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Friday, April 30, 2010

Evan Bliss - ShhhPOW!

Evan Bliss - ShhhPOW!
2010, Holster Records

Former The Low Life front man Evan Bliss re-united with his old band Evan Bliss & The Welchers this year to release his second solo album, ShhhPOW! Writing in a sharply post-genre collection of styles, Bliss will recall for listeners such acts as Maroon 5, Ray LaMontagne, David Bowie and U2 on ShhhPOW!, while blending rock, soul and even a dash of reggae in the process.

ShhhPow! is a solid effort full of singer-songwriter songs with a quirky pop edge that's part Train and part Radiohead. Bliss has a voice that will stick out in your mind; it works very well on some songs but occasionally comes face to face with his limitations on ShhhPow! Bliss carries on either in spite of or oblivious to such concerns, delivering the songs as he hears them. The effort is generally successful, with highlights such as the thoughtful "On Live And Life", the Train-styled "Fleiss", and the Radiohead-essence of "Awake". Bliss is particularly enjoyable on the gritty R&B-based rocker "Passerby"; the wagon-train country-punk intensity of "Come Shine" and the messy but enjoyable "Shotgun Ho-Down". Make sure you stick around for "Pula Aena", a stirring gem stuck at the end of the album that features the African Children's Choir and voiceovers telling what the group is and how it came to be. Bliss is at his vocal best here, and the choir very accomplished on backing vocals.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more: website, MySpace

Mel Flannery Trucking Co. - As It Turns Out

Mel Flannery Trucking Co. - As It Turns Out
2009, Mel Flannery Trucking Co./Halogen

The Mel Flannery Trucking Co. returns with their sophomore effort, As It Turns Out, continuing on the path they set on 2007’s White Flag. Flannery has a degree in vocal jazz performance, and you can hear the training in her rich alto voice, but she also tends to get sloppy with the notes occasionally, a distracting tendency we noted the last time around. As It Turns Out is something of a logical progression; the songwriting continues to be awkward, with Flannery struggling to fit the music around messages both political and emotional. When she succeeds there are bits of magic to be found, such as on the lonely ballad "I Need You Here With Me" or the sultry "You Know What To Do". Flannery gets political on songs such as "We're Still Here" (gay marriage) and "Running" (domestic violence); her heart is in the right place but Flannery forces lyrics with melodies and arrangements that just don't work together and sully her message. Emotional songs like "Gone" and the final track, labeled "untitled", where Flannery's emotional ramblings take on the tantric tones of teenage angst prove equally mismatched, although it should be said that "Gone" is the best track on the disc from an instrumental perspective. As It Turns Out is an experience best left for die-hard fans of the Mel Flannery Trucking Co. On the other hand, word is their live shows are unforgettable.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn: website, MySpace

Buy: Keep checking Flannery's website for availability

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Steve Dawson - I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums

Steve Dawson - I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums
2010, 2009 Kernel Sound Recordings/Undertow Music

As leader singer and songwriter of Dolly Varden, Steve Dawson has toured the world many times over. While continuing his association with Dolly Varden, Dawson has taken to a much more intimate style of performing as a solo artist in the past several years. Dawson's latest solo project, I Will Miss The Trumpets And Drums, reflects the roots of a life spent in music. You'll hear the bright rock/folk sounds of his native California, the country music of his Idaho youth and the soul, funk and R&B of his adult life in Chicago. The Berklee College Of Music graduate flies solo on much of I Will Miss The Trumpets And Drums, but features a crack band consisting of Frank Rosaly (drums); Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone); Josh Berman (cornet); Joel Patterson (pedal steel) and Jason Roebke (bass).

I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums opens with “Obsidian” in a wonderfully full Americana arrangement filled with gorgeous vocal harmonies in a Blue Rodeo meets Crosby Stills & Nash effect. “Long Overdue” is a pensive, regretful tune that displays shades of Paul Simon’s early solo material. It’s a nice, low-key tune with a gorgeous melody line and a simple arrangement built around the acoustic guitar. “A Conversation With Myself” is a bit more mundane but still a pretty, pleasant tune. Things get a bit odd on “Mastodon”, a rambling story-song touching on dinosaurs, aliens and emotions that rise again. Intriguing in spite of its oddity, the song features an acoustic arrangement with spacey, ethereal airs. On “Today She Found The Way To Break My Heart” Dawson heads for the country with a solid Americana theme that nicely walks the line between roots rock and country.

It’s here that the wheels come off the wagon, so to speak. Up to this point I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums is a solid to plus album. Dawson manages to package the weakest material of the album over the next five tracks. The highlight in this stretch is the gospel-tinged “I Wish That I Could Believe In You Again”, but if Dawson had excised these songs he’d have a top notch album on his hands. Things pick up again by the time Dawson gets to “Waiting”, a pretty tune that explores the dichotomy of hope and hopelessness. It’s the best songwriting on the album and the sort of tune that will touch listeners deeply. “Goodbye” is a pleasant last call that leads into the contemplative night club number, “It’s Not What You Think”, a pleasant closer that eases you out the door like a seasoned bartender with a deft touch.

Steve Dawson has some very good moments on I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums. The album is probably five songs too long; a cut that would have turned the collection from a good one into a great one. Nevertheless, the material is here that makes Dawson’s opus a worthwhile destination for your ears. I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums is worth the trip.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn: website

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Jox - Tumbleweed

The Jox - Tumbleweed
2010, The Jox

The Jox were born in April of 2006, at the nuptials of Ryan and Megan Jox. The Kansas duo set out to bring their own brand of music to the world, a vision that has grown in the ensuing years as the band has grown as individuals and as a team. 2010 brings a new perspective and two new babies. One is a living, breathing person, the other a living, breathing embodiment of collective muse. Tumbleweed, the duo’s second recording, is an apt follow-up to 2008’s Silly World EP, running the gamut from early rock n roll to Americana.

Tumbleweed opens with “Last Train To Denver”, done in a tuneful Americana arrangement. Megan Jox takes lead vocals with a gorgeous, if hard-wrought voice full of toughness and tragedy. This is a great opener. “Portland” is decent, perhaps a bit circular in construction, but with a solid arrangement and great atmosphere. Ryan Jox takes lead here. “Divide The Grey” is a mildly catchy tune that falls a bit into the circular, repetitive trap. Ryan Jox provides a solid vocal to accompany the arrangement. Megan Jox returns to the mic on “Two Way Street”, lamenting a lack of personal perfection and seeking succor from another to save her from herself. This tune could be perceived as having a Christian theme, although it’s buried deep in the poetry of the song and delivered in non-specific language.

Ryan Jox returns on “Flags”, moving quickly on to “Sunday Best”, where Megan Jox takes over for good. “If I Die” is somewhat circular, but has a haunting feel and features Megan Jox at her vocal best. “No Good Reason” doesn’t fly well, but The Jox recover nicely on the bonus track, “Cold Dark Night”. “Cold Dark Night” has an early rock ‘n roll feel playing around the edges. The song is catchy and danceable, and the best all-around track on the album.

The Jox show real chemistry on Tumbleweed, a feel that is infectious and carries over to the listener. As lyricists, The Jox have a tendency to rely a bit much on repetition to fill space, but their arrangements are crisp, and the vocal mix is highly enjoyable to listen to. Megan Jox, in particular, has a fine voice; and The Jox are at their best when she is at the mic, but Ryan Jox provides the shading that completes the picture for The Jox. Tumbleweed is a solid effort.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn: MySpace

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wolfe & The Wayside - On The Radio

Wolfe & The Wayside - On The Radio
2010, Wolfe & The Wayside

Brooklyn’s Wolfe & The Wayside have a somewhat magical feel about them. Sure, it’s great pop music, but there’s alchemy in their songwriting where the different parts of the band come together and transmute into something more than just their individual contributions blended together. While only four songs long, their latest EP On The Radio makes that abundantly clear.

On The Radio opens with the title track, an incredibly catchy alt-rock tune with roots in the garage rock era. Centered on an incredibly catchy riff, “On The Radio” is a post-modern take on the innocence of youth. This tune has a very high commercial ceiling for both radio and licensing. “Cathedral Stairs” has something of a Tom Petty meets Wilco feel but with a great pop beat. Wolfe & The Wayside get a bit messy on “Blueberry Dress”, trying hard to get things together but never quite managing. The song does features Aaron Wolfe’s best vocal performance on the EP however. “Jailhouse” closes things out; a promising tune with a chorus that’s neat but a bit too monochromatic. “Jailhouse” is the sort of tune that will really catch your attention the first time through but lose you after a few listens.

On The Radio shows tremendous promise for Wolfe & The Wayside. What becomes abundantly clear is how good these guys can be. They don’t put it all together for all four songs on this EP, but On The Radio displays the band’s ability to blend strong songwriting with a touch of pop magic the likes of which makes for a long, successful career. On The Radio has its bumps, but is a thing of beauty just the same.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more: Website, MySpace

MP3: iTunes

The Senticsphere - Day One

The Senticsphere - Day One
2009, The Senticsphere

Vancouver, British Columbia’s The Senticsphere broke out big in 2009 with their debut album, Day One by sticking to a well-tested songwriting formula. Day One mixes radio-ready alt-rock with a handful of more original tunes for a solid listening experience that should sit well with fans of bands like Staind or Breaking Benjamin. Vocalist Warren Hall shines on songs such as “Rain On Me”, “The Scene” and “Lying Awake”. In general, Senticsphere displays a keen melodic sense throughout Day One, although they do fall prey to a formulaic mindset on songs such as “Hollow”, “Home”, “Bring Me Down” and “Sacrifices”. Similarly, the power ballad “Sadness Fades” likely has huge radio potential, but is something of a Lifetime Movie in song for rockers. In general, Day One is a solid effort. The Senticsphere’s breakout moments are worth the trip.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)


Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: The Len Price 3 - Pictures

The Len Price 3 - Pictures
2010, Wicked Cool Records

Little Steven Van Zandt's Wicked Cool Records dropped a musical love bomb on the western hemisphere with the release of The Len Price 3's third album, Pictures, in January of this year. Using analogue equipment and roots that run to bands like The Who, The Beatles, The Kinks and The Prisoners, The Len Price 3 have created their most sonically challenging and pleasing work to date. Pictures shows the melodic brilliance of Brit Pop with the edgy darkness and humor that characterized early Who recordings. Pictures was produced in committee by The Len Price 3 with the help of Jim Riley, Graham Day, Kris Harris and Little Steven.

Pictures opens with the title track, a crisp instant classic with nods to British Punk but a real pop sensibility. “Keep Your Eyes On Me” has a tremendous melody and pacing, sounding a bit like They Might Be Giants working as a Beatles tribute band. This song will definitely get stuck in your noggin. It’s a song about the lack of perspective that follows stardom, particularly when the lights aren’t quite so bright anymore. “The Girl Who Became A Machine” is a delightful punk/pop blend with a chorus reminiscent of something between The Who and The Kinks; it’s a brilliant tune that runs exceedingly short at 2:19. The Beatles references will continue on “After You’ve Gone”, where The Len Price 3 stick with the same style of quirky melodicism but also a modern touch.

“Mr. Grey” is a powerful observation on society; a song about getting all you want only to realize it’s not what you wanted at all. On “If You Live Round Here”, The Len Price 3 head for a different approach, with a more rhythm ‘n blues based sound. “Man Who Used To Be” is a catchy, vibrant rocker about being past your prime. The Len Price 3 get back to the punk aesthetic on “Under The Thumb”, perhaps the best all-around rock tune on the album. Pictures winds down awkwardly with “The Great Omani”. It’s a decent enough song, but very much out of place in this collection.

The Len Price 3 offer up a varied and dynamic approach to songwriting on Pictures, a well-rounded rock album with punk roots that run deep, but also a serious pop sensibility you won’t be able to ignore. There are a few bumps along the road, but Pictures seems likely to expand the reach of The Len Price 3.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Len Price 3 at or Pictures is available from as a CD, Download or Vinyl LP.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changin'...

Hello folks! It appears that it's time to shake things up a bit.

I've been doing this blog now for about 28 months (838 days to be exact), publishing 1,818 full-length reviews, an average of more than two per day. I love doing this, which is why I've continued doing it this way for so long with essentially no money coming in, but I've come to the realization that I simply can not maintain the pace I have over the past two years. Don't worry, Wildy's World isn't going anywhere. Going forward, we will be publishing one featured review per day. A featured review is one like we've always published, with a breakdown of songs, an introduction including a bit of biography, etc. For all others we will be going to an encapsulated format. These will not necessarily show up every day, but will be published a few times a week with multiple smaller reviews included.

These changes will allow us to focus a bit more time and energy on feature stories, interviews and covering general music news as well as providing information that might be helpful to independent artists. We will continue to cover major label artists as well. Also look for us to add features such as regularly updated new release listings and resource listings for those of you trying to create, record and market your music.

All things change over time. On a personal level, I need to make these changes in order to keep this fun. It is a hobby, and as such it comes second to family, work and other life responsibilities, but this is a way I can re-balance things and keep Wildy's World going as a solid resource for both musicians and music fans. I hope you'll stick around for the ride. Be well.


Review: Crash Test Dummies - Ooh La La!

Crash Test Dummies - Ooh La La!
2010, Deep Fried Records

It’s 1989 in a Country and Western bar in Manitoba. It’s here that the seeds of Crash Test Dummies were born. Brad Roberts, Ellen Reid, Benjamin Darvil, Dan Roberts and Mitch Dorge came together to form one of the most successful Canadian bands of the 1990’s. The musicianship of the band was always top notch, but it’s the distinctive voice of Brad Roberts that has been the calling card of Crash Test Dummies over the years. Darvil, Dorge and Roberts have all moved in and out of the regular lineup in recent years, but Roberts’ distinctive voice and songwriting style continues to drive the band. On May 11, 2010, Crash Test Dummies return with their first album of new material since 2004. Ooh La La! marks a major departure for Crash Test Dummies, with Brad Roberts actually writing an album that sounds happy.

Ooh La La! opens with “Songbird”, a highly orchestrated game of word or phrase association. The arrangement here is gorgeous, and Roberts delivers it in that unforgettable voice of his. “You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)” is and mooning and oddly psychedelic song that’s essentially happy in tone. The instrumentation here is mildly discordant, reflecting perhaps a discomfort with the happiness that pervades the album or trouble beneath the surface. “And It’s Beautiful” extrapolates from love the beauty of the world and of the people in Roberts’ circle; a happy daydream with a melody that will stick around your head and set up camp. On “Paralyzed”, Roberts gets retrospective, covering the utter loss of self that can follow the end of a relationship. It’s a particularly poignant tune; with more brain and heart you’re likely to find in your average pop/rock tune.

One of the highlights of the album is “Not Today Baby”, a wonderful tune written from the perspective of the eternal bachelor. While the reality of love has softened the edges a bit, the essential craftiness and sexuality that has run through Roberts’ recent work is present in this delicious arrangement. In “Heart Of Stone”, the same eternal bachelor finally gets bitten by love. The song explores the dichotomy of wanting love and wishing he could block it out. Even as he utters the wish he knows it will never happen. “Heart Of Stone” jumps forward to offer the perspective of time and happiness, but that desire to wander never leaves even if he’ll never act on it. “What I’m Famous For” continues the Crash Test Dummies’ tradition of songs about individuals with a real dark side; squatter’s rights and an ill-defined threat spark this humorous alt-country-noir tune. Crash Test Dummies go big band on “Now You See Her”; a quirky little tune about an uncatchable girl. This is the most surprising entry on Ooh La La!, and perhaps one of the best. “Now You See Her” is wonderfully quirky, with a playful feel that is entirely charming. Ooh La La! bows with “Put A Face”, the lone lead vocal for the exquisite Ellen Reid. It’s an artist’s rumination on capturing moments, please or places in song. While this song is specific to music, it could apply to most any artist/media.

Over the years Crash Test Dummies have been prone to experimentation. Sometimes it’s gone well (Songs Of The Unforgiven); others have not been so well received (Give Yourself A Hand). This time out, Roberts and producer Stewart Lerman (Antony And The Johnsons, The Roches) played around with the Optigan (the 1970’s version of a digital sampler) in the process of writing the album. Brad Roberts as a happy and (essentially) well-adjusted person is going to surprise a lot of long-time Crash Test Dummies fans. Roberts hasn’t entirely lost his dark side, but Ooh La La! might be the brightest overall tone to a Crash Test Dummies record since The Ghosts That Haunt Me (1991). From a pure songwriting perspective, Ooh La La! doesn’t have the edge of prior material, but its solid-to-plus throughout with a couple of moments of brilliance thrown in along the way. Two songs could perhaps have been left on the floor, but Ooh La La! is a nice step back into the limelight for Crash Test Dummies.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Crash Test Dummies at Ooh La La! drops on May 11, 2010. You can pre-order the CD from Expect digital availability through all major outlets.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Brian Pounds - After You're Gone

Brian Pounds - After You're Gone
2010, Brian Pounds

Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter Brian Pounds might be young, but the twenty-year old brings a level of reflection to his songwriting that’s uncharacteristic for his age. His debut album, After You’re Gone, looks at love and loss with the eye not just of someone who’s lived it, but come to some sort of philosophical peace with both concepts. Working with producer Dave Wiley (Alpha Rev), Pounds has constructed an album filled with both solid songwriting and panache all while still trying to figure out who he is musically.

After You’re Gone opens with “Tired”, a light rock tune infused with elements of R&B. It’s a decent start to the album, and Pounds sounds more than a bit like James Taylor here. “After You’re Gone” is a solid, soulful tune. The chorus has a neat, torrential feel that fits the emotive nature of the song in spite of a general laid-back approach. Pounds does get a bit repetitive with the chorus. “Leavin’” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; a country tune masquerading as a mild rocker. This tune screams for country twang, and sounds a bit emasculated in this straight-up version, but the songwriting is outstanding, and it’s only a matter of time before someone returns this song to its rightful genre.

“Smile” is a pleasing bit of Americana with a solid arrangement and a pleasant vocal. This song is keeper and is likely to be something of a fan favorite. “Don’t Waste My Time” doesn’t; a decent tune you’re likely to enjoy but which will likely fail to make a lasting impression. Pounds seems most at-home with the singer/songwriter styling of “In The Morning”. He has spent most of the album to this point trying to be and do things that don’t fully fit. On “In The Morning” Pounds thoroughly embraces his roots This is the best all-around performance on the disc. “Mistakes” is a melancholy song of regret that’s sonically pleasing Pounds closes with “Faith”, a needful side of acoustic pop; a solid tune that sounds exposed in this stripped down arrangement.

After You’re Gone is a solid exposure to the world of Brian Pounds. Pounds displays some talent as a songwriter, and has a voice that’s pleasant to listen to. Pounds is still trying to figure out exactly what his sound is, and that’s apparent on After You’re Gone. He seems most at home in the pure singer/songwriter material, but is struggling to find ways to make it sound more hip or modern. While that is admirable, it is often best to go with your strengths and not try to turn them into something they’re not. When Pounds offers himself up, unadulterated, After You’re Gone takes on an honest simplicity that’s endearing. The material where Pounds is trying out other sounds works to a point, but it doesn’t have the same blush of authenticity.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Brian Pounds at After You're Gone is available as either a CD or Download from

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Freak Owls - Taxidermy

Freak Owls - Taxidermy
2010, Sing Engine Records

After spending a dozen years touring with various acts, Brooklynite Josh Ricchio decided to go it alone. Locking himself in his room, Ricchio fell into a writing frenzy of catchy acoustic songs. When it came time to record, Ricchio called on a revolving cast of friends and colleagues. Consequently The Freak Owls were born. Their debut album, Taxidermy, crackles and sparks with a vibrancy that you can’t teach.

Taxidermy opens with “Little Things”, a wonderfully catchy acoustic tune about the minutiae that leads us from like into love. The song is filled with found and environmental sounds that add to the layered feel and fill up the space between silence and everyday life. “Little Things” is a brilliant first tune. “Hey, Na Na Na” keeps things going with an energetic if slightly surreal appeal; it’s got a great melody that’s catchy but atypical. “Paper People” is a visceral experience that is better experienced that described. As a reviewer I like it, although it’s struggle to explain why. It’s just one of those songs that grabs hold of you and won’t let go.

One of the absolutely highlights of the disc is “Seaquid”, an urgent tune full of subtle flourishes tied to an urgent acoustic arrangement. The song is highly enjoyable and is likely to get stuck in your head. Ricchio takes a left turn on “Belles”, a pretty tune that walks the thin line between mournful and hopeful and features a vocal duet that’s sonically pleasing. “Optimistic Automatic” is a catchy tune that will stick with you, and “Online (And In Love)” has a sonically full arrangement tinged with great harmonies. Freak Owls take a more ambient folk turn on “Place To Be” and continue on into the aether with “Can You Feel It (Patience Officer)”. These final two songs seem to be tangential to the rest of the album, and might be a tough turn for some listeners to swallow, but are solid compositions in their own rights.

Taxidermy is an example of what can happen when an established artist breaks the mold they’re used to working in. When expectations and old habits are stripped away, sometimes magic happens. Josh Ricchio finds his share of magic on Taxidermy, and his band of brothers, the Freak Owls, have a lot of fun creating a highly controlled brand of mayhem that you’ll be appreciating for some time to come.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Freak Owls at or Taxidermy is available as either a CD or Download from

Review: Justin James - Perfect Sometimes

Justin James - Perfect Sometimes
2010, Gold Sky Records

Sometimes it takes a tragedy (or near-tragedy) to open doors. So it was for California surfer/singer/songwriter Justin James. James suffered a shark attack several years ago, losing massive amounts of blood and setting him up for a year-long bout of recovery and rehabilitation. The gift of an acoustic guitar during that time became James’ greatest passion, and a new path was born. James celebrates the remaking of himself with the release of his debut album, Perfect Sometimes in 2010.

James shows the potential to be an entertaining and engaging performer on Perfect Sometimes. Opening with the title track, a catchy, silly little love song that’s a perfect introduction, James establishes himself in the same vein as John Mayer and Jack Johnson. The only down side to this is that it becomes very apparent at points throughout the album that a fair amount of digital manipulation of James’ voice is occurring, making it difficult to know what is live and what is AutoTune. “Beautiful Crime” is radio-ready pop with elements of soul and a light dance beat. The song is a bit formulaic but is a likely winner at pop radio. “Stay Close To Me” is also highly radio friendly, featuring a killer hook and a sound that will have John Mayer fans doing a double take the first time they hear it. James hits a rough patch in the middle of Perfect Sometimes, with tracks such as “Sometimes”, “Deeper Waters” and “Missed Again” coming off a bit bland.

James makes something of a comeback on “You Don’t Know Me”, a lively mid-tempo rocker with a decent hook and perhaps a small commercial upside. “Moonlight” is a dreamy samba that sounds nice but carries no emotional weight. James’ finest moment comes on "Gypsy Girl", a highly enjoyable song delivered in a solid Americana arrangement. Perfect Sometimes bows with “On My Way”, a sweet pop song that bookends the album well. This is one of those tunes that doesn’t bowl you over, but goes down as easily as a cool drink on a warm summer afternoon. It leaves listeners with a good last impression.

Justin James shows flashes of what he might become on Perfect Sometimes. The songwriting is a bit uneven throughout the album, but James’ better moments are definitely worth checking out. Don’t be surprised if James sees modest commercial success out of Perfect Sometimes, but there is real growth potential here. It will be curious to see where James goes next.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Justin James at or Perfect Sometimes is available as either a CD or Download from

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: The Gravel Project - More Ways Than One

The Gravel Project - More Ways Than One
2010, The Gravel Project / ASCAP

Boston's The Gravel Project is the brainchild of first-call guitarist Andrew Gravel. A Boston native, Gravel previously lived for three years in Australia and then London, where he played with some of the brightest stars on the London Blues scene. Back in the US, Gravel was the guitarist of Entrain before forming The Gravel Project. With their distinctive mix of rock, funk and blues, The Gravel Project have become favorites in Boston, regularly playing to packed houses in venues such as The Middle East, Church and Tommy Doyles. The Gravel Project's debut album, More Ways Than One seeks to capture the live energy of the band in the studio.

More Ways Than One opens with a Muscle Shoals-influenced blue rock paean to the Great Recession and the greed that ignited it in "Dollar Bill". The Gravel Project show themselves to be the total package right out of the gate. Gravel is top notch on vocals and guitar, and the Hammond makes a serious first impression. "Too Many Drivers" is a tongue-in-cheek discussion of who's in charge, sprinkled with innuendo and gentle misdirection that's as entertaining as the great blues/rock arrangement. The Gravel Project finds a bit of magic on "Arugula Politics" with a funky, sassy horn/guitar combo. The song is highly danceable, but The Gravel Project sticks with the theme a bit too long.

"I'll Cry Instead" is an absolutely brilliant Beatles cover done in pure funk. The Gravel Project do the near-impossible with the Beatles classic; they make it their own without compromising the essential character or feel of the original. From The Beatles to Pink Floyd, a David Gilmour ambience is the focal point of "Mindstream", with ambient, dreamy guitar playing the foil to a shifting bed of sound. "My Baby" is a classic-sounding blues love song; it's definite mix-tape material. Gravel nails the vocal line, and the song is eminently listenable even if it does cross the cliché line pretty seriously. More Ways Than One closes with "Blues For L.A.", juxtaposing a lyric vocal line with a gritty blues rock tune.

More Ways Than One turns out to be a highly enjoyable listening experience with a few kinks and wrinkles. The Gravel Project plays tight, blues-influenced rock n roll that explodes with energy. Andrew Gravel is a highly capable front man, driving the band forward with a reclusive yet energetic style that's not to be missed on CD, but is probably best served on stage. Perhaps what is most impressive is that Gravel and his cohorts treat the blending of Blues, Funk and Rock as reverently as if it were its own distinct art form. More Ways Than One is the first stop on a long journey for The Gravel Project. It’s perhaps not an album you will listen to all the time, but it is one you’ll keep coming back to again and again.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Gravel Project at or More Ways Than One is available from as either a CD or Download.

Review: Circa Survive - Blue Sky Noise

Circa Survive - Blue Sky Noise
2010, Atlantic Records

Doylestown, Pennsylvania’s Circa Survive have made the jump to a major label, but still bring a strong DIY effort to their third album, Blue Sky Noise. Working with producer David Bottrill (King Crimson, Tool, Muse), Circa Survive have crafted their most commercial album to date. Armed with a new perspective (particularly vocalist Anthony Green, who took some time out after a mental breakdown to get back to himself and gain new perspective on the world, Circa Survive look to make 2010 their best year to date.

Blue Sky Noise opens with “Strange Terrain”; a driven tune that is an average opening tune but features an outstanding vocal from Green. “Get Out” is, plainly said, a self-referential temper tantrum in song; encompassing an “I’m So Misunderstood” mind with insular thoughts. The song is powerful, angry and whiny all at once; and will sound very familiar to parents of a teenager or anyone who actually remembers what it was like to be a teenager. “Glass Arrows” is a pro-forma big rock tune, infusing just the right amount of anger to sound legit but not enough to be over-the-top.

“I Felt Free” is a bland and pretentious power ballad that doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowded power ballad field. Likewise, “Imaginary Enemy” has a cookie-cutter alt-rock feel. It’s a dysfunctional relationship song where the dysfunction of one member of a relationship is topped only by the partner who bends themselves every which way to satisfy that dysfunction. “Through The Desert Alone” is a step in the right direction, taking more of an art-rock approach by paying attention to musical details rather than a strict commercial sound. The rest of the album is a series of hits (“Fever Dreams”, “The Longest Mile”, and “Compendium”) and misses (“Frozen Creek”, Spirit Of The Stairwell”, “Dyed In The Wool”).

After strong Indie efforts Juturna and On Letting Go, it seemed likely that making the jump to the majors would not be likely to affect Circa Survive’s songwriting. But something has happened along the way. The songwriting on Blue Sky Noise is very uneven, and there seems to be a distinct struggle here between commercialism and art. More often than not commercialism seems to win on Blue Sky Noise, but its impact has been greatly diluted by the struggle, leaving Circa Survive with a less than optimal album that is not truly representative of their talent or work ethic. The reasons for this are unclear, but hopefully Circa Survive will get these kinks worked out before the next album.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Circa Survive at or Blue Sky Noise is available as a CD, LP or Download through Special bundles are also available through the band's web site for hard core fans.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: Elaine Faye - Matters Of The Heart

Elaine Faye - Matters Of The Heart
2010, Elaine Faye

San Diego’s Elaine Faye is a born-and-bred California girl with a big soulful sound who’s been turning some heads in the San Diego area. Faye considers the road her home, having moved over twenty-seven times and living a nearly nomadic life.” Like many artists, Faye’s musical roots began in her childhood church. Her personal life was full of much more in the way of drama, with a father sent to jail and a mother who passed away while he was incarcerated. Above all, Faye is a survivor. Based on the back story, you might be justified in expecting a lot out of Faye’s debut album, Matters Of The Heart.

Matters Of The Heart opens with “Just Want You”, showing off a distinctive voice on a repetitive and derivative song. You’ll remember this one because it will likely be the first time you heard Faye’s voice, but the song itself will pass from memory quickly. A similar vibe exists on “Gave Me Away” and “Melt For You”. “Don’t Miss Out” finds Faye raising the level a bit vocally, but the song itself sticks with the same bland, lifeless feel. Faye finds better traction with X’s and O’s, a lively song that works in a more stripped down setting. It’s almost as if Faye is vocally repressed by greater depths of instrumental layering. When an arrangement gets down to the roots, Faye is suddenly freed and she really shines both in sound and animus. Faye maintains the energy level and adds a lyric component on “Remind Me To Breathe”. “Sometimes” and “Past Loneliness” close out the album at the newer level of vibrancy.

It takes a while for Elaine Faye to hit her stride on Matters Of The Heart. Once she does, it’s a solid effort. The first three to four songs can border on being a tough listen. Faye has a voice you’ll want to listen to; a natural sound that has the meaty alto that goes well with the blues and a suppleness that allows Faye to do almost anything she can stretch her range to. Ultimately it’s the material on Matters Of The Heart that doesn’t always live up to the artist. When Faye is on, the album works very well.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Elaine Faye at or Matters Of The Heart is available as a download from

Review: Panda Riot - Far And Near EP

Panda Riot - Far And Near EP
2010, Mirror/Mirror

Panda Riot has been charming audiences with their brand of ethereal light-electronic pop in the Philadelphia/New York corridor for a few years now. Vocalist Rebecca Scott has a voice suited to the musical aether set to dance beats the band conjures, a subtle soprano that blends with the instrumentation rather than setting itself apart. Panda Riot will release their second EP, Far And Near, On May 11, 2010.

Far And Near opens with “Julie In Time”, an ethereal rock tune with blunted affect. The song is pretty and disjointed at the same time, as if The Bangles were writing songs with Brian Eno as their musical director. “Motown Glass” keeps with the ethereal feel and adds a psychedelic aspect with elements of dissonance in the harmony vocals and trippy beats. The biggest difficulty with Far And Near becomes quickly clear: The dynamic of Panda Riot never really changes on the EP. Consequently, much of the rest of the EP has a bland, marginal feel.

Panda Riot has a vocalist, in Rebecca Scott, who is something special. Unfortunately the arrangements on Far And Near never quite live up to Scott’s ability. Panda Rio has potential, but the energy required to bring that potential to fruition never fully materializes on Far And Near. The two opening tracks show a desire to stretch, but beyond that the reach falls short, and the listener is left with a promising product that never fully delivers on the promise.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Panda Riot at or Far And Near drops on May 11, 2010. You can pre-order the download from

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review: J Beck - Class Is In Session

J Beck - Class Is In Session
2010, J Beck

Hip-Hop and rap have had quite the history, starting out as a daring and entertaining form of street poetry set to rhythms, becoming a popularized art form and in some cases a caricature that probably does more to reinforce negative stereotypes than break them down. Like all genes there is both good and bad out there, but it seems that often it's the more blatantly negative influences that get the most press. It's refreshing to find someone like J Beck using hip-hop as an inspirational and life-changing medium. In his day job, J Beck is a teacher on Chicago's South Side. After school hours, J Beck performs his catchy brand of organic hip-hop at venues and events all around Chicago. J Beck's sophomore EP, Class Is In Session, great rhymes and rhythms, a realistic world view and a positive message of non-conformity and hope.

Class Is In Session opens with "Bachelor With My Bachelors"; the expected introductory song that's less than traditional. J Beck dances on the edge of calling out the rap establishment for the lack of intellect in popular rap. J Beck is strong with a rhyme and makes a solid opening impression. "Fall In Line" gets a bit awkward in the bridge, but otherwise deftly combines hip-hop and hard rock in the tradition of groups like Body Count. "Make Lemonade" has more of a commercial feel to it, blending laconic rhymes with the sort of hip-hop-lite that tends to dominate the R&B charts. "Stuck In The Moment" has a bit more life; a positive message about accepting life as it comes and making the most of it. Class Is In Session closes with "Can't Stay This Way", featuring a sample that sounds like the Chipmunks singing backup on a classic soul song. The song approaches a stream of conscious lyrical style, switching between cogent voiceovers and J Beck's commentary that varies from poignant to huh? moments.

J Beck offers honest if sometimes vague assessments of the world around him on Class Is In Session. With a focus on social justice and change, J Beck infuses Class Is In Session with a desire for change as well as a highly personal, sensitive angle not generally seen in popular hip-hop. J Beck seems to be most prolific when he has something to rail against, blending righteous anger with intelligent lyrics. There are a couple of musical decisions here that perhaps do not reflect well on J Beck, but the overall outcome is a positive one. In "Bachelor With My Bachelors" J Beck makes a reference to Mark Twain and Lil Wayne in the same line. Some might be aghast at this grouping, although I suspect Twain himself would have taken a bit of subversive glee at the thought. It's that same subversive spirit that drives J Beck in the pursuit of making the world around him better. Class Is In Session is worth listening to on that basis alone. It will be interesting to see where J Beck goes next.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about J Beck at Class Is In Session is available from as either a CD or Download.

Review: Isaboe - Love Son

Isaboe - Love Sun
2008, Ninjagirl Records

Australian singer-songwriter Isaboe had her first musical indoctrination at the age of 5, learning to play paradiddles on her father's 1950's Ludwig drum set. The days of youth quickly ran away with Isaboe, but the music beckoned her back and at the age of 14 Isaboe discovered The Police, bashing her way through Stewart Copeland's manic percussion and finding a sense of utter joy. Next came the guitar and saxophone and the discovery of jazz. Before long Isaboe was writing up a storm. In 2006 she set out to record an album. Two years later, after re-writes, a hiatus and time off from work to complete it, Isaboe released her debut album Love Sun. Full of personal reflections and empowering images, Love Sun serves as a powerful yet frustrating introduction to the world of Isaboe.

Love Son opens with "Brightest Love", an upbeat-yet-mellow rock love song with orchestral undertones. Listeners may be reminded of a blend of Aimee Mann and The Moody Blues here. The orchestral pop continues on "Calling To You", a song about seizing the moment where love is concerned. "Future World" continues unfettered with a light electro beat beneath Isaboe's ethereal vocals. Isaboe draws on themes of universal consciousness and connection in a somnolent piece that lingers across four-and-a-half minutes. Isaboe gets too caught up in prose on the title track; "Love Son" plays more like a diary entry than a mellow pop song.

"Golden Year" is a mildly upbeat song of reminiscence that seems to shake Isaboe out of her torpor. The energy carries over into "Revelation", an acoustic/electric track that decries the state of humanity and aims toward a more spiritual state for mankind. Isaboe's prose gets the best of her again on "Stellar Child", a song so caught up in Isaboe's new-age lyrical wash it forgets to grow and flourish as a song. Isaboe saves her best work for late in the album; "Home" is a love song that sits a bit outside the traditional love song box but carries a lovely, ethereal arrangement and melody and is likely to be a favorite for most anyone who comes across it. Love Son closes with "For All Our Days", a more traditional love song that sinks back into Isaboe's complacent, ambient pop arrangement style.

Love Son is something of a confounding album. Isaboe has a wonderful voice, and a keen ear for melody, but her tendency to arrange most everything with a monochromatic acoustic/orchestral pop style makes the bulk of her songs sound like one long cycle. There's a lot of potential displayed on Love Son, but Isaboe really struggles to maintain her pop sensibility under the weight of ambient but not energetic songwriting.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Isaboe at or Love Son is available digitally from e-tailers such as Amazon.MP3 and iTunes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Carrie Rodriguez - Love And Circumstances

Carrie Rodriguez - Love And Circumstances
2010, Ninth Street Opus

Over the past decade Carrie Rodriquez has gone from being a top notch session violinist to one of the most talented and sought after performers of Country music; the main reason being that Rodriguez eschews the plastic tendencies of commercial country radio for a sound that's true to her own tastes and history. We first became familiar with Rodriguez because of 2008's She Ain't Me, an album that sounded good at the time and simply gets better with age. Rodriguez's 2009 release, Live In Louisville, was so good it wound up in our Top-20 albums of 2009. After eight albums in as many years, Rodriguez returns in 2010 with Love And Circumstances, a cover album featuring songs from some of the best country and folk singer/songwriters of the past forty years.

Love And Circumstances opens with "Big Love" (Ry Cooder/John Hiatt/Nick Lowe/Jim Keltner), a song of hope and yearning that's full of a pragmatic beauty. The song has a rootsy Americana feel that should make it a commercial success. On "Wide River To Cross" (Julie & Buddy Miller) Rodriguez uses her warm voice to invoke the determination of someone making the long journey home after a long time away. It's a gorgeous melody that's moving in its simplicity and grace. "Eyes On The Prize" (M. Ward) has a classic country story song feel that jibes well with Rodriguez's easy vocal style perfectly. Rodriguez captures a sense of tragic hopefulness on "Waltzing's For Dreamers" (Richard Thompson), adding her distinctively mournful violin into the mix as well.

"I'm Not For Love" (Sandrine Daniels) is a heartbreaker, written from the perspective of one who's been burned too many times. Rodriguez highlights the song with a voice that emotes tragic beauty and a world-weary mien, and Bill Frisell's guitar work completes the sound. Rodriguez hits gold with her take on Merle Haggard's "(Today) I Started Loving You Again". The dark textures of her voice wrap around the melancholy feel of the medley in this song, creating a sense of time and place that is palpable. One of the highlights of the album is Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues". Aside from her voice, Rodriguez has an inspired energy in this song that shines through every nook and cranny. Whatever the inspiration, it burns beneath the surface but you can't fail to hear it. The most moving song on Love And Circumstances is Rodriguez's interpretation of the Hank Williams classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". Rodriguez invests the song with a believable sense of loss, and the bluesy guitar interplay is a nice touch. Rodriguez closes with "La Punalada Trapera" (Sosa Tomas Mendez). It's a gorgeous tune, and the weight of the story is meted out in the deliberate guitar work that fills out the song.

Carrie Rodriguez always produces compelling listening experiences when she steps into the studio. Love And Circumstances is no exception. The choice to immerse herself in classic songs and hidden gems from the pens of others is a brave one, forcing Rodriguez to find chemistry with the voices of the creator of each song. Carrie Rodriguez manages to make each song on Love And Circumstances her own without abandoning the character of each song. The musicianship is top-notch as always, and it would be hard to say that Rodriguez has ever been in finer voice. Love And Circumstances is a keeper.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Carrie Rodriguez at or Love And Circumstances is available as either a CD or Download from

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Kate Miller-Heidke - Curiouser

Kate Miller-Heidke - Curiouser
2010, SIN/SONY Music

Folks who have taken in one of the shows on Ben Folds current tour have been confronted with a highly intriguing opening act in Kate Miller-Heidke. The platinum-selling Australian chanteuse of the golden hair and platinum voice has wowed crowds here in the US. This is not news in her native Australia, where Miller-Heidke has been a chart presence for some time now. In March of 2010, SIN/SONY dropped Miller-Heidke’s Curiouser on an unsuspecting American populace. The album was released in Australia in 2008 and has subsequently gone platinum there, shooting as high as #2 on the ARIA charts and #1 on the iTunes Australia chart. The reasons for Miller-Heidke’s success are many; the classically trained vocalist can blow out your eardrums with her coloratura soprano sounds as well as twist your mind with some of the quirkiest sounds in either hemisphere. Her songwriting, aided by husband/guitarist Keir Nuttall, runs the gamut from deeply personal emotional fare to absurdly funny observations about the world. Produced by Mickey Petralia (Beck,eels, Dandy Warhols), Curiouser has been hailed as one of the best Australian albums in some time. Don’t be surprised if that conversation drops the “Australian” going forward.

Curiouser opens with the quirky and danceable "The One Thing I Know", a highly unusual and eclectic love song that could easily be classified as a rocker, a pop tune or even club music. At the center of it is Miller-Heidke's beautifully eclectic voice; the one that bends at angles that don't always seem possible. "God's Gift To Women" is certain to become an anthem for the bar set; or anyone else exposed to the unwanted advances of a maroon so full of himself he can't see how deep he's waded in. Miller-Heidke plays like a cross between Gwen Stefani and Nellie McKay in a tune that should be a huge hit if it were ever released as a single. Barring that, you can be certain you'll hear this tune in syndication somewhere. "Caught In The Crowd" is an apology in song; recognition that our behavior as kids is often not what we might hope for as adults. It's a great pop tune that will resonate with most listeners regardless of where they're from.

Miller-Heidke displays some of her trademark humor on "Can't Shake It", bemoaning her own lack of rhythm on the dance floor. The song is funny without stooping to the level of a novelty tune, but also has the temerity to be a high-quality pop tune with a serious dance beat. Things quiet down for the resplendent end-of-the-world daydream that is "The Last Day On Earth". Miller-Heidke shows off a softer side and some serious range in a number that shouldn't be soothing but plays like a lullaby, as the protagonist gains all she's lost in the final moments of creation. "I Like You Better When You're Not Around" takes to task that friend we all have who just can't keep her attention off the details of other's lives. It's a humorous song with some serious songwriting chops behind it; Miller-Heidke displays a deft touch with rapid-fire lyrics and a vocal sound that is truly unique.

"Motorscooter" is a fun tune that may border on novelty and is likely destined for a national advertising campaign. It's Miller-Heidke at her quirkiest; a highly entertaining song you simply have to hear to believe. "The End Of School" is a gentle remembrance of the days of youth and leads into the acerbic social commentary of "Politics In Space", which takes to task the political power structure and particularly the baby boom generation for the political and social misadventures of the world. "Supergirl" is an entertaining and highly danceable bit of pop fluff that could turn into a monster on the dance floor. This is another tune that's likely to be tapped for licensing. "Our Song" is a sweet and rambling tune written out of love. It's the most introspective song on Curious and works as a nice foil to the rest of the album. "No Truck" makes eclectic use of a phrase that's fallen somewhat out of fashion. You'll love the music on this song, even if the lyrics don't necessarily add up Curiouser closes with "Stars", a bonus track for the US release that was included in Miller-Heidke's iTunes exclusive self-titled EP this past winter.

For readers in Australia, Kate Miller-Heidke is old news, but here in the Western Hemisphere she is a new phenomenon. It's too early to say yet whether Miller-Heidke will catch on, but it's hard to imagine how she can't. Curiouser has it all; great songwriting, a one-in-a-million voice and a sound that's mainstream enough to become a hot commodity and eclectic enough to stay one. Miller-Heidke's sense of humor illuminates her songs without becoming the driving force, and her story-telling ability and rapid-fire lyrical sensibility are perfect for a generation raised on sound bytes but longing for something a little bit deeper. Miller-Heidke's music is danceable pop you won't feel ashamed of in the morning mixed with more lyric tunes you'll be happy to sit and listen to all day. And whether her voice is in operatic mode or going through kitschy gyrations most vocalists couldn't even imagine, Kate Miller-Heidke will mesmerize you. Curiouser is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Do. Not. Miss. This. One.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Kate Miller-Heidke at or Curiouser is available on CD from Downloads can be purchased from Amazon.MP3 or iTunes.

Review: Ben Crane - Almost To A Halfway House

Ben Crane - Almost To A Halfway House
2010, Ben Crane

Ben Crane is a California-born singer/songwriter who really hit his stride while a student at Tuft’s University. Known for a highly emotive performance style, Crane strives to make a connection with his audiences. Crane’s debut EP, Almost To A Halfway House, seeks to capture his highly personal style blended with a unique songwriting perspective.

Almost To A Halfway House opens with the catchy acoustic folk of "Fake British Accent". The song is a bit of a laugher, but the minimalist arrangement is a serious highlight. Crane is appropriately obscure on "Shades Of Warhol" before taking an atypical path on "Mr. B-Side"; a song about wanting to make music out of the limelight. The cutesy feel of the lyrics and easy-going style speaks of a pop sensibility that runs much deeper than you might suspect on first listen. "Siberia, I'm Calling" is another acoustic gem, with Crane relying on voice, guitar, percussion and hand-claps to create an ultimately listenable tune. "Gemini Woman" may scare the single fellas away from dating for awhile; it's a great tune full of serious dysfunction. Almost To A Halfway House closes with the atypically bland "Eden".

Ben Crane is a character; mining an obscure but powerful pop sensibility out of rough-shod acoustic musical style that's refreshing. Almost To A Halfway House is likely to incite visceral reactions; love or hate will rule the day without a lot of middle ground. But for those who get Ben Crane the payoff will be well worth the effort.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ben Crane at or You can download Almost To A Halfway House on Ben Crane's Bandcamp page and name your own price, even if you choose free.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review: King Washington - Grenadine

King Washington - Grenadine
2010, King Washington Music

Los Angeles quartet King Washington come ready to rock, but they're in it for the aesthetics as well. All four members are seasoned vocalists, and the harmonies flow freely throughout the band's album Grenadine. You'll hear influences ranging from The Talking Heads to the Beach Boys, with health dollops of Bowie and Radiohead thrown in for good measure. A heavy emphasis is placed on the construction of songs, treating them not just as vehicles with a message but as works of art.

Grenadine opens with "I Get By", featuring a strong 1960's vibe with strong nod to The Beatles. It's a great opening tune that will get stuck in your head, and you may even find yourself wondering if someone finally unearthed a new Beatles track that lay hidden for four-and-a-half decades. "Angela" keeps the same feel in a highly danceable number with strong vocal harmonies and an iconic lead vocal from Tyson Kelly. King Washington slows things down a bit with "Live On", a sweetly arranged tune about stopping to smell the roses. The song features great lyric guitar work inside a layered arrangement. Things take a darker turn with "Why", a melancholy, pensive song that has a nice melody but is a bit too drawn out for its own good. "The Cobbler" is likely to be a concert favorite; an upbeat tune that's out of the box and full of joy. Grenadine winds down with an Oasis-like melancholy wine on "The World". The repetitive nature and passive nature of the song don't tag it as a natural closer, and the song feels out of place on the EP.

King Washington clearly have a sound that is going to draw serious music fans; they also have a sound that may drive some away. Grenadine features a band that is of two minds and trying to figure things out. At their best, King Washington creates magical fuzzy pop songs the likes of which haven't been heard in some time. At their worst, the band becomes mired in their own melancholy and misses the connections they are so capable of making. Grenadine is a mixed experience with more pluses than minuses; it's worth checking out for King Washington's finer moments.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about King Washington at Grenadine may be purchased digitally from iTunes.

Review: Rhythm Child - Eat A Bowl Of Cherries

Rhythm Child - Eat A Bowl Of Cherries
2009, The Rhythm Child Network

Norman Jones cut his teeth over a decade with Reggae/Ska Band Crucial DBC before joining The English Beat's Dave Wakeling in The Free Radicals. A stint with General Public was to be before Jones headed off in a new direction. Inspired by the birth of his son Bailey, Jones decided he wanted to write music that would engage children but be enjoyed by parents as well. He formed the band Rhythm Child with wife Heather, and grew two other members (Bailey and Andre). Since that fateful decision Jones has won a John Lennon Songwriting competition Grand Prize as well as placing as a finalist. Rhythm Child's latest album Eat A Bowl Of Cherries spawned a #1 song on Sirius/XM Kids Radio as well as current or upcoming placement on two separate Putamayo compilations.

Eat A Bowl Of Cherries opens with "Riding On The Bus", Rhythm Child's take on "The Wheels On The Bus". It's a funky and soulful re-interpretation that uses the original as more of a guide than a song to cover; the result is very enjoyable and will work for both parents and kids. "Sam The Lamb Blues" is "Mary Had A Little Lamb" re-imagined as a blues song. The arrangement is solid, and the Hammond Organ work is exquisitely done. "Bowl Of Cherries" is catchy soul that hints at both zydeco and jazz without ever quite making the break. The song is a bit repetitive but is a fun listen. Rhythm Child misses a beat with "Everybody Is The One", but hits the mark with their take on "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" in a funky acoustic guitar-driven arrangement that will make you want to dance.

Rhythm Child strives for a positive message that comes off weak in "Misunderstandings", but makes a soulful dance number of "Oh Susanna" in one of the biggest highlights of the album. "Shaker Song" will have everyone from the toddlers to grandma dancing and shaking their booty. Rhythm Child closes on a couple of awkward notes with the reggae behavior modification anthem "I Can't Play Today" and the repetitive and banal "Cab We Still Be Friends".

Rhythm Child makes a strong impression with Eat A Bowl Of Cherries, a generally very positive collection of songs that crosses generational gaps to be enjoyable for children of all ages. Rhythm Child does hit a few rough spots along the way, but there's enough good material here that you'll be happy to pick up the album and just edit out the chaff on your playlist. Rhythm Child might be one of the more entertaining children’s/family artists this side of Trout Fishing In America.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Rhythm Child at or You may purchase Eat A Bowl Of Cherries from Rhythm Child's webstore, or as a digital download from iTunes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Steff Mahan - Never A Long Way Home

Steff Mahan - Never A Long Way Home
2009, Lounge Hound Music

Steff Mahan is a survivor. She's been told she can't be a recording artist/working musician. Either she's too told, too commercial, not commercial enough... all of the various reasons used to discourage an artist. Luckily the true artist never lets such admonishments get in their way. Mahan creates music for herself, but after not really starting her career until the age of 40, Mahan isn't inclined to give up on the dream. It's a good thing, too. Mahan's third album, Never A Long Way Home is her best to date. Mahan sings about aches and breaks of the heart while she puts the pieces together again and moves on down the road.

Never A Long Way Home was recorded live with little or no touch-up work. The approach is fitting for Mahan, an honest and brave step in an age where voices are airbrushed as easily as pictures. Mahan opens with "If I Let You Go", a gritty piece of country rock that's very catchy. Steff Mahan has a wonderful voice that's rough-yet-supple. "If I Let You Go" could do serious damage on the country charts. "Save Yourself" is an altruistic take on the end of a relationship. It's the first of several break-up/just broke up songs on the album. "Can't Hurt Me Anymore" is all about surviving a breakup and moving on. Mahan's backing band eschews the overly-glossed sound Nashville has spun as country music in favor of a classic sound.

"Never A Long Way Home" is a testament to the fact that life is never what we expect it will be; that our personal realities rarely stand up in the face of truth. It's a nuanced and intelligent musical exploration and is gorgeously voiced. In "Forgive Me", Mahan seeks absolution for missed chances. At first the request is of the one she missed out on, but ultimately Mahan seeks to forgive herself. The absolute highlight of the album is "Carnival Ride", a loving tribute to her father based on a childhood memory that turns into a life lesson. The melody and arrangement are beautiful; the lyrics touching without a drop of saccharine.

Mahan explores how loss can linger in "Things I Knew About You". The crux of the song isn't the immediate loss of the person, but the loss of familiarity over time with someone you once perhaps never imagined you'd be without. Mahan conveys a wonderfully world-weary sense of heartbreak conveyed not as volatile emotion but as a quiet, brooding sadness. On "Pray For Peace" Mahan explores the need for peace against the back drop of two distinct struggles: a mother watching her 4 year old suffer and finally praying for it to end, and a mother watching other mother's sons and daughters killed in wartime and praying for an end there as well. The song is heartfelt and likely to be a tearjerker if it touches close to home. "Thought We Were Dancing" is a sad-but-wry song about friendship and how it sometimes turns into love without one or both realizing it. It's a solid tune that may have been a better closer than the actual last song, "When I Need It Most". "When I Need It Most" is a plaintive plea for love and support that just doesn't have the heart of the rest of the album.

The music industry has always had a jaded perspective of age and style. The search is always for next big thing, as long as the next big thing doesn't deviate too much from the current big thing. Steff Mahan is not likely to ever get the respect she deserves from the music establishment, but the songs and performances on Never A Long Way Home certainly deserve some serious attention. It's not a perfect experience, and Mahan wouldn't have it any other way. Never A Long Way Home reflects the bumps and bruises that happen on the road of life, but in the darkness of heartache Mahan sketches out a rough sort of beauty with her words and voice. Never A Long Way Home is the sort of compelling album that will keep you coming back for more.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Steff Mahan at or Never A Long Way Home is available through as either a CD or Download.

Review: The Hollyfelds - Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo

The Hollyfelds - Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo
2010, The Hollyfelds

Denver, Colorado Alt-Country band The Hollyfelds came to our attention a couple of years back with their album Saratoga, a charming cycle revealed a subtle and talented band with two amazing vocalists (and multi-instrumentalists), Eryn Hoerig and Kate Grigsby out front. Last year's Black Heart Blue EP was a continuation of the magic displayed on Saratoga, although there was at least a suggestion there that The Hollyfelds were headed for slightly darker waters. With the release of Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo on May 22, 2010, it would appear that The Hollyfelds have committed to their course. The Hollyfelds recently sent along a two-song preview EP from Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo; here’s what we heard.

“Either Way” is the sad and melancholy soundtrack to life in a honky-tonk. Hoerig and Grigsby are exquisite as always. “Either Way” is a catchy tune that could play well in a classic country format; unvarnished music with first class musicianship. “How To Be Gone” is decent but lacks the usual energy level you’d expect from The Hollyfelds. The song is well written, but there’s almost a sense of complacency here that isn’t entirely explained by the subject matter.

Two songs is a very short sample of an album (and sometimes even of an EP). From the songs presented, it would suggest that Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo aims to be a solid effort, but perhaps not as inspired as some of The Hollyfelds earlier work. Reserve judgment on the full album until more songs become available. What we’ve heard so far is rather good, but The Hollyfelds have set the bar so high with their past work that what might be really good for one band is fair for them.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Hollyfelds at or Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo drops on May 22, 2010. Keep checking The Hollyfelds' website for availability.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: Jeff Beck - Emotion & Commotion

Jeff Beck - Emotion & Commotion
2010, Deuce Music Ltd/ATCO

What can you say about a guitar player who was good enough to replace Eric Clapton? Jeff Beck has achieved legendary status in the world of rock n roll, having played alongside folks such as Jimmy Page, Jon Paul Jones, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, David Bowie, Hans Zimmer, Paul Rodgers and Carmine Appice. Pink Floyd even wanted Beck to replace Syd Barrett but were never brave enough to ask him. Beck has been both lauded and derided for his flashy guitar style over the years, but he has also not sat on his laurels, which include five gold and two platinum albums and three Grammy Awards. Jeff Beck takes another expansive step with his latest album, Emotion & Commotion, due out on April 13, 2010 on Deuce Music Ltd./ATCO.

Emotion & Commotion opens with the serene and mellow “Corpus Christi Carol”, showing deep nuance and strong melodicism. “Hammerhead” is much more lively; a guitar-led instrumental that lapses into a languorous state. “Never Alone” is similarly somnolent, but fits in with a beautiful arrangement. Beck tackles the Harlen/Harburg classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in one of his most lyric and gorgeous performances on the album. On “I Put A Spell On You”, Beck plays second fiddle to guest vocalist Joss Stone, who thoroughly makes the song her own. Beck provides a brilliant secondary voice here, showing a wonderfully reserved style of play that ties the song together like a finely wrapped gift. On “Serene”, Jeff Beck’s guitar mingles with the voice of coloratura soprano Olivia Safe to create moments of abstract beauty.

Imelda May adds her sultry alto to the mix on “Lilac Wine”. This may not be the most dynamic performance on the album, but it is the most riveting as May and Beck mix it up in gentle undertones. Beck takes a Malmsteen turn on “Nessun Dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s Turnadot. Beck performs with a full orchestra, choosing a very refined role for his guitar. Joss Stone comes back for one more turn on “There’s No Other Me”. Stone and Beck each are great on the song as a solo performer. As a duet, this song goes sadly awry, as there’s no clear indication that Beck and Stone are actually playing together. Stone in particular knocks it out of the park with a thrilling vocal performance, and Beck hits all of the right notes, but there’s little sense that either considered the other as part of the performance. Emotion & Commotion closes with “Elegy For Dunkirk”, with Olivia Safe providing her vocal talents once again. “Elegy For Dunkirk” is a tough closer, more focused on plodding notes than any real sense of progression. Safe is exquisite, as expected.

Emotion & Commotion is a solid if inconsistent effort. Jeff Beck has heard the criticism over the years of being too flashy, too fast, etc., and appears to be determined to undue those criticisms on Emotion & Commotion. If anything, Beck over-compensates at times, drawing out notes and phrasing to a point where the concepts of progression and melody become lost. Beck is a fantastic guitar player at base, and proves it throughout much of the album, but the highly lyric sensibility of the album may not sit well with fans of his older material. On the whole, Emotion & Commotion is worth listening to, but isn’t likely to go down among Beck’s best.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jeff Beck at Emotion & Commotion is available as either a CD or Download from There is also a special edition that includes a DVD and a Japanese pressing with two bonus tracks.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review: Bec Plath – Unrequited

Bec Plath – Unrequited
2009, Bec Plath

Brisbane, Australia singer/pianist/songwriter Bec Plath has spent the past few years recording and playing with local faves The Bloodpoets, adding her distinctive voice and style to the band's milieu. Recognizing something special when he heard Plath Sing, Brendan Anthony of BAM Music (INXS, Midnight Oil) corralled Bec Plath and helped her shape her sound for her debut EP, Unrequited. Plath has already scored two Hot-100 singles for 2009 in Australia with a huge voice and quirky songwriting style that's bound to catch your attention.

Unrequited opens with "Polka Dots", using a basic R&B progression ala "Stray Cat Strut". The tune is catchy, but it's Plath's voice that stands out. Her reserved but drop-dead gorgeous alto is sultry and warm, and even so-so production values can't detract from it. "Unrequited" is a great mid-tempo rock song with solid instrumentation and outstanding vocals. The production gives "Unrequited" a muddy sound that's a bit distracting, but Plath's voice shines through it all like sunlight. "Faith" is a middle-of-the-road pop/rock song with a solid chorus, leading into "Apologise", arguably the weakest tune on the EP. "Journey" closes out Unrequited as a song of purpose; of living for yourself and moving on from heartache. Plath carries the tune on voice and personality. The song itself is average, and the production, consistent throughout the EP, is less than stellar.

Bec Plath has been an integral part of The Bloodpoets for the past few years, and there's real promise in the singer/songwriter stepping out on her own. As a songwriter Plath is solid, providing consistent song vehicles where her voice and personality can shine. Both shine brightly on Unrequited, even with the production doing its best to get in her way. The sound quality on the EP just isn't consistent with a professional release and unfortunate turn for an artist who really deserves better. Plath is good enough as singer that you'll be willing to put up with bad mixes and less than optimal sound, but it's an issue that deserves real attention next time around.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Bec Plath at or Unrequited is available digitally from iTunes and Physical copies may be available directly from Plath. Contact Plath directly for more information.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Earl J. Rivard - Underground Railroad

Earl J. Rivard - Underground Railroad
2010, Earl J. Rivard

Earl J. Rivard, III has built a life by making the most of his gifts and not allowing roadblocks to stop him from achieving his dreams. The Almeda, California resident has become a top-notch, highly courted performer in California in spite of being blinded and partially paralyzed as an infant by a drunk driver. Nevertheless, Rivard showed a musical proclivity from the age of three. His father, Earl J. Rivard, Jr. took his son under his wing, playing with Earl III until it became clear that Earl III had blossomed. Singing in a wonderfully soulful voice in English, Spanish and Italian, Rivard breaks down barriers for others as easily as he has for himself. Whether singing rock n roll, soul or troubadour folk, Rivard commands attention. Rivard will soon release his sophomore album, Underground Railroad, a stunning testament to perseverance.

Underground Railroad opens with the title track, a soulful and politically charged missive in song taking American immigration policy to task. Rivard calls for the creation of an underground network to help those crossing from Mexico into the US to circumvent US policy, singing passionately and with conviction. “Underground Railroad” perhaps ignores the fact that such networks already exist and continuously do battle with the limits that are in place. Musically, the song is well written, and for a passion perspective it’s convincing, but the inattention to detail makes the song less compelling. “Till I Met You” is a heartfelt but languid ballad that is pretty but lacking a bit in energy. Rivard shows two distinct sides here: In his upper range he could almost pass for a soulful Garth Brooks, but in his lower range he sounds a great deal like Taye Diggs.

“Coldest Place” is a sorrowful ballad that confirms Rivard’s weakness. The man has an amazing voice, but on the more lyric vocal parts he tends at times to lose the energy that sustains such songs, particularly on long, slow passages. “The Sun Finally Rose” finds Rivard turning the corner with a jubilant celebration of finding love after heartache. Delivered as a pop/Americana tune, “The Sun Finally Rose” is great musical poetry. On “Nobody Knows”, Rivard offers a theatrical presentation of a song about a runaway. You’ll swear this song must have come from some obscure but promising off-Broadway musical, and Rivard’s vocal reading is impressive beyond words.

“Magdalena” finds Rivard dealing in Spanish, and offering up guitar work that’s bound to draw comparisons to the great Carlos Santana. Wit shines through “Unfinished Songs”, a tongue-in-cheek paean to anyone who’s ever been or tried to be a songwriter. The song is full of snarky touches from the doo-wop background singers to the somewhat yet predictable yet still amusing ending. Rivard stakes his reputation on being something of a troubadour, and lives up to the billing on “Lady, Sweet Lady”. Sounding like an arrangement that might have originated in Shakespeare’s time, “Lady, Sweet Lady” is a lovely tune that firmly establishes not only Rivard’s versatility as a performer but also his talent as a songwriter.

“This Time Around” is an opportunistic love song done in an Americana/rock blend. It’s a classic tune about making the best of a second chance no matter the cost. “This Time Around” might be the finest example of songwriting on Underground Railroad. Rivard channels the spirit of Dan Fogelberg on Yours Eternally, a song all about the fragility of love. The gorgeous melody and arrangement are matched only by the prescience of Rivard’s lyrics and his mesmerizing voice. Rivard follows this up with “Yours Eternally”, which seems likely to be on the list of most-used first dance songs if Rivard ever gets his big break. This is a wow moment. Underground Railroad closes out with a radio edit of the title track.

It’s hard to imagine how Earl J. Rivard, III isn’t a household name already. What seems very likely, however, is that he one day will be. Whatever else you might have to say about Earl J. Rivard, it’s very clear that any deficits he may have suffered throughout his life seem small compared to the magnitude of both his voice and talent as a songwriter. Underground Railroad is a thrilling experience, an album you will cherish both in spite of and for its minor flaws. When Rivard sings, the angels stop to listen. You will too.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Earl J. Rivard at or Underground Railroad is due for release in the Spring of 2010. Keep checking Rivard's website for update release information and availability.