All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Glenn Yoder - Okono Road
2008, Glenn Yoder

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Boston-based Glenn Yoder carries his influences with him like memories. They infuse his musical choices as seamlessly as breathing. The singer/guitarist of Boston's Cassavettes heads out on his own with the release of Okono Road. Trimming a list of fifty songs down to twelve, Yoder leads with his best foot on his solo debut, mixing radio anthems with ballads and some old fashioned Rock N Roll in a highly commercial yet likable debut.

Yoder opens with the radio-friendly anthem Broken, Beaten & Blue. It's an incredibly tuneful song that fits neatly into several demographics. Yoder's voice is pleasant and easy on the ears, and the arrangement is as smooth as silk. That polished feel carries over to Okono Road in a very accessible acoustic pop tune. A Thousand Ways looks to be a mix-tape favorite, mixing balladry and soul in a moving performance. Til The Wheels Fall Off is a great acoustic pop tune, very likely to end up in licensing or on the radio if offered in those venues.

Just Like is the best pure pop song on the record and likely to be a crowd favorite at shows. It's Gonna Take Time is a very close second. Yoder reminds me very much of Canada's The Waltons on several songs, but nowhere more so than on It's Gonna Take Time. Other songs of note are Home, Give Me A Moment and You Led Me Into Your Love.

Glenn Yoder infuses pop-savvy acoustic rock with elements of country and soul to full effect on Okono Road. At times he sounds a great deal like Jason Plumb of The Waltons (I consider this a supreme compliment). Yoder is a very polished songwriter who will appeal heavily to several demographics, and is probably one of the more likely artists to end up with songs licensed for prime time shows you'll come across. Okono Road is a smooth and accessible recording with significant commercial legs.

Rating 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Glenn Yoder at No information was received on availability, so please keep checking back to Yoder’s MySpace page for more information.

Review: Lindsay Mac - Stop Thinking

Lindsay Mac – Stop Thinking
2008, Taiga Records

Born in Iowa amid rumors of Pork Tenderloin breakfasts, it’s hard to know whether anyone knew Lindsay Mac was destined for greatness. While gaining classical training in voice, cello and piano in school, it wasn’t until after school that she really found her musical voice. In spite of classical training from such august institutions as the Royal College of Music in London and The San Francisco Conservatory, Lindsay Mac one day decided to strap on her cello and play it like a guitar. Rumor has it that on that day the clouds parted, angels sang and a single ray of brilliant light shown down on cabin Lindsay Mac was living in at the time. While this story should be taken with a grain salt (particularly because I made it up) it is very clear that Lindsay Mac found SOMETHING that day. Stop Thinking is Lindsay Mac’s second full length release, and while we haven’t had the opportunity to hear her debut yet, it is easy to see that Lindsay Mac possesses a certain amount of that musical magic that separates a true artist from a mere musician.

It’s unusual to find a CD that keeps you hanging on each and every note, waiting breathlessly to find out what the artist is going to do next. It’s even more unusual to respond that way on the 2nd or 3rd listen, but that’s the reaction Stop Thinking demands. On Stop Thinking every song is a highlight. The album kicks off with the title track, a stark, comical look at compulsive thinking. As a first time listener I was blown away by this song, between the non-traditional arrangement, the singular nature of Lindsay Mac’s voice and the utter brilliance of the lyrics come as a sweeping and welcome surprise. Amazingly enough, Lindsay Mac doesn’t let up for eleven songs. Faith is a fast moving tune with introspective moments. Faith is discussed in pragmatic terms here, but the arrangement itself plays like a musical metaphor for the title. The greatest hints of beauty fall in the quiet moments between all the action when the writer and listeners psyche are left bear of cover.

Barbies & Broncos is a wonderful song about living life in the moment. It’s a quirky song that isn’t nearly as risqué as it may sound on first listen, and may be the finest pop song on the album. 7 Stones is a musical parable full of beauty and grace that are as unexpected as they are confirming. Up to this point Lindsay Mac has been a quirky pop genius who writes great songs; on 7 Stones she proves herself to be a great songwriter. You’ll find yourself drawn into this story like driftwood on the incoming tide. It’s a song of love and faith drawn from deep wells that aren’t visible on the surface of any one person. It’s an amazing song. Rain is one of the most involved arrangements on the album, using South American rhythms like those you might hear on Paul Simon’s Rhythm Of The Saints album. The song is pure genius.

Cry, Cry, Cry is a musical creation in three distinct parts. You would be hard pressed to find an ABC style arrangement with more disparate parts in popular music, yet the three individual creations come together to create pop music. The chorus in particular, with cello, banjo and clarinet taking the lead is an incredible listen. Up next is a cover of The Beatles Blackbird. Over the last several years this has become one of those songs that everyone covers, and in itself has become something of cliché. Nevertheless, Lindsay Mac gives the song a reading that is fresh and welcome that even hardcore Beatles fans will enjoy. You’ll also want to make a point of checking out Peppercorn and Pavement.

Whatever led Lindsay Mac to strap on her cello and play it like a guitar was a good move, there’s no doubt about that. It makes her a unique performer that sticks out in people’s minds, and the image is just one you won’t forget right away. But all of this would be for naught if Lindsay Mac didn’t display a certain level of talent for writing and performing songs. The fact is that Lindsay Mac is one of the most exciting new songwriters we’ve heard in some time. The musical arrangements of her songs on Stop Thinking are utterly brilliant. Her voice is quirky and memorable with a certain abstract beauty that makes you want her to just not stop singing. Lyrically Lindsay Mac tells stories in intelligent lines of musical prose, mixing in wit and color to raise her story telling to an art form. Stop Thinking is utterly brilliant. It’s a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. Lindsay Mac is going places fast.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Lindsay Mac at or You can purchase a copy of Stop Thinking at

Review: (hed)p.e. - New World Orphans

(hed)p.e. - New World Orphans (N.W.O.)

2009, Suburban Noize Records

(hed)p.e. has come a long way; from party music mixing in the occasional social commentary to one of the hardest, most politically oriented acts on the table. Mixing elements of thrash metal, punk and hip-hop, (hed)p.e. responds to eight years of lionized conservative doctrine in governmental policy making with an equally lionized response born of the liberal blogosphere. (hed)p.e. markets this music as part of "The Truth Movement", purporting to tell the truth about the intent and actions of political and social elites around the world in controlling the non-elite. (hed)p.e.'s latest offering, New World Orphans (N.W.O.) is compelling listening whether you agree or disagree with their lyrical content.

(hed)p.e. leads off with Ordo (ab Chao), imploring listeners to "Think about it" in a classic thrash/punk tune about how government sows discord amongst the governed in order to maintain or consolidate power. Ordo should be a monster in the Modern Rock format, although the political climate has changed somewhat since (hed)p.e. wrote this song, at least in the US. Whether this song will reach as many as it might have under a President Bush is hard to say. It's interesting to note that (hed)p.e. doesn't seem to have much use for President Obama either. Higher Ground calls 2008 "another fake election". Oregon's The Dirtball rapid lays down the rhymes here in a rapid fire performance that will make your head spin. What becomes clear is that (hed)p.e. has become inspired by the same spirit of anarchy that drove The Sex Pistols and the entire punk movement.

Songs like Flesh And Blood implore listeners to "throw the bums out" of Washington, while songs like Planet X rip off the roof in a juxtaposition of thrash metal and an almost melodic surf/punk style. The Kottonmouth Kings sit in on Higher Ground; the liveliest song they've been associated with in several albums. Tech N9ne joins in on Work On This, tackling media driven perceptions of sex. Suffice it to say this is not an album for those with sensitive dispositions. Parents may want to think twice about letting this disc fall into the hands of impressionable ears (which of course means that every teen and tween who reads this will move mountains to listen to the album).

(hed)p.e. leaves sense and sensibility at the door in pursuit of their own version of the truth on New World Oprhans (N.W.O.). The music is amazing, and much of the album is thought provoking. At the same time a great deal of effort is expended using words and phrases to shock and awe the listener. This has the sum effect of lessening the impact of (hed)p.e.'s message. Misogynistic and homophobic language and imagery turns this into an angry diatribe born in facist doctrine rather than the sort of inspired education of the masses (hed)p.e. preaches, and begs questions about the true intent. Most likely the net effect is great market placement of music in message to invoke the appropriate number of bans and censures to ensure healthy sales, but the sum message balances of the precipice of irresponsibility at times. Ultimately New World Orphans pleases musically while leaving a lot of questions on the lyrical/message side of the coin.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about (hed)p.e. at or You can purchase a copy of New World Orphans at or wherever music is sold.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Review: Ben Johnson - Make It Bloom

Ben Johnson - Make It Bloom
2007, Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson's involvement and training in music runs the gamut from opera to jazz to world music to rock n roll. One of his previous bands, a salsa act named Mambo Jumbo opened for the Dave Matthews Band during the 2002 Olympics. His musical experiences and exposure lead to Make It Bloom, a diverse and wide ranging album full of sounds you may not always hear on one album, but which work amazingly well together for all of that. Johnson plays bass and sings on the album, but also recorded all acoustic guitar and piano parts in the studio. He's joined by Anthony Phan on Rhodes Piano, trumpet and vocals, and Randy Herbert on drums.

Johnson gets off very much on the right foot with New Sonata. This is an amazing pop song that is so catchy it might invoke a quarantine. Imagine if Ben Folds wrote happy pop songs and you get the general idea ("Boom shadda shadda boom boom shadda / I found paradise within your personna / Boom shadda shadda boom boom shadda / You're the kind of inspiration for my new sonata"). Pulling a prompt 180, Johnson launches into the maudlin love song Untame. It's a hard change of pace, as its difficult to rectify the Johnson we hear on New Sonata with the one we hear on Untame, but both songs work in their own right. Way Back East is a melancholic pop tune with bright/dark ambivalence that makes it an intriguing listen.

Up With The Flow has a quirky feel to it that is charming. The rhythmic acoustic guitar arrangement underneath keeps this one moving until the chorus kicks in with muted pop grandeur. One of my personal favorites here is Life, Easier. Johnson unleashes the funk on a limited basis here, with a guitar riff opening that's as nasty as they come. This one is something of a guitar anthem on the chorus, with minimal instrumentation on the verses. Internal Bleeding heads back into Ben Folds territory, sounding like an outtake from Rheinhold Messner. Other highlights here include O Town, Equilibrium and Way Back East.

Ben Johnson brings a fun and quirky sense to his music, highlighted by a real flair for the essence of pop music. Lyrically he presents some awkward moments at times, but these are almost more notable as marks of his musical character than flaws in writing. The song New Sonata is something special. In New Sonata Johnson has created one of those pop moments that either spark long and successful careers or memorialize bands as one hit wonders. It all depends on what follows of course, but New Sonata is an IT song. The sort that, released to pop radio in late spring/early summer with the right push could dominate the airwaves all summer long. If Johnson has anything else up his sleeve along that line he'll be with us for a long, long time. Even without New Sonata, Make It Bloom is a worthy effort.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ben Johnson at You can pick up a copy of Make It Bloom at

Review: Jeneen Terrana And The Howl Brothers - My Creation

Jeneen Terrana And The Howl Brothers - My Creation
2008, Bitesized Records

New York City based singer/songwriter Jeneen Terrana is talented enough to be funny and still be taken seriously. Growing up in a Sicilian family in Buffalo, NY, Terrana was treated to an opera performance every Sunday after dinner by her grandfather. Terrana took a lot to heart from those performances, learning the person-to-person performance style that her grandfather imparted. She has translated that into an electric and engaging stage presence; writing and performing intelligent and witty songs with a distinct musical and melodic sense. Terrana's 2nd album, My Creation, features the incomparable Howl Brothers as Terrana's backing band. The resulting thirteen songs are a magical, musical tour de force you have to hear to believe.

Let's start with the voice. Wow just doesn't cover it. Terrana has this silky yet metallic vocal quality that can't be taught. She runs the gamut from beautiful balladeer to edgy alt-rock goddess and back in a single breath. Power, grace and deep hues are all part of the mix here. The Mountains is a prime example of this range as Terrana wrings every ounce out of the song. The Howl Brothers provide an amazingly balancing performance underneath, teasing the song out of its shell with playful licks and taunting musical drama. Terrana moves on both figuratively and literally with New Book in a bracingly honest resolution. New Book has this delicious blues undercurrent fed by the Americana/blues textures laid down by The Howl Brothers.

Terrana slows things down with Close To You, a sweet ballad sung against the backdrop of bare instrumentation. This is a diva performance. The song itself is amazing. I could even hear in my head the jazz arrangement that would turn this song into a standard. Terrana knows her theater as well as her music and takes this song all the way. Up next is Joseph Scott’s Turn On Your Love Light, a tribute to classic country with a modern twist. The Howl Brothers provide one of the tightest musical performances you'll hear on this one, and Terrana continues to stun and amaze as she spreads her wings and shows the breadth of what she's capable of. Life Goes On is a musical soliloquy about finding direction out of chaos. The song itself is amazing, although is a bit muddled on CD by the use of excessive reverb.

Terrana takes us to the dance floor with Something Sweet, a song made up of two cups of double entendre and a dash of spice. This is a classic song in the tradition of old-school country. Back in the day when innuendo needed to be buried deep in the lyrics it was an art form to push the envelope while staying within the rules. Terrana sings this one with a wink and a smile and a powerful vocal delivery you have to be in awe of. Bloody Valentine steps back to the 1960's in a dark minor key song that sounds like a pulp fiction outtake. Bloody Valentine marks one extreme in a performance that continues to expand the boundaries Terrana is willing to push. Vocally this is the most challenging and rewarding performance on the CD.

Train steps back from the brink of musical madness into a classic folk arrangement that's like a cool drink of water to clear the palette. Jeneen Terrana is sweet and vulnerable here in an honest, unguarded performance here. The Howl Brothers continue to impress by building both a musical and rhythmic tapestry to wrap around a song of sadness and loss. Money Tree is a step into rockabilly with guitar work reminiscent of Chet Atkins' distinctive style. It's a light moment that allows Terrana to have a little fun while The Howl Brothers get to play around in the background.

Beautiful Surprise is the most straight forward rock arrangement on the album. Melodically this is a beautiful ballad, although it doesn't play quite that way in the mix on the CD. I enjoyed it, but thought the guitar was mixed a little too high for my taste. Considering that and the use of reverb in Life Goes On are the only minor issues I could find on the entire disc I'd say it’s nothing to worry about. Little Fish is a sweet song with a powerful positive message that finds Terrana at her most personal and personable. Terrana's cover of Dolly Parton's Jolene is classic; even better than the original (sorry Dolly). The album closes out with the title track, My Creation. The song serves as epilogue and autobiographical soliloquy of hope and the power to change, and completes a primo performance from Terrana and The Howl Brothers.

Jeneen Terrana is a special talent, and My Creation is one of the most breathtaking introductions to an artist I've ever experienced. It makes me sorry I missed her debut in 2002. Buffalo, NY should be proud, and New York City music fans should make every effort to see and hear the musical gem playing among them while they can. If there's justice in the world of music, New York City won't be big enough to hold Terrana in the long run. Between her voice and songwriting talent, and the impresario backing band The Howl Brothers, there's nothing this musical outfit can't accomplish. My Creation is, without a doubt, a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. It's a classic album that deserves to be heard far and wide. What are you waiting for?

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jeneen Terrana at You can purchase a copy of My Creation at

Review: Sugar Red Drive - Sugar Red Drive

Sugar Red Drive - Sugar Red Drive
2009, Big Machine Media

Poughkeepsie, New York’s Sugar Red Drive are a neo classic rock band by, of and for musicians. Their latest project, Sugar Red Drive, will be released on CD in early 2009. Combining the melodic and progressive phrasing of the 1970’s with the Modern Rock edge guitar sound that lights up the phone banks at local radio, Sugar Red Drive has hit on a unique mix of classic rock and pop that takes an audience by surprise. You’d better put on your seat belts.

Sugar Red Drive opens with Wicked Sister, a rock anthem buoyed by big hits and even bigger guitar in the vein of Collective Soul's heavier material. Velvet Leash barges in on the opener with as much attitude as the opener. Sugar Red Drive keeps up the intensity on One More Time, sounding like a cross between Soundgarden and Collective Soul. Grace is a decidedly more pop-oriented rocker that has "single" written all over it. This is one of those songs that stick in your head in spite of not being particularly catchy. The chorus is melodic rock candy though, and you won't be able to stop it from playing in your mind.

Millers Child finds Sugar Red Drive stripping things all the way down to the acoustic core, building slowly throughout the song into an acoustic/electric mix that stands in stark contrast to the first few songs on the album. Have no fear; Sugar Red Drive doesn't go mellow-rock after a few rambunctious tunes. The next track, Liar, opens on a guitar progression reminiscent Living Color. Overdrive lives up to its name, exploding out of guitar riff that's as dangerous as it is entertaining. Comin' Down is by far the heaviest action on the album; prepare to be pounded by the wall of guitar and bass ridden by vocalist Archit Tripathi. Comin' Down is probably the best pure rock tune on the album, and is likely to garner some attention from the Modern Rock set. The album closes out with Somebody Else, the big guitar rock epilogue you knew had to be coming.

Sugar Red Drive is an exciting Modern Rock act with sufficient attitude to satisfy their target demographic and enough musical talent to rise above it. Big guitar rock bands are a dime a dozen in the current environment, but every so often one comes along with a little something extra that might make it worthwhile for them to stick around. Sugar Red Drive has that extra sense of charisma bleeding out of their music that makes you want to hear what's next. It's also easy to see how that charisma would translate to a live show, where'd I'd guess Sugar Red Drive is at their best. Sugar Red Drive is a keeper.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sugar Red Drive at or Formal release information has yet to be released, so keep checking back at Sugar Red Drive’s website for more information!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Jane Monheit - The Lovers, The Dreamers And Me

Jane Monheit - The Lovers, The Dreamers And Me

2009, Concord Records

Jane Monheit harkens back to the days of artists such as Sarah Vaughan and Kay Starr with her latest album, The Lovers, The Dreams and Me. Monheit burst upon the jazz scene in 2000 as an amazing ingénue. Nine years and nine albums later she is considered one of the pre-eminent female vocalists in jazz, and rightly so. Monheit has worked with the likes of Terrence Blanchard, Les Brown and Steve Tyrell while racking up appearances on Christmas At The White House, The Capitol Fourth Of July Celebration, The View, The Today Show and Letterman.

Monheit opens with a cover of Like A Star, finessing phrase after phrase into waves like those on the ocean. The ebb and flow here is tranquilizing; wrapping its arms around the listener and lulling you into Monheit's vocal grace. Fiona Apple's Slow Like Honey gets the Monheit treatment, turning the urgent edge of the original into a sentimental longing that is both less and more than the original. Monheit's at her best on This Girl's In Love With You. The full color and texture of her voice is laid bare on the most personal and lovely song on the album.

A sense of mischief infuses Monheit's take on Get Out Of Town. She's able to sell a sense of playful angst with this classic while delivering a primo vocal performance. Ballad Of The Sad Young Men is another beauty, with Monheit at the top of her game, and her backing band wringing everything they can out of the arrangement. The backing band here is perhaps one of the finest working jazz outfits going, bringing energy and life to even the most mellow of arrangements. Other highlights include I'm Glad There Is You, I Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart, Lucky To Be Me and Rainbow Connection.

Jane Monheit is one of the Great Ladies of Song, bringing grace and panache to a genre that's too often diminished in modern interpretations of classic material. The Lovers, The Dreamers And Me makes the most of even never material, placing it in a style and tenor that is at once period and timeless. Monheit scores big with this one. Somewhere Hoagie Carmichael is smiling.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jane Monheit at You can purchase a copy of The Lovers, The Dreamers And Me at or wherever music is sold.

Adrien And The Fine Print - Honey For Bees
2008, Adrien and the Fine Print

Adrien And The Fine Print come out of Boston's Back Bay with a rich tapestry of sound based in classic Americana roots and quality songwriting. The band's debut EP, Honey For Bees, was recorded in one day, with at most two takes per song. Adrien And The Fine Print attempted to capture the classic sound of the albums that influenced them most, opting for a less modern, less air-tight recording method that happens to bring out more of the live, organic sound of the band. Adrien, Elizabeth, Alex, Renee and Joey have something to say. You might want to listen.

Honey For Bees opens with A Ghost You Know. Vocalist Adrien sounds like he falls somewhere between Dylan and Ron Sexsmith, and the guitar violin bookend the vocals in a pleasant valley of sound. The stereo mix here is positional; with the violin on your right and guitar on your left and Adrien in between. It's almost as if you're sitting in at a house concert with the band right in front of you. The performance is very comfortable with good energy. Up next is Honey For Bees, a classic 60's sounding folk-rocker. Adrien just has this easy singing style that seems to work for most any song, and the harmonies here are a pleasant cushion to carry his voice.

Future Perfect is a strong, straight-ahead Americana arrangement in the same vein as A Ghost You Know. Santa Ana Winds takes on more of a country/rock feel and is probably the most commercially oriented song on the album. The EP closes out with Virginia Wasn't Always For Lovers, which takes on more of a classic country sound, complete with twangy guitar and harmonica. This is the sort of song you expect to hear on some prime time television drama as background music, so don't be surprised if it shows up somewhere in the future.

Adrien And The Fine Print make a fine first impression with Honey For Bees. Fans of bands/artists such as Wilco, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan will go ga-ga for Adrien And The Fine Print. The songwriting is very strong and the performances are solid to outstanding. Honey For Bees is definitely worth harvesting.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Adrien And The Fine Print at Adrien And The Fine Print will release Honey For The Bees on Friday, February 13, 2009 at La Luna Café in Cambridge, MA. Keep checking their MySpace page for availability. In the mean time you can stream the songs on their MySpace page.

Review: Sherri-Anne - Love, Light, Life!

Sherri-Anne - Love, Light, Life!
2008, Canyon Edge Records

Sherri-Anne is a small town girl from British Columbia in Canada who came to the United States for college/university. While there, Sherri-Anne was bitten by the performance bug. A Missy Higgins concert was the tipping point. Noted by Canadian legend Tom Stinson during an “Okanagan Idol” contest, Sherri-Anne refused to do anything but her own original tunes. That contest resulted in a recording opportunity that later led to her debut album, Love, Light, Life! Produced by Tom Stinson and mastered by Joao Carvalho Mastering (Canada), Sherri-Anne brings her powerfully positive message to life on 12 songs (10 written by Sherri-Anne and 2 by her musical contemporary Bird).

Love, Light, Life! opens with Awake, a positive-themed pop tune with a feel good message based in kind of a new age self-help philosophy. The tune is a mildly aggressive pop tune with an mild but pointed edge to it. Sherri-Anne has a voice reminiscent of a mildly breathy Lisa Loeb. The arrangements are sharp, pointed acoustic pop sides that are compact and tuneful. Change Will Come is a perfect example of the material here. The general lyrical content is in that self-help/feel good realm and will definitely appeal to a specific niche of fans. Selfish Girl see saws from ballad style verse to rocker girl chorus juxtaposing hope with a vindictive, told-you-so attitude.

Love, Light, Life! is a happy, hopeful anthem that is part universal prayer and part humanistic self-actualization chant. It's catchy and upbeat and just slow enough to not be the danceable song it wants to be. Where Have You Gone? is the heart-rending anthem you knew all along would be here somewhere. The protagonist is pining and promising to wait in what is ultimately a lovely ballad; the sort that 14 year old girls or their emotional equivalents dedicate on shows like Delilah to the ones who got away. We Meant Love is peppy and upbeat, complete with hand claps, juxtaposing love against the things valued in popular culture. It's actually a great message song, although perhaps a little too peppy for its own pith. The rest of the album is of similar material, strong in positive thoughts and images and pop-oriented arrangements.

Love, Light, Life! is one of those albums you like at first listen but may not create a long-term bond with all listeners. Sherri-Anne is a strong songwriter able to craft hook-laden pop songs capable of overwhelming a listener in their pure confectionary air. Like all great pop music, such light offerings tend to grow old before their time. The exceedingly positive messages in many of the songs on Love, Light, Life! will sit well with some listeners and not so well with others. This is one of those discs I really have to suggest that everyone check out for themselves, as I suspect the range of reactions will be all over the map, and perhaps even a bit unpredictable. Sherri-Anne is a very capable performer, and in Love, Light, Life! she has created a note-worthy album deserving consideration and discussion.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sherri-Anne at You can purchase a copy of Live, Light, Life! At

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: Bailey - Burden The Hand

Bailey - Burden The Hand

2008, Baileymusic

Ohio native Chris Bailey has released six albums since 1999, both individually and with his band Moonlight Graham. Weaned on 1970's singer/songwriter types such as Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney and John Lee Hooker, Bailey writes in a bluesy folk style that would have fit in with the folks above while retaining a modern edge. Bailey's latest release, Burden In The Hand is intensely personal and forthright, using a broad range of instruments and sounds to tell a series of 7 stories to highly entertaining and complex musical arrangements.

Bailey opens with Sunny Road, a blues flavored folk rocker that would do Van Morrison proud. The arrangement is bare through most of the song but builds to a delicious crescendo as the chorus concludes. Bailey delves deeper into the Blues on Burden The Hand. Bailey's voice is incredibly soulful here with just the right mix of gruffness. The song builds from barebones to a big jam surrounding the tasty guitar riff that drives the song. This is my personal favorite song on the disc. River sticks with the blues sound and brings out a vocal quality that you hear before now but becomes extremely plain on River. Bailey sounds very, very similar to Dave Matthews. The main difference is that whatever Matthews is vocally, Bailey is more so. Bailey has just a bit more gruffness to his voice, and vocally has a more compelling sound than Matthews (based on tone, power, etc.). DMB fans will find themselves doing double takes when they first hear Bailey.

On Top Of The World is more in the singer-songwriter style Bailey grew up with. The song is a bit of genius writing. Bailey sounds like no one but himself here, and the performance is excellent. Between The Tracks sounds like Bob Dylan meets Billy Joel stylistically. It's pleasant singer-songwriter stuff but perhaps doesn't stand out quite the way some of the other material here does. The EP closes out with In Your Hands and Flowers, two musical short stories that are pleasant closure to a strong introduction.

Chris Bailey offers a memorable performance on Burden The Hand, proving that the singer/songwriter genre is alive and well. Highly introspective and reserved, Bailey offers up 7 vignettes in song that are entertaining and gratifying listens. The market for Burden The Hand probably veers strongly toward older music fans, but Bailey will find adherents across all age groups. There's nothing glitzy here, just good old fashioned music.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Bailey at You can purchase a copy of Burden The Hand at

Review: Jeff Neville - A Romantic War Novel

Jeff Neville - A Romantic War Novel
2008, Jeff Neville

Lisle, Illinois Jeff Neville knows two of the most vibrant and divergent music scenes in the United States. Growing up in the Chicago market, Neville headed to New York City for college, and ended up part of the vibrant East Village/Lower East Side music scene. Years after returning to Chicago, Neville has a regular gig as keyboardist for Soul/Rock favorites The Midnight Shows. At the age of thirty seven he finally got the bug to put out something of his own. A Romantic War Novel, Neville’s solo debut, mixes dark and light, shadow and bright in a collection of nine story songs that are just Neville, his piano, and a guest trumpet on two tracks.

A Romantic War Novel is a musical offering painted in dark overtones, mixing pop aesthetic with gothic intent; as if Robert Smith and Colin Hay decided to get together for a weekend and write some music. The result is sometimes tragic, sometimes enlightening and generally entertaining. Neville's delivery is more like the morose days of Smith than the maniacally energetic Hay, particularly on the opening track, Watch Her. Neville has something of a story-teller streak in his songwriting, but the story falters on watch her. Between the nearly atonal vocal line and the robotically charismatic delivery, he just doesn't get off to a great start. Luckily things improve significantly on What She Said To Me; a wonderfully tuneful arrangement that bespeaks of a melody line that Neville just isn't quite up to delivering. Neville compensates by donning a Lou Reed style spoken word style that's full of casual style and chutzpah. Likewise Yours Truly, a song that sounds like a Tori Amos piano composition. Lyrically awkward but theatrically intense, the song crashes about and makes quite an impression like a party guest two shots too deep into the house liqueur; two much for the atmosphere but too likeable to make leave.

Neville moves back into aesthetic territory with Your Stubborn Pride, a pretty piano prologue that builds into a vindictive diatribe. Its likely epilogue, It's Over, is a mellow center stage soliloquy built on a Ben Folds style composition. Lyrically sophomoric, this particular track would be much more enjoyable as an instrumental. It's all part of the see-saw nature of the album. Crests are followed by troughs, with the occasional moment of parity between strong songwriting and ill-defined lyrical craft. One of the most interesting compositions here is Tonight, which plays with multiple keys and/or strong dissonant composition at times. The musical phrases here are pleasant to listen to, and the lyrical content is at or near its best on Tonight. You'll also want to check out Let It Drop and Take Me Back.

Jeff Neville isn't a wunderkind singer, sticking more to a talk/sing style that works for him. His lyrics are hit or miss. At times he has a way with words and other times... well, you get the idea. What really works here are the musical compositions themselves. Neville is a talented composer on piano, showing a broad range of styles and musical influences. He also seems to understand his instrument's voice, when to use it, and when not to. It would be very interesting to hear Neville working in a band setting. One imagines that working with other talented musicians he could be part of something quite special. As it is, A Romantic War Novel is a work of interest. It's not pretty, it's got some rough edges, and not everyone will see it, but it just might be a diamond in the rough.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jeff Neville at You can purchase a copy of A Romantic War Novel at

Review: Michael DeMaria - Siyotanka

Michael Brant DeMaria – Siyotanka
2009, Michael DeMaria/Ontos Music

Musician, Psychologist, Professor and new age guru Michael Brant DeMaria has twenty-five years under his belt on the life-journey gig. The professor at the University of West Florida is a multi-instrumentalist who dove into music at the age of seven to heal his own wounds. On Siyotanka (the Lakota Sioux word for flute), DeMaria explores an almost metaphysical musical world. DeMaria finds an extraordinary balance between moving flute and drum duets and cinematic arrangements that bring in piano and organic environment sounds as well.

DeMaria is one of many therapists/artists currently in the market with music aimed at promoting healing or growth. Frankly, many of these offerings are less than thrilling musically. Many end up being vanity projects with marginal artistic value, although there are exceptions. Siyotanka is one such exception. Whether through the eerily beautiful passages of Siyotanka, the ceremonial gait of Grandfather, the ethereal mysticism of The Quest or the cinematic grandeur of Beyond The Known, the listener is in good musical hands. DeMaria doesn’t just string together notes or progressions; he grabs hold of the listener and tells a story in phrases and notes that speak to more than just the ears. The introspective moments are full of quiet beauty, and the more cinematic moments are reminiscent of the sort of scoring you might hear in a movie like The Last Of The Mohicans or Dances With Wolves.

Michael Brant DeMaria is one of those uber-talented folks that can achieve at high levels along multiple career paths. Suffice it to say that if he ever retires his therapists’ shingle, it would appear he has a strong secondary path to follow. Siyotanka is a thing of beauty.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Michael Brant DeMaria at You can purchase a copy of Siyotanka in the store at that site or at

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review: Gunbunny - The White City EP

Gunbunny - The White City EP
2008, Gunbunny

Seattle's Gunbunny relies on a classic 4-piece setup to create new and edgy Americana flavored post-punk pop songs that stick in your head like oatmeal on your ribs. With a second home in Portland, Oregon, this young band is moving quickly. Together just eleven months and with less than twenty-five live shows under their belt, Gunbunny have quickly found their musical voice. They put it on display on their debut, The White City EP, released in October of 2008.

The White City EP opens with The Knife, an edgy, post-surf guitar rock fueled song. The song is very vibrant and catchy and will get your feet moving. Never Wrong keeps listeners on their toes with a change of pace that's fueled by punk instincts in a wonderfully alt-pop setting. Left Coast is a more traditional rock arrangement built on jangly guitars and an introspective melancholy born of absence. Hidden is the gem of the album, with frenetic guitar work and a driving rhythm that won't let you go. Gunbunny seems to have a real touch for this sort of post-punk pop, infusing the rhythm and energy of punk into wonderfully hooky pop arrangements like it's nothing. Wreck ventures into a more Americana sound embellished with twangy guitars and a hint of vulnerability.

Gunbunny is a pleasant surprise. For a band so young (as a group) to have found their voice so quickly you start to think there's something special going on. Gunbunny covers enough musical ground here to avoid a distinct pigeonhole, but there's a definite punk work ethic and energy in this band, and there's a highly refined pop music sensibility that runs through their songwriting. It's a recipe for success that many bands dream of. The White City EP is a great introduction to Gunbunny, and is sure to leave you wanting more.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Gunbunny at You can purchase a copy of The White City EP at

Review: El Dorado - En Busca De Eldorado

Eldorado – En Busca De Eldorado

2008, Eldorado

Madrid has a secret, and it’s one that won’t keep. Madrid might just be home to the best new classic metal band around. Fans of Rainbow, Deep Purple and even Whitesnake will want to take note, Eldorado is the real deal. Combining a killer rhythm section with soaring guitar riffs, big choruses and a charismatic lead vocalist in Jesus Trujillo, Eldorado has found a winning Rock N Roll formula. Their debut album, En Busca De Eldorado, was produced by Richard Chycki whose worked with such august artists as Rush, Seal, Aerosmith, Sum 41, Kid Rock, Def Leppard, Pink and Dolores O’Riordan.

Eldorado mixes heavy blues, rock and classic 1970’s metal sounds into a musical patois that is both comfortably familiar and at the same time new and edgy. En Busca De Eldorado is eight tracks deep, with seven in Spanish and one in English. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, the musical language here is universal. En Busca De Eldorado opens with Abril, which has a real Def Leppard feel to the verse. Crushingly melodic guitars drive this song home while Trujillo goes soul-metal in a performance that is highly memorable. Guitarist Nano makes the point that he’s a force to be reckoned here with some incredibly hot soloing. Whereas Abril has a brooding core, El Final springs out of the gates with a lively beat and takes to the open road. Eldorado is a well-oiled machine here, rocking for all they’re worth. The harmonies on the chorus will hearken back to a time when most hard rock acts could really sing.

Un Mal Presentimiento sounds like something you might have seen on MTV in the hair band days of the mid-1980’s. Eldorado doesn’t skimp on the quality here, building a layered sound that is both melodic and edgy. Dejame Decirte sounds like a big rock ballad, fairly typical for the genre, but Trujillo’s vocals keep it more than interesting. En Busca De Eldorado goes for the big, soaring guitar sounds you might expect from Ronnie James Dio, although the song itself is a bit more polished and commercial than Dio might end up with. My favorite song here is El Jugador. Eldorado reaches down and grabs hold of an infectious blues core on El Jugador and refuses to let go. The result is a song that just won’t get out of your head. Mistreated is the only English Language song on the album, dealing even more keenly in a blues-heavy hard rock sound. You can tell the band is having fun on this one, waltzing into Prog territory with the song structure and even stepping on the toes of Led Zeppelin in a musical dance you won’t want to miss. The album closes with Identidad, the most ambitious rocker on the album; sure to be a concert favorite.

Eldorado is one of the most resilient and hardest rocking classic hard rock bands on the scene today. The fact that most audiences in the new world have never seen them aside, Eldorado is a band to watch. With a growing Latin American population and the addition of a few more English language songs, Eldorado may be on the precipice of jumping of the EU and taking over the rest of the Western Hemisphere. En Busca De Eldorado is amazing.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Eldorado at or You can purchase a copy of En Busca De Eldorado at

Review: Clipper - Make My Day

Clipper – Make My Day
2007, Clipper

Italian Rock band Clipper is one of the more surprising entries into the Americana market that we’ve received. Citing roots in Rock N Roll, Folk and Country (in particular Hank Williams), Clipper delves deep into the roots of American music. Primarily a duo, Lorenzo and Davide occasionally enlist the assistance of other musicians, but the two have been with Clipper for a long time and stand firmly at the helm. Their most recent CD, Make My Day, provides a solid grounding in classic Americana with a European twist.

Clipper takes on a kind of Grunge-American style tempered by the sort of pop aesthetic practiced by Oasis on Make My Day. Lead singer Lorenzo Romagnoli sounds like a Gallagher on the opening track, The Mean Singer. The Mean Singer has a sort of Punk/Pop vibe running through it. While lyrically repetitive, the music is catchy and pleasant to listen to. Start Breathing is a catchy, jangly guitar-pop anthem that will get stuck in your head from the opening verse. Shopping Mall Blues has a real rockabilly feel to it that is as catchy as the flu; Doom, similarly, has a very viral country sound built around pedal steel guitar and a two-beat rhythm.

Through it all Romagnoli sounds very much like Liam Gallagher imitating Bob Dylan. This doesn't sound rediculous in fact, although it seems like it should. The overall effect is quite entertaining, as if Ringo had took lead vocals on all of the Traveling Wilburies' tunes. My favorite song on the disc is Black Sky Blues. The picked acoustic guitar and slide-guitar accompaniment make this sound like acoustic blues you might hear in a backwoods Kentucky roadhouse. Other highlights include You, Spean Bridge, the traditional Leaving Of Liverpool and Ramblin' Man.

Clipper finds the heart of Rock N Roll that many American rock artists have long forgotten. The definition of radical is returning to the roots, and by that definition Clipper is one of the most radical bands out there. Vocally intriguing and musically sound, Clipper explores the back roads of American music through the eyes of a Brit Pop fan. Make My Day, consequently, is a comfortable album with a classic sound that deserves real attention. Clipper is for real.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Clipper at or You can purchase a copy of Make My Day using PayPal at Clipper’s online store.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Jennifer Grayson - New World/How Blue

Jennifer Grayson - New World/How Blue
2009, Jennifer Grayson

The line between classical music and popular music is a strong border entrenched on one side by popular mores and on the other by hundreds of years of history and tradition. It is rare for a classical musician to cross over into the popular realm because the discipline and technique required in classical music isn't valued in the popular realm. Nevertheless classically trained musicians do cross over to varying degrees of success. Jennifer Grayson is classically trained on both piano and voice, debuting as the principal soprano in nothing short of the Carmina Burana in Boston's Jordan Hall. She's studied voice at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts and the New England Conservatory Of Music. Constrained by the classical music world, Grayson felt a desire to make her mark in the realm of popular music. Her performances have included modern interpretations of her classical music repertoire as well as updates of pop classics. Recently Grayson took the big step of releasing her first single in the digital realm. New World/How Blue combines expansive and subdued pop arrangements with an ethereal voice unlike anything in popular music.

Grayson puts aside the pop convention of singing from the throat and sticks with the voice she knows best: gorgeous tone and vibrato. Grayson's voice is haunting and beautiful. You may find yourself so entranced that you forget what she's singing about. The musical arrangements are smart, mellow pop/rock stuff; perfect vehicles to let Grayson due show her best side vocally. New World builds to a climax that gives us just glimpses of Grayson's full soprano range, climbing and building in intensity by half measures from start to finish. How Blue allows Grayson to soar into the higher altitudes of her vocal register. The song itself has an air of longing that's part melancholy and part hope, and Grayson delivers this mood perfectly.

Jennifer Grayson may have the most beautiful voice in popular music. The question from a commercial perspective is whether it may be too beautiful. Grayson delivers tone and vocal quality rarely heard on pop radio, but lacks the sort of vocal imperfections that tend to make a voice interesting or iconic in the pop world. There's definitely a market for a voice like hers in popular music, but it may be limited to the adult contemporary realm. That's not a problem, and we really hope Grayson doesn't try to sound more like a rocker girl, her sound is refreshing and will hopefully inspire more classically trained vocalists to jump the border into the pop realm. Grayson's first single is a wonderful introduction to an artist whom we hope will continue to add her voice to the pop conversation.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jennifer Grayson at You can purchase her digital single New World/How Blue at iTunes or

Review: Bernie Journey - The World In The Eye Of The Beholder

Bernie Journey - The World In The Eye Of The Beholder
2008, J2 Records

Cleveland native and current New York City resident Bernie Journey is a puts himself out there as a George Michael clone doing the sort of dance pop that bridges the gap between pop music and Electronica. The brand of innocuous electronic dance pop that was popular in the late 1980's and early 1990's is what Bernie Journey does best. His second album, The World In The Eye Of The Beholder will be released on January 27, 2009, and is likely to appeal to fans of George Michael and fans of the era of dance pop he's most associated with.

Journey makes every effort to sound like George Michael, from vocal affect and tone down to the style of music presented on The World In The Eye Of The Beholder. Unfortunately for Journey, he just can't carry the shoes of George Michael. I'm not exactly what you'd call a George Michael fan but I respect his talent for catchy pop songs and his ability to deliver them. Bernie Journey is a competent vocalist with a voice that almost lends itself more to pop Bowie comparisons than Michael. The music is campy and upbeat; enjoyable but unlikely to make significant commercial impact in the current business environment. Highlights include A Song For Hope Everlasting, A Better Life and Everything, although I think Journey is at his most musically compelling in jazz oriented pieces such as Just A Dream.

The World In The Eye Of The Beholder is one of those albums that will find favor with a small niche of listeners, and it may qualify as a guilty pleasure for a handful more. There are a handful of compelling songs here, but much of the album is fluff packaged for a dance crowd that isn't really there anymore. Journey is a good vocalist, but can't live up to the hype about him being someone else (Michael). In the end he's good enough as himself, but he just doesn't stand out from the crowd.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Bernie Journey at You can order The World In The Eye Of The Beholder through

Review: Underground Logic - Demo

Underground Logic - Underground Logic
2008, Underground Logic

Underground Logic are the hip-hop darlings of the Jersey Shore. Incorporating elements of rock, funk and soul into their fresh blend of hip-hop, Underground Logic aim for the sort of musical domination reserved for trailblazers and superstars. Lead vocalists Tiffany Sterling lays down devastating rhymes over the live band sounds created by Brian Keith (guitar), Kenny Peterson (drums), Colin Thompson (bass) and Salli Redd (backing vox). Underground Logic is currently working on their debut album, and sent along this four song demo for review. It sounds promising.

The demo opens with Rainbow Gangsta, with a driving beat and lyrical style that is intense but only gives a glimpse of what Sterling is capable of. Drums For Me expands on Sterling's initial offering in duet with Salli Redd. The vocals are sharp and clear and very pleasant to listen to, even if the melodic content here is repetitive and bland. Poison sounds like the musical ravings of lunacy before breaking into a typical hardcore gangsta diatribe. The rhymes are competent but don't really stand out as something special, and even the chorus lyrics sound somewhat forced. Even brings the tone and tempo down in a pleasant R&B/disco offering that may get some attention at commercial radio.

Underground Logic is a talented outfit angling for a record deal or some other form of the big break. Vocalist Tiffany Sterling has a great sound that isn't truly used to its full potential here. The Underground Logic demo shows a band struggling between its desire to be gangsta and an innate musical sense that is drawn more to the melodic side of music. The struggle is there although it may not be readily apparent without several listens. Underground Logic is a band to watch, and they'll go a long way if they don't get too wrapped up in what critics like me say about them.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Underground Logic at Keep checking their website for upcoming release information and availability.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: Alan Cohen Experience - Alan Cohen Experience

Alan Cohen Experience – Alan Cohen Experience
2008, Alan Cohen Experience

Alan Cohen is a concept guy. The Boston-based singer/songwriter/bandleader turns out new music like breathing. Cohen and his Orchestra of Personality comprise The Alan Cohen Experience, name coined by a drummer Cohen once knew. The name is apt, Cohen is a musical experience. His latest album, a 6-track EP entitled, aptly, Alan Cohen Experience, was released in November of 2008. Produced by Roger Greenwalt (The Pierces, Ben Kweller, Nils Lofgren), Cohen comes out of the deeply conceptual into the wonderfully strange.

Alan Cohen Experience opens with Elephant, a bizarre ditty that sounds like something Saturday Night Live's Dieter might have played on his fictional television show Sprockets; "All's quiet on the waterfront, it's just me and my ellee-phant." The music is minimalist Euro new wave circa 1985, with riffing guitar and a hip 1985 dance beat. Up Next is Roy's Rock, a classic rock mover with funk in its ancestry. Lyrically the song is fluff, but it's a fun listen that will be sure to get your feet moving. Communist Park reminds me of what might have happened if the early incarnation of They Might Be Giants wrote lyrics for and sang with Ben Folds. The tune is catchy; the arrangement based on pop piano and horns, the lyrical content is strange.

Saturday Morning is a dreamy musical landscape that's more a descriptive musical image than a story or idea. It's sweet in its own way with a lovely melody and perfect harmonies. Bonita is a "love song for no one"; it's a bit cliché and silly but quite enjoyable. The song is accompanied by gorgeous orchestration and shows the depth of songwriting talent chief songwriter Cohen possesses. Space Watch takes some lyrical license in a song that is both odd and richly rewarding.

The more I listen to Alan Cohen Experience the more they remind me of another band known for richly psychedelic songs. Canada's Rheostatics made a long career out of the same sort of material for nearly twenty years, although they had a slightly harder edge at times. Fans of The Rheostatics of Kevin Hearn (Barenaked Ladies) will get the Alan Cohen Experience. Musically the band/orchestra is top notch. The songwriting is clean, crisp and rich in orchestration and musical development. Lyrically they'll leave some folks behind, but not too many. Alan Cohen Experience is a worthwhile listen; one of those you might not listen to regularly over the long haul, but will call to you from time to time to pull it out and give it another spin.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the Alan Cohen Experience at or, where you can purchase a copy of Alan Cohen Experience.

Review: The Lovely Killbots - Primrose Lane

The Lovely Killbots - Primrose Lane
2008, Obscenery Music

Elegance comes in many forms. Lauralee, the yin of The Lovely Killbots, brings a quiet elegance wrapped up in melancholy and disturbance. Her voice is rich and warm with a semi-eternal melancholy shadow while her piano creates cognitive dissonance for her thoughts. Yang Ryan provides drums and vocals, both corralling and propelling their collective muse. The mythology of the due implies they perhaps came together over spilt beer at a party, but what was set loose on that day (however it occurred) is a musical dynamo that's part surreal, White Stripes style rock and part non-conformist musical experiment. The Lovely Killbots offer up their debut album, Primrose Lane, for your consideration.

Crushed Orange Warrior opens with Lauralee singing along with her piano. The percussion here is just too much, threatening to drown out the piano and vocalist throughout much of the song. The song itself is quite pleasant and worthy of checking out. Re-creatio(n) is a bouncy, spring-like composition. Lauralee and Ryan's vocals here create a formidable palette with which to paint the song. Ghetto A is built on a straight up rock beat and arpeggio variations of the left hand. It's alt-rock themed with what sounds like a Rent reference thrown in. Ghetto B is a slowed down, more jazz-oriented composition based on the same melody

Fill The Space is perhaps the most commercial sounding track here. The recording is much tighter here than previously on Primrose Lane. Other songs of note are Don't Look Down, Dis/Gruntled and Whisper Softly.

The Lovely Killbots are a quirky Toronto duo playing slightly disjointed piano/drum art pieces that blend into and out of alt-rock seemingly on a whim. While making interesting and unusual songs, The Lovely Killbots prove that virtuosity isn't a requirement for success. Lauralee has a warm and lovely voice that is pleasant to listen to, but would not appear (from this album at least) to have piano skills that exceed mechanically proficient. Percussionist Ryan isn't asked to stretch the bounds extensively here, and so we're left with a narrow view of The Lovely Killbots. Primrose Lane is an interesting listen with merit, but it’s hard to imagine The Lovely Killbots having much long term success without expanding their repertoire.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the Lovely Killbots at You can purchase a copy of Primrose Lane at

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Review: Megan Munroe - One More Broken String

Megan Munroe - One More Broken String
2008, Diamond Music Group

Megan Munroe grew up in the foothills of Washington's Cascade Mountains. Raised according to a get-back-to-basics philosophy, Munroe grew up essentially without the influence of television. This idyllic lifestyle allowed Munroe to develop her imagination and creative abilities in ways that bypass many raised in a "plugged-in" culture. It's ironic then that her first foray into the public eye was on television. At the age of seventeen she moved to L.A. to pursue a career in acting. Munroe thrived, appearing in three films and co-starring on two episodes of the WB's Everwood within a space of three years. By the age of twenty Munroe had tired of the narcissistic culture of Hollywood and return home to Washington to focus on music (while commuting to LA on weekends of acting gigs). Munroe is based in Nashville these days, where's she's preparing for the release of her second CD, One More Broken String, due on February 10, 2009. In the mean time she continues to act, model, writing, work on a novel and train for a 5K.

Just twenty-five years old, Munroe shows the grace, confidence and polish of a seasoned performer. Co-writing most of the material for One More Broken String with longtime collaborator Brian Oaks, Munroe explores the basics of life, love, happiness, and the consequences when one or all go wrong. Munroe opens with Angel On My Shoulder (Devil On My Back), a raucous country rocker that explores the struggle to stay on the right path between the power of grace and the draw of temptation. Munroe sings her heart out on this one and it is a likely single (or should be). Munroe's voice is honey and steel, in turns, with lots of heat and grit thrown in. She can tear the roof off one moment and turn vulnerability into an art form with her next breath.

Nothing Is Easy Anymore is a prime example of the latter, a quiet and introspective ballad that is strikingly honest with a highly memorable melody. The arrangement is a classic country one with pedal steel and compact, sorrowful sounds. Moonshine is a pop rocker with country instrumentation. Munroe gets to engage in a vocally gymnastic pounce flowing out of sultry stalking the chorus. Moonshine could be the sort of song that gets tied to an artist; it shows all of Munroe's most desirable vocal qualities along with her ability to take a performance completely over the top. It's bombast, country style, and it works.

Never one to stay still, Munroe moves on to Pennies In The Ocean, a paean to chasing the golden bail, juxtaposing the heights of success with the solitary songwriter, alone with a guitar under a nondescript sky. It's a musical reality check for all who've tasted success or at least chased it, and bound to be one of the most thoughtful and poignant songs of 2009. The metronome swings quickly with Munroe, and before you even done considering the implications of Pennies In The Ocean she's launched into the delicious spite and vitriol of Leavin' Memphis. The tale of dealing with a straying husband is incredibly rich and textured, like a short story in a song. It frankly makes "Before He Cheats" sound second rate. This is top-ten country chart material if it's released as a single (and a probable #1).

Angel On Fire finds Munroe getting down to a bluegrass sound reminiscent of Allison Krauss (and in the right part of her range Munroe sounds more than a little like Krauss). Good Fight is country with an urban, almost R&B feel to it. Munroe lets the glints of steel in her voice shine through here, projecting a toughness that is tempered by intelligence. On Shameless Fool Munroe finds her vulnerable self and puts it out on her sleeve. Some of the sweeter qualities of her voice come through in a performance that also has top-ten country song written all over it (this one is probably even more likely to be a #1 than Leavin' Memphis).

Perfect Storm is a pop song born of a waltz. Munroe goes for sweetness here in a country ballad that is fairly generic for country radio but still a pleasant listen. Belle Meade is one of those rare moments where artistry and craft combine to rise above the bar of mere performance. Munroe inhabits this song like it’s her life story. The song itself isn't my favorite on the album, but Munroe wears it like her own skin and makes it more than it could ever be otherwise. It's a Sinatra moment, of sorts. Speechless is another example of Munroe's ability to take a song and make it into something special. The difference that Speechless itself is a special song, yet Munroe still finds a way to inhabit it and bring it to life. The gritty powerhouse has thoroughly melted away here and Munroe sings straight from her heart in what may be the most potentially explosive commercial song on the album. The set officially closes with Lonely Tonight, a sweet and regretful song that sounds standard country issue. Cliché perhaps, but Munroe still manages to lift the song beyond its moorings. In a pleasant surprise, Munroe has hidden an encore at the end of the album. "What I Am" is a wonderful exploration of the dual nature of humanity; the sinner/saint in each person, and how this can contrast with the expectations of those we love. Munroe speaks more truth about the human condition in three plus minutes than many pop artists speak in entire careers.

One thing is abundantly clear. Megan Munroe is ready for Nashville and ready for the world. Munroe brings all the tools of an A-list performer on One More Broken String and uses them all too full effect. One More Broken String will put Munroe on the map in a way she hasn't been before, and for all that is likely only just the start. Her songwriting partnership with Brian Oaks would appear to be a special one. Oaks may just be Munroe's Bernie Taupin, and this could be the beginning of one long, wildly successful ride for a daydreamer from Sultan. In the mean time, One More Broken String is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, an absolute pleasure, and an early favorite for breakout album of the year.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Megan Munroe at or You can purchase a copy of One More Broken String at

Review: The Johns - Foresight/Poorsight

The Johns - Foresight/Poorsight
2008, Ghost In The Cupboard

The John's hail from Chicago, brandishing their style of honest, mid-western Rock N Roll like a sigul. The Johns have barnstormed the Mid-West, making friends and fans at each stop along the way, and even entertained a crowd in Boston's Town Hall in the past year. Everywhere you look these days you see things in contraction, but not The Johns. Their dream in creation just continues to grow. Their latest release, Foresight/Poorsight furthers that dream in wonderful and melodic ways.

Yes, they sound like early U2. The Johns, more than any band I've heard, have captured that blend of melody, grand harmonies and grander themes that made U2 such a success. Lead vocalist Jon Scarpelli even manages to sound a bit like Bono at times. Foresight/Poorsight opens with Sun For Days. Sun For Days is built on a simple melody and even simpler arrangement. Trim harmonies and workman-like guitar work making for a stark and lovely song, steeped in that melodic bigness U2 was known for in the 1980s. Defeatist sticks to a similar style, with sublime vocals and a sort of minimalist quasi-minimalist instrumental approach. If you want to hear angelic harmonies check our Love In A Dangerous Place. The song is a highly melodic ode to death and love and how one doesn't necessarily overcome the other.

The Johns change pace with the country-flavored Compass Rose. The wailing, ethereal pedal steel is almost dreamlike before the song returns to the pop/rock form The Johns are adept at. Wake Me Up is a darkly sweet waltz hiding in a ballad obsessed with mortality. The song is beautiful. Can't Carry No More is good old-fashioned honky-tonk country full of wit and not just a little spirit and is probably the feel-good standout of the album. Other highlights include Green Collar and Are You Still Coming?

It's hard to say the Johns are entirely unique, but they certainly have the market cornered on melodic pop. There is no one quite likely them in the music scene right now. The U2 comparisons are going to be made, and they aren't entirely unfounded, but The Johns make the sound all their own. This is one incredibly talented group. Foresight/Poorsight may just call for the crown of kings of melodic pop to be change hands again.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Johns at You can purchase a copy of Foresight/Poorsight at

Friday, January 23, 2009

Review: Justin McMillan - The McMusic Sampler

Justin McMillan - The McMusic Sampler
2009, Justin McMillan

Justin McMillan is a young upstart musician based out of Toronto who has a knack for catchy little pop/rock ditties that stay in your head for weeks. He was a runner up in the 2007 Songwriter Awards and garners positive attention wherever and whenever he plays. McMillan is currently working on his debut album, The Style At The Time, due sometime in Spring of 2009. In the meantime, he sent along a little four song appetizer called The McMusic Sampler. Let’s check it out.

Justin McMillan leads off with Sleepless Eyes, a catchy, jangly bit of Brit Pop. There's an Elvis Costello and The Attractions air about this song, keeping to a simple, compact arrangement and a melody you'll be humming long after the song is over. Sleepless Eyes could go to pop/rock radio right now and get significant interest. Next up is In A While, keeping with the compact style, McMillan is shines in a wonderfully tuneful song that dances right on the edge of punk without ever leaving the realm of pop. Question To Ask You finds McMillan expanding his sound just a bit, opening up on guitar to accompany a song that is a tad more reserved. This is a song of courting and encompasses all of the nervous energy and suppressed excitement that goes along with such things. Say It To Yourself closes out The McMusic Sampler by amping up the music another notch. Say It To Yourself may be the unfortunate answer to Question To Ask You. The song is impetulant, unbelieving and thoroughly wonderful. The jaunty music arrangement stands in stark contrast to the lyrical content, and there's even a guitar solo that sounds like something that might have come out of Brian May's customized guitar.

Justin McMillan is an up-and-coming artist who deserves your full attention. His influences are quite obviously rooted deeply in British Rock And Roll, and he even has some of the same vocal qualities of a young Elvis Costello. The songs are full of life, with jangly, angular chord progressions and unforgettable melodies. McMillan just needs to keep knocking on doors, because before long one of them is going to open. The sky's the limit.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Justin McMillan at or You can currently stream songs from The McMusic Sampler on McMillan’s MySpace page. Look for his debut album, The Style At The Time, available in Spring 2009!

Review: Mass Echo - Oblivion

Mass Echo - Oblivion
2008, SOCAN

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada’s Mass Echo is a new breed of band. Prog rock tendencies and electronic sounds/effects make for exciting listen as Mass Echo weaves their way through unbroken musical ground with the history and classical forms of progressive rock. School chums Michael David Stricker and Sebastian John Jurowski team with the tomato loving Caleb Cromb to create inspired moments of musical madness on Oblivion, the band’s debut album. Mass Echo are touring in support of Oblivion and already planning for albums number two and three.

Mass Echo explodes out of your speakers with Doorajar, a musical fracas incorporating Eastern sounds with electronic effects and a Drum N Bass floor. The song practically does a slow implosion rather than end. (Oops) Into Wonder is a pensively vibrant composition focused primarily on keyboard/synth permutations of rhythm. This song of seeking rides its own waves of inquiry through rough musical waters that wash up into frenzied rock guitar runs and then into reticent alt-rock poses before burning out into a Pink Floyd-style neural/aural tease.

What becomes abundantly clear very quickly is that Mass Echo is given to fits of musical metamorphosis that are wonderfully jarring and disturbingly beautiful to witness. In much the same way that later Beatles material simply broke down barriers between music styles (and compositional rules), Mass Echo goes where they wilt, without rhyme or reason or any external sign of why. The results tend to be chaotic, exasperating and ultimately fulfilling. Songs like Overseer confine barely controlled rage into dark and shifting sonic elements that range from the forebear to hard rock to electronic smudgery.

You'll want to check out The Bell, a sonic water color with alarming tendencies toward electronic and vocal bombast. The chanting and arrhythmic pulsation of the synth heart bespeak of a dance on the edge of lunacy. Be sure to also check out Augmented, played in part on a ghostly piano and an arrangement that expresses disturbance beyond the usual human capacity. Other highlights include Cobwebs, By The Horns, Pole Shift and Lounge.

Mass Echo might properly be dubbed (pun not intended) the first of what I am certain will be many Progtronic bands (those who compose and perform electronic music but with the sort of compositional tendencies found in hard-core Progressive Rock). Mass Echo can change direction with the wind (or in spite of it), leaving the listener to either be lost at sea or grab on for dear life. The choices made on Oblivion are surprising, disturbing and deeply informative of the musical mind of Mass Echo. Mass Echo follows their muse wherever it takes them, without fits or filters. The results are glorious. Mass Echo obviously mixes ambient and electronic here, but they may be the most exciting and vibrant electronic artist in a decade. Oblivion is highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mass Echo at or You can purchase a copy of Oblivion at

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: Lloyd Dobler Effect - Lloyd Dobler Effect

Lloyd Dobler Effect - Lloyd Dobler Effect
2008, Lloyd Dobler Effect

Lloyd Dobler Effect is a Washington D.C. based band with big plans. Having toured extensively over the last four years, Lloyd Dobler Effect has played with a virtual whose who of Rock N Roll. Lloyd Dobler Effect celebrated 2008 by releasing their debut studio album, Lloyd Dobler Effect. The album had been in the works since 2004, but an air of perfectionism settled over the band, and combined with a heavy touring schedule it just didn’t happen. Two live albums filled the space between, but for long suffering fans, the album is finally here.

Lloyd Dobler Effect opens with Have Faith, a wonderful pop rock song with smooth vocals from singer Phil Kominsky and an unerring melody. Through in some funky guitar work up front and a smokin' rhythm section and you have the base recipe for a fine album. Meet Me In London is a big, joyous rock song that sounds like it could have been a Gin Blossoms tune. This is first class Rock N Roll, the sort of stuff that even ten years ago would have been a major radio hit. Radio is a big arena-rock style song. Vocalist Kominsky has this interesting vocal tick that kicks in from time to time. Occasionally you'll hear this vocal quality that is eerily reminiscent of Freddie Mercury. It's generally gone as quickly as it came, but certainly notable when it occurs.
Spain is a loping rocker with big harmonies on the chorus and Spanish guitar licks cementing the phrases together. Kominsky and mates seem to ricochet through self-titled debut between slow, meandering, harmony filled rock anthems and frenetically guitar-driven rockers. Release Me is a prime example of the latter, reigniting the comparisons to the Gin Blossom in the process. Fans of the Tragically Hip will also find shades of their favorite band here as well. You'll want to surf the funky guitar licks of Might Be Love and the Latin-Rock tune Stranger, which is the absolute highlight of this disc. Vacillating between Latin and Rock sounds with some electric slide guitar work thrown in, Stranger is by far the most dynamic and interesting composition here. The recorded version runs five-and-a-half minutes, but you could easily hear this getting stretched into an extended jam in concert. Other highlights include Empty Reach, Harvard and I Have The Touch.

The Lloyd Dobler Effect has a very dynamic and engaging musical presence that comes across even on CD. Fifteen or twenty years ago Lloyd Dobler Effect would have been kings of the pop/rock world. In today's environment I would guess that they are destined to long term success as a band, but the whole radio star thing is a dead end unless you're with a major (or are very, very lucky). Lloyd Dobler Effect is an A&R professional’s dream find, and their self-titled debut is as tight as they come. A highly enjoyable album that is very much worth your time.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about the Lloyd Dobler Effect at or You can pick up a copy of Lloyd Dobler Effect on the band’s website or at