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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Portico Quartet - Isla

Portico Quartet - Isla
2010, Real World Records

Four lads from England leap miles beyond their peers with a sound so fresh and new it turns heads. The Beatles? The Stones? Wrong genre. The band that sparks such interest amongst musical cognoscenti these days is Portico Quartet. Staying mostly acoustic in an era of electronic excess, Portico Quartet creates somewhere in the seams between pop, classical, world, new age and jazz. Portico Quartet started out busking on London's South Bank, but quickly rose to prominence, earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2008. Much of their distinctive sound can be attributed to the Hang, a melodic percussion instrument similar to the gamelan. Portico Quartet returns on today with Isla, produced by John Leckie (Radiohead, Stone Roses, Spiritualized).

Isla opens with "Paper Scissors Stone", a driven jazz breakdown with something of a progressive rock attitude. Jack Wyllie leads the way on saxophone, but Nick Mulvey builds ambience with the Hang; the sound is complete with a swirl of flutes and percussion. It's an intriguing opening that's a bit like Kenny G with machismo. "The Visitor" is wrapped in a veil of mystery; giving a sense of paths traveled and decisions made that is both familiar and foreign. "Dawn Patrol" features a vibrant bass line from Mike Fitzpatrick that drives the piece like a heartbeat. All of the other instrumentation here, while vital, is simply playing off the rhythms Fitzpatrick creates.

"Line" finds Portico Quartet branching out into more ethereal ground with a meandering and ambient exploration of muse. Obscure and melodic, "Line" has the rambling new age sensibility that suggests not so much a complete melody as Portico Quartet's capturing a few minutes in a timeline that may well go on forever. "Clipper" paints an aural picture of bouncing over waves; falling out of form in a breakdown that explores pure sonic exploration over structure. "Life Mask" is seven-plus minutes of melodic contemplation in a sparse yet pretty arrangement. The presentation here perhaps overstays a bit, but is no less welcome. "Isla" is full of an urgent energy, blurring the lines between jazz, world, pop and classical in a tuneful dance that runs deep in inner tension. "Shed Song (Improv No. 1)" is an eight-plus minute exploration in ambient jazz and rhythmic experimentation. Pro-forma structure leads to extensive noodling over the mirror-glass surface of water-like instrumental swells in a performance that will delight those with more avant-garde tastes. Portico Quartet closes with the somewhat more channeled "Su-Bo's Mental Meltdown", a bonus track that sticks to the same boundless exploration but does so over a vibrant and vaguely funky bass line. The boys from East London are more aggressive in their pursuit of a serious groove that could lead to a dynamic and commercially successful remix in the hands of the right DJ.

Portico Quartet is a refined musical taste; a band that will attract musicians, dreamers, experimenters and the sort of electronic music fans who always wondered what it would sound like if Pete Namlook worked in an acoustic environment. Portico Quartet goes where they wilt on Isla, leaving no question as to their talent, and no answers as to their motivation; meandering through styles like a butterfly crossing yards. If you can keep up it's a rewarding listen.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about the Portico Quartet at or is available from as a CD or Download.

Oral - Word Of Mouth

Oral – Word Of Mouth
2007, Oral

Pittsburgh’s Oral has been together since 2005, attempting to develop a sound that blurs the borders between modern rock and heavy metal while pulling in some elements of pop sensibility. Oral is in the process of completing their third album at this time, but sent along their second release, 2007's Word Of Mouth for consideration. 

After a campy opening featuring a hip-hop beat and campy voice samples Word Of Mouth gets started with "Just Like Me", a testosterone-laden blend of heavy metal and rap. Oral gives it all over to cliche here, filling space with declarations in place of thought and wrapping it all in a wall of guitar sound. "Grind" is a bit more take, relying on a straight-forward alt-rock feel that's decent but fails to distinguish. "Loser" is an anthem for lost and misdirected souls who don't see hope in tomorrow; a decent enough track that's perhaps a bit too tame for its own good but melodically sound. That tameness sticks through "Numb" and "Unsaid".

"Looking Back" restores some chutzpah to Oral's musical resume with some bluesy slide guitar providing fills between vocal phrases. This stripped down sound is a welcome change of pace that dispels the stale feel that had settled over Oral. "Thank You" shows both intelligent craftsmanship and an emotional connection in the song, rising above the largely visceral nature of the album thus far. "One Last Time" is an angry anti-war rant from the perspective of a soldier who questions why he's so far from home. It opens with a marching cadence not uncommon in basic training, and ends with the narrator in a metaphysical morass about his purpose and the plans of others. Oral closes with a live version of "Live My Trouble", a mundane hard rock tune that fails to set Oral apart.

Oral sustains through thirteen tracks on Word Of Mouth with a sense for bland, monochromatic melodies and a middling intensity that's lukewarm at best. There's nothing terrible on Word Of Mouth, but there's not really anything that will really grab your attention either. Ironically the best track on the album is called "Loser", but even here the energy level just isn't where it should be. Oral may have a lot going for them live, but it just doesn't translate well on Word Of Mouth.

Rating: 1.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Oral at  The band does have a MySpace page, but as of the publication of this review appeared to house several malicious downloads, so I'd advise, for the time being, to stay away.  Word Of Mouth is available on CD from  Downloads are available from and iTunes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Treasa Levasseur - Low Fidelity

Treasa Levasseur - Low Fidelity
2010, Slim Chicken Enterprises

Treasa LeVasseur’s mouth has been a blessing and a curse. It’s gotten the Toronto resident into trouble over the years and it’s taken her some wonderful places. The woman with a voice that recalls some of the great female vocalists in blues and R&B was recently honored with a Juno Award nomination for her newest album, Low Fidelity. LeVasseur’s sophomore album finds her digging more deeply into Mississippi blues and the sounds of the Stax label, with the same stunning voice that turned heads on her debut, Not A Straight Line.

Low Fidelity opens with a healthy dose of classic R&B and soul in "Help Me Over", a danceable opener with a serious melody and a meaty vocal line that Levasseur wrings every bit of emotion out of. Levasseur has a voice you could melt butter on, a sexy alto with both power and polish. "Good Ones Never Share" laments the trade-off between the good life and the easy life in terms of human relations and sexuality. It's a great blend of blues, rock and soul and Levasseur isn't afraid to get down and dirty with her amazing pipes. "Talk To Me Babe" is a classic soul ballad about working things out in a relationship. Levasseur turns a corner with "Low Fidelity", a kiss-off song to a player with a melody line you won't be able to get out of your head.

On "Big Fat Mouth" Levasseur bemoans all she might have missed because of an inability to filter her thoughts from the spoken word. On an album where highlights are difficult to single out, "Big Fat Mouth" is a standout track. "Give Me Just One" heads for classic rhythm and blues in a song about taking what you can get, romantically. Levasseur is vocally stunning, but her backing band steals the show with a technically flawless and inspired musical performance. Technically flawless can be achieved through re-recording and post-production, but the performance on the album achieves magic. "Rest Of The Ride" is the sort of love song that might have spent weeks at the top of the charts at one time. As it is it might be the perfect wedding song, and seems destined to for mix tapes everywhere. Levasseur's performance is heartfelt and warm. Loosening up a bit, "Stuck In Soulsville" is a funky and gritty bit of musical fun that leads into the closing track, "Amen". "Amen" is a blend of gospel, R&B and soul that celebrates spirituality in all of its many forms; Sort of a classic sounding closing track with a twist.

Treasa Levasseur may have been born in the wrong era. Release Low Fidelity circa 1968 and you might have a multi-platinum juggernaut on your hands. Levasseur's sound is more vital than many of the legacy acts still trying to recreate their 1960's and 1970's glory days, and her voice is a dream. The voice, tremendous songwriting, and a crack band are all part of the recipe for success, but the chemistry LeVasseur has with her band and the obvious joy they took in creating Low Fidelity inject the album with the sort of magic you can't fake. Low Fidelity is an amazing effort, a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Don't miss it.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Treasa LeVasseur at or  Low Fidelity is available from as a CD or Download.  You can also find the album on iTunes.

All Over Everywhere - Inner Firmaments Decay

All Over Everywhere - Inner Firmaments Decay
2010, Emkog

College Park, Maryland is the home to the baroque folk/prog collective known as All Over Everywhere. Formed from a meeting of Trinna Kesner and Dan Britton in 2007 at an Espers show, All Over Everywhere blends Kesner's folk/classical tendencies with Britton's more progressive rock onus. Throw in serious doses of abject melancholy and you get a stark sound that is magisterial and meek all at once. All Over Everywhere recently released their debut album, Inner Firmaments Decay, featuring Kesner and Britton and a collection of contributions from both the classical and rock circles the two songwriters surround themselves with.

Inner Firmaments Decay, as the title may suggest, follows a dark path right from the outset. "The Art Of The Earth" is lush and full of layered sounds. Megan Wheatley's voice is clear and strong, but is buried beneath the wash of instrumental sounds more often than not. While her tone is not that of a trained singer, Wheatley is competent enough to hold her own, but not in the face of heavy handed production that leaves her buried beneath waves of synthetic sound. "Endless Night" opens on a riff that brings to mind Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe. From this vibrant opening the song seems to lapse into a dirge-like form, only to pick up momentum in the form of wave-like hemiolae that carry the song to its conclusion. "The Shroud" overpowers Wheatley, who nearly disappears in the chorus.

"Honestly" presents a slightly different musical flavor; not so much a shift in style as of production. Wheatley is still forced to fight production decisions, but the arrangement is more sparse, allowing Wheatley a bit more vocal exposure. "After All The Years" becomes a mess; Wheatley and the Theremin are in sync with one another but not with the whole of the arrangement on the chorus. "On A Dark Street" displays a bit brighter aspect to All Over Everywhere even if the song can't escape the band's abiding melancholy. It's a ballad about words unspoken, opportunities missed and dreams misshapen. Things fall apart quickly on "Until The Sun Begins To Fall", a temperamental musical child that ends in a question mark. The closing track, "Gratitude" is billed as the one uplifting track on the disc, and may be but sounds to be strongly in the dirge-like vein that pervades Inner Firmaments Decay until the final three minutes when both Wheatley and the arrangement arise from their doldrums and sound vaguely majestic.

Sadly, it's too little too late for most listeners, who will have checked out long ago. There's nothing inherently wrong with the songs on Inner Firmaments Decay, but the overall mood and problems with production can make it a strenuous listen. There is potential here, but it's not far off to say that the listener never really hears the echoes of what might be on Inner Firmaments Decay. There's no point in being a vocalist if you can't be heard.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about All Over Everywhere at Firmaments Decay is available from as a CD or Download.  You can also find it on iTunes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Royaltons - Secret Codes

The Royaltons - Secret Codes
2009, The Royaltons

Cleveland, Ohio’s The Royaltons came together in a most modern fashion. Vocalist Dale DeLong met multi-instrumentalist Will Hooper via Craigslist. Instant chemistry drew in bassist Tim Czaijka and drummer Steve Crobar, completing the lineup The Royaltons have today. With an energy level in live shows that have made them local favorites in Cleveland, The Royaltons take over the stage and command attention. The Royaltons released their debut CD, Secret Codes in 2009.

Secret Codes opens with the unpolished, down-tempo title track. Embellished with a deep 1960's garage aesthetic, "Secret Codes" is tangential and obtuse. "Evil Eye" stays with the 1960's garage sound but has more of a pop sensibility and a catchy arrangement that will get your toes tapping. "Like It Or Not" is full of nervous energy and angst and topped off with a memorable chorus. "Criminal" is the most radio-ready track on the disc; probably not a huge hit but good enough to exact moderate airplay and builds The Royaltons a real following. "More" is just Dale DeLong and guitar in a dynamic solo performance worth taking in. "Young Soul" is a plodding, brooding rocker with a solid melody line that's perhaps the most ambitious songwriting on the album. Secret Codes closes with "I Don't Need Your Light". The song starts well, but the chorus is emblematic of how a great riff and one great line can turn into a bland experience when both are taken for granted. The song ends up sounding whiney (in the vocal) and in spite of solid energy never really gets airborne.

The Royaltons show signs of real musical life on Secret Codes. Playing in the backwoods of garage rock and grunge but aiming for the melodic purity of bands like U2, The Royaltons are knocking on the door something unique. Secret Codes illustrates progress, but The Royaltons haven't quite put it all together yet. If and when they do, look out. For the time being, Secret Codes is solid progress.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Royaltons at Codes is available as both CD and Download from  You can also find Secret Codes on CD from

The Switch: Music From The Motion Picture

The Switch: Music From The Motion Picture
2010, Rhino Records

The Switch is a new romantic comedy starring Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman, with Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson and Juliette Lewis. Directed by Will Speck, this tale of artificial insemination (with a turkey baster) and romance has turned into a mild hit for director Will Speck on the comic performances of those involved. Rhino Records has released a soundtrack in support of the film featuring tracks from artists such as Dan Hartman, The Bar-Kays, Jamiroquai and The Eels.

The Switch's "Opening Titles" feature keyboard pulses reminiscent of The Who in a sub-two minute scene setter that resolves into a pizzicato-based ambient sound collage. Dan Hartman's "Instant Replay", a Gold Record when first released in 1978 is pure disco gold. The Bar-Kays step up next with "Freakshow On The Dance Floor", another bit of disco magic that helps to firmly establish the soundtrack as an experiment in retro dance. Nu Shooz' "I Can't Wait" gets into the sonic excess of the era, while Sunrider's "The Bomb (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)" will have you up and dancing the second it starts. The highlight of the soundtrack is The Quantic Soul Orchestra's "Pushin' On", featuring Alice Russell on lead vocals. This is early disco steeped in Motown sound, before disco became disconnected from its own R&B roots.

Jamiroquai brings a subtle sense of funk on "Little L", spinning out a dance number with a retro feel that should find solid footing in the dance clubs of today. Alex Wurman's guitar/piano instrumental "Lice" is a welcome diversion from the flashy disco balls that hang heavily over switch, resetting the musical palette for what is to come next. Lavender Diamond is a treat on "Open Your Heart" as is Jaymay on the folksy "Sea Green, Sea Blue". Jaymay actually has one of those voices you'll yearn for once you've heard it; a sure sign that more than a few readers/listeners will seek her out before all is said and done. Mojave 3 go astro-ethereal on the Ulrich Schnauss mix of "Bluebird Of Happiness" before the Eels bring their brand of melodic madness on "All The Beautiful Things" and "Numbered Days". The soundtrack closes with Bibio's "Lover's Carvings", an intriguing guitar-driven tune that's more about rhythm and feel than distinct melodic progression. Even once the singer kicks in more than halfway through the song is more about feel than presentation. It's a pretty but appropriate ending to an album with schizophonic feel.

If the soundtrack to The Switch is any indication, the movie has little sense about it. While there are some great performances here, there is no flow to the album as a whole. It's as if songs were picked almost haphazardly rather than on the basis of any coherent development of plot or at least progression of events. In other words it plays like a cynical attempt to capitalize on the movie by selling a collection of songs with little sense or sensibility about them (as a collection). We won't venture to advise readers on what to buy or when, but it wouldn't be surprising to see copies of this soundtrack in the cutout bins within a year.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Switch at Switch is available on CD and as a Download from  You can also find it on iTunes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Leyla Fences - Liars, Cheats & Fools

Leyla Fences - Liars, Cheats & Fools
2010, Leyla Fences

Leyla Fences is an Argyle, Texas singer-songwriter who strives to get back to the roots of modern country music while writing lyrics that are up-to-date and relevant to day-to-day life. Eschewing the "happily ever after" tone of modern pop-country, Fences uses her music to talk about real life situations, broken hearts, cheating partners and losing life to work while keeping the female perspective front and center. Fences doesn't have a perfect voice, and doesn't varnish it with corrective software, keeping her performances as real as her lyrics. Her debut album, Liars, Cheats & Fools is therefore refreshing in approach

Liars, Cheats & Fools opens with "Let Him Go", a highly danceable bit of rockin' country about cutting your losses and moving on. It's an entertaining opener and has enough life to it to catch the attention of country radio program directors. Fences is in fine voice on the opener, although her sound shows a distinct lack of training and occasionally breath control. In this case her vocal idiosyncrasies do more to make her memorable than turn listeners away. "Hardly Livin'" is an ode to working class perseverance and the sacrifices it brings. It's a mildly danceable tune with a solid backbeat and some impressive piano fills around the edges. "The Net" is a positively themed song about taking chances to make your dreams come true. It's a decent tune, although it smacks of self-help cliché.

Fences gives the kiss off to a two-timer whose come around again on "Love Doesn't Work Like That". While the vocal line shows off Fences' weak spots, the song is catchy enough and has enough guts to become an anthem for those who have been part of a romantic yo-yo relationship. "Dancing With You" is a mellow country love song; solid and a bit typical of the genre. It's a decent song but feels heavy from the pacing and the distinct flavor of Fences' voice. "Upside Blues" is a pure drinking anthem for the sore-hearted, allowing whatever it takes to get over a loss. It's a danceable tune that has an anthemic feel. "The Other Side" puts "the grass is always greener" into song from the perspective of a mom. Fences' vocal quirks are fully on display in one of the more difficult vocal lines to listen to on the album. The song itself is heaped with cliché; well-written but predictable to a fault.

"The Fool" touches on infidelity and tit-for-tat exchanges in a cynical game of one-upmanship that feels somewhat flat. The arrangement is energetic enough; danceable and alive, but the lyrics and vocal line don't quite have the vitality to match. "Maybe" is classic waffling over a relationship in song. It's one of the more emotionally authentic sounding songs on the album and reflects well on Leyla Fences. "Two's A Crowd" works well as a declaration of self; espousing the concept that sometimes you don't need to be in a relationship to be happy. Highly danceable, "Two's A Crowd" has an innate pop sensibility that will inspire you to hit repeat. Fences closes with "Life Is Funny", a mildly catchy tune that's too straight-forward for its own good.

Leyla Fences has a voice that you'll remember after you've heard it once. It's most-always a pleasant one to listen to, although Fences does show a lack of vocal training in trills, runs and anywhere else where her vocalizations require a high level of breath control. Her deep alto with distinct nasal qualities is an intriguing sound, and from a songwriting perspective much of Liars, Cheats & Fools is solid. Fences may not be the most poetic or romantic lyricist in the world, but she tells it like it is without pretense or gloss. This style may not fit the CMT paradigm these days, but the classic sound and unvarnished approach is going to appeal to a lot of the regular fans out there that wonder "what happened to country music?"

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Leyla Fences at or, Cheats & Fools is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available digitally from iTunes.

Secondhand Serenade - Hear Me Now

Secondhand Serenade - Hear Me Now
2010, Glassnote Entertainment Group/ILG

Secondhand Serenade had a nice run with their sophomore album, A Twist In My Story, which spawned the Top-10 single "Fall For You". Not one to rest in the balm of success, principal songwriter John Vesely dove deeper into man's metaphysical understanding of his existence for Secondhand Serenade's third album, Hear Me Now. While not a departure from past sounds, Hear Me Now marks a leap forward for Secondhand Serenade in terms of songwriting depth and finesse.

Hear Me Now is an exercise in patience. Don't get me wrong, Secondhand Serenade have created an album that's likely to sell like hotcakes. The pure radio-feel of the album could spawn a number of hits with the right break. The difficulty is that so many bands play in this field that it's hard to get that break. Secondhand Serenade are capable of writing a bonafide pop gem or two, and have a great mix of lead and harmony vocals to drive the songs, but much of the material here is so cookie-cutter that the album itself becomes bland.

Secondhand Serenade opens with a gem. "Distance" is a big melodic rock ballad about missing the one you love with a sparkling melody and a low-key pop sensibility that stands out in a crowd. It's easily the best song on the album and an easy-to-understand pick for the lead position. Thereafter things become rote, with Secondhand Serenade going through the motions of constructing radio-ready pop songs that sound an awful lot like each other and like a thousand other bands trying to become one of the magic twelve per hour on Top-40 radio. If you last long enough into Hear Me Now you'll find one more gem, the vibrant pop/rock of "So Long" is so catchy and without pretense that it will stick with you. Unfortunately it’s the last sign of real personality to be seen/heard from Secondhand Serenade.

Don't misunderstand; Secondhand Serenade has a lot going for himself. John Vesely has the sort of voice that can carry a band to the top of the charts repeatedly, the vocal harmonies are strong. There's also nothing on Hear Me Now to suggest that Secondhand Serenade is anything less than a highly competent musician. Hear Me Now simply plays as a cynical attempt at crafting songs solely for the purpose of making in on Top-40 radio. There's nothing wrong with that pursuit, but Secondhand Serenade fail to distinguish them when they very much have the talent to do so. The two bright spots, "Distance" and "So Long" suggest there's a lot more to Secondhand Serenade than Hear Me Now shows.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Secondhand Serenade from or   Hear Me Now is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Waking Ugly - Waking Ugly

Waking Ugly - Waking Ugly
2010, Waking Ugly

Waking Ugly is the long-running covert operation of Musical Secret Agents Lydia Gardner and Darren Pace. The Melbourne, Australia based duo are set to blow their cover this fall with a five-song self-titled EP full of some of the tastiest pop music to emerge from Down Under in a generation. The seeds of Waking Ugly were germinated way back in 2004, with Gardner and Pace tiring of the same old pop formula offered up through popular media and resolving to change the world. With an unspecified November release date for the EP, Waking Ugly appear set to go from unknown to full blown practically overnight.

Waking Ugly opens with what will be the EP's first single, "You Know You Wanna", a positively-themed, super-charged pop/rock hybrid that's pure gold. Waking Ugly remind listeners it’s never too late to chase your dreams in a sugar-coated electro-pop/rock arrangement that could find a home on pop, dance and rock charts. Lydia Gardner is a super-charged front woman with a voice you could listen to for days on end, and the instrumental bed that Gardner and Pace establish here offers a full sound that imparts melody without the aural clutter that often accompanies modern pop music. "Must Be Love" is an altruistic love song full of the romance of young love over a mild dance beat. The mix is interesting, as Waking Ugly show early on a knack for crafting viable pop songs that don't give in to cliché but are as catchy as the flu in an elevator.

Waking Ugly call out the modern consumer culture on "Zombies", noting how society blinds itself to experience in a storm of consumption and greed. This serious subject is given an ironic touch and delivered in a pure pop/rock arrangement that will stick in your head for days. "Girlfriend" blends Europop and rock in a song about attraction for all the wrong reasons. "Girlfriend" is the edgiest track on the disc, with a heavier sound that Waking Ugly has shown to this point, and may be the sleeper hit of the bunch. Don't be surprised if a licensing agreement lands this song on a movie or television soundtracks on multiple continents. Waking Ugly say goodbye (for now) with "Guess It's Over", a breakup song of epic proportions. "Guess It's Over" proves that "Waking Ugly" is not a one-dimensional pop act. The song is a mature and measured look at the aftermath wrapped up in a melody that will run through your head for days, and delivered in a reserved and poignant arrangement that should light up program director's imaginations at adult rock and pop stations across the globe.

Waking Ugly is the real deal; a throwback to the days when pop music was fun to make and listen to. Even when Waking Ugly injects social conscience into their songs the arrangements are so infectious and enjoyable you can overlook it if you're so inclined. Waking Ugly offers something for everyone here, and shows a depth and maturity that's unusual in such a pop-oriented debut. Waking Ugly has been toiling in their laboratory for six years now; it seems likely that there's a lot more where this came from. We'll be waiting with bated breath. Waking Ugly is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Waking Ugly doesn't appear to have much of a web presence to date.  But keep your eyes open.  This duo can't remain a secret for long.

Kevin Wilson - Self Portrait

Kevin Wilson - Self Portrait
2008, Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson has been an integral part of the Florida heavy metal scene for more than a decade, writing and playing guitar for Liar, Astaroth and Lucian Blaque, which was nominated by both the Tampa Bay Music Awards and Tampa Bay Metal Awards as Metal Band of the year two and three times, respectively. Wilson himself was nominated once for Metal Guitarist of the year. As most things do, Lucian Blaque ran its course, and Wilson found himself in a period of re-assessing his goals. The result of that contemplation is Wilson' debut solo album, Self Portrait. Comprised of fifteen original songs, Self Portrait features Wilson's softer, singer-songwriter side on nine tracks, but also shows his hard edge on the six tracks on the second disc.

Self Portrait opens with "On The Lake", a solid slice of melodic rock with great lead and harmony vocals. "On The Lake" has great energy but doesn't bowl this listener over with it. It's a song of reverence for time and place, with hope, peace and comfort wrapped in one focal point. "Winter In Paradise" shows off some guitar muscle in the middle of a fairly gentle rocker. Wilson has great feel on the guitar, culling musical streams out of the arrangement as if peeling back layers to show you what is beneath. "Scars" is a mellow acoustic rocker that sounds a bit like a power ballad but never explodes into full sound like many power ballads do. The vocal harmonies here are tremendous; Wilson takes his cue from some of the big triad harmonies popular among arena-rock bands like Styx, Journey, Asia and Kansas in a song about salvation and moving on.

"Self Portrait" is actually rather bland for a title track, lacking any real energy and suffering from a vocal line that has a whiney quality to it. Wilson's guitar work is a highlight here, however. "What If" explores existential angst about the future in contemplative fashion, using a mellow arrangement that hides country music threads in the musical seams. Wilson seeks rebirth and renewal on "September Comes"; a song about moving beyond the restrictions and fears we trap ourselves in. "September Comes" features a light airy melody that is almost an ironic foil to the heavy emotional makeup of the song. This irony is enhanced as Wilson seeks rebirth in a season known for the beginning of decay. "Pictures" is lush but not dramatically so, again going for the big vocal harmonies but this time in an Asia-meets-Alan Parsons vibe that's surprisingly good.

Disc two features material that will feel more at home of Wilson's fans from his heavy rock and metal days. Wilson starts out with blues based rock n roll on "Whiskey", an entertaining monologue decrying the spirit's effect on him. It's a solid tune that's likely to be a favorite live. "16 Days" sticks with the blues/rock sound; a somewhat darker with real movement and energy that's an enjoyable listen. "Hellhole" finds Wilson digging into a heavier sound. Lyrically and melodically the song is fairly average, but Wilson's guitar work is very much worth checking out. "Who I Am" and "Angry Now" continue the barrage with darker tones and heavier guitar work, culminating in "A Tale Of Woe". "A Tale Of Woe" wants to be a heavy metal anthem, and has all the needed elements. Wilson has stripped the song down a bit, perhaps to avoid overwhelming the folks who enjoyed with more mainstream rock on disc one. The true metal heads out there will appreciate "A Tale Of Woe", but you'll be wishing for a louder and heavier take; the sort that will likely happen naturally live.

You might expect going in that Kevin Wilson's heavier material would be more prolific than the lighter fare, but Self Portrait defies expectations. Wilson shows himself to have a keen ear for melody and harmony while stripping away the metal accoutrements he generally creates with. Wilson calls on the influences of his youth, blending a mellow mien with the sounds of 1980's rock scions and a bit of guitar muscle to create a sound that's not exactly new, but novel enough and well-crafted enough to catch your ear. The heavier material on Self Portrait is surprisingly mundane; Wilson seems to abandon his more melodic tendencies here but also strips the sound down, robbing the songs of their more vociferous and angry natures. Self Portrait is likely to gain Wilson a number of new fans, but may alienate some of his established fans in the process.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Kevin Wilson at is available from on CD or digitally.  The digital album is broken up into two parts, allowing you to purchase the full release or simply Disc One or Disc Two, as you wish.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

American Sixgun - Gypsy Circus & The Southern Wind, Vol. I & II

American Sixgun - Gypsy Circus & The Southern Wind, Vol. I & II
2010, Masquerade Recordings/Warner Music Group

American Sixgun continues their serendipitous rise through the musical ranks with the release of the double EP Gypsy Circus & The Southern Wind, Vol. I & II. Formed in the spring of 2009, American Sixgun signed with Eulogy Recordings (RED/SONY) just six weeks later and released their debut album, Bayside in the fall of 2009. Not ones to rest on their laurels, American Sixgun is back already with twelve new songs, showing off their hard rocking side as well as their bluesy southern rock persona.

American Sixgun opens with "America Is Burning", a classic punk protest song that does the forefathers of punk proud. "America Is Burning" defends America the country for its ideals and takes to task all those who would run her down for their own ends; referencing the BP Oil spill and corporate/political raiders in general terms while bemoaning the loss of liberty we face. "When The Spirit Moves" expresses discomfort with the classical concepts of heaven and hell as put forth in Christian theology in angry and vibrant terms. There's a real classic 80's metal feel to the tune that's enjoyable. "Dirty Sweet" is all it implies, a hard rock song of lust that's entertaining but not likely to be played during a NOW convention.

"Somebody Like You" shows a softer side to American Sixgun, an alt-rock power ballad built around solid vocal harmonies and a near-wall of sound arrangement. "Prophet For Profit" takes to task dollar-based evangelicals who sometimes appear to be more business than faith in a catchy rock arrangement that's a great listen. "You Kill The Things You Love" is the true highlight of the double EP, sounding like a classic rock gem that's been updated for today. American Sixgun gets the perfect blend here. American Sixgun closes with "Say A Prayer", an anthem from the perspective of one who is trying to put his life back together after running away for too long. The song is well written and reflects a mature perspective that bodes well for the band.

American Sixgun has the energy and vitality to last a longtime in the rock game, and shows songwriting elements on Gypsy Circus & The Southern Wind, Vol. I & II that suggest they will be more than just a flavor of the moment. While well-molded with a sound that fits nicely into an active rock programming niche, American Sixgun doesn't conceal a heavier side that earns credibility from fans of rock n roll as well. Gypsy Circus & The Southern Wind, Vol. I & II may well be a breakout album from American Sixgun.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about American Sixgun at or  Gypsy Circus & The Southern Wind, Vol. I & Vol. II is available from or iTunes as a digital download.

Paul Collins - King Of Power Pop

Paul Collins - King Of Power Pop
2010, Alive Records

Paul Collins might not be the forefather of Power Pop but he certainly was on the committee. Collins spent much of the 1970's working with Peter Case in both Nerves and The Breakaways before forming The Beat (Paul Collins Beat) in 1979. Collins gets back to his roots on his latest album, King Of Power Pop, due out on August 24, 2010 on Alive Records. King Of Power Pop features Eric Blakely on guitar and backing vox, Producer Jim Diamond (The White Stripes, Dirtbombs, The Go) on bass and Dave Shettler on drums. Guest appearances by Wally Palmar (The Romantics) and Nikki Corvette (Nikki & The Corvettes) are also in the offing.

King Of Power Pop opens with "C'mon Let's Go!", with Collins recalling simpler times in a classic rock n roll courtship song. "Do You Wanna Love Me" is catchy early rock n roll with a blues base that will get your toes tapping. "Hurting's On My Side" shows off Collins' melodic sensibilities in a melancholy but poignant bit of songwriting that's a nice change of pace. "Don't Blame Your Troubles On Me" is catchy, guitar-driven rock; a great listen. Collins channels pure nostalgia on his cover of The Box Tops' "The Letter". Collins manages to make the song his own without changing a thing, a nice feat. "Kings Of Power Pop" is a fun tune about how Collins came to be where he is today; it's the rock n roll dream that anyone who's ever strapped on an electric guitar has had. "This Is America" ends up sounding like a recasting of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire". The chorus is different, but the mode and method of the song and the list-filled lyrics are just too close to not be compared. Collins closes with "You Tore Me Down", a bland dictation of 1960's rock style that just doesn't have the pizzazz you'd expect in a closing number.

Paul Collins starts strong on King Of Power Pop, but struggles to bring it home at the same level he started out at. Collins is a deft songwriter when at his best, and Collins is inspired at times on King Of Power Pop, but much of the second half of the album ends up sounding contrived. Even at that, the best of the material on King Of Power Pop will be balm for those who miss the days of Power Pop.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Paul Collins at Of Power Pop is available from on CD, Vinyl or as a Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ben Rusch - The Architects Of Time

Ben Rusch - Architects Of Time
2010, Ben Rusch

With over twenty albums to his name, Ben Rusch has shown himself to a prolific purveyor of progressive rock, pop and classical music. His 2009 album Oh, Yes!! received rave reviews and spins on both terrestrial and internet based radio. In 2010, Rusch returns with Architects Of Time, a solid expansion on his more recent musical expositions that keeps with the progressive tendencies of his past works while delving deeper into the cracks between progressive rock, classical music and jazz forms.

Rusch opens with "Out Of Time", a measured baroque-pop composition that explodes in a barrage of high-speed classical piano riffs and runs. The song sounds like the opening number to a space epic on hyper drive. "Robin Hood Is Currently Unavailable" is a frantic/frenetic piano-driven number that turns into a surreal treatise on the downfall of heroes in the digital age. Rusch seems to head into the hinterlands with "Architects Of Time". It's hard to follow his thought process at times here and on much of the album, but the song appears to be about television and its effect on history, human interactions, etc. It is, in essence a prologue to the song it succeeds, "Robin Hood Is Currently Unavailable".

"Where The Wild Things Are" is the most intriguing song on the album, a quiet yet intricate acoustic guitar-driven song that seems to make a parallel between the classic children's story and the modern world. "Double Helix" uses fast and plentiful piano runs to spice up a bland composition, but Rusch recovers quickly with "Adam And Eve". The song is a humorous one-sided dialogue between Adam and Eve in Adam's voice. The arrangement is quite busy but well crafted, underscoring Rusch's wicked wit. That sense of humor carries over into "In A Thousand Years", an amusing song about how things work out often in spite of our best intentions. Subtle wit and wise perspective thrive amidst some amazing guitar work.

"The Thought Of You" is something of a ballad, a love song that's highly informational but perhaps a bit shy on emotion, almost as if the narrator is trying just as hard to convince himself as the subject of the song. Rusch hits a slow patch here, rambling his way through "Hand Me My Jet Pack", "Where To Put That Foot" and "Covering Cold Feet With Warm Sheets". He more than makes up for it with "Time To Go", an amazing sonic painting of the heartbreak of parting done in plaintive musical tones. It's a sparkling close to a turbulent album that skates often on the edge of brilliance but often finds that goal unrealized. Rusch doesn't miss the goal here.

Ben Rusch goes deep in concept for Architects Of Time, a dynamic and uneven listening experience that struggles at times but absolutely soars at others. Rusch struggles against himself at times in the art of creation, but when everything lines up he'll amaze you.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ben Rusch at or Architects Of Time  is available from as a CD or DownloadArchitects Of Time is also available from iTunes.

Miniature Tigers - Fortress

Miniature Tigers - Fortress
2010 Modern Art Records/ILG

Band note: If you're staying in a house in the middle of the Adirondacks that could double as a horror movie set, watching The Shining may not be the best choice. Then again, listening to the dark anxiety and energy that runs through Miniature Tiger's sophomore album, Fortress, perhaps it was the perfect choice. Inspired by the abject terror and angst of that experience, the Brooklyn-based Miniature Tigers cut an album full of reckless energy and adrenaline that compensates for any deficits you might identify with pure energy and the sense of bravado that covers fear.

Miniature Tigers start strong on Fortress, opening with the melodic 1960's pop style of "Mansion Of Misery" and speckling it with vast tracts of psychedelic sound. The melody is pleasant enough at first but becomes highly repetitive as Miniature Tigers chose to express AB composition by differentiating with changes between pure pop sound to psychedelic fugue. "Rock N Roll Mountain Troll" describes someone most people have known at one point in their life. That guy who went to school or work and then spent the rest of his time in his room getting h and playing guitar or drums or some other instrument. The song is incredibly catchy and fun to listen to, with a catchy melody the Beatles would have been proud of.

"Dark Tower" finds Miniature Tigers in the backwaters of human thought where philosophy and a profound sense of epistemological melancholy meet. It's a song about trying to find yourself while navigating the waters of human interaction and relationships, filled with all of the angst and fear that such confrontations inspire. Things get a bit slow in the middle of "Fortress", but pick up again for the near-novelty tune "Japanese Woman Living In My Closet". While Miniature Tigers might appear to have driven right off the deep end here, the infectious pop melody is nothing to sneeze at. Much the same can be said of "Tropical Birds". Miniature Tigers float their way past the last bastions of sensibility into a land where Syd Barrett cavorts with pop princesses and writes million-sellers. As odd as the song may be, there's an essential draw to it that will have you hitting replay nearly in spite of yourself.

Miniature Tigers walk their own musical path on Fortress, engaging in a delirious mix of 1960's rock and pop with easy listening tendrils gracing the edges of their sound. The retro movement has finally brought back psychedelic folk-rock, and Miniature Tigers play it like they invented the sound.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Miniature Tigers at or is available from as either a CD or Download.  Fortress is also available from iTunes

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Elevator Art - Elevator Art

Elevator Art - Elevator Art
2010, Elevator Art, LLC

There's nothing like having four lead vocalists and four songwriters to spice up the creative process for a band. Toms River, New Jersey's Elevator Art revels in their multi-voiced persona, veering across a multi-faced musical topography to whatever styles or sounds pique their interest. Daimon Santa Maria (vox/keys/guitar/bass); Mike Jonin (guitar/bass/vox); Jennifer Mustachio (guitar/vox/bass/percussion) and Maureen McGowan (guitar/vox/percussion) surf the waves of percussionist Joe La Scola across the thirteen songs on Elevator Art's self-titled debut album.

Elevator Art opens with Matryoshka, an energetic rocker featuring solid vocal harmonies and a garage element to the sound that makes for great listening. Elevator Art makes their case as inventive arrangers on "Matryoshka", veering all over the map sonically while somehow maintaining a sense of coherency in the song. "Peter Rabbit" examines a troubled family with explosive potential and the neighborhood inertia that allows paths to decay. It's an interesting sociological study in song worth listening to. "Raised By Wolves" addresses the damage dysfunctional parents/families can inflict on children. Cloaked in an alternately folky and muscular rock arrangement, "Raised By Wolves" highlights the anger and adjustments that grow within the children in such arrangements. "Punch & Judy" has limited lyrics, but plays well as a threatening to come off the rails rock instrumental for most of the song. It's a great listen.

"Autumn Epitaph" is a plea for consistency with a country/punk feel that's charming. Daimon Santa Maria is solid on lead vocals and Jennifer Mustachio supports with supple harmony. "Gingerbread Veterans" and "How Does The Day Find You" march on the edge of muttering madness in serene but poignant post-pop arrangements on the way to "Holland Flowers", which may be the most distinctly pop tune on the album. There's a Beatles-esque melodic sense to the song, a vaguely twisted number that alternates love and disaffection in a number so catchy you'll be bouncing your knee before Elevator Art gets through the first four bars. "Deja Voodoo" is a whimsical, stream-of-conscious exercise that's a fun listen and exploits some of the more obtuse angles of Elevator Art's collective wit. "Blah Blah Blah" decries empty talk in an energetic jam tune that could probably expand forever live as per Elevator Art's whim. The band closes with an untitled track that strips down the sound and allows the vocals of Santa Maria and Mustachio to stand front and center. It's a nice way to sign off.

Elevator Art is a bit out there. You may not follow all of their lyrical expositions, but the band can play and has a knack for nifty, occasional counter-intuitive arrangements that run the gamut from rock to jam to pop with folk thrown into the mix. It's a great sound that packs the right mix of mellow and edge. Elevator Art is definitely worth getting to know.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Elevator Art at Art is available from as a CD or a DownloadElevator Art is also available from iTunes.

Lithium Seven - Something Else Is Waiting

Lithium Seven - Something Else Is Waiting
2009, Lithium Seven

Lithium Seven is about as modern as you can get in popular music. With bases in both Dayton, Ohio and Lansing, Michigan, Lithium Seven do a lot of their songwriting via the web. Shawn and Soren Gormley (Emily's Motives) and Jon Carroll and Jim Armstrong have managed to build a tight, symbiotic songwriting style between them, a style that is evident on Lithium Seven's recent EP, Something Else Is Waiting.

Something Else Is Waiting opens with "Get To Montana", a catchy bit of Americana/rock with great energy. It's a song about getting back to your roots and getting back to the earth. It's great opening number and introduction to Lithium Seven. "Something Else is Waiting" is a solid tune in a lush Americana arrangement about the inevitability of change, new challenges and new opportunities. The laid back aprroach of the song has real power, albeit subtle. "Arizona" is a love song about making love work. Lithium Seven explores hard choices and perseverance in a pragmatic take on romance that's musically appealing.

Lithium Seven are onto something with Something Else Is Waiting. At three songs the EP is but a sample, but the promise indicated here is worth pursuing. We'll be very curious to see what Lithium Seven gets up to next.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Lithium Seven at or   Something Else Is Waiting is available from as a CD or DownloadSomething Else Is Waiting is also available from iTunes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Darlingside - EP 1

Darlingside - EP 1
2010, Darlingside

Northampton, Massachusetts baroque rockers Darlingside turn the rock n roll paradigm on its ear on their debut EP, EP 1. Violin, cello, four-part vocal harmonies, break beats and a highly inventive set of ears for both melody and harmony keep listeners on their toes as Darlingside spins musical tales a spider couldn't unwind.

Darlingside opens with "Good Man", wrapped in harmonies the Eagles and Oak Ridge Boys with approve of while delivering on a current Americana sound. Both lead and harmony vocals are tremendous; with vocal triads blending with top-notch musicianship for a signature sound you won't soon forget. "Surround" sticks to the same formula, but is catchy enough to snag the ears of Programming directors for country and pop radio stations are over the dial. Vocalist Dave Senft gets to show off his pipes in the near-acapella chorus of "Malea". It's a stark and memorable tune with dark instrumental bridges done up in strings. Darlingside shows off its mellow aspect with the folk/pop number "The Catbird Seat" before driving into "All That Wrong", an angry song of heartbreak. "All That Wrong" starts out as a reserved contemplation but explodes into an angry exposition for the chorus, exclaiming it all with a brilliant and unsettled guitar solo. Darlingside closes with the whimsical free association of "In The Morning" a jumbled lyrical exercise that has an economical pop beauty you simply can't ignore.

Perhaps the only downfall of Darlingside's EP 1 is the fact that its only 6 songs long. Darlingside will leave you wanting more. Dave Senft has the sort of voice you find excuses to listen to, and the musical choices that Darlingside make on EP 1 are familiar enough to be comfortable, but daring enough to be fresh. EP 1 is a great start.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Darlingside at or 1 is available from as a CD and DownloadEP 1is also available from iTunes.

Jed Davis - The Cutting Room Floor

Jed Davis - The Cutting Room Floor
2010, Eschatone Records

Longtime New York City singer/songwriter Jed Davis fled to Albany to write and record his most recent album, The Cutting Room Floor, which will finally see the light of day on September 21, 2010. Begun back in the dark days of 1999, The Cutting Room Floor was completed in 2006. Davis claims the album was doomed from the beginning, but some big names got involved and helped make it happen. T. Erdelyi (Tommy of the Ramones) helped produce some tracks, Brian Dewan (They Might Be Giants) pitched in for instrumental support and Tony Doogan (Belle And Sebastian) mixed all under the guiding hand of executive producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips/MGMT).

Jed Davis shows the anger and vitality of Ben Folds on The Cutting Room Floor, but comes from a darker place. Where early Folds displayed the anger of the oppressed suburbanite, Davis borders on the sort of disaffected sociopathy of suburbia that is the sociological progeny of cynicism. The Cutting Room Floor opens with the title track, sounding like the opening number to an off-off-Broadway production about the angst and loneliness of living in the modern age. Disaffection and separation from those around you are the driving forces here, where hermitage is the ultimate end of interconnectedness. "Before I Was Born" starts out with the opening of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" played on an out-of-tune piano before opening into a vibrant garage rock tune that bemoans genetic pre-destination. It's a great tune with real punker energy in the chorus and is incredibly catchy. "Enough" is a catchy reminiscence of youth centered on the eye opening experiences that peers provide, much to the chagrin of parents. If Davis finds a way to make a song any catchier the CDC would have to get involved.

"Let Go" is the anthem of the eternal skeptic. It's an interesting tune, but would have been better off if Davis has omitted the distortion effect in the vocal line. "Denny's 3 A.M." is nominally a celebration of Denny's status as an all-night hangout, but is really a celebration of the idle time of youth and the magic that can happen while the rest of the world sleeps. Energetic and eclectic, the song sounds like something that might happen at an after-hours jam session involving Weezer and They Might Be Giants. "Interesting Times" is an angry diatribe about suburban life and the transition from youth to adulthood. Hope is lost here, but the music is great. On "Native Son", Davis sticks his thumb in the eye of every hometown acquaintance who failed to notice him during high school but now acts like his best friend when he returns home. The appeal of this tune is universal, and the angry tone that Davis strikes is both convincing and amusing. Davis winds down with "Queens Is Where You Go When You're Dead", a well-written pop/rock tune that's not likely going to a big hit in Flushing. Davis gets in his last licks with an untitled track that features some 3:00 AM conversation and a version of "Denny's 3 A.M." with a host of guest vocalists.

Jed Davis might not be for everyone, but it'd be hard to not find something to like on The Cutting Room Floor. The reference to things that have been left behind may be appropriate considering the time it's taken this album to come to light. But Davis proves that just because something is initially rejected or put away doesn't mean it has no value. One could argue that The Cutting Room Floor will become known as Davis' best and most vibrant work to date.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jed Davis at or Cutting Room Floor is available from as a CD, LP (Vinyl) or DownloadThe Cutting Room Floor is also available from iTunes.