All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Gravel Project - The Gravel Project

The Gravel Project – The Gravel Project
2014, The Gravel Project

Andrew Gravel spent a lot of time figuring out what he already knew deep in his heart: music had to be a major part of his life.  A top-notch blues rock guitarist, Gravel has gigged with bands in the Amherst/Northampton and Boston scenes.  He has also toured and gigged his way through clubs in London and Australia.  Already a guitarist with Martha’s Vineyard favorites Entrain, Gravel branched out into his own band in 2010.  The Gravel Project featured Gravel’s vocals and powerhouse guitar work, and a highly original blend of blues, rock, soul and R&B.  2014 marks the release of The Gravel Project’s first full-length studio album, The Gravel Project.

The Gravel Project opens with an unrepentant mix of disco, funk and rock and roll on "When I Get Back Home". It's all here, with panache to spare, and you'd damn well better have your dancing shoes on. Guitar riffs galore dot "Blues For L.A.", a musical tour de force that's relentless and irresistible. The Gravel Project pulls back a bit for the contemplative and languorous "Jam Today", a carpe diem tune for the laid back crowd.  "Lost" and "Dollar Bill" seem to fall into a comfortable jam mode, although the latter lets loose some Stax style horn work that's worth the price of admission on its own.

"In The Moonlight" has a distinctive country feel, but doesn't cede the jam sensibilities you've come to expect from The Gravel Project. The song is a bit too complex to cross over to country radio, but it is a congenial enough sound to catch on with country fans. "Close To Me" finds the band moving back toward a 1970's blend of rock and soul. This one has a gentle groove that will sweep you up and carry you along.  "Not The One" may be destined to be the breakout track on the album. The song is a bit too long for commercial radio, clocking in at 4:59, but has a killer hook, brilliant Popicana sensibilities and a memorable chorus.   Give this song the right radio edit and you'll be hearing it everywhere this summer.

The Gravel Project begins to wind down with the groovy, slow jam vibe of "Soul Now". This easy vibe carries over into the gentle island sway of "Your Song". But just when you think you're headed for a soft landing, The Gravel Project launches into a vibrant cover of "New Speedway Boogie" (The Grateful Dead). The band's pop sensibilities shine through here, and are driven to new heights with wicked guitar work that smacks of George Thorogood in his prime.

Andrew Gravel is a force to be reckoned with, and he has two extremely talented wingmen in Brad Barrett (bass/slide guitar) and Dave Fox (drums).  The Gravel Project is an eye opening, ear-pleasing experience.  It’s true that the trio gets a little too bogged down in the free-form jam configurations, but their pop sense and exquisite musical timing make it all work.  This is a working band with the potential to build a rabid following.  Add in an occasional dose of musical economy and they’ll be pumping out chart toppers for years.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ashley Davis - Night Travels

Ashley Davis – Night Travels
2014, Ashley Davis

Ashley Davis is both prospector and pioneer.  Born in the Kansas plains, her musical indoctrination was hued by the sounds and styles of country music, with dashes of Appalachian folk added in for spice.  As a musician she has tended to pursue both styles’ musical progenitor, Celtic music.  With a well-worn passport that’s scene Ireland and Scotland many times over, Davis has built a reputation in the Celtic music community.  Her collaboration with Moya Brennan, Eileen Ivers, The Chieftains, John Doyle and Cormac De Barra reflect the quality of both Davis’ songwriting and musicianship, as well as her willingness to wear away stylistic boundaries and explore new ground.  On May 13, 2014, Davis will release her fourth album, Night Travels, with the same adventuresome spirit that has marked her previous works.

Davis opens Night Travels with “His Bride I’ll Be”, a beautiful and intricately simple arrangement.  Ashley Davis presents with a warm and polished vocal sound that’s as deep as night and guest vocalist Sara Watkins is a pleasant contrast with her young and wilder vocal tone.  This is a gorgeous pairing, and a stunning way to start an album.  “I Follow You” has a lulling feel, pairing Davis’ gorgeous voice with a meticulously smooth arrangement.  The rolling feel of the song gives the impression of the small waves of a windless shoreline.  Davis pairs with John Doyle to interpret the classic ballad “Barbara Allen”, and together they bring the heartbreaking tale of love lost to life.  The approach her is understated yet emotive, and brings the power of the song to new levels.  “Night Travels” is very smooth with great energy, but perhaps doesn’t impress as much as you might expect from a title track.

“The Blackest Crow” is a mournful love song that explores parting and the impending heartbreak in articulate, evocative poetry.  The melody is an equally adept partner here, creating a wash of love, trepidation and sadness that you can’t avoid being swept up in.  “With You Tonight” features the violin talents of Eileen Ivers, who’s dancing violin is the perfect counterpart to Davis’ lyric vocals.  “In The Blue” is a pretty thought somewhat nondescript waltz.  Moya Brennan shares vocals with Davis on “Beside You Near” in a performance that almost sounds like mother and daughter.  Brennan’s vibrato-laden voice gives the impression of age and wisdom against the smooth careful presentation that Davis brings. 

Davis gets upbeat on “Alone With Me”, an ear-pleasing love song with great energy that’s among the best offerings on the album.  “Horses” takes on a more theatrical feel; a soliloquy on trust and love lost and the consequences that follow.  Davis closes out with “Dreams Will Come”, a sweet but somehow labored sounding closer that does little to hurt the overall impression Davis has made, but still is perhaps not the best closing thought. 

Ashley Davis mines the genres of folk, American, Country and Celtic music on Night Travels.  As with mining, every vein is different, and there is the occasional miss, but Night Travels taken as a whole is a thing of beauty.  Davis’ voice is warm and beautiful and thoroughly inviting, and the arrangements on Night Travels are full of an understated beauty.  The list of impressive guests adds to the diverse sound and styles of the album, and Davis has created a song cycle you’ll be happy to visit again and again.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Cocksure Lads - Mad Lad Plan

The Cocksure Lads - Mad Lad Plan
2014, The Cocksure Lads

Somewhere between myth and music lies the sordid tale of The Cocksure Lads.  The Cocksure Lads inhabited the same space in time as The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits and Gerry and The Pacemakers, pumping out hits on BBC Radio One, but have somehow been forgotten by history.  Or, they are the creation of Moxy Fruvous alums Murray Foster and Mike Ford.  Purveyors of the latter theory suggest that Foster and Ford began writing songs in the 1960’s Brit-Pop style back in the mid-1990 and have continued off and on ever since.  By 2010 they had over 25 Lads songs, and decided to commit them to bits and bytes.  A year later they decided to make a video, but came away the conviction that there was a larger story to be told about The Cocksure Lads, and hence a movie was born.  Shooting on the film begins in 2014, but in the meantime, The Cocksure Lads are back with a brilliant collection of 13 songs entitled Mad Lad Plan.

The Lads kick things off with the bouncy 60's pop sound of "In London Town". You'll be humming this one for days or at least until you hear the Beatles-esque follow-up track "Mr. Man". The Cocksure Lads take on the major labels here in a bit of joyous disbelief. The joyous/campy spirit continues on "They All Wanted Me Back", with a melody that Paul McCartney would envy. Expect to move your feet even if you don't want to.

"Yes I Do" is the sort of swaying, melodic love song that recalls 1960's high school dances, and transitions into the melodic brilliance and happy outlook of "Not Today".  You won't be able to keep yourself from swaying to this tune, which might have knocked The Beatles off the charts if it were released in 1964.   "Say Uncle (Garant Said)" is a frenetic rocker detailing advice from a friend/colleague that runs from sage to ridiculous, all while speeding like a freight train hopped up on delicious guitar licks. Te narrative here is fun; you'll be swept along. The Cocksure Lads change things up with the swaying ballad "When You Walk", a somehow sad sounding yet sugary love song that will get stuck in your grille. "Paddington Way" has a dark musical timbre, but still manages to maintain a distinct pop sense with a chorus that won't let you go.

One of the quiet gems of the album is "The Surprising Thing". The Lads never quite get around to telling you what it is, but one can imagine it might be falling in love. This is pure Brit Pop gold. "Easy Peasy" has a more elemental rock and roll feel, but shares the same universally approachable motif. Sit still if you can, because this song is going to rock you. "Requiem For A Lad (featuring The Woosleywumps)" is a contemplative swayer where the melody line is whistled.  The simple arrangement and melody are memorable, and have an almost haunting quality.

The Cocksure Lads pay tribute to their stories homeland in "England My England", a schmaltzy yet moving ode of fealty full of quiet nationalistic pride. The Lads close with the light hearted ballad "Our Love Is Strong", a song guaranteed to have you dancing around and singing along. The lyrics are campy and fun, if a bit off the beaten path of songs of this sort. Nevertheless, you won’t be able to get the song out of your head.

Whichever story you might believe about The Cocksure Lads, one thing is for certain:  The Lads rock play vibrant 1960’s rock and roll with a distinct musicality that stands up against the best of that era.  Mad Lad Plan is an utter musical joy that will have you coming back again and again; a true Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Also! Be sure to check out the first video from the new album: "Mr. Man".

2Cellos - Thunderstruck (AC/DC cover)

I am not even quite sure if this is legal, but it certainly is fun...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Juliane Jones - The Space Between The Telephone Lines

Juliane Jones – The Space Between The Telephone Lines
2014, Juliane Jones

Very often, the key to standing out in the Indie music world is the presence of one distinguishing quality.  It can be a specific tone of voice, or a signature guitar style, or any one of a number of unique traits.  For New York-based singer/songwriter Juliane Jones it could be a number of things.  It could be her bilingual approach to songwriting (Mandarin Chinese and English), here gentle folk/pop style, her infectious hooks, or a voice that haunts.  Jones has lived in various places around the world, and speaks fluent French and Mandarin (in addition to English).  Her inspiration is that of an ethnomusicologist, understanding and binding cultures through music.  Her debut album, The Space Between The Telephone Lines, reflects on the space between us where distinctions grey and fade, and blends both sound and meaning into something new.

The Mandarin/English split makes the album different to interpret for meaning, yet the Jones gives enough through the English language lyrics and through her expressive vocal style for understanding.  “Free This Mind” opens the set with an infectious folk/pop arrangement.  What’s most impressive, perhaps, is Jones’ ability to switch back and forth between two disparate sounding languages without affecting the lyric or stylistic quality of the song.  “Rhythm and Blues” spends little time in English, focusing on a repetitive chorus with a great hook.  “When You Sleep” is a song of longing and heartbreak set to a gentle pop swing.  Jones is entirely convincing as she ruminates on love lost.

“Just A Feeling” fits into a similar groove, but has a more nebulous feel to it.  Jones opens with a verse in Mandarin, and then proceeds with alternating lines, almost like a language primer set to music.  “Wooden Horse” finds Jones venturing into a highly marketable gentle pop sound.  While the mix of languages is perhaps anathema to American commercial radio, the potential for this song as an international hit is very real.  “Heavy Things” stays in the same musical territory, driven by the rhythm of a bouncy piano line.  The prospective love song is sweetness and light, focused on things that matter rather than the material considerations that often weigh relationships down. “Hey Shadow” is a song focused on kicking negativity to the curb.  There’s a cuteness to the song that’s almost overwhelming, but Jones keeps it from becoming an ‘ear sore’.

Jones jumps into “The Bicycle Song”, a parable about love with a bouncy chorus that will get stuck in your head.  This is one of the most appealing songs on the album with real pop radio potential.  “Cotton Candy” plays well in spite of the young sounding lyrics, playing to an almost J-Pop sensibility.  “Jack” is a bit more sophisticated, with a dark sound and a light swing to the arrangement that intrigues.  It’s a variation on “Hit The Road Jack” that’s musically appealing.  Jones closes things out with “Water”, a dreamy pop ballad full of acoustic guitar and the faint echoes of reverb.  

Juliane Jones shows an expressive talent on The Space Between The Telephone Lines, as well as an ability to cross social and cultural divides.  Jones’ ability to mix languages so seamlessly while maintaining a continuity of sound is particularly impressive.  The heavy reliance on Mandarin will limit her scope with American audiences, but Jones may be playing to a much wider market on the international stage one day.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Carry Illinois - Siren [EP]

Carry Illinois – Siren [EP]
2014, Carry Illinois

Austin folk rockers Carry Illinois take Americana back to its roots on their debut EP Siren.  Singer/songwriter Lizzy Lehman is a folksinger at heart, carving her songs from the same emotional and musical bedrock as artists such as Carole King, Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell and Shawn Colvin, to name a few.  Carry Illinois is Lehman (vocals/guitar); Nick Droz (bass); Rudy Villareal (drums); and Darwin Smith (guitar).  Together, Carry Illinois take Lizzy Lehman’s folk songs and turn them into alt-rock/Americana creations with higher musical pretensions, all while maintaining Lehman’s adroit sense of place in the world.

Siren opens with "Weakest Limb", a method rocker with an incessant whine and minimalist aspirations. What is meant, perhaps, as a mea culpa becomes a chant like affair. "Siren" is built upon a similar precipice, driven by an anachronistic lead vocal and sparse instrumentation occasionally beefed up by an electronic rhythm.  "Jackson Square" is a dream-fuzz treatise on disillusionment and broken dreams. This is hardcore melancholy, but has its own quiet beauty. Carry Illinois gets vocal effects happy on "Nothing To Despise", a sonic self-immolation that's nearly painful to hear. Carry Illinois closes with the Appalachian influenced "A Good Farewell", a terminally melancholy affair that struggles to escape the weight of the vocal line. 

Sometimes a dish made with a mass of sweet ingredients still winds up sour.  That’s the net outcome for Siren, which has great aspirations and great talent behind, but Carry Illinois has yet to find cohesion in the studio.  Art is a fine aspiration, but the nuts and bolts need to be attended to.  There are some great moments here, especially “Jackson Square”, but Carry Illinois is still exploring who they are as an outfit, and all of the pieces don’t fit squarely together yet.  That will come in time, and I would expect bigger and better things out of the band the next time around.

Rating:  2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nettie Rose - People I Know

Nettie Rose – People I Know
2013, Nettie Rose

You might say that Santa Monica native Nettie Rose has music in her blood.  She is the granddaughter of Alan Freed, the DJ who coined the phrase “rock-n-roll”.  Her father is a music publisher and her mother is a rock archivist.  Nettie Rose grew up with the music business as a second nature to her, and fell in love with some of the more esoteric songwriters of the past 30 years.  Honing her craft in a boarding school band, and later on her own, Nettie Rose is on the path to becoming one of the songwriters she so idolized as a child.  Her debut album, People I Know, is a series of vignettes on people real and imagined from all across the spectrum. 

The grasp of humanity Rose shows on People I Know is striking in one so young.  Granted, she falls into cliché on occasion where experience has yet to open doors for her, but even here Rose puts a human face on the caricature and brings the character to life. All of this is delivered in an ever-evolving mélange of rock, country, folk and blues that occasionally ventures in European styles.  Nettie Rose’s voice is utilitarian and striking; not pretty but perfectly honed for the songs she writes.  She sets off on the right foot with “Ride Ride Ride”, a classic-style story song that plays to Rose’s strengths of lyrical and musical constructs.  “For My Young Lord Drake” has a plaintive, mesmerizing inertia.  It’s one of the crown jewels of the album, and Nettie Rose delivers it with a no-nonsense style that works very well. 

“Last Chance Saloon” shows Rose’s ability as a composer as she crafts a wondrous atmosphere around a simple story song.  The high point of the affair comes on “The Puppet Cabaret”.  Rose is entirely in her element vocally, and you will walk away humming/singing this to yourself.  “Corduroy Marina” wins the award for the best use of the world “misanthropic” in a popular tune.  There’s an almost novelty-like feel to the lyrics here, but Rose’s straight-forward songwriting makes this feel like art rather than novelty.  Nettie Rose closes with a double track.  “Mean Manblues” is a solid closing number, and is followed by an untitled hidden track.  This last is a gem, although Rose almost seems to run out of air on a couple of the longer vocal lines.

Nettie Rose delves into the singer/songwriter tradition with aplomb on People I Know.  Her effort is not wasted, although it’s clear that Rose is still finding her niche.  The album is a very strong first effort.  With continued development of her craft, Nettie Rose is on the path to one day be the sort of singer/songwriter that other burgeoning artists hope to be like.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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