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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Philip G.W. Henderson - The Magic Wood / The Hop-Pickers Daughter

Philip G.W. Henderson - The Magic Wood / The Hop-Picker's Daughter
2010, Philip G W Henderson

Philip G.W. Henderson is a composer, musician and lyricist originally from Linford, Essex, England.  Henderson started his professional career in music as a member of the band of the Grenadier Guards in 1963, and by 1968 he had his first song recorded by Parlophone Records.  Over the years Henderson has written for radio, film and the stage.  His resumes includes professional collaborations with Dr. Robert Moog, Steve Hackett (Genesis), The Heather Brothers and the City of London Sinfonia.  Henderson also spends time playing keyboards for Boys Off The Bench, which features his sons Luke (vocals) and Adam (drums).  Presently, Henderson is working on a film score for Phone Thief, and working on a series of compositions entitled The Counties Quartets.  Henderson recently released The Magic Wood/The Hop Picker's Daughter, the latter of which is the first of these quartets. 

The Magic Wood is a series of musical paintings, bringing to life the sounds and color of Henderson's wooded creation.  "By Day" features undulating strings and a musical heartbeat.  It is a representation of life and liveliness that runs through a cycle of dissonance and angst while life travels merrily on in the melody line.  There is a cyclic nature here that seems apropos but also may feel like Henderson is a bit stuck at times.  The sound on the recording is good, but the violins get tinny at times, an issue that recurs throughout the album.  "By Night" has Pizzicato, clockwork, as if marking the passage of time until the dawn.  There is a continuity born from "By Day", with furtive and lyric movement suggested in the occasional breakout.  There is a distinctive energy to the piece; a pertness, if you will, as well as a sense of distant beauty in the complications of melody and the incessant passage of time.

"Dream Dance" has a certain darkness and beauty to it, but sounds incomplete as presented.  It's as if Henderson decided to leave out part of the musical palette; a necessity perhaps when working with a small ensemble, but there is more depth here that is simply not explored.  The shrillness of the violins is also something of a distraction, but as a whole there is great potential here.  "Song Of The Trees" finds Henderson returning to the undulating feel of trees in a breeze once again.  It's a pretty, quiet dance performed in darkness and shadow with two counter themes.  Henderson uses the bass to instill an incessant and driving series of riffs that stir the listener, while the violin dances a co-melody that floats over it all.  The Magic Wood concludes with "After Rainfall", a brief musical watercolor filled with Pizzicato droplets as the life of The Magic Wood resumes anew.

The Hop-Picker's Daughter opens with a movement of the same name.  There is a simplistic, choppy feel to this composition, which seems written more to a pops sensibility than anything else.  Henderson is repetitive here, getting stuck in a rut that fails to transport the listener.  "The Vine-Puller's Son" opens with a more Baroque born of a Viennese aesthetic.  The sound is top-heavy and tinny at times, but this is the best pure composition on the album.  The Hop-Picker's Daughter closes with "The Tally-Man!” dealing in vaguely Slavic sonic influences in an energetic celebration punctuated by contemplative, lyric passages.  The composition is beautiful in its pure joy, although once again there is a lack of sonic completeness that is only partly due to the small ensemble.

Philip G.W. Henderson seems to experiment a great deal with sonic space on The Magic Wood/The Hop-Picker's Daughter, relying on bright, airy sounds to fill up the ears.  The difficulty on the recording is that more often than not the violin is tinny, and occasionally painful.  One suspects that a recording made by live musicians would fare much better.  The enforced nuances of computerized stringed instruments just cannot compare to the depth of emotion and dynamic variation that can be created by human musicians.  Compositionally, Henderson has created some very interesting work in both The Magic Wood and The Hop-Picker's Daughter, although there are definite moments where sonic balance is lost.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at http://www.philipgwhenderson.com/, where you can purchase the album as a download or on CD-R.   

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Paul's Grandfather - Sorry Lovers And The Living Lake


Paul's Grandfather - Sorry Lovers And  The Living Lake
2010, Paul's Grandfather

It was in October of 2008, at Fredonia State College, when Kate Preston, Rebecca Ryskalczyk and Karrah Teague first hit it off.  The three singer/songwriters combined their voices (literal and otherwise) with a guitar, an old Casio keyboard and a kick-drum, creating a unique sound that’s full of musical flourish, talent and personality.  Paul’s Grandfather, as the trio named themselves, became a quintet with the addition of Bobby Frisk (drums) and Paul Swenson (cello).  With an ear for traditional roots music ala Be Good Tanyas, and an alt-folk edge in line with Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Paul’s Grandfather will charm you with their originality, not to mention the angelic harmonies of Preston, Ryskalczyk and Teague.

Sorry Lovers And The Living Lake opens with "Oh Great River", a wonderfully catchy blend of Appalachian folk and rock n roll that you won't be able to get out of your head.  Vocalist Karrah Teague purrs and wails like Grace Slick, while the frenetic pace of the highly orchestrated arrangement carries the song like a heavy river current.  The vocal harmonies here are exquisite, and the acapella chorus after breakdown will send chills down your spine.  "The Wonder Years" is a stark, martial anthem about the destruction of small town America at the hands of elites who make fortunes at the misfortune of others.  Paul's Grandfather builds a wonderful dark atmosphere devoid of hope but full of vigor nonetheless.  It's a brilliant bit of songwriting with many layers, steeped in intelligence and a deep melodicism that's inescapable.

"White Trash" is a stark and urgent number decrying the mistakes of past generations and the wages paid their progeny.  It's a lucid bit of songwriting that's edgy and intelligent.  "Baby Please" borders on psychedelic, orchestrated folk; a compelling sound that mixed dissonance and harmony in shocking measures.  The disjointed sound lends a surreal air as the bridge descends into madness before resetting into the verse; a disturbing number that you just can't quite pull yourself away from.  "I'm With You Kilgore" is angular folk, if you can imagine such a thing.  There's an urgent energy here that's inescapable, and Katie Preston handles a challenging vocal turn with aplomb.  "Ghosthunting" is wonderfully varied in song construction, with Paul's Grandfather building an eerily beautiful arrangement that blends, folk/rock, Appalachian and Celtic influences. 

"Bobby's On A River" is a lyric number that shows Paul Grandfather's more civilized side.  Not complete civilized; sort of a Simon and Garfunkel meets Be Good Tanyas in a funhouse.  The song has a gorgeous melody sung by Becca Ryskalczyk and the vocal harmonies enhance the atmosphere to near-perfection.  Paul's Grandfather pushes off with Eighteen Aught Five, a stripped down arrangement featuring acoustic guitar and the three glorious voices Preston, Ryskalczyk and Teague.  It's as if three fatalistic angels are singing the story of a ghost as a lullaby.

Coming from the back porch of Western New York, Paul's Grandfather will surprise you with just how good they are.  Roots music with a fatalistic twist and occasional forays into rock n roll are the order of the day on Sorry Lovers And The Living Lake.  Paul's Grandfather is without doubt one of the best new finds of 2011.  The voices of Preston, Ryskalczyk and Teague positively soar, and the musical choices are complex and satisfying.  If Paul's Grandfather gets anywhere near you, make the trip to see them.  Albums like Sorry Lovers And The Living Lake certainly don't come along every day.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Paul’s Grandfather at www.myspace.com/paulsgrandfathermusic or on FacebookSorry Lovers And The Living Lake is an imminent release.  Expect availability soon on Amazon.com, iTunes and other outlets.  For the time being you can stream two of the new songs and a handful from the groups previous EP, No Home on their MySpace page..  If you're in the Western New York area and get a chance to check out Paul's Grandfather live, don't pass up the opportunity.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ron Jackson - Flubby Dubby

Ron Jackson - Flubby Dubby
2011, Roni Music

Ron Jackson is one of the most versatile and well-traveled guitarist in New York City.   With performances in over twenty countries, and collaborations with artists such as Taj Mahal, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Cissy Houston, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Golson and Les Paul, Jackson earned his stripes long ago.  A graduate of The Berklee School of Music, Jackson is himself an instructor at several schools throughout the greater Metropolitan New York region.  Jackson has also performed in the orchestra of such Broadway/off Broadway shows as Rent, Avenue Q, Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk and Saturday Night Fever.  Jackson's album, Flubby Dubby, produced by the legendary Melvin Sparks, shows off his signature soul/funk style of jazz guitar, refreshing in its energy and classic in its sound. 

Flubby Dubby opens with "One For Melvin", featuring stylishly laid back guitar work, and Hammond Organ work that's absolutely over the top.  The free-form style here is hot and highly entertaining, evoking a 1960's Vegas chic.  The energy here is fantastic.  "The Look Of You is frenetic and upbeat; one of those recordings that conveys the pure joy the musicians must have felt as they laid it down the first time.  Jackson's arrangement of Paul McCartney's "The Long And Winding Road" uses the classic melody as a starting point, but quickly breaks into free-form improvisation.  This is definitely a jazz take, but manages to keep McCartney's distinctive melodicism intact even when spinning yarns grown far from the original melody line. 

"Flubby Dubby" is a nearly eight-minute epic full of vibrant energy.  Jackson pulls in the occasional Hendrix-inspired fugue, ala "Purple Haze", which isn't as perplexing as it might, at first, sound.  "Love Ballad" is a subtle turn that features some of Jackson's best guitar work on the album, and the NPG-style horn section is a nice touch as well.  Jackson's take on Frank Perkins' "Stars Fell On Alabama" features a sweet, lyric guitar style that speaks distinctly of the decade the song was born (1930's).  Organist Kyle Koehler gets a chance to show off, sounding like he's taking stylistic cues from Ray Charles and Miles Davis simultaneously.  "Technophile" has a frantic feel, with synth/organ set to a complex house beat.  It's a tremendous listen that challenges the listener to keep up, and is a nice change of pace.  "A Calypso Party" is a winsome little tune you'll have a hard time not dancing along with.  Flubby Dubby closes with "Get In The Country", a dynamic free-form improv piece with serious hints of funk in the bass line.  Jackson and Koehler exchange blistering solos that are very much worth sticking around for.

Most people can name the big names in jazz, just as in pop, rock, blues, country or other genres.  Somewhere between those elite names and the scores of working musicians haunting jazz clubs all across the country are guys like Ron Jackson.  Well known in the right circles, Ron Jackson is quietly one of the jazz guitarists in music.  Ask any big name musician who has taken part in the New York Jazz scene, and they will know exactly who Ron Jackson is.  Its artists such as Jackson who help define the artistic brilliance of big names as session men and live support.  But often such artists as much talent (and sometimes more) than the folks they support.  Jackson is known, but his name recognition is not requisite with his talent level.  Flubby Dubby displays Jackson's talent in inarguable terms, as a composer, arranger and performer.  This is an album that's difficult to put down.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ron Jackson at www.ronjacksonmusic.com or www.myspace.com/ronjacsonmusic.    Flubby Dubby is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Catch Me If You Can - Original Broadway Cast Recording

Catch Me If You Can - Original Broadway Cast Recording
2011, Ghostlight Records

The Silver Screen and The Great White Way have certainly had their share of trysts over the years.  Recent years have seen a number of hits (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Sister Act!) as well as more dubious efforts (Legally Blond, Footloose), but the stage continues to attract remakes of motion pictures classic and otherwise.  The latest entry of this sort is Catch Me If You Can, based on the book and 2002 Dreamworks film that immortalized Frank Abagnale, Jr., a real-life con man who was brought to justice and ended up working for the FBI.   On Broadway, Abagnale Jr. is played by Aaron Tveit (Hairspray, Wicked), with 2-time TONY Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels taking on the role of Carl Hanratty).  The remainder of the cast is outstanding, with Tom Wopat (Dukes of Hazzard, A Catered Affair, Sondheim On Sondheim), Rachel De Benedet (The Sound Of Music, Nine) and Linda Hart (Anything Goes, Hairspray).    Ghostlight Records released the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Catch Me If You Can in May in digital format.  The CD follows on June 28, 2011.
For fans of traditional Broadway, Catch Me If You Can is like manna in the dessert.  The only bit of bad luck for this show is opening in the same year that nouveau Broadway juggernaut The Book Of Mormon came to town.  The score, written by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Sleepless In Seattle, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Flipped)  and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) is utterly brilliant, combining the dark beauty of Cy Coleman and the buoyant melodies of Sondheim.  Aaron Tveit and Tom Wopat shine, but its Norbert Leo Butz who makes the world go ‘round in Catch Me If You Can.  The theme song, if you will, of his character, Carl Hanratty, “Don’t Break The Rules”, is perhaps one of the best original compositions to hit the Broadway stage in the past two decades, and Butz plays it from an anachronistic character full of the vim and vigor of a zealot, but with an exceedingly human side. 
The cast album is full of amazing moments, however.  The opening number, “Live In Living Color” sets the stage perfectly for a show that’s larger than life, but never forgets the details of human emotion and imperfection that are the currents the characters travel upon.  “Some Else’s Skin” gets the action rolling; laying out the motivation for Abagnale Jr.’s flights of fancy.  “Butter Outta Cream” is a delicious duo between the Abagnales, father and son, and Aaron Tveit and Tom Wopat achieve an uneasy but comfortable chemistry that will sound familiar to fathers and sons everywhere.  “Christmas Is My Favorite Time Of Year” is a turning point in the show; the first personal contact understanding between Abagnale and Hanratty.  Terrence McNally gives wonderful life to the characters here with his musical dialogue and the construction of relationship archetypes that as personal as they are universal. 
The comedic highlight of the album (and show) is “Little Boy, Be A Man”; an exploration, in caricature, of the imperfections of fatherhood.  The humor here bites hard, but with heart, while Hanratty continues his investigation and begins to close the distance on Abagnale.  This duet between Butz and Wopat features a distinctive chemistry. Things move quickly toward resolution, with Abagnale falling in love (“(Our) Family Tree”), getting caught (“Goodbye”) and being brought to justice (“Stuck Together (Strange But True)”).  This last number closes out the show, and covers both the end of our story, and the aftermath, where Abagnale turns the tables and becomes one of the FBI’s best analysts involving check fraud.  The cast recording also includes a bonus song, Tom Wopat’s “Fifty Checks”.  This is a nice little number that certainly adds to the story, but doesn’t really find a home in the flow of the show. 
Catch Me If You Can borrows some of the musical-noir atmosphere from Cy Coleman’s City Of Angels while telling a compelling story riddled with human imperfection and the hope of redemption.  Anyone who has seen the movie of the same name or read Frank Abagnale Jr.’s book will be familiar with the premise going in, and while liberties have been taken to help the flow of the story for the Broadway stage, the heart and soul of the tale remain intact.  Terrence McNally’s book and Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman’s score go together like butter and toast, and the all star cast, including TONY winner Norbert Leo Butz, Aaron Tveit and Tom Wopat, make the most of every delicious minute.  Catch Me If You Can is everything you could want out of a Broadway Cast Recording, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Catch Me If You Can at www.catchmethemusical.comCatch Me If You Can drops on CD on June 28, 2011.  You can pre-order your copy from Amazon.com.  Digital versions are already available from Amazon and iTunes.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

White Wives - Happeners

White Wives - Happeners
2011, Adeline Records/EastWest Records

White Wives are something of a Western Pennsylvania super group.  Anti-Flag's Chris Barker and Chris Head, Dandelion Snow's Roger Harvey and American Armada's Tyler Kweder craft a sound born of their distinct and varying influences that fails to sound quite like any of their day-to-day projects.  White Wives' debut album, Happeners, due June 28, 2011,  doesn't really sound like a side-project from any of the bands named above, mixing active guitars, an eccentric vocal style and solid energy.

Happeners opens with the first single, "Indian Summer, Indian Summer".  The song kicks off with a documentary-style clip commemorating the first nuclear bomb test in the U.S.  This sets the tone for a song about finding your way in the world, playing off teen angst against possibility over catchy riffs and a driven guitar sound.  "Sky Started Crying is catchy, building in intensity into each chorus, where White Wives show a pleasing mix of melodicism and hard rock drive.  "Hungry Ghosts" shows a Nirvana-style grunge sound that is tempered by the band's melodicism and buoyant sound.  "Hallelujah, I'm Morning" has an incipient energy that is undeniably, capturing the desire to fill music with the passion of a teenager.  This musical exploration of musical roots has an inspiring quality to it, an uplifting anthem to remind anyone who's ever strapped on a guitar or braved an open mic why they did it.

"Let It Go" strips things down just a bit, allowing a memorable melody and solid chorus to take over and carry the song.  There's a communal, feel-good vibe to the song that's undeniable, and White Wives proves that their stylistic range is a bit wider than you might, at first, expect.  White Wives then close up shop with the image-filled but ultimately lost "Like A Runaway Slave".  The song starts with promise, but fails to convert on that promise in the end, falling into a repetitive and vaguely shiny cadence that drives the chorus.

Happeners reflects White Wives as a major label act in Indie clothing.  There are some fine moments on the album, but there is also a distinct sense that the band is being guided toward a marketable sound rather than writing entirely to what they know.  At their best, White Wives craft a singular sound that is fresh and biting, if not entirely unique.  At the other end of the spectrum are the songs that sound just too much like too many other post-modern bands who can't figure out how to blend the whiny intellectualism of R.E.M. with the crisply driven Alt-rock style they aspire to. 

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about White Wives at www.wearewhitewives.comHappeners hits the streets on June 28, 2011.  You can pre-order the album on CD or Vinyl from Amazon.com.  Digital pre-orders are available via iTunes.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Alina Smith - Alina Smith [EP]

Alina Smith - Alina Smith [EP]
2011, Alina Smith

Cinderella’s got nothing on Alina Smith.  Smith, who flew out of her native St. Petersburg, Russia on the strength of her amazing voice, is on the verge of stardom.  Smith found her way into a choir touring Europe, as a nine year old soloist.  Next came L.A., where Smith has won a host of awards for songwriting and performance. Smith penned the song “Fallin’ 4 U”, chosen by Sony to be the debut single for artist Aisha.  Smith has also been featured on a Michael Jackson tribute CD released in Japan.  Stateside, Smith has built a significant following on the West Coast, and in New York City, where she has played regularly at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar.  Smith’s self-titled debut EP is all you could hope for in a pop album:  Intelligent lyrics, universal themes, great melodies, and the sort of choruses that stick to the inside of your head for days.

Alina Smith opens with "Kissing Tree (Boom Boom)", a deliciously infectious pop song with folk and country undercurrents.  It's a highly enjoyable number that's danceable and finds smith sounding like an eclectic cross between Macy Gray and Trisha Yearwood.  Smith's voice has a distinctive tonal and quality that is memorable and highly listenable.  "Hanging In The Rain" is a relationship retrospective full of artful imagery; a pop/country ballad with a soulful vocal line that speaks to the changes heartbreak can bring.  "Top Down" goes the pop route, but blends in country, soul and Celtic influences.  Smith is on the verge of something here, both in the song lyrics and as an artist.  She feels it and can't contain her delight.  That energy flows out of the album and to listeners even through recorded media.  "Lady Tonight" is a soulful and mature imitation to love, and to treat the narrator as she deserves to be treated.  The song has a great, pure melody, and Smith sings her heart out on it.  Smith closes with "Catch A Moment With You", a sweet, Adult-Contemporary pop ballad that's subtly commercial.

Alina Smith is the real deal, a pop artist with a host of influences from outside of pop music who sings with a maturity and class that distances her from the reality TV mindset of popular culture.  Heavy vocal effects are apparent at times throughout the EP, although it's unclear whether this is purely a production decision or whether it’s to smooth out Alina Smith's sound.  If it's the former, then Smith has a fine voice you could listen to all day.  Alina Smith is a fine introduction to a young artist who should be making albums for a long time to come.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Alina Smith at http://www.alinasmith.net/ or www.myspace.com/alinamusic.  Alina Smith is currently shopping for a label to release her self-titled EP.  For now, you can catch Smith’s music streaming on both her website and MySpace pages.  (photo by Eric Vuelo).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Driftwood Sailors - Demo


The Driftwood Sailors - Demo
2011, The Driftwood Sailors

Rochester, New York rockers The Driftwood Sailors bring swagger and soul to a classic rock blend, creating a sound that is decidedly old school and simultaneously fresh.  Vocalist Amanda Lee Peers was the winner of a 2010 Lovin’ Cup Idol, and carries the blond locks and sassy attitude of a pop star, along with a voice that stops people in their tracks.  The rest of the band is a first class complement to peers; the chemistry is undeniable.  The Driftwood Sailors recently submitted their 4-track demo for consideration.

The Driftwood Sailors open with "Summer Jam", featuring a hip-hop lyrical style couched in a solid funk/soul/arrangement.  Amanda Lee Peers has a soulful vocal style that is highly memorable, even if the production mix buries the vocal line a bit.  "End Of Another Day" is a song of missing someone who has gone away; a longing love song with heart.  Peers' vocals are again top of the heap.  "Crashing Down" builds big atmosphere, but falls a bit short on substance.  Not bad, but not up to the first two tracks here.  The Sailors close by launching into an atmospheric cover of Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble".  The version is competent to say the least.   Peers’ is at the top of her game here.

The Driftwood Sailors show flashes of things to be on their 4-song demo, led by the impressive voice of Amanda Lee Peers.  The instrumental work of the band is superior, and The Driftwood Sailors play together like they've been doing it all their lives.  The production values on the demo are not what they might be, and some restructuring of the mix would need to happen to make this demo a presentable EP, but it's very clear that the Driftwood Sailors are on to something.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Aoede - Affair With The Muse


Aoede - Affair With The Muse
2011, Aoede Muse Music

Dermatomyositis is a rare connective-tissue disease that weakens the immune system, muscles and skin.  When this disease struck Lisa Sniderman, AKA Aoede, in 2008, it came from out of the blue.  Aoede was still basking in the recognition generated by her debut album, Push And Pull, which won Aoede recognition for Top Artist of the Year and Top Album of the Decade from WomenRadio.com.  In September of 2010, Sniderman's condition worsened, requiring a 24-day hospital stay and intensive treatment and therapy.  Aoede made music a part of the therapeutic process, and the result is a new seven-track album entitled Affair With The Muse.

Aoede opens with "Fairy Tale Love", a 1950's pop vocal number dressed up in modern folk/pop clothing.  Party Disney and part dysfunctional romance movie, "Fairy Tale Love" explores wanting that perfect love story.  Aoede's sweetly anachronistic voice dances with the melody line to create a sweet opening moment.  "Does Your Heart Ever Stop Feeling" starts with an 'oom-pah' beat, much like a parade march.  Aoede will remind listeners of Kate Bush and Tori Amos here, with an intriguing vocal line that makes up in character what it occasionally loses in pure tone.  "Crave Me" speaks from the midst of a comfortable relationship, asking to be placed ahead of the day-to-day considerations of the world, even if for a little while.  This heartfelt number is honest and real, written from the heart of someone who just wants to be seen as she once was.  Off to a great start, the album slows down somewhat from there. "If You Already Know" has a bit of a cabaret feel, but is otherwise somewhat bland.  Aoede creates an interesting characterization of love in "Love Proof", but "Fall On Your Deaf Ears" is a bit too close to cliché in trying to save a relationship tilting into the wind.  Aoede closes strong with "What You Got".  Part pep talk and part motivational aid (i.e. kick in the rear), the song is entertaining and impassioned and full of heart.

Just like people, sometimes music soars and sometimes it survives.  Aoede does a bit of both here, which is incredibly fitting given the circumstances under which Affair With The Muse was born.  Aoede's quirky folk/pop sensibilities mix with both light and dark on her latest album, sometimes throwing up glorious sparks of song, while at others simply documenting the passage of time and the survival of creation; of life itself.  While Affair With The Muse may not stand as Aoede's best work in time, it might be her most compelling.  You can't help but think, listening to Aoede's occasional brushes with magic, that there's an album in her down the road that's going to blow a lot of people away.  Affair With The Muse isn't that album, but it's the first step on the path there.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Aoede at www.aoedemuse.com.  To learn more about Dermatomyositis, please visit www.myositis.orgAffair With The Muse is available digitally from Amazon.com and iTunes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Ray Renzi Project - Oldzkool


The Ray Renzi Project – Oldzkool
2011, Oldzkool Records

In an age of genre hyphens, there are acts out there that blend so many styles they make the word genre practically obsolete.  Rhode Island's The Ray Renzi Project is one such act, blending jazz, rock, blues, country, R&B, Celtic, folk and more than a little Jimmy Buffet into an ever shifting musical patois that is as unpredictable as it is appealing.  All of this is evident on The Ray Renzi Project's album Oldzkool, a solidly appealing conglomeration of anything and everything you ever could have wanted out of the pop music era.

Oldzkool opens with "As Simple As", a catchy, straightforward rocker with Americana and blues in its ancestry.  It's philosophical and mellow song of love with a philosophical bent, supported by some impressive guitar fills.  "How Strong Is My Love" is a straight-ahead rockin' blues tune that is more entertaining musically than lyrically.  Renzi and his band have an ear for catchy blues/roots based rock n roll, with nods to both Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton for style.  "Love Will Find It's Way" is a 1960's-style pop ballad with a memorable melody and a classic feel.  The song may sound a bit bland up against the material that precedes it, but is refreshing in its melodicism and pure pop sensibility. 

Renzi channels Jimmy Buffett on "A Cold Margarita" while working in references to artists such as Buffett, Alan Jackson and Bertie Higgins, amongst others.  It's a bit of kitschy fun that's part tribute and part parody, but very well played.  "Jazzette" is a brief instrumental diversion that makes the most of saxophone and guitar in a convincing jazz turn.  It's a solid change of pace that highlights the range and depth of the band.  "Come On Over" is 1950's rock/R&B with a walking bass line.  Catchy and enjoyable, the song features some of the best vocal work on the album, both in the lead and in harmonies.  "I Don't Know Why" moves forward into the mid-1960's with a roots-rocker built on a post-Beatles melodicism and a catchy beat.

Renzi goes for the heart on the Orbison-esque "So Alone Tonight", a song of sadness underscored by the mournful steel guitar that fills space between vocal lines.  Beautiful in its dark emotion and shading, the song is a time-machine moment that will bring you back to the days when artists such as Orbison were regulars on the Billboard charts.  "Flanagan's Shannon View" is a dose of pure Irish-Caribbean stew, a Jimmy Buffett-style number played with country instrumentation and deep Celtic influences, it's certainly an aural experience you won't forget.  It's actually not bad, although so many steps off the beaten path it might be something of an acquired taste.  Oldzkool goes out in a blaze of surf guitar, on the Dick Dale-styled "Surfette".  It's a solid, guitar-led instrumental rant that is so out of flow with the album it belongs.

The Ray Renzi Project has but one focus on Oldzkool, crafting original tunes inspired by some of the great artists and styles of the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's.  The band is very competent, with Renzi solid on vocals and guitar, and the rest of the crew backing him note-for-note through an extremely varied set of songs and styles.    The Ray Renzi is the ultimate cover band playing songs you've never heard before, but which sound suspiciously familiar the first time you listen.  This is done with an amiable presence that shines through even from the recording studio; a care free attitude that could only be born of the golden age of rock n roll.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ray Renzi on his website.  Additional information about the Oldzkool project is available hereOldzkool is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download.  The album is also available on iTunes.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Skyler - Take You Away

Skyler - Take You Away
2011, SkyHi Records

York, Maine singer/songwriter Skyler returns in 2011 with his sophomore EP, Take You Away.  The follow-up to 2010’s Long Gone, which placed in Wildy’s World’s Top-10 albums of 2010, follows a similar path to success.  Skyler’s brand of catchy pop music is ripe with memorable melodies and clever turns of phrase.

Skyler gets things started with melodic alternapop you can't get out of your head.  "Empty Rooms" laments a life on the sidelines in a highly danceable folk/pop arrangement with strong guitar fills.  Skyler has a fine voice that rings clear in the middle.  "Hold On (Pray)" is an easy going number with a solid chorus.  Skyler manages to build the song in intensity and accent with splendid vocal harmonies, while advising listeners to not be complacent but grab life by the horns.  "Take You Away" looks forward at how things might be in a prospective relationship.  The song is built on a strong hook, and is a great listen in spite of getting too repetitive for its own good at the end.  "It Kills Me" is a circular, angst-filled rumination on unrequited love from a distance.  Well written and mildly catchy, the song conveys hope that is compelling in its apparent hopelessness.  Skyler closes with "Sentimental", one side of an argument over emotions and what is, and is not, real.  The energy is great, and the chorus will get stuck and recur in your head.  Skyler manages to sound like an affable cross between the Gin Blossoms and Dog's Eye View. 

Skyler continues to finesse his considerable talent for crafting catchy folk/pop/rock numbers that make listeners want to get on their feet and dance.  Take You Away perhaps steps back a tad from last year's Long Gone, but only in that Skyler is continuing to grow as an artist and expand his sonic territory.  Skyler shows the same energy and zest as in the past, but is also exploring the edges of his sound to see where he might go next.  The result is positive, and promises to bear much fruit down the road.  For now, you could do worse than to let Skyler Take You Away for a little while.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Skyler at www.myspace.com/skylertunes.  Take You Away is available digitally from Amazon.com and iTunes.



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Wilde - What Man!? Oh That Man!!!


Sunday Wilde - What Man!?  Oh That Man!!!
2010, Sunday Wilde

Sunday Wilde's voice is as raw and pure as the wilderness in which she lives.  The Northern Ontario resident writes and sings a guttural blend of dirty blues and jazz that is compelling and vital, baring deep emotions to the light in songs that imprint themselves on your soul.  Wilde's third album, What Man!? Oh That Man!!! covers the range of human emotion and experience, traipsing through love, heartbreak and primal need as if the walls the separate these states of being are non-existent.  With bass-work from Rockabilly Hall of Famer Ronnie Hayward and the phenomenal guitar work of David West to support her, Sunday Wilde lets loose on her piano and through her voice as if it's the last thing she'll ever do.

Wilde opens with "That Man Drives Me Mad", a frenetic blues number driven by Wilde's eclectic voice.  Wilde belts, purrs and moans through a song about love-induced madness in her primal, scratchy voice.  "Sunday's Midnight Blues" documents the misgivings that can afflict us all in the small hours before dawn, and Wilde blows listeners out of the water with an impassioned vocal that's part confession and part sensual growl.  "Manning Street Sweet Talker" is an entertaining story song; universal in that everyone knows someone like the character documented here.  Wilde tells the story with a finesse that is inborn, not learned.  "My Baby's Dead" is an entertaining number, steeped in the blues, that takes a somewhat unexpected turn.  Wilde seems to live to confront listeners with the unexpected, and almost slips this one by.

"Don't Bother Me" is a post-breakup reminder in song, full of sounds of frustration and perhaps even some dark humor.  There are simply no boundaries for Wilde as a songwriter; emotions are born in their own distinctive forms, whether words, music or primal sounds.  Wilde delivers on "Sorrowful Blues", a gutsy vocal performance in a song full of mild innuendo and a wanton attitude about the world.  The darkness here is born of having much attention from men, but not from the right one.  Wilde's performance is desperate and born of emptiness, but is delivered somehow with a wink and a smile.  "Our Deal Is Done" is a pure heartbreaker, matter-of-fact yet loaded with emotion.  "I Can't Shake That Guy" is an entertaining relationship post-mortem; the contemplative process that leads up to Wilde's shining moment.  "Time To Say Goodbye" is a diva moment of sorts, with Wilde stripping things down into a torchy vocal performance that will stick in your mind and keep you coming back.

Sunday Wilde isn't your father's blues singer.  Born of the wilds of the north, Wilde brings some of that primal feel to the songs on What Man!? Oh That Man!!!  With a voice you will never forget, Wilde rips apart the fragile emotional make of love from dawn to dusk, documenting each step to heartbreak and resignation across eleven emotionally and musically charged songs.  Wilde displays a memorable voice, and a charisma that is nothing short of preternatural.  Even if you don't dig What Man!? Oh That Man!!! you will absolutely never forget it.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Sunday Wilde at www.myspace.com/renojacksundaywilde.  What Man!? Oh That Man!!! is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.



Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five And Dime Cowboys - In Our Time


Five And Dime Cowboys - In Our Time
2011, Five And Dime Cowboys

Husband and wife duo Terry and Toni McCarthy have been writing songs together for about ten years now.  Under the name Five And Dime Cowboys, the Dallas, Oregon-based duo comment on life as they know it and see it in song.  The tradition of such singer/songwriters as Merle Haggard, Ian Tyson, John Prine and Johnny Cash, Five And Dime Cowboys tackle subjects such as love, family, politics and faith from a simple, real-world perspective.  The name Five And Dime Cowboys is in homage to the classic dime stores that were integral to small town life in America at one time, as well as to the old-school country music that formed the backbone of the McCarthy's collective musical education.  Five And Dime Cowboys recently released their debut album, In Our Time.

In Our Time opens with "China Moon", a sweet number written, perhaps, from father to adopted child.  Terry McCarthy delivers the story-song of new beginnings in an almost talk-sing style that sounds like a cross between Jim Reeves and Phil Harris.  "Almost Free" is a song written to a dying friend, a sorrowful look back at what is to be lost that turns to look forward into the hereafter with a hope born of faith.  Toni McCarthy takes over on vocals in an effort defined by poor tone and moderate pitch issues.  Terry McCarthy's "My Grandfather's House" is an amazing piece of songwriting that memorializes memory.  McCarthy holds up the house as a testament to all that his grandfather was; even years later when the house is gone it still stands in his memory.  There's a subtext here about our roots and the power to guide you and call you home that's powerful in its sincerity and truth.  McCarthy renders these thoughts in a simple arrangement born of two guitars and a lot of heart.

Toni McCarthy's "Gospel Song" is a minor-key hymn that underscores the darkness of life and the yearning to return home to God.  The vocal line is still a struggle here.  "In Our Time" is a speculative narrative about the end times prophesied in the Bible, stating a belief they are coming soon.  The edgy folk/country/rock arrangement is well written, and Terry McCarthy takes over vocals for a while.  "Look At You" is a meandering love ballad written from the perspective of a long-standing and mature relationship.  This song's heart is in the right place, but the pacing is nearly interminable, and many listeners may opt for the 'next' button.  "I Don't Know What I Would Do Without You" is another ballad that works a bit better in both style and sound.  Toni McCarthy takes her final turn at the mic for "The Desert", suffering the same issues she has previously.  Terry McCarthy makes the effort worthwhile with some slinky electric guitar work. 

"Prayer 2012" is a monologue on the state of the world that turns into a prayer asking God how much longer we'll have to wait for his return.  It's a solid effort, but surprisingly uninspired, from the lyrics to the straight-forward, uninflected style of play.  Politics breathes some life into "Writing's On The Wall", a diatribe detailing how government exists to support itself and its brother corporations while the working class continues to pay and pay.  There's a great blues protest number feel to this song, which is catchy and fun in spite of the subject matter.  McCarthy sings the two-guitar arrangement just a bit, ending with an anecdote about how many in California are now supplementing their income by growing pt.  "Wind In The Poplar Trees is a pretty, old-school ballad singer tune delivered in Terry McCarthy's distinctive talk/sing style.  A song of reminiscence, McCarthy relies on deep imagery for effect to display regret for steps untaken and words unsaid.  In Our Time closes with "1954", a reflection on the changes to small town life over the years.  The transformation from towns full of prosperity and hope to barren places stripped of what they once were is stark, turning the universal optimism of youth into the bitter resignation of today.

Terry and Toni McCarthy tell the tale of American decline on In Our Time, remembering a time when the world was full of opportunity and light, and marking how quickly these things have failed.  Terry McCarthy shows flashes of greatness as a songwriter, and has an affable talk/sing style hewn from the golden age of country music.  As a guitarist he is very much above average, displaying a fine hand and sense of melody.  Toni McCarthy's guitar style is more the awkward, straight ahead style of a folk singer who learned to play guitar simply as a means to accompaniment.  Vocally, Toni McCarthy suffers from poor tone and distinctive deficits in pitch.  The three songs she heads up on the album are tough listens.  In Our Time is written in the form of universal truth-isms about a world that has seen its better days.  While dated in sound and perspective, Five And Dime Cowboys' In Our Time will appeal heavily to fans of 1950's and 1960's country music, as well as to fans of folk music of the same era.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at www.fiveanddimecowboys.com.  In Our Time is available digitally from Amazon.com and iTunes.  CD copies are available from CDBaby.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fereshta - Global Citizen


Fereshta - Global Citizen
2011, Peace, Love & Bling Records

Fereshta is an Afghan-American singer/songwriter who resides in Los Angeles.  She recently released her debut album, Global Citizen, a collection of twelve songs that run the gamut from folk-inspired alt-pop to Runaways-style pop/metal.

Global Citizen is a schizophonic musical experience right from the start.  With a voice that's part Anabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow) and part Edie Brickell, Fereshta bullies her way through faster-paced tunes in an anachronistic style that's charming.  On slower numbers such as the anemic closer "General Breeze", her vocal imperfections are thoroughly over-exposed.  Fereshta seems to be at her best when she pouts and preens, as in the bubblegum metal of "Amends", or the Runaways/Hole inspired "Body Heat".  The standout track on the album is decorated in a polished garage rock sound.  "Wonderlust" recalls the pure sexual freedom of the 1980's and its pouty leading ladies, wrapped up in a descending bass line and big hooks.

Fereshta manages to shine at times on "Global Citizen", in spite of a writing style that perhaps isn't yet as mature as her musical ambitions.  There's real pop sensibility and room for growth here, as Fereshta shows an ability to connect with listeners through the medium of catchy pop/rock numbers that are memorable and fun.  Based on the title and the album cover, you won't be prepared for what you find here, but it's good when music surprises you.  Fereshta may have some growing to do as an artist, but she's certainly a pleasant surprise.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Fereshta at http://www.fereshta.com/ or www.myspace.com/faramsey.  Global Citizen is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Josu De Solaun - In The Mist


Josu De Solaun - In The Mist
2011, Melos Records

Josu De Solaun moved to New York City from Spain at the age of 17 to pursue his dreams of a career in music.  The now 29 year-old De Solaun is a classical pianist with a fine ear and a level of technical proficiency that speaks of decades of training and hard work.  A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, De Solaun is a previous winner of First Prize at the I European Union Piano Competition, and winner of the First Grand Prize at the XV José Iturbi International Piano Competition.  Du Solaun has performed with as a soloist with major orchestras across Europe and North America, and perhaps most impressive, has won acknowledgements and praise from his peers in the classical world.  Jose Du Solaun's debut album, In The Mist, shows off both his technical abilities and his almost preternatural phrasing.

De Solaun opens with Alexander Skryabin's In The Mist, in four movements.  "Andante" starts as a gentle flow, growing in turbulence with the power of roiling waters before acquiescing again into a peaceful beauty.  De Solaun accomplished with a mix of dynamics and touch, using tension and drama to underscore the changes in volume much as an actor uses facial expressions and movement to underscore the drama of their lines.  "Molto Adagio" has a dreamy, pastoral nature.  De Solaun sets the mood and controls the musical flow with apparent ease, hinting occasionally at turbulence with subtle yet powerful derivations that quickly evaporate into air.  "Andantino" is sweet and lulling, but occasionally erupts into an emotional outburst that is quickly quelled by its softer natures.  Its thought blended with passion that quickly succumbs to the beauty of logic.  De Solaun's phrasing here is impeccable, capturing each nuance of color and emotion and channeling into the ears of the listener with an apparent ease that is unsettling.  "Presto" shows a distinctive lyricism in De Solaun's play; having an almost ballet-like feel.  De Solaun builds dramatically into turbulence and darkness, with runs thundering down like a downpour.  The turn from darkness to light is well-played, announcing the end of the storm and a coming full circle.  De Solaun's interpretational style and execution will leave you breathless.

Maria Agata Szymanowski's "Scheherazade", from her Masques, Op. 34, is expansive and complex in its meandering style and contemplative air.  Se Solaun culls the nearly eleven-minute composition for tension and drama with an emotive playing style that makes the most of the work.  Szymanowski's "Scheherazade" is a difficult work for any pianist, calling for intense contrasts in subtle musical colors to avoid falling into aimlessness.  De Solaun surfs these waters better than most.

Leos Janacek's Piano Sonata, Op. 23 is up next, presented in four movements that sound as if they were written for Josu De Solaun to play.  "Drammatico" opens with flair, moving through pensive, rich passages into an air of uncertainty; as if Janacek and De Solaun are finding their way together.  De Solaun's showmanship is very much intact, but it is the subtlety of phrasing that impresses most here.  "Allegretto" is dark and vibrant; music written for action that sounds like a grand ballet at times.  De Solaun punctuates the subtleties of the melody with a heavy left hand that drives the movement.  "Andante" brings listeners close to the living, breathing performer in a performance that is all in.  Like following a trickle to a brook to a stream, De Solaun builds a lovely and lyric theme in intensity with a light energy that runs to the core of the music.  The movement, and resulting moment, are a thing of beauty.  "Presto Con Fuoco" is dark and manic in the opening moments, with a urgent, overflowing energy that is compelling.  The piece sounds almost rushed at times, but that works to reinforce the overall atmosphere.  The composition is messy at times, but De Solaun interprets well, working through cascading runs and lyric passages to build a sense of movement that is palpable.

Freidrich Chopin's "Nocturne In B. Major, Op. 62, Nr. 1" is utterly gorgeous in De Solaun's hands; full of a quiet power and grace.  The phrasing here is impeccable.  De Solaun closes with the second movement from Gian Francesco Malipieri's Preludi Autumnali, "Ritenuto Ma Spigiliato", a beautifully understated number played with a light touch.  De Solaun tickles the keys like the subtle twinkling of starlight; a tender goodnight, a lullaby, and an apt bit of closure for a sensational overall effort.

In The Mist serves as a document for one of the bright young not-quite-yet-stars of the classical piano.  Josu De Solaun has the talent to one day be named amongst the best pianists of his generation, showing equal ease amongst Slavic, Austro-German and Italian classical styles, and a talent for phrasing that is rare.  It's all a matter of time and of being heard.  In The Mist will certainly accomplish the later, and may well shorten the former.  The album is brilliant.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Josu De Solaun at www.josudesolaun.com.  In The Mist is available digitally from Amazon.com and iTunes.