All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Monday, February 28, 2011

After Midnight – Opus ½

After Midnight – Opus ½
2006, After Midnight
Clarinetist Roger Campbell has always been inspired by the music of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa and others of the big band era.  In 1997 he formed After Midnight, a classic jazz sextet with a modern feel.  Tackling classics of the big band era and some of the jazz hits of today, Campbell and After Midnight have made an art of playing in the classic big band/swing style while putting their own modern stamp on the sound.  After Midnight recorded their debut album, Opus ½  back in 2004, releasing the album in early 2006.  Opus ½ shows the vibrant energy and glow of a band that truly loves the music they’re making.
Opus ½ opens with “Air Mail Special”, a tune first made popular by Lionel Hampton.  Here it’s delivered in a lively and energetic improv style.  Campbell is over-the-top on clarinet, diving in and out of the lead like a starling over an updraft, while Greg Harris is pure class on the vibraphone, and Bill Stephens offers up revelatory piano licks.  “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” features the smoky, superb alto voice of Rekha Ohal, who manages to steal the show from After Midnight.  The band is right there with her, however, and the breakdown that’s just clarinet and percussion is chill inducing.  “A Smooth One” is steeped in big band sound and very enjoyable.
Listeners get a dose of dueling clarinets on Benny Goodman’s “Stealin’ Apples”, with Bill Pontarelli sitting in alongside Roger Campbell.  The two engage in dazzling harmonies along the way, creating a few wow moments in just the one song.  Ohal sits in again on “God Bless The Child”, raising the electricity on a bluesy offering that’s among the best on the album.  “Jolly Roger” is a low key offering where clarinet is the lead voice, but bassist  Ced Forsyth nearly steals the show behind the scenes.  “Opus ½” has an almost Klezmer/jazz feel to it; a highly enjoyable side in the album’s belly that’s a pleasant surprise. 
“Twenty Two Cent Shuffle” is an After Midnight original; a giddy, jaunty composition with a mischievous side.  Clarinet and vibes stand out, but Mike McCullough makes a distinctive impression on guitar.  “Campbell Zoop” is another original, although it sounds like it might have been a 1940’s era commercial jingle.  Ohal is as impressive as always on decidedly lighter fare.  Benny Goodman’s “Rachel’s Dream” is high energy improvisational jazz that will make you want to get your jitterbug shoes on.  “Flying Home” is a dynamic reading of the Lionel Hampton classic.  You won’t be able to sit still as After Midnight rips the roof off the place in the album’s high point. 
“Dream A Little Dream” is technically perfect, although the low key approach taken here perhaps a bit too subdued.  Rekha Ohal brings out some of what’s missing on personality and voice alone, however, a solid save.  “Slipped Disc” abounds with musical humor and a light step.  Get your dancing shows on; if you have a heartbeat you won’t be able to sit through this one.  After Midnight captures a live sound on George Shearing and George David Weiss’ “Lullaby Of Birdland”; an amazing performance that drips with inspiration.  After Midnight winds things down with “Memories Of You”.  The Andy Razaf/Eubie Banks tune, originally performed on Broadway in Blackbirds of 1930, was immortalized in a 1956 version by Benny Goodman.  The piano-driven feel of the version offered here is refreshing. 
After Midnight does big band jazz and swing with style, flair, and a bit of modern attitude.  Campbell and company clearly love the classic sounds of Goodman, Hampton and the rest, but add little touches to make it their own.  Opus ½ is a joy to the ears.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
 Learn more about After Midnight at ½ is available as a CD or Download through  The album is also available digitially from iTunes, or in multiple formats from

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jeneen Terrana - See The Light

Jeneen Terrana – See The Light
2011, Bitesized Records
Jeneen Terrana is an integral part of the Long Island City, NY music scene.  A distinctive songwriter with flair, Terrana has been comfortable with her local status but has the talent to play much larger stages.  Terrana debuted in 2002 with Just Me, a highly personal collection of originals that showed a raw talent just beginning to come into its own.  Terrana’s 2008 follow-up effort, My Creation, featured the inspired instrumental work of The Howl Brothers, and won critical acclaim from multiple outlets, including being branded a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.  Terrana returns in 2011 with See The Light, a more mature and airy effort than her previous two albums.
See The Light opens with “Benny’s In My Head”, a folk ballad with a soulful slant.  This is Terrana’s internal dialogue over the battle between heart and mind when finding herself suddenly in the midst of love.  This is a great piece of songwriting; Terrana has crafted a great arrangement that stays enough in the background to allow the story of the song to play out unfettered.  “I Laid It On Him” is a foxy bit of urban gospel blending jazz with a folk/storyteller pastiche.  The song is incredibly catchy with an almost swing feel to it at times.  “Raise Your Voice” encourages children to speak up from their well of idealism about the world; encouraging them to not be borne down by the cynicism of the world around them.  The song is well-written, and Terrana performs it with heart.  There is one moment, on the highest note of the song, where the vocals come off a bit shrill, but otherwise the performance is flawless.
“All Of You” is written from the midst of true, deep and abiding love; it’s an invitation to join her and be immersed in its waters.  Terrana calls on her heritage, infusing shades of an Italian folk style here.  “I’ll Always Be With You” brings a sort of Baroque musical theater feel to the table.  While the song itself is a love song in a fairly common style, Terrana breathes pleasant life into the genre.  “See The Light” and “At School” are solid album tracks that lead into the splendid songwriting that makes up “God, I Need Comfort”.  Terrana’s representation of one side of a dialogue or prayer is intriguing; full of dark, Mediterranean influences.  Terrana explores the darker side of self and the constant battle to be better than we really are.  The composition is gorgeous, with amazing harmony vocals.  “Never Go” is another meditation on love; on her desire for love to stay as it is forever.  See The Light closes out with “Time”, a gentle plea to time itself to slow down for her.  Terrana keeps things simple, allowing the simple beauty of the melody and the unbridled angst of the lyrics to shine.  It’s a stunning closer.
Jeneen Terrana shows a lot of musical maturity on See The Light while exploring the happier countenance of love.  She doesn’t get entirely way from the darker aspects of humanity, and often her best songwriting comes from those darker places, but See The Light is a strong transitional album.  It doesn’t have quite the urgent energy of her previous work, but shows an artist struggling to come to terms with her deeper self.  Terrana is a top-notch songwriting, and her voice is enthralling.  And while there are a couple of slow spots here, this is the album Terrana had to make next to continue to grow creatively and as a performer.  See The Light is highly recommended listening.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Jeneen Terrana at or   See The Light is available from as a CD or DownloadDigital copies are also available from iTunes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Former Barenaked Ladies vocalist engaged...

Steven Page, the former co-lead vocalist for rock band Barenaked Ladies tweeted in the early hours of this morning that he is now engaged to his girlfriend of four years, Christine Benedicto.  The pair have registered for Crate & Barrel's Ultimate Wedding Contest and are seeking votes.  You can check out their entry here.

Page is one of the co-founders of Canadian rock quintet (now quartet) Barenaked Ladies.  Page and Ed Robertson wrote/sang many of the band's signature hits from its inception in 1988 until Page's departure in 2009 for a solo career.  Page released his second solo album of original material in the Fall of 2010.  You can check out our review of Page One here.

Geoff Davin - Breakline

Geoff Davin - Breakline
2011, Geoff Davin

Geoff Davin was bitten by the music bug early on, writing songs from the tender age of five.  A professional actor from the age of fourteen, Davin moved to New York after high school and attended the C.A.P. 21 Studio at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  Davin appeared in a number of shows both in New York and across the country, but a workshop production of Pearl Heart broke the dam for Davin’s love of country music.  Moving to Nashville, Davin threw himself into the music the same way he’d earlier immersed himself in the stage.  Two years later, Davin has the fruit of his labors ready for the world.  His debut album, Breakline, eschews the cookie-cutter pop/country mould and goes for a classic-yet-fresh blend of country, southern rock and R&B.

Davin opens with some filthy-good slide guitar work; the introduction to the blend of soul, rock and honky-tonk that is "Sounds Of A Summer Night".  This might just be the ultimate back-country party song.  "Sounds Of A Summer Night" is so infectious it's being tracked by the CDC, but may be quite difficult to slot into a format for commercial radio.  This one has hit written all over it; release it on the cusp of summer and you may have a single that stays in heavy rotation until Labor Day.    "Bow Chicka-Wow-Wow" is incredibly catchy rock n roll that's full of innuendo and fun.  The song avoids cliché while playing off a stereotype.  You know what it's about from the title alone, but Davin manages to surprise you with how bloody well written it is nonetheless.

"Shine!" tells the story of two star-crossed souls who fall in love.  He's deeply devoted, but she has dreams that will take her far beyond his reach.  "Shine!" explores the mixture of love, sorrow and regret over the wistful desire to be in one place but the inevitable need to be in another.  "Cora Lee Five" is all about a woman who chews men up and spits them out without conscience or thought.  Davin continues to surprise with an ability to churn out catchy country/soul/rock hybrids with a frequency that's nearly frightening.    "Cross My Mind" is pure 1970's soul with a dose of Black Crowes thrown in for good measure.  Engaging and catchy in spite of the mid-tempo presentation, "Cross My Mind" has some serious chart potential in its exploration of the echoes of love that reverberate long after reason is gone.

"Somebody Like Me" is an 'opposites attract' story-song done in outlaw country style.  He's a rocker-boy and she's Harvard educated.  Together they explore a path full of surprising connections and unlikely agreements from two theoretical ends of the social world.  This one is hopeful with attitude, and will get stuck in your skull.  "Regret" is deep and soulful in a powerful 1970's soul arrangement.  Davin's voice is generally a pleasure, but on this song he raises it to the level of amazing, and his backup vocalist matches him note for note.  "Breakline" is about as catchy as a song can legally be; another potential hit for Davin.  The song tells the story of a road man and the inspiration that keeps him driving when all else fails.  Breakline closes with "Long Way", a quietly celebratory song on 'making it', whatever that may mean to you.  The song is very well written and uplifting, and is the sort of song that causes the house to be dappled with thousands of specks of light in concert.

Geoff Davin is the real deal, blending country, soul, rock and R&B into music so catchy and uncontrived you can't help but sing, dance or move along.  If Davin doesn't make it big it will be ultimate indictment of the music industry.  While Davin doesn't slot easily into one commercial radio format, the songs on Breakline are of such quality and a mix of styles that Davin could rule several charts at once.  Breakline is a must-have album, but for what it is and for what Davin just might become.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Geoff Davin at or is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Asher Quinn - Songs Of Love And Chains

Asher Quinn - Songs Of Love And Chains
2008, Oreade Music

Asher Quinn is best known as a new-age/ambient composer, selling over half a million albums since his debut in 1987, but at heart he is something of a balladeer.  His 2007 album, Songs Of Love And Chains, covers several decades of musical history with a collection of cover songs done in the simple and clear style of a bard. Artists such as Leonard Cohen, The Righteous Brothers, Jimmy Webb and Jimi Hendrix get Asherized on the two-disc set, with varying degrees of success.

Quinn opens with an ethereal cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire".  Sung over a thin veil of undulating synth, Quinn's voice just seems out of place here.  It's a solid rendition, but something just doesn't quite work for Quinn here.  "Golden Brown" is pretty and watery and undulating in its feel, fading away in much the same rippling fashion as it plays.  Quinn paints The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" with a similar brush in a minimalist synth arrangement.  Quinn's distinctive vibrato plays about the melody in memorable fashion, although he struggles with the lower notes at times.  Quinn takes more of a folk-inspired approach on "Dona Dona Dona", sticking to guitar and harmonica in an energetic and inspired arrangement.  Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" gets softball treatment, setting it up as tortured piano ballad.  While Quinn's take is solid, it pales in the shadow of the original.

Quinn takes emotive turns in "Hang On To A Dream" and "Lift Me Up", the latter saccharine and drawn out to extreme, but recovers nicely in the tragic "Down In The Willow Garden".  Love goes violently wrong in this classic-style folk song, and Quinn gives it voice in a blend of denial and delusion mixed with love.  Quinn hits all the right notes on "Do What You Gotta Do", making the most of Jimmy Webb's creation in a touching performance that's full of emotion and nuance.  "Pastures Of Plenty" doesn't go quite as well, with Quinn setting the key too low for his own vocal comfort.  The low notes here have an unfortunate sound that simply doesn't work.  Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" gets much better treatment, an almost wavelike feel that speaks of cycles within cycles.  Quinn is perfectly matched to this song, and it's one of the absolute highlights on the album.

Quinn's take on "The Highwayman" is solid if uninspiring.  He hits all the right notes in a technical perfect performance, but the heart of the piece just isn't there.  "Only You" goes a bit better, with Quinn capturing the heart and soul of the Erasure Song while using a surprisingly fitting harpsichord sound.  Quinn makes easy work of "Mr. Bojangles" in a solid performance that's filled with the quiet awe the song achieves in its best moments.  Quinn revisits Leonard Cohen with "Hallelujah", sticking very close to the feel of the original in a quietly moving performance. 

Quinn fumbles a bit before stumbling into his wonderfully stripped down and lovely take on Willie Nelson's "You Were Always On My Mind".  Simplicity is the key here, allowing Nelson's classic melody and lyrics to speak for themselves.  Quinn likewise scores with a take on Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me", an understated but likeable interpretation to one of Cooke's finest songs.  "All Along The Watchtower" doesn't fare quite so well, lacking any of the intensity you might expect from the song.  "Not Dark Yet" has its own magic, a quiet penultimate track that finds Quinn raising his game at just the right time.  Songs Of Love And Chains closes with "Jah No Dead" in a flat an uninspired performance that is an unfortunate piece of punctuation on an up-and-down album that has more positives than negatives. 

Asher Quinn's expertise and talent as a composer is unquestionable, but as essentially a solo performer in the pop/folk realm he struggles at times.  Songs Of Love And Chains is aptly named both for the song selection and for extremes Quinn hits in his interpretation of classic songs that cross boundaries, genres and generations.  It's not entirely surprising that some of Quinn's best performances are covers of classic singer/songwriters of the 1960's, but the unevenness of the album may scare off some fans from dropping for a two-disc set.  There's enough here to make the album worth owning, but you couldn't be blamed for selecting your favorite fifteen tracks or so and sequencing your own Quinn album out of the lot.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Asher Quinn at Of Love And Chains is available from as 2-CD Set or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Neil Comess-Daniel - On This Day And All The Time

Neil Comess-Daniel - On This Day And All The Time
2010, Nightengale Records

Neil Comess-Daniels has been reaching the hearts, minds and spirits of young adults and their parents for over thirty years.  Guitar-in hand, the ordained Rabbi found a voice in song early on, enlightening and entertaining simultaneously while advancing a message of change for the world that is spiritual in origin but practical in reach.  Comess-Daniels isn't out to change your beliefs, but he does teach a message of improving the world around us in his songs while ranging widely through amusing little ditties with a moral for day-to-day life.  Comess-Daniels is also active in social justice projects and interfaith activities.  Bringing all of these qualities and interests to bare in his music, Neil Comess-Daniels released On This Day And All The Time in 2010, an entertaining folk music song cycle for children of all ages.

On This Day And All The Time opens with "Faces In The Mirror", an entertaining exploration of self-awareness both as a natural course of development and as a reminder that actions have an impact on others.  It's an entertaining number with great energy and a fine way to open the album.  "I'm A Whiner" brings near-professional level grousing into song in a humorous turn that's catchy and fun.  "Country Music" explores the genre from the perspective of a child who doesn't share his parents love of it.  Comess-Daniels manages to find a voice as a writer that is authentically young and honest.  "I'm Sorry" displays the power of those two words, but goes further into the sort of personal outreach that drives human relationships.  Centered in the desire to make people happy, the song speaks of an essential goodness that a parent would be proud to see in a child.

"These Things (I'd Like To Teach You)" is quite literally a collection of statements and advice that are good to remember in day-to-day life.  As usual, Comess-Daniels speaks to his younger listeners in a voice and in language that's universal, creating a wider audience for what he has to say.  "Sometimes I Sing My Own Song" is a semi-spiritual tune about listening to your own heart with hints of a Greater Being concept swirling around the edges.  The focus here is more the questioning that each of us does of the world around us, seeking out whether something greater exists.  The song is well-written and avoids the spiritual question fully by engaging it as a study of human experience, which by default may turn out to be its greatest argument.

"Happy" builds on the concept of reaping what you sow, indicating that happiness is to be found in making others happy.  It's a solid tune that's a bit repetitive but forgivably so.  "Your Grandpa Marched With Martin Luther King" celebrates King's message of peace and social change through family ties and hard work.  The gospel choir sitting in is excellent, and Neil Comess-Daniels may remind listeners a bit of Paul Simon on this number.  "Second Fiddle" explores the emotions of a middle child who is well loved by his parents but still feels a little left out by siblings and events.  Comess-Daniels humanizes the moment in sweet tones.  "Listen" is about listening for the voice of God, the most openly song of faith on the disc, and yet the message is much more practical, playing it more as a voice of inspiration.  The arrangement is a solid folk style, and the melody is sweet with its own inherent beauty. 

"Use Your Words" is an anti-violence ballad with a powerful message.  Once again Comess-Daniels speaks to his target crowd in words that are palatable but which also reach other generations with equal power and grace.  "Long Before Yesterday And Way Before When" is something of a creation tale in music, re-casting the question of creation as a philosophical discussion about love in terms a child might understand.  There's a bit of magic in this tune, even if Comess-Daniels pushes at the structure of the song at times to fit his thoughts in the musical frame he's built.  "On This Day And All The Time" is a general message of love from parents to children.  Comess-Daniels again revives thoughts of Paul Simon in his arrangement, a sweet song of adoration and hope for our children that is touching.  Comess-Daniels takes a bow with "Goodnight", a sweet lullaby born love, joy and hope for a better tomorrow.

On This Day And All The Time is a musical journey for kids of all ages born of heart and inspiration.  Neil Comess-Daniels writes with a fine touch, capturing the perspective and emotional depth of a child in songs that help explore the world around us.  Comess-Daniels relies on a blend of intellectual and spiritual philosophy to inform and recommend choices about everyday life in terms that both children and adults can understand and appreciate.  The arrangements are solid and mostly fit well to the lyrics on the album.  And if Comess-Daniels' voice isn't always pitch perfect, it certainly seems to fit perfectly in the songs he's written.  There are a couple of slow moments here, but Comess-Daniels takes a slightly more intellectual turn at children's music.  It works because it doesn't overreach; speaking to children in terms they will understand.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Neil Comess-Daniels at or This Day And All The Time is available from on CD or as a Download.  The album is also available digitally from iTunes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Greg Gibbs - The Lights

Greg Gibbs - The Lights
2011, Spiderbutt Productions

What is a singer/songwriter originally from Roswell, New Mexico to do but move to Chicago and open a bagel shop?  Chicago Bagel Authority is Greg Gibbs' day job, so to speak, but many of his free moments are spent at home, writing, mixing and mastering original songs in his home office.  Gibbs's work is thoroughly DIY, and in 2009 he launched a "song a week project" to push the boundaries of his songwriting and musicianship.  Going through a separation at the time brought out Gibbs' more emo tendencies.  His album Lights is a collection of souped up demos from that period, capturing the highs and lows of a storm-tossed year in the moment of creation.

Gibbs opens with "Time Capsule", a shoegaze, Electronica and organic blend of sounds.  It's a fine example of pensive escapism from the pain of the moment.  Gibbs comes across as hopeful but caught in a bland sort of melancholy.  It's an intriguing start.  "Expectations" is a crunchy electronic interlude using a rhythmic pulse as a sort of counter melody that leads into the meditative musical canvas of "Wasted Plans".  Gibbs ruminates on all he hasn't done in a mellow diatribe that sounds a bit like Collective Soul played at half-speed.  "Slow Down" has a mellow, rolling-guitar accompaniment that is sonically appealing but turns out to be the highlight of the song. 

"What I Had In Mind" is a tongue-in-cheek yet serious exploration of the words that occur to you after the fact.  Gibbs explores the things that he might have said; things that might have changed where he is today.  It's a hopeless exercise, and this is reflected in the darkness of the arrangement, but the song is implicitly honest in both the message and tone and rings with a desperate truth that is compelling.  "I Don't Mind" is a mildly catchy number about subjecting ones' self to the whims of another.  Gibbs builds great vocal harmonies into the arrangement, and displays some of his finest lyrical work with turns such as, "I don't mind, but I think I should.  It's alright because the things I didn't mind this time turned out to be good."

"2 Come Undone explores parting with good intentions in an intricate, layered guitar arrangement.  The quirky key solo in the middle adds to the ambience.  One might guess that the track listing for The Lights is chronological.  Up to this point the material offered up tends to be very strong.  Gibbs hits a bit of a rut in the middle where he seems to lose direction.  "Most Guitars Are Made Of Trees" is numbingly repetitive in the chorus and disjointed otherwise.  The "The Universe Is Fine", "The Least I Could Do" and "Ultrasonic Range" take a bland stab at acoustic psychedelia that misses the mark.  "Campus Raygun" is an approximately two minute interlude with stream of conscious lyrics against a simplistic, repetitive arrangement.  It's almost as if Gibbs took two distinct and sonically antithetical EPs and stuck them back to back. 

Gibbs takes a stab at a couple of short-form ideas with "Orwellian Soccer Blues" and "Food Tastes Fine".  Both start well but get bogged down quickly.  "Hand Me Down" takes a step in the right direction, a halting and awkward exploration of the pain of being put aside.  The naked arrangement is telling in the context of the lyrics and what Gibbs was going through at the time, telling the tale of a man who has been stripped of his confidences and defenses in one bold stroke.  "Ground Loop (How I Fixed The Stereo At Work)" is an emotional still life; a detailing of the monotony involved in the first steps of moving on.  Gibbs doesn't get a lot of points on dynamics or melody here, but the lyrics work through a great analogy for getting over the roadblocks life sets in front of us sometimes.  "The Lights (Gryllidaen Rights)" seems less about message than about the intricate rhythms that Gibbs crafts with words and notes.  The sonic appeal of this tune will outlast the lyrical, but is significant enough to recommend.  "Facing The Tree" finds Gibbs challenging the uncomfortable patch of his vocal range, and might be better off explored a third or fifth down the scale.  Gibbs closes things out with "The Nibbler", a solo folk-style tune that establishes independence of a sort from heartache through writing.  It's Gibbs standing up for himself in atypical fashion and reclaiming his life and space.  It's one of the best bits of songwriting on the album, delivered with a strength born of the journey through weakness.

If Gibbs' bagels are half as interesting as his songs then Chicago Bagel Authority is likely to be a smashing success.  As a songwriter, Gibbs shows on Lights that he has an ear for outside the box songwriting in the vein of Sufjan Stevens.  The songs on Lights carry the rough edges of the mining operation that led to the album, as Gibbs has opted to show his works in something like their original light.  The effect is generally charming and well-met.  Gibbs does get a bit lost in the late middle of the album, but recovers nicely with a journey through parabolic emotional collapse and rebirth.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Greg Gibbs at or  The Lights is available as a CD or Download through  Digital copies are also available from iTunes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gwyneth & Monko – Gwyneth & Monko

Gwyneth & Monko – Gwyneth & Monko
2011, Gwyneth & Monko
Gwyneth Moreland and Michael Monko return this week with their first full-length album, Gwyneth & Monko.  The follow-up to last summer’s Good Ol’ Horse EP reflects a somewhat darker aspect to the duo’s music, a blend of the sharp Americana style they’ve displayed in the past and a slightly more serious approach as songwriters that has developed over the past year on the road together. 
Gwyneth & Monko opens with “Found In Benson”, a simultaneously joyful and melancholy piece that manages to be repetitive and mundane.  The juxtaposition of moods is the most intriguing part in what is arguably a weak opening track.  “Consumption” is a prairie ballad about tuberculosis and the lives it stole or left broken in one family.  Mournful and dark, this is an example of Moreland’s finesse as a lyricist and is among the best song craft on the album.  “Hand In The Fire” is fairly average for songwriting, but shows off the distinctive nature and beauty of Moreland’s voice in perfect relief.
Gwyneth & Monko go for a vaguely bluesy blend of Appalachian folk and gospel on “Blood Of The Lamb”, capturing a musical moment that is memorable both for the song for the haunting beauty of Moreland’s vocal.  “Summer Bliss” and “Get In The Sun” are bland and forgettable, although the latter finds Moreland sounding a bit like a young Stevie Nicks (although with better enunciation).  “The Raven” takes off on the Edgar Allan Poe tale in a Cowboy Junkies-style arrangement.  The sound is nice, but doesn’t necessarily work here.  Margo Timmons has an amazing voice, but Moreland is a different kind of vocalist, and this low energy approach just doesn’t work here.
“Eloise” is a song of heartbreak; written from the perspective of a man who has been forsaken by the only one he ever loved.  The lyrics and arrangement are solid, but the vocal makes the song stand up and walk.  “Can’t Stay Long” is in the same class as “Blood Of The Lamb”, blending great energy with a plus arrangement and a standout vocal line.  “Song Of The Robin Redbreast” is aesthetic and sweet, and leads into a wax cylinder recording of “Pine Box Sailor”.  This last seems more an exercise than anything else, experimentation in sound.  While the recording is messy, it’s inarguable that Moreland, in particular, sounds right at home.  The wax recording brings out some of the qualities in her voice you might hear in a live setting, and gives you an idea of how good she really is.
Gwyneth & Monko show flashes of the energy and panache that made their debut EP, Good ‘Ol Horse, such a pleasure to find, but Gwyneth & Monko fails to live up to the resultant expectations.  There are a couple of examples of what the duo is capable of as songwriters, but as a whole the songwriting is somewhat lackluster.  The effort is saved again and again by the voice of Gwyneth Moreland.  She is one of those vocalists who can make a bad song listenable and a good song great.  Moreland gives life to several songs on Gwyneth & Monko that are otherwise mundane.  Michael Monko is steady at helm on the instrumental side, providing solid arrangements for Moreland to play against, but the sense of inspiration the duo have showed previously just never quite establishes itself here.  Gwyneth & Monk have grown as songwriters, and that’s always a positive.  If they can keep that growth and re-infuse some of the energy they’ve shown previously they’re going to do great things.
Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Gwyneth And Monko at or  Gwyneth & Monko is available digitally from and iTunes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Justin Bieber and The GRAMMYs

I've watched, with amusement and not a little chagrin the actions of supposed Justin Bieber fans this week in response to his not-so-shocking loss of the Best New Artist award to Esperanza Spalding at Sunday night''s GRAMMY Awards.  Being a fan of music is about connecting with an artist or song, not about abject hatred of anything you don't understand.  The actions of those who chose to debase Spalding's wikipedia page and post other hateful things about her at various hotspots around the internet are truly reprehensible and reflect some of the darkest aspects of human nature.

While it's acknowledged that the propagators are mostly young (tween and teen girls), the utter viciousness of the attacks gives pause, especially considering that all the hoopla is about an award show that's generally more about publicity and whose label conducts the better PR campaign to GRAMMY voters than it is about musical talent.  I'll openly acknowledge that we received Spalding's album here last year and chose not to review it.  Spalding has an unusual take on songwriting that is perhaps more heralded for the fact that it's different as for anything else, but is probably an acquired taste.  This is the great thing about music; different people like different things.  I can respect what Spalding does even if I don't personally like it.  The same goes (marginally) for Justin Bieber.  I understand where the music comes from.  I think it's cynically manipulative of teen and tween hormones and that his popularity is based more on young hormones than anything remotely musical, but to each their own.

Nevertheless, it would be great to hear Bieber address this weeks internet tantrums with his fans.  I doubt it will happen, but it would speak well of the artist.

Morning Fame - Blinded

Morning Fame – Blinded

2011, Morning Fame
Morning Fame is a Toronto-based Americana/rock quartet that sounds like a cross between Blue Rodeo and The Gin Blossoms.  Led by vocalist Vik Kapur and guitar Joe Liranzo, Morning Fame recently recorded their debut single, “Blinded”, at Metalworks Studio in Toronto.  “Blinded” has a vaguely spiritual feel to it.  The search that Kapur sings about might be a secular one, but the references to the creation of souls and sin offer clues to the intent.  Musically it’s a more-than-competent arrangement; a smooth sounding song with real commercial potential and strong guitar work.  This is the first offering from Morning Fame, but would seem to suggest a lot of promise.  It’s certainly enough to make us, and you, want to see what comes next from Morning Fame.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Morning Fame at or, where you can stream or download “Blinded” for free.

Sherman Ewing – Single Room Saloon

Sherman Ewing – Single Room Saloon
2011, Okindalia Records
Sherman Ewing walked through hell and lives to tell the tale.  Tell it he does on his latest album, Single Room Saloon.  The Columbia University grad, who once played in a band called Sherman And The Bureaucrats with John “Jojo” Hermann of Widespread Panic, grew up in British boarding schools during the birth of the punk movement.  His songwriting evokes some of that attitude infused into a blend of pop, rock and country.  With an all-star band at his back (members have worked with Bob Dylan, Spin Doctors, Hank Williams, Jr., Phish, Keith Richards and Widespread Panic), Ewing opens an emotional vein for all the world to hear.
Single Room Saloon opens with “Heaven Waits”, an intriguing commentary on materialism and the corruption it breeds.  Ewing points to a light in the distance in a delicious blend of country guitars and sophisticated rock n roll.  “Single Room Saloon” has a distinctly urgent feel; imagine the Beatles playing in an Americana style.  The result is an edgy sound that will stay with you.  “Grey Skies Blue” is catchy, but its Ewing’s guitar work that most stands out.  It’s a tune about that one person who makes even the darkest day bright, and brings to mind some of the better works of Wilco.  “Flatlands” is a dreamy Americana blend that’s as pleasing to the ear as it is pointed in message.
“Walk On” is all about making your way in the world and finding your place.  It’s a delicious bit of soulful, buzzy rock and roll.  Things slow down for a couple of songs, but Ewing gets back on track with “Bye Bye America”.  Ewing laments those who would stand by and watch America’s decline as long as they get what they feel is coming to them.  Ewing keeps up the social commentary on “The Mission”, delving into the growing gap between rich and poor and the inability of the latter to keep up.   Ewing closes with “Marilyn”, an inconspicuous final track that plays like an epilogic vector.
Sherman Ewing shows a distinctive ability in the crafting of songs on Single Room Saloon.  The material presented here is, for the most part, cogently written and melodically sound.  Ewing’s special talent is in the musical details, which he wraps around the melodic core in layers both distinctive and refined.  Not all of the songs here work on all levels, but there’s more than enough here to make Single Room Saloon worth your time.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Sherman Ewing at  Single Room Saloon is available digitally from or iTunes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Early Strike – Ten Outta Ten

The Early Strike – Ten Outta Ten
2010, TRB Entertainment
Southern California pop/punk quarter The Early Strike have created a lot of buzz the last few years with appearances on the VANS Warped tour and sold out shows throughout the south and southwest.  Today, The Early Strike drops their sophomore album, Ten Outta Ten into the teeming mass of American pop culture.  Working with producer David J. Holman (No Doubt, Bush), The Early Strike have captured the youthful energy and dynamic sound of their live show on Ten Outta Ten, along with dynamic dual-vocals of guitarist Ryan Shaw and bassist Brit Joyce. 
Ten Outta Ten opens with “Real Man Show”, a marginally catchy pop/punk number that shows off the dual vocal approach in grand style.  Shaw sounds like your standard issue alt-rock hero on the mic, whereas Brit Joyce has a slightly brassy and untrained but ultimately enjoyable.  “Reality Check” is something of a social rock reveille; a call to arms for the truth.  The Early Strike shows a distinctive pop sensibility that’s infectious and fun.  “Party Up” is catchy, a double edged message about living the wild life.  “Shut Up!” is pure relationship dysfunction captured in song.
The Early Strike drop a positive social message in the midst of “A’s And B’s”; a catchy number about not giving in to peer pressure and standing up for yourself.  It’s a well-written tune that’s as catchy as anything and highly enjoyable.  This one has real chart potential.  “I Am Gay” could be interpreted as a declaration, or simply a joyous realization of an unexpected attraction.  Either way this song will get inside your head.  This is another number that could find The Early Strike climbing the charts.
It might have been a good choice for The Early Strike to pare down Ten Outta Ten to an EP entitled Six Outta Six.  The last four songs, and the faux-commercial “A Kind Word” don’t measure up to the first six tracks, sounding more like decent but unmotivated filler tracks than the pure pop/punk joy The Early Strike achieve on the first half of Ten Outta Ten.  The Early Strike is a band who is going places; it wouldn’t be surprising to hear The Early Strike crossing over into the pop radio realm in 2011 and climbing the billboard charts. 
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about The Early Strike at or Outta Ten is available digitally from and iTunes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bedhed And Blondy And The Sleepwalkers - Nuthin'...

Bedhed And Blondy And The Sleepwalkers - Nuthin'...
2010, Bedhed And Blondy

Nashville-based quintet Bedhed And Blondy And The Sleepwalkers mix a rare gumbo of southern rock, blues, Texas blues, and anything else left over in the cupboard.  This blend is eye-opening on the music palate, led by the distinctive songwriting and voice of Jay Studdard and the breathtaking pipes of Fran Jackson.  Bedhed And Blondy And The Sleepwalkers released their sophomore album, Nuthin’… in November of 2010, a fast follow-up to their 9-song debut Somewhere In Memphis.  Nuthin’… is certainly a misnomer, as Bedhed And Blondy And The Sleepwalkers has something special cooking down in Nashville.

Bedhed And Blondy throw down the gauntlet with the soulful blues of "Grab Hold", featuring an electric vocal performance from Fran Jackson that's sensuous without trying to be.  This is an edge of your seat track, an eye-opener that will have you paying close attention throughout the rest of Nuthin'....  Jay Studdard takes over on "Yeah Yeah Yeah", a love song full of a graceful carnality that's surprisingly subtle yet poignant.  Bedhed And Blond build some enticing vocal harmonies in the process.  "Nuthin'" is a sorrowful country/folk ballad about the mixed emotions surrounding the breakup of a relationship.  It's an acknowledgement that it's right that things end, but also dwells in the loneliness such a step brings.  The melody is gorgeous, with Jackson and Studdard sharing duties with heartbreakingly beautiful results. 

"Hard Times And Headaches" is written in the first person and explores the travels of a restless soul who has spent a lifetime searching for something and is now heading back home.  Her constant companions are in the title, but she's finally realized that those things won't help her find what she needs.  It's a moment of revelation, where the song's anti-heroine realizes that the things she's been searching for all along are the very things she's run from all these years.  It's a dynamic piece of songwriting based deep in the inner truths and insecurities of the human psyche.  "I've Been Thinkin'" takes a similar path to the realization that a relationship she's stumbled into is home.  Jackson's vocal is inspired, full of country hues and emotional undertones that speak of personal experience.

"Not Alright" explores a relationship gone stale and the concomitant graying of the hearts involved.  It's a tragedy of acquiescence told in song form; A pleasant melody with a life of its own.  This is a tune you could picture on a movie or television soundtrack.  Fran Jackson gets a bit of attitude in the blend of country, blues and soul that is "Poison Whiskey".  Jackson rips it up in a powerful vocal full of sensual gravitas and attitude.  Bedhed And Blondy wind things down with "Georgia Clay", a sleepy folk/country number born of relationship dysfunction and passivity.  The song is built on a tasty little guitar riff that grows into a complex guitar accompaniment as Jay Studdard ambles his way through anger and reproach.

Bedhed And Blondy hits some real high notes with Nuthin'..., a distinctive collection of songs that screams for your attention.  Jay Studdard has an easy-going vocal style that's the perfect foil for Fran Jackson's sensually acerbic alto.  The songwriting on Nuthin' ranges from above average to outstanding, and is of a general quality that suggests long term success is a real possibility for the band.  This is one of those albums that won't leave you alone.  Don't be surprised if you keep hitting play again and again, or finally give up and put the whole thing on repeat.  Bedhed And Blondy will do that to you.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Bedhed And Blondy And The Sleepwalkers at or  Nuthin'... is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

JD Pederson – It Seems Like Only Yesterday

JD Pederson – It Seems Like Only Yesterday
2010, JD Pederson
Every singer/songwriter is a sum of his or her influences.  For JD Pederson those influences are solid ones.  Whether it’s the San Francisco sound of Boz Scaggs and Tower Of Power, or the style of artists such as The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Van Morrison, Pederson has developed a strong personal style based in classic sounds.  What makes Pederson special is that he’s taken these roots and catalyzed them into something new and unpredictable.  It’s there in Pederson’s live shows; you never know what he might come up with next.    You’ll find the same feel to Pederson’s debut album, It Seems Like Only Yesterday.
Pederson opens with “We Go Way Back”, inhabiting the space between country and rock n roll with an easy-listening mien.  It’s a song of reminiscence with a nice melody, and shows off Pederson’s easy-going voice in style.  “My Favorite Sunset” is a vaguely saccharine ballad that captures a moment in song.  Pederson injects an island feel into the song, and in spite of the slightly trite feel you’ll leave with the impression that such things are born of true emotion rather than a cynical attempt to inspire feeling.  “Learn The Dance” is all about growing up and taking responsibility for yourself.  Pederson exhorts listeners to dig into life and take what it has to offer; an anthem to personal responsibility with a dose of carpe diem thrown in.
“Call Me” finds Pederson sounding a lot like Ezra Idlet of Trout Fishing In America.  It’s a down tempo love ballad that’s sorrowful, yet still somehow motivated by hope.  “Kiss & Tell” shows more energy; a catchy tune with a sense of mystery and remorse.  This is a sharp, clean arrangement with great guitar work that shows a slightly different dimension to Pederson’s songwriting.  “Welcome To The Party” is a musical dissertation on graft, politics, and the internal machinery that keeps the political process out of the hands of the people it represents.  The observational style of songwriting shown here displays sharp and incisive lyrics with plenty of wit in a funky, blues-rock arrangement.  “No Good For You” is a dirty blend of rock and blues that’s highly enjoyable.  It’s a classic story in the first person about a friend waiting in the wings for his friend’s girlfriend to her eyes his way.  More than that, he’s actively working to put himself into position to steal her away.  The guitar work here is as filthy-good as the premise, and the song is full of delicious piano licks and fills.
“Peace Of Mind” is a bit simplistic and plain, but features some great guitar work and a decent melody.  The sound here is a bit too inside of itself; wanting to explode and be larger than life, but never quite gets there.  “The Sound Of Goodbye” is a flat, Adult/Contemporary Ballad.  The song itself is decent, but the production here misses the boat.  The vocals are too low, the piano too high, and the guitar solo is too far out in front.  This sounds more like a patchwork of musical parts thrown together in a slipshod manner than a cohesive piece of songwriting.  Pederson closes with “Headed Home”, once again involving a mismatch in the production booth.  Pederson’s pleasant but soft-spoken voice gets lost in the mix. 
JD Pederson’s It Seems Like Only Yesterday lives up to the classic singer/songwriter mantle it bears across the first seven songs.  Pederson shows a competency in lyrics and arranging that places him above the pack.  His gift for melody and creating a story environment in his songs is notable, and at times he rises to the crest of brilliance.  The last three tracks seem more like filler, and are a disappointing epilogue to what is otherwise a very strong effort.  It Seems Like Only Yesterday certainly will give listeners motivation to see what JD Pederson does next.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about J.D. Pederson at Seems Like Only Yesterday is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Todd Beaney - Piano Praise 2

Todd Beaney - Piano Praise 2
2010, Todd Beaney

Todd Beaney is a pianist, composer, arranger and educator.  He has written or arranged for such groups as U.S. Army Blues; New Orleans Brass Quintet, the Billy Graham Crusade, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Truth.  The ASCAP member has four albums under his belt and three volumes of hymn arrangements for piano.  In his spare time, Beaney also serves as a piano adjudicator for the New York State School Music Association and serves as Music Director for Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Connecticut.  The Princeton grad, with Master of Music degrees from both McNeese State University and the Eastman School of Music has made music a lifelong passion.  His fourth album, released in 2010, is Piano Praise 2.  It’s a collection of piano-based instrumentals covering classic hymns and modern Praise music.

Beaney opens with “I Sing The Mighty Power Of God”, an intriguing first step for an instrumental album.  Beaney shows a strong left hand presence early on while allowing his right hand free reign to run at will.  Beaney is an active player, not condescending to the passive, new-age evocations of many contemporaries.  Beaney shows a sense of drama and passion in the music.  “Lord, I’m Coming Home” has a soulful feel and shows Beaney’s own sense of internal rhythm.  Beaney lights up the song in an artful and delicate fashion with a sense of confidence that’s part self assurance and part faith.  “Oh, How I Love Jesus” has a pretty, rolling quality that is appealing, even if Beaney’s piano style sounds like that of a secondary school choir director. 

Beaney brings a bit of Gershwin to “At Calvary”, with an arrangement that sounds like it would be right at home somewhere in the middle of ‘Porgy and Bess’.   Fans of Stephen Schwartz will be listening closely to Beaney’s take on “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”.  Beaney imparts the same sense of light and melody that infused Schwartz’ early works for the stage in one of the most inspired performances on the album.  “For All The Saints” sticks with the Broadway feel; an energetic and active take that’s well-played and nicely arranged.  “Brethren, We Have Met To Worship” finds Beaney’s powerful, driven left hand resurfacing.  This is a solid performance, but would benefit greatly from additional instrumentation.    “Walking In Grace” shows a pretty, airy approach.  Beaney creates a majestic feel for the tune, drawing inspiration and energy out of the arrangement in a moment that speaks of glory.  Beaney ponders his way through a wandering jazz interpretation of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.  The elegant piano-bar style is a bit of a surprise, but is nonetheless enjoyable.  Beaney closes with the classic hymn feel of “The Solid Rock”; a musical return to the roots of praise music.

Todd Beaney shows off a progression of sounds and styles throughout Piano Praise 2 that may be the arc of his own development as a pianist.  Starting with left-hand driven style of the opening track, moving through the somewhat percussive style of a choir director and then into the more refined airs jazz, gospel and show tunes, Beaney explores the representation of faith in music in a multitude of styles that are uniquely American.  This is a niche album, meaning that the market for this material is probably somewhat limited, but Beaney shows enough chops and stylistic flexibility to be of interest to any serious student of the piano in addition to the religious music market. 

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5) 

Learn more about Todd Beaney at Praise 2 is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.