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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Foam Ropes - Foam Ropes

Foam Ropes – Foam Ropes
2015, 7 Trick Pony Records

Derek Nicoletto, the former front man of Telling On Trixie, stood at a crossroads in his life: he walked away from his lifelong pursuit of music to pursue acting through an exclusive theater program.  Rather than this becoming a new path, the breaking down and building up of the stage has led Nicoletto back to music with a new fervor and a new understanding of self as a creative force.  Nicoletto returns this week under the name of Foam Ropes, with a self-titled album made up of smooth rock and pop.

Foam Ropes opens with “Truth In Fables”, a tuneful self-exploration informed by the human tendency to hide the truth in our own personal narratives.  It’s a compelling mea culpa, of sorts, full of a dramatic flair and a gentle yet persistent guitar-driven arrangement.  “Potion Me Well” has an edgier, more muscular guitar sound that would be at home on old-school AOR stations.  Think a cross between Canadian rocker Kim Mitchell and Billy Squier.  Foam Ropes goes for a pop inflection on “Telescope”, a wordy yet accessible paean to fear and inertia.  This is a radio-ready gem; upbeat and catchy yet melancholy all at the same time.

“On Celery Road” is a tasty little rocker that gets your feet moving with a bright in spite of the darkness sort of sound.  Nicoletto digs into the vocal here for all he is worth, and the performance is stunning.   The mood lightens on “You Make Loving Fun”, with Nicoletto exploring the natural high of love.  This is perhaps the weakest vocal on the album, but the heartfelt nature of the song makes it all good.  Even the easy sway of the guitar solo highlights the carefree nature of the moment.  Nicoletto explores the uncertainty of relationships on “Birches” in a dark and tempered pop rocker.  “Beauty Number Nine” is a dark rocker with a light message.  Foam Ropes creates a sound here that would be very much at home on Edge or Classic Rock radio formats.  “Bad Apples” hearkens back to 1960’s ballads, and is dappled with a wonderfully reverbed guitar sound.  This is among the best writing on the album.  Foam Ropes reprises “Telescope” to close out the album, showing the other side of inertia and fear; opportunity and hope. 

Derek Nicoletto has certainly grown as a songwriter since his time with Telling On Trixie.  There is more subtlety, nuance and range evident in the songs on Foam Ropes, and the band has a sound that is certainly marketable in this age of disheveled musical genres.  The songs on Foam Ropes could find their respective ways to various radio formats as well as to a number of licensing opportunities.  From the listener’s standpoint, Foam Ropes never stands still.  There is a constant evolution of sound as the album progressives, and you will be pushed along with the rush.  This is a great start.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at www.foamropes.comFoam Ropes is available from Amazon and iTunes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bullyheart - Antigravity

Bullyheart – Antigravity
2014, Skim Milk Productions

Bullyheart is the outward expression of recording artist Holly Long’s rebel musical heart.  The Chicago born singer/songwriter took off for UCLA to study theater, but it was music that ultimately moved her.  Today, Long has built a reputation as an honest, earthy songwriter and performer.  Long finds a home for her voice, both as a singer and as a songwriter, with Bullyheart.  Long created a cycle of ten songs entitled Antigravity with the help of musical cohorts David Boucher and Kevin Harp, but the sound is ultimately from the heart of Holly Long.

Bullyheart gets started with "Antigravity", a catchy little rocker full of syncopated guitar and a strategically laid back vocal from front woman Holly Long. The juxtaposition between arrangement and vocals is memorable, and Long's voice sounds like a cross between a young Geddy Lee and  Linda Perry.  "Thin Air" has a much more laid back vibe that's melancholy and refined. "No Pleasing You" has a catchy feel, and is driven by a talk-sing narrative style. Long works this song for all it is worth, and you'll have a hard time keeping it out of your head.

"How Was I to Know" is a slickly produced song of regret. It's well written and performed, but the elemental lyrics would work better without the highly polished sonic veneer.  "Lost My Nerve" is a languorous bit of navel gazing poetry set to a crawling arrangement. The juxtaposition of Long's voice and the depressive arrangement works on one level, but this is a tough listen nonetheless. Bullyheart sets the ship aright with the manic "Panic Attack". The inclination to pogo dance to this one is understandable; at the very least you won't be able to keep your feet still. "The Pendulum" swing back into navel exercise with a molasses like arrangement that is a tough sell.

"Shaken" takes the upbeat path in an observational piece about another’s emotional state and world outlook.  This is actually well-written, both musically and lyrically.  The song gets off to a slow start, but the incessant chorus has its own inertia, and you’ll find yourself bobbing along.  “There Goes My Man” explores angst in a delightfully high tempo rocker. This is a brilliant tune that could be even bigger in sound, but it works very well as presented here.  Don’t even try to sit still.  Bullyheart pulls in the oars for “Stay”, an angst filled, repetitive dirge that features just a lingering, plaintive acoustic guitar and Holly Long’s dynamic voice.  It’s a chilling moment, both memorable and painful. 

Bullyheart takes listeners through several ups and downs on Antigravity.  The down tempo pieces can linger too long and become bogged down in emotional and musical angst, but Holly Long always manages to sound good in the process.  The upbeat tunes are where she shines, rocking out in an understated but still notable fashion.  Antigravity is the sort of album you’ll revisit again and again, whether for specific tracks or the whole experience.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at  You can purchase Bullyheart from Amazon or iTunes.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Michele McLaughlin - Undercurrent

Michele McLaughlin – Undercurrent
2015, Michele McLaughlin

Michele McLaughlin found her field of dreams, and it has 88 keys.

Drawn to the piano from a young age, McLaughlin was playing in front of school mates at the age of five and composing by the age of eight.  Blessed with a musical ear, McLaughlin inhaled melodies and breathed them in ebony and ivory.  McLaughlin briefly took piano lessons, but eschewed the structure of formal instruction.  For the most part, she taught herself by listening to and copying other composers.  Validation came in 2000, when after much pestering from her Mom; McLaughlin created a cassette of her music.  The feedback received from this experience led McLaughlin to set up her own home recording studio and get serious about making music for others to hear.  Fifteen albums on, and McLaughlin has become a powerhouse in the new age/instrumental world, with awards and/or acknowledgments including the Independent Music Awards Song of the Year; and Whisperings Solo Piano Radio Album of the Year.  McLaughlin’s latest effort, Undercurrent, is a powerful and moving cycle of 13 songs that demand your attention.

McLaughlin is a new age composer with a pop musician’s heart, writing in almost a singer/songwriter style.  It’s therefore not surprising to be occasionally reminded stylistically of pop recordings as you pass through Undercurrent.  The opening track, “11,000 Miles”, carries an air of Billy Joel in its straight ahead musicality.  It’s a pop anthem, unrestrained by subtlety but thoroughly enjoyable.  There’s more nuance to “Living in Awe”, which has an emotional, if not dramatic build.  The early trend on the album is not toward finesse, but almost to a power songwriting aesthetic.  Even the waterfall-like chorus of “Full of Love” carries this impetuosity, like a child seeing new wonders of the world for the first time. 

It isn’t until “The Space Between” where we catch glimpses of McLaughlin’s more pensive side.  As she moves into the second part of the song, however, McLaughlin’s muse storms back with a rush, pushing with an impatient insistence the story she has to tell.  She steps back for “Undercurrent”, but even here the quiet surface is deceptive, and the listener is soon caught up in her musical pull.  “Starstuff” makes no bones about its push, but McLaughlin seems to draw down the intensity on “Never Give Up”.  There’s a singular beauty to this piece, which reflects in grace and subtlety the depth of emotion it represents.  A sort of quietude pervades “Evolution”.  You might expect that this song would follow its own title and evolve into something louder or grander, and to a degree it does, but it is a gradual slide up the scale that shows tremendous finesse. 

“On My Own” showcases McLaughlin at her very best, with melody, finesse and lyric grace fully integrated.  This transitions into “Melody in Motion”; starting as a plaintive waltz but becomes an aggressively melodic piece of musical prose.  McLaughlin’s cascading piano style is imperative and impulsive and utterly without reserve.  A sonic code arrives with “Stepping Stones”, a pensive-yet-spritely meditation that’s pretty and refined.  McLaughlin closes out with “Synesthesia”, a quietly impatient number that rolls over and over itself without a sense of where it’s going until it arrives.

Michele McLaughlin impresses with “Undercurrents”.  Her compositional style is impetuous, inpatient and often lacks a sense of subtlety, but it is also ultimately inspired.  McLaughlin isn't afraid to be herself.  She wears her heart on her sleeve and she touches listeners with her musical honesty.  It might not be for everyone, but if you get it then you’ll find something to like here.

Rating:   4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at  Purchase Undercurrents via Amazon or iTunes, or via McLaughlin's Web Store.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blade of Grass - She Was [EP]

Blade of Grass – She Was [EP]
2014, Blade of Grass

Blade of Grass is a minimalist, post-rock electronic duo from Los Angeles.  Josh James and Mike Hurst combine electro, rock, surf and world music influences to craft simplistic yet intriguing arrangements that serve as a bed for Josh’s vocal melodies.  The band released two singles as a two-song EP in the summer of 2014 entitled “She Was”.  While the EP doesn’t give a clear sense of the duo’s musical direction, it does serve as an intriguing introduction.

Blade Of Grass kicks things off with “She Was”, a droning post-pop ode to love lost.  This one is likely a love/hate proposition for listeners.  Josh James sings with a droning, nasal quality that affects the low-speed angst of remembered heartache, while a minimalist electronic arrangement counts the slow passing of time.  This will either connect or it won’t, but it is well and artfully done.  “Who You Gonna Run To” is likely to have more general appeal, with its mellow vibe and pure vocal line.  The simple arrangement is appealing, with a more readily apparent musicality than the previous track.  James’ voice is more appealing here as well, presented with a softer edge.

Blade of Grass isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but there’s a unique muse at work here.  She Was is an intriguing introduction to a duo with a lot, perhaps, to say, but whatever they say is going to have their own distinctive musical pizzazz.  I can’t guarantee you will like everything you hear, but there’s enough artistic juice here that you’re bound to respect even that which you do not find a feel for.  

This one is a keeper.

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

She Was is available from Amazon or iTunes.

Light Over There - Light Over There

Light Over There – Light Over There
2015, Light Over There

The ubiquitous nature of the internet has allowed for artists who might never otherwise meet to connect and make some great art.  Perhaps none of those stories is as intriguing as the one behind Light Over There.  Rex Haberman is a musical veteran, with two solo albums, a duo album a series of EPs with socially progressive rockers War Poets.  Aileen Henderson is an 18 year old resident of Galway, Ireland.  Haberman Aileen Henderson met via Twitter in 2014, and still have never met face to face. Nevertheless, they have begun a writing and recording partnership that is bound to catch your ear.  The duo, with the help of a handful of Nashville musicians, recently released their debut EP, Light Over There

Light Over There kicks off with “Where Memories Live”, a solid Americana rocker with a good voice and the wonderfully enigmatic lead vocals of Aileen Henderson.  The song tackles the subject of dementia and the devastating impact it has on families.  In spite of heaviness of the subject, there’s a lightness and energy to the guitar-driven arrangement that reflects love for the passive protagonist.  This energy carries over to “She Cries To You”.  The juxtaposition of Henderson’s reserved yet dynamic voice and the up-beat rock arrangement is reminiscent of some of the better work of the Cowboy Junkies.  You’ll have a hard time shaking this song; it will follow you around for a few days, popping into you head at the most random moments.

“I Ain’t That Bad” is a low-key duet between Haberman and Henderson that’s well meant but perhaps doesn’t work quite as well as expected.  The arrangement has a country-ish Gin Blossoms feel, but there’s little vocal chemistry between Haberman and Henderson, and the gap is something of a distraction.  “Solitude, Gratitude” is another solid, low-key rocker, but Henderson’s vocal energy just isn’t this one.  Her voice is pleasant enough here, there’s just no oomph in the performance this time around.  Light Over There closes out with “Mountain Song”, by far the standout track on the EP.  It’s catchy, yet understated, and makes a brilliant showcase for Aileen Henderson’s voice.   Everything clicks here.

Light Over There chose their name as a reflection of the wonder of two musical kindred spirits finding one another across the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean (or the internet).  That inspiration is apparent on Light Over There more often than not.  The disconnect of recording in different places at different times does show up at times, but the band generally does a very good job of bringing an organic feel to the songs.  It will be interesting to see how the project progresses over time; working face to face will likely help Haberman and Henderson find the deeper roots that are apparent from the music on their promising debut.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Light Over There from the band’s Facebook page.  Light Over There is available via Amazon or iTunes.