All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dan Silljer - Foolish Heart

Dan Silljer – Foolish Heart
2012, Soccer Mom Records
Dan Silljer gets funky on his debut solo album Foolish Heart, blending 1970’s soul, R&B and funk with a distinctive ear for melody.  In the process the member of Jason Plumb’s band The Willing creates a collection of highly listenable original tunes.  Silljer’s voice is smooth and soulful throughout, transitioning adeptly back and forth between soul /funk influenced rock and roll and his singer/songwriter roots. 

“All But Over You” is AM pop radio gold, circa 1981, and shows a distinct talent for lyrics in addition to composition.  Silljer displays a classic pop touch on “Foolish Heart”, swinging the beat in a gentle ballad that maintains high energy while keeping its cool.  Tower of Power style horns come to life on the guitar-driven “Unfaithful You”, accented by some Stanley Jordan-esque guitar work.  Silljer slows things down for the soulful and swanky “One More Dawn” before launching into the elemental funk and roll of “Them Changes”.  This is easily the most danceable track on the album – you simply won’t be able to sit still.
“Sanctuary” settles into a solid groove, while “Strange Relationship” marks a funky, classic-rock sound circa 1975.  The blues roots of this number show through, and Silljer digs into the vocal line with gusto – laying everything on the line.  Things get smooth on “Cradle To The Grave” a solid old school pop number that’s pure Billboard material.  Silljer then takes on Marvin Gaye’s “How Long”.  It’s always a risk when an artist takes on an iconic song from an iconic artist, but Silljer succeeds with a funky/smooth sound that’s classic and fresh at the same time.  “’Til I’m Gone” mixes soul and Americana (or Canadiana, if you will) in a down-tempo number that’s melodically pure and steeped in the blues.  This is a great piece of songwriting and is delivered with a quiet sense of urgency that is pleasantly surprising.  Foolish Heart bows on a quiet note: just Silljer and guitar on “Fall Apart”.  While the album is high quality throughout this is Silljer’s finest moment: showing he has the musicianship, voice and charisma to hold a listener’s attention without any frills added.

Dan Silljer may spend a lot of time in the background as a member of Jason Plumb And The Willing, but he is a first class front man in his own right.  This fact becomes more and more apparent he wends his way through Foolish Heart.  Dan Silljer shows off his many musical facets with quiet confidence and just a touch of flair.  Foolish Heart is an album you simply don’t want to miss.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Dan Silljer at Soccer Mom Records or on Facebook.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shark Week

For devotees of Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, Marian Call co-penned a little ditty with Paul Race of that you simply must here.  The song is just under a minute long and is entitled "Shark Week", and right now it's available for download on Bandcamp at any price you name.  Check it out here for free!

Learn more about fabulous Miss Marian Call at

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kati Mac - Save Me From Myself

Kati Mac – Save Me From Myself
2012, Kati Mac
With five EMMY nominations, and stints as a backup vocalist for performers such as Meatloaf, Nona Hendryx, Sting and Michael Bolton, you would think that Kati Mac would be a household name.   If you’re a fan of daytime soap operas you’ve certainly heard some of Kati Mac’s original music.  In fact, her song “Only Love” was the final theme for long-time CBS soap The Guiding Light.  Kati Mac continues to produce her own original music from her home base in New York City.  Her most recent effort, Save Me From Myself, is a wondrous mix of folk, rock, Americana and blues, and features a guest appearance from the one and only Jeff Golub. 

Save Me From Myself opens with the title track, a sleep bit of bluesy folk/rock that established a rich feel for the album.  Kati Mac is not overpowering vocally, but she has a pleasant voice and a sense of presence that is commanding.  She owns this song, imbuing it with a sense of urgency that is palpable.  “Bullet Hole Road” is the catchy and dark tale of a desperate life laced with impressive guitar work.  The subject of the song is an outlaw, though not a bad person.  The moral here is that a person’s story is often more than just the sum of their actions.  It’s a great story song, and Kati Mac wraps a rich and fluid arrangement around it all.  “He’s Memory To Me Now” is a quiet ballad looking back at a relationship from the past.  There’s a sense of hope that pervades the song, but that hope is mixed with a deep sense of resolution that things simply are what they are.
“Been There Done That” is a catchy blues rock kiss-off song with style and a bit of cheek.   This highly entertaining turn shows off Kati Mac’s sense of humor in the context of finely crafted lyrics and a brilliant arrangement that wraps around it all like a shawl.  “The Wheels Go Round” is a solid country/blues number with a healthy jaunt to it.    This leads into “Times Like These”, a down-tempo ballad that features some of the best guitar work on the album.  Kati Mac is a bit exposed vocally on this tune, but manages a solid vocal regardless. 

Kati Mac trots out Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” for a run around the block, building wonderful tension into the song while offering up a knockout vocal performance.  She then launches into another kiss-off song in the form of “Cold Day In Hell”, this time chiding  former love that is looking to get back into her life.  Listeners will hear shades of Bonnie Raitt here; it’s a fun tune that you’ll revisit again and again.  Kati Mac struggles a bit with pitch on “I Won’t Get Back Up”.  The vague malaise carries through to “Highway 100”, this time not in pitch but in the form of a middle of the road ballad replete with melancholy. 
Kati Mac lights up the room with “Lord Have Mercy On Me”, a bluesy folk/rocker about being unable to help herself in the presence of a heartbreaker of a man.  The song it entertaining and raw, and she does lose a bit of vocal composure on the high notes.  It’s unclear whether this is by design or simply caused from Kati reaching beyond her comfortable range.  “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” is a solid lament on the past and things that might have been different.  Kati Mac sings from the heart here; the result is a compact tune with a fine arrangement and a powerful sense of emotional momentum that is hard to ignore.  Kati Mac winds things down with an acoustic take on her cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home”, this time with Jeff Golub putting in a stellar guest appearance. 

Kati Mac is in the zone on Save Me From Myself, blending stellar songwriting, adept vocals and a wonderful compositional sense that draws the listener in and holds you in place.  There a couple of songs here where she pushes her own vocal range with mixed results, but one the whole Save Me From Myself is a splendid effort.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Venetian - I Wanna Tell You A Story

The Venetian – I Wanna Tell You A Story
2011, The Venetian
The Venetian isn’t so much a band as a force majeure.  Digging into the band’s past leads to more questions than answers.  Somewhere out there is a singer/songwriter who delights in blending the early roots of music and opera with the raw blend of rock and roll.  He is The Venetian, and his album is called I Wanna Tell You A Story.
I Wanna Tell You A Story is one of the more unusual rock operas you’ll come across.    Songs alternative between traditional Italian croon-tunes sung in Italian to forthright rock and roll sung in English.  The Italian tracks are titled as consecutively numbers Acts (“Act I”, “Act II”, etc.), while the rock and roll tracks are more descriptively named.   The tracks in Italian are well-crafted and well-sung, but I can’t comment on the lyrical content.  The rock and roll tracks represent a baroque-rock tragedy that follows the relationship of a boy with his father throughout the years of his life.
Dad is a musician, the son doesn’t understand at first why his father is gone all the time.  The Venetian takes us through the gamut of complicated emotions throughout I Wanna Tell You A Story, from the loneliness of a child who needs his dad, to the impact it has on life decisions, and to ultimate understanding as he, himself, becomes a musician.  In the end, the special bond that father and son share is through music.  They are forever connected in melody and rhyme, even if they are (meta)-physically distant in the end.
The primary rock and roll influence on the album appears to be Queen.  Particularly on tracks such as “Goodbye” and “I Wanna Tell You The Story”.  The latter even references the classic Queen track “The Seven Seas of Rhye”, in case you didn’t get the sonic similarities.  As a vocalist, the closest match you’ll find for The Venetian’s distinctive sound is Lawrence Gowan (Gowan, Styx). 
From a songwriting experience, I Wanna Tell You A Story is very much up and down.  “Goodbye” and “Dancing Angel” are tremendously vibrant rock and roll numbers while exploring disparate timbres and sounds.  The mischievous rock waltz instrumental “Soft Snow” is brilliant, sounding as if it were inspired by the Gypsy violin style of Stephane Grappelli.  “Lullaby” is the closer; where all of the son’s struggles for understanding finally resolve in a song in which he reaches out and touches the soul of his father.  It’s a wonderfully uplifting moment both in poetry and song, and draws the entire experience e together.  “My Black Cat” is also a treat, bringing a slinky, cool jazz feel to the proceedings.
I Wanna Tell You A Story has its less than exciting moments as well, particularly the middle of the road material such as “My Good Friend” and “Sometimes”, and the cheesy cliché of “My Sweet Italian Pie”. 
I Wanna Tell You A Story works very well as an early concept album for a one day rock and roll musical.  The songs are generally well-written and there is a narrative flow here that is impressive.  A true work up of this production would likely result in a couple of the songs currently here being either dropped or seriously re-worked, but as a whole the work has great potential.  The Venetian is a strong vocalist who does very well within his comfortable range.  The songs that require falsetto don’t always go as well, but he makes a fair effort.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Midtown Men - Sixties Hits

The Midtown Men – Sixties Hits
2011, The Midtown Men
Broadway musical casts are forever changing.  Principal actors move on to other projects, or come to disagreements with the powers that be over the value of their performances to the show.  Whatever the reason, the Great White Way is a revolving door.  The Jersey Boys was one of the most wildly successful rock and roll inspired shows of the last decade.  The original cast of that show has moved on, but they haven’t stopped performing together.  Working now under the name The Midtown Men,  Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer continue to deliver their brilliant early rock and roll sound as they tour the U.S.  The Midtown Men’s debut album, Sixties Hits, finds The Midtown Men picking right up where they left off at the final curtain call of The Jersey Boys. 
Kicking things off with a medley of “Let’s Hang On/Working My Way Back To You/Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”, The Midtown Men sound like they have been transported forward forty years without missing a beat.  The sound is wonderfully clean and professional, and the vocal harmonies are as right as a wire.  There is a hint of Broadway/Vegas flair to the entire affair, but the sound is very faithful to the early 1960’s sound they are trying to capture.  “Can’t Buy Me Love” brings a bit of surf influence into the classic Beatles tune, subtly changing the character of the song without breaking its musical heritage.  This is one of the sharpest interpretations of the album, one you will likely have on repeat.
The Midtown Men then launch into “Happy Together” as if they wrote it themselves.  This time out the sound, perhaps, a bit too polished, but it’s a minor complaint.  They sound absolutely brilliant.  “Ain’t That Peculiar” is solid space filler, but leads into the aural gold of “Dawn”.  The vocal harmonies here are beyond sublime, tightly wound and perfectly executed.  “Dawn” is truly a thing of beauty.  “Candy Girl” plays in a similar sonic playground, although the Midtown Men are a bit looser with their sonic affections this time around.  This one will have you wanting to dance a bit.
“Up On The Roof” gets a modernized, slick treatment that sounds likely to get the Midtown Men some airplay, but doesn’t necessarily go as well on the song.    It’s the sonic equivalent of trying to paint antique furniture with modern acrylic paint.  It might look nice but it just doesn’t fit.  The Midtown Men hit a homerun on “California Dreamin’” however finding the perfect mix of rough and smooth in the sound.  The lead vocalist is on the edge of nirvana throughout this performance, nailing not only every note but the feel of the song as well. 
“Time Of The Season” underlines the group’s vocal prowess as they work their way through some interesting modal harmonies in the arrangement.  The performance is absolutely gorgeous and worth waiting for.  “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is an almost perfectly bubblegum replica of the original, and promises to be a great deal of fun live.  The Midtown Men wind things up with a wonderfully buoyant take on “Bye Bye Baby”,  the perfect curtain call for the album.
The Midtown Men might not be able to trade under the name The Jersey Boys anymore, but if you loved the original Broadway production then you won’t be able to resist Sixties Hits.  In spite of a couple of mall side trips, the album flows brilliantly from song to song, with a level of sonic perfection that’s difficult to attain with even the most stringent electronic reworking of vocals.  There’s none of that here.  The Midtown Men are just solid gold.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jennings - Take It Or Leave It

Jennings – Take It Or Leave It
2012, Mary Jennings
If you were to meet Mary Jennings on the street, you would find her to be sweet and full of light. Standing just a hair over five feet tall, Jennings possesses the charm and grace of the archetypical girl next door.  Stepping on the stage to perform, Mary Jennings sheds her first name and transforms into a powerful, emotive singer/songwriter you might never have imagined from the first meeting.  It’s not so much a contradiction as reminder to not judge a book by its cover.  Jennings’ stage metamorphosis is stunning, and surprisingly well captured on her latest effort, the live album entitled Take It Or Leave It.

Jennings kicks off the album with “Doorway”, using her musky voice to full effect.  The song is a mixture of dark and light, wending its way through decisions while beckoning both success and tragedy.  The stripped down arrangement is affecting and pretty, and has a disturbing undercurrent that keeps listeners on the edge of their seats.  “Kaleidoscope”, written on a dare, explores the atomic nature of life, with events and people running together and creating unintended consequences.  The song reaches deep into the bag of metaphor and comes out a winner.  “Falling Higher” explores the juxtaposition of falling in love and moving higher into the emotional spectrum.  This is an amazing immersion in song, full of emotion, deep thoughts and amazing musical color.
“Move” is an exploration of the emotions surrounding the death of Jennings’ mother, and is accompanied here with an explanation of how it came to be.  Jennings is at her most elemental here, delving deep into the shattered psyche of a heart broken by grief.  The mix is beautiful and tragic all at once, and Jennings lets the song pour out of her like a torrent.  “Figure Me Out” is deeply personal and raw, skating the juncture where a crush becomes equally a boon and a burden.  Jennings’ explanation gives the song a happy twist as well, but I won’t ruin the surprise here.

“Cling To Me” is another deep emotional dive; an offer of succor and love in a friend’s darkest hours.  Jennings croons from her heart here, showing all the colors and shadings of her emotive voice.  “Surrender” digs at the motives of a friend who just never gives in, fighting to be right even when all the evidence is against them.  Jennings punctuates her frustration with the piano, redressing the ills with a voice that bleeds psyche, love and regret.  Jennings says goodnight with “Take It Or Leave It”, a pop singer/songwriter turn that thrives in the arpeggio-laden piano that drives it.  Even in the live setting, this song is radio-ready; highly emotive yet compact and well-written.
Mary Jennings knows how to deliver a song.  Her highly personal and emotional singing style is raw and captivating.  It’s the sort of performance that keeps audiences rapt with attention; leaning in toward the stage do they don’t miss a thing.  Take It Or Leave It captures the energy and power of a Jennings performance for those who haven’t been lucky enough to see her live, or for those who have and want to recapture the moment.  Don’t miss this album.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jennings at or on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nick Carter Green - ADD (single)

Nick Carter Green – ADD (single)
2012, Zuma Records
Nick Carter Green is an R&B/hip-hop artist from Chicago whose first release, XIX, received solid feedback locally and regionally.  Nick is currently working on a new album to be entitled X: The Breaking.  The first single from this new project is “ADD” a highly rhythmic and repetitive track that seeks to capture the frenetic mindset of the condition.  The song is built on a pervasive dance beat and a repetitive chorus that is almost anathema to the idea that drives the song.  There’s an irresistible catchiness to the exercise however, and you can feel your toes and hips wanting to move around like a physical draw.  Nick Carter Green raps and rhymes his way through the verses, and shows a splendidly sharp lyrical sense and even hints of a mischievous humor.  This is a likely hit in the dance clubs, and might even well-crafted for a situational song placement in a movie.  “ADD” holds great promise for the rest of what X: The Breaking might bring.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Nick Carter Green at or 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jesse Terry - Empty Seat On A Plane

Jesse Terry – Empty Seat On A Plane
2012, Jesse Terry
Jesse Terry is an award-winning singer/songwriter based in New York City, but you won’t often find him there.  Terry is an old-school road warrior, spending much of his time in clubs across the U.S. or at festivals where he can share his music with more fans, potential or otherwise.  Along the way, Terry has won Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and the CMT/NSAI Songwriting Competition, among others.  Terry has shared the stage with the likes of Darrell Scott (Robert Plant), Shawn Mullins, Dar Williams, David Wilcox, Lori McKenna and Rachel Platten.  Jesse Terry released his newest album, Empty Seat on A Plane, in July of 2012.  Produced by Neilson Hubbard (Kim Richey, Glen Phillips, Matthew Perryman Jones), the album moves with deep emotional waves and sparkling storytelling.
Terry kicks things off with “Empty Seats On A Plane”, a solid piece of folk pop that is deep in imagery.  As the title track and opener, it’s actually one of the more mundane tracks Terry wrote for the album, but a solid, if quiet, start.  “Let The Blues Skies Go To Your Head” is surprisingly introspective given the title.  Terry’s voice is distinctive, buzz worth with hints of a whine at times.  “Wishful Thinking” is a gentle piece of Americana that’s aesthetically pretty and poetically refined.  Terry continues to catalog his deepest thoughts and fears.
“Grace On A Train” is a standout track, with Terry seemingly telling two stories at once, one real and one in allegory.  This is as fine a piece of songwriting as you’ll find, and sounds like a hybrid cross of Paul Simon and John Mayer (at his best).  Terry shows off his ability at subtle word play in “Tightrope”.  There’s definitely more of a Paul Simon feel to this tune, and Terry’s literate lyrics and sprightly, rhythm-driven guitar arrangement are real charmers.  Jesse Terry goes for a gospel/Americana feel on “Bitterroot Valley”, the result is a pleasant listen, although it’s not clear from the listener’s perspective whether Terry really got to where he intended on this one.  A funky backbeat drives “Blue Touches Blue”, which plays as an almost perfect counterpoint to “Bitterroot Valley”.
“Coyotes” is a heartfelt ballad about being an outsider looking in.  Jesse Terry develops the song perfectly, with tremendous slow build in energy and intensity that sucks the listener in.  The spacey guitar work that dots the edges of the song is unusual and cool, a fine artist’s touch.    Terry strips things down to the base for “Barefoot Child”, a straight-forward reflection on the world that is full of a quiet beauty and grace.  “Sacred Or Nothing” ironically turns on itself perhaps, turning out to be one of the two weakest tracks on the disc, but Terry recovers well with the awkwardly sentimental but comely “Scenic Route”.  Jesse Terry says goodnight in perfect fashion with the swaying rhythms of “Pearl Diver”.  Terry paints entire scenes in words here against a clear, clean melody that is built of a simple beauty.
Jesse Terry is an amazing talented singer/songwriter.  His ability to sculpt powerful images with words impresses from the outset of Empty Seat On A Plane.  His tendency to get wrapped up in his own inner emotional dogma can be kind of a drag for the listener as well.  At his best, Terry is like the second coming of Paul Simon as a songwriter, with a voice that’s somewhere in the range of John Mayer.  At his worst moments, Terry’s voice and inward focus can make him sound whiny or self-pitying.  On balance, Empty Seat On A Plane is a powerful experience for the listener – one bound to make a lasting impression.  There’s little doubt that Jesse Terry is going to have a big following one day.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Jesse Terry at