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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Artist Of The Month: The McKrells (March, 2009)

The McKrells have changed significantly over the past few years, but still at the heart of the band is lead singer/songwriter Kevin McKrell. The McKrells were essentially the house band in Saratoga Springs, NY’s The Parting Glass for years. Aside from their home base, the McKrells played everywhere from little pubs in the Irish Countryside all the way up to Carnegie Hall. Kevin McKrell, Chris Leske and Craig Vance combined their respective songwriting talents to create one of the most distinctive hybrids of Celtic and Bluegrass around. These days Leske and Vance had moved on, but one-time member Rick Bedrosian has returned to the fold, as well as Kevin’s daughter Katie McKrell, and the McKrells continue on perhaps a little bit closer to the Celtic heart that’s always run through their music. McKrell’s songs have been recorded by the likes of The Furey Brothers, Seamus Kennedy, The Woods Tea Company, Hair Of The Dog, North Sea Gas, Pat McKernan and The Kingston Trio.

Watch out in the coming week, we’ll have a review of The McKrells’ latest offering, Traveling Man. (We’ve also previously reviewed Cosmic Hayride, as well as one-time McKrells violinist Sarah Milonovich’s Daisycutter.

You can find several of The McKrells’ releases at, both as CDs or downloads, but if you’re really going to appreciate The McKrells you need to see them live. Keep checking back for more information as the month progresses!

Review: Spirit Of The West - Spirituality: 1983 - 2008

Spirit Of The West – Spirituality: 1983 – 2008
2008, Rhino Records (Canada)

Spirit Of The West celebrated their 25th year in 2008 with the release of Spirituality: 1983-2008, a 2-CD collection of some of their best material from across the years with two new songs thrown in for good measure. Spirit Of The West has traversed Canada many times over the years, and to a lesser degree the United States and Europe. Starting out as a Celtic folk group, the sound has evolved over twenty-five years into a more refined pop/rock/Celtic blend, but Spirit Of The West never forgot their roots. Where you are a long-time fan of Spirit Of The West, a passing acquaintance, or even if you’ve never heard of them before, Spirituality offers much to enjoy and needs to be on your “get” list.

For the fans of Celtic and Scot songs, Spirit Of The West brings much from their glorious past to Spirituality. Doin’ Quite Alright, The Crawl, The Old Sod and Home For A Rest all fit the bill quite nicely. Home For A Rest has been consistently ranked by Canadian music fans as one of the top Canadian New Rock songs of all time. Of course, Spirit Of The West had a distinct social conscience in their music as well. Political, their first real hit, is an amazing song about the imbalance in a relationship caused by an insecure or controlling partner. Long time fans will be happy to know that the original version of Political (from Labour Day) is offered here. (Putting Up With) The Joneses is a tongue in cheek look at the sort of damage socioeconomic elitism can lead to; even touching on the social taboo of Eugenics.

Spirit Of The West happens to have written one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard, and it’s included here. Take It From The Source takes on bigotry and hatred with a velvet glove lined with iron. The pen is mightier than the sword by far in this moving and powerful personal answer to one of the darker elements of human nature. Take It From The Source, like Spirit Of The West themselves, should be a lot better known than it is.

You can hear the progression from Celtic folk group to rock band occurring throughout Disc One of Spirituality, with Save This House being the first sign that something’s afoot. By the time we get to songs like Goodbye Grace, D Is For Democracy (Scour The House) and Big Head, Spirit Of The West have achieved a true pop rock sound while still heavily influenced by their Celtic roots. Disc Two completes the transition, with five tracks from the Michael Phillip Wojewoda produced Faithlift ((And If) Venice Is Sinking; Sadness Grows; Bone Of Contention; Death On The Beach and Is This Where I Come In). Faithlift was Spirit Of The West’s best selling album with a fair amount of cross-exposure on soundtracks, TV, etc. The instrumentation and arrangements still suggest their roots, but the production values are the pure pop genius Wojewoda has long been capable of.

Unplugged continues the run of social commentary in an upbeat song about Euthanasia and the right to die. Delivered with a wry smile, Unplugged has deep philosophical roots in the right of individuals to determine their own fate. Wishing Line and Our Ambassador find Spirit Of The West at the nadir of their pop/rock sound, almost wholly distinct from where they started out. The album was Weights and Measures, and while offering up songs wholly in the rock realm, Spirit Of The West offered distinct nods to the “old” sound with Canadian Skye and Rites Of Man.

Spirituality also features two brand new tracks, the moody Winter’s Now The Enemy and the raucous Another Happy New Year. The two tracks reflect the two musical aspects of Spirit Of The West wonderfully well. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in the tension and beauty of the former and wanting to dance to latter (preferably with some Guinness or some grog).

Spirit Of The West has built a vibrant and varied catalog over the last quarter century. Too prolific and profound to ignore, the band continues to be a hit at live shows across Canada. The days of endless touring long behind them, Spirit Of The West are content continuing to make great music their way; in their own time and fashion. They still tour, and will commence a tour of Eastern Canada with Great Big Sea on March 11, 2009. While Spirit Of The West was a major label act at one time, they have always carried themselves with an Indie Spirit, and their music is a testament to that. Spirituality is a collection of some of their best moments, but there is much good material not represented. (Noticeably absent is anything from their fine album Open Heart Symphony, as well as my personal favorite song from Faithlift, Sincerely Yours), but a collection of this sort should inspire you to look (and listen) deeper; leaving some nuggets behind for the ardent listener to be rewarded with. With all that’s here, Spirituality can be nothing other than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. It’s an absolute must-have.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Spirit Of The West at You can purchase Spirituality at You will find it but will pay $15 more. Be sure to check out Spirit Of The West’s web page and particularly the individual members’ blogs on that site. John Mann, Geoffrey Kelly, Hugh McMillan, Vince Ditrich and Tobin Frank all have long musical histories that include solo albums or albums with other bands as well numerous guest appearances over the years.

Review: Speck Mountain - Some Sweet Relief

Speck Mountain – Some Sweet Relief
2009, Carrot Top Records

Mellow spunk is the word I would choose for Marie-Claire Balabanian, lead vocalist of Chicago-based ethereal rockers Speck Mountain. Traversing the mellow vocal styles of Margo Timmons and Hope Sandoval, Balabanian paints each song with a sweet and sincere vocal brush burgeoning with anima and attitude. Add in the spacey jangle of Karl Briedrick’s guitar and the mournful wash of Kate Walsh’s keyboards and you have the recipe for a glorious work of downtrodden pop magic. Speck Mountain’s latest release, due March 17, 2009 is Some Sweet Relief; it brings new life and vibrancy to the world of moody, introspective pop music.

Shame On The Soul opens the album on the spindly legs of Briedrick’s plaintive guitar while Balabanian comes in over the top sounding like a cross between Timmons and Stevie Nicks. Balabanian and Briedrick are co-story tellers here, with Briedrick handling the unspoken or unspeakable on his guitar. You’ll understand once you hear it. The song is stunning in its simplicity and stark beauty. I Feel Eternal is one of the more optimistic sounding songs on the CD; the hopeful guitar lead soaring through a gentle reverb that suggests a dreamlike quality. Balabanian meets this with a pragmatic and sonically gorgeous vocal performance that may be the best on the CD. Some Sweet Relief has a very repressed blues feel to it that is buried deep in an Americana/Folk arrangement.

Dreamlike qualities abound on Backslider, built on the laconic keyboard of Walsh and ethereal, wordless vocals. This serves as an introduction to Backsliding, a striking piece of sad beauty. Balabanian is the queen of all she surveys here, and rings every bit of pernicious melancholy from the song she can manage; Other highlights include Twinlines and Sister Water.

Speck Mountain is an immensely talented group of musicians pursuing a sound that has to be done near perfectly in order to succeed. The sort of melancholy, ethereal pop music created by Balabanian, Briedrick, Walsh, et. al. can die a slow death for many reasons, but Speck Mountain make you want to travel the back roads of sullen, downtrodden pop with them. Some Sweet Relief is pop alchemy at its finest, creating golden moments for your listening pleasure. Expect Speck Mountain to be with us for some time to come.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Speck Mountain at Some Sweet Relief is due out March 17, 2009. Keep checking Speck Mountain’s MySpace page for availability information. Also note that keyboardist Kate Walsh has departed the band since the recording of Some Sweet Relief, and so there is a new keyboardist, Claire “Cub” Haley, as well as a new drummer, Christopher Dye.

Arcane Roots – Arcane Roots
2009, Arcane Roots

Surrey, England holds hidden Rock N Roll treasure (but not for long). Melodic rock trio Arcane Roots can’t stay hidden under a bushel forever, not with the magical sound heard on their self-titled, 3-song EP. Vocalist/guitarist Andrew Groves has the smooth, melodic vocal sensibilities of Chris Martin and an almost Andy Summers-ish sense of musical construction. Adam Burton (bass) and Daryl Atkins (drums) deliver a rockin’ rhythm section and some serious backing vocals to what may be some of the most gorgeous and aggressive melodic pop/rock heard on either side of the Atlantic.

Opening with Rouen, Arcane Roots sounds like a cross between Coldplay, Led Zeppelin and The Police. The divergent musical strands of heavy, melodic and punk rock is startlingly new sounding and very well done. Groves’ vocals soar over the song like a transcendent phoenix, falling into flames at the end. On the second track, Nylon, Groves cements his position as one of the more unique and memorable voices in Indie Rock. An Easy Smile turns quickly from a garage rocker into an art-rock monster full of melodic grace and fits of musical chaos. Laughing in the face of standard song construction, Arcane Roots piece together musical lines so disparate they have no choice but to work. The result is something on the level of musical genius.

Arcane Roots brings Progressive Rock back into the mainstream, mixed with elements of Punk, Alternative and Melodic Rock. The musicianship here is outstanding – it has to be. A lesser band couldn’t pull off the brave musical choices execised on Arcane Roots. Andrew Groves should be the next vocal superstar out of the UK. Arcane Roots is currently planning tours throughout Europe for the summer of 2009, but it’s only a matter of time before they look out across the Atlantic and see a market that hungers for a band like them. Outstanding.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Arcane Roots at or It appears that Arcane Roots (EP) is either a demo or only locally available at this time. Bug them through MySpace and perhaps they'll sell you a copy. You won't be sorry.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: Omar Alexander - Soulare

Omar Alexander – Soulare
2008, Omar Alexander

Latin music has metastasized in popular culture, no longer only a distinct genre but also an influence that creeps into Pop, Rock, Folk, Dance, Hip-Hop and other genres. Latin Rock has existed for years, but has failed thus far to overtake the popular music scene in the United States. That may be about to change. Omar Alexander, the New York City-based bilingual singer/songwriter has released Soulare, an album set to explode into the social consciousness of the music world.

Alexander mixes Latin, Funk and Rock N Roll on Soulare while singing in both English and Spanish. Soulare opens with Bandolero, one of the most infectious rock songs I’ve heard this year. This melody has been with me since I first heard it. I'd sing along if I knew Spanish, but trust me, this one won’t go away. Mueve rocks out in a highly danceable number that is as infectious as you can imagine. Alexander sings with the fire of a gospel singer and rough hewn voice that is sure to effect hormonal fluctuations in his female listeners.

Alexander slows things down a bit on Changes, an R&B ballad with serious chart potential. He returns to good old Rock N Roll on the frenetic Adelante. This song is built on a viral guitar hook and Alexander’s honey/whiskey vocals (don’t forget your dancing shoes). This was my favorite song on the disc, and I think it may also have significant commercial potential. Other highlights include Abandon El Amor, the upbeat funk-laden rocker Shine and Tranquila. Be sure to check out the bilingual cover of the Bob Marley classic No Woman No Cry.

Omar Alexander may be the voice that carries Latin-based rock to the head of the mainstream. His voice is immediately recognizable and unforgettable. The songs on Soulare are infectious and there is a certain mojo to this recording that seems unlikely to fade over time. I don’t know if it will happen with this CD or one that follows, but if Omar Alexander keeps coming with this type of material he’s going to catch on in a big way. Make sure you check Soulare out.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Omar Alexander at or You can purchase Soulare as a download through AmazonMP3.

Review: Leopold And His Fiction - Ain't No Surprise

Leopold And His Fiction – Ain’t No Surprise
2008, Native Fiction Records

San Francisco band Leopold And His Fiction brings a plains sensibility to garage rock. Led by Daniel James (vocals/guitar), a Detroit native, Leopold And His Fiction has been compared favorable to The White Stripes. While there is something to this comparison, Leopold And His Fiction digs a little more heavily into the soul of 1960’s garage than The White Stripes ever dared. Jangly guitars and Lo-Fi effects highlight the raw sound and Dylan-esque mood Leopold And His Fiction put forth on their sophomore CD, Ain’t No Surprise.

There is nothing polished about Leopold And His Fiction; nothing refined. Ain’t No Surprise is raw Rock N Roll ripped right from the soul and social consciousness of James, Micayla Grace (bass/vox) and Jon Sortland (drums/vox/organ). Songs like Hawk Eyes and Come Back (Now That I’m Here) underline the raw energy Leopold And His Fiction are capable of, while Broke has an almost Jim Morrison-like aura over it. The best track on the disc is Ain’t No Surprise. James has pieced together lyrics worthy of Bob Dylan and a straight ahead folk/rock arrangement that is infectious and memorable. A close second is Katie Mae, a delicious little bit of rockabilly that you won’t be able to resist. Other highlights include Sun’s Only Promise, Mean Ol’ Train and Pretty Neat.

Leopold And His Fiction don’t fit easily into one demographic or genre slot. If you’re a fan of classic garage rock with a penchant for plains sensibility and a back-roads Americana feel, then Leopold And His Fiction are for you. Quirky and dirty with the dust of thousands of miles of road, Ain’t No Surprise will lull you with its earthy feel and worm its way inside your head. It may take a few listens, but this disc will charm you.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Leopold And His Fiction at or, where you can purchase a copy of Ain’t No Surprise.

Review: Inkbat - Under The Clothes EP

Inkbat – Under The Clothes EP
2008, Inkbat

Inkbat is a Chicago based quartet with a distinct love for 1960’s and 1970’s nostalgia. Born of a high school class project back in 2003 between vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Whitney and drummer Charlie Dresser, Inkbat became a night and weekend project into college and beyond. Dylan McKenzie later chimed in on guitar and vocals, and Mark Brussy rounded out a killer rhythm section. Inkbat released their debut EP, Under The Clothes, in December of 2008. They are gigging in around Chicago and the mid-west US in 2009 in support.

Inkbat leads off with ’82, a highly rhythmic guitar rocker with a disco beat and a melancholy feel. Go Darling is more of a frenetic alt-rocker and probably the most commercial song on the EP. Under The Clothes is very understated, but perhaps a minute too long at 5:14. All The Same is a mellow bit of musical melancholia that sounds like Pink Floyd being sung by a cabaret singer/band. It’s actually a quite wonderful effect that underlines what may be the best writing on the EP. Inkbat saved the best for last on Under The Clothes. It is, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Inkbat at

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: Leon Live - Childhood [EP]

Leon Live – Childhood [EP]
2008, Summertime Records

Wow. Leon Evans in a Welsh singer-songwriter with guitar in hand and heart on his sleeve. Hailing from the town of Aberdare, Leon Live writes and performs emotionally honest diary entries set to music. There is no attempt at song craft or obfuscation; Leon Live simply gives his heart and mind in each and every song. The result is an incredibly nuanced, human experience in music. Leon’s debut EP, Childhood, is proof.

Childhood opens with Child Of Hell, a sharply pointed and poignant song about the unseen power a broken home can inflict on a child. Leon Live pulls no punches in painting a brutally honest portrait of the pain and confusion such things can incur. All of this is delivered in an upbeat acoustic rock arrangement in a vibrant rock voice. Blinded heads toward a southern acoustic rock sound (ala Pat McGee) in a song of pure desire. This one is very catchy and would play well to adult pop radio. Your Tears Are Mine is a beautiful guitar-based Americana tune that sounds a bit like Blue Rodeo. Memoirs Of A Dreamer has a thoroughly memorable melody that you don’t be able to shake. You’ll be humming this one for days. Leon Live closes out with Home, a down-tempo Americana tune you’ll have on replay. This is the class of the EP. Don’t be surprised if this song gets picked up by other artists to record.

Leon Live has a distinctive sound that will get your attention, and he’s a good enough songwriter to keep it. A strong, occasionally raspy voice fits perfectly with Leon’s songs, and the arrangements are top notch. Childhood is a keeper.

Rating: 4 Stars
(Out of 5)

You can learn more about Leon Evans at, where you can purchase a copy of Childhood.

Review: Grand Army - Toys Of Chaos

Grand Army – Toys Of Chaos
2009, Grand Army

On first listen I was inclined to dismiss Boston’s Grand Army as typical pop fodder with a very good vocalist out front, but the more I listened to Toys of Chaos, the more intrigued I became. While the songs are fairly straight forward pop music, there are some wonderfully dark hues running through the songs. Vocalist Alicia Racine is in fine form on songs such as Mike T.V., I Still Love You, Insects and Given The Circumstances. Save You is a definite highlight, informed by some serious funk in the bass and piano parts. The absolute star of the album however is Addict Of Me. This bizarre and otherworldly bit of musical flotsam sets the tonal sanity of Racine’s voice against a divergent musical backdrop that’s based more on a form of musical impressionism than standard structure.

Grand Army writes mostly accessible pop music shaded in dark hues and midnight tones on Toys Of Chaos. Living in darkness produces the occasional distortion of reality, and Toys Of Chaos is no exception to this rule. Toys Of Chaos is worth checking out but it won’t catch on with everyone.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Grand Army at No word on availability of the CD yet, but if you’d like to purchase Toys Of Chaos, contact the band through their MySpace page.

Review: Gisele Scales - 2 Think

Gisele Scales – 2 Think
2008, Gisele Scales

Sydney, Australia’s Gisele Scales is no stranger to European audiences. Her song Mother Egypt, with the band Vega, soared to the top of the European Pop charts. She’s also recorded with the likes of Midnight Oil, Eurogliders and Jeannie Lewis. The vocalist and electronic violinist released 2 Think in 2008, full of sizzling fiddle runs and big dance beats. What struck me most about this CD is that it is amazingly one dimensional for an artist of Scales’ talent. The violin here is more of an accent than an instrument; the album is so over-produced that any real sense of musicality has been reprocessed into an unrecognizable state. This is a heavy electro-dance album more in the line of Kraftwerk than of fellow electric fiddler Lili Hayden. Many of the songs here will do well on the club scene, but much of the album lacks the musical soul I was expecting.
Scales shows flashes of virtuosity (Can U Love 1 Another), but in generally becomes a slave to the beats and production. In the end it is what it is, a dance album made up of mass produced beats, rhythms and electronic sounds that is certain to do well on the club circuit, but there’s no challenge or stretch for either Scales or the listener. 2 Think had the potential to be so much more.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Gisele Scales at or You can purchase 2 Think at or download it through iTunes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: Derek Byrne – Seize The Moment

Derek Byrne – Seize The Moment
2008, Derek Byrne

Derek Byrne has three great loves, his family, music and Ireland. After spending six years touring with Riverdance, and several more with his band, Eider, Byrne has settled down into a solo career. Byrne released two solo albums in 2008. We were lucky enough to receive Seize The Moment for review. Seize The Moment is a rare album that builds into something more than just recorded muse; It’s an experience. Derek Byrne sings and plays as If these songs run in his life’s blood. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin (originally Kildare, Ireland) based singer/songwriter gives his all on the twelve songs presented here. Whether it’s outstanding instrumental work (Eidirian, Blue Eyed Canyon, Running On Fumes Theme) or amazing vocals, Byrne is on top of his game.

There are two songs on this album that are other-worldly, they’re so good. Seize The Moment is a beautiful song about keeping love alive in light of all the responsibilities and pressures that day to day life places on our shoulders. It’s a message we would all do well to stop and listen to from time to time, and the song itself is timeless. Expect this to be picked up and covered again and again by other artists. Likewise The Beautiful Truth; a paean written from father to daughter, filled with all of the love and emotion that relationship classically encompasses. A stone would failed to be unmoved by The Beautiful Truth. Both of these songs are special in that they represent a feeling or relationship in a fashion that is iconic and archetypical while remaining incredibly personal and touching. The musical arrangement for each is amazing.

Of course the rest of the album isn’t so bad either. Byrne is an amazing instrumentalist, and that runs through all of his songs, but Eidirian is a particularly representative piece. Rhythm Of Falling is a starkly honest song that is all heart and very memorable. Save Tara is a gorgeous a Capella piece that you’ll have to hear to believe. Red Is The Rose marches to a martial beat in a classic performance. Other highlights include My Land, Hawaiian Pigeon Breakdown and Marie’s Wedding.

I’ve never heard of Derek Byrne before this, and I am utterly amazed that a singer/songwriter this talented could stay effectively hidden from the world for this long. A gifted lyricist as well, Byrne represents the human heart in his music like no other songwriter I’ve heard, all done up in classic Celtic/folk arrangements. Perfect is, of course, unattainable, but for the 12 songs on Seize The Moment, Derek Byrne comes as closes as it’s possible to come. Seize The Moment is, of course, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. Make this CD part of your collection.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Derek Byrne at You can purchase Seize The Moment at

Review: Clara Bellino - Embarcadero Love

Clara Bellino – Embarcadero Love
2006, Clara Bellino

Clara Bellino melds the worlds of American and European popular music styles like few others have. Memorable melodies, infectious rhythms and a wry sense of humor are the earmarks of Bellino’s material. Born in Paris, France, Bellino spent a number of years performing on the West Coast of the United States, even landing a role as a singer in the 1993 film, Steal America. These days, Bellino performs to support her 2006 release, Embarcadero Love. Recorded while living on a houseboat at Embarcadero Cove (Oakland), Embarcadero Love has a free and easy feel that’s full of life, love and a forceful sense of humor.

Bellino studied music in Conservatory for ten years in France, and was introduced early on to jazz and classic American popular music artists by her father. These influences inform Bellino’s musical choices, as does a progressive socio-political mindset that comes across in her lyrics. Bellino opens with Tout Est Fini, a French language pop song with an infectious dance beat. Swordfishtrombone is an abstract musical piece built on colloquial humor. It’s a fun listen. Peaceful Solution draws on a modern R&B sound to deliver a pop culture re-working of the Prayer of St. Francis Of Assisi. It’s catchy and poignant but alternates a peace-oriented chorus with preachy verses.

Something Cool is a classic song. Bellino dusts off her jazz roots in a song of mistaken intentions. The subtle shift in attitude of the protagonist here is the stuff of movies (or at least sitcoms). Potential Criminal is a sardonic take on the perceived social status of a naturalized US citizen (or perhaps any US citizen in this day and age). Other highlights include Game Up Big Pickle, Big Picture and Goodnight Baby.

Clara Bellino delivers intelligent lyrics in smart, focused pop music that mixes elements of American glam-pop with the more refined sensibilities of Europop. I suspect Embarcadero Love would get mixed reactions from American audiences as an inherent European sense of superiority is woven into the fabric of the CD through Bellino’s cutting sense of humor. European audience may likewise hold the CD in contempt for its distinct American influences. This probably means Bellino is hitting some truth on both sides of the ocean. Embarcadero Love is a strong pop record and definitely worth investing a little time in.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Clara Bellino at You can purchase a copy of Embarcadero Love at

Review: Canadian Invasion - Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand

Canadian Invasion – Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand
2009, Old Janx Spirit Music

Philadelphia’s Canadian Invasion comes calling with their latest release, Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand. Smartly sardonic lyrics mix with mellow-rock arrangements to create a subdued listening environment. Lead vocalist Andy Canadian and gang have traveled the East Coast of the US for the past couple of years, sharing the stage with the likes of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed. Their songs strive to reflect the lifelessness of suburban living, where the soul has been ripped quietly away by separating residents from both the action of the city and the vibrancy of nature.

Anyone who publishes under the name Old Janx Spirit Music gets points for chutzpah but can they carry the name? Canadian Invasion has perhaps met their objectives too well. Lyrically strong, the music is not without energy, but reflects the hum-drum angst of suburban living all too well, forming a sort of musical monotone that stretches across the CD. The sound is pleasant and works for the individual songs here, but the lack of significant sonic variation across the CD makes for a listening experience more memorable for what it’s not than what it is. Even the occasional moment of sonic violence or turmoil would spice this up and provide some ebb and flow to the sound; they are not to be found.

Nevertheless, highlights abound. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a great musical arrangement, though subdued. Americana/Country accents flavor this song nicely. One Hand Claps The Other is the closest thing to a real change of pace, featuring s new wave flavor and a vibrant energy level, but still produced in that very subdued, repressed sound that dominates the album. Neighbors, the final track, is the absolute class of the album. It gives hope that whatever might come next from Canadian Invasion might provide more spark.

Canadian Invasion is a very talented band, that much is clear. Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand has solid to plus songwriting and a couple of truly inspired moments, but falls victim to a uniformity of sound that makes it seem less than it is. It seems as if Canadian Invasion was going for a specific sound, with continuity, for the album. If so, they outdid themselves. It’s a pleasant listen, but it will be too easy to tune out because of that consistency.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Canadian Invasion at You can purchase a copy of Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand at

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: Jeneen Terrana - Just Me

Jeneen Terrana – Just Me
2002, Bitesized Records

We previously reviewed the exquisite My Creation from Jeneen Terrana And The Howl Brothers. She must have liked what we wrote because she sent along her earlier album, Just Me. Terrana is based in New York City these days, but started out singing in her home town of Buffalo, NY. She has a disarmingly honest and personal songwriting style that will leave you on the edge of your seat. I was very curious to hear what Terrana was like before her association with The Howl Brothers. One word: Wow.

Just Me opens with Good Folks, a quirky and shadowy guitar based tune about keeping up appearances. More specifically, keeping up appearances for your parents when your world maybe isn’t quite what they might have imagined for you. It’s wonderfully well-written; an honest and distinct story song filled with gloaming shadows. Up next is Are You Still In, an amazing song about showing your true self to someone in a relationship. Are You Still In is a fearless baring of flaws that is not so much based in vulnerability but a pragmatic, “I am what I am, can you deal with it?” perspective. It’s a starkly honest and powerful song.

Someone Has Been Loving You shows the same fearless approach. Terrana is confronting a lover who has not been faithful in a candid and pragmatic fashion that is far more devastating than anger. The end result is not set in song, but the foundation has been irrevocably shaken from its moorings, and Terrana is almost clinical in the diagnosis. Up next is F*** You, perhaps the best kiss off song you’ll ever hear. Based in true events, Terrana is ruthlessly honest in a peppy country/folk format. I bet this song is a trip live in concert. Goodbye is a delicious little acoustic blues piece about getting out of a relationship that doesn’t give you what you need. It’s a nice change of pace and a more subtle take on the subject covered in F*** You.

Cutting The String once again goes to the topic of breaking away. One suspects that perhaps this album was written around the time Terrana made the break from Buffalo to New York City, as the theme of breaking up/breaking away and starting new runs heavily through Just Me (hence the title). Cutting The String is lyrically dense and confessional in nature, a rough musical sketch that is beautiful in its earthy simplicity. I’m Fine turns the corner on leaving; a hopeful declaration painted in gorgeous harmonies and a buoyant vocal line against a neutral-to-melancholy musical arrangement. Terrana closes out the CD with a stunning rendition of O Sole Mio, displaying a range and theatric touch different than that displayed in her own material. Goosebumps is the word.

In going back to the earlier disc in Terrana’s catalog I expected to hear a developing artist who would turn into the one we heard on My Creation. Instead we find an artist fully formed, striking in her candid and confessional songwriting. The voice is the same; wonderfully nuanced and subtle but capable of striking power and grace. Just Me is every bit as good as My Creation. The development seen isn’t so much a growth in skill or prowess but a widening of stylistic choices. Just Me is a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc, and Terrana is just the second artist to have two albums gain that distinction. Get this disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jeneen Terrana at You can pick up a copy of Just Me at

Review: The Portraits - Timescape

The Portraits – Timescape
2009, Sensory Pulse Records

The Portraits defy easy definition. The duo, comprised of Galway’s Lorraine Reilly (guitar, vox) and Bristol’s Jeremy Millington, s one of the most unique and haunting acts to come across this desk. Compared favorably to The Beautiful South by one producer, The Portraits are something of an Art-Pop band based in stirring guitar/piano arrangements laced with doses of cello, flute, trumpet, world instruments and electronic sounds. Reilly and Millington met while teaching on The Isle Of Wight. Moonlighting quickly turned into a full-time pursuit; crafting vocal harmony arrangements that fall somewhere between a Brian Wilson wall of sound and a chamber choir. The Portraits recently released their sophomore effort, Timescape. As the Portraits grow together they continue to break new and breathtaking musical ground.

Jeremy Millington brings a warm and pleasant voice to The Portraits as an accent to his ingenious piano creations, but Lorraine Reilly is the vocal wunderkind of the duo. Reilly delivers her vocal lines in a sweet and amber-hued voice that is pleasantly unforgettable. The arrangements, in general, are complex and intriguing, and no aural detail is overlooked. The album opens with Poppy Song, one of The Portraits new forays into electronic music. It’s a great introduction to Reilly’s voice with great harmonies and some solid trumpet work, but is probably the most lightweight track on the CD. Songs like Autumn and Shield are more musically aesthetic, crafted in the rise and fall of musical tides for the sake of sound. Bitter is more socially conscious, dwelling on a variant of The Golden Rule.

Precious Red is the star of the album. The song is achingly beautiful in arrangement, and anyone out there who’s ever lost a loved on will find pieces of that person in this song. Real World would be a favorite on most any other album; it’s a sardonic look at what happens as people transition from carefree youth to responsible adult, and the clashes that occur between those still in the former world and the newly “minted” adults. Other highlights include the ethereal See Through You , Virtual and Fame.

The Portraits can’t be called a pop band. They’re not Rock N Roll. The best description for them might be something like Chamber Pop. Steeped in elements of classical construction, The Portraits write pop songs that are intelligent, multi-faceted and inordinately above the pop throng. The pairing of Lorraine Reilly and Jeremy Millington has resulted in a rare bit of musical alchemy that is too good to ignore, and probably too good to ever be truly “popular”. Timescape is like a dream from which you awake disappointed that the dream is over. Luckily, all you have to do is push play...

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Portraits and even purchase a copy of Timescape at

Review: The Hip Abduction - Move (EP)

The Hip Abduction – Move
2008, The Hip Abduction

Florida’s The Hip Abduction draws on the life experience of band members who have lived in the Caribbean, Micronesia, Ecuador, India, New York City, Washington DC and various other points on the East Coast of the United States. Jazz, Funk, Reggae, and Rock mix wonderfully well on The Hip Abduction’s new EP, Move.

Move opens with Sacred Life, a delicious mix of Funk, Rock and Reggae that will get caught in your head semi-permanently. Your feet will tap in spite of themselves and insist you get up and move. Your Upside Down is also very danceable and catchy, infusing elements of jazz into the aforementioned musical ménage. The Hip Abduction slow things down a tad for a mellow mix of Reggae and Jazz that is memorable. Moonshine is a funky bit of Island/Latin Jazz that is irresistible. The Hip Abduction closes the set with Gringo, another impossibly catchy rock hybrid you just can’t stand still for.

The Hip Abduction has an ability to create incredibly catchy, danceable songs you won’t be embarrassed to tell people you listen to. If you took the musical approach of the Dave Matthews Band, added some funk and real jazz and a Latin rhythm, you’ll have an idea of what you’re going to hear. The Hip Abduction is even better than you’d imagine. Move is a tremendous introduction to a band too viral and catchy to go away.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Hip Abduction at or No word on availability of the CD yet, although there is a non-working link to purchase the CD on The Hip Abduction’s home page.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Sarah Tracey - Cards On The Table E.P.

Sarah Tracey – Cards On The Table E.P.
2009, Sarah Tracey

Sarah Tracey brings torch music into the twenty-first century with the subtlety of an axe slicing through butter. Encompassing the earthy tones of Billie Holiday and Kay Starr, the stratospheric reach of Judy Garland, and the va-va-voom appeal of Anne Margaret, Tracey steps right out of another era with a bang. Born and raised on Chicago’s North Shore, the classically trained pianist quickly found that city’s love for jazz and blues. While her songwriting style is definitely influenced by her classical background, Tracey writes the soundtrack to a modern day, black and white film noir on Cards On The Table (EP). Hold on to your hats.

Cards On The Table appears to have been recorded live without an audience. The ambience of the recording would suggest that the attempt was made to capture an unshaped, live performance it its pure raw energy. If so, this approach has worked magnificently. Sarah Tracey opens with This Plum, a sultry torch song about the draw of forbidden fruit; alternating between pure desire and a sort of emotional sadism. Up next is Cards On The Table, an open heart appeal using poker as a metaphor. The arrangement has a bit of French Cabaret Jazz in its heritage, like something you might hear in an old black and white private detective flick. Heart On My Sleeve is a primo performance from Sarah Tracey, who just seems to get better and better as the EP progresses.

For I Want To, Tracey steps back a bit to deliver an electric performance based in the heartbreak of unrequited love. This is far and away the best track on the CD, and Tracey sells the song with all of her heart and soul. How Does It Feel is a wonderfully dark song of base devotion and wanton thoughts. Sarah Tracey sings this song like she’s lived it, assuming the role of the protagonist like slipping on a glove. As a sort of musical/spiritual redemption, Sarah Tracey comes up from the depths of jazz era depravation for Why Should I Be Blue? The promise of love rises and falls with the ebb and flow of Sarah Tracey’s voice while the listener dangles on the edge of his/her seat.

Sarah Tracey is a classic performer. Her voice is distinctive and warm and smoky with just a bit of an edge to it. She own her genre like only the best can. The material here is perfect for her voice and musical aspect, and Sarah Tracey makes the most of the six songs presented on Cards On The Table. It’s a definite must-hear for vocal jazz enthusiasts or anyone who loves a great vocal performance.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Sarah Tracey at or No word on availability Cards On The Table, although you can stream the songs on Tracey’s MySpace page.

Review: Patrick Coman - Used Records

Patrick Coman – Used Records
2008, Patrick Coman

Patrick Coman is a singer/songwriter who draws comparisons to folks such as Neil Young, Gram Parsons and Ryan Adams. The Nashville native recently relocated to Berlin, Germany and released a 4-song EP entitled Used Records. Coman sings with a certain amount of soul and an imperfect voice (ala Neil Young), but hits all the right notes when it comes to touching the listener.

Coman opens with Streets Of Berlin, an ode to his new home that is both dark and hopeful in a wonderful acoustic guitar arrangement. Up next is Amsterdam, a heart-on-the-sleeve folk rocker featuring some excellent guitar work. Used Records is a song about the powerful connections we form with the music we love and the parallel between those connections and those we feel to people and places in our pasts. It’s an incredibly poignant song that’s a little off the beaten track philosophically but nonetheless based in truth. Maria is a stark commentary on the apathy of The Lost Generation (Well I’m walking down this low and lonesome street again / with the echoes of my parents’ revolution / between the bottles and the pills now there’s no need to get your thrills / from tearing down those old folks institutions).

Patrick Coman continues to build a following in Germany, where the hunger for protest music inspired by its 1960’s forebears is much stronger than here in the United States. Coman has a lot to say, and does so cogently in lovingly crafted arrangements that serve as perfect musical vehicles. Used Records is a strong release that deserves to be heard by many but probably doesn’t have a lot of commercial bite in the current music market. One might guess, however, that Coman is a pleasure to see live. I recommend Used Records highly as a disc worth checking out, but also recommend that if you happen to be near one of Coman’s gigs that you make the effort to get there.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Patrick Coman at or You can purchase Used Records in digital format from Coman’s MySpace page as well as through iTunes and Rhapsody.

Review: Oxcart - The Equation

Oxcart – The Equation
2008, Oxcartmusic

Oxcart comes blasting out of Portland, Oregon with their 2nd studio album, The Equation. Released in 2008, The Equation inherits its characteristic style from influences such as Nirvana, Queens Of The Stone Age, Pink Floyd and The Flaming Lips, with just a pinch of Spacehog thrown in. Recorded in the studio of Windham Hill violinist Billy Oskay, The Equation was recorded and produced almost entirely on vintage analog recording equipment, helping Oxcart capture a more organic sound than is possible on purely digital recordings.

Equation leads off the set; a rough and ready alternative guitar rocker with dark undertones. Office is a jazz/acid-rock fusion piece reminiscent of classic Pink Floyd. Gambler, Pt. 1 has a very heavy guitar rock sound, whereas Gambler, Pt. 2 has a sparse electronic sound that reminded me oh James Young/Jan Hammer’s Prisoner Of War. Explosions is a unique and disturbed composition that holds the interest. Genesis is a Floydian transition with some spoken word accoutrements. Teatherball is a punk rock anthem made for pogo dancing a pit jumping. What becomes clear, and quickly, is that Oxcart has an identity crisis.

Oxcart has so many directions musically that they seem to have a hard time developing any sort of coherent, consistent sound. It’s obvious that their influences and musical tastes are very divergent, but rather than trying to meld something new out of these sounds Oxcart tries to cover all the bases. In a single-based retail download environment this may be a way to maximize sales, and it may appeal to the band, but it’s not going to find wide commercial appeal. It’s obvious that there are some very talented musicians here, and the diversity of sound is great, but even Oxcart sounds like they occasionally get a little overwhelmed with all of the changes. Consequently The Equation is a musical Tautology. It is what it is, but the various parts never quite meld together to make something greater.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Oxcart at or You can purchase a copy of The Equation at

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: Dangerous Kid - The Day Has Come

Dangerous Kid – The Day Has Come
2007, Maxfun Music

Dangerous Kid formed in 2005 in Washington, D.C. as an outlet for singer/songwriter’s Jay Rapoport’s piano-fueled alt-rock songs. The Berklee School Of Music grad moved the band to New York City in 2007 and celebrated y releasing their debut CD, The Day Has Come. Containing fourteen songs of piano rock, ala Ben Folds and Billy Joel, The Day Has Come is a dynamic and colorful representation of the range and vibrancy of Rock N Roll piano. Supported by Matt Dosberg (bass & acoustic guitar); Paul Withers (drums) and special guest Steve Herrman (trumpet) of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band, Rapoport plays and sings for all he’s worth.

The Day Has Come opens with Moving On, a straight ahead rock tune with a driven rhythm section and lots of piano accents. This is a decent opening but is probably my least favorite track on the CD. The Billy Joel influence shows up on Give It All Away, where you can tell that Rapoport has listen to a lot of early Joel. Comparisons aside, it’s a great rock song that should be a concert favorite for Dangerous Kid. Cue up the mix tapes for Fall At Your Feet; a song of devotion and pedestal placement that will melt hearts. There aren’t many songwriters doling out love songs like this these days; get this placed on a movie or television soundtrack somewhere and Dangerous Kid won’t be able to press CDs fast enough to meet the demand. Wow.

What Did I Do is a personal favorite, and upbeat yet dark rock song that is the perfect remedy for a fight with your significant other. This one will stick out in your mind and the melody just won’t go away. You Should See The View again shows the influence of early Billy Joel, particularly in the piano part. Rapoport is at his very best here. Dangerous Kid gears up next for the melancholy schmaltz on Make The Night Last, a pure singer/songwriter tune, circa 1975.
Someone’s Son is a wonderful song about the truths of war that often don’t hit home until it’s too late. Love Me Tonight is another great song in the style Billy Joel played before he really hit it big. Rapoport displays a keen ability to turn a phrase here on top of writing excellent piano-based music. Rock Star calls back to a time when glam and Rock N Roll went hand-in-hand. The song is a tongue-in-cheek display of the power of stardom, both over self and others. Dangerous Jam is a fun musical breakdown that skirts the edges of jazz and allows the band to just hang loose for a few minutes; it’s a fun listen. Dangerous Kid closes out the set Never Too Late, an incredibly poised and thoughtful song about hope.

Dangerous Kid is a victim of how good they are. True songwriting and performance talent is often relegated to the second tier of a music industry more concerned with marketing a look or fashion than good music. Twenty years ago Dangerous Kid would have had a major label deal and all the backing they could desire. They’d be playing stadiums by now instead of clubs. This is a band that deserves to make it to the big time, based on Jay Rapoport’s songwriting and vision, and the support of one of the tightest rhythm sections on the East Coast. The Day Has Come is an essential disc. If you are a Billy Joel or Ben Folds fan then you’re going to love this CD. If you’re a fan of great and varied songwriting, then give Dangerous Kid’s The Day Has Come a spin. You’ll be happy you did.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Dangerous Kid at You can purchase a copy of The Day Has Come at You can also download the album through iTunes.

Review: JoyFocus - Cyber Suburban Electric Rock Circus

JoyFocus – Cyber Suburban Electric Rock Circus
2009, JoyFocus

Illinois duo JoyFocus are back with their follow-up to 2008’s Ultra Catchy Atomic Pop Interlude – Volume 1, with Cyber Suburban Electric Rock Circus. Aside from a penchant for multi-syllabic, tongue-twisting album titles, JoyFocus writes amazingly dynamic and varied Rock N Roll songs. Rikk Currence and Holly Joy raise their game to a new level on Cyber Suburban Electric Rock Circus. Don’t miss this.

One of the best ways to live forever is to be immortalized in song. Such songs range from dirges to joyous celebrations of the life lived. I have to say that if I were ever to be so lucky as to be immortalized in song, I would hope it would be a song as dynamic and wonderful is Audrey Is Gone. It’s a soaring rock tune with harmonies that run halfway between Wilson Phillips and the Wilson sisters (Heart). Seriously, this one of the most moving (lyrically and musically) tribute songs I’ve ever heard. Princess Samantha is a positively themed pop/rock song about the social forces that encourage loneliness and the benefits of abstinence. Grey Day My Way (War Of Me) is a great, peppy rock tune with a socio-religious theme involving right choices and living.

Prayer is perhaps the best song on the album. Think classic U2 sound where the Christian philosophy is right out front instead of woven into the fabric of the song, and you have an idea of what Prayer is like. Salvation is a big rock/pop song about escaping the entrapments of thee world around us into something greater. JoyFocus scores big with a cover of The Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain Again. Other highlights include Halos & Flames, All That You Need and a reprise of Audrey Is Gone to close out the album.

I Had the opportunity to review JoyFocus’ previous release, Ultra Catchy Atomic Pop Interlude Volume 1, back in June of 2008. While that CD has some great things going for it (4 stars), it was clear that JoyFocus was still looking for a final element to their sound. It’s safe to say that on Cyber Suburban Electric Rock Circus JoyFocus found what they are looking for. Even with strong Christian themes, this may be one of most dynamic pop/rock albums to come across my desk in quite a while. JoyFocus is a musical force to be reckoned with, delivering a positive message through big, hook-heavy pop/rock songs that just won’t leave you alone.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about JoyFocus at You can download Cyber Suburban Electric Rock Circus exclusively through iTunes.

Review: Spygirl - Pieces Of Evidence

Spygirl – Pieces Of Evidence
2008, Spygirl Music

Vancouver’s Spygirl took eight long years to release their second disc. Their self-titled debut hit shelves in 2000. The band went through some changes over the years, but re-engaged with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Badly Drawn Boy, Sloan, Elliott Smith, James Blunt) to release 2008’s Pieces Of Evidence. Born of a longtime collaboration between vocalist Koralee Tonack and multi-instrumentalist Jane Gowan (no idea if she’s related to Styx’ Lawrence Gowan), Spygirl started out as Time Waits. The band is a collection of incredibly talented musicians, and Tonack’s voice is amazing.

Pieces Of Evidence opens with Come Out To Play, a down-tempo song about coming out of your shell and letting go of your fears, yet it sounds mired in a deep melancholy. Where Did Those Stars Come From has an almost ethereal, Mazzy Starr quality to it. Feeling Fine is ambivalence personified; a self-affirmation that is without real energy or life. The vocals and harmonies here are gorgeous, but the energy just isn’t there. Feeling Fine is, unfortunately, a microcosm of Pieces Of Evidence. Well constructed songs fed by pretty harmonies, a lead vocalist with a great voice, and little or no energy to drive it. Mellow and ethereal music are fine, but even mellow music has life and vitality to it. Spygirl comes across as a very talented outfit that just isn’t challenged by or interested in what they are playing. This is unfortunate because there are some wonderful elements here. And Spygirl even tries to make a late save with Be Lost and Weight Of The World, but it’s too little too late to hold on to the listener. The final track, Dust, is a reserved story song where Koralee Tonack really comes to life on vocals. It’s really a worthwhile performance, but most listeners won’t stick around that long.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Spygirl at or You can purchase a copy of Pieces Of Evidence at or as a download through iTunes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nicky Swann – Burning Bright E.P.
2008, Nicky Swann

Hailing from Kingsteignton, Devon, England, Nicky Swann has deep roots both in the country and in the brand of acoustic folk music she writes and plays. Long of a successful cover duo, Swann became a songwriter quite by accident. Left without a guitarist and unhappy with potential replacements after her duo dissolved, Swann took it upon herself to broaden her guitar skills from the three chords she knew. In no time at all Swann was back on the circuit and writing her own material. The time since has been full of local awards and recognition, and Swann has begun to set her sights on a larger audience. Nicky Swann recorded and released her debut CD, Burning Bright (EP) in 2008. Without distinct popular flair, Nicky Swann offers up honest, from the heart folk music in the spirit of Lucinda Williams and at time Bonnie Raitt.

Burning Bright opens with Good Advice, an incredibly poignant story song about the daughter of a highwayman who warns her away from his ultimately fatal lifestyle. It’s a Greek tragedy set to music in a melancholy Country/Americana arrangement that is sonically gorgeous. Wheels Keep Turning is a song of hopeful melancholy about second or new chances and the passage of time. One Step Away is a little more upbeat, played in a more traditional Country arrangement. It’s a song about the dynamics of a relationship that is very intelligent and tuneful. This is not your typical Country/Folk fare, but a classic song that would be welcome in Nashville in almost any age of Country music. Time Stands Still is a passionate plea for a relationship not to end. It is one of the most heartfelt and personal performances I’ve heard on CD in some time.

Nicky Swann is a lesson in accidents and fate. If you do what you love and do it well you’ll be given what you love to do. The fact that the latter isn’t always exactly what you might have expected is irrelevant; or maybe it’s the point. Nicky Swann cocooned herself after the breakup of her old due, and emerged from that hibernation as an amazing songwriter. Burning Bright is a thing of beauty; a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc, and an instant classic.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Nicky Swann at You can pick up a copy of Burning Bright (EP) at

Review: Jupiter Rising - The Quiet Hype

Jupiter Rising – The Quiet Hype
2009, Chime/Fontana Records

Jupiter Rising made quite a splash with their debut album, 2006’s Electropop. Music from the album is in regular rotation in television shows, commercials and sports arenas everywhere. On March 17, 2009, Jupiter Rising returns with their sophomore effort, The Quiet Hype. Vocalist/Producer Spencer Nezey and vocalist Jessie Payo grace us with an eclectic mix of electro/dance pop, soulful ballads and even the occasional stab at social commentary. A 2009 tour is in the works.

The surprising choice for lead single from The Quiet Hype is Falling Away, an up-tempo dance/pop tune that is certainly accessible and fun to listen to, but hardly the best candidate for a single here. Tres Cool, the likely second single, should have gained the first spot. The only justification for holding Tres Cool back is that it’s a perfect summer hit. Expect to hear it everywhere this summer; it’s a can’t miss single. Guarded could make for an interesting release. Although not as dynamic as Tres Cool, it has interesting vocal triad harmonies very reminiscent of Wilson Phillips.

Flip My Switch is bound for the hard core dance club scene. That it lacks in subtlety it make up for in pure glam and raw sexuality. The Quiet Hype is a personal favorite, as it lets Payo show off her vocal skills in a more relaxed setting. While still heavily produced, Payo gets to play with some seriously constructed harmonies. Payo has a perfect rock/pop voice with just enough edge to be memorable. Over Again is another mover and shaker. It’s a great pop tune, heavily produced but none the worse for wear.

L.A. Girls is a fun listen, trashing the gimme-gimme culture of Los Angeles (“Prada Bag, Gucci Shoes, Louis V, Jimmy Choos”). Other highlights are Follow Me, Snakeskin and When The Bass Drops.

Jupiter Rising isn’t exactly bubble gum pop, but they don’t hide their heritage in that realm either. Mixing elements of Pop, Hip-Hop and Rock, Jupiter Rising has created a highly entertaining dance album in The Quiet Hype that should gain significant commercial traction. And if it’s not the most intellectual music in the world, who cares? Who wants to think while they’re dancing?

Rating: 4 Stars
(Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jupiter Rising at or The Quiet Hype hits shelves on March 17, 2009, and can be pre-ordered through If you just can’t wait you can download Tres Cool and L.A. Girls through iTunes. And be sure to check out Jupiter Rising’s website. They’re running a remix contest for the song L.A. Girls that could get you some face time on Jupiter Rising’s web and MySpace pages.

Review: The Supervillains - Massive

The Supervillains – Massive
2008, Law Records

The Supervillains are back. Following up on their popular 2006 release, Grow Your Own, the Orlando, Florida Ska/Punk quintet are back with Massive, their most refined and accessible album to date. Produced by James Wisner (NAS, Justin Timberlake, Shakira); Massive features appearances by Slightly Stoopid’s Kyle McDonald and Inner Circle’s Kris Bentley.

Massive opens with You Got Me, sounding a great deal like Sublime. The Pit hearkens back to the early days of The Mighty Mighty Boss Tomes, in a pure Ska/Punk extravaganza. Home Again is a wonderfully catchy Pop/Punk hybrid with great harmonies happening between the two vocalists. My favorite track on the CD is the surprising cover of Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song). Aside from the reggae beat this cover is amazingly faithful to the original and very well done overall. St. Thomas is another curveball from The Supervillains; a honky-tonk style ode to the fringe benefits of a visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Other highlights include Overdose, Iru Kanji and Snow White.

The Supervillains are a highly entertaining Ska/Punk outfit with a serious penchant for chemical relaxation. For this reason the album is one parents might want to think twice about before buying it for your child. That being said, The Supervillains might be one of the better Ska/Punk hybrid bands going. Massive certainly could be, there’s enough commercial fodder here to keep The Supervillains in consistent radio rotation until at least mid-fall. It’s a great listen.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Supervillains at or You can purchase a copy of Massive at

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Joy Ike - Good Morning

Joy Ike – Good Morning
2008, Joy Ike

Pittsbugh, Pennsylvania’s Joy Ike is a musical late bloomer. The 25-year-old singer/songwriter just started writing and performing 3 ½ years ago, but is already considered the gem of the Pittsburgh music scene by both insiders and outsiders. The Nigerian born former publicist has acquired a reputation for lyrical depth and social conscience while delivering strong pop arrangements reminiscent of folks like Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones and Fiona Apple. Ike’s second album, Good Morning, was released in 2008 to rave reviews in and around the Pittsburgh area, as well as some on the national scene.

Good Morning opens with a brief vocal intro, a Capella, that displays just what a gorgeous and warm voice Ike possesses. Ike steps out of a reverb chamber into real time like an angel stepping from your dreams into the now. You spend the next twelve songs hoping she won’t leave. Strongman is a piano-driven pop song with hints of soul, like an interesting hybrid of Tori Amos and Alicia Keys. Warriors Get Your Gear On is a wonderful, lyrically dense pop song projecting a somewhat serious perspective on a light and airy pop arrangement. Remember is a gem of a song, sounding like a soliloquy from a Broadway Pop musical. It’s a song about saving the world, or having the courage to try.

Jacob & Esau is a peppy, funk-tinged piano pop tune that sounds like Tori Amos stylistically and is wonderfully vibrant. Unconditional is a song of longing and devotion; certain mix-tape material in a piano-pop format. You’ll want to make time for the melancholy flavor of City Lights and the regretful beauty of Oh I Fight. Other highlights include the hauntingly beautiful and powerful Love Is; Hey, Where Are The Kids; the gospel-tinged The Least Of These and Hope. Hope is very similar in ideals to Rent’s Seasons Of Love, though different in style.

Joy Ike is the real deal; a singer/songwriter with something to say and ample to talent to deliver it. A warm and inviting voice wrapped up in strong and generous piano-driven pop/rock arrangements is the general recipe for Ike, who may be the best thing to come out Western Pennsylvania in a decade or more. Good Morning is an exciting introduction. Nice to meet you, Joy Ike, we hope to hear much more from you.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Joy Ike at or You can purchase a copy of Good Morning at

Review: The Greens - Broken Science, Vol. 1

The Greens – Broken Science, Vol. 1
2007, The Greens

Morgantown, West Virginia’s The Greens have been rockin’ Appalachia for more than five years now with an intriguing blend of Rock, Soul and Boogaloo. Andrew Tuck, Ben Sweeney and Nathan Yoke have formed an incredibly tight band over time that is always producing new material. The Greens sent along Broken Science, Vol. 1, one of their EPs from 2007 for review.

Broken Science, Vol. 1 opens with 10-4 Good Buddy, a well-constructed classic guitar-rock jam. Up next is All Over, a funky, R&B laden rocker with a serious groove going on. Crazy Thomas is my personal favorite on the disc. The Greens come across sounding a bit like Cowboy Mouth on this tune. The Greens Shows that same New Orleans style spunk on Swamp Queen, a Creedence Clearwater Revival sound-a-like that should be a concert favorite. I also highly recommend Penny, built on one of the most vicious guitar riffs you’re likely to hear.

The Greens Mixes blues, rock, R&B and a little bit of Louisiana swamp gas for an eclectic sound that is distinctly recognizable and unique. Broken Science, Vol. 1 is likely to be a niche record, not for lack of talent or interesting sound, but as a victim of the current trends in what some call musical taste. This is, unfortunately, the sort of CD that tends to fall through the cracks for all the wrong reasons. Don’t let it. It’s a great listen.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Greens at You can purchase a copy of Broken Science, Vol. 1 at

Review: Jono & Friends - Misty Roses

Jono & Friends – Misty Roses
2008, J. Frola

Jono Frola has led something of a charmed life. The one time rock club manager, advertising jingle writer, actor, songwriter and singer has travelled all over in pursuit of his various muses. Appearing in films such as Making Mr. Right, Tweeners and Natalie In New York. His jingles have been featured in spots or campaigns for Sports Illustrated, Pan Am Airlines and International Harvester. In 2008, Frola released Misty Roses on CD. Let’s take a look.

Misty Roses opens with the title track, a schmaltzy Bossa Nova that’s played as smooth as silk. I Was Wrong is pure 1970’s AM radio material. The gentle R&B groove here should be full of soul, but Jono just doesn’t provide that feel in the vocals. Jono makes the most of his cover of The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. He extracts some lovely sounds from his guitar, but the energy just isn’t there. It’s a melancholy song, but there was a spark to the original (and to several covers I’ve heard over the years) that is simply absent here.

Island Dreams has more energy, with a delicious Bossa Nova beat underneath it all. Dazed also shows a bit of life, and the cover of Randy Newman’s Marie actually reflects some inspiration on the part of Jono & Friends, but about half of the album falls prey to its own listlessness. Jono himself is a passable vocalist, but pitch problems do appear on the mastered recording. This is (almost) always a dubious choice. Misty Roses is meant to be a romantic album, but romance requires energy, and about half the time Jono & Friends just don’t have it here.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Jono & Friends at You can pick up a copy of Misty Roses at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: Scythian - Immigrant Road Show

Scythian – Immigrant Road Show
2007, Imagramaphone

If you’re looking for first class Celtic music then we’ve got an album (and band) for you. Scythian, a band of Ukrainian descent based out of Washington, D.C., may just be the hottest thing going on the Celtic circuit. With three vocalists, two fiddlers and more spirit than entire jug of punch could provide, Scythian storm the stage or the studio; wherever they happen to be playing. Classical musicians who started busking for fun, brothers Danylo (guitar/accordion/vox) and Alexander Fedoryka (violin/mandolin/bass/vox/harmonica) teamed up with Josef Crosby (violin/bass/vox) and Mike Ounallah to form one of the most dynamic Celtic outfits going. Scythian’s latest effort (their third) is Immigrant Road Show. You won’t be able to put it down.

Immigrant Road Show opens with Immigrant Stomp, a lively Irish Jig featuring some of best fiddle playing I’ve heard in a long time. Try to sit still through this song. Just try it. Hills of Donegal is a great listen; very lively and full of energy. It’s a bit of a modern take on a classic Celtic song; talking about wanting to turn Donegal into a Vegas-style fortress. This would not be a popular idea with traditional Celtic fans but is still a great listen. Jacobites is done in a dynamic arrangement that is full of tension and life. It’s a great rendition. One of my personal favorites on the album is Highway 81. There is a very 1930’s or 1940’s cabaret style to the arrangement that is endearing. The violin fills and complementary lines are well done to the point of brilliance. Vocalist Danylo Fedoryka’s easy style is perfect for this song.

Boyko Dream is done in a gypsy style that invokes dark and daunting images. There are also elements of a middle-eastern sound here that are very intriguing. Boyko Dream ends up as a huge jam with each member trading solos and egging the others on. Tuesday Morning is a Celtic themed rock song with real legs. This will get your feet moving and would have real commercial potential with the right placement. Final Reel is a master class in Celtic ensemble playing. You’ll dance, you’ll laugh, you’ll call for another pint. Classic. Technoccordian is a stab at Celtic hip-hop; complete with MC.

Kesh Jigs is a wonderful opportunity for some Irish dancing. Great for a dance hall or a kitchen party, just make sure to keep the Grog flowing. I Will Go dips into the Scottish songbook for a revolutionary song from the era of William Wallace (or thereabouts). Stop The Show throws you violently back into one of the most frenetic jigs I’ve heard; I got dizzy just listening to the dueling fiddles of Josef Crosby and Alexander Fedoryka. Make sure you check out Follow Me Up To Carlow and Fields of Athenry, but put aside some time to appreciate Gypsy Fiddle. We got an idea of what the two fiddlers were capable of on Stop The Show, but this piece is amazing.

Scythian is the real deal: an old school, grab your shillelagh Celtic band. So many bands mix Irish musical heritage with Bluegrass, Rock or World Music these days that it is a pleasure to hear a band going the old school route. The sound is sweet. Another pint or two while you listen; Immigrant Road Show is a treat for the ears. It’s a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc and a must for your collection.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Scythian at or, where you can purchase a copy of Immigrant Road Show.