All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Trent Hancock – Ghostbird [EP]

Trent Hancock – Ghostbird [EP]
2010, Trent Hancock
Trent Hancock picked up his life in San Diego and moved to Brooklyn after an inspirational tour through New York City.  Late of the musical duo Ghostbird, Hancock became enamored with the singer/songwriter scene in New York, and chose a new direction for himself musically.  His work caught the attention of producers of Mikal Blue and Andrew Williams (Colbie Callait/Five For Fighting), who invited him back to the west coast to develop the sound.  The resulting EP, also entitled Ghostbird, shows off Hancock’s new sound.
Hancock sets off on a bland pop note with “Falling Faster”.  The song has an A/C friendly sound; airy but a bit too much like too many other things on pop radio to stand out.  “Me And You” is a step in the right direction, showing off a winning melody and Hancock’s exceedingly pleasant voice.  This is mildly catchy pop music with commercial legs.  “Lost My Way” is solid, easy-listening pop music about getting caught in a bad romance.  This one isn’t going to climb charts, but would sit very nicely as an ad-in on a TV or movie soundtrack.  “Strong Hands” explores his own inability to protect someone who has been physically abused.  He talks about the things he’s done to try to help but she just shies away.  The low key musical approach here is perfect.  “Zale” is a sonically appealing creation full of outstanding guitar work and brilliant vocal harmonies.  Hancock closes off Ghostbird with the title track.  “Ghostbird” sounds like a grand musical theme; wanting to be bigger than it is.  There is a lonely beauty to this song that creeps on you and stays around long after the final note has sounded.
Trent Hancock takes an ambitious pop turn on Ghostbird.  The EP starts slow, but builds in beauty and complexity as it progresses.  Trent Hancock certainly seems to be onto something here, possessing a delightful pop sensibility delivered in low key arrangements that mine beauty from everyday observations cast in varying tones of light.  Ghostbird won’t overwhelm you on the first listen, but with each successive spin, Trent Hancock draws you in a little further.  This is definitely an EP worth spending some time with.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Trent Hancock at or  Ghostbird [EP] is available as a CD through Trent Hancock's webstore.  If digital is your thing, the album is also available via iTunes.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender

Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender
2011, Great Speckled Dog/Over The Rhine
It’s been twenty years since Over The Rhine took their first steps toward becoming darling of the alt-folk scene.  What started out as a quarter has been whittled down to husband and wife team Linford Detweiler (piano/guitar/bass) and Karin Berqquist (vocals/guitar).  While the sense of ambience present on albums such as Till We Have Faces (1991), Good Dog, Bad Dog (2000) and Ohio (2003) may have faded some with the passage of time, Over The Rhine’s new album The Long Surrender  displays an intimate and integral sound that is compelling.  The Long Surrender will be available of February 8, 2011.
The Long Surrender opens with “The Sharpest Blade”, a slowly meandering folk/rock recitative with mid torch qualities.  Gorgeous, sorrowful and heartfelt, Berqquist makes the most of the vocal line.  It’s a stunning beginning.  “Rave On” has a quiet, impassioned urgency.  Berqquist is at her most emotive in a song with a timeless feel.  There’s a sense of a universal theme here that’s perhaps just beyond the listener’s reach; unchangeable in form but vibrant in force.  “Soon” is deeply melancholy, perhaps even morbidly blue.  The darkness of the arrangement and Berqquist’s voice is fascinating.  “Undamned” is a gorgeous oil painting in music pondering the saving grace of love.  Written from the perspective of a lost, broken soul suddenly wrapped in, and saved by love, the realization dawns on her that she is worth saving.  The unmistakable mark of humanity here is vibrant and tangible.
“Infamous Love Song” is pure torch; a love song of broken souls.  Detweiler and Berqquist have composed a mini masterpiece here; you nearly see the speakeasy coalesce around you as Over The Rhine begin to play, and sense the waves of sorrow and desperation wafting forth from the patrons therein.  The song is amazing: needful and powerful and full of a lonely grace that will refuse to let you go.  “Oh Yeah By The Way” explores the words left unsaid after heartbreak sets in.  This one’s a vocal duet, and captures the love, pain and regret in a stellar bit of songwriting that is likewise unforgettable.  “The King Knows How” is a stylish, bluesy number with a sultry feel that drops references to Elvis Presley and Hank Williams.  The song is a bit opaque perhaps, but is entertaining with a sense of surreal sensuality. 
“There’s A Bluebird In My Heart goes back to the bluesy torch sound, perhaps not quite as successfully as before.  Berqquist continues to excel on the vocal lines, but something about this one doesn’t quite click.  “Days Like This” is more ambient in nature, a dreamy folk/pop number that’s ethereally pretty.  “All My Favorite People” opens with what might be the best opening line to a pop song ever.  “All my favorite people are broken…” launches an exploration of the beauty of the shades of grey that envelope our lives over time.  The depth and maturity of the songwriting here is nothing less than stunning, and Berqquist shows a depth and presence the likes of which are generally the mark of a consummate performer.  Detweiler also shows off with a healthy dose of Ray Charles-style piano licks.  The Long Surrender closes with “Unspoken” is a brief piano-based instrumental epilogue with country accoutrements.    Saxophone takes the lead on the melody line in a pretty closer that sounds like the end credits to a film.
Over The Rhine just keeps getting better with time, and The Long Surrender is their most intimate and compelling work to date.  Karin Berqquist could sing the Cleveland phone book in the middle of Times Square and draw an audience, and Linford Detweiler shows an almost preternatural ability to build arrangements that fit her voice perfectly.  There are a couple of slow moments on The Long Surrender, but on balance it’s hard to imagine The Long Surrender not ending up on a number of year-end lists for 2011.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Over The Rhine at or  The Long Surrender drops on February 8, 2011.  The album can be pre-ordered from Amazon as a CD, on Vinyl or as a Download.

Marie Glad – Bedroom Stories, Part One

Marie Glad – Bedroom Stories, Part One
2010, Royal Sister
Marie Glad is a Swedish singer, songwriter, visual artist, designer, film maker and yoga instructor.  That’s enough vocations to prove a point of some sort.  As a singer/songwriter Glad  saw moderate success with her 2009 debut album Rescue Me.  She returned in 2010 with a four-song EP entitled Bedroom Stories, Part One.  The EP is full of bland, fluffy pop music that’s easily convertible to the dance scene with the appropriate remixes.  Glad has a nice enough voice, but the material presented here is the musical equivalent of empty calories.  The peak of the EP comes on the last track, a second version of the song “Butterfly” featuring Duvestar.  Duvestar is a partnership between Glad and Irish DJ/producer Oisin Lunny (U2, Gangstarr, Sinead O’Connor).  There are points of promise here, but little is truly realized.
Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Marie Glad at or  Bedroom Stories, Part is available digitally from and iTunes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hilary Weaver - Tell The Next Girl


Hilary Weaver – Tell The Next Girl
2009, Hilary Weaver
Hilary Weaver might just be the next big thing.  The 19-year old singer/songwriter from Toronto writes pop music full of positive messages, infectious hooks and the sort of melodies that stay in your head for weeks at a time.   Weaver’s already won a Best Female Vocal nod at the 2009 Hollywood Music In Media Awards, is a two-time nominee for the Los Angeles Music Awards, and has been a finalist in such competitions as Anthem International’s Music Festival Competition (December 2010), 100% Music Songwriting Competition and British Music Week’s Rising Star Awards.  Weaver also took top honors in the 2009 Great American Song Contest for Best Pop Song while placing two songs in the Finalist category.  All of this from a six-song EP Weaver self-released in 2009 entitled Tell The Next Girl.
Hilary Weaver has the sort of uncomplicated, girl next door voice that drove popular music from several generations.  Weaver’s sense of pop rebellion comes in being a stand-up person who sings about real issues for real people and eschews the cynical mire that is pop music today.  Tell The Next Girl opens with “We’re Smokin’ Hot”, a highly danceable piece of pop music built on a killer hook.  Weaver’s message of self-assurance is notable, making the point that “hot” isn’t about the air-brushed look that we see in magazines.  Here hot is more of an innate, internal quality, and Weaver demands respect for who she is rather than someone’s day dream of what she should look like.  This is honestly one of the catchiest pop tunes you’re likely to have heard in some time.  “Put Your Hands Up” is pure girls’ night out pop.  Weaver shows off an unforced vocal sound that is refreshing.  Weaver manages in two songs to prove that she’s everything Avril Lavigne ever claimed in her early marketing efforts but never quite lived up to.
“It Can’t Be With You” a mature song of moving on, telling an ex that he broke her heart and will never have the opportunity again.  The song is sung is a solid pop ballad style.  Vocal effects are apparent, which is disturbing only insomuch as Weaver has such a nice sound without them.  “Tell The Next Girl” is a more upbeat take on saying goodbye.  The pop arrangement here is solid and compact; the sort of thing that back in the 1980’s would have had radio programmers drooling all over it.  “Never Made It Home” is a song of heartbreak over a love affair that ends abruptly when the guy goes out and never comes back.  The strings are a nice touch here, and Weaver tells the story in well-crafted lyrics against a melody that just won’t quit hanging around your brain.  Weaver closes with “When I Found You”, a positive pop love song with a catchy, sweet melody.  This one won’t set the pop charts ablaze, but it’s a solid pop album track with some marketing potential.
Hilary Weaver apparently knows what it takes to write a hit pop song at the age of nineteen.  What’s most impressive is that Weaver isn’t trying to write hits, she simply writes what she knows in a fashion that’s honest, pure and unaffected.  The melodies and hooks that Weaver puts forth on Tell The Next Girl speak very well for her future as a pop songwriter and performer.  Lyrically Weaver is solid with room to grow, and her star appears to be steadily on the rise.  Tell The Next Girl shows what pop music should be, returning some of the sense of innocence to a genre that has badly missed its core quality over the past decade.  Hopefully Weaver can keep that sense of wonder blended with the intelligent understanding of the world and sense of self she displays here as she ascends the pop ladder.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Hilary Weaver at or  Tell The Next Girl is available digitally from or iTunes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys – Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys

Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys – Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys
2011, Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys
Bradford Monk is a Canadian-born singer/songwriter known for his depth and honesty.  Monk has three albums under his belt, playing in the realm of Americana (rock, traditional country and occasionally gospel).  Like many who travel this path, it’s only a matter of time before they stumble into bluegrass.  Monk doesn’t so much stumble as dance through the door in early 2011, teaming up with Toronto’s The Foggy Hogtown Boys to release the appropriately named Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys. 
Monk opens with the solid country/bluegrass tune”Suzanne”, an attempt to ply a lady away from her beau.  The song is sweet in its approach to a love unrequited.  “Maybe Baby” is a charming love song with a melody that will sneak up on you and get stuck in your grille.  The gentle country arrangement and backing vocals are all perfect touches.  “Hold On Darling” will get people out of their seats.  Monk explores a relationship that continually falls apart because he’s in love with the girl but doesn’t know how to be in love.  The picking and fiddle work here are dizzying.  “Rosie” is a touching number from a man who has seen his wife pass on.  It’s a love song and a prayer asking to join his one true love even it means passing beyond the veil.  This is an amazing bit of songwriting; emotionally moving and insightful beyond words.
“I’m Alright” is raucous bluegrass that’s danceable and even mixes in a bit of gospel feel in the process.  The song is about getting back to the simple and important things in life.  Fiddler John Showman and banjo player Chris Collins turn the world upside down on this tune.  “Bringing Coal” is a story-song about love, allegiances and even adultery.  The vocal harmonies show a touch of high lonesome sound in a more modern setting; the sound is stunning.  “The Cowboy And Pearl” is the story of a rodeo rider and his second love; the one who becomes the most important in his life after his career is ended by a tragic injury.  Chris Coole’s guitar work adds a mournful that’s starkly beautiful.  “Titanic (When The Great Ship Goes Down)” is a classic shipwreck tune done in traditional bluegrass/gospel style.  The song is a fun listen in spite of the dark subject matter, and sits well alongside traditional bluegrass material. 
“Love And War” sticks to a simple form that allows The Foggy Hogtown Boys show off their instrumental genius around and between Monk’s lyrics.  This is one of those tunes you simply can’t still for.  “Remember Everyday” is a down-home love song about the deepest of devotion.  Don’t be surprised to hear “Remember Everyday” used as a country wedding song, whether in movies or in real life.  “Sweet Mary” is a minimalist love song; an outstanding bit of songwriting laced with hints of innuendo.  Monk may remind you a bit of Lyle Lovett here; and it’s a comparison that will hit home with real weight.  While Monk’s sense of humor isn’t, perhaps, quite as bizarre as Lovett’s; there are certainly parallels in their ability to craft a story or bring a character to life in their songs.  Monk closes with a live take on “Too Much Talkin’ Not Enough Drinkin’”, a song that explores being with a girl who talks too much.  A pure blend of honky-tonk and bluegrass, “Too Much Talkin’ And Not Enough Drinkin’” is pure fun, and The Foggy Hogtown Boys go to town on this one in support of Monk.
Bradford Monk continues to develop as an artist; broadening the scope of his songwriting without losing the essential character of his music.  Bradford Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys is inspirational, keeping a traditional bluegrass sound alive in modern songs that sit well in any area.  After hearing Bradford Monk And The Foggy Hogtown Boys for the first time you’ll run to your computer and check to see if they’re coming to your town.  If you’re lucky, they will be.  Bradford Monk is the sort of songwriter we’ll still be talking about twenty years from now, and The Foggy Hogtown Boys are one of the finest bluegrass outfits in North America.  This album is a match made in heaven.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Bradford Monk at or Monk & The Foggy Hogtown Boys is available digitally from both and iTunes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kentucky Thunder - Bout Damn Time

Kentucky Thunder – ‘Bout Damn Time
2010, Kentucky Thunder
The ladies of Kentucky Thunder have been singing together for fourteen years.  The quartet has built a significant regional following in and around Nashville.  Etta Britt (Dave And Sugar), Sheila Lawrence, Jonnell Mosser and Vickie Carrico bring their dynamic performance style and vocals on their debut album, ‘Bout Damn Time, recorded live at Nashville’s 3rd And Lindsley Concert Club. 
Bout Damn Time opens with soulful southern rock of “Paper Thin”, showing off a brash and powerful vocal line.  “One Thing I Know” has a touch of Motown in the arrangement and a great chorus.  The vocal harmonies heard here are exquisite.  “I Believe” features a diva-like vocal performance and 1960’s Motown groove that’s undeniable.  “Love Is A Gift” features some great bluesy guitar and piano work in a dark song of melancholy sorrow.  “I Don’t Care Who Knows” is one of the standout tracks on the disc, featuring a classic R&B groove and some amazing piano work from Sean Coleman.  “What About Me” is a pining love song written in the wake of a relationship.  She’s still stuck on him even though he’s moved on.  The vulnerability and humanity in the songwriting are impressive.
“Better Fantasy” finds Kentucky Thunder laying down a funk groove that’s undeniable in an upbeat love song.  “Who’s Laughing At Who” turns the tables on a heartbreaker.  It’s an entertaining kiss-off full of mild vitriol that is written from a healthy perspective.  “Baton Rouge” is a rhythm & blues barn burner that finds the Kentucky Thunder Girls putting their dancing shoes on.  You will too.  Kentucky Thunder closes out the show with “My Old Kentucky Home” in four part harmony.  The performance here might have been outstanding, but the board mix leaves much to be desired, making the closing track the weakest on the album through no fault of the performers.
‘Bout Damn Time captures the live energy and presence of Kentucky Thunder nearly perfectly.  The album has a few slow moments, and the lead vocalist occasionally over sings ala Janis Joplin, but on the whole this is a very entertaining performance.  It’s apparent that Kentucky Thunder lives for the stage.  Hopefully it won’t be another fourteen years before we hear from them again.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Kentucky Thunder at  'Bout Damn Time is available on CD from Kentucky Thunder's webstore.  Digital versions of the album are available from or iTunes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Katie Melua – The House

Katie Melua – The House
2010, Dramatico Records
Katie Melua is one of the largest selling artists in the UK for the 21st century, capturing hearts and minds all over the world with her albums Call Off The Search, Piece By Piece and Pictures.  Under the tutelage of composer/musician Mike Batt, Melua found her voice and a sound that is both distinctive original and commercially appealing.  After three albums and seven years, however, it was time for Melua to branch out on her own and explore the avenues of her art.  The resulting album, produced by the legendary William Orbit, is The House.  This is Melua’s most original and dramatic album to date, delivering on an unerring pop sensibility with the sort of musical quirks and originality that can turn a very good artist into an icon.
The House opens with “I’d Love To Kill You”, perhaps one of the most anachronistically sensual songs you’re likely to hear.  Melua mixes images of violence and sexuality in a disturbing monologue that will unnerve or titillate you depending on your disposition.  The stark, simple arrangement serves only to empower the message and paints a picture of a love that borders on insanity.  “The Flood” is dark, mysterious and beautiful.  There’s an almost spiritual theme revealed in Melua’s parallel between the washing away of a great flood and the releasing of bonds on the human spirit as the song moves between a sorrowful dirge and an uplifting new age/pop dance beat.  “A Happy Place” keeps essentially the same rhythm and melodic structure as “The Flood”.  The theme here is about humanity’s constant yearning to find a happy place and is therefore subjectively a complement to “The Flood”, sharing elements of theme, melody and structure.
“A Moment Of Madness” finds Melua exploring the cabaret style familiar to fans of Sarah Slean.  Melua injects a gorgeous dramatic sensibility into a suggestive art house tune with a distinct baroque feel.  Melua explores the juxtaposition of hope and heartbreak as seen through shared experience in a tune that sounds like something John Lennon may have penned where he still alive and working today.  “Tiny Alien” finds Melua communicating with a baby in utero, wondering at who it will become, what it feels and thinks.  It’s an amazing bit of songwriting, highly personal and yet universal in its theme.  “No Dear Of Heights” is a confident love song that revels in faith and certainty that a relationship is meant to last.  Melua’s performance shows a conviction that is compelling.  “The One I Love Is Gone” is bluesy and forlorn but sophisticated.  Katie Melua delivers a true wow moment here with a vocal performance that is starkly beautiful and thoroughly in the moment.
“Plague Of Love” explores the pleasure and pain of unrequited love in a compact and breezy but significant pop song.  This is brilliant songwriting, blending masterful lyrics with the sort of smart, angular pop arrangement that’s outside the box enough to be noticed but accessible enough to garner the attention of radio programmers, licensers and fans.  “God On The Drums, Devil On The Bass” hits the spiritual realm again, using Judeo-Christian imagery as a sort of parallel of yang and yin, and placing human behavior in between.  The song is entertaining with enough of a mid-tempo dance beat to perhaps crack the club scene with the right remix.  Melua’s vocals here are oddly sensual.  Melua closes out with “Twisted”, a solid pop entry, and “The House”, a pensive, dark internal conversation set to music.  This quietest moment evokes Melua’s best vocal performance on the album, including a chilling high note that will ring in your mind well after the last notes fade.
Katie Melua has come a long way since Call Off The Search, expanding upon her folk and pop roots into a truly artistic pastiche of pop, rock and singer-songwriter styles.  Melua embodies the eclectic spirit of such artists as Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Milla Jovovich, while writing intelligent and coherent pop that is atypically accessible.  It isn’t a stretch to say that Melua has one of the most intriguing voices in pop music today, finding its way into the nooks and crannies of your soul.  The House is Melua’s finest work to date, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Katie Melua at or House is available from as a CD, LP or DownloadThe album is also available from iTunes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Road Trip Relief Squad – Happy Butt: Cheeky Fun to Help Relieve the Rigors of the Road

Road Trip Relief Squad – Happy Butt: Cheeky Fun to Help Relieve the Rigors of the Road
2010, Chessy Cat Records
Have you ever spent a long road trip shifting from cheek to cheek thinking that your blood might not flow through those muscles ever again?  Well future trips may be different thanks to the Road Trip Relief Squad.  Carol Heywood, Tina Louise Albrecht and GRAMMY winner Eric Tingstad (Tingstad & Rumbel) combined forces in 2010 to create one of the funniest workout albums of all time, Happy Butt: Cheeky Fun to Help Relieve the Rigors of the Road.  Tingstad has composed seven dynamic tracks to go with Heywood and Albrecht’s rather humorous exercise routines.  Perhaps the funniest aspect of the album is that the exercises work.
Happy Butt opens with “Beach Bum”, a series of breathing exercises for the road designed to keep you awake and alert.  Heywood and Albrecht go back and forth in a style that’s vaguely reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live Delicious Dish sketches starring Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon.  “Cheeks And Salsa” uses Tingstad’s slick Latin dance number to get your butt moving, of as styled by Road Trip Relief Squad, your Gluteus Mushimus.  Tingstad even riffs off Christopher Walken’s classic call for more Cowbell (from another Saturday Night Live sketch starring Walken and Will Ferrell).    It’s clear early on that Road Trip Relief Squad don’t want to be taken seriously; they want you to have fun while perhaps even providing a service to road weary travelers. 
“Lose The Fat Blues” moves down to your thighs in a finely honey blues/rock arrangement.  The camp doesn’t stop here, with the humor running from hokey to potty and back.  Albrecht and Heywood even speculate on the likelihood of paparazzi taking pictures of their exercises on the way.  “Cowabunga Crunch” uses a distinctive surf-rock arrangement to work on those tummy muscles.  This set of exercises may be a bit more difficult to do while behind the wheel, and if you don’t follow the directions carefully you might have some difficulties with lane discipline.  “Face Off On Bourbon Street” makes the jump to Zydeco for exercises that will keep the blood flowing to your eyes, cheeks and lips.  “Chillin’” takes a boogie-jazz, eight-to-the-bar side trip to allow for stress-relief exercises to limit road rage.  Road Trip Relief Squad closes off with a deep country arrangement around the Roy Rogers classic “Happy Trails”.  This is done in a campy, summer-camp pageant style that is fun and appealing. 
Happy Butt: Cheeky Fun to Help Relieve the Rigors of the Road is hard to take seriously, but may seriously relieve the stresses and tight muscles common on long road trips.  The album was inspired by a late-night, trans-national road trip by Tina Louise Albrecht and Carol Heywood.  The two began to riff an exercise a routine to dance music on the radio and ended up in hysterics.  It was a moment that was too good to let go.  Add in the music of Eric Tingstad and you’ve got an experience you won’t soon forget.    Road Trip Relief Squad has concocted a useful album in Happy Butt, but even if you don’t do the exercises themselves, you’ll get a workout from laughing so hard.  Road Trip Relief Squad do list a disclaimer on their website – the exercises on Happy Butt are only for open road, cruise-control driving.  Listeners are advised to keep both hands on the wheel.  It’s just another way to ensure a Happy Butt.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Road Trip Relief Squad at Butt is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Joséphine Ancelle – Ends With Always

Joséphine Ancelle – Ends With Always
2010, Joséphine Ancelle
New York City-based Parisienne singer/songwriter Joséphine Ancelle returned in December of 2010 with her third effort, a five song EP entitled Ends With Always.  Sung in a patois of English and French, Ends With Always displays Ancelle’s sharpest songwriting to date, and the same sweet and exceedingly sultry voice that has made her a favorite both in New York City and Paris.
Ends With Always opens with “Tree”, a joyous, quietly catchy little tune about the roots of who we are.  The song is written in both French and English, and will get stuck in your brain even if you don’t know French.  “Ends With Always” plays like something right out of a Broadway show, like something you might here Sutton Foster delivering from the stage of the Marquis Theatre.  Ancelle does a fine job with vocals, giving a playful, light feel to the song that is endearing in its essential sweetness.  “Comme Un Livre Ouvert” uses strings, clarinet and piano built around a pretty melody to display a sense of simple emotional vulnerability.  This is a true wow moment for Ancelle as both a singer and songwriter.   “Man” finds Ancelle sounding a lot like Lisa Loeb in a song about the difficulties a woman has in just shaking off emotion.  Ancelle postulates what it would be like to be a man in this regard but runs into the contradictions of still being in love.  It’s a cute tune that shows a sense of wit that seems somewhat new to Ancelle’s songwriting.  Ends With Always closes with “De L’Air”, showing off an absolutely gorgeous melody line with a country feel.  The song explores the unknowable future, built on a sense of being headed in the right direction.  There’s a sweet simplicity here that is undeniable and enthralling.
Joséphine Ancelle just keeps getting better with time.  Ends With Always shows real development over 2009’s The I Love Yous, itself an outstanding effort.  Where Ancelle has existed in the past on pure talent and a sweet sense of perspective, her songwriting on Ends With Always shows magical flair of artistic genius at times.  As a performer Ancelle continues to improve as well, blending the essential sweetness of her nature with a growing maturity and confidence that make her a force to reckon with.  Ends With Always is Joséphine Ancelle’s best work to date, and that’s saying a lot.  Ends With Always is a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Joséphine Ancelle at or  Ends With Always is available from as a CD or Download.  The EP is also available from iTunes.  Be sure to check out Wildy's World reviews of Joséphine Ancelle's other albums, The I Love Yous and Unfinished Life.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Asher Quinn - Mystic Heart

Asher Quinn – Mystic Heart
2010, Singing Stone Music
Asher Quinn is a world renowned composer, performer and Jungian Psychotherapist.  Writing and recording under the names Denis Quinn and Asha, Qunn has sold over half a million records since breaking onto the New Age music scene in 1987.  Over the last several years Quinn has become more of a lyric ballad singer with spiritual undertones.  Comparisons have been made over the years to the likes of Ennio Morricone, Phillip Glass, Peter Gabriel and Leonard Cohen, but there’s no disputing that Asher Quinn is 100% an original.  His latest album, Mystic Heart, continues in the other-worldly folk-troubadour tradition that has become Quinn’s mien over the past half-decade.
Mystic Heart opens with “Canzone Angelica”, showing a strong Baroque influence ala Johan Pachelbel.  The brief vocal fugue three minutes in is quite lovely, but the electronic orchestration is tinny and less than the perfect instrumental sound for the composition.  “Missa Greca” (Greek Mass) is pretty and uplifting while maintaining the darker tone you might expect from a Harold Darke mass if her were writing today.  There is a contemplative beauty here that is striking, one that rises up to an apex in the form of the “Kyrie”.  “Song Of The Cross” is full of reverence and a quiet grace; a biblically solid interpretation with license.  “Shepherdess’s Lament” is a mournful instrumental written for violin backed with orchestra.  Quinn’s use of the electronic medium serves to mute the beauty and impact of this piece, which really deserves the touch of a live orchestra. 
“Allah, Hallelujah, Elohim” is a song of praise to God done in a simple folk/Celtic arrangement.  Quinn uses a simple, repetitive structure here similar to a Rondeau, but allows the vocal line to remain unfettered and distinct.  The result is a lovely melody line that takes on an almost chant-like quality.  “In Search Of The Miraculous” is six-and-a-half minutes of a John Tesh-meets-Windham Hill style of new age composition.  The somber tone of the piece mixes with a pacing that speaks of pragmatism or perhaps even hope.  “The Longing” returns to the contemplative compositional style that seems to be one of Asher Quinn’s specialties.  At over seven minutes, “The Longing” never even introduces a vocal until four minutes in, relying on a cyclic composition to build a chant like feel; one maintained in the rhythmically repetitive vocal line.  Mystic Heart closes with “To My One True Love” is a love song/prayer to God with a gentle, wave-like feel.  Quinn cries out from the midst of heartbreak to the one true thing he knows.
No one will doubt the esoteric beauty of the compositions presented on Mystic Heart.  Asher Quinn has a distinct ability to inhabit the nexus between new age, classical, pop and folk music.  The styles and sounds of all four blend throughout Mystic Heart.  Quinn’s more orchestral compositions suffer from the use of an electronic orchestra rather a live one.  Quinn’s voice as a writer is infused with a quiet power, one that is not best served in the cool depths of the electronic realm. 
Nevertheless, Mystic Heart has much going for it musically.  Even when not in the ideal setting, Quinn’s compositional style and musical choices border on the exceptional, and his willingness to cross genres and even musical periods brings greater depth and breadth to his work.  Asher Quinn distinguishes himself once again with Mystic Heart.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Asher Quinn at  Mystic Heart is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Holler! - Holler!

Holler! – Holler!
2009, Holler!
Holler! Is an classic-style Americana band based in Tel Aviv, Israel that has been lighting up stages in Israel since their inception in 2006.  In 2009 the band released their self-titled debut album, blending blues, folk, southern rock and bluegrass in a distinctive style that grabs you.  Holler! Has its highs and lows in the songwriting department.  At their best, Holler! Displays a sort of quiet, catchy nature, as seen on songs such as “Where Are You Going (My Love)”, “Deserted” and “Sweet & Sour”.  Vocalist David Bernay is very talented and could easily front larger bands on larger stages.  Holler! Is a solid effort, but listeners may get the feeling that this is a band pushing at its own limits. 
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Holler! at or  Holler! is available from on CD or Download.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lucy Billings – No Other Road

Lucy Billings – No Other Road
2011, Sassy Time Records
While it may be advantageous as a singer/songwriter to be your own licensing lawyer, the disciplines of writing a contract and writing a song may seem divergent to some.  Nevertheless, Lucy Billings describes the two as having a “cool synergy”.  Billings does bring her lawyering skills into play as a songwriter, crafting cutting incisive lyrics that cut to the heart of each subject address with an economy and skill that many songwriters would hope for, yet manages to write in a poetic and musical style.  On January 18, 2010, Billings drops her sophomore album, No Other Road.  The follow-up to 2006’s Open Air shows an artist who has come fully into her own.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about Lucy Billings as a vocalist is her almost conversational singing style.  Without pretense, Billings lays out her songs almost as if she’s talking to her best friend.  This approach gives her performances an air of authenticity that can’t be bought.  Billings wastes no time letting you know where she’s coming from, opening No Other Road with “Let’s Not And Say We Did”, recalling advice her mother gave her and showing how it can apply to all sorts of situations in adult life.  “As We Fly” is a gorgeous tune about love and expectations and how one can defy the other.  You might call it a love song for realists.   “Rear View Mirror” is a song about life’s crossroads where the choice is moving on getting stuck in a place you don’t want to be. 
“Daddy’s Last Drive” explores a poetic end for a life-long denizen of the road; a compelling story and loving tribute.  “From The Bottom Looking Down” is a rust belt anthem about being left without a job or a future.  The metronomic feel of the song reflect the monotony and hopelessness of the situation, yet there is still, at the heart of a song, a glimmer of hope that things might yet get better.  In this Billings reflects the reality of the moment for many alongside the indomitability that keeps people moving forward even in the worst of times.  “Goodbye Baby” is a classic country kiss off song that’s more focused on announcing her freedom than in throwing it someone else’s face. 
“My Caballo” is a love song to a childhood friend who has stayed by Billings through thick and thin.  This is a great bit of sentimental songwriting that’s all heart but manages to avoid cliché.  “Crossroad” is another song about decision points.  In this case Billings takes on the voice of a perpetual runner who has finally found someone worth staying for.  She’s afraid to take the next step but afraid what she might lose if she runs this time.  It’s a great bit of songwriting that’s steeped in real life.  “You Make It Easy” would seem to be the next step, the story of a female player who has finally found someone who inspires her to be a one woman man.  “The Gift” is an ‘if only’ song from the midst or aftermath of a bad relationship. Billings ponders what might have happened if she’d been warned in advance about a less than ideal partner.  Billings winds things up with “Leavin’ You”, a kiss off song written from a healthy place.  Just a minute long, this is more of a song fragment that features just Billings and banjo.  Given the flow of the album this feels a bit out of place and incomplete, but it’s a solid start on something.
Lucy Billings writes with the confident air of a practiced story-teller.  Her voice puts you at ease right out of the gate, and the arrangements she crafts for her song are complete, complex and reflect a musical understanding that runs deeper than simple melody.  Perhaps the only valid complaint about No Other Road is that it was five years in the making.  No one will argue with the outcome, but a songwriter and performer as talented, mature and complete as Lucy Billings is one we hope to hear from more than twice a decade.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Lucy Billings at or  No Other Road drops on January 18, 2011.  Digital pre-orders are available through

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Big Apple Blues - Brooklyn Blues

Big Apple Blues – Brooklyn Blues
2010, Stone Tone Records
Big Apple Blues is a New York City-based blues collective working to keep the storied art form alive and relevant.  Built around a revolving roster of New York City blues cats, the current cast includes Zach Zunis (Janiva Magness, Great William Clark, Rick Holmstrom); Barry Harrison (Shemekia Copeland, Michael Powers); Anthony Kane (Muddy Waters, Junior Wells); Admir “Dr. Blues” Hadzic; Hugh Pool (Hugh Pool Band); Brian Mitchell (Bob Dylan, Al Green, B.B. King, Mary J. Blige) and the irrepressible Christine Santelli.  Formerly known as the Stone Tone Blues Band, Big Apple Blues looks to keep the Chicago electric blues sound alive, and does so from the burgeoning Indie music scene of New York with the aptly titled Brooklyn Blues.
Brooklyn Blues opens with an entertaining blend of blues, R&B and rock n roll on “Too Many Drivers”; an innuendo-laden tune expressing romantic interest in a woman but also wondering, perhaps, at her morals.  “Too Many Drivers” is a great, energetic start to the album, showing hints of what is to come.  “Killing Floor” is energetic and danceable; a sour grapes song about why he hasn’t left a relationship before now.  “Brooklyn Swamp” is a solid but uninspired instrumental.  Big Apple Blues is tight and technically proficient here; you just don’t get the sense that much is going on behind the scenes here.  “Honey Hush” brings out a man’s inner Neanderthal; an old school blues tune that is entertaining and is vaguely reminiscent stylistically of Cab Calloway. 
“Whole Lotta Lovin’” is full of the machismo of a top notch pick-up artist.  The vocals show great presence, and the Big Apple Blues provides among their best instrumental performances on the album.  “How Many More Years” is a kiss-off song; a song of walking out.  The song itself is middle of the road, but Brian Mitchell’s guitar work is first-rate.  “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright” turns into a long form blues jam, showing off the distinctive instrumental talents of the band.  The guitar work of Mitchell and the harmonica work of Hugh Pool in particular stand out.  “It’s My Life Baby” is a song of pining for someone who is gone that’s well constructed and tightly played.  Pool once again stands out blowing some of the hottest harp east of Chicago’s South Side.    “Hate To See You Go” is musically and lyrically repetitive.  Big Apple Blues gets caught in a brief rut here and on “Who’s On Third (Duvel)”, but recover nicely with the closing track, “Mellow Down Easy”.  “Mellow Down Easy” is a party song of sorts; lyrically simplistic but with a solid vibe.
Big Apple Blues brings the early days of electric blues alive on Brooklyn Blues.  The sound here is dynamic, and probably best suited to a live setting, but Big Apple Blues make a solid effort at capturing that sound on CD.  The highlights on Brooklyn Blues are found in the seams of the music.  Hugh Pool is a rock star, figuratively speaking, and Brian Mitchell seems alive in every moment on the album.  It’s all tied together by the impressive musical heartbeat provided by Barry Harrison, but it’s ultimately the chemistry achieved by Big Apple Blues that will win you over.  Not every moment of Brooklyn Blues works perfectly, but there are enough perfect moments to go around.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Big Apple Blues at Blues is available from as a CD or Download.  Digital copies are also available from iTunes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CAKE - Showroom Of Compassion

CAKE – Showroom Of Compassion
2011, Upbeat Records
CAKE has always marched to the beat of their own drummer (both figuratively and literally).  Formed in 1991 in a sort of musical counter-revolution to the grunge movement, CAKE’s distinctive sound garnered them significant radio airplay during the 1990’s, and a loyal following that continues to this day.  On the cusp of their 20th anniversary as a band, CAKE returns today with their sixth album, Showroom Of Compassion. 
CAKE kicks things off with a political edge on “Federal Funding”, decrying a culture where the politically connected take care of their own with wasteful spending.  “Long Time” is a relationship dissection that looks back on the decline of emotional contact with an almost academic air.  “Got To Move” and “What’s Now Is Now” both feel a bit bland, but Cake recovers nicely with the catchy, alt-pop feel of “Mustache Man (Wasted)”.  “Teenage Pregnancy” opens with a Beethoven-esque piano intro before morphing into a dark and conflicted slow rocker that’s highly intriguing.  “Sick Of You” has all the pizzazz and pop of CAKE’s early work.  “Easy To Crash” finds CAKE getting stuck in a bit of a rut, but “Bound Away” is a solid album track, and “The Winter” is among the band’s most subtle works to date.  “The Winter” is all about taking the next step after heartbreak; a ballad for moving on.  “Italian Guy” sounds a bit like something They Might Be Giants might come out with, and the opening lines of the melody sound a bit like a coffee commercial. 
CAKE continues to turn expectations upside down with Showroom Of Compassion.  The high energy of their early works has given way to a slightly more measured approach to songwriting, but the acerbic wit and musical elements that made CAKE alt-rock radio staples in the mid-1990’s are still there.  Overall, Showroom Of Compassion won’t be remembered as their most exciting work, but CAKE delivers a sort of quiet, consistent brand of alt-pop that should appeal to long-time fans and not too few new ones.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about CAKE at or Of Compassion is available from as a CD, 180 Gram Red Vinyl LP or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ethan Gold – Songs From A Toxic Apartment

Ethan Gold – Songs From A Toxic Apartment
2011, Gold Records
Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Ethan Gold releases his latest work, Songs From A Toxic Apartment on January 11, 2011.  Full of a Morrissey-esque melancholic nonchalance, Songs From A Toxic Apartment trundles down the emotional back roads of Ethan Gold’s mind, in a tired and seemingly endless musical shuffle.  The songs on Toxic Apartment all seem built around relationship dysfunction, and Gold’s vocal style is whiney and self-absorbed.  God starts solidly with “Why Don’t You Sleep?” but quickly falls off the cliff of perseveration.   Gold shows some real potential on Songs From A Toxic Apartment, particularly with crafting of melodies, but Ethan Gold gets trapped by his own demons and never quite escapes.
Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Ethan Gold at or  Songs From A Toxic Apartment drops on January 11, 2011.  Pre-orders are available from on CD and Download.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Grascals – The Grascals & Friends – Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin

The Grascals – The Grascals & Friends – Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin
2011, BluGrascal Records/The Cracker Barrel
The Grascals had quite the year in 2010, releasing the wildly successful The Famous Lefty Flynn’s and earning 10 SPBGMA Award nominations.  This after winning Bluegrass Band Of The Year in February of 2010.  Rather than sit back and celebrate, The Grascals charge forth into 2011 with a dynamic new album entitled The Grascals & Friends – Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin.  Available only through Cracker Barrel Restaurants, The Grascals & Friends unites the band with some great musical names such as Dolly Parton, Dierks Bentley, Tom T. Hall, Charlie Daniels, Brad Paisley and Hank Williams, Jr. 
The Grascals & Friends opens with a great cover of “Tiger By The Tail”, featuring Brad Paisley.  Offered with strong energy and superb musicianship, this is the perfect opener.  Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” is up next, featuring Dierks Bentley.  The song is well performed and attempts to capture Cash’s mystique.  In this the song is not entirely successful, but on its own it’s a fine listen.  Dolly Parton sits in on “The Pain Of Lovin’ You” and “I Am Strong”.  “The Pain Of Loving You” is overly reserved but solidly performed.  “I Am Strong” isn’t convincing, but musically is all a Grascals fan would expect.  “Louisiana Saturday Night” has a down home feel and celebrates the simple life.  The arrangement is full of gorgeous harmonies and has an entrancing quality that will grab you.
“The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” features legend Tom T. Hall and is a solid old school story song.  “White Lightning” sounds a bit like Chuck Berry done bluegrass style.  The song features Darryl Worley and the amazing fiddle work of Jeremy Abshire. The inimitable Charlie Daniels sits in on “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”.  The song loses a bit of fire in the translation, but is solid all around.  “Mr. Bojangles” is performed with an air of quiet reverence.  Joe Nichols sits in amidst a sweet arrangement focused on bringing out the simple beauty of the melody.  Hank Williams Jr. stops by for “Born To Boogie/All My Rowdy Friends” in perhaps the highest energy outing on the album.  The arrangement offered here steps back from the almost rock n roll feel of the original, but loses nothing in the translation.  “Cracker Barrel Swing” shows off The Gracals’ instrumental chops in a relaxed, laid-back setting while throwing a nod to the album’s sponsor/distributor.  Grascals And Friends closes with a bonus track of “I Am Strong” that fails to make up ground on the previously offered version.
Grascals And Friends mostly delivers on the promise of the dynamic pairings it offers.  The Grascals are uncanny in their ability to craft arrangements that sometimes seem more natural than the original song versions.  It seems likely that the run of awards will continue for The Grascals.  And if the food from The Cracker Barrel isn’t reason enough for you to stop by, Grascals And Friends certainly is.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about The Grascals at or Grascals & Friends drops on January 10, 2011, and will be available through Cracker Barrel restaurants.  A portion of the proceeds from The Grascals & Friends will be donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospitals.