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.

Review: Ted Brown - An Unwide Road

The best art typically comes from personal experience. Whether inspired by anecdotal family tales or something that just happened to the artist yesterday, those songs that capture that visceral, open, and vulnerable places are those that hit home most squarely. They’re the type of songs that don’t need much embellishment, as the honesty of the track itself and the pure emotion delivering it do all the heavy lifting, leaving little room for needless additions.

New Zealand-born Ted Brown’s latest work, An Unwide Road, is such an album, capturing the artist’s journey from dark to light across a spectrum of emotions and introspective, soul-searching acoustic palettes.
Brown’s tale is one of dark roads of addiction, as the promising singer, songwriter, and guitarist on the rise fell into a seven-year-long drug habit that sent him spiraling downward. It’s an old tale, as the private artist has been sober for nearly ten years, but it’s one that he felt prepared to share now, allowing the album’s themes to draw heavily from those experiences.

“The meaning of the title is twofold. On one hand, it references how little country roads take you to the most awe-inspiring places,” Brown says. “But it also refers to my life. I spent years doing exactly what I wanted and I hurt myself and other people. I have this great life now, but the road is much narrower—I don’t get to do what I please—but the outcome is so much better.”
And the outcome of An Unwide Road isn’t too shabby either.

Recorded in Auckland, New Zealand at Roundhead Studios and produced by Wayne Bell, the album is clean and sparse, the production letting Brown and his vocals do most of the work with just a few additional touches here and there to lend the tracks an extra element of gravity. The title track launches things with a warm, country-tinged arrangement that moves along easily, Brown’s lived-in baritone vocals comfortable and inviting. Contrastingly, “Love Is” brings some fingerpicked folk guitar together with lyrics of searching and pursuit as the artist shares, “I suspect love is an action more than a state of mind,” his voice humble and resonant.
A similar vibe informs “Least We Can Do,” Brown invoking thoughts of Jim Croce and Cat Stevens while “Blue and Grey” and “Raining Roses” press forward with honest questions and classic coffeehouse singer-songwriter arrangements. On “Bringing My Past Back (But Not to Haunt Me)” Brown brings some sonic texture, involving some electric guitar which give some bite to the lazy river vocal delivery that confronts the consequences of the artist’s addictions, using them as fuel to move forward and rearrange his life.

“Beginner’s Skin” is a track built on the hope of redemption and the rebuilding of a life, the arrangement returning to the familiar acoustic stomping grounds set earlier as “Rogue Waves,” though spare and sparse, brings a bright note of hope as the artist sings through the difficulties of recovery. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is a poignant, emotional tale that finds the artist declaring his undying love against the protestations of his lover, his broken heart pleading for another chance, and is one of the album’s best tracks. It's honest and emotional, packing quite a punch, before “Looking for Home Down Hallways,” with its exploration of the collective human spirit and our searching ways, swoops in to close things out with the most creative arrangement on the record, guitars and percussion building together in unique patterns that give the track weight, ending on a high note.
Ted Brown has been to hell and back and has lived to tell about it and his listeners are the thankful recipients of that pain. Brown mines his past for inspiration and shares it, warts and all, with honesty and artistry, combining introspective lyricism together with solid, singer-songwriter tones that carry emotion and truth. An Unwide Road is a road worth walking with Brown, if even for a little while.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Jonus Preston - "Tears in Vain" Single

The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, shook the nation. Parents around the country held their own children a little tighter in the days to come as the news unfolded, images of teachers and students scarred for life juxtaposed against the painful views of the innocent victims. Along with those horrors came the explosive discussion regarding violence in the media and, even more pointed, the role of gun control in our nation. And the argument continues to this day.

Another result of that tragic day was the renewed awakening of jazz artist, Jonus Preston, who learned of the tragedy while on vacation. A longtime student of music who was first inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller record at the age of thirteen, Preston then followed those dreams and inspirations, studying jazz in college and forming the popular acoustic jazz troupe, the String Bustin’ Cats. He then took his musicianship full time and has managed to perform around the world, scoring high profile gigs such as SXSW, the Montreal JazzFest, and the Strawberry Folk Festival.
Yet, the Sandy Hook shootings hit Preston just right and caused something to ignite within him.

“I’ve studied so much music theory, but I always wanted to write music that speaks to more people, this was a catalyst, it gave me purpose,” he says.
Thus, the artist took to writing and “Tears in Vain” was born. Produced by Misha Piatigorsky and tracked by vaunted engineer Mark Hermann (The Eagles), the song conveys a sense of restless energy in its production, almost a live feeling to the recording, which captures Preston’s anger and emotion, while the arrangement itself clearly speaks to his jazz background, smooth chord changes and subtle touches giving the song a lift. Preston’s vocals are husky and engaged, reminiscent at points of superstar John Mayer, while the jangly guitars and rich keyboard fills, buoyed by a children's choir backing, undergird the painful and in your face lyrics as the artist sings with passion and poetry, “Make believe we get a second chance/Would you see the choice is in our hands/If you could look into their faces one more time/And you knew that you could save them you'd change your mind.”

And lest you think that Jonus Preston is just riding the bandwagon of current events to further his career, the artist is generously donating proceeds from the sale of “Tears In Vain” to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
But no matter which side of the gun control argument you fall on, there’s no arguing the talent that Jonus Preston showcases here on “Tears in Vain.” Packed with plenty of soul and riding a wave of conviction, the New York-based artist delivers a strong, emotional track that paves the way for much more music to come.

Review: DeDe - Love & Fairy Tales

Inspiration comes to an artist through many different means. Some draw their muse from experience, the happenings of their life informing their art. Others draw their creative verve from relationships, tales of love and loss coloring their work. Deborah (you can call her "DeDe") Wedekind draws her inspiration from the well of faith, believing that it’s God that’s drawn her back to using the talent she’d stepped away from.

"I'm a classically-trained singer and pianist, and flute player, and now also a songwriter who for the most part, abandoned music for a marketing career because it made 'more sense'," DeDe explains. "But about seven years ago, the music came back for me. I started hearing my songs in my head - songs I've never heard before - and dreaming about music. I said to my husband, Larry, 'Honey? I think something’s going on here.'" He agreed that I needed to get back into music.”

Believing that to have been the gentle nudge of God, it was a journey the artist feels was necessary, allowing her to grow and mature, understanding the whole process of the music business, as opposed to the green and ultimately unready singer she was years ago. She dove headlong back into the craft, receiving “her associate's degree in music - re-learning vocal performance, piano, songwriting, and musical theory - and regained confidence and belief in her life’s calling.”

Her hard work has paid off for the rising artist as she’s already won several accolades, being named a finalist in the UK Songwriting Competition, winning “Top 5 Best Vocalist” from, and more. Much of the praise has come from the artist’s latest EP, Love & Fairy Tales.

The album opens up with the rich adult contemporary pop of “Blame it on the Summertime,” the artist showcases her strong vocals right off the bat. Her voice is reminiscent of old school singer-songwriters like Karen Carpenter or Eva Cassidy, her phrasing clear and consistent. The song itself is a warm, breezy affair driven by plucky piano tones and insistent guitar work, providing a perfect canvas for DeDe’s vocal delivery.

“The Fairy Tale Song” draws things into playfully upbeat A/C territory, elements of pop informing the arrangement while the artist sings of love, invoking classic fairy tale characters as a muse, sharing the ultimate message, “There’s a story being written every day/So follow your heart/And play the part that you can play.” DeDe’s faith steps to center stage on “The Plans I Have For You,” a ballad-styled worship track that speaks from the heart of God, recalling early CCM work by Sandy Patty and Twila Paris.

“Just Desserts” is a slightly country-styled affair, rocking guitars setting the stage for the artist’s vocals to her tale of cheating and lies. The vocals and delivery are rather sunny, contrasting with the “she’s gonna get hers” implication of the lyric which is an interesting juxtaposition while “We’ll Never Part” takes an entirely different direction as DeDe showcases the theatrical side of her abilities, delivering a ballad worthy of Broadway. A track of love and dedication, the track is DeDe’s most classical feeling, buoyed by a soulful string section, and is also where she seems most at home, the structures of the composition allowing her to shine.
On Love & Fairy Tales, DeDe Wedekind showcases the benefits of waiting for the right timing. Her talent is obvious throughout every track, her vocals strong and controlled while her songwriting complements it perfectly. And while some may long for her to push herself just a bit more, to stretch her vocal range a bit and show a bit more emotion, this EP still delivers more than enough beautiful music for those looking for an old soul in a beautiful package.