All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

War Poets - Searching For The American Dream

War Poets – Searching for the American Dream
2015, War Poets

Minnesota rockers War Poets have been busy in the last year.  Their most recent release, Searching for the American Dream, is the third in a cycle of three EPs the band has released in the past nine months.  The cycle is a series of rock and roll meditations on issues faced in modern American, as seen through the politically jaded eyes of the Occupy movement.  Searching for the American Dream is the cycle’s culmination, referencing issues of incarceration; income inequality; respect for prostitutes; and revolution.

The EP opens with “Day Dream”, a compact little rocker with smooth edges.  The song is mildly catchy and will appeal to fans of classic rock.  The lyrical content is awkward but consistent with issues addressed in the television show American Crime.  “Shadows” is a clumsy humanistic take on redemption.  It’s a great listen musically, but the disconnect between sound and lyric may be tough to take.  “On My Own” is a classic rock biograph of a homeless man who experienced child abuse; ran away and grew up on his own.  The song is well written, and the sound references Pink Floyd or perhaps post-DeYoung Styx.

“Sarah” is a song of affection for a prostitute that looks to remove the stigma of the world’s oldest profession.  It also works as an atypical love song if you’re not listening to the words too closely.  “Pay The Piper” is all about income inequality and revolution.  This is perhaps the standout track on the EP; featuring a tremendously catchy arrangement.  Searching for the American Dream winds down with “Hey There”, a middling rocker about the pursuit of happiness and love.

War Poets are musically competent on Searching for the American Dream.  The band is musically in sync and wears their progressive social management views on their collective sleeve.  The message, whatever you might think of it, is ineptly delivered more often than not.  This is a mixed bag that will have some regional appeal but just doesn’t have enough universal appeal to break big.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at  Purchase Searching for the American Dream from Amazon or iTunes.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Video: White Like Fire - You Gave Up On Me

Pittsburgh rockers White Like Fire have a new album, Wait The Night Out, dropping on April 21, 2015.  The first single from the album, "You Gave Up On Me", is an impressive introduction to the band that has the potential to launch them into a higher musical orbit.  Check out the video today, a great morsel to start off the week.

Learn more at

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Love and Music

Music is a generous suitor.  There’s always something new and interesting to catch your ear.  The concept of falling in love is a fair parallel for finding new music that moves you.  “Love” can mean so many things of course.  You can fall madly in love someone, or love them like a brother or sister; or love them in a new age/agape sense that many claim but few understand.  Our attractions to music can be very similar in their disparate sensibilities and styles.  Sometimes you need something to rock you; others you need something to soothe you.  Sometimes you just want to think or feel; and sometimes you want none of these.  The common element is that you find something that touches you on one level or another.  It might be a tryst, or it might become a lifelong love; but music rarely leaves you unscathed.

Just like any relationship, the connection between artist and fan must be maintained.  The artist keeps up their side through new material, but also through their social and personal connections with their fan base.  Some relationships start strong and fade over time; some start slow but grow over time.  I am perhaps talking in circles here, but these concepts apply to two albums I want to talk about today.
The first is from The Grace Stumberg Band, a Buffalo-based act fronted by the indomitable Grace Stumberg.  Stumberg is a diminutive singer with a huge voice, in the vein of Grace Potter.  Over her first two albums, 2011’s To Whom It May Concern, and 2012’s Affect, Stumberg has shown off a powerful voice and a strong songwriting sensibility.  She has an ability to light up a room with that voice.  I was understandable excited upon hearing that Stumberg would be releasing a live album in 2015.  Live At The Studio Café (Popadelic Records) is a fair representation of Stumberg’s live set a fact that is both encouraging and disappointing at times.  The album is encouraging because it gives an accurate representation of her impressive sound, and the material here is among her best.  At the same time, the energy level on the album perhaps leaves something to be desired.  Stumberg is very much engaged with her audience, and the band backs her 100%, but the album doesn’t do her live presence justice. 

At the same time, another Buffalo-based band, Bryan Johnson and Family is coming into their own.  The band released a self-titled demo back in 2011 to positive reviews.  The songwriting showed promise and the sound was dynamic, but the production wasn’t quite where the band wanted it to be.  Bryan Johnson and Family return in 2015 with Cool Your Jets (Admirable Trait Records), a delicious five song EP full of a rock and roll ethic and a wonderfully danceable sound.  The sound is much more polished this time around, and Johnson’s lead vocals and guitar work lead a tight and dynamic quartet with serious chops.  There’s a garage/surf/rock ethic here that’s primitive in nature, but this is overlaid with a polished musical veneer that is impossible to ignore.  Highlights include the title track, “Cerulean Eyes” and “Dead Fox”.  

Both bands are great representatives of the Buffalo original music scene, and both have the potential to rise above it.  Stumberg’s sound might be a little too comfortable to break big, but the talent is there.  Bryan Johnson and Family are still honing and developing their sound, but the pop sensibility and DIY/alternative sound they are cultivating speak of big things down the road.

Stumberg’s Live at the Studio Café is a solid 3 stars out of 5.  You can learn more about Stumberg at In the mean time, check out this live rendition of "Root Beer Fairy".

Bryan Johnson and Family’s Cool Your Jets clocks in at 3.5 stars out of 5, but it has some definite 4 star moments.  Learn more at  
For now, here's a little live footage to wet your whistle.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fallin' for Western New York/Exports

For those of you who have never been here before, let me tell you a bit about the Buffalo area.  To begin with, Buffalo stands at the gates to the rust belt.  It was a major manufacturing and port town for the Great Lakes at one time, standing at the Eastern Edge of Lake Erie and at the Southwestern corner of Lake Ontario.  The terminus of the Erie Canal can be found here, although no one seems to be quite sure where as various communities each lay their own claims.  It is a tremendous city for music and art, although these things are often well hidden from the national eye.  What we are most known for, perhaps, are copious amounts of lake effect snow and chicken wings (also known as Buffalo wings). 

The snow is a given, but that isn’t the whole story.  If you live in Buffalo or the towns north of it, snow isn’t a huge problem.   Our exposure isn’t much different, in general than anyone else living in New York State during winter.  It’s the towns and suburbs south of Buffalo that get walloped repeatedly in winter, at least until Lake Erie freezes over.

What perhaps gets lost in all of this is that the people of Buffalo are good people.  It’s a friendly place, and people here band together in times of adversity.  That’s not to say we’re perfect.  Buffalo has one of the lowest per-capita incomes in New York State, and has the distinction of being one of the most segregated cities in America.   What we haven’t seen here is the sort of flat-out racial strife and division that has been on display elsewhere.

Buffalo creates an environment for its citizens that are full of personal opportunity.  Music, arts, politics, professional sports and some wonderful regional food choices all come together to make Buffalo a unique place to live and grow.  For a long time, the youth of Buffalo mostly left to seek their fortunes elsewhere, but now the tide is turning.  Young people are beginning to flock here because of renewed efforts to revitalize the region.  Tomorrow appears to be set to be much brighter than today.

Speaking of Buffalo area youth who left the area to find their fortunes, today’s artist is a Buffalo native who has gone on to bigger and better things in New York City.  Jeneen Terrana is a singer/songwriter based in Queens with a golden voice and a heart to match.  I had the pleasure of catching her live show a few summers back at a Relay for Life event in Geneva, NY.  It was a light crowd in a small town, but Terrana held sway on stage.  Her rendition of “O Sole Mio” was so stunning that the other artists who had played that night all came out from behind the stage to watch and listen.  It was a moment.

Terrana has been busy the last several years, releasing several albums as well as hosting a cooking show, but something special has been going on with her music of late.  Terrana’s talent as a songwriter has been blossoming, and has become as formidable as her vocal talents.  Her latest EP, Fallin’ is a brief but substantial gem, a cornerstone in her development as an artist.  The EP opens with “Calling My Bluff”, a brilliant little vignette written from the precipice of love.  The song shows off Terrana’s vocal quality and color, as well as distinctive pop sensibility and polish.  This is an intelligent pop ballad with a mid-tempo gush you simply cannot ignore.  “Fallin’” is a heartfelt ballad that’s sweet but not saccharine.  There’s a distinctive poetry here that manages to be artistic yet honest, and Terrana brings it all from the heart. 

“No One Can Hurt You” is solid, a song of succor written with an attention to emotional detail that is stunning.  The maturity that shows through here is compelling.  “Fast Lane (On Your Way)” doubles down on this oeuvre, while proving Terrana’s penchant for catching melodies and vibrant pop songwriting.  Fallin’ closes out with a live version of Terrana’s “Bloody Valentine” recorded at The Palladium.  This is ear candy/filler for close fans, but it’s a solid close that gives you a sense of how Terrana’s sound carries in a live environment.

Fallin’ is too brief, but gives forth brilliant musical light while it shines.  I’ve been aware of Jeneen Terrana for a number of years now and always had great respect for her work, but Fallin’ definitively highlights an artist who has taken her game to another level.  Give it 5 stars.

Learn more at  In the mean time, wet your whistle with a listen to "Fallin'" live.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fear, Comfort and Dirty Smile(s)

It’s a scary world; A world full of people who are willing to castigate you for what you believe, or worse.  It doesn’t really matter what side of the political, religious or philosophical spectrum you’re on.  We in the United States live in a country started on the basis of freedom.  Puritans left Holland/England seeking freedom to believe in and worship God in the fashion they wished rather than in the manner prescribed by King James.  The founders of the United States wrote the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights to specifically codify U.S. objections to rule by kings, tyrants and despots. 

Now we live in a nation where our leaders act counter to the interests of the people.  Special interests and corporations write our laws.  If you speak out against the way things are; against the government, you need to be concerned about who will start going through your email.  If you have religious beliefs, you need to be concerned about who might want to kill you.  It’s a scary world.

So reminiscence and memory become an escape, and music is one of the keenest reminders.  It’s one of the reasons that cover bands are so popular on Friday and Saturday nights.  It’s the comfort of music you know from a band that delivers it in relatively faithful versions.  The next step beyond that is a band that writes original music that is wholly from another era.  That brings us today’s band, Dirty Smile. 

Dirty Smile is a Buffalo, NY band comprised of Megan Brown, Erik Eimiller, Jesse Raderman, Mike Suda and Gus Walters.  The band is as tight as a wire and plays a delicious blend of pop, rock and soul.  Elements of Fleetwood Mac and the early, Led Zeppelin-like sound of Rush abound on the band’s debut EP, Love Songs for the Damned: Volume I.  Megan Brown is an absolute revelation on the mic, belting out vocals reminiscent of Grace Slick and occasionally even Geddy Lee.  Her voice is beautiful and electric with a rough edge and smooth side: the complete package.  The rest of the band matches her step for step with a dynamic sound with deep 1970s and 1980s roots. 

“Don’t Lie To Me” is the lead track, and could fit in on the regular play list of any AOR station in the country.  The song also has a freshness that makes it ear candy for today, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear this on pop radio or on a movie soundtrack somewhere.  The other big standout track here is “Mona Lisa”, which is really performed in two parts.  The backside of “The Vow” is an acapella take by Brown on the Nat King Cole classic, and becomes a transition into Dirty Smile’s original song of the same name.  Brown shines on both, showing a supple, classic vocal style on the former, while diving into a soulful pop/rock sound on the latter.  Other songs of note include “Siren” and “Insanely Ever After”.

Love Songs for the Damned: Volume I was mixed and mastered by Canadian Indie legend Ron Hawkins (Lowest of the Low, Do Good Assassins), and the finished product is edgy, but ultimately as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  It’s a terrific introduction for a rust belt band with dreams and aspirations, as well as a sound that should carry them far beyond their great lakes home.

Learn more at  

Check out the official video for the band's song "Siren" below!