All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jessica Labus - Mirrors


Jessica Labus - Mirrors
2009, Jessica Labus

Born in Florida but raised in Niagara Falls and Grand Island, New York, Jessica Labus had a hunger to perform from an early age. Musical theater and country/western music were her fortes in childhood, but as soon as Labus could drive she quit small town life for New York City. Playing the subways and taking classes in musical theater helped Labus establish her priorities, and soon she set out to become a singer/songwriter. With a bitingly honest songwriting style and flashes of biography based on her own life and people she knows, Labus writes meaningful musical dialogs punched with the efficacy of truth, but run through with an admirable pop/rock sensibility that's hard to ignore. Jessica Labus launched her debut album, Mirrors, in 2009.

Mirrors opens with "Bryan's Song", a tune about personal demons and addictions. It's a call to wake up and make a change before things fall apart, and was written about/to a family member who had a hard time listening to the counsel of loved ones. "Mirrors" is an urgent/angry rocker about an affair a friend had with a married man. It's written from an interesting perspective, capturing a wealth of conflicting emotions that arise from such poisoned undertakings. In "Time Spent", Labus engages in reverie over a relationship gone by;k not regretting a moment but allowing a wash of wistful melancholy to dance with the not-quite-dormant emotions the memory stirs. "With Or Without Me" looks back on a relationship that went wrong because Labus never took her partner seriously. With time and perspective as her guide she realizes she really loved him, but finds the most important thing to be his happiness.

"Anything From You" goes to the relationship well once again, this time from a more confused and hurt place; there is a moral to the story, but you'll have to listen all the way to the end to find it out. Labus pours her heart out in "Back To You"; her voice breaking with the emotion of the song in a fashion that seems natural rather than effected. It's a great tune, one of the more positive songs about love on the album. "Quarter Past Four" encompasses the misgivings that attack us in the wee hours. It's vulnerability of a personal sort that shows up in "Quarter Past Four", but it becomes a strength as Labus realizes she needs to take control of her own life even it means giving up something she adores.

"Who" takes another tack entirely. It's a biting, sarcastic kiss off song, written, by Labus' own admission, to embarrass someone who just walked out of her life. Labus' affection for country music shines through here, and you could picture "Who" becoming an anthem for those who have been wronged by men with less-than-honorable intentions. With "Meant To Be", Labus breaks down the barrier between things that are meant to be and things that are meant to last forever. It's a mature perspective that is built part out of the need of the moment and part out of our own ability to fool ourselves into believing that what we want and what we are "meant for" are one in the same. Mirrors closes with "Watching Over Me", an ode Labus' grandmother for all of the love and lessons she gave ("Now that you're slowly fading into a memory / I keep you close by believing in what I cannot see / Now I've got an angel watching over me"). It's a touching closer that will hit home with anyone who's lost a beloved parent, grandparent or parental figure.

Jessica Labus has a point blank story-telling style that is likely to intrigue you unless it hits a little close to home. Labus deals with reality as she sees it, in a no-nonsense fashion that is both refreshing and occasionally discomfiting. Every note on Mirrors is finely crafted and is full of passion and emotion; even in the quite moments Labus' voice burns with the heat of each memory and emotion. Mirrors is Labus thinking aloud in song, and you'll be glad she's welcomes you into her mind. Here there is no hedging; no pretty colors to distract or blind you; just solid, honest song-writing delivered in impassioned tones. Mirrors is a must-have album.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jessica Labus at www.myspace.com/jessicalabus. Mirrors is available in multiple formats from Amazon, CDBaby and iTunes.

Debbie Miller - Fake Love


Debbie Miller - Fake Love
2010, The Debbie Miller

Debbie Miller is a New York City-based singer/songwriter who encompasses the quirky wit and style of an East Village folk singer and the avant-garde style cultivated south of the Brooklyn Bridge. A classically-trained pianist, Miller is a stylish story-teller who mixes wit and wisdom in songs that slice at the truth from angles you might not expect. Miller's debut album, Fake Love, presents eleven finely crafted tunes that vacillate from frank to farcical without ever losing sight of the essential humanity that inspired each bit of musical observation.

Fake Love opens with "Tippy Toe", a demented and tuneful song about worming your way into someone's heart. There's a vaguely obsessive tone to the song, but it's delivered in such cute fashion this predilection may slip by you. "Tippy Toe" is the song that got Debbie Miller "discovered" and led to the recording of Fake Love, and gives you a solid picture of the dynamic persona behind the piano. "Eclipse" is a daydream about falling love and all of the magical moments that can happen in the beginning weeks. Miller takes a ham-handed stab at innuendo here but makes up for it with a delightful little twist at the end of the song.

Miller engages in an intriguing piece of European style Baroque pop with "Kindly Remove", dropping some serious piano work and orchestration on a tune song with a bratty, moll-like vocal line. It's a brilliant juxtaposition you have to hear to believe. "F Train" is a straight-forward tune about the inanities of hooking up. Miller is dead on for observation and commentary, flashing wit in a life lesson that is best learned without the lonely subway ride home in the morning. Miller turns vulnerable with "I Rise", a tune about falling in love and placing your heart fully in the hands of another; and the magic that can arise from that decision. It's a pleasant turn and helps broaden the listener's understanding of Debbie Miller's depth as a songwriter.

"Lite Brite" laments the reality that often waits at the end of the chase, recounting her acquisition of a Lite Bright at the age of twenty-four after wanting one for years and realizing how lame it actually is. It's a funny tune with solid life lesson in the lining. Miller seemingly takes on domestic violence and the idea that victims bring it on themselves in "Made You". Not so much outright humorous and sardonic, Miller lambastes the idea in song without ever really contradicting it. It's a neat trick; one that could be easily misunderstood by those who don't listen carefully. "Did You Ever Wonder" is the last official track on Fake Love, a dreamer's queries about all-encompassing belief and/or faith. It's the questioning of one who wants to believe but can't quite commit to the childlike faith of another; not so much cynical as uncertain. It's a neat bit of songwriting. Miller gives listeners a real treat with the untitled bonus track, a tune about obsessive fandom that turns into a real laugher when Miller forgets a verse. The song is recorded live-in-studio, and Miller has fun with her gaffe, offering yet another positive glimpse at the artist behind the songs.

After listening to Fake Love, you're likely to decide that Debbie Miller would be the perfect friend to have over to dinner parties. The songs on Fake Love are smart, heartfelt, and sometimes uproariously funny. Miller takes the approach of a classic troubadour, peeling the layers of life to show you new perspectives using moments both earnest and amusing, alternating between a piano style that calls to mind Tori Amos and singer/songwriter guitar. Fake Love never really falls flat, although there are quiet moments. Nevertheless, Debbie Miller gives listeners their monies worth with Fake Love. Make sure you check it out.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Debbie Miller at http://www.thedebbiemiller.com/ or www.myspace.com/thedebbiemiller. Fake Love is available in various formats from CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Literary Greats - Ocean, Meet The Valley


The Literary Greats - Ocean, Meet The Valley
2009, The Literary Greats

Houston, Texas quintet The Literary Greats recently returned with their sophomore album, Ocean, Meet The Valley. With a rootsy approach to rock n roll, The Literary Greats take a deeper, darker turn with Ocean, Meet The Valley. Working with producer Chris Grainger (Wilco, Sixpence None The Richer), The Literary Greats used 1970’s era equipment and recording techniques to capture a classic sound.

Ocean, Meet The Valley opens with "That Mountain Yonder", a song of big melodic sensibilities and Americana colorings. The Literary Greats come off sounding like a cross between The Rolling Stones and Wings here. "Show Me The Coast" is a Blue Rodeo-style country rocker with a big guitar sound. It's a great tune, one that will have you hitting replay over and over. The Literary Greats get a bit scattered on "Happens Every Time" before falling into the droning and "The Black Bee". "Oh Abilene is a raucous country rocker that's well worth the listen, particularly in a honky-tonk or club where there are many willing dancers.

Dreadnought is highly repetitive, working around a play on words "fear God and dreadnought" in a song powered by big, heavy guitar sound. "Ruby Sapphire" is a love song of sorts, wrapped up in a dark, mildly funky rock tune with serious backbeat and a solid chorus. "Ocean Waves" has a low-key, early-1960's sound that's vaguely reminiscent of Roy Orbison, although the lyrics sound straight from the heart. The Literary Greats close with "Hill Country Queen", an affable love song with some real potential.

Ocean, Meet The Valley is an enjoyable side-trip, full of solid melodies, plus songwriting and energetic performances from The Literary Greats. Americana fans should fawn all over The Literary Greats. These guys can flat out play, sing, write and perform.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Literary Greats at http://www.theliterarygreats.com/ or www.myspace.com/theliterarygreats. Ocean, Meet The Valley is available in multiple formats from Amazon.

The Cranks – What?


The Cranks – What?
2010, The Cranks

Junior high is a tough time; burgeoning hormones, social circles and the pressure of school are relentless. Bands seem to crop up overnight and fade away quickly. It makes The Cranks all the more interesting. The Groton-Dunstable, Massachusetts trio consists of twins Haley Gowland (lead vocals, lead guitar), Connor Gowland (drums, backing vocals) and bassist/backing vocalist Greg Preston. Showing much more poise than your average fourteen and fifteen-year olds, The Cranks write upbeat pop tunes with an alternative twist. Their debut EP, What?, is full of the sort of problems you might expect for a band so young, but also shows a lot of potential.

What? opens with "Long Day", a decent garage pop tune with a solid chorus. Haley Gowland sings of the angst of existing in a moment you wish not to be in, but doesn't sound terribly convinced. "20 Years" is a rough but well-written bit of geek pop/punk that expresses existential ajita over the future and our ability to survive. Things get bland for "Don't Call It Blue" and "Tumble", although The Cranks recover nicely with the pop sensibility inherent in "Something From Nothing". The song features a great chorus and has a lot of potential if fleshed out a bit more. "Almost Dark" starts out promisingly but gets lost in its own even-handed delivery. What winds away with "Be Strong", a song about moving on after a relationship ends. Once again, there is potential here, although the present arrangement is very low-fi and amateurish.

The Cranks are a young band, and it shows on What?. The possibilities buzz in and around lead vocalist Haley Gowland who has a voice that fits in well with 1990's acts like Belly and Throwing Muses. The songs here are rough in writing style and production value, but there's plenty of reason to believe that both conditions will improve in time. In the mean time, the threads of solid songwriting are woven through What?, and The Cranks can look to tomorrow with ideas of better yet to come.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Cranks at http://www.thecranks.com/ or www.myspace.com/cranksband. What? can be downloaded through Digstation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Scott Miller & The Commonwealth - For Crying Out Loud


Scott Miller & The Commonwealth - For Crying Out Loud
2009, F.A.Y. Recordings

How do you take the bandleader from Jeff Foxworthy’s Blue Collar Comedy Show seriously? You listen, of course. And if you listen to most anything Scott Miller has put down on tape, you’ll know you’re listening to a serious musician. The son of Scots-Irish farmers (he refers to his lifestyle growing up as “Amish that drink”); Miller learned an appreciation for melody and frugality of words at a young age. After numerous albums and tours, Miller’s sound has matured and taken on the wizened air of a long-time singer-songwriter. This is wholly apparent on his 2009 album, For Crying Out Loud, with his band The Commonwealth.

Miller opens with "Cheap Ain't Cheap (For Crying Out Loud)", a highly catchy piece of acoustic rock n roll. Miller has a pleasant voice, and this tune is just a lot of fun. "Sin In Indiana" shows Miller's witty side in a bluesy romp you won't want to miss. Southern rock is the thing in "Iron Gate"; the song is very danceable and features some serious guitar work. It's a tune about an argument where he tells his girl to get out; she does and she's looking for trouble. "I'm Right Here, My Love" is a great duet with Patty Griffin that mixes love and insecurity in a whirl of human frailty. "Let You Down" is entertaining, danceable rock with an oldies feel. Miller keeps up the good time flavor with "Wildcat Whistle" before transitioning into the sweet, working class love ballad "She's Still Mine".

"Claire Marie" is the best example of Miller's songwriting ability on the album. Classic and southern rock mix over a 1960's backbeat and rinky-tink piano style in a tune about the distractions a beautiful girl can create that finds Miller begging for mercy before it’s done. Miller keeps the R&B base for "I Can't Dance", an ironically danceable tune. "Double Indemnity" is the gritty tale of a man on death row who perhaps ought not to be. There's a femme fatale in the mix who will make off with the money when he's gone. It's never clear whether he or she did, but she's certainly going to get away with it. Miller closes with "Appalachian Refugee", a charming story/character song with distinctive character development. The Appalachian folk/country mix is no surprise, but the depth of character that Miller creates both in the writing and performance of this song is substantial.

Scott Miller & The Commonwealth hit all the right notes on For Crying Out Loud, a highly entertaining and musical endeavor. Miller's voice is pleasant enough to spend an hour or two listening to a few times per week, and The Commonwealth is as tight and as talented as can be. Miller is one to watch.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Scott Miller & The Commonwealth at http://www.thescottmiller.com/ or www.myspace.com/thescottmiller. You can purchase For Crying Out Loud directly from Scott Miller in his webstore. You can also purchase the album in various forms from Amazon and iTunes.

Will Knox - The Matador & The Acrobat


Will Knox - The Matador & The Acrobat
2009, Will Knox


Born in Hammersmith, England, Will Knox moved to Boston at the young age of 18 and has now moved on to New York City. The influences of both his home and his travels weigh heavily on Knox' latest album, The Matador & The Acrobat. Writing about the darker places of the human heart, Knox wraps up human imperfection in delicious little alt-folk tunes; always with an eye toward hope. His is not a world in decline, but a world grown beyond the understanding of hearts and minds that have never been fully prepared for the sophistication the modern age calls for. The Matador & The Acrobat represents the classic struggle between humanity's expansionist tendencies and our inherent insecurities.

Knox opens with "The Matador And The Acrobat I", a 36-second intro that introduces the narrator as an acrobat, bending himself to expectations and avoiding trouble, while inside resides a voice who is a fighter. "Buckled Knees" represents the emptiness of sacrificing yourself for stardom; when you achieve what you want there's nothing of you left to enjoy it. Knox uses Los Angeles as the Mecca for this emptiness, and the character in the song realizes this emptiness after he's already been broken by the machine. "A Painted Smile" is a song about losing your bearings, a like outcome from "Buckled Knees". Imagine The Beautiful South writing in the vein of The Wall-era Pink Floyd and you'll have a pretty good idea of the sound.

"Three Blind Mice" represented what goes on behind the mask of "A Painted Smile", describing the demons that unhinge the mind. The subtle disturbed arrangement is a great contrast to the lyrical content. "Belly Of The Beast" takes on the New York City Subway and the dark side of the bright city above. It's a wonderfully apt allegory for the sights and sounds beneath the city. Knox expresses existential angst in "Footprints On The Moon", noting the human capacity for destructive behavior and expressing the hope that we are not know one day simply by the artifacts we leave behind. "The Matador And The Acrobat II" is a transition, struggling between the comfort of the known and the agony of prospective change.

"Heart Strings" is the soliloquy of a recently disabused heart, looking back on all the manipulations he was caught up in. It's a powerful tune for the sense of helplessness that gives way to purpose. "Cog In The Machine" continues the theme, recognizing one's role in the greater machinations in life and making the choice to simply step out of the machine. Knox pays tribute to the roots of New York City, noting both the immigrant labor that raised the city and the way in which the island was acquired. "Never Letting Go" is a song about getting stuck in an emotional cycle; going around and around in circles but never breaking free. "The Circus Absurd" highlights again the sense of being a part of something greater, and the idea that this greater has something horribly wrong with it. Closing with "The Matador And The Acrobat III", Knox appears ready to step outside of the script and make his own path.

The Matador And The Acrobat mixes strong songwriting with Knox's quirky voice and distinctive delivery. Will Knox is a songwriter with a talent for getting inside the moment, and taking you with him. The Matador And The Acrobat is well worth spending some time on.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Will Knox at http://www.willknox.com/ and www.myspace.com/willknoxmusic. The Matador & The Acrobat is available in multiple formats from Amazon and iTunes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Carole King & James Taylor - Live At The Troubador


Carole King & James Taylor - Live At The Troubadour
2010, Hear Music/Syzygy Productions


Carole King and James Taylor are icons each in their own right. Carole King is one of the premiere songwriters of the pop/rock era, charting 118 songs on the Billboard charts as a songwriter, including hits for Celine Dion, The Shirelles, The Drifters, Little Eva, The Chiffons, The Everly Brothers, The Monkees and Aretha Franklin. Over the course of her career King has amassed six top-ten albums, four GRAMMY Awards and induction into both the Songwriters Hall Of Fame and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. James Taylor has had similar success, earning five GRAMMY Awards, the George and Ira Gershwin Award, and honorary doctorates from two colleges, including the Berklee College Of Music. King and Taylor played together regularly in the early 1970's, and last resurrected their old show to the delight of longtime fans. Hear Music and Syzygy Productions recently released a document of that tour called Live At The Troubadour.

King and Taylor offer up a joyous retrospective on Live At The Troubadour, hitting on some of the highlights of the early parts of their careers. Playing with the band they toured with in the 1970's adds a special touch, as if you're listening in on a family jam where all the prodigals have returned after years away but have never forgotten the chemistry with which they once wove their instruments. The album opens with "Blossom", done in a simple style that allows the pretty melody the full stage. It's the perfect opening to an album that recalls a simpler time in pop music when things like melody and lyrics were of utmost importance. Carole King shares some of her biggest hits from over the years, such as "So Far Away", "It's Too Late", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "I Feel The Earth Move". The latter shows that King is still a dynamic performer, a fact that's mostly overlooked nowadays but was well known in her performance heyday in the early 1970's.

James Taylor offers anecdotes, funny stories, and a few classic songs as well. His story about the origin of "Sweet Baby James" is charming and funny, and the song is offered up in classic form. "Something In The Way She Moves", "Machine Gun Kelly" and "Fire And Rain" will not disappoint longtime fans, and may even snag a few new ones in the process. The connection between King and Taylor seems strongest at the end of the show. Taylor launches into the King-penned "You've Got A Friend", with King providing harmony vocals. Next up is the pop classic "Up On The Roof", with King and Taylor trading verses, alternating between the slower style of the original and slightly poppier presentation of Taylor's version. Live At The Troubadour closes with a full duet on "You Can Close Your Eyes", a simple celebration of life and love and of making the most of the moments that find us.

Given the collective track records of Carole King and James Taylor, you'd expect the performances on Live At The Troubadour to be professional and well-done. What's harder to predict is whether the chemistry they had almost forty years ago would return. Suffice it to say that Live At The Troubadour is all you could want and more. King and Taylor play their classic songs with a musical repartee that is downright magical. Both voices show the normal wear and tear that forty-plus years of singing will bring about, but if either has lost anything over time they have more than made up for it in their craft and persona. When they step on stage together, however, it's as if the years fall away, even if for a little while. If you were lucky enough to catch Carole King and James Taylor the first time around then Live At The Troubadour will bring you back to those days. If not, then the album serves as a looking glass into the distant past, when the high arc and inevitable downfalls of stardom still lay before each. Live At The Troubadour is not just a live collection of two iconic artists' best material; it is a testament to the magic that great performers can weave.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about James Taylor and Carole King at http://www.troubadour-reunion.com/. Live At The Troubadour is available as either a CD or Download from Amazon. Digital copies are also available from iTunes.

The Callen Sisters - The Callen Sisters



The Callen Sisters - The Callen Sisters
2007, Moon Mouth Music

Jessa and Beth Callen grew up with music, whether in their native Westport, Massachusetts or their adopted hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York. Getting their start at venues such as the venerable CaffĂ© Lena, The Callen Sisters moved on to SUNY Purchase and later New York City. Writing highly personal songs about some of life’s darker threads, The Callen Sisters keep their sound light with a mix of acoustic instruments including the harp. In 2007 The Callen Sisters released their self-titled debut album, produced by Buffalo, New York native Dan Castellani. The Callen Sisters are currently preparing for a tour of the Northeast US, as well as the release of a new album in the Fall of 2010.

The Callen Sisters opens with "Anomie", featuring a memorable melody wrapped in an energetic yet reserved arrangement. The Callens have gorgeous voices on both lead and harmony, and this song flows like water. "Irrelevant" is soulful with a slightly funky feel. The harp creates wonderful accents in a neo-nightclub femme-fatale number. "Like You" and "Life" are decent enough, but don't have the motivation of the first two songs. "Wildfires" is full of emotion, but is a bit too contained. "Lullabye" is gorgeous, with Jessa Callen coming a bit more out of her shell.

Things get interesting on "Tangled Up", a song of deep emotion and a more forward approach (both musically and lyrically). The Callen Sisters show a mild but deep pop sensibility on this song; one that could turn into a hit ballad in the right hands and/or arrangement. As is, it's a fine piece of songwriting. Phase maintains this more vibrant feel in a song full of shifting tensions and sensitivities. The approach is still very low key, but The Callen Sisters use their instrumentation and phrasing to build a sense of drama into the song. The funereal feel of "Almost Gone" gives a stark view of the death of a loved one. The Callen Sisters offer up angelic vocals in a dirge-like setting, displaying the darkness of suffering and the release of death in harmonic coloring that is bone-chilling in its intensity and beauty. "Whirlwind Came" addresses the capricious nature of Fate in a memoriam that serves as an epilogue to "Almost Gone". The Callen Sisters closes with "Wake Up", a song about setting things right. The song is fairly generic, although the vocal constructions in the closing moments are worth tuning in for.

The Callen Sisters have moments both mundane and sublime on their self-titled debut. The family chemistry works for Jessa and Beth Callen; the album crests and troughs on the strength of the songwriting from song to song. Sonically there's not much more you could ask for while lyrically the album is hit or miss. Over time expect the songwriting to even out, and The Callen Sisters may have a significant career ahead of them.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Callen Sisters at http://www.thecallensisters.com/ or www.myspace.com/thecallensisters. The Callen Sisters is available as both CD and Download from CDBaby. Downloads are also available from iTunes.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lee Ritenour - Six String Theory


Lee Ritenour - Six String Theory
2010, Concord Records

Lee “Captain Fingers” Ritenour really needs no introduction. A participant in better than 3,000 recording sessions, Ritenour was an in-demand throughout the 1970’s and is considered a pioneer in smooth jazz and jazz-funk. Over the years Ritenour has amassed on GRAMMY Award and seventeen (17) additional GRAMMY nomination. Ritenour recently released his 43rd album, Six String Theory, drawing from multiple music styles to create a set

Six String Theory opens with measured, soulful play on "Lay It Down". Ritenour builds the song in intensity until he explodes in a flurry of fretwork halfway through, growing into a more distorted jazz-inflected romp. "Am I Wrong" opens with an enticing-yet-simple blues riff played off against harmonica. Ritenour's vocal is soulful and bluesy and the tune is quite catchy. "L.P. (For Les Paul)" is done in an improvisational jazz form, allowing the guitar and organ to stake out significant territory and create. The rightness of Ritenour's band is frankly amazing; their energy contagious. Ritenour blends southern rock, blues and even a tinge of gospel on "Give Me One Reason", using a big, fuzzy guitar sound to give the song a bit more oomph than you might be used to. It's a brilliant reading on a classic tune.

Ritenour turns a bit more aggressive on "68", a powerful rocker with blues roots. Ritenour pulls off some serious riffs with attitude. The style of play here is somewhat reminiscent of Kim Mitchell's style with Max Webster. "Moon River" finds Ritenour back in improvisational forms for a highly variant but intriguing version of Mancini's "Moon River" before moving into the tight and lively "Why I Sing The Blues". "Daddy Longlicks" is the sort of song guitarists live to play; Ritenour mixes speed, precision and musicality in a fashion that Chet would approve of. Sting's "Shape Of My Heart" takes on new life here, as Ritenour injects the song with a heart that is present in the original but magnifies it several times over to bring out the elusive melody of the song.

"Drifting" finds Ritenour making use of the entire guitar in a rhythmically complex but thematically simple song that's worth spending some time on. "Freeway" Jam is a rock instrumental falling somewhere in the gap between 1980's melodic rock guitar and Eric Johnson. The nod to Johnson continues on "Fives", which finds Ritenour in some very unusual time signatures while creating dark melodic musical tendrils in one of the more intriguing pieces on the album. Ritenour closes with Luigi Legnani's "Caprices, Op. 20, No. 2 and 7", played beautifully and with a quiet reserve that speaks to period as much as to Ritenour's tremendous ability to be a stylistic chameleon with a guitar in his hands.

Six String Theory finds Lee Ritenour sampling styles and sounds across genres and occasionally blending styles in expected ways but with unexpected grace. Ritenour has long been one of the greats with a six string, even if his star never shines as bright as those of Clapton, Knopfler or Beck. Six String Theory is serious guitar work that you'll enjoy whether you're a serious guitarist, a weekend picker or even just a fan.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Lee Ritenour at http://www.leeritenour.com/ or www.myspace.com/leeritenour. Six String Theory is available as both a CD and Download from Amazon.

Karen Jacobsen - Kissing Someone Else


Karen Jacobsen - Kissing Someone Else
2007, Kurly Queen

Australian-born singer/songwriter Karen Jacobsen has been based out of New York City for the past ten years now. With an airy, pretty voice, a model’s looks and a comfortable stage presence, Jacobsen has charmed crowds while sharing the stage with the likes of Norah Jones, Christopher Cross, Cyndi Lauper and Jars Of Clay. Jacobsen’s 2007 album Kissing Someone Else, is a mix of sublime and mundane moments.

Karen Jacobsen offers up a mix of affable pop songs on Kissing Someone Else. Opening with the title track, Jacobsen shows off a breathy voice that's light and sweet. Singing with honest emotion, Jacobsen charms with a tune you can't help but hum/sing along to. "So Fast" is a prospective pop love song balancing the desire to fall in love and the wariness of one who has been burned. "I Believe In This Man" is a light-pop 1980's love ballad with a mild R&B feel. Jacobsen's voice is again light and sweet, but there's a lot of intervention here from the production side to get her there. The electronic tinge in Jacobsen's voice is highly over-stated here.

"Merry Go Round" is as circular as the name implies. Although highly repetitive, Jacobsen gets points for writing a very catchy pop arrangement. Jacobsen's best moments come on "Afterthought". There are times on the album when Jacobsen's lyrics seem a bit mundane, but she's at her best here with a catchy arrangement and intelligent lyrics with an emotional punch. Kissing Someone Else winds down with the light-Broadway style of "It's Time To Say Goodbye", a musical afterthought that's fair enough on its own but a bit anti-climactic as an album closer.

Karen Jacobsen has a sweet voice that's very enjoyable, but she tries to exceed her limits several times throughout Kissing Someone Else. When Jacobsen stays with her strengths and workable range she's a very enjoyable listen. From a songwriting perspective the album is hit or miss, with some very good moments and some that might have been better left for the demo rack. It's a decent effort.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Karen Jacobsen at http://www.karenjacobsen.com/. Kissing Someone Else is available as either a CD or Download from CDBaby.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mary Gauthier - The Foundling


Mary Gauthier - The Foundling
2010, Razor & Tie

Mary Gauthier places a bit of herself in every song, but on her sixth album, The Foundling, Gauthier takes it to a new level. The Foundling is an autobiographical concept album, if such is possible. Dealing with her abandonment as an infant and the journey of understanding that took some forty years thereafter, Gauthier’s The Foundling is intensely personal, and plays like the soundtrack to a musical. With production from the Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins, and backing vocals from the exquisitely voiced Margo Timmins, Gauthier weaves wondrous songs of truth, tragedy and hope on The Foundling.

Gauthier opens with the title track; "The Foundling" has a dark, southwestern country feel done up in minor keys. Gorgeously orchestrated, "The Foundling" sounds like Broadway done sorrowful cowboy style. Gauthier's voice is full of texture and pain; she breathes each line as if she's living the tale rather than telling it. "Mama Here, Mama Gone" is the stark picture in song of a newborn without a Mama to reach out to. It's a sorrowful heartbreaker, ethereal and beautiful in the pure tragedy it conveys. "Goodbye" could be The Foundling's (the character) theme; the story of a soul too pained to stay in one place too long or make any personal connections. Gauthier's plain-spoken vocal style is a treat; bring an earthy sensibility to a dark character story.

Shades of New Orleans slip in on "Slideshow", a song about the sort of nighttime entertainments that draw the lost and disaffected. It's Gauthier at her best, as the redheaded step-child of Randy Newman and Bonnie Raitt. "Blood Is Blood" documents the search for the mother who left her; walking the streets of New Orleans searching for a face that's somehow familiar though unknown. The song is full of emotional turmoil, played out effectively between the violin and guitar. Love, anger, sorrow and ribbons of resigned hate pulse through this powerful tune of longing. "March 11, 1962" is a coming home, of sorts. Gauthier finds the mother who bore her, and reaches out via telephone. Unsure of why she's calling, but looking for some sense of peace. There is an air of hope that rises out of the darkness of years, but falls back into resignation as she closes the call with an ending rather than a beginning.

In "Sweet Words" Gauthier comes face to face with her own inability to trust in the kindness of others. It is the quiet anthem of someone who has been deeply hurt and can never fully trust again. The other side of the emotional coin is presented on "The Orphan King", the lost and perpetually lonely dream of love and hope for it even as it eludes their broken souls. It's a tremendous soliloquy of hope against hope. "Another Day Borrowed" is perhaps something of a happy ending. Our anti-hero continues to travel from town to town, failing to put down roots or build connections too deep; but she's no longer running. Now Gauthier is thankful for each day and opportunity, taking from the world what it will give with an air of wonder that even such pittance might be hers.

Mary Gauthier's is a highly affecting and musical affair; an Off-Broadway musical in the making should she wish it. All the elements are here; an intriguing lead character, an archetypal motivation, the sort of human flaws we can all identify with but magnified to theatrical levels, and a resolution that isn't happily ever after, but happy nonetheless. Musically, The Foundling is an amazing experience. Gauthier's songs flow like water, with the gritty determination of someone who has spent a life getting by on inspiration and grit. If you're not moved by The Foundling you aren't listening.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Mary Gauthier at http://www.marygauthier.com/ or www.myspace.com/marygauthier. The Foundling is available as either a CD or Download from Amazon. Digital copies are also available via iTunes.

James Blackshaw - All Is Falling


James Blackshaw - All Is Falling
2010, Young God Records

London guitarist/pianist James Blackshaw returns on August 24, 2010 with his ninth album, All Is Falling. Blackshaw manages to create an instrumental, guitar-oriented album that's both passive and lively. The range of instrumentation is limited, and Blackshaw's compositions are somewhat circular and repetitive, but there's a stark beauty that rises out of his creations, similar to the peace that rises out of ritual. All Is Falling is difficult to classify; it's not background music, per se, but it certainly could be. There's just a bit too much life in the music to ever sit comfortably on the edge of your attention for too long. Within the subtle changes and complexities Blackshaw reaches out and gently shakes you from time to time to make sure you're still with him. There is not so much a sense of impending catastrophe as the title may imply, but more a sense of the steady grinding of time that returns all stone to dust. It is this methodical yet variant life-force that Blackshaw works to capture with more than a little success.

Blackshaw has (likely) intentionally not titled any of the tracks on All Is Falling other than to call them Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, etc. This is perhaps a nod to the steady flow of time and events that have only recently, in universal understanding, become distinct. Blackshaw's creation is primal yet ordered, prone to bouts of entropy and cases of artful mis-en-scene. With All Is Falling, James Blackshaw takes the components of creation, offering them in repetition with the sort of random variation that sometimes brings periods of little visible development but occasionally swells into the demarcations of nature's beauty.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about James Blackshaw at www.myspace.com/jamesblackshaw. All Is Falling drops on August 24, 2010. Expect wide availability.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rodeo Ruby Love - This Why We Don't Have Nice Things


Rodeo Ruby Love - This Why We Don't Have Nice Things
2010, Crossroads Of America Records

Indianapolis, Indiana’s Rodeo Ruby Love returns on June 29th with their third album, This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things. What started as a side project has grown into a 7-piece working band, one of the more popular acts in the greater Indianapolis area while touring both coasts and the south.

Rodeo Ruby Love opens with "Elizabeth", a matter of fact assessment of a relationship that collapsed because neither partner tended it properly. It's a diagnostic that's indicative of a larger world view given in a simple folk delivery. "America's Funniest Home Videos" is a great piece of rock n roll songwriting featuring a snappy chorus about coping in a modern world. Great hooks and a deep pop sensibility combine with punk energy to make this song go. "Secrets" takes on the immaturity and needfulness that can drive a relationship over the brink. Rodeo Ruby Love delivers this lesson with a light touch that makes it more entertaining than it might sound in words.

"Black Sunday" is another parable, this one about coming face-to-face with your own imperfections while trying to make a relationship work. It's the most sobering lesson of love, and once again Rodeo Ruby Love makes it entertaining by make the point but not driving it too deep. Unrequited love is the theme of "The Melody", and "The Coming Up Roses" is as upbeat and happy as you might expect. The highlight of the album is "Beast Of Joy", which highlights the joyous highs that can overtake us in love. The arrangement here is classic.

"Rickey Henderson" may be the most obscure baseball reference in a rock song in 2010, and Rodeo Ruby Love jump from irony to depth with "No One But Us", a catchy tune highlighting the old theme that we live together but die alone. "No One But Us" exhorts all who will listen to make the best of the moments they have with the ones they love. "Josephine" finds the comforts of love once more ("beside you I can finally rest") before Rodeo Ruby Love close with "Careful With That Axe". The song is a soundtrack of the band's collective lives to date; a cute closer with a positive outlook that is very entertaining.

Rodeo Ruby Love gets deep without rubbing it in your face on This Is Why We Don't Have Nice Things. Serious emotions are studied with a self-deprecating air that is refreshing; a studied attempt to gain better understanding without taking it all too much to heart. Rodeo Ruby Love has a penchant for solid melodies and strong, encompassing arrangements, the sound works well for them. This Is Why We Don't Have Nice Things is worth spending some time with.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Rodeo Ruby Love at http://www.rodeorubylove.net/ or www.myspace.com/rodeorubylove. This Is Why We Don't Have Nice Things drops on June 29, 2010. You can pre-order the digital version from Amazon.

Various Artists - I Refuse To Vote


VA - I Refuse To Vote (Until Politicians Are Paid Minimum Wage)
2010, Cross Seas Entertainment

I Refuse To Vote, the latest compilation from England's Cross Seas Entertainment features 12 fresh songs that range from Hip-Hop to Electronica to alternative post-punk folk music with a sidebar into reggae thrown in for good measure. Featuring artists such as Blee, Mark Handley, The Entertainment, Anima Pop, Charma D and Johnny Black, I Refuse To Vote looks to capture the sort of populist anger that passes for alternative political thought these days in loose, mellow arrangements from across the musical spectrum.

I Refuse To Vote kicks off with the bland electro-pop of Anima Pop, which takes ample liberties with Henry Mancini's "Where Do I Begin", warping into minor keys and offering just enough variation to keep it out of the copyright control office. The arrangement borders on inventive, but with no energy and no dynamic change the song fails to go anywhere. Blee offers up two numbers, equally bland in their presentation. The Entertainment show the first signs of life with a solid rock tune that will shake you awake ("Free"). Johnny Black's "The Outlaw Gordon Brown" seems a bit dated now, but is fine bit of political commentary in song. Mark Handley will make you crack a smile with "I Can't Be Arsed", and Raggadon offers up a decent effort with the "Hackney".

I Refuse To Vote is one of those experiences where you might be better off giving it a listen and then just paying for the tracks you like. Compilations generally work well because they have a guiding principal, whether a theme (such as a cause) or a style of music. I Refuse To Vote bases itself around the disaffection of a young generation growing up in a world that seems like it’s getting worse than getting better, but the sort of anger that drove innovations like punk is presented here so passively it might as well have stayed home.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about the I Refuse To Vote compilation at Cross Seas Entertainment's website, where you can download the album.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Syzygy - Realms Of Eternity


Syzygy - Realms Of Eternity
2009, FHL Records


Cleveland, Ohio rockers Syzygy have been developing their sound and identity for a number of years, first under the name Abraxas and later as Witsend. As the band developed and personnel changed, it became clear that the name Witsend would be more trouble than it was worth, and the band chose the moniker Syzygy. An alignment of the Earth, Moon and Sun, Syzygy often represents a coming together, and the name has never been apropos. Syzygy has found a sound that is both classic and fresh, relevant and magical. On Syzygy’s latest album, Realms Of Eternity, the band tackles the spiritual world and the afterlife. The themes on Realms Of Eternity are Judeo-Christian in nature, but Realms Of Eternity seems more of a metaphysical album than a religious one. Either way, it’s some of the most intriguing progressive rock of last few years.

Imagine 1970's Prog rockers Yes with Dennis DeYoung sitting in for Rick Wakeman on keys. Further imagine that this new band also engages in the occasional Jethro Tull-styled diversion, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the sound and range that Syzygy displays on Realms Of Eternity. Opening with "Darkfield", Syzygy gives us a moody and pensive tune that moves quickly to big dynamics, detailing the fall of Eden in song as the beginning of the conflict between God and Satan. Syzygy paints this story against a grand musical canvas, cast highs and lows; darks and lights as they balance the beauty of Paradise with the tension of the eternal struggle over its former inhabitants. "Vanitas" is an instrumental rock orchestral movement about Adam & Eve's self-discovery (and discovery of shame and vanity). It's a stylized representation that works well.

"Dreams" is a grand, theatrical rock number about hope. Keyboardist Sam Giunta channels early-1970's Dennis DeYoung here, and there's a definite James Young flair to the guitar line. "Echoes Remain" could have come right out of a Jethro Tull session circa Songs From The Wood, right down to its philosophic mien. Syzygy turns more to a Rick Wakeman style keyboard sound for "Dialectic", using significant instrumental and vocal layering to build a sound that is at once majestic and intellectual. At over sixteen minutes in length, "Dialectic" offers ample opportunity for instrumental airplay, and Syzygy doesn't miss a single opportunity, playing out a musical narrative of trials and tribulations.

Syzygy takes us on an interesting side trip, transitioning from the peaceful interlude of "Arranmore Isle" into the dark energy of "Overture" before resolving into the light air that flows into "The Sea". "The Sea" details man's yearning to return to God. Mankind hears the voices of the departed across the sea; those who have already returned to their home, and yearns as one to return to where they came from. Hope resurfaces on "The Morning Song", promising all of the wonderful things that Paradise can bring. "Variations, Part 1" and "Variations, Part 2" are both Yes-like in structure and sound, offering the musical equivalents of a movie's deleted scenes and alternate endings. Syzygy does venture into some interesting musical divergences, but these two tunes are for the serious Prog fans and instrumentalists out there who like to pick complex compositions apart for fun. "Reflection" is a moment of contemplation of Faith that leads into "Finale", a joyous yet rocky journey to reunion with God. The song is punctuated by big guitar solos and dynamic interplay; building into a frenzied peak before drawing down to a slow legato that then builds into a Styx-style closing chorus.

Syzygy pulls out all of the stops on Realms Of Eternity, paying homage to some of the most dynamic sounds of the Prog rock era and building on them in new and interesting ways. The heavily religious theme may put some off, but the album plays more like a Dante narrative than a sermon, and can be seen as a parable for man's eternal struggle to be independent set against his eternal need to be loved. Realms Of Eternity is one of the best Progressive rock albums of the past few years.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Syzygy at http://www.syzygymusic.com/ or www.myspace.com/syzygymusicenterprises. Realms Of Eternity is available as a CD or Download from Amazon. Downloads are also available via iTunes.

Sparkydog & Friends - People Of The World/Red Light


Sparkydog & Friends - People Of The World/Red Light
2010, Magic Leap Studios


Sparkydog & Friends are a songwriting and performance collaborative out of the UK that has gone from Indie rock to wonky pop through the evolution of studio work. Debuting two singles at SXSW 2010, Sparkydog & Friends has generated more than a bit of buzz on both sides of the Atlantic. Sparkydog & Friends recently sent along an EP with their first two singles, “People Of The World” and “Red Light. "People Of The World" is a catchy tune with a Brit-rock feel that suffers from a paucity of enunciation. The chorus is catchy and repetitive, but the lack of ending consonants can make for tricky listening. "Red Light" is a decent pop ballad and much more understandable. The melody will stick in your head, and the song is a potential quiet hit.

Sparkydog & Friends have an understated musicality that is appealing. The stylistic approach is very low key, perhaps a bit too much so at times, but even in their slower moments Sparkydog & Friends are a pleasant listen.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Sparkydog & Friends at http://www.sparkydog.com/ or www.myspace.com/sparkydogband. Both "People Of The World" and "Red Light" are available for download on iTunes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jane Fallon - Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky


Jane Fallon - Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky
2010, Jane Fallon/BMI

Jane Fallon was born on the West Coast but calls New England home. Her mix of gentle humor, intelligence and deep musicality imbues her songs with an artfulness that is unusual. Fallon plays throughout the Northeast, charming audiences everywhere she goes. Fallon recently released her third studio album, Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky, her best work to date.

Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky opens with "Give Me Grace", the Appalachian prayer of an octogenarian who is thankful for the blessing of a life well-lived but also seeks refuge from the burdens of his years. Fallon's textured alto is poignant, caressing the story with a rough-hewn beauty that is illuminated by a sweet harmony vocal. "It's How Deep" is morality tale stressing the quality of memory over quantity. There's a tragic warmth to this tale of love conquering even the cruelest of human frailties. Fallon lightens the tone with "Money's Gone Blues", a humorous and well-written story-song with a vaudeville feel.

"One Horse Town", written by Jim Henry, is about the tragedy and triumph of raising children in a small town, where success means escape for the children as their parents sew lives out of simple pleasures at home. It's a well-written song full of nuance and levels of humanity that are hard to capture in song. Fallon's "Blue Dress" is the heart-warming remembrance of a widower who revels in a photo his wife had taken before they were married. The story is a testament to the power of love to overcome even death, and is written in delicate human terms. In "The Boy He Used To Be", Fallon tells the story of a World War II soldier who went to war a peaceful boy and came back home a broken man. In a generation where such things were not discussed, many suffered and died slowly from wounds that even their loved ones might never have seen. Fallon illuminates one such tail as a reminder of the costs of war that we never see.

"Country Winter's Night" is a personal look at a relationship that didn't pan out. Fallon takes the best from the experience; grateful for the ride and sorry for the fall. The reverie expressed here is from a place of peace where hope resides but reality reigns. "Gemini Rising" is a piano ballad about the belief that the stars control our destinies, exploring the apparent fallacy of such an idea yet noting the similarities that many seem to share. Fallon closes with "Heaven Can't Help You", a decent tune that is alright on its own but is perhaps something of a let-down as a closer to an otherwise exceptional album.

Jane Fallon isn't about to blow you away with her rustic voice and homespun stories of real people, places and emotions, but she is an adept story-teller and crafter of songs. Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky requires careful, attentive listening, as Fallon's greatest gift as a songwriter is in the details. Each song here plays as if it has been perfected through mercurial craftsmanship and care. This effect is accomplished without making the songs sound overwrought, which is a surprise, but Fallon's eye for detail is unquestionable. Spend some time with Fallon and Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky. You won't be disappointed.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jane Fallon at http://www.janefallon.com/ or www.myspace.com/janefallonfolk. Gemini Rising In A Patchwork Sky is available as a CD or Download from CDBaby. Downloads are also available via iTunes.

Nomad Planets - You're Never Lost Until You Panic


Nomad Planets - You're Never Lost Until You Panic
2010, The Fairbanks Label

Chicago rock/folk/Americana quartet recently released their third album, You’re Never Lost Until You Panic, continuing the development of a sound that the band began searching for in 1999, but was really born in 2001. At the time Nomad Planets were working on their second album, Edge Of Time, when half of their recorded output was lost in a computer mishap. In spite of this loss, Nomad Planets rebounded and re-recorded the album, finding new life and vitality in the process. Even though it’s been five years since the release of Edge Of Time, it’s apparent that Nomad Planets still have that drive on You’re Never Lost Until You Panic.

You're Never Lost Until You Panic dawns with "Here You Are", a decent Americana-pop tune with a sing-along chorus and a rock-a-bye feel. It's a great opener that puts the listener immediately at ease. "Happiness", surprisingly, comes across a gritty, angry piece. Listeners will form their own opinions, but the juxtaposition of title and feel is surprising. "So Far So Good" represents the pick-up not so much as an art of a means to find someone as needy as you are; it's a great story song in a decent Americana arrangement. "Centerpiece" continues this emotional exploration with jealousy, examining the effects it can have on your mind. This mournful tune is written from the perspective of loss both imagined and real, the former causing the latter rather than preventing it.

"The Flood Song" recalls a great flood on 1962 (Delaware, Ohio, Germany?) and its aftermath from the perspective of someone who lost everything in the deluge. A man looks back on the home he lost and his great love in disbelief ("When the water took my wife it caressed her then consumed her / I Still don't know why it spared the likes of me."), displaying a deft ability capture moments in stark and moving language. "Wherever The Wind Blows" addresses the human tendency to react in herd-like fashion in the political process rather than investing thought in their decision making. It's an indictment of modern society and those who lean to the political right. "Wherever The Wind Blows" is incisive and accurate as far as it goes, but would have more punch if the approach were ecumenical.

Nomad Planets offers up a decent country-flavored cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" in the vein of Luther Wright & The Wrongs. Reverent and subdued, it's a solid listen but lacks the impassioned helplessness of the original and the campy smirk of Wright's stellar cover. "Walking In Quicksand" is a musical parallel for struggling to get ahead while falling further behind. It’s an apt parable for a debt-obsessed culture that mortgages tomorrow for today and ends up owning neither. Nomad Planets takes next to "The Liberty Trail", a song about recovery; breaking free from the chains that hold us down. It's a solid and motivational tune delivered in plaintive tones that's enjoyable and uplifting in humble fashion. Nomad Planets close with "The Modern Ones", a song about the breaking down of traditional boundaries delivered in dark mercurial tones that suggest the sort of uproar such things always raise in cultures from the talking heads to small town cognoscenti.

You're Never Lost Until You Panic is a dark collection about depths and turns in the human condition that might not make the evening news but don't necessarily comply with the expectations of a society with puritan roots. There's a solid political undercurrent to the album that jumps out once in a while but mostly hides deep within songs that almost despondently suggest it's okay to be who you are. This dichotomy plays like a mixed message that's more likely to confuse than empower decisions. It's as if Nomad Planets pursue both advocacy and plausible deniability on You're Never Lost Until You Panic. It's an interesting mix, but likely has a limited demographic of listeners waiting for it.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Nomad Planets at http://www.nomadplanets.com/ or www.myspace.com/nomadplanets. You're Never Lost Until You Panic is available as a CD or Download from Amazon.com. Downloads are also available via iTunes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The White Roses - Take Back Your Mind


The White Roses - Take Back Your Mind
2010, Retro Rocket Records

Boston's The White Roses have been shaking up the Beantown scene for a few years now. West-coast native and Berklee School of Music grad Heather Rose is the prime mover behind The White Roses. The award-winning singer/songwriter has wowed crowds on both coasts solo and with The White Roses has achieved a slow, steady ascent to her eventual goal of a major-label deal. In February of this year The White Roses released their third album with Retro Rocket Records, Take Back Your Mind, dragging 1960's blues and psychedelia into 2010.

Take Back Your Mind opens with "Drive", a bluesy rocker with spoken word vocals about the value of a college education in the current economic environment. Rose's voice is breathy but distinct, and the vocal harmonies are pleasant. "I Love Being Young" is a great tune; again presented in the talk/sing style, The White Roses build in a great backbeat and solid guitar work into the most danceable song on the album. "Santa Cruz" is a modern drug anthem that has a 1960's soundtrack feel; the song is catchy and the lyrics dark, a nice combination.

The White Roses get philosophical on "Going Home", exploring the forces that drive youth away from home and the ones that bring them back years later only to find what they left to seek. It's a catchy bit of rock n roll songwriting and displays an intellectual depth that's only hinted at to this point on the album. Bossa Nova is the name of the game on "Don't Look Back", an odd but welcome turn that shows off a completely different sound and style for the band. The White Roses particularly impress with their vocal harmonies here. Take Back Your Mind closes with the guitar solo-driven instrumental "Lift Off". The song is a showpiece, and opportunity to show off the band's instrumental chops without making it too obvious that this is the point.

The White Roses turn in a solid effort on Take Back Your Mind. You'll walk away with the impression that Heather Rose missed her intended generation by four decades or so, as she spins musical yarns against a sound that would have been as welcome in Berkeley as it is in Berklee. Take Back Your Mind crackles with subverted wit, intelligence, and a post-modern diagnostic perspective that's both dissociative and highly personal. The White Roses are an experience

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The White Roses at http://www.whiterosesrock.com/ or www.myspace.com/iheartthewhiteroses. Take Back Your Mind is available as either a CD or downoad on CDBaby.

Nick Driver - Warm Is Your Color


Nick Driver - Warm Is Your Color
2010, Nick Driver


North Carolina punk rocker Nick Driver takes an adroit turn on his latest album, Warm Is Your Color. Turning to word-heavy light acoustic pop (ala Jason Mraz) and balladry, Driver looks to bring the energy of punk to the finesse and precision of pop music.

Driver dives in with "Logged In" which tracks relationship decline in a digital age. It's a great pop tune with a dynamic acoustic arrangement and is a fun listen that should be warmly greeted by major radio. "Send A Message" finds Driver channeling Jason Mraz right down to his vocal inflections in the same, familiar talk-sing style. Driver shows surprising range and flexibility in his voice along the way, with a falsetto sound that will make choir directors everywhere wish they had him. Catchy is the word for "Knights On White Horses Make Girls Happy", a highly creative and original love song that will find its way into your head and demand lodging for the night. Moving more in the realm of love songs, "Young Beautiful" is catchy and allows Driver to again show off his range.

Things take a sudden turn on "Let's Stay Together", an insipid ballad that is too slow and too cliché to keep you from hitting the skip button. "Without Love Poster" is a bit better but is still stuck in the gooey love song rut. Driver returns to rock n roll with "Burnin' Down This Town", a tale of angst and ambivalence that speaks to action but never broaches. "Worshipped By The Energy" is ambitious; an attempt to details the trials of putting yourself out on stage. The song is drab and emotionally over-wrought, lending itself to a "poor-me" sound that people who dream of being on stage will never understand (and might actually take umbrage to). "Sidelines" shows off Driver's better qualities, an upbeat bit of acoustic soul/pop. "Sidelines" represents the best songwriting on the album (just edging out "Logged In"), and would do very well as a single. Driver leaves us with an acoustic take on "Let's Stay Together"; an improvement over the original but not by a lot.

Nick Driver swings for the fences on Warm Is Your Color. Like any big swinger, sometimes he gets it right and sometimes he strikes out. The more up-tempo acoustic pop songs work very well for Driver, whereas the slow ballads find driver losing energy, focus and sound. On balance Warm Is Your Color is a solid effort, but if cut down to a five song EP you'd be hearing raves about it from all over.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Nick Driver at http://www.nickdrivermusic.net/ or www.myspace.com/nickdriver1. Warm Is Your Color is available as a CD or Download from Amazon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wes Weddell - By The Side Of The Lake


Wes Weddell - By The Side Of The Lake
2010, Dusty Shadows Music/ASCAP

Seattle singer/songwriter Wes Weddell is not only a jewel of the Emerald City's musical crown; he's also one of the biggest boosters of DIY music in the American Northwest. Aside from winning songwriting awards, recording 3 critically acclaimed albums and working as an in-demand session and side-man, Wes Weddell also established a not-for-profit organization, Puget's Sound Productions, to assist in the development of community live music spaces in the Northwest as well as supporting independent musicians in pursuing their craft. The idea of a folk singer/songwriter as Renaissance Man may be hard to get your head around, but Weddell breaks the mold. His latest album, By The Side Of The Lake, features Weddell's masterful story-telling style and distinctive character voices against the backdrop of musical arrangements that simply won't leave you alone.

By The Side Of The Lake opens with "The Gap", a song about the divergence between what we say and what we think or feel. The song is a character sketch of sorts, and the struggle Weddell highlights is one that most people can identify with. "Remember When" is about the struggle between where you want to be and where you are, exploring the angst over getting stuck and missing out on your dreams. The easy-listening adult rock arrangement makes the song a great potential crossover track that may have significant marketing/placement potential. "By The Side Of The Lake" is an ode to simplicity and to the places we call or find home. Weddell weaves a classic folk/country arrangement around a brilliant story-song that's destined to be covered many times over.

"Out Of The Way" rehashes the classic idea that youth is wasted on the young. Weddell engages in a talk/sing style here reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie as he highlight the power of the important places from our past. "Not Now" finds Weddell treading through an Appalachian sound in a song about the tides of change; what they bring and what they take away. It's perhaps the weakest track on the disc and yet would find many songwriters grateful for having written such a tune. "I Like What She Did To Me" is a reminiscence about love and the power that old love can have over you even years later. Weddell is at his best here, creating a song that is highly personal yet universal; full of character yet very real to those who listen.

"Dear Abby" brings us face-to-face with the human tendency to ignore things that are right in front of us, particularly when paying attention means change. "Dear Abby" finds Weddell questioning whether he'd have the will to change a flaw that appeared in black and white in Abby's column. Intelligent with a touch of wit, "Dear Abby" is a brilliant tune. "Below" displays Weddell's small town roots, exploring the damage that progress can do to a town and to individual people's lives. This is not a popularized expose, but an accounting of cost in real human terms that looks at the personal cost of business decisions. "On My Watch" is an activist anthem; a promise to not allow progress to overtake the lives of kith and kin. The solid country arrangement here is a perfect touch, displaying the completeness and depth of Weddell's songwriting talent. By The Side Of The Lake closes with the one-two punch of the Celtic flavored "Get Out Some" and the stripped down tribute "Thanks To The Many". "Thanks To The Many" is a reminder that the world is both bigger and smaller than we imagine. Weddell thanks all of those who have made this life possible, even the ones he never knew. The song is also a challenge to grateful and happy, and to live your life to the fullest extent you might. There are no happy delusions here, and none of the cynical diatribe that masquerades as intelligent observation in much popular music. Weddell simply expresses joy and simplicity in song as a philosophy for life.
If it wasn't apparent before now, By The Side Of The Lake makes it abundantly clear that Wes Weddell is a master craftsman as a songwriter. Weddell's easy going deliver and simple mien make him instantly likeable, whether on CD/MP3 or on stage. Weddell has attracted a crack band over time, but it's the singer/songwriter himself that keeps people coming back again and again. By The Side Of The Lake brings folk music back to its roots; telling true stories about real people and places. Weddell will make you laugh and make you cry; inspire anger and thoughtfulness. He'll entertain and educate you with his songs if only you will listen. Like the great bards of olden times, an encounter with Wes Weddell will leave you a little richer in mind and spirit than when you started. By The Side Of The Lake is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc; a must-have album.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Wes Weddell at http://www.wesweddell.com/ or www.myspace.com/wesweddell. By The Side Of The Lake is available directly from Wes Weddell on his website. You can also purchase the album on CD or via download from Amazon.

Leah Thompson – Misfire


Leah Thompson – Misfire
2010, Leah Thompson

Carbondale, Illinois singer/songwriter Leah Thompson recently dropped her new single "Misfire" on iTunes. "Misfire" is a slow R&B ballad with funk and blues in its lineage. Despite the slow tempo, there's an upbeat catchy vibe that runs through the song, and Leah Thompson's honey sweet alto makes the trip worth taking. There's nothing fancy in Thompson's performance, but her voice is one you could listen to all day. No pyrotechnics; just solid singing with heart. "Misfire" is built on a solid hook, and the open arrangement allows Thompson a little room to play vocally at the end. "Misfire" is very solid, and an enjoyable listen.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Leah Thompson at http://www.leahthompson.net/ or www.myspace.com/leahthompson. You can download "Misfire" from iTunes or CDBaby.

Six Volt - Mind On Me


Six Volt - Mind On Me
2010, Six Volt

Jersey shore band Six Volt have distilled a rock and roll song with roots in the 1980's but so fresh and engaging its bound to take the airwaves by storm. With their self-titled debut album due in September, Six Volt recently dropped their debut single, "Mind On Me". Featuring the vibrant voice of lead-singer Nichole Deppe, "Mind On Me" is a hook-laden pop/rock snack that will leave you wanting more. Though still young, Six Volt plays all their own instruments, and is currently engaged in a tour that will take them to 43 cities during the summer of 2010. Make sure you catch them early and often; Six Volt could be playing much larger venues the next time they come to town.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Six Volt at http://www.sixvoltband.com/ or www.myspace.com/sixvoltband. Six Volt plans to release a full length album soon. For now you can download Mind On Me from iTunes and various other digital outlets.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pierce The Veil - Selfish Machines


Pierce The Veil - Selfish Machines
2010, Equal Vision Records


San Diego post-hardcore icons Pierce The Veil return on June 22, 2010 with their sophomore album, Selfish Machines. Produced by Mike Green (Paramore, Set Your Goals), Selfish Machines represents artistic and personal growth for the band that rose to national recognition on the basis of their 2007 debut A Flair For The Dramatic and lauded slots on the 2008 Vans Warped Tour and 2009 Taste Of Chaos. After touring non-stop for two-and-a-half years, Pierce The Veil took some time off last year to write. Selfish Machines represents the fruit of their collective labor, a breakup collection of twelve highly personal and dynamic songs that cements Pierce The Veil's reputation as serious rockers and establishes them as a serious songwriting collective as well.

Changing directions for a band is always a risky venture. Some fans will turn away, new ones will come, and the term "sell-out" is thrown around far too liberally in a business where the point is to sell tickets, CDs, downloads, etc., but change is a part of artistic growth. Pierce The Veil accomplishes change in multiple directions on Selfish Machines, some more successfully than others. Opening with "Besitos", Pierce The Veil takes us on a wild ride full of big sound and high emotions. Incorporating piano for the first time broadens the band's sound spectrum, and "Besitos" has a dynamic level that will play well to radio. "The Boy Who Could Fly" has a heavy, melodic sound that is very appealing with hammer-on guitar work worth of a Van Halen. It's a dazzling musical display. "Caraphernelia" is a bit more generic, adhering to the sort of sound propagated by modern rock radio.

"Fast Times At Clairemont High" is a great tune, featuring piano (again) and a sing-along chorus that should make this a concert favorite. "Bulletproof Love" is a song of heartbreak that's very radio-friendly. Pierce The Veil makes a lyric stretch here with a big, melodic chorus. One of the complaints about the "new" sound is vocalist Vic Fuentes’ tendency to sound whiny on some of the slower vocal lines. This is most apparent on "Stay Away From My Friends", a power ballad pleading for his ex-girlfriend to stay out of his inner circle. "I Don't Care Contagious" captures all of the anger and recklessness of a post-breakup self-destructive streak. Pierce The Veil loses momentum with "Disasterology" and "Million Dollars Houses (The Painter)", with Vic Fuentes sounding more like Blake Lewis than a serious vocalist on the latter. The band closes strong, however, on "The Sky Under The Sea", returning to the big rock sound that helped them be in a position to create a second album.

Selfish Machines succeeds more often than it does not, but in expanding their musical reach, Pierce The Veil needs to take into account the limitations Vic Fuentes has as a vocalist. This is not a knock on Fuentes; almost every vocalist has limitations or least styles or parts of their range they don't sound as good in. Fuentes manages to be featured in a few uncomfortable spots on Selfish Machines, but the overall impression is a good one. Some growing pains are expected in a band's sophomore effort, but Pierce The Veil appears to be weathering band adolescence nicely.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Pierce The Veil at http://www.piercetheveil.net/ or www.myspace.com/piercetheveil.

           CD                      Download
                     iTunes.

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Son Of The Sun - The Happy Loss


Son Of The Sun - The Happy Loss
2010, I Blame Yoko Music

Buffalo, NY band Son Of The Sun returns on June 22, 2010 with The Happy Loss, their first full-length album and the follow up to last year’s Before The After EP. The Happy Loss is a highly detailed collection of melodic rock songs, produced by Mike Brown and the band and mixed by Alan Weatherhead (Sparklehorse, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker).

The Happy Loss opens with "The Good Ole Days", a powerful and passionate piece of moody rock n roll. Offered in a simple, driven arrangement, the melancholy air of "The Good Ole Days" plays well on the edges of 1960's psychedelia. "The Other Side" is a moody piece in a dark Americana setting. The band employees multiple vocal lines here singing (mostly) in time and in unison, sounding like the relentless call of things we can envision but can't understand. "How Can It Be?" is a lament over a relationship lost; she mistreated him out on the way out the door but he's still searching for her.

Moving on is the theme of "Leopard Print", but this departure is mournful and startlingly desperate. "Get Together" is catchy and danceable garage rock; the best song on the album. The simple, sweet melody here will catch you by the ear and keep you interested even after several listens. In "Keys (Last Call)" we have reminiscence about a first meeting that's both sweet and messy, and driven by the hangover of the desperation apparent earlier in the album. "The Franklin" is right there with "Get Together" for best turn on the album, a mid-tempo country tune with great harmonies and a knockout arrangement. The Happy Loss closes with "Tell Me" which sounds like a classic 1950's ballad. The urgent depicted here is like the helpless dependence of a child; a stark close to an album where the undefined anti-hero falls down and never recovers.

Rather than offering the usual happy resolution of a breakup album on The Happy Loss, Son Of The Sun leaves us mired in the on-going struggle to get by; get through. While it doesn't fit the rules in the pop handbook (similar to the Disney credo of happily ever after), it's a highly realistic rock cycle dealing with loss without ever fully coming to terms with it. It fits the way most people live their lives, flitting to and fro around the damage without ever fully inspecting it or coming to terms. Musically, Son Of The Sun take a few steps forward from Before The After marking no wholesale change but the slow development of a band not in a hurry to take over the world. It's a solid effort, and worth spending some time on.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Son Of The Sun at http://www.sonofthesunmusic.com/ or www.myspace.com/sonofthesunmusic. The Happy Loss drops June 22, 2010. Expect wide availability via Amazon, iTunes and Son Of The Sun's website.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Erik Norlander - The Galactic Collective


Erik Norlander - The Galactic Collective
2010, Chian Productions

You may know Erik Norlander as the keyboardist/spouse of Lana Lane or from his work with Rocket Scientist or even Asia With John Payne. The list of artists Norlander has recorded with or produced/engineered is too long to list here. With influences ranging from Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson to Jeff Lynne and Alan Parsons, Norlander draws from a rich musical history to create compositions with a classic feel and fresh energy. Norlander recently released The Galactic Collective, his 8th solo album and 33rd overall, Norlander builds on an impressive body of work.

The Galactic Collective opens with “Arrival”, a brief musical prologue that’s more atmosphere dark, plaintive atmosphere than anything else. “Nurosaur” dances on the edges of gothic and baroque progressive rock; a big, heavy sound with a chorus at the opening becomes a rambunctious Prog gem. “Fanfare For Absent Friends” is an over-the-top announcement with a martial feel. Driving guitar and heavy rhythms grow into a more space-age rock sound. The most intriguing composition on the album is “Astrology Prelude”, a musically violent and complex world of musical ideas and action beneath the surface that occasionally resolves into a relatively peaceful and melodic passage before falling back into its own driven nature.

Norlander gets a bit repetitive with “Trantor Station”; The highly rhythmic nature of this synth-driven song becoming as much of a liability as a benefit. “After The Revolution” is laden with arpeggios, alternating with passages marrying synth fills and rhythmic guitar ambience. The song seems to depict struggle amidst a tide of change, and begs for a vocal line. At twelve minutes, “After The Revolution” simply runs too long, becoming nothing more than a Prog rock jam that recycles itself to fill out the space. “Garden Of The Moon” starts out with an intriguing theme, but ends up sounding like incidental score music. Norlander gets to show off his raw piano skill on "Dreamcurrents", a master class in speed and precision on a solid, classical-style composition. Norlander closes with “The Dark Water”, a twenty minute collection of variations that’s probably 10-12 minutes too long.

Progressive rock is a double-edged sword. Some of the most talented and musically complex artists gravitate there because of the stylistic mix of jazz form, classical composition and rock energy and glamour; but like jam-based music, progressive rock lends itself to the conceit of doing too much and going too far. Norlander crosses this line a few times on The Galactic Collective. That being said, it is an ambitious and expansive album. Where Norlander loses himself it’s not for being mundane, but simply trying to push the envelope too far. It’s much preferable to hear an artist push too far than become mundane through not pushing enough. There’s enough really great material here to make The Galactic Collective worthwhile, and even where Norlander over-steps there is much you’ll care to hear.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Erik Norlander at http://www.eriknorlander.com/ or www.myspace.com/eriknorlanderandlanalane. The Galactic Collective is available on CD from Norlander's web store. Digital versions are available from Amazon and iTunes.