Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Cinco Santos - Duplicidad

There is one truly universal language in our world and that is music. It’s a force and power that transcends boundaries, whether they are political, national, social, or other. Music runs deeper than all of these, tapping into something primal and visceral within each and every one of us, and speaks to deep places, conjuring emotion and feeling. That’s why it’s so engaging to take on a review of a project like Cinco Santos and their debut release, Duplicidad. For even though this is a foreign language release, its heartbeat steps across the barriers of the spoken word and speaks instead to the soul.

The brainchild of guitarist, songwriter, and visionary Lorenzo Montero, Cinco Santos came together after a two-year-long search across Los Angeles as the artist sought out the perfect members of the team to create the band’s signature sound. And, with time, Montero found just the men he was looking for, bringing together lead singer Daniel Jimenez, Lorenzo Montero on  guitar and vocals, Jesse Stern on bass, Willard Lozano on guitar and shredder, and Emiliano Almeida on drums. With members boasting an eclectic citizenship that ranges from Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, and Canada, this was a musical collective bound to bring some excitement to the table.
That excitement grew in 2012 when the band opted to dive in and collectively develop original songs rather than seeking out demos from others.
“Sharing in the creative process solidified the band as an artistic entity and yielded our strongest material,” Montero shares. “The next stage of our evolution happened as we experimented with how to fuse our different stylistic elements together, and add electronic beats to give our music a unique groove and very contemporary feel.”
That fusion turned into a beautiful thing and helps to make Duplicidad a truly delightful listen.
The album’s sound draws broadly between borders, finding the multicultural group sample from obvious Latin elements and bridging them with healthy doses of pop, rock, and even electronica, creating a sound that is altogether Cinco Santos. “Candela” gets things off to a fiery start, rich, full guitar chops layered across tightly played percussion and accented perfectly with Jimenez’s pitch perfect vocals while “Azuca y Amor” shines with its bright Latin acoustic guitar and soulful rhythms.
Those same elements color tracks like “Caramelo,” organic percussion bringing extra life, and “Te Cantare Todos Los Dias,” which is solid bridge between the old and the new, traditional sounds leading into more contemporary pop flair. “Te Quiero Aqui” makes the transition complete as Cinco Santos deliver a stirring pop ballad with vibrant energy and musicianship but it’s the title track, “Duplicidad,” that really surprises. It’s a jam that finds the band infusing their roots alongside some powerful rock notes, chunky riffing guitars alongside acoustic fills that form a killer sound while Jimenez continues to deliver vocally. And the sheer energy of “No Me Digas,” complete with a raging string solo, really highlights the band’s great musicianship, allowing all the parts to shine.
There’s only one track that really doesn’t register strongly here, and that is “Loco.” It’s hampered by a musical soundscape that is one of the more uninteresting, although still masterfully played, as well as a chorus that is a bit too repetitive to really have any staying power. But its one small hiccup on what is otherwise an impressive output of spirit and sound.
Cinco Santos’ debut, Duplicidad, is truly an album that escapes borders and stereotypes, tapping into the simple emotion that music is. As tight knit a musical collective that you’ll find, this record showcases them at their best, delivering a compelling mix of traditional and modern rhythms, resulting in an album that will find you coming back for more.

Review: Joe Tripp and the Hops - 6 Songs

It’s been an uphill battle for Joe Tripp and the Hops. From having to change their name to avoid identify conflicts with a UK-based band to earning their stripes playing gig after gig in and around the windy city of Chicago, theirs has been a band in a constant battle for survival.

“We are a band of talented individuals, but maybe not talented enough,” Tripp humbly offers. “We have had many ups and downs. At some of our low points it seems like we have lost every contest we’ve entered but then something turns around like being named one of Chicago’s best local acts by the Illinois Entertainer.”

It’s those moments of success that Tripp and company continue to mine for inspiration and encouragement, continuing to work at their music and tirelessly promoting themselves. Their 2011 release Won’t It Be Fun was a big step in the right direction, garnering some solid praise as well as the opportunity to work with Doug McBride (Fall Out Boy, Veruca Salt.) And now the band is set to try to maintain that moment with their latest release, the aptly titled EP, 6 Songs.

The band’s been compared to acts like Weezer, Incubus, and The Gin Blossoms and those influences are definitely evident throughout these tracks, replete with plenty of pop accessibility, but there’s also something of an old school punk vibe that undergirds their overall sound, lending just the right amount of edge when needed. “Signs” leads things off with a jangly lead guitar and three-part vocal harmony that works well, giving added energy. That’s followed by “There’s Something” which draws from much of the same cloth, a set of bright keyboard fills and some vocal distortions providing contrast.

“Fantasma” ups the energy with a rocking intro and more harmonies in the chorus while “Heart Cries Out” slows the pace, Tripp showing off his vocal chops although this time around the harmonies don’t deliver quite as true, hindering an otherwise well-crafted jam. “Let Go” is another slow-jam, its effervescent feel hinting at a lazy day lying along the beach with solidly pop-flavored guitars and strong beats from drummer, TJ Walker. Lastly, the band closes things out with the gently rolling “Who Knows,” atmospheric guitars providing a launching point for Tripp’s impassioned vocals.

6 Songs does suffer from the occasional hiccup, less than stellar harmonies at one point and a production that feels somewhat muted at points, leaving vocals difficult to discern in some junctures and contributing to a boxed in feeling at others, but, those issues aside, there’s plenty to recommend here. Joe Tripp and the Hops showcase some strong chops on this EP and as they continue to develop their signature sound, there’s a good chance we’ll be hearing from these guys again down the road.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: Leslie DiNicola - Some Greener Yard EP

“I want to share my experiences in song so that others can see their lives mirrored and pass through the door of whatever is troubling them or holding them back,” shares NYC-based singer-songwriter, Leslie DiNicola, and on her latest EP, Some Greener Yard, the artist does just that.

DiNicola’s spent the past couple of years rising through the ranks, earning the chance to work with some great music professionals like Ron Allaire (Keith Richards, Madonna, David Bowie, Shakira), Julian Coryell (Aimee Mann, Leonard Cohen, Jewel, Alanis Morisette), Erich Gobel (John Mayer, Ray Charles), Mark Schulman (P!nk, Cher, Foreigner), and Ellis Traver (Diane Birch, Fischerspooner, Sean Lennon, and Mark Ronson) while releasing some celebrated work like 2011’s Draw Back Your Bow EP which found the artist offering up a playful and imaginative set of cover songs. It was time well spent as the artist just basked in those classic songs and drew inspiration and knowledge from the experience.
That experiences colors the five tracks of Some Greener Yard and lends a depth and emotional quality throughout as things kick off with the rock-tinged country of “Shaky Wire,” whirring organ fills providing color over against thudding drums and a chunky guitar part as the artist shows off her talented and obviously well-trained voice as she plunges headlong through the passionate track. “Give Me Away” lets the artist flow into even more country-feeling fare, her vocals rich and resonant as she is supported by an arrangement sporting brushed drums and moody keyboards which mirror the darkly painful lyric.
“Stay” is step back in the direction of the fun and playful, the tone bright and cheery with a Motown feel and peppy backbeat as DiNicola sings of love and the euphoric joy of a new relationship. It’s one of the better tracks here as the artist lets her hair down and seems to have a blast, lending the song an unseen smile throughout.
That smile becomes bittersweet with the entry of “Weight” onto the scene, DiNicola opting for a subdued piano and acoustic strings to carry home her ode of love to a lost friend, her voice aching with pain and loss, tears brimming as she sings, “No one here can get me through the night/Even God Himself could never make this right.” Producer Julian Coryell manages the tone just right and helps to deliver another killer song before DiNicola offers her swan song with “It’s Alright,” a gentle closer featuring folksy guitars and another painful yet hope-filled lyric to one who’s lost someone.
Leslie DiNicola is an artist who is all about painting pictures in sound and word and Some Greener Yard does that through and through. Bridging from sounds that draw from country, folk, pop, and more, DiNicola has crafted five powerful songs that evoke mental and emotional pictures, drawing you in and refusing to let you go.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: War Poets - Dulce et Est Decorum

Minnesota, MN-based rock outfit, War Poets, and on Dulce et Decorum Est, the collective uses their musical chops as weapons in the war.
Inspiration can come from any number of sources. A romantic relationship, a pivotal moment in time, or a baby’s birth, these have all been the fuel in which many a musician has found his or her Muse. Yet, perhaps there’s no greater motivation for an artist than witnessing an injustice that occurs. And social injustice is exactly what motivates

Even in the very structure of the group is the band’s emphasis on justice and equality seen as group founder and lead singer/guitarist Rex Haberman actively sought to give fellow vocalist and bassist Jenny Case a pivotal role.

 “I have a strong opinion about the status of women in music because I find it a really male-dominated world,” he reveals.

A conversation with longtime friend and collaborator Matt Kirkwold led to the suggestion of Case, who’d sharpened her skills fronting many a cover band as well as her own while serving as the Executive Director of the She Rock She Rock Foundation.

“We work together like we’re on a mission,” Haberman explains. “Jenny has high standards. She’s a perfectionist in the studio and really pushes the band’s performances. She’s super talented and highly professional.”

The rest of the band is made up of a revolving crew of talented Midwestern musicians but each brings their own flair and voice to the group, aiding in garnering War Poets some solid acclaim, even in 14 short months. In that time, the YouTube video for their first single, “Close Enough,” has garnered 250K+ views and they’ve garnered national airplay on AAA and college formats. Film and television licenses have come as well and the band has had the opportunity to play at the Red Gorilla Music Festival during SXSW, a perfect forum for their blend of Americana-flavored rock and lyrics of protest and change.

On Dulce et Decorum Est, War Poets engage a number of issues across two discs, seventeen songs in all which is a feat that not many seasoned artists would try, let alone a relatively new one. The band splits the tracks, filling one disc with their rock edge while offering up a more subdued collection of ballads on the other. The result is an expansive album that has both hits and misses.

Most of the hits come by way of the “Rock” disc, the band well earning their comparisons to acts like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac as they roar through tracks like “Don’t Look Back” with its muscled guitars and Haberman’s rich vocals or “Dominica’s Been Sent” and it’s rich tapestry of sound and Case’s stunning rock vocals. “Good Company” is a great jam, the old school honkytonk rock ‘n’ roll feel perfectly delivered with Jerry Lee Lewis-flavored keyboard work while “Another Lie” holds the most contemporarily accessible sound, Case’s bright delivery giving the song extra legs. And “Close Enough” is a track that captures the best of the band, highlighting both their solid musicianship which is almost jazz-like in the way they ebb and flow, allowing each part to sing, and their intentionally pointed lyricism as they offer a musical statement in support of same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, the band’s “Ballad” side doesn’t quite hold as much power, tracks like “Montserrat” and “Paint You the Sun” reading as pleasant but offering little to come back to. “Running Back to You” suffers a similar fate but the stark piano and Jenny Case’s plaintive vocals on “Partly Naked” make it a highly listenable track. Haberman makes use of a similar tactic on the album closer, “Be Like You,” and it works nearly as well, his delivery honest and heartfelt against the rich keyboard, ending on a high note.

War Poets are a gifted act with plenty to say. Dulce et Decorum Est is a record that is ambitious, perhaps in some ways a little too ambitious, but is one that showcases this band in many lights, most of them positive. Haberman and Case show themselves to be able songwriters and their stable of rotating musicians deliver solidly each time out. They’re a band that has all the pieces in place for success; the next step is up to them.