Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: True Nature - You Shouldn't Have to Shout So Loud EP

The best types of music are always those that are wise enough to give praise and acknowledgement to their influences, honoring them openly while injecting a new dose of creativity and energy, taking those sounds to a whole new place. True Nature founder and front man Lou Barlow understands this and on the band’s latest EP, You Shouldn’t Have to Shout So Loud, takes great pains to honor his predecessors while crafting music that is wholly his.

Barlow grew up in a home that celebrated the works of Bach as readily as they did Earth, Wind, and Fire and Led Zeppelin. The artist was drawn to the drums and, with urging from his parents, also took up the guitar, eventually heading off to college and landing at New York University, further developing his skills while majoring in theory and composition. Those New York experiences also opened up the artist to tons of vibrant influences, eventually connecting him with The Spin Doctors’ drummer, Aaron Comess, who would go on to produce True Nature’s celebrated debut EP, Feels Like Centuries.
Now, True Nature is back and on You Shouldn’t Have to Shout So Loud, Barlow and his new stable of musicians, guitarist Steve Dawson, drummer Devin Collins, and depending on the show, either Randy Runyon or Matt Basile on bass, deliver five songs teeming with universally spiritual lyrics and solid modern rock sounds that hint draw from the same well as U2, The Foo Fighters, and Pearl Jam.

The album opens up with the muscled rock of the title track, Barlow and company painting with a layered intensity of electric guitar and pounding drums. There all hits of all the aforementioned influences here but True Nature makes the sound all their own, leaning on Barlow’s versatile vocals for additional help.
“Only Love” follows hard after, electric guitar and thumping percussion building into deeper layers, Dawson conjuring the Edge and Barlow bringing his best Bono to the party. It’s a driving, passionate track that works well while “One Soul” tones things down, a bit of acoustic guitar leading the quiet lyric ahead.

But it’s “My Freedom Lies Behind the Sun” that is the real star here. From its moody, bluesy intro, complete with tom-tom drums and a gritty tone to the fully realized outbreak of sound as it segues into the full song, it’s the brightest highlight here. Barlow’s vocals are insistent and nuanced, his wails reminiscent of Eddie Vedder at his best while drummer Collins hammers on the skins, setting the tone for Dawson’s vibrant guitar fills. It’s simply a great rock song and that’s the best compliment one could pay here.
Not to be outdone, however, album closer “New Father” is no slouch. Beginning with a plodding drum line and a sparsely decorated soundscape, the track builds itself slowly, Barlow’s vocals gaining strength, hitting a smooth groove at the chorus line undergirded by bright guitar. And from there it’s on, Barlow chewing off lyrics with aplomb and letting his band show their stuff, moody elements floating here and there and closing the EP out on a strong and engaging note.

True Nature is a product of its influences, drawing inspiration from artists far and wide. But Lou Barlow and company work hard to take those influences and channel them into their own sound, crafting music that is truly theirs and on this latest EP, they do just that. An engaging fit for fans of those influences or for those simply looking for some great, insightful rock and roll, You Shouldn’t Have to Shout So Loud is a strong release from an exciting, up and coming band.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Twae Left Feet - "Guess Into Frank's Reel" Single

Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that lead to great things. Such was the case in 2012 when Galen Fraser and Scott Burns, after a late night St. Andrew's Day celebration of whiskey and song, decided to form the band simply known as Twae Left Feet. The Boston-based duo have spent the better part of a year refining their traditional Celtic sound, honing a mixture of classic Irish and Scottish tunes infused with their own bit of flair. While in the process of working on their first full-length album, the band can be found just about every week playing somewhere in the city, Fraser shining on fiddle while Burns keeps time on Bodhrán, leading the crowds through rousing traditional ballads and drinking songs.

One of their latest efforts is a track entitled "Guess Into Frank's Reel," inspired by a moment of reminiscence as the two men sat and recalled their time spent on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. They longingly remembered their time on the beach, watching as the waves crashed to the shore, and were inspired to write the first part of the medley, "Guess." Fraser's fiddle leads through the initial strains of the song, Burns' drumming maintaining a sound pace, and it sets an appropriately reflective tone. There's a sense of longing and warmth to the track that quickly gives way to fun and passion as they segue into the second half of the medley, performing the traditional Scottish tune, "Frank's Reel." The tempo is furiously frenetic and one cannot help but get the toes to tapping as the duo crafts a beautiful sound.
Twae Left Feet manage to do three things on "Guess Into Frank's Reel" which are particularly impressive. First, they showcase their ability to deliver classic material in a faithful manner, carefully reconstructing the time-honored "Frank's Reel" with clear respect and reverence for the source material and do so with gusto. They then manage to deliver their own signature composition in "Guess," featuring an arrangement that, if one didn't know, could easily be thought of as traditional material in and of itself, showing a keen sensibility for song craft, bridging the old with the new. Finally, they perform not only with musical excellence, their musicianship easily on par with fellow Celtic bands like Gaelic Storm, but with strong emotion as well, their performances inviting listeners into the music.
But the duo’s ultimate feat is that they leave listeners wanting more, and that’s the best compliment anyone could pay.

Review: Tristan Eckerson - Dance Craze EP

If you haven't noticed, the winds of change continue to blow strong in the world of music. While before, an artist seeking to create something full in scope needed to be backed by a band or an orchestra, they now have the wonders of technology before them that allow unprecedented access into new musical realms. Add to that the fact that many of those artists, such as Avicii and David Guetta, are taking those breakthroughs and combining them with compelling, and danceable rhythms, giving the electronic dance music (EDM) genre a fresh burst of life. Now, rising artist Tristan Eckerson is set to toss his hat into the ring with his debut EP, appropriately titled Dance Craze.
Eckerson is a classically trained pianist who had played in bands of multiple genres, trying his hand at jazz, blues, and funk as well as punk and pop. Artistic restlessness kept him moving to and fro, trying new musical textures here and there but the one constant was his desire to get people moving. And when he enrolled in a Master's program for Music Production and Sound Design for visual media, he became enthralled with the world of electronic dance music.
"I had spent my entire life playing keyboards and writing music with a pencil and paper, and suddenly I was introduced to this crazy world of electronic music production, and suddenly I could write for an entire orchestra! It changed everything for me," he shares.
Inspired, Eckerson set out to harness those newfound production skills, combining his love of the Dance music genre together with his eclectic musical past, classical and modern flair coming together in an infectious and energetic mixture. And it's done so in a way that is fully intentional.
 "Having spent most of my life playing keyboards in bands and listening to all kinds of Dance Music, it wasn't until after college that I really started to get into Electronic Music at all," Eckerson offers. "Once I did, I got hooked, and then when I learned how to produce music electronically, it was all over for me. Ever since then I've been on a mission to create Electronic Dance Music that's full of energy and is danceable, but at the same time is filled with musicality. I want to create Electronic Dance Music that is accessible to people that don't necessarily like EDM. There is so much "Dance Music" out there, created in different ways, from all over the world. I want to broaden the sense of what Electronic Dance Music really is, and incorporate more original ideas, influences, and emotions into my songs."
It’s that vision that fuels the three tracks that make up the whole of Dance Craze. Eckerson kicks things off with the throbbing pulse of “Life,” carefully adding various textures and layers that ebb and flow, highlighting them with digitized vocal elements that bring some added nuance to the proceedings. It’s relentless pace brings listeners into a trance of sorts while the title track builds an accessible bridge into a full on dance mode. Boasting bright synth tones, vocal harmonies, and an infectious groove, its tailor made for the club and is easily the highlight of the three. Lastly, with “POLY,” Eckerson lets his diversity shine, bringing Afro and Latin swagger to his beats and constructing a template of Moombahton-meets-House-and-Techno that is uniquely compelling. There’s a frenetic build to the track, raging guitar pressing the song to a bloodlust of sorts that carries a theatrical tone and ends things on an interesting note.
It’s somewhat difficult to judge an artist’s overall creativity and potential in just three songs but, with these three on the Dance Craze EP, Tristan Eckerson makes a strong case for his future. And while the jury is still out on the overall accessibility of these tunes, those who do enjoy a healthy dose of EDM in their listening diet will find plenty to move to here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: Painted on Water - Chicago Issue EP

When one typically thinks of music with a Turkish influence, you rarely consider elements of rock, electronica, or even R&B soul to play a role. Yet, when longtime collaborators and lovers Demir Demirkan and Sertab Erener, musically known as Painted On Water, made way for Chicago on the next leg of their musical journey, there was no telling what would happen.

The result is the Turkish-based duo’s latest work, the Chicago Issue EP. Following on the heels on the duo’s prior work which saw them channeling elements of Turkish folk together with jazz, rock, and electronica, the Chicago Issue EP finds the tandem taking a new approach.
“For this album, I wanted to change the way we collaborate, change all the methods we use to compose, and come up with new production techniques,” says composer/guitarist/producer Demirkan. “It’s been really liberating.”

That liberation, in large part, involves Painted on Water tapping into the roots of their new home in Chicago and plugging in their guitars for some big, rocking sounds.
“When I Need You Most” gets things rolling with Demirkan showcasing some Peter Frampton like guitar effects alongside some solid synth fills and kicking beats. Erener’s vocals are solid if the lyric is a bit less than inspiring. Still, it’s a strong start, bringing plenty of textures to bear on the opening track.

Painted On Water draws from their Chicago surroundings on “A New Me,” showing off some hints of funk and R&B with jangling guitars and soulful background vocals. It’s a chunky arrangement, letting the track build smoothly through the verse and bump during the chorus and is somewhat reminiscent of work by No Doubt and Gwen Stefani with its pop-flavored elements.
Yet, it’s on “Hating You Loving You” that the band truly hits their finest of strides. Erener’s vocals are at their strongest, rich and resonant as she sings over Demirkan’s perfectly rocking guitar work, ebbing and flowing at exactly the right moments and drawing plenty of emotion into the equation. The lyric is equally strong as Erener pleads, “You’re my addiction I can’t do without/Hungry for you I keep/Hating you loving you/A blind ambition I can’t see without/Leaving you, missing you/I keep hating you, loving you.” It’s clearly the highlight of the EP.

“Why Do You Love Me” draws from more of those pop-rock elements, finding a solid balance between the two, enhanced by some solid keyboards that complement the restless guitars and emotive vocals as much of the lyric draws from none other than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. An insistent keyboard tone opens up closing track, “Despite Ourselves,” pressing Erener’s vocals along as the track builds, joined by synth and eclectic percussion before emerging into a full-fledged jam as Demirkan plugs in and rocks out. It’s the perfect high-tempo conclusion to the Chicago Issue EP.
And on that EP, Painted On Water do a great job of landing on U.S. soil with their artistic guns blazing, conjuring up a sonic soundscape that brings rock, pop, and soul all together in a signature package. While hints of artists like No Doubt, Dave Gahan, and Evanescence are there, this sound is distinctly Painted on Water’s and it will no doubt leave listeners ready for more.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Slack Armada - Slack Armada

So oftentimes the story of an artist’s journey is fraught with pain and suffering. They’ve found themselves at the bottom and, needing an outlet to express their deep emotions, they turn to music and create stirring works that move the soul.

And then there’s James Hrabak of Slack Armada.
For fifteen years, Hrabak didn’t play any music, content with his life of domesticity, happy in a fulfilling job and at home. Yet, the chance mail delivery of a music instruments catalog would change the rising artist’s perspective and he found his creative spirit reawakened.

“There was an aligning of the planets,” the Chicago-based composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist says with a chuckle. “My personal life was becoming less hectic and I had time to dedicate to music, so I looked into recording software and pulled the guitar out of the closet to see what I could do.”
The result is the four song, self-titled debut from Slack Armada, an instrumental collection that recalls acts like Four Tet, Mogwai, and Boards of Canada while seeing Hrabak infuse his own creative juices into the process. It’s something of a cinematic experience once you get into it and the artist wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Not using vocals wasn’t a conscious decision at the beginning,” Hrabak explains. “As I was building up the tracks, I thought ‘Maybe I can make the music speak to somebody without that additional guide of a human voice.’ I wanted to let the listener be transported with fewer guideposts.”
By and large, it’s an experiment that works.

Hrabak gets things started with the tightly programmed beats and synth fills of “Rebirth.” It’s a slightly ethereal and ambient track initially, the thrumming beats the only real texture against subtle keyboards but garners some much needed emotion when crunchy electric guitars close in later on. The track pauses for just a moment and there is a moment of rebirth, so to speak, as the sound transforms, a new beat holding sway as airy synth again swells through the arrangement.
“Your Majesty” delivers a little more emotion to the proceedings right from the get-go, multilayered sonic textures melding together and creating a sense of suspense and intrigue, the swirling keyboards stepping forth although Hrabak’s synth fills seem a little out of place here until bright bell tones enter the fray and serve as a connecting point, moving the track from intrigue to a sense of wonder. It’s not for long though as the track ebbs and flows between the two emotions before “Looper” steps in with its raucous tones. More crunchy guitar and heavy, pounding drums give the album a rocking lift, the relentless press Hrabak’s composition only lightening toward the end, the guitars giving way to electronic distortion.

"Escape Velocity” closes things out and, as one might expect from the title, is another action-packed track. Throbbing, pulsing electronic beats open things up before more conventional percussion joins in, the sound building and pressing in upon the listener’s ears, guitars eventually finding their way into the mix to provide the melody line, rich and inviting before abruptly coming to a complete close.
James Hrabak’s debut, Slack Armada, is a compelling piece of work for fans of more cerebral and ambient soundtracks. Blending elements of electronica together with dramatic flair, he has crafted four compelling songs that, while perhaps not set to appeal to the masses, will definitely provide enjoyment for those willing to listen. And with the promise of a vocal project coming as well, the future is bright for this rising star.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: Cookie Rabinowitz - Four Eyed Soul

The old adage holds that you can’t judge a book by its cover and, in the case of rising artist Cookie Rabinowitz, that’s doubly true. For, if you were to just glance at Rabinowitz with music in mind, you might be tempted to see his hipster jeans, oversized pimp glasses, and kicking Vans and label him as some sort of electronica wizard. Yet, one listen to the artist’s debut, Four Eyed Soul, and listeners will realize that this is a singer who’s a little less Moby and a lot more Marvin Gaye.

But Rabinowitz didn’t start in the world of soul, R&B, and hip-hop. Rather, the eclectic artist began his journey as “an introspective folk singer with reclusive tendencies.” Yet, when finances became an issue, the artist found himself working at a gentlemen’s club as a DJ where he became entranced with the beat-heavy music and swarthy hooks, drawing him into a new creative space.

Along that journey, Rabinowitz came alongside hip-hop pioneer Schoolly D who helped to mentor the young artist. The tandem worked together with guitarist Erik Horvitz on the animated urban music interview show, The Cookie Rabinowitz Show, which later led to Rabinowitz heading out with Schoolly D and a plethora of other rappers, with Public Enemy among them, on a tour that would change the artist’s trajectory forever.

“The hip-hop community really embraced me. It was eye opening. Schoolly let me do my thing and shine – I was able to sing and play guitar at 3,000 capacity venues,” he recalls. “That inspired me to dive into that world.”
That inspiration and the artist’s creativity collide in full harmony on Four Eyed Soul, a term the artist coined to describe his blend of sounds which borrows the best of the old while bringing it firmly into the future with swells of hip-hop, soul, R&B, as well as rock. And backed by some of Philly’s finest, Rabinowitz steps out and makes some lovely music.

“Sing Alone, Sing Along” gets things off to a killer start, a smooth, funky groove carrying forth the artist’s silky vocals, complete with playful falsetto while he offers up introspective thoughts about the lack of disconnect in a digital age. A rich guitar solo provides some additional color while “Crakka Smile” employs some sweet keyboards and more falsetto to hammer home its message.
“Every St.” lets Rabinowitz’s hip-hop side out a bit, his lyrical flow solid while the arrangement draws from a multiplicity of ranges and is followed by “Life on Mars,” carrying similar tones complete with some sampling and vinyl scratches, providing some bonus texture. Rich funk steps to the forefront on “Pass You By,” vintage guitar effects in use alongside thumping bass notes and bright keyboards while “Text You With My Mouth” lets a persistent beat carry the load as the artist again implicates the age of social media.

“Get Yer Own” is a beat-centric hip-hop jam, a collection of sonic textures merging together while “Blue” hearkens back to 70s soul for a commentary on racial tension. A bit of alternative rock makes its way into the set list with “Underground,” the programmed beats melding with raw guitars and Rabinowitz’s nuanced vocals as “Self Loathing” and “Rock & Roll Karaoke” again bridge the gap between soul, R&B, and hip-hop, the artist again breaking out his falsetto for the high notes.
“More Tired Than Lonely” is an album highlight, solo guitar opening things up as the artist sings of his reluctance to enter into a relationship due to the finger-pointing and baggage he’s experienced, “too tired to take the blame, too tired to hear you told me.” It’s a smooth, simple groove that carries the lyric well and definitely stands out while “Talking to Pigeons” closes things out in fine fashion, another mash up of genres flowing together in sweet success.

Cookie Rabinowitz might not be what you’d expect when you first see him but after you hear him you wouldn’t want anything else. Bridging the gap between multiple urban genres and infusing his own introspective folk leanings, the artist successfully crafts tracks that carry their own sense of soul for a new generation.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Aradia - Possibilities: Light EP

Some artists come into their musical lives unexpectedly, discovering their talent and love for the craft later in life. Others, like up and coming artist Aradia, are simply born into it.

Aradia was born in metropolitan New York City to a musician/musical therapist and a ballet dancer. With music in her blood, she took to playing the piano at the age of three, flute at eight and guitar at fourteen while constantly honing her voice in any which way should could. She eventually enrolled in the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College but became disenchanted with the unexpected politics of the classical music world and turned to the world of rock for a new muse.
That turn led her to a gig with Some Band, performing at legendary venues like The Bitter End and The Wetlands before she eventually headed to Atlanta by way of Los Angeles with her longtime collaborator and musical mentor Wirth Lawson. There the two formed Twelfth Planet and rocked the Atlanta clubs for nearly three years, garnering the artist some much needed seasoning and experience, finding her ready and prepared for a solo career as the band came to an end.

With a full length album and an EP under her belt, the artist now calls Seattle home and mines that experience for material on her latest offering, the Possibilities: Light EP. The album is a set of six colorful tracks arrayed in pop, rock, and electronica sounds, blending a sense of 1980’s nu-wave sensibilities together with eclectic, modern vibes recalling artists like Blondie, Lady Gaga, and Bjork.
Aradia gets things off to a start with the synth pop fills of “The Light,” her vocals stark against an electronica background of sound that eventually fleshes out into something full and nuanced. It’s not the most accessible of tracks and, in that respect, will get things off to a rough start for some listeners yet “Trouble” will right that wrong quickly. A driving programming line provides an old school element while raging guitars and swelling vocals buoy the track to a new place, the layers of sound creating something that is definitely unique and interesting.

“Today” finds the artist working through a minor chord feeling jam as she lyrically deals with the danger of seizing the day, singing, “I thought I saw myself today/I asked her to come out and play/I traveled to another time/So I could make the moment mine.” In addition to the obvious electronica elements, there’s something of an indie vibe to the track as well, largely due to Aradia’s vocal delivery, that gives the track extra life as well while “On Fire,” with crunchy electronic elements and a rocking beat stands as the most accessible and danceable track here. Reminiscent of Lady Gaga and Madonna, the artist rocks through lyrics that outline her journey of coming to a sense of freedom, her vocals showcasing that with their emotional flair and are undergirded by the powerful arrangement.
“Slow Ur Roll” is something of a disappointment, the electro-pop blips and beeps well performed but ultimately uninspiring. Thankfully, “Keep On” closes things out with a track that will find listeners wanting to keep on listening. Colored with playful Middle Eastern flair, the artist brings the old together with the new, Sitar meeting with programmed percussion and more while her vocal ebbs and flows, showing solid strength on a solidly creative closer.

Aradia is an artist that, by her very nature, will not be embraced by all. Yet, for those with more eclectic tastes and adventurous spirits, the Possibilities: Light EP has plenty to draw their interest. The artist draws from a diverse palette and paints with broad, compelling strokes, crafting a set of songs that are eclectic, imaginative, and compelling.

Review: Steven James Wylie - Everything I Love EP

Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you can start heading for the top again. That’s just what up and coming artist Steven James Wylie realized when he found himself and his expectant wife living in his parent’s basement after his real estate development company crashed and took his financial security and material possessions along with it.

“It was a brutally painful season, but as time went on I began to realize it was an opportunity. It was actually one of the greatest things to ever happen to me,” he shares. “Before that, I felt like I was 65 and my life was over, but after the dust settled, I reconnected with music and felt reborn.”
That rebirth found the artist pulling from two uniquely diverse influences. The first influence was that of his Spokane, Washington upbringing, where he grew up heavily influenced by the alt-rock Seattle sound. The second influence came as Wylie found himself unemployed and fallen, watching television and, interestingly enough, finding his creativity stoked once again by watching country music videos. With the juices flowing, Wylie took action and has since released three LP’s, one EP, and various singles and is set to make an impact with his latest work, Everything I Love.

Everything I Love definitely showcases the artist at his best as he performs five songs that cull from those differing elements while letting Wylie add healthy doses of his own creativity as well. The template holds stronger toward the pop country side, the alt rock taking a back seat this time but the number one star here is Wylie himself as he sings through well-crafted lyrics with his soulfully textured voice.
The EP opens up with the smooth, acoustic country strains of the title track, Wylie singing of a simple life enriched by intangible blessings, sharing, “These are the things that you can’t take away/The simple joys of living/That God gave me today/You can take the house and take the car/I’ll be okay/These are the things that you can’t take away.” It’s a warm and heartfelt start that gets the record off to a strong start.

Wylie puts his faith front and center on “This Is What Faith Is,” offering up an acoustic pop rock jam with some welcome guest vocals from CCM veteran, Christine Dente, who gives the track an additional lift while “Flower” draws some big, organic percussion together with piano and acoustic guitar as the artist sings lyrics of encouragement and love.
“Butterfly” is an upbeat lullaby of sorts, Wylie singing to his baby daughter over against a bright, mid-tempo pop background with rich guitar fills and tight melodies, the artist’s vocals warm and resonant. Those vocals continue to shine on album closer “Beautiful Souls,” Wylie’s voice recalling elements of Chris Daughtry as he sings the soulful lyrics, “Family ties can never break/And that explains all of the heartache/Here today then say goodbye/I will keep your legacy/God knows I will try.”

Losing his real estate business may have been the best thing to have happened to Steven James Wylie. The artist has emerged from his difficult season, buoyed not only by God-given talent but also a renewed purpose in his craft. His work on Everything I Love speaks of hard work, dedication, and honesty while capturing a warm and creative essence as he encourages listeners going through hard times. It’s one that’s well worth a listen or three.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Cole Hermer and The Ravens - Quoth the Raven EP

Sometimes it’s the most innocuous of things that can have the most surprising impacts in life. For instance, consider the story of Cole Hermer. Raised on a diet of classic rock artists like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, juxtaposed against an alternate soundscape of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Simon and Garfunkel. When a writing disability led his mother to purchase the ten year old a guitar to practice with in hopes that it would help with his dexterity issues, the experiment failed. What didn’t fail, however, was the budding artist’s love for music and by seventh grade he’d penned his first original song.

That love continued to grow and develop, Hermer voraciously devouring music wherever he could find it, exploring metal, progressive rock, and more. High school found the growing artist engaging with groups like Mumford and Sons, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys, those formative bands helping to hone Hermer’s evolving sound.

It was another chance encounter that led to Hermer’s latest adventure, the recording of his first EP, Quoth the Raven.

“My philosophy is take every chance you get because it will lead you to an interesting place. I got cast in this reality show about musicians in the Durham region, and that’s where I met Michael (Hanson),” he shares. “He is a big deal; the well-known songwriter-drummer of Glass Tiger. He heard me work with this music group on the show and liked my voice. Out of the blue he offered me the chance to do an EP.”

The EP captures a formative point within the young artist’s creative development, finding him move beyond the straight metal angst of so many teenage artists and segue into a set of five songs that capture elements of classic, garage, and folk rock, among many others.

Speaking of the EP’s diversity, Hermer offers, ““As I was recording, my music tastes were growing so much, the EP reflects that diversity.”

“California Breakdown” opens up the record with a rich tapestry of roaring garage rock, raging guitars and relentless percussion holding sway as Hermer unleashes his passionate vocals, conjuring images of Jack White and Robert Plant. The track oozes emotion and has a free flowing vibe going for it but, a closer listen seems to hint that the arrangement is actually much more rehearsed and tightly woven than it appears.

“Exploitable Youth” follows hard after, big crunchy blues rock guitars setting the table for Hermer’s indictment upon the treatment and experience of so many young performers in the music industry who are used and chewed up by the machine. With serious vocal chops he sings, “Hey kids do you want to be the star of the season?/Into the abyss where mom and dad make every decision/Burn your salvation when you’ve got nothing to lose/And follow blindly till they find someone new.”

Hermer takes his sound in an unexpected direction on the subdued platform of “Friends,” maintaining those blues rock elements throughout a quieter template that really let his lyrics and vocals shine. He brings in some playful background harmonies that provide a glossy sheen against his raspy lead vocal, offering up a solid contrast before bridging into the acoustic driven folk rock, “Maybe In the Morning,” co-written with producer Hanson. Album closer “Teenage Creed” finds the artist coming full circle, more bluesy garage rock taking center stage as the artist spits out lyrics with a sneer and a snarl, ending things on a high note.

While some of Cole Hermer’s opportunities have come by way of the classic “right time, right place” concept, the artist has not let those opportunities lay dormant, working hard to build his art and on Quoth the Raven, Cole Hermer and The Ravens stand up and stand out, showing why they’re worthy of a listen. Passionate, youthful, and energetic yet intelligent and skilled as well, this is a band to watch.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: BluRum13 - Inverted

New York born, Maryland raised James Sobers has already led a celebrated career. Better known to his fans as BluRum13, Sobers has dazzled crowds with his emcee skills and won peers over with his production talents, crafting two solo albums, rocking the house in over one thousand shows, and working with a plethora of artists ranging from Us3, One Self, Reverse Engineering, Bullfrog, the Russian Percussion, and many, many more. His music has been featured in Cirque du Soleil, CSI, The Family Biz (Canada), and Skins (UK) and he’s had the chance to share the stage with high-caliber artists like Maceo Parker, Herbie Hancock, Phish, KRS1, Public Enemy, and De la Soul.

Exhilarated but weary from his meteoric rise, Sobers made the decision to take some time off and recharge his creative batteries in order to gear up for the new solo album that fans had been clamoring for. That break found the artist culling through the “evolutionary philosophies in Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet and in the writings and teachings of Lloyd Pye. It’s definitely unique source material (Sitchin and Pye both advocate for the ideas of an extraterrestrial ancestor to mankind) yet it had a profound effect on the already introspective and academic lyricist.
“I learned the thing we have in common with the Creator is the ability to create. So I began looking inward and creating for myself,” he shares of the lessons learned. “Honesty is translatable. I’ve played many non-English-speaking countries where the venue is packed because the crowd gets ‘it,’ even if they don’t fully understand the language.”

That musical honesty and heady focus comes forth loud and proud on the artist’s highly anticipated Inverted, finding Sobers bringing a mélange of textures together with insightful and intelligent flows. Drawing comparisons to artists like Mos Def and Ben Harper and rightly so, Sobers puts all that studying and creative growth to good use, showing the results of his inspiration and experimentation with drum and bass and electronica.
“Kenetic” brings things to a killer start, smooth and rich keyboards setting the stage for Sobers’ tight and fluid rhymes, moving to the chorus point of “We are more than potential” while electronic fills and scratches round out the track, lending energy. “TLO” offers heavy percussion and a Maori-flavored chant, Sobers’ spitting his lyrics frantically while undergirded by a tight bass line underneath as “Strivin’” delivers a lazy, almost dreamy arrangement alongside guest vocals from Abstract Rude.

“Cereal” is another laid back track, a funky bass backbeat pressing things forward while tight live drums keep pace across as “All Day” taps into some old schools vibes, Primo the Cinematic guest starring on a track that’s mostly drums and keyboards. “Mash On” delivers some playful lyrics from Sobers’, providing some needed levity together with touches of electronica while “Vengo” finds the artist taking things cross culturally, a diverse set of sonic textures creating an almost free form jazz feel.
“Warrior Souls” is appropriately moody and darker in tone and “Universal” loosely honors the legendary talent of Michael Jackson, Sobers’ citing Jackson’s timeless elements as inspiration. Those futuristic tones give way to a dreamy set of scratches and samples on “Distortion” while “Still Living” is bright and energetic musically and lyrically close things out on a high note.

BluRum13, while drawing from some unique wells of inspiration, is a thinking man’s artist, crafting lyrics that, quite frankly, may leave a few folks scratching their heads after the first listen. Yet, while he delivers a heady set of rhymes, he also creates great canvases for his lyrics, using the whole palette of musical colors and creating arrangements that are tight and accessible yet still speak of true artistry. Inverted finds the artist turning his music on its head and listeners are all the better for it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: NMERCER - Crossroads EP

It’s the rare individual who finds that a move to South Central in Los Angeles will serve as a creative point of inspiration but for rising artist NMERCER, that’s just what happened.

Originally hailing from Vashon, a small island near Seattle, NMERCER was raised on the expected fare from that region, citing influences like Joan Osborne and Alice in Chains alongside more eclectic choices like the Pharcyde, Beastie Boys, The Doors, Björk, Easy E, NWA, and Too $hort. A move to Los Angeles found her eventually searching out and moving to South Central due to the more affordable rent and stumbling upon a new community of friends and artists.
“For the first time since I moved to LA, I felt like I was part of a community,” she shares. “The guys on the block were all rappers or musical in some way or another. They’d would bring by sick beats and ask me to sing hooks on them.”

Soon, in moments of privacy, NMERCER took to writing her own songs, a new experience for the artist.
“It was the first time I wrote music where I felt like I had a sound and voice. I think it came out real because I made those songs for no one but myself,” she explains.

Those experiences and those songs have fueled a burst of creativity in the artist and she’s released a rapid fire set of releases with her self-titled debut, a remix album, and the Crossroads EP. Those recordings have found her enjoying favorable comparisons to artists like MIA, Missy Elliott, Ke$ha, and Gwen Stefani, and the Crossroads EP gives a good indication why.
Produced by Justin Lassen, who’s done remixes for artists like Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park, Apocalyptica, and Evanescence, the EP features four songs of NMERCER’s signature style. That style is a combination of hip hop grooves, electro-pop vibes, and plenty of EDR fills, all informed by the artist’s versatile vocals.

The title track kicks things off with plenty of electronic-fueled distortion, kicking programmed drums holding the beat while NMERCER drops her flow, her delivery somewhat slow and dreamy as her vocals mix things up with some added effects. The lyric is an encouraging one, the protagonist of the song standing at a crossroads and making the decision to push ahead and make a change.
“Steal It” keeps the positive vibes rolling as the artist sings, “Move/Dance/Now’s the chance/Go/Hard/Let down that guard/You’re in the spotlight/C’mon, steal it” while surrounded by an electronica-infused sonic backdrop that flows into a full-fledged radio-ready jam. NMERCER’s vocals are in full effect, the swelling music only giving her more energy while “Why U Gotta B So Fine” is something of a disappointment. True, the track does have a Ke$ha feel but after hearing the artist’s solid vocals on the preceding tracks, her nasal delivery and subpar lyricism just leaves one wanting.

Thankfully, NMERCER’s final track “DB” steps in and rights those wrongs. Sultry, sexy vocals and an old school feeling jam, complete with huge bass notes that propel the track forward, buoyed by a bright horn section in the chorus give the track bonus life. Singing of dropping a lover, the artist brings a sense of playfulness to the song, her rhyming legit and infused with a smile.
All in all, NMERCER’s Crossroads EP showcases a young artist who’s bursting at the seams with talent and has the potential to break out into the big time. Granted, there’s still work to be done but with NMERCER’s creative output and her star shining bright, the sky’s the limit for this promising new act.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Mobtown Moon - Mobtown Moon

There are few albums that hold the iconic status of Pink Floyd’s epic recording, Dark Side of the Moon. Released in 1973, the album marked a shift in direction for the British progressive rock band, combining a number of the ideas and concepts hinted on in earlier works into a cohesive and tremendously artistic package. Utilizing breakthrough recording methods and a pointed them that outlined issues of money, greed, and a slow spiral into madness, Dark Side of the Moon became a tent pole that rising artists measured themselves against, seeing it sell nearly 50 million records and trigger numbers of covers and tribute records as well from artists like Phish, The Flaming Lips, and more.

Baltimore-based outfit Mobtown Moon is the latest to venture into the wilderness of Dark Side of the Moon. Fueled by the city’s distinct creative vibe, Mobtown Moon is the vision of co-creators Sandy Asirvatham & Ellen Cherry who have essentially envisioned the album as a conceptual art piece, channeling a singer-forward template ahead surrounded by an eclectic musical palette that samples from jazz, hip hop, soul, choral music, chant, and, it goes without saying, rock.

Involving forty-one musicians, Mobtown Moon seeks to do more than recreate the record in a rote fashion. Instead, the collective draws from a rich diversity of genres, capturing the heartbeat and melody line while showcasing them in entirely new surroundings. Using live performances, digital loops, and sound effects, Mobtown Moon is purely successful in crafting a vision of Dark Side of the Moon not yet heard before.

Things kick off with the ambient flow of “The City Speaks,” random noises, static, and more setting the table with an anxious opening while segueing into “Breathe (Chant Version).” It’s an unusual track, an almost barbershop feel with a rich bass vocal and more sounds of life that eventually open up into the rich and sultry jazz-improv of the more conventional “Breathe.” Smooth piano presses things forward, supported by tasty horn fills and accented by a stirring electric guitar solo, allowing the female vocal plenty of room to sway.

“On the Run” takes a wholly different approach, further recorded sounds of life and electric distortions opening up onto a madman’s banjo-driven bluegrass. It’s relentless and a bit unsettling; the slight swells of guitar and vocal making it even more so while “Time” draws from soul and rock ‘n’ roll, resonant organ undergirding the solid male vocal. “The Great Gig in the Sky” takes those elements and ups the ante, letting a string quartet open the proceedings before moving into more moody experimental territory helmed by Asirvatham’s unique vocal.

Cris Jacobs steps to the forefront on the hit track, “Money,” his Ray LaMontagne-esque vocals gritty and real against the jazz and blues-flavored backdrop which then smoothly blends into the hip-hop of “Dream/Counterfeit.” There’s a slam poetry vibe to the proceedings, with bright piano tones and riffing guitar fills that gives the lyric new life while “Us and Them” is sultry and beautiful, smooth jazz melting with Ellen Cherry’s warm vocals. Those jazz notes continue on “Any Colour You Like” as wandering saxophone and clarinet join with persistent percussion before opening up onto the soul and gospel infusion found on “Brain Damage.” Things come to a close with the collective’s eclectic take on “Eclipse,” choral tones and funk grooves holding sway and leading to an abrupt conclusion.

Dark Side of the Moon has always been one of those pivotal albums that separate music lovers. While most applaud Pink Floyd’s artistic achievements and experimental progressions, there have always been those that, well, just didn’t get it. Mobtown Moon’s cover of this great record will no doubt have it’s detractors as well, those that don’t “get it” but for those with an open listening palette, what this musical collective has achieved here is rather intriguing. It’s a record that both stands in testament to the greatness of Pink Floyd as well as pointing to the keen talent of the rising generation; a win-win all around.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: ConSoulTant - "Hit It Out the Park" Single

For the past several years, the Atlanta music scene has given birth to some of the hottest acts in Hip-Hop, Soul, and R&B. Artists like Cee-Lo Green, Usher, Ludacris, and more have called the city their home and have crafted worldwide hits. Now, rising from the humble world of software consulting comes the “ConSoulTant,” better known to friends and family as Selita, and she’s ready to bring her signature genre-bending sound to the masses.

Selita’s story begins like many, learning to sing alongside the church choir as a child, forming her love of singing early on while later she took to instruments as well, learning to play the violin, clarinet, saxophone, and piano. Performing wherever she could, from marching band to the church choir, Selita soaked in a variety of extra musical inspiration, drawing from a musical well that included Michael Jackson, Prince, Sade, Aretha Franklin, The Bee Gees, The Charlie Daniels Band, and more.
With the purchase of a 4-track recording studio, Selita was determined to press on toward her dream, working on developing her skills as a producer and songwriter alongside honing her performances. Yet, for Selita, the needs of her family overshadowed her dreams for a bit and she started a software business in order to provide stability. However, bringing the same tenacious spirit to life as she does her music, the artist kept pressing onward and, with the support of her family, launched Raging Sky Records and released her debut record, Spend the Night. That debut saw the artist tackling multiple genres, leading to solid reviews, and some high profile gigs, even crafting a song for the Atlanta Falcons football team, a thrill for the self-avowed sports nut.

Now the artist is turning her ear to the sport of baseball with her latest single, “Hit It Out the Park.” It’s the sort of song that’s tailor-made for sports arenas, the ConSoulTant’s voice rich and smooth, flowing with ease and skill, while her Hip-Hop flavored arrangement keeps the hype rolling. Using elements of the vocal “Root-root!” as an element of chunky percussion is a nice touch, supported by synthesized keyboards and further percussion while the artist offers up playful lyrics like, “For its 1-2-3 (1-2 strike 3 you're out)/Balling on the mound, shut 'em down/You know we ready c'mon a let's play.” The production is a bit light, the sound not quite as full as one would prefer but for a “let’s get hyped” track like this, it’s forgivable.
All in all, “Hit It Out the Park” is a fun jam. It’s the sort of song that will fill in nicely at the ball park as you sit with an overpriced hot dog and beer in hand cheering on your favorite team as they trade sides on the field. That said, this one probably won’t be hitting the airwaves too strongly, unless its able to land on a "Jock Jams" type of record, but don’t be surprised if you hear it at your favorite stadium one of these days.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: YUCA - Rebuilding the Fallen Empire

Today’s musical landscape stands in current need of an injection of passion and energy. While there are plenty of fine bands and great artists on the market working in the industry, there’s been a dearth of epic, sweeping rock that conjures great emotion and creativity in one concise package like imports Muse, Coldplay, Sigor Ros, and U2. It’s the kind of art that music fans love and search for, probing here and there in hopes of finding the next great band. And with the discovery of the Canadian three-piece outfit YUCA and the release of their rousing debut, Rebuilding the Fallen Empire, that search may have just ended.

Hailing from Langley, Canada, the trio has spent the last five years cutting their teeth on their music, tirelessly working on their sound and performing nationally and internationally, garnering acclaim and grabbing some great headlines and opportunities along the way. Among those include the chance to perform at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, having a song placed in a video game honoring those Olympics, and sharing the stage with artists like The Killers, Metric, Lifehouse, and more.

The record benefits greatly from the group’s shared experiences, their five years of touring and work coming to fruition, the title carrying a double meaning.

“It means reviving rock n’ roll,” shares lead vocalist and guitarist, Matt Borck, “But it’s also personal. We’ve been in the trenches and working our butts off for the band, so it also symbolizes making our dreams a reality.”

Part of that dream was to capture the energy and excitement the band has come to be known for in their live performances. And in an effort to capture that live vibe, the band opted to produce the record themselves and recorded with “an organic first-take tracking aesthetic.” “I wanted to be exposed and free. We strove for imperfection as perfection, going for first takes and picking emotion over anything else,” says Borck.

If Rebuilding the Fallen Empire is YUCA’s “imperfection,” look out for their “perfect” stuff. “Skeletal Desires” launches the album off to a powerful start, big, bright horns offsetting a relentless guitar drive before Borck settles in with his Matthew Bellamy-styled vocals, reaching and soaring for the skies. He keeps that soulful soaring going on “Melt You,” ripping through guitar chords with ease while Andy Boldt’s bass throbs heavy alongside Dave Atkinson’s pounding drum work.

“Maybe We’ll Riot” finds more pulsing bass lines and experimental flows but is one of the more accessible tracks, the rock ‘n’ roll passion ample while “Heavy as a Stone” introduces the band’s wall of sound approach, nuanced yet frenetic instrumental flows over Borck’s impassioned vocals as he sings of common human threads. A rising epic flair colors “I’m Alive She Said,” the moving vocals and Edge-like guitars invoking thoughts of U2 as “Love” opts for a progressively slow build, gentle notes building to a crescendo of sonic stimuli that resonates strongly.

There’s a moody element to “Where Are My Soldiers At?,” the tone somewhat dark and theatrical, Atkinson’s drums pounding the way ahead as Borck’s vocal range stretches high, singing with passion. Experimental is a good way to define “Anthem of Need,” the band opting for some inspirationally sound musical jamming before moving the track forward, the playfulness making one long to see the band live. Influences of Muse come to the forefront on “Give Up My Ghost,” the whole track showcasing those elements while still staying true to YUCA’s mentality as “Sparrow” closes the album out with a sweeping and subdued song that recalls the emotion of Sigor Ros.

There are few artists daring enough to even try, let alone succeed, in doing what YUCA has done with their debut, Rebuilding the Fallen Empire. Rolling the dice and hoping for the best with their live recording method, the band has captured that live sound without fail, the energy and spontaneity of it simply pouring more gasoline onto the vibrant creativity the group produces. Perfect for fans of Muse or U2, Rebuilding the Fallen Empire is an album poised to put YUCA on the musical map.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Yasi - Bullet Through My Heart EP

The radio waves are dominated by plenty of pop superstars, crooning their way through track after track of the usual fare. From Brittany Spears to Rihanna and Miley Cyrus, pop music is filled with more of the same, hook-filled licks but little variety overall. Sure, much of its fun to listen to (there’s a reason people are buying the music up left and right) but when all is said and done, have these artists really contributed anything legitimate and lasting to the musical canon?

Thankfully, in recent days the pop music scene has also seen great artists like Ellie Goulding, Lana Del Rey, and Florence and the Machine come along, engaging audiences with an enriched brand of pop flavors, boasting rich creativity and insightful songwriting to contrast against the more forgettable. Now, we can thankfully add rising artist, Yasi, to that short list of worthwhile pop listens as her debut EP, Bullet Through My Heart, showcases her own display of honest songwriting colored with a compelling electronica-fueled sonic backdrop.

Consisting of three strong tracks of dynamic electro-fueled pop, colored with fills of industrial electronica reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails, the Bullet Through My Heart EP is soulfully propelled by Yasi’s breathy and sensually delivered vocals. Her voice is at once strong and vulnerable, weaving through each track with a practiced ease.

The EP bursts out to a strong start, as the title track, “Bullet Through My Heart” breaks through with relentless percussion, the driving beat pushing a frenetic pace while keyboard fills find all of the electronica elements blending together with the artist’s honeyed vocals for a complete package that showcases her at her best. It’s a track that sets the bar high.

 “Dressed to Kill” is fueled by another insistent beat, giving added strength to the lyric that ominously declares, “I’m dressed to kill/Shatter your heart into pieces” as ominous synth tones carry things forth, the moody notes haunting and intoxicating as the track breaks forth into a sensuous chorus. The mood lightens somewhat with “Forever More,” brighter tones coloring the electronic backdrop yet Yasi’s vocals, at their strongest here, keep the deeper elements of gravity intact. Slick and stunning, it’s just the sort of song you’d expect from such a talent.

While love and lust, contrasted by heartbreak and hardship, are critical elements of Yasi’s debut EP, Bullet Through My Heart, her strongest desire seems to be to live life for the moment, setting a defining note that rings through the album. And Yasi is doing just that, crafting a stunning electronically fueled soundscape and gracing it with her silky smooth vocals. Here’s to hoping this is but the first of a long stream of hits for this talented artist on the rise.


Review: Kelley James - The Pattern Transcending

California music scene is almost as diverse as its landscape. Where the California horizon boasts warm and sunny beaches, hearty mountains, and dusty deserts, the corresponding music scene is no less colorful. California has given birth to genres as diverse as psychedelic and glam rock, pop punk, West Coast hip-hop, folk revivals, and great acoustic pop. It’s a music scene that benefited greatly from the state’s call to the creative, seeing great talent emerge year by year.

National recording artist, Kelley James, is among that talent and he showcases some of the best that California has to offer on his latest album, The Pattern Transcending, offering up his own signature blend of pop, rock, reggae, and hip hop.

James is no stranger to the music world, having spent the last five years hard at work, performing over 750 shows. He’s “received recognition from several viral entertainment sites including BroBible, BuzzFeed, ClevverMusic, Mashable and Tone It Up” and his formation of The Sorority and Fraternity saw him tour nationwide. He’s had the opportunity to share stages with the likes of Mike Posner, O.A.R., Schwayze, and Joshua Radin while growing a devoted fan base and playing for everyone from the PGA to Google.

The key to James’s success lies in James himself as he crafts slick, radio-ready tunes beginning with a clean and polished pop backdrop. He then inserts elements of rock, reggae, soul, and hip-hop, carrying them all forth confidently and crisply with his easy going, approachable vocal and confident delivery.

Thus it’s a surprise when “Marinade” kicks them album off with a mixture of synth fills, kicking drums, and a pop-rock vibe that gets the toes tapping but finds lyric to be James’ most glaring misstep on the album as he sings, “I love the taste of your marinade/Let me marinate.” It’s just a lyric that doesn’t work and, while the arrangement is strong, it just can’t overcome that lyric.

It’s all uphill from there, however, as James employs some rich piano to open up the lover’s lament, “Sucks,” showing off plenty of keen pop sensibilities while “That’s My Girl” lets the artist marry soul and hip-hop, funky fresh bass tones providing a rich bed for his effortless freestyle flow. More funk plays into tracks like “Secret Lover,” more smooth bass lines accented by tight percussion while James continues to spit rhymes before giving love to the state of his music’s birth with “California.”

James tugs at the heartstrings of his lady listeners with the lovelorn tale, “Don’t Want to Let You Go,” bright piano vibes offsetting the darker mood of the lyric while “Stalker” is just pure pop fun as funky reggae-tinged tones set the table for James’ playful tale of infatuation. It’s akin to Bruno Mars’ new classic, “The Lazy Song,” and is almost as fun and infectious while “The Legend of Rip Venice” takes its shot at jaunty storytelling over against a mid-tempo soul groove infused with some shiny horn work that gives the track additional life.

“Carolina” finds the artist taking things a bit more acoustic, guitar opening things up before moving back into familiar pop territory but “Wonderful Place” and “Brother” deliver much more fully on those acoustic promises, the latter colored with frenetic fingerpicked guitar and tasteful fills of piano and strings that recall the sounds of Joshua Radin. They’re two of the more subdued tracks found here yet they really shine.

Kelley James’ The Pattern Transcending is an album that is full of tracks just ready to jump onto Top 40 radio. Eclectic yet accessible, James creates a sound that draws from the pop tradition while infusing it with his own pathos, bringing danceable, sunny tunes all day long. Perfect for fans of Jason Mraz, John Mayer, or Jack Johnson, The Pattern Transcending is an album that showcases a star on the rise.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: Jitterbug Vipers - Phoebe's Dream

For some, the Jitterbug Vipers would be an easy band to simply disregard due to the music’s heavy drug references and support, seeming to merge a Jerry Garcia idealism and practice together with Billie Holliday flavors. It’s a jarring contrast for some and will leave more than a few dissuaded.

And we haven’t even mentioned bassist Francie Meaux Jeaux’s signature performance tactic of “Ass to the People,” something that’s become a rallying cry and bumper sticker favorite.

Yet, for those willing to look past ideological differences (or agreements, depending upon your viewpoint), this Austin, Texas-based quartet has plenty to offer. Best known for it’s signature delivery of classic jazz and blues which hearken back to the heyday of the 30s and 40s, performing a personalized version of the jazz offshoot known as “viper jazz,” best described as a “screeching U-Turn back to the party where jazz music packed the dance floor and dazzled the audience with brilliant streams of improvisatory musicianship.”

The band formed three years ago, lead by none other than Texas’s appropriately dubbed “Most Dangerous Guitar Player,” Slim Richey. Boasting a musical heritage that spans western swing, R&B, and bluegrass, Richey is the cornerstone around which the band draws its inspiration. Sultry chanteuse Sarah Sharp, who also holds songwriting duties, is another key to the band’s success, her use of innuendo and tongue-in-cheek humor playing alongside her evocative and sensual vocals, each note feeling like a sexual tease.

Rounding out the quartet are Richey’s wife of twenty-five years, Francie Meaux Jeaux, who shows her pluck on bass and Japan native Masumi Jones on drums, who jokingly shares, “I didn’t really realize what kind of band I was in until 3 or 4 months later, when we were at a legalize marijuana demonstration.”

But whether or not you agree or disagree with the group’s pro-ganja mentality and lyricism, you can’t deny their stunning musicianship as evidenced on their latest recording, Phoebe’s Dream. Here the band’s full array of “swingadelic” tones and musical chops are on full display, their blend of “wink wink nod nod” lyricism blending seamlessly with stunning instrumental compositions.

The title track sets things in motion, Sharp’s vocal warm, reminiscent of Norah Jones and Diana Krall, slinking through her lyrics while Richey’s guitar fills and Jones’ brushed drums keep things pressing forward before giving way to Meaux Jeaux’s thrumming upright bass lines on “A Viper Just the Same.” An album highlight comes in the innuendo-filled, “Stuff It,” featuring a guest vocal and co-write from Asleep at the Wheel’s Elizabeth McQueen. It’s a jaunty musical ride with playful vocals that just showcases some of the best the band has to offer.

“When You’re High” is a sweetly smoky showcase of Sharp’s vocals, the arrangement sparse and smooth while “That Was Just the Sauce Talking” recalls The Little Willies with a lighthearted yet artful composition that wonderfully frames the vocal duet between Sharp and guest, Jacob Jaeger. “Viper Moon” is another smooth groove while Richey shows off his severe talents on the instrumental homage, “Django’s Birthday,” giving the revered gypsy jazz composer a run for his money.

Elements of the blues also play into the Jitterbug Vipers set with a cover of the Billie Holiday classic, “Billie’s Blues,” finding Richey rock the fret board while Sharp pouts through each line, Jones doing a fine job of setting the pace. “Undecided” finds the band covering Ella Fitzgerald and ripping it up, encouraging listeners onto the dance floor while “Trouble” shows itself as another clear highlight. Moody and rich, Sharp’s every note is purred out with a slinky sexuality as each instrument caresses her vocal, delivering a jam that is out of this world.

The Jitterbug Vipers are the real deal, crafting stunning music that reaches into the past for inspiration while giving it a contemporary spin. Each player is so gifted in their own right that, when put together as a group, only magic can happen. Phoebe’s Dream is a stellar work and shows tremendous promise for the future.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: Escaping Pavement - UpRooted

Detroit, Michigan’s Escaping Pavement have been on a musical journey for the past ten years and, with their latest album, UpRooted, they’re finally coming home.

Formed by teenage guitarists and dreamers, Emily Burns and Aaron Markovitz, when the two met at an open mic night at a blues club and have been kindred musical souls ever since. Schooling at the Los Angeles Music Academy College of Music helped the duo to fine tune their skills while exposing them to genres like “rock, pop, jazz, reggae, blues, and funk,” trying “various band permutations within these stylistic guises.”
The songs of UpRooted were birthed on a unique journey of its own as the band took to the high seas for inspiration and cash to record their debut.

“At that point we got the crazy idea to go play music on a cruise ship in order to gather some money to record our debut album. So, we disappeared to sea for a year, playing every song you could think of on a cruise ship,” Aaron explains. “At the time of our return we started writing the songs for UpRooted.”
And with the addition of bandmates Niall Sullivan on bass and background vocals and Evan Profant delivering drums and background vocals the stage was set for Escaping Pavement to shine.

UpRooted is a nine-song collection of rich, Americana-flavored offerings, elements of country, folk, and rock showing up at various junctures that draws recollections of Emmylou Harris, The Band, and a smattering of others while managing to still be original and definitively Escaping Pavement. “Burn This Bridge” gets things off to a fine start, bluesy electric guitar setting the groove for Burns’ solid vocals, just a hint of twang lending the track swagger while “Daydream’s Haze” employs a more subdued approach, Burns and Markovitz trading vocals over a mid-tempo shuffle, organ fills giving the song additional lift.
Markovitz steps to the forefront on “Here Again,” his vocal rich, resonant, and pleasantly gritty, and steals the show, crooning his way over the plucky arrangement before seguing into the bluesy soul of “Smoke Filled Existence,” a smooth groove setting the tone while soaring background vocals provide killer support. Burns steps back into the spotlight on the modern country rocker, “Part of Goodbye,” lending attitude to the lyric while charged guitars lead the way.

“On the Wind” finds the quartet shifting gears, slowing the tempo a bit as bright guitars, banjo fills, and percussion carry the track alongside an almost chorus of vocals that really works as “Drive Me to Sadness” carries things along with buoyant organ jams and more kicking drums that keep the toe tapping while the lyric searches for happiness. A sprightly mandolin fuels “Winter Homecoming,” Burns and Markovitz trading vocal duties again, while more blues elements, colored with touches of gospel and soul, bring life to album closer, “4th of July.” The great flourishes of electric guitar and Profant’s inspired percussion set the table for Burns’ finest vocal delivery yet as she shows her incredible range, shooting for the stars and hitting a home run on one of the best tracks to be found here.
Detroit, Michigan has a band to be proud of in Escaping Pavement. On UpRooted, they show that they’ve got the chops to hang with the big boys, combining gifted vocals together with strong musical arrangements and songwriting to create a warm atmosphere of Americana-inspired music. It’s honest and creative and speaks to the heart. And who could ask for more than that?

Review: Chaser Eight - At the 426 EP

Some bands long to create music that simply presses into new territory, attempting to, well, boldly go where no music has gone before. Others seek to draw from the past, conjuring up musical soundscapes that give honor and glory to those that have gone before, maintaining their vision and creativity in the modern world. And while both ideals have their merits, perhaps the best is when bands are able to harness the past as they press forward with new, contemporary ideas and concepts, bridging the gap and joining the best of both worlds.

On their latest EP, At the 426, Connecticut-based rock outfit Chaser Eight does just that.
The band’s core of *AUDRA* and Pat Walsh, has been together for an abnormally long time, working on their craft since the age of ten. “We explored music together from such a young age,” says *AUDRA*. “Pat lived two minutes away. It was an easy connection, but we were also willing to put the effort in to develop our music.”

*AUDRA* carries vocal duties and joins with Walsh for songwriting as he shoulders the guitar burden for the band. Longtime friend and co-conspirator Billy Wang plays bass while drummer Pete Giannini and keyboardist/guitarist Aaron Tagliamonte bring their own skills to the table. The band is a special place for Giannini and Tagliamonte especially due to Taliamonte’s earlier struggles with addiction. With Giannini’s support, he kicked the habit and has found a renewed direction for himself after joining Chaser Eight, sharing, “In this band, I have the freedom to be creative and express myself. That keeps my mind occupied with positive thoughts.”
Thus, with a familial atmosphere and creative spirit merged into one, Chaser Eight embarks on their most impressive work to date on At the 426. Drawing its name from the bands signature “home/recording studio/band clubhouse”, the five-song EP attempts to honor the location while embodying the band’s overall heartbeat to craft “honest, down-to-earth music with hard-hitting lyrics.”

"We really wanted to extend the sensuality of our last EP, Up and Up, with deeper, meaningful tunes to continue taking listeners on our musical and emotional journey," says *AUDRA*.
Those tunes open with the 80’s-tinged synth vibes of “Never Enough,” a track that recalls bands like Blondie. *AUDRA*’s vocals are tight, smooth and smoky, providing her own background vocals while the electro-pop arrangement sweeps nostalgically around her before opening up into the moody, almost acoustic-driven tones of “One Love.” Walsh delivers some creative guitar fills, shredding a great solo, as the track that encourages broken souls that love is still out there for them.

Chris Grillo steps in and provides a guest vocal, his husky, gravelly voice mingling perfectly with *AUDRA*’s smoky sweet range, the two singing over a lyric dealing a lovers’ struggle over differences, wrestling to see eye to eye, over a mid-tempo roots rock composition. “Run, Run” finally lets Walsh turn his amp up to ten and he makes full use of it, his guitar lead pushing the track ahead strong while Giannini’s tight drumming hammers things home. The EP closes out with, “Without Love (PaWa Remix),” a track that is wonderfully creative and showcases the band’s eclectic style. It’s alternately moody and hopeful and ends things on a particularly high and interesting note.
With these five songs on At the 426, the quintet Chaser Eight takes one more step toward receiving the recognition they richly deserve. Making the best use of their shared experiences, love of the craft, and passion for creativity, Chaser Eight is clearly a band to watch.