All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Derek Nicoletto - Champion

Derek Nicoletto – Champion
2012, Island Def Jam
Derek Nicoletto was long lauded as having one of the best voices in Indie rock and roll.  His previous band, Telling On Trixie, always seemed on the verge of something great.  Yet pop stardom is a fickle creature, and try as they might, Telling On Trixie never quite connected with the sort of mainstream uprising that brings a band from regional favorite to national darling.  These days lead singer Derek Nicoletto is out there on his own, supporting his solo album Kind Ghosts, and a recent remix EP for the song “Champion”.  Here Nicoletto continues his musical rebirth, which has seen him shifting from rock and roll of Telling On Trixie to a darker, more electronic sound.
“Champion” certainly has its pop sensibility intact.  That and some reminiscent keyboard licks make this song sound as if Survivor had gone Goth/Post-Modern.  There are dark industrial tendencies built into the music here.  It’s a very solid effort from a compositional standpoint.  The song is quite disjointed lyrically, sounding as if phrases were sewn together for the purpose of filling out the music rather than out of any real stream of thought.  This works on one level, as a rhythmic counterpart to the composition, but falls a bit short of expectations based on Nicoletto’s previous work.
On the whole, “Champion” is an interesting step forward for Derek Nicoletto.  It appears more effort and thought went into the music than into the lyrics, but it’s still a positive experience for the listener.  One hopes that he can bring the lyrical cogence showed with Telling On Trixie to the table on future efforts; the result will be a complete songwriting package.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Friday, September 28, 2012

The 71's - We Are The Seventy Ones

The 71s – We Are The Seventy Ones
2012, The 71s Music
Anthem rock is back.  So declare The 71’s, a melodic power quartet from Houston Texas that is intent on breaking out or breaking something, and soon. The 71’s, known in and around Houston as a group of down to earth guys, write and play with a pretension to greatness that is reminiscent of the best of the progressive rock era.  This is accomplished with a blending of classic rock, punk, glam and even a bit of grunge.  All of this comes together on The 71’s recent release, We Are The Seventy Ones.  The album is not only a declaration of musical independence, but also charts out the course for what might be a long and glorious career.

The 71’s came to musical fruition at the inspiration of such bands as Pearl Jam, Foo Fighers and Oasis, which might explain their wide-ranging musical palette.  Comparisons of late have referenced Band Of Skulls, but honestly this is one case where such pigeonholing tends to sell a band short.  We Are The Seventy Ones reveals a band that has found their musical footing.  And even if, as I suspect, they haven’t fully settled on which path they are going to follow yet, they’ve yet to find anything that they can’t play well.  The album kicks off with a noisy, 1980’s hard pop number in the form of “Blue Blood”.  The 71’s add in a bit of punker sensibility here and end up with a sound reminiscent of early 90’s rockers The Men.

“Confession” builds on a bluesy guitar lick, driving forth in a wanton and vibrant rocker that you will have a hard time getting out of your head.  Interestingly enough, vocalist Keeton Coffman sounds a bit like a young Corey Hart here (think “Sunglasses At Night”).  The 71’s open the jets for “Waves”, a wide-open rocker that seems destined to be played in stadia the world over.  The 71’s keep the energy high and the melodic content higher throughout.  “Adeline” is a vibrant rocker with its own inertia.  You may find that you simply must dance when this love song for a middle-aged rocker plays.

The 71’s show they can do balladry as well as arena rock on “10,000” miles.  This is the fairly typical on the road love song, where the singer pines about getting back home to his baby.  In that regard it’s hard to view the song as being a bit cliché, but the melody is fine and Coffman sings from the heart, and the song is held together by a very solid, memorable chorus.  “Taken” explores the after-effects of a relationship that’s gone bad.  The song is well-written, and if Coffman’s vocal line is a bit overly-dramatic at times it’s just a small slip given the subject matter.  “Victimology” as a song is more of a vehicle for slinging around a six-string guitar than anything else.  The 71’s sound iconoclastic here, reminding listeners that rock and roll is meant to be fun sometimes too.  The pure chutzpah of guitarist Ryan Cecil is entertaining.
“Much Too Much” starts from a great premise, and keeps intact the urgent feel that seems to run throughout the album.  Coffman uses a lot of falsetto here, a choice that appears to not work out quite as well as he might have hoped.  On the plus side, this is the only song on the album I’d be tempted to skip if listening just for enjoyment.  “Lucky To Lose” is a solid, working-class rocker that is guitar-driven and full of a vibrant energy that’s impossible to ignore.  This would be a great tune to check out live onstage.  “Heaven” brings all of the components together, bringing a sense of compositional organization and polish that is hinted at throughout the album.  The melody is memorable, driven by an intriguing hook that replays in your head.  The coolest thing about the song is it could be a conversation between a son and his father, or it could be a prayer.  It’s never entirely clear but works well under either premise.  The polish sticks around for “Monsters”, yet The 71’s accomplish this sense of polish without letting go of the rock and roll edge that has driven them this far.  This is an exceedingly ear-pleasing tune that has single written all over it.

One of the things that make The 71’s so fun to listen to is that they are constantly skating on the edge of disaster.  There is a point of risk taking in music that many artists simply skate around.  The 71’s don’t skate; they march right up to the line and take chances.  As with all such efforts, sometimes they fall and fall hard.  But the pure chutzpah of the band, blended with their individual and collective talents, means that more often than not something intriguing, inspiring or even beautiful comes out of the process.  That’s the story behind the story of We Are The 71’s.  The 71’s will have you from hello.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Peter Link - Goin' Home (On Heaven And Beyond)

Peter Link – Goin’ Home (On Heaven And Beyond)
2011, Watchfire Music
Peter Link’s musical resume reads like he must have made it up.  Starting out as an actor, Peter Link has appeared on Broadway (Hair), on television (As The World Turns), and in movies (The Out Of Towners).  While successful on stage and in front of the camera, it was composing that drove Link, and he soon began focusing all of his efforts there.  Writing at first for Broadway, Link earned two Tony Award nominations and one Drama Desk Award for his musical work.  One of his songs has charted as a Top-Ten hit on Billboard.  Link has also composed for a number of children’s programs over the years, including Vegetable Soup; Sesame Street, The Electric Company and The Big Blue Marble.

In 2006, Link and James Birch began an on-line inspirational record label called Watchfire Music.  Link has since focused much of his energy writing music inspired by faith.  His most recent effort is entitled “Goin’ Home (On Heaven And Beyond)”.

Goin' Home opens with the title track, an uplifting choral piece that is contemplative and sweet. This transitions into "To My Father's House", a contemporary soul gospel number that is catchy and inspired. "Heaven" takes on a vision of heaven. The conversational style that is meant to make this more accessible robs the song of any real sense of flow. Stylistically this compares to the opening song of a musical; one used to set the scene not impart information. These are rarely the ones you walk away humming.

"I Ain't Gonna Grieve My Lord No More / I Got A Robe" details a list of worldly items that won't get you into Heaven. This is an odd to simplicity and spirituality that's entertaining but light on both. "There's A Mountain In My Way" takes on faith supported by a funky dance beat. The song is catchy and enjoyable from a purely sonic perspective, but is comparable to the lightweight worship music style that pervades Comtemporary Christian Music. "I Can't Go Home" is a languorous ballad acknowledging there is still work to be done before going home to God. The presentation here is over dramatic and weighs heavily in the ears.

"We Fix It" offers up another view of Heaven in a preacher's authorial but does so in a fluffy soul/pop arrangement. "What Could Have Been" is a solo, melancholy love song that looks forward to looking back from beyond the veil and anticipating the sadness that he will have. From a songwriting perspective this is solid work. Thematically the song is wholly inconsistent with the spiritual aims of the album, and the delivery is overly drawn out and heavy. The tide turns for "In Dat Great Gittin' Up Mornin'", where elements of pop, gospel, soul and jazz come together in celebration of the final day when God calls his people home.

"Goin' Home" is a sweet and melodic ode to going to Heaven. The male lead vocal here is exquisite and rich, inspired by his subject. For as good as this is, "When The Saints Go Marchin' In" is equally as cheesy. Opening with a faux news report, things go downhill quickly with a rote repetition of saints from different cultures walking together. The sentiment is certainly worthwhile, but here is an example of where inspirational music puts message ahead of composition. The ensemble eventually gets around to the song itself many listeners will have already tuned out. Things turn more contemplative for the closing track "Come To Me As A Bird", which uses repetition as its focal point. The melody is solid, but the AB lyrical structure will wear thin for some listeners.
Peter Link has proven time and time again he is a great composer; yet even great composers miss on occasion.  There are a couple of misses on Goin’ Home (On Heaven and Beyond), but Link stays the course and generally delivers superb songwriting in a musical tableau that is very accessible.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Paul Simon - Live In New York City

Paul Simon – Live In New York City
2012, Hear Now
It’s hard to argue with the numbers:  12 GRAMMY Awards, 5 #1 albums, and a still-growing songbook that is among the most cherished in modern American music.  Paul Simon is what we call a living legend; a mantle he shared with artists such as Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minelli.  Simon’s original material is probably the most prolific of the bunch, the reason it must be so difficult for him to choose the songs that fit into a live set.  While there are omissions that might be noted, Simon’s latest release, Live In New York City, is a testament to his status in both the music industry and American Pop culture. 
Working almost solely from his solo material, Simon nevertheless constructs a set of live music that has documented the changing world from the 1960’s through today.  Songs such as “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, “The Boy In The Bubble” and “Kodachrome” have as much vitality today as they did when first released.  Likewise, none of the poignancy has been lost from classics such as “Slip Slidin’ Away”, “The Sound Of Silence” or “Still Crazy After All These Years”.  Perhaps what is most surprising here is how sure-voiced the 70-year old singer/songwriter still is.  While many of the legends noted above have lost a step or two vocally, Simon still sings with the same dulcet sound he always has.
Live In New York City is a must for fans of Paul Simon, or even fans-to-be who have yet to discover his music.  The 2-CD/DVD or Blu-Ray release is a treat for the eyes and ears.  And Simon, as is his custom, wastes little time on idle chatter with the crowd.  Paul Simon makes certain that those in the crowd, and those listening at home, get their money’s worth.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Alisa Boniello - Lovestruck

Alisa Boniello – Lovestruck
2012, Alisa Bee
Alisa Boniello has grown as an artist for two inherent reasons:  1.) a wealth of talent, and, 2.) An admirable work ethic.  Shortly after finishing college, Boniello collaborated with Grammy winning producer and songwriter Barry Eastmond (Freddie Jackson, Whitney Houston, Billy Ocean, Britney Spears) to write four songs for what would eventually become her debut EP, Lovestruck.  With an additional songwriting assist from Wendell Hanes (Mya, Brand Nubians, Cheri Dennis), Boniello settles into a comfortable groove as she unfolds her talents across Lovestruck. 
Boniello kicks things off with “Lovestruck”, a funky and danceable bit of pop music that’s a bit too organic sounding to be bubblegum, but shares the same, feel-good vibe.  Boniello shows off a capable voice in a number with real commercial radio potential.  “That Kind Of Girl” has some good things going for it, but unlike “Lovestruck” is too thoroughly over produced.  The mix is bad, with a mismatch of levels between vocals and background, and a compressed dynamic range that sounds amateurish.  “(When Will) Love Feel Real” finds Boniello backing down the electronic scale a bit, with ore of a classic pop vibe.  This nouveau girl group pop sound fits Boniello’s voice well.  Lovestruck makes its way into the sunset with the sorrowful ballad “Why”, rung from the deep hours of the night when insecurities and loneliness come to the fore, particularly in the wake of a relationship.  The lyrical content here is a bit stilted, but there’s a nice melodic pop sensibility to the song.
Alisa Boniello has an accessible voice and likeable presence on recorded media.  Lovestruck is a solid introduction to an artist with real potential, but who is still finding a sound and style she is comfortable with.  You can hear Boniello struggling between the overly-manicured electro-pop that is most commercially viable and the classic op sound that she wears so well on Lovestruck, while also slipping into a singer/songwriter oeuvre that she’s still growing into.  Boniello should be making viable music for some time to come; where she goes with it will take time to see.  For now, Lovestruck is a good start.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Opium Symphony - Blame It On The Radio

Opium Symphony – Blame It On The Radio
2012, Man Or Machine Records
Dallas – Fort Worth rockers Opium Symphony may be one of the most frenetically non-compliant bands you’ll come across in 2012.  Covering a sonic gamut between The Gin Blossoms and a combination of Rush and The Ramones, Opium Symphony is capable of melting your face with their high energy guitars and frenetic drum work, but can also inspire you to dance with their hook-filled pop songs.  Opium Symphony’s latest album is entitled Blame It On The Radio, a mea culpa of sorts for Opium Symphony’s unabashed rock style.

Opium Symphony kicks things over to the red right out of the gate with the dervish-like guitar work and frenetic drumming of “Dead Radio”.  These tendencies are present throughout Blame It On The Radio in the heavier material.  “Pretty Rich Beautiful” shows off an over-worked drummer and an interesting punk/prog mix that’s equal parts Rush and The Ramones.  The sound and energy here are huge as Opium Symphony opens up a can of sonic assault without losing sight of melody or composition.   “They’ve Got Guns” offers an interesting faint toward lyric, singer/songwriter chanting before bringing in guitars and clearing the air a bit.  This blues-inspired prog rocker is an intriguing listen in spite of the overgrown sound links.  “Down The Rabbit Hole” is more of a sonic roller coaster ride than anything else, with Opium Symphony sounding more than a bit like 1990’s alternative rockers The Men.
“Unknown” is an interesting step both musically and technically.  Opium Symphony strips things down in pursuit of a more polished sound alongside greater compositional leg room.  The result is musically interesting, invoking both prog and pop tendencies.  “Jukebox Junkie” keeps the stripped down style without sacrificing an ounce of rocker intensity.  This is a great listen that will have your feet moving.  “Soul For Sale” tries to create a disturbed ambience through the use of heavy tremolo on the guitar parts.  The result is messy and warped, and ventures into the territory of an almost self-referential cliché. 

“Like Pennies You Had Me Wishing In The End” finds Opium Symphony venturing into ethereal, atmospheric rock.  This is yet another stylistic branch on the tree that is Opium Symphony, and it becomes increasingly apparent that there is little that the band cannot do well when it ventures the effort.  “Blame It On The Radio” has the potential to be an incredibly catchy pop/rock number.  The presentation here doesn’t entirely jell, but all the seeds of a big hit are here.  A little advanced production on this number is all the polish this needs.   “In This Together” has the seeds and the polish.  This is by far the catchiest, most exciting track on the album.  Good luck getting it out of your head.  Opium Symphony comes in for a soft landing with “Gospel” and “Return Of The Ghost”, solid tracks both seeming anti-climactic in the wake of “In This Together”. 
Opium Symphony delivers the goods on Blame It On The Radio, one of the more adventurous and wide-ranging rock albums to cross my desk this year.  This creative spread does create some issues for the band at times, and not every vision comes off clearly, but Opium Symphony shows great potential to bring new meaning to the phrase “post-genre”.

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jason Sinay - Ape & The Wall Of Questions

Jason Sinay – Ape & The Wall Of Questions
2011, Apus Maximus
Jason Sinay is a musician’s musician; a top-of-the line session player who has worked with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Neil Young, Keith Richards, Tift Merrit, Billy Preston and Ivan Neville (among others).  The seemingly natural born guitarist can play literally anything and play it well.  While Sinay has spent much of his career in the background supporting musical luminaries, he is also quite capable as a front man.  The point is proved on his second solo album, Ape & The Wall Of Questions.

Sinay opens up with a bluesy-folk take on the classic “Jack-A-Roe”.  Sinay’s voice is competent and clear, but it’s his subtly impressive guitar work that takes center stage here, evoking thoughts of such masters as Clapton and Knopfler.  “The Carney” commits to a relentless ennui, brought to life in a repetitive verse structure that is artistic and quietly alive.  The story/portrait here is intriguing, exploring the life of a carnival man.  Sinay paints in broad musical strokes, highlighting it all with country accents on guitar.  This is an outstanding piece of songwriting.  “Next Revolution” takes yet another turn, with Sinay offering up an Eagles-esque California Country style ballad.
“Santa Rosa” invokes thoughts of Tom Petty, both in it’s relentlessly Americana sound and even in the tones of Sinay’s voice.  This road song is all about getting back to the one he loves.  In spite of treading a musical trail that’s been covered thousands of times, Sinay manages to make it fresh and personal.  “I’ll Bring You Diamonds” finds Sinay throwing off melodic and understated licks that are right out of the Jimi Hendrix songbook.  All of this is done to the accompaniment of a sweet groove and a melody you’ll be humming/whistling for days.  On “Gimme The Time”, Sinay works out the kinks and wrinkles of a working class love song in no uncertain terms.  Sinay’s distinctive pop sensibility is dressed in Americana leanings, and the chorus is the sort that gets crowds on their feet.

“Love Minus Zero (No Limit)” is a deeply symbolic song about a love whose depths simply won’t be qualified in mere words.  This plays like an instant classic, as Sinay brings together all of the elements of a great song for five minutes.  “Hey Mama” is a solid R&B roots number that hearkens back to the early days of rock and roll.  This entertaining and danceable number sets up the closer, a rock and roll kiss-off called “Bertha”.  Sinay settles into a classic rock sound for his goodnight, perhaps coming full circle from his musical roots.
Some might listen to Jason Sinay’s Ape & The Wall Of Questions and assume that he’s just showing off.  Well why not?  Sinay is obviously a prodigious talent with a six string in his hand, and shows himself here to be more than a capable songwriter and vocalist.  Ape & The Wall Of Questions is a breath of fresh air, showing off a talent that is still growing and building.  Jason Sinay is an artist you’ll want to catch on to early and follow throughout what promises to be an exciting career.

Rating:  4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Halie Loren - Heart First

Halie Loren – Heart First
2012, White Moon Productions
Vocal jazz is full ingénues and established stars.  Those who make it from the former to the latter are rare.  It takes a tremendous sound, an incredible amount of hard work and yes, a little bit of luck.  Halie Loren is slowly transforming herself from the former to the latter.  Already a star in Japan, the release of Heart First this spring saw Loren become a top-selling Jazz artist in Canada.  The U.S. may not be far behind as Loren continues to build recognition for both her name and what may one day be considered her iconic voice.
Heart First opens with “A Woman’s Way”, showing off a wonderfully lush and smoky alto voice that gets you from the opening notes.  The song calls for vocal character, and Loren matches the call both with personality and a shifting palette of intriguing vocal timbres.  Halie Loren is at her best here, portraying the knowing vulnerability of a Billie Holliday mixed with the pure affability of Harry Connick, Jr.  “C’est Si Bon” is brilliant, with Loren singing in French as if it were her first language.  Loren switches gears to 1970’s R&B (ala Dionne Warwick) on “Waiting In Vain”.  Loren offers up a top-notch vocal, but the song itself fails to impress due to its repetitive nature and cookie-cutter style.
After a brief tour into Latin sounds for “Sway (Quien Sera)”, Halie Loren gets down to brass tacks for “Heart First”.  She’s entirely in her element here, with a bluesy-jazz sound and outstanding accompaniment from pianist Matthew Treder.  This is an all-around WOW moment. 
Loren’s fine talent as an interpreter of classic songs is on full display in “My One And Only Love”.  Perfect phrasing, wonderful timbres and an elegant sense of musical timing make this a sublime moment.  Loren settles in for a solid run through songs such as “All Of Me”, the funky “Tender To The Touch”, “Lotta Love” and “In Time”.  “Taking A Chance On Love” rises above this pack as Halie Loren once again applies her interpretive magic.  Rounding the final turn for home, Loren launches into a masterful reading of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”.  Singing like the song was written just for her, Loren captures the co-mingled sorrow and happiness in a bit of vocal magic that is among the finest moments in Jazz in 2012.  Most artists would end here, but Loren has one more trick up her sleeve.  Stripping everything away and singing with just acoustic guitar, bass and minimalist percussion, Loren finds another perfect moment on “Crazy Love”.  This is one of those rare closing songs where the listener finds themselves sitting still once the song ends, drinking in the last fading notes of magic.
Halie Loren is one of the most talented young vocalists in Jazz, and Heart First does absolutely nothing to discourage this view.  Loren works to expand her sound a bit this time around, blending some of her pop-oriented interests with the classic jazz sound she is known for.  The result is perhaps a bit uneven at times, but Loren’s voice can cover most any musical sin.  Heart First sounds like a transition album, and it will be very curious to hear where Loren is headed next.  This time out Loren shows she is no flash in the pan, while beginning to broaden the musical landscape she can work on.  And the moments of magic she finds are sublime.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lucio Rubino - Lucio Rubino

Lucio Rubino – Lucio Rubino
2012, The Fish Tank Records
Lucio Rubino is a musician in every sense of the word.  Rising to acclaim as lead vocalist for the Contemporary Christian pop act StorySide:B, Rubino has also played bass on Paramore’s All We Know Is Falling, and has produced albums for Manic Drive, Lighthouse Music, Lindsey Dedge and Todd Lombardo.  As an individual, Rubino has struggled with issues of sex addition.  These issues are touched upon in his solo debut, Lucio Rubino.

Rubino opens with “Better Left Unsaid”, a solid starter that’s vaguely reminiscent of John Mayer.  It’s a nice start musically, although Rubino’s voice sounds electronically engineered here.  “Fallin’ From The Start” is a mildly catchy love song that would fare well on the soundtrack of a CW teen drama.  “Moonlight Ride” continues in the vein of solid, workman-like near ballads.  It isn’t until Rubino launches into “Promise You That” that we start to get an idea of what he’s capable of.  This sweet little love song is a sure-fire mix-tap wonder.  Rubino shows a nicely developed pop sensibility, and has crafted a chorus that will run around the inside of your head for days. 
Rubino struggles to recreate that magic throughout the rest of his self-titled debut.  Efforts such as “Hard To Find” and “Truth Or Dare” ascend to the solid vibe Rubino started out the album with, but he never again approaches the McCartney-esque magic of “Promise You That”.  The one exception on the second half of the album is an impressively emotive cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  This song is so overdone it’ almost a become a cliché, and the countless covers start to wash over listeners like water.  Rubino nevertheless brings a quiet emotional intensity to the song that is worth tuning in for.

Lucio Rubino, in spite of the overly electronic introduction to his voice, sings with a simple clarity that’s enjoyable.  His songwriting is generally solid, and he occasionally breaks through into special moments.  If he can find some more consistency in the latter he is going to have tremendous success.  Right now he is like a musical minor digging for gold.  There’s a lot of sweat expended for an occasional nugget.
Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Lucio Rubino at

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hannah & Maggie - Muscle and Bone

Hannah & Maggie – Muscle and Bone
2012, Hannah & Maggie
If you were to picture Hannah & Maggie as a sort of musical Thelma and Louise, barnstorming across the U.S. in an over-stuffed station wagon, you wouldn’t be too far from part of the truth.  The truth, that is, if Thelma and Louise harmonized liked Simon and Garfunkel, and wrote with the poignant flair of The Indigo Girls.  These words are, perhaps, big shoes to fill, but Hannah & Maggie fill them nicely.  Their recently released second album, Muscle And Bone, offers wonderfully image-filled songwriting, angelic harmonies and musical warmth that is difficult to describe but wonderful to experience.
Hannah &Maggie kick things off with “As You Wake”, a wonderfully vibrant still life in song about love worn angst.  In spite of the emotional cloudy skies portrayed here the song is catchy, and Hannah & Maggie's voices mix like magic.  “Keeping Calm The Lives We Know” is urgent and faced-paced, and sounds very much like a theoretical Paula Simon and Amy Garfunkel.  Musical aesthetics seems to be the purpose in “Burlington, Vermont”.  The attention to capture a place/moment is a bid muddled lyrically, but is a thing of pure beauty musically.  “Muscle and Bone” captures the musician yearning; the desire to capture moments, people and places in song for the sake of doing so.  The sense of transcendence here is amazing.  It’s like hearing the magic of nature unfurl before your very ears.
“City In Between” is a catchy folk number about coming to terms with the terminal dysfunction in a relationship.  This time the lyrical constructs are spot on, and the performance is as sharp as anything Hannah & Maggie have done.  Fans of Nerissa and Katryna Nields will find much to like here.  One of the most interesting songs on the album is “Ghost”, an ode to an emotional transient that is crafted in warm musical hues and stark imagery.  Hannah & Maggie create a sort of musical alchemy with their voices here in perhaps the most moving performance on the album.
Hannah & Maggie do a wonderful job of capturing a feeling of melancholy and emotional desolation on “Little Wind”.  The musical imagery matches the lyrics, and makes for a listen that’s aesthetically uncomfortably but artistically masterful.   The melancholy bleeds over into “Curfew”, breakout out into full hysterics that we never quite see but have described for us.  The song is a thing of utter beauty, a ‘Wow’ moment, with Hannah Hickock showing a tremendous sense of vulnerability and awareness in the process of coming to terms with things she knew about a relationship but didn’t recognize at the time.
“Brighton Beach” is a surprisingly literate take on someone circling their own psyche for understanding.  The lyrics here roll off the tongue like pure magic, with turns of phrase that make you stop in wonder.  The voices here are sublime.  “The Room Fiddler” is an interesting blend of melancholy and hope that is quietly catchy.  The sadness in this song is palpable, but there is also a sense that the singer is searching for redemption in loneliness, and intriguing conceptualization.  “The Quieting Down” maintains the desolate quality that pops up throughout Muscle and Bone, ensconced in a wonderful cadence.  Hannah & Maggie wind things down with “Four Post Bed”, a somewhat confusing take on the baser tendencies of human relationships.  It’s not entirely clear whether the singer is indicting someone else or herself for perceived imperfections.  Nevertheless, it’s a sonically beautiful closer you won’t want to miss.
Hannah & Maggie grab you right from the opening moments of Muscle and Bone with stark imagery, gorgeous arrangements and voices that wrap around you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. Comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel, The Indigo Girls and The Nields are all very valid, but the overarching quality that runs through Muscle and Bone is an aching desolation like that which informed Roger Waters’ best work with Pink Floyd.  This desolation elocuted in such angelic voices sparks images that drive themselves into your mind and refuse to leave.  Muscle and Bone may have a couple of weak moments, but the magic that pervades here is too strong to ignore.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Hannah & Maggie at

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Delta Rae - Carry The Fire

Delta Rae – Carry The Fire
2012, Sire Records
After five years of writing and nearly 2,700 reviews, it is increasingly difficult to be absolutely bowled over by a new band.  While no one who writes like this wants to admit it, there is a certain cynicism that sets in after a while.  A reviewer may check out as many as 20 releases in a week with a goal of perhaps covering 4-5, and there is a definite amount of musical homogeneity that occurs in the various branches of popular music.  It is the reason that radio programmers often claim they can tell a hit in the first 10-15 seconds of a song.  If there is no hook in that amount of time that catches the ear, the listener either tunes out or changes the channel.
Similarly, if an album is too like other acts, or just doesn’t have something special to it, it’s easy to write it off.  It’s the thing that we reviewers must guard against.  Luckily, none of these concerns come into play with Delta Rae’s Carry The Fire, which is by far the most wonderfully vibrant and compelling release of 2012 to date.  The Durham, North Carolina sextet is comprised of siblings Ian (vocals/guitar); Eric (vocals/guitar/piano/keys); and Brittany Hölljes (vocals), along with Elizabeth Hopkins (vocals); Mike McKee (percussion) and Grant Emerson (bass guitar).  Discovered by legendary record exec Seymour Stein, Delta Rae is living proof that once in a while, the music industry actually gets it right.
Carry The Fire launches with “Holding On To The Good”, a wonderfully buoyant piece of orchestrated folk/pop.  The complex vocal and instrumental infrastructure of the song is challenging, laced with gorgeous harmonies and a dynamic, supple lead vocal by Brittany Hölljes.  “Is There Anyone Out There” is full of a contemplative melancholy and a Springsteen-esque observance of a world that is worse off than when Bruce wrote Born To Run.  Delta Rae paints the picture of a world that has lost its identity, from the perspective on of the last bastions to carry on the old ways.  The provocative chorus is all about not giving up, but displays a waning hope that things can actually turn around.  “Morning Comes” explores the feelings about seeing your home town fall into darker times.  Hope abounds here in more plentiful portions here, and there’s a certain bleak beauty in this unresolved resolution.
“If I Loved You” is a magical moment in songwriting; a well-written heartbreaker.  Brittany Hölljes channels a bit of Sheryl Crow here, as our protagonist waxes poetic on what she would do if she loved a suitor in the same way he loves her.  The song is wistful; she wishes she could return what he feels.  It’s a wow moment free of the cliché and entendres that so often accompany such ideas in popular music forms.  “Bottom Of The River” is a bluesy gospel-inspired number that builds wonderfully dark bits of tension into beautiful resolutions.  Brittany Hölljes shines in what most be the most dynamic and powerful vocal performance on the album.
“Country House” is a lovely, contemplative exploration of the pure emotions of missing someone.  There’s an almost academic approach to the song at first, but this slow burn fires into full inferno in the emotionally charged chorus.  The vocal and instrumental tableau here is nothing short of gorgeous.  “Surrounded” is adult orchestral pop that is wonderfully layered and complex.  There is a dynamic and tension-filled beauty here that is impossible to ignore.  “Dance In The Graveyards” is another moment of magic, as Delta Rae implores listeners to make the most of every moment, both here and in the hereafter.  It’s a wonderfully vibrant pop tune brocaded with orchestra and amazingly resilient vocal triads.  This is an absolute WOW moment.
But Delta Rae is not done.  Just when you think they’ve hit their heights they push beyond with “Fire”.  This intense and driven number is absolutely elemental in emotion and feel.  Think Sometymes Why meets Nine Inch Nails (for intensity) and you’ll be in the ballpark.  Brittany Hölljes does things with her voice here that don’t seem humanly possible as she conveys anger and hurt in pure aesthetic forms.  The moment where she breaks is chilling and drives through you like a spike.
Delta Rae tones it down a bit with a mea culpa for human imperfection entitled “Forgive The Children We Once Were”.  The song is beautiful, heartfelt and sweet in its honesty as it tries to move on the imperfections and thoughtlessness of youth.  “Unlike Any Other” is a stripped down and heartfelt and emotionally raw.  Subtle vocal harmonies set the tableau, but Brittany Hölljes’ voice and the piano are used to maximum effect to convey musical secrets in a beautiful and powerful performance. 
And on the other side of darkness there is always light.  That seems to be the deep seated message behind closing out the album with “Hey, Hey, Hey”, a sweet and light-hearted love song.  The lead vocal and harmonies mix in gorgeous measure, and the song has a nice, light touch.  This is a feel good time that lets you walk away even after story filled with real life pain with a bounce in your step and hope in your heart.
That’s the magic of Delta Rae.  There is a deep understanding of real world pain and suffering in their music, and yet there is always hope and always just a bit of magic around the corner waiting to happen.  The musical intensity of the group is spine tingling at times; they can rock you sleep or blast you through the wall without ever losing a sense of who they are musically.  Carry The Fire they do.  It won’t be surprising to see Delta Rae and Carry The Fire regularly mentioned as contenders for next year’s GRAMMY Awards.  In any case, Carry The Fire is certainly a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.  This one is a classic.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Delta Rae at,, or

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cody Gamracy - Where Is The Ground?

Cody Gamracy – Where Is The Ground?
2012, Soccer Mom Records
Cody Gamracy makes the most of his talents on his debut album Where Is The Ground?  Staying within his vocal limits, Gamracy works out eight original tunes in solid workman-like style.  “All The Wrong Reasons” builds on a relentless folk-rock groove, resolving into a melodically sweet chorus that is ably delivered.  Gamracy shows some real talent as a songwriter on “Sock Puppets”, pairing an imaginative and energetic arrangement with a memorable melody.  Gamracy isn’t afraid to take chances, stretching his voice to its limits.
Settling into singer/songwriter mode, Gamracy launches into the quietly impressive “Giving Yourself Away”.  His voice struggles with the slow delivery, but the effect is more emotive than anything else.  Gamracy approaches brilliance on “Two Kinds”, with gorgeous vocal harmonies wrapped around a melody that simply won’t leave you alone.  The rock-a-bye feel makes this a comfortable number to slip into; a great listen.  “Whatever It Was” maintains Gamracy’s adept vocal harmony constructions, but is a bit disjointed compositionally.  The experimental approach is a bit shaky at times, but does achieve some nice moments in the process.  Where Is The Ground? wraps with “Out On Ring Road”, a messy bit of ethereal rock.  Gamracy’s exploration might lose you as he floats off into the air, but shows an interesting range and willingness to explore that will keep listeners curious enough to stay with him.
Cody Gamracy perhaps leaves more questions than answers on Where Is The Ground?  Stylistically diffuse, the album finds Gamracy searching his muse for a sound that he loves.  There really aren’t any conclusions here, but the avenues he follows are intriguing, as Gamracy covers an expanse not often found outside the circle of Pink Floyd-influences bands.  Where Is The Ground? is an intriguing start, and makes it likely that listeners will keep following Cody Gamracy to see what he might dream up next.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Cody Gamracy from Soccer Mom Records or on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Anna Coogan - The Wasted Ocean

Anna Coogan – The Wasted Ocean
2011, Anna Coogan
Ithaca, NY based singer/songwriter Anna Coogan is working feverishly on the final release details of her album The Nowhere, Rome Sessions, recorded with Daniele Fiaschi.  While we await the new album, we thought we’d take a look back at Coogan’s previous album, The Wasted Ocean.  Coogan has become one of the most sought after artists in Americana, with a rabid following in Europe and growing name recognition across the United States.  She’s shared the stage with the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, Lambchop, Chumbawumba and Carrie Newcomer, and seems to get better and better with each album.
The Wasted Ocean opens with “The Sons Will Join Their Fathers”, a dark yet lush arrangement that holds elements of Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin.  The futility of the life cycle thrives at the heart of this song, and Coogan paints the hope and hopelessness of the cycle in broad melodic strokes that are stunning to hear.  Thus starts a song cycle based on the sea; those who make their lives upon it and those who wait for them back on shore.  “Streamers” comes from the perspective of the latter, exploring the emotions of the one who is left behind.  Gorgeous is the only word to describe what Coogan has created here.  The song is full of a dark, almost hopeless beauty that is compelling and stirring.
“Blood On The Sails” pastes stark lyric imagery against a lush arrangement laced with theatrical flair.  The dividing line of this song sees Soul Cages era Sting on one side and McLachlan at her most personal on the other.  Coogan drives the wedge between these two iconic sounds with her own distinctive voice as a writer and singer.  “Love Without Strings” is intriguing; a bit more raw than the other work presented here.  There is an unfinished feel here, as if the song is a living, breathing being that continues to develop over time. 
“Life In A Peaceful New World” strays more into the country realm and depicts a Judeo-Christian Utopia.  The song contains an invitation to all of those who search and a promise.  Coogan is more traditional on “Comes The Wind, Comes The Rain”, getting back to the Celtic/Folk roots of the Americana sound she espouses.  Patience and fortitude are the rock-like themes of “Hold Steady, Hold Tight”, which displays some of the most stunning vocal harmonies on the album. 
Coogan raises the bar with “Come Ashore, Love”, a love letter from a sailor’s wife to her love.  The song is an entreaty that anyone who has ever loved a sailor, a musician or anyone else who makes their life on the road will understand.  Poetically, musically and aesthetically, “Come Ashore, Love” is as close to perfection as a song can come.  “The Crucifixion” is a painfully adroit reflection on confrontation and sacrifice.  This powerful song will haunt you long after the last notes have faded from your ears.  Coogan winds things down with “A Little Less Each Day”, exploring the slow fade of love over time, imagined as the vast ocean that lay between them.  It’s a beautiful, sad and moving close that will leave listeners yearning for more.
Anna Coogan doesn’t merely tell stories in song on The Wasted Ocean, she creates moments of words and notes that are so true to life you can practically reach out and touch them.  Coogan is a modern day Dylan Thomas, writing from a perspective that is distinctly female and at the same time universal.  It is impossible to experience The Wasted Ocean and not be touched.  The Wasted Ocean will soon not be Coogan’s latest release, but it’s a tough act to follow: A Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Anna Coogan at or on Facebook.