obtuse on the lyrics side, while “Under The Lights” plays like a self-serving pity-party over the trials involved in a life of playing music and being on stage. “Under The Lights” is sonically strong with real progressive rock tendencies in the instrumentation that make it a fun listen. On “Time Is Slipping Away”, Morre shows what can happen to a great chorus when there isn’t anything strong to marry it to. The chorus offers promise, but is repeated excessively and there’s little else here seriously worth investing in. Morre closes out with Times Are Changing, a high energy concept that never fully realizes itself, but the arrangement is exquisite.

Out There offers an interesting snapshot of Morre, a hold-over from the days when rock n roll was full of glam and irresponsible behavior. Morre has stripped their sound down a bit from bands like Guns N Roses, Poison or Ratt, and has incorporated some of the quirky party energy of Kim Mitchell’s mid-solo career work. There are a couple of blips on Out There, and the lyrical content doesn’t always measure up the quality of the music, but on balance, Out There is a solid introduction to a band with a bright future.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Morre at Out There can be purchased as either a CD Or Download from

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Barenaked Ladies – All In Good Time

Barenaked Ladies – All In Good Time
2010, Raisin Records/EMI

When the Barenaked Ladies lost co-front man Steve Page last year some fans questioned whether the band could carry on. The four remaining members Ed Robertson (vocals, guitar); Kevin Hearn (keys, vocals, guitar, etc.); Jim Creeggan (bass, vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums, vocals) decided to continue as a quartet. While their early shows as a foursome did show some growing pains as the band learned different vocal parts than they had sung for, in some cases, the last two decades, it was clear that the change energized the band. On March 23, 2010 (Canada) and March 30, 2010 (USA), Barenaked Ladies will release their first album with the new lineup, All In Good Time. Longtime fans may have their worries, but this is Barenaked Ladies’ best work to date.

All In Good Time opens with the album’s first single “You Run Away”, a song that seems clearly written about the frustration felt by Robertson at the departure of Steve Page. While the band has been very professional about Page’s departure, the emotions expressed here are very clear even if Page is never mentioned. The melody is a thing of beauty; simple but lasting. “Summertime” carries echoes of some of Paul McCartney’s work with Wings while introducing some particular muscular guitar in counterpoint to the easy-listening arrangement. It’s a surprising turn for the band but a very enjoyable one. Kevin Hearn takes the mic for “Another Heartbreak”, a mid-tempo tune that fits Hearn’s tendency toward writing upbeat sounding songs with melancholic lyrics. It’s one of the better songs Hearn has contributed as a songwriter to the band thus far. Barenaked Ladies pull another sonic surprise on “Four Seconds”, a rapid-fire lyrical experience with a distinctly European flavor. Don’t be surprised if “Four Seconds” ends up as a single with a wildly successful dance club mix down the line.

Jim Creeggan brings a quirky ballad in “On The Lookout”, a 1970’s AM Radio-style tune with modern flourishes. Creeggan’s voice has been vastly under-represented on past albums and it’s good to hear his distinctive sound here. Robertson is up next with “Ordinary”, a gorgeous folk-rocker with some country attitude in its origins. For whatever else they may have lost in the past year, the vocal mix here sounds as good as ever. “I Have Learned” finds Robertson amidst an angry, muscular rocker that’s very atypical of the band’s past work. Fans will speculate if “I Have Learned” reflects on the band’s last year, and it’s quite possible, but it’s a nice change of pace from a band that’s garnered a reputation for a lighter sound. “Every Subway Car” is a love song that seems to be colored in the dark textures of urban decay. The song is positively upbeat while taking a slightly darker perspective of the world than fans may be used to.

Kevin Hearn’s “Jerome” sounds like an ode to the Old West; a down-tempo paean to the ghosts that still walk the streets. “How Long” is a high-powered rock tune that displays some seriously melodic muscle. Robertson takes vocals on “Golden Boy”, perhaps the clearest song reference to Page on the album. The song echoes sentiments raised in “You Run Away” as well as some of the comments Page has made in the press since departing the band. The song is very solid, with the sort of upbeat chorus you’d expect from Barenaked Ladies, but includes uncharacteristic anger delivered in gentle but pointed tones. Creeggan takes the mic one last time for “I Saw It”, a gentle breakup ballad that is a nice counter to the preceding track while perhaps staying on subject. “The Love We’re In” is a brief and rueful observation on a relationship that isn’t working. Ed Robertson takes vocals for the last time on the album in a song that sounds like it’s incomplete, although that plays entirely to the subject of the song. Kevin Hearn says goodnight on behalf of Barenaked Ladies with “Watching The Northern Lights”, a peaceful rumination that reflects, after all of the struggle of the past year, Barenaked Ladies have landed in a good place.

You never know what a major personnel change will do to a band. Some come out as good as ever, while some bands flounder until either the original line-up reunites or the band hangs it up. Barenaked Ladies seem to be trying for the much rarer distinction of actually getting better. All In Good Time lacks the narcissistic anger and dysfunction that Page’s songwriting brought, but that well is filled by real emotion generated through the trials and tribulations of the past year. Musically, All In Good Time is Barenaked Ladies’ finest work yet. This is an album you’ll live with for a while. All In Good Time is a new cornerstone for the band, and a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Barenaked Ladies at or All In Good Time drops March 23, 2010 in Canada and March 30, 2010 in the US and the UK. All In Good Time can be pre-ordered from in either the standard edition or special edition (with t-shirt and bonus tracks). Digital versions are available through and iTunes.

Review: Shelley Miller - When It's All Gone, You Come Back

Shelley Miller - When It's All Gone, You Come Back
2009, Shelley Miller

Chicago’s Shelley Miller lives life on the seams. Miller performs both solo and with a band, The Bitter Optimists; she teaches music, and in her free time she’s known to take her own life into her hands on her bicycle through the streets of Chicago. Miller is a decorated talent, winning songwriting awards including VH1’s Song Of The Year Contest, the Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest and Just Plain Folks. Miller’s third CD, When It’s All Gone, You Come Back continues Miller’s tendency toward brashly candid poetics, not so much telling stories as putting you, the listeners, into moments and situations, and occasionally even into the hearts and minds of people. Miller is lyrically adept, spinning dark beauty full of laughter, sadness, love and tragedy in her songs.

Miller opens with “Buckle To Burn”, a classic country tune with a modern twist. Miller takes us inside a relationship built on one partner’s dysfunction and the other partner’s ragged attempts to clean it up. The song is a tragedy where the outcome is certain from the start, but Miller makes the journey interesting. “Blame The Sky” is a rather poetic depiction of fatalism in relationships; a dark and sad song full of a noble, pain-staking beauty. “It Was Billie” has a distinctive throwback feel.

“All The Way Down” explores the beauty and joys of winter in song; a love song of sorts and an amazing depiction of moments and experiences that might only be found in the coldest part of the year. “Fool For Loving You” is an angry rocker; all the things that perhaps should have been said when the relationship was still intact. Miller depicts an “edge of the world” moment on “5 a.m., Western Ave”, using the cover of darkness to ponder all of the things she wishes she could say by the light of day. This is an amazing tune, perhaps the most sonically satisfying song on the album. Listen to the cello part here as it provides an amazing counter-melody to Miller’s vocal. Miller shows her life philosophy (perhaps) on “I Don’t Mind”, a tune about living for and in the moment and finding comfort in another without worrying what tomorrow will bring. It’s a sweet love song that is certain to wind up on scores of mix tapes. Without getting too literary, it’s easy to imagine Miller’s song “Texarkana” as a retelling of Anton Chekhov’s The Swan Song. It’s a reckless monologue cast in the hopeless of having lost everything you’ve ever loved, and Miller sings it as if she’s lived it. Miller says goodnight with “Love’s Not Crazy”, taking the listeners into her confidence one final time. It’s a lovely tune, a bit lighter than some of the other material on When It’s All Gone, You Come Back, but a great way to say goodbye for now.

Shelley Miller is a songwriter’s songwriter; the sort that other artists will pick through her catalog over time for songs to cover. While this is true, it’s hard to imagine most artists interpreting Miller’s songs with the same mix of comedy, tragedy and warm-hearted grit that she manages on When It’s All Gone, You Come Back. Miller inhabits her songs like a second skin, not only inviting listeners into highly personal and intricate moments, but painting them into the picture.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Shelley Miller at or You can purchase When It's All Gone, You Come Back as either a CD or Download from

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Kara Reynolds - Paper Moon

Kara Reynolds - Paper Moon
2009, Kara Reynolds

Kara Reynolds is an all-American girl. The Wyoming native and Nashville resident brings a wholesome look and sound that will both challenge and surprise you on her debut album, Paper Moon. Reynolds discovered songwriting while working one summer in a coal mine warehouse, not only gaining a calling but the dollars to begin recording. A Magna Cum Laude graduate of Belmont University, Reynolds moved to Nashville to make her dream come true.

Paper Moon opens with “Nom De Plume”, offering a distinctive piano sound that’s somewhere between Fiona Apple and Vince Guaraldi. “Nom De Plume” is a song of succor, but is most intriguing as a musical composition. “Sky Painter” is an ode to the skies of Wyoming; a reminder that no matter how far we go home is always a part of us. “Table In Back” is an emotional portrait painted in the striking musical hues familiar to fans of Sarah Slean. Reynolds shows a distinctive dramatic sensibility here in a tune that’s both dark and lovely. “Still Believe” moves more toward the pop side of the spectrum but retains the darker textures Reynolds seems most comfortable with.

“Something To Hold On To” runs the ridge between Sarah Slean and Fiona Apple stylistically. The song is interesting but runs out of steam before its through. “Paper Moon”, the title track, is perhaps the most nondescript song on the album; a puzzling choice to lend its name to the album. Reynolds gets dreamy and lush on “Sink Or Swim”, a jazzy cabaret piece you’ll put on repeat. Reynolds closes out with “Wrecking Ball”, “Song No. 4” and “Calley’s Song”, three compositions that serve to fill out the space on Paper Moon but really aren’t up to the level of the material on the first half of the CD.

Kara Reynolds has a distinctive sound; one that should be certain to garner her a lot of attention in the future. Reynolds’ debut album, Paper Moon is successful at times and not so much at others. As a six or seven song EP, Paper Moon would be an eye opening experience. As it is; it’s an uneven experience with some great songs and some weak moments. Reynolds is only going to get better with time.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kara Reynolds at or You can purchase Paper Moon on CD from Digital versions are available from and iTunes.