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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Wildy's World Top 40 albums of 2011

Yes, we're on the cusp of a new year, with new experiences out in front of all of us.  But before the tide turns again, let's take a look back at the top 40 albums we reviewed on Wildy's World during 2011.  No big fanfare or drawn out countdown this year.  Just the facts, ma'am.

40 Amy Black One Time
39 Anna Atkinson Mooniture
38 Monika Borzym Girl Talk
37 Andy Statman Old Brooklyn
36 Ron Sexsmith Long Player, Late Bloomer
35 Jeneen Terrana See The Light
34 Hannah Miller O Black River
33 Gattis E.P.
32 OST Catch Me If You Can - Original Broadway Cast
31 Laura Roppe I'm Still Here
30 Renee Wahl Cumberland Moonshine
29 OST Anything Goes - New Broadway Cast Recording (2011)
28 The 23 String Band Catch 23
27 Beth Bombara Wish I Were You
26 Tally Hall Good & Evil
25 Imelda May Mayhem
24 Sarah Jarosz Follow Me Down
23 Eric Church Chief
22 Sutton Foster An Evening With Sutton Foster: Live At The Café Carlyle
21 Forrest Day Forrest Day
20 John Shipe Villain
19 Abbie Barrett & The Last Date The Triples: Volume I [EP]
18 Mark Erelli Little Vigils
17 Jason Plumb And The Willing Alive & Willing
16 Skyler Take You Away
15 Zaz Zaz
14 Sierra Hull DayBreak
13 Shayna Zaid & The Catch Lighthouse
12 Seth Glier The Next Right Thing
11 Jeannine Hebb Whileaway
10 Bruce Cockburn Small Source Of Comfort
9 Bess Rogers Out Of The Ocean
8 Grace Stumberg To Whom It May Concern
7 Sunday Wilde Whay Man!? Oh That Man!!!
6 Emmanuella Grace London Stories
5 Tommy Shaw The Great Divide
4 Brandon Schott 13 Satellites
3 Marian Call Something Fierce
2 Paul Simon So Beautiful Or So What
1 Ron Hawkins Straightjacket Love

Friday, December 30, 2011

Adam Cross - Sirens

Adam Cross – Sirens
2011, Adam Cross
Aiken, South Carolina singer/songwriter Adam Cross has seen his heartbreak.  This is evident on Cross’ self-released debut album, Sirens.  Whether you take the title as a warning, or perhaps as a treatise on the things that draws us out of ourselves (and sometimes pushes us back in), Sirens is a remarkably mature and subtle disclosure of vulnerability and strength, healing and pain. 
Sirens opens with the pure pop rock of “Dance”, a catchy-yet-reserved statement of intent that is the perfect intro to Sirens.  Cross has an appealing voice; staying within a comfortable range that doesn’t restrict his ability to deliver a quietly dynamic performance.  “A Feeling” is a melancholic reflection on love as faith, in a love that, if not requited, certainly isn’t available.  Cross builds the song nicely throughout, growing in intensity through the final bridge before drawing back.  “Scared To Pieces” is a love ballad written from a less than tenable romantic position.  The smooth, radio-ready chorus is full of sound and sonically appealing.  Cross is reminiscent of an edgier Rob Thomas here, both for his sound and for his pop sensibilities.
Cross engages in a confessional style on the stripped-down “Save Me”, punctuating the effort with a jump into his upper vocal register on the chorus.  This last leaves him a bit exposed with a sound that’s less than ideal, but the song has great flow and works on many levels.  “Time Of Our Lives” is a wonderfully upbeat love song, although the verse has a stilted feel that’s somewhat distracting.  The execution here doesn’t quite match the intent, but it’s a solid, pop-friendly effort.  “Thursday” is a song of loss, written through the perspective of time, although Cross’ deliberate vocal style offers the impression of a suitor who is choosing his words carefully.  He’s still in love, you see, and still pursuing her even if he isn’t certain what it is he wants from the pursuit.  There’s a stylistic grace to this song that works, even with its somewhat awkward pace, as he struggles with the competing feelings of love and hatred.
“Burning Castles” wants to a big pop/rock song but never quite lives up to its pretensions.  It’s a solid tune, but just never fully becomes.  The chorus is mildly catchy, and Cross builds the musical tension appropriately, there’s just never a payoff.  “Time Wasted” laments a relationship that didn’t work out, seen again, through the lens of time.  This one has a nice, Adult Alternative sound that will play well with radio programmers and fans alike.  “Tragedy” finds Cross introducing more of an electronic element into the arrangement.  The result is a somewhat uninspired sound that seems ripe for pop radio but fails to live up to either the melodic or creative potential Cross seems to possess.  Sirens closes with “Lost”, a six-minute acoustic number that’s among the best on the album.  There’s a prayerful melancholy that pervades this number, as Cross laments both a past lost and a seeming lack of future.  The chorus is gorgeous and slow, dressed in dark musical timbres.
Adam Cross impresses with Sirens, even if he doesn’t always hit his mark.  There’s a distinctive musicality in Cross’ songwriting that has an edgy, Indie-feel, yet a melodicism that pop sensibility that make him accessible to the commercial market.  Musical melancholia fans will enjoy Cross’ tales of love lost, just missed or never gained.  All of this is delivered without a sense of self-pity, but rather with a clinical eye that has assessed the past and present, and in spite of the pain, taken something of a logical approach to each heartbreak.  If Sirens is any indication, there are great things to come from Adam Cross.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Adam Cross at or 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jeremy Schonfeld – Iron & Coal

Jeremy Schonfeld – Iron & Coal
2011, Jeremy Schonfeld Music
Growing up in a family of Holocaust survivors, Jeremy Schonfeld has a different perspective on life than many Gen-Xers.  His understanding of the world around him is shaped by the tales of suffering of an entire generation of European Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.  This darkness has occasionally entered into his songwriting over the years, but Schonfeld has shown a remarkably bright side as well.  His musical Drift (written with Craig Pospisil) had a two-year run at the New York Musical Theater Festival.  He is also a founding composter and lyricists for A-Train Musicals.  Schonfeld’s performance style is enigmatic and powerful, as audiences at such venerated New York venues as Joe’s Pub, Birdland, B.B. King’s, CBGB’s and Lincoln Center have come to know.  Schonfeld’s must recent work, Iron & Coal, is his most personal to date, however.  It is a recast of his father’s memoirs of Auschwitz; a highly personal and powerful story born of his father’s experiences, his own emotions, and that fine line between fact and art that breeds the best of stories.
Schonfeld himself is an enigma.  If Gordon Lightfoot had gone into musical theater instead of folk/rock they’d sound quite similar.  Whatever imperfection you might perceive in Schonfeld’s voice become a part of his larger persona, i.e. Randy Newman or Bob Dylan.  The theatrical flair in his songwriting is also never far from the surface.  Schonfeld knows how to create moments in song.  Opening with “I Gotta Song”, Schonfeld offers up an exultant and beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for “borrowed time”.  The song is in movements like a classical piece, but is a folk/pop/Broadway blend than runs nine minutes without ever feeling tired.  “Story Of Love” is an inspired tune that thrums with Schonfeld’s persona.  This is a true performer’s moment that makes you wish you could take in the song from the third row of a concert hall with the lights low and just Schonfeld and a piano on stage.  “The Mourner’s Kaddish” opens in Hebrew but turns into story-song full of the oft-complicated love of a song for his father.    Love and the drive to differentiate are at war here, but it’s not the sort of battle that does harm to anyone other, perhaps, than the one writing it.  It’s a powerful tune that will cut deep for the male listeners in the audience.
“Dead Beat Heart” finds Schonfeld moving more into a 1980’s rock sound.  Big guitars and even bigger melody are built around a mellow groove for a very enjoyable listening experience.  “Good Stuff” is a rock and roll party song, pure and simple.  Very catchy and danceable, this one is likely to become a guilty pleasure for fans of Kim Mitchell of Cheap Trick.  “Save Me” is an angry and argumentative number that asks for succor but seems to fight it with every note and every word.  Schonfeld uses the percussion here to give the song a deeply unsettled feel – a theatrical contrivance that’s quite effective.  “Yedid Netesh – Good Man” fades quickly into the glam, funk and soul of “Bad Man”.  While the song itself is catchy and entertaining, Schonfeld’s backup singers provide the perfect counterpoint that makes the song fly.
Schonfeld is emotionally lost on “Piece Of Me”, a solid piece of pop/rock songwriting that is sonically pleasing: a high quality album track that holds its place by advancing the story and very quietly holding more of your attention than you might at first expect.  “Nothing Really Matters – Stop, Stop” begins as a musical soliloquy and turns into a frenetic rockers.  This one will get stuck in your head with its manic feel.  “If Ever” opens with an intriguing pizzicato string arrangement and turns into one of the best non-traditional ballads to come out of 2011.  Don’t be surprised if this song gets covered many times over down the road.  “Time”, the penultimate track on the album, advances the story, but feels like its simply holding place.  This isn’t inappropriate in the story line, but it is something of a pause musically that’s simultaneously distracting and possibly necessary to the story line.  Schonfeld brings down the curtain with “Yet”, a song of self-conviction about moving forward and remember that things will somehow be okay.  It’s a quietly powerful moment that explores the resilience of human heart in the wake of inescapable tragedy, wrapped up in a stunning arrangement that’s perfect for the Broadway stage, but easily transmutable to the pop/rock/folk world.
Jeremy Schonfeld lives on the edge of death for much of Iron & Coal, but like his protagonist he truly lives.  The fact that the lines at times become blurred between protagonist and story-teller only makes the story more powerful.  Schonfeld’s compositions are golden – everything flows as if time itself were the driver.  You could easily imagine this cycle being reworked into a show, although it perhaps flows best as it is.  A successful musical presentation would force too many changes, but as a single work of art, Iron & Coal is a thing of beauty.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about or

Monday, December 19, 2011

Scotty Alan - Wreck And The Mess

Scotty Alan - Wreck And The Mess
2011, Spinout Records

Scotty Alan lives on the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan, in a log cabin he built himself.  Alan lives very much on his own labors, hunting, fishing and farming.  Living within two-and-a-half miles of the house he grew up in, Alan is part of an extended family.  While his rural existence didn’t expose him to a lot of music over the years, Alan has been making his own since his early teens.  From punk to singer/songwriter, Scotty Alan has always shown a penchant for understanding and commenting on the world around him through song.  Scotty Alan’s latest effort, Wreck And The Mess, finds Alan treading the backwaters of country, Americana and pop.

Wreck And The Mess opens with "Goodbye", a rustic song of parting with a messy, organic feel. Amidst the violin, slide guitar and perfunctory percussion, Alan plies an amiable, off-kilter voice that's part Luther Wright, part Roger Waters and part Mike Scott. "Your Hero?” a swaying little country rocker, has a hypnotic appeal and a chorus that will get caught in your noggin; you'll be singing along by the second time Alan runs through the chorus. "Ain't Much" blends spoken word and sung vocals in any incredibly catchy number built on a minimalist arrangement with its roots in rockabilly. "Barn Dance" has a plaintive, relentless feel; a sense of belonging as palpable as it is ever-present.

"Not Ready To Be" describes a pair of star-crossed lovers in cliché-ridden imagery. In spite of this, there's a stubborn authenticity to the song that demands to be heard. On "Do It Alone", Alan takes a comically DIY perspective on his next great love. The song is incredibly catchy and entertaining; the sort that would play well on a movie soundtrack or on the old Dr. Demento Show. "Was It Ever?" looks back on a relationship in sadness, questioning everything and understanding little. The emotional impact of the tune is striking, especially given the plaintive, almost rock-a-bye feel to the arrangement. Scotty Alan finds a mild Pogues vibe on the country-flavored "So Loud". Starting out as a promising love song, "So Loud" descends into an emotional destruction that seems inevitable even if the song's narrator never saw it coming. The song is catchy, with rudimentary pop hooks that snag your attention and won't let go.

"Dusty Hollow" reflects a seemingly eternal angst born of having better places to go but no motivation to leave a place with little left to offer. The song ends in an almost spoken resolution, but it's not clear whether momentum ever changes in the fatalist-melancholy that pervades. Similarly, "Sinkin' In" wallows in a deepening sorrow over a goodbye that may or may not be final. Alan's arrangement is sorrowful and dark yet retains a distinctive melodicism in spite of its plaintive, dirge-like feel. Wreck And The Mess winds down with the exuberance of "Someone To Fight", driven by a rapid-speak vocal style that's entertaining and raw.

Scotty Alan brings a unique and entertaining charisma to Wreck And A Mess, rough around the edges yet possessing a distinctive, hard-won polish that simply can't be practiced. It can be difficult to stay with Alan through some of his more depressing country numbers, as the mood that pervades often surpasses melancholy quickly on the way down. Yet when Alan is changing up speeds between his darker and light material, and using his not inconsiderable wit to highlight the spaces in between, the results can be very entertaining. Wreck And A Mess is certainly not an album you take lightly, for the darkness of mood here is more than just palpable at times, but Alan has a way of throwing in the occasion backroom anthem with a wink and a nod just to let you know that everything is going to be alright. Maybe.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Scotty Alan at or 
Please note that the prices listed above are as of the posting date, and may have changed. Wildy's World is not responsible for price changes instituted by

Friday, December 16, 2011

I am writing to you today with a mixture of sadness and excitement.  All good things must eventually find their terminus, and so it is with Wildy’s World.  Wildy’s World has been a labor of love for the past four years.  With over 2,600 reviews and closing in on 400,000 distinct visitors, the site managed to carve its own little niche in the Indie Music landscape.  Wildy’s World has been a resource for Indie musicians, major labels and everyone in between.  So it is with some sadness that I announce you today that Wildy’s World will cease publication as of December 31, 2011.

The last few weeks have been inconsistent.  I’ve been sitting with the decision for a while, wanting to make sure it was the right one.  But at this point in my personal and professional life I have so many other priorities that I cannot dedicate the time to Wildy’s World that it needs to continue to successfully serve the music community at large.  I’d rather go out well than feebly.  To that end, there are still reviews to be published this year, and we will close it all out with our traditional year-end countdown of the Top-50 albums reviewed by Wildy’s World in the past year.

As many of you know, Wildy’s World was always a hobby; one that found a place alongside my professional duties in the working world (away from music) and my family.  Because of Wildy’s World I have also been offered opportunities to write commercially, writing the occasional review for pay for various publications and ultimately writing artist biographies and project pitches.  I have been writing bios for a NYC-based agency on a free-lance basis for over a year now, and have done a handful of on-demand projects privately as well.  Going forward I will be focusing more of my energies in that direction.  I will also continue to publish music reviews through BlogCritics, although at a much less frequent rate than with Wildy’s World (likely 1-2 per week).  I may also look to start something else in the social/digital atmosphere after I’ve taken a couple of months away from publishing every day.  We shall just have to see.

So if you wish to submit material for review on BlogCritics, I suggest you send me streaming or sample files so I can check them out.  If I choose to review, I will, as always, ask you to submit a hard copy for that purpose.  But as I am previewing the music, I won’t ask for a hard copy unless I plan a review.  To that end, the email address, and the physical address will not change.  If you need the address just drop me a line.  If you’re an Indie or established artist whose trying to do DIY, but you need help with a bio or one sheet or need a one time writing project done, please drop me a line and we’ll see if I can help you out.  If you work in PR or the industry and need someone to craft bios, liner notes, pitches or other such projects, get in touch with me and we’ll see how we can help each other out.

It’s been a lot of fun spending almost every day with you over the last four years.  I’d love to keep it going, but I just don’t have the time or energy to do this the right way anymore.  I hope to continue to be a professional resource for the creators and purveyors of Indie Music.  And you never know, I may get bored and start something else up down the line.

In the mean time, if you’ve contributed to Wildy’s World in any way over the last four years, thank you.  Whether you’re an artist who has submitted music to be heard, a PR rep, a label rep, a music fan or even the multitude of spam bloggers in Asia and Russia who continue to pepper the blog with spam comments, you’ve all made it interesting.  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.  So thank you.  We’re still here for two more weeks, and we’ll close out the year counting down to the best album of 2011, just like always.  Until then, my friends, be well.


Andy Statman - Old Brooklyn

Andy Statman - Old Brooklyn
2011, Shefa Records

Andy Statman is the sort of talent that only comes along once or twice a generation.  The Flatbush Brooklyn resident grew up in a family full of cantors and professional musicians, and seemingly was born with an insatiable love of music.  Klezmer music was an early love, but once Statman discovered the work of Flatt & Scruggs he was forever hooked on bluegrass.  An artist in the traditional sense, Statman can play anything, but he seems to come just a bit more alive when he digs into the roots of American culture, while never forgetting the Klezmer music from his own cultural roots.  Andy Statman recently released the double album Old Brooklyn.  It’s a revelation.

Statman opens with "Old Brooklyn", alternating between traditional bluegrass forms and bouts of messy, improvisational noise. Some Celtic flavoring gets added into the mix. The picking is incredible, but the manic-aggressive tendencies of the breakdowns may put off some listeners. "Pretty Little Gal" is a hot little instrumental that burns bright, and sets stage for the deeply nuanced and intriguing "The World Will Provide". Ricky Skaggs sits on as guest vocalist, offering a fluid guide to offset Statman's edgy and unusual instrumentation. The result is a gorgeous and haunting piece with a surprisingly crisp backbone.

Statman explores the delta where jazz and Middle Eastern styles meet on "Totally Steaming", an interesting musical backwater that allows his ensemble to show off their talents. "Zhok Mahoney" keeps the Mediterranean flavor but is more free-form in nature. Statman's progressive tendencies get the better of him here, however, as he tries to do too much at times to fill up space. "Eitan And Zaidy" blends 1970's rock, bluegrass, funk and jazz into an intriguing musical hybrid. The musicianship is excellent throughout, and music theory fanatics will have fun pulling this one apart.

Statman kicks back with a blend of back porch jazz and R&B perfect for a lazy summer afternoon in "Since I Met You Baby". There's an unrefined sound here that's not quite as messy as it might first sound. Brooklyn goes country on "A Brighter Day", a mischievous little waltz that's easy going and fun. "Life Cycles" is an introspective and pretty solo piece for clarinet that is a must-hear. Sometimes just a solo voice or instrumental can tell the whole story, with a panache that the largest orchestra just can't touch. This is one of those performances.

The slow country waltz comes around again on "Bourbon In Jackson Hole", but Statman is ready to shake off the mood and get down to some good, old-fashioned rock and roll. This happens on the wonderful "A Boppin' Crib", which finds Statman and his band weaving together a mix of R&B, jazz and early rock in subtle measure. The song is fun and danceable, and will refuse to get itself out of your brain. Things get tricky on "Waltz For Mom". Guest Bruce Molsky and Statman are true to the title, facing off two fiddles on the bifurcated melody line, but there's an Irish jig dancing around inside screaming to come out.

Bela Fleck makes an appearance, lending his prodigious banjo to "Shabbos Nigun". "Mah Yedidus (How Beloved Is Your Rest)", however, features some of the finest instrumental work of the album. That lazy afternoon feel returns on "Blues In 3", a song with great sound and little ambition; and a great listen. Molsky returns for another fiddle faceoff on "Uncle Mo", a catchy and danceable reel you simply cannot ignore. Statman closes with "Long Journey Home", an amped up acoustic instrumental that blows the roof off and leaves no doubters behind.

Andy Statman is consistently inconsistent on Old Brooklyn, refusing to be hemmed in by considerations of genre or style. The result is an eminently pleasing and entertain gin listen that should garner some real attention from critics and on year-end lists. Statman's sound is varied enough to work against him from a commercial perspective, but placement on a soundtrack or popular compilation would explode Statman into much wider recognition. Statman certainly deserves the exposure. Even with a few bumps, Old Brooklyn still stands to be one of the finest efforts in Americana and World music of the year.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Andy Statman at 

Please note that the prices listed above are as of the posting date, and may have changed. Wildy's World is not responsible for price changes instituted by

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ashley Brooke Toussant - Sweetheart
2011, Ashley Brooke Toussant

Kent, Ohio's Ashley Brooke Toussant is a modern singer/songwriter with a deep love and respect for old-time sounds and genres. Moving to Chicago and back over the last few years, Toussant has continued to explore his musical gifts while amassing a number of songs. These creations come to life on Sweetheart, the follow-up to the 2008 EP, All Songs In English. This time out, Toussant's work has more of a country feel, but the singer/songwriter pastiche has not been forgotten.

Toussant has an unusual voice; almost a bit uncomfortable at first, but she grows on you. Imagine Jewel with Dolly Parton's vibrato and you're getting close. Distinctive enough to stick with you, and after an initial adjustment, really quite appealing. The songwriting on Sweetheart is anything but uneven; in fact, it's perhaps too consistent to really maintain listeners' attention. Toussant starts off well on the title track. "Sweetheart" shows Toussant's voice at its sweetest and most supple in a folksy country number reminiscent of early Jewel. "Without Feathers" is full of unusual and striking imagery, promising, perhaps, great an unusual things to come. Unfortunately, the suggested greatness never quite materializes.

Toussant settles in for a consistent run through songs full of love and melancholy, all played against the backdrop of country-ized folk/pop arrangements. The songs are solidly written and performed, but there's a general lack of dynamic here that's suggested by the two opening tracks. Toussant may remind listeners more of Cowboy Junkies during their popular phase; boxed into a sound that is appealing on some level, but suffers from a lack of contrast, and thereby losing the subtle nuance and detail for lack of aural backlighting. Toussant does surprise us in the end with a well-thought cover of Henry Mancini's "The Sweetheart Tree", but unfortunately some listeners may have tuned out by then.

Ashley Brooke Toussant is a talented singer/songwriter with a distinctive sound. In spite of the initial displacement at her sound, Toussant's inherent sweetness of sound will draw you in. Sweetheart is well-intended, but the lack of real stylistic or sonic variation, outside of the first two tracks, dooms the album to background listening. It's a shame, because Toussant and her band employ intriguing imagery in her lyrics, and some wonderfully subtle, reverb-washed instrumental work in support. But the lack of dynamic variation may cause these subtle details to become lost in the wash.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ashley Brooke Toussant at or

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fallon Cush - Fallon Cush

Fallon Cush - Fallon Cush
2011, Fallon Cush

Fallon Cush was born almost in spite of front man Steve Smith's stubborn individualism. Smith, a twenty-plus year veteran of the Australian Indie scene, went into the studio to record with a group of long-time friends and collaborators including Scott Alpin (keys); Josh Schubeth (drums); Bill Gibson (bass); Matt Galvin (guitar) and Bert Thompson (drums). The songs had never been heard before; really just rough outlines of melody, lyrics and guitar. What started out as a recording session turned into a Kafka-esque transformation, and before long a new band, Fallon Cush, was born. Smith has long had an almost preternatural fear of bands, stepping away from Catherine Wheel before they could sign with a major label as he feared they had reached their creative peak. But even Smith knows better than to walk away from the siren song of The Muse. The band's debut album, also called Fallon Cush, was released this summer.

One of the advantages of the creative process used by Fallon Cush is the loose, organic sound that often results. Fallon Cush captures this aura in a catchy Americana-style medium, evident from the opening notes of the first track, "Tiny Town". The song has a solid, commercial sound with distinctive pop sensibility and a killer chorus. "The Trouble With A Moonlit Night" features plus songwriting and an affably informal style. The melody here drives the song, with sonically appealing rough edges ala early Badfinger or Beatles recordings. Fallon Cush impresses with the simple force of songs such as "Kiss You Awake" and "Disintegrate", and the sweet melodies of "Sleeping Giant" and "Dog Day Afternoon". Perhaps the highlight of the album is "The Great Divide", a catchy, messy and loose tune that's as close to a live-to-tape experience as you'll find. Fallon Crush closes with the solid sensibility of "Postcard", a perfect bookend for an experience that might be fleeting but will last in memory.

Fallon Cush may not stand the test of time. There's no telling when Steve Smith might pull the plug, as he would consider it dishonorable to continue any band beyond its creative peak. But there's a sort of low-level magic that thrums through the songs on Fallon Cush. Even in its quieter moments, Fallon Cush is filled with a creative energy and drive that's palpable. Smith's willingness to surrender the development of the songs on Fallon Cush to a group creative process has raised his art a notch, while retaining the individualism he so fiercely prides. By all accounts, Fallon Cush is an artistic success.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Fallon Cush at or Cush is available as a CD or Download from CDBaby.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gregory Douglass - Lucid

Gregory Douglass - Lucid
2011, Emote Records

Gregory Douglass defines the modern concept of an Indie artist. The Burlington, Vermont singer/songwriter releases albums through his own record label, Emote Records. He's also maximized his fan base over eight albums, with fans funding some or all of his last five albums through pre-orders and donations. Douglass' 2008 album, Battler, inspired by a particularly dark season of HBO's Six Feet Under, was a collaborative effort. Douglass worked with Righteous Babe Records' Anais Mitchell and singer extraordinaire Grace Potter to craft an album that resulted in universal acclaim. The album spawned a video for "Hang Around" that charted for six consecutive months on LOGO TV's Click List Top 10 Video Countdown, and appearances with artists such as Jason Mraz, Regina Spektor, Margaret Cho and Melissa Ferrick. Gregory Douglass' latest album, Lucid, is a much more personal affair. Long a fan of dream interpretation, Douglass decided to put his dreams to music. But this time out Douglas worked with Ableton Live, creating electronic layers and depth around his compositions, resulting in his most sonically ambitious work to date.

Lucid opens with "The Night", a dark, dream-like soliloquy that plays like a lullaby for those who cannot rest. It's an intriguing start, simultaneously soothing and subtly disturbing. "Lucid" is a solid album track. This is the first time Douglass really digs into his more electronic sound, and the song is compelling for the choices he makes as he layers sound upon sound. Like most first steps, the song has some rough edges, but Douglass' distinctive ear wins out in the end. "White Out" blends soul, electro and rock in compelling fashion, although there is an overly recursive nature to the tune that asserts itself.

Douglass strips things down a bit for "Naysayer", building on a simple arrangement in subtle fashion. This is the most sonically compelling piece on the album. Listeners will sit and wait for the big breakout that never comes, but Douglas continues to build in small, almost imperceptible detail, fulfilling the social contract of the song but always leaving you wanting a bit more. It's brilliant. Lucid falls into a bit of a rut in the middle, recovering on the intriguing melody of "Raven”. Douglass creates tremendous movement in the melody line, buttressing it with the dark timbres and shading of the stark arrangement. This musical climax winds down slowly through two additional tracks, "One True Thing" and "From Now On", both musical aperitifs that slowly draw the album to a close.

Gregory Douglass brings his intriguing voice to bear against the stark backdrop of dreams on Lucid. The result is downright compelling at times. Douglass creates musical intrigue with a newfound love of electronic layering, but this is a double-edged sword at times, as it also fills in the nuance of his songwriting at times, leveling the sonic landscape and creating a sense of continuity that is, at times oppressive. Like many experiments, Lucid has its moments of grandeur and glitz, as well as moments soon forgotten, but the album marks the continued evolution of Douglass as an artist. There's little doubt that Douglass learned as much from this project as listeners will from listening, and will continue to build on those lessons as he moves forward. For now, Lucid, remains a compelling experiment from a prodigious artist; one very much worth exploring.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Gregory Douglass at or 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 23 String Band - Catch 23

The 23 String Band - Catch 23
2011, The 23 String Band

Eastern Kentucky is the home base of The 23 String Band, an acoustic quintet consisting of Chris Shouse (guitar, lead vocals); Curtis Wilson (banjo, vocals); David Howard (mandolin, vocals); Scott Moore (fiddle, vocals) and T. Martin Stam (bass, vocals). In spite of their acoustic approach, the band brings electric energy to modern songs with traditional bluegrass stylings. A live set from The 23 String Band could easily follow a traditional bluegrass tune with a Beastie Boys cover; the unpredictable nature of the band has earned them a significant following in a short time. And their "original hillbilly music" has earned them the respect of bluegrass fans both modern and traditional. The band released Catch 23 earlier this year. The only surprise here is that they haven't received wider acclaim.

Catch 23 opens with "Fat Frankie", the frenetic tale of a small time drug dealer. The dark and urgent modern bluegrass arrangement is compelling, and The 23 String Band has created a classic story song. The violin work of Scott Moore is particularly amazing. "Long Hot Summer Days" features solid, deliberate pick work. Shouse gets soulful on the lead vocal, and there's a distinct blues feel blended into the bluegrass arrangement. "Catch 23" is a dynamic instrumental that breaks out into a jazzified breakdown. Once again, fiddler Scott Moore is a standout. The band is forward and fun on "Leave Everything To Me", an amusing little love song with a memorable melody.

"Listen To Her Heart" is a soliloquy sung to a romantic interloper; an attempt to hold on to the one he loves. The arrangement here is pure gold, with tremendous instrumental interplay and absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies intertwining throughout. The 23 String Band goes old school on "Bees Knees", getting back to deep bluegrass roots so completely you'll think you're in a time warp. "Hey Pretty Mama" is a tongue-in-cheek come-on song that's fun and entertaining. It's followed by the vibrant instrumental clinic of "Deer Tick". It's the barrelhouse for "Raleigh & Spencer", a prohibition era fiddle tune that's relentlessly entertaining. The band gets real props for their original read on "Cripple Creek", in a rendition that's vaguely reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's version, but has a more lyric feel.
The 23 String Band are a marketer's dream. Riding the high energy of youth, this finely tuned musical machine approaches traditional bluegrass with great reverence, but can also kick out the jams and update their sound to the minute. With the rise of Americana music as an over-arching pop form, it's a matter of time before a band from its ranks breaks out into pop-culture stardom. That band could easily be The 23 String Band, and Catch 23 could be just the vehicle to take them there.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
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