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Saturday, April 30, 2011

J.D. Eicher & The Goodnights - Shifting

JD Eicher & The Goodnights - Shifting
2011, JD Eicher

J.D. Eicher & The Goodnights return with their second album in two years, Shifting, due out May 3, 2011.  The title is apropos, detailing both the growth process of the band and the changes in sound present on the album.  The collective from Pittsburgh and northeastern Ohio delves deeper into Americana roots rock while maintaining the melodic pop sensibilities that filled their prior album, The Shape Of Things.

Shifting opens with "The Beauty Of It All", a melancholy pop entreaty for a return to romance with a memorable chorus.  "Love Is Gonna Find You" shows off Eicher's talent for subtle singer/songwriter pop songs.  The verses are solid and the chorus reaches for the stars, but gets a bit too caught up in repetition.  Eicher ruminates on getting over a relationship and how it turns out be harder than expected on "Easy".  Everything comes together here, with a great melody and a chorus that gets stuck in your head.  Eicher's vocal makes the song, but the mellow rock style blends with a distinctive pop sensibility to create a memorable musical moment.

"It's A Feeling" plays on much the same dynamic, with heavier involvement from the piano ala Ben Folds.  The pop feel is high here while maintaining the mellow dynamic that is at the core of the album.   "Fine Line" is solid, but doesn't work well as the acoustic version at the end of the disc. "Blue Coat On Carousel" is a solid love song with an impressionist flair, capturing a moment in time as a symbol of love and beauty.  This may be the best overall songwriting on the album, but is more subtle than the rest of the album and might be overlooked on the first listen.  "Mr. Misery is intriguing, playing around the pre-conceptions about standard pop construction.  Eicher sews together multiple musical parts in ways you might not expect.  Shifting closes with an acoustic version of "Fine Line" that is very much an improvement over the standard version offered earlier.

On Shifting, JD Eicher & The Goodnights have moved forward from The Shape Of Things; this is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse.  As with many sophomore albums, there is something of a drop-off here.  Solo albums tend to be built from songs written over a longer window with much more development in live shows.  Sophomore albums are often the first time a band is writing in a more compressed time frame with the express purpose of making an album.  Add in the continued growth of a band that knows its craft but is still learning how to execute it in time frames, and Shifting offers up both expected transitions and a few pleasant surprises.  The album is a solid effort showing a band that's made something good and is now trying to decide where to take it.  If JD Eicher & The Goodnights haven't quite figured out their destination yet, Shifting indicates that the journey there should be interesting and worth following.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about J.D. Eicher & The Goodnights at  Shifting drops May 3, 2011.  You can pre-order a digital copy from  Expect wider availability after release.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Paper Thick Walls - A Thousand Novels

Paper Thick Walls - A Thousand Novels
2011, Paper Thick Walls

Paper Thick Walls had a busy year in 2010.  The quintet of Eric Michaels (vocals/guitar/motif); Kate Schell (vocals/piano/trumpet); Roger Sherman (upright bass); Andrew Sabo (drums) and Jacques René (fiddle/mandolin/guitar) graced the stage at SXSW, NXNE and CMJ Music Marathon.  In the process they came to the attention of sound engineer Mike Hagler (Wilco, Neko Case) with a sound that's been compared to Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire.  Hagler took the boards to help Paper Thick Walls create their debut album, "A Thousand Novels", out May 3, 2011.  Mixing intricate orchestral folk/pop arrangements with articulate tales born of fancy, Paper Thick Walls cut an intriguing musical path.

A Thousand Novels hits the ground with the lush folk/pop blend of "Old Weathered Dock".  The song is a collection of visual mementos set to a catchy and quirky orchestrated arrangement.  Between Kate Schell's exceedingly pleasant vocal lead, Eric Michaels' Peter Gabriel-esque secondary vocal and the airy, orchestrated arrangement, "Old Weathered Deck" is a breath of fresh air.  "Sighs Of Relief" is a painted poem set to music about meeting someone new and falling in love, diverting into the healing power of love as an aside.  It's a pretty, piano-based tune fleshed out into full, layered orchestration.  Schell and Michaels duet on "Orange Tree", an optimistic song sung on the run from the law.  This memorable tale matches an occasionally bitter circumstance against a sweet and dreamy arrangement that reflects the unreality of the situation.  Don't be surprised if you fall in love with the chorus on first listen.

"Nyquil" is quasi-psychedelic folk, extolling the beauty of one to a host of heavenly bodies.  The song has an odd-yet-charming quality wrapped up in its abstract exploration of consequence.  "A Thousand Novels" is a love story of two people torn apart by war.  This is not your typical song of love overcoming any circumstance unless you're into the metaphysical outcome.  The focus here is how love will be memorialized, and is touching if a bit out of the ordinary.  "Desolate Place" explores the transformation of a relationship's aftermath into rebuilding.   The musical arrangement parallels the story in loneliness and loss with an intriguing theatrical feel in spite of the almost ethereal melancholy that pervades the song. 

"Portrait" is a duet about love and beauty in the abstract, as it exists in our minds but oft times not in our realities.  The media here are paintings, words and memories, but the connection evades in a gorgeous arrangement born of guitar, percussion and bass.  "Overgrown" is a catchy acoustic rocker that finds Eric Michaels out in front.  It's a solid love song that's a bit wordy for its own good, but overcomes this with a pragmatic and catchy arrangement that grabs your attention.  Paper Thick Walls say goodnight with "Infinite", a number that vacillates between introspective, depressive verses and a jaunty chorus.  The mix is jarring, but works well as varying motifs on the theme of falling apart.

Like Belle And Sebastien before them, Paper Thick Walls have found a sound that is both articulate in composition and lyrically melodic.  The converse is so obvious it need not be stated.  A Thousand Walls sucks listeners in the way a great book envelopes your mind.  Musically, lyrically and dramatically, Paper Thick Walls challenge listeners to listen actively and participate on an intellectual and emotional level.  A Thousand Walls will keep you coming back for more.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Paper Thick Walls at or Thousand Novels is due out May 3, 2011 and is available for digital pre-order from  Expect wider availability to follow in both digital and traditional formats.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Trews - Hope & Ruin

The Trews - Hope & Ruin
2011, The Trews Records

Toronto rock quartet The Trews have ten Top-10 singles and 2 gold records to show for their first three albums, yet the band chooses to break new ground on their fourth album, Hope & Ruin.  Colin MacDonald (vocals); John Angus (guitar); Sean Dalton (drums) and Jack Syperek (bass) have been one of Canada's top live acts for a few years now, becoming known for a heavy, guitar-driven sound.  This time around the Trews created music live in the studio.  Hope & Ruin consequently features flashes of the sound that have made The Trews crowd favorites, but also displays the band in greater depth than their prior works.

The Trews begin in familiar territory, with the guitar-driven pop/rock of "Misery Loves Company".  The song is built on a wonderfully catchy hook, with vocal harmonies wound around MacDonald's lead like aural gift wrapping.  Muscle aside, "Misery Love Company" could vie for recognition as the mythical perfect three-minute pop song.  "One By One" is catchy Americana/rock with rapid-fire lyrics and a memorable chorus.  The song is built on a pervasive riff that takes on a life of its own.  "People Of The Deer" is high energy, melodic hard-rock with seething pop sensibilities.  MacDonald's voice drives this one, but ambitious guitar work and a killer chorus complete the effect nicely. 

"Stay With Me" is a bit maudlin for a love ballad, falling into a sound that's part Counting Crows and part Gin Blossoms.  Similarly, "Hope & Ruin" is catchy at first listen but gets a bit bland beyond the pacing of the song.  The Trews fall into a bit of a rut with "The World I Know" and "Dreaming Man", but turn it over with "I'll Find Someone Who Will".  In spite being a bit heavy on repetition, the song is a solid pop-oriented rocker about the need for dysfunction in a relationship.  It's a solid arrangement; MacDonald and The Trews may make you think of Bob Seger singing with the Gin Blossoms here.  "Love Is The Real Thing" is a solid and catchy acoustic rocker, and sets up the closer, "Burned" quite nicely.  "Burned" stays with the Seger/Gin Blossoms sound, with MacDonald adding a soulful blues feel to the vocal line that is appealing.

The Trews stepped outside of their usual template to create the surprisingly effective Hope & Ruin.  Like any band that evolves over time, The Trews may find some of their fan base who have a hard time with the adjustment, but there's enough appealing change here to bring in a host of new fans as well.  Hope & Ruin is an evocative change of pace for The Trews without abandoning their heritage as a band.  Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that The Trews haven't been heavily courted south of the proverbial 54-40 before now.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Trews at or & Ruin is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Angela Predhomme - Don't Wonder

Angela Predhomme - Don't Wonder
2011, Angela Predhomme

Before getting into the music itself one must consider the voice of Detroit’s own Angela Predhomme.  Unadorned and simple in its beauty and grace, Predhomme’s voice is built on the purity of tone of classical training, the clear, clean sound of pure pop music and hints of a country twang.  Predhomme retains the girl-next-door mystique even as her songwriting grows in depth and sophistication on her second album, Don’t Wonder.  Predhomme’s self-titled debut (2008) showed flashes of what listeners will hear here, but Predhomme has definitely taken up the challenge; the growth is exponential.

Don’t Wonder opens with "I Claim You", with Predhomme infusing honest, heartfelt lyrics with a sense of fullness and warmth that is not often heard in popular music.  "At Your Own Risk" features a straightforward pop arrangement colored by country guitar stylings.   The chorus is catchy to the nines, and Predhomme writes from a well of real emotion.  The result is a pop song with real commercial potential, even if the chorus ends in a semi-awkward lyrical aberration that shatters the rhyme scheme of the song. 

"My New Favorite Song" is a classic pop love song that could be a hit in any of the six decades preceding its release.  This is an example of near-perfect songwriting, capturing the moment of falling in love in words and music.  The chorus is so universal you'll be singing along before it’s even finished the first time.  "At The End Of The 13th Week" explores heartbreak and the complexity of recovery in a nuanced story set over a wonderfully simple arrangement.  Predhomme's voice is never better than right here.  "I'm Wearing Black" is a bluesy, down tempo number that's seductive and sweet.  Predhomme goes for a lush, sensual sound here that's full of warmth. 

"You Matter To Me" is a sweet ballad that borders on cliché but is heartfelt.  It's a solid album track may play better live than in the studio.  "Redeemed" is a personal manifesto for picking up the pieces and moving on.  This could be an anthem for the broken hearted; inspiring in its lack of affectation.  Predhomme might just have a hit on her hands with aptly named "This Might Be Good".  It's a catchy, low-key love song with serious mix-tape potential.  The songwriting and performance are brilliant; the only thing missing is airplay.  Predhomme has a Leslie Gore moment on "What Your Words Don't Say", a classic-style love ballad about the ways we show how we feel.  "Don't Wonder" is another mix-tape destined number that also has potential as a first dance number.  Don't be surprised if this simple song of love and commitment winds up on a movie soundtrack one of these days. 

Predhomme digs down for "Deeply", a beautiful song of hidden love and longing.  Predhomme captures a gorgeous 'Wow' moment in song; capturing the tragedy and beauty of ambivalence in a moving number that will haunt you.  Don't Wonder takes a bow with "The Silence Of Winter", an instrumental featuring Predhomme on piano, accompanied by cello and guitar.  The effect is intriguing, maintaining a hint of pop sensibility while attaining a sound that approaches the realm of modern baroque.  

Angela Predhomme takes a giant leap forward on Don't Wonder, melding musicianship and art to break down barriers she perhaps didn't even know were there.  The depth of honesty in both Predhomme's lyrics and composition are striking, evoking both an emotional and aesthetic beauty that were hinted at on her previous album, but never fully realized.  This is what it sounds like when a talented musician finally lets go and gives in to their muse, while making the conscious choice to speak freely in their own voice.  "Don't Wonder" wears the shine of brilliance at times, and should find its way onto a number of "best of" lists for 2011.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Angela Predhomme at or  Don't Wonder is available digitally from and iTunes.  If you want an old school CD, you can order one directly from Predhomme's webstore.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jon Pousette-Dart - Anti-Gravity

Jon Pousette-Dart - Anti-Gravity
2011, Little Big Deal Music

The Pousette-Dart Band was one of the seminal soft-rock bands of the 1970s, transforming the folk tendencies of the 1960's into a palatable form of rock n roll.  Jon Pousette-Dart spent much of the 1970's as one of the big names in popular music, touring with acts such as Yes, Peter Frampton and James Taylor.  The 1980's saw Pousette-Dart making a comfortable living doing session work and writing jingles, but the limelight beckoned again in the 1990's.  By 2002, Pousette-Dart was on his own; crafting his incredibly catchy melodies into a roots-influenced brand of folk/rock that seems the logical outgrowth of his earlier work.  Pousette-Dark continues creating little bits of musical magic on his latest album, Anti-Gravity.

Pousette-Dart opens with the refined Americana-rock of "Anti-Gravity", an upbeat love song built on catchy hook and strong chorus.  The song manages to capture emotion in musical amber, preserving it to bloom again for the listener's benefit.  "Me And The Rain" is based in a resigned melancholy and sort of optimistic fatalism that begs salvation from the mundane.  The song is beautifully crafted, with the vocal harmonies adding great atmosphere.  Pousette-Dart shows a definite talent for lyrical turns, with lines such as "Calling all dreamers to live in the light / I'm making my peace with the night."  On "Better Everyday", Pousette-Dart offers up a sing-along chorus in a tune about making your way one step at a time. 

"Great Wide Open" ruminates on mortality and the opportunities that remain, delving into a brand of beautiful fatalism speckled with hope.  "Words" is pure fun, a catchy number that's perhaps a bit outside of fans' expectations but no less welcome for the fact.  "Who I Am" is a stunning duet with Jaime Kyle about the tragedy of Alzheimer's.  Sweet and heartfelt, the song details the small victories of knowing and being known.  If you've been there with a loved one this song will hit home hard.  "Heaven Is Here" is crafted from the best pure melody on the album, and looks for Heaven here on earth.  It's a great folk/rock number that's catchy and upbeat.  Anti-Gravity bows with "How Could I Walk Away", a song of love and devotion that avoids saccharine or cliché turns.  The song is nothing less than brilliant in both its composition and its sense of heart.

Jon Pousette-Dart continues to break new ground with "Anti-Gravity", which may be his best collective work to date.  Working with collaborators such as Jim Chapdelaine, Gary Nicholson, and Angelo and Jaime Kyle, Pousette-Dart continues to craft searching songs of love and redemption in a comfortable musical style that moves you and sinks into you at the same time.  "Anti-Gravity" is an honest and mature effort from artist who has paid his dues and can now simply sit back and write and play from his muse.  It's an effort worth becoming familiar with.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jon Pousette-Dart at www.pousette-dart.comAnti-Gravity is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Alice Ripley - Daily Practice, Volume 1

Alice Ripley - Daily Practice, Volume 1
2011, Sh-K-Boom Records

TONY winner Alice Ripley has been acting on and off Broadway for twenty years, as well as recording albums and gigging with her band Ripley and creating works on canvas and in mixed media.  As an artist whose creative energies seem to have no end, Ripley often uses one art form to balance off another.  So it was in 2009, when Ripley played conjoined twin Diana in Next To Normal.  Aside from earning Ripley a TONY for best actress in a musical as well as a Helen Hayes award, Next To Normal left Ripley with another legacy.  Each night Ripley would return to her hotel room and recover from the emotional weight of her performance by singing some of her favorite songs while accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.   These impromptu therapy sessions were memorialized on the album Daily Practice, Volume 1, released earlier this year on Sh-K-Boom Records.

Daily Practice, Volume 1 is raw and unvarnished, featuring Alice Ripley in an almost manic performance state.  The result is unsettling at times, striking at others, and throughout is underscored by the emotional complexities and beauties of the human condition.  Ripley opens with Carole King's "It's Too Late".  This is one of the mellower offerings on the album, but Ripley's vocal performance is impassioned and full of emotion.   "Message In A Bottle" is halting and uncertain at times.  While the original version by the Police seems to focus more on the hope for salvation, Ripley's version seems more focused on the desolation and hopelessness of the narrator's position.  The performance is striking and raw, delivered in the uncomfortable tones of someone who doesn't know what to do next.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is played straight to the letter, but misses the soaring feel of the original in a workman-like performance.  Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" is slowed down a bit, with Alice Ripley all over the place vocally.  Ripley seems to relish the emotional outbursts of the song, articulating representatives of the FCC's seven deadly words with particular fervor.  "Essence" (Lucinda Williams) displays a particular vulnerability; the emotional charge in Ripley's voice is palpable and real. 

Ripley goes all out for Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road", capturing the gritty honesty of Springsteen's writing style perfectly.  The sense of hope and joy amidst a dreary world is compelling.  Nanci Griffith's "The Flyer" drips with the loneliness of the road, staying true to the original.  Ripley takes on The Eagles' "Take It Easy" in halting fashion.  It's a solid cover, but doesn't have the carefree feel of the original.  Ripley takes a fair shot at R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts", but sounds overwrought.  The whiney, self-involved nature of the song and the heaviness of Ripley's voice just don't make for a great mix.  Ripley closes on sound footing with a solid cover of Carly Simon's "Anticipation".

Cover albums are always fraught with difficulties for fans and critics alike, but Daily Practice, Volume 1 is not your typical cover album.  The ten songs collected here represent a daily process of catharsis that allowed Ripley to maintain her balance during one of the most trying roles of her career.  The unvarnished nature of the album will give some listeners pause.  This is Alice Ripley, warts and all.  Most artists would never have the audacity to release recording in such a raw state.  From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Daily Practice, Volume 1is raw and unsettling.  Put into perspective, it becomes a statement of freedom, and of that particular beauty that grows from human imperfection and perseverance.  Daily Practice, Volume 1 comes straight from the heart.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

 Alice Ripley's web presence is fleeting and hard to find.  Her blog, has not been updated in a while, but you can pick up some good information about her there.  The site for her band, Ripley, has also not been updated in a while.  Luckily, Daily Practice, Volume 1 is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Owen Pye - The Truth About Man

Owen Pye - The Truth About Man
2011, Blackroom Records

Owen Pye's intellectual-emotional approach to songwriting calls to mind the likes of Connor Oberst and Sufjan Stevens.  Pye's experimentations are within his own mind; explorations of complicated questions, simple truths and the often willy-nilly paths that lead us from one to the other.  Pye's third album, The Truth Man, is something of a folk/rock opera about the journey to faith in Christian terms.  Often mired in introspective in melancholy, Pye tells his own tale of faith lost and found, written from the depths of experience and imperfection.  This is not the sort of music you're likely to hear on Contemporary Christian radio; Pye doesn't proselytize or try to convince anyone of anything.  He simply tells his own story in imagery both bright and obscure.

Pye opens with the vibrant rocker "Keep On Sinning".  The guitar-driven number ruminates on man's tendency to recognize their own inequities while continuing on down the slippery slope.  "Barriers" is a maudlin tune about standards and the sort of compromises we make with the world around us.  The bright melody line is nearly a contrast to the angst-filled arrangement.  Pye's tautological musings in "I Must Exist" are partly spiritual and partly the raging of his weaker side trying to survive.  "The Part" is an introspective and melancholy exhortation of a father whom he perceives as having failed to live up to expectations.  Whether this is an earthly or heavenly father isn't entirely clear, but on context either conversation could apply here.

"Freewill" takes on one of the more difficult concepts of Christian faith in very personal terms.  Pye rails against that which he doesn't understand, the dichotomy of using free will to give up your own.  It's interesting to watch Pye work his way through the argument before declaring an uncomfortable truce.  "Pharisee Of The State" is an intriguing number claiming a parallel between those who refused to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and himself as a non-believer as one and the same.  This song is a personal realization of the juxtaposition of heart and mind that occurs in the transformation of faith.  Pye explores the leap on "If I Give My Soul", a sort of negotiation with himself that leads to conviction.  Pye finds his truth in "Aches And Pains", marking his conviction with the recognition that faith does not solve all ills.

Introspective, melancholy and occasionally gritty are terms you might use to describe Owen Pye's songwriting.  The Truth About Man is stunning in its complexity and beauty; ascribing an almost Springsteen-esque worldview to the struggle for faith.   Even if Pye's beliefs aren't your cup of tea, The Truth About Man will surprise you with its honest portrayal of the struggle between one man's appetites and ego and his soul.  The Kafka-esque transition between struggling man looking downward and struggling man looking upward is resolute in its beauty and simple in its means.  This is a hard album to put down.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Owen Pye at or Truth About Man is available digitally from and iTunes.  If you need the album on CD, you can get it directly from Pye via BigCartel.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sasha And The Indulgents - Love In A Box

Sasha And The Indulgents - Love In A Box
2010, Sasha Papernik

Sasha Papernik will surprise you.  The conservatory-trained classical pianist has been winning national and international piano competitions since the age of eight, but Papernik has never been able to shy away from the freedom of rock music.  Lyric ballads have grown into vibrant rockers, or been spiced up with blinding fast piano runs that strike like lightning and disappear just as quickly.  The Boston-born singer/songwriter has been haunting the clubs of New York City and New England for a few years now with unaffected pop music that's a cousin to that of Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Sarah Slean.  Papernik's band, Sasha And The Indulgents, released their second album in late 2010; a quirky eight-song collection entitled Love In A Box.

Sasha And The Indulgents opens with the musical split personality of the title track.  "Love In A Box" opens as a depressed and dreamy rumination, but transforms into a quirky, angular pop chorus that's incredibly infectious.  Papernik displays an animated, vaguely demented and theatrical style here that is hard not to get into.  "Carolina" is an intriguing dream-pop number about someone who is chasing down her dreams in spite of what family and friends might say.  It's an ode to someone who has given up everything to get her deepest wish.  There's a mild country/Americana flavor in this mellow arrangement that is appealing.  "Edges Of Your Mind" is a bit obtuse in imagery, but is built on a wonderfully vibrant piano progression. 
"I Read The Letter" is an interesting bit of piano pop, channeling the manic feel that tends to infuse Papernik's songs into an edgy and vibrant arrangement that dances on the edge of exploding.  "Would You Like Me" is a great pictorial in song of romance from the perspective of an emotional chameleon that is honest in her dysfunction.  The chorus here is highly memorable, and the dramatic sensibility of the narrator approaches a brittle break without ever quite breaching the divide.  "Chasing Hours" is perhaps the cleanest piano-pop song on the album; a gentle ballad that's full of simple beauty and emotion.  Unfortunately the production on this track isn't what it might be.  Love In A Box bows with "Ten Thousand Dreams", a dreamy, sparse number in a quasi-chanson style.  Sasha Papernik's voice is angelic here, and the atmosphere one of heartbreaking beauty.

Sasha And The Indulgents hit listeners where they live on Love In A Box, delivering quirky, unusually placed pop music full of beauty, grace and honest thoughts and emotion.  Without affectation or device, Sasha Papernik dwells on the beauty of human imperfection and nobility in song.  Love In A Box doesn't play by the rules of pop music, speaking of real lives and real people in a real voice.  If you hunger for honesty in art, then Love In A Box is gift-wrapped just for you.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Sasha And The Indulgents at or In A Box is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Marian Call and her unusual fundraising ideas

We've covered Anchorage, Alaska's Marian Call in the past.  Her albums Vanilla and Got To Fly, with Vanilla ranking as the #1 album on the Wildy's World 2008 Year-end countdown.  Call is getting to release her next album, a two disc collection entitled Something Fierce.  In the process she is running a fundraiser to cover the costs of the release.  A number of neat items are available for direct sale.  You can find the information on her Wordpress Blog.  The really interesting stuff, however, is for auction with a little over 9 hours remaining at press time.  Call is auctioning off three cover songs (you get to name the song), as well as her well-traveled rainstick, hand-written, signed lyrics for two of her songs, and two pieces of custom jewelry from Bella Boutique in Anchorage made specifically for the auction.  You can check out the auction items on Ebay.  Auctions close between 4:00 PM and 12:00PM USEDT on April 22, 2011.

I bring this to your attention for two reasons.  First, to support Call in her fundraising efforts; but also because Call shows real ingenuity in funding her efforts.  Her ideas may be beneficial to other artists who read this blog in planning their own fundraising efforts.  Call has a small but rabid fan base.  The cheapest price for one of the cover songs at press time is over $700, with one already going for $1,000.  Not too shabby.

You can learn more about Marian Call at

Modern Paranoia - I'm A Bird [EP]

Modern Paranoia - I'm A Bird [EP]
2010, Madison Records

Atlanta rockers Modern Paranoia bring their auspicious blend of punk, new wave and alternative rock n roll on the 5-track EP I'm A Bird.  Under the guiding hand of producer Dallas Austin, Modern Paranoia shines through their musical diversity, blending sounds and styles in subtle-yet-pervasive fashion.

I'm A Bird opens with the title track.  "I'm A Bird" is a catchy alt-rock number featuring the soulful vocals of Quinton "Q" Tolbert.  The energy here is incredible, pointing to the roof-raising potential of the band's live shows.  The lyrics aren't terribly well developed, but the music is danceable and the chorus will pick you up and carry you along.  "I Know" is formulaic alt-rock  with a big, catchy, guitar-driven chorus.  "Geno" is a solid album track that stands out for its vocal harmonies.  "Love" is a great high energy tune with a chorus that really rocks.    There's a 1970's classic rock feel to this number but with a modern twist.  The guitar work on this track is very reminiscent of Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme).  "Lake Song" is dark, melodic art-rock.  It's a bit convoluted and bloated musically, but represents a willingness to take creative risks.

Modern Paranoia is band still developing its sound and sense of style.  I'm A Bird shows a group of artists with distinctive talent, and a willingness to break down walls that get in the way.  The EP plays to the commercial aspects of the music business without giving over the musical motivations of the Modern Paranoia to the proverbial devil, but also explores the outer bounds of their creative limits searching for new avenues of expression.  It's a brave and intriguing effort that pays dividends in the moment, and may pay even more in the long run.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Modern Paranoia at or'm A Bird is available from as a CD or DownloadThe single is also available via iTunes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers - Rare Bird Alert

Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers - Rare Bird Alert
2011, Rounder Records

Four time GRAMMY Award winner Steve Martin slaps on his banjo for one more go at that classic bluegrass sound on his latest album with the Steep Canyon Rangers, Rare Bird Alert.  With a long and distinguished career as a writer, actor and repeat Saturday Night Live host, Steve Martin doesn't need any new sources of income.  But bluegrass music and the banjo in particular, have long been a passion of Martin's.  Rare Bird Alert features two originals penned by Martin, as well as a bluegrass cover of "King Tut".  Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks turn in cameos on the album as well.

Rare Bird Alert opens with the title track, a bluegrass/Appalachian folk instrumental featuring vibrant picking throughout.  This one's a real toe-tapper; you'll want to get up and dance.  "Yellow-Backed Fly" is a fun little fishing tune.  Violin and banjo make impressive co-conspirators here, trading stanzas with an almost mischievous glee as The Steep Canyon Rangers work in a faux swing feel.  "Best Love" blends bluegrass with an orchestral sound; sort of a Buck Owens meets The Moody Blues vibe.  Be sure to keep an ear out for the backing vocals in this number; the sound they achieve is impressive.

"Northern Island" is an upbeat instrumental with the violin out in front.  Banjo, guitar and violin add their voices in their own times to create a dynamic and musically explosive mix of sounds.  "Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back" is a catchy number that finds Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers  capturing a bit of high lonesome in the backing vocals.  The band also manages to build a pop sensibility into the traditional instrumentation offered here.  "Jubilation Day" explores suddenly being set free from a relationship and seeing it as a gift rather than in sadness.  "More Bad Weather On The Way" is a vibrant, catchy number with a simple, brief refrain as its reference point.  This refrain becomes the axis about which the circular arrangement revolves.

"You" features two female vocalists with wonderful voices engaging in easy-paced harmonies over a pizzicato-style strum.  It's a nice change of pace, adding a vaguely melancholy note into the mix.  "Women Like To Slow Dance" is an enjoyable number that's a bit tongue in cheek.  Martin adds his voice to the mix about half way through, injecting some pointed but subtle humor into the song.  "Hide Behind A Rock" is a solid instrumental that allows the banjos to come out and play, with violin providing balance on the counter-melody.  "Atheists Don't Have No Songs" is a riotously funny live number done accapella.  Lines like "The he is always lower case will keep you laughing out loud.  Rare Bird Alert closes with an entirely competent live version of Martin's "King Tut", done up in bluegrass instrumentation.  Even if you've heard this song so many times it has lost its funny, the fresh take offered here is worth checking out. 

Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers have done it again.  While the lawyers try to figure out what 'it' is, why don't you saddle up your horse, sidle over to your PDA and transport this album home.  Albums involving famous actors can sometimes be a mixed blessing, but there's nothing mixed about the reaction you'll have to Rare Bird Alert.  It's a highly entertaining turn with a little room to grow.  One of the most entertaining albums thus far in 2011.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Steve Martin at or Rare Bird Alert is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ron Sexsmith - Long Player Late Bloomer

Ron Sexsmith - Long Player Late Bloomer
2011, Ronboy Rhymes

Ron Sexsmith was known early in his career as a one-man jukebox due to his amazing inability to play most any song requested while playing out live.  But in 1984 Sexsmith turned his attention to writing his own material.  Sexsmith’s brand of melancholic pop with British style melodies has become a staple of Canadian content and has even seen Sexsmith gain serious attention south of the proverbial 54-40.  Sexsmith’s latest album, Long Player Late Bloomer continues his sonic maturation through songs of love and loss.

Long Player Late Bloomer opens with "Get In Line" a straightforward pop/rock tune with an almost McCartney-esque feel.  There's an upbeat brand of melancholy that's pervasive here, making for an intriguing start.  "The Reason Why" falls more into the Americana bucket with a sound that will appeal to fans of Blue Rodeo.  Aside from the pure sonic aesthetics of the tune, it's a great bit of songwriting.  "Believe It When I See It" opens with a piano-driven verse then falls into an ethereal, orchestral rock chorus.  Sexsmith has crafted a pretty melody that waxes and wanes with wave-like intensity while building into the chorus like an on-coming tide.  The song reflects hope for the future tempered with healthy doses of skepticism. 

"Miracles" continues the orchestral pop/rock flavor.  This one is subtle and sublime; a gorgeous arrangement that celebrates the small miracles of everyday existence.  "No Help At All" resurrects the McCartney melodic influence in a song that reflects either a winsome melancholy or a mildly upbeat brand of fatalism.  "Late Bloomer" can have more general applications, but at heart it's a quiet anthem for anyone who has ever picked up a musical instrument with the dream of making it big.  It's an underdog's theme with a positive ending, even if it's not the outcome one might have wished starting out.  "Heavenly" is a smooth and sweet country/folk/pop ballad.  Sexsmith is at his vocal best here, with a sound so smooth it's practically theoretical.

"Michael And His Dad" is a heartfelt story-song capturing a moment between father and son at the playground, as the complexities of the life outside dance on the edge of their enjoyment of the day.  It's an incredibly human and poetic portrayal of the perfect moments we discover amongst our imperfections.  "Middle Of Love" is a catchy, middle-of-the-road Adult Contemporary rock number celebrating the moment of falling/being in love.  "Everytime I Follow" continues the penchant for lush sound that Sexsmith has displayed throughout Long Player Late Bloomer, while "Eye Candy" brings a gently swaying cadence in the form of a healthy, energetic Americana arrangement.  "Love Shines" revives the McCartney comparisons once again in a tune that embraces the simple things in life.  It's a pretty tune with a muted pop sensibility that's infectious.  Sexsmith closes with "Nowadays", an acoustic ballad that's subtly beautiful; exploring the depths of love and how it wraps itself around our hearts when we're not looking.

 Ron Sexsmith is incredibly smooth throughout Long Player Late Bloomer, working in a vocal style that’s ultra cool.  His voice is wonderfully soft and warm, and he caresses each vocal line like he’s in love with the music.  Long Player Late Bloomer shows the continued maturation and growth of Sexsmith as a songwriter, and is among his best work to date.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ron Sexsmith at or  Long Player Late Bloomer is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amy Black - One Time

Amy Black - One Time
2011, Reuben Records

Amy Black made her mark in the business world before embarking on a career in music.  Her debut album, Amy Black & The Red Clay Rascals was a tribute to Black's favorite songwriters, and earned Black notice for a compelling voice.  The voice is back on Amy Black's sophomore album, One Time.  This time around, Black penned nine original tunes to show off her distinctive love of storytelling in song.

One Time opens with "Run Johnny", a classic murder song that's surprisingly catchy.  Black's sultry voice falls somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Jeannie C. Riley, with wonderful tone and just a bit of grit in the seams.  The tight and catchy arrangement presented here features top-notch instrumental work and shows off Black's presence as a performer.  "Whiskey And Wine" is a loved ballad about a doomed affair.  Black's gorgeous alto illuminates an exploration of a time when perhaps the pleasure is worth the pain.    "Stay" is a fun rockabilly number featuring an assist from Black's sister Corrie Jones.  Self-promotion is the name of the game in this soulful story song.

"Molly" is a melancholy ballad that plays like a letter written to a friend.  The arrangement and instrumentation here are exquisite.  Black mixes honky-tonk and old-school country on "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)."  This song has hit written all over it; being incredibly catchy, especially for a mid-tempo song.  It has one of those choruses you'll find yourself singing along with the first time you hear it.  "All My Love" blends blues, country and rock with the addition of some funky guitar work.  Black's voice is utterly sensual here, dripping with emotion and charisma.  "Meet Me On The Dance Floor" is an upbeat and catchy flirtation in song.  Don't be surprised if this is the breakout track of the album.

"I Can't Play This Game" explores the beginning of moving on.  Sorrow and regret mix with an unwillingness to be wronged once more in a statement of self.  This is a solid album track, but the songwriting is surprisingly subtle and deep for a song of this type.  "Words Fail You" is pure country sorrow, complete with the plaintive cries of a pedal steel.  Melancholy blends into sorrow over the tragically beautiful melody.  One Time closes with "Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)", giving Johnny Cash a run for his money.  Blues, gospel and Americana mix with a swing feel to provide the most dynamic moment on the album.  You'll get a glimpse of what Black is live here.

Amy Black, where have you been?  One Time shows the presence and professionalism of an artist who's been in the music game much longer than Black has been.  Credit producer Lorne Entress (Lori McKenna, Bittertown) and a cast of musicians including Mark Erelli (guitar, vocals, and lap steel) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) for helping to build a sound around Black that's both classic and fresh.  But don't forget to credit Amy Black herself.  One Time is destined for a lot of "best of" lists at the end of the year.  Performers this fresh and real and yet so polished come along rarely.  You'll be glad that Black finally put her musical dreams first.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Amy Black at or  One Tine is available as a CD or as a download directly from Amy Black's webstore. The album is also available digitally from iTunes.

The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade

The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade
2011, Reprise Records

Brother and sister Ethan and Barbara Gruska are the heart of The Belle Brigade.  Releasing their self-titled debut today via Reprise Records, the pair have earned comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac.  The Belle Brigade displays a band with a distinct sense of melody, but moreover a pair of voices that blend in nearly supernatural fashion.  It’s no surprise, music runs in Ethan and Barbara Gruska’s genes.  Their father is composer Jay Gruska, and their father is non other than the incomparable film composer John Williams.

The Belle Brigade opens with "Sweet Louise", a catchy, low-key folk rocker with country accents.  The song is a simple declaration of love you won't be able to shake, full of great harmonies and driven by the exceedingly pleasant vocals of Ethan.   "Where Not To Look For Freedom" is a catchy rocker reminiscent of early Elton John in style and energy.  It's a vibrant, active tune that grabs your attention.  "Losers" shows off a notable skill at orchestration, but the incessantly repetitive chorus wears thin.  "Shirt" features Ethan and Barbara in a distinctive duet.  Barbara stands out for pure sound, but when the two voices combine they wrap around each other like lovers.  This blend is sonically appealing and helps build the song from into an urgent and edgy rocker.

"Lucky Guy" follows the series of lucky rolls that grow out of an inauspicious beginning of life.  The active folk/rock arrangement is appealing, and The Belle Brigade offers it up with great energy without going over the top.  You won't be able to sit/stand still through this song.  "Lonely Lonely" features the sort of great pop chorus that turns into chart gold.  The Belle Brigade changes things up with the moody and introspective "Punch Line", exploring feelings of being forgotten as a child.  Ethan delivers a highly emotive vocal here that drives the weight of the song home.  Barbara takes the mic on "Rusted Wheel" in a memorable performance aided by a brilliant melody line.  Listeners will want to hear more of her.  The Gruskas combine again on "My Goodness", blending their voices once again in a low key but ultimately accessible number that's likely to be a fan favorite.  The Belle Brigade bows with "Fasten You To Me".  Barbara brings listeners to the door with an exquisite performance in the surprisingly mellow closer.

The Belle Brigade is surprisingly subtle and nuanced on their eponymous debut.  Rock n roll, pop and folk music influences inform the songwriting on The Belle Brigade, driven by a distinctive ear for melody and interplay and the fine voices of Ethan and Barbara.  The Belle Brigade don't create the initial impression of a band who will catch fire right away, but rather an act that will warm up slowly and burn for a long, long time.  The intricacies of the songwriting process are very much alive on The Belle Brigade, but this is a band that is still figuring out just what they are capable of.  This is a great start.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Belle Brigade at or  The Belle Brigade is available from as a CD, on Vinyl or as a Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.