All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Tristan Eckerson - Dance Craze EP

Tristan Eckerson - Dance Craze EP
2013, Tristan Eckerson

Tristan Eckerson shows a sense of movement and energy on his debut EP, Dance Craze, which is all too often missing from electronic music.  Eckerson selects concepts to memorialize in music and creates theme-based variations that eschew melody and structure for form. Eckerson appears to be fully infatuated with the deminimus instrumentation evident on Dance Craze, and consequently gets in his own ways at times. 

Eckerson opens with "Life", a digitized dance vibe that takes the looping approach of electronica and combines it with the trance like undulations of contemplative New Age music. The result is not so much structure as it is form, with subtleties such as melody being more a suggestion than an actuality.  "Dance Craze" is cut from the same cloth, with a hint of melody-like glaze in the synth.   Eckerson closes with "Poly" brings tribal rhythms into play, but the music is otherwise unchanged. 

Tristan Eckerson does all he can to engage listeners on the Dance Craze EP.  Changes in tempo and dynamic are evident throughout the EP, but at the end of the day this is a fairly mundane listening experience.  Eckerson makes Dance Craze all about form over substance, but in the end there simply isn’t enough structure to hang onto.  In the end, Dance Craze is competent if unremarkable in approach and sound.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cookie Rabinowitz - Four Eyed Soul

Cookie Rabinowitz - Four Eyed Soul
2014, Cookie Rabinowitz

Cookie Rabinowitz is something of a mystery, a musician who offers little in the way of biography or explanation. There is no spin, no brooding sense of presentation. There’s just the music, a mix of soul, funk and pop that at its best will make you want to get up and dance.  On January 4, 2014, Rabinowitz will drop a full length album entitled Four Eyed Soul.  1970’s soul and funk are the musical base, while Rabinowitz opines in a neo-urban patois full of irony and occasionally, pastiche.

Rabinowitz opens with "Sing Alone, Sing Along", a funk-laden ode to isolation gone global. This is a toe-tapper with more depth than you might pick up on the first time through. "Crakka Smile" glories in its retro-1970's sound, from the funky syrup of the guitar fills to the smooth as silk horn section. Rabinowitz has something of a limited voice, but like a professional he knows how to mine its limits to near perfection.  "Every St." is a piece of gentle, rhythmic pop music with sparse electronic elements and sincere commercial potential. "Life On Mars" is a lazy piece of dream-pop with funky rhythms. In spite of this the energy is fairly flat, and Rabinowitz sounds like he's sleep walking here. 

"Pass You By" reclaims a bit of the energy shown early on by Rabinowitz, but seems locked in its own culture of cliché. In spite of this, the arrangement is crafted from the sort of sticky, soul/funk you just can't get out of your head. Rabinowitz trips on his own snarky self-assurance with "Text You With My Mouth", which is as frighteningly awkward as the title suggests.  Rabinowitz spends much of "Get Your Own" in his lower register amidst muddy pitch control and a heavy breathing vocal style that's unappealing. 

Rabinowitz falls into a rut with "Blue", "Underground" and "Self-Loathing" where the need to craft songs has perhaps surpassed inspiration. He recovers a bit on "Rock & Roll Karaoke"; an almost careless pop confection that tries too hard to be hip bit nevertheless has its own spark.  "More Tired Than Lonely" has a lackluster feel, a motif that carries over into the tired closing track, "Talking To Pigeons". 

Four Eyed Soul brings elements of geek rock and soul together in its best moments, but Cookie Rabinowitz stretches his best material much too thin by including a fair amount of filler to achieve his vision of a full-length release.  A more compact album would cut out some of the chaff and present Rabinowitz in a more impressive light. That is not to deny Rabinowitz at his best, there is some outstanding music on Four Eyed Soul, but there are also some fairly low energy moments that will leave listeners stranded. Take Four Eyed Soul for what it is; an uneven album with some really great moments that are worth sticking around for.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Steven James Wylie - Everything I Love

Steven James Wylie - Everything I Love
2013, Red Cabin Entertainment

Steven James Wylie went from being a real estate tycoon to living in his parents’ basement with his expectant wife seemingly overnight.  What seemed like disaster at the time turned out to be a gift in disguise.  Wylie reconnected with his music and it’s all been up from there.  Wylie’s Everything I Love is a heartfelt and poetic ode to the important things in Wylie’s life, and is crafted with a sort of neo-pop aestheticism that has all but been lost in the quick hit musical slaughterhouse of the 21st century.

"Everything I Love" is a heartfelt ode to the important things in life: faith, family, friends and love. Even if you don't agree on all points, Wylie will have you convinced by the time he's done. The chorus is magical, right down to the Eagles-style vocal harmonies. "This Is What Faith Is" starts off well, but closes with an unexpectedly dark and disturbing musical canopy around it.  This is more disturbing than comforting, but that may be the point.  "Flower" is a pretty little love song that's unfortunately way to overlook. While the song is well-written with a pleasant sound, it somehow fails to stand out in this set. "Butterfly" is cut from similar caught, but has a memorable, if overly simplistic chorus and some real energy in the vocal line. Wylie closes out with "Beautiful Souls", a still life of lives that were never still. There's an eerie beauty to this song, which seems caught between memory and eulogy. 

Steven James is a musical aesthetic, ala Dan Fogelberg. His lush, emotive pop arrangements are often beautiful, occasionally to a fault. What's clear is that Wylie has a mastery of composition that's amazing, but he sometimes struggles to bring music, lyrics and energy together in equal measure. Everything I Love is a marvel of developing talent, an EP that even for its lapses is stunning in beauty and detail.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Slack Armada - Slack Armada

Slack Armada - Slack Armada
2013, Slack Armada

Slack Armada is the performance name of James Hrabak, a multi-instrumentalist who recently returned to making music after a 15 year side-trip into 9-5 career.  The random arrival of a musical catalog into Hrabak’s life, combined with the plethora of musical communities available online encouraged him to make music again.  What was post-punk shoe gaze fifteen years ago has turned into vacillations of sound and rhythm that often eschew form for aesthetics on Slack Armada’s self-titled debut EP.

Slack Armada kicks off with "Rebirth", a mid-tempo composition full of minimalist loops and simple, new age style synth sounds; Not so much a composition as a Jackson Pollock style collection of notes and rhythms, listeners will tire of this quickly. The compositional style is more expansive on "Your Majesty", which uses synth and faux bells to create the atmosphere of a holiday tune. There isn't a hard theme or melody here to latch onto, but there are suggestions of melodic form in the arrangement that are interesting enough. "Looper" brings a darker and heavier sound to the fore, but the arrangement is rote and repetitive, falling under its own weight.  "Escape  Velocity" never matches its name, becoming bogged down in repetitive and mind numbing rhythms and loops. 

Slack Armada’s muse is boundless and without real form if you consider the looped rhythms a theoretical construct rather than a palpable one. Slack Armada is often self-referential and denies any real sense of creative construction, leaving the listener somewhat lost in the process.  Electronic music fans that prefer being stuck in an artistic and ill-defined loop with love Slack Armada, but listeners who look for something deeper in the music will quickly move on.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Aradia - Possibilities: Light EP

\Aradia –Possibilities: Light EP
2013, Aradia

Aradia is a Seattle-based singer/songwriter with a penchant for insightful, observational lyrics and electronic sounds.  A veteran of both the New York City and Atlanta music scenes, Aradia has developed her sound in bands such as Some Band (NYC) and Twelfth Planet (Atlanta).  The latter was a mainstay in the Atlanta scene.  Aradia is intellectual and smooth in style, with an electric stage presence and a sultry voice with dark colors swirling beneath.  Aradia’s latest EP, Possibilities: Light EP, is a companion piece to 2012’s Possibilities:  Dark EP.  Whereas previously she explored the underbelly of completely changing your life and moving to a new city, this time around she is finding the silver linings in those dark clouds.

Aradia opens with the bright, airy electro-pop of "The Light", a positively themed message of hope that things will get better. The dance and electro elements are understated but clear, and Aradia's complex and intriguing voice is a perfect contrast.   "Trouble" starts out in slightly darker territory, but lights up with a brilliant pop feel. "Today" is a bit mundane in sound, lacking much in the way of dynamic engagement. It's a solid enough album track, but doesn't engage the listener enough to shine. 

"On Fire" finds Aradia settling into a more aggressive, dance-oriented sound. Aradia's vocal presentation is confident and sultry, with a sense of personal style that is compelling. "Slow Ur Roll" drops the tempo, and while Aradia is very competent vocally, the energy just isn't here. It all comes back for "Keep On", which brings sitar and eastern rhythms into play for one of the most musically interesting compositions in Aradia's catalog. This song will get stuck in your head and stay there, and has serious potential as a breakout track for either the club scene or for commercial radio. 

The common difficulty for artists who dwell in the electronic backwaters of what has become popular music is that it is easy to become indistinguishable from the throng.  Electronic music tends to suffer from a lack of dynamics in sound and style. It is easy to allow looping sounds to fall into repetitive waves that numb the listener rather than enliven them.  Aradia reaches beyond the easy path to create vibrant music, and her sultry, earthy vocal style brings each song to life.  Possibilities: Light is a breakout effort for Aradia; the sort that could garner her much more attention down the line.  Aradia is one artist to keep an eye (and ear) open for.

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Cole Hermer and the Ravens - Cole Hermer and the Ravens EP (AKA Quoth The Raven)

Cole Hermer and the Ravens – Cole Hermer and the Ravens (AKA Quoth the Raven)
2013, Cole Hermer

Cole Hermer is an 18 year old senior in high school.  In spite of that he might be one of the most convincing young heavy rock vocalists you’ve heard in some time.  With influences ranging from Axl Rose, Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley to Neil Young and The Black Keys, Hermer is able to surprise you at almost every turn.  Hermer’s songwriting is surprisingly supple for his age, reflecting the disaffection of modern youth as well as the pure joy of rock and roll.   After a number of years with bands such as Ultimate Concussion and Anathemas Blessing, Cole Hermer steps out into the limelight with his debut EP as Cole Hermer and The Ravens; a self-titled set alternatively titled Quoth the Raven.

Hermer plays homage to 1980’s heavy rock with “California Breakdown”, instantly inspiring thoughts of bands such as Poison, Guns and Roses and Cinderella, ripping up thoroughly vibrant and powerful sound in the process.  If someone had put out a song like this twenty years ago and it would be a chart-hogging monster.  “Exploitable” is cut from similar cloth, but with a darker, alternative edge.  This is radio for radio right now, and Hermer’s retro metal vocal style just raises the intrigue.  “Friends” is a different breed of song altogether.  Here Hermer is showing a softer, more pop oriented side while lamenting the rejection of ‘let’s just be friends’. “Maybe” is a melancholy, acoustic-guitar driven ballad with a distinct navel-gaze mentality. It’s a solid piece of songwriting that’s good romantic movie soundtrack material.  Hermer gets back into upbeat territory with “Teenage Creed”, a driven mid-tempo rocker with attitude and a memorable chorus.  The pacing here is a bit uneven, but Hermer is on to something here; the song gains intrigue as it bulls to its conclusion.

Cole Hermer and the Ravens offer up an interesting musical study with their self-titled EP.  Hermer refuses to be pigeonholed as a hard rock/heavy metal vocalist in spite of his rough edged sound.  What’s most surprising is how capably he handles the softer material. Everything on the EP is well-written and well-performed, although the pacing at times is a bit off.  This is a great start.  Cole Hermer seems to have what it takes to be a big time front man.  I am not sure if the current trade winds of popular music are in his favor, but with the right break Cole Hermer and The Ravens could be huge.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

James Mauri - Four

James Mauri – Four
2013, James Mauri

James Mauri is a Westport, Connecticut native who began playing guitar by the age of 12.  He was so motivated to bring the music in his head to life that by the age of sixteen he had mastered bass, drums and keyboards as well.  Spending much of his time writing and producing music in his basement studio, Mauri progressed in developing his talent and skills as a songwriter. Moving to Orlando, Florida at the age of 18, Mauri has been voted one of the top-10 acts in that market. Mauri has hooked up with Grammy Award winning producer Ray Bardani (the Swans, Luther Vandross, Elvis Presley, Dr. John, Harry Chapin) and the working relationship has borne fruit.  Mauri’s debut EP, Four, shows his range and ability as a songwriter as a performer, while bringing some of the energy of a live performance to bear.

Mauri steps down a gritty folk/rock pathway with "Got Your Love", a minimalist chant colored with sparse, garage style guitar chords and a simple, blues inspired melody. Maurer keeps it simple and delivers on the song's bare bones appeal with a capable and convincing vocal line. "Do It To Yourself" is an incessant and insistent little rocker that worms its way into your head in spite of its subtle sound.  "Paperdolls" is a wish for love that's more melancholic than hopeful.  This comes across as a bit thin at first, but the song grows on you with successive listens.  "My Shadow" is a workman style rocker with a memorably bouncy feel. Mauri laments the inability to let go of loves that are bad for us. 

James Mauri is an exciting young talent with great musical ability. His talents as a lyricist are still developing, but he shows the potential to be every bit as good with words as he is with notes.  The music on Four is edgy, intense folk rock.  Mauri’s observational style is perhaps a bit inward focused, but he carves what he sees into words effectively and honestly enough to move listeners. Mauri is already in the studio working on a full-length release to drop sometime in 2014.  Four is a great appetizer until then.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Barenaked Ladies live - UB Center for the Arts - November 6, 2013

Barenaked Ladies invaded the UB Center for the Arts (Amherst, NY) last night with a vigor and humor that has been a trademark of the band over their 25 year run.  With fourteen shows under my belt, this is the first time I had seen the band since the departure of co-founder Steven Page.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s as if Barenaked Ladies never missed a beat.  Front man Ed Robertson took the lion’s share of vocal duties, as you might expect, but turned over the mic to Kevin Hearn, Jim Creeggan (aka the tall, skinny red head) and even drummer Tyler Stewart for some great moments throughout the night.

The band took fans on a long and winding trip through favorites old and new, and even a couple of cover tunes in the 24 song, two hour set. Songs from their latest album, Grinning Streak, were greeted as enthusiastically as classic tunes from BNL’s early days.  Ed Robertson induced a crowd sing along on “Gonna Walk” that was impressive, and Kevin Hearn’s “All In Good Time” is one of the finest songs he’s ever written.  BNL even brought out opening act Whitehorse for “Keeping It Real”, turning the crunchy alt-rocker into an even darker, blues infused number with heavy muscle.

A brief acoustic set mid-show featured a doo-wop version of “The Sound Of Your Voice” with Kevin Hearn on vocals.  The band then moved on to “Smile” (Ed Robertson) and “Maybe Katie”, with Jim Creegan splitting vocals with Ed.  Fans were treated with blasts from the past in “Blame It On Me” and “Brian Wilson”.  This last had some longtime fans up and dancing until the Center for the Arts staff politely and firmly asked them to sit down do people behind them could see.

Just when you thought BNL were maybe starting to wind down they got their second wind.  “Easy” led into current hit “Odds Are” and then the theme from “Big Bang Theory”. The show wound up with “One Week”, “If I Had $1,000,000”, a medley of pop tunes old and new and finally, “The Old Apartment”.  BNL returned to the stage for one of the most memorable encores of their career.  Ed Robertson took a seat behind the drums, and Tyler Stewart informed the crowd that he was going to bring the rock.  He then launched into a very capable take on “Alcohol”, and then proceeded to lead the band through covers of The Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun” and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”.

Throughout the night BNL expressed their love and appreciation for Buffalo, a city that was like their second home in the early days of their career.  The band reminisced about their first show in Buffalo, which was also at UB.  Tyler referenced a power outage that occurred during that show in the middle of their set.  Sorry Tyler – the power outage was actually at a show at The Ikon a couple of months later (I was there).  The band’s first improv was an ode to Buffalo, of sorts.

The banter during the show was hilarious. The band had a running gag about Tyler’s knowledge of 1970’s and1980’s television shows and actors. Ed Robertson kept trying to stump the expert throughout the show, and finally got him with Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley.  For all of the goofiness, however, BNL remains all about the music. The four men on stage last night played and interacted like a family.  The dynamic and interaction is perhaps the most fluid I have seen out of them in over 20 years of live experiences. The crowd ate it up, and gave the energy right back.

Opening act Whitehorse was a new commodity to me. Husband and wife pairing of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland was a powerhouse presence, one of those rare opening acts with the talent and material to potentially steal the show. While there was no risk of that ultimately last night, Whitehorse certainly opened a lot of eyes.  Both are powerful singers and multi-instrumentalists. They used live percussive instruments and technology last night to create subtly structured yet powerful backgrounds for themselves, and tore through their songs like the world was on fire and it was their one chance to play.

I do not have a song list for Whitehorse as it was my first time hearing them.  But they were good enough that I walked away with two of their CDs from the swag stand at intermission. Keep an eye (and an ear) open for Whitehorse. They are the real deal.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Melismatics - Rising Tide

The Melismatics - Rising Tide
2013, Pravda Records

The Melismatics are the latest exports born of the long tradition of quirky Indie rock bands from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The band caught the attention of college radio early on with their debut album Postmodern Rock.  Since then the music of The Melismatics has been featured on television shows such as The Hills,  Laguna Beach and The City.  The Melismatics are at it again in 2013 with Rising Tide, a unique mix of fuzz and pop featuring the distinctive voices of Ryan Smith and Pony.

Rising Tide opens with the moody pop of "Crawl, Baby, Crawl". A Low-Fi production style makes this seems a bit messy around the edges, but there's a finely honed 80's new wave pop sensibility underneath it all.   "Halo" is a simple and loosely constructed pop rocker thats a solid album track. "Delirium" combines new age philosophies about harmony with blatant musical dissonance to middle one message or the other. It's never entirely clear which message is meant to carry mud, but the song itself turns out to be a messy listening experience. 

The Melismatics rediscover their rough hewn pop sound on "Cocoon", a mildly danceable number with a simple, sing-along chorus. Things slow down for "Close 2 The Vest" and "Gravity", both of which are on the bland side. "If You Want War" is a stripped down musical monologue that's very well written. Ryan Smith takes this one solo and does a nice job, although the evident electronic enhancement note vocal line is disappointing. 

The Melismatics spend the rest of Rising Tide bouncing back and forth between eclectic fuzzy pop and bland  songs with navel haze tendencies. The standout track on the album is "Looking For Trouble", a potential breakout tune in spite of its off-kilter construction. The other keeper is the title track, which closes out the album with a bit of pop refinement and some sweet vocal harmonies. 

The Melismatics occasionally touch brilliance on Rising Tide. The occasionally dose of pop refinement mixed with the band’s garage sensibilities is appealing.  The second half of the album relies primarily on bland filler, however, suggesting that Rising Tide was perhaps a great EP dragged down by the desire to make a full length album. There are definite gems here, but you’ll need to dig a bit.

Rating: 3 Stars  (Out of 5)

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Monday, November 4, 2013

JD Eicher & The Goodnights - Into Place

JD Eicher & The Goodnights - Into Place
2013, Rock Ridge Music

You’re going to hear a lot of comparisons made in conversations about JD Eicher & The Goodnights.  Critics have tied the band to Coldplay, Keane, The Killers, Death Cab For Cutie and The Script.  These are great compliments in a game where name recognition is key, but none of these comparisons does the band justice.  JD Eicher is an original voice, both literally and figuratively. With a lyrical talent culled from the great tradition of American singer/songwriters, Eicher also brings the melodic sensibility of great British songwriters such as Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello.    JD Eicher & The Goodnights recently dropped their third album Into Place, the third part of a trilogy that began with The Shape Of Things and continued with ShiftingInto Place is Eicher’s most accomplished writing to date.

Into Place launches with "Ode To The Underdog", a thematically and musically appealing lead track with a touch of identity crisis. The verses are edgy, the bridge is angst-filled, and the chorus is uplifting and bright. In spite of these apparent contradictions the piece works. By the time Eicher breaks into the 'D' section after the chorus you've bought in and willing to go along or the ride. "Give It Up" has the sort of simple, hook filled chorus of which hits are made. The positive vibe and message are without cliché, and Eicher sings it like the top notch front man he is. This has potential hit written all over it. "You've Got A Lot Of Growing Up To Do" finds Eicher calling out practically everyone, including himself, for misbehavior a great and small.   Once again the pop aesthetic is very much alive and well here, and Eicher sells the song like a pro. 

"People" is a contemplative look at expectations and people's tendency not to love up to them. This is a quiet moment of pragmatic melancholy that's beautiful in its simplicity. Jerry DePizzo of O.A.R.  sits in on "Lately Lady", while Joy Ike combines her rather in impressive voice with Eicher's in a rambunctious blues-influenced romp. "I'd Like To Get To Know You" is the sort of light hearted love song that occasionally takes of up the charts or gets selected for inclusion in a romantic comedy soundtrack. Things turn a little deeper on "The Last Love Song", a pensive love song that's more serious and serene, and full of the angst of an as yet unrequited love. 

"Edgar Green's Time Machine" is a brilliant story song with a gently rolling media that carries you along a tale of genius, madness and joy. "Aaron" is a brilliant story of man who can't escape his own demons, but who wrestles them over a piano after hours at a bar. This story/monologue is incredibly real, driven by an unforgettable honesty and a lyric fortitude that is surprising even for Eicher. "Oh My God" is a philosophical dissection of profundity and human imperfection set to a quiet but insistent piano-based arrangement. Eicher laments an inability to be perfect in light of basic human needs in a one-side recitative with the Almighty. "Into Place" is a song about growing up and finding yourself; the understanding of what's important that comes with finding your place in the world. There is a celebration in here that's complicated but full of joy. Eicher delivers are all of this In a four and a half minute performance to remember. The album closes with a brief reprisal of the final track that features just Eicher and his guitar. This ending seems appropriate for the story-based album, but is perhaps the only questionably conceived/executed moment on the album. The ending is simply too abrupt and too short to resonate, and does more to distract the listener from what came before than anything else. 

Into Place presents JD Eicher & The Goodnights as one of the finest new purveyors of the pop singer/songwriter tradition.  Make all the comparisons you want, but Eicher is an original.  Into Place will likely find itself crowd the top of many year-end lists, and is certainly worth of being a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hadiza - Chapter 4

Hadiza - Chapter 4
2013, Hadiza

Hadiza Dockeray represents the American Dream. The New York City native (St. Albans, Queens) is the daughter of Nigerian and Jamaican parents. It was while living and working in Paris as a dancer and backing vocalist that Hadiza discovered her own desire to be out in front on stage. Beginning with interpretations of Jazz standards, Hadiza later found herself covering old blues joints and eventually writing her own original mix of pop, R&B, jazz and blues.  Since returning to the U.S., Hadiza has established herself as one of the pre-eminent working vocalists in New York City.  Her most recent EP, Chapter 4, is a fitting, though at times uneven, introduction to Hadiza.

Hadiza opens with "All Comes Back", a smoky and vibrant piece of pop and R&B.  With a voice that recalls elements of Cassandra Wilson, Hadiza certainly has presence. "Off The Grid" is more of a soulful rocker. There's definite punch here, underscored by the powerful guitar riff. This is a catchy tune that will get inside your head and stick there. "Too Long" goes for a mix of Adult Contemporary and classic Girl Pop. The song itself is perhaps a bit bland, but Hadiza shines.

"Somebody Better" is snappy and soulful with a bit of fire at its heart, and Hadiza sells it with a gritty determination. "The Other Voice" is perhaps an attempt to broaden Hadiza's appeal, incorporating a Latin rhythm into an otherwise average pop song. The result drags a bit and may lose a few listeners. Unfortunately, Hadiza closes out with an unfortunate song choice. "Break Through" is not a comfortable spot for Hadiza's voice to be in, and her performance and presence suffer for it. This is one of those occasions where an artist probably should have just left the last track off. 

You’ll walk away from Chapter 4 bearing the conclusion that Hadiza Dockeray is a brilliant vocalist.  She takes chances with her music, and those chances don’t always work out in her favor on Chapter 4, but the voice and the presence she projects will capture your attention.  Don’t be surprised if Hadiza Dockeray is a name that you become very familiar with over time.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mobtown Moon - Mobtown Moon

Mobtown Moon - Mobtown Moon
2013, Mobtown Moon

Mobtown Moon is a collective tribute and experiment using Pink Floyd’s classic album Dark Side Of The Moon as its object.  A total of 41 musicians worked together to re-create the album, bringing a range of styles and sounds to the project.  You will hear Bluegrass, rock, jazz, classical, choral styles and even hip-hop on Mobtown Moon.  Award winning writer and musician Sandy Asirvatham and award winning singer/songwriter ellen cherry conceived and produced the project, which takes liberties with the original versions of tunes motivated by the music itself.

Mobtown Moon opens with the sound collage "The City Speaks", using industrial and found sounds o create an uncomfortable cacophony that segues into an acapella intro to "Breathe". "Breathe" is offered to listeners in a sophisticated easy listening rock arrangement. ellen cherry sings with a voice as smooth as silk, and the gently flourishing horns and accordion are nice touches.  "On The Run" is an eclectic mish-mash of sounds, driven by an incessant banjo line. Electronics take over as the song progresses, growing toward a noisy point on the distant horizon that is sensed but not seen. "Time" is rendered in subtle yet slick fashion. The guitar work stands out both for quality and panache, and lead vocalist Andrew Grimm sounds a bit like Colin Hay at times.  

Mobtown Moon approaches "The Great Gig In The Sky" with a chamber music opening, full of passing notes in the depths of the cello's range. This quickly passes into the diffuse instrumental section of the song, highlighted by a warbling vocal and unfocused muse. "Money" rocks and rolls on a hipster bass line and swanky, understated guitar riffs. Grimm is a fair vocal doppelgänger for David Gilmour, and this particular cover goes down like fine wine. 

Pink Floyd gets a low-key hip-hop treatment on "Dream/Counterfeit". The looped arrangement features some wonderfully off-kilter jazz piano work, and Femi The DriFish spits rhymes with an academic grace. "Us And Them" captures the spirit of the original as well as anything on Mobtown Moon. The vocal performance is exquisite with a laid back style and gorgeous vocal coloring and phrasing.  "Any Colour You Like" gets portrayed as an eccentric modern jazz piece. The musicianship here is solid, to say the least, but the piece just doesn't seem to work well in this setting. 

"Brain Damage" continues the jazz infusion, this time as something of a funhouse blue jazz concoction. This works better than the previous effort, but the pacing ultimately undoes the effort in a slow fury of drawling vocal lines. "Eclipse" gets treated as a Pink Floyd cover ala the musical Hair. The group vocal utilized is too relaxed and ends up sounding more like a disinterested junior high choir than an inspired group of musicians. 

Mobtown Moon is a wonderfully complex and delightful take on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.  Not everything works completely well on the album, but even the tracks that don’t quite break through for the listener have their merits.  The album does get a little jazz heavy for influence at the end.  In a vacuum this is not problematic, but it does overbalance the back end of the album a bit.  Nevertheless, Mobtown Moon I a project worth spending some time on!

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BluRum13 - Inverted

BluRum13 – Inverted
2013, BluRum13

BluRum13 is a New York City born and Maryland raised rap artist who plays outside of the proverbial box.  Whether on his own or with his group WaterPower (featuring Keyez, Primo the Cinematic and Resyte Theez); BluRums13 shows a level of creativity in his music that all too often lacking in rap and hip-hop.  Over time, BluRum13 has worked with artists such as US3, Bullfrog, True Ingredients, DJ Vadim, Luke Vibert and DJ Grandtheft, among others.  BluRum13’s latest release, a full-length album entitled Inverted, finds BluRum13 vacillating between blandness and brilliance.

BluRum13 gets the vibe rolling with "Kenetic", a rap anthem dedicated to becoming the best you can be and not allowing anyone to take that away. BluRum13 speaks to sociopolitical history in this number, noting the difference between hip-hop and other musical movements from history. "TLO" is an enjoyable song with wonderfully counter rhythms masking a simple dance beat. The key here is that BluRun13 keeps things simple and lets the cadence of his voice blend with the rhythms of the arrangement. 

"Strivin'" is all about overcoming the culture of violence and bettering yourself. Abstract Rude guests with a vibrant and intelligent delivery that's a breath of fresh air. "Inverted Intro" feels like a throwaway piece, perhaps an unfinished rhythm that BluRum13 likes bit hasn't been able to turn into something else. This segues into "Cereal". A pop/hip-hop number that's catchy enough to transition from house parties to clubs and perhaps even to commercial radio. "All Day" finds BluRum13 extolling the virtues of hip-hop both as an escape from life and a tool for social and personal change. This is terribly catchy, and may represent the best chance for a breakout track on the album. 

"Mash On" keeps up the assault of catchy, rock-influenced hip-hop. BluRum13 spits like a madman in another catchy number you'll have a hard time shaking. "First Signs of Paranoia" is a skit set to music about space aliens. This is an interesting sidebar but the piece really doesn't add anything to album continuity. "Quixotic" finds BluRum13 sinking into a more benign and bland style. This feeling continues through "Venga" and even "Warrior Souls". 

The skit "Rum Matter Master" is more of a collection of samples than any sort of cohesive skit. BluRum13 does set up a nice funky rhythm underneath it all, but the effort is wasted here. "Universal" has a much more vibrant feel, cranking out a macho beat, but losing any hip factor early on by spelling out the title repeatedly. BluRum13 picks up the slack with a whipsaw rhyming style that kicks. "Distortion" has a dreamy, new age hip-hop vibe, while BluRum13 rides a streaming style that as much about filling space as telling a story. There are great elements here, but the song never quite finds balance. BluRum13 closes with the eclectic cacophony of "Still Living", mixing a funhouse Caribbean sound with electro and hip-hop. There's a party atmosphere to the song that's undeniable, but there's also a surprising lack of cohesion. 

BluRum13 hits highs and lows on Inverted, but the musical highs make any lows worth wading through.  It’s interesting that Inverted takes steps to break out of format at times, but BluRum13 sticks to the typical rap album format with uninteresting skits.  BluRum13 has the talent to break the mold here, but stays stuck in the cliché.  Nonetheless, BluRum13 shows definite moments of brilliance here.  Don’t be surprised if one or two tracks from this album break out of the underground and take over the streets.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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NMercer - Crossroads EP

NMercer - Crossroads EP
2013, NMercer

Naomi Mercer was a singer and songwriter without direction or authorial voice.  She found the latter and added rapper to her list of talents after moving to L.A.’s South Central for affordable housing.  Embracing the culture she found herself living in, NMercer’s voice emerged in the form of Emcee and firebrand rapper NMercer.  With a lyrical flow similar to Santigold and MIA, and a sense of humor reminiscent of a rough and raw Meryn Cadell, NMercer makes social dissections and observations in her songs wrought with snark.

NMercer opens with the title track, a low-key rap ruminating on her life direction and possible choices. The song features a quietly catchy chorus and dark electronic grooves with spaces out tendencies. "Steal It" is a post-feminist statement of strength based on the dance floor. It's a solid tune with a quietly powerful groove that will do well in the clubs. "Why U Gotta B So Fine" is whiney, softcore desire set to a beat; too disjointed to establish a groove and too disaffected to really catch on. "DB" is a kiss-off song stitched together from various clichés. There's little pop sensibility, and there's a sir of pose running through the music that's closer to Meryn Cadell folk than hardcore hip-hop. 

The rest of the EP is comprised of live tracks from various clubs. "My Friends" rehashes a 'better get with my friends' philosophy with a decidedly more fight club feel. NMercer acts her way through the process to an apparently unenthused crowd. "Crossroads" doesn't have significant changes from the studio to the love version, except that NMercer is a bit freer with her poetry at times. "Steal It" is similarly unaffected by the transition to live performance. The small crowd is obviously quite into this tune, however. 

"People Talk" is a mediocre diatribe against a man who is not up front with the ladies. There is too much crowd crosstalk during this recording to really get into the vibe, which tells you all you need to know about the song. "Like A White Girl" is bland and unmotivated, but segues into the modern shopping anthem, "Five Finger Discount".   NMercer glorifies shoplifting as an appropriate response to high prices, justifying theft based on the premise that everyone else is doing it. The song is entertaining on one level, but reflects a lack of original thought either lyrically or musically. 

NMercer is intriguing.  There’s real personality in her writing, but there’s also, at times, a cartoonish nature to NMercer’s style on Crossroads that sounds like a pose.  NMercer is going to get as much attention from the novelty music community as she does from the rap/hip-hop community.  Her sense of humor is over the top at times, but is inherent in who she is as an individual and an artist.  Crossroads perhaps find NMercer still staking out the boundaries of her persona and voice as a performer, but it sounds like she’s on the right track.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ron Armstrong - Ready For Ya

Ron Armstrong - Ready For Ya
2013, Self-released

Ron Armstrong has been through the wars.  Playing rock and roll since the mid-1960’s with bands such as The Misfits, Jamul, Little Rock (Joel Sonnier) and the Ron Armstrong Band.  Armstrong’s voice is as eclectic as his writing style, and sampling his catalog of songs can be a dizzying experience.  The work on his latest album, Ready For Ya, is solidly written, full of subtle nuance and occasionally a gentle but insightful humor.

Armstrong kicks things off with "Old Folks Boogie", featuring wicked guitar work and a bantering, light hearted premise. An exotic dancer is on Armstrong's mind in "Oh Suzie", and his rumination is delivered in 60's pop style that is quite enjoyable. "Just Around The Bend" is a song of angst over the future. Hope and fatalism mix with gentle humor over a powerhouse arrangement. It's a great listen with surprising depth. "Fences" laments the privatization of nature, where what's intended to be a relaxing afternoon turns into a confrontation with fences and signs. 

Armstrong issues a bluesy/country invitation in the form of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", done up in classic style. The guitar work is top notch, and every musical detail sounds perfectly crafted. "You Can't Catch Me" is a love song to a car with serious horsepower and smooth lines. It's a fun little number you can dance to. "Movin' To The Country" vamps on loving the country and country music, but not fitting into a marketable niche.  Armstrong digs into the blues for "Little Red Rooster", laying down some nasty guitar licks while singing and growling his way through the vocal. 

"J Marie" rides on a 60's backbeat and classic rhythm and blues guitar sounds. Armstrong sings with heartfelt desire and brings the song to life. "Just Like A Woman" is a well intended ballad that falls flat. The pacing here is painful, and many listeners will move forward before Armstrong is finished. "Listening To Jimmy Reed" is a nice recovery, infusing a little honky-tonk attitude into the process.  This ode to the great performer is a bit gratuitous, but is written and played from the heart. Armstrong closes out with an energetic cover of Reed's "The Sun Is Shining". Armstrong and his band are at their best, closing out on a high note that shakes the foundations of country, rock and old school rhythm and blues.

Ron Armstrong sings with a voice both worn and warmed by age on Ready For Ya.  It’s a musically and lyrically enriching album that digs at the roots of rock, country and blues.  Ready For Ya is a quiet keeper.  It’s not an album you’ll obsess over, but don’t be surprised if you keep getting called back to it from time to time.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Paul McCartney - New

Paul McCartney – New
2013, MPL Music

Paul McCartney.  You know… the former Beatle.  He’s at it again.  His latest album is New, and it’s the most vibrant work out of McCartney since Flowers in the Dirt.  The energy and newness this time around come from McCartney working with a host of producers. The result is a different feel and mojo for each song. 

New launches with "Save Us", an urgent rocker with Wings era flair.  The chorus is pure melodic magic, and in the days of AOR radio would have been a major hit. "Alligator" is a quirky little pop song typical of McCartney. "On My Way To Work" is a brilliant observational love song with a twist. . Written with a swaying feel, McCartney’s subject is obsessed from a distance.  "Queenie Eye" is a silly bit of fun typical of McCartney. 

"Early Days" is a gorgeous reminiscence of the early days with The Beatles. Gone is any sense of fame or stardom, and in its place is the sense of inspiration that got it all started in the first place. "New" sounds like a classic Beatles tune, full of melodic gold and interesting little musical turns. McCartney goes for a decidedly more modern sound on "Appreciate", using a looped electronic arrangement as the bed for as bland and repetitive pop tune that McCartney has ever released. 

"Everybody Out There" hearkens back to McCartney' work with Wings, but with a more urgent feel. It's edgy and dark, but with that singular pop sensibility that stands apart from the crowd. "Hosanna" is an unwieldy yet appealing love ballad that's more speculative than anything else. It's an enjoyable look at McCartney writing in dark timbres. "I Can Bet" is a wonderfully edgy piece of song craft from a man perhaps cajoling a wary love along into something deeper. Te arrangement is at times diffuse and without direction, but the overall effect is stunning. 

"Looking At Her" explores insecurity in the light of beauty in a fashion that most everyone has experienced a least once in their life. The universality of the song is appealing, and the edgy pop sensibility is icing on the cake. "Road" is a story song that is less accessible than the rest of the album, but no less intriguing for that. There's a mix of hope and hopelessness hear that seems disconnected but is so closely sound they are inseparable. McCartney bows with "Scared", a lovely baroque pop ballad full of overcast light. Love and its complications are on display here in minor keys and beautiful reflections.

It's amazing that after all these years that McCartney can still reach into the depths of genius and pull out a surprise. New shows McCartney’s edge and experience, but behind it all is that same simple genius that has driven his success with The Beatles, Wings, and on his own.  The voice perhaps isn’t as strong as it once was, and not everything here works on all levels, but McCartney still retains the alchemy to spin gold out of eight simple notes.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Alan B. Salisbury - Dream And Believe

Alan B. Salisbury – Dream and Believe
2013, Opus One Studios

Alan B. Salisbury is embarking on a career as a children’s author and songwriter in his seventies.  The retired U.S. Army Major-General had a second career as an executive with Sybase.  These days, Salisbury has begun a socially conscious corporation called Opus One Studios, which publishes works and related projects which benefit various causes.  Salisbury’s first book is The Legend of Ranger: The Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly.  It is the story of Rudolph’s younger brother, who dreams apart of Santa’s reindeer team but struggles with his aerial fears.  Salisbury has written an accompanying theme song for Ranger entitled “Dream and Believe”.

“Dream And Believe” is a feel good Christmas tune about believing in yourself and making your dreams come true. Ranger has to learn to overcome his fears when Santa’s entire team falls ill.  There’s medicine to treat the reindeer, but someone has to fly to get it.  Ranger overcomes his fears the team, and Christmas, are saved.  All of this is plotted out in a classic-style story song that’s solidly written.  Mary Allen is a very capable vocalist who brings the song to life with a light and easy air.

“Dream And Believe” isn’t going to take the place of any Christmas classics.  It’s really more of a secular tune about becoming your best… but it is well written and sends a positive message to children of all ages.  All sales of the song, book or any related merchandise benefit the Antonia Giallourakis Endowment for Art Therapy at the Massachusetts General Children’s Hospital Cancer Center.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at the Opus One Studios Ranger page.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wildy's World Sunday Singles - October 27, 2013

Laura Trent - Let It Rain

Las Vegas-based singer/songwriter Laura Trent’s new single “Let It Rain” (from her album All On Board) is a forgettable piece of dance pop that makes a point of equating love and fellatio. Trent hollers her way through a ham handed and uncomfortable piece of songwriting. Her voice is intriguing, to say the least, but this is not a single that gets people to take an artist seriously, or at all. (

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Milan Butler - My Muse

“My Muse” is a well meant love song with a classic pop and jazz sound. Milan's voice is too stentorian to carry this off, heavy and full of a vibrato more fitting to opera than pop. This performance is more likely to scare listeners off than draw them in, but the songwriting is actually halfway decent. (no link found)

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Krista Detor - Belle of the Ball

Krista Detor turns fairy takes on their head with "Belle of the Ball", a subtle and intricate story song that focuses on the drawbacks of being a princess. This is a brilliant piece of songwriting, and Detor's voice is smooth like velvet. If you’ve yet to be introduced to Detor, you’ll be surprised by just how good she is.  “Belle of the Ball” is the first single from her January 2014 album Flat Earth Diary. (

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Merritt Whitley 

Kansas City native Merritt Whitley has been singing all her life.  Her recently dropped two-sided single shows many of the influences that brought her this far.  Whitley tackles “Landslide” with an anachronistic but interesting voice.  The song itself is pure cliché, but with some pop/country potential.  Re-record this with a bigger guitar sound and the song will get some interest from radio programmers and fans.  “Beyond Amazing” on the other hand, is a teenage love song about falling in love, full of all the fluff and filler of an adolescent diary.  Whitley shines on the first track, but falters on the second.  (

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Katie Bulley – Chasing

Former Barettas (Toronto) front woman Katie Bulley struck out on her own after four albums with the indie electro pop trio, only to find a completely different musical path.  Her first single as a solo artist, “Chasing”, is a low-fi folk pop charmer featuring Katie on vocals and guitar with a metronome for percussion.  Bulley sings with kittenish charm without become a cartoon caricature.  I’d love to hear this song fleshed out with some more instrumentation, but Bulley is more than charming enough to carry it off on her own. (

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)