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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kalen - Falling From The Sun

Kalen - Falling From The Sun
2012, Kalen Lister
First you take a small town girl from Exeter, New Hampshire with a penchant for singing and songwriting.  Next, you provide her fertile mind with an Ivy League education.  Finally, you turn her loose on the streets of Brooklyn to see what happens next.  This isn’t exactly Kalen Lister’s story, but it’s not far off the mark.  Kalen brings an exciting and intellectual approach to song craft on her debut solo CD, Falling From The Sun.

Kalen starts off with "Island", an ethereal pop vocal tune reminiscent of early recordings from Maryen Cairns or Milla Jovovich. The composition is built of complex layers that are realized with surprising clarity over a light dance beat. "Fallen From The Sky" explores how good love goes bad when obsession sets in. Kalen uses an elevation to angry rocker to show growing frustration while layering ghost-like vocal chants over the top. The effect is striking.

Kalen gets gritty on "Rabid Girl", a story song about a young woman's descent into alcoholism and the demons that drive her there. The urgent energy of this tune carries over into "Neda", which reverts a bit to Kalen's more ethereal pop sound. Maintaining a bit of that gritty feel and channeling it into bluesy pop, Kalen's moves on into the dark and spritely kiss off song "Hit The Road". This is the most impressive vocal performance on the album thus far, and hints at greater musical depths that Kalen may not yet have tapped. Kalen strips things down to piano, strings and voice for the closing waltz, "It Takes A Lifetime." This is a wow moment, as Kalen struggles through insecurity and indecision to a nominal understanding that the confusion and fear is a normal part of life. Elements of Tori Amos or Sarah Slean can be heard here, but Kalen really makes the moment her own by singing very much from the heart.

Kalen Lister makes a grand statement in bold hues, subtle rhythms and deftly crafted phrases on Falling From The Sun.  This is a nuanced EP that rewards patience, unfurling new layers with repeated listens.  Kalen’s voice is enigmatic and warm, drawing you out of your listener’s isolation and involving you in the stories she spins.  She’ll leave you wanting more and more.
Rating:           4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Serapicos - Serapicos Is A Town

Serapicos – Serapicos Is A Town
2012, Gabriel Serapicos
San Paolo, Brazil native Gabriel Serapicos claims Portuguese as his native language, but chooses to sing in English to feel more connected to the spirits of rock and roll.  This connection is at times raw and comically out of synch at times on his debut album, Serapicos Is A Town, but they playful heart of the album is ultimately its redeeming factor.

Serapicos gets things rolling with the message, incessant garage rock of “There Is No Satisfaction”.  This retro-post-modern answer to the Rolling Stones is built more from a bemused observationalism than any real sense of angst or disappointment.  You can almost picture the knowing smirk Serapicos is hiding as he sings.  “Blow Me” features the same sort of self-satisfied frat boy smugness and fails to be allegorical in any way.  It’s an entertaining look into the barely post-adolescent male mind with quasi 1970’s Lloyd-Webber flair.  The band comes back to Earth with fairly mundane numbers such as “Artists Are Crazy” and the shambling “Pee Pee Jazz”. 
With “Lucky Numbers”, Serapicos descend into a troubled They Might Be Giants parallel universe where bright airy melodies and whimsical story songs have been replaced by dark, minor key explorations and Smith’s inspired tales of woe.  Jumping into a sound once used by Jan and Dean, Serapicos get completed retro on “Inspire Me”. This fun rocker will get your feet moving, and the messy garage style of play creates a fun environment.  Things roll back downhill for “The Sexiest Girl In The World”.  This amounts to a teen boy drooling over a girl in song without any sense of art or tact.  That being said, there is an elemental cuteness to the song.  “Balloon” finds Serapicos practicing a bit more tact in their wooing techniques, but not much.  The vocal is enough to sink this one, as Serapicos has only a passing relationship with the key.

“The Egg Song” is a catchy little piece of post-pop fluff that one presumes is ironic.  The song is very entertaining, with a frenetic energy that’s impossible to ignore.  This is one tune where it’s best not to think too much about what you’re listening to.  “When Your Husband’s Away” is banal and droning; a difficult listen at best.  "I Just Want To Be Your Friend" has a Doors style groove, but fails on pedantic and repetitive lyrics. "Love Pills" and "Russian Roulettes and Persian Carpets" are equally mundane, although the latter captures a bit of that They Might Be Giants air found earlier on the album. "Sexy Julia" is an unsubtle yet entertaining ode to an object of affection/desire. There is an abstract musicality encompassed in the catchy rock arrangement, and the song is danceable in spite of its slightly messy presentation. Serapicos says goodnight with the title track, a stumbling and inexplicably sad number that is messily thrown together and performed without conviction.
Going it alone on a first recording can be wonderfully freeing as an artist.  It also leaves those who create exposed by the weakness of their own worse natures.  There is a clear influence of 1960’s rock and roll on Serapicos Is A Town, and the utter joy that emanates from music of that era is evident.  Serapicos even manages to create some of the same manic glee, both lyrically and musically, that drove the best of They Might Be Giants’ work.  At the same time, Serapicos struggles against his own sense of cuteness, crossing over at times into wildly banal or even downright unlistenable moments.  There is a lot of good to be mined from Serapicos Is A Town.  A first class producer could reign in Serapicos’ more self-immolating songwriting tendencies and help him find the pure pop gems he seeks here.

Rating:           3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mickey Finns - Prayers And Idle Chatter

The Mickey Finns - Prayers And Idle Chatter
2012, Mankeltray Music
The Mickey Finns have taken just two albums to be hailed one of the best Celtic rock bands in the world.  Featuring former members of The Prodigals (Ray Kelly – vocals, guitar; Brian Tracey – drums); the former lead violinist for Michael Flatley’s The Lord Of The Dance (Matt Mancuso); and, multi-instrumentalist Eric Kaye (The Prodigals, Clint Black, Marc Cohn, Lucy Woodward), the New York City based quartet gets crowds on their feet early and often.  The Mickey Finns’ latest studio effort, Prayers And Idle Chatter, features the sort of whiskey-soaked vocals that are ideal for Celtic Rock.

Prayers And Idle Chatter kicks off in high style with "The Prodigal Son", a heel turner with great energy and a dancing spirit. "Sweet Clare Girl" has a folk/country feel, filled to the brim with quiet but vital picking and focused vocal harmonies. The instrumental work is top notch throughout, but especially in the bridge. "McGuinness' Mass" is a down tempo drinking song that explores the camaraderie of the neighborhood pub and the form of penance that is brewed or distilled but universal across time and cultures. "Loop Reels" is a frenetic fiddle driven experience underwritten by some seriously motivated percussion. The Mickey Finns quite literally rock out here. "Absinthe (Makes The Heart Grow Fonder)" borrows a bit of rough-edged energy and imbues it with a country/Celtic pastiche. This would be one fun tune to experience live.

"Tanks And Barbed Wire" tells the story of love between a Protestant man and a Catholic girl at a time when such liaisons were dangerous. The outcome of this song is expectedly tragic, but holds a moral about learning to live together. The Mickey Finns take a lighter tone on in “The Jester”, a light and airy tune full of lilting violin and bright, breezy phrasing.  Kicking it up a notch or two, the band launches into the vibrant “Two Jigs For Aoiffe”.  The musicianship is stellar and The Mickey Finns sounds very much in the zone.  “Dark Roll Down The Dawn” represents a dichotomy in The Mickey Finns’ style that is intriguing.  There’s tremendous energy here, and it’s abundantly clear the band is having fun; yet there is a clear sense that they are holding something in reserve.

“Duffy’s Cut” memorializes 57 Irish immigrants who died of Cholera outside of Malvern Pennsylvania in 1832.  Brought to America to help lay railroad tracks, it is believed the workers were denied medical care due to anti-Catholic prejudice.  The Mickey Finns handle this tune perfectly, creating a wonderful melodic sensibility in the Wally Page-penned tune.  The sentiment here is real without sounding overly sentimental.  The Mickey Finns close out with a rockin’ reel, “Be Mine”.  Nothing is left in the studio here, and it’s clear that the impression earlier that the band was still holding something is proven to be spot on.
The Mickey Finns engage in a long slow build on Prayers And Idle Chatter that culminates in a blow-off-the-roof performance in “Be Mine”.  Through the entire eleven-song cycle there is a sense of expectation, of something more.  The Mickey Finns deliver and then some.  Prayers And Idle Chatter captures the energy and pure musicianship of the band.  All of this is tied together by the engaging presence of lead singer Ray Kelly, who is a first class front man with a voice that stops people in their tracks.  Somewhere in the nexus between The Waterboys, Black 47 and Great Big Sea you will find The Mickey Finns.  They’re doing just fine, thank you.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

George Woods - Heartbeat

George Woods – Heartbeat
2012, George Woods

Boston singer/songwriter George Woods explores deep emotions and deeper thoughts on his debut album Heartbeat. Earning comparisons to artists such as James Morrison and Ray Lamontagne, Woods sings with a singular voice about human frailty, insecurity and hope amidst deeply nuanced and often beautiful folk/rock arrangements.

Kicking things off with "Overture/Rewind", Woods makes his introductions through a finely crafted orchestral entr'acte. The non-linguistic vocals create an eerie air that's stark and lovely. "Shake My Soul" is driven by the sort if hopeless urgency that's born of burgeoning and sometimes unrequited love. "Wasn't Enough" is an energetic and messy breakup song that's an interesting mix of darkness and light. There's a distinct pop feel at the heart of this song, an air that is complicated by messy layers and an unpolished sound that's fitting here.  "Stock In The Stars" is an infectiously upbeat bohemian folk rocker about the hopes, dreams and the redeeming power of love. Woods is entirely on here, in one of the most endearing songs on the album. "Marry Me" is just what it sounds like. The funk infused soul pop number is from the heart, and has the potential to become a mix-tape and dedication favorite.

Woods takes a more desolate turn on "Chapter 3: The Moon", mixing voices and strings in a brief bit repetitive cantata that seems incomplete. "Running Away" takes more focus on while exploring an inexplicable draw to flight and how that tendency comes face to face with unexpected love. The song is a disorganized mess musically, but manages to work in spite of this (perhaps because the presentation and the message are so closely aligned). Woods returns to a dark and lonely musical landscape for "You Are The Moon", written from the depths of unrequited love. There is an elemental beauty here, with the distance finely etched into haunting vocals and strings.

"Heartbeat" sinks into morass where lust overcomes love and good intentions. Woods once again ventures into messy musical territory in conjunction with a messy emotional story. "Trying To Get Back" starts out disheveled, but resolves in its final 30 seconds to a bright and airy folk/rock song. "Lucky One" celebrates being in love in joyous terms. The funky folk-rock style has an easy, swinging feel that reflects the carefree nature of the moment captured here. "You Are The Sun" takes a more esoteric look at the same emotions as Woods contemplates having come full circle. This turns into a mid-tempo waltz that is perhaps overly emotive but is generally well done. Woods closes with the requisite happy ending on "The Wedding Song". Wind chimes and stumbling guitar walk guests down the aisle to their virtual seats, while Woods incantation the past ala Sting on "The Secret Marriage". The song is a reflection backward from the mundane give and take of everyday life years later. Woods creates a moment here that is palpable and decidedly real.
George Woods reflects the emotional highs and lows of love in the music of heartbeat, The journey through quiet desperation; falling in love; getting married and into the mundane existence of everyday life captured in words and notes throughout Heartbeat.  The end result is as hard to get through at times as individual moments along the way, but the presentation is wonderfully artistic and real.  Woods does have a distinctive melodic sensibility, and likes to play off the beaten path at times, but he’s a gamer, always gutting out the rough performances but as often as not turning in a gem.
Rating:  3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Cara Luft - Darlingford

Cara Luft – Darlingford
2012, Fontana North/Blue Case Tunes
Cara Luft began performing at the age of four, singing and accompanying herself on dulcimer.  By the age of eleven the Calgary native teaching herself guitar, learning alternate tunings and various picking techniques.  Luft soon added banjo to her repertoire, giving her a solid arsenal of instruments to back up her strong and distinctive alto voice. A founding member of The Wailin’ Jennies, Luft has also cut an impressive swath as a solo artist.  Luft came to our attention here at Wildy’s World with her 2007 album, The Light Fantastic, a 4 ½ star gem that still ranks as a personal favorite.  Luft returned in 2012 with her third solo album, a splendiferous mix of folk, Celtic, country and even shades of pop music that is ever so much more than anything she’s done before.

Darlingford begins with a look at salvation in the form of "Only Love Can Save Me", a splendid mix of country and folk sounds that wrap around Luft's singular voice like a blanket. The song is uplifting and joyful, yet full of a stylistic and compositional complexity that is musically satisfying. "Bye Bye Love" is an emotionally and musically mature post-mortem on a relationship lost. Absent the vitriol common in pop/country kiss off songs, Luft makes a much more damning case for moving on by speaking straight from the heart. This is a beautiful examination of love's detritus, complete with gorgeous vocal harmonies that appear from nowhere to accent some of her more poignant discoveries.  Luft's cover of Mike Scott's is powerful to say the least. The melancholy hope of the song grows into a powerful determination that will have you on the edge of your seat. Delving back into the healing process, Luft delivers the powerful slow epiphany of "House On Fire". This testament to the permanence of loss and the healing power of friendship is unforgettable, feeling both decidedly intimate and universal at the same time.

"The Ploughboy And The Cockney" is an interesting diversion that is more than it first appears. The musical performance here is top notch, of course, but Luft proves her talent as a story teller with a light yet knowing vocal touch. Listeners can decide whether there is more to the story in light of the full cycle of songs presented here. "Idaho" is an exploration of new beginnings, new faith and new perspectives. The joyous feel of the song has an almost Paul Simon sound but with definite country flair. Luft is able to rock out a bit here in the midst of a recovery she never foresaw.

Genocide and social responsibility whirl around the story of a man whose heroics are sometimes deemed a failure. "Dallaire" explores the perspective of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who oversaw international forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994, at the height of the genocide campaign of Hutu extremists. This is a touching and poignant look at how we struggle to do the right thing, often failing even as we succeed. Luft returns to her personal milieu with "Off My Mind". Here we hear some of the anger one might expect post breakup, but the quiet reserve of class that Luft clarifies it all with is refreshing. It doesn't dull the lyrical daggers she throws, but it does make them harder to deflect.

"Portland Town" explores the ravages of war from the perspective of a mother who sees her three sons go off to battle, never to return. The dark Celtic style arrangement gives the song a quiet urgency that matches perfectly to the subject matter, and Luft's voice is fully in the moment with an urgent grace. Luft moves on to reverse prepositions and propositions with her emotive and stunning take on "He Moved Through The Fair". Her voice conveys a story of love with an elemental power that is breathtaking.

Luft takes a somewhat lighter tone on "My Darling One", an incantation to a beloved child or perhaps even to a prospective love. The bouncy feel of this tune marks an emotional turning point, as the scars of loss begin to fall away. That inertia grows on "It's Gonna Be Alright", as faith turns to confidence and ambition to make tomorrow a better day. Darlingford closes out with "Charged!” - a bonus track born of a real life border bust. The song is a fun and entertaining reminder of how quickly things can go awry in the hands of Federal power, and how we rely on the humanity of one another to straighten out the simple-minded grind of political machines.
It might seem a cliché phrase, but Cara Luft weaves magic through every nook and cranny of Darlingford.  In the process she turns a bit of personal tragedy into songwriting gold, exploring themes of love, loss, faith, recovery and choosing a new direction with lyrical aplomb and a near-perfect understanding of musical setting, mood and composition.  Luft’s ability to tell a story through song has never been more in focus than it is on Darlingford, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Luft collecting her second Juno Award based on this effort.  Darlingford is easily one of the finest collections to cross this desk in 2012, and can be nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. 

Rating:           5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aaron Lewis - The Road

Aaron Lewis - The Road
2012, Blaster Records

Aaron Lewis has made a lot of hay as the front man of Staind. The band's nine albums put them at the forefront of the hard rock/metal seen for a decade or more. Lewis has found a new direction the past few years however, falling for the melancholy and pick-a-ninny of traditional country music. Lewis' full length country debut album, The Road, drops this week, with a sound both radio ready and legitimate.

The melancholy pull of home while on the road is the theme of "75", in which Lewis laments a life where his bedroom travels as much as he does. The musicianship here is first class, and Lewis' voice is as classic country as they come. "The Road" is a road song with outlaw country pastiche. Lewis channels a mix of Paycheck and Cash in a highly catchy tune that will stick with you. "Endless Summer" is about making the most of time together with family. The scene is a summer camp with those you love best. It's hard not to identify with this tune at least a little bit, and Lewis manages to convey the sentiment without becoming enslaved by it.

In "Red, White & Blue", Lewis explores the enduring power of the American flag as a symbol of all of the sacrifice that has made America what she is. There is a melancholy feel here under the surface, but it supports a singular pride and hope for the future. "Lessons Learned" reflects on Lewis' own human frailties and how mistakes have led to wisdom and appreciation over times. The song is a call for self-examination and for talking stock in what matters. It's well written, cogent and wonderfully melodic. "Forever" laments the potential loss of love, and explores the chances of carrying on from the road. The sentiment here is authentic, and Lewis sings it as a confessional piece of country pop.

"Grandaddy's Gun" is a song of generational memory and affection, centered around the shared memories of a shotgun. This song won't resonate well with the ACLU or your local left leaning lawmaker, but it will hit home for anyone who grew up in a family where hunting was a way of life. The arrangement is masterful, and Lewis manages to humanize a subject too often demonized in the public sphere. "State Lines" looks back on a career full of successes in the terms of miles traveled. The seeming ambivalence about doing it all again that arose in "75" partially resurfaces here, but in more pragmatic lyrical and musical tones.

"Anywhere But Here" is a song of ultimate regret, sung from the perspective of a man trapped by his own decisions. This plays to the stereotypical hard luck life style song endemic to popular country, but is well written and had a certain commercial flair. Lewis closes out with a fitting paean to the bad boys of country music. "Party In Hell" finds Lewis claiming his place beside Waylon Jennings, Chris Whitley and Jamey Johnson, among others. The low key honky-tonk style is a nice touch.
Aaron Lewis makes the transition from rock to country with surprising grace.  Lewis and his band provide top-notch musicianship throughout The Road, but Lewis augments this with mature and nuanced country songwriting that runs the depths from Johnny and Waylon-style outlaw country to mature singer-songwriter pastiche.  This may be one of the finest country efforts of 2012.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more at, where you can order a personally signed copy of The Road as a part of various packages.