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Friday, June 28, 2013

Brian Larney - At The Starting Line

Brian Larney – At The Starting Line
2013, Nunya
Brian Larney has spent much of his musical career contributing to the efforts of bands.  All the while he was building up a significant catalog of songs.  Stepping out on his own, Larney revealed a refined songwriting style similar to Neil Finn and Andy Partridge.  Larney recently released his second album, At The Starting Line.  It is a quietly brilliant collection of observational songs with a distinctive 1970’s flair.
Larney opens with the catchy energy of "You Me and Allison".  The song is a moment of escapist fancy amidst strumming guitars and a melody line that won't quit. "Solace" is a quiet country-fueled number about a young lady who struggles to maintain faith in a world governed by Hobbesian actors. . Larney’s melody is catchy, and the arrangement wraps perfectly around it.  "Closed Door" stumbles along in uncomfortable fashion, relying on a memorable melody to pull a troubled and messy arrangement through. 
Larney digs into an early rock sound somewhere between The Beatles and Elvis Costello on "Whistling Past The Graveyard". Larney turns up the wattage on charm on a song you'll have difficulty getting out of your heart. Things take an angular turn on "The Plaintiff", with Larney laying down some deliciously discomfiting guitar licks. The transition into a catchy chorus is a brilliant turn.  "Before The Shadows Grow Too Long" is a pensive love song that underscores Larney's talent for sweet melodies. His writing style is reminiscent at times of James Taylor, and his sound would have sold a lot of records in the late 1970's. 
"Dogma (On A Leash)" has a bluesy feel that's accessible and fun. The "don't tread on me" message is delivered in low key fashion to the ups and downs of a dynamic and memorable melody. "Why God Why" is a gentle folk/pop anthem with a deceptively catchy chorus. Larney rises up into a sweet tenor voice here, gliding along on a melody that's as smooth as silk.  "Chain Of Words" lopes along at a fast walk, with Larney pacing the song with an accusatory but well voice vocal. The song intrigues based on its mix of musical lightness and emotional disturbance. "Chance" has an urgent feel, like an appeal not made but nonetheless hoped for. Larney rails against the unfairness of it all over a dynamic, guitar driven arrangement that's a real treat. Larney brings listeners back to Earth with "Never Argue With The Devil", a singer/songwriter ballad that dwells in melancholy. There's a baroque beauty to the arrangement that is teased out by the Larney's metronomic acoustic guitar. 
Brian Larney is a pleasant surprise on At The Starting Line. He manages to write accessible songs with melodies you'll walk away humming. Larney misses once in a while, perhaps, and his occasional pitch issues are a distraction, but his charisma and voice are distinctive enough to pull off anything he wants to do. 
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
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Zain Lodhia - The Leap

Zain Lodhia - The Leap
2013, Zain Lodhia
Lodhia opens with the rhythmic feel of "Lost For Words". This is a catchy number that's a bit messy in composition, but one is left with a sense that this is stylistic rather than a reflection on talent. Lodhia has a low-key voice that fits well in the instrumental wrap he's constructed, and there's great energy in this little tune. "Beautiful Devotion" is presented as a low key dance tune that's quietly frenetic. This will probably do well on the dance floor, but the style is a bit too formulaic for serious listeners. "Lifetime" is another formula pop tune, this time an upbeat ballad built on Caribbean rhythms. This transitions into "The Leap", a solid pop/rock number awash in effects. This dressing might be sonically appealing to some, but they distract from the quality of the songwriting. The lyrics are a bit rote, perhaps, but the melody is memorable, and Lodhia ties it all together with one of his best vocal performances on the album. 
"I Wonder" is a song of reflection on love's discovery. It plays to the sort of simplified formulae that are successful on commercial radio, but the poetry is trite and ham handed. "Send Me Away" is bland, even with the addition o guest vocalist Katie Foster in the chorus. Lodhia strips things down a bit at the outset of "Keep Breathing", one of the better moments on the album. It seems that when Lodhia is able to keep the arrangements unfettered by electronics he makes more of an impression. The desire to play with the sound too much holds away all too often on The Leap, all too often drowning out Lodhia's best moments. 
This happens again on "Long Run", a simple ballad with wall of sound pretensions. Lodhia is overpowered by his own arrangement, which manages to turn messy a times.  "Close" is a nice radio-ready ballad that soars in Zain Lodhia's sweet tenor. The song works because Lodhia lets the song be, not bathing in it in the usual electronic wash.   "Shadow Of Your Light" is an angst-filled pop song with bubblegum pretensions. The juxtaposition of message and style is a bit jarring in this instance. 
"Dreams Out Loud" is a messy and I'll-fit love song that never gels. Lodhia  follows up with "Make It Through", a list song variant with a cookie cutter chorus. Lodhia proves the point with his acoustic version of "Lost For Words". This is a nice piece of songwriting that works much better in an acoustic setting. Lodhia closes with a hidden track entitled "Perfect World", a bland afterthought.
Zain Lodhia shows off a distinctive talent on The Leap, although it’s all too often buried under too many layers of sound.  The composition and production on The Leap is distracting.  When a song features Lodhia with stripped down instrumentation he has a very appealing sound.  The Leap  generally seems built around a conceptualization of style that is intended to be commercial, but actually works to distill the talents of the artist. 
Rating:           3 Stars (Out of 5)
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Arlon Bennett - World Of Possibility

Arlon Bennett - World Of Possibility
2013, Red Sea Records
Arlon Bennett lives by the credo, “Shoot for the moon and ask questions later.”  The Long Island based singer-songwriter has an evocative, personal story-telling style that incorporates elements of Harry Chapin and James Taylor, but Bennett is an American original.  His latest album, World Of Possibility, should end up being considered one of the finest singer/songwriter efforts of 2013.
Bennett sets sail with the title track, a formulaic list song set in a nice arrangement. Bennett signals a keen musical sensibility here, even as he shows a certain lyrical awkwardness.  Listening further will reassure this is a matter of story and character rather than Bennett’s style. "Carry Me" has a class folk/Americana feel and a pleasing melody. The chorus will get stuck in your head. This is a great recovery from the opening track. "Nothing Like A Song" celebrates the uplifting power of music, be it religious or secular. It's well written and catchy without being over the top. 
"Question For Einstein" poses the study if the human heart for one of the greatest minds in history. Bennett does an amazing job of storytelling in song, sketching out a character and a moment in breathtaking detail. The simple arrangement is enhanced with strings, but the song is the thing here. Prepare to be quietly blown away.  "Sal" is another fabulous bit of story-telling, a biography in son of a school janitor who made an impression. Bennett finds magic in the past and brings it to life in song. "Everything He Says" is an upbeat rocker lamenting a friend’s inability to talk about anything other than his new daughter. This piece of observational writing seems more bemused than anything else, and is very entertaining. 
"A Little Faith" is a beautiful piece of songwriting about hidden beauty and how it can be found. "A Friend In You" is a love song between friends, an acknowledgment of what they share that's sweet without ever sounding trite.  "The Christmas Tree On Salem Street" paints a Rockwell-esque picture of middle America a Christmas time. It becomes difficult with Bennett to identify a single highlight, but this song must be in the running. "I America" is an autobiographical monologue from the United States, personified as an imperfect yet perfectly viable nation. Bennett gives voice to a nation without rancor or exclusion, a matter not to be taken lightly. Bennett winds down with the utter beauty of "Even When She Cries".  This is a song of adoration for his daughter that is amazing in its poetry, rhyme and melody. This is how you close an album with an utter "wow" moment. 
Arlon Bennett writes and sings like a throwback from another age. With a cool, clear voice that falls somewhere between Paul Simon and James Taylor, and adeptness with words that comes along but rarely, Bennett raps up listeners in the silky chords of his song craft.  World Of Possibility might get off to a slow start, but don't be fooled, Arlon Bennett is one of the finest singer/songwriters you'll have heard in a long time. World Of Possibility is an easy pick as a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Luck Be A Lady Tonight – Steven Page live at Canalside – June 20, 2013

Luck Be A Lady Tonight – Steven Page live at Canalside – June 20, 2013

A band is an organic unit made up of the sum of the members’ talents.  A band losing a primary member is sort of like a person losing a limb; it changes the entire tenor and tone of the band.  Fans of Barenaked Ladies have lamented the loss of Steven Page since he left the band a few years back.  Page has released two solo albums (one while still with BNL), as well as an intriguing collaboration with The Art Of Time Project.  This past Thursday he brought his new band to Canalside in Buffalo, NY.

Page began by alternating songs from his latest album, Page One, with BNL classics.  Opening with “A New Shore”, Page seemingly set the stage for a night of new material.  Early on, he alternated new songs such as “Indecision”, “She’s Trying To Save Me”, “Over Joy”, “Marry Me”, and “Entourage”.  The best performance of the night might have been reserved for Page’s non-album track “A Different Sort Of Solitude”.  This tune is a rocker seriously pop sensibility, and was an incredibly vibrant surprise.

 The biggest responses of the night, however, we for BNL classics such as “Jane”, “The Old Apartment”, “What A Good Boy” and “Enid”.  Beginning with “Enid”, Page went on a run of BNL tunes to close out the night.  I caught “Break Your Heart”, “It’s All Been Done” and “Brian Wilson”.  The little ones ran out of gas and so we had to leave, but one more song was forthcoming.  If anyone wants to add a note about that I’d be grateful.

The fact is that Page was engaging on stage, although not as wild and funny as in his BNL days.  Indeed, the suit he wore spoke more of a Vegas style stage show than a rock concert.  Nevertheless, Page used humor and reminiscences of more than 20 years of performances in Buffalo to connect with the crowd.  There’s no doubt that the old BNL material was what the crowd came for, and I have to admit that the songs Page played still sound best in his voice.

The show had two opening acts.  First up was Buffalo’s own Son Of The Sun, whom I’ve written about in the past.  Their set was very solid, and vocalist Zak Ward did an outstanding job of establishing himself in the big open space along the Erie Canal.  The band created a big wall of sound that helped get the early crowd in the mood for the night.

Pittsburgh rockers The Truth had the middle spot, and their set was eye opening.  Performing a mix of covers and original tunes, the band showed off some serious songwriting chops.  Much of their original material was co-written with legendary Nashville songwriter Bernie Nelson, and is very radio friendly with elements of classic rock and country woven throughout.  Co-lead vocalists Paul Michael Benson and Ayesha Scott make for a great vocal mix.  Benson is an accomplished vocalist and front man, but Ayesha Scott lit up the night with a voice that could stop a stampede.  Benson’s presence is key, but Ayesha Scott is a star in waiting.