All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tom Levin - Them Feet

Tom Levin - Them Feet
2014, Cut The Mustard

Tom Levin just keeps rolling.  After an accidental fall into a musical career that involves a shower concert and an exchange student program, Levin has led something of a charmed life.  His first band, Tennis, scored a top-10 single in his native Sweden in 1996 with “Shyway”.  Levin was just getting started however.  In the intervening years he has dropped six solo albums, showing steady growth as a songwriter and performer while continuing to refine his stage presence and his craft.  Levin’s latest effort, Them Buffalo is something of a companion album to his January, 2014 release, Them Feet.  Steeped in stripped down rock and Americana styling, Levin reveals himself to be a master story teller with a deep understanding of melodic nuance and rhyme.
Them Buffalo opens with “Thunder On”, something of a musical bridge from Them Feet.  The opener is a sharp and catchy rock and roll song with country flavor.  Levin’s voice is not a purist’s voice.  It’s full of rough edges and color and has an almost talk-sing sway to it at times, but he wields his voice like a finely tuned instrument, injecting personality and presence like a grand showman where the lines thin.  The result is a captivating sound that leaves fans and critics alike captivated and willing to listen long into the night.  “Mind’s Eye” opens in the style of an aboriginal tribal chant, and becomes a Utopian paean that’s catchy and well-written.    Wrapped up in the song’s core is an element of faith; a theme that recurs often through Them Buffalo in different forms.  “Everyday” is about finding your way by paying attention to the little things.  Questions of right and wrong swirl around the edges of this song; not in a judgmental way, but in the form of diving next steps.  The song has an earthy and urgent feel that is brilliantly understated and full of a primitive beauty.
“History, Beliefs and Bearded Men” takes on the concept of right and wrong between religious cultures from a very personal perspective.  The ancient argument between absolutism and relative truths wage quietly here, with Levin opting for an informed conscious to make out the difference in all of us.  In truth, there is a fatalism here that is appealing.  Levin doesn’t seem to be eschewing any side of the argument, in the end.  Opting for the sense that nobody really knows, so let’s all do the best we can.  This is a pensive number that’s prayerful in attitude and hopeful in heart.  It sets the stage well for “Different Drum”, a paean to being you no matter what.  The swaying rock anthem is typically understated but somehow more powerful for it. 
When it comes to love songs, the genre is thoroughly overdone.  Some overdo, some try to almost make fun of the genre.  Levin bypasses it entirely in recreating it for a new age.  In “More Than A Song”, Levin uses the ancient art form to decry its insufficiencies while delivering a message of deep love and intellect all at once.  It’s a thing of beauty that bypasses syrup but sticks to you nonetheless.  Levin engages in affectionately humorous misdirection on “Girl From Nova Scotia”, a tribute to Canadian songstress Mo Kenney.  If you’re not listening carefully (I honestly wasn’t the first time it played) you’ll think Levin’s engaging in vitriol, but there’s a deep admiration in the line “I hate you in a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful way.”  The underlying theme here is the mix of admiration and jealousy an artist might feel in hearing another artist create beauty.  It’s real and honest and powerfully alive.
Levin heads for home with “Schizo”, “Summered” and “Margaret’s House”.  The first delves into the push and pull of different parts of a personality.  There’s a bit of Randy Newman-style self-parody here, alongside Tom Wait’s biting poetry.  “Summered” is probably my least favorite track on the album; That is to say it’s really well-written, but perhaps just a bit out of place with this cycle of songs.  Levin bows with “Margaret’s House”, with the help of vocalist Aimee Bobruk, whose dulcet voice is a perfect blend to Levin’s understated drama.  This pensive duet is full of a quiet reverie, and is the perfect annotation for an album steeped in thought, wisdom and the slow wearing of time on memory.
Tom Levin continues to grow into his prodigious talent as a songwriter and performer.  It’s hard to say if he’s approaching a zenith or continuing a long slow build to something even more renowned, but the fact that he has hit new heights is inescapable.  In spite of several releases from artists I absolutely love in 2014, it is not stretching the point to say that Tom Levin’s Them Buffalo is the finest album I have heard in 2014.  You will be hard pressed to disagree.

Rating:                  5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lindsay Mac - Remember (single)

Lindsay Mac – Remember (Single)
2014, Lindsay Mac
You might remember hearing about Lindsay Mac’s 2008 release, Stop Thinking.  We wrote about it here, and the album generated a lot of buzz in the Indie music press because of her innovative use of a cello (played like a guitar) in folk/pop songs.  Lindsay Mac’s background as a classically trained musician leads some to believe that she is all about breaking down musical barriers, when in truth she is just marching to the incessantly syncopated beat of her own drummer.  Lindsay Mac tries knew things not shock or are others, but to please her ever curious and creative mind.  That being said, you might wonder to what uses she is putting her cello to these days?

On her latest single “Remember” (from the album Animal Again), Lindsay Mac leaves the cello behind, delving into a resilient blend of electro pop and dance.  “Remember” is as aesthetically pleasing as anything you’ve heard on the radio this year, with a joyous sense of melody and rhythmic poetry.  You will want to move your feet, but Lindsay Mac is an intelligent poet in dance diva clothes, and wends her way with intellect through the sweet and inspired love song that she crafts.  The topper of it all is Lindsay Mac’s voice.  She cants with a brilliant sweetness here, and you’ll find yourself putting her album, Animal Again, on your wish list.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at

Buy “Remember”:    iTunes   

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Aaron Comess - Blues For Use

2014, Innsbruck Records

The Band
Aaron Comess came to fame playing drums for the Spin Doctors.  While that wild ride continues, Comess has also made a name for himself from his solo work, which blends rock, pop, jazz and world sounds into his own distinctive sound.  Comess’ most recent work is in collaboration with Teddy Kumpel and Richard Hammond.

The Album
Aaron Comess released his third solo album in May, entitled Blues For Use, consisting of 12 instrumental tracks.

The Buzz
Comess, Kumpel and Hammond are consummate professionals, and the music on Blues For Use is demonstrative of that fact.  The album waxes and wanes from aggressive to pensive.  Comess’ talents as a composer are often overlooked, but he drives the creative process here. 

“Hard Ball” focuses on the rhythm section in a percussive arrangement that sounds like an early outtake from Rush crossed with Pink Floyd.  “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” works a long, slow build into a plaintive yet ear-pleasing chorus.  The tight instrumental interplay is key here, with a subtle guitar lead that fluctuates in intensity.  Comess and company engage in a brilliant piece of non-visual art in “Sunrise”.  It’s a lazy, rolling number; the melody is a dog lying in the summer sun, occasionally rolling over to scratch its back in the dirt.  “Bajelirious” plays like an alternate James Bond theme.  The band is at their best here, with all cylinders pumping. 

There’s little negative to say about the album.  There are slower moments, but they are part of the ebb and flow of the album.  There is definite inspiration here, but it is sometimes of the quieter, pensive kind.  Subtlety abounds.

The Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

The Songs
Surprise, Pt. 1
Hard Ball
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Casa Colonial
Blues For Use
Surprise, Pt. 2

Where to Go

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Delta Rae – Live at the Tralf – Buffalo, NY – June 25, 2014

Delta Rae – Live at the Tralf – Buffalo, NY – June 25, 2014

Delta Rae released their debut album, Carry The Fire, in 2012, and it was a musically mind blowing experience.  The intensity and quality of the music were breathtaking, and the album earned Desert Island Disc status.  I knew all of this walking into The Tralf last night, and yet I was not in the least prepared for the reality of Delta Rae on stage.

That intensity that comes through in the studio recording is a mere echo of what the band brings on the stage; and there the musicality of the band is absolutely unquestionable. Opening with a blend of “Dance In The Graveyards” and “Run”, Delta Rae established a surprisingly aggressive energy level from the get go.  And while it took the sound board the first song to get the vocal mix right, the band was nothing less than amazing out of the gate.  Up next was “Better Off Alone”; another knockout performance.  A brand new song, “Better Off Alone” followed, with Ian Hölljes opening up his impressive voice for the crowd.  It was an amazing moment; the first of many.  This led into a composite of “Is There Anyone Out There” and “Morning Comes”, which seemed to be a musical launching pad for the band.  Everything to this point was musically pristine and full of energy, but bar was about to be raised.

It began with Brittany Hölljes tackling “Bottom Of The River” like a woman possessed.  The entire band was taken with the primal rhythms of the song and it turned into not just a performance but an experience.  Liz Hopkins took over the mic for a cover of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith’s “Because The Night” and blew the roof off the place.  Her intensity and tone were amazing, and the band matches her step for step.

The band went off mic for a new song; a moving and impressive turn entitled “Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This”.  Eric Hölljes took the lead this time, and the band backed him with a vocal collage that was unforgettable.  Up next was another new song, “We All Want Love”.  This time is was Ian alone on stage with piano for a lyric ballad that ought to see Delta Rae climb the charts when the song is released on the next album.  This was an absolute “Wow” moment. 

Liz Hopkins came out front again for “Chasing Twisters”, and once again raised the roof with a powerful and compelling performance.  As good as this was, it was a mere appetizer for “Bethlehem Steel”.  Delta Rae rocked the stage, the rafters and the very foundations.  Brittany’s vocal was incomparable as she prowled the stage like a woman possessed.  The song was based on the experiences of the Hölljes siblings’ father, who worked for Bethlehem Steel for many years, and laments the loss of factory jobs in a declining America.  Liz Hopkins kept the energy going with an intense and powerful “If I Loved You”.  This is one of my personal favorites from the debut album, and Delta Rae did not disappoint.  Brittany came back out front to close the set with “I Will Never Die”, from the band’s Chasing Twisters EP.  You couldn’t blame the band for letting up a bit at this point, but the energy and intensity of the performance never flagged.

The small but devoted crowd demanded one more song.  Delta Rae accommodated the applause and chants with two.  The first, “After All”, is a new song that will be on the new album if the band is wise.  The Hölljes siblings and Liz Hopkins were all featured on vocals this time around, and the music was a piece of pure beauty.  Delta Rae closed out the night with a buoyant take on “Dance In The Graveyards” that had the entire club swaying along.  It was a knockout blow worthy of one the most vibrant and musically apt bands working today.

Opening act Gabe Dixon was a revelation in his own right.  Even Ian Hölljes said that Dixon is writing some of his favorite music right now, and Dixon did not disappoint.  Trading back and forth between piano and guitar, Dixon traded ballads and blues-infused rockers that recalled past greats such as Billy Joel and Ray Charles.  Highlights included “Disappear”, “Runnin’ On Fumes” and the delicious piano work of “Till You’re Gone”. If nothing else, make sure to download his track “All Will Be Well”, a “Wow” moment all its own.

Both Delta Rae and Dixon were available and accessible after their sets.  Delta Rae came out and signed at a table after the show, but unlike many acts, each member took the time to greet and get the name of each person walking by.  It was a great dose of southern hospitality, and will pay dividends to the band from the personal connections they made.

Delta Rae’s tour continues tonight at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.  Dates for the summer tour are currently scheduled through August 3rd.  Check out for more information, and go see them live if you get the chance.  You won’t be disappointed.

Gabe Dixon will be opening for Delta Rae through July 9th, and is currently booking shows for his Gabe Dixon band for the summer.  Get more info at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Broken Quote - Foreshadowing Sunlight

Broken Quote – Foreshadowing Sunlight
2014, 563026 Records DK

The Band
Broken Quote is a multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer from Houston, Texas who has been creating music since he was a small child.  A self-taught musician, Broken Quote showed a distinctive ear early on.  While the lack of lessons would be a roadblock to some, it became an open playing field to Broken Quote.  Broken Quote credits influences such as Bjork, Eyedea, Beck, Radiohead, John Cage and Parliament Funkadelic, among others.  His musical milieu continues to grow and evolve, but his current sound is something of a stew of ambient funk, trip hop, electro rock and acid jazz.
The Album
Foreshadowing Sunlight, a five song EP, is Broken Quote’s first release.
The Buzz
Broken Quote is all about minimalist atmospherics.  Electronics and ambient sounds are the core of the sound on Foreshadowing Sunlight, but the focus is less musical than it is of painting collages of sound. 
“Late Night Ocean” has an intriguing rhythm and life all its own.  The overall effect is more distracting than cohesive, but there is a musical statement to be made here.  “Glass Ceiling” is similarly unsettling.  Angst-filled piano gives way to a slowly growing cacophony of rhythm, as Broken Quote seeks to unsettle all who would listen.

The energy throughout Foreshadowing Sunlight is minimalist by intent, but the effectuation is downright painful at times.  Angst and ennui are the core emotions, and those vibes are imparted to the listener like a cudgel.  Effects very often rule the day, covering the gaps that are left behind by songs that are thought out and through, but often not fully.

The Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

The Songs
Ghost Crowd
Late Night Ocean
Glass Ceiling
Sparks Water The Seeds

Where to Go

Monday, June 23, 2014

Corvus - Never Forget

Corvus – Never Forget
2013, Corvus

The Band
Corvus is one of the most prolific American metal bands of the last five years, completing six full-length albums in that time.  Heavy guitar riffs, melodic solos, pounding rhythms and deep melodies have blended with an electric live show to charge up fans across the U.S., and have led to tours with Trapt, Mushroomhead, American Head Charge and Hed P.E.  The lineup includes:
Brock Brown – vocals
Josh Brown – bass
(v)att(v)an – electric guitar
DH – drums
Isadora Bevins – electric guitar
Sunny - keyboard

The Album
The latest effort from Corvus is Never Forget, a dynamic and powerful mix of metal and classic rock with distinctive pop undertones.

The Buzz
Corvus takes listeners on a schizophonic buzz fest across the thirteen songs on Never Forget.  Crushing guitar riffs, rapid-fire rhythms and high precision will appeal to metal fans.  The band also delves into Top-40 blends that feature hook filled choruses and even a power metal ballad or two.  The changes back and forth happen so fast at times that listeners may be subject to aural whiplash.  The guitar work is strong and the vocals are more than competent.  At the same time, Corvus seems to be trying to be too many things to too many people.

“Hear No See No Speak No” is a quintessential pop/metal blend, featuring big guitars, a bigger rhythm section and the screaming/chortling vocal that’s come to epitomize heavy metal music.  The band settles into smooth sailing mode with an Edge radio style chorus that totally changes the momentum of the song, but this sudden change is compelling.  “Sweet Revenge” is a delicious mix of angst and anger, contained in the bulging arrhythmia that Corvus builds around it.  “Déjà vu” is a theme song for the seriously depressed or paranoid.  The downward trajectory is represented here as inescapable.  Big powerful, powerful rhythms and an innate musicality make this a winner in spite of the compellingly dark outlook.  “Never Forget” could have been written by Dante himself: a monologue by Satan himself full of short-sighted hubris and pride.

When Corvus is on, they are on.  But there is also a distinct push toward commercial viability on Never Forget that makes the band sound unsettled and uncertain of whom they are.  There’s nothing wrong with going for the brass ring, but the efforts here are so transparent and so different from their natural sound that the gap is glaring.

The Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

The Songs
Hear No See No Speak No
Sweet Revenge
Through Dead Eyes
Soldiers On Demand
Déjà vu
Plastic Skies
My Greatest Mistake
The Spider And The Fly
Food For The Gods
Never Forget

Where to Go

Friday, June 20, 2014

Matty Ride - Matty Ride [EP]

Matty Ride - Matty Ride [EP]
2014, Matty Ride

Disco, pop, hip-hop and soul.  Welcome to the world of Matty Ride, a retro-pop musical chemist based out of Nashville, Tennessee.  With a pleasing voice and an effervescent energy, Ride revives and blends pop music styles from the last 30 years into an eclectic, yet still relevant, ganache.  His latest effort, a five-song self-titled EP, shows why there is room for guys like Matty Ride in today’s dance clubs and on the charts.

Ride opens with the wispy pop confection "That Girl", which has enough snap to be danceable but is light enough to get caught up in the pop ether of Top 40 radio. The songwriting is compact and driven by an infectious hook that will keep calling listeners back. The only downfall is the breakdown in the last 45 seconds of the track, which could (and should) be cut from a single release without any loss to the listener.  "All Over Again" is straight ahead, angst-filled pop. It's solid album material with a bit of Matthew Wilder flair. "Come on and Dance" is as flagrantly bubblegum as 1980's soul/pop ever was, and is likely to inspire seriously mistaken déjà vu or those who grew up in the 1980's.

"First Day of Summer" is an overexcited piece of fluff that tries to sound modern but ends up very dated. There is serious hook action at work here, but the song is almost a caricature of 1980's dance/pop acts. The video, on the other hand, will give the song serious life.  It’s a fun little cinematic escape that features miniature musicians, flying cars and a uniquely comic sensibility that chronicles what happens when geek meet chic.  Matty Ride slows it all down for the closing number, "Hold Me Closer". The ballad is a sleepy affair that sounds melancholy in spite of its protestations of undying love. Ride does a pretty decent job on the vocal, but there's no vitality to the arrangement.
Matty Ride is a serious musician, but at the end of the day he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  The Matty Ride EP is a fun excursion of retro pop with a modern edge.  There are a couple of missteps here, but nothing overly critical.  Fans of pop, dance pop and light soul are going to dig this big time.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at  In the mean time, check out Matty Ride's video for "First Day of Summer"!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Break of Reality - Ten


Break of Reality – Ten
2014, Break of Reality

Eastman School of Music alum Break of Reality has been plying its distinct brand of cello rock for nearly a decade now.  The New York City-based quartet has released a series of albums that run the gamut from original tunes to dynamic covers; developing a dedicated following.  The band recently released their fifth album; a collection of original tunes entitled Ten.

Ten opens with the self-referential strains of “Helix”, driven by a serious rock and roll sensibility.  Lyric and percussive cello lines intertwine, with percussion providing a sense of sanity and stability.  The energy here is tremendous, and Break of Reality sounds like they’re ready to explode.  The listener is wrapped up in a revolving wall of sound from the outset.  “Storm’s End” is a highly artistic piece of baroque pop.  The rhythms are pure rock and roll, yet the melody line has an early Italian madrigal feel.  This is serious music for fans of classical music, film scores and unusual rock and roll hybrids.  Break of Reality explores gorgeous and complex moods on “Star”, building pensive swells with a sagacious sense of internal energy.  The band uses dual melody lines that circumscribe beauty with an edge of minor key darkness.

“Drift Apart” begins with a rhythmic pizzicato base and adding a lyric, mid-to-low range melody line.  You’ll want to close your eyes and soak in the depth and breadth of sound here; it’s simply gorgeous.  “Nine Deep” has a dark and percussive underpinning.  The lyric melodic build is right out front, creating an atmosphere that is powerful and moving.  Break of Reality changes moods with “Light the Fuse”, a quietly rolling composition that transitions into a thunderous dance.  “Uprising” begins with an aboriginal sound; an ancient feel to the percussion.  Break of Reality takes a more atmospheric approach this time, building musical scenery that is lush and full of dramatic turns.

“Levy” is a pensive and perambulating piece; an intriguing orchestral still life full of movement and color.  The band transitions on “Other Worlds” to more of a mid-range musical score sound.  There’s a bit too much center in this recording, particularly in the early going, but this is more an issue of production than of composition.  The breaks in this piece have a stunningly dark beauty in them full of rhythms and tonal rhyme.  Ten closes with “Six”, with Break of Reality utilizing layered melody lines and incorporating glock and xylophone in with their distinctive 3-cello sound.  There’s a lazy energy that runs throughout the piece, and at five minutes in length this might become a bit overwhelming, but it is a quietly ambitious effort that is off the beaten path.

Break of Reality reaches for new heights on Ten, going all original with a stylistic approach that blends the best elements of classical, rock and pop music styles.  The compositions on Ten are highly original and full of life, and Break of Reality use killer phrasing and a nearly flawless sense of timing and presence to build a collection of songs that will live in your mind long after the tunes have faded from your ears.

Rating:  4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Blue Skies For Black Hearts - Blue Skies For Black Hearts

Blue Skies For Black Hearts – Blue Skies For Black Hearts
2014, Blue Skies For Black Hearts

Blues Skies For Black Hearts are a Portland, Oregon quintet with serious pop sensibilities and power pop tendencies.  Blending heavy 1970s and 1980s influences with a modern AAA sound, the band has a consistently accessible sound that has carried them through 12 years, 5 albums and a number of lineup changes.  Their forthcoming self-titled album, due July 15, 2014, continues in the band’s tradition of working class, sweet sounding rock and roll.

Blue Skies For Black Hearts opens with "Keep On Keeping On", an easy going rocker with a memorable, easy to sing chorus. "It's Gone On Too Long" is a catchy Americana rocker with vibrant yet easy on the ears guitar work. Vocalist Pat Kearns has a down home sound that's appealing, and this song slips into your ears like butter on warm toast. "Nothing Came In The Mail" is a solid album cut that's accessible but doesn't call attention to itself.   "Love Songs" finds BSFBH reaching back into the 1950's for a mellow pop ballad sound. This works well, save for the messy backing vocals.  "You Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog" has great energy and a decidedly low-fi aesthetic that will find it kicking around your head for hours.

"Waiting To Run" is a gentle pop rocker about the imminent failure of a commitment. The pop sensibility and guitar work here calls a resemblance to Blue Rodeo, with a lonely vocal flourish that can only be laid at the feet of Brian Wilson. "The Past" is a middle of the road rocker, a solid album cut. "Don't Look Back" is a catchy little rocker that sounds like it should be a cover tune. Various elements of the song will be highly familiar to fans of classic rock. BSFBH closes with "Back Home", a nondescript number that's more numbing than anything else. While sonically safe, the song doesn't do much to call listeners back again.

Blues Skies For Black Hearts succeeds in promulgating a sound that’s steeped in the past but ready for the moment.  The band’s sixth album is their smoothest and most appealing to date.  Blues Skies For Black Hearts spend most of their time hidden away in the Northwest, but do have some planned dates coming up in California this July.  Catch them if you can.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rachael Sage - New Destination [EP]

New Destination

Rachael Sage – New Destination
2014, MPress Records

Rachael Sage is a four-time Independent Music Award winning singer, songwriter, actor and sometime Comedienne.  With 11 full-length albums under her belt and numerous collaborations, it is hard to imagine Sage finding something new to accomplish.  Nevertheless, her latest release, an EP entitled New Destination, is a first for Sage.  Recorded primarily in her home studio, the songwriting on New Destination brings the intimate feel of a Rachael Sage show into the studio.  It also features some of her best songwriting to date.

Sage opens with the title track, with a bit more of an aggressive sound than you might be used to from her.  The bed of the song is still built with piano, cello, guitar and drums, but the verses have a workmanlike feel.  The chorus rises out of that atmosphere with an uplifting and hopeful melody and message.  This might be the most commercially friendly song Sage has produced in a while, and could be a breakout hit for pop radio in spite of the largely acoustic palette.  You’ll be hitting replay on this tune over and over, and you won’t be able to get it out of your head.  “Wax” is a thoroughly unsettled pop experience full of anguished beauty.  The rolling piano and metronomic rhythm section set the tone, as Sage’s soul searching creates a visceral ‘a-ha’ moment. 

“Misery’s Grace” is a cleverly disguised waltz with a gorgeous instrumental bed.  Sage holds the center with a personal and personable performance that’s straight from the heart.  It’s also one of the most striking vocal performances heard from her to date.  “Not Leaving You” is among Sage’s most affecting and personal songs, a strong statement about an artist who makes a point of coming straight from the heart.  There’s a distinctive polish to this tune, and yet there’s an elemental feel to the songwriting that manages to not get lost in the studio.  This is a brilliant love ballad that’s fit for a movie soundtrack, or perhaps even a Billboard bullet.

Brilliant is a word that gets thoroughly overused in reviews of this sort.  But it’s a word that’s entirely apropos in this case.  Rachael Sage combines brilliant, compact and heartfelt songwriting, professional polish and an elemental feel throughout the four songs on New Destination.  This is some of her finest work to date, and reflects, perhaps, a new stage in her career.  Given the recent attention her music has received on-line, Rachael Sage is on the cusp of the sort of breakout that Indie musicians everywhere dream of.  Whatever tomorrow brings, New Destination is a place where you’ll want to me.  It’s a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at

Monday, May 26, 2014

War Poets - American Police State

American Police State: 8:05 On a Saturday Night

War Poets - American Police State
2014, War Poets

Minneapolis-based War Poets is comprised of bassist/vocalist Jenny Case and vocalist/guitarist Rex Habeman, but the band is more than it appears.  Born of the songwriting of some of the best musicians in the Midwest, War Poets strives to bring a mix of socially conscious songwriting, fun rock and roll and serious ballads in their performances and recordings.  War Poets plans three new recordings to be released during 2014.  The first is American Police State

American Police State opens with "Better Place", a low key song of hope with melancholy undertones.  This leads into the high intensity of "Closing In", which is contained in a powerful rock arrangement with faint hints of an old school R&B back beat. There's a vibrant energy here, driven by an overt sense of societal angst. War Poets chill on "8:05 On a Saturday Night", a stumbling ballad with silk-soaked country guitar and talk/rap vocal style. This is a mess, but an intriguing one that pushes convincingly against traditional genre boundaries.  "Where Love Has Gone" lives according to storytelling style that's monotonous in approach. When War Poets get to the chorus and the subsequent bridge they come alive, but the song has a choppy road getting there. The EP closes with "Red Lake", a middle of the road closer that suffers from a lack of real energy and dynamics.

American Police State has its moments, but the effort is uneven and at times, unconvincing.  There’s an eye for storytelling here, but also a sense that sometimes the intended message overrides the musical decisions that may seem most natural.  War Poets certainly have talent and an admirable social intent, but the elements just don’t seem to jell here.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mike Delledera Band - WakeUpSideDowntown


Mike Delledera Band – WakeUpSideDowntown
2014, Ivy Productions, Inc.

Brooklyn-based artist Mike Delledera is an imaginative singer/songwriter whose influences range the
gamut from 1970’s psychedelic rock to 21st century pop-rock.  Together with a group of longtime musical friends and cohorts as The Mike Delledera Band, Mike recently released his full-length debut album, WakeUpSideDowntown.  It is an uneven yet highly ambitious effort that places The Mike Delledera Band squarely on the need to know list.

WakeUpSideDowntown opens with "Silver Ruby Diamond Blues", a sweet honky-tonk style romp with quasi pop-cabaret flair. This is a great tune to open with; a memorable toe-tapper that you can't sit through. The piano work here is serious business, and the country style electric guitar is exquisite lot done. "Sugar Face" is a soul-romp of a love song. Catchy but very simple, with cloying lyrics that sound like a novelty tune.  "Gypsy Soul" is an ultra-smooth piece of 1970's AM radio pop, and leads into the island rhythms and abject silliness of "Bounce".

Delledera then leads his band into the emotional wastelands of "Zen", three plus minutes of painful naval gazing melancholy. While well crafted musically, the lyrics and vocal take on a laborer feel. "Main Street USA" has a bit more pop to it, donning a hip 1970's soul funk rhythm with backing vocals to match. This has a nice feel, but makes the mistake of incorporating a rap that tries to sound liberal but manages to botch ideologies from both sides of the political spectrum.

"Can't Stop Rockin'" has a funky groove and gets caught in your brain until the chorus comes along and the vibe falls apart.   This could turn into something big with the right chorus.  "Broken Angel" is a messy pop/rocker with some nice musical components. Lyrically weak, the son is too steady musically to make much of an impression. The Mike Delledera Band closes with "The Music Echoes On", a reflection on the power of music and its connection to life events. There's some serious country posture to the guitar work here, but the net effect is somewhat cloying as the song progresses.

The songwriting on WakeUpSideDowntown is messy and uneven at times, with lyrics that occasionally manage to gum up the works.  Delledera gets it right more often than not, though, and the musical content of the album is well-crafted.  The interplay between the members of The Mike Delledera Band is crisp, professional and highly original.  This is an ensemble that has found its niche, and Delledera is honing his skills as a songwriter.  It’s a very solid start, and promises even better for the future.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gabrielle Aplin - English Rain [EP]

Gabrielle Aplin - English Rain [EP]
2013, Parlophone International

Gabrielle Aplin’s story of discovery is very familiar.  The Sutton Benger, England native recorded covers of popular songs and published them on YouTube (ala Justin Bieber).  Though still quite young, Aplin impresses with a budding maturity as a songwriter.  With musical tastes honed on the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, Aplin has developed a very personal story-telling style. Aplin’s third EP, English Rain, peaked at #2 in the UK.  This spring she receives her first introduction to U.S. crowds, with dates between now and May 21, 2014 on the West Coast.

English Rain opens with "Panic Cord", a peppy little relationship post-mortem with brilliant folk/pop sensibilities. Aplin's voice has an ethereal quality vaguely reminiscent of Kate Miller-Heidke, and she has a delightfully conversational lyric style that's a perfect complement. Aplin's cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You" is esoteric and not without charm, but lacks the emotional presence of the original.  "Please Don't Say You Love Me" finds Aplin exploring the early routes of romance with adept musical and lyrical grace. It's a beautiful piece of songwriting likely to kick around your noggin for days.

"Home" is an ode to love and virtual space that two or more people can create with nothing but love.  Aplin's simple guitar-driven arrangement has an incessant quality that highlights the quiet urgency of the song's lyrics.  Aplin dwells on a bout of romantic hero worship with "Salvation", a soaring anthem/ballad with a bridge that's thoroughly out of place. You'll either love or hate this song with little room in between. Aplin departs with "The Power Of Love", a self-indulgent love song that's more obsessed with the concept of love than the thing itself. Aplin sells it with her unusual, lovely voice, but the songwriting here is incredibly young and unpolished, unlike the rest of the EP.

Gabrielle Aplin is still growing into her considerable talents.  On English Rain she shows both her strengths and weaknesses with unabashed confidence, choosing to be herself rather than trying to ply her musical talents to the latest trend.  The effort is laudable, and foreshadows the wonderfully talented and independent artist she is destined to become.  English Rain has its warts; a fact that will seem apropos to anyone who’s ever experienced English rain, but the spots where the sunlight shines through show a tomorrow full of promise.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Spirit of the West - Live at the Bear's Den, Niagara Falls, NY - May 3, 2014

Spirit of the West – Live at the Bear’s Den – May 3, 2014

Vancouver rockers Spirit of the West began in 1983 as a trio consisting of John Mann, Geoffrey Kelly and J. Knutson.  The band’s original moniker, Eavesdropper, was quickly retired and Spirit of the West was born.   Originally plying their trade in Celtic and folk styles, the band became a popular draw on folk circuit.  By 1986, Knutson had departed and Hugh McMillan joined the band.  Vince Ditrich came on board in 1991, and Tobin Frank signed in on 1997.  Along the way other members have come and gone, and Spirit of the West has evolved as a band.  After expanding their sound in the early 1990s, SOTW became one of the premier alternative rock acts in Canada.  Spirit of the West continues to tour on a limited basis across Canada.  On Saturday, May 3, 2014, Spirit of the West brought their act to The Bear’s Den at Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, NY.  It was a night to remember.

Spirit of the West took the crowd of 400 or so fans on a tour of their storied career across a 90 minute set full of tremendous energy, wit and life.  John Mann sang and danced around the stage like a man of 22 rather than 52, occasionally lapsing into St. Vitus-like gyrations.  Geoffrey Kelly was the warm and witty front man, sharing stories and anecdotes about songs, experiences and life events.  Wrapped in all of this repartee was the music, which was as fresh and lively as it has ever been.  The band opened with “Canadian Skye” before launching into the acerbic “Putting up with the Joneses”.  This latter was brilliantly executed, and had the crowd on the edge of their seats.  John Mann led the audience on a journey through “And If Venice Is Sinking” and “King of Scotland” before Geoffrey Kelly took the mic for “Scotland” and “The Old Sod”.   This last featured an unannounced special guest vocalist whom Kelly later dubbed “Sexy”.  The inebriated 50-something blond sang unintelligibly into the mic throughout the song, much to the amusement of the band.  She was led away after the song by casino staff and hopefully was allowed to sleep it off.

By this point in a show you know if a band is clicking or not.  Spirit of the West was firing on all eight cylinders with horsepower to spare.  Next up was “Political”, a relationship postmortem with an incredibly snappy arrangement.  Among the band’s best-known songs, it found Mann at the top of his vocal game.  “The Rites of Man” was accompanied with a story about its origination, giving the crowd a deeper sense of the song.  It was a touching moment when Mann’s voice rose to the crescendo at the end of the chorus and Kelly joined in on Irish whistle to bring the jig the song was named for to life. 

“July” let into “Is This Where I Come In”, which featured some wonderfully jazzy piano work from Tobin Frank.  Kelly touched the crowd with a story about the premature birth of his son Ben Kelly (drummer for Fish and Bird).  This was the preamble to “Goodbye Grace”, a tribute to the hospital and staff who saw the younger Kelly (and his parents) through the first few months of his life.  Once again, the context created a tremendous sense of presence and place.  Pacing through “Wishing Line”, SOTW next launched into the spirited “Morning in the Bath Abbey”.  This one of the band’s most underappreciated gems, and the song came to life on stage. 

Spirit of the West closed things out with three of their most well-known songs. “Sadness Grows”, “Save This House” and “Home for a Rest”.  The energy build was tremendous, and by the end the crowd was on its feet and singing along word for word.  The crowd response brought the band for one last go with “The Crawl”.  This was a true sing-along, with the crowd nearly drowning out the band at times. 

Spirit of the West was in brilliant form on Saturday night.  Mann and Kelly shared lead vocal duties.  In spite of the passage of thirty years, the vocals were as crisp and clean as they have ever been (even if some of the high notes are a bit more of a challenge these days).  Hugh McMillan provided a lot of musical subtext, playing nearly every string instrument under the sun.  His cool stage persona reminds one of “Shades” from That Thing You Do.  Vince Ditrich has some mad skills on the drums; a fact that isn’t as apparent on the studio recordings as it is on stage.  Tobin Frank added a lot of color to the night on synth and accordion.  Even Matthew Harter, filling in on guitar while John Mann focuses on vocals showed signs of brilliance.  The show was 90 minutes of transcendence; setting clocks back two decades or so while rising above the mere repetition of songs heard many times before.  Spirit of the West played with a singular joy and intensity, and that combination brought the room to life.

In short, Spirit of the West rocked the house.

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For those of you who haven't taken in a show at The Bear's Den but live in the Western New York or Southern Ontario regions, make a point of it.  The furthest seat from the stage is 40 feet away, and the U-shaped seating chart offers an intimate concert experience.  The world class sound system and steady stream of world class talent playing the place is a quiet gem sitting on the border between the U.S. and Canada.  And after the show it's just a short walk to the Falls if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Video: Garrison Starr and P.J. Pacifico - Gin & Juice

Some things defy explanation.  Just watch.  Garrison Starr and P.J. Pacifico offer up a wonderful acoustic cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice".

Learn more about Garrison Starr at

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Peter Calandra - Inner Circle

Inner Circle

Peter Calandra - Inner Circle
2014, PCM Music

Peter Calandra is a composer and pianist whose work has been featured in over 40 films and countless televisions placements. Also active on Broadway, Calandra wears many musical hats both as a performer and composer. Last year, Calandra reaches Ashokan Memories, a brilliant solo piano cycle that was among the best solo piano albums of 2013. This spring Calandra follows up with Inner Circle, a 13 song cycle that runs the gamut from the renaissance to a modern day dance club.

Inner Circle opens with "Clyde and the Pearl", featuring a plucky piano/synth lead and a quietly funky arrangement. There's a low-key aesthetic here, but Calandra balances it off with tremendous energy and charisma behind the keys. "Dine's Waltz" creates interesting tension through the use of well placed major-minor key changes. The result is a plaintive bit pretty number that sounds like it should be part of a larger musical score. "The Wayfarer" dances into the pop realm, suggesting a lead that never entirely materializes. This sounds somehow incomplete without a vocal, but Calandra has an ear pleaser on his hands.  "Better Angels" is a quiet charmer with a very pretty melody that will come back to you in the days after listening. It's a gentle ear worm you won't want to push away.

A delightfully darker turn occurs on "Inner Circle", with Calandra using strings to bring more depth to the energetic and undisciplined piano "voice". This is a family play where notes become words, ideas and inflections through masterful skill.  Calandra sets an incessant tone in "Faith", setting apart that dogged determination with dancing lead lines from instruments such as piano, violin and flute, perhaps suggesting influxes of inspiration or spirit.  "So Much to Say" is a pensive meditation on piano that is among the loveliest compositions on the album. The resolutions here are beautiful, and Calandra writes with a distinct pop ballad sensibility.

"A Quiet Spark" finds Calandra meandering his way through a musical meadow, accenting gentle curves on the piano like the wind sparks waves in grain. The beauty here is stunning, yet the effect is subtle and soothing. "Nightwatch" on the other hand is dreamy and diffuse; stumbling along like a wayward brook through much of its length. The final rush of the piano suggests a change in approach; an impending destination. This leads into epic slow build of "The Dreamer", much of which is filled by a minimalist musical dark matter. The leads that flash in and out of the darkness are stark and beautifully crafted, carving the metaphorical night like meteorites.

"Whispers in the Dark" is a solo piano piece that plays like a ballad. Full of melancholy undertones, there is a stoic beauty here that is proud and will not be ignored.  "Reflections in the Sky" carries the varied pacing of a monologue from a musical, perhaps something by Jason Robert Brown or William Finn. Calandra says goodnight with the soaring grace of "Chorale".  Special guest Joy Askew provided multiple dubbed vocal tracks to suggest the dark tones of a madrigal resonating off the stone walls and columns of an ancient cathedral.   This is a moment of true beauty.

Peter Calandra shows incredible depth and range in composition on Inner Circle. Calandra worked with a very talented group of musicians to bring his song to life here, and the effort and talent that went into the recording are very obvious. You may find yourself longing for the fuller sound of an orchestra on some of these songs, but the versions offered here offer a distinct vision of Calandra's muse.   In Inner Circle, Calandra has created a vibrant collection of original instrumental works that should win him many awards.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Joe Tripp and the Hops - 6 Songs

Joe Tripp and the Hops - 6 Songs

2014, Joe Tripp and the Hops

When we last heard from The Hops it was 2011 and they were promoting their EP Won’t It Be Fun.  With an interesting sound built around instrumental interplay, the band was going somewhere.  They went on to be named one of Chicago’s top bands in 2012 (Illinois Entertainer), as well as garnering Best Indie Rock song (“The Walk”) on in February, 2012.  In the time since, The Hops have undergone a major personnel transformation, with original vocalist/bassist Patrick Tinning and guitarist Cullin Kress (Endeavor) departing.  Drummer TJ Walker met up with Joe Tripp, and the two have carried on as Joe Tripp and the Hops, and have a new EP entitled 6 Songs. 

The EP takes flight with "Signs", an energetic mess of funk, pop and classic rock. The full bodied sound could be cleaned up a bit, but there's an exuberance in the music that makes this easy to overlook.  The vocals are layered with distortion and effects, which detracts from the enjoyment a bit, but on the whole it's a solid start. "Let Go" is a fit-to-form pop song with Lo-Fi sensibilities and a wonderfully variable rhythm structure. Joe Tripp and the Hops slow things down for the pining ballad "Heart Cries Out". The vocals are a bit rough here, and combined with the pacing make this a bit of a challenge for the listener. The pace picks up on "There's Something", a catchy, rough-hewn rocker with a memorable chorus. "Who Knows" suffers from its own pacing and a lack of precision in both the lead and harmony vocals. There's little in the way of tonal cohesion here, and there's little effort for the vocalists to sing together. 6 Songs winds down with "Fantasma", 'a catchy rocker that perhaps should have led off the EP. Your feet will move of their own volition.

Joe Tripp and the Hops show a wonderful pop sensibility on 6 Songs, but struggle with issues of production and vocal tone. This is not an issue of talent but of training and is easily addressed. The music is enjoyable, and the vocal lapses aren't as much of an issue in the upbeat tunes, but the ballads greatly expose this weakness however, and may turn some listeners away.  This obviously isn’t the same band that rocked the Chicago Region in 2011-2012 but there’s still some great potential here.  

Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Leslie DiNicola - Some Greener Yard

Leslie DiNicola - Some Greener Yard
2013, Leslie DiNicola

Leslie DiNicola is a New York City-based singer/songwriter who writes soul-baring lyrics with a universal perspective.  Over time, DiNicola has receiving comparisons to such divergent artists as Janis Joplin and Alison Krauss.  She’s worked with the likes of Ron Allaire (Keith Richards, Madonna, David Bowie, Shakira); Julian Coryell (Aimee Mann, Leonard Cohen, Jewel, Alanis Morisette) and others.  DiNicola’s latest EP, Some Greener Yard, is her second with Coryell at the helm, and features some of her most personal songwriting to date.

DiNicola launches with "Shaky Wire", an aptly titled lead considering DiNicola is skating a fine and uncomfortably navigated line between country and rock here. The music is adeptly crafted, but there's a bit too much vibrato and tonal uncertainty in DiNicola's voice for this to be convincing. The vocals are much more stable on "Give Me Away", a middle of the road country/pop number full of melancholy. "Stay" shows more energy and a memorable chorus, but the vocal issues noted in the opening track return as DiNicola moves into her upper register. "Weight" tries to be a heart breaker, exploring the self-exploration following heartbreaking in reciprocal loops. The melody is pleasant enough, but the musical recidivism is tiring. DiNicola closes out with a meandering ballad that pales at its own energy and pacing.

Leslie DiNicola displays an affable voice with manageable weaknesses on Some Greener Yard. Unfortunately she tends to choose slow, languorous ballads that highlight the weaknesses rather than material more appropriate to her sound. The EP is fraught with slow, low energy moments that just don't do DiNicola justice.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)

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